motherhood

Simplifying for the Summer

 
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This year our calendar was completely full the first two weeks of May - things to attend, gifts to prepare, family functions to organize. It was a beautifully sweet time, but it left us feeling a bit frazzled and solidified my desire to ensure that our life doesn’t maintain such a pace. As a family we want to make sure we are moving at a slower pace, enjoying the little things in life and not rushing through our days, and with homeschool and extracurriculars just around the corner, it seems important to emphasize this now. We want an ‘old fashioned’ childhood for our little ones - bare feet in the grass, leaf piles for jumping, summer days with sprinklers. So I put together a list of areas to really focus on simplifying over the summer.

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SIMPLE ACTIVITIES:

We want our kids to be excited about little things like leaf piles in the fall and sprinklers in the summer! Though that doesn’t mean that we won’t throw in a family beach trip!

+ Early summer camping - before it gets too hot! We love heading up to the Nantahala river and playing in the stream.
+ Backyard pool days - we have this pool sitting between our raised garden beds and recently thrifted a big slide to up the fun!
+ Family walks and bike rides on the local trails
+ Dinner on the back porch - Friday nights are family night, and during the colder months we build a fire and watch a movie. For the summer we’ve decided to take family night outdoors! I’m envisioning grilling, dinner on the patio, solar twinkle lights and kicking around the soccer ball.
+ Star gazing - One of our favorite things about our annual trip to Grayson Highlands is all the beautiful stars! We’re bringing the feel of the mountains to the backyard with later bedtimes, blankets on the hill and peeking through our thrifted telescope.

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SIMPLE RECIPES:

I want to focus on recipes with just a few ingredients and utilize all the wonderful summer produce from our garden and local CSA!
+ This simple strawberry crumble is a huge hit, easily comes together and is perfect for using all the summer berries (or peaches)! Our blackberry and blueberry bushes are full this year, so we will be trying this out with our backyard haul!
+ This lemon chicken salad is a staple in our house and is perfect for summer picnics! We love it with gluten-free crackers, homemade tapioca bread (recipe coming soon!) or with sliced avocado.
+ Canning our summer tomatoes (full post to come!)
+ Five ingredient salads - I will share these as we go!

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PHYSICALLY DECLUTTER + SIMPLIFY:

+ Playroom - I’m planning a major clean and purge for our playroom this summer! There is a local consignment sale in September, so toys will either be donated or saved for the sale.
+ Homeschool area - Since we are beginning kindergarten homeschool soon, I want to carve out a little space in our dining room for us to use. We have a sideboard in there that we’ll clean and tidy to have some space for organizing any school items.
+ Boys’ closets - At the end of every season I go through the boys’ clothes and donate or store any items that not longer fit. I also want to take inventory of what we have for the fall/winter to keep their wardrobes as simple as possible!

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I’d love for you to join me! I’ll also be sharing over on Instagram (with plenty behind the scenes in stories!), and I’d love for you to join me! Let’s focus on simple, chase slow and live the little things together!

 

A Healthy Pregnancy 01 I Preparing

 
From when sweet little Elliot was growing in my belly!! Somehow feels like yesterday but also forever ago at the same time. Note: This is NOT a pregnancy announcement!* 

From when sweet little Elliot was growing in my belly!! Somehow feels like yesterday but also forever ago at the same time. Note: This is NOT a pregnancy announcement!* 

 

We recently decided to grow our little family (and are SO excited about it!), so I have been incredibly intentional with taking care of myself. Self care in general is an area that can be difficult to prioritize, and I think we often forget about the less sexy areas of self care like vitamins and sleep. It's much more fun to get a massage or take a long, luxurious lavender bath! I'll take either please and thank you! 

Here are a few habits that I've started over the last few months to intentionally support my body and prepare it to grow another little human! All of these are amazing habits to focus on for overall health and wellness even without the potential for pregnancy because who doesn't want a long and healthy life!                            

 
 

NUTRITION: 
- LOTS of green vegetables including kale and spinach for dietary folate, lean proteins including some fish for dietary Omega3s, some complex carbs (currently obsessed with this GF bread). We eat a plant-based, mostly paleo diet with allowances for a little GF bread, rice or quinoa and balance it with making intentional decisions with any indulgences. I'm currently leading a January Whole30 for our wellness community! For more fertility foods, check out this video on Facebook!

- Healthy fats. I've been focusing on a *minimum* of 2T of coconut oil in addition to the olive oil we use on our salads and for cooking. I add a little coconut oil into my coffee (start with 1-2 tsp if you're not used to it!), a protein smoothie when not whole30-ing (the blender makes little coconut blasts that taste like chocolate chips!), overnight oats (when not whole30-ing) or even drizzle it over some fresh fruit! SO good over pineapple and berries!

- Decaf coffee. We actually switched over to using half regular, half decaf coffee when I was pregnant with Elliot and never went back. Fully caffeinated coffee makes me jittery so this balance works best for me! 

 
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SUPPLEMENTS:
- Vitamin B with folate (NOT folic acid). This one is very important. We've all be preached to that we need folate AT conception, but most multivitamins or B supplements contain folic acid which our bodies actually cannot convert to folate. B vitamins are essential to our health and well-being, and each B vitamin performs a unique and separate function in the body. But... they aren't stored in our bodies, so they have to be replenished daily.

- Antioxidants - also super important to help support that growing DNA! Ningxia Red supplement is an organic puree of wolfberries (aka goji berries) along with plum, aronia, cherry, blueberry, and pomegranate juices and extracts, and essential oils. Delish and so amazing for support for energy levels, normal cellular function, and whole-body and normal eye health. I love to combine one packet with 1/2 a can of orange or grapefruit La Croix and add a drop of citrus essential oil. This is also something to keep on hand to help settle that first trimester stomach! I may or may not be stockpiling, ha! 

- Healthy fats! Everyone knows that fish oil is great for supporting a healthy heart, and it's incredibly important to have super clean versions of fish oil. This one is hands down my favorite. Super clean and it also has some Vitamin D! Perfect because your body can't absorb Vitamin D without fat, so combining it in fish oil is brilliant!

- I also take this prenatal gummy

 
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KICKING THE TOXINS:
- When I originally went to see my doctor before we had Elliot, she told me my estrogen levels were high and that I was 'estrogen dominant' despite ever having ANY issues in this department. Want to guess where the extra estrogen and hormone disruption was coming from??? Personal care + household items. The Think Dirty app rates products based on potential to cause cancer, cause allergies and disrupt the hormones in your body, and just about everything at the drugstore or Target is toxic. So we went totally plant-based with our cleaning supplies, personal care products + even makeup! I went through each ingredient and searched it on the EPA website to make sure it was safe! 

OTHER HABITS:
- Meditation + quiet time to rest my mind and emotions, train my thoughts towards positivity and abundance. You can read my morning routine here!
- Exercise! I'm a big fan of the Tone It Up girls and even use their nutrition plan to get some new ideas for recipes! I just tweak them to our preferences, but those girls love kale so you know I love them!! I'm also currently working through a Gymnastics Bodies stretch + strength program.
- AVA bracelet. I bought (and LOVE!) an Ava bracelet to help track my heart rate, temperature, cycle changes, sleep and stress levels. I love the amount of insight it gives, that I can add custom logs, and even download my data for my doctor! 

What are your favorite ways to take care of yourself - throughout daily life or when preparing for motherhood?? 

Morning Routine

 
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I'm an early bird by nature. I love the quiet of the mornings, the dark skies turning pink to yellow to blue, the stillness of the world before the day begins. Starting the day alone with the Lord is vital to my mental wellbeing, but especially working from home, these fringe hours are so sacred. It truly sets the tone for my day, and not just from a productivity standpoint. I have learned that I must set my mind and emotions to a calm place so that when the frenzy of the day begins, I don't get caught up in the emotional upheaval. Anyone else been there?? In hopes for helping you start your day off with calm and yet still be productive, here is a tiny peek into my mornings.

 
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My alarm goes off around 5am, and I grab my slippers, robe and phone and head into the living room. I turn on our diffuser that I filled the night before (usually with peppermint + frankincense) and spend about 15 minutes stretching and moving a little. I mostly sit in variations of child's pose or puppy pose while praying over the day, our dreams, my goals, seeking the path of obedience.  Then I sit down at my desk with my prayer journal + a devotional (currently reading The Circle Maker and loving this book!) and pour out my heart on paper. I read the daily She Reads Truth scripture + commentary or other scripture and find a verse that speaks to me and can be a mantra for the day. The last thing I do is apply a drop of peppermint to the back of my neck, sit on the floor, face down in child's pose and meditate on a short prayer to the Lord, whatever is on my heart. "Lord give me peace as I let go of control." "Let me see as You see so I can do as you say." "Bring us abundance as we walk in obedience." 

Only after these things are done and I feel at peace spiritually + emotionally do I open my computer to work. I typically spend some time using these power sheets for goal planning and task lists, check off tasks in my passion planner* (that I wrote out the night before. Nighttime routine coming next!) and write out any other tasks for the day! I focus on the 'work' to do list during this time and my 'personal' to do list when my son is awake. 

 
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When my son wakes up around 7:30am I feel refreshed, connected to the Lord and have already accomplished some work, so I can give him my full attention. He needs connection with me first thing in the morning, and I can give him that! We make breakfast and sit down to eat all together, and it makes the morning so sweet and the day so much better! 

Snow Day

 
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We received a tiny Christmas miracle this year in Atlanta - snow in December! I grew up dreaming of snowy white Christmas and watching movies with beautiful glistening snow, and while the Christmas season is festive around these parts, it is never snowy. We may get some snow (or ice!) in February, but it rarely hangs around for long. Last week however, we were gifted some December snow! 

 
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We drove up to my sister in law's house to build snowmen and throw snowballs with Elliot's cousins. This was really his first time playing in the snow, and despite being ill prepared with regard to waterproof clothes, he loved it! I think his favorite part may have been throwing snowballs at me... 

 
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Bookshelf: Currently Reading

I love a good book, especially the hard bound, paper and ink type. There's something about the tangible pages, the time and work it took to create the content and compile it all in one place. While I love a good story or memoir, lately my reading choices have mostly been books on personal growth, relationships, leadership and motherhood. We are all trying to keep all the plates spinning with careers, families, relationships, health and all the extras that sometimes it can seem like too much. Reading is my escape and my sanity all at once. I'm super excited to start Oola for Women: How to Balance the 7 Key Areas of Life to Have Less Stress, More Purpose, and Reveal the Greatness within You (ummm who can't use that?!!) and review it for you guys soon! Until then, here are some current favorites on my bookshelf:


+ All the Pretty Things by Edie Wadsworth: I'm a total Edie fan girl and I love that we both have a healthcare background (she was a family practice physician!) and love oils. Her story is a beautiful one that you will love to read. History, family, tragedy and redemption.

+ Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist: If you follow along on Instagram you know I love me some Shauna. Her books are so honest and relatable, and it is just so refreshing. She says, "I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, neighbor, writer, and I know all too well that settling feeling. But over the course of the last few years, I’ve learned a way to live, marked by grace, love, rest, and play. And it’s changing everything."

+ Soup by Jon Gordon: This book is so insightful and critical for any type of team relationship - your family, marriage, church, business, small group. Who is stirring the pot matters ;) It is an easy read and is applicable to so many areas of our lives! Same another favorite by this author, The Energy Bus, these tools are applicable for every area and relationship. Think of it as a "How to Win Friends and Influence People" in a relatable, story format. 

What are you currently reading? Any good favorites for a beach trip?

Enough

It was 5am on a Tuesday morning and I had gotten up before everyone else to read and reflect, then get some work done. I turned on Ellie Holcomb's 'Red Sea Road' and heard this song. The tears just started flowing. I felt the Lord pouring out Truth over me and telling me to let go of the lies....

I heard this quote recently: "The story that you aren't telling anyone could be the story that is running your life." So in the spirit of understanding and hopefully encouraging other mamas, wives and women, here is my untold story. A possible alternative title to this post could read "Perfectionism, Vulnerability + Gospel Truth"....

 
 

It all started with the word 'enough'. Not too long ago I realized how much I use that word to describe my day...my actions, my work, my efforts, my parenting, my responsibilities. There is a constant inner dialogue running in the background that surfaces mostly in the quiet hours of the morning or just before sleep. Did I spend enough time with Elliot? Did I do enough rounds in that workout? Did I workout hard enough? Did I read enough books at bedtime? Did we spend enough time outside today? Did I show enough patience, love and grace to my family? Did I send enough emails and messages to connect with my team? Will my efforts be enough to move us closer to our dream, to the vision we have for our family? Did I love my family enough today? I mean I did lose my patience a few times... Did I serve my husband enough? I hate that I was short with him on the phone.... Somedays this exhausting list seems endless. 

What was/is driving me to that place? Comparison? Maybe. Perfectionism? Probably. The desire to have it ALL? Absolutely. I want a clean, organized and stylish home, a wildly successful career, a deep intimate relationship with my husband, healthy, happy, emotionally stable children, amazing physical health, strength and flexibility, delicious organic home-cooked meals and most of all a close, intimate relationship with my Creator. And all of those things are good, right things to want and to pursue, but when perfectionism and drive take over, the pursuit of it ALL creates a constant stream of 'Am I Enough' in my mind.

 
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my whole heart, my life's calling all right here in this picture...

my whole heart, my life's calling all right here in this picture...

I want to know that if I do abc that it will absolutely result in xyz. If I follow this plan, the things I want will happen. If I love and serve my family, our marriage will be strong and vibrant and my children will grow up to live Christ-centered lives. If I work hard, our dreams will come true. If I take care of my body it will be strong, healthy and see me through many many years. All these things I want are good, righteous things to want, but it's the inner drive to be perfect that causes problems. But perfect isn't possible. The beauty and pain of this life is that there are no guarantees on this Earth. The only place where I can truly find my hope is in Christ.

To be examined and aware of your every flaw and sin, then be told you are the exact opposite of how you see yourself—that you’re actually the beloved and beautiful handiwork of a master—is a truth that can sometimes be harder to live with than the lie of shame.
Because of Jesus’ atonement for our sin, this is who we now are: holy, blameless, without stain or wrinkle.  - via She Reads Truth

I believe that I strive for perfectionism because I want to truly love and to be loved. I desperately want to serve my family well, to walk out this calling that the Lord has placed on my life, to show people His amazing mercy and grace in the way that I live out my life. I want to cultivate an environment of love, light and warmth for my family. I want to love and serve my community, show gospel-rooted hospitality, lift up and encourage other women. I believe that the Lord places us in family units (including close friends that are like family!) as a parallel to the unity that we have as a body of believers and to the perfect unity we will experience in Eternity. So my desire to truly love and be loved is pure and righteous and rooted in biblical truth. However, my twisting of this desire into a pursuit of perfectionism is a slippery slope into sin. And the lies of the enemy run deep....

 
 

But.....
What if I saw me, the way that You see me?
What if I believed it was true?
What if I traded, this shame and self-hatred?
For a chance at believing You

You knit me together in my mother's womb
And you say that I've never been hidden from you
And you say that I'm wonderfully, wonderfully made

You're eyes, they have seen me before I was born
And you know all the good things that you made me for
And I'm wonderfully, wonderfully made
 - 'Wonderfully Made' by Ellie Holcomb

The beauty of the gospel is God's amazing ability to change our hearts, transform our minds and redirect us back to the path of freedom that He provides. I feel that I finally understand my drive to be perfect, to have it all in a pretty little package. And for that understanding the Lord is leading me to a place of freedom. He is showing me how to see myself in His eyes, to see myself through the lens of the cross and to let go of my question of 'Am I Enough?'

This is a day by day, moment by moment walk. Quiet moments in the early morning with the Lord, prayers for peace and rest, reminders of His grace and sufficiency, affirmations of His goodness, and grace for myself are the keys to my freedom from the lies. I am also using the tools the Lord has given me of emotionally supportive essential oils to help my mind and heart break free of the lies. These scents act like a trigger for my brain to remember and tap into to good, the positive, the Truth. To choose those thoughts and feelings instead of the negative, the lies of not being enough. 

Oils are the perfect compliment to this process for me, and I love how the grand design allows our bodies to use plants so easily to connect us back to ourselves, creation and our Creator. (Our sense of smell connects directly to the part of our brains that process and stores memories and emotions.) In the mornings I inhale the Humility blend and apply it to the center of my chest, just above the heart. I breathe deeply and repeat to myself 'I am enough. God's grace covers me.' I have also been using White Angelica to help connect to my whole story (the good and the bad) and to truly understanding the way I was made and how I was made to love on this Earth. I apply White Angelica behind my ears. I also diffuse it with lavender in the evening before bed to help process the underlying untold story, the lies that creep in so easily.

Praise the Lord for freedom from the lies. For when my heart rests in the presence of the Lord, I am enough. I am enough, because I am His. I am enough, because He is enough. And you are enough, because He is enough for you.

Hello Again (Part 1)

Things have obviously been really quiet over here for a while, and I've been trying to decide what and how to share about these past few months. I've been dealing with some weird health stuff, and we made a pretty life-altering decision, one that I am extremely happy with, but more on that in part two of this post. 

Let's start with health... For over a year I'd been dealing with bouts of dizziness and lightheadedness that were becoming increasingly frequent. I became concerned about passing out while holding my kid or driving the car. I tried a few different things to combat it, and they helped marginally, but I felt like I was shooting arrows into a hay bale (or whatever the saying is!) So after dealing with the symptoms for close to a year, I finally made an appointment with a holistic and functional medicine practice in the Atlanta area. Best decision I've made! I had a three hour initial appointment where they really listened to what was going on. Preliminary results came back as adrenal fatigue and low progesterone induced by too much stress, not enough sleep and less than ideal nutrition. I already knew a lot of what they told me about food, but having someone start testing for the causes and really listen to my concern was such an encouraging experience. Here are some of the changes I've made since that appointment:

+ ZERO dairy: I would occasionally have some grass-fed dairy, but with my congestion adding to the dizziness, it just isn't worth it. I've recently discovered the Califia almond milk, which is really the best stuff around second to making your own! I've been snacking on it with Einkorn granola - all the heart eyes! 


+ Eating more protein + healthy fats: a minimum of 60g of protein and 2T coconut oil a day. I gotta say, the protein recommendation is tough. I eat a TON of vegetables, but when we wrote out a days worth of food that I was currently eating, even I could see that it just wasn't enough. That's actually a HUGE problem for most women. We don't eat enough. I'm not going to get on that soapbox, but trust. Eating more calories has definitely made me feel better - my mood, energy levels, patience, sleep. 


+ Supplements: methylated B vitamin, probiotic, Vitamin D three times a week, mega antioxidants, and a supplement containing ashwagandha, an adaptogenic herb commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine. I also made some magnesium oil to use before bed and will have a simple DIY coming soon! 

They also tested hormone levels and had me do a take-home cortisol saliva test, so I should get the results from that at my next visit next week. So far I am feeling a little better, but still dizzy at times. I need to focus on nutrition a lot more and make sure I eat enough (read: don't skip lunch) every day, so we are doing a whole30 this month! You can follow along for some meal ideas over on Instagram plus chime in on 'Toddler Eats Tuesdays' for tips and recipes to help get your little ones to eat whole foods! 

And thanks for hanging with me. It's good to start talking again. xo

New Year, New Beginnings

I love the New Year - the fresh starts, the endless possibilities, the white and bright and shiny. I am a dreamer + doer by nature, so resolutions are something that I take to heart. And I've decided to extend some of my resolutions into this space as well. 

I feel as though I am in a transitional stage in life. I am still learning and growing and figuring out what I want my life to be, and in the midst of that the Lord is teaching me about marriage, motherhood and purpose. I'd love to share some of that with you because I am certain I am not the only thirty-something out there who is still figuring it out. When thirty seemed so far away, we were certain we'd have it all by now, but the reality is that life is messy, parenting is hard and marriage takes work. 

So, all that to say, that I've decided to give the site a little facelift to encompass all the things that I want to share with you:
+ Living a natural, healthy lifestyle
+ Continued tips + tricks for eating a whole-foods diet on a budget
+ Healthy recipes
+ Tips + tricks for using essential oils in your everyday life
+ Personal finance + freedom from debt
+ The heartbreaking joy of motherhood
+ The beauty and intentional work of a Christian marriage
+ Thoughts on faith and growing through the hard seasons
+ Maintaining balance + staying grounded in a world of endless distractions

So today, I invite you to thiscommunity - a place to talk about life, health, love, motherhood, joy + pain as we walk through this imperfect life. Will you join me?


*I'll be updating the site domain as of January 4th, and the new URL will be www.balsamandbirch.com. Make sure to update your browser favorites with the new domain!

Our Little Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, mostly because it is the perfect excuse to be off of work and hang out with family and friends. We spent the day at my parents' house, and it was such a great time. The boys played outside in the gorgeous sunshine, we ate amazing food (my mom is such a great cook!) and had plenty of leftovers, and we were able to just be together. The fellowship was just so wonderful. I love stopping and listening to my people, hearing about the ins and outs of their life, knowing what makes them tick. We are so richly blessed! 

A few pictures from the day.... 

This kid is SO fun right now. I say it at every stage, but my favorite stage of childhood is now ;)

This kid is SO fun right now. I say it at every stage, but my favorite stage of childhood is now ;)

This picture of E with his older cousin melts my heart! He adores the 'big boys', and they love him right back. He is also enamored with my sweet niece and loves to play with her!

This picture of E with his older cousin melts my heart! He adores the 'big boys', and they love him right back. He is also enamored with my sweet niece and loves to play with her!

I snagged a jar of my mom's homemade pickles, so so good! 

I snagged a jar of my mom's homemade pickles, so so good! 

Fall + Winter Capsule

I mentioned it before, but one area that I have been working to minimize is my closet. It's easy for me to organize, donate or sell things in other areas of our home, especially furniture, but the closet? That was a different story. So far I've sent two huge bags to ThreadUP and donated quite a bit to a local charity, and now I'm beginning the process of cultivating my wardrobe to be minimal and practical, yet still maintain my sense of style.

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I'm allowing myself to purchase a few things for the upcoming season because that's what works for me. And because I have a birthday coming up. Maybe that doesn't work for you, and that's ok! The beauty of this is that you can make your own rules. I will say that shopping within limits of price and time frame has really made me more selective about the money I am spending. And after a certain date, no more shopping until the next season. More details about the 'rules' here. So I've decided on a faux leather jacket (not taking the plunge until I know it is a piece worth investing in), high rise black skinnies, an oversized sweater. Enter a few well placed coupons + birthday prizes and I was able to snag all of these under budget. 

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I've also noticed that I am pinning images that I can recreate with the items in my closet or those on my shopping list. Or images with similar color stories or patterns to what I already have. Interesting, right? My fall + winter capsule will be pretty monochromatic with a few well-placed scarves, lots of layers + simple outfits. It feels good to get rid of so much and leave behind only the things that are truly functional and loved.