Monday, November 17, 2014

2014 gift guide

I always have fun putting these gift guides together. I’m heavily influenced by my own tastes and what I’d buy for Andy, so it’s entirely possible you won’t find a single helpful thing. But, maybe you will! At the very least, I hope these guides get the gears in your head moving and make gift-buying less stressful.

clockwise from left:
  • A classic red plaid scarf (regularly $29.99, but use the code CHEER thru 11/18 for 40% off)
  • A festive pitcher ($25) that would also make a cheery vase
  • This top-rated bronzer set ($22) includes four bronzers and a brush 
  • A jaunty fedora ($28, multiple colors), because the recipient wants to be a hat-wearer but is too nervous to buy one for herself
  • This goofy mug ($10) would give your selfie-loving friend a prop to pose with :)
  • This fitbit ($47.73) syncs to your devices and can be used with other apps, such as MyFitnessPal or SparkPeople
  • I featured these totes ($45) in my 2012 guide because I own one and I LOVE it! (The striped metallic tote is rather fabulous, too)
  • How happy is this desk accessory set? ($24, multiple colors)
  • I recently checked this bestselling novel ($16.20) out from the library and can’t wait to read it!
  • A geometric frame ($14.95) adds interest to a special photograph

clockwise from left:

  • A sleek backpack ($49.99, multiple colors) carries his laptop and gym clothes (Andy’s Kellogg’s backpack travels everywhere with us)
  • A growler ($38.68), so he can bring his favorite local beers home or take his home-brew to friends
  • Andy used a plastic bag for his toiletries before I bought him a travel bag ($12.70)
  • No kid at heart can resist a toilet mug ($10) (I bought one for my brother-in-law one year and Andy was bummed that I didn’t buy him one)
  • All he really wants to do is hang out in sweatpants (regularly $29.94, but use the code CHEER thru 11/18 for 35% off)
  • This bestselling biography ($9.60) will be a book he’ll never forget (it really is that good)
  • A bestselling piece of brain science ($9.78) to make him go “huh!” (if he’s read and enjoyed any of Gladwell’s books, he’ll like this one — it’s fascinating)
  • Hat clip and ball markers (various prices, the Bear’s set is $8.99)
  • Because he’s always getting holes in his socks ($17.49 for set of six) (I got this exact set from Costco last week for $9.99)
  • My guy runs on Dunkin’, does yours? Dunkin' Donuts gift card

check out previous gift guides, here

Thursday, November 13, 2014

giving thanks

I hung a banner from the mantle today. It was the second time I’ve hung this banner after losing a baby. The banner reads “Be thankful.”


I hung it, and then I sat on the stair landing for a while and stared at it. Be thankful.
My flesh wanted to tear that banner down and rip it into shreds while screaming I AM NOT THANKFUL at the top of my lungs.

But I have sat in bitterness for quite some time now, and I’m getting a little tired of it. I have allowed myself to feel anger, to scream into pillows and to say cynical things to people who I trust (who know that my heart is tethered to Christ, even though I spout words of doubt). I sit in sorrow, too. Sorrow as my arms feel emptier than ever. Sorrow as I unfollow friend after friend on social media because the statuses and pictures fill me with longing and remind me of what I do not have. Sorrow as I wrestle alongside Andy with the knowledge that our God, who we love and who we KNOW loves us, has allowed us to suffer in this way.

In the midst of this bitterness and sorrow, my soul cries out for relief. In my suffering, I find myself closer to God than ever before. I feel my bitterness slowly (sloowwwly) leaving. It’s being replaced by a voice that whispers, Just be. 

Rest in me.

A friend of mine and fellow hurting mama wrote the following in her most recent blog post:

Deserts can be harsh and lonely, but there in the quiet, character is being built, and an ear is trained to the soft whispers of God carried on a high wind. But in the desert, there are choices. Choices to resist, or choices to be molded by it. Choices to run, or choices to see it as an opportunity for growth and stay until God says “Move.”

Amen, girl.
(How beautiful was that?)

So here I am, just being. Here I am, fighting the urge to run. Here I am, staying until God says move.

And in this place of just being, I can think of quite a lot of things to be thankful for.

I adore this rendition of the following hymn:

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that foll’west all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

loving and losing

Friday morning I woke up, and I knew. It’s coming.
I felt the anger, anxiety and crippling sadness well up within me, but I wasn’t ready to lose myself to it.
Instead, I was ready to be soothed by the cabin, our cherished getaway. I spent nearly all my time around the crackling fire. Crossword puzzling, reading, drinking coffee. At night I set up a bed in the family room, snuggled under a pile of quilts and watched the embers burn, willing them to melt away the ice I’ve packed around my heart.

Saturday I woke up and I thought it had passed.
We hiked to a view that feels like ours, after twenty-some years of reaching the same familiar outcropping of rocks and looking down at the same familiar lake where I used to swim and paddle and skate. I gulped in the sweet mountain air and for a little while I forgot that I am sad.

Sunday the dam burst open. I went from being energized from my morning walk to suddenly feeling suffocated by all the remembering. I picked a fight with Andy (over a biscuit, of all things) and I spiraled out of control until I realized where it was all coming from (hint: not the biscuit). Just when I’d think I couldn’t cry any more, more tears would come. I kept telling myself you knew this was going to happen, just let it happen. But knowing doesn’t make the happening any easier, and I spent the rest of the afternoon in a heap of pillows and tissues.

I am tired of loving and losing. I am tired of falling apart. I am tired of forcing myself awake at night because all I see when I close my eyes is a hospital bed and all I hear are screams.

Sometimes a hurt is so deep deep deep
You think that you're gonna drown
Sometimes all I can do is weep weep weep
With all this rain falling down

I’ll hold it together for a little while, an hour or a day or even a few days. Then it hits me: I was pregnant, and now I am not. I am reliving the pain of losing John while also experiencing a new pain — the pain of losing two. The pain of opening my heart up to hope again only to hold that hope dead in my arms.

Today is (was?) my due date for Jane, the little girl of my dreams. I woke up to an extra long hug from my husband, who later called me and sweetly asked if I’d like to meet him for lunch at the new burger place in town. (He knows the way to my heart.) Now I will read and later we will finish our jigsaw puzzle and watch a movie and if I stand in the shower and cry for a little while it will be okay, because I know that at some point I will get out, at some point my tears won’t be so frequent and some day this awful, piercing ache will dull.

some photos from the weekend… I am thankful for moments like these — when I feel a break from my suffering, when I feel a little bit like the old me.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Laura’s chipotle chicken chili

I get a weird thrill out of composing meals using only items we already have in the house. Part of it is feeling victorious that I’m avoiding a trip to the store and part of it is figuring out what things pair well together. I like to look through Pinterest and magazines for ideas on what to cook and then I try to come up with a recipe myself.

(Or I order pizza for dinner.)

A few weeks ago I bought a ton of chicken breasts and spicy Italian sausages that were on sale, and I froze them into smaller portions (2-3 pieces per bag). I also recently organized my pantry and realized we had a LOT of pasta and canned goods. I made sausage and veggie soup and shrimp tacos last week, so I had plenty of bits of various produce left over to use for meals this week. On Sunday I made a pasta dish using spicy Italian sausage over a mix of of penne and rigatoni. (I had small amounts of both pastas in the pantry.) I used this recipe for inspiration and it was delicious! My version of alfredo was good but not great, so I’m going to tweak it a bit more before I share it with y’all.

For our next no-shopping dinner I made chipotle chicken chili and you guys, I MADE IT UP! And it is one killer chili, if I do say so myself. It’s great on its own, but the toppings knock it out of the park. It’s not fussy at all — a smallish amount will fill you up (you’re going to want to eat a ton at a time, but remember — beans), you can do it in the crock-pot and it’s an easy meal to tweak to your own preferences. Don’t like much onion? Use less. (Or use only one kind, though I loved the mix of white and red.) Love black beans? Use those instead! Not spicy enough? Add more diced chipotle pepper or stir in some hot sauce. Green chilies would probably be great, too. (In that case, you could use a can of Rotel and skip the petite diced tomatoes.)

If you find yourself with leftover chipotles in adobo sauce, freeze them in a ziploc and pull them out for shrimp tacos or another batch of chili!

yay for leftovers! whoops, crumbs on the table. photography fail.
Laura’s chipotle chicken chili 
serves 4-6 (makes roughly six cups)
active time: 10-15 minutes
total time, start to finish: depends on crock-pot setting (see instructions for cooking without a crock-pot)

for the chili:
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (4 thighs would probably work just as well)
  • 1/2 small white or yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 small red onion, diced
  • 1 can chicken broth
  • 1 can corn, drained
  • 1 can petite diced tomatoes (**plain, NOT seasoned**)
  • 1 can great northern beans
  • 2 Tbsp of diced chipotle peppers (pull them out of the adobo sauce and dice on a cutting board)
  • 4 Tbsp of the adobo sauce that the peppers come in
  • 1/2 Tbsp cumin
  • 1/2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1/2 jalapeño pepper, finely diced
  • 2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • salt to taste
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch (see directions for use)

  • we used: crushed tortilla chips, sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, guacamole
  • also try: more cilantro, lime wedges, pico de gallo, jalapeño slices, banana pepper slices
1. Combine all chili ingredients in a crock-pot and cook on high for 3-5 hours or low for 6-8. (It’s totally fine if your chicken is frozen when you put it in the crock-pot, but it needs to cook for at least 4 hours on high or 7-8 on low. You’ll know to cook it longer if it feels rubbery.)
2. 20-30 minutes before serving, move the chicken breasts to a cutting board and remove one tablespoon of the chili liquid and place in a small bowl in the fridge.
3. Shred chicken with a fork or dice into small chunks. (I did a mix of both.) Return the chicken to the crock-pot and check the flavor to see if you need to add any more seasoning.
4. Whisk the cornstarch into the cooled chili liquid and then add it back into the pot. Stir around and let thicken while you get toppings together/set the table/whatever.
5. Try not to eat the entire pot of chili in one night.

If you don’t own a crock-pot, sauté the onion in a large pot over medium heat. Add in the chicken (dice it first) and let it cook, then stir in all of the other chili ingredients. Bring to a boil, then turn to a simmer and cover for 30-60 minutes. Use the same cornstarch method as mentioned above.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I remember

holding my Janie Lou

Today is Infant Loss Remembrance Day, and it’s been the pits.

I wasn’t planning on writing anything. Then, I woke up to a new blog comment on this post left by a woman who has never met me. (Hi, Katie!) Every sentiment she expressed touched my heart, especially her words, You have helped me feel like I am not alone.

Those of us who have lost babies are part of a really crummy club. We didn’t choose to be members. In fact, we all became members kicking and screaming. We all feel alone. We all feel left behind. But we are in this together. We need to tell our stories and have our stories be heard. We need to be there for one another.

Today I remember my first brush with infant loss. I remember the family beach trip when my sister and brother-in-law told us they were expecting their first baby. I remember the excitement we all felt, and how right everything seemed. Several months later I was in the middle of a study group meeting in college when my phone rang. It was my brother-in-law. I don’t remember exactly what he said, just that the baby inside of my sister no longer had a heartbeat. Clayton would be nine years old this year. Todd and Katie have since lost four more babies.

I remember asking God why He allowed them to experience such great pain. (I still do.) I remember begging Him to spare me and Andy from that pain. We were not spared.

Today I remember Clayton Robert and his four siblings. I remember the babies lost by my friends. I remember my own little ones, who are always on my heart.

So many dead babies. So many hurting families.

I remember that I am not alone, even though there are times I feel so lonely I can’t breathe.
I remember all the stories I haven’t told that need telling.
I will try to get the words out.
Even though the remembering hurts.