Featured Slider

Reflecting on 2023

 I had no idea until I opened my Blogger account that I had not posted here in nearly three years, but to quote Genie, "Look who's back from the dead!"

She lives!

When I shared these questions from my friend RA earlier this week, I jokingly told her I wanted to go old-school and write the answers out on my blog a la 2013. I didn't have any real intention of doing that, but the idea stuck around like a little mental barnacle so here we are. 


1.    What did you do on your birthday? I went to work and avoided telling my students that it was my                birthday. =) We also went to Willie's and I got a lemon pound cake from Montgomery County Bake            House like i do every year!

2.    What are your strongest memories from this year, and why? Oh, man. Walking laps around my little            corner of the campus at Sam. Driving to work. Lots and lots of walking in the neighborhood too. Too         many trips to the dentist. Car line with Alice. Days at home with Amy Jane. Lots of sweet times with         both girls and Jonathan, especially bedtime. And my trip to Connecticut.

3.    What did you do this year that you'd never done before? Started therapy!

4.    What did you want and get? Some momentum and help with my mental health, a new car (more of a            need than a want), more books.

5.    What did you want and not get? More bookshelves. =) Also, new carpet. Maybe this year!

6.    What would you like to have next year that you didn't have this year? Less anxiety, worry, and fear;            more intentional time with my girls, especially reading aloud

7.    Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year? I kept some big               ones! Maintained my bullet journal another year, started and stuck to using Goodreads and also stuck        with sharing my books consistently on Instagram stories every Sunday night!

8.    What are you most proud of this year? Admitting that I needed help. Starting therapy, finding a new           (amazing) doctor. Trying new forms of treatment and trusting God to use a variety of tools to bring             healing. Also having good relationships with and getting great feedback from my students!

9.    What do you wish you had done better? I wish I had been a more patient and present mom. 

10.    What did you rely on when you were overwhelmed? Scripture, breath prayers (a game changer!),                audibooks, long walks, Diet Coke

11.     What are your top recommendations for entertainment from this year? (books, television, movies,               music, etc) Book: All My Knotted-Up Life by Beth Moore (number one by a mile!) along with the               three Elisabeth Elliiot biographies I read. I'll be thinking about them forever! TV: All Creatures                   Great and Small (the new season comes to America next week!) Movie: Matilda (kind of cheating             because it came out last year but we love it!) Music: new releases from Keith and Kristyn Getty,                JJ Heller, Broadway cast albums for Parade and Sweeney Todd.

12.     What song will remind you of this year? "All the Wasted Time" and "This Is Not Over Yet" from               Parade, "We Know the Way Back Home" by Dave Barnes, "I Set My Hope on Jesus" by the Gettys,            "Holy Forever" by Chris Tomlin,  Midsummer album by Joel Clarkson 

13.     Quote a song lyric that sums up your year (not necessarily from the song that reminds you of the                 year). "I'll follow you right where the road it splits in two, and if we get lost it's me and you and we             know the way back home." Dave Barnes

14.     What was your most enjoyable purchase? FOR SURE our new car. Praise hands!

15.     Did you travel? If so, where? To family- NC, GA, CT, and whatever's in between on the drive!

16.     What do you wish you'd done more of? Playing the piano, praying, journaling, drinking water, more            consistent devotional time

17.     What do you wish you'd done less of? Worrying, reading (I've got to slow down!), being grumpy               with the girls over things that don't matter, being afraid of how people perceive me

18.     Compared to this time last year, how are you different? I'm more open about what I'm struggling              with, naming it and taking the power from lies my anxiety tells me. I'm more okay with not being               okay but more committed than ever to taking care of myself so I can be the best mom and wife I can            be. I'm also more aware than ever that I absolutely cannot put my trust in anyone but Jesus. 

19.     Compared to this time last year, how are you the same? I'm still my Broadway/Disney/book nerd                self, reading too much and sharing too many memes with my family and friends and being sarcastic            and self-deprecating to an unhealthy degree. Still the good ol' Ash you know and tolerate. =)

20.     What's a life lesson you learned this year? People will surprise you in ways you never imagined (not            in a good way). Standing up for what's right is always right and siding with wrong is always wrong.            "Help" is a full prayer. What you don't repair, you'll repeat, and what you don't transform, you'll                transfer.

Brought to you by @definitelyra

As I’ve been reflecting on the last year and all the changes, both good and bad, that it’s brought my way, there are so many things I could never have predicted at the beginning of 2023. Obviously the biggest issue is that I’ve struggled with my mental health at new and scary levels, but I’ve also sought real help for the first time. It’s been slow going, and I’m really just getting started, but I’m thankful for all the resources and tools God is using in my healing process.

I’ve always loved personality tests, from silly Buzzfeed quizzes to more serious tools like the Enneagram or Four Tendencies. I think Jon Acuff is right when he says, “Self-awareness is a superpower.” And knowing ourselves doesn’t just help with decision making or relationships; it helps us become more fully who God made us to be. A lot of the reading and study I’ve done in the last few years has focused on those topics, and I know it’s helped me to understand just how my brain works (or doesn’t!) and how to respond accordingly.

But a quote I read a few years ago has stayed with me all this time and I’ve thought about it often in recent months. All the work I’m doing with therapy and books and medication is good and it’s helping. I know myself and my limits. But Charles Krauthammer (whose invaluable voice I miss more than ever these days) said this: 

"The dictum for this age should not be that the unexamined life is not worth living, but that the unlived life is not worth examining." 

I don't want an unlived life. I don't want to be crippled with anxiety, bound up in fear, or paralyzed by uncertainty. I don't want my peace or my presence or my passions to be dictated by the lies my mental illness tells me. I want to relentlessly pursue healing and walk in freedom in Christ, in clarity, in constant hope and expectation for all that God can do when I trust Him for help and strength and the courage to face another day. I'm not even sure what this will mean for my work or my parenting or my writing or my health, but I'm bound and determined to seek out the opportunities for growth and wholeness when I'm able to.

I'll continue to examine my life (I'm too neurotic not to!), but more than anything, this coming year, I want to live it. 

"I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly." John 10:10 

One Year with Amy Jane

If you're thinking, "Hey, wasn't Amy Jane's birthday almost a month ago?" then you would be correct, but the four weeks since her birthday have been super crazy (including two full weeks that we were out of town) so I am just now getting around to this post that all six of you care about. 

However, even if it's only for my own personal record/memories, I like writing this stuff down and having it to look back on. I love that if I want to (even though I rarely have) I can reread posts from when Alice was a baby because there are SO many little details that I have forgotten already and if I know one thing, it's that my memory and brain cells are depleting at an even faster rate these days. Not to mention I have definitely had some the typical mom guilt for over-documenting my firstborn and slightly neglecting to do the same for my second baby. I mean, yes, there's been a pandemic. But still. 

It's so crazy to me that this baby is one. In some ways the year, Covid and all, flew by. Other times, it's hard to remember life before Amy Jane completed our family (yes, I said completed, as in finished, as in done, as in no more children, Mom). I think my transition from one to two children has had its own unique and unexpected learning curve since so many tools in my parenting toolbox (Chick-fil-A playground! Y childcare! Story time!) have been taken away... it feels like the tools and the box itself all got tossed in the trash. But, alas. We have made it and through all the insanity and uncertainty of this past year, Amy Jane (like all the 2020 babies!) has been the constant, joyful sunshine we needed. I've said before that it's a bummer that her first year of life will forever be inextricably tied to this horrible virus, but she's literally kept me sane on a lot of days when that felt impossible. So, thanks for joining us, little bean.  

Weight/Length: She just had her 12 month checkup so I actually know this! For a few months we were concerned about her weight gain (or lack of it, really) and finally realized that actually she just wanted to be eating solid food at any and all moments of the day. HA! So she's 18.5 pounds and 31.5 inches long, which for reference is 2 pounds lighter and 2 full inches longer than Alice was at 15 months. She's a string bean like her daddy! She's finally back on the growth chart at 17th percentile for weight and--unsurprisingly--96th for height. It's such a relief to know she's growing like she should!

Nicknames: Bean. Beanie Baby. Sweet Potato. Sissy. Sisert. 

Sleep: She's doing great! Still sleeping about 12 hours at night and taking a good nap in the afternoon. She's been an angel sleeper almost from day one and I would love to take credit for that but I can't so don't come at me with your pitchforks. It's God's gift to me after my epidural didn't work. 

Eating: We made it to one full year of nursing and as of last week she's officially weaned! I'm not sad about it (goodness, it was hard this time around, probably because of her crazy sister trying to destroy my home while I was completely helpless to stop her for 30-40 minutes at a time) but I'm proud to have done it for a whole year because I wanted to quit after like a month. šŸ˜Š Meanwhile, her appetite rivals Alice's and she eats literally anything and everything. Stir fry, green beans, sweet potatoes, and rice have been some of her recent favorites. Also it's pretty impressive what she manages to put away considering she still has zero teeth. 

Clothing: She's all over the place depending on style and brand, but mostly 9 months and some 12 months. I just put away a bunch of 6-9 and 6-12 month things. Separates are tricky so she wears a lot of dresses!

Mood: We were just laughing today because she's so happy and LOUD at home but when we go out she mostly just stares at people with a judgy look (honestly, same šŸ˜‚) and refuses to smile. I think it's just a remnant of the first few months of her life when she barely saw another soul outside our house. She is super smiley and giggly most of the time but lately she's started SCREAMING this horrid piercing scream when she doesn't get what she wants (which is almost always food and/or freedom to crawl around and find things to put in her mouth. (so, more food). 

Loves: Her sister, especially when Alice yells things at her, which Amy Jane finds hilarious and I... don't.

-Her daddy. She does a happy dance and squeals his name when he gets home every day!

-White noise. Why I didn't use this with Alice I don't know but it's a lifesaver.

-Riding in the stroller (and now shopping carts!)

-Taking bubble baths with her sister

-Eating. Always.

Doesn't Love: Waiting for food.

-Lack of attention (fortunately this is rare).

-Riding in the car

-When her big mean sister steals her toys

-Alone time (she has a lot to learn)

-Almost anyone besides her parents holding her (we're working on it. Again- covid baby!)

What I Want to Remember/Milestones: Well, her Baby Yoda birthday party was pretty awesome. It all turned out exactly how I imagined in (thanks to Gigi) and I just loved it. She looked so cute in her little Yoda ears and it was unique and funny and perfect. We got to spend time with all the grandparents and some other family this past month, which was fun. She's kind of walking... more like pulling up and stumbling from one thing she can hold onto to the next. I think her record is six steps and honestly I'm fine with that. She flew three more times this month and did pretty well (thankfully her little screaming trick developed mostly after those). She can say yeah, mama, dadda, Papa, Gigi, Nana, and (we think) sissy. I love her long, wispy hair, giant eyes, fake laugh (the one she does when the rest of us are laughing and she just wants to join in), the funny way she says "daDA" when she's excited to see Jonathan, her bed head and huge smile in the morning, her blowing kisses... I look at her at least once a day and wish I could freeze time. She's just so sweet.

What I'm Looking Forward To: Easter next week for sure. This really feels like Amy Jane's first Easter because last year we were in actual quarantine and it was all online but this year she'll also be old enough to look for eggs (with a little assistance!) and I know she and Alice are going to have so much fun with that. Also, SUMMER. Well, not the heat or humidity or bugs or desperation. But pool days and having Jonathan home? YES. I have a few ideas/plans for this summer and I want it to be really special. Other than that, we're just kind of on a hamster wheel over here with nothing much coming up. 

Me: Ah, the million dollar question. (NOT. But wouldn't that be nice??) I am okay. The last few weeks/months have been hard for several reasons, mainly that between weaning, switching birth control (tmi? sorry), traveling, and just stress my hormones have gone full-blown CRAZY on me and the physical and mental toll has been pretty significant. Things have taken a turn for the better just this weekend actually so I'm very thankful for that and crossing my fingers that it stays that way and this isn't a fluke. Also, it's the thick of golf season (Jonathan is a coach) so I have a lot of really long days alone with the girls right now (and for several more weeks) so that's challenging. There's a loneliness to stay-at-home motherhood that is present no matter what but the regular human/adult interactions that I was able to have through the gym or whatever are no more so I think it's getting to me more than usual. (Although there are probably childcare workers at the Y who aren't sad they don't have to have awkwardly long conversations with me anymore.) 

Anyway. I'm fine. March is always a weird month that seems to stretch out forever even before the Demon March of last year (no offense, Amy Jane, as it is your birth month) and that I want to end inexplicably since that's only ushering in hotter temperatures that I am in no way prepared for. I've been reading a lot, as usual but this is the only thing I've really written in weeks and honestly I don't feel the pull to it like I usually do. I think I'm just not in a season or rhythm of output right now and that's totally okay. Somehow I think the internet will survive without more of my content/"charm, wit, and sparkling dinner conversation." (If you understand that reference there's a solid chance we will be best friends.) 

I wanted this to be more celebratory of Amy Jane and reflective of life with two girls and a lot of other things, but it is what it is. I can share those things another time. But I truly did want to acknowledge the gift of this sweet little baby and the perfect timing of her arrival (in more ways than one!) and the absolute delight that she is to us every single moment. Jonathan is a total sucker for her, Alice is obsessed with her (dangerously, sometimes šŸ˜‚) and I kiss her about a million times a day and never get tired of it. 

We love you, Amy Jane. Thanks for being in our family. Please stop screaming. 

Amy Jane- 10 Months

I'd just like to start by saying that poor Amy Jane's entire lifespan has coincided with the existence of this awful pandemic, so every month that passes marks not only all the joy of having her with us but also brings feelings of, "Holy cow, how in the world is this still going on?" regarding all things Covid. Sooo... it's a bit of a mixed bag. But of course we are more grateful than ever that she's been around in all this madness. It's been the perfect medicine (no, baby smiles are not actual medicine, lest I get flagged by the fact checkers for saying so. But aren't they??) 

Here we go!

Getting a picture of this wiggle worm is a struggle these days, hence the blurry feet. (Blurry Feet sounds like a weird indie band name.)

Weight/Length: She's right over 15 pounds and about honestly I'm not sure how many inches because I normally write that down in my phone but I didn't and it's on the chart thing from her last appointment but I am too lazy to get up and find it. (That sentence was so boring I nearly fell asleep typing it.) Her weight gain was a big concern for several months but she's finally back on track as of her last checkup so I'm greatly relieved (and greatly ready to be done nursing, but don't tell her I said that). 

Nicknames: Sissy, Sisert, Toodles, Sweet Potato, and Bean. Always. (Also we have a variety of cheers and chants and songs that we insert her name into like the normal people we are.)

Sleep: She's still sleeping really well... not quite as long as she used to but I'll take what we are getting! She's not a great napper but I kind of expected that since Alice wasn't either. 

Eating: She's still nursing 4-5 times a day (which I'd like to cut down soon but didn't feel comfortable doing until we got her weight back on track). She's eating ALLL the solids we give her including any table food she is lucky enough to receive (that totally sounds like we're feeding a puppy). She recently "chewed" (with her little gummy toothless gums) several small Chick-fil-A fries and had a wonderful time doing so. I'd like her to get better at picking food up and feeding herself so we'll be doing a few more little finger foods here soon.

Clothing: This poor child. She is all over the place in sizes. She's long, so pants that fit in the wait are like capris on her, but if we get the length right the waist is usually falling down! Six month things are getting too small, a lot of 9 month stuff is big, but 6-9 is working pretty well! It all just depends on the brand... I have bought her a few pairs of 6-12 month leggings from Old Navy that fit great but the 6-9 month jeans I just got her from Target are enormous. She's just so petite! 

Mood: She's so happy!! She's always been a good baby but I'd say there's been a definite switch in the last couple months and she's more content than she was before. She is less sensitive (I think) and also really happy to be mobile and "involved" in what her sister is doing and able to move around and get her own toys and that kind of thing. She really is easy to have around! 

Loves: Playing with (chewing on) her toys

Flipping through books


Bath time

Riding in the stroller (she can be buckled in instead of riding in her car seat now and she's obsessed)

Seeing her daddy


"Chasing" Alice (I face her outward and run toward Alice growling and they both think it's the funniest thing in the world

Doesn't Love: the car (still!)

Being wet (who would?)

Keeping her bows on

Being ignored/left alone for too long (same, girl)

When Alice steals her toys

Wearing socks

What I Want to Remember/Milestones: Oh, so many! We got to see family at Christmas and of course passing her around as the baby of the cousins is so fun. She is pulling up on everything and is super grabby. Also, a climber. (Heaven help me.) She started waving and clapping, continues to do the worm instead of crawl on all fours most of the time, and loves trying new foods! 

What I'm Looking Forward To: Honestly, I'm having a hard believing that we're this close to her birthday. I know that's a cliche, but I think the fact that she's so little and also the absolutely bizarreness of the passage of time this past year have combined to make it incomprehensible to me. Anyway, I have settled on a theme for her party (whatever that looks like) and since her birthday is exactly two months away I'm trying to get a jumpstart on the plans. Other than that, I'm just looking forward to her continuing to grow and develop and amaze people with her giant eyes! =) 

Me: I'm okay! It's a weird time of year for me because I simultaneously want to plan and dream and make all the goal lists and have an existential nervous breakdown about the state of my life and career (hahaha) but ultimately, underneath all that angst, I am feeling pretty secure in the knowledge that in this season of life I am just going to have to hunker down and be a mom of little kids and that's okay. It's more than okay! I was just thinking tonight that even though I do need to find a job eventually, the thought of going back to work and answering to someone after over 6 years of not doing that is crazy. I mean, my current bosses can be demanding but at least they can't reach the remote, you know? I can just keep rolling along, reading excessively and sharing books and writing here and there, but my girls are my focus right now and I'm making peace with that. (That sounds terrible. You know what I mean. Or maybe you think I'm an awful mother. Perhaps you're not wrong. But I think I'm fine.)

I'm planning on writing some more words soon about my word of the year and its many iterations (don't you love coming up with a word that can mean so many things?) but until then I will be sneakily throwing out (into the trash or into my mouth? I'll never tell) the last remnants of Alice's holiday candy one handful at a time. Sshhh. 

Writing in Pencil

A scene from one of my favorite movies, State Fair:

Mrs. Frake: “I’ve got my whole day planned out.”

Margie: “Don’t you know you can’t plan a whole day? There’s no such thing!” 

I love plans. I plan my outfits, my workouts, when I’m going to wash my hair, and what clothes I need for my girls each season. I’ve dedicated basically all my free time to the hobby of planning what books I’m going to read (and then reading them). I plan my errands and household tasks. I plan around Amy Jane’s eating schedule. I (very loosely) plan our meals. But, as Margie points out, planning your day (or week, or month) is optimistic at best and pointless at worst because there are so many things that are out of our control. (It physically pains me to write that and know it’s true.)

 Hello, puking toddler. 

Hello, flat tire/broken AC/dead battery/plethora of car troubles that have plagued us our entire marriage.  

Hello, hurricane season.

Hello, lost job opportunities. 

Hello, unexpected diagnosis. 


If this year has taught me anything, it’s that the white-knuckle grip I tend to have on my surroundings is a waste of my energy. So many of the plans I’ve made, not just in 2020 but for a long time before that, have needed to be scratched out and rewritten. Backspaced, deleted, whited out. This could be why, although I love to plan, I’m not necessarily a “planner” person, as in one who sits with a physical calendar/planner and fills it out faithfully week to week or month to month. My inability to stick with that particular practice has finally come in handy this year in which lots of more organized people saw their planner-buying dollars go to waste when those plans were wiped out almost in one fell swoop. 

A few months ago, a phrase came to mind when I was thinking about this. Whether it’s for your career, parenthood, education, family, or anything else, I do think we need to make our plans and tell our stories and document our dreams. We can’t just throw in the towel and shake our fists in an ineffectual rage at the forces of the universe keeping us from following through. 

We can plan. We just have to write in pencil. 

I love this idea because you’re still doing the planning. You’re not giving up, giving in, checking out, or going under. You’re planning, dreaming, doing- but it’s not set in stone. It’s not written in pen, which is messy when you try to scribble over it or white it out. Writing in pencil means you have the option, whether by necessity or desire, to flip the pencil over and erase what was there. You know what? I wanted to be a teacher my entire life. Then I taught for three years, had a baby, and now I’m a writer(ish). That plan needed to be written in pencil so I could erase it and start over. 

People change. I showed my mom a picture of us from 2012 today and she said, “That feels like a lifetime ago. I feel like I was a completely different person then.” I stared at my 23-year-old self in the picture and felt the same way. My story of 10 years ago needed to be written in pencil, easily erased so that pieces of it could be changed, moved around, adapted, and upgraded for the person I am becoming. 

Also, the most obvious point to be made about this is that we write in pencil because ultimately we aren’t really holding the pencil or the eraser or the Lisa Frank notebook that these plans go in. God is driving the plot, shaping the narrative, and taking us in directions we never saw coming. Practically nothing about my life, with the exception of being married to Jonathan, is what I thought it would be when I was a young adult making plans for the future. And if I had a journal to look back over from the last 10-15 years, it would be filled with stuff I had to cross out and rewrite as it became clear that those plans were going to change. 

We believe lies about ourselves. We admire or even idolize people who let us down in ways that range from disappointing to devastating. We have imposter syndrome, decision fatigue, and, burn out. We grow and learn and change. We put away childish things and say goodbye to misbegotten dreams. The down-to-the-minute schedule that has us arriving right on time is derailed by a stubborn toddler or spilled coffee. And a lot of these—from the grief of a missed opportunity to a wrongheaded perspective—are written not in pencil but in a big black magic marker on our souls.

Writing in pencil lets us adapt. We don’t have to throw the entire day or month or life away. We erase and start over, dream again, change clothes, talk the toddler down from the meltdown. As Jon Acuff says, we “pivot, don’t panic.” We hold things loosely because what we know is not always what traffic will be like, how an interview will go, that a child will have a developmental delay, or that a gift begins to feel like a burden. 

What we know is this: the God of Heaven is in control. He is sovereign, kind, and always good. With his gentle guidance, I can write the story of my life and the plans for my days knowing that “the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” I can give myself grace when I need to erase and also trust that by being fully who I am and who He made me to be, the desires of my heart will lead me in the way He wants me to go because He put them there. I won’t toss my planner, give up on what seems lost, or wave my hand to *gestures vaguely* ALL OF THIS and say “what’s the point?” 

Honestly, I don't know the point right now. But despite the head-spinning changes, the angst, the outrage both sincere and performative, and the genuine confusion that is life in these days, I will write in pencil with strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, knowing that God is not the author of confusion and that the stories He tells are the best ones.

My Save-in-a-Fire Book List

I don’t know why I’d choose this title and set myself up for a nearly impossible task, but I’m going to help myself out by limiting this to books I actually own. (You’d be surprised at how many favorites of mine I don’t own, because that’s what the library is for, but these all made the cut so they’re special by default). 

-A Little Princess by Frances Hogdson Burnett. I own more than one copy, but the hardback one that has my name, age, and address written in it in sparkly green gel pen is obviously the most treasured. (I was very big on writing my name, age, and address inside books. I'm not sure why.) I think I can quote entire passages of this book and it remains a favorite, even though I secretly still prefer (heresy!) the movie ending. Also, I used the passage when Sara first comes to Miss Minchin's to teach my unit on adjectives every year. It's so perfectly written! 

There's just something about holding a book in your hands that you held 20 years ago. To quote Kathleen Kelly, "When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does." It's an irreplaceable feeling.

-My Beverly Cleary box set. So, for many years now, when asked who my favorite author is, I say Beverly Cleary. No caveats about “well, for children’s books, anyway” or whatever. She’s just my favorite. I read and reread the Ramona and Henry Huggins books countless times and one of my most blissful reading memories is finding a 3-book set of her “young adult” novels that my mom got me from Costco when I was thirteen. They were teen romances but the sweetest, most charming stories you can imagine, not the absolute drivel of most YA now. That book was lost at some point which still makes me sad but I do own all three of those on my Kindle. But I’d give a lot for that big heavy set. (Also, I get that it’s kind of contradictory to mention a book I actually lost in a post about books I’d never lose. But I love Beverly Cleary that much.  

-In fact, I love her so much that she gets another mention for a different book. When I was teaching middle and high school English and just rediscovering my love of reading for pleasure (and also beginning to read more widely than I had before, love of Lori Wick notwithstanding), I was with my class at the library and randomly came across a book that became an instant favorite. I wasn’t even aware it existed, but I found her first memoir A Girl from Yamhill. It described, in her delightful way, her childhood in Oregon and the many stories that later inspired her characters, especially Ramona. I think one reason I was drawn to her books is that I was actually reading them as a child growing up in the Pacific Northwest, and I loved all the references to the rain and the mountains that I knew so well. Anyway, her second memoir, My Own Two Feet, picks up as she’s finishing high school (she spent her senior year in California, which inspired another of her books) and goes on to tell about her college days, her early years as a librarian, and the way she met her husband as well her fraught relationship with her mother. SO GOOD. Also, this woman is 104 years old and I will weep real and bitter tears when she is gone. I seriously considered writing my master’s thesis on her work (I didn’t, but only because I chose a different track and didn’t do a thesis #coward) and I’d love write a full biography about her someday. 

I didn’t intend for this post to turn into a love letter to Beverly Cleary and her books but I’m fine with it. She is a treasure and my love for her knows no bounds. 

-My Bush family collection. I have 6-7 of these biographies and autobiographies now and am always on the lookout when I’m in Goodwill or a used bookstore. When I visited the George H.W. Bush Library in the summer of 2018 after Mrs. Bush died (but before her husband did) I sat and watched footage of her funeral again and sobbed like a baby. (People were staring; it was fine.) I just love them. 

-The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. I had heard of this because Janssen, my reading Jedi, mentioned it as a favorite of hers. But when I finally read it, it was magical. Also, I read a lot of books, so the fact that I remember this particular reading experience so vividly means it really was amazing. We were helping my aunt and uncle move and I found this with my cousin's stuff. I grabbed it, read the first few pages, then promptly threw myself across the bed and didn't move for the next two hours (also, I kinda stopped helping unpack. Sorry, guys). I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH. It is my go-to recommendation for pretty much everyone and, as Janssen has said, it's the book I wish I'd written. 

You know that clip at the beginning of the original Miracle on 34th Street that shows the studio trying to find a way to market the movie because it has everything: romance, humor, drama? This book is the Miracle on 34th Street of books in that way. It's absolutely hilarious but also touches on really deep and even dark stories while being just so full of heart and warmth. Ah. I gush. Anyway, you need to read it and if you don't like it please don't tell me because it will actually alter my opinion of you. Love ya, mean it.

-My Harry Potter box set and illustrated versions. So, here's my Harry Potter origin story: I grew up, like so many of us, hearing that these were bad and would make us love the devil (which, you know, seems logical what with the witchcraft and all) but finally I was like, "I'm 25 years old. No one can make me a witch without my knowledge or consent. Let's see what all the fuss is about." I checked these out from the library but this was actually what prompted me to figure out how to borrow Kindle books because it was easier to read them on my phone than to carry them around (and arouse suspicion). I flew through them all in the fall of 2014 and Jonathan bought me the entire set for Christmas that year. 

They're just delightful and last time I checked I'm still not able to do magic, dark or otherwise, which is honestly a bummer because "Accio Chick-fil-A" is basically the only spell I'd really need. The illustrated versions that have been coming out for the last few years are absolutely beautiful and I love displaying them! (And since I am always doing too much when it comes to my pop culture fixations, I'll tell you I'm a Ravenclaw, obviously.)

(P.S. A word on Harry Potter: If you don't let your kids read them, that's totally your choice and I support you, but if you're scared to let your kids read them but haven't read them yourself I'll go ahead and give my endorsement as your friendly neighborhood middle grade fiction connoisseur and say they'll be okay. HOWEVER (I love caveats) I will also say that I read them as an adult and if I'd read them as a kid they probably would have scared me quite a bit because I was a very fearful child (not like now! el oh el) and the last few books especially are fairly dark. But personally I think they teach a number of wonderful lessons and can be enjoyed my your family. The end.) 

-My Puffin in Bloom collection and clothbound Jane Austen and Anne of Green Gables collections. Okay, confession time: I have not actually read the entire Anne series. WHAT? I know. Revoke my library card. I had read the first one as a kid and somehow not the others. Last year I was determined to read the series and was delighted to find that there was an audio version narrated by none other than Megan Follows, THE on-screen Anne who is just perfection. I was a little disappointed that they were abridged, but I figured the immersive experience of having them read to me by the person I think of as Anne anyway would be worth it. Well, turns out that she only narrated the first 3 books and that is where my journey ended. I will read the rest, I know I will. I just need to get Megan Follows on board with recording the rest of the audio versions. 

Anyway, back to these picks. I love them all but they're included here for purely aesthetic reasons: they're beautiful and part of my living room decor. Shallow, I know. But I love decorating with books. 

-Our Little Golden Books. Collecting these has been a process and I still add to our stack frequently! MANY of these are from Goodwill and used bookstores because I always look for them (and that distinctive spine makes it so easy!) but I do spring for one now and then from Amazon or Barnes and Noble because they're only $5 brand new anyway. We have over 50 and have no plans to stop getting more. They're actually divided into Disney and non-Disney because I like having some in a basket in the living and others in the playroom and that seemed like the best way to divide them. Seeing these makes me so happy and Alice loves to get a stack of them for me to read at quiet time. 

-Our BabyLit books. I first heard of these when I was pregnant with Alice and bought quite a few before she was born and we've added steadily to our collection ever since and they're just the best. They are beautiful, durable, and look so pretty all lined up together (I had them displayed in the living room for a long time). Alice's current favorites are the holiday alphabet primers and we just got a new one (T is for Thankful). I have so many memories of reading these to her as a little baby and now that she can actually interact with them it's even better. I know I'll love having them for Amy Jane too. 

-My James Herriot books. We had James Herriot's Treasury for Children growing up but it wasn't until the last year and a half that I read his other books (All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Creatures Great and Small, etc.). I listened to these, narrated by Christopher Timothy who played James Herriot in the BBC series based on the books, and they remain my favorite audiobooks ever. But there's just something about owning the physical copies, if only as a tribute to my love of the stories, so when I found the entire series at Goodwill last year I nearly wept happy tears. They are proudly displayed on my shelf and make me happy every time I see them.

Okay, I just went and looked at the bookshelves in my living room and I could actually add indefinitely to this so I'll just stop myself here. I didn't even include any nonfiction besides my Bush biographies, even though there are many nonfiction books I own and love, and I left off even more novels, but much like the difficulty in choosing a favorite child, it is nearly impossible to choose a favorite book. (Actually, choosing a favorite child is easier since I have two children and only one of them has consistently been waking up before 6 AM and it's not the baby.) These are all books I really love and would be heartbroken to be without (hence my beating of the system by choosing mostly sets).

 I don't have many hobbies--let's be honest, I don't really have any hobbies besides reading and managing my five library accounts (don't worry about it)--so just writing about and acknowledging the very real pleasure that these books bring to me is in itself a joyful experience. If something brings you joy right now (as long as it's legal and ethical, you heathen) then lean into it, my friend. These are troubled times and sometimes you just need to lovingly organize your excessive collection of children's literature. You'll be in  good (if slightly crazy) company with me. 

Amy Jane- 8 Months

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say something no parent has ever said before: I can't believe how fast my baby is growing! (See? Original.) My orientation to time in the context of her life has been weird from the start since she was born right as Covid shutdowns began, so nothing about her lifespan has been "normal," but I still can't believe that eight whole months have gone by. Eight months of Amy Jane? Magical. Eight months of Covid? Not so much. But she has made it all better. =)

Also, I'm ashamed of myself for not 

I'm obsessed with this child.

Weight/Length: As of a few weeks ago, she was 26.75 inches long, but she's gained weight since then (which I'm so thankful for!) so I'm not 100% sure about her weight. One reason I haven't posted her updates in a few months (aside from my own slothfulness) is that I've been worried about her growth and didn't want to talk about it because that would make it real. (I'm a very rational person; why do you ask?) Basically the doctor has been concerned the last few visits because her length and head growth have been on track but her weight kind of plateaued and then barely inched upward. But now she's eating solids on a regular schedule (guess how fast I googled "high calorie baby foods") and has gobbled up literally everything we've given her so it turns out she just wanted to eat, poor thing. Looking back at some of her fussiness and recognizing that she was probably hangry makes me feel a little bad, but she's okay now and is already filling out her clothes more and chunking up in her cheeks! Hooray! 

Nicknames: Still Bean, Little Bean, Small Bean, Dot (my mom got her a Dot plush toy and the resemblance is remarkable), Baby Yoda, Toodles, Sweet Potato, Muffin (various foods/baked goods), Sisert, Sissy, Amy Janie Baby

Sleep: Like her sister before her, she is an excellent night time sleeper but fights naps with all the will her little body can muster. If I can only have one or the other, of course I'll take the nights, but I'm hoping she gives in to the nap thing soon (although I'm definitely not counting on it).

Eating: Like I said, I was basically starving her (I'm SORRY) but now that she's having solids, we are doing a lot of yogurt, banana, avocado, sweet potato, and bites of little things like scrambled eggs. She has yogurt every morning and then something else in the evening. We'll probably try black beans next!

Clothing: She is still wearing mostly 6 month stuff and some 6-9. I'm buying her Christmas things in 6-9 and 9 months because I know she'll need the length even though they'll probably be a little big. Also it just totally depends on the brand. Carter's 6 month stuff is almost too small but she's swimming in Cat and Jack 6-9s. And because she has such long legs but such a tiny waist, separates are problematic in that the pants will literally fall off. So I'm looking for dresses and one-piece outfits these days.

Mood: HAPPY. She is the smiliest thing. She is fussy when she's wet or hungry (or feels ignored, but who isn't?) but in general she is just so sweet and content to watch her sister carry on like the maniac she is. She's also extremely curious and loves to crawl around and find a shoe to put in her mouth. Baby toys are such a racket. You know they just want whatever is closest to them on the floor (and likely the most dangerous... laptop cords! My heart rate has spiked more than once lately. She's fast!).

Loves: A good shoe to chew on (she's part puppy)

Her daddy

Any time Alice screams "happy birthday" or "surprise!" at her as loudly as possible- she thinks it's hysterical

Bath time

Being tickled


Spitting her paci out

Doesn't Love: Being in the car 

Being wet or hungry

Nap time (why?)

Losing her paci (see the problem?)

What I Want to Remember/Milestones: So many things! She started saying "mama" about a month ago and then said "papa" while my dad was here, which of course he loved. (No "dada" yet. Sorry, Jonathan.) She is getting close to sitting up and is working on her balance. Other than feeding her at night, I don't have a lot of time with just her, so I know I'll remember our our time during Alice's speech appointments. Since Amy Jane hates the car, I always dreaded that wait, but about a month ago I finally got smart and started using those 25-30 minutes to walk with her in the stroller around the edge of the elementary school campus. She loves it and we have a sweet little half hour with just us. Also we went to the pumpkin patch that we've gone to since Alice was 3 weeks old and that was really special!

What I'm Looking Forward To: THE HOLIDAYS! It's her first Thanksgiving and Christmas and I am just so excited. Of course I'm spending way too much time looking for matching Christmas outfits and planning all the things... it's going to be different this year for sure and I'm really sad that we won't get to see (I'm assuming) our favorite Santa and Mrs. Claus at Chick-fil-A this year. But we'll be visiting family and having some of the same traditions at church so all that will be fun. Alice is super stoked about "Amy Jane's holidays" and I'm sure she'll have fun helping her open her presents (aka doing it herself).

Me: Aw, thanks for asking (I say to myself, a crazy person). Despite all the angst of this election season, I've been strangely calm about it. (A friend said to me, "That's not normal for you, is it?" and I was like, "NO, no it is not." GROWTH!) I know the world's a dumpster fire but honestly, outside of voting and staying informed and loving my neighbors, I can't change anything. (I know it's hard. Take it up with Jesus. I've rage-tweeted about my neighbors' loud music enough to have lost the authority to tell anyone else how to treat their neighbor.) 

In terms of motherhood, it's been a pretty hard season with Alice that, if I'm being calm and reasonable (so ALL THE TIME) I can recognize is mostly related to her entire world changing in the last few months between a baby sister being born and not being able to go to the usual places we've gone most of the life, like the Y, and not tied to some deeper issue that's going to manifest itself like the little girl in The Bad Seed (whew, that movie'll give you nightmares).  I'm trying to give her and myself grace while also taking the time to teach her about acceptable behavior (licking the salt shaker? Unacceptable. Sneaking books into her bed? Acceptable). It's hard. You get it. About the worst thing Amy Jane does to me these days is whack my face while I'm feeding her and also grab my hair in her sweaty little hands (why is it always those sensitive ones in the back?) so I guess we're on good terms. 

If you made it this far, I'll treat you to a delicious probiotic-filled full-fat yogurt. Crack that baby open... you deserve it. 

Election Eve

Here’s what I know. There’s a presidential election tomorrow and it feels like the entire world is collectively losing its mind. I’m only 31 so the first presidential election I can actually remember is Bush vs. Gore, but I know in my short history of election awareness that it’s never been this crazy. The hyperbole from all sides is staggering (and doing nothing good for my anxiety, I might add). It is just a breathtaking display of anger, fear-mongering, vitriol, and fighting that I’ve never seen before. 

But today as I ran errands, I interacted with all kinds of people. We smiled (behind our masks), spoke pleasantly to each other, and chatted about my girls. Alice asked for stickers pretty much everywhere we went. Amy Jane got a few new fans. I’ve been struck today (and many other times in the last few years) that as people practically foment online over the political division and strife, the conversations I have with people I see on a regular basis (at least pre-covid) like my librarians, Target/Chick-fil-A employees (yes, these are my people) and Y childcare workers are all based in a friendly and open and genuinely caring place because we are humans who share spaces together and are just trying to do the best we can. There is a huge disconnect, at least here in my Texas town, between the rhetoric online and the real-life sense of general goodwill that seems to permeate the average American community. 

It’s so pervasive in the media that it seems like it must be true: we all hate each other! But then I go out into the world and see that actually, we really don’t. Moms exchange sympathetic glances as one or both of our children have a meltdown. A lady stops to ask me my opinion on which Christmas tree she should buy for her elderly mother. I notice a book a man is considering at Costco and tell him it’s a good one and he should get it. The cashier at the mall jokes about needing her coffee. None of these interactions are really more than surface level, but they are friendly, warm, and rooted in a basic goodness and rightness. The Panera employee and I don’t stop to trade political blows before he hands over my bagel. 

I know that some of this is a low bar and just the way people behave in a civilized society. (Hint: Twitter is not real life!) But that’s the point, isn’t it? All of our social constructs are based on a certain expectation of how civilized humans are supposed to treat one another. I won’t try to enumerate the ways that social media has contributed to a breakdown in these social contracts (there are many excellent books on the subject written by people far smarter than I am) but the fact is, the keyboard warriors of today are wielding a pretty powerful weapon that is finally, over a decade into the use of these apps and platforms, is spilling out into the real world in a disturbing and dangerous manner.

I’m not excited about this election. While I am hoping for a particular outcome for the good of our country in some aspects, I think there will be negative consequences no matter who wins. But as believers, Americans, and humans, we can choose to rise above the nasty comments. We have the ability to disengage with or diffuse hateful words. As one writer friend put it today, “Pass on the invitation to the late debate.” I’m all for exchanging ideas, digging into topics with a lot of nuance and grace, and allowing good and godly influences to help shape our thinking on tough issues. But the anger, the battleground mentality, and the deeply unkind spirit has to go if we’re going to get better. Getting back to that level of common human decency seems like a worthy goal at the moment. As Saunders says in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, "You had plain, decent, everyday common rightness, and this country could use some of that. Yeah, so could the whole cockeyed world."

It’s important in these days to maintain some perspective; division isn’t new here, and never have we been on the brink of it as much as we were just before the Civil War. In his inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln appealed to the goodness of Americans: “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave, to every heart and hearth-stone, all over this brand land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, as surely as they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” It seems often (daily… hourly!) As if our “better angels” have taken flight in search of a resting place less fraught with seemingly irreconcilable differences. But if we are truly going to think on (and speak) things that are “true, honest, just pure, lovely… and of good report," then we are going to have to dig deep into the love of God that dwells in us and pour it out to our neighbors this week and beyond. 

I’m not saying that we can’t speak the truth. There are difficult and important topics being discussed and voted on. We can address problems and stand up for what is right. We are called to do that very thing. But we are called to speak the truth in love. Without love, the truth becomes far less palatable, even when it is necessary. And loving those with whom we vehemently disagree does not come naturally, whether our disagreements are political or not. 

Few things offer a dose of cultural and historical perspective like revisiting the Holocaust. In her wonderful book The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom describes the Nazi guards who committed atrocities against her, her sister, and the countless other victims during their time in a concentration camp. Knowing that she is speaking of mass murderers (and not simply political or ideological opponents in our modern sense), her words are even more meaningful:

“When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.” 

I’m trying to keep that in mind in these days. I’m not some saint who never gets worked up about issues or rolls my eyes or huffs and puffs at the absolute insanity going on. But these are people, and I am called to love them. God loves them. He loves Donald Trump and he loves Joe Biden. He loves the candidates you love and the candidates you despise. If you bristled when you read that, you’re not alone. I bristled a little writing it. But it’s true. And the good news is that He doesn’t ask us to love others and also summon up the courage and fortitude and emotional margin to do it. He provides the love. He’s just that good. 

Pray. Breathe. Love. And be good.