34 questions for a 34th birthday, part two

26 February 2021

Today’s questions feel a little like 17 itsy-bitsy blog posts – I hope you enjoy! (Part one is here if you missed it!)

Photo by Christen Smith

18. Dream trip destination? Switzerland or Austria! The mountains look unreal.

19. Favorite fun perks of working at Cultivate? Ooh, so many! Getting as much product for personal use as I’d like is obviously great, and we get $500 a year worth of product to gift to our friends and family. We also have a monthly allowance to spend on the “personal growth” book of our choice, which for an avid reader like me is gold! (And has helped me grow a fun lending library over the years.)

20. What are the attributes you’re striving to cultivate in your kids? In no particular order – integrity, personal responsibility, generosity, gratitude, thoughtfulness, optimism, confidence, faithfulness, and a capacity for wonder.

21. Do you still Irish dance? Are you teaching your children? I’m not dancing in any formal way, though I have been known to throw out a high kick under the right circumstances. (For those who didn’t know, I was a competitive Irish step dancer from about 5th through 12th grade!) As for whether I’ll introduce June, I am undecided. I feel like the competition world has gotten even CRAZIER since my exit in terms of the appearance expected (exhibits A, B, C, Dthis was the look when I performed) and I do not like that. However, it is an amazing art form and I loved dancing it!

For now, June has taken parks and rec ballet since about age 3, and we’re both excited for her to continue once it’s safer to do so.

22. Are your kids messy? I find it hard to buy investment clothes or furniture because I’m worried they’ll get stained or broken. I try to set us all up for success by eating snacks or doing crafts that might be messy at the kitchen table or outside, or finding another workaround. For example, this winter, they’ve been really into eating our after-school snack on the carpet by the fire, so I just make sure we eat something that won’t stain (cheese and crackers, grapes). Our Eufy vacuum sucks up the crumbs every night :)

The only furniture I worry about are our cream club chairs, but Jenny Komenda recommended this spray a few years ago and in my experience it’s never met a stain it can’t get out – AMAZING.

I wouldn’t say I buy investment clothes at this stage of my life!

23. What is something you think brides forget to think about or is underrated about weddings? I LOVE THIS QUESTION! So much so that I think it deserves its own post. In the meantime, I would say a lot of aspects of the wedding morning tend to get overlooked – where you’ll be getting ready, what the space looks and feels like (in the moment and in pictures), who will be with you, what you’ll listen to, what you’ll eat — and how that all adds up to the vibe that will carry you into the rest of your day.

24. What would you never give up in order to save money? Assuming my life-preserving basics are accounted for, I would cut back but never completely cut out money for travel (or adventure of some sort). We have reduced our travel deliberately some years, but even if it was just a day trip for fancy ice cream on the coast, I’ll always preserve some money in our budget for that category if at all possible. We also tithe to our church, and I would never eliminate charitable giving.

25. What is one change you made to your routine during COVID that you hope to continue? Several times a week, John and I are able to have lunch and take a quick walk together, and it is a JOY! We both will continue to work from home at least a few times a week even after the pandemic “ends,” and we definitely plan to keep this up.

26. How do you and John show each other intentional love in the little things? I get asked versions of this question often, and I find it a hard one to answer – I guess because the things we do repeatedly (which probably are the things that matter most) have become so ingrained we don’t realize they’re notable. A few things that come to mind: we are in tune with each other’s moods, and are quick to check in if the other seems off. We try to take an evening walk together as often as we can. Though we could be better about this, we’ll take on a chore or parenting duty for the other without being asked (or sometimes after being asked, ha!) if we’ve had a hard day.

27. What do you usually eat for breakfast? On weekdays, almost always a very unglamorous Nature Valley granola bar and water, sometimes with a banana. On the weekends, we usually make pancakes with a blackberry jam syrup on either Saturday or Sunday. I also make award-winning cheesy scrambled eggs, and I love a good everything bagel sandwich with bacon, eggs, and cheese :)

28. Do you hope to retire early? John and I joke about how parents should be able to retire between the ages of 30 and 40 and then go back to work… BUT IT’S TRUE. Barring that disruption in our work culture, yes, we do hope to retire earlier than the average (which apparently is 61-ish). We’re not willing to make the trade-offs necessary to be FIRE people, but John has loosely targeted 55 for himself. I don’t have a clear vision for me! I think there are a LOT of factors that could affect this over the next few decades, and for now, we just feel really grateful to both have jobs we don’t want to escape from.

29. Favorite childhood memory? The biggest (and truest) answer would have to be the summer stays on our island in Maine. On a smaller scale, I have very fond memories of “mystery rides.” A parent would announce one as dinner ended, we’d rush to get our shoes on and pile into the van, and then we’d invariably drive down the hill for ice cream – but because it was a mystery ride, we could have been going anywhere! :)

30. What’s your favorite part about being a mom? That’s like choosing your favorite child! I love teaching them things and sharing new experiences with them, especially ones I loved as a child. I love building a family culture with John and seeing them adopt and uphold it. I love one-on-one time and conversations where I get a glimpse into their thought processes and those rare but very special moments where you see some aspect of parenting pay off in a big way (like when they display one of those attributes from above we’re trying to cultivate).

I also think it’s a very unique responsibility to have someone depend on you so deeply, and I’m proud that they seem completely assured I will continue to fulfill it.

31. What’s the silliest show you and John watch together? That would have to be The Bachelor. We watch The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, but no other franchise spin-offs.

32. Top 5 go-to dinner meals? It depends on the season, but I’ll go with chickpea kale pasta, chicken shawarma, grilled quesadillas and guacamole, chicken tikka masala, and taco soup.

33. How do you celebrate friends’ birthdays? My very favorite way to celebrate a local friend’s birthday is to make an unexpected porch drop-off on the big day – flowers, a sweet treat, a little gift, a note. The item doesn’t really matter, but, having been on the receiving end of such a surprise, the idea that someone took the time and cared enough to drive all the way to my house (usually 15-30 minutes away) bowls me over every time.

34. What are you most excited about for the next decade? Watching our family grow! I have heard the ages of 6-12 described as the “golden” years – the sweet range where kids are more capable and able to communicate, but still just love being around you and are up for anything. I see lots of big and little adventures and many game nights in our future :)

Thank you again for playing along, friends! I loved, loved, loved hearing from you on yesterday’s post, so please feel free to chime in again! Did anything stick out to you, or do we have anything in common? Is there an itsy-bitsy blog post here you’d like to see turned into a full-blown blog post? :)

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34 questions for a 34th birthday

25 February 2021

Happy early birthday to me! I turn 34 on Sunday, and in honor of the occasion, I thought it might be fun to answer 34 questions from you dear ones. But of course, it wouldn’t be Em for Marvelous if I didn’t go a level deeper than necessary on something as simple and common as a modern day Q&A, would it? :)

Though I adore answering any sort of question (school paperwork, surveys, doctor forms, you name it), I’ve always felt a twinge of unease when soliciting or answering “ask me anythings” on Instagram or here. I suppose it feels presumptive to assume anyone would care about these little personal tidbits in a way that a typical, meaty blog post does not.

As I was processing through these thoughts, this passage from 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You popped to mind:

“So I ask myself: Is my digital chitchat aimed or is it aimless; thoughtful or thoughtless; strategic for the eternal good of others or wasted on self-expression? …Am I using my digital chitchat as a way to build into someone (or some online community) with a larger relational goal of edification? These questions and others determine whether my text, tweets, and images are thoughtless fragments or purposeful strategies to point others to find their joy, meaning, and purpose in God.”

A personal Q&A might seem frivolous. But I hope, as with all of the posts I share, you’ll find something here that inspires you, reframes a thought, helps you connect, makes you smile, or yes, points you to find your joy, meaning, and purpose in God. If nothing else, it will be a fun little time capsule for my kids one day :)

Let’s gooooo!

1. Least favorite household task? Wiping down the table/placemats/chairs after meals with young kids. I think it is one of the most Sisyphean tasks of parenthood.

2. Favorite poem? Or just one that is speaking to you in this season? I love this question! For those who don’t know, I was an English major with a Poetry concentration, and my senior honors thesis was an original collection of poetry… maybe someday I will share some of it! For years, I shared favorite poems regularly right here on EFM, and those archives are a beautiful collection of some of my absolute favorites. “Indian Summer at Land’s End” by Stanley Kunitz will forever be my number one.

3. Three words to describe high school Emily? I asked John, and he said nerdy, studious, and bookish (thaaaaaaanks). This was tough, but I would choose confident, earnest, and focused.

4. What are some of the big things you’re saving money for? Right now we’re very focused on finishing our house freedom fund. We’re also just about done setting aside money for our “next car” fund (which we hope to not need for a few years!). On a smaller scale, we’re planning to FINALLY buy an actual bed next month after 8+ years of marriage!!

5. What’s on your dream ice cream sundae? Banana ice cream, chocolate sauce, walnuts/pecans/peanuts, whipped cream, and a cherry :)

6. If money was no issue, what hours/job would you work? If money were TRULY no issue, I probably would not have a job, ha! I would send the kids to half-day preschool and use the extra time to write more consistently here! I still wouldn’t aggressively pursue making it a money-making venture, since that doesn’t feel particularly compatible with my content, style, or inclinations, but I might accept a few more sponsorships-in-kind.

On a more serious note, I could NOT be more grateful for my job or the hours I do work (9-4 now, 9-3 starting this fall) and would find it hard to dream up something better for this stage of my life.

7. Favorite Bible verse or most meaningful verse in this season? Oh gosh, so many good ones! Psalm 103:1-2 in the NLT translation comes to mind first.

8. Are you and John planning to stay in NC a long time? Yes! I expect we will be here through our kids growing up and heading off to start their adult lives. Maybe not in our current home, but in the Triangle. At that point, we hope to be near them, so depending on where they end up, we might move to where they are or have a home base on the coast (Beaufort, SC is somewhere we talk about!) and rental properties near where they live? We shall see!

9. What routines help keep you grounded? My bedtime routine! I head to the bedroom for the evening and ask Alexa to play the Jazz for Sleep playlist on Spotify. After showering, brushing teeth, pajamas, etc., John and I do a ten-minute full-body stretch on the Peloton app. Then I hop into bed and read a chapter in my Bible, then 30-45 minutes of whatever book I’m in the middle of. If I’m really lucky, John will want to read me some sort of essay or article or column he’s come across – my very favorite way to fall asleep, ha!

10. How did you and Lara meet and how did you get your start at Cultivate? Cultivate did not exist when Lara and I met! We connected over a comment I left on the Southern Weddings blog my senior year of college, which turned into her comment on my blog, which turned into a letter I sent to her, which turned into a blog post on SW, which turned into an unsolicited job application, which turned into a job at Southern Weddings after graduation. We’ve been together ever since, from SW to Cultivate and 3 team members to our current 13. A wild and very blessed ride, indeed!

11. Are you a chapstick or a lipstick gal? I slather on Aquaphor several times a day. If I’m feeling fancy, I love the Sugar Lip Balm in Rose and have been known to wear a vibrant lip for special occasions (my favorite being Nars Schiap).

12. How did you meet your husband? We met in middle school and started dating our senior year of high school! He asked me on a date in January and by about March I would say I was certain it was a long-term venture. Full story here!

13. Myers-Briggs type? I have tested as an ISFJ, an ISTJ, and an INFJ, but I don’t think any of them quite captures me! I do strongly identify with the Enneagram Type 5.

14. Do you speak any other languages, and if so, can you tell us a story about it? Yes! I speak a little bit of French (I took it in high school and college). I actually convinced John to take French 1 with me our senior year, even though we had only been dating for about a week! We went on to take French together in college, too. One of the only regrets of my life is not studying abroad, though I likely would have chosen England over France!

15. What is the hardest thing about living away from family? First and foremost, it is missing the little, casual, routine moments. Sure, we are able to experience some of those when parents come to visit (often for several days at a time), but there’s no weekly Wednesday breakfast with Dad before work or Sunday dinner tradition or Thursday afternoons with the grandparents. It is an onslaught of togetherness (which can sometimes be overwhelming for this introvert) and then nothing.

Another thing that’s hard is that most of our good friends’ parents do live in the area, because they grew up here. So not only are we set apart because we don’t have the built-in childcare or together time that they do, but their schedules are often booked up because they have more family activities to accommodate. That can feel a little lonely.

16. What is a benefit to living farther from family? I wrote about this here, but I would say the freedom and space to establish our own norms, traditions, and rhythms.

17. What will you ALWAYS order if it’s on a menu? I am extremely susceptible to chicken and broccoli alfredo… but the real answer is any sort of chocolate lava cake.

Stay tuned for part two tomorrow! And thanks for submitting your questions, friends – considering how much I love answering them, it’s really like a birthday present for me :)

I’d love for you to chime in – how would you answer one of these questions? Or what is something we have in common?

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Master bedroom refresh inspiration

19 February 2021

How about something a little lighter for todays’ post? :) You may have noticed in my February goals that I’m shining the refresh spotlight on our master bedroom this month. I thought I’d share a little bit about where we are now and where we’re headed, just for fun!

Where we are now: err, here —

Complete with laundry mid-fold. Real life :)

As you can imagine, this room does A LOT. We sleep here, obviously, but it’s also a hub of family activity – it’s where our kids’ clothing is stored, where they get dressed in the morning, and where they pull on their jams at night. It’s also our workout area, where our stationary bike and weights live. It houses a nursing glider. And, for COVID times and the foreseeable future, it’s where John works day in and day out. While it’s a good-size room, again, that’s a LOT.

Despite its centrality in our lives, this space has not gotten much design love. Since moving in eight-ish years ago, we’ve hung the curtains from our apartment and a few things on the walls, hung our framed wedding vows, added a low dresser for me, upgraded to a king-size bed, and switched out our bedside tables.

Knowing that there’s not going to be a magical “after” in our future (there will, after all, still be an ergonomic desk chair and exercise bike in the picture, ha!), I’m hoping to lighten things up a bit. Here’s what I’m picturing:

And here are the steps I’m looking at:

1. Painting the walls. Inspired by Liz’s living room, we’re going with Benjamin Moore Brittany Blue. I painted a test swatch and on our walls it’s actually not that similar to either her photo in the top left or the Ben Moore swatch in the top right – I’d say it’s icier/clearer. It’s pretty, though! We will hire this out.

2. Replacing the curtains and hardware. Thinking something super simple and light like these ivory velvet ones or these linen ones (or might try these much less expensive ones on Rhi’s recommendation, if they come back in stock!) The hardware will also be simple.

3. Hanging a grid of family photos. Picturing 9 or so over the low dresser, in gold frames, probably all black and white to keep things unified. I thought it might be fun to try and tell the story of our family across the collection – we’ll see!

4. Buying a bed. For years and years, I’ve held out hope that we’d someday purchase the wooden bed of my dreams, but have finally admitted that at this stage in our life, with the financial goals we have, there’s no way I’m paying $3,000+ for the quality of king-size bed I’d like anytime soon.

After scouring Craigslist and Marketplace for years without success (kings just don’t pop up like fulls!), I’ve decided that an upholstered bed is where it’s at for us right now. I have my eyes on this one and am hoping to snag it soon with the help of some parental birthday money! I think it will look lovely against the blue walls and our existing bedding, and help the room overall look more “finished” and cozy.

I’d love to hear: in your home, has the master bedroom languished, or was it a priority to complete early on? Excited to share more as our plans get underway! (Probably slowly, ha!)

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Children and the passing of time

15 February 2021

If you are a parent, or have a child in your life you really love, how often do you mourn the passing of time?

Is it rarely? Occasionally? Daily? Hourly? I ask how often, not if, because anyone who has fallen in love with a child has had at least a fleeting twinge of sadness over the thievery of time. Personally, I try not to dwell on it, as the realist in me thinks of it as unproductive, but sometimes it will smack me in the face out of nowhere, like it did on Friday when I read this reader comment on Cup of Jo:

“My three kids are 22, 19 and 16, and if I had one wish it would be for the doorbell to ring and for it to be their little selves standing there, at any given age along the way, with overnight bags packed to spend a day or two with all of us. To relive those moments (to scoop up those little faces that I miss!)… well, just thinking about it makes me laugh and get teary every time.”

This comment comes to us courtesy of a reader named Erika, and Erika, I have to say you are severely underselling the emotional impact this little thought experiment can have on an unsuspecting parent, just moseying along through her Friday blog catch-up. When I initially read it, I tiptoed on by, sensing its power but not letting myself linger. It kept popping back into my mind over the next few days, though (more on that below), and by the time I finally relayed the image to John, I was doing it through copiously-flowing tears.

One-week-old baby June in a ridiculously-oversized onesie, tucked under John’s arm.

If you have kids, please – just stop and think about it for a minute. Ten or fifteen years from now, my precious five- or two-year-old climbing up my front steps, ringing the doorbell, and me opening the door to see them standing on the mat, duffel over their shoulder, ready to spend a day or two with John and me? Their little shining face, their favorite outfit?

Picture ushering them in, squeezing them in the biggest hug, sitting them down on the sofa or at the kitchen table and just staring at them with the goofiest smile on your face. Playing their favorite games, eating their favorite foods, doing whatever they want to do with you for as long as they’ll let you. Likely staring at them some more after they fall asleep.

It is quite literally too much for the heart to handle, hence the overflow of tears. Honestly, I sincerely apologize for putting you in a place of such emotion on a Monday morning.

…But now that I have, let’s backtrack for a bit. Because there’s a reason I don’t tend to dwell on these sorts of thoughts. Sure, that’s exactly what I’d do in this alternate-universe scenario. But in real life, I cannot set aside, well, real life to stare at my child 24/7. There are bills to be paid and dishes to be done and even “selfish” things like blogs to be read. Which is why these thoughts often leave me frustrated and dismissive, because what do we DO with them?!

We can’t use them to be lenient parents, catering to our children’s every whim.

We can’t use them to neglect our responsibilities or our own lives, where, coincidentally, time also keeps marching on.

We can’t use them to live in misery, hating each second that passes.

We can’t use them to dread milestone moments, wishing time would just stop.

Head on the pillow, turning all of this over and over one night this weekend (racking my brain for how I could use this emotional outburst productively), I had an idea, and here it is: Fridays are going to be takeout nights for the foreseeable future. Once I pick up the kiddos from school, I will deliberately set aside cooking, dishes, and all other feasible grown-up concerns in favor of doing whatever they want to do with me for as long as they want to, and staring into their faces.

Time is a thief, stealing past versions of ourselves, days, years, millions of happy moments, but time is a generous giver, too. It gives us those years together and the opportunity to use them wisely with every version of our precious people along the way. If nothing else, I hope today’s post sparks a thought of what you might tweak in your own life to do this even more beautifully than you already are.

P.S. Erika concluded her comment by adding that she hopes this is what being a grandparent is like. I think it might be, which is a comforting thought.

P.P.S. I hope you had a happy Valentine’s Day. I’m sad I don’t have a single photo to remember ours by, but it just felt so full of love. It was a really great day.

P.P.P.S. More thoughts on time here, here, and here. I just can’t quit it.