The case for yearly family photos

This gallery wall is a house project I’ve had in my head for years, and I finally have enough high quality photos to fill up our wall space. As I look at these pictures, I’m struck by how faithful God has been over the years to provide for us in each season. I’m also struck by how well-rested we look in our wedding photo!

I’ve made it a point to have professional photos taken every year since we were engaged. Time moves so quickly, and I want to commemorate each year together as something to celebrate. We skipped 2018 because we had unexpected job loss that made it financially unwise, but we made up for it the following year by booking two shoots throughout my pregnancy. These photos are treasures to me, and I encourage you to prioritize documenting your family in photos. During my time in Lexington, I was lucky enough to work for an incredible photographer and I learned so much from watching her work magic. (Lexington area friends, Kelsey Malicote is the GOAT!) Here are some tips to make yearly family photos happen!

Put it in the budget: Andrew was initially reluctant about annual photos due to the cost. Thankfully, he trusts me, so when I’m really passionate about something, he’s willing to try it. We got our first family photos taken when Lyla was five months old, and he immediately said, “This is the best money we’ve ever spent.” As long as you’re working with a trustworthy, professional photographer whose work you love, you will never regret having photos of your family. Even if you don’t have kids yet, you’re a family of two! I love looking back on our newlywed photos and having them to share with Lyla one day. If you go into your budgeting with the mindset that you’re going to book photos each year, you can set the money aside in whatever way works best for you. Save up over time, transfer a lump sum to savings so it doesn’t get spent, designate it in your Excel sheet…whatever you need to do. If you want to make family photos a priority, be willing to make them an investment.

Make it a date: Once you’ve budgeted for photos, consider when you’ll schedule them. Every household is different so there’s no one size fits all answer. What makes the most sense for your family? Consider making this your yearly Mother’s Day present and book photos in May every year. Do you want to have a standing Christmas card photo shoot? Maybe late fall would work best. Does your family take a yearly beach vacation? Perhaps there’s a local photographer who could capture those memories each year. If you want a variety of settings/backdrops, maybe you’d like to choose a different season every year. Think about what milestones or special events your family has coming up and let that inform when you choose to book your photo shoot.

Find your person: Do not…and I cannot stress this enough…cheap out on this. The old adage, “You get what you pay for” is never truer than in professional photography. Trust me; there are some bad ones out there. None of your forethought and preparation will matter if you don’t like your photos. Research photographers in your area. Look at their work online. Pay attention to the photos your friends post and display in their home. If they have beautiful photos, ask who took them. Once you find someone you love, reach out to them and get your session booked. Don’t put it off! Professional photography is an industry that never sleeps, and chances are the good ones in your area book up quickly and well in advance.

Set yourself up for success: As you work out the details of your session, be realistic. During my time as a studio assistant, I cannot tell you the number of photo shoots I culled where it was clear the subjects thought putting a camera on their family would somehow alter reality. If your dog is jumpy and wild, don’t bring him. If your toddler usually naps at noon, don’t book your session for 12:30. If your baby hates grass, book a studio session instead of an outdoor location. In short, use common sense. Don’t live in a fantasy world. Ask yourself, what is the best use of this valuable opportunity? Do I desperately need a photo that includes my three dogs, cat, and all of my family members? (Y’all. You don’t.) Or would I rather stand a chance at a photo where everyone is looking at the camera? A great photographer can get the shot no matter the challenges, but I promise you will have way more photos to choose from if you keep it simple.

Another way to ensure the shoot will be a success is to be realistic about what your photo subjects can handle. Do you have small children? Opt for a mini session. They’re less expensive and will be over before attention spans run out. Don’t dress them in itchy, uncomfortable outfits. Make sure they’re well rested, well fed, and offer a post photo shoot reward (read: bribe) if necessary. Make sure you stay true to your word and you’ll stand a better chance at cooperation in the future. The less you torture them, the more likely they are to smile.

What to wear: This is probably the element of family photos that causes people the most stress. The effort to get everyone dressed well, out the door, and to the shoot location on time and without blemish is enormous. To get the most out of your session, think carefully about what you’ll wear, but don’t obsess. Think simple and timeless. Where will you hang these photos? Let that inform the color palette. Is your home mostly neutral? Have your family dress in neutrals. Are these photos going to hang in your blue and green living room? Consider a blue and green color palette for everyone’s outfits. You don’t have to match perfectly, in fact that look is pretty dated. Choose pretty colors that look good together, avoid too many patterns, and be true to your style. This is not the time to make a bold, out of character style choice or wear something you’ve never tried on before. Opt for a tried and true outfit, or buy something new ahead of time so you have time to try it on and make sure you’re comfortable in it.

The most important thing to remember about family photos is, this is not an effort to trick people into thinking you’re perfect. It’s an opportunity to capture who you are in this moment in time. Screaming at your entire family 15 minutes before the shoot isn’t going to make for great memories or great photos. If you follow the advice I’ve shared here, you can minimize the stress of this often overwhelming task. If you find yourself wishing you could freeze time, wanting to look at your people in each of their phases, use these tips to make yearly family photos a part of your family’s rhythm.

How to Decorate with Vintage Books

I love collecting vintage books. Not only do I enjoy flipping through them, I love using them as decor throughout my home. There’s something cozy about worn, well-loved books. Here, I’ve listed a few specific ways I like to use books in the home that I think anyone can incorporate!

Play up color

One of my favorite ways to use vintage books is to subtly play up the color palette in a room. I got it from my mama, who would pick up on accent colors in furniture upholstery and match them to the books on display. This doesn’t mean you can only have books in a room that match the color scheme, but if there’s an area you want to look particularly stylized, vintage books are an easy and inexpensive way to pull color and make the room look cohesive. I also love playing with different color palettes using stacks of vintage books. I get inspiration from color more than any other design element, and so many times I can see a color palette in my head but not really put it into action. Playing around with different color combinations and being able to see them up against each other helps me hone in on what I love. Once I have a color palette I can build a room around it.

Add height

If you have a specific area you’re trying to style, like a coffee table, console, or, of course, a bookshelf, stacking vintage books is a simple way to add height, dimension, character, and visual interest. Top the stack with a candle, vase, framed photo, or trinket to add your personal style. Vintage books have great color and patina you just can’t fake.

Mix neutrals

If you’re looking to do a neutral palette but you’re not a fan of the “turn your books backward” trend, use books in neutral colors as decorative accents. Similarly, if you like to mix multiple neutrals in a single space, use neutral books to emphasize that the mixture is an intentional design element.

Nod to your interests

Don’t overlook the titles of vintage books. Vintage textbooks in your field, books about your state or region, and titles related to your hobbies and interests all make for great conversation starters. For example, I took French as my foreign language in school. In college I desperately wanted to live in France after graduation. Any time I see a vintage French book, I add it to my collection. You can also nod to your family history. Some of my most treasured vintage books are my aunt’s 1970’s copy of Black Beauty she gave me in second grade. It was one of the first chapter books I read and has a beautiful cerulean blue spine. I also have a hymnal from the church my mom grew up in, which is where my parents were married. Maybe most special is my grandpa’s old Georgia agriculture textbook from the 1950’s with his notes in the margins. He worked in state agriculture his whole career and was descended from generations of Georgia & Alabama farmers. Part of the fun of using vintage items in your decor is the story they have to tell. When it comes to vintage books, that notion can be taken literally.

Do you use vintage books in your decor? Do you have any favorites? Ask your grandparents and other relatives if they have any they could part with, and use it as an opportunity to learn more about them & your shared history. Any suggestions for how to use them besides what I’ve listed here? Let me know in the comments!

Easter Basket Ideas for Babies & Toddlers

I had so much fun putting together Lyla’s Easter basket this year! Holidays are one of my favorite parts of motherhood. I thought I would share some Easter basket ideas for babies and toddlers, since those are the stages I’ve experienced. I’m linking everything through Target because they have reliable shipping and you can earn points by using Target Circle, but these are just examples! I filled Lyla’s basket with items from a variety of stores.

Safety tip!! Before you read anything else, my number one tip for Easter baskets for littles is to use the paper grass instead of plastic. Babies and toddlers put everything in their mouth, and if they put that plastic in their mouth, it’s either going to gag them, or cause problems if it gets swallowed. At least paper shred will get wet in their mouth and is less likely to present a problem. Of course the ideal scenario is them not eating their basket grass, but I’m a realist.

0-6 months

Save your energy and keep it simple. There’s nothing wrong with skipping an Easter basket at this age if it’s not something that’s important to you. Motherhood is full of obligations that don’t always make sense for your child’s age. You are their whole world and beyond that, they really don’t need anything. If you do decide to do an Easter basket, try finding a container you can use for something, like nursery storage, so you’re not just buying a basket for this one occasion. If you do want to do a gift for them, you can’t go wrong with a classic:

6-12 months

At this age they will give you a little bit of a reaction, but they still don’t need much to be impressed. You certainly don’t need to do all of these, but here are some ideas:

18 months+

By 18 months, they are doing and understanding so much more. Here’s what I’m putting in Lyla’s basket, plus a few other suggestions I’ve gotten recently or plan to get soon.

General tips:

Here are two tips that have helped me keep this a fun tradition instead of a stressful obligation:

Remember they’re just babies. As much fun as it is to spoil them, don’t put any pressure on yourself. These years will make up our memories, not theirs. Have fun with it but don’t stress out over it. Easter is about gathering to celebrate what Jesus has done for us by defeating death forever! The Easter basket is just for fun, and you don’t have to knock it out of the park in these early years.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stuck, try choosing a theme or color scheme to limit your choices. For example, Lyla’s “signature color,” (Steel Magnolias, anyone?) is a lavender purple, so I always incorporate it into her gifts. I also found those cute mint pajamas I linked the day I bought her eggs & basket grass, so I decided to make her basket purple & mint themed. It helped so much as I picked other things to fill it in, because it narrowed my choices and made it easy to decide. Similarly, this year I themed it around the first item I found, which was a pair of rain boots with Thumper from Bambi on them. I decided to do a Thumper theme and ended up finding a Thumper book and pajamas without even trying. If you’re someone like me who loves putting gifts together but has trouble not buying ALL THE THINGS, a theme will help simplify and streamline your shopping so you don’t get distracted by something shiny.

As you celebrate Easter this season, I pray you take time to reflect on the hope we celebrate. This time of year is equal to Christmas for me. I get so excited for all the pastels, the meals shared with family, the warming weather that lets us enjoy outside, and how spring is such a reflection of God one day making all things new. Happy Easter to you & yours!

The Folklore/Evermore Album Review No One Asked For

I originally didn’t think I’d have much to say about Taylor’s re-recordings of her old music, but since she released Lovestory (Taylor’s version), it’s become clear to me that I will have much to say. And I don’t want to delve into that without having touched on her two most recent albums. So that’s right–I, a regular person and not a music journalist, am posting an in-depth review of Taylor Swift’s folklore and evermore albums. What can I say? I do it for the fans. Of all the posts I’ve written, I got the most positive feedback on my post ranking all of Taylor Swift’s songs. It was a blast to write and I love engaging with people about someone who has influenced me in such a major way. Below, find my thoughts on the project as a whole, the albums individually, and each track.

Overall: folklore & evermore are the albums I always wished Taylor Swift would write and I still can’t believe they’re real. I’ve always thought her greatest strength was in her lyricism. While I loved her pop music, that genre is more about sound than lyrics. I honestly had not had a gut-punch moment listening to her music since Red came out and I wasn’t sure I ever would again. Enter folklore. I think my jaw was dropped for most of my first listen. She wrote to tracks by Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner for most of the album, which allowed her to focus fully on writing lyrics. To put this in context, that’s like telling Rainman all he has to do is count toothpicks. As her co-writers have often said, Swift is something of a songwriting savant, and on folklore and evermore, it shows. She billed these albums as being largely based on fiction or stories she’s heard from others, with a few of her own experiences peppered in. While I’m not disputing that, I do think it’s more based on her life than she’d like us to believe. I think she’s using the playground of fiction to write about her own feelings in a way that allows for privacy in her personal life.

folklore: Swift said she wanted this album to represent spring and summer. You’ve heard of Hot Girl Summer, now get ready for Sad Girl Spring. I can somewhat see this album having spring/summer themes as compared to evermore, but I find them both to be albums to turn to when you want a certain feeling rather than at a certain time of year. The overall emotional tone of this album is reflective, and sees the protagonist in each story either looking back on a past experience, or responding to a personal conflict. Swift indulged herself in rich, lush lyrics that feel like an embarrassment of riches for longtime fans.

The 1: This makes for a great album opener. She starts with the line, “I’m doing good, I’m on some new sh*t. Been saying yes instead of no.” Fitting for a release totally unlike her carefully calculated prior album promos. It reflects on a long-gone relationship when enough time has passed to give it a rosy glow. This song is for anyone who’s ever wondered wistfully about the road not traveled. I believe in my heart that this song was inspired by Harry Styles, and you can’t take that away from me. My favorite lyric: “We never painted by the numbers, baby, but we were making it count. You know the greatest loves of all time are over now.” The loves celebrated as the “greatest” are often unsustainable in their intensity. It is the quieter, unassuming love that lasts. But it can be fun to look back on the good times once you’re safe in the embrace of your soulmate, at least if your good times involved as many private jets as Taylor’s.

cardigan: The sound of heels on cobblestones in the background? It’s the detail for me. This song unpacks the feeling of finally being chosen by your love after being tossed aside by so many others. Even though the road was rocky and there were missteps along the way, in the end you’re wrapped in something warm and cozy that feels all the better for being a little worn. Dessner’s track builds perfectly to match the emotional fever pitch of Swift’s imagery. My favorite lyric: Literally every line from the start of the first bridge (to kiss in cars…) on. If I have to pick a few? “You drew stars around my scars, but now I’m bleeding.” “Tried to change the ending, Peter losing Wendy.” The “When you are young they assume you know nothing/’Cause I knew everything when I was young” juxtaposition. “Chasing shadows in the grocery line.” I really think this goes down as one of her best lyrical showings ever. She is a master at marrying the emotion in her vocal to the emotion in a lyric and runs the marathon of this performance flawlessly.

The Last Great American Dynasty: When I first saw this title on the track list, I was afraid she was back on her Kennedy b.s. When I tell you I was SHOOK at the line “And then it was bought by me…”?! My jaw literally dropped. Here Swift chronicles the history of her Rhode Island mansion “Holiday House.” She parallels her experience owning the home and being hated by the locals with that of Rebekah, the eccentric heiress who came before her. Ever the revisionist historian, she glosses over some of the more painful traits of her heroine, and re-casts a cat as a dog. But I defy any other songwriter to use the word “gauche” effectively AND make a song about their enormous mansion an enjoyable listen for us peasants. My favorite lyric: “I had a marvelous time ruining everything.”

Exile: This duet with Bon Iver (?!) features a mystery co-writer named William Bowery. Until she revealed him to be her boyfriend Joe Alwyn, I was convinced Bowery was…*puts on tin hat*… Harry Styles. I’m so glad Taylor is happy while Harry is out wrecking homes, but I am finding it hard to picture a man who looks like a piece of dry toast writing some of these lyrics. Nevertheless, I love this song. A back-and-forth between a man and woman in the midst of a breakup, the lyrics show the difference in perspective on where a relationship breaks down. His “You never gave a warning sign” is echoed by her “I gave so many signs.” I can’t recall hearing a male/female duet that captures the moment a relationship is ending, and hearing the story from both sides is poignant and painful. My favorite lyric(s): “I can see you staring, honey, like he’s just your understudy.” and “So step right out, there is no amount of crying I can do for you.”

My Tears Richochet: I’m not sure where to begin. The chorus of ooh’s blanketed in just enough synth to create an eerie echo? The sheer BBSE (Big Bronte Sisters Energy) of the line “You know I didn’t want to have to haunt you, but what a ghostly scene. You wear the same jewels that I gave you as you bury me?” The howling vocal performance in the bridge? This song could be applied to the death of a relationship, friendship, or an emotional loss of any kind. Taylor’s gift is turning her pain into something that resonates with all of us. I personally think this song is about the breakdown of her relationship with her former record label, Big Machine, and their subsequent sale of her masters to a man she despises. I cannot imagine the fury of having your life’s work taken from you by two men who have profited immeasurably off your success. My heart breaks at the lyric, “I didn’t have it in myself to go with grace, ’cause when I’d fight you used to tell me I was brave.” When Taylor penned her letter to Apple insisting that music has value, Scott Borchetta praised her and joined the crusade, because he profited off the sale of her music. When she used that same spirit to fight for autonomy over the very music she wrote, he turned the tables viciously. My favorite lyric, other than the ones already mentioned: “You turned into your worst fears. And you’re tossing out blame, drunk on this pain, crossing out the good years.”

Mirrorball: Did anyone else feel personally attacked by this song? There’s now an anthem for the people pleaser in all of us. This album has some of my favorite ever Jack Antonoff works, and I think his producing talent is particularly evident here. The vocals are layered beautifully, and there’s a sparkle to the track that evokes the imagery of a mirrorball. He and Taylor have a unique ability to make something sound the way it feels. I found this one remniscient of Dashboard Confessional’s “Stolen,” almost like a response from the girl their song is about. Taylor gives some rare glimpses into her world with lyrics like “You are not like the regulars, the masquerade revelers, drunk as they watch my shattered edges glisten.” All those parties she threw in that New York penthouse, and it turns out she’s just as insecure as the rest of us. Probably one of the most vulnerable things she’s ever said: “I’m still a believer, but I don’t know why. I’ve never been a natural, all I do is try, try, try.” Taylor was never the natural choice for a superstar. She was a girl who could write. She had to fake the rest until the real her got lost somewhere and she had to find it again. My favorite lyric: “I’m still on that tightrope. I’m still trying everything to get you laughing at me.”

seven: This song describes the almost savage wildness of girlhood. The lyrics detail a friendship that profoundly impacted the narrator, coming back to her mind in half-remembered images and moments. The most intriguing line, “And I’ve been meaning to tell you, I think your house is haunted, your dad is always mad and that must be why,” hints at the dark things we notice but don’t fully understand as children. The girls fantasize about running away, sure that their story will be passed down through the years. Of all the songs on the album, this one feels the most literary. I saw it compared to this Emily Bronte quote from Wuthering Heights: “I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy, and free; and laughing at injuries, not maddening under them!” My favorite lyric (because it reminds me of one of my favorite movies, A Little Princess: “Pack your dolls and a sweater, we’ll move to India forever. Passed down like folk songs, our love lasts so long.”

august: This song seems to be about a love that never got the timing right. Looking back on it, you realize the person was never yours to lose in the first place. The two of you shared a moment in time and that was all you were ever going to have. Seemingly years removed from the relationship as she writes, Taylor knows this person wasn’t the one for her, but the memories they shared are still vivid in her mind. They were naive, hopeful, both going through change and trying to navigate it together. They didn’t know how they were going to beat the odds, but they knew they wanted each other and that was enough. One lyric that set my Haylor senses tingling (no I’m not dropping this): “Your back beneath the sun, wishing I could write my name on it.” Back in 2014, Harry co-wrote a song for a duo named Alex & Sierra called “I Love You,” which featured the lyric “You ran your finger down my back and you spelled out your name.” Guys…the evidence is overwhelming. My favorite lyric: “To live for the hope of it all, canceled plans just in case you called.”

this is me trying: Perhaps the most Taylor’s songwriting has ever resembled a stream of consciousness. This song seems like what you might say to yourself as you paced around your room, ultimately deciding to break the silence between you and someone you’re fighting with. Maybe you don’t know what to say and maybe you’re really going through it, but you’ve realized you miss this person and it’s time to lay down your pride. Taylor has had many songs over the years about a guy who hurt her showing up on her doorstep, so this is an interesting way to flip the script. My favorite lyric: “I didn’t know if you’d care if I came back. I have a lot of regrets about that.”

illicit affairs: Written from the perspective of The Other Woman, this is one of Taylor’s most subversive narratives to date. Is there a less sympathetic character in the literary canon than the girl the guy is cheating with? And yet these lyrics give her flesh and bone by putting us in her shoes. The sneaking around, the lying to everyone you know, the passion cooling to shame, rendering yourself invisible to fit into this man’s life. Some of her most impressive vocabulary appears in this song. Words like clandestine, illicit, and godforsaken lend a gravity that isn’t present on pop radio. (BTW, best of luck to anyone else trying to fit the phrase “dwindling mercurial high” into a verse.) The mournful background vocals and guitar licks that mimic the sound of rain make it clear, this woman is in pain. The bridge ends the song, closing with the line, “And you know damn well, for you I would ruin myself a million little times.” As the strumming fades out, one can’t help but feel like maybe she already has. My favorite lyric: The entire bridge is gut-wrenching and gorgeous, but if I have to pick one line, “You showed me colors you know I can’t see with anyone else.”

invisible string: Here we get a rare glimpse into Taylor and her boyfriend, Joe Alwyn’s story. Swift uses repetition to illustrate the winding road time took them on that ultimately brought them together. I particularly relate to this song because of how my own love story played out. Andrew and I talk often about all the dominoes that had to fall to get us in the same room at the same time. Even the tiniest twist of fate and we never would have crossed paths. Time, she reflects, curious, mystical, wondrous time, pulls us where we’re meant to be. Favorite lyric: “And isn’t it just so pretty to think, all along there was some invisible string tying you to me?”

mad woman: Do not–and I cannot stress this enough–make Taylor Swift mad. I really think this song is about Scooter Braun and co. and their attempts to paint her as crazy and vindictive for telling her side of the story. Sorry, Scooter, gas-lighting doesn’t work when you do it in front of the entire world. Here Swift seems to explore the ancient adage, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” She asserts that everywhere you find a woman who’s gone mad, you find a man who made her that way. “Every time you call me crazy, I get more crazy, what about that?” Yes…WHAT ABOUT THAT?! This is for all those times you’re having a completely healthy emotional response to something and someone tells you to calm down. She insinuates that the subject of the song is a cheater and that his wife knows, but she’s too worried about being painted as “crazy” to confront him. I honestly think she’s dabbling in witchcraft and trying to curse her masters until she gets them back. Favorite lyric: “And women like hunting witches, too, doing your dirtiest work for you. It’s obvious that wanting me dead has really brought you two together.” I am scared for Scooter’s life, tbh.

epiphany: Here Swift juxtaposes the death and destruction seen by soldiers, like her grandfather, in WWII with the death witnessed by medical personnel during the current Coronavirus pandemic. Her grandfather was never able to speak about what he had seen because it was just too horrible. That amount of death is nearly impossible to process, as it likely will be for those who have treated COVID patients in highly populated areas where death tolls have been especially high. This song is sonically very interesting to me, but I don’t ever go back and listen to it. I think it’s a beautiful piece of art that speaks to the historic event we’re going through, but it’s not a song I want to hear again and again. I don’t think it’s intended to be. Favorite lyric: “Just one single glimpse of relief to make some sense of what you’ve seen.”

betty: Another co-write with Joe Alwyn aka William Bowery (eye roll), this is written from the perspective of a teenage boy apologizing to a girl whose heart he broke. Tough sell for me to feel sorry for a guy who lost the girl he liked because he slept around, if I’m being honest. AND YET, this song makes me absurdly happy. I love the harmonica, the storytelling, the key change, and the way she rhymes “cardigan” with “car again.” Favorite lyric: “Will you have me? Will you love me? Will you kiss me on the porch in front of all your stupid friends?”

peace: Here we get a very honest glimpse into what goes through Taylor’s mind as she navigates her current relationship. She can never give her significant other a “normal” life. Her public image will always rise and fall. Paparazzi will always camp outside her house(s). “Would it be enough,” she asks, “if I could never give you peace?” I’m not in love with this one sonically, but I think a lot of us relate to the fear of never being good enough for the person you love. Fearing that they’re settling by choosing you and that there’s some better life they could be living if you weren’t holding them back. Those are the types of lies insecurity tells us in our low moments. It’s comforting to know that even global superstars have those moments, too. Favorite lyric: “And you know that I’d swing with you for the fences, sit with you in the trenches.”

hoax: If your mental state is in any way fragile, I must advise you not to listen to this song. Lyrically, this is a collection of some of her most powerful couplets. If I had a gun to my head, I couldn’t tell you what this song is about. Did she write as if Joe had left her? Is it about Karlie Kloss’ apparent betrayal? Is it about Scott Borchetta? Is it just a bunch of sad lyrics she had in a note on her phone? WHO HURT YOU, TAYLOR?! I love this song for the way it shows off her ability to knock the wind out of you with words. I love the hook, “Your faithless love’s the only hoax I believe in.” It’s hard to single out just one lyric because there’s not a low point anywhere, and it changes each time I listen. For now, favorite lyric: “My only one, my kingdom come undone.”

the lakes: I don’t like this song so I kind of just pretend it doesn’t exist. *plays “I Forgot That You Existed”*

evermore: Folklore’s sister album represents fall and winter. I loved folklore but I’ve found myself going back to evermore over and over. It feels like what she dipped her toe in on folklore, she dove into headfirst on evermore. At the same time, it’s hard for me to fully separate them as they feel like two sides of one album.

willow: Taylor described this track by Aaron Dessner as a witchy incantation designed to get someone to fall in love with you. I find the “90’s trend” lyric jarring because the song as a whole feels so timeless and immersive and that lyric takes me out of it a bit. I really do picture a witchy woman in a colonial coastal town meeting a pirate who came in on his ship one night. In terms of sound, this song reminds me of “Safe & Sound,” which I love and always wished she would have explored more. She starts high in her falsetto, and gradually moves down in both range and volume until the repeated “that’s my man” in the outro is little more than a sultry whisper. The vocal feels to me like a story she brings to a satisfying conclusion by the end of the song. Favorite lyrics: “Show me the places where the others gave you scars.” & “Every bait and switch was a work of art.”

champagne problems: Reader, this song DID something to me. I could honestly write a dissertation on this song alone. I cannot explain it, but as soon as I heard it, I had this overwhelming feeling like I knew the story she was telling. I can see it all playing out in my head like a movie. I don’t know if it’s because the characters remind me of F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, (who I love and whose work & lives I’ve studied) or if she just told the story so well I got swept up in it. To me this is where she absolutely nails the thing she set out to do with these albums. She creates a character, letting her songwriting out of its cage by removing the parameters of real events. The details are so visceral and there are so many subtle moments that create a wealth of story. The lyrics and Taylor’s own comments set up the narrative as follows: College sweethearts attend a party together. He proposes, she rejects him. The song is narrated by the young woman speaking to the young man, comforting him in the pain she has caused. My interpretation is that this woman suffers from a mental illness, but no one takes her struggle seriously because she’s a beautiful rich girl and people assume her problems are trivial (the metaphorical use of champagne problems). Her boyfriend truly loves her and is prepared to spend the rest of his life with her, but in the moment she finds herself unable to accept his offer. He had told friends and family, preparing for an engagement party afterward (a literal use of champagne problems). Instead he finds himself taking the train home alone, presumably reading a letter from the woman who has just broken his heart. For me the other layers of the story come in the repetition of the last line, “You won’t remember all my champagne problems.” Up until that point, it’s clear she has been reassuring him that he’ll move on, he’ll forget about her, and he’ll go on to have the happy ending he’d hoped for with someone new. The repetition of the line is key, because the first time she’s clearly saying it to him. When she repeats it after a pause, I think it’s a realization she’s having herself. She’ll be forgotten. He’ll move on, but where does that leave her? It calls into question WHY she’s rejecting this proposal. Is it because she really doesn’t love him and want a life with him, or is it because she’s trying to spare him a life of dealing with her illness? She knows he’ll find someone new, but will she? Is she ever going to find anyone again who will be willing to take on the baggage she’s carrying? Is she ever going to be capable of accepting and reciprocating a love that would require her to let someone in to see what she’s struggling with beyond the beautiful façade? She knows everyone will take his side and label her “crazy.” Is she truly following her heart, or is she sacrificing her own happiness for his because she thinks he’ll be better off with someone who’s not sick? I honestly could unpack this song forever. I think it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever heard and it’s certainly one of Taylor’s greatest songwriting accomplishments. Favorite lyrics: “Your Midas touch on the Chevy door, November flush and your flannel cure.” & “One for the money, two for the show, I never was ready so I watch you go.”

gold rush: This Jack Antonoff collaboration takes place inside the fleeting moments of a daydream. I love this concept for a song. It’s original but so universal. I’ve said before that the magic of her and Jack together is their ability to make things SOUND the way they FEEL and that’s certainly on display here. You can almost feel yourself looking wistfully off into the distance. She waxes poetic over how attractive the subject of her admiration is, plans a whole future together, and then concludes she doesn’t actually want to be with that person. The production builds perfectly to carry you off into the daydream, pulsing quickly through it, fading back out, and ending abruptly as she snaps out of it back to reality. The hook “I don’t like a gold rush” comes from the notion that this person is someone everybody wants. One of those ridiculously beautiful people no one can help being attracted to. Everyone flocking to the same place hoping to score. She knows better than to throw her hat into the ring, but she lets her mind wander for just a moment. Favorite lyric:“I don’t like that falling feels like flying ‘til the bone crush.”

’tis the damn season: Another Dessner track, this one talks about returning to an old high school flame when you come home for the holidays. It’s a sort of resigned, depressed admission that they both know it’s not going anywhere, but the feelings are still there and they might as well hook up while she’s home. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. I like how it starts in the middle of a conversation. On her end of things, she feels like he knows the real her as compared to her shallow, fake friends in LA. She sometimes wonders about the road not taken, admitting that it looks good when it’s standing right in front of her. But she also knows she’s never coming back to this small town and wouldn’t trade her success for the warmth of a familiar bed. On his end, there’s some hinted-at resentment that she left in the first place. We get the first mention of a truck since she left country music. I find this to be one of the more relatable dynamics she’s written about, especially recently. Favorite lyrics: “We could call it even, you could call me babe for the weekend.”

tolerate it: A heartbreaking look into a relationship where nothing major is wrong, but instead of being loved and celebrated, the woman is merely tolerated. Taylor said she drew inspiration for this character from her own experiences of “Trying to love someone who’s ambivalent.” (*cough* John Mayer *cough*) She delivers a trademark gut punch with the hook, “I know my love should be celebrated, but you tolerate it.” She’s loving him with everything she’s got, making them a beautiful home, looks the other way when he’s unfaithful, admiring him and always painting him in the best light. (I found the “use my best colors for your portrait” line to be one of many richly narrative metaphors she uses on this album.) In return, he simply tolerates her existence. I think the saddest part of the song is when the opening line is repeated, in present tense: “I sit and watch you.” She didn’t leave. This whole monologue has taken place in her head as she sits there watching him read, remaining silent and invisible. Favorite lyric:“But what would you do if I break free and leave us in ruins, took this dagger in me and removed it, gain the weight of you then lose it…believe me I could do it.”

no body, no crime: If you’ve even casually listened to country music over the last few decades, you know the satisfaction of the “He cheated on me so I killed him” song. On a tier above that is the “He’s a wife beater so I killed him” song. Now, here to claim supremacy once and for all, is the “He cheated on my best friend AND killed her, so I killed him and framed his mistress” song. Backing vocals by the HAIM sisters add a menacing, sultry contralto layer. I think this is a song Taylor’s been wanting to write for a long time; her vocals seem to relish each word. (Also why do I feel like Scott Swift absolutely did make her get a boating license when she was fifteen?) This isn’t the only song on the record that hints at Taylor dipping her toe back into country music. I am here for it, honey! I don’t have particularly strong feelings toward this song, but it does check a lot of boxes for me. A fascination with the macabre, mandolin and harmonica, women helping women dispose of violent men…check, check, check. Favorite lyrics: “No body, no crime. I wasn’t letting up until the day he died.”

happiness: Just when you think she’s written a song for every possible situation, Taylor goes and writes a song about divorce. I love how she opens in the middle of a thought and dives right in. The narrator is sifting through the confusion, anger, hurt, and disbelief of her circumstances. There’s a “The Great Gatsby” reference with the use of “I hope she’ll be a beautiful fool.” This song examines how our feelings ebb and flow with time. Two seemingly conflicting things can be true at once. Sometimes what we know intellectually doesn’t feel true in our circumstances. I also love how the narrator of the song goes through such a range of emotions as she speaks. It’s really a song that’s processing something, and I have no doubt many people have felt seen when they listen to it. Favorite lyric: “There’ll be happiness after you, but there was happiness because of you, too. Both of these things can be true.”

dorothea: I kind of didn’t need Dorothea because I already had Betty. In this world Taylor has created, Dorothea is written from the perspective of the lover in “‘Tis the damn season.” I mean what a moment for Tupelo! This isn’t a Taylor song that will become part of the fabric of my life in the way so many others have, but it’s good and it fits well on this album, which I can’t always say about the songs I’m not crazy about. Favorite lyric: “Well damn, Dorothea, they all wanna be ya, but are you still the same soul I met under the bleachers?”

coney island: I think one thing Taylor set out to do with this project is to silence her songwriting critics once and for all by proving that she can write anything. That should be obvious by now but there are still people who dismiss her. She can write a country chart topper. She can write a platinum pop album in an era when albums were dying. She can write arena rock. She can write a John Mayer guitar lick over a breakup ballad. I could go on and on. In her now-extensive collaboration with The National, she’s proving she can dominate the most elitist of musical genres, Sad White Boy Indie Pop. In my head, Folklore is set on a farm in the late 1800’s. Evermore is set in the 1920’s. The imagery of Coney Island, of something that was once grand but is now bleak, provided the backdrop to a relationship that ended because one person took the other for granted. The lyrics are a bit non-sequitur and remind me a little of The Killers. I have to be in a very specific mood to listen to this song, but I find something new each time. Favorite lyric: “Did I close my fist around something delicate, did I shatter you?”

ivy: Another tale of infidelity, which has emerged as a theme in her recent work. This is the only song where I felt her cursing was a bit gratuitous; like once she decided she was okay with an explicit rating she was trying to make up for lost time. The imagery in this one is particularly compelling. A woman who’s engaged to one man and in love with someone else compares the hold her lover has on her to ivy growing over a stone house. This one is spooky, and leaves open to interpretation whether the husband ever did catch them and burn the house down. I don’t listen to this one a ton because I have a toddler and cannot play this in front of her for obvious reasons, but it has stuck with me more than a lot of others on these two albums. Favorite lyric: “Your touch brought forth an incandescent glow, tarnished but so grand.”

cowboy like me: I love how subtle the backing vocals by Marcus Mumford are, but I want more Taylor + Mumford and less Taylor + The National/Bon Iver. This narrative is about two con artists in a transient town who meet their match in one another. Like several songs on this project, it starts in the middle of a thought. Just like in a con, there’s a bait and switch. You think the narrator got duped by a fellow con artist, only to discover by the end that the line “I’m never gonna love again” is because they’re found their forever. Favorite lyric: “Now you hang from my lips like the Gardens of Babylon, with your boots beneath my bed, forever is the sweetest con.”

long story short: How I wish we’d had this instead of “I Forgot That You Existed.” A Spark Notes version of Snakegate and the ensuing fall from public favor Taylor went through a few years ago, this one tells us everything we need to know. (You hear that, Taylor? We don’t need any more songs about how sad it made you to not be everyone on the planet’s favorite person.) This is the only song that could arguably have fit on a different album better, like Lover, for example. Tom Hiddleston is once again paid dust, and we get another small peek into what was going on in Taylor’s mind during that whole mess. The overall message of this song is one we can all relate to. Some things you go through in life seem so important at the time, but as you grow you realize you get to decide what matters to you, and the things that used to kill you seem petty in hindsight. Favorite lyric: “And he’s passing by, rare as the glimmer of a comet in the sky. And he feels like home, if the shoe fits walk in it everywhere you go.”

marjorie: The OG Taylor fans will remember early mentions of Taylor’s grandmother, Marjorie, being an opera singer. When Taylor first came on the scene, a lot of interviewers asked questions about where someone so young got their musical abilities. The answer always referenced her grandmother, who had a modicum of success as a performer, but always harbored dreams of stardom. This song is a beautiful tribute to her, and maybe one of the most personal songs Taylor’s ever released. Marjorie died right as Taylor’s career was starting, before Taylor could share any of it with her. Taylor’s mother has often said that Taylor’s resemblance to Marjorie is eerie, down to the mannerisms. You can tell she feels some guilt for getting to live out the dreams Marjorie had but gave up for family–the very choice that allowed for Taylor’s existence. Marjorie even left her performance dresses to Taylor, which she describes as her “closets of backlogged dreams.” Anyone who has felt the presence of a loved one even in their absence will find this song beautiful. Favorite lyric: “What died didn’t stay dead, you’re alive, so alive, in my head.”

closure: I could take or leave this song, I think I’m just sort of over the whole “Taylor has to get the last word in every conflict” thing. Like girl please let SOMETHING go. I would, however, love to know who this is about. This is a song with a bit more real-world application than some of the more deeply fictional tracks on these albums, and I think a lot of people can probably relate to it. Some people can’t stand to be held accountable and want you to pretend things are OK between you even though they haven’t really owned their side of it. Favorite lyric: “I know I’m just a wrinkle in your new life. Staying friends would iron it out so nice.”

evermore: I’ve come back to this song again and again. Of the two Bon Iver duets, I prefer Exile, but I love Taylor’s part on this one. Some people seemed to interpret it as being yet another song about her Sad Times circa 2016, but I thought it was about a breakup or loss of a friendship. It takes you on the journey from when you’re in the thick of the sadness, feeling like you’re going to feel that way forever, to when you’ve started to heal and you can see a light at the end of the tunnel. Favorite lyric: “I was catching my breath, floors of a cabin creaking under my step. And I couldn’t be sure, I had a feeling so peculiar, this pain wouldn’t be for evermore.”

right where you left me: If you look me in the eyes and tell me this is not about her final breakup with Harry Styles, you are LYING. She’s still TWENTY THREE inside her fantasy? Taylor was 23 when she and Harry were still on again/off again. We’ve all heard Style. All the mentions of hair pins and pinned up hair send it back in time and sort of give it A Rose for Emily vibes. This song could be at home on a country album, which I think is a direction shes hinting at deliberately to make Scott Borchetta sweat. I haven’t sat with this song a lot because it took forever to show up on streaming so I didn’t get to digest it with the rest of the album. But I really like it and I think it will stick with me. Favorite lyric: “If our love died young, I can’t bear witness.”

it’s time to go: A song about how you know deep down when it’s time to end any type of relationship. The unknown of leaving is scary, but you’re only holding yourself back by staying. Having the strength to walk away is the only way to allow what’s really meant for you to come into your life. This has more of an obvious application to her real life than many of the songs on this project, and I hope it will be the last where she feels the need to reference the break with Big Machine. As she continues to forge success without being shackled to them, I’d love to hear her explore more themes now that she knows fans will go anywhere she takes us. Favorite lyric: “Sometimes walking out is the one thing that will find you the right thing.”

I’m so glad we got these albums before the re-release of her old music really gets underway. They were a perfect illustration of her undying songwriting talent and something I don’t think she ever would have done were it not for a pandemic rendering the tent-poles of pop stardom (touring & marketing) pointless. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to mentally prepare myself for Breathe (Taylor’s Version) and would appreciate your thoughts & prayers.

How I Manage Lyla’s Clothes

Here’s something I didn’t know before becoming a mom: managing your child’s clothes is a full time job. Literally just keeping Lyla clothed takes up so much of my brain space. Does she have play clothes, church clothes, shoes, and pajamas that fit? She needs enough for multiple outfits a day on messy days, but not so much that she doesn’t wear things before she outgrows them. She’s in 18 month size at one store, 12-18 months at another, and some 18 month clothes are too big. It’s a lot to keep up with, and that’s not to mention pulling things she’s outgrown and making decisions about whether to keep them for a future baby or donate them. And if you keep them, how do you store them? This is why the Proverbs 31 woman got up so early! I’m certainly no expert, but I wanted to share the basics of my approach for any other moms who might be interested.

  1. Buy minimally: The easiest way to keep clothes from piling up is to be conservative when buying. Babies grow SO quickly. Realistically, they’ll only get to wear things a few times. The caveat? They may go through multiple outfits a day, depending on how messy things get. I like to buy for Lyla one size at a time, but I don’t wait until she’s grown completely out of her current size. When her onesies start to get hard to put on, her pants turn into capri pants, and her little toes are pushing her jammie feet, I go ahead and get the next size up. Be mindful of the seasons when buying. Are they outgrowing things at the end of summer? Buy fall clothes in the next size up, with a few transitional pieces to carry them over. I don’t impulse buy. If I see something cute that catches my eye, I make myself come up with multiple different places she could wear it. I check to make sure it will be easy to put on and take off for diaper changes. I never just toss something in my cart. Of course I still have fun dressing my little baby doll, but I try to avoid wasting money on outfits she won’t wear.
  2. Purge frequently: Each time Lyla grows into a new size, I purge the old size from her closet and dresser. I go through her clothes as if I know for sure we will have another girl and save what I want. I don’t get everything out at once and make a huge, overwhelming mess. As things come through the laundry, I set them aside. While she plays in the floor in her room, I grab the old size from her closet. I go through her dresser while Andrew is watching her in the evening. I may spread it over a whole week if that’s what’s realistic. When I’ve got everything collected, I separate into keep and donate. I use clear tubs for storage because I like seeing what’s in there at a glance. I label in Sharpie what size is in the tub. Donations go into paper bags and get taken to a local charity that serves women & families, or to a friend with a younger baby. Is there a foster family in your social circle? Ask if they know anyone fostering a baby wearing that size and bless them with it!
  3. Donate generously: Speaking of donation, I really encourage donating vs. consigning. I know there are some who are able to make very good money by consigning, and maybe if I had multiple kids or a high volume of items I would do it too. For me personally, it is not worth the amount of time consigning takes to make that money. That’s just my personal economy. There’s nothing wrong with consigning and it can be a smart, frugal way to serve your family. I’m just convicted that I don’t NEED that money, but someone might really need those clothes. I like to get things out of my house as soon as they stop serving our needs, and the thought of holding on to a ton of clothes waiting for a consignment sale or for someone from Facebook to Venmo me gives me acid reflux.

Again, I’m no expert, but these are the things that have made this Hurculean task feel manageable. Over the course of the last 16 months, I’ve gotten into a groove and found the system that works for me. Do you have any questions about how I shop for, store, or otherwise keep up with Lyla’s clothes? Any tips of your own? Share them in the comments!

Fall Dessert Recipes

“In November, the smell of food is different. It is an orange smell. A squash and pumpkin smell. It tastes like cinnamon and can fill up a house in the morning, can pull everyone from bed in a fog. Food is better in November than any other time of the year.”
― Cynthia Rylant, In November

Now that Halloween is over and we all have Election Feelings to deal with, we should talk about dessert! The holiday season is here and we’re all looking for ways to celebrate and create wonderful memories in spite of literally everything. Today I’m sharing some of my favorite fall dessert recipes that would be a wonderful addition to any Thanksgiving table and welcome little helpers to the kitchen. Food creates the coziest atmosphere that can transcend any heaviness that may accompany your holiday season. (We just won’t worry about the heaviness it may cause!)

No-Bake Pumpkin Ginger Cheesecake


  • Crust:
    • 1 box gingersnap cookies (you won’t need the whole box but I’ve never seen them in a smaller quantity)
    • 1/2 Stick of butter
  • Filling:
    • 8 oz (1 block) cream cheese, softened
    • 3/4 cup of pumpkin
    • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
    • 1 tub Cool Whip, thawed
    • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
    • 1 tsp nutmeg


  • For crust:
    • Pulverize 2.5 cups of cookies in food processor. You will want 2.5 cups of crumbs when finished.
    • Melt butter in microwave & mix with cookie crumbs.
    • Press into pie plate and bake at 350 for 10 minutes.
  • For filling:
    • Beat cream cheese in mixer until smooth
    • Add pumpkin and mix until combined
    • Add powdered sugar and mix on low
    • Add Cool Whip. Beat on high several minutes.
    • Add pumpkin pie spice and nutmeg. Taste mixture and add more if desired.
    • Spread filling into cooled pie crust. Refrigerate until set up, at least a few hours. Set out cheesecake about 30 minutes before serving to allow crust to soften enough for cutting.

Notes: Thanksgiving treats us to so many warm, rich, heavy foods, this cold dessert is a nice finisher. The crust can be modified with more cookies or butter depending on how you like your crust consistency. This cheesecake is simple and fairly plain for those who don’t like decadent dessert. If you want more going on, get creative with garnish. Top with gingersnaps, sprinkle nutmeg, drizzle caramel…or whatever sounds good to you!

Brown Butter Maple Pecan Blondies


  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups chopped toasted pecans, divided (1 cup set aside, 1/4 cup set aside)


  • For brown butter:
    • Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until butter browns and smells nutty (5-7 minutes). Immediately pour into a bowl. Place in fridge or freezer to cool, whisking every few minutes until thickened and creamy (about 20 minutes). Butter should look like melted peanut butter when done. (If you’re making this all at once, use the freezer for faster set up. If you’re making the brown butter ahead of time to use as an ingredient later, use the fridge.)
  • For blondies:
    • Preheat oven to 350. Beat eggs & sugar with electric mixer on medium speed until thickened and pale yellow, about 3 minutes.
    • Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Add slowly into egg mixture, alternating with cooled butter, beating on low after each addition. Slowly beat in maple syrup and vanilla. Beat just until combined. Fold in 1 cup of the pecans with a spoon.
    • Pour batter into greased and floured 9×13 inch baking pan and spread into an even layer. Top with remaining 1/4 cup pecans.
    • Bake in preheated oven 35 minutes, or until golden and a wooden pick inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool in pan 1 hour before cutting.

Notes: This Southern Living recipe makes use of toasted pecans and maple…two underrated flavors of fall. DON’T FORGET: The brown butter will need time to set up. I hate when I get rolling on a recipe and have to stop and wait. Make the brown butter the night before or in the morning and plan to bake later in the day, or just build in extra prep time.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

There is no way I could improve upon this recipe from I Heart Naptime. Visit her site for the recipe so she gets all the credit.

While these aren’t the traditional pumpkin and pecan pie desserts we usually see at Thanksgiving, I hope they will inspire you to try something new or give a jolt of creativity for some of your tried-and-true recipes. I truly believe there is always more to be thankful for than there is to mourn, because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. I pray you would know that hope this holiday season.

Gift Guide for New Moms

This will be the last gift guide I share this year, but I didn’t want to let the season pass without acknowledging new moms! A baby’s first Christmas also means that there’s a woman in your life celebrating her first Christmas as a mama. Last year, Lyla was three months old at Christmastime. I was so tired and didn’t really know what to ask for because I didn’t even know what I wanted. My thoughts were completely consumed with Lyla. Chances are, if there’s a new mom in your family, she’s in the same boat. I tried to choose items I thought would appeal to most women, regardless of their personal style. You will note that none of these gifts are baby items. Moms are still women in addition to being mothers. New moms think about their baby and put them first 24 hours a day. Do not get something for the baby as “their” gift. Of course moms love getting gifts for the baby, but don’t forget to acknowledge that you still see her as herself and not just as baby’s mom.

Loopy phone case // I honestly don’t know how I would make it without this thing. As the mom to littles, you constantly have a million things in your hand. Being able to loop my phone around a finger or thumb and know it’s not going anywhere is so helpful.

Mom Q & A journal // My sister-in-law got me this last year and it’s been one of my favorite gifts. It has a short prompt for each day of the year, and you’ll answer each question/prompt for five years. There’s so much I want to remember about these days but it’s so hard to collect my thoughts. It all goes by so fast. Being able to focus on one day at a time and just write a couple sentences has allowed me to preserve memories I probably would have forgotten. I love that I’ll be able to look back each year at the previous years’ responses, too.

A massage // If anyone deserves a massage, it’s new moms. Their body has been through so much and they spend almost all day looking down, picking up a baby, and probably taking care of the housework, too. Get a gift certificate for a reputable, local massage therapist. Did she get pre-natal massages? Buy a certificate for that same place!

Baby’s initial/name necklace // The necklace linked is the most popular style right now. I ordered my necklace from this company. I love the cursive “L,” and I couldn’t find a letter necklace in cursive. There are lots of personalization options if you search “name necklace” on Etsy. You can incorporate birthstones, choose an option that allows you to add more names/initials in the future, opt for a monogram, or go with the letter trend.

A comfy robe // If she’s had a baby in the last year, chances are she’s going to be spending a lot of time around the house. Get something she won’t feel too frumpy in, like this soft, pink number.

A large tote bag // I linked a more fashionable option, but if you’re going for maximum functionality, I’ve heard great things about this Land’s End canvas tote. They have lots of sizing options and you can personalize. Most of the time, moms will be carrying the diaper bag. But it’s nice to have something to easily transfer your things to when you’re leaving the baby with someone else.

A gift card for a mani/pedi // New moms need pampering, but often feel guilty taking time for themselves. A gift card will give them a reason to go have some mommy time.

Cute sneakers // Whether she’s at the grocery, the pediatrician, running errands, or taking baby for a stroller walk, new moms will be getting some serious steps in. Get her a pair of sneakers that are comfy and go with everything. I’m also linking something more trendy here. I love Keds and these leather lace-ups can be worn with tons of different outfits. I would personally lean toward the Nikes because if you can keep white leather shoes clean, you’re a wizard.

Cozy slippers // I would opt for a pair with hard, non-slip bottoms. Bonus points if you get a matching robe, slippers, and a coffee mug for a themed present since that’s basically the new mom uniform.

Cute loungewear/PJ sets // I can’t stress enough the value of being able to feel somewhat put together but also comfy. Matching loungewear or pajama sets make it seem like you put an outfit together even when you’re just in sweats.

Beauty gift set // Ulta has a ton of great gift sets. You can get fragrance, skin care, makeup, or hair care products in trial sizes for a great price. They also have special holiday sets that feature seasonal colors, packaging, and combinations of a brand’s best-selling products.

A meal delivery service subscription or gift card: This year has been extremely hard on new moms. Because of COVID, many went without the support they so desperately need. Mama didn’t get a meal train when baby was born? Make up for it by getting her a subscription to Hello Fresh or another meal delivery service.

Stocking stuffers:

  • Coffee mug // For obvious reasons
  • Hair accessories // Baby is going to be grabbing mom’s hair 24/7. Thankfully, hair accessories are trending right now. Headbands, scrunchies, and clips, oh my!
  • Wet Brush // Once I switched to a wet brush, I couldn’t go back. I linked classic black, but I have my eye on this Disney Princess one.
  • Beauty tools // Make her makeup routine as easy as possible.
  • Nail polish // This Target brand is the best I’ve found at not chipping.
  • Gift cards // For clothing stores so she can work on her post-baby wardrobe.
  • Hand lotion // She’ll be washing her hands a lot.
  • Lip balm // Baby takes all your moisture with them when they’re born.
  • Soft, cozy socks // for plodding around the house for night feedings
  • Small candle // Because babies fill your house with ALL the smells
  • Pom pom keychain // So she can easily feel her keys in her purse
  • Jewelry // Doesn’t have to be expensive, just something that matches her style
  • Sheet mask // For quick, at-home self care.
  • Mascara // Get a trial size of a more expensive kind for her to try, or stock up on her fave.

And that’s all she wrote for gift guides around here this year! If you haven’t gotten your shopping done, now is the time! Shipping times are getting crazy, stores are getting busy, and things will go out of stock. If you need more ideas, check out my gift guide for men, gift guide for one year olds, and best baby buys!

To 20 from 30

November 8th will be my 30th birthday. It’s a little hard to wrap my head around that number, but I’m so excited for what my 30’s may hold. Hitting this milestone has me looking ahead more than looking back on the past, but I have found myself reflecting on where I was the start of this decade versus where I am now. I had so much fun writing my letter to Lyla on her first birthday and to my pregnant self. I wanted to speak to the 20-year-old version of myself, now that I have a decade more experience under my belt. I don’t tend to hold back, but I got really real in this one. Maybe there will be something here than resonates with you, no matter your age!

Dear Ashton,

Happy birthday! Your 20’s have officially started. SPOILERS AHEAD: This will be the year you have your first, actual, serious boyfriend (Hey, Stephen!), the year you get your first job, the year you learn what a toxic relationship is and begin the slow process of walking away from it, and the year you work at Disney World, which will turn out to play a major role in your life. I’m torn, because I don’t want you to do anything different. I want you to take all the steps that led you to the life you have here at 30. But there’s also so much I’d love to tell you, if you’ll let me.

On boys: Listen to me, pretty girl. If a boy who is worth your time likes you, it won’t be confusing. It will be easy and natural and fun and exciting. He won’t fall head over heels for you, then get bored the second you like him back. He won’t make your head spin with mixed signals, like sitting beside you in every group setting but spending the whole time making fun of you, or writing you letters in private, but acting too cool for you in public, or holding your hand ice skating one weekend and introducing you to his new girlfriend the next. He won’t swear up and down that the two of you are “just friends” but freak out when his girlfriend shows up at the restaurant where you’re eating, or motion for you to be quiet when she calls while you’re hanging out. (Begging the question, if we’re just friends, WHY DOES IT MAT-TER?!) You’re going to waste so much of your precious time trying to figure out which series of flaming hoops will get you those guys and constantly picking yourself apart wondering why you’re never the one anyone wants. I want you to repeat this to yourself and live by it until the right one comes along: I don’t want to CONVINCE someone to love me. You did not have to convince Jesus Christ Himself to love you. You sure don’t have to convince some boy. I don’t want to spoil too much for you, but if you could see the way your baby’s face lights up when the man you end up marrying gets home from work, not another tear would be shed over the boys who didn’t want you.

On body image: I know you don’t realize this because you’ve been so busy criticizing yourself, but you are a ten. There are a million girls in a million gyms trying to get the body you have without lifting a finger, and all you can see is what it doesn’t have enough of. Your skin is radiant (For the love of God, cherish it!), your stomach is flat (!!!!!), and your eyes are your secret weapon. There is nothing wrong with your size or your shape. As the version of you whose entire body responded to pregnancy like a balloon that had juuuuuuuust a little of the air let out, I am begging you to wear crop tops and bikinis as much as you can. And take pictures. Stop worrying that you’re not measuring up, what size you are, and what people think. No one questions someone who’s confident, they just question themselves. You are altogether beautiful, my love. One helpful hint? You have eyebrows. Do something with them.

On anxiety: Speaking of worrying, let’s just go ahead and cut back on that. When I look back at the photos from this year of your life, I see the fun memories and the smiles. I see you surrounded by incredible young women and true friendships. I see cute boys with their arm around you. And I know that you operate under the assumption that those girls are all better friends with each other than they are with you. And that none of those boys like you, they’re just being nice (Hint: boys aren’t nice). You would never say it out loud, but the voice in your head isn’t a big fan of yours. All your life you’ve made your decisions primarily out of fear. Fear of failure, fear of disappointing your parents or a teacher or a bible study leader or any adult for that matter, fear of “doing it wrong.” You’re in Cru with a ton of kids from Nashville and Louisville who are getting together to write songs and you’ve never even told anyone that you sing. Or that you’ve been writing songs in your notebooks since you could write. You think anything outside the very acceptable “get a scholarship-go to college-pick a sensible major-get a good job” model is for kids who are braver than you and whose parents are richer than yours. If there’s anything I could change for you, it would be that. Stop thinking so dang hard about everything. Do the thing you want to do. You are allowed to fail. You’re allowed to try something and not be incredible on the first try. There is no Achievement Police. I could write a whole book on this topic, but I’ll leave you with something I know you’re going to think sounds lame: Just breathe. Trust me. It’s never as complicated as you’re making it.

I think that’s all for now. This is a great year, full of learning about yourself, working through some baggage you’re carrying, spontaneous adventures, and opening yourself up to love and heartbreak. You’re so beautiful, and life is so good right now. Let it be that simple. Your future is a dream come true, I promise.

Men’s Gift Guide

I decided to get a jump start on Christmas this year. This is my fourth year as the woman of the house (aka The Gift Buyer), and I’ve learned my lesson about waiting. Things sell out online and stores get too busy. I expect both those factors to be even more chaotic this year because of COVID. I’ve already got all of Lyla’s presents (Check out my Gift Guide for One-Year-Olds here). Next up is buying for the men in my life! Shopping for men can be so challenging. They never “want” anything, or the things they do want are expensive. Here, I’ve compiled every gift I’ve gotten Andrew in our six years together (not to brag, but they’ve all been home runs), as well as the things I have my eye on for upcoming holidays.

Men’s Gift Ideas:

  • Duffel bag & matching toiletry bag // Most men refuse to spend money on themselves. The gifts they’ll appreciate most are practical things they can actually use, but would never have bought on their own. This was one of the first things I bought for Andrew and he has brought up time and again how much he loves it.
  • Winter weather accessories // Again, men don’t buy things. There’s a reason God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Stock your man up on hats, gloves, and scarves for the winter months. Some for dressy outfits, some for working outside, and some waterproof for snow days.
  • Record player & records // If the man you’re buying for is an old soul, he’ll appreciate the unmistakable sound of a spinning record. You can buy new albums or turn hunting for vintage ones into a fun hobby.
  • Updated clothing basics // When I met Andrew, his wardrobe was comprised entirely of things he’d owned since high school and clothes his mom had bought for his dad at a consignment store that were too small to fit so they got passed on to Andrew. He wanted to update his style, but didn’t have the time or desire to shop. Even slight upgrades to his basic tees, jeans, and shoes went a long way. Don’t try to change him, just pick out comfortable, easy-to-pair staples that reflect his personality and style.
  • House slippers // A good pair with hard bottoms will last a while and keep him cozy when he goes to check out what that noise was at night.
  • A staple pair of tennis shoes // Andrew is very hard on shoes, and he tends to wear one pair for everything until he literally wears holes in them. A pair of shoes specifically for casual wear will make his other shoes last longer.
  • Wallet // When I posted this link, this Ralph Lauren wallet was on sale for $17.99. Is your husband’s wallet hanging on by a thread? A new one that matches his style will be appreciated for its utility and thoughtfulness.
  • Car cleaning kit or car wash membership// In my search for a link to this kit, I also stumbled across this cleaning gel that I now want to order for my car. There are also vacuum cleaning kits with multiple attachments if you want to get into some serious detailing. If your man isn’t one who enjoys washing his car, or doesn’t have the time, you could get him a membership at a local car wash.
  • Cologne // Andrew prefers this body spray to actual cologne. I linked a low-priced option, but if you’re searching for something more high-end, you could browse a department store and choose a cologne you like. Andrew told me he didn’t care what it smelled like, he just wanted to smell like something I want to smell.
  • Grilling utensils w/their favorite team’s logo: Whether tailgating at the game or hosting friends to watch at home, he’ll love showing these off.
  • Clothing/hat from their favorite sports team: While it may seem too obvious to we women (who, ahem, tend to overthink things), men are happy to rep their team no matter how much gear they may already have.
  • Insulated tervis: I got a small camo tervis from the brand linked and it performs as well as our Yeti tervis for a fraction of the price. Keep water cold in the summer and coffee hot in the winter.
  • Yoga mat & resistance bands: Yoga mats aren’t just for yoga. Gyms are still kind of weird here in 2020. These bands will allow him to work out anywhere. Yoga mats can be used for any type of floor exercises or stretching or, of course, yoga! Andrew has done yoga with me a few times and he says it gives the best stretches for his hip flexors, just FYI.
  • Robe: Even the most hot-natured hubby will be chilly on winter mornings. Plus, a good robe is a rite of passage for the man of the house.
  • Personalized tie bar: Tie tacks aren’t as much of a thing these days. Opt for a tie bar he can pair with any tie. You can buy a set with different metals/finishes, or go with a personalized option for something meaningful.
  • Portable speaker: I got one of these for free from work once and gave it to Andrew and he raved about it. He used it when working out at home, outside washing the cars, and while studying.
  • Biography of a man they admire: Andrew enjoys reading but after reading so much for school, it took him a while to get back into it. I got him this book about John Wayne and he read the whole thing quickly.
  • A book related to their interests: In a similar vein, you could get a book about something you know your man loves and wants to learn more about. Business, a historical figure or period of history (like WWII), a sport he loves, a criminal case that relates to his field of work…the possibilities are endless.
  • Outerwear: Andrew always seems to have 100 jackets and yet none of them serve the function needed in the moment. Make sure he has a rain jacket, a winter coat, a dress coat for church/events, and a light jacket for casual outfits.
  • Gift basket themed around their interests: OK so I couldn’t find a link for this one, but if you’re really stumped, choose a theme and make a gift basket around it. Andrew loves all things Kentucky and cooking, so my parents once got him an Ale-8 themed basket that had marinades and other food items from the Ale-8 brand. Small, local shops are a great place to find gifts like that.

Stocking stuffers:

  • Multi-tool: I got this wood-handled multi tool for Andrew’s brother and Andrew claimed it before I could wrap it he loved it so much. We use it frequently around the house.
  • Car air fresheners: Go with a clean, masculine scent
  • Beard balm: If your guy has facial hair, gift him with a beard balm that will keep his skin and hair moisturized through the winter.
  • Mini flashlight: I think my dad carried his Mag-lite on his person every day for 20+ years
  • Favorite candy: Hit up the Dollar Tree candy aisle and stock up for your next movie night
  • Gift cards: To gas stations, his favorite stores, or restaurants
  • Lip balm: Once again, something he will need but probably not think to buy himself.
  • Novelty socks: Andrew wears “crazy” socks with his scrubs every day so he can have a conversation starter with patients. I get him at least one pair for every occasion.
  • Coffee mug: Andrew loves this gigantic American flag mug from his stocking a few years ago.
  • Locally made bar soap: A lot of men use bar soap instead of body wash. Why not support a local business and serve a practical need?
  • Back scratcher: I just feel like every man should have one of these.

So there you have it! Everything I could think of that a man would actually use and enjoy. Have you had any big hits with your gift giving? Share them in the comments!

P.S. The photo for this post is one of our engagement photos. It was taken five years ago when we had gotten a lot more sleep.

Family Halloween Costume Ideas

I’m so excited to celebrate Halloween with Lyla this year! Last year she was only seven weeks old and I was too exhausted to do anything. Since she’s not really old enough to have a preference on her costume , I decided to go with something simple we could mostly put together from items in our closets. Here, I’m sharing our easy costume idea along with some other suggestions. These are mostly for a family of three, with the option to add more characters for a bigger family. I also have some classic group costume ideas. I chose ideas based on the baby costumes I’ve seen for sale this year and the feasibility of putting the outfits together with your closet, Goodwill, or inexpensive costumes. Keep reading if you haven’t landed on a costume idea for this year and need something more realistic than Pinterest!

Farmers & Livestock/Produce:

The Cude family is celebrating Halloween as proud farmers with their prize pumpkin! Andrew and I will wear jeans, flannels, and hats we already have. I ordered Lyla a pumpkin costume that has already come in. It has sleeves attached, and I have the option to put her in pants or leave her legs bare depending on the temperature. Halloween in Kentucky can be freezing or sweaty, there is no in between. This is a really easy costume because there are tons of animal and fruit/veggie baby and kid costumes. Some of my favorites besides a pumpkin are linked below:

Other farm-themed baby costumes: Cow, strawberry, and pig.

The Flinstones:

A family of three could go as Fred, Wilma, and Pebbles. If there were more in the group, you could add Barney, Betty, and Bam-Bam. Fred and Wilma costumes for adults are easy to find. Ladies…just make sure the fabric isn’t see-through if you buy a costume on the cheap side. If you’re crafty or sew, these costumes would be easy to make.

Mickey, Minnie, & Pluto:

Shockingly I couldn’t find a good picture of these three to share here, but I think everyone knows what they look like! My sophomore year of college, a girl I met through mutual friends sewed me a Minnie Mouse skirt. I think I’ve worn it every Halloween since. A classic never dies. Disney has an affordable baby Pluto costume this year. Mickey and Minnie costumes can pretty easily be put together with black tops, red shorts and suspenders for men, and a red polka dot skirt for women. Bonus points if you manage to find yellow shoes! If you’re crafty, you can make ears. If you’re like me, you can buy them. For a bigger family, simply add more Disney characters! Goofy, Donald, and Daisy are icons, too.

Jurassic Park:

The adult costumes for this would be fairly easy to put together with a Goodwill trip and a browse through your closet. Number of kids = number of dinos in your park! You don’t have to buy the same costume for everyone (unless you think it will help avoid sibling bickering!), there are lots of cute options, like this one and this one.

Star Wars:

There have been so many Star Wars movies now, you could reasonably make a Star Wars costume out of things you already own. I didn’t want to share photos of random families from the internet, but if you do a Google or Pinterest search for Star Wars family Halloween costumes, you’ll get some good ideas! At the very least, outfits could be pieced together on a Walmart run. Add lightsabers from the toy section and you’re a Jedi!

Costumes for a group:

Here are some ideas that could incorporate kids or be worn by a group of adults.

The Wizard of Oz

These costumes would be a little more elaborate and require either some craftiness or a higher costume budget than some other options. These classic characters will be quickly recognizable at any Halloween gathering, and the movie has enough characters to accommodate a large group.


Why not celebrate spooky season with American’s favorite mystery-solving dog? If you’re true to the original, this would be best with a group of five. Unless you want to have a sixth person play your masked culprit and refer to you exclusively as “meddling kids” the whole night.

Gilligan’s Island

I’m gonna be honest, it was hard to find an example photo for this one that didn’t feature Ginger and/or Mary Ann in a bikini. This costume has characters for seven people and would be pretty easy to assemble from your respective closets, Goodwill, and a costume shop.

These are just some basic suggestions to spark your creativity. Halloween is one of the only days we all get to embrace our inner child so I say if you have an idea, go for it! What are you dressing up as this Halloween? Share in the comments!