Books!!!

Have I forgotten that I have this thing called a “blog?!” Good gracious, things have been busy around here lately!

We’ve had our fair share of both exciting/happy situations and difficult/stressful ones…as I’m sure each and every person reading this could say, as well. God has shown Himself faithful over the last few crazy months as we’ve dealt with financial stresses, some disappointing news, sickness that comes along with having a family, and attending a loved one’s funeral while preparing our hearts for another one that appears to be imminent.

While standing grave-side this past weekend at Tanner’s grandmother’s funeral, I thanked God for the very powerful reminder that life is short. There are days that seem long. Seasons that seem like they’ll never improve. I’m slowly realizing the truth in what my mom often says…the days are often long, but the years are short. Last weekend, as everyone gathered ’round this precious woman’s casket, the previously clouded sky gave way to sunshine for the first time that foggy day. And I couldn’t help but recognize what a gift that ray of sunshine was. A visual reminder that even amidst sadness and death, God’s love still shines through the darkness, warming our hearts like a ray of sunshine warms our faces.

If you know me well, you know that I love to read. Books are like medicine for my heart and soul. Tanner just asked me last week what my long-term plan is for storing all of the books that accumulate in this house. We laughed and said we may need re-enforced floor beams to house them all! My Amazon.com book wish-list grows longer each week, and it’s been such a treat to find some of the same books at thrift stores that were on my Amazon wish-list. I’ve picked up several for just a few cents lately! I thought I’d share with you a few of the books I’m reading now. I’d love to hear what you’re reading!

Redefine Rich (A New Perspective on the Good Life) by Matt Ham
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This book does not actually release until later next week. However, I “happened” upon the author’s blog a few months ago and fell in love with his philosophy of life. I pre-ordered the book, which included immediate access to the Kindle version. I’m not much of a Kindle reader (I prefer an actual paper book!), but what I’ve read so far has been spot-on and deeply encouraging.

What actually spurred the purchase of this book was recent conversations with my 7-year old. She’s been asking lots of questions that we’ve not dealt with in our parenting adventure thus far. Questions like, “Why do lots of people have big houses? I want a big house…can we get a big house?” “Lots of kids from school are going on vacation for Christmas break. Why haven’t we ever gone on a vacation?” “That’s a really pretty house (while driving around to look at Christmas lights). Are they rich?”  In an effort to guide our children correctly through some of those tough questions, I’m excited to read this author’s thoughts. And to be completely honest, I need this more than my children do…because sometimes those questions creep into my heart, as well.

The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma
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This book caught my eye at a Scholastic warehouse sale last week. I’m only a few chapters into it, but I love it so far! In a nutshell, Alice’s book-loving father made a promise to read aloud to her every day for at least 100 days. They loved it so much that 100 days turned into 1,000 days, which turned into over 9 years of reading aloud together. Every.Single.Night. And that makes my heart smile! What a legacy! Something magical happens through the reading of books as well as time spent together with loved ones. I can’t wait to implement some of her strategies into our home!

Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford
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This author writes a very interesting journal-type book about her journey to living a life free of distractions. Again, I’m not very far along in this book either, but so far I’ve enjoyed (and been extremely convicted about) her thoughts about the distracted lives we often live. It’s been good to examine my priorities and learn to savor life more than simply rush through it.

An Everlasting Meal (Cooking With Economy and Grace) by Tamar Adler
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This book has gotten rave reviews from “foodie” type personalities. While it’s definitely not exactly what I thought it would be, I’m enjoying the practical tips she shares about being graceful and frugal in the kitchen. Written by a very prominent chef, I love that she’s very down to earth and recognizes the beauty in simplicity. I walk away from it feeling ready to conquer my kitchen!

How about you, friend?? Do you like to read as much as I do? I’d LOVE to hear some of your all-time favorite reads, or which books are on your nightstand right now. Feel free to comment on here, or comment on the blog link on Facebook. I might add your favorites to my wish-list!

The Real Life Amelia Bedelia

My 7-year old has recently discovered a love for Amelia Bedelia books. And I must admit that my love for these classics has been rekindled as I’ve read them aloud each evening before tucking Nadia into bed. Just the other day, a thought struck me…I am fairly certain that I’m a modern-day, real-life Amelia Bedelia. In fact, maybe I could write a series of books entitled Emily Bemily.  Much like the encounters of Amelia Bedelia, my books would narrate the ever-crazy, often upside-down feelings and daily happenings around this household.

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Do you remember these classic stories? Poor Amelia Bedelia can’t seem to do anything correctly. She takes everything extremely literally, and messes up everything. Everything. And yet, while nothing goes exactly as one would hope, she trudges through with a smile and ends each day by baking or cooking something amazing. Her love for cooking and her skills in the kitchen remain a constant in her crazy life, and she always, always shares her love of cooking with those around her.

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I’m feeling a lot like Amelia Bedelia these days. Many things in life over the last few months have gone awry. One would think I’m retelling a fictional story here, but rest assured this is an actual account of life around the Archer household. Non-fiction.

*The south wall of our basement foundation is cracked and bowing. Another wall leaks water badly and needs waterproofed. Our sump-pump is falling apart and needs replaced. This all needs to be fixed before the dead of winter, when freezing temperatures would only exasperate this problem. The total price quoted for this made me cry. Like a baby. In front of the repairman.

*Nadia broke her arm in gymnastics class a month ago.

*Our beautiful hardwood flooring, installed less than three years ago, has a gigantic bubble in one area and is beginning to make the floorboards bow and bend. Numerous phone calls to the flooring company and warranty centers reveal they will do nothing to fix the problem. Fantastic.

*Last week, on a particularly stressful day, I got stung by a bee. Our main sewer line was clogged, and we paid a pretty penny to have it cleared/cleaned. Several hours later I mis-judged the amount of space I had to back out of our garage, and side-swiped my in-laws vehicle, scratching it. Awesome.

*While clearing space for the basement work we need next moth, I discovered another wall that’s cracked and bowing. Unbelievable. Now, the total cost for fixing our basement could have purchased us the new vehicle that we’ve been needing and praying about for a couple of years.

*A visit to a specialist revealed immediate need for surgery on Nadia’s broken arm. The first doctor messed up her arm so badly, and she had surgery yesterday that resulted in pins inserted into the bones. Six weeks in a new cast, and probable weeks of physical therapy to follow.

*My grandmother also broke her arm, and was admitted into a nursing home. Tanner’s grandmother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and likely has only weeks to live. I’ve cried alongside loved ones as they’ve received heartbreaking news of another miscarriage. This is heavy on our hearts. Life is short.

*Several weeks ago, I blogged about our dining room/living room swap. We started this entire thing so that we could be more hospitable to our friends, family, and anyone else who was needing some love and hospitality. I’ve had a savings account for a while, saving any money I make from selling bread or swap site items. The money was set aside to purchase a large dining table that would seat those we open our home to. This money will now be spent on a basement that’s apparently falling apart. This.makes.me.cry.

 

I tell you all this not to whine like a baby about it. Quite the opposite, in fact. Tanner and I have realized that in an attempt to live a life that counts for eternity and is honoring to God, there will be hurdles to overcome. The aforementioned happenings are difficult, yes. But they are distractions. It’s our choice whether we let these distractions take us away from the bigger picture, the most important things. And we have decided that we will not give into the distractions. While it’s maybe temping to close the door to our home and to our hearts, and sulk in our overwhelmedness (is that even a word!?), we will not. Much like Amelia Bedelia, I’ll break out my kitchen gear and cook/bake for anyone who wants to enter our front door. Maybe that’s one thing I can count on to turn out well?! It might not be fancy, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s my heart, and I want to share it with others. As our Pastor said in his sermon on hospitality last week…hospitality begins in the heart. And I’d add to that a thought that’s been on my heart for years…hospitality has nothing to do with the size of your home, but everything to do with the size of your heart. All of these distractions lately…I’m praying that they’ll only enlarge my heart for this important ministry of hospitality.

I’m fairly sure that Amelia Bedelia would feel the same way.

In this edition of Emily Bemily, I picture our family playing Red-Rover. In this childhood game there are often teammates that you’d like on your team, and teammates you’d rather have on the other team. Right now, I’d rather not have some of our life’s teammates that have broken our family’s grip as we’ve held onto each other tightly. But those teammates are now playing along with us, and we’ll just grip tighter. We’ll play the game as best as we can, and pray that in the end the Ultimate Coach of our team will be glorified.

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Maybe I could encourage you, as well? What distractions in your life are trying to take you away from what you’re called to do? Let’s band together and refuse to let life’s distractions steal our joy and our purpose. God has big things planned…let’s watch Him work! Blessings today, dear friends!!

Emily

Room Swap

If you know me well, you know that I have a passion for all things decorating, cooking, and hospitality. Today’s post is about all three of those things.

When we purchased our home, we were beyond excited that it had a dining room. We’d never had an actual dining room! While we have loved our dining room, it has begun to feel cramped as our family has grown. Yet, I’ve loved nothing more than squeezing people around the table, loving them through a good ol’ fashioned home-cooked meal.

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The idea is to be able to seat 10 people at this table, but that is MAXED out. We were all a little squished at this particular dinner party.

But lately, I’ve found myself wishing for more, to the point of being discontent. We know several people in various stages of home-building. Looking at blueprints and walking through partially-built homes of people we love…I’ve felt excitement for them, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t also feel the pull of discontentment. I began to say “if only” a lot more than I used to. “If only I had a bigger dining room, we could host larger get-togethers.” “If only I had a double oven like they do, I could cook amazing meals for my friends and family.” “If only we had a room that could house a huge table…then everyone could sit together at the table.” Slowly but surely, these “if onlys” began to steal away the joy of hospitality, and that began to break my heart.

And so I started to think outside of the box a bit, while at the same time speaking the truth I knew I believed deep down. The truth that hospitality has nothing to do with the size of my house, but everything to do with the size of my heart. That I don’t invite people into my home to be entertained (I hate the word “entertaining.”) I invite others into my home to be loved, cared for, listened to, and fed…and I can do that no matter what the size of my dining room. In the words of my favorite author, Shauna Niequist, “What makes me feel alive and connected…is creating opportunities for the people I love to rest and connect and be fed at my table. I believe it’s the way I was made, and I believe it matters.” A little soul-searching was good for me, and if nothing else it re-ignited a flame within my heart to use our home to show love to those around us.

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After I’d settled my discontentment in my heart, and vowed to be hospitable even in a cramped dining room, an idea literally struck like lightning one evening. It sounded crazy, even in my own head, but I voiced it out loud…and found that it sounded just as crazy aloud. Who on earth says that the dining room has to be the dining room, and the living room has to be the living room? Why not switch them around?! Bless my dear loving husband, he listened (even though the look on his face was one of major skepticism). And after a few days, he was actually open to the idea! I shared my idea with a few family members and friends, most of whom gave me the same odd look…I think they’re all a bit worried about my sanity! But we ran with the idea, and switched them around anyway. We figured we might as well try, and we were up for a good challenge. After all, the dining room could serve as a cozy little sitting room, and the living room (which we’ve forever had a hard time arranging because of it’s long narrow build) could house a really awesome harvest-style table someday. Doesn’t it often seem that when people are together, they tend to gather around the table anyway? It’s that way at my house, so why not use the larger room for a larger table?

Two weeks ago, while the kids played with some neighbor kids, Tanner and I played musical furniture all around our house. The couches moved to the basement, the table moved to the living room, and every decoration I owned found a new place within our home. I literally shopped our own house, and transformed our main level. The only thing I’ve purchased so far is the beautiful antique rocking chair that sits in the corner of our cozy little sitting room. A sweet older woman sold it to me for $30…it’s over 100 years old, and her husband completely refurbished it. I think it’s beautiful!

So, for a grand total of $30…here are our two new rooms. We’re trying it like this for a while to see how we like it, but so far we love it! Long-term, if we keep it this way, we’ll save our pennies for a HUGE harvest-style table that would seat 14 or more people. We’ve already got our feelers out there, and a few very generous people have offered their time and talent to help us build a table this large, as they’re really hard to find already made without spending more than what this room is worth! :-)

THE NEW SITTING ROOM

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I love that you can finally see the beautiful bench that has sat behind our dining table for years! This bench is from an old one-room schoolhouse, and has a date of 1897 stamped on the cast iron legs. I love it! And, it’s hard to see in the photo, but we’ve put a comfy leather chair on the right-hand side of the room.

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My writing desk fits perfectly in the corner!

My writing desk fits perfectly in the corner!

 

THE NEW DINING ROOM

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I literally took apart the corner cabinet in our former dining room, in order to use the top half in conjunction with our fireplace. Definitely outside-of-the-box-thinking, but I love how it turned out. And, I love that it cost $0!

I literally took apart the corner cabinet in our former dining room, in order to use the top half in conjunction with our fireplace. Definitely outside-of-the-box-thinking, but I love how it turned out. And, I love that it cost $0!

This little shelf was built years ago by my grandfather. It's built from the very first headboard my grandma and grandpa ever had. I wish he were here to see how I've used it in our dining room!  The baskets that hold the white dishes cost me nothing! They are actually the plastic white baskets that came with our deep freezer, and I spray painted them to look like antique baskets.

This little shelf was built years ago by my grandfather. It’s built from the very first headboard my grandma and grandpa ever had. I wish he were here to see how I’ve used it in our dining room!
The baskets that hold the white dishes cost me nothing! They are actually the plastic white baskets that came with our deep freezer, and I spray painted them to look like antique baskets.

This little bench was $5 at a garage sale several years ago. It's been outside for a long time, but with a fresh coat of spray paint and some distressing...it's a great little window seat.

This little bench was $5 at a garage sale several years ago. It’s been outside for a long time, but with a fresh coat of spray paint and some distressing…it’s a great little window seat.

We host our first get-together in our new rooms tomorrow evening, as we are beginning our church small group Bible studies. We’ll add some card tables to the end of our current table so there’s enough room, but I cannot wait to have every adult gathered around the same table eating goodies, drinking coffee, sharing hearts, and watching God work in lives. I have a feeling that this room will host many get-togethers like this, and that excites me!

I’m quite certain you have your own opinion about our swapping of rooms, and I’d love to hear them! Some of you may love the idea, and others may hate it. Some of you might roll your eyes at another one of my crazy ideas, and that’s okay. Really. I, for one, believe a little bit of crazy in my life is good for me. And maybe, just maybe, we all need to be a little more willing to be crazy every now and then? Maybe crazy isn’t as bad as we make it out to be? ;-)

Blessings to you today, dear reader!! And maybe someday, you’ll join me around the table? I’d love that!

 

Grace Upon Grace

Hello friends! I hope this post finds you all well. I want to share with you my newest project, completed just this morning. But first, a story…the background behind this new addition to my family room. 

I awoke Sunday morning to the smell of sewer gas in our main floor bathroom. I’d love to say that I calmly thought through the situation, but that would be a lie. I freaked out. Not only because of the sewer gas smell, although it was quite bad, but because I was not sure I could handle one more home repair. Everyone (including myself) talks about “seasons” of life. Well, our “season” lately has been the season of everything-is-breaking-and-costing-so-much-more-money-than-we-have. I really felt like I was holding it all together okay, until Sunday. It was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. 

We’ve been waiting to hear back from a banker about some details in regard to fixing all that needs to be fixed around here. I have been anxiously checking emails, voicemail, and even the mailbox for any sign of an update from the banker. Sitting in church Sunday morning, God convicted my heart that while I have been searching for news from a banker, I have completely ignored His Word to me. I know that God’s Word speaks to the struggles that we face, and I know that He promises He’ll never give us more than we can handle. But for whatever reason, I realized I had not been holding tight to those truths. 

In his message on Sunday, our pastor talked about gratefulness. He told the story of an older woman he knew…she worked at a coffee shop and had to drag large bags of garbage across the parking lot to the dumpster. One day, while dragging several large garbage bags, she chose to not complain about the job…instead she smiled at our pastor and remarked how very thankful she was for garbage men. After all, she said, we’d be in a world of hurt if they didn’t come and drag away all this garbage! To some of you, that may seem silly or trite…but it resonated within me. Several years ago, God did a work on my heart to teach me to be more grateful. And for a season, I was…our whole family became more grateful. And every Friday morning, when Tanner would wheel the garbage can to the curb, he would come inside to kiss me goodbye and say, “I’m really thankful this morning for garbage men.” I realized Sunday morning how far I’d drifted from living a life of thankfulness. How long had it been since I had thanked God for something? It seemed like more often than not lately, I was only asking Him for something…all the while, ignoring the blessings that surround me. 

It was Tanner’s idea Sunday afternoon to post a “Thankfulness” board somewhere in our house. Something to visually remind us to give thanks to the Lord for all He has done, for indeed He has done much for us. And if you know me at all, you know that I love any reason to be crafty…so I dug through the pile of decorations in the basement, and made a Thankful Wall in our family room. The verse God has used in my heart over and over the past few days is John 1:16…”For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” Grace upon grace…it’s all grace. Everything that happens, whether I deem it good or bad…it all occurs because there is a God in Heaven who loves me more than I could ever comprehend, and He allows things to transpire because His is good, faithful, and just. All the time. And for that I am truly grateful. 

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An old 3-pane window, rescued from the trash a while ago, became a place to write our thanks with a dry-erase marker. The two picture frames above were garage sale finds a while back, and the little porcelain plate hanging from the black picture frame was only $2 at Michael’s. The “GrAcE upon gRaCe” on the top of the window was made from $3 scrapbooking stickers, adhered to the window with a little bit of hot glue. And the cute little burlap flower on the bottom was also a Michael’s find. Total cost for this project was $10!

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I love that our new "Thankful Wall" is right next to my desk!

I love that our new “Thankful Wall” is right next to my desk!

The idea behind this Thankful Wall is that anyone can write down anything for which they are thankful. Big or small…doesn’t matter. It’s a way of reminding us that there is always something to be thankful for, and that “while we may not always feel joy, God asks us to give thanks in all things, because He knows that the feeling of joy begins in the action of thanksgiving.” (Ann Voskamp)

The wonderful author Ann Voskamp also wrote in her best-selling book, One Thousand Gifts, “The joy of small things makes life large.” I forgot how much I love that quote!! And I’m reminded how deeply I want to instill this into my heart as well as my children’s hearts. And so as we fill this window with many small acts of thankfulness, it is my prayer and hope that from it will rise people who view life in a very big way. 

And so I hope that you’ll join me in this journey of thanksgiving. You certainly don’t have to hang old windows on your wall and scribble notes of thanks on it…only weird people do that, right?! ;-) Whether you post them for all to see, scribble them privately in a journal, or secretly draw them across your heart…it doesn’t matter. All that matters, I’m slowly learning, is that we slow down and take the time to notice the work God is doing around us, and that we give Him all the thanks and glory that He deserves. Join me?

Blessings to you today! 

 

My Favorite Seasoning!

Happy Wednesday! Half-way through the week already!

I wanted to share a quick post today with you about my most favorite way to season foods. I ran across a recipe awhile ago in a magazine for Basil Salt. I have no idea now what magazine it was, but I’m thankful I jotted down the recipe and gave it a try. It’s wonderful! The first time I made a batch of it, I think I was putting it on everything in sight! 

If you have fresh basil from your garden, this is a perfect way to use it up before fall arrives. Once dried, the Basil Salt should last for quite some time in an airtight container. 
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First, place 3 cups of loosely packed basil leaves into a food processor. Then add 3-4 minced garlic cloves, and 1/2 cup of kosher salt. 
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Whiz it all together in your food processor, and it should look something like this. Not so appetizing…yet! :-) 
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Distribute the mixture evenly onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet, and leave to air dry for 3-5 days. Yes, you read that right….3 to 5 DAYS…it takes a while for all of the moisture to evaporate. During this time, redistribute the mixture several times to ensure even drying. I put ours in a room in the basement with our dehumidifier, and it dried really well. And, here’s the disclaimer…your house will indeed smell like basil and garlic for a few days. Not overwhelmingly so, but just enough to make people think you’re cooking something wonderful in your kitchen! :-) 

I had enough basil from my garden to do a quadruple batch.

I had enough basil from my garden to do a quadruple batch.

Once the mixture is completely dry, you’ll put it back into your food processor and whirl it all together until it’s the consistency of a coarse-grain salt. Now it’s ready to store in a container, and be used on all sorts of yummy foods. I keep mine in a glass canning jar on the kitchen counter, along with a jar of sea salt and a bottle of extra virgin olive oil. These are my go-to items when cooking, and it’s so nice to have them easily accessible. And, I think they look cute like this, too! 

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My most favorite ways to use Basil Salt…..

*Sprinkled atop scrambled eggs. My morning breakfast has never tasted so good!

*Add a bit to some olive oil in a shallow dish, and use it for dipping artisan breads. 

*Season boneless skinless chicken breasts with the basil salt before grilling. 

*Add a small spoonful to ground beef before forming into hamburger patties. 

Let me know if you try making Basil Salt, and tell me how you like to use it in your kitchen. Happy cooking!!!! 

 

 

Recent Happenings

I guess these unintentional blog sabbaticals keep happening?! Hello again to anyone who still reads this ever-so-randomly-updated blog!! 

Why, you might ask, have I not posted in awhile? Well, it could possibly be related to any of the following happenings around our house…..

1) School Started. I now have a 4th grader and a 1st grader. When did that happen?! So far school is going well. Nadia loves it, but Jayda struggles a little more to warm up to the idea. All in all, though, we’re off to a good start. 

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2) I’m working. With the start of the school year comes my “job” again…doing after-school daycare in our home. This year I have some new families I’m working for, and it’s going really well. Even though the afternoons are a bit busy around here, I love these kids!! It’s such a great way for me to make a little income without working outside the home, and I love being able to interact with these families.

3) I began a new healthy-living program online. I follow “The Grace and Strength Lifestyle” on Facebook…it’s a Christian-based weight loss/healthy living organization. A month or so ago, they posted a link to a webinar they were hosting. Curiosity got the best of me, and I wanted to learn more about the program. It sounded like it might be similar to another program I’d done in high school, where I’d lost quite a bit of weight. Long story short…the program sounded amazing, but was a bit more money than we were able to spend at this point in our lives (more on that later). But at the end of the webinar, they announced they’d be giving away a FREE program, and guess who won it?! Me!!!! :-) You guys….seriously. I never win anything, so this was big for me!! When I told Tanner that I’d won it, he said I should go buy a lottery ticket! ;-) I’m three weeks into the program, and really enjoying it. It’s stretching me for sure, but for the better. I can’t wait to sign-on again tomorrow night for our online study. 

4) We’ve had numerous appointments and paperwork with basement repair companies and banks. Oh, how I love the repairs that homeownership sometimes brings! Did you sense the sarcasm there?! We recently discovered some issues in our basement that need immediate attention. Immediate expensive attention. To say that we’ve been a little stressed about it might be an understatement. The price tag for this repair is far above any amount of money we’re able to write a check for, and so we’re having to be creative in how we can swing this. So if you think about it…pray for that for us. It’s not fun, but I am anxious to watch and see how God provides. Because He always has, and always will. Sometimes it’s just hard for me to be patient and trust. 

5) Tanner received his passport in the mail last week!!!! We’re still not entirely sure when he will have the opportunity to travel for missions work, but we’re so thankful he has the first step in the paperwork process. The missionary film-makers that he’s been asked to possibly travel with are headed to Europe on October 12th to begin their ministry. Pray for them as they acclimate, and for clear direction as to when they could use Tanner’s help. Also, if this amazing opportunity works out, we’ll need to do some fundraising in order for Tanner to be able to go. He’ll have transportation costs, costs while overseas, as well as some pre-trip equipment costs. We know that individuals going on missions trips will often raise money through letters sent in the mail. We’re thinking of doing something a bit different. We’d love to be able to talk with each person interested in helping to support Tanner, as well as open our home to those conversations. So we’re thinking of doing a gigantic bake sale fundraiser. It’d be open house style, with baked goods galore…wrapped and ready to take home for anyone willing to stop over and celebrate this exciting opportunity with us. So I want your opinion…good idea, or silly idea? 

 

Well there’s your Archer family update for today. :-)

 

 

On a completely unrelated note….to any of my fellow garage sale-ers/antique-ers/thrifters….you may know that Tanner and I have a slight love for coffee. Just slightly. (there’s that sarcasm again!) Several months ago, at a local museum, I saw this antique wall-mounted coffee grinder. I fell in love!!! If you ever see anything like this in your outings, call me right away! I would love to add this to our coffee collection. 

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I hope you are all enjoying your Labor Day, and I wish many, many blessings to each and every one of you!!!

 

Summer Updates

How on earth is it already the last full week of summer vacation?! Holy smokes!! 

Last week we celebrated Nadia’s 7th birthday. A little gymnast at heart, she requested a gymnastics-themed party. Combining figurines from the toy box and a LOT of blue sugar to mimic a gymnastics mat, here’s my attempt at a gymnastics cake. 

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She requested a gym mat with girls doing routines on it, and a judge’s desk. That was all her idea! :-)

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She really, really wanted a real gymnastics mat for her birthday, but I was floored by how expensive they are! A good friend of mine texted me the week of her birthday that she saw one on a Sports Swap Site, and we were so thankful to be able to purchase it for her…it was literally 1/6th of the price of a new one. And EXACTLY the same size as the one we wanted for her! God is good! 
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Happy birthday, sweet girl! We love you so much!!! And we think you look adorable in the new leotards you got for your birthday. We love you, little gymnast! 

Let’s see…what else about this summer??

*Our girls have LOVED riding their bikes. I’m almost certain they’ve worn a groove into the sidewalk in front of our house. And we’ve had our first biking accident…Jayda flipped over her handlebars while riding over the weekend, and she’s pretty banged up. Poor girl. 

*We received some really exciting news about a possible opportunity for Tanner to do some traveling missions work. Those of you who’ve read my blog for a while might remember me writing about his desire to do video and photography work for missionaries overseas. It’s a long story, and a really cool story about how God is bringing up some opportunities for this dream to happen. We’re unsure of details, and honestly unsure how we’ll swing it, but we know that God is good and that He’ll prove Himself faithful if this is the path He has for our family. I’ll fill you in on details as we know more!

*On Saturday, our church burned down a house on the property in order to make room for an additional parking lot. We took the kids out to watch, and they loved it! After all, how often do you get to watch a house burn down? We may, however, regret that….Titus asked me today…”Mom, can I play with the dollhouse downstairs? And then can I please burn it down?” Yikes!!
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Speaking of Titus….I’ll leave you today with a photo collage of the many faces of Titus. He’s one funny boy!! Enjoy your Monday, everyone!!
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Hello there! That is, if anybody is still there? ;-) This summer has proved nearly impossible to blog with any sort of regularity. We’re having a great summer, but man alive…it’s flying by, and we’ve been busy.

I could tell you all about the fun things we’ve done, and we’ve certainly done our fair share. I could show you the fun photos we’ve take, capturing goofy memories and silly faces. But not today. Today, my heart feels the need to talk, and my heart likes to do that through words. And so as you read my words, know that you’re reading my heart.

The past two nights have been restless nights of sleep. Filled with dreams of various people going through numerous struggles, my heart aches even in my sleep.

We’re walking hand-in-hand with another loved one, both of us needing significant work on our houses, likely costing so much more than either of us are able to handle. And just yesterday, sitting in the parking lot of the pediatric orthodontist, gathering my thoughts about the painful (and extremely expensive) dental work one of my children needs. Sitting there, overwhelmed, when the door of our very tired old van makes a horrible noise, reminding me all too clearly how much we need a new vehicle, and how we can’t swing all of those expenses right now.

And then there’s things so much more significant and painful. Loved ones struggling through miscarriage. Others desiring long for a child, unable to see that dream fulfilled. Loved ones wading through disheartening news regarding the health of their unborn child. Heavy things.

In my dreams the past two nights, I have unsuccessfully tried to fix each and every one of these things. I saw myself working tirelessly to remedy each situation, and then awoke at 3:45 AM in a sort of panic attack…realizing fully that I have no control over anything. And while that realization makes me feel completely helpless and somewhat stranded, it also has reminded me how much I need to depend on the ONE who does have control. Over everything.

A pastor at church last Sunday said something that is radically changing the way I am trying to respond to these pressures in life.

“God is far more interested in our response to difficulties than He is in our relief from them.”

Wow! I’ve been praying a lot lately that my response to difficulties in my life and in the lives of those I love would be honoring to God. That I would stop desiring to fix everything, and start resting in His sovereign hand. That I would come up alongside those I love, hold their hands, cry with them if they need a good cry, and love them unconditionally through their struggles.

I’ve also been singing this song over and over to myself the last couple days. Encouraging!!

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why I felt the need to share my heart today. Maybe it’s because I know that if we’re all honest with each other, we’re all struggling in our own ways. And while I know everyone handles their struggles differently, I wanted to share with you how God has been challenging my heart lately. That maybe it might encourage you as it’s encouraged me?

So to anyone who is reading this today and struggling through something in their life, know that you’re not alone. Know that there are people in your life who love you very much, and want to walk through life with you. And know that even in the deepest darkest times, God is good. He loves you…more than you know.

Blessings, everyone!!

SUMMERTIME!

As I sit down to write today, I’m not even sure where to start. This blog that I really do love…it’s kinda taken a backseat lately. Summertime is upon us, and while in a sense it brings relaxed schedules, it also brings about a house-full of laundry, activities, and general upkeep that makes me busier than ever. But I love it!!

So for today…just a quick post with some updates and photos.

 

 

Family trip to the Ledges State Park. So fun!!!

Family trip to the Ledges State Park. So fun!!! We love playing with cousins!

Vacation Bible School! Such a fun week with friends!!

Vacation Bible School! Such a fun week with friends!!

Our neighbor was kind enough to pass along their son's toy tractor to Titus. He adores this tractor! He plays with it constantly, and gives it kisses goodnight before he goes to bed at night. Obsessed with farm stuff? Yes!

Our neighbor was kind enough to pass along their son’s toy tractor to Titus. He adores this tractor! He plays with it constantly, and gives it kisses goodnight before he goes to bed at night. Obsessed with farm stuff? Yes!

We spent most of the morning at The Farmer's Market last Saturday. Dutch letters, fresh coffee, and chocolate croissants...a good morning had by all!

We spent most of the morning at The Farmer’s Market last Saturday. Dutch letters, fresh coffee, and chocolate croissants…a good morning had by all!

My baby boy is big enough now to sit in a big-boy carseat. How is this possible, and where have the last almost 3 years gone?!

My baby boy is big enough now to sit in a big-boy carseat. How is this possible, and where have the last almost 3 years gone?!

 

A fun lunch with friends, and these two girlies got the sillies! :-)

A fun lunch with friends, and these two girlies got the sillies! :-)

 

Who doesn't love a cool summer evening around a bonfire with family?!

Who doesn’t love a cool summer evening around a bonfire with family?!

If you know us at all, you know Tanner and I love our coffee. Every day. We didn't think it was possible to like coffee more than we do until a good friend made us a latte from his awesome coffee grinder and espresso machine. It kinda blew our minds, to say the least. Seriously...how awesome is this cup of coffee?!

If you know us at all, you know Tanner and I love our coffee. Every day. We didn’t think it was possible to like coffee more than we do until a good friend made us a latte from his awesome coffee grinder and espresso machine. It kinda blew our minds, to say the least. Seriously…how awesome is this cup of coffee?!

 

To end the post today, I thought I’d share about a few instances over the past week that have reminded me how important kindness is. I attended a friend’s Pampered Chef party on Sunday. I smiled when I saw another guest at the show who shared something in common with me, although we’d never met. At 6 foot and 1 inch tall, it’s not often that I look literally eye-to-eye with another gal….this woman was actually taller than I am, and we laughed and chatted together about our lives as tall women. Sounds weird, I know…but it was fun and refreshing to chit-chat with someone “in the same boat.” We both had a choice to either strike up a conversation with each other, or completely ignore each other….I’d say we’re both better off for choosing the first of those two choices.

Another example happened just this morning at the grocery store. As I turned the corner for another aisle, a mom with two young children was blocking the aisle with her cart. She quickly apologized, to which I said there was no need, and then we both giggled as our sons struck up a conversation with one another. I smiled and continued to shop, when I noticed that in her hand was one of my all-time favorite books. A fairly new book, I was surprised to see someone else with it, as I’ve yet to hear of anyone else who has read it. What was going through my head was something along the lines of…”Oh my goodness! I adore that book! You like it, too? You must like it if you’re bringing it to the grocery store, because it’s chocked FULL of fantastic recipes and stories. I think you might be my new best friend. Really. We should get together and have coffee, and talk for hours about this amazing book.” But what I really said (as calmly as I could) was…”Is that Shauna Niequist’s newest book? It’s a great one, isn’t it?” And wouldn’t you know…this woman at the grocery store was just as excited to have this conversation as I was. We proceeded to share with each other which recipes we’ve tried in the book, which ones are our favorites, and we even shared tips with each other about how to improve on those recipes. It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at the grocery store! And if you’re interested in reading this amazing book, as well…I couldn’t recommend in more highly. It’s amazing. Truly!
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Both of these instances were so much better than the instance at a different store yesterday. Both of my girls had saved for a long time to purchase some items on their wish lists. Armed with their purses and wallets containing their hard-earned money, they made their choices, and stood in line to make their purchases. A teaching moment ensued when the cashier gave them their totals, and we had to count out the correct amount of change. An older woman behind us in line (obviously annoyed by what was happening in front of her) huffed and puffed, rolled her eyes, and shouted out loud for another cashier to open another register. Apparently her time was so much more important than anyone else’s in the store at that moment in time? While I was temped to say something to her, I simply turned around and gave her the biggest, most joyful smile I could muster. It was slightly awkward when she glared back at me, yet I continued to smile. Chances are likely that my smile did nothing to improve her mood that morning, but my guess is she needed that more than she needed a harsh word.

I’ll leave you with this quote from George Saunders that I love.
“What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly. As a goal in life…try to be kinder.”

So, friends, what do you say? Try, along with me, to be kinder? There’s a lot of people out there who need some kindness in their lives. Let’s do what my mom used to always tell us when we were small….”Kill ‘em with kindness!” :-)

Blessings to you all today! Hopefully next time it won’t be a whole month before I post again!!

Mud Pits

Monday evening was a family work night at my sister and brother-in-law’s farm. Several things happened that evening that I had never anticipated….

1) My husband drove a tractor. And he liked it. Had you told me when I married him almost 11 years ago that I’d actually get to see this happen, I’d never have believed you. While I have always dreamed of farm life, it’s been the furthest thing from his mind. This picture makes me smile. :-)
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2) I drove an off-road vehicle. And I liked it. Sorry, no photo of that. But seriously, it was so fun!

3) I learned a very convicting lesson from my hard-working 6-year old. How adorable is she?!
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We arrived at the farm with a specific purpose…we were to pick up all of the sticks and logs that littered the field and load them into the loader bucket of the tractors. And while our kids had instructions to work hard and be diligent, we also wanted them to have fun, so told them that they could explore the farmland a little bit. It was a beautiful evening, and there were many areas for a child to explore. Except one….the muddy valley smack dab in the middle of the field. I told Nadia specifically to not go near the mud.

Several minutes later, above the roar of the tractor’s engine, I heard screaming. I turned around to see that not only had Nadia gone near the mud, she was stuck up to her ankles in the murky mess. The wet earth, like quicksand, had enveloped her, and she couldn’t escape. She was terrified, and I was angry.

My one-sided conversation with her went something like this….

“I told you not to go near the mud!”
“This is why obedience is so vastly important…often times you must obey for your own safety!”
“You have this whole entire farm to explore…why did you insist on exploring where I told you not to?”

Her choice was a bad choice, and she was disciplined. But I kept thinking it through the next few days…kept thinking how much I’m like her. How often I make bad choices and choose to play in the mud instead of follow My Heavenly Father’s directions.

Just as my kids had been given a beautiful evening with a vast array of farmland to explore and play, I’ve been given a beautiful life with a vast array of blessings and gifts. Wonderful things. Encouraging things. And yet, even amidst the beauty, I often find myself wandering toward the mud pit. Wanting to dabble in something that God has not chosen to give me “permission” to play in.

And much like Nadia that evening at the farm, I walk away from the mud pit feeling remorse for my choices, and missing out on the blessings that surrounded me.

Maybe my mud pit is not the same as your mud pit. You see, a mud pit doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Were it the right time and place, it would have been so fun to let Nadia go wild in that mud. Play, have fun, get dirty…mud volleyball, anyone?! :-) It’s not that the mud itself was wrong…it was her choice to inch closer to it when she had been so clearly told not to. Not yet. Not now.

I would challenge you, as I’ve been challenged over the last few days, to examine what types of things you look at longingly. Is there something you want so badly that you can’t take your eyes off of it? Maybe the object of your longing is not bad in and of itself, but your determination to get it (regardless of God’s timing in your life) has become all-consuming? That’s your mud pit.

I’ve pointed out several mud pits in my life this week, and I’m praying that God will help me to take my focus off of the mud, and place it on Him. To look around the mud pit, beyond the mud pit, to all of the beauty that He has provided right where I am now.

There’s beauty surrounding us daily. Sometimes we just have to wipe the mud out of our eyes and off of our hearts in order to see it.

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I stole this photo from my sister’s Facebook account. This is one of many beautiful areas on the farm. Why did the mud seem so enticing?!

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And this photo was stollen from my brother-in-law’s Facebook account. Thanks for the picture! :-) Simply gorgeous.

I love this quote from C.S. Lewis, and I thought it was very appropriate for this blog post.

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with *sin* when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

 

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