The Simple Friendship Between A TODDLER and 87 Year old

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My whole life when people asked me what my dad does for work, my muttered answer was always quite uncertain. Still to this day, I don’t quite understand the ins and outs of my dad’s career, but have been grateful that it has introduced me to world of assisted living facilities in the Pacific NorthWest. I found myself for many summers and my first year after college, working inside them. Many might cringe at the idea, but honestly, I enjoyed it. Maybe it was because of the caring staff and the quality of the buildings, but the atmosphere didn’t feel lonely or depressing. During the year after college, I was promoted from the cleaning and serving crew to the marketing team where I interacted with adult children struggling emotionally about “putting” their aging parents in a home. After our tour and my genuine enthusiasm about the advantages our community offered, they became excited about the independence and socialization their parent(s) would experience with us. I watched the social butterflies thrive during Christmas concerts, dinners and various outings and activities, but I also witnessed others who preferred to remain roombound. Some struggled with dementia, others with chronic pain, and it was almost impossible to persuade them to leave their 400-foot apartment-style rooms.

It wasn’t until earning my Masters in Social Welfare that I learned about the tragic statistics  haunting our geriatric population. According to Mental Health America, senior citizens make up 20% of the yearly suicide rate in America. Depression is a serious issue for the elderly, and many face chronic illnesses that contribute to this despondency.

When doctors put me on modified bedrest during my pregnancy, I was shocked at the isolation I felt being physically limited. Although I never struggled with depression, I felt dispirited for moments. I wanted to be outside, I wanted to visit with friends, but I knew I needed to slow down. It was extremely difficult for me to handle the bedrest mentally. And I WASN’T EVEN ALONE. I had my husband, my daughter and my mom helping out for the two and a half months I needed to take it easy. I was able to walk around casually and wasn’t limited to my bed. Even though I felt excited about welcoming our new son, I remember finding each subsequent day harder and harder. This experience gave me great empathy for the elderly or the ill. Some are widowed, some are bedbound, some are without hope.

That is why I felt grateful for this week’s challenge to connect with the elderly. I contacted a woman at our church to see if she had any recommendations about who to visit. She mentioned two ladies, Barbara and Peggy, both widowed and in their mid-late 80s.  So while Cooper was thrilled about our random cookie baking activity, I focused on who we were making the cookies for. I told her the cookies were going to make Barbara and Peggy happy because they didn’t have family nearby.

She quickly responded, “Then we will give them cookies and give them family to make them happy.”

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I explained that the ladies would enjoy the cookies, but our main focus was to make them happy by visiting them.  So on Tuesday, Cooper, Clark and I drove to Barbara’s home. When we pulled up, she was watering her front yard with a hose in one hand and her cane in the other. She was witty and happy to see us. I pretty much invited myself in, but she was excited to have company. Her house was dark and full of cluttered history. I am always fascinated by the history stacked on the shelves. The first thing Cooper noticed was a shelf full of old children’s books. Clark, true to form, noticed everything breakable within a 12-month-old’s crawling reach. We shared cookies and some water and listened to her stories about growing up in a remote town in Idaho. By the end, Cooper was on her lap reading a story. As we left, we promised each other another visit, next time at our house (which is a little more baby proof) and to continue our friendship at church. She waved good-bye and told us our visit had made her day.

On Wednesday we visited Peggy. Her house was bright and well organized by her adult daughter who was caring for her after a stroke. Something magical happens when the youngest and the oldest of the population interact. When watching almost-three-year- old Cooper interact with 87-year-old Peggy, I knew their friendship was meant to be. They both glowed while talking about simple things, laughing at shy smiles, and sharing cookies. Peggy managed to walk around her house with a walker and showed us her collection of Macy’s Department Store teddy bears and her bird that rings a bell on command. Cooper, of course, did not want to leave her house. I witnessed something beautiful as I watched two people, 85 years apart, share simple joys and connect so easily.

Barbara’s and Peggy’s stories about their children and grandchildren made me realize that when you are in your 80s, family is the only thing that matters. It made me think of memories of my own grandparents. Unfortunately, they all passed away at what I now consider tragically young ages (in their 60s and early 70s). Now that I have children, it's fun to witness their growing relationships with their grandparents. How lucky they are to have five grandparents who love them to pieces.

Merms (my mom)

Papa (my Dad)

Nani (Cory’s Mom)

Grandpa Clark (Cory’s Dad)

Grandma Tea Party (Cory’s step-mom).

While I do not consider them elderly, one day soon they will be, one day I will be, and at that time I hope to be visited and loved by family, friends and complete strangers delivering cookies.  



Hello. My name is Aly and I hoard toys.

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I never thought I would be that mom whose living room is over taken by toys.

Cooper’s new hobby is dumping out huge baskets of toys I have organized in the corner of our living room. At times the act is okay because it allows me 5 minutes while she is occupied rummaging through the pile of stuff. I need that time to nurse or put Clark down for a nap or to take a shower. But her passion for dumping out things has become excessive, and her dislike of cleaning them up is unbearable.

One solution would make my life much easier, yet it is difficult for me to do: give away her toys.

 WHY ALL THE BATH TOYS?

WHY ALL THE BATH TOYS?

I don’t know why I don’t donate or toss them out. Maybe I feel sentimentally attached to the toy that at one point gave her so much joy. Maybe. But honestly, I think it is more the hope she will pull that toy out-- or more realistically, a piece of the toy set-- and find entertainment in it again. When I watch her find a random toy she hasn’t given attention to in months and finds some creative way to interact with it, even for a minute, it gives me hope. Actually, it’s a false hope: If I keep all her toys around, Cooper will have more to play with, thereby giving me more freedom around the house.

There are two problems with this belief.

#1 I am losing my mind with all the stuff and messes.

#2 She is only two and a half, yet I swear she seems bored of her toys. 

So this week’s #bebetter52 challenge centered around cleaning, and because I am focused on all the toys, I remembered a blog I read a while back. I google searched “mom declutters toys and kids play better,” and there it was. How Getting Rid of My Stuff Saved My Motherhood, guest post by Allie Casazza, The Purposeful Housewife. I feel so connected to her words. I encourage everyone to read it.

She states, “When I thought about my days and how I spent my time, all I saw were piles of dishes, an endless mountain of laundry, and picking up toys and books and markers and jackets and shoes and empty water bottles and paper artwork.”

“I had to keep moving or the house and the day would collapse. When I did press pause and spend some time with my kids, it felt like I had to pay the price – catching up on housework; making up for the time I missed living my life.”

“It’s not that I’m a neat freak (in fact, I’m probably pretty near the opposite). All this work was simply to keep the house functioning.”

So what did she do?

She went into her kids’ playroom and got rid of the majority of the toys (because she said they were bored of the toys within 10 minutes anyways). The thing that happened next was what I remembered. The kids thrived with less toys. They spent 3 hours the first day with the 10% of toys left, and they didn’t even seem to notice they were gone.

So this week I attempted my own experiment.  

 THIS IS MY LIVING ROOM.

THIS IS MY LIVING ROOM.

While Cooper was napping, I took out three huge baskets of toys and two more smaller boxes and put them in our remodeled garage (my office). I wasn’t quite committed enough to completely get rid of them. I left one small box of animal figurines, a little cloth basket for Clark’s baby toys and her pretend kitchen against the wall she had not given much attention to in months. When she woke up, I was ready for the melt down once she noticed all her toys were gone.

THE OPPOSITE HAPPENED.

She became excited to see her box of animals. She pulled them out one by one, creating a zoo and using the kitchen to cook food for them. No joke, she played independently for over an hour with her animals. It has been two days and the only toys she asked for were her baby dolls. I told her to sit and read while I secretly went into the garage to grab the dolls. I came back with the dolls in hand, nothing else. She danced with the dolls, cooked them food, and read to them.

Conclusion: too many toys is never a good thing. I witnessed her imagination expand when she wasn’t so distracted by the mess and all the toy options. She was able to remain present. I don’t know why this is surprising considering I feel like I operate the same way. When I clear my desk of the papers, the notes, the mail…I am able to think clearer and be more creative.  When I clear the kitchen of the dishes, food, trash…I want to be in there cooking longer. And I want to clean it.

MY OVERALL PREDICAMENT.

The challenge this week posed a ongoing predicament: how can you spend quality time with your children and still maintain a clean and orderly house? Both are great goals. I reached out to you through @alysangle on Instagram this week asking for advice on how to handle the messes during this time in my life as a young mother, and I adore some of your responses.

From @cjonas5 “It is a sign that it’s a well lived home full of creative and happy minds.” From @larissaandrowan “I want them to have more memories of joy and fun and not just the tidy space. I’m okay with that, because this is our season. We are currently messy making memories.”

It was also fun to connect to some of our 52'ers who are very passionate about safe cleaning. Here is one of our own, Joo Linn, who highlights her love for Norwex rags. 

 

 

 

Ever Heard of Norwex Rags?

At Be Better Movement we love highlighting our 52'ers. Here is Joo Lin R who shares her passion for this week's #bebetter52 challenge and love for Norwex rags.

Hi - I’m Joo Lin on Be Better Team Awesome! I’m wife to a fantastic man and mom to four crazy awesome kids! I love organizing, spending time with my family, being active, and helping people.

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I love the mission of “Be Better” and the weekly challenges. They have introduced me to new things, some of which I love and some I don’t - ha! I appreciate the ones that have stretched me. I have had some wonderful conversations about improving ourselves so we can have more capacity to help others.

This week’s challenge of “Safe Cleaning Supplies” hits home for me. I believe in creating safe haven homes for families, specifically reducing chemicals as related to this challenge. My life changed when I was introduced to Norwex. I found a way to protect my family’s health, save money, and save time cleaning. Norwex specializes in microfiber products cleaning with just water to remove up to 99% of bacteria, virus, etc. from surfaces with proper care and usage. We also have other non-toxic enzyme products when cloth & water aren’t quite enough. I now feel comfortable teaching my kids how to clean alongside me because I’m not sending them to use toxic chemicals. I feel like our home is cleaner while spending less time doing the work. Enjoy creating a healthier home with this week’s challenge!

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I Wish I Had My Toddler's Love For Books

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I literally feel I have no time to read a book, but since focusing on this week’s #bebetter52 challenge, I realize that is not entirely true. Instead of reading a book in my limited spare time, I tend to zone out by scrolling on my phone or watching my favorite HGTV shows. Because my window of free time seems so scattered, maybe I rationalize that reading books is too big a commitment. Or maybe it is because at the day’s end, I am so spent that reading is too much work. Or maybe because most of my reading material has been birthing, parenting and self-help books, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to read a good novel.  Regardless of the reason, it is sad.

 Favorite part of the book  Little Big Girl by Claire Keane

Favorite part of the book Little Big Girl by Claire Keane

When my mom and I started decorating Clark’s nursery, essentially a 9 x 7 office with a door out to our converted garage, we knew we were dealing with limited space. Mom suggested eliminating a chair in the room. I told her that idea was non-negotiable because I spend hours upon hours in that chair nursing and reading books to Cooper. So many emotions are linked to that one piece of furniture: preparing for Clark’s birth; transitioning from one to two children; wondering how a sibling would affect Cooper; and, most intensely, worrying if I would survive childbirth.  All of those emotions intensified when reading to Cooper at night before bed. I savored those sweet pajama cuddles while she sat on the side of my big growing belly. We would read, read and read. Often I would read another book simply because I didn’t want the moment to end.

I am lucky to have a toddler who is obsessed with books. It was difficult with a newborn at first to devote the time she wanted to read. Often I’d nurse Clark while trying to figure out a way to read books to her, but frequently she felt frustrated not being able to sit on my lap. Now that Clark goes to bed at 5:30 pm, I have about an hour and a half with Cooper alone. I commit this time to reading before the lights go off. I am convinced if I kept reading and reading, she would sit listening and listening. Most nights I am forced to limit the number of books to three. Now, on top of the books, she demands made-up stories by Mommy, full of horses, fairies and elephants, all going to the park. She fills in the gaps by using her imagination. It’s simply adorable. Instead of toys in her room, she has books: one shelf on the wall, two shelves on her dresser and three baskets on the floor. I know it might seem a little excessive, but it’s how she entertains herself when we are inside.   She sits down with the book resting on her little legs, sometimes independently reading to herself, other times wanting me to read to her, and just recently, she’s started reading to Clark.

This week’s #bebetter52 challenge inspired a mid-day trip to the library. We picked up 3 books for Clark, 3 books for Cooper and her new favorite, 3 audiobooks. I noticed the audiobook section at the library a couple weeks ago and thought she would enjoy listening to stories in the car. She does. We also borrowed a CD player from our neighbor, and she listens to the narrator read the book while she follows the cue to turn the pages. She has loved the audiobooks so much I downloaded an app called Epic! You can listen to the audio books or use the read-out-loud feature where you follow along.

Cooper’s Favorite Books

Little Big Girl by Claire Keane (mommy's favorite book- where a little girl becomes a little big girl when her baby brother is born).

Big Bear, Little Chair by Lizi Boyd (Given to her by Merms when she was an infant, still a favorite)

Owl Book by Martin Waddell

Peanut Butter and Cupcake by Terry Border (Given to her by her Cousin Noelle)

The Starry Giraffe by Andy Bergmann

Time for Bed, Fred by Yasmeen Ismail ( a random library book that has become a favorite)

Good Dog Carl by Alexandra Day (classic board book with little words, so you create the story)

Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers (another great book to prepare for a sibling)

Brown Bear, Brown Bear What do you See? by Bill Martin Jr. (and now Polar Bear, Polar Bear What do you Hear?)

The Disney series I just picked up at an antique store sale (19 books for $5)

For years I thought reading novels a total waste of time (yes, so type A of me). It wasn’t until I started travelling that I discovered how books can magically transport a reader into other worlds.  Reading can be both refreshing and entertaining, and I don’t always need to be exclusively learning or challenging myself. Sometimes one just wants a good storyline to suck you in. So, I decided this morning to find such a book. I went on Amazon and typed in Nicholas Sparks. Yup, I found a used book for under $5, and I am excited about it.

Do you have any good book recommendations?

 

Poop-covered baby in a Poop-covered room

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I am always trying to figure out the most effective way of doing things. During my grad school internship when I worked in a psychiatric ward in San Pedro, I couldn’t bear wasting time inputting my data into a system that seemed ineffective and from the stone age. Consumed with how tedious the process felt, I spent half a day creating a “better” approach. Luckily, my supervisor was impressed and not offended by my insight. I tell you this because this trait of mine is a blessing and a total curse at times.

How is it a curse you might ask? If anything appears “harder” than it needs to be, I am convinced there must be a better way. Latest case: the never-ending loads of laundry. Instead of simply doing it, I have created this paralysing delusion that I can figure out a better system. So instead of putting in a load, drying it, folding it and putting it away…I waste time creating systems.

Some days, I promise myself I will fold the laundry when Clark wakes up early from his naps and Cooper is still sleeping.  My reasoning is that it won’t feel like a waste of time because it is a fun, simple task we can do together. Other days I create piles in specific areas all over the house, forcing me, hopefully, to put away the clothes while the kids are playing in that room. I’ve  concluded some chores are always going to feel like work.

The only way I can bear this type of work is to make not-so-fun tasks teaching points. My most recent approach is modeling for Cooper and saying out loud, “Sometimes we need to do things we don’t necessarily like to do.” For me, it is laundry.

My goal this week was to figure out ways to involve my children in cooking and cleaning. Including them in the process makes it a more fulfilling and quality time activity, not something that takes time away from them.

This week we started with the dishes. I hate doing dishes because it feels impossible with a toddler who loves to climb inside the dishwasher and reach for knives. This week, however, I had the brilliant idea of sticking my water-loving, always-wanting-to-help toddler in the sink to help. We have done this a couple of days in a row now and, honestly, it’s good old-fashioned quality time mixed with a little productivity. I use Babyganics dish soap, so I do not worry about the chemicals.

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Cooper has helped me complete this week’s #bebetter52 challenge to make a protein breakfast by assisting me in blending our morning smoothie, packed with peanut butter and plant-based protein powder. With the blender on her little iKea table, she put in frozen berries (one at a time, may I add) and scooped the peanut butter. The process felt educational as we named all the vegetables (kale and avocado), fruit (banana, strawberries, blueberries) and seeds (hemp seeds). (Recipes for other protein breakfasts we tried can be seen below.)

Mom life is funny. We all live and operate within our own homes, but I am positive we experience similar challenges. On the other hand, “special” one-of-a-kind moments pop up from time to time that I wonder if other moms experience.

I am going to paint the picture of one of those moments.

Clark was eating in his highchair with only his diaper on because we do baby-led weaning which pretty much means…every meal is a complete mess with food all over the high chair, the ground (luckily, we have a dog), all over him and, once I pick him up, me.  I then carry him to the sink where I give him a quick bath. In the process I take off his diaper.

After drying him off, I decide to set him on the rug in his room without a diaper. I think, worse case scenario is that he pees, right? At that point, I receive a phone call. I go in the backyard briefly so I can think clearly and carry on an adult conversation for a minute. That minute is interrupted by Cooper running outside to say, “Clark pooped.” Quickly, I end the conversation to rush into a room AND baby all covered with poop. Literally, Clark was double fisting his own poop. It was in both hands, his head, all over the rug, and his toys.

At this point I have to think fast since our big golden doodle, Tucker, has decided poop is his favorite entrée since Cooper started potty training. If she stands up too fast, and I am not around, Tucker goes in nose first. She now knows she needs to sit on the potty after pooping until mommy can body block Tucker from the portable toilet. So, in this situation my first step is to put Tucker away in the backyard, where, of course, he yelps the whole time to add that extra element of chaos.

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Then the real fun begins. Cooper comes into the room and starts gagging. (We noticed Cooper’s gag reflex when Clark was barely a month old and started spitting up a lot. Okay, let me not sugar coat it, he literally would burp/barf up a waterfall of breast milk. It would spew everywhere each time I nursed. Doctors were never concerned, but I became so used to being soaked in regurgitated breast milk, I would rarely change my milk-soaked clothing. Well, whenever Cooper saw the puking, she’d start gagging, like straight out of the scene from Four Christmases. Her eyes would became watery and she’d gag, but she always collected herself and returned to her current activity.) Well, this time she walks into Clark’s room and starts gagging. I tell her to go in the living room so she doesn’t have to smell it. She leaves and announces, “I’m okay now, mama.” She comes back into the room. Of course, the smell is horrible, so she begins gagging again. Back to the living room she marches to refocus. I then hear another “I’m okay now, mama.” She comes back a third time…but this time she bolts out of the room. I follow. She is holding her mouth, and this is where the real fun begins. She throws up all over the living room, holding handfuls of it, looking confused as to what just happened. It was her first time throwing up, and she handled it like a champ.

So a poop-covered baby in a poop-covered room and a vomit-covered toddler in a vomit- covered room. How would you have handled this all-in-a-mom’s-workday experience? Hopefully, you’ll never have to find out.

To summarize, there was no efficient way to clean up this mess. It was a lot of baths, laundry, dishes (all the toys) and scrubbing. On a positive note, however, it seems hilarious now that is over!!

 

Traveling with kids is not a vacation, its traveling.

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Since becoming a parent, I’ve reflected more and more about my own parents and how they raised us when we were young. I wish I could travel back in time and watch my parents interact with my two-year-old self. I know what my childhood felt like from a child’s perspective, one full of love, support and adventure. But now that I have children of my own, I would love to observe it from an adult’s perspective. Recently, Cory and I took both kiddos to Maui and Oahu which started me thinking: I wonder what my parents packed for us on the plane? I wonder how they handled me when I threw a tantrum in a restaurant? Would they have set out on an adventure with two babies on a 6-hour round trip to Hana down a windy road?

As a child I vacationed often with my family. I use the word vacation because most of the trips included beautiful hotels, beachfront views, overpriced food and expensive excursions. Naturally, I loved every minute of them. These vacations comprise some of my best childhood memories. My dad is the one who planned our family trips to Hawaii, the Caribbean, Mexico and our Mediterranean cruise. It wasn’t until college I learned the difference between vacationing and traveling.

Traveling was a totally different experience with inconveniences, uncomfortable nights and basically a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants itinerary. During my senior year in college, I studied abroad in Belize for 4 months, which produced situations packed with all sorts of surprises. One might ask why Belize triggered my obsession with traveling? It was because I’d never felt so “in the moment." I grew to love the uncertainty of traveling, the craft of being open minded to new cultures and the adventure of the unknown. After Belize, I traveled to dozens of countries around the world including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panamá, Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, Perú, Nepal, India, Kenya, Zanzibar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Germany.

Since having children, I have come to terms with the reality my travel adventures will look different for a couple years. While pregnant I declined multiple trips because of the Zika virus. Now I have two little ones, which doesn’t make it impossible to travel, just different. During Cooper’s first year and a half of life, she went on 18 different flights all stateside.  Since Clark joined our family, I haven’t felt confident enough to travel alone with two little ones, but I know I will get there. As for now, my husband and I tag team the our adorable and independent duo. 

Our Trip to Hawaii

As we installed the car seats at LAX and made our way home, Cory and I literally gave each other a high five. We had done it. We’d successfully taken two young kids to Hawaii. By my definition, we had traveled with the kids, sprinkling in a little bit of vacation.

We hauled around two car seats, a pack ‘n’ play, snacks, luggage, a stroller, a determined and independent toddler and a super wiggly 7 month old.

We stayed in three different houses. We are incredibly grateful for the family and friends willing to house our family of four. Even though many of the houses were kid friendly (Uncle Ry rented high chairs and a baby exersaucer), we didn’t have the comforts of our own baby-friendly stuff. We laid out towels under our children when they ate, we bathed with them in slippery bathtubs, and we slept in the same rooms, fully aware any noise from them would wake up the whole house.

We debated nap and sleep schedules daily. I was more determined than my husband to cater activities and outings around the kids’ naps. Sometimes that was an option, but most of the time impossible to do. Halfway through the trip I surrendered and just hoped they would nap in the car without having complete meltdowns by the afternoon. So everyday, mornings and evenings were packed with the uncertainty of how the kiddos would handle life outside their routines. And guess what? They TOTALLY figured it out. Yes, we had a few melt downs, but we adjusted with food, beach showers, carseat naps…and everything ended up “mo bettah.” All in all, the trip was amazing. It felt like we were gone for a month (in a good way).

To be completely truthful, I was very nervous that having children would limit my ability to travel. Yes, it looks different, but I can honestly say traveling with children is even better. You see the world through their little eyes which allows you to notice and find joy over the littlest things.

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The toad jumping across the sidewalk

The flamingos at the hotel we pretended to stay at for the day

The birds chirping at 3:30 am the first morning they woke up

Cooper announcing she is “brave” for swimming with floaties in the ocean all by herself

Literally smelling the flowers in the Hawaiian lei

Roasting marshmallows with friends at a bonfire in their backyard

The chickens at my aunt’s organic farm

After this trip I have renewed excitement about continuing my passion for adventure and travel with my children and husband.

Tips for traveling with two little kiddos

-Our bob stroller saved us: We loaded it with luggage, beach gear and children, depending on the adventure.

-Of course, bring your ergo to carry baby or toddler if they need to be strapped to your chest for whatever reason.

-Bring snacks for all car rides even though the kids will be filthy when you arrive at the destination. Just bring tons of extra clothes.

-Write down memories daily because so much happens and it is easy to forget.

-Bring reusable water bottles for the kids. We ended up buying a kid hydroflask and keeping it full during the beach days and car rides. (#bebetter52 challenge completed).

-Prepare to be up early (due to time changes), so plan a fun early morning activity. 5:30 beach mornings were the highlight of our trip.

-I brought tons of activities for the plane. Honestly, stickers didn’t entertain Cooper very long, and she was easily frustrated by them. Books and movies were the best entertainment. WARNING: Cooper doesn’t watch a lot of TV at home, and after she watched two hours of movies, her brain had turned to mush and her temperament had become much fussier…like tantrums that required us to hide in the plane bathroom to drone out the noise. Thankfully, they only lasted a few minutes.

Some great beaches for kids in Maui and Oahu.

Maui beaches

Grand Wailea (kid friendly next to hotels with pools and showers to rinse off babies)

Sprecklesville- Baby Beach (protected by reef)

Hamoa (not baby friendly, sticky black sand and big waves, just played in beach break)

Kaanapali beach (beach outside the Westin, bigger shore break)

Other kid activities

Maui - Iao Valley  (hike and play in stream)

Maui - Splash Pad (Maui mall)

Maui- Road to Hana, return backside Kaupo

Oahu – Kanu Farms (visit the Chicken Coop)

Oahu Beaches

Baby Makapuu (beach with tidepools for kids and surf next to it)

Baggers Beach (totally baby friendly)

Pipeline (top surfing wave in the world, just played in sand)

Bikini Beach (totally baby friendly)

 

Wake up: It's 5:15am

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All week I have attempted to get up early, like 5:15 am early, to find time for myself. I enjoy mornings, actually love them, but it’s been forever since I have felt rested enough to make the experience possible. With 10 months of restlessness while pregnant (too much information, but my first pregnancy symptom is getting up 5 times in the middle of the night to pee) to my babies being difficult sleepers (often up 5-8 times a night for the first 6 months of their lives), I have been sleeping in 2-3 hours windows for about a year and 4 months. But two weeks ago, we decided to ‘sleep train,’ and since I am not pregnant, my nights have greatly improved.

Two of the mornings I committed to exercising. I started attending a new UFC gym, the one my husband goes to. The feeling of finishing a workout before 7:00 am and then walking through the door all sweaty to find my husband cuddling babies in their pjs has been the best. Yes, I do love my sleepy-eyed mornings with Cooper jumping into bed, but then I start my days without a second to myself.

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On the mornings I didn’t exercise, I decided to devote time to writing. I have learned it takes committing to it the night before. So Thursday morning, I rode my beach cruiser to the Old Town Starbucks with my computer in the basket and reflected on motherhood and last week’s challenge to Walk for Mothers.

It was a wonderful week.

Life is amazing when you follow your passions. Luckily, when I am passionate about something, my heart literally beats a little faster and my mind floods with excitement. During Mother’s Day weekend, I was asked to speak on a maternal health panel by Annie, a postpartum survivor and active #bebetter52 participant. Annie and I connected instantly over email in our mission to raise money for Every Mother Counts, but it wasn’t until Cory and I drove down to attend the event that we met face to face.

During the event we spoke about how women can advocate for themselves throughout  pregnancy and the birth process and highlighted some of the blaring issues facing women in the United States today.

Here are some short videos shown on Saturday produced by Every Mother Counts highlighting the topic of Giving Birth in America.

BIRTH IN AMERICA: LOUISIANA

BIRTH IN AMERICA: FLORIDA

BIRTH IN AMERICA: NEW YORK

Annie mentioned something on stage when she was introducing herself and the panel of speakers. When planning the event, she realized that although her goal for the event was to raise money for Every Mother Counts and to bring awareness to maternal health issues worldwide, it was equally important to bring people together to connect. This comment stuck with me because it brought clarity to what motivates me. It is not only my connection with women worldwide but also knowing that through the Be Better Movement women are connecting with each other.

Mother’s Day has become one of my favorite holidays because the work I do daily is for mothers. This year, I spent it with the people who made me a mother--my wonderful husband and our two amazing kiddos.  Biking down to Orange circle, enjoying an early morning breakfast before snapping my annual picture by the fountain in middle of the circle made my Mother’s Day complete.

Over the last year, I have developed an even firmer belief in the power of women in the lives of their family and community. My personal goal is to create a movement where women can come together weekly and slowly improve their own health and wellness while impacting women’s lives around the world. Daily, I am incredibly grateful my heart beats faster and my mind floods with excitement as I work on the ins and outs of the Be Better Movement.

 

AWKWARD! SOMEONE CONGRATULATED ME ON MY PREGNANCY.

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A couple of weeks ago, I announced to my girl lacrosse players at Corona Del Mar High School that this coaching year would be my last. I actually made the decision in the summer but wanted to wait to let the girls in on my little secret. I have been coaching lacrosse at Corona Del Mar High School for ten years. I almost can’t remember a time when I wasn’t coaching lacrosse. Surprising how fast a decade can fly by. I started coaching when I was single, straight out of graduate school; now I have two babies and will be celebrating my five-year wedding anniversary.

I have experienced many sweet moments these closing weeks as I said goodbye to rival coaches, athletic directors and refs with whom I have interacted for years. This Wednesday, one particular ref announced during the pre-game coin flip that he’d heard the “news” and wanted to wish me good luck on my next adventure. It wasn’t until after the game we were able to talk in more detail, and he gave me the sweetest compliment. He said years ago one of my players was not handling the emotions of the game, and a timeout was called to address the issues. He recalls I took the player out of the game and encouraged her to apologize to him after the match.  He then continued, “It has been an honor to ref your games. Not all coaches would have done that.” I was thankful he took the time to reflect on such a memory with me. But then…oh, but then…he added, “And congrats on your pregnancy… is it your 3rd?” Oh-my-gosh, it actually happened…my post-belly pouch was so convincing he was confident enough to throw out a congrats! Although completely embarrassed, I confidently smiled and answered, “Oh, this is just a post baby belly.”  Awkward. Even now as I recount the event, I can feel the flush. Driving home, I replayed the uncomfortable moment in my head. Man, I can’t wait to get enough sleep so I can actually have the energy to start working out and exercising again.

It is ironic one of Be Better Movements mottos states, “We believe that only once you start caring for yourself will you have the energy to care for the world.” I know I won’t be able to be a good wife or mother if I do not start investing time and energy into my selfcare. I believe this statement to be true; unfortunately, my reality is far from this truth. 

To reiterate the point, this week I ambitiously decided to tackle potty training with Cooper and sleep training with Clark. Both of these incredibly important tasks are emotionally taxing and time consuming, so this week's #bebetter52 challenge has been difficult. I have been so consumed in watching Cooper’s naked little tush running around the house as I try to spot the first dribble of pee running down her leg, that it has been nearly impossible to notice anything else, especially opportunities to pay it forward.

 BYE BYE DIAPERS

BYE BYE DIAPERS

I have been trying to follow the advice of Jamie Glowacki exactly as outlined in her book Oh Crap! Potty Training: Everything Modern Parents Need to Know to Do It Once and Do It Right.The book gives an option to not nighttime train, which we decided was best since Cooper still sleeps in a crib. Why I am telling you this? As we were putting Cooper to bed two nights ago, we suddenly realized we were out of diapers. I couldn’t find a spare anywhere. Super frustrated I had to leave the house and run to Target, I jumped in the car and tried to beat every stoplight on the way there. Once I’d purchased my size 6 pack of diapers and some loose fitted boys’ toddler shorts (Coops is finding it hard to pull her pants down her cute chubby legs), I started speeding through the parking lot. Barely noticing, but also not really caring, I saw a man crossing the parking lot. I could have stopped but didn’t think I had to because of the distance between us, so I just kept speeding on. Let’s just say, I did not make his day better. The moment I saw his body language in my rear view mirror, I remembered this week’s challenge to pay it forward. It was an eye-opening reminder the world doesn’t revolve around my busy schedule, and I need to SLOW DOWN and notice other people’s needs.

The next day while meeting Be Better Intern Emilee for our bi-weekly meeting at Starbucks at the circle in Orange, I decided to stop and notice the people around me. Normally, Starbucks’ employees are super friendly and talkative, but this particular woman was not having a good day. I asked if I could possibly pay for someone’s drink behind me (which at that moment was no one). She pretty much told me I could only do it in drive through Starbucks. So instead, I bought a $5 gift card and told her to choose who to give it to. She wasn’t totally amused, but as I sat down waiting for my egg white and spinach wrap, I saw a man’s face light up when he received the good news that $5 off his bill had been gifted to him. She even mentioned it was National Pay it Forward week. Mission accomplished.

It has been fun since my rushed moment in the parking lot to search out opportunities to pay it forward. I decided to treat my lacrosse team to donuts at our once-a-year traditional 6am practice. I woke up extra early to head to the donut shop in the dark to pick up 1 dozen maple bars and 6 glazed/chocolate ones. While standing alone in the dark outside the window, I noticed a disheveled homeless man talking to himself as I walked toward me in the parking lot. I was aware I was alone and he was approaching. Within five minutes, four other people stood in line behind me, and the homeless man, now sitting on a bench, appeared less threatening. Carrying my box of 18 donuts, I thought about offering him a donut, but I hesitated. While I stood there debating, this jolly older gentlemen turned to the man and asked him if he wanted a coffee and donut. The homeless man grinned from ear to ear and announced a firm YES. I felt privileged watching a random act of kindness from a stranger more confident than I. So instead, I gifted the left over donuts from practice to our amazing neighbors, the Todds. 

 

 

 

Meet Be Better Intern: Emilie

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My name is Emilie Allen and I am a Strategic and Corporate Communication major at Chapman University. I started interning at the Be Better Movement because my passions aligned with the organization’s vision, and I was excited to help that vision grow. I have always loved all things related to holistic health and wellness, so promoting creative challenges that motivate others to try new things and be their best selves was a perfect fit! Additionally, I am very invested in conservation and protecting the environment. I love that I’ve had the opportunity to spread that very important message through my position here at Be Better.

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Outside of school and work I am an explorer at heart. I love all things outdoors from camping to backpacking and I am passionate about seeing the world. I am from Laguna Niguel, CA, so going to the beach is a necessity in my routine. Some of my other hobbies include cooking, hammocking, and of course writing.

For the movement, I write blogs, such as my most recent Earth Day Challenge, as well as help out with social media marketing. I have loved my experience working with this organization and hope you have all been inspired in some way by what we do here.

I Recognize the Importance of a Night Time Routine for my Children yet Completely Neglect My Own

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There have been different times in my life when I considered myself a “night owl” and other times when I felt I was a “morning person.” My night owl tendencies mostly ran strong during my years in school. Even in high school, I stayed up past midnight completing homework assignments. I felt most alive and productive during the night hours. Pregnancy and kids sure changed that feeling. Now in the evening hours after the kids are down, all I want to do is sit down on the couch and do absolutely nothing. I mean nothing. I don’t even want to put food back in the refrigerator or clean dishes from dinner. Looking around, I feel overwhelmed: my house is torn apart with clutter everywhere, and my list of to-do items is missing a few check marks. Nothing feels completely accomplished, and everything seems out of place.

All day long I look for little moments to get things done. I set down Clark for a minute (more like 30 seconds), hoping he doesn’t cry so I can dress myself. I rush around the kitchen acting like Cooper’s little butler, responding to her lunch commands. The second I sit down to enjoy the meal with her, she seems to need more milk or water. And I cannot keep up with Cooper’s newly found love of dumping out boxes of toys. Sometimes, especially while nursing, I take advantage of the time created by this 7 ½ minute distraction. It entertains her when I do not have the ability to interact with her other than asking her to please bring over a book so I can read it while Clark tries to get comfortable while nursing. As stated, all day long I am looking for little fractions of times to accomplish tasks. When night time comes and both kiddos are down, I am finally granted the time, but I am way too exhausted to capitalize on it.

So for this week’s #bebetter52 challenge to establish a new night time routine, I decided not to burden myself by trying to be productive in the evening hours. Ironically, I recognize the importance of a night time routine for my children yet completely neglect the need for my own.  If I start working at night on Be Better or lacrosse or on unfinished to-do’s around the house, my mind revs back up again, and I have a difficult time turning it off.

When thinking about what I wanted to add to my nighttime routine, I spent time reflecting on our nightly routines with the children. The reality is some evenings the nighttime routine with our kids goes smoothly and other nights it is tortuous. A couple of days ago my husband asked, “When do nighttime routines stop?” I had to think long and hard… “I guess when they can put themselves to bed, but I have no clue what age that is.” But even on nights when bedtime peace and tranquility are NOT easily found in our home, I find these brief episodes some of my most favorite parenting moments thus far. Here is a glimpse into the reality of these crazy evening hours.

A good night with two kids looks like this:

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We eat dinner with Clark sitting in the bumbo and Cooper in her high chair.

I start a super hot bath. Hubby plays with the kids while I jump in the bath until it is an okay temp for the kids to join. Yes, I love taking baths with them because I love baths, and it is so much easier than reaching over the side of the tub to soap them up. We play, and we talk.

Cory grabs Clark. I get out, dry off Clark and dress him in his pj’s. (Normally, this is the point when the crying begins.)

Cory then grabs Cooper. She runs around naked for a second. Then we put on her diaper and pj’s, brush her hair like “Moana,” brush her teeth to get the “sugar bugs” out and the “sugar bugs with their teddy bears” that sleep deep in her mouth.

I put Clark to bed in his crib after nursing, swaddling and singing.

Then we read books with Cooper. Lots of them. Sometimes we lay on our bellies in the room, other times we sit in the rocking chair. She demands we tell her “stories” and cuddle.

We put her in her crib, turn on lullaby music while she falls asleep.

A bad night with two kids looks like this:

I eat dinner while bouncing Clark because if I sit down, he will start crying. Cooper is demanding to get out of her highchair because she is “all done” and wants to play outside.

I start a super hot bath. Hubby takes the kids while I jump in the bath until it is an okay temp for the kids to join. Cooper doesn’t want to take a bath, so I take Clark first. Then Cory carries Cooper to the bathtub and tries to convince her to just take a bath for a second. With Clark in one hand, I am creating stories to motivate Cooper to sit down in the water and allow me to pour water on her head to get out the shampoo from her hair. She screams and twists, making the water hit her face.

Cory grabs Clark, I get out, dry off Clark and dress him in his pj’s. He is screaming.

Cory then grabs Cooper. She runs around naked and does not want to go to bed. Then the diaper and pj’s. These nights there is zero chance we are brushing her hair or teeth.  

I put Clark to bed in his crib after nursing and swaddling. He is screaming because he doesn’t want to sleep. When my husband is gone, Clark will have to cry for a couple of minutes while I try to put Cooper in her crib. I split my time between Cooper’s room and Clark’s, back and forth, to put the binky back in his mouth and to attend to Cooper.

Then we read books with Cooper. Lots of them. She demands we tell her “stories” and cuddle. She cries, telling us she wants MILK, or CUDDLES, or to say goodnight to TUCKER.

Both babies are now crying, so of course I know I must attend to Clark. I rock him and then try to nurse him back to sleep (which I know is NOT what I am supposed to do when sleep training).

We put Cooper in her crib, turn on lullaby music, and hope she falls asleep. I say goodnight, Cooper.  She keeps screaming and then finally falls asleep.

No wonder I am tired by the time they both fall asleep. Allowing myself time to be unproductive is necessary but still difficult to accept and commit to. So I gave myself a time to stop all things productive: 9 p.m. I turned off all electronics, I put my phone in the other room, I sat and talked with my husband, we went to bed at the same time (something I always used to do, but somehow got out of the habit of doing). I didn’t worry about the mess. I just enjoyed the night, allowing myself to regroup for another busy and amazing day.

 

I look 5 months pregnant when I am 5 months postpartum

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I look 5 months pregnant when I am 5 months postpartum. Sometimes, I get nervous in public wondering if people are going to congratulate me on my pregnancy when I am without my baby. How awkward would that be? Most of the weight is in my stomach, similar to when I was pregnant. I notice it when I carry Clark around because I naturally set him on my belly pouch, which makes a great little seat. The tummy ledge happened with Cooper, too. Over and over again people reassured me I would shed the weight once I started breastfeeding. It turns out that isn’t true for everyone. I didn’t lose the weight until I stopped breastfeeding and guess what, that was when I was already three months pregnant with Clark. Even though pregnant, within the first week of nursing I dropped 7 pounds. I calculated it the other day. I have either been pregnant or breastfeeding since April of 2015--3 whole years. No wonder my body doesn’t feel or look like it used to.

But guess what? I am choosing not to complain but instead to love my body. I have been blessed to be pregnant twice and am now blessed with two healthy babies. And after Cooper’s birth experience, I recognize with gratitude I am also healthy and alive. As I have mentioned before, with Clark I had a scheduled C-section. In forgetful moments, I find myself critiquing my C-section scar and the swollen section above it. I have learned that this is kindly referred to as a “mother’s apron.” Then I remember the promises I made before I gave birth to Clark, a promise to myself and to God that I would be grateful for any outcome as long as my baby was healthy, and I was alive--  even if that meant scars, tearing, bleeding, surgeries, etc. So when I look at my belly scar, my little mother’s apron, and my extra 15 lbs, I remind myself of these promises.

So the next step is how to love and embrace the changes in my body, without using them as an excuse to throw up the flag and surrender to the weight gain? How do I find time to exercise when I am barely finding time for other essential priorities like sleeping, showering and eating? The reality is I am still up all night with Clark. Last night I decided to write down every time I got up with him because the night would soon pass, I wouldn’t remember the exact number and I wouldn’t be able to give you a true accounting.

Well, he went down at 7:00 p.m. Then back up at 9:30 p.m. when I nursed him. I went to bed at 10:00 p.m. hoping that because I had just nursed him, I would get at least three hours of uninterrupted sleep. Nope. I was up at 11:15 p.m., 1:00 a.m., 2:30 a.m., 4:15 a.m., 5:15 a.m. and finally up for good at 6:45 a.m.

How in the world am I supposed to have energy to exercise when I am not sleeping? I am barely finding the energy to be a mom of two while coaching lacrosse and running the Be Better Movement.

My conclusion: Sometimes everything looks black or white to me. I am either going to be all in or all out. That is one of the reasons I love the #bebetter52 challenges. They are not telling us to change our whole lifestyle, but to just add little challenges weekly. I need to remember that eating healthier and exercising doesn’t have to be so dramatic. The reality is I won’t be able to fit hour-long gym sessions into my life right now or go on an extreme weight loss diet while I am nursing and need the extra calories.

I think it comes down to committing to eating healthier and exercising even though I won’t see the results in weight loss. This week, making healthy smoothies is my focus and a great way to sneak tons of extra nutrition into my diet and my family’s. Cooper loves the morning smoothies and so does my husband. When Cooper had a cold a while back, I loved the suggestion of adding an orange into a smoothie for the extra vitamin C.

 I have made healthy smoothies for breakfast at least 3 times a week since Coops was little. At first the sound of the blender would scare her so I would always tell her when I was going to blend so she could cover her ears. Now i have cooper warn calrk for the noise to come.

I have made healthy smoothies for breakfast at least 3 times a week since Coops was little. At first the sound of the blender would scare her so I would always tell her when I was going to blend so she could cover her ears. Now i have cooper warn calrk for the noise to come.

Here is what I put in my smoothies this week:

Blueberries

Banana

Frozen Kale and Spinach (buy fresh, cut it up and put in freezer)

Hemp seed

Chia seed

Natural peanut butter

Plant-based protein powder

Coconut milk (chocolate flavor, which has extra sugar but so yummy)

A little coconut oil or avocado oil

Going forward this week, I am not going to be so black and white. I want to find the gray zone and do little things to improve my health. My goal is to love my changing body but at the same time to take care of it. Our bodies are truly amazing, and I believe it is a huge responsibility we are given to take care of them and LOVE THEM.

 

Including Kiddos in Holiday Traditions

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The  Monday before Valentine’s Day, I laid out Cooper’s Valentine’s Day outfit for her special V-Day date with daddy. Growing up, my sisters and I always received little valentine gifts from our dad, so I was excited for my husband to start a new tradition with his daughter. All day, I asked, “Are you excited about your date with daddy?” and her quick response, “Yes, ice-cream!” (I had casually mentioned they might stop for this rare treat, but it was now written in stone in her little mind.) The date was a success! Cooper came back glowing with happiness, reporting how she watched “snow” on TV, (aka the Olympics) and loved her ice-cream sundae. It has been fun including our kiddos in a holiday which previously only felt appropriate for romantic love.

On actual Valentine’s Day, I woke up extra early to meet new Be Better interns, Brielle and Sophie, down at the Starbucks at the Old Towne Orange Circle. We sat and  constructed the love notes and hearts we planned to scatter all around the circle. We couldn’t wait to see the reactions of complete strangers as they picked them up. Our task completed, we headed over to the circle and thoughtfully placed love notes on benches and red hearts on trees. When our work was done, we headed back to Starbucks to continue our meeting. The whole time, however, I was distracted, looking outside at random strangers picking up our letters and actually taking photos with the hearts. I felt giddy that somehow we were making people feel loved, maybe even a few who had grown to despise the holiday because of romantic relationships gone awry. Later that day, I was notified through the hashtag that people had found the Valentines. My hope is that in the future, I can include my kiddos in this holiday tradition to decorate old town with hearts and letters of love.

By focusing on giving love this Valentine's Day, I was amazed how much I didn’t care what my husband bought or did for me today. I feel incredibly blessed to be happily married. Probably because we just started a weekly tradition of going out on a date each week, staying home and cooking dinner in my pj’s felt like a perfect way to spend the night.

Today is the day after Valentine’s Day, and I feel motivated to not let this feeling of wanting to give love to others dwindle. So here I am, pulling out a pen and paper to write Anne from More Love Letters a handwritten letter. Tragically, she lost her husband, the love of her life, and she now struggles with loneliness. This whole experience has made me think beyond myself and connect with a stranger in need of love. I hope my letter gives even an ounce of comfort during this difficult time in her life.

Watch this inspiring TED TALK by founder of More Love Letters, Hannah Brencher

Cooper's Fake Cry on top of Clark's Real Cry

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A crying infant produces anxiety in almost anyone who hears it. However, when it is your baby crying, the anxiety escalates even faster. You become focused on calming and consoling your little one so the baby is once again happy and content. Sometimes the crying stops by a simple pick up and bounce; other times, if you’re stuck in traffic for instance, you must reach behind the seat to hopefully secure a binky, no easy task. In these moments, I must say I do a pretty good job keeping my composure. But sometimes baby Clark is not my only distraction. In these moments of distress, Cooper is now demanding a binky and tries to out “fake cry” Clark's real cries. Most of the time I can handle even that chaos, but add to the mix my barking Goldendoodle, Tucker, that seems to bark at EVERYTHING since the birth of our babies, and I lose it.

It is just too much simulation.

So last week I felt excited to explore opportunities to find silence throughout my day. I noted many moments I could have invited silence into our home but tended to fill it with noise. For example, Cooper had her first dentist appointment at Treehouse Pediatric Dentistry with “Carter’s Mom,” aka Dr. Nasem Dunlop (most adorable pediatric dentist office by the way). Putting both babies into the car to begin our 25-minute drive was comically chaotic, complete with one loud real cry and another annoyingly loud fake cry. Sweating with anxiety, I strapped them both in their carseats and jumped in the front seat. Normally, I would turn on the 52 Sing-A-Long songs on Pandora and blast “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” the entire drive. But I decided to drive the whole 25 minutes in silence. To my complete shock, Cooper chatted to herself, sang little songs, looked out the window while observing the rolling hills off the 241 toll road. And Clark, after I reached around the seat to hold the binky in his mouth, fell fast asleep. And what did I do? I enjoyed the silence and relaxed, feeling content I had allowed quiet into the car.

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I found myself continuing this routine throughout the week. Every time I reached to turn on the TV or music, I considered allowing silence to envelop the space. Many times, as Cooper played with her pretend kitchen in complete silence, I stopped and watched. Reducing the stimulation allowed her imagination to take over. Not to say we didn’t enjoy our morning dance parties with music in the kitchen, but I was okay with the silence this week and actually invited it in.

White Noise Machine

Ever since Cooper was 6 months old, we have blared white noise in her room as part of her bedtime routine. She first started calling it night-time noise and now white noise. When researching silence this week, I discovered constant noise all night long might not be good for little brains and ears. It turns out some of the white noise machines turned on full volume produce a dangerous amount of noise. The article from Science News titled, “Should you Hush that White Noise?” states, “Out of 14 commercial noise machines, three machines were pumping out noise louder than 85 decibels, the limit set as safe for workplaces. Above that limit, government regulations mandate that adults wear ear protection.”

At night I started feeling uncomfortable about keeping the sound machines blaring all night long in both of the babies’ rooms. So when we put the babies down, we set the machines at a lower volume than before and kept them on until we went to bed. I then tiptoed into the rooms and turned them off. I felt much better sliding under the covers knowing that for hours their little brains would be experiencing the benefits of silence.

My alone silent moments.

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I decided to go on a late night run to Old Towne, Orange.  Arriving at the circle, I sat on one of the benches in silence for at least 5 minutes. I had jogged there without music and noticed the glowing moon and distant city noises. I sat on the bench and observed all the people walking by. I noticed the more silent it is around me, the louder the thoughts in my head become. This is something I have always known about myself, specific to my studying habits. I hated studying in a library because I became distracted with my thoughts in contrast to studying in a busy café. For some reason the stimulation forces me to focus my thoughts on what I am doing. Strange, huh? So instead of analyzing all the thoughts stampeding through my mind during my run, I let them come and go as they pleased, almost like sitting in a theatre witnessing a movie in my head. Interestingly, creative ideas to include in Be Better came to me as I naturally reflected on what I wanted to write for Aly’s Angle.

Although I have never previously enjoyed silence, this week I looked forward to creating silent moments throughout the day and have grown to appreciate them. Yes, I will still be naturally talkative, love listening to music and will most likely work best in stimulated settings, but I now understand the beauty of the proverb, “Silence is Golden.”

Our First Company Partnership: Pretty In Green Plants

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With more participants joining the Be Better Movement daily,  we are committed to finding companies passionate about supporting you in your journey towards self-improvement by donating money to charity every time you complete a challenge and donating products to motivate you.  

Last week we were so excited about our first ever company Partnership with "Pretty in Green Plants. They donated an air purifying plant to one of our lucky participants, Carmen. 

Here is a blog written by Pretty in Green owner, Monica Dia Moreno, sharing details about her passion: plants.

Houseplants make us happy, we might not know why, but we know that they do. Having a well-groomed garden, going for a walk in the park, or even looking at a landscape poster have immediate psychological benefits. It reduces stress, improves concentration, and help us think clearer. But beyond these psychological benefits, plants make us healthier too. Houseplants clean our air of toxins, create live-giving oxygen, and even remove mold spores and radiation from our homes. Helping us to live happier, healthier lives.

My name is Monica, I am the owner and operator of Pretty in Green Plants, and promoting wellness through air purifying houseplants is my life passion in life and the driving force behind my business. I am a strong believer in setting ourselves up for success in small, everyday ways that have immediate results and give us the strength to conquer larger goals. Adding houseplants to our living and working spaces is one of those ways – plants are proven to lower blood pressure and anxiety, increase energy, productivity and concentration, decrease headaches, allergy attacks and asthma attacks, and help us sleep better, among many other benefits. Not bad for a little houseplant, huh!

At Pretty in Green, I aim to make plants available to all regardless of location or disposable income available to spend on greenery – plants to the people, I say!

No matter the region, budget, or free time, there is an air purifying plant for you! From the lowest maintenance plants, like Snake Plants, that require water every 3-4 weeks and can live in a close without natural light for months at a time, to engaging ones like Ferns that will keep experienced gardeners busy. There is the perfect plant for everybody.

Connecting with companies with similar missions like Be Better Movement, and being able to join forces to form and community and promote wellness together, is the most rewarding and exciting part of this journey. Knowing that there are people out there as committed to creating social good makes every bit of work worth it and I can’t wait to see the positive impact that the Be Better Movement team has over the years! Thank you for selecting Pretty in Green to support your Clean Air challenge goal!

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When I think I am Too Tired, An Instagram Notification Pops Up

 Cooper's kitchen and house plant.

Cooper's kitchen and house plant.

As most of your know, I am the founder of the Be Better Movement. I am also mom to two little ones and the head varsity lacrosse coach at Corona Del Mar High School. At times I thrive off managing this balance; other times, to be completely honest, I am overwhelmed by it all. But this week I want to talk about what has motivated and fueled me: you guys.

I started the #bebetter52 challenge three years ago in 2015. With the help of a handful of Chapman University interns, my cousin who write blogs, my mother-in-law who edits the blogs and donations from family members, we kept the vision of Be Better alive with countless hours of creative marketing and challenges. Many moments I wondered,  “Would anyone notice if I just called it quits.” But I decided to just put in another 6 months, then another, and another. The reason I kept going was the responses I’d read when people reported their completed challenge.  I felt guilty though because I was the only one reading the motivational accomplishments you were doing weekly. I looked for ways to build a sense of community but struggled to do so. 

This year I came up with the idea to encourage teams of five to complete the challenges, an idea that became obvious to me while coaching and witnessing the support teammates gave each other. When you do something as part of a team, you are not only held accountable, but it becomes fun. I envisioned team captains leading teams of four friends and/or family members. I envisioned group text chains sharing information about creative ways to complete each challenge.  By creating mini-teams, I knew participants would feel the sense of community I felt when calculating the total donations and reading responses.

Of course, we still embrace individuals signing up and completing the challenges alone, but creating Be Better Teams seems a game changer. Everything feels different. I stay up every night after the babies go to bed, working on ways to motivate you guys to complete the challenges. Doors are opening left and right because of your posts on social media. When I think I am too tired, an Instagram notification pops up, I read its complimentary depiction of Be Better Movement encouraging more friends to join, and I am rejuvenated.

This week alone:

Our audience has grown.

Our participation has increased and our #bebetter52 is flooding social media.

We had our first company partnership with Pretty-In-Green Plants.

After a family stroll through our downtown,  I walked into the Potting Shed in Old Town, Orange, to purchase a plant for the challenge. While Cory chased around Cooper and I had Clark, I was lucky to find the store owner, Jack, and asked his recommendation for air purifying plants. While showing me around the absolutely adorable I-would-buy-everything-if-I-could store, I asked if I could take his picture for the blog. What happened next is what I have been feeling all week-- the exciting potential of Be Better Movement.  Jack asked if I were available at 9:30 in the morning to share more about the Be Better Movement on his live radio show, Pots and Plants with Jack and Annie, KOCI 101.5 FM. So the next morning I sat in a radio station talking about you guys, the challenges and our cause.

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So, yes, you bought a plant last week that not only improved your life but also raised money for Every Mother Counts. You may be unaware of the fact it was YOU who motivated me to keep pushing on. You inspired everyone who follows your post and, better yet, other Be Better participants who are following your hashtag.

Thank you for being part of the Be Better Movement. I cannot wait to see what this year will bring. Be Better has great potential to connect with companies, people and products that do good in this world. I am just grateful to be a part of this work.

   

Morning routine with a newborn: walking around, half dressed, reeking of regurgitated breast milk

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One of the first questions people ask when they see me: “Are you getting any sleep yet?” Currently, a good night’s sleep is Clark starting the night sleeping in his crib, waking up at 10:30 p.m., at 12:30 a.m., 2:30 a.m. and 4:30/5:30 a.m. to nurse and going back to bed relatively easily. He normally ends up as our co-sleeper from 5:00 a.m. either sleeping next to us or on us the rest of the morning. And yes, that is a good night sleep. Let's not talk about the sleep I got last night which was spent on the couch cuddled next to his co-sleeper putting in his pacifier every 20 minutes to stop the crying. 

I am always surprised how moms seem to operate on so little sleep for months at at time.

To be completely honest, I struggled to create a morning routine with a newborn up all night. Unpredictable wake-up times with a toddler made it even more challenging. When morning comes around (depending on how the night went), all I want to do is savor those last few minutes in bed.  My amazing husband honors my desire, so he gets up with our toddler and starts her morning when we hear the early morning “Dada all done” calling from her room.

This extra time I choose to ‘sleep in’ creates a problem for me. When I hear my husband turn off the shower, it means it is time for me to get up. It is game time. I go one hundred percent into mommy mode. No time for me to look in the mirror, go to the bathroom, brush my teeth or take a shower. I remember feeling confused when I heard new moms say it was hard to fit in a shower. Now I know why.  First thing I do is nurse Clark. I soon become covered with spit up (he likes to projectile everything he ate all over me). I then walk around, half dressed, reeking of regurgitated breast milk most the morning. I change diapers, feed Cooper, and try to convince her to let me get her dressed. Sometimes I get lucky, and Clark is okay to chill in his rock and play during the mornings rituals; other times, I am bouncing, holding and wearing him, too. We read books, I try to clean, and some mornings I try to work when the babysitter arrives. It is not until afternoon naps that I take a look at the house and myself and realize we are both a hot mess.

All day long I struggle with the decision about how to spend my time. During Cooper’s nap, I think: should I clean the disastrous house, should I work on Be Better or should I nap?  It isn’t until night time that I have a chance to take a breath and focus on myself, oh and my husband.  As you can see, fitting in a morning routine is extra hard at this stage of my life, but it is also obvious why it is necessary. A hot shower or a morning jog would be wonderful ways to begin my day, giving some “me” time in a world fully focused on my kiddos right now.

So this week, instead of focusing on my inability to create an impressive morning routine, I reflected on the little things I love about our mornings at home. First thing in the morning, I love opening up all of the blinds to let in the morning light. I love getting up and kissing my babies and husband. I ask Cooper what she dreamt about, and she has different answers ranging from “horses and auntie Mads” to “pigs.” I love turning on music, allowing it to fill the room.  I love nursing in the morning because it feels extra cuddly. And even though I feel grungy by noon, I love I can do it all in my pj’s.

Mid-week I loved one of the #bebetter52 posts by Laura (a Be Better Team Captain). She states, “ Since I often feel like I don’t get enough one-on-one time with each of my loved ones, I decided to share my morning more with them. Today I woke up 15 minutes earlier (and got ready for my day) so that I could wake Larissa up 15 minutes earlier. We sat on her bed together and arranged her beloved toys on the end. Then we read a book. It was a morning filled with extra hugs and giggles.”

I decided to incorporate her morning routine into mine. One morning while still in bed, before the storm of responsibility hit, I enjoyed my cuddly time with Clark before Cooper woke up. Being present and slowing down my morning, allowed me to connect with my baby boy. I sometimes fear I am not able to give him the undivided attention I gave to my firstborn, but that is a topic for another blog.

So yes, I would feel much better if I were able to have a little me time in the mornings, but it might be a couple of months before I get a solid enough sleep to add showers and exercise.

 

 

I Just Can’t Think Through all the Clutter

 This is us going through toys and picking toys to give away

This is us going through toys and picking toys to give away

I grew up in a spotless house, not one with an uncomfortable, museum-like atmosphere, but one with an inviting, organized, now-I-can-relax feeling. My mom, a stay-at-home mother, valued a clean house. I always enjoyed the comforts of our home but never realized how much work it took to maintain that level of organization until I became a mom with a home of my own. I also didn’t realize how much more at peace and relaxed I feel in a well-ordered house until I experienced living in a home that rarely looks organized. I feel lighter and more focused when I do not see “stuff” littered everywhere. As it turns out, this was and is one of my mom’s biggest motivations for keeping the house tidy. She admits, “I just can’t think through all the clutter.”

We live in a small house, and for that reason I feel it is extra important to be on top of everything  that comes in. Our house is not dirty, but for some reason, I struggle to keep our house tidy. I have too much stuff everywhere. All day long it seems I am cleaning and putting away this and that. The kitchen will be clean until the next meal, and then it feels like a tornado has passed through. Maybe it is the fact I am trying to feed a toddler while holding an infant. Maybe it is the fact I don’t have the time or hands to clean as I cook. But clutter is everywhere and, unlike my husband whom I honestly believe doesn’t see the mess, it’s all I see.  

About a year ago I read a blog written by Allie Casazza of Purposeful Housewife titled, “How Getting Rid of My Stuff Saved my Motherhood.” I remember it so well because I related to her struggle as I was learning the balance of motherhood with Cooper, barely one year old. She discusses how she chose to be a stay-at-home mom but never actually spent quality time with her kids because of the constant cleaning and picking up to keep her house “functioning.” When she asked friends and family how they managed their home and kids, their response was a simple, “You’ll get through it.” What she did next has stuck with me all year as Cooper’s and now Clark’s toys begin to accumulate. 

“I went into the playroom – the room that was the bane of my existence. This was a room full of colorful bins, each bin full of toys. There were toys on the floor, in chests, in boxes, toys everywhere. I would send my kids in here to play and they would come out less than ten minutes later complaining of boredom. This room was pointless, and I’d had enough.

I started working through the room, making piles – keep, trash, donate. I got rid of every single toy that I felt wasn’t benefitting my kids. If it didn’t cause them to engage in constructive or imaginary play, it wasn’t staying in this house because it wasn’t worth the work it caused me. If I was going to clean up it was going to be the things that added to our lives; it was going to be only the things we needed and the things we truly loved.

 We love Christmas, but with the holidays come more stuff. Extra motivation to donate some items.

We love Christmas, but with the holidays come more stuff. Extra motivation to donate some items.

When I was finished, all that remained were trains and tracks, a couple of dress up costumes, books, and blocks. The trunk of my car was overstuffed with toys to take to Goodwill, my playroom was purged, and I immediately felt lighter.

The next day my kids ran downstairs for breakfast, and as usual, I sent them into their playroom to play, curious to see if meltdowns would ensue because of what I’d done with their toys. They walked in, looked around, said something along the lines of “Hey! It’s nice and clean, Mommy! Hey! There’s my trains!” and happily started playing.

I was shocked. I stepped out of the room, poured myself a cup of coffee, and sat on the couch. To my surprise, my kids played in that room that day for three hours. Three hours! It wasn’t just that day either. They continued to want to be in their playroom for long amounts of time from then on. They started going outside more often, making up stories and scenarios together, playing tag, and creating art. It was as if I had unclogged their God-given gift of imagination when I got rid of their toys.

I took my purging into other areas of the house – the dishes, the clothes, the drawers and cupboards – and our whole home-life continued to transform. I was spending much less than half the time managing my house, I was playing with my kids, I took up homeschooling, my marriage even improved because I wasn’t a cranky maniac anymore. My depression lifted and never came back.”

So on that note, I absolutely loved this week’s Be Better challenge. In the spirit of giving, I looked around the house to find five items others would appreciate. I enjoyed the opportunity to think of individuals who would benefit from some of Cooper’s and Clark’s hand-me-down clothes and toys. Mom’s friends have been good examples of letting go when their child grows out of a stage. I was given bags of clothes for Cooper and Clark which I am now passing on to other new moms.

This year I began the giving tradition with my almost-two-year-old daughter, Cooper. We talked about choosing five of her toys to give to Santa so he could share them with other children. Although she wasn’t able to hand select the toys to donate, I spoke to her as if she understood completely. We went through all her toys and found two sets of blocks, a toy car, a pretend purse and one finger puppet to give away. This year I didn’t wait until Christmas Eve for Santa’s pick up, but I gifted the toys to my housekeeper who often goes to Mexico with used-items and hand me downs.

When completing this week’s challenge, I experienced what Allie from Purposeful Housewifes described in her blog. We reduced some of the living room clutter. Cooper played with her toys more and seemed to enjoy the experience. She wasn’t overwhelmed with the bins of toy options because I had condensed her toy selection to one bin. She seemed to feel the same way I do with a clean house, more creative and relaxed.

Looking for Be Better Team Captains

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The High Five #bebetter52

A Be Better competition where teams of five work together to complete the weekly #bebetter52 challenges throughout the year. It is a fun way to stay connected with friends and family throughout the year while striving your best to be better. Plus it is an opportunity to compete against other Be Better teams for incentive prizes throughout the year.

 

How it works?

Create a team

Pick 5 friends and family to form a team.

Decide on a team name and captain

The team captain will receive supportive content directly from Be Better Movement to forward to teammates. Once the team name is decided, please fill out Team Captain form.

Teammates join the movement

Have all teammates sign up for the weekly newsletter at www.bebettermovement.com/join/  

Make sure they add the team name on form.

Start group text message or email

Create a supportive network aimed to help hold teammates accountable in completing the weekly challenges. We encourage team members to share recipes, creative ideas and completed challenges throughout the week.

Complete and compete

Be Better Movement will be keeping track of all the completed challenges based on teams. Gifts and prize incentives will be given throughout the year.

Most importantly,

You stay connected to friends and family throughout the year while striving your best to be better and, at the same time, raising money for Every Mother Counts.

By joining a team or becoming a team captain, you are not committing to complete all 52 challenges.

Having Two babies is no joke

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So it’s been eight weeks without an Aly’s Angle, but I have a good reason. On October 17, 2017, Clark Gregory Simons came into the world, weighing a whooping 9 lbs. 12 oz.

Having two babies is no joke. One baby was demanding, and I remember thinking no other mother has gone through the events of new motherhood like I was experiencing. Having two babies is a different kind of hard. The word summarizing my last 8 weeks is CREATIVE. You definitely need to be resourceful with this balancing act of two.

For example: How do you bathe a toddler who decides to put lipstick all over her face and hair while you hold a fussy baby in your arms?

Solution: Quickly set down the baby while you undress toddler girl. (At this point, of course, the baby really starts to scream.) As you undress the toddler, try not to get lipstick all over her clothes or yours. Stick the little girl in a bathtub filled with cold water because that is what she demands. The bathtub is a good place because it keeps her captive. Next, nurse baby boy while you sit on the toilet and try to convince big sister to wash her face by herself. Unfortunately, you must cut off nursing a little too soon because your sweet little toddler decides she is “all DONE” and is now climbing out of the tub. With one arm holds the baby, pull the toddler out of the bathtub with the other arm. Now you have a completely wet, naked toddler to dry and dress. Dressing and diapering big sis with baby bro in your arms is another story, especially when the baby is wrapped on your front and the toddler protests her diaper by frantically kicking .

On average, I experience about four of these crazy moments a day. Then, I oversee about ten more tamed-down versions of this moment and one full-on crisis moment. Today’s crisis moment happened around 5 pm when Clark did NOT want his diaper changed. He was wailing away while Cooper started to scream because her baby doll stroller had become stuck in the doggy gate. In a bout of frustrated rage, she throws her doll. The dog confuses the doll for a ball. Hyper dog now runs around the living room with the doll as my distraught toddler screams, “Doll back. Doll back!”  All the while, my 2-month-old is bawling while I try to put his clothes back on. During these moments, I only wish someone were capturing this drama on video.

Interlaced in these moments, I am blessed to witness the beauty of sibling interaction. And when one is napping, everything feels simple. I do my best to focus on spending quality time with the one, either Cooper or Clark.  My pediatrician gave me great advice: spend at least 30 minutes a day giving Cooper your undivided attention without baby Clark. I have come to realize this 30 minutes is important to me as well. My goal is to give that same attention to Clark because when I am nursing him, unlike with Cooper, I am not just gazing into his eyes. Most of the time I am reading Cooper a book, chasing her around the house, or trying to grab a toy.

I know life is going to be different for Clark than it was with Cooper, but I am determined to make “different” a good thing for him. I tend to analyze, which is my biggest strength but also my biggest weakness. I want Clark to be given the attention Cooper received, but it feels harder to capture all the little moments with Clark because of the adorable business of Cooper.  All parents out there, any suggestions?

How is Cooper adjusting?

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Everyone seems curious as to how Cooper is adjusting to her baby brother Clark. Honestly, she plays more independently, and 80 percent of the time seems indifferent. Fifteen percent of the time she plays, sings, helps with her brother by getting diapers and watching me change him. Five percent of the time she wants to test the limit. Her light taps on his head end with a full- blown slap. Gently putting the binky in his mouth turns into hard press-forcing the binky in even when he doesn’t want it. I have found myself saying all day, “Be careful,” “Be quiet,” “Be gentle,” “You don’t want to hurt your brother.” All of a sudden I had the idea to switch the conversation. I decided to playfully tell my two-month-old Clark to be careful around Cooper. At the time he was kicking his feet in the direction Cooper was sitting. So I gently told Clark, “Baby, be careful not to kick your sister Cooper.” All of a sudden Cooper had this relieved look on her face which said, “Yeah, baby, don’t hurt Cooper!” I asked if she were okay and continued to remind Clark to be careful and gentle and not to hurt his sister Cooper. It honestly seemed like Cooper finally realized it is a two-way conversation that goes both ways in a sibling relationship.

My summarizing thoughts:

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I think one of the biggest fears a first-time mom has when she learns she is pregnant with her second is a fear that somehow this new addition is going to change the mommy-daddy relationship with their first. At least this was a big fear of mine. I love the relationship I have with my daughter; I treasured the moments of just us. Thinking that special closeness could change terrified me. This is what I noticed.

Even without a newborn in the house, I believe most moms have moments wondering what happened to their sweet little baby when they turned two. Where are the days when we would just snuggle on the couch together? So even without a newborn, the mother-child relationship will always be altering and changing. Again my prayer is that different doesn’t mean bad. It just means different.

With a newborn in the house, everything your toddler does seems traumatically amplified. I don’t know if it’s because you want to create a peaceful environment for the baby and that’s not possible. Or maybe it’s because this innocent little creation sleeping in your arms contrasts so sharply with the little person trying to define her personality and boundaries. I feel lucky I exude most of my patient moments at home with my family, but I sometimes find my patience with Cooper feeling shorter. I don’t want to be impatient with any family member, so I have been reminding myself to breathe and to remember my intense feeling of not wanting a second to negatively affect my firstborn. My patience is something I can control, so I am working on it. Again any tips?

While I adjust to two babies, balancing #bebetter52 has been a little bit of a challenge. This week, however, I was excited to go to the story kidless and pick up some nutritional yeast. I haven’t had the time to make anything with it yet, besides sprinkling on top of pasta, but it does have a cheesy, nutty taste. Despite my multiple attempts to coax my husband to try it, he is grossed out by the name and won’t get close to it. I like it. I’m excited to try this Avocado Mac and Cheese dish I found online, complete with nutritional yeast.

Clark’s Birth Story

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Clark’s birth story started the day my daughter Cooper was born. I didn’t realize this until after his birth when we began to settle into our home as a family of four.

Everything went exactly as I prayed it would. I surrendered control, trusting the doctors’ knowledge on how best to keep both Clark and me safe during his birth. So when they told me at 40 weeks and one day that their recommendation had changed from a vaginal delivery to a scheduled c-section, it felt like an easy consent. The doctors encouraged me to discuss it with my husband, which I did. I told him the way Clark comes into the world is immaterial. Only the outcome matters. I had three priorities, in the following order:

First, Clark is healthy and safe.

Second, I do not die.

Third, my fertility is preserved if possible.

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At 2:05 p.m. on Tuesday, October 17, 2017, baby Clark Gregory Simons came into the world via c-section while I watched over the curtain into a mirror. For a variety of reasons, my doctors confirmed a c-section was indeed the safest method after baby Clark came out a whooping 9 lbs. 12 oz. and 21.5 inches long. During the remainder of the surgery, I focused on the cries of my new baby boy, the expressions on my husband’s face as he watched his wife and new son, and intently to my doctor’s tone as he stitched me back up. My baby’s cry was clear and strong. My husband’s smile was joyous and proud. And all the doctors’ actions and words were casual and calm. Everything went as planned. Was I surprised? As my doctor walked out of the room, he confidently said, “1, 2, 3.” My three priorities had been safely delivered.

The alone time in the hospital with our new baby felt magical.  Even though a short twenty-one months earlier we had welcomed Cooper into the world, everything felt new. The truth is everything was new and different. I wasn’t separated from my baby for the first eight hours of his life. I was able to spend that time with him tucked in my arms. And the most wonderful part was introducing our baby to his big sister. It was a moment I had envisioned many times during therapy. Visualizing the moment after Clark’s birth when we sat together for the first time as a family of four gave me great peace.

The differences between the two births of Cooper and Clark were extreme. From the second Cooper was born, the questions of whether I should have another child or if I would survive another childbirth weighed constantly on my mind. Every moment leading up to Clark’s birth was charged emotionally with the uncertainty of these questions. The emotions were not always negative either. I appreciated every moment of my pregnancy as though it could be my last one. I knew, I felt, I believed I would be okay. But it wasn’t until I actually was okay that the reality, the weight of these unanswered questions was lifted. Leading up to the birth, I can’t tell you how often the thought would cross my mind--would I return home to Cooper and Clark, or would I die?

I didn’t realize it, but the trauma of almost dying after Cooper’s birth had brought an intensity of emotions into my parenting and relationship with Cooper. So when everything went smoothly with Clark’s birth, in a way, I grieved the absence of intense emotions, both positive and negative. In no way am I alluding to wanting another traumatic birth. Everything had gone exactly as it was supposed to and as I had prayed for. It might sound strange, but back at home, it was like I had “nothing to worry about” anymore. The question of whether I would survive childbirth was answered. The worry over that possibility was no longer necessary, yet strangely I was uncomfortable with its absence. I had become accustomed to living with this intense, fear-laden perspective that with life now calm and peaceful, it felt foreign. I have always heard that people in abusive relationships gravitate or create emotionally unstable relationships because they are comfortable with that life pattern. It was kind of like that, and I felt shocked by these feelings. I needed to schedule a therapy appointment to figure out why I felt this way. I did not want traumatic to be my normal.

My therapist affirmed I had been existing in this heightened state of emotion, and it was now time to feel emotions in a healthy calmness. My anxiety stemmed from worrying that calm would somehow change my parenting perspective and connections with my children. I do not want my interactions to become commonplace or redundant or my intense feelings of gratitude to wane. When I read Coops and Clark a book, I want to be as present and excited as possible even though I might read that same book a dozen times to them. I want to appreciate all the chaos and not take for granted the everyday. My therapist mentioned I need to focus on the positive emotions that come from simple moments like watching Clark’s little baby breath, snuggling his newborn body and dancing with Cooper in the kitchen when cooking breakfast.

As I mentioned, Clark’s birth story started the day Cooper was born. A process of miracles made it possible. Hours of therapy made it mentally and emotionally happen. Personal and family/friend prayers answered made it spiritually possible. Support of family during doctor-ordered bed rest made it physically happen. Clark Gregory Simons, it is undeniable you are meant to be here as part of our little family. You have taught and continue to teach me that beauty is found in the simplicity of comfort and calm. People always told me that your love only expands when you welcome another child into your life, I can now confirm that is true.  And for those reasons and more, I am forever grateful for the birth of my two babies, Cooper and Clark.

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