Montreal – The Sites

By Natalie

Montreal-068

Montreal has so much to offer for an extended stay. It’s a great walking city which is right up our alley. Everywhere that was too far to walk we opted for Uber which was much easier than renting a car. I’d recommend doing this to any city you visit. We’ve learned through experience that paying for parking can often be a hidden travel expense. In addition to not having to worry about parking the locals know their drivers as well as their streets better, plus they’ve acquired the knowledge of cut throughs. Brandon was much more at ease that he didn’t have to drive and I was much more at ease being picked up on our doorstop and being dropped off right where we intended to be.

Montreal-072

The Olympic Stadium

Montreal-056

Montreal hosted the summer olympics in 1976. Commonly remembered as the year Nadia Comaneci of Romania scored a perfect 10 in her gymnastics routine. We toured the museum, stadium, went up to the observatory for an amazing view and finally we saw the swimming and diving pools which is now open to the public. You guys I was geeking out. I’m a huge fan of the olympics. Brandon turned to me while our guide trailed off in french and he whispered, “I know this isn’t really my thing, but I’m pretty excited for you.”

Montreal-073Montreal-075

Biodome

Montreal-069

The biodome is full of different ecosystems where you can see dozens of animals. We saw a capybara roughly the size of our 80lb black lab! He took a mud bath, then went for a swim much to all the children’s excitement. We also came across raccoons, bats, a crocodile, so many birds, monkeys, fish and penguins.

Montreal-080

Montreal-082

Montreal-078

Montreal-087

Insectarium

Montreal-093

How incredible is the detail on all of those beetles? There’s so much to see here. Any bug lover would love this stop. It’s not me by any means but I still found all the critters fascinating. The dead ones. I just moseyed past the live wolf spider. No thanks.

Butterflies

IMG_1166

Botanical Gardens

Montreal-094

Unfortunately after the olympic stadium, biodome and insectarium we had little reserve to continue walking around. Each of these sites were right near eachother and connected by a great walking path. The Botanical Gardens were way bigger than we realized. We would have spent so much more time there if we had the energy.

Montreal-098

Is there any place more romantic than a rose garden?

 

Rose Garden

Bonsai

Montreal-102

Montreal-110

Underground City

There’s a series of tunnels and malls under the city that is most commonly accessed at Eaton Center. We didn’t particularly go to shop so much as we did to just check it out. Most stores were similar to the ones you’d find in the states. After a half hour of browsing we were so overwhelmed and worried we’d end up lost that we decided to hop out onto the street to check out a nearby bookstore instead.

Oh and I promise Brandon was actually on this trip too. He was just taking all these amazing photos ♥

Brandon Photag

 


Montreal + Thoughts on Travel

By Natalie

Montreal-115Every time we step out of our comfort zone we’re forced to reassess the direction in which we live our lives. Brandon and I set aside the time to ask each other the tough questions. Are we where we want to be? If we’re not how do we get there? Are we gracious friends? Are we generous enough with not only our income but our time? Are we surrendering our struggles enough? What are our current priorities?

Monday morning we flew out to Montréal Quebec right around the time of the eclipse. It wasn’t quite as dramatic in the stratosphere. Watching the excitement of our fellow passengers was much more enjoyable. After a full day of rushing to our connecting flights we finally sat on our last plane to Montreal. Relief washed over  Brandon’s face as we prepared to land. I took a moment to be grateful. Our pacific coast highway road trip remains one of my favorite memories in our marriage. We had something we certainly don’t get enough of. Something fleeting that cannot ever be retrieved once it’s gone. Time. Time to talk and love on each other. We were about to embark on a new adventure. One that I knew we would come out of feeling refreshed and closer than ever.

Lately I’ve been working on speaking up. I’ve never felt like my opinions or dreams mattered much. I never want to inconvenience someone and even more so I do not handle confrontation well. If I receive the wrong order at a restaurant I say nothing. I clam up and shush the ones I’m with who clearly heard me order something different. That’s who I am. I’ve always made do with the hand I’m dealt. Never questioning and sadly never fighting for what I truly want. I’ve received some help since and have been asked “But what if it’s a bad deal? What if you are in fact not inconveniencing someone but helping them to give you the best experience?”

I’d never thought of it that way. I’m learning that I do in fact have a right to express my desires. I’ve come to understand that they may not be practical or they may take time but nonetheless I am free to think them and share them. The only hard part has been finding out what those desires actually are. After years of stuffing them down I’ve had a difficult time finding out who I truly am. Who is Natalie Poe? What are the answers to those simple who, what and when questions?

Who do I love? Brandon with my entire heart. My close friends, my family, Bingley. What makes me happy? Worship, reading, writing, candles, music, knitting, hosting, being generous. When do I feel most like myself? When I’m with Brandon or in deep conversation with a close friend. In prayer. When I’m home in Charlotte much to my family’s dismay. But mostly when I’m traveling. There’s something about being immersed in a different culture especially one where a different language is spoken that causes you to strip away everything you know, opening your mind to ideas and possibilities you never would have imagined otherwise. I mean come on, every Uber we got into the driver said to me, “Bonjour Madame.” Every lady needs to experience that once in her life.

I haven’t been certain of many things in my life but I have been certain about these things. God always has and always will love me. He has never forsaken me. Not for a second. Brandon is absolutely who I want by my side for the rest of my life. Friendships are important and they take alot of simple courtesy. The travel bug bit me in 2006 on a trip to Europe with my sister and it’s been holding on since. All I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a wife and a mother.

I am an altruist. An introvert. A dog lover. A writer. A reader. A maker. A lover of the small things in life. I’m someone who is just now finding out who they truly are which has been the sweetest and toughest journey in my life yet.

I certainly would have been happy to stop by a farmer’s market to grab some groceries and stay in Montréal for the next month. Our airbnb was gorgeous. Brandon and I had the most difficult time pulling ourselves away from the city after only five days of exploring. A piece of me lies there. Dreaming to be a traveler. Dreaming of a nomadic lifestyle in which we make our nest wherever we land. A girl can dream can’t she?

IMG_0791

We were located about a 10 to 12 minute walk from the Old Port.

B was obsessed with the architecture, which truly takes you back in time.

Montreal-013

Montreal-011

Montreal-017Montreal-030

Montreal-022

Montreal-039Montreal-054

Montreal-052Montreal-055Montreal-029Montreal-031Old PortWhy stop here right? Why stop in Montréal when there is so much more of the world to experience? I have some serious fernweh. A certain farsickness that aches inside me longing to visit different places. That’s gotta be my next tattoo.

About That Stephen King

By Natalie

IMG_0533Growing up if J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter was demonic then Stephen King was the devil himself. I’ve had this stigma about him all my life. His books are untouchable. He writes horror, they shouldn’t be read. Until I realized that my goodness I am twenty six years old and I can read whatever I choose.

Don’t worry, I didn’t go straight for It or Carrie because I don’t think they are particularly my cup of tea. Perhaps I’ll read Christine one day simply because that’s my middle name and who doesn’t love a good suspense about a car with a vendetta? Who knows, we’ll see.

I was stumped after reading Mary Poppins and terrified of losing the momentum I’d acquired in my reading this year. That’s when I toyed with the idea of reading a Stephen King novel. For the past couple years King has unexpectedly become an inspiration in my writing. In desperate searches for substance during my many writing blocks I’d find quotes of his or snippets from his books always surprised to hear they were King’s.

The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there… and still on your feet.

You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.

Precisely. As an avid reader I’m desperate to become an avid writer. Whenever I’d hit those road blocks in my writing I’d consider King’s words.

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others; read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.

&

If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.

These words have done wonders for me when I didn’t feel the urge to write. I could feel it welling up from somewhere deep down, but it would never reach the surface until I simply sit down to give it the time of day. I’ll often jot down terrible beginnings and even worse middles. The important thing is that I got something down. Eventually it’d turn into something substantial or it branched a new train of thought for a new post. During the times when I feel absolutely discouraged or uninspired I’ll use this quote as an excuse to read. That’s where I’ve been all this time. Nose buried in books. I may not be up to date on my writing this year but my reading has become a satisfying escape which I’ve convinced myself is an important tool in writing. I’ll take King’s word on that one.

I know what you’re thinking, this is the man who’s mind came up with Pennywise that terrifying shapeshifting clown. Did I get that right? The man who has written so much horror. But he’s also the mind behind many other suspenseful books and a captivating memoir which is definitely next on my list. Plus this ↓ This right here is a writer’s gold. This is everything I feel as I sit here time after time attempting to bear my soul.

The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them — words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.

When Brandon shared the trailer for The Dark Tower movie I knew it was time. Time to finally read one of the books of this author I have admired for so long. I shared with Nadir through unsure gritted teeth that I was thinking about reading a Stephen King novel.

After I explained why her next words were “Hey if he inspires you then I say go for it.” That evening I popped on my kindle and devoured the first few pages of the The Gunslinger. I figured it was a fitting choice as I’d read that King was inspired by Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, thus he created the Dark Tower series.

IMG_0530In under a week later I finished The Gunslinger and have now been flipping between his memoir On Writing and the second book in the Dark Tower series The Drawing of the Three. Which I recently picked up at the library. Or as I like to call it The Happiest Place on Earth. Move over Disney.

Just Your Average Bibliophile

By Natalie

IMG_0532As a child my mom would offer to pay me a dollar for finishing one of my many American girl books. I’d skim through them but remained completely uninterested. I had yet to read a book that sparked my imagination. Somewhere along the way that spark eventually caught fire to something deep inside me. I finished a book I was forced to read for school finally feeling that sense of accomplishment that couples with reading a book cover to cover. After that I was hooked.

There’s a series of books and events that I believe have lead me to become the reader I am today. This is that story.

In fourth or fifth grade I read Out of the Dust. The book captured the dryness of the 1930s dust bowl through the fictional eyes of a little girl. I still remember the desperation of the people during that time and I remember the strained relationship the little girl had with her father. I completed a project on the book which entailed summarizing the story and its characters on a poster board folded book jacket. I was proud of myself for not only finishing the book and project but for allowing myself to become engrossed in the words on every page. I’d found a new love for reading. I received a C on that project. I remember that vividly because my teacher hung each book jacket on the ceiling above our desks. My big red C spun above me for at least a week and I wondered where the disconnect came. I loved the book. I tried my hardest to emulate that through my work but it didn’t translate, at least to my teacher. As much as I could have let that discourage me I continued seeking new worlds through thousands of pages.

Sometime after that I read Homeless BirdThat’s the first book that opened my eyes to the wonder of different cultures. Which remains a favorite genre of mine.

Following Homeless Bird I had to read Esperanza Rising for school. I encountered my first book block and didn’t actually make any headway on it until I found my sister at the kitchen table one day with the book in her hand. She’d just finished it and encouraged me to read it. Soon after that I flew through the pages all the way to the end. Then and there Nadir and I had our first book discussion. Our first of many. She loaned me The Bean Trees which I read one hot summer spread across the living room wingback chair. Wingbacks truly are the best for reading are they not? The Bean Trees was my first true adult novel and I devoured it.

I moved on to the Secret Life of Bees which kept me wanting more out of stories. On to The Sugar Island which taught me that although I didn’t particularly care for a blah story, reading was still reading. It remained my favorite pastime always leaving me hungry for more. Nadir at some point when I was in High School finished A Bend in the Road by Nicholas Sparks. I have this vivid memory of her stepping out of her room with tissues in hand. Tears steadily streamed down her face. “I finished it.” She muttered. “It was so good.” She said as she continued to sob. That Nicholas Sparks. He’ll get you every time. It was then that I realized just how much emotion could come with this new hobby of mine. I want to feel that rawness I thought to myself. I want to become so engrossed in a book that I can’t contain my emotions. I want them to change my perspectives. I want them to blow my world apart and step in someone elses shoes while my eyes remain fixed on their words.

IMG_0529

Nadir read Memoirs of a Geisha, then she passed it on to me. This was the first time I truly became attached to a story’s characters. Feeling their pain and wanting more for them.

[Spoilers]

“I don’t want Sayuri to be with Nobu!” I pleaded with my sister. “She loves the Chairman. Tell me she ends up with the chairman or I won’t finish it.”

Nadir smiled and encouraged me to open my book back up and keep reading. I came across my first complex characters in Memoirs. As much as I wish to explain them to you here you simply won’t understand until you read the book yourself and form your own attachments. This book completely broke my heart in the best and worst ways.

If it weren’t for Nadir’s encouragement or vulnerability I might not be the reader I am today. The people around us truly shape who we are whether we choose to believe that or not.

Soon after Memoirs I read The Lovely Bones which left me angry. Every page was painful to finish leaving me feeling so out of control just as the main character of the story had been. I wanted to rip her from the pages. I wanted to write a new story for her and erase all of the horrible parts. I wanted justice for her. Every few chapters I’d walk into Nadir’s room furious. At some point I’m certain I even threw the book across the room. She lay there, bright blue cover begging for me to finish her story out. Ultimately I was left unsatisfied with the ending. But something greater had happened in my world of reading. I’d felt it all now. The full spectrum of emotions that authors invoke upon their readers.

Since those days I’ve read dozens of books. Goodreads pushes a reading challenge each year which has helped me to keep up with my reading regularly. You can catch my most recent reads below ↓

2016 Reads
2017 Reads

Perhaps it’s because I only read two novels last year, but this year has been loaded with Fiction. Fiction is the literary vacation and I’m enjoying it while it lasts.

You’re probably thinking my reading material is rather eclectic which would be absolutely correct. Generally I’ll reach for anything from dystopian, to classic, to cultural fiction, to a good honest memoir. I am however always up for reading anything recommended.

If you’re curious what has been added to my ever growing To Read list you can check that out here.

See You Soon

By Natalie

Today was my last day as a nanny to my precious charges. But this is not the end.

IMG_0473

After nearly three years I felt like it was time for them to have a fresh face. Though it’s the most difficult thing to walk away I ultimately want the best for them and right now that isn’t me. The boys deserve a refreshed presence with a whole new batch of enthusiasm. I want it to be me. I’ve prayed for it to be me. But sometimes things are necessary for a season and I’d say I had a pretty good run.

No more prepping Caleb’s cookies and strawberries before he gets off the bus. No more Grant patting his pillow and begging, “Natalie lay here.” When I put him down for his nap.

No more getting Caleb into his swimsuit just the way he likes to wear it. Which is backwards.

No more getting Ryder off the bus and watching him run to his plate of pickles and hummus with crackers.

No more Ryder opening my car door for me.

No more Grant saying “Natalie, come here! Look!” At whatever latest creation he is proud of.

I can’t believe there’s no more. I didn’t teach them enough, kiss them enough, hold them enough. I certainly didn’t squeeze them enough. I didn’t tell Jacob and Mandy enough how much I appreciated them. They were always understanding. Always supportive. Never once did they make me feel uncomfortable, or unappreciated.

Believe it or not I’m going to miss sorting all those socks, peeling all those mandarins and wiping all those tears.

Though I won’t be there daily I know the door is always open for me to visit, spoil and love on them, which makes my transition much easier. This is no goodbye Coggins family, I will definitely see you soon because I already miss you.

I’m a nurturer to the core so it’s no surprise I’ll be embarking on a new adventure very soon. Two boys will be in tow this time. Because I know nothing but superheroes, diggers and jumping off of the most daring ledge. I have to thank my Coggins boys for teaching me everything I’ll need to know not just in caring for children but for my own life. They taught me to laugh at myself through every fall I had. How to be silly through every slide I was too big for. How to love someone so unconditionally through every tantrum they threw. Patience through every struggle they had communicating with me. They taught me that people can be cruel but they can be resilient, and if they can be resilient through judgement I can be too. They taught me to be myself and love myself just by being so individually themselves.

IMG_0475

image

I love you boys so very much. Caleb remember to be a good helper. Read lots of books! You’re such an encouraging big brother. Be good this summer and maybe Daddy will bring you Chick-fil-a! I want you to have an amazing summer you water baby you.

Ryder remember to ask for squeezes when you need them. Never stop giving compliments. Even if you only say “I like your shirt.” It always went a long way for me. Go easy on the cheese sticks and finish all of your apple before you throw it away.

IMG_0471Grant big boy Grant. Stay sweet and kind. You’re a great helper too, you can always choose to set a good example even if you are the youngest. Grantsy one last thing. Don’t forget to pee in the POTTY!

Thank you for all the adventures boys and all the love. I wish I could have given you so much more.

Life Lately

By Natalie

hipster

My sister called me a city hipster recently. I have no idea what she means.


Our schedule has been all over the place this new year. While I’m ready to slow down and take a break I have to admit that I’ve enjoyed our busy schedule.

Bing hotel

We kicked things off in January with a week long hotel stay courtesy of our apartment complex. They had been undergoing some renovations for the past few months and needed to do some work in our apartment. We were grateful to get away from the noise and have our own mini staycation.

IMG_8442


Geese

Grant is learning the difference between a duck and a goose.

FullSizeRender_3


Bing tent

We thought we’d take advantage of the warmer weather and plan a camping trip the first weekend in March. Of course we ended up enduring 30 degree nights, but the days were warm and we had the perfect amount of quality friend time.
image

kabobs

Pam camping

Pam makes a stinkin good S’more.

IMG_9107


ocean 1

We spent our second weekend in March taking the Coggins up on my Christmas present. A weekend spent at family’s condo in Atlantic beach. We’ve really been missing out on off season beach trips and have totally decided to do it more often.

B beach

IMG_9164

Brandon Beach

It was just about exactly what we needed.

N Beachnatalie beach


I finally tried Hex coffee. Definitely in the top five.

Your coffee won’t last around here if it can’t stand on it’s own. There’s just too many places that have it figured out.

Hex


I took a break from social media and have a whole new outlook on it. I know, myself and everyone else right? I simply realized that I wasn’t living as much in the small moments that I could be. Through taking a break I was able to appreciate the small things for what they were and not for what others thought of them. Before I took a sip of my mocha at Hex I started an Instagram story.

“How do you like it?” Brandon asked.

“I haven’t taken a sip yet. I’m doing an Instagram story.” I told him.

“No one really cares about your cup of coffee babe.”

You see after nearly six years of marriage the truth sometimes comes flying out without any sort of sugar coating.

While I wanted to take complete offense I quickly noticed he had a point. It’s not so much that nobody cares. It’s more so that I was diverting my attention away from Brandon. He was excited for me to try Hex. He took time out of his day to take me out, why would I spoil that to sit and sift through a dozen photo filters? Nodding my head as he tells me what’s new in his world, while my full attention is zeroed in on that little device. Is it because it feels normal? Because I seek gratification in the opinions of others? I started to really question my reasoning for sharing.

This is a deeper issue and a touchy subject for most. But it is something that’s been on my mind and my heart. We do live far from family and to a certain extent social media has become a way to keep up with them. Lately I haven’t had the energy, or the words to compile a single blog post but I do wish to share a tid bit on Instagram. I think reasoning for sharing is different for everybody. For many social media can be a healthy and useful place. For a while there it evolved into a toxic place for me to compare myself to my peers and seek their approval for my own life. That caused me to seriously shift my perspective. It’s still a place for memories to be captured and shared with those I love. But now I’m more mindful of where I am and who surrounds me in that blurry space beyond my phone.


I made this beauty one weekend recently. I was in love with similar wall hangings I’d seen on etsy and knew I could come up with something from my yarn stash.

IMG_9286


Our allergies hit us like a ton of bricks again. When I finally had the stamina to make it to Trader Joe’s for our weekly groceries my cashier made small talk with me. He asked if I had plans for the weekend. I told him I was getting sick so I’d be resting all weekend. He asked if we’d lived here long, that allergies can be rough for newcomers. Yada yada. I said yes, could be allergies. Then he grabbed the pink tulips I picked out and said “You know, I’m going to give you your flowers for free so you feel better. You get lots of rest this weekend.”

How sweet is that? I told him that wasn’t necessary and he insisted. He made my day with his kind gesture. He also ensured my loyalty to Trader Joe’s for life.

image

To the Boys

By Natalie

IMG_7970

FullSizeRender_1

To Caleb when you were eight,

“Matalie hike it to me, hike it.” You said as you passed me the football in the backyard. I’d throw the ball your way and you’d dive for it because I’m a terrible throw. “No hike it, hike it!” You yell, and throw the ball back.

“Oh hike it, ok. Ready?” I turn around and bend at the waist. “Set. Hike!” I toss the ball to you through my legs. You catch it and proceed to run laps around the yard chanting “Woooo!” cause that’s your thing. Eventually you get tired of my terrible throwing so you decide to throw the ball upwards and catch it that way instead. Then you run past me football tucked in one hand, and you stretch your other hand out for me to smack it as you run by.

You love chanting, cheering, singing, music and sports. You are the truest and most spirited boy I’ve ever known.


IMG_7956

To Ryder when you were five,

You bravely waded your way all around the shallow end of the pool last summer. Puffing your chest out showing me what a big kid you were. You can take a serious fall, and you hardly ever cry crocodile tears. Now that you’re in school all week our time together has been shortened. But the time we do have has been all the sweeter.

One morning when I picked you up for school you stomped and huffed because you either didn’t want to go to school, or you didn’t want to go to school with me, but with Daddy instead. Once I dropped you off at school before you got out of the car you leaned forward to kiss me on the cheek. Smitten, I watched you walk down the sidewalk. You turned and leaned down so you could meet my eyes through the windshield and you waved. “Bye Ry.” I mouthed to you super confused by your hot and cold demeanor.

But you were already galloping toward the school doors in a hurry. You’re always in a hurry to get places aren’t you?

You love food, tight hugs, learning, wrestling and affection.

You are the wildest and toughest boy I’ve ever known.


FullSizeRender

FullSizeRender (5)

To Grant when you were two,

You and I spend lots of time together during the school year, little bud. You may not remember it all but I certainly will. Every moment, every milestone, every kiss, every laugh.

Leaving my apartment once I asked you if you wanted to take the elevator or the stairs. You said stairs more likely because it was the last thing I said but we took them nonetheless. As we walked down the stairwell you shaped your mouth into an O and said “Who, who.”

“Hey little owl.” I replied. “You like hearing your echo in here? Is that why you wanted to take the stairs?”

“Jeah.” You responded.

You’re talking a ton and trying desperately to keep up with your rowdy brothers these days. When you don’t have it in you to wrestle any more you seem perfectly happy picking out a book with me and sitting in my lap while I read you a story.

You love playing, exploring, soccer, mud puddles, your big brothers and kisses, oh those two year old kisses may they never go away.

You are the most genuine amiable boy I’ve ever known.


FullSizeRender

To Bailey when you were twelve,

I miss you quite a bit buddy, and your family misses you dearly.

You were a good dog. Such a good dog, picking up after the boy’s spills so I didn’t have to worry about them. Whether we stepped in dripping from the rain, or exhausted from the heat you were always there to welcome us home, happily wagging your tail.

Caleb mentioned you in the car to Grant just the other day. He whispered in the sweetest tone, “Grantsy you miss Bailey? It’s ok. Mommy and daddy had to take him to the hospital. He’s ok now. He’s a star.”

It’s lonely without you sweet boy there’s no denying that but we couldn’t ever forget you. May you rest and be at peace now.

Meal Planning

By Natalie

FullSizeRender (1)A new year seems as good a time as any to get things in order and start meal planning.

Usually when you decide it’s time to get organized in an area of your life it’s as a result of becoming frustrated or overwhelmed with your current circumstances. I became frustrated with the massive amounts of food going to waste in our fridge when we first got married. I never had a list for the grocery store and would find myself aimlessly walking around the aisles picking up whatever looked good. That got expensive, time consuming and unhealthy very fast. Who wants that?

It took quite a few wilted veggies and moldy loaves of bread for me to finally decide I needed more of a plan. Less fussing over what on earth I was going to make for dinner each night. Less spaghetti every week, because I didn’t know what else to make. I started small making lists, trying new recipes, planning for every meal we’d be having. Now I can’t imagine shopping without the prep.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned along the way.

Tips:

  1. Find a good source for recipes. (Blogs, Instagram, Cookbooks, Pinterest →You can follow my Meal Planning board here. I make 85% of everything I pin to this board.)
  2. Use an app, or set aside a small notebook to write down your menu for each day. Keep it in the kitchen to help keep you on track.
  3. Plan to go out every now and then to treat yourself! It’ll feel like a freebie in your menu and you won’t have to worry about food going bad that you decided not to make that night.
  4. Make sure to line up your menu with your schedule. If you’re working until 7pm you’re not going to want to come home and prepare that roast that takes an hour to cook. Save it for a chilly Saturday.
  5. Plan meals that use the same ingredients. If your personal pizzas, and that chicken broccoli casserole dish both call for shredded mozzarella cheese, jot those down for the same week.
  6. Plan early! Don’t push off menu planning for an hour before your grocery trip. You’ll feel rushed, and as a result you may end up with a scribbled list that does not coincide with tips 4 and 5. I’ll admit this is a hard one for me!
  7. Set reminders on your phone for prep you need to do before dinnertime. Set one for defrosting your chicken in the morning, or washing and chopping veggies ahead of time. Doing these steps earlier will lessen the load when you’re coming home after a long day.
  8. Read your recipes ahead of time! Take 10 minutes to read through the recipe you’re making that day just to become familiar with it. There’s nothing worse than realizing you needed to marinate your meat overnight, or finding that you’re in fact out of an ingredient you thought you had when the soup is half done!
  9. Chat with your grocery cashier! I suppose this one depends on where you go, but typically the employees at Trader Joe’s are willing to tell you what else you can do with those sweet potatoes if you ever get tired of roasting them. They know what’s in stock, and can suggest different combinations you never thought of.
  10. Buy Fruits and Veggies in season! You’re probably not going to find the best and brightest strawberries in December. Nor will your best tasting zucchinis be in March, but rather around June – August. Keep a chart close by like the one I compiled below. Or buy what’s selling at the Farmer’s Market currently.

Blogs to follow:

food stuffs

Happy Meal Planning!

Filled to the Brim

By Natalie

image

Here’s the thing. You can’t tell me that God doesn’t answer prayers. Because I’m standing next to one.

I’ve been surrounded by answered prayer all year.

A year into moving here I prayed for God to bring true friends into our lives. People we could share our lives with, laugh with, eat with, celebrate with, support and love.

It seemed like a silly plea at the time, but worth asking for because God has come through before with so much more. I confided in an old friend when I was at my lowest through a written letter and as soon as I received her reply I felt completely wrapped in her love. She wrote, You are noticed. Heard. And seen. Although you are in such an uncomfortable season, I can assure you, you fit.

That’s all I needed to hear. I fit. I didn’t know where yet, but I fit. I signed up to serve in eKidz and Brandon and I joined a couple’s small group, where we found true friends we could go through life with.

IMG_7335

At the end of the summer a few of us drove westward to our neighboring mountain town Asheville.

We ate and walked all over town chatting, laughing, and building stronger friendships.

IMG_6674

This trip took place right in the middle of the gas shortage in our area. We drove out to Asheville with half a tank and didn’t think much of it. We figured we’d fill up the next morning on our way out. So far we hadn’t seen any gas stations in Charlotte out of commission, so we deemed it something the news most certainly was blowing out of proportion.

That was only until we rode out of Asheville with an empty tank. The first gas station we saw was out of gas. The next two we hit were out as well. By the fourth and fifth gas stations we really started to panic. We were driving further into nothing, with a screaming empty gas light.

The plan was to meet our friends for lunch at Sierra Nevada, just another 10 minutes out from where we were. Nine empty gas stations later we rolled into the parking lot. We walked in to sit at the table an hour late. Brandon hates dissapointing people and I hate being late. We were embarrassed and frustrated. I had chocolate cake for lunch which about sums up our experience.

But this story is all to speak highly of our friends. They were gracious and listened to our woes. I felt safe after such a nerve wracking drive.

After lunch Nate and Pam offered to drive us in one direction to find gas, while Russell and Jamie drove in a different direction to do the same. The first to find gas in this eerily post apocalyptic setting was to grab a tank and get it back to our car.

Jamie called, “I hear you’re looking for gas. We got it.”

We pulled up to the station they were at and saw Russell crouched down filling a tank for us. If that isn’t true friendship, then you tell me what is.

We made it back to our car and filled it with enough gas to get back to the station.

We made it home safely and it’s all thanks to our friends.

IMG_6729

At the end of 2015 we were given jars full of water at church. We were to come up with one word as a prayer for our next year. Once we had our word we poured our jars out, believing God would fulfill the desires of our hearts. I’m here to tell you that in my life He has. He always has.IMG_7858

City Living

By Natalie

rp_IMG_7317-1024x768.jpg

We moved recently to the Southend of Charlotte. We’re three blocks down and a couple over from the Panthers stadium, a five minute walk to Brandon’s work and a whole lot closer to everything we love. Two months ago we were in that pickle of deciding to stay where we were which was a great space, just not quite what we envisioned, or to move on. Brandon and I are move on until you get it just right kind of people.

We began our apartment hunting after the change of ownership at our old complex. In efforts to be sure we would get exactly what we wanted this time we toured nine different places. Including one gorgeous loft in the city with exposed brick walls. We had to say no to it, after we realized we would only have street parking, and the laundry was in the basement of the building three flights down. That kind of thing is only fun to watch in sitcoms, not so fun to do in reality. After careful deliberation and discussing with supportive friends we happily chose one of the first places we saw.

We packed up our precious belongings and trashed or donated the rest to uproot ourselves once more. Each time we move we’re refining our lives to be just where we want them. Getting down to our essentials, and creating a cozy nest full of only things we love. By no means are we true minimalists, we both enjoy too many hobbies for that and we’re still the slightest bit sentimental. However, we do well downsizing every now and then.

Our space isn’t just this little apartment, it’s spilled onto the sidewalks all over Southend. It’s on every street corner that I catch a glimpse of the skyline and am left feeling inspired. It’s in the downstairs lounge where we shared coffee this morning before Brandon had to head out to work. It’s in the coffee shop across the street and the park down the road.

Last week Brandon was sitting in nearly an hour of traffic to get home. Now he’s meeting Bingley and I on the sidewalk corner for lunch at a hot dog stand. The woman at the cart asked if Bingley ate people food. We said yes, and she cooked him up a broken hot dog she was unable to use. Lots of hungry laborers stretched their hands out to pet Bing and give him lots of love. To my left I saw a city I love, and to my right my very happy family. Friendly faces all around and my heart was full. This is my safe place. I never thought I would feel safe exposed out on the sidewalks. Not until I saw dozens of other dog walkers in the evenings. Men and women all dressed up with their earbuds in walking to work in the morning.

FullSizeRender

I kissed Brandon on the street corner, and he walked back to work, while Bingley and I walked back home. It’s perfect here.

God’s been teaching me alot about contentment. When we were dating I used to tell Brandon my plans for the future. It all sounded canned, and naïve. When he questioned me about it, I’d say, “because that’s what everybody does.” It makes me cringe thinking about it.

Brandon would say “Who’s everybody?” and I had no answer for him. That’s when I really got to thinking about it. Is there one right formula in which you should live your adulthood? Absolutely not. Some people prefer the space of the countryside. Some people prefer the bustle of a city. Some moms wish and are able to stay home, some wish or need to work. I see a never ending ladder people our age are scrambling to climb, desperate to reach certain points when our peers do, and frantic if we don’t. Something inside me really wants to kick down that ladder. It’s why it seemed like a step backwards that we bought a 3 bedroom house, and now live in a one bedroom apartment. In reality for us it’s 2 steps back in space, and 10 steps forward in quality of life.

You know that old verse your Sunday school teacher would tell you when you had a test coming up, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me Philippians 4:13. Have you read the context lately?

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned to be content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:12-13

In a recent married women’s study I learned the context of that verse. Be happy, and content where you are. Don’t wait until you have it all to start living. You see, we live in a world full of comparisons. That’s nothing new to you. And you know, I think I’m done with it. As I was writing in my journal recently I felt like God was saying “Let it go. The life I have designed for you will be so different, there is no use in your scrambling. It merely shows your lack of faith in me.” Woah right? Sometimes we need God to tell us like it is. Whether I have what they have or not, I’m good. Whether they approve of my lifestyle or not, I’m good. I finally started paying attention to what works best for us, living in the faith that God has a different set of ladders for each and every one of us.

1 2 3 14