Gina G. Smith

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Adding Beauty in February, 2015

February 24, 2015

The month of February, for me, is a crazy whirlwind of love and birthday fun on top of all the responsibilities of home, school, and mothering. There are 3 out of 6 family birthdays plus Valentine’s Day during these few short weeks. It’s my biggest opportunity to show my family love and appreciation and I NEVER live up to my own expectations during this busy time. I will always struggle with this, I’m afraid. But I constantly tell myself that the goal is for my crew to know they are loved, no matter how fancy (or un-fancy) I get with my preparation. And that is an achievable goal.

Here is what Adding Beauty looked like in February…

This little bit of green was a welcome touch to my pantry window.I had no idea how welcome it would be after we were to be buried under 3 feet of snow, just a few short weeks later. (I just love this hanging planter from Ikea.)

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 And who knew how helpful it would be to have all our snow gear organized and ready for easy access? Apparently I did. Those dry erase labels are from the Martha Stewart collection at Staples.  I also use them on crock pots and drink pitchers so friends at potlucks or whatever know what they are eating and drinking. (Say what you will about Martha, but I would argue that she has done more to turn womens’ hearts toward their homes than most in recent times.) Come springtime, we’ll be able to use these baskets for springy things! I’m counting on spring BIG TIME this year.

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What happened next was nothing short of absolutely breathtaking. After a particularly rainy day, the temperatures dropped rapidly and we woke to the most amazing sight. Hoarfrost. Covering absolutely everything. You had to see it to believe it and no picture could truly do justice to the beauty we observed. The kids and I drove slowly home from errands and decided to chase this curiosity to our magnificent New River Gorge “backyard.” (It’s really about a minute’s drive from our house).

Couldn’t see a thing. We had to settle for some close-ups.

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My daughter snapped this pic of some barberries with my phone. Aren’t they exquisite?

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The very next morning, the sun came out and we knew it would all be gone soon. She and I raced out with our cameras to capture it as best we could before it melted away.

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There was also some Valentine’s Day prep to attend to. Thankfully, we did have to opportunity to deliver these babies before the snow burial began. I de- mushified this version found through a Pinterest search, so there was no mention of love, just friendship. All my kids could deliver their cards with heads held high and no teasing.

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There’s almost nothing better than a muffin with tea for breakfast or a snack. These strawberry-banana ones were just about perfect. I had enough to freeze for another time.

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I neglected a lot of other responsibilities in order to give the girls’ room a little face-lift. A certain someone was transitioning to a world of no more crib and no more pacifier. It had to be special. I’ll do a full post on it soon. There are a few more little touches to add before it’s done-done.

Pom pom trim on a window treatment. Always a good idea.

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My biggest girl’s bed. (Which, incidentally, was mine as a child. I’m pretty sure I transitioned from a crib to this very bed. It used to be white.) I had an old chalkboard with two holes already drilled in it and just free handed a design similar to the one found here. (Aren’t they all gorgeous? Such sweet sentiments about books) My daughter made a finger knitted yarn chain to hang it from a little screw in the wall, and I added the tassels. I do love the look of it. (Except for the creepy Monkey. But it’s her bed, after all.)

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My little big girl’s bed. We’ve since added a basket of board books for her to peruse while she gets sleepy. (That’s the Black Apple Doll you see hanging out there beside the Ikea Cloud Pillow. Again, thanks Martha.)

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We had just enough time to celebrate her birthday with spaghetti and pink cake and friends before getting absolutely dumped on. It’s a good thing we had cozy new spaces to enjoy. We were in for the isolation period of the year. (Those muffins in the freezer came in really handy.)

I understand a lot of people are totally grossed out by the following. But in my humble opinion, it’s a childhood ritual. I’ve done my motherly duty and told my kids how gross snow is. It’s full of dirt and grime and nasty organisms. (Thankfully we don’t have a dog, so, one less thing to worry about) But the truth is, I send them out in the snow to play and I see them stuffing handfuls of the white stuff into their mouths when they think I’m not looking. I’ve chased them from window to window through the house, banging on the glass and shouting, “Don’t eat it!” But I’ve surrendered. This past week we collected a bowl full and added sugar and milk. Everyone participated. There were even cones to put them in. And we’re all still alive. And healthy. And happy.

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We still have one more birthday to get through this month. During the forever-long days stuck in this drafty old house, I found time to sew! So far, I’ve stitched up a quick birthday banner for my youngest son and hemmed a pair of pants for my husby. It’s been glorious.

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No-Fail February

February 2, 2015

It happens every year. For the homeschool mother of young children and teens, there is often a silent, steady build-up of anxiety, like the watched pot that never boils. Only it eventually does boil and that mama spills over the edge of her pot, with all her feelings of failure and her overwhelming list of to-dos that remain undone. I can’t do this. I’m failing. What time does that yellow bus drive by?

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February is often referred to as “homeschool burnout month.” Have you felt it? (And for that matter, I’m not sure this applies only to homeschoolers. There’s plenty of anxiety to go around for moms and even women in general. The gray days do much to add to the feelings of want, I’d venture to say.)  I’ve certainly felt it on numerous occasions, but I’m just not sure it must always be this way. There are plenty of articles on blogs and homeschooling websites with helpful encouragement and practical suggestions for coping and pushing through, (ahem, like Julie does here. Read it.)  so I’m not sure that I have anything new to add. The truth is, we’re all so very different. The needs and dynamics of our families are constantly changing. It’s exhausting. And there isn’t necessarily an easy formula for success. What is success, anyway? And who decides if you’ve achieved it?

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Over our Christmas break, I was thoroughly blessed by a study from Sarah Mackenzie at Amongst Lovely Things on the subject of Teaching from Rest. What struck me most profoundly was the fact that this business of running a household and being a parent and being responsible for the education of my children is seriously holy work. Within the often seemingly chaotic atmosphere of our days at home are hundreds of opportunities to model grace and gratefulness. If we’re honest with ourselves about whose stamp of approval really matters, then we have permission to truly leave our concerns at his feet. He knows. He cares. I love the idea that after we ask God to use us and help us fulfill his purpose, we can look at every little hiccup and every little setback as an answer to those prayers. We are free to see those frustrations, not as hindrances to what we’re trying to accomplish, but as opportunities to extend to our children the grace that’s been given to us. What a difference that change in perspective could make.

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Life Happens At The Table

January 27, 2015

Yesterday, I almost never left my kitchen. It’s the hub.

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So much has happened there, around the table, over the last few months.

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I don’t think the dynamic is going to change any time soon, and I’m completely okay with that.

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But it’s time to start taking note.

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My friend Anne and I have decided to do just that. Anne’s got this really great blog about her homeschooling journey that is basically her way of keeping track of her kids’ educational journey. What I love most about it, though, is that she’s chosen to share it publicly, so it also serves as a way to encourage other homeschool moms. She’s doing what she passionately enjoys and sharing it with others. If that’s not loving your neighbor, I’m not sure what is.

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So after seeing this initial post, documenting all the life happening at her table one afternoon, I started thinking about how much happens around my own kitchen table.

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Hence, a new collaborative memory-keeping blog post series has been born. You can see what’s going on at Anne’s table here. (We’ll also document it on Instagram, if you want to follow along and join in! #LifeHappensAtTheTable)

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Adding Beauty in January, 2015

January 23, 2015

You know what is just the best? Only one of these pics is mine, which means my friends are adding beauty, too!

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The way you are coming alongside me, friends, is truly exquisite! How lovely to see all of you recognizing the beauty in your surroundings. Both the breathtakingly artistic photos and the simple snapshots of moments appreciated are such sweet reminders that we’re not alone. Wouldn’t you agree? It’s nice to know that you mothers/friends/kindred spirits exist in the world and that you are pushing back against the darkness in such tangible ways. It may seem insignificant to you. It’s not.

Here are a few of the ways that January has been bright and beautiful for me…

Kelly’s post entitled, Hail January? My sentiments exactly. (Only she is wayyyy more eloquent than I could ever be.) Read it.

January is kind to us in making us reevaluate. The loud voices in our heads tell us to achieve more! Do more! Go further! January quietly suggests that it might be better to do well at those things we’ve already undertaken — for the glory of God and not ourselves, for the benefit of others.

                 Winter cleaning/ organizing/sprucing around the house is essential for me. I almost thought it wouldn’t happen this year. But then it did.

And I’ll just say that white paint is glorious.

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My niece came and cleaned for me one day and when she was done, the afternoon sun coming through the windows and shining on the floors was irresistible for a photo, because, you know, NO DUST. ( I’m still trying to find a great frame and a good spot for this gorgeous print that my husband gave me for Christmas. Every day, I need to be reminded of the hope depicted here.)

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Additionally, Paperwhites. I’ll never not have them during winter.  Ever again. (Ever.)

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I did some planning and re-vamping of our household chores and responsibilities during the first week of January. So far, things are running smoothly. I have a lot more time on my hands for fun and games and relaxed learning with the kids. This was all made possible because Sam has been carving out big chunks of time for me to relinquish some of my responsibilities and focus on my personal well-being. It’s been blissfully freeing.

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The result of all this? A little more baking, consistent hot meals on the table, and books! Hooray! (Remember, dads, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” It’s totally true.)

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(There’s maple and bacon in this beauty. It tasted even better than it looks!)

We haven’t had much snow, but took advantage of the little bit that has fallen and attempted snow painting. The kids had a different idea than I did.  They took the paint down with them in the sleds over and over, making rainbow stripes all the way down the hill.

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I hope you’re able to embrace this last week of January. My plan is to be consistent in the small things, think ahead, and brace myself for February, our birthday marathon.

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The ‘Adding Beauty’ Project: Final 52nd Week and Moving On…

January 1, 2015

The completion of a project, from start to finish, is not always something I can celebrate. There are a lot of things left undone on my to-do lists, like abandoned sewing projects, putty-filled holes on walls that remain unpainted and…who can forget THE STAIRS?? (referenced here.) But this post is a celebration of something that was completed and has brought a lot of joy and focus to my heart and home this year, something that I hope and pray continues to grow. Because no matter how much is accomplished, there is always room for more growth. And we all know our own hearts, and what corners of them need to be dusted. I pray I’m never too afraid to let the light shine in and show me where to purge and clean.

Here’s what the last week of #Addingbeauty2014 looked like in the Smith home!

Games

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Gifts

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Planning

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Food

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Family

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 With all of that being said, can I just take a sec to thank all of you that participated this year? Even if it was only a couple of times, you were all truly an encouragement and an inspiration to me and to so many others.  Let’s keep going, shall we? Join us in 2015 as we recognize and/or create beauty in our surroundings. Use the hashtag #AddingBeauty2015.

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The ‘Adding Beauty’ Project: Week 51

December 30, 2014

Christmas came on this 51st week of adding beauty. How blessed we feel to have celebrated with our sweet little family and enjoyed some quiet and relaxation. I started the week at my parent’s house. While my dad took the big kids all over creation and wore them completely out, my little snuggle buddy and I took a lovely nap, right in my old bedroom. I always felt so safe there. And I still get the best sleep in that room.

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Did you happen to see this IKEA commercial? So touching. We had determined that we would spend lots of quality time together this Christmas. It’s been so cozy and peaceful. I really don’t know what else we could ask for. We’ve seen our favorite Christmas movies, eaten our favorite foods, played our favorite games and been with so many of our favorite people. We took our time. We kept it simple. Truly what the doctor ordered. (If there had been a doctor involved, and he had ordered something, that is.)

I mentioned our lack of decor, but I feel like things have been more festive around here, in spite of it, and because of this project. Tiny touches of beauty that have been brought to our home all year long really make us feel like there’s just not a whole lot missing. This little bunny in the forest was a last minute add…a result of some scouring of my Pinterest boards.

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Our fabric gift wrap is always something we all look forward to using and never fails to make the tree completely stunning. This year was no exception…

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I typically get a lot of joy out of making gifts for the kids, but didn’t even put a ton of effort into that this year. I did make a little leather cat purse for the baby, which she loved.

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The ‘Adding Beauty’ Project: Week 50

December 23, 2014

We’re all embracing this season with simplicity and no guilt. We’ve done very little decorating, but everyone seems happy and excited anyway. This mama’s heart finds a whole lot of joy and relief in that. Here is just a little something I did to remind us of how much we have to be thankful for this Christmas.

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We used some tutorials from Pinterest to make intricate snowflakes and I dehydrated some orange slices to hang on our tree for an all natural touch, using this method.

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Keeping things neat and tidy before going to bed makes for such a pleasant morning. This night, I managed to wipe down the kitchen, but there was still laundry and clutter waiting for me in the background.

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Folding Me In

December 18, 2014

Can I just be real honest here and say that I’m a little tired? This season of our life has been wonderfully exhausting. No one can keep up the levels of excitement we’ve been experiencing while caring for young children forever. It just can’t be done. But seasons change and relief comes and I have been graced with rest and friendship that I simply must acknowledge here.

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A friend invited me and my children over last week to build and decorate gingerbread houses and eat homemade pizza. I thanked her before hand for the invitation and I thanked her afterward for the hospitality, because truthfully, I haven’t had nearly the energy or enthusiasm for “Christmas” yet this season. (By putting “Christmas” in quotes, I just mean creating the atmosphere and providing the magic for my kids, not the actual event of Christ’s birth. There’s always energy for appreciating that amazing gift.) It felt so nice to take part in something delightful that I didn’t have to plan or host.  Anyway, her words back to me have gripped my heart. She answered simply, “We’re so happy to fold you in.”

I cannot even express how many times I have felt the beauty and comfort of those words throughout the past months. I’m beyond grateful for the simple lunch invitations, play dates, errands run or responsibilities assumed on my behalf. Timely text conversations with a buddy far away when I needed a moment of sanity have been little gifts. Even my house guests and children have been bright spots of grace and understanding to set my heart at ease. My family and friends have understood all the times when plans have changed at the last minute or when I forgot to do something I was supposed to do. Even when I’ve felt like a total flake, I’ve most certainly been “folded in” and I won’t soon forget it.

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It’s been a happy, busy year for our family. But when you opt out of certain traditional activities with your kids or community because they require an effort from you that you simply cannot muster, there is a lot of guilt that creeps in. A mama can certainly torment herself about what all she’s NOT doing for her kids. It took everything in me to put up a tree this year, because I couldn’t bear the thought of how much work it would be to put it all away again. We put it up, but I didn’t unpack a single ornament. This post from The Nester inspired me to cover it in snowflakes and call it a day. It might be my most favorite tree ever. And there are paper snowflakes stuck to every window, which seems just right.

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This beautiful post from my dear friend Julie was also perfectly timed. There couldn’t have been a better time for me to have read it than during this week before Christmas. Instead of experiencing panic and dismay about everything I haven’t done or won’t accomplish, I’m learning that being “folded in” is a treasure. Even those words from a friend far away about her own worries enveloped me with peace, which I can tuck away and pass along to my little family in so many tangible ways. Grateful is an understatement.

Have you experienced the joy of being “folded in?” Take a moment to appreciate the beauty of such a gift.

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The ‘Adding Beauty’ Project: Week 49 (And, What’s Next?)

December 12, 2014

How can 2014 be nearly over? And can I just say how grateful I am for how so many of you, my lovely friends, have joined me in recognizing, appreciating, and creating beauty in our lives this year? This project has been so encouraging to me and I hope it has been for you, too.

As I’m attempting to quiet my heart over the next couple weeks of Advent, I’m also thinking ahead to what 2015 might look like. I’d love to keep up the blog, simply and similarly to how it was this year. I just don’t have time or energy or motivation to post as frequently as I once did, but if there is an easy way to continue to be a tiny presence on the web, I’m all ears. I have a few ideas, but would love to hear from you. (It could be as simple as changing the date on our hashtag to AddingBeauty2015.) What do you think?

And here is some beauty from the 49th week…the completion of a long-awaited project. We’re all exhausted, but brimming with thankfulness in our hearts. It’s been a week of hard work, late nights, celebrating, and soaking in the experience of finally sending The Green Ember out into the world. You can purchase it at Storywarren or Amazon.

Prepped and cleaned this house like a boss. (I was actually very bossy while doing this. Just ask my kids) My five year old let  me use his big gun to decorate with. As long as we have the understanding that it still belongs to him. Fair enough.

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Oh, how I love the details.

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Some of Maria VonTrapp’s favorite things are my favorite things too.

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An occasion for some bubbly! My friend Jamie gave us the bunny stopper and napkins. It’s so nice to be loved. (Keeping it classy with paper cups for kiddos) How about a toast to all who helped make The Green Ember a reality? Cheers!

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Just Like That

December 11, 2014

I’m not sure how to describe a weekend like the one we just experienced. We finally unpacked The Green Ember. We held it in our hands, sniffed its crispy pages (yes, I’m a book-sniffer), then promptly bundled it up and sent it out into the wide world. Just like that. We had loads of help all week long, prepping for a long few days of book-signing, wrapping and mailing. The phrase, “many hands make light work” is no understatement. It took many hands, but went exponentially quicker than it would have, had we been doing it all on our own. (I can’t thank our team enough for all the help! You know who you are!)

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My sweet mother-in-law wrapped books all. day. long. My nieces and nephews did whatever was asked of them and played so nicely in their downtime. At one point during the day, as he stood out in the cold on our front porch taping boxes shut and putting labels on them, my nephew looked up at me and said, “I looooooove working!” (I’ve been instructed by his parents to keep this account for future reference.)

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I can’t believe how smoothly it all went, mostly because of our awesome publisher Andrew Mackay. He thought of every little detail to make packing day efficient and fun. We ate well, celebrated, worked our buns off, and finally, after years of dreaming, many of you are now holding it too. Just like that.

Here is a picture of some of our helpers. We didn’t get one with everyone, but this was part of the crew.2014-12-06 14.13.58

My house is once again relatively quiet and empty of boxes upon boxes of books. The food has all been eaten, the bubbly consumed and the excitement is dying down…for us. But now it’s your turn. Finally, our family, friends, and friends of friends, who have supported us eagerly are able to join in the excitement and we couldn’t be more thrilled. The calls, messages, texts, wall posts, pictures and tweets are like little gifts that keep trickling in. It’s so encouraging to read them all and feel your support and love once again. Thanks so much, all you dear folks. We hope the story delights you.

Here, my sweet boy and his dad sign books together. It was a collaborative effort and a memory they will treasure forever.

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Soon you’ll all have your books in hand, and as you’re sharing, we’d love for you to hashtag your posts with either #rabbitswithswords and/or #thegreenember so we can all get in on the fun. (It’s great to see so many new pictures that I didn’t take, like below!) If you missed out on the Kickstarter, don’t worry. You can still order your copy either through the Storywarren Store (which helps us a lot!) or on Amazon.

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