Violet Mary

Monday, September 29, 2014

We are overjoyed to announce the arrival of our sweet daughter, Violet Mary.  She was born Thursday evening, September 25th at 7:22pm.   With the help of my amazing midwife; who also happens to be my beautifully talented and patient cousin Megan, the start of our journey with our baby girl was calm, beautiful, and peaceful; a reflection of what we have already seen as characteristics of our darling girl.

I can't wait to share more details about the day and how we have all been adjusting to our bigger hearts that we each are carrying around in our chests since the addition of our little Lettie-Bug.

Thank you so much for keeping us in your thoughts and sending well wishes for an easy arrival.  We have all felt your love and support surrounding us as we make this step into a new life as a family of five.  We are beside ourselves with all of the love.

"A heart is not a box you fill up; it expands in size the more you love. "

The Mom Next Door Series: Allison H

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

It is my pleasure today to introduce you to our Mom Next Door, Allison.  I met Al in college and we discovered that we have a common passion for kids and education.  Allison is a teacher for nine months of the year and a stay-at-home-mom for the three summer months; a balance that allows her to feed her passion for education and gives her a few months of full-time sahmhood.

After overcoming learning disabilities herself, Allison now has found herself navigating the world of Early Intervention for her son who has exhibited delayed speech and high activity levels.  She relies on her husband, her own experiences, and her mom to help her find the strength and confidence to give her son opportunities and the create the structure that helps the both of them thrive in day to day life.  Please read on to learn more about my friend and an inspiring momma; Allison.


Who are you? Hi! My name is Allison and I am living in Acton, MA, about 40 min west of Boston. It's an adorable, up and coming suburb, with a GREAT school system (one of the main reasons we moved here). My husband and I lived closer to the city before we bought our house but realized we were definitely more of the quiet suburb type than the bustling city type.

Who is in your family? I am the mom to an adorable and very active 2 year old named Liam and am the wife of my amazing hubby, Keith, who is there when I need him (especially when I'm having an anxious mom moment). We also have a very fluffy 5 year old golden retriever who is basically our second "child"...or should I say "first child"....who's name is Berklee but is referred to as "Ber-Ber" by Liam.

What do you do for work? I am a full-time working mom from September to June; I am a special education teacher where I work with elementary school children who have severe learning disabilities. I recently switched jobs last year due to the fact that my commute was 40 min long going with traffic and I wanted to spend more time with my family instead of spending it in "grid lock" traffic. It was the right decision and it came at the right time...I am now incredibly happy where I work. In the summer, I am a stay-at-home-mom and I have LOVED spending the summer with my little guy so I is hard to go back to work in September when the school year begins.

What has become (at least for now) you're parenting mantra or guiding principle? Don't compare your child to other children! I have really had to keep repeating this to myself. Liam has delayed speech and is a very busy and active child. He has been doing Early Intervention for the past 4 months and it's going really well. I've seen so much progress BUT when we are with other kids his age, and he isn't talking as much as other kids or he is running from one activity to another every 15 seconds; it's hard to not say to myself "Why can't he talk or why can't he play like the other kids." So I have almost had to put "blinders" on and say to myself "every kid is different and every kid develops differently." Which is so true...Liam is who he is and I now embrace how active he is and the fact that he doesn't like t.v. and would rather be running around outside.  And every day he is getting more words and I'm so proud to be his mama.

What was the most difficult Mom moment you've had (so far)? Finding out Liam had some delays. Like I said before, I had speech delays which led to severe learning disabilities and ADHD and I worry so much that since Liam has delays now then he will have learning disabilities later on in life. But we are getting him the help he needs now and he's made unbelievable progress in the past few months.  Another piece of wisdom from my mother has been her confirming that having the challenges I did early on in life, helped me figure out how to work hard to accomplish anything and I know Liam will experience the same thing because he wants to learn and he is interested in working hard.

What would your pre-mom self be surprised to know about motherhood? How fast it goes...when Liam was an infant, people would say to me, cherish every moment because it goes by so fast. I really didn't understand it until I was living it...when Liam turned 2 in June, it was so crazy to me how fast those 2 years went by. How he went from a tiny little baby who was sleeping and eating all the time, to this incredible little boy who has such an engaging personality. As a mom, I have really had to learn to live in the moment (which has always been hard for me to do) because those people were right! Enjoy every moment because before you know it they will be graduating from college (yikes, I don't even want to think about that!) 

What would your pre-mom self be proud to know about you in motherhood? How incredibly patient I've become. I've never been one to have a lot of patience, but toddlerhood has really tested my patience. As I said before, Liam is a very active kid and he is an "envelope pusher," and because he tests the limits, I am having to tell him "no" more often than not. But getting upset won't make the situation better so what's the point? I just use a very calm voice and sometimes the end result is the time-out chair and sometimes it's not. 

How do you unwind or re-charge? Mom's Nights Out, Date Nights, and working out. As a mom, it's so important to make time for myself and for my marriage. Keith is so good at understanding that I need time to be with my friends and how important it is for me to work out. Even on my summer vacation, I get up at 6:15 to workout before Keith goes to work. I know, many people think I'm crazy but working out helps me feel good and helps me be a better mom. Keith and I also try to do a date night once a month, whether it is just the two of us or with other couples. It's nice to go out and have a conversation without having to race through a meal or worry about food being thrown. In February, Keith and I are taking our first long solo trip since becoming parents...maybe to Jamaica...I'm so excited! 

What do you feel like you are really good at as a mom? Structure! I am a very structure-oriented person and Liam is the same way. He thrives on structure. I find that when there isn't structure in his day, that's when he starts misbehaving. During the summer, we try to have things to do every day he's with me (he goes to daycare twice a week during the summer). And he just switched daycares to a toddler program where there are kids his same age and he is just thriving in this environment! One of the reasons I think he is doing so well is because of how structured his day is. Some kids need structure and luckily I'm someone who does too so it's very easy for me to implement it into our daily lives. 

What do you feel like you wish you were better at being a mom? Playing with's really hard for me to constantly be playing with Liam. I've gotten better at it since he has gotten older and can sit down and play with a toy or read lots of books. But I'm someone who always likes to be doing something, so being in the house playing all morning is hard for me. 

Who are the moms you look up to? My mom! As a kid, I had delayed speech as well and was exactly like Liam; very active and busy. My mom likes to tell the story of when she found me on the dining room table with a candle stick in my hand, about ready to smash her china bowl. And now I have a child who is exactly like me (although he's never smashed anything valuable (!) I have found him on the dining room table before!) There have been many times where I have expressed to my mom how difficult it can be to have such an active child and she's always the one who helps me put things in perspective. It's so nice having someone, especially my own mother, who went through the same things I'm going through as a mom. I love her for always being there to help me. 

What is the one "Mom Tip or Trick" that you can share that has made your life easier somehow? My mom also taught me how important consistency is in nap time and bedtime. I usually never have a problem with Liam going down for nap time or to bed because it's the same way every day. It's not realistic to think that we will always be home at the same time every day so if he went down late for either his nap time or he ended up napping in the car, I will make sure he is going down for his regular scheduled nap the next day. Again, structure, structure, structure! 

What are the small joys of being a Mom that you treasure most right now? How much Liam is learning. I LOVE watching Liam make connections in his life like seeing a truck outside and then showing me the truck in one of his favorite books. It amazes me how much kids learn at such an early age, and what they learn is from just living in the environment they live in. I'm so glad that this "learning phase" doesn't end for years so I can truly enjoy it. 

What do you miss most from Mom days already gone by? The baby snuggles! Until Liam was about 8-9 months old, he would wake up around 5:30 but then come in bed with us and snuggle with us and fall back asleep. I loved just watching him sleep and having him snuggle up against me. I rarely get those snuggles these days. When Liam gets hurt he comes running to me for some snuggles and although I hate when he gets hurt I have to admit, I LOVE those snuggles and the fact that I am his comfort :).

a belly update

Monday, September 22, 2014

welp, I'm still pregnant.

A current family portrait
It's not really that big of news considering our due date is not officially until this Friday, and yet, it feels like a big deal as I have been feeling (and others have been commenting) that it appears impossible our girl is not out in the world yet (read:  my belly looks huge and hanging impossibly low).

Braxton Hicks are out of control, my friends.  That's the big thing;  I can definitely make it until her official eviction date (by the way, that's this Thursday), but so then, let's just co-exist until Thursday and maybe my girl could just happily cook in there until then. I'd be totally patient and fine with the wait.

But, nah.

It's daily false alarms that get my hopes up that maybe, maybe, maybe it will be today!  Maybe she'll come on her own!  And then I'm left only to be annoyed later when the contractions and pain completely go away and I'm left with only this huge, uncomfortable belly, a very unreliable bladder, and heartburn.  bleh.

Also, I've been sick with a head cold for the past two weeks.  The kids and I all have been blowing our noses and coughing like maniacs which makes for a fairly unhappy mumma.  Yesterday I threw my hands up with tears in my eyes to announce, "Can I just be one, please!  Either sick or pregnant!  I don't want to be both anymore!!"

So, we're hanging in there until Thursday.  I'm taking solace in know that we will have a baby this week, so it's just a matter of distracting ourselves until at the very latest Thursday.

We hit up a local Scarecrow festival this weekend where the kids painted pumpkins and fed baby goats with bottles!  It was a beautiful fall day and seeing our kids enjoy the day made it a great family day.

We've had playdates with friends at the playground, visited grandparents at their home and work, and have taken walks to try to keep all of our mind off of the fact that we are all desperate to celebrate this baby girl's birthday.

I recently read a comment in a thread after some ill-advised googling about natural labor inducing tricks that said, "Remember your baby is much easier to care for while she's on the inside" which I have been holding on to in moments of my sheer frustration.  She is much easier to care for right now considering I need only to remember to take my prenatal vitamins and lay around when I'm tired and manage heartburn.  So, I'm trying to remember that when Thursday feels like a year from now instead of actually only three days.

And Bud.  Always, Brandon, who is like a steady beat in our lives that makes everything feel normal and okay even though life can feel overwhelming and endlessly frustrating.  He brings peace when I feel like everything is spinning.  I am in awe of his patience with all this crazy over here (aka me) and he is the daily dose of sanity that I need to get through these final days.

Plus, we have these two hilarious and sweet kids that make us grateful that we can give our full attention to them...for at least right now.  Their little personalities fill our days with incredibly funny and sweet moments that leave us filled with joy.  They are as anxious as we are to meet their sister and spend their days kissing and whispering to my belly, "please come out baby!" followed by their own personal details of just how excited:  Gemma says "I love you so much!"  and Greyson says, "I'm so excited I'm going to explode!" 

If there is anything I have been fully aware of is the kindness and love that has been pouring in over the last few days.  Friends, family, and blog readers have reached out to me to check in to see how I am doing and offer love and kind thoughts in these last few days.  Honestly, I am overwhelmed with the sweet text messages, phone calls, and facebook messages that have trickled in from people just extending love to me and this sweet, stubborn girl.

thank you, so so much.
I am forever surprised and grateful to be reminded that we are surrounded by kind and loving people who take the time to reach out to us and let us know that we have a place in your thoughts and hearts.

three pumpkin bellies

The Mom Next Door Series: Ashlee S

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What feels like many moons ago, Brandon and I went to the same small high school as our Mom Next Door, Ashlee and her fiance Josh.  So we've known each other for a long time, but never more closely than the February of 2012 when Ashlee and I both had daughters.  Ashlee's daughter, Taylor was born just two weeks before our Gemma and for reasons only the universe could possibly understand, our Gemma was born healthy and mostly worry-free...while Ashlee's 'Miss Tay' was born with hydrocephalus; a condition that allows excessive cerebrospinal fluid to build up causing harmful widening of the ventricles and pressure to the brain.

As a Mom, I know that Ashlee has surely endured more sleepless nights, more worry and stress than I have over the last two and a half years as we have each watched our daughters grow and learn.  And despite the difference in our daughters' physical health, we have also simultaneously celebrated our girls' milestones, quirky and funny personalities, and terrible two's.  We are mothering our two year old girls parallel each other but also travelling on two very different paths.

September is Hydrocephalus Awareness month, so I am so honored and happy to be able to introduce you this week to Ashlee and her family, including the brave and indomitable Miss Tay.  


Who are you?  My name is Ashlee, and I'm 32 years old and I live in Johnstown PA.  I am currently engaged to Josh and we, collectively, have 4 amazing kiddos. Brennan is 13, Chance is 10, Elliana is 7 and Miss Tay is 2. We also have a cat named Flynn, a dog we call Hank (or anything that rhymes with Hank lol) and a Box Turtle who goes by Bowser.

What do you do for work? I have been a stay home mama for the large majority of the last 13 years. Very recently though, I decided to try to have the best of both worlds and I became an Independent Beauty Consultant with Mary Kay. I get to be home whenever I want, or whenever I'm needed....and I get to get out and "hang with the girls" and make some extra money when it fits my schedule.

I also maintain a public facebook page where I keep people updated about our daughter, Taylor, who was born with severe hydrocephalus. and bring awareness to other families who are fighting and living the same battle.

What was the most difficult Mom moment you've had (so far)? Definitely being told that our unborn baby 'wouldn't live and if she did she would be unable to do anything, even breathe on her own.'  Despite the news, we knew we would still continue with the pregnancy, and so then came the preparation for our other children of the possibility of them having a very sick sibling.

Taylor was, after our initial diagnosis of "no brain, no hope", diagnosed with hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus is also known as 'water on the brain', and is a lifelong condition where cerebrospinal fluid has no way to exit the ventricles of the brain. They swell and cause the brain to be pushed against the skull, which can cause numerous complications. 

The most common way to treat Hydrocephalus is the placement of a shunt; a siphon-like device that drains the fluid from the ventricles of the brain in the peritoneal cavity where it is reabsorbed by the body. Taylor had her first shunt placed when she was 1 day old and had a revision at 2 months old. Since then we have been very lucky, as shunts have the highest failure rate of every other medically implanted device. We joyfully celebrated our 2 year "shuntiversary" in April!! 

What would your pre-mom self be surprised to know about motherhood? Everything. Really, I thought that the vast amounts of babysitting I had done had me ready to be a mom - boy was I wrong! Even just in terms of the emotional side of it!  It's not a thing you can comprehend until you become a mom. Also, I should note...pre-mom me would never ever wipe someones snotty nose on a shirt cuff (in a pinch) and just roll it down like nothing ever happened! 

Which chore is your least favorite? Laundry, by far. With 6 people in a house...including a toddler and a teenager it just never ever ever ends. Ever.

What keeps you up at night? Fear of seizures and fear of shunt malfunction. The fact that either can happen with literally no warning whatsoever keeps me awake long after I should be asleep just listening to Taylor breathe and praying we have one more day without either surprise. 

What big projects, worries, or events have you busy right now? Summer in general keeps us busy; football and cheerleading is starting up and that's always a crazy time of year. Also, we are trying to find the time and money to renovate our attic so we can move the boys up there for their bedrooms and finally get Taylor out of our bedroom and into her own. We've been working on this awhile now and are finally making bits of headway.

a recent overnight EEG
How do you unwind or re-charge?  Unwind? Recharge? What are these things you speak of? :-) Really though, mostly I read. I try crafts, but find I don't have the time or money to dedicate to the really cool things I "pin." An occasional night out with Josh, or with the girls does wonders too...when its possible.

What do you feel like you wish you were better at being a mom? I wish I was more fun....sometimes I really need to stop and remember that cleaning can wait!

What has become (at least for now) your parenting mantra or guiding principle?  Enjoy this day; this moment,  because you can't ever have it back. Only God knows what tomorrow will bring.

 Please take time in honor of Hydrocephalus Awareness Month to learn more about Hydrocephalus and how you can help by visiting and at

The 5 Emotional Stages of the Last Month of Pregnancy

Monday, September 15, 2014

Currently in my third round of the last month of pregnancy, I have observed (and am experiencing) the highly volatile swing of emotional states that rightfully comes after growing a human for 36+ weeks.   I theorize that there is a trend to those emotions of the last month and have highlighted them here as helpful checklist for both pregnant women and the people that love them to bring awareness and acceptance to what might come in those final weeks before your blessed newborn arrives.

Keep in mind that these emotions do not have any definitive length of duration and are certainly not static in their ordering.  Women in the last month of pregnancy can move through the emotions at any rate and flip back and forth between the stages within less than a moment's notice.

The 5 Emotional Stages of the Last Month of Pregnancy
(entirely unofficial and pretend)

1. Anticipation - You feel like you can finally see the light at the end of this long tunnel called pregnancy!  Your due date is nearing and you are full of energy and motivated to finally get those last items completed on your to do list.  When people ask you how much longer you have, you happily respond, 'Just a few more weeks!'  Every slight feeling of  off-ness sends your wishful heart into excitement, 'Maybe this is it!' you imagine enthusiastically.  You make plans for the upcoming weeks in pencil only with a heart full of hope that you'll just be too busy with a newborn to actually attend any of them.

2. Jaded - The excitement has worn away now and it feels as though these last final weeks are somehow longer than all the other months of pregnancy combined.  You grow increasingly weary to answer, yet again, that your due date 'still isn't for another few weeks, but thank you very much for commenting on how that seems impossible to you with what my belly looks like.'  Almost all items on your to do list are done, and then some.  Braxton-Hicks become annoying reminders that you are still not ready for actual labor.  You start the unhelpful act of Googling 'How to Naturally Induce Labor' and 'Wives Tales for Bringing on Labor.' You call friends and family to make firm plans for the upcoming weeks just to distract yourself from the constant feeling of waiting around.

3. Bitterness- You wake up one morning after a sleepless night of constant bathroom breaks and inconsistent, albeit frustrating, pressure and pain in your back - to realize that now you're mad.  Angry that there is not a thing you can do about getting the child out until they are damn well ready to be born; a huge reminder of what being a parent is; running on someone else's schedule.  Thoughts of your non-pregnant body and mind feel like they are from another lifetime ago.  You come to realize that simply thinking about how long it has been since you have been able to do certain things; sleep on your stomach, paint your own toenails, hug someone straight on comfortably, infuriates you;  how foreign having control over your own body seems!  If you sneeze and pee your pants a little one.more.time, you will certainly lose your flipping mind?!  You roll your eyes, grind your teeth and, eat 12 cookies just in spite of yourself.

4. Hopelessness -  And then the waterworks start as your speaking to the person that happens to be the closest to you at that moment...and by closest I mean in physical proximity; this could be your spouse, your mom,  the doctor's office secretary, or the man at the check out counter.  Through streaming tears, you ramble on about a variety of irrational thoughts; "maybe this baby will never come out, I've been pregnant for so long and I miss my old self, I can't wait to finally see the baby's face, how will I be able to manage another child, I'm a bad mom for feeling upset about still being pregnant."  The person listening to this generally will stare at you with saucer eyes and if you're lucky, they will follow up with an encouraging, "even though it doesn't feel like it - you're doing great.  Now how about a warm bath?" (well, that might be creepy coming from the check out counter guy, but you get the idea).

5. Tolerance - This emotional state is generally brought about by the sudden realization that your life as it is right this moment (newborn still on the inside) efficiently operates like a well-oiled machine and that will very, very soon come to an end.  It comes on in moments like when your entire family sleeps in until 8:30am and you quickly remember that this will not likely happen again for quite some time.  Or when you find the kids eating breakfast and happily watching Team Umizoom while you get a few interrupted minutes to pound out a blogpost (hello!).  It's the thought (however fleeting) that, "Okay, fine.  It's not so bad and I can handle this for a little while longer.  I mean, the baby IS coming soon, regardless.....right?"

In the past two weeks, I, personally, have been steadily exchanging emotional stages 2-5 with terrifying speed.  Like, by the half hour.  Just yesterday alone, I did a lap of stages 2-4 within a matter of two hours.  Luckily this morning (for now at least), I am settled in stage 5 and I'm enjoying my two little gremlins and the prospect of a semi-productive day ahead.

Thank you to my husband, Mum, Mum-in-law, and sisters for putting up with sheer insanity.  Seriously, they are being brave to call me; they don't know which crazy version of myself they will encounter on the other end.  Thanks for still calling to check in anyway!

And to my two kids - I love you.  You will almost never NOT think I'm crazy in your lives anyway, and that's fine - but right now, I really am being crazy, I'm promise I'm trying to keep it together and be a rational mum for you, but even still I know things have been a little out of sorts around here.  So thanks for all the snugs, kisses, hugs, and patience that your little 4 and 2 year old selves can muster.  I mostly can't wait for this baby to be born so she can meet both of you.  What a lucky girl to be getting the two of you for family.

This list was written in good fun and for humor.  In no way do I mean to accuse pregnant women that they are actually crazy (au contraire:  you're a superhero!).

If, however, you feel like you are depressed or are having thoughts that you cannot handle on your own, please speak to your doctor or a professional immediately.

You can also visit some of these sites for more information about depression and pregnancy:
American Pregnancy Association:  Depression in Pregnancy
Women's Health:  Depression During and After Pregnancy
Parents:  Coping with Anxiety and Depression during Pregnancy
Postpartum Progress

My problem with the waiting

Thursday, September 11, 2014

During quiet time yesterday, I laid on our bed with wet hair after a shower and called my Mom to announce, "Ugh, I just feel done."

Pregnancy seems deliberately just a little bit too long.  Like that final month is the really in place just to get the Mom mentally prepared to choose the alternative of being pregnant; getting the baby out, raising a newborn; zombie-level exhaustion.  Right now, I want that.

After nearly 38 weeks of growing a human, I want control back over my own body.  I want to meet this girl, I want to completely disrupt our life as we know it to make room for  this new person who will make us all very in love and very, very tired.

The problem with the waiting is that I'm a planner.  I make checklists, and countdowns, and mark off calendar dates - and although technically I have a "date" to cling to for dear life - everyone knows that it's more unlikely for your child to actually be born on that date than not.

So in these final weeks, I experience this horribly hopeless rollercoaster of excitement with the slightest feeling of off-ness.  Is this it?  Maybe this is the start of it!  And then minutes or hours later, the feeling is gone and hope has now been replaced with frustration and impatience.

Meanwhile, I keep reminding myself that I need to focus on the due date; still another 15 days away.  I know I need to focus on mentally making the distance, and yet, I cannot push down this endless reserve of hope that she'll come sooner; both so I can finally see her sweet face and also not be pregnant again(..for awhile at least).

selfie found on my phone
We finished our baby-prep checklist weeks ago, and so I've been tackling other projects with the sentiment of well, might as well do it since I have the time right now.  Things like getting the kids fall/winter clothes switched out, cleaning out and inventory'ing the deep freezer, tackling the kids' toys and book clutter.

Although that means I'm being super productive, it still only gives off a minimal sense of accomplishment.  I want this baby out of my body and in my arms.  Period.  No amount of items checked off my to do lists compare to that goal and it's entirely exhausting and frustrating.

After my phone pity party with my Mom yesterday (thanks for the chat, Mum!) I contemplated for a full two minutes a way to occupy the kids while I just spent the rest of the afternoon laying around feeling miserable, and then metaphorically brushed myself off and go to work.  If I'm being honest with myself; laying around almost never makes me feel better, and the fastest way to feeling better (at least for me) is to get items checked off lists.  (and let's be honest - I'm a little hopeful it will somehow inspire labor to start - we've all read the stories about women who get the urge to clean and then go into labor, blah blah blah).

So I changed all the bed sheets, and made dinner, and baked blueberry pie, and worked on pages for our upcoming new board book (!) for The Hunting Daddies, and vacuumed the downstairs, and enlisted Brandon and the kids in bathing the dogs.

Last night after baths and while the kids were getting settled into bed, I sat in the rocking chair feeling grateful for the final weeks of two.  Gem has completely changed in the past few weeks into a full blown little girl, cracking us up with the little thoughts and behaviors she blesses us with regularly.  Grey has stepped us his helpfulness in the sweetest way and shown so much patience with his sister.

I know these last few weeks have purpose:  for our baby to get her lungs strong and put on some extra plumpness.  For our current two kids to get used to me being distracted and for them to practice learning to play together independently and figure out their own forms of conflict resolution.  For more items on our to do lists to get check off while we have the time and energy now.  For my mind and spirit to be mentally ready (anticipating with joy actually!) do to the impossible task of getting this girl into the world.

And despite knowing all the end of the day, she is still in there and we are still without her out here.  And that is endlessly frustrating at this stage of the game.

The Mom Next Door Series: Ashley B

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I am so happy to share this week's Mom Next Door Interview with Ashley.  She is a Mom I get daily boosts of inspiration about being intentional in every little bit of life both from her blog and insta acount. She is also an unbelievably great list and goal maker - but more than that, she is inspiring in the way that she actually stays connected to her goals and pushes herself to do regular check-ins on where she stands with them.

Honestly, I am so grateful the internet brought us together and I'm always secretly wishing we could meet up for coffee and the wildest kid play-date ever.  (Ashley, can we find a halfway point between PA and VA and make this happen someday?)

Besides being a Mom to four (almost five!  She's due this month!), she also successfully runs a small home decor business, home schools, writes a blog, and finds time to do beautiful projects like stitching and creating projects to support other Moms like her Penpal Project.  Please take a few minutes to read on to learn more about the brilliant Mom Next Door, Ashley.


Who are you?  My name is Ashley and I am a wife and mamma to four little ones (three boys and a girl, ages 7 to 21 months) with baby number five due to make his appearance in late September.  (editor's note:  Ashley's and my due dates are only one day apart!  I think an arranged marriage is in the works, yes?) 

We live in northern Virginia, where I am a stay-at-home-mom as well as the owner of an online decor store called Big White Farmhouse. The name comes from my great-grandmother's home in the countryside of Maine. In her honor, my cousin (who co-founded BWF with me) and I try to support small, hometown artisans and sell products created right here in the USA.  I also sporadically blog at!

What has become your parenting mantra or guiding principle?  One of my favorite inspirational people is Mother Teresa and I've adopted her famous quote, "Do small things with great love" as the guiding principle for my entire life. Her quote is especially helpful to me as a mother, as the vocation of motherhood can sometimes feel monotonous and unimportant. If I can honestly say at the end of the day that I served my family with great love, then that day was a success! 

Another quote I love from Mother Teresa is: "Little things are indeed little, but to be faithful in little things is a great thing." How inspiring for mammas! 

What do you feel like you are really good at as a mom?  About a year and a half ago, I was in a hard place, watching people accomplish amazing things while I let fear and excuses keep me on the sidelines. Finally, I decided enough was enough and resolved for 2013 to be the year that I start living intentionally, focusing on making my life full of what I wanted it to be. I wanted to be a better example to my children and to show them commitment and perseverance, both in personal endeavors and with our family as a whole. It has been the best thing I could have ever done as a mom.

Most of the things I've accomplished in the time since are simple and sometimes even silly: consistent meal planning, taking the time to do craft projects with my art-loving boy, becoming a runner, cooking as a family, and traveling to new cities are just a handful of examples. But without being intentional, these would have quickly fallen to the wayside. My prayer is that my children will see my desire to make the most of my "one wild and precious life" and strive to do the same.

What do you feel like you wish you were better at as a mom?  One area that I am continually trying to figure out is how to spend more one-on-one time with each of my children on a daily basis. I love to hear what's on their little minds and give them my full attention, but I am often so distracted! The other kids, the chores, the business, even just good old exhaustion...they all fight for my time and sometimes win. I'm going to keep trying, though, because it's an area in which I am determined to be better.

What do you miss from Mom days already gone by?  My oldest is turning eight this fall and I just can't believe how fast the time has gone! In our excitement over our first born, I think we sometimes rushed his stages; so anxious for what came next. He is now going into second grade, reading chapter books and playing competitive soccer...and his Mamma wants it to all slow down! With a little parenting wisdom under my belt, I am now much more content to enjoy each step along the way.

What are the small joys of being a mom that you treasure most right now?  Where do I even begin? I love watching my babies after they've gone to sleep or hearing them belly laugh together at jokes only they understand. I love tight hugs around the neck and finding crayon-written love notes on my desk. Honestly, there are so many little joys that happen everyday if I choose to look for them!

Our preparations for baby #3

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Our new baby sister is due to arrive this month, and we can all hardly wait to meet her.  We've been busy the past 9 months getting ready for our third child, being as intentional as possible to try to make the transition from two kids to three goes as smoothly as possible.  We care a lot (A LOT) about our kids being siblings who are friends and who feel accountable to one another - and we know that those bonds are created from the very start.  

So here's what we've been doing to intentionally prepare for our third baby!

Bedtime stories:  we've been rotating in our favorite sibling books into our bedtime reading over the last few months as reminders of how much fun, how confusing, and how great having brothers and sisters can be.  Our favorites are:  Chloe, Instead by Micah Player, Peter's Chair by Ezra Jack Keats, The New Baby by Mercer Mayer, Maggie's Monkeys by Linda Sellers-Wells and Abby Carter, and If Big Can, I Can by Beth Shoshan.

House arrangements:  We have a three bedroom house, which means it is time to make room for a newborn!  We announced to the kids that they would be sharing a room and getting bunk beds in June (a full four months before their sister is set to arrive).  We wanted to make sure that our two biggest kids felt like the move was all about them - not that they were being kicked together for the new girl.  The bunks have been a H.U.G.E. hit (they're obsessed) and we have settled into a new comfortable bedtime routine with them in the same room together.

This also gave us a chance to tackle some toy clutter to make sure all their 'big kid' toys could fit in their room.  Most of the toys are all together mixed (we try not to distinguish things as specifically 'girl' or 'boy' toys) and we left most of the floor space wide open in the middle for playing, dancing, and ninja fighting moves.  

As in years past, we also pull out the baby equipment weeks in advance to get everyone comfortable with the new items that will take up space in our house. The baby swing has had a home in our living room for the last month and half and the bassinet is up in our bedroom as well.  The kids were enlisted in helping to bring down (from the attic) all of the baby's stuff so they could ask questions about it, help set it up, and even help dust/clean them off!

The kids helped unpack our baby hand-me-down clothes we talked about how small everything is and how they used to fit in the clothes when they were tiny.  Greyson helped me pick out our new diaper bag online (he chose a red&blue one) and the kids helped organize the baby's bookcase of board books and soft toys.  They both helped Daddy vacuum and clean the truck and we installed her car seat last week so that Grey and Gemma have the next few weeks to get used to the new backseat arrangement (Grey's booster carseat in the middle between the two girls since he knows how to buckle himself).  

With all the normal preparations that need done to get ready for a new baby - we are trying to include them as much as possible (even though it takes twice as long) so that they feel like we are ALL getting ready for her. 

The nursery is all set and ready to go as well.  We left the guest bed in the room as a way to, hopefully, include the kids in upcoming bedtimes or nursing.  I'm hoping the kids and I can all be together (especially during the upcoming basketball season) in the baby's room reading books while she nurses before bed and then the two big ones and I will move over to their room for bedtime afterward.  (Update on the success -or not- of this to come post-baby arrival!) 

Grey was happy to make a family portrait for his new sister too so that she'd know who was in her family and who would love her forever.  It was the perfect addition to her room.  He was pretty proud of it. 

Baby Care Practice:  We have been periodically showing the kids how we will need to take care of our new baby when she comes home with us with the kids.  They have practiced diapering, swaddling, and even wearing the baby bjorn and pretend vacuuming (hahha!)  The kids know that their baby sister will mostly eat and sleep at first and she won't be able to do a lot of things; that we'll need to teach her as a family how to do everything!  The Baby Care Practice with the kids was even the inspiration for our Baby Raising Competition to celebrate our new sister! 

Both Grey and Gem have been practicing books that they can 'read' to our new baby sis as well.  We've talked about how she can hear us in my belly, so they often will come up to my belly and whisper hilarious little things to her like "Hey Baby Sis, what are you doing in there?" (Greyson) and "Hi Baby, Come Out Now!" (Gemma).  They like kissing my belly and telling her they love her.  This is one of the kids favorite things for me to tell them right now (usually on car rides):

Me:  "After our baby sister gets born, you will come to the hospital to visit her and she will be so happy to hear you!  She'll think, 'Hey!  I know that voice, that must be my big brother!  He was reading to me when I was in my Mom's belly!' and she'll say, 'Hey!  I know that voice too, that must be my big sister!  She sang to me and gave me so many kisses!"

Grey:  "What will she say when she hears you and Dad?"

Me:  "She'll probably think, 'Oh, I know those voices.  That's my Mumma and Daddy and they are here to take care of me.  I love my family!"

Grey:  "What about when she hears Bully and Trixie bark?"

Me:  "Yep!  She'll say, 'Hey, those sound like my crazy pups!  I can't wait to get kisses from them!'  But we'll need to teach her how to touch the dogs nicely, because she won't know that you have pet them gently.  Will you guys show her how to do that too?"

Big Brother/Big Sister Class:  the kids got to attend an awesome class hosted by the hospital that our new sis will be delivered.  They got name tags and a tour of where they'll come to meet their sis.  We even got to see a real newborn in the nursery and check out the belly button and all her bracelets and what they are for.   

The nurses had us try formula (Grey drank it down like a champ!) and we diapered and swaddled baby dolls.  It was a lot of fun for them to meet other soon-to-be big bros/sisters too.  The nurses took their pictures too and they will be hung in the nursery when our little sis comes to place inside of her bassinet so that "your new baby will be able to see your picture even when you have to go home after visiting!"  (commence me openly tearing up in the class - hhahaha!)

Birthday talk:  With a four and a 2 year old, is there a greater celebration than a birthday?  No.  So we talk a lot about how when our new sister gets born it will be her birthday.  We have been counting down the weeks in our make-shift countdown charts to color the fruit/veggie size of our baby sister for that week.  Grey likes counting how many more weeks though until 40 when it will officially be our sister's birthday!

Aunt Uch has been enlisted to take care of the kids while we are at the hospital and she is in charge of bringing the two big ones and a little cake in to meet her.  We are planning on singing Happy Birthday and having our own little family celebration together for her very first birthday.  We regularly talk about who has a birthday next and now they know that the answer is Our Baby Sister!

Remembering when our first two were babies:  We have also tried to focus on when our first two were babies.  They love looking at pictures in our yearbooks and in their Text Message books from Aunt Kitty when they were babies.  They love hearing stories about what their Dad and I said when we first saw them and what they looked like when they were first born.  Grey likes to ask, "Why did you love me so much when I was a baby?"  To which I answer, "I love you so much even now when you're big and when you get as big as Daddy too because you'll always be a baby to me."  He actually recently told a friend at church that "My Mom will call me her baby even when I get as big as you!"

Celebrating the things they can do as big kids:  We try to notice and celebrate the kids in the things that they can do now that they are bigger.  We have always encouraged our kids to be independent as they are ready (dressing themselves, taking on chores like feeding the dogs and folding washcloths, etc) and we like to announce when we see our kids doing things that they have learned to do better as they get big.  We talk a lot about choosing to be helpful and how it's exciting and fun when we learn to do things like a big kid.  Grey has some frustration watching his sister do things that he can do too (he prefers being able to do things that she can't yet), so we have to make sure to point out the things that they are each learning how to do separately by age and by preference.

We have tried to still keep doing things that our kids can do now that may be a little more difficult to do when the new baby arrives.  We have made recent trips to the zoo, local parks & playgrounds, and trying to spend lots of time together as just the four (and a half!) of us.   We know in the first few weeks of the baby, we will be surrounded by friends and family, many times with the kids going out on adventures with their grandparents while Mum and the new baby get rest (we are so blessed for this) and there will be an adjustment period of a lot of coming & going.  So right now, we are trying to focus on all the things we can do in the last weeks of just two.

Discussions about family and taking care of each other:  We are always pulling out Preschool Cartoon talk when discussing our family - saying things like, "Because we are a family and we take care of one another."  and "You are being a great big brother/little sister by sharing/helping/giving space/speaking nicely...etc"  We have been including our baby sister in this  talk for the last few months as well, saying things like, "Our baby sister is so lucky to have a big brother and sister who will help teach her new things!  What do you want to teach her?"  

We have also been intentional about talking about ways our lives will be different (and how they are already different) with a new family member.  The kids know that I have less energy and lap room(!) with our baby sister growing in our belly and that they need to be careful with me during wrestling matches.  They are both fairly helpful with cleaning up (when asked) and helping with chores - Grey likes to say during this "Mum, Look at what great kids you have!"  When we talk about chores and helping each other, our standard response is, "Because we are a family and we all have to work together."

We talk a lot about Hard Days and how we all get them (even Mum and Dad) and how when someone is having a hard day we sometimes have to give them space and try our best not to tease them.  That there are ways to talk to each other kindly that is much easier than screaming and whining.  I just read about a Calm Down Codeword which I hope to incorporate in our family immediately to help us prepare for Hard Days with our new baby sister too.  


We have wanted very much to try to make the arrival of our new baby sister as intentional as possible for our young kids.  We wanted to feel like we are awaiting the arrival of something inevitable; another person in our family; to make it feel like a person who has been missing yet is coming home to us.  Like finally we are getting this person that we've all been waiting for!  

Until then though, we will keep talking about her and being grateful that she is part of our family already - and soon she'll actually be out here in the world with us!  As we tell our kids, "How lucky we are to have our family!"