Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon

Can someone please tell me I’m not the only person still putting together their Thanksgiving menu?

It’s not a matter of procrastination. In fact, I’ve been planning our menu for weeks. Pumpkin scones, bacon wrapped dates, butternut soup… no, it’s not procrastination. It’s indecisiveness. I want to eat all the good things.

We’re celebrating Thanksgiving with friends and going halfsies on the menu. This is always easiest for us considering we have multiple food allergies to consider. I was given the go-ahead by my new allergist to start reintroducing a few of my weaker-positive foods but they want me to hold off on any wheat items until we can do an in-office food challenge in December. Knowing that the weight of dealing with multiple food allergies may soon be lifted from my shoulders is thrilling. Because really? One allergy is enough for this family.

Anyway, the one item I know I’ll be bringing to our shared table is roasted brussel sprouts. This dish has quickly become a hit and it’s my new go-to for potluck celebrations throughout the holidays. The recipe is so simple! I know some people are initially turned off by the thought of brussel sprouts but I promise that the combination of bacon and roasting changes the flavor from bitter to savory.

Did I mention how clean this recipe is? It’s paleo, gluten-free, and dairy-free.

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Ingredients.

3 pounds brussel sprouts, trimmed and halved
1/2 pound bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (nitrate-free is preferred)
1 yellow onion, chopped
salt, pepper, garlic powder as desiredMethod.

In a large skillet, brown the bacon over medium heat until cooked but not crispy, stirring frequently. Remove the bacon and leave the grease. Add in the onion, cook over high heat for 2-3 minutes. Add the trimmed brussel sprouts and sauté for about 15 minutes or until the outside begins to brown. Combine the bacon with the brussel sprout mixture and spread evening on a roasting sheet. Cook at 350° for 10-15 minutes.

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Really, does it get simpler?

So, what’s on your Thanksgiving menu?

Are you traveling or sharing your table with friends?

Why traveling with kids is worth losing my sanity.

There we were.

We were in hour seven of what was supposed to be an eight hour trip. The girls and I had spent the previous several hours sounding out words, making up new lyrics to our favorite songs and played round after round of I Spy. I’ve become pretty comfortable making the drive from North Carolina to Pennsylvania, where all but two of our immediate family members live. We’ve travelled this same stretch of highway since we moved to Georgia so I’m familiar with every grimy gas station bathroom and each of the three Starbucks along the route. When we moved to North Carolina and the trip was cut from a miserable 13 hours to a more manageable eight, the girls and I began making the trip ourselves. Josh has a hard time getting away from work so I needed to become comfortable making the trip alone.

The coloring books had been filled and the books reread from memory. Heavy rainclouds stole any bits of sunlight that may have remained after daylight savings time but we were in good spirits – one more hour to go. I topped yet another of the rolling hills and winding roads that carry us through Southern Pennsylvania when I saw it: miles and miles of red, angry brake lights staring at me through my rain spattered windshield.

A traffic jam. In the middle of the Pennsylvanian countryside.

With no where to go, no where to reroute, the girls and I sat for two hours.

Do you know what’s exciting? Traveling.

Do you know what’s exhausting? Traveling with children.

We sat and whined, sighed and scowled. I prayed with a ferocious intensity that neither girl would have the sudden and immediate need for a bathroom break. An eight hour car trip is manageable. But when that eight hour gets stretched to nine and then 10… that’s enough to make a Momma lose her mind. I may have said some things to those sweet children that aren’t fit to repeat.

But we do it. Many times each year. And it sucks. Yet I do it gladly.

We made the decision to move away from home. Our families live in Western Pennsylvania – some just a stone’s throw apart. The issue of traveling and distance wasn’t bothersome when we were in college or when we moved to Ohio. But when we had children, we all became more concerned with quality time. When we agreed to move farther away and began collecting children, we had to make the decision that where we decided to live had to be worth the distance we were placing between our children and our families.

We chose to move away because it was what was best for us, our careers and our children. Yes, there are aspects of life that would be easier if we were near family but currently the benefit to living where we do is worth the sacrifice of a few miserable hours in the car.

While our families do visit and willingly drop their lives to come and help when we need it, it’s harder for our siblings and extended family to make their way south. It’s not fair to our children and our parents, siblings, cousins and dear friends that they don’t get to see us or our children. But they aren’t the ones who moved. It’s our responsibility to make sure that our children know and have memories with their extended family.

I don’t care if the drive is eight, 10 or 15 hours. We do it because family is important and memories like these aren’t made on Facebook on FaceTime.

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That being said, I’m putting away my suitcase for awhile.

 

Down and Dirty of Clean Eating // Meal Planning

//This is the fourth post in a blog mini-series called “The Down and Dirty of Clean Eating.” To learn more about the DDoCE series, check out the intro post here. Previously, we’ve talked about DDoCE basics and the budget. //

When Josh and I were newly married, one of our favorite things to do together was grocery shop. The epitome of romance, I know. Josh was still building his carrier, I was a senior in college and we were broke. Our living room furniture consisted of a few camping chairs and his grandfather’s old floral-print couch. I didn’t know a lick about cooking but every Friday, we would wander the grocery store for inspiration and spend the evening creating a surprise concoction and share a meal on that ugly polyester couch. Eventually, we had to forfeit our Friday night habits because life needs a bit more preparation than what’s found in the frozen food aisle. Now I like to spend as little time as possible in the grocery store with two children who like to pretend they’re Alaskan huskies and Earth Fare is the Iditarod. Once we meandered. Now we’re all Super Market Sweep.

Anyway. I recall those memories fondly but gladly trade the spontaneity of our grocery store wanderings for the structure meal planning provides our current lifestyle.

For our family, meal planning necessary. When you’re trying to eat a clean diet and dealing with multiple food allergies, it’s not as simple as throwing a pizza in the oven or grabbing take out when evenings get hectic. Additionally, it keeps our budget in check and eliminates wasted food. By spending a few hours planning, shopping and prepping, I feel much less overwhelmed which, in turn, makes everyone’s life a bit less tense. Because if Momma ain’t happy…

For simplicity’s sake, I follow three rules for meal planning:

1. Shop the kitchen. 

2. Group meals to maximize ingredients.

3. Plan everything.

I always start by shopping my pantry and freezer. Because buying in bulk and stocking up on sales are key to eating clean on a budget, it’s important that we actually eat what we buy. This becomes the frame work for meal planning. On a regular grocery trip, I don’t want to buy more much more than fresh produce, meats and some dairy.

I take stock of what’s on hand and then I scour Pinterest or cookbooks for inspiration. I shy away from recipes that have a ton of ingredients and try to group meals together that use the same fresh ingredients. If I plan to make Tex-Mex Rice and Black-Eyed Peas on Monday and it uses fresh spinach, cilantro and avocado, I will plan on making a spinach and eggs for breakfast the next morning and taco salads with cilantro and avocado for dinner. I very rarely use an ingredient in it’s entirety so I’m not going to waste money to have the other half rot in the back of my fridge. You dig? This doesn’t happen naturally do you have to plan.

I try to make my menu and subsequent grocery lists as exhaustive as possible. This means I plan three meals for everyone (except Josh, who typically has lunch meetings) and include snacks, wine, special events and splurges. This keeps me honest and prevents overbuying. It also ensures I don’t have an “oh no!” moment when I realize I forgot an essential ingredient. I go to the grocery store twice a week to make sure produce, herbs and meats are fresh and mark each ingredient on my list as either a Sunday or Wednesday purchase.

I have tried so many ways to organize my meal planning and shopping lists. There isn’t a one size fits all method. I have friends who love apps but I like the pen and paper approach. I tried various online templates but found it easier to just make my own. I bought a cheap 3-ring binder and keep my meal plan, grocery list and any printed recipes together ( I know, I’m probably the only person in Internet Land that still prints things).

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The most helpful thing I added to my grocery planning sheet is a column for the girls’ lunches. While I may throw in some chopped vegetables that were left over from dinner, I typically buy food specifically for them. Having designated food just for lunches makes it easy to mix and match items for added variety.

Like the rest of a clean lifestyle, there is going to be trial and error. I try to be as detailed as possible but I’m not afraid to nix a planned meal because I’m exhausted and I’ve decided it’s Josh’s turn to cook. That’s okay. Considering where we started, I’m thrilled to see progress.

How do you meal plan? Are you a pen and paper or list app kind of family? 

Why parenting never gets easier – and why it’s amazing.

The countless diaper changes, sleepless nights and dirty dishes create a blur of beautiful chaos those early years of parenthood. Add in siblings close in age and you lay your head every night thankful everyone survived another day. The kids get older, you become a bit wiser until eventually one day goes by unnoticed as anything other than unremarkable. And it becomes two and soon a few weeks and then you realize that without the pomp and circumstance that celebrated your entry to parenthood, you’ve entered an entirely new phase that involves noticeably fewer tears from everyone.

I am never so naive to think that I’ve got this parenting thing down. But we seem to have travelled through the survival phase known as babydom and toddlerhood and arrived at the other side: school-aged.

And things become markedly calmer and you think, “This is easy! We could totally have six kids.”

Then you’re kid does something awesome like break her arm in such a way that it’ll require surgery, pins and a full arm cast. Because, you know, God is hilarious and has awesome ways of gently reminding me when I’ve become too big for my britches.

The kids get bigger and so do the problems. I’m not talking strictly about physical injuries. While I’m no longer concerned with the perils of potty training, I’m now facing the challenge of raising two young girls with healthy body images and leading them through the maze of mean girls and self esteem. While this chapter of parenting is typically less physically demanding – although the shuttle service between school carpool and ballet classes and traffic is exhausting – it is a race of emotional and mental endurance. I’ve shifted my energy away from the day-to-day and toward the long task of character-building and emotional development.

They ask Big Life Questions that I usually feel wholly ill-equipped to answer. You must formulate a concise, spur-of-the-moment response when your five year old explains that sometimes she feels like God isn’t close and wonders if I’m sure He really thinks she’s special enough. Or when she confides that she isn’t sure she’s pretty enough. Or if I’m sure there isn’t even one thing that would ever make me stop loving her – what if she steals a rainbow? Because to a five year old, there is nothing worse than stealing a rainbow.

I want to blame the influence of peers and society but truthfully, I’m confident most women struggle with the same questions regardless of our age, social circle or upbringing. The lessons that we instill now – or don’t – will have a lasting effect far into adulthood. Nurturing a sense of value and self-worth, cultivating grace and generosity and taming arrogance and superiority. Are we ever good enough? Interesting enough? Thin enough? Strong enough? That stuff is hard.

When Josh and I decided to have kids, it was a pretty short conversation and a sudden shift from my career-oriented life goals. And my view of parenting was very short-sited and I, embarrassingly, didn’t think what it meant to be a parent past the first year. I never entertained the idea that God may bless us with daughters instead of the enviably less dramatic male option. Instead, He gave us and one then another incredible little female human with tender hearts that need guarded and guided and given a safe place to flourish.

I want them to grow strong – physically and emotionally. I will teach them to shine brightly and boldly. I will show them that vulnerability is not weakness. I will encourage them to embrace difficulties and remain joyous through the challenges.

I miss the simpler days of parenting when snuggles and Momma milk made everything better. But how fortunate am I to be tasked as steward of such precious gifts?

Please, please don’t let me screw them up.

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Worry.

Parenting has a way of amplifying qualities in a person, doesn’t it?

Hi, I’m Liz and I’m a worrier.

Raising two girls, close in age and in the midst of a chaotic life has left me grasping for control. When that isn’t feasible, I get a little crazy.

This isn’t healthy, right? So I’ve been working to let go of what I can’t control. A healthy level of concern is a good thing. Worrying about every worst case scenario is not.

I’ve made a real effort to stop worrying so much about my children’s safety when they are playing outside. I survived years of wandering the farm from sunrise to sunset without seeing a single adult – I want my children to have the same opportunity to experience things without an adult hovering above, narrating and stopping them short of discovery.

This morning, we got a late start and missed church. We decided to take advantage of the gorgeous autumn weather and take the girls to a nearby park with great trails for scooter and bike riding. Josh and I had some reading to do so we settled on nearby bench and set the girls free to explore.

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They played flamingo and spun around in circles. They swung to the moon and raced down the slides. After awhile, Emery called us over to see what she learned. She jumped from a platform and reached her arms up to catch a bar above her head. She pumped her legs and tried to work herself into a chin-up position before losing strength. I was ecstatic to see her pride and accomplishment. She repeated this over and over and I encouraged her to try it again.

She jumped from the platform. Only this time, only her fingers gripped the metal bar and she slipped. She fell to the ground and landed on her elbows and knees. It was evident by the way she laid in the mulch that the landing hadn’t been kind. Josh was standing near and helped her to her feet. The sobs turned to shrieks as he tried to touch her arm. He carefully removed her sweatshirt to inspect the arm and her pain was undeniable.  They made their way to the truck while Blair and I gathered our books and the scooters they had intended to ride. After a few minutes, we concluded this warranted a visit to the Emergency Room.

I thought we were nearing the end of our childhood firsts. No, today we got to experience our child’s first broken bone. A fractured humerus, to be exact. Our sweet, adventurous girl will be sporting a full arm cast for the next six to eight weeks. This means no climbing at recess, no hopscotch in gym class and a hiatus from her beloved ballet class.

How can a momma not feel guilty? In my efforts to not worry and to let her explore, did I fail at my job to protect her? Common sense assures me not but her tear-filled question, “Momma, why did this happen?” breaks my heart.

She has handled this like a champion but my Momma worry is on high alert.

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The Down and Dirty of Clean Eating // The Budget

//This is the third post in a blog mini-series called “The Down and Dirty of Clean Eating.” To learn more about the DDoCE series, check out the intro post here and the DDoCE basics here. Everything I share here is based off my journey in clean eating. Check with your doc before doing anything crazy. //

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Anything in life that is worth doing requires a bit of hard work.

People in the blogosphere will readily tell you that eating a clean, unprocessed, healthy diet costs just the same as the frozen, boxed and processed version. That simply isn’t true. But that doesn’t mean you need to spend the bulk of your income on food. Making small changes will snowball into larger changes and greater benefits.

Maintaining a food budget has been the hardest part of our family’s clean eating journey. Although I have expensive taste, that part of me usually go hungry because I’m a stay at home momma and we have some very particular diets  and we’ve chosen to make our health a priority.

Eating a clean diet is a choice that you have to make and it will require sacrifices in other areas of your life – namely time and money. Most people can’t find a balance between the two and end up falling short on one or both. If you want convenience in your lifestyle and are short on time, it’s going to cost more money. Conversely, If your budget doesn’t have much buffer, you will need to spend more time preparing and planning to be successful. But it is possible.

We were thrown into a cleaner way of eating because of multiple food allergies so we needed a total kitchen overhaul quickly and easily and as a result, our finances took a hit. Convenience and simplicity was most important. For our family, the initial struggle wasn’t adjusting to a new way of eating but instead working to make this new lifestyle fit within our budget.

There are ways to stick to a budget and make a healthy diet work with your current financial situation. Sometimes this means sacrificing what is ideal for what is still good. I will always prefer to buy local, organic and sustainable foods but there are months when someone needs new ballet shoes and unexpected bills arrive and something has to give. This isn’t failing. It’s making decisions on what’s best for your family and selecting an option that is good, even if it isn’t best. Don’t be discouraged.

So, how do I make it work?

Plan meals – and stick to the plan. The easiest way to ensure I stay within budget is smart meal planning. I write down what’s needed for a week’s worth of breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, late night snacks (ahem) – everything. This ensures that I actually use what I buy with little waste and I don’t wander the store to find inspiration for dinner and impulsively buy half of the ingredients for something I hadn’t planned.

Stock the pantry. When coconut oil is on sale, you better bet your bottom I buy several. Yes, it’s more money upfront so only buy things you know you will use. This makes meal planning easier because I can shop my pantry before heading to the store for fresh ingredients.

Trade convenience for quality. Quality foods that are ready to eat or packaged cost a lot. Make food from scratch. Spend a bit of time cooking, baking and portioning foods instead of buying it that way. I spend a few hours each Sunday preparing breakfasts and grab-and-go lunch items like paleo muffins, cubes of cheese, granola, bread, soups and so on.

Buy in season… It’s apple season here in North Carolina. Guess what we’re eating? Lots of apples. It is not strawberry season in North Carolina and we can’t afford to pay $7 for a quart of organic strawberries. So much to my daughters’ displeasure, we are not eating fresh strawberries.

…And stock up. Stock up on fruits and veggies when they’re in season and preserve them. You don’t need to be an incredible homemaker with an impressive root cellar and canning skills. Freeze berries when they’re in season. Most anything can easily be preserved for later use.

Don’t fall for marketing. Forget about “all natural” and even – gasp! – some organic labeling. There is currently no regulation of the use of the phrase “all natural” on products so don’t pay extra for it. Research companies, check labels and make an educated decision.

Buy in bulk. Costco has an impressive selection of organic meats, produce and pantry items with a far lower unit cost. Alternately, talk to a local farmer and consider buying your meats in bulk. You will pay far less per pound for a quarter or half of a cow than you would purchasing meat a la carte.

Shop local. Truly free-range, organic eggs are ridiculously expensive if you’re shopping in a grocery store. Buy them directly from the farmer and they become much more affordable. Check out farmer’s markets and you-pick farms. If your living situation permits it, put in a small garden or make a home for some potted herbs on your windowsill. Nothing is more local than what comes from your own backyard.

Shop online. I know, it seems counterintuitive to my last point. Nut butters, allergy-friendly chocolate chips, specialty seasonings and oils are usually cheaper online than in your local specialty market.

Eating a clean diet doesn’t have to break the bank. But you do need to consider that real, nutrient-dense food will cost more than processed alternatives. I have found that we actually consume less food now than previously because we’re providing our bodies with the calories and nutrients it can actually use. So we are buying less food which helps offset the increase in prices.

Of all this advice, meal planning has been the best tool for keeping our budget modest. If it’s cool with you guys, I’ll talk more about that next time.

How do you keep your real food budget under control?

Precarious.

A normal Saturday morning. Rising a little later, moving a little slower, we gathered ourselves and our things and loaded up for a trip to the farmer’s market. Routine, uneventful, rather boring. We snaked through the narrow streets of the older part of town, turning between the old mill warehouses and remarking how crowded it was for a cool, drizzling morning. The girls chattered in the back seat and argued over Fancy Nancy books while Josh and I sat silently and waited for a parking spot to open.

At nearly 3 and a half, Blair is a cautious soul and continuously looks to her Momma for approval and encouragement. The truth is, I don’t worry about her. Aside from the typical parenting worries, of course. She listens. In the shadow of her older sister’s untamable energy and will, parenting Blair is, honestly, easy. So, when we eventually parked and began to unload across the street from the market, I helped Blair out of her seat and mindlessly told her to stay nearby while I gathered our bags.

She did not.

 

Blair ran behind the truck and out into the street from where she was hidden in between the parallel parked vehicles. She ran to her daddy and sister who we’re waiting on the other side of the single-lane street. Just as a large black suburban came down the street, lost in thought. The driver was probably running through her list for the market – cucumbers, zucchini – no, yellow squash, –  beef steak tomatoes, and a bouquet of flowers. But only if there were daisies. I can imagine her horror as a small tot with bunny ears sewn atop her hooded sweatshirt bolted in front of her vehicle.

I, still unaware that Blair left my side, heard my husband shout a deep bellowing command to Blair, telling her to stop immediately. She froze. Everyone heard him. Truthfully, I couldn’t figure out why he was yelling. I never for a moment thought that Blair was anywhere but waiting behind me. She would never run off. Until she did. The driver slammed on her brakes and I’m sure 25 miles per hour never seemed like a barreling speed before.

In a second, it was over. Blair was fine. Josh ran onto the street and scooped her up, her face nuzzled deeply against in neck in embarrassment and fear. I apologized profusely to the driver the driver shook her head disapprovingly. I grabbed Emery’s hand and hustled into the safety of the market crowd and people went back to their tomatoes and melons.

Life dangles so precariously. We plan and prepare and preach and convince ourselves that we have ensured our safety and, in turn, happiness. But it takes only a second for it all to fall apart on such a grand scale. I’m sure onlookers were appalled and probably thought their children would never run into traffic, just as I once did. But they do. No one expects accidents – that’s what they are. As parents, the sad truth is we often feel superior when we see others’ fail. When awful things happen, we vilify parents and curse them for not doing or seeing better. Yes, there is negligence. But most often, there is just life and mistakes and sometimes just a crappy series of events. I am horrified at what happened. I replay it again and again, considering the what ifs and every which way it could have played out. What if Josh had his back to the street and wasn’t watching? What if the driver had been going faster? What if I had made Blair hold my pant leg while I gathered our things? Hindsight is clear but offers little comfort. 

I’m sensitive and truthfully, a bit anxious by nature. It’s taken me 29 years to realize it and begin to embrace it as a gift instead of something to apologize for. As much as I want to dwell on Saturday morning’s incident, I can’t let myself. It’s not reflective of who I am or my parenting abilities. But I can learn from it, remember it, and appreciate it. I take it as a lesson and am grateful.  

Bless your heart, Savannah.

Four years ago, we visited Savannah for the first time. It was Valentine’s Day weekend and instead of drinking wine and professing our undying love over lobster and chocolate, we sat in a hotel room, illuminated only by the muted television while we tried to convince a 7 month old Em to sleep in the weird crib/baby cage provided by the hotel. We were strict on her sleep schedule but hadn’t mastered the skill of juggling her well-being with our own sanity. Our whirlwind trip from Ohio to Georgia involved towing along most of that child’s belongings, unsure of what exactly a 7 month old needs for a long weekend. Which we realized was only about a quarter of what we packed.

In a rush to get her to bed, we forgot to eat dinner. Josh sat in the bathroom and whisper-yelled into the phone, calling practically every restaurant near City Market and on Bay Street to find a place that delivered. And no one did. Later, we realized that they were all within a three block walking distance to our hotel. I don’t remember what we ate that night. It doesn’t really matter because we were excited. We were moving to Savannah. Was it love at first sight? No, but we were eager for a new adventure and Savannah certainly had enough to offer. We spent the evening pouring over real estate sites and trying to get our bearings on this pocketed city with mansions next to liquor stores. We were enamored with this slow, stereotypical southern town. Once we agreed to the move, Josh’s transfer happened quickly and we were Georgians within a month and homeowners shortly thereafter.

Four years later, we’re getting ready to say goodbye to Savannah. Josh is being transferred to Charlotte, North Carolina next month and we’ll be making the move soon. Our house (hopefully) lists next week and we are feeling excitednervousthrilledstressed and crazy. Mostly crazy. We’ve been ready for the next step of our adventure and we’re elated that it has finally arrived. Getting our house ready to list is… exhausting. All of the projects that you put off because, you know, life with two rambunctious little kids is work enough. Well, surprise, those projects don’t go away. You still have to do them. Except you have only two weeks to complete them. There deserves to be a designated ring in hell for the home buying and selling process.

Unlike Savannah, I won’t have the opportunity to visit Charlotte before we move. The extent of my experience with Charlotte involves driving through it at night on our way to Panama City Beach for spring break in 2004. I was strung out on Benadryl (seriously, antihistamines and I are not friends) and I ate my weight in pancakes at a 24-hour IHOP. More recently, I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in rush hour traffic on 77 on our way to Pennsylvania. It’s pretty clear that neither of these experiences will be helpful when it comes to finding the right neighborhood for our family.

Savannah has been good to us. Not always, but mostly. Our family grew here. I’ve grown here. Emotionally, spiritually, mentally… and even probably even a little bit physically. We’ve made friends, lost friends, celebrated new life, remembered lives, recognized dreams and closed doors on others. We’ve had fun playing southerners. We’re just ready to do it from somewhere a bit more northern.

Now, we start our Savannah bucket list! We have about two weeks before Josh relocates so we’re trying to cram in as much fun and Savannah as possible (when we’re trying to not kill one another over home projects). I doubt we’ll fit it all in but fortunately Savannah is a great place to visit. We were able to secure a babysitter for this evening so we can enjoy a proper Valentine’s Day in Savannah. Hopefully it doesn’t involve delivery.

Savory.

When I’m barreling ahead at full steam, life has a way of forcing me to put on the brakes and take a moment to be still and breathe. Courtesy of the shorter Thanksgiving-to-Christmas season, our lives and weekends have been busy, busy, busy. Christmas shopping, parties galore (a fantastic problem to have, no complaints here), traditions to be marked, go and go and go.

And then a child gets sick.

Not sick-sick. But sick enough that the parties and holiday treats and replaced with marathon movies and ice cream.

Suddenly, life because much less hectic and there is time to sit. To savor the moments. And reflect. Slow can be a wonderful thing.

This is the first year that our Christmas tree has been slowly put up over the course of a week. A few strands of lights and an ornament between the coming and going of ballet and grocery shopping and the later and later bedtimes. As I type, our tree is still star-less. To me, it is the final crowning that marks a finished project. But instead of feeling uneasy that this task isn’t officially completed, I’m content with its undone-ness. I don’t want to rush through this season like a laundry list of memories to be made.

Josh and I got our first “real” tree – versus the small, Charlie Brown-esque, pre-lit plastic tree that fit in our equally shabby newlywed apartments – four years ago. We found the tree stand at a garage sale the previous summer for $2. Looking back, it was far overpriced and actually cost Josh a priceless amount of sweat, scratched knuckles and grown-up words. We affectionately named the douglas fir “Doug” and decorated it with generic bulbs of bright colors and glitter and a certain 6-month-old’s Baby’s First Christmas ornament. It was exactly what I imagined my first grown up tree would be.

I had no way of knowing exactly how much would change in five Christmases – how our family would change, how much I would change. While decorating this year’s evergreen (although it’s quickly becoming less and less green despite our frequent watering), I noticed how few of those 2009 Target-bought bulbs remain and how the years are marked by the variety of unique ornaments gifted to us by those we’ve been fortunate enough to cross paths.

My favorite part of decorating the tree is pulling out each ornament and remembering who gave it and celebrating the friendship. Like my developing laugh lines and callousing hands, every decoration tells a story.

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I’m adding these made-with-love ornaments to our tree. A golden star for each of us. I think this best reflects the Liz of 2013.

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No sooner had I sealed this thought than I noticed Blair run over and begin handling one of the original bulbs. In a swift motion, the blue glass bulb smashed into hundreds of shards beneath the tree. It dawned on me that within a few years, only one or two of these original bulbs will remain on our tree and they, too, will become unique and remind us of what life was like in 2009.

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Recovery.

Often times, you don’t realize just how mentally and physically exhausted you are until you get a moment to sit and catch your breath and thoughts. The past few weeks have been strange. Or, perhaps, I’ve just been strange. Or, just stranger than usual.

Between our Disney trip, Em finishing school for the year, my Fred Flinstone foot, Em deciding sleep is for sissies, and a slew of other hiccups, I think I went into survival mode. I didn’t realize it at the time because, well, you rarely do when you’re in the thick of things.

We planned to visit our family in Pennsylvania for Emery’s birthday and it really couldn’t have come and a better time. I needed to get out of Georgia for a while and let my momma take care of me and love on my babies. I needed to sit with my sisters and listen to them put things in perspective. I needed to catch up with friends I haven’t seen in years and laugh until tears streamed down my face. And my girls needed to run free through the wide open spaces and catch lightning bugs in their pudgy, dirt-crusted fists.

I even got the rare opportunity to spend an entire day out with my momma and three sisters to shop, eat and relax. There is no better medicine, I swear.

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I ran in the mild Pennsylvania weather most mornings and we ate dessert most evenings – which is a perfect display of balance. Bonus points in you eat ice cream while wearing running clothes. Those calories don’t count.cousins62013

The girls could not get enough of their cousins and I had to physically carry Em to bed each night because she didn’t want the fun to end. We stayed up too late, woke too early and ate more delicious Italian food than I care to remember.

But it was all necessary. It was a recovery. These visits recalibrate me. I love the time at home not only because of who is there and the memories tied to the places but also because it reminds me of how much I love being where I am now with the people in my life.    This tether gives me the confidence to be where and who I am while knowing that when things get a bit strange, I can come back to center and regroup.

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