Laura Rennie

Cooking, reading, and watching, lately (v.2)

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I hope your (almost) summer is off to a great start! After a weird stretch of cold and rainy days, we're finally experiencing sun and OH HEY 98 DEGREE WEATHER. One of my favorite things about summer is how my body craves movement and fresh fruits and veggies. I'm going to barre classes 2-3x a week and I feel like a superhero every time I leave class.

Here's a bit of what I've been up to lately...

COOKING

I've been mostly sticking to quick meals or even throwing random things together and calling it dinner. (Naan pizzas for the win!) We've been eating a lot of salad — this one is our current favorite. It's easy to put together and perfect for serving friends, especially if you're serving someone who doesn't eat meat. You can keep it simple and serve it as a side dish or add protein to turn it into a meal.

Apple, Feta & Pecan Salad
Butter lettuce (or a Spring mix)
Crumbled feta cheese
Diced apple (use 1/2 for two people, a whole apple for 4)
Chopped pecans (or walnuts)
Balsamic dressing (our favorite)
Optional add-ins: dried cherries or cranberries, crumbled bacon, chopped chicken breast

A friend posted about this Korean Beef Bowl and I knew we had to try it. (Plus, I'm a big fan of Chungah's recipes.) IT WAS SOOO GOOD! And she's right — it takes all of 15 minutes to make, if that! 

I also gave this Maple-Glazed Skillet Chicken Breasts With Sweet Potato Hash a try, and despite the fact that I burned the maple glaze so much the smoke alarm went off and I had to throw it out, it was delicious! (I remade the glaze, but with much less syrup since I ran out, and I drizzled it over the chicken and sweet potatoes without reducing it down.) I chopped some of the leftovers up for Chloe and she loved it.

READING

I've been doing a rather fabulous job of setting my laptop aside at night and sinking into the tub with a book. I leave my phone in another room and pour in my favorite bubble bath. It's a much healthier form of "me time" than binging Netflix on the couch with a plate of cookies in my lap (though I do that now and then, too).

I got on the Liane Moriarty train a few months ago, and I'm not getting off anytime soon! I read "Big Little Lies," "What Alice Forgot" and "The Husband's Secret" and I have "Truly, Madly, Deeply" next on my list. Moriarty's books are fun and easy reads, but they're cleverly written. She does a great job of creating a variety of complex female characters and captures the female brain PERFECTLY. (If you're wondering about the content, I'd rate it PG-13.)

Another book I recently finished: "God and Jetfire" by Amy Seek. It's a memoir about a birth mother's experience with open adoption and both regretting her choice while knowing it was the right one. I listened to Seek's essay on the Modern Love podcast last month, bawled the whole way through and immediately checked her book out at the library.

“One afternoon we sat together on my futon and cried, knowing we were crying for our own exclusive concerns, and out of compassion for each other. We were tragically enmeshed; each the source of the other's pain, each the threshold of the other's future. We stood like tired boxers, clinging to each other to stop the beating. I could end her suffering, some of it, but only at my own expense. She was the only one who could see the magnitude of what was happening. She wasn't telling me it was somehow good for me. She knew what was at stake; she was weighing it every moment. We were two pieces in a puzzle that were negotiating the exact shape of the cut that would at once connect and divide us. We were pressing at each other through a curtain to establish the precise profile of our grief.” 

It wasn't an easy book to read, and I found myself torn between being annoyed/frustrated with Amy and feeling sorrow and compassion towards her. Let me know if you read it!

Also, I somehow missed this post on passion when it was published back in February, and I'm so glad I came across it the other day! This is another thing I'd love to discuss with someone... hint hint!

WATCHING

I'm reading more than I'm watching TV these days (ahhhh, it feels good to say that and mean it), but my "me" show of choice right now is Top Chef. I'm re-watching past seasons and loving it just as much as the first time around. I can watch five minutes of it at a time and not feel torn about pausing it.

I'm also watching "The Handmaid's Tale" because the book took my breath away as a teenager and remains one of my favorites of all time, but GUYS. This show is rough. It's a little too much for me to handle — thank goodness for fast-forward. It's not a feel-good show in any way shape or form, but I think it's an important story, now more than ever. The show is really well done, but I'd much prefer to recommend you read the book. (Seriously, read it.)

As a couple, we're watching "Better Call Saul" on TV and "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" on Netflix. Titus Andromedon is my spirit animal. Kimberly! Use your key! I'm Lemonade-ing!

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What are you cooking, reading and watching lately? I'd love to know!

Dear Chloe, On Your First Birthday

MotherhoodLaura RennieComment

Dear Chloe,

You are 12 months old! 52 weeks! 365 days! Over 8,000 hours!

With each turn of the clock, my heart has beat with love for you. You fill me with wonder and joy. Before you, there was a time I was a shell of myself. I felt hollow and disengaged. I missed the "real" me.

You brought me back, Chloe Mae. Now my eyes are filled with sparkles and happy tears. My bitter cup was made sweet.

My prayer when I was pregnant with your sister Jane was that it would be God's pleasure to bless us with a healthy child. That He would find joy in giving us something we desired so greatly. I don't know why He allowed us to experience her loss, but I do know one thing for sure: the heavens rejoice over you, and we do, too.

The first time I met your birth mom I made a joke to my family members that I was going to ask her for her baby. We all laughed, but God knew I wasn't really joking. God knew that a thread had been woven, a connection had been made, and five months later you would be in my arms.

I can only imagine the delight God must have in giving you to us. I think of how your father and I call each other our "puzzle piece" because we fit together so well, and how you are another perfect fit in our family puzzle. He knew you would look like your daddy with your blue eyes and that you'd have long fingers like me. He knew you would love to laugh and snuggle and read.

I marvel at you, Chloe. You are sweet, smart, beautiful and funny. I am honored and proud to call you my daughter.

Happy birthday, precious one.

xoxo
Your mama

Mother's Day Gift Ideas

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Mother's Day is a month away — do you know what you're getting the mamas in your life? Whether you're looking for your wife, mom or close friend, I've got you covered. Here are my top picks:

For the grieving mama (who finds this holiday particularly painful)

  • even if you can't afford a gift, send a card. It will mean a lot.
  • a Laurelbox — with this free download for a card (or, create your own package — I suggest a magazine, chocolate, and a face mask or bubble bath)
  • flowers or a plant
  • a gift card to the movies, spa or coffee shop

For moms of all ages

  • a gift card to Target that's ALL FOR HER
  • the insistence (not just offer) of your service: I'm going to watch the baby/kids so you can nap, I'm vacuuming the house, I'm bringing dinner, etc. — and get it on the calendar asap!
  • anything from The Jones Market (their gorgeous teething jewelry is a great gift for mamas of young babes, and the print shown above is just the sweetest thing ever. I bought it for myself!)
  • pretty or fun pajamas (I like this set and this fun top)
  • a fun photo-related gift (that isn't a mug), such as a set of magnetic prints or a bookmark (I use photographs as bookmarks all the time)
  • a neck wrap she can microwave (like this) — often available at stores like TJ Maxx or Marshalls
  • an experience you can share together — tickets to see her that musician she loves but you've never heard of, coffee and treats at her favorite bakery, or even simply a walk around the park just the two of you
  • fancy chocolate — World Market, Trader Joe's and Wegmans are all good places to look
  • wine ;)

 

While all these gifts are lovely, there is one thing moms want most: Sleep. Haha. OK that's true, but what I really think is the most precious thing is to tell them they're doing a fabulous job. 

 

Dear Chloe (10 months)

Motherhood, Around hereLaura RennieComment

Your first birthday is getting closer and closer, and it's really freaking me out! Realizing how quickly the time is passing has made me even more determined to enjoy slow days and appreciate every precious moment we share.

In your tenth month...

  • Your Aunt Katie did your swim class with you, and then Grandma took you a couple weeks later! You've always enjoyed being in the water, but now you no longer get upset when you go under and when your eyes get wet. 
  • I took you to story time at the library and "babies at the Bear" (interactive song and play at the toy store downtown). We hadn't gone to either activity since you were only a few months old, and you have so much fun! You explore with no fear and don't seem intimidated by the other kids.
  • You started clapping and dancing! You love "Patty Cake" and music and wobble your upper body in the goofiest way. 
  • You got two more teeth! You now have EIGHT TEETH, you little shark baby, you!
  • You started slapping me. I'm not a fan.
  • You started snuggling more. I'm a HUGE fan.
  • You learned how to go down stairs. You're still getting the hang of it, but you're coming along!
  • You know what several things are and will get them if we ask you to. This never fails to amaze me. We can say, "Where is your caterpillar book?" and you will crawl to your books and rifle through them until you find "The Very Hungry Caterpillar." You've heard us say "ball" or "caterpillar" or "blue block" so many times that I guess you've picked up on it!
  • Once you learned how to clap, you grasped the idea of asking for "more" in sign language (FINALLY). It's adorable.
  • You started pushing a walker! You took to it immediately and love dancing to the music the walker plays.
  • We can no longer keep up with you. With each month you become increasingly curious and on-the-move, but this month it went to a whole new level with getting into cabinets and drawers and pulling books off of the bookshelves. 
  • You went through a crummy phase of waking up in the night screaming like a banshee and sometimes crying for an hour or more. We play an animated version of "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" on YouTube for you when you are sick or super upset. It instantly calms you and makes you smile. (Though sometimes you cry when it ends.)
  • I spent a night away from you for the first time. Both of us did well —thank God for FaceTime!

You have a big personality and an even bigger heart, baby. We love you!

Dear Chloe (9 months)

Around here, MotherhoodLaura RennieComment

I don't know how it could get any better than this. You are at such a FUN age! (Your ninth month of life was January 2017 — I'm always behind on these letters!)

Chloe Mae, you are a joy to be around. You smile, talk and laugh all day. There are only a few things that upset you, and they are: when you finish a bottle, when you're told you can't touch my laptop, when you see me eat my belVita biscuits (which I mistakingly shared with you once) and having to wait for food to be put on your tray. You also sometimes get cranky when you're put down to be changed or buckled into your carseat.

Things that make you happy: being sung to, dancing, reading books, chasing your ball (or roll of painters tape), swinging, going on walks, chasing the dog, watching the neighborhood kids play through the window, playing "peekaboo," climbing over your daddy, toys that make noise, Face-Timing and FOOD.

You are one busy girl. You crawl so fast that sometimes you trip over yourself. You go from room to room and play with everything from empty cereal boxes to a roll of painter's tape to a stray sock. You can stand up against something and bounce and talk for what seems like ages.

NOTES FROM NINE MONTHS:

At your nine month appointment you weighed 19 lbs 4 oz and measured 28.94 inches long. You're super tall and everyone thinks you're older than you are and tells me you don't look like a baby anymore. (Way to depress me, people.)

One of the most exciting things that happened this month was hearing you say, "guh guh kuh" — aka "good girl, Casey." You say it over and over to the dog and it never gets old. You're such a chatterbox! You said the word "baby" perfectly for a few days and then stopped. It was adorable while it lasted!

Your favorite books right now are "Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See?" "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" and "Home Sweet Home." You turn the pages and smile and giggle and look at each picture with intense concentration. One of my tricks for calming you down when you're upset is to recite the words from "Brown Bear" — I know it by heart!

We've learned that if you crawl away and we want you to come back, we only have to start reciting a book or sing a song and you'll come barreling towards us with a huge smile on your face.

You've started understanding space better this month and will peek under, over and around things. Though it's a bit hit or miss, there are times when you'll correctly point to things I've asked you to find, or picked up a toy I've asked you to get.

One of your Christmas presents from Grandma and Grandpa was enrollment in a "Water Babies" class at Hood College, which you started this month. The indoor pool is loud and busy and a bit overwhelming for a little one, but you seem to enjoy your class. I'm not a fan of putting on a bathing suit in the winter, but seeing you in your little pink suit makes it worth it. I love the way you hold me tight in the pool and how you smile when the instructor pulls you around on a kick board! 

You FINALLY went down to two naps a day this month! Whoohoo!

We can't get enough of you, bunny.

Reflecting on "Grace Not Perfection"

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I finally read one of my Contentment Challenge books — "Grace Not Perfection" by Emily Ley. Emily is the creator of the item that was at the top of my Christmas list in 2015 — The Simplified Planner. She is a Christian, small-biz owner, wife and mama to three young children. I thought her book would be more geared towards creative entrepreneurs, and I wondered if it would relate to me now that I have set aside Laura Rennie Interiors. But the book read more like general encouragement to let go of how we think our lives should be or what they should look like and instead embrace the gifts and blessings we've been given with gratitude and grace. I LOVED "Grace Not Perfection" and actually cried while reading the last chapter. I did not expect to enjoy it as much as I did! I really didn't know anything about the book before I started, but I expected it to be a self-help book for the exhausted entrepreneur and figured it would be interesting but not necessarily super relevant to me. I couldn't have been more wrong!

So what IS this book about? Emily addresses various aspects of a woman's life — her dreams, interests, insecurities, faith, family, friendships, work and home — and challenges readers to find ways to make those aspects less overwhelming/draining and more simplified and grace-filled. The book is split into three parts: Grace With Yourself, Grace With Your People and Grace In Your Calling. Emily shares about her struggles with infertility, her business mistakes (which made me cringe and laugh out loud), the tears shed over sleepless nights and messes everywhere, and more. She offers practical solutions for creating space and time for things that matter most. It's part memoir, part how-to.

While she tries to reach a wide audience with her sweet words, I would hesitate to gift this book to a woman struggling with her singleness or a woman who desires children but doesn't have any. Emily's husband and children are very present in the book and I could imagine that if I read this book a year ago, I would have different emotions about it. It would be very easy to feel bitter while reading this book — it's by a cute, successful woman who has a beautiful home and family and is friends with a lot of well-known cool creatives. If you think you can read this book and not hate her for those things, read it! It's so good! But if you're nervous it would cause you bitterness or envy, that's OK — better you know that about yourself and don't give into temptation. Because this whole book is about grace, I chose to go into it with an attitude of grace: grace for Emily, grace for her advice, grace for myself, etc.

The reason I enjoyed this book so much is because I am at a stage in my life where I'm a wife and young mama who is juggling work and home and passions and friendships, and I so appreciate being reminded to have grace for myself and others! I love her encouragement to ignore the piles of laundry and dirty dishes for one more day in favor of spending quality time with family.

"God cares more about us abiding by His commandments and loving big—feeling deeply alive and free from the traps of perfection and comparison. He’s watching us scurry about, saying, 'Sweet girls, why are you so hard on yourselves? All this worry and busyness is for what? I’ve given you all you need.' 

"It's fine if your dresser drawers look like they've been hit by a natural disaster. Are you still able to find things? Awesome. Do what works. Forget the rest."

If you don't have time to commit to reading the book, this devotion by Emily Ley is short, sweet and super powerful.


I've now read "Present Over Perfect" and "Grace Not Perfection" and I have "Chasing Slow" on my bookshelf to crack open soon. I think it's clear what my heart is craving! My friend Shannon wrote a great article that also goes along these lines — her resolution is to manage less and connect more. I immediately decided to join her in this resolution. 

"In reality, my kids don’t need a perfectly streamlined schedule, or a household budget reconciled down to the last penny. They also don’t need a month’s worth of menus planned or a freezer stocked with thirty crock pot meals. They need their mama." — Shannon Hicks

AMEN, right? So today instead of watching TV or scrolling Instagram while feeding Chloe her bottle, I simply held her and sang to her. Instead of using her awake time to do a grocery store run, I took Chloe to storytime downtown and invited someone I met there to walk Carroll Creek with us. Instead of using her nap time to clean or do laundry, I arranged a snack-y lunch and ate it on the deck, soaking up the sunshine and using my laptop to watch one of my childhood best friends on Chopped. It is 76 degrees in Frederick right now! I love it! I'm staying outside as long as I can.

I do have dishes and laundry to put away, a floor to vacuum and dinner to cook. But there is still time left in the day, and I couldn't be happier with how I've spent it so far.


I'm pretty good at putting off household tasks, but I'm NOT good about releasing myself from the guilt I feel when I'm confronted by the mess. Things have to get done, right? At some point I do have to do the managing, the cleaning, the errands, etc. But I also don't want these tasks to come before being still before my God and being present for my family.

Emily recommends using Sundays as a day for managing and prepping for the week. I used to do that, and have gotten out of the habit. I'd love to know: do you like to do divvy up chores between days of the week? Get everything done at once? Play it by ear? (I'm currently a play-it-by-ear gal who dreams of having a housekeeper.)

The Holy Spirit spoke gently to my soul this morning. "Laura, your family has clean laundry, even if you pull it out of the basket. You make most dinners, and when you don't, you have mozzarella sticks in the freezer. You guys love mozzarella sticks! You are only a 10-minute vacuum away from having gorgeous floors. You cheer on your husband, you snuggle your baby, you give your all to your job, you call your mama and you listen to your friends. You are far from failing. Your life is full, but it's full of good things."

I'd love to know your thoughts on all of this! Tell me how you are choosing grace not perfection. Tell me what's not working and what you hope to do about it. Tell me you'd love to come vacuum each individual stair in my house. (Haha, but really.) Remind me we're all in this together! :)