Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Christmas Chalkboard Printables

Tis the season to be crafty, festive, generous, and excited! I absolutely LOVE the holidays. For me, it is less about the commercialism of the holidays and much more about the feelings of nostalgia, family, love, giving, and warmth that surround the season. With a sweet baby boy in tow who is now old enough to be engaged in the festivities, I am even more excited for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year!

It has been quite some time since I last posted. They say a baby changes everything, and boy, are they right! Eli keeps me so busy. On top of that, Prince Charming and I are expecting Baby M #2 in early April! Yes, you read that right. Elisha will be a big brother come April. He and his sibling will be 18 months apart, and Prince Charming and I are thrilled! Throw on top of all the baby bliss getting back into my work schedule, PC getting the job as head pastor of our church when our former pastor moved back home to North Carolina, and getting ready for the holiday is no wonder that I haven't been able to post lately!

As an apology to you, I wanted to share some cool resources I recently stumbled across on the Pinternet and a few printables that I made with them. I wanted to get some chalkboard Christmas printables to frame around the house this year, and I found some great, premade free ones on Pinterest shared by some wonderful bloggers. I also found some amazingly talented bloggers who have shared free fonts/graphics to create your own, and that is what I have done. I am going to pass the links to those resources on to you AND put the printables I made here for you to use if you wish as well. Nothing like giving things away during the holidays! :)

First awesome resource comes from an amazing Christian military wife and mom blogger over at, Hannah. She is incredibly gifted at creating graphics and backgrounds that are beautiful, chic, and on trend. She has some beautiful premade printables available on her blog as well. Visit her site when you get a chance; it is definitely worth a read!

Here are links to the posts on her blog for the items I used from her site that she so graciously shares for others to use. Click on any of the post titles to go directly to the original post on her blog.
Chalkboard Backgrounds- Light Chalkboard Background and Dark Chalkboard Background
Christmas Chalkboard Graphics- Sketch Me Pretty: 6 Free Christmas Graphics
Circle Graphics- Sketch Me Pretty: 11 Hand Drawn Circle Digital Graphics
Rustic Graphics (deer silhouette and leaves)- Sketch Me Pretty: 12 Stunning Free Rustic Graphics

Click on any of the font names below to go to the site I found them on to download and use them.
Chalk Hand Lettering Shaded by This site has some AMAZING fonts! Check out all they have to offer because their work is BEAUTIFUL and so versatile!
Contribute by
One Starry Night by Brittney Murphy Design She makes some beautiful fonts, as well. Check out "a song for jennifer" as another great chalkboard font!
Bergamont Ornaments by Emily Lime Design I am still getting used to working with a font as a graphic, but I love the possibilities it opens up and how many you get in one place. Try it out!

So, that is all of the credit where credit is due for the creation of the components of these simple chalkboard printables. Here are some preview images of each printable:

Click on the link below to go to the Google drive where you can download my four chalkboard printables:

Miss NOLAssippi Christmas Chalkboard Printables

I am no graphic designer, but I hope you will find them as charming as I do. Feel free to share on your own sites, but please link back to this post when you do. Enjoy, and happy holidays to you and yours!!

In Christ Alone,

Monday, August 11, 2014

29 Things I Am Thankful For...

This summer, on June 3, I celebrated my 29th birthday, and it was an unbelievably busy day. Between working extended hours (7-4:30), getting my baby boy, feeding him and holding him when he fell asleep for a quick nap (yeah!), helping Prince Charming tidy up the house for our small group meeting, having small group study, and having Dairy Queen ice cream cake with everyone after, I didn't get to sit down and be quiet for myself until about 10:00 that night. So, please, don't feel that I ignored you or didn't answer your phone calls and texts on purpose...I really was just that busy. In addition to being limited in my responses to sweet birthday wishes from friends and family, my business kept me from writing this post that I had been wanting to write all day.

If there is one thing I have learned in my past 29 years on Earth, it is that it is important to slow down, be quiet, and be grateful. In our small group, we were doing a curriculum called Abide right now. The rhythm we discussed on my birthday dealt with just that...getting quiet in a very noisy world. So, without further are 29 things/people/experiences/etc. that I am incredibly grateful for from my past 29 years of life.

1. My Salvation. Because by it, I view, do, and see all other things in my life. It permeates every single part of my life. From my relationships to my career to my decisions, there is absolutely nothing in my life that is not affected by my relationship with God as my Lord and Savior. It fills me up; it gives me life; it gives me worth and confidence and strength and peace...if you don't know my God, I would be more than happy to share Him and His beautiful gospel story with you. It really makes all of the difference in the world to how life is.

2. My Husband. When I call him Prince Charming, I absolutely mean that he is in every sense of the word Prince Charming. He is a Christ-centered man, and that makes all of the difference in the world to how he husbands. He tells me all of the time that I am beautiful, and even more, he tells me that I am his standard of female beauty. I believe and can believe my husband doesn't even look at other women because he puts me so far above every other woman that to him, none compare. It is amazing because I see so many flaws in myself, and he certainly knows that I am not perfect, yet he looks at me and beholds beauty. He takes care of me and supports me. He encourages me and strengthens me. He is my best friend and my one and only. I will be eternally blown away and grateful to God that such an amazing, wonderful man would see fit to call me his wife.

3. My Son. I am not sure that before the past 18 months I would have ever thought that I would want to be a mom, but The Lord truly changed my heart and then blessed me with a marvelous baby. Eli is more than I could have hoped for and everything I could ever want in a baby. He is so sweet and gentle spirited. He is funny and loving and snuggly. He is a good sleeper (thank you, Jesus) and a terrific eater. He spoils me as a mommy, and I am so grateful for his sweet little life being in mine.

4. My Parents. I am fortunate enough to have parents who are still HAPPILY married, and I strongly attribute that to the fact that they are both Bible believing Christians who have relied through the years not on their own strength, will, or feelings but on their bond through Jesus Christ and His work on the cross as the foundation of their marriage. They showed me throughout my life a strong example of a gospel-centered marriage, and that is something that I will be forever grateful for as I navigate my own marriage. They challenged and supported me in everything I do. They offered guidance and advice and protected me from many stupid decisions that I am sure I would have made if they had not been with me every step of the way through my early life.

5. My Sister. At 22 months old, I was granted the privilege of receiving my incredible baby sister. From the time we were able to play together, we were thick as thieves. We certainly fought as sisters do over the years, but far more often than that, we were just best friends. We shared clothes and secrets. We sought advice, consolation, and support from each other. We went on adventures in the backyard and on road trips. She is the one I call as soon as something new or exciting or scary or overwhelming happens in my life, and she is always there with a bended ear and real advice. She isn't afraid to call me out when I am being ridiculous, and she isn't afraid to stand by me even when she doesn't agree with me. She is an amazing woman whom I love, and I cannot imagine my life without her.

6. My In-Laws. Not everyone can say their extended in-law family is great, but I am one of the fortunate few who can say it full heartedly. Prince Charming's parents have accepted me from day one with open arms into their family and lives. I think they were able to do so because they knew he wouldn't bring home just anyone...with him, it had to be the real deal. They have always been kind and generous, and they treat me like their own. I also hit the in-law lottery with my brothers-in-law and my sister-in-law. My brothers-in-law truly treat me like their sister. They make me laugh; they pick on me; and they listen to me. My sister-in-law and I are very close, and I am so thankful for her! She makes any situation more fun. She is great with people and has such a passion for life. She inspires me to be better in so many ways, and I am so blessed to have her to share part of my life with. I really hit the jackpot here, people!

7. My Friends. I will highlight a few in particular, but let me just say that over the years, I have been so fortunate to have amazing, Christian friends. Some were in my life for a season, some are in my life for good, but they have all been irreplaceable figures in my life who helped me grow and learn. From church friends to school friends to work friends...I have been incredibly blessed to have them all! Specific shoutouts: Krissy- I have known her since I was 5, though we were separated by distance for about a decade from then to high school, and she has been my best friend since I was about 16. I share everything with Krissy- as much as with my sister, really. She is kind and sweet and talented and loving. I am amazed and awed to be able to count her as best friend. Erin- Everyone has that lifelong best friend that they don't meet until college. For me, that is Erin. She is the most unique person I know. She is silly and hilarious and talented and fashionable and beautiful. She is an absolute hot mess, and we had the best time through our college years together. Kalee- Also from Mississippi, our NOLA boys brought us together, and I will be eternally grateful for that. Her hubby and mine have been best friends since pretty much birth, so we were naturally introduced as we were dating them. I would never have thought that I would get another best friend out of it. She is such a joy to know. She is a woman of strength and wisdom. She is an awesome mother and is always open and willing to share her knowledge and experience with me when I need it. She gets me in a way that no one else in NOLA does because she comes from the same place (on many levels) as I do, and I count her among God's greatest blessings in my life. Tara- God put Tara in my life. Period. When Prince Charming got his new job at our current church, Riverside in River Ridge, I wasn't sure what kind of relationships I would find. Tara was a welcome surprise. A godly woman who was in the same place in life as me, in the same field, and who went through pregnancy with me (although a few months behind) for the first time. She shared her life here with me (another NOLA transplant) openly and honestly, and I so greatly enjoy spending time with her. She has in the past few weeks had to move away with her sweet little family as the Lord wills, but I will always treasure her friendship.

8. My Extended Family. In the style of Lilo & Stitch regarding family: it's spread out and busy but still good...yeah...still good. I have aunts, uncles, and cousins from Hawaii to Washington, D.C. and everywhere in between. Our family is large and numerous, and fun. Of course we have the crazies and the dramatics and the black sheep...every family does...but it is still mine, and it is still good.

9. Our Church. I grew up in a wonderful church in Mississippi until I entered college. Then, I went with the college minister when he planted a new church in Jackson. Shortly after that, I went with Prince Charming to a Methodist church where he served as youth minister. We attended Prince Charming's parents' church for a short while after we wed and moved to NOLA. After we purchased our first house, PC got his first ministry job at a local presbyterian church. Then, in December of 2012, God called us back to the church where he grew up to serve as associate pastor. It has been amazing to walk in the will of the Father, and we are so incredibly thankful for the congregation there. The body of believers at Riverside is so kind and so hungry for the Word of God and Will of the Father. It is such a joy to serve and worship there, and I am very grateful for God's grace in sending us there.

10. My Pets. I know it may seem silly to some to be thankful for this category, but I am an animal lover, and I have been fortunate to have some pretty amazing pets in my day. Our childhood dog, a standard dachshund named Max, was SO AWESOME! He was so chill and fun, and everyone who met him loved him! Then, my first pet of my own, Molly Jones came along. She was a gift from Josh and Kalee, and she was an absolute doll. She had the sweetest little spirit, and she loved life. She was an amazing dog, and I didn't get to have as much time with her as I would have liked. With her, and still, was our sweet, unique Desmond. A Christmas gift from Prince Charming's parents, Des is such a cutie pie, and he has proved to be one tough pup. He isn't the most social dog with strangers (especially kids and other dogs), but he is fervently loyal to our family, and those whom he loves, he loves hard. For animal lovers, pets are such a joy, and I have been favored to have good ones.

11. My Job. I am so fortunate to have a job that I can honestly say contributes to the well-being and care of my family. Being a working mom is not an easy life for me...I always hoped and pictured myself as a stay-at-home mom while my children were small. But, clearly, God has other plans. While it isn't always easy for me to accept, I know He has a purpose and reason for my stay-at-home mom desire to not be fulfilled at this point in my life, and I trust that promise. In the meantime, I remind myself daily of the fact that I don't work to be away from my family, I work for my family. My job enable us to have health insurance and some extra financial stability. For that, I can be grateful, and I can find the will to say goodbye to my sweet baby boy in the mornings.

12. Financial Stability. Building on number 11, I am grateful that I have been blessed in my life and in my marriage to have a stable financial life. While my husband and I by no means are wealthy by monetary standards (he is a preacher, and I am a teacher for crying out loud) all of our needs and even many of our wants are met. Not everyone can say that, and I count it as a gracious blessing from The Lord.

13. My Hobbies and Talents. I will never claim to be great at any of the things I do as hobbies, but I will absolutely claim that I love them all! From singing to sewing to cooking to writing...these are the things that have given me a source of joy, peace, comfort, and patience. I am thankful God has blessed me with the abilities and opportunities to get to do all of these things, and I hope to get to do them all for years to come.

14. Living in New Orleans. As hard as it is sometimes, even still, to be so far away from my friends and family I grew up with, I wouldn't trade getting to live in the lively, soulful, awesome city of New Orleans, Louisiana. There is simply no place like it in the world. The food, the events, the digs into your heart and doesn't let go. People who are NOLA people just get it. 

15. Traveling. I am so grateful for every trip I have been privileged to take. Whether national or international, the opportunities I have had to travel in my life have made me a more open-minded, well-rounded person. It has taught me to appreciate people, places, and cultures other than my own. I hope I can give my own children chances to travel.

16. Nursing Experience. This one is a delicate one. I prayed during my pregnancy for God to give me a good nursing relationship with my baby. While it hasn't always been easy, it has been absolutely amazing and wonderful, and God answered my prayer in abundant ways I couldn't have imagined. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to nurse, and I will hope and pray that I will be able to do likewise for any future children I have.

17. Air Conditioning. This one is a must when you live in the south...especially the deep south. I forget how much I appreciate this until I don't have air conditioning. 

18. Memories. I am thankful for the time I have spent with everyone and anyone in my life and the memories those times have made. I may not be in touch with everyone from throughout my whole life anymore, friends come and go and people move or pass away, but the memories of good times, hard times, and exciting times all last. 

19. Freedom. The United States of America, for all of its faults and short-comings, is still one of the greatest countries in the world to live in because we do get freedoms that are often denied to people in other places. I can go to church without fear of persecution. I can choose what career I want to pursue or work and do it. I can go for a walk with my sweet husband and son without fear of bombs exploding around us. This country is not perfect, it is far from it, but it certainly has benefits that other countries do not get to boast. 

20. Snoballs on a Hot Summer Day. Not a snow snoball. It is a NOLA thing, and they are like mana from Heaven on a scorching summer afternoon in New Orleans. They turn your mouth colors and give you brain freeze, and they are decadence in ice form. Not much can beat it.

21. Rainy Days at Home. I absolutely love rainy days that I get to be home, snuggled up with my best boys watching movies, playing games, eating comfort food, and just having fun. Thunderstorms are even better! This only applies to the days I get to be home.

22. FaceTime. This one wasn't such an important thing to me until I had a baby whose grandparent's live 15 hours away. I am absolutely thankful for this technology. It lets my parents interact with Eli daily, so they can see in real time how he grows and changes. He recognizes them when he sees them even if he hasn't seen them in person in months. This is an invaluable tool, and I cannot imagine having to raise my baby so far from family without it. 

23. Our House. While not without things I would love to change...bigger bathroom with a huge tub, more linen storage, etc...I am so grateful to have a home that I can call my own. A home that I helped create. A home that keeps me warm when it is cold and cool when it is hot. A home where I can spend time with my friends and family. A home where I can make a mess or be a neat freak. It is our home, and it is full of love!

24. Health. I am very fortunate to have been blessed with good health throughout my life. Granted, I have terrible allergies and sinus problems, but other than that, I have been fortunate enough to avoid any major health issues thus far in my life. What a blessing!

25. Books. I am an absolute, 100%, self-proclaimed and proven bookworm. I cannot get enough of getting lost in stories. Fiction, nonfiction, fantasy, sci-fi, drama...whatever. I love them all! It is a joy to me to sit with a book and get lost in its pages. It provided me with a means of escape during my middle school years when I was a victim of bullying, and it still gives me an oasis even in my hectic life now. 

26. Kindness of Strangers. As Mr. Roger's always said, in times of trouble, "look for the helpers." As I get older, the kindness of strangers becomes even more elusive and even more precious. From holding a door, to letting me cut in line at the grocery store because of Eli, to helping with bags on an airplane...never underestimate a kind gesture to even those you don't know.

27. Laughter. Sometimes, only a good belly laugh can help. Even in our deepest despair, one laugh can change our entire perspective. I love laughing until it hurts and I can't catch my breath and I have tears in my eyes. Those laughs are few an fat between. I don't always remember the reason I laugh like that, but I always remember the feeling.

28. Food and Clean Water. This is one we readily take for granted in the US, but I cannot forget how incredibly blessed I am to have these most basic needs met on a daily basis. It is overwhelming how many people struggle to have either or both of these things day to day, and I pray I never take for granted the gift of these necessities.

29. Forgiveness. This sort of goes back to the idea of salvation, as all in my life does, but I am grateful for any and all forgiveness bestowed upon my in my life. Lord know that I need it daily, and it is a gift of grace and mercy. Being forgiven is being set free, and that is an indescribable, priceless gift.

So...there are 29 things I am thankful for. This list is not exhaustive, but it does help me keep things in perspective. Thank You, Lord, for these 29 years. I pray for many more years to come and that each of those years would be spent seeking your kingdom, honor, and glory.

In Christ Alone,

Monday, July 21, 2014

Musings of a Heavy Heart

I have debated whether or not I should post this at all. It has been sitting in my drafts section of my blog for almost a month now. I wrote this right after losing my grandmother very suddenly to pancreatic cancer at the end of July. I have decided I will share it because it is is the thought process I went through as I dealt with the pain and grief of losing someone precious whom I loved so dearly with all my heart. It is unedited, so forgive the typos and stream of thought. While it may not all be clear, I hope that the thoughts that lay on my heart can speak to the heart of those who are hurting for any reason.

In Christ Alone, 

Staring at the cursor blink on this blank page through bleary eyes right now leaves me with little confidence that I will be able to make a single coherent thought in this post. But during this time in my life, I have so many thoughts running through my mind that I needed to get down somewhere that I decided my blog would be a good landing spot. This post will be a stream of thought, so forgive me any places that seem disjointed. You see, I am experiencing a difficult loss in my life right now, in the midst of other major life changes, and I am not alone. Close friends and family are also experiencing the loss of those closest to them. It is heartwrenching and difficult during these times to make sense of pain, death, and grief. Some people want to try to comfort you by saying that death is just a part of life. It is a natural event that all experience. Here's the thing that a Christian knows with certaintly: death is the least natural thing on the planet. Man was not made to die. Man was not made to be break was made to live and to thrive. Death was a result of man's actions in the beginning telling God we don't love you, don't need you, and don't accept your rule and reign over us (aka sin). As a result of our rebellion, death entered the scene and has remained since. It isn't natural. If it was, it wouldn't be so difficult. It wouldn't be dehumanizing, painful, and ruthless. Those left living wouldn't have to deal with the incredible pain of feeling like a piece of you has been ripped painfully away out of the grasp of your longing-to-hold-onto-life fingers.

When these things happen, our first instinct is to simply ask, "Why?" Why has this person been taken away from me? Why has this person had to suffer? Why can't I stop it? Why couldn't I do more? Why didn't You do more? Why didn't You heal? Why...why...why? The whys keep pouring into my mind like a river down a mountain...and they definitely seem to end in a valley. I can't begin to tell you a specific reason, aside from the one mentioned above, that these things happen. I won't pretend to know the answers, the thinking of God, because how arrogant of me to think that I could grasp, as the Bible calls them, "the secret things that belong to God." God asked Job when he asked why, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth?" In other isn't for me to know why God does the things he does because whether "good" or "bad" by my own small-minded definitions of those words, they are His things to do...and ultimately...all good. But while I cannot say why it is that these things happen, I do know for a shadow of a doubt what the reasons can't be. It simply and utterly cannot be because God doesn't love us. It absolutely and without a shadow of a doubt cannot be because He doesn't sympathize with us in our loss and suffering. And it cannot be because He doesn't understand our pain. We only need to look to one thing to know these things to be true: the cross of Jesus Christ.

At the cross, God demonstrated a love for us that goes beyond what we could ever hope to imagine to understand. He sent his only Son to die in our place for sins He had not even thought to commit. He spilled His own innocent blood on our behalf and all so that we could be made right with Him even in our sinful state by repentance and belief in Him. That is love incapable of being measured and love incapable of ever being squelched by anything in Heaven or on Earth. It is an unstoppable, imeasurable, unfailing, never-giving-up love. So this loss and hurt can't happen because He doesn't love us. In sending His only Son, he suffered a loss that we can't fathom. He allowed His innocent, perfect, righteous Son to humble himself to a painful, humiliating death on the cross. So he understands, even in ways we don't, our loss and suffering. Not only was this His one and only Son, but He was the One who had been with Him for all eternity. "In the beginning was The Word, and The Word was with God, and The Word was God." I was able to spend 29 amazing years with the life and presence of my grandmother with me, and my hurt is massive. How much more must the hurt of the Father and the Son have been when He had to turn His face away from Him on the cross as He bore the wrath of The Father for our sins and transgressions? My friends, it cannot be that He doesn't understand our cannot be. 

So, as I sit here and break under the weight of loss and hurt and grief, I look to the cross as my source of comfort and strength. And not just for what the cross has meant for me, but what it meant to my grandmother. As a Christian who proclaimed Jesus as her Lord and Savior, I can be dually comforted by Christ's work on the cross. Not only does it shout at the top of all forms of volume that God loves us and sympathizes with us, but it also radiates the hope that lies within what was accomplished there. Sin has lost its power; death has lost its sting. For those who believe, this life does not end with death. Oh no, by all just begins. As an adopted son or daughter of the Most High God, regardless of what or how death took us from this life, we are awakened to an eternal life renewed. Healing comes in many ways in our lives in many circumstances...and this is His ultimate healing for those who believe. We enter the presence of The Lord and all of the believers who went before us to never have to live under the effects of sin or sickness or death again. To live is Christ and to die is gain...even in the darkness of grief that surrounds me, this flicker of hope, this light of joy, cannot be undone. It is a flame that burns as eternal as the life given by God, and it shines even through the darkest despair this world can muster. It is the reason a Christan can boast a joy even in the is the assurance of this certain promise of life in Christ that allows a grieving Christian to be flooded with a peace that passes understanding even when we are overcome with the loss of those we love who believed in is our very source of life even in death. Does it mean that we don't hurt? That we don't grieve? That the pain of our loss vanishes into thin air? Indeed not because, as we said before, we grieve the unnatural nature of death and the loss it brings. But through it all, we can sing a song of praise in our hearts and give thanks to The Lord for His love that endures forever...through life...past death...and into the ever after life in His presence in glory. 


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Pregnancy 101: 10 Things I Learned From My First Pregnancy

Photograph by TJMohr Photography

Being a mom is one of the scariest, most overwhelming, most surprising, most challenging, and absolutely one of the most AMAZING things God has ever allowed me to do. Every day I wake up and the first thing I think about is my sweet little baby boy sleeping in his room down the hall. Almost once every minute of each day while I am at work, I think about him and wonder what he is doing and if he is thinking of or missing me while I am gone. At the end of the day, before I shut my eyes, he is the last thought that goes through my head and the last prayer that leaves my heart is for God to keep watch over him through the night. Being a mom is SO MUCH MORE than giving birth to a new human, and I learn that more and more each day.

In the Beginning...

 There were a few years after Prince Charming and I got married that I wondered if I would ever feel the desire to be a mommy. Unlike many of my friends who got married and started having babies within a year of saying "I do," or at least started trying within a year because they had caught baby fever, I found myself just wanting to be selfish. I wanted Prince Charming all to myself. I wanted Friday nights that I could stay up as late as I wanted and Saturday mornings that I could sleep in as late as I wanted. I wanted to be able to plan a trip to the beach on a whim or head to Mississippi to spend a couple of days with my sister if I felt inclined. I knew from the get-go that a baby would change all of those things (boy, was I right), and I didn't know if I would ever want to give up those things.

Everything Changed...

Step in that fateful night in November of 2012...the night that a cotton-mouth water moccasin had made its way into our backyard with our two Jack Russel terriers, Desmond and Molly Jones. Molly was almost four, and Desmond was about to turn three. Molly Jones was my and Prince Charming's first baby; the dog we were freely gifted as a puppy by our Rongey friends. Both dogs were bitten, and while Desmond thankfully pulled through, Molly Jones lost her life within 36 hours of the incident. My heart was broken...into a million't get up off the chair in the den for 48 hours broken. I grieved for her so hard that all I could do was lay in that chair and cry until I fell asleep. Then, I would wake up and cry some more. It was a vicious cycle. Prince Charming just stayed in the chair beside me to grab me every time I woke up and was overtaken by the sorrow again and again. I missed two days of work; I was such a wreck. The sweet little dog who had loved us so faithfully was gone after just four short years together. People were so gracious and kind to us during that time, and many would ask if we would get another dog to replace her. The thought was completely alien to me...replace Molly? Not possible. She had, no less, left a hole in my heart....a hole that I knew no other pet would ever fill...a mommy hole. It was in December of 2012 that I told Prince Charming that I thought it may be time to have a baby. We decided that although we wouldn't actively try, we would stop actively preventing in January.

God's Gift...

Fast-forward to March 2013. Prince Charming and I found ourselves having to go to Mississippi to attend a funeral for a relative. My (only slightly older) cousin had been tragically and unexpectedly killed in a terrible car accident, and we spent a few days in Mississippi grieving with family and friends. While driving home, Prince Charming and I stopped in McComb to grab some dinner. While waiting for our food to arrive, I was watching the sweetest little young family having dinner. Seeing how much the sweet little toddlers loved their mom and dad, I looked at Prince Charming and said, "I think I am ready to be a mommy." When we finally made it back to the house, I felt emotionally and physically drained and had to work the next day. Deeda had left some sleep aid medicine at my house, and I decided it would be a good idea to take some to help me rest. It occurred to me that since we were no longer preventing pregnancy, it would probably be a good idea to take a pregnancy test before I took the medicine just to confirm that I wasn't pregnant. Thank God He lay that precaution on my heart. I have never been more surprised by the appearance of a pink line in my life! And we aren't talking waiting a minute to see if it appeared...we are talking going on the stick and "TA-DA!" line. I was in shock...I wasn't taking this test to see if I was pregnant because I certainly didn't have any inclination that I was supposed to just be a confirmation that I could take the sleep aid and crawl into bed. Instead, I heard God's voice saying to me, "This is why you had that feeling in McComb. You feel ready to be a mommy because I am making you ready." My God is amazing, awesome, personal, and loving. He knew from the foundation of time this moment was coming, and He had given me a glimmer of hope that I was ready for what was to come because He would be with me.

Thus began my education in pregnancy and mommy-hood. These posts will feature some of the important things that I have learned and experienced, and am still learning and experiencing, as I go and Eli grows. Feel free to post questions or comments but know that nothing negative will stay on my blog. Everyone's experience with pregnancy and motherhood is different and unique because every mommy and baby is different and unique. I would never even slightly claim to know everything by any means. I only pray that some of these things will help ease the mind of a new mom by showing her that she isn't alone. So without further ado, let's get started:

Photograph by TJMohr Photography

Things I Learned (Or Experienced) While Pregnant with My First Baby

The Experiences and Insight from My First Pregnancy

1. Thoughts and Feelings Change Often

We are talking change as in many times a hour...ok maybe a minute. But seriously, so many thoughts started running through my head from the moment I found out I was pregnant. Fear was one of the first things that would pop in now and then. I had known a few moms who had experienced miscarriages or still births, and I was afraid of going through this myself. Thankfully, I was constantly reminded by my husband, my small group, and my family that God is Sovereign and in control and that no matter what happened, He would provide for me. That is the greatest comfort I could ask for, and it helped combat the fear when it would creep in. But fear isn't the only thing that started cycling through my mind. There was joy, worry, excitement, wonder, insecurity, urgency, curiosity...there were checklists and to-do lists and two days were exactly the same, and that is ok. One day I would completely doubt my ability to be ready for the changes that were bound to come by becoming a mommy, and the next day, I would be overjoyed at the thought of becoming a mommy. Let yourself feel it all because once that baby gets here, this emotional roller coaster will kick into high gear, so let your body and mind prepare themselves for it by experiencing each feeling as it comes. Some things that are helpful are having a strong support system to lean on. For me, that was Prince Charming, my family, and the women in my church. Also, don't let yourself get stuck on dwelling on the negative feelings that WILL occur. Fears, doubts, anxiousness, frustration...all of these things are bound to happen but don't let them overtake you. While it is good to let them happen, it is best to work through them. Staying stressed out or upset isn't good for you or your incubating little one. Talk to someone, go for a  walk, call your doctor (they are usually more than happy to help assuage your fears and give you peace), pray, relax, and/or have a good cry. Your body is doing something amazing and miraculous...its ok to ask for help or take some you time.

2. Your Body is Not Yours Alone Anymore

One of the most amazing, confusing, wonderful, scary, and awesome things about being pregnant is experiencing your body become the life support system of another human being. From the moment of conception, your body starts working to do all it can to provide for and sustain the life growing inside of it. This can be uncomfortable at times, but it is so worth it! No one told me ahead of time that it can be painful to feel your muscles stretch out to accommodate the baby growing in your belly, but when I would say I had felt a "sharp pain in my groin area" other moms would say, "Oh, yeah, that is normal." Why doesn't anyone mention that there can be normal pain associated with carrying a baby? I don't know...some pain is normal. Don't get me wrong, if you experience any pain at all that you can't explain or that makes you to your doctor. Again, they want to help you be as comfortable and peaceful as possible during your pregnancy. But do know that if you have aches and pains associated with your changing body, you aren't alone. Discomfort isn't the only reminder that your body is not your own. You will most likely get a dark line from your belly button to your pelvic bone...maybe even your hormones change. You may grow hair in places you haven't grown hair before...(don't will most likely also eventually go back to normal when your hormones balance back out), and your skin may be gloriously clear and glowing or red and broken out. Your hair may change, your nails will grow, and you may or may not feel like you have a terrible stomach bug 24/7. But all of this is totally worth the work being done inside of you, and it pales in comparison to the astounding, marvelous joy of seeing your baby born. These moments of discomfort will be nothing more than a distant memory before you know it, so hang in there momma. Your baby depends on you and your body for safety, health, and comfort.

3. Your Growing Body Will Probably Receive Unsolicited Comments

I wish I could tell you why it is so, but it seems your growing body will receive comments from people that they wouldn't under normal circumstances feel are appropriate to say. One night, while walking up to church for dinner, one of the elderly ladies in our church said, "Look at that fat belly. You are just getting fat, fat, fat!" This was not, by any stretch of the imagination, the only comment like this I received. People seemed to find it perfectly normal and logical to say things like, "You are getting huge!" or "Wow! That is a big belly!" or some other variation. I wish I could say that people mean well when they make comments like this, but I really cannot begin to wrap my mind around what makes a person feel it is ok to make comments like this to a woman who is doing one of the most remarkable, exceptional things that a female human is capable of doing. My typical response would be just to smile and say something along the lines of, "Thank goodness I am growing because that means the baby in me is growing well, too." I mean, come on people...I am growing an entire human being. It is perfectly normal for your belly to grow, and grow, and would be worrisome if it didn't. Don't let these comments get you down or affect how you feel about your pregnant self. A pregnant woman is one of the most beautiful sights on the planet. It is life bearing life, and it is a miraculous, wonderful thing. Don't let the absent-minded, poorly conceived comments of others dissuade you from believing just that.

4. Listen to Your Body and Rest as Needed

I realize that this one sounds completely cliche, but trust me on is important and only you truly know how much rest you feel you need. In our society, we are taught that not doing something equates to laziness so our schedule should be full of work, personal, and social activities and moments not spent doing something with others should be spent doing something for ourselves...and moments not spent doing either of those things should be spent on social media catching up on and sharing all of our daily events with others. Don't be fooled into believing the lie of distraction; it is perfectly ok to be quiet and still...pregnant or not...but especially when you are pregnant. There were plenty of afternoons that I came home from my job that requires me to be on my feet a majority of most days, and all I had the energy to do was make it to the living room sofa to plop down for a nap or just to veg out. My husband let me know early on that it was ok for me to do whatever I needed to do to take the best care of myself and our baby as I could, so that is what I did. My only regrets are the times that I should have stopped and skipped out on something because I needed to rest and didn't. These moments aren't so easy to come by after baby arrives, so take advantage of the time you can find to rest and relax.

5. Working Out Incessantly is NOT a Necessity

Don't get me wrong here; it is important for you to do some sort of physical activity, as your body and pregnancy will allow, each day. For me, that simply meant taking a walk a few nights a week (weather permitting) with Prince Charming around the neighborhood. And we aren't talking power-walking or speed walking...just a normal paced walk around a few blocks. I have heard stories of women who participate in all sorts of strenuous workout regimes up until the day they go into labor...and more power to you if that is what your body is telling you to do...but don't feel like you need to do this so you can quickly bounce back to your pre-pregnancy shape and size. Our culture, thanks largely in part to the ever unrealistic ideals of Hollywood, seems to now expect women to be fully recovered and back to normal within a week or two of birth. Are you kidding me?!?! Your body has just done one of the most amazing, challenging, and taxing things on Earth, not to mention that you are now adjusting to being the caregiver of a brand new baby 24/7. It is ok to give yourself permission to take things slowly. I remember at my two week check up post birth, my doctor asking how I was doing. I made mention of how my stomach felt squishy, and he kindly said, "Yes. You can probably expect to have that feminine pooch from now on. It will get smaller, but it will always be there. Unless you are a mom in Hollywood...I don't know what the crap they do." Haha! I love my doctor. All that to say, there was a reason that old statues of women had that beautiful curve across their lower abdomen. This wasn't a characteristic of shame or embarrassment. It was a rite of passage; a symbol of glory; a trait of womanhood. Do NOT succumb to the lies that you are less than beautiful, and do not push your body past its limits for the sake of fitting into the world's dumb definition of what is beautiful.

6. Baby Advice Comes a Dime a Dozen

You will have a barrage of pregnancy advice, parenting advice, baby advice, marriage as parents advice, etc. both solicited and unsolicited from this point forward. Take it all in with a grain of salt. No two pregnancies are just alike, so you may experience things in a completely different way than even the people you are closest to. So many times when speaking to my closest friends and family who had been through pregnancy before, they would say, "That isn't how I remember it," or "That didn't happen to me." You know what? It is ok if what you experience hasn't happened to someone you know. You may have trouble sleeping while your best friend was able to sleep like a rock. You might experience morning sickness 24/7 while your mom never felt ill at all. You may crave corn dogs dipped in apple sauce while your sister craved pizza topped with feta cheese, gyro meat, and tzatziki sauce. One blog will say this while another says that...don't drive yourself crazy searching for your pregnancy doppelganger. Send all of the advice you receive and every answer to your inquiries through your own developing mommy filter. Keep what you like and toss out the rest. Everything will fall into place!

7. Make Plans but Be Flexible

Even our best laid plans sometimes work out very differently than we expected. Go ahead and make your plans as best you can: when I will pack the bag, about when the baby will come, who you want at the hospital, the timeline for the nursery, a birthing plan (I never wrote one), etc. Then, be ok with the notion that these things may not go exactly as you planned because the baby in your womb has no idea what you are planning. You may be firm in the desire to have a vaginal delivery, but circumstances may suddenly require you to have a C-section. You might be certain you are having a boy, and you find out you are having a girl. God works in us and through us, and His plans are better than ours. Take heart in the knowledge that even if things don't quite work out the way you would have planned or expected, they are working out exactly the way they are supposed to. In the same way, know that you cannot predict how your checkups will go. I am not the poster child for gestational diabetes, but I sure was diagnosed with it after my first blood glucose test. I went through the entire second half of my pregnancy on a strict diabetic diet to control my glucose levels. I had planned on a pregnancy full of late-night cravings and big plates of awesome shower food, but I had to follow a completely different path for the health of me and my baby. But in hindsight, it was a gift in so many ways. 

8. Surround Yourself with Godly Mothers

The advice and encouragement I received from the women in my church was priceless. It is one thing to go online and read a million different opinions from a million different people about what is best for you and your baby, but it is another thing entirely to have someone who knows you and your faith well to encourage and support you. You see, when someone you know well who is also striving after God's heart gives you advice, it is not with condescension or judgement. It isn't loaded with hidden meanings and subtext or an "I have it all together" attitude because they offer it from a place of grace and love. I never felt pressure from the women I sought advice from one way or another. They would simply and openly share their own experiences, for better or for worse, with me and always follow it up by saying that every baby and pregnancy and parenting experience is different. They encouraged me to listen to my heart and follow my instincts while also sharing with me the path they had taken with their own families. It was invaluable to have this kind of counsel, and I would encourage anyone to seek this type of support system.

9. Take pictures of yourself matter what.

I know this one seems so simple, but I truly am grateful for any pictures I had taken during my pregnancy. Pregnancy is like any other change that happens over time: I saw myself changing each day, but because of the gradual nature of the growth, I didn't truly grasp just how much my body changed during that time. Don't get me wrong...there were definitely days that I noticed my belly sticking out suddenly or how much larger it felt, but I didn't appreciate the amazing gravity of what my body was doing until I went back and looked at photographs of my pregnant self. When I see the images my husband snapped of me before I went to the hospital the night Eli was born, I am blown away at the size of my belly and the fact that it contained the tiny human I was holding just hours later in my arms. It truly is remarkable and awe-inspiring what the female body can and does do to bring new life into the world. Document it...swollen ankles and all! Speaking of swollen ankles...

10. Pregnancy is fleeting...enjoy every moment! (even the not so comfortable ones)

I loved being pregnant. I mean...I LOVED it! It was, by far, one of the most challenging, joyful, overwhelming, phenomenal things I have ever done. Not all of it was easy: having gestational diabetes that caused me to maintain a strictly regimented diet, all of the blood tests I had to go through because of the diabetes, getting really bad swollen ankles the last couple of weeks...not all of it is comfortable: my body was growing and stretching so there were aches and itchiness, I had some "morning" (yeah right) sickness for a few weeks at the end of my first trimester, pregnant women often get gassy (ahem...yep), the last few weeks find it difficult to empty your bladder completely or sleep well, the exams to see if you are dialated (no one warns you just how much it hurts to have that flippin' does!!)...but in all of that, I enjoyed being pregnant. I was able to find joy in my pregnancy even in the hard parts because of the reassurance of God doing a miraculous work inside of me. I was able to smile and feel beautiful despite the swelling and bloating because I had a husband who reminded me every day that I was. And I reminded myself of just how temporary pregnancy is. Even in the moments when it felt hard or uncomfortable...I reminded myself that it was only a matter of months, days, weeks before the pregnancy would be done and (Lord willing) a sweet baby would be in this world because of what my body was doing. I remember late in my pregnancy going to the grocery store and the check out girl asking when I was due. I told her a few weeks, and she said, "You are one of the most beautiful pregnant ladies I have ever seen because you look so happy. Most women who are pregnant just look miserable." I am not saying at all that every moment of a pregnancy is easy or comfortable...and I know that for many women they are anything but...however a pregnancy goes, it is a miracle and you are part of a marvelous, miraculous story that is growing right inside your belly. You are joining the ranks of billions of women who have walked this journey before you. You are blessed to get to do something that some women want with all of their hearts to be able to do but cannot. You are doing something that literally keeps the human race going. You are a walking wonder! Let that be the fire that ignites your joy even when it is hard. Do not take a single second for granted because it is a precious and awesome event.

So...there it is...ten things I learned and/or experienced during my first pregnancy. It is certainly not the extent of all I learned, but it is a start; and I hope it will be a source of hope, inspiration, comfort, or reassurance for someone out there who just wants to know they aren't alone in what they think or feel. Happy Easter, my friends!

In Christ Alone,

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Letters to Eli #5

Hello, puddle duck!

Wow! Really? It has been a whole half of a year already since you were born. Time truly is flying at a crazy fast pace. I am doing my best to soak in every single possible moment I can with you in all of your baby glory. And what a sweet, wonderful baby you are! I am amazed every day at how you are growing and learning. You are so good, and you have such a sweet little spirit about you. You only fuss if you don't feel good or are tired and/or hungry. Otherwise, for the most part, you are all smiles and giggles. You make the most precious little faces, and you steal my heart every minute.

Here are some things you do now: sit up on your own, you scoot around on the floor in circles or backwards, and you are getting very close to crawling. You get up on all fours and rock back and forth by yourself. You have even plopped forward a few times. It is bittersweet knowing you are about to achieve this milestone. On the one hand, it is wonderful watching you develop and grow. I love the idea of you being able to go to what you want and make your way around to explore. At the same time, it opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for you to get into something you shouldn't or to get hurt. I guess this is just the first of many endeavors you will dabble in that will cause me this type of worry. You also love to babble now, and you really look like you are trying to talk when you do it. You love to splash and play in your bath, and the running water in the tub fascinates you. You bounce up and down, you give tiny, gentle high fives, and you shake your head no a lot. You are getting close to learning to wave, and I think you are the most precious little thing I have ever laid eyes on. Truly, you bring my heart such joy and wonder...I am one blessed mommy!

Photograph by TJMohr Photography

Yesterday, we went to your 6 month check up, and the doctor says you are doing great! You weighed 19 lbs 3 oz and were 27.5 inches long. You are a big boy! We get to start working towards getting you even more into baby food. So far, you like sweet potatoes, squash, and hummus. You don't like green beans, apples, or pears. Your Nonnie says you don't like fruit because mommy had gestational diabetes, so you weren't used to sweets. I have a feeling you will come around! :)

Photograph by TJMohr Photography

You are still a very good sleeper, although you still tend to wake up once in the night, either early on (around 11) or in the early morning (around 4:30) to get a dry diaper and eat. I am thinking that once we start giving you more solid foods, that nightly feeding will be cut out. The idea of no longer nursing is also bittersweet. While I look forward to the freedoms that not nursing brings, I am certainly going to miss the bonding that it facilitates. I feel like it is such a part of our relationship, and it even feels like part of my identity now. No matter...we will strive on. I hope that you adjust ok to it as I am sure it will be a bit hard on my heart. No phase in your life, no matter how sweet it may seem, is meant to last forever. These years, days, even moments are all so fleeting. I try to enjoy them while I can, and I try to avoid questioning and beating myself up over every little thing I could be doing differently. You are a wonderful baby, and I couldn't ask for anything more.

Photograph by TJMohr Photography

I love you so, son, and my prayers for you continue to be the same. The greatest of them all is that you are one day, sooner rather than later in life, called on by God to belong to Him. I cherish you; I treasure you; and I adore you with every fiber of my being.

Photograph by TJMohr Photography
In Christ Alone,

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Quick Crockpot Beef Roast

Quick Crockpot Beef Roast

So, I haven't been able to post a recipe in awhile, but who can blame me when I have been spending every possible free moment I can with this little guy???

I mean...seriously...does any baby ever get any cuter?!?! (Shout out to TJMohr Photography for the amazing 3 month photos!)

At any rate, I wanted to share a quick, easy recipe I was handed by a librarian at one of the schools where I work. It is a cinch to put together, cooks all day in the Crockpot, and has an AMAZING flavor! Normally, when I do a Crockpot roast I use the three packet method that floats around all of the time on Pinterest (one pack of ranch dressing mix, one pack Italian dressing mix, and one pack of brown gravy mix with 1/2 cup water), but this one sounded intriguing and magically delicious. What is this magic you may ask? Here is the recipe she shared with me:

1 beef roast (about 2 lbs)
1 packet of French onion soup mix
2 cans cream of mushroom soup

Place roast in Crockpot. Stir together the soups and soup mix.  Pour over roast. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or until meat is fall apart tender. 

That's it! easy and versatile! Serve over rice, with mashed potatoes (as we did), or make roast beef poboys! This was truly one of the quickest home cooked meals ever, and the leftovers kept and reheated beautifully. I had to tweak the recipe slightly as I didn't have cream of mushroom soup on hand, so our gravy consisted of a can of cream of onion and a can of cream of chicken. I don't think you can go was just good! 

I hope you enjoy and come back and visit the site soon. Leave comments and let me know how yours turns out.

In Christ Alone,

Monday, April 7, 2014

Letters to Eli #4

Hey, my beautiful big bald-headed baby boy!

I love you. I love you so much. I love you when you flap your arms and smile so big when you see me come home from work. I love when you are scared of something and make the cutest, sweetest, most pitiful frowny face I have ever seen. I love you when you are having baby angst and can't seem to stop fussing. I love it when you get sleepy and rub your sweet little eyes. And I still love the time at night when I get to take you to your room and we sit down in your rocking chair...Daddy reads you a bedtime story and Mommy nurses you to sleep. I am so grateful that you don't fight bedtime! You still wake up once in the night, usually between 3:30 and 4:30 a.m. to eat, but you always go right back down to sleep again. 

What's new with you...gosh, what isn't. You have peach fuzz hair growing all over your sweet little head. You can roll over back to front and front to back now with ease. You can pick up your whole upper half during tummy time now, and your bathtub sling has been removed for in tub bathing now. You love to blow raspberries with your little mouth, and you love to play in the jumperoo at church. You decided on your five month birthday, about a week ago, that you were ready to sit up on your own. You still wobble over when you make big reaches, but for a five month old baby, you are quite impressive. You have foud your feet and they, along with anything else you can grab, manage to find their way to your mouth often. You like to drink water out of cups and water bottles, and you have started to have a bit of rice cereal before bedtime. You LOVE it! You also like to watch Sesame Street and other cartoons on PBS. Your eyes have changed now to Daddy's color, and I love that.

I am still working, and some days are definitely harder than others. I think that as you get bigger and do more it is harder for me to go because I feel like I miss so much. You learn so fast, and I feel like every day you do something new. On Saturdays, after your first morning feeding (around 8:30 a.m.), I bring you into our bed for Saturday morning snuggle time. I look forward to it all week. I think about you all day every day, and I love coming home to you in the afternoons. I feel like the most blessed mommy in the world to have you as a son, and I can't wait to see what you do next! I love you so much, my sweet baby boy, and I pray for you...always.

Love you,

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Letters to Eli #3

Hello, my sweet baby boy!

As we have reached your four month birthday mark, I cannot help but be in awe and shock that your first year of life is already almost 1/3 of the way through and be amazed at how much you are growing and changing every day. I feel like with every passing moment you are learning to do something new. You have rolled over a few times, and you are on the brink of realizing that you are capable of doing so at will. You are starting to pull yourself up to a sitting position when Prince Charming and I prop you on our knees at an incline. You love to grab your toys on your playmat gym and stick them into your mouth. You also watch us so closely as we move around now that you are starting to roll from back to front trying to keep up with us. And your new favorite thing at bathtime is having your own rag to suck on while mommy bathes you. You are still a wonderful sleeper and an even better eater. You switch from bottle to mommy with no issues, and I am so grateful for the answered prayer of a good (although it wasn't always easy) nursing relationship with you. You "coo" and babble a lot, and I love hearing your sweet voice. Oh, and your brings light and joy to a moment like rays of sunshine on a cloudy, gray day. Your daddy LOVES to make you laugh, and it is definitely a contagious sound.

Photograph by TJMohr Photography

Last night, when you were taking your evening bath in your blue tub in the kitchen sink, you started to really pay attention to your little feet. It is such a joy and blessing to be able to watch you figure things out and experience all of the little things I take for granted each day with such inquisitivenss and wonder. This past Sunday, you stood in the Jumperoo in the church nursery by yourself, and I almost cried because you looked like such a big boy. I try really hard to stay in the moment with you and not be too sad that these moments will be gone. It is a dangerous temptation to grieve the passage of time before it has even come and gone...then you miss the moments while they are happening. Your three month pictures your Uncle Boat took of you turned out PRECIOUS! We are so lucky to have such talented friends and family to love on you by sharing their gifts.

Although I wish my family was closer to you to get to experience all of this with you and with me, I am grateful for the family that you do have here. Your Bella, Bubby, and SugarPie love to keep you during the week, and you light up when you see them. I still can't get enough of you, and I can't wait to run home to you at the end of every work day. I still remind myself daily that I am a working mom to provide FOR you, and that helps get me through the tough days. Over Mardi Gras break, you and I had lots of fun adventures together while Daddy was on a mission trip to Haiti. We went to Mississippi to see your Aunt Cookie and Memaw and Aunt Dolly and Uncle John. She snuggled you to pieces! I also realized how very grateful I am that you sleep in your own crib at home. When you slept with me while we were in Mississippi (I didn't bring your pack and play since I had to pack and load up on my own), you were a kicker!

Photograph by TJMohr Photography

One thing we are hoping to work on as a family is taking the time to sit down around the table for dinner instead of grabbing it in the den. I know you are too little right now to really notice, but it is a habit that will be good for us to go ahead and establish as a family. I want you to know that we are always ready and willing to slow down and listen to you anytime you need us.

Photograph by TJMohr Photography

At your four month check up you weighed 17 lbs and 6 oz, were 26 3/4 inches long, and your head circumference was (once again) off the charts! (Don't worry, my love, it is genetic.) You had to get two shots, but you really only cried for maybe 30 seconds before you nursed yourself back to calm. We will start giving you some rice cereal before long, and that will be a grand new adventure for us. That is all for now, my dear. I will continue to pray for you every time I think of you, and the prayers will be the same: that you will be healthy and safe, that you will one day believe in and pursue God with your whole heart and life, and that those around you will all promote a healthy spiritual life for you.

Photograph by TJMohr Photography

I love you more today than yesterday and less than I will tomorrow,

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Artichoke and Bacon Pasta

Hey, Blogging Friends!

I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine's Day filled with lots of love and gratitude. I certainly enjoyed mine with little Eli and my Prince Charming. I know some people come down hard on Valentine's Day for being a "greeting card invented" holiday, but I lean towards the school of thought that since life can get so busy, it is nice to have a day set aside to remember to express your love to the people you care about. It is also a day that provides many reminders of all the blessings God has given out of His love for us, mainly the gift of His only Son, Jesus, to bring us back to Him. Greater love hath no man than this, that He lay down His life for His friends. 

I am a stay at home for Valentine's kind of girl. I would rather picnic in the den than go to a crowded restaurant. Prince Charming knows this. He surprised me with a homemade dinner when I came home from work. He had made me the same meal he made for me on our honeymoon when we got snowed into our cabin in Lake Tahoe. We dined on French onion soup, grilled steaks, and sweet potato oven fries. He served this delicious dinner on our wedding china. He still amazes me with his thoughtfulness and romance, and it was a perfect evening.

Eli has had a couple of late nights because of tummy aches, so we have spent much of our weekend time resting. This equaled no time to go to the grocery store. I decided to try to pull dinner together with what we had on hand, and I was pretty pumped with how it turned out. I had in mind making spinach and artichoke pasta, but we didn't have the ingredients on hand for that. Instead, I came up with this artichoke and bacon pasta dish, and it is pretty phenomenal. It was quick and easy with little clean up. The sauce is creamy and cheesy, and the artichokes were perfectly balanced with the salty bacon bits. Although there was no substantial meat in the pasta, the bite of the artichoke gave a meaty texture. You could easily adapt this recipe to be vegetarian by leaving out the bacon and maybe adding in some spinach. It would still be a very satisfying, tasty meal. Next time I make it, I will try a squeeze of lemon juice with a bit of zest, and I think it would be really good with a short pasta, like penne or bow tie. Give this recipe a try this week and let me know what you think!

Artichoke and Bacon Pasta in Cheesy Sauce

2 T butter
2 T olive oil
1 box frozen artichokes, thawed
1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes (or to your heat tolerance)
1 t garlic powder
1 t onion powder
2 T all purpose flour
3/4 C half and half
3/4 C low-sodium chicken stock
2 T cream cheese
2 T sour cream
1/2 C grated Parmesan cheese 
1/2 C grated Gouda cheese
1/2 t Cajun seasoning 
1/2 C real bacon bits
1 box pasta of choice (I had spaghetti on hand)

1) Bring a pot of salted water to a boil on the stovetop. This is for cooking the spaghetti (or whatever pasta you have). Add the pasta to cook while you bring the sauce together.
2) In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. Toss in the thawed artichokes and saute them with the crushed red pepper flakes for several minutes. The chokes probably won't take on much color since they were frozen and thawed, but you will be able to tell when they are taking on flavor when they start to color slightly.
3) Sprinkle the artichokes with the garlic powder and onion powder and cook another minute. Sprinkle on the flour and saute until the flour is completely dissolved into the cooking fat and artichokes. This should take one-two minutes.
4) Pour in the half and half and chicken stock. Stir to combine well and let it come up to a low boil. Simmer it until it thickens slightly. Then add the cream cheese and sour cream and let it continue to simmer until it thickens slightly again.
5) When the saucy mixture coats the back of your spoon thinly, add in the shredded cheeses and cajun seasoning. Stir until cheese melts. The cheese should thicken the sauce further so that it looks like an alfredo sauce consistency. If it seems too thick, add a bit more stock. If it is too thin, let it simmer gently until it reduces further. You want it to coat the pasta but not be glue! (Glue is only appetizing to kindergarteners...not that I know from experience because I don't...really...I have only seen it in movies...but I digress!)
6) When the sauce is the right consistency, add in the real bacon bits. (This is the point where next time I will add in the juice of a lemon and its zest.) Put your cooked pasta into the sauce and toss it all together. I like to cook my pasta until just before it is perfectly al dente and then I let it finish cooking in the sauce. It is a trick I picked up from watching Lydia's Italy in America on Create TV. Grazie, Lydia!
Serve the pasta in a bowl topped with more parmesean cheese and maybe some fresh chopped parsley, a caesar salad, and a side of crusty French bread, and I would say this is one delectable dinner! Enjoy, my beautiful friends, and come back soon, ya hear?
In Christ Alone,

Friday, January 17, 2014

My Holiday Cooking: Shrimp Soup & Broccoli Salad

Hey, Blogging friends!

I know that my blog has been focused lately on the arrival of our sweet, awesome, wonderful, fantastic, adorable, precious baby boy, so I wanted to be sure to add a new post that focuses back on another love of my life: cooking! While my holiday cooking this year was not as intense as last (due to previously mentioned baby), I was able to whip up a couple of my favorite dishes for some family get togethers, and I wanted to be sure to share them with you! If you follow the links, you will be taken to my step by step Snapguides of how to make these delicious dishes.

The first recipe is for a New Orleans classic: Shrimp and Corn Soup. This is one of my FAVORITE soup recipes ever. I could literally eat the entire pot given the chance. The first time I had it, I am pretty sure I went back for fourths or fifths, and it was only the appetizer for the meal! Everyone in the city has their own spin on it. Some people make a roux to thicken the soup, some use this while others use that...but it is always delicious. You can even customize the soup to include your favorite shellfish: crawfish, crab meat...maybe even lobster! This particluar recipe I have is divine! It is slightly sweet, devilishly spicy, and full of cajun flavor. I have NEVER made this for anyone who didn't go back for at least seconds, and at one party, the host packed up the leftovers and stuck them in her fridge before I even got a chance to offer. With the cold snaps going on all over our country right now, this is a must make item! You can thank me later.

Shrimp and Corn Soup

3 lbs of fresh or frozen shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 large yellow onion
3 cloves of garlic
1 stick of butter
1 can of Rotel diced tomatoes and green chiles, drained
1 quart of half and half
1 quart of heavy cream
2 cans of cream style corn
2 cans of whole kernel corn, drained (or an equivalent of fresh or frozen corn)
1 pound of Velveeta, cubed
2 T light brown sugar
2 t dried thyme
3 T cajun seasoning (I like Slap Ya Mama's or Tony's)
1 T liquid crab boil (I prefer Zatarain's)
Melt butter in a large pot on the stove top over medium heat. Dice your onion and finely mince your garlic. Add to melted butter and saute until onions begin to soften and garlic is fragrant. (Be careful not to burn your garlic.) Add your Rotel and shrimp. Stir until shrimp begin to turn pink. Add a capful (about 1 T) of liquid crab boil and the cream and half and half. Stir to combine and bring mixture to a boil. When it starts to boil, reduce the heat to keep the soup at a simmer. Once simmering, add in both types of corn. Toss in the cubed Velveeta and spices. Stir at a simmer just until the cheese has melted. Done!

The second recipe is for a simple Mississippi tradition: Broccoli Salad. You cannot go to a dinner-on-the-grounds at church or a family get together without having this light, crunchy, sweet and tangy salad somewhere on the table. It is a perfect compliment to really rich dishes. I love serving it with my chicken spaghetti. We had it over the holidays with a large family dinner of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and cabbage casserole. (There are so many things right with that sentence!)

Broccoli Salad

2 heads of broccoli
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 C of mayonnaise
1/2 C of white sugar
1/4-1/2 C of white vinegar
golden raisins
sunflower seeds
shredded sharp cheddar cheese
real bacon bits
chopped pecans (optional)
To prepare the salad, chop the broccoli off of the heads into bit size pieces. In a pot of boiling water, blanch the broccoli for about 60 seconds (until bright green). Pull broccoli from boiling water and plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. (You aren't trying to soften the broccoli, just brighten it up.) Drain broccoli through a strainer and allow to sit and dry a bit while you make the dressing. In a bowl, combine the mayonnaise, white sugar, and white vinegar. Taste the dressing and adjust amounts as you see fit. (Although this dressing has mayo, it is more of a vinaigrette consistency than a creamy dressing.) In a serving dish, combine the broccoli, red onion, raisins, sunflower seeds, cheese, bacon bits, and pecans. Pour dressing over the salad and toss together to combine. Serve right away or (preferably) let it sit a couple of hours or overnight for flavors to develop.

I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as I do. They will make a great addition to any recipe box. They are easy to make and perfect for any occasion. Now, go forth and cook, my friends!

In Christ Alone,

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Letters to Eli #2

My dear little baby boy,

Today is your two month birthday, and my how you are growing. We took your two month picture tonight and put it next to your one month picture on the computer. It is amazing how much you have changed in just one month! I will add more after your two month check up in a couple of weeks.

I guess today you are technically two and a half months old. We went for your two  month check up, and you are thriving. You weigh 4 lbs 7 oz now, and you are absolutely beautiful! You had two shots that nearly broke mommy's heart, but you were very brave. You stopped crying pretty quick, and mommy did her best to try to comfort you.

You never cease to amaze me. You are starting to really see and play with your hands. We lay you on your playmat, and you love to swat at the toys that hang around you. You are particularly fond of the zebra. I think it is the high contrast stripes. You hold up your head more and more now. You love to look around at everything around you, and you love for mommy to rock you to bed at night.

I have been back at work for two weeks now, and I think we are doing well with it. You stay home almost everyday with someone from the family, and when you do go to daycare, you are at daddy's work. I know you are safe, well taken care of, and being loved. It helps, but it doesn't completely take away the ache of not getting to be with you. It also helps me to remember that I am not going to work and leaving you everyday because I value my job over you or care more about my career than you, but I go to work every day to provide for you. I work FOR you and your well-being. I work so you can have the things you need, and maybe someday have some of the things you want.

I still pray for you often, and my heart prays for you constantly. The prayer remains the same. I pray for God to call you to him, for him to watch over you and bless you, for him to be preparing a path for you that is rich with people who love Him and love you. You are such a bright spot of light in my life, and I cannot imagine a day without you in it! I love you more with each passing day, and I cannot wait to continue this journey of parenting with you, my son.

Love you,

Monday, January 6, 2014

Newborn-3 Months Old Diaper Bag Essentials

Hello, Blogging Friends!

I hope this post finds you well and that you have thoroughly enjoyed your holiday season thus far. :) I am soaking in every moment of being a mommy, and I cannot wait to share my experiences with you. Eli keeps me quite on my toes, so it has been hard to blog as frequently as normal. I will do my best to continue making posts that are helpful and informative in addition to my own personal posts loaded with baby pictures.

One of the last things I researched before Eli arrived was what to pack in a diaper bag. I found several helpful posts and prepacked his diaper bags using the information I discovered. As the weeks with him have progressed, I have found a diaper bag packing formula that works for least during these early months when having things like toys and teething items are unnecessary. Below is my list of diaper bag necessities with links to the products I love for each. I hope you find this useful!

I have found that I use mainly two diaper bags. I keep one large diaper bag by Skip Hop packed for long outings, and I also have a small Vera Bradley tote that I pack for quick trips to the grocery store or pharmacy. In addition, I keep a Thirty-One Organizing Utility Tote in my car with diaper bag essentials in it in case I ever get stuck out without something I need. Just make sure that as your baby moves up in diaper sizes you change out the diapers in your car stash accordingly! :)

1) Diapers and Wipes- A good rule of thumb is to pack one diaper for every hour you plan to be out plus one.

2) Extra Outfit(s)- at least one, depending on how long you will be out. (At our family Thanksgiving lunch, Eli went through three changes thanks to blowouts.)

3) Burp Cloth- I am partial to the size 2 cloth diapers by OsoCozy for this function. They are nice and big and super absorbent.

4) Nursing Cover- If you are breast feeding, this is essential. I included one in each diaper bag, and they are the ones I made in my Nursing Cover tutorial. I also highly recommend packing an Aden and Anais muslin blanket to pull double duty as a nursing cover or a baby blanket.

5) Nursing Pads and Lanolin- I keep a tube of Lanolin and about 4 pads in my bag at any given time. I prefer the Avent nursing pads. I found that the Lanolin nursing pads made my skin itch.

6) Pacifier- I waited til Eli was two weeks old to introduce a paci, but now I keep one on hand for tired in the car crying, hungry and unable to feed crying, or gas pain crying. You really have to figure out what style of pacifier your baby likes, and those likes may change as he or she grows. Eli takes the flatter Avent pacis most of the time, but he has also liked his Wubbanub pacis, too.

7) Small Flannel Receiving Blankets- These are easy to pack and have come in handy for a quick lay and play palette, a soft place for a head on a changing pad, and a make-shift burp cloth.

8) Changing Pad- Most diaper bags come with a small, thin changing pad. I also was gifted a couple that I keep in my diaper bags. In my big bag, I keep this one from Skip Hop. What is great about these is that if you are out and about all day running errands and bring your large diaper bag, you can only bring this changing station into stores with you as needed to avoid having to tote the whole bag around.

That is my list of newborn to infant diaper bag necessities. These are the things that I have found are good to keep on hand. Feel free to leave a comment about what you love to have in your baby's diaper bag!

In Christ Alone,