My Reading Challenge: 30 Books in 2018

I posted in my annual Year in Review last year that these would be my goals for 2018:

Our goal for 2018 is to continue our goal of living a simple life. In a nutshell, it means fiercely guarding our schedule to ensure we have margin. It means minimizing the physical and mental clutter and making the most of the space we have. Personally, I’m planning to write more and read more books (I read about 15 this year… would love to double that in 2018), finish up some more painting projects, and figure out how to make our grass in the front yard grow.

You guys. I actually kept MOST of my goals for this year. I’m a little proud and a lot surprised. I didn’t write like I had wanted to (I have excuses, but really, I just prioritized other things, and I wish I had prioritized writing a little more). But the rest? We did it!

  1. I finished up painting the inside of the house. Our little home is 2,000 square feet, and in the span of about 6 months between 2017-2018, I personally painted about 1,600 of it. (All but the two girls’ bedrooms, their bathroom, and the laundry room. The rest of the house – every square inch, including the ceilings, I painted. ME.) And, I love it. It’s amazing what a fresh coat of white paint can do to modernize a house.
  2. I grew grass in the front yard! Well, WE grew grass in the front yard. Along with the help of a fertilizing service.
  3. I read 31 books. Double what I read last year. This is the real reason for this post/recap… to tell you about the books I loved, and the books I didn’t.

Non-Fiction – True Crime, Autobiography, or Mystery

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets    In Cold Blood  American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst  Above Suspicion  The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What's My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen  Molly's Game: From Hollywood's Elite to Wall Street's Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker  Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit

Non-Fiction – Politics / History

Fear: Trump in the White House  A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President  Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House  The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration  A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership  The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court   Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency

Non-Fiction – Leadership / Self-Development

  The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company  Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.      Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win   Of Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious Life  Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World Beyond Boundaries: How To Know When It's Time To Risk Again  The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery    Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People      

Fiction

The Word Is Murder (Hawthorne, #1) Crazy Rich Asians (Crazy Rich Asians, #1)  My Husband's Wife  The Woman in Cabin 10  The Couple Next Door  Pretty Girls Dancing  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)  A Criminal Defense (Philadelphia Legal #1)

My favorite book of 2018: In Cold Blood

It was so good. And creepy. And I couldn’t put it down. No wonder they call this the greatest true crime book of all time.

The book I think everybody should read: Everybody, Always

This book is fun. And delightful. You need to read this yesterday. This author has inspired our neighborhood parade and our entire focus on how Mr. Right and I prioritize our time. (Before you read Everybody, Always, you should start with his first book, Love Does.)

Most read author: Jeffrey Toobin

He’s the guy who wrote the OJ miniseries that ran two years ago on TV. I’ve since read quite a few of his books – they offer a deep-dive into so many big historical moments of the last 50 years. I’ve enjoyed everything he’s written so far.

Biggest Disappointment: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

I had heard such great things about this series, but I found it to be so poorly written. The male author had no idea how to write for a strong female lead. I found myself thinking, so many times, “No woman would ever think that.”

The Book That Changed My Whole Perspective: Warmth of Other Suns

I won’t lie – this was a long, hard read. And, it taught me things I didn’t know about the Great Migration of African Americans who fled the South in search of a better life. Much like Hillbilly Elegy taught me something new about generational poverty, Warmth taught me about the way society, while claiming to offer equal status to a whole race, actually created huge barriers to their success. There are so many ramifications that we still feel today. These are stories of people my grandparents’ age. These are stories of people I know. I like to think that there isn’t an ounce of racism in my bones… I’m the mother of a minority. Our failed adoption involved a precious African American child. How could I possibly be racist? And then I read a book like this, and I realize that in my ignorance, it’s tough to see my own racist inclinations, however deep they’re buried. First I have to listen, and validate what others – my fellow humans – have endured. This helps me to “love my neighbor” better. Isn’t that the ultimate goal, anyway? To be able to love my neighbor, I have to know my neighbor.

The Book That I Want Everybody To Read So We Can Talk About It: The Road Back To You

I am a 1 on the Enneagram. I’m a perfectionist, and it’s a whole thing. I’m married to a 2, and mother to an 8. I’m still not sure what Mila is yet, but I can’t wait to discover it as she develops into herself. I found this book to be fascinating, and also recommend it to couples because it gave Mr. Right and me common language to discuss things in our relationship. It’s a fast read, and a decent one on Audible – and I need you to read it, and then tell me what your number is, so I can psychoanalyze you better. Please. Do it for me.

My Big Confession: I read fiction mostly because I didn’t want to be the weird girl who only read nonfiction.

Don’t judge me. I have a minor in English Literature from Baylor. I just find peoples’ real stories to be much more interesting than anything folks could ever make up.

This year, I forced myself to read eight fiction books, and while they were fine, they weren’t GREAT. But, it helped me to branch out of a genre that I can easily get sucked into (hello nonfiction, hello true crime stories and biographies of really random people like the Secretary of Defense from George W Bush’s presidency… just because I love that sort of thing). I will continue to read fiction so that I can stay balanced – and not “weird” – but for now, I sure do love nonfiction more. Okay, a lot more.

My goal is to read another 30 books in 2019. I’m out of ideas… what books should I add to my list?

Our Simple Christmas

Our simple Christmas looks a lot like our simple summer staycation. And our simple family vacation to Northwest Arkansas. And, our simple regular schedule.

Early bedtimes. (6:15… when we say early, we mean E-A-R-L-Y) 

Evenings at home.

Low budget.

Quiet, yet magical.

Fewer decorations than last year. Just the giant tree (a hand-me-down from my parents, which has so many precious memories) with tons of lights and ornaments. I left most of the knick-knacks in the attic. I did try to add some “natural elements” to this year’s decor, which I quickly killed. Now I know why folks use faux greenery… I’m a crazy plant lady, but I killed my indoor potted rosemary miniature Christmas trees and the fresh garland we hung over our bookcase almost immediately.

It looked good for a few days, at least.

At the beginning of the season, I made a Christmas bucket list. In past years my list has been long. Very long. This year I only wanted to do two things as a family: go look at Christmas lights while sipping on hot chocolate, and decorate Christmas cookies.

We’ve already done both. And, I’ve done all my shopping (online of course, because I refuse to step foot in a store after November 1… including a grocery store). There’s still plenty of wrapping to do, and maybe a Christmas movie or two to watch. But if I don’t get to it, that’s fine.

We don’t have an Elf on the Shelf. Wrenn asked me why we’re the only family on the street without our own elf, and I flatly told her, “because they’re not real.” Our very mature 5-year-old was totally fine with that explanation. Let’s be honest… I don’t have the energy to do the Elf. I hope to make it take the girls to get pics with Santa. But if that doesn’t happen, they’ll live. They’ve seen him from afar several times. Wrenn wrote him a letter (and he wrote back!), so her belief is intact for another year.

And that’s it for Christmas. No expectations. No pressure. We’re keeping it simple.

On purpose.

Each day ends with our advent reading. We turn out all the lights in the house, except for the white twinkle lights on the Christmas tree. We light the candles and read the daily Bible passage. It’s not a legalistic, have-to tradition. It’s a moment of peace in the midst of a swirl of celebrations, each night, where we think about what it must have been like to anxiously wait for a Savior to come. A King to arrive. All the waiting. All the hoping. All the wondering.

And then He came.

Our advent is restful. Magical. Unifying and clarifying and refocuses us on why we’re doing all this in the first place.

We’ll wrap up the season with some simple celebrations with both sides of our family (one we’ve already done), and then ring in the actual Christmas day in our pjs, inviting neighbors to stop in for food and drinks and an escape from the chaos and expectations of Christmas.

I like simple.

My baby starts kinder tomorrow

Tomorrow, my baby girl starts kindergarten. Which is so weird, because it was just a week ago that she was this long and lean, wrinkled, colicky baby who captured my heart the moment those big eyes locked with mine.

I’m not really nervous about it, because she has been in some sort of school since she was a baby, and has spent two full years at a really great preschool. Kindergarten will actually be a shorter day than her last two years. Not to mention she’s the most outgoing person I’ve ever met, next to her daddy. I know that she’s going to do fine.

And, I’m also a mom, so kinder brings so many big feelings. And big prayers.

Dear Jesus, please help Wrenn to make some good friends in kindergarten. Put children around her who will love her and play with her and, if you are willing, give her a life-long friend. Help Wrenn to be a good friend to them too.

Dear Jesus, please help Wrenn to love people around her WELL. Especially those who need extra love. The outsiders, the nerds, the ones who have outward or inward struggles. Please give Wrenn eyes to see those little hearts who need to feel YOUR love through her.

Dear Jesus, please help Wrenn’s teacher to “get” – and love – Wrenn. Our girl has such a big heart, and with it, some really big emotions. On her good days, she is the most encouraging, creative child. On her challenging days, well, she is still learning self-control… and often she makes the wrong choice (let’s be real… I’m still learning to make good choices, too). Lord, help Wrenn’s teacher to “get” Wrenn, to love her through those bad choices, and to celebrate with her when she makes good ones. Help her teacher to have a sense of humor, and gobs of patience, and to also know that we are WITH her and FOR her.

Dear Jesus, please help Wrenn TO NOT HIT OR KICK HER FRIENDS.

Dear Jesus, please help Wrenn to discover how amazing learning can be. Lord, grow her curious mind, give her big dreams, and help her to be brave enough to push towards those dreams. Give her the tenacity to push through learning to read. Give her the willingness to listen to her teacher. Continue to grow her creativity, and help her to know when she should conform, and when it’s okay to be totally different. Lord, open her eyes to new things and new ideas.

Dear Jesus, please help Wrenn to use her manners. To be kind. To not tell her teachers embarrassing stories about me. Or, if she does, just don’t let me find out about it, okay? Help Wrenn to learn right from wrong. Protect her little heart and mind and body. Help Wrenn to remember who she is. That she’s the daughter of the King. That she is chosen, and loved, and beautiful, and created in Your image. That she is fearfully and wonderfully made.

And dear Jesus, help me to know how to mother her. How to encourage her, how to discipline her. How to be her cheerleader and her coach and her safe place. Give me patience and grace and NOT VERY MANY HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENTS, OKAY GOD? BECAUSE I’M ALSO WORKING AND REALLY BUSY AND DON’T WANT TO DO HOMEWORK THIS YEAR. Please. I’m just not ready.

She is yours, Jesus. All yours. Thank you for letting me borrow her for a few years. You really are the best. The giver of good gifts. This girl is an answer to many years of prayers. Bless her, dear Jesus.

Friday Favorites

Allbirds_W_Wool_Runner_Kotare_GREY_ANGLE_900x900Allbirds

I invested in these shoes, which apparently are the hottest shoes in Silicon Valley right now. Let me tell you – they’re worth every single penny. I wear mine without socks almost every day of the week with almost any outfit – they’re clean and trendy looking, and yet, they’re also the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. I’m totally buying more as soon as my budget allows.

 

honey-facebook-share.png

Honey

I installed the Honey app in my web browser, and now anytime I shop online (which is 99% of my shopping), it automatically suggests discount codes. Even better, when I shop on Amazon, it will tell me if each item in my cart is the absolute lowest price on Amazon, or if there’s a better deal out there. Yesterday it helped me save $3 on my face lotion.

If you go to the actual Honey website, you can also find deals for cash back on purchases. I used it to get some cash back on a purchase at the Gap that I was already planning on making. Cash back + a discount code for $20 off. Confession – it was to buy a swimsuit. Online. Yes, I’m really brave and a tiny bit stupid. Pray for me.

If you use my special link (here), I’ll get a $5 referral credit, and you will make my day.

 

Greetabl

Our family motto is “Love God. Love people. Do big things.” And sometimes doing a big thing is really doing a small thing that will bring sunshine to somebody out of the blue. An unexpected treat. One of the easiest ways to do that is through Greetabl, which allows you to send tiny surprises in the mail for almost any occasion. I’ve sent a box of confetti, a box of nail polish, even a single piece of chocolate. The packaging is gorgeous and fully customizable – you can even add photos and a personal message. The only drawback is that you can’t schedule a delivery for a particular day, and it can take 7-10 days to arrive. So, I don’t use it for things like birthdays, but it’s great for an “I’m sorry you’re going through a hard time,” or, “Thanks for being an awesome friend, or even, “Thanks for hosting us – we had a blast!”

Here’s a link that will get me points toward more free purchases – feel free to use!

Snake Plant

SnakePlant.jpg

In the past few years, I’ve become the crazy plant lady. I’ve got plants all over the house, and then my giant vegetable and flower gardens in the backyard. Dirt is just good for my soul, and I’ve found that it’s much cheaper to buy myself a plant that will last a year, than a bouquet of flowers that will last a week – and they’re about the same price. I’m currently on the succulent bandwagon, but I’ve also got a fiddle leaf fig that is beautiful, but also high-maintenance. I’m at a point where I can’t handle many extra high-maintenance things (thus, why we don’t have a dog at the moment). And then I discovered the snake plant.

Y’all. It can live indoors in almost any condition. It doesn’t care if you move it around. You only have to water it every 1-3 weeks. It prefers to be left alone. And it’s SO PRETTY. I need more snake plants in my life – I picked mine up at Calloways, but they also have them on Amazon – I’ve had lots of luck with buying plants there.

 

Bordered Art Workstation Photo Collage (1).png

And finally… spring break

This week was spring break for my kiddos, and it was such a treat to take some time off work to hang out with them. Wrenn goes to kindergarten in the fall (gasp), and I’m soaking up these days of her being young and everything being new and exciting. And Mila is finally walking (and falling – so much falling), which means going places just got 100 times easier. This week we’ve had play dates and watched movies, made homemade playdough, they went to Chuckee Cheese with one grandpa, and have a slumber party planned with cousins and grandparents on the other side. I love having kids this age.


Follow more of our adventures on Instagram and Facebook.

 

 

 

How to read your Bible

How To Read Your BibleI was raised to know Jesus from a very young age, but it wasn’t until I was 23 that someone took me under their wing and taught me how to study my Bible. Before that, I mostly just randomly opened it up and started reading. Or, I’d start in the beginning and make it as far as I could (like Leviticus) before losing motivation. LEVITICUS IS HARD, Y’ALL.

I knew a lot about Jesus from sitting in church every time the doors were open. I heard 1,000 sermons as a child, attended VBS and Sunday School and even a few prayer rallies. I knew Jesus, and I knew about the Bible… but mostly from osmosis.

Jesus wants so much more than osmosis. He wants us to know his voice. He wants intimacy. He wants to speak to us in the hushed early part of the morning while we sip our cup of coffee. Or at night after the kids go to bed. He wants his words to come to mind during a crisis or a time of great joy. When we speak to our children, our spouse,  our neighbor. When we speak to ourselves.

Especially to ourselves.

I’ve heard the story many times about how bank employees learn to spot counterfeit dollars by handling nothing but REAL money. They get to where they know the real thing so well, that a counterfeit bill just doesn’t FEEL right.

That’s how God’s word is. He wants us to know it so intimately, to know the sound of his voice so clearly, that when we encounter a counterfeit – which comes at us from every direction – it just SOUNDS wrong.

I have the privilege of leading an online bible study for ladies across the country. We’re digging into the first half of Romans, and more than learning Romans, I’m trying to help them learn to hear – and love – God’s voice. To start building an understanding of who God is, why we need him, why he loves us, verse by verse. Chapter by chapter. Book by book.

If you’re a newbie like I was, back at age 23, here are some tips for learning to read your bible:

Don’t start at the beginning.

If you’ve never read your Bible before, you’re probably going to have a hard time starting with the Old Testament. It’s not that the Old Testament isn’t super important. It is. It teaches us so much about God’s character, and it continuously points toward our need for a savior – Jesus. And, it’s also really dense, full of history, and is easy to get stuck in. Read it… but don’t start with it.

I’ve heard Bible scholars say that you could read John and Romans and get a full understanding of who Jesus is and what salvation looks like. I tell people to start with Romans first, to learn about our need for a savior, and to gain a basic understanding of Christian beliefs. Then head to John to meet your savior.

After that, I’d work my way through 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians. Then I’d start over and begin at the beginning of the New Testament, and read straight through. That’s me – there are a bazillion ways to skin the cat. The only requirement is that you READ it.

Have a Plan.

As you come close to finishing a book of the Bible, have a plan of what you’re going to read next. It’s easy to get stuck in a transition and lose the rhythm you’ve created. So follow my plan, or one of the MANY available online. (A great resource is YouVersion, a free app download that offers reading plans). You can use a Bible study book to help you as a resource, but don’t let that be your crutch. You don’t want to know some random author’s voice. You want to know God’s voice. So read chapter by chapter, and feel free to use a book as a commentary – but if your’e new to this, avoid a topical resource. Learn to fish… don’t let someone simply feed you.

Take it one chapter at a time.

It’s a great practice to start with just one chapter a day. As you go through, follow these steps:

Read for Understanding

What does the text say? Is any of it hard? Look up the cross-references in the margin of your Bible. These are passages that will give you more context, or more insight, into what you’re reading. Don’t be afraid to make notes in your Bible about what you’re learning.

If you read the whole chapter, finish, and have no idea what you just read… guess what. You’re normal. It happens to me ALL THE TIME. Just read it again. And again. And again. You can also try reading it in another translation (I use this website to look up a passage in various versions to compare).

Gods Character

It’s hard to trust someone you don’t know. It’s hard to love someone you don’t know. It’s hard not to place our own ideas of what a father or a king or a savior looks like, when we haven’t gone back to the original source. In anything you read, first ask yourself what it teaches you about God’s character.

True

I have to ask myself this question all the time. If what the Bible says is true, then what? If the text tells me that God is a God of love, then how does that change the way you pray to him? The way I worship him? The way I honor him? If he is a God who is just, then what does that mean for my situation? Sometimes what I read in the bible doesn’t FEEL true. Sometimes I don’t WANT what I read to be true. And that’s okay. But if I believe that the Bible is the word of God, and that every word of it is TRUE, then what? What does that mean for my situation today? Can I trust God with this hard thing I’m walking through? Is God big enough for me to wrestle with this hard thing until it finally FEELS true? (The answer is YES!)

Theology

This is a big deal. If you’re new to studying the Bible, then remember that the Bible is a complete work of 66 books. You can’t nail all of your beliefs on one verse. If you did, then reading Romans 2:7-8 might teach you that you are saved by works. But then, if you flipped over just one chapter, you would see in Romans 3:21-24 that Paul says we are saved by faith, not works. Then in his letter to the Ephesians, he reinforces that we are saved by faith – not works (Ephesians 2:8-10). So, as you study, write down those truths, but keep reading, just to confirm that you understand the fullness of scripture.

And, when in doubt, that’s when reaching out to someone a little further along in their study is key. If something is confusing, or seems contradictory, that’s when it’s good to seek out “wise counsel.” Basically, just find someone who has studied the Bible and ask them your questions. A church leader. A friend you trust. Then, take what they say, and measure it against scripture.

Always go back to scripture for the final word. That’s our north star. Our authority.

My final encouragement: DON’T. GIVE. UP.

New things are hard. It’s easy to quit. Keep going. It will be worth it. I promise you. There is nothing sweeter than hearing straight from the heart of Jesus. It’s a treasure that brings hope. It’s like water – you need it to LIVE. To truly live. Go spend some time with your creator… and then tell me how it goes.

Friday Favorites

FRIDAY FAVORITES (1)It’s been so long since you and I talked. Mostly because having a baby is tiring, and by 7:30 each evening, when both kids are in bed and work is done, I’m totally out of energy and have no words left to write.

We have SO MUCH to catch up on.

Like… some of my new favorites!

Eats_Logo_Whit_Horiz1. Uber Eats Gift Cards

I’m already a fan of having someone bring me dinner to my house. And, I love to send dinner (or random PIE… seriously) to other peoples’ houses. But now, I can send a gift card for someone to order WHATEVER THEY WANT, whenever they want, and have it delivered to their house. For this working mama who loves to love on people but frankly doesn’t have the time to cook/deliver food, this is AMAZING. (You have to do it through their website because the app doesn’t have the feature yet. Or you can use my favorite website in the whole world… Amazon.)

617J7XbwZqL._SL1000_2. My Amazon Fire Tablet

I bought myself a shiny new 10″ Amazon Fire tablet with my birthday money… just $99 on Black Friday for the latest and greatest version. I use it for just three things:

  1. Reading my magazines on Texture (PS – If we’re friends, I can give you a special link to get your first month free, and then I’ll get an Amazon gift card, which you know I will love. Just let me know and I can email/Facebook it to you.)
  2. Watching Parenthood on Netflix while I take a bubble bath
  3. Reading books on my Kindle app

And that’s it. It honestly does everything my iPhone does, but at a fraction of the price of a new iPad. And… it’s red.

download3. RetailMeNot

I’ve always used RetailMeNot to find discount codes for online purchases. Duh, it saves you money on almost EVERYTHING. But, I recently had to buy a new dishwasher (our high-end discounted floor model crapped out after just 2 years and was more expensive to fix than replace), and I found that RetailMeNot also offers cash back rewards on some purchases. You guys, IT IS NOT A SCAM. I simply searched for a discount at Lowes, found a link on Retail Me Not’s site to use, and scored a $35 cash back rebate. I then redeemed it through PayPal and used it to buy myself some shoes I’d been eyeing (which haven’t arrived yet… I’ll let you know if I like them). I like free money. A lot.

 

cast-of-Parenthood-on-TV-NBC

4. Parenthood

I realize I’m pretty late to the game, but I’m currently on Season 3 and you guys, THIS SHOW IS ABOUT MY FAMILY. Like, it’s weird. I’m the youngest sister, which is ironic because I’m actually the oldest sister. But the adoption storyline (I’m in the middle of it and was warned not to watch it before we finalized our adoption, but OH MY GOODNESS THIS IS SO OUR STORY OF OUR FAILED ADOPTION WHERE FOR SIX WEEKS I WORRIED THAT SAYING THE WRONG THING WOULD COST US A BABY). Coach is my dad (who, ironically, we call Coach as his grandpa name). These are my family members. WHY ISN’T EVERYBODY WATCHING THIS WITH ME AT THE SAME TIME?

I may be a little bit too overexcited. This is what happens when I watch only one show, start to finish, six full seasons in a row, at a time.

If you’re a Parenthood fan, let’s be friends. But no spoilers please… because I need to live this out in real time. (And also, can we all take a moment to talk about how much we love Crosby? And the fact that Lorelai Gilmore falls in love with her brother on this show in real life? It’s like my mind is blown.)

 

12a8ce89-b897-4fac-87d5-55806a9d542b5. Mila learned how to blow kisses

This isn’t new… Mila has been blowing kisses for months now. But today she started making the kissing sound and puckering her lips up in the most dramatic way. And it’s the cutest thing you’ve ever seen in your whole life. She was showing off by blowing kisses to her big sister tonight before bedtime, and my heart exploded. How did I end up with two gorgeous girls? Only God…

 

 

So… my other FAVORITE thing is when folks leave a comment on the blog! So… tell me, what is your current favorite thing? I’d love to discover something new and fabulous!

XOXO, Bethe

2017 Year in Review

25791062_10155018523991120_6798517790982359477_o

I’ll admit, I can be a sap when it comes to looking back on a year well-lived. Our 2017 featured some BIG milestones and things to celebrate, as well as some moments of stress and sadness. Here are the highlights…
18814377_10154499551371120_8597006949889717695_n 18740475_10154499552641120_1134192485999458336_n

We finalized Mila’s adoption

Mila was ours the moment we held her, but the State of Texas required a six-month wait before she was legally ours. At the end of May, both sides of our family traveled to a courthouse a few hours away to celebrate as a judge made it official. Mila legally has our last name. No more social workers. No more adoption agency. No more having our doctor write a note documenting every visit for me to add to our giant adoption file. It was honestly one of the happiest days of my entire life.

18193449_10154419342446120_82195881815282887_o

I ran a half marathon

It was slow, and cold, and long… but I did it. I finished a half marathon with my dear friend and neighbor Emily. I had run a half 9 years ago, but I honestly wasn’t sure I’d ever do it again. It meant more, as a working mom of two, to be able to cross that finish line. It was hard. And we did it. We also ran the Cowtown 10K. I’m proud of us.

25348465_10112111860142064_7682312989591632806_n Mr. Right got his masters degree

I met Mr. Right his first semester as a full-time seminary student. He worked so hard for about 4 years to knock out almost 90 hours of graduate school. And then he took a hiatus when that sweet baby Wrenn was born. Four years later, he went back and FINISHED that degree. Watching him walk across that stage to get his diploma was one of my proudest moments as his wife. He worked HARD for that piece of paper. It represents so many hours of sacrifice.

26056040_10155030486261120_602964220165478240_n25443223_10155006360931120_4083604650800465564_n

I painted the whole house

Well, I painted most of the whole house. I painted the dining room, entryway, office, living room, kitchen, breakfast nook, and all of our hallways. Including ceilings, baseboards, and doors, it was about 80 percent of our home. I knocked it out, one Saturday at a time, during the fall. And it looks SO GOOD. In 2018 I hope to paint our bedroom, master bath, and the kitchen cabinets.

23722433_10154937104916120_7647846033769139445_n Mr. Right broke all the bones

In August, Mr. Right had a run-in with a rock on a mountain bike trail. The rock won. He broke his collarbone, several ribs, punctured a lung, and they thought they found cancer while they did all of the scans at the ER. It was not the most fun visit. Thankfully, he’s fully recovered, doesn’t have cancer, and four months later is back on his bike.

22886120_10154887958936120_2789633293200601006_n25532088_10155006362036120_7498743243821988951_o Wrenn learned to ride a bike

After two years of regular training, Wrenn learned to ride a bike without training wheels. That’s pretty exciting for a girl who had just turned four. She can now ride two miles around the neighborhood. Her daddy gets all the credit – he worked patiently with her, and when she finally took off on her own, I’m pretty sure he cried all the happy tears. Our little girl is fearless.

20108639_10211271770403290_6995727219736684505_nMr. Right became a broker

I’m proud of my man, who achieved another big goal of this year – he became a real estate broker. He also became certified to teach real estate classes in the state of Texas and took on some new leadership roles at work. He’s a hard worker.
19225175_10154550001841120_1750687376650422451_n22886018_10154896461166120_6825788269036958620_n

We hosted a lot of people

In 2016, we set a goal of hosting 200 people in our home and ended up welcoming 258. This year we didn’t keep track, but I estimate we hosted at least 150. Not bad for not really trying. Hosting people has become part of our family DNA. It’s just what we do. And it was a joy to have folks from all over come hang out. In 2018, I want to do a better job of keeping track of our guests, just for fun. (Our biggest party was our Halloween Party, which had probably 50-60 guests.)

25498405_10155012294876120_5604941087304050067_n We led a pretty simple life

We took a few small weekend trips, but nothing fancy. We went to bed early most of the time. We didn’t take up any crazy new hobbies or buy anything big (except for a dishwasher and dryer, out of necessity). We had some tough seasons and some happy ones as a family. We played with the kids on the floor, made big messes in the name of art, hung out on the driveway, laid in a hammock in our garage, drank a ton of Topo Chico. We cheered as each kid conquered a new milestone. We became a formula-free and bottle-free household. We waterparked… a lot. I didn’t write or quilt much, but I did a lot of baby cuddling and diaper changing and playroom cleaning and magazine reading. We did a lot of restaurant exploring and road tripping and family adventuring and museum visiting and dance partying in the living room. Mr. Right taught us how to “dab.” Wrenn learned her favorite number, 525,600 (and can sing every word to the song at the top of her lungs, thanks to her daddy’s training). Mila tried all the food and loved every bit of it. And I watched 8,000 episodes of Gilmore Girls and listened to 9,000 true crime podcast episodes and spent a ton of my time digging in our backyard garden.19554023_10154584463356120_314274410058566033_n21150457_10154755966356120_8532317685284363831_n

Our goal for 2018 is to continue our goal of living a simple life. In a nutshell, it means fiercely guarding our schedule to ensure we have margin. It means minimizing the physical and mental clutter and making the most of the space we have. Personally, I’m planning to write more and read more books (I read about 15 this year… would love to double that in 2018), finish up some more painting projects, and figure out how to make our grass in the front yard grow.

2017 was was a year of BIG THINGS separated by a lot of quiet, normal days. It had just enough excitement to keep it interesting. I’m hoping for more good than bad in 2018.

What are your goals for 2018? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Mila’s Birth Story

McGowanImages_MilaWright15bI’ve been thinking about how to share Mila’s birth story for months now. Seven months, to be exact. I’ve learned that when I have a baby, I go into a newborn fog that hovers really thick for about six months, and then starts to lessen. It’s still there for the first year, at least for me. I think it’s a combination of sleeplessness and all the mental planning that goes into caring for a newborn. Packing bags and counting bottles and diapers and making sure you have enough stock of everything on hand. Mentally tracking bowel movements and teething symptoms and sleep time and wake time and spare clothes for the inevitable leaky diaper. And then there’s the hours of staring at your precious baby, trying to breathe in every single detail of that baby hair and those killer eyes. Kissing those baby cheeks. It’s practically a part-time job.

McGowanImages_MilaWright07b

It takes me about a year to adjust to a new baby and find myself on the other side. It was really hard with Wrenn, but I knew what to expect with Mila, and so it’s been a little easier to accept. I know it’s a season that has an end. A season that in hindsight will seem so brief. But also a season where things like writing or quilting go from life giving to overwhelming. My brain just can’t process anything extra. So alas, the quiet on this little blog.

Back to Mila. I also want to preface by saying that there’s a version of Mila’s birth story that we will share with the world, and another version we will share with only her. Because it’s her story to tell. Not mine. Not yours. And so I want to say thank you in advance for not asking personal questions about her story. This is a way you can show Mila and her birth family love.

IMG_1810

It was the day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday. We were out of town, staying at a relative’s ranch, enjoying a lazy day of fishing and eating and sleeping in with Mr. Right’s side of the family. It was the most amazing morning, which in hindsight, seems like such a gift from God. Our big day started full of love and family. Mr. Right and I took Wrenn fishing on our relatives’ private lake. It was just us and our little fishing boat, along with some more relatives in another fishing boat cheering Wrenn’s efforts on.

She caught a fish. We all caught fish. And then we sent Wrenn in so that Mr. Right and I could have some time fishing, just the two of us. We laughed so much. It was the happiest morning.

Mila1

As Mr. Right and I fished, it started to drizzle, and we could see storms off in the distance. We decided to come in before the rain hit, and I went downstairs to shower before lunch. We were having a big family fish fry. For some reason, Mr. Right decided to hang out on the porch while I cleaned up downstairs.

This is where I should mention that we had no cell phone service at the ranch. None. And really, it was glorious. We had lived tethered to our phones ever since we turned in our adoption paperwork and joined the waiting list. We knew we could get a call at anytime. We kept our phones at the waterpark all summer. We slept with them next to our beds, never on silent. We were always reachable.

Except for this weekend. For some reason, we just knew we wouldn’t be getting a call. We weren’t matched with a birth mom, and there were none on the waiting list. And so we decided to enjoy a disconnected weekend. I left my cell phone in another room most of the time. It was so refreshing.

But somehow (God!), Mr. Right’s phone rang as he sat on the porch at that moment. That one spot, at that one moment, he got cell reception. It was our adoption agency, calling to tell us that there was a baby girl at the hospital, waiting for us to come pick her up. She told us as soon as we got there, this baby girl would be discharged to our home.

The only detail we got was that she was a hispanic baby girl, and that she was healthy. That was it.

Mr. Right came downstairs and caught me right as I was stepping into the shower to wash the fish smell off of me. I reeked of fish. The conversation went something like this:

Him: PUT YOUR CLOTHES BACK ON, WE’RE HAVING A BABY.

Me… totally and utterly confused: WHAT?

Him: The adoption agency called. There’s a baby girl at the hospital and we can come get her RIGHT NOW.

Me… not understanding at all: WHAT?????

Him: GET DRESSED. WE’RE HAVING A BABY GIRL!

Me… still confused and now in total shock: NO WAY. NO WAY. I DON’T BELIEVE IT. NO WAY. NO WAY.

Him, now gathering things and shoving them into a bag: GET DRESSED. WE HAVE TO LEAVE RIGHT NOW. WE’RE HAVING A BABY GIRL TODAY!

I probably said “No way” and “I don’t believe it” and “what?” about 100 times as I got dressed and scrambled to throw all my belongings in a suitcase. I smelled like fish. I had on no makeup. My things were scattered around the room. OH MY GOSH WE WERE HAVING A BABY AND HOW ARE WE GOING TO GET THERE AND WE HAVEN’T EATEN LUNCH AND WE NEED TO TELL WRENN AND OH MY GOSH I SMELL LIKE FISH AND GOD IS SO GOOD AND I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING TODAY.

WE WERE HAVING A BABY!!!!!!

Mr. Right and I dressed and carried our suitcases upstairs, to find our extended family standing around in utter shock. None of us could believe it was finally time. In God’s amazing, generous grace, I was able to pull Wrenn aside, get down on her eye level, and tell her that she was getting a baby sister. Today.

And y’all, our 3-year-old cried big, adult, HAPPY tears in that moment. It was one of my favorite memories of that day. She had prayed every single night for a year for her baby brother or sister. She had helped us paint her nursery. She had walked through grief when the other baby had fallen through. We had tried to protect her from the details of the adoption, but she’s smart, and perceptive, and she knew more than I wanted her little heart to know. In that moment, Wrenn expressed such JOY at the news. She got it. She totally understood. And her response was happy tears.

Mila, your big sister has loved you since before you were made.

We said our goodbyes, left Wrenn with our extended family, and Mr. Right and I set off for a long drive to the hospital. What should have been at least a 5-hour drive (in the pouring down rain) turned into a 4-hour drive, with Mr. Right driving 90 in the fast lane, with his hazard lights on. We were in shock the whole way there. We decided we would wait to tell anybody outside our immediate family until this baby was ours. And so we didn’t tell anybody.

I should add, since this wasn’t planned, we didn’t have any baby gear with us. No car seat, no diapers, no bottles, no formula. I had a few boy clothes and a single bag of diapers back home in the nursery. Everything else was either covered in dust in our attic, or was still at the store. WE HAD NOTHING.

We got to the hospital, and two women from the adoption agency met us at the door and offered to go buy us a car seat. Remember, it was Black Friday, so the stores were probably insanely crowded. I am so thankful for those two women, who saved us from additional chaos. Instead, we got to go upstairs and meet our Mila.

Our time at the hospital was sacred. We got to spend about an hour with Mila’s birth mom, and all I will say is that we could see and feel how much she loved Mila. We are so thankful for her.

IMG_1841

Our first picture with Mila.

And then we were back in the car, making another long drive home. Only this time, I was sitting in the backseat, wedged between fishing poles and our new baby girl. So tiny and beautiful, all 6 pounds, 3 ounces of her, with a full head of black hair. We called and texted people all the way home. We laughed and we cried and we celebrated with our prayer warriors who had seen us through the past year (and many, for years and years before that). That was probably the happiest drive of my whole life.

And that is how we went from a family of 3 at lunchtime to a family of 4 by dinner.

IMG_1911

McGowanImages_MilaWright21

When the doctor first handed me Wrenn, in the delivery room, I cried such big tears that the doctor asked me if I was in pain, worried that the epidural had worn off. No, not in pain – I was crying tears of overwhelming joy at first meeting my baby girl.

I didn’t get to cry those tears of joy upon first meeting Mila, because the circumstances were different. Instead, during one of those first middle-of-the-night feedings during her first night at home, I held Mila in the dark and sobbed those same happy tears as I thanked God for answering my prayers.

McGowanImages_MilaWright06bSame tears from my same mama heart. Mila joined us in a different way, but she is absolutely ours. God knew from the very beginning of time that she would be a forever member of our family. God was so sweet to answer our prayers and let us experience His love through our journey to Mila.

McGowanImages_MilaWright29

Her birth mother gave her the name Mila. We gave her her middle name – Anne – named after my middle name. She will always have a piece of her birth mother, and a piece of me. Intermixed. Together. So dearly loved.

McGowanImages_MilaWright13b

McGowanImages_MilaWright27

McGowanImages_MilaWright33

Friday Favorites: My favorite subscription services

Over the past few years, my life has become more and more automated. Why buy something over and over when I can subscribe once and no longer think about it? Or even better, subscribe and get a discount? This gal doesn’t want to waste her time or precious energy on things that can be automated – and easily!

Here are my current favorite subscription services:

Texture_apppage_herobanner_1848x682-1-700x258

Texture: I read a lot on my phone – when I’m lying in bed trying to go to sleep, when I’m up feeding a baby in the middle of the night, when I’m waiting in line for something… you get the picture. Now, with Texture, I get more than 200 magazine subscriptions for just $15/month. It seriously includes EVERYTHING – from US Weekly to The New Yorker to LIVING and Better Homes & Gardens. It includes current and back issues, and I can access them on my phone or iPad. Seriously – I’m in decorating magazine heaven. (And it’s GLORIOUS to have something non-political to read.)

ABV-Harrys-Header

Harry’s Razors: I just joined the Harry’s bandwagon and I’m pleased so far. For only about $1.75 per razor blade, I save money on shaving, and I can guarantee I’ll never run out. They only offer a men’s razor, but we all know that they’re really ALL the same. Harry’s delivers my refill blades every two months at a much lower cost than I was spending at the store.

 

2daxhZpr

MeUndies: Yes. Apparently underwear subscription is a THING. I get a new pair of undies in the mail every month, and it’s kind of like Christmas when it arrives! Once you become an old married couple, things like buying undies sometimes falls down on the to-do list, so it’s fun to always have something new! (And every time I get a new pair in the mail, I throw away an old pair that should have been tossed ages ago.) Cost is $14/month.

 

Amazon_Fresh

Amazon Fresh: No other service has changed my life like Amazon Fresh. For $14/month, I do ALL of my grocery shopping online (ALL OF IT), and Amazon delivers it to my door within hours. I can order my groceries while I watch TV at 8:00 in the evening, and have them delivered to my door by 8:00 the next morning (minimum order is $40). The quality is great (lots of organic options), the pricing is decent (some things are higher, some are the same as my local grocery store), but my grocery budget has gone down since I no longer feel the need to buy in bulk anymore, because if I need something, I can have it delivered within hours. This means less food waste, and fewer impulse purchases when I’m at the store. And this means I don’t have to spend any time sitting in traffic, standing in a check-out line, trying to figure out where to put the baby’s car seat in the shopping cart and still have room for groceries… It’s life changing. LIFE CHANGING.

chatbooks-logo1

IMG_2949

Chatbooks: Confession… I still haven’t printed out our wedding photos. From six years ago. Don’t tell our wedding photographers, who happen to also be our besties. I am the WORST at printing out photos, much less making a photo album. PLEASE! Once a year I print my Facebook Feed via My Social Book (hint – a few times a year they run a 40% off special – wait for the discount before purchasing), but other than that, there are no post 2009 photo albums in our house. Until now…

Thanks to Chatbooks, every time I take 60 Instagram photos, I automatically get a little photo album in the mail. I get an alert before they send it to me, so I can edit the album, remove unnecessary photos, and add any other pics that didn’t make it to Instagram (like of that adorable baby girl I can’t post public pics of yet). I can also opt to purchase prints of pics from that feed. Everything gets mailed to me, and I can add it to my collection – guilt free. Look at me, I’m a good mom – I print photos of my kids! Watch out world!

Speaking of being a good mom (or dad, or PERSON)… what are YOUR favorite subscription services? I’m always on the lookout for new ways to save time so I can spend MORE time loving on my kiddos, swooning at my husband, or doing things that make me happy… like reading my Texture magazines while taking a nap.

NOTE: I did not receive any compensation for this post – all opinions are my own. Affinity links are included, which will give us BOTH discounts if you choose to use them.

Friday Favorites: My favorite DFW Restaurants

Mr. Right and I love food. Like, REALLY love food. And, one of our favorite past-times is eating out and discovering new restaurants together.

We regularly get texts from friends asking for recommendations for fun new restaurants, date nights, even places to shop, so I’m happy to resurrect a series on the blog – my Friday Favorites.

To kick it off, here are some of my favorite restaurants in DFW… currently.

La Perla

La Perla / Photo Credit: La Perla

La Perla / Photo Credit: La Perla

If we have kids in tow, La Perla is always my first choice. Located near the Convention Center in downtown Fort Worth, it’s got a cute little patio to enjoy on pretty days, and on colder days, if you go early, nobody cares if your child dances in the corner. The owner has a young daughter, so the staff always engages Wrenn and has lots of patience (plus the restaurant is loud enough that she doesn’t bother anybody). I always order the empanadas (the ham + cheese + honey ones are the best) – Wrenn usually eats one as well, and sometimes I get a few to go for the following day – and Mr. Right loves the Cubano and the La Dominicana sandwiches. I also swear by their spicy lime popcorn for an appetizer, because… popcorn.

 

Max’s Wine Dive

Max's Wine Dive / Photo Credit: Fort Worth, TX Magazine

Max’s Wine Dive / Photo Credit: Fort Worth, TX Magazine

When it’s time for a date night, Max’s is one of my favorites. This is where I took Mr. Right on our anniversary this year. This is where we take out of town friends. This is one of my happy places. (This is not a place I’d take littles.)

The Fort Worth location recently got a new chef, which means the menu changed and my absolute favorite (the PB&J wings), is no longer on the menu. But, I’m still a sucker for the cheese board, the Wine Dive Chicken Sliders, ‘The Royal’ Lobster Pot Pie (lobster bisque + puff pastry = heaven), and the shrimp & grits. They’re famous for their fried chicken (almost everybody orders it). I also hear they have a great Sunday brunch, but alas, that conflicts with church.

 

Hattie’s

7827128.0

Hattie’s / Photo Credit: The Dallas Observer

Mr. Right discovered Hattie’s when he took me here for one of our anniversaries. The decor is so pretty (I’d dress up just a tad), and the food is amazing without being CRAZY expensive. I love the fried green tomatoes and the carmelized onion & cheddar tart with a sweet onion marmalade (again – I love it when my dinner can come in a puff pastry), but there’s also plenty to choose from if you’re a steak lover. This is another one of those great places for a date night, but I’d get a babysitter.

 

Off-Site Kitchen

Off Site Kitchen / Photo Credit: Dallas Eater

Off-Site Kitchen / Photo Credit: Dallas Eater

If we want to go out to lunch – or an early Saturday dinner… because let’s face it, when your kiddo’s bedtime is 7:00, you eat dinner REALLY early… Off-Site Kitchen is our first choice for burgers. I hear they have great sandwiches, too, but I don’t know why anybody would order something besides the burger, which is SO FRESH. Like, the freshest burger in all of DFW. I like the Green Chile & Bacon burger (includes caramelized onions and a special sauce) and the Russet Fries with garlic salt. They even have tiny fries for dessert. (Very kid friendly)

OSK (what the regulars call it) gets super busy, so I’d pick a slightly off-time to eat. They also have an amazing patio (and not to mention since it’s part of Trinity Groves, there’s a to-die for cake place just around the corner). You can also walk off those calories by strolling down to the old Dallas bridge which has since been turned into a park. Wrenn loves to climb on the playground and we can people watch as we enjoy a gorgeous view of Downtown Dallas.

 

Luck

LUCK / Photo credit: Culture Map Dallas

LUCK / Photo Credit: Culture Map Dallas

Luck is just the best. It’s perfect for a grown-up date night, or you can bring the kiddos and enjoy their giant patio. I love their Hand Twisted Soft Pretzels with beer cheese fondue and their shrimp & grits, but we’ve never had a bad meal there. It just FEELS trendy and the food is unique but again, not crazy expensive. And, if the line is too long, you can pick just about any other restaurant at Trinity Groves – it’s like a giant food court, but with gourmet sit-down restaurants instead.

 

So friends… go out and enjoy a good meal, and let me know in the comments where YOUR favorite restaurant is. We’re always looking for our next favorite spot!