Preparing My Heart for the Holidays

Preparing My Heart for the Holidays

For the past month or so, we've been in limbo regarding our plans for the holidays. One of the perks (aka downsides) of living far away from both sides of your family is that seeing each other requires some form of travel: either flying (our usual choice) or driving (kind of a nightmare any time but particularly this year as I'm great with child). So after a lot of deliberation, we decided to stay home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, making this the first year we'll be away from family for the entire holiday season.

I'm at peace with it because it really does make the most sense for us this year, but of course it's still a little sad. (Any family members who want to make a last minute decision to come see us, consider yourselves invited!) However, I want to make things special and memorable, not just "okay under the circumstances." It's our last holiday season as a family of three (holy life changes, Batman!) so I want to savor these days with just Alice and make things fun for her. Plus, it's pointless to dwell on things I can't change so I might as well make the most of the chance to have a relatively quiet, peaceful break (there is a four-year-old involved, after all).

Who could have a less-than-jolly holiday with this face? (I am aware of the size of her hair bow. We are southern people at heart.)

During this Thanksgiving week in particular, I'm trying to focus on being thankful (much like florals for spring, this is a groundbreaking concept) and not getting hung up on negatives. I'm not a master chef under the best circumstances, but pregnancy fatigue and general inexperience in the holiday food department has made me a little anxious about cooking our Thanksgiving meal. (Why does everything taste better when my mom makes it? Literally everything.) On top of that, Jonathan's UC diagnosis this fall means that our entire meal has to be dairy free: mashed potatoes, dressing, green bean casserole... all of which contain milk products and are requiring me to find/create dairy-free alternatives. (FYI: most vegan/dairy free cheeses are super gross. Please pray for us in these trying times.)

I'm not thrilled about "messing with" our favorite dishes, but I'm reminding myself that I'm lucky to have access to the alternatives that we need, that Jonathan is doing much better, and that we have been blessed to even have a diagnosis for him and a path to his healing. And on a slightly deeper level, if the biggest thing I have to complain about at Thanksgiving is that I have to come up with a homemade cream of chicken soup for my dressing, well... that's not a bad life to have. I know so many people who are dealing with actual heartache and real difficulties and, in comparison, my slightly complicated meal plans don't really qualify. Perspective can be a wonderful thing.

SO, in the spirit of being thankful and positive (not necessarily my go-to demeanor, teehee), I've been reading and listening to a whole bunch of resources in the past few weeks to help adjust my mindset and prepare my spirit for this holiday season. I thought I'd share them here in case anyone else is in need of a little assistance with "catching the gratitude attitude" (a Patch the Pirate song reference. I am actually turning into my mother).


The Emotionally Healthy Holidays Series by Pastor Cary Schmidt
-This is such a good jumpstart to dealing with the "soul work" of a healthy holiday season. I haven't even listened to the whole thing yet and it's already helped me! (Also check out the Emotional Health weekend sessions by Jonathan Hoover, also on EBC's podcast channel. So good for the holidays and any time!)

Ten Steps to Creating Your Own Traditions by The Lazy Genius. Kendra is my lifestyle guru. I absolutely love her advice because it's less "here are a zillion Pinterest ideas that will overwhelm you" and more "here's a gentle, mindful way to think about a topic." She has a ton of great holiday-themed podcast episodes, but this one was particularly relevant to me this year as we strike out on our own for the season. =)

Choose a Holiday Motto by Gretchen Rubin. Happier is one of the first podcasts I started listening to years ago and it has remained a favorite. Gretchen is so very practical and smart and I love the idea of a short but punchy reminder that I can repeat to myself in my moments of Scrooge-ness.


Loving My Actual Christmas by Alexandra Kuykendall. This is a short little book with lots of great reminders and practical tips on simplifying and prioritizing your holidays. Craziness is inevitable, but it doesn't have to be out of control.

The Characters of Christmas  by Daniel Darling. This book highlights each person in the Christmas story--Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, etc.--and gives more cultural and historical insight into the entire backdrop of the nativity. It's a great read to kickstart Advent and a wonderful way to focus our attention on the reason for the season. It would make a great family devotional book, too!


Okay, seriously, I could name a million different songs/albums, so I'll try to keep it brief and present these without comment because I could gush about each of them. (Every item listed is the entire album.)

Prepare Him Room by Sovereign Grace Music
Unto Us by JJ Heller
Christmas Together by The Tenors
Simply Christmas by Leslie Odom, Jr.
Winter in the Air by David Archuleta
Christmas with Julie Andrews by Julie Andrews (duh)
Sweet Hymns of Joy by Amanda Montepeque (my sister... shameless plug)
It's Finally Christmas by Casting Crowns

Okay, everybody. Happy Thanksgiving and a happy holiday season! To quote favorite new (to me) Christmas song, "We wish you the merriest!" Have the best week and may you have a beautiful food-induced coma by Friday. =)



Today, my little nugget is four years old. Every mother says the same things: "How could this happen? Time has flown by! Where did my baby go?" etc. And those things are cliches for a reason, because they're all true. Time does fly and you simultaneously feel like those delirious baby days just happened but were also a lifetime ago. But so much has changed in the past year, even just the past few months, with Alice that her birthday feels even more significant to me this year.

She has taught me so much about so many things. Life, myself, expectations, dreams, changes. Her speech delay is something I would never have chosen for her (or myself) but I'm convinced that it was perfectly planned and timed by God to shake up our world, humble me, and make me a better mom. Would I have treasured and been delighted by every word that she says if she hadn't had a delay? Maybe, but not in the way I do now. Many people say things (well-meaningly but stupidly) like, "One day you'll wish you could get her to shut up!" and... no, no I will not. She jabbers constantly now and I am not sick of it and even when she's "using her words" to be defiant or to tell me she definitely didn't eat a crayon that has turned her teeth red, I want to hear it because we spent months and years desperately trying to know and understand what was going on in her curly little head and now (not fully, but so much better) we can. And it's amazing.

Don't get me wrong... she can be exhausting, like all kids her age. Last week she chose the charming setting of Magnolia Table in Waco to produce some epic meltdown behavior. She typically laughs and/or runs away when she's in trouble and she still weeps regularly when forced to go potty. She likes to chew up paper like a baby goat and routinely gets into my mascara and has a destructive streak that manifests itself in all kinds of ways that make me want to scream.

BUT. She is a genuine delight. Her little voice, all the more precious with each new word/phrase/sentence, is my absolute favorite sound in the world. She is a complete movie buff/enthusiast and would happily watch tv all day long if I let her. I'm convinced she's going to grow up to be the next Roger Ebert or something. She will not go to sleep for her nap without being read to (and she still naps, bless her). She is obsessed with pickles and goes through a whole jar on her own every couple of weeks. She is outgoing, bright, affectionate, hilarious, and loves her people with her whole heart. She wants to sing Do-Re-Mi every day in the car and wear rain boots every minute of the day and considers string cheese a food group. She's stubborn and opinionated, has an incredible memory, and her new favorite Disney character is Winnie the Pooh, whom she calls Pooh Pooh Bear (which I refuse to correct). She talks constantly about going to church, Daddy's school, the entire Ferguson family, going to Gigi's house or Nana's house, and making sure any activity happening is done by "our family."

Today we had the last official meeting for her speech therapy, and even though I'm thrilled and relieved that we are finally getting started at long last, I was also overwhelmed with gratitude over how well she's doing. I seriously can't believe the progress she's made in the last few months... it's crazy. If I had known on her second birthday (or third) that this is where we'd be at four, I would have probably curled up in the fetal position at the thought of so much more time and so many more struggles with this stuff. But, like I said, God knew. He knew what a self-sufficient, even smug mom I would have been, taking credit for things I didn't do. He knew how much stock I put into my own intelligence, my obsession with words, and the ugly, ugly pride I needed knocked out of me when my own daughter "fell short" of my expectations and couldn't communicate with me.

A few months ago I had to write about pride for a class and it was necessary to confront this topic (a painful thing, but one I'm grateful for). I wrote at the time:

"God didn't use this to punish me. He was (and is) using it to help me deal with my own selfishness and pride. He's humbling me and showing me that I can't rely on my own intellect or knowledge. I can only rely on Him.

I believe that God made Alice just the way she is. When He formed her, He knew exactly when and what she would have to say. He knew that her journey would be the beginning of one for her mama- one that brought me to a place where I couldn't take credit for anything. One that ignored my preferred timetable. And one that showed me that there are many, many ways to be smart and brave and funny and kind and they don't all require words."

Well, those words are showing up, but the truth remains. She was brave, smart, and funny (and more) before all the words and now it's even clearer that she is all those things. But it's that much sweeter to me to learn it this way, at this time. These four years have looked wildly different from how I would have pictured them, but I wouldn't change anything. I really wouldn't. The pain and frustration have been more formative (and transformative) for me than a smooth path that wouldn't have forced me to appreciate every little milestone. And even though that's a big part of our story, it's certainly not the whole story. She's healthy and happy and dances every day. She's great.

I love my crazy, silly, giggly, TALKATIVE (!!!) big girl and I'm ready to celebrate her today (maybe with pickles).

Three Things

Three Things

You know you've been out of the blogging game for a long, long time when you open a draft for a new post and then stare blankly at the screen for half an hour (not that I just did that, but it seems likely). Seriously though, you'd think after having this blog for seven years (!!!) that I'd have learned my lesson by now that taking extended breaks only makes it nearly impossible to start up again (a life lesson that can be applied to many things, I suppose- #running). But here we are. No school work, sleeping child, etc. And since my brain is clearly taking a hiatus for the foreseeable future during this pregnancy, I'm totally copping out but stealing this idea from Michelle, whose blog I adore and whose friendship I can credit solely to the internet.

Let's party like it's a 2008 Facebook note, shall we?

Obligatory unrelated photo to break up the text. We went looking for coats at Costco and even though Alice was clearly delighted with this one that she called a bear, it did not make the cut considering the impracticality of owning a fur coat (faux or otherwise) in our torrid climate.

Three things I recently lost my mind over:
1. This performance by Jeremy Jordan. I am not even that familiar with the songs from Waitress, but I know Sara Bareilles wrote them all and she is super talented. Jeremy Jordan is way up on my list of favorite Broadway performers and I think half the views on this video are from me. Just beautiful.
2. This book. I read it this summer but I basically haven't shut up about it since and I have talked the ears off anyone unfortunate enough to be around me lately. It's just an unbelievable story.
3. The cuteness of Jonathan and Alice's new ritual of "nail salon" every week or so. He paints her fingernails and toenails and it is the most precious thing I've ever seen. She is SO proud of them and he's the best daddy ever. (If you're wondering why I don't do it, it's because my hands shake too badly to paint anyone's nails. ha!)

Three things I neglected this week:
1. Vacuuming. I feel like even as I say this, I probably vacuum more than the average, non-crazy person, but for me, it's been a lot less. Let's just say my apathy during pregnancy is higher than normal.
2. My podcasts. I'm a weirdo and when I get "behind" in certain shows it stresses me out and I don't listen at all. I know that's dumb. But only a faithful few have stayed current in my feed.
3. The closet I've been meaning to clean for weeks. It's not that bad... it really just needs to be straightened up, but every day I open the door, look inside, and close the door. Oops. Pregnancy apathy strikes again.

Three things I've tried recently:
1. This is lame and a testament to my lack of a spirit of adventure in the kitchen, but I made the same salsa recipe I've been making for years and blended it with my immersion blender. It tastes the same but I like the texture SO much better.
2. Hand lettering. Last year the course from Rad and Happy (my fave!) was on sale and Jonathan got it for me for Mother's Day. Then I promptly ignored it for over a year because of school. I recently bought a couple of calligraphy pens and started my way through it. I'm definitely not an instant success (I blame being left-handed) but I'm enjoying it!
3. Cutting caffeine. Apparently a high heart rate during pregnancy is normal, but it's made me feel pretty rotten so cutting caffeine seemed logical. My heart rate is still high and I've had headaches, so back to caffeine I run with open arms.

Three things I hate doing:
1. Dusting. It just seems so pointless. I wish I could just ignore dust, and actually I do on our lighter furniture, but our bedroom furniture is black and the dust makes me crazy, so I make myself dust once a week or so. But I hate it.
2. Talking to strangers on the phone. I would happily let Jonathan call and schedule appointments or whatever from how until I die. Alas, it's a pretty prominent feature of adulting that I can't fully avoid.
3. Driving. This only gets worse the older I get. When I'm old and rich someday (ha!) you can be sure I'll make room in the budget for a driver. Traffic, angry people, crazy other drivers (trucks! so many trucks!)... my anxiety goes through the roof.

Three things I wear all the time:
1. A small gold necklace (I have several, mostly that have an A or M. My 2004 self would be pleased).
2. Sweatshirts. The number I own is totally excessive considering where we live and its short sweatshirt season, but alas. Although I get more wear than you'd think because of the frigid AC temperatures.
3. Dresses. I have waaaay too many but that's what I'm wearing probably 70% of the time.

Three things I never wear:
1. Well, thank goodness this season is coming to a close, but from about May to September I never, ever wear jeans. Tooooo hot.
2. Cold shoulders. *and maybe neither should anyone else...ducks and hides forever*
3. Heels. Actually, I've worn heels a few times recently but it's literally one super-comfortable pair. Other than that...basically never.

Three books I'm reading/waiting to read:
1. Malcolm Gladwell's new book Talking to Strangers
2. A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle. I've read chunks of it but never the whole thing.
3. Another Newbery winner to check off my list.

Three things I have to do but don't feel like doing (only 3?):
1. Fold/put away the basket of laundry eyeing me rather rudely from across the room
2. Vacuum (see above)
3. Get a job (ha! That one's for real)

Three things I'm looking forward to:
1. Our trip to Connecticut next month (allll the fall things and fat babies! my two nephews, if that wasn't clear. I'm not planning on squishing random infants. But I will be eating my weight in Stew Leonard's cheese bagels and possibly throwing some leaves in the air with reckless abandon).
2. Alice's birthday (in a bittersweet way, of course). She'll be four in a few weeks and I genuinely am baffled by this. She's just a baby!
3. Speaking of babies... this is the best thing of all. NEXT WEEK we find out the gender of this little peanut! (YES, I'm pregnant. No, I didn't write a blog post to announce it. This poor kid is already just getting a footnote where his/her sister got a whole writeup. Sorry, my beloved second child.) Anyway, I'm dying to find out and start making plans (aka buying stuff, hehe) and we have just a few more days to wait!

If you made it this far, you deserve all the gold stars. I'll be back soon, I hope, if only to avoid leaving a lopsided online footprint for my two children.


Happy 60th Birthday, Dad

Happy 60th Birthday, Dad

I’ve wanted now for quite some time
To write a poem for today
But I’m a little out of practice
And unsure of what to say

No one has your gift for words
Your flawless meter, well-rhymed rows
But if you’ll humor me, I’ll try
(Though I prefer to stick to prose)

When each us of got married
You wrote a poem for the day
They were apparently designed 
To wash our makeup all away

So now it’s payback time, Dad
For the times you made us weep
I’ve heard you say that what you sow
Eventually you’ll reap

We’ll start at the beginning
Of the story even though
It starts waaaay back in ‘59
A long, long time ago

A “little” baby boy was born 
Chubby cheeks, green eyes, dark hair
He was so cute that to 
A little girl some might compare

But he was definitely all boy
Loved to laugh and to play ball
But life threw curves that sometimes
Made it hard to laugh at all

Those early years weren’t easy
Lots of hurt, and fear, and dread
Wondering what the nights would hold
How many tears were shed

But as only God can do,
He turned their lives around
In brokenness came healing
And beauty could be found

Another story might be simpler
It might have hurt far less
But this way showed a miracle
That the Lord made from a mess

It was that faith that formed him
As each year turned the page
His many talents were revealed
From the diamond to the stage

He could play trombone AND croon 
Play baseball like a star
No matter where he went in life
Others knew he would go far

But that still small voice that called him
To join up with “God’s team”
Was silenced for a while
By the chance to chase a dream

So off he went to find out
What his mom knew all along
That even when the dream seems right
Without God, it’s all wrong

Coach Polk knew too, and helped him see
That nothing else could top
The perfect will of God for him
(And it wasn’t at shortstop)

When he ended up in Nashville
It didn’t take him long to spot
The prettiest girl on campus
Who (thank goodness) let herself be caught 

It all fell into place then
And he didn’t seem to mind
Looking back there was no sadness
For the life he’d left behind

Those two kids just couldn’t know
All the ups and downs of life
The storms, the surgeries, the vet bills
But still more fun than strife

Okay, I’ll skip ahead now
From this sentimental start
 (Plus we’re still stuck in the 80s here
Not even close to the best part)

Fast forward a little with me
A couple of decades, if you would
Now they’ve got four daughters
(I told you it got good!)

He says he never would have traded 
His four girls for a boy
I’m just a little biased
But I think we brought him joy

He taught us to appreciate
The classics, Frank and Bing
Rogers, Hammerstein, Irving, Walt
Were the songs that we would sing

Because of him we’re all stuck 
With habits hard to break
Like stopping for a drink and snack
When there’s any trip to take

He tried to reign in all the jokes
During family prayer time
But all the laughs meant punishment
Somehow never fit the crime

But when we finally all shut up
Which, honestly, was brief
He read God’s word and prayed with us
To strengthen our belief

He was our pastor and our dad
And spoiled us all for life
Cause he set the best example
Of how to treat a wife

We just thought that all men helped
Clean house and sweep the floor
And oh, the most important thing
The coffee- brew and pour!

He was our hero but he never
Treated us like dainty girls
He would just as likely wrestle us
As compliment our curls 

Through sixty years now there have been
A lot of roles and names you’ve had
Preacher, Sweetheart, Marion (I kid!),
But my favorite is Dad.

Until eleven years ago when
That first baby came
From that day on your best role yet
When Papa you became

The only thing that’s better
Than seeing you be “dad” 
Is seeing you as Papa
Even when they make you mad

By mixing up your movies
Or getting out the glue
It’s hard to frown at faces
That all look just like you 

I must admit I’m rambling now
It’s hard to find an end
To a tribute to our favorite dad,
A husband, Papa, friend

A faithful preacher all these years
Who’s freely shared God’s word
In many cities, many states
From you so many heard

Of the love that saved your family
And gave ours the chance to start
We’re thankful more than ever
For your willing, tender heart

You’re the greatest combination
Of all your favorites
Andy Griffith’s warmth and humor
All those cowboys’ strength and grit

Jimmy Stewart, Lem Siddons,
The Barney dance, and Gomer Pyle
All the westerns, sports, and musicals
Nick Saban (with a smile)

Okay, this time I’ll really wrap it up
It’s time to celebrate
With ice cream, cake, and Diet Coke
We’ll observe this special date

It’s become our joke to end with
“I hate to think of all things lost…”
But it’s true… we wouldn’t be here
If with God’s path you’d never crossed

And on your 60thbirthday, Dad,
It couldn’t be more true
We love you and we’re thankful
Every day that you are YOU

 -Ashley, your third (and favorite) child

I'm Still Here!

I'm Still Here!

Y'all! I don't know what possessed me to open my blog account (it's been so long that I literally typed in the wrong URL and couldn't remember the right one!) but here I am. I'm actually sitting at Chick-fil-A which is basically my office/second home because it's where I come most often to do school work. The real reason I came tonight though was that I knew if I stayed home I would go to bed, and while I am pretty tight with the CFA employees, I don't think they want me sprawled out in my booth. (Yes, I have my own booth. I'm pretty old Baptist lady about and refuse to sit anywhere else. Give me a few more months and I may have it reserved with an engraved plaque.)

Anyway, there's no major reason for me to pop in except that I'm a little ashamed that my last post was almost a year ago. Oops! I do really miss blogging and I still love to read other blogs, but with school and a part (very part) time job and a sweet but sometimes diabolical 3-year-old, I just don't seem to have the time. I actually hate that excuse since I have as much or more time than lots of bloggers I know, so I guess I should say I don't choose to spend my time blogging when I could be reading. (I will say, if you're ever wanting a book recommendation, Instagram is where I share pretty much all of mine!)

I think the main reason I miss blogging, or regret giving it up, is that before I became a mom I picture my blog as a kind of internet diary for all my thoughts and experiences throughout motherhood. (Again, that role has kind of been commandeered by Instagram. Whoops.) But here we are, over three years into this gig as a mom and I've shared less and less, not more. I guess it's not a terrible thing since so many parents overshare about their kids on their blogs and I'm sure I'll give Alice other reasons to go to therapy but at least documenting her every move throughout potty training won't be one of them. (Side note- potty training is probably the thing I've dreaded most about parenting and it's actually not going all that badly. Fingers crossed, knock on wood, shoo away bad spirits, etc. We'll see. #notsofastGeorgeBanks)

Chick-fil-A makes everything better, even a bathroom selfie. (Right?) Also I wanted to use one of the gorgeous pictures my brother-in-law took at Christmas, but my hair was longer then and I felt like it was inauthentic. To quote Shawn Spencer, "I can't watch channel 8 anymore. Lloyd Lansing wears a toupee. It's like every newscast begins with a lie." 

But I also miss sharing my thoughts, or better yet, figuring out my thoughts as I wrote them. It still fills me with joy when someone tells me they read my blog (past tense) and enjoyed it, since I really loved coming up with fun content and telling stories and making people laugh now and then. I don't know that I'll come back to this space with any regularity, at least not until school is done (THIS SUMMER!) but I just wanted to jump on and give the ol' blog a little love. (Or life support. The Heimlich? I don't know that many medical procedures, apparently.)

If there's anything you think I should write about, suggest away and maybe I'll just tackle one of those at a time to give myself some structure (I'm an Obliger, folks. I need accountability.) There are so many things to  talk about, in my life and just in general, about that I would LOVE to hash out at some point (the enneagram! Pursuing speech therapy for Alice! All my grad school angst! My short hair! And cold shoulders- did I stay away so long that they've come and gone??), so maybe I'll be back sooner rather than later. If you've stuck around, I love and appreciate you (in a totally platonic and non-creepy way).

Happy Thursday! We're all still here together!