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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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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8 Months, 3 Lessons

Natalie is 8 months old today.

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Over the past 8 months I’ve watched her grow from a helpless newborn to an increasingly curious and independent baby.

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Along the way I’ve worried too much about things that turned out to be nothing, Googled far too many questions, been annoyed by far too many conflicting answers, and wondered many times if I’m doing this whole parenting thing right!

And then, a little at a time, it started to sink in: three things that guide and reassure me on this journey of raising a child.

I am no expert by any stretch of the imagination and I still have so much to learn, but from what I’ve discovered along the way so far, I’ve come to the conclusion that these 3 lessons are most important.

Lesson 1: I am human.

I am a work in progress in many ways and I am never going to be perfect.  I am going to doubt myself sometimes.  I am going to make mistakes.  Just as it is with every other part of my life, I am learning as I go.  It doesn’t matter that I don’t have all the answers.  What matters is that I do my best.  If I strive, each day, to care for Natalie to the best of my ability, that is enough.

Lesson 2: Natalie is a unique person.

People have different abilities and skills.  People like and dislike different things.  We easily accept and acknowledge the truth that individual people are different from one another, and yet when it comes to babies, I think we sometimes forget to look at them as unique people.

There really is no cookie cutter way to raise a child because every child is a unique person.  What works for one may or may not work for another.  And although there are major developmental milestones to pay attention to, there are also many smaller things that will differ from child to child along the way.

Instead of comparing or worrying about a certain mold that a baby should fit into or a certain method of parenting I should use, I want to understand Natalie and how to raise her specifically.  She will grow and learn at her own pace and I will handle different situations in different ways as I come to understand her and what she needs.

It is so fun to watch her personality develop already and I look forward to getting to know the unique person she is becoming.

Lesson 3: Natalie belongs to God.

He entrusted her to us to care for her and raise her, but she was created by Him and He loves her even more than I do.  That is so comforting and encouraging to me!

He is watching over her (and me!) and He is in control.  I can trust Him with her life, just as I have trusted Him with mine.

In the end, what matters most to me as Natalie’s mom, is that I point her back to Him and help her come to know Him for herself.

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What a gift these past 8 months have been!

Perspective

Natalie went to bed around 11:45 last night.  She woke up just before 5 this morning.

I lay in bed hoping she might drift back to sleep… no such luck.  Steve tried to settle her down a bit so I could sleep until my alarm went off at 5:45, but it wasn’t happening.  Listening from the other room I could tell she was hungry and I’m the only one that can help with that issue, so I climbed out of bed and settled into the chair in the nursery.

Until recently, Natalie slept really well.  All through the night kind of well.

Not anymore.

I don’t know why it changed.  It could just be a phase, or maybe she’s close to getting teeth, or possibly going through a growth spurt, or perhaps she secretly wants to be an astronomer so she stays up to study the stars at midnight.

As I sat down to feed her this morning I wondered what it could be.  I wondered what I could do differently.  I wondered if I was doing something wrong or could be doing something better.  I wondered if I would fall asleep halfway through the day at school.

And then I stopped wondering.

In the quiet of the early morning, with Natalie cuddled up against me, I leaned my head back against the chair and closed my eyes.  When I opened them, I saw the first rays of the sunrise peeking through the gap between the blinds and the window.

In that moment all I thought about was what an incredible gift it is to hold my daughter in my arms.

I remember what it felt like to dread bedtime because the darkness seemed to make the grief feel even worse.  I remember lying in bed unable to sleep because I missed Faith so much.  I remember waking up in the morning and still feeling tired because sorrow like that wears you down.

I’m tired.  In the late hours of the night when Natalie’s cries wake me up I feel frustrated that I can’t figure out what to do to help.  It’s tough.

But… in the challenging times I remember and I feel thankful.

Thankful for this beautiful girl in my arms, and thankful for the precious girl who made me a better mother through her short life here with us.

 

Conversations with Natalie

When Natalie is awake we spend a lot of time in conversation.  I use that term lightly, seeing as I’m the only one actually talking.  She does make a wide variety of faces and noises though.  It’s so fun to see her interacting more and more!

My conversations with her cover a range of topics and are often rambling, starting someplace simple and ending somewhere much more complicated.

For example – the other day I was telling her how beautiful her eyes are and wondered out loud if they would stay blue or turn green someday like her Mommy and Daddy.

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Next thing you know it I was talking about DNA and how it holds the code for every person’s unique traits.  No, I’m not kidding about that, and yes, you are more than welcome to laugh at me for it!

I like to talk to her about everything, even though she can’t understand it.  I do it partially because I want her to be exposed to a whole variety of words, but mainly because it’s easier for me.

If I’m going to chat all day with a little person who can’t respond, I might as well mix things up and choose topics that are interesting to me.  And, when I say it with an expressive voice, anything sounds exciting to Natalie (even DNA!).

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Of course there are topics we revisit over and over.  They are ones I plan to keep talking about with her for a long time.

I tell her how much we love her and are so thankful for her.  I want her to grow up knowing she is precious to us and will always be loved unconditionally.

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I talk to her about our whole family – grandparents, aunts and uncles, great grandparents.  I want her to grow up knowing that she has many people who love her and are there to support her.

I tell her about her big sister Faith who is in Heaven.  I want her to grow up knowing Faith is part of our family and even though she isn’t here with us, we can look forward to meeting her someday.

I tell her she is beautiful and unique, that there’s no one else made quite like her.  I want her to grow up feeling special for who she is, not trying to conform just to fit in.

I talk to her about this world and all the amazing things in it.  I want her to grow up with a sense of wonder and curiosity to learn and discover.

I tell her about the things we can do together – everything from singing songs to traveling to new places.  I want her to grow up feeling that each day is an adventure, whether big or small.

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And I talk to her about God.

I tell her about how much He loves her, so much that He sent His own Son to die for her.  I tell her that He made her, that she is special to Him.  I tell her that we can talk to Him through prayer and that He is with her always.

I want her to grow up to know Him for herself.  To trust Him and honor Him with her life.  I want her to put Him first in everything she does.

Of all the conversations I will have with Natalie, the ones that point her to Him are the ones that matter most.

Capture It

I spend a lot of time in pajamas and sweats these days.  My hair is usually in a messy bun and my face rarely sees makeup anymore.

I have one sided conversations all day long and sing songs about Mr. Sun, and speckled frogs, and raindrops on roses.

I change diapers, and outfits, and try to catch the spit-up before it gets all over.

I sit on the couch nursing, I walk circles around the kitchen carrying her, I kneel on the floor next to her as she stretches and plays.

And every day I think of how immensely thankful I am to have these days with Natalie. To watch her growing and changing.  To get to know her personality as it shines through more and more.  To experience being a mom in the way I had hoped to for so long.

I want to remember these days, these moments.

We take pictures and videos, but I know we can never capture it all.

Sometimes I can catch a glimpse of her wide-open smile…

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… but what I want to remember is how she starts with a little grin and works her way from there to that beaming smile that fills her whole face.

Sometimes I snap pictures of her while she plays on the floor…

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… but what I want to remember is how she kicks her legs like she’s pedaling a bike and seems so eager to be able to really move.

Sometimes I can sneak a photo of her while she’s sleeping in my arms…

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… but what I want to remember is the way her cheeks feel so warm and soft and how her body nestles against me.

These moments must be captured in our hearts and treasured in our memories.  That’s what I’m trying to do.

Every expression, every movement, every noise.  The way it feels to hold her, to kiss her, to see her smile at me.

I’ll always be her mom but she won’t always be this way, and I want to remember as much as I can.

I hope I never lose this feeling of awe and thankfulness.  I know there will be tough days and frustrations, there already have been, but I hope I will always remember how precious each day is.

I hope I will always remember to capture it.

 

 

Breathe

One night, after nursing Natalie, I lay in bed and listened.

On one side I heard Natalie’s soft little breaths, on the other side Steve’s deeper, slower breathing.  Farther away, from the corner of the room, I heard Jackson sigh in his sleep.

All asleep… all breathing.

It might sound like a strange thing to focus on, but it touched my heart to hear those breaths.

When I was pregnant with Natalie, I often thought, “I just want our baby to breathe.  I want to hear her cry.”

Faith was never able to breathe on her own and I’ll never forget how quiet it was when she was born.

I prayed Natalie would have a loud entrance into this world.

She certainly cried… and it was an incredibly beautiful sound, even better than I could have imagined!

Today, while she lay sleeping on my chest, I felt her little body moving up and down as she breathed.

And I thought about how, for 9 months, I breathed for her.

For 9 months my lungs took in air.  For 9 months my heart pumped  blood full of oxygen to her growing body.  For 9 months my breath helped sustain her.

Now she’s here, she’s healthy, and she doesn’t need me to breathe for her anymore.  But I would give my last breath for her if she did.

Breathing might be a simple thing, a mindless thing even.  Our bodies do it without us devoting a single thought to the process.

But stop and think about what a gift it is to breathe.  What a gift it is to have life.  What a gift it is to be surrounded by those you love who live and breathe alongside you.

I challenge you not to take any of it for granted.

Faith helped teach me that.  I’m a different kind of mom because of her.  I believe she made me a better mom. That’s part of her legacy in our family, and I’m thankful for it.

I cherish the gift of this little girl in my arms.  I will not, I cannot, take it for granted.  How precious it is just to hear her breathe.

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