Homeschool

Preschool Ocean Unit Study

We finished up Jameson’s first year of homeschool preschool a few weeks ago (hooray!) but we were only done for a few days before he was begging me to do “more school” haha! I’d been planning on doing a unit on the ocean for a few months now, sometime in between preschool and the start of his pre-k year. I thought I’d give us a couple of weeks of break before diving into the ocean (heh. get it?) but Jameson was adamant about starting ASAP as possible (The Office reference. Anyone? Anyone?). I wasn’t about to deny that so I quickly gathered some last minute supplies and forward we charged!

Some evidence of a very fun time with this unit! 😊

It turned out to be such a fun two weeks that I decided to write up a whole post about the topics and activities we covered. The nice thing about planning your own unit study is that you can choose activities specific to what you know your kids will enjoy and specific to what you know they need to work on. Some homeschoolers choose to teach primarily through the unit study approach, but I see our unit studies as a way to expand upon on our structured curriculum and/or go deeper with specific things that spark curiosity. The planning process can take some time up front but I’ve found that interspersing the unit studies throughout our usual curriculum gives us the chance to explore those certain topics more thoroughly while also giving us the chance to enjoy a change of pace. One of the beauties of home education! We’ve done a unit on farms, a unit on bees, a unit on France, a unit on trees, and now a unit on the ocean! I’m hoping that by writing out my lesson plans for this unit, it’ll help take some of the planning out for someone else.

We did seven days total, three the first week and four the following. Each day centered on a specific ocean topic (coral reefs, tide pools, cool critters, etc.) with fun activities planned around those topics and chosen to target the major preschool subjects and areas of development:

  1. Read Alouds
  2. Phonics
  3. Math
  4. Fine Motor Skills
  5. Gross Motor Skills
  6. Science/Art/Sensory (rotated or combined depending on the day)
  7. Practical Life Skills
  8. **Morning Time, which we do over breakfast, includes Bible, music, poetry, and calendar work

I made sure to label each activity in the lesson plans below so you know exactly which area you’re targeting! Although most of the time, one activity will naturally help your child work on several different skills at once. 😊

This is a mostly complete photo of the books we used for this unit! There were a few others I added to the stack as our requests came in from the library, and as I found them from amongst the hordes of other books in our home. 😅

We used the Usborne “Big Book of Sea Creatures” (which was sort of an impulse buy at the Homeschool Convention a few weekends ago) literally every single day. We also used “Nature Anatomy” by Julia Rothman frequently to look up specific facts.

And I really can’t say enough wonderful things about “A First Book of the Sea” by Nicola Davies! I picked it up from the library on a whim, not really knowing what it contained but figuring we could find some use for it during the unit. Oh my! We used it every single day during our morning time for poetry! It’s an absolutely gorgeous collection of short poems/stories and the loveliest illustrations that truly captured our hearts and delighted us to no end! You’ll see it listed in each morning time section below. I would flip through it the night before and find a few selections that pertained to our daily theme and we’d read those, and usually several others because they were just so lovely. I will likely add this book to our permanent collection!

We also enjoyed a variety of YouTube videos on specific topics, watched “Finding Nemo” for our family movie night the first week, and watched all of the original Magic School Bus episodes (via Netflix) pertaining to the ocean throughout those two weeks as part of the kids’ 25ish minutes of daily screen time.

Anyway, enough blabbering from me. Let’s dive on in, the water’s fine!

DAY ONE – INTRO TO THE OCEAN

Morning Time

Read Alouds

Daily Activities

Phonics/Practical Life Skills: Find the names of the major oceans in our map book and then label them on our large world wall map.

I had Jameson look at the names of each ocean and tell me which letters to write on the Post-It. Then we found the right placement for them on the wall map above us.

Math: Sort and count ocean animals; identify numerals.

We used our Safari Toob ocean animals, plus a few other ocean animals we had lying around the house, and worked on sorting them into categories (marine mammals, fish, etc.). Then Jameson counted how many animals were in each category and assigned the correct numeral card to them.

Fine Motor: Place ocean animal stickers in the ocean zone they are typically found in.

We looked at “Wish for a Fish” for this one and tried our best to put the animals in the correct zones, although we didn’t have too many for the Dark Zone or the Abyss. Jameson loved this one and Nora loved putting stickers all over. 😊

Gross Motor (not pictured): Ocean animal actions. I called out the name of an animal and an action it might do and we all ran around the house attempting to do it haha! (Ex: dive like a dolphin, chomp like a shark, slither like an eel, wiggle like a jellyfish, etc.)

Science: Ocean zones in a jar.

This was a fun one! We followed this tutorial. I do wish we had used just a bit less food coloring for the Abyss because it was hard to see, but it was still cool to learn about density and water temperatures and sunlight levels in the ocean. Plus another fun way to learn about what types of creatures live in each zone. Again, we used “Wish for a Fish.”

DAY TWO – TIDE POOLS

Morning Time

Read Alouds

Daily Activities

Phonics/Fine Motor: Starfish letter match.

I drew a few little starfish guys with different letters on each arm (mostly letters I thought Jameson should review) and wrote the corresponding upper or lowercase letters on clothespins. Then Jameson matched them up.

Math: Crab claw game (identifying numerals).

I wrote out numerals 1-10, placed a shell on each one, and then had Jameson flip over his numeral cards one by one. He would identify the numeral, locate that same numeral on his sheet, and then use some salad tongs (aka a crab claw) to pick up the shell that was on top.

Gross Motor (not pictured): Tide pool actions. Like with the ocean animal actions, I called out the name of a sea creature (ones that like to hang out in tide pools) as well as an action it might do and then we had fun trying to act it out. (Ex: stretch like a starfish, crawl like a hermit crab, snap like a clam, etc.)

Art: Seashell discovery and paint.

The kids just loved this one! I set up a little discovery station for the shells and we had so much fun trying to classify the types we had and enjoying all the pretty designs and patterns that God has created! I let the kids try pressing them into kinetic sand and later we got out the paints and the kids went to town creating some lovely shell art.

Practical Life Skills: Tide pool sensory bin. (I classified it as “practical life skills” because #1, they were learning together about tide pools and the creatures that live in them and #2, a certain toddler had to learn some self-control and remember to not splash water all over the kitchen).

Did you know the the epaulette shark can come ashore and “walk” across the sand and through tide pools?!

This was a favorite activity for both kids! I did the work of setting it up using sand, plastic plants, some rocks, sparkly gem stones, shells, and of course tide pool creatures. Then I added water and the kids had a blast exploring!

Additional activity: Wise Man vs. Foolish Man experiment.

I got this idea from my sister who recently did an ocean unit with her kids! In the story we read during our morning time from Matthew 7, we learned about the foolish man who built his house on the sand and the wise man who built his house upon the rock. When the rains and the floods (and maybe the tides?) came in, the foolish man’s house sank into the sand and was destroyed but the wise man’s house stood firmly on the rock (the Lord!). We had a great discussion about this and I think it helped Jameson to see it for himself.

DAY THREE – CORAL REEFS

Morning Time

Read Alouds

Daily Activities

Phonics: Feed the Shark Game using letters and sounds.

This wasn’t in my original lesson plan but I thought it would be a fun addition! The kids had a blast with it! I printed and cut out a shark (which you can find for free here), glued it to a cardboard box we had lying around the house, and then set out our letter flashcards and gem stones. Jameson and I took turns rolling the letter ball from Scattergories and identifying the uppercase letters and their most common sound(s). Then we found their corresponding lowercase magnetic letters and fed them to the shark!

Math (not pictured): Play “Go Fish.” What a great game for practicing math skills!

Fine Motor: Coral Reef Sensory Bins.

I gave each kid a little container with kinetic sand and set out some cut up pipe cleaners (to represent the coral), some shells, and some sea creatures who might live in a coral reef. I watched as they created their own coral reefs! Corals come in so many gorgeous shapes and colors so I encouraged the kids to get creative with how the bent and twisted the colorful pipe cleaners.

Gross Motor: I didn’t really have a specific gross motor activity planned for this day, but that’s okay! Kids get tons of practice with these skills just by playing and being kids. 🙂

Art: Coral reef blow painting.

We followed this tutorial for the coral painting, used the book “Swimmy” as inspiration for adding some lace watercolor seaweed (it didn’t work too well), and then finished off the project with stickers of animals who might live in a coral reef. I had fun painting up a quick copy of Mister Seahorse from Eric Carle’s book. 🙂

Practical Life (not pictured) : Watch a YouTube video on the Great Barrier Reef, locate the reef on the wall map, and label it. We learned that the Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef in the world (also it’s where Nemo is supposed to live haha!) and that it supports life for a huge variety of sea creatures.

DAY FOUR – SHARKS AND MINNOWS

Morning Time

Read Alouds

Daily Activities

Phonics/Gross Motor: Fishing for letters.

This is a tried and true way that we review letters and their sounds! I set up the laundry basket and gave Jameson the trusty salad tongs as his fishing pole and then set out the letters (aka fish) around his “boat.” His job was to catch a “fish” and then tell me its name and its sound. He loves any kind of phonics review that involves gross motor skills as well. And Nora made a good first mate. 😉

Math: Hungry Shark Math.

I used this free printable and slipped it inside one of our reusable dry erase sleeves. I wrote out a few math problems for him and we used goldfish as our counters. I was expecting it to be more for practice with identifying numerals and as a brief introduction to written subtraction problems, but he caught on shockingly quick and ended the game by writing out a problem for me to solve! Then we snacked on the yummy fish. 😋

Science: How sharks float experiment.

So much fun!!! We followed this tutorial and learned that one of the ways sharks can float so easily in the water is that they have very large, oily livers. Since oil is less dense (aka lighter) than water, the sharks are able to float more easily. I filled one balloon with dish soap (to make it more obvious that it would sink) and one with canola oil. I also drew some very artistic sharky faces on each of them. I asked Jameson what he thought might happen when each was placed in the water and then we tested his hypotheses.

Art/Fine Motor: Rainbow Fish paper plate craft.

We used our beloved Crayola Washable Tempera Paints to paint our fishies and stamp on rainbow scales with a cut up paper towel roll. We glued on googly eyes, fins, and a shiny tin foil scale to finish them up.

Practical Life Skills (not pictured): Act out “The Rainbow Fish” story and list ways to be kind to others. Narration and list-making are both important skills throughout life so we practiced both using “The Rainbow Fish.” We acted out the story with Jameson as the Rainbow Fish and then came up with a list of other ways to show kindness to others and treat them as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).

DAY FIVE – COOL CRITTERS

Morning Time

Read Alouds

Daily Activities

Phonics (not pictured): Practice rhyming. This wasn’t necessarily ocean-themed (although we did rhyme with the word “fish”) but rhyming is a very important precursor to fluent reading so I like to sneak it in whenever I can.

Math/Fine Motor: Jellyfish bead stringing (identifying numerals and counting).

I made a couple of silly jellyfish using a paper plate and some pipe cleaners and then encouraged Jameson to identify the numerals above each “tentacle” and string the right number of beads for each. He got tired of this after the first few tentacles so I helped him finish and he counted along with me.

Gross Motor (not pictured): Play octopus hide-and-seek. One of the coolest things we learned this day was about how octopuses can change their colors and textures to blend in with their surroundings. We practiced this skill by trying to camouflage ourselves around the house in a game of hide-and-seek.

Art: Ocean salt process painting.

This was a super cool one. Jameson made a design using liquid glue on some cardstock and then I sprinkled it with salt. He used watercolors to drop on the salty glue and we watched as they spread and blended together.

Practical Life Skills (not pictured): Look up jellyfish facts. I always like to encourage Jameson to look in a book when he has a question so we used our “Nature Anatomy” book to discover some facts about jellyfish.

Additional activities (not pictured): Look up videos on cool critters that sparked interested (octopuses, jellyfish, etc.) and complete our Jonah and the Big Fish Floor Puzzle (always a hit!).

DAY SIX – SEA TURTLES & OCEAN CURRENTS

Morning Time

Read Alouds

I had some trouble finding good sea turtle books from our library for some reason! But we filled in the gaps with a couple of YouTube videos. 🙂

Daily Activities

Phonics (not pictured): Trace the alphabet. Not ocean-themed but I wanted to work this into our schedule since Jameson enjoys it.

Math: Count turtle eggs from sensory/fine motor activity (see below).

Sensory/Fine Motor:Life Cycle of a Sea Turtle Sensory Bin.

The kids love any sensory bin and this was no exception! I used our kinetic sand and blue gem stones (for the water) to set it up and added in our turtle figures as well as some white beads to represent the turtle eggs. We learned about how sea turtles come ashore to lay and bury their eggs and how the babies make their way back to the ocean to grow up and then start the process again later in life by laying their own eggs on the same beach where they were hatched. The kids had fun acting this out and Nora kept shouting “CUUUUUTE!!!” at the baby turtle. 😂

Gross Motor (not pictured): Act out the life cycle of the sea turtle. Similarly, we acted out a sea turtle’s journey ourselves! We pretended to be sea turtles hurtling through the ocean on currents to get places faster, then pretended to crawl ashore and bury some eggs. Then we pretended to be the baby turtles hatching and following the moonlight to the sea, battling seabirds and crabs and other enemies in the sand along the way. Once we made it back to the big ol’ blue, we pretended to zoom around the house on ocean currents again as adult sea turtles.

Science: Ocean Current Experiment.

This was kind of a bust, but you can try it for yourself using this tutorial. The warm red water (representing the currents) was supposed to created swirly current patterns when poured into the cold blue water (representing the rest of the ocean). But maybe our temperatures were a bit off because we got a few little swirls but not enough see some real currents. Jameson still had fun playing with his ocean current animals though. 😊

Practical Life Skills (not pictured): Find the East Australian Current on wall map and label it. I wrote this activity in mostly because we had watched “Finding Nemo” that week as part of this unit and we all love the sea turtle scene on the EAC. 🙂

DAY SEVEN – ARCTIC AND ANTARCTIC SEA LIFE

Morning Time

  • Read the story of Jesus walking on water in children’s Bible
  • Song (“Peace like a River“) – my kids loved this one and requested to listen multiple times!
  • Poetry from “A First Book of the Sea
  • Calendar work

Read Alouds

Daily Activities

Phonics: “If I lived in the ocean…” writing prompt.

I love any chance to encourage story telling and critical thinking in kids so this was a must! I saved it for the last day of the unit so that he’d have some good information to center his thoughts on. I asked him the question, had him dictate his answer to me while I recorded it on my phone so I wouldn’t miss anything, and then wrote it down for him. Then I read it back to him. He LOVED hearing his thoughts read aloud from the paper by me!

Math (not pictured): Feed the Shark using numerals. Like the first day we did this I set up our cardboard box shark, but this time we used numeral cards and our gem stones. Jameson and I took turns flipping over the cards, identifying the numeral, and then feeding the shark the correct number of gems.

Fine Motor/Gross Motor: Arctic Sea Animal Rescue.

Old faithful right here, folks! My kids ADORE this activity! The night before, I grabbed some of our arctic animal toys and froze them in containers filled with water. Then I gave them some play tools and we went outside to try and “rescue” our animals from their frozen captivity. I encouraged the kids to try a variety of methods for rescuing the animals (smashing the ice, dropping the ice from different heights, and using warm water to melt the ice). This activity is really so good for so many concepts and kids just love it!

Science: Salt Water Egg Float.

Nora made an appearance. 😂

Pretty standard but still fun as a visual! We learned that the ocean is made up of salty water, and the salt makes the water more dense than freshwater. We filled one glass with regular tap water and the other with tap water/salt added in and predicted what the egg would do in each. Then we tested!

Practical Life Skills (not pictured): Act out “The Three Snow Bears.” Another great opportunity to recall and retell a story (aka narrate it). This story is a take on the classic “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” but with polar bears in the Arctic! I set up stations around the house (three soup bowls, three pairs of shoes, and three beds) for Jameson to try out, just like Aloo-ki from the book.

Additional Activities (not pictured): Look up YouTube videos on animals that sparked interest (for us that was polar bears, penguins, and beluga whales. Nora once again kept screaming “CUUUUUTE!!!” at all the animals).

To finish up the unit (as we do with most of our unit studies) we had a little themed snack party at the end! We worked together to make sugar cookie dough and then cut the cookies out using ocean animal cutters. Then we enjoyed our treat along with our current chapter book read aloud, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl. 😊

I hope you enjoyed perusing our journey through the sea with this unit! We sure had a blast learning and playing together! Have you ever done a unit study? Which of these activities might you try with your own kids? I’d love to know! 😊

Happy sailing!

At home, Baby #2

Four.

As I sit here writing this on a Sunday afternoon, all my babies are asleep. Yes, all of them (Alex and Charlie included). So it’s the perfect time to finally post some of my favorites from Nora’s newborn photoshoot!

We considered hiring a professional photographer for these pictures but it really came down to us being too cheap and too lazy to look into it much, hah! So with my little Nikon DSLR in hand (and the free editing apps on my phone, yep that’s how cheap I am), I went to work on capturing these moments for our family. And you know what? I love how they turned out. Not because they’re perfect (they’re certainly not!) but because they’re our family and because there are four of us now and because there’s just a whole lot of happy in these pictures. 🙂

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The blanket my sister made for her. 🙂

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How most of this photoshoot actually went haha! Toddlers.

We love you SO much, NoJo, and we are so incredibly thankful that you’ve officially joined our family!

Baby #2

She came with the sun

Nora Joy. Our sweet October sunshine girl is here! She was born ten days early on Thursday, October 19th at 9:13am. She was 7 lbs, 6 oz, 19 inches long and absolutely beautiful in every way.

Processed with VSCO with c2 presetSince the day we found out that I was due near the end of October, I had the 19th in my mind as the day I really wanted my daughter to be born. Both of my high school best friends have their birthdays on that day so I thought it would be special and fun for my little girl to be their birthday buddy. But I never expected it to actually happen! Such a sweet little gift on top of everything else. 🙂

Earlier that week (on Monday) I started having some actual contractions. I always have Braxton Hicks throughout my pregnancies but I could tell these were the real deal. I was so excited thinking labor was starting! The contractions never got consistently time-able, though, and they never worsened in their intensity. By dinner time they had fizzled out completely. I was hopeful that labor would start up that night or maybe the next day, but Tuesday and Wednesday were totally normal days with maybe one or two real contractions sprinkled in just to keep me on my toes.

I went to sleep kind of disappointed on Wednesday night after a day of trying things to get labor going (walking around, eating spicy foods, bouncing on my yoga ball). The next day was the 19th and it looked like we were going to pass right by it. Oh well, I thought, she would come when God’s timing was perfect for her. I fell asleep around ten and was woken up about 3 hours later (around 12:45am on Thursday, the 19th) to contractions.

I stayed in bed for about half an hour timing contractions on an app I had on my phone. Alex happened to wake up and notice what was going on but I told him to try and get some sleep while I figured out the pattern. I was expecting it to be like my labor with Jameson, with contractions staying consistent and progressively getting closer together and more intense. But these were totally all over the place, sometimes feeling really intense and sometimes fizzling out before they got started. They were 6 minutes apart, then 3 minutes apart, then 7 minutes apart, then 11 minutes apart, then 4 minutes apart. It was a mess haha.

I texted Alex’s cousin Michelle (who is a labor and delivery nurse at the hospital we would be delivering at) and she happened to be working! She gave me some advice and then I called my midwife (Stacie) at 2:17am to let her know what was going on. Since there was no set pattern with the contractions Stacie advised me to take some Tylenol, drink some water, and try to sleep. If it was real labor, it wouldn’t go anywhere.

I ended up laying on the couch in the living room watching The Office for awhile as I kept trying to time contractions. They were still ALL over the place but never more than 11 minutes apart. I found the pain to be far far worse laying down, but getting up made the contractions come closer together. Eventually I settled on resting on the couch between contractions and getting up to move around as I felt one coming on. Alex was able to help me here and there by rubbing my back, praying over me, and talking me out of hurrying off to get an epidural. And I was asking for it hardcore this time. I don’t think I ever asked for it with Jameson’s labor, but this time on top of contractions I felt so sick to my stomach all night long. And honestly I was scared about it being a very long, drawn out labor since the contractions were a hot mess. I was worried about how to know when to go to the hospital, worried about when to have Alex’s dad come over to stay with Jameson, worried about speeding through the end part of labor and not getting to the hospital in time (we barely made it with Jameson). Basically I was just fearful and not trusting the Lord.

Finally around 6:20am I got up, threw up, and decided right then and there that we’d better just go to the hospital even though contractions were still kind of random. The intensity of them was enough to push me to make the decision. I figured the worst that could happen is they’d send us back home. As soon as we decided, I had a 20 minute stretch of no contractions at all. I was able to get all our stuff together, say goodbye to Jameson (who happened to wake up right before we left), and get into the car with no problems. During the 20 minute drive to the hospital I had one good contraction and nothing else. I started feeling silly for having us head out since labor was obviously slowing down. But then we were there and I knew I should at least have them check me out.

The nurses at the front desk were kind of like, “You’re in labor…?” and I wasn’t able to give them the pattern of contractions because there wasn’t any. I guessed they were on average about 10 minutes apart. They checked me in and sent me to triage where, lo and behold, they found I was 6-7cm dilated and 90% effaced! “Yep, you’re having a baby today!” the nurse said, and I looked at Alex and kind of just shrugged my shoulders. Guess we’re meeting our daughter today! It was 7:20 am and the sun was finally up.

IMG_6666Shortly after that I was moved into a labor and delivery room. The tub was filled with warm water and ready for me, but I had to wait a bit to get in because the baby’s heart rate dipped down every time I had a contraction. They let me in a little while later and it felt sooo nice. I never got to use the tub with Jameson because he came so quickly. This time I was able to use it for ten whole minutes hahah. All of the sudden I felt like my water had broken (hard to tell in the tub, they later said it didn’t break completely) so they hurried me out and back to the delivery bed since the hospital doesn’t allow tub births. Everyone was standing by watching me closely because they knew once my water broke, she would be here within a matter of minutes.

Sure enough, pushing contractions started and it was go time. Alex prayed over me and then we got started. I was trying to be careful at first because I pushed Jameson out so quickly that his poor little face got bruised. I didn’t want the same thing to happen this time. But with each contraction, her heart rate would dip again. So I started actively pushing with Alex holding my hand and Michelle by my side. Ten minutes later I was reaching down to pull my daughter up and onto my chest in one of the most incredible moments of my whole life.

dsc_2428-1Everything felt so surreal but also so vibrantly alive. There is nothing in the world like it. I was holding her and crying and looking at Alex in amazement and everything was perfect. I couldn’t believe she was here (and looking so much like her big brother) and it was less than two hours since we arrived at the hospital. I think once we got there and I knew I could relax and have my baby safely, everything just got moving. I never did find a pattern in the contractions, though. The closest I got was between 5am-6am when they were about ten minutes apart. Besides that, my labor never really followed a set plan the way it did with Jameson. And honestly it never felt quite as intense as it did with Jameson. I think part of the problem I was having all night was thinking it would be worse than it was.

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Holding his daughter for the first time.

WGUHE5716MYIOE6902MVVUE6062KWUCE5197God was so gracious to me and gave me such a wonderful labor and an amazing delivery. From start to finish it was only about eight and a half hours and I was able to do it completely naturally, the way I had been wanting to and praying for. It all fell into place even better than I was expecting! Alex went to get Jameson a little while later and he was able to meet his sister just a couple hours after she came into the world.

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First picture as a family of four!

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The next 24 hours were filled with a few visitors (mostly family), lots of brand new baby snuggles, and plenty of rest for me (although honestly this recovery has been incredibly smooth and simple). I could barely take my eyes off my daughter the whole time (still have trouble looking away). She is breathtakingly beautiful and so so sweet.

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Jameson’s first time holding his sister. I couldn’t stop crying!

Oh! And her name. ❤

It was a debate the entire pregnancy about what we would call her. Alex had his favorite, I had mine and eventually we decided to wait until she was born to settle. We both liked each other’s top picks but we wanted to be sure we chose the one that fit her best. After she arrived, she looked so much like Jameson that I honestly couldn’t see either name on her. Alex saw “Nora” right away (probably partly because that had been his top choice all along haha). I didn’t want to give up on my favorite name (which we may use in the future if we get the chance) so she didn’t have a name at all until probably 6 or 7 that night. Finally I looked down at her, tried both names out, and Nora just fit. The dark wavy hair, her sweet and even-tempered personality, the classic feel of the name…it all just fit. There’s no other way to describe it. And knowing that Alex was so sure and so in love with the name…how could I choose anything else? I was a little sad to leave my favorite name behind but Nora is my favorite name for her, my daughter. We gave her the middle name Joy because it’s my middle name too and because my dad always used the acronym of it to teach me about what true joy is… Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last. JOY. I want to do the same for Nora.

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Her name literally translates into “a joyful light” and she is exactly that. Our little sunshine girl. I fall more and more in love with her each time I look at her (which is all the time) and she fits into our family as if she was always a part of it. I can’t believe we were ever without her.

Thank you, Jesus, for the gift of our sweet Nora girl. ❤

And just a few more from our hospital stay…

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At home, Baby #2, DIY

Our simple & sweet baby girl nursery

I’m so excited to share this today! Our baby girl’s nursery is complete. I’m almost 36 weeks right now so we still had a bit of time to finish it up, but I’m so happy it’s done! (Nesting totally takes over my mind at the end of my pregnancies.)

snapseed-36We chose to go very simple and minimalistic this time around, partly to save some money and partly because my style in general is pretty subtle and classic. The room has a sort of shabby-chic vibe to it, but the decor is really just the basics and a few statement pieces I found along the way.

Our color scheme was mostly neutral (whites, creams, and grays) with hints of dusty pink and very light green. I figured this would be easiest to customize later based on her personal style. 😊 We started with the dresser and glider, which we already had, found a crib to match, and added the rest here and there over the past few months.

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Some of the pieces came from Hobby Lobby, some from Target, some from Marshalls. But my favorites are the ones that are homemade (my sister and I each crocheted a blanket) and the ones that came from my childhood room, like the framed picture and “The True Princess” book on the bottom shelf. Basically I’m a sentimental sap, pregnant or not. 😉

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Beautiful blanket and bow made by my sister.

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The first complete blanket I’ve ever crocheted! (Don’t ask me about the one I tried to make for Jameson…it was a hot mess. I’ll try again soon haha.)

This room has quickly become my favorite in the house. It’s so naturally light and pretty that it didn’t need much work to begin with. Adding a few little personal touches here and there was all we really had to do.

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I can’t wait to bring our little girl home to this pretty space and fill it up with love and sweet memories and that perfect newborn scent!

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And I can’t resist posting one of my little photography assistant. Because look at that face.

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See you soon, baby girl! xoxo

Life with Jameson, Personal Writing

Our breastfeeding journey

i-192If you haven’t guessed from the title, surprise! I want to spend a little time talking about the experience I had breastfeeding my first baby. 🙂 This will probably be a longer post so skip it if you like. It’s really mostly for myself, to reflect on so many things that have been tumbling around in my brain and to write them all out so I don’t forget.

Jameson is almost 23 months now and I can finally say that he’s officially weaned. This might seem – to some people – like a really long time to nurse a baby, but I hope as I dive a little bit deeper into our story that it’ll encourage and inspire you to find what works best for you and your baby, and to do that thing confidently no matter what sort of pressure is telling you to change.

Processed with VSCOcam with a6 presetLet me just start by saying that I went into breastfeeding without many expectations. I had done my research prior to giving birth and I knew (for many reasons) that breastfeeding was what I wanted above all else. But I wasn’t dead-set on any aspect of it. I figured we’d try it out, see what was working, and change things up as we went along. Sort of just learn on the job. I wasn’t opposed to pumping or supplementing with formula (although I was hoping to avoid that) or even giving it up if it wasn’t working for whatever reason. But I really, really wanted it to work and I think that was the most important thing.

When Jameson was first born, breastfeeding was by far the most difficult part about motherhood for me. The sleepless nights, the postpartum recovery, the total shift in all of your priorities…I could handle all that just fine (haha, okay not completely fine). But breastfeeding was hard. It’s a huge new skill that you and your baby both have to learn, and I unfortunately didn’t get a whole lot of direction while in the hospital. The nurses showed me a few different positions and made sure I was staying on schedule but beyond that I had to figure it out on my own.IMG_3886The first night home was incredibly stressful for me. I remember sitting in the rocking chair in Jameson’s nursery, both of us crying, because he wouldn’t latch on and when he did…it hurt so terribly. I called a few different breastfeeding help lines that week (Le Leche League was the most helpful) and had my mom come over to try and show me what I was doing wrong. But honestly it was a lot of trial and error, and mostly error.

When Jameson was about a week old I broke down and admitted I needed more help than just looking up YouTube videos and trying to explain things over the phone. I was cracked, sore, and engorged on top of everything. I cried every time it was time to nurse, and with Jameson being so young that was every 2-3 hours. There was no time in between feedings for me to heal so I just kept getting worse and worse. I so badly wanted to feel that sweet connection with him and to bond over something just the two of us would share, but instead I was dreading each painful session.

That week I found a breastfeeding support group through the hospital I had given birth at and saw that it was led by a certified lactation consultant. Alex was still off from work so he came with us (bless him) and we stayed after the meeting to talk with the consultant. She immediately saw what I was doing wrong and helped me switch up the position until I felt absolutely no pain. I was shocked! Even though I was so sore and definitely not healed yet, it didn’t hurt to feed my son. I wanted to make that consultant my best friend. She singlehandedly saved our breastfeeding journey.

IMG_4682Instead of dreading every feeding, I started getting so excited when Jameson would get hungry. I was so eager to practice the new position and bond with him in a way I hadn’t been able to before. The more we practiced the better we both got and soon I was all the way healed and Jameson was nursing like a pro. Oh such sweet relief! Before long I was even comfortable nursing in public.

I think what I loved most about our new-found skill was the fact that I was the only one who could provide this for Jameson. I never pumped our entire journey because I loved having it just for ourselves. Sometimes it was draining (literally, ha!) but it was also the best decision I made for us. Besides being so so good for him nutritionally, I could use breastfeeding as an excuse to get some alone time with my him, or use it to comfort him, or use it to help him get to sleep. I used it for all these things and more, and I loved every minute of it. I can’t remember a single moment where I felt annoyed when he wanted to nurse. I really, truly loved it.

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Months went by and we got into a routine. I started him on solids just for fun around 7 months but breastfeeding was his primary source of nutrition until he was at least one. I nursed him to sleep for pretty much every nap and every bedtime, something I was warned again and again not to do because he would he would “become dependent on it.” I didn’t listen and did it anyway. He preferred it that way, I preferred it that way, and it was just working well for us. And looking back now, I don’t regret it one single bit. Those quiet moments in Jameson’s dark nursery, me nursing him in the rocking chair as he drifted off to sleep every night, I will treasure those moments forever. They’re some of my very favorites.

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Once he turned one I started feeling the pressure to wean him. People look at you funny when you’re nursing a toddler and I was being asked a lot, “Are you still breastfeeding?” I began questioning myself, too. I had always wanted to make it to the year mark but it had come and gone and we were still trucking along. The more I thought about weaning the more panicked I got and that’s how I knew my answer. We weren’t ready to quit. I still loved nursing and Jameson loved it too so there really wasn’t a reason to stop.

I think when it’s your first baby you just try so hard to “do the right thing.” You research a ton, you listen to your friends’ opinions, you try your best to do everything in the socially acceptable timeframe. Sleep train at this age, start solids at that age, stop nursing at this age. But it’s not so cut and dry. I wish I could go back and tell myself it was going to work out in its own time. That Jameson would be fine if I nursed him to sleep every night or if we started solids later than everyone was telling me to or if we kept breastfeeding until he was almost two. I wish I could tell myself to enjoy his babyhood just a bit more and not worry so darn much.

IMG_8778Over the next year the more regular food Jameson ate, the less we nursed. It was sort of a natural progression. Towards the end he was only nursing twice a day, once before his nap and once before bed. Sometimes he’d want to nurse a third time randomly during the day and I pretty much always let him. I knew this part of our relationship was coming to a close and I wanted to enjoy it as much as possible. By this point I had decided not to let the opinions of others rob me of the joy I had in breastfeeding my baby.

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Then when Jameson was around 17 months old, I got pregnant. This didn’t change much at first and I was fine with the thought of breastfeeding through pregnancy and possibly tandem nursing after the baby was born. But then I started to see things that needed to be changed. I knew once I had a newborn around, I wouldn’t be able to spend 15 minutes nursing Jameson to sleep for every nap and every bedtime. We needed some new habits and we needed them formed before the baby arrived. So I got to work.

I didn’t cut him off completely from breastfeeding, but I did start training him to get to sleep on his own. Honestly this was what I was most afraid of because, like I said, I had been warned so many times that this would be a difficult habit to break. But by this point Jameson was ready. It was maybe three days of him crying to nurse while I rocked him like usual. I stayed strong and within a week I could put him down in his crib after a book and a song and he’d go to sleep on his own without complaint. What had I been so afraid of?! Truth be told, the transition was harder for me than it was for him. I cried a lot, wishing I could still nurse him to sleep like we always had. I missed him so much. But I knew it wouldn’t be practical when the new baby came, and the best thing I could do for my son was to give him the tools he needed to get to sleep on his own.

IMG_0100I let him nurse whenever he wanted during the day while I was sleep training him so that he could recharge and we could reconnect. And a couple of months later he naturally stopped asking to nurse. I could tell my milk supply was going away but he didn’t seem to mind much. I had been preparing myself for this big, emotional end to our breastfeeding journey but it was much simpler than that. We just sort of blended right into a new type of relationship. He would ask to nurse a few times a week, and then once a week, and then not at all.

I’m so happy it went the way it did because I couldn’t stand the thought of choosing to have “one last nursing session” and knowing it was our last time. Jameson weaned himself so I don’t remember our last time nursing. I think it was easier for me that way. I don’t need to remember our last time anyway; I have 22 wonderful months of memories before that.

Processed with Snapseed. Processed with VSCO with s2 presetNow, at almost 23 months, he’s my big boy. There are still some times where he’ll randomly ask for “mommy milk” but it’s usually when he’s tired or grumpy and he gets distracted before I can even say no. I’m interested to see how things go when the new baby is here in a few months, to see if he gets jealous of her nursing or wants to try it again for himself.

I’m really excited to start a whole new breastfeeding journey with my second baby. There are a lot of things I hope are similar, and some I hope are not. I hope I’ve learned enough to let things go and watch them unfold naturally. I hope I’ve learned to stop caring so much about what other people think of the choices I make for my kids. And I really hope I’ve learned to slow down and enjoy my babies while they’re still babies, because they won’t be this little for long.

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At home, Baby #2, Bumpdates

Bumpdate – 19 weeks

I’m almost halfway done with this pregnancy so I figured it’s about time I write one of these! I was so consistent when I was pregnant with Jameson and posted a bumpdate once a week for the entire pregnancy. But it’s much harder to be on top of things like this when you have a toddler in tow. 😉 So instead, my goal for this pregnancy is to post an update whenever I find the time and that’s going to have to be good enough.

How far along: Almost 19 weeks (I’m a little early with this post). Gender is still a mystery! We have our anatomy scan on the 15th which will tell us for sure if it’s a sweet little girl or another beautiful boy.
How big is baby: About the size of a mango, or 6 inches long. Weight is right around half a pound.
Movement: Totally different this time around. Jameson moved a LOT and very often. I actually felt him moving several weeks earlier than I felt movement with this baby, which is not usually the norm. It makes total sense, though, now that I see his personality. 😉 This baby is much more chill and doesn’t get annoyed by me poking him/her or moving him/her around the way Jameson used to. And this baby hasn’t gotten the hiccups yet, which is another difference. Jameson had hiccups at least once a day by this point and continued to get them every day after he was born (for awhile at least). Even the times of day for movement are different between the two of them. Jameson was go-go-go all day and then totally still as I was going to sleep. This baby is more sporadic throughout the day and picks up the pace at night, which worries me for after birth hahah. Based on what we know about me and Alex’s personalities as kids (from stories and old home videos), I was a lot like Jameson is energy-wise and Alex was a lot more mellow. So it would be fun if our kids happen to match each of us in that way. 🙂 One last difference, though, is that Alex has felt this baby move already, which took a lot longer with Jameson. He actually felt this baby for the first time on our 3 year anniversary – a sweet little gift for him!
Weirdest symptoms: Symptoms are all pretty tame, just like with Jameson. Besides the minor stretching and pulling feelings, and starting to feel a little heavier in my stomach, everything is mostly normal.
Best moments this week: Monday was a holiday so we had Alex home – always so nice. 🙂 Wednesday one of my closest friends and her two little ones came by for a playdate, which was so fun. And tomorrow is my other close friend’s bridal shower! Lots of great stuff this week. 
Cravings: Nada. I never seem to have cravings while pregnant. Although I have been tending more towards fresh foods this time around. With Jameson I wanted french fries and greasy hamburgers and chocolate and all that bad-for-you-but-delicious stuff. This time, not so much.
Looking forward to: FINALLY finding out the gender in less than two weeks!




P.S.The outfit I’m wearing above is all from H&M. No one told me with my last pregnancy that H&M carries maternity clothes and I’m so bummed I missed out the first time around! I went last weekend and found so many great things. Super cute and comfy and reasonably priced. I’m a huge fan already!

One mistake I made with my first pregnancy was not investing in a few maternity things I really loved. I ended up stretching out a lot of my regular shirts and just sort of “getting by” on cheap and kind of ugly maternity clothes the rest of the time. I remember being confused about why I never liked the way my baby bump looked and never feeling like myself. I think a lot of it had to do with not knowing how to dress for pregnancy. So this time around I’m doing things differently. I invested in a few really great staple items I actually love (and kind of hope I can wear beyond pregnancy) and I already feel so much better and more like me.

Baby #2, Pregnancy

Pregnancy reveal!

I recently shared about the family photoshoot we had done last month when my grandma came for a visit (which you can see here) but I conveniently left out a few choice pictures. 😉 Alex and I announced our pregnancy to my family right smack in the middle of it!

One thing I regretted a bit about how we announced my pregnancy with Jameson was that we didn’t capture any of the reactions of our family members. So this time I wanted to change that. And the timing couldn’t have been better! We found out we were expecting when I was about four weeks along and three weeks later was our family photo session with our photographer friend, Erin of Graced by Light Photography. So Alex and I decided to wait until then to announce our news (much easier said than done!).

A day or two before the shoot I messaged Erin and asked if she could help me out with the reveal. She was SO excited and so eager to make it perfect for us! We decided to do it midway through the session so that everyone would be comfortable and having fun. As we walked from one location to another I whispered to Erin that I was going to do it as soon as she was ready. She set us up at the new location, took a few test shots, gave me the secret signal we had set up (really just a thumbs up haha), and then right before the next shot I stepped forward and shouted, “Hold on!!! Before we take this next picture there’s something I want to say… We’re having another baby!!!” And Erin immediately started snapping away. Just look at these reactions! Totally worth keeping the secret. 🙂

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I’m so thrilled with how the pictures came out! They’re even better than I imagined. Many, many thanks to Erin for capturing these priceless moments for us to keep forever! ❤

Baby #2, Pregnancy

Our second baby story

IMG_2465IMG_2461WOOOOOOHOOOOOO!!!! I can finally announce it loud and proud! We’re expecting Babeski #2! Is this for real?! I still feel like I’m in a state of shock, but the best kind of shock there can be. We’re having another baby. We’re having another baby! I am so dang excited!!!!

We told our families when I was about 7 weeks pregnant, but we’ve known since I was around 4 weeks. It was HARD keeping the secret, especially from my sister aka my bff aka the person I tell everything to… but I knew we were getting family pictures taken the next month and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to surprise everyone at the same time AND capture all their reactions! It just seemed too perfect a coincidence to not take advantage of. So we waited. 😊 And it was SO worth it!!! I’ll be making a separate post about the photoshoot reveal very soon, so stay tuned!

Anyway, now that I’m in the second trimester (a little over 13 weeks to be exact) we felt comfortable announcing our beautiful little blessing! And today I’m sharing a bit about our second baby story with all of you. 😊

The journey to pregnancy has been completely different this time around. With Jameson it took us a little while to get pregnant (you can read more about that story here). There was a lot of frustration, a lot of tears, a lot of negative pregnancy tests. I was assuming the next time would be exactly the same, if not even harder. But oh man, did God bless us with this child.

For a while there I was really really really content with our family life as it was. Just Alex, Jameson, and me. (And Charlie.) I wasn’t ready for another baby and I couldn’t really picture a time in the future where I’d be in the same place I was before Jameson…that place of wanting a baby so badly that it just consumed me from the inside out. There were times, sure, when I’d catch a brief stint of baby fever but it would be gone several minutes later. I was just really thankful for the happy little life we had, just the three of us.

But at the same time, I knew I wanted our kids to be close in age. Two and a half years or maybe three at the most was our ideal age difference. But since it took us so long to have Jameson I was worried it would be a much bigger gap. I was expecting ovulation tests and checking my basal body temperature every morning and trying for months on end like we had to do with Jameson.

So you can imagine my surprise when, based on pretty much NO evidence at all (zero symptoms, barely even late, we weren’t even “officially trying” yet), I took a pregnancy test on February 20th and…it was positive. I wouldn’t have even taken the test at all if it wasn’t for the fact that I happened to have some cheap tests in the cabinet just waiting to expire. I pretty much just took it to prove to myself that I wasn’t pregnant. I actually remember leaving the test in the bathroom for the three minutes and walking away saying to myself aloud, “You’re not pregnant. There’s no way you’re pregnant.” I walked back in a few minutes later and the two pink lines were right there. No denying it, I AM pregnant. 😊

So after I practiced some deep breathing and my head stopped spinning and Jameson stopped freaking out because I was being super weird and sitting on the bathroom floor saying, “Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. Okay this is happening. Oh my gosh.” I got Jameson into the wagon and we went on a walk so I could clear my head a bit. I was SO excited and so in love already but also just plain confused because, like I said, we hadn’t spent months trying and we hadn’t been planning everything out like we had with Jameson. I wasn’t expecting this for at least another six months or so, probably even longer.

But even as all the questions and half-formulated plans flooded my brain (are the kids going to share a room? Should I go to the same midwifes as last time? What am I going to do about my best friend’s wedding in August, for which I am a bridesmaid and for which I will now apparently be almost 7 months pregnant?!)…I was also oddly at total peace, which I can only say is the grace of God. He knows my heart and my needs better than I know them myself. He knew I’d never get to the place of being ready to officially start “trying” for a baby again. Is anyone ever entirely ready to give up their special time with their firstborn? I didn’t know if I’d ever be. He also knew how scared I was to start that difficult process all over again, all the disappointment and the planning and the stress. So he just said, “This is your perfect time. You’re doing this now.” And here we are again. I’m reminded once more, but in a totally different way than with Jameson, that I’m really not the one in control. And for that, I am SO thankful.

Half an hour after I took the test, Alex got home from work and I told him the news in a totally non-cute way. Basically I was just like, “Hey, so I have to tell you something. I’m pregnant.” And he immediately grabbed me in a hug and then we just looked at each other, slightly confused but so so excited. He asked how I was doing because he knew I’d probably be freaking out and then he grabbed Jameson and added him to our family hug, our first one with all four of us.

One thing I’ve learned from all of this is that we really don’t know when we’re ready for things. We might think we know, but that’s usually not the case. With Jameson, I thought I was ready for such a long time and I wasn’t. God had better plans. With this baby I really thought I wasn’t ready at all. Again, God had better plans. 😊 We are given what we need when we need it, whether we agree with the timing or not. We can be wise and thoughtful with our actions, sure, but ultimately the Lord is the one who directs our steps. To me that is an incredible blessing and a huge weight off my shoulders. I don’t have to know or plan everything.

Praise God for his goodness! We are so thankful for this second precious life He’s given us. What great love the Father has lavished on us!

See you in six months, little one. ❤

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Holidays & Special Events, Recipes

A sweet treat for your valentine 


Valentine’s Day is over and gone, but these little treats can be made all year long! (If you end an argument with a rhyme, it’s convincing all the time. I learned that from “How I Met Your Mother.”)

Anywho! I brought these mini heart-shaped pies to a ladies Valentine’s event for my church and the girls all flipped for them! They were gone almost right away. I had to make another batch later that week so I’d have more to share with my family. Wrap them up in a cute little bag, tie it with a string, and you’ve got the perfect Valentine’s gift!

With a sweet jam center, golden flaky crust, and the cutest little heart shape, these babies are sure to make all your friends and family smile. Or, you know, make you smile as you eat an entire batch on your own. (I definitely didn’t do that. Or did I…….)

The best part is… they’re so super easy to make!!! I am no baker extraordinaire but I pulled these off, no problem. I promise you can too! (And let me know if you do, I would love to hear how much you love them too! Look at that, more rhyming.)

Mini Heart Pies

Prep time: 15 minutes

Bake time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  1. One box of pie crusts (or homemade if you’re fancy. I’m not.)
  2. Your favorite jam. (I used the Bonne Maman Strawberry Preserve for one batch and the Bonne Maman Peach/Mango Preserve for the other batch.)
  3. Egg wash & a sprinkle of sugar
  4. Heart shaped cookie cutter

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Roll out your dough and cut out the hearts. (One pie crust yielded 10 total mini pies for me.)
  3. Place a small amount of jam in the center of half of the hearts.
  4. Gently brush a little bit of the egg wash (1 egg beaten with a little water) around the edges of the jam. This will help the two crusts seal together.
  5. Use the remaining hearts as the top crust. Place each one directly on top of the jam hearts and crimp the edges with a fork.
  6. Brush more of the egg wash on top of each mini pie. Add a sprinkle of sugar on top.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Enjoy! 😊❤🍓

** Credit for the idea goes to Kristen Mittler (@oldjoy on Instagram) who shared a similar treat on her profile.**

Aaaand this post wouldn’t be complete without a few personal photos from our Valentine’s Day!

Hope you all had a lovely love day! xo.

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Holidays & Special Events, Life with Jameson

The best Christmas.


I LOVE the holiday season. Some years are better than others, but this one really blew every other year that I can remember out of the water. For real, this has been my favorite Christmas.

A lot of different things played into it to make it extra wonderful… the fact that Jameson was old enough to open his own gifts and get excited about them. Spending the morning reading the Christmas story from our Bibles on my parents’ bed like always. Having a delicious dinner with my parents and Alex’s parents all together. Christmas being on a Sunday which let us celebrate with our church family at night. Getting blessed out the wazoo with such generosity from friends and family. Going to see Alex’s brother and our sister-in-law up in Prescott the Friday before Christmas. Spending Christmas Eve with my grandma and tons more family.


It was all so so good. But I think my very favorite part was when I gave my parents their gift. A few months ago I decided to get all my parents’ home videos digitized as their present for Christmas. They had been sitting in the garage for over twelve years (since we moved to Arizona) and even longer before that at our house in New York. The video camera that was used to record them broke a loooong time ago, so we hadn’t been able to see any of our memories for closer to fifteen years, probably over twenty years for some of the oldest videos.

So when my parents went out of town for a few days last month, I stole all the tapes and sent them off to Legacy Box to be converted into DVDs. They JUST made it back in time (two days before Christmas) and I was so so SO happy with the results. All of our childhood memories were right there in front of me, videos I had never seen before and videos I had forgotten all about. Hours of footage from all our best moments and tons of ordinary moments too (which actually turned out to be my favorites). Videos of me and my sister playing together in our backyard with our old family dogs. Videos of each of our newborn days. Videos of our birthdays and school plays and tap recitals and baton performances and snow days. Videos of inside jokes we quote all the time but haven’t been able to see in years. It was all there.

Needless to say, I cried like a baby watching it all through. And I was literally giddy with excitement to give it to my parents on Christmas morning.

It was the last present under the tree and I handed it to my dad while my youngest sister recorded on my phone. His reaction was the best thing ever and I’m so glad we caught it on video! He and my mom were absolutely shocked and thrilled. Oh it just made me so very happy!


They asked to watch the videos right away so we popped one in and all our memories came to life as if no time had passed at all. I’m still blown away by the care and thoughtfulness my parents used as they filmed our lives. Each clip was so obviously done with intention and with the knowledge that our childhood days would be fleeting. You can hear my dad saying multiple times in the videos, “We’ll watch this in twenty years and laugh!” Or “Maybe someday God will bless you with a baby and then you’ll know how I feel right now.” They knew time would slip by so quickly, and it did.

So this next year I’m making it a point to record more everyday moments with Jameson. Not just ten second clips for  Snapchat or a quick video of something cute he’s doing for Facebook. I want videos of our life just as it was and just for our family, because if I learned anything this Christmas it’s that the time God gives us with our children is so precious. Not every moment is “extraordinary,” but those aren’t always our best moments or memories anyway.


I hope your holiday season has been oh so very merry!

Love, the Iwanski’s

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