Happy 30 to My Best Buddy


Jason hit a big birthday milestone yesterday – THIRTY! (Sorry, honey, did you want me to keep that quiet?) I can’t help it; I love to celebrate him! I’m so thankful to have Jason in my life. He is truly my best friend and we have a ton of fun together. He’s always there to support me through hard times, hold my hand when I’m scared, or give me a pep talk (or kick in the pants) when I’m slacking. He loves and values his girls. Jason’s creativity, wisdom, passion, hard work and sensitivity to people inspire me everyday. Rather than just blab and blab about how awesome my husband is, I found 30 pictures from the past year to reflect on some great memories…mostly centered around Ali since she joined our family just after his birthday last year.

We celebrated Jason’s birthday last year at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams with some friends and family.

One of the first pictures I have of Jason with his little baby girl:

Remember those days when she would sleep ANYWHERE? That was convenient. I think we were enjoying our Saturday morning coffee and bagels at Ugly Mugs here.

In October, we started negotiating to buy this piece of property.

At the beginning of November we got to meet our little buddy Jaron, home from the hospital. We were like totally baby experts by then. (Ha!)

We went up to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving.

In December, we closed on the property we’re now building our new house on. This picture was taken a couple days later on, just after we’d returned from the juvenile courthouse accepting a parental rights surrender from Ali’s bio mom. It was a bittersweet time.

Ali giving her Daddy a big wet kiss on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Day, helping my dad carve the turkey.

Not the best quality picture, but I love the look of love and pride on Jason’s face, watching Ali learn to sit up on her own. This was taken on New Years Eve.

Lazy morning cuddles.

In January, Ali and flew down to Florida to meet up with Jason on tour. It was a mini-vacation for Ali and I.

Jason introducing Ali to the Gulf of Mexico.

Then in February, we moved out of the house we absolutely loved…but was going to be too small for our vision for our family.

Back at Jeni’s. This picture reminds me of how much Ali’s birth mom expressed that she was hoping Ali would be a daddy’s girl and get whatever she wants from Jason. I think her wish for her daughter came true…

The unplanned everyday outings are often the best. I took this picture because I was loving my life so much at that moment, having a delicious lunch outdoors on a Sunday afternoon with my best friend, and I wanted to capture it to save forever.

Jason, the self-proclaimed NOT a car guy, fell in love with this 1988 Mercedes Benz. How could I say no?

Easter squeezes and navy blue stripes.

My arms and back are so thankful that Ali has a strong daddy. My heart is glad, too.

In April we visited our friends in Cincinnati. This was taken at the aquarium.

At church on Jason’s first Father’s Day.

We celebrated with Wendy’s frosties afterwards.

At the end of June, we dedicated Ali to the Lord at our church. We committed to raise her to know the same faith that we have come to know and cherish.

(Look a picture without Ali!) While we were on vacation in the Outer Banks, Jason was just sitting here in the hallway playing his guitar looking as handsome as ever and I had to snap a picture quickly, before he saw me.

While on vacation, our little baby turned 1! Do you think she knows she’s precious?

I’ve always thought of myself as Jason’s biggest fan but Ali has been putting me to shame. She LOVES to watch him play guitar, always wants to touch the strings and claps after every song he plays. He’s giving her a lesson here:

Earlier this month we took a road trip and stopped at our family favorite, Cracker Barrel for dinner.

At our friend’s house in Cincinnati.

And slightly out of order, this photo is from August 7, Ali’s adoption finalization day. What a happy day for our family!

We love you so much, Jason! More than all the Jeni’s ice cream in the world! You’re still a young man. The best is yet to come!

Phone Photo Friday


Cousins sneaking in a little more pool time before it’s too late. Ali calls her “Eye-za” and Eliza calls her “Owie.” They’re good buddies.

Most of my Phone Photo Friday pictures are from my Instagram feed. Follow me @mahlbrandt if you’d like!

Why Adopt a Teenager? How about: Why not?


When Jason and I started out foster parenting we set our parameters that we would accept a placement of one child or two siblings up to age 5. We were first time parents and we were/are young (26 & 28 at the time). Most of our friends had kids under 5 years old. We felt more competent parenting a young child. All those factors led us to set our parameters the way we did.

Over a year later, our hearts have changed a lot. We’ve gained confidence and grown passionate about the kids in the foster care system. When we start back up again, we’re considering opening our home to a child of ANY age. That means we could be placed with a newborn or an 18 year old. As always, we’ll prayerfully consider and discuss each potential placement and decide what will work for our family. This time around we have a 1-year-old daughter to think about, not just two adults.

(Sidenote: Case workers please take note. First time foster parents are scared and may think they only want to accept young children. Don’t turn them away! A year or two later, they might be the ones who are willing to accept any placement.)

Our biggest concerns about parenting, fostering and potentially adopting a teenager are kind of silly. Mine is: what will people think? A 30 year old and 28 year old with a teenage kid? Jason’s is: how much more will it cost to parent an older child? Will we have enough for college? Jason’s response to my fear: does it matter what people think? My response to Jason’s fear: there are grants available for kids from state care to attend college and I’m sure that God will provide financially for our family, just as He always has.

Ever since I learned about the waiting kids in the US, most of whom are over 8 years old, my heart has been breaking for them. Most people consider them to be too old. Not adoptable. But yet, they wait desperately for parents. I’ve had in the back of my mind, “someday, when we’re older, maybe we can adopt an older child.” The past few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about the teenagers that are approaching adulthood. For a kid in state care, adulthood means “aging out:” getting dropped into the real world without any parental support.

I entered adulthood younger than many of my peers. I got married just before my 19th birthday. At 19, I was completely moved out of my parents’ house. Jason and I were renting an apartment, going to college full time, working part time jobs, sharing an old used car to get around, making a budget, paying our own bills. I was 19 and a full-fledged independent adult. Except for one thing… we had a safety net of wonderful parents supporting us. We went boldly, confidently, excitedly out on our own into adulthood—because we knew our parents had our backs. They had taught us how to make a budget and pay bills, helped us get our first car, they assisted us financially through college, and most importantly—we knew without it ever being stated that they would help us when we got in trouble.

And we did run into trouble. Every young adult does. I still vividly remember the morning I went out to the car to go to work and discovered someone had smashed our Ford Focus into the curb during the night. A hit and run. I called our insurance agent to find out what our deducible was and then looked at the checkbook. I called my mom and cried. We were living on such a tight budget that we didn’t have $500 for the deductible. My mom was there to catch me when I fell. Just as my parents always have been. I cannot imagine entering adulthood without parental support.

(Me and Jason on our honeymoon at 19 and 20)

Which brings me back to the “unadoptable” older kids in the US foster care system, waiting, waiting, waiting to be adopted. They know they’re going to age out at 18 and be “free” but most know that’s not really what they want. They want parents and families into adulthood. They want someone to help them decide on a future career. They want somewhere to go home to for Thanksgiving and Christmas break from college. They want someone to walk them down the aisle when they get married. They want someone to celebrate the birth of their first child with them, someone they can call in the middle of the night when the baby won’t stop crying and they’re exhausted. Someone who misses them and calls to check up on them.

I really don’t know what’s in store for our family down the road. We have big dreams but loose plans. I don’t bother making specific long-term plans anymore. God’s plans alway turn out to be different than mine, and so much better. But I wanted to share my heart, because there are thousands and thousands of older kids waiting to be adopted and I can’t fix it on my own.

New Home: Kitchen Plan


I sketched out the plan for our new kitchen in my moleskine journal:

Make sense?

Basically, I want walnut-stained wood cabinet doors on the base cabinets and white wall cabinets. Somewhere on the same wall as the refrigerator, I want a small open shelf for our everyday dishes and glasses. Plus, a whole lot of specifics that won’t matter to anyone but us.

These are my inspiration kitchens:

Source: Uploaded by user via Martina on Pinterest



Source: designsponge.com via Martina on Pinterest


Source: designsponge.com via Martina on Pinterest.


The good thing about our house taking so long is that we have time to change our minds about things as many times as we want. For example, at first we thought we wanted all white cabinets. Now we want half white, half walnut. We thought about doing soapstone countertops or concrete countertops…now we’re set on kashmire granite.

Here’s my inspiration board, our plan for the kitchen (not that we can’t still change our minds!):


1. Sherwin Williams Greek Villa – (main color throughout the house)

2. IKEA MINUT pendant 10″ globe lights $30 each

3. White upper wall cabinets

4. 3×6 glass subway tiles for backsplash

5. Delta 9159-DST Trinsic with pull down single handle

6. Double under mount sink (50/50) with lower center wall

7. Kashmire (Cashmere) Granite countertops

8. Woodland Garden 2×3 from Urban Outfitters $18

9. Walnut-stained (probably cherry wood) base cabinets

10. Hickory wood floors

11. Tabouret counter-height metal stools $40 each

12. Whirlpool White Ice appliances

13. Whirlpool 30″ stainless range hood

Ice, Ice, Baby


One Friday night we went on a fun family outing to the appliance store to look for a refrigerator, dishwasher and range. We don’t need to purchase them for a while but we figured it would be helpful to decide what we want to get, especially since we had to order the range hood for the HVAC guy. We know we want to get a gas range. They scare me a bit (thanks to our first apartment and its ancient gas range that almost blew up the house…) but Jason is more of a cook and he’s set on it. If he’ll cook more, it’s all fine by me. He assures me that a new gas range will not almost blow up our house. Beyond that, we know that we prefer a side-by-side refrigerator/freezer to the popular french door model.

We just assumed we’d get stainless. That’s what we had in our last house. That’s what you put in new houses. But then… Then, we saw this.

Can you hear the choir of angels singing “Halleluh…” because I can. It might seem silly to most people, but I totally fell in love with this Whirlpool White Ice line of appliances. They’re white but not the textured white with the white handles like we had back in the 90s. They’re a smooth semi-gloss white with sexy stainless handles. (Yes, I just said sexy stainless handles.)

We had a few irritations with the stainless appliance at our last house: 1. they scratched easily, 2. drip marks were constantly appearing on the dishwasher and the freezer door below the water dispenser and 3. toddler hand prints. I can’t say for sure that these won’t scratch or show drip marks but it sure doesn’t seem like it. We asked Ali to test irritation #3 and she was happy to oblige. NO TODDLER HANDPRINTS! Yay!

I’m sold. We walked all around the store looking at other stainless appliances but I couldn’t get White Ice out of my mind. We haven’t purchased them yet, as I mentioned, but we will be. I have a Kitchen Inspiration Board post coming soon.

In The In Between


Alianna is learning to walk. On September 4, she took her first steps, 2-3 at a time, between Jason and me. She did it about 10x that evening. Now we can stand her up and once she gets her balance, she’ll stand for quite a while, then take a few steps, then fall. We’re so proud of her and she’s been a trooper about it all, not really getting frustrated but willing to try it over and over again. She’s in this in between stage. Between crawling and walking. Between baby and toddler.

We’ve been in between homes for 7 months now. It’s getting old. Really old. I feel like a jerk for even complaining because I know the new house is going to be a great blessing and worth the wait. In addition, we’ve really got a great situation here living with my parents who help with Ali and cooking and charge us less rent than we’d be getting anywhere near here. But I’m really ready to be in our own home again, you know? I look at pictures of our old house and I miss it. I miss the feeling of coming home. I go inside our new house in the midst of construction and I’m excited…and impatient. I feel stuck in between.

Separation. It’s the step in between married and divorced. Jason and I have some friends who are separated right now after 10 years of marriage. It’s painful to see them hurting, even nauseating at times. I feel so helpless. We’re brokenhearted for them and want so badly to see them come back together. All we know to do is to pray and to be available as friends when they need to talk. I think separation is stupid; it’s one foot into divorce and it’s really hard to move backward. The space in between them is killing their marriage.

I’m beginning to despise the in between.

Phone Photo Friday


Our old street, with our old house in the center. Seems we inspired a few others to paint their brick ranches.

Most of my Phone Photo Friday pictures are from my Instagram feed. Follow me @mahlbrandt if you’d like!

Slatted Coffee Table and Round Wood Wall Clock … oh and Vintage Guitar Amps!


It’s no secret around here that Jason and I are estate sale addicts. We love ’em. Last week, my guitarist husband discovered his dream sale… we stumbled upon an estate sale of a guy who collected vintage guitar amplifiers. He and Ali got up early to head out to the sale on the first morning. (I got up early and went to work. I get credit for finding the estate sale listing online.) When he got there, there were still 12 amps available and the guy running the sale was ready to make deals. Jason was in heaven! He said he was walking around with his mouth hanging open, entranced by all the vintage amps, when the guy walked up and handed him a tissue. Jason hadn’t even noticed Ali had snot running out of both nostrils! Hahaha… OK, maybe that’s only hilarious to me but it’s because I could totally picture it when he told me. Anyway, he bought three amps for around half of what they’re worth. The Gibson one is for a friend. I think all three are from the 1950s:

This is Jason’s Instagram picture. I would have angled the shot differently to crop out the trash bin. Haha…

Turns out the estate sale had a few other mid-century goodies, too. He also got this slatted wood coffee table. It almost looks like a bench and we keep going back and forth with how we’ll use it. It’s currently resting at the foot of our bed because we’re out of space, y’all! Our storage unit is packed and we’re gradually taking over more and more of my parents’ house. (New house, can you hurry up and get done, please?)

Yes, we have green carpet in our current room. Isn’t it pretty?

Jason also got this round wood Quartz wall clock for me for a couple bucks. We’re not sure if it’s vintage but it looks right. It’s currently hanging in our bedroom but it may end up in Jason’s studio in our new house because it’s silent. We made the mistake of putting a wall clock that ticks in his last studio. Jason’s a lamp guy but I’m a clock lady. I love to have a clock in every room because I don’t wear a watch.

New Home Update


Since my last update on our hew house, we’ve had our windows installed, the ground leveled around the house and our roof has been shingled. All of that excitement packed into one picture-ific post:

The house feels much more grounded, nestled into the property, now that the dirt has been leveled. We’ve got a lot of landscaping to do!

The window in the foreground will be over my desk, looking out into the backyard.

The front door (in the right of this pic) opens into the dining room and kitchen area. The windows next to the door were not yet installed in this picture. We get a ton of light while still having a lot of privacy from the street.

From the front door, we can see straight down the hallway and out the window in one of the kids’ rooms. I love how that worked out.

Also from the front door, I catch a glimpse of the living room with big window and tall concrete block fireplace.

We’re looking forward to cozying up in front of the fire this winter.

I really, really love how much indirect natural light we get in the house through the clerestory windows. Three cheers for thoughtful architects!

The exposed concrete block continues into the den/playroom/spare bedroom. Jason is probably swatting a mosquito in this picture. They’re really bad down by our house. Maybe because all the dirt was stirred up with the leveling?

We have some nice big windows in the master bedroom too.

I love that we get to look out at this beautiful crepe myrtle tree all summer and fall!

Lucy is very happy that we have some low windows and glass doors that she can bird watch through.

The front door on a different day, after the windows were installed. This is from the dining room looking out toward the courtyard entryway.

A couple of weekends ago, Jason and I did a bunch of yard work. We removed about 60 feet of chain link fence and posts, cut back/down some trees, weed and shrubs and hauled all the debris to either the dumpster or the curb for brush pick-up. It was hard work on humid days but it felt so good—the physical exercision and the fact that we were working on our new property. This photo is taken from the back corner of our lot, the highest point on the property.

In the above pictures, our roof is covered in tar paper but not shingles. I’m not sure if you can tell by looking at them. But, in the pictures below, we have shingles! Yay! We selected “weathered gray” and it’s just what we were hoping for. We didn’t want to go too dark to attract the sun and we didn’t want to go too light that it looked the same shade as concrete. We didn’t want to go too brown since we have gray concrete block but we also didn’t want to go too gray because we’ll have cedar wood siding. Needlesstosay, we’re pleased with our choice.

What’s in a Name?


Sometime before Jason and I became foster parents—when we were still assuming we’d have kids the usual way—we decided that we’d name our first daughter Anna. I’m a name lover. I’ve been keeping lists of favorite names for as long as I can remember and it was on my list. Anna means gracious.

My dad’s mother’s name was Anna Maria. She was a lovely Swedish woman, kind, gentle, generous, encouraging. She also had a sweet tooth that led her to hide Nilla wafers in her bedroom, even after she had diabetes and was not allowed to have sweets. She was spunky like that. I can understand because I’m a lot like her. When she was younger, she decided she wanted her name to sound more America so she went by Ann Marie. I’ve always loved the name Anna, though.

Jason’s dad’s mom is named Anna Mae. She’s the last remaining grandparent between the both of us. Sadly, we don’t see her very often because we live so far away. I don’t know her well but she seems like a lovely woman, too. Jason’s grandfather often called her by her first and middle name together so Jason was particularly fond of also using Mae. Mae doesn’t really mean anything other than the month of May, but a friend told me it means beautiful in Mandarin Chinese (with different spelling). I haven’t confirmed it but it works for me.

Anna Mae. 

Gracious Beautiful.

Jump ahead. We accepted that as foster parents, we probably won’t be renaming our kids unless the circumstances are right. Then, much to our surprise we were placed with a 2-month-old and learned quickly that we’d be adopting her. We could have changed her name to anything we wanted and it would not have been much of a transition for her. But as it turned out, we really liked her original first name. (I’m purposely not stating it here.)  Before we filed her adoption paperwork we milled around many different possibilities of how we could modify her name without totally changing it. I wrote out our top choices on the chalkboard door of her bedroom. Seeing them scratched out there, the solution was obvious.

Alianna Mae.

We took the first part of her original name and added our favorite name behind it. We had gotten used to calling her Ali for short and didn’t want to completely replace her first name. As a nice surprise, Mae not only sends a nod towards my name, it also honor’s Ali’s birth mom’s name. I cannot think of a more perfect name for our beautiful daughter, a gracious gift from God.

(Cross stitch art above was made by my mother-in-law, Grandma K, as an adoption day gift.)