Welcome to the family, Barrett West!
"Oh, my goodness! He looks just like Reed! Like a little Jacob! Except the eyes. He has his mother's eyes."
Very Harry Potter-ish.
Barrett West, Barrett West,
Barrett West is the BEST!
Seven months ago, God provided the sweetest answer to a prayer that my husband and I had been praying for years. And years. And years.
Our newest Little Outdoorsman arrived in late summer a few days after his due date. He is beautiful and perfect and looooooong and happy and so very, very cute. When I first saw him, he had the most pitiful little pout.
Welcome to the family, Barrett West!
Reed has been asking for a sibling since he was two. When we announced the news after reading All the Places to Love (soooooo many tears), Reed didn't even believe us! He was over the moon through my whole pregnancy, and now he and Barrett are quickly becoming the best of friends. They are always keeping an eye on each other.
Over the past six months, our Little OutdoorsMEN have been mostly inside (thanks, winter + COVID), getting to know each other, and loving every moment.
Due to a stocky build and a habit of growling when disgruntled, Barrett has earned the nickname "Little Bear". At seven months, Bear is cheerful, relaxed, and a bit "persistent". He also makes fantastic faces!
Whenever someone sees Barrett for the first time, the encounter usually goes like this:
"Oh, my goodness! He looks just like Reed! Like a little Jacob! Except the eyes. He has his mother's eyes."
Very Harry Potter-ish.
Barrett loves bath time, swinging or strolling outside, and watching Reed and Jacob play or wrestle. He also gives a big smile when we sing:
Barrett West, Barrett West,
Barrett West is the BEST!
I am looking forward to a lifetime of watching this little guy grow. God is good. We are so very thankful for Barrett West.
Being in nature is life-giving to me in a way that nothing else is. That is why, even in the cold snaps that happen so frequently here in Ohio, I often go on winter walks or hikes and leave the curtains open on those dreary days as long as possible. When I heard the weatherman predict yet another week of 20 degree days and even colder nights, I decided to take a few moments to brainstorm books with plenty of nature imagery for both myself and Reed and the ages in between, too.
I went through our shelves and found some of our favorite books that have plenty of natural settings, descriptions, and imagery. For now, it seems we have to just pretend spring has arrived. Sooooooo ready for it to be here!
Hinds' Feet on High Places
Ages: 12 and up
I'm excited to start with an old favorite! In this vivid allegory, the timid and lame Much-Afraid embarks upon an incredible adventure from the Valley of Humiliation to the mountains and beyond with her beloved Chief Shepherd. My mom gave me this book as a teenager, and it has held a special place on my bookshelf and in my heart ever since. I may have to check out the 2017 mixed-media special edition soon-- it looks gorgeous!
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Ages: 8-12 years
I know the audience is 8-12 years, but I have continued to love and read Farmer Boy as an adult. I was OBSESSED with the Little House books as a girl, and Farmer Boy was always my favorite. Laura Ingalls Wilder writes about her husband's time growing up on a big farm in New York. The descriptions of the livestock, farm country, rural life, and family never cease to capture my imagination.
Ages: 3-5 years
Before I begin: We LOVE Jan Brett in our home. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE! We own The Turnip and The Mitten, and we have rented many others from the library. Her illustrations alone are incredible, but Mossy has a cool story, too! Mossy is the story of a turtle who grows moss, flowers, and plants on her back. Her shell attracts quite a bit of attention, which leads to some small problems, but it all works out in the end!
Daphne du Maurier
I discovered Rebecca when reading a post by Modern Mrs. Darcy (love her!) about books with unreliable narrators and ambiguous endings. Rebecca is about as close as I get to a "scary" book-- it's really just a hauntingly beautiful thriller. It is set in the 1930's and considered a "Gothic classic", so Rebecca includes breathtaking natural imagery, including vivid descriptions of the mysterious Manderly estate.
Roo's Big Nature Day
K Emily Hutta
Ages: 3-6 years
We found this little treasure at a used book sale last year. Based on the "Winnie the Pooh" works by A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard, this endearing tale describes a day at the stream in the 100-acre wood. Roo and his friends invent games, solve problems, and help each other out- all without help from Kanga or Christopher Robin! This book makes me want to spend a day at the river ASAP.
Anne of Green Gables
Ages: 9-12 years
How do I begin to describe Anne? Anne notices and knows nature better than any other character I have met. She is a most delightful character with her simple innocence, clumsy antics, and impressionable heart. Every time I read it, even as an adult, I want to go visit Prince Edward Island and imagine dear, orphaned Anne and her quirky neighbors.
Ages: 3-7 years
Am I allowed to have a "nature book" list without Owl Moon on it? In this captivating children's book by one of my favs, Jane Yolen, a young girl and her father go "owling" in the deep, cold winter snow. The young narrator learns about bravery, resilience, and relationship with her father and nature as they look for the Great Horned Owl on a New England countryside.
A Thousand Mornings
Ages: 15 and up
Ah-- Mary Oliver. How I wish I would have discovered her poetry earlier in life! (Not that I'm old and full of regrets- but still. On second thought, that may have been a bit dramatic.) A Thousand Mornings is a small collection of poems that I often carry with me when Jacob, The Little Outdoorsman, and I travel to especially rugged and natural places like Assateague Island or Bighorn National Forest. The beautiful simplicity and clarity of her poetry have brought me to tears over and over again. (Dramatic again, but appropriately so this time.)
Ages: 12 and up
The Hobbit is another beloved classic, and we are big fans the movies here at our house, too. Tolkien's descriptions of magical lands, creatures, and adventures capture any imagination. I just finished listening to the Audible version not too long ago. In fact, I spent a couple of hours on Christmas Day walking Echo around a local park and soaking up this glorious adventure. Bilbo Baggins is an excellent walking companion, as you well know if you have read The Hobbit.
Ages: 5-8 years
When little Alice revealed her wishes to travel the world and live beside the sea, her grandfather gave her an important mission to keep in mind while accomplishing her dreams. I discovered Miss Rumphius while Googling "books about kindness". It's a good one, and it is filled with beautiful paintings of natural landscapes, faraway lands, and family gatherings.
The Recipe Box
The Recipe Box stole my heart not only because of the beautiful descriptions of a Michigan apple farm through the generations, but also with the mouthwatering food descriptions and recipes sprinkled throughout the book. Light-hearted and easy to read, The Recipe Box was part love story, part cookbook, part coming of age, part girl power, part family tradition- all ingredients for the very best kind of book!
Each of these books deliver a much-needed dose of nature along with an amazing story. Let me know what you think of this list! Which of these have you read? What would you add? I would love a few suggestions for my own TBR shelf!
Did you enjoy this book post? Check out a few others like it:
Happy Valentine's Day, friends! I LOVE Valentine's Day. Pretty cards, chocolate, flowers, chocolate, spreading love, and.... did I say chocolate?
Happy Valentine's Day, sweetie!
I tried to find a recent picture where Jacob is not in hunting-related gear. Not successful.
Just one of the many reasons I love him!
I did go through the albums and find a picture of us on the evening of our rehearsal dinner, circa 2008.
Just look at us! So sweet! So nervous! So excited!
We were lovingly showered with marriage advice that night over a feast of meatballs, alfredo pasta, and breadsticks:
"Don't go to bed angry."
Ok, I still agree with that one.
"Always kiss each other goodnight."
Okaaay- works as long as your husband isn't a police officer on the night shift or someone who travels for work. Followed that rule about twice a week. How about "always kiss each other at the end of the time you will see each other for 12 or more hours"?
It just doesn't have the same effect.
"Never allow others to speak negatively into your marriage."
One of my favorites. So wise!
"Treat your spouse the way you would want to be treated."
Oh- thanks, Jesus! He's so smart. It's like He knows how to love or something. Of course he was invited to our wedding feast!
So, if I could go back, what advice would I give younger me?
"Eat less carbs! Wait... it's worth it! No- it's not! Oh, and crate-train Oliver right away."
I give horrible advice.
You'll have to trust me on the Oliver thing. Just trust me.
Anyways, Jacob always gets me some flowers and plenty of chocolate on the big day, but this year he went a little above and beyond. As you know, we have a new little 50 pound fur-ball here by the name of Echo, and Echo requires quite a bit of exercise. He demands it, actually. I really enjoy getting outside, so we have been doing some walking and hiking when weather permits.
I have been searching for a nice hiking bag to compliment this new hobby. I wanted a "girly" bag with a water pouch that wasn't too big but could still hold everything a woman, a four-year-old, and a rambunctious pup might need.
A tall order, I know!
He delivered! Ta-da!
Love it. Home run, buddy!
Setting aside the Camelbak, our Valentine's plans are pretty low-key this year. We are giving out a few handmade valentines, making chocolate fudge (more carbs, dang it!), and just hanging out at home, mostly.
So very thankful. Always.
So, again, Happy Valentine's Day. I hope you are blessed to spend time with someone you love today. If you are, give them a big hug, extra-tight, and take the time to say how much you love them. Because it isn't really about the cards, the gifts, the flowers, or even (gasp!) the chocolate, is it?
That's the best advice I have!
Hey, everybody! It has been a long time. Too long, I know! I could make excuses, but that would be boring. Plus, I know you all get it. Life happens!
So instead of making excuses, I will just fill you in on a few things that have been going on. My, my (as Reed likes to say now- don't know where he got that) do we have things to talk about! Tons of new recipes to share, travels to describe, adventurous Little Outdoorsman stories. This is going to be fun!
But first, a recap. My themes here are old and new. Where shall we start...
Goodbye, 3; Hello, 4!
Of course I am going to start with Reed! He is doing great. We celebrated his fourth birthday in November with a big McDonald's themed party with plenty of balloons (by request).
Only the most sophisticated fare for The Little Outdoorsman.
Four hasn't been much different than three, so far. The only major difference I can pinpoint is that he has started negotiating quite a bit. I think we have been watching too many episodes of American Pickers. But truly, I love our conversations. He still has a guitar strapped to his chest whenever he is not outside.
And we bought a drum set.
Whose idea was that, anyway? I think the guitar is still his love, mercifully. We spent the fall baking and cooking WAY too much, taking a million walks outside, visiting the pumpkin farm, and reenacting the Crowder concert we saw in Toledo.
The season just flew by.
Four was just another (unnecessary) reminder of how quickly time goes by with this little one. I often wish that I could bottle up all of the moments we share. I guess that is one of the reasons I chose to blog!
Fortunately, when it comes to our family, we have had the opportunity to embrace new rather than let go in the past few months. Jacob loves his new job in the hunting industry and the hunting and communication opportunities it brings. He spent plenty of time in the woods, mountains, and fields this fall and had a several successful hunts.
I am so proud of my handsome man! Our freezer is full of steaks, roasts, sausage, burger, and brats from his various hunts this fall.
The new job requires quite a bit of travel. I know he feels guilty about traveling sometimes, but honestly, I could not be happier for him or for us! I don't know that there are many blessings greater in life than getting to do what you love every single day. What a dream come true- to see the world and pursue your passion at the same time. It has been a wonderful change for our family.
The Little Outdoorsman is pretty proud of his daddy, too.
In terms of "out with the old", we have packed away the holiday decorations and settled into the rhythms of ordinary time. Christmas was wonderful; I felt we were able to keep Christ at the center of our hearts and minds through the season. Overall, our holiday was peaceful, filled with joy, and abundant with memories. Although this was our first Christmas after losing three of our precious grandparents (Reed's great-grandparents), we couldn't have asked for a more blessed holiday season.
One of my favorite things we did this Christmas was a "Shepherd's Meal". I invited my sister and her boys over and we acted out the shepherds in the field story from the Gospel of Luke (with extreme creative license, obviously). It was a blast! The boys really soaked everything in. I grabbed the idea from Sarah and Sally Clarkson's The Lifegiving Home. It will definitely be an annual tradition in our home, too.
My neice and nephews are growing like crazy, too! Cha-cha and Poppy, Jacob's parents, celebrated New Year's Eve with us over buffalo wings and fries. They are rocking out the grandparent thing, as always. Boaz is nearly two and absolutely adores Reed. The boys play this game where they steal all of Cha-cha's spices and hide them around her house.
I know who is in charge of this maniacal scheme, but I'm not telling. I know better!
My parents, Nana and Papa, are also doing well and spend every moment possible loving on their four grandchildren. Reed (far left) and Matt (far right) are still basically attached at the hip and spend almost every day together. Cousins are the best, aren't they? Little Rose (next to Reed) has the most amazing smile and is SO close to crawling. Isaac (the chunker next to Matt) has my heart wrapped around his chubby little finger. He is a conversationalist and has two dimples. Also, he sleeps on me. Game over!
There are a couple of other "new" surprises coming on the nieces and nephews front (not with me!), but I will announce those as they come along...
Old Oliver, New Echo!
Finally, we have added something new to our family, too! Oliver, our dachshund, celebrated his tenth birthday in the fall. Ten! Sniffle! How can it be?! We decided to add a new pup to the family now that Reed is a bit older. So... (drum roll, please).... I would like to introduce Echo!
The above picture shows Echo when we first brought him home. You may have noticed him in the Daddy-Reedie camo picture earlier, too. He is hidden in the bottom-right corner. Here is a more recent picture:
Echo is a German Shorthaired Pointer. He was a big handful when we first got him at 8 weeks, but now, at almost 6 months, he has calmed down quite a bit. To be honest, this little fuzzball has sucked up most of my time this fall and winter. It is hard work to train a dog!
But totally worth it!
Echo is very energetic, so TLO and I have been spending even more time outside than usual! He is super friendly, a little mischievous, and very clingy to me ( I love it). Woman's best friend, as they say.
Jacob hopes to train Echo as a bird dog in the future, but for now he is a momma's boy. That tends to be the trend.
January is such a wonderful time to reflect on the old and new that frames the present season. Amidst these dreary, short days and cold, long nights, take time to evaluate the new and old in your life, and find the blessings in between!
Baseball games, shaved ice, Father's Day grill-outs! Our summer fun continues!
Oh... and doggie shaved ice, of course (sorry- I didn't mean to ignore you, Oliver). Before I share our latest activities, I must first announce my newest nephew and niece...
Welcome, Isaac and Rosie! My sister and her husband, Brandon, had a beautiful baby boy back in May; and my brother and his wife, Lily, had a perfect, sweet girl in early June! It feels like Christmas around here! I get free baby snuggles at any time from these precious angels. Baby snuggles are the BEST. I am determined to be the best Aunt Becka who has ever walked this planet!
Even with a newborn in the mix, my sister and I still try to get out once a week for some time together. Last week we packed up all of our kiddos and drove to a shady park that I think will become our new space for those really hot summer days. Montgomery Park, a small, clean, and cool park in the city of Montgomery, Ohio, is a great place to spread out an outdoor blanket and settle in for a couple of hours. The park has a baseball field, a big playground, a sandbox, a shelter with a fireplace, a small walking path, clean restrooms, power outlets, and a ton of shade.
I know I keep mentioning the shade, but there are a lot of parks around here that we have to avoid on hot days because there is no shade. With a newborn in the group, a cool environment was really important to us!
Lo and behold, a digger (correction-- backhoe) drove up to plant a tree! What a treat!
A few days later, Reed and I decided to visit another park with one of my dear friends, Hannah, and her two sweet kids. We went to Juilfs Park, the polar opposite of Montgomery Park. Although pristine and clean, Juilfs spans over 26 acres and includes everything a mom could dream of in a park: ball fields, shelters, a playground, a splash pad, a walking path and tricycle path, plenty of benches, and clean restrooms.
Unfortunately, it rained the entire time we were there. I threw in the towel and let Reed run around like a wild man until he was covered in layers of water, dirt, and sand. He had a blast in the splash park and could've cared less about the rain. I did care about the rain, though, and only took a couple of pictures from beneath my umbrella. Sorry, peeps.
Boy, do I love summer! Even though the weather has been temperamental, it has been wonderful to spend time with Jacob and Reed, our families, and our friends. We are making the most of it!
More from My Soul Food:
Isn't Easter Sunday just one of the best times of the year? I love everything about it: getting all dressed up for church, singing and praying through a beautiful service, enjoying dinner with family, and eating candy. Lots and lots of candy!
Almond Joy for me, please!
Our church's Easter service was especially moving this year. I was pretty much choking back tears the whole time. I feel like each year I cry more during church services. Not a sad crying, just an overcome-by-emotion crying when I think of love, forgiveness, hope, and all of the other beautiful parts of my faith.
Our church service is pretty early, so afterwards we came home and challenged Reed in his first Easter basket hunt. Of course I went overboard and made rhyming clues for the four parts of his basket we had around the house.
I'm a poet and I know it!
As tempted as I am to write the rest of this post in verse, I'll spare you the agony of any more bad poetry. You get the idea.
We read only the most high-brow literature here in the Hacker home.
Honestly, though, Giant Pants is a great book! Yes, it's about a giant who can't find his pants, but there are all kinds of mythological creatures introduced in a super-friendly way.
Spoiler alert: he eventually finds his pants in his own dresser. Because nobody saw that coming. It is hilarious every time.
The third clue led him to a toy microscope that I have had my eye on for a while. It zooms in and out using little knobs, it has a light, and it lets him look at toys, shells, rocks, and anything else he might find. I think we will use it a bunch this summer.
Grand finale-- a giant chocolate bunny!
How does one even begin to eat such a thing?
Go right for the face, of course!
Easter basket hunt complete, we packed up and drove to my in-law's house for our annual Easter dinner.
They outdid themselves, as usual! Outdoors: a photo-spot, an egg hunt for each of the boys, and a quiet spot by the river for reflection. Indoors: a magnificent feast of prime rib, corn-on-the-cob, mashed potatoes, rolls, and decadent desserts.
Kim, my mother-in-law, made this carrot jam for the rolls that was AMAZING! It was like carrot cake in a jar. I'll have to get her recipe and post it back here sometime. Plus- how cute is that for Easter?!
She has cooking and decorating super-powers, I think.
Photo time was, well, interesting. Just look at these two cuties! Reed ADORES his cousin, Bo.
What you don't see is the crowd of crazy adults shamelessly yelling, making faces, shaking toys, singing, and otherwise looking like maniacs on the lawn behind the camera to get these smiles.
You only get Easter pictures once a year, after all.
While we are on the subject of only getting Easter pictures once a year, let's just talk about Reed's face for a second. Seriously, every family picture we cannot get him to do a real smile! I think he is mimicking the Easter Bunny here. Cute, yes. My ideal family picture, no.
That award goes to...
Boaz and his mommy and daddy! These people know how to take a family picture.
I'm taking notes.
After pictures, we stopped for a quiet moment at the cross. (Cue more choked-back tears). Kim put together a little Easter story hunt for Reed. It looked a little bit like this. He looked around for jelly beans and a few items to represent the Easter story.
Finally, the big egg hunt! Find those Almond Joys, baby!
And time to play and relax! We needed it! Easter proves to be a busy day!
Our day was wonderful! There may or may not have been a few sugar-crash, nap-deprived "moments" (what's Easter without those, after all). I may or may not have had a sore throat that kept me from eating most of the food, hives that kept me self-conscious, and allergies that left me with Reed in one hand and a tissue in the other.
The silver lining?
Faith, family, fun.
And a snuggly nap with Reed while everyone else ate leftovers.
That's more than a silver lining, for sure. What's a few Easter sniffles in the face of all of that?
I am so thankful for another Easter with the people I love and who love me. And most of all, sniffle, for the God who loves me, too.
In case you haven't figured it out yet, I am slightly obsessed with Ree Drummond, AKA "The Pioneer Woman". Like many people, I first became acquainted with Ree through her TV show. Since then, I've read her blog, bought her book, memorized her cookbooks, and indoctrinated my child with her Charlie the Ranch Dog series.
I have a problem.
Ree, along with Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist, was one of my inspirations for starting Soul Food Time. Her love for cooking, for her family, and for life is contagious! So yeah, I was beyond excited when my husband offered to take our family to Pawhuska for spring break. It was a dream come true.
We left Cincinnati on the Sunday before Easter and drove 8 hours or so to The Lodge at Old Kinderhook in Camdenton, Missouri. Located about 30 minutes off of the interstate, this lodge and golf resort was an unexpected treasure. I had flashbacks to our spontaneous discovery of the beach at Lake Ogalala in Nebraska. Just absolute beauty in the middle of nowhere.
A tip: We booked our room only a day in advance on Orbitz, and because it is Kinderhook's off season, the rooms were cheaper than the local Hampton Inn! Woot woot!
People, I felt like a QUEEN! We arrived to the lodge through a gated entrance (oooohh), and it looks over a beautiful golf course on all sides (aaahhh). There was an indoor pool, jacuzzi, outdoor pool, volleyball court that is transformed into a skating rink in the winter, two restaurants, and an elegant lobby area with a fireplace and piano that played by itself (that kept Reed occupied for a very, very long time).
Can I go back? Pretty please?
After a night and morning of relaxation and fun, we ate breakfast and left literally 2 minutes before the checkout deadline.
If you're ever in the land of the Ozarks, you have to check this place out.
We left Old Kinderhook behind, spurred on by the promise of The Mercantile's twice-baked potatoes. Four hours later, we checked into a hotel in Bartlesville, OK, about 30 minutes from Pawhuska and all things Ree Drummond. Bartlesville was a fantastic town with plenty of restaurants and shopping. Reed and I managed to sneak out to the mall for a minute or two... or ninety.
At last, on Tuesday, we made it to The Mercantile!
A few notes here:
1. I was so excited to see the Merc, I forgot my nice camera! So the pics from here on out are from our iPhones. Sorry! I lost my wits, seriously!
2. Let me take a moment and commend my awesome husband. I mean, what kind of man drives 11+ hours to take his wife to a town in the middle of nowhere so she can be a crazy fan-girl with mostly middle-aged women in cold, rainy March? This guy! There should be monuments built in his honor. He should hold seminars and charge lots of money. And then he should use that money to take me back to Kinderhook and Pawhuska.
Is that selfish?
Wait a second... didn't I camp out in the middle of nowhere IN A TENT for 10 days so he could look at antelope?
That's right, my ladies. It's all about the give and take.
But still, thank you, Jacob. You are an amazing man.
We arrived at The Merc around lunchtime, so the first thing we did was eat! We waited for about 20 minutes and then were seated at our table by the most adorable, friendly waitress. The size of The Merc was the most shocking thing to me; it just went on and on and on. About half of the bottom floor was a restaurant, the other half a store, and then the top level was a bakery with seating to relax and enjoy the 360 view of Pawhuska. We stayed for about two hours; I could've easily stayed for four.
The food at The Merc restaurant was some of the best I've ever had! And it's not just the rose-colored glasses, Jacob agreed! He kept saying over and over, "Wow, this is a lot different than what I expected!" and then I would fill him in on another 5 minutes of random Pioneer Woman trivia. I really think he had a great time.
So ladies, don't be afraid to bring along your husbands. The food will make the trip worth it.
He ordered the steak dinner, Reed ordered mac n' cheese, and I ordered the half chicken parmesan. We split chips and queso, and even after stuffing our faces we had enough leftovers for dinner at the hotel.
Thanks to Charlie the Ranch Dog, may he rest in peace, Reed is almost as obsessed as I am with Ree Drummond. He could narrate her mac n' cheese recipe and he had her seasoned salt recipe memorized at age 2. He was sooooo excited to be in cowboy country. Whenever a cowboy walked by he would smile creepily and watch him until he was out of sight.
Where does he get this weirdness?
After eating and shopping, we went upstairs to the bakery. I ordered a cupcake for later (it was dreamy) and a latte.
I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.
We spent a few more sweet minutes at The Merc before grabbing tickets to the Lodge and heading out back in the rain for the 30 minute trek to Ree's guest house and TV studio. If you make the trip to Pawhuska, be sure to check The Merc Webpage for lodge visits. The tickets are free and easy to get, they just aren't available every day.
The drive to The Lodge was long, but it was so worth it! Although there was a tour guide there to take questions, we were allowed to explore the TV studio and guest house on our own!
Ree is so cool like that.
I have so many design ideas now for when I become a rich and famous cowgirl someday!
Ok, and maybe some practical ones, too!
Reed and I stood behind the stove and pretended we were cooking for the camera. #nerds
Sneek peek into the props closet! See that box of Dr. Pepper?! Ree Drummond is a kindred spirit, I'm telling ya.
The view from the lodge is just as beautiful as it looks on television. Reed is a little distracted by the ranch dogs here, not by his psychotic mother.
At least that's what I'm telling myself.
Time to head home! Our day in Pawhuska was amazing. If you ever get the chance and you are a Ree Drummond fan like me, you have to make the trek to Oklahoma.
You just might have to go camping for ten days first. It's worth it.
Oh, and Reed learned a new sleeping-while-traveling trick on our roadtrip. Experienced little fellow!
Want to read more about our family adventures? I tend to keep them on The Little Outdoorsman's page; here are some of my favorites!
Spring break is here at last! I think I heard trumpets blast and angels sing when I locked up my classroom on Friday. We are heading to Oklahoma for a few days over break, just to relax and explore a new part of the country. (And possibly see the land of Ree Drummond!)
But first-- Spring Party!
Reed and I have spent the last few weeks ignoring the snow and planning a "Welcome, Spring!" party for his friends. Honestly, I've never really been a person to throw parties or show hospitality. My excuses were endless, but the top three were always:
3. I don't have time. (Excuses: work, school, parenting)
2. I don't have resources. (Excuses: house, space, money)
1. I don't know how. (I really just don't know how to show hospitality!)
Amidst my excuses, over the past year or so, God has been dealing with me about confronting this skill, this commandment, of hospitality. I picked up a few books on the topic like The Lifegiving Home and The Turquoise Table. Sally Clarkson, especially, has been an inspiration and encouragement to me. After the long winter, I finally decided to take a baby step in the form of a Spring Party- Winnie the Pooh style!
I kept it low-budget and relaxed. I bought a fold-out table, a couple decorations, a disposable tablecloth, plates, and napkins, and invited a few of his closest friends (whose mommies are my closest friends).
The kids ate PB&J, goldfish crackers, and apples. I used bunny, butterfly and flower cookie cutters cut their sandwiches into fun spring shapes. I made a giant bowl of Simple Pasta Salad for my friends. We ate the whole batch! For dessert we had strawberry cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.
After dinner, the kids played for a little bit...
Meanwhile, we steeled ourselves for the egg-dying activity that some psycho (me) decided would be fun to do with four toddlers and two infants.
What could possibly go wrong?
Believe it or not, other than a few runaway eggs, there were zero (yes, zero) messes! These kids are egg-dying experts!
The lady at the table took the gold medal for the most beautiful eggs (of course). And look at how neat and clean her space is!
The boys took first place in the "how-many-different-eggs-can-I-dye-at-one-time" category. Yeah, that cutie with the blue hands? He gets his clean-space skills from me.
From the youngest to the oldest, we had a blast welcoming springtime! Something so small to many was a big step for me, and I feel encouraged now to open my home to my friends, neighbors, and family. This experience helped me see that it is not so much about impressing people (because nobody likes that), but that hospitality is about loving and blessing others with whatever we have. I'll keep you updated on my journey!
Happy Spring, everybody! Now if that pesky snow would just go away...
Take a look at some of our past Easter and spring activities!
The rain is melting the snow outside, creating that not-so-perfect groggy and lethargic mood that so easily settles in to start my day. Will I let it invade, make its cranky bed, and grouch up my heart and home?
As the Mama, that choice is mine.
This week I read an inspiring post by one of my favorite bloggers, Modern Mrs. Darcy, titled "What is Saving My Life Right Now". I fell in love with this whole concept. I decided to create a similar post of my own on this dreary February day. I can't bring myself to keep the same title because, well, (and I laugh as I write this) it just seems irreverent. Jesus saves my life today and every day. So while I can't say anything else is "saving my life," there are several things I am doing intentionally to enrich it right now. This time of year, it can sometimes take effort to stay motivated, happy, and, well.... sane. Ahem.
Winter has been a tough season for me for all of my adult life. Each fall I give myself a little pep talk about "getting through the winter" and, inevitably, I find myself pale, beat-down, gloomy, and lacking motivation as January wraps up.
This year I am feeling great! This has definitely been my best winter in years and years and years. I am happy, energized, motivated, and inspired. I look forward to the things I do each day. I (like to think I) encourage the people around me. I can breathe, pause, love, rest, enjoy, and create. I am happy.
So I started to think about what made this year different.
First-- grace. No matter how many things I might decide contribute to my "good" winter, I am certain that grace is the #1 player in this game. God is good, and I am so thankful for His help this winter. But I've also been more intentional in the ways that I "spend" my thoughts, words, time, and money this winter. Living with this purpose has given me the best winter yet. Here are the top three discoveries that have changed my winter:
1. Really Good Books
Is there anything like curling up on the couch or relaxing in the bath with a good book in the winter? Embracing my love for reading and refusing to feel guilty about spending my time with a book has truly enriched these long winter months. My "to-read" list includes a mix of feel-good fiction, memoir, short stories, and historical fiction, some brand new, and some older. I have linked them all to goodreads if you would like to check out summaries and reviews.
I've also included a gallery of some of my favorite books from this fall and winter. Five stars! I gleaned these titles from my local library, thriftbooks (my obsession), and the Book of the Month Club.
2. Fresh and Clean Spaces
I am certainly not a model housekeeper in any sense. Any. Sense. But I've discovered that a clean and pleasant space at home vastly improves my mood. I keep my space as positive and nice-smelling as one can while working full time with a toddler, a husband changing jobs, and an unruly dachshund roaming the premises.
Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Lilac Multi-Surface Cleaner has been my favorite scent of the season. It brings springtime into my home. I seriously love cleaning the counters with this stuff. I just close my eyes and pretend I have a beautiful, fragrant lilac bush outside of my kitchen window that overlooks a rose garden and bubbling brook.
My doTERRA Petal Diffuser is another one of my favorite things this time of year. I'm not the essential oil expert that many of my blogging peers are, but my favorite oil right now is Plant Therapy's Blues Buster. It has a citrus-y scent that picks me up no matter the weather, and plays right into my bubbling brook fantasy. We will add a few lemon and orange trees to my rose and lilac garden, now. It's looking pretty nice!
The final little trick that I've noticed makes my space feel more beautiful are a few low-maintenance indoor plants. I have a crazy aloe at home in the brightest orange pot I could find. I only have to water it once a week and it doesn't take up much space at all. The others are in my classroom at work- 4 colorful, tropical, thirsty plants that have kept my students and me busy watering and rotating over the past months. The freshness these small plants bring to my space is incredible.
3. Hobbies and Activities
The last change I've made this year is being more mindful of how I spend my time. I've found a balance of fulfilling work and purposeful leisure and rest has helped me keep my emotions and thoughts in check. When I'm at work, I work really hard and pour my heart into what I do. I'm also taking a few graduate classes that are keeping me inspired and passionate.
When I am home, I am trying to be more present with my family. I plan activities with Reed (like the volcano we made a few weeks back). I've made a bigger deal out of New Year's Eve or Valentine's Day than I have in the past. I've spent more time playing, conversing, cooking, and resting... and less time on my phone.
Lastly, (and I think this is the most difficult one), I am trying to take more time to care for myself. I take a nap every once in a while, go shopping, or meet a friend for lunch. One of my favorite things to do this winter has been to work on a puzzle while listening to an encouraging podcast. Joyce Meyer's podcasts are so encouraging, and her constant emphasis on positive thinking and a renewed, strong mind are always inspirational and useful this time of year.
Another obsession: about once a week I will take a long bath with a favorite book and a paper face mask. These little moments leave me feeling refreshed, pampered, and pretty- all difficult things to feel sometimes in the winter.
I hope you are embracing your winter just as I am. I know this time of year can be hard. Trust me, I know. But there is beauty and value in each day and moment. Sometimes all we need to do is figure out what works for us in a certain season.
So let me know... what is enriching your life right now?
Did you enjoy this post? Check out some other thoughts in My Soul Food:
The past several days have been a pleasant but chaotic whirlwind. At the eye of the hurricane is a big change I'd like to share with you. After a decade of hard work on the streets, a whole lotta prayer, and no small amount of late-night conversations and sleepless nights, Jacob made the decision to resign from his position as a police sergeant for a new job in the hunting world. It has been a bittersweet step of faith for our family, especially Jacob, of course. He will keep working as a police officer on occasion, "auxiliary" they call it, but it is still going to be a big change for all of us. And a big blessing, in many ways. Oh the pages and pages I could write as we end this season and begin a new one. Pages of reflection, contemplation, and anticipation. God is truly good.
So our recent winter break and snow days have come at a good time. This has allowed me to stay at home and keep the balance and harmony of home during this transition. God always seems to work things out that way.
The early-morning phone call was a beautiful sound today. I mean, I love my job, but I'd be lying if I said I don't want a snow day every now and then.
Teaching from Home
I'm a teacher everyday; I can't help it! It's in my blood. Look back in the family tree- I can prove it! Today, Reed and I attempted a homemade lava lamp. Unfortunately, we didn't have any food coloring, but Reed thought it was cool anyway. Water, vegetable oil, food coloring, and salt is all you need for a little at-home science lesson.
The best thing to do on a snow day is hole up and cook warm, yummy, beautiful food. This morning, Reed and I made Eggs Benedict for the first time. I don't know if I can really say I made it, though, because I didn't poach the egg. I've never poached an egg before, Reed was being, well, 3... and I decided to just make the egg over easy. Gasp! I know that's not really Eggs Benedict, but trust me. All of the mommas of threes out there will stand with me, call it Eggs Benedict, and dare you to disagree.
This afternoon, I made Ree Drummond's Malted Milk Chocolate Chip Cookies. I've wanted to make these for ages, and boy, were they worth it! They were so yummy and satisfying on this icy, gray day. Out of the two recipes I tried today, I will make this one again. To be fair, it had an advantage to begin with. Chocolate wins against eggs... what a surprise.
Oliver is ALWAYS one of my favorite things. Snow days give me extra time to cuddle him, a win-win-win-win! Today I listened to him snore for about an hour. He just melts me.
A Stack of Books
This one's a no-brainer. I love having a giant stack of books to read at all times. My current stack has some old favorites, like Corrie Ten Boom's The Hiding Place alongside books I've always wanted to read or ones that have been recommended to me, like Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Hmmmm... where shall I start?
Oh, yes. My new Gideon Spa Foot Bath Massager! Jacob got this foot spa as my "big" Christmas gift this year. I am in love! With Jacob, yes, but I meant the spa. My sister and I do a girls' spa night each weekend, and this beautiful addition makes our nights even more luxurious and fun. On a completely unrelated note, Valentine's Day is coming up in about, oh, 37 days (give or take). This spa bath would make a wonderful gift... just in case anyone is interested.
Spring days will be upon us before we know it, so I've resolved to enjoy every moment of this snowy winter. These are the things I like to do to make me happy when I'm surrounded by snow, cold, and ice. Please share some of your favorite things in the comments below!