Our Christmas(es)

We spent Christmas this year with our families, who, as I've mentioned before, live about an hour away on each side of us. Some of Pierce's siblings - as well as my older sister - live out of state, but we're all from the metro Atlanta area so it makes traveling for us pretty easy. Thank goodness for that, too, because Lucy.

The week before Christmas, my dad and stepmother hosted our family's annual party and it was a chaotic, messy, wonderful time with all those kiddos and people wandering around. I love them so much. We played White Elephant and Lucy got spoiled and it was great fun. I won't say I wasn't exhausted when it was over, but yeah. I really don't know how my parents lugged us all around so much when we were younger. 

On Sunday that weekend we went to our church's beautiful Christmas service and I finally got to hear someone (Chinua Hawk...a man I am convinced got his voice from the angels themselves) sing the real, raw, untampered with version of my absolute favorite carol of all time, "O, Holy Night." Chills

A pretty building I saw one day after work.
On Christmas Eve, we spent the night at my mom's house and ate dinner, played games, made fun of each other (don't come around us if you don't have at least a touch of sarcasm in your blood; you won't have any fun, although we definitely will...at your expense), drank wine, watched It's a Wonderful Life (because duh) and fell asleep much later than we intended. Christmas morning was a big breakfast with my mom, Pierce, Lucy, and little sister, and then we got dressed and drove to my in-law's house, where stuffed our faces, opened gifts, may or may not have taken naps, and played Scattergories. 

On the way home, Pierce and I talked about how much fun we had. But also about how next year we're going away for Christmas, just the three of us, and lounging around in our pajamas the whole time. My big sister and her husband are moving to Hawaii in two weeks so maybe we'll just head there. I really wouldn't complain about it.

See you all in the new year!

2015. Geez. Didn't Y2K just happen?

Merry Christmas!

When you get a shot of the whole family smiling at once, you use it for the Christmas card, people. No matter how grainy. 

Merry Christmas! We love you all and wish you the very best of this beautiful season.

How I Got Published in The Huffington Post

Well, hasn't this been an extraordinary few days?

On Wednesday night, I was driving home from work, listening to Taylor Swift's 1989 and thinking, "How in the world can I get anyone to care about my book if they don't even know who I am?" The existential and philosophical elements of this experience can be set aside for another post because, yes, they are a large part of it. But, for now, I'll stick with the practical stuff.

As you know, my debut novel will be released this June. And it's being published by a wonderful small press called BookFish Books. The upside to having a small press is that you get to know people. They talk to you, not at you. They care what you think and why. They champion your work. But the downside (a better word might be "challenge") is that much of the marketing for my book has to be done by me. Of course, my publisher works hard at that, too, but, as the name implies, it is a small press. Not a large one. So even though I have a few hundred followers on Facebook, a few hundred on Twitter, and a few hundred on Instagram, it's really not all that much. Not in terms of book sales. It needs to grow and you can't just make people push a button and follow you. It has to be more organic than that. Strategic, but organic. They have to care about what you're saying. And they have to like you. But, first, they have to know who the hell you are.

Which brings me to the lightbulb moment I had in my car.

Hey! I thought. Taylor Swift's birthday is December 13th. And she'll be 25, which is a nice, round number. I should write a fun piece listing 25 things to love about her.

Which, for a self-professed Swiftie, is not hard to do. I wrote most of the post that night on my iPhone and finalized it the next day.

For months, I had been trying to get published on The Huffington Post. I'd Googled a number of other bloggers who had written about this very subject. And their advice was super helpful. (Thanks!) But since you're here and not there, I'll tell you what worked for me.

There is a contact form on HuffPo's website where bloggers can pitch a post. It's pretty basic and I had submitted two other articles using it before. No response. From what I've read, it's kind of a black hole. I imagine it would be considering HuffPo's international audience and the number of submissions they probably receive via that form. Lots of bloggers suggested submitting to the blog team's email, but that account is reserved for current HuffPo writers who have already been published on the site. It's not for new submissions. (As I found out for myself.) Some had emailed Arianna Huffington directly and had success. Some had been approached by HuffPo when their original blog post went viral. But most had simply found the contact info for a relevant editor and submitted directly to him or her.

Which is exactly what I did.

First, I submitted my post via the contact form. And then I went back and re-read the tips I'd found and discovered one of the writers had shared a link with the names of current HuffPo editors. I searched the name of the entertainment editor on HuffPo, found an article of hers, and voila! Right beneath her byline was her email address.

At noon I emailed her my complete blog pitch and post, including links to my social media accounts, a bio, and a headshot for convenience. And five hours later I got an email from another editor welcoming me to the HuffPo blogging community. He sent me the link to set up my account and, from there, I recreated the Taylor Swift post within the HuffPo blogger dashboard. It's not that dissimilar from a Wordpress or Blogger platform. And the most wonderful part about having an account with HuffPo is that I can submit as often as I want. It's certainly not guaranteed that everything I write will be published, but it has a far greater chance.

In other words, once you're in, you're in.

I can't say for sure what grabbed their attention, but I can guess:

1) The post was timely and relevant. 

It's Taylor Swift's world right now. Her new album is selling like Girl Scout cookies and everyone (well, most everyone) loves it. And her birthday is December 13. I submitted my post on December 11.

2) I made it fun, a little humorous, and easy to read.

The Huffington Post publishes everything from topics like politics, travel, and environmental issues to parenting, books, and entertainment. But for the purpose of my post, and for the audience who would read it, the content needed to be slightly fluffy. It wasn't meant to be serious, hard-hitting journalism. It was meant to be a celebration of Taylor's birthday and a celebration of who she is as an artist and person.

3) It was a list.

HuffPo likes lists. They're easily shareable and quick reads. So I made a list. It's genuine, but also light-hearted. I couldn't really go wrong.

Also, I didn't just send the post in an email without including a pitch to grab the editor's attention. In addition, I linked almost every reference I made where I thought readers would want to see how I got my information. It was a little tedious, but it likely made the editor's job a bit easier. That's always a plus.

Here's a screenshot of the original email I sent over, the one that garnered me acceptance into the HuffPo blogging community:

If you want to read the full article, just click the link below.

To Celebrate Taylor Swift's 25th Birthday, Here are 25 Things to Love About Her

What I learned from this experience is that success, small and big, can come from unexpected places and in unexpected ways. In fact, I have learned this lesson a couple times in the last year. And having my article published in HuffPo is a stepping stone to write about other, more serious issues that are also close to my heart. It's yet another way for readers to find out about my book and my publisher. It's a bite out of the elephant that is writing and telling stories. Most importantly, it gives me a chance to show people who I am and what I'm about. And it gives them a chance to care.

Have you been published in The Huffington Post? What's your story?

He is.

Dear Lucy,

It’s Christmastime and that means your mama is filling up our house with all the things. Allllll the evergreen, quotable, shiny, sparkly, merry things. There’s this website called Pinterest and it’s really popular right now. It’s a virtual pin board for practically everything you could ever want/need/envy and it’s kind of dangerous. It can suck you in. I fall into it, quite on purpose, nearly every holiday, especially this one. It’s just so fun! It has all the ideas, all the crafts, all the stuff. It’s beautiful. But it’s not reality, so your mama is trying to learn how to be careful. It’s easy to get trapped and think the whole world looks like a Pinterest photo when, in reality, a huge pile of laundry is usually hidden back behind the camera. Nothing, and no one, is perfect, Lucy Jane. Don’t forget that.

But it’s our imperfections that often make for the best stories. The happiest memories. The funniest jokes. I have quite a few about your grandparents, your aunts and uncles, and your cousins that I would love to share with you one day. Imperfection is really quite lovely if you think about it. Seriously. How boring would the world be if we never had to grow, or learn, or say we’re sorry? Sometimes the sweetest moments come after the most bitter arguments. Should we always try our best to be kind, to love the way Jesus loved? Of course. But we aren’t Jesus. That’s the whole point of Jesus. He took care of our messes so we could stop thinking that we had to be perfect all the time. He makes us perfect so we can be free and live. Love. Serve. Imperfections and all.

Which brings me back to my original point: It’s CHRISTMAS. Hell yeah, Christmas. It’s the best ever.

Your first Christmas came just one short month after you were born. I was still in that “Oh no, who thought it was a good idea to give me a baby?” phase and, so, the holiday was a little tougher than I liked to admit. Thank sweet baby Jesus that you were (and still are) such a sweet kid because my hormones and emotions were wreaking havoc on me. Your dad and I didn’t have the energy to go out and purchase a real tree again, so we put up our trusty, old fake one. And she did her job well. She was pre-lit so all we had to do was pop you in your rocker, fluff some branches, and hang the ornaments. You stared at the lights like they were boobies and it was feeding time. And on Christmas Eve, I was determined to initiate you into the It’s a Wonderful Life Fan Club, so the three of us snuggled up together on the couch together and proceeded to watch the greatest Christmas movie ever made.

But sometime around eleven thirty, I woke up and realized we had missed the last half hour, the very best part. The classic, ugly cry-inducing portion where George Bailey realizes his life has value and Clarence gets his wings. I was so upset. How could I have failed at motherhood so quickly? Your daddy tried to console me, but it was fruitless. We turned off the tree and went to bed and I fell asleep feeling like, somehow, I had just lowered the standard for every Christmas to come. 

But here we are again, one year later, and everything is a bit brighter, a bit jollier than normal. Just like every December. The world still has lots of terrible things going on, some of which have hit very close to your mama’s heart, but one thing has not changed. And that is Christmas. When your life gets hard, as it most certainly will sometimes, you will always have Christmas. It might not be December when you fail that test or when you lose someone you love or when you say something you shouldn’t…but Christ is constant. He is Emmanuel, God With Us. He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. He is all the grace you need when you lose your patience or make a mistake. He is love and life and joy. He is laundry piles behind cameras and candid laughter caught on film. He is everything that is good.

He IS.



5 Things I Didn't Know Before I Became a Wife & Mother

Before I got married, I heard this a hundred times:

"When are you having kids? You don't want to wait too long!"

And right after I gave birth to my daughter, this followed:

"When do you think you'll have another one? She's going to need a little brother or sister."

People, please. Get a grip on yourselves, okay? What's the hurry? I'll be the first to admit that, as humans, time is not on our side. And in our culture we feel an almost desperate urgency to CREATE! ACCOMPLISH! HURRY! RUSH! So much is at our fingertips. But relationships take time. Making a baby takes time. Building a family and a home takes time. We understand your inquiries. Really, we do. But it doesn't mean they're always welcome, particularly right after we've just put a ring on it. Or when we're still sporting giant mesh underwear from the hospital.

I have been so guilty of these things. I have been the well-meaning stranger who just didn't get it. And that's the purpose of this post. I can't expect anyone to fully understand what they haven't experienced, but maybe I can help point them in a better direction when they feel the urge to assume their words are better spoken. For those of you who have experienced marriage and parenthood, you should know better. Let's do better.

Now, while there are definitely more than just five things I didn't know before I became a wife and mommy, these are the five I've found to be most valuable. And I want to pass them on to others who don't yet know what it's like, or who have no interest in knowing but still feel the need to offer their opinions.

1) It's totally okay to have beliefs about a subject. About any subject. But if you want to make it in the world, and not push everyone away in the process, you've got to be open to the idea that your beliefs might change.

It's called being flexible. I'm not talking a commitment to your faith here. I'm talking about issues regarding finances, sex, communication, lifestyle, pregnancy, breastfeeding, raising children, and more. Before I got married, I was decidedly against a woman not changing her last name. But once I became a wife, I understood that maintaining your own identity in a marriage is not only necessary, it's healthy. And while my belief that marriage was designed for the unity of flesh, spirit, and purpose, I also think the legal red tape is a pain in the a-double-s and I can see why some people avoid it. I can also see how choosing not to change your last name is a way of holding onto your distinct identity within the marriage. Having the same surname is my personal preference, but I don't think not having one in any way prevents couples from being united.

That being said, everyone is entitled to their opinions, no matter their age, life experience, or background. But until you've actually been married or had a child, be aware the rest of us are looking at you and thinking, "Uh-huh. Just wait."

2) You will not always like your husband. Or your child.

Love is such an incredibly complex and, yet, stunningly simple thing. We fall into it but then we have to keep choosing it. Falling is easy. Staying can be hard.

To make a marriage work, you have to look at your spouse on days when things are falling apart and choose to love him or her despite the mess. The emotions attached to love are very much hormonal. Nothing proved that more to me than giving birth. But hormones change. Your free will doesn't, and that's the gift you've been given which allows you the awesome opportunity to keep working. Keep talking. Keep nurturing. Keep praying. Keep loving. Your baby is cute right now, but when she's been screaming in the backseat for half an hour you will not be her biggest fan.

I, for one, am glad that my life is not totally under the authority of my emotions because they can be fickle and impressionable. The beauty is that I get to choose. And when I see my husband giggling with our daughter, it's easy to forget the other stuff.

3) The hand-held devices are dangerous. Put them away.

I mean this in a literal sense. Have you ever been watching Netflix on your iPhone and had it fall on your face? Ouch.

I also mean it in a figurative sense. There is nothing more mindlessly entertaining than social media, but if we want to connect with people, especially our families, we have to LET. GO. AND. STEP. AWAY. FROM. THE. IPHONE.

Smart phones weren't really a big thing when I married my husband back in 2008, but my Kindle was. And so was the television. And gaming consoles. Sometimes, Pierce and I would play Super Mario Kart or Rock Band on the Wii together. But more often than not these devices served as tools that would accidentally distract us from each other. And the risk of distraction is even higher now with more at our fingertips and a busy baby on-the-go.

This is one my hubby and I still struggle with because we are both very active on social media and interested in the news. But we are getting better. And I'm telling you now how important it is to be intentional with your family because the busier you get, the easier it is to turn to meaningless entertainment for release. Take the time to turn to each other.

4) Breastfeeding hurts. So do what you've got to do.

Even if you choose not to breastfeed, there will come a time when your beautiful boobies become hard as rocks, either because you're allowing the milk to dry up or because it's been too long since a feeding. It's a fact of being pregnant and giving birth. And it hurts almost as much as contractions do. It's like getting a titty-twister for hours on end and then lighting your nipples on fire.

If you're going with formula and letting your supply dry up, I will pray for God to send you angels with ice packs. If you're nursing, you need to get your baby (or pump) STAT. People who haven't experienced this pain should be quiet about nursing moms. You don't know their story, so don't assume they're trying to make you uncomfortable or being disrespectful by nursing in public. First, it's their right, whether you like it or not. Second, it's a mother feeding her child. Hooray for babies not going hungry! And, third, if you are still vehemently opposed to a split-second flash of breast (Oh, the horror!), I'll give you an hour-long titty-twister and then we can talk.

5) When you become a mother, there will be things that people didn't tell you are hard. And there will be things people told you are hard that aren't.

Every mother is different. Every child is different. Your son's struggle with sleeping might not be mine. My daughter's difficulty gaining weight might not be yours. So have some grace for the mamas, even if you aren't one. We're all just trying to do the best we can with what we have.

What five things would you share about marriage and parenthood?


This is my 500th post. And while I don't think writing about my own life and adding yet another personal diary to the interwebs makes me Special Sally, it's still nice to reach this milestone. It's a beautiful thing to me, mostly because I know Lucy will always have a place that commemorates the early years of her mom and dad's marriage, as well as the early years of her life. I want her to know what we were like before we became parents. What we were like when we were trying be grown-ups for the first time. What we were like when we found out she was on her way. Growing up, I never really thought of my mom and dad as anyone except, well, Mom and Dad. And sometimes I wish I could have known them before that time. This blog remains for just that reason: it's a virtual scrapbook. A photo album and journal. A time capsule for when we're all too old to remember.

Before I go, I thought I'd share a few Thanksgiving photos. We spent the day with my in-laws and it was so relaxing. We weren't running from here to there, trying to fit in visits with everyone on the same day. There are perks to both of us having grown up in the metro Atlanta area, but the gas bill is not one of them.

Anyway, here are some of the highlights:

My sweet sister-in-law, Cassi

"Lucy, where's your tongue?"

Lucy's first taste of stuffing...she loved it!

"Seriously, you guys?"

Papa Ray with the glorious bird

Ready for a big, messy dinner

Because what Thanksgiving is complete without The Holiday to kickstart Christmas season?

Black Friday shopping with Lucy and Lena, who basically killed us with this sweetness

And, now, onto all the Christmas things!