Monday, January 30, 2017

Mama Heart | I have a preschooler

This morning, at approximately 9:25 AM, I became the mother of an enrolled preschooler for the 2017-2018 school year. Even though we've been preparing for this for the past month, I still can't believe this day is here.

Victor and I have been researching preschools in the area for the past month. There were lots to choose from, but we only visited/toured four: two were at well-known child care/preschool centers. one was a Montessori school, and one was part of a nearby church. Far and away, our favorite school was the first we visited, which was the church preschool. Our back-up was one of the child care centers.

I really wanted Max to get into the church school. The classes are small (only 8-14 kids per three-year-old class), they incorporate Christian elements into their lessons, and I just loved the tight-knit, family-like community that was evident when we toured the school. An added bonus is that the school is walking-distance from our house (across the street from the Starbucks we like to walk to), so I could walk to pick him up on nice days.

I was worried Max wouldn't get a spot because after their church/alumni registration last Thursday, there were only 8 spaces left for the Monday/Wednesday/Friday "threes" program. Registration for the "community" was this morning beginning at 9 AM, and it was a first-come, first-served situation. I wanted to head over to the church by 8:30 AM to get in line, but in classic Rachel fashion, I didn't get out the door until 8:45 (perhaps if I had gotten up at 7--when my alarm went off--instead of 7:15, I could've left on time. Must get better at morning things!). I walked into the gathering room at the church at around 8:50 and I was number 20 in line...T W E N T Y ! My heart sank. I was sure we'd be wait-listed, at best. I buried myself in my book I brought along to pass the time, but I felt a pit in my stomach the whole time I waited. While our back-up school is a great option, my heart was set on this school.

However, once registration started, I noticed that many of the parents ahead of me were registering for the 4-year-old program or the 2-year-old program, and many of those registering for the 3-year-old program wanted a Tuesday/Thursday slot! In the end, Max got the 7th of the 8 available spaces for the Monday/Wednesday/Friday threes program! I happily handed over my registration paperwork and the enrollment check, thankful to no longer worry whether he would get in or not.

Max is so excited to go to school, so to celebrate his new status, I packed his little lunch in his doggy lunchbox today. His school is nut-free, though, so we have until September to get him interested in something other than the PB&J crowd-pleaser.

I can't believe my baby is going to preschool.

Friday, January 27, 2017

DIY Winter Wreath

I'm getting to that point in my adult life where I hate to see a "naked" front door (I'm assuming every woman gets to that point, right? No, just me?). I used to be a simple Christmas wreath type of gal, but I've become a believer in wreaths adorning my front door year-round. At this point, I'm sticking to seasonal wreaths, and I was missing a winter variety, so I got to work last Sunday and whipped one up! It's super easy, and as long as you've got a hot glue gun and a craft store near by (or some extra craft materials), you can make one this weekend, too!

**This type of wreath isn't recommended for front doors that are exposed to the elements (meaning not covered by a roof for a stoop or porch). If you don't have a covered front door, you could always hang this inside your house instead!

What you'll need:

  • one foam wreath in a size of your choice (I used 16 inch, which I think was a good size for a standard front door wreath)
  • fabric (I had some sparkly burlap lying around, so I used that instead)
  • faux flowers
  • hot glue gun and glue sticks

I found these cute bouquets/bunches of flowers, and they were on sale!

What you'll do:

1. Lay your wreath on top of your fabric and cut the fabric to size. Be sure to leave enough to wrap around the wreath fully and glue on the backside. 

2. Wrap your fabric around the foam and glue in place. I wrapped around the outside first and glued. Continue until you have wrapped around the outside of the entire wreath, and try to glue in the same space on the back of the wreath. I had to use two strips of burlap to cover my wreath, so I had to do some planning to ensure the edges met neatly.

3. Before you begin gluing the fabric that will come through the inside of the wreath, turn the wreath over and look at it from the front side to get an idea of how it will look. The fabric will inevitably bunch in some places, so make sure you like it before you glue it in place. Then glue the fabric to the back of the wreath.

4. After your wreath is wrapped completely, gather your flowers and pull them off the stems/bunches. For a more organic look, include some greenery, as well.

5. Arrange your greenery first, then glue in place. Place the leaves so they will peek out around the sides of the wreath, otherwise you might not see them after you glue on the flowers. I like to keep my flowers on just a third of the wreath, so I kept that in mind as I arranged the leaves.

6. Now it's time to add your flowers! Use A LOT of glue to ensure they stay put once you attach them (start-to-finish, I went through 3.5 glue sticks). Hold the flower in place for a bit after you apply the glue to be sure it catches and dries a bit.

7. Hang your wreath and admire your handwork! You can use a wreath hanger, or try out my wreath-hanging hack: install an upside-down Command Hook inside, near the top of your door. Then loop some ribbon or fishing wire around the wreath and over the top of the door. Secure it to your Command Hook inside with a knot. (click here for a visual)

I love how this turned out. I wanted the bright whites and soft pinks and greens, and the burlap adds a perfect rustic touch.

I hope you have a lovely, possibly crafty weekend!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Mama Heart Series | Seasons of Motherhood

Hello lovelies! For a couple of weeks now, I've been pondering beginning a series on the blog. I wanted to choose a broad theme that I can touch on each week, hitting a more specific aspect  of that theme with each post. Since I'm deep in the throes of motherhood with two littles under age 3, I figured that would be the best topic. 

That brings us to today, the first installment of the Mama Heart series! My plan is to post for "Mama Heart Monday" each week. If you're a blogger and would like to participate, feel free to post on Mondays about anything that is on your Mama Heart. Perhaps it'll turn into a linkup someday.

My kids are going through a lot of changes right now, and as a mom, adjusting to those changes can be pretty challenging. As a first-time-mom when Max was a baby, I was fascinated every time he reached new milestones, and I very rarely willed time to slow down like so many other moms do. I truly was so excited to see him growing and changing. I celebrated his teeth coming in, I encouraged him to crawl and eat solids, and I wanted so badly for him to walk before his first birthday (although he waited until 15 months to take his first real steps).

After he turned one, I went from being the mom of an infant to being the mom of a toddler, which came with it's own set of challenges as Max became more independent, opinionated, defiant, and incredibly intelligent. My patience was tested virtually every day by my strong-willed firstborn, and I had to learn how to give him the freedom to try new things and do some exploring on his own, allowing him to learn from his mistakes.

During Max's first year of toddlerhood, I found out I was pregnant with his little sister, and I began to prepare myself for the task of being a mom of two kids ages 2 and under. I was so excited and so nervous at the same time. How would I adjust to this newest season of motherhood?  I had already survived the infant season and was knee-deep in the toddler one, but soon I was going to add another baby to the mix. I hoped and prayed that I would figure it out and not screw up too much in the process.

Being a mom to a baby and a toddler has been such a fun and demanding season of motherhood for me. To be quite honest, the baby stuff came back to me pretty easily. The more challenging part of this newest season is navigating my toddler, especially in relation to the new baby. I've already done the baby stuff, but the toddler stuff is where I'm tested and where I feel like I'm doing it all wrong some days (case in point: potty training). I have a feeling that I'll be challenged in new ways once Louisa reaches toddlerhood; I know she's developing her own personality and will throw me for many loops as she figures out her own preferences and quirks. It's a never-ending ride!

Soon I will be the mom of a preschooler, a brand new season of motherhood that I'm excited for (mostly because Max is so excited about it), but one that I'm also struggling with. First of all, HOW did Max suddenly go from squishy little baby to almost 3 years old so quickly?! It really is true when they say that the days are long but the years are short; we have many a loonngg day in our house, but then suddenly months have passed by and I'm wondering where the time went. Victor and I have toured two preschools in the area already, and we will visit a third this week. We're asking questions about curriculum and schedules and enrichment activities, wondering how our very bright son will be challenged academically and how he will interact with his peers. In just a few short months, I will be handing my son (who has only been cared for by his parents, his aunt, or his grandparents) over to complete strangers and entrusting them with his education and care. I will watch him develop an admiration and enthusiasm for his new teachers and friends, and I will witness him foster new interests and skills that I have not personally exposed him to myself. For the first time in three years, I will be away from my son for multiple hours a day, 3 days a week. Thank goodness I have a few more months to come to terms with all of this change that's coming my way.

And that brings us to Louisa, my sweet little Lou-Lou-bird. She's getting ready to crawl and is about to sprout her first tooth (I think...please let it be soon! My poor girl is miserable!). She's getting too big for her infant car seat so we're switching her to Max's old convertible one; this means I need to switch to a different stroller and prepare differently for leaving the house--no more throwing a blanket over her car seat as I clip her into the umbrella stroller--girlfriend needs a coat! She's becoming a more voracious solids-eater, and she's starting to use a cup (though not exactly successfully). She's started letting us know when she's mad, especially when we take away a wash cloth that she could be sucking on. She loves to nurse and hates a bottle, but I know that at some point in the next four months, our nursing relationship will end. I find I'm having a harder time celebrating Louisa meeting her milestones than I did with Max; I am so sad to see her baby-ness fade away. The fact that she's less than four months away from turning one is crushing me. I'm not sure why I'm feeling more sentimental this time around; perhaps it's because she's a girl, or maybe it's because she could be my last baby, or it might be because I know what comes next and how quickly she's going to turn into this little creature who only vaguely resembles her squishy baby-self. No matter the reason behind it, I just want to keep her little forever.

I've only just begun to navigate the ever-changing seasons of motherhood. Right now I'm up to my eyeballs in diapers, Cheerios, toys, and tantrums. I'm sleep-deprived due to my baby needing to nurse overnight and my toddler having bad dreams or needing to be tucked back into bed. But I know that in the not too distant future, I'll be elbow-deep in sports schedules, homework, teenage angst, and curfew enforcement. I'll be sleep-deprived because Max and/or Louisa is out driving or on a date or applying for college and I'm up late poring over their baby books. I'll be longing for these long, loud, seemingly endless days with my baby and toddler.

Late last month, I overheard a couple in the checkout line at the grocery store discussing their kids and how they were going to approach one of them about needing to get a job and how they needed to have a discussion with another about the rules for having friends over to the house when they weren't home ("It's really a safety issue," the mom said). I remember being thankful that I didn't have those worries at this point in my motherhood journey.

I often find myself wondering how I will know that I'm making the right decisions when it comes to my kids, especially during the teenage years. I can't even begin to fathom my kids having their own cell phones and cars and letting them go out on their own. But the truth is, I don't even know that I'm making the right decisions now; I just know that the decisions I'm making are the ones that I feel are best for my kids. I guess that's all we can do, regardless of which season of motherhood we're in. We trust our gut, we put on a brave face, and we love our kids with everything we've got.

Friday, January 20, 2017

A Fond Farewell to the Obamas

In these weeks leading up to the Inauguration of Donald Trump (which, admittedly, I have not tuned into at all today), I couldn't help but feel an underlying sadness as we bid adieu to the Obamas. Regardless of what you think of President Obama's policies or party affiliations or whatever, I don't think you can deny that they were a wonderful First Family and one classy representation of the United States of America.

Since I'm not a very political person, I won't be sharing any political sentiments or opinions in this space. But I will say that I will miss the Obamas as the face of America. They always brought a smile to my face and warmth to my heart. They seemed relatable, sincere, and genuinely kind. I don't know what went on behind closed doors in terms of policy or politics, but the image I saw portrayed to the public was one of sophisticated poise, and I will sincerely miss them.

Watercolor print of the First Family by Jennifer Vallez of Sophie and Lili

I look ahead to the next for years with a guarded heart. Undoubtedly, some change will occur, and I hope with everything that I have that those changes will move us forward as a nation and bring us closer as human beings. My main hope is that we see less hate and more love.

Have a splendid weekend, loves. Check back Monday for the first installment of a new series!

If you like the print shared above, the link in the caption will take you to the print's listing in her shop (here's a direct link to her main website). This is not sponsored by any means. I am simply a fan of the artist's work and have personally ordered a custom watercolor portrait from her in the past.

**I have disabled comments for this post; I do not care to get into a political debate here. Just wanted to share my heart.**

Monday, January 16, 2017

Currently | January 2017

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! I hope you're enjoying a day off of school or work and are honoring the incredible man to whom we dedicate this day through service or a promise to live with love. There are lots of famous MLK quotes floating around social media today, and my favorite is:


We had a very productive and rejuvenating weekend here at home. Instead of posting a weekend recap, I thought I'd do a little Currently post. I'm hoping to make these a monthly post for 2017; in the past, I've been terrible about doing these consistently. Case in point: my last one was in July of 2016!

Pondering | The design for my DIY winter wreath. I have a fall one, a Christmas one, a spring one, and a summer one (or maybe the spring and summer ones are the same...I can't remember) but I don't have a dedicated winter one. Perhaps in a year or so I'll make a wreath for every holiday (Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, 4th of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving), but right now, I'm just working on seasonal ones. I'm thinking some winter white with pops of cranberry and/or navy. 

Needing | To get back to eating healthy again. I would like to lose a few pounds, but I've plateaued. While I'm still able to fit into and wear my jeans, they're getting a bit too snug (I may have overindulged when it came to holiday eating), and I'd like to be comfortable in my clothes again. So I stocked my fridge and pantry with fruits, veggies, and other healthy goodies, and with a little food prep, I think I'll be good to go!

Wanting | A new rug and some art to complete our living room. We bought a few new throw pillows at Home Goods and TJ Maxx, and now we need to decide which to send down to the basement because I think six pillows might be a little excessive...

Red oriental rug has to go

Loving | Victor and I received a "My Quotable Kid" book for Christmas, and it very well might be my most favorite gift I received. We're currently filling it with "Max-speak" quotes (which will soon be coming to an end as he's going to be receiving speech therapy services soon), but I know we'll be able to fill them with some zingers as he gets older, and then once Louisa starts talking, the fun will be tremendous!

Listening | I've been loving Shawn Mendes' CD Illuminate lately. I can also be seen dancing to Bruno Mars' 24K Magic and John Legend's Darkness and Light in my car on the reg. These talented gentlemen are giving me LIFE these days!

Reading | I just began reading First Comes Love by Emily Giffin last night. I'm 3 chapters in and am already enjoying it. I finished Lauren Graham's Talking as Fast as I Can last weekend, which I loved. I basically just love her and everything she does (with the exception of Bad Santa, ick). If you're wanting to read it, I recommend watching the Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix before getting started, because she offers lots of spoilers!

Watching | Now that I'm finished watching the entire series of Gilmore Girls, including the revival (mixed emotions about it all), I have a lot of time on my hands, and I am really diggin' it! When I was trying to get through the series, I used naptime and after the kids' bedtime to binge watch. Now I don't really have much interest in watching TV at all. I actually announced to Victor last night that I think I will only watch This Is Us on Tuesdays and then swear off TV any other time. I'm loving how productive I've been lately.

Sipping | Coffee (Starbucks Christmas blend), water, and the occasional Shirley Temple--not all at once, though!

Dreaming | About visiting Phoenix, AZ with my mom, sister, and the kids in March! I can't wait! I'm also kind of dreaming about spring and summer (but a summer where the thermometer reaches a high of 75-80 degrees with minimal humidity). We had a 60-degree day last week and it was glorious.

Celebrating | Louisa's baptism at the beginning of February! The next couple of weeks will be spent preparing our house to host some out-of-town guests (my aunt, uncle, and cousin {Louisa's godmother}, my mom, and my sister) and the big luncheon for after the baptism.

Swooning | Over the fabric and tulle tutu I'm going to make for Louisa to wear during her post-baptism luncheon. I can't wait to get started on it! And my talented aunt is going to make her a matching onesie! I plan to do a tutorial on the blog after the baptism!

Going | To three different preschool tours in the next couple of weeks! I can't believe Max will be in preschool next year. He is so excited and reminds us that we need to buy him a backpack for school on the daily. 

Amazed | At just how smart my big boy Max is. He was evaluated last week to determine if he would qualify for speech services (he did, his vocabulary is extensive but he's having trouble expressing himself properly), and he tested at 40- and 41-months, respectively, for cognition and receptive language--that's nearly 3.5 years old! I always knew he was pretty smart, but I had no frame of reference. All the more reason to get him into preschool next year; the boy needs more stimulation that just his mom and baby sister at home!

Hoping | To get a walk in after naptime with the kiddos. It's only 45 degrees but we'll bundle up!

Dreading | Cleaning my baseboards. It's back-breaking work but must be done before we have company!

Wondering | Who actually makes their babies wear those little caps that come with their outfits? I put this one on Louisa for fun last weekend, but it's way too small for her!

Have a great week, loves!

Friday, January 13, 2017

9 years in heaven

Nine years ago today, my dad lost his battle with cancer. In some ways it feels like just yesterday he took his last breath, and in others it feels like a lifetime ago.

I sipped my morning coffee from my mustache mug in my dad's honor.

So much has changed in my life in the past nine years: I met Victor, we became engaged and then were married, and now we have two beautiful children. I've developed great friendships, I've traveled all over the world, I made changes in my career, I've moved several times, and I've come into my own as a wife, mother, and woman, overall. I am so blessed and incredibly grateful for all I have experienced and accomplished over the past nine years, yet no matter how many years pass by, the void I feel in my heart has not subsided. I would give anything to have my father back, to speak to him on the phone, to visit him in Michigan, to take adventures on boats and snowmobiles with him, to have him be an active part of my kids' lives. I wish so badly that they could know him firsthand and make memories with him. And there's not a doubt in my mind that he would be one proud Papa to Max and Louisa.

So many things have brought him to the front of my mind this week. On Tuesday's episode of This Is Us (SPOILER ALERT), William told Randall that he didn't want to fight his cancer anymore, that he could feel it coming for him, and he didn't want to put Randall's family through unnecessary pain in watching him deteriorate and fade away. I watched that scene through tears as I remembered a very similar conversation with my own father over Thanksgiving in 2007, less than two months before he passed away, when he told me and my sister that he was refusing further treatment for his cancer (read more about his decision here).

Every time I share an orange with Max, I'm reminded of all the oranges I shared with my dad as a kid, sometimes as many as three a night as a pre-bedtime snack. He always made sure to get all the icky white orange-peel residue off of the slices he gave me, making him the best orange peeler of all time, in my mind.

The son of one of my dad's good friends has been taking some snowmobile rides this week, and his photos remind me of my dad, his prized "sleds" and all the winter adventures we enjoyed hanging on for dear life as he whipped us around on the back of his Polaris. His love for the sport was so infectious, it could make even the most cold-weather-loathing person have the time of their lives as they whipped through the white powdery snow.

On my walk with the kids yesterday, a beautiful cardinal swooped in front of us and landed in a tree near the sidewalk, a sign that a lost loved one is visiting from above. I take comfort in believing he was most definitely my dad, checking in on his daughter and his grandkids.

I want nothing more than for my kids to know who their Papa Ken was, and I do my best to weave his memory into our daily lives. I included a photo of him in Max's Little Book of Names and Faces. We have framed photos of him throughout our house. We refer to Max's leather sandals as "Papa shoes" because they resemble the ones my dad wore every summer. I bought Max a snowmobile toy last year and will eventually share stories of his Papa and his love for the winter hobby. The shelf my dad built for me when I was in college hangs in Louisa's room. I've kept his old golf shirts and flannel button-downs with plans to create memory bears for the kids one day. The Father and Daughter Willow Tree figurine that I gave him for Father's Day one year is displayed proudly on the built-in shelf in our family room.

In the future, when they're old enough to understand, I will share stories of their Papa's love for golf, hunting, snowmobiling, and classic cars, and how he lived simply and frugally so he could invest in his hobbies. I'll show them all the photos I have of him, and I hope they make note of his signature mustache and how it suited him so well. They'll learn about his resourcefulness when it came to using what he had to create something he needed. I'll tell them about his talents in building and fixing. They'll know that he was a great friend, an attentive father, and a man loved by many. They'll eventually hear about his bravery and perseverance when it came to fighting for his life, and how he worked tirelessly to protect his family from pain and worry.

His memory is vivid, his legacy lives on in me, and miss him everyday. I cherish all of the physical mementos I have to keep his memory alive. One thing I wish I had, though, were photos from his funeral. My advice to anyone reading this is to take photos at the funerals of people you love (maybe not of the casket, but of the people who came to pay their respects, the decorations and flowers, etc.); it seems strange and perhaps a little insensitive, but trust me, you'll wish you had them down the line. I remember thinking about taking photos back then, but it seemed weird to me. I wondered why I would want to remember such a painful time in my life. But I have beautiful memories of my dad's visitations and funeral, and I wish I had something visual to commemorate the memorable send-off we created for my father. You can never have too many photos.

Rest in peace, my Superman. I love you. I would give anything to hug you. And I hope I make you proud.

More stories about my dad:

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Ohio Christmas 2016

My little family headed to Cincinnati, Ohio the week between Christmas and New Year's to celebrate in the heartland with my mom, my sister, and my mom's extended family. I haven't been back to Ohio over the Christmas holiday since 2008; every year since then I've been on vacation with Victor's family (to Portugal in 2009; on cruises 2010-2012) or celebrating at home as a pregnant lady/with Max. My mom's siblings and their families always have a big extended-family Christmas celebration, complete with a fun and thoughtful white elephant gift exchange. Last year's looked like so much fun (the most coveted--and stolen--gift was 3 boxes of delicious sugary cereal, and they played Ellen's Heads Up game) that I developed some serious FOMO and decided that this year we'd definitely be in attendance.

Here are some photos and anecdotes from our trip. I lugged my fancy camera out there and then never even used it!!! I had every intention to take it to the family Christmas and then forgot it! So please bear with my iPhone photos!

I was so excited about their "big bro/little sister" outfits. Unfortunately, this was the best photo I could get of them together.

Love this beauty! Her moccasins are from Sweet N Swag. She also has a matching bow headband (not pictured).

They love spending time with Auntie Holly!

We headed to Carol Ann's Carousel downtown on Wednesday evening. Max went on his first carousel shortly after he turned 1. He was pretty scared of it then, but I figured he'd come around to it now, at 2.5 years old. I was mistaken, however; he was not a fan of the up-and-down movement of the horse he was on. He only lasted long enough to take this photo before making me get him down.

We all rode the carousel twice, and then Max and my mom went on it two more times. Max preferred the stationary car over the moving animals.

I love the Roebling Suspension Bridge, especially at night. It reminds me of beautiful bridges in London.

We headed to the Cincinnati Zoo to enjoy the Zoo Lights after the carousel. We didn't last too long as it was windy and started to rain while we were there, but Max sure did love all the colorful lights!

On Thursday afternoon, we headed to the home of our friends, Becky and Tyler (I went to college with them; go Redhawks!) so Max and their son Ryan could play together and we adults could catch up. The boys are just 3 weeks apart in age and have only seen one another a handful of times, but they get along so well together!

We left Becky and Tyler's and headed straight to my aunt's house, where my cousin had arranged a private concert of live music, performed by her friends from college, Wes and Aaron of Brother Smith. We were so excited and thought that Max would be elated to see instruments being played in such an intimate setting, but he surprised us all by being a tad grumpy and not very into the entire experience. Everyone else loved it, though. Those boys were lots of fun and incredibly talented! We enjoyed performances of some of their original songs, as well as some Christmas tunes, James Taylor, and Van Morrison covers, among others!

I ran home to my mom's to get pajamas for the kids at one point, and I grabbed Max's ukulele that my sister gave him for Christmas, thinking that it would help him come around to the whole thing. It worked a little, especially when Wes gave Max a pick to play with!

On Friday we did some errand running and lunch eating, and then we headed to my uncle's house for our big family Christmas!

Here's Louisa at lunch, in a restaurant high chair for the first time.

Louisa's fancy dress for the party, which was a tad too small for her so she didn't wear it for too long!

We completed the white elephant gift exchange after dinner and a game of trivia. There were a few steals, but overall it was pretty tame for our family. When we first started the gift exchange years ago, there was a requirement that each gift had to be hand-made, but lately the main rule is that you have to give a gift you would like to receive yourself, a.k.a. no gag-gifts! This year, I gave a coffee-themed gift, complete with a travel mug, a witty coffee mug that said "This coffee is making me awesome!", a bag of Starbucks Christmas blend, and some K-cups. I received a vintage edition of Sorry! with some vintage candy (candy cigarettes, Sugar Babies, Sugar Daddies, etc.). No complaints here!

After the exchanging of gifts, we took our group photos. Here are the original siblings, minus my Uncle Mike in Florida and my late Uncle Willie.

Here are the original siblings and their spouses/significant others (and Louisa!)

The lady-cousins wore Target Christmas pjs to the soiree:

And this is my favorite photo of my little fam:

I'm so glad we made the trip out. These memories are what life is all about! Hopefully next time I can remember to preserve these memories on the fancy camera!