30

Yesterday, I turned 30 years old.

Years ago, 30 seemed like a number to dread. I thought it would feel like the end of my ‘youth’ and the beginning of ‘middle age’ instead of a number to celebrate, yet when it actually came, what I felt was excitement. Excitement for what the next decade will hold: watching my son grow up, hopefully expanding our family, finding our dream home. I am excited for the parts of the world we’ll explore and the everyday adventures we’ll have as a family. I’m excited to continue to walk hand-in-hand with my husband as our relationship continues to strengthen each year. I’m excited to see where life takes us.

One of my close friends asked me yesterday what my “pow” and my “wow” were from this past year of my life. I hadn’t heard of this question before, but she said a “pow” is something that was difficult or sad (a lowlight) and a “wow” is something you’re really happy about or proud of (a highlight). At first my obvious “wow” was giving birth to LJ. Motherhood has changed my life in innumerable ways and I can’t imagine life without my son. After that though, I spent some time thinking about what else I was proud of over the past year and what kept coming back to me was how much I’ve grown to just accept myself. A huge part of my 20’s were spent worrying about what others think of me. I was so driven by my perfectionist tendencies, I wanted to be well liked by everyone and I clung to regrets and past mistakes to the point where it would suck so much joy out of my present days. I was self-conscious, insecure, and I spent so. much. energy. just trying trying trying to be everything to everyone.

I noticed a shift in this thinking after LJ was born. I started listening to the Happier podcast during his nap time and slowly I started implementing small things in my life to decrease my stress and increase my happiness. Through the podcast, I learned about The Four Tendencies and this opened a window into my understanding of myself and how I respond to expectations. This led to me actually taking The Four Tendencies online course when it was offered in the spring and I gained even further insight into myself and my relationships. I started following a few Instagram accounts that preach self-love and the importance of self-care, and I stopped following accounts that made me feel bad about myself. I began listening to other podcasts that inspire me in various aspects of my life: my belongings, my time, my relationships, etc.

All of these things took place little by little over the course of a year and I didn’t think much of them individually at the time, but as 30 approached and I realized I wasn’t dreading this birthday but was actually excited about it, I discovered that all of these little things added up to one big thing: self-acceptance. I’m excited about 30 because I like who I am at 30. I like thinking of what this decade will hold because I like who I am in this decade. This past year, I have learned a lot about myself, I have challenged myself, and I have grown in ways I wouldn’ t have predicted. I have come to accept that there is no shame in my wife/mom game – I do what I believe is best for my son and my family and that isn’t going to look the same for anyone else. I am happy with my body – it carried a human for nine months and won’t ever look like it did at 24 but gosh dang I am so thankful for it. I am happy with myself – I have flaws but I also have strengths and I am learning to let go of the little things that don’t matter so I can focus on what does.

So bring it on, 30. I am so ready for you!

30th Birthday Weekend

Good morning!

I hope you all had a fantastic weekend. Mine was extra special because Justin planned a surprise getaway to South Haven, Michigan to celebrate my 30th birthday (which is actually tomorrow) and we had so much fun! While he planned everything out in secret, he did tell me about the trip a couple weeks ago because he had arranged for my parents to watch LJ overnight and he knew I would want to prepare mentally (first night apart from him!) and to make sure to pump a little extra milk to add to our small freezer stash so LJ would have plenty.

Just a warning, this is going to be a long post because I can’t resist recapping our trip!

Saturday

After dropping LJ off with my parents on Saturday morning, we started our drive to South Haven. Justin went all out and booked us a suite at Yelton Manor Bed & Breakfast and while check-in was not until 4:00, we were able to park our car there upon our arrival at noon. We decided to leave the car and walk the 7 blocks to downtown to start exploring. We started out on Phoenix Street and immediately spotted the South Haven Farm Market. The market was full of delicious food, unique crafts, live music, and gorgeous flowers. We enjoyed walking around and checking out all the booths!

South Haven Welcome

We continued down Phoenix Street just taking in the town and getting our bearings a little bit. We soon worked up an appetite and decided to grab a quick bite at Venezia Pizza. The place didn’t look like much on the outside, but the server was so warm and friendly, the food was delicious and very reasonably priced (we split the sampler platter), and the chef gave us extra large portions because we had to wait on our meatball. It was a great spot for a quick and filling lunch!

Venezia Pizza

After lunch we continued our walk out of town towards the water.

South Haven 1

South Haven is a harbor town on Lake Michigan and has nice little beaches and a pier with a lighthouse. We walked all the way out to the lighthouse and enjoyed the gorgeous views.

South Haven lighthouse

South Haven 4

J on edge of pier

On the way back from the pier we had to stop and get some ice cream at Sherman’s right there on the beach. Even though the day was pretty chilly, I can never turn down a local ice cream joint and this place did not disappoint!

Sherman's Ice Cream

We walked back into town and started checking out some of the little shops. There are so many unique places in South Haven – we stopped in shops with home decor, quirky children’s toys, beautiful clothing, and even one shop entirely dedicated to blueberries! It was just the cutest downtown!

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We headed back to Yelton around 4:00 to check in. We were greeted by innkeeper Elaine who was so warm and friendly. She showed us around the main house of the inn, which was built in the 1980’s but looks like a hundred-year old house. It had so much character and so many cozy little nooks and personal touches like a 24/7 popcorn machine and a cake stand filled with fresh brownies. We left the main house armed with not only our room key, but also a triple chocolate brownie, popcorn, and a DVD from their impressive movie collection.

Yelton Guest House

Our room, the Biltmore, was located in the Guest House and was gorgeous! Justin surprised me with chocolate covered strawberries he had brought along and we relaxed and watched our chosen movie (The Post – so good!) and then took a nap. Side note: If there is something more luxurious to an almost 30-year-old mom than an uninterrupted afternoon nap, I can’t think of it.

We freshened up and headed back into town to catch the gorgeous sunset and grab a delicious dinner at Taste. I had their ultimate grilled cheese and tomato parmesan bisque while Justin had their spicy tuna sushi. We then split a cookie pie which was divine. Please enjoy this picture of our delicious dessert and my awkward hand placement – ha!

Taste Cookie Pie

We finished off our evening at Clementine’s with some after-dinner drinks. While we ended up talking about LJ quite a bit, it was so fun to get to stay out late and just enjoy one-on-one time with Justin.

Sunday

After sleeping in (another luxury!), we moseyed down to the main house where we were treated to a heavenly breakfast. We each sampled several different dishes but my hands-down favorite was their blueberry breakfast cake. I can’t say it enough – the Yelton had so many special touches that made our experience so lovely. I can’t recommend this place enough!

We had some time before check out so we headed across the street to the north beach and walked the shoreline. The water was so cold but it was really pleasant to walk barefoot in the sand.

Lake Michigan

Back at the Yelton, we said our goodbyes (and snagged another brownie) and headed back back downtown toward Old Harbor Village, a unique cluster of shops and restaurants right along the water.

Old Harbor Village

We decided on lunch at Admiral Jack’s, a restaurant located on a riverboat where we enjoyed lunch (cheeseburger for me and fish for Justin) while watching boats go by.

Admiral Jacks

After lunch we wandered through more shops downtown before heading to 12 Corners Tasting Room for a wine tasting. The tasting room wasn’t too busy and we enjoyed chatting with the servers while sampling delicious wines. We left with a bottle of their Beach Cottage Vacation White which I can’t wait to enjoy at a later date.

12 Corners

Next we stopped in Black River Tavern where Justin enjoyed a local brew and we watched a little football before we checked out the last few shops we hadn’t gone into yet. We finished our time in South Haven with one more sweet treat from Kilwins.

Kilwins 1

Kilwins 2

Even though we had so much fun exploring the town and spending some time together just us two, we both agreed that we couldn’t wait to get back to LJ. We were so happy to hear that he had a great time at grandma and grandpa’s house and we got lots of smiles and snuggles with him back at home.

And now, after a fun and relaxing weekend away, I am officially ready to bring on 30!

May 2018 Book Review

From a very young age, reading has been a huge passion of mine. It’s what I choose to do in my spare time; it’s what I want to do on vacations. Even as a first time mom without a lot of time on her hands, reading is something that I continue to make time for. It technically adds a ‘to-do’ to my life, but reading seems to simplify my life by helping me feel like myself even when I am frazzled, overwhelmed, and sleep deprived.  For me, it is a form of self-care so I make sure to prioritize it as much as I can. Every month I try to read at least a few books and this summer I started documenting what I read. I’ve decided to have monthly recaps/review of what I have read here on the blog. My reviews will be spoiler-free and give more of my feelings about the story/how much I enjoyed the book rather than detailed plot reviews.

That being said, I have a whole summer’s worth of reading that I want to recap so for the next few weeks we’ll be playing catch up and having more frequent review posts. If you’re also an avid reader, hit me up with suggestions for further reading in the comments! If reading is not your thing, feel free to just skip these blog posts. 🙂

So let’s get started, shall we? Here’s what I read starting in May 2018:

Phonto

Summer Island by Kristin Hannah

Summer Island

Summer Island follows a mother-daughter duo who have a mostly estranged relationship. After an exposed scandal and an accident involving mother Nora, daughter Ruby has her own reasons for choosing to care for her mother in their family’s memory-laden home on Summer Island, where they both have to face their respective pasts. Secrets are exposed, relationships are tested, and Ruby is faced with some big life decisions. I will say that I have read several books by Kristin Hannah and loved every single one so I was very excited to read this story. While I did enjoy this book, I did not feel like I was reading a novel written by the same author of The Nightingale or Winter Garden. This was an earlier work of hers and I just didn’t think the writing was *quite* as amazing as some of her more recent books. I did enjoy the book and would recommend it to someone looking for a good summer read but it is not quite on par with some of the other Hannah books I have read.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

This story follows a man who returns to his childhood home for a funeral and feels led to sit beside a pond on a neighboring farm. While there, he begins to recall memories from his childhood that are fantastically bizarre and frightening. We journey with him into memories of strange happenings and a neighbor girl who befriended him. Neil Gaiman writes in a style that is definitely outside of my usual scope of reading. He combines dark fantasy/science fiction in a very unique way and his books are truly unlike any others I have read. Previously, I read his book Neverwhere and had picked it up without any idea of the genre in which he writes so the book really threw me for a loop. This time, I felt like I was going into The Ocean at the End of the Lane with a better idea of what I was getting in to and I did enjoy it more. That being said, this story left me feeling a little sad, bewildered and, like Neverwhere, a little uncertain with how I felt about it. I didn’t hate it but I didn’t love it either. It fell somewhere in the middle.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

This novel is a tale of the glamorous, ambitious Evelyn Hugo. For reasons initially unknown, Evelyn chooses a relatively obscure writer to tell the intricate story of her life to, including everything she did to get to, and stay at, the top of celebrity in Hollywood from the 1950’s to 1980’s. I did not know what to expect with this book when I began reading. I knew nothing about the storyline prior to reading and picked it up mostly because I read Taylor Jenkin Reid’s One True Loves and loved her style of writing – not to mention the plot of that book stuck with me for a long time after reading. This book did not disappoint. There were several surprises that I did not see coming as Evelyn chronicled her life story and I absolutely flew through this book. Without spoiling anything, I will say that Evelyn Hugo is truly one of the most complex characters I’ve ever encountered and I was thoroughly engrossed by her story from start to finish.

The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry

After a brutal murder-suicide occurs during a severe draught in a tiny Australian town, Aaron Fulk comes back to his hometown for the funeral of the victims and somewhat unwillingly gets involved with trying to figure out if everything that happened is really as it initially appeared. I found this whodunit to be very well written – I felt just as antsy and restless as the residents of the stir-crazy, dry town and I was so itchy to figure out what was really going on! I thought I had figured things out at several different points but this novel continued to deliver twists and turns that I did not see coming. I found this book to be very hard to put down.

And that’s a wrap on my first book review. Let me know if you’ve read any of these books too and what you thought of them!

Four Years in Five Paragraphs

In my last post, I explained some of the reasons I left blogging four years ago and why I came back. I’m excited to jump into my new vision for this blog, but before I do that, I wanted to “catch up” on what has happened since my last post.

In 2014, we were living in West Virginia while my husband, Justin, finished school. In 2016, he graduated and we packed up our home (and our sweet dogs) and moved to Northern Indiana where Justin and I had both found jobs. We were so sad to leave our friends in WV but we have enjoyed building a new community here in the Midwest. And our dogs were thrilled that we moved to a home with a fenced in backyard!

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Celebrating the end of Justin’s schooling with a trip to Italy in June 2016.

In the early fall of 2016, we decided we were ready to start our family. I got pregnant and we were over the moon! Unfortunately, that pregnancy was ectopic (not inside my uterus) and ended after eight weeks. I will share more about that experience at a later date, but suffice to say it was devastating, traumatic, and a very dark time for us.

2017 was a big year for our family. We learned that we were once again expecting a baby and after a lot of prayer and weighing our options, Justin and I made the decision that I would leave teaching to become a stay at home mom. After 6 years of teaching special education, it was bittersweet to walk away from the classroom but I was very excited to be able to spend more time with our little one. Then in November 2017, our little LJ was born. He has been the sweetest gift! I have been staying home ever since and spend his nap times doing some part-time administrative work for a nutrition counseling company. It’s a good balance for me and I’m very happy with this set-up right now!

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The sweetest little blessing arrived just in time for Christmas 2017.
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Our little family enjoying a day at the zoo in August 2018.

So in the span of four years, I went from a special education teacher in West Virginia to a stay at home mom in Indiana. While my life looks very different now, the mantra of “simplify the chaos” still resonates so strongly with me. I believe that we can so easily overstuff, overcomplicate, and overcommit our lives which leads to busyness, stress, and exhaustion. Where is the joy in that? I consider myself to be a minimal-ish mama and that has shaped so much of my family’s lifestyle and the way we strive for balance. My hope for this blog is that it becomes a place where I share bits of our life and ways that we maximize joy by simplifying the chaos that can easily crowd our days. I hope you will be able to find something here that resonates with you and helps you simplify your own chaos so you can truly enjoy whatever season of life you are in.

Take Two

Well, it’s been a hot minute. Or four years worth of minutes. 

In June 2014, I took a step back from my little blog for three major reasons. First, it takes a lot of time to maintain a blog and I was in a crazy busy season where I was working full time while my husband was in school full time and blogging was just too much to throw into the mix.  Second, I felt a little uninspired. I couldn’t channel all the ideas swirling in my head into a cohesive vision for what my blog should be. My posts started to feel random, I never really had a plan for what was next, and it just felt chaotic (exactly the opposite of what I was going for). The last reason I decided to stop was because I felt a little uneasy with drawing a line for how much to share. Our world is becoming SO interconnected through technology and I felt like many of the bloggers I followed were sharing details of their family and lives and I wasn’t comfortable doing the same.

So without really intending to, I just stopped. I didn’t realize my anniversary post would be “it” for the blog. It was summer and we took a vacation and upon returning … the blog just fell by the wayside. I kept up my Instagram account for a few more months but that gradually faded out too.

April 2015 came around and I got an email that it was time to renew my domain name. I wasn’t sure yet what I wanted to do with the blog so I just paid the fee and didn’t think about it for the rest of the year. This happened again in 2016. And 2017. And each year, I thought “you know, I’m not touching that blog anymore – why am I paying this fee? I should just give it up.” But each time, something held me back from totally letting go and I kept on paying the domain fee. Not only that, but the word “simplify” has become a bit of a mantra for me and has stuck around all these years (it was even the word I chose to practice when I took a calligraphy class a few months ago).

Simplify the Chaos - calligraphy art class

This April, that email came again and I finally spent some real time analyzing why I kept paying for something I wasn’t ever using. I told myself I needed to start seriously considering why I couldn’t seem to let this go and promised myself that by 2019 I would either be blogging again or would stop paying for the domain.

I was listening to a podcast one day (Happier with Gretchen Rubin) and it suggested a “happiness hack” of thinking back to what you enjoyed doing when you were 10 years old. The argument was that you would probably still enjoy that activity now. I thought back and two things burst into my mind: reading and writing. I loved both so much when I was 10 years old. And I realized that I still read a ton today, but I don’t write. And a little niggling thought came into my mind: this is what your blog is for.

I have spent a lot of time over the past few months dedicating real thought to what I want for this space. I feel like this time around, I know what I’m getting into a little better and have a better plan for time management and vision.  My life has changed significantly since my last post four-plus years ago and therefore this blog will look different. The month of September will have a lot of “catch-up” posts to bring you up to speed with my life but once we’re caught up, I will proceed with two blog posts a week (Tuesday/Thursday) and I plan to keep certain aspects of my family’s life private (such as full names and the specific town we live in).  I’m very excited and I hope you’ll stick around for the ride!