{Stepping away} SoFabCon 2014

“For Mother’s Day, all I really want is a hotel room. All to myself.”

That was the not-so-subtle hint I offered to my husband as the holiday approached. I could think of nothing more blissful than a night away where I could eat, read, watch some tv and pee alone. Oh, and sleep. Lots of sleep. I’m not sure which I miss more about my life before motherhood, sleeping or getting to finish a cup of coffee while it’s still hot.

So imagine my excitement when I was given the opportunity to go to SoFabCon, a blogging conference right here in Northwest Arkansas. Due to the generosity of Collective Bias and the Northwest Arkansas Bloggers, I was able to go for free. Not only was this an opportunity to meet other bloggers and learn ways to improve my blog, it meant two days away from baby boy. Forget excited, I was ecstatic.

Don’t get me wrong. I love that boy more than anything, but after 10 months of being home with him every single day and only a handful of hours to myself, I needed a break. While I didn’t get that hotel room (I live only 40 min from the Embassy Suites where most of the action took place), this conference gave me the space I was craving.

SoFabCon was unlike any conference I’ve ever been to, blogging industry or not. I got the clear impression that what Collective Bias CEO Bill Sussman said in his introduction speech on Friday was true–these folks like to have fun. I enjoyed every minute of it, from the kickoff at Crystal Bridges Museum where I met some wonderful new friends, to the two days packed with invaluable tips and information from pros and finally, an evening to celebrate at the Collective Bias 5th birthday masquerade party!

All the same, it took no less than a day for me to end up in the bathroom weeping, begging my husband to send me photos of my baby so I could see his sweet face and know he was okay. The conversation went like this:

Me: Can you send me a picture?
Jeremy: Of?
Me: Coen.
Jeremy: You don’t have a bunch?
You want me to take one and send it to you? I don’t understand.

Sigh. He also did not understand when I ran to the bedroom when Coen began stirring soon after I got home. I guess I’m not ready for that hotel room, after all.

{Soup’s On} Lentil & Kale Soup with Slow Cooker White Beans

 This brisk weather is not what I had in mind when I waxed poetic about spring the other day. It does, however, give me an excuse to attempt this delicious soup that has been simmering in my thoughts for awhile now.

It all started when my mom, on a trip to Little Rock last fall, had the audacity to ask the good people of Whole Foods to let her choose two 16 oz. soups for the price of the 32 oz. When that was not amenable to them, she didn’t just get her soup and go as I would have done. She pressed on, asking to combine two of the soups into one 32 oz. container. If it had been me, I would have looked wistfully at the lentil soup only to fill my soup container with the white bean and kale soup and then set off on my way. But not my mom. She always asks the question. She got that container of lentil soup combined with white bean and kale soup…and she said it was delicious.

So, I decided to make it myself. When I told my husband that the soup he was about to consume was of my own creation, he raised his eyebrows. But guess what? We both thought it was pretty yummy too. Here is the recipe for Lentil & Kale Soup with Slow Cooker White Beans (adapted from this Whole Foods recipe).

Slow Cooker White Beans
2 cups dried great northern beans
2 teaspoons onion salt
3 springs thyme
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, minced

Sort and rinse beans, then soak them overnight to ensure they become soft and tender. Drain and rinse your beans. Combine the ingredients in a large crockpot. Cover with water by about 2 inches. Mix together well and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Cool beans and store them in the refrigerator for a week or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Lentil & Kale Soup with Slow Cooker White Beans
8 cups vegetable broth
1 package of brown lentils
1 yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 carrots, chopped
5 cloves of garlic
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
4 tsp chili powder
2 cups Crockpot White Beans (alternately, you can use 2 cans of white beans)
1 bunch of kale with stems and hard ribs removed, roughly chopped or torn

Heat 3/4 cup broth over medium-high heat in a large pot. Bring to a simmer, then add onion, garlic, carrots and pepper; cook about 8 minutes until vegetables are tender and onion is translucent. Stir in chili powder and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add lentils, tomatoes and remaining broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, for 25 minutes. Add kale, cover and cook until kale is softened and wilted and lentils are almost tender, about 5 more minutes. Uncover,  add beans and cook 10 minutes longer. Serve.

Ah, spring {plus, a giveaway}

Yes, I did say giveaway in the title and I know that you will probably just skim this post until you find the magic words, “here’s what you need to do to enter.” I will get to that in a bit. I’ve been anticipating this day for what feels like forever now. On this day, I look at the tiny buds of the daffodils blooming in the soft morning light, and even though there is still a chill in the air, I feel like winter is finally behind us. Along with the snow and the ice, the frigid temperatures and the long, dark nights, I hope winter takes with her the doubts, shadows and fears that tend to loom large when the sun isn’t shining quite as much. As the writer and NPR commentator Andrei Codrescu wrote, “We’ve had our frigid weather, cold enough to freeze the glitter on a fairy, and now it’s spring.” I, for one, am ready for the pruning and regrowth this season brings.

The first day of spring often coincides with the birthday of one of my favorite people. She’s often mentioned on this blog because she takes awesome photographs of me and my family. However, this year it happens to fall on another special person’s birthday. His name is Ryan and he’s only 2, but he’s already made an impression on me. I started following his mom on Instagram because I wanted to win a certain cloth diaper giveaway. I fully intended to stop following once the giveaway was over because let’s face it, the thought of following the photos from a company dedicated to helping you take care of your baby’s poop just doesn’t sound all that appealing (that company would be Spray Pal). Then a funny thing happened. I started seeing the photos from this “CEO of poop” and instantly fell in love with minispraypal 2.0, as Ryan is known on the interwebs. I’ve loved watching this micropreemie achieve milestones and overcome challenges, and I feel honored to play a tiny role in his 2nd birthday celebration.

This is where the giveaway comes in. So many awesome companies have come together to celebrate Ryan’s special day with the mother of all giveaways. I’m serious, you guys. It’s so big that it had to be split into 2 super awesome prize packs. The rafflecopter is going to seem daunting, but you have some time so spread your entries out. Comment and spread the word over social media now, then come back while your nursing your little one and do a few more entries, and repeat during the next few days! It will be so worth it! Some of the great prizes include a Nook highchair from Joovy, a Beco Soleil baby carrier, and Freshly Picked moccasins, not to mention a slew of cloth diapers. Okay, I’ll go ahead and mention a few of those too–sustainablebabyish|Sloomb, Rockabums, and Lalaybye Baby!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Traditions {a recollection}

My favorite holiday memories are deeply rooted in our family
traditions. I remember walking into my grandparents’ house in Jonesboro for
Christmas and feeling like I had stepped into what I imagined the North Pole
must be like. Garlands of gingerbread men hung along the doorframes, each
individually wrapped in cellophane and ribbon so that opening one felt like a
present in itself. Those tasty, carefully and lovingly created gifts of
gingerbread goodness were one of the highlights of my childhood. I looked
forward to them each year and they are part of many wonderful memories.
Christmas at the beach in North Carolina!
As our family moved from state to state, sometimes far from
our extended families, we tried on traditions. When I was 8, we traveled to
North Carolina from our home state of Texas to be with my father who had moved
ahead of us for a new post. Intent on making it a memorable Christmas, my
parents created a scavenger hunt that sent us joyfully around the apartment
following clues that led us to our gifts. We followed that up with a trip to the beach! Other years included counting down
with purpose using the advent calendar and an unforgettable Christmas pageant
featuring live animals.
One tradition that stuck, although it presented itself in
many forms over the years, was a tradition of serving others as a family during
this time of year. Whether we went caroling at the hospital, visited the
elderly at the nursing home, or served Thanksgiving dinner at a homeless
shelter, we took the time to shower love on those whose spirits needed
This year, as a new parent, I have been especially
thoughtful of holiday traditions and the memories I want to create for my own
son. I hope to instill in him the same sense of service and love for others
that my parents ingrained in me by their example.

I’d love to hear some of your family traditions as well.
Just know that I might just adopt them as my own!

Thanks + Give

It’s the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. You’ve eaten until you were stuffed and then had some more. You’ve shopped til you dropped. You most likely don’t want to see another turkey or the inside of another mall until the new year. Here’s where Giving Tuesday comes in, to remind us that this season is really about giving differently.

What if you could give a gift that literally keeps on giving? With a mission to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth, Heifer International supports families all over the world (here in the U.S., too) by giving them livestock and training. Then, those families Pass on the Gift by sharing the first female offspring of their livestock with another family and helping to train them. Each time I stand behind a booth sharing with others about Heifer, someone inevitably says, “So it’s kind of like the ‘teach a man to fish’ idea?” It’s that and so much more because not only does that man (or woman) learn how to “fish” to sustain his family, he turns around and teaches someone else how to do it as well.

So, check your recycling bin for that Heifer catalog you got in the mail, or check it out online. Get the kids involved in choosing between ducks, rabbits, goats or bees (yes, bees). Give to this worthy organization today and then, get that gift catalog back out because Heifer gifts are great under the tree as well.

And if you’re a trail runner, go register for our Hoof it for Heifer 20K happening April 12, 2014 at Petit Jean State Park. It’s our third year to put on this trail run in a gorgeous setting and the proceeds benefit Heifer. We have some great volunteers (and staff)! If you are not a runner and already have an organization you are giving to on Giving Tuesday, give us a “like” on the Heifer In Arkansas Facebook page. 

{Soup’s On} Chicken Tortilla Soup

Fall is my absolute favorite season. While I do prefer warm weather, there’s a beauty in the changing leaves that makes me feel like I too can shed myself and come out on the other side of winter renewed and reinvented. I take to making lists and goals during this season whereas most people wait until December 31. That is probably why my blog has many more posts in the fall than any other time, something I’m hoping to remedy. Fall is my buckle-down season–where I try to fit in everything I’ve wanted to do all year because time is running out. And there is so much to do this year.

Well, I actually came here to write a post about soup. I eat soup all year round, but I understand most other humans, especially here in the South, prefer to eat it only in the fall and winter months. I hope to share some of the tastiest recipes during this soup season, and I’ll begin with my favorite.

This is the first meal I ever just threw together without paying attention to exact measurements or following a “recipe.” That is one of the great things about soups, you can usually just throw together what’s leftover from the week along with some items from the pantry and come out with a great meal in the end. Every time I make this soup for guests I end up giving out the recipe. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Chicken Tortilla Soup

2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups shredded chicken (I use poached chicken I’ve made ahead of time or rotisserie chicken in a pinch)
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tsp cumin
1 Tsp coriander
1/2 Tsp cayenne (optional)
4 cups chicken broth
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can chopped green chilies
1-2 bunches fresh cilantro, chopped
1 avocado, sliced
1 lime, cut into wedges
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Tortilla strips or chips

In a large saucepan heat the grapeseed oil over medium-high. Add the onions and cook for 2 minutes. Once the onions have softened add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the chicken, chili powder, cumin, coriander and cayenne. Cook for 5 minutes. Pour the chicken broth, tomatoes and chopped green chiles into the pot and bring to a boil. Once at a boil lower heat to simmer and cook 10 minutes. Add fresh cilantro to the pot. In individual serving bowls top with a lime wedge, tortilla strips, avocado slices and cheese.

The journey home {a farewell}

Traveling home from laying my papaw to rest, I lifted my head up from behind the car seat where I’d spent most of the drive alternately entertaining and lulling to sleep our 3-month-old. “Are we about to leave Texas?” My husband casually confirmed our impending border crossing and without warning, I burst into tears.

“What’s wrong? Are you upset because we didn’t stop at Whataburger?”

And while it is sad to leave Texas without having a Whataburger, that wasn’t it. It wasn’t even the prospect of driving on Oklahoma roads for the next 200 miles. Nor was it the fact that the speed limit was now 70mph instead of 75mph for the remainder of our trip.

“I wasn’t ready. I don’t want to leave Texas.” Jeremy, only half understanding, told me that we could always come back. I immediately thought, “But papaw won’t be there.”

Ah. I thought I was crying because I wasn’t ready to leave Texas, but really, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to papaw. Coming back to Texas will never be the same. Sure, I still have family and people I love to see in that state, and to me it will always be home; but until now, papaw was always the reason to come. It feels like losing a part of my identity.

Someone recently told me, “You’re not a Texan.” True, I haven’t lived in Texas for 7 years, but in my heart I truly feel it is home. If I clicked my heels 3 times that’s where I would find myself. As for papaw, his home is now a place where there is no more pain or sorrow. I grieve his absence and miss that dear, sweet man so much that I feel used up and nauseated, but at the same time, I’m hopeful. Because of Christ, I know that I’ll see him again one day. In this happiest of thoughts, my heartache gives way to rejoicing.

Between blue & gray

At 23 weeks pregnant my rings are starting to get a little snug. I know it’s only going to get worse. I wasn’t really on the hunt for a stand-in ring, but when I stumbled upon this gem from JewelMint I couldn’t resist. I mean, how could I pass up something called the Grey Shadows Ring? I absolutely love the blue-gray color of the jewels. In fact, I was so excited to purchase it that I completely forgot to take advantage of their 2-for-1 coupon code. If I hadn’t gotten ahead of myself, I probably would have picked up the Sorbet Thorn Necklace or the Come Together Bangle. Oh well, I’m still jazzed about my ring. I can’t wait to see it in person. I just hope it’s big enough!

Bringing up baby

Okay, this goes out to all of the been-there-done-that moms out there. I am sure I will have many questions and will probably get more advice than I know what to do with, but right now I want to know two things.

1. What is the one item of baby gear that you just cannot live without? Preferably this thing is or was useful in the first few months after bringing baby home.

2. Alternately, what is the one item that you wish you had never purchased. Whether it was something that looked nice but didn’t function or just something that you bought and never even used.

I feel so lost on what to buy. I thought I could gather some insight from all the great moms I know (and some I’ve probably never met)! Thanks so much for your help.

Baby deer print by Sharon Montrose at the Animal Print Shop.

A bit of news

I didn’t think I would ever say the words I’m about to say. First of all, let me say that it was not for lack of desire…I just didn’t want to let myself hope for something when it seemed it was not in the cards for me. You may have guessed at this point, or you may have known from the time you saw the heading for this post, but I’m saying all of this to tell you…

Jeremy and I are expecting!

I always said if we were to have a child it would be the Lord’s doing. We are beyond thrilled. While we’re feeling incredibly blessed, we are also a teeny bit overwhelmed! The baby is due in the beginning of July and there is so much to plan for and do.
This weekend, I had a wonderful visit with my good friend Bekah. We did a lot of catching up and I’m so grateful for these photos she was able to take for us!