Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: In Frames.

I believe that part of celebrating the New Year is remembering the last 365 days and all that they held. In there is surely sadness and joy, fear and hope, smiles and tears. There is definitely friends and family, celebration and solitude, books and TV shows. Spattered here and there are cakes and hikes and coffee and pets. The bits and pieces all seem so apart and so minor and so mundane in the moments, but then you scroll through your Instagram feed and you realize, beauty, beauty, and all the joys. So, five frames for you. Five frames of books, family, hiking, #ThomasHouse, selfies, and, of course, Hazel. 


The book of the bible that just rocked my soul: Nehemiah. (I did the #SheReadsTruth study.)
Rex. / We ran 125 miles in January. / Family moved back to CA! / Bub graduated from college/ NAPizz. 

We hiked. A lot. A whole lot.
Near home / In Bishop / Atop Palm Springs Tramway / In Costa Rica / On the Pacific Crest Trail 

Early in the year, we purchased #ThomasHouse2014. 
On key day / Planting a garden / The first dinner / Hosting Thanksgiving / Celebrating Christmas

I took a lot of pictures of my outfits. And now I share my five favorites.
Tattoos in pastel / Beer Money / The Floppy Felt Hat / Fringe Forever / Sequin Skirt Gone Shirt

The many faces of Hazel as she does 2014.

Cheers to you and your fullness 2014. 
And welcome to you and your fullness 2015!

Monday, December 29, 2014

2015: A Fortunate Link-Up


Things that will be exactly the same:
  • Running 
  • Eating
  • Sleeping
  • Working
  • Blogging
Oh wait, that's really now how this works because that would be boring and short-lived and you really didn't come here so that I could tell you that everything is going to be the same.

But I'm now channeling my inner Miss Cleo and, so, my real fortunes in a format of Yes (100% going to happen), No (0% chance of happening), and Maybe (50/50 chance of happening): 
| via |
YES
  • Continue speaking, sharing, writing here. 
  • Remain a fan of white wine, though completely open to that which is red, because wine is wine and I won't ever say no. #winenot?
  • Seeing the second half of Mockingjay THE MOMENT it is released in November 2015. 
  • Seriously contemplate #ThomasBaby2016. (they're not born overnight you know) 
  • Finish that writing a book thing that I started in November. #NaNoWriMo doesn't end on November 30th. 
  • Unplug completely one night a week. 
  • Find my bible-reading groove once again. 
  • Send one handwritten letter or card a week (by snail mail, no hand deliveries allowed). 
  • POTATO CHIP ROCK. Aka: hiking with Juliette until we look like we're standing on top of the world. 
  • Continue to work on a heart that is encouraging and vulnerable. 
NO
  • Running marathons. Sure, the half (like 13.1) but no fulls. 
  • More animals in the Thomas House. (NOPE.) 
  • Attending blog conferences. I'd rather be on vacation with Jason. #sorrynotsorry
  • Whole 30s or other really rigorous ways of eating. 
  • Celebrate another birthday with dad. Hopefully he'll be healed and peaceful in heaven by then. 
  • Useless spending. 2015 is supposed to be a year of saving and, well, I'll miss you Amazon. 
  • I will not become famous. Dang nab. 
  • Go brunette. Or really anything but blonde. 
  • Give up coffee. Or wine. Or carbs. Or beer. (NO WAY IN TARNATIONS.) 
MAYBE
  • Wear stretchy pants two days a week (instead of just one) because #whynot. 
  • Get the rib tattoo that I hate covered or redone or something that's better than what I've got now. 
  • Turn off comments on the blog for a while and see what it does to my writing and ideas. 
  • Go camping at Yosemite. (anyone who knows me knows this is a BFD) 
  • Entertain (more seriously) pulling together a capsule wardrobe. 
  • Run 60 miles every month. 
  • Read 50 books. (I know I'll be reading, but 50 is keeping up the 4 a month status + 2 bonus)
As I was writing this, I kept adding "in bed" to the end of them and then cringing. Mostly because they're not nearly as funny as the fortunes I get in those cookies from Panda Express and Pick Up Stix. 

It seems important to note that while my mom and I were wandering through our city's Old Town area, I found this:
And he promptly told me to get my roots done. 

Now it's your turn! 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

christmas cheers



This is our 2014 Christmas card for ya'll. And every year we include a little poem that shares what's happened in our lives (because who doesn't love a good poem): 

This year has been one of change and growth,
With our first house, a tortoise, and opportunities for us both.
Most of our time has been spent doing house and yard work,
We never knew how much our muscles were worth!
Jason tore out walls, installed ceiling fans,
Amber spent hours working a garden into our land.
A cow hide, new paint, furniture buys, and wood floors,
Officially the house feels like ours.
In summer we welcomed a tortoise, the new Thomas pet,
Guillermo who one of us loves and the other'd love to forget!
Hazel is still cute as can be,
Only more notable is how spoiled she is at the age of three.
May your Christmas hold joy in the busy of the season.
Remember family and love and Jesus are its whole reason.

Love, hope and cheer to you,
jason&amber

Merriest of Christmas cheer and joy to ya'll. 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
And, PLEASE REMEMBER, Monday we're putting out our forecast for what 2015 holds. We're predicting our futures and being fortunate about what the twelve-month period that is 2015 will look like. Join me and The Other Juliette for the most fortunate link-up in the land.

(Oh and here's a button for you)

Monday, December 22, 2014

marriage letter: on tradition



Dear Jason, 

We've always bought our Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving. You love the pine smell of a real tree and I love twinkle lights all month long. 

This being our first year in the house, with it's vaulted ceiling in the front room, we sprung for a taller, eight and a half foot tree. We were so excited for the way it would surely transform the entryway. And it did. For twenty four hours. If did until we realized it wasn't sucking any water and its needles simply dropped to the wood floor below. 

So we check the water in its base pretending some miracle will happen and the tree will come to life. And we laugh watching the other kneel under the bowed branches and declare no change in the water level. So we say no power to the strings of light around the tree and no heater because of that vent level with that tree's tippy top. And we laugh. We laugh through our shivers, clad in flannel and fuzzy slippers huddled on the couch by the fire. So we sit quietly upstairs at night and hear those plastic ornaments fall to the ground. And we laugh. We laugh deep belly laughs and shake our fists at our dud tree from Home Depot's lot.

Our tradition is joy in dried out moments and laughter in fallenness. And, so, tradition I shall honor always. And so, in the dry and the fallen and the brown of the tree, we'll be thankful the house doesn't burn down with that eight and a half foot kindling in its midst. 

Celebrating with you and for you and of you always,
amber
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
These letters are the brainchild of Amber C. Haines and her husband, Seth. While they take a break from writing for the summer, I'm choosing to continue on my own. I write to remember mundane moments that would otherwise slip away, to hold tight to him, and to remember how life looks right now at this very moment, plus the chance for these letters to shed light on our marriage before children for our children because they won't know us as newlyweds otherwise.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Speak Up, you hear me?

The best part of Christmas present giving is when you think of a really great, fun, amazing gift for someone special to you and they have no idea the amazing wonderful surprise sitting under the tree waiting for them. Today's post is just like that feeling of anticipatory excitement.

Annie (from What She Saw) and I have had this in the works for a couple weeks now and HOLY. We are just beside ourselves with the opportunity to host this, share this, be a community in this together with you.

Spark Notes for you: 
Meet Speak Up: a monthly vlog link-up happening on the first Friday every single month.
Starts in January 2015. On Friday the 2nd to be specific.

First month's theme: WILD AND FREE. 

The fun thing about Speak Up: there isn't a required format.
You can write yourself questions, put out a bunch of facts, share your heart.
Anything goes. And everything is right.

But for the first month I thought it'd be lovely for me to give you a couple ideas:
1. I'm WILD about.../I will always live FREE of... (Sort of a love/hate idea)
2. Contemplate what WILD and FREE could mean for 2015.
3. Tell us about your resolutions and how they create WILDNESS and FREEDOM in your life.
4. Make a list of questions, like a self interview, working through WILD and FREE.

And my quotes, thoughts, bits and pieces to inspire your vlog: 
  • Maybe some women aren't meant to be tamed. Maybe they just need to run free until they find someone just as wild to run with them. -Carrie Bradshaw
  • What makes you/encourages you to be wild and bold? (Ideas: crafts, New Year's, exercise, coffee) 
  • How are you called to be free? (Ideas: your faith, your citizenship, your hair, your clothes, a book you've read recently, your blog)
  • This song by Jessie J: 


And here's some buttons and banners and all the good things for ya'll:
Mr. Thomas and Me
Mr. Thomas and Me

See ya'll there on January 2nd.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

2015. Fortunes. A Round Up. Links. ALL THE THINGS.

Interrupting the regular (three-day-a-week) posting schedule with this special little post and announcement for ya'll.
This grainy frame was snapped just after midnight on January 1st, 2014. 

The other evening Juliette and I were talking about how 2014 met, exceeded, and failed our expectations. I got to thinking about how being B.R.A.V.E. meant a lot of things for me personally and maritally and how much I feel like I've grown in the madness of the year. I realize I'm proud of 2014. So, please grant me patience while I brag a bit:
  • I blogged about hard things and silly things and life things and food things. 
  • We bought a house (which was cool) and then remodeled it (which was crazy) and then made it the #ThomasHouse2014 (which we love). 
  • I made friends and lost them. 
  • We worked and worked and worked and it paid for a trip to Costa Rica.
  • I launched Milking Stool Ministries, enjoyed it, then got worn out and stopped.
  • "Dear Jason" marriage letters became verbal Polaroids of our marriage each month. 
  • I finally wrote the book that I've been dreaming about for two years. Draft one: done. 
  • Hazel became even more spoiled and beloved. 
  • Jason broke the garage door and yet we won. 
  • Mo
  • Jason ditched my fun car for a mom car and I fell in love. 
  • The reading bug bit me again (thanks to Semi-Charmed Kind of Life) and I've loved every letter of it.
  • We started taking coffee dates and ya'll loved it almost as much as I do. 
Thank you for sitting through my 2014 recap with so many days left to go. But it's with a purpose. Because, you see, Juliette and I continued to talk and were talking about 2015 and what it might hold. It's like those presents under our Christmas tree right now, wrapped and beautiful with a bow, promising goodness and surprise.

And so, the fun part that involves your participation: on December 29th (A MONDAY) we're going to host a link-up. A fortunate link up full of fortunes for the New Year! T

These can be personal predictions or pop culture or sports or, well, really you can predict anything (except that I am going to have triplets or quadruplets or any amount of babies in a quantity larger than two because that is TERRIFYING TO THINK).

So, December 29th. Put it on your calendars. AND THEN JOIN.

Here's a button for you:
Mr. Thomas & Me

This is Zoltar. He is the king of giving out fortunes. So when you're struggling to come up with something, wrap a towel around your hair and put lasers in your eyes (just kidding) and you'll surely have all the answers in the land.
via |
But really, do you remember that movie Big with Tom Hanks and Zoltar? Because it was one of my favorites as a kid but now I wonder if I could go back in time (like a reverse of the movie) and be a kid again because of a Zoltar who fortunes me at a fair.

See ya'll on the 29th! 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

When Advent Hurts

I've come to despise certain Christmas songs. They play on the radio and I cringe, they irritate me, they sing beautiful harmonies that carry lyrics that feel like lies. They promise things like magic on your rooftop, joy throughout the world, love wrapped beautiful beneath the tree, and my heart hurts while my teeth grind because those are lies. The idea that Christmas and its many beautiful facets -like a baby in a manger and beautiful glass balls on trees and families gathered and gifting- won't hurt, won't carry the world's usual heaviness, won't feel sad and dreary despite the twinkle lights, that idea feels like a lie.

And I realize: sometimes Advent hurts. 

Have yourself a merry little Christmas. 

It was rainy and soggy that day two years ago. Rain, soft, completely chaotic because of all that water pouring down from the sky. We were rushing to the gym, all of us, going to work out before the Christmas Eve festivities (and eating) were under way. He had to go change into work out gear, but instead went -quietly- out the front door into that drippy, wet weather and disappeared.

In the hustle and bustle, we didn't notice his absence until we were running out the door. His gym clothes laid on the bed, untouched. Him, no where to be found. And the blanket of panic fell quickly upon the house -every one of us panicked, shouting his name out into the rain with no response. A blanket, like fiberglass, soft to the touch, but filled with spiny shards of our own broken hearts.

Let your heart be light/ From now on, your troubles will be out of sight

It was that day, rainy and soggy two years ago, that we surrendered. We found him a half mile away, soaked and cold, brought him home and warmed him up. He was upset he didn't get his walk, we were upset he went missing so easily. And we waved the white flag in a war against maintaining the disease that riddled his mind.

Advent -and the safety of being excited about the Savior- was punctured. Thousands of tiny holes that hurt. 

Have yourself a merry little Christmas 

And we looked at each other, tears streaming down our faces, and I said what no one wanted to hear. I said, he's not safe here. We can't do this. My voice shook and cracked and we watched as our tears dropped on the dry, grey concrete under the overhang as rain poured from the heavens around us. Just like the tears that dropped, dispersed, left their mark on the matte surface at our feet, so broke our holey hearts.

What wasn't certain rose to the surface of all the drippy drops of water and laid on the shores of our souls as fact. It stared us in the eyes, undeniable and bold, waiting for our next step, a step that wasn't crumbling and flattening under it's watchful gaze. But instead, a final celebration, together, as a family around a Christmas tree.

Make the Yule Tide gay/ From now on, your troubles will be miles away 

And we knew, this was our chance. Our chance to make these two days -the eve and the Christmas- merry and gay. We knew on the other side of forty-eight hours sat the most daunting decisions we'd yet to make, but for now, cheer, hope, a birth of our Savior. We tossed the hard traditions, the ones too complicated for him to comprehend and we picked up a few new -Christmas Lane walking, brownie baking, paper plate ornament making.

We let the hurt sit, ignored and looming, and we celebrated. We let Advent fill our souls washing out the bitter, salty pain. We held tight, made paper plate ornaments, cried quietly into balled-up crumbles of wrapping paper in intermittent woes. We started his beloved tractor and hooked up the hay wagon and we journeyed down the street in blankets and flannel pajamas.

Here we are as in olden days/ Happy golden days of yore. 

And now, two years later, we're here, where we are, and Advent still holds a sting. As we celebrate, sing carols, call out for the faithful to come and see, there's an underlying ache. There's the memories of it as the beautiful, carefree, birthday celebration of youth. And then there's today. There's the sadness, the missing, the way time moves on, carrying us with it whether we want to go or stay.

But the man of Advent -one Christ- knows hurt and pain. He knows it, defeats it, and introduces hope. 

Faithful friends who are dear to us/ Gather near to us once more. 

So we gather. We bolster one another. We hold close and tight and collect all those bits and pieces of broken heart that surface among the fallen pine needles that are this time of year. We thank friends who dress our wounded parts, we admire twinkle lights in the darkest moments of night, we celebrate that babe who gave us Hope.

May hope invade what hurts. May those who gather draw ever-near. May merry and bright bring comfort. May you see that little twinkling light in seeming darkness.

May Advent hope. 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Monday, December 15, 2014

the usual coffee date's gone hot cocoa this month


If we were on a cocoa date, we'd be dipping chocolate covered spoons into our warm, flavored cocoa. I think mine would be peppermint because I like the chocolate-mint combination. I'd suggest cinnamon rolls because they're warm and tasty and we'd fall into sugar-induced comas from all that sweet Christmas-time goodness.

If we were on a cocoa date, I'd tell you how I'm struggling to read lately. I don't know if it's because I became so attached to the manuscript over November and I'm now without it for a month, but books are just boring and hard and not interesting. I've tried switching things up, changing genres, picking smutty beach-side reads, to no avail. What gets you back into reading when you're out of it? Please, tell me.

If we were on a cocoa date, I'd confess I'm not enjoying the Advent study I got for this year, but that I am enjoying doing it with Jason and in conjunction with my mom. It's fun to share in words and to compare what we took from the lesson, but it's so surface, so easy, and just not interesting or delving into for me. This makes me think something is wrong in my heart and its posture and that scares me.

If we were on a cocoa date, I'd share all the soup recipes. Now that things are finally chilly in southern California I just can't stop cooking soup, that brothy goodness, it just tempts me every time and so, I always oblige. I'd tell you all the recipes make lots of soup, so I share it with friends, or I freeze it in mason jars and I revel in the fact that I can defrost it and eat at a later date. (I'd advise you to buy stock in french bread because that always pairs well with soup!) 

If we were on a cocoa date, I'd gush about Mockingjay and braids. That movie, oh my soul, just rocked me to the core. I don't know if it's because we saw it as the Ferguson decision came in, but the way the movie correlated so much with our nation terrified and awed me. I know, way to go there and get all morbid, but, honesty right? And so braids, all the braids in my hair these days.

If we were on a cocoa date, I'd ask where you find your inspiration. I've been more intentional in noticing what inspires me (music -specific songs a thousand times over- and art) but know that exposure to new things can be so vital. I've been sinking myself into new communities in an attempt to have life and love spoken into me and, in turn, to share in doing the same for others and, well, that's wonderful. But where, where' s your inspiration found?

If we were on a cocoa date, I'd tell you that I have woman crushes galore, but lately have found myself to have family crushes. Families that I just really, truly admire. Not families I want to copy or mimic (though I will borrow some of their awesome parenting techniques because, WHY NOT?), but families that really enjoy one another -parents and children alike. That's unique these days it seems, unique to see them doing things together, eating together, talking together, gathering and loving and sharing. Family crush, fo sho.

If we were on a cocoa date, I'd remind you that you're part of the reason I see magic in this season. Yes, He is the reason, the foundation. But you are such a light, a reminder of Him in my life and you make my life magical because you're in it and He's in you. Lots of circular reasoning there, but thank you for being you and being here with and for me.

Friday, December 12, 2014

fifty-one: a birthday letter for my mama

Dear Mama Bird,

It's said (mostly to men) that the best way to know what your wife will be like, look like, sound like, in the future, is to look at their mother. Thank the good Lord I've got a mom that's a looker and who, more often than not, is confused for my sister. Aging got no thing on you (or me by proxy, yes?). But, more beautiful than your gorgeous face is your soul.

You see, I've got a mom to contend with, who does hard things, always maintains a great humor, and has great taste in fashion, food, and wine. No one has played the hand life's dealt them in the graceful and sassy way you manage to do. Just when it seems the smile should be wiped right off of your face, you crack another, wider, greater, ivory grin in the midst of any storm.

All light-heartedness aside, there's many things about you I can only hope are also possessed inside of me. In the deepest of heartaches you are honest. In the ugliest of circumstances you are genuine. In the face of difficulties (at the gym or in life) you grit teeth and work hard to endure. You are a pillar of strength, a bastion of hope, a reminder of His goodness -though you don't feel that way- and,well, that's okay because humility has always been a beautiful bit of your personality.

I shall call you the transformer because you take the hard things, the heavy things, and transform them into easily-handled bits and pieces. You bear burdens other people would hide from and you do it with committed love for our family. Your days aren't easy, aren't simple and worry-free, but you thrive in them always.

You are dear to me. Dear and precious and awesome to me.
am
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Just as marriage letters have marked moments and beautiful months in our lives, birthday letters can -and now will- do the same. For the next year I will be pulling together birthday letters on the special day of my loved ones in an effort to remember special bits and pieces of our relationships over the previous year.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

cinnamon chip sugar cookies (that taste like Christmas)


I wrote a post just after Thanksgiving with some post ideas for Christmas. Trying to help ya'll out because this Christmas season that's stressful enough with the whole shopping and party outfit creativity without the madness of trying to come up with a post idea for your sweet spot on the interwebs. Turns out I made the list and am now depending on it to get me through the holiday rush. 


So, today, let's talk about cookies and my favorite prompt in the list of 25: 
You are headed to a Christmas cookie party, but as a cookie. 
What are you? And what's your recipe?

Yes. Cookies, parties, and Christmas -win, win, and win. The only thing that might make this sweet is a glass of wine or homemade hot cocoa in which you could dip said cookie. I've read a cooking blog or two and know that I'm supposed to share pictures of dough balls and baking sheets so, here dear friend.   

Anyway, this recipe came from an old, tried-true-and-very-favorite way to make chocolate chip cookies, except then I didn't have chocolate chips. And so, my beloved bag of cinnamon chips stood out in the pantry and it became obvious -substitution AND, obviously, invention of a new cookie (that is probably already on Pinterest somewhere, but this was created in the midst of chaotic madness in the kitchen after realizing there was no chocolate in the house). 
I gave a dozen to our UPS man, because him and I are friends like that -thanks Amazon- but the other two dozen were inhaled by Jason and I, and the few that made it past the cooling racks were enjoyed by my family, Jason, and his coworkers. The only problem with these sweet wonders: you can't eat just one. But then, what would a cookie be without eating a half dozen at a time? 
 Ingredients

(adapted from Lula)
1 cup butter, room temperature (or if you're me: 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup shortening -like Crisco)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 package instant vanilla pudding (I've used either size package with equally awesome results)
1 egg, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups cinnamon chips
1/2 cup granulated sugar for rolling the balls of dough in 

Directions
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. 
2. Beat butter and sugars (only using 1/4 cup granulated sugar) in a standing mixer until fluffy. 
3. Add dry pudding mix, egg, yogurt/sour cream and vanilla. 
4. Add flour, baking soda, and salt. 
5. Stir in cinnamon chips.
6. Take spoon-sized clumps of dough out of bowl, roll into tight ball, and cover in granulated sugar.
7. Drop onto parchment paper lined baking sheets. 
8. Bake for about 10 minutes until golden brown. (This is loose, know your oven and pay attention, mine took 12 minutes)
9.  Let cool as long as you can resist on a wire baking rack. 
10. Enjoy with coconut milk or eggnog (per Jason's recommendation). 

The best way to share these with other people is in a wax-paper lined brown bag tied shut with a ribbon. So school-day chic and cheap. 

And in closing, share the sweet cookie 
you'd be if you're on your way to a Christmas cookie party.

Monday, December 8, 2014

what i read: throwback, full tummy edition


So the past month I hardly read anything. I started a couple great books and am busy working through different bits and pieces of other people's work as well as reading over my own words a ridiculous number of times... But none of that makes for really easy buying on Amazon. That meant that as soon as this time of the month rolled around I'd be in some trouble. So, I went Throwback on you. Throwback Reads: Eating Edition.

Yes, every single one of these books revolves around food in some way, shape, or form. Isn't it that time of year where we consume far more than we're supposed to? (#givemecarbsforchristmas) I'm going to mirror some popular opinions, while simultaneously making my taste in books questionable with the way I disagree with a book everyone else seemed to love. That's the joy of consumption I guess.

// via //
by Stacey Ballis

"Going to the gym...all those people who always told me that you get addicted to it, that endorphins kick in, that eventually you crave it and look forward to it are sick lying ****s and I want to choke them with a protein bar and pummel them about the head with a bottle of SmartWater.” 

Obviously (from the GIF), this one is going to make you laugh. I adore Stacey Ballis. In fact, I adore her so much I have quite a few of her books and find that when I'm feeling burned out on tough reads but not interested in reading pure fluff, she is the answer. You'll fall in love with her characters as though they are your friends and find moments of your life mirrored in the problems and triumphs of her plot lines. 

// via //
by Sarah Addison Allen 
“It was the truest, purest, saddest thing she had ever heard spoken. It was like hearing gospel for the first time, how it shocked you, how it made you afraid because you thought no one could see inside you.” 

You won't be able to take a break from this book. The writing is simple, nothing flowery or overwrought, but the characters are easily adored. I found myself wishing and wanting alongside Josie, the main character, as well as cheering her on as she came to realize her own value. This book is a treat, honestly, a treat that would go smashingly with a snowy (or rainy) winter morning, a cozy blanket, and some coffee.

\\ via \\

by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel
"Oh, nuts. I'm not very good at this. What I'm trying to convey, in a clumsy way, is that I've spent a lot of time and energy (not to mention thousands of bucks on therapy) convincing myself that our fight was just one of life's many painful lessons. People change, they go different ways. Even the best of friends."

The way this novel illustrates a beautiful friendship between two women -a friendship long in distance and time- mend itself and grow is going to knock you upside the head and change you for the better. The format of two women emailing illustrates the depth and breadth of lifelong friendship -something I was refreshed to experience despite the short time period covered in the book. Moments will make you want to cry and others to laugh, deep belly laughs. The recipes included illustrate the way that our relationship with food and people is complex and, yet, formative throughout the many stages of our lives.

// via //
by Shauna Niequist
"We don't learn to love each other well in the easy moments. Anyone is good company at a cocktail party. But love is born when we misunderstand one another and make it right, when we cry in the kitchen, when we show up uninvited with magazines and granola bars, in an effort to say, I love you.” 

I will start with I love Shauna Niequist's writing. I also love her recipes. I thought Bread & Wine would be over the top wonderful for me, but, in fact, I wasn't completely in love with the entirety of this one of Niequist's books. I really enjoyed the first half and all the GREAT food that it included -hi dates with goat cheese and bacon- but by the second half, I was sure of the moral of her story -gathering around the table is what's penultimate, good food just makes a great thing better- and wanted more, another story, greater statements from her. This was part of a book club choice and at the end of the book we used recipes from the novel which we all loved!

\\ via \\

by Barbara O'Neal 
"I think that I will always remember how blue her eyes look in the brilliant sunshine of the kitchen. Years and years from now, this is what I will recall of this day --my daughter staring at me with both terror and hope, and my absolute powerlessness to make this better."

This mother-daughter tale is oh-my-soul wonderful. Your heart will break and will be mended as you move through the complicated relationships between mother-daughter-granddaughter. Moments will have you cheering, hoping, and wishing, while others will have you fighting tears. The end of the book is feel good -as are all of O'Neal's novels- but, not without tumult and unpredictable-ish changes throughout the plot. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

i must remember. i dare not forget.


"Nehemiah is hard for me because it doesn't end happily. It ends with them going right back to how they were before." She says it and I'm surprised. I'm surprised because we're supposed to like the bible, aren't we? We're supposed to be thankful for the way things end, the people involved, and the moral that sits firmly on Him.

"They act like nothing ever happened, don't they?" I'm a day behind her in the bible study, but I know what's coming and I know it's disappointing to see humans getting it wrong -again.

"I want to remember what happened to us." It felt almost like pleading. She wasn't stating a fact, not a fact at all, but asking, almost begging, her fleshy little soul to remember this time and its pain, its tragedy, its despair because it too shall pass.

I sat in a broken-hearted sadness reading about the Israelites in the final chapter of Nehemiah, the way they made those amends, the shiny, new promises, and then, in time, forgot it all. I thought of the sting forgetfulness brings: broken lunch dates, being stood up while I waited in a restaurant, knowing my feelings weren't realized. They way it says, inadvertently, you are not important, this is not important. 

And I realize, I must remember. 

Remember what he can't. His words, his wishes, his loves. Keep him warm in John Deere sweatshirts, adorn his head in a cap of green and yellow, hold his hand as he leads, though we steer ensuring he ends up in no danger. Remember his honesty, his tough love, his vibrant life.

Remember the mourning. The soul-shaking, heart-shattering mourning that shook every ounce of our beings in those days that extended into months after the diagnosis. The moments mourning morphed into rage and we stormed around slamming doors and shunning appetites. Remember the way hearts' ache and, yet, don't necessarily break, that tears spill, but do not drown, that sobs shake, but do not shatter.

Remember the desperation as I hold white-knuckled to the end of his hospital bed, his legs tremor and quake as though aftershocks from the seizure just hours earlier. As I bow my head and tell him, in whispers, I'll care for them -his loved ones, our shared family members, his wife, my mom, his sons, my brothers. I tell him I'll care, and we'll remember him and his humor, his quick-wit, his constant hunger for adventure.

Remember the hope that broke through the thick veil of mourning. The way it tore off my deepest sadnesses and burdens and refused to let me cover myself in such heavy, troubled garments. Hope that ignored my pleadings to "just let me be" and retorted with "no one, not one soul, left behind." The spiny splinters within my heart it pieced back together, knowing I'd resist, become brittle and fracture into bits and pieces once again.

Remember His giving and His taking. Knowing what I need more than I can express, wonder, understand. Cherishing the times I had, we had, with him and Him and that baby we lost and that sweet Jeremiah-boy we gained. Those friends who were just a season and others who are lifers. Those teachers for just a year and others who became life-long mentors. Knowing He gave us those joys, deep and earnest, and He then took them away, making space for growth, new memories, prosperous plans.

I must remember. My life must not read like the book of Nehemiah, it must not be a reflection of a heart too busy, too wild and wayward to take a moment and remember. This Advent season, I wait, longingly, excitedly, for the celebration and in waiting, I remember.

Among the sparkles, twinkling lights, glass ornaments, as we are excited and joyous, as we gather and hug and celebrate, may you take a moment to remember. Remember the birth and it's promise, the life sentence and it's Savior, the death and it's defeat. May you remember. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

special days & grand traditions



I've been enjoying Christmas in an extra magical way this year. I think it's because we got to decorate our house for the very first time AND we splurged for an 8 and a half foot Christmas tree. In all the fun and decorating, I wonder what it will look like when there's kids in the mix. I think about kids a lot lately. Not out of pressure, but out of anticipation. Out of: how will I do it? What will they look like? How many will there be? What will make up their favorite memories?

There are a lot of things I don't know about how our parenting will look and feel. In fact, I don't know just about everything short of I will be a mom and Jason a dad. But, one thing I do know we both hold dear from our own childhoods and want to instill in our children is the love of tradition and celebration. The traditions that have been passed down to me, the one's we've started as Team Thomas, and the one's I can't wait to share with our offspring.

The other day I ran across this anti-holiday post from Kirsten Howerton (who I almost always love and laugh with). I tried to be open minded about her feelings and acknowledge the pressure of keeping up with the Pinterest moms while breaking out of the consumer cycle. But I couldn't help wondering what it feels like to wish to skip out on ridiculous celebration (says the girl who celebrated her birthday for a month).

Being 25, I grew up pre-Pinterest, before the blogosphere, when marketing to consumers was still in its baby stages. Yes, nowadays there's a madness to all the holidays and subsequent celebratory expectations, but you, as the adult and parent, are responsible for discussing and explaining why you're partaking in the celebration -or, oppositely, why you aren't.

I'm a celebratory being. My spirit loves dressing in whatever colors the day or season beg (all of which I already have in my closet), toasting to the festivities, and cheering "Hip Hip Hooray I LOVE This Day!" as off key as manageable from the very bottom of my itty, bitty lungs.

I was raised in a home where cake was cherish deeply and consumed often. As a family we marked special occasions with dinners and desserts, wine and Shirley Temples, later bedtimes and special table settings. And I want the same for my kids. I imagine the days of celebratory education already. Days where I can say: we're doing this because it's a special day. This day is special because of these very reasons and because you are special to me I want to share in it together.

For Valentine's we will celebrate love. The love of God, of our family, that fills our home. We will share the ways in which we love ourselves and one another. Our hearts will be felt, celebrated, understood as beating by His goodness. We will commune around a candlelit table covered in breakfast food because that's just what happens on Valentine's Day says my childhood.

On March 17th, St. Patrick's Day, we will wear green, drink bubbly beverages (beer for the big people, cider for the little), talk about how Grandpa Peter loved this day so. We will appreciate the beautiful prayers of St. Patrick, enjoy (or not) corned beef and cabbage, talk about green things, lucky charms, what we'd do with a pot of gold coins.

The Fourth of July will always contain a plethora of red, white, and blue. It'll be full of all things stars and stripes, watermelon, and grilled hamburgers. We'll snuggle up in a light blanket atop the hill above my mom's home and watch the fireworks bang and boom while we oooh and aaah all the while singing along to "America the Beautiful" and "God Bless America".

December, oh my dear month of Advent, will be a month of celebration and anticipation of Christ's birthday. It'll be wrought with family, cake, festive decor, an Elf making trouble throughout our house. We will spend time laughing deeply, sharing wholly, celebrating honestly. Through the art of celebration, we can talk about the significance of the season, the meaning -spiritual and emotional- behind traditions, share our hopes and dreams and thanks.

Notice, those celebrations don't require gifts. Many of ours didn't. In fact, they didn't require anything but a smile on your face and a stomach hungry for cake. Just as my parents taught me, it isn't anyone else's responsibility to teach my children how or when to celebrate. It is mine. As their parent, as their teacher of life and home and family, as a lover of celebration, I want them to know what it means to partake in the jubilee.

So, excuse me as I finish pinning leprechaun traps and Elf on the Shelf ideas while I text my brother about that one time we touched the Elf and our baby brother thought we'd frozen his wings forever.
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What are your favorite traditions for the holidays? 
(you are not limited to Christmas, of course)

Monday, December 1, 2014

it's party time


It seems nearly impossible that December is here and that I've already spent a year being B.R.A.V.E., and that I survived hosting Thanksgiving dinner and made it through the last month of conquering the immense task that is #NaNoWriMo. But alas, I have and I did and December is here and I'm thankful for that fact in more ways than one.

When I thought about December and what it's purpose might be, I decided to make December a party. A party to celebrate the many things that were big, BIG in 2014. This year was big for us -as Team Thomas-, for me -as Amber, for this space -Mr. Thomas and Me. So let us take up a spirit of celebration. Let's enjoy the advent season and this time of excitement and twinkle lights together.

In the depths and drudges of the writing process, I missed out on the start of the Semi-Charmed Kind of Life Winter Reading Challenge... It's the cold weather effect of what reignited my love of reading during the warm months of summer. So, I'm back at it, a month late, and seeing how many words I can consume between now and the end of February -with luck it'll be half the books I've got listed below!

My preliminary list is right here for ya'll:
  • 5 points: Freebie! Read any book that fits the general rules.
  • 10 points: Read a book written by an author who has published at least 10 books. — Submitted by Megan.
  • 10 points: Read a book of short stories. — Submitted by Meredith.
  • 10 points: Read a book with a food (not a drink!) in the title. — Submitted by Megan.
  • 15 points: Read the first book in a series that is new to you (so no rereads for this one!). — Submitted by Crystal.
  • 15 points: Read a book that was originally written in a language that is not your native language. — Submitted by Belle.
  • 15 points: Read a book written by a local author  — Submitted by Katelyn.
  • 20 points: Read a "bookish book" (in which books play an important role)— Submitted by Jen.
  • 20 points: Read a book with a direction in the title (e.g. north, south, east, west or any combination of those). — Submitted by Donna
  • 25 points: Read a book from a genre you don't usually read. — Submitted by Jenn.
    • Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (240 pages) 
  • 25 points: Read a book with a song lyric in the title. 
    • We Were Liars by E Lockhart (240 pages)
      • Song: "We Were Liars" by The Hooters
  • 30 points: Read two books with a different meal in each title. — Submitted by Me.
I promise to be back writing and talking and saying all the things I so deeply love to say come Wednesday. Thanks for baring with me during the writing, working process!

Friday, November 28, 2014

25 absolutely awesome christmas post ideas


Now you're done with Thanksgiving and your food coma is wearing off, the faint smell of Douglas Fir and the sounds of "Silver Bells" means Christmas is on it's jolly way! But holidays and the rushing to and fro can make blogging ideas hard to come by... No worries, we've got you covered with this list of Christmas post ideas (that we'd like to think are a bit unique!).
  1. You are headed to a Christmas cookie party, but as a cookie. What are you? And what's your recipe?
  2. Talk about finding out Santa wasn't real. How did it happen? What did you feel? 
  3. How do you countdown the days until Christmas? Tell us about your advent calendar.
  4. Share a tradition you want to start in your own home one day. 
  5. The most dreadful part of the holidays is... 
  6. When do you start thinking about the New Year? And what is it you think about? 
  7. Share your holiday shopping tips. 
  8. Throwback to your favorite Christmas cards. I can think of one where I'm dressed as an angel that's blog-worthy. 
  9. What does Advent mean to you? 
  10. An open letter to St. Nick, Frosty the Snowman, Jack Frost, Mrs. Clause (or the like). 
  11. Holiday decor home tour. (Because you know we want to see it)
  12. Talk about your holiday celebration. Is it Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa? How does your family celebrate? (think of this as an opportunity to educate others on your take)
  13. If you could design your own flannels, what would they look like? And why? 
  14. Give this, Not that Gift Guide 
  15. Write about your holiday card philosophy. When are they best sent? Do you include a letter? Is there always a picture? Pets or no pets? Professional photo or Instagram frame? 
  16. How do you balance between your family and your in laws? Share your peace-in-marriage tips.
  17. What do you HAVE to have before Christmas is considered official
  18. Let's have a Christmas Hot Cocoa date. What are you stressing over, loving, needing, wishing, wanting this Christmas season? 
  19. If you were Santa, what would you want to find on the plate awaiting you at the bottom of the chimney? 
  20. What holiday decor do you collect without apology? And why? (Ours is the nativity scene)
  21. What is your Christmas music policy? When is it allowed to be listened to? What are your favorite artists? Hymns or more recent songs? 
  22. What books are on your literary Christmas list this year?
  23. If your year was going to be encapsulated in a snow globe, what would be included inside? 
  24. What parts of the Holidays is stressful to you? And how would you change things to make the pressure less intense?
  25. Every family has an odd, interesting, unique Christmas day tradition. What's yours? 
We're going to spend our weekend decorating the house for the very first time! Cheers ya'll!

Monday, November 24, 2014

saying thanks [a marriage letter]


Jason, 

We've had one of those weeks they warned us about in premarital counseling. One of those weeks where we just can't catch our rhythm  where homeownership and it's responsibilities weigh on us, where life's circumstance is heavy and we're tired of carrying the yoke, where we both want to cry out in frustration, but we've got our game faces on. We've had one of those weeks. 

And we spent more nights being tired and annoyed with one another than I'm really willing to admit. But then we decided our marriage is number one, is more important, is the most life-giving than any of the troubles and circumstances we were trying to tackle. We decided it's not about who's right, who's wrong, or where life started being unfair but instead, we decided, our marriage comes first. 

We stood stressed out in our bedroom before work. You were tying shoes, I was applying makeup. And we said "our marriage is more important" back and forth. We both breathed blessed sighs of relief, exchanged good byes kisses and high fives and then we moved on. It wasn't simple in the beginning, but it was in the end. 

Finally, that night, I asked for what I'd needed for days. I admitted I'm spoiled, that I can't stand when we're off, and that I needed your dry humor and sick wit back. I told you I wanted to laugh hard about The Colbert Report and compare notes over Cops and sip Starbucks Christmas blend from our mismatched mugs. And you laughed, and you joked, and you just did as you do. And I didn't say it in those moments, but thank you. 

Thank you for deciding what's important with me. Thank you for saying this yoke is too heavy and letting me take some of the load. Thank you for making mistakes with hands so busy holding one another, there's nothing left to point out blame. Thank you for belly laughs and TV dates and surprise selfies on my phone. Thank you for being easy on my heart and soul and, most obviously, on the eyes. 

A spirit of thanksgiving is easy with you around. 

Always grateful for you and to be yours,
amber
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These letters are the brainchild of Amber C. Haines and her husband, Seth. While they take a break from writing them, I'm choosing to continue on my own. I write to remember mundane moments that would otherwise slip away, to hold tight to him, and to remember how life looks right now at this very moment, plus the chance for these letters to shed light on our marriage before children for our children because they won't know us as newlyweds otherwise.

Friday, November 21, 2014

evernote: a review



Let's begin with this fact: Evernote didn't know I was writing this. They still, in fact, might not have a clue that I have so many opinions about their application. But, alas, I do.

However, I was introduced to Evernote by no other than Jason Thomas. I was complaining about writing blog post ideas all over the place and he mentioned he used it for making notes when he'd come up with a resolution for a problem at work, or to make a list, or keep things he needed to remember later. I thought this was novel, his recommendation of an app, so I downloaded it. And was overwhelmed by the way I needed to learn how to use it.

I ignored the app for a while, finally uninstalling it when I could just use Notes in my iPhone. Until one fateful day when Nicole from Treasure Tromp shared that she used the app regularly, emphasizing the way that it syncs between all her devices and her ability to organize all the tidbits she put in there with relative ease.

I decided, another try was worth my time. But this time I downloaded Evernote EVERYWHERE. On my MacBook, my PC at work, and on my phone. I challenged myself to find a use for it privately, professionally, and for this blog. And that turned out to be easy. To Do lists at work (complete with check boxes) were made easy, grocery lists at home became interactive and no longer forgotten on the kitchen counter, and a Mr. Thomas and Me notebook was created.

Then came the book writing endeavor of 2014. I had used Scrivener previously for blog post series scheduling, but realized it was challenging because of the lack of interfacing between my multiple devices and it's book-screenplay writing perfection. And, with ease of use book-writing dreams, back to Evernote I go.

Nearly 35,000 words later, I can say: Evernote was what worked for me in a dozen different ways. I won't bore you with How To's (because, really, you just have to practice with it) or the little nitty-gritty, but I will tell you for the most part Evernote gets a two-thumbs and one-toe up.

A few important facts to mention:
-My entire manuscript is in Evernote. Every last bit of those 35,000 words are contained in Evernote's cloud for my access from any computer.
-I have spent a solid two hours every evening in the Mac Evernote interface. That is where the majority of my experience is -sorry PC!
-Evernote has an online interface too. You can access your notebooks from ANYWHERE as long as you have a computer and internet connection. DO YOU KNOW HOW AWESOME THIS IS?
-I'm still surprised by how helpful some of the features are now that I'm invested in using their system -cough, tags, cough.

[PROS]
1. THE CLOUD
I don't have to worry about losing my manuscript in part or whole because Evernote's got me covered. Boom, peace of mind.

2. CONSTANT SYNC
Saving is a thing of the past. Evernote syncs automatically for you, so there's no such thing as losing even a minor sentence. It also updates the moment you start up your computer or log on to their website so don't sweat about having the wrong version at any time.

3. THE ONLINE INTERFACE
I actually like the look of their online interface the best. White, clean, super simple and not the least bit distracting. It almost feels like writing into OmmWriter but without the music.

4. WORD COUNTS 
Yes, the word count is always available as well as when the note was created and when it was last touched/edited/made different. I like numbers -especially during #NaNoWriMo.

5. VOICE NOTES AND PICTURES
You can add in voice notes (so helpful when driving) and pictures as well as clippings from the web or your email if so desired. I can tell you that I've used all of these features in an inspiration note that I keep in case I'm feeling dried up and sick of my own thoughts. All these functions are available on your phone, computer, and through the internet version.

[CONS]
1. ALL TOGETHER NOW
Notes can be organized into notebooks (cool) but then the notebooks don't pull together something cumulative what is filed within it if you need. This can be frustrating when you're, say, writing a book and you want to see all the words together in one giant file, but don't want them to be stuck there.

2. FORMATTING
You can't set up to be double spaced -something I need when I'm staring at a screen for hours and the lines of text start to run together. Evernote will hold the format from a word document, but it's a pain in the ass to copy, paste, format, copy, paste back.

3. DOCUMENTS ONLY 
Things like tracking your word count can be a little bit difficult if you're trying to calculate changes in your totals or individual chapters or all the things. I wish I could pull together a spreadsheet (maybe you can in the Premium version -I haven't yet made that commitment).

So you're convinced? Then get over there and get it
Or you know how to use more features than I? SHARE. 

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