Graceful Women: "My Love, My Valentine" by Jen Farlow (Part One)

I am absolutely honored and moved to share this week's Graceful Women Series with you this Valentine's Day, friends. The precious writer is an amazing woman you just must know and follow. Her story and love story is truly one of the most poignant stories I've ever heard in all my life and it's one of two stories (in all my years) that I've been impacted by so powerfully -- her love story is one of the most beautiful of all time and her heart for her darling love Nathan, her daughter, and her Hope is absolutely breathtaking. Today I'm sharing Part One of beautiful Jen Farlow's story and heartfelt writing. I know her words will stir and touch your heart as it has so powerfully in mine. Please take a moment to follow this precious mama (her links are below!), she is truly the embodiment of a strong, beautiful, graceful woman. 

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My Love, My Valentine

by Jen Farlow

 

Even if the sun refused to shine

Even if romance ran out of rhyme

You would still have my heart

Until the end of time.

- Jim Brickman –

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Every girl dreams of finding her Prince Charming, and I was certainly no exception. My earliest childhood recollections are steeped in hopes and dreams of finding The One. Would it be a chance encounter, a deep soul knowledge the moment our eyes met? Or would we be childhood best friends, drifting softly into an unlikely romance? Would he be handsome, dashing, dangerous, ordinary? A rebel? The boy next door? My imaginings ran wild – evidenced even at five years old when I wrote in my first diary with huge, sprawling letters: “When I grow up, I want to marry *insert name of my first crush* and live on a farm with six dogs, three horses, and four cats.”

As I got older I fell for various boys with increasing intensity. I read dozens of novels and roamed our secluded back yard for hours, spinning elaborate castles in the air filled with children and pets, captained by whoever I was enamored with at the time. Mercifully, none of the boys in question ever knew how hard I fell for them and how devastated I was when they didn’t appear to notice or return my interest. My one-sided love affairs were harmless enough, and as I got ready to graduate high school they were replaced by dreams of an illustrious journalism career. My air castles were traded in for dreams of traveling the world as a daring war correspondent, dodging bombs and air raids and perhaps falling in love with a wounded soldier after I’d pocketed a Pulitzer.

What I hadn’t counted on was that my very own Prince Charming would show up at my front door on Valentine’s Day 2006. I was seventeen and hosting a houseful of fellow students at our weekly youth group meeting, and bounded to open the door when the doorbell rang for the dozenth time. A visiting Baptist preacher from North Carolina stood on the porch with his two tall sons and wide-eyed daughter. I locked eyes with the older son, and my breath caught. Nathan Farlow was dark-haired and Southern, with eyes like the sea, a perpetual tan and the lithe body of an all-American athlete. He wore the widest and whitest smile I’d ever seen, and it seemed to never leave his face – his personal invitation to the whole world to stop a minute and get to know him. We quickly discovered our shared loved for country music, and spent most of that spring on the phone for hours – discussing school projects, driving tests, college applications, faith, politics, and our dreams for the future. We were sworn best friends and nothing more, but my visions of a Pulitzer threatened to be replaced by dreams of becoming Mrs. Nathan Farlow one day. With each conversation my conviction deepened that he was everything on my list of future husband qualities, plus so much more I’d never thought to add.

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When Nathan skipped a family wedding to attend my high school graduation, adrenaline pumped thick and hot through my veins. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was about to turn into something real – something I’d waited for my whole life. Late that night, as the last party guests left for home, Nathan and my dad disappeared for a mysterious conversation. Dad gave him permission to express his feelings for me, and Nathan – knowing full well that we were each leaving for four years at our respective colleges – asked me to be his girlfriend. Before we’d ever met we had each pledged not to casually date around, but to save ourselves for a relationship that could potentially lead to marriage. The very commitment to a long-distance courtship felt almost as weighty as an engagement.

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Within mere months of officially dating we were convinced that we could never marry anyone else, and the four years stretching ahead of us seemed an eternity to wait. But, like Jacob, so blinded by his love for Rachel that the seven years he worked for her felt like mere days, we would have waited forever for each other. Because we’d committed to physical purity before marriage, we paced our physical intimacy as slowly as we possibly could. We waited one year to hold hands, two years to say I love you, three years – and engagement! – to kiss. Some may have called us prudish, or sexually stifled. Quite the contrary. Our physical boundaries gave us ample time to deepen our friendship, an unshakeable foundation for a healthy relationship that did not ebb and flow with mere physical connection and attraction. We were soulmates, best friends, and kindred spirits, and our physical boundaries, though frustrating, were a blessing that kept us from compromising in areas that we would one day regret. Each stage of physical intimacy was indescribably beautiful and fulfilling, because we had waited and, as Solomon urged, “not awakened love before its time.”

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Nathan, my prince, my knight in shining armor, married me on June 20, 2010. I walked down the aisle towards that dazzling smile in a puddle of relieved tears. All those girlish dreams and imaginings had led me on a pathway straight to him…only him. There could never be anyone else. He was the perfect fulfillment of each and every one of my longings, handcrafted by a loving God just for me, and I for him. We said “I do,” and our kiss was one of almost ethereal bliss. We were finally, at long last, home.

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I do not exaggerate when I say that the following four years of marriage were a taste of heaven on earth. The long years of loving, learning, fighting, and waiting for each other had primed us for a fairytale marriage. It was such an indescribable relief to wake up together, knowing that we would never have to say goodbye again. I kept waiting for the difficulty of marriage to hit. Everyone always cautioned about “when the honeymoon ended.” For me, it never did. Even going to the bank or the gas station was a thrill because it meant I got to be with him. Every day with him was the new best day of my life. I couldn’t imagine it ever getting better. The only thing that marred my perfect happiness was a nagging twinge of foreboding that it was too good. This level of perfection seemed unattainable for the long run. Would something happen somewhere along the way to mess it all up?

~*~

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On October 5, 2014, I am nursing our three-week-old daughter, Elissa Rose, in our bed. It is early morning, and I’d woken up to a text that Nathan had sent several hours before that he had finished night shift at work and was heading home early. I’m in a fog of sleepless new-motherhood, but something does not feel right. He should have been home long before now. I rationalize. Maybe he stopped on an errand, got stuck in traffic. (At 5 a.m. on a Sunday?) He’s fine, I assure myself. If something had happened there would be someone at my door.

And the instant the thought crosses my mind, there is a loud knock at the front door.

Stay Tuned for Part Two, Next Wednesday

Connect with the Writer: 

Jen Farlow

Blogwww.jenniferfarlow.com

Instagramhttps://www.instagram.com/jen_farlow/

Facebookwww.facebook.com/jen.farlow.3 

Emailjen.a.farlow@gmail.com

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Life Lately

Some sweet moments from our life lately, I'm grateful for this life and my little family.

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Happy Valentine things sprinkled around the house.

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My sweet, sweet boy baby growing into an adventurous, spunky toddler.

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Wonderful Disney day with out of dear town family.

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And showing loved ones one of our favorite spots in the world, Laguna Beach.

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Days at home with my boys. The best.

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photo by Ally Michele

photo by Ally Michele

They are my everything.

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Graceful Women: Waiting

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I'm excited to start this new series today, my friends! 

If you've followed me for a while now, you'll recall that I began a special project about a year and a half ago: Graceful Magazine; a dream (since girlhood) in my heart -- to create, edit, and publish a magazine for women, to inspire them to live abundantly in grace. I announced the project and it was met with so much excitement and encouragement from you ladies, and some of the best, brightest, most incredible women I know created wonderful content for the magazine. And I began working to put it all together. I received so many emails of submissions. The magazine's heart was beautiful and full of inspiration and art, of all kinds. And yet, because of the season I found myself in -- new and beautiful mamahood, as well as journeying knee-deep through some personal struggles with anxiety and some postpartum physical and emotional issues, I knew it was right and best for me to set the magazine aside and focus fully on my sweet baby and husband, and getting healthy, as well as some other responsibilities. Knowing my heart and calling, acknowledging my season, staying in my lane... it was right to set it aside, despite some disappointment (from myself and others) as I set it aside. Hopefully, some day, Graceful Magazine will come to fruition (in print or online) but until that day comes, my heart is moved to start this series that reflects and is an "heart" of Graceful, a piece online that will shed light and breathe life into the lives of you ladies and give a platform and voice to you wise, wonderful women as we share all kinds of creativity, stories, brokenness, redemption, and lots of topics.

My hope is that this weekly (and depending on scheduling, sometimes bi-weekly) series will hold richness, and be a life-giving place that breeds wholeness, healing, community, honest sharing, vulnerable story telling, and joy to bloom and blossom here in this little space. I will be posting some of the content I'd gathered for Issue One, starting with this wonderful piece from a precious longtime "blog friend" of mine, Nadine! 

I will be taking submissions for content soon so keep an eye open for information on that, I would love to feature your beautiful hearts! 

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By Nadine Schroeder

The scriptures are filled with people who were given a word by God. Usually the word included them putting their faith in what God was telling them to do and living it out without knowing specific details. Like a watchman waiting for the morning (Psalm 130:6), keeping their eyes on the horizon for the promise, trusting that at the right time God would bring to fruition what He had said He would do, they would faithfully stay in the spot He had told them to stand.

What word has God spoken over you? Where has God told you to stand until it comes to fruition?

Noah has one of those stories: he was told a word, did what God said, and then waited patiently on the Lord. See Genesis 6-9 for the whole story.

After the forty-day flood, Noah did not immediately seek to leave the boat. He and his people (and all the animals) sat on the boat for another 150 days, waiting for the waters to subside. 190 days after hopping on the boat, Noah opened a window to check if it was time to leave. He sent out a raven (it came back), and then the next day he sent out a dove (it came back), and then he waited. Seven days later, he sent the dove out again and when she came back with an olive leaf proving that the waters had subsided. Noah then waited another seven days, sent the dove out again and she didn’t come back.

Let’s latch onto that glorious detail: After peace had been brought to him, Noah waited even longer. He waited not simply for the rain to stop, the boat to settle, or the waters to subside. He waited even longer. The dove and the olive leaf are both symbol of peaces. The dove brought a sign of peace to Noah and then eventually flew away and did not return, showing Noah that peace was available away from the boat. Finally, the promise of safety had come to fruition.

God had told Noah specifically that there would be rain for 40 days. Noah didn’t know the specifics of the 150 plus days. He knew that God would protect his family and all the animals but he did not know when things would come to pass.

Noah waited upon the Lord until it was the right time. But how did he know? He knew because he was a righteous man who walked with God (Genesis 6:9). Noah constantly communicated with God, so it is of no surprise that he knew when to leave the boat.

We see this in the life of Christ as well. Jesus knew what to do and when to do it because He was in constant communication with His Father.

Friends. We can know what to do and when to do it not because we are super smart or extra spiritual, but because we have a God whose word is true. Jesus has given us access to God.

Even if we do not know the times and places in which God will do things, we hope in the unseen, with a hope that will one day find its factuality in the Lord when we meet Him.

What are you waiting on? What has God has spoken to you? Have you lost the faith because the timeline you expected is looking different? Today, ask the Lord for fresh belief in the fact that no word that He has said will ever fail (Luke 1). 

Ask the Lord for a sign of peace at the proper time; I believe God will speak to you. Be strong and take courage. Wait for the Lord! 

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About the Writer: 

Nadine Schroeder studies English Literature in Montreal, Canada. Passionate about the freedom Jesus offers, she loves to look gals in the eye and remind them of who God has called them to be. She has written for Off The PageiBelieveShe Reads Truth, and Focus Famille. You can follow her @nadinewouldsay and read her personal writing at nadinewouldsay.com.

CONNECT WITH NADINE! 

Instagram@nadinewouldsay

Twitter@nadinewouldsay

Blogwww.nadinewouldsay.com

Real Life Style Diaries

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"If you like it, wear it." 

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Jeans: Old Navy  | Henley Top: Old Navy 

Hat: Nordstrom | Earrings: Nordstrom 

Shoes: Converse 

 

When I asked in a poll on Instagram the other day what you all wanted to see more of, so many of you said, "Real life style!" As a stay at home mama who works part-time from home, as well, I wear many different hats and in this season of life need to be comfy most of the time! And one of the things I've learned being a new mom these last 19 months is that when I take the time to do my hair, put on some makeup, do some self-care, and am wearing a practical-for-the-day outfit that is polished, I not only feel more confident and ready to give, love and work, but I act more put-together too. (And maybe that's just me and your rhythm and routine is totally different!) So, here's one of my real-life outfits that I recently put together and it's truly comfortable and cute! I wore it a few days ago to my Mama's Group and snapped some photos. I'd heard from about half a dozen girlfriends that they love the Old Navy Rockstar Jeans so I scooped up a pair, and they are super comfy and almost feel like yoga pants. 

 This look is fun and simple, and I hope it gives you some inspo for your real-life, go-to looks! 

Self Care and Healing: Tips and Inspiration

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 If I were to be completely honest and vulnerable with you, my dear reader, I would tell you that, for most of 2017, I personally struggled in my heart and mind as I walked through a valley season. In life, there are mountain tops and there are valleys. And we all walk through those valley seasons; seasons of depression, of anxiety, perhaps. Seasons triggered by loss or full of grief. Seasons of flashbacks and painful memories. We are not weak in this, friend. We are simply real.

Maybe you are a new mama and you're battling a Postpartum Disorder, maybe you're a 20-something single gal who struggles with anxiety, maybe you're a woman who is dealing with the loss of a parent or best friend, a spouse or a child... and your heart is aching. Maybe you're going through a health crisis, and trudging through each day is pain itself. Perhaps your heart is reeling after a break up and losing the one you loved... all your dreams are dashed. Maybe you've suffered a miscarriage or infertility, or the loss of someone treasured, and the grief is absolutely suffocating. Perhaps you're journeying through a season of heartache that no one knows about or understands. Daniel and I have both experienced seasons of depression and anxiety in our lives. And we've also seen God's hand of healing.... how He takes the broken and makes it beautiful. How He sheds light where there is darkness. Where He takes back "the years that the enemy has stolen." Where He redeems and calls up and out. And though, I cannot imagine your pain, I cannot pretend to know the valleys you have and are walking through (valleys cannot be compared, of course... they are all unique and our pain is all real), I do know you are dear and precious, and you deserve to walk through this with support of all kinds. And maybe, you aren't in a "desert" season at all! Perhaps you've just been giving, giving, giving, and know you need to slow down, take some time to recharge, and pour back into your "cup" - focusing in on some self-care this new year as you continue to love and serve those around you. 

In the past months, I've noticed my own aching heart heal... slowly but surely... coming up and out of a valley season; it's a joy, a breath of fresh air, a gift. I hope that if you are in a heartache-season, that you are helped by your people: maybe by professional counselors and doctors and people at your church or in your support system who are equipped to help, maybe by your husband or your bestie, your parents or your family, your coworkers, your group of girlfriends, or your neighbor. Aside from the "bigger" ways of getting help (because we cannot walk it alone) I know from experience that the small things help, too. So here is my little list of some super practical things I have found to be tiny but powerful catalysts of healing. Adding some of these into my daily rhythms has been part of the reason I've found myself entering into a new season this year, and I hope with all my heart that passing them along to you will be helpful, too! (And these are things that have been helpful to me; your list may look much different! But, I hope my list inspires you to think of creative ways to care for yourself and to be purposeful in making space and time to heal and care for your heart, mind, soul and body.) 

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  • Get Some Sunshine

I can't even tell you how helpful sunshine has been to my soul! We all remember learning about how our bodies are designed to react to the sun's UV-B rays when our skin is exposed to sunlight, producing the Vitamin D we need. I've read that when we are exposed to sunshine, endorphins are released in our bodies, as well, which makes us feel happier! I know some of you live in areas where sunshine is scarce at certain times of the year, but getting out in it whenever we can and soaking some up is so vital to our physical and emotional health. 

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  • Tell Your Story

"The strength of vulnerability:

never underestimate the bravery it takes to

let the words fall from your mouth like tears."

- April Green

When you are ready, and how you choose... tell your story. Speak it out. Tell it to one person. Start a blog and just start writing. You don't have to divulge every single personal detail, but if you feel ready, telling your story to others can be cathartic. There is power in truth-telling, in sharing, and in finding you're not "the only one." 

  • Buy Yourself Flowers

Even if it feels frivolous or silly! Buying a bouquet of fresh roses for no reason and placing them on your bedside table just might make you smile. And if you want to just spend a few dollars, buy a simple bundle of eucalyptus at Trader Joe's or just go out into your yard and find some greenery to put in a vase. Bringing the outdoors inside is life-giving. 

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  • Try Using Essential Oils

I've used a handful of essential oils since the year we got married and have found them to be super helpful! There's nothing like diffusing a relaxing oil in your home or making little roller bottles full of your favorites. I especially love lavender, lemon, frankincense and blends like Joy and Grounding. (I've been gifted lots of oils through blogging, was given some from my medical professionals during pregnancy and labor. I also have lots of girlfriends who sell oils.) Do your research when it comes to essential oils and find someone knowledgeable who can help you learn how to use them properly. I truly do believe oils can help support us emotionally as well as physically. (If you want to learn more about essential oils from someone I personally trust, talk to my dear friend Lisa

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  • Write

"Write hard and clear about what hurts." 

- Ernest Hemingway

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"Just write.

   Until it stops hurting."

 April Green

Buy a journal or a notebook. Take pen to paper or simply open up your iPhone's notes and start typing. Pour out your thoughts on paper. (Here's a list of some helpful prompts.) Journaling and writing has been a life-long "therapy" of mine. I started my first journal at age seven and have dozens of journals from that age until today, stored in boxes and a shelf at my parent's home. I truly notice that in seasons I'm too busy to journal and write or just too distracted/tired/lazy to prioritize it, my mind is less clear and my heart is heavier. For me, "dumping" all my unfiltered thoughts and feelings onto paper is extremely helpful in accurately seeing the truth of a situation, "venting" in a safe and not-harmful way - as opposed to sharing those unfiltered thoughts with someone else and potentially creating more issues (of course, sharing unfiltered thoughts with a "safe person" - a best friend, spouse, parent, etc who knows you and your season well can be helpful, too.) If writing overwhelms you and doesn't come naturally, writing lists can be helpful, too (here's a list of prompts when life gets overwhelming.) 

Start a blog or just write heartfelt Instagram captions, create lovely poems out of your heartache, or pour out your heart onto paper. Writing heals. 

"Journal. Put your thoughts into words and remind yourself often of all the wonderful things God has already done and just how far you've come. Keep writing. Keep giving. Keep loving. Keep serving. There will be days where you are tired, and you may feel as if your very feet will give out beneath you, but your God will be with you. He will always sustain you. By His Spirit, He will strengthen you to keep breathing and keep going."

- Morgan Harper Nichols

  • Drink Bone Broth

For years, a cup of chicken soup or a bowl of broth has been the go-to comfort food that comes to mind when we are sick, right? Something about a hot, delicious bowl of broth just makes you feel better and reminds you of Grandma. And when that cup is full of bone broth, there are also tons of health benefits! Read about them here and here is a recipe for bone broth. And if it's too overwhelming to make it homemade, buy it here. (And, I've never tried these but have heard from a few friends that they love these quick Keurig-style cups.) 

  • Take A Hot Bath

I'm a bath person. I take a hot bath at least 4-5 times a week. It's just my "thing." I truly believe water is healing! Add epsom salts (I always use this one) and essential oils and an epsom salt bubble bath (I use this one - epsom salts are full of health benefits, including eliminating toxins from the body, and easing stress.) And if you don't have a bath tub, just buy this foot bath (when we lived in our teeny first apartment, we couldn't take baths so Daniel bought me a foot bath and I loved the spa-relaxation feeling of it!) 

  •  Make Your Bedroom and Bathroom Spa-Like
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Create peace and calm in the spaces you spend self-care time in. A few months ago, I bought plastic bins and labeled them and organized all my bathroom essentials, tossing the old and rarely used items and categorizing the rest (make-up, nail polish, bath items, baby washcloths and soap and bath toys, beauty magazines, candles, hair care, lotions, etc.) I untangled and organized all my jewelry. The other day, I bought a bouquet of eucalyptus at Trader Joe's and hung it in our shower (when the shower is all steamy, the eucalyptus has a spa-like relaxing smell. Saw the idea on Pinterest!) I found little candle holders in the Target Dollar Section and lined them up in the window sill, placing small flameless candles inside. I bought a few little shelves at Hobby Lobby and placed sprigs of lavender in tiny vases on them. Set up a diffuser so that a relaxing scent fills the room as you unwind. I light candles and place books or magazines in the bath area. Get a fluffy cozy robe and slippers. Buy a super soft bath mat. These little touches can make all the difference, encourage you to want to be in the room, and make life a bit more peaceful and can help your mind feel a lot less cluttered, creating space for your heart to heal. 

  • Allow Yourself To Feel

"Healing comes in waves and maybe today the wave hits the rocks

and that's okay, that's okay, darling. 

You are still healing, you are still healing." 

Ijeoma Umebinyuo

Admit it, look the truth dead in the eyes, cry it out, face it, feel it, accept it. 

  • Push Yourself To Move Forward

"The day will be what you make it, so rise, like the sun, and burn." 

- William C. Hannan

Feel what you feel and go deep in it, but do not stay there. Do not allow your heart to wallow. Get out of bed, open the windows, go for a run, make a new recipe, sign up for the gym, show up at church even if you don't feel like it. Speak to your heart and your emotions.

via Angi Greene

via Angi Greene

  • Eat Whole and Healthy Foods
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We all know I'm a taco-eating and coffee-drinking gal who enjoys a fast-food run now and again ;) But, I cook very clean for my family and mostly eat whole, healthy foods and try to buy organic when I can. Making myself a big, leafy green salad full of veggies for lunch when my little one goes down for a nap is one of my self-care practices and I can't tell you how energized it makes me feel mid-day! 

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  • Drink Probiotics

Probiotics have been found to be full of so many benefits and it can't hurt to add them to your diet and routine (be sure to check with your medical professional if you are pregnant/nursing)! I enjoy drinking Kombucha (Daniel and I enjoy this flavor.) I also love this sparkling probiotic drink by Kevita (the drink isn't available to purchase at that link, but just linking to show you the brand and look of it :) Kefir is another one of my favorite probiotic drinks -- I always pick one up at Trader Joe's (my favorite flavor is the strawberry!)

  • Create Again

Think back to your childhood, to your teenage-hood, to that time in your life a few years ago when you felt like "you".... what were your creative outlets and hobbies? What excites you? What do you gravitate toward? For me, it's music, #1. Music is my heartbeat. When I sit and play keyboard and sing a melody, my heart soars and heals. A few other creative passions of mine are crafting (I always loved to scrapbook, make DIY things like cards and fun projects - here's my DIY Pinterest board for some inspo!) I also love being in the kitchen and cooking. Food is life-giving (for obvious reasons) but I also think that creating meals and food for your body and the ones you love is a life-giving practice, too. Gathering around the table and enjoying a handmade meal is a sacred, precious practice and I personally have found much healing in it this past year. Standing and stirring over a simmering pot of goodness, sautéing a fragrant medley of herbs and vegetables, spices bursting with flavor, salty butter smothered on warm bread, a fresh block of parmesan cheese, grated onto a big beautiful bowl of pasta covered in homemade Alfredo sauce. It's healing. When I am anxious or down, I've noticed throughout my life, that my appetite wanes. When I am happy and feel free, I'm starving. Creating wonderful food is a therapeutic, hands-on practice that feeds not only the body but the soul. 

  • Stretch and Breathe

I use this video to stretch and relax. (It's an older video but I have always liked Denise Austin's workouts and these moves and poses work for me. There are tons of stretching/Yoga videos on YouTube so look around and find your favorite!) Taking a moment to breathe and ground yourself can do wonders to help your mindset. I often listen to worship music or pray as I stretch and work out, as well, focusing my mind on the Lord and His truth and goodness. 

  • Ask For Help

Whether that means calling your best friend and asking her to simply come over and sip tea with you, or asking for "carry out" in the grocery store check out line (I do this often, especially with a baby!),  or asking someone to watch your littles so you can rest for an afternoon. We cannot go it alone.

  • Drink Lemon Water Each Morning

Read all about the benefits here

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  • Say No

You don't have to do it all, and you don't have to do what you used to do. Maybe 5 years ago you were able to do _______, but today, you're not. And that's okay. Don't overcommit and overwhelm yourself more. This is a season to take care of yourself, and maybe that means less time doing "all the things." There will be time for that, I promise. Keep on walking but don't jump too far ahead of where you are today

via Angi Greene

via Angi Greene

  • Dance In The Kitchen

When you start to feel that slump, turn on some dance music. Rock out to some rap. Turn it up loud and dance in the kitchen. Just for a few minutes... even if you would rather lay on the couch. Make yourself move! 

  • Work Out

Even if that means just taking a walk every evening with your baby in the stroller. As I just said, move! As Elle Woods always says, "Exercising gives you endorphins and endorphins make you happy...!" ;) I've recently started working out with a trainer at the gym (I shared more about it here) and so far, it's been one of the best things I've done. Our minds and bodies work together - strengthening your body absolutely strengthens your spirit and mind.

  • Worship

“When things fall apart, the broken pieces allow

all sorts of things to enter, and one of them is the presence of God.”

- Shauna Niequist

For me, sitting at the piano and singing songs to Him is a powerful source of healing. Maybe your "worship" time looks different, but sit down and pour out your heart to Him, focusing on His goodness and grace, His character and His heart, praising Him for who He is, enjoying Him. It's life changing.

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  • Do A Social Media - and Life Cleanse

Go through your Instagram page and unfollow accounts (who aren't family and friends) whose posts and content don't lift you up. There is oh so much noise flowing into our minds, eyes, and ears, and we must learn to set boundaries to quiet that noise as we hone in and focus on what is truly important. What we see every day as we scroll through our phones does affect us. Be careful about who you allow to influence you, who you spend time with (in "real life" or through a screen) and speak into your life. 

  • Read

There are too many wonderful, life-giving books to count - in all genres and covering all topics, and I'm sure there are many I've never heard of or read so please, share your go-to's! Here are just a few of mine; a couple of gems that have walked beside me during valley seasons in my life, have given me perspective and hope, have opened up let me cry into their pages, and have made me feel less alone.

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- Bloom by Kelle Hampton

- And Still She Laughs by Kate Merrick 

- The Music of His Promises by Elisabeth Elliot

- The Magic of Motherhood by Ashlee Gadd 

- The Rules of Inheritance by Claire Bidwell Smith (I don't agree with everything this dear author has written, but she has some poignant insight on grief I found to be very interesting and insightful.) 

  • Don't Compare

This is a hard one for all of us, me included. We are all in different seasons. Maybe she is in her "springtime" season and she's able to cook homemade dinners every night, run a successful business online, and seems to always have her hair and make up done. But maybe last year, you don't know... she could hardly get out of bed in the morning to make her baby's breakfast, maybe last year she was in the middle of dealing with a miscarriage no one knew about, and perhaps this year she's in the "light" and is in a happy, "easy" season. Don't compare your midnight to her morning. Don't compare your beginning to her ending. Cut out what you need to (delete social media apps, etc.) in order to fight this... do not compare. Do not compare. Do not compare. (Preaching to myself, too....) 

  • Talk To God About It

Write it down if you need to. Tell Him all about it. The anger, the fear, the pain, the confusion, the regret and guilt, the hopelessness. Whatever you are feeling, spill it at His feet. He knows, anyway. 

"Tell your mountain about your God."

  • Practice Gratefulness

It seems simple, but I've found that intentionally practicing gratefulness has proven to be game-changing for me! Yes, grieve and work through the feelings and fears, the emotions and the realities, the disappointments and loss; some of them will never be fully healed, not until heaven, and some wounds will heal but the scar remains forever. Yet, replaying the hurt, the moment of loss, the trigger, the things missed out on, the thing we can never change, that choice made that turned everything upside down, that regret, that moment of hurt or pain that sears your soul so deeply you can hardly stand it, that memory that is triggered late at night, that awful moment you cannot stop replaying in your mind... when I've found myself in the thick of the triggers and memories, the trudging through the "mud" of those moments... when I find myself going back ... again and again, in an unhealthy way, I've intentionally trained my mind and heart to look for the good; to turn the painful memory or moment into a positive one. Thinking of the good that came from the pain, or the good that will come; the light at the end of the tunnel, someday. The good things you can remember about the events surrounding the pain: the person who was kind to you, the way you saw the Lord's hand, the broken road that led you to someone or something beautiful. Turn your mind to it. Replace your broken record of hurt with it. It won't wipe away the loss or the grief: oh, no. It is real and legitimate, it was life changing and you won't ever be the same. But, His fingerprints are there... faint, perhaps. But they are; I promise. If you look for them, you will see. 

"Life is brutal. But it's also beautiful. Brutiful, I call it.  Life's brutal and beautiful are woven together so tightly that they can't be separated. Reject the brutal, reject the beauty."

- Glennon Doyle Melton

  • Listen To Healing Music: 

If You Want Me To by Ginny Owens

 He Will by Ellie Holcomb

 Healing Is In Your Hand by Terry Jones

 Sing Over Me by Bethany Dillon

Defender by Rita Springer

 Though You Slay Me by Shane and Shane

 Shoulders by For King and Country 

 Heal The Wound by Point of Grace 

You Are Still Holy by Rita Springer 

Make You Feel My Love by Adele

Every Season by Nichole Nordeman

The Broken Beautiful by Ellie Holcomb

Any of my wonderful husband's beautiful music :) 

__________________________

Dear friend, I hope these practical things, from my heart, are helpful to you, wherever you are. And if you're not in the trenches of a valley season, maybe someone you love is, and these things can help you practically love them better. 

Know you are loved, treasured one.

You are a gem. You are created and graced, you are crowned and adored. You have a future and a hope. The darkness will only remain for the night, joy will come in the morning. I promise.

via Instagram.com/andrearhowey

via Instagram.com/andrearhowey

"Rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness in our lives;

it's the process that teaches us most about who we are."

- Brene Brown

Farewell, 2017 and Hello, 2018!

As we say goodbye to 2017 and hello to 2018, I’ve spent moments this weekend reminiscing, recalling, remembering, and just really feeling a whole lot of grateful for the past 12 months of our life. I personally walked through some high highs and some low lows. The start of this year hit my soul deep, in ways and for reasons I have not shared publicly or on the Internet. My heart was in "the thick of it." In the thick of battling some very real struggles and pain that hit deep and hard in tender parts of my soul. The start of 2017 hit me hard, amid all the joy and beauty and goodness…. and, in all the smiley and pretty photos that I posted (choosing to see “the good” is not wrong, and not “posting it all for the world to see” was on my heart) I wrestled with a whole lot and sank, in some ways, under it. And yet, the Lord…. He was there all along. He held me up and walked me through “the valley of the shadow” — through it; not over it or under it or around it. Through it. There were times when I felt like I was drowning. And then, as you do, by grace, I surfaced. 2017 held some of the sweetest blessings and joys — time spent with dear family and people we love, abundant provision and undeserved gifts, prayers prayed 20 years ago and almost forgotten, answered. My word for 2017 was “Redemption.” And in some ways, I can look back and ask, “But, God? What about _____. And ______. And _____?” Those still “unredeemed” things. The still broken things. And He says, “But, look….” And throws His arms wide, revealing all those seemingly small and unnoticed redeemed broken pieces. What a gift. 

Through it all: a health challenge we walked through at the start of the year. Marking our two year wedding anniversary with a blessed trip to Mexico. Celebrating Weston’s first birthday. Precious moments with family, near and far. In my own heart, I look back and see how I “hit the wall” (inwardly) on our wonderful, whirlwind trip through Europe, and how the moment I stepped foot back home, I found I began to heal… the trip broke me and healed me and I’ll always hold the countryside of France, the Swiss alps, and magical Paris at night as some of the dearest, most cherished moments of my life, with my beloved boys.  “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.” — William Cowper.

When I think of 2017 I will always think of these words, written by Billy Jack Brawner III (his story shared with me this year by my sister in law, and used as one of the small threads that stitched my heart back together): 

“Always both/and, in these days: both hope and heartache. 

Both laughter and tears. Both beautiful and broken. 

Both life and death. Both peace and war. 

Both contentment and longing. Both joy and sorrow. 

All held in tension, until the Day." 

 [Billy Jack Brawner III] 

This year, full of goodness. And looking through it, counting the fruit… oh, I am a grateful girl. My heart and hands are full, and I am overwhelmed with the thousands of gifts. 

These pictures shared here are just a few of the thousands of snapshots we took. Just a glimpse into the beauty of 2017. Just a taste of my gratefulness. There were so so many more moments; so many connections, adventures, mountaintop-highs and quiet lows, so many milestones, so many crock pot meals, so many cups of coffee, so many hard conversations; so many words spoken and books flipped through, baths drawn and bananas cut up for a tiny boy, miles driven, airplanes boarded, phone calls made, yes-es said and no’s chosen; toilets cleaned and dishes washed, birthdays celebrated, people missed, beds made, laundry folded, coffee stirred, doctors visits and beach trips. It’s all a gift. And I am grateful for the mundane and the unbelievably exciting, for the brokenness and for the healing. 

So with an overflowing-with-good-and-joy heart and a renewed clarity and peace in my mind, I close the book that was 2017 and place it on the shelf of life. It went too fast, really. And oh how I long to hold onto the coming days, to remember, to write it all down, to feast on the good and learn from the dark. A wise and seasoned mama friend of mine who has walked through more life and motherhood than I told me this year, “Write it down. You will forget. You don't think you will, but you will.” I don’t have a huge laundry list of resolutions for the fresh year, but I want to write again in 2018. To journal. And blog. With vulnerability and faith. To remember and recall His faithfulness in the night and His new mercies every morning. I want to sing and play piano again; to sing over my boys and to worship my King. I want to read more and go deeper, to focus on the “depth over the breadth” — in every little piece of life. Daniel and I are striving to become physically healthy this year, and I’ll share more of that journey (for accountability) probably on Instagram. Most of all, I want to enjoy every moment and drink up the joy and pour it all out on my people, and serve and love without hesitation or condition. 

My on-repeat anthem for 2018 is “He Will” by Ellie Holcomb. Holding onto it.

Only He knows what 2018 holds, but I pray and hope with all my heart it is a good one, a giving one, a grace-filled one. Our family is thrilled to embark on some exciting adventures, work hard, love on our growing boy, work on some brand new projects, take a few trips — including another trip across the pond to chase some dreams! 

Thank you for your presence in our lives, even through a screen. For your kind words and connection. For your messages on Instagram and for listening and being and supporting. For your kindness, prayers, encouragement, and love. Cheers to 2018, my friends.

Let’s make it a growing, gracious, good one!

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Our darling Valentine.

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Dates and ordinary nights and at-home days with my man filled up my soul. 

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We spent a few days in sunny Palm Springs for Nana's (my sister's) birthday this spring

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And lots of afternoons at our community pool with this little fish!

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A few trips to our beloved Santa Barbara for favorite eats.

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Our first just-us trip, to Cabo, Mexico, to celebrate two years of wedding bliss!

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And back home to smother our boy in kisses as he turned ONE in June

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We took him to a cozy cabin in June Lake, California, and showed this baby bear the mountains

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Celebrated milestones with family

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And were blessed to visit Mickey lots and lots

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Enjoyed our beautiful families

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And hugged dear might-as-well-be-family who live too far away

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We skipped over to France and Switzerland for the most epic trip of our lives, to celebrate Daniel's 30th birthday. What a joy.

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I fell in love with my lifelong crush, the Eiffel Tower

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And head over heels with my man and baby boy, all the more.

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We made our little townhouse more of a cozy home and I enjoyed cooking more than ever

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Spent a few days in the mountains with my family

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Daniel released a couple of albums, provided so well for our family, worked incredibly hard, and I could not be more proud of him. 

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So grateful to have had the opportunity to be hired by and work with two of my lifelong favorite brands, Ralph Lauren and L'Occitane. Offers for collabs often show up in my inbox but I turn down 90% of them because my time is so limited (my main heart goal and energy-focus in this season especially is my precious little family... babies don't keep!) but these two collaborations came along and I just adored working with them. One of those "dream come true" moments I dreamed about when I began this little blog

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Flew to Oklahoma in the spring, hosted some of Daniel's precious family here in the early summer, celebrated a sister's wedding in Indiana in the fall, visited Texas for Thanksgiving and spent a few days in Florida to hang out with Westie's cousins! 

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photo by: http://imkristenmorris.com/


Abundantly blessed and graced. 

Thank you Lord.

Happy New Year!!! 

 

Gift Guide: For Babies

Christmas is getting closer!!! I know we are all in the middle of our Christmas prep (and maybe you're already done with your shopping -- woohoo!) but I just loved putting together this fun gift guide with a few items for baby. Weston was 6 months old last Christmas so these are mostly things we gave him -- items we loved and used, and still use. Most of them you can run and pick up at Wal Mart or Target, or order quickly on Amazon Prime (the best way to shop, right?) Hope it's helpful and helps you fill in those gaps you might have in the gift list of the precious little one in your life!

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1. Laugh and Learn Crawl Around Car // My mom gave this to Weston last Christmas (he was 6 months old last Christmas!) and it's still one of Weston's favorite toys. Hours of entertainment! It features songs and words (there are several levels for different stages. This car is for ages 6 months to 36 months.) It's been a favorite toy for us!

2. Activity Gym // Weston had a similar gym and loved it for tummy time! I think this one is so darling. The white, gold, moon and stars? The sweetest! 

3. Duck Tub // We switched from an infant tub to this inflatable duck tub when Weston turned 6 months old -- we gave this one to him for Christmas. It's a perfect transition as your baby begins to sit up and crawl, but isn't quite ready for the tub. It's also great for travel! 

4. Our Favorite Teether // Teething is no joke -- for babies and their parents. Weston had 8 teeth by 1 year old.... so, yeah... I knew about teething that first year! He was such a little trooper. We tried so many teethers, and this was by far his favorite. My grandma picked it out and just knew it would be perfect -- of course she would know. I know I stuffed our little guy's stocking with a couple of these last year!

5. Baby Lit Books // I'm collecting all of these for Weston -- I love that he's already being exposed to classic literature. And the artwork is beautiful! Especially loving that they have "Little Women" and "Anne of Green Gables" (two personal favs of mine) and classics like Huckleberry Finn.  

6. Pots and Pans // When he started crawling, Westie loved playing with all my pots and pans. I wish we'd known about these cute play ones -- I've heard littles love them! Melissa and Doug toys is a favorite brand of mine and it is an investment, usually, so it's a perfect holiday gift splurge.

7. Shaker // I picked up one of these at Wal Mart when our little guy was just a month or two old, and I know it helped him to learn how to grab and hold things. Ideal for your tiny little love's stocking!

8. Elephant Rocker // A most-loved item in our nursery, this rocker is so well made and quality. We got it for Weston last Christmas and it's definitely one of our investment pieces. It's one of those items that will stand the test of time and will pass from baby to baby as the years go on! 

Slow Cooker Buffalo-Ranch Shredded Chicken Sandwiches

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*Inspired by and adapted from this recipe 

As a busy wife and mama of a hard-working husband who works long hours several days out of the week, I am always looking for slow-cooker recipes that are easy, flavorful, and filling! My boys are "meat and potatoes" guys  (Daniel is a Midwestern man, born and raised!) and so especially on long work days, I love to make him something hearty for dinner. This recipe is one of my favorites and it's super, super simple and quick -- as a busy mom of a little one, that is a must! 

Ingredients:

  • 2 Pounds Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast 
  • 12 Ounce Bottle of Buffalo Wing Sauce 
  • 1 oz Packet Ranch Dressing and Seasoning Mix
  • Rolls or Homemade Biscuits
  • Toppings we like: Blue cheese crumbles and blue cheese dressing or shredded cheddar cheese and ranch dressing, lettuce, onion. 

* Can also be served on nachos, in taquitos, or on potato skins for a game-day type treat 

If I have extra time and am feeling "fancy", I also add in these ingredients I have seen in other versions of the recipe:

  • A few fresh cloves of garlic, minced
  • About a tablespoon of brown sugar 
  • Fresh ground black pepper, to taste 
  • A pinch of salt 
  • 1/4 cup of low sodium chicken broth

Preparation: 

Spritz slow cooker with non-stick spray.

Add chicken breasts to slow cooker pot, and season with ranch dressing mix. Add garlic, brown sugar, salt, pepper, if desired. Mix in buffalo sauce and chicken broth. 

Cook on "low" for 8 hours. (If short on time, cook on high for 4 hours but I think the flavors blend best on low!) 

Shred chicken with a fork one hour prior to completion.

Serve with your choice of cheese, dressing and toppings along with your favorite side dish -- I love making a big salad and serving it along with potato wedges, fries, potato salad in the summertime, veggies and ranch dip, or chips. 

Enjoy!! 

 

 

 

 

Gift Guide: For Him

Yay yay yay! It's December! Time to thoughtfully buy and loving wrap all the gifts for all the loved ones. A sweet but sometimes daunting task, amIright, ladies? Well, I put together a short series of Gift Guides to help a sister out! I so enjoy Christmas giving and it was so fun and therapeutic for me to put together. I hope it helps you out!  

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1. Yeti Tumbler // Daniel, being a Midwestern Man ;), is obsessed with Yeti tumbler cups! And they have been one of my go-to gifts for men the last couple of Christmases. They truly keep your drinks steamy hot or perfectly chilled -- for hours -- and are super well-made and designed. 

2. J.Crew Socks // I always buy Daniel J.Crew socks for Christmas! They are a bit of an investment (as opposed to, say, Wal Mart brand socks) but the quality is worth it. He will wear a pair for a year! I often pick them up on online sales or at J.Crew Factory's website. Aren't these campfire themed ones so cute?! 

3. Passport Holder // If your guy loves to globe-trot like mine does, he'd probably love a quality, leather passport holder and I doubt he would invest in one for himself (my sweet hubby is always thinking of others and is so frugal when it comes to his own needs!) 

4. Cozy Robe // Another item men usually don't buy for themselves but would probably enjoy -- a cozy, nice robe! My mom has gotten dad robes for Christmases and he's always thrilled and feels like he is in a fancy hotel when he wears it! 

5. Quality Ear Buds //  If you're like us, you have a slew of Apple and Target or Dollar Store sets of ear buds lying all around the house, but don't really own a truly quality pair. Hubby might love a pair for runs, flights, and quiet times! I've never used this brand, but I have seen lots of posts and reviews from bloggers saying they're great.

6. Hubby Mug // Every time I step into the Target check out line, these little cuties are staring me in the face and always almost toss one in my cart for Daniel ;) They're cheap and remind him every morning that you're thinking of him.

7. Ahava Skin Care // You guys. Of all the products I've ever tried in my 31 years of life thus far on earth, ohmygoodness.... this is one of the best. I first tried Ahava products on a trip to Israel at age 13. We stayed at the Dead Sea (a dream) and Ahava products were everywhere -- and cheap there at the time! Goodness, the scent of heaven and it takes me back to that dreamy trip and season of my life. I love to buy Ahava products as gifts for loved ones (I often find the brand at Marshall's or TJ Maxx these days, FYI) and am scooping this up for Daniel, as I'm always trying to encourage him to take good care of his skin. 

8. Lantern // My grandma is the queen of practical gifts for men. She always shows up at Christmas with some super amazing, as seen on TV but totally real-life usable, product for the guys in the family that she ordered off QVC! She bought Daniel and my dad lanterns last year and they were a major hit -- perfect for camping, power outages, or just working in the yard or garage!

9. Fuzzy Blanket Throw // Another one to file under "he probably wouldn't buy this for himself" gift ideas! I personally adore cozy, super soft blankets, and this Target version is a favorite -- we own several for guest visits and movie nights. What man could say "no" to one of these soft throws?

10. Ugg Slippers // We all know Uggs are oh so soft and oh so comfy! This pair of slippers is suede and I love the color. After a long day of work, our guys deserve this kind of soft coziness. 

11. Leather Luggage Tag // My man is a wanderlust guy so these chic, leather, monogrammed luggage tags are perfect for him. There's just something that feels so "grown up" about monograms and leather -- and these tags would last for years and many wonderful trips, I am sure!

12. An Encouraging Read // One of the few men I respect most, Bruce Marchiano, wrote this book, "The Character of a Man: Reflecting The Image of Jesus." I've read it and just love every single word on every single page! It's an inspiring, encouraging look at how to be a man who models Jesus, in a practical and very real way. It was published a few years back, but it's truths ring true timelessly. 

Alright, sistahs! I hope that gives you some ideas for showering your men with love this holiday season.

What do you plan on getting your guys?

My Black Friday Favorites

Hey loves! I hope you've been chillin' at home with your people today, eating leftover pumpkin pie, sipping hot drinks all cozy today! For fun and to hopefully help you out, I've rounded up some of my favorite items on sale for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. These are just a few of items I've scooped up or that I just loved! 

 

OLD NAVY

50% off everything! 

Women

Men

Baby

Anthropologie

30% off!

Home

Kids

American Eagle

40% off plus free shipping!

J.Crew

40% off your purchase and free shipping

BLANQI Leggings

50% off!!

These fit like a dream, keep everything pulled in, and come in a pregnancy version and also a postpartum/nursing design. I'm wearing the postpartum version here and wish I had worn these right after Weston was born. 

 See their website for all their amazing supportwear!! 

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Weston's Wild One Birthday Party

Weston's Wild One Birthday Party

Our beautiful, bright, beloved boy turned one in June! What a year, what a life, what a joy he is. I meant to blog all about his birthday and party months ago... but, you know how mama life is -- busy, busy, amIright? And sometimes, when you get the choice: play with my baby or blog his party? Or, sleep or blog the party? Well, you know what won ;) haha Such is this season and it's beautiful, long-dreamed of, and precious to my heart!

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Christmas Decor Favorites 2017

Christmas Decor Favorites 2017

I know it's a little early for some people to think of Christmas decorating (#notme haha), but whether you're a Christmas crazy who decks the halls before Thanksgiving or if you are waiting until December 1st, it doesn't hurt to get ideas and plan! I had so much fun putting together this guide full of my favorite Christmas decor items. I hope it inspires you with ideas and inspiration for the holidays!

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Favorite Recent Amazon Purchases

Favorite Recent Amazon Purchases

Amazon Prime, you guys... I mean, is there anything more fabulous? I think not. I am absolutely obsessed, especially as a new mama -- it has been invaluable, time saving, and money saving too, for us this past 16 months of parenthood plus the 9 months of pregnancy before! I love hearing what treasures my friends and favorite bloggers find on Amazon.com and so I thought I'd put together a little list of some of my favorite things that have arrived at my door in that happy cardboard box! Hope it's helpful for you and gives you some ideas and inspo!

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Loire Valley: Chateau de Chambord | Europe 2017, Day 2

Loire Valley: Chateau de Chambord | Europe 2017, Day 2

When planning our trip to Europe, one non-negotiable thing on my "list" was: at least a day seeing castles and chateaus. Loire Valley came up on all my Internet and travel book searches and was recommended to us by several friends who are familiar with Europe, although no one we know had actually "been there." But, based on research and photos, I just knew we had to visit this seemingly-magical place.

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Montresor, France | Europe 2017, Day 1

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Our great Europe adventure of 2017 is one for the books. What a magical, beautiful, wonderful whirlwind.

With grateful and excited hearts, we packed our bags and headed out for the trip of a lifetime. Starting with a flight from Los Angeles to Indianapolis, we spent the first days of our journey celebrating Daniel's sister and her wonderful new husband's marriage! We had the best time hugging family and dear friends who we see far too little, laughing, dancing, and enjoying along with them. From there, we flew to New York City (with a short layover in Chicago) and spent the night (our goal was to "break up" the trip from Indiana to Paris so that Little Guy could stretch his legs and rest.) And then onto Charles De Gaulle Airport! I really can't wait to share all the bits and pieces of our trip (including the much-asked for post about traveling overseas with a baby/toddler -- not that I am an expert, at all -- having done it just once! But I am going to soon share our NYC day as well what we learned while traveling via bus, train, car, plane, cable car, etc -- in hopes that it will encourage or help other traveling parents!)

All in all, we spent 16 days on the road in September and had so many adventures. 8 flights. 3 countries. 4 states. 2 rental cars. 8 hotels. Los Angeles > Indianapolis > New York City > Paris and back. 

We arrived in Paris on September 5. We took the "red eye" flight from NYC and Weston (thankfully) slept 90% of that 6 hour flight. He cried for about 20 minutes straight, mid-flight (and I cried, too) and the rest? He slept peacefully (#dreambaby) I was oh so relieved. I prayed so hard that he would be comfortable, peaceful, and sleepy. I didn't sleep. Too excited/nervous/worried/thrilled/just "all the feels" (sensitive feeler ENFP over here!) Weston awoke that morning in Paris, bright eyed and ready for the day! We thought about staying that day near Paris and resting up the first day, and left that as an option based on how we felt "when we got there," but when we arrived and got our rental car, Daniel felt alert enough to drive to our first destination. I, for one, did not! Jet lag hit me hard and I was drowsy and exhausted, but Daniel had slept on the flight and he felt "ready to go" -- so we went! 

As we planned our trip, we chose to make it easy-as-possible and "baby friendly"-- to forgo crowds at the most popular sites, the museums, etc (things we would love to do someday) in hopes of making it would be easier with a toddling little one. So that he would be safe/happy and so we wouldn't be stressed and totally frazzled.  The trip was purposefully crafted to be very family-friendly (our sister in law, who had just been to Europe with her littles, gave us some really helpful tips as we began to craft our plan which helped much) and in retrospect, we are thrilled with how it all played out. No horror story moments in Europe and everything smoothly flowed fairly perfectly as far as plans being fit for a young family! We are grateful it all went so beautifully. And I hope that those of you planning to go on a Europe adventure with small children will be inspired and given ideas by our itinerary (several people on Instagram asked what our exact itinerary was and in this and following blog post, I will be detailing it in hopes of helping ya out!) Choosing smaller towns and villages to visit by rental car was a wonderful choice for us. We were free to create our own schedule, haul all our luggage and baby items more easily (we brought a Pack N Play, Car Seat, Stroller, etc -- more on that in a following post), and be free to explore the French and Swiss countryside at our leisure! 

The heart and purpose of this trip was to celebrate Daniel's 30th birthday as a family (we celebrated mine in Maui) , and his request? To see the countryside of France and the alps in Switzerland. The year before we met, Daniel backpacked Europe, all alone. He is a brave, fearless, wild and free adventurer, and he literally packed up his backpack and grabbed his viola case, booked a flight to Europe, a little money in his pocket, and a dream in his heart: to see the big wide world! Looking back, I am so proud of him (and, also sort of happy I didn't know the sketchy moments he would encounter on that crazy wild trip! There were definitely some unsafe moments in his wild adventure -- his phone was stolen and he slept on several park benches, played his viola to make money to go to the next town, had no plan in place, knew no one, stayed in hostels, rode trains... and had a happy, happy time!! And the Lord totally protected him ;) This trip looked a bit different than his former one -- a family trip, with much more than a backpack (#overpackerwife #workingonit) and a baby boy in tow! He kept remarking on how much more he was able to see this time, with a little more money in his pocket ;), a plan in place, and wheels! Seeing Europe on a train is a bit different than via car -- we had so much freedom and loved it. 

As I planned and researched our trip and made our itinerary, I kept Googling, searching in travel books, and "Pinterest-ing": "The Best French Villages." In my mind's eye (having never, ever visited this part of Europe, myself) I could just see that "Beauty and the Beast" style historic, charming village and I knew that is how I wanted to start our journey. I didn't know if "they" truly existed in the way I imagined, but as a hopeless romantic full of dreams and idealism, I hoped they did! Every time I researched, I found lists of "The Best French Villages" and on almost every list, I saw the village of Montresor. Another "ideal" for our trip was to spend some of our time visiting historic castles and chateaus. (If you know me, you know a real castle in the countryside is basically my idea of heaven, and Daniel's idea of heaven is rolling hills, countryside, and lots of trees and green -- we grew up on a farm and a ranch....what do ya expect! ;) I found that Montresor always made it to those "Most Beautiful French Villages" lists. In fact, in 2015, it ranked as the #2 most beautiful village in France! And Loire Valley... goodness. Just research it! It looked like a slice of paradise, and it truly is. And so, with much research (and I don't love research, so seeing it all unfold as I planned was quite satisfying and addictive!) I chose to begin our adventure in Montresor. And, can I just say..... best decision ever. We were on Cloud 9 and I am grateful we began in that little piece of heaven. People asked us, "Why Montresor? It is so random! I've never even heard of it!" And it really is rather tiny and random! But, it was truly perfect and I would personally say: it was my favorite part of the trip.

Montresor is set in Loire Valley. Loire Valley is a wonder in and of itself! I could truly spend a month there and just eat, explore castles, sip local wine, and just enjoy the beauty. Loire Valley is described on one website this way:

"If it's French splendour, style and gastronomy you seek, the Loire Valley will exceed your expectations, no matter how great. Poised on the crucial frontier between northern and southern France, and just a short ride from Paris, the region was once of immense strategic importance. Kings, queens, dukes and nobles came here to establish feudal castles and, later on, sumptuous pleasure palaces – that's why this fertile river valley is sprinkled with hundreds of France's most extravagant fortresses. With crenellated towers, soaring cupolas and glittering banquet halls, the châteaux, and the villages and vineyards that surround them, attest to a thousand years of rich architectural, artistic and agrarian creativity. The Loire Valley – an enormous Unesco World Heritage Site – is also known for its outstanding wines and lively, sophisticated cities." 

Uhhh, sign me up! One local told us there are over 150 castles/chateaus in Loire Valley. Every time I researched the castles, it was overwhelming to just choose a few -- each one looked dreamy. I had a list of 4 we planned to see, but once we arrived, we stopped in the tourist center in Montresor and a sweet British lady directed us to the perfect castle to visit and so our plan changed. (Sometimes "being there" is helpful and talking to locals is the best!) There are just so many photos I wanted to share from the first day in Montresor that the next blog post will be all about the chateaus we saw.

 Montresor is just the sweetest little village full of the most darling people. At the center of the village is the 11th century fortress, and we stayed in the most perfect little B & B just 50 meters from it! The view out our window, the church... every morning we were awakened by the most magical bells ringing through the village. I will never, ever forget that enchanting sound. The quiet, quaint village is situated right on the banks of the Indrois River, and it is truly the most charming place. We stayed at The Little Salimander. (And we could not have chosen better accommodations!)

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The flowery path outside our door.

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Our little front porch and table on the deck area of the B & B

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Simple and clean, the little apartment was so quaint and sweet. The view out the window of the cobblestone street and church steeple... the dreamiest.

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Our precious hosts brought Weston toys! Including this darling little piano. He adored it!

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The beautiful, charming, breathtaking view out our window. The church bells woke us up every morning, and I wasn't even mad about it. #magical

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Look at the little hearts carved into the shutters!! Fair warning: I'm going to sound like a broken record in all these Europe posts. But, truly, every detail was full of charm and uniqueness! 

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We dined at Cafe De Ville twice or three times during our stay in Montresor. It's a lovely little cafe I highly recommend, situated right beside the Chateau! Like, a few feet away from the fortress. Sipping coffee beside the castle? My dream come true! The staff was darling. Few spoke fluent English (and I felt so bad that we didn't speak French -- in their country! They were so gracious to us!) but we managed to communicate and they were truly very kind to us and accommodating. I adored their espresso and their bread was tasty! Sitting and sipping outdoors felt very "French." 

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Oh, the espresso. My word. I can truly say it was the best I'd ever tasted. Daniel agreed! I'm no barista, but I know it's difficult to make perfect-tasting espresso. Just divine. Not bitter, not weak, not too "jet fuel" strong. Rich, but not overpowering. Perfectly creamy and sweet (I ordered a cappucino and added some granulated sugar) and the flavor. I crave it every day and probably always will! (And I just loved these turquoise-tinted water jugs they brought out. So pretty!)  

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Nearly every day, I ordered a salad at whatever cafe we found ourselves dining in. French salads are different than American, made with very fresh ingredients and I mostly very "clean." Some of the toppings weren't my favorite (so much fresh fish, which is so healthy but I didn't love it!) but those dressings. Goodness! The dressing were perfectly emulsified, with the right amount of oil to acid. Mouth-watering!

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Charming, darling, unique, historic details in every layer, corner, nook and cranny. None of the architecture is perfect or linear in France. There are no right angles or symmetry, really. And Daniel and I loved that. 

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The pots, the flowers, the roofs, the ivy, the chataeu fortress, the church steeple. Ahhhh, it's just too much! 

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I am going to print out this photo at Costco, and write, all "old fashioned"in pen on the back, like our mamas used to, "Weston Joel, fourteen months old, in France." 

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The front of our sweet B & B.

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Roses sprouted up everywhere, all around the village. It was just so "Beauty and the Beast," I could hardly stand it.

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Our hosts dear friend, the owner and chef at a crepe cafe down the way, invited us to take a stroll through his personal, river-side garden. The view of the chateau was breathtaking -- every historic detail in place. It was amazing! 

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The view just across from where we stayed. The little village homes all have the most beautiful, working, lush gardens behind!

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Part Two coming soon! With more details about Montresor, our tour through the unbelievable historic castle, and other areas we visited in Loire Valley. (Two of the happiest days of our life!)

Travel Diaries: Maui, Hawaii

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"Basically, you haven’t been to paradise if you haven’t been to Hawaii."

- Bruno Mars

Maui. You guyssssss. (And I feel sorta silly quoting Bruno Mars of all people... but, he is just so right!) 

It is -- by far -- one of the most fabulous places we have ever been.

One definition of "fabulous" is: "amazingly wonderful." And, goodness... Maui was exactly that.

It's been almost a year since our trip (time flies) -- we went last November. But, better late than never to post the pictures, right? I wasn't blogging much last year, just focusing on my new baby which was bliss! But, this summer, I have been organizing all our photos since we got married, including the trips we have been blessed to take together, and I just thought I'd share here on my little online journal with all your sweet friends some of our adventures. Partly to remember (because, even though I am printing out albums soon of all these photos, it is sometimes nice to have them on my blog to easily access and reminisce, and also because I, personally, have been so inspired by blog posts about travel -- travel with babies and kids, and locations in general. Reading real-life experiences, recommendations, personal pictures, etc, at certain destinations is one of my main inspirations for traveling, and seeing real-life parents travel with their littles inspires me all the more!  So, hopefully, some of you will be somehow inspired by our photos and trips I share here. 

We only spent a few days there, but in our short stay, we quickly discovered that everything about Maui drips with beauty, sweetness, warmth, relaxation, and perfection. It really is paradise... through and through. 

Daniel planned this trip, at the last minute, to celebrate my thirtieth birthday! And, it was the perfect way to enjoy saying goodbye to my twenties and "hello!" to a brand new decade.

Chill, happy, sunny, beachy, delicious, and just plain gorgeousness -- all wrapped up into one island package. We got a steal of a deal (through Costco Travel, actually!) and stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua,  -- it was one of the loveliest, most luxurious places we've ever been. My sweet man treated me like a queen on the trip and spoiled me far more than I deserve, and my heart just ached with gratefulness for thirty full years of life and the precious gift of my boys. 

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Everything about the hotel felt grand yet relaxed, all at once.

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The breakfast every morning was superb. When we booked the trip, we didn't expect "Breakfast Included Daily" to mean a complete spread of fresh fruits, made to order omelets with every topping you can imagine, made to order breakfast items (like eggs, bacon, sausage), fresh squeezed juice, an array of breads, a waffle bar, and even fresh-made kombucha! The breakfast dining room view overlooked the lush grounds and sparkling ocean. We were floored and ooh-ed and ahh-ed every morning (you can tell we'd never stayed at a Ritz before haha!) 

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Found this handsome dad ;) 

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The way the trees met the sea made us say, "It's like Carmel, California!" over and over. Something about parts of Maui reminded me of California's northern coast.  

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Friends who love Maui, you ladies on Instagram (you always know best!), and even the hotel concierge highly recommended we visit Baby Beach.  And we were so happy we did! It is a protected lagoon and very safe for swimming, so it was perfect for Weston to dip his toes and swim in the ocean for the first time ever! It is on the North Shore of Maui, right before Paia. 

Baby beach is beautiful and the sand area is easy to walk to, flat, and very shaded. 

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Daniel snapped some photos of me on our balcony before we headed down to dinner (again) at The Banyan Tree. For the first time postpartum, I felt like "myself" again. Like a glam, confident new mama. So I wanted to document it. 

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The Banyan Tree proved to serve some of the best food we've ever tasted -- hands down! This shrimp was absolutely divine. Our wonderful waiter -- a Frenchman who'd lived in Maui for years and worked for the Ritz for over 20 years -- was the most skilled, devoted man who literally adores food, flavors, atmosphere, and serving. He made such an impression on us because of his pure passion for his career and for the art of dining. He served us this (off the menu) shrimp -- sautéed in butter and garlic. Ahh, my mouth is watering remembering the depth of flavor. We ended up going back every night for a glass of white wine and these fantastic shrimp!   

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I think this is the only photograph we took as a family on the trip! I took just a handful of photos and (sort of) wish I'd snapped more. But, we were so focused on enjoying, resting, soaking in our boy and family time, that we didn't even think to (which is rather strange for me!) 

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This trip -- four months postpartum -- was the first time my heart began to truly feel healing after all the trauma we went through. I will never forget swimming in the warm water while my boys played on the golden sand, basking in the sun and feeling healing wash all over me. It started that day. 

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More shrimp!

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Sweet little guy chilling in his sunglasses!

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One morning, after breakfast we took a drive through Kahakuloa Village. We thought about taking The Road to Hana but since we only had a few days and our little man along with us (who was just four months old at the time!) we decided to wait until next time to take that adventure. We got to stop by charming frui stands on the drive, stopped by the Nakalele Blowhole, and found the yummiest shave ice ever in a pink road side cafe (my dream)! A perfect little road trip day.  

Later that day and the next day, we stopped by the ever-recommeded Ululani's Shave Ice -- just melt in your mouth delicious!! The flavors were just so "true to life" and not "bottled" tasting at all!

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In Maui, we were blown away by one of the top two best dining experiences of our lives. This is the only picture I can find of the memory, because, well -- I was too busy enjoying my man, my baby, the view, and the food to take photos, I suppose! But, ugh. It was absolute heaven on a plate at Mama's Fish House. Basically everyone we knew who'd been to Maui very highly recommended Mama's. And it absolutely lived up to the hype. More than lived up to it! Every bite of the meal we enjoyed was delicious -- from the bread basket to the wine to the dessert. Go to Maui, y'all. And if you only go to one restaraunt, go to Mama's Fish House!   

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Sweetest memories with my sweetest people. 

I'm a happy girl.

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Other Maui recommendations from friends of ours that are on our bucket list for "next time": 

- Paia Fish Market

- Molokini Sunrise Snorkeling Cruise

- Upcountry Maui

Bringing Back Blogging

The other day, I talked a little bit on Instagram stories about how much I miss blogging. Yeah, blogging is still here. But, it's changed so much. I started my blog 6 years ago and it was a very different culture than what it is today. Not that today's culture is bad! It's grown so substantially and I love that. Blogging used to be seen as unique, semi-weird, and something that could never really be a "real job." And now, it's recognized as a career. It's crazy and amazing to me! I picked up People Style Watch magazine the other day and noticed that probably about 80% of the features were fashion bloggers. I love that blogging has become a thing and it's actually become a multi-million dollar thing. Which makes it a wonderful opportunity for business-minded ladies (what a wonderful thing, especially for stay at home mamas who get to work from home due to their blogs!) but it's also become a whole different culture than it used to be. Blogging used to be so real. So raw. Such a community. And now, it is so saturated that it has changed. There are still those bloggers and posts out there that are full of realness and life. But, many blogs have dissolved into Instagram (which I am not saying is bad -- it's definitely easier to use for busy people!) but, it is what it is. I just personally miss writing and reading blogs like we used to. Connecting like we used to. And I'm not saying that it's wrong to use blogs for business - it is amazing for women, a wonderful opportunity that I take part in and am passionate about. When I started blogging, I was nannying, making minimum wage or less, and then didn't have a job most of the time... I dreamed of writing a book someday, of perhaps making a living and supporting the dream I set out on. Little did I know that blogging is how the Lord would bring my husband into my life! I've also been able to make money through blogging -- through selling books, campaigns and advertisements, affiliate links, etc. I am approached weekly to take part in ads, product promotions, giveaways, etc, etc and I turn 95% of them down. And that is because I take my blog so seriously and my readers are precious to me -- I only share things that I am truly and honestly passionate about, for real. And I try to share ads and products with a genuine heart. It is a blessing to me and my family and helps support the time I spend putting into the blog, writing, and creating. Know that as I do sometimes share sponsored posts. When I say, "bring back blogging" in the way it used to be, I'm not saying we shouldn't be bloggers who make a living -- the opposite! If you sell essential oils or lipstick through your platform -- do it, if it is what you love and makes an income for you to stay home with your babies. If you sell books or make money from affiliate links, you go girl! What a fun opportunity we have to make money at home using our laptops and phones, being our own bosses! 

But I do miss writing and not always worrying about our "aesthetic" on Instagram. How fun it is, to be creative, take beautiful photos, to enjoy it all! But, my heart is and always has been and will be to share honestly, to share my heart, to share my life and faith, and to hopefully inspire my readers. I love these words I recently read on the topic:

"I view my Instagram feed as a daily, visual list of things I'm grateful for."

- Joy Prouty 

Maybe we can bring the heart of blogging back, in our small words, significant posts, and sincere honesty. Motherhood and a year of joy mingled with pain has taught me much, but most of all, I've learned how beautiful the "ordinary" small things are, how silly comparison is, how much we have -- right here -- and how powerful and connecting storytelling, genuine heart sharing, and gratefully posting our hearts and lives is. 

Cheers to you, storytellers and grateful sharers. Your words and posts, your kindness and gratitude -- they matter. In fact, they change the world. (Whether you have one hundred thousand readers or one reader.) 

 

l

Self Care with L'Occitane

When I was seventeen and just really "getting into" beauty products, the guy I had a crush on told me he bought some L'Occitane lotion for his mama for Christmas. He'd just come home from a trip to Europe and he picked some of it up along the way. That is how I heard about it L'Occitane and I'll always remember that girlhood moment, for some reason! ;) Years later, as woman and brand new mom, my husband gave me a beautiful box full of L'Occitane treasures. Smelling that lovely scent and using the luxurious products were good for my soul. I've truly been a longtime fangirl of L'Occitane and believe these products are absolutely wonderful (and their scents are amazing!) Their new line of Peony products is just lovely and smell like heaven. We are headed to France next month and so I am even more excited about L'Occitane than ever, as it captures the "true art de vivre" of Provence.

As a new mom, self-care has become all the more vital for my life as a new mom of a busy little boy as I strive to care for myself so that I can continue to give so much as I care for my sweet boy! A few days ago, I took a little self-care moment during naptime and tried the new Peony products and snapped some photos for you! 

I tried the Peony Purifying Minute Mask -- when I opened it up, it smelled exactly like the peonies from my wedding bouquet. So happy! 

The Minute Mask is a "melt-in-mask" that is super easy to apply. I am very picky about what I put on my skin -- especially my face -- because I have extremely sensitive skin and have struggled with severe cystic acne over the last few years (it's cleared up post-baby thankfully!) but I am cautious. Yet, I use L'Occitane products trustingly and never have an issue. 

The mask helps absorb excess sebum and reduce impurities, and it only takes three minutes! Perfect for the busy mama I am! Just apply a fine layer to your face, leave on for three minutes, then rinse off. Waa--laa! (I was dying over the scent!!!! Daniel walked in our bathroom and said, "What is that smell?! So good!" 

First, I washed my face off (because I was wearing a little foundation, bronzer, and a swipe of mascara) with the Peony Petal Cleansing Oil. I've never washed with an oil before but it worked wonders! It's infused with real peony petals from Provence (in the actual bottle, you guys!) which was so unique and romantic ;) It really did leave my skin feeling glowy but not oily.

The combinations of the Cleansing Oil plus the Minute Mask made me feel so refreshed when I rinsed it off! And my face smelled like peonies all day!

These products are just lovely -- way to go, L'Occitane.... once again!! This kit would make a lovely gift for your mama friends, your mom, or yourself as a little pick me up :) 

*Thank you to L'Occitane for sponsoring this post. #ad