Thursday, December 31, 2015

Saying Goodbye to 2015

2015 was hard. There is just no way around that for me.

Not even a month into the new year, we unexpectedly lost our daughter's birthmom. To say my life changed is an understatement. Sometimes I can hardly believe that she really is gone. Other times, I feel it to my very core that she is no longer here.

Her death lead to months of depression and heartache for me. A part of me is beyond thankful that 2015 is coming to a close and that we get a fresh start tomorrow. The other part of me is devastated. 2015 is the last year she was alive and what if I'm not ready to say goodbye to her?

Looking back at 2015 I have this peace when I think about the life phrase God gave me for the year.

 "He will quiet you with His love".

Little did I know when I wrote that how much I would have to be still and quieted by His love. This year has been one of the most challenging ones for me and I have had to rely on God more than almost any other year. I'm so thankful for His love that has quieted me in times of unrest.

While I haven't shared my phrase for 2016 yet and I'm not 100% positive I will, I did want to share one thing with you that I feel led to share.

Shortly after Xiomara's birthmama passed away, I read this amazing article called While They Can Still Hear (The Case For Living Eulogies). Here is what I wrote on Facebook when I shared it:

"Maybe because I am a words of affirmation person, this speaks directly to my heart. Or perhaps it is because I have lost people in my life way too sudden, way too young. Or else it is because I realize my time on earth is short and I want to use the remaining time I have to uplift people in love. Whatever it is, this is SO good. 'I think we should give people living eulogies; that we should speak lavish, unashamed words of love and praise, not about them, but to them.'"

I've never been the type of person to do New Year's Resolutions, mainly because most times I fail at them and then feel guilty. But, this one hit home with me and so I spent 2015 telling those I love why I love them. Most of the time it was in the form of a social media post because I wanted other people to know what I saw in someone else.

Do you realize how rare it is for people to hear words of affirmation spoken to them these days? We live in a day in which people rarely take the time to truly stop and listen to your answer to "how are you?" and most people have no idea the pain or elation that is just below the smile that is plastered onto someone's face. Can I encourage you to read the above article and then spend 2016 incorporating your words of love to others? If you are like me and don't do New Year's Resolutions, do this one. Take 5 minutes to have a conversation with someone and tell them how much you love them. If you are like me, and words come better from your fingers than your voice, take 5 minutes to type up how much they mean to you.

I have now lost several people too soon without getting to tell them exactly what I saw in them and how much I loved them, and I would give anything to go back in time so they know exactly how much I love them. I am determined to never let someone close to me pass away without knowing they were loved. I will be living this out in 2016, hopefully even more than I did in 2015.

So Happy New Year friends! May you fully love those around you and cherish each moment you are given. I leave you with these words from the above article.

"Friend, there are people around you who need to see the full contents of your heart, now. They deserve the blessing of  knowing that they matter, today."

Sunday, December 6, 2015

ASPCA Kids: Rescue Readers Review

One of our absolute favorite things around our house is books. It seems like we always have a bookshelf overflowing with books, in almost every room, and the girls are always requesting us to get more. I would gladly have rooms full of books as I believe reading is a gift.

When Moms Meet gave me the opportunity to review the ASPCA Kids: Rescue Readers found here, I jumped on it because I just knew these would be books that my kids would love. These books combine two things they love: reading and animals.

I wasn't wrong! When these came in the mail, my kids went crazy wondering which book they could claim as theirs. There was a chapter book for Zoelle, and several learning to read books (Level 2) for Meridian and Xiomara. There were also a few other style books that I'm going to kind of vaguely mention here as I believe they will be given as Christmas gifts (shhhh).

Studio Fun, in partnership with the ASPCA (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), has published a children's book series, ASPCA kids: Rescue Readers. Each story is inspired by a real-life animal rescue story from the pet's point of view and includes facts and photographs of the actual pet that inspired the story. This particular part was our favorite part, as it made us relate to the story more.

The importance of care, protection, and love of animals is incorporated into each tale with a focus on the joyous outcome. I love that 4-5% of the purchase price of every book goes directly to the ASPCA to help continue its mission. This means they support what they are writing about!

If you are looking for some good reading books to give as gifts this Christmas, I highly suggest checking these books out. Make sure you visit their Facebook page to learn more.

I received this product for free from the sponsor of the Moms Meet program, May Media Group LLC, who received it directly from the manufacturer. As a Moms Meet blogger, I agree to use this product and post my opinion on my blog. My opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of May Media Group LLC or the manufacturer of this product.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Good Intentions {Summer Recap}

In my mind I planned a whole blog post on how I had good intentions on keeping up this blog over the summer, and then I realized that is a complete lie. In fact, I had one intention this past summer: to enjoy it. And enjoy it I did. My tan skin is a testament to the fact that I spent the good majority of it outside either playing with my kids, reading a good book, or watching my kids play. I honestly don't think I've enjoyed a summer like I have this one since I was a kid.

When people ask what we did this summer, I honestly don't know how to respond, because we didn't do much. We went on one camping trip. We intended on going on more, but one is all that worked out. We hit up the local swimming pool, we went to our county fair, we even made it to the State Fair, and we ended up doing a few more of our regular summer activities. Otherwise, we hardly left home, instead choosing to spend the summer in our Intex Swimming Pool, riding bike, hiking through the woods, and listening to as much music as possible. I let my house go a bit, I let the laundry pile up, and it was wonderful. It was probably the most stress free I have ever been since I had kids, and I loved every minute of it. Remember last summer how my neighbor mentioned he could hear me yelling? I didn't want a repeat of that this summer, so I intentionally chose to keep my summer as stress free as possible and didn't put requirements on myself or the kids. I wanted to read a lot this summer, and so I did. I wanted to introduce the girls to various musicians, and so we did. I wanted to sit and soak up the sun, so we did. I took them on walks through the woods, down our road, and we sat outside marveling about how lucky we are to live here. I may have yelled a time or two, but I know that if I ran into my neighbor again, he would probably say he heard laughter this summer. Which is exactly what I wanted it to be.

Intentions....they can put a lot of pressure on us, and this summer I chose to be wise with my intentions and expectations. Did stuff get put aside until later because of it? Absolutely! This winter, I'm going to have my work cut out for me organizing our basement and our toy room (yikes). But winter is a good time for it, because it's cold and dark outside. Did my house sometimes go weeks without cleaning? Yep, but it's still standing and I even managed to clean it yesterday and it was just fine.

Interestingly enough I managed to get through summer almost completely on my own. Chris' business has picked up enough to the point of him working not only all day, but also late into the evening. This is wonderful for us financially, but a big change on our family with the absence of Chris. Thankfully he is finding some great employees to take over the evening work, but for the majority of this summer it has been Chris working all day into the evening and me figuring out how to parent alone. I was, and in many ways, still am exhausted. Which is why I am so glad I didn't force myself to do more this summer, but instead just chose to enjoy it.

So like always, our summer flew by and before we knew it fall was here. If I could have summer all year long I would. I love warm weather, I love the sun, and I love the stress free life of just enjoying summer. I'm always sad when summer comes to a close, but this summer I can say I enjoyed it fully!

How was your summer? Have you gotten into the swing of fall yet?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

On Our 12th Anniversary {A Love Letter to My Husband}

In the words of one of your favorite singers, Ed Sheeran

"Loving can hurt, loving can hurt sometimes"

In 12 years, we have said and done things that have hurt. Sometimes even hurt deeply. That first year of marriage that we thought we never would survive. We threw insults and jabs at each other as if they didn't matter, yet they did, they hurt deeply. The year we had our first baby and realized that if we were going to make it, we had to work as a team. I drove away from you once with our baby safely tucked into her carseat. I was determined that I just couldn't work at our marriage anymore, it hurt too much to love deeply and work so hard and not have it be perfect. That time I was a jerk and hurt you so much I truly wasn't sure our marriage was going to survive.

Yes, I would say Ed is correct that loving can hurt.

"When it gets hard, you know it can get hard sometimes"

Every time I hear that lyric, I tear up. When you are standing in the front of a church staring into each other's eyes with the most love you think you will ever have for each other, it is easy to think that life will never get hard.

Until it does.

No one tells you the struggles you will have. There have been times we truly were not sure how we were going to pay that next bill that was due, or even if we would have enough food to put on the table. No one sits down and explains to you what it means to own your own business, and the sacrifices it will take to make that business succeed. No one tells you about that lost baby that felt like every dream inside you was dying. No one would tell you that for 7 months straight you would sink down into a deep depression and cry everyday for your daughter's loss that is just too great.

"Loving can heal. Loving can mend your soul."

Yet there you were, and still are, with your arms wrapped tightly around me just letting me grieve. Through the tears, the depression, and the anger you have been here. Mending a bit of my broken soul each day. Your love for me has healed so much of my broken.

"I swear it will get easier."

We've seen life get hard and easier throughout our 12 years. It is like the ebb and flow of the ocean. I have no doubt the days ahead will be hard, but 12 years in, I know that the easier will follow the hard.

"And if you hurt me that's ok, baby, only words bleed"

How I have hurt you these past years, and I am sure your heart has bled, just as mine has when you have hurt me, but....

"And I won't ever let you go"

No matter what, neither of us is willing to let the other go. When I think of this lyric, I think of hanging on to a board in the ocean, refusing to let go even as you are pulled into the strong current, because when you let go of the other, you drown. Drowning isn't an option.

"Inside the necklace you got when you were 16, next to your heartbeat where I should be."

For my 18th birthday, you got me a Kmart special on a tanzanite and diamond heart necklace, because you knew how much I loved tanzanite. That cheap little necklace has sat next to my heart off and on since that day. I wore it on our wedding day because even though it isn't worth a thing to anyone else, it means something to me knowing that you bought it when you had not a dime to your name.

"We keep this love in this photograph. We made these memories for ourselves. Where our eyes are never closing, our hearts were never broken, times forever frozen still."

12 years Christer. 12 years of photographs that show the memories and love we have for each other. Time and love frozen still in hundreds of photographs taken throughout the years. Photographs don't show the hard times, the are we going to make it times, the heartbreak of loss, or the anger of yesterdays gone by.

But those photographs show love. The love of two broken people who joined together on a warm August day and became one. 12 years later, we have three beautiful daughters who are here because of our love for each other. We have a little home that is still filled with hopes and dreams, they just keep changing through years. We have each other.

Thank you for always loving me. For never leaving me 11 years ago like you maybe should have, or any of the other times since. For proving to me my life phrase of "What is done in love, is done well."

I love you, Christer! Happy 12th Anniversary!

*Words in italics are the words to Ed Sheeran's song Photograph, which you can listen to here.

Monday, July 6, 2015

On Your 5th Birthday (A Letter to Xiomara)

Happy 5th birthday to our always smiling, compassionate, gymnastics loving, full of life, happy, animal loving, and still my baby girl Xiomara Marie.

5. I am not handling 5 well at all darling! I keep staring at this picture thinking there is no way you are that grown up! What happened to my baby?!? Meanwhile, you have been counting down this day for weeks. Planning it out in your mind with a thousand different things you want to do today. That describes your personality so well! Just a desire to live your life to the fullest in all you do. But I just can't wrap my head around the fact that you are now one whole hand. How is it that the teeny tiny baby we met on a hot day in Georgia is now this vivacious little girl who captures the hearts of all around her?

This year has been a growing year, both physically and emotionally. Not only have you gotten taller, but you have grown up emotionally. You match Meridian in height now, and because you are so close in age to you sister, you like to do everything she does. Last year you felt like so much of a baby, but this year you grew up before our very eyes. You talk like a big girl now, you are completely out of diapers during the day (we still are working on those nights), you sit for school like a big girl. You also proudly just lost your first tooth! Part of me looks at you and wishes I could have my baby back, but the other part of me is so proud of the big girl you have become. I am thankful that you still love to snuggle with your mama and even though I try so hard to get you to stop sucking your thumb, that thumb reminds me you are still little.

This past year you got to do preschool in homeschool with mama. You were so proud of yourself for sitting down at the table each day and doing your school work. I'll never forget how excited you were when you figured out you could write your whole name by yourself. School was slow going, but I remind myself you are only in preschool. We are not in a rush and being that you are a summer birthday, you will be in preschool once again next year.

At 5, yellow is your favorite color! You don't get really get dressed in the morning. Instead, you wake up and either put on a swimsuit or a dress up dress and that is all we see you in the rest of the day. You live and breathe gymnastics! You don't just walk around, but instead go around the house doing cartwheels, round-offs, and any other gymnastic move you can think of. Everyday you ask me if today is a gymnastics class day. You grab my iPad, put on a song and do gymnastics moves to the whole thing. You have so much talent in gymnastics little girl. Remember that talent comes from God, and you have an opportunity to use that talent for good. If you aren't doing gymnastics, you are outside playing with our chickens, dog, or cats. You LOVE animals and have a gentleness with them that I have never seen before. When you grow up you tell me you want to be a gymnastics person like Gabby Douglas, or you want to be a Vet and work on animals. You are a definite people person! You thrive on engaging with others. You have this amazing and unique ability to connect with others and put a smile on their face with your vibrant, joyful personality! You also have a compassionate heart for the hurting, whether it be hurt animals or hurting people, you reach out to them with your whole heart. I have seen you this past year go on adventure hikes around our yard, or play quietly by yourself with your Legos. You have quite the imagination that I've enjoyed seeing emerge this year. Your favorite food is pizza. I hope I never forget about how you make sure everyone knows about your one special curl and no one can ever cut that! It is an adorable curl!

Please note her one special curl that goes in front of her eye. She loves it!

I know this past year you have been forced to grow up faster than either of us would have liked. No 5 year old should have to face the kind of loss you have faced this past year in losing your birthmama. I'm so sorry honey. If I could take that pain from you, I would. I know and love how much you love her. She will always be special to you no matter how much time passes. I will also always remind you of the words she told me on that July day when she lovingly handed you to me, "Always love her no matter what, and please never let her forget that I love her". You are a blessed little girl Xiomara. So many people love you so much and I still feel amazed that I get to be your mama. I love you and Happy 5th Birthday sweetheart!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Nogii Review

We are a gluten free family which is actually way easier of a lifestyle to live than most people think. The only area where I sometimes struggle is trying to find easy on-the-go snack foods. Veggies and fruits are often a staple in our house. However, sometimes when I am in a hurry, I really wish I could find an easy, healthy protein bar.

Then I found NoGii and I seriously am so impressed with them that I will for sure be buying them in the future! Created by Elisabeth Hasselback, NoGii is a line of certified gluten-free protein bars, protein powders, and paleo bars. Made with sustainably sourced, premium ingredients, NoGii bars have an ideal balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, and do not contain any trans fat, hydrogenated oils, or high fructose corn syrup.

Moms Meet sent us a box of various flavors from Nuts About Tropical Fruit (Paleo Bar), Chocolate Mint, Nuts About Berries (Paleo Bar), Nuts About Nuts (Paleo Bar), Chocolate Peanut Butter Caramel Crisp, Whey & Quinoa Protein, and more! Our girls LOVED the Paleo Bars. I unfortunately cannot eat the Paleo bars as I am allergic to nuts, but my husband and girls said they were so good! I did try some of the other bars though and I was very impressed. In the future, I would love to see a Paleo bar without nuts (I know, probably pretty unlikely) but I would love more protein bar options without sugar that I can eat too.

To learn more about NoGii, make sure you follow their social media pages by checking out their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

I received this product for free from the sponsor of the Moms Meet Program, May Media Group LLC, who received it directly from the manufacturer. As a Moms Meet blogger, I agree to use this product and post my opinion on my blog. My opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of May Media Group LLC or the manufacturer of this product.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Stitch Fix #4 {Review}

Time has seemingly gotten away from me as my girls have gotten older and busier. This makes it hard for me to find time to shop. It also is a little know fact that I hate shopping! There is something about standing in front of a mirror, with those awful fluorescent lights that makes me cringe and not want to look at every single flaw I have in that all too big mirror. I prefer to try those clothes on at home....enter Stitch Fix. Stitch Fix is a style service where after filling out a detailed style profile, a personal shopper picks out 5 items for you, you keep what you like and send the rest back in a postage paid envelope. You do pay a $20 styling fee, but it is applied towards your final order.

Since I'm getting caught up around my blog, this was a Stitch Fix I received last fall. For this Stitch Fix, I specifically asked for cute jeans and some more fall type outfits.

Item #1: Mystree Redford Striped French Terry Zip-Up Cardigan: $28

I'm really into cardigans, especially for our long fall/winters. I feel like they can be paired with so much and look really cute. I initially wasn't sure what I thought of this one. For one, the sleeves were white and I have young kids. Plus, it zipped up and I typically prefer to have loose fitting cardigans. However, all my hesitations faded once I tried it on. This is the softest, most quality material I have ever owned. Absolutely amazing! Plus, it looks adorable on (trust me this isn't the best picture of me in it, but it really does). After realizing I had a $20 credit to use, this was an absolute keep!

Item #2: Market and Spruce Pegah Striped Long Sleeve Shirt: $48

Oh how I loved this shirt! It was cute, comfortable, and really nice quality! The only thing holding me back is that I have a ton of clothes that are navy and white striped, including the zip-up cardigan I was about to keep. I just couldn't justify keeping this one too.

Item #3: Kensie Jeans Kaleigh Ankle Biter Skinny Jean: $88

I pulled these jeans out of my box and just gasped! I LOVED them! Plus, they actually fit when I put them on, which isn't very easy to do on my curvy bottom. An added bonus was that these things were comfortable! Soft, good quality, and such a great fit. There were only two things holding me back, the color and the price. I really liked the color, but wasn't sure I would get as much wear out of them as I would a typical jean color. I was fine paying the price on something I am going to get a lot of wear out of, but these probably would not be worn daily. I passed on these, and to this day, I still regret it. I may be trying to put in a request for these sometime this next fall.

Item #4: Collective Concepts Melandry Dot Print Button-Up Blouse: $34

This shirt was so adorable! Especially when paired with the cute pants! However, I didn't quite feel comfortable with the fit being a bit flowy. For the price I would rather have found a shirt I loved and this just didn't fit that this time.

Item #5: Market and Spruce Breyson Split-Neck Tab-Sleeve Knit Top: $48

This was the only item of this Fix that I just didn't care for. It seemed to fit me all wrong and I just could not get it right. Should have those sleeves been buttoned like that? Or were they supposed to go down? The material was also rather thin, and I want quality right now. I loved the color, but again, I am being picky on what I'm keeping and what I'm not right now, so this was a pass.

While I only kept one item out of this Stitch Fix, I have gotten lots of use out of it, and I love it! My only regret is getting rid of those gorgeous jeans. After looking at my fall/winter wardrobe I decided to take a break from clothes shopping until the spring! So watch for another Stitch Fix review coming up as I have already gotten a box! If you are looking to expand your wardrobe, I highly suggest you to give Stitch Fix a try! If you'd like, I would love to have you use my referral link and then please come back and share with me your thoughts on Stitch Fix!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

On Your 6th Birthday (A Letter to Meridian)

Happy 6th birthday to our ringlet curled, wide-eyed, quiet, plays by herself, sweet with a bit of spunk, dreamer, and snuggle bug Meridian Piper.

Oh my goodness, how in the world are you 6 years old?!? It seem unfathomable to me that the same little baby who came so quickly and unexpectedly into this world is becoming a little girl rather than the baby you once were. I remember so many nights and days walking countless hours trying to get you to sleep. I guess some things don't change being that you were our earliest one to quit napping and you still ask that daddy snuggle with you each night. I'm pretty sure daddy wouldn't have it any other way as all too soon you will be too grown up for snuggles. It doesn't happen as often anymore, but sometimes you come to our bed in the middle of the night, just to snuggle your daddy and mama. You LOVE snuggling and you are the best at finding me during the day just to get a little snuggle, or to give me a kiss and then you go back to playing. You have even nicknamed yourself the kissie monster.

This year you have started copying everything Zoelle does. When Zoelle requested eggs, hashbrowns, and bacon for her birthday breakfast, you requested the same. We were finally able to convince you to try something different, so this morning we enjoyed French Toast Bake with you. Zoelle got to go out to eat for her birthday, so you have to go out to eat for your birthday too. Sometimes I wish your birthday was just a little further apart from Zoelle's so you felt the freedom to do your own thing. I'm sure that will come in time. You have yet to lose a tooth and Zoelle already had by now, so you think you should too.

This past year you have done Kindergarten in homeschool. It has been slow going because you are such a dreamer and sometimes school is hard to do with a little sister around. The main thing you have wanted to learn this year is how to read. You were getting a little sad a few months ago that you hadn't read like Zoelle yet. I decided to let you try Bob books and you were amazed and so proud of yourself that you could actually read! My plan is to work a little more diligently on reading with you this summer. Being in Kindergarten meant that you got to be a part of our local community choir. Most of your concert was spent staring at other kids and when I asked you if you sing pretty during your class, you told me, "Well sometimes I just stare out the window at the trees mama and forget all about singing." That describes you so perfectly I had to laugh! Always my dreamer. You love playing piano and I was surprised at how natural it has come to you. You sit down and practice and remind me to always give you a piano lesson. You also quietly sing through each song you play. Speaking of singing, it seems that is something that just comes naturally to you. You aren't loud, but you listen and I often catch your eye in the car as you sing along to a song on the radio.

At 6, purple is still your favorite color! You still care about every single outfit you wear. Whether that be a play outfit, or a good outfit, you have to pick it out. This year seems to be the year of the dresses. If it isn't a fancy dress, you pout and argue with me to get your way. Sometimes I'm convinced this little side of you comes out just so we can notice you. Being in the middle is hard especially when you are naturally laid back. I often tell daddy how thankful I am for my Meridian in the middle. No matter what, you are calm and quiet. We aren't sure but your eyes may just be turning green, or maybe hazel like daddy's. You have a love for your ringlet curls and take pride in them. Your biggest worry is that someone will cut them off, but I can assure you sweetie that mama will not do that as I love them too. Your favorite food is pizza. You love playing with Lego Friends. You love to use your imagination and I often find you quietly using your imagination to play. You can play for hours by yourself, or you can play nicely with others. That is a good trait to have sweetie.  This year you and Xiomara have become buddies and play together constantly. There are sometimes fights, but most of the time you two are best friends. During Xiomara's naptime, you love to talk to our chickens. You take them on walks through the woods and talk quietly to them the whole time. When you grow up you want to be a nurse and help other people.

I have this vivid memory from a few hours after your birth in which daddy had gone out for breakfast and it was just you and I. We snuggled and I remember you just stared at me while I cooed to you and told you how much I loved you. This past year, I felt that same connection with you again. You have always been a daddy's little girl and I've always felt a bit sad that you didn't want to spend as much time with mama as you did daddy. However, sending Zoelle to school and being home with me helped me connect with you. I love sitting together and snuggling. I love watching you use your imagination as you play. You give the best backrubs ever! My favorite time spent with you Rinnie is in all the little moments put together. You ooze sweetness in everything you do and I love that sweet spirit in you. I love hearing your little scratchy laugh, and the "Uh huh" you answer in a cute little voice. The joy in my day is when you tell me, "I love my mama" and then go on to the rest of your day. Goodness, sweet little girl you melt my heart and I love you!! Please don't grow up too fast this year. Happy 6th birthday!

Monday, May 18, 2015

On Your 8th Birthday (A Letter to Zoelle)

Happy 8th Birthday to our blue-eyed, blonde hair, kind, hilarious, it has to be fair, passionate, and sensitive Zoelle Grace!

You are 8 today! 8 years ago you were this teeny tiny baby in my arms and we were learning how this whole parenting thing worked, while you were figuring out how this whole world thing worked. Kind of crazy isn't it? You will always hold a special place in my heart as the girl who made me mama. I'm convinced God specifically gave us the middle name of Grace to give to you because you are one of the most gracious, kind, forgiving little girls I know. Being you are our first, we've made a thousand mistakes with you, but you are always willing to extend grace. I love that about you.

This year is the first year you won't be home with mama on your birthday. You looked at the calendar months in advance to figure that out and there were tears shed from both of us when we realized your birthday fell on a Monday. The awesome thing is I get to take you to lunch, and I'm going to pick you up from school because I want to spend every second of your birthday with you that I can! I'm bummed it will be cold and rainy, but we will still have fun.

Zoelle made this in school a few months ago and it perfectly describes her!

This past year I've watched you change into less of a little girl and more into the pre-teen you are soon to be. Instead of that making me sad, I'm super proud of you. While I know you miss me each and everyday, you have really enjoyed going to school and it has helped you become "you" outside of who you are with mama. The kids at school love you and often wait for you in the morning to go into the classroom. You have a confidence about who you are that I hope you never lose. Most of all you treat others with kindness. I'm not sure I've seen a more empathetic and kind heart than yours. I think it is often your sensitive spirit that gives you such a kindness in your heart.

Each day you come home and spend hours curled up on the couch reading. Reading is still definitely your thing. You love to sing and play piano. In fact, we often find hidden videos on our phone of your sweet crystal clear voice singing a song just for us. When you get caught, you just giggle. You have the best giggle. Oh goodness, it makes me smile. You love to make people laugh and so you often tease me, or tell me jokes and I love hearing you laugh and laughing with you. What a joy it is to be your mama. You still take violin lessons but you aren't sure you want to take them next year because violin is hard work and it can be frustrating. I sure do love listening to you play so I'm hoping I can keep you interested still next year. You have your sights set on trying gymnastics this coming year and go around the house doing cartwheels whenever you can.

At 8, you have definitely chosen green to be your favorite color, but you still assure me that you like blue too. Your favorite food is pizza because "Mmmm, pizza is sooooo good mom!". You love to play outside, especially if I play with you too. The trampoline is a favorite of yours. Last summer you were a little fish and swam every second you could. You sometimes like to play with your sisters, but most of the time they just get in your stuff and make you mad. Your favorite thing to do is doing science experiments and you beg me each day to make a mess at the kitchen table just so you can learn more (I need to get better at saying yes to them as I love watching you learn). You like to help cook and bake. Sometime in February of this year, we noticed your hair went from wavy to curly and you aren't sure you like it that way because it is now easily knotted in the back. When you grow up you want to be a doctor, but you aren't exactly sure which kind yet. I always tease you that you would make a great lawyer as you fight for what is fair. Keep fighting for justice sweetheart because you will do great things.

My favorite moments spent with you Z are late at night when you sneak into our room because you just couldn't sleep, or you have me curl up next to you in your bed and we just talk. You LOVE to talk! I could listen to you for hours. You are expressive and I love watching your beautiful eyes light up as you tell me a story. Tonight, I snuggled into you as you read just one more chapter before it was bedtime, and I just watched you. I asked you, "Zoelle will you snuggle me like this when you are 18?" "Yes, of course I will mama", you say. "How about when you are 30?" I ask, and you answer, "I will probably always want to snuggle you and play with your hair mama." You always can sweet girl, you always can.

You are beautiful little girl, on the inside and out. I am so proud of you. I can't wait for the years to come with you, but for now I'll enjoy you still as my little 8 year old girl. Happy birthday sweetie!

Monday, May 4, 2015

End of the School Year

We are finally in the final countdown of school days. I believe we are somewhere in the teens now as far as number of school days left. That made me realize that I never did an update on how my precious big girl is doing in public school this year.

If you remember, this year we decided to send Zoelle to public school rather than homeschool her. I still am homeschooling the two younger girls. The little girls (as I like to call them) deserve their own post on homeschooling, so this post is just an update on Zoelle only.

After much prayer we decided to send Zoelle to public school this year. It was an extremely difficult decision and one that put me into a bit of a depression. I missed my big girl! I missed her asking me a thousand questions, snuggling up to me as we read a book, and I even missed her fighting either with me or the little girls. :) I especially missed teaching her. That was an incredibly hard part of sending her to school that I was not expecting.

Zoelle has seemingly adjusted well to school. She had a hard first few days in which leaving me was very tough, especially with the girls still here. Her least favorite thing is to ride the bus home. I don't really care for it either, but living out in the country, and having a little one who takes a nap each day, I don't really have another option. After a little bus mishap on the first day in which she was SO quiet the bus driver missed her stop and didn't drop her off until an hour later, all has gone well. It is a long ride, but she has started to bring books with on her ride and she LOVES to read and has told me many times she has almost missed her stop just from getting lost in a book.

Neither she or I are huge fans of test days! In fact today is one of them, and I had a little girl who was nervous all weekend for this huge state test today and Wednesday of this week. Z is a bit of a perfectionist and tends to naturally want to please people, so tests are very important to her. We have worked very hard on not emphasizing the test part, but rather just reminding her to work her very hardest. In fact, in all past tests, she has done completely fine and really has nothing to worry about. The only other thing I don't care for is the amount of papers that come home with Z each day. This isn't homework, but rather class work they have done. I am convinced they could save 1,000 trees per kid with the amount of paper that comes home!

One of my biggest concerns sending her was my own personal worry that I somehow failed her as a mom/teacher and that she wouldn't be caught up with her class. However, my worry was also unnecessary as she has done completely fine. Her strong suites are math and reading, which always were strong at home. She could work on her artistic side a bit, and her handwriting (both things I struggle with too).

The only other thing that I miss her being able to do, is study wholeheartedly whatever comes to her mind. In the past, Zoelle would read something or hear about something and decide she wanted to study it in detail. I LOVED doing that with her and I LOVED how much she learned from studying something she wanted to learn about. While she doesn't get the chance to really do much of that at school, we do try and study as much as we can at home if there is something she is wanting to learn about.

I have had zero complaints about sending her this year. I think in large part that has to do with her amazing teacher! She has been so good for Zoelle and has a perfect balance of knowing when to push her a bit more and when to offer grace. One of Zoelle's biggest fears in going to school is her intolerance of gluten to the point where she breaks out or struggles to breathe if she has had it. Her teacher has been more than willing to work with me and Zoelle and it has relieved a lot of stress for both of us.

Going to school has also helped Zoelle come out of her shell a bit. This isn't to bring up the debate of homeschoolers and lack of socialization. My kids are very well socialized as we attend a number of things such as choir, violin, library time, church, etc. each week. Instead, this has helped Zoelle become her own person apart from me or her sisters. She used to solely rely on me or her sisters while in public, but now willingly talks to people. It has been very fun for me to see her become this strong, confident, young lady.

One of the greatest compliments came to me when I was taking her to school one morning instead of her dad (side note: why is it that anytime I take her to school, I tear up as I drop her off?). One of the school employees stopped me to tell me how incredibly kind, sweet, and respectful Zoelle is to other people each day. She made my day. While I want my kiddos to be smart, up to par with others, etc. more than anything else I want them to treat others with love and respect.

So with all that said, we will for sure be sending Zoelle to school next year, right? Actually, I'm not sure. We have committed each year to take it on a year by year basis and pray about it before we make any decisions. So we will do just that! If you ask Z, she will tell you she wants to be homeschooled. She missed me and it isn't fair the girls get to be home and she doesn't (her exact words). However, she will then tell you she kind of wants to go to school too and she likes the constant learning and schedule (she thrives on schedule). So there you go! I fully believe God will give us an answer in the correct time!

P.S. I was playing around with my camera one day while Z hung out with me and I was able to get all these sweet pictures of my girl. I just love her eyes!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Organic India Review

I'm always on the look out for healthy supplements that I can include in my diet. When I recently was offered to try Organic India from Moms Meet, I decided to give them a try. Organic India's mission is to provide wellness for all by offering 100% organic, pure, and natural products. Organic India also strives to create a sustainable global environment by working with thousands of family farmers in India on tens of thousands of acres of certified organic farmland. The company actively promotes sustainable agriculture and pays these farmers premium prices for their crop. Keeping all that in mind, I was very excited to try a product like this.

I was sent Organic India's Moringa Leaf Powder, Organic India Infusion Bags, and Organic India Capsules to try.

Moringa is considered one of the most complete, nutrient-dense plants on Earth, containing over 90 nutrients, 46 antioxidants, and abundant minerals. Daily use of Moringa as a dietary supplement can help restore nutritional imbalances.

I was probably most hesitant to try the leaf powder as I don't care for tea, perhaps I just don't know how to properly prepare tea in leaf powder form. I always feel it is stronger this way and has more of a bitter taste. I tried it and still didn't care for it that much but didn't think it was awful either.

Next, I tried the 3 different infusion bags I received. I received Tulsi Moringa, which is Stress-Relieving & Nourishing; Tulsi Cinnamon Rose, which is Stress-Relieving & Healing; and I received Tulsi Original, which is Stress-Relieving & Energizing. While not a huge tea drinker, I do enjoy tea but prefer coffee on most days. However, I loved the Cinnamon Rose blend and felt it really uplifted me. This will be something I will regularly drink.

Finally, I decided to try the three different capsule supplements I received. I received Tumeric Formula, which is for healthy inflammation response; Moringa, which is for essential nutrition; and Joy, which lifts mood. I have done a lot of research and learning on the benefits of taking Tumeric  for inflammation each day, or using it in your food. However, I can never seem to handle it that is until I tried the capsule form. This was amazing and I can't wait to continue use of it! While I enjoyed Moringa, I didn't notice a huge difference. I did however, love the Joy one. I've been in a bit of a down slump lately and I felt it really did uplift my spirits.

You can sprinkle Moringa on anything! Soups, smoothies, over salads, etc. This is a real easy and fun way to even get your children to take it! It is also USDA Certified Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, Kosher and Halal certified, gluten free, and vegan. Overall, I was pleased with my Organic India products and feel like I could easily recommend them to other people.

To learn more go to Organic India's website, Facebook, or Twitter.

I received this product for free from the sponsor of the Moms Meet Program, May Media Group LLC, who received it directly from the manufacturer. As a Moms Meet blogger, I agree to use this product and post my opinion on my blog. My opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of May Media Group LLC or the manufacturer of this product.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

SweetLeaf Organic Stevia® Sweetener Review

About a year ago I decided to try and start cutting sugar out of my life. I haven't always been the best about it, but I started small (well actually big for me) by cutting it out of my morning coffee. If you know me at all, you know that was a huge thing for me. I tried going to straight black coffee, but I just couldn't do it after training myself for years of drinking coffee with my sugar. So I switched to honey, and amazingly enough it has worked well for me. However, I've been doing a little reading over the past few months about how honey still affects blood sugar and I kept hearing about stevia. I've tried it a little bit here and there, but never fully tried using it.

When I was given a chance to review SweetLeaf Organic Stevia Sweetener from Moms Meet, I was excited to see if I would notice a difference at all. I liked that it is a certified organic, zero-calorie sweetener made from high-quality stevia leaves. I've done enough research in the past on stevia to know that this is not always the case. I liked that you can use it to sweeten pretty much anything, hot or cold, even roasted chicken or turkey! Being it contains no artificial ingredients, calories, carbohydrates, or glycemic response, it makes it perfect for managing blood sugar or calorie intake.

I'll admit, I wanted to use it in baking but I just don't make enough sweets and so I never got around to trying it. I did however try it in my beloved coffee. I was super nervous doing so, but was pleasantly surprised that it tasted good. It still probably would not be my first choice, as I feel that stevia has an aftertaste that I cannot seem to get around no matter what. Overall, especially if I was wanting to be more health conscious, I would definitely use it. I'm looking forward to having some time to try it in baking in the future.

Make sure you check out their website and Facebook page for more information, including some great recipes on cooking with SweetLeaf Organic Stevia Sweetener.

I received this product for free from the sponsor of the Moms Meet Program, May Media Group LLC, who received it directly from the manufacturer. As a Moms Meet blogger, I agree to use this product and post my opinion on my blog. My opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of May Media Group LLC or the manufacturer of this product.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

When Love Doesn't Look Like the Movies

I'm a hopeless romantic....I can't help it. Once a year, I have to watch Anne of Green Gables and somehow even though I know Anne chooses Gilbert Blythe in the end, I have to see it for myself. The same goes for Pride & Prejudice. I have to watch it just to make sure Elizabeth chooses Mr. Darcy in the end. The part in You've Got Mail in which Joe Fox comes over to a sick Kathleen Kelly's house and helps tuck her into bed, it gets me every single time.

Darn those Hallmark movies around Christmas and Valentine's Day too, because there I am clutching Kleenex in my hand at the oh-so-expected ending of the good guy ending up with the good girl.

Even though I know that each of those movies ends the same way, with the guy kissing the girl, I can't help but smile.

It seems so perfect.

The reality is, the books and movies never tell you what happens after that kiss. They leave you thinking he is perfect for her and that it will all be amazing in the years to come. A part of me always wonders if that is how it really is, but the other part of me already knows.

I know that there are tough times following the wedding. Days in which you wonder if you made the right decision to marry so young, or even to marry him. Nights in which you storm out of the house with your keys in your hand and refuse to answer the phone when he calls looking for you. But that first anniversary comes and you breathe a tiny sigh of relief, you have made it this far, you can probably make it another year, right?

Hollywood doesn't tell you that you won't see each other for four years as you both commit to finishing your college degrees and working on the side. That those times apart will practically rip your marriage right out from you. But that you grow up together through it.

They don't show you a positive pregnancy test that you both are ecstatic and nervous over. They don't show the real hard parts of pregnancy in which the girl throws up for 5 months straight, including once in bed much to your husband's surprise. You don't get to see the hard 24+ hour labor in which your hubby, so overwhelmed and scared, stays in a corner of the room cracking jokes, until the reality that his first baby is about to arrive makes him rush to your side. Fifteen months later you don't see the second positive pregnancy test that causes the girl to cry for fear of change and being sick once again. You don't get to see the hilarity of a husband rushing to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning, barely making it in time, and forgetting the camera in the car (which was his only assignment this time around), all to watch baby girl number two enter this world.

Hallmark doesn't tell you about the baby you will lose on a warm March day. They don't show your hubby becoming your rock in that time. They don't show his tears mixing with yours as you grieve together for what may have been. They also don't show you the utter joy and rush of traveling to southern Georgia on a hot July day to add the most beautiful little girl to your family. How you suddenly become a family of 5...just like that.

You don't get to see the financial struggles, business decisions, and everyday battles of trying to raise a family together. You don't get to see the fights on how to discipline your children, who will get up with them when one has a bad dream yet again, and who will clean up the throw up on the carpet (he will in case you are wondering).

The romance stories don't show you how somehow, despite birthing two kids, having a few extra pounds and extra marks on your body, your hubby can get home at the end of a long day and still desire you. How you will laugh with utter abandon at a joke he mumbles, no matter how corny it is. How you will dance in the kitchen together as he sings to you a country love song, country is his thing you know. You don't see the jokes over how cute he thinks Jane Seymour is, or the drawn on Adam Levine picture on your fridge to tease you over your crush on Adam.

The books don't tell you about the heartache that happens in your life in which your hubby's tears run freely with yours as you cry over something that will forever change your family. They don't tell you that he will practically have to force you to eat as you go through a deeper depression than you ever have been in. You don't get to hear the words, "I'm sorry hon, we will get through this together" whispered over the phone as you call him for the thousand time in complete tears not sure how you will make it through another day.

You don't get to see the no-makeup, crazy curly hair, yoga pants, and over sized sweatshirt she wears every single day, and yet he still walks in the door and tells her she is beautiful. You don't get to see the fight over the Valentine candy he brought home for his girls that she doesn't want him to give them because it has food dyes in it, and she is trying to eliminate them from their house. You also don't get to hear the meek, "I'm sorry" whispered later on.

Sigh........those movies and books don't show you much.

They show you the lovey dovey, butterflies in your tummy, new love stage, but they miss all the rest. Which is really too bad, because it is in those horrible, ugly, yet beautiful moments in your marriage, in which true love is born.

They forget that part in the books and movies. I'm glad really. Because no movie can show what true love really is. No book will ever capture completely the journey it takes to get there.

Between all the fights, giggles, heartaches, and utter tiredness, love is born.

Happy Valentine's Day, Christer! Thank you for loving me so well, through the good and the bad. Our love is better than any movie or novel could ever be! I love you!

To learn more of our love story, check out this post celebrating 10 years of marriage.

Monday, January 12, 2015

My Phrase For 2015

2015 is here and I'm just now eking out my first blog post of the new year! Yay me!

I haven't felt the need to blog before now and since blogging is an outlet for me, I don't blog unless I need that outlet or feel led to do so. Since Friday I have felt very strongly that I needed to blog, specifically sharing the phrase I want to live out in 2015.

While some people have a certain word that is their goal for the year, I tend to focus on a phrase.

Last year, I felt SO strongly that I was to live my life out through a quote by Vincent Van Gogh (side note: he has always been my favorite artist).

I never blogged about it, and except for one small post on Valentine's Day via Instagram & then Facebook, no one would have ever known it was my phrase to live by last year. It permeated my life so completely that everything I did with my husband, my kids, my friendships, etc. this phrase was in the back of my mind. And guess what? Although it permeated my thoughts, I often failed it. Miserably.

And that's ok.

Because other times I was hugely successful in this area. In fact, it has stuck with me so much that I am almost positive I will be getting it made into a tattoo, once I figure out where I want to have it placed (suggestions anyone?).

This year, my phrase to live out my life is just for me. Well maybe not just for me, because I'm obviously sharing it here and I'm doing so for a reason: I feel I'm supposed to. I have not idea why. Maybe someone reading this needs to hear this in their own life. Or maybe, I just need to type it out so I'll never forget it and it will ingrain into my mind and my life.

I had this canvas made after wanting this verse over my piano for several years now. It's one of my favorite Bible verses ever because as a musician, who can't imagine her life without singing, the thought of God singing over me makes me smile. It's printed on one of my absolute favorite worship songs (click to listen to song) that has sustained me and given me peace many times over the years.

I know that You are for me
I know that You are for me
I know that You will never
Forsake me in my weaknesses
I know that You have come now
Even if to write upon my heart
To remind me who You are

To have those words hanging over my piano is a sort of declaration that God is for me, for my house, and that no matter what He is sustaining me.

I could think of nothing better than to put my favorite worship song as the backdrop to my favorite Bible verse. I never intended this to become my phrase, in fact I fully had in my mind another phrase for this year, but the more I kept noticing it, the more a certain phrase kept jumping out at me as I played piano, as I walked around my house, and as I went about life.

"He will quiet you with his love"

And I knew it. I knew that was my phrase to live out in 2015. See, I haven't always been quiet. I'm full of opinions and quiet has never been a strong suite of mine. But more than that, I figure maybe I had to learn to love others in 2014 in order to feel myself quieted by God's love in 2015. That phrase brings about peace for me, and if I'm honest, there hasn't been a lot of peace in my life this last year. I find myself getting frustrated with my girls over the smallest things, nit picking my husband over something silly, and criticizing myself (and oh how not quiet we all know that can be).

To be quiet means to be still, to be silent, or to be calm.

All things I desperately could use in my life!

And so, this year I determine to be quieted into His love. To realize that LOVE doesn't have to be loud. 

So here is to a silent, calm, still 2015!

Do you have a phrase, word or goal for 2015? Feel free to share with me in the comments if you do.