Big Guy Turns One – Ice Cream Theme 1st Birthday Party

After recovering from Monteczuma’s Revenge this past June, I had a very, very important job to do. It was time to plan my son’s 1st birthday party! I was torn on how big or small I wanted to make it. I could keep it simple and low key, just inviting our immediate family over for cake and ice cream, or I could plan an actual themed party and invite all family and close friends. In the end, I thought, “He’s my first child, and the first year as a parent is fabulous and tough as hell, so we might as well celebrate big!”

We have a rather large family, when both sides come together, and some close childhood friends who still live in the area, so planning and paying for a full-on meal with cake was unfortunately out of the question. It was hot, the end of July, and practically everyone loves ice cream, especially me, so I finally decided on doing an ice cream theme party.

I will apologize now, this is a long post and very cute photo heavy. All photos are a great courtesy of Courtney D’ne Brown Photography.

Ice Creme Theme Birthday Party Ice Creme Theme Birthday PartyIce Creme Theme Birthday PartyIce Creme Theme Birthday Party Ice Creme Theme Birthday PartyIce Creme Theme Birthday PartyI’m not a fan of cliche store bought decor nor did I have a big budget, so like usual around here, everything was pretty DIY. I made “ice cream cones” out of regular balloons and brown paper that I just rolled and taped together. The invitations, one year poster, ice cream jar monogrammed labels, bunting banners, and thank you photo cards were all made possible by the awesome and easy tutorials over at Just a Girl and Her Blog. Who knew I could make such things in Microsoft Word?!

Ice Creme Theme Birthday PartyIce Creme Theme Birthday PartyIce Creme Theme Birthday Party

For drinks we had water, lemonade, green iced tea, and beer (not shown) available. Of course we had to incorporate the same “Saegertown Aristocrat” box we used for Big Guy’s newborn photos and one year photo shoot. We like to bring things round circle around here. The banner above the beverage table was made with twine and clothespins, and a photo from each month during his first year.

Ice Creme Theme Birthday Party


Ice Creme Theme Birthday Party

Those who know me well, know that I really do not enjoy being on either side of the whole “sit and open every gift in front of everyone” process. Most people really only care to see their own gift opened. My husband and I tried our best to open gifts in front of just the gift giver, and anyone near by who cared, as soon as they arrived or we had the chance to give them a proper welcome. Larger parties are usually hectic, so this also ensured each guest got quality one-on-one time with Big Guy and Matt or myself, and sometimes but rarely, all of us together.

1st Birthday Opening Presents

I also had a table set up with different photos and decor telling the story of Big Guy’s first year of life outside the womb that became a landing spot for guests to put presents in the meantime. There, we had a guest book available for his loved ones to write him a special message. Matt and I both wrote a short letter to him and plan to do the same thing at each birthday.Ice Creme Theme Birthday Party

The cake was made by my best friend Courtney, who also took all of the beautiful photos that day and for our family photo shoot. I gave her these sugar-free recipes to work off of, and she made her own delicious version.  I even saved and froze three pieces for us to enjoy on his second birthday. The topper is vintage from my mother.

1st Birthday Smash Cake

1st Birthday Smash Cake 1st Birthday Smash Cake 1st Birthday Smash Cake 1st Birthday Smash Cake 1st Birthday Smash Cake 1st Birthday Smash Cake 1st Birthday Smash Cake 1st Birthday Smash Cake 1st Birthday Smash Cake

The cake sat on his personal wood dish, which sat on an antique musical metal cake plate. It is a family heirloom on my Mother’s side. We unfortunately forgot to wind it up when I presented him with the cake, so she stepped in and helped.1st Birthday Smash Cake 1st Birthday Smash Cake 1st Birthday Smash Cake 1st Birthday Smash Cake 1st Birthday Smash Cake 1st Birthday Smash Cake Naturally, we had to do a taste test to make sure it was safe. 😉1st Birthday Smash Cake 1st Birthday Smash Cake 1st Birthday Smash Cake 1st Birthday Smash Cake 1st Birthday Smash Cake 1st Birthday Smash Cake 1st Birthday Smash Cake 1st Birthday Smash Cake 1st Birthday Smash Cake


It was such a wonderful day full of love from all sides. The rain held off so we were able to finish our family photo shoot. To finish it off, here are some awesome shots Courtney captured before and after the party. These first ones are some of my all-time favorite photos.

Breastfeeding on bed Mother and baby in bedroom Baby Playing Piano Baby Playing Piano Baby playing piano Baby playing piano Cavalier King Charles Spaniel on couchAnd after the party…

1st Birthday Boy Photo Shoot 1st Birthday Boy Photo Shoot 1st Birthday Boy Photo Shoot 1st Birthday Boy Photo Shoot 1st Birthday Boy Photo Shoot 1st Birthday Boy Photo Shoot 1st Birthday Boy Photo Shoot 1st Birthday Boy Photo Shoot 1st Birthday Boy Photo Shoot We used this shot below to send as a “thank you” card.

1st Birthday Boy Photo Shoot 1st Birthday Boy Photo Shoot 1st Birthday Boy Photo Shoot 1st Birthday Boy Photo Shoot 1st Birthday Boy Photo Shoot 1st Birthday Boy Photo Shoot 1st Birthday Boy Photo Shoot 1st Birthday Boy Photo Shoot 1st Birthday Boy Photo Shoot 1st Birthday Boy Photo Shoot 1st Birthday Boy Photo Shoot I cannot believe I now have a one-year-old son. My, oh my, how time flies when you’re having the time of your life. I love you so much, Big Guy.

Big Guy Turns One – Family Photoshoot

I am very fortunate to have a best friend who is a fabulous photographer. Her name is Courtney, of Courtney D’ne Brown Photography based in NYC. I am unfortunate in the fact that she lives 7 hours away. Lucky for me, she was able to fly in for the weekend of my Baby Shower last year, and graciously did a maternity photo shoot with me. For months, even prior to my pregnancy, we would share inspiring maternity photos with each other via the internet.

Of course once my baby was born, I wanted her to not only meet him, but be the one to capture his one year photos. It was very last minute but she was thankfully available to fly in yet again for the weekend of his first birthday party this past July. Not only did she take beautiful photos again, but she baked her butt off in my kitchen preparing for the party. She also loves to cook, and takes over the entire kitchen while she visits, feeding us delicious meals. She is, hands down, a very best friend. Now that I am writing this, I sadly realize that we never got a photo of just the two of us! I’m not surprised.

On that Friday evening we did a family photo shoot in our yard. Here are my favorites:

First Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown PhotographyFirst Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown PhotographyFirst Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown Photography First Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown PhotographyFirst Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown Photography First Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown PhotographyFirst Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown Photography First Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown Photography

First Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown PhotographyFirst Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown Photography First Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown Photography  First Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown Photography First Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown PhotographyFirst Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown PhotographyFirst Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown Photography First Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown PhotographyFirst Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown Photography First Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown PhotographyFirst Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown Photography First Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown PhotographyFirst Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown Photography First Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown PhotographyFirst Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown Photography First Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown PhotographyFirst Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown Photography First Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown PhotographyFirst Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown PhotographyFirst Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown Photography First Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown Photography First Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown PhotographyFirst Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown Photography First Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown Photography First Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown PhotographyFirst Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown PhotographyFirst Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown PhotographyFirst Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown PhotographyFirst Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown Photography    First Birthday Family Photoshoot by Courtney D'ne Brown Photography

Isn’t she so superbly talented?!  I am never, ever disappointed. Thank you love for capturing the essence of my family. You can see more of her photos from Big Guy’s 1st birthday party by clicking here.

To Each His Or Her Own Journey

Now that Halloween is over, I have been seeing a certain video being shared on my Facebook newsfeed. You may already be familiar with it, the latest video by Jimmy Kimmel showing the reactions of children who have been told their hard earned Halloween candy has been given away. On the opposite spectrum, I’ve also seen lots of posts in various parenting groups I’m a part of regarding the disbelief and disgust that such a video was made, let alone shared on social media. I can empathize with both sides of the story though, because I have actually been on both sides.

As a mother who follows RIE parenting principles, which is based on respect and trust, I am also now disheartened every time I see a video that exploits children in such a way. I admit however, that I didn’t always feel this way. I am completely guilty of watching Jimmy’s first video, laughing, and <gasp> even sharing it. Yup. That was a time when I was still living in NYC, not yet pregnant, and childless. I hadn’t yet begun my research into peaceful parenting, so like the majority of American culture, I didn’t understand the depth behind a child’s intense feelings and emotions. So I get it, and can empathize with the urge to laugh and share such videos. Some of the children’s surprisingly mature responses I still find endearing today.

If you’re a bit confused as to why this video is up for debate, let me briefly explain. Candy to a child, who has worked so hard for by dressing up, going door-to-door, reciting “trick-or-treat” for two hours, and staying up past his or her bedtime, is a very, very valuable commodity. Being told it was given away without their permission by the people they trust most, their parents, is the same as if your own parents came to your house and told you they gave away your most prized possession that you worked so hard for, like your week’s paycheck that you worked overtime for. On top of that, they filmed your reaction and put it on the internet for the world to see, laugh at, and share. Does that seem very nice? Not really.

Parents are often quick to ask a child who does something undesirable, “How would you like it if someone did that to you?” Us parents should be the ones asking that question to ourselves when we say, share, or post embarrassing situations of our children to the public. It takes years, 18 to be exact, to be considered an adult, so why do we expect children to have and understand adult emotions and feelings? Most adults still can’t properly process their own emotions and feelings. I see it all over social media on a daily basis when people post overly-emotional information regarding their personal life.

This happens in all aspects of life though. For example, I happen to choose to eat organic food whenever possible. I, again, didn’t always think this way though. As a child, I was the pickiest eater who refused to eat any cooked vegetables; except maybe corn. They had to be raw, and they had to have ranch. If someone would have told me that within a decade, I would eat pretty much anything and be rather health conscious, I would have scoffed at you and rolled my eyes like a hormonal teenage girl is often known to do; and continued eating my fast food, fountain soda, and candy bar.

Once I “saw the light” and began eating healthier and learning more about the poison that can be put in our food, I wanted to tell the whole world and thought everyone should know and follow. I began preaching to my friends and family, causing some of them to either scoff at me or feel bad about their own choices. Well, that wasn’t very nice of me was it? I would also get really upset that some people couldn’t grasp or understand how important it is to choose a healthier lifestyle.

I finally learned, however, that we never truly grow up. Just like toddlers, if you force someone to do or hear something one isn’t prepared for, he or she will more often than not, reject it. Adults are just like children, in this aspect. If you push too hard, we push back. We have to be ready to accept change. I am still realizing that if I just focus on my own life, and simply live by example, people who are interested in hearing what I have to say about a certain subject, will eventually inquire about it. Once a person is open to and interested in an idea, he or she will always seek out more information.

Hindsight is always 20/20; or at least it should be. But it’s so easy to judge a person or get upset by someone who has not yet received that hindsight. It’s not worth our time and energy to get upset about things or people we cannot change, or who are not yet open to that change. It’s also way too easy to get upset or defensive when we find out something we personally did or thought, wasn’t the best decision or correct way of thinking. This is something I have personally always struggled with. I get very easily embarrassed, and have an extremely hard time earning up to my own truth.

If you’re reading this and feeling guilty about your reaction to the videos, please don’t beat yourself up about it. I was there once too. We all are on this journey to see the light, and some are further along than others in different aspects of life. Find empathy and compassion in your heart for those who are still learning, even when it’s yourself. Remember, when we know better, we do better.

Baby with ball of light

Guatemala – La Tercera Parte (Part Three)

If you haven’t already, you may want to check out part one and part two of my travels to Guatemala before reading on. Thank you everyone who already has!

On our tour of the monastery grounds, we were able to see just how much work has been put into this home to be as self-sufficient as possible. Madre Ivonne has a mushroom lab, where she makes all sorts of tinctures and natural remedies for not only the children, but the local community. Over the years, they have had some HIV+ children, and by her medicinal mushrooms and the grace of God, some of them were cured. Their doctor of course accused her of witchcraft. The children are given daily mushroom supplements for extra immunity. In return, they rarely get sick!

The grounds are also home to coffee and fruit trees, a tilapia farm, rabbits, welding and work shops, and much more that I know I’m forgetting. It’s a very inspiring operation they have going on! Again, can you imagine if we in the US had more orphanages like this? Instead of children being sent from one questionable foster care home to the next, they would have a safe, clean, self-sufficient environment they could call home until hopefully adopted. A girl can dream…Mushroom LabMadre Ivonne's Mushroom LabCoffee PlantsTilapia FarmMonastery GroundsWater TowerGuard DogWelding ShopRabbit FarmThe one day Big Guy and I ventured into the kitchen to see what was going on. The staff were so sweet. The freshly made cookies and bread were amazing. The food everyday, although often simple, was always delicious. Rice and black beans were served at every meal, and I didn’t mind one bit.San Miguel del Lago KitchenSan Miguel del Lago Kitchen Farm Fresh Eggs Cookies Fresh BreadWe planned ahead to bring down a simple craft for the women to do with the girls, and the men to do with the boys. We did chalk art, while the boys made paper airplanes. Both were a hit. It truly is amazing that even though we can hardly understand each other (besides some of the teenagers who can speak English), we thoroughly enjoy the time spent together. Love is the easiest language to communicate.

San Miguel del Lago San Miguel del Lago San Miguel del Lago

San Miguel del LagoMy mom had a great idea to draw hopscotch in the gravel during playtime with the younger girls. Not a bad backdrop for a game of hopscotch…San Miguel del Lago

San Miguel del Lago San Miguel del Lago San Miguel del Lago Our team member, Olivia, turned 15 years old while we were in Guatemala. There, turning 15 is a huge deal, like our Sweet 16. It’s referred to as a Quinceanera, and typically involves a dress-up occasion with at least a mariachi band, food, cake, and dancing. I was fortunate enough to experience two of these during my first trip! Since it is not as big of a deal for us Americans, we celebrated simply by surprising her with Guatemalan cakes and singing. Olivia's Birthday in Guatemala Guatemalan Birthday CakesOne of the first days we were in Guatemala we took the younger girls for a walk down the mountainside toward Lake Amatitlan. We walked so far before heading back up to get washed up for dinner. Later in the week we finally went all the way down, and didn’t realize how much further we had to go! Once to the bottom it was one of those moments where you’re hiking and hiking and all of a sudden you come to a breathtaking view that literally stops you in your tracks. This is what it was like. All of a sudden we were on this lake surrounded by beautiful landscaping and in front of us was a… castle? It was this hidden gem that we had no idea about!

After checking it all out, we then had no choice to hike back up the mountain. It was hot and humid and tough. I would be lying if I said some people didn’t make it to the church service that evening from exhaustion. Knowing that the children make that hike so often really made us realize how out of shape a lot of us were!

Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan IMG_8345 Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan

Our last full day we celebrated the Divine Liturgy with the children and nuns. Fr. Daniel was able to give a wonderful Sermon in English that was translated for the children and staff, and even attempted some prayers in Spanish too. Afterwards Mother Ivonne told us how special it was to watch Big Guy go to Communion, since it has been a few years now since they’ve had babies. One of the highlights to their day was watching the nannies bring all the babies to the Church to receive Communion. The youngest child while we were there was four years old already, and was a more recent addition to the home. Because of the ban on international adoptions given by UNICEF and the government, it has complicated logistics, so they are unable to receive any more children, unless they are literally dropped off at their doorstep by their parents. The hope is that, by the grace of God, the ban will either be lifted, or the government will be more cooperative so more children can have such a loving home as this one.

Lavra of Mambre Lavra of Mambre  Lavra of Mambre Lavra de Mambre Lavra of MambreMother and Daughter

Following church we had brunch together and then we performed a play for the children. Father Daniel played the guitar while we acted as mimes depicting the story of creation. The children really seemed to get a kick out of it. Afterwards they presented us with gifts of gratitude and hugged each of us goodbye. Such a bittersweet moment.

Creation Play Creation PlayCreation PlayCreation Play

San Miguel del LagoI’m so grateful to have been able to travel to and visit with the children, nuns, and staff twice now. Both visits were unforgettable, and completely different. I can only imagine what my next visit could bring. As it usually is with volunteer work, I often leave feeling like I took more out of it than I was able to give. Our society is only able to grow if the individual is willing to grow first though. We must begin by looking, healing, and growing within, before we are able to transform without. Thank you for supporting me on my journey to grow.

Guatemala – La Segunda Parte (Part Two)

If you didn’t get the chance to read my first post on our trip to Guatemala, you can do so by clicking here.

Last time I traveled to Guatemala, I didn’t get to really experience much of life outside the orphanage, other than taking the younger children to the children’s museum and for lunch at Pollo Campero, which was totally fine and still an unforgettable experience. This trip however, we traveled about an hour and a half by van to visit Antigua, the oldest city in Guatemala.

Driving through Guatemala is when it really sinks in just how fortunate we are in the US. Our impoverished areas, although heartbreaking, are still nicer and safer than how the majority live in developing countries. It is so inspiring to see how hard they work, for basically nothing, and are relatively happy. There is no unemployment or welfare to live off of. They work their asses off just to survive. Period. It often makes me wonder what our country would be like if we had that sort of accountability and responsibility.Guatemalan Woman Guatemalan woman carrying on her head

Truck Trailer Half way there our van began to overheat. Jorge, our driver and Madre Ivonne’s brother, had us all get out while he lifted the front seats up to reveal a smoking engine. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly concerned. Eventually it cooled down enough for us to be on our way. Some missionaries had to use the bathroom so a generous neighbor let them in their hut to use their toilet, which I heard was literally a hole in the ground. We were then able to take the older children and teenagers on a field trip to the beautiful Jade Museum. Missionaries waiting for van to cool down Missionaries waiting for van to cool downEntrance to the Jade MuseumJade MuseumJade Museum Recycling at the Jade Museum Bench at the Jade Museum Jade MuseumJade MuseumAfterwards we were able to treat them to ice cream and enjoy some entertainment in the park. Mayan women with their babies walked around selling handmade items, while we happened to become quite the tourist attraction. All the blondes and Fr. Daniel were asked to be in random people’s photos!Ice Cream Shop in Guatemala Ice Cream Shop in Guatemala Antigua Mayans Tourists in AntiguaWe had to part ways with the older children and teenagers so they could resume their school day back home, so we headed to a coffee farm for some delicious lunch, and afterwards did some shopping at the local market for souvenirs. Jorge assured us the particular market he was taking us to was full of handcrafted items in Guatemala, not China, and they had a good working relationship with these people.

Then he took us to the neatest little ice cream shoppe I’ve ever been to. Not only did it have delectable flavors like black bean, cheese, and guava, but the inside was decorated beautifully with antiques and handmade items. We sure were glad we held off getting ice cream earlier. What a treat!

On our way home we had to give the van some time to cool down again to ensure we made it home safely, so we stopped at a shop that had all sorts of beautiful artwork and furniture made by local artists.

Guatemalan coffee farm

Guatemalan Fare

Guatemalan Ice Cream Shop

Guatemalan Ice Cream Shop

Guatemalan Ice Cream Shop

Guatemalan Ice Cream Shop

Guatemalan Ice Cream ShopGuatemalan Ice Cream ShopGuatemalan Artisian ShopGuatemalan Artisian ShopGuatemalan Artisian Shop That was such an enjoyable day out, and am so glad my team and I got to experience it, broken down van and all. It is so important when traveling to new places, especially places of a different culture, to emerge ourselves into their daily life as much as possible. It is the only way we truly grow and have understanding, empathy, and compassion for different ways of life and thinking.

Stay tuned for Guatemala – La Tercera Parte!

Guatemala – Primera Parte (Part One)

It’s almost the end of October. I took my second missions trip to Guatemala back in May. I am just now finding the time to share my experience! Suffering from Monteczuma’s Revenge for the entire month of June did not help, at all. Then Big Guy’s 1st birthday party happened the week before Matt turned 30. Then two weeks later we took our annual camping trip. The end result? Me trying to condense almost 1000 photos and stories into something manageable for you, 5 months later, so I can finally move on with my life! I was just going to write one long post, but decided in the end to break it up a bit.

I led a team of 12 missionaries, including myself, my husband, my son, and my mother, to San Miguel del Lago in Guatemala. It is an Orthodox monastic orphanage, formerly known as Hogar Rafael Ayau. The name changed last year when the nuns were finally able to move the orphanage to the monastery grounds about an hour outside the city, in the mountains of Lake Amatitlan. The former property in Zone 1, the worst part of Guatemala City, is still in use as a church for the community, as well as a free medical facility for the poor.

Missionaries in Guatemala

Our main purpose as missionaries during this trip was to bring down basic necessities for them and spend quality time with the children. It is common to think it would be more beneficial to “just send money” or “mail necessities to them”, but it unfortunately is not that easy. While money is graciously accepted and put to wonderful use, it only goes so far in Guatemala. Many common items are much less expensive in the US. Also, their postal system, along with many other facets of their government, is rather “unreliable” and cannot be trusted. Therefore, we each traveled with our one free checked bag, one carry-on, and one personal bag, full to the very brim. We were definitely those people sorting and organizing bags at the airport! Here we are unpacking all the donations for Madre Ivonne to organize and put away.

San Miguel del Lago missionary donationsThe grounds of the monastery and orphanage have breathtaking views. What a blessing for them to finally be free of pollution, noise, and violence!

San Miguel del Lago

My son was such a trooper. There was a 2 hour time difference, so he was forced to stay up a bit later than usual, but we still tried to keep him on schedule as much as possible. No one wants an extra cranky baby while traveling in a developing country. Or anywhere. Anytime. 😉 We also got attacked by mosquitoes in our “sleep” the one night, and he unfortunately got the majority of the bites all over his face, arms, and legs. We joked that they may not let me back in the country because he almost looked like he had a disease like small pox! He was definitely the “hit” of the week with everyone. I will never forget the sound of his name in their sweet, endearing accents. I still catch myself (and his Grandma) occasionally saying it so. I am so grateful we were able to travel together as a family unit.

Baby Carried in a Sling

San Miguel del Lago

San Miguel del Lago

San Miguel del Lago

First pool experience.

Mayan Gulf Resort

Every weekday morning at 645am we met in the chapel for a Matins service, and at 4pm for Vespers. Saturday evening was a 2-hour Vigil in the church, and Sunday morning Divine Liturgy was celebrated at 8am. It sounds like a lot of church, but when you’re there to serve and that is their daily routine, it doesn’t seem as “inconvenient” as it sometimes can back home, even just going once or twice a week (or less for some). When going to church becomes a part of our lives, such as eating and bathing, you look forward to it. This routine is vital for the health and well-being of the children. Most of them come from nightmarish backgrounds, whose only hope is knowing that God is leading them to a better future.

The Chapel

The Chapel


The Chapel

Monastery of the Holy Trinity Guatemala Monastery of the Holy Trinity Guatemala

The one afternoon we joined the girls at their soccer training in a field across the street owned by the neighbors. And by we, I mean I watched everyone else work out while taking photos.

Futbol Training

Futbol Training

Futbol Training

Futbol Training

Futbol Training

Futbol Training

Church Behind the Field

Futbol Training

Almost every day after breakfast and lunch we did maintenance work. Father Daniel and Matt installed hardware in all of the girls bathrooms. We were blessed to have such handy team members to help the girls have a more comfortable living space. The rest of our team did some much needed yard work and helped organize the sewing room. It was hard for me at times not being able to help much because I had my baby with me. I had to keep reminding myself that I was not there in vain, but had done all of the prep work getting us there safely, as well as organize the benefit we put on the month before.

San Miguel del Lago San Miguel del Lago San Miguel del Lago San Miguel del Lago San Miguel del Lago San Miguel del Lago San Miguel del Lago San Miguel del Lago

San Miguel del Lago yard work in guatemalasewing room Want to read more? Check out Guatemala: La Segunda Parte.

My Birth Story Part II: Big Guy’s Home Birth


Birth Pool

Today Big Guy turns 1 year old. I’m sobbing inside. To make matters worse, I will now tell you about his beautiful birth story. Side Note: If you are interested in my journey to choosing a home birth, you can read all about it by clicking here.

Short Version:

My birth story all started on July 22, 2013 around 11pm and ended on July 25, 2013 at 6:28am.

Long Version:

To start, I practiced the Hypnobabies (HB) home study program in lieu of traditional birth classes, which had me refer to words and phrases such as labor as my “birthing time” (BT), contraction as “pressure wave” (PW), pain as “discomfort”, transition as “transformation”, and due date as “guess date” to help relieve any negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions that often accompany the birthing process. I truly believe Hypnobabies helped me have a peaceful and pain-free birthing experience!

I felt my first pressure wave on Sunday, July 22, 2013 around 11pm as soon as I laid down to sleep. They felt similar to my worst menstrual cramps when lying down, so I sat upright in a rocking chair in Big Guy’s room instead. They were pretty regular, lasting about one minute and around 4 minutes apart until about 3-4am before they started slowing down. I started listening to the “Easy First Stage” HB track to help me fall asleep, which I did, while waking at least 1-2 times an hour with intense PW’s. At around 5:15am I decided to try to sleep sitting upright on the couch which made the PW’s much more manageable and I eventually awoke for the day at 7:15am when my husband woke up. I was so glad I didn’t wake him during the night, as he had no idea I was up all night!

PW’s started again around ever 15 minutes but were very manageable. I called my midwife then who advised I try to just rest, take a walk if I’m feeling antsy, but don’t exert too much energy by trying to make them stronger. She said something along the lines of, “It sounds like you are one of those women who are affected by melatonin levels, so your contractions are stronger at night, and slow down during the day. Maybe we’ll have a baby in the next day or two though!” The thought that it could take another day was exhausting. Little did I know it would take much, much longer than that! I listened to my “Birthing Affirmations” track while making granola and doing some payroll work at home. PW’s continued all day every 10-15 minutes, but slightly more intense than the night before. I had my husband set up the birthing pool before left for work that day just in case things sped up while he was gone. Later on I listened to the “Easy Childbirth” track to help me relax and nap a little, and then listened to soothing music. I remember my husband texting me that he heard Duchess Kate was apparently in labor at that moment too. It was also a full moon so I had high hopes!

Monday night I was up all night again “sleeping” upright on the couch when PW’s slowed down again by Tuesday morning. My husband decided to stay home from work hoping we would have the baby soon. PW’s were the same as the day before so we took a walk hoping something would happen and just to get out of the house but nothing changed. I had very little appetite during this time also. The rest of the afternoon we watched movies while I breathed through PW’s. A thunderstorm rolled through later on taking our power with it. I texted my midwife about it and she replied, “This may be true Amish style!” My husband drove down the road to find the electric guy and asked him to fix our power first since I was in labor. The guy agreed and the electric came back on around 9:30pm just as we were about to go to bed and had lit candles. That evening, PW’s got much more intense and more like 3-5 minutes apart, but still completely manageable while listening to HB tracks. At around 1:30am we called my midwife and she advised we call again if I felt I needed her. I think we called her around 3am and she came over to check on me, but around 5-6am PW’s started slowing down again, despite my husband covering our windows with black sheets!

Birth Pool with Dog

At that point my midwife received a call from another client who was bleeding so she asked if I felt comfortable with her leaving to check on the client. I figured she might as well since things were slowing down for me. She said she’d send over her assistant in an hour or two if she wasn’t able to get back right away. Her assistant did show up later that morning while my PW’s finally picked up again around 10am Wednesday. I listened to my HB while changing positions and my husband began re-filling the birthing pool. It didn’t seem to be filling up, and then I heard my husband leave the garage in our four wheeler, so I knew something was up. The assistant told me he was checking on the well, but everything was fine and not to worry, that I was doing great. Eventually he was able to re-fill the pool. He told me our well ran dry so he had to go to the creek for some water and literally poured it down the well! We have a UV filtration system, so it was clean enough. Then he called and ordered water to be delivered so we wouldn’t need to worry about it again for the next couple of days at least. At some point that afternoon my midwife returned, and I thought I overheard her telling her assistant that her client ended up being in labor and delivered her baby already! I made myself ignore it and pretend I didn’t hear correctly so I wouldn’t get discouraged. In the end, I heard right. I was wearing my bathing suit top while in the pool, but eventually it was really bothering me during PW’s so I took it off. I definitely didn’t plan to be naked for my birth, but alas, I was and didn’t give a shit at the time.

Birthing Time

I labored between the pool and toilet all evening until about 1:30am when my midwife asked if she could check my dilation and the baby’s positioning since it was taking so long. Up until this point, I had not had one exam through my entire pregnancy. I agreed, but she knew already that I didn’t want to know how dilated I was because earlier I had told her, “I’m scared you’ll tell me I’m only at a 5, and I’ll just get discouraged!” She told me that 5 wasn’t bad, but in my head it was. I took my headphones off while she checked me and she said, “Well, you’re not a 5!” I told myself that she meant I was at 7cm dilation. Still not great in my head since it had been so long already, but still manageable. She then advised me to remain out of the pool for a little and try new positions to help the baby descend. I was willing to do anything at this point since I was so exhausted and it had been so long. From this point on my PW’s got much stronger, partially due to the positions I was doing, I stopped listening to my HB tracks, and I being too tired to focus easily.

At one point, I asked the assistant if she knew how much longer it would take, as if she was God or something. Obviously she didn’t know, but she told me to let out a good cry if that’s what I needed and it felt good. So next PW, I bawled my eyes out, but I definitely think that release of tension helped move things along! It was more than likely me going through transformation. Shortly thereafter, I decided to go to the bathroom again and while sitting on the toilet and holding on to my husband, I had a very intense PW. The assistant said if it felt more intense, that was a good thing and to try going through some more PW’s sitting on the toilet. I think I had about 4 more PW’s when I told her I felt a lot of pressure to push and she said to do so if it felt right. I then responded by telling her I was scared to get hemorrhoids from doing so! Then all of a sudden, my water finally broke. It was like an explosion over the toilet and my husband gasped and jumped thinking the baby came out! I immediately told the assistant I did not want to have the baby over the toilet, rather in the pool so her and my husband helped me waddle back to the pool.

My husband said I pushed for about 1.5 hours. I put on the “pushing track” but eventually it was just repeating what we all knew so my midwife advised to shut it off. At first I tried simply breathing through pushing PW’s as I always envisioned, but they were so overwhelming as if I didn’t know what to do with them! That’s when my midwife woke up from napping on the couch (it had been a long few days for her too), and she advised I center my pushing toward my pelvic area, and moan through them if it helped. It did seem to make a big difference! I remembered her telling me once that most women make this broken-up, stuttering, groan, and I let that very sound happen which also seemed to help. I started by floating on my back in the pool, but eventually switched to a squat position leaning over the pool side while holding my husbands arms. Once the baby finally started to crown, I turned my back toward my husband while he held me under my arms and I squatted and felt I could better relax the bottom half of my body. I remember have all sorts of random thoughts during the pushing phase. I remembered a friend telling me she thought the baby was going to kill her when coming out and I didn’t feel it was that bad at all. It was super intense, but nothing I couldn’t live through. The quote, “I am woman, hear me roar.” seemed to stream through my mind a lot. Then when I finally felt “the ring of fire” as the baby’s head began to emerge, I told myself it wasn’t that bad, not to focus on it, and send my “natural anesthesia” to the area. The assistant urged me to feel the baby’s head, but for some reason, I absolutely did not want to.

After that I didn’t feel anything, and all of a sudden I pushed the whole head and body out all at once which I think surprised all of us! The assistant announced, “There’s your baby, grab your baby!” and I remember thinking, “Oh yea, there is a baby!” I had been so focused for so long on the actual birthing process and was so exhausted, I had forgotten the beautiful gift I would receive in the end! I held him for a few minutes while trying to wrap my head around what just happened and catch my breath before I asked to check for the sex of the baby. I told my husband I wanted him to check, and then we all saw that it was a baby boy! My husband began to cry which was so endearing. I myself couldn’t believe it, since my entire pregnancy we both had thought it was a girl, until the last week I all of a sudden changed my mind and thought we were having a boy.

Just Gave Birth

Big Guy was finally born on his actual “guess date” of July 25, 2013 at 6:28am weighing  6 pounds, 9 ounces, and 19 3/4″ long. A tiny guy who made up for it in one week by gaining almost an entire pound! I ended up being too exhausted and weak to push the placenta out in my current position while holding the baby, so the midwives ha dme hand him off to my husband to hold so I could get in a squat position. I felt very lightheaded and they told me not to take such deep breaths anymore since I was no longer breathing for two beings. I squatted and then the placenta easily came out with a little pushing, but it didn’t hurt at all. The assistant helped me out of the pool and into bed to relax, while she checked the baby out and my midwife cleaned up the pool area. At some point the assitant helped me into the shower to clean up which felt awesome, but strange at the same time.

Just Gave Birth

Once the midwives left, we laid in our bed together snuggling our sleeping baby boy. He hadn’t yet nursed, rather slept. Once my mom got out of her hot yoga class, she heard the news and immediately came over to meet her newest grandson. I think I was still topless and wearing a Depends diaper without a care in the world. She vaccuumed for us since it had been a long few days, while we all napped for about 4 straight hours. I think after we woke up is when Big Guy nursed for the first time, and it was such a strange feeling for me! It was incredible to watch his natural rooting ability though. Then our parents all came over that evening to visit with him while I relaxed in bed. I was still pretty shaky and weak after running the longest marathon ever: 79 hours total. The next day my midwife came back over to check up on us and I told her, “I’ll get my 4 hour birth next time!” She laughed and was glad to hear I wasn’t too traumatized by the long and hard labor to not want to do it again.


If one day I am ever blessed to do it all again, I would probably change a few things, but who really knows when you’re “in the moment”? I think I will plan my birthing outfit a little better. Maybe a wireless bra top and sarong. I can hardly show any photos because I was completely nude in all of them! Speaking of photos, I will make sure we get a full family photo where you can see the baby’s face after I have cleaned up and am clothed, and one of just me and baby. I do not have either of those with Big Guy unfortunately. My mind was obviously elsewhere and no one else thought to take one! I will definitely do Hypnobabies again, and try to listen to it the entire time to help me better through transformation. I will plan to do more laboring on land while changing positions frequently before getting into the pool. I think I may have been too relaxed for the early stages. But maybe not!

Newborn Photo

One of my most distinct memories is hearing the birds singing as dawn approached and my baby finally came Earth-side. To this day, it is a such a beautiful memory and I am so grateful to have been able to experience such a peaceful birth!

My Birth Story Part I: My Journey to Home Birth

Month by Month Pregnancy Photo

Well, here we are, one year from the week I gave birth to my first child. This past year has been so surreal, I honestly can’t wrap my head around it. The fact that I now officially have a one-year-old blows my mind. This year went so incredible fast, I completely understand why some people choose to have several children! They are only so small and sweet for just a short time. Heck, just the newborn phase goes way too fast! When Big Guy was just a newborn someone asked my chiropractor (who has 5 children) what baby stage was his favorite, and he pointed at my baby and said something along the lines of “I’m a sucker for newborn snuggles.” And it is so true. As much as I tried, I didn’t fully understand nor appreciate how precious those first few months were until they were gone forever. Now, I officially am the mother of a toddler and it’s frightening!

So much thought, prayer, research, anticipation, and consideration went into the process of getting and being pregnant, and then preparing for the birth. Growing up, the idea of natural birth scared the shit out of me. I was that person who heard all the horror stories, and believed birth was the most painful thing that could happen to you aside from getting tortured. I also have a fear of needles, especially large ones that go straight into your back, as well as pretty much anything doctor and hospital related. Since I can remember I have always wanted to adopt, so growing up I told myself that if I could not get pregnant, than I would be fine with adoption instead. I got married and while my husband fully supported the idea of adoption, he most definitely made sure I was on board with trying to have our own biological children first. That meant I would need to figure out this whole scary birth thing. I was scared of pain, I was scared of doctors and hospitals, and I was scared of needles. A simple internet search told me there were no birth centers, so that left me with only one option in the area we were hoping to raise a family in: home birth. At the time, I didn’t know a single person who had experienced one so I had a lot of research ahead of me!

So for a couple years while still living in NYC I read tons of positive birth stories, followed natural birth and parenting groups on Facebook, watched home births on YouTube, and discovered Hypnobabies. Four and a half years after being married, we moved back to Pennsylvania. Within that first year back, I finally felt physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually ready to get pregnant. For six months leading up to Big Guy’s conception, my husband and I even made and drank a green smoothie everyday to help detox our bodies, along with eating a mostly organic diet, and I had also read it may help deter morning sickness which I was also very scared of! I also learned a new friend of mine had home-birthed her two children, and the most recent one was with the same midwife I had found online years prior. It was such a relief to finally know someone who had gone through the experience I was hoping to have. After three very long months of trying, we finally got pregnant in November of 2012. Around the same time, that same girlfriend told me she was 3 months pregnant and using the same midwife as before! I immediately called that midwife to make sure she was available, and thankfully she was. We ended up waiting 8 weeks to tell a single soul other than our priest and midwife. I was in a private and protective state then, and honestly, kind of liked having such a big exciting secret all to ourselves for so long! If we’re ever blessed with another pregnancy, I plan to tell close friends and family much sooner. If anything bad would happen, I would definitely want their support and prayers. Plus, I often hear those who miscarry feel so alone and there is no reason for that when it happens to so many families! It is far too common not to be talked about more often and openly.

Anyways, I loved being pregnant and I didn’t have morning sickness as long as I ate pretty much every hour. I still eat just as ravenously now that I’m breast feeding as I did while pregnant! The only real pains I remember having were sciatica pain the last month, and these awful, awful shooting pains starting in my pelvic area going down my legs that would occur late at night when I laid in bed the last few days before birth. I believe Big Guy was trying to get into position but he just so happened to be pushing on very, very sensitive nerves! I do recall crying to my husband that if I couldn’t handle this, how was I supposed to handle the actual birth? Spoiler alert: I handled it. I had some other typical, expected pregnancy symptoms but they really didn’t compare when I remembered I was literally carrying creation inside of me.

The only person who knew our estimated due date (EDD) of July 25th was our midwife. We told everyone else “early August”. We did so for two reasons: 1) If I was “late”, I would be more mentally prepared as I myself believed my birthing time was “early August” and 2) I wouldn’t have everyone and their mother pestering me on my EDD or later, and worse, pressuring me to do something about it as if it was not normal to go past an EDD. Medical intervention is an amazing thing for medical emergencies, but shouldn’t be so loosely thrown around and abused in what is the most normal, natural human experience: reproduction.

Meeting monthly with our midwife, whether in our home, hers, or her office, was what I believe every pregnant woman deserves. We met for at least an hour each time, talked a lot, and listened to the baby’s heartbeat. There were no scary stories. No pressure. No exams. No judgement. If I didn’t feel comfortable with something she brought up, then we didn’t do it. It was my choice. Now, I honestly miss my midwife. So much so, that I stopped procrastinating and called her to set up an appointment to have a pap smear done <gasp> since it has been a couple years. This isn’t uncommon either. Many women in the home birth world admit they miss their midwife, and are sad to not know when they will ever see her again, especially if they don’t plan on having more children or she is retiring or moving away. To build such a close and respectful relationship with the person who will share in the most intimate experience of your life should not be uncommon!

I will share the actual nitty, gritty details of Big Guy’s birth story in my next post. Just know that discovering the beauty of home birth and getting to experience it is something I will forever be grateful for. Whether you decide to birth in a hospital, birthing center, or at home, birth does not need to be scary, dangerous, or painful. It can be safe, beautiful, memorable, and even pleasurable! Stay tuned for the Big Day…

DIY Paper Mache Deer Head

DIY Paper Mache Deer HeadThis past winter was pretty brutal with not only living in the snowiest city in the country, but having below freezing temperatures as well. It wasn’t very conducive to being outdoors or leaving the house at all. There were a few weeks where I went to church on Sunday morning, and I didn’t leave the house again until the following Sunday. When you have a young baby, it just didn’t make much sense to risk our lives by driving somewhere without a really good reason. I figured if we died on the way to church, then it was really in God’s plan, right?

Since we live in the middle of the woods we don’t get too many visitors, so for about 3 straight months, it was just Big Guy, Kona, and me cooped up in our little 2-bedroom bungalow carriage house above our garage. And people wonder why he’s “such a mommy’s boy”… I’d be concerned if he wasn’t! Anyways, Big Guy was super content playing independently on the floor but not yet mobile, so I was able to do some fun DIY projects like make my own baby leggings and make some fun artwork for his room. Since we moved in just two months before he was born, I didn’t really have it decorated much but my goal has been to have it finished by his first birthday. Well that’s less than a month away, so we shall see if I make my goal or not. I envisioned real deer antlers as part of a collage over his floor bed, but hadn’t come across any so I figured I might as well make my own deer head. Why not, right?

I followed excellent tutorials by lil blue boo and bhg, but kind of combined them to come up with my own version.

First, we don’t get the newspaper but we do get those annoying magazine mailings, so I crumpled up a bunch to form large, medium, and small balls. I placed the small on top the medium, and the medium on top the large, to form what I thought somewhat resembled a deer head. Then I taped them all in place. You could also tape each ball, and then tape the three balls together if you prefer.

Paper Mache Deer Head Step One

Next, I crumpled up a bunch more to form the deer neck and taped it to the deer head. At this point, I also cut out an oval shape on thin cardboard and taped it to the bottom of the neck so I would have something solid to adhere the mount to when finished, and it would help give it a finished off look at the end.

Step 2

Then, on that same piece of thin cardboard, I cut out little ears and taped them to the deer head.

Step 3 IMG_6501

Now comes the really fun part – paper mache! I made my own mixture of 1 part flour to 4 parts water. I let it come to a boil, stirring constantly, until it was soupy. I then transfered it to a bowl to cool just enough for me to be able to touch it. I must admit here, all I had on hand was organic sprouted whole wheat flour. Note to self: buy some white flour for arts-n-crafts. The “healthy mixture” was grainy and took a long time to dry.

Paper Mache

I ended up coming across a couple newspaper type mailings so I cut them up, dipped them in the mixture, and applied them all over the deer head until it was completely covered. I set it up to dry on ready-to-be-recycled plastic containers to keep it from sticking to the newspaper. It should only take one night to dry. My “healthy mixture” took a couple days.

Paper Mache IMG_6602

My mother gave me the brilliant idea of using some old piano sheet music as my final covering. I cut up a bunch of pieces, used a foam brush to slather on some mod podge to both sides of the paper, applied them all over the form, and let set to dry. This is what it looked like after drying.

Paper Mache Deer Head

While this was going on, or probably while I was waiting for my “healthy mixture” to dry, my husband went out to our brush pile, found some twigs to cut, and made some antlers for me. Then we drilled two holes in the top of the form near the ears where antlers would normally be and inserted the twig antlers in the holes. You could put super glue inside first if you wanted, but our holes were small enough that the twigs didn’t move much once inserted.


I picked up this pre-cut wood plaque at Hobby Lobby for like $3.00 and then spray painted it turquoise.


We could have then just stapled the form onto the plaque but my husband insisted in drilling screws through the back of the plaque into the form to make it hold. Regardless, this was the outcome!

DIY Paper Mache Deer Head

DIY Paper Mache Deer HeadWhen I finally finish decorating Big Guy’s room, I promise I’ll share photos of the entire collage. For now, this bad boy is taking up all the attention on the wall!