Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Life in the Rearview

Nashville, TN.

Hey friends!  It’s been long time since we’ve caught up.  How are you?  2016 was a nice, slow year for our family.  I only played about 35 shows, we welcomed Isaac James to our family, we brought home a puppy named Sadie, and my husband discovered a love for cooking (score)!  I also guested on a live record with Bethel Music (releases in April), toured with Bethel in October, won some crazy fun awards, dipped my toe in the designing world with my Fashionable collab, played Carnegie Hall, started conversations about finally writing a book (a lifelong dream), and watched my kindergartner play basketball, learn to write in cursive, and lose his first two teeth.  It’s been lovely.It looks like 2017 is shaping up to be nice and chill too, if you count a 6-week west coast tour and making a new album chill.  :)

I’m excited for all the Lord is doing in our family, in our hearts, and in the new music that’s being written for album #4.  I believe much good is to come this year, and I’m thanking the Lord for it in advance!

Have a wonderful Wednesday, and I promise to be back soon.


Monday, November 7, 2016

My "Alem Utility/Mom Bag" from FASHIONABLE is finally here!!!

Redding, CA

It’s finally here!  I’ve been so excited about this project, and today is finally the day I can share it with all of you! 

Last winter, I was very pregnant with Isaac and searching for the perfect diaper bag.  I tell you—it didn’t exist.  I wanted something made of leather but not too structured or “glam.”  It needed to have pockets and be big enough to fit all the things, not just a large tote.  I sat in the car thinking about what it could look like and who I could partner with, and it hit me!  I’ve been a fan of FASHIONABLE from the start, so I called up my friend Marisa (marketing director at FASHIONABLE) and pitched her the idea of a bag specifically designed for moms that could double as a utility bag for everyone else.  We sat in design meetings comparing the size of our baby bumps and together came up with what I think is one of the most beautiful, versatile bags I’ve ever carried. 

I really wanted the bag to work for my everyday life through multiple seasons.  So many diaper bags are so “season-specific.”  If you don’t have an infant, the features of the bag won’t work for you.  What about moms of toddlers?  Or moms of older kids?  Hey, what about moms who work or go to school and don’t want to have multiple bags they’re constantly switching between?  I can take this bag to the park filled with snacks and diapers in the morning and throw in my laptop and water bottle for an afternoon songwriting session or meeting at the label.  It works beautifully in both settings.  Some things that were important to me in the design were: it had to work as a cross body AND a shoulder bag, had to have a zipper, absolutely had to have an outside pocket for my phone and keys, and it needed to be lined with multiple pockets.  Y’all, it does not disappoint!  It’s absolutely beautiful, and I feel so put together carrying it.  My friends who aren’t moms (or have older kids) all want one, and I think you may too! :) 

Beyond all of those things, I love that this bag provided a job of dignity and sustainable income for a mom across the ocean.  Our beautiful bag is named after Alem, one of the heroic women FASHIONABLE works with, who is now ABLE to have a better life for her family because of her job.  I hope you love it as much as I do!!


P.S. Purchase the Alem Utility Bag here!


Thursday, August 11, 2016

My Favorite Workout

Y'all. I’ve been MIA for waaaaay too long, but having a baby and taking 6 months off for the first time in my life is a pretty good excuse, right? Isaac is 4.5 months and the sweetest addition to our family. His birth was beautiful, and I'll be posting about it soon (Lord willing)! :)

I’m really hoping to get into a regular posting schedule, and I couldn’t be more excited to kick things off with a feature on one of the most inspiring women I know. Suzanne Bowen is not only a fitness icon, she’s a wife, homeschool mama, business owner, and Jesus-follower who makes getting in shape something to look forward to. Seriously. I’ve never been more excited to work out than I am with Barre Amped. I was a ballet dancer through childhood and planned to make it my career until some back issues turned me in another direction. Finding a workout that makes me feel like I could still kill a ballet class makes me infinitely happy! 

But its better to let her explain who she is and what she does, so on to the interview! 

1) How did you come to own your own business?

After I left New York City as a Lotte Berk Method Instructor, the United States’ original barre technique, I moved to Franklin, TN, to be near family, and I opened a small fitness studio with the help of my parents. I was in my late 20s. Then, I met my now husband, Levi, through one of my clients, and we hit it off immediately. In order to get married and travel overseas with him, I had to close my fledgling first studio. After traveling, we moved back to Franklin, had our first baby, and then, when she was almost a year old, I got back into exercise via teaching classes and starring in an Abs DVD called 10 Minute Solution: Blast off Belly Fat.

I was teaching exercise in a local gym and all of my barre training influenced my workouts. I started out with four women and by the end of my “boot camp” I had a packed out class of 30 women. They would do barre exercises holding on to spin bikes! They were hooked. No one at that time, outside major mass markets, knew what barre workouts were. Now you see barre workouts are the trendiest, and most effective workouts for women because they are feminine, yet challenging. They are very good for helping counter stress levels. And they work!

After a few years, I decided it was time to open my own studio in Franklin. Within a year, I had women from all over the country writing to ask if I would train them to teach barre. I started our certification business which took off like wildfire. I also started streaming barre workouts through my website. Six years later, I am streaming barre in my private studio and our teacher training business has not slowed down. My husband left his construction business because we are full time in exercise. I have a great partner in him. We have a blast!

2) What is the most rewarding part of what you do?

The most rewarding part of what I do is speaking into women’s lives in terms of self image. I walked out of tremendous self hatred and self doubt having huge issues with body image all through my 20s. It became apparent to me when I was in NYC teaching women of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds that this epidemic of self hatred was very real. I knew I wasn’t alone. I would listen to women after class tell me how much they hated their thighs or how much they wished they could look like me (or not like themselves) and I woke up to the very real war that is waged on women as they look in the mirror. At the time I was teaching barre classes in NYC, I wasn’t a believer. It was through that war with myself and the depression I felt over my shortcomings and all that I wasn’t, that one day, I cried out to Jesus that if He were real, to please help me. I felt instant peace and warmth come over me. It was through that self hatred that I met the God of my dreams, the Father I always hoped was there but thought was too good to be true. And for that struggle, I am grateful because it led me to Jesus, my savior who gave me peace which passes all understanding. 

Though my freedom from body image distortion wasn’t immediately healed and I had to (and still have to) walk away from the lies of perfectionism and the traps of the enemy, I am definitely much better. I have embraced aging and I have hope that there is more to my life and my existence than my outer shell. I like to say, “I am much more than my thighs!” 

Because of my very real struggle with severe dysmorphia in my past, I am able to speak truth to the women who work out with me. Through my workouts, I get to remind them of their worth. I get emails often from women thanking me for helping them stop believing the lies that they must look a certain way in order to be loved, valued, or accepted. And though I work very hard and often need a break, those emails keep me going because women need to know they are more than what the fitness, fashion, and beauty industries sell them.

I also have to say that I love teaching exercise with good form and I love hearing testimonials of fat loss, flexibility gains, de-stressing, increased strength, and feelings of general well being. When you realize that exercise is not punishment and doesn’t have to include running bleachers or flipping tires, but can instead be life giving and energizing and enjoyable, it’s a win for me! We need to enjoy what we do and it needs to be sustainable. To hear people love my workouts is hugely rewarding!

3) How do you walk the tightrope that is working motherhood? I try to avoid the word balance, because it’s never perfectly balanced for me, and I know that questions can feel flippant sometimes. But how does it work for your family on a typical day?

You are so right in avoiding the word balance! Sometimes it feels like survival! Haha! We homeschool our children, and in Florida where we live, there are yearly evaluations and tremendous pressure. We get up in the mornings and after breakfast we do our school. Then, Levi and I come up to the office and work for the afternoon. At night we always try to have dinner together. It’s really that simple. We have a rebounder in our living room that the kids jump on and we often walk, hike, bike, and stay active. But I admit, I do not have it altogether and I have a legal pad with me to make to do lists all the time! It can be so stressful sometimes because the children are literally with us nonstop. I try my best to live in the moment, though, because I see how fast time really does fly. 

4) What is your advice to women who want to get in shape but are afraid of getting over the hurdle of just starting?

Start walking if the weather is right. Just put on some shoes and walk outside if you can. Notice how walking makes you feel better. It doesn’t have to be far. Then, think about what kind of exercise you might like. Is it dancing? Could it be a Zumba class or DVD? Do you like strength training? Find a good strength class that has beginner options. Or are you curious about barre? Women love it! They feel challenged but feminine and the results are generally amazing. 

Sign up for classes or streaming memberships that show a love for “real women” and who have group support (online or in person). For my website, we have a Facebook group for streaming members from around the world and we always have challenges going on. Women get to check in with accomplishments, questions, and concerns. There is always someone there to listen, offer advice, or celebrate. It’s been amazing to see such a virtual sisterhood! Group classes or private group training can be amazing for helping women feel secure and part of a team while offering hands on corrections to make sure they are getting the most out of the workouts. And, for those who have the means, personal training is great. However, I am a huge fan of groups because of the support and cost effectiveness. 

Always choose something that is non-punishing and that you look forward to. We have got to understand that exercise is a gift and not something to dread. We need to be kind to our bodies so that we can age well, feel alive, and feel youthful, no matter our age.

5) What is the SBF (or Suzanne Bowen Fitness) theme song? 

The song I have posted in my group more than any other one is Free to Be Me by FB! My favorite line is “Perfection is my enemy.” It’s really great to see so many women from different areas trending on the identity track. God created us uniquely and we are fearfully and wonderfully made. There is no one “youer than you” and Free to Be Me is my favorite anthem for my SBFFs. :) ***I promise I didn't pay her to say that! :)***

Wow. One of my favorite things she said was, "always choose something that is non-punishing and that you look forward to. We have got to understand that exercise is a gift and not something to dread. We need to be kind to our bodies so that we can age well, feel alive, and feel youthful, no matter our age." This is exactly how I feel about Suzanne's workouts.  They make me feel good about myself, not like I'm striving to have the "perfect body" (which doesn't exist, by the way) or fit into a particular swimsuit. She's a real women who cares for her body and works hard to make it strong, and she makes me feel like I can too. 

Are you interested in trying her workouts? There are several options: DVDs, local classes, or (my favorite option as someone who is on the road) streaming. All are available here. You can get 24/7 streaming access to over 200 workouts for FREE for two days (no credit card required), and you'll also get access to custom workout plans, an online community of support, and the SBF Food Guide which includes recipes, shopping lists, food journal and more!  Let me know in the comments if you try it and what you think! 

Here is where you can find Suzanne on the web:



Wednesday, December 9, 2015

I'm Baaaack! (And a Gift Guide for the Kids)

Nashville, TN. 

I'm back, y'all! It's been quite a year, and I can't believe it's already December. Phew! Just when I started to feel like a human again after a summer of morning sickness, our fall tour started, and I haven't really had a chance to come up for air yet. We're in the middle of our Christmas tour now, and I'm taking my last day at home until the 21st to work on some *online* Christmas shopping. I thought it would be fun to do a little post on some of the things we might be getting our kids this year in case you're stumped.

Last year we adopted the "Want, Need, Wear, Read" philosophy of gift-giving for our kids, and it was such a success! We really want them to have a healthy view of Christmas, and part of that is not going overboard with gifts, and focusing on others. We are doing a toy purge when I get home from tour to give to some local charities, and each of the kids packed a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child this year for the first time. They LOVED it, and I loved seeing their eyes light up at the joy of giving. 

Here are ten gift ideas for the kiddos on your list this Christmas:

Bata & Batuta is Filipino for "cute little kid." How sweet is that? This husband and wife-run company has a mission to share the power of play with children in need. They focus on orphans, kids who are sick, and those living in poverty. So for every toy purchased, one is donated to a child in need. How sweet is that? I love the idea that my dollar is not just going toward bringing my child joy, but that it's also helping a child somewhere in the world who needs to feel loved. 

My son has been able to spell his name for a long time. He's convinced that "E" is his letter. So when I saw this brilliant personalized book, I knew it was the perfect gift for his "Read" present. Basically, you choose whether the book is for a boy or girl and then enter your child's name. A one of a kind book is instantly created for your child. The premise is that your child has lost his or her name and has to go on a magical adventure to find it, along the way meeting creatures who give them letters. At the very end of the book, they find their name. You can preview the whole thing before buying, and it's just pretty darn cute. I can't wait to read this with Eli this year! 

3) Wood Fox Rattle, $14

These organic, eco-friendly rattles would make sweet gifts for the babies in your life. With a nice smooth surface, soothing sound, and a fun shape perfect for teething, I think baby boy Goodwin is going to need one when he makes his appearance in March! Each rattle is made in Seattle by Manzanita Kids and is finished with a homemade organic jojoba oil/beeswax polish. 

I grew up listening to these on cassette, and they hold the most wonderful memories for me. I bought my kids the CD about God's Love last year, and they've memorized most of the Scripture songs. I will hear my 3-year-old walking around the house singing, "this is love, not that we loved God, but He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins!" No sweeter way to get the Word of God into our kids hearts than through music. I plan to buy this whole set as a family gift under the tree this year. 

Eli is learning to read and has really taken an interest in sounding out words and rhyming.  I can't wait to see what he learns while playing with this wonderful little set! 

6) Wooden Tea Set, $47.50

We're not getting this for Audrey this year because she has plenty of tea set items, but she loves tea parties so much, and this is such a fantastic set for the little girl in your life! It's got so many great pieces and is made by a small etsy artisan. Perfect for pretend play and hours of tea parties!

You all know I love Wildly Co, so I couldn't leave them off the list for this Christmas! I love that this hoodie is cozy, neutral, and soft, and like all Wildly's clothes, it's ethically made in the USA. It also comes in navy and would look equally cute on a girl as a boy. Kids don't need a hoodie? How about this adorable Mint Swing Top or Charcoal Sport Pants

Waldorf dolls are a huge investment and one I'm not sure I'm ready to make yet for my 3-year-old, but with a new baby coming in March, it might be something we get her for her birthday in July. The beauty of the weighted doll is that its made with organic millet (a grain), lavender, and wool--all natural materials that are easy to care for and good for the environment. The concept of the weighted doll is that it feels life-like in your arms, and it teaches little ones how to correctly hold a baby. Pair that with scent of lavender mixed in with the millet and the soft velour outfit, and you've got yourself one cuddly baby doll that can also be passed down as an heirloom. Love it!

9) Wikki Stix, $22.15

These are addictively fun to play and craft with.  My kids love them and yours will too! There are smaller sets for less money if you don't want to commit to such huge box.

10) Alphabet Puzzle, $19.50 

I love this puzzle. It's all wooden and the colors are adorable. It's on Audrey's wish list this year!

Have a beautiful Christmas, and enjoy the season with the ones you love!

- Francesca

Friday, August 14, 2015

He Makes Me Lie Down in Green Pastures

Nashville, TN.

Well, I'm still alive. It's funny how a lack of online presence can really make people think you've fallen off the face of the earth. 10 years ago, the idea of having an "online presence" didn't even factor into my daily life. I'll never forget sitting across the table from my friend John Mays at a Starbucks on my first trip to Nashville in 2005 and hearing about Myspace and Facebook for the first time. Times sure have changed.

There have been a few reasons for my absence both on the blog and on social media. First, I just needed a break. I don't think the human mind was designed to be bombarded with information every nanosecond of every day. Constant scrolling, reading, absorbing, and comparing isn't necessarily healthy. So I took a break. And honestly, I've loved it. I don't think I'll be back on twitter and instagram everyday. It's just too much for me. But this blog is something I've missed, and I definitely want to be better about posting.

So much has happened in the last few months--not the least of which is the fact that my husband and I are expecting Baby #3! We are so thrilled, and I can't wait to meet this little one in March!!!

On that note, I've had pretty crazy morning sickness for the past few weeks. We're talking, I can't walk more than 5 steps without gagging. Anyone who has seen me play a show in August has probably thought, why is that poor girl dry heaving in the middle "He Knows My Name?" Well, now you know why. :)

I struggled with "morning" sickness with both of my other pregnancies, but this one takes the cake. It's been non-stop, y'all. Mamas, doctors, nurses--I welcome any and all advice that you can give.  I've tried essential oils (which you know I love, but I currently can't stand the smell of anything), eating protein every hour, the Unisom/B6 combo, and eating watermelon, and nothing has helped significantly. I feel good for approximately one hour in the morning right when I wake up, and 1 hour at night right before I go to bed, but the rest of the day is pretty much misery unless I'm lying in bed.  Even then it's iffy.

The hardest part of this for me has been feeling like my life is on hold. It's one constant cycle of waking up, trying to eat, hugging the kids, going back to bed and watching more TV than I'd ever care to, and wondering if I can make it through a shower without throwing up. Then back to bed. It's HARD. I like to be in constant motion--cleaning, cooking, organizing, working, going, doing, accomplishing, being productive. I don't like feeling helpless. The fact that I've made it through 7 shows in the last few weeks is only Jesus. I've walked onstage for almost every one thinking I couldn't physically do it, but miraculously, He's gotten me through every one.  Even when the sun was beating down right on me and my black stage clothes for 60 minutes, and I thought I was going to pass out. God is faithful.

I was talking to my mom this morning and telling her how I feel like I just can't function, and how it's been so hard to be helpless. It doesn't feel natural. I just want to accomplish something. She reminded me of one of my favorite Psalms. Psalm 23:1-3a says, "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me besides the still water. He restores my soul."

She said, sometimes the Lord makes us lie down in green pastures. He doesn't give us a choice but to rest. And we shouldn't run from it. Maybe He just wants more time with me. Maybe He wants to speak to my heart. Maybe I should turn off the TV and turn up the worship music and just listen to what He's saying in this season. Yes, its hard. No, I don't want to go through this for one more minute. But if Jesus is my shepherd, and He's making me lie down in green pastures right now, then I will soak it up. Because he also restores my soul. I'm believing for that in this season. What are you believing for?


Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell[a] in the house of the Lord

(Top photo found here.)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Wildly Co. Giveaway!

Atlanta, GA.

I love kids clothes.  Especially classic, ethically made basics.  So when Wildly Co. offered to do a giveaway, I was very quick to say yes!  I've been a fan of their clothes since last fall when I placed my first order.  Haley's blog is one of the first I ever followed five years ago, and I'm thrilled about their new venture.  Here's a little backstory for you:

Last year, Mike and Hayley Morgan set out to come up with a business the whole family could be involved in.  Mike, working for a global corporation, along with Hayley, blogger at The Tiny Twig, co-founder of The Influence Networkand upcoming author for Zondervan, felt a calling to integrate their faith and businesses more closely with their family.  They set out to grow something together for good: your good, their kids' good, and mostly for God's glory. 

Since Wildly Co. launched, they successfully funded their Kickstarter campaign and produced a collection of exclusive and unique quality kids' basics.  This week, Mike and Hayley are inviting a few of their Kickstarter backers and bloggers to see behind the scenes of their  production process. Wildly Co.'s story is one of families buying clothes that will provides healing, dignity, and a trade for other families. You can follow along on Instagram with the hashtag #dresswildly. 

Their tag line is "Best of the Basics, Ethically Made."  I've found that kids don't need a million clothes.  It slows them down when it's time to get dressed, makes laundry more difficult, and could instill a lifelong habit of overconsumption.  If we buy our kids fewer, nicer things and let them wear them out, I believe we're teaching lots of good things at once.  Plus, neutral basics make it SO simple to combine different pieces without worrying if they will match.  It fits nicely with my whole "uniform" philosophy, doesn't it?

I'm a real customer of Wildly Co.--they didn't send me any free product to review, just asked me to talk about my actual experiences with their clothes.  We own a swing top, skirt, pair of jeans, sport pants, two t-shirts, and one pair of leggings.  We love everything.  Audrey loves her skirt because its twirly, but I love it because it has shorts underneath, so when she's running around on the playground, I'm not worried about modesty.  Eli loves his t-shirts because they're longer and slimmer than most 4T shirts, and they're so soft with no itchy tags.  Clothes your kids can really play in?  Yes please.  

Wildly Co. clothes are all ethically made.  They employ fair labor practices, are USA made, fair trade, and they are creating sustainable jobs.  And they are generously offering a $100 gift card to one of you!  The giveaway is only open for the next two days, so get moving!  To win, enter the rafflecopter giveaway below!  Winner will be chosen by the weekend!  

Cheers to all of you!

Friday, May 8, 2015

A Week of Surprises!

Atlanta, GA.

I'm sitting in a recliner at my in-laws house, cookies are in the oven baking, the kids are playing happily, and vacation has begun.  It’s been a busy week and a half since the Bible Tour ended, but it’s been jam-packed with fun!  I had a beautiful afternoon tea party with my girlfriends, a late night tea and chocolate date that felt like a sleepover, helped out at a garage sale, went to an adorable gender reveal party, had a double date with sweet friends, got to go church for the first time in months, had a wings and basketball night with our wonderful nanny and her hubby who we never get one-on-one time with, went to our favorite taco place, had so much good family time, looked at a pretty shed for our backyard, and I ACTUALLY COOKED more than one night in a row.  It’s been wonderful! 

THEN, on Wednesday, I thought I was going to sing at a fundraiser with Amy Grant.  But when we walked into the country club with my guitar, after having just said goodbye to the kids and gotten a quick bite to eat, we opened the door to the room, and there were 50 of my closest friends and all our family yelling surprise!  

I can’t even tell you how special it was.  My birthday isn't until the 18th, so I wasn't expecting it at all.  Matt pulled off the sweetest, best surprise party of all time.  It was just perfection.  My sis-in-law made the cake (she is AMAZING and you all need to hire her ASAP), she and our sweet friend/assistant Rachel did all the flower arrangements, and the food, I’m told, was delicious.  I was so busy being loved on, I forgot to eat!  :) 

THEN, the next morning I was scheduled to lead worship and share some songs and stories with the girls at the Nashville Mercy Ministries house.  So my parents who were in town asked to tag along, nonchalantly.  We worshiped did some fun questions and answers and were about done, when suddenly the President of my label walked in and took the mic.  He then proceeded to present me with a #1 plaque for “He Knows My Name” for my second massive surprise of the week!  It was so special because that song is so connected to Mercy, and it has been so meaningful to me that they have been such partners in this song and seeing it reach so many.  If you haven’t seen the video, you need to watch it (below).  The stories these girls share are so touching.

THEN, we drove across town to a radio event where I got to sing some more songs for radio friends.  My label asked if we’d like to go eat lunch after, and when we walked into a mexican restaurant and saw SO many people from the label and songwriters from the album there to surprise me AGAIN!  It was like an overload of joy and emotion and happiness!  We were celebrating the fact that my album has been out a year and all the amazing things God has done since then.  So basically I am just riding on a cloud right now, feeling so loved.  

I am so overwhelmed and overjoyed.  I’m not 30 yet, but it’s a milestone year, and I am pumped about it.  I know Jesus is taking me deeper, and I believe this will be a year of profound freedom in Jesus' name!  

Until next time...