9 decisions that led to a life I love

30 January 2020

Yesterday marked the 15th anniversary of John’s and my first date. 15 years!! I am the luckiest.

The most memorable thing about that first date is not what we did, or what we said, or where we went, but how close it came to not happening at all. I was a nervous and awkward senior on the cusp of college, and it seemed a whole heck of a lot scarier to say yes and a whole heck of a lot safer to say no to his invitation.

But I did say yes (thank you, Lord!). I was musing over this yesterday, and it reminded me of something I had drafted a few months ago and never posted. (It was inspired by this essay.) As you’ll see by the first decision below, it seemed appropriate to share this week.

We each make thousands of decisions a day, but in the end, we can trace just a few back to whether we wake up smiling most days or not. Here are nine of mine, starting with the most important one.

1. I said yes to a first date. Of course, I said yes to him again several years later, but this first “yes” was the one that really mattered, the one that was in doubt – the second was a forgone conclusion. I like to think that scared, shy 17-year-old had some inkling of the happiness ahead, and boy was she right. Either that, or she just had a very wise friend giving her counsel. (Thank you, Anna!!!)

2. I didn’t work after hours. When I began my first job out of college, my boss was a workaholic with not a shred of work/life balance. As the new girl eager to prove herself, it would have been easy to fall into the same pattern. But my boss never actually told me to work after hours, and it was not my natural inclination to do so – and so I didn’t. (Guys, we all know I probably would have keeled over from the stress if I had, anyway.) 

Though I will occasionally flex my hours now and again, especially now that I’m a parent, it’s always my decision, made thoughtfully, and not because I have something to prove or nothing else to occupy my time. Setting the boundaries of work and life neatly and firmly from the start has kept both vibrant over the long-haul.

The best part: by the grace of God, that workaholic boss is the one and only – one of the most amazing transformations I’ve ever had the privilege to witness.

3. I joined a Lent study at church. Shortly after we moved to North Carolina, we began attending our church, and it was an immediate turning point of feeling “at home” in a place that felt cold and alien. But when I think about my faith walk, possibly the most important decision in my adult life of faith was joining a Bible study. It was a classic John and Emily set-up — two 22-year-olds and a handful of middle-aged women — but it was the first time I saw up close what it looked like to live out your faith, carefully consider what your faith was asking of you, apply your faith to everyday life, pray out loud, and lay on hands for blessing and healing. It also introduced us to Adam Hamilton, who as I’m sure you know has had a profound effect on the way I live out my faith.

4. I paid off my student loans fast and furious. I graduated with about $20,000 in undergraduate loan debt, and though I was making $36,000 when I graduated (and John was looking for a job!), we paid off my loans in four years. Clearing that debt relatively early developed a muscle we’re still using today and paved the way for our future financial freedom — and with it, more independence, more security, and more options in almost every facet of our life (which later made a huge difference when we had kiddos!).

5. We adopted our cats (before we were ready). The plan was to start looking once John found a job, but then one day a few months into life in NC (and many months before he was hired), we took a spin through an adoption event and fell in love. I count the fact that we walked into Petsmart that day as one of the luckiest strokes of my life, and I will always be so grateful that Jack and Oliver were ours. They were the cure for our homesickness; they made us look forward to returning from trips when nothing else did, and they made us feel like a family before we were one.

6. Much of what I love is cheap or free. It was true when it was a necessity, and it’s true now when it’s less so. Reading, walking a beautiful neighborhood, hiking, playing cards and board games, writing, ice cream and hot dogs, dinner at home with friends, outdoor movies, outdoor concerts… I don’t find it hard or expensive to have fun, and so I find that there is fun around every corner. 

7. I stepped out boldly in friendship. As a lifelong introvert, I grew up with a core group of friends that I diligently maintained but didn’t expand. Then I moved hundreds of miles away, and desperate times called for desperate measures. Each of my treasured adult friendships required a bold act of putting myself out there, and though it was intensely scary each time, each has paid priceless dividends in memories and love.

8. We live by a budget. I know, I know – is there an answer less surprising or more boring?! Our budget helps us spend money on what we value, not what anyone else values, and it has essentially erased all fear around money from our life. We make a plan at the beginning of the year, and then we follow it (adjusting along the way as necessary!), and we are SO much happier for it.

9. We decided to have children. It seems like it was a forgone conclusion, and maybe it always was — but thankfully, I wrote this post to remember the many (many, many, many) discussions we had on the topic in our pre-baby life. Our children add more joy and wonder and delight and meaning to our days than we ever could have imagined before they arrived, and I am so glad they are ours.

I have made plenty of mistakes in my life, but I’m grateful I got these things right. I’m curious: what are some of the decisions in your life that have led to happiness? I’d love to hear, if you’d like to share!

Our most-loved kitchen items

28 January 2020

After staying in two different homes over the holidays (and doing a little cooking in each), I came home to our kitchen with a new appreciation for some of our everyday tools (and a few items to add to our wish list that I loved using as a visitor!). Since we cook at home at least six dinners a week, I thought it might be fun to share some of our most-loved and most-used kitchen work horses. Whether you’re adding items to your wedding registry, building up your own mealtime arsenal, or looking for an idea for the next time your mother-in-law asks you for a gift idea, I hope this is helpful!

I’ve already waxed poetic about our Le Creuset dutch ovens (and the funny story of how we bought our first one), but they easily deserve the first spot on this list. We have a round 5 1/2 quart (my favorite) and a shallow round 3 1/2 quart. We use the biggie for making soups, stews, pastas, braised meats, risotto, orzo, and much more. I probably cook with it 5/7 nights a week. It goes from stovetop to oven to table beautifully, and is so easy to clean. Pick a color you love, because you’ll have it forever :)

Speaking of easy-to-clean: one of my favorite Shark Tank discoveries is the Scrub Daddy. His smile accurately expresses how easy he makes dishwashing!

We registered for a Calphalon cookware set and use many of the pieces daily (particularly the small and medium sauce pans and the stock pot). These are also easy to clean, which I love, but my favorite feature might be the glass tops, which makes it easy to see what’s bubbling at a glance! Our set is very similar to this one except ours are silver, not black.

More registry big dogs: our KitchenAid mixer (ours is black) and our food processor. The food processor got daily use in our seasons of making purees, but even now it earns its spot for making salsa, tikka paste, and just generally chopping stuff.

We don’t have a huge collection of one-off tools, but there are two that I’d recommend: an immersion blender and a griddler. We use the immersion blender for soups often (plus the mini chopper it comes with is really useful, too!). The griddler is great for grilled cheese, pancakes, and quesadillas in a pinch. The plates go in the dishwasher, which, if you can’t already tell, is an important attribute in our home.

I don’t have a ton to say about knives except that you should have them and keep them sharp :) I would recommend specializing with a great bread knife, and we love these little paring knives, too. This is the best peeler.

Now for a few things that I have no brand loyalty to, but would recommend saving a spot for in your kitchen: a blender, crockpot, simple wooden spoons, a citrus reamer, a big (for pasta) and little (for berries) strainer, a set of nesting mixing bowls (ours are very similar to this), mini silicone spatulas, several plastic cutting boards, and a slim plastic slotted spoon (I don’t love the bulky ones).

Finally, two things I’d like to add to our mix: a compost bin (this one is in my cart) and a lovelier dish rack.

TL;DR: I really, really love our Le Creuset.

I’d love to hear: what’s your number one kitchen item? Everyone’s cooking patterns and favorite recipes are so different, and I’m curious to hear!

Affiliate links are used in this post!

Sheptember: Volume One

23 January 2020

Ready for a little movie break on your Thursday? Shep to the rescue with his first starring role: Sheptember, Volume One! (Though personally, I think big sister might steal the show at 1:45.)

This installment is particularly sweet to me, because I love the way it fixes this moment in time with our boy. Photos and videos have a way of doing that, don’t they? They add to and shape our memories. I appreciate that, because some of the things that so frustrate and fatigue us in the moment just don’t really need to be remembered.

While June has a 365-days-of-California-sun temperament — something of a unicorn child (a comparison she would be delighted by, no doubt), Shep’s temperament is more, well, normal — most of the time he’s lovely, and sometimes he’s really, really grumpy. We intentionally left those grumpy moments on the cutting room floor (including one memorable clip where Shep is screaming his head off, and you can hear John in the background saying “this one’s not going to make the movie,” HA!).

His sweetness, his fun-loving spirit, his impishness, his curiosity, and — of course — his love for his big sister all come across so strongly here. Enjoy this little glimpse into life with our favorite baby boy at one year!

The password is SHEP.

P.S. How to make your own modern home movie

The birthday interview

15 January 2020

We have a four year old in the house! Three was the sweetest of sweet ages (proof) and I am expectant to see what four has to offer. If it’s more of the same, that sounds great to me :)

Over the years, we’ve collected a few simple family birthday traditions — a balloon for each year at your chair, the birthday banner hung on the fireplace, and getting to choose your birthday dinner.

Last year, we introduced one more: the birthday interview!

This is not a new idea by any stretch of the imagination — Pinterest has a zillion free printables — though I originally got the idea not from Pinterest but from our friends the Henrys, who conduct a similar interview with their kids on Christmas Eve every year (continuing a tradition from Mackenzie’s family growing up!).

We keep it simple: I just type up and print out her answers and stick them in a binder. (When she’s older, I’ll have her write them!)

There is one twist we’ve initiated, though: we film her answering the questions! Her little voice arrests me with its cuteness daily, and I know one day I will be desperate to listen to what she used to sound like. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

When she turned three, we thought she’d be old enough to understand our questions and come up with an answer to them, and though she has indeed answered the questions both years, some of her answers are definitely… of dubious veracity, as least according to her revealed preferences. For example, this year she named grapes as her favorite fruit — even though we have grapes in our house about two times a year. I’ve been known to add commentary in parentheses to some of the more out-there answers :)

(For the record, I can sympathize: have you ever had the experience of being asked your favorite book, and literally not being able to think of a single book you’ve ever read?! What is a book???)

Eventually we’ll add Shep’s answers to the binder, too! Here are the questions we ask, if you’d like to try something similar:

Favorite color:
Favorite animal:
Favorite book:
Favorite thing to watch:
Favorite thing to wear:
Favorite game:
Favorite song:
Favorite breakfast:
Favorite snack:
Favorite fruit:
Favorite treat:
Favorite place to eat:
Favorite thing to do outside:
Favorite thing to do inside:
Favorite toy:
Favorite stuffed animal:
Favorite holiday:
Best friend:
I am really good at:
Where I want to go on vacation:
What I want to be when I grow up:
What we did on my birthday:

One last note: this is the type of thing that, if I had an eight year old and was hearing about it for the first time, might stress me out, being late to the party. Don’t do that. If you have an eight year old and want to start this, just start it! I promise she won’t care that you skipped years 3-7 :)