leaf dipping magic

ashley manley

It was a cold day last winter that I was bundled up on my couch and read for the first time in a Wild + Free bundle about dipping leaves in beeswax.  I was so mesmerized by the photos and the final products, it almost broke my heart to look out the windows and see the empty cold trees covered with a thick blanket of winter.

ashley manley

So, I made a mental note of this activity, and locked it away until the leaves bloomed like flowers in the fall.

And then, I waited.  

ashley manley

Finally, it was here, and fall greeted me with colorful leaves and crisp kiss.  Finally, it was time. Finally.  We spent a week studying leaves this fall (see that lesson plan here!), and I made sure this activity was part of our week.  I ordered beeswax off of amazon (though I know it's also available at craft stores), lined my crockpot with both foil and a liner, and threw the pound of wax in.  For hours the kids and I checked on the progress and took deep breaths of the earthy beeswax smell that filled our house, waiting with anticipation.

When it was melted and ready, we started dipping, using clothespins for the preschooler, pulling them out to reveal magical fall treasures.  It was calming and magical, everything I hoped it would be.

ashley manley

After we were finished dipping and the leaves were laying dry on the wax paper, I strung them up on fishing line to hang around our windows and doors, making our home a showcase of fall.

And now, along with grandma's pumpkin bread recipe and camping every halloween, fall will also include the tradition of dipping leaves in beeswax.

easy steps to leaf dipping:

Step 1: melt 1lb of beeswax (I used white beeswax in a small lined crockpot; high for 2-3 hours and then turned to low)

Step 2: slowly dip leaves into wax, fully covering the leaf, and pull out.  I held above the pot while the excess wax dripped off then laid on wax paper to thoroughly dry.

Step 3: string up with fishing line and needle and enjoy the loveliness.

have fun! xo Ashley

ashley manley


For photographers wondering, I shot this collection with my BFF, a mirrorless fuji x-t2 and 23mm f/1.4 and edited it in a snap with my go-to preset collection for fall, Bohemian Film from Pretty Presets for lightroom.

loving the mondays

ashley manley

Mondays always get such a bad rap, but lately, they have become my favorite day of the week.  We get back into our rhythms of the school week, the house, somehow, is usually it's cleanest, and I feel refreshed and ready to take on the next few days.  The weekends are great and always welcomed.  Daddy is home, our days are busy with fun weekend things and our schedule kind of goes out the window.  And it's nice, but in motherhood, I crave much more structure in a schedule than I did before kids.  Knowing what comes next helps put me at ease, creates a comfort in knowing I can be kinda maybe prepared for special behaviors my little ones might throw my way. Sorta.

More than that, Monday is a reminder of a fresh start, of a new try, of another chance.  It's a reminder of forgiveness for last week's missteps.  It's a day where I can take all of the lessons learned from the days before and try again...hopefully a little better with a little more patience.

ashley manley

So yes, Monday signifies more work and less play, more mundane and less excitement, but for me, it's a welcomed day of inspiration and hope for the days that await and the stories still unwritten.


the last day of summer in fall

It was officially 5 days in the fall but mother nature didn't give a damn and the mercury was rising.  Oak woke up on the wrong side of the bed, it was hot and humid, and I was more tired than usual.  Will fall ever get here?  I looked out the window with my lukewarm coffee and longed to wear a pair of blue jeans and not have eyebrow sweat when we went for our morning walk.

ashley manley

The kids were whining.  If the humidity didn't suffocate me, the high-pitched cries for no reason from my children would.  I had books to read and activities planned, but I changed my mind.  The weather man was yelling through the speakers "Relief is in sight, Central Illinois! Fall weather is on the horizon." I dumped my coffee, turned the TV off, and loaded the kids up.  Everyone was some form of cranky, and the only thing that always helps is getting outside, regardless of the dew point.

ashley manley

We went to a local preserve I discovered a few months ago that has the closest thing we have to a beach in the area.  Our ocean is the Illinois River, and our treasures are small shells, fish bones, driftwood and the occasional piece of glass.  It's far from the white sandy beaches of the real coast, but it was the perfect fix for the moods that plagued us.

ashley manley

We came home after a couple hours, tired, soggy, and sweaty, but it was needed and served as our silent farewell to the summer.  The next morning we woke up to a crisp chill in the air and everyone was a little more smiley.  Summer was gone.

ashley manley

In the winter, when we are cold and whining again, longing for warmer days when we can sit soggy and sweaty, we will revisit these pictures, this story, and be reminded that the beauty of every season is that it ends and comes back, only being gone just long enough for us to miss it. 

xo, Ashley

the highlight reels


I got a text from a friend the other day from a friend that said, "Guh! I might have to unfollow you on Instagram! You are making me feel like the worst mom!" She said it jokingly, but a wave of guilt washed over me.  I had posted a picture of something fun from our morning, I can't even remember now what it was, but I know it was the best part of our morning. It didn't cover sibling fighting, me wanting 2-seconds to hear the news, or the failed attempts at teaching my son to hold a crayon.  Those chaotic moments?  They usually don't lend time or creative thought to pick up the camera.

ashley manley

Starting to teach preschool at home this year has been an amazing journey but it's also been a really hard one.  I question daily if I can last through one more story or if I'm serving my kids the best I can.  I am tested in patience and forgiveness and constantly reevaluating expectations.  I spend a few moments, sometimes seconds, a day feeling like I'm doing a great job and the other hours wondering which end is up while praying for bedtime.

And while I try to be honest in my photos and posts on instagram, at the end of the day it's just a highlight reel.  Thoughts and photos that can be edited or deleted, shared or not shared.  Most often, written in the calm moments when things are better, not the heat of the chaos.


Since the text, I've pulled back a little from my presence on instagram.  Social media is a slippery slope for me, and my relationship with it is one that requires constant awareness.  Am I being authentic? Am I following authentic people? Am I posting this photo to inspire or to brag?

We aren't a perfect family, our mornings in school aren't perfect, so for anyone to think otherwise would be so far from the truth.  And, if I'm totally honest, a little hysterical considering how insane it feels around here and the number of times I reheat my coffee.  But I learned a lesson, a valuable one: Just as I share the best of my best, I'm reminded others do, too.  Best pictures, words, and experiences.  The highlight reels are pretty and wonderful, but real life, the best moments, and all of our most important growing and learning? That happens in between the stills of the highlight reels.