4th of July Berry Cake!

I love the 4th of July! It's so fitting that it's basically the half-birthday of Christmas, because I feel an almost Christmas-y festivity about this holiday. I love the decor and the patriotism and the community vibes - there is nothing bad about this holiday! I especially love staying home and being in our little town, because people really go all out, decorating their golf carts and driving them to the local parade and fireworks. It's just good exuberant fun for all. I make this delicious berry cake every year (it's my big sister's recipe) and I can't believe I haven't shared it here on the blog before. Last year we actually had a #kitchenfail and I dropped this cake on the floor just after I pulled it out of the oven. There was no saving it, it literally smashed into a sopping mess. It was a sad moment, and even sadder when we pulled out forks and tried to eat the parts that didn't actually touch the floor... don't judge. It's really good cake.

The secret ingredient that makes this cake really really special is the moisture factor - the strawberry yogurt gives it an almost pound cake effect (without the extra calories!) And even though Cool Whip is not something I usually reach for in my kitchen, when it's mixed with the yogurt, it is the dreamiest topping. Basically this cake is fit for a unicorn. Make it and wow all your people on the 4th!

Ingredients:
- 1 box white cake mix (usually calls for eggs and oil, as well)
- 1 large tub strawberry yogurt (I love the Stoneyfield brand)
- 1 tub of Cool Whip
- strawberries (sliced lengthwise) & blueberries

Method:
1.) Preheat oven and oil a 9x13 glass pan. Prepare cake mix according to the box. This usually calls for a few eggs, oil (I replaced vegetable oil for coconut) and water. Blend everything together.

2. Add in 1 cup of strawberry yogurt to the cake mix. Mix well, until completely blended in. The mix should take on a slightly pink hue - this just makes it good unicorn fun.

3. Pour cake mix into the oiled pan. Bake according to instructions on box, about 33-35 minutes. Cool cake completely before adding whipped topping.

4. To make topping, combine 3/4 tub of Cool Whip with 1 cup of strawberry yogurt. Mix well with a spoon, until completely combined. Spoon on top of cooled cake.

5. Top in a flag design with sliced strawberries and blueberries :)

Notes:
- I baked this cake the night before to ensure that it was completely cooled before adding the topping. If you don't give it enough time to cool, the whipped topping will liquify. Which probably would still taste good, but look kind of unpatriotic.
- This would also be really fun if made into cupcakes! Just follow the recipe on the box for cupcake instructions.

I hope you have the absolute happiest, most patriotic holiday with your friends and family! Celebrate the joy of being an American! And if you happen to make this cake, please tag me on instagram, I'd love to see your creation! - @oykristen #Oy4thofjulycake

P.S. - You can shop my stars and stripes tank here.

10 Years.

10 years with this man.

I remember when I was getting married at the ripe old age of 19, I was asked by a lot of my friends - "How do you know that he's the one you will want forever? What if you both change?" It was a good question, since I was obviously so young and he was, too (he was 23). The question made me think, but it didn't scare me. I knew in my gut Stevie was the right one for me, and always would be.

I am wrong about a lot of things (don't tell my kids), but I was right about him.

After having spent the past decade together, I can honestly say it's been the best season of my life. Our marriage is far from perfect - we've experienced highs and lows in our connection with each other - but I am more convinced than ever that he is the one I want to work through issues with, celebrate victories with, and share my life with. He's absolutely amazing.

I've been thinking a lot about that question, though. How can you choose to be with someone forever when you don't know how you (and they) will change through the years? I think this is one of the big reasons why people don't get married - they want to be so sure about the choice.

But you can't be so sure.

Because you will absolutely change. And so will they.

I don't know how other people do marriage, and I don't claim to be any kind of expert, but I have definitely learned my fair share of love lessons over the past ten years. Choosing to marry someone isn't about remaining the same together. It's about choosing to grow together. Choosing to allow each other to grow, and choosing to let your spouse have the freedom and independence to continue to evolve. You have to trust that they will evolve in a way that continues to put your marriage first - that's the kicker. And the only way to ensure that they will put you first is when you model it by putting them first. It's counter-culture in so many ways. Our society tells us to put ourselves first, especially in this age of women coming into their own power. I love female empowerment and I am so grateful to be living in this time when I can dream and achieve anything in my heart, but the thing is - that's not the way it works in marriage. The best thing I can do in my marriage is sacrifice, and put Stevie first. Trusting that he's doing the exact same thing for me. When we are both sacrificing for each other, both of our dreams have the freedom and support to flourish. It's like this spectacularly fragile and balanced dance of giving.

An example: When Stevie and I got engaged, he was dreaming of going to get his MBA at a top school. I knew that it was something in his heart, and that if we got married, at some point he was going to want to pursue that path. I loved that about him - his drive and brains and heart to actually want to take tests. I thought he was a dork, but a good-looking one. His journey of applying and getting into Harvard was one of the most exciting experiences for us - and those two years we spent in Boston were phenomenal. They were hard, fantastic, sometimes awful, almost always freezing cold, and completely wonderfully bonding. And I am so proud of him, that he really went for it. I did everything in my power, changing around my college schedule, taking classes in Boston, adjusting my job at Chick-fil-A, finding a new job downtown, everything I could, to make his dream possible. And it was totally, totally worth it. Not only was it an amazing experience for us as a couple, but we made some of the best friends of our life. We are forever changed by that path.

He's done the same for me. When we were living in Atlanta and I was in college, I was spending my weekends and week night margins acting. I was taking late-night classes, practicing scenes with my partners, making short films and commercials, performing at showcases and conventions - wherever I could get experience and resume-builders. Stevie was always supportive, making me dinner so that I could eat at midnight when I got home. He was front row with flowers when I was performing. He was the one giving me constructive criticism when I asked for it (even though I didn't really want to hear it). We moved to New York City after he graduated with his MBA so that I could pursue my dream of acting as a profession. I spent so much time on the subway, going to and from auditions, classes, networking events, more auditions. Stevie was my biggest fan, running lines with me, whole-heartedly investing in gear and headshots and classes and whatever else I needed to go for it. He has put me first throughout our 10 years together, and I am so thankful that he put my dreams first, too. I would always regret it if I hadn't really given it my all in that season of life, when I had those opportunities before me.

Now that we have kids, we are living another dream. I am so grateful to be raising my two little boys with this man that I so respect and love. I know we have a lot more dreams that have yet to come into fruition, a lot of seasons ahead of us and so much more to learn in our journey together. I am so excited to pursue those things with him, because I trust his heart for me is good. He's safe and yet wildly adventurous. I am a lucky, lucky girl.

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Marriage is a choice of faith - having faith in that person. Faith that they will make the best choices for themselves and for you. I am so grateful to share this life with him. It's not easy (marriage counseling, y'all - everyone should get some!), but it's one of the things I am most proud of. Thank you for loving me so well, Stevie! You're a keeper! There is no one else I would rather travel with, cook for, make babies with, laugh at or dream with! I loooooooove you.

P.S. Tonight we are going OUT. #parentsgonewild

Help a Mother Out.

New motherhood is a foggy time. It's joyful, overwhelming, exhausting, sweet, memorable... there is nothing like that swift season of having your brand new baby fall asleep on your chest, grab your fingers, search your eyes for the answer to every need. When you're in that moment, it can feel like a very long time, but it really is a fleeting season.

I wanted to share a few ways to help out those new mothers in your life. My friends and family really banded around me as I was healing from my c-section with Daxton back in December. I don't know what I would have done without the help and support I received - it was everything during a time that I was hurting, processing and recovering. I am so so grateful that I was surrounded with an abundance of love and support, and I wanted to share the things that were so nourishing to me during that season. Because while baby gifts are a sweet gesture, when it comes down to whether you should buy a pack of onesies or buy a sleeve of blueberry muffins - a mom of two wants the muffins! Just trust me on this one.

1. Meals!
This was hands-down, my favorite gift from anyone and everyone. It made me feel so loved and cared for when people took the time to cook for me and my family. Having entire meals delivered to my door was actually healing to my heart, since it took care of my family, so it was one less thing to stress about. And postpartum, I was stressed. This is by far the most immediate way to meet the needs of that new mama and her family. And meals don't have to be fancy, gourmet, home-cooked creations (while that is amazing, obviously) - but it can be take out! It can be the wings and mac'n'cheese from the Kroger buffet! It can be Chick-fil-A chicken biscuits. Just one less need to have to worry about when I had a busy toddler and a needy newborn on my hands. I loved knowing that I didn't have to worry about feeding everyone, too! There are a few great websites like Take Them A Meal and Mealtrain that make organizing a meal delivery with friends and family super easy. If you have a friend who is about to pop, offer to organize the meal train for her - it really is such an enormous blessing.

2. Paper products.
This kind of goes along with the meals thing, but I thought it was such a simple and genius addition to the postpartum meal times. Duh! Paper products! Then there are no dishes to do! I don't know why this was such a foreign concept to me, but when someone brought over a meal with a stack of paper plates and napkins, it was like the Heavens parted. I'm sure my weeping wasn't just due to hormones, in this case those were actual tears of wonder and joy too.

3. House Cleaning.
One of my dear friends gifted me a professional house cleaning session as a baby gift. What a brilliant, generous gift! It had been a looooong while since my floors and bathrooms had really gotten any cleaning attention, so her gift came at the perfect time. But even if you can't gift someone a whole house cleaning session, you could show up on her doorstep with some Clorox wipes and Windex - I promise, if you offer to vacuum up her living room and kitchen, she won't be able to say no! And since you don't leave the house much when you're a new mom, it's really nice to have your environment clean and neat.

4. New Pajamas.
This one might not matter to everyone, but my sister-in-law gave me the prettiest purple pajamas for me to lounge around in postpartum, and it was the BEST. I felt so pampered, having my matching pajamas on, even if I hadn't showered and my hair looked like a rat's nest. And still, six months later, I feel so pretty and cared for when I put those jammies on. And it was really nice having someone bring something over for me, not just for the baby. In fact, last week I picked up another pair of matching pajamas at Target, and I've kept them in almost constant rotation since then. It's not the kind of thing I would normally buy for myself, but it makes me feel so cozy when I'm in the house so much.

5. Staying Connected.
I've recognized this second time around that I tend to isolate myself during the postpartum months. Obviously, because most of my time is accounted for in babyland, but also, it can feel overwhelming to get out of the house to do things. So I will say that having people who reached out to me and asked to hang out or come over, or even just texted to check in - all of these things really helped make me feel loved and connected, even during times where I wasn't making an effort to connect with anyone outside of my family. I really appreciated those friends who continued to badger me with love and support and encouragement - those connection points gave me so much strength when I was exhausted and overwhelmed!

My postpartum experience this time around was difficult. I am so grateful that people around me pushed extra hard to love on me while I attempted to put up a brave front - I needed the help, even though I didn't really want to ask for it. So if you know a new mama and you ask her what you can do, and she doesn't answer you - try out a few of these! I promise you, she needs your support - probably more than she would care to admit.

Oh Father, my Father.

My dad is quite a man. He has a frightening sense of humor that leaves you questioning - is he serious? Is he joking?? He has an unquenchable hankering for the finer things in life - good scotch, good coffee, good music, having a really good time. And yet he can roll up his sleeves and get elbows-deep in the muck of fixing just about anything - he's never met an appliance he couldn't tinker with and ultimately diagnose the problem to. He's quite the juxtaposition, my father.

And yes, he can be intimidating. His tough exterior consists of leather motorcycle boots and a resting "Don't mess with me" Yankee facial expression, yet he goofs off with the best of them, making up the silliest voices that leaves my toddler giggling in stitches. Growing up he would watch Doris Day musicals with us girls on Friday nights, he would put our underwear on his head to make us laugh, and he would play us songs on his guitar that made me fall in love with music.

These days he's getting a gorgeous salt-and-pepper look to him, his dark eyes still sparkly when he's got a story (or conspiracy) to tell of. He wells up with tears whenever he sees a horse in a field (something that is endlessly funny to me), because it brings back memories of his days working on his uncle's farm. He's curious, pouring hours into looking up every root word of the Bible, seeking answers to life's most confounding questions. He's a warrior, an out-of-the-box thinker, a troublemaker with a mouthful to say, a passionate teach and musician and a romantic with my mom.

Lacquered with layers of tough love and teddy bear love, he has been the most perfect dad to me and my two sisters. Not perfect in that he never made mistakes - he's always the first one to apologize, a quality I really respect about him - but he's perfect because he's tried his hardest to give us everything we could ever need or want. He didn't have involved parents while growing up, so his parenting skills have been learned along the way of raising us. Guided by only his instincts, and punctuated with lessons learned while on the job. I'm constantly amazed by him - his intense work ethic, his perceptive listening ear, his diligent commitment to discipline - these are all things that he had to learn the hard way while raising us girls. He didn't have parents to call on when he didn't know how to do something. He simply had to figure it out for himself.

As a parent myself these days, I'm humbled as I realize more and more how incredibly generous my dad has been with his life and his love. Even though I'm an adult, I still lean heavily on my parents for their wisdom and insights, especially as I raise my two little boys. I am so comforted by my dad's words of encouragement, his gentle corrections (okay, sometimes they're not so gentle, but they're usually necessary when I'm being a knucklehead), and his silly sense of humor that I am so endeared to. Sometimes I wonder how other people get along in life without laughing at themselves a little, a wonderful quality I so appreciate because I got it from him.

He's my dad, and I am so proud to be his daughter.

Thank you Dad, for being so wise and funny and generous and available to me whenever I need you. In an age when fatherhood is fading, I am keenly aware of your investment in my life and I wouldn't be the woman I am without you. You are the bravest, most wondrous soul, and I love you endlessly.