2018 in Review: Changes

Driving down a familiar road made me think about where I was exactly one year ago. It’s really amazing how much can change in 365 days.

In January of 2018 my heart was shattered. My dear Peanut succumbed to prostate cancer, I was still separated from my husband, and I found myself living back with my folks driving 4 hours a day just to get to work. Everything in life seemed to be regressing instead of moving forward. I found myself at the bottom of a valley. Wasn’t I supposed to be doing better by now? Why did I keep moving backwards? Why did things continue to unravel around me? But God had a plan and His timing is always good.

So there I was, living with my parents, running a marathon on weekdays and spending each weekend in an emotional coma. I was burying myself in books, music and prayer just to get through the day. I didn’t know what road I was on, which direction it led, and who was on it with me. But God knew. In the last 12 months the most extraordinary things have happened to completely transform the trajectory of my life. What a difference a year makes!

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Here are just a few of the highlights.


Spring: Home Sweet Home

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I had always dreamed of owning my own place. A nook that was all mine, to do with as I pleased. No landlord, no lease, just property. A place where I could nest, without restraints, that I knew could be mine for however long I’d like. It’s the American dream after all.

Despite the horrendous 4 hour commute, living with my parents afforded me the one thing I could never seem to gather up: a down payment. No matter how much I penny pinched over the years it was just never enough. But living back home gave me the financial space I needed to get my affairs in order, read up on the process, and then finally dive in. And that’s how in March of 2018 I became a first time homeowner.

We now live in a gorgeous vintage condo in Evanston on the shores of Lake Michigan. Literally on the lakefront. I can hear the waves crashing as I sit here and type. We are in a quiet nook with a beautiful park on one side of the block and a beach on the other. We have ample parking, amenities at our finger tips, and neighbors so sweet they can give you cavities. We often feel like we’re living in a vacation resort or perhaps even dreaming. And who would have guessed one year ago that we’d be living in this amazing place!? God knew.


Summer: So You Think You’re a Spring Chicken

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I wouldn’t describe myself as old, but let’s face it, my body can’t do the same things it used to. And when I say same things I mean mundane tasks, like bending down, lifting and twisting, and hard core manual labor. So perhaps I should have known better than to push my limits during my DIY kitchen renovation. Those Home and Garden shows make it look so easy. And so does my dad. So after 2 months of moving, gutting, installing and decorating, my body gave out. Kaput. I bent down one day and couldn’t straighten back up. I was in excruciating pain, losing consciousness, and paralyzed from my chest down. What in the world?!

Why on earth is this a highlight of 2018? Let me explain.

I spent a day in the hospital, a week on bed rest, 6 weeks with limited mobility, and 3 months of physical therapy. A multitude of tests, including an MRI, discovered that I had a herniated disc, spinal infection, and a cyst at the base of my spine. Lovely. Tangent: Are you familiar with how MRIs work? Your electrons are temporarily polarized. Seriously, go look it up! Science is awesome.

Anyway. Getting those kind of test results is kind of freaky. But you know what? Though I was scared, I didn’t panic. After the journey of the last couple of years I knew better than to go into full alarm mode. “God’s got this.” And then, on top of learning that my resolve was stronger than I had realized, another amazing thing happened: I fell in love again.

Being bound to a bed for a week, with a toddler in the home, is an adventure, but one that’s not quite as frightening when your beau swoops in and saves the day. David and I were not living together at this point, but he dropped everything to come and tend to me, August, and my household. He took care of me, from head to toe, and with such tender affection that I found myself feeling butterflies I didn’t know were still there. I never stopped loving him, and we were already in the process of reconciling, but something about that week made me fall deeper in love than ever before. Sigh. Imagine: He’s cooking, cleaning, taking you to the ER, picking up your prescriptions, wiping your bottom, bathing you, and catching you while fainting…it’s like a true Victorian romance. Except I didn’t die of consumption. Turns out the cyst is benign, I don’t have a spinal infection, I do have a herniated disc (which is a-okay when compared to the other options!). Who’d have thought? God knew. And now I’m madly in love to top things off! Which brings me to…


Fall: A Marriage Restored

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Just over two years ago my marriage imploded. Suddenly, sharply, and without warning. I shared parts of the story here. After our formal separation I became a single mom and embarked on a journey that would change my life forever. Day by day my character was being refined in ways I never imagined. I was an incredibly independent, stubborn and prideful (ouch!) person. Walking this path softened my edges. I learned to accept help from others. I began to treasure relationships I had previously taken for granted. I became more patient, empathetic, and slower to speak and judge. While I was learning to be kinder a miraculous thing happened. I found that someone else was changing too: David.

In the winter of 2017 sparks were flying and there was a glimmer of hope for our marriage. Many many months later we would find ourselves officially dating again, in counseling, and on a path to restore our family. And all that hard work has paid off. We’ve learned more about ourselves, and each other, than we ever thought possible. Drawing back the curtain has allowed us to openly address our flaws, offer forgiveness, and lay a stronger foundation for our relationship. We love and appreciate each other like never before. Truly! And even though we were technically still married over these last 2 years we’ve decided to start from scratch. We want a complete do over. So David proposed. A full on down on his knees “Will you marry me?” proposal. Swoon. And, of course, I said “Yes!” A marriage restored, see? Who would have known?! God knew.


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As I look back at 2018 I am filled with overflowing gratitude. I would never have imagined that I’d have so much to celebrate in such a short period of time. I’m so thankful to my parents for opening their home to me for a season. It can’t be easy to go from empty nesting to having a strong willed adult child moving in with her toddler, dog, cat and foster bird in tow. I’m also grateful to my friends who helped me keep my head above water though some dark times and to my church family for letting me serve, worship, pray and seek their wisdom and support over and over again. And, of course, I’m thankful for David for embarking on this journey with me for a second time.

I am overflowing with joy and thanksgiving for all the amazing things God has accomplished in the last 365 days.

Happy New Year!

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Learning to Abide

a·bide

əˈbīd/

verb

1a :  to bear patiently b :  to endure without yielding 2:  to wait for :  to remain stable or fixed in a state


I am fast approaching the one year anniversary of what would signal the dissolution of my marriage of 10 years. The last 365 days have been both joyful and harrowing, exciting and discouraging, successful and defeating. Yet, through the ups and downs, hilltops and valleys, one constant remains: God.

I came to faith just shy of 18. I’ll have to come back to that story at a later date as it’s a doozy. Fast forward 15 years: I’m 33 and have suddenly become a single mom. Not the way I would have planned things. But you know what? 15 years ago, God knew. He knew that I would become a prodigal shortly after coming to faith. He knew that I’d fall in love, marry an unbeliever, and have a beautiful little boy in my early thirties. He knew that one day I’d wake up in bed, alone, still wearing my wedding ring. He knew.

I, in contrast, am far from knowing much, but this I do know:

God is with me. He always has been, and He always will be. And the thing He wants most from me in this season of life is to abide.

But what does that actually mean? How do we live out a life that waits on God to move? How can we remain steadfast when there’s so much uncertainty, so many questions? How do we endure when faced with the unthinkable?

In these last 12 months I’ve learned that the Lord doesn’t just want a surface-level encounter with us, He wants us to go deeper than we’ve ever been. To have an intimate relationship with us. To achieve this level of closeness we first have to develop spiritual disciplines to create a solid foundation of faith. Praying, studying the Word, and meditating on it. That’s the winning trio right there. When your emotions are overcoming your rationality, when you’re drowning in defeat, when you just don’t feel like getting out of bed, it’s these three things that will reorient your gaze off of yourself, off of your circumstances, and straight onto God.

This is where abiding begins. Leaning into the Lord, everyday, throughout the day, one-on-one.

What do those daily disciplines look like in my life? Here’s a snapshot:

My alarm goes off at 5 a.m. (and/or my cat steps on my face – whichever comes first). I flick on the light. I grab my Bible and I flip to the latter Psalms and, out loud, read a chapter that ascribes praise and glory to the Lord. I then close my Bible and say a prayer of thanksgiving. Then I begin the daily routines of life.

Now, push ahead to the end of the day. August is in bed, the critters are settled in, and I’m washed up and in my pajamas. My phone is now in airplane mode (which drives friends and family crazy – sorry!). I get down on my hands and knees (it’s amazing what a posture of submission can do for a prideful soul) and pray aloud. I confess my sins, my slip-ups, my shortcomings. I acknowledge His awesomeness, His goodness, His God-ness. I thank Him for the blessings of the day. And then I ask. I pray for friends, for family, and of course, for myself. Then I settle under my covers and hop into the verses or book that I’m studying at the time. And then, before putting my Bible aside, I meditate on what I’ve read. And then I pray again. 

Phew! That seems like so much when typed out – but when you consider how much of our day is spent eating, texting, talking, typing, driving, what is it to spend 10 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening with our Creator? It’s really a drop in the pail, isn’t it? But it’s these very spiritual disciplines that time and time again reorient me towards the Lord. I start my day out with Him and I end it with Him.

And that, my friends, is how we learn to abide in the Lord. Because when He becomes the center, no matter what happens to you, or who happens to you, you see things through His eyes. You find rest in knowing that He is with you and that He knows your future. So when asked how it is that I’ve gotten through the last year, this is how I now answer, “I learned to abide in the Lord.”

What are some of the spiritual disciplines you’ve developed that help you steer towards God and away from your daily struggles? What does abiding in the Lord mean to you?

The Big T-W-O!

Oh my goodness – when did it happen?! When was I suddenly the mother of a full-fledged toddler?!

This past Valentine’s Day we crossed the milestone. August turned the big T-W-O! My little bundle, my baby boy, is now a floor stomping, bug poking, soil slinging mini man. He’s independent, fiery, curious, and addicted to routines. Thankfully, his tantrums are few, and his appetite is still big, so I’m clinging on to those two baby hold overs for as long as possible. His vocabulary is expanding in an exponential rate as are his physical capabilities. I’m telling you – mini man. Mini man.

To celebrate his passage into this new phase of life I hosted a small shin dig in his honor. As I’m quickly learning with this stage, less is more. Instead of busting out all stops for a big hoopla of a party, I planned an intimate breakfast bash with family, friends, and some of his toddler buddies. “Keep it simple sweetie” – definitely the way to go.

For the decorations I stayed away from a true theme and instead pulled together some basics in a variety of colors and textures. I also fell in love with a gold “Yay” Mylar balloon I found at Target – so threw in a few more metallic elements to bring it all together. Add a few bright floral bouquets and a smattering of wooden animal figurines and wallah! My apartment was birthday party ready!

For the food spread I, again, kept things simple. I filled up a cutting board with a variety of cheeses, including the standard brie and blue, both of which August promptly took whopping bites from. See my Instagram for video proof. I filled several bowls with berries, yogurts and granola, and set out jams and other condiments for spicing things up. Putting my collection of cake stands to work, I piled up mini omelettes, freshly baked mini croissants as well as towers of silver dollar pancakes skewered with berry kabobs. Do you see a pattern yet? Mini, mini, mini. One thing that was full sized was August’s birthday cake: A delightful chocolate ganache that we purchased from Whole Foods which I then topped with fresh cut flowers, a wooden animal figurine, a sparkler, and of course, two candles. For drinks I also kept things minimal and served orange juice, french pressed coffee, and organic milk boxes for the kiddos. The food was definitely a huge hit!

As seems customary at kid parties, I had an activity planned, but in the hub-bub of guests, food, and toddler antics, there was no opportunity to introduce it. Aka, I totally forgot. Oops! I had bought the supplies to have the kids make their very own seed bombs which they could “plant” somewhere in their neighborhood. Since I have the wildflower seeds and peat rarin to go – I may host a spring themed play date to give the littles a chance to get their hands dirty while teaching them some horticulture basics. But I digress.

730 days old. Quite the milestone and so glad we had a chance to properly celebrate. Now to start plans for Easter!

 

Biodegradable Leaf Wreath

I don’t know about you, but come autumn I’m always itching for some new home decor. It’s not like Christmas, where I want to collect objects for nostalgia’s sake. I want something new each fall and I’m also always eager to concoct a new visage in my nest. But then the flower child within convicts me. How can I justify buying or making something new to add to the pile of stuff already cluttering my apartment, my life, and the planet?

What to do, what to do? Ah-ha! The solution! A biodegradable craft!

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Fall foliage. It’s the thing that makes it a thing, is it not? Without the changing leaves, the sweet smell of decay filling the air, we might as well be approaching spring. Seeing the changing canopies of the city’s trees is what makes me feel electric, feel renewed, feel distracted from the foreboding threat of winter. So why not capture that feeling by collecting the very thing that gives the season its mark: leaves.

For this project all you’ll need is some non-toxic glue, a pair of scissors, recycled cardboard, and some freshly pressed leaves. A pair of hyper helper hands, should you have a toddler waddling about, is good too!

First things first, you’ll need to cut a semi-accurate circle out of your cardboard. This is the part best saved for those of us old enough to wield a sharp object. Once the main circle has been cut out, shave out an inner circle so you’re left with a big “o.” That’s your wreath. Now, dab on glue around the cardboard, placing your first layer of leaves around the perimeter. Next, you’ll repeat this step, but pop the glue on the leaves. I find that three layers works best.

If you’re a strategic sort you can place the bigger leaves at the base and alternate colors so you have a more aesthetically appealing display. Once complete, allow your wreath at least 24 hours to dry before hanging it up. We took our little creation and hung it on August’s bedroom door using some doubled up washi tape. That lasted all of a single afternoon as he insisted that the door remain as-is. Oh toddlers. So we’re now enjoying it as part of our table centerpiece.

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There you have it! A simple, festively fall, biodegradable wreath that’s easy enough that even a kid, or an overly exuberant pumpkin-spice-latted-up adult, can do it.

Enjoy!

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Native Foods Cafe: Evolution

Native Foods Cafe has been a mainstay in the Chicago vegan cuisine scene for almost a decade which is why it’s high time they shook things up a bit! And I’m not talking about straying from their animal rights ways. On the contrary. This national vegan food chain is edging towards a new menu, one that focuses on whole foods, or what they’ve coined as “plantiful.”

Native Foods has been one of my favorite haunts since they started springing up locations around the city. Their Soul Bowl, sweet potato fries, and Chicken Run Ranch sandwich kept me coming again and again and again. The cruelty free ingredients, tasty flavor combos, and casual atmosphere made this my go-to spot for a taste bud tapping, filling meal. Something that Native Foods Cafe has in common with most of Chicago’s other vegan food nooks is a heavy reliance on faux meats. But that’s all about to change.

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Rather than focusing their menu on highly processed meat substitutes or deep fried concoctions, Native Foods is laying the groundwork to serve healthier, more holistic fair. That doesn’t mean that they’re going raw or shirking some of their most popular items. On the contrary. They’re respecting the following for their cult classics but also rounding out their offerings to provide a greater variety of heartier veggie-based dishes. The fare is simpler. More roasting,blending, and steaming, less highly processed over-seasoned “meats” and mystery “cheeses.” The focus is to offer a truly plantiful spread, one that showcases the natural and robust flavors of the veggies, roots, fruits, and fungi. It’s about focusing on foods that celebrate a plant based diet rather than working so hard to replicate the taste of (sorry I have to say it!) flesh. A welcome evolution indeed!

As someone who can’t fill up on smoothies or leafy greens alone, the news of Native Food’s menu evolution is warmly welcomed. I love the idea of having the option of satiating my hunger healthfully with something beyond a salad. The new menu items are just as inventive as to be expected of the restaurant chain. We noshed on the new Buddha Bowl, which is filled with roasted veggies, avocado, brown rice, shiitake crisps, and a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds. We filled up on warm and steamy arancini balls, the ultimate comfort food on a cool autumn evening. On a second visit I scooped up the new barbecue sandwich, made with jackfruit in place of processed burger patty, and followed that with zucchini patties, which to my surprise, also came with a small (and delish) little side salad.

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The menu is not the only thing Native Foods is tweaking. The Wicker Park location, the national incubator for the chain, has also rolled out new decor, more grab and go items, and will soon be debuting biodegradable take out gear. The cleaner, more sophisticated space sways away from the family friendly diner feel of old in lieu of a sleek, minimalist approach that leans on industrial farmhouse chic. The Wicker Park storefront does a good job of balancing their more mature look while still retaining the warmth of their sister locations by providing casual cafe style seating towards the front and peppering tables and displays with living succulent centerpieces. I’m eager to see how the Wicker Park NFC’s transformation informs the other three Chicago locations.

Call me impressed. The new items offer just as much, if not more, of the eclectic flavor heavy elements that make Native Foods such a popular and burgeoning vegan business all across the country. As the new menu continues to be rolled out at the Wicker Park location (it will go national as the spring draws near) I’ll be at the head of the line eager to try more of their tasty concoctions. And as timing should have it – they just sent me a $10 reward to use on my birthday this Saturday. Nice! Buddha bowl here I come!

Color Blocked Vintage Bookcase

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of pre-owned goods. Not only does buying second hand mean that I’m diverting an item from the waste stream, and therefore preventing another from being made, it also means I’m inheriting something with a history. An object with a soul, if you will.

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When we moved into our current place I found that something major was lacking from the living room: a bookcase. My previous apartment had built-ins, and the place before that did too. That’s why I ventured to one of my favorite vintage furniture shops, Good Deal Garage, in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood. Jam packed with loads of pre-loved furniture and decor, this is my go-to place whenever I need something with character for my little nest. So off I went to GDG and I found it. A very simple, but sturdy, wooden bookcase toward the back of the shop. It was filled with all manner of tchotchke but I could visualize it all cleaned up. Sold!

Fast forward half a year later. This wooden addition to my living room was doing its job, but feeling a bit too heavy for my current mood. An easy solution? Whitewash it! And I don’t mean the sociological use of the term, I mean good ‘ole grab a paint brush and get moving!

I was torn on whether or not to douse the whole piece in paint, if I should just clean up the interior, or if color blocking was the way to go. Because I have a variety of white and dark toned goodies to display, I went with the latter. So with a paintbrush in one hand, and my handy dandy masking tape in the other, I spent a toddler nap period painting the shelving unit. That equals 3 hours for two coats of paint, some time spent snacking and doing laundry, and then sitting and reading. So a very loose 3 hours indeed.

And the result? Awesome says I! I love how the white brought some life to the piece while allowing me to still showcase the rich woodsy material in one small strip. It ended up making my entire living room feel more airy and put together.

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Is there a furniture piece in your home that you think could do with a bit of freshening up? Or is there a recent project you finished to add some nuance to your space? If so, share below!

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The Real Deal Baby List

19 months! How can it be that it’s been so long since the birth of Augustine?! The last year and a half have flown by, and with that countless of onesies, shoes, and rattles. Edging ever closer to two, I’m now thinking back at all of the good things, and useless things, I acquired in preparation for my little bundle.

When August was first  born we were living in a spacious one bedroom, complete with three rescue pets. Fast forward 19 months later. Now the five of us (August, Peanut, Butter, Tomato, and I) live in a vintage 2 bedroom with way more leg room, and yet, we’ve actually down-sized since adding square footage. I’ve found that the adage “less is more” truly is the way to go. Less stuff means less to wash, clean, trip over, and, the most important thing, it means less clutter. So with that context in mind, here are my favorite “I can’t live without you” items that I’d recommend to any urban parent, as well as a few things I’d urge you to leave off your list.

Must-Haves

Sniglar Crib: When looking at cribs I was overwhelmed by the clunkiness of even the most modern of designs. Many people advised against getting a crib – saying to use a pack and play or  to co-sleep. But with my brood of critters, and need to keep the design of my space flowing, I decided that a crib it would be. I was hoping to find something sleek, simple, affordable, and small enough to fit into my bedroom alongside my queen size bed and vintage dresser. And then I found it. August’s Singlar crib, from the mother of all square-foot-savvy design houses: Ikea! Not only was it sleek and lovely to gaze upon, the space conscious design allowed me to squeeze it into my bedroom without any problems. It also has that gorgeous sanded beech wood that I knew I could pop some color on in a snap. I can’t praise the design (and value!) of this piece enough. Plus – since it’s Swedish – you don’t have to worry about the materials being comprised of toxic chemicals like flame retardants. Yuck! And once he’s old enough for a bed – this beauty will convert. Can you see just how in love I am with this thing? Go get one or put it on your registry!

A Rocking Chair: This is something I didn’t have, didn’t think I’d need, and now that I do, I wish I had scored it sooner. Having a designated nursing and “let’s get ready for sleep” spot has significantly helped with August’s routine. And the reason I recommend going retro with a rocking chair instead of a glider is that it will take up less space and with all the milk sprays of the early days of nursing, you don’t have to worry about the upholstery soaking up all those wayward liquids, so keep that in mind should you be considering a glider. Our rocking chair was scored second hand from my apartment’s previous inhabitants. I found a cushy pillow and seat cushion to strap on it and it works like a dream. I find that it puts me to sleep just as easily as August!

Vintage Dresser: My vintage dresser is one of my all-time favorite furniture pieces, both pre and post baby. Picked up from a Craigslist add, this classic piece has six sets of drawers, a nice wide surface, and a detachable mirror. Once pregnant I knew that I’d need a place to change the babe, but didn’t want to buy something new. So the dresser it was! Adding a foam changing pad to the top, and emptying the drawers of my stuff to make way for the baby’s, this furniture piece provided the perfect place for flipping diapers, clothes, or just having a coo fest in the mirror. I also love knowing that further down the line, once he’s potty trained, I can reclaim it for use in my own bedroom. So it’s an item that will far outlive the early infant years.

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