Happy First Day of School!! // Homeschool Edition

As school buses once again begin rumbling down the streets, we are reminded about the privilege and opportunity our family has to homeschool our children. 

This week marks the beginning of a new school year for many in our area (and in our social networks), so I thought that would be a fine time share a little more about this aspect of our life. 

We began this gloriously challenging adventure halfway through our oldest's first year of kindergarten; he is now entering third grade, which means we are starting our fourth year of home education, our third year of participating in a co-op (Strong Oaks Academy, which kicks off later this month) and our second year balancing the education needs of two full time students (Samuel in third grade, Elisabeth in first grade). Oh! And our first year doing all of this with a crazy, table-climbing, non-stop moving toddler in the mix. 

And in case you're wondering, yes, it can be as overwhelming as it sounds. And no, I'm not anymore super-hero empowered than you are.  It's just Jesus.  ;) 

So, why homeschool?

When we initially decided to take Samuel out of public school, we were faced with two options for education - small Christian schools, located about 25-30 minutes from our home, requiring $5,000-$6,000 per school year OR home educate.  Gue$$ which one my hu$band liked be$t??  Yup, whichever one did not resemble the beginnings of college tuition.  

That's when I found myself baptized into the oceans of homeschool curriculum.  

What was so wrong with public school anyway?

Honestly? Nothing.  And Everything.  All at the same time. We had a fabulous kindergarten teacher; she was awesome and thought highly of Samuel.  But between the 25 kids in the a.m. and 25 kids in the p.m., she couldn't provide much one-on-one attention and when we started seeing some downward progression in his behavior and emotions, we found ourselves living reactively to how his half day of kindergarten went and running a post-bus-ride debrief every day.  It got to be exhausting.  

The Lord had just called me away from vocational ministry with the Northern Kentucky Fellowship of Christian Athletes (something I LOVED, but a passion that simply needed to be tabled for the time being) and I now had the time to see our family needs with less distractions.  It became clear that my attention needed to be more focused on our kids' needs and one of those was the character and growth of our oldest son. 

There was a time when at the age of 6, children were ready to take off into this big world with a backpack of supplies at their feet as they rode away into the school day on a big yellow bus.  But for us, our kid wasn't there yet.  Oh sure, he was ready to read, could follow instructions, could tie his shoes, could stand in line and could rock out that cafeteria line at breakfast time (his favorite part of school seriously was the chance to get whatever he wanted from the cafeteria ladies.  Cinnamon-roll day was his jam!). But it was his heart and character that needed some more time.  

So, the husband and I discussed it and came up with a game plan - we would commit to homeschooling Samuel from kindergarten through 2nd grade.  Come 3rd grade, we would evaluate his needs and go from there.  We were definitely not planning on being a homeschool family come the high school years. (hehehehehe)

We bought a curriculum set, sought some wise counsel (most of our family did not support this idea) and started down the home education path!

But I would be a lying bag of dog poo if I let you think it was all glitter crafts, advanced learning endeavors and easy-going days of awesome since we began.  <Clears throat> It has not been. Throughout our first few years, our days have actually included:

  • Arguments.  About the proper way to write an "a" or "p" or "q".  Or that no matter how you divided it, 2+2 always equaled 4...even if our son did think he discovered a "new way" to add.
  • Tears.  By the student AND the teacher.  He would cry that we did school EVERY DAY (Apparently, only crazy mean people would require school five days a week). I would cry that it wasn't all glitter crafts, advanced learning endeavors and easy-going days of awesome.  
  • A sense of drowning. No, I didn't ever have the desire to drown my child; it was more, I felt like I was drowning.  Many, many times there were days of I felt so overwhelmed by what we weren't getting done and became anxious that I wasn't able to provide our son with the highest quality and most diverse education experience that I imagined someone else could give him. 
  • No school work.  Sick days, errands, or even just emotional apathy could all very easily disrupt our routine and give me more than enough reason to call school off for the day and allow the kids to build a tent and play all day instead. 
  • Calling in back-up. When you home-educate, you get to be teacher, principal, lunch lady AND parent.  This is indeed as amazing as you just imagined.  >>sarcasm alert<< I have sent out an emotional SOS to my husband and interrupted his work day without consideration way too many times.  I have contacted schools for enrollment information mid-school week, at least once a school year.  And I have even outsourced the teaching to my awesomely retired MIL for a week at a time. 

So if it can be that crazy, why do you keep doing it?

Great question! You reader friends always have the best questions.  

The simple answer: Jesus.     The elaborated answer: Obedience. 

When we first began, we committed to homeschooling Samuel through second grade; which eventually led to committing to give Elisabeth the same opportunity.  I wanted to throw in the towel numerous times but Ben kept me steadfast as he gently reminded me over and over of the commitment I had made.  So I kept returning and trusting God that fulfilling this commitment was for my good and asked Him to help me press on. 

Then, the last semester of second grade had arrived and I began making plans to enroll Samuel in public school for the fall.  Second grade had actually gone really well - it had been our best and most enjoyable year yet! But with Third Grade looming ahead, I knew I would either have to step up my game immensely or enroll him in a great school where he could receive so many new and exciting experiences.  With my pros & cons list in hand, I decided a traditional school structure was the better idea. 

Until this....

This is a peek at our 9-day family road trip this past May where we traveled from Cincinnati to Niagara Falls to Cape Cod to Hershey & Gettysburg and back home...and we loved it! It was the best edu-vacation ever! (Education + Vacation is kinda how we roll anyway)

This is a peek at our 9-day family road trip this past May where we traveled from Cincinnati to Niagara Falls to Cape Cod to Hershey & Gettysburg and back home...and we loved it! It was the best edu-vacation ever! (Education + Vacation is kinda how we roll anyway)

The beauty of that trip was that I had already made up my mind in regards to Samuel's schooling for the new school term. I wasn't looking for answers on our trip; I was simply enjoying our family time as we vacationed together.  But God knew better (He always does, doesn't He?).  

In tiny whispers, He affirmed our education investment and He graciously showed us fruit. Strangers, servers, and watching grandparents would take the time to compliment the actions demonstrated by our kids. When we answered the common question about our schedule (oh! is school already out for summer back home?) with "no, we homeschool so we are a bit more flexible."  It was always received positively and returned with encouragement. 

Once home, I was met with this response in my time with Jesus regarding the new school year:

Rebecca, you have fulfilled the commitment you made to homeschool Samuel. I am not requiring you to continue in this endeavor.  You can choose what you would like to do in the fall.  

That thought alone brought glorious freedom for me.  I did not have to walk this out in disciplined obedience anymore.  I could choose to send our son to a traditional school or I could choose to continue to homeschool him.  There was joy awaiting me in this choice. There was joy and freedom and grace. Oh sweet redeeming grace! 

And this day, as many of our friends congregate once again at bus stops and in school cafeterias, I sit home with a house full of kids, a sink full of dishes, a table full of books and a heart full of joy because I got to choose to do this all over again. 

Happy First Day of School, friends!






Our Little Drummer Boy // Parenting with Purpose

When we were pregnant with our first child about 9 years ago, I spent a lot of time praying for that little one growing inside my belly.  I prayed that he/she would love the Lord, that he/she would lead others well,  and that he/she would have a strong heart.  

We were one of those odd couples who did not find out the gender of our baby and God used that to draw me into even deeper dependence on Him and a greater trust in His plans as I wrestled with my desires and dreams for our first born.  I was pretty confident we were having a boy (I actually prayed that God would give us a first born son because I knew the strong headed, stubbornness that lay within the genes of our family line.  I figured if I had to go toe-to-toe with a strong-willed, female teenager, there was a good chance one of us may not survive the adolescent years ;). 

We met Samuel Benjamin Pierce on Monday, February 26, 2007 - a healthy 8.1 pound first-born son. 

And our world has rarely been quiet, calm or laid back ever since.  :) 

When I look back on all those prayers I uttered during pregnancy, I never really knew how they would manifest themselves in the life of our eldest child.  (Had I known, I may have prayed more for a submission heart..ha!) But I am truly thankful for them because they continue to give me a chance to see the faithful hand of God in the life and days of our Samuel.  

Which brings me to the whole point of this post!!

This past week, we made the 6-hour drive to St. Louis so that I could take him to see Kari Jobe on the Outcry Tour.  This spring, we kinda got into a Kari Jobe groove during our morning family worship times (you can see some of our favorite songs here!) and one morning Samuel mentioned that he would like to see her in concert.  Cue buying tickets to see her on a Tuesday evening in August in St. Louis.

Now, you may not have a strong-willed child, so lemme paint the picture of what its like to try to introduce such a child to a cool, new (read: unknown and untrusted) experience:

Parent buys tickets well in advance, contemplates telling child right away because it is so awesome. Ultimately waits because uncertain of reaction --> could result in daily questions of can't-wait-anticipation or grumbling and complaining about this now "dumb" idea. 

Three days before said awesome event...

Parent: Hey Buddy! I've got something cool to tell you.  You know how you wanted to go see Kari Jobe in concert? Well, we got tickets to see her in St. Louis this week.  That's why we are going to St. Louis!! So cool right?! 

Child: What? In St. Louis? I don't want to go to the concert.  

Parent (completely confused): What? Why not?

Child: Because if we are in St. Louis, I want to be on the farm.  I don't want to go to the concert if I can be on the farm instead. 

Parent: Bud, the farm isn't going anywhere.  This is the closest we will be to Kari Jobe.  It's going to be so cool.  We're going. 

Child: I don't want to. I changed my mind.  

Parent: <sighs> <insert head into hands>

Over the course of the following three days, you and everyone else in the family, and even close friends, try to convince this son of yours about how cool and awesome the concert will be.  They enthusiastically talk about being jealous of him and tell him he will have so much fun.  And instead, he just keeps talking about everything he is going to miss out on -  driving a tractor, eating dinner with the Grandparents & Aunts 'n Uncles, not sleeping at the farm (which he gets to do all of these for two of the three St. Louis days)

All he knows is this "cool, new experience" is taking him away from what he what he loves and enjoys most.  So you can imagine the less-than-enthused attitude he had when Daddy dropped us off for our carpooling ride to the concert. 

But my friends, here is us once we arrived, found our seats and heard his first in-concert artist take the stage. 

Then, Lauren Daigle took the stage. Once he realized we sing her songs when they play on the radio, he was sold that this wasn't such a terrible thing after all. 

Sometime during her second song, he snuggled into my side and said -

"Mom, thanks for bringing me." 

Abso-stinkin'-lutely.  You are so welcome, Buddy. 

Then, a little later, another side snuggle came -

"I love you, Mom." 

Oh, son.  I love you too.  More than you know. 

Finally, during her third song, Samuel looked up at me and said -

"Mom, I want to do THIS when I grow up."

What's that?

"I want to play drums for concerts."

My heart exploded, my eyes grew weepy and all I could say was "Ok." followed by a big grin and an even bigger side hug as we raised our hands and worshipped together. Everything I had hoped for this experience was true.  He loved it.  He loved me.  And somewhere in this sea of people and loud noise, he felt a new part of him come alive and beat in his chest. 

>>> Now I have to take a few moments and give you some background on why all of that was waiting so expectantly within me. 

  • When we were less than two weeks away from delivering Samuel, Ben & I went to see Stomp!  at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis.  We had great seats & that baby boy never sat still.  While many might say its because it was so loud, we like to believe it was because he has always been a percussionist, even in the womb. 
  • He's always loved music, but since he could walk, he's always been drawn to the drums.  Aunt Adina even purchased him a Leapfrog toy drum for his first birthday. By the time he was 4, I had inquired at what age can kids start drum lessons (answer: 7). 
  • Then there was that time when he was 5 and we visited my cousin & her professional drummer husband, he was allowed (and even encouraged) to play on the pro set.  Oh man! This kid thought he was at Disney World.   

We know that there is a fire in this kid.  We know that he loves music.  We can see the Lord drawing him ever closer to Himself.  Therefore, we want to do everything we can to help shepherd those gifts and callings and abilities so that one day, he may pursue what he has been designed to do.  

That end is the WHY behind a six hour drive to St. Louis, a battle with a strong-willed child to take him where he didn't (initially) want to go and the beauty in his response. 

So, now back to the concert!  

After we sang with Passion & Kristian Stanfill and danced with Bethel Music then did our own version of the Nae Nae with DJ Promote, it was time for some Kona Ice.  (He's actually been asking for some Kona Ice all summer - so this was certainly the proverbially cherry on top!)

Once he slurped down the sugary goodness he was amped for the next act - the much anticipated Kari Jobe! And lemme tell you, we had church! 

If you EVER have the opportunity to worship alongside this woman, DO IT! There is an unexplainable anointing with this humble, spirit-filled sister.  She may have only been given time to lead us in four songs, but the power of the Spirit was palpable.

Hillsong United wrapped up the evening with an equally amazing set. However, I think the sugar crash + the two-hour-past-bedtime timing were more than Samuel could take and he spent the last songs curled up on my lap.  

My arm and legs may have fallen asleep, but I was not about to complain.  You know how many years it has been since I have gotten to hold him like that?!  :) 

Friends, I share this story because I want to showcase how good and faithful our Father is! How many times are we like a stubborn, strong-willed child who doesn't trust the goodness of our heavenly Father? Who stomps the ground and says "I don't want to go!" because we can't see or understand where He is leading us, and we'd rather stay where we have all the answers.  

Oh friend! I am so thankful I didn't grow impatient with my son's ignorance and bend to satisfy his fickle desires.  We would have missed out on one of the most special nights we have shared. Isn't our God so gracious to us? Oh that He would keep teaching me to parent like He does and growing me in my trust of Him and His ways! 

- - - - 

If you are a parent,  I would implore you to ask God for wisdom in understanding your child's bent and then parent him or her in that way.  If this is a new idea to you, be sure to check out this article for more thoughts on this perspective.  It really helps me to grow in grace especially when the clash of strong personalities erupts in our home.  

Hunger Games...Part Deux // Call it a "diet" one more time

It is Week 2 of this 21 day fix, Rebecca Pierce style.  And over the last 10 days or so, I have heard the D-word more than I care to. 

"How's your diet going?"

"Is this (insert food of choice) on your diet?"

"Oh just eat it. Don't worry about your diet."

Like the angry Miles Finch from ElfI get a little miffed and want to jump up on the table and dare someone to call it a diet one more time. I did not start the 21 day fix because I wanted a quick fix to my health goals; I wanted to make sincere lifestyle changes and I thought the container system, workout plans and accountability group would give me the best chance to do just that.  

And just so we are clear - I have never been on a diet and I have no desire to be on a diet.  I simply don't believe in them!  I personally think diets only set us up for failure in the long run. However, I do think making changes that can be implemented into your normal routine for the long term are awesome!! And because of the 21 day fix, I HAVE seen some fabulous changes in myself in these first two weeks, and I am excited to share them with you.  

 So, if you wanna know how this endeavor is going, just ask! But don't ask me about my diet or else I just may go all "angry elf" on you. ;)

WHAT I HAVE LEARNED IN THESE FIRST TWO WEEKS

  • I (heart) the blue container & the yellow container.  The blue container is home to nuts, avocados, hummus, beans, and cheese.  The yellow container is for starches + carbs.  Two weeks ago, If I wanted to grab something quick to eat, I would go here first.  And in case you're wondering, that's not the best choice.  
  • I was wrongly categorizing my plate! Before the 21 day fix, I considered black beans + cheese as great protein options, avocado as a healthy fat AND a veggie, sweet potatoes as veggies, and peanut butter as a solid protein.  Ummm, that's all wrong!!!! Beans, cheese & avocado are blue container, sweet potatoes hang in that yellow container and the PB lives in the dreadfully tiny gray 2 tsp slot.  And I ate these things practically daily in way larger quantities than the container system suggests!
  • Food is FUEL.  I have started to see food for my body like gasoline for a vehicle.  Crappy fuel = crappy performance.  No fuel = no performance.  So now when I am running low on energy, I understand that I need to find a good fuel/food option to keep me going.  I care about making better food/fuel choices because I want to be better for me and my family. 
  • Once you start eating better, clean eating actually starts tasting better than processed, refined, sugary, fried fast food or junk food.  I have had less than one can of soda thus far - water tastes so good and my classic weakness for a cold Coke is disappearing (now thats a miracle!).  When we have made fast food stops, I try the french fries but after a few, I realize they just don't taste as good as they used to. 
  • Feeling better is way worth the small sacrifices.  The first week I started taking less naps and had more energy later in the day.  I haven't mastered clean eating for every food opportunity, but saying no more often to poor food choices has left me saying yes to so many other things beyond the food world. 

CELEBRATING NON-SCALE VICTORIES

I have shed about two pounds thus far, but beyond the scale, there are already so many other things worth celebrating. My BB coach calls those "non-scale victories." Here's some of mine:

  • I have been able to walk 1-2 miles at least 4 days each week. Before this, I wasn't walking at all. 
  • I did my first 60 second plank this week.  Holllaaa. 
  • I crave water and haven't had a whole can of Coke yet.  Since I don't drink coffee, I would allow myself one can of Coke a day, usually about 2 p.m. 
  • My napping nature is slipping away. My love for naps remains untarnished; its just my need for naps that's decreasing. 
  • More and more of our grocery budget is invested into produce and perishables.  I am stocking way less in our pantry and more in our fridge.
  • Our kids are eating more fruits & veggies! 
  • I enjoy fast food way less.  My husband appreciates how this affects our monthly budgeting. 

I'm sure there are more, but hopefully these are enough to show that this little journey is a worthwhile endeavor.  Now onto some more non-scale victories in regards to good food + recipes! 

Since we are stocking up on more fresh produce each grocery trip, I am trying to wisely spend our budget.  And when 1 lb of spinach is priced at only $.99, I buy that stuff.  But figuring out what to do with it all before it goes bad can get a little tricky.  So for the rest of this post, I will share some of my favorite meal options utilizing the green power food of choice - fresh spinach.  

Please note: I am neither a food stylist nor am I a food blogger. I have only listed the main ingredients but not the exact amounts so that you can choose how much to use based on your container allocations for that meal.  All food photos have been done using my iPhone immediately prior to (or sometimes in the middle of) devouring these dishes.  Please don't judge. 

---->> BREAKFAST

DRINK-YOUR-BREAKFAST SMOOTHIE

Many people love to enjoy their breakfast on the go, and I'm no different. I like to throw all these ingredients in my Magic Bullet and whip up a quick smoothie while nailing the green, purple & red containers right out of the gate.  I even measured my fruits & veggies ahead of time and put them in a freezer bag to help speed things up in the a.m.    

  • (1) 5.5 oz Yoplait Plenti (red for protein / orange for the flax + pumpkin seed)
  • Spinach (green)
  • Blueberries & Strawberries (purple)
  • Orange juice
  • Optional: Ice cubes + Protein powder (red)

Throw in a Magic Bullet blender cup and blend until your desired consistency. Enjoy!

HEARTY BREAKFAST OMELET

If you have time to whip up an omelet (sometimes we do these for dinner too!), then definitely use up some of that fresh green spinach!

  • Eggs (red)
  • Spinach (green)
  • Ground turkey (red)
  • Sauteed mushrooms (green) in coconut oil (gray)
  • Sprinkle with cheese (blue)

POWER-UP BREAKFAST SANDWICH

I love a good breakfast sandwich.  So finding a tasty recipe for home was essential! Watch out Panera.  I may not be visiting you as often now.  

  • Whole grain english muffin (yellow)
  • Scrambled egg (red) cooked in coconut oil (gray)
  • Spinach (green)
  • Avocado (blue)
  • 1 slice provolone (blue)

 

---->> Now its time for LUNCH

I love me some tasty Mexican food but it can be easy to splurge on the blue & yellow container ingredients.  When I recently ate this for lunch but had no more yellow containers to use for my corn tortilla allocation, I got creative and subbed large fresh spinach leaves and enjoyed chicken tacos a la spinach wraps. 

CHICKEN TACO  WRAPS

  • Shredded chicken breast (red) with taco seasoning
  • Homemade salsa (green)
  • Avocado (blue) - mashed up & mixed with salsa for guacamole
  • Black beans + corn mix (blue)
  • Sprinkle with cheese (blue)
  • 2 corn tortillas (yellow)
  • Large, whole spinach leaves (green) to use as wraps for remaining mix

---->> DINNER TIME

For years now, I have been making a dish I first saw on The Food Network with Giada on Everyday Italian where she took hot pasta noodles, some butter, arugula and pecorino cheese and made this super easy, yet delicious dinner.  Problem was: I didn't have all the ingredients so I subbed a few things (like spinach for arugula).  BUT we did stumble upon what would become a family favorite dish (read: we argue & barter over the leftovers) and have kept fine-tuning the recipe to meet our ever-growing taste preferences.  So this dish became a must-translate recipe for the 21 day fix.  And it wasn't too shabby. 

SUPER EASY, PASTA AWESOMENESS

  • Whole grain linguine or fettuccine noodles (yellow)
  • Olive oil (subbed for 3 tbsp butter) (orange)
  • Fresh spinach (green)
  • Sauteed mushrooms (green) in coconut oil (gray)
  • Chicken breast (red) cooked in coconut oil OR 1 bag pre-cooked shrimp (red)
  • Freshly grated pecorino (blue)
  • Sprinkle of Panko breadcrumbs (yellow), to taste
  • Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

When noodles are cooked & still hot, toss 1/3 of them with olive oil & black pepper in large bowl. Then layer fresh spinach, mushrooms & pecorino - the heat from the noodles will wilt the spinach and melt the cheese.  Repeat two times with remaining noodles and ingredients.  Toss to coat.  Can incorporate the chicken or shrimp with the other ingredients or can add on top of pasta mixture when plating.  Sprinkle with breadcrumbs once plated for added crunch.  Can sprinkle with additional pecorino if desired. Mmmmmmm.  Enjoy. 

 

I hope this has been helpful as you begin making healthier lifestyle changes.  Feel free to leave some of your favorite spinach recipes below in the comment section as well! 

 

Lucas Turns 1!! // Celebrating our baby boy's first birthday

A whole year has passed since we first welcomed our third baby into our family - a healthy, blue-eyed big boy of a baby.    Lucas was born on Thursday morning, July 17, 2014 at 3:01 a.m.  And he has kept us moving ever since.  

In honor of his birthday (& to show our visiting niece around Kentucky), we celebrated with donuts & horses.  Our first stop on our adventure was Beans Cafe & Bakery where we got Lucas is very own donut! Getting your own sweet treat in our family is a huge deal because we share everything. 

(The donuts at Beans are always fresh, delicious and BIG! We love Beans.  And their lunch menu is equally awesome.  If you find yourself near Dry Ridge, Kentucky - stop by!) 

After filling up on sugar, we continued south to Lexington, Kentucky - The Horse Capitol of the World.  Our sights were set on Keeneland  - a picturesque racetrack where guests are welcome to tour the grounds each day and even enjoy trackside viewing during daily morning workouts.  Workouts start at 6:30 a.m. but after our 1.5 hour drive and donut pit stop, we arrived about 9:00 a.m. 

It was incredibly serene; a far cry from the busy activities of race day.  We were able to stand right alongside the track and watch the horses get their morning exercise.  It was so cool!

The riders would often bring the horses right up to where we were standing so we could see them up close.  This was Lucas' first horse encounter.  (He liked it :) 

Elisabeth, our 6-year-old daughter & middle child, adores horses and has a vision of one day owning 99 horses....and one dog.  So after the trackside view of morning workouts, we were allowed to tour the stables - where she got armfuls of horse snuggles.  

We have never actually seen her interact this much with horses, but she was remarkably gentle and confident with them; something we rarely see her display simultaneously.  Maybe she is on to something here.  

She may even be considering a goat now, instead of a dog.  

At one point, my husband asked me how many pictures of horses I actually needed.  Welp, when they are this beautiful, I'll take as many as I can get. 

Our 16-year-old niece was also visiting this week so it was cool to see her enjoying the up-close-and-personal experience too. 

Lucas wasn't so sure at first about these large, soft-nosed creatures. 

But then he met this sweet one who was like a horse version of a silly uncle.  

Then, I died with all the cuteness overload. 

By the end of the day, Lucas had mastered the art of the one or two finger gentle touch. 

Keeneland was amazing and I highly recommend EVERY ONE to go there for morning workouts at some point in your travels through central Kentucky.  It was indescribable. 

Once we returned home, Lucas got to open his first singing birthday card and present from Aunt Dana & her tribe.  

He loved it!

On Sunday, we invited over a few friend families, made a homemade baseball birthday cake + cupcakes, threw on our St. Louis Cardinal gear and called it a birthday party. 

Present time!  (Photos courtesy of Mr. Rebecca Pierce Creative, aka Ben Pierce) 

Next it was time to rock the shirtless look and have free reign over a cupcake, while everyone watched.  

All in all, it was a winner.  Thanks for all the birthday love - Lucas enjoyed every bit of it!  Here's a self-timer pic of our home team, including Cousin Brandy.  #LetsGoCards #CardinalNation #STLCards

The Hunger Games // This momma's version of the 21 Day Fix

Hello my friends!!!

If you have been around the interwebs more than one week, you probably have seen your friends flex their arms and abs, showcasing the awesomeness that is Beachbody & Shakeology.  Well, I hate to disappoint you but that's not what you will find here.  

For the last week, I have started to make some changes to help me get to a healthier version of me - more energy, less naps and a whole lot more whole foods.  And seven days into this thing, I am excited to say I am seeing some results.  (No, I will not be showcasing another picture of my belly.  There only needs to be one post about my smokin' hot, sexy self - which you can see the blog post about all that here ;)

My good friend (& like a little sister love!) Addy wanted to jumpstart her career as a Beachbody coach and invited whomever shall to come and be apart of an accountability group.  I told her straight up that we ain't got no interest in buying shakes & videos & blah blah blah.  She still let me join the Facebook group, so I decided to honor that and actually do what I could to work the "blankety-blank" out of this program.  

This is my account of this journey as a SAHM of three kids (8, 6 and 1), while breastfeeding (6-8 times daily), chauffeuring and haphazardly managing my photo/writing business.  May it serve as a guidepost to your journey to awesome. 

 

DAY 1

Overwhelmed by the group posts from others regarding their workouts and meal prep, I send out an SOS to my "coach" then re-group and utilize pinterest to find more information about Beachbody meals.  

  • Learn of the container system.  See that it alone is $40 ---> begin sorting containers we already own to see what we have and what we lack
  • Realize only need to purchase 1/2 cup containers! (Victory!!)

 

  • Since we had just returned the previous evening from 4 days out of town, just ate what we had on hand (I'll just tell you - it was crap).
  • Activity included Pinterest beachbody arm work out plus ab work out (late morning) and 15 minute yoga session for beginners (first thing in the morning)

 

 

DAY 2

  • Ate well today. hot Muesli + bananas for breakfast (had to choke this down!) Orange pepper with hummus, pistachios, cottage cheese, grapes, PB + banana  
  • Activity included arms and abs + 2 miles of walking (while pushing a stroller)
  • Battled hunger pains most of the day - eating smaller portions but not having time to eat very often
  • Still nursing and was tired come 1:30pm
  • However, took kids out for $.57 short stack pancakes at IHOP at dinner.  Ordered side of blueberries and strawberries to join my pancakes; unfortunately, at IHOP that means the equivalent of pie filling instead of fresh fruit.   Within an hour of leaving, felt sick to stomach and had a headache - probably from the sugar.  No bueno.  Good news is ---> the small changes I have made in just the last two days already make my body respond differently to junk.  #silverlining

Day 3

  • Rocked breakfast with a 3-egg omelet + mushrooms, spinach, yellow pepper (3/4-1 cup veggies in all), avocado and cheese (1 TBSP each).  I must mention though that I have gone to bed hungry the last two nights; and actually dream about what I will eat for breakfast.  This victory was in part to my hunger pains of the night before.  
  • Lost ground on the caloric intake at lunch time when I only found time to eat 1/4 cup cottage cheese, 1/4 cup hummus with sweet pepper + pita chips.  Hence the following..
  • Cranky, shaky, lacking energy, which led to ==> emotional meltdown at approximately 1:30pm and highly considered leaving the 8 year old in charge so I could escape the house and actually eat a legit number of calories + complete one 15-minute work out.  (None of those things actually happened on this day).  This is when I realized breastfeeding moms who are trying to get in shape are participating in their very own version of The Hunger Games, except we are trying not to let anyone die....from starvation. 
  • Regrouped after baby's nap time and took kids to the library then to the grocery to restock the fuel.  $45 later and I had multi-grain english muffins, apples, celery, (more!) cottage cheese, yogurt, spinach, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, pears, cauliflower, ground turkey, corn tortillas, strawberries and blueberries.  Mostly everything went into my fridge - very few items made it into the pantry.  I would say that's a sure sign of some whole foods purchases!  
  • Dinner was way more successful than Day #2. Tilapia with cajun seasoning (sub coconut oil for butter), baked sweet potato, steamed broccoli + carrots and green beans.  (This kids ate all the same things but they also got some cheesy rotini noodles).  I made lots of each so there was even enough leftover for Daddy's lunch and baby's lunch for tomorrow - and so full of veggies. #winning
  • The exercise portion of today was highly lacking - no yoga, only 1/4 of a mile walked during rainy swim lessons and my third attempt at workout came at 9:15 at night..which is typically my bedtime.  After the 30th burpee, I called it quits. But I must admit, I feel great - not my typical sluggish, ready-for-my-3rd-nap-of-the-day self.  #itsgettingbetter  

 

Day 4

  • Decided to try a smoothie for breakfast - included some frozen Jamba fruit & veggie mix + 1/2 cup of this new yogurt I just found called Yoplait Plenti...it has oats, flax and pumpkin seeds (bonus!) + 1 scoop of protein powder.  Um....it tasted like chalk.  It was at this moment I was very thankful  I had not invested in the shakes just yet because this was terrible.  And it cost me less than $9 to find that out.  But on the upside - I really like the yogurt!

 

  •  Lunch was another good one - strawberries, my go-to protein of cottage cheese, sweet pepper with some hummus & pita chips.  Followed up by another new favorite snack ---> whole grin english muffins, 1 tbsp of peanut butter and sliced apples.  
  • Now, lets talk about dinner.  We went to a friend's house for a BBQ so like a good 21 day fixer, I brought fresh fruit salad plus a small bowl of freshly prepped guacamole.  Started off so good, right?

But then there were burgers, with cheese and white sesame seeded buns.  Lemme just say, these were the best burgers I ever ate!!!!!! #noshame 

And for the first night all week, I did not go to bed hungry.  

 

I know this is already such a long post, so I shall summarize the following days - I would nail clean eating for roughly 2 meals and a snack, but then amidst family activities & house showings, I also had Arby's and some ice cream. I share this so that you know the reality of this adventure.  #thestruggleisreal #ItAintAllPretty #SmallVictories

Thanks for hanging with me to the end! For that I reward you with one yellow & one blue container extra today (because those are my favorites ;) Next time, I'll share more pics and more actual recipes we've tried.

Babies don't keep // Things I wish I knew as a first time momma

Today was a hard day.  

Our baby-turning toddler has been refusing to sleep, both at night and at nap time.  The rainy days keep piling on which, in turn, wear thin the patience and imagination of the big kids. Daddy had an overnight travel and I am attempting to eat better & exercise more (which simply translates into I'm hungry and not happy).  I tell you this not to complain.  But so you know that I need this reminder too.  

Our baby boy turns one in less than a week - and I keep catching myself wondering where on earth those months, those 365 days went.  

Babies don't keep.  I understand that simple statement far better now than I ever did in those early years with our oldest.  If I had to do it all over again, this is what I would say to the first-time-mommy version of me and to you. 

For those mommies in the first year who are so eager to hit those baby milestones,

I would sit cross-legged on the floor across from you and lovingly say:

Savor the moments of baby chub and nap time cuddles.  They will too quickly outgrow both and you will soon forget the sweetness and softness of each one. The milestones can wait; the competition isn't worth missing the joy of this moment.

It's only one year, say no to other things so you can be their "person."  When our eldest son was born, my sweet neighbor, MK, had shared the story of her momma - who had worked as a nanny for many years prior.  Her charges were now grown-ups and one thing that Mary Kay had seen was that no matter how old they were, they shared shared this special connection with her mom.  When her mom spent the first year of that child's life as his or her nanny, even as an adult, they shared this unique and inimitable bond. MK told me that when she had her daughter, she wanted to be that person, so she took a one year leave of absence from work and stayed home.*  If it is at all possible, make the sacrifice and be your child's person. 

Take pictures that matter.  Our kids grow up with glowing screens in their faces and in their hands.  We can take thousands of pictures in a few short months.  But then what?  Most of them get posted online but years later are forgotten.  Use your camera and snap pictures of those moments that you will want to remember years from now.  Take pictures of the moments that are the stories you will want to tell your children of their childhood.  And if you pay for portraits, don't settle for ones where your kids are posed perfectly.  Pay for ones that capture their personality - however wild and crazy that may be.

*MK returned to her full-time position after that first year, and today enjoys a thriving and successful corporate position and loves her daughter & her job well.  

 

To those mommas enduring the terrible two's and beyond, I encourage you to:

Send them to preschool.  Outside authority, structure, and other sinful 3 & 4 year-olds are good for them...and you.  

If you want children who admit when they are wrong, you need to be a grown-up who asks their forgiveness. When Samuel was four, we had had an especially hellish day and pre-bedtime, I was ready to point out to him the many ways he had disobeyed and displayed sinful behavior in contrast to Galatians 5:22-23.  (Because surely this would bring about conviction & repentance!). As I sat beside his bed though, the Spirit changed what I was going to say.  Instead of pointing out his missteps, I read the verses and with tears in my eyes, looked up at him and said, "Buddy, Momma has not done these things today to you.  I have not been patient or kind or gentle in my words with you.  I am so sorry.  Do you forgive me?" 

And in the beauty and grace of the Gospel, he said "Yes Momma, I do." Then, he proceeded to ask me for forgiveness for the things he had done.  That has been one of the greatest lessons in repentance and forgiveness I have ever received.  

Fill their heads, teach their hands and mold their hearts instead of their calendars or toy boxes.  There will be plenty of time for activities and stuff later on.  The years leading up to the age of 6 are wide open for you to influence your child; and there will never be a time like it again.  Your child is a sponge, soaking up how the world works and who he/she is in it.  Take the time to teach her kindness, to train him in self-control, to love learning and show each of them that all people matter.  

Finally, it doesn't get easier after the Terrible Two's.  The Terrible Two's become the Terrible Three's followed by the Frustrating Four's.  We never arrive to a season of parental bliss. The seasons simply keep maturing into a new stage of hard (and sometimes terrible), but, take heart, there are always gems to be found along the way.   

 

To those moms whose babies are now big kids in school, I would say:

Hug them.  Hug them when you are angry.  Hug them when you are proud.  Hug them when you don't have words.  You may regret the words you said in frustration or the punishment you gave when angry, but you will never regret a single moment when you hugged your child. 

Pray for them.  Pray for the health of their bodies, the strength of their hearts and the wisdom of their choices - whether they are in your womb, in your arms or in your thoughts.  God cares about the smallest details of our lives and when we pray, we open the door to be able to see how He is working.   As your children grow in years, you will have less and less ability to correct their mistakes and intercede in their missteps. Prayer will be your strongest and most influential ally. 

See yourself in their sins and you will never outgrow your need for the Gospel or the desire to love them like Jesus does.  Have a strong-willed child? Be mindful of how stubborn you can be and walk in patience & diligence with him.  There may come a time when that trait will be described positively as perseverance. Are you the parent of a drama queen? We, mothers, have our own versions of meltdowns and temper tantrums and it is the gracious self-control of Christ that has allowed us to wisely mature. Model and discipline accordingly. 

Friends, I do not have all the answers when it comes to motherhood.  But from the wisdom of mothers who have gone before me, I share these insights.  May they serve as beautiful reminders of the goodness of this journey called "Motherhood." 

My husband thinks I'm sexy (even if I don't)

Wives 'n Mommas , this one is for you.  

Just over ten months ago, we welcomed our third baby; and, as with his two older siblings, my body has morphed into different shapes and sizes throughout that 19 month process, which I will affectionately call the "Triple P" (the pregnancy & postpartum process). 

During that time, my belly has grown out, in and now down.  My boobs have (or will) do the same, just in a slightly different order - out, down and in ("in" referring to the deflated and sometimes concave shape that apparently occurs to previously small chested women after breastfeeding).  Side note: a deflated emotion may also occur to these ladies as previously small chested women are known to have overly enjoyed the glory days of having legit boobs while breastfeeding.  But I digress.

In the last ten months, we have discovered a new routine in our household of three kids - Daddy makes breakfast on weekends (& sometimes dinner if its been an especially exhausting day), Big Brother stocks the diaper bag before trips, and Big Little Sister grabs the snacks for everyone; while I ensure we do not leave Baby Brother behind in the chaos. 

One thing though that hasn't found a happy place is how I feel about my body.  Postpartum theorists suggest that 10 months postpartum is a reasonable window to give mommas the chance to "get their pre-baby body back".  But, friends, I gotta tell ya, even if I worked a diet and exercise regimen like I cared, some things just AREN'T going back in place.  

In fact, I actually told my beloved the other day that I have decided to NOT work out again until we are actually finished with the baby-making adventure.  I just don't see the point really.  

While the scale may suggest that I have obtained the right numbers, this is what I see when I look south. 

And I don't like it.  Its squishy.  And wrinkly.  And Oreos just get sucked in, never to be heard from again.  

But ya know what, this is what my husband thinks he sees:

This pic has been the wallpaper on my husband's phone for the last two years. (Oh and it's me. Or was me.  Whichever.  Just wanted you to know that it was not NOT me; as in, some other chick).   So you and I both know that my body don't look nothin' like that as we speak today.  But from my husband's perspective, it does.  

And, really, friends, that's all that matters.  My husband thinks I'm sexy.  Even if I don't. 

My husband would gladly take me to bed, the shower or even the backseat of the car if it means he gets some action with the mother of his children and his hot-smokin'-wife. He tells me that he thinks I'm sexy.  And he acts like he thinks I'm sexy.  So, who the heck cares if any other man or woman out there thinks I am or not? (Including myself).  Because whatever goods I got are only for him anyway.  

Now, I don't know what your bod looks like.  It may be the #MomBod we all envy on your fitness Instagram feed.  Or it may be squishy and wrinkly and enjoys Oreos.  Whichever it is, what I want to leave you with is this - if your husband thinks you're sexy, then YOU ARE SEXY.  If he thinks you look good nakey, then step outside of your insecurity and be nakey with the man. 

I may always struggle with the mirrored reflection of my womanly self.  But, in the bedroom with my husband, I am asking for grace to see myself as he sees me - attractive..and maybe even a little sexy.

 

Side note: Don't hear what I am not sayin' though, ladies! I am not saying be like Elsa and just "let it go" and stop taking care of yourself.  I am all for working toward the healthiest version of you and I think that should be our goal. But keep realistic expectations and understand that sexy is simply a perception. And if your husband thinks you're sexy, then believe him. 

"I'm done" // Walking in obedience when you really want to walk away

I have been attempting to write this post for more than two days now.  

It may have taken this long because I have three active young'uns who keep reminding me that its summer and there is so much beckoning for attention outside of my writing space.  

Or because, instead of writing, I should be editing wedding pictures.

Or, if I was honest, its because this is a hard post to write. As I sit to write the introduction to this post, I keep getting stuck.  It's not for lack of words; its because I don't know which words to use.  How much do I share? How much do I keep private?

Then, this morning, I read Hannah Brencher's blog post called "Good Morning Baltimore" and she called my bluff.  She exposed herself and her very real & dark struggle with depression.  And I knew I needed to do the same with my story.  

So today, I share a little personal insight into Hagar and how we can choose to walk in obedience when we'd much rather walk away.  I hope it's of encouragement to you. 

There was a time when I felt much like Hagar.  Isolated.  Alone.  With a life that didn't look much like I had planned.  

Seven years into marriage, with two kids, living six hours and three states away from my dearest friendships, I was doing my best to love my husband well and be a glowing light of the Gospel to him.  I believed and prayed that 1 Peter 3:1-4 would be true of me.  

"Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.  Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." 

And yet, there were days when the distance between our two sinful hearts was so great and the hurt ran so deep that all I could do was cry out to Christ.  When marriage became too lonely and isolating, I would weep, alone.  While our children played across the room, I would sit with my Bible and my journal and let the tears roll down my face.  

Our four-year-old son would come up and ask "What's wrong, Momma?" and all I could say was "Momma's heart just hurts right now, Buddy.  So I'm sitting with Jesus for a little bit."   When Hagar wept - Genesis 21:14-20

And when his four-year-old hand would warm and comfort my shoulder, I knew that God saw me.  When God saw Hagar - Genesis 16:7-14

Our marriage didn't look like what I had envisioned when I had worn those rose-colored wedding planning glasses so many years ago.  At this point, Happily Ever After didn't actually feel so very happy. It just felt a whole lot like ever after.   And when the day came that an unwanted pregnancy was now in the mix, I understood the contempt that filled Hagar's heart - I didn't want to be pregnant.  A baby would not make things better.  And truth be told, I actually just wanted out. Out of the pregnancy. Out of the marriage.  Out of this deal. 

So emotionally, I left.  And I mentally began to prepare for the day when I could physically leave as well. When Hagar left - Genesis 16:4-6

However, God would not so easily allow me to walk away.  Between week 7 of our pregnancy and week 10, I quit fighting and spiritually submitted to the Lord.  I agreed to stay in my marriage and I committed to being the best momma I could be to our soon-to-be tribe of three.  I did not want to be married.  But I did know three things were certain:  God was good.  His timing was perfect.  And children were a blessing.

Because of those three truths, I chose to trust Him and obey Him by staying in my marriage even though I could not see beyond the mess of that day. When Hagar returned - Genesis 16:9  

 

Friends, there is incredibly more to this story that I will share when the time comes.  But for today, I leave you with this.  Whatever wilderness you are walking through, know that God sees you.  He is not wasting a moment of your suffering or your obedience.  He is weaving together something so much bigger and so much more beautiful than you can see or imagine right now.    Stay faithful.  Walk in obedience and holiness.  Pursue joy.  

 


Editor's note: I am thoroughly enjoying the She Reads Truth App and their Women in the Word study.  The pairings of Scripture plus the devotionals have been of great encouragement and insight.  It you are looking for a worthwhile bible reading app, I highly recommend this one! 

Epic Roadtrip 2015 // Part 2

Hello friends!! 

I hope you have enjoyed traveling with us thus far on our 2015 Epic family roadtrip!  Today we are featuring our second stop - Cape Cod, Massachusetts. 

After our Niagara Falls experience, we loaded up and journeyed through upstate New York (which could have given us even more worthwhile destinations like Rochester, Syracuse and even Cooperstown) but we had our sights fixed on the coast and by Saturday evening had arrived to our beachside hotel in Dennis, Mass. - Edgewater Beach Resort.   It was quaint and homey, with a full kitchen and patio walk out; plus an indoor pool and a short walk to the beach.  I'd gladly stay there again.  

The first thing you need to know about Cape Cod is that its shaped like a bent arm.  That's gonna help us navigate where we stopped so you can track along with us a little better. 

The three areas we will highlight include Provincetown (the fist), Chatham (the elbow) and Dennis (the tricep?).  We chose to forego the famous Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Island because although they are beautiful, we were encouraged that it is a better fit for the college-age and older crowd.   

Provincetown // a tourist's haven

Sunday was our first full day in Cape Cod and so we wanted to be sure to do the number one thing on our adventure list - whale watching! So back in the car we went to head to the northern most tip of the cape, called Provincetown. It was about an 1 1/2 hour drive.  There are many things to do here; what we specifically enjoyed included:

First up for us was whale watching with Dolphin Fleet Whale Watching.  Our excursion left at 1:00pm so we had lunch beforehand and even packed a few snacks and some activities for the kids.  All in all, its about a 3-hour investment of time and getting to where the whales are located does take some time.  So if you have kids, pack something for them to do! 

Once we got out into the open waters, our guide did a fabulous job of explaining the types of whales we would see (North Atlantic Right Whales and Humpback whales), what to look for, what they were doing and details about the whales themselves.  It. Was. Awesome.  

Once we started seeing the whales, the kids went crazy - as did the adults.  We crisscrossed the boat so many times to see the action.  Some whales were a bit far away, but the pictures above are whales that literally were right next to the boat!  As our 8-year-old son remarked, "Mom, this was totally worth what we paid!"

You can see some videos on my Instagram feed here and here. 

After that adventure, we needed some grub.  We decided to introduce the kiddos to fresh lobster.  The Lobster Pot was a perfect selection.  With fresh lobsters climbing over one another in their tanks when you enter (Red Lobster ain't got nothin' on these bad boys.  Some were roughly the size of our toddler! Plus their tank water is pumped in FRESH FROM THE BAY!), we knew it would good.  And it was.  Mussels came with our meal - to be honest, they don't sound too tasty to me.  However, I took my "no thank you" bite like a good girl; then watched our oldest son pop one into his mouth like a boss.  "Hmm, feels like a mushroom," he noted.  I tip my hat to you, dear sir.  

Provincetown also features Pilgrim Monument and Museum, a tribute to when the Pilgrims first made landfall and features a copy of the Mayflower Compact.  This would be a worthwhile stop for any history buffs. // We also "buffed" up our kiddos on American history throughout all those hours in the car by watching (and re-watching) episodes of Cold Water Media's Drive-Thru History: American History.  The shows are more geared to middle schoolers, but after watching the episodes twice, our 6-year-old and 8-year-old knew details about what we were seeing and remembered information from the videos. This helped SO MUCH in keeping them engaged during all the historical sights. 

Dennis // like a local. 

When vacationing, our two favorite types of stops are 1) the hot spots that locals enjoy and 2) anything that is free.  :)  (we also dig quality educational stops, which you probably have guessed already)

Cape Cod is home to Cape Cod Potato Chips (and popcorn) and as a generous gesture, the factory offers an opportunity to take a complimentary tour, Monday through Friday, from 9am-5pm.  Thoughtful, huh? Its a quick, self-guided tour - but worth the price and the free bag of chips they give you at the end.   (No photography was allowed inside the building). 

Once we learned all we could about making tasty potato chips, we hit the beach at our resort.  It was early May and was a bit chilly, so we only got toes deep into the ocean.  Note our jacketed silhouettes in our family picture.   

Nearby our resort was this glass blowing shop, whose sign read: Visitors Welcome.  We first stopped by on Monday morning but it was closed.  So I took a chance and called, only to be met with an answering machine.  I left a message, assuming a returned call would not be coming.  But while (only slightly) enjoying the beach, the owner called and invited us to stop by THAT EVENING as he would be working late on fulfilling an order.  So we went.  

Fritz Lauenstein, owner and glass artist of Fritz Glass, welcomed us into his combo retail shop and glass blowing work studio.  We stayed for like TWO HOURS watching him blow these cool striated pendant lamp shades. He was so gracious - and patiently explained what he was doing and why.  He let us ask him all kinds of questions (our daughter may have talked more about horses and farming and ice cream than glass, but he kindly conversed with her :).  Fritz has a gallery of beautifully designed pieces for sale, but mostly sells his work at trade shows and for specialty orders.  

 It was such a cool experience.  We only left because we wanted to hit a local ice cream shop before they closed at 9pm.  One of the highlights, beyond watching Fritz swing a vase-to-be around in a circle on a blow stick, was that he took the time to tell us about must-see sights around the area.  Most of the remainder of our Cape Cod adventures came because of his instruction.

One of which included passing through a cranberry bog farm in order to watch the herring run.  Herring swim upstream (like the more well known salmon) each spring and often use "fish ladders" to return to their nesting grounds.  They are fast but it is so much fun to catch the silvery glimmers of them as they take on the currents and jump each step of the ladder.  Here's one slo-mo video of them in action; and another.   

Chatham // a low-key favorite

Chatham, located at the "elbow bend" of the Cape, boasts big houses, a beautiful beach, a lighthouse,  and fishermen's pier and fresh fish market.   

 Oh and seals. 

You can pay money and take that little boat out to see the gray seals up close and personal, but we didn't.  We thought the views from the beach were just fine.  

The seals may congregate here because every day from about 1pm-3pm, boats arrive to the Chatham pier to unload their daily catch.  I'm sure the seals enjoy any extras that may fall overboard. The Pier even has a cool top tier where non-fisherman folk can hang out and watch the fishing crews work. Our friend, Fritz, did warn us that the language is rather colorful but the fishermen are always kind. Unfortunately, we missed the experience by about an hour.  But we did enjoy walking along the beach, spotting seals and seeing the lighthouse. 

Finally, we ended our time in Cape Cod on a high note with breakfast at The Red Cottage.  A cash-only restaurant worth every penny (and the inconvenience!).   They offered local fare with local flair.  The kids loved eating at the high top bar and old school diner seats, where they were able to get a first hand look at their breakfast on the griddle.  The staff was friendly and treated us like family.  I know why the locals keep coming back.   

If you made it to the end, I owe you a high five.  I know that was a lot but I hope it was helpful.  

Stay tuned for our next part which will highlight lots of history like Boston, Plymouth, and Gettysburg! If you need to catch up on what happened at the beginning of our adventure, you can read that here

There's a new sign in our yard // A lesson in active waiting

As of today, our front yard is a bit more, shall we say, noticeable.  The sign has been placed and the listing has been posted. 

We have officially put our house up for sale.  

The most logical follow-up question to that announcement is "oh! Did your husband get a job in St. Louis?"  To which we will reply with a calm "No." 

Um, excuse me, what?

When we moved to Northern Kentucky six years ago, we knew that no matter how much we loved it out here (which I do!), we would always return to St. Louis.  My husband has always envisioned returning to his family's farm to live and work.  We estimated that 5-7 years would be our stint in NKY and this August it will be six years. 

Knowing that our time was nearing an end, I have regularly prayed that when the time came, the Lord would change my heart so that I would be ready for the move.  Our time in Northern Kentucky has been irreplaceably sweet - its been here that I found my first set of (incredibly amazing) mom friends; its where our children have grown from wee babes to elementary aged kids; its where my photography business has grown and thrived; its where we have found a church home and homeschool community that actively engages in our lives and pushes us more and more toward Christ. I have never felt more at home than here in Northern Kentucky.  

So to leave it is to leave a lot. 

So why leave at all?

Because the same way I feel about NKY is the same way my husband and son feel about the farm.  When we return, they come alive.  This past March, we spent our spring break in Oklahoma, where my extended family and my husband's sister's family live.  Her family has hogs, rabbits, chickens, BB guns and more. It was only 14 acres, but during our three days there, I only saw our son when it was time to eat or time to go to sleep.  He had so much to do and loved every single minute.  

That was the beginning of the end for me.  God graciously showed me that this is home for the men in my life and that, while we could stay in NKY for however long I wanted, it would be mainly for my selfish reasons.  My heart hasn't been the same since that spring week in March. 

Following more prayer, I had this crazy peace that it was indeed time to return "home" and approached my husband with one of my crazy ideas in early April.   

"If our house sells, ya know, we really have no debt.  What do you think about putting our house on the market and if it sells, just moving."

He said no.  And over the next few days, he gave me reason after reason on why this was a very terrible and impractical idea.  Ok, I said.  And there I left it (in conversation anyway).  I kept praying that God would direct our steps and I submitted to my husband's leading.  If Ben thought it was a no, then it was a no.  

Except, after a few weeks, he said we could meet with a realtor - to just see what they thought about our home and how the market was performing.   Well, you can say that was a positive experience because here we are, about six weeks later, and our house is up for sale.  :)

If it sells, we move.  If it doesn't, we stay.  And throughout the whole process, we just keep praying and preparing for either outcome.  

 

"Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life."  - Philippians 4:6-7 from The Message Bible

 

You can see our MLS listing here from our awesome HUFF realty team, Ron &Tania Burmeister

Epic Roadtrip 2015 / Part 1

In early May, we took our summer vacation. One of the best perks of homeschooling includes the option to travel at your convenience (and bypass all those spring break/summer vacationing families.  Holla!). 

And, we decided, our itinerary had to be legendary.  We were pulling out the stops and set our sights on seeing as many awesome things in our path as possible.  

Our 9-day itinerary went something like this:

  • Thursday - Drive from Cincinnati to Buffalo, NY / Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
  • Friday - Experience The Falls
  • Saturday - Drive from Ontario, Canada to Cape Cod, Massachusetts
  • Sunday - Check out Cape Cod / Whale Watching
  • Monday - Cape Cod Potato Chip Factory Tour / Beach
  • Tuesday - Plimouth Plantation
  • Wednesday - Boston
  • Thursday - Drive from Cape Cod, Mass. to Hershey, Pa. 
  • Friday - Hershey, Pa. / Gettysburg, Pa. 
  • Saturday - Return home (Cincinnati)

Now that we are on the other side of this adventure, I must say, it was indeed epic. In fact, it was actually the very best vacation I have EVER experienced.  I loved it!

And it seems others have too. I have been asked from multiple folks for details on what we did and where we went.  So, in hopes of imparting some of our traveling insight, I will share three posts over the next few weeks showcasing some of our photos and highlighting some of the most worthwhile details.  

Enjoy!

First stop // Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada

Niagara Falls is simply awesome.  I basically took a bajillion photos and videos with my iPhone 6 because it was just so gosh darn beautiful.  (All the photos in these posts will be a mixture from my iPhone and Nikon D700). 

One thing important to note - the falls are actually located on the American side. For the best view (and most tourist attractions), get your passport and cross the border into Canada.  

In Canada, we chose to experience:

  • Niagara's Fury (Tourist trap. Other than the ground shaking & getting a bit wet, there is not much to this experience.  The educational aspect is entirely lacking). 
  • Journey Behind the Falls (Recommended.  Pictures & details below)
  • Fallsview Waterpark (For us, a worthwhile investment since the weather was going to be too chilly for outdoor swimming at our other stops.  It gets packed in high season but for us, 8 slides, a large kids' pirate ship, a tide pool AND a baby area kept us busy for hours!)
  • Skyline Inn hotel (Eh.  Average.  We had a Groupon. Connects to waterpark & within walking distance to the Falls and downtown attractions)
  • Sandstone Grill house (Excellent food.  Great staff.  Within walking distance from hotel and off the strip. That's always a plus for us).  

As mentioned before, we did Niagara's Fury - expecting to help our kids gain an understanding on how the Falls came to be there and cool details about it.  That didn't happen.  We got sprayed with water and got to "see" the Falls from the perspective of riding on the river.  But educational it was not.  

Next up was Journey Behind the Falls.  This was totally worth it because 1) it had signs throughout the tunnels of interesting facts and historical moments in the documented history of the Falls and 2) the two level landing where you could see and feel the spray as the water fell was pretty amazing.  Ponchos were complimentary on both excursions.  Samuel did complain that he did not expect to get so wet (ha!). 

The blue poncho picture was before Niagara's Fury; the lower left photo is one of the two peepholes where you are actually behind the Falls.  Not super impressive.  But the outside view was indeed impressive. 

On a side note, I think the two ladies in the back actually steal the show on our little family photo. 

On a side note, I think the two ladies in the back actually steal the show on our little family photo. 

A few miles down (read: car drive) from the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls stop is the Niagara Whirlpool. Its beautiful and serene, with far less traffic than the grand falls.  You can walk alongside the river on the White Water Walk (we did not do this) or even take an aero car ride (sorry folks, we did not do this either.  I get shaky when I get high up; I could barely peek over the sturdy railing at the overlook without my belly getting wobbly.) 

We even spotted people fishing and hanging out on the banks...everybody's like, hm. NBD. 

Niagara is a lot like Gatlinburg or Branson or most touristy spots - they have Ripley's Believe It or Not, Olde Tyme Photos, etc etc.  We tend to skip over those.  However, the ferris wheel looked pretty cool.  

It's always fun when you travel internationally to do things that are illegal (or slightly illegal) in the States. However, whenever you travel with wee ones, your "good parenting yet illegal" options are limited.  So we picked Kinder Eggs. The contraband item is a chocolate egg with a surprise (toy) inside.  They actually were pretty tasty.    You can find them in any convenience store in town.  

And of course, no vacation is complete without a full family photo kindly snapped by a complete stranger...that came out blurry. 

Ahhh, memories.  Here's a few more that worked out a bit better. 

That's all for the first installment of Epic Roadtrip 2015.  Stay tuned for our adventures in Cape Cod!

The Bigger Yes

When I was in high school, I once heard someone mention the idea of a "bigger yes" - something so motivating and so focusing that if you choose to say yes to it, you must, consequently, say no to other things.  But, it is worth it. 

Well, my friends - the time has come for my bigger yes.  

For the last eight years, I have had the joy of pursuing and growing in the craft of photography and the art of running a small business.  It has been encouraging and defeating.  Live giving and life depleting. All at the same time.  I have done well.  And I have bombed.  

I count it a privilege to have served my clients and hope each one has walked away with a pleasant experience.  

But, deep down, I knew this was only a creative outlet for me.  That being a photographer was never going to be enough.  It wasn't my passion-fueled dream.  It wasn't my I-would-do-this-even-if-I-never-got-paid joy.  There was an expiration date on this endeavor, even if I had no clue what that would be when it all began. 

The adventurous rollercoaster ride of being a full-time (in my spare time) photographer has reached its destination.  

I am officially announcing (for the foreseeable future) that I am no longer accepting new photography clients or pursuing new photography opportunities.  

I am, and always have been, a writer and a wordsmith encourager.  And with the few expendable hours in my days, I would like to fulfill them by doing what I have done without pay and with great passion - encourage women through writing and speaking to seek hard after Christ, to be dream chasers, to "mom" well and to love with reckless abandon.  

If you have been a photography client, thank you for entrusting me to capture your family to the very best of my ability.  If you are seeking a photographer for your needs, please scroll down for some of my very favorite friends & photographers :) 

You may still see some photography sessions posted on social media as I fulfill remaining commitments.  Please enjoy them with me!

Otherwise, I hope you will return here with me (and all the along the interwebs!) for what I hope to be a timely word and honest encouragement.  

Cheers to new adventures!!

 

*** Photography recommendations!!

Families: Lauren at LoK Photography

Weddings: Mandy at Mandy Leigh Photography

Seniors: Leah at Leah Barry Photography

The Little Red Dress // A six-year-old Annie themed birthday party

Lemme make one thing clear - this is not a how-to-throw-a-rockin'-six-year-old-birthday-party type of post.  It's more of a hey-we-threw-our-daughter-a-birthday-party-on-a-wednesday-afternoon-and-this-is-what-it-looked-like.  Just in case you came here lookin' to pin some ideas.  I don't want you to get your hopes up.  Mmm kay, pumpkin? 

Our kids get two birthday parties (5th & 6th birthdays) where we do a theme and invite friends and hand-out goodie bags and blah blah blah.  This is what we call a parenting compromise, as store-bought cake + friends = birthday success in my childhood while my husband's version looked more like mom meticulously baking and decorating a cake in birthday child's favorite character, which was eaten and enjoyed after dinner with the family. We have come to see that both have its place - typically I like whichever one we are not doing that year.  

So, back to our kids.  Elisabeth turned six earlier this month and her chosen theme (since, um, December!) was Annie.  Not the old one with that little red-headed orphan - the new one, with the feisty foster kid from Harlem.  

The soundtrack plays in our home weekly and is well loved by the girls and boys. So it only made sense for Elisabeth to pick it.  

(Apparently, though, it is less obvious to party supply stores that little ladies adore this movie since places like Party City only sell red wigs with coordinating dresses....frustrating.  And if you let me take it a step further, even the ever lovable Target hit a bit of a pothole in their poor marketing campaign for their limited Annie collection , when Quvenzhané Wallis wasn't featured - you can read more about that here and here.)

Ok, sorry.  Back to my kid's birthday.  Since we had a huge lack of resources at our disposal, we got creative and simple.  First up was the cake.  Because it is always about the cake! 

Elisabeth requested a two layer, round cake with the dot of the Annie "i" logo.  A sweet momma friend made the cake for us - it was adorable and delicious.  Check out Shelly O'Cakes if you want her to make you one!

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Next up, decorations.  

We went with a red/black/white color scheme - so anything at the party supply store that fit those colors we considered.  Simple red $1.99 table cloth paired with dahlia styled napkins and a Happy Birthday sign we found at Hobby Lobby in the Ladybug party section. I just pulled off the cute little ladybugs.  (Definitely check out the ladybug party decor for some options!)

Then we threw in a little hand-painted NYC skyline, which served as our photo booth backdrop, mixed with silver star & red heart foil balloons. Because Annie is, like, a star and she has a little heart locket (duh!!). 

 

Now, let's talk party favors.  Staying with the red/black/white concept, we chose Oreos, red M&M's and pop rocks (because, again, Annie is like a POP ROCK star) for our sweet treats. Then a red glow stick plus either a locket (for the girls) or a SUV/police car (for the boys). However, next time, everybody gets a locket, because even the boys were asking for them! 

The birthday girl dressed in a sleeveless red dress (read: reusing a Christmas dress, minus the jacket) with her very own heart-shaped locket. 

Guests arrived and were greeted by a brief movie viewing. Then, everyone was ushered outside for food and a quick balloon popping game before coming in for presents and cake & ice cream.  Easy peasy.

And judging by her grins throughout the festivities, I would say, it's not such a Hard Knock Life, after all. 

For way cooler ideas on throwing an Annie-themed party (and some that we used), check out Crazy for Crust's fabulous blog

And for some crazy awesome Annie printables, see TwentyToesDesign etsy shop (we are getting some customized thank you cards!). 

You can find the rose-colored lockets here on ebay.  We scored the coordinating chain at Hobby Lobby for $1.99 (and snipped in two to make two chains.  Score!)

Letting the crazy shine through

After a night of online rabbit trails, I came across the blog of Lisa-Jo Baker.  Her words spoke directly to my heart.  For the next hour or so (and it was a few hours past my bedtime already), I devoured her blog posts and soon found myself reading the first three chapters of her book, Surprise by Motherhood

When I came to the end of chapter three, I was undone.  Tear-stained cheeks and crumbled kleenex were all that remained of me.  I had found someone who spoke encouraging refreshment into my mommy heart and echoed words that were both new and familiar.  

I immediately emailed my husband (who was away on business travel) to tell him two things:

1.  I finally know what I want for Christmas (hint: it was the book). 

2. I want to meet Lisa-Jo  (Not a fangirl type of meet and greet.  But a sit-across-the-coffee-shop-table type of meeting where you see the story of one another come alive in their words and in their eyes). 

So I completely get it if you think my #2 statement of wanting to meet a woman I had no actual connection to outside of the blogosphere was a little weird.  Or crazy.  Or insane.  To most humans, it is. To my husband, it is. But for me, the risk is totally worth the potential reward.  

courage

 

If you have ever met me in real life, you may have seen my "Carpe Diem" tendencies; I sincerely believe life is far too short to live tucked-in like a timid turtle.  

But my courage isn't focused on adrenaline-rushing endeavors like wild rollercoasters, white water rafting or skydiving.  For some odd reason, my courage comes in meeting people, face-to-face, with the hope of pushing past superficial covers and discovering who they really are...at heart level. 

And for the last six months, I have kept this crazy little idea in the back of my brain...like a post-it note in my back pocket, ya know, just in case an opportunity arises.  During that time as well, the Lord has brought me to the place where I have permission to pursue what I love - writing and speaking encouragement to women from His Word.  

Cue googling of conferences where speakers like Lisa-Jo, Jen Hatmaker, and Bianca Olthoff  would be, because what better way to grow in your gifting than to surround yourself with ladies who are using theirs so gosh-darn well.  

But should you cross-reference each of their published calendars (like I may or may not have done), you will find something rather disappointing.  For the remainder of 2015, they do not share any common locations.  

Sad, sad day. 

Unfortunately for them, I don't give up that easily.  I took matters into my own hands and decided to tweet them my request.  

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And it worked!! (ok, maybe not worked as in "we have official plans to hang out" BUT it did solicit a reply.  Thank you for your gracious heart, Lisa-Jo.)

 

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Here's my point, friends. Go for No (That's actually a book; but I haven't read it.  My pastor shared the phrase in his sermon this week and at first I thought he got the idiomatic expression wrong, until I looked it up that is).  

How would these awesome writers, speakers, mothers, and encouragers ever know that there was another writer/speaker/mother/encourager hanging out in Northern Kentucky, so eager to grow in the gifting the Lord has given her, unless they were told?

So hopefully, now they know.  (And hopefully they read about how rad I think they are and would actually entertain this wild idea and we could one day this year even share a coffee/Coke/cookies/chocolate cake kind of conversation.  Ladies - I would totally pay for all the deliciousness too...just in case that persuades you ;)  The honest answer is probably "Sorry, @RQPierce.  We don't actually know you and our schedules are a bit full."  But maybe, just maybe...its a yes. 

Whatever crazy idea lies inside of you - may you find the 20 seconds of insane courage to go for no.  

 

***I will update you all if something pans out of this! Thanks for reading!

The Beginning

I’m beginning to think that there are certain areas of my life, of my story that God wants to use as an encouragement to others. 

To other women who may be tired or downhearted, who may be growing weary in their journey, who may just need to know that they are not alone or abnormal.  That their struggle of marriage, motherhood and womanhood is our struggle. 

And whenever I see these stories being told and re-told, that those are the stories that need to go beyond my one-on-one conversations and find a home on paper, that they may be recounted and shared as God sees fit.

So that is the official direction and vision of this blog – to share our gloriously imperfect & ordinary life with you that you may see the hope, joy and redemption that Jesus offers… to you, to me, to each of us. 

 

Liked all that stuff I posted before? Its right here!