2016: A Year in Review

28 December 2016

As I suspected, having June born in January was such a treat for my logical brain, as demonstrated so beautifully by this post. What a treat to watch her grow from a nugget in my belly to the cheerful, funny, sweet little girl she is today in just a few months!

There will never be another year like this one, the year in which we welcomed our first child, and though sometimes that makes me feel like the sobbing emoji… it’s okay. The best is yet to come! Here are a few highlights of this very special year on Em for Marvelous and in our lives.


Well, pretty much the first thing we did in the new year was have a baby!! (Oh yes, I did share my 2016 guideposts and vision board first.) June was born on January 7th, leading me to share “notes” from my hospital stay as well as the meaning of her name. John and I also celebrated our 11th dativersary, and I posted the first of many Marvelous Mama interviews!


I celebrated a very sweet birthday with friends and chocolate raspberry cake in February. June also met her cousin Tegan and the rest of my family – such a wonderful week!! As we rounded out our first six weeks, I shared two more posts with newborn tips and tricks.


The best part of March was celebrating Easter as a family of three! June also got to spend some time wearing matching headbands with her buddy Milly :) Even once John went back to work, I enjoyed every bit of maternity leave, especially our daily afternoon walks around a local lake!


In April, we headed to Charleston for a last hurrah of my leave. We had the best time staying downtown, walking the city, and eating delicious food, all with Junebug in tow! My Mom came to stay with us for three weeks as I transitioned back to work, and we all took a work trip to Atlanta. We also planted our vegetable garden and picked strawberries! I wrote about thanking our postpartum nurses and our baby favorites from the first six weeks.


May brought more work road trips with my Mom and June, including to the fabulous Greenbrier in West Virginia. We also had several visits from family, and we celebrated my first Mother’s Day! I shared my pregnancy book recommendations.


Good golly, look at those rolls!!! June’s first June was more of the same — visitors and road trips, for work and for play. We had the best time in the mountains with the Henrys and clocked a new family record of six trips to our local u-pick blueberry farm in just a few short weeks — one of the best things we made time for all year. You can see much more from this month in the first installment of June’s video series, June in June! :) On EFM, I shared our five month baby favorites and our summer fun list, of which I’m happy to say we accomplished much!


July! What a month! We spent the week of the Fourth on our beloved Island, and despite June’s first terrible cold, it was wonderful. We made another New England road trip just a few weeks later, this time for a friend’s wedding and a week with John’s family in Connecticut. In between, we celebrated that great Southern holiday: Cow Appreciation Day!!


What a treat to spend a week in our hometown in the summer, showing June all of our favorite activities and places from growing up! We had the best, best time. On the blog, I told you about Lisa’s baby shower and a fun date night idea.


The most exciting event in September was our first family camping trip!! We are already itching for the next one! We also enjoyed lots of al fresco meals, neighborhood walks, and playground swings. I shared our eight month baby favorites, all of the articles we’ve read in Articles Club, wisdom from four years of marriage, and we chatted about signature family dishes.


In October, we marveled at the flooding from Hurricane Matthew (June from inside foul weather gear), had lots of family singalongs, spent the weekend in Asheville with my sister and her boyfriend, and donned the foul weather gear again to dress as a lobster, lobsterman, and seaweed for Halloween! Some of my favorite posts were written this month, including three posts on how to slow down time, a favorite home improvement, and the best cooking playlist.


So many celebrations in November, including the magazine launch party, Thanksgiving with family and then again with friends, birthday parties, and more. You all helped me vote on a Christmas card, I shared how we plan our yearly budget, and we talked about Christmas traditions.

And finally, December. We drove overnight to spend ten days in Connecticut with our beloved family, and it was as sweet (and crazy – three cousins under three!) as we could have hoped for.

Friends, thank you for reading. I just love y’all – sharing with you, hearing from you, getting your opinions, and seeing what you’re up to. It is a joy to write here, and I can’t wait to see all the adventures 2017 will hold!

2015 year in review
2014 year in review
2013 year in review
2012 year in review

Christmas Cards 2016

22 December 2016

I know I made the voting difficult on y’all this year, since I presented the options without our final photos. But you voted valiantly regardless, though I have to feel that that switcheroo threw off the final numbers :) In the end, the buffalo check was the definite favorite, with the illustrated “hark the herald” option coming in a solid second. The one we went with? It got a measly five votes (!), but I think you’ll like it when you see it with the photo we chose…


This is the Bright New Life design by Shiny Penny Studio from the darlings at Minted. Our beautiful photo is by Nancy Ray. (Can’t wait to share more from our session soon!) He has brought us light and life in abundance this year, so this design couldn’t have been more perfect for 2016.


Squeezing all of the good stuff from this past year into our newsletter was certainly a challenge, but one that I gladly accepted! So much sweetness packed into twelve months.


On the back, we found a spot for just a couple of newborn photos (you know I had to!), plus a favorite Christmas scripture and a little room for the traditional Thomas family note.


I hope you love them!!

With that, I’m signing off for a few days while we celebrate the holidays with our beloved family! I am sending you all lots of love and wishes for a cozy Christmas filled with delicious food, comfy pajamas, and laughing until your cheeks hurt with the ones you love. I will see you back here next week for my year in review – one of my favorite posts of the year!

P.S. Our cards from 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012!

How we keep Christmas about Christ

20 December 2016

While I very much hope that June grows up thinking of Christmas as magical, happy, and glowing, I hope even more that she always knows WHY we are celebrating — that for our family, Christmas is when we remember that Jesus, God-With-Us, came to live among us as a tiny baby! That can be a hard thing to focus on with all of the trimmings and trappings of the season competing, so I know we will have to be intentional about it as she grows. Here are a few things we’re trying, and I would love to hear ideas from y’all in the comments!


Interpreting the season. Even as we do things that our kids see others doing (buying presents, sending out cards), I want to invite conversation about why we do these things and why they are meaningful to us. For example, we send out a Christmas card to remind people in a personal way of our joy at the birth of our Savior, not JUST to share a cute family photo and update :) I think narratives and the stories we tell ourselves have a lot of power!
Being generous. As many of you know, giving away an amount equal to what we spend on Christmas gifts has been a passion of our family for three years now. It started with one of Adam Hamilton’s sermons where he spoke about the shepherds, and it really stuck with me: “Christmas starts with the poor and the nobodies. I think part of the reason God sent the angels to the shepherds first is because they didn’t have anything to celebrate. Let’s start with them. Let’s invite them to Christmas. We can celebrate every day if we want, and we have lots of reasons to celebrate. But to celebrate Christmas the way God celebrates it, we must start with the poor and the nobodies.” Celebrating with the poor and the nobodies — I hope that’s something our kids always have a heart for. We have a long way to go in this arena, but I think there are some good starter ideas on my list here. We’ve also done Angel Tree gifts and Operation Christmas Child boxes in the past. Though we’ve traditionally given our Christmas gift fund to our church’s Christmas Eve offering, I think it would be fun to decide as a family where we want to give it as our kids get older.
Decorating intentionally. Several of our Christmas decor pieces point directly to the Christmas story, like our Lindsay Letters canvas and our nativity scenes (we have two – one from Willow Tree and one hand-knit by my Aunt Nan!).
Filling our ears with good stuff. In addition to services at our home church, we always love listening to Church of the Resurrection’s December sermons – after all, they’ve radically changed our lives in the past! (See above!). One of our many Christmas playlists on Spotify is reserved for just “sacred” Christmas tunes, too.
Baking a birthday cake. This is an idea from Nancy that I’m excited to try as June gets older. Every year, her family would make a coconut cake on Christmas Eve, light candles, and sing happy birthday to Jesus. I love this, because it’s something that contextualizes Jesus’s birthday in a way kids understand (cake!) AND it’s something that’s undeniably fun (which not all “religious” things are to a kid, let’s be honest).

I also think that keeping Christmas about Christ is sometimes about what you don’t do as much as it’s about what you do, whether that means cutting out particularly commercial things or just paring activities/decorations/traditions/hubbub back in general to make way for quiet, service, and family time.

I would LOVE to hear: if you’re a Christian, how do you keep Christmas about Christ in your heart and home, whether or not you have kids? I’m always looking for ideas for me, too! :)

My favorite Christmas recipes

14 December 2016

I’ve been following along with Victoria’s fun Christmas link-up, and wanted to pop in today to share a few of my favorite Christmas recipes! Though out of the five I’m going to share, all but one is a dessert, or almost a dessert… I promise I do eat real food in December :)

I’ll move from the oldest holiday favorite to the most recent addition, which means starting with peanut butter balls. Possibly the most homely of treats, but my Mom’s are legendary. So much so, that I can’t give you the recipe :) When my sisters and I were in high school, she would make dozens and dozens and dozens to give to friends, family, teachers, mailmen, coworkers, Coast Guard cadets, and anyone else who stopped by and looked hungry. She even made 300 (!!) for our wedding, making batches over the course of a few weeks and freezing them until the big day. Moms are the best.

monkey bread

Every Christmas morning we eat monkey bread – ooey, gooey, possibly slightly raw, always delicious. Here’s our version – no fancy caramel sauce or raisins need apply. Cut four cans of biscuits in quarters. Mix cinnamon and sugar. Shake biscuit quarters in cinnamon sugar. Arrange in a 13×9 pan (better than a bundt pan – helps it to cook more evenly!). Melt some (?) butter and pour over the top. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.


John’s Mom started making chewy chocolate-gingerbread cookies back in high school, and I was immediately hooked (as was the rest of his family). They’ve since become a staple of the holidays, and were also served at our wedding! Bonus: they freeze well, so we usually get to take a container home with us whenever we visit :)


The year we got married, I started making this toffee recipe and handing out the goods to our garbage men, mail lady, post office peeps, oil change guys, etc. – maybe my version of PB balls. June’s teachers have been added to the list this year! It really is delicious, and easy – just follow the peanut butter trick.


Finally, for the last few years, Jenny’s beef ragu has been the centerpiece of all sorts of special occasions, including Christmas dinner 2015 when we hosted John’s family. Aside from being deeeeeelicious, it makes your house smell marvelous.

I would love to hear: what are your favorite Christmas foods? (Almost) all sweets like me, or something more substantial? :)

Linking up with Victoria and Sarah!


Photos from their sources except for monkey bread and ginger cookies (photo by Tanja Lippert from our reception)