Family

It’s Time to Ditch It + Switch2Pure!

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I’ll be honest, since this is my fourth baby, I slacked a bit on the preparations. Partly, it was because I was overwhelmed managing three boys under seven years old while I had preeclampsia (and all of the OB appointments that entailed!) It was also partly because I know that babies don’t really need nearly as much as I thought they did with my first child. And, I’ll admit that a part of it was that I’ve forgotten what they actually do need since it has been four years since I brought home a newborn. Hello, mom brain!

And so, I found myself ordering diapers from the hospital before we headed home. (Thank you, Amazon Prime!) And when we brought our little man home, I wanted to give him a bath and realized that I hadn’t bought any baby shampoo or body wash. Oops! Honestly, I was too tired and overwhelmed to bathe him, anyway, so I just made a mental note to order some soon.

And then, I got a special delivery from my sweet friend Estela Cockrell who started Switch2Pure. You may remember me telling you about her back in December after I was invited to a blogger event at her beautiful home. (If you missed that post, take a moment to hop over and check out the lovely photos. I’ll wait.) I fell in love with several of her products and have been using them faithfully ever since (and yes, most of them have lasted the past 6 months and I still haven’t run out – amazing!) Estela is a darling Houston girl with a passion for sharing well-curated, safe + pure products with people and making it easy (and beautiful!) to shop them. So, when she sent me a box of her favorite safe + pure products for our newborn baby, I was over the moon excited! Here’s the scoop on what she sent, with a link to each product on her website for you to read all about it. I haven’t yet gotten a chance to try all of these, but I will tonight with our next baby bath and promise to share my thoughts with you soon!

 

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Erbaviva Baby Butter
 a nourishing cream for the little ones

Erbaviva Diaper Cream
soothing and calming for baby’s sensitive skin

Erbaviva Baby Soap
cleanses baby’s skin without toxic chemicals

Erbaviva Organic Baby Oil
luxurious hand crafted mix of oils balances that nourishes and protects the skin

Erbaviva Baby Sunscreen
an amazingly smoothy and effective sunscreen that is natural and zinc derived

Baja Baby Creamsicle Bubble Bath
a gentle, mood uplifting bubble bath for the most precious ‘littles’ of the house

Baja Baby Shampoo and Body Wash
a fantastically subtle, calming and gentle cleanser

Meliora Soap Stick Stain Remover
a wonder stick that does the work without the harsh and irritating chemicals left on the skin

Organic Radius Ginger Citrus Toothpaste
this whitening tooth paste has many added benefits (coconut oil) and is yum yum tasty, so I can’t wait to try it!

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What a sweet friend, right?! I look forward to using all of these and sharing with you which ones are my favorites. They smell just divine! What are your favorite toxin-free baby products? Tell me in the comments below – this mama wants/needs to know!

 

Rest.

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Rest. Recharge. Refresh. These are words that frankly don’t come easy to me. My personality is a highly-driven, results-oriented, task-list-focused “doer” type. In many ways, those are positive traits, but they definitely come at a high cost – exhaustion, overwhelm and burn out. I’m well aware of those costs, but I typically push through them without stopping to give it much thought. I just do what needs to be done. Which is why, when a close friend tossed out the idea of taking a sabbatical, I was honestly a bit perplexed.

To me, a sabbatical is something that a college professor takes for a semester while they travel to another country or do research. Is a mom of three kids (almost four) who owns her own jewelry business allowed to take a sabbatical? What would that even look like?

For context, just about a week before our first child was born, a pair of my earrings were featured in InStyle magazine. What a dream, right? I couldn’t have been more excited about the feature…or more uneasy about the timing! Sure enough, orders started rolling in just as I was breezing past my due date with no end in sight to my pregnancy. I was huge, uncomfortable and filling orders as I waited. A week past my due date, I was induced and after a difficult labor, my OB informed me that an emergency c-section was our only option for having a healthy baby and mama. I felt a bit like things were spinning out of control. Not much was going according to plan. What would have been a 48-hour stay became 5 days in the hospital and in my hormonal and emotional (and narcotic-induced?) brand new mom state, I couldn’t let go of the fact that I had bunch of orders from my InStyle feature to fill. These people saw my earrings in one of the hottest magazines in the country. How unprofessional would my business look to delay in sending them out just because I’d had a baby? Looking back, it almost seems comical, but it wasn’t at the time. So, I sent my husband home for raw materials, supplies and our portable printer and y’all, I legit sat in my hospital bed the day after an emergency c-section that followed 30 hours of labor and made earrings, printed shipping labels, boxed them up and had my husband walk them to the post office. I mean, seriously. The nurses were BAFFLED by me and looking back on it, I’m a little baffled at myself, too. What I would give to sit myself down that day and have a long, hard talk about priorities.

For the next year and a half, I worked anytime our son slept – especially late night. I got very little sleep, but I pushed through. Our next child was born just 20 months later and this time, I promised my husband that I would not make jewelry from the hospital bed again. A promise is a promise, but… At the time, some friends of ours had a young daughter who was battling cancer and I wanted to help. So, I made a necklace in her honor and sold them online, with 100% of the proceeds going to her treatments. My only ask was that the fundraiser be done by my due date in August. You can guess what happened next. The timing of the fundraiser ended up being promoted widely, going viral in August and again, just before baby #2 was due, the orders started flowing in…a lot of them. I kept my word and didn’t fill a single order from the hospital, but this time I worked my tail off filling hundreds and hundreds of orders once I got home from the hospital with a newborn. I have vivid memories of being in the dining room of our little San Francisco Victorian with my mom and husband by my side, boxing up orders. A small improvement, but let’s be honest…still crazy town.

Our third child was born 20 months after that, just after we had moved back to Houston and frankly, that’s all a massive blur. I barely remember what it was like having three kids aged three and under, but I can tell you that my jewelry business didn’t stop. I can remember being pregnant and throwing up at jewelry shows (more times than I can count on all of my fingers and toes!) and also nursing my children in my jewelry booths as people shopped. I answered emails while nursing a baby and started making jewelry the moment I got the kids down to sleep. It was all quite a whirlwind!

And now, our fourth little blessing is due in just a few weeks and for the past couple of months since my friend suggested the word sabbatical to me, I’ve been mulling over what that would look like. After a LOT of thought and prayer, we have decided that is just what our family needs right now. I’ve had my own business designing and making jewelry for 18 years as of this month. That feels like a LONG time and part of me cannot believe it when I say it out loud. My business has had many iterations over those years and I’ve worked very hard to be everything to everyone in the process. I know logically that’s impossible and that it is a recipe for disaster, but sometimes it is hard to avoid when you’re creating art, a process so very close to the heart. For many years, I’ve wanted to take a step back and consider how best to move forward, but there’s always something else to be done and my task-led personality is all too happy to dive in and bust it out.

One of the things that my friend asked me that stopped me in my tracks was. . .  What do you want this time (of having a baby) to look like? How do you want it to be different from the last three times? Let’s dream a little bit about what it could look like for you. WOW. Her words resonated deeply as I realized that I’ve never taken the time to do anything like that in my life. And when I thought about it, I realized that the church that this friend and I attended together when we lived in San Francisco, incorporated that into the very fiber of the church. The idea of Sabbath is so important to that church, that every several years, each member of the staff is encouraged to take a paid leave to regroup, recharge, reconnect with their families and plan for the future. What a gift! And if they were modeling that, why was I resisting it?

So, here we are. I’m counting down the days until baby Cuatro joins us and am taking a little leave of absence from the jewelry business until at least the Fall. Since I’m a one-woman show right now, that’s hard for me to do, and it basically means shutting down the business for a bit, but I think my family needs it, I know I need it and I think that, in the end, it will even be good for my business in the long run. I’m going to take this time to rest up, to connect with our newborn when he or she arrives, to enjoy my precious family and to dream and brainstorm for the future of Andrea Montgomery Designs. I’ll likely re-enter the space a little bit slowly and then, when ready, I’ll be back at it, Lord-willing.

Thank you for supporting me for these past eighteen years, friends. Thanks for supporting me in both easy and hard times over those years and for continuing to do so both during this break and in the future of my business. I am grateful for you so much more than you know, for allowing me to work hard at doing what I love.

Also, if a time of rest is something that resonates with you in your own life, whatever that may look like for you, I would encourage you to give it some real thought and to pursue a time of recharging. I’m guessing that I’m not alone in needing that today. If you’ve taken a sabbatical or a break from work in the past and have words of wisdom to offer, I’m all ears! Please do help a mama out and share in the comments below. . .

 

 

I’ve been keeping a secret…

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…We are having a baby – that cute little bean in the photo above!! Honestly, I really didn’t mean for it to be a secret. That’s the funny thing about it all. It just sort of happened. And the longer it went that I hadn’t shared the news, the bigger of a deal it seemed. In the end I think what I’ve learned is that our society is seriously reliant on social media for information and connection. I mean, I think we all know that, but some days, it really feels like if it didn’t happen on social media, it didn’t happen at all. And I have very mixed feelings about that, but we’ll circle back to that in a minute. Recently, a couple of dear friends that I actually see quite often told me that they had no idea I was pregnant. And then a few people asked me why I hadn’t posted anything on Facebook or Instagram about the baby on the way and truth be told, I don’t have a great reason. But, then the question kept rumbling around in my head and I realized that it was really the combination of a lot of small reasons and one really big one that I’ve been wrestling with lately.

So, the fun news is that I’m pregnant with our fourth child! We couldn’t be more excited. We prayed for this child for quite some time and God is so gracious to bless us with this baby, our little caboose! Looking back, I think our time of waiting for this baby is partly what shaped my caution in telling people that we are expecting. The Lord did quite a work on my heart during that time – probably more than words can adequately describe in a blog post. Suffice it to say, my heart has been changed in many ways. Just one of those ways is my increased tenderness for those who struggle with infertility, delayed fertility, miscarriage and the loss of a child. That’s not to say I wasn’t sympathetic before, because those have always been struggles very close to my heart, but this is different in that, at the same time, I was also struggling with the role of social media in my own life.

In the past year, I’ve had more than one friend close to me who lost a baby past 20 weeks. I don’t even have words for losses like that or for miscarriages at any stage, for that matter. What I do know is that life is so, so precious and we are called to be sensitive to the struggles of those around us. I’m still working through what that looks like in many ways. I also have dear friends who have been struggling to get pregnant for the first time for many, many, many years. And I didn’t really feel like I could talk about our own waiting with people, for fear of sounding like I was trying to compare grief or struggles, which was certainly not my intent and also because we have already been blessed with three healthy, beautiful boys. Nonetheless, God allowed this waiting time in our lives to be a part of our story and has faithfully used it to shape us to be more like Him. He sees our struggles and meets us where we are in those and I am learning to do that better as well.

All of that is to say that somehow, when the time came to announce our news, I just couldn’t bring myself to write the post. I kept looking for my reason for posting and I didn’t find it for quite a while. I told our family the news first and then dear friends, since it’s awfully hard to hide the constant throwing up that I have for the first 6 months or so of my pregnancies! I certainly wasn’t hiding it from anyone on purpose, but something kept me from actively posting about it on Instagram or Facebook. Meanwhile, I’m watching plenty of other friends announce their pregnancies and post every day about their joys about being pregnant and every detail about their plans for the baby and many of those friends were due after me. And there was a pang in my heart at each one I read as I thought of my friends who were still struggling with various difficulties surrounding children and what they must feel reading these posts. Getting pregnant, staying pregnant, having safe birthing experiences, adjusting to newborns, raising children responsibly, struggling with health issues in our children and ultimately letting them go off into the world – it’s all hard. And the pangs of empathy just weren’t going away. So, for maybe the first time in my life, I stayed quiet. And still. And did nothing.

Since I couldn’t figure out how to announce it and still honor those in difficult places on their own walks, and since I couldn’t clearly define my “why” for posting about it, I just chose not to announce it at all on social media. And, honestly, there was something liberating about it! I had long since been struggling with the use of social media in my life. I love so much about Instagram and Facebook, namely staying connected to friends and family who are far away, learning from the unique perspectives of others and reading articles that friends think are important enough to share, especially since I am not a big consumer of news media in general. Not to mention the memes, funny videos and ensuing laughter. I have a lot of love for these platforms and find myself spending time on them maybe a bit too often. They are fun and pretty and offer a bit of an escape from what can feel like a life full of mundane tasks at times. However, there are struggles with each platform that cannot be denied. Study after study has shown that people are less content and even more depressed after using them for an extended period of time. We all know that these platforms are a highlight reel of people’s lives and yet, scrolling through those picture perfect feeds understandably still leads to discontent in our own lives. And I’ve been convicted about my own role in adding to that discontent for some time now, because I think it’s incredibly dangerous and is the opposite of what we are called to do. And so, for a few years now, each time I post, I’ve been asking myself, both in my personal and professional posts – what is my intention in posting this? I don’t want to be the person who just shamelessly self promotes and in doing so, leads others to feel discontent in their own lives. That’s not helpful. We all know people who do that constantly and while their feeds can be fun to look at for a while, in the end, the effect on our hearts isn’t what I hope my followers feel when looking at mine.

I’ll take this moment to quickly add that the fact that I have a jewelry business complicates my desire to be intentional with my posting. Social media platforms are a wonderful way to share my designs with the world and I am so, so grateful for that opportunity. However, I do feel strongly that we, as social media consumers, need some healthy boundaries where social media is concerned and I want to honor those myself when posting as a designer as well. So many people are making LOTS of money convincing people to buy things on these platforms. More often than not, this is the result of people with great tips and ideas sharing those with their faithful readers and friends. And I love that! I’ve learned about fabulous products and services and free downloads from some of my favorite Instagrammers, bloggers and Pinterest-posting friends and they are, more often than not, the first place I look when I need a recommendation for something! I have dear friends who are bloggers and I value the opinions they share greatly and love the items they post about. I’ve found some of my favorite shoes, beauty products and clothing that way and it is awesome! After all, who better to get recommendations from than your friends? However, with some others, the basis of their promotions can be contributing to the discontent we all feel at times by seeing such beautiful photos of picture perfect lives being led by the people who own XYZ (insert product for purchase here.) That’s the game of advertising and always has been, but the lines have been blurred since social media was invented and blogging became an incredibly high paying career in and of itself for a few people on the platforms. That’s partially why the Federal Trade Commission has stepped in and created guidelines requiring bloggers to more clearly disclose when they are being paid to promote something, but that’s another discussion for another day.

So, for me, I chose to celebrate within our own little family and with my close friends with whom we are walking through life. And truthfully, with the insane busyness of life with three boys aged seven years and under, I didn’t have all that much time to think or worry about it. School, carpools, homework, making lunches, sports schedules and life in general consumes most of my days and that’s before my jewelry business kicks in! Add in the sheer exhaustion and constant throwing up of my pregnancy days, and I feel like I have been dropping balls right and left for months now. And I’m slowly learning to be more okay with that.

Fast forward a little bit and more and even more friends were surprised when my belly finally REALLY popped out recently or when they heard from other friends – and then I felt sort of bad, even though all of them were totally understanding! And I realized that I have friends far and wide from so many different times and areas of life and social media is just a really efficient way to tell people what is going on in your life. And people want to know and celebrate with you. So, here we are.

We’re having a baby…and soon! Our precious 4th baby is due in just over a month now. Before you ask, we’ve chosen to be surprised on gender and it has been so much fun! Since we had our first three babies in three years, this is my first pregnancy when my older kids are really understanding what is happening and that has been really fun and sweet to watch as well. We are so grateful for the crazy journey of parenthood and can’t wait to share more about our new addition with you. So, why am I sharing now? In part it is because I have some other related big news to share very soon, but I’m going to save that for another post. This one is already way too long and If you’ve stuck with me this far, thank you for that.

Have a thought about all that I’ve shared here? Share it with me in the comments below. I would love to hear from you!

Snow Days in Texas!

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It’s just flat COLD across most of Texas and Houston is no exception this time! Schools and most businesses are closed today and it is looking like they may be tomorrow, too. A little snow and a LOT of ice (for this neck of the woods, anyway) are blanketing our city and temps aren’t supposed to get above freezing for a few days. This is officially the first time it has snowed in Houston this many times in one winter season since 1973, which is more than my lifetime! That seems a little crazy to me, but it has definitely been a colder winter here than I can remember in a long time. And last winter was so warm!

As for our little family, we are hunkering down at home and staying fireside with cozy blankets and lots of hot chocolate! Thankfully, I stocked up on groceries and marshmallows in anticipation of the storm (Shout out to Instacart, for bringing it right to me late last night – I am not sure how I would survive without them!) so we are all ready for the laid-back family time at home. Hubs still has to go to work (per the usual) but the kiddos and I are cozied up at home, where I’m doing a little work and they’re doing a LOT of playing. Yay for the new toys from Christmas that are keeping them entertained! Our studio is closed until further notice this week when things warm up.

In case you’re getting a little stir crazy like we are, I’ve gathered a few of my favorite snow-day-related things from the internet for your enjoyment. Hopefully it will get a few laughs on this COLD day!

The first is this HILARIOUS Snow Day Bingo card from Houstonia Magazine that they posted on their Instagram feed. Several of them made me laugh out loud! This one definitely deserves a look – I’m pretty sure I scored bingo right away and am awfully close to a blackout card!

 

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After a few snide comments on Facebook and Instagram from my friends in the North about how we Texans are handling this wintry mix, I found this one to be HYSTERICAL! It’s true, ice days really throw us for a loop down here, since we don’t have the salting equipment that they do up North and most people have very little experience driving on ice. That, and we take our football pretty seriously down here. . . This bit of hilarity is from It’s a Southern Thing on their Facebook page and I love it!

 

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So, what are y’all doing to stay sane on these ice days? I need all the tips I can get as it’s about to be an “add to cart” kind of day over here and it’s looking like our long MLK Day weekend is turning into a 5 day break!

 

A PURE Breakfast Date

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I was recently invited to a fun blogger breakfast event at the gorgeous Tanglewood area home of Estela Cockrell, founder of Switch2Pure. It was so much fun catching up with other Houston blogger friends over delicious and healthy bites and tasty drinks in her house, which was beautifully decorated for the holidays – be sure to scroll through for photos of it, along with some of our favorite bloggers.We also got to preview some of her favorite items from her new website, Switch2Pure, which is well-curated website with the best clean and organic products.

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Estela started our time together telling us all about why she started this company. She and her children have battled various auto-immune issues for a long time and for a while, she was dealing with mysterious symptoms due to food allergies, immune disorders and Lyme disease, without really knowing what was causing them. Once she started doing more research, however, and figured out exactly what was causing them, she vowed to take a closer look at the products that she and her family were using every day. And she didn’t like what she found. She found complicated labels that made it hard to differentiate the good from the bad ingredients and she found “crunchy” healthy products that didn’t do what they promised. So, she decided to curate her own website of products that are safe, pure, clean, natural and nontoxic, yet effective and luxurious. Gotta love a woman who makes helping others simplify safe products her mission!

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After the talk and delicious gluten and dairy free treats, we got to head into her work area and sample some products. I was amazed at how luxurious they are for “safe” products. Estela pointed out to us which ones are her very favorites and I snagged a few things to bring home and try out. Here’s what I started with, along with a brief review of (and link to) each product…

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The Nurture Your Nest Natural Cleaning Non Toxic Kit – I have small children and I certainly do not want my cleaning products causing them harm. Enough said.

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Kaia Naturals Charcoal Deodorant – The idea of endocrine disruptors from the store shelf deodorants being placed so close to my lymph chains in my underarms every single day was enough to make me decide to make the switch immediately. So far, I’ve liked it. The brand tells you to expect a detox period when quitting regular antiperspirant, but so far, I haven’t noticed that. I think it comes a bit later on, though.

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InVitamin Charcoal Toothpaste – Same goes for what I put into my mouth. I definitely don’t want harmful toxins here! While the idea of black toothpaste makes me a little uneasy, Estela assured me that the lightly minted taste is good and that it also whitens teeth – bonus! So far, I’ve really liked it. It’s far less sudsy than normal toothpaste, but I don’t mind that at all. Just rinse any that you spit into the sink immediately and the black color comes off the porcelain super easily.

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Rare Elements Pure Natural Shampoo Hydrating Hair Bathe Shampoo – This one smells amazing and Estela promises that it does wonders for your hair. Yay for that! I’m super picky about what shampoos I use. I don’t like the ones from the grocery store that leave a wax buildup on your hair. I feel like I can also use less amounts of the more expensive ones, so it ends up being about the same amount of money investment-wise. So far, I LOVE this one and use only a dime-sized amount each time. And, I feel like it allows me to not have to wash my hair every single day. Yay for that!

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Rare Elements Essentials Daily Vegan Natural Masque Conditioner – There was a “lite” conditioner option as well, but I like a good mask-like conditioner, since I only put it on the ends of my hair (the ponytail area) which tends to get a little dry or get split ends between hair cuts. I like this one a lot so far. I put it on and wait about 3-5 minutes before rinsing it out. Like the other Rare Elements products, it smells amazing and lasts a really long time!

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Rare Elements Marula Cocktail Leave in Conditioner – I’m LOVING this one so far. It smells amazing (like the shampoo) and leaves my hair feeling so soft and hydrated. I only use two sprays per day and then come it through, to keep my hair from being oily.

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Kaia Juicy Bamboo Facial Cleansing Cloth – Estela told me that these are perfect for after you leave the gym, but have to go somewhere else before going home to shower and I agree. They are refreshing and smell great and are a good quick refresh after a sweaty lifting session at the gym. And heaven-knows I’m rarely headed home to shower after I work out, as much as I’d like to be. A mom’s life is rarely boring!

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Source Vital Free Micellar Water Cleanser – Estela swears by using this a “precleanser” before cleaning your face and so far, I have loved going the same thing. I feel like it gets my face extra clean, removing makeup and then washing my face for cleanliness. It has essential oils in it and leaves my face feeling clean, but not “stripped.”

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Honey Belle Organic Facial Soap – In all honesty, of all of the products I purchased, this is the only one that I might not rebuy. It’s not that I didn’t like it, I just didn’t LOVE it like I loved the others. On all of the other products, I am hooked! On this one, it’s good, but not something I’m obsessed with. I think maybe my skin is getting a bit drier as it gets older and I prefer something more hydrating for me. It does foam beautifully and smells great, however. I currently keep it in my shower, rather than using it every morning and night and it’s great for that! I love that it’s a clean and safe product, though, because your skin is definitely your largest organ, so its important not to put toxins on it!

After hearing Estela’s story, I was inspired that the switch to pure ingredients in the beauty, cleaning and food items we use every day really is getting easier every day, especially with websites like Switch2Pure. And the payoff is worth the investment of time to seek them out. In the case of the items at Switch2Pure, I was amazed by how low the prices on most items were. Usually, I feel like there is a pretty steep markup for “clean” items, but not here. There are well-priced items that are still organic and toxin-free.

Below are a few more photos from the party. It was such a fun event and I was so grateful to be included! Girl-time is such a rare treat these days and learning about safe products that I love at the same time made it all the more fun! Have you tried any of the products above or are you obsessed with any clean, non-toxic products that I should know about? Let me know in the comments below! I love sharing knowledge!

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Harvey

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As I sit here typing this, I am listening to the rain fall. I used to love snuggling up during a good ol’ Texas thunderstorm and I loved sleeping in one even more. It was actually something I missed during the time we lived in San Francisco. Strangely, it doesn’t really storm there. I only saw lightning and heard thunder two times in the five years that we lived there and it always struck me as rather odd. I actually missed it during our time there, as crazy as that feels to type now, in the midst of Harvey. It has been raining for four days now and has been raining without stopping for even a second for at least 24 hours straight. I’d love to tell you exactly how many hours, but I can’t, because I’m not even sure what day it is. Somehow, they are all meshing together in my head and I have lost all sense of time. It’s a strange feeling and I’m beginning to realize that cabin fever is a very real phenomenon. When you’re stranded on a makeshift island surrounded by water and unable to escape except by boat or helicopter for days on end, it really does alter your mind a bit. And we are among the more fortunate in this storm, of that I am very well aware.

The photo above was the view from our front porch yesterday. The floodwaters have filled the park across the street, with its hills and valleys that create a bit of a bowl that is 15-20 feet or so down. The street, which is probably 4-5 feet below our house is also flooded and impassable. You can see by the street sign shown how high it is. It is flooded in both directions as far as the eye can see. The nearest cross street is also underwater. And the water is in our yard and slowly moving up the driveway (which has a pretty steep hill to it) and closer to our home. My son’s baby swing in the front yard is halfway under water, so I’m guessing there’s about 2-3 feet of water in our yard. A family of ducks just swam by me the now lake that covers our front yard.

For four days now, I’ve been absorbing and processing. Absorbing information, photos, videos and the very personal stories of people close to me who are in dire distress. It’s an awful lot to take in. I’ve had so many thoughts I wanted to share, but neither the energy or the time to do so. It has taken all I have to keep life within these walls of our house as normal as humanly possible for my children. At the beginning of this ordeal, when Harvey was forming in the Gulf, I was checking the weather nonstop. It may have been a throwback to my energy trading days, when tracking hurricanes and their effects on production in the Gulf was a part of my job. Or it may have had something to do with the fact that though I have weathered Hurricane Alisha, Tropical Storm Allison, Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Ike, I have never weathered a hurricane as a mother. Now, with three boys who are dependent on us for survival, the game has changed dramatically. Regardless, I was glued to the weather. I quickly fell in love with Space City Weather, which offers information without the sensationalism. In the beginning, I didn’t realize how crucial that would be to maintaining my sanity. I left the news channels on for a while, as they had tornado alerts and other important information, but I couldn’t leave them on for long because of my children. When some desperate woman who had been rescued by boat started screaming about all the little children who were going to die in their homes and our three year old repeated those words and asked me why with a terrified expression, I turned the television off. Images and words on TV are powerful and my boys are so young that they cannot separate fact from drama. Please don’t get me wrong, I think the news people in Houston have done and are doing an excellent job and I am grateful for their selfless coverage of this unprecedented disaster, but my own heart aches deeply at watching the images and hearing the stories, so I cannot imagine what the little minds in my house are thinking as they try and process it all.

By now, however, I rarely even look at the weather. I’m simply exhausted by it all. Severe weather alerts have gone off on my phone around every 5-15 minutes 24 hours a day for the past 4 days. Flash flood warning, tornado warning, tropical storm warning, tropical cyclone warning. I get it. We’re all in great danger here. I just can’t even process them anymore. When the tornado sirens went off, we hunkered down in an interior hallway or in our basement. It’s a confusing thing when the authorities tell you to get upstairs because of flash flooding, but also to get to the lowest level because of a tornado. And when your kids are finally sleeping peacefully, do you wake them up to move from one to the other when the sirens go off? It’s a tough call, especially when you’re tired. When we were taking cover, my children were crying in fear. And I read one of my very favorite books to them, The Jesus Storybook Bible. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s a refreshing read of the stories we know and love that brings fresh tears to my eyes almost every time I read it to my children. It’s a powerful translation, even for adults. We read the story of Jesus calming the storm and talked about how we do not need to fear, because even in difficult times like these, God is still in control. Once it was over, my kids were “playing tornado” and hiding under the dining room table. I remember reading an article on child psychology about how this is how they process trauma in a healthy way, by acting it out again and again, so I let them do it and even joined in some. It was a bit of humbling experience.

We are just fine. We are safe and dry and our house has not taken in water other than some roof and ceiling leaks. We have food and plenty of water. We have electricity and we are all together. Though we are stranded here, we are absolutely fine and beyond grateful. God is merciful and through all of this horror, the loss of life is so much smaller in number than one might expect. For that, we are grateful.

More to come as I continue to process and reflect. There is much to share and there is much to be done in relief and recovery efforts. But for now, I will focus on our family. Keeping us fed and the house and dishes relatively clean, coordinating efforts of help for friends via the internet and Facebook and connecting people as we are so thankful that we have electricity. Until we are able to leave our home, we will do what we can to help, we will support and minister to one another in this time of crisis and we will pray. We will pray for the rain to stop, the storm to dissipate, the winds to die down and for peace for the people of our great city. And when we are able, we will act. We will join others in relief efforts, band together as a community and get our community put back together. We will be stronger and our perspective will be very different. May all of this experience change us for the better, starting with me.

A Cinco de Mayo Birthday Fiesta

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I’m still not sure how it happened. Somehow, my baby boy turned three this past week. Where the time went is absolutely beyond me, but here we are. . . and this occassion calls for a celebration! Since our little guy was born so close to Cinco de Mayo, we thought that would be a super fun birthday party theme and it was a huge success. Read on for all the scoop on how we pulled it off complete with loads of colorful photos, of course!

We decided to have the fiesta in our backyard and the Lord blessed us with amazing weather for the outdoor event. Houston in May is pretty hit or miss, but it was 70 degrees and sunny with very little humidity – a birthday miracle, for sure! To transform the space, we hung huge tissue paper flowers and paper fans (all found on Amazon) from the light strands that we strung over our patio last Fall. All of the color made for one festive fiesta! The fans were super easy to put together and even came with little white paperclips, which made hanging a breeze. The tissue paper flowers weren’t hard to put together, but were a bit more time consuming to fluff each one. They were totally worth it, but I recommend you buy yours in advance, rather than doing it the day of the party, like I did. Also, if you want to vary the height on them, you’ll need to buy your own coordinating color ribbon for them and using paperclips to attach them would have been SO much easier than tying each one, so toss some white ones in your Amazon cart as well.

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At the party entrance, we set out some flower hair clips for the ladies and self-adhesive mustaches for the gents, both found at Party City. For added flair, we set out some small piñatas and two blow up cacti (both borrowed from a dear friend) and a few bottles of Jarritos, embellished with a few of the sticky mustaches. I also potted some succulents in El Pato bean cans, which I bought at Fiesta. (If you don’t have a Fiesta near you, you can snag them on Amazon as well.) Those were an idea that I found on Pinterest and I love the way they turned out! They were easy, inexpensive and super cute. And now I have the goods to create a little potted succulent garden!

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For refreshments, we set out ice water and beer ‘ritas (recipe on the blog here) in these cute glass drink dispensers that we bought online at Pottery Barn about a year ago. They were a great investment. They’re really cute and we’ve used them a ton! Ours are the large size and we bought pretty silver stands for them to go on as well, which raises the spout and makes the dispenser useable even when it’s not on the edge of the counter, but we didn’t need them at this party. At first, I was leaning towards the acrylic version of the container, but in the end, I’ve really loved the real glass ones we bought. We also had wine and beer out and, of course, Jarritos and Topo Chico as well – what Mexican fiesta would be complete without those?! We tossed those, along with some juice and lemonade pouches for the littles into a cute galvanized metal tub on a stand that we bought on Amazon before our oldest son’s birthday party last Fall. It has come in quite handy at parties for a little extra counter space. We set out some fun striped paper straws and some bright green napkins along with some paper flowers on stems for a little extra pop of color.

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I tossed together a few brightly-colored flowers for a centerpiece on the gifts table, mostly because I’ll take any excuse to have fresh flowers in my house!

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We had El Tiempo Cantina cater a beef and chicken fajita dinner with chips and queso. The server was super nice and the food was delicious! And we had them bring tres leches for the adult dessert – yum!

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For entertainment, we set up lots of lawn games, just like we did for our oldest boy’s birthday Southern Lawn Party event. It was such a huge success and definitely a great investment on those games. We play them as a family all the time! Our boys particularly love ladder ball and corn hole and, of course, launching balls on our giant Angry Birds slingshot that my husband built.

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I LOVE the child-sized sombrero that I bought for the birthday boy and he loved it as well! It was well worth the $7.50, as it is quite well made and made for some really cute photos – highly recommend!

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All of our boys wore their monogrammed guayaberas, which they love. They’re comfortable and cool and super cute, especially with seersucker pants! I bought the two younger boys’ at The Monogram Shop here in Houston last Summer before a wedding, but they didn’t have one big enough for our six year old. (And, heads up, these things run small!) Thankfully, I found some online here and got one that matched exactly for him. Daddy wore his favorite one that we bought from my friend at San Cristobal Guayaberas. Theirs are gorgeous and I cannot wait until they start carrying kid sizes this Fall!

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The birthday boy playing ladder ball. People ask me about these adorable shoes all the time. They’re made by Native, but we bought them last Summer and they don’t seem to make them anymore. I’m just sick about it, as they’re my boys’ favorite shoes – and mine as well, because they work at church or on the beach! When they get dirty, I just hose them off in the sink. Seriously some of our favorite and most-often complimented shoes. Please bring them back, Native! In the meantime, these are the closest that I’ve found from them.

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“Flowers for you, mama!” Is my darling boy just the sweetest?

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I found this adorable paper flower crown (and the paper flowers on the table here) at Houston’s cutest party shop, Emerson Sloan. I was surprised how many people who asked me haven’t heard of it! It’s located in Rice Village and run by my friend Kim, who is so much fun. They’ve got upscale party decor, great gift items and fun gag-type gift items and hilarious cards as well. Get over there and check it out or shop online! (Also, my top is by Johnny Was. I’ve had it for a few years and I love it. It’s cool and comfortable and I always get compliments on it!)

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I snagged this sparkling number 3 at Emerson Sloan as well. I was amazed at what a huge hit it was! My boys thought it was the coolest thing ever. And we got some super cute photos with it as well (see the birthday boy’s face below!) I highly recommend it for your next shindig! We also picked up a golden number 3 balloon while we were there and from what I’m told – that thing will last months!

The cupcakes were from Moeller’s Bakery in Bellaire. We absolutely love this place. Their prices are super reasonable, their turnaround time is very quick (in case you’re forgetful like me and order the day before – oops!) and the taste is out of this world. I definitely recommend them for cakes, cupcakes and other treats.

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After the cupcakes, we remembered the piñata! (#oops again) and the kids had SO much fun smashing it with a baseball bat!

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All in all, it was a very successful party! All of the adults had fun, the kids had a blast and the next morning – the birthday boy was STILL talking about it. That’s the biggest win in my book!

Mutton Bustin’

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If you’re not from Houston, my guess is that the term Mutton Bustin’ is new to you. If you know what it is, however, my guess is the term brings a smile to your face every single time you hear it. It has always been one of my favorite events to watch at the Houston Rodeo and this year, for the first time, my own son got to participate. And it was a blast!

Bull riding is always the main event of the rodeo, but for junior rodeo types, sheep riding is the thing, and down here, we call that Mutton Bustin’. And its a VERY big deal. Kids sign up to compete in the main arena at the Houston Rodeo over six months in advance and they are the last event of the rodeo, going on just before the entertainment as they’re setting up the stage for the singer of the evening. Over at the rodeo carnival, however, those of us who didn’t plan that far in advance still get a chance to try and tame those wooly beasts. Here are the details for your mini cowboy or girl…

Participants must be five or six years old and weigh between 35 and 55 pounds. Mutton Bustin’ is done every hour (on the hour) starting at 11am and signup begins an hour before each competition. The carnival opens at 10am, so if you show up right at 10am (or a few minutes before), you’re likely to get a spot in the 11am slot. We showed up at 10.15am and were 3 people too far back, so we stayed put and waited in line for the 11am signup for the noon competition. They weigh your child, you fill out a form (including listing the child’s favorite rodeo food, favorite event and what they want to be when they grown up, which is always fun to hear the announcer read out as each child comes up), then you sign a waiver of liability, pay $15 (and order a DVD for an additional $15 if you so chose) and you head to the carnival to play some games and ride some rides until 20 minutes before your showtime.

When you come back, you suit up, wait your turn and head into the arena…on the back of a sheep! It is so much fun to watch these little ones hold on tight to the back of a sheep for the ride of their (very young) lives. The goal is to make it all the way across the arena and one little girl did it! She was the winner of our hour and got an adorable belt buckle to celebrate her title. Our little guy started off a little too far back on the sheep (maybe we needed a reride?!) but he did great anyway and made it a little over halfway across the arena. He had no injuries and had a blast, so I’m going to call that a big win for us!

If your little guy has been begging you as much as mine has to let him do it, I would definitely invest the time and effort to head on down to the rodeo and give Mutton Bustin’ a go. You can scroll down for a highlight reel of our experience. We all had an absolute blast and little brother is already counting the days until he’s old enough to do it next year!

 

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The Mutton Bustin’ Committee was filled with super nice and super helpful people who made the process easy and fun.

 

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Waiting our turn.

 

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Gathering the sheep.

 
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Reading the fine print.

 
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All suited up.

 

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Hi, mom!

 
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Next in line.

 

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Our turn!

 

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…And he’s off!

 

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Hanging on tight!

 

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#Ouch

 

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All worth it for a blue ribbon!

 

My Rooted Garden

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How beautiful are those greens?! Swiss chard, arugula, dinosaur kale and banana peppers abound in my garden right now and I am so excited to make a salad with them tonight! Curious about how this all started? Read on, dear one.

I first met Nicole Burke of Rooted Garden when I inherited a garden at the home we moved into over this past Summer. Nicole had started the garden and in the lovely, temperate climate that is July in Houston (please note the sarcasm here), I was tasked with learning about what she had done and how to maintain it. Honestly, gardening is one of those things that I have always romanticized (likely because my mom did it when I was a little girl) and wanted to learn more about, but never really had the time. I always sort of figured I’d learn to do it when I got older and my kids were grown. Isn’t that what Southern women do? (Note: There’s a strong possibility that Ouiser cemented this idea in my head. If you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, check out the graphic I made below to bring you up to speed and then, for the love of laughter, curl up with Netflix and watch Steel Magnolias ASAP. It is one of my very most oft-quoted movies ever!)

 

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Anyway, back to my darling friend Nicole. She has coached me through six months of gardening now and, while I have not learned nearly enough about gardening yet (which is no reflection on her, but more a result of the fact that my retention for things is severely diminished at this stage in my life) I have learned some valuable takeaways for life…

  • It’s never too late to learn new things, so quit putting off what you really want to do if a lack of knowledge is all that’s holding you back. Grab a book or find a friend who is an expert and learn alongside them.
  • Pruning (cutting back) is required for growth. (Ouch, there’s one I need to reflect on more!)
  • Your garden requires daily (or at least semi-weekly) maintenance. Just like anything important in life, truly investing in something requires being present and taking action. We are far too quick to automate things these days and let them go.
  • Kids love digging in dirt and get a HUGE thrill out of picking fruit and veggies they’ve helped to maintain. (Here’s hoping they start getting that same thrill out of eating them!) Our children today need more time outdoors. That’s a simple fact. Growing a garden together gives you a task at hand to focus on together and heaven knows we need more of that in my family! It’s a bonding experience AND its lots of fun.

In case you’re debating undertaking a garden project, let me encourage you to give it a try. Even if you don’t have a green thumb (I’m positive mine is black!) you can do it. Will you grow prize-winning vegetables? Likely not. But, will you relish the food that you eat that you have grown yourself in your backyard? I’m pretty sure you will! There is something so grounding and inspiring about eating something you’ve planted and cared for and grown and reaped. And, bonus – it’s organic! Well, unless you spray your garden with scary pesticides, in which case – yuk! And, at the very least, you’ll have some lovely landscaping in the process.

So, if you’re in the Houston area, check out Rooted Garden. Nicole can do as much or as little as you like. She can offer a consult on what you should plant and tips on how to care for it or she can take your existing “blah” space and turn it into a gorgeous urban edible landscape and then she can come back and care for it and then deliver the fruits of your (her) labor right to your door for you. If you do want to get out there and garden next to her, you’re sure to learn something and have a lot of fun in the process as well! If you’re not in the Houston area, Nicole offers virtual consults as well, so don’t let that stop you! And if you’re just interested in a dabble, follow her on Instagram. Her feed is lovely!

 

A Southern Lawn Party

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For our son’s birthday party this year, we wanted to do something a little different. I really like including the entire family (siblings as well) when we can, because it’s always so much more fun when you don’t have to split up your family on the weekends to attend birthday parties. Of course, not every venue works for that, so we decided to have this one at home.

What we ended up deciding on is a Southern Lawn Party theme. We set out tons of lawn games and had classic Southern fare and cocktails outside while the kids played and ran in the grass. We had corn hole, bocce ball, croquet, ladder ball, giant Jenga and a huge game of Connect Four. We even made a life-sized Angry Birds game, which was the hit of the party. Thank goodness for my sweet husband who is always up for the task of making my crazy ideas come to life! To pull this off, he made a giant slingshot using this launcher and attached it to steel pipe he purchased at Home Depot. I hand-painted red and yellow kickballs to look like Angry Birds and used these green balloons to make little piggies that the kids could knock down from the boxes we had saved (from ordering all of those supplies on Amazon!) which we spray painted to look more like bricks holding the pigs.

I’d been praying for good weather since we sent the invitations and man, did God show off! This week, the temps in Houston dipped and the humidity as well. It was absolutely gorgeous. Demeris catered the food and brought their always-amazing BBQ, chicken and sausage along with delicious potato salad and beans with chicken fingers and mac n’ cheese for the littles. We ordered our birthday cake from Moeller’s Bakery, which is our go-to for a cake that’s both beautiful and delicious. My sweet friend Anne Letzerich owns Muddy’s Garden and did the flowers for me. Are they not just exquisite? She heard my vision for an outdoor event with Southern elegance and ran with it!

Below are a few pics from our big celebration. I would love to hear your thoughts. Have any questions about where we got something? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll gladly answer!

 

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Table decorations (I love these striped napkins! Got them here.

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Demeris Catering did not disappoint!

 

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Gorgeous flowers by Muddy’s Garden

 

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How adorable is our cake from Moeller’s Bakery? Yum!

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Who doesn’t love a game of corn hole?

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Connect Four is even more fun when it is giant!

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I hand-painted kickballs to look like Angry Birds!

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And we made pigs to knock down out of green balloons…

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…and saved up shipping boxes for a month to make the bricks holding the pigs.

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The life-sized Angry Birds game was a huge hit!

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Giant Jenga was also a blast



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Toys with wheels never disappoint!



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All in all, it was one fun party!