Kai's birth

One year ago today on July 4th, 2017, I gave birth to Kai Mitchell, who is altogether sweet, joyful, fun and feisty. He’s radiant. I find myself wishing everyone could meet him just to have the chance to share his sweet and happy spirit. I was in labor with him for 6 hours and he was born less than 45 minutes after arriving to the hospital—a blur of memories now. I’m so glad I wrote these words in the weeks following his birth.

Even though the holiday was so close to my due date, I never really imagined Kai would be born on July 4th. And when I realized that was exactly what was about to happen, I wasn't exactly excited--but the idea has since grown on me, as these things do. Fourth of July baby. Friends and family gatherings, swimming and playing, camping trips, telling Kai these fireworks are just for him—and, of course, always having the day off.

On July 3, 2017 around 10:30PM, I began to have contractions, which was nothing new. I was 39 weeks pregnant and had been experiencing strong Braxton Hicks for weeks—in some instances I even felt slight labor-like discomfort with them—but they never progressed and the discomfort always dissipated, so I wasn’t sure this particular time would be any different. But I had my suspicions, so I told Luke and proceeded to tie up some loose ends around the house in case this was truly labor. I finished packing my hospital bag, packed a bag for Cliff who would spend the day with friends, and proceeded to call/text a few people that would need to know if this was it: my friend Lauren (who was kind enough to come sleep over with Cliff), my friend Adina (photographer friend meeting us at the hospital to take photos), and our parents (we needed to determine who would make the last minute trip—10 hours!— to be with Cliff during our hospital stay. So many logistics this time around, much different than having a first baby. My contractions were about 30 seconds long and, after an hour or so of hustle-bustle around the house, beginning to get more uncomfortable. I told my mom I would be very surprised if these contractions just stopped altogether, given their intensifying nature. Lastly, I called our OB office to get some advice from the provider on call but I was sent to voicemail. I left a message.

Luke suggested that we go to bed and try to get some rest, and I knew he was right, but I really wanted to finish getting ready in case we had to wake up and book it out the door. I was giving birth at a hospital an hour away and I felt very little clarity about how things would play out—if I went to sleep, would I wake up to a baby ready to come out? Like, at that moment?! This is how my mind was functioning but honestly what a silly concern. In no way would it ever be possible to sleep through strong contractions that precede birth, but alas, I was anxious. At that point I asked Luke if he had packed a bag and he said no (haha—again, second baby! so little prep), so I told him he should so we would be all ready to leave. Around midnight we climbed into bed and I began timing my contractions with Full Term (it was really fun to see that, when I re-downloaded the app onto my phone, it still showed my stats from Cliff’s labor over 2 years ago). I texted our sweet, amazing previous doula Candice to get her two cents about leaving for the hospital. I continued to feel very unsure about if and when to do so. I was nervous that I would mess up and make all of these people shuffle their schedules, wake up, drive in the middle of the night—potentially for nothing. Candice encouraged me to pray for wisdom and she let me know she would be doing the same. She sent me a picture: it was a candle that she lit for me, to keep me in her thoughts during my labor (seriously tears. This was at midnight). I laid down and tried to rest between contractions but I kept getting up to use the bathroom, at least 8 times. I was praying for some sign to know that this was it. Between 12-1:30 my contractions slowed down a bit, which was not what I was looking for. But then sure enough, they started to pick up in intensity and frequency. I decided that if things continued to build, we would leave for the hospital at 3am. Around 2:45am I called Lauren to ask her to head over to stay with Cliff, and I also called Adina who had already started driving to the hospital! Talk about intuition. I woke Luke up to let him know that we should leave and he reminded me to check in with our provider again because I hadn’t heard back from anyone. One of the midwives, Becca, picked up the phone and informed me that she was already at the hospital attending births and she would look forward to seeing me soon. We left a little after 3am and began the hour long drive.

The ride to the hospital was a bit surreal. Even in the midst of labor, it’s very difficult to wrap your head around the fact that a baby, still hanging out in your belly, will soon be in your arms. I had also been anxious in the weeks leading up to labor with Kai, knowing this time what it takes to give birth. I knew my own power, yet I still didn’t want to face the task again. But thankfully, I felt peaceful on our drive in the dark. It was serene and hardly anyone was out. I had about 8 contractions in the car along the way, but they were short—no more than 45 seconds or so—and the minutes between them were peaceful. Like my first labor, I was using vocalization to get through them—my best best tool. I remembered to put on my trusty labor playlist which has remained saved on spotify since Cliff was born. We listened to one of my favorite worship songs and this line got me: “from my mother’s womb you have chosen me, love has called my name”. I wasn’t feeling scared or nervous. I was feeling VERY confident about our decision to leave for the hospital when we did. I knew with certainty that this was really it, and at the same time that we weren’t at risk of not making it to the hospital on time.

I tried to eat a little snack—a granola bar—and, like last time I ate on the way to the hospital, it didn’t sit very well and I only had a couple bites. We pulled off the exit to the hospital and, as we parked, all of the sudden I felt an extreme urgency to get inside. Suddenly my contractions were SUPER strong. Luke asked me a question about what to bring in with us and I think I just said “We need to get in there now.” When we stopped at the front desk to check in, a contraction hit and I couldn’t even really talk. They were coming very close together now. The person called up to L&D and sent us on our way to triage.

The labor and delivery floor was quiet as we exited the elevator. It was now around 4:15am and we were ushered into a triage room where I was given a gown and told that a nurse would be in to check me shortly. “Shortly” started to feel like an eternity and I realized that I really had to use the restroom, so someone escorted me down the hall. I was at the point in my labor when time becomes a blur. My contractions were very strong, but manageable with intense vocalization and still short—they were around 30 seconds and coming closer together at about 1.5 minutes. Adina arrived and I was so happy to see her! I got a heart monitor strapped to my belly and a hospital worker came in to ask me a million and a half questions for paperwork. I answered when I could and worked through contractions when they hit, letting others do my talking for me when they had to. 

When the nurse checked me, she told me I was 7 centimeters dilated. She asked about an epidural and I entertained the idea until she told me that she would first have to administer an hour’s worth of fluids. Then I said “Okay, no.” I knew I didn’t have that long! We walked right across the hall into our delivery room, which was much smaller than the last time. With Cliff’s labor I also had a room with a whirlpool, which wasn’t available this time. I felt disappointed for a second, which was inconsequential--little did I know Kai would be born 15 minutes later.

At this point, things got a bit crazy. The nurse told me they were very busy that night and that our midwife, Becca, was attending another delivery. I took off the hospital gown and started feeling like I had to use the bathroom again. I was embarrassed because the room was super small and I was using the toilet like 5 feet from everyone. I still had no idea how close we were to meeting Kai. I began to feel him bearing down on my cervix, it’s the craziest feeling in the world. How things unfolded next I barely remember because it was so incredibly fast. I remember kneeling on the bed and pushing even though there was no one in the room to deliver Kai. Remember I said how quiet the L&D floor was that night? Well, it was quiet no longer. I was in the uninhibited moments before my baby boy was born, and I was definitely roaring. My water broke and the nurse calmly but urgently asked me to turn over and lie on my back, and I said no. I truly didn’t feel like I could physically turn myself around to lie down. She checked me, saying I was now 8 cm dilated which is funny, because immediately after that he was READY TO COME OUT and I knew it. I got right back up and kneeled on all fours and pushed, because I couldn’t not. The midwife still wasn’t there, but his head was bearing down so hard on my cervix and I could feel him very, very, very low. There was no ring of fire or burning that some people speak of, only crazy pressure—the indescribable feeling of your baby still being inside your body but being JUST on the brink of bringing him out. Un. Real. Our midwife rushed in at that moment, having just delivered a baby 2 minutes prior and then sprinting to our room. She immediately began talking to me and I remember her repeating my name. “Margaret. Margaret.” She was calm and gentle. “Margaret, try to stop screaming.” She was explaining that I was wasting my energy when I should be channeling it into pushing. That was the single most helpful thing she could have said. I focused hard on not screaming and pushing with everything I had, and with my next push I delivered his head. Then Becca directed me with one more small push and I felt her maneuver his tiny body out. I heard his little cries. I FREAKING DID IT.

Because of the way I was positioned, she had to pass him underneath me and through my legs so I could hold him. May I never ever forget the feeling of holding my brand new moments-old baby for the very first time. Warm, slippery and wiggling—his cord was short just like Cliff’s so I couldn’t fully hold him up to my chest. I held him like that for a long time, feeling equal parts shocked and relieved that it was over. I had done it. I gave birth, again. I was an emotional basket case, crying, laughing, saying "I can’t believe he’s here” over and over. Finally I got turned over to my back and he laid on me. My precious Kai. It was about 4:50am, less than 45 minutes after we arrived at the hospital.

The moments following were, and always are, total bliss. Staring at his tiny face, absorbing him, smelling him and feeling his perfect skin after only imagining him for 9 months. These are the most glorious moments. Birth is so, so incredible and my experiences giving birth are some of my most treasured memories. But, as every mother knows, the way your baby enters the world pales in comparison to watching them grow. In the past year, Kai has brought us more joy than could ever be recounted. I can’t begin to describe how happy, how sweet, how silly and amazing he is. Kai, we are so blessed that you are a part of our family. You deserve to be celebrated with every firework that lights up the sky tomorrow my love.

when you smile I am undone

my son

you outshine the morning sun

my son


incredible photos by dear friend Adina Brown-Selner of Thistle + Lace Photography

newborn photos

Cliff turned 4 months old yesterday, and I was feeling nostalgic, so I decided to finally share some of his newborn photos here! These images by Thistle & Lace Photography are a treasure to me. Adina came to our home and photographed us with Cliff when he was two weeks old, just before his (false) diagnosis of Galactosemia, when all was happy and well--as carefree as you can possible be with a tiny, helpless, brand new baby! I love that these images show us doing all the normal, everyday things that were so constant those first weeks of Cliff's life: staring at him in wonder, changing him, bathing him (actually his very first bath!) and snuggling him. I am so grateful for the beautiful light, the raw emotion and joy that Adina captured in all of these pictures. Thank you, thank you, thank you Adina--I would have many more babies in the future just so you could come take pictures of them :)

cliff's birth story

One month later, giving birth to Cliff feels so far behind me yet remains one of the most visceral and deeply moving experiences of my life. It is truly a gift to play the role of a mother bringing the life she nurtured for 9 long/fleeting months into the world, and I am beyond grateful to have been both a witness and protagonist in one of life's most incredible natural processes.

He came impeccably timed and a week early, which I had felt he would do for some time. I was 1cm dilated at my 36 week appointment and 2.5cm two weeks later. Although that’s not at all a tell-tale sign, our doctor said “If I was placing an office bet on you, I’d say you'll go early.” When I was a week and change from my due date, I felt strongly that he was coming soon. Things starting to shift in my body and I felt almost outside of myself sometimes. Maybe it was nerves—but if so, they all dissipated as the real thing started around 6pm on Wednesday, April 22nd. I was exactly 39 weeks pregnant and still not 100% confident that this was really it (how could any new mom be?); I just started noticing some uncomfortable menstrual-like cramps low in my abdomen. Luke was at an athletics banquet that evening, so I was by myself at home. It was earth day and I felt guilty because I had been inside literally all day long, hustle-bustling and trying to tie up loose ends before Cliff came. I’ll be honest, prior to that week, I hadn’t even packed my hospital bag! I looked out the window and saw the sun was going down, so I decided to take a walk. Our home backs up to Indiana Wesleyan University’s campus and I ended up on the practice soccer fields for the next hour or so. I paced, prayed, and sang—three songs in particular, over and over: our song for Cliff, Little Blue by Josh Garrels, The House of God Forever by Jon Foreman, and God I Look to You by Bethel Music. It felt good to walk and be outside. I could tell that things were slowly building, but tried to push it out of my mind since I’d been taught it’s best to completely ignore early labor so as not to “use up my resources" too soon. 

After my time outside, I knew I should try to keep myself hydrated and nourished so I had a snack of steamed beets—one of my weirder late pregnancy cravings. When Luke got home around 9pm I told him how I was feeling, but again, we tried not to get ahead of ourselves. The car was packed and we were ready to go. We even had my routine 39 week check up the next day at 1:30pm, so we knew we’d be making the hour drive up to our doctor’s office—which happened to be right next to our hospital—anyway. I texted our doula, Candice, to tell her how I was feeling and she urged me to go to bed early and get as much rest as I could.

Sleep was very iffy that night. My contractions became strong enough that I had to practice breathing through them as I was in and out of sleep. I would breathe very deeply/slowly in through my nose and out through my mouth as they came and went, physically willing myself to relax, and then I’d doze off again until the next one. In my half-sleep stupor, I found I was repeating phrases from a collection of birth affirmation notecards Candice had made for me. Statements like “I relax and let my birth happen” and “rhythm, ritual, relaxation”. I didn’t know I had committed any of these to memory, but it was kind of cool how they ran through my mind as very early labor built. I got up to use the bathroom a minimum of 6 times that night. I’ve already forgotten how difficult it became late in pregnancy to hoist myself out of bed and hobble down the hall in the middle of the night! I felt like I was 95 years old.

We woke up the next morning and lingered in bed for a little while. I told Luke about my all-night contractions, and at that point, I began timing them with the iPhone app Full Term (they were very irregular and no more than 40 seconds long). Again, we tried not to get overly excited. At this point my contractions weren’t exactly ignorable, but I was able to continue getting some little things done around the house and packing last minute items between contractions. I took a long shower, shaved my legs, did my hair, drank tons of water and tried to eat as much as I could to keep my energy levels high. I even took a nap. Anything that was relaxing or helped pass the time. When a contraction hit, I would stop what I was doing and use vocalization to get through it—basically low, deep moans, for lack of a better word. I used this kind of vocalization liberally throughout my entire labor. It may have been the single most effective technique to help me let go and open up to what was happening in my body. Luke decided to assemble our new bed for the guest room to keep himself busy, and he now says that it was the best thing to have a project to work on while I was laboring without necessarily needing him. He told me it was kind of funny to hear me work through a tough contraction in the other room and then pop in to the guest room and cheerfully ask him “how’s it going?!” when it was over.

Before long it was 12:30pm and we could leave for our doctor’s office, which, although an hour away, was located right on campus at the hospital. We tried to anticipate the best possible outcome—hopefully this was true labor and Cliff would be born that day. We were determined not to drive back home again before he came, so there was a reality of having to kill a lot of time and potentially even get a hotel for the night, but we hoped for the best. Luke reminded me that it was totally out of our control and we’d deal with things as they came. The car ride was definitely uncomfortable, but not unbearable. I had a portable heating pad that I plugged into our cigarette lighter and used on my lower back, where I began to feel some dull, achey contractions which were a bit less intense. I’m guessing back labor started because Cliff’s position had shifted when I sat down. It didn’t last beyond the car ride. I remember feeling like ANY kind of movement in the car was such a task—I felt glued to my seat. I ate one final snack, a packet of Trader Joe’s Trek Mix, and it didn’t sit very well. Still, I’m really glad I continued to eat for as long as I could throughout labor as I think it helped quite a bit with stamina. My contractions were averaging 35-50 seconds each and none were longer than one minute. They were still irregular but around 4 minutes apart.

We arrived at the Fertility & Midwifery Care Center for our appointment with our midwife, Lindsay, who would be delivering Cliff. I felt a bit like a spectacle as I had several contractions on the way in to the building and then one in the restroom. They were building in intensity and I’m pretty sure I was making a bigger scene than I realized with my ever-increasing level of vocalization :) While I was in the restroom, Luke checked us in and told them we thought I was in labor. When I walked into the waiting room I caught lots of excited glances from the nurses and staff. It was very sweet. We were sent right back to see Lindsay.

We knew that whatever we were about to find out in the exam room would dictate how the rest of the the labor played out. The unknown was making me feel nervous and I remember my whole body trembling. In the room, I could do very little to help Luke take off my shoes and leggings so Lindsay could check me. By now we were going on weeks (months?) of my husband sweetly helping me put on/take off shoes and socks—awww. Lindsay came in and we described what the morning had been like. She said “Alright, let’s see what’s going on!” I had my eyes closed, but later Luke told me the look on her face was priceless as she announced “Um, holy moly. Yep, you’re definitely in labor!” and told us I was 5-6cm dilated! I started crying with relief. Lindsay told us that we could go ahead and check in to the hospital. There were actually two hospitals within a half mile of the office, and although we had chosen one already, Lindsay asked us if we would consider switching at the last minute because she had another patient in labor there and it would be easier to have us both in the same place. Although this seems like a pretty big last minute change, it didn’t really bother us at all—we knew that both hospitals were great options so we gladly obliged and off we went. I texted Candice and she said she was on her way. When we entered, much to my chagrin and Luke’s amusement, there was a gentleman waiting for me with a wheelchair, per hospital protocol.

Luckily, we were able to skip triage and check right into our labor and delivery room, which was spacious and calming with lots of natural light and a whirlpool tub in the bathroom. We began to settle in and get acquainted with our nurses and Candice arrived shortly thereafter. It was probably around 2:15pm. I had tested positive for Group B strep which meant I needed to have 15 minutes of antibiotics administered through an IV, so a nurse began her first of FOUR (!) attempts at getting my IV in place. No joke, that might have been the most stressful part of my whole labor. We were basically barraged with questions, which was somewhat annoying, especially when a nurse essentially asked me “On a scale of 1 to 10, how much pain would you like to experience today?” I know they were trying gauge whether or not I would be asking for drugs, but the way she phrased it was just so bad. I had no idea how to answer! I ended up telling her 9 since I was hoping to not have any kind of pain meds or interventions unless medically necessary. I had actually typed up a short birth plan, but I forgot to retrieve it from my printer before we left home. Oops. IV and interrogations aside, the nurses were actually very good and supportive of the kind of birth experience we hoped to have. I really appreciated that they never offered medication and willingly followed me around the room in order to intermittently use a handheld heart monitor to make sure Cliff’s heart rate was normal (instead of using the strap around my belly and confining me to one spot).

After the nurses finished their initial routine monitoring, the room was calm and peaceful. They checked in from time to time over the next hour or two, but for the most part it was just Luke, Candice and I. We didn’t talk much and I remember wondering if they felt bored! When a contraction hit, often I’d hold onto Luke while Candice applied counter pressure to my lower back. In the background we had an early labor playlist going which I’d compiled a few days earlier—songs that were fun and calm but still slightly upbeat. Later on, when things started getting really intense, we turned on an active labor playlist I had also compiled with some of my favorite soothing, sentimental tunes. I am so glad I took the time to do this—there were several songs I had a highly emotional response to during labor, which I’m sure helped me to relax, let go and really go inside of myself for some of the more difficult contractions. I found myself singing along with some and crying with others. One of these was the Lumineers “Ho Hey”, which I’ve always liked, but has never made me cry! It was the chorus that really got me (“I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweetheart”) as I thought about our little guy who would be with us so very soon. I’d learned that crying during labor can be a tool, so I consciously tried let go of inhibition while assuring Luke and Candice that I was fine. Later on, I remember Luke and I looking at each other and smiling and singing along when our song for Cliff, Little Blue, started playing. Lastly, I remember a song by Colin Hay, Waiting For My Real Life to Begin, seeming particularly sweet and touching in the moment (“any minute now, my ship is coming in, I keep checking the horizon…”). I treasure these moments during my labor and really, really enjoyed having a specific birth playlist.

I had anticipated using the whirlpool tub all throughout my pregnancy, and after a couple hours of laboring on the birthing ball and walking/swaying around the room I decided to try it out. I experienced my final moments of any kind of inhibition as I took off all my clothes except for my black sports bra in front of the nurses and Candice. After that, it was no holds barred ;) Before getting in I decided to get checked by a nurse, who said I was “a good 7.” I was glad to still be progressing. I got into the tub and expected it to feel comfortable and soothing; but almost immediately my contractions intensified and it became difficult to find a position that worked for me. I ended up on my knees bent over the back of the tub, Luke holding me whenever contractions hit, and Candice massaged my lower back. Her hands were ICE COLD and it felt amazing! Hilariously, in my head I was convinced she was dipping her hands in ice water before she touched me each time. Obviously, that’s not what she was doing, but when I mentioned it she laughed and said her clients have been known to say of her, “cold hands, warm heart”! Either way, the cold felt wonderful as I knelt in the warm tub in the darkened bathroom. Candice had turned off the lights, so it was very peaceful, with the only light coming from the windows.


After 45 minutes or so, I started to feel cold in the tub and decided to get out. Before my feet hit the floor Candice/Luke/the nurses were wrapping me in blankets. Once I was out things started getting extremely intense. I was beginning to moan louder and deeper during each wave of pain; it was very primal. During a particularly hard contraction, Luke and Candice came along either side of me and held me as I bore down into a squat. Candice pointed out that I had naturally squatted and asked if I felt like pushing. I told her that I did feel a bit of an inclination so she said I should give in to the sensation, but only gently for now. At that moment it dawned on me that pushing would help the baby move down. Seems blatantly obvious, right? But it was actually really nice to have this realization before it was time to really, really push. I started pushing a little with each contraction and imagined him moving down lower and lower.

Around that time Lindsay entered the room along with our doctor, who was also attending, and I felt so happy they were there! Luke said I visibly lifted at the sight of them as though I realized that meant we were really getting close. Candice mentioned to our doctor that I had started to feel like pushing, so we decided to have him check me. He’s a very laid back guy and seemed so casual when he said “Alright, game time! You can start trying to push whenever you want." He was so calm about it, which was amazingit kept me from feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of pushing, which was the stage I’d definitely had the most fear and reservation about.

All this time I had been laboring, my water hadn’t yet broken. I remember being sort of stressed out about it, but Candice urged me not to worry, it would happen when it happened. It felt strange to push and wonder if at any second the bag would break. When it did, it was so, so, so weird. I was kneeling over the back of the hospital bed, and while I was pushing through an increasingly painful contraction, I felt the bag of waters burst and a ton of warm liquid gush out. It was just a weird/gross sensation, but within 20 seconds Candice and the nurses had everything cleaned up and I didn’t give it a second thought. All the while, Luke stayed right up by my head, holding me, encouraging me and enduring my very strong grip. :)

At one point I recalled that changing positions helps the baby move through the birth canal more easily, so I decided to lay down and push on my side. The only problem was that every time I had a contraction and pushed, my body wanted to curl up into the fetal position and I would almost fall off the edge of the bed! I didn’t realize it was happening because Luke was right there keeping me from rolling off, but everyone seemed very concerned and moved me back towards the middle several times. Things were getting increasingly more vocal now as everyone cheered me on with every push. Our sweet midwife was cheerful and calm as she watched his head begin to slowly appear. Our wonderful doctor stood by and let me squeeze the life out of his hand after I accidentally grabbed it thinking it was Luke’s (let’s be honest—at that point I didn’t care who or what I was grabbing onto), and he even manned our camera at one point! BEST doctor ever. Despite the fact that I was working through an incredible level of pain, the moments in between my contractions/pushes were incredibly peaceful and gave me a much needed opportunity to rest before the next wave came.

We were getting so very close now. I was pushing and roaring with each contraction. I was very conscious of my screaming, but I wasn’t embarrassed of it. The screaming was not for panic, fear or feeling out of control—it was a natural outcome of the exertion my body was under. The levels of excitement and anticipation (and, obviously, pain) were rising. I knew that soon I would have to put every ounce of strength I had into pushing, but for now Candice reminded me to let things happen slowly and steadily and allow all the tissues to stretch at their own pace to minimize the risk of tearing. It was a relief to know I didn’t have to push my brains out every single time. Pushing was definitely tough, but my team was incredible in guiding and encouraging me throughout it. Before I knew it, they were telling me that Cliff’s head was visible—and he had a mound of dark hair! Thus began the longest, hardest part of this crazy experience. He had descended to where his head was RIGHT THERE, and all I had to do was push it out. There is no more fitting time to use the phrase “so close, but so far away”. He was so close to being born that everyone was convinced that the next push would be the one that delivered his head. They were trying to encourage me by saying “This is it! His head is going to come out with the next push!” and, unfortunately, I felt like that happened over and over. It was like I was running a race and all the onlookers were telling me "The finish line is right around the corner!" but, when I rounded the bend, there was still a long stretch ahead of me. I started to feel defeated and even believe that I might not physically have what it takes. Every contraction, every push that he didn’t come out I felt more like a failure. I didn’t like that the nurses were getting louder, trying to cheer me on but instead just making me feel chaotic. Thankfully Luke, Candice, and our doctor and midwife intuited that I was starting to deflate and kept the words of encouragement coming—things like “you’re amazing, you’re doing it, he’s going to be in your arms soon.” At one point someone told me to look down and see my baby, but all that was visible was the tiny crown of his head, which looked like a midget head! In my somewhat out-of-mind-and-body state, some of the fears I’d had during pregnancy came rushing back that he didn’t develop enough (we had to have multiple ultrasounds to confirm his growth was on track). Not the best thing in the moment. I remember crying and wondering if my baby would ever come out of my body. I knew I wasn’t putting my full, total effort into the pushes. I needed to kick it up a notch and just keep going. When he finally emerged, I didn’t even realize he had come out. All I knew was that after an hour of pushing, my sweet son’s body came right out with his head and he was being placed into my outstretched arms. I had imagined this moment so many times—the first time seeing his face and how much hair he had and how big (or small!) he was—and now here was his warm, wrinkly, slippery body resting in my arms as he screamed with all his might. Such a surreal moment.

His umbilical cord was fairly short, so he rested down low on my chest. It took several minutes to calm him down—knowing him now, I’m sure he was angry because he was freezing! Candice and the nurses wiped him off, put a hat on his head and wrapped him up as he lay on me. His face was sooo smooshy, and his hands and feet were HUGE! Once the cord stopped pulsating, they clamped it and had Luke cut it. I think we were both somewhat in shock that our boy was finally with us. We had done it.

All in all, I was in labor for about 24 hours, but it felt much quicker. The hour after his birth was bliss. He just laid on me and I smelled his sweet newborn smell and we marveled at what had just taken place. When it was time to feed him for the first time, he latched on like a little fish. I was completely blown away. That night, I couldn't bear to put him down—I don’t think I slept for more than 45 minutes because all I wanted to do was stare at his beautiful face. Those first 48 hours of his life he never once left our sight.


Cliff, how could I put into words the way it felt to welcome you into our lives? You are our greatest gift. We’ve known what a good guy you are even from the womb, and you proved that with your wonderful and gentle entrance into the world. We rejoice over you, our sweet Clifford Zeb. You are fiercely loved.


by josh garrels

may all of your days shine brightly
and your nights be blessed with peace
wherever you lay down to sleep

and all things are made good for those who believe
may you grow from a seed
into a strong fruitful tree

as the days unfold, hold your breath to see
life is a mystery
and joy is severe when the way is rough and steep
but love will make your days complete

may the work of your hands help those in need
befriend the lonely
serve the weak
and forgive enemies

and if you find true love, one day marry
bear a child from your seed
help it to grow into a tree

as the days unfold, hold your breath to see
life is a mystery
and joy is severe when the way is rough and steep
but love will make your days complete

a big change: we're moving!

Our two-year stint in San Diego is coming to an abrupt halt at the end of this month. Two weeks ago today Luke accepted an offer to be the head men's soccer coach at Indiana Wesleyan University (side note: I find it funny that Luke went to a Wesleyan high school, Wesleyan college and now will find his first head coaching gig at a Wesleyan university...and we're not Wesleyan). We will be moving to Marion, Indiana--about an hour north of Indianapolis--in less than two weeks!

Luke has been applying for head coaching jobs since the fall season at Point Loma ended. A couple prospects seemed promising, and one in particular at Roberts Wesleyan didn't work out and left him pretty discouraged about the reality that he could secure a full time coaching job this year. We kept saying that even if nothing came to fruition, we would be able to make it work in our current scenario, even with a new baby. True, our apartment is teeny tiny. True, we don't make a whole lot of money. True, we don't get benefits. But we are confident in God's provision and he has never let us down.

After celebrating Christmas in Chicago with Luke's family, we planned to drive down to Charlotte to spend the last few days of vacation. Luke had already applied for the IWU job so we made a slight detour to see the campus. As we got closer to Marion I was reminded of my visit to Houghton College with my parents. It was SO desolate, even for a girl who grew up in rural Pennsylvania. My dad poked fun at me, offering to buy a purple school bus that was for sale on the side of the road leading up to the college. I was convinced I could never go to school there based on location alone. But there can be something inexplicably special about these places and the kind of community they foster, which is exactly what happened for me during college. Marion is in central Indiana, and all I remember are the corn fields and total flatness as we drove into town. My honest thoughts were probably along the lines of "Oh dear God where are we?" We drove onto campus, and thankfully things started to look up. It's a really impressive school on the edge of a not at all impressive town. The women's soccer coach, Tim, met us and was kind enough to tour us around and answer our questions. At the time, I really didn't realize how valuable this visit would be--I'll be honest, I was in a bit of a foul mood. I was cold, hungry and tired from our early wake up call. I couldn't imagine Luke and I leaving our lives in San Diego for this place. Luke and I both left the visit feeling somewhat "meh" about the whole situation.

However, in the weeks to come our tunes began to change. Deep down, I must have already known that this could be our future, because for a couple hours on the remainder of our long drive, I looked at local real estate on Zillow. (Another side note: shockingly real estate low costs. After living in New York and San Diego, there is no other word to describe it. Shocking.) We started to imagine what this opportunity would mean for Luke's career and our growing family. Luke secured a phone interview, and in the days following, we waited anxiously to hear if he would be invited onto campus for a full day interview. The morning he got an email saying he would be one of two final candidates to interview, I've never seen him so excited/proud/relieved. He prepared incessantly until the day he flew out for what was to be one of the busiest and most grueling days of his life: an hour of Q & A with the dean of the chapel about spiritual beliefs and theology, teaching a class, meetings with the hiring committee, HR and men's soccer team, lunch with the interim coach, and finally running the training session for the team that night.

When I talked to Luke that night, he was so happy with the way the day went. He told me that he knew these were good people and that IWU was a special place. He was impressed by the professionalism of the program and the way the school was run. He loved the team and the people he would be working with. At that point, on my end, I'd already picked out a home for sale near campus--you know, just in case. :) We waited a week for the phone call which finally came on Thursday, January 29th. It was the weirdest feeling when Luke's phone rang and he just looked at me, held up his phone and said "Margaret." I flopped onto the couch and listened to him in the other room, knowing right away he was being offered the job. My stomach was all in tangles. It sounds really dramatic...but I can't really articulate what this opportunity means for us and our growing family. I haven't even fully absorbed the extent of all this job provides for us. Answered prayers, goals achieved, and the joy of seeing the person I love most step into a role he has been preparing for for years...and a season of transition and unknown finally coming into focus.

Since that day, life has been a whirlwind. We are in the process of buying our first house, trying to fit as much time in with the people we love as possible, packing up our little apartment and mentally preparing for this new phase. It kinda feels like we're riding a crazy wave.

At the beginning of the year, a mantra came into my head, and it goes like this: "Be generous. Be grateful. Trust that the Lord will provide." In recent months, weeks and days we have experienced generosity in a huge way through the support of friends, family, and even strangers from our new community. The Lord has proven his faithfulness and provision in huge ways. And we are so, so grateful. So many people ask me how I feel about everything that's happening, and the first word that comes to my mind is "grateful." True, I'm also scared, nervous and aware of the great challenges that lie ahead...but gratefulness trumps all, because we are experiencing a truly sweet time in our lives right now. And life, with its constant ups and downs, is worth savoring in those moments when everything seems to fall into place.


Lately I've been thinking about yoga and how grateful for it I've been, especially during my pregnancy. I just remembered I've written about yoga once before, so the dates tell me that I've been practicing for almost 4 years now! I have been wildly inconsistent with it--memberships can be very pricey, so for a few years I would just practice at home from online videos or go to classes here and there if I found a new student deal.

But after my miscarriage in June--literally the next morning--I decided to do something to take care of myself. I signed up for a 3 month membership at a local studio called Yoga Six, which is very close to our apartment and such a beautiful space; it calms me down just to walk in the doors. I called in to get information about the membership and the woman I spoke to was SO incredibly kind, helpful and genuine. I gladly began going to hot classes about 3 times a week and Allison, the woman who helped me sign up, always remembered my name. One day she was getting ready to teach the class I attended, walking around beforehand to ask each student individually how our bodies felt, what we needed today, etc. I told her I recently had a miscarriage. I don't know why I shared it, but I felt like I could give her an honest answer. She responded compassionately and class commenced. At the end as we relaxed into savasana she played the most beautiful, heartbreaking piano music I'd ever heard, and immediately my mind went to the little baby I had lost. I laid there with tears in my eyes, immersed in the music and the heartache, when I felt Allison begin to massage my shoulders, neck and head. I felt so strongly in that moment the love and care she was showing me. I don't know any other way to put it. I was so sad, vulnerable and weak, and here she was taking an opportunity to lift me up. I have never forgotten that.

Practicing consistently helped my body get strong again, and I firmly believe it's been hugely beneficial in keeping me strong throughout this pregnancy, too. After my initial 3 months of membership were up, I didn't think I would be able to continue since it was such a big monthly expense. Enter Allison again to tell me about a program they offer called yoga for trade, where I work a 3 hour cleaning shift once per week in exchange for free unlimited yoga. Crazy, right?

So for the past 4 months, I have had the total blessing of being able to practice yoga every single week for free. I don't always go as much as I'd like, but I try to go 2-3 times and I always go at least once weekly. I'm not able to do hot classes now that I'm pregnant, but there is a warm class called slow flow that has been incredible. I truly see it as a blessing in so many ways. My main motivation for doing yoga is definitely for the physical benefits--I love the way it makes me feel; I love the strength and flexibility it helps me gain--but the emotional/mental benefits of allowing myself time to slow down, relax and detach from the day are monumental as well. I used to get crazy cabin fever from working at home. I'd come to the end of many days feeling really moody, even worthless. This has helped me so much. Not to mention the people I've gotten to know through my cleaning shift. Let's be honest, it's never fun to be a cleaning lady--but I see this as the most worthwhile cleaning I've ever done since it allows me to continue practicing yoga. I've even come to enjoy it somewhat--when I come in to clean, I still feel the calming, peaceful atmosphere of the studio affect my mood right away. I've also gotten to work with some wonderful women--of course Allison is always at work during my shift!--who have watched my belly grow over the months and celebrated milestones with me (they gave me flowers on the day we found out that it's a boy).

I guess I just wanted to write this to remember how much Yoga Six in Point Loma has meant to me in this season as my body has been nurturing and growing our little boy. I like to think the benefits are being passed to him and that somehow, this is all helping me to prepare for birth. I hope that I'm able to continue with this practice after he's born and for years to come.


all photos from yoga six website


our little cliff

Our son is coming in late April, which means I am more than halfway through my pregnancy. It's gone by so fast, although I still find myself getting impatient--waiting for my baby bump to show up a bit more, feeling anxious about giving birth, excitedly anticipating his tiny body in my arms.

I feel incredibly grateful and downright lucky that my pregnancy so far has been wonderful. I had a few days of nausea here and there in my first 12ish weeks, and since then I've suffered a handful of bad headaches, but other than that I've felt great. I do remember the crazy fatigue of my first trimester, though...poor Luke was waking up at 5:30am every day for training and I would finally drag myself out of bed no later than 9. And we were going to bed at the same time every night!

My energy is back now, and at 23 weeks I'm beginning to show a little more, but mostly I feel like he must be a little peanut. I love his kicks and jabs (except when they seem to be directed at my always full bladder...and occasionally my bowels? is that weird?) and it's crazy when he kicks me hard enough that I jump a little. One of my favorite times feeling him move happened a few weeks ago when I felt him start to kick around frantically and I put my hand on the side of my lower belly where it just so happened he must have been smushed up. He was shifting, or turning, and I felt a whole leg or arm or torso move against my hand like a little snake. Not the nicest comparison, I know. It did kind of freak me out. Still, I wanted to feel it again and again in the days since, but I haven't felt anything quite like that again.

My favorite thing is when Luke talks to him. He insists Cliff can hear him best through my belly button, and sometimes he whispers so I can't hear what he's saying. I try to tell him no secrets allowed, but he says it's just guy talk.

We spent two weeks away in December visiting family and friends all over the east coast. It was wonderful--Cliff is so blessed by his generous loved ones. Now that it's the new year, I find that I'm really excited to begin getting ready for our sweet baby a little bit more.

Cliff, you little stinker, I am so excited to welcome you into our family. You will be so loved in this world. You have the best daddy ever and I hope you grow up to be just like him. Thank you for being such a good little baby already and being kind to me in the womb. I know you will be born before we know it, but until then I promise to take care of you the best I can as you hang out inside my body. You are my little buddy and I love you.

fall finally

I cannot tell you how much I've missed fall this year. I've realized that I am very attached to the changing of seasons, the newness that comes as the winter fades into glorious spring or summer fades to crisp fall. Here in San Diego, we're experiencing weather in the low 70s for the first time since summer began, and I'm grateful, but it's not quite good enough--there are no chilly, cozy, rainy days, no need scarves or sweaters. It sounds crazy to complain about warmth and sunshine day in and day out, but I can't explain how my soul has craved the sight of trees that seem to be on fire with color, the smell of burning leaves and dewy branches and the feeling of my lungs chilling as I breathe it all in.

Quite frankly, I currently hate every tank top and pair of shorts I own. I want to put them away for a long time.

I was determined to somehow find some fall scenes, but at the coast it's just not happening. And I'm sorry, local grocery stores, but those fenced off areas of your parking lots where you stack hay bales and pile pumpkins just don't cut it. So yesterday Luke had a club soccer game up in Orange County and I went along, hoping we could seek out some fall if we headed east towards the mountains. I typed "apple picking" into my Google Maps and noticed a cluster of 4-5 farms all in one spot about 1.5 hours northeast. It seemed promising, so off we went after his game ended.

We found a slice of fall and home, and to me, it was heaven. The air even had a tiny bit of a chill! There was forest! Trees with changing leaves! And even though we were two in a million other CA residents just trying to get their fall fix, we enjoyed hopping from orchard to orchard, sampling apples and ciders and picking a few to take home with us. We stood in an absurdly long line at Snow-Line Orchard to get some mini apple cider donuts (so worth it). As we searched a few almost-bare apple trees in a very small, somewhat sad orchard where the effects of the drought were obvious, we were reminded of the sprawling orchards near Houghton where we would be the only ones there, eating apples that were dripping off the trees and picking an entire bushel for $10. We admit that we've been spoiled in that regard. Still, what we found was a little slice--a small reminder--of that, and it was exactly what I needed.


Earlier this month I was lucky enough to tag along on a soccer trip to Hawaii with Luke and his team. It was so nice to have absolutely no agenda, no work to do and plenty of time to rest and relax. I even managed to avoid emails, instagram and facebook for a full week! Luke's parents and brother met us there, too, so it was an extra special time being all together.

It was my first time in Hawaii and we stayed right on Waikiki beach in Honolulu. I didn't know what to expect, but I was surprised by how big and bustling the city was. I guess when I think of Hawaii I think of the mountains, beaches, natural settings and rural landscapes. Waikiki was super crowded, touristy and geared towards out-of-towners who come to spend lots of money. It made total sense to stay in this area with a group of 20+ college students, but I'm so grateful that we had a rental car to explore other parts of the island--and now I know if we ever make it back I'd love to stay on Maui, Kuaii or the big island to experience more of HI's incredible natural beauty!

Still, there was so much to see and do on Oahu and we enjoyed every minute. We watched lots of soccer and got to see the team enjoy their first wins of the season--phew! We hiked, snorkeled, ate our fair share of shave ice (almost daily) and explored the local food scene (my father-in-law always makes sure of that). I think what I enjoyed most of all were the drives to and from the north shore, taking in the drastic scenery and enjoying the views.



chalkboard hand lettering

It's not too often that my work gets shot professionally, so I had to share these lovely photos from B schwartz Photography with you. I was thrilled when Heather of Carter and Cook Event Co. contacted me about providing chalk lettering for Makenzie + Teddy's gorgeous Greek wedding. I hand lettered all the table numbers and the seating chart, which was one of the largest pieces I've done at 5' tall by 3' wide!

Heather sourced the vintage plates and giant frame for the seating chart.  I used real chalk for the lettering--as opposed to white marker--to keep the look authentic. For the names I used a white charcoal pencil, which emulated the look of real chalk beautifully while allowing me to draw fine lines.

Such a fun project to work on! Thank you to Heather, for getting in touch and designing such an inspiring event, and to Becky for the beautiful photos. See more on her blog here.

Psst -- this wedding also got featured on Style Me Pretty! Check out the post here.

loss | part 2

She was quiet for too long, I knew, as she studied the monitor during my first ultrasound. I had waited weeks for this appointment. It felt like forever since I'd taken that positive pregnancy test, and every day I felt unsure, not knowing exactly what was going on or if I was really even pregnant. I had every symptom in the book, but this was all new to me and I just wanted a doctor to tell me all was well. I had been so nervous as we sat in the waiting room, and Luke had told me not to worry, but now amidst the silence I saw the look on her face and I worried. I didn't dare look at the screen. What truths did she see there? How could I bear them?

Just before the ultrasound, I remember saying to Luke that I might not be ready for whatever was about to happen. I meant it more in terms of the positives, the joy--what would it be like to actually hear our little one’s heartbeat and have everything sink in? Could I really be ready for that? But deep down I also knew there was a chance that things might not go as we hoped and planned. Despite the fact that I wasn't exposed to it growing up--my mom gave birth to 5 children naturally and never miscarried--I was well aware of how common miscarriage is and never really thought it couldn't happen to me. In recent years, especially, I'd heard of numerous women who joined this "terrible club," as one friend aptly put it. Maybe God allowed me to be exposed to these stories, these realities, so I wouldn't be shellshocked when it happened to me.

“Well, you ARE pregnant…" she finally said. I almost had time to sigh with relief, but her voice still held concern. First she told us that she thought I wasn't as far along as we'd suspected. Not surprising. The truth was I had no idea how far along I was--I'd made an assumption based on a guess at the date of conception, but I'd never kept track of my cycle. She told us she thought I was 6 or 7 weeks pregnant versus the 8-10 weeks I thought I was. And then she spoke the words that made my heart sink: there was no heartbeat that she could see. She told us it could possibly be because it was still so early, or it could be that the pregnancy has ended.

I don’t remember really what happened next. I was devastated, scared and frustrated to still be in this place of unknown. The rest of the appointment was a bit of a blur. She explained that I should wait another week or so and then get another ultrasound, but in the meantime, I could get blood taken to test my levels of pregnancy hormone, which should multiply every day if the pregnancy was healthy. We agreed to do it.

Luke kept telling me we had to stay positive, that we didn't know anything for sure yet. He didn't want me to lose hope or let my mind go to dark places. It was a massive struggle over the next couple of days as we waited, but work kept me busy and the Lord kept me at peace somehow. When the day came to find out my blood test results, I dreaded making the call. I spoke to the girl at the front desk and thought she'd transfer me to the doctor or have her call me back, but instead she just read me my numbers from the blood tests: 30,000 and 32,000. I can't blame her for reading them off like the final score of a game she didn't really care about, but to me, those numbers held the difference between life and death for my child. I  didn't know what they meant, so I implored her: was that good or bad? She said the doctor would call me to talk about it. I immediately googled info about hcg levels. I couldn't figure anything out; I read one thing and started to cry because it hit me that those numbers probably meant something bad, but then I read something else and got a little hope back. Everyone's experiences are so different. When the doctor called me back an hour or two later, she told me the numbers were "not a good sign". She too, delivered this news as if it weren't the most earth-shattering information I'd ever received, as if I somehow wasn't still holding onto hope that our baby's heart was still beating, as if I'd actually accepted the fact that it was unlikely I would ever hold him or her in my arms. She asked me if I was bleeding (I wasn't). She said I should still go get an ultrasound later that week "just to confirm." That word rang in my ears. Nothing was "confirmed" for me; I still believed that our baby could be healthy and knew the Lord has power to do whatever he wants against all odds. But deep down, devastatingly, I felt there was no longer life in me. My symptoms were lessening by the day, the glaring nausea, the super sore breasts, the constant need to pee. Still, my body wasn't showing physical signs of loss so I still felt caught in between two realities. It was a scary place to be.

loss | part 1

I remember it clearly, sitting at my desk in the All Across Africa office a few days after returning home from a road trip with my Mom. We had driven nearly the entire coast of the Western United States, from Seattle to San Diego. It never occurred to me along the way that I could be pregnant, otherwise I probably would have skipped that glass of Pinot Noir in the Sonoma Valley. Sitting there at my desk, I got a strange feeling in my belly. It was brief, but unfamiliar, so I decided to stop on the way home and pick up a pregnancy test.

I took the test that evening and it seemed to take no more than 5 seconds to display “PREGNANT” on the screen, like the test was just that sure of itself. I can’t even begin to describe what emotions followed—I remember looking up at myself in the mirror, my eyes wide with shock, my hand instinctively coming up to my mouth. I felt unbridled excitement followed by a wave of panic. I think I may have started hyperventilating slightly, but my mom and sister were out in the living room so I had to keep these feelings quietly to myself. Worst decision ever: to find out you are pregnant with your first child but not be able to tell anyone because your husband isn't at home and you can’t tell your mom and sister before him and you’re in the middle of a project and you have to go about the rest of your day as though it’s normal even though your life is actually completely changed forever.

After what seemed like a very long time, Luke got home from practice, but immediately got in the shower. I couldn’t wait any longer so I took the test to him in there. “I have to show you something,” I said as I held up the test so he could read the screen. He stared, blinked a couple times, and then finally looked at me, mouth open, eyes wide, similar to the face I’d made at myself in the mirror earlier. He asked me if I was messing with him and I remember adamantly telling him that no, I did not in fact stage a fake positive pregnancy test just to trick him. He had to sit down in the shower. I was laughing at him but I sat down on the bathroom floor too and we just looked at each other. I had already gotten used to the idea of being pregnant after just a few hours—it’s amazing how much the worry and uncertainty fade when you’ve spent time imagining all the wonderful things about having a sweet baby. I was a little concerned about his apparent ratio of panic to excitement, but I didn’t blame him. He assured me he was actually happy. I believed him.



1) 2-3ish weeks. Didn't plan to share this but it's one of few photos I have of myself with that little life still in me.

2) Luke wanted me to take a second test before we told my mom the news.

3) A day after we found out I was pregnant. Minds blown.


this evening, a few minutes before 5pm (closing time for my local post office), i jumped on the scooter to rush one final piece of mail to the drop off, as i often do. i didn’t even have time to put my coat on, but was surprised to find the air warm enough that I was still comfortable, even in my sleeveless shirt, even with the wind whipping against my skin as i buzzed down the hills of point loma. every single light was green, and what could be a 10 minute drive took me about 4, but i won’t pretend i didn’t push the speed limits too. i pulled up right in front of the door and kicked the stand into place, taking off my helmet before heading inside. it’s typically in a panic that i approach the door of the post office, half expecting to find it already locked, but today there were still a couple people being helped. after seriously hustling to complete today’s mailing, prepare the label and speed down to send it on its way, it struck me as funny to coolly set the package down on the counter and walk out as if i’d been that calm and collected all along.

walking back outside, the weather was so pleasant that i decided to do a little joy riding. point loma is amazing in that it’s a peninsula, which at its highest point is 422ft above sea level, but the streets wind down to the pacific ocean on one side and the San Diego bay on the other. so if you live on one side of the peninsula you could have an amazing bay view with downtown San Diego beyond it and some really impressive mountain ranges beyond that, and if you live on the other side of the peninsula you could have an ocean view. win/win. except if you live somewhere in the middle and only have a view of your neighbors (raising my hand). oh well. from our balcony we can see the teeniest sliver of the ocean, a little under two miles away, so i still count that as a win.

on my joyride i actually felt incredibly joyful (imagine that!) as i tried to find which street had the best city/bay view. i found a pretty good overlook at the corner of hugo and plum. i wished i had my phone for a panorama. you could see mission hills and the entire bay, city, coronado island and even down almost to the point of point loma. so good. i kept going and inexplicably i was singing “i’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts” at the top of my lungs. i decided to head to sunset cliffs. i crossed the 10 or so blocks to the other side of the peninsula and when the ocean came into view, i thought about how very lucky we are to live here. seriously, why don’t i enjoy it more? i don’t know how much longer we’re going to be here. i doubt we will live here forever. i need to get out of my house and away from my computer and get into the sun, warmth and sea as much as possible from now on. i drove down to froude street and starting noting some discoveries i was making: first, that there are some streets i haven't heard of yet in point loma. no! why is that? i should be walking them or running them or scooting them every day. i need to explore these streets. second, there are homes down by sunset cliffs that have ocean views to the west AND south based on the nature of the peninsula. that is just unfair, but really cool none the less. third, it smells like flowers everywhere right now. the air is just insane. spring has full on sprung and the roses are killing me the most.

i parked on the street right by the cliffs and walked to the edge. it was just the perfect evening. i watched the surfers catch some really good sets and i wished i could do what they do. i find it incredibly relaxing to watch them, but i know they’re working hard. on the secret beach below, three people laid in the sun with their dog. sun, waves, surfers, sunbathers and a dog. i had a revelation right then and there. we need to move into a studio on the beach and finally get our doggie. live the real beach life for awhile. i’ve already run it by luke and he agrees. so i’ll keep y’all posted.

a post about nothing and something

Last Thursday Luke set off for Vegas to do some recruiting and I made my weekend list. Now, I love my husband more than anything on earth and I absolutely adore spending time with him. When he leaves for a recruiting trip, I get sad. But then after I’m on my own for a little while, a couple things happen...

First, I get uber-productive. I make lists, I accomplish tasks, I clean the house, I tackle things that I’ve been putting off. It’s AWESOME. A less awesome thing that happens is that I revert back to being in some kind of weird bachelorette mode: I stay up too late watching bad television, I sleep in, I don’t cook a darn thing. Tonight I had chips and salsa and wine for dinner, although I must say it was delicious homemade salsa with avocado, mango, kiwi, tomato, cilantro, salt, pepper, garlic & lime. TRY IT. My new basil plant lost a leaf in transit so I chopped that up and tossed it in to boot. Why not?

Earlier in the evening, since the apartment was empty, I had all the time in the world to let my jog linger on and on. I haven’t done much running lately, but I ran 2 miles down to the beach just as the sun went down. The thing about sunsets here is that they, too, linger on and on. Long past the time the sun sinks below the horizon, the sky is alight, shifting from pinky peach to burnt orange to dark blue. I love sunsets, the way they slowly change. You think they’re good, but then they get better; right up until the last tiny bit of light fades from the sky, they are beautiful. Good ’til the last drop. I walked down to the water and watched for awhile. I sat on the sand and listened to the waves. There’s something about being right there on the edge of the land, imagining how far and long and wide the water stretches out before you. Because I’ve learned that sometimes a simple change in perspective makes everything come alive, I turned my head sideways. I noticed the clouds, illuminate, small and scattered at random across the sky. I studied the way the colors of the sunset faded from one to the next—a perfect gradient. Then I sang a couple songs to myself. I thought about joining a choir again.

After awhile I got up and started jogging again, only because I wanted to speed up the next leg of my journey to a local co-op market. The best. I knew that the moment I walked in those doors, life would slow down once again. It would be nearly as peaceful as the crashing of the waves—strolling the aisles, basket in hand, taking in the bounty of fruit and vegetables and plants—I wasn’t expecting the baby plants!—and all kinds of other wonderful products. I was there for a few simple ingredients for the salsa, but as I said, the baby plants seduced me and before I knew it I had basil and heirloom tomatoes and three packets of seeds in hand. How could I not, when the beet packet boasted of greens in 20 days, beets in 40?

When all was said and done, my bill came to $23.13. I walked out of the store with my brown paper bag and marveled at the incredible resources I have access to. How thankful and blessed I am to be able to afford $23.13 for a few items at the market. I have to say, these days Luke and I have less than we’re used to in the way of finances. I’m trying to run my own business as my primary means of income, and that’s shaky ground to tread on. It means that we’ve gone without some of the things we’ve enjoyed regularly in the past: meals out, an overabundance of groceries, the occasional clothes shopping trip or home decoration item. But what I’ve found is that the money equation is really quite simple: you make more, you spend more. Making a lot of money is great, and I would never fault anyone for it. It's the natural thing to want to do and pursue. But the flip side of the equation is also simple: you make less, you spend less. Right now we’re in a season of making less. There are things for our apartment that I’d like to have. In fact, I’d like to not have an apartment at all—I’d prefer a beach cottage or bungalow. But these days we are going without the bigger place, the weekly restaurant jaunts, the $12 movie tickets, the nicer car, the newer clothes…and I am none the wiser, folks. I’m actually more aware of every blessing I have. I’m more thankful for every want and need fulfilled. And I am keenly aware of God’s provision in our lives, which never ceases to blow me away. These days our emptier bank account really seems to go further. Our goal is not to have money in excess, but to be generous with what we do have.

Anyway, by the time I was walking home from the co-op, it was dark out, but I felt completely safe. The air was cool but I was comfortable. As I considered my blessings, I thought about how lucky I am to live here. This thought comes to mind all the time. Daily my eyeballs are bombarded with beauty: the constant sunshine, the sparkly marinas, the pretty boats, the bursting florals, the breathtaking landscapes, the waves crashing on cliffs, the soaring palm trees, the masterpiece sunsets. It’s an amazing place and I wish you could all be here with me. I won’t pretend it’s all easy—it’s very hard sometimes, of course. The toughest part is being 3000 miles away from most of my family. But overall I can’t express how grateful I am for this place in our lives. It’s a sweet time for sure.

Luke said something about me that gave me a lot of joy and pride awhile back. At our community group we were asked what each other's life motto would be if we could assign one to our husband/wife. Luke stole mine from North Face: “Never Stop Exploring”, and I loved that. What an amazing life motto to have. Never stop exploring the beauty of this world. Never stop exploring how much you can love others. Never stop exploring the depths of Christ’s love for you. Never stop exploring how far you need to step out of your comfort zone to find real excitement and fulfillment. Never stop exploring how much you can give and be amazed at what is provided. Never stop exploring the endless things you have to offer. I never knew it was my life motto, but I’m glad Luke revealed it because now it’s time to live it more. 

I don’t have an ending for this blog post and it’s already incredibly long and choppy, so I’ll end with a story from the other night. I was walking in the Target parking lot and a homeless guy asked me for money. Whenever I get asked for money, I give it, as long as I have cash. Everyone approaches this type of thing differently but I always think of something our old pastor offered on the issue of giving money to beggars: “People say you shouldn’t give cash because ‘They might use it to buy beer.’ Yeah? Well, YOU might use it to buy beer!” Touche, Pastor Frank. That I probably would. So I gave him a dollar and he thanked me, and then he spouted off this long monologue that made absolutely no sense. He said he was going to get some money soon because he was the King and people owed him tax money. He said some other nonsense and then abruptly ended with “Well, thanks again! Love you.” And he reached out for a fist bump. There was a crazy innocence in the way he said it. I think it was because he was strung out, but still, it really struck me. I fist bumped him back and said “Love you too” and went into the store. He was gone by the time I came back outside.

valentine's weekend

Hello hello! It's been forever since I've posted a personal update, but this weekend we broke out our "real" camera a few times so I wanted to share those photos with you. Friday was Valentine's Day and Luke brought home FOUR DONUTS after his team trained in the morning. Yes, we did eat them all. Yes, you have permission to call us Valentine's Fatties.


Our one tradition for the day is a dinner of homemade soup, which began in 2008 when Luke ended up getting sick on our first Valentine's day as a couple. In past years we've made broccoli cheddar, tomato, creamy potato, and vegetable beef--I wish we'd kept yearly recipes! This year the soup of choice was chicken tortilla. So good.


I did write down the recipe loosely this year which I'll try to get on a printable recipe card for you. It has a béchamel base and gets its flavor mainly from cumin, chili and cayenne seasoning which is what I happened to have in my cupboard! I don't know where I'd be without my trusty cumin supply...

Then yesterday we drove up to Newport Beach to go on a whale watching trip. It was really fun to be out on the water and thrilling to see the wildlife! A pod of dolphins swam and played alongside our boat at one point and we saw a huge gray whale surface in between dives several times--it was the first whale I've ever seen in my life! Everyone on our boat gasped and cheered whenever he showed just a fraction of his massive body, which was such a testament to the power of nature even in our world of ever accessible larger-than-life photos and HD video.


(Luke actually gave himself a haircut later on in the day Friday after 6 months of growing it out! In case you wondered what's different about him here…)


So that was our sweet little weekend. I hope you all had a good one, too! I'll try to be back before too long to give you an update on my work and business. Have a great week, all!

black and white bridal shower invitations


Love these simple shower invitations, a collaboration with Suzy Lee of Dear Darling Calligraphy. That girl can WRITE. 

Also, in case you didn't hear, printing services are up on the website! You can now easily order custom photo cards (like the above) along with greeting cards, stationery, envelopes and even custom liners. Super excited to make your designs come to life.

hello little love | baby shower invitations

One of my dearest friends is having a baby this spring! I created custom invitations for her Valentine's shower with a watercolor heart motif throughout. Such a fun, sweet project to work on.



To make these I hand-painted a variety of watercolor hearts and scanned them into Photoshop along with custom calligraphy.  I also painted a solid area of watercolor to use as a custom liner. I had a tough time deciding between the heart pattern/solid watercolor for the backer/liner...do you think I made the right choice? I think it could go either way, but something about the sprinkling of hearts on the back of the invitation is just too sweet.

These are giclée printed on 118# Reich Savoy (100% cotton) paper.

And just for fun, here's a screenshot from the moment after Allison announced (via Skype) that she's pregnant. :) I love you, Al, and baby girl Mathias too!


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advent | peace


My sweet friend Megan created a "word-a-day" writing challenge for Advent--check it out on her blog and join in if you wish!

A season of peace so appeals to me. So often I find myself in a place of unrest--from an overloaded work or personal schedule, as I wrestle with big decisions, when I feel bogged down by the worries and cares of life--and I choose to walk in that rather than surrendering my burdens to the Lord who came to bring peace. The passage above in Isaiah is entitled "Birth and Reign of the Prince of Peace". How amazing is it that this was one of the chief goals of Jesus' birth? To bring peace into our world (when he comes again there will be no more war) and into our souls (when he comes again there will be no more unrest)! Isaiah 9:7 says "There will be no end to the increase...of peace." Such a beautiful reminder for our often restless hearts.

This season I am choosing to walk in peace. I have never followed any kind of reading program for Advent, but my friend Melissa contributed the lovely artwork for this book and I began it this morning. It's geared towards families with children, but I love it so far. I know it will be good for my soul.

New shop launched!

I've been working on something fun--a small collection of items to share with you this Christmas season, and they are finally for sale in the new Nightingale Handmade shop! AHH!

I'm excited to launch this little shop, but also nervous. I hope you see something you like, but if you don't, know that my goal in the upcoming new year is to bring in the work of numerous other artists/makers/craftspeople to fulfill all of your heart's handmade desires! In the future there will be more than just paper, metal and leather in there (although there will be lots more of that, too).

I truly love all things handmade and I'm really looking forward to this quest to seek out lovely offerings for the shop. Thank you so much for taking a moment to look! Feedback welcomed, of course. xo

PS - Don't forget that I offer custom printing and design services! Let me know if you have a custom request like holiday card printing, or if you'd like me to email you a price sheet. 

inspired words | steadfast love

I created these hand-lettered pieces to send to my mom recently. Sadly the second page suffered an ink spill so she only endedup getting one. Sorry Mom!

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  Lamentations 3:22-23 

I used a watercolor brush and calligraphy ink--a very pretty, very metallic warm silver. It is so soothing to use a brush for lettering.



some days more than others i am just reminded of how incredibly BROKEN our world is. someone's beautiful blonde precious daughter underwent her THIRD open heart surgery…as a three year old. and now they wait in recovery…wait through complications…wait through uncertainty. someone else waits and wades through uncertainty for a baby boy birthed by someone else, though they have already fallen in love with him as if they can recall the very moment they conceived him, but they didn't conceive him because they can't conceive. they applied to adopt him and now they don't know whether or not they will ever get to open their arms to his perfect tiny warm body because the birth father may not consent to his release. jesus. a friend recently lost his mother to a battle with cancer. another friend recently lost her father to a battle with cancer. another friend bravely faces each and every day with a father who is battling cancer. jesus. help us. this world is so so broken! this is not what you intended!

my own problems and grievances feel so massive these days. my family is broken. my parents are getting a divorce. my thoughts and feelings whirl around in the salad spinner of my mind and i dream dreams that confuse me and i toss and turn at night and cry and feel fear and sadness and grief for what has been lost, and what has never been at all. i curl myself up on the floor of the shower and all i can utter is "help God help God help" and it's my prayer for the entire world.

but there is hope amid the brokenness. two friends are getting engaged today…maybe as i type this. tonight i will go to a celebration to see her blue eyes glow and her diamond ring sparkle. in a world full of broken families and broken hearts, the two of them get this brand new chance to stand against all the hopelessness that sickens and pollutes our world and CREATE a destiny together, a family together, a story together and i know it will be a good one. God has not deserted us, i believe he weeps with us in the hardest of times. dances with us in the best of times. and this is what we MUST do for each other. life is too impossibly CRAZY difficult not to hold each other and cry together and lift each other up physically or figuratively in prayer. and life is too incomprehensibly beautiful not to laugh and sing and share joy with one another. friends. we belong to this incredible body of believers…for a reason.

PLEASE let me know if there is any way i can help, pray for, encourage or celebrate you.