Food and Love and Stories

Happy Valentine's Day, loveys! How's your heart today? I hope everyone is feeling loved by family and friends. I'll be honest and tell you that my heart-box of chocolates is already nearly empty. It's been a wonderful Valentine's Day already, with cards and candy and hugs all around. This picture I posted was from our ten year anniversary. I can hardly believe that was four years ago! We've just celebrated our fourteen year anniversary. Time flies, lovey. It's true. Enjoy every minute that you can. Love the people in your life. Eat chocolate.

On this Happy Hearts Day, I have some news to share! You guys know about my three Romano family foodie novels (published by Heartsong). I've wanted to combine those short novels into a compilation book for a while now, and it's finally happening! I'm so excited! Table for Two, Second Chance CafĂ©, and Recipe for Love will be in one book called The Romano Family Collection! These three stories are close to my heart--you guys know how much I love food and fiction! One of my favorite aspects of writing these novels was the food aspect! I think I like writing food scenes as much as I do writing romantic scenes! Ha! So in this new compilation book, there is a bonus short story (Yay!) and also a recipe included. For all those readers who wondered what happened to Mandy's best friend Ashley (Table for Two), you'll get a glimpse into Ashley's own story. I liked that Southern girl from the start, so I really enjoyed finding out more about her. Ashley's short story was a joy for me to write, and it was double fun to get to see the Romanos again.

I opened my email and found that I'd received the typeset interior this morning! Perfect Valentine's gift for me. So The Romano Family Collection will be available very soon, loveys. For my Valentine's gift to you, I want to give you a sneak peek at the cover! I'm in love with it. (Meghan, you are awesome.) In Table for Two, Leo tells Mandy about the unofficial Romano family cookbook, where his father keeps their secret recipes. This cover made me think of that yumminess. The cover is not quite final, still making tweaks, but pretty close. (It definitely makes me want to make reservations at an Italian restaurant!)

Whether this Valentine's Day will be spent sharing love for a significant other, family members, or close friends, or maybe it doesn't feel all that loving to you at the moment--here's the thing, loveys, we're all loved, and mean more to the people around us than we probably realize. You're special. You matter. God loves you.

You know what sounds wonderful to me? Maybe a massage. Maybe unlimited time browsing in a bookstore. Maybe a fantastic dinner (that I didn't have to cook). Romantic movie marathon. Moscato. All of those things sound delightful.'s a busy day, people picking up stuff I'm selling online, sorting through things in the garage, it might be a hamburger-helper-kind-of-meal tonight because the kids have martial arts class right after dinner. The day started early with science club this morning. And me realizing at the last minute that Ash was supposed to take either a fruit or veggie to science club (who knows why!). Sadly, I don't always have those available. So I handed my child a head of lettuce as she walked out the door.

And Jeff kissed me quickly and asked me if I'll still be his valentine, all these years in.

That's real-life romance for you, lovey.

I love it so much.

Whatever your day looks like, Valentine's Day is for all of us. Share the love.

Love and Hearts

Loveys, how are you? I feel like we got home from our holiday in Virginia, hit the ground running and haven't stopped. Basement finishing stuff, best friends coming to visit, birthday parties, anniversaries, and tonight, the Daddy/Daughter ball in our little community. We got the basement (mostly) finished, not entirely but close enough, right in time for my best friend from Texas and her husband and daughter to arrive for a visit. You guys know about me and Michelle. How we've been best friends since we were twelve, and I can't imagine my life without her. How so many of my best memories include her. She is just beautiful to me, and I love to hang out with her and see our kids play together.

So we decided on a girls' night while she was in town, and the above photo is the absolute deliciousness that we had. We went out for Mexican food with Nancy and Danielle and talked and laughed and talked more about everything.

And I need more of that, lovey. Maybe you do too.

Michelle and Buddy and Gillian went back to Texas, and I felt the way I always do when she leaves or I leave--sad but thankful we're still us after all these years.

Speaking of all these years, they ended up leaving the morning of my and Jeff's anniversary. And then my precious friend Sam came and babysat for us so Jeff and I could go out to dinner and celebrate fourteen years together. That sounds long to me, but in reality, we've been a couple for eighteen years now, which really is such a long time.

And we sat across from each other and talked about us and our kids that we absolutely adore to the point of obsession, and I just felt so blessed. Not because it's all been smooth sailing every year of our lives together, but because we've worked at it and have come to this place where I look at him across the table, and I love him and he loves me.

And I'm so thankful, because we're still us too.

Fourteen years of marriage. And we're holding on, and I feel excited for the next fourteen.

Here's the thing, lovey, maybe you've noticed, there's just no getting around the fact that there's a lot of negativity in the world right now. Negativity and outrage and lots of people who think that how they think and feel is the only right and acceptable way--and do you ever not want to be part of that? 

I in no way want to argue opinions on everything. In fact, I'm so tired of hearing and seeing arguments and outrage everywhere. I've had to really limit the amount of news I'm reading lately.

Here's all I know: I'm thankful for every gift God gives me. Honestly, most of my days are not spent changing the world. Today I made peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches twice. I'm thankful for a husband who loves me and whom I love. Because I know marriage is hard sometimes.

I'm thankful to be a mother. Being a mom is my favorite. I can't even explain how much I love my kids. And in a messy world, I look at them, and I am so happy. Because these days are memories I will cherish forever.

Tonight was the Daddy/Daughter ball in our town. Jeff and Ashtyn got all dressed up and he took her out to dinner and to the ball, where they danced and had the best time ever. And my little girl's eyes were shining when she got home and told me all about it.

So. Very. Thankful.

So. Much. Joy.

There are serious issues in our world, and I know it, just like you do, lovey. There is no escaping that. I spend time praying over the things that weigh on my heart. There are charities we give to because we want to help in the ways that we can.

I'm not God, and there are things I don't understand. I've got lots of unanswered questions when it comes to faith and belief and life and balance and fairness and suffering.

What I do know is that the love in my house is beautiful.

This life--with friends to laugh with, a husband to talk softly with, children to cuddle with, parents and sisters and family, books to read and movies to watch and meals to cook--well, one of my resolutions this year was to focus on positive. To be more positive. To be grateful for the good in my life. To pray about anything and everything. The verse on my chalkboard right now says, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, worship his holy name. And remember all he has done for you." For myself, I think I need a lot less news in my life, and more good books. I need less time reading articles, and more time in person with friends.

It's been a busy start to the year for us over here, and I have a feeling things will stay busy for a while--but that's okay.

I keep thinking of Ashtyn, climbing up on my bed and beginning with, "So, like, Hannah was there too, and Daddy and I danced to Ice, Ice Baby!" And her beaming face.

I keep thinking about hugging Michelle tight before they drove away. And the hundreds of memories we share together. And going out to dinner with Jeff and talking about how awesome our children are and how this is the life we wanted. And snuggling with Lincoln during nap time. And Lily saying, "Sorry, Mommy," constantly because she's adorable and sweet.

It's nearly Valentine's, lovey. And we're all about the love over here. Ashtyn came home from school, telling me that her teacher said that Valentine's Day is really all about friendship. And then she said, "That's at school, but at our house, it's all about love, right, Mommy?" And I squeezed her and told her she's my Valentine forever.

I'm going to tell you something special, loveys. When I was in Virginia, my mom and I went shopping before Christmas and stopped for sandwiches at lunch. And I was just eating a sandwich, and my mama said, "Bran, I could stare at you for hours."

Here's the truth. I almost cry every time I think of her saying that. (Right now included.)

Because I know just what she means. I could stare at my children for hours. I know how much my mother loves me and Sara and Laura. I know how deeply I love my own children. It's like nothing else.

I wouldn't trade anything for that moment, just eating lunch with my mom. It's in my memory for always.

I know we were never promised a perfect world. I don't expect perfection, not even close. Things have been messy in this world a really, really long time. It's not all that shocking.

But every now and then, you experience a moment that feels perfect. And that's a gift. A mother/daughter moment, anniversary flowers, girlfriends laughing over margaritas, little girls wearing corsages from their fathers, the ending to a book you loved--beautiful moments.

Like I said, lovey, we're all about the love over here.

My cup runs over.


When you want freedom from stuff...but also to go shopping.

Loveys, how are you? We're already a month into this year, can you believe it? I'll be honest, it's been a rough couple of weeks. Back problems for Jeff. Basement delays and expenses. Car trouble. A 22-month-old who has decided to start waking up at 5:30 every morning. (Lord help.) A five-year-old who is waking up in the night and climbing in our bed. So....two tired parents. This mama has been spending a lot of time with Miss Lily, without energy to do much more than that. (Plus, we're living in that work zone and my car is tricky at the moment.) So if anyone's looking for me, I'm hanging out in our loft, watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

Here's the thing with that. So something that's been on my mind this year (I think this MAY stem from the mess all around me) is living a more minimalist life. Simplify, you know.

However, all this time in my loft has left me alone with Instagram a lot.

Do you know that feeling, lovey? Where in one thought, you want to absolutely get rid of junk and feel light and free  . . . and in the next, you want to go to the store and buy all new stuff? It's so discouraging when you admit that while you think you want might just want new and different.

I'm thinking it's very important to fight those feelings. Especially when there are added basement expenses and unexpected car expenses.

I do want to simplify. It's just that all the amazing kitchens and bedrooms and living spaces on Instagram are a temptation.

Resist temptation, I know, lovey.

Don't worry. I'll just be here in the loft, occasionally thinking about shiplap.

Sometimes we start our new year with all kinds of goals...then we realize that our treadmill is buried under Christmas decorations in the office, and our car is out in the driveway, and currently isn't moving more than 25 miles per hour. And Cadbury eggs are already at the check-out lanes, even though we haven't hit Valentine's Day.

So, one thing at a time. 

We do this thing for Ashtyn sometimes, when we pick her up from school. We wait for her in the carpool lane, and as soon as the door opens, Lincoln and Lily and I scream and cheer for Ashtyn. Every time, her face beams and she loves it. I love seeing her feel so loved.

We all need that sometimes. At the end of a long couple of weeks that have been stressful--we need a pick-me-up from our people. (Sometimes that need for a pick-me-up can get tangled up with the need for shiplap. No one is perfect. Feelings are complicated things.)

My best friend from Texas is coming to visit soon, and I'm so excited to see her. To drink coffee together. To laugh together and cook together and do all the things that we do. The truth is that Michelle and I have been hanging out together for going on 25 years now. Crazy. We just might have to break out the Tom Petty and wine coolers and have a throwback night. Maybe I'll even pick up some Little Caesar's crazy bread. :)

Rough couple of weeks or not--good times are ahead. January Shmanuary. I'll break out the treadmill in February this year.

Parenthood is not for the faint of heart. Neither is marriage for that matter.

But both fill my heart in so many ways. If you ever feel like you're alone when it comes to unexpected financial issues, or kids and behavior issues, or feeling frustrated with your partner--take a breath and know we're all there.

And it's okay. Cheer for each other anyway. Reach for each other anyway. Eat breakfast for dinner when you're tired.

(And maybe buy shiplap when you find it on sale at Home Depot. Just saying.)