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    Zianne’s Ballet Birthday Party

    The other day I was interviewing the girls – where I just informally ask them a series of questions and listen to their answers… “What’s your favorite movie?” “What’s your favorite food?” “What’s your favorite thing to do with grandma?” And so on…

    Then I asked Zianne, “What is something mommy is good at?”

    And she replied, “Celebrating birthdays!”

    It made my heart so glad. There are many things I don’t excel at as a mom. I don’t like playing silly games. I don’t like messes. I will probably never homeschool my girls, because I don’t have the patience.

    But when my kids think back on their childhood, I hope they recall: The house was clean and orderly. Dinner was almost always homemade. And my mom sure made our birthdays special.

    Because if there is one thing I’m good at it – it’s birthdays. I think I get it from my own mom.  I remember all our birthday traditions growing up. Donuts for breakfast, lasagna and homemade chocolate cake for dinner, no chores for the day, and getting to ride shotgun in the car all week. There were also presents and birthday parties… the big and the small acts together reminded us that we were loved and cherished. Our lives were special and worth celebrating.

    I want my own daughters to feel the same way. They pick breakfast, lunch, and dinner on their birthdays. I take them on fun outings. I put together gifts they will adore. This year Zianne woke up to a big basket of new art supplies waiting for her on the kitchen table. She chose Chick-fil-a for lunch and also requested chicken nuggets for dinner. I acquiesced to redundancy of nuggets to make her day special.

    And whether we gather a few friends or a big crowd, I always throw my kids a party. They pick the theme, with little influence from me. It’s not always Pinterest-worthy, but it’s special for them. So far our parties include: Rockin’ Robin, ABC, Jelly Bean, Beach Party, Gold Bug, and now…


    Zianne requested a ballet birthday for months. A friend from church is a ballet instructor, and I thought it would be so fun if she could come give the girls a little lesson. I was able to rent a studio and the whole outdoor play area at our neighborhood YMCA, and it out worked perfectly.

    The party started with ten tutu-clad girls in their ballet lesson. They hopped and twirled around the studio for 30 minutes or so and ended their lesson with ribbon dancing to “Can’t Stop the Feeling” before taking a bow. Valerie was amazing. She wore a huge tutu and got into character. I’m pretty sure the girls thought she was a Disney princess, because they bashfully hugged her before the lesson started and requested individual pictures with her at the end.

    After the dance portion of the party, the kids ran around on the field outside and we served treats. Zianne requested a rainbow cake, which I whipped up the night before, and a friend of ours made adorable tutu-shaped cookies. After we filled up on sugar, the kids attempted to demolish a giant piñata. It’s a good thing a few big brothers came to the party, because it turns out preschool-age ballerinas don’t excel at piñata-hitting, and the baseball skills of the older brothers were put to good use.

    I love that Zianne is getting old enough to recognize the love and care that goes into celebrating birthdays. It’s not about the decorations or the presents, but I hope the time and effort put into the festivities always assure my children that they are adored by their parents and by the Father above.



    Tutu napkins and ballet banner

    Talitha’s white tutu (we’ve had this for over a year and it’s holding up so well)

    If you’re local to Southern California:

    Amazing cookies by Twinfully Sweet

    Piñatas Villafan (custom-made, huge piñatas for $18)




    My Little Garden

    My office has no windows.

    When I go into my classroom to teach and find it flooded with natural light from real windows, I breathe a sigh of relief.

    Windowless rooms are seriously the worst. My main career goal right now is to eventually move my office to the other side of the hallway where the rooms have huge windows and are drenched in sunlight.

    But that is probably a few years out…

    Until then, I have a lovely spacious office with no natural light and TONS of shelves. When I first moved in, there were FIVE full-size bookshelves in my office. I actually had the facilities team remove two of them, because I found them daunting. The empty shelves were making me anxious.

    So now I am down to three huge bookshelves. For most professors, especially an English professor, it would be easy to fill these shelves with books, books, and more books, but I am not your average professor. I am a minimalist professor who sells books every chance I get. I only keep textbooks for classes currently in my teaching rotation. I only keep scholarly books I will likely consult in the future. I only keep fiction or non-fiction books if I actually plan to read them with the next year. When I finish a book for fun, I instantly sell it on Amazon, unless I honestly think I will re-read it in the future. There are so many books in the world I want to read, I only keep a tiny collection of texts to read twice.

    So that makes filling three huge bookshelves a daunting task. I probably have 50-ish books in my office and at least ten of them are posted for sale on Amazon and could be shipped off any day now.

    So what does one use to fill those looming shelves?

    Plants, of course.

    I see all you ladies on Instagram, filling your houses with fiddle fig trees and ferns and ivy and succulents and air plants. They look clean and healthy and beautiful.

    But remember my crucial problem… no natural light in my office. And even if I had one of the sunlight-drenched rooms across the corridor, I would probably still kill any real plants in my care, because I have the blackest thumb in the universe. I have killed more succulents than you can imagine. Yes, those hearty plants that need little water or care. I can decimate them in just a few weeks. The only plant I have ever kept alive is a Christmas Cactus from my second grade science project. That thing lasted for over 20 years, but a room full of Christmas cacti is not the aesthetic I’m going for.

    A botanist told me I might be able to get a snake plant to survive in my window-less office, but that still wouldn’t be enough to fill my looming, empty shelves. By the end of fall semester, I was getting slightly embarrassed about the state of my office. I had a few meetings with other staff and faculty there, and they would eye my mostly empty shelves skeptically. Who was this professor with a few measly books, a pile of papers, and a cardboard box sitting on her gorgeous mahogany shelves? One day the dean walked in and exclaimed, “Wow! You really are a minimalist!”

    At that point, I quickly added “decorate office shelves” to my list of goals for 2017. I got started right away in January, because I wanted my office, windows or no windows, to be a pleasant place for students or faculty who visit it.

    I saw this Instagram picture, which led me to this blog post, and I decided I could use these three steps to make my office shelves look good, despite not wanting to keep tons of books on them.

    Plants were essential for the look I was going for, so I started scouring the internet for the most attractive faux plants I could find. I bought a few sets and figured I would divide them up, putting some of them in the equally dark and minimalist writing center.

    Here’s what I found and loved…

    White ceramic potted succulents (very small, but super cute)…

    Succulents in round glass vases (these ones are slightly bigger and I really like them)

    Amazing faux succulents from Nordstrom (these are even bigger)

    Another set in cement pots (I haven’t see them in person yet, but they look awesome!)

    And of course, Ikea plants for good measure…

    With all my fake foliage, my office is no longer an utter embarrassment. I still have a few shelves to fill though, so my next step is to buy some fun new artwork.


    My sister’s wedding

    Now that six months have passed, it’s finally time to share the beautiful details from my sister’s wedding back in July. Even though this post feels belated, it might be helpful to those who got engaged over the holidays and are now planning a summer wedding.

    Chris and Katie got married at a gorgeous new venue called Prospect House in Dripping Springs, Texas outside of Austin. Prospect House looks like an industrial building in the middle of the rolling meadows of Texas Hill Country. It’s the perfect blend of modern in a rustic setting.

    Knowing her venue would be gorgeous on its own, Katie went for a simple color palette of cream and gold with lots of natural greenery. I guess she was ahead of the trend, since “greenery” is the Pantone color of 2017. Then Chris threw her for a loop when he insisted on having a bit of maroon in the color scheme to represent his beloved fighting Texas Aggies. Being the patient and sweet natured middle-child that she is, Katie acquiesced to his wish and added pops of maroon into her décor. I was skeptical as she was planning it out, but on the day of the wedding I was overwhelmed by how well the flowers and clothing turned out… maroon ties and socks for the groomsmen and a few crimson blooms sprinkled in the white and green floral arrangements. It was perfect, and represented a mature level of compromise I wasn’t capable of so early in my marriage.

    The hardest thing about my sister’s wedding was being so far away during the planning process. Although I was the maid of honor, I didn’t get to help very much in the months leading up to the big day. However, when Katie was struggling to find a wedding dress she liked, I stepped in from afar. She went to a couple shops to look at dresses and left feeling disgruntled by the styles and the exorbitant prices and the pushy sales ladies that make you rank dresses that you don’t ever intend on purchasing. One morning, I jumped online, determined to find a simple, affordable, flattering dress that my sister would love. I headed to J.Crew because they are known for having well-designed, no-frills dresses for good prices. Within a couple minutes, I sent my sister the link to the Gigi gown, just as example of a silhouette she might like (at a decent price). Within a few minutes, she texted me back, “I bought one.” “Bought what?” I replied, thinking she might have already found a dress in the few days since we had last spoke. “The Gigi dress from J.Crew. I just ordered it in two different sizes. We’ll see which one fits.”  She ended up loving the gown, and it fit her personality and her wedding perfectly. So although I failed to help with many MOH duties before the wedding, I did get to pick out her dress with a few clicks on my iPhone.

    I can’t really tell the story of Katie’s wedding without talking about the one inevitable mishap on the weekend of the event. The vision for the reception hall was long banquet tables with a runner made of fresh eucalyptus branches and candles of varying heights. Simple and elegant. Katie found an amazing deal for 200 stems of live eucalyptus at Sam’s Club and had it shipped to her house the Friday before the wedding. Long story short, the retailer entered her address incorrectly when they processed her order and the package was not delivered to her house. We were told she could pick it up from a UPS distribution center on Saturday morning (the day before her wedding), but after we drove all the way across Austin to get there, we found that her package was locked in a huge trailer and would be delivered to her house on Tuesday, two days after her wedding. She handled it well (better than I would have), and I stepped into big sister problem-solving mode right away. I decided we would buy all the eucalyptus we could find in Austin city limits and the bridesmaids would re-create the look for the tables as best we could with limited supplies. We re-visited her kind florist, where we bought ALL the eucalyptus they had in stock, as well as any greenery that looked remotely like eucalyptus stems. We then visited Trader Joe’s where a compassionate cashier heard our plight and gifted us extra bunches of eucalyptus for FREE. Basically, everyone was a doll to us except the lady who worked for UPS… but we made it work, Katie got a refund from Sam’s Club, and the wedding was beautiful.

    During wedding planning, I pinned the most gorgeous wedding welcome sign, and Katie surprised me by asking me to hand-letter a duplicate for the big day. Although I love penmanship and lettering, this particular task (paint marker on glass surface) was WAY above my pay-grade (of volunteer calligrapher). I sucked it up, and while Katie and her friend put together ALL the bouquets the day before the wedding, I labored on the floor trying to paint a sign that looked semi-professional. It was so stressful, but I like the way it turned out. The glass was perched on a gold easel by the entrance to the venue and, due to wind, crashed to the (cement) ground not once but twice during the wedding. Miraculously, it never shattered.

    Of course, the most beautiful part of the wedding was celebrating on earth as it is in heaven…. two amazing people joining in a holy union that reflects the way Christ loves his church. Chris and Katie’s dear pastor proclaimed the gospel during their 100 degree ceremony while sweat dripped off his face. He never stopped smiling and didn’t pause to wipe his brow until the bride and groom were taking communion. There was feasting, dancing, laughing, kissing… all symbols of joy bringing glory to God.

    Photographer: Dustin Finkelstein Photography

    Venue: Prospect House (Dripping Springs, TX)

    Bridal Gown: J.Crew (similar one here)

    My bridesmaid dress: Eliza J Lace Dress (on sale!)

    See the photographer’s blog post here.