{ He Said, She Said} 8

Slow and cozy are two words I wanted for this Christmas season.  I wanted to bake cookies and listen to Christmas music and wear pajamas all day.  We have done a lot of those three things and it has been slow and cozy.  Today I'm sharing some great Christmas-y reads.  Enjoy.

If Your Star is Crooked and You Burnt the Cookies

A Holiday Pep Talk for You

Perfect Biscuits


{He Said, She Said} 7

Friends, Christmas is less than two weeks away.  Are you ready?  I'm so close.  Please, please give these a read.  They are lovely and so timely for the Christmas season. 

When December Feels Weary (If you read just one thing, read THIS.)

Trade Your To-Do List for a Love List

Why You Should Stop Giving Your Kids So Many Toys 

If you already bought your kids their gifts for Christmas, maybe save the last one for another time...

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!” 
― Dr. SeussHow the Grinch Stole Christmas!


A Simple Christmas: Year Two

Children are born with their own optimism.  They have a clarity and a simplicity that we can only wish for.  -Meshell Ndegeocello

Last year I shared some ways I was making Christmas simple out of pure necessity.  With our home in complete disarray while in the middle of a renovation and pregnant with Jude, I needed to slow down and pare down Christmas.  This year I am not pregnant and there is no one coming in and out of our house on a daily basis hanging drywall or laying tile.  #praisejesus As I thought about what I wanted this Christmas to look like, I realized last Christmas was quite wonderful.  The kids did end up with croup right before the big day, but there wasn't one other thing I would have changed.  

So, this year we are doing it again.  I am keeping things as simple as possible.  We are saying 'yes' to things that are important to us and 'no' to some good, fun things that just can't fit this year.  We are leaving margin to enjoy the season and I am doing my best to keep things simple when it comes to gifts, activities, decorating, and food.     

Today I'm sharing some ways I am keeping Christmas simple this year.  In 2017. There are some ideas from last year's post, as well as some new ones.  These are not original and come from reading articles and books, chatting with friends, family, and, obviously, Pinterest. 

Guilt-Free Decorating
One of my most favorite Christmas traditions is cutting down a tree.   We head to our local tree farm, ride a mini tractor to the top of a random hill, and choose our tree.  On our way to the farm this year, Kevin asked, 'what are we going to do about Jude'?  I had no idea what he was talking about...and then I realized 'YES! What ARE we going to do about Jude??!!'  He is a plant lover. He will absolutely get into any plant or tree within his reach.  Problem. Instead of getting a big, beautiful tree, we opted for the tiniest tree we could find so we could set it on a table up where little hands aren't able to tear it down.

We still were able to make memories picking out a tree, but we absolutely didn't come home with the picture-perfect tree I wanted. I realized this won't be every year and it's okay to change things up for a year or two to adapt to our family's needs (and to save me from setting up the fallen Christmas tree thirty-three times in December). 

Simplify the Advent Calendar
Lucky for me, I have a five year old this year.  He does not miss a day of our Advent Calendar, which means we have't fallen behind.  Mommas of super littles, someday you will have a little person to keep you on track. 

Our advent calendar this year looks similar to last year.  I decided on three random acts of kindness and the rest of the days are filled with simple things like 'have a pajama day' (which I realized we do most days anyways), 'make cookies', 'sip hot cocoa', 'watch a Christmas movie', as well as other fun things.  Back in November, I planned our countdown to Christmas activities by looking at things we already had on the calendar.  We are on day 11 and I have already done some late night switching because I just knew 'make cookies' wasn't going to happen tomorrow.  

This year I printed and added this super simple Advent calendar to help us remember everyday the 'why' behind Christmas.  

Fewer Gifts
Kevin and I have never been big on 'stuff'.  We like to keep things simple and clutter free as much as possible, toys included.  Both of our kids have their birthdays in November, so they are already overloaded with stuff come Christmas.  Sometime before Luke was born I found a Christmas gift idea on Pinterest that included four gifts: something to wear, something to read, something you want, something you need.  We have done this the past few years and while it seems simple enough, there were times Luke didn't need anything to wear or there wasn't anything he needed and it made it tough because I felt like I was buying things unnecessarily.

My mother-in-law told me about giving three gifts to each child to represent how Jesus received three gifts.  That is what we have done the past two years. Both kids will receive three gifts, no guidelines involved, just three gifts. They will also get their stockings filled with small things like stickers and new toothbrushes.  Simple enough for me.  What is great about this, is Luke has picked up on it.  He now knows he gets three gifts and has been telling us the exact gifts he wants under the Christmas tree.  

Margin on the Calendar
This year I read Loving My Actual Christmas by Alexandra Kuykendall.  It was so good, friends.  Kuykendall presented so many good practices to get ready for the season as well as practical tips.  

Back in November, Kevin and I sat down and discussed what made Christmas feel like Christmas.  For me it is cutting down the tree, going to Lauritzen Gardens and the Durham Museum to see Santa.  It is having lots of time at home to watch Christmas movies, sing Christmas songs, make cookies and drink hot cocoa. Kevin simply said being home on Christmas together.  I guess we look at this season a bit differently.  I also asked the kids and Luke said he wanted to go to the Durham and I honestly can't remember what Lily said, but we already had it on our list.  We took the list and mapped out the season.  Kuykendall would call it, putting in the big rocks first.  We scheduled the tree cutting, Lauritzen and the Durham.  I also used our Advent calendar to sprinkle in those little fun things like cookie making and watching Christmas movies throughout the month.

Since November, lots of fun, exciting things have come up to do or go to.  We have said 'yes' to some of them, but 'no' to lots of them.  It is oh so hard for me to say no to good, fun things, but I know if I want this season to be beautiful for my family, I must do it. 

A last caveat to this...when I see a family on Facebook or Instagram doing something totally Christmas-y I...#1 do my best to not feel guilty about not doing said activity and #2 promise myself I will not add that incredible tradition to our plate this year.  Every family is different and none of us can do it all. 

Easy Gifting
My gifting is super similar to last year.  I love to give thoughtful and meaningful gifts to the ones I love, especially at Christmas time.  I am trying to simplify that this year and shop online as much as possible as well as think about gifting similar gifts to groups of people.  For example, I am giving one simple gift to all of Luke and Lily's church teachers and some groups of girlfriends. I want people to feel loved and thanked this season, but I think it can be done in a way that doesn't bring bunches of stress to the giver.

Another way I made gifts easier this year was by starting early.  I have a special tub I keep items I collect throughout the year for family and friends. I store it away and then have it ready for when Christmas is here.  My goal this year is to be done shopping and wrapping by the end of this week, so I can enjoy the last week before Christmas without any last minute items on my list. I am almost there, friends!

Festive, Simple Fashion
Dressing myself and three children during the holidays is no joke.  When we are going to a fun Christmas event or party where pictures will be taken, I want us to look somewhat presentable.  This year I have two to three outfits picked out for each of us for these events.  Luke has a few shirts and jeans, Lily a few dresses and a pair of leggings with a top, Jude has two sweet one piece outfits.  I have a few tops paired with jeans or leggings and one dress for more formal gatherings.  Kevin is on his own, because he always looks good and selecting male clothing is not my gift.  I can feel confident when I push snooze on Saturday morning because I know there is something for all of us to wear.

Implementing the Crock Pot and Leftovers
We still have to eat!  Even in this full season, my people still need to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Madness.  I have been using the crock pot at least twice a week and have started to be creative with leftovers to make our food and my time more plentiful.  This is helpful all year long, but especially during the Christmas season.

Giving Myself Grace
Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year and I want to take in as much as possible and enjoy the magic and wonder that fills December.  I love to read a Christmas book and watch Christmas movies on the couch cuddled under a blanket with a cup of peppermint hot cocoa.  I am giving myself permission and grace to do this the next few weeks during nap time or at night after the kids go to bed.  Besides, this season only comes around once a year.

As one of the best seasons comes to life around us, I want to slow down, take it in, and make as many memories as possible.  They may not be picture perfect and there might be tears intertwined with those memories because #life.  I'm thankful for this Christmas season nonetheless. Keeping it simple will help us to focus on the real reason for the season, the baby born to save the world. 

Merry Christmas, everyone!  I hope your Christmas is merry, bright, and simple!


Does it matter?

I've always wanted a big family, since as far back as I can remember.  I've always wanted to be a mom too, stay at home and raise babies, bake cookies, and live happily ever after.  Then, I got married and we had kids.  I still want a big family and still love staying at home and I want to bake cookies and live happily ever after.  BUT, things are much, much different than my naive self dreamed about ten years ago.

It was an ordinary Tuesday.  The kids were reading 'new' books from the library as I cleaned up the kitchen for the second time in the course of a few hours. Jude was snoozing happily in his crib.  I was humming to myself, quite sure it was going to be one of those magical mornings.  Before I could even finish the thought, Luke grabbed the book Lily was reading out of her hand.  I wouldn't have known, except for the terrible ear piercing scream which came out of the back of Lily's throat.  I promise it could have woken a dog a half mile down the road.  My stomach got tight and I so badly wanted to holler for them both to go to their rooms.  As Lily sat on the couch crying/screaming/waking the baby up, I had one of those movie moments.  You know the kind.  The main character is in a situation, but then her mind takes her somewhere else and it's like she has no idea what is happening right in front of her?  That's what I had.  I was thinking, is this really motherhood?  Is this really what I signed up for when I prayed and waited and longed for those positive pregnancy tests?  Is this my life?  As I came back down to earth, mostly because Lily's screams couldn't keep me elsewhere for long, I asked Luke to calmly go to his room and I gave the book back to Lily.  I gave Luke a 60 second pep talk and then went down to get Jude up and change his diaper.  An ordinary Tuesday indeed.

It was an ordinary Wednesday.  We were meeting some friends for a playdate and were going to make a 'quick' stop at Target before heading over.  I parked the car and unbuckled Luke and Lily.  It was 40 degrees, but we didn't bother with coats.  I told the kids we were going to make a run for it.  We ran (actually it was fast walking) through the parking lot.  Luke ran ahead and I said in my stern voice to 'please come back right now' and we toddled the rest of the way into the store, a car seat draped over one arm and a toddler on one side of me and my five year old on the other side.  We headed straight to the family bathroom when we got inside because #pottytraining and after slathering our hands with sanitizer, we hopped into a cart.  I tried to talk the bigs into a normal cart for normal people, but they wanted the extra-long-hard-to-push-cart-for-families-with-more-than-one-child.  And they didn't even sit in the kid seats.  You can't win them all.  We needed four things from Target that Wednesday.  Of course we walked out with twelve. Our fifteen minutes in Target was full of 'please stay in the cart' and 'not today' and 'maybe you could ask for that for Christmas' and, of course, tears. An ordinary Wednesday indeed.

These ordinary days make up my life as a momma.  They are so ordinary, sometimes it's easy to look at them as insignificant days, hours, and weeks.  

Does it matter if I yell to get my point across when Luke takes Lily's book? Does anyone care if the leftover Cheerios are swept up after every meal?  Will anyone know if I lose my cool when my five year old does something downright mean to his sister?  Will anyone care that my brain can withstand the high decibel screams of my toddler?

To be honest, sometimes I think none of these things really matter.  About a week ago, I had an 'ordinary' day.  I was feeling like a failure, one of those moms who has yoga pants on covered in spit up and hasn't been out of the house in awhile to know that Starbucks brought out their Christmas cups.  I felt like I was treading water and sometimes my head went under for so long I didn't know if I was going to be able to come back up for air.  I was weary, beat, internally struggling with the thought that nothing I do matters.  No one saw any good things or bad things I did that day.  Well, except for the three souls God has entrusted to me.

As I confessed this to my sweet husband, he firmly told me I wasn't failing, in the kindest, most sincere way.  He didn't give me a pep talk or listen as I complained, he simply told me what he thought to be the truth.  As the rest of the week went by, I had some more ups and downs.  I went from feeling like 'I've got this' to 'I've got nothing'.  

In-between all of this, I asked God for some guidance and reassurance and, honestly, a pep talk.  I needed someone, something, a glimpse to see that what I was doing mattered.  Guys, I didn't get it.  I didn't get the angels singing - bright light shining down - this is it - Mary you're going to mother the Son of God moment.  But, I got the truth.  I got a 'you're a good Mommy' from Luke. I ended up with two kids on my lap both listening intently to the story I was reading them.  I got my littlest babe laughing at me as he crawls as fast as he can towards me to crawl on top of me and spit up all over my somewhat clean pants.  And I also got this:

God sees me.

My ordinary, insignificant days matter to the God of the universe.  It matters if I scream at my kids or talk calmly to them.  It matters my house is as picked up as a house can be with three littles.  It matters if I lose my cool or keep God in mind when my five year old does something that makes me want to jump off the deep end.  It matters that I am capable of handling my toddler's screams that sound like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.  All of these things matter to God. 

Yes, my life is much different than I thought it would be ten years ago pre-babies.  God has shown me it is so SO much better.  Despite the hard days, the ordinary days, I have a purpose.  An important one.  I am blessed and honored to be the tear-wiper, spit-up cleaner, laundry-folder, booger-collector (don't ask), dinner-maker, listener, truth seeker, cuddler.  And Momma.

And so the answer is yes.  YES.  It matters.  I matter.



{ He Said, She Said } 6

The last two days we have been at home and our days have been slow and steady.  Pajamas all day, lazy breakfasts, and Christmas books all. day. long.  These good reads have made nap time a bit sweeter.  Enjoy.

The Most Meaningful Gift to Give Yourself Right Now

When Your Heartbeat Feels Like a Drumbeat

5 Ways to be a more Present Parent


Jude is 10 months

His chipmunk laugh lights up a room and his casual spitting up makes even the masters of motherhood recoil.  Our Jude is 10 months.  The first year is flying with this babe.  I'm not sure we could adore him anymore than we do at this very moment.  We love him so.  Here is what Jude has been up to this past month...

  • Jude is so so close to walking.  He stands on his own and walks around any piece of furniture he can find and many times uses mom and dad's legs to support himself while he gets from point A to point B.
  • When Jude hears the water start in the bathroom, he makes a beeline for the bathtub.  He loves splashing in the water.  Bath time is one of his favorite times of day with Daddy.
  • Jude is taking two solid naps a day and sleeping around 12 hours at night. Some days are better than others, but we are all thankful for a consistent routine.  
  • Plants and our entertainment center are two places Jude gets into mischief.  He tries to pull devices off the entertainment center and has set off our house alarm more than once.  He has also eaten handfuls of dirt from a specific plant that sits on the ground.  It's so hard to be mad at him.
  • Jude opens his mouth for about any kind of food.  If we are eating, Jude is eating.  
  • Following Luke and Lily around make Jude happy and Luke and Lily tolerate it from time to time.
  • On vacuum day, Jude gets excited to follow me all around the house.  It serves two purposes: cleaning the house and entertaining the baby.
  • Jude still spits up an unbelievable amount.  We are waiting for the day when we can all not change our clothes a few times a day.
  • Jude's favorite book is Brown Bear, Brown Bear and he loves to cuddle on my shoulder as I read and put him down for a nap.
  • Jude has two bottom teeth and a top one is popping through, very very slowly.  His gummy smile is gone.
  • Throwing balls and pacifiers and really anything he can find, is Jude's talent.  Every morning, Kevin and I go on a pacifier hunting mission because Jude has inevitably thrown every single pacifier out of his crib.

We love our littlest babe and treasure all the firsts we are experiencing with him.  Love you sweet Jude!


Sunny Saturday

Today we are headed to the Santa Express, a dream train ride for kids mirroring the story, The Polar Express.  We are surprising the kids and I just know they are going to be head over heels excited about this one.

As we come out of the Thanksgiving day fog and are sprinting into the Christmas season, I am equal parts excited and, if I'm being honest, a bit anxious.  I have many plates to keep spinning and I don't want to drop one.  On Monday morning I sat down to map out this week and realized next week is what really matters...and the next.  The weeks leading up to Christmas are some of my most favorites and on Monday morning I started to sweat thinking about all I had to do and think about and prepare for.  Then I took a deep breath and told myself it will all be okay.  And it will absolutely be okay.  Things will or will not get done and it will all be absolutely fine either way.  I looked at my calendar and decided to take two things off and to write on my calendar 'home days' to make sure I stay home those days to enjoy the season, drink hot cocoa, wrap presents, do Christmasy-y things with the kids, and truly remember the reason for the season.  

This week I'm sharing some things that made the first week of the Christmas season extra sunny.

First up, this cute little plant.  I decided I needed some more Christmas in my life and Hy-Vee had the perfect little guy to spruce up my kitchen.  I am a fan of real plants in my home and this one adds something extra with the red cardinal in the middle. 

I am reading Loving My Actual Christmas by Alexandra Kuykendall, a perfect book to get me ready for this time of year.  She also wrote Loving My Actual Life. I got together with some girlfriends this past week to discuss it and the reminders to keep my brain and heart focused on the reason we celebrate Christmas are priceless.  I highly recommend it.

My crock pot is getting worked in my kitchen.  It gets used about every other night and makes the 4:00 hour a little less hairy.  This week I made this yummy Italian Chicken Pasta dish.  It was super easy to throw together and super delicious.  I made it for Kevin's parents when they watched the kids one night this week and then we had it for leftovers the next night.  Put this in your dinner rotation, friends.

Last, but certainly not least, The Next Right Thing Podcast by Emily P. Freeman.  Guys, you have to give this a listen.  My dear friend, Annie, recommended it to me and I am enjoying/needing/devouring it right now.  Her topic of 'the next right thing' is so timely in my season of life.  When you start to listen, make sure you start at episode one and work your way through. This one is so so good for my soul.

I hope you enjoy the first weekend in December.  It's going to be a good one.


He Said She Said { 5 }

It's Thanksgiving week and my heart is full with anticipation and excitement for the beginning of the holiday season.  I hope you find some time to grab a cup of coffee and enjoy these short and sweet reads.  Maybe you will even get inspired to make some bread over the long weekend.  

How to Show Up for Your Life

Want Change? It's Simple.

Rustic Bread Recipe


He Said, She Said { 4 }

Thanksgiving is quickly approaching as well as the holiday season.  (Or are we already smack dab in the middle of it?)  Whether you are listening to Christmas music today or you are a firm believer of getting through Turkey day first...the first link is a good read to prepare yourself for the season. Enjoy!

A Gentle Warrior's Guide to Embracing the Holidays

We Are Broke in our Busyness

Small Step No. 15: You Doing You

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” -William Morris


Lily is three

Our only girl is three today.  Our Lily Jo has made us laugh until we cry, cry until we cry some more, and smirk and smile at her antics.  She is loving and lovable, fiery and fearless, beautiful and (almost always) barelegged, sincere and silly.  She is our girlish red-headed middle child and fits all the stereotypes to go with those designations.

Photo by Ashley Otte Photography
We absolutely love her more than we can say and our family would not be complete without her free spirit and bright disposition.  Our Lily girl is getting bigger and smarter and lovelier everyday.  

Lily has started loving all the princesses.  Ariel is her favorite, but she loves reading and talking about them all.  She received some princesses for her birthday and hasn't put them down since.  

There are either screams of glee or screams of agony (almost always Lily's) when Luke and Lily play together.  They are best friends, rivals, siblings, and love to play together except when one of them does something to completely upset the other.  But, when they are playing together harmoniously, it's as if an angelic song is drifting through the halls of our home. 

Lily moved into a big girl bed about a month and a half ago and she is loving it.  She loves the freedom it brings to squish every single stuffed toy or doll she has into her bed as well as a flashlight, books, socks, and Jude's pacifiers.  She also loves that Daddy and Mommy can cuddle with her in her bed at night.  (We love this, too.)

Jude is a fun playmate for Lily.  She loves to speak to him in her squeaky-talking-to-a-baby-voice.  She also loves to 'tackle' him (help me, Jesus) and chase him around the house.  Thankfully, Jude usually is happy with excitement.

Lily loves books like her big brother.  Her favorites at the moment are: Minnie Mouse anything, Disney Princess anything, Dinosaur Farm, Big and Little, and The Magic Tree House series on audiobook.

Twinning with my daughter is not something I thought I would be into as a mom, but I am so so in.  Lily loves to dress like me and, I'll be honest, I'm soaking it in as much as possible.  It's one of the only ways I get her to wear what I want her to wear.  She has a strong opinion these days, unless of course, she is matching me. 

Sometimes it feels as if we have a teenager in our home.  Lily's emotions run high and deep and wide.  She can grow happy or sad or mad at the drop of a pink marker to the floor.  Mommy and Daddy are learning patience and deep breathing techniques and how to talk her back down to earth.

Lily has gone back and forth between what foods she prefers.  Right now her favorites are salad with croutons, cottage cheese, goldfish, dried cranberries, over easy eggs, strawberries and raspberries, bacon, smoothies, steak, and M&Ms.  

Lily still loves to care for her baby dolls.  She has a baby boy and a baby girl that each go by that name (Baby Boy and Baby Girl).  She will take them on walks in her stroller, change their diapers, feed them, and ask Mommy to dress them. 

Lily girl's smile lights up our home and I am so thankful God picked her for our family.


Here is a walk down memory lane with my beautiful girl.

Happy Birthday sweet girl of mine!

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