Saturday, December 20, 2014

Flower Girls and Weddings from a Dad's Perspective

This blog post comes from Aaron, my guest poster for the night and husband extraordinare:

Weddings have never been much on my radar. If I'm honest, I remember them by the food. I think there are great reasons why food and celebrations go together but that's for a different day. And sure, you can call me shallow but you know I'm right.

Since our K-Life days when we were also going through the season of friends getting married, we have had our fair share of weddings. However, this time around I see them in a different light. A light from being a dad.

And not the angle of giving Anna away in marriage. I'll deal with that never at a later date. Today I was fascinated by the flower girl. Anna was recently asked to be the flower girl for a couple we know whose wedding is this coming summer. When asked, Lara and I both looked at each other and said back to them, "That's great but you might want to reconsider when you get closer." She'd not even be two by that time. Lara and I laughed after playing out the potential scenarios. We're convinced that if she can make it past the middle row of seats, she'd do great. If not, we may be bringing in people with hazmat suits to clean up the damage. Today we went to a wedding of a friend of ours. The flower girl did great. Usually, we scrutinize an older flower girl on her performance. However, the younger they are, we just ask that they are cute and make it to the end. She made her way down the aisle, basking in her dress, dropping pedals she doesn't know she is or isn't grabbing from her basket, and aimlessly dropping them (or air) in bunches on the aisle. She then cutely but clumsily climbs the stairs to the maid of honor. She stumbles before reaching her but gets there, turns, and smiles. During the wedding, she can be seen eating some snacks in what looks like a jewel pack and waving at her proud but still nervous mother.

But for some reason, my mind wonders to, "Why do we even have a flower girl and a ring bearer?" I'm sure there are some royalty things going on and history behind it all but I couldn't help but think about Christ and His bride.

For most weddings, they begin with a music, singing the ancient story of anticipation of love and hope. You hear it and know you are here to witness an event full of joy. Then, a new theme begins, telling us of family coming down to huddle as close as they can to the stage, each family usually sitting on separate sides but on the same row, uniting as one to send out from themselves new life. The groom stands center stage. The groomsman and bridesmaids enter and make ready the way. They surround the scene, each with their physical presence testifying to two people and a history and stories of these two lives, each validating what will happen in the moments following.

But right before the grand entrance, it is two children, one with a pillow and another with a basket full of flower pedals, who walk down the aisle. These two children will usher in the moment that makes us want to stand up before the music begins to catch the first glimpse of a glowing bride. It is these two children who don't understand the gravity of the following moments that are the first notes to a symphony about to be written. These two children, full of innocence, naivety, peace, and joy, bring in the bride. It is these two children who are ushering in a new kingdom.

I cannot help but think that this is how God is ushering in His kingdom. Through His children. Not by sword or might. But by children of innocence who don't quite get the gravity of the moment that will culminate in the comprehensive outpouring of God's redemptive love to a world broken and hurting. Children given their innocence. Children announcing the arrival of a bride made clean by the blood of the perfect Lamb. Children Jesus said never to hinder, even though they can be clumsy and naive. Children called by a loving Father.

May we usher in His kingdom through His love. Maranatha, Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

With Cup in Hand

The sky is gray, and the branches, unclad for winter, run through it like brown cracks.

I stand at the sink and do last night's dishes.  There aren't many.  Our big soup pot, a brownie pan, seven brown mugs.  We had our small group Christmas party last night.  You can't have a Christmas party without wassail - one of the things my mama taught me about hostessing.  It's easy; you heat apple cider and cranberry juice on the stove, add cloves and cinnamon sticks, cut up an orange or a lemon, add sugar to taste.  It makes one's house smell like Christmas, and the inaugural swallow warms all the way down.

I dip my hands in the hot water and look at the sky.  Anna toddles from an open cabinet to the island, singing her own little song full of her own little words.  I swipe the dishrag around the rim of a mug, rinse, repeat.  The mugs were a gift from my uncle and aunt.  They're simple and beautiful, my favorite kind of thing.  I think of the hands that cupped round them last night as we watched It's a Wonderful Life and lingered after, laughing over stories of our awkward younger selves.

Just a cup.  Just a drink.  Just a roomful of people piled on a couch and stretched out on a scratchy jute rug.  But it's more, for Psalm 68:6 says God sets the lonely in families.  Doesn't He?  Can't it even be said that's the reason Jesus came, to bring us into His bloodline, to call us His brothers?  And on a cold December day when we wonder why He lingers, it is this answer too.  He waits in patient kindness, so that the family might swell even more.

The dishes are clean, stacked precariously in our tiny dishpan.  I unplug the sink and give one more glance at the sky.  It is unchanged in its somber shade, but inside these brick walls, we'll set a pot to simmer on the stove, and we'll keep filling the brown mugs up through all the heavy gray days.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

When It's Hard to See God as He Is

Being a parent does incredible things for your understanding of God.

Doctrinally, I would say that God is a loving Father, Jesus an ever-present Shepherd, and the Holy Spirit a Comforter and Guide, but those truths aren't always the ones I play on the projector of my white-sheet mind.  Sometimes, the projector rolls, and God flashes across as stern and disappointed, Jesus shows up as distant and disapproving, and the Holy Spirit wafts in as mystical and hazy.

Tonight, Anna was up past her bedtime.  We'd gone to look at Christmas lights, and when we returned, it was already seven, and we still had to feed her dinner and change into jammies.  She was tired and fragile.  She asked for her water, but I had to get it ready.  She ran away from me, ranting in her baby talk, straight across the dining room and into the bathroom, where she could go no further.  I scooped her up, ready to speak comfort and love to her, and she threw her head back as hard as she could, hitting herself against the cabinet.

How often am I Anna?  So frustrated at God for the things I cannot see.  I ask for water, and it doesn't come instantly.  I can't see what His hands are doing, and so I run.  I throw angry words into the air and go as far as I can, and all the time, He is following.  His heart toward me is tender.  He longs for me to understand Him, and He's ready to teach me who He is.  He's not withholding the water because I have failed or because He is mean.

Whatever it is that you are waiting for, my friend, take heart.  God tucks into His side with the loving grasp of a Father, and He is not holding out on you.  Rather, He is the only one of the two of you that completely understands the situation at hand and perfectly knows how to bring His goodness and mercy to pass.

He is our good Father.  Listen to Audrey remind you - it will bless you, I promise.

I put all my hope in the truth of Your promise
And I steady my heart on the ground of Your goodness
When I'm bowed down with sorrow I will lift up Your name
And the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy

Because You are good to me, good to me

I lift up my eyes to the hills where my help is found
Your voice fills the night - raise my head up to hear the sound
Though fires burn all around me I will praise You, my God
And the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy

Because You are good to me, good to me

Your goodness and mercy shall follow me
All my life
I will trust in Your promise

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

May All Your Christmases Be White

We made a little list of things to do over the Christmas season.

No big goals here, people.  Just a few things that would probably have happened anyway, but don't they look so cute on a chalkboard?

(I'll be honest, reading A Christmas Carol  is a long shot.  But the list needed at least one stretch.)

On Sunday night, my mom made chili and we settled down in their basement to watch White Christmas.  There are certain things about my childhood that remain very mysterious to Aaron, and I'd say the incredible significance of White Christmas is at the top of that list.

My sister and I loved to dress up as little girls.  My mom collected old dresses, shawls, high heel shoes - the stuff of dreams.  Our entire collection of dress up filled two garage bags.  When friends came over, we emptied the bags all over the bedroom floor and worked our way through multiple clothing changes as we acted out weddings, balls, plays, and oh yes, the pivotal scenes from White Christmas.  (We also drew a lot of inspiration from The Lawrence Welk Show.  Childhood quirks!)

Me and my sister with our friends Pam and Jennifer, circa 1992.  That yellow dress was my fave.

Everybody always wanted to be Judy.  My friend Pam got to be Judy more often than not because she was the only one who could wrap the rainbow stretch belt around her waist twice.  When it was just my sister and I, we sashayed around the living room singing, "There were never such devoted sisters."  To this day, I still wish I could have figured out how to tap my foot as fast as Judy.

In a few years, Anna will be old enough to meet the magic.  We'll watch it together, and the songs and the dances and the LOVE STORY will enchant her too.  

I can't wait.  I've missed dressing up.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Anatomy of a Christmas Card

Thanksgiving rolls around, and it's time to start considering the question: WHAT ARE WE GOING TO WEAR FOR OUR CHRISTMAS CARD PHOTO?  This is the obvious consideration of every wife, and it's also the thought that has crossed no husband's mind, ever.

This year, I was giving Aaron the rundown on our outfits, which went something like this.  "So I was thinking I'll wear that new plaid shirt with a cardigan over it, of course, and you can wear your chambray shirt but I also think you wore that shirt last year in our Christmas card picture, so maybe you can wear that navy sweater we got in Chicago over the shirt, and Anna is going to wear her striped dress with the chambray bottom."  Breath.  "Do you think that sounds good?"

Aaron looked at me with a pained expression on his face.  "Babe, I have no idea what chambray is."

Record screech.

This is one of those moments where I realize where I've been living in an alternate universe in which my husband's brain thinks about the exact same things as mine.  But no, in the real universe, he's not wondering whether Mary is going to find another husband in season five of Downton Abbey.  Neither he is storing away the finer points of fashion trends, such as the identification of chambray.

This makes division of labor easy - I lay out all the outfits so no one has to wonder what chambray (or plaid?) is, and Aaron is a rockstar and gets himself and Anna ready while I spend thirty minutes curling my hair.

Then there are the pictures themselves.  Find a photographer: Mom, check.  Find a location: Mom's back yard, check.  Set up a time: "Hey Mom, we're coming over after church, and could you take a few photos for us?" Check.

A more accurate question would have been, "Hey Mom, we're coming over after church, and we'll need you to take at least a hundred photos for us in order to get one where Anna is smiling and I'm happy with my hair, and oh, we'll need you to make some funny snorty noises and possibly pull some dance moves in order to make Anna smile and look at the camera, does that sound okay?"

But hey!  We got the smile!  We got smiles, plural!

Today I'm addressing the cards in between redressing Anna.

So far, she has wanted me to put on her coat, her hat, and swap out one of her boots for a brown flat. But, I'm not complaining.  She smiled for the Christmas card picture, and when you're 15 months old, that's no small thing.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Quilting Year

One of my secret ambitions is to join a quilting club.

Now I have told the entire Internet, so please, if you're part of a quilting club, feel free to invite me.

(Sidebar: Is there a certain age requirement to join a quilting club?  Oh, I know there's no rule, but I need to know the unspoken social mores.)

As a little girl, I would beg my mom to let me sew on her machine.  It was set up in a little nook in her bedroom, and I spent hours (or what felt like hours to my 9 year old mind) squirreled away there, sewing little scraps together.  Mom didn't hover over me worried that I might sew through my finger or bust a part on her machine.   Alone in her room, I created.  Beautiful, scrappy little messes.

There's a magic in making pretty things out of small beginning bits.  It's the magic of creating.   "Creativity," Madeleine L'Engle says, "is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living."  I like that, the thought of creativity being a rhythm of life, and it's true for me, at least - when I'm not creating in some way, I feel a bit withered up.   It's taken form over the years in decorating our house with garage sale finds or pasting together cards out of magazine pages.  This year, I quilted.

In February, my sister asked me to help her bind a t-shirt quilt she had just finished.  It inspired me.  I wanted to make a quilt and finish it through to the bitter end: piecing, quilting the layers, and binding. I would make Anna a baby quilt!  So I went to JoAnn's and wandered the aisles.  Spent way too long pulling bolts off, holding up pattern next to pattern.  I chose a simple design that didn't have a lot of corners to match up, and my Brother EX 660 and I got cozy at the dining room table.  You can actually see me working on that quilt in the last picture in this post.  

After that, I was hooked.  A friend was due to have a baby in the summer, and so I decided to make her a baby quilt.  Then another friend was due in October, and obviously she needed a quilt too.  Then a friend told us of a hard family time he was walking through, and a quilt seemed the perfect tangible expression of all the love we were praying to wrap round him.  

I am not an expert at this.  Let's remember that my auspicious career as a quilter began as a nine-year-old, and since then, I've had no formal training other than YouTube videos.  (Now you begin to understand my quilting club dream.)  But believe me - this is not about perfection.   Look at these pictures.  Can you really see my puckery stitches or the places I veered off the edge of the binding? 

The hardest part of a project is sometimes just starting.  But then once you begin, you soon have a different problem.  I told Aaron I won't make any more quilts for a while.  You know, so I can fit making dinner and showering back into my schedule.  

But if I began this post with a confession, I'll end it with another...

I really don't shower that often anyway.  

Monday, December 1, 2014

Entering Advent

It's coming down Christmas, and they're cutting down trees."  You know that Joni Mitchell song?  "I wish I had a river that I could skate away on."  Such a sad song, and not really about Christmas at all, but I was thinking about it as I was decorating my Christmas tree.  Unwrapping funky ornaments made of popsicle sticks and missing my mother so much I almost couldn't breathe." 
I'm home alone tonight, decorating our Christmas tree, which always makes me think of that scene from You've Got Mail.   I started last night, but this morning I remembered I forgot the ribbon.  The ribbon has to go on after the lights and before the ornaments, you know?  Since there are few things more delightfully nostalgic and wistful and wonderful than decorating the tree, I was happy to start over again.  

We had a quiet and simple Thanksgiving.  It was just our family of three plus a friend for Thanksgiving dinner.  We invited our neighbors on both sides, but neither set could come.  The morning of Thanksgiving, I stood at the sink washing dishes and feeling slightly defeated as I remembered that story Jesus tells about the man giving the dinner.  None of his guests could come, so he sends his servants out to gather in all the sick and lame and poor.  Maybe we didn't gather enough.  Maybe we were too timid in our invitations.  Or maybe it was just as important to love and serve our one friend who came.  I don't know.

Friday we ate dinner with my parents and a few other friends.  A puzzle was pulled out after dinner, and I guess you have to be a part of the Casey family to understand that even a puzzle is a competitive game.   If an activity doesn't have a winner, then what's the point?

A note from Aaron: And speaking of competition, we have been on a kick of Settlers and Quiddler. We tend to go on kicks with games. To keep the You Got Mail theme, Lara and I have distinctively different views of playing games against each other. I am a strategist, giving myself the best opportunity to win; pulling moves that can appear evil but am willing to admit defeat with good taste when I get out dueled - business. Lara on the other hand, "Business? What is that suppose to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn't personal to you. But it was personal to me. It's 'personal' to a lot of people. And what's so wrong with being personal, anyway?" And yet, we still keep playing and find our groove in the midst of it. She's my "NY152 insights into my soul."

We lit the first candle on our Advent wreath today.  Anna cried because we wouldn't let her hold the Book of Common Prayer.  Our copy is a tiny black book, and she thinks all the tiny things belong to her.  I let her hold the book of matches instead.  I'm not sure that was a good parenting move.  Don't judge.  Still, even clutching the matches, she cried great fat tears as Aaron prayed.  It wasn't a picture perfect beginning of our Advent tradition, that's for sure.  Aaron was praying, Anna was bawling, and I was silently shaking with laughter.

Oh, I love this season.  Turkey and puzzles and trees and twinkle lights. 

It's the month that we set the gaze of our hearts upon the baby Jesus and the month we set the weight of our expectations upon His return as King.   

Happy Advent, friends.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


We close the blinds together every night.  With Anna perched on my hip, I pull the cord and make a "biiipp" sound.  On the second or third cord tug, she joins her with her baby voice, trying to emulate my silly noises.

We make our way from the southern windows to the western ones, and we're met by a glorious sunset.  The sun settles down into it's slumber every evening, and yet for all its regularity, I am no less astonished.  Was this what Moses felt when the bush torched up right in front of his face, the presence of God so palpable and awesome?  And I'm no Moses, but this sky is all torched up, and I see God through the slats of the blinds, and I can't stop looking.  

I set Anna on the couch and fumble for Aaron's Bible on the coffee table.  Is it Psalm 19?  Yes.  I read the words out loud, and my voice chokes.  Anna, she doesn't know what Mama's doing or why we aren't closing the rest of the blinds, but these moments, piled up, they will teach her to see the nearness of God and to sing the language of praise.

The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
Their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their utterances to the end of the world.
In them He has placed a tent for the sun,
Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber;
It rejoices as a strong man to run his course.
Its rising is from one end of the heavens,
And its circuit to the other end of them;
And there is nothing hidden from its heat.

There is nothing hidden from the sun, and there is nothing hidden from its Maker.

Sunk deep in wet laundry and crusted food on the floor and mornings that come too soon, another day of doing what needs to be done and bone tired at the end - He can feel hidden from us, you know?  Look about and the feeling gnaws harder.  Another bomb in Africa, mobs and gas in a wounded Midwest town, a sobbing mother holding her hungry child, the fearsome powers of the world growing, swelling. 

And I am just going about my business, closing the blinds as the winter darkness presses down...

But it's all the moments that are holy, 

and He traverses with us into all the mundane and all the crazy,

and all of the time He is nearer than we could fathom, 

and our God is beautiful and holy and gracious and so, so good, 

and sometimes, 

it takes a sunset to remember.  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Anna's Roundup

If you want to know how to spend your days doing only the coolest and best things, look no further. The cutest 14 month old in the world has a few ideas up her sleeve, and she's willing to share.

 1. Go down slides backwards on your belly.   You know, anything to show off your big diaper bum at the best angle.

 2.  Anytime the dishwasher is open, drop whatever you are doing and check it out at once.  If a big person closes it before you complete your advance, you'll have to bang on the door and wail. Because of course the dishwasher is the only thing that completes your existence.

3.  During the interim periods of your day, walk around the house carrying a small handkerchief or cloth napkin.  Clutch it tightly.  Whatever you do, people, don't lose the handkerchief!!!

4.  Schedule those cry breaks.  Don't worry, you don't have to explain yourself.  Just act like the only thing you can say is "ba ba ba."  

5.  Playground again!  There's never a good reason to leave a playground.  Ever.  Just try to come up with a good one.  Even if you only want to sit on the lowest step the whole time, it's clearly a million times better than sitting on anything at your house.  

6.  Listen.  They're gonna tell you learning how to use a spoon is important.  Pfffft.  I say it's highly overrated.  Hands forever!

7.  At the end of the day, sucker someone into reading the hippo book.  (Go for grandmas first, I always say.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Glory, Winter, and Thoughts on Turnips

On Mondays, I work at the courthouse, which is two blocks away from our house.  Needless to say, I walk to work, especially since parking on our city square is limited to two hours, and the city employee who marks tires also writes tickets with unflagging enthusiasm.  

If you were to walk home with me, you would see the set of a small, rural town - cracked sidewalks, weeds growing in the line where the curb meets asphalt, power lines dipping to and fro across the street, low-slung cement block buildings where cars are sold and restaurants operated.  The empty cavern of the old Hallmark building yawns through plate glass windows.  The tan apartments wear black doors and one lonely white door on the end, as though someone never got around to painting it.

Last night, on my way home at 5:00, the center of the western sky was a flaming circle, smudged out from the horizon in gradations of yellow and orange.  It was glowing above streets I would not always call beautiful.  Blazing light and hope over things the hands of men have laid and built.  

Just a sunset.  But, in that moment, a message so bold.  The glory of God is everywhere.  This world decaying and fading isn't beyond His reach.  No, it's very much still His, every inch of it.  His light busts through the seams of heaven and onto the blue canvas of our dusk, and He says,

This world is mine yet.  

*  *  *

Today, the temperatures dropped into the 30s, and anyone who mentions the weather will inevitably say, "Did you know they're calling for snow on Saturday?"  It feels like blustery winter blew in today and is not going to leave for a long time.  I miss the fireplace from our old house so much this year.  I can't figure out how our current house, built in 1928, doesn't have a fireplace.  My daydreams often wander to lovely brick chimneys with wood-burning inserts.  

But, meanwhile, Anna and I layer up with boot socks and cardigans.  I am teaching her to love the cardigan from an early age.  It seems only right.  

Cardigans and food just might be my coping mechanisms for a winter with no fireplace.  I baked lemon blackberry scones this morning (if you try them, only bake for 15 minutes).  

I'm making acorn squash curry tonight, and for our life group which comes over at 7, an apple gallette.  With the last little bit of the pumpkin spice candle sputtering, we'll make the most of this winter gig.  
*  *  *

Turnips.  They were more of a garden experiment than anything.  Aaron was perplexed when I showed him the seed packet.   I was a little perplexed too, to be perfectly honest.  But who can plum the mysteries of the gardener's heart?  I just wanted to plant turnips.  They did AMAZING.  We have more than we could eat or freeze.  So far, I've offered them to a couple friends with no success, and this is what I want to know...why are turnips scorned?  They're pretty and when you roast them with olive oil, they're awfully tasty.   

So what do you say, are we going to bring turnips back? 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Five Things

Sometimes, all the small, incredible things my husband does on a regular basis pile up in my heart, and I feel like I could burst for how lucky I am.

Sometimes, instead, the things he is not great at (writing flowery epistles declaring his undying love and affection for me being one) pile up in my heart, and I feel quite sorry for myself that I didn't happen to marry a man with the poetry of Byron in his heart.

Since I'm a feeler, I flop back and forth between these two extremes quite often.  Possibly even in the same day.

All of the time, it is good to focus on truth, yes?  And the truth is, that while Aaron doesn't write me a ton of poignant love letters, neither do I give him nearly as many backrubs as he would like.  The more important truth is, that while we're both faltering lovers, we've covenanted to the Lord and each other to stay the course and figure out how to falter less, love more, and head toward Jesus through it all.  

That being said, I want to share five things my husband does that are amazing.

1.  He takes care of the important, mundane details of life that my dreamer brain forgets to attend to.  Case in point.  This morning he texted me, "I'm going to schedule all of our eye appointments, coolio?"  The fact that he said coolio at the end is the best part.  He knows that if I read a text just about eye appointments blah blah blah, I might never respond.  But put coolio at the end, and bam, my interest is perked.

2.  He loves Anna and is so good with her.  After giving me a kiss, the very first thing he does when he gets home is pick up Anna.  He'll play with her, read to her, wrestle with her.  He changes poopy diapers (we never fight over whose turn it is because he just does it), he gives her baths, he clips her fingernails.  He is Superman disguised as Daddy.

3.  He reads the Word every morning before he goes to work.  He's not even a morning person, but he gets up a few minutes early to read a bit and pray.  To watch the man who is leading our family humble himself before God every morning?  Well, there are few things that are more attractive, let's just put it that way.

4.  He's very intuitive with housework needs and helps without my asking.  Sometimes, he does all the laundry in a week.  Other nights, he does the dishes.  Without fail, he'll ask me if I need help with dinner, and he doesn't seem to mind that I've made him the resident chopper.  "Yes, can you chop this carrot?  Onion?  Celery?  Potato?  Meat?  All the things because I hate chopping???"

5.  He is a generous friend.  I was laughing the other night because it seems that Aaron is the go-to person for a lot of people in their time of need.   Flat tire?  Stranded at the airport?  Need help cutting wood or building a table?  I think it says a lot about his character that people know they can ask him for help, and he will help quickly and gladly.

This is my guy.  He is faithful, steady, and kind.  Not Lord Byron, but that guy was a creep anyway.

For me, a huge key to marriage contentment is this - to spend more time dwelling on the gracious gift that my husband is instead of mourning for the things undone.

Aaron Christopher, thank you for your love.  You are the best kind of coolio.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

One Year Later

Dearest darling,

A year and some weeks ago, I wrote you a letter.  You were new and fresh and itsy bitsy, and everything about you charmed us. While your arms and legs were filling my belly, a love for you was filling my heart  - and well, that love exploded the day you came.  Once, I heard a mom say having a baby was like having part of your heart split off to walk around outside of you.  I'd say that's about right.  You've carried a piece of me around with you for nearly 400 days now.  From rolling over to sitting up to crawling like a maniac to the two faltering steps you've lately managed, my heart's gone with you, all the way.    

In a classic case of chest-bursting parental pride, your Daddy and I are convinced you are the cleverest baby yet.  You aren't regularly using words (although you have said mama, dada, more, and go) but you respond to questions with a yes bob or a no shake, and you can fetch things for us that we ask you to get.  You like to point to our facial features and then yours, waiting each time for us to say what it is.  "Nose."  "Mouth." "Eyes."  In one of the books we read you, the daddy bunny tells his son he loves him as high as he can reach, and when we get to that line, you stretch both your hands above your head.

Your skin is so soft I can still hardly believe it, even after a year of touching your chubby thighs and kissing your cheeks.  You love the spray of the water hose, and when it rains, you stand at the screen door and cry to go out.  You stare strangers down with your big brown eyes and rarely proffer a smile at first meeting.  You can spot my purse from anywhere in the house and yank it down to the floor by its strap, pulling the contents out one by one.  You love to be chased up the stairs.  You crawl to your closet and yell for me until I come, and then you show me that you want to wear your shoes.

You are really into things you can't have, and this is where the most challenging part of being your mama comes into play.  Daily, I tell you not to touch the computer, my cell phone, or the toilet, and daily, you decide you'd rather touch those things and suffer the consequence of getting your hand swatted.  When I put something you can't have out of your reach, you throw yourself on the floor and scream.  I tell Daddy about our rough days, and he says he thinks it's only just beginning.  :)  He's right. This will be a lifelong battle, my sweet one.  The force of your will and selfishness will only grow, and you will always want things that are not good for you.  Mama knows from experience.  Yet.  There is One who will reshape your heart if you let Him.  Daddy and I pray that you will run early and run often to Jesus.

What a beautiful year it's been.  I love you, my sweetness.  And I forever and always will.



Monday, September 22, 2014

Birthday Blitz

In our little threesome of a family, our birthdays all fall within ten days of each other.  This year was a banner year - one of us turned 1, one of us turned 30, and one of us turned the age that is very, very close to 30.  

Aaron is first in the birthday train.  His birthday went something like this:

(Driving home from church, which means the time is somewhere around noon, aka, roughly 6 hours after we woke up, aka, this will become an important detail soon. )

Me: Hey, let's stop for a taco since we're not having lunch 'til later.

Aaron:  You mean like a birthday taco?

Me:  Oh hahahahahaha.  Oh my goodness.  Uncontrollable laughter.  

Aaron:  You didn't really forget my birthday.  

Me:  Oh, no, I mean yes, yes I did.  Still hyperventilating laughter.

Aaron:  No you didn't.  You have something planned and you're just acting like you forgot.

Me:  Still laughing while wondering how in heck I am going to dig myself out of this one and also wondering why he didn't say ANYTHING about it being his BIRTHDAY for an entire HALF of a DAY.  

So, obviously, I am Wife of the Year.  

I made up for it by getting him not only a birthday taco but also the most expensive and peanut-buttery ice cream cake Dairy Queen offered. 

Am I exonerated? 

Anna's birthday was next.  You're right, you're right!  She's the one who turned one.  We had a little outdoor party at my parent's house for her.  I wanted to call it a soiree on the invitations.  Aaron talked me down from that one.
Aaron also talked me out of making her a healthy banana muffin-cake.  The girl got the real deal.  Chocolate cupcake with white brain icing, complements of a mom who doesn't know her way around an icing tip.  She played with the brains for a while, then gingerly ate about half of the cupcake.  It was an entirely underwhelming first cake experience.

After she was through, she wiped her mouth with a cloth napkin and said, "Thank you, mom, for my first experience with refined sugar.  But I think for my next soiree, I better stick with a banana muffin."  

My 30th birthday tied up the celebratory forenight.  It was a sweet and simple day.  Breakfast with my mom, lunch out with Aaron and Anna, and a dinner I didn't have to cook at my parents' house.   Also.  My husband remembered my birthday.  I am sure I could write a whole post about my feelings on 30, but for now, the story is that I am grateful for a new decade and this skin feels more comfortable than ever.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Trading Up

It seems I have traded in my running shoes for walking shoes.

Oh, they're still the same pair - green and white Asics I bought halfway through training for our marathon.  A few days before the race, I decided they were not broken in enough, and I made a wild last minute decision to run 26 miles in my bedraggled navy New Balance shoes.

The Asics are good and broken in now.  They've got tiny holes in the mesh at the bottom of my baby toe.  The stitching is coming undone near the top, and they aren't so much green and white now as they are green and gray.

Where are the days when I had time to schedule a three hour run?  Sometimes I wonder this.  Three unbroken hours for anything is a chapter in the imaginary book I keep called "If I Had Free Time and No One Depended on Me."

So I lace up the old Asaics and pull out the stroller.  We go walking in the morning, before the heat rises to its peak.  It's possible to beat the heat, but the humidity is an early bird, and by the end of our walk, Anna and I are both sweaty.  

As I walk, I look down at her chubby feet.  The farther we go, the farther down in her stroller she slouches.  Her legs swing over the edge, and she flexes her toes up and down.  Those chubby, short toes!  If she's getting bored with the trees and the wind and the birds, she pulls her left leg up to her ear and babbles like she's found a new friend.  Hey, it's my foot!

On every walk, I think, "I wish I could preserve those sweet baby feet."  I know in ten years, when I might have the time and energy to take up running again, I will remember the chunky legs and pudgy bare feet of my first baby.   How her bare feet meant she wasn't yet walking, she was riding.  How she needed me to carry her when we collapsed the stroller and slid it back into the shed.   How she wanted me to carry her, how she snuggled her head into my shoulder, how she pulled at my shirt when she wanted to nurse, how for that short time, I was totally and completely her world.

Free time?  Don't have much of it.  But as it turns out, I would trade every infinite minute of it for two plump feet.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dressing a Baby Girl on a Budget

In my dream world, I would buy all of Anna's clothing from Zara, Baby Gap, and Tea Collection.

Money is a moot issue in a dream world, right?

I love picking out Anna's clothes.  The fact that we don't live in a dream world, but instead, a world where we only have one full-time income, means that the process is creative and challenging. While I would love to exclusively dress my daughter in outfits that are spot on current trends, the budget - and, if I'm honest, my convictions about where our money goes - say nope.

Last week, Shannan shared her secondhand genius for girl shopping, which got me thinking about sharing Anna's fall/winter wardrobe.

I have a few guiding parameters when shopping for Anna.  One, I steer away from animals and cutesie sayings.  Two, I don't buy a ton of pink.  I'm not die-hard against pink, but neither am I a huge fan of lots of pink and ruffles.

My basic process is to start with garage sales and thrift stores.  During the summer, I look at the online classifieds to find garage sales that specifically advertise baby/toddler girls' clothes.  Anytime I'm at a thrift store, I take a few swipes through the baby racks.  Anything I find that is cute and cheap at these places comes home with me.

At this point in Anna's life, it works best to have her clothes paired into outfits.  So after I have an assortment of secondhand tops/pants, I pair them together and take notes on what I still need.  I still keep an eye out for those gaps at garage sales/thrift stores, but I also start looking on Ebay or ThreadUp.  (More on ThreadUp at the end.)

As far as retail shopping, I rarely buy anything new full price.  Mostly, I shop online, because we live in a small town where the extent of retail shopping is Wal-Mart.  I wait for end of season sales or 30-40% off coupons and sometimes the stars align, and websites offer free shipping on top of the coupon.

Are you ready to peek into her closet?

Monkey pajamas: $0.50, garage sale
Carter's cotton footy pajamas: $1.00 each, garage sales
Carter's fleece footy pajamas: $1.00 each, garage sales

Total: $5.50

(Soo, my animal rule does not apply to pajamas.  Let the girl sleep swaddled in a menagerie.)

Carter's aqua rain jacket: free, gift from Aaron's mom
Baby Gap yellow jacket: $6.00, Ebay
Old Navy pink fleece: free, hand-me-down
Old Navy navy/white striped jacket: $4.00, consignment shop

Total: $10.00

(She probably has too many jackets???)

New Balance tennis shoes: $1.25, thrift store
Tan booties: $1.00, thrift store
Slipper socks: $2.25, Target clearance
Blue shoes: free, hand-me-down
Brown boots: $1.00, garage sale
Black Mary Janes: $0.50, garage sale

Total: $6.00

(Neutral is the name of the game for shoes!)

Outfits (Short sleeves for early fall but paired with cardis to take them into winter) 
Carter's hot pink cardigan: $7.00, clearance
Carter's love t-shirt: $5.00, clearance
Garanimals grey leggings: $0.50, garage sale
Old Navy white heart tee: $3.00, clearance
Old Navy heart leggings: $3.00, clearance
Old Navy gray cardigan: $8.00, sale
Old Navy yellow onesie: $3.00, clearance
Garanimals khaki pants: $1.00, thrift store
Children's Place white cardigan: $0.50, garage sale

Total: $31.00 (That seems like a lot after the other categories!)

(I'm obviously determined that she will love cardigans as much as I do.)

Carter's peach top and patterned denim leggings: $4.00, JCPenney with $10 off coupon
Old Navy ivory pullover: $1.00, garage sale
Children's Place jeggings: $2.00, consignment store
OshKosh striped tunic: $2.00, consignment store 
Children's Place jeggings: $1.00, garage sale
OshKosh coral striped top: $1.00, garage sale
Garanimals brown yoga pants: $0.50, garage sale

Total: $11.50

(I think I would wear the patterned denim leggings myself, if I could.)

Uh, Mom, why are you laying all my clothes out on the bed?  That's weird. 

Garanimals ivory top with lace: free, gift from my mom
Zara khakis: $6.00, ThredUp
Carter's chambray shirt: $12.00,
H&M flowered leggings: $7.00,
Old Navy green shirt: $1.00, garage sale
White leggings: $2.25, Kohls clearance
Circo white tunic: $0.50, thrift store
Orange leggings: $1.00, thrift store

Total: $29.75

(The chambray shirt outfit is her birthday present.  I really wanted to buy her this outfit, but $19.00 for a baby outfit is crazy expensive in our world, so that money came out of the present fund.)

Old Navy coral dress: $6.00, ThredUp
Circo brown dress: $1.00, garage sale
Circo butterfly dress: $1.00, garage sale

Total: $8.00 

Grand total drumroll?  44 pieces for $101.75.  $100 still feels like a lot to me to spend on baby clothes, but it's spread out throughout the year as I pick things up here and there, and it averages out to $2.31 per item, which seems a lot easier to swallow!  

About ThredUp.  Have you heard of it?  It's an online consignment shop where I bought the Zara pants and the coral Old Navy dress.  Although you have to wade through some not-so-great stuff, it's a good place to find nicer brands for cheaper than retail.  Sometimes, the garage sales around here are full of animal/cupcake/pinkpinkpink little girl clothes.  ThredUp is a way to find some labels I really like but could never buy new.

The best thing about them is their referral program.  Every friend that signs up gets $10 credit, and if that friend makes a purchase, you get $10 added to your account.  Since there are a lot of things priced under ten bucks (even with shipping added in), it's a win/win.  Your friend gets something free, and you get $10 added to your account.  Obviously, I would be thrilled if you joined ThredUp through my referral link.  Then, go get yo' friends to join so you can get some credit too! Aaron teases me that this is my pyramid scheme - it isn't a pyramid scheme - but yes, I am excited about ThredUp.

And because I can't say pyramid scheme without thinking of that Office episode, here you go: 

"Yes!  Thank you!  You will get rich quick.  We all will!"  Makes me laugh every time.  

What about y'all?  How do you shop for your kids?  Secondhand all the way?  A good mix?  Wouldn't touch a garage sale with a pole?  Do share.