A Very Charleston Christmas

In December of 2019, I visited Charleston, SC, for the very first time. Our home was still in Michigan, but Matt had accepted a new job in Charleston even though neither of us had ever been to Charleston.

We had committed to this new adventure, so I flew down to Charleston for a few days to see it for the very first time. Matt had already been in the area for a few weeks with his new job, and we were very eager to explore the area and get an idea of where we might buy a house and put down our new South Carolina roots.

We designated our first day entirely to exploring downtown Charleston, even though we weren’t scoping out possible new homes. I mean–this was Charleston! The charming city I had heard so much about from others, the city which I had always dreamt of visiting one day. And now, it was about to become our new home.

My heart was filled with anticipation. Matt and I spent hours aimlessly wandering the antiquated streets, bursting with charm and old-world style. The entire downtown had been adorned with the most beautiful Christmas décor. That element alone made the city of Charleston seem even more magical to me.

Two years later, I truly could not feel happier that we have made a new life here. It has started to really feel like home.

This week, I decided to take a morning stroll by myself through downtown Charleston with my camera in hand. On such a sunny, quiet day, I relished wandering from street to street, snapping photos of the breathtaking historic homes, churches, and buildings dressed in all their holiday splendor.

I took so many photos that it was hard to narrow it down to the couple dozen I’ve selected to share here! I especially enjoyed seeing all the homes decorated with magnolia-leaf wreaths and garlands. It’s a slight deviation from the traditional evergreen, but is breathtakingly beautiful and appropriately Southern-feeling.

Notice in this picture how the door is slightly ajar with the Christmas tree visible inside? Just lovely!

I still pinch myself that we get to live here! I highly recommend visiting Charleston in December if you are like me and very much enjoy a Charles-Dickens-Christmastime feeling. It is also an extremely pleasant time of year in South Carolina temperature-wise.

I hope you enjoyed this little peek at our very merry-looking Charleston!

My 2021 reading list, thus far

If you know me at all, you know how much I LOVE books. With being a mom, however, I’m constantly finding my reading list to be so much more ambitious than what time allows me. I did end up reading quite a bit more in 2020 than I expected, despite the craziness of house projects, selling & buying a home, and packing and unpacking for a move 800 plus miles away, etc. But I’m sure the way the pandemic forced life to slow down certainly helped with that!

Still, some of what I had wanted to read in 2020 didn’t get read and has now landed on my “to read” list for 2021.

Here’s a peek at some of the books I’m starting now and plan to read in the coming months:

I have two devotionals pictured. Quiet Time for Your Soul by Sheila Walsh has short 5-minute lessons paired with scripture, and Flourish by Margaret Feinberg is set up as a once-per-week devotional with space to journal and contains beautiful coloring pages, too. I’m a huge fan of the Jesus Calling devotional by Sarah Young, as well as Streams in the Desert by L.B. Cowman, both of which have been in my daily devotional rotation over the past few years, but I wanted to add some new ones into the mix.

I tend to read more non-fiction these days, and Have More Fun by Mandy Arioto is a quick-read I’ve been holding onto for about a year. Mandy is the President and CEO of MOPS International. {MOPS is a Christian-based community for moms of babies and toddlers, and it’s been a staple in my life. More on that to come!} She’s someone I really admire. And out of my years of participating in MOPS, I learned about the authors of Are My Kids on Track: David Thomas, Sissy Goff, and Melissa Trevathan. I have read two other books by these authors about the ins and outs of raising boys and girls which I found incredibly valuable. They all run a child and adolescent counseling center and they have a great podcast, too!

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers has been on my list forever and I finally purchased the book a couple of months ago. Apparently it’s also being made into a movie! Kingdom above the Clouds by Maggie Platt is a newer fiction book written by a friend I went to college with! Her book has fantastic reviews and is described along the lines of resembling C.S. Lewis’ Narnia.

And speaking of C.S. Lewis…I am such an avid fan of his works, both fiction and non-fiction. When I heard about this book by James Stuart Bell containing selections from authors who influenced his faith, I just HAD to get it. A few years ago, I had learned of a Scottish author/poet/minister {George MacDonald} that greatly influenced Lewis’ spiritual journey, so I had made of note of trying to read some of MacDonald’s works. I’m pleased that From the Library of C.S. Lewis contains many of MacDonald’s writings, among others.

The Lipstick Gospel by Stephanie May Wilson had great reviews online and seemed like a perfect read for me. It’s the author’s personal journey finding her faith, which happens to include traveling Europe!

If it’s not already apparent, I very much prefer reading ACTUAL books to their digital versions. I do enjoy the ease of checking out digital books through library lending apps, but I find myself doing so less and less. I am a self-confessed bibliophile and there is a very real pleasure for me in holding an actual book in my hands, turning each page, and even the smell of the pages. A library thrills me, much like Belle from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and completely understand her sheer joy when the Beast gifts her a massive library in the film!

What books are on your to-read list for 2021?

New Roots

It began with a passing comment. I was laying on the couch, closing my eyes to fight off a headache.

“Hey, just so you know, I submitted an application for a job in South Carolina. I don’t think I’ll get it, though.”

Matt was in the midst of job hunting. He was mostly submitting applications to jobs that were somewhere within the mid-west—Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio–places close to the area of the US we’d called “home” nearly all our lives, but with few openings available, he was literally applying to any position that opened up for his line of work.

As he spoke those words, South Carolina, I felt a little churn within my spirit. In my grogginess, I brushed it off and closed my eyes for continued rest.


Matt has always, always wanted to move far south in the US. I always told him, never. And I’d remind him to take a look at my red hair and fair skin, which meant God clearly didn’t make me to live in hotter climates.

I should have known better than to use the word “never,” because as we all know, God has quite the sense of humor. And of course, I now sit here, in South Carolina, writing these very words.

But God knew, you see. He knew that I would say yes to moving south, not only because of how clearly He orchestrated this wonderful new job for Matt, but because it’s Charleston. Charleston–the charming city of the south I had always longed to visit. A city filled with incredible history, architecture, beauty, and also just happens to be on the coast, too. Beaches, waves, water–these call to me. In all these things, along with the stirring in my heart, allowed me to say yes to South Carolina, despite never having once been there.

The journey to get here was long. There were many weeks where Matt worked down in Charleston while the kids and I were still living back in Detroit. There were many weeks of job training, which got stalled mid-way through due to COVID shut-downs. There was putting our house on the market in the midst of a pandemic, and being 800 miles away from a home we were building but never got to see the entire time it was being built. There was a few weeks of homelessness between moving out of our Detroit home and when we could close and move into our new home in SC. And after over thirteen months since Matt had received his initial job offer, our family of four was finally all together again in our new home.

I am a paradox of sorts… I love adventure, and yet, I do not like change. But in the midst of this huge life-change, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. From the start, God continually told me, “I will go before you.” And oh, has He ever. He faithfully made the path abundantly clear for us, so much so that we could never doubt His plan. He showed Himself in so many of the details of the many months as we wrapped up our time living in Michigan and preparing for the big move.

And He has also continually gone before us these few months as we have started to settle into South Carolina. God has put specific people in our lives, with incredible connections that can only be explained as “God Winks.” I feel abundantly blessed by the neighbors, teachers, and friends that we have in our lives. It is strange to say that in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, we have had a year which has been abundantly blessed.

Now we find ourselves a mere two days away from Christmas. It will be our first Christmas here in South Carolina, but more significantly, our first Christmas spent away from extended family. In our 13 years of marriage, Matt and I have spent every single Christmas with family, altering sides each year. We wouldn’t have had it any other way! Sadly, though we wanted to return to Michigan this year, Matt didn’t have enough vacation days left to be able to make a trip to the north feasible. Thus, it is our first Christmas apart from our parents and siblings, and for our kids apart from their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Now we settle in to a cozy Christmas, just the four of us. {Well, technically five, if you count our new sweet puppy, Luna}. We look forward to Christmas Eve service at church, prepping for Santa’s arrival, a yummy Christmas morning breakfast, and, for the first time ever, I’m cooking Christmas Dinner. We’ve ordered the meat from our favorite restaurant here, and I’ll make all the rest. And it will be nice to not have the pressure of hosting others for Christmas dinner, so I can give myself more grace if any dishes don’t come out as planned!

We have just passed our four month mark of living in Charleston and I certainly had intended to sit down much earlier than now to share about our move. But we’re in the midst of a pandemic still, so we must let the grace flow, yes? I so look forward to sharing so much more over the coming weeks and months, telling of our adventures down here in South Carolina. We know God will continue to watch over us, and we eagerly anticipate seeing God’s plans for our family unfold in 2021 and beyond!

Wishing you all a very merry and very blessed Christmas!

Saving the Beauty


Last week, seemingly all within a single day, the two peony bushes in our backyard burst into bloom. They blossomed a bit early this year, perhaps due to the unusually warm temperatures here in Michigan.

That very evening, Mother Nature gifted us an intensely strong, albeit short, downpour. My heart sunk instantly, for I’ve learned over the years what a heavy rain does to my beloved peony bushes.

The next morning, just as I’d feared, I discovered the flowers all drooped over, hanging upside down near to the earth. When this happens, the flowers will never perk back up on my bushes because the flowers are just too heavy after becoming wet.

I made it my mission this year to save these lovely flowers before gravity could force the petals to fall all too soon. My kitchen and dining area is now overflowing with the most gorgeous peony bouquets in shades of pink. The smell is incredible and I’m amazed at how these flowers have brightened both the atmosphere of our home and my mood over the past week.

Our peony bushes produce so many blooms that I’ve had no choice but to gift giant bouquets of peonies to family and friends recently, lest these lovely flowers go to waste. I have to admit that this is my first year cutting so many flowers to share with others. It has brought me such joy seeing the smiles of others as I pass along the beauty that from here on out, I won’t be able to resist sharing these lovely flowers as much as possible.


As a flower-admirer, I had always liked peonies, but since owning my own peony bushes, they are quickly becoming some of the flowers I love the very most. Elegant, fragrant, and coming in the most glorious colors, how can one not adore them? With all the hard work we put into planting and landscaping each year, these bushes really endear themselves to me as the require little to no effort, yet give so abundantly.

I guess ultimately I’m glad that heavy spring rains have forced me to rescue these blooms this year by bringing the beauty indoors and passing them along to others!


Goodbye’s the Saddest Word



One month ago today was one of the saddest, hardest days of my life.

One month ago today, I wrapped you in a towel, placed you in the car, and pulled out of the driveway to start the drive to the vet’s office. Each moment the wheels turned us closer and closer to our destination, my heart broke a little bit more, crying out, “No….” And yet I knew it was the right thing, you were suffering so much and that was the biggest heartbreak of all.

We walked inside, and I shakily signed your name on the sheet, so painfully aware it would be the last time I’d ever do that. As we waited, I stood and rocked you, still wrapped in your blanket. You weren’t anxious as you normally are, just very quiet and calm. As another person entered the front door with their dog, you turned to look and see behind my back, setting your little head on my shoulder, as you did so often.

They called your name, and we went into the green room with the fluorescent lights and no windows. The tech had forms for me to sign, and it has never been so hard for me to write my signature.

Our vet came in, and explained how quickly the injection would work, so she let us have some last moments alone together. I didn’t have much to say to you that I hadn’t already in the past many days, so I just held you close, whispering, “I love you” and “good girl” as silent tears rolled down my cheeks.

The the doctor came back, and asked, “Are you ready?” I nodded, for I couldn’t speak the words. In the next minute, I held you wrapped up as you slowly closed your eyes and lowered your head very peacefully, as if drifting off into a sweet dream.

After several moments, the doctor checked your heartbeat and then asked if I was ready. I passed you into her gentle arms. I reached out one last time to touch you. You were warm, but you were gone. The vet looked into my eyes and with so much kindness said, “I’m so sorry.”

Saying goodbye to you was harder than I’d ever imagined it would be. The end came for you so suddenly, and I felt robbed of the few years I’d assumed we’d still have left with you.

I feel your absence acutely. How could I not, when you were always at my feet, laying by my side or in my lap any time I sat down. For the last 11 years, save my eight months in Hungary, you have always been with me. You were a rock in my life and you brought me joy incomparable. You were my family, and one of my very dearest friends.

It still hurts to have you missing from my life and I think of you so often. Forever and always, I will hold you safe in my heart, my dearest darling Annabelle.

A Festive 4th

Happy post-Independence Day! Celebrating the 4th of July has always been a favorite thing of mine. It’s such a fun-filled, splendid holiday, right in the middle of the season, perfect for celebrating all of summer’s most wonderful delights.

This year, we had the pleasure of hosting a gathering at our house for two sets of close family friends coming into visit from Indiana and Illinois. The six of us adults all attended college together and were a part of one another’s weddings. Now, between us, we have eight children ranging from 7 years old to 7 months old! With so many kids gathering to play at our house, it was fun to try to make things a little more festive for them. Oh, alright…to be honest it was also partially for myself, because I so sincerely enjoy festivities and putting some pinned Pinterest ideas to good use!

The thing is, we have a fairly strict monthly budget, so I did my best to add small touches to bring lots of July 4th fun without adding a whole lot extra cost-wise. Here’s what I came up with:


Fruit skewers for the kids–a Pinterest idea. My daughter called them “Magic Princess wands.”



Then I also had the same festive fruit for the adults, minus the skewers.



Cute patriotic napkins from the Target Dollar Spot to go with my red paper plates {not pictured} from the dollar store.



I added a bit of red, white, and blue to my mason jar-utensil-holders thanks to some pipe cleaners I had on hand. A few months ago, I saw a woman use pipe cleaners {twisted like this} in lieu of ribbon on a wrapped gift. It was adorable and I can’t wait to start using pipe cleaners to decorate gifts!



Ice cream sandwiches dipped in red, white, & blue sprinkles were another Pinterest idea I found for the “Kid Dessert.”



The dessert for us adults was Strawberry Cheesecake Trifle. I absolutely love this dessert and I relish any and every opportunity to make it! The star crafted from blueberries was made by setting down a large star-shaped cookie cutter and then filling it with the blueberries. I actually had originally tried to free-hand the star design…it did not go well. My husband admitted it didn’t really even resemble a star. Whoops!

**{Recipe for this trifle coming soon, so stay tuned!}**



I love having fresh flowers in our home, but it doesn’t always fit into our budget. That’s why buying flowers at Trader Joe’s is my favorite flower-trick. They have amazing prices on beautiful bundles in a wide array of prices. These lovely flowers were a mere $3.99.



We all ate outside and this cute little bunting was another Target Dollar Spot win to help make things festive.



Our yard was set up for kid play while us adults sat and enjoyed catching up. The weather was absolutely perfect, thank goodness! I can’t imagine how crazy it would have felt in our tiny house with six adults and eight youngsters running all around.

And finally, like many other moms, one of my biggest joys is dressing our children up in cute holiday outfits:


{$9.99 dress at the Gymboree outlet store; I couldn’t pass it up!}


{David’s shirt reads: “All American Hunk”}

Our evening with friends ended with the kids lighting sparklers on our front lawn, just as dusk set in and the fireflies starting coming out.

The next day was a blast as well, spending a long day together enjoying the Detroit Zoo and then grabbing dinner afterwards. It was such a wonderful weekend!

Hope your 4th of July celebrations were equally special, dear reader!


Unexpected Sweetness

A couple of weeks ago, a powerful windstorm swept through Michigan and slammed our area with near record winds, which lasted all day.  Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses lost power (over half a million, to be more precise). Emergency crews came in from surrounding states to assist with restoring the grid as a cold front made its way to our area.

Our home did not lose power during the windstorm, so imagine my surprise when around 2:00 pm on the following day, our power suddenly shut off. I shrugged it off as a temporary thing, due to the work being done to restore power to other areas, but became increasingly concerned as the hours passed.

Matt came home from work early. We only had a couple of hours of daylight left, and with it not looking favorable for our power to be restored, had to make the decision to either hunker down for the night in our cold house, or pack up our family of four (plus the dog) to drive two hours to my in-laws.’

We sat at the dining room table, eating our carry-out food by the last light of the setting sun shining through our window. I convinced Matt that we should stay at home, hoping that the power would be restored sometime during the following day. He reluctantly agreed, so I scurried to the basement to grab my bin of candles.

We decided to camp out together in the living room to stay as warm as possible. As Matt carried the futon mattress from downstairs and laid it on the living room floor, our four year old was absolutely dancing about with excitement.

“We’re having a camp out!”

The temperature had started to drop a tad, and feeling chilly, Matt suggested that I make us some hot cocoa since we have a gas stove. Now we were all in an adventurous spirit.

By the time the cocoa was ready, all four of us were in our warmest pajamas. It was completely dark outside now, but our home was filled with a lovely glow. Thanks to a large stock of Ikea tea lite candles I’ve been hoarding, our main rooms were well-lit.

We all grabbed our mugs of hot cocoa (well, except for our eleven-month old, David) and sat down together on the futon mattress. We laughed at our children’s goofiness and giddiness at the thrill of the whole event.

Matt and I stayed off of our smart phones, trying to conserve battery life. I was relishing the unexpected hours to be “unplugged” from our modern conveniences (which are also often distractions).

It was already past 7:30, when both of the kids are usually in bed. We all brushed our teeth by the light of two tea lite candles, blew out the remaining candles save one, and snuggled into our beds: I on the couch, David in the pack n’ play, and Matt and Makenna on the futon mattress.

I broke out my tiny book light to enjoy some quiet reading time. After several attempts at settling the kids, it was just after eight o’clock, and everyone except me was asleep.

A few chapters later, I set down my book and curled up under my blanket. As I watched the flame flickering on the wall, I suddenly noticed how quiet, how still, the world was. Not just our home with it’s sound-sleepers, but the whole neighborhood.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had encountered such quiet peace. Albeit gentle and soothing, even nature contains an array of sounds. Besides the sounds of deep-breathing from my husband and two beloved babes, the only sound I could hear was the faint tic-toc from our wall clock.

It was astounding, to live in the midst of suburbia and to suddenly find myself in the dark and the absolute stillness. It was a peace my soul needed desperately, and I didn’t know it until the moment it found me.

I lay awake for as long as I could keep myself, drinking in the sweet quietness. Even though our house was very slowly growing colder, I was filled with a warmth I can’t put into words. I don’t know when I’ll ever encounter such quiet and stillness again, but I feel certain it’s something I’ll need to deliberately seek out. I fell asleep thanking God for the beauty of that unexpected evening and the gift it turned out to be.

The Power of Prayer

image via

Prayer has always been a part of my life. Being raised in a Christian home, I learned to pray as soon as I could speak, even though my three year old prayers consisted of only, “Dear Jesus, Amen.”

There have been so many answered prayers in my life and so many,  many answered prayers by those dear to me. There have been lots of unanswered prayers, too. And there have been many prayers that have been answered in a completely different form than I imagined, showing me that God truly sees the bigger picture of my life and knows whats best for me much better than I can know for myself.

But it is in the last five to ten years of my life that I feel I have started to learn to unlock the power that prayer harnesses. I have heard over and over again to not be afraid to pray for very specific things, and so I have. This in particular has taught me that God is interested not only in the big things in our lives, but He will watch over even the smallest of details, as well.

In my prayers over the last several years, I have become increasingly vocal in asking for God’s protection over my husband and children. I have a growing awareness of the battles that occur moment by moment in the unseen realms. The forces of darkness, of Satan and his minions, are real, are ever present, and are always doing their utmost to engulf anyone and everyone. I believe God invites us to join in this fight with Him, and prayer can be used as a powerful weapon against the enemy.

I could write pages upon pages about all the answered prayers in my life, but today I’ll share a recent incident in which God answered the specifics of my prayer in a huge way.

Praying for Matt when he leaves for work each morning has become my routine. There are numerous things I pray for him, but two things I always ask for is God’s protection while Matt is out driving on the roadways, as well as for God to “surround him and protect him from anything and everything that Satan would try to send his way.”

Then one day last month, Matt came home from work and told me quite the story.

“You won’t believe what happened today.”

“What?” I asked.

“I was driving to my interview appointment today, but I was driving our car instead of a work car. {Matt often drives a work vehicle to travel to interviews he has to conduct}. I was on the interstate and the road was really icy. All of a sudden, not far ahead of me, a car spun out and a big accident happened. It was a chain reaction and a whole bunch of cars were involved. I didn’t hit anyone and no one hit me, but I was in the middle of all of it so I pulled my car over and got out to check on the people who got hit. We had to wait for emergency vehicles to come. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured, but some people did get taken away in ambulances. One guy was bleeding from his head and we had him sit down. Lots of airbags had gone off.”

He continued, “As I stood there looking at all the accidents, I realized the accidents literally made a circle around me and my car. All the cars around me were in the accident, except for me.”

My mind instantly jumped to my prayers for safe commutes and my specific prayer asking for God to “surround Matt with protection.”

“It’s because I prayed for you!” I shouted. “Thank you, God!”

Some might dismiss the event as mere coincidence, but I know better. I know my God, and I know how He provides. He protected Matt that day, of that there is no doubt. I praise the Lord for his provision and answering me when I call on Him.


“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.”

Jeremiah 29:12



Recipe: From-Scratch Hot Cocoa

Hot cocoa is often thought of as a holiday-time treat, but when you live in a frigid, snowy state like Michigan, it becomes a staple during the entire winter season.

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the process {and the flavors!} of making recipes from scratch. So I was delighted when I recently came across a great recipe that I was able to tailor a bit. My previous from-scratch recipe was almost sinfully-rich; so much so that I could never finish drinking it, which says a lot from a chocolate-lover like me.

This recipe is still decadent and sweet, but just enough so that it hits the spot. Even better, it can be whipped up in mere minutes.


From-Scratch Hot Cocoa, serves 2


  • 1 and 1/2 cups fat-free milk
  • 1/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips {mini for faster melting}
  • 2 teaspoons cocoa powder
  • 4 teaspoons light-brown sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt



In a small saucepan, whisk all ingredients together while heating over medium heat. Make sure the chocolate chips are thoroughly melted and cocoa is piping hot without boiling. Serve immediately.

Extras: I’ve always been partial to hot cocoa served with mini marshmallows or whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon, however, I do feel that this simple hot cocoa is perfect on its own. Still, you certainly won’t go wrong with one of these toppings, or something  extra like a peppermint stick.




Shining New Year

Photo taken at Inveraray Castle, Scotland

Always, we begin again.” ~St. Benedict

I just love the beginning of a new year. As the first few days of 2017 creep in slowly, I can’t but help feeling full of excitement and anticipation. No one loves the holidays more than I do, but it still always feels like such a breath of fresh air as the New Year arrives. I can breathe again. 

When I start thinking about planning for this year, my mind starts building to-do lists and making mental maps month by month. Yet my heart cries out and I am forced to stop and refresh, to slow down after all the hurriedness that the end of year brings. I look ahead to 2017 and firmly say, “I will do my best.”

If I sit quietly, it’s as almost as if I can hear a page turning, ever so softly. Life is just like a novel with twist and turns, joy and sorrow awaiting us at each new chapter. And just as that keeps a novel exciting, it also keeps real life exciting, don’t you think?

Although our Christmas icicle lights are glimmering through the living room curtains, I can hear the rain falling outside, washing away the last of our 2016 Michigan snow. Everyone is asleep in the house and it is delightfully quiet. My heart is warm, and my mind is whispering, welcome 2017, welcome.