Cacophony: a harsh discordant mixture of sounds

synonyms ~ din, racket, noise, uproar

In my house it sounds like Sam's guffaw mingling with the giggles of the girls as they all crowd around Sarah's

computer to watch their favorite clips from Mr. Bean.

It's the sound of the metronome's tic toc keeping time to Emily's piano playing.

It's the clang of plates and silverware as the table is being set and the oven timer goes off.

Its the low rumble of a kitten's purr as they settle in our laps for an evening snooze.

The sound of his voice telling me he loves me as he kisses me goodnight.

The rustle of the bed covers and the familiar sounds of the house settling down for the night.

It's the sounds of grace and blessing...sweet reminders that I live a life of abundance...evidence of His provision.

Every now and then we are given the privilege of walking along someone as they travel a difficult road.

We weep with them as they grieve with hope and we dance beside them when God turns their mourning into joy.

And then we join their chorus of praise as God blesses them abundantly more than they could have asked for.

Maybe that's why looking at these pictures makes me teary eyed. I watched these sweet friends suffer with grace during seasons of loss and wait with hope for a baby to love. I witnessed their indescribable joy taking their son home and I've been humbled hearing them pray for his birth mother.

And then, in His generosity God has given them another son due in a few months.

How amazing is that?

It's also this little fella's cheeks...or maybe those big brown eyes...that get me when I look at him.

 I know he gives a lot of joy to his Mama and Daddy!

Such a precious family!

family portraits, Pensacola, downtown Pensacola portraits

And it doesn't hurt that I took my most absolute favorite tummy picture of all time with them, either :-)

baby bump portraits, belly pictures

 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,  from whom every family  in heaven and on earth is named,  that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.
Ephesians 3:14-20

The weather this week has been so wonderful! My windows have been open and I have found myself finding reason to be outside frequently.

In the last couple of weeks I've been to the beach or near the beach for a variety of reasons like photo shoots or dinner to celebrate buying our home.

But I haven't been able to stop long enough during those times to enjoy my happy place.

So today one of my best girlfriends will drop her son off at school while I drop mine off at the school and we will head to the beach. With packed lunches and cameras in hand we're going to wander the fort, feel the breeze blowing, lift our faces to the sun, and put our toes in the sand.

I realize this glorious autumn weather we're having probably won't last...we live in Florida after all.

But for this day I am going to savor it...rejoice in it...and not waste a single ray of that autumn sunshine.

It's been said that a happy family is but an earlier heaven. It's a beautiful idea that I caught a glimpse of over the weekend photographing this sweet family.

Ft. Pickens, Pensacola Beach, family portraits

It was the first time I'd met Mark but I knew Amy when she used to teach K4 at Trinitas. It is always such a pleasure when I get asked to photograph the same people more than once and having done Mr G's first birthday pictures I knew I was going to enjoy seeing those bright blue eyes and quick smile again. He's pretty much always been a handsome fella, hasn't he?

We had decided to do the pictures at Ft. Pickens and we had a good laugh at how almost creepy the fort seemed when we first arrived...we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

How precious is Mr G picking and giving flowers to his Mom?

Ft Pickens, Pensacola Beach, family portraits

It didn't take long to see how much this family loves each other...truly a bit of heaven here on earth.

Ft Pickens, Family Portraits, Pensacola Beach

Thanks for spending the afternoon with me you guys!

I cannot remember the last time I was so excited about a recipe! For some reason this pin for a baked spaghetti casserole caught my attention and I couldn't wait to make it. I actually made it two days in a row...once with a penne pasta for our weekly church potluck (I was also missing mushrooms and forgot the Tabasco sauce) and then for dinner Monday night using spaghetti noodles and adding in the mushrooms and hot sauce.

For the record while I am normally a penne over spaghetti noodle kind of gal  this recipe is definitely better with angel hair. And the hot sauce is a definite must have ingredient although you could leave it out. There is just such a small amount though that I really encourage you to use it and keep it handy in case you want to add extra. I also added extra veggies because lately I really just like them.

It has all kinds of flavor and a creamy cheese sauce that mixes well with those vegetables. Another bonus is that it all comes together in one big skillet so clean up is relatively easy too.

What you'll need:
2 cups cooked and chopped chicken
1 package angel hair (or spaghetti noodle of your choice) cooked according to directions 
2 cups sliced mushrooms
3/4 cup celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 medium to large bell peppers, 1 each yellow, red, and orange, chopped
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 cup of milk
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz colby jack cheese
1 tsp hot sauce of choice (I added 1 1/2 tsp and we still added a dash more when we made our plates.)

What you'll do:
Saute your veggies in 1 TBS of butter for about 4 minutes.
While they cook mix together the soup and milk and whisk until smooth.
Pour soup mixture into the vegetables.
Add chicken.
Stir in the cheddar cheese until melted.
Season with hot sauce (also salt and pepper to taste)
Add in the pasta and mix well.
Pour into a 9x13 pan.
Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until bubbly and a lovely golden brown.

chicken spaghetti, fresh veggies

Such a delicious meal that will feed quite a crowd making it perfect for large families or potluck gatherings.

Titus 2 Tuesday   Tuesday's Table

Although I didn't get a lot of comments on the blog post itself, the activity I shared here a few weeks back generated a lot of interest on facebook and pinterest. Easy busy work with a purpose for little people is apparently something people are curious about I guess.

Remember my friend Gabriel that I mentioned? He needed something to do that offered a bit more of a challenge. More than likely you probably already have everything on hand that you need for this activity ~ you simply need a plastic bowl and some clothes pins. But there are other ways to make this appealing to children and now that school supplies are on sale it's a good time to stock up on various types of clips. You can also use squares made from either cardboard or heavy card stock instead of a bowl for your child to clip the pins to.
I like the bowl since it doubles as a holder.

Again, this is a simple activity that will help develop small muscle control and that all important pincer grasp. The regular clothes pins were easy for Gabriel but the metal clips presented more of a challenge since they were harder to squeeze open. A variety of clips in different styles, colors and sizes will keep the activity fun.

Remember that clipping the clips to something is only half of the task...taking them off and cleaning up is part of the process.

You can also easily turn this into a math activity by writing numbers on index cards and having the child clip that number of pins to each card. Or instead of numbers make it a color matching game by matching your clips to colored squares.

It seems like it wasn't that long ago that I was posting birthday pictures of Abby but somehow it's time to do them again.

She's an even dozen this year!

Such a splash of joy in our life!

She has started piano lessons.

She's quick to hear correction and has the most tender of hearts.

She has the soul of a nurturer and seeks to make people comfortable. She is loving the babies at church and is showing herself to be quite helpful.

She is working really hard on crocheting and doing so very well. Especially considering that she is kind of winging it because I certainly can't help her.

I hate the term "tween" but that is truly where she is...that strange land between childhood and young womanhood. So much of who she will be is still not clearly seen...hidden away in the mind of God as she continues to emerge from the world of babydolls and pretend.

 She has been such a delight and we look forward with great anticipation to all He has in store for her and the woman He is fashioning her into.

Happy birthday sweet Abby Dabby Doodle Bug! We love you!

I had to fight it when I first got the iPhone5s. I refused to be one of those people that snapped a quick shot of their food every time I sat down to a meal. The temptation was strong. I love food photography and the struggle was real, y'all.

But nothing like the battle I am facing these days.

In case you haven't heard the news, not only did we buy a house last week, but we actually became pet owners.

That's right. We got not one, but two cats. And oh my goodness they are the most precious balls of fur!
Having always been renters we've never had pets, much to the sadness of our children and despite their repeated pleading. 

But a friend sent a text with pictures of a neighbor's kittens and the rest is history. Originally we were only going to get one but after watching them playing I just couldn't stand the thought of taking just one. I knew the kids would love a cat but they're in school most of the day and I didn't want him to get lonely.

I wasn't sure I could convince my beloved, and to toot my own horn, I only asked once even though he originally said no to my request. The next thing I knew though, he was telling the lady which two we wanted. 

And this is where the battle comes in. They are just so stinking adorable that I am constantly reaching for my camera. Or my phone, which does video and they are just so cute when they're wrestling with each other but I am trying so hard not to be one of those crazy cat people that is forever sharing and posting and carrying on and flooding facebook with a gajillion pictures.

So I am going to just dump them here in a blog post and hope you don't get a cavity from all the sweetness.

Meet Tom.

And his brother, Milo.

Aren't they just the cutest? I am surprised at how much fun it is to just watch their antics. The funny thing is since they are still such babies, only five weeks old, they sleep a lot. And when they've been playing and get tired they sort of nod off and fall over. 

See why I needed a whole blog post instead of facebook? 

It's almost here. The first official day of Autumn is this month and even though I live in Florida and I know it won't actually feel like fall for several more weeks I cannot help but be excited about it. I'll hang the fall wreath my friend made me on the front door and pull out other autumnal decorations and at least pretend that it's cooler outside.

A friend recently shared a Taste of Home recipe for pumpkin bars on facebook and since I am smack in the midst of an I-wish-it-was-Autumn moment I knew I had no choice but to make them. I used a smaller pan (9x13 instead of a 10x15) so mine came out more cake like than bar like. But oh, man were they good! They were even better after being refrigerated over night and that is saying something because they were pretty darn fabulous the first go round.

pumpkin, cream cheese frosting,

What you'll need:
4 eggs 
1 2/3 sugar
1 cup oil
1 15 oz can of pumpkin
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda 
1 tsp salt

What you'll do:
Mix together the first four ingredients until well blended.
Stir together the final five ingredients and then slowly stir them into the pumpkin mixture.
Pour into an un-greased pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

For the frosting:
Mix together 6 oz of softened cream cheese, 2 cups of confectioner's sugar, and 1/4 cup softened butter. Add milk in small amounts until you get a good spreading consistency. Slather that goodness all over the top of the pumpkin deliciousness and enjoy!

pumpkin, cream cheese

It's official, we now have a mortgage!

We closed on the house yesterday. We've lived here for three years, so honestly I kind of thought we'd just go sign some papers and you know, "Woot! We own a home." So I was a little bit surprised at how giddy I felt after we signed and signed and signed some more papers.

But I am. Positively giddy and truth be told, it felt different walking into the house knowing that it is actually our home now. We don't ever have to move again unless we want to.

I had very little to do with the process since Rob has handled everything. We've had the best possible experience you could possibly have...all the pieces just came together for us to buy it. Part of the reason it all went so smoothly is because of our friend Cinnamon. She is a real estate agent who loves what she does and is fantastic at it. If you're in the area and you need an agent she's your gal.

Now that we've closed on the house we've got a few major projects coming up like getting a new pool liner, a sprinkler system installed, and the kids will do some bedroom swapping. I also have a pinterest board with various other project ideas...Rob is thrilled about it :-)

It's so exciting!

While I was pondering this whole life event this week I found myself thanking God for His provision and asking some very specific prayers.

Our front door.
May it swing wide in welcome and gracious hospitality and be an entrance to a place of refuge.

Our kitchen.
May our meals, however simple, be eaten in peace with gratitude. And may we give as generously to others as you have given to us.

Our living room.
May the comfortable chairs and cushy couch be fertile ground so that conversations that are like apples of gold in settings of silver will flourish.

Our bathrooms.
As we shower and wash may we be reminded that You have washed us clean through the redeeming work of Your Son.

Our bed rooms.
May we lie down in peace because You have caused us to dwell in safety.

Pool side.
May we frolic like children in the abundance of the good and perfect gift you have given us.

I don't think I have ever actually submitted a photo to an I Heart Faces challenge but when I saw this week's theme, and my friend Cindy's sweet submission, I realized I have a couple of pictures that would fit the category nicely.

I settled on this image of Abby.

I think it works rather well, don't you?

I tried to copy and paste the I <3 Faces button but couldn't get it to work. I'm sure the fault is mine but at least I know how to share a link.

One of the greatest lies we are tempted to believe is that we can write a better story than God. For ourselves. For our loved ones. For just about the whole world, really.

It can be innocent enough. We see someone we care about suffering and we immediately want to rewrite that chapter. Someone struggling financially and we wish for more disposable income to make life easier or better for them. A friend faces adversity and we yearn to smooth it out and remove the problems.

Sometimes it's not so innocent though. Sometimes we want to rewrite someone else's story because it doesn't read like we think it should. Or because we feel like the paragraph they are currently in should be ours. Or we simply want to make someone do something the way we think it ought to be done.

The narrative begins in our heads and we produce rewrite after rewrite so that our own story, our own chapter and verse that we find ourselves living at the moment, makes more sense. Or we're trying to rearrange our reality to what we think it ought to be.

It's ridiculous though. To think that with our limited knowledge and foresight that we could possibly craft a better love story, a better adventure, or a better triumphant story than the One who authored the greatest love story of all time, penned the grandest adventure known to man, and accomplished the most miraculous triumph in the history of history, is in fact pretty ludicrous.

It's like inserting our painfully pathetic middle school poetry in the midst of a Shakespearean sonnet. Or lifting a chapter from Moby Dick and dropping it into the middle of Pride and Prejudice.

Rob recently preached a sermon series on conflict that lasted several weeks. One of the Scriptures from really stood out to me, "For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself." Galatians 6:3

Ouch! The reason we seek to change and control our story, and the stories of those around us, is because we think we are something when we are not. At it's root, all of our rewrites and all of our attempts to script each other's lives, is pride.

Here's the thing. That verse is set right in the midst of several verses where Paul is telling us how to handle conflict and/or when someone is in sin. And I've shared before that we all need proofreaders in our lives. So it's not like God has called us to some passive existence that just allows life to unfold and happen around us.

But we have to be careful not to impose our own plot into the story line. We are called to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. I think we fail to offer genuine consolation and sympathy when we are so busy looking for ways to make things right or better. And unfortunately we probably miss out on sharing in a lot of joyous paragraphs because we're wielding our red correction pen with such vigor.

The verse in Galatians proceeding the one I quoted above says that we are to bear with one another and so fulfill the law of Christ. Sometimes we're a little further up on the page than another, or sometimes in a completely different chapter altogether. Regardless we need to love the story we're in.

Because the Author knows how it all comes together to tell a remarkable and timeless story that is for His glory and our good.

Mm mm, the deliciousness of Nutella paired with a a decadent brownie recipe.
So, so good.
I was actually surprised that I hadn't shared this recipe before. But better late than never, eh?

My girls were surprised, and a little grossed out, at the addition of applesauce to a brownie recipe but you don't taste it and it keeps the brownie incredibly moist. I have followed the original recipe exactly but the last time I made them I changed the way I did the cream cheese Nutella topping and liked it much better all mixed together.

nutella, brownies

What you'll need:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup + 3 TBS unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup + 2 TBS water
1/4 cup applesauce 
1/2 cup of oil
1 8oz cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla
6 TBS of Nutella

What you'll do:
Mix together the first five dry ingredients. 
Add in the water, applesauce, and oil stirring until blended.
Pour into a greased 9x13 pan.
Mix together remaining ingredients until smooth.
Drop by spoonfuls onto the brownie batter and then swirl it evenly across.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

nutella, cheesecake, brownies

Like I, so good.

Sharing with Creative Monday, Titus 2 Tuesday, and Tuesday's Table.

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I taught in a Montessori preschool. There are some things that I really enjoy about the Montessori method especially for those younger preschool years. Those first five years are just chalk full of so much happening in their little lives and world. It's such a fun and active time.

I learned a lot during my Montessori certification and used it extensively when my kids were little but with Claire about to turn eight (where did my baby go?!) I haven't given much thought to all of that. But I've got some friends with preschool age kids so lately I've been thinking about simple activities that can be done easily. Because I am blessed to have a lot of these little people in and out of my house on a regular basis I started pulling together some things for them to do when they come over. I have a large basket on my washing machine where I am adding and keeping stuff as I make/assemble the activities. 

I thought I'd share them here too because it's nice to have ideas of things for them to do while you're cooking dinner or paying bills and whatever.

The great thing about most of the things you do with children this age is how developmentally helpful the activities are and the kids are clueless and just know they're having fun. They really couldn't care less that you are working to strengthen their small muscle control or eye hand coordination, both of which will be helpful down the road with reading and writing. For them work is play and play is work.

Another great thing about these type of things is that they can be put together on the cheap or you may have stuff already on hand. The first thing I put together required a sugar shaker (the Dollar Tree) and some wooden skewers I already had. This activity can be done by children as young as two and as old as five with some modification.

My friend Bobby is two and he played happily with this for almost 45 minutes. I showed him the pointy end of the skewer and we talked about it being sharp and how we needed to be careful with it so no one got hurt. And then I showed him how to poke it through the holes of the sugar shaker lid. This kind of activity works their small muscles, specifically their pincer grasp, and their eye hand coordination. It also helps develop their ability to concentrate and their ability to follow directions. 

small muscle development, montessori inspired, preschool activities

A few days later my little friend Gabriel, who is three, came over and he wasn't interested in this game at all. It was too easy for him which got me thinking how it could be modified to suit older kiddos. 

Changing out the skewers for pipe cleaners makes it more difficult to get in the holes since they are more 
bendy.You could also throw in some color matching skills by adding pony beads to the process. Once they've placed the pipe cleaners in the holes you can have a bowl of  beads ready for them to thread onto the matching pipe cleaner. Have them count the beads and now you have them doing math :-) 

One thing I want to add about these kinds of activities is that when I was using them with my kids clean up was part of the process. I wanted to reinforce the idea that they were not completely done with the task until everything had been returned to its proper order. I Corinthians 14:40 reminds us that everything should be done decently and in order and it is in simple little ways like this that we can instill that concept into our children so that it becomes their way.

Next time I'll show what I came up with for Gabriel that kept him busy for a little while and was more challenging for him.

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