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My Secret to Good Hospitality: Having Less

Post Written by Lilly

Growing up, one of the biggest dreams for my future adult life was entertaining: hosting parties and holidays in my family home, but more so creating a space where people walked in and out in comfort, with simple hospitality like cold drinks and tasty snacks at the ready. I know, I was an interesting kid.

It’s no surprise with this goal that I purchased my first home at 24. Ready to prove myself, I was anxious to fill it top to bottom with all of the novelties and “essentials” I had dog-eared on magazine pages since before I could drive. Someone probably could have intervened when I was registering for tea cake molds on my wedding registry.

I dumped all of my available funds, time and effort into feathering my nest, working extra hours as often as I could for that surplus in our budget for new chairs, new drapery rods or whatever was next on the list for our space to finally feel “complete.”

Years went by, and while our home was beginning to look so unique that it was being featured in publications (such as The Dallas Morning News, Apartment Therapy, and Young House Love), the hospitality part of my dream was still stalled. I always wanted to host and entertain more, right after we got a new sofa or finished that one final project

New Home, New Intentions

When we said goodbye to our first home of nine years last summer, I honored and appreciated all of the memories made in that home with our family. However, it was hard to believe that I could probably count on two hands the number of times I had used our space for bringing people together in those nine years.

That’s a lot of mortgage payments for very minimal lifestyles and dreams, y’all.

At our new place, I wanted things to be different. 

Hope + Direction + Community = Freedom

The most life-altering thing I’ve done to change my mindset around entertaining was signing up for the Uncluttered course with Joshua from Becoming Minimalist on a whim one year after our move. 

Working in Joshua’s modules, I heard about the freedom of those who have let go of an attachment to material belongings. Being in an accountability group with (literally) thousands of other people putting in the time and effort to clear their homes and change their relationship with stuff made it all click together for me at a level I finally feel has permanence. 

There’s no way you could have told me starting the Uncluttered course I would completely and easily fill the spacious cargo area of my car with donation items four times over nine weeks. It was as if the direction and mindset shift that the course provided made the release happen automatically.  

Since I know you are filled with grace in your heart for a busy family that can easily get into the habit of cramming things in cabinets and drawers, I’ll provide one before/after from my experience. :)

uncluttered course review.jpg

A Home of Less, Filled with Abundance

Today, I still wouldn’t fully consider myself a minimalist. We live in a 2,000 sq ft home in the middle of an urban city. My small clothing closet isn’t overflowing like before, but has more options than a basic capsule wardrobe. I still pop into favorite estate sales and consignment shops, although these days I typically come home just as inspired as when I used to visit before, but blissfully empty-handed.

When I walk through stores today, I have a deeper conversation with myself when I pick up an object. I’m no longer weighing the purchase solely by the joy it will give me immediately, but also in consideration of how it may contribute to or cost me my peace down the road.

The humbling part of this process wasn’t finding the time, but looking at an object and knowing I spent hard earned money on it thinking I needed it and have barely thought about it. Honestly, most of the time the time spent with the item was to clean it, move it or put it in “I didn’t really need this” purgatory until this course. Looking at all of those purchases get together and fill boxes is imprinted in my mind and has kept my trigger finger off the “one click purchase” button. It’s been the wake up call I needed for my relationship with finding, acquiring and dealing with…stuff that I feel had permanence.

My style has always been eclectic and colorful, not exactly hallmarks of the minimalist lifestyle.  I’m amazed how much more joy my “treasures” bring me when my home is truly a curation of my favorite things with plenty of space to shine. My home feels complete these days, not for looking a certain way, but because it holds my family and a few things we love, which is more than we need. 

I’ve been the most amazed since working through the course in how spontaneous I’ve become with offering my home for entertaining. I’ve had more people over in the past few months than I have in any given year before. When my husband’s father passed away unexpectedly and when our city lost power in 300,000 homes in a recent storm, I felt at ease offering my home as a gathering place on the spot - knowing that I could easily open our doors and provide a serene and welcoming space thanks to having less. 

Cleaning before guests is still a chore, but it runs at a totally different speed and efficiency when I’m not picking up and working around a bunch of c-r-a-p I don’t even love.

I hear it so often, but with most things in our home it’s really true that quality means so much more than quantity. I used to believe that I needed to have one of absolutely every possible home and kitchen item - so that meant that my cabinets were overflowing with unnecessary accoutrements. Now, our entertaining wares are really just two beautiful serving plates that are special to me and my daughter. I pull these out and arrange simple snacks on when preparing for company, whether the occasion is a grown up dinner party or a children’s play date. 

Speaking of, I love hosting children since we’ve simplified the toys in my daughter’s room. Little children’s voices flood the house while I relax with the parents, as I know the little ones can pull out every toy from the shelf freely while they enjoy themselves and it will still only take a few minutes to clean up once everyone’s headed home. 

An Open Door Welcomes Gratitude

I’ve learned now too, that when my mind starts thinking about all the things I think I need to buy or add to our home, the antidote is opening our place to community. Our guests never look for what I think is missing, but rather show appreciation and thankfulness for our simple efforts to be hospitable. My focus has been able to turn from worrying about my home and what it says about me to excitedly anticipating time and new memories with our guests. 

Entertaining gives my home a purpose beyond appearance. This home may never be in a magazine, but it will be remembered by good people for being a space that values community and love - thanks to me changing my focus from “what else do I need to acquire to be worthy?” to “what do I already have that’s worth sharing?” That lesson was worth every bit of my investment in building a more simplified home (but, man, finding those tupperware lids in an instant is HEAVEN).

Our Favorite Indoor Fun for Kids & A Living Room Dance Party Playlist!
Photo credit  B Family Films

Photo credit B Family Films

Post written by Lilly

Summer is always connected to being in the great outdoors, which we love to enjoy, but it’s always a process to remember in late July and August how nearly impossible that is in Texas!

Just because we’re not outdoors, doesn’t mean we can’t move, connect, create and explore. It definitely takes having a mental list I can draw on during these long, hot days for ideas in the moment. Here’s my inner list of responses to boredom when my go-to can’t always be, “Go outside!”


I know I can push the envelope a little with “messy” crafts like tie dye with kids, but there are so many great crafts that are much better suited for sprawling out on the sofa or kitchen table.

My mom always took us to the craft store towards the end of the summer and got us into a new-to-us craft concept. This summer our daughter and I are making loomed potholders (this seems to be the perfect balance of challenge and obtainable success for a five year old) and beaded bracelets for everyone we know.

Here’s a few more we got totally absorbed in growing up that I look forward to trying:

We’ve made these non-stop this summer with a set we got at the craft store.I wish we had this  rainbow kit!  There’s enough in one box to make six potholders.

We’ve made these non-stop this summer with a set we got at the craft store.I wish we had this rainbow kit! There’s enough in one box to make six potholders.

I think we could be ready for  these  this summer! These bring back fun memories.

I think we could be ready for these this summer! These bring back fun memories.

We’re a little young for these this summer, but I remember one summer when my cousin, sister and I (ages 8-12) made  these  all day for a week!

We’re a little young for these this summer, but I remember one summer when my cousin, sister and I (ages 8-12) made these all day for a week!

Which brings up a little trick I have with crafts that I think my Mom did growing up.

I find we’re way more engrossed in an activity when it has a greater purpose. So often with crafts or art, I ask for something specific for someone’s birthday, or we scheme up a plan on how to surprise gift our creations to people we love, or even brainstorm a concept for a little pretend store where we can sell our wares to “everyone we know” (aka, Markus and myself.)

This little dialogue has taken art time from minutes to days before. A little motivation seems to go a long way at our house. And thanks to this, I currently have pre-made custom birthday cards for everyone I know until November.

Photo credit  B Family Films

Photo credit B Family Films


Our favorite board game, Sloth in a Hurry, was given to us by my sister. It’s been a really easy, fun game to start even if we’re strapped on time since it’s very easy to set up where everyone has fun and everyone wins. We laugh sooo hard playing this! It really helps your kids see your childlike, silly side and connect with you in a different way.

We also love Mancala. I love any game that gets your attention but is easy to start and stop so we can do a round or two before dinner or bedtime.

The next game I want to get is Tenzi! Have you tried it?

Song & Dance

Nothing beats an impromptu jam session or talent show!

Our daughter had such an expansive experience attending theater camp for the first time this summer and is now planning performances in our home as often as possible - especially if we have company. (This is one I know I can’t bring up to my Mom. Payback city for making everyone watch my shows growing up!)

But our favorite thing is all dancing together freestyle in our kitchen and living room! Honestly, we have so much fun that it becomes a great way to get energy out during these hot days of summer.

If you plan to dance it out, check out our family Spotify playlists with our Living Room Dance Party!

What are your favorite ways to have fun beating the heat?!

LIVE, BY LILLYLillyComment
Side by Side Chores List for Children and Grown Ups (How I Get my Child to Talk to Me)

Post written by Lilly

There was a lot of rapid fire change for us this spring - we changed what school we enrolled our daughter in for the fall, quit attending her preschool earlier than we had planned and, to be able to feasibly pull off both, I changed my job with a work from home summer. It was crazy, but good. I reminded myself there would be struggles but huge benefits. Just think of how often we would be able to connect and talk!

Except, at first, I couldn’t get our five year old to talk to me.

“How was your day?” “What do you want to do?” “What do you think about (insert anything)?”

Was all met with “I don’t know.”

And I had no way to entertain her. And I wasn’t getting anything done around the house myself.

I gave myself a pep talk that we were going to have to up the chores game, together. Our girl needed something to keep her busy and I needed to get our home to a standard of living above the slum houses of a Dickens novel. I worked a little less apologetically and started finding ways for a little assistant to contribute to my housework load. After getting the picture I would not be relenting, she joined me. The help was actually pretty nice. And I wasn’t expecting what happened next.

She talked to me.

That’s the nice thing about tedious work. There’s literally nothing to do with a task in front of you and busied hands but chat. I probably could have known this, since I met my husband washing dishes in a commercial kitchen. Our daughter was more available to me, but I was also more available to her. The funny thing about laundry is I can’t fold and be on my phone at the same time.

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On a deeper level, I started to think about generational modeling we create when we work side by side with our children. Part of Markus’ intro into his ManKind Project New Warrior Training Adventure weekend was an excerpt by poet Robert Bly that discussed the loss of this modeling that comes from parent and child working closely together when our communities went from agricultural to industrial.

“Before man took up machine, the father would work on the family farm, cultivating two things: a chosen crop and a family.”

Speaking of the change from farm to machine work, Bly continues on its affect on the family.

“And the worst to suffer,” says Bly, “are the [children], who have been deprived of nourishment both emotional and physical.”

This approach, that I’m not simply knocking out chores but also modeling capability and creating an environment where I’m completely available, has finally kept us on track with housework. I’ve thrown in examples from books we’ve read together, like The Little House on the Prairie, to remind both of us that, yes, appliances take the burden off of us physically, simplifying many cores to a one Mom job, but we all get more out of it, short term and long term, when we roll up our sleeves and work together.

Now my daughter even asks to fold dish towels together, “like they did in old fashioned.”

We still do some individual chores, such as tidying our rooms and making the bed. But the lion’s share of house work is done together now, making it more fun and connective for both of us. Here’s a list of what we’ve made into “side-by-side chores” this summer if you’re ready to try some at home!

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Last week, I was talking to one of my favorite Moms at my morning dance class. She has two older children nearing phases that scare me (Junior High to be specific) and they couldn’t be a closer, more creative family. I asked her what they were doing with the rest of the day. Expecting her to tell me about some enriching group outing or activity, I was happily surprised to hear, “Laundry.” A decade into parenthood ahead of me, she told me how between her and her husband the children spend a majority of their weekly “quality time” working with one of their parents on the home or yard.

outdoor chores for kids.jpg

There’s hope friends! For a semi-tidy house in the summer and children who bring their ideas and worries to you long after its been made uncool by peers. A time tested route to both of my desired outcomes is a life in the trenches together, scrubbing toy cars and drying dishes. I’m finding new ways for us to enhance our home and relationships this summer, till the baseboards shine.

What are some of your favorite chores to do with your kids?

Easy Kids DIY Tie Dye (with Dallas Artist Mione Plant)

I’m going to tell you something that, given my hippie parent tendencies, may surprise you. I’m not a tie-dye gal. You see, there’s a spectrum to hippie-next-door parenting you may not be completely versed in, which is respectable. I fall hard and fast on the “most likely to be seen wearing a calico dress in a wildflower field listening to Tom Petty and drinking bone broth” end of the hippie parenting spectrum. Thankfully, Markus lands straight opposite in the the “aggressively outdoorsy in my Merrells, referring to both genders with ‘man’ and ecstatic dancing to Phish” zone. It’s those people over there, far over in Markus’ camp, that tie dye is strictly reserved for. Until now, if you are a fashion trend Instagram scroller like me.

I am so deeply aligned against tie dye that I can literally remember making tie dye shirts at Vacation Bible School at age 10 and thinking “I’m never going to wear this.” But then there was a singular Joe’s Crab Shack shirt, tie dyed in shades of blue, that I wore almost every day in seventh grade, on account of my mother refusing to take us to eat there and it becoming such a point of contention that my grandfather finally got behind me, took the whole family and bought me the t-shirt. He took a photo of me sitting on the railing while I’m beaming my face off in the shirt, feeling both seen and victorious.

Anyways, lately I cannot get enough of how I’m seeing tie dye. I’m loving it on seriously everything and anything, especially with Ralph Lauren and other high end lines like Alice & Olivia and even Everlane. Preppy polos and cable knits is the first place you’d think this effect would never belong, which just too perfectly visually synopsizes how I’ve felt growing up in my little thought and style bubble at times. I was getting some major summer Mountain vacation vibes as well, which is perfect for this summer’s family vacation plans.

Image c/o Polo Ralph Lauren

Image c/o Polo Ralph Lauren

Image c/o Polo Ralph Lauren

Image c/o Polo Ralph Lauren

I knew myself well enough to know this wasn’t worth the splurge, given my thoughts on tie-dye before it was trend. I almost went for a $20 shirt of the same variety from a boutique, until thinking for the same amount on supplies I could probably work some magic on a few items I already own and have some creative time with Heidi.

We went through our drawers and found a white t-shirt for her and white button down for me that were looking in need of a refresh. The best thing I did was order this Tulip Tie Dye kit from Amazon. With so many colors, I may have come out on top vs the cost of buying individual dyes, plus it came with gloves, a table cloth, rubber bands, the bottles and pattern instructions. I liked that it was all in one kit so I could order it but have everything neatly tucked away until it was go time. I added a pack of white bandanas to my order so we could have lots of places to experiment without having to invest in more t-shirts.

The co-best decision I made was involving another Mom in the mix, especially one of the most creative and artistic ones I know. Mione Plant and I became friends through her involvement in the Dallas art scene, especially with philanthropy efforts such as Dwell with Dignity and Markus and I’s Bold Strokes auction last year. I love her pattern play in her paintings. There is always a perfect paradox or something unexpected, often inspired by nature or her son’s toys. She screams “fun Mom who rocks backyard textile arts” to me. Plus, she is a vibe magnet I could hang with for hours. I took one of her painting workshops before and legit thought I could paint under the care of her encouraging spirit - a first for me - so if anyone was going to get me in a creating state of mind it was Mione and her adorable son.

Mione with a few of her gorgeous paintings. Photo c/o  Mione Plant  with  Maestri Gallery

Mione with a few of her gorgeous paintings. Photo c/o Mione Plant with Maestri Gallery

It’s like anything else - choose the right quality ingredients (my Amazon finds and Mione in this case) and the magic is bound to happen. Our little girl and boy were all about making a perfect mess of themselves, exploring how different fabrics absorbed dye differently and how to create barriers for the pigments, how to work with complementary colors, exploring positive and negative space, but most importantly the value of thinking without failure.

tulip tie die kitjpg

The Tulip kit ended up being a life saver in terms of knowing I had everything I needed. Plenty of dye for four active artists, and I felt confident it would have spent more than the $20 I invested and even more of my time on sourcing the supplies individually. Plus, the bottles and case in the kit can easily be reused for other projects.

I think by the end of our time together, Mione and I had enjoyed letting the kids experiment to the point of releasing any expectations on the finished products. The kids had gotten weird and we were mighty proud. Mine also had skin of many colors thanks to refusing gloves. That’s what summer is all about, right?


It turns out, there’s no such thing as mistakes in tie dye for bomb results. We let our dye sit overnight, then rinsed each piece in the sink with cold water until it ran clear before popping them in the wash. The patterns and colors were amazing!

Some of the funky kids’ creations with really rich colors turned out to be my favorite.


I can’t wait to take all of the bandanas we made to the mountains as vacation presents for my family. My girl very proudly wore her tie dye shirt to preschool the moment it was dry.

I’m spinning my wheels now thinking of more fashion DIYs we can explore at home! Any ideas?

LIVE, BY LILLYLillyComment
Spotify Morning Mix and Our Morning Hacks

Mornings can be such a challenge. On one hand, there’s so much magic in this space we get to share together as a family before we have to reckon with the outside world. But also, we need to get out the door and be ready to take on the day! I want a pace for our mornings that feels calm, manageable and my own (versus running against the clock), but with good energy flowing through ourselves and the house before we go see what the day brings.

Music is such a big part of this! Markus can lure me out of bed best with music. He loves to get the speaker cranked up in the kitchen where he’s typically making coffee to get him in his headspace for the day. His tunes have the added benefit of being just loud enough where I can’t go back to sleep and I eventually relent and show my face to the world. A few minutes after that I start to perk up and actually enjoy the morning’s music myself.

Whether it’s musicals, the classics or something new, we gravitate towards fun, energetic music in the mornings to help our outlooks and days follow suit. Here’s what we’ve been cranking in the morning lately!

Don’t forget you can follow our Open Hearted Home Family Friendly Spotify Station for all of our playlists for cool families.

Here’s 10 other ways we “hack” our mornings:

  1. Markus: Very first thing, every day - a drink of water. No set amount, but always cold.

  2. Lilly: I wake up almost every morning by doing Morning Pages, a practice of writing three pages of stream of consciousness thoughts in a journal never to be read again. It’s like flossing or (for a tad grosser example) scraping my tongue, where I can clear out the first gunky layer of thoughts and let my brain go to more interesting places over the course of the day. I write out what’s on my mind, which eventually lets me air out my worries and on the spot I write them into prayer and surrender them for a higher power to deal with. It’s my way of taking my mind out of the picture for a minute and just handing the day over to the greater forces. Our girl is a morning cuddler in our bed, so to be able to pull this off I got her a journal and pen of her own that she practices letters or doodles in while I write. We both get out of bed in a different frame of mind if we’ve done our morning pages!

  3. Lilly: When we have to be out the door at a certain time, we use this visual timer to guide our daughter as she works on developing her focus on singular tasks and concept of time. Not wanting it to take on any bootcamp and/or Captain Von Trapp vibes, we typically offer it as a helpful tool and set it for a little longer than we know it takes our girl to complete one of her morning tasks, such as finishing breakfast or getting dressed for the day. We also set it for five minutes as a “tidy timer” so we can take a moment and try to put away at least a few things that made their way out in the morning so we can walk back into a well-cared for space when we come home towards the end of the day.

  4. Lilly: Markus makes me the “perfect” cup of coffee every morning. I think this may have begun a few years ago as a short term project to get on my good side, but like some great ideas, it’s worked so well he may be stuck doing it and reaping its rewards of my affection for life. Below is the recipe should you need to start your day with the best cup of coffee ever or get on someone’s good side yourself. I treat this as a morning smoothie and it holds me off until a late morning snack or even lunch.

  5. Markus: This recipe is a twist on the classic Bulletproof coffee recipe that’s been around for what seems like forever by this point and that’s still my personal favorite. The version I make for Lilly takes it up a notch in terms of creaminess and overall nutrients. Although “true” Bulletproof coffee by definition has very specific steps/ingredients (here’s the rabbit hole), generally I:

    1. Make coffee

    2. Pour 16 oz of coffee into blender

    3. Add:

      1. 1 Tbsp organic ghee

      2. 1 Tbsp MCT oil (Bulletproof Brain Octane Oil)

      3. 2 Tbsp Nutpods (esp. Hazelnut, Peppermint, or Pumpkin Spice)

      4. 1 scoop collagen peptides

    4. Blend on high for 30 seconds

    5. Pour into a huge mug and try to contain my excitement at how frothy this drink is that I just made in my own house by myself.

      (Two notes about MCT: (1) Don’t go cheap, speaking from experience here.  Avoid MCT oil that contains lauric acid - your stomach will thank you. (2) Make sure that your blender container is made of HDPE or glass and that your mug is ceramic or glass (metal is fine too).  MCT generally melts plastic and styrofoam.)

  6. Markus: I start most mornings with a 10-minute Daily Calm app session. The daily sesion is new each day and the 10 minutes are about evenly split between guided meditation, “quiet” time (not necessarily “silent” because you can choose your own background sounds), and a daily topic for reflection. There are tons of background sound options like waves on a beach, rain in the jungle, or my personal favorite called Open Ocean, that makes me imagine I’m deep down below the surface of the endless sea. When I start my day with the Daily Calm, the rest of the day seems to flow and everything seems more manageable that I expected, even the tougher parts of the day.  When I don’t start my day with the Daily Calm, it’s generally the opposite - it’s that simple. The narrator usually recommends sitting up tall, although my favorite way is laying down on my back with a towel over my eyes so it’s totally dark.

  7. Markus: After the Daily Calm session, I’m usually in my personal power hour. My brain and body are awake and my energy is calm and focused. I’ve found this to be the best time to write, especially in terms of flow and general quality. Usually I’ll walk away from a writing session pleasantly surprised and feeling like I can’t take credit for the words on the page, even though I remember typing them just minutes ago. When my brain and body work together like that, it feels like an out-of-body experience where I’m just observing and that I’m just along for the ride. I’ve had zero writers block with this approach, rather it’s always the opposite - I feel like I could easily write for hours more.

  8. Markus: Music, preferably loud. The genre all depends on the day, though typically hip-hop, rock and pop are big players. On days where I feel that I’m dragging, I’ll generally throw on something with a beat that’s faster than my heart rate, like a good NYC house music playlist.

  9. Markus: Sitting Still.  This is the toughest one of every morning, even the weekends. It’s also the best one. This is normally on the order of 5 minutes and happens at the tail end of the morning routine. No phone - usually just me and my coffee.  This is the calm before the storm.

  10. Lilly: Sunday is our one day a week where we don’t set an early alarm. I wait for it all week! We’re at a glorious phase of life now where we all sleep in a little and once Heidi is up she climbs in our bed for a good dose of snuggles and laughs. So my “hack” is saying no to morning plans, Sunday school or anything else that might make it longer than a week before I can savor this slow wake up. Until it’s time to nudge Markus out of bed for that morning coffee!

What’s your favorite way to start the day?!

All You Need is Love: A Beatles Birthday Party

Post Written by Lilly

I’m writing to you today from some alternate reality where my tiny surprise-baby miracle-daughter is five years old.

For some reason, this was always such a distant future and major milestone for me when she was a baby! Five years old - leaving the entire baby/toddler/preschool phase behind for little girl life. To make the milestone even sweeter, we added another little bundle of love to our family last year when my sister had a baby girl. Both girls’ birthdays fall during the week of Christmas. To celebrate them both and their milestone birthdays, we combined a big fifth birthday party with a big first birthday party! The party was also a reason to open our new house to a few of our daughter’s school friends plus our adult friends and family. It was also a relaxed, daytime holiday party - with a kangaroo (spoiler alert!).

The best thing I did in prepping for the party was to send a random-feeling email to my friend Kelli at Nine Photography and ask if they might be around and up for shooting a kids’ party - they were! Knowing that Nine Photography was at the party, everyone in my family was able to attend the entire event without needing to keep their phones nearby for photos the whole time - and so they were able to participate in every moment while still knowing they would enjoy the photos for a lifetime (and that the photos would be awesome). I hope you enjoy this snippet of Kelli’s beautiful work - all the images in this post were taken by Nine Photography.

I turned to my ever-faithful Etsy for Beatles themed party invitations that got everyone into the spirit!


With the Christmas decor already up at our house, I wanted something that would excite our guests as they walked up to the house - and also something that would help them find us, since we had recently moved and it was the first time here for many of them! I considered using one of the companies in Dallas that create gorgeous turnkey balloon installations for parties but I happened to find this balloon arch kit on Etsy. It’s a hilarious-to-me observation that we’re all going this buck-wild on balloon displays these days, but why not - especially since the price was fair? Balloons are awesome, most especially in beautiful rainbow colors draped across an entry way. Party on.

rainbow balloon arch.jpg

This sounds a little crazy now, but a few years on a Facebook resale group a Mom was selling some adorable wooden signs with Beatles song titles painted on them, along with some other Beatles party decor. Our entire family loves the Beatles (my Dad played Here Comes the Sun and Back in the U.S.S.R. on the way to school every day for two straight years when we were in high school - without explanation now that I think of it, but that’s beside the point). I originally planned to use the signs for our girl’s second birthday party (that I never threw) - but everything happens for a reason, and it was the perfect theme for our family’s double-birthday!

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Abbey Road continued from outside our front steps into our entry with a crosswalk I made by taping black plastic table-covering sheets over our entry tile and taping white cardboard crosswalk panels on top. The Union Jack flag helped set the tone and gave a proper backdrop for guests to take photos walking Abbey Road - with or without shoes, of course.

While looking for similar craft ideas online, I found a Yellow Submarine felt tablecloth concept someone had made. My girl and I had a blast going to the craft store to get big pieces of felt - and then we cut and glued with hot glue the layers together to create the tablecloth below the Sunday before her party. I try not to “over-craft” for a birthday party where I’m likely to be tired (or over it) by the end of the party. There’s such a balance between getting into a vibe versus going overboard and risking being burnt out! This tablecloth was the perfect thing to drape over our dining room table to help the theme along - and it added some anticipation for both us as we were coming up on our big day. I loved making it together and I added the paper flowers around the back to femme it up for our birthday as a tribute to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, “cellophane flowers of yellow and green, towering over your heads.”


Everyone loves a delicious and beautiful theme cookie at a birthday party, which can be very tricky to find gluten-free - especially in December when the bakers are also slammed with holiday orders! Thankfully, Nancy’s Sweets was available and down to experiment. I Amazoned her (it’s a verb, get on board) my go-to gluten-free flour substitute which she used for the most adorable little-girl Beatles cookies (and smash cake) of all time.

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Since this was the first party we’ve hosted at our home, I had never booked “entertainment” before. Enter The Creature Teacher - who had the draw of being able to move inside if it was too cold, with Markus gently reminding me that the number of people I had invited wouldn’t fit in the house if it was too cold anyway.

Our handler brought five animals that Heidi hand-picked to show everyone out of the huge selection they have available. At Heidi’s school they are still talking about The Creature Teacher!

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I was originally going to rent a bounce house so kids could jump and dance to Beatles music. I am so happy we went with The Creature Teacher instead, especially with hard-to-predict December weather - and even at a party with a lot of adults, where it was tough to tell who was enjoyed the animals more - the parents or the kids! The Creature Teacher should definitely host happy hours.

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Nothing says “my parents are making up for my birthday falling on Christmas Day every year” quite like a live kangaroo jumping around your backyard.


This is my sister and I with our birthday babies. Growing up, we played with baby dolls almost every day. It was so surreal to plan this party and share this moment with her! It felt like another one of our pretend days from when we were kids ourselves. Also - LOOK AT THAT BABY, I CANNOT BELIEVE IT IS I WHO HAS BEEN CHOSEN TO SPOIL THAT BOO-BOOS.

Heidi’s cake request was for one that she and I baked together at home, which I was happy to oblige.


I know I’ll never forget this day and also that I’ll remember these adorable little personalities on our precious girls at these ages so much better with such cute photos and memories of them interacting with the party. Grandparents, parents and little kids all enjoyed being in Beatlemania for a day, remembering that All You Need Is Love!

With that said, I already need a theme to top this one next year! Hit me with your favorite theme below!

The Glorification of Slow: Documenting Life with B Family Films

Post Written by Lilly

My job as a Mom often feels like it boils down to the title of CMM: Chief Memory Maker. I’ve taken on the responsibility of orchestrating and manifesting the collection of memories and joy in our family. I’m the birthday party planner and family vacation concierge. I buy the toys. I tend to set our weekend agenda. I pack the lunches with the little notes tucked inside.


I spent a lot of “the early years” running myself exhausted and spending money on making memories, probably to the point of short-circuiting all three of us. Nothing says “this is a happy family” like three faces with forced smiles and traces of an organized event or city scene in the background, all squeezed neatly into the frame of an Instagram shot. Life forced us to slow down and after a while, I took the hint. It’s the slow time, not rushing from one activity to the next, that allows the little details of life to come into focus and become our memories - things like heart-shaped banana slices on freshly-baked bread or seeing the same little Mason jar cups and plates sitting on our dinner table every night.


I’m a living, breathing Mom which obviously means that I therefore love family photos. I previously thought that we had already taken our family photos as far out as one can reasonably go in terms of fresh creative direction, locations, and themes. That said, I was recently smitten with B Family Films and their idea to document the parts of life that are often not photographed or even seen by other people outside the family. When B Family Film’s Cara asked if we would be willing to participate as a pilot family for their film process, I was quite excited and intrigued by their concept. Would our boring daily life and imperfect-as-hell home be worthy? And would it really look and feel like real life?

When we got the photos and videos back from Cara, I was overcome with emotion. I’ll let you see for yourself - here’s the video they created:

The threads that hold our beautiful, ever-evolving family tapestry together are connection and contentment. In our fast-paced world that pushes us to focus on the external, it’s often a minute-by-minute practice just to stay on track with either of those two values at the forefront. By entering our messy, simple life and translating it into such a thing of beauty, Cara created a work of art out of an ordinary evening in our home. I believe this is the type of honest, unpolished expression that can change our world by honoring the intent and highest purpose of our home - to serve as a vehicle of pure love.


It’s almost a mini-rebellion to think of all of the gorgeous and stately spaces and landscapes around Dallas and know that, truly, I want our photos to be taken right here in our home. This is the home that currently still has the same color of paint on every single wall as when we moved in, still driving me a little crazy when I see it. The home with the dollhouse made from shipping boxes and duct tape, where I always lean in for one more goodnight kiss from my girl as she scampers off to bed. Few things in this world are truly mine, but this loving space and the connection to Markus and our daughter that I feel are what I know to be real.


When we think of home design now, it’s often associated with designer curtain rods, impressive art collections or envy-inducing spaces. I’m the biggest fan of all of these. While they’re great, having a family was always the dream and priority for me. And what we dream for and prioritize requires sacrifice. When I was working in overdrive to pay for weekend activities, updates to our last home and other things I thought made life good, all I was actually doing was prioritizing my family last.

So we wear the same few clothes a lot now. We have fewer new things. Our vacations that bring us so much respite, discovery and delight may be few and far between and may be missing that social media WOW factor. Most of all, I keep a daily contentment practice that just because I’m not working on “impressive” projects with outward validation doesn’t mean I’m not doing big things. Every day here with these people is my gift. Walking into the door of our house (on our better days) brings that same exhalation I used to have to wait to feel on our best vacations. I continue to say no to things and to be mindful of our schedule and life because the little moments feel so good, too good to miss.


These aren’t just mundane photos to me. They’re aspirational. They are the environment and people that inspire me to keep becoming a better version of myself. These are images for which I know the passage of time will only increase their value. We’ll look back and think of who we were in this chapter - a time when we all ate off of those plates at that table every night and when the corner of the living room always held that little pile of paints and musical instruments. One day our daugher won’t be here to run to us into a whirl of excitement as we come in the door. I work purposefully on a slow, simple life to allow that to happen as often as possible and help us look back on these days with fondness and no regrets. Thank you so much to B Family Films for honoring my work.

Music in the Home - Our Spotify Playlist and 25 Things You Didn't Know About Us!

Post Written by Lilly + Markus

The first place that I had when I was dating Markus wasn’t really much of my place at all. I had decided to stay the summer in Lubbock to take classes and sublet a bedroom in an apartment across town from campus (Jefferson Commons what’s up!). It was completely opposite what feels homey to me - nothing on the walls, hardly anything of my own while most of my things were in storage. Markus lived close by and would come over on his bike after he was done at the Domino’s Pizza we both worked at - six miles away! Almost every night we’d just sit around, eat dinner and listen to music on my white brick iPod. I have so many memories there, and I’m constantly reminded of conversations we had during those days whenever I hear a song from that time playing in the background today. It was a space that didn’t have any of the trappings of home to me, but thanks to so many memories from the music, it felt like it was our first home.

Music has continued to be a way for us to feel connected and build family memories no matter where we are or how we’re resourced. Lately, we’ve been making a point to eat at home on Saturday nights. Markus takes on dinner that evening and does something thematic. Last week, he made taco bowls with agua frescas and a Mexican Restaurant playlist on Spotify. A few weeks before that, dinner featured a sing-a-long of 90’s alternative songs (again, thanks to Spotify) that weirded Heidi out more and more as the meal progressed.

I am a big believer in using sense memory in the home to evoke feeling. Few things can help a feeling come to life for me or cultivate memories like a great song.

When we think about what makes a space feel ours, music is at the top of the list. In fact, many of my favorite memories in our homes have been the moments before anything is moved in and we’re far from settled - but we have our trusty music speaker and each other, twirling and singing along to some of our favorite songs in our new space. It’s the same for hotel rooms, cabin rentals and driving in the car. Playing our music and moving along together makes any space ours.

Our collective connection to music brings us together with people who we may usually only see differences with. It elevates or captures our moods and encourages us to take up and explore space. When Markus and I thought about how music has become such a central part of our family and home life, we unpacked some great stories from our childhoods to life today. When we thought about ways to share our home, music made so much sense!

We’re happy to share our first family friendly Spotify playlist with you all. We hope if you queue it up at the start of an evening together, it will enhance your time and memories as a family. We’ll share a new one each month, highlighting different themes - so follow our family friendly Spotify station if you enjoy the first round draft picks!

And to celebrate our kickoff...

Here’s 25 Things You Didn’t Know About Us - The Music Edition!

  1. Lilly: My Dad booked concerts and worked on production and promotion (that part also with my Mom) out of college and as a hobby when I was young. The first time I remember being on a tour bus (Vince Gill’s) I was five years old. When I was six, I was standing stage left on the backstage wings when George Jones walked by and went out on stage. Everyone had t-shirts with his face on them and screamed when he came out and everything on his face changed. I had no concept of who he was at the time but to me, that was cool.

  2. L: My parents loved seeing live music, even if they weren’t involved, so it feels like we always were at an outdoor concert event with friends and a blanket spread out for everyone on the weekends. My sister and I typically helped the band by performing intense dance numbers in the front of the stage three feet from the amps (again, no earplugs).

  3. L: My parents were passionate about taking us to see our favorite musical acts growing up. They drove us all over Texas to see Pat Green and to New Orleans to go to an ‘NSync concert. We were always allowed to bring friends and my Dad would rent commercial vans to drive all of our friends and us to concerts.

  4. L: I have no ability to play music and can barely read it. My parents tried hard with piano lessons starting in Kindergarten and then I think my Dad had the idea to switch me to voice when I had been attending piano for a while and wasn’t getting it. I can’t sing well but those lessons were a really fun thing I did on my own as a child with Ms. Piper.

  5. L: Ms. Piper could get me really enthusiastic in lessons because she was so encouraging. She got me a spot singing on an old fashioned river boat that went up and down the river where we lived in Kentucky when I was six. I was very excited but also super nervous and shy! Our entire family was super supportive and came to ride on the boat. I also remember afterwards that my Dad was talking to a friend and smoking on the dock when we got back and when he flicked his cigarette some landed on me, briefly lighting my costume shirt on fire. None of the adults notice before I snuffed it out and I walked around with a little burnt hole in my shirt for the rest of the day.

  6. M: I was the Frontman for a burgeoning punk rock band when I was in high school. I was a vegetarian at the time, so naturally I chose the name “Raw Meat.” It was me, my younger brother Lukas, and two of our friends. We weren’t serious enough to write more than a handful of questionable-at-best songs although we made sure we recruited one of our other non-musical friends to be our manager. We “designed” and ordered Raw Meat stickers that we could sell at the merch table after shows though we ended up “playing” less than five “shows” total so I had hundreds of stickers left over. The culmination of our musical career was one show where someone shouted “We need a cleanup on Aisle Stage” during one of our songs. It stung - but we had no misgivings and we laughed our butts off over that one.

  7. M: My first year at SMU I was a member of the Mustang Band, playing the tuba. I chose the tuba because it seemed big and manly, qualities I hoped would rub off on me by osmosis. We played all home football and basketball games and even though I had to wear a tie once a week for games, I had someone else tie it for me so I didn’t learn it for myself until years later. Anytime I hear “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round The Mountain” today, it still stops me down - it’s the melody to the SMU fight song that I’ve played countless times.

  8. L: My Dad grew up having to work really hard to have anything for himself, which I respect and admire. So I was shocked when I said I wanted a guitar and he drove me straight to Guitar Center and helped me pick one out. I never learned to play it (see Number 3 in the list above), but it is the guitar we have in our home now that Markus plays which is special to me.

  9. L: After Heidi was born, my Dad surprised me with his great grandfather’s fiddle that his grandfather also played. It hangs in our music room and I can see where the varnish was worn off from them playing it on the front porch for nightly entertainment. It inspired me to turn our front living room area into a music room.

  10. L: I was a radio DJ in college for KXT radio in Lubbock when it was independent radio station on Texas Tech campus. MY DJ Name was Miss Schnozberry Pie (Super Troopers reference) and I posted a “pie of the week” to my MySpace page (yes). My parents would have friends over and listen online and prank call the station.

  11. L: MySpace page and picking the music for it was a serious art form for me for about two years and if you were cool the too you’ll feel that.

  12. M: In college, I got bit by the DJ-ing bug and dove in head first with a mixer, vinyl, and two turntables (but no microphone). I had a radio show at SMU where I would play hip-hop mixes - think Ludacris, Lil Flip, and Mystikal. I played a few parties and could not get enough of the different combinations of songs and especially beatmatching and transitions - this was before digital vinyl and sync buttons. Good DJs still stop me down these days when I hear a sick loop or a transition combo I haven’t heard before. I made a sweet logo based on the Starbucks logo that featured my name, DJ M-Pulse.

  13. L: We were both obsessed with making mix CDs in high school and college. My favorite thing was to drop MP3s of funny movie quotes in between songs. This is why I have mad respect for The Ticket turned The Dallas Stars’ (and former elementary school classmate) Michael Gruber aka Grubes!

  14. L: I told Markus after the second time we hung out there was one CD he had to love if we were going to date. That was all of the context I offered, but it was a mix CD of the Old 97’s. He gladly took it and texted me later that there might be an issue with the CD because it was only playing one song on a loop, “Push It” by Salt-N-Pepa. I had mixed up two CDs - I kept Push It in my car to listen to when I needed to get psyched to take a test. (Cut to feeling validated years later to Dwight Schrute jamming to “Eye of the Tiger” in his car before going into a sales meeting). Markus eventually got the right CD and we went on to see Old 97’s in concert in some form or fashion more than 30 times.

  15. L: The first time Markus got in my car I was trying to act aloof and mature and when I turned it on, Ludacris’ “Back for the First Time” was blaring out the speakers. Markus still keeps a copy of the CD and will queue it up to start playing when I start my car to surprise me.

  16. L: The first time I rode in Markus’ car I noticed how long it took him to find a song he was really into on his iPod before he started driving and I immediately felt less alone in my weirdo ways.

  17. L: After a few casual dates over two days Markus and I ended up spending the rest of the last week of the semester trying to pack my house but mostly sitting on my kitchen floor passing our iPods back and forth to each other playing “the absolute best song.” Each one became a prompt for a story or time in our life which is how we got to know so much about each other so quickly.

  18. Our friends from Domino’s Pizza (where Markus and I met working together in college) had a great cover band that always did big shows for the last day of classes. Markus and I were both at their show at the end of fall semester and were vibing hard. Alas, I could not date him when I considered it the next day because he listened to techno music. The following semester for the last day of classes we went to the same concert - we had been dating one week and we had the best time together watching the band with all of our friends.

  19. L: We did not have a first dance song at our wedding! Not one we can go back and listen to at least. Our friend’s band played for us (still such a highlight of the night!) and picked one of his songs for our first dance (titled “I’m Going to Love You Til I Die”) and one for after when my Dad stepped in (called “Where Did My Money Go”, which still makes me laugh). What music we’re into and defining songs for our relationship has been so cyclical for us and I love how this worked out to not be too attached to any one song.

  20. M: We got to see Willie Nelson play a show a few years ago and we were less than ten feet from him. I had found out about a rare show at the Granada in Dallas through being on Willie Nelson’s fan club email list and tickets sold out almost instantly, though I snagged a pair. I also got us a dinner reservation next door that gave us early access to the venue before doors opened which is how we got so close. It was hands down one of the best shows of my life and Willie still had it.

  21. During that show, we struck up a conversation with an older couple near us. The husband shared with us that he was a huge Elton John fan and gave us the inside tip on how to get Elton John tickets - join his fan club online. It turns out it came in handy two years later when we got tickets for awesome seats before they were even on sale to the public. We were close to the stage and he opened with Benny and the Jets - another one on the Best All Time Shows List. ALWAYS JOIN THE FAN CLUB!

  22. M: One thing Lilly loves to give and receive more than anything are bizarre, unique but thoughtful gestures. One year, she organized all of the “kids” in the family pitching in for her Mom to awaken to bigpipers on her front lawn for her birthday. For Lilly’s 32 birthday, Markus and Heidi had Lilly’s picture at the Willie Nelson concert printed and hung on the wall at our favorite family grub restaurant, Taco Joint, on their Willie Nelson wall. Lilly laughed (and cried) so hard and now it’s an even better reason to go to Taco Joint - while listening to some tunes!

  23. M: We went to Telluride, CO for the first time a few years ago during the summer to hang out, hike, and see what the town was about. During our one-hour cab ride from the airport to the town, our driver asked if we were in town for “Ride Fest.” We didn’t even know what it was but he said it was a big deal and that it was coming up in a few days.  He told us that Widespread Panic was the headliner and that any remaining wristbands or tickets were probably tough to come by. Fast forward to a few days later when Lilly told me after an outdoor yoga class that she’d gotten a wristband from another yogi who’d been able to slide it off her wrist intact! I was smitten and impressed, I’d never even heard of that as a possibility. We were able to buy another wristband for me at the gate and this went down as another one on my All Time Favorite Shows list - the backdrop of watching the Colorado sun set behind the mountains surrounding Telluride’s box canyon was a spiritual experience.

  24. L: One of the first things we decided on as parents was our daughter’s night time song. We played “California Stars” by Wilco every night as we rocked her and patted her little baby butt to go to sleep. Today we’ll catch her singing it to herself to self-soothe or we’ll hum or sing it to her if she takes a break from big girl world to rest on our laps. When we’re lucky enough to see Jeff Tweedy in concert Heidi always asks if he played “her song.”

  25. L: We’ve been eager to introduce our girl to music lessons, but costs and time have never been on our side when trying to balance it with all of the other adventures of early childhood. We lucked out when a 10 year old girl in our neighborhood started offering lessons at $5 for 30 minutes and $10 for an hour, with an official book and Skittles candy with every visit. The relationship between Heidi and her teacher has been so beautiful! Plus, I was shocked to turn the corner after just three lessons and hear our five year old playing Mary Had a Little Lamb by herself! Never underestimate children - or Skittles.

LIVE, BY LILLYLillyComment
Home Actually Is Where the Heart Is

Post Written by Markus

Home. It’s a short little word – but the story behind it is usually anything but short. We each have a home with our family of origin that’s out of our control as children. That first home sets the tone for much of our lives through adulthood in huge ways, even when (especially when) we don’t recognize how it’s even happening.

Home is often a charged word – case in point, realtors refer to selling “homes” and not “houses.” The association of the word is for family, love, happy memories, and warmth - and at the beginning and end of each day, it’s where we belong. These days, the shelf-life of the average childhood home isn’t great and the divorce rate is high. My original home officially dissolved when I was almost 16 which means that I made it a lot further with my original home still technically “intact” than many of my friends did.

Where we are today as a culture, I believe (not a shocker here) that we’re in an epidemic crisis of lack of human connection. As we get more and more “connected” digitally, we slowly phase out in-person human-to-human experience and conversation. We have home-buttons on our browsers, home-screens on our phones, and home-pages on our websites. At the same time that we’re using the word “home” so much in our digital experience, we’re also decreasing actual human interaction. Why meet someone IRL just to talk when a text message can get the same information across – and don’t even talk to me about calling someone without texting them first.

I believe that today we’re in the greatest possible time to be alive so far in history as humans on this planet. So many critical problems that once threatened our very existence have been solved. Advances in medicine, science, and mental health keep expanding what’s possible for us. As the digital arc of our culture keeps increasing and does not yet seem to have a peak in sight, I believe the need for connection and home is greater than ever. For a long time I ran away from connection and from home because the associations for me were too painful. They were the opposite of family, love, happy memories, and warmth. Beginning when my parents’ relationship got rocky, home for me was a place of loneliness, fear, painful memories, and unbearable emptiness. Looking back now, I’m able to connect the dots in reverse and see that it was all part of beautiful healing story although I would have punched you if you’d have told me that during the hard times.


My childhood was pretty normal in many ways – from K to about 6th grade, my parents seemed to generally be happy, functional adults and family/home life held a positive association for me.  Though it was a modest upbringing, my parents had friends over for dinner all the time and home life was pretty peaceful. If you’d have asked me at the time, I’d have said that my parents were doing most things “right” and I would honestly have given them an A+ grade. It wasn’t until very recently that I was able to consider for the first time the idea that maybe my parents didn’t do as many things right as I’ve always believed.

At first blush, the idea seemed absurd to me because I’d believed the opposite for so long. As I kept turning it over in my mind and my heart, I started to see there was something to it. I began to accept the idea that maybe my parents weren’t 100% A+ parents.  I saw that actually, the way they raised me and their own patterns of unresolved trauma had planted deep, painful, untrue core beliefs about myself.  These also sent a loud and clear message about lack of belonging and a fear of the world around me that shaped my major life choices in huge, damaging ways – enter Shame.

Shame. I define this as “the deep belief that something about myself is utterly unacceptable and so I must hide it from everyone or face humiliation because of it.” A constant state of self-loathing and disconnection from the parts of myself that are unacceptable – which for a long time was pretty much everything. I could have easily told you anytime what my perceived flaws were. Body issues. My family’s modest means. Feeling different for being from another country. Believing that I was weak, stupid and lazy.

Where did the shame come from? Both of my parents seemed to lean toward shame as a preferred method of raising me. From that standpoint, there was much that was functional about shame – namely that it squashes behavior that the parent is looking to stamp out, like house training a dog the old school way. The problem is that it also stamped out my heart, my sense of belonging, and my identity – and left me with an ambient fear and mistrust of the world around me. The kicker though was how shame decimated my sense of self-confidence and took it another step further, leaving me with the opposite – a constant sense of specifically NOT trusting myself.

Not. Trusting. Myself. On paper it doesn’t make much sense. I’m an average guy who’s been through a fair amount of challenges and though I’ve made my share of mistakes, I have plenty going for me. Enough book-smarts to make school mostly a breeze and to find success in the engineering field after college. Being told on many occasions that I have innate leadership qualities that come across automatically when I first meet someone. Learning most new things quickly enough to feel like I’m a natural at almost anything that I try, to the envy of others.

But yet – even with those qualities and more, I was still actively not trusting myself. I believed deeply, strongly, critically that in each moment, I was the LEAST qualified person to face that moment for myself. It made zero sense to me until I started looking back and recognizing the shame and humiliation that drew the lines so early in my life. I was an active, engaged, bright child and I absorbed eagerly the things that were told to me by my parents.

When I wet my pants on the preschool bus when I was four years old, my mother completely let me have it with her words through shaming.  When my parents found out I had a crush on a girl in second grade, they made fun of me in front of family friends until I hid under a table crying from humiliation. It was deeply confusing for me - having to trust these two people as a dependent and at the same time being hurt so deeply by their shaming me for things I couldn’t help. I had to trust them 100% - whatever they told me, I believed was true.  The only way I could reconcile this in my mind and my heart was to believe that they were right about me. They were right when they told me that I wasn’t really a four-year-old because four-year-olds don’t wet their pants, they know better. They were right about me looking stupid and weak for having a crush on a girl and so I buried future crushes deep in my heart so no one else would see.


For decades, the shame from my upbringing was a huge part of the lens through which I viewed the world, and more importantly, myself. I never even saw it - although looking back, it was clearly driving the bus. Much of my energy was going toward concealing myself and the parts that I believed were unacceptable and weak. My body did not measure up to what it should be – so I held my breath all the time. My productivity did not measure up to what I should be able to get done in a day – so walked faster than anyone else and I never took breaks, ever. My knowledge of any given topic was not as extensive as it should be, especially at work – so I kept my mouth shut and didn’t ask questions. Most importantly – I withdrew and isolated so that others wouldn’t see these Horrible Truths about myself.

I was constantly trying to prove what I was NOT, although I could never pile up enough evidence to convince myself that I was NOT these things. Not stupid, not lazy, not fat, not worthless, not embarrassing, not bad – but the toughest one was about belonging. I could not pile up enough evidence that I belonged, no matter where I was. The kicker was getting into an intimate relationship and then slowly sabotaging things because of how deeply I believed that I didn’t belong and that I was unlovable. I assumed that I must have lucked into hiding something that she didn’t see and I knew that I had better make damn sure that she never sees it, whatever it is.

I was completely oblivious to these self-defeating patterns for most of my life until a Cosmic Two-by-Four hit me over the head and made it too painful for me NOT to change. I think of Cosmic Two-by-Fours as messages of Love from the Universe that keep getting louder and louder until they’re impossible to ignore. These are messages of Love, yes - but Love presented through hard Truth, meaning that Pain is usually right there with Love and Truth. There’s growth that needs to happen and a lesson that needs to be learned - and for someone who’s been very stubborn and oblivious like me, it seems there is no other effective way than getting hit over the head with it.

My loudest, heaviest, most painful Cosmic Two-by-Four landed squarely on my forehead a few years ago when, after 18 months of hiding it, I told Lilly that we had substantial consumer debt spread across several credit cards. All of it had accumulated over the prior 18 months from living expenses in excess of our monthly cash budget. It started “innocently” one month when we didn’t have enough cash to cover what was on the cards, which at that point was a relatively minor amount. However, the instant that I realized this situation, I saw it as a weakness and a loud and clear message about my self-worth – and so I hid it. I did the same thing the next month and the month after that. This only made things worse for the climbing debt - and even more so for my mental health, my physical health, and my relationship with Lilly.

The progression inside my mind was always the same – from the initial sting of “uh-oh” during that first month, all the way to the house of cards crashing down. This was the same progression that I learned through shame and humiliation as a child, except as an adult I was now an Olympic-level pro at it.  Before, someone outside me had to convince me that I was bad and it took a little time and forceful words for me to absorb this message. Now, it was an inside job and the pathways in my brain and my heart were well-worn from years of practice. What used to take at least several minutes now took less than a split second - it went like this:

  1. External evidence of a perceived weakness: in this case, not having control over finances.

  2. Immediately assigning meaning about myself: “I am stupid, incompetent, and don’t have what it takes.”

  3. Immediately assigning meaning about my fate: “I don’t belong, I am shameful, I am bad, I am worthless – and things are not going to be okay because of me and there’s nothing I can do to change that.”

  4. Hiding and isolating: “OK, so I know these awful things about myself, but if I can just hide them from everyone else, maybe I can fool them enough to squeak by unnoticed until everything eventually still falls apart because of me.”

Every single day during those 18 months it went like that – although it kept getting louder and more painful. The trouble with this four-step progression is how good I had gotten at it. It was such an ingrained pathway in my brain that all the steps happened together, instantly. Just thinking about the credit card debt at any point during that 18 months immediately took me to “I am bad” and “Things are not going to be okay because of me and there’s nothing I can do to change that.” But I could never even put it into those words - instead it was a deep-seated feeling in my body that gave physical life to these crushing beliefs. I was constantly in a mode of fear and reaction – not ever making choices on purpose put only living in pain and running like hell from it and what it meant about me. It felt like I was barely holding up a massive dam that was about to break and that if I relaxed for one moment, it would all be destroyed because of me.

I kept up a front that everything was OK although Lilly could sense that it wasn’t. The amount of turmoil and tension inside my mind and body kept growing like a pressure cooker ready to explode. That stress culminated in me coming down with a bad case of shingles (yes, shingles) toward the end of that 18 months which was another Cosmic Two-by-Four asking quietly for my attention – although it still wasn’t quite painful enough to get through to someone as stubborn as I was.

The next few years from the day I told Lilly the news played out in excruciating fashion. I’m not proud of the things I said and I’m not proud of how little I did to make the situation better. This was a time of crushing depression that included the darkest days I’ve ever known. I was a shell of a person at best and I was a terrible example of what it means to be a man. The pain was unbelievable and seemed endless – I still don’t know how I made it through that time although I’m incredibly grateful that I did.



Healing for me has played out through many different paths – though they’ve all had the same thing at the core: opening my heart. Mine was closed extremely tight, so let me tell you – this was not an easy or fast process, and that’s a huge understatement. The major elements, in terms of the momentum they gave me, are below. They’re so interconnected that it’s tough to even put them in chronological order, and even tougher to list them in order of “importance” or impact – so, they’re in alphabetical order. There’s not one in the list that I could remove, each one is that important on its own. I could write plenty about every single one (stay tuned).

  • Brainspotting

  • Breathing deeply (instead of only shallow breaths)

  • Carrying an Amor Fati coin in my pocket each day - and spending plenty of time with it in my open palm, just breathing and accepting

  • Connecting with my inner child through following my creative instincts

  • EMDR

  • Exercise, specifically old-school heavy weightlifting plus HiiT cardio

  • Getting involved with an international men’s organization called The Mankind Project

  • Journaling

  • Letting go

  • Love and Support from Lilly, to whom I’m eternally grateful

  • Meditation

  • Nutrition – especially acknowledging foods that are inflammatory for me and generally don’t work for my body or brain

  • Pursuing stillness, listening, and “being” instead of “doing”

  • Seeing a psychiatrist for the first time (this was a tough one to swallow)

  • Solo time in nature

  • Talk-therapy

  • Tough conversations (so many)

Without any of these, I would not be here today, not a chance. For so many years, I lived in a very oppressive place with a very cruel jailer and tormentor – my own mind. There was nothing I did that it didn’t see and it criticized me for every single thing I did and destroyed me anew for each one, whether good or bad. The cumulative effect of the Medicines in the list above has been nothing short of life-changing through deep healing for my heart.

For the first time in my life, I’m able to live each day in a place that is not oppressive and where I’m not driven by a constant seeking of belonging, validation, acceptance, and approval. It’s not that I don’t need these things anymore – I do, and deeply. But now I don’t need to seek them outside myself because I know intrinsically that I already have them within me - and that they were there all along.

THAT was the Big Secret that I didn’t know all along. Shame told me that I was embarrassing, bad, stupid, and worthless. Shame told me that I needed someone outside myself to tell me that I was OK and that I was enough. Shame told me that I was “less than” – literally less than every other person. Shame told me that I was a threat to my own being and that the only way to survive was to hide.

As I stand here today, I’ve heard my own Voice. I’ve literally faced every fear I’ve had. I’ve held that little boy’s heart gently in my hands and I’ve cared for it well. I can feel deeply that I’m the best person for the job of caring for that heart - not the worst, like I believed for most of my life. I’ve felt Truth -  and mostly it’s been quiet, shapeless, and without words. This was an inside job all along and I was so well-equipped to handle my own life - I just had unhealed trauma that kept me in self-defeating patterns and that hid the Ultimate Truth from me.

That Truth is that I am Love; that you are Love; that we are all Love and all connected. We all belong with each other – in the words of Ram Dass, “We’re all just walking each other home.” I did the best I could with what I had and what I knew at the time. Though it’s easy to look back to find evidence to the contrary so that I can beat myself up like I did for so long, I know deeply that this is true.

Today I can honestly say that I’m comforted by knowing that I will never experience the same level of darkness again as the darkest days I’ve known. That’s because of the healing I’ve experienced so far and the connection I have with myself and my heart. No matter what circumstances happen, I know more than anything that I don’t have it in me to hate myself anymore or to abandon myself anymore.

The pathways of self-loathing are still there just like expressways that get built and that have millions of cars running down that pavement over decades. If you put up a “road closed” sign, some cars may stop driving on the road - but the pavement is still there. It takes time and hard work to build new paths and to get familiar enough to go down that new road - instead of the old familiar ways that I drove down so easily on autopilot. I can still recognize the patterns and the old conditioning - but usually when I recognize them, it’s because I’m noticing how things are playing out differently and how I’m NOT going down those roads anymore.

The darkness and pain I experienced were excruciating. That said, they were well worth it to gain the healing and growth that my heart and inner child had so desperately needed for such a long time. There is no way to overstate this deep, critical need. Every moment of my life was driven by a need for external approval to accumulate any evidence of acceptance and belonging – anything to counter the pervasive ambient self-rejection and self-hate.

For many years, “home” was a four-letter word to me. After my family of origin fell apart when I was in middle school, “home” was the last place I wanted to be. I barely used the word “home” in conversation, I would say “house” instead. Though I still have a sense of loss for my family of origin and the home we once had, that grief now feels healed. Today I’m fortunate enough to be creating a new home with Lilly – our home that belongs to us both, and that’s our daughter’s home and her family of origin. It sounds cliche – but now, our home really is where my heart is. This is an Open Hearted Home where the expectations are to be, to share, to listen and to love. I’m here to be. I’m here to share and to listen. I’m here to Love.