Gifts for Em

26 November 2021

This is the post where I share a few things I’d love to receive this Christmas, as well as some things I already own that might be perfect to add to your wish list. I hope it’s helpful! (And that you all had wonderful Thanksgivings – here’s our crew on a post-meal walk!)

Hunter Play Rain Boots | I received the classic tall Hunter boots several years ago, but they’re still pretty much pristine since I find them uncomfortable to wear and hard to take on and off. I think I’d be much more likely to reach for this shorter style!
Leopard ballet flats | I love my current pair but have worn them into the ground. I haven’t yet found a replacement pair I love, but I’m on the hunt.
A new set of mixing bowls | The glass set of 7 bowls we took with us when we moved to North Carolina is down to three (including one that shattered in the sink last week, yikes). This pretty set would be even better for all the little bakers joining me in the kitchen these days.
New Morning Mercies | So many Christians I admire use this devotional, and 9k reviews are probably not wrong. Spoiler alert: this may play a role in my 2022 goals.
Kule tee | My favorite striped tee from several years back got a smear of floral glue across the front at the last Southern Weddings shoot (five years ago, yeesh!) and I’ve never replaced it. I also love the rainbow version!
Ruffle pie dish | We make a lot of pie around here, and I think this would be a sweet addition to our table! This lookalike is a great option at half the price, too.
A new family necklace | If you’ve seen a photo of me from the last five years, I was probably wearing a necklace with a gold “J” disc and a pearl bead. The J stood for John, June, and John Shepherd, but now that we’ve added an S to the crew, my necklace needs an upgrade! This time around, I’m picturing something a little bit different, and would love to custom-design a piece with one inset pearl for each baby and a diamond for John. (Think kind of like this classic Tiffany necklace, though on a shorter chain, with the pieces closer together, and not $31k LOLOLOL.) I’m hoping to go to Diamonds Direct here in Raleigh (where we got my engagement ring!) to talk about options. I’d happily consider this my Christmas/birthday/tenth anniversary present and know it would be a treasure I’d wear for the rest of my life.

And here are a few things I own and love that I think are worthy of adding to your wish list:

Julie Vos Penelope Demi Studs | I wear these 95% of days. Classic pearl studs with the loveliest gold-rim upgrade.
Ugg Classic Mini II Bootie | I was dubious about adding these to my wish list last year, but I am fully converted. Priceless for staying warm in the winter, especially with walking June to school and hanging with friends and neighbors outdoors.
Madewell jeans | Fact: they put magic in these jeans. This style is the GOAT (and an AMAZING price for Black Friday!) and these are my newest addition!
Summersalt swim suit | I have the Sidestroke and the Oasis and I LOVE them both. I would order up at least one size, as I think they run small. Very fun one-pieces and they’re always getting compliments from other mamas at the pool!
Striped snap tote | I bought six of these for teacher gifts one year when they were marked down to $15, and am SO glad I snagged one for myself, too! They fold up flat and snap open to fit a ton, and I use mine at least weekly!
Lake Pajamas | It’s been approximately three years since I’ve worn any other pajamas besides these ones. I wear the long-longs year-round and they feel so cool and silky.
Round serving tray | I have the blue design, but all three are absolutely gorgeous. They’re a good size and perfect for corralling things on a dresser or coffee table!
Bow sun hat | This hat is going on year six or seven and it still looks good as new! Packable, adorable, keeps my face protected.
Shearling slippers | At hours-of-wear, this item of clothing would probably clock in at the top of my wardrobe – they’re my go-to from when I walk in the door to hopping into bed.
Ellie Nap Dress | Perfect for pregnancy and post-partum and darling the rest of the time, too. I wore it all summer (and into the fall with a jean jacket!) and foresee much more wear in my future.
Tree Skippers | These shoes are incredibly comfortable and cute to wear with everything – dresses, shorts, jeans. Just make sure to wear no-show socks with them, as they are a bit prone to holes.
Boat & Tote bags | Incredibly sturdy and incredibly classic. I like mine open top, in navy, with sans serif embroidery.

Wishing you all excellent deals today! :)

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The story of Annie’s birth

23 November 2021

There are many ways to tell every story, and just as many ways to make meaning out of one. And so, as I thought about how to share the story of Annie’s birth here, as I twisted the memories from side to side, looking for what caught the light, I’ve come to decide that the story of our youngest daughter’s birth is above all a story of God’s faithfulness, His kindness, and His mystery. I would love to tell you about it.

Annie’s birth was my third c-section. To quickly recap: June, our first daughter, was delivered by c-section because she was breech. With Shep, I had the choice to attempt a VBAC or schedule another c-section. I planned to attempt a VBAC, but made it to my scheduled day with no signs of labor, and so delivered him by c-section, too. With a third baby at my practice, you no longer get a choice, so a third c-section it was!

I was a little nervous about this, because I had heard c-sections get harder with each subsequent one, but honestly was mostly relieved that I wouldn’t have to spend the whole pregnancy agonizing over whether to attempt a VBAC or not, as I did with Shep. And I had had two positive experiences with c-section deliveries and recoveries, so that was comforting!

One strange element of a scheduled c-section is that you get to choose your child’s birthday. As my due date approached, we compared the dates on the calendar to the doctors from my practice on call and debated the merits of various birthdays. In the end, it came down to either Thursday, July 8, or Monday, July 12. Those were the dates with my second and third favorite doctors (my first favorite, who delivered Shep, was not on call for the month of July!). We debated whether less-experienced nurses would be on during the holiday week. We discussed that a Fourth-of-July-week baby would be fun and festive. We looked at our work schedules. We considered proximity to John’s birthday (July 15th!). And we debated whether a few extra days might be just the time we needed to get John off crutches.

We eventually decided on July 8th. This time around, we didn’t need to worry about parents coming into town to watch our older kiddos, because they were already there! My parents had been staying with us for several weeks at that point to help care for all of us as John recovered and I progressed further and further into pregnancy.

And so we enjoyed our last few weeks as a family of four: a final date night to Mandolin, my niece staying with us to attend pony camp with June, our town’s Fourth of July parade, and, on the night before Annie’s delivery, a special picnic at one of our favorite parks with just the four of us. We ate pizza, the kids ran around, and we told them their sister’s name. It was special and sweet.

The next morning, we got up, took showers, finished packing our bags, hugged two sleepy kids, and left the house under a gray sky. We checked in at the Labor & Delivery wing at 6:30am for my 9:30am surgery, and after filling out a few last pieces of paperwork, were ushered to our room. Except… it wasn’t the room we were expecting. Instead of turning right to the Labor hall, as we had for June and Shep’s births, we were pointed left toward the surgical prep area.

And here, friends, is where we circle back to the primacy of expectations. Over and over again (and especially throughout pregnancy and my life as a parent), I have seen the power of expectations play out. When I have low expectations, I leave room for them to be happily exceeded. When I have high expectations, I leave room to be bitter and disappointed.

I made a particular point throughout my second and third pregnancies, and both newborn phases, to keep my expectations very neutral, and I really believe it was a key to my happiness throughout. I thought I had my hands open this time, too, but, as it turns out, not in the way I needed to.

Because the room we were ushered into was not the beautiful, comfortable, hotel-like room where we’d prepared for Shep and June’s births. No, this was a cold, empty, gray, windowless room with a narrow, hard, gurney-like bed. In my memory, it had a single crackling bulb dangling from the ceiling (that’s probably an exaggeration, ha). And friends, when the nurse closed the door after depositing us inside, I admit that I started to cry. And cried on and off for the next hour or so.

This is embarrassing to admit, no matter which way you look at it. As John gently reminded me, women have given, and still give, birth in circumstances orders of magnitude less clean, less comfortable, less safe. I had absolutely nothing to complain about, but, well, there it is. There I was. As I look back, I think a few things were at play:

Aesthetics matter to me. Lighting matters to me. A beautiful, comfortable space can lift my spirits and set me at ease, and a cold, harsh one can do the opposite. My emotions were already running high, knowing what was to come that day, and I think they went a little haywire when plunged into an unexpectedly harsh environment.

Something going off-script so early in the morning also sent me into a bit of a tailspin. If this was different, what else might have changed about the hospital’s policies? What else did I need to worry about or readjust my expectations on for the rest of the day?

Lastly and most significantly, being sent to this solitary, bare, out-of-the-way room made me feel less-than.

I know so many women battle feelings of inferiority when comparing their c-section births to “natural” ones, and thankfully, I had never really felt that way about either of mine. They were what I needed and resulted in healthy babies and a healthy mom, and that was good enough for me.

But to be put in this sad room, far away from all of the “normal” moms on the labor floor, made this feel far from a birth experience. It felt clinical. Surgical. None of the hustle and bustle, the cheerfulness, the light and warmth of the labor floor, the sense that exciting, wonderful things were happening all around us.

So yes, I cried. More than I’d like to admit – a hot concoction of frustration, confusion, anger, shame, and embarrassment. And I prayed. And finally, I slept. And when I woke up, God was gracious to give me a new lightness. I could joke with John about our surroundings, text with our families, follow the track of Tropical Storm Elsa (the eye was right over the hospital when I was in the operating room!), enjoy watching Wimbledon on the TV. I didn’t even mind the first few times our nurse popped her head in to let us know our surgery slot was being pushed back – from 9:30, to 10:30, to noon – and I was able to enjoy the now-familiar rhythms of c-section prep: meeting with the anesthesiologist, chatting with my doctor, getting a stomach bath, drinking the nasty liquid.

Finally, around 1:30pm, I was wheeled back to the surgery bay, John walking gingerly alongside. (Yes! He was cleared to walk in his boot without crutches just a day or two before her birth, though he still used them to get around most of the time.) As before, John and I parted ways at the surgery suite door so he could put on his gear and I could receive the epidural. Soon enough he appeared at my side, squeezing my hand.

One thing I was adamant about this time around was that I wanted worship music to be playing in the delivery room. As the surgery began and John pushed play on the songs I had put together, tears started to trickle down both sides of my face. He was, of course, worried when he saw this, and I remember saying, “No, no, it’s okay, they’re good tears, they’re good tears.”

In that moment, I was completely overwhelmed by the goodness of God. I was here, I was alive. My husband, the absolute love of my life, was at my side. I had two amazing, healthy babies waiting for me at home. I was about to meet our third baby and I just couldn’t wait to hold her in my arms.

I thought about the worries I had sustained in all three of my pregnancies, how I didn’t have to worry about those things anymore. I thought about how lucky I was that I even got to have a third baby. I thought about how grateful I was for this season of my life, of carrying and giving birth to our babies, how grateful I was to have been invited into this miracle and mystery three times over. How could I not cry? I’m tearing up now.

I said this was a story about God’s goodness and God’s mystery, and it is. I don’t know why I am so lucky. I don’t know why others are not. But I can assign the goodness and faithfulness of our story to God, because He is good and faithful, even when the circumstances are not. It’s what I’ve chosen to build my life on. The song that was playing when Annie was born was so fitting:

“There’s so much that I don’t see
But I see You, but I see You
And there’s so much that I don’t know
But I know You, but I know You
And there’s so much that I don’t understand
But I have seen Your goodness
And it’s just enough, that I’ll

Bet all I have on You, I bet all I have on You
I bet all I have on You, I bet all I have on You
‘Cause only a fool would find real love and just give it up
I bet all I have on You, I bet all I have on You.”

Our daughter was born at 2:26pm and weighed just over 7 pounds. She had a head full of dark hair (still does!) and looked absolutely horrified to find herself in such a bright room. They kept her in the warmer for longer than I remember June and Shep being there, but she and I got to snuggle as they finished the surgery (which was smooth and uneventful – just how we like them :)) Soon enough, we were wheeled out into the surgery hallway, where we were monitored for another two hours or so before scooting over to the family recovery floor (thankfully, the same lovely rooms that we were in after both other births!).

In the months since, she has lived up to the promise of her birth – she is a true sign of God’s goodness and faithfulness, the sweetest and most precious baby girl. I’m so grateful for her story, and as always, for getting to share a bit of it with you. xo

P.S. Shep’s birth story and June’s birth story.

2021 Gift Guide: Your Favorite Grown-Ups

22 November 2021

Nothing fancy, just a list of really great gifts that we’ve given, own, have on our wishlists, or are considering giving to our loved ones. With sales popping left and right this week, my hope is that somewhere in this list, you’ll find something that speaks to a personal connection with one of your loved ones (always the best gifts!) — or will at least get your wheels turning :)

For husbands, dads, and brothers:
— A phone tripod he can keep in his wallet (we have and love this!)
— An at-home car wash. I did this when John started a new job a few years, and it made his car look mint condition.
The Psychology of Money. A fantastic, compulsively readable book. Would be perfect for any grown-up!
— A Solo stove. At least in my circles, this seems to be the gift of 2021, and I’m here for it!
— A National Parks Pass + Landmark tee
— Red Clay Hot Sauce variety pack. We bought this Southern trio for our hot sauce-loving brother-in-law a few years ago and it was a hit!
— A Ted Lasso mug. This would make me so happy to sip from every day, but alas I do not regularly drink a beverage that requires a mug.
— A handful of smart plugs to set a scene
— A new game
— Anything from this post I wrote about John’s wardrobe favorites (so many good things in there!)

For moms, sisters, and best friends:
— A sweatshirt for your favorite reader
— Or the “anywhere” sweatshirt from my pal Merrick for your wanderlust gal
— The best conversation cards (I wrote them! :))
Half Baked Harvest Super Simple or any cookbook by Jenny Rosenstrach (my favorites: How to Celebrate Everything and The Weekday Vegetarians). Make it extra-special by earmarking recipes you love or think she should try first!
— A Write the Word journal and Faith action deck. Most WTW volumes have been out of stock for awhile but as of today they’re almost all back, including two of my favorites: Confidence and Fruit of the Spirit!
These pajama pants are clearly needed by some fabulous person
— If you live close enough, a restaurant gift certificate and a night of babysitting, if needed
— These serving trays from Rifle are absolutely gorgeous. It was so hard to choose but I have this round blue and white one to keep things corralled on my dresser and I love it so much.
— The most darling butter dish. I love the yellow and green palette!
— Pretty gold beaded hoop earrings
— A subscription to The Atlantic, Our State, or your news media of choice. The media landscape is having a tough time to the detriment of us all – if you think a publication is doing a good job, support them.

For parents or in-laws:
Obviously many of the above options would be good fits, but a few additional ideas…

— A Skylight digital photo frame. We gave one of these to my in-laws a few months ago and it has been a hit! So easy – you can send photos straight to it from your phone, so it’s easy for us to send new snaps at the end of a busy weekend or driving home from a hike.
— A fresh wreath (coastal or buy one locally and add a bow – these are the ones we use!)
— Something beautiful from Farmhouse Pottery. I think the style of their goods is just so timeless and beautiful. Go for a petite pitcher and pair with a jar of maple syrup or splurge on a pantry bowl and pair with a Stonewall Kitchen pancake mix (the best!!).
— Floral tea for one set. So lovely and obviously I’m biased because of the name :)
— Tickets to go to a game or show together. (For example, my Dad loves the UConn women’s basketball team and for awhile we’d buy him tickets whenever they were playing a team close to where we were living.)
— Thymes Frasier Fir candle (absolutely magical) or a National Park-themed candle (whose purchase supports public lands)
— A charcuterie board from a local company. In the Triangle, we’re lucky to have both Raleigh Cheesy and Boards & Bites to choose from!
— A flexible book light that goes around their neck for easy reading in bed (or repair work, knitting, camping, and more)
— A gorgeous pastel rainbow wind chime for their garden
— This coffee table book of timeless hymns
— A photo mug with the kids or grandkids (yes, they are 30% cheesy, but also beloved) or a photo wall calendar

Lots of fun ideas in last year’s guide, too. And of course, keep in mind that these categories are just starting points – mix and match to your heart’s content! You know your loved ones best!

Up next: Annie’s birth story! Perfect for the week of Thanksgiving :)

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2021 Gift Guide: Your Favorite Kids

18 November 2021

If you’re anything like me, your internet life is absolutely awash in gift guides right about now. I have NEVER seen them this early and in such force. Not without reason, but still – I kind of feel I’m drowning in them.

And here’s the thing about gift guides – though I scour them compulsively, 80% of the ideas in most are immediate nos for me. Even in the very best ones, only 50% or so are even worth considering at all.

And yet – I still read them, because sometimes all you need is just one gift that perfectly speaks to your loved one. I hope you find a few of those special things in my gift guides for 2021. Most of the ideas are pulled from items we own and love, have gifted, or have enjoyed at the home of a loved one.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to share a gift guide for your favorite grown-ups, one for stocking stuffers, my personal wish list, and the actual gifts we’re getting our three kiddos this year.

Today: kids!

Gifts for your favorite babies:

I like to keep gifts for babies (and their parents!) simple and practical. My best suggestions are in my “favorites” series – see here for gifts for babies at six weeks, five months, eight months, one year, and fifteen months.

Gifts for your favorite toddlers and preschoolers:

— A big box of colorful Duplos (hugely used by our kids for so many years)
— A set of MagnaTiles, because yes, they’re as good as everyone says they are. If you already have a set, add an extension like the cars or the bases. (MagnaTiles and PicassoTiles are interchangeable!)
— A sweet felt outer space and planets set
— A play kitchen (unsurprisingly, PB has gorgeous ones) + play food (anything Melissa & Doug is perfection!)
— A Micro Kickboard scooter. These are hands-down the best scooters – we’ve gifted them to both of our kids around age 2, 3-4 is the sweet spot, and June still enjoys riding hers at almost 6 although she more often rides her Razor, which the grandparents got her.
— A sweet princess-inspired dress that’s fun for dress-up but simple enough to wear to school. June has the Aurora!
— A mini shopping cart. It makes sense that these are metal because they are absolute magnets for kids of all sizes.
Horse leggings (soooo many cute options from Boden!)
Alice & Ames dresses, because they are the twirliest with the best patterns (this is my favorite print right now!)

More suggestions here: 2-year-old girl, 2.5-year-old girl, 3-year-old girl, 4-year-old girl, 3-year-old boy. I’ve also shared some of my toddler and preschooler favorites!

Gifts for your favorite elementary-school kids:

— A comfy pillow for her bed so she can cozy up and read (we got this one for June when she started kindergarten!)
— A baking set: the prettiest pink baking sheet, a pale blue cutting board, confetti tools, the best baking book, and/or a Liberty of London apron
— A flexible book light for reading in bed (this sunshine one is also cute!)
— A bold “read more books” pennant for his room (lots more options here!)
— This very adorable hand-drawn coloring book
— A framed story map from her favorite book (so many amazing options: Hogwarts, Chronicles of Narnia, Anne of Green Gables, the Hundred Acre Wood…)
— A bike (we LOVE June’s Priority Start!)
Walkie talkies. I think our kids would be obsessed with these.
— A sweet shirt with a sweeter message from a company started by a teen with autism
— A Kiwi Co subscription. This is a perfect grandparent gift. June (5, almost 6) looooves her Kiwi boxes and can do them independently. Shep (3) just started receiving the Koala crate and he loves being like big sister. June or a parent needs to help him complete his projects.
— A game you can play together: try Cover Your Assets, Ticket to Ride, or Boggle (more ideas here!)
— A Highlights magazine subscription
Personalized stationery like this colorful shadow text set or this firetruck set. (June would also LOVE the monogrammed notepad from this same shop.)
Piccolina has the sweetest tees and dresses inspired by trailblazing women
Bike wheel lights. We’ve gifted these to several nieces and nephews and they are always a hit!
This stunning set of The Chronicles of Narnia. Expensive but WOW what a statement (and no better books to splurge on!)
— Our favorite type of gift: an experience. Try tickets to a game or show (even a high school musical or college basketball game!); a membership to a museum, zoo, or aquarium; a ride on a local train; a tea + pedicure date; or movie tickets.

More elementary kid favorites here!

Gifts for your favorite teens and babysitters (mostly girls, let’s be honest):

— The happiest mugs
— An instax camera with extra film and LED photo string lights (this is what we got our high school babysitters who helped us all spring and summer when school was closed and it was a HIT!)
— Or this instax smartphone printer (for a heftier gift!)
— A disco ball. We have one of these in the CWM office, and June is OB-sessed. So maybe also a great gift pick for your five-year-old?
— A stack of pretty pastel bracelets (June – and I – would also enjoy these! The perfect gift for everyone, ha!)
— Maghon’s Happy Hand Lettering book
— A paint-your-own keychain kit. We did these at work – so fun!
— Or a classic O key ring
— A book of Catherine Newman’s life advice for teens (love her writing so much!)
— A very cool, very beautiful rainbow basketball
— The best socks
— A monogrammed toiletry bag like this bold striped one
— A Herschel wallet (this is the one John has!)
— An Eno hammock
— Our favorite type of gift: an experience. Try tickets to a game or show; a creative class; a barre or workout class or membership; a tea + pedicure date; movie tickets; Top Golf; or a jump park.

Whew! I hope that’s helpful! I’ve rounded up a bunch of ideas, but remember, kids don’t need much to be happy – in our family, we’ve actually found that too many gifts can be overwhelming and dull the whole experience. So choose wisely, and with joy – giving our kids good gifts is a really fun part of being a parent! :)

P.S. For even more ideas, check out my next most recent kiddo gift guide! Affiliate links are used in this post!