Christmas Gift Ideas

When TJ and I got married, one of the major differences we realized around the holidays centered around Christmas lists. He could not believe I would send my own mother a list (with links!) of gift ideas. Nothing was more normal to me!

Since then, we casually poll our friends to see if they fall more on the surprise side of gifts, or the list side. I’m still  not sure which way is more prevalent across the board, but I do know “What are you asking for Christmas?” is a very common question among my friends each year.

So, if you’re one of the ones having trouble coming up with ideas for yourself or for the other women in your life, here’s some ideas!

1.Art.

Some of my favorite gifts through the years have been big pieces of art I’ve requested for my walls, and there are always so many fun ideas! This makes a great gift because often I wouldn’t have paid for it myself, but it becomes a very thoughtful gift to remember for years to come. These are some favorites I’ve seen lately:

Cool National Parks print (etsy) // Lindsay Letters fabulous Christmas canvas from her brand new holiday collection // trendy vintage-looking black & white felt board (Letter Folk) // prints & canvases with Scripture (amen paper company)

2. Shoes

Christmas is my favorite time to ask for shoes, because I’m trying to buy less shoes that fall apart after a few months or hurt my feet every time I wear them! Two of my favorite “shoe gifts” I’ve received have been Hunter rain boots and Ugg slippers. Both of these are excellent examples of “investment shoes,” because they are not cheap, but they’ll last forever. Also, if self-care is going to be on your New Year’s resolution list, ask for the amazing Ugg slippers! I’ve also got my eye on these sneakers (seeing them everywhere!), or possibly some warm winter boots, even though I live in Texas.

3. Jewelry

Jewelry is a somewhat easier gift to ask for or to buy for others, but if you need some company picks, here are some of my favorites!

Pretty statement feather earrings (Waterloo Style) // go-with-everything stud earrings (Kate Spade) // high quality made in Uganda beaded bracelets (31 Bits) // hands down the best dainty necklaces (Dear Mushka)

4. Books

Not everyone loves getting books for Christmas, but I sure do! I read mostly via library book these days, but some books double as decorations in my world, making them optimal gifts! I’ve loved to give and receive some of these:

Jane Austen books with beautiful covers (anthropologie) // 365 day devotional + recipes (Shauna Niequist-Amazon) // a cookbook on celebrating! everything! (Jenny Rosenstrach-Amazon) // the story behind the studies (She Reads Truth-Amazon)

5. The Foolproofs

Paper gifts, candles, and the occasional lip balm are always my go-to gifts for friends it seems like. (They also make great hostess gifts!)

Custom designed notebooks with endless possibilities (May Designs) // the world’s most beautiful calendars (use them as art prints around the house later!) (Rifle Paper Co.) // the best and prettiest lip balm I buy for everyone (amazon) // favorite non-volcano candle- french cade lavender is all kinds of brilliant, plus these last for a long time! (anthropologie)

 

Well friends, that’s a wrap! There are tons of fabulous gift guides out on the web right now (including Jamie Ivey’s list from her podcast here), so whether you’re making a list or not, enjoy looking around, and happy gift-giving!

xoxo

2016 Books- Part 1

First of all, thank you so much to all of you who were so kind and encouraging seeing me back blogging! I was overwhelmed Monday with all of you lovely people. I’m happy to be back too!

Since it’s been such a long time, I’ll be playing catch up with the books I’ve been reading this year. I always love hearing what other people have loved or hated to read, so here’s part one! I read all of these back in the early Spring.

If you really are on the hunt for more book recommendations, I have gotten most of mine this year from the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog (check out her summer reading guides!), or her excellent podcast What Should I Read Next?

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1. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Oh, how I have loved this book! Of the 6 listed here, this one tops them all. People either love it or hate it, and I’m in the “love” camp. If you’ve been wanting to clean things out, or simplify your life in any way, get this ASAP. It does get a little weird near the end, because she does say things like “socks have feelings,” but the rest is so incredibly practical and helpful.

2. The Lipstick Gospel by Stephanie May Wilson

I came across this book on a Facebook ad which claimed I could “Read this book for free!” So, I checked it out, and downloaded it for zero cost. That’s a pretty good motivator! I really enjoyed reading Wilson’s story of finding Jesus as a college student, and though relatively short, it was a good read for me personally as I disciple a lot of college girls. Note: the target audience for this is pretty much college age girls, plus or minus 5 years, but the book is still a free download here!

3. Sparkly Green Earrings by Melanie Shankle

So far, this is the only book I’ve read by Shankle, but I’ve heard her others are definitely worth reading. This is a memoir of her motherhood life, and this lady is funny! I read this almost entirely in one sitting, at Caitlin’s college graduation, and it was good entertainment! It’s not my favorite or most recommended book of the year or anything, but I enjoyed it. Note: I do highly recommend her podcast: The Big Boo Cast if you’re a female. It’s hilarious, and they talk about nothing. What’s not to love?

4. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This is everyone else’s favorite book ever, and I will admit the writing is absolutely brilliant and beautiful, but the content is heavy. Set in World War II in France, the story is told through the eyes of two children, one fleeing her home in Paris, and one behind the scenes in the German military. It’s fascinating and terrifying, and definitely not your happy beach read, but worth your time.

5. Party Girl by Rachel Hollis

I first heard Rachel talking about her books on The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey, and I was totally smitten by how fun this girl is. She described her books a little bit, and I knew I would love them. This is light, happy, beach reading. Party Girl tells the story of a girl who moves from Texas to LA to become an event planner, in a Devil Wears Prada type way, and supposedly is similar to Rachel’s experience of moving to LA. Again, it’s not deep at all, but super fun!

6. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

I’ve heard they are releasing new movies of this series soon on Netflix! I read this as a kid, but couldn’t have told you anything about the plot line, and I’ve heard so many references to “the Anne books” recently I decided it was worth another go. It was worth it!! It was wonderful to read this as an adult, because I could catch way more themes this time around. No wonder these books are so beloved- Anne is brilliant. If you’ve never read them or if you’re like me and it’s been years, read it again!

 

That’s a wrap for today! I’ll be catching up on book recommendations in the months to come, and if you’re like me you are needing all the books since it gets dark at 5pm these days. So sad! Let me know if you’ve got any recommendations for me in the comments!

I met someone.

It’s been over two years now since I’ve sat down to write a blog post, so before I start talking about my favorite books I’ve been reading, or how I’m still obsessed with capsule wardrobes, there’s some catching up to do!

I took a hiatus from blogging back in 2014, because my life was so full that something had to go. Every moment was accounted for (plus some), and then I met someone.

Yes, I do mean that in the fabulous, movie-famous way- I met someone.

We met in Molly and Monty’s wedding, on September 13, 2014. It was one of those wonderful wedding weekends, where I was friends with all the bridesmaids and most of the groomsmen already through Pine Cove connections, and every moment was a blast. He and I were seated at the same table at the rehearsal dinner, and I’ve never laughed so much. I left that weekend with a crush, but left it at that. After all, I lived in Dallas, and he was in Tyler. Who wants to do long distance anyway?

View More: http://jenmenard.pass.us/spurgeonweddingHere’s the closest we got to a picture together- just a few feet apart in this one! (photo by Jen Menard)

A few weeks later, he called. Well, technically, Molly was calling, but when I answered there he was- the handsome, funny, kind TJ Connor- on the other end. I recognized his voice (because, the crush!), and  he asked if he could take my number from Molly’s phone to keep calling me in the future.

Um, cutest way to ask a girl for her number ever, right? Let’s just say it was lucky for me this was over the phone. Because I was full-on blushing at this point!

A week later we went on our first date, to my favorite pizza place in Dallas, and to a Stars-Flyers hockey game. TJ is from Philadelphia, so we got to cheer for our own home teams at this one!

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TJ posted this on Instagram, right after date #2! I was sweating about it, but I love how excited he was to make us public! haha. (Our second date was to the Dallas Arboretum, which is where we found those scarecrows in the midst of thousands of pumpkins.)

We dated for around seven months, with some of the most amazingly creative dates I had ever heard of, then on May 9, 2015, he asked me to marry him. TJ’s proposal to me matched the way he pursued me in dating- it was loving, celebratory, and completely over the top. It was the best day of my life, and the easiest “yes!”

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Our whirlwind romance continued with a wedding only 5 months later, at Watermark Church in Dallas, on October 10, 2015. I loved getting to celebrate with our dearest family and friends at the church I have grown to love so deeply.

View More: http://oliviaraephotography.pass.us/tjandchelseaView More: http://oliviaraephotography.pass.us/tjandchelsea

TJ is a camp director at Pine Cove, and I knew as soon as we started dating that if this went all the way, I would be joining him in east Texas. I find it funny and awesome to be back in the town where I lived already for nearly 3 years, with many friends still here. The Lord has been so gracious and generous to me.

Here’s to blogging again! xoxo

Noonday: Most Worn

A few months ago, I shared about my decision to become an ambassador for Noonday Collection. You can read why I made that decision here. As predicted, I’m totally loving it!

Because really, what’s not to love? I get giddy every time I get to share the stories of the Noonday artisans with new friends who have never heard. It’s truly amazing to think that I can help families in the poorest communities of the world earn a living and keep their families together! What a gift!

Oh, and I get to show off their creations every day (!!). It’s a win-win-win.

Now that I’m a few months in, I wanted to share the pieces I seem to keep coming back to. I’ve yet to find a piece I don’t like, but here are my tried-and-true favorites!IMG_6700

Above:

  1. Gem Trio Studs $68 {made in Peru}- These just seem to go with everything. I tend to wear a lot of t-shirts, and these are so easy to pair with a casual outfit and add a little pop of color. Plus, with all the time I spent in Peru, I’m always partial to those pieces!
  2. Hanoi Necklace $52 {made in Vietnam}- I’ll admit this one caught me by surprise. I didn’t expect to love it, but I find myself wishing I could wear it every day. Can a necklace be comfortable? If so, this is it. I’m obsessed.
  3. Entwined Bracelet $28 {made in India}- Before getting into Noonday, I wasn’t much of a bracelet girl. This one helped me ease into bracelet stacking, plus it absolutely goes with everything. The simplicity & neutrality of it make it perfect for wearing every day! (Which I try to take literally)
  4. Calypso Earrings $30 {made in Vietnam}- These earrings are so versatile I even wore them to Six Flags. James and Betty forced me into riding those absurdly high swings (the ones you can see from the highway 20 miles away…) and as I sat up there spinning and screaming, I was really hoping my super cute earrings weren’t about to fall out. Thankfully, we survived. I kissed the ground and probably these earrings too.

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Above:

  1. Tierdrop Necklace $56 {made in India}- This necklace is SO PRETTY! I’m constantly trying to make it work with any semi-fancy outfit I own. Since it’s more of a statement piece, I haven’t worn it as much as some of the others, but it’s the kind of necklace I get reeeeally excited to wear. Love.
  2. Sofiya Wrap Bracelet $30 {made in India}- I’m not sure if a guy would ever understand this description, but this is my go-to piece of jewelry when I just want to feel girly & pretty. It’s pink and gold and wraps. Enough said.
  3. Cubed Studs, Gold $42 {made in Peru}- I have worn these earrings 10x more than anything else in my wardrobe. They’re simple enough to go with a t-shirt, but just bright enough to be noticeable. I rarely, if ever, go without earrings, so these have become the perfect pair! (they also come in silver, if you’re into that kind of thing)
  4. Everest Wrap Bracelet, Mint $30 {made in India}- I’m pretty into this bright mint color with the gold accents, so I love layering it with a few other gold bracelets. It’s easy to dress up or dress down, and that is the kind of versatility that will always win in my wardrobe!

Well, as I’m examining these pieces now, it looks like I’m pretty partial to the pieces made by Indian artisans… Check out Sofiya’s story here! (yep- she’s the name behind that bracelet I’m obsessed with too!)

So, what about you?! Do you have a favorite Noonday piece yet?

PS- if you’ve ever thought about hosting a Noonday trunk show, let’s chat! Fall/Winter is a perfect time for shopping for all those Christmas gifts! #purchasewithpurpose 

xo

The Grace of Seasons

To put it mildly, it’s been a while. It has been a while since I’ve come back around to the hobbies that help me breathe deeper on long days, and the days have indeed been long. Of course I’m not unique in this… Living in a big city full of people hurrying to keep up with the ever-increasing race of life, I see the busyness craze all around.

Some seasons are unavoidable; work swells to capacity when the school year begins. Most of us are no longer in school, but our lives are still ruled by semesters in seasons. Eventually, the steadiness returns. The waves break into a much more manageable lull after the storm is over, and the ebb and flow is good.

The seasons mark changes and remind us to mark where we have been, where we are going, and how we are to get there. Life cannot always be simple, as much as I try to press into that word, but Jesus came to bring us freedom.

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How lovely is this print from Naptime Diaries? It’s the only print shop I attempt to keep up with these days, but I consistently purchase the “monthly printable bundles” for only $5. Well worth it, my friends.

I was in over my head with commitments this Summer (typical), but God’s grace met me as I kept swimming. Hopefully this time I’m learning from the mistakes. I don’t want to look back at weeks/months/years in the future and wonder why I never had any margin in my life. I’ve taken steps back and steps forward and of course I stumble often. Just, learning.

So, slowly, one step at a time, I’m gingerly stepping back into the things God has given me. Writing, being one of them. I don’t know how other people feel about hobbies, but I tend to be a little severe on myself. I constantly seem to be asking if something is the best use of my time, and I end up over-analyzing everything. (Therefore wasting more time. Cool.) I think the answer can fluctuate. Sometimes, yes. Other times, no. Seasons change and that is okay and good.

Truth be told, in the midst of crazy busy, the end of Summer was wonderful. There were retreats and new friends and iced coffee and sore muscles and new marriages of dear friends and birthday parties of little siblings and new babies born to best friends. There were all kinds of gifts all around and they were seen in the deepest ways.

The Fall has entered in now, (at least on the calendar), and it’s no perfect Spring, but new seasons are always welcome and refreshing. Here’s to crisp air, extra grace, and football season!

Whoop! xo

Summer Reading

I love keeping a running book list going all year on my phone. There are actually two lists: one for “books to read,” and one for “books read in 2014.” Keeping track of both of these has helped me read more books, read more books that I actually want to read, and also to feel encouraged when I look back over the list! Win-win-win.

Blogging about my favorite books this year has been so fun, especially because so many friends are taking me up on the recommendations! I love that!

Here’s what I’ve been reading lately::IMG_6449

1. The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence by Gary Haugen [2014]

Gary Haugen is the President and CEO of International Justice Mission (IJM), and this book explains why their work is necessary and crucial in our world. To be clear, this is a difficult book to read. However, as a member of a generation full of non-profit startups out to save the world, it is incredibly important to understand the systems in place. For example, a micro loan or a job won’t actually help a widow buy a house if her property is seized unjustly by men in her village. The loan or job becomes pointless when the police and justice systems won’t step in to stand up for her. This book is important and extremely well-written.

2. North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson [Book 2 of 4 in the Wingfeather Saga] [2009]

On a lighter note, you’ve heard me talk about this beloved Wingfeather Saga before, and I think #2 is miles ahead of book #1. If you enjoyed the Chronicles of Narnia, you’ll love these books. These stories take creative writing to a whole new level. I love them!

3. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion [2013]

I hesitated to put this book on the list, because I didn’t love it as much as the others, and there was a fair amount of language in it. However, I read it over a month ago and I’m still missing and thinking about the characters! Set in Australia, a quirky older professor with Aspergers sets out to find a wife in true scientific form, called “The Wife Project.” This is a quick read, and I have heard a few movie rumors for the future.

4. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand [2010]

If you haven’t read this yet, stop what you’re reading and go buy it right now. Seriously. It is THAT good. Apparently I’ve been living under a rock because everyone else I know seemingly has read this and loved it as much as I did. I don’t say this lightly, but this may be the most inspiring stories I have ever read. It’s also the craziest; I was sitting in our living room gasping out loud during 60% of it. This true story is being made into a movie releasing Christmas Day 2014!

5. Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist [2007]

Shauna has become on of my favorite people ever. Yes, we’re on a first name basis. No, we’ve never met. ((Although, I did see the back of her head and sat in the same room as her in February at the IF: Gathering. So we could probably totally count that.)) She’s a beautiful writer/blogger/speaker, and it’s a little crazy I didn’t read this book till this summer! My roommate Rebe told me it was a life-changer for her, so I picked it up immediately! It’s a memoir format, written with one story per chapter so you can pick this up & put it down as often as you like. Truly lovely.

6. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens [1838]

I’m convinced I need more classics in my “book diet,” so every once in a while I’ll tackle a highly-referenced one like this. To make life easier, I checked this one out at the library on audio book, and settled into some highly detailed prose every day. I can see why Oliver Twist has become a classic though, and why it’s one we should all read. Dickens does not shy away from difficult topics, including a lot that still exist today. As someone invested and interested in the plight of the orphan in the world, this was a significant read. If you only read this back in 8th grade, it might be time to give it another go.

 

Full Disclosure:: Some of these books were heavy. And we went to the beach. While we were at the beach, I wanted to read something light and escape-like. Enter the NYT bestselling series: The Gallagher Girls by Ally Carter [2007-2013]. Feel free to mock my young-adult fiction taste, but this six-book series was so perfect! My sister and I could not put them down, and they were such fun to read! So, if you’re up for a page-turning, fun, clean, girly spy book, this is your jam.IMG_6461

Happy reading! xo

Beach Trip!

A couple of weeks ago, we took a family [road trip] vacation to Gulf Shores, and had such a blast!

On our way there, we made one very important this-is-much-more-than-just-a-bathroom-break stop because we just HAD to:IMG_6106

Yeah, it was about as weird and funny as I expected it would be…

This was James and Betty’s first time to see the beach, so naturally they were ecstatic the whole time. After being landlocked in the car all day, we ran straight to the sands at sunset so they could get their first taste of those waves.IMG_6251

After trying hard not to get all of their clothes wet, we laughed and watched them fully submerge because who can stand staying dry in such perfect waters?

Sidenote: no matter how many times you emphasize the ocean is salty, nothing quite prepares you for that first mouthful. Whether 27 or 12. 

It was glorious. I’m a beach person myself, so personally I was thrilled we had such a hit on our hands. I’ll just be crossing my fingers for many more beach trips to come! IMG_6163

This picture was a hit on instagram; the girl is talented! She’s also surprised at how impressed we are about it, because until just over a year ago, this was a normal means of carrying things.

Everything about the beach brings me joy: the distinct sound of waves hitting the sand over and over again, the salty ocean air, the miles on miles of perfectly straight horizon, and looking down to see my toes under the water. James loved finding fish, catching baby jellyfish (no one got stung), and he even stepped on a sting ray in hiding at one point.IMG_6178IMG_6180

((do you think she liked it?))

We rode waves and built sandcastles as long as it was daylight, stopping only to eat. It was tons of uninterrupted family time (all six of us in one place!) right before we each enter back into the super busy seasons. It was perfect! Here’s to many more sunny days & salty waves.IMG_6269IMG_6273IMG_6270IMG_6278xo