A New England nursery for baby boy

21 June 2018

Some of you may recall that June’s nursery was not finished until several months after she was born – ha! Knowing that my life will only get more complicated after baby brother arrives and not less, I’m trying to be a little more on the ball this time around :)

My job is made easier by the fact that the space we have to work with needs to stay simple by necessity. It will be his room, yes, but it’s also going to have our second guest bed in it at least for now, so the “baby” elements will be fairly minimal – basically, a crib. Our glider and changing pad are downstairs in our master bedroom, we keep almost all toys downstairs or in our loft, and you all know how we do kiddo clothing around here!

Still, we basically haven’t touched this room since we moved in (it still has the paint job from the previous owners!), and I’m looking forward to making it a lovely, cohesive space for him AND for guests after five years of living here! The above before photos show what it’s looked like over the years since we moved in – the bottom photo is most recent, taken just before we swapped the queen bed for the full and moved the desk into the loft.

My inspiration for the color palette and style is entirely inspired by the Robert McCloskey book Time of Wonder. I’m not sure how well-known McCloskey is outside of New England — some of his more famous titles include Make Way for Ducklings and Blueberries for Sal — but he is an icon where I’m from, and “Time of Wonder” has always been one of my favorite children’s books. The writing is quite poetic, and the illustrations are gorgeous.

Time of Wonder illustration

To set the tone, we’re framing three spreads from the book, then building out the color palette from there. (I bought a new copy and cut the pages out verrrrrrry carefully.) Since the pages are a custom job, we opted to go with Framebridge for a reasonably-priced option. They’re still an investment, but I imagine us having these in our home for years, hopefully, maybe even in a kiddo bathroom if brother grows out of wanting them in his own room eventualy. We went with their classic gold Richmond frame, and I’m picturing hanging them on the wall above the crib in a row.

Time of Wonder

The room had a chair rail when we moved in, and we plan to keep it, painting the top portion a very pale blue and the bottom a kelly green (!), both drawn from McCloskey’s illustrations. I am hopeful about this, but also concerned it might be too much in such a small room?? Fingers crossed it’s not :) Here are a few inspiration images that are setting me at ease:

From The Makerista, Whaling City Cottage, and Sarah Bartholomew

The crib is a big question mark. We have no desire to move June out of her crib and potentially disrupt her sleep at the same time as we’ll be waking up overnight with a newborn, but I obviously don’t want to spend a ton of money on a second crib. (The good part is that June’s crib was $0 – a hand-me-down from my parents!) I’m thinking we’ll do the white Jenny Lind crib and call it a day.

That leaves soft furnishings. The spread and sheets on the full bed are white, so I’d love to add a bit of coordinating color and pattern with pillowcases, shams, and a blanket, as well as in the sheet on the crib and maybe a crib skirt? Since the bed is against the one window, I think we’ll go with a simple valance for it, hopefully in a fun pattern. We’re also planning to switch out the fan for a New England-y light fixture, since I think the fan hangs way too low for the room.

New England nursery

Pillow from Caitlin Wilson, curtains from West Elm, light fixture from CB2, mobile from Aha

Wish us luck that we can knock all of this out by the end of July :)

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My favorite parenting books

19 June 2018

I feel like it’s trendy right now for people to say that they don’t read or like parenting books… but I unashamedly love them! I think if you don’t like them, you might not be reading the right ones :) Just because I finish a book doesn’t mean I agree with everything in it, but I find it valuable to have my parenting ideas challenged, encouraged, and refined through exposure to other perspectives.

If you’re looking for the good kind of parenting book, I have a few suggestions! In alphabetical order…

favorite parenting books

All Joy and No Fun | You guys are probably sick of hearing about this book, ha! I think the author and I have a similar desire to confront conventional wisdom and some of the “sacred cows” of parenting, and to examine them in a way that empowers parents to chart their own course. The author is also great writer, and the way she weaves together family narratives and hard data will keep you engaged!

Bringing Up Bebe | I will admit that before I read this book I did not have high hopes – it seemed like a kind of “pop parenting” book that might not jive with my style or offer any interesting insight. Boy, was I wrong. Beyond offering a fascinating glimpse into another culture and being (again) very well-written, there were tons of actionable ideas I plucked from Pamela and tucked into my own parenting toolkit.

The Fringe Hours | This book isn’t for just parents — it’s for anyone who struggles with finding time for herself — but I think it’s earned a spot on this list for obvious reasons. Jessica and I are kindred spirits: we both think people should stop saying they’re busy, we like calendars with lots of white space, and we don’t feel guilty about doing things we love. If you like EFM but struggle with these things, you will probably like her book. I wrote about it here, too.

How To Celebrate Everything | For me, one of the most magical parts of being a parent is creating magic for my children. (The secret here — and the beauty — is that kids are so ready to see the magic in everything!) This is by far the best book I’ve read on creating traditions and cultivating a rich family life in the most doable, joyful, real-person way. One of my favorite gifts for new parents!

Last Child in the Woods | This book took awhile for me to get through, but I loved the reminder of how vital our children’s connection to nature is. This is something I already believe in passionately, but I welcomed the reminder to dig in and make this happen despite all the factors that conspire against it! If you dream of your kids growing up in nature but have concerns about how to make that happen, this book is for you.

Last Child in the Woods

The Lifegiving Home | Judging by the sheer number of quotes I saved from this book in my “good words” folder, it’s a slam-dunk inclusion on this list. With four grown children, Sally has actually created the home so many of us desire – one filled with love, joy, meaning, and purpose, that launches children who are confident, kind, full of integrity, and in love with God.

Nurture Shock | This book was fascinating!! In addition to having eyeopening research, I loved the specific and actionable suggestions for all sorts of topics, from encouraging early vocabulary to fostering sibling relationships, cultivating executive function in preschoolers, and arguing with a teen :) This reminded me of Freakonomics or one of Malcolm Gladwell’s books.

The Opposite of Spoiled | I don’t expect John and I will find it difficult to talk about personal finance and generosity with our kids (it is, after all, one of our favorite topics!), but, being extremely practical and action-oriented, this book gave me some new tools for our kit. I took it out of the library, but imagine I’d like to re-read it when our kids are different ages!

Parenting with Love and Logic | If I had to pick one book that most closely aligned with my overall parenting and “discipline” philosophy, it would probably be this one. I love the author’s focus on teaching children responsibility through logical consequences, resulting in kids who are confident and motivated and parents who maintain healthy control, simply. I have recommended this one to SO many people since I’ve read it.

Simplicity Parenting | I found that I already agreed with and intrinsically knew the premise of this book — “the power of less” to raise calmer, happier, and more secure kids — but it was still a worthwhile read. I skimmed a lot of this book (it’s a little repetitive), but was happy for the reminder and encouragement! If you find yourself fighting the temptation to do and be more, more, more as a parent, this could be a great read for you!

The Tech-Wise Family | This easy-to-read but impactful book had me exclaiming “yes!” and reading passages to John all the way through! (In fact, since it’s short and digestible, it’s a great one to encourage your husband to read if you want to start a more open parenting dialogue!) Even as someone who already identifies as fairly anti-technology in terms of parenting, this book expanded my horizons and gave me so many great points to consider.

To Kill a Mockingbird | Yes, my favorite book of all time is partly my favorite because of all the parenting wisdom it imparts! If I had to choose one fictional character to model my parenting after, it would be Atticus. I find a new nugget every time I re-read it.

favorite parenting books

Whew! I think there’s something there for everyone, so happy reading, friends! :) You know I’m never done, so here are a few of the ones next on my list: Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World, French Kids Eat Everything, Screamfree Parenting, Babes in the Woods, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, The Lifegiving Parent, and Hands-Free Mama.

I would love to hear a favorite parenting book of yours in the comments!!

P.S. I am working on a follow-up post to this one that shares bite-size favorite takeaways from some of these books – look for it in the next few weeks! :)

P.P.S. My pregnancy reading recommendations

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Indelible images of my parents

15 June 2018

Sometimes I zoom to the 30,000-foot level of parenting.

From there, I can both look back, to my own memories of childhood, and forward, to what I imagine June might remember from her childhood. It’s a helpful perspective.

One thing I think about is how June might picture me when she thinks back in many years, which reliably leads to me thinking of my own parents. Though I have thousands upon thousands of memories of both my Mom and my Dad, when I think of them in my childhood in moments separate from me, this is what comes to mind first.

Not me or my parents – an adorable photo of John with his Dad :)

Of my Mom:

In the driver’s seat of our minivan, waiting. Usually reading a magazine — Redbook or Ladies Home Journal, later Real Simple. In front of the middle school, waiting to pick me up after a practice or activity. In the parking lot at ballet, waiting for lessons to be over for the day. Waiting – always with a smile on her face when I appeared at the passenger side door.

In the study upstairs, at our desktop computer, playing solitaire and watching General Hospital. This is almost always where I found her when I came home from school, where we did our afternoon debrief.

At the stove. Not so much because she was a passionate chef, but because feeding us was one of her most important daily rhythms. That work led to sitting around the dinner table together, which ranked near the top on the pile of sacred family traditions.

Of my Dad:

In his recliner in the family room, legs stretched out on the footrest, left arm stretched down to stroke the side of our black lab out on the floor beside him. This was his spot, whether reading, correcting papers for his college students, watching golf on a Sunday afternoon, or “resting his eyes.” The approving murmur, soft clap, and gentle accents of golf commentators is as much a part of the soundtrack of my childhood as anything else.

Behind the mower, clad in golf shoes for “aerating the lawn,” a disgusting pair of cut-off jean shorts, and a wide-brim straw hat, glistening from the exertion of traversing our yard under the hot June sun.

Pulling up to our house in his Ford pick-up, stepping from the driver’s seat in his impeccably-crisp Coast Guard uniform. His briefcase in one hand, the last notes of “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys fading from the tape deck, and the joy of being reunited with his family stretched wide across his face.

There are happier moments and sadder ones, ones where my parents yelled at me or nagged me to do something for the one millionth time. I remember those, too. But when I think back on my parents as people, these are the things I remember first.

In every “Living With Kids” feature on her site, Gabby asks her guests what they hope their children remember from their childhood. I don’t know how my parents might answer that question, but I find it powerful that, as the child, what I remember most strongly about my parents in their private moments is a combination of duty and leisure. As busy as their lives were with raising three busy children, working full- or part-time, being good neighbors and church members and civic participants, they still found time to do things they loved with no apparent guilt or complicated feelings, no need to make even their leisure “efficient” or “edifying” (see: General Hospital).

I think that example is one powerful reason why I don’t feel the need to hustle these days. By slowing down, they gave my sisters and me the chance and permission to slow down, too, both when we were children, and now, when we are the ones shaping childhoods.

So what do I hope June will remember? Me reading, of course. Sitting on our front porch. (Hopefully in a porch swing, because that would mean we HAVE a porch swing.) Being a woman of the Word – reading my Bible, spending time in prayer. Driving her to whatever sport or activity she chooses to fall in love with. Hugging her daddy. And speaking of him — I think she might remember John whistling while doing the dishes, playing his guitar, or watering our front flower beds.

The obvious answer, of course, is that I don’t want her to remember us with our noses in our phones — not so much because I am reflexively anti-technology (though John says I am), but because that memory would give her no useful road map to follow when she is grown. It’s an opaque memory, a wall, where she has no idea whether we’re gently caring for a friend who’s hurting, planning our next family adventure, catching up on work, or reading an essay. There’s nothing there for her to take away, to make her own, and though I dearly hope she will forge her own path, I believe my job as a parent is to set her some useful guideposts along the way.

Friends, I hope you have a wonderful weekend celebrating the amazing men in your lives! If you’d like to share, I’d love to hear either the image that comes to mind of your parents in childhood, or something you hope your children will remember of you. xoxo

A new chapter

13 June 2018

Yesterday, we made a very big announcement at Southern Weddings: that the tenth-anniversary issue will be the last for our team. Among many other things, I’m thankful that the site will remain active as an archive, and also that the Joyful Wedding Planner (which I co-wrote!) is still available in limited quantities. You can read much more on the Southern Weddings blog as well as Lara’s blog, and I’d encourage you to do so!

Here, though, I wanted to take a little bit of a different take, and share a bit more about what this change means to me.

For a very long time – long before I worked at Southern Weddings – I have been a person defined by weddings. I wrote about weddings here on Em for Marvelous from the beginning. I interned for a wedding magazine in college. I began subscribing to Martha Stewart Weddings in seventh grade. When I was five, one of my favorite hobbies was sneaking into our church’s balcony with my Mom to watch wedding ceremonies unfold.

I’ve had a hand — sometimes very heavy, sometimes just the lightest touch — in pretty much every friend and family member in my life who has gotten married in the last fifteen years, and each time it has been a joy! I have always thought there are few things more magical than a wedding day, and nothing in the last ten years has convinced me otherwise.

So to say serving as the Creative Director of Southern Weddings for the last nine years was a dream job is a little bit of an understatement. It has been one of the greatest joys of my life, and truly the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. I feel incredibly, incredibly lucky that this actually happened to me. It just as easily could have not.

But it did. In addition to my day-to-day responsibilities in the office — choosing weddings to feature, writing about weddings, developing products for brides, and producing photoshoots (all dreamy-enough things on their own!) — my work had two incredible additional perks.

First, I got to travel extensively around the South, seeing amazing places through an incredibly intimate and unusual lens. For someone who loves to travel and loves getting a glimpse into “local life,” this was heaven! Not only have I worked in almost every Southeastern state, including Texas, West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and all the usual suspects, but I have seen them in a way that I never would have been able to otherwise.

I spent the day on a family-owned polo farm in South Carolina. I twirled across the lawn of Biltmore House at 6am, before the gates opened to the public. I rose off the ground in a hot air balloon in an Asheville dawn. I got as grimy as I’ve ever been in my life at an abandoned flour mill. I’ve worked a full day from the roof of one of the tallest buildings in Raleigh, imagining what it might be like to live a city existence. I’ve led a prize-winning cow through a cornfield and into a shot. I’ve been dressed to the nines for a gala at The Breakers where stilt walkers handed down glasses of champagne. I’ve traveled to Grand Cayman twice to speak about my company. I had my pick of vibrant, floral backdrops at the iconic Greenbrier in West Virginia. I even got to theme an entire shoot around one of my favorite TV shows of all time, for goodness sake!

The second was that I got to work with and learn from the most incredible, big-hearted vendors you could ever imagine. That includes pretty much every “big name” wedding photographer in the Southeast (as well as many talented folks based elsewhere!). It also includes some of my best friends, as well as strangers who became dear friends along the way. It includes TV celebrities and my own younger sister :)

In addition to forming relationships, I have learned SO MUCH from every person I’ve ever spent the day shooting alongside. They are a big part of what has kept my job fresh. I would have been happy doing my exact same job for another ten years.

Given all this, I suppose it’s understandable that one of the first questions family members had for me when they heard the news was whether I’d look for another position in the wedding industry. My answer was simple: I never considered it. There are so many reasons for this, but here are three.

First, I think it would be nearly impossible to find another wedding team that includes such amazing people, that is salaried, and that shares my heart for weddings — namely, that wedding days are magical, and also that they are only the beginning to an even more magical lifetime together.

The second is a bit harder to admit. While it’s absolutely true that I would have happily done my job for another ten years, after nine, I’m excited about applying my skills in a different way and also trying something entirely new. Going forward, I will serve as both the Creative Director and Chief of Staff for Cultivate What Matters, the sister brand to Southern Weddings. As the Creative Director, my position will look similar to what it did as the Creative Director of SW: I’ll concept and produce brand photoshoots and add to the visual aesthetics of campaigns.

Chief of Staff is a fancy way of saying I work with our CEO on projects that benefit our growing team (like implementing a new 401k provider – y’all know I was excited about that!) as well as helping to shape larger business decisions. Some of this I have been doing informally for years, but a lot of it is new and challenging, and that’s exciting even as it’s sometimes hard and overwhelming.

Finally, as much as I will always love weddings, I find the work we do at Cultivate extremely meaningful. As I wrote here, my job allows me to share the gifts God has entrusted to me, work alongside amazing people in an incredible environment, and to see the fruit of my work every day. I couldn’t ask for much more.

Thanks for allowing me to reminisce and offer some additional insight into this huge change in my life, friends. It is a joy, as always, to share with you. And never forget: whether we’re virtual or “real life” friends, I’ll always be available to offer wedding planning advice, ooh and ahh over your gown, or walk you through whether or not you need a videographer. Some things never change :)

Southern Weddings

Thank you, too, for indulging all of these beautiful photos I’ve worked on over the years! Here are the very deserving credits:

Lace bride photo by Davy Whitener with bouquet by August Floral Design / Texas truck photo by Kristen Kilpatrick with styling by Without Wax, Katy

Baby June photo by Katelyn James

Nancy photo by Olivia Suriano

Team photo by Landon Jacob

Stationery photo by Jake + Heather with styling by Rhiannon Bosse / ceremony photo by Whitney Neal Studios with styling by Jaclyn Journey

Greenbrier photo by Whitney Neal Studios with styling by Jaclyn Journey

Cake and dress photos by Ali Harper with styling by Blue-Eyed Yonder

Erin and Ben photo by Davy Whitener

Rice toss photo by Sawyer Baird / lemonade stand photo by Davy Whitener with styling by Lovegood Weddings

Table photo by Ali Harper with styling by Blue-Eyed Yonder / couple photo by Ryan Ray

Kristin photo by Jake + Heather

Kiddo photo by Nancy Ray

Canning photo by Nancy Ray

Biltmore photo by Henry Photography / apron photo by Davy Whitener