19 Years and Counting...

Our anniversary.  Every year on August 2nd we toast another year together.  This year we ran away to the city for a night alone.  Nothing extravagant.  Just long enough to catch our breath and soak in each other's presence.  I've learned that intentionality does wonders for our intimacy level, our connectedness.  It is high priority in our relationship.  No distractions.  No cell phones.  No outsiders.  Only us.  Alone.  Focused on us.

Birthdays and anniversaries they cut me to deep.  Bring me to my core and have a way of  focusing my attention to the hands of time that can so often be ignored in the daily living.  And after nineteen years there is more than enough to reflect on.  This year as we sat at dinner we walked through our marriage, year by year, season by season.  Recalling the beginning was not easy.  Not only because it was a LONG time ago but because there were struggles.  Some really hard stuff.  Two young adults, well barely adults, navigating life together after being individuals and all with the unexpected surprise of parent hood.  We tried college together.  Lived with roommates.  Lived away from our families with no support system.  Did not have any married friends or friends with children.  We worked various jobs to make ends meet.  We had secrets.  There was shame.  A bout with cancer.  Apartment living.  Graduations.  House purchasing.  Moving across state.  More babies.  Bankruptcy.  Cross country moves.  Finding church.  Meeting God.  A new career.  Grad school.  Growing children.  Two people growing apart and together.  All the late nights, early mornings, sleepless unknowns and so much in-between.  A season for everything.  Confessions.  Mistakes.  Grace, loads of grace.  Self discovery and therapy.  Life groups.  Different churches.  New friends.  Learning family dynamics and walking the road to balance.  If there really is such a thing.

All that to say, these nineteen years have been full.  Full of life lived.  Sometimes well and other times not so well.  Yet, day in and day out we have chosen each other.  Most of the time.  And when we haven't we've learned better.  There has been unbecoming and selflessness.  It has been hard.  There are days when I don't know where the "yes" comes from.  Someplace other worldly for sure.  Thank God for that.  Nights where rolling over and staying on my side would have been easier.  When not talking is the choice.  Not one I'm proud of but hey, I'm still learning new ways.  We're always learning and that means we're still choosing each other.

This practice of remembering and sharing and talking together was interesting.  A new to us tradition and I must say I found it rather insightful.  In listening to what Jared recalled, what was important, noteworthy or challenging from his perspective was soothing.  Maybe that's not the proper word choice but that is what I felt in the moment.  Peaceful.  Like we had possibly found our rhythm then and there in the conversation and we were present and wholly together.  I hope we have nineteen more years and then some to continue to remember.  Together.  Because together is always better.

And that leads me to some perspective into the way he loves me.  Let it be said here, I am not a diamond or bling type of girl.  A plane ticket, surprise adventure, a night away at a hotel, a meal out, those speak to my soul.  I am thankful that after twenty plus years together that I have learned to recognize the small, everyday ways he loves me.  Not always in the grand gestures, because there are times more often than not that time or money don't allow for those.  But starting the coffee in the morning.  Picking up his laundry off the bedroom floor.  Making the bed EVERY day.  Offering to run by the market on his way home if I am in need of a forgotten ingredient.  Filling my vehicle up with gas when I've let it run on empty.  Ordering take away when he knows I'm too tired to cook.  Saying yes to hikes or other various nature related activities because he knows how much I love nature. Taking care of carpool duties at night.  His servant's heart screams love to me in so many ways.  I don't know that I recognized them for what they were in the beginning but I am trying to do so now.  On the daily.  Because I need grace.  Our marriage needs grace.  And because I can always do better.   The small, the everyday and the grand gestures.  I hope I am able to spend the rest of my life showing him I believe that.

So that is what all this reflecting has done for me.  I pause.  I still myself and remember.  Celebrate and learn.  Commit to loving lavishly.  Because that is better for our us.  For me.  So here's to ninety more years together Husband Jared, the first nineteen have been oh so good!  

Happy 18th Thing 2!

Happy 18th birthday to you!  I know, your birthday has come and gone and here I sit almost a week later writing your birthday letter.  It might be because I have been processing this emotional week we've had.  You, turning 18 and then two days later leaving for another country, one where you'll be living for almost 7 months.  Yes, a tad much for this Mama's heart.  But this letter is not about me, it is for you.  For you to read and feel loved and celebrated for the God gift that you are.  Not only on your birthday when you entered this world physically but always, everyday, because you are a walking miracle.  We all are, really.  

This last year has been full, as they always are.  Our move back to Franklin, homeschooling, high school graduation, speaking at the senior high retreat in MN, visits from your MN friends, a surprise trip to the beach with your mentor, a trip to Israel, family overload this summer, a visit from your besties, offering your hand lettered art to the world through an online shop and preparing to pack up your life for half a year.  Change is a constant.  The transitions haven't always been full of sparkles and unicorns but you have handled them with the same optimism you've carried since you were younger.  There have been challenges and there will continue to be throughout life, but we can take heart because Jesus has overcome.  

You, about 6 years old, blazing the trail on a family hike.

The photo above captures who you are.  Unafraid.  Willing to take risks and be different.  Go where others haven't, can't or won't.  And you bring everyone along with you.  You are inclusive and you have never met a stranger.  Your smile diffuses tensions and the way you love people is contagious.  There have been times I've witnessed that first hand and it is gloriously beautiful.  Just the other day I was chasing after you and the Lord stopped me in my tracks.  Literally.  I paused and watched and listened.  You ran ahead, never looking back, moving forward and embracing the next with arms flung wide open.  Then you jumped up on a rock and took a photo of God's creation.  Don't ever give that up.  Take that sense of wonder with you into whatever He has placed before you.  The road blocks, the valleys, the mountain tops and everything in between.  Share it with those you encounter.  I can say confidently that you have made me braver.  Rekindled my sense of adventure and brought that back to life within me. Thank you for that gift.  

You and the ibex, ready to take on the mountains!

I might be remiss if I didn't mention a few favorites at the top of your list right now.  Purely for documentation's sake.  Since this letter is for you it may seem redundant but these likes have grown with fervor over the last year and they mark a season in your life, just like anything else.  So here we go;  COFFEE.  And with that the hunt for the very best cup of coffee.  Donuts.  Rap music.  Beyonce.  Fashion.  Art.  Photography.  Design.  Current events, including politics, justice and dare I say even reading.  Maybe not a like but you did finish a book in two days on our beach vacation.  Hip, hip hooray from your word loving Mama!  

So as you step into your year of 18 keep dreaming those God sized dreams.  He has equipped you and will continue to do so.  I pray that you cling to Jesus before anything else.  I pray that when you make mistakes you tell someone.  Learn from them and keep trying.  I pray that you rest in the Spirit.  I pray for your heart, that it be protected.  That you share big love with all the people and that you remember always who you belong to before anything else.  I pray for you.  Everyday.  I pray that all the things that haven't been said are revealed to you by the Holy Spirit in fresh revelation.  I pray you know how very much you are loved.  

I love you to the moon and back.  

Madre xo

The Month of May

May always begins with Thing 3's birthday celebration.  She was born on May 4th and this year was her sweet sixteen.  Although it was her year for a party the girl wanted nothing wild or too crazy.  Her words, not mine.  Family dinner.  Cake at the house.  All of us together.  Ok.  I can do that.  So we did.  First though, her day began with a 6ish mile hike at a Nature Park where we got totally turned around and according to our iPhones we climbed over 100 flights of stairs.  It was a healthy start to her year of 16!  Then there was a big family dinner with all her favorites and a cake she actually allowed me to make.  Three cheers for that accomplishment.  She has a hard time staying out of the kitchen when there is baking happening.

The family. And food.  Lots of it.  Schnitzel, mac and cheese with bacon, vegetables.  
All the good stuff. 

Chocolate Ice-cream turtle cake.  Yum.

Make a wish.

We also took her to see "Mama Mia!" at TPAC and then in place of a party Husband Jared took her on a date to The Catbird Seat, a fine dining restaurant in Nashy.  We had looked at this place on line before, learned a bit about the chef, been enticed by the open seating arrangement and prix fixe menu, and the chef center stage for all to see.  Thing 3 was intrigued and when you don't ask for "stuff" for your birthday you get to choose an experience and this was quite the experience.  The two of them came home full and not just from the food.  She studied every detail, critiqued the presentation, preparation and was a student of the meal.  I sat their in a trance listening to her describe every detail meticulously and then she shared the pictures.  I was drooling all over her phone screen without even knowing it.  Yes, it looked that tempting.  Here, see for yourself.

Pre-show selfie in Nashy.

Thing 2 with the birthday girl.  Thing 1 was away at school still and Thing 4 opted out.

Shortly after all the birthday festivities Husband Jared and I headed to Seattle to pick up Thing 1.  Her gap year program with Kairos was coming to an end and there was a graduation ceremony planned and we decided to make a weekend out of it with Poppi and Nani.  We met in Seattle after booking our first AirBnB and purchasing tickets for the Mariners game.  Another stadium for Poppi to cross of his list.  With Thing 1's full end of the year schedule and the chore of packing up her belongings, cleaning her apartment and saying goodbyes we did not get to see her on our first night in town, instead us old people toured the area ourselves.  Husband Jared and I tried out an old diner near the airport then picked Poppi and Nani up.  We went to a brewery, ate a yummy lunch and then had a phone call from Thing 1 that she would be able to join us for dinner.  Woo hoo!  We went and picked her up, Poppi and Nani were able to meet her roommate, see where she had spent the last 9 months and then off to Mukilteo for dinner.  Ivar's is a Washington establishment and their clam chowder is hard to beat.  And that is coming from a San Fran fan.  There was a lot of walking around the city, a ferry ride to Bainbridge island, a visit to a local brewery, a bakery, more walking and sight seeing and then a baseball game at Safeco Stadium.  Another one to cross off Poppi's list.

Sunset in Mukilteo

The Pier in Seattle

Mariners Game-Safeco Field

Sunset in Mukilteo

Donuts all day, everyday!

The day after was the graduation.  We took Poppi and Nani to our favorite diner and lo and behold the tears started.  This time because of Poppi.  No surprise, right?  I just have to brag on my Dad a bit.  He is the most tender hearted man.  There was a table full of young adults across from us and the entire meal he was watching them.  At first I wasn't sure what he was looking at, I thought maybe he was distracted or reminiscing in his mind, you just never can tell.  Then he gets up from the table and is gone for a while.  All that to say, when we are in the car Dad tells us that he paid for the table's meal.  I knew it. He said he had been watching them order, look at prices and then one young man was counting his change in a ziplock baggie underneath the table.  Well, that was all it took.  Dad treated them all and didn't let the waitress tell them who did it.  Yep.  Proud daughter moment.

Now graduation time.  There is something about seeing your adult age daughter enter the parking lot in a friend's vehicle, with her coffee in hand and carry herself into the building like she owns it.  Full of confidence, full of the Holy Spirit and about to end one chapter and begin another.  Wow.  The service was beautiful.  We worshipped together.  Heard testimonies from a few students.  Watched a video montage of the year's most memorable moments and witnessed interactions that were both uplifting and encouraging on so many levels.  We met people that had been influential throughout a pivotal season in our daughter's life and that was such a privilege.  And her host family was present as well.  The Mama had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and was in the middle of treatment, and she was there.  I felt such gratitude well up I had no words.  Anyhow, we celebrated the graduate afterwards with a memorable meal, a toast and a prayer and our eldest daughter glowing.  Such a sweet time together.  The best part, she came home with us.  For now anyways, who is to say where the next year will take her?

Brian and Thing 1.

Graduation Day- Don, Gayle, Carolyn and Thing 1

All ready to go!

While we were off in Seattle Things 2-4 went to a baseball game to celebrate Pappo's birthday.  Thing 4 even caught a foul ball.  Are they baseball fans now?  I wouldn't go that far but they did have a good time with the fam.

En route to the Sounds Stadium.

Thing 4 and his home run ball!

We hosted some kiddos of our family friends for a weekend in May, it was delightful.  A total of eight kiddos, counting ours, running amuck for three days.  There were kick ball games, smoke bombs, bon fires, outside meals and loads of laughter and games and dancing.  It was fun!

Bonfire and the Eno- every night. 

Husband Jared and I snuck a way for a concert in Birmingham, AL.  Dave Matthews Band was in town and we made a night of it.  Our seats were the closest we've ever been and it was quite the show.  The next day we made an unexpected stop at a goat cheese factory.  Well, said goats do not actually live on the property but their cheese is produced by hand on site.  And we were able to meet a few of the goats' family.  There was even goat cheese ice-cream and a deli with all manner of delectable treats created with their cheese products.  A good detour if I do say so myself.

My favorite.

Closest to the stage that we've ever been.

Unplanned detours with him are my favorite.

Goat cheese, yes please!

And then without catching our breath Nani was here and the family visits were kicked off.  A few days with Nani and then Poppi to follow and the Stuck family and more and more!  While Nani was here the girls insisted on having her visit as many coffee shops as possible in the Nashville area.  But of course.  We made preparations and plans for our Stuck-Hanson vacay, Thing 2's grad party, family visits from the Greats and the Olivitos and loads of friends that would be joining us to celebrate Thing 2.  Here's a few more snapshots from our lives in May.

Nashville farmers market and succulents.  Our favorite.


Dinner on the patio.

Birthday hike.  We did it.

Cinnamon rolls.  Just because.

Glory to Glory to Glory...And then again.

I can not even tell you how many times I have started this post and then deleted every. single. word.  I'm not exactly sure why.  This morning though during my time in the Word it became somewhat clear, or at least less murky.  You see, I have entered a new season.  One where I feel my identity being called into question, my authority as a mother and my faith being challenged.  It's weird, for lack of a better adjective.  For some reason that seems to most accurately describe what's transpiring on the inside.  I haven't been able to put words to it until this morning.  In recent months, even the past two years, I have justified and explained it away as change.  So much change.  Daughters graduating, moving, not feeling settled where we were or where we've landed, all teenagers in the house, a new place of employment for Husband and the list goes on.  All of this and yet I hadn't given myself permission to truly see the mourning and dancing of the season.  How it isn't about getting through or moving to the "next" big event or scheduled trip or house guests, etc.  It is in the beautiful complexity of it all.  How within that tension God shows up.  He reveals Himself.  There is faithfulness and provision and it is all only because of Him. Well that and my obedience and intimacy with Him through it all.  And isn't that where most of us live anyway?  A dance we often call life.  

Our recent series at church is "Priests and Praise".  We were absent for the first couple weeks but this last week was revelatory.  The term "secret place" is a familiar word to those of us in the church.  Some refer to it as quiet time, at least I had until this past Sunday.  Being in relationship with the Lord is no different than having a friend here on earth.  Stay with me.  Obviously there are Holy differences but what is the same is the fact that relationships require time, listening, attention, love.  In order to have a friend I have to be a friend.  So the secret place is where that happens with my Jesus.  The time I spend soaking in His presence.  Reading His story.  Knowing His character.  Hearing what He has for me.  Being able to discern His will over my own.  Understanding the Truth.  Pouring my heart out even though He KNOWS it already.  Choosing obedience.  Fighting the battles with Him and in Him.  Going to this secret place is a choice and when we make that choice our presence is affected from being in His presence.   Leading us to deeper places.  In these deeper places we are more in tune with the Spirit and capable of going from glory to glory to glory.  

On the heels of sitting under this teaching and finishing up my study with She Reads Truth on "Mourning and Dancing" I expectantly went to the secret place this morning.  I'm so much a morning person.  I feel refreshed and ready and bright as the sun rises.  It is then I'm at my best and feeling much more capable of intellectual and spiritual conversations.  Here I am, sitting in a local coffee shop, digging in and it dawns on me.  This life, this journey I am on is nothing short of navigating the tension in the mourning and dancing seasons.  Duh.  Yep, wife of 19 years, mother of 4 and I am just now understanding this.  I know, right?  And I answer, yes.  I've understood it and applied it differently in the past.  Currently, in this season it has never made more sense to me.   In a peace-filled, glory be way.  Maybe I need to better explain the condition of my heart.  I have felt stuck, unsure, a bit lost.  Almost as if I was waiting for certain stages to be done.  Moves to take place.  Hear my heart on this.  Life is good.  The six of us are healthy, together and moving forward.  One day at a time.  I do believe thought that there is something to be said for sitting in the now.  Present.  Whole.  Fully taking in where one is at.  On the daily.  I may sound like a broken record.  You know how there are some lessons, growth opportunities if you will, that you think you have worked through with the Lord and dare I say overcome?  And then you find yourself smack dab in the middle of that mess all over again?  Yep.  That's where I'm at.  Learning new stuff I thought I had learned long ago.  I am giving myself permission to answer the question of "how are you?" honestly.  To genuinely listen and engage in conversation surrounding the health of my spirit.  Allowing myself to make choices that are healthy and whole and life giving for myself and my family.  Giving into the joyous racous when it arises from my soul and then too leaning towards the mourning when it shows it's face.

I am not sure I am fully downloading here.  My role as a mother is shifting.  Transitioning from needy toddlers to having teenagers that are forging their independence and preparing to change the world.  Husband Jared and I consistently say to each other let's finish strong.  We are not finished, nor will we ever be at the finish line with our role as parents, but we are nearing the time where are Things will be heading out to begin their journeys away from the safety net of our home.  That is surreal and bittersweet and makes my heart do flips in such weird and painful ways.  Disclaimer here, I am not a Mama that desires for my babies to stay home with me forever.  Witnessing them grow and change and step into the people that God has created them to be is such a privilege, an exciting and awe inspiring one at that.  All that said, family vacations are becoming more difficult to schedule, all but one is able to drive a vehicle, these people that call me Mama have their own opinions, can form complete sentences and articulate their thoughts around the dinner table.  I am no longer needed to cut meat, blow on hot food, kiss owies or rock them to sleep.  Emotions are all over the map here.  I was not ready for the rollercoaster that this stage of life is.  When people say, oh, you're busy, I have a difficult time agreeing.  Busy doesn't quite encompass what THIS is.  This is life.  The dance, as we've been referring to it here.  Mourning and dancing.  Running our race.  Dealing with constant change.  New.  Old.  Sameness.  All of the above.  And thus the state of my heart has been in upheaval.  Unsettled.  Most likely because I am re-learning how to do THIS.  In a new way.

This revelation is strange.  So contradictory to the strategy of fake it till you make it, put a smile on, and all that nonsense.  Embrace the here and now.  Wherever you're at.  Whether that is welcoming the guests as they pour in through the revolving door that is your home, or as you sit with silence and loneliness and a disengaged heart that isn't sure what to do next.  There is a time for everything, as scripted in Ecclesiastes 3:1 & 4, "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance."  That is truth right there friends.  When I press in to that, when I become a priest of prayer and praise, spending time in the secret place and having that be my starting place, the well from which I draw on and the lens through which I see this dance of life becomes a little less cloudy.  

February-April (And Mother's Day)

This blog has been neglected as of late, well actually as of this year.  Which, speaking of, can you even believe it is the end of July already?  I can not.  Halfway through another year.  Impending graduation celebrations looming.  Another school year in the books.  And you know what that means, the Things are getting older.  Heck, so am I.  That could be one explanation for my lack of writing.  My brain has not been functioning at full capacity.  It has been leap frogging all over the family calendar, in Edwin, our family van, at footie matches, at the market, crying in coffee, etcetera.  I'm sure I've painted quite the picture for you.  All that and yet here I am on a glorious Spring evening in middle TN, I can hear the baseball and lacrosse parents from my patio where I am sitting with my laptop.  Half and half tea at the ready and my fingers trying to tap out a long awaited post.  

We recently celebrated Mother's day and I feel as though that is where I should begin, even though my obsessiveness for order and chronological data is causing me pause.  Still, it is fresh on my mind and for now that trumps anything else.  First, though, let's just reflect on Spring in Tennessee.  I had forgotten maybe for a minute just how beautiful it is.  The green here is almost electric.  The entire earth seems to come alive.  Daffodils, lilacs, wisteria, then a bit later the irises and jasmine and honeysuckle.  They all smell so sweet, lingering in the air after a fresh rain.  I was able to plant in my pots before Mother's day giving us ample time to enjoy vibrant colors and hummingbirds on our patio, which is where I would like to spend every evening from here on out.  Alright then.  Back to Mother's day.

Our brunch and our people. 

Sweet Husband Jared spoils me every year, plain and simple.  I requested for the Things to pitch in a bit more than usual with our Friday chore routine and they cleaned the house for me.  Crab and champagne brunch was planned with the extended family and then an afternoon of just me and my people.  Well, minus Thing 1, which made this Mama a bit sad.  I don't think that in 19 years of being a mother that I have ever celebrated the day without all four of my Things within arms length.  Not a fan, people, not a fan!  Brunch was a roaring success.  We planned and prepped the night before so that we could enjoy the morning together, slowly.  And that we did.  I went for a run, we watched some footie, there was coffee and then a bit more preparing.  Thing 2 had a cooking/baking lesson and made the scones and cinnamon rolls on her own, to which Thing 3 was quite surprised!  The Things decorated our chalkboard and had confetti balloons on the table for me along with the perfect present and cards.  Such a sweet surprise to wake up to.  Our family arrived, Husband Jared grilled crab and we prayed and toasted to all the Mother's and those that weren't with us.  It was a good morning.  We sat around the table and soaked up the sunshine while the kiddos played, magic tricks were shared, popsicles eaten and the ENO was enjoyed.  When everyone had gone their own ways for the afternoon the Things prepared water balloons and the five of us ran around and squealed all while getting soaked.  So much fun.  Then we walked to downtown Franklin, grabbed dinner at Pucketts and had ice-cream for dessert.  Talk about splurging, it was a day of my favorites with my favorites.  I collapsed into bed that night sun soaked and grateful for a day of celebrating and being present.  Thank you Jesus.

Husband Jared and Mema

3 of the 4 that made a Mama

And now we regress to the months preceding May, beginning with February.  There was a 19th birthday for Thing 1, her first away from home and a 38th birthday for me and all sorts of stuff in-between.  More house guests, an overnight trip to Chattanooga with Husband Jared, a trip to Cali for me and even a little jaunt to Memphis for the Things and I, oh and the beginning of Thing 4's high school footie career for Middle TN Fire, a home school team.

Every year Husband Jared and I set our budget for the year based on the previous year's expenses, our tentative schedule for the current year and some hopes and goals we have for the future.  This year I thought it best if we do this away from home and distractions.  You should totally read that as Mama wanted a night away and this was how she decided to get it! Wink, wink.  So off we went.  A two hour drive away and we talked and sung our hearts out.  We played tourist and walked around Rock City, went to the lookouts, ate out, walked around downtown, slept in and ate breakfast at the coolest little cafe ever.  And yes, the budget got done as well.  Mission accomplished.

Pancakes as big as my face and some of the best I've ever tasted. 

The decor at Aretha Frankensteins.  Old vinyl, cereal boxes, concert paraphernalia...anything goes.  Even a skeleton riding a skate board hanging from the ceiling. 

Why yes we did ride the carousel, just like a couple of kids!  

Thing 3 was gifted a cooking class at Whole Foods for Christmas.  A chocolate class.  I accompanied her and watching her in that big, fancy kitchen was like watching a professional in their element.  It was fun and the treats were tasty too.

Such a happy Thing.

The almost finished product.  

One of our favorite Minnesotans came to visit and spend love day with us.  Laura arrived and the week spent with her exploring TN was funner than fun.  There were foodie excursions, coffee house field trips, shopping and lots of time spent around the table together, listening, fellowshipping and laughing.  She was here for our annual love day celebration too, which this year consisted of family breakfast and presies along with words of affirmation for everyone.  Another of my favorites.

 Need I say more?  Just the beginning of their time together.

Love day breakfast prep.

Love day around the table.

Our Love day table set  up.  Pre-breakfast.

Exploring Natchez Trace in the rain.  

Coffee shop visit, #20978.  

For my birthday this year Poppi gifted me a trip to Cali and I couldn't have been more excited to spend a weekend with the parents.  The weather was gorgeous and I had them all to myself.  Sometimes as an adult you find yourself just needing some Dad and Mom time occasionally.  We ran outside, enjoyed nature, did some shopping, ate lunch out at a new brewery and drank way too much coffee while playing Rummikub.  To top it all off my brother and Corynn and the girlies spent a night with us and celebrated my birthday too.  That day began with a picnic lunch at a winery, complete with live music and dancing, an afternoon grilling and a birthday cake made by none other than Gianna and Jason.  Wow!  Such precious family time.

 Picnic at the winery.

Around the table.

Helping Auntie LeLe blow out the candles.

When I returned home the Things had made me my favorite cake and were ready to continue the celebration.  It is well known in our house that birthdays should definitely last more than the one day we were given, at least a week if not the entire month is spent festively around here.  Thing 2 treated me to a coffee date with her at Crema on my actual birthday, Husband Jared and the Things made lasagna and we toasted and prayed with the family as I blew out all the candles on my cake.  Whew!  I felt loved and treasured and that was the best gift of all.

Rainbow chip birthday cake.  Yum.

Family birthday dinner.  And lots of candles.  

Husband Jared had a work trip planned to Memphis and I figured we could incorporate a school field trip into that so off to Memphis we went.  The Things and I visited the Civil Rights Museum and walked the halls reading and taking all the history in.  The museum is incorporated into the building of the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed.  Standing outside the hotel is nothing short of eerie, always gives me chill bumps.  This was my first experience inside the museum and the historical context it provides is impressive.  Walking the hallway of the hotel and peering inside the hotel room, left exactly the way it was the day of his assassination is unsettling.  Needless to say our dinner table discussion was filled with Civil Rights talk and copious amounts of historical context provided by Husband Jared.  So there was a pool in our hotel, indoor of course and the Things thought it absolutely necessary to take a dip.  Off to Target we went for swim suits because that's what we do and then on the way in to the hotel parking lot Thing 3 and I spied the cutest little bakery shop that was actually open and we ventured in and had to taste all the cupcakes.  Ok, not at all, but a few did return to the hotel with us.  And just like that the over night trip was over and we were on our way back to Franklin.

Outside the Civil Rights Museum.  

Waiting patiently for ribs?  You be the judge.

 Our sampling. Chocolate with PB frosting.  Matcha green tea.  Strawberry.
Chocolate fudge brownie.

Cutest little bakery.

A short aside here, Thing 2 officially finished her high school career as well.  In January her and Thing 3 traveled to MN for a church retreat where she spoke and our agreement was that school was to be completed before she left.  And it was and we had her diploma in hand and she even humored her Mama and wore her sister's cap and gown from the previous year and we hoot and hollered and took tons of pictures.  It was a good celebration.  Oh and about her talk, it was on joy and the time spent studying and preparing and writing was not a waste.  That girl gave it her all and I know the holy spirit filled and guided her right through those 5 minutes.  What a thing to witness as a parent.

The newly graduated, now preparing for Bible School in Germany, Thing 2.

I think we are on to Easter now.  And yes, more visitors.  This time not in our home but in our fair state of TN.  The Stinson family, all 7 of them made the trek South to see Franklin and us and a few other stops along the way.  I could not have been more excited to hug my friend's neck and see her crew.  They are precious little ones and near and dear to all of our hearts.  We have lived some life with them and to be reunited again was a God kiss for sure.  Once here we dined al fresco, toured some Nashy sites, spent Easter together, had an adult night on Broadway, (because that's what you do when people visit, you take them to the Honkey Tonks!) watched some footie together and celebrated a couple birthdays.  The pictures tell the story better than I could.  But oh my goodness did we have some fun!

Our last day together and the birthday celebration of Jack and Michael.

Stinson family table signing.  Worth documenting for sure.

Chick Fil A and watching our favorite footballer together!

Preparing for Easter with Nana's Easter cookies.

The group, minus Thing 1 and right before we all changed into comfy clothes.

Our favorite Stinson family.  

The 5 of us, not looking at the camera and being awkward with our hands because we never know what to do with them.

Loveless lunch and exploring.

Welcome to the South Stinson family.

A little corn hole while waiting for our table at Loveless.

A visit to the Parthenon, Centennial park, the gardens and even a picnic.

Captive audience.

Main Street, Franklin.  Girls and Noah shopping day.  

Our group at Loveless.  

Mama Stinson, Mama Hanson.  

Broadway, downtown Nashy and all the Honky Tonk glory behind us.  

A walk for frozen yogurt at Sweet CeCe's.

Shortly after that Husband Jared, Thing 4 and myself were off to Kansas City.  Thing 4 was invited to an all-star showcase for Sporting KC, the MLS team his club is affiliated with.  We were welcomed to Swope Village where he worked out with their trainers while Husband Jared and I explored the city, he went to the MLS match for chalk talk, watched warm ups on the pitch and was announced and shown on the big screen, then played a match on the most pristine pitch he's seen thus far.  It was quite the experience.  One that motivated and challenged him.

First night of training. 

All of downtown KC had Spanish colonial architecture with tiles and arches and I was swooning over it all.  This was a little coffee shop Husband Jared and I tried out while Thing 4 was working hard at the training grounds.

These two beauties spent the weekend together while we were in KC, this was the selfie they sent to their Mama who was missing them.  They hiked and then got lost and found their way together. Thankfully.

Just to the left of the "a" in adidas is Thing 4.

The boy's selfie attempt as he was watching warm ups.

First MLS match- Go Sporting!

Walking off the pitch after the match.

 There are no words for just how special this picture is to me.

While we're talking footie Thing 4 was invited to play with Middle TN Fire, a homeschool footie team in the greater Nashville area.  We begrudgingly obliged and accepted the invitation and lo and behold he was placed on the varsity team as an 8th grader.  Mixed feelings about that decision.   I rolled up to his first training session and saw MEN getting out of their vehicles, which they had driven themselves, with their facial hair and muscles and grown up attitudes.  They were not the coaches people, nope.  Players.  On Thing 4's team.  This Mama was not ready for all that business.  Although I will readily admit that the Lord's sovereignty was over this decision as well.  The team prayed before and after every match, including their opponents in their huddles.  The young men on the team encouraged and taught Thing 4 things well beyond the game.  His coaches were men of God and poured into him in a way I had never seen before.  This community that we stepped into was such a gift to all of us.  Even with the endless driving to Nashy in traffic.  All worth it ten fold.

This was a funny meme that one of the Team Moms had made and posted.  That's Thing 4 being pulled down by the man in the white uniform.  And it's one  of the only photos I have of him in his uniform.  And I think it's hilarious.  You're welcome.

All this was happening while Thing 1 was exploring the state of Washington, having adventures all her own.  Serving in Costa Rica, kayaking through the San Juan islands, rock climbing and camping and finishing up her gap year with Kairos.  I have so many words about her year away and all that we experienced at a distance, but that will have to wait.

Later in April my friend Holly and her daughter Caroline came to visit.  They were native Franklinites that had recently moved to NC, in fact right before we moved back.  Insert sad face here.  Holly stayed with our mutual friend and Caroline hung with us here at the Hanson B&B.  We were all ecstatic.  These are people more like family than friends and we love them all dearly.  So we did what we do when have visitors, we ate, Thing 3 and Caroline are both aspiring bakers so we let them loose in the kitchen, there were dance parties and drives and shopping and just hanging out.  The week was short and the memories plentiful.

The start to one of our many nights together.  I grilled and we ate dinner together on the patio.  

Main Street Festival and Baskin Robbins!  

Girls day at the Factory.

Chocolate Strawberry cake created by Thing 3 and Caroline.  It was delicious.  

Friends that eat ice-cream together, stay together.  Right?!

We had a half marathon after that.  Actually Husband Jared, sister Natalie and Thing 2 were the runners for our crew.  I was on the support team this year and cheered loudly from the sidelines as they crossed the finish line, each one being awesome!

The Finishers.

Mommy's cheerleaders.

So proud of these two. 

Husband Support Team.

That brings us right to Thing 3's birthday, the opening of the farmers market, a trip to TPAC to watch Mama Mia and then a trip to Seattle for Thing 1's graduation ceremony!  All that was happened in May so pictures and details to follow.  For now, we'll end with a few photos of life in the beginning of 2016.  Wow, what a start to the year.

Teaching Grandpa about snap chat.

Gemma had a birthday and the cousins celebrated at Chuck E Cheese.  

There was a serious conversation happening here.

His California look?

When Auntie Leanna picks you up on a hot day there is most certainly ice-cream involved.

Sometimes school looks like this for him.

My favorite sibling.  

Sometimes this is what school looks like for her.

Serving together at Harpeth.  The rest of the family was there too.