Friday, December 23, 2016

wish lists

I love kids' Christmas wish lists. I love what it reveals about their little personality, what they love, and where they are in their growing up journey. To try to keep some control over the Christmas craziness, we tell our kids they can ask for three things from Santa. We explain that Jesus got three gifts, and we want to make sure Santa has room in his sleigh for everyone else's toys. Adhering to the three wish limit, here are our 2016 wish lists:

Barnes- a build-a-bear workshop that makes bears at home and two ninja turtle toys of Santa's choosing.

Frances- a lego Rapunzel castle, a doggie guitar, and shopkins.

Shepherd- Octonauts toys, a jack in the box, and a Mickey suitcase (which was Tinkertoys until just a few days ago)...and he often forgets the three wish limit and adds in a firehouse play doh set.

Ellis- he can't really tell us what he wants yet, but we're pretty sure he just wants to take whatever the big kids get.

Considering we've talked to Santa about ten times this season, I certainly hope these wishes come true on Sunday.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

tree hunting

Every once in a while I open my eyes enough to be stopped in my tracks by this life. This crazy, hectic, sticky-finger-filled, loud life. This life full of hugs and tickles and "I love yous." This life where I wipe bums all day and am handed boogers on an hourly basis. This life full of kids and energy and innocence. This life where I somehow feel both totally empty and totally full at the same time.

Advent encourages us to slow down, to prepare, to make room. This season lends itself, if you let it, to noticing the joy in each your days. With four kids and a list of to-dos that just keeps getting rewritten on the next week of my planner, noticing the joy is not always my strongpoint. But this season, I'm determined to see the magic around me.

I'm pretty sure it's going to be a sweet, sweet December.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

preschool pics

Is there anything better than a cheesy school picture??? I assert that school pictures are one of the joys of life, and I submit the following as evidence:

ellis snuck in for a group shot...not sure why ellis is wearing a summer outfit...

they always want a twin picture.

frances katherine, pre k

she loves dresses and headbands and pink and purple

barnes howard, pre k

he loves blue and ninja turtles and his sister

shepherd louis, older 2s

he loves yellow and Cooper and being with friends

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

on politics and goodness

Sweet littles,

Today I hoped to be writing you a different letter. I hoped to be telling you that we had elected our first female president, a president that, though flawed, would reflect the values that we as a family hold dear. Instead, a man that I have a very hard time finding anything positive about won. You are too little to understand this all now (thank God), but you are not to young to understand the importance of love and kindness and goodness. Many years from now you'll be reading this, and I want you to know that your dad and I stood on the right side of history. I want you to know that the majority of American people stood on the right side of history, despite the results of the electoral college. And I want you to know that we have much to be thankful for and much to learn from this chapter in our nation's history.

First, please never take for granted the privilege into which you were born. Through no merit of your own, you were born to highly educated parents who both have a heart for social justice. Throughout your childhood and adolescence, you will be given every opportunity your heart desires. You will be given quality schools, extra help, exposure to innumerable extra curricular activities. You will be loved beyond belief by parents who have the luxury of flexible schedules that provide much quality family time. You are white--you are not a racial or ethnic or religious minority. Three of you are males, which still carries immense privilege in our society. Please, I implore you, recognize and acknowledge your privileged status. Be proud of your accomplishments, but always remember that you had a different starting line than many. And dear little ones, use your privilege to bring others up. That is my fervent prayer for you. Never, ever weaponize your privilege. Never use it as a tool to oppress. There is enough at this table for everyone, but all will not be served well until the privileged among us find ways to pull others up with our own fortune.

Second, protect and stand up for those who are different from you. There are no "others," as we are all children of God. God loves you and made you, but He also loves and made everyone else. When Jesus lived in our complicated world, he was consistently drawn to the marginalized. Today, in 2016, I see the marginalized in our society, and instead of loving them, many who purport to bear the image of Christ push them further to the edges. The immigrants. The Muslims. The lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender people. African Americans. The poor. And so many more minority groups, scared and hurting from a world that would prefer to hurl stones rather than extending a hand. I pray that as you grow, you will always be on watch for who the marginalized are. Figure out who society is shunning, and then figure out how you can love them and serve them and walk beside them.

Third, never let your own economic well-being trump the importance of kindness and goodness, and never put your own finances above another person's basic civil rights. I hope you grow to be wildly successful at whatever you choose to do. Part of that, of course, is hoping that you are able to create a stable financial position for yourself and your family. But please know that money is never more important than humanity. I am so dismayed that people could vote for a racist, sexist, xenophobe because it would be more beneficial for their pocketbook. Good people can have differing views on policy, but good people cannot have differing views on racism. Racism, wherever it is seen, must be rejected. It can never be excused for the sake of economics. Never. I'll be honest with you, little ones, this is where I am struggling the most this morning. More than 50 million people voted for a man who was openly racist during and before this election cycle. Some people I hold dear voted for him. But I hold firmly that by voting for a racist you explicitly condone racism. I am heartbroken that so many people still harbor hidden (or not so hidden) views that your race or sex or religion make you more worthwhile than another child of God.

Finally, and this one is super important, never use your religion to try to legislate others' lives. You and God get to decide how you live your life, but that should not regulate how your neighbor must live. Remember that the separation of church and state is a good thing, a very good thing. It is a central tenet in our democracy, and you must never lose sight of its necessity.

There's so much more I could say here, but here's what matters most: love God, and love people. It won't always be easy, but if you filter your choices through this lens, you will be well-guided. Know that in our family and in our home, we will continue to stress love for all. We will still ask you repeatedly what's most important in life, and "being kind" will still be the answer. We will continue to look for ways to make our world more just for everyone. We will pray for softened hearts, softened rhetoric, and healing for our America.

We love you. We tried.

Mom and Dad

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

halloween 2016

boo at the zoo 2016

The older they get, the better holidays get, and Halloween 2016 was truly a blast. 

Barnes knew what his costume should be, and there was no way he would possibly change it. He was Leonardo, his favorite Ninja Turtle (because blue), and he sported his turtle wear every chance he got.

Frances wanted to be a pink princess or fairy, but only wanted a costume that had an identical doll costume. Yea...kind of limited our choices there. Once we found the right combo, we had to get a "real" crown and princess necklace, of course. For our one family dress-up night, though, Frances strayed from her princess wear and went with Minnie Mouse, and 2014 throw back.

Shepherd has been saying for months that he wanted to be a fire hydrant, so I made him an adorable costume (though at 80 plus degrees, it was too hot for the pants). He wore his fire hydrant sans attachments twice, then switched over to Pioneer Mickey or Mickey Crocket for the family party, and Belle for Halloween. Belle was the 50-1 favorite going into Halloween, and Vegas always wins my friends.

Ellis was a wubb-a-nub, which is a pacifier with a small stuffed animal attached. He is addicted to his giraffe wubbi, which inspired his costume. For family night, however, we just had to pull back out the cutest Donald Duck costume ever. Those yellow legs are too much, y'all. 

Overall, it was an immensely successful celebration. The kids got too much candy, more than they could ever eat. Shepherd accosted people with glow sticks in our front yard--his "handing out" techniques were a little aggressive. Barnes and Frances yelled out "come get candy" to anyone who didn't stop in our yard, and I'm pretty sure they thought we were selling the candy. We challenged at least one kid's gender stereotypes with our male Belle, and we recorded no blood or other injuries. A definite win for our crew.

family dress up--we love disney

halloween night

our four dad to keep Ellis from jumping in the creek

little graces

As we pulled into the driveway tonight, Frances asked about our neighbor's dog. Was Ms. Patsy sad because her dog was gone? Honestly, I didn't think the kids were paying attention on Halloween night when Ms. Patsy told us of the dog's passing. But, of course, they heard. They listened to her words, even when they seemed engrossed in their candy, and they registered her sadness. After I explained that Ms. Patsy's dog had died, and that yes she was sad because she loved and missed her little friend, Frances quickly determined that we should do something nice for her. As soon as we entered the house, Frannie grabbed paper and started making a card...and Barnes and Shepherd joined right in.

I wrote three times in September, zero times in October. I've been trying to work more, yet mothering the same amount. We're currently dealing with pneumonia, bronchiolitis, and a back injury. We're looking at kindergartens. I'm trying to be more intentional with each of my four babies as individuals.  I'm potentially cancelling my first weekend away all by myself since the kids were born...for the second year in a row. As it is for everyone else, life is just a lot. Most nights, my well runs pretty dry.

I'm so thankful that I believe in a God who shows up in the little moments. Many yearn for spiritual mountaintops, but I feel God's love most tangibly in the mundane. I was so done with parenting today, but on the way home from dinner my possibly possessed stereo system (I really never know what might come on when I crank the car) decided to play sweet music by my dear friend. Music that reminded me that "little pieces of a broken heart" are enough. That we don't have to be whole and shiny to come to our Lord. That He takes us as we are....broken, bruised, cranky, needing medication.

And God took it from there. Shepherd made up some crazy story about how a fairy godmother had sprinkled his ear with magic dust and now it talked to him (but only he can hear it, of course). We voted unanimously that everyone's cough should go away. We made cards for our sweet neighbor, indulged in a little Halloween loot, and ended the day smiling on a night that could have easily gone awry.

What would I do without these little graces? These little graces, that though they are small in the scheme of life, often have huge impacts on my day? My prayer tonight is that I keep my eyes open, noticing and giving thanks for God's graces as they come, and teaching my kids to be ever aware of all the magnificent ways God loves his children.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

nanny and poppy

Even as an adult, your parents can sometimes continue teaching you. You may not agree on everything in life--your personhood is now more separated and you have a family of your own--but there are still sweet lessons to be found.

I am so very thankful for the way my parents grandparent my children. It's a joy to watch them be intentional, to watch them show up time after time for both the important and the mundane. To see my kids' faces light up when Nana & Papa (or Nanny and Poppy as they've become) show up for birthday parties and soccer games and Christmas programs and random lunches. I am learning from their relationship that the best way to show love really is time. That physical presence can mean so much. I am grateful for these lessons, and most grateful for the ways my kids are benefitting from them.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

my three-year-old sunshine

Sweet Shepherd,

You are three. You are crazy and wild and fun and adorable, and you are three.

You've grown up so much this year. You no longer just repeat things that the twins say--you make up entire stories all on your own. You talk and sing all day long. My favorites are "Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun" and "You are My Sunshine."

You love Cooper. You stalk him around the house and just want to lay your hand on him. You will sit and silently pet him for so long, you completely happy and Cooper a bit terrified.

You think you are as big as Barnes & Frances. You get so upset when they get to do something you can't. And for the most part, you totally keep up with them. You think their friends are your friends, and you get confused when things are separated based on age. Barnes & Frances are your very favorite people.

You're a little scared of Ellis. He bit you once, and for some reason every time he gets near you you start screaming and running, saying he's trying to bite you. You hate having to share with him and hide your toys from him.

You LOVE Belle. You love all things yellow, so her yellow dress makes her a hands-down favorite. The night before your birthday, you told me you wanted a Belle tea set. This was the very first I had heard about this, but knowing how much you love Belle, we made it happen. Now you dance through the house pushing your Belle tea cart, singing Be Our Guest and pouring a cup of tea into Chip.

You are the very pickiest eater. You say you will only eat macaroni and cheese, cheerios, and quesadillas, and you really don't eat too much more than that.

You are stubborn. You truly understand the power of no. You have all out refused to potty train.

You love construction, movies, soccer, TV characters, gymboree, bubbles, m&ms, ring pops, and performing. You like to wear your sunshine shirt.

You make everyone you meet smile. You have a unique charisma, and people fall in love with you.

You warm our hearts and make our family so much more special. We are so thankful to have been chosen to be your mom and dad. We love you immensely and cannot wait to see where your contagious spirit takes you in life!


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Shepherd's Trolley Party!

A few months ago, Shepherd saw a trolley out and about and suddenly remembered that the twins had a trolley party once, so he just HAD to have a trolley party too. When Shepherd wants a trolley, he gets a trolley, so this past weekend we celebrated our middle love with a big Daniel Tiger themed festivity.

This party turned out to be SO MUCH FUN. We had an awesome face-painter, which was a huge hit with all the kids. Shepherd and Barnes turned into ninja turtles, while Frances became a princess. There was a hot dog cart, bounce house fun, the cutest cake, and most importantly, trolley rides! Shepherd went on all three loops, and the kids got a dance party going aboard after the last round. It was completely adorable!

Shepherd was adamant about three things this year: 1) he wanted yellow in the decorations, since that's his favorite color; 2) he wanted the trolley to look like Daniel Tiger's trolley; and 3) he REALLY wanted to invite his own school friends. He got all three things, and he never stopped smiling. Pretty sure Shepherd felt very celebrated and loved as he gets ready to turn three.

we love daniel tiger

happy birthday, sweet shepherd

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Barnes and Frances-

Last week you turned five. A whole hand. This one hit me hard--I seriously cannot believe that my sweet baby twins are five. But I have to say, life with two five-year-olds is pretty amazing.

You guys are so much fun right now. You're witty and engaging. You love games, you make up stories. You can actually have conversations (though the questions you ask can be quite entertaining, i.e., "How do grown-ups play with each other?"). You dance and do gymnastics and run all through the house all day long. You just started soccer, your first team sport, and so far you are loving it. I love seeing your confidence grow each day, seeing you realize your independence bit by bit.

Barnes, you are my artist. You could sit and create all day. You love to draw, paint, color, do play-doh, cut, glue. And you're really, really good. You make little masterpieces every day. I love how determined you are, how insistent you are that the finished product be just the way you see it in your head. I am captivated by your creative spirit. B, your little brain is growing so much right now. Just the other day, you read me a whole book. You soak up everything around you. You love school, and you are always so excited to see your friends. You have the sweetest, most tender little spirit. I love the way you love with your whole heart.

Frances, you are a character these days. You are goofy and funny. You love to dance and make silly faces and different voices. You're getting into accessories, and on your birthday you wore five different necklaces to lunch. I love that you're growing your own little sense of style. You are still quite the little mama. You love your baby dolls so much--Kitty Cat Kitty Cat Frances Frances, Ava, and Suzy. You take great care of them, and you help me take care of your baby brothers. I am pretty sure you think Ellis is one of your dolls. You are a little social butterfly--you love friends and love school. You are always taking in the environment around you and are starting to sound like such a grown up. I love your precious heart, your sweet spirit, and your innate inclusivity.

Sweet little ones, I love you so very much. And I don't just love you...I really, really enjoy our days together. You are so fun to be around. Yes, you have your moments (and your days) when you're a little tough to parent, but overall you're both pretty amazing.

Sometimes I wonder about the three babies your dad and I lost. I get sad thinking that I'll never know them. But here's the thing--you were most definitely made for me and your dad. You are the perfect children for us, our perfect firstborns. God knit our family together in His perfect and mysterious way, and I am so very grateful to be your mom. I love that I get to be on this beautiful journey with the two of you.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016


Many months ago, Frances and Barnes decided they wanted a local kids' musician to play at their birthday party this year, so we got busy planning their very own music festival-- FIVE-AROO. We had the best day celebrating with friends and grandparents. From the concert to the snow cone truck, from necklaces and headbands to tattoos, the twins' fifth birthday party was one to remember. The best part was watching them feel special. Throughout the day, their faces were shining. And even a quick downpour as we finished singing Happy Birthday couldn't dampen the fun!

lots of singing and dancing and playing with friends

feathers, selfie booth, and microphones= fun

so thankful to have Nana, Papa, and Gigi here to celebrate!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

"my daughter's mother"

Little ones,

A few days ago history was made. For the first time in our country's 200 plus year history, a woman became the presidential nominee of a major party. Now, I try not to project my political leanings onto you. Maybe you'll grow up and be all "mom supported Hillary Clinton????" But no matter your eventual politics, I hope to raise you in such a way that you appreciate what this means for us. For Frances and myself as women. For my boys, as the brothers and friends and possible partners of women. For our whole nation, and really our world.

During her speech, Secretary Clinton stated: "When there are no ceilings, the sky's the limit." Little ones, I hope that you realize that your dreams, hard work, and the benefits you've been given in this life can take you far--farther than you can currently imagine. As you move towards your dreams, though, I pray that you are aware of and grateful for the ones who came before you, the ones who made your path a little smoother and straighter. The ones who plowed down the hills a bit so that your trip would be less treacherous.

As she accepted the nomination, Clinton said: "Standing here as my mother's daughter, and my daughter's mother, I'm so happy this day has come. Happy for grandmothers and little girls and everyone in between." As the mother of a little girl, I am so thankful for trailblazers like Hillary Clinton. I am thankful that, in your short lives, you have seen a black man as president and now a woman as a major candidate (and hopefully soon filling the oval office). I am thankful that the people you see in power are already far more diverse than the images I saw in my childhood. I pray that these images permeate your being. I hope you know that we are all equal and capable and powerful. I hope you know that a person's value can never be limited by their gender or race or religion or sexual orientation or employment status or wealth or educational level. And I pray I am doing my best to impart these lessons.

I love you four so incredibly much. I cannot wait to see what limits you push in your life and where your dreams take you. 


Saturday, July 9, 2016

what's in a name: ellis andrew

For each of our children, we've chosen to use family names for both their first and middle names. We like the idea that, while each child's name is unique and his or her own, it also serves as a link to the past, a reminder of the many people who lived and loved and laid the path for our family today. And so, the story of Ellis Andrew.


Ellis is an old surname on the Coulter (Andrew's mom's) side. The most recent Ellis was Earl Ellis Coulter, Andrew's great grandfather. Earl Ellis lived in Chattanooga, was born in 1898, and died in 1946. We don't have lots of information about him. We know he was a firefighter, and was apparently a fire chief at the time of his death. We have heard that he may not have been the greatest husband, as it appears that his marriage was not quite intact when he died. We know that his mother was Minnie Ellis Coulter, and her father was Robertis Hamilton Ellis. While we don't know all that much about the Ellises, we know that they are an integral part of the line that led us to our Ellis, so perhaps they had adorable smiles and mischievous spirits.

Earl Ellis Coulter


Anyone who knows my Andrew knows why we chose this name. For two sons, Andrew fought against using his own name, saying that the passing down of a name was something that should be earned, something our children could do if they so chose. But on boy number three I finally won. And here's the thing--Andrew has most definitely already earned it.

Andrew Aaron Shafer is, quite simply, the most magnificent person I have ever met. He loves God, his family, his friends, and everyone he meets with a rare purity and fierceness. He gives of himself and his time so freely, never expecting a return on his investment. Serving others comes naturally to him.

Andrew is the most loving, loyal husband. He loves me in a way I could never deserve. He leads our family with grace, humility and compassion.

And as a dad, Andrew is unmatched. Andrew was made to be a dad. Our kids adore him. He is fun and playful and devoted and tender and all the things a parent should be. He is a completely equal partner in this parenting journey. He's changed at least as many diapers as me, and has me beaten by a mile in middle of the night visits to kids' rooms. Every morning, Andrew gets up and does breakfast with the little ones, and every night he wrangles them through the bath time process--it's their special daddy time, time they treasure, and time that I know fills them and molds them in an invaluable way.

Ellis already idolizes his dad, and I feel certain that he will be proud to share a name with him.

Monday, June 6, 2016

sweet summertime

All winter we pray for summer. We count down the days until we can shed the coats. And then the temperatures rise, and we wonder what we were so excited about.

After a few days in the ninety degree range, we feel overwhelmed with hot grumpy kids, a bazillion articles about how you must re-apply goopy sunscreen every 17 minutes, and another billion articles about how the sunscreen you are using is probably causing irreversible damage to your kids. We buy popsicles as a treat, then our social media feed is filled with how terrible food dye is. We try to balance the big kids who want to swing all day with the baby who is so bald he will certainly get sun poisoning on his head. And we're not sure summer is living up to its billing.

Here's the thing--no season with little kids is perfect. In fact, each season has its own magic. But I believe there really is something special about summertime. As we shed our extra clothes and coats (that must be removed before the car seat is buckled), we are invited to shed some of our rigidness as well. Summer is a time to slow down a beat; to be open to the unexpected; to bend the rules a bit to allow for extra fun. Summer brings unplanned adventures, a few too many sweets, dirty clothes, dirty fingernails, and insane amounts of laundry. Don't get me wrong--our family thrives on a schedule--but summer seems to grant permission to push bedtime a little later some days in favor of a creek walk after dinner or a few extra minutes on the play set.

When I think back to childhood, some of my most vivid memories are from the summer. Playing in the rain. Spending whole days at the pool with friends. Exploring the woods behind our house for countless hours. And when I slow down a bit and pull my head out of my checklist, I can already see my kids collecting their own summer memories. Getting caught in a summer storm with little friends. An afternoon with a blow up water slide and popsicles and besties. Twirling in the yard with crete paper banners. Going on a last minute hiking adventure.

So as we march towards the warmest days of the years, let's not fool ourselves--there will be whining and fussing and babies falling asleep in the carseat despite your best efforts to keep them awake and salvage their naps. But there will also be sweet, sweet memories made. Chasing ladybugs. Playing in the sprinkler. Sharing ice cream. Let's slow down enough to allow summer to work its magic.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

on nursing...

Sweet baby Ellis, 

It's been more than three days since you nursed. I fed you Saturday morning, cuddling extra close, knowing that it was probably our last morning session. I was afraid you would be devastated, and though there have been a few rough moments, you have been mostly fine. I guess it really was the right time for us.

Dear boy, I have truly treasured feeding you. I loved our cuddly mornings. I loved watching you drift to sleep at night against my chest. I loved that when you were sad, you wanted me. I loved the way you looked to me every few hours. I loved the quiet moments we had, just the two of us. And oh how I loved your little hand. The hand that would stroke my chest...reach for my with my shirt...grab a necklace if I dared wear one. That precious baby hand, still so plump and dimpled. Still figuring out how to accomplish its goal. Watching that hand throughout your whole first year was probably my favorite part of nursing you.

I remember being pregnant with the twins. The thought of breastfeeding honestly freaked me out quite a bit, but I knew I wanted to do it. Then they came early and spent weeks in the NICU on the bottle, and despite our best efforts, never figured out the whole nursing deal. Then I was pregnant with Shepherd, my full-term singleton, who I just knew would be a breastfeeding champ. But somehow, despite all the help we could find, he and I could never get it right. It just didn't work. Then came you. After pumping for all of your siblings, I decided to lower my expectations for nursing. Yes, I wanted it to work, but I had three healthy, attached children that never nursed. If it didn't work, it would be fine....but oh how I hoped. The day you were born you had no interest in the boob. None. Zero. Then, after landing in the NICU, you started eating via bottle, and I saw my hopes of nursing my final little one drift away. But on day seven we brought you home, and on day eight you latched like a champ. We gradually shifted away from the bottles, and we never really looked back.

When I pumped, I was constantly counting down to the next milestone, willing myself to make it as long as possible, so I expected to feel the same way this time. But it was so different. We found our groove. You loved nursing, I loved feeding you, and the months ticked by. I wanted to make it to six months, but then suddenly we were staring down your first birthday. One year. One whole year of mom's milk. When we started this journey, one year was my secret goal, the goal I only whispered quietly to myself in the dark. And now we made it to that dream goal, my little love. I am so thankful for you, so grateful for all your dad did to help us, and so honored to have nourished you this long.

Sometimes I have trouble understanding the God could redeem mankind by sending a tiny baby. Being my child, I have a feeling this is something you will grapple with as well. Here's the thing, Ellis. God hears our questions...He anticipates our need to be reminded of His goodness. For our sake, He rewrites His story all over creation. How can a little baby bring redemption? How can God move through something so small and seemingly powerless? I'm not sure how it all works in the big picture, but I can tell you this for certain--four times now, I have experienced true redemption come in the form of a tiny baby. Redemption that was so needed, even if I didn't realize it before finding it. When Barnes and Frances were born, they brought healing and redemption to my soul, which had been deeply damaged by the loss of our first three babies. They made me a mom. Then Shepherd came along, with a picture perfect birth story, redeeming the inadequacy I held regarding the twins' early and difficult birth. And then you, Ellis. You came to our family and gave me another missing piece, the opportunity to nurse my baby, redeeming a deep desire and feeling of failure. You came and showed me that it had never been my fault before, something I so desperately needed to know. 

I love you, little one. And I have loved feeding you. Thank you for this precious experience.


happy birthday to my fav

Happy (two days late) 33rd to my boyfriend for life, the best dad and husband I could ever imagine. Love you lots...and so do these four.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

pancakes and pajamas party

If Ellis had to pick a favorite meal, I am pretty sure he would choose breakfast, so for his first birthday party, we had all of our little friends over for pancakes in their pajamas!

The invitations were just perfect, and no first birthday is complete without mimosas and personalized cups!

Donuts and biscuits and pancakes (with sprinkles and chocolate chips of course)...pretty sure no one left hungry!

The cake. Seriously amazing. The pancake topper looked so real, the smash cake was a perfect replica,
and it tasted as good as it looked.

From the stat board to the hat to the cereal bowl favors, we loved how sweet Ellis's little celebration turned out.

The birthday boy! He would not even touch his cake!

And no party is complete without lots of friends. We were thankful to be surrounded by Nana & Papa,
Aunt Bec and Aunt E, and so many long-time friends, both big and small.
And even though he was one of the youngest kids at the party, Ellis joined in on all the fun!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Ellis is One!

birthday morning- May 13th
 Sweet Ellis, 

Somehow you are a whole year old. It doesn't seem are still my tiny baby, my littlest little, yet you have been in our family for a whole year (plus two days now).

Ellis, there are no words for the depth of my love for you. You are our fourth baby, but everything this year has felt so new and special. God made you so uniquely, and you are so uniquely loved. I have loved watching you grow, and taken special pleasure in seeing you learn new things...rolling, sitting up, eating, and in the past few weeks, walking. Your face lights up when you realize you have accomplished something--your pride just shines!

Your absolute favorite thing to do is play with your siblings. You think they hung the moon. You were clearly not designed to be an only fact, when it's just you and me, you seem completely bored. You look for Barnes, Frances and Shepherd and smile your biggest smile when they come in the room.

You love your dad. Now that we are nursing a little less, you whine for him as soon as you see him. Though you spent most of your first year as a momma's boy, you now prefer to split your time about 50/50.

You are walking like a champ! You can wobble across a whole room, and you are getting braver and more sure of yourself each day.

You love riding toys. We got you a car for your first birthday because you kept stealing your siblings cozy coupe's. You love climbing in and out, and you especially love it when Barnes or Frances pushes you.

You are still not a huge fan of sleeping. Though you usually sleep through the night now, you are a bit of a challenge to get down, and you are still not a terribly good napper. I joke that you are always afraid you will miss something, but I honestly believe it's true. You want to be in the middle of everything all the time. You are definitely not content to watch life from the sidelines.

You give the sweetest little hugs. You lay your head on my shoulder and just keep it there for a few seconds. It's one of my absolute favorite things.

You still like to nurse a few times a day. I am so thankful for the hours I have spent feeding you this year. You will never know what a joy and privilege it has been. I love that I am what you fall asleep to at night and wake up to in the morning. I know that our nursing relationship will be ending soon, but I can truly say that it's one of the most special things I have gotten to experience in my life.

Ellis, you are such a doll. You are a climber, an adventurer, and a ball full of energy. I could write about you forever, but the most important thing is this--you are loved. You are loved by me (mom), your dad, your sister and brothers, your grandparents, your whole family, so many friends, and most importantly, by God. God loves you so, and I pray that over your life you will come to know Him and His deep love. I pray that, by God's grace, you will grow into a kind, gentle, servant-hearted man who is marked by compassion and empathy. I pray that I will be the mother you need, that I will love you well and ask forgiveness when necessary, modeling a life-giving relationship to you.

Sweet Ellis, thank you for being my baby, now and always.

Love you so very much,

while in Florida for our nephew's first communion, we made a quick detour to celebrate with Mickey...
your last baby only turns one once!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

my princess boys

As we stood in line for our reservation at Cinderella's table, my three big kids shimmied into their costumes--a Cinderella dress, a Rapunzel dress, and a Snow White dress. The family in front of us looked a bit puzzled. The Disney workers, of course, didn't bat an eye. Yes, we brought three princesses to eat at the castle, two of whom were boys.

Barnes loves his Cinderella dress. We gave it to him for Christmas because he had outgrown his old one. This one is "fancier" than the last, with sparkles and pearls and a little photo. He thinks it's the most beautiful gown in the world.

Shepherd returned from Disney World smitten with Belle. Yellow is his favorite color, and he just HAD to have a Belle dress. He literally asked multiple times each day when he could get a Belle dress. So shortly after our return, Andrew drove to Target after bedtime one night to surprise him in the morning. It's now his most prized possession.

At least three times a week we play princesses. Sometimes it's a princess tea party, sometimes princess super heroes, sometimes a dance party, and sometimes a sword fight. No matter the scenario, though, we don our dresses, gloves, shoes, crowns, and occasionally extra jewelry.

Why do we play princesses? Because that is what my kids choose. With an assortment of dress up options presented to them, they choose the princesses almost every time. It makes them happy. It makes them feel special. It ignites their imagination.

Do we care that our boys like to dress up as princesses? Not one bit. Honestly. Not at all. First of all, they are kids. We want them to have fun and explore and not worry about worldly expectations. Second of all, I firmly believe that allowing them to dress as princesses now will have no affect on who they become (other than to possibly make them more loving and accepting, which would be awesome). If our children are gay, they are already gay. If one of my boys still wants to wear dresses in 5 years or 10 years, he was going to want to wear them no matter what we played.

So what's my point here? Every so often, I print this blog into a book. While I enjoy writing, this entire endeavor is primarily a love letter to my children. I hope that one day they will look back and be able to relive their childhood through my words. That they will gain insight into the choices we made as parents and who Andrew and I were as people. Most of all, though, I hope that they will be able to hold these pages and see how much they have always been loved.


To Barnes and Shepherd (and Ellis when you're old enough to dress up)-- One day you may look back at pictures of yourselves in princess regalia and be embarrassed. Or one day you may look back and laugh. Or perhaps you will see your true self in these old photos. No matter, here's what I want you to know. From the day you were born, your dad and I have loved you without reservation. We adore you. We know that God created you, and that who you are is exactly who you were intended to be. There is nothing you could be or do that would make us love you more or less--you already have our whole hearts. Right now, you think that sparkly dresses are special and beautiful. Your dad and I think that you are special and beautiful. Whether you keep donning these gowns for 30 more years or decide next week that "boys don't wear dresses," we couldn't love you more. It's been an honor having dinner with princesses so many evenings, and it will continue to be for as long as you choose.

Monday, April 25, 2016

disney 2016

We are a disney family. While Disney World is understandably not for everyone, our family cherishes our annual trip. The kids (and the adults) love the anticipation and planning. The little ones watch videos of the parade, look at pictures of the restaurants. For weeks before, and weeks after, it's all they can talk about. And I, as a mom, actually enjoy this trip more than any other we take. While it's not a laid-back-sipping-on-margaritas kind of week, nothing is with four kids. But while at Disney World, you get sucked into this imaginary yet so real place, where dreams come true, heroes are hugged, and the outside world melts away. It's a place to disconnect--to not check your email or your Facebook account. To focus on your kids and watch their faces as they discover each new treasure. I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to have these experiences with our little crew.

We had a magical week this year. Honestly, I don't know how we will ever top this trip. After landing in Orlando, we always start our trip with an evening at Disney Springs. No Shafer trip to Orlando is complete without a stop at Goofy's Candy Shop.

Day one at Magic Kingdom was full of princesses, parades, and rides. We are super into princesses right now....Barnes loves Cinderella (because of her blue dress), Frances loves Rapunzel (because of her long hair), and Shepherd used to love Snow White but has recently changed his allegiance to Belle (a post-trip switch). The kids were amazed by lunch in Cinderella's castle, which was honestly the neatest Disney experience we have had to date. They also REALLY loved the parade this year. At least three mornings a week now I get woken up with Disney parade music being marched through my room, and BF&S are constantly putting on "shows."

Day two started with me running a half marathon (after a 10k the day before). I was picked up in a rental van at the finish line and whisked to Hollywood Studios without even having time for a shower! We watched the shows, danced with characters, and had lunch with our Disney Junior friends. As you can tell from our pictures, our trip was character heavy. Meeting new friends (or the same friends in different outfits) never got old. They almost completely filled up their autograph books!

Day three was back to Magic Kingdom after breakfast at Chef Mickey's (a definite favorite). A few more princesses, a lot more rides, and a trip to Tom Sawyer Island were the perfect combination.

Andrew worked a bit on day four, which was a non-park day, so we started with mom and the four kids doing a character breakfast alone. It was a bit of a logistical nightmare (I had to wear the baby 75% of the time so I could get food from the buffet for everyone else), and my camera decided to die, but it was worth it for quality time with Winnie, Tigger, Mary Poppins, the Mad Hatter (or the Silly Guy as Shep says), and Alice. We rounded out the morning with a trip to the splash park, then after nap headed to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique for Frances's favorite part of the week. Frances became Princess Frances and Barnes became Knight Barnes, and even Shep got a sword and shield.

Despite a rainy start, our last day at Animal Kingdom turned out pretty perfect. A final lunch with the main mouse, a scavenger hunt to find our Lion Guard friends, dancing with Rafiki, being sung about while in line to meet the Chipmunks, and some goat brushing rounded out our trip quite well.

Disney World, thanks for such a fun week. I love hearing the three big kids relive the magic and pretend to be the characters. I have a feeling we'll be back!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

shep shep

This child got attacked by an automatic soap dispenser today. My Shepherd. There's something incredibly special about this boy. He brings joy and renewed life to everyone he meets. From the moment we learned of his existence, he's been spreading indescribable joy. You see, he was conceived in the direct aftermath of a failed IVF cycle, a cycle that left my soul bruised and aching. He has brought a unique light to our family each day of his life. His personality is huge, and his capacity for love is even bigger. On this Holy Week, his sweet smile is one of my favorite reminders of God with us, even in our dark places.

(taken from instagram a couple weeks ago)

Sunday, March 27, 2016

a resurrection story

He is risen, indeed!

As our family celebrates Easter this year, the Resurrection seems extra close to our hearts. Jesus died, going to our darkest place, the place that we as humans most fear. He willingly passed into emptiness, solitude, agony, pain, and even the grave itself. But the story didn't end there, of course. Today we celebrate His rising, and with it all the hope He restored to our broken world.

My mother-in-law, Anne, has had a hell of a year. Since last July, she has endured grueling chemo, radiation, pancreatitis, and a crazy surgery. But by the grace of God and through the miracle of medicine and an early diagnosis, she has come out on the other side. She has been declared cancer-free, something we were all afraid we would never hear. This year she has been to dark places. She has faced pain, loneliness, fear, confusion...emotions I cannot even imagine. But the beauty of Easter holds true. Jesus himself went to those dark places. When we travel these roads, we can take comfort in the fact that he, in human form, traveled them before us. And more importantly, we can rest in his Resurrection, for no matter what the end of our path looks like, God has redeemed us and shown us the magnitude of his love for us through His Son's rising. Because of the Resurrection, our hope is real.

While we celebrate Christ's Resurrection, I am also celebrating Anne's own personal resurrection. Anne is a fabulous grandmother--she is very active and hands-on with our children, and they adore playing with her. Since July, though, it's been tough. We've had to tell them she is sick, temper their expectations. She has had to miss outings, watch from afar. But this weekend, the spark has returned. We haven't had to remind them that Gigi is sick even once. She has rallied for the egg hunt and the crafts and the play time. She has sat with them at every meal, watched them perform countless shows, helped them dye eggs. She's read books and kissed booboos. While she certainly isn't back to 100%, and while we may have completely worn her out, I know our kids are leaving with the sense that Gigi is well again. And my heart is so full.

He is risen, indeed.

the whole Shafer crew

Easter morning 2016

my set of shafers

Sunday, March 20, 2016

to frances

While finally organizing our master bedroom, I found these:

Long-closed vestiges of my former life. A life lived in high-heels and business attire that came with a bit of glamour (see above) and a dose of drudgery (see long days and nights, billable hours, working on holidays). While I've chosen to walk away from that world for now, I am constantly searching for ways to remind my sweet daughter that a woman's place isn't only in the home.

If you ask Frances what she wants to be when she grows up, she usually says a mom. Which is awesome. And flattering. And hopefully will come true. I hope that one day she finds a wonderful partner and that, if they so choose, they are able to start a family of their own. But I worry that seeing me as "just a mom" sometimes taints her views of what women can achieve.

The concept of having it all is tricky. I believe we can, as both men and women, "have it all" in the sense of career and family and faith and voluntarism and all the other goals we have. I don't, however, believe we can always have it all at the same time. We make choices, hard choices, and change our priorities depending on our life stage. So yes, for now Frances sees me as "just a mom." But as she has gotten older, she has begun to understand that even her "just mom" works a bit from home. That other moms work full-time while their little ones are in school. She is surrounded by so many amazing examples of how to be a woman. She knows that Virginia's mom is a lawyer, that Emmylou's mom makes beautiful music. She knows that Aunt Christina stays home with her kids, while Aunt Bec teaches other little kids.

When I first asked Frances whether a woman could be president, she immediately said no. Needless to say, we've had some discussions since then, and she now proudly proclaims that a woman can be president as well as anything else...that girls can be anything boys can be. Oh sweet girl, hold on to that truth. Hold tightly to the truth that you can achieve your dreams. And I'll hold on to these fabulous shoes for you.