I had great plans to make some much needed updates to this blog last week…but life happened! It would probably be wise to shut down this blog and do all the updates at once, but I’m afraid that could only happen if I had someone helping me. Since it is just me…I’ll just keep trying to slowly get things freshened up around here.

Our living room/kitchen floors are finished and we started putting up new trim and baseboards. Kind of like updating this blog, we’ll just be going slowly room by room to get that big project done. I’ll post more details and pictures about our floors later this week.

I’m trying to pick a front door paint color….so many colors, so little door space.

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And for other random news from last week….my blackberry bush exploded and Aldi’s had funnel cake mix. I probably should have planned ahead and combined the two, but the blackberries were calling my name. I got my sister a funnel cake mix too because no one loves fair food like she does.

Running errands with my girls takes 1 million times longer than it does by myself or with my boys. “Mom, look at this. Take a pictures of this. Isn’t this beautiful. I NEED one of these. This is SO ME.” My 6 year old told me she wants to have a birthday party inside Hobby Lobby. I told her I do too.

Their personalities sure come out in their poses!

6.12hobbylobbyMy kids are doing “Great Grandparent Camp” this summer. At least that is what I am calling it. My grandpa is teaching the boys (and me) woodworking, while Grandma is teaching the girls to quilt. Whether it is helping me pick paint colors or taking pictures for a blog post, my eldest daughter is always close by my side – mimicking and learning.

6.12lifeskillsOh glorious post-swim naps!

6.12sleepWe hit the road to visit a local lake with friends, where Chris willingly let his friend toss him to the delight of our kids. My mother-in-law saved a few magazines for me…one featured Carlton Landing. I flipped the page and was like, “Hey, I’ve been in that kitchen!!” It was beautiful in the magazine, but even better in person. In somewhat related news, I got my first Yeti tumbler. I show Chris every night how my ice from the morning is STILL NOT MELTED. Really, my mind is blown by the thing. It has a plastic lid…how does it keep ice all day in Oklahoma heat? Mind blown.

6.12adventureroadI didn’t get blog updates accomplished last week, but I did add a new SnapShop lesson:


It is a simple case study on how I capture reoccurring everyday family events. I often opt to take a chunk of time to really tell the story once instead of pulling my camera out every day to capture the same thing. This keeps me from bouncing between being present and my camera. The lesson walks through my approach and camera settings.

If you are a SnapShop student, I will soon start sending monthly emails to let you know what lessons have been added. I also keep my @SnapShopWorkshop Instagram account updated with new lessons.

6.12snapshopIGFor those interested in learning more about photography at your own pace, you can find a registration discount code on at @amandarydell (look for the ice cream picture on her Instagram account). Amanda is a featured interview on the SnapShop site. In the interview, she shares her tips and tricks for creating stylized images. Her photos are among my very favorite and I am honored she is a part of SnapShop.

6.12amandarydellWell, that is about all for today’s random blog dump. Last week I started updating the sidebar (still more to do). This week I am hoping to get some new images on the header slideshow. I kind of wish I could just make the header a slideshow of my current instagram pictures. If anyone knows how to do that (I use a ProPhoto WordPress template), I would willingly take your help!

Happy Monday!





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  • Jenn - great post
    love it all
    i got my first yeti for mothers day. it is pretty amazing. pretty mind blowing. love your decal on yours. mine is still plain.

  • Becky - I got my husband a yeti for Father’s Day, and it is totally legit! I kinda want to get one for everyone I know now (and one for me :))!

  • Kimberly Oyler - i have a 40oz hydro flask that i took to the beach in hawaii all the time. we would all be sooo amazed leaving the beach a few hours later with a water bottle still completely full of ice. those things are crazy!

Last year Chris had an idea for an annual Father’s Day picture…he made attempt #2 yesterday. I’m not so sure he’ll be able to keep this up for too long, but I’ll have fun watching him try!

Our house is a little like these pictures right now. So much going on! We finally (after beginning the process in January) made a bunch of progress on refinishing our wood floors. A family of 7 can be super rough on wood! Everything is covered in dust as we try to put back baseboards and change door trim. I’m going to take the week off from this little online corner in an attempt to bring order back to my house (I’ll still be posting on IG).

I am working on a new SnapShop lesson, so I’ll pop in to let students know that is posted. Otherwise, I’ll see you back here next week. If all goes as planned I’ll be doing some house cleaning and updates on the blog too.


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  • Helen - Soooo cute… but… hmmm… is that an extra pair of little feet I see in the back??

  • Sharla Stockwell - I think that extra pair of feet was to hold the boy up behind his dad :)

  • Emily - Rule #1 of climbing: don’t climb without a spotter!

    Happy new floors! I can’t wait to see the progress!

  • Kristin S - I have no doubt that he’ll keep doing this until there are grandkids added to the picture.

  • Sara - I don’t usually comment on blogs, but I just wanted to share that I was recently convicted about the amount of time I spend looking at blogs/pinterest/etc. I decided I would only read one blog a day and it would be “Under the Sycamore”. The reason is that I always leave encouraged when I read what you post. You write about a wide variety and I’m always blessed when I get to the end. So, I hope you have a productive week putting your house back together and I will look forward to your encouraging words next week. BTW – you mentioned recently you did a one month sugar fast. I would love to hear how you did and what your results were. I know a lot of people who fast from sugar, but I don’t read their blogs. :) I have only been able to sugar fast for a day – so far.

  • Kimberly Oyler - already miss your blog this week and…. its only been one day. πŸ˜‰

  • Lindsey Claire - Fun idea and great pictures!! …I’m pretty sure that what looks like “an extra pair of feet” standing behind him is actually the feet of the boy dressed in black on his right! lol

  • AshleyAnn - Thanks Kimberly :)

  • Karen Choat - Completely off this topic although WOW. Just wondering if ya’ll ever found out if the children you sponsor and their families were okay after the earthquake? And I am with Sara, if I have to limit my time online, Under The Sycamore is one of the sites I visit for sure.

  • AshleyAnn - Karen – From what I have learned, our sponsored son is okay. However, I am unable to know how the children we visited in the area directly hit are doing. I am still following along and trying to learn anything I can. I don’t have names of the kids we met, so I can’t make specific inquiries. Thank you for asking.

Yesterday I shared about raising up a bunch of readers, ones who can read for hours a day because their daily schedules are very light and filled with ample unscheduled time. While they sprawl about the house reading, it is far too seldom that I find myself doing the same. When I do pick up a book, it is usually with a specific purpose in mind – growing, research, education. Sounds fun, right? The truth is I love to learn and research. When I make the time to read, I would rather be learning than escaping. I have a feeling the time will come again when I curl up with a book just to escape.

Yesterday I shared about what the boys are reading, today I thought I would share my most recent book list. I’m currently reading China’s Hidden Children by Kay Ann Johnson.

6.16books-01It is a hard book to read. Hard content to digest. Hard emotionally. And hard in the sense it is written like a research paper more than a light story. It is also a book I think is extremely important for any Chinese adoptive parent to read.

“Until recently, most accounts of international adoption from China have been written by or for international adoptive parents, who in turn, pass on the account as they know it to their adopted children. The voices and perspectives of Chinese birth parents, those who lost the children adopted by others, are largely absent. Also absent in these accounts, indeed wholly invisible, is another group in China that is crucial to this history, the Chinese adoptive parents of children.” (Johnson, 1-2)

Over the last few years the majority of books I read are related to the stories of birth families in China, birth planning laws in China and Chinese adoption laws. I feel a strong sense of responsibility to learn as much as I can regarding the cultural, political and social forces at work in China in the years surrounding my youngest daughter’s birth. I will not be another American mindlessly saying, “Oh the Chinese do not value women that is why so many girls are abandoned,” or “because of the one-child policy Chinese parents only want sons.” Those statements are broad and quite often simply not true and cause great harm. I don’t want further perpetuate general statements about a culture and people that are not based on research and truth, but to do that I must learn. I owe it to my daughter.

Instead of creating a fairy tale story for my daughter about things that I do not actually know, I will research. I will learn facts and I will acknowledge the things I do not know. While she is young, I’m read all the books I can get my hands on related to these topics, no matter how hard they are for me or how much they break my heart and call into question beliefs I once held. My reading these days is not light.

Along those lines here are the last few books I’ve worked through (or am working through):

6.16books-02The Good Women of China

Silent Tears

China’s Hidden Children

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother (another important read, not pictured)

When Helping Hurts

Too Small To Ignore

Operation Christmas Child

Each of these books have challenged me to think deeply about hard topics. The last two (Too Small To Ignore and Operation Christmas Child) are not related to China. Those two allow me to further understand and get glimpses at two non-profits we support as a family (Compassion International and Samaritan’s Purse). My book list sure isn’t for everyone, but for those interested in these topics – I highly recommend them all.

That being said…I do have other books I’m ‘reading’, well more like thumbing through frequently.

6.16books-03On the totally opposite end of the reading spectrum is the other books I like to pick up often. Obviously, they are much lighter reading! These are inspiring books to have around in regards to creating spaces in my home.

Design*Sponge at Home

Homespun Style

Pretty Pastel Style

My wish list in this genre:

A Nesting Place

The New Bohemians

There are TONS of books I would like to read. Many recommended by friends and other bloggers. I have a lists in nearly every genre, but for now my reading is pretty intentional in regards to gaining knowledge, understanding and wisdom to prepare me for the years ahead as I dive into conversations with my youngest daughter. When I read outside of this topic, it is usually a book with the kids. I’m covering a lot of old classics with them, which are pretty fun to read again as an adult.

What are your favorite current books?




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  • Melanie - Our pastor recommended “When Helping Hurts” before our mission trip to Haiti several years ago. It opened my eyes and heart to the many complicated issues behind the poverty and suffering in our world. I think it forced me to reckon with God and myself why I felt called to go. If you are feeling called to the mission field in any way, this book is for you! It is not a light, easy read though…it makes you think:)

  • Laura J - I saw this book and thought of you and your crew: Give Your Child the World: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time. Also look for Mr. Putter and Tabby books at the library. I think your girls would like them. They are funny and charming and have positive views of senior citizens which doesn’t happen as often as I think it should. I suspect your boys might stay to listen if they “happened to be nearby”.

  • Krystle - The Nesting Place is a great read – it focused a lot on finding contentment in where you are and in the imperfections. I really found that comforting and freeing! :)

  • Sophia - You’d love “Wild Swans”. It’s not about adoption but intimately covers China’s recent history, which, of course has had an impact and creates the backdrop for your daughter’s background.

  • Jenn - i read the nesting place last year and really enjoyed it. i just picked it up from the library but would love to own it too. bread and wine was good. so was grace for the good girl. i really love fiction and escaping but have been surprised to find the nonfiction books that creep into my list of book each year. i just started prayer by richard foster. and see the timothy keller has one named prayer as well that i may have to get my hands on. i did a reading challenge this year and one of the challenges was a book recommended by your bff or spouse. i told my hubby and he said sacred parenting my gary thomas so i will be diving into that one too

  • Tiffany - I’ve been reading on audible lately, and listening to non-fiction for the first time in my life and have found them enjoyable. Mostly books by Malcolm Gladwell, now I’m listening to The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg…

  • Danielle Huddleston - I am reading a heavy subject also, The open-hearted way to Open Adoption. I feel like my heart has been through a wringer but it is an important read for me.

  • Hannah - I purchased The Nesting Place when it first came out and I was not disappointed. It really spoke to my heart and changed my perspective on my home and decorating style.

    I’ve mostly been reading parenting books recently. Currently I’m reading “Don’t Make Me Count to Three!” A Mom’s Look at Heart Oriented Discipline. So far its a very easy read and I’m getting a lot out of it.

  • Sarah - If you haven’t seen it, there is a beautiful children’s picture book called Born from the Heart, about adopting a child. I am not adoptive parent so I don’t have that perspective but it was a great story about how all children are born in their parents hearts.

  • kris saia - I’m in the middle of “Quiet” by Susan Cain…non-fiction about being an introvert. Every third page, I fist pump! Such interesting reading for someone like me … a shy introvert. There is such value placed today on being bold and outspoken … I feel vindicated by every page! :)

  • Angela - I really gain so many great ideas surrounding adoption from this blog. My husband and I would like to adopt one day, though probably from within our Texas county, but I really clean a lot of information and ideas from you. Thanks.

    As for books I’m reading, I’m not… I have a 2.5 year old and a 5-week old, which sucks up my free time. Prior to my daughter’s birth, however, I was reading The Collapse of Parenting by Dr. Leonard Sax, and I have in the queue Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.

  • Byron - Hmmm, reading.

    Just finished “For the Life of the World” by Alexander Schmemann. Excellent book. Just started C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy. So far, quite good. Lewis is an amazing writer. I find my self simply enjoying reading good writing!

    For recommendations:

    Everyday Saints and Other Stories by Archimandrite Tikhon – not heavy reading but very uplifting and entertaining. Divided into easily digested chapters.

    King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild. An incredible historical account of Belgium’s genocidal activity in the Congo and the first human rights movement of the 20th century that resulted from it.

    The Alienist by Caleb Carr. Historical fiction set in the early 1900s. I always recommend this one and Silverlock by John Myers Myers. The latter is a fantasy set in the Commonwealth of Letters. Fun read.

    As a side note, your children might find Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant fascinating. I’m still amazed by it. A fantastic blend of history and fantasy, with great art and storytelling. Just a thought.

  • AshleyAnn - Kris – I’m going to have to read that one!

  • marie - Thanks for sharing these books. My daughter has been researching adoption in China for a couple years. We both look forward to reading some of them.
    Also, I have a copy of The Nesting Place I don’t need. I’d love to send it to you…if you’d like it.

  • Jenn l - Thank you for sharing this list. I am a newly adoptive mom (we brought our son home this past December) of a boy from China.

  • Beccy - As an adoptive mom of a son from China, and having family who has lived many years in China – I also recommend Wild Swans. It unlocked Chinese culture and history for me in a way nothing else did as it follows multiple generations of one family through a lot of historical events. It gave me a much better context to interpret our experiences we had while in China and to understand some of the issues arising in current events. It is non-fiction.

  • AshleyAnn - Beccy – thank you for that recommendation!

  • Kimberly Dial - Your list is intense … Yikes! Mine is def less intense but fitting for this stage in my life. It includes God Is Able by Pricilla Shirer (so awesome & uplifting!), Lioness Arising by Lisa Bevere, Audacious by Beth Moore and for a little fictional take me away reading Angels Walking by Karen Kingsbury. Thanks for sharing. I love hearing what’s in everyone else’s nightstand reading stack!

  • Betsy - I am an adoptee — I just commend you for the way you choose such books to read in order to bless your daughter. So beautiful. As for good books, I just finished ‘Follow Me’ by David Platt and can’t stop thinking and talking about it. So inspiring and thought-provoking. I think you would also like ‘Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands’ by Paul Tripp. I’m currently reading ‘Prayer’ by Tim Keller and ‘Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys’ by Stephen James and David Thomas. All very good! And thought I’d just mention that my husband works for Samaritan’s Purse in their International Projects Department here at headquarters in Boone, NC! It’s neat to hear that you’re reading the OCC book — we have many friends here who work in that department!