On Maternity Leave

I thought I’d accomplish more on maternity leave these past 10 weeks. I had high hopes of reading the books I’ve had on my list for months. I wanted to brush up on Greek and Roman mythology, a topic I haven’t delved into since high school Latin, but know would definitely come in handy during Jeopardy. I wanted to finally master calligraphy, which can be really tough and requires extra practice for a lefty like me. I wanted to learn about art history, specifically architectural and the building of Grand Rapids. I thought I’d cook more, and would have time to put together cute outfits. I thought I’d finally put pen to paper on no less than 25 blogs I’ve been meaning to write, and maybe even finally catalog all of our photos.

In reality, I kept renewing the same titles from the library until I ran out of renewals and had to return them.
I never practiced calligraphy or learned more about art and architectural history.
When we watch Jeopardy, I’m still just guessing.
We had take out often and most days my leggings and sweaters were covered in spit.
Those 25 blogs are still sitting in the draft folder.

And none of it matters. I wouldn’t trade the days of can’t-put-him-down cuddles, cluster feeds, and sleepless nights for any of the things on my wish list. I’ve learned to slow down my life these past few months and really truly cherish being in the moment. On the hard days, I’d remind myself: he’ll never be this little again, and I’ll never have this time again. I know the time, attention, affection, and love I’ve given my son are exactly what we both needed.

Today is my last day home with Leo. Tomorrow, I’ll go back to work full-time and Leo will go to daycare full-time. This is our new normal. We feel good great about the in-home daycare where he’ll be spending his days while we’re working. But transition doesn’t come without its challenges.

I’m excited to work, I love my job, and it’s the best decision for our family at this point in time. But leaving him will be hard and guilt comes easily.

We’ll walk into the house, go over the routine, meet his new friends and if I’m lucky, I’ll get to the highway before tearing up in my car. It’s hard to imagine not spending my days with him and missing out on some of his first moments. I’m anxious about how he’ll behave for others, if he’ll take the bottle from someone he’s just met, if he’ll get enough attention along with the other children, if he’ll get sick or hurt, and the list goes on. Even when you know you’re making the best decision for your family, it isn’t always easy.

When I was pregnant, someone voiced their opinion that “it would be hard to be a good mom and not stay at home.” Although I still can’t comprehend why some people feel their choice of lifestyle is the only option, I do know this: I am a damn good mom. And that’s not going to change whether I’m working or not.

There are undeniably awesome things that can come out of working. He’ll be immersed in another culture through daycare, and will hear other languages. He will meet friends and learn to play. He’ll be on a routine and know what to expect in his day. There are many things he’ll learn by seeing his mom work as well: a strong role model for work ethic, providing for a family, and the importance of education, commitment, and hard work. By working now, Cody and I hope to achieve flexibility in the future.

Family schedules and work commitments can vary widely from part time or full time work, one parent staying home exclusively, one or both parents working from home, etc. I’m sure there are pros and cons to each option, even when you know you’re making the best decision for your family.

So tomorrow it is.
And every day after that, at least for now.
Cheers to the moms that make it look easy, who manage and balance and shuffle and compromise.

And in case you need to hear it today too, whether you stay at home or work part-time or full time:

You’re a damn good mom.
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2017

A year ago, I wrote a reflection on 2015, the year of becoming. It was a transitional year in my life, pivotal in laying the foundation for my life today: who I am, where I am, where I’m going. It was an incredible year, the best I had yet known.

In 2015:
The chapter of a decade long relationship closed, and I found peace despite the pain.
I started my blog, a goal I’d had for years, and was able to connect with others traveling through similar seasons of life, opening the conversation in so many directions.
I bought my first house, and shortly after, my boyfriend moved in with me to create the home together.
I fell in love: hard, fast, and completely.
I traveled to familiar and new places around the US: Orlando, Atlanta, Vegas, South Dakota, Chicago, Rhode Island, Boston, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Philadelphia, and all around Michigan’s beach towns.

We ended 2015 and welcomed 2016 up north in a little town called Frankfort for a long weekend to rest, relax, and explore northern Michigan. We took walks into town for breakfast, watched the bowl games at the one screen movie theatre in town, and grabbed brews at Stormcloud. On New Year’s Eve, we stumbled upon a party in a local furniture store just down from the brewery and movie theatre, and enjoyed a few hours mingling among total strangers, perusing furniture, enjoying the band, and even a little dancing.

Little did I know that 2016 would top 2015 and every year before that.

In 2016:
I fell even more in love with Cody and the life we are creating together and happily accepted his marriage proposal in April under a glittering Eiffel Tower.
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We finished the remodel of our house: kitchen, dining room, office, guest room turned nursery, laundry room.

I became a mom to the most beautiful boy, Leo Emerson, on the last day in November.
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I traveled to familiar and new places around the world: Montreal, Chicago, Florida, Cape Cod, Boston, Oklahoma, Amsterdam, Paris, Florence, Barcelona, Venice, and Rome.

We ended 2016 similar to 2015, in the little beach town of Frankfort for a weekend to rest, relax, and explore. I love that this trip has become a tradition, the perfect bookend to the year, coming full circle. This time, we had our little Leo with us as we explored Traverse City and its wineries, grabbed brews at Stormcloud, and enjoyed a reflection on the incredible year its been.

I love the transition that the New Year brings, the soft close on one chapter of life that unfolds into a new one. There is something peaceful and promising in not knowing what lies before us in this year: the travels, the defining moments, the firsts for us and for our son, as well as the struggles, the disappointments, the failures. We have dreams for this year, and the years that come after it, both personally and as a family, and I’m so excited to see how those chapters unfold before us.

And I hope as I sit to write my reflection a year from now, I can say 2017 topped 2016, and 2015, and every year before that.

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A New Year

Certainly, every year holds unexpected events and disappointments. 2015 was not exempt. Life going into this year was complex, messy, hurtful.

I’m reflecting on 2015, what it took, but more than anything, all that it gave me.

By trying new things and establishing a routine, I’ve found so much passion, creativity, and joy in pursuing my hobbies of reading, writing, blogging, cooking, redoing my home, and working out.

By giving myself permission to fail, I’ve learned about myself, my resilience, my strengths and weaknesses, and what I value most. I’ve learned to laugh at myself, to push myself toward the unfamiliar, and to recognize my limits in other areas. A constant reminder: I can be anything, but not everything.

By asking for help, I’ve become stronger than ever.

Through vulnerability in sharing both the bad and good of my life, my reality as it is, I’ve been able to connect with others and direct my energy into incredibly healthy, life-giving relationships. I’ve been able to empathize with others experiencing similar events, opening the conversation in so many directions.

It’s been a year of becoming.

The most tender, beautiful parts of my life have come from the wreckage of a life left behind, from the familiar falling apart and the gradual process of laying the foundation for a new, infinitely better one.

In 2015, I traveled to Orlando, Atlanta, Vegas, South Dakota, Chicago, Rhode Island, Boston, New Jersey, New York, Dayton, Philadelphia, and spent countless weekends all around Lake Michigan.

I started my blog, bought my first house, and fell in love.

I grew in my faith and in my friendships.

It’s truly been the most incredible year.

I’m not sure what 2016 holds in its entirety, but there’s already so much to look forward to: a new business venture, travel in Montreal, Barcelona, Rome, Venice, Florence, and Paris, expanding my blog, redoing the kitchen completely, weddings (maybe even ours), babies (maybe even ours), and so much more.

Happy New Year, friends!

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photo credit: Laura Scholten http://www.arajoetta.com

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The Story I Never Knew How To Write

I found his eyes before they found mine.

His nephew had just come up to me with outstretched arms, wanting me to pick him up. I had him on my hip, my free hand setting the table while his sister finished dinner in the kitchen. He was out in the sunroom, holding his newborn niece.

I wanted to observe, to see the way he cradled this tiny newborn in his arms and imagine him as a father himself, but as soon as he met my gaze I knew he saw right through me.

I was all in. This. All of this. A million times, yes.

I prayed for him, or rather, the idea of him, for years before knowing him. But even my wildest dreams pale in comparison to the incredible man he is. He’s everything I’ve fought for my entire life, everything I refused to believe I had to settle for less than. But he is so much more.

I see the same theme coursing through so much of life: brokenness, redemption, salvation. It’s played out prevalently in my life this year. I’m in awe of our God, the masterpieces he creates from the broken pieces. I’m grateful our God is a God of second chances, of futures so much better than you can imagine for yourself. I’m humbled our God knows the desires of our hearts and brings the right people in your life at the right time, never a moment too soon. A God of grace and abundant love.

We owe our set up partially to his best friend, partially to Facebook, and maybe even partially to this blog, but ultimately, all to God.

We have so many mutual connections, it’s amazing we haven’t met before this summer. Its as if we’ve been circling each other for the past decade.
-My best friend’s dad used to teach Sunday School with his mom.
-My dad worked with his best friend’s dad’s, and tried to set my sister up with his best friend.
-Many of his friends went to college with me and he would come to visit often.
-One of my mom’s coworkers used to be his teacher.
-One of my high school teachers paints with his brother in law.
-My best friend dated one of his best friends.
-Ten years ago, We even went to the same wedding, driving in the same car, sitting at the same table, with different dates.
-Craziest of all, he knew my ex-husband even before I did, serving on the same disaster relief team for hurricane Katrina, back when I was still in high school. Then, years later, he saw my ex downtown who told him how he had screwed up and was going to Chicago to get me back for good and marry me.

The list goes on, and on, and on. I like to believe that all of these close encounters, all of these almost connections, and all of the life moments we had apart from one another were all in preparation for life together, to the story we’re building now.

I don’t wish for a second that we would’ve met sooner. I love our stories separate from each other, the seasons of growth and struggles. The memories we can share with each other, the experiences and travels and discoveries we’ve made through our twenties before coming together. These years and experiences all contribute to the strong foundation we are laying now.

He is kind, in ways that few people are kind.
He is genuine and good hearted, with family values and evident faith.
He leads us and prays for us.
He is extremely loyal and protective, and would do anything for those he loves.
He is a committed, amazing teacher, and I can’t wait to see him coach JV basketball this winter
He’s the fun uncle to lots of nieces and nephews and will gladly give up his night to watch them.
He’s a builder, and more than willing to take on any project for friends and family in his down time, always giving his spare time, energy, and positivity to help others.
He’s constant in a world of inconsistency.
He is intuitive and patient.
He encourages me, listens to me, and plans with me.
He lives with me in the moment but dreams with me for the future.
He is supportive of my goals and dream and aspirations: to travel the world, to work on a vineyard, to blog full-time or write a book.
He tells me how he feels and asks what I need.
He’s excited to see me and shares stories about me to his friends and family. On top of all that, he has the most incredible family. He is charming, social, athletic, tall, and a Michigan fan.

We have each been searching for a long time, wanting to settle down and have kids like our friends. We both know the struggle it can be at times to be the single in a room of pairs, one of the few, or only, to not be married and have children.

In all my searching, none will ever compare to the one that found me when I wasn’t looking.

His eyes met mine that day as dinner was ready. The table full of pulled pork, potatoes, bread, and all the Sunday dinner sides. But more than that, filled with love, kids, and family. The good stuff.

Of all the life moments, none compares to the moment you realize you are in love.

And as his eyes found mine, he smiled because he knew.

He’s the love story I always believed in, but never knew how to write.

This. All of this. A million times, yes.

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What I Learned Through The Fall

My life fell apart last year. (You probably already know this.)

Everything I thought I was building, working toward, establishing, was suddenly gone. My marriage was crumbling as soon as it began, or if we’re honest, in the on-off years leading up to it, and no matter how hard I tried, I was alone. I was exhausted daily. I could barely focus at work. My friendships and family were neglected. I wasn’t taking care of myself by exercising and eating well. I drank too much wine. I rarely spent time on the hobbies and projects I wanted to. All of my time and energy was endlessly poured into my marriage, and I was equally generous and resentful with the attention I was giving toward it. I exerted everything to try to make it work, to prove my value to someone that refused to see my worth.

When life was falling apart, I was angry, bitter, resentful. Defeated. Neglected. Abandoned. Unloved. I lost 25 lbs in five weeks. I looked sick, and I felt sicker.

It didn’t happen instantly, there wasn’t a defining moment when it turned. It was gradual over time, the way leaves change color in the fall. The tree is blazing with radiant oranges, reds, and yellows, leaves that changed over time, becoming the most beautiful version of themselves. Slowly, then all at once. The fall is unexpectedly beautiful.

There’s so much good that can come from the bad.
There’s a plan at work, even though you can’t see in front of you right now.

Be easy on yourself.
Forgive your shortcomings.
Be proud of your progress.
Practice gratitude.
Laugh about something.

I’m so thankful for the past year. It is a year I’ll remember with such joy and thankfulness. A year of courage, immense growth, redefining, and becoming. Of fiery resiliency, rooted determination, and gratitude that bloomed in every area of my life.

It’s been the best year of my life.

Without this year:

I wouldn’t have started my blog.
I wouldn’t have had the time and energy to run 15 miles every week.
I wouldn’t have started cooking more, letting negative feedback and rejection overpower.
I wouldn’t be as strong in my faith as I am today.
I wouldn’t have bought a house.
I wouldn’t have become closer with every one of my family members.
I wouldn’t have the level of transparency and authenticity in my friendships I do today.
I wouldn’t have made such amazing connections and been able to talk openly and honestly with other’s reading my blog who are experiencing the same hurts, troubles, and disappointments in life.
I wouldn’t have traveled spontaneously to visit my sisters.
I wouldn’t have said yes to a trip with a friend to South Dakota.
I wouldn’t have established my sense of self worth.
I wouldn’t be damn proud of the woman I am today.

I wouldn’t have fallen in love.
First with myself.
Then with my life.
Then with Cody.

This is it. This is what I want you to know, because I’m living its truth right now, a truth I never really believed until I started experiencing it myself.

Things get better. So much better than you can imagine right now.

It might not be in the way you’d plan for yourself, or in the ways you’re praying for at this very moment, but it’s happening, a little bit each day, even on the most desolate days you’re sure you’ve lost it all. Things are changing, and there is a future you cannot even imagine right now.

The plot lines of your life are being connected and intertwined by each moment, each experience, and every day, including (and maybe especially)  the bad.  Every time you’re hurt, every time something breaks and life falls apart. There is remarkable beauty emerging from tragedy, and one day you’ll be able to look back and know that the paradise waiting for you was worth any hell life could put you through. It still might not make sense, but we’re not always meant to understand. You can still appreciate, love, and grow.

Things will be lost, abandoned, and stolen from you: relationships, money, health, status. But I promise you there is a plan at work that you cannot see, one that will start to unfold in small joys, little steps, opened doors, and new faces.

My life fell together this year. And this is the story I want you to know.

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Maize, Blue, & Khaki: A New Era in Ann Arbaugh

michigan2I’m a Michigan fan. I’m a Lions fan. And for the past decade, the two have largely felt the same. Hopeful, but ultimately, disappointing.

Michigan is an acclaimed program, righteous in its own regard. With the most wins of any program, the biggest stadium in the country, 11 national titles, and 3 Heisman trophy winners, its easy to see why Michigan is hailed as a powerhouse, a leader, the best. But not the last decade.

Under Coach Carr, players like Woodson and Brady emerged, and Michigan was known for turning out NFL QB’s like Griese, Brady, and Henne. The 2006 season started with a monumental win over rival Notre Dame who was ranked #2, and the season exploded with momentum to 11-0 leading up to the OSU game, always the last of the season, always the biggest. That year, ESPN hailed the matchup as “The Game of The Century.” The day before the game, great Michigan man Bo Schembechler died, and Michigan fell to the buckeyes, missed out on the bid to the National BCS game, and then lost in their bowl game. I won’t remind you what happened in the next season opener to Appalachian state the following fall.

In 2008, Rich Rodriguez was brought in as coach #18 for the Wolverines. There were mixed emotions about the hire, Rich Rod not a Michigan man himself, but students and fans still displayed “In Rod We Trust” signs…for a while. Rich Rod went 3 & out in his coaching career at Michigan, with an equally embarrassing and emotional farewell weeping at the end of season banquet, quoting “You Raise Me Up” lyrics by Josh Groban. During those three years, Michigan went 15-22.

Brady Hoke inherited Rich Rod’s recruiting class in 2011, and went 10-2 in his first season. Hoke-mania ensued, but was short lived. Hoke’s 4th season was painful all around. Tickets couldn’t sell, prompting some sort of ticket with the purchase of a pop campaign. It was embarrassing. Hoke’s final games in Ann Arbor will always be overshadowed by the Shane Morris incident and the awful decision to put the QB back in for one more play following an obvious concussion by everyone watching. After four painful years as a fan, watching the wolverines fall to unexpected opponents, while also seeing Rich Rod go 10-4 in Arizona during the same season, it was finally over.

While Michigan’s dynasty faltered the past decade, nearby programs rose to become contenders on a national platform. But the green windbreaker and any red vest are no match for the khakis that are in Ann Arbor now. Its time to make Michigan great again, and there’s no one that can bring more intensity to the storied program than former Michigan quarterback, Jim Harbaugh. He’s a Michigan man, certainly, with a winning record, tenacious energy, and optimal amount of quirkiness.

He’s making waves in Ann Arbor, even before the season begins. Recently on a date with his wife, there was a mouse loose in the restaurant, and Jim jumped up, grabbed a to-go box, and caught the mouse, proclaiming victory to the entire restaurant.

A few months ago, Jim made headlines for being first responder on the scene of a car accident, pulling his car over on the highway, jumping out to help the women, lending his coat to them.

He’s classy. He’s present. He’s heroic. He’s a Michigan man.

There’s anticipation in Michigan I haven’t seen before, and the 2016 recruiting class is already proving that, with 23 commits at the end of August. The anticipation extends to a new Nike deal beginning in 2016, including the first school to be welcomed to the Jumpman brand.

Its time to make Michigan great again.

The Rivalry is back.

And the Harbaugh dynasty begins this Thursday.

GO BLUE!
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Summer Highlights: 2015

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Reeds Lake

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Cliff Walk. Newport, RI.

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Pickel Wedding

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Running along the Fishladder

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Holland, MI

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Morning Runs along Reeds Lake

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Golfing

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SUP

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Volvo Ocean Race. Newport, RI.

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Wine Tasting. Northern MI.

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Kayaking.

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My first Home!

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Pier Walk at Sunset. Grand Haven, MI.

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South Dakota

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Oysters and Mussels at GT Oyster. Chicago, IL.

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Dinner al fresco with friends. Grand Haven, MI.

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First Dinner Party.

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Farmer’s Market

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Wine Tasting. Traverse City, MI.

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Madison Square Eats. NYC.

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Sunset swinging. Holland, MI.

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Biking to the brewery. Rockford, MI.

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The Bean. Chicago, IL.

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Picnic Pops

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Picnic

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Lake Michigan Boating

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boating in Chicago.

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drinks downtown

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surprise dinner on the water

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Audrey’s bachelorette

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Chicago night out

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Sylvan Lake, SD.

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Lake Michigan Sunset.

Its been an incredible summer, filled with so many memories, adventures, new faces, beautiful sunsets, and most of all, love. I’m so thankful for this season and everything it brought into my life.

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