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    The Language of Flowers: A Book Review

    I just finished The Language of Flowers a few days ago. I am so sad that I’ve already finished it. This is easily one of the best books that I’ve read in years. The language and diction that Vanessa Diffenbaugh uses are mesmerizing. She completely enveloped me into the world of foster child Victoria and had me captivated from the very first chapter.

    The craziest thing that has happened since reading this book is that I am currently obsessed with flowers. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve perused the floral section at HEB or dreamt of buying a flower farm. This is a story that changes the way you view flowers. Each bloom is now a manner of communication in itself and that is so incredibly cool to me.

    The ending is satisfying but has left with me with the smallest of questions of life after the book has ended. The way she has chosen to end it does leave one with a certain level of contentment though that can leave the story where it has ended.

    If you read only one book this year, I cannot recommend this one more. I loved absolutely every minute of reading it, whether it was in a hammock or at the doctor’s office. It would definitely be better to set aside some time with limited interruptions to fully enjoy it. Bonus if you can read it while surrounded with blooms!

    Go buy the book and some blooms!
    Ashley
    P.S. The protea flowers I used in my wedding mean courage. I absolutely love!

    My Top 3 Family Owned Restaurants in the Houston Area

    It’s no secret. I love to eat, like I absolutely love it. I especially love when I can support a smaller family run business rather than a huge chain. These are my top 3 favorite family owned restaurants in the Houston area. There’s a chance that I may even run into you at one!

    1. El Dorado Mexican Restaurant
      I’ve been coming here since they first opened. They’ve never ceased to satisfy my Mexican cravings. The waitstaff is always friendly and accommodating, especially to special needs. I almost always get the Durango – a chile con queso puff, a guacamole taco, a cheese enchilada and a sour cream chicken enchilada with rice and beans. It can be quite a bit of food, but it’s too delicious to deviate to another meal. One of my other favorite meals is the  Also, their pina colada is absolutely phenomenal. This family has worked so hard. I’m so excited to say that they have opened a new location in League City. My family and I went right when it opened and we absolutely loved it. Well done, friends!
    2. Dumar’s Mediterranean Restaurant
      I’ve said before that this I recommend the couples plate. I wholeheartedly still urge you to order that. It allows you to try all the things possible on the menu. I have officially tried all the chicken shawarma options and have to say that there’s no way you can go wrong. There’s something so delectable about their chicken shawarma that keeps me coming back for it. Rick loves the lamb kebab. Next time, we’re trying the kenafeh!
    3. Marini’s Empanada House
      I got to know the Marini’s the summer after my senior year in high school when I first fell in love with Argentinean empanadas. My absolute favorite things on the menu are the Apple Gabriella (diced apples, dulce de leche, cream cheese, mozzarella cheese, and nuts), the Italian Marcello (Italian sausage, pizza sauce, mozzarella & provolone cheese) and the New Yorker (broccoli, cream sauce, mozzarella & provolone cheese). The best part is that each empanada is super customizable. I almost always add avocado to the New Yorker. It just makes it even better. Marini’s has been growing increasingly famous which is awesome as they are such a sweet, sweet family. They have their restaurant featured on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives this Friday night.

    I hope y’all spend the night out at one of these establishments. I have absolutely loved my time spent at all of them and hope you do too.

    Happy eating!
    Ashley

    The Reality of My Spring Break

    Last week was Spring Break. I’ve always loved the respite that Spring Break provides as well as the clear transition to start getting the ‘When Is It Summer!?’ fever. I completely planned on utilizing some of the self care ideas I talked about in 10 Cost Effective Ways to Practice Self Care Over Spring Break while dreaming of more glamorous breaks in the past. (I did a real vague variation on them that I’ll get to later in this post.)

    My whole Spring Break plan didn’t exactly pan out the way I thought it would because I got sick. I’ve known for years that something was off when I get sick. Friends and family would bounce back seamlessly as I would stagger on for weeks with the slightest of colds. No matter what I did, I just couldn’t shake what was ailing me. In some ways, my diagnosis of Chron’s Disease was an answer to this recurring sickness cycle. Knowing that and knowing that I have some yearly check ups in the coming weeks, I decided to cancel all activities sans a few and rest.

    I’ve never been good at rest. There’s something about it that that over the years transformed into a taboo thing for me. Maybe it’s because our culture seems to equate rest with laziness. Laziness isn’t something I ever wanted to be tagged by. I was always told that rest was for the weak so I stopped resting. This week, I brought it back. I didn’t bring it back in the sense that I was reading or liking pins on Pinterest to look at later but to actually rest. Actually resting for me means not forging ahead trying to conquer things whether it was working on ongoing projects or trying to get tasks done around the house.

    Intentionally looking for real non-working rest is what started me down a Netflix rabbit hole. I had to watch something that I couldn’t multitask while doing. For me, that meant finding a show in another language that I needed to read the subtitles for. I settled on Mossad 101 (HaMidrasha), an Israeli show focusing on Israeli Secret Service agent training. I absolutely loved listening to the Hebrew language while reading the dialogue. The twists and turns got me right up until the very end. I really do hope there’s a season 2 that follows.

    Afterwards, I switched to Jane the Virgin, a quirky telenovela centered around one mistaken moment. Oh, how I have fallen in love with this show. It’s the perfect mix of drama and comedy. The characters are all so intriguing on their own but the lead, Jane, captured me in such a unique way as she’s totally relatable. From waiting around on texts and phone calls to crossing boundaries for her friends, this girl is fantastic. I’m still on season 1 but I can’t wait to see how things unfold from here.

    When Rick got home from work one day, I asked him if I was even doing a good job at resting. He laughed at me. I can’t blame him. It seems like such a ridiculous question. Between laughs, he told me that I had indeed rested and I had done a good job at it. Apparently, vegging out on the couch got his vote of approval – or at least it did last week. It was good to hear, especially since it’s something that I don’t regard myself to be good at doing. I may not have done the self-care ideas that I posted a few weeks back, but I was able to sneak some special things into my couch laying – I painted my toes wine and gold, did a facial mask and played a lot of games on my phone.

    How’d your Spring Break go? What’s your go to when you’re sick?
    Ashley

     

    P.S. I did listen to an awesome interview on The Happy Hour with Heather Avis who is releasing her book today, The Lucky Few: Finding God’s Best in the Most Unlikely Places. It’s about an adoptive family to three kids, two of which have down syndrome. She talks about the journey they took to become this family of five. She discusses a lot of the same things that my family has been through – open heart surgery on a baby, the public school system and I’m sure so much more. I can’t wait to read this from the angle of an adopted mom. If you’re new around here, my twin sister, Lori, has down syndrome so it’s a topic that hits my heart very closely.

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    What I’m Loving // March 2017

    I’ve started 2 different blog posts for today and just nothing seems right. I don’t know if it’s just the day or what, but things aren’t flowing like they should. I love top ten lists, which I’m sure you’ve noticed if you’ve been journeying with me. I’m not sure since I’ve been back to blogging that I’ve really allowed y’all to see a peek in to who I am yet. Today, I’d like to share 10 things that I’m loving right now.

    1. If there’s one thing I’m loving currently, it’s the The Happy Hour Podcast by Jamie Ivey. I’m a bit obsessed. Like, I’m binge listening level obsessed. I love stories and I love how Jamie is inspiring me to stay connected in my faith, especially during this weird season of mine. Her guests are courageous, God-loving, fascinating women and I’m loving devouring their stories and getting to know them. Maybe, one day, Jamie will interview me. A girl can dream!
    2. Looking for Lovely by Annie Downs is a book that I’d recommend for sure. I finished this book in late January. It’s so worth the buy! I’ll be reviewing it in an upcoming post. It’s actually one of the ones that I started today and just decided I wanted to sit with the book and ponder a bit longer.
    3. The Pokemon Go App for Iphone is my current go to phone game. It’s reminding me to walk which is always good. Collecting Pokemon is fun too.
    4. Rick and I are both a bit obsessed with Skipbo. We’ve been playing almost nightly. I went on a 10+ Skipbo run there for awhile but he’s made a comeback. We actually spent most of our weekend relaxing with a NCIS marathon while playing this card game. Sometimes, it’s the simple things y’all.
    5. Want to Be a Writer? Start Writing. I absolutely love these encouraging words from Becky Kiser on writing. It’s interesting. Everywhere I seem to look lately, I hear more and more about this concept. It’s so simple, yet somehow has the power to paralyze us.
    6. If you’re looking for a good date night dinner spot in Houston, you should check out Dumar’s. I’d say get the Couples Plate. There’s a ton of food but it’s ridiculously delicious and so fun to try the huge variety that comes on it. I’m currently hooked on their chicken shawarma.
    7. In lieu of writing, I got to get together with some out of town friends tonight. We had a wonderful evening discussing life, drinking coffee and playing Harry Potter Clue. I think it’s been almost two full years since we four have been in the same place. My heart longs for a day when we could do something like tonight in person once a month or even more. God’s brought some amazing girls into my life, I just hope one day he’ll have us all in the same place too.
    8. I just started The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh over the weekend. I’m floored with the beautiful use of language within the pages of that book. I almost couldn’t even stop reading for date night because it had captured me so deeply. It’s been quite a while since that happened and I’m so excited to see what happens as I continue reading.
    9. I’m savoring alone time. This seems so weird to say, especially as a newlywed. Rick, don’t be upset if/when you see this. There’s just something that I’ve loved lately about carrying our fold up chairs into our backyard with a cup of ice cold water and reading. I cannot get enough of it. I don’t know if it’s the sun on my skin, the opportunity to get lost in a good story or just as much silence as suburbia has to offer. Unfortunately, I think winter is coming back so it may be a while before this is a consistent thing in my life. In the meantime, I’ll be snatching up the bits of time that I have to bask in the sun while I can though.
    10. This last thing I am loving is so silly. It’s not silly because of what it is, but how it came into my possession. I went shopping with my mom. We noticed this Columbia polka dot vest on a rack and she made me try it on. It fit perfectly and it was on sale. Plus, it is one of the most comfortable things I’ve worn in a long time. She bought it for me because I refused to get it for myself. With the constant changing of seasons and it’s ability to be ridiculously comfortable, it’s practically made itself into my every day uniform. I don’t even have a single complaint about that. I just can’t move on to another piece of clothing. It’s the perfect thing to grab in the mornings and I give no apologies for that.

    Alright y’all, thanks for sticking with me today and hopefully gaining some insight as to who I am, especially if we’re not IRL friends yet. I’ll be back with some serious insights soon. Love you and hope y’all are having a wonderful Spring Break! Don’t forget to get some self-care in!

    Ashley

    10 Cost Effective Ways to Practice Self Care Over Spring Break

    There’s something about the changing of seasons from Winter to Spring that really makes me squirm. The longing for Summer days reaches deep down into my bones and I can’t shake it. I’m ready for a vacation. I used to love Spring Break. It was a little spurt of freedom before getting the ultimate freedom of bells ringing on the last day of school.

    This year, I don’t get a Spring Break. I’m okay with that as I’m going to employ my own “mini Spring Breaks” throughout the week. A lot of that will be in intentionally doing things that promote self-care for me. I don’t think there’s one right way to do self-care. Self-care is anything you do that feeds your soul and recharges you. It’s not an easy thing for us to slow down and do that, especially during Spring Break. Here’s some ideas to add a little self-care for you regardless of what your Spring Break plans are and better yet, they’re cost-effective.

    Staycation Self-Care Ideas
    1. Clean your whole house.
      This may sound like a terrible idea for a vacation, but think about it. Over time, things get put out-of-place, small clean up tasks get delayed and side projects like that junk closet get put off to the inevitable tomorrow. Cleaning is not the first thing on my list of fun things to do. Why add it here? I believe it’s worthy of spending my time doing. When my house is clean and organized, I feel like my mind follows suit. Even if it’s just a couple of smaller tasks like cleaning my counters or doing a full sweep of my floors, it makes everything a little better. (I’m currently wanting to de-chemical our home with the products we rely on. If anyone has any tips on great cleaners that aren’t filled with tons of chemicals, please tell me in the comments!)
    2. Declutter.
      One of the easiest things to do is to get rid of things taking up space in your life that don’t deserve it. Old magazines, receipts, trash and items that are no longer relevant to your life (books you’ve already read, are super easy culprits. It’s a small thing but getting rid of those things and decluttering does wonders for feeling freer and more relaxed. That’s the purpose of any vacation anyway, right? Personally, I love shredding things. It feels better and more satisfying than just recycling or throwing something away.
    3. Volunteer Locally.
      There’s something so beautiful about serving that shows you the beauty of humanity and urges our hearts to be more hopeful. This can look different for anyone. You can send money to an organization, buy a product that helps others or causes awareness for an issue but my suggestion is that you should actively go serve. I believe there’s something different when you are physically engaged serving. If you’re not sure where to volunteer, I’d suggest asking a local church. Most churches have a great network of places they have partnerships with that are always looking for more volunteers.
    Out of Town Vacation Self-Care Ideas

    Choose 2-3 Priorities.
    This is a tactic that Rick and I employed on our honeymoon, especially for our days at Disney World. Instead of overwhelming ourselves with all the possibilities that we could do – shows, restaurants, rides, parades, etc. We chose 2 or 3 things that were the most important to us and made sure they happened during our time there. Everything else we could do was done in leisure. I didn’t feel any regret walking away from Disney World because we did a lot of cool things, but didn’t do the main things I wanted to do. We have already decided to employ this on any future vacation as it helped the trip to be so much more relaxing and enjoyable than we could have imagined.

    1. Plan Downtime.
      If you’re a vacation over-scheduler, this is particularly important. Most people returning to work after a vacation have crammed so much in that they return tired and in need of a vacation. Plan a few hours each day that are designated to relaxing, whatever that looks like for you. If you find sleeping in relaxing, sleep in. It’s okay to start your day later when you’re on vacation. This is something that I struggle with honestly. I want to do all of the things I can because I can’t guarantee I’ll ever be back. By choosing my 2-3 priorities for my trip, I feel freer to sleep in, to watch a movie or spend precious vacation hours reading.
    2. Stock Up On Gifts.
      This is kind of a weird idea. It’s not necessarily for your self-care in the moment. I’ve found it so useful in self-care later on during the year though. Whenever I see something on a trip that I know would make a great gift for someone I love, I buy it. I have a space designated for these when I get home that I can put it for safe keeping. When someone’s birthday comes up or Christmas rolls around, I check the spot. It takes away from super stress, especially around Christmas.
    Self-Care Ideas for Both Spring Break Plans
    1. Read.
      You knew I was going to say this, right!? Ha! Of course you did. I’m a book lover. Vacation time is really where I feel like my reading varies dramatically. I love getting lost in the story of someone else’s life, especially if it’s funny. (Mindy Kaling, I’m looking at you!) I love how it shields me from the world around me and lets me escape to another world for a bit. There’s also something about reading for your soul that is so important for our self-care. There’s a lot of books that might not be the funniest of books, but do look deeply into your soul to care for you on my 2017 Reading List if you’re looking for somewhere to start.
    2. Journal.
      When I think of journaling, I tend to picture someone sitting at a table with coffee for hours writing until their hand is cramped. The reality is that journaling looks so many different ways. It can be a ton of words, drawings or even bullet points. It’s whatever is needed to get what’s in your mind expressed on paper. It’s such a good release to get it out there and be able to truly visualize it in that way. Here’s three of my favorites to get you started: floral + ruled paper, simple + unlined, and a journal for non-journalers.
    3. Spend time with loved ones.
      My hope is that you are already doing this. If not, you should schedule it in on Spring Break whether it’s a phone call, Skype session or a good old-fashioned dinner. Make time for spending with your loved ones. Living out our days in community is something that we crave deep down inside and yet we easily set it aside during the rush of everyday life. Plan something. Plan anything with your people. It doesn’t have to be big or fancy. It just has to be you and your people together. You won’t regret it. I know I haven’t.
    4. Do something creative.
      There’s something about art that unleashes our emotions and relaxes us. I love art. I love the variety of forms that it can come in from paintings to collages. Participating in making art is so important. I ‘m not necessarily the most amazing artist, but I do love to create. One thing that I have to come to love lately are adult coloring books. They’re easily transportable. These ongoing masterpiece that can be put down and picked up again when one has time. I spent a bit of time last week coloring in this gem of a coloring book. Your creative may not look like my creative. If your creative is woodworking, building, redecorating or anything else, go for it!

    Happy Spring Breaking!

    Ashley

    What This Crazy Texas Weather Is Teaching Me About Seasons

    Sitting pool side with warm rays of sunshine hitting my face is not something I get to do often. Doing that in February though is crazy unheard of. It’s been an uncharacteristically hot winter. You could even say that we have skipped spring and beckoned summer to come play with us a little early this year. It’s a bit ridiculous. A bit ridiculous yet still super cool. I’m loving reading outside in my backyard this time of year in spite of the crazy Texas weather.

    There’s quite a downside though. I love fall and winter fashion. I enjoy fashion year round, but there’s nothing like throwing on a vest and a scarf and heading outside to face the frigid temperatures. (Okay, in Texas frigid temperatures are like 60 degrees. Laugh all you want northerners. This Texas girl just can’t handle it.)

    It’s not just about the fashion though. Texas can’t make up her beautiful little mind. Leaves on the ground or bluebonnets bursting through the ground. What has happened is that we’ve been switching from tshirts and shorts one day to a winter coat the next. It’s a lot to handle and is causing severe problems. I just got back from running some errands in a long sleeve tshirt and a vest. It’s February. That seems like a considerably warm outfit for this time of year. This is insane. I’ve been sweating for hours! Thank the good Lord that a/c still runs on 60 in most stores. (Actually, that could be changed too but for different reasons.)

    All of this back and forth between the seasons stopped and made me think about what we’re missing out when we miss the seasons. I’ve been painfully aware of them over the past several days. God’s even placed on my heart an overt awareness of the season my life and heart are in.I like to sum up seasons with a word to remember them by. (I’ll be sharing my word on the blog for this year/season which happen to be the same soon.) If you’re not sure what season you’re in, it’s okay. Ask God to show you what he’s doing in you, what the key themes he’s trying to get you to grasp right now are. You may just be surprised.

     

    Be Aware of the Season You’re In

    I could have easily hit the weather app on my phone while I was brushing my teeth. I would have known a short sleeve tshirt would have been enough for running errands this morning. This seems so simple. Yet, how many of us don’t check what season of our lives and we’re in or where are hearts truly are? Right now I know I’m in a season of healing, a season of giving myself grace and a season of intentional growth. With this seasonal perspective, I know how to prioritize my time, what to say yes to and what to say no to, and how to equip myself for this current season.

    Live Into The Season of Life You’re In

    Living into the season where you are living is the absolute hardest thing one can do. We long for the future. In the future, we’ll be better, we’ll eat healthier, be more fit, have our life perfectly balanced, a successful career, the happiest of happy homes, and all of our relationships will be satisfyingly perfect. We will have our quintessential version of a perfect us and a perfect life. That’s just not true friends!

    It’s so easy in the midst of a tough season to say that you just have to grit your teeth, hunker down and try your hardest to get through this season. You can certainly do that and I have definitely done that a time or two. It gets you through, but you miss so much of what is going on around you. I wish I could go back several seasons and start over. If I could go back in time to past seasons, I would focus on and learn the things that I am learning now. I could have learned some lessons in past seasons if I had stopped to truly realize what God was doing in that season and let Him fully do it.

    I’m in a weird season currently. I’m in a season that I long for to be over. I know that if it was over tomorrow, I would have missed it in so many ways – settling into a new marriage, discovering who I am sans my identity being tied up in what I do for a living, learning to give myself grace. I need this season. I need to lean in fully and be okay with what awaits me. Even when what is waiting for me turns out to be something scary.

    Do Prepare For Future Seasons

    Seasons change. It’s a beautiful thing. It can be a scary thing though. Each season is meant for it’s own purpose. If we live into that purpose while being aware and preparing for future seasons, I think we’ll be better for it when we face that season with all of its unknowns.I know that I won’t be in this season forever.

    One day, I’ll return to a traditional job. Knowing that, I’m getting ready for that future transition now. I’m seeking opportunities I may be interested in when the timing is right. If my skills don’t match up with something I’d potentially love to do, then it’s time to see how I can acquire those skills. It’s time to look at what has held me back in the past and how that can be changed for the future. The ground work I am laying now is in the small things. These things like learning to eat healthy seem small and maybe even too easy with a lot more time on my hands. When I go back to work though, I’ll have new eating habits where I’ll be okay leaving the entire box of donuts in the break room for other employees.

     

    I pray you’re living into the lessons of this season friend,
    Ashley

    Starting Over To Become A Better Me


    I love, love, love the idea of everyday adventures and unseen beauty. Oh how I wish my life could be that! I wish those were things that really exemplified my life – searching for unseen beauty in things that may not be so lovely and seeking out everyday adventures in the mundane. It just doesn’t seem like that is where I am though. Maybe it is where I was and maybe where I’ll circle back to in a different season. Right now though, that’s not the season I’m in. It’s not where my heart is. I think I just need to start over and work on becoming a better version of myself.

    Why Start Over?

    I believeIt’s a season of changes, healing and restoration. It’s also an incredibly challenging time of sorting out of the identity of who I’ve become versus who I wish I had become or could become. I’m questioning my current life path. I’m seeking out past hobbies that once brought me joy and looking at them in a new light. Due to all of this and the switching of priorities of taking care of family matters first instead of working for a career, it’s time for a fresh start, a new chance at who I wish I’d become. Some days, I have the desire to look at my life penciled on a page and start ferociously erasing. Afterwards, I’m left with imprinted scratches and a somewhat new-ish slate. It’s something I can start over with. With each pencil stroke, I can begin to build something new, something better.

    Why Becoming A better Me Starting Today?

    As this journey has started, one thing has become incredibly evident. I have changed significantly over the past several years. Unfortunately, I think the vast majority of these changes aren’t for the better. I’m not saying that I believe I need to be the perfect woman juggling her career, kids, faith, home, friends, family and everything else with exact and precise balance while living each moment with intentionality. There are areas of my life that I feel like I’m not good at though, that I feel like need improving. I don’t feel like I live each day with intentionality. The thought patterns I’ve developed over time could use a major overhaul. I don’t give myself grace, yet I know I need to learn to do so. These things won’t change overnight, but I believe I can start to become a better version of myself one day at a time starting today.

    What Does Becoming A Better Me Look Like?

    In short, I have no idea. So many areas of my life that need redemption. From my questioning faith after seeing so many Christian failures as well as my floundering relationship with Jesus to a new healthy lifestyle that isn’t filled with pinned workouts while I’m seeing how many donuts I can eat in one sitting. Due to my love of research and reading. I know that research and reading will play heavy roles on this journey. I know being truthful, honest and eagerly seeking out answers will be on the way. This journey will be filled with changing things/habits/thoughts/routines, trying new things/foods/workouts and discovering that even an older dog can learn new tricks. The cool thing is that each day is new and what becoming a better me looks like today may be different in a year or so depending on the season.

     

    Grab my hand and let’s journey together!

    Ashley