30th birthday book

21 August 2017

More than anything else, for John’s thirtieth birthday, I wanted to remind him of how loved and cherished he is, and how much his thirty years on earth have meant to the people around him. I don’t think men necessarily hear how wonderful they are as often as the ladies in their lives, even if it’s equally true, and so for this special occasion I wanted to make sure he got the message loud and clear.

birthday book

John’s birthday is in mid-July, so in late May, I sent out an email to close friends and family asking them to send me back the following by mid-June, written in the format of a letter to John:

One thing I really admire about you:
A favorite memory we share and why it stands out in my mind:
Something to look forward to in your 30s:

shutterfly book

I included both of our parents and all of our siblings, of course, as well other family members and friends from childhood, high school, college, and North Carolina. I also asked for input from our nieces and nephews via their parents, and “assisted” June and our cats with writing their own letters, too :) My letter concluded the book.

shutterfly layflat pages

Most people responded right away, and the ones that didn’t came through after a quick follow-up email, so it really wasn’t difficult to assemble the messages. Photos weren’t too hard, either, since I had done a bunch of scanning and organizing of old photos for our wedding slideshow. What took the most time was laying the book out, but even that was done in a few nights’ time (while shielding my browser from John, of course!).

custom birthday book

I chose an 8×8 book with a hard, matte photo cover and layflat pages from Shutterfly. With 13 additional pages and a 50% off coupon (they are ALWAYS running promos), the total came to about $45. The book is beautiful in person – I’m thrilled with how it turned out!

photo book

John loved it, too. I think he was actually quite taken aback by it. He is a deeply private, humble person, and I think the thought of all of those people writing something nice about him was a bit overwhelming – instead of reading all of the letters in one sitting, he paged through them slowly over a few days. Mission accomplished :)

custom photo book

Have you ever surprised someone with messages like this? I think it’s always a hit (and I would love to hear your creative ideas!)!

House contentment hack

17 August 2017

I’ve been meaning to write this post for months, but I always stop just before doing so – perhaps because it seems too simple? It’s something that’s really made a difference for me, though, so I’m finally sharing!

coastal painting

Photo by Anagram Photo from our last home tour (since which a lot has changed – maybe time for a new one?)

On occasion, I find myself feeling disgruntled about our home. On any given day, maybe it’s the reddish tint in our wood floors. Or the size of our lot. Or the lack of natural light. Or that we still haven’t replaced our sofa pillows to match the vision in my head, four years into living here. Or maybe it’s just a vague feeling that creeps in of our home being less than, unsatisfactory, wanting…

Want to know the fastest way I’ve found to snap myself out of that (totally ridiculous but still very real) funk? It’s not rearranging the furniture, and it’s not even buying something new. It’s cleaning something. Or, more accurately, sometimes it’s simply tidying.

I am most content with our home in the moments before a dinner party (or a pumpkin party!) is set to begin: everything is in its proper place, the counters are wiped and free of lingering mail and crumbs, the place mats are straightened on the table, the rug has vacuuming lines, the table lamps are on, and a candle is glowing on the coffee table. I look around and think, wow, this place is so nice! (Ha!) Everything feels fresh and loved. As my friend Robyn said at Articles Club earlier this week (and I’m paraphrasing), we find ourselves loving things more that we spend time loving.

Of course, with a full life and a toddler bent on finding a new home for every item that’s not nailed down at least once a day, that “party-ready house” is not realistic most days. And that’s completely okay. But realizing that contentment is only a fifteen-minute tidying session, not a thousand-dollar shopping spree, away has been so fruitful for me.

Have you found this to be true for yourself? Any other house contentment hacks you want to share? :)

Lake Life in Northern Michigan

4 August 2017

Our Michigan vacation was a very welcome respite in the midst of July’s crazy. We spent a week at John’s family’s rustic cottage on a small lake near Traverse City, and it felt like a very classic summer vacation: we cooked big meals, we waterskiied and paddleboarded and kayaked, we drank root beer floats, we watched the cousins dig in the sandbox, we played badminton and cards, and we watched the sun set over the water while roasting marshmallows. This is the kind of stuff I live for, and I wanted to share a few photos, if you’d like to see!

Is that not the life?! Much of our time was spent lounging in those Adirondack chairs, reading, chatting, and then walking the few steps to the lake when we got too hot.

Michigan barn

Platte Lake

Lake Michigan

By far the best part of this trip was the people. We were gathered with about 28 extended family members, including all of John’s siblings, spouses, and their kids. We are spread out around the country, which is sad, because we love spending time together!! It was a treat to all be in the same place.


dinner on the porch

We ate dinner perched on the porch steps, looking out at the lake, almost every night. June was a big fan of the setup.

Cherry Hut


Michigan cottage


Pierce Stocking Drive

sand dunes

sand dunes baby

We stuck pretty close to the cottage most of the time, but did make a few trips out for ice cream, lunch at the A&W, and climbing the Sleeping Bear Dunes.

root beer floats

boating life

stand up paddleboarding

roasting s'mores

lake sunset

sunset silhouette

I’ll leave you with perhaps my favorite photo from the trip, snapped mid-run through the towels on the line. Are those faces not pure, unadulterated JOY?

laundry on the line

Happy summer, friends!

All photos by me, John, and my talented siblings :)

August 2017 goals

1 August 2017

Friends! I’m alive! I’ve missed you over these last few crazy weeks! And crazy they have been, between frequent vet appointments, a dishwasher that needed to be replaced, our vacation in Michigan, buying a new car in one week after our car broke down in Michigan (are-you-kidding-me), navigating a new health issue for a family member, preparing for a work trip for me followed by another family vacation, and more… whew.

But I’m still in it! I’m still here making goals! :) And I’m very much hoping for a peaceful, unhurried August with absolutely zero surprise expenses – ha!

What I read in June:
A Man Called Ove (Very sweet! A quick read.)
Parenting With Love and Logic (I really liked this book! In moderation, it very much lined up with my parenting philosophy — letting your kids learn from natural consequences and only keeping as much control as you need. Definitely recommended!)
My Name is Lucy Barton (I picked this up because Joanna has said it’s her favorite book. I liked it, but because it was written as the memoir of an author, the real author used some strange writing conventions that I didn’t love.)
— Books I’m reading throughout the year: The Power of a Praying Wife and The Lifegiving Home

Revisiting my goals for July:
Edit June in June (Did not get to this – adding it to August’s goals!)
Take an evening neighborhood walk any night we’re home and the weather is good (We did a great job with this!)
Book accommodations for John’s secret trip
Follow the daily She Reads Truth reading plan (I did well at the beginning of the month and then tapered off… giving this a half check.)
Plan well (including prepping food) for my Dad’s visit
Enjoy our Michigan vacation with our family! (I’ll be sharing a few photos later this week!)
Cow Appreciation Day!! (Moooooo)

August goals:
— Edit June in June
— Enjoy our Maine vacation with family!
— Go on a date night sans June
— Read To Kill a Mockingbird (my back to school tradition – I try to do it every August! I still haven’t read Go Set a Watchman – should I?)
— Make an itinerary and reservations for our family weekend in Asheville, coming up in September
— Hold our grocery budget to $100 per week (this will be tough – yikes!)

If you have a favorite cheap (and healthy-ish) meal I can try, please let me know in the comments!! And if you’ve posted your goals somewhere, I’d love to see a link for those, too :)

Affiliate links are used in this post!