Thursday, October 27, 2016

Savor the Sparkle

When AJ and I first got engaged I remember being in love with my ring. I would look at it from every angle. I loved how it shimmered in the sun, how it sparkled and shined with the light. We were young, giddy, excited and in love. Now, nearly three and a half years after our engagement (and nearly 2 and half years after we wed), we are still young (well, sorta), giddy, excited, and in love. I am absolutely in awe of the blessings and joy that come with married life. 

But that's not to say our marriage is's definitely not because it's made up of two completely imperfect people. But we extend grace to each other, and to ourselves. We laugh, cry, fight,  discuss, walk, dance, whisper, soar, and limp through this crazy messy life. But it's a beautiful life precisely because of the mess. No mess means no grace given or received. I give thanks everyday for this life partner God has chosen for me. I am passionate about marriage because it makes the world a brighter, better place, It's a tangible way to witness a small sliver of God's unconditional love for us (much like the parent and child relationship). On our one year anniversary we went to Lake Tahoe and we bought a sign (well, AJ surprised me with it after I mentioned I liked it in a store and he went back and bought it for us while I was getting a facial. See what I mean? He's a keeper). It says, "Forever, For Always, No Matter What." We had no idea what those last three words would mean to us. I want to grab ahold of every young couple engaged or thinking of marriage and tell them the story of our summer and say, "See??? This is what life can throw at you. Pick the person you want beside you for something like that." Pick someone who will hold your hand as the windows of the life as you know it rattle and shake all around you and you are able to still smile as you whisper to each other, "This too shall pass." 

The other morning I woke up to the sun streaming through the windows...I was comfortable and content under piles of down blankets and lots of pillows. Suddenly my wedding ring caught me eye. The sun hit it at just the right angle and I looked at it through the eyes of a newlywed: It sure was pretty. I realized I wear this ring day in and day out and never really bothered to even notice it (or the significance it holds).  Since then, my ring has caught my eye at other times. I'll glance at it during the work day, look down at it in the line at the grocery store, and I'll see it shimmer on the gym floor as I'm holding a plank. Basically, I'm looking at it like I did when I first received it: I'm savoring the sparkle. I'm remembering what it felt like to have that ring on my finger when it was new, with the joyful excitement of a newlywed. It wasn't until I looked at something simple like my ring that I discovered how much I was taking the gift of marriage and my one in a million husband for granted. How much I take a lot of things for granted. Not cool, Leslie.  I want to look at everything in my life with the mindset of, "Isn't it incredible?" Life is SO precious. I never knew exactly how precious until recently. 

 This doesn't just apply to the gift of marriage or material things. How many things/life experiences do we currently have that we once danced with joy to have received them? Did we work hard for years and years and now we are living in a home that we once only dreamed of? Did you wish and pray for a church community that you love and enjoy and now you're a regular on Sunday mornings, knowing the worship songs by heart? Did you spend hours scanning through job options and tweaking your resume, only to land a job that you enjoy and that you are good at? Have you dreamed of the day you'd be a parent and now you rock your little one to sleep and load up the stroller for evening walks? Did you wish for a good friend, who knows the depths of your joy and sorrow while you were in the midst of loneliness and now you've got yourself a core group of great pals with whom you share stupid memes with via text? Have you had your mind and heart planted firmly on graduation day, to get that degree and feel accomplished? Now school is behind you and you can celebrate never footnoting or works citing anything ever again. Have you battled with that last 5, 10, 15, or 20 pounds? Now you realize the number on that scale does not define you: you are strong, fit, active, and treat your body with dignity. 

In the mess, it's so easy to forget how big we are blessed (this is one of the lyrics to one of my favorite songs, "This is the Stuff" by Francesca Battistelli). Stop, pause, reflect, grow, and give thanks. Savor the sparkle. After all, you once only dreamed of it. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Football, Pumpkins, Fall Break

Hi There!
   Today was a teacher work day at school which I was so very thankful for! When you're teaching all day, it's hard to get caught up and plan ahead (my fave thing in life), so it was nice to turn on my Coldplay Pandora station and get to work. We had a fun 4 day weekend and fall is in full bloom here and I am loving it so much. Anyone else feel like when they were younger, they never noticed the changing of the mountains and trees and things? But really, I was so concerned with homework, friends, reading Seventeen magazine, and making sure I found the proper straightener for my hair (Chi brand, btw), that it took until deep in my 20's to fully appreciate this gorgeous place we live. I think living in the Midwest for a while also makes me appreciate mountain beauty more. I certainly do not take our gorgeous backdrop for granted now.

 We decided to get all our "erranding" done Thursday so we could more fully chill the rest of the long weekend. We did all manner of adult things like Costco, Smiths, a bit of Christmas shopping, and  a counseling appointment (no shame here, folks. We need help processing the loss of our daughter and there is nothing to be ashamed of for getting help . Really. I am such an advocate for this). We came home and relaxed and napped (no shame there either) and made our yummy dinner that I posted about here,.

 We are working through ways to celebrate and honor Hadley as we walk through this messy, unknown first year without her. We decided to make a tradition out of painting pumpkins for her and bringing them to her site. We had such a great time creating them and brought them to her Friday morning with PSL's and full hearts. I was flipping through the pictures Friday night and found one with a pink "orb" in it. Some might say it's the light, I say it's my girl saying hello. 
Her headstone should be arriving in a few weeks. We can't wait to see it (things you never think even in the most backward universe you'd ever say) 

we used her nursery colors of course! 

We went for a long walk on Friday after we visited Hadley and I posted this on Insta: "Is it really a hike if it's paved the whole way and I enjoy my latte the whole time?" But really, is it? We walked for about 90 minutes and then came home where I proceeded to read/clear the DVR and do laundry until it was dark. I started watching Ben and Lauren's reality show and think it's cute. It's no secret that I am a sucker for any part of the Bachelor franchise and I enjoyed a peek into life after the show. Anyone else watching this? Another show I'm liking is "Divorce" on HBO. SJP's character is nowhere near as likable as Carrie Bradshaw, but it's an interesting watch. 

Saturday morning I hit up Boot Camp and that afternoon we headed up to Logan to watch a Utah State football game with some friends. We stopped on the way at a cute drive in called Maddox. AJ's friend Kameron recommended it. We had rootbeer and fried chicken, their specialty (well, AJ had diet coke and cheeseburger because the man knows what he likes). It was chilly at the game but it felt good. The game didn't start until 8:30, though so by the time we got home it was 2 am. This almost 30 year old can't do nights like that anymore (Sara, remember our walks home from Cork & Kerry? Who WERE those girls? Haha). I promised to keep AJ company on the drive home and kept my promise until Farmington, then peace out, world. We slept in on Sunday morning and did our usual meal prep. We planned to go see a movie but AJ decided to attack his lesson plans and grading so I treated myself to a pedi. 

Overall it was a great long weekend. I am so thankful for the extra time off. This year is going by at lightening speed and I want to fully enjoy the ride. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Classic Spaghetti & Meatballs

I so did not mean to take a week long blog break, but I did! This past week was jam packed with weekend fun, school busyness, eye appointment, dentist appointment, social gatherings, errands and more. I am returning from my unplanned blog break with a recipe I hope you love! We sure did. 

AJ and I are still on track with our clean(er/ish) eating during the weekdays. We eat tons of spinach, nuts, Greek yogurt, grilled chicken, and fruits We have cheat meals on weekends and "special days" and since we both had Thursday and Friday off for Fall Break we decided to cook up a delicious, not clean Italian meal. The inspiration came when I was watching "Counting On" (The Duggar kids spin off series) and Jinger (yes, with a "J") learned how to cook Italian food with her fiancee Jeremy's grandma. "That looks gooooood" AJ crooned at the TV. So it was decided, we'd make our own spaghetti and meatballs this week. I have never ever made homemade meatballs in my life and I had in fact sworn them off forever after an impulse Costco buy of frozen meatballs that left me tossing those bad boys in everything. I was ready for a homemade version, though! I can claim this recipe as sort of my own...I used elements of Rachael Ray's, Emeril's, and The Pioneer Woman's recipes to create the Steele version. We served it up with caesar salad and garlic bread it was such a delicious meal to create together. I can see lots of chilly weekend evenings with a heaping plate of this goodness in our future. 

I prepped the meatballs the night before. Such a time saver and in my opinion a necessity if making this on a school night. 
1/2 onion chopped (save the other half for your sauce) 
1.5 lbs. ground beef
1 tbs. minced garlic
2 eggs
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup Italian breadcrumbs
1 dash oregano 
1 tbs. olive oil 
I rolled them into balls and was surprised how many it made. Woohoo for leftovers! 

For the sauce, I also mixed and matched a few recipes and here is what I came up with:
Spaghetti Sauce:
1/2 onion sauteed in 2 tbs. olive oil and 1 tsp. minced garlic until soft 
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 28 oz. canned crushed tomatoes
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 cup beef stock 
1 tsp. sugar 
torn fresh basil to taste
salt and pepper

I put this on the stove about 2 hours before dinner time to let the flavors "marry" as AJ says. (You could totally do this in a slow cooker too!).  About half way through that time, I baked the meatballs at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes. I then added them to the sauce for the final 45 minutes or so before serving. I made my pasta (assuming ya'll don't need instructions for that), tossed together the caesar salad, and heated up the garlic bread. 

We added a glass of yummy red wine and a few hours after dinner I baked up some pumpkin chocolate chip cookies for dessert .A delicious homemade dinner on a fabulous day off with the hubby? I am thinking this might need to be a new Fall Break Tradition. Bon Appetit! 

Thursday, October 13, 2016


It's no secret, I'm digging Chip and Joanna's style (The stars of Fixer Upper for those who don't watch the unhealthy amount of TV that I do). I mentioned to my Father in Law that I was hunting for a cute rustic table with dark wood top and white legs. Well......when the Steele fam arrived last Thursday they brought with them a HOMEMADE TABLE! I was shocked!  It was exactly the look I was going for. AJ's dad, Mike, made it out of old barn wood from AJ's hometown. I love the history behind it and the rustic vibe. But Mike was worried that the table would look too rustic so he made a whole other table top, brought that one along too, and had AJ and I pick the one we liked the best. He thought for sure we'd choose the less rustic, smooth traditional one. Nope, we liked the barn wood. The uneven edges, the dips and grooves, the markings and character. It's real life: not perfect by any means but totally beautiful nonetheless. Here was old barn wood, probably considered a pile of rubble by some, created into something new, gorgeous, useful, and treasured.  If that isn't a metaphor for life then I don't know what is.

AJ's dad is also making us a matching bench for the open side! 

 We gave away our old table to one of AJ's coworkers and I realized that little table and I had been through a lot together. It was the first item I purchased for my very own little apartment. It was from Ikea (hi, starting teacher salary) and I fell in love with the black and white patterned fabric chairs. I had it delivered one chilly December evening and the apartment was literally empty except for the table. I ate many meals on it when I lived on my own (and by "meals" I mean popcorn, Lean Cuisines, and bowls of cold cereal). Then AJ and I moved in together and the table became home base for wedding planning, sorting out bills and mail of two lives combined. It was often filled with books and laptops open for lesson planning. Once AJ dragged the table into the middle of the room, surrounded it with rose petals and candlelight and we shared a romantic dinner there a few months after our engagement. We brought the table with us to our home we bought almost a year ago. The scenes of lesson planning and meals shared continued on. I remember placing a delicately wrapped positive pregnancy test on that table one night last December.....

But now we have a new table. And while to some it might seem like just a piece of furniture, to me it represents the gathering place of our lives. I know what that table will see:

-Thanksgiving dinners with a turkey on a platter that I had to call my mom 5 times to make sure I made it right
-Romantic meals for two. Sometimes steak, potatoes, and a fancy salad and other times burritos out of tin pie pans (Cafe Rio) because come on, #reallife
-Notebooks, grocery lists, and pens and bills....sorting out the business of life and finding ways to make it all work
-A Sharing Place: To talk about our days, the highs, the lows, the weird, and amazing. 
-Lesson Planning spot...always with the lesson planning. And grading student work. Oh the amount of elementary newsprint lined paper the table will hold! 
-Coats and scarves hung over the chairs on brisk winter days and flip flops and hair ties haphazardly on the floor in the warm months
-A high chair up against it one day. Chubby baby hands getting squash into all the nooks and crannies
-A decision spot: Important topics are discussed and sometimes debated. 
-A place of worship and prayer: a piece of the holy everyday where we give thanks for the seasons of abundance and request grace for times of trial
-Spilled coffee cups and breakfast dishes with toast crumbs left as we rush out the door on our way to greet the world and begin the day.
-A place of homework assignments, book reports, crafts and projects. I wouldn't be surprised if glitter finds its way into the crevices. Possibly some glue too.
-A place for our children to tell us about all the aspects of their days. Did you respect your teacher? Were you a kind friend? What would you like to do for your birthday this year?
-A place for opening stocking gifts on Christmas morning and the home for dozens of sweet and beautifully decorated birthday cakes to come.
-The setting for glasses of wine consumed with friends where we will laugh at the circumstances of life. Our hearts become vulnerable with friends and with them at the table we find a safe place to rest. 
-A place to share meals with family members far and near, and with friends where the friendships are etched in our hearts and those friendships just beginning to blossom. 

It is where LIFE happens and I am so thankful for what this table has yet to see. I can't wait. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Blog Link Up: Halloween Candy!

Today I am linking up with the fabulous gals from A Little Bit of Everything and Mix and Match Mama for their "Stranded" series. Today's topic is all about Halloween Candy! I am not much of a candy person these days. I would rather eat one piece of really great quality dark chocolate than a dozen fun sized pieces of regular candy. I often toss a dark chocolate Ghiradelli in my shopping cart and savor it. They have a cherry almond one that is heart eyes emoji. But tis the season for candy and here are the three I would choose if I were stranded!

-Paydays: I used to not be into these but lately I can't get enough! The salty nuts and creamy sweet center make the perfect combination. Oh so good and just enough sweet. 

-Haribo Gummy Bears: I always get these in my Christmas stocking and love the fruity flavors. I am picky about my gummy candies and Haribos are hands down the best! For an ultimate treat, I like to toss a few in some popcorn. There's that salty/sweet thing again! 

Caramel: I love soft chewy caramels! This is another candy that I used to not be into but now I love the flavor. (I sound like a grandma....I'm afraid I'm just a decade or so away from keeping Worther's in a baggie in my purse). I love a plain caramel, but can of course get on board with chocolate ones too. Hatch Family Chocolates in the Avenues has a treat called the "Caramel Malone" which is a rice krispie treat with gooey layers of caramel and chocolate. YUM! 

What are your three fave candies?? 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Weekend Recap

Hello Everyone!
   I have loads of blog ideas swirling around my head. Now, if I could have an unlimited supply of PSL's and a few days with nothing going on, I can get these ideas on paper (blog). But alas, real life, so I'm taking one at a time.

 Today I want to tell you all about our fun weekend with AJ's fam in town! I'll start on Wednesday, though. I left work a few minutes early to head to an appointment with a specialist to do a procedure to try and determine if there was a physical cause for my water breaking at 29 weeks. I was really anxious/excited for the appointment. Potential answers are always good, right? Well. If you live in the Salt Lake Valley, you know about Wednesday's traffic situation. Grrrr. I sailed about 2 blocks down from my school, GPS indicating I'd be to the hospital in about 25 minutes. Then boom, traffic came to a standstill. I knew (thanks to a text from my mom) that the freeway was closed in both directions, but I had no idea the backup this would cause for side streets. I glanced at my phone and it now displayed "85 minutes until arrival time." I called AJ who was also trying to get to the office to meet me and he was stuck in traffic on his side of the valley too. Have I mentioned the specialist that performs this appointment has only a few day window in which to see me? The doctor's office called me and informed me no one was able to make their appointments all afternoon and seeing as I had the last appointment of the day, I would need to reschedule. I said I'd take anytime the next day. They were able to get me in late morning Thursday. I furiously wrote sub plans Wednesday evening.

 It actually turned out to be a blessing: AJ and I both were able to sleep in, have a relaxing morning, and do some shopping after the appointment and we were at home to greet his parents who arrived at around 2:00 Thursday afternoon. The appointment went well. It was so hard to walk back into the hospital and sit in the waiting room just a few doors down from where Hadley passed on. Yuck. That was hard. But the procedure revealed nothing physical indicating a cause for preterm birth. That's both good and also frustrating. I have given up entirely looking for "reasons." There simply are none (trust me, I've had dozens of doctors weigh in). There is no one to blame: no missed signs, no  doctor error, not my body, not external circumstances, not myself. That gives me an odd sense of peace. 

   We hung out for a bit with his fam Thursday (they surprised us with a new dining room table....more on that in a later post!)  and then went out for Mexican food and my first margarita in a YEAR! SO delicious! Friday morning I went into work. AJ took the day off and spent some time with his fam while I was away. Friday evening I went to dinner with a friend where we talked for 3 ish hours (not uncommon for girls' nights!). Saturday morning I hit up Boot Camp (so hard but so good for me) and then went to get coffee with my Mother in Law. 

Saturday afternoon we dragged the guys to Ikea, At Home, and a few other stores with us until it was clear they had enough shopping. We went out to lunch then released the men folk for the day to go home and watch football while us ladies continued to shop. We came home late afternoon and I caught up on laundry and reading for a bit. Then we grilled bacon wrapped beef tenderloins (cheat weekend to the max!) and AJ's mom cooked up delicious sides and we rounded out our Saturday with peanut butter cookie baking and watching a VERY INTENSE Oregon State game. I am not a sports gal, but even I got into it. Go Beavs!

 Sunday morning we had my parents over and enjoyed a brunch together before the Steeles headed out of town that afternoon. I love having two great sets of parents in our lives. We always love visiting with them both. After they left, I went to pick up my Hadley necklace from the jewlery store! (By posting this, I won't get robbed at gunpoint like Kim Kardashian when she posted her jewels right?? Haha). It is an exact replica of the one AJ gave me (but real silver and a more durable chain) and it has a teeny ring charm on it with her birthstone (pearl!). I love the itty bitty ring and think that she never got to wear one so I wear this tiny one for her.
One of our purchases was this set of new barstools. I love that they are backless and sleek looking!

you can see my phone case in the reflection. The necklace is not actually floral 

the back reads "one in a million" 

 We did our usual Sunday meal prep (guys, we are getting so much faster at this!) and we are now able to multitask and prep a few recipes at once so what once took almost 2 hours, now just takes around an hour. This week is relatively chill (knock on wood) and I am hoping for lots of boot camp, bubble bath, and book time in the evenings. In the meantime, here's a 1st grade gem I heard today, "Trump hates brown people and that Hillary lady lies sometimes." Yeah, I'll just leave that one there. Have a happy week! 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Walk of Remembrance

When we left the hospital after evvvverything had happened, with exhausted minds and broken hearts, we were given a huge box of stuff from the NICU: there were angel statues, Hadley's hand and feet molds, all the items that were in her bed with her, her hats and bows, a bunch of blankets and stuffed animals, a new baby guide (ouch), and a folder with grief resources. In the days and weeks that followed, once we made funeral and burial arrangements (the worst), I reluctantly opened the folder and sought help from those who have walked this incredibly difficult path. I found the Share Parents Network (a support group for those who have lost children), and immediately joined their facebook group. From there, I learned about the Walk of Remembrance and Hope, an annual event held in October. I marked the date in my calendar and in my summer swirl of grief, it seemed so far away.

The event was this past Saturday and AJ and I attended with our friends and fellow angel parents, Tracy and Matt. (We met up for brunch before the walk. We tried a new place that was delicious called Sweet Lake Biscuits and Limeade. It was delicious, I would totally go there again). I love chatting with them because we talk about our girls, yes, and our pregnancies, but we can talk about other things too. Our stories are woven into who we are and while loss is a constant presence in our lives, it's mixed in with lots of good stuff too. I can't fully express how thankful we are to be friends with people who truly, in every sense, understand what we went through. 

 We arrived to the Peace Gardens where the event was held and submitted the names of our girls to be read. I of course put Hadley's full name because I just love hearing the whole thing: Hadley Grace Steele. Is it strange I immediately thought of her graduation? AJ and I always tried out our baby name picks with how they would sound when our child walked across the stage to get their diploma. That's how you should hear your child's whole name. That thought certainly stung a bit. We got the T shirts that we had ordered and it had all the babies names on the back that had been submitted. There was a short presentation of some songs and a children's choir. Then they read all the baby names. That hit me so much harder than I anticipated. Tears streamed down my face and Tracy and I grabbed each other's hands when our girls' names were read. There were just so many names. Behind each name is a family and pure, immeasurable love, hopes, and dreams. Oh sweet angel babies, I know you all wonder why we mourn for you because you are dancing in heaven now. But we just miss you. A lot.

 After the names were read, there was a really moving dove release. I had never seen a dove release before and it was really neat and special. Then we began our walk around the gardens. The path was lined with luminaries with all the babies' names. We took these luminaries when we left and they will be lit on October 15th, in honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss and Awareness. They call it the "Wave of Light." Overall, it was an enjoyable afternoon honoring all the babies gone too soon. I can't wait to take the future Steele children one day as we all celebrate the beautiful, brief life of Hadley Grace Steele and all the other precious angel babies. You enriched our lives before you were on Earth, while you were here, and even after. That is truly a gift of love.