Winter ONEderland

Natalie was barely 6 months old when I started brainstorming ideas for her birthday.  When I saw Winter Onederland pop up in one of my Pinterest searches, I knew that was it.  So, as summer weather rolled in, I started looking at snowflakes and hot cocoa bars and little snowmen on cupcakes.

birthday 5I’m so happy with how everything turned out.  But much more important than any of the decorations or food or plans I made was the happiness of sharing the day with our families.  Natalie has filled our lives with joy and it was such a gift to watch everyone celebrating together.

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The birthday girl seemed to enjoy herself too!  Sometimes she’s quiet in big groups, but she happily went from person to person, watching everything that was going on and making us laugh with her expressions and interactions.

It was everything I could have hoped for in celebrating her first birthday, and I’m so thankful for a special day that we’ll always remember.

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For those that are interested in a few more party details, here’s how the Winter Onederland theme came together…

Decorations:

I went with a silver, white, and pink color scheme.  I tackled a couple pretty simple crafts – a wreath for the front door and hanging paper snowflakes.

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I also found some supplies at a craft store – snowflake cut outs, silver pine cones, a snowy branch and silver branches, and silver votives.

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Pink and white chocolates and Jelly Beans in baby food jars served a dual purpose as both decorations and snacks.

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Food:

In keeping with a winter theme, the menu for lunch was chili and soup.  I found the chili recipe here and my Mom brought beef and veggie soup.  The chili was a crockpot recipe which helped a lot because I could prep everything the day before, then just turn it on in the morning.  We served cornbread (recipe here) and veggies and dip at the tables as well.

Natalie enjoyed the usual finger foods.  Green beans and apples are current favorites!

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Cake:

I made two cakes – one for the adults and one for Natalie.  Ours was chocolate and Natalie’s was a sort of carrot cake.  Less rich but still yummy (I tasted some of the extra!).  The recipe can be found here.

I used mini pans to make a 3-tiered cake for Natalie.  She was pretty dainty about getting into it.  She enjoyed the frosting for a bit, then I cut it open so she could try the rest.  Yum!

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I bought a pack of white fondant to create the cake decorations.  I used cookie cutters to make snowflakes – dyed pink or dusted with silver.  Natalie’s cake got a special little snowman topper as well.

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Favors:

I wanted to do something fun to send home and really liked the idea of a hot chocolate favor in baby food jars.  The hardest part was cleaning the sticky labels off the jars (haha!) but once that was done they were pretty easy to put together.

I used silver spray paint for the lids, then topped them with personalized snowflake monograms that my Dad had made at work.  I filled them with hot cocoa mix and mini marshmallows so everyone could go home with a little something.

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So there you have it, Natalie’s Winter Onederland 1st birthday!  I still can’t quite believe that she is one!  What a fun way to celebrate an incredible first year.  I’ll leave you with a couple extra pictures of the cutie (with her presents) since I can’t resist!

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Happy 1st Birthday!

One year ago you were born.  I’m pretty sure the first thing I said was, “she’s so beautiful!”  You cried and I rejoiced to hear that sound.  I held you and I couldn’t stop smiling.

I feel like I’ve barely stopped smiling since.

The day after you were born I woke up and saw you sleeping next to me.  I snapped this photo because I wanted to always be able to look back at moment.

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I don’t need a picture, though, to remember what I felt when I looked at you.  Unconditional love that goes beyond words.  The same love I have for you now.  The love I will always have for you.

It has been an incredible year.  We have watched you grow and learn.  We have watched your personality develop each day.  We have laughed and cried and cuddled and tried to provide for everything you need.

We have prayed.  Prayers of thanks to God for entrusting you to us.  For your continued health and protection.  That He will draw you close to Him and that you will come to know Him for yourself while you are young.

This day, these moments, like so many others, I will cherish in my heart and memory.  You have brought us so much joy.  You truly are our gift from God and we love you so much!

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Happy 1st birthday Natalie Jane!

 

 

This Day, Last Year

December 6th, 2013.  I remember it like it was yesterday.

We had a half-day conference day at school, so I taught for the morning then had a meeting during the afternoon.  I remember being excited about the chance to run out to Wegmans at lunch and grab a veggie sub since leaving on a lunch break during a typical school day is pretty much impossible, haha!

When I left school I planned to go home and wrap Christmas presents.  I was trying to get ahead on things as much as possible before the girlie arrived.  But when I got home I just wasn’t feeling the greatest, so I put my energy into making dinner instead.  (Side note: we had shrimp and lemon linguine – yum!  Recipe here.)

Steve came home early and, being anxious for any progress towards our little girl’s arrival, started asking if he should track contractions.  I wasn’t quite sure if that what it was, but figured it couldn’t hurt to try.  He had an app on his phone and plugged the first contraction in at 6:20pm.

As the evening went on we kept tracking, but I was still doubtful that it was the real thing.  I thought maybe I was just worn out, so I decided to put on my pajamas and relax in bed.  It wasn’t until around 9pm that I decided it would be worth a call to the doctor.

A midwife that I really liked was on call for the evening, and when I talked to her she recommended we head in to see how things looked.  So I changed back into clothes and packed the last few things in our bags while Steve checked with his parents about watching Jackson if needed.

We checked into the hospital close to 10:30pm.  This is the last picture of me before Natalie was born…

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Less than 9 hours later, she was in my arms.  It was one of the most incredible moments of my life.

Looking back at that night, while we were waiting for her to be born, I’m so thankful.  I’m thankful for the peacefulness I felt in those moments, despite the nervousness that occupied my mind leading up to that time.

God was with me last December 6th, just as He was every step of the way during my pregnancy.  Just as He is now, while we celebrate and thank Him for a wonderful first year with Natalie.

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PS Here’s a sneak peek of the theme from Natalie’s party today.  More to come soon…

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When the Page is Empty

I start a lot of blog posts.  The problem is, they only exist in my head and never make it to the page.

Usually I think of them while driving and by the time I get where I’m going, there’s no opportunity to actually sit down and type it out.

For a little while I felt kind of bad about that.  I enjoy writing, I enjoy sharing my thoughts on this blog, and I enjoy feedback from people who read.

After Faith was born I spent a lot of time blogging because I needed some way to organize and solidify my thoughts… some way to put everything down and make a bit more sense of how I was feeling.  Plus I had more free time and a desperate need to fill it with something purposeful.

Blogging was good for me then.

It still is now, but in a different way.  And I’m okay with that.  I’d love to be more consistent, but I’m not going to hold myself to any set goals about how often I should post or what I should write about.

These days, when ideas start to come to mind, I file them away for later.  Maybe someday I’ll share some deeper thoughts that I’ve had recently, but for today I’ll keep things simple…

School is busy and my group of students is more challenging than last year.  I’m praying for patience, gentleness, and an enthusiasm that hopefully overflows to them, even on the craziest of days.

Natalie is almost one (oh my!) and I’m having fun planning her birthday party.  She never ceases to fill my heart with joy.  Over and over I find myself saying, “Steve, just look at her!”, with this feeling of never-ending wonder at our little girl.

I’ve been thinking about my priorities and how I spend my time.  I try to embrace every moment with Natalie and I think I do pretty well with that, but I feel like I could be doing better with the rest of my time.  That’s one of those deeper thoughts to be elaborated on later I think!

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and after that comes Christmas and I love this time of year.  I’m not quite ready for the cold and snow (although it has arrived!) but I’m enjoying the warmth inside and the thought of traditions and special days spent with family.

I guess what it all comes down to is this… sometimes, when the page is empty, it just means that life is full.

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Simply Beautiful

Some days I feel like my students at school use up every bit of my energy.  Some days I’m worn out and just want to go home and fall asleep on the couch.

But then I see this face…

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And it’s like a breath of fresh air coming in to revive me.  There are few things in the world that can compare to the feeling I have when she smiles, giggles, and crawls to meet me when I get home.

Yesterday we took a walk with Jackson, then headed to the backyard so he could play fetch with the frisbee.  Natalie watched and pointed and kicked her legs in excitement.

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Then she wanted to get down.  She crawled and sat and explored.  Crunchy dry leaves between her fingers.  Sunshine on her cheeks.  Wind blowing her hair.

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I snapped these pictures on my phone, then I put it away in my pocket and just sat there watching her.

It was the best part of my day.  Taking it all in.  Trying to save the memory in my mind and heart forever.

Sometimes I still can’t believe she’s ours.  What an incredible gift.

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Simply beautiful.

 

For Her

One of the boxes that hasn’t been unpacked or stored yet in the new house is the one full of Faith’s things.  Some of her things are already out in special places, I’m trying to decide what to do with the rest.

Not all of it needs to be on display, but I don’t like the thought of putting it in the basement with most of our other stored boxes either.  I’ll probably have Steve carry it up to our bedroom closet.  As silly as it might sound, I feel like it would be nice to have her things close by.

Today, though, I opened up that box and pulled out a candle.  The candle that we lit for the third time tonight.

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It’s a night to set aside time especially for her, and I’m thankful for that, but even on the days when no special candle is lit, I continue hold her close.

I water the plants growing in my classroom that were gifts when she was born and I think of her.  I read her name on decorations throughout the house and I smile for her.  I listen to songs that remind me of her and I cry for her.  I let Natalie gently kiss her teddy bear and I talk about her.

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I lift her little dress out of the box and hold it close and I miss her.

If Faith were here with us she would be 2 years and 4 months old today.  Two years, twenty years, however many years until I see her again, I’ll still miss her.

Someday I won’t light a candle because we’ll be basking in the light of God’s glory together.  Someday I won’t need to hold onto mementos because I will be holding her again.  Someday I won’t miss her anymore because we’ll be together forever.

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And on that day, when we are reunited in Heaven, there is only one thing I do for her now that will still remain.

It can’t be put on display or stored in a box, but it is the thing that matters most, beyond anything else I can ever do.  Today and through eternity this one thing will never change…

I love her.

 

Why Do They Lose It?

One afternoon when I got home from school I took Natalie in the backyard to play frisbee with Jackson.  She loves watching him run around chasing and catching the frisbee.  After he tired out, I set her down in a shady spot on the grass. I realized that I had never actually set her in the grass by herself.  We’d sat in the yard together but it was the first time I just put her down and let her go on her own. At first, she was cautious and a bit confused… WP_20140909_007 … but it didn’t take long for her to start trying to figure things out.  She wiggled her toes and grabbed at the grass with her fingers.  She was very focused, exploring and taking in the experience. WP_20140909_019 And then she looked up at me with this face of pure joy.  She liked this new thing she had discovered. WP_20140909_023 It seems like such a simple thing – the grass – but to her it was exciting because it was something new to try to understand.  Something new to learn. Babies have an innate desire to learn.  Their brains are constantly busy processing new experiences and building new connections.  Everything they do is an opportunity to learn and they certainly take advantage of it.  They even seem to find great joy in it! As I sat there watching Natalie happily explore the grass, the teacher in me began to wonder… when do they lose it?  When do these babies, so eager to discover, grow into kids who cringe at the thought of school?  When do they become teenagers who appear, on the outside, to no longer find any joy in learning? Later I thought about it some more and realized that the better question is “why”.  Why do they lose it? I know that some kids (and adults) truly enjoy school.  I know because I’m one of them!  Part of why I love teaching is that I love learning and sincerely enjoy the process of learning within the setting of school. But I also know that there are many kids who dislike school or find that it is frustratingly difficult for them.  I know because many of the kids I work with express those thoughts and feelings. Maybe it’s the structure and routine.  Maybe it is the style in which information is presented.  Maybe it’s individual difficulties with the process of learning.  The list of reasons could probably get pretty long and I don’t have an exact answer as to the “why”. I don’t have an exact answer as to how to change it either.  But I found this quote and thought it could be a step in the right direction.

Speak to me and I forget.  Teach me and I remember.  Involve me and I learn. 

Benjamin Franklin

I try to do that with my students.  I try to involve them and engage them in learning so they feel personally connected.  I hope to inspire a spark of that joy in them again.  That joy of discovery and learning.  That joy I see in Natalie as she learns about this world around her. I hope I can do that, even for just a few.