2019: A year in review

31 December 2019

Here we are at the end of another year — another decade! As always, there have been ups and downs in 2019, moments I wish I could live in forever and things I’m more than eager to leave behind. When you have children, the span of a year brings such dramatic change (see: little bald Shep just sitting up to the big boy we have now!). I find it necessary to pause periodically and soak it in, and so here we are.

These posts are such a treat for me to write, and always some of my favorites to look back on years later. I hope you enjoy this year’s recounting: some of our favorite moments of 2019, in our lives and on the blog.

I started the year on the blog by sharing my 2019 goals. They were a bit different than my usual, and I really enjoyed the change! June turned three (and had a cute/semi-disastrous birthday party) and John and I celebrated our fourteenth dativersary.

Shep was the star of the show in February, as I shared his birth story, newborn photos, and New England-inspired nursery (complete with sweet framed picture book pages). I also shared the complexities of having family close by and the opening of the years of making magic, as well as our rainbow valentines and valentine treats. Katie surprised me with a bounty of birthday daffodils at the end of the month, a sweet sunshine-y surprise.

March is one of my favorite months in North Carolina, not because it’s the warmest but because its warmth is still unexpected after the early spring drudgery of my New England upbringing. We celebrated with a downtown Raleigh scoot (one of my favorite memories of the year) and I shared two posts that get a lot of play in our home: board games for two and our favorite way to print Instagram photos. June also tried soccer for the first time, at a field we can walk to!

There were many slow months on the blog this year, and April was one of them, but it still held a few of my favorites from 2019: tips for finding the right daycare, our experience with a neighborhood meal swap, and the tales of 10 of my favorite purchases. It was a joy to celebrate Easter as a family (and we got to show June faith in action in a very tangible way, too!), we scooted west for a zoo trip with cousins, and June had her first itty bitty dance recital!

We celebrated Shep’s baptism on Mother’s Day and Memorial Day with a flag cake, took our inaugural family bike ride, and traveled to Nashville to visit my sister Kim! I started a book hashtag and we chatted about how we read. We splashed in the neighborhood pool and had lots of picnics.

In a scary turn of events, my sister Kate was diagnosed with a brain tumor in May. She had surgery to remove it and, praise God, it was benign. After a summer of recuperation, she is pretty much back to normal and the outlook is good. This was the most serious medical issue one of my nearest and dearest has faced, and it was a surreal and jarring part of my year. (That train photo above is from one of June’s and my trips to visit her, which was a bright spot.)

June learned the joy of paper chains as we counted down to a week in the Outer Banks with John’s family, giving us lots of material to work with for Volume 4! On the blog, I shared a new insight into one of my Dad’s maxims, and answered your questions about our transition from one to two kiddos in three parts: one, two, three.

July saw us in Maine for lots of cousin giggles and early morning walks. We celebrated three of the best birthdays — John, John Shepherd, and sweet America — and I hosted my first (annual?) book swap party!

After limping through the summer with a string of 2-3-post months, I was grateful to come back swinging in August. We discussed not wearing makeup, the best books we’ve ever read, and our new mortgage plan. John and I kicked up our bike rides to three per week as our race drew ever closer; August was a very sweaty month. A highlight was celebrating Shep’s birthday at Pullen Park with dear friends and family (and the cutest animal party hats!).

We crossed the finish line of our MS race in September, though not without a few twists and turns along the way. Our seventh camping trip almost did us in (but we saw a whole new side of Shep) and I headed to the mountains for work. In honor of our seventh wedding anniversary, John and I answered your relationship questions here, here, and here. I also shared a peek at a few toy storage solutions that have been helpful for us!

Lots of highlights in October! A family trip to Asheville, a quick trip to Connecticut for a friend’s wedding, June’s first ferris wheel ride, her ice cream cone debut at Halloween, and realizing that the changes we’d made to our living room had really made a difference. On the blog, we discussed being a patron and everything we read this year in Articles Club.

Katie struck again with the most darling DIY Thanksgiving banner, our mini session photos came back (!), and we tucked in around the table to celebrate with the Terhunes and my family. I shared one of our go-to recipes (and some thoughts on trade offs) as well as six things on my November holiday checklist and my ideas for helper gifts.

Finally, we had a really wonderful December, one that was full of magic but didn’t feel stuffed. June, it must be said, is a most appreciative audience for all of my magic-making attempts, which makes the holidays a joy. I would bottle her up and keep her here forever if I could.

But alas, I cannot — and so, I stop to appreciate what is and what was. I notice the good things, do my best to facilitate more of them, and remember to thank God for every delight (and for being with us in the struggles) along the way.

I’m about to wrap up my PowerSheets and am excited to share my 2020 goals with you soon. I’m building off of what worked last year and can’t wait to dig in to them little by little over the next many months.

I know I’ve said it before, but I am SO excited for what we’ll discuss here in 2020. Thank you for being here, and for sharing so generously with me! It’s one of the delights of my life. Wishing you a healthy, happy, and abundant new year. I’ll see you soon! :)

2018 year in review
2017 year in review
2016 year in review
2015 year in review
2014 year in review
2013 year in review
2012 year in review

Our 2019 Christmas cards + mini session

24 December 2019

Happy Christmas Eve, friends! I wanted to pop in quickly to share our 2019 Christmas cards and a few more favorites from our fall mini session with Anagram Photo. Sending and receiving holiday cards is one of my very favorite Christmas traditions, and I always love sharing them with you, too!

Our card, as always, is from Minted. I looked at many different options, but loved this super simple one in the end. Minted’s thick paper makes it feel extra-special, too!

On the back of the Minted card, we printed a few extra photos and a favorite verse. This is also where I wrote a little note to each friend or family member!

Into the envelope we also slipped our yearly infographic. I forgot to take a picture, but here’s a peek! We have these printed separately at UPrinting. Shep’s little narrative cracks me up :)

And now, a few more favorites from our mini session with Graham. We have trusted him to capture some of our most precious memories as a family, and these photos are no different! This is the first time we’ve ever done a session specifically timed for Christmas cards, and I think I’m in love :)

Friends, I am sending you all lots of love and wishes for a cozy Christmas filled with sacred moments, 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!

Minted graciously gifted us our cards this year — so glad I can share them with you!

Camping with 5 kids under 5

23 December 2019

I mean, if that doesn’t sound like an adventure, what does?! Truthfully, our seventh camping trip together almost did the Rays in, I think, but in the end, we’ve all agreed we’re going back next year :) Here’s a peek at our weekend away, if you’d like to see!

This year, we chose Lake James State Park for our home base. Our side-by-side tent sites were close to the wash house, which was perfect for our frequent visits! The park itself was perched up on a hill without any lake views, but it was a quick drive to the beach — which we took advantage of, as you’ll see below!

Sometimes we camp in the spring and sometimes in the fall; this year we chose August to give the December baby a chance to grow up a bit! We’ve each camped with a 9-month-old in our family, and know it can be a tough age (limited mobility=frustration). That, in addition, to coming in with a sleep deficit, pretty well summed up the challenges for the Rays.

Of course, there were a million delights along the way, too! Conversation around the campfire, “dance recitals” in the road next to our campsite, a beautiful hike, time in the water, yummy meals, and lots of sweet moments.

We ventured out to revisit an old favorite hike – Lower Catawba Falls – and though it was a beautiful day, we were a little disappointed: we were sharing the trail with so many others, it felt like we were at Disney World! It was a shocking change from our first visit to these falls 8 or so years ago, when we maybe saw three other hikers. Still beautiful, but I wouldn’t recommend it at this point if you’re looking for solitude. (It is, however, a mostly flat hike with a lovely payoff at the end, so it remains great for families.)

Since it was Labor Day weekend, it was also warm enough to enjoy Lake James itself, and we had a perfect day for it! It feels like the scene below could be from 1980 or 2019, doesn’t it?

There are many things I love about camping, but I’ll sum up this post with two of my favorites.

First, camping, in our lives, is the pinnacle of the slow pace of life I aim for, and particularly, the slow parenting. One of my favorite memories from this trip is the hour or more the kiddos spent digging in the gravel of our campsite. Literally just spoons and plastic cups and rocks, and they could have stayed there all day.

Our world is so often not set up for exercising a longer attention span or enjoying simple activities, but the world of camping is. I’m thankful for these trips, because they give me new ideas and a renewed desire to add this kind of space to our normal lives.

Second, I love how new locations and the time to sink into them allow us to get to know someone in a different way. I’ve alluded to this trip giving me new insight into Shep’s personality, and it’s true that I feel like I saw a whole new side of it. I had a conception of him as moody, often grumpy for no reason, and with a short attention span.

Camping showed me that he is perfectly content and perfectly able to sink into an activity for an extended period as long as he’s given freedom of movement and free access to materials. As a mama, one of my most important duties is to know the hearts and minds of my kiddos so I can speak into them and love them well, and I’m grateful for anything that gives me more insight. Sometimes, all it takes is a change of location for a fresh perspective.

Friends, thanks for graciously accepting this very un-Christmas-y post so close to Christmas, ha! As always, my hope in sharing these camping recaps (in addition to recording our memories!) is to encourage you to take YOUR family outside. If I can answer any questions or cheer you on as you consider it, it would be my delight. Our past archives might be helpful, too…

2013 trip (no babies!)
2015 trip (no babies, Nancy pregnant!)
2016 trip (two babies!)
2017 trip (two babies, Nancy pregnant!)
2018 trip (three babies, both pregnant – ha!)
Our master camping packing list

Thanks to sweet Nancy for the most beautiful of these photos!

Best of 2019 – with friends!

16 December 2019

Here is a fun thing about writing for fun: I get to do whatever sounds fun! And while listening to the Coffee & Crumbs Best of 2019 episode recently, I thought it sounded fun to make my own superlative list. Then, I had an even more fun idea: I’d invite some of my blogging friends to join me!

And so, here we are! A round-up of some of my favorite things from the past year, alongside some of my favorite friends. Don’t miss their posts today: Lisa / Nancy / Rhiannon / Sam / and Victoria. And in the comments, please share a few of your best moments, finds, and memories from 2019. I can’t wait to hear!

Best adventure/travel/trip: If we’re talking adventure, it would have to be our MS ride. Never did I ever see myself biking 70 miles in one day, but I did! That, plus the training that led up to it, made 2019 one adventurous year. Our favorite trip was finally making it to the Outer Banks for a wonderful week with family (complete with adorable bunk bed cousin convos).

Best book: I officially finished The Coddling of the American Mind this year, and considering how many times I’ve mentioned it since, it probably deserves the top spot. It weaves together topics as wide-ranging as college campuses, political polarization, and how we raise our kids, and I think it’s a must-read for literally everyone. My favorite fiction read was the mammoth Pillars of the Earth (I’m eagerly anticipating jumping into the sequel next year!).

Best movie: While we admittedly watch many more shows than movies, I did really enjoy Always Be My Maybe! The type of rom com that doesn’t get made very often these days :)

Best album or song: Considering John is known to say, “hey, it’s your song!” whenever “Look Up, Child” by Lauren Daigle comes on, I’ll go with that one. As mentioned in this monthly goals post, we also had the Hillsong United live album, People, on repeat since it debuted in April.

Best podcast: Also debuting in April, my girl Nancy’s Work & Play Podcast has remained one of my very favorites – the first I click to every Tuesday! Her bite-size inspiration, range of topics covered, real-life specificity, and authentic faith speak into exactly where I am and where I want to go. This is my favorite episode thus far (and I also loved this interview with sweet Katelyn!).

Best follow on Instagram: As you know, I follow very few people, and even fewer that I don’t know in real life. This year, I’ve particularly enjoyed following my friend Callie Davis (I love seeing how she styles her home, glimpses at her sweet marriage, and her adventures!) and one of my newest team members, the one and only Madeline Wieters. I’m not sure if the humor will translate or if I just find her funny because I know her in person, but her Stories routinely have me (literally) LOL-ing.

Best date: In May, we had dinner outside next to the fountain at Mulino in Raleigh. I chose it not because the food was particularly amazing or the setting was particularly incredible (though both were lovely) but because it was a great example of injecting novelty into our routine. It was a restaurant we had never been to before with a different vibe than we usually choose, and I just remember feeling so tingly and alive that night.

Best kiddo milestone: In the last quarter of the year, Shep’s communication ability has steadily grown, and it has brought with it a marked change in his personality — and thus our mutual enjoyment of each other, ha! It seems like he’s learning a new word every day now!

Best faith grower: Wrestling with reconciliation and forgiveness in two very specific instances, and seeing the Lord sow peace and friendship in the wake of obedience.

Best trend you tried: Wow, I’m probably the last person you want to hear from about trends, ha! This year, I embraced the half-tucked shirt, inspired by J.Crew models and my fashionable coworkers, and just last week I snagged a faux fur leopard coat (!!!) after seeing my girl Julie rock one. I think that counts as a trend, yes? I’ll try to share a pic when I wear it for the first time for John’s work holiday party this week!

Best beauty purchase: I asked Lisa one day what she was wearing on her lips, and this Fresh Sugar lip treatment in Rose was the answer! I promptly purchased my own and it’s an everyday favorite now.

Best family memory: A few different things come to mind. An early-spring walk through my favorite neighborhood of downtown Raleigh, the camellias in full bloom. The train ride June and I took to Charlotte. Racing home through an insane wind- and rainstorm that caught us on the beach in the Outer Banks. A particularly perfect evening on a rocky point in Maine.

Best habit you created: I didn’t do this every night, but every night I did, I was so glad I did: showering right after our kiddos were in bed. There’s something so decadent about padding around in fleecy joggers and no makeup in the evening instead of the jeans I wore out and about that day.

Favorite blog post written: In a year where I often struggled to find the time to write here, I’m grateful to have written several posts I’m really proud of (many of which I’ll highlight in my forthcoming year in review!). For this post’s purposes, though, I’ll go with 10 of My Favorite Purchases. It was a delight to write and your comments were so fun to read!

Best new recipe: This baked chicken orzo was a recent favorite.

Best life or mom hack: Did you know that Melissa & Doug toy organizers make excellent drawer dividers? I use the one from this car and truck set for bobby pins, lip balm, elastics, and lotion in our bathroom!

Best mama moment: Looking out over the glittering fair grounds and watching June’s total awe over her first Ferris Wheel ride. Also, hearing her pray the Lord’s prayer.

Best home improvement: Making over our living room was a 2019 goal, and I’ve been so pleased with the progress we’ve made this year. Our new rug is the MVP, capturing the gracious and classic tone we’re aiming for. I owe y’all a full tour soon!

Best little luxury you’ve enjoyed: Designers swear that multiple points of lighting in a room make all the difference, but I never really understood it until we added a table lamp to our living room (seen here). It completely transformed the feel of the room – so cozy now! – and every evening when I switch it on it feels like a little hug.

As always, I’m ending the year so grateful for the delights, big and small, that filled our year. I’ll be sharing more in my year in review post coming up soon, but in the meantime, please do share: what are some of your “bests” from 2019? Can’t wait to hear!

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