Monday, January 30, 2017

Start At Home // Seventeen Books in 2017

"Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read.  One does not love breathing."

-Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird 

Well, I have sought out to read seventeen books in 2017 and I tell you, I'm ahead of schedule!  Thanks to Jamie Ivey's Happy Hour podcast and her famous question of What You Are Reading? she poses to all of her weekly guests, I was re-inspired last year to prioritize reading in my life.  I've always been a reader (I became an English teacher for crying out loud), but being a student for so many years in a row sadly squeezed out any room for wanting to read for pleasure.  And now that I've got a stack of books on my nightstand, and a list of must-reads that just keeps growing, I realized just how much I've missed having my nose in a book.  

When am I finding time to read?  First, I started carrying my book with me almost everywhere I go.  It's amazing how often I'm able to read a few pages throughout my day when I'd otherwise be scrolling through my phone.  A few minutes here when I'm waiting in the school pick-up line, the ten minutes I'm waiting in the doctor's office, and the glorious 30 minutes of Mila's weekly dance practice.  I read before bed sometimes, but it often makes me sleepy, and I've found the most joy building in 25-minutes of quiet time with the kids most days after school.  Books were very well loved in my house growing up and still are cherished today - my mom and her mom work at the public library in our hometown, my brother teaches fifth grade and has a blog called Mr. H Reads where he shares his children's lit. and junior fiction reads with the world, and I have vivid memories of all of us sprawled out around the house, our minds consumed with images of Hogwarts Academy and the Baby-Sitter's Club.  I want Cruz and Mila to have a similar picture when they grow up - a home filled with books and no shortage of worlds to explore by simply turning a single page.

Right now, I'm mostly into the world of non-fiction, reading from other women who are seeking purpose and faith in a busy and complex world.  My first book of the year was called Make It Happen, by Lara Casey.  While her themes and overall message were in tune with the other titles I've been reading lately, I loved her mix of strategy and memoir as she struggled to fight against perfection and embrace contentment in an imperfect, yet intentional life.  She was genuine and really honest about overcoming a failing marriage and a mixed up direction in life, and I appreciated her practical steps toward a life that truly transformed every piece of her.  Here are a few of my favorite takeaway quotes:

"When we surrender our fears, take leaps of faith, and begin living on purpose, God fills us, and we begin to cultivate what matters. He changes us for good.  He makes us respect and relish the process of growth.  Enjoying a tomato I grew in my own garden is like sharing a feast with God.  I think of the months of watering, the hot summer days I spent pruning, and the bounty of sun God provided as I savor every bite.  My gratitude now overflows.  He made me want to get my hands dirty, commit to cultivating, and step into the hard stuff of life.  He made me love the process of planting, tending, and harvesting in my marriage, friendships, parenting, finances, business - everything."  

"Countless people out there need you to make it happen.  They need your talents, your heart, and your fullest potential to influence them for the Lord.  You can't bring everyone to Jesus, but you can bring Jesus to everyone.  First, though, bring your self to the foot of the cross and lay it at His feet.  Ask Him what He wants you to do.  Above all else, He is all we need."  

With lots of journal prompts, stories from her journey, and practical advice regarding ways to clear the clutter, break the habit of busy, and encourage others, I would recommend this to women just starting on this journey towards more purposeful living.  Her website is also full of useful tools and resources to get you started.  And her babies are adorable!

As soon as I was finished with Lara's book, I jumped in to Rachel Cruze's newest book, Smart Money, Smart Kids, as a companion to many of the things Beau and I had talked about on our first date.  He's reading it, too, and I'm excited to share some of the nuggets we pulled out of that one.  

As for the rest of my reads for the year ahead, here are a few I'm excited about.  There are more than twenty on the list and I'm sure it's bound to grow even more.  I've organized them around my three themes for 2017, and sprinkled in some fiction for a little fun in there, too. :

Theme 1: Start at Home

The Finishing School by Val Woerner
The Live Giving Home by Sally Clarkson
The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan
The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
Essentialism by Greg McKeown
Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner
Breaking Busy by Alli Worthington
Loving My Actual Life by Alexandra Kuykendall
The Fringe Hours by Jessica Turner or 168 hours by Laura Vanderkam

Theme 2: Belong in Community

Lean on Me by Anna Marie Miller
Craving Connection by Crystal Stine 
Listen Love Repeat by Karen Ehman

Theme 3: Live on Purpose 

Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker
Falling Free by Shannan Martin
You are Free: Be Who You Already Are by Rebecka Lyons
The Best Yes or Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst
She Reads Truth by Raechel Myers and Amanda Bible Williams
Nothing to Prove by Jennie Allen
The Screw Tape Letters C.S. Lewis
Soul Keeping by John Ortberg

Because I need more fiction in my life...

The One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood
Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

And last, but not least...

The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines.  One, because I received three copies of this for Christmas, and two, because WE ARE GOING TO MAGNOLIA!!!  I cannot wait!

What's on your reading list for 2017?  Any recommendations I need to add to mine?  Happy reading, and happy Monday, friends!   

Friday, January 27, 2017

Start At Home // Date Night

“The real act of marriage takes place in the heart, not in a ballroom or a church or a synagogue.  It’s a choice you make – not just on your wedding day, but over and over again – and that choice is in the way you treat your husband or your wife.”   

Of all the goals I set for 2017, my relationship with Beau was at the forefront.  For most of last year, I was watering many relationships in my life.  I was acting on the call to grow in my relationship with Christ, inviting people into our home, investing in new friendships and reconnecting with old ones.  This quest was filling my cup in many ways, although I often felt as though I was coming up short on investing in the very person I shared my life with.  Often times at the end of the day, after working and talking with people, then coming home to give our rest to the Cruz and Mila, we’d get them to bed, then escape to separate rooms of the house for an episode of Fixer Upper or an hour playing guitar.  We just didn’t have anything left to give!  Arguments ensued more than either of us liked, and we often felt like we were sharing a house, but not a whole lot else.  We still loved each other the same, but we were drifting and needed to plant some seeds of intention in order to get us back in gear. 

We decided we would start with a weekly date night.  Knowing that Monday nights are typically filled with routines that transition us into the week, Tuesdays Beau has a networking group that meets together at night, and our weekends tend to fill up with social things, we officially picked Thursdays as “date night.”  Beau blocked Thursday nights off for night appointments, and we committed to prioritizing this just like we would a work meeting or Sunday morning church.  Sometimes, we would invest in a babysitter and go out for a real date, but most of the time date nights would occur after we put the kids to bed around 8 or 8:30.  

We are just three weeks in and have already discovered many things.  First off, we both love date nights.  They are the highlight of our week.  Thursdays has been the perfect night for us, as we have both commented that we look forward to it all week long, and it’s such a nice way to reconnect after the rush of a work week.  We also discovered that it’s nice to have a plan (go figure), something to keep us focused, along with a few details to make things special.  Our first week, we made whiskey drinks and outlined our financial goals for the year, revisiting our monthly budget, setting up an envelope and “commission” system for our kids, and making some big steps in our financial giving.  Because we set some goals for the night, we stayed focused and were able to achieve a win/win in my book – connecting over content that mattered to the health and purpose of our relationship and family, AND having fun together.  We even decided to start the same book around a similar topic (more on this one later), so we could continue to water conversations around important areas that have a big impact on our family.  

Our second date night was a lot more light-hearted.  Obviously, talking about our monthly budget every Thursday night would likely lose its novelty after a few weeks, so we decided to just spend time together.  I picked up a few makings for a charcuterie board after work, and as soon as the kids went to bed, we put on some Ray Lamontagne, got out the cribbage board, and dined on good wine and prosciutto.  

After two very different date nights, we spent our third date night reflecting on what worked well and what we’d like to see more of in the year ahead.  It made my heart swell to hear Beau say he looked forward all week to our time together, and that he felt it was important to have some plans in mind to keep our dates new and creative.  Soon enough, as we curled up together on the couch in front of the fire, I had my notebook out and we had started a list of date night ideas for our year.  To hear the things Beau suggested surprised me and I felt myself falling a little more in love with this man, reminded of why I married him in the first place.  We tend to lose sight of those small traits and quirks of the people closest in our lives through the ordinariness and sometimes weariness of this life.  This simple act of brainstorming date nights made me feel like I was twenty again, when the world was our oyster and we invested in having fun together.  I love our list so much, and hope some of the ideas inspire you.

We also loved the focused conversations around important matters for our relationship and family, and are planning to do some work together in these areas.  Instead of reading the Wife/Husband After God series as a 30 day devotional, we are going to read and respond to these little by little.  I'm also looking forward to reading The 5 Love Languages this year and think this will strengthen our understanding of and communication with each other. 

Our brainstormed list of date nights "at home": 

1. Order take-out after the kids go to bed: Order something the kids won't eat, like Indian food or sushi.  Eat on a blanket in front of the fire.
2. Beer tasting and Wii night: You can make-your-own-six-pack at Hy-Vee Wine and Spirits.  A flute of sample beers and a little Super Mario sounds just right. :)
3. Dinner around the world: Early in the week, get the globe out, close your eyes, and point to a country.  Research that country a little, then make a dinner inspired by their cuisine.  
4. Write 10-15 memories of our last decade together and read them to each other.
5. Play a board game together.
6. Plan a trip together.  Whether we go or not isn't really the point. :)
7. Get out our workbooks and notes from marriage counseling.  Laugh at how young we were and see how much we've grown.
8. Dream together: Think about five, ten, fifteen years from now 
9. Get a bottle of champagne and watch our wedding video
10. Pick up fancy desserts from somewhere downtown
11. Do a simple DIY craft together in the garage 
12. Cocktails and vinyls on the Crosley
13. Make a big plate of nachos and watch Game 7 of the World Series
14. Create our family's "micro" adventure bucket list.  Adventures to be had in our own backyard. 
15. Italian night - spaghetti, a bottle of red, and an episode (or four) of The Sopranos.   

List of date nights "out": 

1. Three course progressive dinner - appetizers and drinks, main course, and dessert, at three different places.
2. Hit some balls at the driving range
3. Pack a picnic dinner and watch a sunset
4. Find some live music
5. Go fishing
6. Dinner in "the library" at the Waterloo Brown Bottle - write a love note in one of the books
7. Sneak in some candy and go see a movie
8. Ride bikes around town and stop for drinks and appetizers along the trail
9. Go for a drive with the windows down.  Stop in a small town for dinner or a drink at their townie bar
10. Late night coffee drinks and card games in the back corner of a coffee shop.           

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


"a portrait of each of my children, once each week, in 2017"

Cruz: You had your first sleepover on Saturday night for one of your sweet Kindergarten buddy's birthday.  This was a big deal, for all of us!  Our house felt empty without you here!  We weren't quite sure you were going to make it all night when Landon's mom texted and said "your tummy hurt," but by the time Daddy pulled into their driveway around 9:30, you were in tears and kept saying "I want to stay for my FIRST sleepover!"  And you were asleep five minutes later!  You are getting so big and I do cherish these sweet little friendships you are building.

Mila: Daddy and I were going to take you for a special "date night" Saturday night, but you refused to nap that afternoon and were not a fun date that night.  We had plans to take you to Target to pick out a new movie for a sleeping bag movie night at home, but you did not earn it!  We decided an early bedtime was a better idea for you, sweet pea. ;)    

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mila's Ballerina Party...Take 2!

More candids from Mila's Ballerina party.  She was a picture of femininity in her pale pink leotard; that is, until she sat with her legs apart and showed off the giant rip in her brand new gray tights!  That is our girl.  She was gifted some wonderful gifts this year, but seemed most excited about opening up the cards.  She squealed this high pitched scream with every envelope opened, and her eyes lit up when she saw Ana and Elsa on a few of them!  She loved her princess tent from Jordan and Kelli, her dancing robot from Grandma Mary and Papa Ray, her Belle doll from Great Grandma and Papa, her personalized pillowcase from Uncle Taylor and Katie, and her Jenny Lind baby bed from Grandma Kelly and Papa Curt.  It's a mini version of her bed and my heart just can't get enough of it!

It was a fun, fun afternoon celebrating our sweet girl.  But Sunday night, as the last of the decorations were put away, I sank into the couch with a plate of leftovers and told Beau I felt like a new woman!  With Cruz's birthday in October, followed by all things holidays, and capped off with Mila's birthday in January, we go from one thing to another.  With presents purchased, all the additional spending done, and memories of another party packed away, I am looking forward to all things spring and summer.  Adventures await!

These are more like it... :)


Friday, January 20, 2017

Mila Ballerina's Pink Birthday Party

Last Sunday, we celebrated Mila with our family and a few of Mila's favorite things - twirly skirts, plenty of sweets, and even more pink.  Her simple decorations made quite the statement against my neutrals, and I laughed to myself Saturday as our house slowly transformed to represent the little girl who lives in it.  It was quite the difference from Cruz Man's pirate party on his 3rd birthday!

My parties have gotten simpler over the years, but have no shortage of sweet details that are fitting for everything we love about the one we're celebrating.  Decorations this year included pink tulle I had kept from our wedding (!), a pretty banner I purchased on etsy, a giant gold '3' balloon, and simple bouquets of pink roses I arranged in gold and pink spray painted mason jars.  Pictures of Mila in her ballerina leotards made for sweet centerpieces and banners strung on our hutch, and Mila's ballerina bunnies and sweet little slippers were displayed on the mantle. 

My favorite thing this year may have been the games.  Cruz has asked for "pin the tail on the donkey" for every birthday party since he turned 5, so I threw my own spin on the game and created a "pin the tutu on Mila."  For just over $10, I blew up a poster print of Mila in a leotard, then traced around her skirt and made two pink skirts out of construction paper.  Simple to do and the kids got a kick out of it.

I also found these cute picture Bingo cards on Etsy and filled bowls with Valentine's M&M candies.  What I loved about this simple game is that every one could play it from the same room in the house.  January parties are hard because we can't go outside, so I have to be a little creative about finding ways to involve everyone in easy ways.  Even Papa Ray played!

Food was fun for this party, too.  Mila has a big sweet tooth, so we made sure to have lots of sweets to fill her party table.  From her sweet double layer rosette cake, to these marshmallow dipped party tutu treats, everything fit my vision to a tee.  And kudos to Scratch for their amazing ballet slipper art on a few chocolate cupcakes, along with Cindy Johnson's intricate dress design sugar cookies.  Every cookie was different and they were almost too pretty to eat!

I also served croissants with a variety of meats, cheeses, and toppings, pasta salad, this pretty angel fluff salad, and white chocolate puff cornAnd we served strawberry lemonade, strawberry pop, and strawberry milk to drink. :)

It was a sweet afternoon of celebrating our spicy and sassy ballerina.  More to come!



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