Love and light

28 February 2023

I am 36 today.

Those of you who have been around for awhile may recall why this is a significant birthday for me: for many years, I’ve considered 36 my spirit age, or the age that I consistently feel on the inside, regardless of the number of years I’ve clocked around the sun.

Some people feel perpetually 25. I have a friend who swears she’s meant to be 72. But for me, whether I was logging a late-night shift at the library at 21, shopping for a wedding dress at 25, or struggling to learn the ropes of breastfeeding at 28, somehow I felt I was always on my way to this moment: that my life experiences, my gifts, my heart would most perfectly be used in this way – as a wife, a mom to three little ones, a daughter, a sister. A friend who tries to make sunshine for the ones she loves. A writer. A meal train queen. A school-trip chaperone. Settled in her career. Snug in a church she loves. 36 is more beautiful than I could ever have hoped for, and I am truly more grateful than I ever would have thought possible. Life feels more precious every year.

In some ways, it also feels more complex. For example, I come up short when I compare the neatness of my journey thus far to those of others’ whom I love. I am no more special than anyone else, did no more right or less wrong than anyone else. It is blessing, but undeserved. It is luck, undeserved. I write this with a lump in my throat for those of you reading who have reached a certain age and find yourself not where you thought you’d be. There are a million cruel (and a few delightful) ways for plans to be derailed in this life. I’m sure many are still lying in wait for me.

And I’m looking ahead now – for most of my life, I’ve looked ahead. But now, when I look up, there’s no threshold on the horizon. I seem to have arrived.

All that preparation? It was for this. The sacrifice, particularly financial? It was for this. Those wedding magazines I read before I was engaged, the parenting books I read before I had kids? They led me here. I have often felt like an old soul, often find myself the youngest person in a room. How will things shift as I move away from this apex (of sorts)? Where to next?

Onward —

of course. Don’t worry: I am too optimistic to sit in this space for long. I was clear-eyed about this season of life, and I think I can be clear-eyed about the seasons (so many!) to come. Just because I looked to 36 didn’t mean I thought it would be perfect or without difficulty, and it’s not and it isn’t. Cars need to get towed, children want snacks, I have a bad attitude, people I love get sick, the kitchen counter needs to be wiped again. Lord willing, I have a long and beautiful life ahead of me, and perfection and ease are not the goal.

But awareness is. Gratitude. Presence. Feeling at peace while the fleeting, heartbreaking beauty of this season grates against its grit.

Thank you, Lord, for 36 years. May they have reflected your love and light.

I mined my camera roll for these collages and included pretty much every photo of me from the last year – or at least a representative snap from each event. It’s sweet to see them all together.

P.S. A fascinating article about “subjective age.”

Reading Harry Potter with our children

17 February 2023

If you are a Millennial parent of a certain age, there’s likely one milestone you’ve eagerly anticipated: reading Harry Potter with your children.

Of course, as an avid reader, there are MANY books I’ve eagerly anticipated sharing with my children, but Harry Potter is in a class of its own. It’s just so rich of a world; so dense with virtues like loyalty, courage, and love; so intertwined with memories from my own childhood; so close to my heart, that the idea of introducing my own children to Hogwarts has always felt tender and thrilling.

Recently, June and I completed the first book in this best-selling series of all time, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and I couldn’t wait to discuss…

How did we know this was the right age to read Harry Potter?

Like many of you, I grew up reading the Harry Potter books – and alongside Harry, himself. The first book was published in the US in 1998, when I was 11. I believe I read it about a year later, because I read the first and second books back-to-back. From there, I eagerly read each as they arrived to bookstores around the world, even attending a midnight launch for the final volume.

As a parent with all seven books on the shelf in front of me, the question of how I might guide my children through the series was a weighted one, and foreign to my adolescent self (because I was at the mercy of the publishing schedule). This is probably unsurprising, but I thought about it extensively – years before I was pregnant :)

For some reason, I had it in my mind that age 8 was the right age to introduce our kids to the wizarding world. June had no opinion – she had heard the words “Harry Potter” but had almost no conception of what they meant. John, however, thought she was ready, noting that she had already read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with us and on her own. Knowing that we’d plan to read just one book a year (more on that below), I agreed to dive in, and we gave her the illustrated copy of the first book for her 7th birthday.

Why did we choose the illustrated Harry Potter over the original version?

I’ll admit I was somewhat biased against the illustrated versions, for no good reason beyond that it wasn’t the version I grew up with – ha! But I will gladly admit the error of my ways, because the illustrated versions are GORGEOUS. They’re larger than the traditional books, and so somewhat unwieldy to read, but the read-aloud experience makes up for it.

The illustrated versions are unabridged, just with the addition of illustrations throughout. Especially for a younger reader, the illustrations – sometimes just a single icon on the page, other times a full riot of color stretching across the almost two-foot span of the open book – add even more delight to the reading experience. I’m very glad we went with the illustrated version.

What did our seven-year-old think about Harry Potter?

From the first chapter, she was all in.

And this muggle let out a sigh of happiness :) I don’t know if it was my and John’s evident excitement or simply the magic of J.K. Rowling’s world working its way into her heart, but she loved the story practically from the first page. I read one chapter a night, and both of us were eager to climb into bed each evening.

June is a strong reader and regularly reads chapter books on her own, but the Sorcerer’s Stone was definitely a notch in difficulty above what she is used to – for a few reasons. First, Rowling drops you into a new world, and there is a LOT to learn (and not a lot of it is explicitly explained). As re-readers, it’s easy to forget how foreign the wizarding world is, but not only did June need to follow the plot, she had to learn the rules of how things worked in a new place and keep track of lots of funny-sounding names.

Rowling’s writing is also richer and more complex than her usual fare. Occasionally, she’d ask me to read a little slower, and I learned to pause a beat when I imagined she might need a moment to synthesize what we’d just read.

Something else that I think helped with her comprehension: she retold every chapter in great detail to John the next morning. He does most of the morning routine, and she’d fill him in on exactly what had happened the night before over breakfast :)

What is our plan for reading the rest of the books?

The plan is to gift her the next book on her birthday each year, and read them aloud together – yes, even when she’s 13 and we’re reading the final book in the series. (Sob.) This will create what I hope will be a magical, memorable reading experience folded into the fabric of her childhood, and will allow her to mature alongside the book’s themes as they become darker and more complex.

She of course wanted to read the second book right away, but acquiesced when we told her the plan. We also reminded her she could read the first book as many times as she wanted between now and then – and then she promptly read the entire thing again, on her own, in under 36 hours (!). I imagine it will not be the last time before her 8th birthday.

What is our plan for reading Harry Potter with our other children?

The plan is the same, allowing that one or both of them might not be ready to read the first book at age 7 – in which case, we’d use our judgment to make sure they have a great start to the series. Yes, this means at some point I’ll be reading three volumes of Harry Potter each year, but you won’t hear me complaining :)

What about the Harry Potter movies?

We plan to watch each movie after we complete the book! We already watched the first movie, which June loved. It was delightfully sweet and childish – just as it should be for the first book. Just John and I watched with June after the others had gone to bed, not on a family movie night.

What was the most magical part of reading Harry Potter with our children?

For a lover of books, introducing a favorite to a fellow reader is always magical and often freighted, but even more so when the fellow reader is your child. It was a joy to see June fall in love with the characters I love, and a joy to re-read (again) J.K. Rowling’s absorbing, delightful writing.

Re-reading the earlier books in the series never fails to impress me – there are so many tiny details and seemingly offhand comments that become major plot points later in the series. But what struck me most in this reading – I teared up – was Dumbledore’s description of the powerful force of Lily’s love for Harry:

“Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign… to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin. Quirrell, full of hatred, greed, and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good.”

Also, at the beginning, June was constantly calling things the wrong names, and it was the absolute cutest: particular favorites were Huffypuff, Ravenhopper, and Albatross Dumbledore :)

Friends, I hope this gave you a few practical thoughts on when to read Harry Potter with your own children, or simply provided a welcome walk down memory lane from your own childhood! :) And if you have read Harry Potter with your family, I’d love to hear how it went.

Affiliate links are used in this post!

Our keys to marriage happiness

14 February 2023

On our tenth-anniversary marriage summit, one of the questions we spent time plucking at was: what are our keys to a happy marriage? That might seem like a strange thing to discuss, but when we name what matters, we solidify it – which is the beginning of getting more of it. It was a deeply satisfying conversation, and something I knew I wanted to share in part here.

Of course, sharing feels a little squishy, and I don’t necessarily write to encourage you toward the things that bring us happiness – we are two unique people with unique wiring and a unique history, and what speaks to our deepest needs and desires might not move the needle for you. There are a million ways to have a good marriage. I share in the hopes that it might inspire you to name the keys to your own marriage happiness – to spark a conversation across your dinner table or on your next date night.

And also, selfishly, I’m sharing for my children. I hope they look back one day and think, mom and dad really loved each other, and they enjoyed each other. I hope this post helps them understand why that was so.

Without further ado…

It’s been too long since we looked at some wedding photos, no? I narrowed myself to black and white ceremony photos for today :) All by the inimitable Tanja Lippert!

1. We share a faith that compels us to help each other become more holy. This is the only place to start (and as you can see, the title of this post is a bit of a misnomer). While we desire happiness in our marriage, at our best, we aim for holiness. Happiness, we are believing, will be a byproduct of this pursuit.

From The Meaning of Marriage: “What, then, is marriage for? It is for helping each other to become our future glory-selves, the new creations that God will eventually make us. The common horizon husband and wife look toward is the Throne, and the holy, spotless, and blameless nature we will have. I can think of no more powerful common horizon than that, and that is why putting a Christian friendship at the heart of a marriage relationship can lift it to a level that no other vision for marriage approaches.”

When John and I are each pursuing God, by His grace we will find it easier and easier to love each other well. If we are aiming for a standard of marriage and to treat each other in a way that is not of this world, we might expect to find greater marital happiness than most do in this world.

2. Our core values and virtues are aligned. Long before we were married, someone influential told us that “compatibility” is less important in marriage than shared core values, and we’ve found that to be true. We are bound by the things that we hold most deeply and reverently: our faith, integrity, generosity, loyalty, optimism, delayed gratification, personal responsibility, gratitude. Knowing we are united in what’s most important bridges a lot of gaps day to day.

3. We cast vision for our future together. John and I both score highly for the Futuristic StrengthsFinder theme (“People exceptionally talented in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They energize others with their visions of the future.”), and so we make time to dream together. We talk about what we hope to do next week, month, year, in ten years and fifty years. We talk about what we want our future summers to look like, future anniversaries, camping trips, financial goals, even our retirement. Believing we’re going somewhere good together keeps us united and happy.

4. We started young and have grown in the same direction. In my marriage vows, I promised John that we would always grow toward each other, not away. I know God was with me when I wrote those vows, because this has only become more true and important over time. When you inevitably change (and you will, especially when you’re high school sweethearts), you have the choice of growing toward your partner or away from him. At every juncture, we’ve tried to grow toward each other (though always imperfectly), and it has led to joy and beauty we never would have known had we dug our heels in.

Finding each other young was also a gift we did not deserve – our similar backgrounds and almost non-existent dating history basically took a whole category of potential landmines off the table, and that has certainly aided in our happiness.

5. We regularly reflect on our life together. At Cultivate, one of our core phrases is “reflection reaps rewards,” and it is certainly true in our marriage. Not only do we regularly (at least annually) set aside time to reflect on what’s working and what’s not in our marriage, but we try to act on what we uncover – for example, banning certain phrases, or setting thoughtful intentions. Tiny nudges in the right direction, when extrapolated over time, have made a big difference in how happy our life is day to day.

6. We treasure and celebrate our marriage. We only reflect and dig in and fix things when we believe they have value. And in the case of our marriage, we do – we believe it has great value, that it’s important (see no. 1). We remind each other of that regularly. And we spend time and money celebrating what we have, whether through an end-of-year dinner or a 10th anniversary trip.

7. We want to look good for each other. Some might chafe against this one, and I get it. Of course our love is not conditional on outward beauty, and we are not aiming for perfection. We have plenty of slouchy days. He has seen me and loved me at my most vulnerable, and would do so a million times over if needed (as would I, for him).

But – I am honoring the body he fell in love with just as I am the soul and mind and spirit he fell in love with, and he is doing the same for me. And we cheer each other on in this by doling out frequent compliments (John is exceptional at this; I try to keep up.). The things we love become lovelier when we love them, and we both believe that complimenting each other regularly has helped wire our brains to see each other’s loveliness. And of course it makes the other person feel good! There’s probably some brain science that could back me up in this :)

8. We spend time together. I wouldn’t say date nights are foundational for our marriage – we could survive without them – but as this is a post about happiness, they can’t go unmentioned. Spending time with John and talking with him is one of my greatest delights! As parents, we don’t have a ton of free time, but what we do have, we try to spend with each other. We go for walks. We watch the same shows. Neither of us have hobbies that eat up large chunks of our time. We of course have our own interests, but we make what we have in common the priority.

9. We never give each other a reason to doubt our love. I wrote these words in 2014 and they are equally true today: I’m not sure if I’m qualified to give marriage advice, seeing as we’ve only just passed our first anniversary, but perhaps I can offer some relationship advice — we have been together for almost ten years, after all. There are a lot of things I could tell you about what works for us, but I think one of the strongest things about our relationship is that we trust in it without reservation. We’ve never given each other a reason to doubt it, and so we’ve never been tempted to do so. We don’t treat our love for each other like it’s conditional, or could be threatened to be taken away, or withheld as a bargaining chip. Even if we are angry or frustrated, at bedrock, we both have always known without a doubt that we are acting from a place of unshakeable love.

10. We believe and act like we are a team that’s a force for good in the world. We believe our marriage has a purpose larger than just ourselves, our children, or our happiness. We know we can do more together than we can apart, and we’re curious and expectant about what that might look like in the years to come. And having purpose makes us happier, just like most humans.

I read through a lot of old blog posts as I was writing, and this quote (from John!) stuck out to me: “People often talk about how marriage is so hard, but we’ve found it to be the most comfortable and best thing ever. I think the world (and people thinking about marriage) need to hear more messages about how great marriage can be, and we are happy to do that.” Writing about marriage is not the easiest thing, but I think it’s a good thing. I hope you agree :)

I’m curious: is there one of these keys you’d like to hear more about? Even though this post is long, I had to restrain myself, because each felt like it could be a blog post of its own! And if you’re in a relationship, I’d love to hear a key to your happiness together!

The first annual Articles Club weekend retreat

9 February 2023

If you’re not familiar with the history of Articles Club, you might be surprised to know how it started: with a gathering of a dozen or so strangers in my living room, united only by their love for reading interesting writing and discussing interesting ideas (and the fact that they read either my or Stephanie’s blog, ha). Over the last seven years, most of those strangers have moved on, replaced over time by a sturdier and sturdier group of acquaintances, then friends, then members of a group text (don’t laugh – the advent of the group text was a big moment in the friendship evolution!). We’ve welcomed babies, we’ve weathered a pandemic, and now – we’ve stayed in house together for the weekend.

It was, as you might imagine, a delight. I’d love to share a few details, if you’d like to see!

Thank you to many of the AC gals for sharing these photos! And if you’re wondering why Club is sometimes spelled Clurb, it is not a typo – just a bit of an inside joke :)

Planning a weekend retreat:

Articles Club currently has 12 members – that’s a lot of ladies (and husbands and kids and pets back home) to organize! So we started early. After casually discussing the idea of a weekend retreat for a few months, we polled the group in August to gauge availability of January and February weekends. (And I mean literally polled – we used Doodle.) We felt a winter getaway would be cheaper, easier to coordinate, and would give us something to look forward to after the holidays.

Once we had a weekend that worked with everyone’s schedule, we split up into committees. The committees were thus: Logistics, Activities, Food, Beverage, and Surprises & Swag.

Logistics researched rentals, booked the house and communicated with the owner, collected and distributed money, assigned rooms, spearheaded coordinating travel to the beach, and made sure we had the necessary household supplies, among other things.

Activities (this was my committee!) decided on the flow of the weekend and filled in the details. We also created a printed itinerary that we mailed to everyone’s home in the week leading up to the retreat – a very extra detail that got everyone excited.

Food decided how we would handle meals and created a SignUp Genius form to delegate responsibilities. (We teamed up in twos and threes, and each team was responsible for buying the groceries for and making one meal.) They also asked us each to bring a favorite snack for impromptu munching throughout the weekend.

Beverage prepared a cocktail and mocktail option for each dinner, and made sure we had other beverage options aplenty (coffee, tea, juice, etc.).

Surprises & Swag was our committee of Enneagram 7’s (and one 5 to keep them grounded, ha!) and boy did they go to town. They met in person MULTIPLE times in the months leading up to the retreat and dreamed up all sorts of goodies – and a surprise activity or two, as well.

Where we stayed:

We stayed in a beautiful rental home in Oak Island directly on the beach. It was about a 2.5 hour drive from the Triangle where we all live, and very affordable in the offseason – we each paid about $135 for our two nights. We arrived on Friday and departed on Sunday.

Our house had two kings, three queens, a bunk room, a double room, and a sofa bed. The Logistics Committee asked us each to send them any sleeping requests in advance (i.e. I don’t mind sharing a room, I’d rather have my own bed, I sleep with white noise, I wake up really early), and then assigned us to a room accordingly. I thought this was very thoughtful, and it worked out perfectly!

What we did at our girls’ weekend retreat:

Let’s get into it!


Our house was available at 4pm, but some gals arrived as early as noon to have lunch in Oak Island, walk the beach, and read on the deck as everyone trickled in over the next few hours. We had a very informal Trader Joe’s + Aldi’s cheese tasting as we arrived, unpacked, got settled, and admired the sunset.

We also listened to the playlist we’d compiled in advance – we all had contributed to a VERY eclectic mix that included everything from Third Eye Blind to Shania, Tracy Chapman, ABBA, Paul Simon, Lizzo, the Avett Brothers, and much, much more. It was a musical journey.

Once we were all gathered, the Surprises & Swag Committee presented their goods and wow did they go above and beyond. Following a classic camp theme, we each received a bandana embroidered with our name, a baseball hat with a custom patch, a customized sweatshirt, a custom sticker, and probably a few other items I’m forgetting. What a treat!!

Dinner was lasagna (prepared in advance and thrown in the oven upon arrival), garlic bread, and a yummy salad. As we wrapped up our meal, Stephanie and I handed out trivia sheets. We had asked everyone to send us three fun facts for a trivia game, and they did not disappoint. Facts included everything from “I totaled a driver’s ed car” to “I have a tooth in my neck” and “I’ve cashed a two-million-dollar check at the bank.” We contain multitudes, apparently :)

Finally, we ended the night with warm brownie sundaes and 7×7 PowerPoint presentations. Apparently popular on TikTok, the idea is that you use 7 minutes and 7 slides to present on a niche topic. Presentations included hosting tips, Articles Club superlatives, and movies that are better than the book.


Wakeup times varied, as did morning activities – some gals went for a walk on the beach, some ran, some read. We all had a delicious meal of breakfast casserole, cinnamon rolls, and fruit.

The rest of the day was a restful, delightful mix of crafting (valentines, friendship bracelets, and bedazzled sunglasses), chatting, walking on the beach, playing Dutch Blitz, reading, and napping. When lunch got slightly derailed due to a canceled late arrival (we love you, Pressley!!), we snacked on cornbread, hot pretzels, fruit, salad, and charcuterie. Our lighter lunch was just fine, because dinner was a taco fiesta, complete with margaritas.

After dinner, we were released to create togas out of the bedsheets we had been instructed to bring. With the help of a hilarious YouTube video, we did just that, and in no time were dressed and ready for – you guessed it – a murder mystery, masterminded by the S&S Committee. The fun didn’t stop there: we ended the night with warm chocolate chip cookies and a few rounds of Fish Bowl/Celebrity.


Breakfast on Sunday was a delicious eggs benedict casserole, leftover cinnamon rolls, and fruit. After lovely weather for most of the weekend, we cleaned up and packed out in the rain. Though it makes loading the car a bit more difficult, rain always seems like a fitting end to a beach trip, don’t you think?

Couldn’t have done it (and wouldn’t have wanted to do it) without my co-founder :)

How we handled expenses:

We polled the group anonymously early in the process to gauge whether people felt comfortable spending $25, $35, or $50 in addition to the cost of the house, which helped to create a budget for the committees that needed it. The Logistics Committee used the app Splitwise to handle payments – it allowed anyone who needed to to request payments from each member (payments could easily be completed in the app or by Venmo). Many individuals happily chipped in extra for some of their committee’s details, and everyone was responsible for groceries for a meal.

I know friend weekends are old hat for some of you, but this was the first one I’ve been a part of as a grown-up! From beginning to end, planning to departure, it was a delight. I hope this recap might help you plan a future weekend of your own, and if you have any questions, I’d be happy to help!