Birthday weekend

29 February 2016

At the end of the day yesterday, I turned to John and said, “that was the best birthday I’ve had in a while!” We didn’t do anything particularly fancy, as you’ll see, but over and over I was reminded of a current favorite Zac Brown song: “I got everything I need and nothing that I don’t.” Each text that rolled in from a loved one reminded me of the amazing people I have in my life and how lucky I am to have their love. I’m the type with a small group of close friends, and boy am I grateful for each one of them (and, of course, for my beautiful family).

chocolate-birthday-cake

We kicked off the weekend with dinner for eight (plus three littles) at our house on Friday. I made a favorite meal – beef ragu with papparadelle, salad, cheesy bread, pink lemonade, prosecco, and chocolate raspberry cake for dessert complete with homemade batter, filling, and frosting. It wasn’t exactly easy to pull off the preparations with June in tow – getting everything ready was pretty much all I did during the day on Thursday and Friday, aside from feeding her – but it was so worth it to have great friends sitting around our table. An extra special treat was having our Alabama friends Mattye and Woody in attendance, since they just so happened to be in North Carolina on the right weekend!!

pink-roses

I went with my favorite color on the table, and the Whole Foods fairies were smiling on me – they had two beautiful varieties of pink garden roses in stock last week! Aren’t they beautiful??

On Sunday, my actual birthday, John played with June all morning while I slept in. Then we picked up lunch from a favorite Mediterranean restaurant and ate it on the banks of a local lake, basking in the 65 degree sunshine. Next, at John’s suggestion, we loaded June into her stroller and walked a beautiful Raleigh neighborhood with picturesque houses – always one of my favorite activities, and this was a neighborhood we had never been to before. That man knows me well :) We finished the evening off with fruit smoothies, a bath for June, a new episode of The Walking Dead, and delicious leftovers from Friday.

In the past, I have unfortunately thwarted my own birthdays with unrealistic expectations. In this new season where I am trying (and, thankfully, mostly succeeding!) to let go of expectations entirely, a simple and extremely satisfying birthday was the happy byproduct. My wish for my 29th year is that I would continue to delight in the simple luxuries all around me, and to remember every day how very lucky I am – and I wish the same for you!

Marvelous Mama Julia

24 February 2016

When I began brainstorming the ladies I wanted to include in my Marvelous Mama series, I had one important criteria (besides the fact that I had to deem each a marvelous mama!): I wanted to know each lady — and their little or littles — in person. I have gleaned so much over the years from reading interviews with those I don’t know personally, but for this series, where I was hoping to get advice about raising kids, it seemed to make sense to actually have MET those kids and to see how the advice played out before taking it!

However, I did make a few exceptions, and today’s mama is one of them. I was already planning to ask Julia Wade to participate, even though I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her two boys, but was blown away when, unprovoked, three of my other mamas suggested that she would be a perfect person to interview! Done and done. Julia’s warm, generous, and genuine nature clearly makes an impression on those around her (me included!), and it’s perfectly matched by the simple and extraordinary moments she creates with her family. I’m particularly impressed with all the traveling they’ve done together (and, of course, Julia’s beautiful photos of it!). Friends, please say hello to Julia!

julia-wade

Name: Julia Wade
Occupation: mother and wedding photographer
With whom do you live? I live with Jonathan, my sweet husband of 14 years, and my two sons. Quin O’Neal (Q for short) is 5, and Ashton Frederick is 18 months. We also have two cute pups, Maggie and Zoe.
What does a day in the life look like for you? Q is up first at our house, then the dogs, then Ash… then us :) I wish we were morning people, but currently, we’re just not. Mornings are breakfast lovingly made by daddy, morning outings with the boys or preschool for Q, lunch, work in the afternoons while my boys play with daddy, or our sitter.. and then dinner, bed time, work. Repeat. :) Sprinkle in weddings on Saturdays, church on Sundays, shoots and meetings during the week, and you’ve got a very full and rich life.

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What do you eat for lunch? Dinner? I feel like our meals fluctuate between completely greasy and indulgent and crazy healthy in a hot minute. It just depends on how busy the day gets. I do try to make a fresh batch of almond milk for the family once or twice a week and get fresh greens, fruits and veggies into the boys every day. And then we’ll religiously eat at our favorite Mexican joint once a week together. Meals are definitely a work in process at our house.
A book you’ve read more than once: I just finished The Alchemist for the fourth time late this fall. The story is so layered and speaks to me differently every time I read it.
Favorite book(s) to read with or to your kids: Reading to our boys is one of our favorite pastimes. We read to both of them every day… no compromises. Q’s (current) favorite books: Winnie the Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner, When We Were Young (A.A. Milne); Locomotive; A Sick Day for Amos McGee, And Then It’s Spring, Sebastian and the Balloon, If You Want to See a Whale (all Erin or Philip Stead); Wild About Books; See Inside Your Body, See Inside Space, and Very First Reading books (Usborne.. great stuff!); The Extraordinary Mr. Qwerty; Anything Dr. Seuss. Ash’s (current) favorite books: The Eye Book (Dr. Suess); Time for Bed; Roadwork; Five Little Monkeys; The Hungry Caterpillar; Polar Bear, Polar Bear; anything Sandra Boynton… The Going to Bed Book, The Belly Button Book, and Doggies are in the rotation right now.
Do you listen to podcasts? If so, which ones, and when? I just recently discovered Otto Radio (do you know it?) which is an app that combines relevant news and interesting podcasts, and I listen to it while I’m out and about in Raleigh. On longer road trips for work, Serial (obviously), This American Life, TED Radio Hour, Invisibilia, and The Boredom Experiment are on my list.

balloon-festival

Words you live by: Happiness is at home, right here and right now.
Why did you decide to have children? I’ve always known I wanted to be a mother, but when we were ready to freely and wholeheartedly give to our children, we knew we were ready to have them.
What was one of the best things you did to prepare for having kids? I stopped reading pregnancy and parenting books. I didn’t want to stress about pregnancy heartburn, a crazy labor, or sleep training unless that was going to be my own experience. And now, five years in, I think it was a good decision, because we’ve just tried to figure things out for us and experience what parenting hands us. I didn’t want to have any preconceived ideas of how parenting was going to go and I just wanted to feel it day by day.
What is something related to kids you were not at all prepared for? Definitely the exhaustion, but I don’t for one minute say that in a negative way. Your children will ask more of you emotionally, spiritually, and physically than you ever thought you could give. But you do it. Every day. And having that strength and depth of compassion for these little people is one of the greatest and most unexpected joys of being a parent.

julia-wade-and-family

What is your parenting philosophy? I truly believe that my children were intentionally given to me and because of that, I have everything inside of me to be their mother. I just need to learn what that is by listening to my heart every day and being quiet and brave enough to follow it.
Tell us about a lesson you’ve learned since having kids. Kids are people, too :) Even from the moment they are born… they are people. A five-week-old is absolutely allowed to just have a bad day, a two-year-old is absolutely allowed to be frustrated because he can’t express himself or when he doesn’t get his way. I’ve learned that they can’t fit inside my small box of expectations and that I need to allow them the same compassion and flexibility that I would expect as an adult. Both of my boys certainly know that they can’t get away with much at our house, but they also know that they are loved unconditionally regardless.
What is your favorite part about having children? My children are my truest and purest source of joy. Giving to them, and being a family together, has made me happier than I ever could have thought possible. Quin and Ashton came to us loving unconditionally and learning to see through their eyes is exhilarating.
Best tip for a new parent: Feel the joy right now… feel it in the exhausting nights, endless bouncings to sleep, never ending diaper changes, and constant feedings… feel it in the first time you lay eyes on that beautiful babe… feel it in their intoxicating snuggles, their coos, their smiles, their endless love. That joy never, ever runs out.

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Can you see why everyone loves Julia?!

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Thank you, friend! So glad we are neighbors!!

Found: the most delicious banana bread

22 February 2016

I don’t know about you, but there are several types of recipes I tend to pin over and over: quick and healthy Mexican dishes, things with sweet potatoes, delicious-sounding soups, and yes, skillet chocolate chip cookies. Until a few weeks ago, banana bread (one of my favorite things!) was also in this category, but not anymore! I’ve found what I think is the perfect recipe, and I’m done looking.

banana-bread

Here it is (her photo above!). The recipe comes together easily, and, thanks to the addition of sour cream, is ridiculously moist. I make it just as the author suggests, except I replace one 1/2 cup of white flour with whole wheat flour, and add a handful of mini chocolate chips :) If you’re an banana bread fan and are still looking for a end all-be all recipe, I nominate this one!

Tell me: is there a food/meal/item which has you constantly on the hunt for its holy grail recipe/version?

Notes from our hospital stay

19 February 2016

While pregnant, I loved reading through other gals’ tips for packing a go bag and for the hospital stay. I took them all into account as we made our plans, and now that I’m on the other side, I wanted to share some of my own tips to complete the circle! My experience actually led to some very different advice from what I read, so I’ll be curious to see how much of it resonates with y’all. And just as a reminder, I ended up having a c-section, so that’s the perspective I’m writing from! (Although I think much of it is relevant for any type of birth!) Here we go!

june-and-daddy

1. Pack selectively. I would guess we didn’t use 75% of what we packed for our stay, and we didn’t even pack that much! Our time in the hospital was constrained to just a few things — namely, getting to know June, taking care of her, and healing — and those activities have simple needs. Things that we DID use: a big towel for showers (the hospital’s were small and scratchy); our camera and other devices, including chargers; toiletries; two pillows (the ones on the bed were fine for me, but John used both on the couch!); clothes and a few snacks for John; and going-home outfits for June and myself. I had purchased things like a pair of cozy but cheap socks, a sleep t-shirt/gown, and button-up pajamas in advance, but didn’t end up using any of them (see below). One thing we wish we had brought? John’s Crocs! He had sneakers, but they just don’t compare to the cushioning of the Crocs. With all the time he spent on his feet walking, changing, and tending to June, he needed every bit of comfort he could get!

2. Wear the gown. As I mentioned above, I didn’t end up wearing any of the clothing I brought except for the outfit I wore home. Instead, I found it much more convenient and comfortable to wear the hospital gown at all times! That way, I wasn’t struggling with clothing as June and I learned to nurse, and everyone else who needed access had it easily (with a c-section, my incision was checked regularly and there was lots of looking at my abdomen). I also wore comfy socks provided by the hospital.

3. Get Dad in the game. A silver lining to having a c-section was that John was an equal partner in everything June from day one. I fed her and cuddled her, but that was about it – he was responsible for all diapering, swaddling, walking, and more. He also took charge of tracking her feedings and diapers, which was so helpful for me and another way for us to work as a team. I can’t recommend enough establishing equal footing in care as early as possible!

On another note, at my lowest point, when I was feeling the most pain and was pretty tired, this was actually a bit hard for me – I felt like John was doing everything and I was totally useless, and it had me in tears. If you find yourself in the same spot, know that you’re doing everything you should be doing, and everything you can, even if it doesn’t seem like much… and that there will be plenty of opportunities to do more as you heal!

4. Talk to the lactation consultant. Speaking of accepting help… talk to the lactation consultant! Talk to more than one! (The consultant we saw on the second day was much more helpful than the first one!) We did a lot of preparing for breastfeeding in advance (books and classes), but nothing can compare to having someone watching, guiding, and making suggestions when you actually have a baby in your arms! The tips, advice, and encouragement we got from our consultant were SO helpful and really set us up for success.

5. Walk, walk, walk. This tip is for my c-section friends! From what I can tell, I recovered remarkably quickly and completely from surgery, and the main thing I can contribute that to is our intense walking habit! My first (very, very slow) lap around the hallway was 12 hours after my surgery on the arm of a nurse. The hospital encouraged us to walk as much as possible, so even though it was painful at first, we tried to walk after almost every feeding day and night (roughly every three hours). John joked that our first trip was literally the slowest he’s ever walked (I took two steps for every one-foot tile), but by the end of our stay, I was walking pretty much normally. Walking also helped with gas pain, as you’ll see below…

6. Watch out for gas pain. Again, this is specifically for my c-section friends. I didn’t do a lot of research into c-sections during pregnancy since I wasn’t expecting to have one, so a lot of what happened was new to me. But something I had never heard of in relation to c-sections, either from books or the experience of friends, was gas pain! Apparently this is a side-effect limited not only to c-sections but any type of surgery where you’re opened up. Gas can get trapped inside you, causing sharp shooting pains – mine were mainly in my shoulders and thighs. It was worst about 36 hours after June’s delivery, and the pain was sharper than anything from my incision — every breath hurt. The nurses encouraged us to walk as much as possible to help alleviate it, and they gave me simethicone, which also helped. The pain subsided about 72 hours out.

6. Enjoy your stay. Since I had a c-section, we were in the hospital for three nights, and a few friends recommended that we try to get discharged early. My response? Heck no. We absolutely loved our hospital visit and planned to stay as long as they would let us! Of course, I think a lot of this had to do with our excellent hospital (we actually kept mistakenly referring to it as a hotel) and fabulous nurses, but also with our mindset. I know a lot of people get annoyed by the interruptions (and there are a lot, at all times of the day and night), but most, like getting your vitals checked, are over within minutes. I chose to think of them as people helping to keep me and June healthy, which made them welcome, and not annoying, visitors. (Also, don’t hesitate to ask them to come back in a little bit – I did that several times while we were trying to nurse and they were always happy to do so!)

And make it fun! Though there were difficult and painful moments, overall, our time in the hospital felt so cozy, sweet, and set apart from reality. We kept the lights dim, didn’t have any visitors, and focused only on getting to know June. We ate all the jello, apple juice, and Italian ice we wanted. We ordered ice cream with lunch. We FaceTimed with family and watched a Duke game. We napped. We marveled at June’s tiny fingers and adorable face. Your hospital stay is not the time to get on any sort of diet, compose dozens of beautifully-lit photos for social media, or answer email!

7. Consider your visitation policy. As I mentioned above, we chose not to have any visitors while in the hospital. This kind of happened naturally, since all of our family lives a plane ride away, but it ended up being so good for us. Those first few days are so tender in so many ways. Especially with a c-section recovery and dealing with pain, I wouldn’t have felt up to seeing anyone before our third day in the hospital, anyway. We did get to chat with family through FaceTime and extensive texting, but it was so nice not to have to worry about wearing normal clothes, looking presentable, or coordinating visitors and nursing. (And yes, I know our families wouldn’t have cared about any of those things, but they would have been on my mind!) We knew there would be lots of time in the future to share our little with loved ones, and so loved keeping those few days just to ourselves.

I have lots to share about our first two weeks home from the hospital, so that will be coming next! I hope this post is helpful, and would love to hear if my tips resonate with y’all or if you had a different experience!

Favorite new artist: Erin Gregory

8 February 2016

My birthday is coming up at the end of the month, and though I have a full wish list, one item has moved to the very top — and I’d be thrilled if it was all I received! That item? A painting from my new favorite artist, Erin Gregory.

erin-gregory

After much debate, I settled on “Birthday Party II,” above, but it was a tough call between it and my second favorite, “Efflorescence 8,” below.

erin-gregory-painting

And here’s a look at my painting of choice in a gorgeous room (that wallpaper!):

colorful-wallpaper

Photo by Kate Osborne via Style Me Pretty

I can’t believe how well it fits with our house’s colors. If I’m lucky enough to land this beauty, I’m planning to hang it above our fireplace. For a long time I wanted Michelle Armas’ famous canvas for that spot, and while I still love it, I think Erin’s flowers make me even happier (and are less expensive, to boot!).

Here are a few of my other favorites from her:

abstract-floral-painting

abstract-landscape-painting

erin-gregory-abstract

Finally, I have to give credit where credit is due – I discovered Erin via Morgan Trinker’s home tour on A Beautiful Mess. Here’s an Erin painting in Morgan’s gorgeous home!

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The full tour is worth a look – super inspiring!

P.S. More of my favorite artists.