I've Been Missing You

Dear Cheryl,

You've been gone for a year now, and in that year not a day passed by without me thinking of you.

I've relived so many memories... memories of you and I Black Friday shopping together, fighting crowds at Tanger Outlet in Lancaster County, PA, and coming back almost empty handed; of buying matching shoes polka-dotted in multiple colors, just because we could; of making up a secret code to communicate without anyone else knowing what we were saying (Dar de dready, dor dar de dwhat?); of mopping Grandma Weaver's kitchen floor at midnight because there was absolutely no way we'd let her do it at that ungodly hour, and besides, we were up and had no intentions of going to bed any time soon anyhow; and of sneaking out late at night to go on long walks, making the most of our time together, because time together didn't happen very often and we both felt it was extremely precious.

You were the life of the party, full of humor and whit, friendly to anyone and everyone. People loved to be around you because you loved people.

It's been years since I last saw you, and an entire year now since you died, but I still find myself at times reaching for my phone because I want to type out a quick text to find out how you are doing, ask about your boys and Jason, and just catch up on life... Reality pulls me back each time as grief washes over me.

Life moves on, but the pain of loss is still there.

During the month of April you've been on my mind even more than normal, and I know why. It has to do with dates and anniversaries - both have a way of bring up memories and emotions I thought I had worked through. But it also has a lot to do with me being pregnant too. My sweet little baby could arrive any day now. I think of what you must have been feeling, of the joy and excitement, but also the nervous anticipation for what was ahead of you... though you had know idea what lay ahead; none of us did.

I think of this, because while I do hope for and expect a good outcome, I now know, more than ever, that nothing is certain in life. I'm not going into childbirth with great fear, but I do at times feel apprehension that I didn't feel with Carson. Apprehension that is there not because of the intensity and pain that comes with labor, but because if things don't go as planned, I can't bare the thought of saying good-bye. Not yet, not with Carson so young and my life with Herm barely started.

You probably didn't think of these things. You were eager for the joy ahead. And the joy ahead - heaven - was so much greater than anything you could have imagined, I'm sure. But Cheryl, here on earth, and with my small and very limited comprehension of things eternal I can't quite wrap my mind around your death being something of joy, for the pain in my heart still is raw and deep.

You looked so beautiful and at peace as your body lay in the casket, your precious newborn in your arms... It's those of us you left behind who wish circumstances would have been different, that we wouldn't have to know life without you. We feel that absence deeply, and so I cling to the memories of you, for those are things of joy.

I've been missing you,


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Cultivating Hospitality

This post was inspired by a friend of mine who recently got married. She sent me a text suggesting that I write on hospitality, and the thought process I put into preparing a meal for guests. I absolutely loved her suggestion because a.) She helped me come up with a topic for a blog post - which is something that isn't always easy, and b.) I remember when I was in her shoes, newly married and so overwhelmed at the thought of hosting people in our home. So without further ado, Kaylie, this is for you.

One of the things I discovered about my husband after we were married was his love of people.

Okay, let me start over... I knew he loved people and valued relationships, but what I don't think I fully realized was how much he loved hosting people. In our home. For dinner.

If you know me, you most likely know that I don't enjoy cooking. I know how to cook, I learned young; I was 9 years old when my youngest brother was born. My mom had a hard labor and delivery, and needed a lot of time to recover. So from her reclining chair in the living room she taught me about meal preparation and laundry and other domestic responsibilities, and for years after that I kept helping out with those things regularly. 

But I cook simple meals. Meals that I didn't think were good enough to serve to dinner guests, and so, in a tizzy those first few times, I tried to impress by cooking complicated everything-from-scratch meals I had never made before - and in the process I probably stressed myself out more than necessary, and truthfully, those meals were rather bland.  

If there is one thing I want you to take to heart and never forget from this post it is this: The thing most people will remember about sitting at your table and eating a meal with you isn't the delectable flavor of the food with its beautiful presentation or the moist, richness of the cake you spent all afternoon preparing. What they will remember is how you made them feel. Did they feel welcomed and at home? Did they feel connection as conversation flowed? 

If you are a stressed and tense hostess your guests will notice it. Which brings me to my very first, and probably most important tip:

• Pick one or two main dishes that are full of flavor but easy to prepare, and make them several times, learning them well before you invite your guests for dinner. 
These will be your go-to options for whenever you are hosting, at least until you feel comfortable enough with the process to branch out more.

Often I will ask my husband to grill steak or chicken or fish, and I will prepare a fresh salad and my signature rice + bean -- an ethinic dish I learned to make while living in Jamaica, which I serve with artisan bread from a local bakery. Depending on who our guests are we will serve a local wine, however, if they aren't comfortable with alcohol I like to serve water infused with lemon, lime, and berries, or make iced tea. 

When my husband isn't able to grill, I make pizza. I've made this so many times I no longer need to pull out a recipe book. I like to switch up sauces and toppings for new flavors, sprinkle goat or feta cheese on top of the mozzarella for an unexpected twist, and if I have them on hand I always caramelize a few onions, because it adds rich flavor and a gourmet touch to a dish that's so easy to prepare. I will serve a fresh salad, and sometimes I like to serve these smokey roasted sweet potatoes as well. As before our beverage will be wine, fruit infused water, or iced tea, depending on who is at our table.

I don't often make dessert, but we always serve coffee, and if I have cookies or biscotti or dark chocolate on hand I will set that out as well.

Now that we've covered the basics of food prep, let's move on...

I like to prepare as much as I can before hand so that I don't feel rushed as I'm making the meal. A few things I've learn over the years are:

Don't worry about cleaning your entire house before guests arrive.
There is no need to wash everything from top to bottom, but I do recommend you give your bathrooms a good cleaning, vacuum the floors and burn a fresh scented candle. Your house will feel inviting even if it's not spic and span if you do these three steps.

• Make sure you have time to get yourself presentable.
In other words, don't meet your guests at the door wrapped in a bath towel.

• Set the table
It doesn't always happen, but if I have time I like to set the table before our guests arrive so that I can add a few details to dress it up a bit. Black cloth napkins and a sprig of fresh herbs - say lavender or rosemary - at each plate can make a simple, elegant statement. However, if I am serving over 6 people I typically use paper napkins and skip the sprigs of greenery, and if there are more than 12 people at my table I find no shame in using paper plate and cups and plastic utensils. Remember, the point of hosting is about cultivating and growing relationships, it is not about being Martha Stewart!

And finally...

Meet your guests at the door
Welcome them in, and if there is any last minute things you could use help with, such as filling glasses with water or dishing food or stirring soup, ask them! In her book Bread & Wine, Shauna Niequist states that she will purposefully leave things undone so that she can ask guests for help. This is a great way to get everyone feeling comfortable and involved, especially in settings were guests might not know each other well. (If you need even more great tips on hosting, I would recommend you read the book... It's excellent.)

Another way of hosting, one Herm and I do several times over the course of the summer, is to plan a Bring Your Own Meat, Bring Your Own Beverage party. I will send out an invitation letting guests know that we are firing up the grill and they are welcome to join us. I ask that they each bring a few servings of their favorite meat or veggies to grill and a beverage to share. We provide the paper-ware and I typically make a side or two to serve as well. As people arrive the food is thrown on the grill and Herm works his magic, then we serve it buffet style. I have a galvanized metal tub with ice for the bottles of whatever drinks are brought along, and of course, we always end the evening with coffee and usually desserts that others bring. We've had over 30 people for these events, but since everything is outside, and every one is chipping in with food it is so easy and affordable, and so much fun.

Like I said earlier, remind yourself that hosting is about growing and cultivating relationships. And while it is nice to have a beautiful table setting and delicious, gourmet food, that is not the most important part! If it takes a pizza delivery and premade salad for you to begin feeling comfortable with hosting, that is perfectly fine. Just make it happen! There is so much that can be learned from life around the table... it doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful.

I'm sure many of you have great tips of your own when it comes to hosting and hospitality. If you do, would you please leave a comment for me and Kaylie and anyone else who might feel unsure about this process as well? 


Oh the Circle of Life

Aw, look at that! You've got a little thumb-sucker. My midwife moved the wand around as we both stared intently at the image on the screen. Little feet kicked around and I marveled at the miracle of life inside of me, at the little toes and fingers and side profile of my precious baby.

Today is the day I look forward to most each month, the day I meet with my midwife for a prenatal exam. The wisdom and motherly advice I gain from this amazing woman is invaluable, she's been through labor and delivery many times, both with her own babies and the multitude of babies she's helped bring into this world.

But the thing I love the most about these visits is hearing the steady, rhythmic heartbeat as the Doppler moves across my taunt skin, and today, it was the impromptu ultrasound. My untrained eyes strained to see the profile and identify the limbs and torso, searching for a clue as to what gender this child is. I will know for certain in a few weeks, but the suspense has been, well, suspenseful.

My mind and emotions have been in a million different places this month. I have struggled with this weight gain, angry and frustrated at myself when the jeans I had hoped to wear were too snug, causing me to resort to a maxi skirt which isn't my preference. (I'm wearing those jeans right now. They still fit; my meltdown was all hormonal.) I've felt the anticipation and excitement at the thought of holding this child in my arms, yet I have been trying hard to savor these last few weeks of having only Carson to care for. And I've been thinking so hard about life, the sacredness of it, how fleeting it is...

After that first stop I had about five other errands to run. Carson and I were both ready for new books from the library, I needed to purchase groceries at Aldi, because like so often happens our fridge was nearly vacant since the last grocery run, I had a package to mail, and a few other odds and ends to wrap up.

Living in a small town has many advantages, one being that almost any time I am out and about I see people I know. Today it was a childhood neighbor I hadn't seen in years. We chatted about life and I asked about his wife and children. Even though it's rather obvious, I always feel the need to let people know we are expecting another baby. I don't want them to think I have a love affair with burritos. He congratulated me, then with a sad but matter-of-fact tone, he told me that yesterday his wife had a miscarriage. She was eleven weeks along and so eager to welcome a forth child to their home. At times like this no words can suffice, an I'm so sorry was all I could muster. Long after we said good-bye he and wife was were still on my mind - my celebration of new life mixed with their grief.

The next stop was the post office. As I pulled open the door and walked in, the curly haired man coming out smiled and said hello. Reaching out to shake my hand, he introduced himself as Thomas. You're our neighbor, right? I asked. He and his wife live about a half mile up the road from us, and every time I run passed their place I think to myself that I need to stop in. With a small farmstead boasting sheep and goats and chickens and children, I know we'd get along well. We always wave at each other, but in the 3.5 years of living on this hill, I've never taken the liberty of stopping by to say hello and introduce myself.

Today I told him I would stop by sometime, that I wanted to get to know their family. I asked about his kids; they have four. And it was with an eager grin that he told me baby number five is on its way.

Oh the circle of life.

The month of April use to be just that, another ordinary month. Last year changed April forever. It now marks life and loss of life, when what should have been a cause for celebration, the beauty of precious new life, turned into deep grief and lament as my cousin and her newborn son both died during childbirth.

As both the anniversary of her death and my due date draw near I can't help but think of it. I see so much beauty in childbirth, but life has taught me that nothing is certain, and it is that that I think of too. Of an outcome that we expect to be joy-filled, but of trusting, no matter what life brings our way.

Life doesn't have to be perfect to be wonderful, and in the words of a friend who has experienced deep grief herself, "because of circumstances, 'wonderful' doesn't always look the way humanity would typically describe it."

All of this is to say, that as April 28th nears and my heart aches for heaven, and as May 7th draws closer and with it the arrival of my baby, I am choosing to celebrate life and to trust in a outcome I have no control over. I will grieve with those who are grieving, and rejoice with those rejoicing, and I will give thanks, for every day is a gift and every life a cause for celebration... one not to take for granted.



A while ago I wrote a lighthearted post on being a frazzled mom. I was in the thick of learning how to mother, while still balancing the rest of my responsibilities. Everyone else seemed to do this so well but there were days were I felt like I was drowning. Searching for the humor helped me get through those long, and often, demanding days.

Fast forward a few years and now I'm toddlering even more, or uh, I have a toddler.

Here is my updated version: You Know You're a Toddlering Mom If...

• You can bribe your child into helping you with small tasks by saying, "Big, strong Monster trucks always clean up their toys." or "Big, strong Monster trucks like setting the table. Now start your engine, sir!"

• You explain, in detail, to your child that, "_________ (name of someone he/she looks up to) goes poo and pee in the potty." hoping that it will result in successful toilet training and will not become a dinnertime topic the next time that said person super hero visits.

• As your child cups your face in his palms, your heart begins to melt. You live for moments like this, moments where he gazes deep into your eyes and tells you how much he loves you. But as he opens his mouth, instead of the heartfelt affection you were hoping for, his gaze moves down to your nostrils and he states, rather matter of fact, that you have boogers you need to take care of.

• You feel like the child is your undoing, for everything you accomplish he is able to reverse within a matter of minutes.
... Just after you finish vacuuming the carpet he brings in his sandbox toys and begins intense excavating, rolling dirt into the carpets so deep it will never come out.
... As you stand back to admire the windows, all sparkling and clean, you see a small tousled-hair, sleepy-eyed face pressed up against the glass on the other side, his nap is over bringing an end to the clear panes.
... You tie his shoes as you're heading out the door, then think of one more thing you need to grab. Upon returning to the entry where you left him, his the shoes are still there but the boy is nowhere to be found.

• When driving down the road instinct kicks in and you point out the Mack semi trucks, big tractors, and cows grazing in the pasture to whoever is riding along with you, small child or not.

• You find yourself humming The Wheels on the Bus as you prepare dinner, and for the rest of the night the verses play through your mind on repeat. The mommy on the bus says shhhh, shhhh, shhhh... all through the town!

• You know that bobby pins can turn little boys with big imaginations into firetrucks with hair like water hoses; that a Messerschmidt is an airplane and a Zeppelin is a blimp; and that a pat of butter in a plastic tub, when placed on a his head can transform a small boy into an ambulance or police car or any other vehicle with a bubble-light siren.

• Every trip to town you are reminded that you need to stop for ice cream, get the oil changed, and go to the car wash... and yes, in that order.

• And finally, you know that two hours of time away can bring perspective to an entire week of seemingly endless days and interrupted nights like nothing else can, that this messy and chaotic life, it has become your normal, and you would miss it immensely if it happened to be a bit more orderly and quiet, and without your child.

To all you fellow moms toddlering along with me, know you are not alone and you're doing well! This messy and humorous, and a times daunting and exhausting task we've been giving to raise the next generation is a high and holy calling. So as you wipe spilled Cheerios and milk off the floor or fix a bruise with a single kiss, know that you are shaping the Kingdom, and the King will meet you right there in the middle of it to equip you for the task at hand -- now pick up your Mr. Clean Magic Erasers and go forth!


Touching the Untouchable

The first thing I remember about India was the aroma.

As I stepped off of the plane and into Rajiv Gandhi Hyderabad International Airport it was a sickly sweet smell, a mixture of curry and cumin and slight body odor that filled my nostrils. We were travel weary but excited and eager for what lay ahead.

It was April of 2010 - a date that marks my first time out of North America, my first international adventure. An adventure which would only fuel my passion for travel even more.

But the memory that sticks with me, the picture that is still as vivid in my mind as if happened only yesterday is so much more intense than the smell wafting through the air.

It is hot and humid, temperatures soaring well above 120* F. The current isn't reliable, which means neither are the fans, our only source of relief from the summer swelter. During the hottest part of the day we rest, staying indoors hoping for relief. We are, after all, a group of fair skinned Americans who recently bid the cold northern winter farewell and we are experiencing a climate we thought was reserved for places like wood-fired ovens and the deepest parts of hell. But as it begins to cool off, as temps lower to the 100* range, we set out to see the city and visit the different schools the mission we're visiting supports.

After piling into a white jeep and traveling for what seemed like hours, a ride equivalent to that of a roller coaster at a Six Flags theme park, we unfold our whip-lashed bodies, limbs tingling from loss of circulation, and take in this new surrounding.

I remember the loudness of machinery, it's the kind of noise that left ear drums ringing; the tanned bodies of men and women, pick axes in hand, doing the back breaking labor of hitting the boulders again and again, working through the intense heat, chipping away slowly, tediously until smaller sections of rock broke off; and I remember the children, their clothes and skin covered in a grayish film, their limbs thin from lack of nourishment, their deep brown eyes empty but filled with longing for love and acceptance.

The place I am describing is a stone quarry, and the families who live and work here are bond laborers, struggling to pay off debt. Many of them don't get to leave this grimy and near desolate place for months on end. The children may know nothing else as many of them were born here.

They are of the lowest of the low in society, they are the untouchables.

I tell you this story to explain something: My love for Noonday Collection, and more specifically, the leather totes they sell that come from India.

I won't pretend that my short two-week mission trip to India greatly impacted the country for the better; it didn't. I was there, handing out lollipops to children who needed so much more than that and teaching them songs in English because I didn't know anything in Telugu, and I left again -- forgetting their names and many of their faces. The trip certainly didn't make me a hero or a missionary or a do-gooder. But what I can tell you is that the trip impacted my life.

After seeing extreme poverty first hand, I realize how richly blessed I truly am. There were moments in our first year of marriage where Herm and I felt like we were among the poorest too, living on rice and beans and hoping all of our bills and mortgage would be covered each month, but even in the state we were among the richest in the world for we had a roof over our head, clothes on our back, food in our fridge, and jobs which brought in weekly pay.

After seeing extreme poverty first hand, I realized I need to do something. Even as a stay-at-home-mom I can do something. And it was that realization that brought me to Noonday.

Noonday partners with 29 different artisan groups on 12 different countries to provide long-term jobs with fair wages for women and men in vulnerable communities.

One of those countries is India.

The Rustic Leather Tote and the Modern Leather Tote are both created there by the lowest caste in society, the "untouchables". These are people who face discrimination and poverty not because of something they've done but because of who they are, simply because they were born.

Since partnering with Noonday, this artisan group has grown, which means more jobs for more people. It means families can earn a living through dignified works. It means children can go to school. It means crime rates will decrease and the standard of living will increase.

Every time we spend money we are casting a vote for what kind a world we want to live in. And when we choose ethical, sustainable companies, like Noonday, that put people before profit, we are making an impact on an individual, a family, and potentially a village.

My short trip to India didn't make a global impact but it did impact me and my global view. And it is because of that that I am passionate about fair trade, about creating long-term jobs, empowering women, and cherishing children -- and that, my friend, is why I Noonday.

If you would like to learn more about how you too can get involved with the work of Noonday, leave a comment or send me a message and I'd be glad to share more with you.