A heartfelt letter to year-ago me

Dear self,

You have no idea what this next year holds. I mean, you have a vague idea. You're pretty sure Matt's going to get the cop job. That would mean he goes to the police academy for four months. You know you'll be having a baby midsummer. You know that Xavier will grow and change and there will be highs and lows in marriage and parenting and health and friendship and all of it, because that's life.

You have no idea how hard it's going to be.

You have no idea how good it's going to be.

Matt's going to get the cop job. You'll celebrate and drink champagne and marvel at God's timing and how all those closed doors and disappointing interviews lead here, to this, this absolute dream department.

You prepare as best you know how. You do google search after google search, looking for law enforcement blogs, any kind of glimpse into this new world. You pin things to a secret Pinterest board, things like "how to fight fear as a police wife" which doesn't actually make you less fearful, it just gave you more things to be afraid of. Come to think of it, I should probably go un-bookmark that particular post.

You make lists of all the books to read. Books like Bullets in the Washing Machine and I Love A Cop. You learn the statistics for divorce in law enforcement marriages. You're positive they don't apply to you.

Matt starts 6 weeks of department training in January. The schedule is mostly normal, 8-5 Monday-Friday, but there are some days that require nighttime ride-alongs, so those days are different. It's the beginning of the end - the end of a routine schedule and normalcy as you knew it.

He goes to the police academy the first week of March. He has the alarm clock and the combination lock for his locker, standard-issue navy blue gym shorts and a handwritten note and chocolate tucked into his bag. He'll live at the academy Monday-Thursday pretty much every week for 15 weeks, coming home on Thursday night. A few weeks are "long weeks" and he doesn't come home until Friday. You're 6 months pregnant with a very active toddler who is prone to tantrums. Your parents are in Mexico. This is the "trial by fire" stuff that people always talk about. Those single-parenting weeks are the hardest weeks you've ever lived through. Matt doesn't have his phone during the day, so you chat each night for a few minutes, a quick FaceTime if he can swing it. Xavier knows Daddy is gone, and acts accordingly. For the first time in four years of marriage, you're spending every night alone.

You begin to learn just how strong you are, and just how real Jesus is.

You have to face your fear of the dark and your nighttime anxiety head-on. You have two kids who need you - one sleeping in the room next to yours, and one curled up in your belly. You fall asleep clutching your Rosary most nights, hot tears soaking the pillow, wondering if all of this was worth it. Could it possibly be worth it?

I promise you - it's worth it.

Pregnancy aches and pains intensify; it's really tough to walk or stand for any length of time. You hire a housekeeper and cry over the decision, feeling like you can't even provide for your family in this small way. I'm telling you - do not cry over someone else cleaning your house. It's pretty great.

After a week of off/on labor, on a Wednesday evening, heaven and earth collide and there is pain and suffering and redemption and joy all wrapped up in that single, earth-stopping moment when they placed her on your chest. Her: your daughter, Zelie James. And just as it was the first time, it's truly a miracle, that this absolute stranger feels like someone you've known a lifetime. I think you have, after all. I really believe that's how it works.

Matt will be there. I know you're so worried about the timing. After all, the duedate is before his academy graduation, and he's over an hour away, and how will it all work out? There are so many moving pieces. But God goes before you in the big things and the tiny things too, and it couldn't have worked out more perfectly. He's home the night you go into labor and he drives you to the hospital and you ride the whole way clutching his hand and thinking to yourself, here we go. Here we go.

Oh, by the way, you find Scout a new home, with a dear old friend. Talk about another perfect orchestration of details. He's happy, and healthy, and you even see him from time to time.

You settle in as a family of four. You're wobbly and unsteady, like a fawn on her spindly legs, but you get stronger every single day. Matt graduates the academy and you get to go, I know how much you want to. Your mom comes too, because you did just have a baby, after all. The feeling of relief when he walks in the door, home from the academy for the last time, is something you'll remember forever. There's a picture of the four of you, you with your gym shorts and unwashed hair, your still-look-5-months-pregnant postpartum belly, and you're all smiling ear-to-ear and it's one of your favorite photos in the whole world because of all the relief it holds.

You did it. You did it.

And just when you started to get into a routine with Matt away at the academy, it all shifts again. Now there's a hungry, sleepless newborn, and Matt's schedule keeps changing, and there are so many tears, so many tears on all sides. Will you ever figure it out? Was this all a huge mistake? There are moments that leave you breathless, wondering if life will ever feel like anything but suffocating chaos.

I'm here to say: life becomes so much more than suffocating chaos. The chaos is real, so real. The overwhelm is like nothing you've experienced. But you'll make it through to the other side, and before you know it you'll be writing blog posts at 8pm, both children sleeping, Matt away at work. You will find your way. You always do.

As summer begins to fade into fall and Xavier's second birthday looms, you can no longer ignore the quiet nagging that says to look into his speech development a little more. Friends have said repeatedly that all kids talk on their own timeline (it's true!) and the pediatrician didn't seem too worried (which is valid) but you also know that those mama instincts are real and even though you've questioned them in the past, you decide to trust them this time. There's a speech evaluation, two kind and warm therapists who come to your home on an August afternoon and, as they play with your bright and beautiful boy, evaluate him for verbal, cognitive and motor delay. You're afraid they'll tell you something is wrong. You're afraid they'll tell you nothing is.

In the end, they tell you what you already knew: Xavier is off the charts on intellect (you think?) and way ahead of his peers on physical skills (100 miles per hour, all the time) but his speech could use some help. He qualifies for services; you go ahead and set them up. A speech therapist comes to your house once a week, and after two sessions she says a word that stops you in your tracks. "He's too young to diagnose officially, but in my experience, I'm going to say he has apraxia. Don't google it." But you are a rebel, and of course you google it, and you find yourself bawling in the shower, wondering if your son will ever speak, ever say "I love you", ever say his own name?

In just a few months time, you'll find yourself bawling in the shower, because your son just told your "I love you." A few weeks later, he'll start to say his own name.

Matt finishes four long months of field training and is released on his own. There's a police car in the garage, a bulletproof vest hanging in the hallway. As the year begins to fade, begins its slow march into the holidays, you learn just how much this new job, this new life, has demanded of you.

You sleep alone every single night, because he stays awake on his off nights to keep his night shift schedule. There's no more talking about random pointlessness, no more holding hands as you fall asleep. Just you and the dark.

Weekends look different, and it's hard to let go of what used to be, like Saturday morning pancakes and kitchen dance parties to country top hits.

When you say goodnight and go to bed at 10pm, you're not going to talk to your husband for 12 hours or more, until he wakes up at his usual 11am the next day.

You do the morning routine by yourself, every single morning. Change diapers, get dressed, eat breakfast, read books. That is, of course, except for the mornings when everyone is crying by 9am, yourself included, and Matt is woken up early by toddler wailing outside his bedroom door, only to find his wife sitting on the laundry room floor, also sobbing. There are days when it is all simply too much.

People say to you "God doesn't give you anything you can't handle" but you know that to be completely untrue. There is so much of this life that you cannot handle on your own, not a chance. Thankfully, He never asks you to.

It would be easy to write off this year as a tough year, to focus on all the hardship and change and leave it at that. But here's what I want you to know, most of all: this year was the best year of your life. This is the year you grew up, you learned how much grit you have, how far gratitude can take you, how infinite God's grace is.

There is so much that you gave up, so much that you sacrificed. This year demanded more of you than you thought you could possibly give.

And this is the year that gave you more than you could possibly deserve.

Because it is an honor to do this life. It is an honor to stand beside Matt as he lives out his calling, to know deep in your soul that this is exactly what God created him to do. It is an honor to pray for him before he leaves for each shift, to pray for protection and safety, for courage and strength, for kindness and compassion. It is an honor to run our household, to do all the behind-the-scenes tasks that make our life and family possible. You may never wear a badge, but you are every bit a hero.

You're standing on the edge of this year with no idea what it holds. There will be moments where you wonder how on earth you'll make it through. I want you to know: not only will you make it through, but you'll find yourself willing to do it all over again for the honor of belonging to these people, and them to you.

It's all worth it.

It's going to be so good.

Just you wait.

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THE SKINNY ON KIDS' CLOTHES

I get asked a lot about kid clothes. How many clothes do our kids have? How do I store outgrown or out-of-season things? How do I organize their dressers? How much is too much (or too little?) Listen, I am NOT an expert on kids' clothes, minimalism or organization (or anything, for that matter!) But I DO think we keep things pretty simple when it comes to our kids' wardrobes, and I thought I'd just go ahead and write a post about it to refer people back to :)

Our house is, by the average American standard, small. We have two bedrooms and one teeny bathroom. Just two (very small) closets in the whole house. I am constantly evaluating and re-evaluating our storage systems to make sure we're being as efficient as possible. When it comes to kid clothes, we've gotten it down to a pretty good system. We try to do one load of laundry every day - wash, fold, put away - to stay on top of it. This allows us to keep the amount of clothing to a minimum.

Each kid has one dresser for all of their stuff. For Xavier, that includes diapers and wipes, miscellaneous things, and all the crib sheets (we have four sheets and four mattress pads since we have two cribs - the sheets are the same for both kids so it's easy to swap them out!) Zelie's dresser also includes her diapers and wipes, blankets, swaddles and sleep sacks and basically everything that belongs to her. In fact, each kid has just one drawer that holds most of their clothes! I HIGHLY recommend drawer organizers for keeping things neat and tidy. I love the SKUBB boxes from IKEA, and expandable drawer dividers like these. Cardboard boxes will also do in a pinch (and you'll see some in these photos!)

Here's what Xavier's drawer looks like (his pajamas and socks live in a second drawer below). On the left, short sleeve and long sleeve tees. On the right, all his pants (sweatpants, jeans, dress pants).

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And here are Zelie's two drawers. I added notes so you can see how I organize everything.

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Xavier also has a few things hanging in his closet - a nice sweater and collared shirt, his football jersey and warmer jackets. They each have a few coats/warm layers hanging on a peg rack in Xavier's room, and Xavier's shoes and hats/gloves/outside gear lives in a separate spot (along with the rest of our hats/gloves/warm gear).

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The key is keeping the amount of clothing to as few things as possible. Xavier has about 12 shirts (a mix of short and long sleeve) and 10 or so pairs of pants. He also has four pair of pajamas, a handful of socks, house slippers, tennis shoes, rain boots and winter boots. I do need to get him a nice pair of dress shoes, but the times I need him to wear anything nicer than tennis shoes are few and far between. He has a winter coat and a couple of sweatshirts/fleece for playing outside.

Zelie has around 20 onesies (a mix of short and long sleeve and sleeveless) and 12 pair of pants. She also has a couple of t-shirts, a couple dresses/rompers, and 6-8 zipper jammies. She also has a warm "wookie suit" for walks and going outside, and a couple of sweaters/jackets for layering.

As much as I'm tempted by all the cute baby and toddler clothes, I'm doing my best to keep it super simple. I love little boys dressed like tiny little men in skinny jeans and cardigans, and swoon over all the sweet baby bloomers, bonnets and adorable baby dresses, but that's just not realistic for our budget OR our life. I don't have time to think that much about my own outfits, much less my kids'.

I use the capsule wardrobe mentality for the kids just like I do for myself. You'll notice that all of Xavier's stuff sticks to a pretty generic color palette. It's super easy to mix and match tops and bottoms. I plan to keep up this system so that as he gets older, it's really easy for him to pick out his own outfits.

Zelie's wardrobe is similar - lots of solid onesies and solid or cute floral pants. To be honest, she hangs out in zipper jammies most days, because it's super easy for diaper changes and I don't have to change her clothes before she naps. I stick a bow on her head and that makes it feel like more of an outfit. I don't keep any sleepers that snap all the way up, because I hate snaps. And I also don't buy or keep anything that requires ironing or steaming after washing. I bought an ADORABLE Janie + Jack romper for Zelie at a consignment shop - it had this big white bow on the front and was so cute. But one laundry cycle later, I realized the bow would need to be ironed to look presentable, and that's an automatic no-go. Into the donation bin it went. Ease and convenience is the name of the game here, people!

I have to constantly remind myself that I'm not trying to win any style awards when it comes to my kids, and that a happy and sane mama is much better than picture-perfect outfits.

For storing clothes, I throw everything in clear, labeled bins and store them in our attic. I put several sizes in each bin - like newborn - 6 mo in one, 6-9 mo through 18mo in another, etc. I separate boy, girl and gender neutral things, that way I don't have to dig through EVERYthing to find the right stuff for the next babe. And I don't mess around with sorting out seasonal stuff. If a bathing suit is 6 mo size, it goes in the 6 mo bin. If my next baby is in 6 mo clothes in the middle of winter, so be it. The bathing suit goes back in the attic. There IS such a thing as over-organizing, and ain't nobody got time for that. But a good thing to mention here is to buy baby clothes that can easily be used for all seasons. Zelie wears a sleeveless onesie under thinner sleepers for an extra layer. Onesies + pants can easily be layered up to be warmer, or babies can go pants-less to be cool in the summer. I generally stay away from super seasonal pieces, because we hope to have a few more kids and I want to get the MOST bang for my buck and have the clothes be able to be used again and again, regardless of what season baby is born in.

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And in general, I don't "stock up" on clothes during end-of-season sales. I think if your kids are older, this is easier, but babies grow so fast (and so irregularly, thanks to growth spurts) that it's hard to tell if a 12mo coat or an 18mo coat will fit them the following winter. In general, we just buy when the kids need things, buy secondhand as much as possible, and then try our best with our budget to buy ethically from there. Colored Organics, Primary.com, Tea Collection and Wildy Co. are great ethical options!

So tell me, do you have any more kid clothes hacks? Any favorite ways to store them or tips for keeping things simple and streamlined? I'd love to hear, and hope this was helpful for any of you mamas buried under kid clothes. This time of year is perfect for simplifying and paring down - cheering you on as we all try to live simpler, more joyful lives! XO!

the care and keeping of houseplants

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Helllooooo and happy Monday!! I am so excited to bring you a verrrrry important guest today - my mama! My mom is a total green thumb and has taught me everything I know about houseplants. She so graciously agreed to write up this post - let's call it "houseplants 101" and it has everything you need to know to get started with some plant babies!

HOUSEPLANTS 101

"My interest and love of house plants started when I was a teenager. My mom definitely had a green thumb and passed along her love for all things living to me. When I was in about the 8th grade, I asked her if I could have a few houseplants for my bedroom. I had two sets of windows, one facing north and one facing west. She had a lot of plants but let me “start” a couple spider plants. You have all seen spider plants; they are sometimes all green but usually are green and white striped and when healthy put off these “babies” which are little plants all on their own that you just snip off and either let root a little bit in a jar of water or you can just plant them directly after cutting. Anyway, that was my first plant and one I still highly recommend starting with!

I learned most of what I know about plants from my mom and also the Hyponex Handbook of Houseplants (mine is copyright 1975). According to that font of information, there are four things you need to get right for each kind of plant:

  1. Temperature - you are NEVER going to get a tropical plant to grow well in a New York apartment in the winter that you keep at 65 degrees. This kind of goes hand and hand with humidity below. You probably also would not get Cacti to do well in a steamy bathroom sill.
  2. Humidity - most people know what this is but humidity is basically how much water is in the air. In places where there is forced air heat in the winter, you should mist your plants daily or run a humidifier near them for a part of every day. Incidentally, most of what’s good for houseplants is also good for people! Don’t get too freaked out about this. Even if you do nothing about humidity, your plants will do fine, they just won’t be as awesome as they could be. If you do want to mist them, just use a dollar store spray bottle, fill with tap water and give about 3 or 4 sprays to each plant so that all sides get a little squirt.
  3. Watering – It is my opinion that more plants are killed by overwatering than under. Most plants say “evenly moist” which I have learned means putting about a cup or two of water on them about once a week. Obviously if you have something in a very small pot, you would only need ¼ to ½ a cup. I also many, many times water thoroughly but every other week or so. When you are first starting out, you might want to use a batter bowl to water with. You know the thing that you make pancake batter with that pours? It has measurements on the side so you can see how much you are really using. If the plant has good drainage, you are wanting some water to come all the way through and fill the tray but not overflow it.
  4. Light – Full sun is what it says: is the plant sitting where the sun is striking it directly? This is mostly cacti and succulents. Also, Valerie says I should tell you that full sun is always a south facing window without a shade tree outside blocking the light. Some sun is full sun for part of the day or dappled full sun. Maybe a southeast, east, or southwest facing window. This light is good for most flowering plants and variegated plants (plants that are green and white or dark green/light green). Almost all houseplants will do well in this type of light. Semi-shady/shady – this would be in front of a north facing window. It never gets direct sunlight but gets a good amount of what is called “bright light” so think sitting under an awning. You are never in the full sun but you can still get a tan or even burnt because of the reflective light. The shady part would be a north window with a tree so that you really aren’t even getting “bright light.” Most foliage plants that are dark green do well in this type of light. Also, “bright light” can mean a few feet from a south facing window. So again, use the awning analogy above. Dark corners – This is the last type of light listed in the Hyponex book and is only good for plants called Aspidistra (“Cast Iron” plant); Snake plant and Pothos.

If you want to get started, I would try the following plants which in my experience are very hardy and easy to keep alive:

  • Peace Lily – good for semi-shady areas (almost anywhere in your house except direct sun). It likes to be watered to even a moist level but if you forget and let it dry out a bit, it will not die. It will just go totally drooping on you but after one good watering will perk right back up.
  • Snake plant – virtually impossible to kill. It does well in dark corners, looks awesome and does not need much water. In fact the only way I have ever known to kill one is to overwater it!
  • Pothos – this is the plant that you see in restaurants and offices that most people call philodendron. It has green and white leaves and looks great whether it is a tiny plant on your desk or a giant hanging basket. It can take a fair amount of abuse (either over or under watering) and likes just about any kind of light. It does well in restaurants and offices because it can use light bulb and fluorescent light well.
  • Spider plant – this plant also looks great, gives you new plants For Free (!) and does well almost anywhere just like Pothos. If it doesn’t make you feel like you are at your grandma’s house too much, I highly recommend trying one!

So there you have it! My mom is my houseplant idol and I am always calling her with questions. Whenever I post a photo on Instagram that includes houseplants and get the question, "how do you keep so many plants alive?" The answer is always "my mom!"

Thanks, mom, for sharing your wealth of knowledge with us! Xo!

gift guide for your wheels-obsessed, energetic, curious and helpful toddler

Xavier turns TWO in just over a week, which feels impossible. Wasn't he just my teeny, squishy newborn!? Time will forever be a mystery to me. One thing I DO love about him getting older is how his personality continues to develop and we see more of his likes and dislikes every day. This year it's been really fun to pick out birthday gifts for him, feeling like we know him as his own individual person and what things he'll get excited about. Spoiler alert: basically anything with wheels. I put together a fun little gift guide for anyone else that might have a wheels-obsessed, energetic, curious and helpful little guy (or gal!) in their life. I can't wait for Xavier to open the gifts I picked out and see his eyes light up. Parenthood is so. much. fun!

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Wooden triangle car. This village set is also adorable.

Child-sized corn broom. You're like, a broom!? But this kid loves sweeping. I've tried to trick him with hand brooms so he can "help" me sweep, but he ALWAYS wants the real-live big broom. I'm hoping this one fits the bill!

Magnetic fishing set. (Note: we have several Soopsori brand wooden toys, and they hold up well to the rough-and-tumble toddler play!)

Durable recycling truck, with slots to put things in and a back gate that actually opens!

Rainstick, for making fun sounds and experimenting with music.

A sweet little set of construction vehicles, with parts and pieces that really move! Xavier is going to love the excavator.

Retro-looking balance bike, as a stepping stone to a dirtbike (just kidding, Matt.) We decided to save this for Christmas (does it get more classic than a bike by the tree with a big red bow on top?) and I can't wait for him to get it!

Schleich wild animal set - perfect for practicing those animal sounds he loves.

A cozy rocking hammock for him to snuggle up and read books.

Sweet little desk where he can get creative any time he wants.

Adorable leather playmat for driving his cars and trucks.

Classic red wheelbarrow perfect for little hands.

I can't wait for Xavier to open the gifts I picked out and see his eyes light up. Parenthood is so. much. fun!