Our Rota de Las Flores Adventure

adventure, Beautiful, El Salvador, Travel

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I’m a big fan of understated beauty. Sure, loud and glossy can be fun, but quiet and natural beauty holds the most magic for me, especially when it has a few pops of colorful surprise. The Rota de Las Flores was the perfect adventure full of such magic. Our guide, a local college student referred to us by our Airbnb host, met my husband and me early in the morning at Casa Bonita in El Tunco where we’d spent the night. She hopped in our car, and we began the long drive toward the Rota de Las Flores. We packed lots of water and snacks, because that’s how we roll, and a road trip it was!

Our first stop was Nahuizalco, where flowers and colorful murals greeted us. Locals were setting up their market stands for the day amidst a background of bright walls and the still rising glow of the sun. Each pueblo along the Rota de Las Flores has a cute little town square park, and Nahuizalco was no exception with its large, open, and clean outdoor venue. Furnished with fountains and benches, locals sat and sold items or just conversed. We could smell the puposas cooking, and I couldn’t wait to try one!

To begin the tour, our guide directed us to a small museum where we learned about the history of the Spanish colonizing El Salvador through violence. Formerly living on the island of Guam where the stories were all too similar, learning such history was sad, and yet it encouraged to us appreciate the beautiful and strong people of El Salvador. After that we shopped the tourist shops, where we bought a few adorable dresses for our daughter and finally tried puposas from an outdoor stand. They were amazing, melt-in-your-mouth amazing. Our guide treated us to a favorite local drink, horchata, which has ground peanuts in it and offers a unique flavor and texture.

It was a bit cloudy that day, and the lighting cast a dramatic hue against the curving roads as we made it toward our next stop, Juayúa (our guide told us to drive through Salcoatitán). This town was full of fun backdrops for photos, so we took some! Admiring the church there, we asked permission and quietly took a few pictures inside and outside of the building. Moseying on over to a fruit stand, we tried a local fruit called jocotes, which sort of taste like mangos and are best when they’re closer to being red, rather than green.

In Apaneca we admired another beautiful Catholic church (there is one in every pueblo), and the cooler weather at the higher altitude was so pleasant. We particularly enjoyed the floral vines hanging over the walls in this quiet pueblo. You can see the coffee plantations in the distance, and they’re beautiful.

In Coceptión de Ataco we walked slowly and enjoyed the many mosaics on the streets. We also shopped at a well-known shop, Axul. I loved this place! It’s full of local arts and crafts, everything from jewelry to clothing, wall art, pottery, and skincare. You can even see the loom where they make the brightly colored fabric. We purchased several gifts for family members.

For lunch we went to El Jardin de Celeste, a childhood favorite of our guide. It was a beautiful open-air restaurant in the midst of gardens. There were so many thoughtful and fun details. The food was delicious, and the servers were very kind. We enjoyed walking in the flower gardens after we ate.

The highly-anticipated coffee “plantation” was actually a coffee bean processing plant, but we got to see the procedure for drying and roasting different types of beans. It’s a long process! We learned about the machinery (which, amazingly, was installed in the 1930s) as well as the quality control, which is eventually done by hand. They made us a pour-over with the coffee from the area.

The day ended with wild traffic on our trek back to our new hotel. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time due to evening traffic, especially if you’re staying in San Salvador like we were. It was crazy!

While the coffee processing plant was very interesting, the best local coffee we had in El Salvador was at the Cinco Hotel restaurant in San Salvador, where we collapsed after our adventure. If you visit, be sure to taste their chocolate as well. It’s natural and so unique. Try the kind they keep in the refrigerator, our favorite by far. Hey, there’s nothing like a little treat after an adventure, right? The Rota de Las Flores was a great excursion, allowing us to experience a slower pace, natural beauty, and some fun surprises in El Salvador.

*We opted out of journeying to see the Mayan ruins and waterfalls, but if you have more time than we did, check them out for us!

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Visiting Our Sponsor Child in El Salvador

adventure, Beautiful, Christian, Christian womanhood, marriage

 

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For seven years we’ve sponsored a (now) young woman named Briseida in El Salvador through Compassion International. If you’re not familiar with Compassion, it’s an organization that partners with local churches and families in communities all over the world, fighting poverty and equipping children with an education, skills, and savings accounts (to name a few things!), as well as giving them access to doctors and dentists. Most importantly, the mission is to offer the hope of a brighter future in the name of Jesus.

All these years Briseida has been writing us long letters and sending us drawings. A few years ago she asked us to come visit. I was pregnant at the time and the Zika virus was a threat, so we couldn’t go, but a few weeks ago, we did it! We went to see “our” sweet girl. Mountains of paperwork, along with much thought and financial resources went into this trip–from setting up our will to travel release forms for my parents to the U.S. Embassy website advising us to change our plans due to the general violence in the country. Yikes! We belabored, asked advice, prayed, and went.

Leaving Talitha was so hard, but the time Eric and I spent together (even the stressful and chaotic) was so beautiful and growth-filled for our marriage. I’ll save the touristy days for another post, but I’m so excited to share about our final day in the country, the day we met Brieseida, her mom, her brother, and all the lovely people at her “project” (the Compassion center).

For those wondering, the project is not an orphanage, it’s a huge facility where children come to learn the Bible, music, English, and various other skills like using the computer, cosmetology, chocolate-making, shoe-making, etc. From what I understood, there is a public education system in El Salvador, but it’s half-day, and the project allows the children to receive extra coaching, teaching, and preparation to succeed (along with medical aid).

We both had butterflies as we rode the bumpy and wild ride to get to the project. Such anticipation! Upon our arrival, we were met with children holding signs and waving flags, a few little girls dressed in traditional dresses. They cheered and I tried to take in this moment while somehow not wanting so much focus on us. Simultaneously looking for Briseida and trying to enjoy each of the children was a sweet little challenge. The host told us to follow her up a flight of stairs. Then we heard someone call out and turned around to see Briseida standing in front of us.

There she was, a good four inches taller than me, long dark hair and a bit shy. She grabbed my hand as I said, “Mucho gusto” and she repeated the sentiment then began whispering to me in Spanish. In that moment I so regretted how years ago I’d stopped practicing. I had to tell her (irony of ironies) in Spanish that I didn’t speak much Spanish. After a little welcome program and tour of her amazing project (which also employs Briseida’s mom!), we went to her home.

Walking into her home, we saw our framed picture, and my hands flew to my mouth. What a precious sight to see–so humbling and sweet. Sitting with the translator we talked and shared beautiful moments that will stay deep in my heart for as long as I live.

We later went out for pizza and Facetimed with Talitha (Briseida was sad she wasn’t there, since she considers Talitha her little sister). After lunch Briseida’s tutor showed us her file–so impressive the amount of detailed records they keep. Our girl is a star performer! After lunch it was back to the project for prayer and final hugs. Also tears–so many tears.

I think Eric would agree that besides days like our wedding day or Talitha’s birth, this day was one of the best days ever. Praise God for this good gift. We are just one small part of Briseida’s success. So many love her and we are humbled to parter alongside them. If you’re interested in sponsoring a child yourself, go here. Do you already sponsor one or a few? Be sure to write them! According to the tutors, it means a lot. Enjoy a few snapshots from this special day.

Keep the Faith,

Audrey Ann

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On Writing & Being My Worst Enemy

Christian womanhood, Dreams, Hope, writing

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Write? Wrong. Nope, I want to sit on this very couch and watch an episode of The Middle I’ve seen seventeen times and eat an ice cream bar. In peace. By myself. And yet, here I am writing. Why? I’ve been told that the discipline of writing is key; you can’t be a writer unless you write, and you must give time and tears to such a dream. Obviously, but I’m still growling about it.

I have these moments when I become a snarky, cynical Hulk. Like Bruce Banner, I’m going about my day just minding my own business, feeling mostly happy (and always analytical), when suddenly I think about my writing future: There is no point. Everything has been written; only my friends read this. WHY AM I DOING THIS?! I turn a garish hue and grow some ginormous metaphorical muscles, and the monster emerges. Forget being an Eeyore. I’m not just sad that this field is saturated; I’m MAD. And I’m quick to tear down any progress I’ve made as not enough, as terrible, as meaningless.

If you’re someone who overthinks things like I do, you should know that in certain scenarios, particularly ones involving safety, you can be helpful and use your preventative measures for good. In other scenarios, however, you can be an absolute dream crusher (and not the positive version of “crushin’ it” used by the cool kids).

You become your own worst enemy, and just like the Hulk, you don’t even know it. You rip up your work and then you wonder what the heck happened and why you’re not progressing. This is not hopeful, and it is certainly not helpful. Much of our practice may be thrown away eventually, but we should not disrespect the process of working at it again and again and again.

What’s helped me is to focus on what I can do today, ideal or not. Whether it’s thirty minutes of writing, ten minutes of brainstorming, or a bit of online networking, I focus on what I can accomplish before bedtime. While it is wise to “Begin with the end in mind” (Stephen Covey), it’s also important to do something, even if it’s small, and then continue to organize, plan, and dream along the way. 

We may not be able to fully envision the end result of our dream, let alone how to get there. But if we give our craft a bit of daily love, we’re sure to be a step closer. What’s one thing you can do today? Blessings, friends!

Keep the Faith,

Audrey Ann

Motherhood and Too Many Photos

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, are thousands of pictures really worth millions of words? It depends on the photo, right? While my flaws are many, one that greatly annoys me is my inability to organize and reduce the amount of my digital photos. I mean, it’s bad. I’ve prided my sentimental self on being a minimalist convert these last ten years or so, but photos (and cards, letters, etc.) are another story. Since Talitha came, it’s been infinitely worse. If I’m about to delete a random iPhone photo I think, “Oh, no! What if we don’t have another photo of her with that exact same expression. I’d better keep it. Oh, and that one, too. It’s the same expression, but her hair is blowing differently in this one.” Seriously.

A few days ago I was thinking about this conundrum–how I should dedicate a whole day when Eric is off and organize (read: delete a ton) of photos. I started thinking about why I feel this need to save all the photos of my baby, and I realized that I just don’t want to miss or lose a thing; I don’t want to let any of it go. I want to be a witness of her life, a cheerleader of all her beautiful moments, and a comfort in all her difficult ones. That’s natural, right?

But as a Christ-follower mama, I know that my greatest calling as Talitha’s mother is not saving all her snapshots and mementos, but pointing her to the One who can save her soul. My wandering heart must not fixate primarily on her, but on Jesus. He calls me to love Him MOST, whose love is more than I can understand. Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe God loves my baby more than I do. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but it’s true.

In that struggle of unbelief, I pray against double-mindedness and reach toward God. I am Mary Magdalene in the dust, completely unworthy, in need, fearful and waiting for stones, wondering what I missed and why I can’t get it together. There’s a lot of fear in motherhood, wouldn’t you agree? Vaccines, life-threatening allergies, diseases, pedophiles, and regular ol’ accidents are just a few of the fears that keep me mindful of my dependence on Christ. The fragility of life and the beauty of life—and there we go. The reason I fear throwing out any of T’s photos is the beauty and fragility of life. And I love her so.

Craving the simplicity of having less, I work to manage this massive amount of photos. While I may never find “balance,” I’ll work to enjoy more moments with my daughter rather than just capture them. I’ll work to live this life, remembering the past, but not being overcome by preserving it. Documentation is important, but being selective will add both meaning and sanity.

Keep the Faith,

Audrey Ann

Social Media and the Quest for Everything

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Like a nightmarish flight of stairs, this glittery escalator entraps me. And it’s going the opposite direction. The more I climb the higher the goal, and what is the goal? I’m asking you. I really don’t know; it’s super blurry at best.

I dream of being a writer, one well-paid and recognized by many. I want to be an influencer, but I entered the Instagram game late, and we just got Wifi. It’s like a complicated version of that hungry hippos game; I grab at those marbles in front of me, but I can’t reach. Just keep biting, and maybe, just maybe I’ll get myself a little ball of success.

So many choices that might mean something. For example, what font to choose on Insta stories? How do I get that cool background? Which camera and editing tool to use (also how to sequester the time to learn how)? The details in my posts need to show that I am whimsical, edgy, artsy, a lover of old-fashioned things, and a good Christian girl. Not too good, though, because that is boring, right? See, these little boxes and photos show who I am. They create who I am. Wait, is that right?

Do I really believe my soul’s worth is found in how many followers I have, how successful I become, or how charming I seem to others? My pragmatist voice says no, but my worries say otherwise. Funny, I thought these were high school fears. Turns out they’re adult fears, too, only illuminated by the ever-pressing social media land.

Glamorous people all around–maybe you’re one of them! I’d like to learn from your success while remembering this verse God has used in my life:

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. James 1:9-11 (ESV)

Flower fades, falls–beautiful, but fleeting. We know this, but do we know it? Do we feel it as we stare into our phones and look at others soaring while being both gorgeous and self-deprecating? Our belief says yes, but our practice sometimes says no.

Perfect love casts out fear.

Seems like so many of us are trying to be mini celebrities. It’s the child’s game of playing in front of a mirror, except now we’re more self-conscious, and it’s not only our parents and babysitters who are watching. In essence, we are branding ourselves. On a business level, that’s a smart move, but we must be watchful of our hearts and minds. This image we create and carefully curate is never the complete story. And now I’m fretting about how pithy I sound, how cute my daughter’s outfit is, and how to hide the fact that I certainly do not have a thigh gap.

But Christ: A few weeks ago, His Holy Spirit came to me on a porch in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, with a light breeze on a dead end street, and a touch of the most reassuring love. Because in the end, that’s what I crave–to be loved. My flesh seeks accolades, affirmation, likes, money, success, but my soul wants love.

Social media is an amazing tool–whether you’re keeping in touch with your friends, growing a business, or something else. But do not for one second forget that every person online matters just as much as another, no matter their finesse or following. God gave us the dignity of being made in His image, and the most glorious and rewarding thing in the world is to be a follower of Him. As His follower, I’m free to pursue these dreams while daily placing them in His hands and asking for the Holy Spirit to lead. And that, my friends, is where I want to be for the rest of my days, well known or not.

Keep the Faith,

Audrey Ann

Talitha’s 1st Birthday Party

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As Murphy’s Law would have it, our normally happy (albeit passionate/prone to short fits) baby girl had her worst spell of teething the night before her party. We all faced the day very tired and yet so thankful for our friends and family who could join us to celebrate the sweet life of our Talitha Rose, whom we affectionally call “Talisaur” and “T-Rose.” What a gift!

I had such fun scouting ideas on Pinterest and working with grocery store flowers. The concept was “feminine and floral dinosaur” and I think it was smashing. We kept the food simple (donuts, fruit, and Starbucks iced coffee from Walmart), and I bought her smash cake from a health food store. Also, I dropped her cake and therefore I actually “smashed” it first. Lovely. Note to self: the cardboard under the cake is very slippery on a cake stand (insert pangs of disappointment). Even now, I can envision that darling cake crumpled on the grass.

However, since I’ve been able to balance my body with the help of Plexus supplements, I’ve noticed that I can handle situations that would have pushed me to frazzled tears a few months back. And having a friend with a culinary degree on hand certainly didn’t hurt. I actually liked the “rustic” look better! Thank you so much, Linneah!

We thank God for our daughter, and we pray that she would come to know him and love him very soon. Hope you enjoy a few photos of our day, and apologies to my mom and dad (and other guests) that we forgot to get photos with them! It was a lovely day.

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Eric made this wooden tray, and I just love it.

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Cheap dino toys+gold spray paint

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Pre-caketastrophy (see what I did there?) 😉 My dad would be proud.

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Lack of sleep+teething+people singing to you=her face

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Linneah to the rescue!

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Our precious gift from God.

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Facetime with the paternal grandparents

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Oh, my heart. May she walk with God and face this ever-alarming world with the courage, grace, and compassion he gives.

Keep the Faith,

Audrey Ann

Photos: My wonderful mom (not pictured, boo). If you’re in Indiana, check her out! Her work is lovely.

Bringing Home the World: AKA Being a Pirate

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I mentioned our home is small, but did I mention that it’s peppered with treasures? As a little girl, I went through this stage where I loved playing pirates with my brothers. Knowing some of the history along with the romance of pirate stories, I assured my dad that I was a “good pirate.” He informed me in his wonderful, black-and-white way that there was no such thing as a “good pirate,” for by definition, pirates were thieves and scoundrels. (People wonder why I am inclined to, in the end, value fact over feeling every single time.) However, traversing the seas and gathering a bit of plunder still appeals to me, as does cherishing truth, and my home is an expression of that little girl make-believe.

Do not read that to mean that we have piles of clunky junk. Our house is not a tiny museum; it’s our home with just a few little treasures here and there–some permanently line the walls and some we pull out on special occasions. I prefer not to have a particular place to display of them together, but to have them scattered naturally about the house. In my mind, they don’t need a designated area, because they are not a fragmented part marked “our travels.” Instead, they are representative threads of the tapestry of our lives.

I shop at Walmart and Goodwill like it’s my job and squirrel away a good percentage of the paycheck, but there are times we will purchase a special piece that reminds us of a sweet (or difficult) time in our life. There can be a strategic element to whimsy: save a lot, splurge a little. Make your home a reflection of your family and the unique life only you have lived.

Prefer to stay at home rather than travel? That is just fine. What is your area like? What kind of things represent it? I was born and raised in Indiana, and on my front porch here in South Carolina sits a bench made by my sweet dad from trees in the woods behind their house. How special is that?! Does your area lack art galleries or even artisan markets (or maybe that’s not currently in the budget)? Press indigenous flowers, gather rocks, or peruse a local antique shop in search of old photos or small art pieces that show off the place you call home. Even things like old tools and aprons can be transformed into lovely conversation pieces. And how fun is it that only you have such a piece?

Oh, and are a few of my treasures contraband from my favorite beaches? Well, you never can tell. Here I go again, trying to be a “good pirate.” Aaaarrrrgggghhhh. Please let me know what treasures you find and create.

Here are some snapshots of just a few of our pieces. More to come!

Left: Sea glass and sea treasures from the Pacific (mainly Guam and then Hawaii) and a basket I wove from a palm branch (with a lot of help from a Chamorro lady)

Right: Pressed flowers from Africa (given by an old friend)

Left: Magnets on the fridge from all our travels with a piece of drift wood in the windowsill

Right: Coasters from Cambodia and Guam

Left: Rug from downtown Charleston (originally from Istanbul). Ironwork piece from a Charleston antique shop–perhaps made by renowned Philip Simmons

Right: Mosaic–a commission piece from a local artist on Guam. Wooden bowl from Haiti

 

Happy treasure-hunting!

Keep the Faith,

Audrey Ann

Baby Snuggles and New Year’s Resolutions

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Oh, blasted New Year’s traditions we get ourselves into of our own free will. Since Eric and I have been married, we’ve kept a little notebook to write in at the end of every year. We list events of the previous year, including a smattering of disasters but mostly accomplishments–hard things we overcame, reasons to be a bit proud, and remembrances of how God has been faithful to us.

This year was different. Glancing through the previous years’ submissions, a dazed feeling came over me, and I could only think of one “thing,” one “accomplishment” for this year. Baby, baby, baby. It was the year of Talitha.

This thought overwhelmed me for a few seconds, but then I remembered the intense and even painful love that flooded our lives since the birth of little T-Rose. I thought of the many days at home with her, but also our many road trips and even our recent trot across the globe to visit Guam and Hawaii. I thought of the dedication and determination I’ve gathered (with help from God, Christian friends/mentors, and my husband) to deal with baby blues, to walk confidently in my “different” body, and to eat healthy while watching the scale descend at a numbingly slow pace.

As with so many things, there seems to be a rather jolting pendulum swing when it comes to perceptions of motherhood. One says motherhood means that your old life and any semblance of order and regular ol’ beauty is gone. Embrace the mom bun, leggings, and giant t-shirts every day and everywhere. Showers are optional for this mama. The other says that motherhood doesn’t have to touch you very much at all. Your child is a cute, albeit expensive, accessory. Like a poodle, only not.

While I don’t pretend to know the answers of what the “ideal mother” looks like, I know these extreme views of her are flawed. Yes, we must figure out at each stage and with each consecutive child how to keep our personal and professional dreams afloat and fit in a semi-regular shower, but while death to self does (and should) occur, we must not lose ourselves and our zest for this fabulous and short life. So for me, 2017 was a year of growth, a year of love, and yes, it was the year of Talitha Rose. How blessed am I? Her smile, which she gives liberally, undoes me, and I am so grateful to be her one and only mama. Here’s to a new year full of thankfulness, determination, contentment, and lots of baby snuggles. Thanks be to the Prince of Peace.

Keep the Faith,

Audrey Ann

Photo Credit: Creationfoto Photography by Barbara Sanders

Small House Big Door

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My husband and I live in an 810 square foot home. On Guam we lived in a 250 square foot studio apartment. Yes, you read that correctly. We basically did the island thing in a sardine can with a tile floor and windows. It’s a miracle we did not smother to death. Only kidding. As I was thinking about home decor and my notions about what to have and not to have in the home, I thought it would be apropos to start with our philosophy of the home in general. Now, this is what’s currently working for us, with only one child, and we are all about visiting our friends/family with large houses and will one day most likely upsize (bring on some glorious space, a-men).

For now, we love being as debt-free as possible. We believe in living beneath our means and have found that doing so actually opens up life’s possibilities quite a bit, whether that means extra travel, being able to help others, or save for that ever-impending rainy day. Our two biggest challenges have been storage and hosting–well, other than the top challenge which has been to stop apologizing for our home or making fun of it in a way that appears self-deprecating but is really prideful, because we want people to know that we could have a larger house, blah blah blah.

Storage: Eric built some storage units, we utilize our attic, and we don’t buy very much stuff.

Hosting: We have most events during decent weather outdoors (cue giant table in our yard, a campfire, and twinkle lights). OR we comfort ourselves with the notion that most people on the planet have homes smaller than ours, so it’s okay to ask people to get cozy.

We want our home to be a welcoming place of peace–a refuge where guests can feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. We want our home to be stimulating with interesting artwork, books, and conversation. We want our home to have tasty treats where our guests won’t feel hungry for anything except the Lord, if they don’t know Him. A few weeks ago I was looking for a hashtag (which I barely use) to describe this concept, and I found #smallhousebigdoor. Apparently it’s some building unit in Korea, but I still like it for our home–it’s a small place, but we hope to bless many.

Here’s to happy homemaking, whatever that looks like for you!

Keep the Faith,

Audrey Ann

The Wonder of Home

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If home holds small wonders, we are more likely to believe in the big ones.

I tend to categorize homes–not by size, but by character, the charming little details that speak of both its history and the history of the family inhabiting it. Sure, some of us are natural decorators and some of us avoid Home Depot’s paint section because there are just too. many. decisions. And that’s okay. The character of a home, while it can be found partially in things like high ceilings, crown moulding, and antique fireplaces, is more about the investment and care given it from those who shelter there.

Growing up I loved the The Little House book by Virginia Lee Burton. It’s this beautiful story personifying the little house and it tells of all she goes through with the life around her and inside of her. Whenever I see a house that is abused or neglected, I think of that story, and I feel a bit sad. A home is a gift and should be cherished.

Travel is currently quite the buzzword and tends to be excessively glorified. I, too, have been caught up in wanderlust and photos of all the beautiful places with all the beautiful people traipsing through them. To be fair, the pendulum can swing both ways. Case in point: the empire that is Chip and Joanna Gaines. Seriously, Magnolia is like Martha Stewart and your favorite, most down-to-earth uncle had a baby. You just can’t help but love them! So sweet, hilarious, and inspirational. Side note: Eric and I read The Magnolia Story out loud together and both laughed and made some better habits because of it.

While we can easily get caught up in all the beautiful stuff in all the beautiful houses, we must remember that home should not be a mini museum to display grandeur (or shiplap), but a place of rest and rejuvenation for those living in it and those who visit. The goal is to thoughtfully line your home with pieces that inspire and delight you. How? Oh, I’m so glad you asked. Let’s keep exploring and making home our very favorite place to be. Some practical tidbits and thoughts coming soon!

Keep the Faith,

Audrey Ann