Ellie

7 & 8 Months- Ellie

Ellie’s jumpsuit is linked HERE, her bow pack is linked HERE.

Weight: 7 months: 16lbs, 10oz & 27 inches long.
8 months: My scale today says she’s 21.4lbs, which wouldn’t surprise me because she’s huge, but that also seems like a huge jump from 7 months. Maybe I will actually weigh her on my fancy scale and update this. Probably not.

Linked my wallet, which can be personalized HERE.

Eye Color: Blue, blue, blue. Our friends tell us she has white walker eyes.

Bow from Little Ella Rae.

Hair: Blonde! It has finally started to come in thicker, and as of month 8 she can officially wear a clip bow, and it is finally starting to touch/cover her ears!

Size: 9-12 months. 12/18 month pants fit her butt best, but she could still wear 6 month tops, honestly. Baby has some THIGHS, that’s for sure.


Ellie knows I come into a room the second I do. She senses me, she follows me, she never takes her eyes off of me.

Lots of month 8 was spent wearing masks after the craziness with HFM hit. Henry even had a mask of his own.

Month 7 was fairly uneventful, but man, month 8 was nuts. Dealing with HFM seemed like it consumed all of the last YEAR, even though we were only sick for around 7 days all together. It was BRUTAL for Henry and I.

Girlfriend handled her fever and spots the best by far out of all of us, still smiling while she had a 103 degree fever. By the way, she smiles ALL. THE. TIME. Like, you can just make eye contact with her and she will smile. She is definitely a mean mugger to those she isn’t sure about, though. Much like Henry did at her age, she has the eyebrows for glaring.

This is the look she gives 99% of the Japanese who try to talk to her. Poor people.

My favorite new Ellie-ism is the fact that she hyperventilates like 90x per day. Any time something is even remotely funny, you will hear her hyperventilate laugh at it. Daddy is her favorite to do this to.

Girlfriend LOVES food. LOVES it. The boob, purees, random cheerios off the ground, whatever is on our plates- she is ALL about it. She is much better at eating semi-solids than Henry is. Ellie loves the little yogurt melts and can easily handle whole ones. We broke up Henry’s into small pieces for months and months longer than we have to with her. The girl will down a whole package in no time at all.

Ellie likes to randomly stand in the middle of the room, and is ALMOST walking. I am betting that month 8 will be the “walks unassisted” month, but perhaps it will be month 9.

The child will nose dive into a bowl of rice if we let her.

She LOVES her brother, which clearly hasn’t changed since birth. This month, Henry is starting to love her. And by love her, I mean he screams “AHH! SISSY! SHE COMING! SHE COMING!” when she starts crawling towards him. He also tickles her regularly, and pushes her over if she stares at him too long.

Vest linked HERE, jeans linked HERE, bow pack linked HERE, similar moccs linked HERE.

Much like Henry, Ellie loves the outside. She absolutely hates her carseat, but does sleep rather well in the car if we take long rides.

Girlfriend still has some serious stranger-danger. Mama is still the only one she loves consistently, but Drew is starting to grow on her, FINALLY. She grins every day when Daddy comes home, as of 8 months old.

Ellie has two teeth, but sported one single tooth on the bottom for her entire 7th month. I was REALLY hoping that the one top tooth she has coming in would pop through before her second bottom one. Can you imagine a baby with only one top and one bottom tooth?!

Lots of baby cuddles when she had HFM, but honestly the worst of it for her, she just slept through.

I definitely have to watch her in her swing. She will go from 100% awake to 100% slumped over like this in about 14 seconds flat.

She likes to smile with both her top and bottom teeth, and her overbite is so bad that her top gums completely cover her bottom teeth. It’s rather hilarious.

Typical faces given to strangers in public. Yeah, I wasn’t kidding about the mean muggin’.

Baby girl unfortunately still has her heart defect- we are hoping at her 12 month cardiologist appointment we will find that it has closed.

Ellie’s favorite word is “mama” and she says it ALL night when she wakes up. “MAMAMAMAMAMAMA.”
She also thinks it’s hilarious to repeat it when I ask her to say “mama.” She will say “mama,” “dada” and sometimes shakes her head yes and no. She also will punch me in the face if I ask her if “she wants a boobie.” Apparently that is a stupid question, because yes, yes she does.

Ellie loves Blippi too, and will watch any time her brother is watching. Girlfriend is also almost as obsessed with the cats as Henry.

I will do a Henry update separately soon, but he is a doll as well. Everything in his world is exciting, and my favorite thing in the world is the fact that he will run up an entire flight of stairs, just to tell us about the number 3. The kid is a hoot right now, and learns so much every day, I swear. He is cuddly and sensitive and ornery and strong-headed, and I think that three is going to be so much harder than two, but also so much more fun.

But this little goober of a girl just lights up our whole world. It seems like there has never been a part of our lives without our Ellie, but I also can’t believe she is well on her way to turning one.

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Health · Life · Recipes

Starting Your Day With Probiotics | How I Get Mine Through My Coffee

Probiotics are our GO-TO during cold and flu season. We cling to the stuff to make sure that our immune system is strong, and our family is protected when that bad bacteria is circulating so rampantly.
I’m a kombucha, yogurt, kimchi, and kefir fan, but never in a million years did I think I could

get my probiotics through my lifeblood: coffee.

Here’s the thing… When I first heard about vitamin-infused coffee, I was totally skeptical. I mean, VITAMINS? In COFFEE? I just knew that as soon as I sipped that first brewed cup, I would be greeted with the bitter, horrible taste you get when you leave a vitamin in your mouth too long and it starts to dissolve.

I’m happy to say that I was SO wrong with that assumption.

I applied for a collaboration with VitaCup a few months ago, tasted their Energy Blend in a French Roast, and fell in love. I HAD to get my hands on their Probiotic Blend, because probiotics are huge in our home, so I reached out to them to collaborate a second time. I must say that the French Roast is still my favorite, but I love their Probiotic Blend, especially with the hints of vanilla I catch every time I take a sip.

So, aside from me genuinely loving the taste, why do I choose to consume probiotics through their coffee?


This post is sponsored by VitaCup, but the opinions are completely my own, and all the research was done by me.  I will never promote a company I don’t wholeheartedly love and believe in, and I actually reached out to VitaCup myself in order to collaborate, because I adore their product so much.

Here are 5 reasons that I choose to drink my probiotics through VitaCup coffee:

1. Not all bacteria is bad

Maintaining a balance of good bacteria in your gut is so important for SO many reasons. Seriously, Google it. Immune system, digestion, weight loss/maintaining healthy weight, brain function… you name it, there is likely evidence that probiotics directly or indirectly support it working properly.
Bacteria lives naturally in your gut, even the nastiest and scariest of bacterias. It’s just a fact of life, they are there! Adding good microorganisms, in partnership with getting good sleep, eating a nutrient-rich diet, and maintaining healthy stress levels can boost your immune system so that you never fall victim to those scary, gross germs that are naturally residing within your gut.

And I mean, who likes gas, diarrhea, or bloating just in general?! Not me, that’s for sure.
Whether you have chronic gastrointestinal issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome or just face regular everyday digestion issues, probiotics and prebiotics can be one of the greatest things you can put in your body to keep these nasty conditions away.

2. I don’t forget to drink my coffee, so I don’t forget my probiotics

VitaCup knows what they’re talking about when they say that everyone forgets their vitamins, but no one forgets their coffee. I mean, what parent does forget their morning coffee?
When my eyes open in the morning to Henry’s fingers poking my face saying, “wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up,” I can tell you the first thing on my mind isn’t about my probiotics or vitamins. Rather, my first thought is “GET ME SOME DANG COFFEE.”
By consuming your probiotics and antioxidants in your coffee, you can almost guarantee you won’t forget to fill your gut with the good stuff.

3. The probiotic blend used is heat resistant, and thrives in the heat

I mean, duh.

You need microorganisms that can withstand the heat of brewing in order to live and thrive in your gut.
Most probiotic strains are not heat resistant, and several actually even have to be stored in the refrigerator- one of the reasons I never imagined being able to drink my probiotics in my coffee. VitaCup has picked the perfect strain; allowing for the probiotics to thrive in the hot coffee.

The Mr.Coffee website claims that the best tasting cup of coffee, no matter what brewer or coffee you use, is consumed between 120-140 degrees Fahrenheit. As stated in a US National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health article, the particular strain of microorganisms used in VitaCup’s Probiotic Blend have been shown to activate and grow in up to 149 degrees Fahrenheit. So not only will your cup of coffee be the perfect temperature to drink after a few minutes, but the probiotics will be absolutely thriving in the heat of it, too.

4. Prebiotics matter too

Honestly, I have known about probiotics for years, but I had no idea what “prebiotics” were, or why they were important at all.
Prebiotics are almost as essential as probiotics, in the fact that probiotics do not thrive without them. Prebiotics are a form of non-digestible fiber that probiotics feed on, meaning that both probiotics and prebiotics are necessary for a healthy and balanced gut. You can find prebiotics in many forms, mostly through leafy greens.

VitaCup’s probiotic blend includes Aloe Vera and B vitamins, which act as “prebiotics,” feeding the good bacteria to keep them growing.

5. VitaCup actually cares

I love that VitaCup is conscious about the environment; and I know this is one of the main concerns that so many have regarding single-serve brewers and pods. After all, those things add up if you are like me and drink several cups of coffee every single day. Their pods are 100% recyclable, and totally BPA free.

And, to top it all off, VitaCup gives back. A portion of their sales goes to Vitamin Angels in order to help provide vitamins to battle deficiencies across the globe. So as you drink your coffee, you are not only helping to provide for your own body, you are simultaneously helping the health of another individual across the globe.


So, it’s pretty clear that I absolutely adore the VitaCup family, and all that they are currently working on. Their company has things pretty figured out, in my opinion. Not only do they have amazing blends, but their customer service is fantastic, they are beginning to expand to major retailers, and their coffee seriously tastes GOOD. (It’s the only coffee I will drink black!)

I’ve linked my two favorite blends below, as mentioned above, but a comprehensive list of all of their blends can be found here.

I mean it, if you are skeptical, give them a try. I didn’t expect a vitamin coffee to replace my list of favorite coffees, but they did just that. Why not do double-duty for your body while drinking your favorite coffee? Win-win in my book!

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The above statements should not be taken as medical advice, as I am not a medical doctor, and any above promoted products should not be used to attempt to treat a medical condition. You should always ask your doctor before beginning a regimen of any vitamins or supplements.

Sources

  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-take-probiotics
  2. https://www.verywellhealth.com/bacillus-coagulans-for-better-bowel-health-89601
  3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/8-health-benefits-of-probiotics#section2
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19091823
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6025323/
  6. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323490.php
  7. https://www.mrcoffee.com/blog/archive/2015/september/how-hot-should-your-coffee-be%3F.html
  8. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/264721.php
  9. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/19-best-prebiotic-foods
Japan Life · Japan Life Updates · Misawa Guides · Our Life in Japan · Travel Guides

Cherry Blossom Guide – Misawa City, Aomori

My first cherry blossom season in Misawa was spent wandering about pretty aimlessly, trying to figure out where the best places to view cherry blossoms were. I stuck mostly to base, because I was really afraid of accidentally wandering somewhere that I wasn’t necessarily welcome. And don’t get me wrong there- the blossoms on base are totally worth driving around to see. They are so beautifully and strategically planted, and they are some of the trees that seem to bloom the soonest. As I have explored more of Misawa, I have found that very few places seem to be unwelcome to Americans, as long as you are respectful, clean up after yourself, and don’t let your kids run completely wild. On the contrary, the Japanese at the parks seem to absolutely adore respectful American kiddos.

Icho park last year, mid-week. (If you go on a weekday, or early in the morning, it is beautifully quiet here.)

Last year, I thought the only place to really see blooms was at the Statue of Liberty (Icho) Park. I missed out on some of the most gorgeous blooms, because I spent ALL my time there (also because I had mini sessions nonstop, which was AMAZING, but also so draining.) It definitely is one of the best. But I wish I would have known about all the available parks for blossom viewing within like 20 minutes of base, where to park, and where was the most kid-friendly.

My kiddos were sick this week, so I will be updating this post in the next couple days with more photos and more information about each park.
For now, here are some photos of VERY early blooms that I saw at a couple parks I have visited this week- which will be updated soon! (April 24 update.)


 Also, here are a few reminders for you about being kind to our Japanese hosts, please don’t take these tips lightly! They may be common sense to most, but I have seen them all happen, which is why I include them.

• Please don’t let your kids pick cherry blossoms or any flowers, for that matter (and don’t pick them yourself.) If you want ONE blossom for a photo or something, that is one thing. But these gorgeous blooms don’t last long, and it’s incredibly sad for me as a photographer to watch other kids stripping entire branches to throw them in the air for one photo, you know? Be smart, and realize that there are a lot of people trying to view these trees in a very tiny amount of time, and half the time a giant rain or winds will strip the branches, anyway. If you want blooms, pick up ones that have already fallen!

• If you go to a dog-friendly park, PICK UP AFTER THEM. Keep your dogs on a tight/close leash, don’t let them jump all over people. I’m a dog lover, but I am absolutely a supporter of keeping your dogs at home if they growl at people or easily escape a leash.

• Try to keep your kiddos under control. Parks are obviously for running and fun (I have a toddler, trust me, I get it,) but I have seen people be drilled in the head with soccer balls by American children at these parks. Realize that these are THE ONLY parks for local Japanese families, and we are visitors in THEIR country.


Lastly,
Komaki and Tateno are VERY close together and could easily be hit in the same day.
Swan and Icho Parks are also VERY close together.

Also, as a disclaimer- these are all Google Maps pins. I know sometimes the difference between Google Maps and Apple Maps can be huge.

1. Statue of Liberty Park (Icho/Oicho Park)

(40.610026, 141.439702)
TONS of blooms here. The entire park is covered. 

If you go early in the day, you can park in this lot that the pin takes you directly to. I have always been routed through a very tightly-packed residential area to find the park- it will seem like you are going the wrong way if you are routed this way too. This lot does fill up quickly though, so if it is filled, you will have to take a right out of the parking lot, and drive until you see a one-way street. This will take you to a loop that drives directly above the park (directly above the playgrounds.) When the actual parking lots are filled, overflow parking has always parked on the grass above the park on this loop. I personally do not park here unless I see a JN (non-Y plate) car already parked there, just to be sure it is okay.

• stroller friendly almost completely through, almost all of it is paved walkways
• great place for a picnic when it is not insanely busy
• HUGE State of Liberty
• playgrounds, swings
• completely open areas for kids to run
• giant roller slide
• dog friendly
• large and beautiful lake
• fishing friendly
• has restrooms

This is one of the very best parks to visit for lots and lots of cherry blossoms. There are even a few different kinds of blooms here.
That being said, it gets BUSY towards the end of the day, and especially towards the afternoon on the weekends. During full bloom, the place is sometimes PACKED. It’s sometimes hard to find a parking spot, and the parking in this park is a little squirrely sometimes. I recommend visiting Icho for SURE, but recommend going during the early morning, or on a weekday. (Sunrise in Icho is spectacular, you NEED to see it.)

2. Swan Park (Hachinohekitakyuryoshimoda Park)

(40.611883, 141.401523)
TONS of blooms here. The entire park is pretty much covered.

This is the one park I have not visited yet- I will update this description in a little more detail in the next few days. You can Google images, or search Misawa Asks for more info on this one. (Swans come out in the winter, so don’t expect to see them in the spring haha.)

NO DOGS ALLOWED
• large and beautiful lake
• playgrounds
• has restrooms

3. Train park (Central Park)

(40.683702, 141.370212)
Lots of blooms, small park but pretty heavy cherry blossom coverage 

This is a very small parking lot, and make sure that you do not park in the Library parking lot on the other side of the building. They are pretty clearly marked.
This one is a family favorite of ours- it has a huge stationary train that our toddler LOVES to walk through. Lots of playground equipment- but it does get relatively busy because it is such a small park, and it is right in the middle of town. The blossoms are gorgeous here, though! Great 5-10 min walk, or like a 1 minute drive from base.

• stroller friendly on the outside perimeter, but this one is so small you probably won’t need to bring strollers
• playground
•  walk-through train

4. Tateno Park

Main parking lot by scenic area- (40.6155691, 141.3323448)
Dirt lot by the playground side of the park-
(40.611648, 141.330215)
TONS of blooms here, and lots of different kinds of cherry blossoms. Do be aware that some trees bloom at different times, though- so all trees may not be in bloom at the same time

I personally park in the dirt lot by the lake (it is located directly next to a huge and beautiful shrine tucked into some pines. I am not 100% sure this is parking for the park, but it was closest to the park that I wanted to explore, and was not full- so I considered it safe to park there.)

• stroller friendly for the most part, some paths are not paved, but are smooth enough to navigate a stroller over
• playgrounds/play equipment, swings
NO DOGS ALLOWED
• large and beautiful lake
• tons of picnic areas/ grills available
• fishing friendly
• has restrooms

Lots of lower hanging branches here, and a VERY pretty picnic area in several places in the park.

I could be wrong about this park NOT being dog friendly, but I am almost certain I saw signs posted saying pets were not allowed. I will update if I find this to be incorrect.

I have only visited this park once, and have not gone to the half that is not right around the lake.
It was BEAUTIFUL when we visited, and would be perfect for a picnic. There are several tables, lots of places to sit down for a snack, and LOTS of places for kids to run. The place is absolutely huge, and if you have loud and crazy kids- I would say this or Train Park would be your best bet.

This park has 2-3 different areas to it, and it is the PERFECT spot for a picnic.

5. Komaki (Komakionsen Shibusawa Park / Hoshino Resort )

Train station side parking: (40.667054, 141.353918)
Hotel side parking:  (40.663124, 141.354045)
(I usually park at the hotel, then walk down to the other area near the train station.)
Less cherry blossoms, but enough to make it worth visiting- beautiful during literally any season/any month

• completely stroller friendly
• dog friendly
• foot onsen
• big red Japanese style bridge
• lots of Japanese style buildings & shrines
• large and beautiful lake

Buildings on the hotel’s side. The umbrellas were set up for a festival of some sort. There are often festivals held right on the lake.
Train station side, these gorgeous and HUGE white blooms appear before cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

Komaki is a little less kid-friendly in the fact that it is usually VERY quiet, and there aren’t open spaces for kids to run. When festivals are going on here, I would say it is much less quiet, though.
Komaki area has two small parks- one right by the train station, and one by the hotel and onsen. (The onsen is no longer open to non-hotel guests.)
The train station side of the park has a lot more open space, but is much smaller- if that makes sense- and generally has less people occupying it. There are also FAR less cherry blossoms on this side- if any. (I will update this with certainty when I return after full bloom in Misawa.)

Hotel side-
When you park in the parking lot that the pin takes you to, it is REALLY confusing the first time that you try to find the scenic area. You will park in the lot, and see a bunch of hotels & buildings. (If you pull up Google Maps, you will see a lake. If you simply navigate yourself to the lake, you will find the loop easily.)
If you don’t have Maps readily available, walk into the building area. You will take a right before the main building, and will walk past a couple parking lots on your right. Once you go under the arch, you have found the scenic loop, and the foot onsen is directly to your right, overlooking the lake.
Our kids love this park because they are pretty quiet and calm kiddos, and like to just take stroller walks. If you have children that are excessively rambunctious or like to run, I actually don’t recommend walking the loop with them, simply because Komaki isn’t a park, just a gorgeous paved loop around the hotel. The hotel is just kind enough to allow non-hotel guests in.
That being said, there are miniature ponies and horses that are very friendly, and the entire place is gorgeous and interesting for kids- just maybe not the best for toddlers or kiddos that can’t be relatively calm while outside.

The foot onsen is open to the public, but please be respectful and quiet when using it.

I would consider Komaki more of a scenic walk/ cultural experience vs. a park. Cherry blossoms are supposed to be gorgeous here when in full bloom, though.

There is also a small bamboo forest on the train station side. And there is always BBQ sauce on Henry’s shirt. Haha

I hope these recommendations help you some! Even if you don’t visit during cherry blossom season, these parks are our absolute favorites to spend time at in Misawa, and are the best to get your family outside of the gate for a day. Hope you enjoy them as much as we have!

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Japan Life · Japan Life Updates · Travel Guides

Hakkoda Mountain Snow Wall- April 14

This is just a super quick photo dump, and a super quick recommendation that you should GO SEE THIS SNOW WALL. Seriously, if you’re in Northern Japan, this is a must-see during the early Spring. I believe it usually opens around April 1st. I mean when else are you going to get to see like 20ft of snow on either side of your car?

Drew also loves the skiing on this mountain, but says he doesn’t recommend it for beginners, as there are tons of sulfur pits hidden in the mountain. (Had I known that I would have totally worried about him more while skiing- haha.)

We made it a fun day and just took the road all the way up to Aomori after seeing the wall. Got some ramen at a tiny ramen shop, and turned around to go home, all in one day. Around $30 for gas, and $10 for food, and it was a great and super cheap day date with the kids!
We stopped in Towada City for gas, as it has one of the only self-service pumps that I know of on the way. We also made sure to bring the kids lots to play with and stay occupied with, since the total drive time there and back was probably 4-5 hours after factoring in the fact that we went all the way up to Aomori.


We chose not to do the snow walk because we have an infant and a toddler, and it was still worth the drive to see. You are actually only supposed to do the walk if you are with a tour group, anyway.

We stopped at the rest area to take a couple photos and use the bathroom, shown on the right.
Busses from some of the tours. We didn’t bother doing the tour this year since the kids are young, but likely will next year when they are both bigger and walking.

The snow by the rest area was actually the tallest we saw anywhere.

Not a sight you see every day, haha.
On the way home from Aomori. We saw the wall, ate, and turned around back home all while it was still light outside. One of the easiest day trips we have done, and also one of the coolest.

Let it be known that Google Maps will immediately try to route you down back roads- most of which are still partially snow-covered. I know we saw several posts about getting turned around on various roads while trying to go here.
We tried to take highway 394, but were turned around about 25 minutes down it.

Instead, we took highway 4 to Towada, and then took highway 102 all the way around. It was a longer drive, but it was worth it to not get turned around a zillion times. It’s also a really pretty drive, so that’s a plus.

Then, as mentioned, we drove up to Aomori after stopping at the rest stop. Hit up a small ramen shop on the main retail strip, and headed back home. The ramen was excellent, and the husband-wife pair that hosted us were so incredibly kind. They catered to our silly, little kiddos so well. even giving Henry a HUGE brownie free of charge.

Definitely a trip worth taking, and a great one-day adventure.

Desserts · Hospitality Food | Meal Trains · Recipes

Homemade Classic Chocolate Crinkle Cookies | Kid-Friendly Baking

Ah, these are one of my very favorite treats to make. I’m a dark chocolate fan, and love using real cocoa to bake with. There’s just something about the richness of homemade chocolate recipes that doesn’t compare to boxed mixes.

They are Henry-approved, and a definite Henry favorite, too. So addicting, and even when I double the recipe, we eat them all within two-three days.

These are also included in my “hospitality food/meal train ideas,” because these are one of my favorites to bring to families when I am making food through a meal train. They are very easy to make simultaneously with other food, and I usually make a double batch when baking them for others so our fam can enjoy them, too.

pin cookies.jpg

Because I hate blogs that make you scroll through 400,000 photos of the recipe being made before ACTUALLY giving you the written recipe, here is the simplified recipe, followed by my kid and baking photo spam. Ha.

I love making these cookies with Henry, because the rolling of the cookies in the powdered sugar is a super fun way to incorporate even toddlers into the baking process. It’s a bit messy to do with kids, but doesn’t that make it even more fun?

Classic Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

  • Servings: 20-30cookies
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder – (1/2 dark, 1/2 regular is my favorite to use.)
1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup powdered sugar 

Instructions

    1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
    2. Beat together cocoa powder, oilgranulated sugar, and salt until well combined. The dough will look like a gritty soil. Only mix until ingredients are fully incorporated.
    3. Mix in eggs, one at a time. Beat until fully combined after each egg.
    4. Add vanilla and beat until combined.
    5. In a separate bowl, combine flourbaking powder. 
    6. Take the dry mixture, and combine it to the dough slowly. Mix until combined, but do not over-mix.
    7. Roll dough into approximately 1″ balls. If you find the dough is too sticky, you may refrigerate it for a few hours, or simply coat your hands in powdered sugar before rolling.
    8. Pour 1/4 cup of powdered sugar in a bowl, and roll balls in the sugar until they are fully coated.
    9. Place them on a greased baking sheet at least 1-2″ apart, and bake at 350°F for 8-10 minutes. The cookies do not spread out much, so I fit more on a sheet than I usually do for other cookies.
      DO NOT OVERBAKE!
    10. When the tops begin to crack, they are ready to remove from the heat. Centers will likely still be gooey.
      (You can bake them for around 10-13 minutes if you do not like a chewy center and want them to be crunchier- just not my preference for these.)
    11. Let cookies cool on the cookie sheet for 5-10 minutes or so before moving them to a cooling rack. With the gooey center, the extra time on the sheet keeps them from falling apart.
    12. Enjoy! They are 100% enjoyed best with a cold glass of milk!


  1. Beat together cocoa powder, granulated sugarsalt, and oil until well combined. I prefer to use my KitchenAid, because the dough is very sticky. Usually I stop mixing, scrape the edges of the bowl once, and mix for a few more seconds to make sure everything is combined well. The dough will be gooey, gritty, and dark, and somewhat resemble muddy soil.
  2. Mix in eggs, one at a time. Beat until fully combined for each egg. Make sure not to over-beat the eggs. 
  3. Add vanilla and beat until combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine flourbaking powder.
  5. Take the dry mixture, and combine it to the dough slowly. Mix until combined, but do not over-mix. I usually combine about a cup at a time and mix until no flour is visible each time. I will scrape the sides of the bowl once, then mix for a few more seconds before rolling the dough into balls.
  6. Roll into approximately 1″ balls. I sometimes make them a tiny bit bigger, because I prefer gooey and thick cookies.
    If you find the dough is too sticky, you may refrigerate it for a few hours. I adapted a couple of my favorite recipes to make this one so that it normally does not require chilling, though! This one sticks together better, and doesn’t seem to stick to your hands nearly as bad as a few other recipes I have tried.
  7. I start with 1/4 cup of powdered sugar, then add more if I run out.
    I wipe out the inside of the previous dry ingredients bowl, and dump the powered sugar into it, because I hate making more dirty dishes.Henry LOVES rolling the cookies in the powdered sugar. He does a really good job at age two, and even places them on the cookie sheet himself.
  8. Coat your cookies completely in the powdered sugar.
  9. Place them on a greased baking sheet (I linked my favorite air bake sheet that is HUGE and allows for less batches in the oven) and bake at 350°F for 10 minutes.
    DO NOT OVERBAKE!
    When the tops begin to crack, they are usually ready to take out. They will be very gooey, and I find they are not really able to be effectively moved from the baking sheet for several minutes.
    (You can bake them for around 11-12 minutes if you do not like a chewy center and want them to be crunchier, just not my style. I think they lose a lot of their chocolatey richness if they aren’t chewy.)
  10. Let them cool on the cookie sheet for 5-10 minutes or so before moving them to a drying rack.

    This girl can’t wait until she’s big enough to eat everything Henry eats.
No fun is possible without making messes, right?

11. And finally, ENJOY!

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Photography · Saving Money

Best Portrait Cameras & Lenses For Beginners | What Gear is in My Bag?

This is totally not sponsored by anyone, I just sincerely love these brands. Most of these images are edited in Lightroom mobile, which I also love and am not sponsored by. Haha. (But it also means image quality is compressed a bit, since all of these came from my phone.)
Below are affiliate links, but feel free to shop around for the best price at various retailers if you choose to buy something! 95% of my camera equipment I personally DO buy on Amazon, though.

I have always been a pretty open book when it comes to photography, and have always been a little bit irked when other photographers are not. I remember doing the research for YEARS to find the things that I liked best, and being totally ignored often when I would reach out to other photographers for advice.

I mean, I get it. EVERYONE is a “photographer” now.

Does this make me a photographer yet?

But honestly, isn’t that kind of cool? We live in a digital world, and we live in a VISUAL world. And honestly, I am captivated by images.
So bring on the new photographers! I can’t promise you I will pay you to photograph my family, but I totally want you to take gorgeous photos of your babies. There’s shots you will get in your home that NO photographer will ever have the ability to be paid to take, and THAT is special.

And honestly, in the end, I think that every single photographer is different. There are hundreds of ways to use cameras, hundreds of opinions on what is best and what works, and hundreds of different editing styles.

So take my advice as you may, but this is the equipment that I know and love.


 

The most asked question that I get?

“I want to start taking photos of my kids, family, pets, travel, home, small business, food, makeup, ect… What camera should I start out with?”

It’s somewhat of a loaded question, because of course, not all cameras are created equal when it comes to what they are best made for, especially when you start talking about lenses. There will definitely be equipment that is better suited for landscapes vs. portraits, and vice versa.

That being said, I have experience with several brands over others, and I definitely have a strong opinion on which cameras will produce the best images with the littlest amount of effort (or knowledge.)

So, here are the pieces that I have in my camera bag, meaning they are the pieces that I have fallen in love with over the years. At the bottom, I’ll give you my recommendation for a great camera for beginners, especially those wanting to get started with portrait photography, which is what I know best.

Mirrored Cameras:

This is all of my “professional” equipment, so this is the equipment that I take when I am being paid by a client to take their portraits. I have shot with Canon for years, and am particularly glued to their 5d Mark line. I have owned the 5d Mark ii as well, and think it is a GREAT camera to start out with if you are looking to dive into the world of more professional portrait photography. Full frame cameras will definitely be more expensive, but when paired with a great lens, they are so worth it.

Mark 5d iii + Sigma 35mm 1.4
Mark 5d iii + Sigma 35mm 1.4

Canon Mark 5d iii

As stated, I adore the 5d line. Full frame, excellent resolution, and just really easy to use cameras. That being said, if you are looking for a starter camera on the more amateur end of the spectrum, I wouldn’t recommend this line. The 5d cameras do not have an “auto” feature, and you must know how to meter your images yourself in order to use them correctly. That being said again, they are GREAT for forcing you to learn how to correctly meter your images. Ha. I started out with the Canon Mark 5d iiwhich is a great price now that it is one of the oldest models. These cameras taught me how to do completely manual settings, and I actually even back-button or manual focus on them now too.

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Mark 5d iii + 70-200 2.8

 

Canon 70-200 2.8

I can’t believe there are already 3 versions of this lens! I own the version linked above- the II. I personally don’t believe there is enough difference between versions for an amateur photographer for it to even matter. The only thing I would recommend is making SURE you buy an IS (image stabilization) equipped version. This lens is HEAVY, so the extra stabilization is absolutely crucial for creating tack-sharp images. This lens is perfect for kiddos in play, and is the lens I use most when I am shooting weddings, sports, or anything in fast motion. It has an excellent range, and when shooting around 135mm, the images are CRYSTAL clear. This one is my favorite to capture little ones who are on the go, without disrupting them by being super close up to them.

YEARS ago I also owned the Tamron version of this lens, and I remembered loving it so much. I upgraded to the L glass, image stabilized version only when I had saved up the money and was shooting weddings regularly.  I actually still miss the rich, warm coloring of that Tamron lens, and would love to play around with it again someday.
My Tamron retained its value, too- which is something that isn’t always true of lenses. If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly telephoto, it’s a great option.

Canon Mark 5d iii + 85mm 1.4, editing is lighter than I usually like, color is more rich in original

Canon 85mm 1.4

This is a beauty of a lens to own, and I will likely never sell it. The crystal clear images from it are phenomenal- take a minute to look up the hashtag on Insta if you don’t believe me.
I do not use it nearly as often as I imagined I would, though, and I think that is important to state. For the price, I probably should have gone ahead and just purchased the Sigma that I will talk about next, and pocketed the difference. If you are looking for an entry-level lens, I wouldn’t recommend this one. It is BEAUTIFUL for low light situations, and is absolutely my favorite to use with kiddos and with individual portraits, but if I were just taking photos of my kids, I wouldn’t be able to justify the price that I spent on it.

Canon Mark 5d iii + 85mm 1.4

Furthermore though, I have heard super mixed reviews on the non-L glass step down from the lens, which is the Canon 85mm 1.8Personally, I have never been totally in love with a Canon lens that wasn’t L-glass, so I would most likely be on the negative review side of this particular lens. But because I haven’t shot with it, I can’t say that for a fact. It would be a great option if you are looking to just get started, but not pay an outrageous price for a portrait lens.

Canon Mark 5d iii + 35mm 1.4

Sigma Art 35mm 1.4

This is my favorite lens for everyday use by miles. I have read on many sites that this lens struggles with the slightest little hint of focusing too close or too far. (I’m talking like, the camera focused on the ends of the eyelashes instead of on your eyes kind of deal.) I chose to purchase the lens still, because there are countless YouTube videos on how to recalibrate the lens to not do this… BUT, that being said, I have never noticed anything but SUPER sharp images from it.
I couldn’t even tell you the last time I took my 35mm off of my camera body, or the last time I used my 85mm. This Sigma lens is perfect if you are trying to take photos indoors, as it allows for very close up shooting without only photographing somebody’s nose or eyeballs. I absolutely love this Sigma for my kids, and actually use it for most of my client work now, too. After reading review upon review about Sigma’s Art line, I am actually convinced it stands up to Canon’s L glass, and it’s almost always several hundred dollars cheaper. Win-win.

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Mark 5d iii + Sigma 35mm 1.4

Canon 50mm 1.4

This was one of the very first lenses I bought, and I purchased it when I wasn’t able to afford the L-glass step up of the 1.2. I have shot with a Nikon 1.2 lens, and it is a beautiful lens, but personally I don’t think it is worth the almost thousand dollar increase to jump up to L glass in this case. If you are looking for an excellent, VERY budget friendly portrait lens, this little gal will be a great lens to start with. I no longer own it, as I have replaced it with my Sigma & L-glass lenses of different focal lengths, but I did sell this lens to my sister, who I believe loves it too.


So for mirrored cameras, what do I recommend for a FIRST camera?

The Rebels have a great line if you are looking for a cropped sensor that will be way more budget friendly. I shot with Rebels all through high school when I was yearbook editor, and they are excellent cameras. They will also still have a built-in flash, as opposed to the 5d line, where you will have to buy an external flash if you are looking to photograph anything extremely dark. My low light lenses give me the ability to almost never need a flash, but if you are not able to afford one of said lenses, I would stick to something with an in-camera flash. Always buy a great diffuser for any flash you use, and you will have MUCH less harsh images.

But honestly, my overall recommendation?
Any Canon. 

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From WAY back in the day. Mark 5d ii (old version) and a KIT LENS. (Gasp) Honestly I believe this is the 24-105mm from Canon. Whichever kit lens came with the Mark ii back then, haha. 

I’ve shot Nikon too, and it just doesn’t compare in my opinion. The rich colors I consistently get from Canon are to die for.

Sounds funny after I just reviewed two super specific bodies, right?

That’s because I believe the biggest way to create beautiful images lies in the LENS, and in knowing HOW to use your camera. If you are looking for a mirrored camera that would be great for portraiture, I suggest finding a body that fits well with your price range, then choosing one of the lenses I recommended above. The Sigma 35mm 1.4 will forever be my top pick, but my super budget-friendly starter lens would have to be the Canon 50mm 1.4. It was my first Canon lens, and served me well for several years before I upgraded.

Mirrorless Cameras:

Sony a6000

Wow, wow, wow. I can’t say enough nice things about this camera. After just reviewing my well over $2k camera body, I actually honestly almost prefer my Sony now. This camera is insane, and the movement towards mirrorless cameras is really exciting for me to watch. They are small, they are lightweight, and they are SO MUCH EASIER.

Sony a6000 + Sigma 30mm 1.4 (it even shows my poor kid’s missed long hairs in the front… haha.)

I bought this camera originally to take with me on trips in Japan. My Canon equipment is beautiful and wonderful, but it just does not work well with crowded Japan trains, and I really don’t love carrying all of that money around on my back. I had read amazing reviews on the Sony a6000, knew it was small and compact for travel, and so I impulse bought it at our BX.

And wooooooooow am I glad I did.

Sony a6000 + Sigma 30mm 1.4

Personally, I would buy the camera body only, as linked above. The kit lens that comes with the camera is essentially useless to me personally, because I shoot often in the low light of my home, and want a pretty blurred background in my images. I shoot my kids inside our tiny rental house, and having a wider-angle lens like a 30mm is the only way that I am able to keep their entire bodies in the frame without only taking a photo of just their foreheads.

Sony a6000 + Sigma 30mm 1.4

So I want something that serves me well in low light, can fit my entire kid into the frame at a close range, and creates a pretty bokeh (blurred background.)
The kit lens that comes with this particular camera doesn’t serve any of those things, and I will sell mine now that I have received my new Sigma lens to replace it, because I have absolutely no use for it and honestly don’t like the images it produces.

If you are looking for a step up from this camera, or more of a professional grade mirrorless body, I recommend the Sony a6500. I hear raving review after raving review on this mirrorless body, and have a feeling it would be spectacular paired with a low-light, wide angle lens. I have not used them myself, but I hear that the 16mm and 24mm Sigma lenses paired with this body are a match made in heaven. The 6500 body is next on my “want” list, but I am being a responsible saver for now, so that will probably come a little bit down the road. (Drew, don’t read that, I’m not planning on ANY more camera equipment, just like I promised. Ha.)

Sony a6000 + Sigma 30mm 1.4

Sigma 30mm 1.4

I seriously can’t say enough good things about Sigma. I purchased my first Sigma lens about a year ago, and looking back- my images with that lens were actually better than the images I took with my L-glass Canon lenses at the same time. Sigma doesn’t mess around, and they know their stuff. If you are looking for a specific lens, but are struggling to dish out the funds, check out third party lens reviews. Often, Sigma lenses are cheaper, and have better reviews. I have fallen in love with this one in the two days that I have had it, and I actually find myself reaching for my mirrorless camera with this lens attached over both my Canon AND my phone.

Sony a6000 + Sigma 30mm 1.4, basically taken in the dark

 

So ultimately, what camera do you recommend for a beginner in portrait photography?

 

Well, again, loaded question. But if you are looking for an easy-to-use, relatively budget friendly, beginner level camera that will beautifully photograph your kids, a landscape, or the food you are eating, I really recommend the Sony a6000, paired with a low aperture lens. As mentioned, I own the 30 mm Sigma 1.4 with mine, and adore it.

Ultimately, I believe you really can’t go wrong with most choices, though- IF you take the time to research how to use them well. Avoid kit lenses (the lenses that automatically come with a camera, as manufactured.) Learn to use your camera, and watch all the YouTube videos you can on it. Take seminars, listen to podcasts, surf Pinterest. In the end, I believe wholeheartedly that you can make any camera’s shots look like they are professionally taken- it just takes some serious practice and knowledge. I know bloggers that shoot 100% with their iPhones, and you would never have any idea.

Most often, beautiful images come not only from talented hands, but from those who have taken the opportunity to LEARN their camera and lenses. It takes trial and error, and what works for you may not work for another photographer. Heck, I still totally mess up my settings on a weekly basis, and I am still having “OH CRAP, how did I not know this?” moments in regards to photography.
Take the time to read, research, and understand why reviews are posted the way they are, and what a review means coming from an individual. A travel photographer will review a lens differently than an indoor portrait photographer. You will find your niche, and the lines/brands that you love most. And in the end, I believe that probably more than 80% of beautiful photography lies in EDITING, and knowing how to do so without over-processing. I will share a post on that eventually, but feel free to message me on Insta with any questions you have about editing. Watch Youtube videos on editing styles, on streamlining editing, and on how you can make your images pop. It’s a surefire way to create beautiful images that are even better than the ones you pull straight off of your camera.

I hope this helps you get an idea of what you may want to start out with, but if not, feel free to shoot me a message on Instagram, asking me my thoughts on a specific body or lens! I actually respond to messages there, I promise. Haha.

Happy shopping, and happy shooting!

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Japan Life · Life · Parenting · Shop My Instagram

One Japanese Custom Americans Should Adopt | Why You Should Take Your Shoes Off in Your Home

dearfoams pin

If you know me, you know that there are so many things I love about Japan. Just the other day, I was telling Drew that I am beginning to ache for the place, and we still have a little over a year left in the country. I could go on and on about the kindness of the Japanese, the beautiful rural countryside, and all of the customary Japanese things that I love here.
One of the things that I love most about the Japanese people, is that they are very conscious about cleanliness.

I’m telling you, I am going to cry when I return to American gas station bathrooms. There’s nothing like walking into a FamilyMart and using an absolutely spotless bathroom ANYWHERE that you stop on a road trip.

Being in Japan, there are several roles on our base that are filled by the Japanese nationals vs the US military. In particular, most of our housing maintenance department is managed by the Japanese people. This means, when your toilet breaks, they are the kind ones to come fix it.

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Do babes ever chew on anything SAFE for them?

And because toddlers seem to have a life goal of flushing things that shouldn’t be flushed during the fifteen seconds that you decide to look away to load the dishwasher… in a nutshell, we see maintenance a lot in our home.
One of the things that I was most startled by when welcoming the Japanese into our home for the first time, was the fact that they carried two sets of shoes with them. Without asking, they removed the shoes that they were wearing outside our front door, and they immediately stepped into house shoes to wear within our home.

As we have integrated into life in Japan, we have quickly realized that this practice is not just isolated to homes.

You go to the doctor, you will put on slippers.
You go to the hospital for a procedure, you will put on slippers.
You stay at a hotel, you will put on slippers.
You go to the onsen, you will put on slippers.
You go out to eat, you will put on slippers.
Even if you go to the bathroom, sometimes, you will put on slippers.

At first, I just didn’t really get it. To be honest, when we came to Japan, we were not big on the “no shoes in the house” rule. After the first week of culture shock from constantly taking off my shoes and replacing them with house shoes everywhere, I finally decided to do some reading on WHY I was constantly swapping shoes as I entered these various buildings. I was disgusted with my own ignorance, because the reasons are numerous, and they are pretty monumental.


This post is sponsored by Dearfoams, but the content was researched and written 100% by me, and all opinions are 100% my own. I agreed to work with Dearfoams because I genuinely love their company, and I will never speak highly about a brand that I don’t sincerely love.

4 Reasons You Should Remove Your Shoes at the Door | Why Everyone Needs House Shoes


 

“What did you say is on your shoes?!”

1. Outside shoes are GROSS

Did you know that almost ALL shoes that are worn outside of the home for at least one month carry fecal matter on them? Yep. Your outside, everyday shoes are covered in poop. A study from the University of Arizona on this particular topic says that up to 93 percent test positive, in fact.¹ When I first read this little bit of information, I was absolutely horrified.
In homes with children, this is obviously an even bigger deal, too.
Think about it this way: right now, Ellie spends 95% of her day on the floor. She touches it with her hands, then chews on her fingers. She rolls all around, and sometimes even falls asleep with her face smashed against it. Wearing house shoes or slippers that NEVER leave our home insures a clean environment for her to explore, drool, and chew happily (and safely.)

2. It keeps your house clean

I mean, this is kind of a given, right? This is probably the main reason that most people choose to remove their shoes at the door.
We live in the snowiest city in the world presently.  And what happens when snow melts?
MUD.
Our porch is constantly covered in dirt, mud, and water, and during the early spring, everything in sight is covered in pollen from the cherry blossoms. Being able to swap out our muddy/dirty shoes at the door, and put our feet into nice, clean soles, keeps our house so much cleaner. I mean, anything that makes my mopping/vacuuming schedule much easier to handle is a must- do for me.

Heck, you can even wash house shoes in order to help keep your floors that much more clean. Did you know that Dearfoams created the very first washable slipper with comfortable foam padding in it? Even all the way back in 1948, they were committed to creating a product that was safe and easy to keep clean for your family. To this day, most Dearfoams slippers are machine washable, meaning even your house shoes can be cleaned periodically- keeping your home as clean and safe for your little ones as possible.

3. It is so much more comfortable

You might be asking, “why wear shoes at home at all?”
If you are asking this question, I venture to say: you clearly do not have a toddler.

Legos. One word. One scary, painful word.
LEGOS.

But in all seriousness, it is incredibly convenient to own a pair of shoes that are comfortable enough to wear all day inside of your home, yet protective enough to shield you from the plethora of sinister little bottom-of-the-foot hazards that are children’s toys.
Perfect trade off. Your feet remain protected, and you remain comfy.

4. It is polite

This is HUGE in Japan, and I wish it was something that was better practiced in the states. While I don’t think America will necessarily begin carrying a pair of house shoes with them when going to visit friends, I do wish that it would become customary to remove shoes at the door.
It is respectful to the family that is hosting you, it is cleanly, and it is so so easy to do. In our experience in Japan, hosts customarily actually provide YOU with house shoes upon entering their home. Talk about a way to personify “Mi casa es su casa,” right?


 

There are so many huge reasons to begin building the habit of wearing ONLY house shoes in the home. Mum Ana Lucia Komori puts it best in my opinion:

“When we take our shoes off we are free from all the things that happened to us during the day but that don’t belong to our intimacy and spirit at home.”³

I LOVE that concept. As you shed your dirty daytime shoes, and put on your cozy house shoes, you are leaving the heavy parts of your day behind. You are settling into your own home for the night, and allowing your burdens to stay at the door, where you can pick them up to deal with the following day.

So I challenge you, start taking off  your shoes immediately upon entering the home. If you’re like us and like to wear shoes anyway, buy yourself a pair of house shoes. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, Dearfoams are absolutely our favorite.
Cozy up, leave your burdens behind, and keep your floors clean for the tiny hands and feet that are exploring their little world.

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Sources:

  1. https://www.today.com/home/health-reasons-why-you-shouldn-t-wear-shoes-house-t129820
  2. http://alt.npo-glad.org/taking-off-shoes-japan/
  3. http://www.essentialkids.com.au/health/health-wellbeing/should-you-take-your-shoes-off-before-entering-your-home-20180723-h1316l
  4. https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2001.html
DIY · Home · Rental Decorating

Coat Closet Turned Mudroom | Rental Friendly Decorating

Living in base housing can be tricky sometimes in regards to decorating, especially if you hate PLAIN. After all, everything has to be basically pristine by the time that you leave, and with usually only 2-4 years at each house, it can be extremely tempting to just live with the plain white walls and ugly fixtures in the house.

But I believe it’s possible to do a few simple things to easily make a rental (or base housing) feel like home, while still being able to restore all the changes to move-in-ready condition easily.

Today I will be showing you how we took our tiny front coat closet and transitioned it into a workable space! On our particular base in Misawa, we actually don’t even have to replace the doors- housing will do that for us as long as we keep all the hardware.

closet pin REAL.jpg

So, here is how I turned our TINY, useless coat closet (that was stuffed to the brim with things we couldn’t even reach) into a brand new, cute little mud room! We actually didn’t even use half of the stuff that was in our closet, so it was becoming a catch-all for stuff that just needed to be put away elsewhere.

Halfway through my mess

If you are reading from Misawa, we live in the 3 bedroom townhome style, so this is the closet immediately upon entering your front entryway. Taking the doors off and creating a small bench opens up the space SO much, and makes your entryway look astronomically bigger- for real. I was blown away the second I took those doors off, and I don’t feel incredibly cramped when walking into the house anymore. You can even store guest shoes in the space in front of the bench, which keeps your walkway more clear!

Here’s a couple tips on how we did it:

Take off all hardware, and store it in a plastic baggy

Or, simply leave it attached to the doors! We take all the screws and pieces that don’t remain attached to the doors, and store them in a plastic baggy, then tape it with painter’s tape to the door. This way the tape doesn’t damage the door, but we are able to know for SURE that the hardware stays put with the door. When moving out, we just place the door with the taped hardware beside the closet for our housing inspection. (Or if you are required to replace the doors where you live, all the hardware is right there, and you don’t have to go searching for it!)

Store the doors under a couch or under the bed

This way kids, pets, or adults don’t damage them in any way, and they are totally out of the way! We store ours underneath our king size bed, so they are totally hidden under there. (Thanks to our sweet friend Sierra, for the idea of storing things under couches or beds. This works so well for us.)

And that’s really it! Super, super easy project, and if you search Pinterest (here is the link to my profile– I have some inspiration under my entryway board) , there are a million ways to build a small bench for whatever size your closet space is. I have absolutely NO power tools, other than a super cheap drill and drill bits, and built this last night in around 2 hours.

And because I’m always asked in my Insta/Facebook DMs where I get my products, here are all the links for the shop-able products shown in these photos!

Mason jar – you can get a mason jar just about anywhere! I pick them up all the time from thrift stores, but I linked one here from Amazon! Almost any thrift store will have jars in their glass section, usually from anywhere from 25 cents to $1.

Peonies  – these originally came from EBay, but I linked similar ones from Amazon!

Books- we the bottom book at a 25 cent book sale/ the top one belongs to a set that was passed down from family! I love to find old books that have pretty colored covers both for reading, and for decor.

Linen basket -the reviews state that this never regains its shape- which I believe is TOTALLY inaccurate. If you fill it with items, it immediately resumes the shape it should be. We use ours to hold Henry’s winter gear!

Wire baskets -these are the small size, and they often go on sale for $11.99-$12.99! Wait for the sale, and wait for a coupon code. I believe I got mine for around $5 each when I had a 40% off coupon.)

Twinkle lights – I had a coupon for these, making them around $5 for each strand. We have these EVERYWHERE in our house, because I adore twinkle lights. If I get another code, I will update it on my deal page, found HERE. (I run an Amazon discount page on Facebook!)

 

Hunter boots – the boots shown are my navy blue pair in glossy! I’ve had them for 2 years and they still look basically new. (Isn’t it funny how these have become a decor piece?)

Wreath -this is my DIY wreath for under $10 from Daiso! You can find the tutorial on my blog by clicking the link.

The white planks and bench are actually all made out of wood that I found on the side of the road. (My friends refer to me as the curb queen occasionally.) So many things that are thrown out on a weekly basis are super super useable, even if it isn’t for their original purpose. My favorite thing to do is to take your trash, refinish it, and post it in my own home. Ha.
I believe the white planks originally came from a small crib, the boards for the bench were from a handmade toy box that was falling apart, and the structure from the bench actually comes from two dresser drawers that were being given away for free. Even the screws came from the destructed toy box, so I have absolutely zero dollars invested in the bench that I crafted, minus an 80 cent bottle of stain from Daiso.

Hope you find some inspiration for your own closets! I am so much happier as I enter my home now, and I love the space that my entryway is after taking off those dang doors!

 

Life · Marriage

How Our Marriage Survived a False STD Diagnosis

Ha, does that title grab your attention enough? I hope so, because this isn’t really a post I can share a million photos in, if you know what I mean. I believe now that the truths I will share with you are SO important to know, though.

If you haven’t read our marriage story, you may not know how utterly surprising this blog’s title is, coming from our relationship.
If you have read the post, you know Drew and I committed early on in dating to wait until our wedding night to sleep together, and we kept that commitment. It is something I have been proud of for years, and something that I have absolutely adored about our relationship.
When that is your truth, and you KNOW that YOU have never been unfaithful- yet a doctor is calling you and telling you that you have undeniably caught chlamydia, which is contracted 99.9% of the time via direct sexual contact- what would your first thought be?

Yep, mine too.

So, how does a marriage survive that?

Let’s start from the beginning.

During pregnancy, most doctors request that mothers receive a routine pap smear sometime during the second trimester if they have not had one recently. I didn’t think twice about their tests, and honestly didn’t even know that they were testing for STDs too. I have never once in my life worried about their tests, because I have only had one partner my entire life, as has my husband. So around two weeks later when I saw my OBGYN’s number ringing on my phone, I wondered if I had simply forgotten to schedule my next appointment with them.

Instead, I was greeted by a solemn request for a confirmation of my last name and birth date, and was asked if it was Emily they were speaking with. I agreed, and thereafter heard the words that blew my mind.
“Ma’am, we have received a positive test result for chlamydia. Because you are pregnant, I will need you to come in immediately to begin treatment. Please come in today and do not wait, as this can be dangerous for your baby. Do you have any questions?”

Um, hell yes I have questions.

Now, I am not a rude person to strangers, like… ever. Everybody has a job to do, and some jobs are worse than others. I imagine delivering test results like these really can’t be fun, especially when test results of this sort can carry so much emotional weight with them. But during this call, I didn’t care at all how I sounded, I just needed answers. Immediately, I interrupted and very firmly told the doctor that they had picked up the wrong chart. I believe I even rudely told them to not make a careless mistake like that. My doctor kindly reconfirmed my credentials, checked the system to make sure no mistakes had been made, and confirmed that this was indeed my certified test result.

At this point, I felt rage immediately begin to bubble up.

If I haven’t slept with anybody but my husband, and I have an STD, where the HELL did I get this from?

To be honest, I have never been well-versed on sexually transmitted diseases. I remembered the mind-burning photos from health class, but I didn’t even know which STD chlamydia was. I mean, we started dating at age 15/16, never slept with anybody before we married in our 20’s, and have obviously never saw anybody else since we married. There was no reason to worry about any sexually transmitted diseases, because there was no chance that one could be contracted between the two of us.

At least, until one apparently was.

The next four hours of that day are a complete blur, to be honest. I have never been filled with so much rage, humiliation, and contempt.
I immediately questioned my doctor if there was any way to contract such an infection outside of sexual intercourse. She confirmed that there was not.
I questioned her on what that meant for where I got it from. I was told that if I did not cheat on my husband, my husband, statistically, had to have cheated on me.

In that moment, my world shattered, but I still wasn’t convinced.
I rudely demanded that I be retested. My doctor agreed kindly, but told me I must still seek out treatment, because results for a retest would take weeks to come back with us being overseas, and to actually have the infection could be dangerous for our Ellie.
She told me that I needed to tell my husband, and that he should be tested too.
The hospital that we see also requires that all STDs be reported to public health, mostly for the safety of the base, and that we be consulted by a public health counselor in regards to safe sex practices.

I hung up the phone, threw it into my closet with force, and immediately burst into tears. Drew thought that I had just received a call from home telling me that a family or friend in the states had passed away, because I was sobbing so hard he couldn’t imagine what else could make me cry like that. A million thoughts were swirling around my head at that point, because I knew one of two things was true:
Either my test results were incorrect, or my husband, who I had promised to wait for almost ten years ago, had been with somebody else.

Let me tell you one thing right now. You need to find yourself a Drew. My husband is the most patient human I have ever met, and he is the most understanding human I have ever met. He’s sarcastic and often isn’t directly empathetic, and he is very direct and to the point, but when it comes to issues like these- the big issues- he is a rock. And that is exactly what I needed for those next two weeks while we waited for more results to come in.

So, I hung up the phone sobbing, and stomped into the living room where he was sitting. Before I ever told Drew that information that I had just received, I decided to approach it from a skeptical wife’s standpoint. I walked up to him, barely able to speak through tears, and asked him if he had cheated on me. I’ll never forget his look of confusion, and I actually heard him laugh at the question. He told me he had not, and asked me what in the world was going on.

I ignored him, and rudely asked him again. “Listen, I am freaking pregnant. I am carrying our daughter! This is a big deal! Have you cheated on me?”
He replied confused again, “No, Em. I haven’t cheated on you. Now what is going on?”

So I told him absolutely everything that was told to me on the phone. Drew ONLY once, later on that day, as we were waiting to receive treatment, “well, you didn’t cheat either right?” When I told him I had absolutely not, he never asked me again. Sometimes I wish I could be more like my husband, who is an incredibly trusting, level-headed, and calm individual. But during that first 6 hours after this diagnosis, I shot every question and accusation I could conjure from any depth of doubt I had stored over the last 10 years.
And in response, I cannot remember a time in our almost 10 years of dating and marriage that I can remember Drew being more patient with me, but man, am I thankful for his response to the chaos. He held me in our living room while Henry stared at me, utterly confused as to why his mom was wailing. Drew even kept laughing at my anger over the weeks, because he knew the entire ordeal was a huge mistake. I of course, tried to feel this way, but was only overwhelmed with dread when it came to the entire subject.

By the time I had collected my thoughts after the call, I decided to march straight into the medical center and demand retesting. I walked to the lab before checking in anywhere else, and demanded that I be retested BEFORE ever accepting treatment, because I wanted to know if my test results were correct. If they weren’t, I wanted the ability to wipe the whole ordeal from my record. It was suggested that Drew receive treatment as well. He was not even referred for testing before being offered treatment on the precedent that he would undeniably have the infection too, obviously because he is my husband. But he demanded a test from the doctor as well before ever agreeing to take treatment.

We were both counseled by public health on how to not contract STDs, (ironic, in hindsight, right?) were told that a false positive was extremely unlikely, and were made to ingest our treatment in front of our doctors so that they could record that treatment was taken.

I remember sitting in front of a nurse, who looked upon me with pity as I sat crying with my toddler son on my lap, drinking the antibiotic that was to “cure my chlamydia.” She was as kind as she could be, and I can’t blame her for looking at me the way that she did. After all, if my husband had cheated, and I had contracted the STD in this way, it would be an INCREDIBLY emotional moment for a pregnant woman to endure as she sat in an office accepting treatment.
She asked me if there was anything she could do for me, and I tearily replied “no, thanks.”

I remember sitting in every office that day, embarrassed beyond belief, and absolutely filled with rage as doctor after doctor told me that it was incredibly unlikely that I had been misdiagnosed. I was told by doctor after doctor and article after article that there was no chance that chlamydia could be contracted in any way other than sexual intercourse, and that if I truly had not cheated, there was only one explanation for how I had received the diagnosis: and it was not the explanation I was wearily reaching for.
And as infuriating as that is in hindsight, I suppose this is a normalcy today. These are the things that these doctors see on a daily basis, and honestly, to have a married couple come in for an STD diagnosis and treatment, stating that they had both absolutely not slept with anybody else in their entire life and marriage would be a situation what was… well… somewhat laughable.

Nevertheless, I held out hope that my retest would provide me peace and clarity in the situation, while reading every medical journal in the world that undeniably told me that it would not.
We were both sent home after receiving treatment. They told us that the certified retest results for both of us would be back in around 14 days. Unfortunately, being stationed overseas, many tests have to be sent stateside for reading, meaning many tests take a LONG time to return.

This meant that the next two weeks of my life were absolute hell, to be honest.

I’ll never forget the countdown. I had determined exactly how long my first results took to return, so I was pretty positive of the day that I would receive the call with my new retest results. My heart raced the entire day, and I’m guessing my blood pressure was pretty sky-high. Drew, on the other hand, put everything behind him the same day that we accepted treatment. He took my harassment for the following two weeks, he took my random outbursts of anger and tears at the situation, and he took my accusations- even if I said them passive-aggressive-jokingly.

And when I received the call that my retest came back clearly negative for chlamydia, he simply said “Well yeah it did.” And when his retest came back clearly negative he simply said, “Well yeah it did.”

So, yes friends. I never had an STD. Drew never had an STD.
WE WERE DIAGNOSED WITH AN STD, AND WE NEVER HAD AN STD.
To this day I have no idea if my results got mixed up with someone else’s on paper, or if my specimen got swapped with someone who truly did have chlamydia, or if it was simply a skewed test (which can actually happen, albeit somewhat rarely, during pregnancy.)

All I know, is I was told I had an STD, when I have never had an STD.

Do you see the depth of that statement?

Had I decided not to demand a retest; had I taken the advice of every single doctor that day; had I chose not to believe my husband over a diagnosis… said diagnosis could have ended our marriage. I could have accepted the words coming out of the mouths of those with letters behind their names, because they are those that we trust to tell us the truth about our bodies. I could have walked away from my marriage months before birthing our sweet Ellie, believing that I had been wronged by a man who has stood by my side through so much. Don’t get me wrong, I trust in the knowledge and expertise of doctors. I trust that the doctors that oversaw my care were doing all that they could to correctly diagnose and treat me. I trust that the doctors I saw (and still see) are good people, with no intentions to ever hurt us. But unfortunately, doctors are not always correct, and that is one of the hardest parts of living in a fallen world.

All of this mess went down almost a year ago to the date. I have told very few people outside of my close friend group and my immediate family. Honestly, for months now, I have still been morbidly embarrassed by the entire fiasco. I am not proud to admit that I have called medical records and chewed out the attendants when they wouldn’t wipe the entire thing from my record. I have checked my online results time and time again to make sure they they were properly documented with the correct notations of the positive being a “false positive.” I have told every doctor who views my lab results during current appointments that they were INCORRECT, because I have been so mortified by the entire emotional memory. But I am sharing today, because in hindsight, a few truths were SO important during those moments. And I believe it is undeniably important for you to know these truths, too.

1. You are entitled to a second opinion, and you are entitled to retesting.

In anything. In everything. Whether a doctor tells you you have cancer, or that your husband has cheated and you have contracted an STD from it. If something doesn’t add up, you are forever within your right to say “Bye, Felicia.” Ask for a retest. Seek out a new doctor. Go to a completely different medical facility. Do whatever you can to feel that your results are correct, while communicating your concerns with your healthcare team. Because as my mom has told me for years, all doctors are PRACTICING medicine. No doctor is 100% perfect 100% of the time, and no lab is perfect in the slightest. This is just a simple truth of life, and it is nobody’s fault.

2. Test results are often mixed up, labeled incorrectly, lost, or otherwise falsely positive/negative.

Seriously, do the research on it. Not just from WebMD. Read medical journals. Read statistics. Read information from the CDC.
Anyone and everyone you speak to in person will tell you, “Oh, that crap doesn’t happen. Test results are test results. Yep. You have an STD from your scumbag husband.” But statistically, this happens WAY more often than you would expect.

And in addition, watch your lab tests be labeled. Confirm your name, date of birth, and label on everything you provide to a medical facility. If you do your due diligence in making sure your results are labeled as your results, you cut out at least one possibility of getting a false result.

3. A diagnosis should not immediately come before the trust you have built for years with your spouse, especially not before talking things through with them.

In hindsight, I am still ashamed of how much more trust Drew had in me than I had in him. Thankfully, we have built a marriage based on open communication, full trust, and thankfully, he is one of the best men I have ever met, and loved me so well through it all. Go into all aspects of your marriage with this mindset. If you married your best friend, your partner in life, and your biggest cheerleader, remember that during the chaos.

4. It should always be okay to tell your spouse how you feel.

This is something that was fundamentally important to us making it through those weeks. I could sit down, look at Drew, and say, “Babe, I believe in my head that you did not cheat on me, but my heart is absolutely bursting with sorrow that you did.” And he understood that that was a valid way to feel during the fiasco, and he loved me through it.

5. Good people exist & good marriages exist.

The hardest part by far in this entire process, was the fact that I could tell nobody. For those weeks, I cried at home or only to my closest friends. I reached out only to those who personally KNEW my marriage. Because I knew if I reached out to anybody else for advice or encouragement, the immediate response would be one of anger and pity for my side of things, and I would undeniably hear “Wow, Emily, I am so sorry… but your husband cheated while you are pregnant, and you should leave him.”

The world will tell you that there is nothing true left, that commitments do not matter anymore, and that these situations happen daily. While they are not necessarily wrong, and this stuff does happen daily…  they are wrong. Good marriages exist. People who value commitment over everything else exist. Faithful marriages exist. And above all else, in a world where this is very often not always true, marriages can be rebuilt. I still have a statement that I cling to years ago, that I believe is SO crucial to know in today’s world.

No, not “everything happens for a reason.” Rather,

Anything can be redeemed.


I will tell you this: That two weeks of chaos… SUCKED. There has not been a time in our marriage that I felt lower, that I felt more depressed, or that I was more sure that terrifying times were ahead. It was emotional and exhausting and I cried my tear ducts dry so many times over those weeks. But if it taught me anything, it taught me that good men exist. It taught me that my husband is so incredibly kind. It taught me that marriages can make it through anything. And ultimately it taught me that the commitment that we made, means something to each of us.

And let me tell you something in hindsight. If you are unmarried, find yourself a spouse who will stand with you through those moments, even if they are crying right beside you. Find somebody who will accept your anger, your tears, and your understandable doubts, and realize that this is the exact things that God does for us.

Find yourself a spouse who values the commitment they made to you over the words a doctor is spewing at them as they accept treatment for what you were supposedly diagnosed with. Find yourself a person who knows what real commitment means.

Because when you are sitting at home for two weeks, staring at a phone, willing with your whole heart for it to ring in order for there to be a “I’ve made a terrible mistake with your results” call… a feeling of infatuation, of romantic love, or of chemical attraction is absolutely NOT what you are clinging to.

But, do believe in your spouse. Honor your commitment. Through better or through worse, give them the benefit of the doubt. Give them forgiveness. Give them the grace that Drew has given me daily since I walked down the aisle to him. Because if there is ever a time that you practice “for better or for worse,” it is during the moments that you are sitting on a cold, paper covered bench, drinking a bitter and pasty mixture to “cure your chlamydia,” as your husband sits 4-5 rooms down, doing the exact same. You will come out of those moments with an appreciation for the person you married, and with the realization that a Christ-honoring commitment will be hard, it will be messy, and it will be so beautiful, and so worth the chaos.

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Ellie

6 Months- Ellie

Weight: …..I forgot to update her 5 month weight… But, uh… I promise I will update this one. Can I just put “thunder thighs” here? (Don’t hate me when you’re older and read this, Ellie. They’re super cute.)
Eye Color: Blue, and I am officially confident they will stay this way. Hooray! We have a brown eyed babe and a blue eyed babe! How cool is that?!
Hair: Very very little hair, but very blonde! Her cradle cap has disappeared (I might have brushed it out…) and her new hair is starting to grow in now!
Size: 9-12 months. She wears size 5 diapers, because her thighs and legs are bigger than her 2.5 year old brother’s…
Baby girl has had an eventful month, to say the least. Following in the footsteps of her brother, who took his first steps at 7 months, she has begun to pull up to standing on our couches.

Girlfriend has shown very little interest in her thumb over the past month, and doesn’t take a paci SUPER often. She still loves her Cutie-Pats, but does not need a paci or her thumb to fall asleep anymore.

Ellie moved to her own room this month, and while she wakes up SLIGHTLY more in her own room, she still only wakes 1-2 times/night. After nursing, she always returns right back to sleep.

Little lady is adventurous, to say the least. Naps are becoming harder and harder to have, because the little squirt is just too interested in everything else. When she wakes up, she is immediately wide awake, immediately happy, and immediately ready to play.

Girlfriend had her first solids this month. We plan to do a mix of purees and baby-led weaning, but you can see her first purees experience here!

Ellie loves her big brother and mama, and she has found a love for my bible study friends, as well as Judah; Erika’s son. Judah won’t leave the house without crying for Ellie to come with him. There might be an arranged marriage in the future, though I believe Judah may already be promised to about 4 other little ladies on base. Haha.

Ellie loves her Rock-A-Roo, which we got for free from a friend on base. (Shout out to you, Vanessa- it has been a lifesaver the past month!)

Henry likes to bring Ellie toys and her paci, and is very good with noticing when she is crying. He still will not DARE let her touch his blanket, and he likes to block her attempts at following him by jumping directly in front of her with a sumo-power-stance while yelling “GOTCHA.” Most of the time he likes to do this in his underwear or when he is not wearing pants. (insert laughing-until-you-cry emoji here.)

Ellie yells “MAMA MAMA MAMA” constantly. I’m still her favorite person in existence.

Girlfriend’s thighs and calves are larger than her 2 year old brother’s, and she wears the same size diaper that he would.

Ellie girl thinks it’s hilarious when Henry is upset and cries. She belly laughs at him.

She is still a stomach dweller, and will still ONLY sleep on her stomach. If she is laid on her back, she will wake up immediately. We are big on safe sleep, but have started putting her to bed on her stomach, as she has very clearly proven that she has the muscles needed to flip if she has to.

Ellie crawls with ease, sits up on her own without hesitation, raises up to her tippy toes, and stands frequently. I am predicting first steps by 7 months.

This little babe’s tooth came COMPLETELY through on the day she turned 6 months old. She now has one (very sharp) tooth. Henry got both of his bottom teeth at once, but it looks like only one is coming in for now for the little lady.

The Japanese still adore her, and ALWAYS open their eyes super wide at her since her eyes are so huge.

And your Henryisms of the month:

As mentioned, Henry likes to “GOTCHA” his sister, and will jump into a power stance in front of her to try and block her. He most often does this after using the potty, meaning he is most often naked.

Henry loves to watch my ER/Fire shows, and yells “OH NO, NEED AM-BOO-WANCE!” when he sees someone in need of help.

He thinks everything that is foggy/smokey means a fire. Every time I run the dryer and he sees the steam outside, he screams at me about there being a fire outside.

He reminds me that Ellie is in the car still if I ever take him out first by shouting, “OH NO! Sissy! Car! Sissy! Car!”

The kid still has a love for chicken fries, and cries if we pass Burger King without stopping. (Which is unfortunate, considering they are closed for renovations for several weeks.)

The two of them are driving me nuts in one way or another on a daily basis, but MAN are they fun. Ellie is developing such a funny personality, and I know I say it every month, but I 100% can’t believe she is already halfway to one.

We love you, sweet Ellie Alice! You are such a pain in the butt to my ability to leave the house without you, but such a ray of sunshine in my every single day.

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