Wednesday, December 7, 2011

"I'm a mom traveling with my kids.  For me, this is not a vacation. It's a business trip."
-Claire from "Modern Family"

So very, very true.  

Vacationing with Littles couldn't be more different than my pre-children vacations.  No more stacks of books to plow through between naps on the beach.  Instead, the day-to-day needs of my sweet ones are intensified by unfamiliar surroundings.  Sleep is disrupted, meals are not on time, tantrums result.  

I long to be that zen Momma who rolls with the punches, projects calm in the storm, never snaps at her husband, and keeps her cool when the sugar demons take over my sweet girl's body.  In reality, I become to easily unnerved and rattled.  I'm unhinged long after the tantrum has passed.  I grumpily wonder if this is a vacation at all. 

And then I remember... I'm not really on vacation.  I am out of the "office" and traveling with my work.  And it is the best, hardest, most wonderful job there ever was.  And man-oh-man are these smiles it worth it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Three.  My beautiful round-faced baby with dark hair has become a willowy, long-haired, blonde little girl.  

She's a handful, this one.

For months she's been telling anyone who mentions the words two or three,

I two, but I'll be three on my next birfday.

I may be the Momma, but she is teaching me something new everyday... hug is big enough (bigger and bigger!), no kiss is loud enough (bigger and bigger!) and no snuggle is long enough (just one more snuggle, but noooo singing)

...imaginary friends deserve birthday parties too

...magic eraser removes permanent marker from stainless steel appliances (thank you, Lord) more book is always a good idea

...dancing and spinning are mandatory

...every morning is a reason to celebrate

...Daddy is so fun, he shouldn't need a bathroom break

...putting shoes on is an art that cannot be rushed, especially when we are running late

...mustaches are cool (Liam, I like your mustache. I wish I had a mustache.)

...singing is very important, knowing the words is not

...I am so, so blessed

Happy belated birthday, sweet girl!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

PJs in Public

Little Red Riding Hood, the Wolf, Granny, and the Woodsman

It was my first attempt to make costumes for the Littles and pull off a costume theme for the family.

Let's look past the wolf's wonky ears, crooked nose, and eye falling off.

Let's pretend I wasn't one of the few mothers dressed up at the school Harvest party, and certainly the only not dressed up as a beautiful fairy/beautiful witch/beautiful woodland creature.

Let's forget that I was on the receiving end of some strange looks (I don't think people could figure out what I was), and comments such as "you look tired" (as in so tired I forgot to get dressed??), and "you are brave" (really, really, not).

The kids were adorable, Ben rocked the woodsman outfit, and I spent an entire evening in public dressed in an oversized nightgown, robe, and slippers.  

I bet I was a whole lot more comfortable than those beautiful fairies.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Faux Fall

September = sweaters, cozy fires, apple picking, and hot cocoa.  

September in Arizona = triple digit temps, sweaty car rides, apple picking and did I mention heat?

I miss you, Autumn.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Photo Credit

I failed to give credit for the beautiful photos in the last post to our amazing friend and photographer, Sarah.  Any photographs that made you gasp with their technique and composition were the result of her artistry.  Thank you, Sarah, for such lovely photographs that we will treasure for a lifetime.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Just over a year ago, I had to call to the NICU to check on Samuel before going to bed.  

And then, one year ago, we celebrated the homecoming of our sweet boy.

That night (and many following nights) we slept snuggled up together in bed, my nose resting on his head to inhale his heavenly smell.  Last night, I crept into his room, tucked his blanket in under his chubby legs, and watched him sleep.  My precious baby.  My little fighter.  

He has come so far.  From this... this

From this... this

When I'm lucky, this bruiser of a boy (and his nosy-pokey-chatty-loving sister) will let me rock him to sleep.  I hear his sweet shudder sigh as he relaxes into me and I try to drink it all in, every last drop, and sear it into my brain.  

Welcome home, beautiful boy.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Great Escape

What a difference a day makes.

A full 24 hours of only feeding ourselves, not preparing a meal, changing a diaper, wiping a nose, or refereeing a conflict over a toy.

A chance to think complete and somewhat coherent thoughts without interruption, to lay in bed and feel the breeze through an open window while listening to a lovely afternoon thunderstorm.

Sleep.  Deep blissful sleep, with no chance of having to drag ourselves out from under cozy covers to assure our imaginative toddler there are no monsters in her room, or clunk around the kitchen making a bottle at two a.m.  

We ate our meals slowly and lingered at the table without the pressure to get home, relieve a babysitter and go to bed before an early morning wake-up call.

We had time to step away from the craziness of day-to-day life to evaluate, plan for the future, and set priorities.  We drafted a family purpose statement to help keep us focused on what is truly important and filter out everything else.  It will help us make decisions in how we spend our time and money.  It is also a picture of who we are and who we want to be as a family.  We set priorities to feed our bodies healthy foods, to become debt-free, and be and to generous and extend grace to each other and those around us, among other things.  All wonderful, deep, challenging priorities for us to aspire to.  As we were wrapping up our serious, future-looking conversation, Ben added one more item to the list...

Be silly and laugh together.

There is a reason this guy is about to get his PhD.  He is one handsome genius.  What is more important in these trying/wonderful/wild/fleeting little years than to laugh?  I have the choice a hundred times a day...Will I be frustrated when I find Samuel examining the bottom of a previously full container of dry oats?  Or do I grab the camera before I grab the broom?  Will I be embarrassed when Miss Independent insists on dressing herself and has her clothes on inside out, shoes on the wrong feet, and misshapen cowboy hat on her head when we go to the library?  Or do I praise her efforts and ignore the rest?

I choose to laugh.  And I have a sneaking suspicion that we will need our sense of humor even more in the years to come.

Although it was heavenly to have 24 child-free hours, we couldn't wait to get home.  The time away gave me  a rare chance to miss my precious Littles.  It gave me the energy to focus on priorities I've been putting off and things I've been neglecting.  I'm motivated to really buckle down...and get silly.

A HUGE thank you-thank you-thank you to the most amazing "Aunt NaNa and her Wee-am (Liam)" for taking the plunge into temporary parenting with grace and expertise.  A couple more weekends like this and we'll call it even for being the masterminds behind your love connection.  

Monday, September 5, 2011

Zen Masters

The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.

I read somewhere that babies are little zen masters.  The past is forgotten and the future doesn't exist.  All that matters is right now.  My normal state is far from zen.  I fret and worry wondering is there enough flax in her oatmeal to fortify her brain against another episode of World World, did we read enough today, am I talking/playing/directing enough but not too much?  I realize some anxiety is just a normal part of motherhood.  But how much is too much?  What is the tipping point between healthy protectiveness and overzealous mothering?  Good grief, I am even anxious about my level of anxiety.

As Buddha said, mourning the past allows my mind to be unhealthy.  I mourn the what-ifs, the should-haves, and the if-onlys.  And anxiety is a part of my genetic makeup.  I come by it honestly, but it is something I long to conquer.  

Samuel's traumatic birth and related health complications have certainly stretched my mental health to the limits and exposed my glaring inadequacies.  There is so much that is unknown about his future.  We have been given the following statistics for children with his diagnosis: 

1 out of 3 babies are fine.  A word I despise, by the way.  What mother wants her baby to be just fine? Or is that just the perfectionist, type-A personality in me?  Hello, anxiety.

1 out of 3 babies have developmental delays.  This could be a speech or motor delay (Samuel has been diagnosed with both) that will be overcome.

1 out of 3 babies have developmental disabilities.  This could include anything from cerebral palsy to a learning disability.

Only within the last few months have I been able to say the words grade III intraventricular hemorrhage resulting in mild hydrocephalus without stumbling over them.  I had some sort of mental block about Samuel's diagnosis that kept me from remembering, let alone comprehending, what those scary words meant. 

When we first learned of Samuel's condition, Ben quickly went into gatekeeper mode, gathering information, asking thoughtful questions, gently insisting he handle the depressing literature being handed to us.  He protected me from the terrifying possibilities, knowing it was more than I could handle.  Gratefully, I sank into an ignorant cocoon and focused on the more immediate issues we were facing during life in the NICU; regulating oxygen, eating by mouth, and staring at the blinking, blaring monitors as if by sheer force of will I could control them.

Months passed.  After haltingly explaining Samuel's diagnosis to yet another specialist and being gently corrected, it was time to shed light on the ignorance I had clung to.  I nervously typed "hydrocephalus", "IVH", and "grade III" into the Google search box.  I willed myself to focus on the medical sites, not feeling ready to read message boards or forums.  As a result, I now know more than I ever wanted to about the possible outcomes for grade 3 brain hemorrhage sufferers.  

And despite the odds, our Samuel is making wonderful progress.  He has recently progressed fully from army-crawl to upright crawl, an important developmental milestone.  He is vocalizing more and more, repeating consonants (dah-dah-DAH!) with varying inflection.  Weekly visits from a lovely developmental specialist, upcoming visits to the speech therapist, and frequent check-ins with the neurologist to monitor fluid levels in his brain are now just a part of our routine.  He is a beautiful, snugly, sweet, happy, resilient little boy, a zen master with the Buddah belly to match.

With so much of the past to mourn and question and so much of the future to worry and fret about, I must remind myself not to miss this precious present moment, and experience it wisely and earnestly.  The Prince of Peace asked,

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
-Jesus (Matt 6:27)

If I let it, worry can steal moments of sweet joy.  Moments like this...

And so I will again attempt to shake off the weight of worry and instead embrace my little zen masters knowing this moment, right now, is all that that really matters.  

Friday, August 26, 2011

Off to School

 I love fall.  The changing leaves, cooler temperatures, apples, pumpkins, clean notebooks and pencils all inspire me to make of a fresh start.  I still think of the year in terms of the school calendar.  That may be because my super-smart husband is entering his seventh (and final!) year of graduate school before entering an academic profession.

The school year took on a whole new meaning for me as of yesterday.  I dropped my first-born baby off for her very first day of school.  I swear we brought her home from the hospital just yesterday.  How did this happen?  Samuel must have sensed by neediness and compensated by insisting I rock him to sleep for his nap.  With no toddler holding his foot to her chest because, "his foot is my baby and I hug and kiss it" causing Samuel to squirm and giggle and fight sleep, he drifted off in no time.

As for Eleanora, she had a wonderful morning.  After some initial nervous clinging and crying, she got right down to the business of playing with all-natural toys, baking bread, listening to stories with handcrafted puppets, and playing outside (oh how I love you, Waldorf).  When I arrived to pick her up, she noticed me, then turned back to her circle of friends to calmly explain, "that's my Momma".  Way to play it cool, my dear.

"Lambie" was a mandatory companion for school today

Today was a much tougher morning.  From her first bite of pink pancakes (pureed beets + ricotta cheese = delicious and little girl friendly), she explained that "you stay at school with me today Momma, ok?".  Drop off was rough, rough, rough and left me standing outside her classroom door hiding tears behind my sunglasses listening to screams of, "Mooooomaaaaa!".  I forced myself to the car, while clinging to Samuel a little too tightly, and called Ben to convince me not to run back in and take her home.  

As tough as it is to be apart from Eleanora, it is such a gift to have the chance to miss her.  And as much as sweet Sammy loves his big sister, the one-on-one Momma time is so good for him too.  He is already vocalizing more, or maybe I just can hear him better in the quiet? 

I know that school will be good for Eleanora, good for Samuel, and good for all of us.  But right now, I'm counting the minutes until I scoop up my precious girl and bring her home.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Loving Touch

It's not easy being the little brother.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sloppy Kisses

I often get caught up in the next thing.  Dreaming about our next house (and its green lush lawn), the ten thousand homemade lovelies I long to have the time and talent to create, planning details for the next big event.  I struggle to be perfectly content in the moment and be fully present in the precious fleeting childhood of my littles.  Why?  Why do I struggle to quiet my racing mind and just be?  To be fully engaged, to be fully present, to be fully available.

As a wise and wonderful friend admitted years ago, no one tells you that a lot of motherhood is boring.   

It's true the joys are endless, but sometimes the days feel endless too.

The first 5 times we read a new library book are fun, but reading number 2,876?  Boring.  Playing cars for billionth time?  Mind numbing.  Building the same exact tower of blocks again and again and again just to be knocked over?  Snooze fest.  I can feel myself checking out mentally.  I go to another place as my eyes glaze over and my body goes into autopilot.

Another lovely Momma friend and I have founded an "Anti-Apathy" support group.  We are bound and determined to fight the boredom and be engaged and fully present mothers.  Oh, but how I fail.  Time and again I fail.

The best way to bring me back?  A dose of the same medicine that caused my condition.  My sweet littles.  Yesterday, I lay on the floor in a stupor of exhaustion, boredom and frustration.  Samuel was busy crawling over, on and around me, content to have a personal jungle gym.  I was staring at the ceiling noting the strange shape of a lizard in the plaster while mentally counting the hours until bedtime.  Suddenly, a wet, open mouth was pressed against mine in a fit of giggles.  I snapped back to the land of the living and realized I was just given my first, uninitiated kiss by my little boy.  He pulled back, smiled at me, and kissed me over and over and over, both of us giggling all the while.  

Boring?  Not a bit.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fluid Count

In the last 24 hours, I have cleaned the following...

As in "Momma, I made water in the potty", only this time it was in two other hard-to-clean locations.  Oh if only it were just water, my dear.

Dubbed correctly by a very descriptive Eleanora.  Take my word for it, cloth diapers + diarrhea = doubly disgusting disaster

Bad news is he had just finished his bottle.  Good news is more landed on me than on the carpet.

This all accounts for SIX baths, mountains of laundry (thank you Lord for washable slipcovers), and one tired Momma.

It's a good thing they're so darn cute.

Lipstick?  Don't mind if I do.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


It was just one of those mornings after one of those nights.

Thunderstorms, torrential rains and a leaky diaper made our usually peaceful sleeper restless.

Morning brings the need for bedding to be washed.  A little girl with shockingly strong lungs is having a tantrum because beloved blankie has disappeared into the washing machine.  She is equally angry to be taking a very necessary shower.  All this while a fussy baby is crying for his nap.  I think back wistfully to the days my college roommate and I had a "no talking before coffee" policy.

I wrap the yelling, kicking child up in a towel and send her off with a stern warning to be quiet while I lay down the baby.  Later, I tiptoe out of the nursery and close the door behind me.  I steel myself for another battle with a decidedly stubborn two year old.  But as I turn the corner I see that the angry, screaming child is gone. Instead, my sweet girl is sitting cross-legged on the floor with a newly discovered library book in hand.

Read it to me, Momma?  Please?

I wrap the towel tighter around her bony little body and pull her onto my lap.  She turns, gives me a kiss and says,

Momma, you the best whole world.

With that, I am slayed.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Peaceful and Joyful

Each day is filled with so many fleeting and precious moments that I feel panic at their sheer volume.  I torture myself to better record, capture, and memorialize these snapshots of my family.  And I fail.  My frenzied brain seems to be coated with a non-stick surface that allows too much to slip away.  I fear Samuel pays the greater price.  Anecdotes of Eleanora dancing through the grocery store, introducing me to her imaginary friend "Quackaquack", or telling me Daddy is her best friend, are easier to capture and recount than the more subtle style of our sweet Samuel.

I want to remember...

the way he kicks his legs with glee every time I reach to pick him up from his crib

the sensation of his hot breath on my neck as he nuzzles up for comfort

his adorable giggle, directed at books, toys, and most often his sister

the way he quickly puts his thumb in his mouth nearly every time I carry him

his sweet voice cooing along while I sing his lullaby

his wriggles of joy as I lay him down to sleep and he finds his beloved stuffed hand, clutches a finger, and begins sucking his thumb

his easy smile brought on by seemingly nothing, that lights up the room

the look of determination and concentration as he propels himself, army-crawl style, toward the singular stone, crumb, or piece of lint that he will invariably attempt to ingest

the twinkle in his brilliant blue eyes when I catch his glance

Samuel is the embodiment of peace and joy, two traits I long for in greater measure.  He shows me day after day that being peaceful and joyful is not a state of circumstance, it is a state of mind.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


A beautifully animated French film about a little boy who must learn to read to save the heroes of classic children's literature. Free admission and popcorn.  English dubbing for the littles.  An ending so sweet it brought me to tears.  A theatre full of clapping, joyous children.

A perfect first trip to the movies.

Bonus?  The film's English title is ELEANOR'S SECRET which convinced my decidedly adorable girl that the best children's film I've ever seen was made just for her.

After Eleanora's usual bedtime stories last night, she requested her bedside light be left on so she could read books herself.  How could we resist?  She obviously has some heroes to save.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Imagination is an amazing thing.  The ordinary, the boring, the mundane all become magical within an instant.

Playing dress up is fun, but how much more fun is it to try to wear every article of dress-up gear all at once?

Playing in a pool filled with water?  Been there, done that.

Just eating dinner while looking adorable is soooo yesterday.  Eating dinner while playing peak-a-boo with white curtains?  Now that takes some imagination.

Imagination is not only for the littles in my life.  When I dread doing the dishes I like to imagine I am in the Olympics for dishwashing and my team is depending on me for the gold.  Bonus points for removing caked on scrambled eggs and dried up oatmeal.

I also dream of a backyard full of green, luscious grass that we can spread a homemade quilt (still obsessed) on and imagine animal shapes in the clouds.

For now, off the the Olympics I go.  I feel a world record in laundry folding coming on.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Happy Birthday, Baby Sammy

A year ago at this time, I was being whisked into emergency surgery, put under anesthesia, completely overwhelmed and in shock.

Fast forward to today and I am still in shock...

In shock that the tiny baby hooked to a ventilator, covered in tubes and wires, bruised and swollen is the healthy, beautiful little boy napping in his crib.

In shock that this little guy has overcome so much, and continues to amaze me everyday.

In shock that I am so so so blessed to be Momma to the sweetest, happiest, blonde-haired peanut.

I admit there are days that I am still angry, resentful, and just sad that we had such a rough start.  I hear about smooth deliveries without complication where the father is able to be present to witness the miracle of birth, and I am angry that I was scared and alone and without Ben for Samuel's delivery.  I look at healthy full-term babies, nursing without problems, not facing frequent visits to the neurologist, therapists, and developmental specialists, and I feel a seed of jealousy in the pit of my stomach.

But then, I look at this face...

And the anger, resentment, and jealousy disappear in an instant.  I wonder why we are so incredibly blessed with this perfect, amazing gift who overwhelms us with joy every day.  Given the choice, I wouldn't have it any other way.  The only thing I'd change is how fast this precious time is flying by.

Happy Birthday, Baby Sammy.  Please slow down this growing up business.  You're going waaaay too fast.

And remember, no one (NO ONE) loves you as much as your Momma.  Yes, your future wife will disagree, but I don't care.  I'll always be your Momma and you'll always be my Baby Sammy.  Even when you are old and gray.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sweet Reese

Robbie is one of our dearest friends from college.  He has the sweetest heart, the kindest ways, and is an amazing friend.  Shortly before graduation and his move back to Washington state, he wrote each of his friends an individual letter expressing his genuine love.  He planned a group Christmas party, complete with gifts for everyone.  He was a groomsman in our wedding.  He married a fantastic and beautiful girl, Bre Ann, who through the magic of blogs, email, and facebook I consider a dear friend as well.  

They are the parents of an adorable little guy, Jase and an unbelievably gorgeous baby girl, Reese.  At nine months, Reese was diagnosed with a large brain tumor.  The tumor has been removed, and now this sweet little girl is facing months of chemo.

This precious family has been heavy on my heart.  Will you join me in sending prayers, good thoughts and love to the Gilfillans?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Heat Wave

triple digit temps + stir-crazy momma = outdoor bubble bath and lots of fun

Added bonus?

This shot of Samuel's adorable behind that I fully intend to show to his prom date.  

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

i heart obsession

Confession...I easily become obsessed (obsessed!) with things.  The latest:

1. lusting over vintage fabrics on etsy
2. stacks of quilting books from the library
3. these love bugs

Isn't obsession wonderful?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Back to Business

I've been waaaay behind on blogging the past month or so.  Between traveling, graduations, baptisms, party-planning, and more traveling it's been non-stop around here.  Now that we are settled and (mostly) caught up on laundry I have a moment to reflect on the crazy fun we've been having.

First a few pictures from before the trip that make me chuckle...

The first order of business on our trip was a celebration in honor of the conquering and very handsome high school graduate, Joel Peter Gibson.

Next up, two glorious days with my college suitemates in Ohio while Ben and his parents were rock star babysitters.  Oh, how I love these girls...  Time with them is always refreshing, inspiring, and therapeutic.  They are amazing women who I am so so sooooo blessed to have in my life.

I also got to spend some wonderful time with some other special women in my life, dear friends Beth and Adrienne.  They each made the trek to Erie from Pittsburgh with their young families in tow to spend time with  us.  We also had a wonderful (wonderful!) day in Grove City talking, shopping, and being kid-free.  I spent the drive back to Erie basking in the glow of sweet friendship, a silent car, and licking my fingers from a caramel candy bar...fab.u.lous.

We kicked it into party-mode and celebrated Samuel's baptism (or "they put water on Baby Sammy's head!" as Nora said) and early first birthday with lots of family.

Everything was yellow in honor of our mellow-fellow... lemonade bar, lemon chicken, lemon basil pasta salad, pineapple, yellow frosted cupcakes, yellow balloons, yellow pinwheels, and yellow candy.  (Thanks to Kirstin for the inspiration!).  Ben made a "yellow" playlist which featured, "Yellow Submarine", "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", and "Mellow Yellow".

Our sweet mellow fellow celebrated by taking a nap, then doing a nosedive into a cupcake.

The rest of our trip was spent enjoying outside activities, playing in the grass (a novelty!), going to the beach, and enjoying the non-sweltering temperatures of glorious PA summer weather.