36 Things I’ve Learned to Celebrate Turning 36

Thirty-six.

I woke up Monday morning after a late night of fun with my husband and some friends, dining at my favorite restaurant in the world (Il Tinello) in my favorite hotel room at the Omni Berkshire in NYC. Room service had already delivered my coffee, my husband had gifts waiting for me, and it was glorious to sleep in, wake up at my own discretion, and spend the morning doing nothing in particular.

I took a walk down Fifth Avenue and picked up another birthday gift at Tiffany & Co. I watched the opening of the doors at FAO Schwartz so I could run in and grab my little loves a few gifts to bring home. I had breakfast with my people in the hotel restaurant, and I toasted my birthday with mimosas. It was 60 degrees, it felt so much like fall, and it was sheer perfection following three days of NYC fun.

It was such a good weekend, but I was so excited to board our late flight and get home to my babies for some birthday love. And rest. I needed some rest. I mean, guys, I’m 36 now. Even if I did stay up late all weekend like I was only 21, I was feeling it at that point. As I sat on my flight listening to the pilot ask us to remain seated as we flew off and on through some storms for a marginally shaky ride home, I realized a few things I wanted to share in honor of my 36th birthday. Thirty-six things I’ve learned in the past year.

6

  1. Every year is such a good year in my life, and I’m so fortunate. I get to end every year of my life with the realization that it really was better than the year before, which was already amazing, and that gets to be my every day. I love that.
  2. My son asks a ton of questions about every single thing, and it might be the most obnoxious thing in the world.
  3. I could never work for someone else. I love the freedom of working for myself. I love being able to get up and go, pick up and leave, and travel when I want. I would lose my mind if I had to ask permission to take a day off or travel, or if I had to arrange my schedule around other people (my kids don’t count). I like being my own boss, and I’ll never work for another person and lose my freedom.
  4. I lost a lot of my ‘free time’ this year, and I’ve realized it was not ‘free time’ and I do need that time to get things done. I’ve lost 21 hours a week because I have to pick my middle school daughter up much earlier than the little kids in elementary school. I’m leaving my house a full hour and 45 minutes a day earlier than I did when they were all in elementary school, and I’m losing a lot of time. I’ve also given about 5.5 hours a week to my kids’ cheer teams as a coach this year, and I’m also losing about 3 hours a week in the after school car line because it’s so long this year, and I’m losing valuable work time in the morning because my husband takes our daughter to middle school and I’m spending that time breaking up arguments between my kids and my nephew – who I take to school every morning. I’m really struggling without that time.
  5. I really dislike being hot. (is summer EVER GOING TO END?????)

11

  1. I love school vacations. There was a time I detested them, but now that all the kids are a little older, they’re so much more respectful of my time in my office, and they know how to behave and handle themselves so I can get my work done before we can have some fun.
  2. I don’t want my kids growing up faster than they need to. I’m seeing a lot of girls who are a little too mature for their age, and it makes me sad, scared, and worried for them. Let them be little. Let them be immature. Let them have a few more years before they’re worried about the things some of these girls are worried about.
  3. Kind people are my kind of people.
  4. People who have to say it repeatedly are doing it to convince everyone else.
  5. I like people who keep their social media pages positive. It’s not fake, it’s just better than the depressing shit that’s everywhere else. Keep up the positivity people! And for the love of all things, stop vague-booking like you’re 16 again.
  6. Working out is really important to me.
  7. I’m much nicer when I’ve had 9 hours of sleep and a good work out.
  8. My husband is really hot (I mean, I knew that, but it’s like he just gets better every year).

1

  1. I’ll probably always have at least one sick kid at a time.
  2. I’ve got some severe anxiety at times.
  3. I love Botox.
  4. I worry for my kids and the things they’re exposed to sometimes. I see the way other people live their lives – and while I don’t care how other people live their lives – I hurt for their own children. They’re seeing their parents make horrible choices, and they’re teaching their kids horrible habits and those are the kids my kids are growing up with. Destructive parents raising the future of our world scares me to no end…
  5. I’ll never be the wake up and go type. I need to do my hair. I need to put make up on. I need to get dressed in something I love. I feel more confident, it’s polite, and I enjoy it.
  6. My biggest pet peeve is when people complain about their lives (their weight, their appearance, their marriage, their finances, their whatever) yet they do NOTHING to change it. Don’t complain about it if you’re not willing to get off your ass and make a change. Otherwise, you’re just complaining, and it’s unattractive.

6

  1. I really have the best people in my world.
  2. Monday evenings are my favorite. They’re the only weekday evening we are home without any of the kids needing to be somewhere for sports or activities (or our beloved Wednesday night dinner tradition) and we spend that evening cooking dinner together and sitting in the formal dining room, we take a family walk, and we just spend time together. I really, really love it.
  3. My kids are all so different, and that’s what is so amazing about them.
  4. Anything can happen at any time, and everyday should be lived to its fullest potential.
  5. Fall is still my favorite.
  6. I will never get over my cleanliness OCD. I thought I might over time, but it doesn’t seem to be happening for me. My car must be spotlessly clean inside at all times. My house must be spotless at all times. I can’t stop. I just can’t.

6

  1. I think messy houses are lazy. I know that’s not a popular opinion and that will offend some, but I cannot see how it’s even possible. I just can’t. I have four kids, a business, a husband, and we host people in our home at least once or twice a week, and it’s always clean. I mean, the kids bring things out of their rooms to play with and stuff, but they always put them back when they’re done, dishes are either washed or put in the dishwasher as soon as they are finished being used, and everything is easily wiped down, cleaned off, vacuumed, or mopped at the end of the day. It takes us like 15 minutes a day to keep a clean house even with all that, so I literally just cannot and do not understand how it’s possible for people to have messy houses.
  2. I hate lovebugs. I mean HATE them.\
  3. I really love the traditions in our lives.
  4. I don’t really love Amazon that much. It’s okay when I need something I can’t find locally, but otherwise, I don’t get the fuss that much.
  5. I like Target, but I don’t love Target. There, I said it.
  6. I’ve been into an Ulta one time, and I hated it. What a mess. Give me Sephora any day.

1

  1. I’m a minivan mom, and I never thought I would be, and I never thought I’d want to be, but I’m so in love with it, and I’m loving it.
  2. I love rainy days so much more than sunny days – and I’m not a fan of summer.
  3. I do try so hard to hear people when they speak to me, I really do. However, I so often find myself wondering about people’s priorities when I hear them speaking. There are so many things that are just so much more important in life, and I don’t get why people don’t realize that.
  4. Nothing is more important than a strong family foundation and a family base. A strong marriage, strong parenting, faith, and a strong home are the most important things in our lives.
  5. I’m happy. The simplest days and the littlest things bring me so much joy and happiness, and I love those things. It’s the little things like knowing my husband and I have been going to be at the same time, together, every night for 18 years and neither of us would have it any other way, or the fact that our kids know he will always get up in the mornings, make my coffee, and make them chocolate chip pancakes from scratch before he does anything else, or that he will always be fine with them going to his side of the bed to wake him up first because they all know I’m the one who needs her sleep most, or the fact that we will always decorate our home for holidays as a family and it will make them the happiest little people in the world while we’re doing it, but that my husband will always help me take it all apart when they go to bed and do it my way so that I’m happy, too. I love the big things. The travel, the adventure, the fun. I love that, but I love the little things so much more. Those things make me so happy, and they bring me so much fulfillment and so much pleasure, and I’m so happy.

35 Things On My 35th Birthday

1

Happy Friday, loves!

I am SO excited about this weekend!

It’s my BIRTHDAY!

Well, Sunday is my birthday, but you get the point. I’m turning 35, and I’m so excited. I’m excited about all of my birthdays. It’s my favorite day of the year because it’s all about me and myself. With four kids, a husband, a business, all the boards on which I sit…I just don’t have a lot of me time. I’m fine with that since I prefer to be around my family.

Ironically, I’m a little bit of an introvert, but I have extrovert tendencies from time to time. I prefer to spend the bulk of my time at home with the people I love the most, but sometimes I love to be social. Too much socializing, however, turns me into a monster.

I’m complicated. And I’m okay with that.

Back to this weekend. We are Disney annual passholders (is it possible not to be one when you live an hour and 15 minutes from the park and have four kids 10 and under?!) and we always take my birthday weekend to leave the kids home and head to the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot. They detest Epcot, but we love it. So, they’re not invited.

All I know is that we are doing that this weekend. I have no other idea what is going on, what the plan is, or anything. My husband has been super secretive, but I can say with certainty that I definitely suspect something since I’ve caught him having more than one secretive conversation with the people we love. Very hush, hush. And I am so on to him.

I’m excited (and it better be fancy, Raiford. I’m a fancy girl, and there’s not enough fanciness where we live)!

I love my birthday because I love reflecting on the past year. I love to see how I’ve grown and changed over the year. I love to get older and wiser, and I really love to see how I’ve progressed and bettered myself. I’m always looking to be a better person than the one I was yesterday. I’m in constant competition with myself to be better and stronger.

Thirty-four has been such a fun year! We took the big girls to NYC with us for the first time to see the city for three days. They ask every time we go to join us, and we decided they were ready – and they had the best time! We spent my 34th birthday in the city enjoying date night at our favorite restaurant (Il Tinello) after brunch at our favorite place (The Boathouse) after spending the day before at Epcot for the Food and Wine Fest.

We spent a long weekend in SoCal visiting all of our favorite places (The Montage and the Surf and Sand, the Ritz-Carlton, Javiers in Crystal Cove, The Balboa Bay Club…). We cruised to the Bahamas with our four favorite couples. I did yoga in the beach in the Bahamas. We flew with the kids to Texas to spend a long weekend at my grandmother’s farm. We rented a vacation house in Orlando with family and had the best time just hanging out and having all the fun.

We took the kids to Palm Beach for a long weekend with friends. We saw Kenny Chesney and Thomas Rhett in concert. We let our 10-year-old spend her birthday at the Taylor Swift concert with her bestie. We spent most of our Sundays after church at our best friend’s River House kayaking and paddleboarding and grilling and having all the laid-back fun. We had fun. So. Much. Fun.

We spent more weekends than we can count watching Gator Football and going to Disney and enjoying date nights. We got back to basics and we’ve been enjoying all the simplicity of life as a result.

That brings me to the point of this blog post. I’m sharing 35 things about me as I turn 35. That’s right, friends. I’m officially turning the corner in which 50 is closer than 20. And I’ve literally never felt better.

27

  1. I’m a bad ass motherfucker. I’m just saying. I am. And I’m not ashamed of that. I’ve spent the past year challenging myself to do things that are just beyond my comfort zone (becoming a runner, for instance), and I’m killing it. And to quote the bestie – and nearly every conversation we have this year – I’m a bad ass motherfucker. And I’m not even sorry for the language.
  2. I’m really organized. Like, super-duper, crazy organized. It’s how I get so much done.
  3. I go through one to two laptops every year because I type so much. I type anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 words per day for my clients five days a week (and sometimes on the weekends depending on the project). That’s something like 3.9 to 5.2 million words per year on my laptop – and that doesn’t count things like my blog posts, my emails, and any correspondence or other items I type. That’s literally just for my clients. The letters start to disappear off my keys within a few months of having my computers.
  4. I love to bake. I really love to bake, but only during the holiday season. Fall and Christmas – let me bake all the things. It makes me feel at ‘home’ and like the holidays.
  5. I have become really good at saying no over the past few years. If it doesn’t interest me, I don’t have time, or I’m tired, I’ll say no. Sometimes I just don’t want to do something, but other times I’m just saying no because I know my body and how it responds to stress, and when I’m too busy for too long, I know it’s time to pass.

5

  1. I don’t care what people think of me. I know I come across as a little bit much. I know I’m not everyone’s cup of coffee or whatever, and I’m okay with that. I like me (a lot) and therefore, I don’t care what anyone else thinks of me. So long as this girl is happy, I’m good.
  2. Getting back to basics was one of the very best things we ever did in our house. No longer planning every weekend months in advance, and just learning to enjoy the simple things has been the best. It all came about over a long and hilariously fab dinner date that lasted almost 5 hours one night (December 22, 2017 anyone?) when we realized that we just all missed the way things used to be. The simplicity of an impromptu Sunday afternoon get-together. The enjoyment of spur-of-the-moment plans. Regularly scheduled date nights and bang bang shrimp…it’s been really, really good.
  3. My faith is so important to me. I begin and end each day in prayer. I spend my first few minutes with my daily devotional. I am a firm believer, and I’ve personally witnessed the grace and the beauty of God in every success, in every failure, and in every challenge.
  4. I wonder why we had kids like 8 times a day. Honestly. I do. Then I remember. It’s a cycle.
  5. I am so focused on my health and the health of my family. I love food, but I love good, healthy food. I can take any recipe and definitely not cook it because I suck at that, but I can take it and make it healthy. I want my kids to see my husband and I as a good example that a healthy lifestyle is all it takes. I don’t want them to be uncomfortable in their own skin, and I never want them to be come a statistic or obsessed with fad diets and unhealthy ways of life. You only get one life, and I want theirs to be long and healthy. Thanks, Grandma, for that lesson.

7

  1. I am terrified of snakes. I can’t even leave my garage door open longer than the time it takes to drive out. I’m terrified of them getting into the garage and then getting into the house.
  2. I love red lipstick. It makes me feel powerful and put together when I’m not feeling it.
  3. I have a black thumb. Brown one? Whatever color that kills things immediately. Someone once told me to purchase succulents because they cannot be killed. I killed them.
  4. If you come to my house unannounced, you will find two things. It’s spotless, and there are fresh flowers on the kitchen island, the dining room table, the breakfast nook table, the fireplace, the sitting room coffee table, and on the entryway table (well, most of the year on the entryway table. I have some fabulous fake flowers for fall that go on the entryway table from September through November.
  5. I don’t like to sweat. I take something like three to four showers per day. As soon as I wake up, after I go to the gym, before bed, and at least one other time per day if I sweat outside or go shopping or something.

5

  1. I think my body looks better at (almost) 35 than it ever has. I think I’ve been skinny fat for a long time, but the past year I’ve been really serious about my workouts. I have abs, muscles, and I’m pretty toned, and I really love it.
  2. I like good people. Plain and simple. I like people who are confident in themselves, who don’t live to please others, who don’t care what anyone thinks of them. I love people who don’t care what other people are doing in their lives. Those are my people. I like good people, and I’m so fulfilled with the goodness we have in the people we surround ourselves with. Which leads me to number 18.
  3. Our Wednesday night dinner tradition is one of my favorite things in life. It’s been 10 and a half years and counting, and it’s so much fun. We began having dinner ever Wednesday with our best friends before kids by going out. By baby number two or three, we were eating at home, switching homes every other week. Seven kids later, it’s hectic and crazy, but it’s my favorite tradition. We have the best time, the most inappropriate conversations, and entirely too much laughter.
  4. We have a friend who tells the best stories sometimes. You always know when it’s going to be a good one when he’s laughing before he even starts talking, and he cannot get it out. I have no idea how half his stories begin or end because he cannot stop laughing, but I’m sure they must be hilarious. And that is hands down my favorite thing about him. Other than his spectacular head of hair.
  5. Yoga and running have become two of my favorite things to do in the world.
  1. I’m a little obsessed with Bath & Body Works candles. Maybe a lot. Especially this time of year. Since September began, I’ve noticed I’ve had 7 packages filled with candles delivered. I cannot stop. It’s a sickness. And I’m fine with it.
  2. Ask me for A-1. I promise you I have a bottle in my handbag. Just ask me. There have been too many near disasters, and we must be prepared.
  3. Giving is what makes me happy.
  4. If there’s a committee, I’m on it. Well, kind of. I’m on the PTA board at my girls’ school and the twins’ school, and I’m co-running Safety Patrol for our fifth grader. I like to be present in their lives, so sign me up. But, really, don’t sign me up. There’s nothing left to go around!
  5. I tend to overreact a bit, but give me a day to calm down.

3

  1. I’m paranoid. About everything. I worry incessantly about things happening to us and our kids. I worry about the worst case all the time. I’m perpetually paranoid, and I’m not ashamed of that.
  2. I am the most routine-oriented person on the planet. I have to be. It’s called organized chaos, and I need it in my life. I need my routine. It’s how I get anything done.
  3. I hate wearing flats. Hate them. I love high heels. I wish I could wear them all day every single day, but that mom life doesn’t always allow it.
  4. I put a lot of value and importance on date night and time away from the kids. We try hard to have a date night at least every other week. We are so busy and we have four kids – and our nephew for two hours before school in the mornings and at least an hour after school in the afternoons – and we need that time. It’s good for our souls and our marriage.
  5. I’m not the girls trip type. I did it once, and I prefer to spend the time with my husband. I love my girlfriends, but I’m looking to be sharing my bed with my husband at the end of the day. That’s all.

4

  1. I hate the beach. HATE the beach. I hate sand. I hate salt water. I love to look at the beach. But I prefer to look at it from a gorgeous restaurant or hotel bar.
  2. I’ve grown so much in the past year, and I’m really proud of that. I’ve opened myself up to a lot of new experiences, new people, new things, new places – and I’ve learned from all of it.
  3. I give up trying to explain to people what I do. They think when I say, “I’m a writer,” that I’m J.K. Rowling and have a New York Times Bestseller. They don’t understand what a web content creator is. They don’t understand what I write or why I don’t use my name often in what I write. They don’t get how my business works. If I’m not an author of books, I must be a blogger. And while I do blog right here, this is just for me. This is not my job. This is for me to have a creative outlet for some of the very fun and creative things my job perks allow.
  4. I think raising a little boy is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. We have three girls and a boy, and our boy is our ‘youngest’. He’s one of the twins, but he’s our baby B. He was born five minutes after his twin sister. He’s difficult. Boys are loud, rambunctious, dirty. He wants to be outside all the time, but I’m not a big nature fan. He cannot spend time playing on his own. He needs someone to play with him all the time. The girls are the exact opposite. They are quiet. They all play well independently (and together when they want), and they’re so clean and tidy. Carter? He’s a hot mess. Boys are hard. Our sweet best friends were ‘boy parents’ until a year and a half ago when they had their third child (and first girl) and they told us a million times that boys are, well, boys. We didn’t listen to them.
  5. I’ve really come to appreciate grace in the past year. I’ve learned to give myself grace. I’m not perfect, though I try so hard to be the very best at anything I accomplish.

So, there you go. Thirty-five very random facts about me and who I am to kickstart my 35th birthday. It’s been a beautiful year with all kinds of great moments and not-so-great moments, and I cannot wait to see what 35 has to bring my way! Cheers to the freakin’ weekend, loves!

10 Years of Parenthood: An Open Letter to Our Sweet Girl on Your 10th Birthday

Ten years.

That’s how long daddy and I have been parents. You, our sweet baby girl, Addison Grace, were born on this day in 2008. You came into the world a week before your due date, and only about six hours after you decided to make it obvious you were arriving. My contractions started late at night, and they were only 2 minutes apart in under an hour. You arrived less than six hours later – and I just barely made it to the hospital in time for an epidural and delivery! I haven’t forgotten that, kiddo.

I’ll never forget that moment. We got to hold our sweet baby for the very first time. Only 10 months before, we sat at our resort in Hawaii enjoying a bottle of champagne and celebrating my 24th birthday when daddy asked me if I wanted to have a baby. We’d been married three years, we’d traveled constantly, we’d built a house and then a home, and we were ready. Well, it took me a few days to decide I was ready, but you get the point.

7

It was six weeks later when we woke up at 6 am. The pregnancy test box said I could start taking tests that day (six days early). I’d never taken one before, so I didn’t know what to expect or what might happen. A few minutes later, I was officially pregnant. That afternoon, we were at the University of Florida for a football game (it was November 17) and we went down to the sports shop, bought shirts that said “Gator Mom,” and “Gator Dad,” asked the family who were at the game with us to take a photo of us standing in front of our seats, held up our shirts, and waited while they all took a moment (we literally did not have any clue that you didn’t announce your pregnancy at three weeks and one day at that point…).

The next 36 weeks flew by so quickly. Our lives changed so much that year, and it was the most beautiful year of our lives. You came into our lives, and our entire world changed for the better. You were the easiest, sweetest little thing. We took you everywhere. Before you were six months old, you’d been to the Bahamas, Boston, Texas, Mexico, and Ohio. You spent your first birthday riding in your first limo, cruising Newport Harbor in an amazing boat, and enjoying a week in Orange County, California. You were the best baby (thank you for sleeping through the night and following our schedules and routines so well. I’m not sure I would make a great sleep-deprived human.)

{You when you turned two weeks old, you when you came home from the hospital for the first time and we put you in your swing, and you on the day of your first birthday}

You’ve given us so much. Laughter, love, happiness, joy. You are the sweetest girl, and you make us so proud.

You are the best big sister your sisters and brother could ever ask for. You are just like daddy in terms of your personality. You’ll do anything for anyone, you’ve got an unlimited supply of patience, and you are kind. You have a good heart and the sweetest soul. You’re a rule follower, and you never get in trouble. You are, quite simply, a complete joy.

It’s because of you we are parents. It’s because of you we have three more beautiful babies. And it’s because of you we have so much to smile about. Happy Birthday, Addison Grace. You’re 10 today, and that is huge. You are the most special little girl (almost big girl) in the world, and we love you more than we could ever put into words. You’ve taught us so much about being parents, and about love, and I want to share with you what you’ve taught me and what I want you to know on this day 10 years after you changed our world.

{Your first trip to the Lowry Park Zoo, on a boat cruising through Newport Harbor in Orange County, CA on your first birthday, and your first trip to Disney}

It’s the little things that matter the most

If you’ve taught us one thing above all else, it’s that it really is the little things in life. It doesn’t matter how many times we take you to Disney, or how many places we travel, or what we do, you are happiest when we sit down with you at the end of a day and play a game of cards or watch a movie with you. The big things are amazing, but you’ve taught us that it’s the simplest moments in life that are the best. We can sit down with you and google knock knock jokes and have the best time, ever. You make everything amazing.

Snack time is all the time

I just hope you always love being so active, and that you always love to join us in the gym for a run. Because, girl….you eat a lot. My parents always told me they one day hoped I’d have a daughter just like me for karma purposes (that would be Ava, if you’re wondering) and even though no one wants to hear their mother come out of their mouth, I hope you one day have a child who spends 11 weeks every summer asking if it’s snack time every 2.7 seconds. You’ll understand a fraction of my crazy, perhaps. Don’t worry, I won’t say I told you so.

{You and Ava when you were the very best of friends as babes, us when we were a family of four hanging out on Emerald Isle in NC, you and Ava in North Carolina, you and the babes in North Carolina, you and Carter on a flight to Texas)

What we do, you see, emulate, and believe

Our behavior is important to you, and we work very hard to make sure you’re getting the best of us all the time. We know you see what we do more than you hear what we say, and we are so inspired by that. We work so hard to make sure you learn how to be kind, gracious, and generous. We want you to learn to give back, to treat others with kindness even when they don’t deserve it in the moment, and we work very hard to make sure you know what’s right and what’s not.

Your daddy is the role model you’ll look up to when you take an interest in boys (which you better not do until you’re 76). He is what you want to look for in a gentleman. Someone who treats you with kindness and respect. Someone who opens your doors and stands when you walk into a room or leave the table. Someone who makes you laugh and smile, but someone who is also perfectly fine when you’re a mess. Look to daddy, sweet girl. He’s everything and then some when it comes to the kind of man you want to spend your time with. Anyone who treats you as anything less simply isn’t worth your time.

What we say is so important

You hear everything we say, even when we don’t think that you do. We hope you hear us when we tell you that you’re beautiful inside and out. We hope you hear us when we tell you how intelligent you are, how smart you are, and how amazing you are. We hope you hear those things, and we hope you know that those are the things we mean the most.

{You driving the boat in Tennessee, enjoying the only cow in Texas that doesn’t smell one fall, searching for shells two summers in a row in NC (I hope your future kids love doing that as much as you do every summer), scalloping, paddleboarding at the river house, and hanging out with our favorites on a summer evening}

Your love is unconditional

When we have bad days or my patience is wearing thin (usually with one of your younger siblings) or a stranger in public, you always love us. When I have a moment I’m not proud of, you still love me. Your love is unconditional, sweet, and so innocent. And I love that. I want to be more like you.

Life is better with babies

Like, really, really better. I never knew how much I enjoyed eating cold food, taking 7 hours to complete one conversation with another adult, or how much I loved spending time at Disney World until you came along. I could watch you do the same roundoff back handspring a million times a day and still think it’s the coolest thing ever. Life was beautiful before you, and it’s still unbelievable to me how much more of everything beautiful it is with you.

{You and G…because I know these pictures embarrass you, and we can’t get you to pose together anymore. Let’s see…Halloween, hanging out in North Carolina, bowling, at a resort in Orlando, and walking to dinner during another Orlando trip….I left out all the kissing pictures. I didn’t want to make it weird.}

We will always worry

It doesn’t matter where we are, where you are, who you are with, what we are doing, what you are doing, or how old we all are – we will never not worry about you.

When you’re in school and daddy and I are at home in our office working, I randomly worry that you’re eating enough at lunch (and your dad side eyes me and tells me that you have more food in your lunchbox than Publix has in one aisle). I worry that you didn’t hear me tell you I love you when I dropped you off. I worry how other kids behave and how you’re responding to them. I worry that you’re feeling sick or sad or confused or excited or what. And yet, every single day, I pick you up from the best day ever, and your smile is contagious. But, sweet girl, we will always worry about you.

We will always miss you when we are not with you

Always. Even when you and Ava and the babies make us so insanely crazy with your bickering that we cannot wait for a break, we miss you. We aren’t giving up our date nights or weekends away every few months, but we do miss you like crazy. We are always so excited to come home to you when we land.

{You make us so proud dancing, cheering, being Baptised, and choosing such sweet friends to surround yourself with}

There is joy in everything

Oh, Addison. You have taught us so much, and I love how much you’ve taught us about joy. With your smile and your sweet laugh, there is joy in every moment. You taught us that every moment is a good one, and that there is some sort of joy even in the saddest moments.

When I cried thinking about how hard it was going to be saying goodbye to great grandma when we left Texas last week, you put your sweet arms around me and told me it was okay and that you miss her, too. Even in one of my most difficult moments, you found a way to show me joy just by being you.

You are the best parts of both of us

Well, you’re the best parts of your daddy. I think you ended up with all my worst qualities, but you really do make them work. Never stop being like daddy. He’s the best person I know, and following in his footsteps is a very good thing. I’m sorry you somehow ended up with my OCD, and my anxiety about messiness and imperfections. I love that you have my perfectionism, but I hope you keep it a healthy situation unlike your crazy mama. Don’t let it make you cray, but if you want to keep thinking you want to be just like me when you grow up, I won’t argue with you. Just be like, 75% better than me and you’ll be all right.

{The summer you turned 7. We began your birthday month on the lake in Tennessee with our favorites. Remember when you jumped off that bridge holding Uncle Geremy’s hand like a champ?! We ended it at the Omni with all of our favorites, and the royal treatment for you, birthday girl. You and all your friends/cousins had your own table at dinner, your own waitstaff, your own cake, and your own fun}

Addybug, thanks for making us parents. Thanks for being the best. Thanks for being our family. Thank you for bringing so much light and laughter and love and happiness in our home on a daily basis. And thanks for not being too mad at us that you ended up with two little sisters and a little brother. We know they make you crazy, but it’s only because they love you so much because you’re so lovable.

Thank you for being a shining example of class. You might only be 10, but you are one of the most elegant, classiest people I have the pleasure of knowing. Your kindness shines through your eyes, and you are such a good person without even trying. I love how you always cheer people on, how you are so excited about their excitement, and how you always look to help when someone needs it. I love that you are such a class act. Never change, ever. The world needs about 7 billion more people just like you.

{That one time you and Ava asked us if you could join me and daddy the next time we went to NYC. Riding to dinner in a limo, taking photos with Lady Liberty, snapping quick pics in the hotel lobby before dinner, and shopping at American Girl. That was probably our favorite trip, ever. Daddy and I have spent 2-3 weekends a year in NYC for the past decade, but there was nothing like seeing it through your eyes for the first time}

We love you so much. All the time. No matter what. You’re our baby, and you will always be our baby. You are our greatest joy and every piece of our hearts.

Happy 10th Birthday, our blue-eyed beauty.

Happy Birthday, Babes: Answers to the 10 Most Commonly Asked Questions We Get About the Twins

Four years ago today we welcomed our last babies into our world. Our twins, Carter and Charlotte, were born. I was 36 weeks and 6 days pregnant when they made our debut at 3 lbs. and 5 lbs. They spent a week in the NICU, and we spent a week living at the hospital – unofficially in the room we were discharged from after two days thanks to the amazing nurses who offered it to us – and our lives changed.

Now they’re four.

Four.

I don’t even know where the time went. They are the sweetest babies. They have their moments, but we have been so fortunate with our sweet babes. They’ve always been excellent 12-hour nighttime sleepers. They’ve always been easy babies, well-behaved babies, and they don’t give us too much trouble. We are fortunate, and we appreciate every moment of their sweetness.

And in honor of their fourth birthday, I’m answering a few of the most common questions we receive about being twin parents and about twins. These aren’t Instagram-sent questions. These are walking through Publix with the twins and hearing questions from complete strangers we’ve never met in our lives. All. The. Time.

  1. They’re twins? But he’s taller than her! They don’t look that much alike!

Yes. This is true. Carter is taller than Charlotte. He’s also five pounds heavier, and he’s got a penis. It’s called fraternal. And yes, I’m sure they’re not identical. And yes, it’s possible to have twins who don’t look alike.

  1. Did you plan on having twins?

Absolutely not. Had I known I hyper ovulate, there’s a good chance we might have stopped before we had more than one at a time.

  1. Are they natural?

They’re not unnatural. I assume this is the “nice” way strangers ask us if we went through fertility treatments to conceive. To be frank, it’s a bit rude – and none of anyone else’s business. We all know where babies come from, so there’s that. But no, we conceived our babies very naturally. Did you want that visual?

  1. Did you just want to die when you found out you were having twins? I’d kill myself if I found out I was having twins and I already had two kids at home!

I’m here, aren’t I? So, no; I did not die. One baby is a beautiful blessing. Two is an amazing blessing. It might be shocking to find out there’s more than one baby in there, but it’s not suicide-worthy.

  1. Better you than me, right? Ha ha ha!

Yes, yes, and yes.

  1. Did your lives totally end when you had twins?

Nope. We lead a very fulfilling, beautiful life to be honest. It’s just a little louder, a little busier, and there’s a lot more hugs and kisses to go around, and we have a lot more laughter in our house. And we never worry about sitting by strangers on planes. We get the entire row to ourselves, and that’s a total win.

  1. How do you sleep?

Lying down cuddled up as close as I can get to my husband in my very comfortable bed. We are very schedule-oriented, so our kids have always been great sleepers. We’re not sleep-deprived. Even with newborns in the house, we weren’t. We’ve been very fortunate.

  1. Can you tell them apart?

I can’t get their names straight, but we’ve numbered them – so it works.

Really?! Yes, this is a serious – and frequently asked – question. They’re not identical. They’re not even the same gender. They don’t even have the same body parts. And besides, Charlotte has long hair and Carter doesn’t so it’s totally easy to tell them apart.

  1. Do they have the same personality?

No. They do not. Carter should have been named Joy. This boy is nothing but pure joy all the time. He’s always got the biggest, sweetest, most genuine smile on his face. He’s always got a hug to share, big kisses, and a massive smile on his face. Charlotte is a bit more reserved, and she has to love you a LOT before she’s going to kiss you or even share a smile with you. She also owns Carter and the big girls. Anything she wants, she looks at them and they make it happen. She’s a leader, and Carter is just along for the ride.

  1. Do you just love having twins?

More than anything! We were shocked, we thought it was a joke, and we weren’t sure how we’d manage two babies at one time with two bigger girls at home when we found out baby number three was baby three and four. But God’s plan is always greater than our own plans. He knows. He brings you what you need in your life and He knew we needed these babies in our lives even when we didn’t know it. He knew. And He was right. Our hearts are FULL.

We get to have the privilege of living in a household that is always filled with laughter – occasional bickering – and we are never without a little person with so much love for us that they can’t contain it. Our lives are full, and there is nothing quite like getting to watch these babies grow up together. We have so much goodness in our lives right now, and one day we will find our home filled to overflowing when our four babies and their spouses and their own babies come over for dinner, birthdays, and holidays. It’s going to be loud, crazy, and overflowing – and it’s everything we want in life.

Happy Birthday, sweet babes. You are loved.

35 Things You Don’t Know About My Husband (The Man Behind the Scenes of Every Instagram Photo and Blog Post) in Honor of His 35th Birthday

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A Thursday blog post must mean something special is going on.

It is.

It’s the eve of the very handsome Mr. Raiford’s 35th birthday, and I love celebrating his birthday. He’s the best person I know, and I have no shame celebrating him daily. He’s the kind of man you can’t help but love, and everyone does. I’m almost positive they tolerate me only because they want more of him!

Tomorrow Craig turns 35, and this will be the 17th birthday I’ve had the good fortune to celebrate with him. We met on a kind-of blind date when we were 18. He was a freshman in college, and I was a senior in high school. I went home and broke up with my boyfriend that night because I knew this guy was The One.

And if you ask Raiford, I’m always right. Except when I’m not.

Turns out, I was right. We were engaged a year and-a-half later, married two years after that, planned our wedding, went to school, and built our first house all at the same time. We got married in 2005, and we’re going to celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary this year. We have four beautiful but sometimes annoying kids, some bad days, a lot of really good days, and some serious magic. And I wouldn’t trade a second.

Craig is the man behind our family, the man who will do anything for anyone, and he is the man behind the camera and my blog. I talk about him a lot (well, we have fun together so why not?) and I thought I’d share 35 things you didn’t know about the man who is always happy to stand behind the scenes of not just me but our four kids and cheer us on, support us, and take care of us. But be careful because you’ll end up falling just a little bit in love with him, too.

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  1. He is an amazing cook, and he really loves to spend time in the kitchen. He loves to try new recipes and make new things – and he’s really, really good in the kitchen.
  2. He’s cuddly. When the alarm goes off at 5 am, he grabs me and pulls me as close as he can to him and won’t let me up until he’s had a few moments like that. It’s my favorite part of the day.
  3. He’s the one who wanted kids. I wasn’t sure. I like them, but I wasn’t sure I really wanted them. To be mostly honest, I still feel that way four deep! (Jokes, people, jokes)
  4. He went to every single doctor appointment I had during all three of my pregnancies. He never missed one and refused to miss one even when I told him he didn’t have to go. He wanted to.
  5. He never left my side in the hospital when any of our four kids were born unless I sent him out for something to eat when our visitors were gone for the night

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  1. He will do anyone for anything. Whatever you need, he’s going to help you no matter what. Sometimes this makes me a little crazy because he’s so bad at saying no, but it’s just who he is at the core of things.
  2. He’s funny. This man makes me laugh regularly.
  3. He’s the best daddy. I can talk about this forever and ever. He is the bath-giver, the diaper changer, the boo-boo fixer, the homework helper, the best hugger. The kids love him so much more than they love me, but I can’t even be mad about it because he’s just so good with them.
  4. Nothing irritates him as much as hearing another father call it “babysitting” when his wife goes somewhere and leaves him home with the kids. He believes that’s called parenting. And he’s right.
  5. He might hear half of what I say. But I’m long-winded, and only about half of what I have to say is even remotely interesting or halfway intelligent the way I ramble – so he’s good.

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  1. He always brings me flowers. Even though I buy three or four dozen flowers a week to keep in our house, he still brings me flowers every time he goes out, and he still sends me flowers periodically even though we have so many all the time.
  2. He dates me regularly. He plans a sitter, makes dinner reservations, and he takes me out. He even makes sure the kids don’t come into the bathroom and interrupt me while I get ready so it feels like a real date.
  3. He always opens the door for me and any other woman or child.
  4. He’s a serious gentleman.
  5. He doesn’t yell. Like…ever. He talks loudly when he gets excited or when we’re watching football, but I can’t get this man to engage with me when I’m in a total bitch mode no matter how hard I try. He just doesn’t yell.

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  1. He hates to read. His one flaw.
  2. He doesn’t snore, but he breathes loudly when he sleeps. So I guess that’s two flaws.
  3. He cleans his ears every single day. I think this is weird. Is this weird? Or am I weird? Anyone?
  4. I think he might think I’m a little bit crazy with my obsessive need for total cleanliness in our home and in my car all the time, but he never says a word about it. He just grabs the vacuum every night and runs it over all the rugs, and he grabs the ShopVac and vacuums out my car anytime we take the kids anywhere.
  5. He loves to stick Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in the freezer and share them with me when they freeze.
  1. He doesn’t love it when I use too many tomatoes in any recipe.
  2. The twins love the go upstairs at bedtime and hide from daddy every single night in the exact same places. He waits patiently downstairs until they’ve had time to hide, walks up, pretends he can’t see them, and feigns sheer terror when they jump out and scream boo. They giggle like crazy every single time, and he never lets them down.
  3. He packs all the school lunches.
  4. He is the calm, cool, collected person in our marriage.
  5. He drives slow, he’s not aggressive, and 90% of our arguments start in the car when he won’t pass someone or tailgate them or he stops me from leaning over him to lay on the horn and make obscene gestures at them.

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  1. He has such amazing work ethic. He is dedicated to his job, and he loves what he does. He spent 15 years with a bank, and he fell out of love with his job when the bank merged with another. He was offered a new job almost 2 years ago allowing him to work 100% from home from a company he had business dealings with for many years, and he took it. I’ve never seen this man as happy as he’s been since he began working with this company. He is so good at what he does, and he never lets a problem go until he’s able to fix it for his customers.
  2. He’s so book smart. Sometimes his common sense takes a quick vacation, though. Don’t worry – I utilize every possible opportunity to give him a hard time and make fun of him when he does things like wonder why we are standing in a long line of people to take the stairs from the 11th floor of a hotel rather than the empty elevator when the fire alarm goes off in the middle of the night. 😊
  3. He’d prefer to be outside 100% of the time whenever possible, especially if it’s with the kids.
  4. He and I have the exact same travel taste, and he’s the best person to travel with.
  5. He is the man behind the phrase, “Never marry a man unless you’d be proud to have a son just like him,”. He is the most amazing example to our son, and to our daughters. He’s kind, loving, patient, generous, respectful. He’s such a good role model.
  1. He rarely gets dressed. He wore a shirt and tie for 15 years with the bank. Now he’s in an Under Armour shirt and shorts all day everyday unless we leave the house. It’s his favorite part of life.
  2. He does all the laundry in our house.
  3. He makes the best filet mignon ever. We have filet Friday in our house (unless we have plans Friday and it’s Filet Sunday) and he does the most spectacular job. I can’t even order filet when we go anywhere anymore because it’s always a disappointment in comparison.
  4. He is a diehard Florida Gator. He’s never missed a game, win, lose, out of the continental United States 6 hours behind in Hawaii watching a 3 pm game at 9 am…when we’re good, when we are bad, he’s a diehard.
  5. He has to buy all of his own shoes. His feet are like 8 different sizes depending on what brand, what type, and what style shoe he’s wearing. Even he can’t figure out size he wears without trying things on.

Now you know my sweet husband a little better. If you’re still not sure who he is, just know he is the nicest person you’ll ever meet. He’s the guy who stands outside in the freezing cold in shorts and a tee shirt and no shoes to get the perfect OOTD picture for my Instagram feed. He’s the guy who never misses an opportunity to throw the football with our son and our daughters or sit down and watch Wheel of Fortune with our two oldest while letting them solve the puzzles first because they get so excited.

That’s the guy I married – and I love every sweet, kind, annoying, frustrating, funny, strange, amazing thing about him. Happy Birthday, love. Thank you for picking me to be the girl you spend all your birthdays with.

34 Life Lessons to Live By For My 34th Birthday

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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it’s true – but it’s really inside your personality. If you’re ugly on the inside, it won’t take people long to determine you’re ugly on the outside. Basically, you control your beauty and it starts from the inside (remember – sarcastic people who love to laugh and genuinely kind people are the best…and we could all strive to be a little most of all of the above) but that doesn’t mean you get to forget about the outside. I mean, you can be Mother Theresa’s personality twin but girl, if you’re not taking care of the outside, you’re going to look more like the kid from the Exorcist. Just saying.

Beauty tips and lifestyle tips are really a dime a dozen. The internet is filled with them (and the internet doesn’t lie, y’all) but it’s really the simplest, most basic habits that really help you put your best face forward both literally and figuratively.

As I age, I’m learning that basics are my best friend. I’m turning 34 on Saturday – Happy Birthday to ME! – and I thought I’d share 34 of my favorite beauty and life tips. Use one, use 34, use 7, ignore them all – it’s your face, ladies – but hopefully one of these tips that have changed my life more than once over the past 34 years can do the same for you.

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Basic Health Makes You Gorgeous

  1. It keeps you young, helps you sleep better, and gives you energy. Now you don’t have dark circles, your stressful attitude is gone, and your smile is more sincere. Instant gorgeous.
  2. Drink the water. Drink all the water. I might have a small three cup of coffee obsession in the mornings, but it’s water, water, water, water, all the time. I keep my Yeti filled all day long so I always have cold water – your skin cannot thank you enough for all the water you should give it.
  3. Seriously. Get some sleep. I have four kids, a husband I like to spend a little personal time with each night, a house to maintain, an active social life, and a business to run – and you better believe nothing stops me from sleeping 8 hours every night (also, you’re all welcome. I’m a monster with less than 8). There’s nothing so pressing in your life you can’t get a solid 8 hours (unless you’re new parents).
  4. Eat well – and often. I loooooove good food. I don’t tell people to diet. I don’t. I love donuts and ice cream and other things that aren’t so good for me. And I never say no. But I also never go overboard. I love those things, but I’d much rather have a bowl of yogurt and blueberries or some roasted broccoli. I’ve found healthy food can be made into something magical, and your body will crave it.
  5. If you’re not laughing to a point you feel it’s probably inappropriate each day, you’re not doing life right. Sorry. Laugh more. Forget everything else.
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Care for Your Skin Every Day 

  1. Don’t forget to moisturize. It’s the best thing you can do for your skin, and not just your face, ladies.
  2. Wear sunscreen. All. The. Time.
  3. Wash your face. I don’t care what you wash it with, just wash it at the end of the day.
  4. Keep your hands off your face – they’re really gross.
  5. Keep your phone off your face – it’s even nastier than your hands (at least those are washed!).

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Change Your Attitude and Watch Your Glow

  1. Choose to be happy. Sure, some days suck. It’s true, but focusing on the all the negatives gets you nowhere. Focus on the good in life, and be thankful for your problems. My grandmother always said that if I threw all my problems into a pile with everyone else’s, I’d want mine back FAST.
  2. Be nice. Seriously, it’s not that hard.
  3. When you decide to be a giver, you decide to be a happier version of you. Just remember that giving is only pretty when it’s private. Once you post it on social media, you take away from the giving and become a taker.
  4. Don’t compare yourself. Girl, you are amazing and you don’t have to try and be like or better than or whatever than anyone else. Everyone has a different life, different wants, different tastes, and differently dreams. Live yours, love yours, and be happy for everyone else doing the same. It’s very, very simple.
  5. Be you. It’s much easier. And it’s much better than trying to be someone else.

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Know Yourself and Be Yourself

  1. Know what looks good on you, and stick with it. For example, high necklines and sleeveless tops and off-the-shoulder tops are not flattering on me. I don’t wear them. They’re amazing on others, and I really love them, but I know they’re not spectacular on my broad shoulders – so I avoid them.
  2. Know your colors. It might sound silly, but it’s not. You might have yellow or blue undertones. Figure out it, and pick colors that flatter you. Want to know why I wear so much Lilly? Because bright, very bold colors look good on me. Muted colors do not. That once made me sad, but I’m growing to appreciate it.
  3. Don’t wear it if you’re not comfortable in it. Darling, if you don’t feel comfortable, you don’t look confident. If you don’t look confident, you don’t look good. I don’t care if you’re wearing a $7,500 Versace gown or a $7 H&M dress. If you’re not comfortable, it doesn’t flatter.
  4. Wear the heels. They make your legs look amazing. I’ve never met a woman in heels who doesn’t look like a bombshell.
  5. Don’t worry about anyone else. If you like it, rock it. Who cares what anyone else thinks?

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Pick Good People and Be Good People

  1. All right, so sometimes you can’t really choose the people in your life (I mean, you can’t pick your family, right?!) but you don’t have to spend too much time with great auntie Sue and her secondhand smoke, so that’s a plus. The people you do get to pick, pick them well. They should complement you (both literally and figuratively).
  2. Get rid of toxic people or minimize your time with them. We all have them in our lives, and sometimes you just have to minimize your time with them. If they don’t fill your tank or make you feel good, you don’t need ‘em.
  3. Be a good person. Treat your people well. Be good to them. Make an effort. Remember they are on your side and you are on theirs. Check in, find time, make time, and have fun.
  4. Be kind. If you’re not a kind person, you’re not anyone’s kind of person.

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Be Deliberate With Your Time

  1. Say no. It’s okay to say no to people and things that don’t add value to your life, that you’re simply not in the mood for, or that you simply don’t have time for.
  2. Forget busy. It’s overrated. We’re all busy, but I never really realize how much “busy” we have in our lives until we had the twins and became the parents of four. Our busy now is much different. The kind of busy we have with four kids is not like the kind of busy we had before. A lot of our ‘busy’ is not by choice. Before, it was. Get rid of it and take back your life.
  3. Go on dates. With yourself, with your friends, with your spouse. I went on my first date with my husband 16 years ago, and I enjoy our date nights more now than I did then – and that never fails to amaze me! I love that time alone. I feel so energized and refreshed when it’s just the two of us having a good time. Probably because he makes me laugh. I like to laugh. Also, he’s cute. And I like kissing him. But that’s not any of your business.
  4. Keep it simple. I won’t lie – I’m a very fancy girl at heart, and I want the high heels and the fancy date nights and the champagne. But it’s the simplest things that make the most of our time. It’s cookie baking with the kids. It’s Gator football parties with our people. It’s our weekly Wednesday night dinner date with some of our favorite friends in the world that we’ve been having for – wait for this – almost 10 years. From one baby and a weekly dinner at our favorite restaurant on Wednesday nights to 7 sweet (mostly) babies and Wednesday dinner at alternate houses every week. It’s a really simple thing, but it never fails to make my heart happy.
  5. Make time to rest. The best thing we ever did for ourselves was take our Sundays and turn them into our own personal Sunday Funday. We don’t make many plans on Sundays unless it’s something really important. We church. We eat. We sleep in. We shop. We play outside. We basically say no to everyone but our kids – and Mondays are so much easier because of it.

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And a Few Others

  1. Do what makes your heart happy. Trust me when I say it makes all the difference in the world.
  2. Spend some money on your shoes and handbags. Who cares about anything else?
  3. Wear lipstick. It’s pretty.
  4. It’s prettier.
  5. Love your kids. They are the coolest people you’ll ever know. Love them hard – but don’t forget to be a parent first, to strive to be the worst parent ever from time to time (it means you’re doing it right), and don’t forget to be realistic. They’re not perfect. They’re actually probably pretty annoying sometimes, but they’re also funny, sweet, and they love hard. So try to ignore the annoying, embarrass them as often as possible, and have all the dance parties in the family room. They’re the best things.