March Book Report.

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It’s been a while since I posted a book update. Making time to read again feels good. Tracking the books I’m reading encourages me to keep doing it because I’m reminded that I am completing books (which, for someone as OCD as me, is so necessary for successful goal-achieving!)

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. Reading this one through Oyster. I was late to the e-reading train but I have been pleased with Oyster’s selection and love this collection of memoir-essays. P.S. Here’s a $15 credit towards Oyster if you want to try it. (When you sign up for the $15 credit, I get some credit too! Free books all around = win / win.)

Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist. This one had me at the preface (which happens to be written by Eric Metaxas, the author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.). I’m so excited to keep reading this one.

A Bend In The Road: Experiencing God When Your World Caves In. My mom’s group is going through this book together – it’s been challenging. You know those Bible study books that are super boring to actually read? This is not one of those. It’s one of those books is so good when I curl up alone but that also works well for a group-discussion.

The Whole-Brain Child. Still reading through this one. It’ll be particularly helpful, I think, when Miles is just a little older – most of the ideas are geared towards toddlers or young children. It contains some fascinating concepts though about mindfulness and emotion.

The Creative Family. Still reading this one too – I love it! It makes me excited to pick up activities that I haven’t tried ever or in years. It has some really wonderful step-by-step ideas for encouraging young and very young children towards creativity – lots of Waldorf-style activities, which is so inspiring. There’s also a nice collection of quotes and helpful resources.

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box. Finished this! It was fantastic. It had some wonderful concepts for leadership and workplace relationships but it also was so applicable to marriage and other personal relationships. I enjoyed it and was truly challenged.

Friday Links

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The weekend is almost here! Hooray! What are you up to this weekend?

The weather is warming up and it’s glorious. I need to take care of some Easter preparations…and make Miles’ first Easter basket!

There were so many fun links floating around this week.

First of all, this video. Have you seen it? It’s magical. Watch it early while you’re drinking your first cup of the day. (via Life & Thyme)

I tested these mascara tips this week. They work! (via Cupcakes and Cashmere)

Do-ahead food prep tips for scrumptious weeknight meals! Sold. (via Chalkboard Magazine)

Drama amidst the White House roses. Was the head florist at the center of Presidential drama? (via Washington Post)

Sweet thoughts on parenting*. (via Parenting Today)

Oh my gosh, this cake. (via Smitten Kitchen)

SO SAD. But all good things must come to an end. Downtown Abbey has been a ritual in the McCord house and we’ll miss it. (via The Times)

A longest study ever conducted on how marriage makes men happier and healthier**. (via The Art of Manliness) The sweetest quote came at the end:

“Perhaps it sounds cheesy, but we are ultimately here to love, and to be loved. Love leads to our ability to “put our trust in life” and the confidence to tackle our goals. Thus if we fill our lives with warm, rich relationships, all the other good stuff – career success, prestige, adventure – will be sure to follow.”

 Everything you need to start improving your photography. (via Digital Photography School)

A set of adult twins agrees to be part of a NASA study. This is either very creepy or very cool. (via The Washington Post)

*Shannon led me to the parenting article and Monica sent me the article about men and marriage.

DIY Baby Food – Butternut Squash

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Food is a serious pursuit in this house. I do most of the cooking right now, but Mark can hold his own over the stove. Much of our dating happened in the kitchen. We approach food from different perspectives. I’m sort of an ALL THE CARBS ALL THE TIME girl. When I first met Mark, he was a recovering vegan and subsisted on (what seemed to me like) a diet of salmon, kale, beans, and sweet potatoes.

This was completely baffling to me, especially because I didn’t even really know that kale was an actual option for humans to eat, except that one of my roommates at the time also lived on (what seemed like) only kale and sweet potatoes with some olive oil (budget-friendly, but still baffling to me).

So, surrounded, I began to be a little more daring and started to try foods like kale, sweet potatoes, and quinoa while, subjected to one too many lectures about how fat is good for brain cells, Mark agreed to expand his diet to include things like cinnamon rolls and all of the cheese.

This is not a post about how Whole30 changed our life (it didn’t because we haven’t tried it) or how we don’t eat bread and pasta (we eat lots) or how I can make a wedding cake, frosting and all, without using gluten (I can’t and I wouldn’t want to anyway). We take our milk and our Greek yogurt with all of the fat and our grains with all of the butter.

This IS a post about eating intentionally and passing that on to little ones. We don’t eat legalistically, but we do try to eat mindfully. We don’t make rules about what not to eat, but we have some guidelines about where to start eating. We don’t label foods as “bad,” or “poison,” or guilt-trip ourselves, but we do try to focus the majority of our appetites and efforts on food that nourishes us most efficiently.

And so we try use lots of vegetables and fruits in our meals, lots of fresh foods, very little that is pre-packaged or prepared before it gets to our house.

This grand theory of eating doesn’t always work. I basically quit cooking altogether for three months after Miles was born and we ate tacos every other day, trying out every single taco chain in College Station (there are quite a few). But now that we are back into a normal rhythm, I am cooking a lot more and really savoring my time in the kitchen again.

Next to holding Miles for the first time, one of the most exciting things as a mother has been introducing Miles to food. Introducing Miles to those cute tiny containers of baby food was like Christmas. Applesauce! Sweet potatoes! Blueberries! It didn’t take long for me to get a little bored of the containers though and try to branch out into actual vegetables.

 

I want Miles to love not only good food, but the process of good food too. The labor of planting and growing and harvesting and making and serving is something that should be savored and appreciated, even if we aren’t always the ones doing the planting and growing and harvesting.

And so last weekend, as an early step to help Miles eat well and intentionally, I made my first batch of baby food from fresh vegetables.

It was weirdly thrilling. And weirdly easy. And when Miles downed a bowl of the food that I had made with my own hands with no packaging, my heart hit the ceiling.

Ok. So. This is silly easy and you don’t need directions. But in case you want a little guidance, here are the steps I used to make this first batch of butternut squash:

Purchase a medium-size butternut squash. Wash well. Slice down the middle lengthwise (top to bottom).

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Roast the squash face down for about 50 minutes or until a knife slides in and out easily and the inside is soft.

Scoop into the food processor in tablespoon-size chunks. (Avoid including any of the skin.) Puree until very smooth.

Drop spoonfuls of pureed mixture into muffin tins and freeze immediately.

To store, once the squash puree has frozen, remove the squash from the tins by running hot water over the back of the pan. Store the squash “cups” in Pyrex containers. Defrost individuals “cups” as needed.

10 Favorite Baby Registry Items: The 3-6 Month Edition

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Chances are that, if you are preparing for a new family member, you are registering for (and receiving) baby clothes, toys, and equipment that will see your baby past early infancy (0-3ish months) and into older babyhood and even the early toddler days.

The gifts of clothing that carried Miles through the 3 month and even 6 month marks was such a blessing. It was just nice to know that I had a foundation of clothing that would fit him as he grew so that I didn’t have to add “Go buy an entire infant wardrobe” to my list as soon as he outgrew that “NB” size.

There were other items, too, that I wished I had registered for, simply because it would have saved me a frantic Google-research induced trip to Target.

So here are a few suggestions for registry items that will carry you well beyond those initial infant days. (It’s important to note that we live in a very small apartment and this list reflects our need for items that maximize space and function. For instance, we still don’t own a highchair. That might be a helpful addition for an older baby that lives in a house with more storage options, but we simply do not have the floorspace.)

1. Bumbo Seat.

The Bumbo chair was a lifesaver during that awkward time while Miles wanted to sit and got bored lying on the floor (and hated tummy-time) but couldn’t sit without help. It gets Baby up off of his back and helps him get a new view. Miles outgrew his seat for a while (hashtag baby rolls), but miraculously just started fitting in it again and so now, we have the added bonus of using the Bumbo seat as a high-chair.

(Note: The Bumbo seat, like any baby toy, is not meant to be used unsupervised or beyond a point where your baby feels comfortable and happy. Your baby should never be left in it for long periods of time and you should always check with your pediatrician if you have questions about your child’s safety or readiness for a particular item.)

2. Camera.

I was so grateful for our great camera (similar to this one) and my mom’s larger, fancier Nikon during Miles’ first few days. We have countless pictures from the collective iPhones, but I treasure the early beautiful shots taken of him on real cameras. This is especially important if you are not doing a formal shoot with a professional photographer, since you still will want photos with a resolution high enough to allow you to print larger sizes later.

3. Fisher Price Space Saver Swing and Seat.

Many people use these for their very young infants, but Miles didn’t like his swing until he was a little older. He was an inconsistent napper and, at a few months of age, would often only sleep in the Ergo or in my arms. On troublesome-nap days when he was discontent lying on the floor, the swing freed me to get a little work or housework done with him happily swinging at my feet.

There was nothing terribly unique about the swing we got. There are super fancy ones available, but we were more interested in finding (again) something small and easy to store. (And I couldn’t justify spending $300 on a baby swing….)

5. Board Books.

Early on, there were only two books that captivated Miles at all. One was a collection of high-contrast pictures for infants, and one was his (still absolute favorite) Farm book. At a few months of age, Miles started to pay a little bit more attention to books. He continued to love grabbing at the pages, which made board books ideal, but also liked to cuddle with us while we read to him. (Now he’s old enough to know when he likes something and demands reading time, but that’s another post.)

So here are a few of my favorite classic board books for babies to start their library:

6. Porta-crib.

This is pretty dependent on a given family’s lifestyle, but we travel a lot. The first bed Miles slept in was a porta-crib. My mom and I each have a version of the original Graco Pack ‘n Play. They are easy to set up, easy to pull down, light, and a  breeze to store. A friend also let me use her BABYBJORN Travel Crib when I was in DC recently with Miles and I loved it.

7. Diaper Bag.

I always swore I’d never be “that mom,” that I’d somehow trek around without a diaper bag. Oh, Naivety, thy name is Emily. Mercifully, we were given a beautiful monogrammed diaper bag for Miles that I now adore (although I can see outgrowing it at some point, since it’s a little on the small size). If I did the whole thing over again, I’d look for something gorgeous like this JJ Cole Satchel Diaper Bag.

8. Play blanket.

Swaddling and receiving blankets are wonderful and soft and washable and everything good, but eventually, an older baby will need something larger and more durable for actually playing on the floor, like this Muslin Blanket.

9. Simple toys.

An older baby in the 3-6 month range doesn’t need a huge arsenal of toys, but definitely will enjoy a few simple sturdy (chewable!) toys. Miles’ favorites included his stuffed cat, his bright squeezable ball, his elephant lovey (for bedtime), the plush textured animals that came with his gym, and his colored rings. Here’s a quick helpful list of a few toys that would be great for any baby’s collection:

10. A baby scrapbook album.

I am so excited to continue working on Miles’ scrapbook, but I sort of wish I had set up a plan before he was born so that it would be easier and less time-consuming to maintain right now. The Project Life Photo Pocket Pages system is perfect for busy new moms and I’m using it for Miles for now, but a digital book or a journaling system will all be equally special. Figure out what memory-keeping method works best for your family – preserved memories of your baby’s early days will be such a treasure later.

That’s my .02! What am I missing? What “essential” item did you buy that you never ended up using for your baby?

Shopping for an infant? My original baby registry list is here.

Conversations about Creativity – with Lindsay

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A new series of Monday morning conversations begins today* and I’m so excited. The theme is CREATIVITY and I’ll be chatting with some wonderful (and very creative!) friends about how they incorporate creative talents and impulses into their lives and schedules.

Today’s interview is with my cousin Lindsay. I’ve always been amazed by Lindsay’s artistic talent – I remember sitting next to her in church when we were very young and envying her gorgeous handwriting and creative sketches! Now she puts those creative skills to use in her professional role as well.

Lindsay and I have spent a lot of time in recent years bemoaning job woes to each other and now that we are both professionally in a place that we love, it’s so fun to celebrate our journeys with each other.  (It’s always encouraging that someone else out there is trying to figure out the same things, isn’t it?)

Have you always thought of yourself as a creative? 

I grew up surrounded by creative people, my family is a talented bunch. I never considered my self the artistic type but I’ve always enjoyed and had an eye for design. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I become comfortable with the idea of myself as a creative person. I think moving out of my parents’ house prompted my creativity. Having my own apartment to decorate pushed me to make decisions on my own and try things out. My independence gave me a new sense of freedom which really inspired creativity.

What are your creative outlets?

Currently my favorite creative outlet is photography and photo editing. In addition I love to write and enjoy being creative in the way I dress and decorate my apartment. I also get to assist in website design, as my current profession. My job is a great blend for my business background and creative eye.

Everyone is so busy! How do you make time to be creative?

Fortunately I’ve found ways to incorporate my creativity into my occupations. Whether it’s putting together an outfit, a magazine spread, a marketing pamphlet, or a website, I’m always relying on a creative eye to help contribute to my professional work. It’s something that I’ve become more bold in offering to employers and they appreciate it – plus it makes the job more fun! Outside of work I’ve found that social media sites, such as Instagram, are a great tool for encouraging creativity on-the-go. It’s so easy, which makes it fun!

Who/what inspires you?

God! He’s the ultimate artist and His beautiful creations constantly blow me away. I live near Sunset Cliffs, where the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean in a glorious display of beauty each and every night. The ocean is such a source of inspiration for creativity because of its sheer beauty and power. Beauty inspires me. I want to capture it and share it and recreate it in every aspect of my life.

What do you do when you’re in a creative rut?

When I’m in a rut I take my camera down to the cliffs and walk along the beach. It doesn’t take long to become inspired there.

Why do you think it’s important to make time for creativity?

Creativity can manifest in so many ways. It is self-expression and enjoyment of anything. You can be creative in cooking, writing, painting, designing, photography, musically – that list goes on and on. This is a gift to the world around you and God gave each of us a set of talents to use. Everyone is creative in their own way and it’s important to share that because it’s part of who you are.

What are ways you’ve challenged yourself or grown as a creative?

I think sharing my creative works has grown me the most. Writing an article, posting a picture, or making a meal for a group of friends – these are all examples of putting yourself out there and that can be a scary thing. Honestly, the more I share the more I want to challenge myself to be better. Each time I get outside my comfort level, I learn it’s okay to make mistakes. Once you’re not afraid of making mistakes, you gain a freedom to try things outside of the box and that’s when some amazing outcomes happen.

What are some creative goals you have for yourself?

Try something new! I’d love to learn to paint.

Thanks so much for chatting, Lindsay!

*Apologies to those of you on the email list who received a version of this last night! 

Weekend Links.

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Happy weekend, friends! What are your plans? I’m crashing back into real life post-Spring Break (‘crashing’ is just barely metaphorical here). Anyone want to volunteer to clean my house? Otherwise that’s what I’ll be doing for the foreseeable future. That, and laundry. And grocery shopping. Life of the party, over here.

If  you’re dreading real-life re-entry after Spring Break, these tips might help. (Balance and Blueberries)

Finally, the key to success, for parents. (Hint: it’s not a busier schedule for your kids). (Thanks to Cap Hill Style and The Washington Post for the link.)

On disconnecting. (via Darling Magazine)

Love the idea of breakfast cookies! (via Martha Stewart Magazine)

Some friends of ours are traveling through India, making videos as they go to document their experiences. (via For the Ride)

An ode to pancakes. (via Wall Street Journal)

Love this bag. (via Emily McDowell)

Why kids need to take art. (via EducationNext)

Social courage and other skills we need. (via The New York Times)

If you want an essay, check out this piece on pie and modesty (not that kind). Can I just move into this blog, somehow? I’m a little obsessed. (via Life and Thyme)

6 Projects to Inspire your iPhone photography.

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Do you ever get into an iPhone photography rut? Sometimes I start to feel like all of my pictures look sort of the same. Even though I love my Canon PowerShot, I use my iPhone most frequently for daily documenting and always have it with me. But sometimes I feel like every photo starts to look sort of the same.

What do you do when this happens? When I went searching for inspiration, I found some great ideas that I just had to share. I’m excited to experiment with a few of these!

1. Day in the Life/Week in the Life projects. 

Concept: Capture the story of a concentrated period of time – a day or week (or month, in the case of “December Daily”). as it happens.

Ali Edwards’ “Week in the Life“, “7 am/7 pm,” and “December Daily” are the most fantastic examples of this kind of project.

2. Hashtag projects.

Concept: Participate in another Instagrammer’s hashtag-themed photo collaboration. It’s a fun challenge to use a theme determined by someone else and the inspiration one can glean from the other participating photos is a huge part of this.

My favorite hashtag projects are #itssimplytuesday and #blueskyblooms. (I also love my #imagesofsummer project).

3. Color-themed projects.

Concept: Theme all (or some) of your photos around a particular color. Your photos will seem more unified because of the consistency and there are all sorts of cool projects one can create with color-coordinated photos! The #crafttherainbow project is a beautiful example of this.

4. Prompts.

Prompts are always a great way to jumpstart one’s creativity. Life Documented provides beautiful daily photo prompts at the beginning of each month.

5. A specific goal.

Clear goals are always a good way to inspire creativity – most people actually work better within a crisp framework rather than with unlimited options. Elise Cripe created a photo-book with all of the photos that she Instagrammed of her garden. (Not completely photography themed, but also a great project: her “I want to remember” baby book.)

6. Creating an object-themed photo project. 

Concept: Gather lots and lots of inspiration on Pinterest by looking at photos tagged with a particular object-word. Then start snapping. I’m doing this around the word “coffee” (so original, right?) and I love gathering photos for my Pinterest inspiration board to renew my ideas for composition, filters, lighting, etc.

Your turn! How do you hit “refresh” on your iPhone photography?

P.S. It’s Spring Break for Mark and I am in and out more than usual this week. I’ll resume the normal posting schedule next week with a new interview series on creativity.

P.P.S. Friday’s post was a little wonky. One of the pictures was crooked in the email version (sorry, subscribers!) and one of the links was broken. But the missing link has been fixed!

Weekend Links

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Happy weekending! What are you doing this weekend? We are loving the beautiful spring weather that is sweeping through our area and enjoying Mark’s short Spring Break reprieve before tests and assignments take over again.

Here are a few fun links for you to enjoy over the weekend.

You can’t control the future, but science says that parents can do a few things to make sure you’re raising happy kids. (via Live Science)

Why we should all be content with normal names for our children. (via Mother Nature Network)

Advice on life from the mouthes of babes. (via Darling Magazine)

Giving up the right to an apology. (via Seth Godin)

I used to own one of these in blue – whenever I wore it, random strangers would rave about it. (via Jacobson Leather)

Frosting that tastes like summer. (via Bona Vita)

LOL. (via Cathy Zielske)

Can we wear sneakers? (via Cap Hill Style)

I’m a little obsessed with these napkin rings. (via Restoration Hardware)

Happy weekend, friends!

A List of Books That Inspire me to Create More and Write Better.

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It’s been a very rainy week. And rainy weeks lend themselves to reading and books and cozy cups of coffee – or if we have a squirmy baby nearby, at least thinking about books and reading.

We all have those books (don’t we?) that have spoken to us at a particular moment in time, that have inspired us to do more or create more or be better or change something. Those books are like markers on the road to our future selves, friendly signposts along the way.

Here’s a list, in no particular order, of various books that have inspired me over the last couple of years, along with a quote from each.

This list only includes non-fiction, just because. Fiction has so much to teach and offer us, but, for me, the lessons of fiction have been different and deeper than the lessons of non-fiction. And so I separate them when I make my lists.

To write better:

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. . . . . There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by.

On Writing Well by William Zinsser.

Clutter is the disease of American writing. . . . simplify, simplify.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior

To choose a good word, to assign the right name, to arrange proper words in the best order: these are no easy tasks. . . . the getting of meaning . . . is an act of nature and grace.

Like a true friend and a good writer, right words are hard to find. And all of these, like a mother, have the power to give life.

To create more:

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield.

If you believe in God . . . you must declare Resistance evil, for it prevents us from achieving the life God intended when He endowed each of us with our own unique genius. . . . It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.

Through Painted Deserts: Light, God, and Beauty on the Open Road by Donald Miller.

We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and the resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it? It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out. . . . And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed.

To accept more grace:

Grace for the Good Girl by Emily Freeman.

Life is so much further from my control than I even know.

Because I care so much about what you think, my hiding has everything to do with you. I desperately want to manage your opinion of me. Nearly anything I do is to convince you I am good.

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.

Our very saving is associated with our gratitude. . . . We only enter into the full life if our faith gives thanks.

To read better:

A Student’s Guide to Liberal Learning by James V. Schall.

There is an intimate connection between our moral life and our intellectual life.

Reading Between the Lines by Gene Veith, Jr.

Thinking, planning, imagining, creating – processes encouraged by reading – remain essential to society. . . . Without people oriented toward language, very little would be accomplished.

To cook more:

Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg.

Cooking and eating gave our days their rhythm and consistency, and the kitchen was where everything happened.

The Kinfolk Table by Nathan Williams.

Entertaining looks different for each of us, but as long as we’re cooking and inviting people into our homes with a genuine interest in connecting, conversing, and eating together, then the way we do things becomes insignificant and ultimately comes naturally. A burned dish or a missing serving piece becomes trivial. The humble soup or homely bread becomes a feast. It all seems quite simple.

Your turn! What have you read recently? What is inspiring you?

CREATE2015: The March Edition (Canvas Wall Art and a Giveaway)

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For 2015, my word of the year is CREATE. As part of this, I’m challenging myself to create or complete a project each month.

For March, I plan to make a piece of canvas wall art using black paint and lyrics. Examples of this are here, here, and here.

I’m spending some time looking for the right lyrics so that I can finish up this project by the end of the month – any suggestions??

ALSO. Remember that January project? The nearly-disastrous art journals? They are done. And I am so happy with them. They aren’t perfect. I learned a lot of lessons and would do several things differently if I created another set. But. They. Are. Complete. And I love the result.

I found the metal hinged rings that I envisioned next to a stack of highlighters at OfficeMax. Go figure.

For the cover, I cut (by hand) sand-toned card stock slightly larger than the other pieces of paper to cover a few irregularities in the edges. (Note to Self: Order a real grown-up paper-trimmer for the next paper project). I attached a title tag. And done.

The pages would look perfect with 2″ x 2″ prints from Instagram or with journaling. The cover would look so crisp spruced up with one of Artifact Uprising’s square prints.

Here’s the catch: I am loving working on my Project Life albums right now and I’m sort of one-track mentally when it comes to learning a new system. So I can’t imagine trying to fill these art journals while also completing my Project Life albums, at least during this learning phase. So I’m GIVING THEM BOTH AWAY TO YOU. (If you’re curious about the paper in the journal, check out the original post about these.)

Here’s how you can enter to win one:

Subscribe via email in that box in the upper right before 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, March 22. That’s it. I’ll select a winner from this blog’s email subscription list and announce and email the winners. Here’s the bonus: you can enter more than one time by sharing one of your favorite posts from this blog on Instagram or Pinterest. An extra link on each of those outlets will count as an extra entry, so every person can enter four times. (Just remember to tag me so that I see the link!)

I’m off to stalk Pinterest for lyric inspiration….

Read about February’s CREATE2015 project here.