Chilly Nights, Toasted Marshmallows, Warm Fires, and Apple Pie

Loveys, it's that time of year. Mornings and nights are chilly; afternoons warm up. The kids want to roast marshmallows. I'm in the mood for homemade apple pie and pumpkin pie and chocolate pie--basically all the pie. (Also, I'm already listening to Phil Wickham Christmas--Ash just said, "Mom, it's not even Halloween yet." #DONOTCARE)

Here's what I know: Life goes by in a blink, so do what you love. 

This past weekend was all of that for me. Gathering with friends and talking about books around a beautiful table. And then having a last-minute fall dinner party one evening at our house. For me, there's nothing like people coming together to eat and drink and talk and laugh. These are my favorite things. Add in a blazing fire and cocktails and music and candles and awesome friends and I'm a very happy girl.

I'll tell you the truth: I feel like I'm not great at keeping up with everything (mainly LAUNDRY). House stuff, work stuff, kid stuff--and back to the house stuff. I'm overwhelmed by clothes and laundry and dishes, and I'm tired of making dinner. I keep saying I won't take on projects and then I somehow end up doing it because--well, I guess I want to buy stuff and go places and since I don't feel like cooking, I kind of need money to take the kids out to eat. You know what I mean.

And all of those things are constant in my life (and important), but they can make me tired and drained and even overwhelmed.

We need things that fill us up. Make us happy. Give us life.

So amid all the things that are always happening, I need to pencil in food and friends and conversation. Because in those moments we're reminded (I'm reminded) how much I absolutely love my life. I woke up this morning and looked next to me. Jeff was asleep and Lily was asleep curled up on him. And my first thought was, Thank you, God. Because cozy mornings fill me up and make me happy. Watching Lily blink those sleepy eyes and move closer to me--I love those moments.

I need all those moments. When I'm sitting with girlfriends outside under twinkle lights, talking for hours, or when we're with our people out by the fire, eating apple pie after dinner, or when it's barely light outside and one of my kids (or Jeff!) snuggles up to me.

Fall is best when it feels cozy, don't you think?

Our calendar is so full this month that it feels like words are falling off the pages and I can't keep track of it all. Some seasons are like that. (I'm pretty sure it's like this for a lot of us!) But the house smells like pumpkin spice. It's Friday, hallelujah. Homecoming at LU is tomorrow. The weather is crisp and perfect.

I love every minute. 

London Calling! Yes please!

Loveys, where to begin?

I crossed the threshold into my forties. But there's something about flying to London with your mother and your sisters, seeing the sights of the city from up top of a double-decker bus, riding a river cruise down the Thames, oohing and ahhing and drinking champagne while you see the Tower Bridge and The London Eye and Parliament, then taking a little drive to Highclere Castle where you have lunch and tea and scones in the basement cafe at Downton Abbey, then coming home and having an amazing party (complete with a party bus and a deejay and more champagne)--there's something about all of these things that makes turning 40 actually incredibly wonderful. And I wouldn't mind doing it all over again.

This Thursday night I have tickets to go see the Downton Abbey movie, and it's crazy that I was JUST THERE. What in the world. Loveys, every moment was amazing. I. Can't. Even.

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind.

You know those dreams you have in your heart? The ones you never really mention but think would be amazing? Like taking a trip to London with your mom and your sisters?

Speak those dreams. Bring them to life.

I knew I wanted my 40th birthday to be special. What made it absolutely incredible were the moments I got to spend with my mom and sisters, and back home, with girlfriends from near and far. I'm so, so grateful to my sisters for joining my mom and me on the trip of a lifetime, and for Laura and Jeff for planning the most epic 40th birthday bash ever.

There were so many moments where I just wanted to freeze time. Breakfast at the hotel with my mom. Being amazed by Westminster Abbey all over again. Giggling over champagne on the river cruise with Sara and Laura. Pulling up at Downton Abbey as one of the girls on the coach turned the theme music on her phone. Crossing Abbey Road. Shopping at Selfridges. Sitting at an outdoor table at a cafe by the river Thames. And experiencing all these moments with my favorite women.

Visiting Jane Austen's house and pausing for a moment on the stairway, overwhelmed as I headed up to Jane's room. Hearing the music to Pride and Prejudice played on the old piano by one of the visitors as we toured the house. That was an unbelievably perfect moment. Buying wands for the kids at the Warner Bros. Studios Harry Potter experience. Touring Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, light rain falling as we sat in the covered stands. Sharpe on TV in the hotel (one of my favorites!).

Buses and trains and Ubers and taxis--every day was such an adventure.

 I miss London already.

But after we got back to beautiful Virginia, it was time for my party. Michelle, my best friend since childhood, arrived in town. Then I was surprised by my best girls from Colorado! Nancy and Danielle came and with these three girls who've known me so well for so long, it was time to party. We joined up with my fabulous friends here in Lynchburg, and it was a girls' night to remember.

I loved every minute. In fact, I'm so sad it's over.

We might need another girls' night soon.

So far, I think turning 40 has been fantastic.

I feel so blessed and ready for this next chapter.

Thirty Days

Loveys, I'll just tell you, I've been working on this post for a while. All these things have been on my mind. Now I'm (nearly) thirty days to forty--and I'm doing what we do. Evaluating. Planning. Wishing. Dreaming. Contemplating who I am.

Also, it's summer and I have strep throat. I know. What in the world. Kids are okay, but Mom gets strep throat. Not to mention that Mom is working on a deadline for a book edit. And Dad has to travel for work. And August--that most stressful of all months for us--is here.


I'll just tell you that August nearly kills me every year. We've got Ashtyn's birthday--as usual--the day after school starts. (WHY?) Less than two weeks later we have Lincoln's birthday. (Just a note for young women thinking of starting a family, you might want to avoid August birthdays if that's an option. When the Jeffster and I decided we wanted a third baby--I told him not to even LOOK at me for the whole month of November. I was not having another August birthday.)

So we've got birthday parties, along with school starting. And while I told myself I'd be a smarter mom and order school supplies early, I have no idea if they even do that at these new schools we go to. So I'll be like all the other moms, wandering every aisle in Walmart, looking for 46 already sharpened pencils and that sort of thing.

I can't think about that today. Right now my throat is hurting and I will be editing for much of the day. And my unexpected STREP THROAT IN SUMMER means I will be missing Hootie and the Blowfish tonight.

For all my 90s loveys, you know this is a tragedy.

(Maybe I can still rally. Pausing this for a quick prayer about my situation. ...)

Yes. HOOTIE. Also known (and loved) as Darius Rucker, but come on . . . we're talking about Hootie. I'm desperate to be singing Let Her Cry and Hold My Hand. This is who I am.

Which brings me to an important part of this post--I'm nearly thirty days out from being forty years old.

I feel like turning 40 is one of those things that requires life evaluation. Are you where you thought you'd be? What do you still want to do/accomplish? What happened?

So here I am.

And despite having strep throat (and anxiety), I keep thinking . . . Is it okay that I truly am so happy? 

I think I need to say this: We are all very different. Our journeys are different. We go through extremely difficult seasons in life--but that will look different for us and happen at different times for us. I in no way want to pretend that I have a perfect life. I don't! But perfect isn't the goal, loveys. And for me, I'm very much a "good enough" kind of girl. Not a perfectionist (though I admire perfectionists!). So not reaching perfect never bothers me whatsoever.

I read something the other day about turning 40 and how--like it or not--when you're 40, you've reached mid-life. (You're halfway to 80.) That really does make you take stock. Also, last week I got new glasses. It was time. I've been using the same glasses for about a decade. At the appointment, the eye doctor talked to me about what to expect regarding my vision in my 40s. (All downhill by the way.)

In other words--things begin to change in this decade.

That's okay.

So much has changed in every decade, right?

I feel like my 20s were all about being newlyweds and diving into my career. Jeff and I were married for five years before we had Ashtyn. Those were wonderful years. Taking off to Colorado on our own. Working at my dream job. Paying things off, taking vacations, watching Law and Order SVU every night . . . you know what I mean! Those early years. Apartments. First houses. Couple friends.

Yes, my 20s will always be special to me.

But my 30s--those were the most life changing. Because we became the Bruce tribe. We had Ashtyn and Lincoln and Lily. A whole decade of having kids and being parents and experiencing family life. There's nothing like it. When you bring your newborn home and place her between you on the bed--and you just stare at her while she sleeps. All that love.

Becoming who you were meant to be. Going from Bran and Jeff to Mom and Dad.

Without a doubt, the best years of my life. And they are still happening. When I hear my kids all through the house, I know I'll miss the sound one day.

I stopped by my parents' house the other day unannounced. It was a martial-arts night for the kids and I stop by a lot on those nights. Mom wasn't home yet so my dad and I just sat and talked. He told me she'd been out shopping with Laura. Mom had had a doctor's appointment at the hospital that morning and Laura had called, wondering where they were, when they'd be home. Now here I was, wondering where she was, when she'd be home. And when she drove up later and came in to find me on the couch, she smiled and sat by me and held my hand while she told me about her day.

And I know why it doesn't bother her at all that we're all calling and wondering where she is (especially on doctor appointment days) and what she's doing and when will she be back. She and Dad never mind when we stop by the house and grab a soda from the fridge and sit down and eat whatever Mom has made. The kids run up and down their stairs and push plastic baby carts around the house or do puzzles on the coffee table.

I know why my parents don't mind. I wouldn't either.

It's life again in the house.

I know after these days for me have ended, when Ash and Linc and Lily have moved out, I'll want them to stop by whenever and see what there is to eat. I'll want their children to play and make noise and go up and down the stairs.

My 30s have been the years I've had all my babies. When I had Lily, after working at a publishing house for a decade, I transitioned to freelancing from home. I thought my 20s were busy. (Hahaha! My 39-year-old self is laughing slightly hysterically at my 20-something self!) My 30s were packed. Having kids. Working. Writing my own books. And then finally . . . moving when my parents needed me.

Now I have an idea of what my 40s will look like.

We've started over in some ways, you know. New town (at least, it is for the kids). New schools. New people. New neighborhood. 

Still us.

Still together. It's been 16 years of marriage for me and the Jeffster. Honestly, there were some very hard moments in the span of that time.

But I look out at 40, then I look at him--and I can only be thankful I still feel the same. Stronger even. He's still my person. I love him so much. I'm proud of who he is. We've grown together--not apart.

(And I completely understand that that happens--growing apart--and I have so much love and compassion for when it happens to people. And truthfully, sometimes plan B works way better than plan A. All God's grace on all of us, loveys.)

I look out at 40, then I look at this home and this family we've made.

It's a blessing, I think, to feel content.

It's not perfect, loveys. I'll be real with you, I'm an anxious person. It's beyond my control. I need help with it sometimes.

We all need help sometimes. Hear me: None of us is perfect and that is fine. 

If love is the goal, I'm good with the track I'm on.

As I reach 40, I'll probably share dreams and hopes and wishes for going forward.

For today, I'm taking medicine and feeling grateful for my life and wondering how I can still get to Hootie.

We took an amazing vacation this summer to the Bahamas and every morning I'd go out and have coffee and look out at the gorgeous water. One of the things I loved was seeing the place settings on the table. Funny how we all appreciate and notice different things. For me, I love tablescapes. I just do. And I love sitting around a table and eating with friends and family.

If there's one thing I've thought about turning 40--it's who am I at this point in my life?

Over the next 30 days, I'll do all the crazy things we do in August. And then my mom and I will hop on a plane and take a trip to London. We'll celebrate the end of chemo and my 40th birthday.

When Jeff asked what I wanted to do for my birthday, I kept thinking of London. Turning 40 is a big one for me. It's mid-life! But going to London somehow makes me feel like it's fine. Wonderful, even. Because life is still happening. Because I'm so happy and thankful for all that I have. Because a life filled with love is a good thing.

I'm reaching the halfway point, loveys.

Who am I? is a good question. Feeling comfortable with the answers (even the parts you don't share with others) is part of getting older perhaps. I can only speak for myself. Today, I can tell you that I'm anxious, and I like table settings, and I like London and all things British. I can tell you that reading is still my favorite past time. I like good conversations and grapefruit cocktails. I like hosting parties and getting together with friends and spending time with my family, near or far.

I like holding hands with Jeff and binge-watching our favorite TV shows. I like 90s music and diet soda and dessert. (These particular things haven't changed since I was about 19.)

And I think I'm okay with turning 40. It's just another day to live with and love my people.

Almost 30 days out. And 40 years in.

It's still all about the love.