Friday Features

Happy Friday!

Today, I felt inspired to write up a different kind of blog post than my usual. I typically share a lot of our day-to-day moments on Instagram and save the bigger things for the blog (like finished home projects, family milestones, etc). I’ve talked about this before, but as much as the blog is a fun way for me to share things with others, it’s also a great way for me to document parts of our life for us to look back on in later years. There are a lot of little things that, while they aren’t worth dedicating an entire blog post to, I’m feeling inspired to create a little space for on the blog. Friday seems like the perfect time to round-up a random hodgepodge of things from the past week or two and I love that it just gives a little glimpse into our life right now. I do plan to write little Friday posts like this more often, although I’m not sure how often they’ll pop up. We’ll see! For now, here’s what’s been on my mind lately:

Summer Weather

This week we had several days in the 70s which is just fine with us! We broke out the water table and other summer toys and cannot wait for fun in the sun.

Plant Refresh

I had several plants that were getting too big for their planters so the start of spring felt like the perfect time to do some transplanting. I bought a few new pots and just switching out a few plants and planters has everything feeling so fresh around here!

LJ and Vi Comparison

Earlier this week we went to a park we haven’t been to in a long time. Vi has recently started doing slides 100% independently and she is so proud of herself! I snapped this picture of her and it immediately gave me a flashback to LJ using that exact same slide when he was about her same age. I had to dig through my archives and I found a video of LJ that I screenshot so I could do a little comparison of my babies!

Spring Cleaning Closets

This past week, I went through LJ and Vi’s dressers and removed anything that they’ve outgrown or is not the right season (LJ is still in 3T, but doesn’t need sweaters for the spring/summer months). I also checked for anything that was stained or had holes or other major signs of wear – anything that fit this category went straight into a bag that I’ll drop off at a local company that accepts fabrics in any condition for textile recycling.

I keep large clear tubs in each of their closets to store clothes they’ve outgrown. I keep the bin organization simple – I keep sizes separate by using a piece of cardboard as a divider and slipping a piece of paper with the size marked in the bin so it’s clearly visible. It’s nothing fancy but this system works!

Consignment Closet Refresh

The vast majority of my children’s clothing is either hand-me-down from friends or was bought secondhand at a consignment store. I don’t like spending lots of money on their clothing. They outgrow sizes so fast that it doesn’t seem worth it to spend $20 on a shirt they’ll only wear for a couple months. Plus. let’s be honest. Kids are messy! I’m constantly removing stains from food, dirt, markers, etc. I prefer to spend $3 or less on a shirt – if it is still in good condition after it’s outgrown and can be passed down to another child, great! If it has holes or stains and needs to be recycled instead, it doesn’t feel too wasteful because it’s already been worn a lot. Secondhand clothing is cost-effective for me and sustainable for the planet – a win win!

We’ve already received a lot of hand-me-downs that will fit my kids this summer, so after going through their closets and getting the next sizes ready, I made a list of things they still needed. We took a trip to the consignment store yesterday to fill in their wardrobe gaps – LJ especially had fun getting to pick out some shirts for himself! We got all these items (plus one shirt he already wanted to wear) for $40.

Herself Podcast

I’ve talked before about the HERself podcast but I listened to episode 69 while painting the kitchen cabinets that really resonated with me. Their guest, Elicia, is a stay-at-home mom and talked about the balance of staying at home but also wanting to have something for herself outside of motherhood. She personally had a passion for her kids AND also had a passion with connecting with other women so she’s joining the podcast as an employee while staying home with her kids. They talked a bit about finding little opportunities to fulfill a passion or have a role outside of the role of mom. This spoke to me so much! I am so thankful that I am able to stay home with my children (though I’ve been honest that it isn’t always easy) and love being able to fill this role for my children and our family, but I’m also a wife and a woman who has passions and interests beyond motherhood. Reading is a way for me to rest and recharge, and I also find a lot of joy in using this blog as a creative outlet. Over the past two years, I’ve also really leaned into updating our house and sharing all our projects, big and small, and it’s become a huge passion of mine. I’m learning the value of the word and. I love my kids AND I enjoy some alone time. I like completing home projects AND reading bedtime stories. I love to nurture AND create. My kids are a priority AND so am I.

Aldi Juice Find

Does anyone else love Aldi? It’s my favorite place to stock up on all our basic grocery needs! I love that it’s inexpensive and you don’t get decision fatigue because there aren’t like, 82935792348 brands of ketchup to choose from. They also have lots of great organic options at a fraction of the cost of other grocery stores. I saw these juice pouches in the Aldi Finds section and decided to try them out – they have been a HUGE hit with my kids! They don’t drink juice very often but these pouches make for a nice little treat with less sugar than other brands of juice.

ASMR Home Video

I’ve been watching this video on repeat – it’s so satisfying to hear all these little sounds of home!

First Covid Shot!

Indiana opened up eligibility for those 30+ last week and I jumped at the chance to schedule an appointment. I got my first dose of Pfizer last Wednesday and was SO excited! My only side effects were a sore arm and some fatigue around the 24-hour mark (but after a nap, I felt great!) I’m so thankful for the efforts of scientists to make this happen so quickly. I’m feeling hopeful for the future and “normal” activities resuming soon!

Note: I’m not interested in debating vaccines on the internet. There are lots of great resources out there to help make your own decision – I personally found @kinggutterbaby and @jessicamalatyrivera to be great sources of information for me.

Have a great weekend!

One Year in a Pandemic: A Photo Journal

We’ve officially been in a pandemic for over a year. On the one hand, it’s hard to believe it’s been that long. On the other hand, it’s become so ingrained that it feels like it’s been a lot longer since life was “normal” (does anyone else watch TV made before March 2020 and think things like “OMG they just hugged!” or “Wow there are so many people there! And they’re so close together!”)

I originally intended to write a journal entry type blog post looking back over the past year, but I found myself procrastinating over and over. I think that I’ve been in a mode of just getting through this thing one day at a time for so long, and while I do sometimes stop to process what is going on, it’s such a huge thing that it’s hard for me to mentally wrap my mind around (and honestly feels triggering and defeating right now). I definitely have pandemic fatigue like so many others. We’re all ready for this to be done, but none of us actually know when it will be over. Summer 2021 is looking hopeful, and maybe at that time I’ll feel ready to do a look back over this time in a pandemic with two small children. Right now, I don’t feel ready to mentally take on that blog post.

Instead, I thought I would do a little visual look back over the year. This post is a beast with TONS of pictures. Quite honestly, I created this primarily to have a collection of some of our pandemic life all in one spot. It’s a little look into what the year looked like – what we did, what we wore (spoiler alert: 98% pajamas), what life was like. I fully understand that I might be the only one this invested in remembering what a year in our family life looked like, so feel free to skip this post if 83713491834 pictures isn’t your thing. 😉

March 2020

Vi was dedicated at church on March 15, the weekend everything started shutting down. Little did we know that would be the last Sunday we’d step foot inside our church for over a year (we’ve been watching virtually ever since!) Justin and I were supposed to go to New Orleans the next week but that got cancelled so instead his vacation time was spent at home as a family. At that time it felt cozy and special to have quality time together and no other obligations. We had our first DIY Date Night and had no idea that a lot more DIY projects were in store for the following year.

April 2020

I did not leave my house this entire month except to go to the grocery store. Our Easter celebration was held over Zoom and we did a few small activities with LJ at home to celebrate. It was around this time that we realized that this pandemic wasn’t going away anytime soon.

May 2020

We entertained ourselves by painting toenails, lots and lots of playtime indoors, watching our farmer neighbors, and enjoying outdoor weather whenever we could. I enjoyed a sweet and simple Mother’s Day at home in our pajamas and got to meet my new niece towards the end of the month. 🙂

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June 2020

Even though it wasn’t a typically looking vacation, we were so thankful for Beach Week 2020 with family. At home, things stayed eventful with our AC system dying in the hottest week and LJ deciding to wash his hair in candle wax.

July 2020

We took advantage of our pond often and got to have my family over for an outdoor party which made this month almost feel normal.

August 2020

Justin’s parents were able to visit us for the first time since March and we celebrated Vi’s first birthday! We also got to go the zoo as a family and it was so nice to have a more ‘normal’ activity to do together!

September 2020

A milestone month for us – LJ started preschool! I was so thankful for in-person preschool and for a school that took tons of safety precautions. We also got to celebrate my birthday with four friends at an outdoor restaurant and my parents watched the kids for a day so Justin and I could have a mini getaway exploring Indianapolis outdoors. My middle sister and I also pulled off a big surprise by driving out to Virginia to celebrate our youngest sister’s birthday!

October 2020

Early voting, Halloween, and lots and lots of work on our home office!

November 2020

Back indoors for lots of playtime and we celebrated my tractor-loving boy’s third birthday! He also got a new bed and was preeeeetty excited about it. 🙂 I had to include a picture of our kids eating apples too – they became obsessed with apples this year and would sometimes eat 2-3 a day.

December 2020

A magical month full of Christmas activities! The kids are at such a FUN stage right now and it really made the holidays that much more special. We didn’t travel to Virginia in December and our extended family gathering on my side didn’t happen like usual, but we had at-home date nights, Christmas jammies, gingerbread houses, and lots of special fun.

January 2021

Usually January feels about 78 days long, but strangely enough this year it didn’t! Maybe it’s because by this time, we were very used to just hanging out at home so it didn’t feel out of the ordinary.

February 2021

We got a ton of snow this month and had lots of fun playing in it. On days when it was too cold, we tried to get creative with new activities indoors – busy toddler tasks, baking Valentines cookies, and the big news: getting a bounce house to burn off our energy!

March 2021

Here we are. One year later. In the last year there have been days I’ve cried, days I’ve felt so overwhelmed, days I’ve yelled, and days I’ve really really struggled. Being the primary caregiver for two small children without regular help or the ability to go to places like the library, playdates, museums, etc has been so incredibly challenging. I don’t want to sugarcoat it – it’s been a tough year. But there have also been so many great memories of our time together at home. So many snuggles, forts, puzzles, laughs, getting creative with finding things to do (and TV shows, let’s be honest here). Time together like we’ve never had before and will likely never have again.

I’m feeling hopeful for the future. My grandparents and parents are now vaccinated (and so is our babysitter – hallelujah for a little more help around here!) The weather is warming up and we’re able to spend lots more time outside. We’re tentatively making travel plans for the summer and feeling optimistic about being able to do more things in a ‘normal’ way. I know we’re not there yet, but it feels closer and closer each day. One thing is for sure, this past year is one I will never forget.

18 Months with Vi

I can’t believe I’m typing these words, but my baby girl is officially 18 months old!

A full year and a half with Vi in our lives and I honestly can’t imagine our family without her. In honor of this milestone, I wanted to write up a little post all about her and this stage of her life.

In many ways, she is very much like her brother was at this age but one huge difference jumps out right away: she is CHATTY! When LJ was 18 months old, he actually started speech therapy because he was only saying “mama,” and even that word was pretty inconsistent. Vi on the other hand, has too many words to count. Mama, daddy, no, cereal, yes, this, do that, Macie, ears, nose, hat, eyes, applesauce, bounce house, pickles, moon, bible, milk, play doh, socks, shoes, boob (lol), sleep, bye bye . . . the list goes on! She is really good about communicating her wants and needs and it’s very rare that we don’t understand what she wants.

She wants to do everything LJ does. She wants to play with the toys he plays with, she wants to do the activities he’s doing, she wants to eat the same snack he picks. If she sees him to something, you can bet that she is going to want to do it too! They are usually very sweet (I love when they want to watch TV and “nuggle,” as Vi says, under a blanket!) and generally play together well.

Vi is still breastfeeding before naps and bedtime and shows no signs of wanting to quit. I figured we would be done around the same time I quit with LJ (he was 13 months and uninterested in continuing) but she has been very insistent with continuing despite my dwindling supply. At this point, I’m 100% ready to quit whenever she is.

One reason I’m surprised she still wants to breastfeed so often is that she LOVEs food. It seems like she’s constantly eating or asking for a snack. She will eat anything that is put in front of her and definitely out-eats her picky older brother (he prefers to graze). Vi can handle an adult-size portion and generally cleans her plate regardless of what we had for dinner. Right now she particularly loves applesauce, broccoli, sausage, cottage cheese, and pickles. She’s always a complete mess by the end of a meal but she’s always a happy camper with a full belly!

She loves to read books! She will sit on my lap and flip through pages on her own, which makes my little book-loving heart so happy! She also likes to sit by herself, either on her glider or the floor, and flip through pages.

She especially loves a book my sister and brother-in-law gifted her for Christmas. It’s one of those books that is personalized and has her name throughout – I think she really loves hearing her name! She requests it almost every time before nap and bedtime and often insists on holding it while breastfeeding and then taking it into the crib with her to sleep. (The picture below is an accurate representation of any given day – she loves taking a ton of things with her into her crib!)

I think we’re finally starting to get our of her I-only-want-mama stage, which has been sweet but also exhausting for me. She LOVES her daddy and lights up with pure glee when he comes home. She has just started to give hugs with a little squeeze and it is the cutest thing. Last night he put her to bed with zero fuss from her and it was such a nice break for me! I’m hoping she allows him to do it more often.

Vi loves to be outside and doesn’t seem to care that it’s currently freezing outside. She constantly requests to go outside and if she sees someone put a coat on, she’s immediately requesting her own coat/hat/shoes to go with them. On days we actually go outside, she loves to swing or drag around a snow shovel.

Right now her most-requested indoor activities are bath time, play doh, bounce house, and getting out games from the cabinet. She loves to help feed the dogs and can now push her helper tower around the kitchen to get her own snack (she loves to eat apples out of our fruit bowl). She is a busy bee and keeps me on my toes as she gets into everything in our house!

Vi can be stubborn and definitely lets us know when she is unhappy she’s not getting what she wants, but she’s also sweet and spunky. We love her so much and are so excited to continue to watch her grow!

I love you, my sweet V!

A Weekend Day in the Life {2.13.21}

I’ve done several “Day in the Life” posts in the past and even though they are always really long posts full of mostly blurry pictures, they are my absolute favorite ones to look back on. Each one feels like a tiny time capsule and serves as a reminder of what a regular day looked like in a particular stage of our life. I haven’t done one since last March so it was definitely time for another!

A couple notes about this day. In the past I’ve always documented a weekday, so this time I decided to document a weekend day and chose a random Saturday. This Saturday felt particularly relaxing because I was able to go grocery shopping on Wednesday this week and I just finished up the dining room renovation so I’m currently not working on a home project. I also included a few bonus pictures of our Sunday at the end of this post because Sunday was Valentine’s Day and I wanted to include a few shots of our special holiday festivities. (Edit: I got a great reader suggestion to include my kids’ ages for these posts – LJ is 3 years 2 months, Vi is 17 months).

Saturday, February 13 2021
For the past several months, Justin and I have taken turns with who gets up with the kids on weekend days so the other person can sleep a bit longer. I offered to get up with them on Saturday, and Vi woke up around 6:50 am with LJ following shortly after.

I had made some hardboiled eggs earlier in the week, so LJ helped me crack and peel them for breakfast. He loves to do things independently so I try to step back and let him do things his own way, even if it’s messy.

While they ate breakfast, I started a load of laundry. At this point in our lives, I’m probably averaging 2 loads of laundry each week which isn’t bad. One benefit of all the time spent at home is there aren’t a lot of outfit changes. Plus LJ is in a stage of never wanting to change his clothes so unless we’re going somewhere or his clothes are actually dirty, we let that argument go. At least it means less laundry!

I snuck upstairs to let the dogs out of our bedroom to go outside and Vi helped me feed them – she loves helping with this daily chore.

After breakfast, I took the kids downstairs to play in the basement. A few weeks ago we purchased a bounce house for them and it has been a HUGE hit.

I really wanted to come up with something for the kids to do that would help them get some energy out and have fun without leaving the house (on top of the pandemic, there’s currently several inches of snow on the ground outside and the “high” temps are in the teens!) and this purchase has absolutely been 100% worth the investment.

Justin joined us around 8 am – he enjoyed waking up at his own pace, getting to eat breakfast without anyone stealing his food, and reading his devotions in peace. He took over with the kids in the basement so I could go upstairs and have a little time to myself. The kids love special time with daddy!

First things first, I went upstairs and got ready. Even when I’m not going anywhere, I like to at least put on a touch of makeup to make myself feel put together for the day.

I’m part of a bible study reading Genesis this year, so I read the day’s passage and answered our study questions.

Then I treated myself to a little reading time with a cozy blanket and candle burning. I’ve been so busy with home projects lately that it’s been a long time since I’ve just sat and enjoyed a book in the morning so this truly felt like a luxury!

I did a few quick updates on my Instagram stories and then Justin and the kids came upstairs and I headed downstairs for a workout. I did a 30 minute ride with Cody – he just has the best music to ride to and this one was a fun pop playlist.

I came upstairs to move the laundry over to the dryer and get lunch ready and came upon the sweetest little scene of Justin reading a book with the kids.

Justin was on call for his job this weekend and had to head in to work for about an hour so I took over and got lunch around for the kids. This is a typical scene for us at lunch – half the breakfast dishes are still out, there’s food everywhere, and it’s all a bit of a mess. Someday we’ll have things a little more organized but for now, this is our life.

After lunch, I let the kids watch a show (right now LJ is very into the movie Wall-E, or as he calls it “the robot with the trash”) while I cleaned up the kitchen and washed dishes. During this time I also sent video messages back and forth to one of my friends discussing all our thoughts on the book Majesty (love you Denay!) Marco Polo has been such a blessing for keeping in touch with friends near and far.

At 1:00 I headed upstairs to put Vi down for a nap. Vi has just recently become interested in having us read books to her before naps and she always wants to read this personalized book my sister bought her for Christmas.

She still wants to breastfeed before sleeping and always insists on holding her books (she calls them ‘bibles’) and all her dolls. It’s quite the crowd!

She also wants to take everything into the crib. Today she also insisted on taking three of LJ’s little farm animals with her. Bless her sweet little heart.

After Vi is down, it’s LJ’s turn. He sometimes naps, sometimes doesn’t, so last week I started a “quiet time box” with a few small trinkets that he can play with quietly in his room if he doesn’t want to sleep. His routine is read two books (often choosing the picture searches in his Highlights magazine), sing two songs, and then snuggle with his four puppies and Edgar the elephant. He’s my routine lover!

He also has spent the last several months sleeping on the floor, entirely by choice. We’ve tried everything we can think of to get him to sleep on his bed, but he insists on the floor. He won’t even let us put blankets down first and wants to sleep on the carpet! At this point, we just let him have the independence to decide and let it go.

Once I finished his routine and left his room, I headed into our bedroom to fold the laundry and put everything except the kids’ things away.

Normally, nap times are when I try to get all the things done. But I had already finished laundry and dishes, and I’m currently in between home projects, so today was a real treat where I got to snuggle up on the couch with Macie and read some MORE! What a day!

Justin came home during the kids’ naps and headed out to his woodshop. Woodworking is one of his hobbies and he’s been wanting to make a little stand for the dog bowls and has been working on that in his free time lately.

Vi was the first one up after taking a nice long nap.

Justin came inside around the time Vi woke up and LJ woke up (he actually napped!) shortly after. Justin and LJ hung out downstairs while Vi and I hung out in her room. She wanted to sit and read her books – a girl after my own heart!

It lasted until LJ came to join us and then things got a *bit* rowdier.

During this pandemic we’ve been trying to order out from local restaurants at least 2-3 times a month, so tonight we ordered from one of our favorite places. Justin and LJ had a special adventure to go get the food – LJ was SO excited for a trip with daddy!

Vi was very upset about being left behind and kept wanting to put her hat and socks on to go too. The only way I could distract her was with the thing she loves almost as much as going outside – bath time!

The boys returned with food – burgers for mommy and daddy and chicken nuggets and fries for the kids. Levi was very proud that he got to use his “big muscles” to help daddy carry the bag of food.

After dinner we four played in the playroom together until our food had digested a bit and then . . .

. . . we finished the day with a special treat of ice cream.

My dad was babysitting for my niece this weekend while my mom was out of town visiting my sister, so we video chatted with dad while eating ice cream.

Vi didn’t want to get back in her clothes after her bath and we were cracking up over the fact that she was just sitting there in a diaper and backwards hat.

Then after she ate it all and there was just a little melted ice cream left in the bowl, she lifted it up to drink every last drop! Like I said before, girl after my own heart haha.

After ice cream we got in our jammies and watched a little more Wall-E, then put the kids down around 8:00 pm.

Justin and I talked about playing a game after the kids went down, but we ended up just lounging on the couch talking about lots of different things and looking through old videos of when our kids were younger. It was a nice low key evening hanging out together – I’m forever grateful for this Valentine of mine.

Bonus – Valentines’ Day Activities

The next day was Valentines’ Day and it was my turn to sleep in. I went downstairs around 8:30 and Justin had to head into work for a couple hours. The kids and I spent the morning doing a few little Valentines’ activities!

First up, we used a large piece of packaging paper that came in a recent delivery to create a Valentine message for Justin. I had the kids lay down with their arms spread out in a big hug and traced their outlines. I wrote “We love you this much!” and they had fun coloring the paper.

LJ then helped me tape it to the wall in our dining room. It may not be a glamorous Valentine but this was a labor of love and the kids were really proud and excited for daddy to come home and see it!

Next up, Valentines cookies! I just got a simple little kit of pre-cut cookies from the store for the kids to make. Vi is upset because she kept trying to eat the dough and wouldn’t follow what we were doing with pressing them on the cookie sheet so she wasn’t allowed to keep helping with that step. I thought about leaving off this picture, but you know what, this is just what life looks like sometimes.

While the cookies baked, we made frosting! I always try to let the kids help as much as they are able and they both enjoyed this part.

We played for a bit until the cookies were cool enough to decorate. There was a lot of sampling going on haha but eventually we got the cookies frosted. LJ enjoyed choosing sprinkles for each cookie.

So proud of his hard work!

The kids were so excited to show Justin all their surprises when he got home and we enjoyed eating cookies before watching our online church service.

The rest of the day was pretty low key but it was fun to have those few little activities to make the holiday feel special!

I think I’m going to try doing these posts a little more frequently in the future. The kids just grow and change so much these days! To read previous Day in the Life posts, you can find them all here:

November 16, 2018

July 9, 2019

January 14, 2020

March 26, 2020

Vi is ONE!

Yesterday, my sweet little Vi turned one year old. I can still remember meeting her so vividly – Justin saying “It’s a girl!” and her little body being laid on my chest. It doesn’t seem that long ago and yet, it is so hard to remember what our life was like without her. She was meant to be in our family!

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Since we already had her birthday party two weeks ago, we kept yesterday extremely low key. We opened a few cards that her grandparents and great grandparents had sent and I bought a few cupcakes so we could enjoy a special birthday treat. We sang “Happy Birthday,” LJ helped her blow out the candle, and then we all laughed as she fisted the entire cupcake into her mouth haha!

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Watching my kids turn another year older is always a bittersweet day for me. On the one hand, I’m so thankful for their growth, health, and life. It is such a joy and honor to get a front row seat to their lives and it truly is a celebration.

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On the other hand, birthdays are also a reminder that my baby will never be this little again. I love each stage of their lives and it’s always just a little sad to say goodbye to one stage, even though it’s exciting to welcome in another!

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For Vi, the baby year has been quite a ride. As a newborn, she gave us a run for our money: cluster-feeding, never sleeping more than 45-60 minutes at a time, and she did not like to be put down. The first few weeks were very challenging, and it took us about a month to hit our stride.

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Ever since then, Vi has been a mostly chill baby. She has a very mild temperament and is generally in a happy mood. The only time she gets fussy is when she is tired or when she wants mama. She is a huge mama’s girl and always wants to be held by me. She’s okay with other people as long as I’m not there, but if I’m in her sight or she hears me in another room, she immediately cries for me. It makes it a little hard to get things done around her, but it also makes for a lot of sweet snuggles!

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I think part of the reason Vi is mostly easy going is because she has a rough and tumble big brother entertaining her from the moment she came home. When she was an itty baby, he loved to hold her and kiss her. Now that she’s older, he’s giving her full body bear hugs and playing with/next to/sometimes ON her. We have to remind him a lot to be gentle with her but she takes it all in stride. She loves to be included in whatever he’ll let her play with and no one can make her laugh as much as he can – it’s fun to see their bond develop!

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Vi is very curious and super active. She loves to be held so she can be in on whatever is happening with people, but if she’s down on the ground, she’s constantly exploring. She loves to climb stairs, open doors and drawers, and get into whatever she can find. Remotes are especially captivating to her and I have to remove all the batteries before she gets ahold of them or she’ll keep changing channels on us. She is very close to walking and scoots along walls or the couch to move around and get where she wants to go. She keeps me on my toes for sure; I never know what she’ll try to get into!

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She also LOVES to eat. She will eat anything we put in front of her – hot, cold, spicy,  veggies, fish, new textures . . . she is not picky at all and usually ends up eating close to an adult size portion of food. She also loves swinging at the park, stroller rides, and crawling into our bathroom vanity cabinets haha. She loves splashing in the bathtub, playing in the water table, swimming, even just washing her hands under the faucet – she loves water!

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I wasn’t sure how quarantine would affect her relationships with people. From the time she was six months old to like ten months old, she almost never left the house or saw anyone other than her immediate family. But now that we are seeing family and some friends again, she is bubbly and friendly and interactive with others. She absolutely LIGHTS UP when Justin comes home each day and she adores her grandparents as well. She is a people person for sure and has such a joyful, smiley personality.

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Happy Birthday my sweet V! You are so precious to us and we are so glad to celebrate one full year with you!

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Vi’s Sweet and Simple First Birthday Party

Yesterday was a special day in our house because we celebrated our baby girl’s FIRST birthday! Where did this year go!?

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Even though her birthday isn’t until the 23rd, we decided to have her party two weeks early because Justin’s parents are in town visiting and this way they could be part of it. We kept things family only – just both sets of our parents, my grandparents, and two of my siblings and their spouses who live close enough to come out for the afternoon.

We keep first birthdays really simple around here. Our personal philosophy is that it doesn’t make sense for us to spend a lot of effort, time, and money on a party for someone who honestly doesn’t know it’s their birthday or what is even going on. If you love throwing a big birthday bash for your one-year-old, that is awesome and I support you! It’s just not our thing. We really believe you can have a meaningful, special celebration while keeping things pretty streamlined and simplified, and this party was just that!

I kept invitations super easy with a free evite that got emailed out to our families with all the party details.

Evite Invitation

Instead of trying to throw together a whole meal, I decided on serving a variety of appetizers and desserts. I put together a large charcuterie board with meat, cheese, and fruit, some raw veggies and hummus, and tortilla chips with our family’s favorite dip.

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For dessert, I bought a small 4 inch cake for Vi’s smash cake and I ordered cookies from my friend – she runs a small cookie business out of her home and does an amazing job! I pretty much gave her free reign on what to do since we didn’t have a theme or anything and she designed this amazing cookie tile platter based on Vi’s outfit in a photo I had posted (how creative is that!?) They turned out so amazing and were such a special touch!

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We also had a simple ice cream bar with vanilla ice cream and a variety of toppings for people to enjoy.

Decorations were sweet and simple and made up entirely of things I already had on hand, like this letterboard with a poem I made up for the food table.

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I had made pink tassel garlands our of tissue paper several years ago for a Valentine’s party and have gotten so much use out of them  ever since – bachelorette parties, baby showers, and now, my girl’s first birthday!

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In addition to the food table, I had to give her high chair a little something special too. 😉

First BIrthday Party

The last element of parties is typically gifts. We personally prefer to not have gifts during our children’s first birthday. We are fairly minimal people and don’t want to accumulate a ton of toys just for the sake of gift giving, not to mention at this age our kids are just as happy playing with a cardboard box or a plastic cup haha! In my experience, just saying “no gifts, please” doesn’t always work. It can feel uncomfortable to show up to a birthday party empty handed, which is understandable. But then some people still bring gifts and some don’t…and that can be awkward for everyone. So what we do instead is include on the invitations an option for people to give a donation in lieu of gifts if they want. For LJ’s first birthday, we asked for book donations for a local organization that distributes them to hospitalized children in our area (LJ got three books when he was in the NICU). For Vi’s first birthday, we chose a ministry at our church that distributes basic essentials to local families in need. Through this pandemic, there have been many families financially struggling and we felt this was one tangible way we could help. Those who still wanted to bring a gift were very happy to be able to bring donations in Vi’s honor.

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The highlight of the party was Vi getting to dig into her little cake. She didn’t hesitate to get into that frosting  ! We did not let her eat the whole thing but she really enjoyed it while she could. 😉

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That last picture was right before we took away the cake – once it was getting in her hair we figured she’d had enough haha!

We had so much fun enjoying the beautiful weather outside and hanging out with our families. We ate delicious food, we played cornhole, we talked, we laughed, we had a great time celebrating our little girl!

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I cannot believe my baby girl is almost one! She is such a joy and I’m so glad we could have a special day celebrating her life!

Road Trip Tips for Traveling with a Toddler (and baby!)

When I was sharing about our family beach trip over on Instagram two weeks ago, I got a few messages asking about traveling with kids and the tips and tricks we use to make the experience as fun as we can. Travel is normally a big part of our life (in this pandemic, the beach trip was our one and only trip planned for the foreseeable future) and I’ve previously shared about simplifying trip preparationroad trip tips for traveling with a baby, tips for flying with a baby, tips for hotel stays with a baby, and simplifying packing for travel with a baby. I feel like I’ve sufficiently covered what works for us and traveling with a baby, but a long road trip with a toddler is a whole other ball game! LJ is now 2 1/2 years old and we definitely needed to adjust our travel game accordingly. Today I thought I’d share some of the things that we do to make the road trip a fun extension of the vacation instead of a miserable bookend to an otherwise great trip.

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Just like every baby is different, every toddler is too – these are just the things that work well for our family when we travel.  I just wanted to share in case another parent out there might find one of these ideas helpful. I think the travel sets the tone for the start of your vacation so whatever we can do to make it a little more positive is great!

Pack. Snacks.

This is an obvious one, so I won’t waste much time elaborating. Pack a ton of easy snacks and have them accessible (I keep the big back of snacks right behind the driver and passenger seats) as well as water bottles. I would say pack more than you think you’ll need too – you definitely do not want to run out!

Load up on mess-free non-food treats

I got a small plastic basket at the dollar store to store things to occupy LJ throughout the trip. Our van is 14 years old and far from swanky, but it does have a DVD player and for that we are thankful haha. If your vehicle doesn’t have one, a portable DVD player might be a worthwhile investment for a long trip. We were in the car for 12+ hours, so an hour or two here and there of screen time helped all of us pass the time.

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I also like to have little mess-free activities for LJ to have every once in a while. I’ve had people tell me that they have little things to bring out at milestones (like every 100 miles or every hour or something), but I just brought things out as needed. I hit up the dollar spot at Target before long trips to find little activities for LJ – things like felt books, mess free markers, stickers, etc are perfect for the car!

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We also have a few of these Water Wow books and they are a HUGE hit. LJ loves them and will color them over and over. You just put a little bit of water in the brush and the water colors in the picture. Then it dries clear and you can color it again. These occupy him for a long time!

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Sometimes, desperate times call for desperate measures. In the moments where the kids are going crazy or crying (or both) and we just can’t stop quite yet, my solution is bubbles! While not necessarily 100% mess-free, bubbles floating around the back of the car instantly turn both my kids’ moods around and can help make a tough stretch of driving much more bearable. This is also something we can break out during a pit stop and need a little something to do.

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And speaking of pit stops…

Plan to stop, but keep it flexible

In our experience, traveling with kids is not the time to have a tight schedule. We assume that we will need to stop at least once every 2-3 hours and plan our travel time accordingly. Each stop is about 30-45 minutes to give our kids adequate time out of the car seats to stretch and burn off some energy. So if a drive is going to take 8 hours, we mentally plan for it to be at least 10 hours with stops. This keeps us from getting frustrated when there are inevitably delays or extra stops.

We typically do not plan stops in advance. We have a general idea of places we’d like to stop (i.e. let’s see if we can make it to X city) but we don’t plan specific places, mostly because it is really hard to plan hours in advance when your kids are going to need to stop. When it seems like our kids are getting restless or it’s getting close to meal time or we need to stop for gas, we stop wherever we are.

Find a Green Space for Pit Stops

We try to avoid high-traffic areas like rest stops – especially in a pandemic! – so our trick is to search for green spaces.

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My process is simple. I open up Google Maps, find where we are, and look around at the upcoming exits (if you’re not on an interstate, just look at the next few miles of your route). I try to find green spaces within 1-2 miles off the road. You can also search “park” or “playground” to help find a good stopping point. (Note: I did pack plenty of hand sanitizer to use after we left each playground, even though we were the only ones playing at most of them).

Here’s an example of a place I found just looking ahead at our route when we drove to the beach:

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Even if there is no playground, a place like Schwartzkopf or Millcreek Park is a good place to try because it’s near the interstate we’re driving, the green space is relatively large, and there’s a creek next to it. At the very least, we could run in the grass and find sticks and rocks to toss in the river (which we did!) It turns out that that park also had a small playground though, so it was a double win!

This is another park we found and I ended up saving it in my maps for future road trips because it was an exceptionally good stop: it’s off the beaten path, there’s a scenic walking trail around a small lake, a nice playground, and working bathrooms. It’s definitely somewhere I’d like to visit again!

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The “search for green space” method has honestly never steered us wrong. The worst case scenario would be we show up and it’s just a flat space of grass. Even then, we could still run around and hunt for rocks or sticks or dandelions or bugs, or we could break out the bubbles I brought along. The point is to get energy out and have some fun so that the kids (and adults) are happier for the next stretch of driving. (And for the record, so far it’s never been just a boring flat space of grass. There has always been something!) This is also good for Vi – at 10 months old, she loves the change in scenery of a park or playground and there is also usually a bench for me to use to sit and breastfeed.

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Pit stop for meals too

In a pre-pandemic world, we would always stop at a restaurant and eat inside, even if it was fast food, instead of just going through a drive through and continuing on. This actually saved us time later because it counted as a pit stop for our kids to get out some energy and would allow us to keep going for another 2-3 hours after eating.

In this pandemic, we obviously did not want to stop and eat in a restaurant. Instead, we got drive-thru food, took it to a park (again, just looking around on Google Maps for nearby green space) and had a little picnic.

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I keep a picnic blanket in our van at all times and this is handy to pull out if there’s no picnic table around! It also makes for a great place for Vi to crawl around since she’s too small for playgrounds.

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I can’t emphasize this enough: try to make your pit stops fun! If you only allow for a 10 minute stop + bathroom break, your kids will likely not last as long back in the car before needing to stop again. Trying to power through a long drive with babies and toddlers, at least in our experience, just leads to a more miserable time in the car because they are cranky and tired of sitting in their car seats. By incorporating a little bit of fun through pit stops, it not only makes the actual time in the car more pleasant (and quiet), but it also makes the traveling feel like a fun part of the vacation too and not just something to endure to get to the good part. Our pit stops were all fun and unique times to explore a new area as a family and create memories just like the actual time at our destination did. So worth it!

For extra long trips, consider stopping overnight

Our beach trip was a 12 hour drive with no stops, so we planned for it to be at least a 16 hour trip with stops. We could have tried to power through and do it in one day, but we had the ability to stop overnight and break it up into two 8 hour travel days instead and we were all much happier about that. It’s not always feasible, but when it is, this can be a really helpful option! Hotels have cribs and pack and plays for use (usually for free!) and we can usually find a good, relatively inexpensive option (we love Holiday Inns) last minute. If we happen to know someone who lives along our route, we’ve also asked to stay with them to break up the trip!

If we do plan to stop overnight, I pack a small suitcase with everything we need for the night: toiletries, LJ’s blankets and stuffed animals, our sound machine, pajamas, etc. We pack it last, so it’s right there when we open the trunk and it’s super easy to just grab that one bag and take it in without trying to wrangle multiple bags and kids.

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And an extra tip, the Slumberpod is an absolute GAME. CHANGER. for traveling with kids. Our family of four shared a hotel room in our overnight pit stop and then we shared a room at the beach house with Vi, and this thing was AMAZING. It is a black out tent that fits over the pack n play. It is breathable and totally safe, but it completely blacks out the crib so baby can easily sleep in the middle of the day or we can keep the lights on in our room at night. We will absolutely take this on all future trips with babies! (Also, in the beach house Vi did sleep in the large closet, but we didn’t close the doors 😉 )

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It worked so well in the hotel room too because Vi went down before LJ did and we could leave the lights on for him until it was his bedtime too. Win!

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Take along a Toddler Potty

LJ is 90% potty trained at this point, and he does not wear diapers on the drive. We keep his little Paw Patrol potty right in front of his seat, so when he tells us he has to go, we can stop anywhere. We’ve pulled over on the side of the road (if it’s safe), pulled into empty church parking lots, pulled into subdivisions to park along a quiet street . . . when he tells us he has to go, we can stop wherever. I highly recommend this if you have a very young toddler who cannot hold it to wait for a bathroom. This was also really helpful in the pandemic because it meant LJ never had to go inside a gas station or restaurant to go potty during the trip.

 

What tips do you have for traveling with a toddler?

Beach Week 2020

Beach Week 2020 is in the books!

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Justin’s parents rent a beach house in the Virginia Beach area every other year, and this year we were scheduled to go. They had booked the house back in 2019 . . . and then, the pandemic hit. We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to go but after closely monitoring the situation and discussing the options with our family (Justin’s parents and siblings), we all agreed to keep the vacation. I know everyone is in a different situation right now at I want to be sensitive to that – so much depends on the area you’re in (the infection rate, the current recommendations and regulations), the health needs of your family, the precautions you can still put in place, etc. We’re all just doing the best we can with the information we have. We were very familiar with the area we were traveling to and felt confident we could keep things socially distanced from those outside the family. We stayed well over six feet away from others on the beach and didn’t leave our house other than to walk across the street to the beach or go for bike rides. We either made all our meals at home or got carryout. It was definitely a little different from “normal” years, but we still had a great time and I’m very thankful we were able to go!

I really wanted to unplug a bit and focus on family time, so I didn’t have my phone on me very often. It was absolutely wonderful to just be present in a moment instead of try to document every single one. Because of this, I have a ton of memories, but not a ton of photos. Today I just wanted to share a few snippets of moments that were captured throughout the week. As you can see, it was full of lots of family time and outdoor adventures!

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Justin and I celebrated our anniversary (seven years!) on the 22nd with a kid-free date night: a bike ride to get some carry-out ice cream! SO thankful I get to do life with this man.

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The kids got really into digging in the sand and one day they dug a faux “pool” with help from Justin and his brother.  LJ and his cousin, who is only four months younger, loved playing in their mini ocean after it filled up with water from the tide.

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LJ got really into finding shells on the beach and designated mommy as his treasure-holder. There is something so sweet about being a boy mama ❤

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I am a minimalist, “let’s-take-as-little-as-possible-out-to-the-beach” kind of person, but a collapsible beach tent is absolutely worth it as something to take. It folds up small, is lightweight, and provides a shaded, sand-free area when kids need to take a break (or babies need to nap)! I got this one at Aldi two years ago and it came in so handy throughout the week both on the beach and at the pool.

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Vi got her ten month photos taken on the beach. She was such a trooper all week and loved getting to experience the sand and ocean for the first time!

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The best part of the whole week was watching my kids with their grandparents, aunts, uncle, and cousins. Justin’s parents and siblings all live within five minutes of one another, and it’s hard for us to be the family that lives far away, which makes trips like these even more important to us. It is so wonderful getting to see our kids develop relationships with everyone and this week of concentrated family time definitely helped them strengthen their bonds. This was the first in-person visit where LJ could say everyone’s name and associate names with faces and it was just the sweetest thing to see him make those connections. And all the cousins playing together all week was just so sweet!

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I already can’t wait until the next time we can be together!

 

Macie is Seven!

Long before I was a human mama, I was a dog mama. And today, the girl who made me a dog mama turns seven.

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SEVEN!

I can’t even believe it. To celebrate, today’s post is all about my Mace Face. Macie Girl. Macie Bug. My sweet Macie!

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Before we got married, Justin and I knew we wanted a dog. When two of Justin’s good friends bred their labs and offered a puppy to us as a wedding gift (they knew we wanted a dog), we said YES. So Macie came into our lives exactly one month into our marriage and has been with us ever since.

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Macie has always been full of energy. The “puppy” phase with her lasted about 2.5 years – she was just go go go from the very start. She loves tug of war, fetch, and going for any type of run/walk/hike/outdoor adventure.

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She is also a huge lover of water. If there is a body of water around, she will happily jump right in and swim to her heart’s content. Sometimes we have to make her come out of the water and rest for a bit because I get nervous that she’ll wear herself out without realizing it – she swims so much.

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Macie definitely follows typical birth order personality types 😉 She is incredibly obedient and smart. She is a huge people-pleaser and has always worked to get approval. She is the dog we can have off leash or without the electric fence collar without worry because she will listen to us and stay where we tell her to stay. As a puppy, she crate trained like a dream and has had the run of the house since she was like 8 months old. Justin has taught her several tricks over the years and she’s done super well with them. She’s one of the most intelligent dogs I’ve ever met and I don’t think that’s just my parent pride speaking (although I guess it could be haha).

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You know in The Little Mermaid when Ariel sings “I want to be where the people are”? If Macie had a life mantra, that would be it. She loves people and wants to be right in the middle of the action. Wherever we are, she is there too.

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She is on the smaller side for a lab and thinks she’s a lap dog ha!

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She wants to be the first one greeting a guest at our house, she wants to sit right next to me on the couch, she wants to follow us around the house no matter if we’re going inside, outside, upstairs, downstairs – she is up for anywhere as long as there are people. If I happen to go outside without her, she protests loudly. She just wants to be around us. I was super thankful for this when Justin had to work night shifts and I was home alone. Macie would snuggle next to me on the couch and curl up next to me in bed so I didn’t feel like I was alone. And when I say snuggle, with Macie, you either get an adorable little curl up…

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…or her classic flop. It cracks me up every time!

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Macie has transitioned to her big sister roles so well.

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First, when we brought Scout home, she did a great job of adjusting to another dog being around. Macie is definitely alpha and Scout is beta and they get along so well. When we got pregnant, I wasn’t entirely sure how Macie would react to a new little human around but she adjusted like a dream. I have never once worried about her around my babies.

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She will snuggle next to them, let them crawl all over her, humor LJ as he attempts to play fetch with her – she is just a dream big sister.

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Macie meeting LJ for the first time – she was so excited!

She takes everything that LJ does in stride and just let’s him love on her and it is the sweetest relationship. They love each other!

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We absolutely adore Macie and can’t imagine life without her. Happy seventh birthday to our sweet and spunky girl!

 

Mother’s Day 2020

I’m still smiling after this past weekend. It was just the best!

Justin had the day off Friday and he spent the whole time working outside getting all the yard work done so that he would have the entire weekend free to be with the kids. He came in with a bouquet of flowers Friday afternoon – he said he wanted to give them to me early so I could enjoy them the whole weekend. So thoughtful!

Sunday morning, after Violet woke up and I fed her, Justin took her and insisted I get back in bed to sleep in a bit. Sleep is truly such a gift these days and I so appreciated the extra time!

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When I finally got downstairs after sleeping in (and getting my bowl of cereal delivered in bed), I came down to the sweetest gifts.

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Heartfelt cards, a few yummy treats, and a rubber tree I asked for. Just perfect ❤

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Both Saturday and Sunday were a wonderful blend of time to myself and time with my family. Justin encouraged me to do whatever I wanted, and he fully took over the meals and taking care of the kids. I got to spend time working on a few projects (re-potting my new plant, finishing off a DIY frame, and getting more work done on the basement kitchen) and relaxing by catching up on reading, listening to podcasts, and just resting.

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I also got some snuggles and fun moments with my kids, and it was extra enjoyable because I felt refreshed and taken care of.

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I think part of the reason this was such an enjoyable holiday for me was because I talked with Justin in advance about what I wanted. I told him I would love some time to myself. I also said I didn’t care if we ate take-out or if he made meals, but I did not want to have to prepare a meal (we got take-out Saturday and he cooked a delicious dinner on Sunday).

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And I took the guess work out of gift-giving by saying I wanted a plant from my friend’s small business. I gave him the website and directed him to the exact plant I wanted. He asked if I could just order it and I said no, then it wouldn’t feel like a gift. Haha!

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There was a time where I wouldn’t have been so clear with my expectations. I would have just wanted him to surprise me with something but not been specific about what I wanted. It was stressful for him and frustrating for me if I felt disappointed by whatever he chose to do. I finally realized that it might not feel like a romantic notion to say “here’s what I would like” but it makes things SO much better. He was thrilled to know exactly what to do and not have to guess or worry and I was happy to have my needs heard and met. I felt so appreciated and loved and the fact that it wasn’t all a “surprise” didn’t affect me at all. He still threw in a few unexpected treats that I wasn’t expecting and that all just felt like an awesome bonus. I thanked him several times for a great weekend – he listened to my desires and made it happen for me. I felt so well taken care of!

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There was a time when I wasn’t sure when I would be a mom. After our first pregnancy was ectopic and ended in a traumatic rupture and the removal of one Fallopian tube, I felt so hopeless and sad. I prayed so many prayers and cried so many tears with each passing month of not getting pregnant. I do not take a moment of the life I have now for granted and I’m so profoundly grateful for these babies who call me mama. Mother’s Day is now a joyful celebration for me, but I still remember the time when it wasn’t. If this holiday is a struggle for you due to longing or loss, you are not alone and I was thinking of you yesterday too.  I truly hope that my journey can give you hope that your story isn’t finished ❤