August 29, 2015

My Precious Friend Lyndsie

It is with the deepest and most profound sadness I share that my precious friend Lyndsie has gone Home to be with the Lord.


Lyndsie was loved and cherished by every single person that knew her. She was a light; radiant and so beautiful inside and out. It seems so trite, but that's truly how anyone would describe her. She loved the Lord with her whole heart and desired nothing more than to serve Him with her life.

Lyndsie was the devoted and loving wife of Daniel, and I witnessed firsthand how deep their love was for each other. They absolutely adored each other and seeing them together was inspiring and so precious. They served each other in everything, and I was privileged to spend time with them as a couple, as we shared our hearts and talked about anything and everything. I truly hold those times in my heart and weep in remembrance of those sweet moments together.

Lyndsie was also an absolutely amazing mother to her sweet Ethan and Aubrey. Their adoption stories are miracles of the Lord, and it was an incredible privilege for me to walk with Lyndsie and Daniel through those times. We cried together and praised the Lord together as those two precious babies were brought into their lives. Ethan and Aubrey will always know how much their incredible mother loved and cherished them. She absolutely thrived in being a Mommy and her legacy will absolutely be found in them.

I met Lyndsie through blogging, and we walked a journey a friendship that is a rare treasure. We met in person at the Created for Care adoption retreat, and I spent time laughing and having the best time with Lyndsie and her mom Melanie and sister Kendyl. I cherish all of Lyndsie's family and could see why she is such an amazing person when I spent time with them.





After Created for Care, I was able to go and visit Lyndsie, Daniel and the babies while they were temporarily living in Florida. It was one of the best trips I've ever had. I can't even express how wonderful and deep our conversations were and how much FUN we had together! We laughed and mostly just talked until we were worn out! I could never list all of the memories that were made on that trip. I hold it all closely in my heart.


It grieves me in the deepest way that I won't see my precious friend on earth again. I can't even imagine the profound loss that Daniel is feeling. But the most important thing I can share is how Daniel and Lyndsie handled her 4th battle with cancer. Their eyes were fixed on the LORD, and they praised Him in the good times and the bad. They held onto each other and clung to Jesus, showing all of us a supernatural trusting of HIS power and HIS timing in everything. They praised Him until the end, and when Daniel shared the news that Lyndsie had gone Home, he immediately turned it back around to glorifying the Lord and making His Name known.

Lyndsie is spending eternity in Heaven because she gave her life to Jesus Christ and accepted His free gift of salvation. She knew she could rest in His perfect plan, which we don't always understand. But we can always trust Him. I know Lyndsie wouldn't want me to write anything about her that didn't include an invitation to trust Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior and surrender your life to Him. If you don't know the peace that comes from walking with Jesus, please contact me. I would love to share with you why we are confident that we will see Lyndsie again one day.

Lyndsie, I love you so much! I cherish and hold you in my heart, and I will miss your smile and encouragement more than words can say. Thank you for loving me and for being such an incredible friend. I can't stop my tears as I write this; my heart is truly broken. I will see you again, my precious, sweet Lyndsie!

With my deepest love and gratitude for your friendship,

Ashley


August 26, 2015

London Vlogs | Packing My Carry-On

My first London video is up! This is all about packing my carry-on and my explanation of what I put in my carry-on bag for the plane. I used my Louis Vuitton Neverfull (large size) bag, and it was a perfect choice!



Here are some follow-up notes now that I'm home:

  • I ended up putting my Kate Spade day purse in the outer zipper compartment of my regular suitcase. It was still handy and I didn't have to use space in my carry-on bag. 
  • I used a few spritzes of the Evian water mist, but I wouldn't take it again. Just not worth the space!
  • I loved the concept of doing a hydrating mask on the plane, but when I put it on, I felt like I looked like a character from a horror movie! Picture a white mask covering someone's face - YIKES. I only kept it on for a few minutes (while I was in the fully reclining position) and covered my face with my blanket so I wouldn't be seen. Not exactly the relaxing moment I envisioned. I would take masks again, but only use them in the hotel room. 
  • I really didn't read my magazines or book much at all. I'm still glad I had a couple with me, but I'm glad I didn't take too many entertainment things. I really only slept and listened to music on the plane. 
  • My travel outfit was a perfect choice!
  • In our seats, we weren't allowed to have any bags sitting on the ground near us. Everything had to be put in the overhead compartment. There was a small drawer where we could put some things to keep handy, but I didn't realize I wouldn't have easy access to my bag. I grabbed out a few things and was fine, but keep that in mind (we flew British Airways in Business Class). 

August 21, 2015

Home Sweet Home!

We are BACK from our amazing trip to London! We had so many adventures and made so many memories - I can't wait to share! We're still a bit jet lagged and I'm knee-deep in laundry, but there's no place in the world I'd rather be than back in my home with my little three and Kurt! It's not the same if the five of us aren't together, and being away was such a good reminder of that.

I'm sure it will take awhile to to get all of my pictures, videos and recaps organized, so bear with me! We will also be starting school soon, so I need to get my bearings there, too. I love this time of year - fall is coming soon and everyone settles back into routine. It's a good thing!

London was truly, truly wonderful - but there's no place like home!

August 3, 2015

Our SPONTANEOUS Day at Magic Kingdom!

I wrote this blog post for Real Mom's Disney, a website with insight from several of us moms who love Disney World and taking our families. I recently made two corresponding videos because I LOVE hearing about people's Disney trips - not just reading about them! I hope you enjoy!

If there's one word that I WOULDN'T use to describe myself, it would be "spontaneous." I'm a planner through and through, almost to the point of detriment. I thrive on researching and having a plan, and this is especially true for our Disney trips! Lots of people ask me for advice for Disney vacations, and without hesitation I say "HAVE A PLAN!" 

So when our family was planning a trip to Jacksonville, FL to visit my brother, the thought briefly crossed my mind about possibly doing a Disney day. "No," I eventually concluded, "It would just be too much. And the heat and crowds would be miserable!" Well, a few weeks went by and my sister brought it up. Maybe we could swing it? Ultimately, when I thought of being just 2 hours away from Disney World and not going, it KILLED ME (this would be one of the signs of addiction). The next thing I knew, I made the spontaneous executive decision that we would do one day at Magic Kingdom with my mom, sisters and Evy and Liam (ages 6 and almost 5). 

So here's what happens when a Disney Addict gets an unexpected fix: you go into CRAZY EXCITED PLANNING MODE. Only problem: We were only about 3 weeks out! I'm usually the one who takes a full year to plan, make reservations, etc. But it was actually very freeing to have such a simple process. 

I went online and bought One Day Magic Kingdom tickets. No park hopping, no bells and whistles. I DID pay for expedited shipping, because the shipping time was iffy. I probably would've been safe, but Disney quotes around a 12-day shipping time. You can also elect for Will Call, but I didn't want one more thing to worry about that morning (and as I'll explain in a minute, that was definitely a wise choice!). 

I knew our day would only be successful if we could schedule some Fast Passes, but I usually book my Passes at the 60-day mark (I believe it's 30 days out for non-resort guests). I just KNEW they would all be gone. I also didn't understand how it would work for me to link Fast Passes, but it ended up being so easy! I have an account at DisneyWorld.com, which is called "My Disney Experience" (MDE). I logged in to this account and simply added the tickets to my cart that I wanted to buy. Once I purchased them, they immediately showed up in my MDE account on the website (even though the physical ticket cards were being shipped to me, the "digital" version (if you want to call it that) was linked to my account right away), so I was able to make Fast Pass reservations right from my computer! 

Keep in mind that this was around June 3, and our Disney day was going to be June 23. I knew I wanted to schedule Fast Passes in the middle of the day/afternoon, when the heat and crowds would be most intense. I also knew that we wouldn't be riding any of the major roller coasters (Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain), or meeting any characters (like Elsa and Anna), so that took a ton of pressure off. I reserved Jungle Cruise, Peter Pan's Flight, and Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin. Here was my rationale:

My plan was to hit Fantasyland right at opening time and knock out all of those rides (including Peter Pan first, which is the most popular in Fantasyland). I wanted to use my Fast Passes in other "lands" that we wouldn't be hitting in the morning. The one exception was repeating Peter Pan in the afternoon, because we all enjoy it so much! Some people reserve Fast Pass times for early in the day so they can try to go to a kiosk and get more passes (you can try to reserve more AFTER you've used your allotted 3). However - I have never used this plan. I might try it in the future, but after seeing the lines at the kiosks (they were a MILE LONG), it just takes up valuable time to try and get more reserved. 

Once my Fast Passes were reserved, I needed to figure out what I was going to wear! Our family always goes to the World in winter - low crowds, great temperatures! I have been so used to wearing pants and mid-weight shirts that I had to totally rethink my park outfit! I don't do great with heat, so I really wanted to be wise in my choices. After researching, I chose the Columbia Zero Rules short sleeve shirt with Omni Freeze technology, the RunningSkirts Athletic Skirt with Shorts, the Columbia Women's Coolhead Ballcap III, and my Skecher Go Walks (original model). I knew I wanted a loose fitting shirt, and a skirt with built-in shorts to avoid chafing. I tried everything on and really liked the look! 



I just packed cool shorts and shirts for the kids, and I gathered some extras for our park bag:

-Cooling towels (you wet them and they stay cool as the water evaporates)
-Sunscreen
-Swimsuits for the kids in a plastic sack (in case they wanted to do the Casey Jr. Splash Pad)
-Towel

The one thing I forgot were some items for breakfast! 

We decided to drive in from Jacksonville the night before Disney Day and stay in an off-property hotel. This way we wouldn't have to wake up at 3am! We also decided to hang out at Downtown Disney when we got in to Orlando. 

Here are some thoughts/highlights of how the day went!

-Orlando traffic is NO JOKE. We are so used to flying in and taking the Magical Express, and traffic definitely affected the magic for awhile there! Ha! Our trip should've taken about 2.5 hours and it took closer to 3.5. 

-Downtown Disney construction is NO JOKE. My GPS was all but saying "WHAT THE HECK?" We finally got into a parking garage and were able to start walking around. It was very crowded, but we managed! I even got my Birthday Button (I've always wanted one!), and it was a blast!

-We stayed at the Renaissance Hotel in Hotel Plaza, and it was great! We were able to sleep the 6 of us and it was very comfortable. However, getting to the Ticket and Transportation Center the next morning was very frustrating. Again, my GPS just didn't take us where we needed to go, and we ended up driving through the back roads of Disney corporate offices! It would've been interesting if we hadn't been trying to get to the parks early! We finally got to the TTC parking lot and had to take the ferry to Magic Kingdom (the monorails weren't operating yet). We walked up to the gates of MK right at 8am (when the park was set to open). We missed the Welcome Show and I was so worried that we were already behind the 8 ball, as they had already opened the park and we missed the initial push of people. However, even with walking in at 8am and stopping at Starbucks for a quick pastry and coffees for my sisters, we walked into an almost-empty Fantasyland! I'm telling you, the masses of humanity DO NOT arrive at the parks until about 2 hours after opening! It's crazy! 

-We hit Peter Pan first, and then went around to every ride in Fantasyland, including Small World, Winnie the Pooh, Barnstormer, Dumbo, and Under the Sea with NO WAITING (maybe 5 minutes at maximum!). We were even ahead of schedule! 

-We ate lunch at Columbia Harbor House and then headed over to Adventureland. We did the Tiki Room (air conditioned!) and then our first Fast Pass, the Jungle Cruise. Even with a FP, we had to wait about 15 minutes. However, compared to the 55-minute Stand By wait, it was a breeze! 

-We did PhilharMagic (air conditioned!) and then repeated Peter Pan with our Fast Pass. The lines in Fantasyland were LONG by this point. We walked by Enchanted Tales with Belle and the posted wait was only 25 minutes (which is very low for that experience at that time of day), so we hopped in the Stand By line. I considered this optional, so it was a nice treat! 

-We headed over into Tomorrowland and got a little ice cream snack. Then we hit Carousel of Progress (air conditioned!), PeopleMover (otherwise known as Tomorrowland Transit Authority), and then used our Buzz Lightyear Fast Pass. 

-By 3:30pm, we had completed our plan! We hit our highlights and never waited more than 25 minutes for anything. I couldn't believe that on a hot summer day with a crowd level 8 out of 10, we had such an easy, non-stressful day! The key is arriving early, utilizing Fast Pass, touring efficiently, and prioritizing what's important to you! 

-We browsed on Main Street for awhile, and then a thunderstorm rolled in. We had planned to stay in the park for an early dinner, but we looked at the radar and knew this was going to be a big one. We also wanted to take advantage of being so close to the entrance, so we put on our ponchos and decided to call it a day! 

-We braved the torrential rain and rode the monorail to the TTC, where we took a tram to our car. Mercifully, the rain sort of lessened as we were walking to the car. Unfortunately I was in terrible traffic and HORRIBLE weather driving back to Jacksonville. But we arrived back to our condo safely! 



Overall, it was a WONDERFUL Disney Day! It was an unexpected treat, and it was encouraging to me that you can have such a wonderful time on very little notice. Once you adjust your expectations and do a little prep work, it can really be a full and happy day! 




July 29, 2015

Aristocats in Paris Party!

I've mentioned before that Evy and I really enjoy planning theme parties for our family (you can see our Beach Party here and our Lady and the Tramp Party here!) I get asked a lot of questions when I post pictures of our parties, and I'm going to do a post soon all about it! 

We've had two theme parties this summer, and the first was an Aristocats in Paris party! Evy and Liam LOVE the Aristocats, and Paris is always a fun theme! 

Everything came together really quickly and easily! I always try to think of something "signature" for the menu that goes with the theme. Macaroons came to my mind, but I had no clue where to find macaroons locally at the last minute! Facebook to the rescue: I found the sweetest mom and her two girls who make the most delicious macaroons! They just started a little business and sell them at our local farmers' market every weekend. It was such good fortune to find them! 


Evy chose to wear a very fancy costume that she already had! I think it came from Toys R Us forever ago. :)


Croissants were an easy item for the menu that were perfect for the theme!


I found the ADORABLE topiary place card holders at Party City, of all places! They have a good selection in their wedding section.


I borrowed the Eiffel Tower from a friend and Evy added Marie to the table. She said, "I think it's just the perfect touch!" After I died from the cuteness, I had to agree!


I used topiaries I already had for the centerpiece, and the striped runner came from Target. The moss chargers came from Etsy (I used them at Easter!), and everything else came from Party City!


 The DELICIOUS macaroons!


Evy always helps me get the table ready, and she said we should turn the glasses upside down, "because that's how they do it in French restaurants." I have no idea how she knows this, but apparently she leads a very sophisticated life! ;) So adorable!



Our little hostess!





I borrowed the Paris print from a friend, and we even did little favors for the ladies in my family this time around! I found little travel size items from Bath and Body Works in the scent "Paris," so those were a given!



I'll share more about this in my general "party" post, but it's really easy to make a table look like more than it really is when you think through the elements and piece things together. Like I said, everything on this table was something I already owned or came from Party City! Nothing fancy at all, but when we put it all together it looked so lovely!


We used plastic "goblets" from Party City and the kids felt SO grown up! I felt like I was at a dinner party with little adults!


These pictures of our little Leeler are just adorable to me! He decided to be a cowboy (hey, I bet Paris has some cowboys!), and the way he was standing with his little glass gave me a glimpse of him as an adult. It was one of those strange moments where I saw him still as such a little boy but also what it might be like to be with him at a party or wedding or something in the future; standing around as a family and having a good laugh together. :)



My family members are always great sports and get into the themes! They wore their fancy clothes for an evening in Paris!



My sweet girls! Their little expressions are priceless in these!








I threw together an outfit that seemed somewhat Parisian - ha! Red lips, French braid and black and white seemed to do the trick!



Kurt wore his Gaston shirt. Because nothing says sophistication like the Frenchman Gaston! ;)


These little parties have become such a special thing for our family. Evy and I always love spending the time talking about the theme and thinking of details. She's at the age where her creativity is really coming out, and it's so wonderful to see! I look forward to seeing what special projects I have with Liam and Lynley. Creating memories is what it's all about! 

July 12, 2015

Family Bible Time Complete Series

I'm very blessed to be a member of the Creative Team for Interior Inspirations, a ministry that combines the practical "how-to's" of homemaking with the much-needed spiritual aspects of making a home. I recently wrapped up my series on having a Family Bible Time, and I loved creating it!


I wrote a comprehensive blog post over at Interior Inspirations, which includes all the videos and also the link for a handout that might be helpful. Go take a look if you're interested! I also have the videos posted on my personal YouTube channel as well, where I have a new Disney video, my makeup tutorial, etc.!

I hope this is helpful, and it was a great experience talking about something that's a very special routine for our family! And just a hint: in the final video, you get to see our family actually doing Bible Time. Brace yourself! ;)

July 9, 2015

YouTube | My Summer Favorites!

I've talked about how much I love YouTube, and I continue to find great channels that I'm really enjoying! I made my first videos for Interior Inspirations, and since those were ministry-related, they were pretty straightforward. Of course I enjoyed/enjoy making them and I love talking about things relating to the home, Christian parenting, etc. But I also wanted to experiment more with editing and making videos that really reflect my personality, and so I decided to make a "Favorites" video!

I feel like Favorites videos are all over YouTube, but they're all different because people are different. I'm a creative person and I need an outlet for that. It manifests in many different ways and in different seasons of life, but right now I'm still enjoying blogging and I've now added YouTube here and there! I think it's fun to be able to see someone really talk, instead of just reading words sometimes.

I would love it if you'd like to subscribe to my channel and share videos! It's kind of scary to put yourself out there but I've already connected with some great people and it's fun to have a shared experience, even through something like a social media outlet. And if you're interested in our London trip coming up. . .you might want to stay tuned to my channel! ;)

Here's my Favorites video, and I've shared the corresponding info below. I hope you enjoy!


Favorites:

Disney Vans Slip-on Shoe, http://www.vans.com

Bath and Body Works "Flashback Fragrances," Country Apple and Pearberry shown, http://www.bathandbodyworks.com

Hallmark Disney Collection, http://www.hallmark.com

Trina "Chateau Le Want" 4 Pc. Train Case, http://www.ulta.com

Sonnet James "Daisy" dress, http://www.sonnetjames.com

Disney Pandora, http://www.pandora.net

*Shoutout to the beautiful Jen at Pretty Neat Living! https://www.youtube.com/user/organize...

July 1, 2015

My Boys' Birthdays!

I love that Kurt and Liam's birthdays are one day apart! It makes for a very special season of celebrating every summer (my birthday and our anniversary are also in June!)! I wanted to do a special joint post about the "boys" in our family for their birthdays! 

Kurt is such a special, amazing person. He is truly a student of God's Word and his heroes include men like C.S. Lewis and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He loves to listen to audiobooks, but he always chooses works like the biographies of our founding fathers or the history of England (you know, light reading). He started to read an Economics textbook simply because he wanted to learn about economics recently. Yet he laughs at the most juvenile, simplistic things - ha! He is always wanting to learn, and that inspires me. 

The biggest thing that I see in Kurt for this season of life is his ministry mindset. He is passionate about wanting to grow authentic community (namely within our Lifegroup class), and it's been amazing to watch him lead. He loves teaching, and I really feel like he's in the zone of where God is using him in a big way. That leadership carries over at home, and he is so faithful to lead our family in a Bible time each night. The kids love that time together, and they don't realize it now, but those little 15 minute lessons are laying such an important foundation. 

Kurt is such a wonderful daddy to our little ones, and he ministers to me every day by helping me SO much. We love him with our whole hearts - Kurt, you are everything to us! 



Liam is turning 5 YEARS OLD today, on July 1!!! How is it possible that my little boy (15 months old when he came home) is now 5!?!? Liam, here's what you're up to:

-You are such a sweet, tenderhearted boy!! You are especially tender with Lynley. You love to give her hugs and kisses. Just last night, you were so worried that Daddy's birthday candles were too close to Lynley. You kept telling us to push it away from her - melted my heart! 

-You are so incredibly talented with Legos! You are so adept at creating your own masterpieces that are intricate and perfectly symmetrical. It blows our minds! We are amazed at how this dexterity is so clear, and we can't wait to see how that evolves. 

-You love leading the singing at our family Bible time! You and Sissy have your own little routine. Seeing you wave your arms like a conductor is so precious to me! 

-You love your older Sissy so very much! You two definitely have your moments, but overall I see a very sweet and loving relationship between you both. I love seeing you play and imagine together - especially lately, since Pinka and Uncle introduced you to SPY KIDS!


-You are VERY much into Ninja Turtles and Spiderman right now! We don't even really watch Ninja Turtles or really much Spiderman, but somehow I think every little boy just has a thing for those characters. :) 

-You're learning to pray, and we still help you (prompting to tell God what you're thankful for). It's so sweet to hear you talk to God and I'm so excited to see that relationship grow. 

-Daddy and I are continuing to learn your unique personality (just like your sisters). It's amazing how God intricately designs personality and innate inclinations. We want to parent you in the way that best reaches you, and I feel like this is the age where that starts to become more clear (that's what we saw with Evy, too). You are so special, and we are honored to be your Mommy and Daddy! 

Liam, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't take a minute and just pause to thank God for you. July 1, 2010 was the day that your Daddy started his new job here. We had just moved here from Mississippi and we were getting settled in. Little did we know that across the world a precious, adorable baby boy was born. Sometimes the enormity of that is almost too much for me to take. 

You love hearing me tell you about when I saw you for the first time and how I cried because I was so happy (you always ask me about that part!). I want you to always know how much we prayed for you, how much we ached for you, and how excited we were to finally hold you! But I also want you to always know that I feel an enormous weight on your birthday. I can't put an emotional label on it; but it's just a heaviness of what that day meant. You were brought into this world by someone else - and we cherish and honor her so much. This is such a special, special day - and I always want your birth mother and foster family to know what an amazing, bright, and happy little guy you are. You are such a treasure to us, Liam! I will always be here to listen and sometimes just dwell in the hard stuff with you. I am here to celebrate with you and just hold you whenever that's what you need (even when you're 18!). 

People often say that there's nothing like the relationship between a mother and son, and I agree. The other morning you got up really early, and I convinced you to come and lay down next to me in bed. I told you, "This is how we slept when we were in Korea," and you closed your little eyes and just nodded. Then you snuggled up closer to me, like you were acknowledging that your little heart felt something that you couldn't quite understand. I am so privileged to be your Mommy, Liam - to snuggle you, laugh with you, read books to you, and answer your hundreds of little questions throughout the day. I am so honored to know that you don't like your feet to be dirty, and to know the sound of your belly laugh. To wrap your birthday presents in Spiderman and Ninja Turtles wrapping paper and look in my rearview mirror to see a super hero-costumed boy sitting in the carseat. I get to do that with you. I get to be your MOM! Daddy and I so often say to each other how much we love you. You have been such a blessing in our lives, and we are so proud of our sweet 5-year-old boy!

To both of the boys in my life and in our little family - Happiest of Birthdays and know how loved you are by all of the Lancaster girls! 
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