Thursday, November 19, 2015

Lil Pumpkin Baby Shower

How fun is this baby shower?! Not only does it honor the little life growing within Mama-to-be, but it celebrates the best season of the year: Fall! 

I couldn't have been more excited when my sister-in-law asked me to help with this
Lil Pumpkin Baby Shower. My first step is always finding the perfect printable package to help define the event colors and style. We quickly landed on DP Designs adorable orange, green and blue plaid set (available here!), which provided us with the "Lil Pumpkin" banner we used behind the dessert table, cupcake toppers, cupcake wraps, food labels, favor tags, signs, water bottle wraps, napkin rings and LOTS, lots more!
Here's a full-on of the final dessert table. Some of my favorite features include the orange lantern pumpkins, the white pumpkin with baby's name scripted on it and the matching ribbon banner draped across the front (have I mentioned I'm currently obsessed with making these ribbon banners - they're so easy and always add an adorable touch?!).

For this event, we went with several custom desserts, which made the dessert table that much more amazing! Two amazing local bakers provided us with Lil Pumpkin sugar cookies designed to match the printable set, pumpkin oreo pops and cupcakes that were out-of-this-world. The flavors? Chocolate cupcakes with blue whipped cream filling and chocolate ganache on top AND Pumpkin cupcakes with maple whipped cream filling and cream cheese frosting on top. YUM!

Another special touch I added: A custom scripted Lil Pumpkin pumpkin along with a welcome arrangement by the front door. 

This Lil Pumpkin Baby Shower was so much fun to work! I hope you got some inspiration here today for your next celebration!

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

False Expectations & Failed Attempts

A couple weeks ago, our family adventured south for our first multi-night camping trip. We had dreamed up this adventure with dear friends who live in Florida, an exhausting 18 hour drive away. A plan unfolded last summer to meet halfway in the Great Smokey Mountains and camp for a few days in order to ease the driving burden of a visit for both sides. 

Up until this point, our family had only ever camped for a single night on land owned by family near our Ohio home. In venturing south, to the foot of the Smokey Mountains, we envisioned great expanses of wilderness, brightly colored Fall forests and a sense of solitude during our stay. Indeed, for the last two hours of our drive, our car was animated with awe at the beauty of the surrounding landscape. 

At 2:00 in the afternoon, our family pulled into the Cherokee, North Carolina KOA, and quickly realized our expectations had been all wrong. Since we hadn't been the ones to book the campsites, we had somehow neglected to educate ourselves about what a typical KOA entails and what sort of camping we were getting ourselves involved in. 
Rather than great expanses of wilderness, we found our tiny site along the edge of a large barbwire fence, lining the main road we had just driven off.  
Rather than brightly colored Fall forests, we found a campsite with one tree strategically placed on either side to mark where our space started and stopped.  
Rather than a sense of solitude, we found ourselves just feet from the large parking lot and enormous office/store/pool house where hundreds of RV's would come and go in the coming days. 
I wish I had been with it enough to think of snapping a few photos to show you - it would have provided a good laugh for us all. But my husband and I were completely dumbfounded. We froze, mouths agape, starring at our tiny plot of pavement and barbwire. 

Finally, my husband broke the silence, "We just drove eight hours, through gorgeous countrysides, to camp here?! I'm getting back in the car." 

That's all I needed. "Unbelievable! How is this camping?! There are two trees! TWO TREES! We have more nature in our suburban backyard! How are the kids going to sleep with traffic rushing past all night?! @*#<{>*@&!!!"

As my husband and I were busy losing our minds with disappointment, our kids were gleefully exploring the area. Happy to be out of the car, they found those horrible two trees more than sufficient, each claiming one as their own personal climber. Eventually they wandered back and heard our fury.

My son was the first to chime in, "Mom. Dad. Stop complaining. We're on VACATION!" 

Then our daughter, "Yeah! We just drove all that way and now you want to leave. We have to stay and see the Webster's!"

Again, my husband and I stopped in our tracks, this time rightfully rebuked by our own children. True, this campsite was far from the wilderness adventure we had expected, and true, the on-street tent placement could make for a rough night's sleep. But here we were, and our three and four-year-old were showing us something we had yet to see: This was our adventure. 

Our friends arrived around dinnertime, and the kids joyfully reunited and picked up where they had left off several months earlier: playing, laughing, enjoying the moment. My husband and I, too, relaxed into our situation, setting up camp, preparing dinner. Before long, we had forgotten about our frustration and had moved on from our disappointment, focused instead on the gift of each moment with these dear friends. 

Because in the end, life is too short to spend fuming over false expectations or failed attempts. Life is in the moments, even when those moments deal us something different than we had hoped for. Whether it's a block of pavement at the end of an 8 hour scenic drive, or a day of crying, cranky kids despite our most heroic efforts at love and patience, or a bad medical report after months of praying - sometimes our only choice is to look the cards we have been dealt directly in the face and say, "This is our adventure. Let's make the most of it."  This mess, this madness, this magic, this moment. 
This is our adventure.  
This is our life.  
And maybe even this is grace disguised. 

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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Hear Me ROAR

I'm driving in the car this weekend, crazily running errands and answering phone calls, making mental lists and checking texts at every stoplight, when I first hear it: A faint, but growing ROAR. I am almost too caught up in life's frenzied motion to give it a second thought, but something in my gut pauses and listens for a moment. Something in me stands at attention, and there it is again, welling up all around me now: ROARIt only takes a quick scan of my week to realize the source: This is the ROAR of courageous, resilient, powerful women.

This week, I look around and am overcome by the strength of the women surrounding me. In the small circle of friends I hold closest, just this week...

One has battled her way through lawyers and realtors and courts in order to provide a home for her family.  
One has stayed up late at night and disciplined herself in study for medical school in order to show her children the powerful example of being true to your gifts.
One has stood beside the bed of her chronically ill five-year-old, and with a kiss on the forehead, given her daughter strength and peace to face a liver transplant. 

Watching these amazing women navigate life's many obstacles and opportunities with strength and grace and courage has been eye-opening. It has brought me to my knees in grateful humility for the lives I have a privilege of being a part of. It has created a lump in my throat and a deep joy in my heart. Do you hear the ROAR? 

Other dear friends are adding to the ROAR by starting businesses to provide for their families and to serve other mamas. Others have taken on the honorable task of educating their own children, and still others have offered their time and love in caring and educating children not their own. Others have stepped out of their comfort zone to engage with political leaders and to fight with every honorable weapon at hand in order to welcome an orphan into their home, as their own, forever.

And I stand, aware and in awe of the ROAR all around me. Astounded by the show of strength and courage in the lives that I get to call "Friend." I am stronger and wiser and far better because of each one. And so...

To Crystal, the Tenacious, may your strength and truth shape your own and influence many others.
To Rachel, the Wise, may your insight and intellect be a gift to heal many, and may your inquiries never cease. 
To Whitney, the Brave, may your vulnerability ever be your strength, and may your courage be a light for many others. 

And to all of you: Today may you look around and see the strength surrounding you, and may that strength give you the courage to do the impossible. 

The ones I get to call FRIEND!
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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

My family is surviving off of these Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins right now! While they may not quite qualify as health food, with no dairy, no added sugar and only 8 ingredients, these are certainly a light Fall treat worth trying out. Oh, and did I mention they are delicious?! 

I've been making oatmeal muffins for several months now, playing around with this recipe from My Whole Food Life. We regularly bake up a batch of these and use them as a breakfast on the go or a quick and easy snack.

Now with Fall in the air and pumpkin treats taking over the world, I decided to give these muffins a Fall makeover. Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins to the rescue!

So, here's what you'll need:
4 cups whole oats 
1+ tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1 cup pumpkin puree (I used canned, but if you are feeling ambitious, make it yourself)
1/4 cup natural peanut butter
1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chocolate chips 
Optional: 3 Tbs maple syrup*

*I usually omit the maple syrup to keep these extra light, but if your sweet tooth is demanding a little more, go ahead and drop in a few tablespoons of maple syrup (or honey.) 

Here's what you'll do:
Preheat oven to 350F
Mix all wet ingredients well
Mix oats into wet mixture, then fold in chocolate chips
Fill muffin cups, molding tops into rounded muffin shape*
Bake for 14-16 mins

*These will bake up exactly the way they look when you put them in the oven, so if you want a nice rounded muffin shape on top, you'll need to use your spoon to mold the oatmeal mixture into a rounded shape. I also like making these in mini-muffin sizes, which only need to bake about 12 minutes. You'll want the insides to stay together, without drying out the oats!
Super easy, right? If you give these Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins a try, let me know how your family liked them! Happy Fall & Healthy Eating, friends!

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Friday, October 30, 2015

A Letter to New Mamas

Congratulations, New Mama! Or maybe: It happens to the best of us, is more fitting?! Whatever your circumstance is, whatever your reasoning or lack thereof for having a baby, WELCOME to the most miraculous, messy club on planet Earth: Motherhood. We are glad you're here!

You might be surprised to hear of our welcoming and gladness, given the not-so-subtle glances of disgust you've witnessed between mamas at the mall, as one's child flails in a tantrum on the floor while the other's child walks calmly with perfect pigtails dangling down her back. Don't be fooled. Those stares and judgey glances don't mean we hate each other, and they certainly don't mean that Perfect Pigtail Mama has things more together than Tantrum Mama. That's a fallacy you will soon learn to see right through. The judging eyes usually mean we are having a bad day, and watching someone else having a worse day is the only thing we can seem to grab hold of in order to survive our own mess right now. The appearance of perfection in parenting is always a facade.

Which brings me to my first piece of advice, New Mama, and one of the only things I can say with total conviction: Erase the word should from your vocabulary right now. You will be so much saner and happier without that word, and so will your children. Other words to consider erasing immediately: hurry, hate, sleep.

If someone suggests a book to you entitled, "12 Steps to a Happier Child" or "Five Ways to Guarantee Your Child Sleeps Through the Night" or "One Week Fail-Proof Potty Training," they are probably not someone you should be taking parenting advice from. Although there are many fabulous parenting books out there, any books whose titles claim guarantees and absolutes are not amongst them. The truth is, nobody knows the "The Way" when it comes to raising your child, because humans are so complex and every child is unique. And besides, you're the Mama and it's okay to trust your intuition. 

And that leads to my second piece of advice, which is this: Trust yourself. Trust your intuition. Trust that your body is powerful and can grow that baby, can birth that baby, can feed that baby everything it needs. Trust your heart when it says to hold that baby a little longer or to keep that little one at home or to offer a hug instead of a "Hurry up." And please, trust your gut when it says to ask for help.  

Because motherhood is a game of learning as you go, and everyone who is truly engaged in the game is constantly learning. Few of us have more than 50% of it together at any given moment - whether "it" is our disciplinary consistency, our educational philosophy, our patience and empathy, or simply our own personal hygiene. We are learning to extend endless grace to ourselves, and hopefully toward each other, every time we need to readjust our course, which can happen a hundred times a day. In the end, we are all just doing the best we can.

The tricky thing is, being a mama is in the moments, good or bad. And everything can change in a moments notice with kids. Life can go from one blissful homemade organic lunch together, to a heap of food and tears on the floor, in the blink of an eye. Don't worry. You will mostly learn to savor the bliss and to ride in style with the chaos. Speaking of which, here's my next piece of advice: Try to savor the bliss. Maybe you'll need to keep a journal or snap a lot of photos or come up with your own creative version of Savoring. But do try to keep your head on straight enough that you see the bliss when it happens, and you pause even for a second to say, "Thanks."

Every mama has good moments, and when the stars align and there's an extra allotment of pixie dust to go around, some of us get entire good days. Whether it's a rare moment of silence, a whole hour of argument-free play or an entire night's rest, give thanks. These moments of thanks will do wonders when the washing machine breaks or the diaper leaks or the kids refuse to cooperate. And remember this: Love them. Love yourself. Love life. 

This the last thing I would offer you, New Mama: Don't get so caught up in doing things right, in checking off your lists, in filling all your parenting goals, that you forget to just love. Right here, in the good moments, in the bad moments, in their laughing and crying and arguing and sleeping. Love them, and you'll never go wrong. 

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Introducing Our Newest Family Member...

It's official! Camryn Erick Juday is, in every legal sense of the word, a member of the Juday family! Here he is - isn't he precious?!

We received word last Wednesday that all of Camryn's official paperwork has been completed, with no problems or red flags (which happened several months faster than we expected.) Normally this is the point at which Camryn would be getting his passport and we would be preparing for travel. Now is when we should be counting down the weeks, packing up suitcases, knowing Camryn is ours and will be in our arms very, very soon. 

Unfortunately, Camryn joins the hundreds of other orphans awaiting the DRC government’s unjust exit ban to lift before we can fly to pick him up. We stand with many other families - writing to our government, making calls, signing petitions, waiting, waiting. Camryn will be 17-months-old in a couple of weeks, and we are all eager to welcome him home, forever.

Actually, the truth is, we are eager and we are anxious. I simultaneously want to celebrate with all of you at this huge step of finalization, and I also want to tuck this news deep inside my heart and keep it safely there until Camryn is actually here in my arms. I am excited, but cautious; joyful, but afraid. Because we have seen “done deals” go bad, we have seen terrible things happen to beautiful, unsuspecting people, we have seen hopes and hearts crushed to such pieces that it took years to put them back together. We ourselves have dared greatly in love, and now we know (although we are no longer willing to let this knowledge hold us back from loving again) what tragic loss feels like. We know heartbreak, we know uncertainty, and we know nobody is immune.

Instead of knowing how out of control I am, I wish I could know, without any hesitation or speculation, that the DRC government will release all adopted children in the coming months and that Camryn will be happily home with us before his second birthday. I wish I could know for sure that attaching my heart to this little boy a million miles away won’t end in devastation. I wish I could protect myself and my family from all pain, and guarantee that we will soon be a happy family of five.
I wish I could get some sort of guarantee on Camryn, but I can't. 
Just like we cannot guarantee that our spouses will walk back through the door tonight or that our parents will be around long enough to see our children marry. 
Just like we cannot guarantee that this will be the last hospital stay or that that medicine will be the final cure. 
Just like we cannot guarantee that we will wake up tomorrow or that our children will outlive us.

Not because we do not hope for such things, or do not have faith in a good God. Not because we do not fight and act and pray and believe. We do. And yet, still, we are not immune.

But we all keep on loving anyway. We keep hoping, despite illness and injustice, despite heartache and a world out of our control. We keep loving, actively and fully, not stunted by fear or hiding behind facades, but loving our own, and others' too. Because we know Love wins.  

Adoption is a wild act of Love, but then again, isn't all real love wild? Real love dares to believe in the divine essence of every human being, connecting us despite race, despite religion, despite culture or class or corrupt governments that seek to separate us. Real love invades our very veins, compelling us to welcome, to weep over, to war for sons and daughters not of our own wombs. Compelling us to open our hearts and our homes, for an evening meal or an afternoon play date or a holiday with extra hands around the table, or maybe even forEVER. For every sleepless night, for every question "Why?," for every scrape that becomes a scar and every tear that becomes a tale - Love compels us, despite it all.

And it is this wild, dangerous, courageous love that compelled us toward adoption in the first place, and that moves our hearts toward Camryn today. 

We have been able to Skype with Camryn the past several weekends, and seeing his "live" body moving and interacting and breathing in and out, feels like a miracle in and of itself. Our kids already adore their baby brother, greeting him with, "Hi buddy! We miss you, Cam!" each time we Skype. We are adding to his baby book with the monthly pictures we receive, writing notes for his "While You Were Away" box, buying him Christmas presents and keeping his crib clean and ready for his sweet head to rest. 

We hope that day will be soon. 

Until then: We love you, Camryn!

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Breaking For Some Balance: Candy Corn Halloween Party

My kids refuse to get excited about a Halloween costume this year. Despite the fact that they generally love dressing up and go through a dozen costume changes a day, despite the fact that I have shown them all sorts of options online and have given them free reign in choosing, despite even the fact that they will be rewarded with buckets of candy, they just don't care. They have more important things to think about. Like building the fourteen hundredth random Lego-mobile this week or decorating every doll in the house with any and every accessory on the premises. You know, important kid stuff. 

So, it seems this year we're sticking with handy-me-downs dug out of our basement the day of trick-or-treating. Which, really, will get the job done just fine and will save me some money. And yet, in my efforts to get the kids excited about Halloween so that they will finally choose a costume, I've managed to get myself super-excited about the sugar-buzz holiday. The month doesn't feel complete without somebody getting giddy over a costume. Hey, maybe I will dress up for Halloween for the first time in my life?!

Anyway, in honor of all my Halloween excitement, today I'm taking a little party pause - breaking for some balance in our too-busy days - and I am sharing some fun photos from our Halloween celebration last year. Nothing deep or meaningful, no book promotions or writing challenges, just a good 'ole time with the people we love (and really, isn't that the greatest meaning of all?!!). Come on ya'll! Let's have some fun.

Last Fall I hosted this Candy Corn themed Halloween party. I didn't personally grow up celebrating Halloween, and really I still have a strong distaste for all the gore and goo surrounding the darker side of this holiday. However, my children love to play dress up and they love sugar, too (okay, so do I). So we've found our way to what feels like a balanced place where the ooey-gooeys are left to others, and the sugary imaginations are what we look to embrace. 

With this in mind, I decided to gather some mama friends and their kiddos to celebrate the lighter side of Halloween with a daytime party last October. And what could be more Happy Halloween without all the haunts than candy corn?!
With candy corn as my main inspiration, I jumped at these adorable candy corn snack boxes from Oriental Trading Company, these sweet "Trick or Treat" candy corn paper bags and cupcake toppers from Hobby Lobby, and this larger-than-life glitter candy corn decoration from Marc's.

Now if you haven't already noticed (and found yourself gasping in horror as I did), this party took place before I was fortunate enough to get my Nikon D90 for my birthday this past March. Although I still can hardly do more than turn the thing on, it's presence alone results in images a thousand times better than anything I ever captured before owning it. My apologies for the old, grainy photos. :)

Some of my favorite treat additions were these simple baggies of popcorn with candy corn mixed in, as well as the bell pepper & carrot baggies I made up that also took on the candy corn color pattern. We also served these yummy mandarin orange & pineapple cups, which the kids devoured. And as always, I did lots of individual packaging to add color and make things feel just a little more special!

I made these candy corn garland after being inspired by this simple tutorial. You could use paint or paper, and can scale them to any size: mini for on top of a cake, medium for around a table or large as part of a backdrop!

Hope you found a little inspiration here today, or at least a moment to smile and relax. Happy Halloween! 

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