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In November, one of my sisters came to spend a week with me.
Her husband was gone for the week, and he so kindly said she can go somewhere too.
I was so honored when Ervina picked me to spend her time with!
We had the most wonderful days together, and got to spend time with our sister Jana too.
Sisters are the best thing that ever happened. :)

And not only did she come, but she brought along a little baby bump.
That’s right – the first niece or nephew on my side of the family is on the way!!
I couldn’t be more excited!

So, of course, we had to do a little photo shoot to document the time together,
and to document Twenty Weeks of Pregnancy for her.

It was a lovely Southern evening when we set out,
and although we didn’t know exactly where we were headed,
we looked for fields and wooded areas.
And we found some lovely sun-kissed [sun-drenched?] spots…

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Have you ever seen such an adorable baby bump,
and such a radiant mother-to-be?
I tell her I’d be so intimidated if I’d be pregnant along with her,
because she’s just so tiny and adorable! :)

I’m not the only one that thinks so:
she’s even had a fashion blogger ask to take her picture for “chic maternity style.”
So true. :)

My sister, however, has been more sick than almost anyone I know.
This baby is hard on the poor mommy!
I tell her when that baby is placed in her arms, it will be worth every moment. ♥

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I am so excited about the new little life soon to be born to my sister and her husband.
This child is already so loved, not only by them, but by so many people!

I think it’s so precious, because Kenny, my sister’s husband,
is over the moon excited about his little baby on the way.
I don’t think I’ve ever known a daddy to be more excited!
They will both be wonderful parents, and this baby is so blessed to be born to them.

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Baby Love: due March of 2014

“Behold, children are an heritage from the Lord…”

 

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postscript: stay tuned for a giveaway later this week! a little hint of what’s to come: remember the amazing chalk art my sister makes from this post?…… :)

 

Hello all!
I feel a bit shy coming back to this little white space.
It’s been a month since I last wrote here?
How can time pass so quickly!

This blogging break was really not even intentional,
but with traveling out-of-state over the holidays,
and exhaustion catching up with us from the busyness it all,
and a tree falling on our internet line,
and the cold days of January…
well, it all turned into a little break that was actually very needed.
Sometimes the best thing is to step away and just be quiet.

Turns out, life has been so full of busy I’m having to LEARN to be quiet!
I don’t mean not talking; I mean, quiet in my soul.
To where I can be in my home and sit still,
to read a book, to not have to be doing something.
I didn’t realize just how busy our past year was until I hardly knew how to do quiet.

Sometimes life just brings busy, and it cannot be helped.
That was a lot of it, last year.
But, I also know there are choices involved, and I want to learn how to make wise choices in our schedule in this coming year, to learn how to live WELL,
not just survive and end up exhausted!

I came across this quote recently:

“One thing’s for sure: if you decide to be courageous and sane,
if you decide not to overspend or overcommit or overschedule,
the healthy people in your life will respect those choices.
And the unhealthy people in your life will freak out,
because you’re making a healthy choice they’re not currently free to make.
Don’t for one second let that stop you.”
[Shauna Niequist]

While I’m not sure how it can all be played out in reality
when I also live in community (part of a living body of people & church),
I also did like the freedom given to step away and say no,
something I want to do better at learning to say…

So, my goodness, just where DOES one start again?
Everyone is long past the Christmas and New Years and Resolutions and even Organization 101, and headed toward Valentine’s Day projects.
And me? I just went through my holiday pictures yesterday, and am still working on those resolutions. :)

So, since I’m taking it slow-style these days, here’s backtracking waaay back,
nearly a month ago.

Most of my family lives in a beautiful garden state up north,
and this was the year for our Christmas get-together.
With six of us kids, four of us married, and two living out-of-state,
holidays are a little more complicated than they used to be! :)

But it was all okay; we decided the best time to work with everyone’s schedules would be the weekend after Christmas. It was a little sad at first to not be with my family on Christmas Day, but then we realized that our own little family could have our first Christmas together – something we’ve never done because of always having extended family events on that day. And that turned out to be really really special.

I kind of felt like a grown-up though (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but more of a “I can’t believe I’m the adult around here!”) ~ the tradition-making, all the food prep, it was all up to me! It was a reality-check for a woman who still thinks she’s a kid. :) But we had a lovely family day, playing games, reading by the fire, and just enjoying one another. Oh yes, we had grits and shrimp, as requested by the kids. :)

We traveled north the day after Christmas, and the pictures are all from our time there.

// Christmas dinner //

Christmas table
// Salad: English cucumber serving as the bowl, spring greens, red and yellow pears, pecans seasoned with butter & sugar & cinnamon & cayenne pepper, pomegranate seeds, and feta cheese, with a red wine vinaigrette dressing. //

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// centerpieces of candlesticks & paper snowflakes //

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// Time with family is always so special, and if you far away from each other, it’s even more treasured. My father leads us in meaningful times together, reading Scripture as he did when we were small children, and now giving us opportunity to share with each other and connect on a deep level. Priceless. //

Daddy reading the Christmas story

masculine gift wrap styles pennsylvania holiday 087 gold wrapping paper presents

// One of my favorite pictures of the whole time is below on the left: it’s a bit abstract, but it shows childhood wonder and delight. Zoe pulled out princess dress-up clothes and wore them for the Christmas dinner. Against the Christmas lights and tree, it speaks of life as beautiful.

Also, I thought it was so fine when I found a little hipster beanie for Hudson at Baby Gap on clearance. When he wore it in the north, snuggled in a cozy wool blanket, I started laughing because he looked like a little Amish boy! I think the Amish are more fashionable than given credit for. :) //

children's thrill of Christmas
// The kids and I had prayed for snow while we were there, and what do you know ~
IT SNOWED! A glorious, beautiful snow! My southern-transplant-sister and I were absolutely THRILLED. :) //

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// I love this picture. My three kiddos were in awe, and it was Hudson’s first time at seeing snow! [rave warning: I LOVE SNOW!! ] //

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little girl snowball fight

snow wonder pennsylvania holiday 198 Olivia's many faces pennsylvania holiday 239 lovely Jana   precious sleeping baby

// We had only part of one day when everyone in our family was all together, before the guys had to head back to work and schedules resumed. It was much shorter than usual, and we did have one or two evenings together besides that, but we just decided to soak it up and enjoy what we were given. We sisters were together, and spent time with extended family and friends too. //

// The Sisterhood! [don't miss the subtle pointing at a baby bump :) ] //

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// Our grandmother is 81 years old and we are so grateful to still have her with us; we enjoyed brunch one morning with her and our aunt and cousin. ♥ //

 

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// Dear friendships that feel like family, and keenly missing the one beautiful friend waiting for us in heaven… //

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// Game time! we always try to make time for some lively interaction, and try not to hold grudges after the game is over. Ha! //

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// My husband was helping his brother in their new house for a few days, so we spent some time with his family too [sadly, no pictures :( ], and it gave a little extra time for things like taking coffee to my brothers at work. :) //

brothers

// It was tradition as kids and parents: after a snow at nighttime, we would go to the local Bird for breakfast. We did it again for old times’ sake, now with a family multiplied double in size. :) Thanks, Daddy. //

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// The final leg of our trip ended a bit west in a weekend with my dad’s big wonderful family. Late nights, crazy laughs, wonderful family times, and it was time to head due south… //
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// The dining hall where we last stayed, and I just loved this collection of dishes.
I think it would look fabulous as an oil painting in a kitchen! //

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And though there were many more memories and dear people not captured on camera,
we hold them all close in memory, and are so thankful for the richness of family and friendships we’ve been given.

Sometime over the holidays, as the wonderful mail and pictures came so thoughtfully to our mailbox, one of the girls asked, “Mommy, do we have a THOUSAND friends?”
And I laughed, and thought a second, and answered,
You know, honey, I think we almost DO.”

It was an amazing moment of realization, of feeling SO RICH.
No, we don’t get a thousand cards at Christmas. :)
But we have amazing family, and cherished friendships, and that is the best kind of wealth.
The wealth of loving and being loved?
There is no price high enough for that.

Is our world perfect?
Wow, NO.
Is our family perfect?
Wow, NO.

Behind every person, every picture, every blogger,
is a story unique and their very own, and nearly every time, there are elements of great pain.
Most times, you never know.
Most times, you shouldn’t know.
Pain is also sacredly private, often with only a safe inner-circle that knows.
The saying,

is so true.
Tread with kindness.
Speak with compassion.
Live with tenderness.

But, in the midst of the hard, imperfect things in my life,
AND IN ME,
I also am immensely grateful for all the beautiful gifts of friendship.
Those who love unconditionally,
who also love enough to speak truth,
who care and live and walk beside me in friendship.
Thank you.

Live quietly and with rest today,
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“Rejoice, O sinners, everywhere for the restorer of the castaways, the Savior of the fallen is born. Join in the joy, ye saints, for he is the preserver of the saved ones, delivering them from innumerable perils, and he is the sure perfecter of such as he preserves. Jesus is no partial Savior, beginning a work and not concluding it; but, restoring and upholding, he also prefects and presents the saved ones without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing before his Father’s throne. Rejoice aloud all ye people, let your hills and valleys ring with joy, for a Savior who is mighty to save is born among you.”

- Charles Spurgeon

I saw this quote this morning one the page of some favorite authors, and it summed up so much of what I’ve been thinking of the past few weeks…

REJOICE because of a SAVIOR, who is mighty to save, has come!

// DIY gold glitter & lights marquee sign that husband and I made. I’m nearly giddy over it, I so love how it turned out. I’m nearly convincing Husband in my gold-crush. :) Also, newly redone fireplace brick. ♥ //

Christmas at the Cottage l JOY marquee DIY

Christmas Cottage l JOY marquee mantel

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Christmas Cottage l mantel with antlers and garland

Cottage Christmas l small living room with indoor wreath and gold pinecones
Christmas Cottage l noel pillow   Christmas Cottage l Anthropologie inspired

Christmas Cottage l front door entry

Cottage Christmas l front door entry

// I love indoor wreaths. Outdoors is so pretty too, but indoors? That’s when you can really see them to enjoy them. Plus, they smell wonderful. //

You know, so often I say that Christmas is Jesus. I talk to my kids about it, I sing songs about it.

This year, the Christmas season has been clouded by so many losses and sadness. My own family is still present, and Lord granting us life we will celebrate together tomorrow. But I have never known of more loss and sorrow in the lives of people I know than I do this Christmas. For so many, this has been an incredibly hard month, and tomorrow is very sad day. I have shed many tears in the past few weeks – tears for some people that I know, and some that I only have heard of.

And I realize more than ever: Christmas is not about me. It’s actually not about any of us. Yes, Jesus came to save us from our sins, from ourselves. But the emphasis is not, Jesus came to save US. The real emphasis is, JESUS came to save us! A Savior of the world has come. How desperately we need a Savior, and Redemption. I am so grateful He came.

// whispering of Christmas in the kitchen //

Christmas Cottage l kitchen

Cottage Christmas l whispering Christmas in the kitchen
// THE best gingerbread cookies ever found, and perfect for children //

Cottage Christmas l gold & gingerbread
Cottage Christmas l gingerbread men

 

Cottage Christmas l feather wreath inside kitchen door   Christmas Cottage - lovely silhouette vignette

Christmas Cottage - kitchen mantel

This is not about a magical feeling I get at Christmas. It’s not about my world being perfect, or the people in my life being perfect.

This is about JESUS. About the redemption He offers us, about the gift He’s given us through his life and death. About the reality that this life not being the end of life ~ and sometimes it takes painful, shocking things to make us realize that. Christmas is not about it just being a happy day for me; it’s about worshipping the One who has given us a reason to live, and a reason to anticipate the life after this! That doesn’t mean it won’t be a happy time, but that the focus isn’t us; it’s on the One who gave us salvation and redemption.

It’s a frightening thought that Christmas can even be turned into idolatry, when we make it about ourselves, about what we want out of it.

// Jesus, the hope of the world! //

Cottage Christmas l dining room

 

Cottage Christmas l ornament garland
Christmas Cottage l Dining Room
// ‘Mommy, why does that ‘joy’ have a world in the middle of it? Oooooooh! JOY TO THE WORLD!” -Zoe, age 6 //

// also, feel free to laugh at my geography. I wasn’t looking at a globe while drawing it and realized how little I know details! //
Christmas Cottage l Joy to the World chalkboard

// One of my favorite vignettes in the whole house; the oversized chalkboard. The great thing about having a husband who is a carpenter is that I can rummage through his extra scraps in his shed and find almost any pieces of scrap wood I want. All I bought in Christmas décor this year was wrapping paper and a few strands of Christmas lights. //

Christmas Cottage l oversized chalkboard in dining room
Christmas Cottage l Christmas details

 

And even with the heaviness and brokenness and sadness of life, there is also such deep JOY. Because this isn’t the end of the story! Because Jesus is the Redeemer of mankind! He offers hope, and justice, and righteousness, and life everlasting!

Christmas Cottage l music room mantel

music room Cottage Christmas l music room

It’s a strange thing that makes joy and pain run parallel, and even stranger how the human heart can feel both so deeply, at the very same moment.

But in the midst of this gift of life, I want to squeeze every drop out of this precious gift of life. I am a different person because of the Life Jesus has imparted to me; my heart can know peace and rest, even if there is sorrow and misunderstanding and brokenness and sad relationships… and how could that NOT bring such joy? Joy not because of perfection in my life, but because of Who I know that is perfect, and yet loves me anyway. Joy not because of everything being happy; but because of knowing I have a Savior and Redeemer of my heart! This is Christmas; knowing Jesus is Christmas.

// master bedroom; sometimes this can feel like the most difficult room in the house to pull together, and there are still things left to do; but right now, I do love it.  //

Christmas Cottage I master bedroom

Cottage Christmas l master bedroom wreath

Cottage Christmas I  bedroom vignette

Cottage Christmas l master bedrom vignettes

Sometimes, this December, it’s seemed silly to decorate the house all pretty when there are such tragedies happening all around the world. But the flip side of that is that I’ve been given today, I have the incredible gift of loving my family today. There is no promise of any tomorrow, but today, I want to make it special. Today I want to love them so hard. Today I want to squeeze them tight and make special memories and create traditions and watch their eyes sparkle to see pretty things. That’s not silly or wrong. That’s loving them.

// the front entry //

Christmas Cottage l welcome holidays

Cottage Christmas l front porch entry

// a few DIY projects… ♥ //

Cottage Christmas l southern snowflakes

Cottage Christmas l DIY gold mug

 

The most amazing thing to me this Christmas:
Emmanuel: GOD WITH US.

That will always amaze me, and cause me to worship.

God with us.

 

Thanks for following these Sister Christmas Home Tours the past week. It’s been so fun to interact with you and I think my sisters have enjoyed it too. :) Many of you know there are actually four of us sisters, and may wonder why there isn’t a fourth home tour. Well, Claudia and her husband were in Colorado for several months this fall, and just returned home. I do hope she’ll give us a tour of their home one day, but it won’t be this Christmas. :)

Thanks to those of you who stop by this little spot. I’m so honored by your visit.

To those who have great sadness this Christmas: may you experience the presence of Emmanuel, the miracle of God with us. May He bring you great comfort, because He is the Wonderful Counselor, the Prince of Peace, the One who came to bring Healing…

To those who are so excited about Christmas: don’t feel guilty. :) Enjoy the moments, treasure the togetherness, drink in the love, and you worship Jesus doing so. May you also experience the miracle of Emmanuel, the God who became man to be with us, and the One who dwells within us now.

We will have a quiet Christmas, a first for our little family to be alone, before spending time with extended family. We are very excited about both. I asked the kids for food ideas, and the all the girls for was grits for breakfast and shrimp for dinner ~ I laughed, because they are definitely being raised in the south. :)

Happy happy Christmas to all of you!

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It’s the second of the Sister Christmas Tours today, and I’m enjoying this so much! After these two, there really is no reason in the world for me to do one ~ these two have done it so perfectly!

One thing that has been so fun as sisters is our similarities as well as our differences in décor. We all enjoy creativity and beauty, and yet we vary in style from minimalistic to shabby chic to industrial to some other un-termed decor. :) It’s been so interesting to see how the weddings of my sisters were a little glimpse into their homes. I love it! So hopefully with the varied style there is something that everyone who stops by will enjoy!

Jana is the sister right under me, the second of four girls, and she was even born on my second birthday! Growing up, we didn’t really like sharing a birthday (which often meant sharing a party, which felt like sharing presents – but as a mom, what else was there to do?). But now? We feel like we can hardly even have a birthday without each other. Now it’s become a very special thing. :)

Anthony & Jana were married in March of last year (yes, there were three sister weddings within 15 months) and you can see their wedding here. I was so excited when they decided to live in the south too! It’s not very close by, but at least it doesn’t take a whole day to drive there either. She’s transitioned very nicely into a Southern Belle, perhaps in part because her husband is one of the nicest Southern Gents I’ve ever met.

Jana is super creative and has loved doing projects and creating things with her hands as long as I can remember – and far longer than I have. I loved these pictures from their lovely rental home, and I think you will too.

Click on over here for a bit of listening pleasure [Michael Buble' Holiday on Pandora]  to hear some of her favorite holiday music, and here’s Jana!

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gifting
It’s a Southern thing…

Those who are transplants know that celebrating Christmas in the south takes on a whole new meaning. Instead of snow, you have cotton. Instead of sleigh rides, you have
Redneck mudding. You may even have to decorate for Christmas with the AC on, like I did this year.

// living room //

shabby chic Christmas living room

shabby chic Christmas mantel
[check out that beautiful cotton by the nativity scene.
she lives in the middle of cotton fields. :) ]

vintage nativity scene

 

lovely Christmas touch and reflection in mirror

living area mantel and chair

shabby chic Christmas vignettes for living room

fresh greenery with fun stripe of color

Christmas tree

But I am determined not to let it stop me from celebrating anyway…and so I decorate. (Thank God the south has greens!) and I bake Christmas cookies, & we still sing carols and may crank up Michael Buble’ a notch or two.

 

// the master bedroom //

shabby chic master bedroom

shabby chic master bedroom with chandelier

bedroom vignette
Christmas in the south does not offer me the nostalgia that Christmas in the north did & I will always miss it, & even shed a tear or two when I hear it’s snowing.

But I would miss the whole point of Christmas if I don’t let Christ direct my perspective. Christmas is not about my location, but my focus. It’s about Christ, yes even through 80* December weather when it’s too hot to even jog. It’s about taking time to serve those around me, it may be having little girls over for a cookie bake, or visiting an elderly neighbor.

// the passageway room //

 

joy wreath and lace to hang pictures

darling shabby chic vignette

// the kitchen //

 

lovely Christmas kitchen

shabby chic kitchen

the beginning of a perfect day

Christmas cookie baking

 

These are some of the things that have helped me survive such a different landscape than what I was always used to over Christmas time! And of course, throwing myself into a good old project now & then helps me stay busy & fulfilled! Cheers!

// She is the Queen of Chalkboard Art, and is pursuing a part-time business with this //

Wonderful Counselor chalkboard art ~by Jana S.

Fruit of the Spirit Christmas tree ~ chalkboard art original by Jana S.

fresh brewed coffee chalkboard art ~ by Jana S.

 

a standard of grace - chalkboard art by Jana S.

Baby It's Cold Outside ~ chalkboard art by Jana S.

// Mr. & Mrs. //

Anthony & Jana

 

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Thank you so much, Jana! I’m so honored you allowed us to see your lovely home!
It is such a cozy home to visit, and we’re always treated so royally.
And I want to hire her to do chalkboard art for me!  She is amazing.

When Ervina comes to visit 189

Your turn! What is YOUR favorite part of her beautiful Southern home?

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I am so excited to introduce the first of the sisters’ Christmas home tours! My heart was thumping with excitement as I pulled in the lovely images Ervina sent over. You’ll soon see why. :)

First off, click over here to have a bit of lovely Christmas music as you scroll through the pictures. This is her favorite holiday station. [Phil Coulter Holiday on Pandora if the link doesn't work]

[As I said in the previous post, the intention of these Sister Christmas Posts are not to make you feel like you must do one more thing in order to have the perfect Christmas. But rather to show how you really can create a beautiful atmosphere with simple beauty. ]

Ervina is the third of four sisters, and was married to her Sir in June of last year.
[You can see their wedding here, and I love how their home reflects so much the beautiful simplicity that was present in their wedding.]

She and Kenny bought a tall house in the city and have worked hard to transform it into a lovely haven. It’s one of my favorite spots to visit whenever I return home, and I wish visits there could happen more often!

Here is Ervina…

///

Growing up, the attic at my mom’s house was always filled with storage boxes of Christmas decorations, and each year in the beginning of December I loved to help decorate the house.

 

// master bedroom //

 

Christmas bedroom with fresh greenery

 

Christmas wooden headboard

 

There were colored ornaments and nativity sets and little porcelain villages, but my favorite part was grabbing big garbage bags and a pair of Cutco clippers and heading outside to the trees grandpa planted on our property thirty years ago. My mom and sisters and I would collect huge amounts of evergreen and pine, and the wonderful smelling outdoors would come inside for the winter.

 

// living room //

 

 

Christmas living room

 

 

simple and elegant Christmas living room

Living Room Bookshelf at Christmas

 

By the time Christmas was over and January rolled around, we’d reluctantly put everything back in storage and clean up the shedding greens. There was always a mess, but it was always worth it.

 

// Dining Room and Piano //

 

Dining Room with fresh greenery

Christmas Dining Room

 

Christmas piano

Christmas piano and banister

 

Fast forward a few years and I’m married in my own little brick home in the city. I don’t have a lot of decorations in storage. What little I’ve collected so far is a result of thrift stores, Goodwill, and occasionally the Target clearance section.

 

// the city kitchen //

 

Christmas kitchen in the city

 

 

 

 

Kitchen table with Christmas greens

 

I like touches of silver and gold, but still my favorites are the same: the outdoors come inside. My mom is kind enough to let me come home with garbage bags and strip her trees, my sweet husband helps me decorate our twenty dollar tree and form little wreaths made out of leftover wedding supplies, I pull out milk glass and clear bottles and white teapots to stuff with greens, Costco provides real spruce garlands, and we’re ready for Christmas. It’s simple but timeless and brings a little breath of fresh country air to our city home.

 

/////////

 

I am so thrilled Ervina shared her darling home with me, and you! Thank you. ♥
I’m all inspired to place more greenery around my home! That is just so lovely.

 

And now it’s your turn to tell her how much you enjoyed it, and what your favorite part is! :)

 

Ervina & Clarita