Fresh Start {Part One: The Inside Story}

I sat quietly under the stars the other night for the first time in a long time, reclining under the expanse of navy with my face turned skyward.  I was surprised to realize, or re-realize, that the stars really do twinkle, winking and shimmering from the heavens.  Airplanes etched dashed, blinking patterns across the ink, stars on the move.

It was after two glasses of bold Cabernet, which was plenty to offer me a substantial buzz, a splash short of drunk.  They say a drunk man's words are a sober man's thoughts.  I discovered that a significantly tipsy mom's thoughts are an exhausted mom's release.  I was able to quiet the chronic din of judgment and fear, the voices of negativity and doubt and inferiority that tumble around in my skull and batter my tender soul.  And from the steady quiet that rests below the tumultuous turbulence, arose a sturdy sense of peace and happiness, and a great swell of gratitude for the countless ways that my life is blessed.  I made a mental note to drink more often.

On the twilight of my third decade in this body, I feel the need to acknowledge from where I came, and wipe the slate clean so that I can be receptive to the beauty that lies ahead.  Here I'll leave the baggage and burden, so that my steps can be light and my mind clear.

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The last handful of years have been a season of transformation and growth, fraught with the heavy pain and discomfort that accompany great expansion and evolution.  I am certain that it's impossible for the heart and soul to stretch and mature without the gut wrenching pangs of growing pains. 

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It wasn't so long ago that crippling depression and anxiety wrung the light out of my life with their gnarled and disfigured hands.  It was a grim morning when I snapped awake to the reality that I had wasted so much of my life determining the ways to make others happy and proud.  Laboring to acquire respect and acceptance and love.  I had never bothered to discover the ways to make myself happy and proud, neglected to earn my own respect and acceptance and love, without which  I found myself empty.  I yearned to go to sleep and never wake up, slumber was the only relief from the pain.  Anger poisoned my perception.  I felt robbed, cheated out of the happiness I felt I deserved. 

And so slowly, painfully, I began teasing apart the values and feelings that were authentic and true from those that I adopted to gain the favor of others.  Like a patient in rehab I slowly learned how to hear my soul again, I learned how to feel the subtleties of happiness and joy, and I honed my ability to recognize the things that stir my heart.  I came to accept that happiness is a choice, and perception is subjective, and I started taking responsibility for my attitude and outlook.  I was right in my belief that happiness is our birthright, I just finally realized that I had to reach out and seize it rather than expect that it fall into my angry depressed lap.  And I'm nervous to declare that I feel like I'm nearing the end of this stretch of my journey, like a butterfly ready to bust out of the cocoon and stretch her wings.  Anxious to take flight, and soar.

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Sure, every now and again I can feel depression and anxiety crowding my space, and I fear that they bring luggage to unpack for an extended stay.  I worry that I will relapse.  But I'm finding that the more I practice positivity (and it is a practice), the more natural it becomes, the easier it is to find my way back to that place of quiet joy that is always just beneath the disturbance.  I know that life is strung with an array of seasons, some uncomfortable, others peaceful.  But now I feel equipped to navigate the uncertain terrain; with a clear compass and in tune with my soul I won't stray off my path.  Authenticity is my mantra.

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Cleaning Schedule: Fail

After writing my last post, I felt haunted by the phantom Super-Mom.  I found myself wallowing in my "I don't even come close" self pity, that and some unfolded laundry, dirty dishes, random clutter and disorganization.  I felt like I needed to devise a system, some kind of schedule to help me keep the housework under control.  And so I organized one neatly on a dry erase calendar and stuck it to the side of the refrigerator.  Easy Peasy.  Different rooms had different days, and different days carried different goals, and loads of laundry were each assigned a specific weekday.  It was fool proof...but not Ang proof.  After one week, I'm already behind schedule.  Cleaning schedule FAIL.  Truth be told, I could absolutely buck up, dig in my heels, and make this cleaning schedule a priority.  But truth be told, I don't wanna.

Wednesday: Bedroom/Darks
According to my dry erase calendar, Wednesday morning should have been dedicated to cleaning my bedroom and washing our darks, instead we met "Yanna" (as Milani calls her), and the gang to go strawberry picking.  All morning as we got ourselves dressed, and packed up our picnic lunch, Milani sang a strawberry song.  She was so eager to sink her teeth into a berry that she snagged one right off the produce stand as we picked up our buckets.  She simply just could not wait any longer!

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Berkley spent a little while strapped to my back before she got antsy, then I sat her in the row in front of me, propped up against my knees.  She happily shuffled her pudgy little baby feet in the straw, and grabbed for nearby leaves.

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Once, as I scooted Berkley forward her hat flopped down over her face.  She didn't fuss, or cry, she just reached out from under the brim of her hat with two chubby little hands and felt around for more leaves, without a peep.  It was so funny Ariana almost had tears streaming down her face.

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We all had to sample the goods.  The kids plunked berries into their buckets, and then snuck them  from their buckets to their mouths, until they all had red berry goatees.

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For being so eager to get her hands on a strawberry, Milani had her fill of picking, and eating long before our buckets were filled.  Sister knows what she wants and is getting good at dishing out the sass when she doesn't get her way.

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Sass Face

Luckily, Yanna offered her a comfy lap seat until we finished picking.  As I was weighing and paying for my berries, the produce swindler struck again.  Milani had her eye on the yellow peppers, and swiped one before I could stop her.  I convinced Milani to hand it over long enough to weigh and pay for it, then she took hungry bites out of it like an apple. (She also does this at the grocery store; I'll be bagging corn and will turn around to find her happily chowing down on a green pepper.  I'm just glad that fresh produce is the target of her thievery.)

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This is the face I get when I ask her to smile.

After a picnic lunch, and some time running around by the stream, we packed up and headed home.  Both girls were fast asleep in their car seats within minutes.

Thursday: Downstairs/Girls Lights
Thursday morning I was scheduled to clean the downstairs and wash the girls lights, but instead opted to meet Grandma Andrea for strawberry picking round two.

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I think Milani may have been strawberry'd out, she only tasted a berry or two.  She wasn't quite as interested in picking berries, but the flag kept her busy parading up and down the row.

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And we solved Berkley's floppy hat problem.  Kind of.

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After another picnic lunch, Milani trotted back and forth from the parking lot to the stream, collecting fistfuls of rocks and plunking them into the babbling water.

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I love the way certain activities are instinctive, imprinted into kid DNA.  Every kid loves throwing rocks into water.  Every kid will continue throwing rocks into water until they run out of rocks or are forced, unhappily, to stop.  It never gets old.

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We watched as dark gray clouds drifted in, and headed back to the car when they started to release fat raindrops.

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And again, plumb tuckered out from all the flag waving and rock throwing, both girls were asleep in record time.

Saturday: Bathroom/Whites
As much as I cherish my days with my girls, it is the time when Jon is home from work, that we all get to hang out together as a family of four, that is most precious to me.  Recently Jon has been working on Saturdays, and even though I hate the separation, I know he is working hard to provide for his girls, and anxiously looking forward to time with his family. 

We took a trip to Hillside Farm to visit the "Bak-a Bak-a's" (Chickens) and share some ice cream.

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Jon and I are both animal lovers, and Milani inherited every ounce of our love of creatures.  She had a ball feeding hay to the cows, and feeling their sticky noses.  In fact, whenever we make the trip to Hillside, she is always more interested in the animals than the ice cream (That trait, however, she did not inherit from me.)

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Milani glows in the presence of "Daddy Doo", absolutely lights up in his company.

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Tuesday: Upstairs/Lights
From the very first night Milani came home from the hospital she has slept with me.  In the beginning she curled up like a little tree frog on my chest.  As she got bigger she earned a spot in between Jon and I, nestled in the crook of my arm.  She grew to sleep sideways and upside down and usually took up more room than either of us.  Once Berkley came along, my sliver or bed real estate shrank even further, with Milani in the middle usually plastered to my back and Berkley kept safe in the crook of my outside arm.

This sleeping arrangement, however, has gotten too tight, and we decided it was time to take down the crib (that neither girls has ever slept in) and put up our old full bed in the girls' room.  I turned the allen wrench, removing screws one by one, remembering the comedy act of putting it together.  I was eight months pregnant with Milani, reading the directions to Jon, who has no patience for reading directions himself.  It was only yesterday that I was anticipating the arrival of my first daughter.

Tuesday night, Milani and Jon slept in her bedroom on her new big girl bed.  I slept without her for the third night since the day she was born. (The other two nights I was away from her I was in the hospital with Berkley.)  It was so bittersweet.  For the first time in ages I could stretch out, and get comfortable, but I miss watching her sleep peacefully next to me while I'm up nursing Berkley.  I miss her groggy smile first thing in the morning, with her hair all ruffled and her gookie (binkie) in sideways.

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My Milani is rapidly growing into a big, independent, confident girl, right before my eyes.  Berkley will be sitting up within weeks, and crawling by the end of the summer.  I was reminded this week that my girls are only little for a brief moment, and I want to spend this precious short time I get with them wisely.  I want to make sure I soak up every moment, memorize every facial expression, sear into my soul as many blessed memories I can.  Before I know it they will both be sleeping in another room, then another house, eventually maybe another state.  And then, if it's even still important to me, I will have plenty of time to get back to my cleaning schedule

Me vs. Super-Mom

When I realize that it's been an entire month since I've written, and this long:


since I've shared photos, my initial, instinctual response is to start in on myself with the onslaught of could have's, should have's, and if you were a good mom you would have's.  I begin measuring myself up against other moms.  Actually it's not other moms that I compare myself to, it's just one other mom.  You know the one.  She's slim and stylish, with a nice tidy home.  She gardens, and crafts, and has playdates, and daily art projects lined up for her kids.  She reads, and writes tender, moving blog posts for every special occasion, and every non-occasion, and can make a killer lasagna.  She's Super-Mom.

Round 1.
Certainly it wouldn't have taken her over a month to share pictures from Easter.


Pictures of Milani rocking her first Easter egg hunt.  And by rocking I mean, finding one egg and then becoming obsessed with opening it and devouring chocolate.


Her diet for a majority of Easter Sunday consisted of chocolate, jelly beans, and bacon.  (I wonder if Super-Mom would let her kid consume as much sugar as Milani did?)

Round 2.
My lack of writing, and posting has nothing to do with lack of material, or even necessarily with lack of time I suppose.  I have had plenty of projects keeping me busy, but to be honest some afternoons I curl up and nap with my littles.  Some nights I go to bed at eight thirty with Milani.  I'm pretty sure Super-Mom doesn't sleep.  She stays up late into the night baking, or cleaning.  Heaven knows that when the weather is nice, I drop everything (leave laundry in a heap and dishes in the sink), and book it out of the house. 


We've been working in the yard, planting the garden.  Milani, entertaining herself with a random cat house thingy left in the yard by the neighbor. 


This thing kept her occupied for several hours, on several days.  (Would Super-Mom let her kid walk around with someone else's animal shelter thingy on her head? I wonder...)

Round 3.
When, in April, the thermometer hit eighty, we filled up the baby pool.

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Even though the sun was hot, the hose was cold, really cold.  But cold baby pool water is nothing to the kiddos.

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Except for Paisley, who wasn't thrilled about the cold water, and was perfectly content watching the action from her perch on dry land.

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Milani thought it was a hoot to run as fast as she could down the steep hill until she whiped out.  The harder she fell, the harder she laughed.  (Whatta ya think about that Super-M?)

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Round 4:
What I'm beating myself up the most about, though, is Milani's Birthday.  On May 9th, my doodle bug turned two.  I had planned to get a post up on her birthday displaying a collage of pictures that illustrate her changes and growth over the past year.  I was going to write a touching, heartfelt message to my eldest daughter on her birthday, making every word meaningful, every sentence perfect.  And I know Super-Mom has me beat on this one.  She would have had the post planned out and eloquently written weeks in advance.  She would have been poised to click "publish" at 12:01 on the day of her little's birthday.

Sometimes I get swept into thinking that an eloquently written birthday blog post will make Milani feel loved.  That I should be better about keeping up with her baby book (poor Berkley doesn't even have a baby book) so that she knows how she was loved.  Is loved.  The one thing I know, that I will make sure of, is that these girls WILL know they are loved, despite the fact that the baby books and birthday blogs are not my forte.  They may not have sentimental keepsakes, baby books filled to the brim with milestones and stories, but they will have memories, and relationships, and hugs and kisses and laughter.  

On Milani's birthday we met Ariana and the gang and the park for the afternoon.  The boys found the nearest mud puddle and went to town.  Honestly, I think nothing makes kids happier than playing in water, throw in some mud and it's a party!  If there was a mother who could give Super-Mom a serious run for her money, my sister would be the one to do it.  She has patience by the boat load, her home is always organized,  she runs half marathons and triathlons for kicks, and she's certainly not intimidated by a little mud.

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After a dip in the creek and a spare set of clothes, we all enjoyed a birthday ice cream treat in honor of our birthday girl.

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The Saturday after Milani's real birthday we had a little party for her.  I know Super-Mom throws a killer birthday party, with themes and activities, and the best favors.  In fact her toddler birthday parties are more cohesive than my wedding. Our party wasn't color coordinated with custom water bottle labels, and award winning cupcakes with homemade toppers.  It was hot dogs, and hamburgers grilled over charcoal.  Watermelon, and salads, and chips and chex mix, at the same park as her first birthday party together with close family and friends.  Milani had a ball, playing on the playground, swinging on the swings, and carting around her new red Radio Flyer wagon.  And the smile on her face is enough for me.

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And to make a fantastic party day even sweeter, our kind neighbors gave Milani a springy horse, and a kitchen set that their children had outgrown.

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The thing I need to remind myself, is that this Super-Mom I compare myself to is a phantom.  Sure, there are amazing mothers who do amazing things for their kids, who plan incredible parties, who keep spotless homes, and who find the time to run three miles every morning, but no ONE mom can do it all.  The mom who does everything, doesn't exist.  When I feel the urge to inflict wounds on my own ego, I need to take a step back and recognize the things I'm not so great at.  I need to show myself some kindness, and give myself permission to work on improving those areas, without any guilt.  And in fairness I need to recognize, even celebrate, the areas I am doing well.  

My girls will have this blog to look back on, packed full of pictures of them as babies, and toddlers, and kids.  Pictures of feet, and smiles.


They will remember afternoons in the yard, and at the park.

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They will know the way a blueberry muffin tastes, warm from the oven on a rainy afternoon, and how a hot dinner shared with family feeds the body and nourishes the soul.

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And I hope with all my heart that they will know, in their bones, and hearts, and souls, that they are loved. I may falter, and drop the ball. I make mistakes, and learn as I go. I often fall short of my own expectations, but I parent from the maternal instinct burning in my heart. My insurance policy is always the same, to fall back on loving them hard, and showing them that.

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I might fall short of "Super-Mom" but, oh, how these girls are loved!

We Make Plans, God Laughs {A Birth Story}

I never meant for four months to pass before putting her story into words.  I think I've been avoiding it, waiting to feel a sense of peace and acceptance regarding the choices I made in the hours leading up to her birth, afraid that if I wrote honestly about my feelings surrounding my labor with Berkley, that she would read this years from now and mistake any disappointment toward my decisions and the process, as disappointment in her.  I was hoping I would be able to write about how my whole labor was filled with the same joy and love and beauty that were indeed so very present and overwhelming the moment I laid eyes on my sweet girl, because she is no less than perfect, she is everything I could have dreamed and more.  Perhaps writing honestly about my experience is in fact the only way I will come to accept it and release any regrets.

My due date was December 20 (according to the midwife) or December 18 (according to my OBGYN).  At my forty week appointment the doctor checked me.  I was dilated three centimeters.  I knew from experience that this meant nothing.  I could have a baby the next day or two weeks down the road.  My doctor offered to schedule an induction for the day after Christmas, but he knew my answer before I spoke the words, "I want to let the baby come on his/her own time.  I want to go into labor naturally and let my body do what it is designed to do."  So he told me that I would have to have a non-stress test and an ultrasound at forty-one weeks, and if the baby were still doing well I would be allowed to go to forty-two weeks, no longer.  So I scheduled my non-stress test and ultrasound for the day after Christmas.

On December 26, I dropped off my sweet Milani with her Grandma Andrea, knowing that there was a possibility that they could keep me at the hospital, that my girl would be a big sister before I saw her next.  Somewhere deep down perhaps I knew.  And it was so bittersweet to leave her, to know she might be spending her first night away from me, to know that things could be so very different when we would reunite.

I met Jon at the hospital and reported to our non-stress test.  I sat in the big recliner, with the monitors on my round belly and the clicker in my hand, ready to push the button with every kick and tumble.  My doctor was on call that day and stopped by to check on us.  "You know, we could just take you right upstairs and start the pitocin, just give me the word."  Jon was all for it.  Not only was he all for it, since we still hadn't agreed on a boy name (Jon had his favorite and I had mine) he actually told me that if I agreed to just go up get induced, he would give up all rights to any input on our boy name.  THIS WAS HUGE!  After forty-one weeks of debating and bickering and stressing out over boy names, all I had to do to get my boy name without any further resistance was agree to the induction.  But I didn't want it to go down that way, so I waited patiently in my recliner for the babykins to move.

My little one had different plans, and she only moved once in twenty minutes.  We failed our non-stress test.  This was typical though, I knew that this little one usually slept hard for a while, then would wake up and beat the crap out of my uterus for two hours straight.  Now any other day they would have fed me some orange juice and kept me hooked up for another twenty minutes, until the baby was out of the sleep cycle, but they were booked solid that day so I had to give up my chair and report to the ultrasound.

As I got ready for the ultrasound, the technician made small talk.  "You're forty-one weeks, why is it that you're not being induced?"  I tried to explain again how I wanted to trust my body to deliver a healthy baby when the time was right.  That when my cervix was ready and the baby was ready, a natural labor would be easiest on my body and the little one.  As she swirled the ultrasound wand over my belly, slimy with gel, she continued "You know, your doctor is the only one in the group who will even LET women go past forty-one weeks.  Every other doctor would make you induce now.  A long time ago they all used to go to forty-two weeks before inducing, but they've all decided to switch to forty-one, I guess they all felt that waiting that extra week was too big a risk."  She had my attention.  Even though I knew better, I asked for more details.  "Well, I don't want to scare you, but things can happen past forty-one weeks, I guess most doctors aren't comfortable with the risks.  I won't say any more than that." 

She told us that the baby looked healthy and that my fluid levels were good, but also that the fluid looked cloudy which could be a result of either the vernix wearing off or the presence of meconium, both signaling that the baby was ready.  I was sufficiently freaked out and totally on the fence about what to do.  I desperately wanted to trust my body and to experience an intervention free labor, but I didn't want to but the baby in harms way.  Then I made the biggest mistake.  I asked her what she would do if she were in my position.   Without hesitation, "I would be induced! Let me ask you this, knowing that your baby is healthy today, could you live with the decision to wait if something happened before you delivered?"  The room spun, and I lost my breath.  Her words fell like sand bags on my heart.  Heavy.  Grim.  The technician offered a suggestion, "What if I send you up to L&D for the doctor to check you.  That way if you're dilated further and it would be an easy induction you would know, but if you're not dilated further, you could go home and wait it out?" 

So we checked into labor and delivery, and I changed into a hospital gown, shoved all my clothes into a plastic baggie labeled "patient belongings", and slid under the crisp sheets of a hospital bed.  I was again hooked up to monitors, and was kept company by the steady thumping of my little one's heartbeat.  The baby was moving enough now to make the lines on the printout jump and wiggle.  When the doctor came in, I told him about how the ultrasound technician had terrified me with ideas of a still-birth at forty-two weeks.  He checked my cervix.  Still three centimeters.  And he offered me his input. "Do I think something will happen if you go home, probably not.  Do I know nothing will happen if you stay and get induced, absolutely.  I know you want a natural labor so let me offer you this, most women past forty weeks will start contracting and go into labor on their own once their water has broken.  What if we break your water, and you can walk the halls to help along some contractions and if all goes well hopefully we can have a nice, peaceful, pitocin free birth, today."

So I weighed the scenarios in my head.  1.) I could stay and potentially have an intervention free delivery, with my doctor who I know and like, and who knows me and what I want.  I could avoid the whole "could you live with yourself if you go home and your baby dies" guilt.  2.) I could go home, and trust my initial instinct, and go into labor on my own.  3.) I could go home, and trust my initial instinct, and not go into labor naturally before forty-two weeks and wind up being induced anyway, but with whichever doctor happened to be on call, whom I might not like. Or 4.) I could go home and have that dreaded something happen to the baby

So I took the bait, and signed on the dotted line.  I remember texting my sister, a strong mama who only five months prior delivered her healthy ten pound daughter two and a half weeks after her due date, in her home with a midwife, to let her know I was being admitted.  I imagined how disappointed she would be in me, how she would think that I talk a good "natural childbirth" game but that I had buckled under the pressure and fumbled the ball inches from the goal line.  How she might even think I'm a big phony hypocrite.  At least that was what I was thinking about myself.

My nurse, Debby, who was loud and bubbly and a little bit out there, reassured me repeatedly that she was the best nurse on the floor at putting in IV lines, and that my veins looked awesome.  Four needle pricks later, she slunk to the nurses station to recruit help.  It took two nurses, a whole lot of needle wiggling, IV line untangling and valve checking to get me hooked up.

It was around 4:30 pm when the doctor arrived and broke my water, and set me free to walk the halls, wheeling along my monitor.  Jon and I did laps, literally covering miles of labor and delivery hallways.  I think the nurses were amused, but we walked, and chattered and laughed while mild contractions rolled in and out.  Initially the contractions came roughly ten minutes apart, but nothing too uncomfortable, and slowly they began to die down.  I was panicking on the inside, keeping close watch of the clock, fearing, knowing that if my contractions didn't pick up the pace I'd be pumped full of pitocin.

We took breaks here and there, to rest my back, and so they could hook me back up to the monitors and check on the little one.  We watched Friends on the TV while the nurse repositioned the heart rate monitor that kept slipping down.  After fifteen minutes of monitoring the nurse came back with a glass of orange juice.  "Doctor isn't seeing as many movements as he'd like so we're going to keep you on the monitor a little longer and see if the baby will start moving a little more."  The orange juice did the trick, they could hear the kicks and flips all the way at the nurse's station. 

Ariana came to keep us company around 9:00 pm.  She kindly reassured me that I had made the best decision I could have with the information I had.  She reminded me that if I had gone home, I would have stressed and worried each and every time I couldn't feel the baby.  I never would have relaxed.  I knew she was right.  The doctor came in to check my progress around 10:00 pm.  I was only four centimeters and contractions were fizzling out.  I braced myself, I knew what was coming.  The doctor suggested that I seriously consider pitocin.  With each hour that passed since they ruptured my membranes my risk of infection increased.  I was defeated.  I gave him the go ahead.  I kept reminding anyone who would listen that I could have been at home, in my bed.  I should have been home in my bed.

And so began a long long sleepless night with pitocin dripping in my IV, and contractions getting stronger and more painful.  Jon and I were both exhausted, trying to get rest, trying to find comfort in the dark hospital room.  I kept wondering aloud how Milani was doing.  Kept saying that I missed my girl.  I missed her fiercely.  The nurse told me that there were a series of C-sections coming up which would occupy both doctors for a while.  She kept telling me that since I had delivered Milani in five hours she was worried I would go quickly once I started progressing.  She told me that if I felt any pressure, even felt so much as the urge to fart (honestly her words), that I was to let her know.  The doctor checked me before going into surgery.  I was only five centimeters.  It was maybe 2:00 am.

Around 3:30 am the trembles kicked in, followed shortly by the upset stomach.  I had known it was coming.  I warned the nurse at the beginning of her shift that I was a "puker".  She didn't mind.  Jon and I dozed between contractions.  I knew I wasn't changing positions as much as I should have been.  Maybe that's why when they checked me again at 5:00 am I was only six and a half centimeters, and in serious amounts of discomfort.  And if that weren't enough, my contractions were weakening and slowing, but the pain was intensifying.  My lower back was screaming electric with back labor.  My body was resisting everything.  I was losing my resolve, quickly.

I felt like I had hit a brick wall, emotionally and physically drained.  Exhausted in every cell of my body.  I wanted something for the pain.  If it had taken me twelve hours to dilate from three to six centimeters, simple math told me I could be in labor for another twelve hours.  I couldn't keep going like this for another twelve hours.  I felt again like a sell-out.  A weakling.  How could I have delivered Milani without an epidural, and here I was begging Jon to tell me it was OK if I asked for one.  Begging him to tell me I wasn't weak, and pathetic.  Begging the nurse to promise me that an epidural wouldn't stop my progress and force me to have a C-section.  I wanted to birth this baby the way I had Milani.  I wanted him/her to come down my birth canal.  I wanted to push.  The nurse made no guarantees but told me that if I had only been two centimeters she might caution me about an epidural slowing my progress, but at seven centimeters she didn't think it would be a problem.

Again I chose what I swore I never wanted.  I agreed to let the nurse call the anesthesiologist.  She told me he was tied up and it would be a while, so she offered me something to take the edge off until he arrived.  I don't even remember the name of the drug, but I figured what's one more at this point?  She told me it wouldn't take the pain away, but would help me relax.  She was right.  It still hurt like hell, but I was too high to care.  I was a zombie.  But I was relaxed, and resting.  Like a puddle on the bed.

At 7:00 am the nurses changed shifts, and in walked my new nurse, and even in my loopy state I knew exactly who she was.  It was Dorothy, sweet Dorothy who was my L&D nurse when I had Milani,  Sweet Dorothy who I had loved and had always wanted to thank, but whose name I had forgotten after Milani was born.  Jon and I babbled like sleep deprived, drugged idiots telling her how much we had loved her, how we had forgotten her name, how much had we wanted to thank her for being with us through Milani's birth.  She accepted our crazy talk graciously.  She's good like that.

They checked me again when the anesthesiologist arrived a little after 7:30, I was eight centimeters.  I hunched forward on the edge of the bed like I had seen so many do on A Baby Story.  I felt the pinch, and the weirdness as he fed the line between my vertibrae, and then as I rested, slowly, the pain began to lift.  Relief.  Sweet relief.  I could breathe.  I could relax.  And I was a vision of everything I never wanted for my labor.  Seventeen hours of contractions, an oxygen mask on my face, a catheter to empty my bladder, high as a kite and motionless from the waist down with a tube feeding anesthesia into my spine, and another delivering pitocin into my bloodstream.

Ariana stopped in before her first patents, she said she could only stay an hour.  I could see the sympathy in her eyes, I'm sure I was a sight to behold.  She offered to stay with me and give Jon a break.  Dorothy told me to let her know when I felt pressure.  With the next contraction or so I asked her if it was at all possible I felt pressure already.  Ariana encouraged Jon to go grab a bite to eat, I hinted that I didn't think Jon would have the time.  Dorothy checked me, and smiled "Yep, let's get set up, you're fully dilated"

With Ariana on one side and Jon on the other I pushed through maybe six or seven contractions.  I remember feeling the baby crown.  The doctor told me that the baby was right there, that if he were to cut an episiotomy the baby would slip right out, but he wanted me to push again.  I pushed through one more contraction and the baby was out. "It's a girl!" I thought I heard the doctor say.  I remember turning to Ariana "Did he just say it's a girl?"  She grinned and nodded.  At 8:50 am we met our little girl Berkley Reese.

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Now here is where I insist that all I truly cared about was that the baby would be healthy, but that I honestly with my whole being believed it would be a boy.  I truly and honestly didn't care whether it was a boy or a girl.  If we had a boy we would have one of each, and Jon would have a son.  If it were a girl, Milani would get a sister, and although they might fight like cats and dogs for the first two decades of their lives, hopefully they would get to experience the incredible bond and level of friendship that I am so grateful to share with my sister.  When they told me it was a girl, I secretly rejoiced.  I am so happy that my girls will have each other.  I believe that to have a sister is one of the biggest blessings in the world.  It was meant to be this way.   Maybe we'll just need to try for a boy with number three, I wonder if my rights to the boy name transfer...

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Jon didn't want to cut the cord so Ariana did, and the doctor handed me my sweet girl.  She looked almost exactly like Milani did on her birth day.  She was so perfect, so beautiful.  I clutched her closely, have her kisses.  I saw Jon looking over my shoulder with tears in the corners of his eyes.  Ariana snapped pictures.  Dorothy took her to weigh and measure her, 8lb 8oz, 20 1/2 inches long.  Only one ounce and half an inch different from Milani, and the same dark hair, but her eyes were a deep, rich, navy blue.  And then I nursed her, and she latched on perfectly, and nursed beautifully, and I never wanted to give her up.  Dorothy waited patiently, as I took my time feeding my girl, and when Berkley finished Dorothy gave her her first bath.

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After my blood pressure stabilized, and my legs regained some feeling, my girl and I were wheeled to our Mom and Baby room where my Milani girl, my beautiful big sister Milani girl, waited to meet her perfect baby sister.  Mostly she just wanted me, but she would grow to love her Berkley sister.  And she looked so big and grown up overnight.  She played with the hospital phone, and went for walks to play with the wagons by the nursery, and I was so so happy to see my first girl again.  I had missed her terribly and knew we'd have another night apart.  I spent the rest of our hospital stay snuggled with my new love, nursing painlessly, counting the minutes until we were set free to go home and become a family of four.

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Since that blessed day I have played the If Only game endlessly.  If only I had been stronger, perhaps I could have delivered without the epidural, and I wouldn't feel like such a weakling, or maybe the epidural helped my body relax enough to allow the contractions to make progress.  Maybe, had I been stubborn, progression would have slowed further, and I would have been forced into a C-section.  If only I hadn't let that ultrasound technician scare me out of following my instincts, perhaps I would have had a quick and easy natural birth once my cervix was ready.  Or maybe God knew better than I the way that scenario would have played out.  Maybe He knew that those ugly, paralyzing words were exactly what I needed to hear to get me agree to stay and be induced.  I shudder to think that He knew it had to be this way or I wouldn't be holding her, sleeping, in my arms as I type.

I have wasted too much time criticizing in my choices, and the way the cards fell throughout my labor.  I'm learning that in life you can't go to the DVD menu and play the alternate ending, you don't get to read the other options from the u-choose book.  All I can do is thank God that I was given this healthy, beautiful, absolutely perfect daughter, and accept that the choices I made were the best I could have given the circumstances, and that it unfolded exactly the way it was meant to.  Not the way I had planned, but we make plans and God laughs.

I Love You my Sweet Berkley Reese!

Work Hard, Play Hard

The past handful of weeks can be summed up by our current mantra Work hard - Play hard.  We spent the warm afternoons hitting up different playgrounds, from Nay Aug, to Laflin, and around to McDade, and spent the evenings in the yard soaking up every last golden ray of glorious sun.  Our cheeks are already sun kissed and it's only the beginning of April.  That early warm streak may have left me a little spoiled, ok a lot spoiled in the sense that when I check the weather I grumble over the high temperature forecast of fifty two degrees.  Wake up call for Angelina, it's only April!

In the evenings after Milani's breaths fall slowly and heavily into slumber, I've been cracking out the computer and feverishly googling, and researching, punching keys into strands of foreign html code building my website, designing business cards, and logos, and watermarks.  I know it's a bit cliche with Easter only a day away, but I'm totally jiving with the theme of rebirth and renewal.  I have a fresh sense of purpose and drive, and my eyes are on the prize!  I might actually be coming full circle from those dark days after I ditched that promising engineering career without a clue what direction to take, uncertain what pastimes I even enjoyed.  Pausing to knock on wood.  Good things are happening here.

And this little hiatus from writing was like time separated from a loved one.  Absence really does make the heart grow fonder.  I've been craving the time to knit words into stories, and plaster this space with pictures of my littles, I just had to let my work momentum wane first.  I realize just how therapeutic this blog is, the way it encourages me to shift my perspective, and squint through the fog to gain focus and clarity.  I am certain now more than ever that my mental health depends on the sweet release I get from tapping out my thoughts onto this page, and the importance of creating the time for me to write amidst the busy days. 

Since I have so many pictures accumulated from the past few weeks, and because a picture is worth a thousand words, I will let them mostly do the talking - mostly.

Around the House:
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daddy's hat

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Milani in a box

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dress up

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she still loves hanin' in the crate.

Nay Aug Park:

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A Face Only a Father Could Love:

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Back in the Garden:

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Berkley's Funny Faces:

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Laflin Playground Round One:

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Berkley in the Backyard:

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Laflin Playground Round Two:

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Watching Buds...


Turn into Blossoms:

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Around the Backyard:

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McDade Playground:











I'm looking forward to more busy days, and striving to seek out the balance between the work and the play.  I still have a lot of work on my plate, but I will be making it a point to carve out more time to write and to post.  

Happy Easter!

Breaking the Silence

I feel the need to break the silence.  To hear my voice echo out into this quiet space.  I have not forgotten you sweet blog, but the sunshine calls us outside, and great new beginnings beckon my time, and as soon as I find my stride again there will be many many words and pictures because my camera has been clicking and my mind has been stringing syllables together.  Until then...

Cause for Celebration

Just like a photo album holds snapshots representing cherished, happy moments, smiling faces, love and laughter, I started this blog so that my family, especially my girls, can someday look back at the way we spent our days.  I wanted it to be a true representation, and honest depiction of our lives, and at the same time I wanted it to be filled with the positive, the beauty, the sweet delicate moments that sum together to equal an amazing life.  So it gave me incentive to seek out the beauty hidden in the mundane, and be present for the tender moments tucked amidst the routine.  It encouraged me to look for the silver lining so that I can write about it, and share it.  It fueled me to find ways to transform ordinary afternoons into extraordinary ones for my girls.  None of these things comes naturally to me, so this all required a real, focused, conscious effort.  A resolution to stay true to the cause, because it is a worthy one, filling the blank pages of my girls' stories with wonder and memories and an optimistic outlook.

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This season, where the grey and cold stretch on indefinitely between the holidays and the first tender buddings of spring, is usually difficult for me.  I almost always find myself sinking into a weepy depression, where cabin fever sets in stirring up anxiety.  So I've been waiting, watching closely for those first inklings of sadness to filter in.  Bracing myself for the storm that inevitably comes, and subsequently passes with the first warm days of spring. 

But it's not coming.  Instead, I'm genuinely happy.  I'm noticing that all of those things that felt somewhat forced and unnatural at the beginning of this blog journey seem to be slowly rewiring my neuro-pathways.  The beauty is starting to find me, tender moments seem more frequent and abundant, and silver linings are becoming more obvious.  Sure, it still requires a positive outlook, and a desire to build and cultivate a positive existence, but the effort feels lighter.  I feel like I'm in a place of comfortable contentment, and where reasons to celebrate, both big and small, just keep coming along one after another.

We've celebrated...


...my Nonno's ninetieth birthday.  We gathered with family to commemorate nine decades and a legacy; three children, fifteen grandchildren, five great grandchildren. 

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He still asks Jon when they're going to hit the course for eighteen holes.  He still wants to sit in the bleachers of Beaver stadium to watch the Nittney Lions cross the goal line for six.

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He may already have ninety years tucked under his belt, but it's not about the years in one's life, it's about the life in one's years and he's still got it!


...the first of what are now frequent and contagious toothless grins.  It's impossible for me to witness one of these smiles without a grin on my own face that makes my cheeks ache.

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She smiles with her whole face, and her cheeks squish her deep clear blue eyes into sweet shining half moons.

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...Jon's thirtieth birthday.  His family threw a surprise party.  We had to tell him about the surprise party to get him to it, which didn't in fact surprise me because it's nearly impossible to surprise Jon. 

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...Berkley's two month milestone

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...our first playground outing this year.

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I'm craving that first really warm spring afternoon when I can fling open every window and let that delicious spring freshness, that scent of warm wet soil mingling with unfurling buds and  new grass, permeate every nook and cranny of my home.  I have an inkling it's right around the corner.

My Imaginative Girl

I debated whether to share this photo in the last post and obviously opted to leave it out.  I never want to humiliate my girl.  But I can't stop thinking about this picture, and I'm a little mad at myself for omitting it because when I look at it I don't see a silly little girl.  I don't see something embarrassing or humiliating.  I don't write about the funny things she does to poke fun, and I don't post the goofy pictures to get a cheap laugh.  I post them because they make my heart swell with pride for my imaginative girl.  I post them because I want to remember every last detail and every endearing quirk.  They are what make her special.  I post about the sweet eccentricities because I'm afraid if I don't I will someday forget this game that she plays and how much I adore it, and the way she looks going around on all fours with her tongue out, and the how she laps the water out of the bowl.  I want to remember how inspired I am by her imagination, and praise her for her uniqueness.  I want to carry with me her creativity and spirit.  I post because I love, so completely, everything about my little Milani.

It's All Good

I am not an inherently optimistic person, but I think it's a virtue worth cultivating and I'm always working toward it.  I don't like to think of myself as pessimistic, maybe more semi-cynical, or maybe just a little irritable and cranky since I've only slept through the night a dozen times in two and a half years.  The first three newborn months are the hardest for me, with my little one nursing every two hours, and morning arriving way too quickly.  And lately I've been noticing my patience dwindling, and frustrations mounting over little insignificant things.  I notice the muscles in my shoulders shortening and my jaw tightening, and my voice rises several pitches attempting to feign kindness and convince Milani (and myself) that I'm not about to go off the deep end.

Coupled with my all-or-nothing-go-big-or-go-home attitude that lends me to be disappointed in myself with any grade below an A, or become obsessive about my diet when I attempt to make healthier choices, I have a crippling habit of labeling my day as bad at the first meltdown or frustration.  Like when Milani wakes up tired, and teary, and clingy, and I think to myself "It's going to be one of those days huh?"  And then I childishly cling to, and defend, and protect my bad day.  Like I'm five and pouting after being told that I can't have a candy bar, and then someone tries to tickle me and make me laugh, and I resist it as hard as I possibly can because I'd rather be mad than give in, get over it, and laugh. Yeah, I cut off my nose to spite my face.

I'm learning, though, to loosen my death grip on the tough moments and open myself to a change of attitude.  Even a small shift can change the course of the day, and in retrospect the positive moments heavily outshine the crappy ones.  Some days something as small as a booty shakin' session in the kitchen to "Moves like Jagger", or some time on the floor really connecting and playing with my girls can swing the energy in a much better direction.

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tummy time

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these eyelashes are insane, I can't get enough.

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"look mama, I have lashes too!"

Other days it requires rallying the troops, packing snacks and the diaper bag, bundling babies, putting effort behind the transformation. It's rarely easy, sometimes there are tears and meltdowns, but when I keep my eyes on the prize it's always worth the effort in the end.

Like when we get it together for a walk up the hill, and I huff and puff with a twenty five pound kid in the stroller, an eleven pounder strapped to my chest and a seventy five pound dog on the leash.




The sun was warm on our faces despite the chill in the wind, and the fresh air breathed new life into the four of us.  And this little face peeked at me through the back of the stroller whenever we paused.




We got to spend more time with the cousins.  **Most of the following pictures were snapped on my camera by Ariana or Jake.  They turned out great!**

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Jadon's whistle face

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Paisley girl's got the lashes too!

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Grandma Debbie 

The afternoon included a dance party in the living room, good natured rough housing, and some cuddle time with Grandma Debbie.  And I don't know a kid who doesn't love plucking at a guitar.

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Milani has always loved music, it was one of the first things that stopped her crying as a newborn.  She could pluck the strings on Jon's guitar before she could crawl.  Now she points to the kitchen radio for me to turn it on, and immediately gets her groove on.  If a song with a good beat comes on while she's in her highchair her eyes close and her head sways side to side, nodding here and there, her eyebrows furrowing with emotion.  It's clear that music moves her in a very real way, she rises and falls with it, soars on the notes.  Both Jon and I have music in our background, but I think she gets the real raw passion for it from Jon, he's the only person I know who can get excited about the riffs on a plastic toy guitar.

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The occasional nap time meltdown aside, Milani is really beginning to step into and embrace her role as a big sister.  Big sissy is starting to want to help me take care of little Berkley; she helps me change diapers, and change outfits.  She covers her sister with blankets, and helps me give her baths.  I know that with these two sisters, the best is yet to come.

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Even though I can't see any reason not to make heart shaped cookies on a random Wednesday, or pick up some balloons just for the fun of it, when the calendar gives me a reason to make a day more special, and create memories with my cuties, I want to make the most of it.

When else can you get away with wearing a pink tutu, and pink stripes with a tulle heart?  Oh yeah, we took Valentines Day that seriously. 

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We hit up the  grocery store for some sugar cookie decorations and the dollar store for balloons.  Milani was an amazing sous-chef, helping me every step of the way through the heart shaped cookie making process. 

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It occurred to me that she was only interested in helping because she knows the house rules on baking, but it was so clear that she was actually enjoying helping me.  From the moment she was born, I've looked forward to the day when she would want to help me bake, to dump the flour into the mixer, and spoon cookies onto the sheet, the way I helped my mother.  Today was that day, and I couldn't have imagined a better Valentine's Day gift.

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"come 'on cookies!"

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"I want a cookie so bad I'll eat a balloon"

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She iced the cookies, and sprinkled the cookies, and helped herself to some heart sprinkles of course.

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I can't speak for Milani or Berkley, but my Valentine's Day was perfect, everything I hoped it would be.  The effort to make it special was so worth the amazing afternoon we spent together, and I hope that my girls will feel and know the love behind our afternoons together.

This morning we all awoke with stuffy noses, and scratchy throats so we nestled in for a quiet day of rest.  We came down off our holiday induced sugar high and welcomed the downtime that balances out activity filled afternoons.  The grey sky left the house dim and cozy and perfect for an afternoon nap.  And all I can think is that frustration, and exhaustion, and short patience can't even distort my view this evening, these days are nothing but good.  It's all good.

Two-Under-Two Aint No Joke aka The Really Long Post

Off the top of my head I can think of more than a few moms who are so much more deserving of purple and gold Supermom capes than I am.  Moms with a great deal more heaped on their mom plates than the two scoops of sweet and delicious I've been served.  And truthfully, these two little puddins usually are the icing on my cake, but like all of the most rewarding endeavors in life mothering two under two is anything but easy.  Even as I write this post I hold a sleeping babe in one arm and type with my other free hand.

A few weeks of restless nights and foiled naps have caught up with Milani leaving her emotions simmering just under the surface, poised to erupt at the slightest offense.  Coupled with her adjustment to the arrival of little Berkley, her exhaustion has led my typically sweet and loving big sister toward a string of emotional meltdowns.  Things usually boil over close to nap time when she tries to climb on my lap while I nurse Berkley, and as I gently remind her that she's much bigger than her baby sister and will hurt her if she climbs on top of her, Milani unravels.  She unleashes her wail/scream/cry as big wet tears spill from her chocolate eyes.  It devastates me to watch her take one look at her sister then squeeze her eyes shut and shake her head as if she can make Berkley disappear like a bad dream.  I know that she's just looking for the undivided attention and love from me that she's known for most of her life, and that her acclimation to her new sister is slow and uncomfortable, like a growing pain, but I can't erase it and she can't go back to life without Berkley.  I can only hope that her uncertainty and frustration will evolve into a steadfast love for her sister.

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On the flip side, there are so many times during my day when Berkley will decide to wake up from a nap hungry and crying right when I'm in the middle of getting Milani lunch or changing a diaper.  Letting my babies cry it out isn't something that resonates with my maternal instinct, but by default my little Berkley is left waiting for my attention in a fit of tears much more often than Milani ever was.  I desperately hope that this little babe will feel as loved and cared for as her sister did as a newborn.

In moments like these I sometimes notice my mindset slipping into the treacherous terrain where "It will be easier when..." and  "I can't wait until..." start trying to convince me that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

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Maybe it will be easier when Milani is potty trained, or when Berkley is walking, but more likely we will just be facing new and different obstacles.  That thought pattern is nothing but a thief in the night robbing me of being present and connected with this moment, right now.  Whether joyful or unpleasant, every moment I spend with my two precious souls is a treasure and this time is fleeting.  Even though it might be hard to recognize when I'm changing my fifteenth diaper, or cleaning up the sixth spill of the day, I know that in the not so distant future my heart will ache for this time, for the feeling of a limp newborn warm in my arms as she nurses and naps, for the way my Milani astonishes me with the pace at which she learns new things, for the sound of a tiny voice calling out "mom... mama... mommy!!" a dozen times a day.  Oh how I want to savor every single detail of life with my littles, because this precious time is fleeting.

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With all the trials and frustrations, my two-under-two scales are tipped heavily in favor of "moments that make my heart swoon."



...watching Milani love her "big brother", Moses, whom she looks up to and adores.

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So much so that she plays what we call Puppy Milani where she crawls around on all fours with her tongue dangling out, picks things up with her mouth and barks.  I found all of this pretty cute until I turned around one afternoon to find her with her face in Moses' water bowl lapping up the water, and I almost threw up.  Now, when I see Puppy Milani come around, I waste no time putting out a little bowl of clean puppy water.


...seeing the way these girls light him up.

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I think that every guy to some extent hopes someday to have a son, someone to carry on his name, someone to take to the driving range, a little fella to inherit the wealth of "guy knowledge" accumulated over a lifetime.  But Jon is an amazing father to these little sweeties.  He is absolutely wrapped tightly around their tiny little fingers, and they are most definitely the skip in his step.  

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And beyond him being the best father I could imagine, if there is any truth to the idea that girls seek out significant others with character traits similar to their fathers, these two little ladies are on the right track.  I can't imagine  anyone more capable of modeling the qualities of a great husband and father.  Maybe someday Jon will get a son, but I'm certain he won't do these two sweeties wrong.


...Milani's flair for fashion.  I really think that she may have a thing for fashion, and will be a trend setter with her ability to make mismatched and unconventional look effortless.  

Lately she's been rocking tons of original head gear.  She will sport anything; an empty Manning's ice cream container, my makeup bag, or any one of her many many hats.  She's been putting on Berkley's newborn baby hats which look, on her big head, like a cross between a yamaka and a beanie.

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And I think Lulu can really pull off the hat look.  I might need to grab a cute little knit messenger hat, because sister would rock it!


...taking "One Month" pics of my little Berkley in this hat.

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And of course Milani couldn't pass up the opportunity to rock a photo shoot in a hat!

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...snow days!

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...watching Milani unleash her creativity

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First and foremost I hope Milani is happy in her life, but right behind that I hope that she always finds joy in creativity.  She's been doing a lot of artwork lately, between our Play-Doh sessions, her coloring books, and her newest artistic medium - the paints.

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"mom, here, you paint"
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I am so inspired watching her swoop and dab with her paintbrush, letting whim direct her art, and thoroughly enjoying the act of creating.  

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She teaches me the importance of letting go of perfectionism, and not stressing over the outcome, because like so many aspects of life, the substance and beauty are in the process not the product.  She is leading me by example to rediscover my own joy in creativity.


...afternoons kicking it with family.

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Where Milani's passion for paints was ignited.

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...random pics of my littlest that have no narration or back story.  They're just too sweet not to share.

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Can I get an Amen?

A String of Firsts and Other Random Goodness

We've had a string of firsts in the past couple weeks.

First Fever

After twenty months of perfect health, my girl with the iron clad immune system suffered her first fever.  Her big chocolate eyes were droopy and glassy, the apples of her cheeks were flushed and hot, and given the opportunity I'm certain she would have crawled back into the womb.  All she wanted was to cling tightly to me and cuddle, so we three girls stayed in pajamas and watched cartoons all snuggled together in bed; my big girl dozed on and off at my side while my little babe nursed on my lap.  And while it was difficult to watch her struggle, knowing how uncomfortable she was, there came a certain sense of peace and fulfillment in being able to comfort and nurture her; in kissing her hot forehead and reminding her that everything will be ok.  It's such a beautiful honor to be the one she wants when she doesn't feel well, to feel the weight of her warm head on my shoulder and her tight hug as she melts into me.  I certainly prefer my charismatic girl in good health and good spirits, but I will treasure these opportunities to be needed, and these moments when a mother's kiss makes everything all better.


First Outing

Milani, Berkley and I ventured out on our first trip to the grocery store and it went much more smoothly than I envisioned it might.  I'll admit that I accidentally left the grocery list on the kitchen table, and forgot my reusable bags, but with Berkley tucked in the wrap and Milani in her seat in the shopping cart we managed to fill our cart and get home without any major meltdowns or tears (from either me or Milani).  

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It went so well I briefly entertained the idea of making a trip to Target before reminding myself that there is no extra credit in errand running and it's much smarter to quit while I'm ahead.


First Time Playing With Play Doh

Carmen got Milani a sweet Play Doh kit for Christmas and we broke it out this week, and I totally forgot how fun Play Doh is!  I don't know who has a better time, me or Milani. 






She likes to roll it out flat and slice it with the plastic Play Doh knife.  I prefer to mold and sculpt things, and I'm noticing a trend.  I almost always make food; either it's a Play Doh hot dog, or ice cream cone, or Hershey kiss.  I'm wondering if this is like Play Doh therapy, uncovering my unhealthy preoccupation with my next meal, something similar to a psychologist's ink blot test. 

And if that isn't alarming enough, the first time Milani and I played with the yellow Play Doh, right after I finished sculpting fries and a burger, I get the brilliant idea to make a Play Doh booger and dangle it from my nose (because this is how a good parent models acceptable behavior).  Later the same day I see Jon playing with Milani and the yellow Play Doh and what does he do?  You better believe he ALSO makes a Play Doh booger and dangles it from his nose.  Something to think about when Milani finds herself in therapy some day (the real kind with actual ink blot tests).


I wish there were a pause button, a way to keep my littles tiny just a bit longer, but I know that trying to keep them small is like trying to hold water, and I know that I will love every stage once we're there.  My little Berkley is already shifting away from newborn and toward baby.  I want to capture all her newborn goodness before it slips away.

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I love the little curve in her lower legs that remind me how only three short weeks ago she was all snug and comfy in my tummy, and the way she still wants her arms and legs all snug and close to her in a little ball. 

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I love her itty bitty little finger and toe nails that are still so soft, and the way her little wrinkled feet can still fold up against her shins all compact. 

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And seriously, how delicious are baby feet?  I can't stop taking pictures of them! 


A couple days ago I noticed a comment posted on a friend's facebook page congratulating her on the arrival of her sweet baby boy, it said "Welcome to the best part of LIVING - Being a parent!" and I realized with so much gratitude that those words ring entirely true for me.  I honestly can't imagine how I got so lucky to have these two perfect souls entrusted into my care, to marvel at the way they've molded my heart and realize how deeply grateful I am to be the one that they call Mama.

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The fashionista at it again rocking my makeup bag for a hat.
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She's certainly creative and original.

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Ringing in the Newness

My heart is full as I find myself at the dawn of a new year, cradling in my arms a brand new life, while my sweet Lulu breathes steadily, slow heavy breaths, napping next to me.  It wasn't so long ago that I would have rung in the new year at a party, wearing sparkly heels and toasting champagne, and that side of me isn't long lost, but this year I watched the clock strike midnight in the quiet darkness of my bedroom, nursing a newborn, and couldn't have been more content.

In some ways my life looks nothing like I imagined it would, I'm not sure I ever could have pictured myself the mother of two gorgeous sweet little girls, and yet it still feels perfect, it was meant to be.  Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am a mother, and that Milani, and now little Berkley, are actually my daughters not just these amazing littles I hang out with.  And every time I have this crazy revelation, it has the same enlightening, awe inspiring affect on me.  Holy crap...I'm actually a mom!  I usually don't feel like a mom, at least not the way I imagined motherhood might feel, and I wonder if I'll always notice this curious little inconsistency.  Regardless, I've never been more certain that this is, at least for now, one of the reasons I was put on this earth.  I am mom, hear me roar!

Little Berkley's birth story will be written, hopefully before we celebrate her first birthday, but for now I am just enjoying the settling, the nestling back down into the comforting rhythm of our lives as a new family of four.  I know it will take some time to really feel rooted and sturdy in our new roles, but we get a little closer to normalcy every day.  We've already overcome the bogus "Baby lost too much weight, start supplementing with formula" hurdle, and the "She hasn't pooped in three days" obstacle, and the fog of the first of many sleepless nights with a newborn is lifting ever so slightly.  Every day I get a little better at balancing the needs of both my girls, which often times means literally balancing both my girls, one in each arm.  And while I'm certain of the strength and depth of my love for both of them, I sometimes feel like I need another me in order for them each to adequately feel my constant love.  Another pair of arms to wrap each girl in close to me, to rock both of my girls tightly until their bodies wilt and their breaths slow into slumber. Another me so i can nurse one and cuddle the other, so I can shower them both with kisses.  It's so hard to try to be everything to each of my girls all the time, near impossible.  Before we know it though, we'll find that we've stumbled upon our groove somewhere along the way without even realizing it; everything will fall into its place.

All this change makes it seem as though Christmas was a lifetime ago, but I don't want it to get passed by completely.  Santa was good to Milani, bringing her jumbo Legos, a new baby doll, some books, and a potty chair she is strangely attached to.  I'm glad Santa didn't bring her more because she gave up on opening presents after her fourth gift.

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And this little angel, reminds me of her sister in so many ways.

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So many of her facial expressions and noises take me right back to when Milani was a newborn. Her "baby grinch" face, her fake little impatient cough when she wants milk faster than I can give it to her, her stretchy face.  At the same time she is so unique, with her own little endearing quirks.  Her "Oh" face, her little cat shaped eyes, and the little raspy hum that accompanies her sleepy breaths. 

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I used to tell people that Milani was laid back, but little Berkley has her beat.  She is so chill, always.  I can put her down to help Milani and she doesn't make a peep, Milani never wanted to be put down ever and she let you know it!  Berkley can make it through an outfit or diaper change without getting spitting mad and turning purple like her sister used to.  And I may be jinxing myself now but she doesn't have a fussy time like Milani did every evening.  She is really making the transition from mother of one to mother of two pretty easy on me (knock on wood).

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And big sister is making me so proud!  She has been so sweet and patient this week, so accepting of her new little sister.  She can say Berkley, it comes out "Burkeee"She hops on a chair to help me change diapers and shows great concern anytime Berkley is upset.  And she keeps us and herself entertained.

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And although I hear that this only ever happens in newborn/toddler fairytale land, I have two sleeping beauties napping at the same time.  My pillow is calling my name.

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Christmastastic Fabulousness

Even though I am regularly comforted by family and friends with the reminder that Milani is too young know any different if this Christmas isn't perfect; if I spend more time with my feet up than spreading holiday cheer; if the baby conveniently decides that Christmas Eve or Christmas Day seems like the perfect day to make his/her grand entrance and I'm stuck in the hospital forcing us to celebrate our Christmas a week late, I still don't want this Christmas to be a complete dud for my girl.  Because sitting on the sidelines monitoring every sensation below my shoulders for any indication of impending labor is about as eventful as watching paint dry.  The baby's going to come when the baby's going to come, and there's no good reason why I can't be cultivating holiday traditions and etching new Christmas memories with my Lulu in the meantime.  So, I've been trying to make the conscious shift from focusing on only seven more days until my due date and when is baby going to come?, to embracing and celebrating the season we're in.

In previous years my holiday cards would've hit the post office the week after Thanksgiving, at some point every flat surface in my kitchen and dining room would've been covered with cookies destined for goodie baskets or a cookie swap, and I would have been organizing the house and planning a menu preparing to host our family for Christmas dinner.  I am accepting the reality that our experience of the season this year will feel a little different, but will be no less rich with laughter and love and time spent together as a family.

It is so fun to watch Milani's reactions to holiday traditions that are so new and foreign to her; to watch her laugh and run and stomp her little feet in excitement when Jon brought our Christmas tree into the house; to see her wonder grow with each ornament she pulled out of the box; to watch her figure out how the ornaments get hung on branches; and to see her face glow when we plugged in the lights.  There is magic in this season and it can be seen so clearly and purely reflected in the eyes of our littles.







This week Milani and I pulled out of the attic the train set that my family used to put around our tree when I was young.


I'm not sure how I managed to inherit this train, and hadn't gotten it out any previous Christmas', but if I'm to infuse our days with more holiday wonder this would be a perfect starting point.  Milani skittered around me examining the passenger cars and engine as I pieced the track together, and gawked excitedly as I turned the power dial instructing her to "Watch, watch, watch...check out what's going to happen when I turn the dial!".  And nothing happened.  And I was so bummed.  And Milani lost interest, and went on to playing with a stuffed animal.


After some Googling and troubleshooting, and a quick scrub down of the track rails with a brillo, I managed to convince Milani to give the "Choo Choo" a second chance and her gaping mouth and shrill squeal made the whole project worthwhile.  We watched it go in around and around in circles, Milani insisting on being held the whole time it was running, simultaneously thrilled and terrified that it could move by itself.

Last night Jon went to bed early and I found myself in a quiet house, lit dimly by the lights on the tree and cast in a golden glow from a lone candle.


I was taken aback by the sense of peace that blanketed me as I sat at the dining room table writing out Christmas cards by candle light, with the melodies of Christmas carols drifting faintly from the kitchen radio.

This evening Milani and I whipped up our first batch of holiday cookies, Peanut Butter Blossoms.  My girl climbed up onto the chair next to me and stirred her bowl full of Hershey's Kisses, whipping up her own imaginary batch of treats.

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And because, at our house, helping to bake the cookies entitles you to a sampling of the ingredients and cookie dough, she devoured no less than nine kisses, licked the peanut butter spoon, and ate a spatula full of dough.

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She's no stranger to this rule; the whole time I was mixing up the ingredients she pointed anxiously at the spatula repeating "poppy...poppy" - her word for lolli-pop - be still my beating heart, this girl can't get any cuter.  She may not have had any appetite left for dinner, and she may have bounced off the walls like a maniac right up until bedtime, but my girl and I had a blast baking side by side and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

I still have errands to run, projects to finish, and presents to wrap, and depending on the moment I oscillate between feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and feeling eerily calm.  But I'm becoming more comfortable with knowing that I will accomplish what I can before my little sweetie's arrival, and postpone the things I can't, and it will be a Christmas to remember regardless how it unfolds.

Stomping Grounds in Fuzzy Boots

I know I got all sentimental and carried on about Milani's last time playing in the garden until spring, and I genuinely thought that would be the last romp in our dirt patch, but then the sky went ahead and looked like this;

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And when is it sixty degrees in December?  So you know sister and I were playing in the backyard.  She was wearing the pink dress she picked out and my favorite little white sweater, and we had a doctor's appointment and dinner plans later in the day.

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Of course she scooted right over to the garden.  I cringed and am pretty sure I swore under my breath as she busted her way through the defunct gate that I closed foolishly thinking it would deter her from playing in the dirt.  I started planning my strategy to cunningly redirect her attention toward the red ball or sidewalk chalk, then I got a hold of myself and gained a little perspective.

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Sometimes I react blindly to situations before acknowledging the things that are truly important and those that aren't.  I love that my girl enjoys the feeling of fresh soil in between her fingers.  I love that she isn't afraid of getting dirty, of getting dirt jammed under her fingernails and smeared across her forehead.

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So what if we visit the doctor with a little dirt on the behind of her dress, and a brown tint to the wrists of her sweater.  And what's a sweater other than some yarn meant to keep her warm on a chilly day, one that she probably won't still fit in another four months anyway.  It's just a thing, a material object, not important.  I'm so glad I caught myself, and loosened up so that the only thing soiled was her little white sweater and pink dress, rather than her spirit and curiosity.

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Mom, I WILL touch your lens with my dirt finger!!  You can run but you can't hide!
**Since writing this section last week (yep I'm slacking that bad on publishing posts) Milani has romped in the garden two more times.  Apparently I was wrong to assume that a barren, frozen, muddy plot of dirt wouldn't be an appealing place to play.  Looks like regardless whether it's a tangle of tomato vines scattered with pepper plants, or a snowy tundra, the garden will remain one of sister's favorite stomping grounds.

Also since writing this, I managed to put that favorite white sweater into the dryer, and am pretty sure it will only fit a six month old.  Boo.**

In other fashion news, I hear pink furry boots are totally in, and as demonstrated by our lovely model, complement any outfit. 
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She begs to wear them, all the time.  She doesn't hesitate to sport them over a pair of fleecy footie pajamas.  Milani has a seriously bold sense of fashion, and I love it.

The sixty degree temperatures didn't hang around, and it feels a lot more like a typical December.  I feel like for a while I was putting off doing Christmassy stuff in favor of focusing my attention on the pregnancy and anticipating the baby's arrival, but I'm realizing that Baby V is going to come on his/her own terms so I might as well make the most of the season.  Lookout Christmas-tastic Fabulousness!

A Little of This...and a Little of That

We're entering the final stretch, where any day could be the day, where my phone calls are answered with an excited "Are you in labor?".

I'm anxious to meet our little one, anxious to find out if baby V is a he baby or she baby, and at the same time nervous.  Scared of the unknown, of the way the shift from a family of three to a family of four will change the dynamic of our little home and the routine we've grown comfortable with.  Worried I will feel less connected to Milani, that I won't be able to cuddle during her naps anymore or unwind for bedtime, just the two of us, curled up with books the way we do now.   I don't want to disappoint my girl, and yet I'm simultaneously afraid I won't feel the same wild bond with my new darling that I have with Milani.  I worry that the little jolt our life is about to receive might leave us all unsettled for good, unable to find our way back to a place of balance and familiarity.  And from my heart I can hear the faint whisper of the truth reassuring me that these fears have no ground to stand on.  I know they will dissolve and seem irrationally absurd in hindsight, but I guess I have to feel them and face them, to recognize them and live them in order for them to eventually fade into retrospection.

In the meantime Milani and I have been dividing our time between doing a lot of things and doing a lot of nothing, usually settling somewhere in between.

I don't remember this tree really producing many leaves in years past, and raking crispy leaves into a heaping pile and diving in head first hadn't really occurred to me since I was thirteen or so, but it's these little things that Milani opens my eyes to, that she brings into focus and gives meaning to. 

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She reminds me of the simple pleasures that keep us kids at heart, that fade into the background if left unnoticed.  We spent more than one afternoon in the backyard piling up the leaves and thrashing through and rolling in them.

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My girl is an amazing little helper, quick to grab the rake and drag it around, and eager to pile handful after handful of leaves into our compost box. 

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Over the summer we managed to grow a random surprise vine that sprang from a seed in last years compost.  It took us a while to figure out what the vine was, we debated whether it was squash, or watermelon, finally determining that they were pumpkins.  We managed to score four pumpkins from our surprise vine, they'll make fantastic pie.

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Milani spent one last afternoon running her fingers through the soil in the garden, selecting little chunks of dirt and tossing them to watch them crumble as they hit the ground.  One last afternoon with dirt caked to the booty of her pants and black fingernails until the return of spring.

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We spent an afternoon exploring the Children's Library with Grandma Andrea.  Whimsical clouds, Mary Poppins, an airplane, and NASA rocket all soared overhead, captivating my girl's attention and imagination.

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Milani arranged and rearranged magnetic letters, and played with a train table. 

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She climbed atop Thomas the Tank Engine and perused picture books. 

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She even took her place on stage, the character that she is.  Her world is her stage.

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We stopped to play with the electric trains, watching them circle their tracks, touring their tiny village,

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And of course had to visit with a donkey on our way to the car.

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For as much as I anticipate the fall, and rant and rave about how much I love it, I never really get too disappointed when I realize that all of the trees have become completely barren and the view out the window in the morning reveals a dusting of pearlescent frost.  By the time I realize that autumn has passed my attention is already captivated by the twinkling lights and fresh evergreens of the holidays.  Since Thanksgiving, the radio in the kitchen has streamed a continuous flow of Christmas Carols and our Elf friend has returned from the North Pole to keep watch of our nest.  We will be getting our Christmas tree soon, and I can't wait for the heavenly scent of pine to infiltrate every corner of our home and to see it's lights reflected in the enchanted eyes of my curious girl.

And of course, I can hardly wait to hold in my arms the most blessed gift we will receive this Christmas.

The Day She Made Me a Mama {A Birth Story}

I wish I'd thought to take the time to record in words every blessed detail of every moment of that day much sooner, because while the magic and wonder and gratitude I feel are as poignant as ever, the little intricacies have faded over the past eighteen months.  So now, a year and a half later, I'm going to root around in my memory, and jog loose and dust off every beautiful detail I can, and attempt to find the words that might just begin to capture the emotion and experience of the day she made me a mama.

I can remember an evening about a month before my due date; I was at the restaurant, and I grabbed a new carton of half and half out of the cooler.  As I glanced at the expiration date, I felt my heart catch in my throat, and couldn't stifle a nervous laugh.  The date read May 11, and the only thought that raced through my head, making the floor seem to tilt dangerously to one side and the lights dim for a moment, was that I would become a mother before the half and half would expire.

The days flew past, and my due date approached rapidly.  I began each morning wondering whether today would be the day.  I paid close attention to every Braxton-Hicks contraction, and every uncomfortable twinge, and every unfamiliar pang.  I struggled to distinguish between normal third trimester aches and pains, and crampiness, and contractions.  When my due date arrived without any signs of labor, one of the other doctors in my Obstetrician's practice scheduled me for an induction the following Sunday, at forty-one weeks, May 9th, Mother's Day, at seven a.m.

I desperately wanted our little one to come on her terms, I wanted to trust my body to do what women's bodies have accomplished without synthetic hormones for most of humanity, nothing about an induction resonated with my soul.  I tried to reassure myself that labor would come on it's own before Sunday, and tried to encourage my body to go along with my plan.  I went for long walks up steep hills, I ate pineapple, and lord knows every single bone jarring ride I took in Jon's truck should have been bumpy enough to catapult me directly into active labor.

I remember that Friday, May 7th, was a gorgeous, warm, sunny day.  The most beautiful day we'd seen so far that spring.  Jon called me from work to let me know that according to his father "It looked like a perfect day to have a baby."  I wholeheartedly agreed, apparently our little sweetie didn't.  Later that afternoon I called my OB and asked him if I absolutely had to be induced at forty-one weeks, or if I could wait longer, give our peanut the time she needed.  He reassured me that I could forgo the induction as long as I came in to the hospital on Saturday morning for a Non-Stress Test and an Ultrasound to ensure that the baby wasn't in any distress. 

First thing Saturday morning, Jon and I went in for our routine tests and passed with flying colors.  We canceled the induction, and I felt like I had been let off the hook, like a weight had been taken off my chest and I finally had room to breathe.  The peace of mind lasted all of what felt like fifteen seconds, because by that evening I had reason to believe that I might be slooowly leaking amniotic fluid.  I waited until morning to call the physician on call, and talked to the doctor who had initially scheduled my induction.  He told me to come in immediately.

In my heart I knew this was it.  I had Jon bring my bags.  I was anxious, and nervous, emotional, and terrified and excited.  Part of me wanted to dig in my heels, run back in the house and lock the doors, scream "Waaaaiittt!! I'm not ready yet!"  But ready or not, I went to the hospital and they tested for amniotic fluid, and the doctor looked up at me from his little glass microscope slide and said "It's fluid alright, let's get her admitted and get her started on pitocin.  See, you canceled your induction and you're here anyway."  And this is where it all becomes a little fuzzy.

I'm not sure how I walked from triage to my L&D room, I'm not convinced that I didn't in fact float there, or perhaps no one wants to tell me I actually passed out cold and had to be carried there.  Once I was nestled in my bed in the room where I would deliver our baby girl, the nurse asked me if I was feeling alright because my blood pressure dropped, and my coloring looked a little pale.  I confessed that I was just the tiniest bit terrified.  I'm not sure what had me more nervous, the anticipation of the pain, or the fact that my life was about to be turned upside down in a way I couldn't fathom.  We made the excited phone calls and sent out the mass texts letting our friends and family know that we were at the hospital and today would be the day.

They started pitocin at two p.m. and the contractions came immediately.  Initially they were just like bad period cramps, and Jon would look at the printout dangling from one of the machines to see how big a mountain that contraction had been.  I remember that they broke my water.  The nurse asked me to rate my pain and I'm pretty sure I said it was a five, little did I know.
At some point my sister arrived, and brought her laptop.  I remember her setting it up and connecting it to the internet, giving it to me to pass the time.  I remember starting at it blankly, completely unable to comprehend what I could possibly be doing with the computer.  I also remember Jon and Ariana trying to make something happen with music, to fix something with the computer, something wasn't working, that's all I can recall about that fiasco.  I remember that I brought Norah Jones, and Diana Krall, and Billy Holiday CDs, I only recall hearing Norah Jones, barely.

The contractions became stronger, longer, and more painful.  The mountains on the printout were much larger, with jagged pointed plateaus, and the breaks between them weren't even remotely long enough.  I remember sitting on a birthing ball for a while, and standing along side the bed figuring gravity must be able to help things along.

At one point the I.V. tube administering the pitocin accidentally got a kink in it, causing the machine shreak.  The nurse wasn't in the room so we took matters into our own hands and pushed a button or two until it got quiet.  Whatever we did accidentally stopped the flow of pitocin, and for those few blessed minutes before the nurse came in and realized what had happened, I got the most amazing, and much needed, break from the constant onslaught of contractions.  I remember getting sick to my stomach more than a handful of times.  I remember that when the clock said five p.m. they checked my progress and I was five c.m.  The nurse asked me to rate my pain again, and I told her I wanted to revise my previous assessment to a two, and that now it was a six, little did I know.

Jon got hungry, and went to Cosmo's for a cheesesteak.  It felt like he was gone for ten minutes, my sister tells me he was gone quite a bit longer than that.  I'm sure he relished the much needed break from the constant onslaught of contractions too.

I remember changing positions to kneel tall on the bed, facing the elevated head of the bed, resting my upper body on the top of the mattress.  I remember that position being so so painful, especially in my back, and my nurse encouraging me to hold out for a couple more contractions because the change in position would help the baby move down.  I remember Ariana putting pressure on my lower back, and showing Jon how to do the same.

Jon was so encouraging and supportive, like a cheerleader, talking me through every contraction, telling me how amazing I was doing, reminding me to breathe, assuring me that the contraction was almost over.  He would keep an eye on the printout and alert me the minute the mountain appeared to be starting it's descent.  I remember at a certain point between contractions, trying to tell Jon politely that although he was trying his hardest to be super helpful, I couldn't handle trying to comprehend the words coming from his mouth and deal with the pain of a contraction at the same time.  The next contraction he started cheering me on again, I'm pretty sure I snarled, and the nurse leaned in to him and said "Jon, honey, I think it would be best if you stopped talking during contractions."  I think his feelings were hurt.

The contractions got even longer, and stronger, and much more painful.  I remember pleading that I just wanted a break and whimpering to Ariana that I couldn't do this, and her telling me sternly that I absolutely could.  The nurse encouraged me to try to empty my bladder, she said something like "A full bladder is a closed door" whatever that meansAt that point, the only thing worse than a contraction, was peeing, and throwing up, and contracting at the same time.  She checked my progress again, nine c.m.  She had me rate my pain and if this wasn't a nine and a half I might just die before I delivered.  She had me lay in bed on my left side, and told me to let her know when I felt the need to push.

It seemed like the blink of an eye, like only three contractions had passed, and I was telling her that I had to push.  She checked me and confirmed that I was ten c.m.  It was about seven p.m. and her shift was ending.  She stayed with me a little longer but ended up having to leave before I delivered, and I am so upset to confess that I don't remember my her name, because I LOVED her.  I still wish I could write her a thank you card for her kindness and sweetness and support.  She left me in the hands of another sweet nurse who helped through the rest of the delivery.

Jon held my left leg, I don't remember who held my right.  With each contraction I pushed as hard as I could.  In between each contraction I pleaded with my little one, telling her that she just had to come out right now.  It felt like I only pushed through three or four contractions but Jon tells me it was more than that.  Thanks to the reflection in the TV opposite my bed, I witnessed my little one as she emerged, all eight pounds, seven ounces of her.

Since my amniotic fluid had been leaking, they had to examine her before giving her to me, and I remember Jon being next to the little bassinet with the doctor examining her.  I was glad he was with her, and I couldn't wait to hold her.  They finally passed her to me and I couldn't hold back tears, she was so perfect, so beautiful.  She had dark hair like her dad, and dark brown eyes that looked eggplant purple from certain angles.  I don't remember her crying much, Jon and I both made up for that.  It was impossible to take my eyes off her, and I feel like she really never took her eyes off us.


I will never forget nursing her for the first time, and that she latched on immediately and would have nursed forever.  It was surreal to think that she had grown inside me, that she came out whole and complete and perfect with hair and fingernails and personality.  I remember thinking that she definitely looked like a girl, that there was no way anyone could mistake this newborn beauty for a boy.  The nurse fashioned a hat with a bow.


My heart ached when she cried through her first bath, and I felt the beginnings of a fierce maternal instinct kick in; wanting wildly to rescue her and make everything ok for her.


I was too shaky to walk to the Mom and Baby room so I cradled her proudly as they wheeled us over, and we had a few sacred moments alone, just the two of us, while Jon went to find our visitors.  We were put in a corner room with wrap around windows that displayed a panoramic view of the Scranton skyline.  Ariana brought me a hoagie and girl scout cookies; food never tasted so good.  It was around ten thirty when everyone left, and then it was just me, Jon, and our brand new little angel.


I remember being very emotional the day we were discharged, feeling like if I could just stay in that room forever the timer would never start, that she would stay new and tiny forever.  I could never have known how much joy watching her learn and grow would bring.  I'm still being amazed daily by the way every new stage brings its own beauty and wonder.  She was perfect on that Mother's Day she was first laid in my arms, and she's still perfect today as she sounds out new words and dances to music, and one is not better than the other, just different, both magical.

I can reflect so fondly and emotionally on the day she made me a mama, and look forward to watching her life unfold, because her story isn't over it's still being written and I am so lucky, blessed beyond words, to be the one holding her hand along her journey.

On Inspiration

Since starting out on this writing journey I have felt the amazing force of the waxing and waning of creativity.  I have had weeks where I've been pulled to post every other day, and dry spells where I sweat bullets fighting to arrange a collection of words into a post, desperate just to get myself back into the flow.  I have posts that I love, that feel rich and inspired, and others that seem like total garbage.  And I'm searching for the rhyme or reason behind the drive to write, or create anything for that matter.

I wonder where the inspiration comes from?  Is it something I can learn to summon in times of need, something that can be willed to emerge?  And if it can, I haven't yet figured out what lures it out.  Sometimes I sit down to write, and stare at a blinking curser.  I force out a clumsy sentence, and immediately delete it.  I give it another go and another miss, and my frustration mounts.  It feels so unnatural for me to force writing, and even when I do manage to choke out an uninspired paragraph, I usually return to it and find it lifeless.  Missing that vital energy that makes inspired writing so soothing.  Maybe I just need more practice, more discipline, more time with my nose to the grindstone to learn how to get the gears turning.  Maybe the creativity can be strengthened like a muscle.  Or maybe I need to really look more closely at the other areas of my life to find the inspiration before I sit down at the keyboard.

Yet there are these times when words start stringing themselves along into sentences in my head, randomly.  It catches me off guard, and usually I'm somewhere other than at the computer, lying in bed, or driving down the road, or changing a diaper.  And as these sentences emerge I think to myself, Man this is some good stuff!  I need to remember this, I HAVE to get this in writing!  So sometime later, maybe later that day or the next, I do sit down and try to reconstruct the storyline that was literally stitching itself together so beautifully, but it's never the same.  I may be able to capture the gist, and a poetic phrase here and there, but I can never recreate it verbatim.  And then it's gone.

The thing I'm seeking is a marriage of the two, a way to harness the inspiration when it hits, get it to hang around a little while rather than fleeing.  And I know it's absolutely unreasonable for me to want the words to just flow every time I set out to write, but I wish there were a way to store it away for the moments I get the chance to write, or a way to recall it more purely. 

The only thing I'm sure of is that this little angel has been the single greatest source of inspiration in my life.

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If these aren't the cutest piggie tails I've ever laid eyes on!
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Love them!
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 She inspires me day in and day out to participate more fully in each and every moment, to show up and be present for each day that I'm blessed with.

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And she ignites my appreciation and gratitude for the little things.

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Milani watching the snow out the window last Saturday
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She shows me the world from an entirely different perspective and amazes me continually.

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With her face literally pressed to the glass.
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Because of her, I am constantly inspired to be a better mother, a better wife, a better woman.

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If you have any insight or methods that you find helpful to conjure up inspiration or ignite creativity I'd love for you to leave me a comment telling me about it!

Letting Go and Going With the Flow

Well hello there November!  I feel like I say something along these lines every time I write, but seriously, I can't keep up!  The days are speeding by faster and faster and I honestly can't believe we are entering a new month!  Not to mention that Ride Aid and Redners already have their Christmas isles set up, the mall is decorated with lights and trees, and I have already seen a poster advertising Toys for Tots.

The holidays are rapidly approaching in all their splendor and glory, and this year they are ushering with them countless reasons for our family to celebrate.  We have so many reasons to be grateful, and have so many blessings entering our lives, yet I have to admit that I am becoming overwhelmed with everything that life is handing me right now.  If the holidays alone weren't hectic enough, we are expecting our sweet little one in December.  And I'm off from work which allows me to spend so much more time with Jon and Milani, and to work furiously to turn my passion into a career, but is also straining our finances just in time for Christmas.  On top of this, Jon and I stumbled upon an investment opportunity that was too good to pass up which will be demanding hours of our time and amounts money that we simply don't have to begin with.  Jon reminds me that if we persevere through this now, it will be worth it in the long run, but I am more than just a little stressed out over it all.

I wish that I naturally faced obstacles with a positive outlook, automatically seeking out the lesson to be learned, welcoming the invitation for growth and enjoying the opportunity to rise up and overcome.  I wish I were one of those people who inherently sees the silver lining, who's entire world is rose colored, and who is happy to surrender and just go with the flow.  Instead I am furiously desperate to have a firm grasp of what my future holds, I worry away hours of my life (usually at 2:45 am) fussing over what might happen, how things will probably go wrong, and where I'll end up.  And I am completely aware that this is a useless, downright toxic, waste of good time and precious energy, but I come from a long and hardy lineage of worriers.

So, when I get to thinking about all that we have on our plate for the coming months I immediately start picturing our family subsiding on nothing but Raman Noodles, huddling for warmth around a fire in a trash can.  But life has this way of repeatedly reminding me that the more I plan, and try to control and manipulate the path I travel, the more surprised I will be to find that nothing ever really unfolds the way I imagine it will.  And not only that, it usually works itself out much more smoothly and poetically than I could have orchestrated on my own anyway.  I'm slowly learning that in these times when anxiety finds a hold in the corners of my brain, and when the enormity and uncertainty of the future utterly overwhelm me, is when I need to focus on what is right in front of me, in the present.  I need notice the ways that life is flowing along beautifully today and savor them, because the only thing I can affect is this moment.

I need to soak up this time with my little cutie, and drink in her excitement when we go on adventures like apple picking.

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I need to appreciate the fleeting moments where the love of a mother for her littles outshines everything else.

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And appreciate the goodness of time spent in the fresh air, with close friends and family.

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Because when life hands me thirty pounds of apples, well that's when I check one more thing off my grand canning plan and can me a whole lot of applesauce.

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I'm also slowly learning to let go of my need for things to be done perfectly, and to accept help from others.  I was always the person in group projects offering to do all the work because I felt like that was the only way I could be certain it would meet my outrageous expectations.  As I made my applesauce I talked Jon through my chicken pot pie recipe, the one I know like the back of my hand.  And I tried not to nitpick when he eyeballed spice measurements rather than use measuring spoons, and definitely bit my tongue when he crimped the edge of the crust together much differently (and a little more messily) than I would have, and lo and behold the resulting pot pie was perfect.  Turns out Jon's pie crimping technique that almost made my head pop, made for a much more rustic looking, more beautiful pot pie, and it tasted absolutely delicious!  I couldn't have made it better myself, and that's the truth.

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It really puts into perspective the things that are important, and the things that aren't worth fussing and worrying over.  And when I walk into a bedroom to find Jon, Milani, and bunny rabbit curled up reading Goodnight Moon, I am reassured that our lives are indeed unfolding perfectly.

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Because it's nearly impossible to stress over the future when this little entertaining chica is making the present such an absolute delight.

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Oh and Happy BEE-lated Halloween!! 

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Autumn, Bath Faces, and Fish Kisses Oh My!

One of these days I'll get my act together enough to write more frequent, normal length posts, keeping up with our adventures and my pictures so I stop posting massive epics.  Today is not that day.


First Fall Adventure

I love the fall.  It is, hands down, my favorite season of the year.  Pumpkin Spice coffee?  Yes please!  Orange?  My favorite color!  Fresh apple cider, cozy wool sweaters, the crisp breeze, boots, scarves and hats, mouthwatering roasted turkey and stuffing, swirling leaf cyclones, Penn State football, absolutely anything pumpkin flavored...the list could go on.  This season affects me on a deeper level, in a way I don't entirely understand.  My energy completely shifts and settles into a content state of peace.  I am calmer, and happier in the fall.  Always.

In keeping with the spirit of the season, Milani and I met up with Ariana, Jake and crew at Miller's Farm.  Although we didn't make it onto the hayride we spent several hours playing hard, breathing deeply lungfuls of fresh autumn air, squishing our boots (and once a tush) into the soft mud.

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Milani is brave.  There isn't much that scares her, and aren't many things she isn't daring enough to attempt.  I mentioned that the slide is quickly surpassing the swings as her favorite playground attraction, and I'm not only talking about the mini, little kid slide.  No, sister doesn't discriminate.  She'll ride the mini slide, then the tallest straightest fastest one, then the spiral, making her way back through the lineup.

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So I'm not entirely sure why I hadn't anticipated that she would come flying down one of the long, fast tube slides at Miller's.

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She didn't even pause, in fact, she caught me completely off guard the first time she came cruising down, shooting out the bottom long before I was prepared to catch her.  And her awkward landing didn't deter her in the slightest from taking the plunge again, and again.

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We watched the boys debate and negotiate their pumpkin selection until they unanimously selected the most gigantic pumpkin of the bunch.  And we devoured the apple cider doughnuts that Ariana graciously shared with us. Next time we'll take a trip on the hayride and make sure to bring some extra apple cider doughnuts home, but all in all it was a perfect first fall adventure.


Bath Time Funny Faces

If you ask Milani if she'd like to get in the tub, her answer is always an enthusiastic head nod as she heads for the stairs and hightails it toward the bathroom.  I have yet to see her turn down a bath invite.  She loves sloshing around in the tub, dumping water from one cup to another, stomping and splashing and making puddles.  Her enjoyment and happiness, as she plays in the water, are so pure and simple that they're infectious.  And her faces are so expressive and charismatic, it's nearly impossible to watch her play without smiling and laughing along with her.

Milani's "Squeeze the Washcloth" Face

While bath time is one of my favorites because it's a sure bet to put girlfriend in a good mood, always littered with giggles and grins, I've grown to cherish the purity she radiates through everything she does.  Whether she is excited and happy, or angry and having a total meltdown, she is always honest and genuine.  She feels every emotion and sees it through, spends time with it and then moves along. There's never an internal struggle to change the way she feels, or stuff an emotion down so she doesn't have to deal with it.  She doesn't pass judgment or wonder what anyone else will think about her emotions.  I have room to learn from her honesty, to be authentic with myself and my emotions the way our little ones are before they learn from us that certain emotions are better kept bottled up.  I hope she will keep that innocent joy in her heart and authenticity in her soul, that she will always be in tune with the honesty of her feelings, and keep making funny faces in the tub.


Downtime and Funtime

It's so easy to get swept away in the daily grind, to get caught up in the errands and the chores, and fall into a rut, and I try to remind myself often that I have control over how each of Milani's days unfold.  I determine whether we'll spend the day at home, playing with blocks in the living room, or at the playground in the fresh air, or on an adventure with the Mom's Group to the butterfly house.

Don't get me wrong, I truly believe that the substance of life, the real beauty, is often found in the unplanned, the in between, the downtime.  That many of life's most sparkling moments are nestled right in front of us among the familiar details of an ordinary day.  Milani is so laid back, she is completely content scattering crayons across the living room floor, collecting them back into the bucket and dumping them out again.

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"What's the problem with the graffiti?  Michelangelo painted on the ceiling."

Building towers with her blocks, dressing up in her favorite hats, and loving on her stuffed animals.


She can kill an hour engrossed with a box of plastic silverware, and some days these quiet afternoons at home are restorative and relaxing.  Sometimes they are exactly what we both need.

But some days we need an adventure, a little bit of excitement, something so special that as Milani drifts to sleep at the end of the day she is thinking "Man today was a great day!"  Sometimes it's fresh air and sunshine we're craving, and the way a couple hours at the playground leave us both breathless and happy.

The view looking down (and I had to bend forward to even see my feet)                                                The view looking up.  Love this tree!                       

Sometimes it's a meet up with the Mom's Group, an activity we wouldn't normally do on our own, and the good company of other moms and tots.  Last week we visited the Steamtown National Historic Site.

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We tried on the conductor's hat and wandered around the museum checking out the old steam engines and poking our heads into the train car displays.

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We took a short ride on the train, and watched out the window as old passenger cars and modern freight box cars decorated with graffiti passed by in the train yard.

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We nibbled on goldfish and pretzels and listened as the guide described how these tracks years ago would have carried eager travelers to New York City dressed in their finest.  Milani would glance back from her perch at the window to throw me an excited grin, or a fish face kiss, and by the end she had the "Choo Choo" nailed.

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It's those moments, when I catch sight of her face all lit up, that reaffirm why we scramble to devour our cheerios and get ourselves dressed in the morning.  Why we pack our bags full of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and goldfish snacks and water bottles and cameras, and scurry out the door to get to a meet up; that fish face kiss makes it worthwhile.  

Happy Weekend!

A Toast to Three Years

In some ways it feels like three lifetimes ago, when we were single and planning our wedding, booking our honeymoon and speculating about the future that lay ahead.  And it feels like just yesterday, the way the details are etched into my memory, the way the sky looked and breeze felt, the nervous knot in my stomach, the slow walk down the isle and night of endless dancing that followed.

I thought it would be a great idea, to spend the night before the wedding by myself in the honeymoon suite.  I would take a bubble bath in the jaccuzzi, pamper myself, relax in solitude.  No one warned me how terrible an idea it was.  I filled the bath, relaxing lavender scented bubbles to the brim, and I soaked, and then I was done soaking and it was only ten thirty, and I was anything but relaxed.  I was alone, bored, lonely, and absolutely unable to sleep.  Excitement and nerves sent thoughts and visions stampeding around my brain, like a demolition derby of prewedding hitters hijacked my consciousness.  Minutes stretched on and on, hours seemed like an eternity, tomorrow would never come.  Neither did sleep.

By five-o-clock the sun was barely casting a faint glow over the horizon, and the honeymoon suite felt like a prison, a torture chamber without anyone or anything to distract me from the panic attack that was swallowing me.  My mouth was dry, and my hands were shaky and clammy.  I had to breathe, get fresh air, so I went outside and walked around the empty wedding tent, meandering between tables in the dim predawn light.  There is only so long you can kill time by pacing alone in an empty tent, so I went back to the room and watched the weather channel.  The girls weren't picking me up until nine, I must have seen the local forcast about 30 times.

I was never so relieved to see anyone as I was when Rachel and Jackey arrived to pick me up, my saving graces rescuing me from my deserted island.  I'm not sure they were expecting to see a pale, trembling, panicky bride.  On the way to the salon they stopped at Sheetz and got me ginger ale and granola bars, and reminded me to take a bite and a sip every now and then.  It was better, being in the company of family and friends, laughing and joking while Justin did my hair and Sara painted my nails.  I managed to get my makeup done, and my dress and veil on without passing out or throwing up.

And then it was time.  Time to walk down the isle.  Time to marry my best friend and become Mrs. Vanness.  I was nervous right up until the moment I saw Jon at the end of the isle, looking relaxed and happy.  The ceremony went by in a haze.  I remember screwing up words and the Judge having to make me repeat that part, and laughing and getting all flustered.  I remember Andrea and my mom reciting their readings.  I remember exchanging rings and vows, and our first kiss and introduction.  And feeling like I was walking on air as I went back down the isle hand in hand with Jon.

I remember all the hugs and congratulations in the receiving line, getting to greet all of our friends and family.  Then the pictures that seemed to take forever, as we smiled into the setting sun pretending that our retinas weren't about to burst into flames.  It wasn't until we were introduced into the reception that I think I really started to enjoy the day.  All the business was behind us, everything checked off the list except for the eating and drinking and dancing.  And that's what we did.  We drank homemade Italian red wine until our teeth turned purple, and didn't leave the dance floor.  When the band took a break, we took over the drums and microphone to keep the party going, and belted out Mr. Big's To Be With You because that's what we do at weddings.  We danced to the jukebox long after the band packed up and left.

We were happy and exhausted as we headed to our suite, leaving behind guests still at the bar taking shots.  I can remember Jon and I laughing and trying to ignore the endless banging on our hotel door from one of our drunk friends who had either locked himself out of his room, or was locked out by his significant other, which I can't remember.  I honestly can't recall now who was even pounding on the door, but I remember it went on for quite a while before they realized that they weren't crashing in the honeymoon suite, and gave up.  The day was perfect really.  It was the most amazing day, and the most fun I ever had at a wedding, maybe I'm a little biased.

It was three years ago today that I walked down the isle and married my best friend.  Three years ago today that we walked hand in hand back down the isle.  And Jon still walks beside me, hand in hand, through every day and every season and I couldn't be more grateful to be Mrs. Vanness.

**All of these gorgeous pictures were taken by Sara Zigon - Zigon Photography**


 Happy Anniversary Jon. 

I Love You!