Flower Power

Christian womanhood, flowers, home, Jesus, lifestyle, Motherhood, thanksgiving, Travel, Travel Home

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“Flowers are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty

outvalues all the utilities in the world.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

What compares to a bundle of joyful petals and stems? Hint: pretty much nothing. From everyday moments and celebratory occasions to honoring the deceased, there is hardly a situation not made more pleasant or comforting by seeing and smelling flowers. Historically there were both symbolic and pragmatic reasons for having pretty blossoms at events like weddings and funerals. Some reasons are quite hilarious (think lack of hygiene), and I’m glad the tradition remains.

In the current temperature of our culture, writing about flowers may seem trite, but I believe noticing and appreciating God’s creation is an important part of our lives. It is this purposeful noticing that leads us into an attitude of thankfulness and then joy. Ann Voskamp writes, “God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given: joy” (One Thousand Gifts).

Motherhood is challenging (which is a super nice way of saying it’s like getting caught in a riptide–but then, when you come up sputtering for a breath of air, you witness the most beautiful sunset). There are so many emotions and questions. I often wonder if I’m doing it right, but one thing I’m proud of is teaching my daughter to smell flowers every time she comes across them. Watching her jam her nose into a plant, sniffing, looking–what a comfort to my heart. It’s symbolic of how I hope she views life. Taking in the beauty around her, neither too busy nor detached to lean in and show affection–this is how I hope she will be as a person, woman, and (I pray) a follower of King Jesus.

I believe in the power of fresh flowers, particularly ones that are locally grown. Of course the grocery store variety are a gift as well. Toss that $4.97 bouquet into your cart and then into a mason jar when you get home–brighten your house and your mood! But it’s been a special thing to know our local flower lady (Beth with The Flower Peddler). We met at the local Farmer’s Market, and my favorite Saturdays involved treks home with my plunder of fresh produce, donuts, and flowers from Beth.

Buying local flowers is a way to beautify your home with unique nature elements and support a local small business. Knowing even tidbits about the fauna and flora of your area helps foster an appreciation. Indigenous flowers grow more easily, and you’re adding to the beauty of your community. I’m terrible at remembering their names, but I want to be better–Asters, Sweet Peas, Zenias, Phlox, and the ever mystifying Southern Magnolia are a few local favorites of my area. Soon I hope to plant some flowers with my daughter. May we notice, nurture, and enjoy.

At the risk of over quoting Emerson (but good grief, the man writes of flowers so well) he wrote, “Many eyes go through the meadow, but few see the flowers in it.” I want to always see the flowers, even when fear, busyness, or the mundane bits of the day seem to fill my life, may I always see the flowers in it.

 

 

 

5 Ways to Make a Short-term Stay Feel like HOME

adventure, children, Christian, Christian womanhood, Christian women, family, home, lifestyle, Motherhood, serendipity, traditions, Travel, Travel Home

While a lot of the world has been in quarantine, our family has been in the process of moving. We’re dragging a little, but we’re grateful. Our house sold, and we have friends who are willing to take on our loud and needy crew in the midst of a pandemic. As Motel sings in Fiddler on the Roof, “Miracle of miracles!”

Allegedly we’re on our way to live in the gorgeous Cotswolds of England for a few years. It feels a little fake, but I know once my feet hit the airport floor, babies and backpacks abounding, I’ll get that rush of excitement and work to own the whole thing. 

But for now it’s setting boundaries for the toddler plopped into a new, not-ours environment while subsequently saying no to the majority of her favorite things: the playground, playdates, play places. Say goodbye to all the play! Just kidding–now we find fallen branches for her to climb, and we enjoy running through the sprinkler. One of the most surprising challenges of the quarantine has been the heaviness of being unable to give my daughter her favorite things. Clearly this is a very small hardship, but a mama’s heart still feels the sting. A few things in particular have helped us adjust, and I thought I’d share.

Temporary Home(y)

1.Essential oil diffuser/candles—Familiar and inviting smells can help a place feel more like home. An essential oil diffuser is safer than candles when you have tiny ones in someone else’s home, ha! We also use a battery-operated flicker candle for nice ambiance without the aforementioned danger. Right now I’m enjoying uplifting citrus scents like lemon, grapefruit, and sweet orange in a clay diffuser that doesn’t need power.

2.Routine—We do not follow a strict schedule, but we generally have a daily pattern that includes naps and quiet times for the littles (and us, when we don’t need to work!), exercise, outdoor play, listening to familiar music, reading time, etc. This helps with a sense of normalcy for all of us. When there are new rules for children to learn in a new location, it’s nice to have a routine that helps them relax, since they know what is coming throughout the day.

3. Enjoy what is different about the new location—for us: sidewalks. Our last house was on a very busy road, so it’s nice to just walk out the door to sidewalks and take the kids for a stroll, waving at our temporary neighbors and looking for puppies, ducks, and birds. Our daughter’s beloved Daniel Tiger says about trips, “Find what’s different and what’s the same.” Here I am taking advice from a toddler show, but this is my life now, and that is a-okay. 

4. Family traditions—Since the dawn of our little family, that has meant DONUTS, sometimes weekly and sometimes monthly. They might be fancy local donuts from a Charleston shop or 50 cent donuts from Walmart, but we eat these delectable carbohydrates with strong americanos and eNjOy!

5. Chill When You Can–Let me be clear, while I love writing about exciting trips and thoughtful things of life, my adventure-loving self is now a mother of two very dependent tiny people, and I’m daily jonesing for some veg time.

The Big Picture

A short-term stay reminds me, a tired woman feeling a bit displaced, that all of my homes here on this earth are indeed temporary. I’m a sojourner, holding on to the hem of the Prince of Peace, like the woman with the issue of blood. I’m holding on to Him. What a relief to know He’s already holding on to me (John 10:28).

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, El Salvador, marriage, Travel

 

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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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Bringing Home the World: AKA Being a Pirate

Beautiful, family, home, Travel, Travel Home

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

Small House Big Door

bilingual, Christian womanhood, church, family, Gospel, hosting, lifestyle, traditions, Travel, Travel Home

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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

Savannah, Georgia

Beautiful, family, Travel

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Savannah. Even its name evokes feelings of warmth, ease, and a southern drawl. One of my dearest friends from college lived near Savannah, and with her being one of the most darling people on earth, I always new I had to see this lovely city. Known for being one of the only Southern cities spared from devastating fire during the Civil War, it oozes with brilliant architecture and manicured parks. It is a carefully laid out city, one of the first of its kind.

How do I know this? Well, we saved $70 by reading the history of the city off of my phone in our car, rather than doing a touristy historical excursion. Lame? Maybe, but when it’s hot and you have a baby, you will do what you can to linger a bit longer in the air conditioning.

During our trip, I had a few coffee joints on our list that we needed to try. Foxy Loxy Cafe was our first stop, and while they do offer fabulous coffee, I opted for an iced coconut milk matcha, and it was divine. Took me back to Guam for a red hot minute. Our second morning we tried out Savannah Coffee Roasters and were not disappointed. The big windows, open seating along with a delicious almond milk dirty chai and my two loves was a sweet way to begin the day. We went to The Coffee Fox that afternoon. It was fun, eclectic, in a good location, but was a bit crowded compared to the other two. Between all the coffee was gorgeous architecture (including St. John’s Cathedral), beautiful parks, and charming boutiques.

It was a serendipity to find Chocolat, a stunning little chocolate shop with an Alice in Wonderland vibe and the best chocolate and customer service.  Oh, and if you ever visit Savannah, you must experience the The Paris Market. It is full of beautiful things and even a little coffee shop (which we did not frequent, believe it or not). Random, but it also houses the most beautiful basement you’ve ever seen. I would live down there.

This being our first trip away from home with the baby, I was both nervous and determined (with echoes of “The earlier you travel with them the better” from military wives in my head). While you do have to bring quite a bit extra with a baby, there are a few items that we have found make the trip more feasible and hopefully comfortable for the little one. Chicco Lullago Travel Bassinet is such a great little bassinet, because it sets up and tears down very easily, while providing a comfy and safe bed. I like the idea that when Talitha sleeps in her bed, it still smells like home.

Our trip to Savannah was a time of traipsing up and down a darling old city with our one-month-old. It was our first “family vacation” with the three of us, and it was grand. Enjoy some iPhone snapshots of our time!

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Now go see Savannah for yourself, and tell me what you think!

Keep the Faith,

Audrey Ann

 

Miss

Christian womanhood, family, Gospel, Guam, Travel, Travel Home

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It happens nearly every night as I lay my head on the pillow. Images of our Guam kiddos, images of our sweet boonie dog, and thoughts of what if we never see them again fill my mind. I fight them: No, let me sleep.

Sometimes Eric and I talk of what we miss about Guam. We crank out our accents, and he mocks mine like always. This missing, I see it in the quiet grief in his eyes, in the pained smile when people say (with eyebrows raised), “Guam–for twelve years?!” This and that and most everything we miss about our darling Mariana island. If it is not on our lips, it is a thought lingering. But we must be careful.

In all this missing, may we not miss the beauty around us.

When missing my sweet toddlers, may I not miss the little children at my new church. When missing the Pacific, may I not miss the Atlantic and the lovely homes that make Charleston such a gem. When missing the feeling of home, may I not miss the ever stronger sense that Jesus, that Jesus and Eric are my home.

Missing is only profitable if it encourages me to take in today, to love those I meet today—even if they can’t speak Tagalog, even if they don’t know about Haputo beach or what the word ‘chod’ means.

I am learning new things here—about God, His Word, about the history of Charleston. The culture is rich, full of rustic European beauty, as well as heaviness from the evils of the former slave trade. We talk at church about how to all come together, no matter our amounts of melanin, no matter our backgrounds. Pride and prejudice may have made a good title for a book, but it does not make a good reality.

Wherever you are, do not miss what is going on around you. For if you love Jesus, your purpose is the same, your joy is in Him, and your hope is never-ending. Reminiscing about a former season of your life is good and natural, but still breathe in today. Notice the gifts of today. They may look different, but they are there.

We will not miss the beauty, even in the missing.

Keep the Faith,

Audrey Ann

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