Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Reflection

In lieu of the holiday weekend, The Girlfriend Guide is on hiatus this week.  We will, however, be back next week with all our girlfriend love and cheer.  For now, it is off to work I go, trading my Mama cape for the role of high intensity critical care nurse!  And while yelling phrases such as "Code Blue!!  Get the crash cart and start bagging him!" or "I need two amps of Epinephrine, stat!", my heart will be dreaming of moments like this...
Nothing makes me happier than bare feet in fresh clover, the smell of the lilacs next to the front porch, the sing song tune of the blue jays flying in and out of the barn, the sight of my family relaxing under the hundred year old oak tree.  When I feel tired or stressed or frustrated with life, these are the thoughts I fill my mind with.  These are the things that are real, that make life worth living.  I think of the serenity I feel when I turn my face to the warmth of the sun and inhale the sweet morning air, and I smile.  I smile and feel my soul shine as I count my blessings and rest in the peace I have been graced with.
May we always remember to embrace simplicity, to see the beauty in everyday things, to hear positive words even when they are scarce.  May we enjoy each day for what it is and make it the best it can possibly be.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Party Time


Isabelle and her cousin/BFF, Sarah Elizabeth, specially requested to have a joint party this year to commemorate their seventh birthday.  My aunt and I happily obliged as this meant we could share party planning, shopping, organizing, and cooking duties.  Not to mention being able to split the cost!  We decided to have the party right smack in the middle of their birthdays which also happened to be the week they finished school.  This was the first year that Isabelle showed a real interest in the planning of her own birthday party.  In the years past, I have worked tirelessly to create the perfect theme, design invitations, and whip up an amazing menu.  But at seven years old, my little girl has opinions and ideas all her own and it was so fun to let her take the lead.
The girls decided to have a water slide in our very own back yard and hosted their entire first grade class.  Daddy grilled hot dogs and Mama made a butterfly shaped cake out of cupcakes and whipped icing.  They requested pink and purple decorations and wanted balloons around each and every corner.  We hand made the invitations and let them use their own lovely penmanship they worked so hard to achieve this school year.   They didn't want to play any games because, in their own words, "the slide was all the fun we need".
My favorite thing about this entire day was the simplicity of it all.  There was no stress, no need for perfection.  It's amazing how when you leave a task in the hands of an innocent child, the true meaning and intention is allowed to shine through.  Suddenly, the day was not about party favors and location, themes and design.  Instead, it focused on the spirit of true celebration, it centered on love and relationships.
I was hesitant at first to have a shared birthday party, worrying that Belle would later regret the decision and want the attention of the day all to herself.  But, as so often happens on this journey we call parenthood, my daughter surprised me.  The girls embraced the shared spotlight, high-hiving each other while they opened presents and holding hands when they blew out their candles.  Their gracious spirits were an inspiration to behold!
 Brees slept through most of the party but was awake long enough to get passed from one set of loving arms to another.  She watched the children through her curious eyes, soaking in all the excitement and enjoying the giggly sound track filling the air.
After most of our guests departed and only our family were left, their bellies full and their shoulders kissed by the setting sun, Shawn looked at me with a twinkle in his eye.  "Get your suit on, Mama.  It's been a long week and we've been grown-ups long enough".
And so we spent the rest of our evening, slipping and sliding, laughing 'till we cried, playing with our seven year old baby.  It was the perfect end to a perfect day.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Steppin' Out Saturday

 Saturday we stepped out to our backyard for Isabelle's seventh birthday party!  It was a joint party for our sweet girl and her cousin/BFF, Sarah.  They spent the afternoon playing on a water slide, eating grilled hot dogs, and soaking in the hot Louisiana sun.  It was a beautiful day and the children were all in high spirits.  
We took a few photos of our ensembles before the festivities began: a loose, cool sun dress for Mama, a swimsuit for Belle, and little Brees and her precious bare feet...
Isabelle's birthday party was so spectacular, it really deserves its own post.  I'll share more tomorrow, promise.  For now, I'm heading outside to jump on that water slide one more time:)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Sweet Friday

This little family took the word "busy" to a whole new level this week!!  It was Isabelle's last week of school (hurray!) and she was able to enjoy some pretty amazing events to celebrate the end of first grade including an ice cream social and a carnival.  She also went to her last dance class before performing in her dance recital next weekend.  Shawn, on the other hand, began his first week of summer school.  He was busy buying books, registering for classes, and completing his financial aid applications.  Brees started eating solid foods, or not eating them, actually.  This topic deserves its very own post, but let's just say she is NOT buying it.  I worked three 12 hour shifts at the hospital and cared for some very interesting characters including a man who was convinced we were imprisoning him in an Iraqi refugee camp and a woman who blew spit bubbles at me every time I got too close.  Through all of this craziness, we still managed to meet up on the couch each night, talking about our days and catching up on long awaited hugs.  The most beautiful and amazing part of my day is coming home to my family, leaving the world and all its distractions behind and basking in what's most important.
 Now that we've accomplished all that, here's what I'm dreaming about for this lovely, well-deserved weekend with my family:
  • Celebrate Isabelle's birthday with her long awaited birthday party, complete with a water slide and cupcake cake
  • Start reading the next book on my summer reading list and blog about the lovely book I just finished
  • Continue working on our patio renovation project
  • Take a nice, long bike ride by the lake
  • Sit down with Shawn and make a detailed, practical list of home improvement projects we hope to complete this summer
Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace.  
~Victor Hugo 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Stats


Brees Elizabeth is 6 months old!
Our little lamb is growing so much and it's hard to believe six months have gone by!
Every day brings a new milestone, a brighter smile, a stronger sense of who she is.
These days are so busy and fly by faster than I could have ever imagined.  I find
myself willing them to slow down, reminding myself to enjoy every precious moment.
Six blissful months of love and light with this sweet girl!
Here are her stats:
15 pounds 8 ounces, 26 1/2 inches long
Feeding:  Still exclusively breast feeding, averaging every 3-4 hours.  She was a 
hungry little lamb this month and ate more than ever, even waking up for a 2 am 
feeding most nights.  We are thrilled that we met our goal of exclusive breast feeding 
for the first 6 months!  As a working mama, I didn't know if this would be possible and 
had prepared myself for the possibility of having to supplement with formula.  
But, thankfully, my employers have gone above and beyond to ensure that my 
pumping schedule is well accommodated.  Now that she is 6 months old, we are going 
to start solid foods as recommended by our pediatrician.  Maybe having heavier content
 in her little belly will help tide her over at night?  One can only hope...
Sleeping:  Her sleeping habits this month were terrible, to be perfectly honest.  
She takes wonderful naps throughout the day, staying awake for a maximum of two 
hours before falling asleep for naps ranging from 2-3 hours long each.  At night, however, 
she is waking every 3-4 hours, wanting to nurse and cuddle with Mama and Daddy in the 
big bed.  She is still sleeping in her bassinet right next to our bed and I bring her in the 
bed with us to nurse her.  We both fall right back to sleep, which is in itself a blessing.  
It's hard to feel rested, though, when your sleep is so broken.  I have tried soothing her 
back to sleep rather than feeding her but it just hasn't worked out.  I just can't bring 
myself to let her "cry it out", which is the main advice people give me.  We have to be 
patient with her and know that she will eventually get into a better sleep pattern.  She
falls asleep on her own: we lay her down in her bassinet, give her a lovie she has become
quite attached to, and turn on her Soothe and Glow Seahorse.  I still enjoy rocking her
to sleep, though, and do so most nights at bedtime.  There is just something so special
about rocking a baby to sleep at night.
Health:  Brees is the picture of health, no illnesses to speak of.  She is in the 50th
 percentile for her weight and the 90th for her height.  We suspect her top teeth are 
not far behind the two she has on the bottom as she is constantly drooling and chewing 
on anything she can get her hands on.  She is a big thumb sucker, no matter how much 
we offer her a pacifier.


Play: Brees starting scooting this month!  She raises herself on all fours, rocks back and 
forth a few times, and then scoots herself wounded soldier style all around the house.  She
 has also become quite attached to her lovie, a soft little lamb blankie.  She likes to press
 it up against her nose when she falls asleep, exactly how Isabelle did with hers.  We call 
her "Nosie Rosie" because she is always looking around, investigating every noise and 
motion.  She is so curious and active, a very social baby.  She, like the rest of our family, 
loves being outdoors, especially in her swing.  She enjoys petting the animals and 
watching her sister run like a pixie across the yard.
Personality:  I could not ask for a sweeter, more calm and mellow baby.  Besides the
fact that she wakes me up all hours of the night, she is a very easy baby.  I can take 
her anywhere, she is rarely fussy, and her signs are all very clear and easy to read.  I 
really have abandoned most of the mommy rules I put on myself for my first child and 
have just enjoyed this second wonder.  We are scheduled people who thrive on routine, but
I have learned not to stress if things don't go exactly as planned, to be patient, to enjoy
being a mother rather than striving to follow the books and meet tons of expectations.
And I believe that has made all the difference in her demeanor.  She is very giggly and
smiles constantly.  This month, we discovered that she is super ticklish, especially 
in the crook of her neck.  She laughs a deep belly laugh any time we tickle her there. 
She loves being held and burying her face in my neck.  I wear her a lot and she really
enjoys cruising around in my Ergo.  She is very vocal and babbles constantly.      
This month we:
  • Celebrated Mother's Day
  • Enjoyed a whole week with our Nana who came to visit all the way from Arizona
  • Proudly showed off two teeth, even biting a few people 
  • Enjoyed lots of picnics in the back yard
  • Spent a lot of time in Mommy's Ergo carrier
  • Began reaching for toys and crying when you take them away, especially big sister's Barbie dolls
What a wonderful, fun-filled month this has been!  

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Girlfriend Guide: Summer

Good morning and welcome to this week's edition of the Girlfriend Guide!  This week, I am featuring one of my most special girls: Summer.  Summer and I met in college, made it through nursing school together, and, when we couldn't bear the thought of separating, went to our first job together.  Of all my girlfriends, Summer and I are the most alike, both coming from the same type of nuclear family and background, both raised with the same values and work ethic.  We have an unspoken understanding of one another that binds us close.  One day at work, we were talking about friendships and maintaining healthy relationships.  I was reflecting on how much work it takes to have good friendships, how hard it can sometimes be.  And she said, "I have never felt like I had to work at our relationship, it just happens.  There's never been a single day where I thought of it as hard in any way".  Those words stuck with me because they so clearly define our friendship.   Summer currently lives in the small, Louisiana town where she was born and raised (we Southern girls tend to do that) in a house she bought, gutted, and renovated all by herself.  She works as a nurse at a surgical hospital and is trying to convince me to go back to graduate school so that we can get our heads stuck in the books again.  She is a genuinely kind soul and I hope that you enjoy her optimistic words!
1.  What is your personal definition of friendship?
Friendship is sharing, enjoying, and struggling through life with others whom you can identify and encourage.  True friends are there for you through the mountains and the valleys of life.  These questions have really made me question what friendship really is and as I began to examine “friendships” in my life I had to narrow down associational and obligatory relationships and I discovered how few true friends I really have.
2.  What qualities do you look for in a girlfriend?
Honesty, common goals, sense of humor, someone who challenges what you think and can give you a fresh perspective on a situation. I crave positivity and progression, strength and independence. Someone who is confident and knows who they are, but is still willing to grow and mature with me.  I seek someone who is exciting, spontaneous, and thought-provoking.
3.  How do you balance spending time with friends and fostering relationships with work and family?
It can be challenging, but you must make time for friends! Personally, without these times of encouragement and refueling, other relationships will suffer. It is hard in this technologically crazed world to foster meaningful relationships, but it’s all about priorities and cutting the fat.
4.  What advice would you give other women about having healthy, happy friendships?
I would say to seek relationships that bring out the best in you.  Cut ties with friends that use you or that you are just friends with because you’ve known them a long time or you feel obligated to be friends with them.  You are wasting time on people who don’t matter!
5.  How has having strong friendships enriched your life?
I do not have much family, especially any that I am close to, so my friends have always been my family.  I’ve always felt that life is only as good as the people you share it with, and I have been blessed to have some very intelligent, supportive friends.  Sometimes we carry each other, sometimes we cry, sometimes we don’t say a word.  We celebrate and validate each other’s thoughts and situations.  Friendships have enhanced my life in every way and I am so thankful each day.
6.  What is your favorite girlfriend memory we have shared?
Blood sisters!! Haha, actually too many to count!! From nursing school at LC, to working at Dubuis, to pregnancy, to Jazz Fest, to New York, to Mardi Gras, to hour-long random thought sessions. No matter if we are just having a conversation at work, or traveling the world, I always have a blast with you. When I think of your friendship, I think of consistency, in all aspects.  You have truly been there for me from Day 1 and have never left.
Liv, you really are the best truest friend I’ve ever had!! I love you and I would do anything for you! We will be friends for life!
Girlfriends like Summer:
Girlfriends like Summer are supportive, inspirational, and always optimistic.  She inspires me to do the impossible and is always encouraging me, regardless of the situation.  We can talk for hours about absolutely nothing and laugh over things only we understand.  She is always up for an adventure and entertains every single one of my crazy ideas.  Girlfriends like her make you feel like the impossible is always within reach, they make you see the positive side of every situation.  Summer takes the hardships and struggles in her life and uses them as motivation to do greater things.  Instead of making excuses, she delves deep inside herself and accomplishes whatever she sets her mind to.  Her strength, courage, and compassion inspire me and have made me a better person.  She is always there to listen when I need her, but doesn't discourage and feed into negativity.  Instead, she helps me to strap on my wings and fly higher than before.  Every woman should be so lucky as to have a friend like that.  I love you, Summer Camille, to the moon and back!  Here's to many more adventures, my dear sweet friend!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Blue

The Paper Mama photo challenge: Blue
The Paper Mama

First Grade

On Friday afternoon, when I picked Isabelle up from school, she ran to the car at full speed and barely made it inside before yelling, "I did it!!!  I'm going to the second grade!!  And I get to learn how to write in cursive!!  WOOHOO!!!"
Do you remember that feeling?  The excitement you felt at the end of the school year?  Summer fast approaching, the anticipation of moving on to a higher grade?  My eyes swelled with tears as I held her close, my sweet girl growing so fast.  
The first grade, what a year it has been!  We have watched Isabelle evolve and mature this year into a beautiful young lady.  Witnessed her learn so much about herself and the world around her.  Here's a look back at another memorable school year...
This was the year of reading and writing, learning how to tell time and count money.  It was the year of first slumber parties and Valentine's Day crushes.  Hopscotch at recess and basketball in the gym.  Passing notes in class and trading friendship bracelets with classmates.
Isabelle studied ballet and tap with the dance studio she has been a part of for four years.  She practiced and perfected her plies and arabesques and delved even deeper into a passion we both share.  She became involved with our local Girl Scouts troop and participated in multiple events throughout the community, learning to give of herself and her time.  It is so important to us that she be involved in activities that bring her joy and teach her about using her talents for a greater good.
We were so fortunate this year to go on several exciting trips with her class.  Shawn and I made every effort to travel with her on field trips for school, including a safari trip at a local wildlife park and a day at a local farm.  We also brought her to a class at the hospital where she learned some very important lessons about being a big sister.  The class helped make her feel involved and essential in her role as a sibling.  Learning outside of a classroom and getting hands on experience is so valuable in stimulating children.
Her friendships really blossomed this year as she more clearly defined who she is and who she enjoys spending quality time with.  She is a true social butterfly and loves having friends over, going to parties, and meeting up with girlfriends at after school activities.  We learned this year that little girls in this age group can sometimes bully each other and become quite cliquish, so we had several conversations about treating others with respect and seeing the good in everyone.  We can only hope that she takes these lessons to heart and continues to be the friend that everyone can count on.
We created some really special memories this year, from cheering on our favorite football team in the Superdome to celebrating birthdays and milestones.  We had special Friday night movie parties, built forts in the back yard, and learned how to ride a bike with no training wheels!  
As we all anxiously awaited the arrival of our new baby girl, we set aside special days for Isabelle.  It was important to us to make her feel loved and special but to also be excited about our growing family.  She was one of my biggest supporters throughout my pregnancy: working on scrapbooks with me, shopping for baby clothes, and helping me pack for the hospital.  My second pregnancy was a beautiful experience that we all shared, together.
  
 And of course, the biggest event this year: Isabelle became a big sister.  Our friends and family worried that, after being the only child for six years, she might be jealous and unhappy with the newest member of our family.  However, Shawn and I knew better.  Isabelle embraced her little sister from the moment their eyes met.  She is my biggest helper and loves caring for her sister: helping with bath time, changing diapers, reminding me to bring the diaper bag I so often forget.  She is still not very keen on Brees touching her Barbie dolls, but that is to be expected.  I can not wait to watch those two become life long friends. 
Here's to the first grade, Isabelle!!  You worked very hard and overcame a lot of adversity.  You were kind to others and a big help to your Mom and Dad.  You went on lots of adventures and learned so many new things.  We have a wonderful summer planned and I can't wait to see what this family has in store next! 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Working Mama

 I read an article this week about maternity leave in Canada and parts of Europe and how it compares to maternity leave in the U.S.  I soon discovered that it actually doesn't compare.   Not at all.  The United States is one of the only industrialized countries in the world that does not provide mothers and fathers with an extended paid maternity leave.  Or any kind of paid maternity leave at all, for that matter.  
Canadians are given 15 weeks of paid maternity leave followed by 35 weeks of parental benefits, all paid for by the federal government (source).  Women in Spain are given 16 weeks of maternity leave at 100% of their salary.  The U.K.:  39 weeks paid.
When I was a sophomore in college, our Sociology class got into a very heated debate regarding women and the "choice" to return to work after having a child.  A male classmate announced that women in this country need to prioritize, learn to do without, and stop being so selfish.  And by being selfish he was referring to the act of working as a mother.
I struggle daily with the decision to have a career while simultaneously raising two daughters.  There is nothing anyone can say to a mother that can subside the guilt we feel when we drop our children into someone else's loving arms, trusting them to care for our babies while we reenter the work force.  And in this country, in today's society, working mothers receive very little support, financially or emotionally.  I took eight weeks off of work when Brees was born.  I had saved up enough sick days and vacation time to afford myself 6 weeks paid and the other two weeks required sacrifice by the whole family.  Not only was it financially difficult, but emotionally taxing as well.  As if it isn't hard enough to leave your newborn baby, you are then faced with harsh criticism and judgement from others.    
{40 weeks pregnant with Brees, spreading my love through the hospital}
There is no easy answer as for what decision to make.  As much as I love being a mother, I also love what I do for a living.  I am a nurse and spend my days caring for others, working to better their lives in some small way.  My job is rewarding and fulfilling to my soul.  I am very, very passionate about what I do and proud of how hard I worked to get where I am.   I touch people's lives and they touch mine.  I think about my family throughout the day, wishing I could be with them.  But I am also thanked daily by my patients' family members who can't be with THEM, thanked for giving of myself when they can not.  A patient told me yesterday: "You are doing the work of Jesus.  You are a healer, and He is giving you the strength and energy and love in your heart to do what you do everyday".  I left his room in tears, so thankful for his kind words, knowing that people like him come to me throughout the day to bring me comfort and encouragement. 
I was raised by a single mother who taught me the importance of self sufficiency and financial independence.  Watching my mother struggle to raise two children and provide us with the incredibly full life that she did has definitely influenced who I am as a person.  I value a hard day's work, being productive, contributing financially to my family.  And I know that I am influencing my girls as well.  I may not be able to be with them everyday, I may not fit the mold of what others think a mother should be, but I am working hard everyday to set the best example for them that I can, to show them immeasurable amounts of love, to teach them to live their life.  Their own way.
And so I reflect this morning on who I am, what I believe in, what I have accomplished as a woman.  I am a mother, but I am also a woman working her way through a rising career.  Can we have our cake and eat it, too?  I certainly hope to try as best I can, regardless of what society thinks I should do.
{Greeted by hugs and kisses after work, what a beautiful reward}

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Summer Goals

The school year is winding down, activities and clubs are wrapping it up, homework is coming to an end.  Before you know it, we will officially be calling this season SUMMER!!
Summer is a time for independence, for endless possibility.  It is a season to be free, to roll your windows down and let your hair blow in the breeze.  Summer is a time for travel and new experiences, for enjoying the simple pleasures in life.  And being the list maker, goal oriented woman that I am, I thought I'd make a list of summer goals.  Hopes and dreams of what we'd like to spend our days doing, how we plan to spend those long summer nights.
  • Visit the local library for story time
  • Try one new recipe per week
  • Attend the local Saturday farmer's market
  • Spend the night in a tent under the stars
  • Learn to knit
  • Get all of my favorite women together for a "Paint the Town" event
  • Attend the Louisiana Corn Festival
  • Take the girls fishing and teach them how to bait their own line (Girls should know these types of skills, too!)
  • Enjoy late evening family bike rides
  • Get through my entire summer reading list and blog about each selection
  • Take a road trip to New Orleans for a long weekend as a family
  • Visit Vermillionville in Lafayette, LA
  •  Renovate the laundry room and make it a more usable space
  • Build an A-frame for the porch swing my mother gave us
  • Buy ice cream from the ice cream truck
  • Help Isabelle write letters to a pen pal
  • Attend Summer Kids' Flicks at the movie theater
  • Roast marshmallows around a fire
  • Visit the Childrens' Museum in Alexandria, LA
  • Go antiquing, as much as possible
  • Learn at least three new songs on the guitar
  • Send Isabelle to swimming lessons and vacation bible school to keep her active
  • Complete our family mission statement art project
  • Eat as many home grown veggies as possible
  • Finish this school year's scrapbooks
  • Go canoeing
Just writing this list makes me excited!  I can't wait to get started,
to begin making memories to last a lifetime!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Milestones

Look who's sitting up!!
How much delicious tie-died cuteness can you really handle?