On Maternity Leave

I thought I’d accomplish more on maternity leave these past 10 weeks. I had high hopes of reading the books I’ve had on my list for months. I wanted to brush up on Greek and Roman mythology, a topic I haven’t delved into since high school Latin, but know would definitely come in handy during Jeopardy. I wanted to finally master calligraphy, which can be really tough and requires extra practice for a lefty like me. I wanted to learn about art history, specifically architectural and the building of Grand Rapids. I thought I’d cook more, and would have time to put together cute outfits. I thought I’d finally put pen to paper on no less than 25 blogs I’ve been meaning to write, and maybe even finally catalog all of our photos.

In reality, I kept renewing the same titles from the library until I ran out of renewals and had to return them.
I never practiced calligraphy or learned more about art and architectural history.
When we watch Jeopardy, I’m still just guessing.
We had take out often and most days my leggings and sweaters were covered in spit.
Those 25 blogs are still sitting in the draft folder.

And none of it matters. I wouldn’t trade the days of can’t-put-him-down cuddles, cluster feeds, and sleepless nights for any of the things on my wish list. I’ve learned to slow down my life these past few months and really truly cherish being in the moment. On the hard days, I’d remind myself: he’ll never be this little again, and I’ll never have this time again. I know the time, attention, affection, and love I’ve given my son are exactly what we both needed.

Today is my last day home with Leo. Tomorrow, I’ll go back to work full-time and Leo will go to daycare full-time. This is our new normal. We feel good great about the in-home daycare where he’ll be spending his days while we’re working. But transition doesn’t come without its challenges.

I’m excited to work, I love my job, and it’s the best decision for our family at this point in time. But leaving him will be hard and guilt comes easily.

We’ll walk into the house, go over the routine, meet his new friends and if I’m lucky, I’ll get to the highway before tearing up in my car. It’s hard to imagine not spending my days with him and missing out on some of his first moments. I’m anxious about how he’ll behave for others, if he’ll take the bottle from someone he’s just met, if he’ll get enough attention along with the other children, if he’ll get sick or hurt, and the list goes on. Even when you know you’re making the best decision for your family, it isn’t always easy.

When I was pregnant, someone voiced their opinion that “it would be hard to be a good mom and not stay at home.” Although I still can’t comprehend why some people feel their choice of lifestyle is the only option, I do know this: I am a damn good mom. And that’s not going to change whether I’m working or not.

There are undeniably awesome things that can come out of working. He’ll be immersed in another culture through daycare, and will hear other languages. He will meet friends and learn to play. He’ll be on a routine and know what to expect in his day. There are many things he’ll learn by seeing his mom work as well: a strong role model for work ethic, providing for a family, and the importance of education, commitment, and hard work. By working now, Cody and I hope to achieve flexibility in the future.

Family schedules and work commitments can vary widely from part time or full time work, one parent staying home exclusively, one or both parents working from home, etc. I’m sure there are pros and cons to each option, even when you know you’re making the best decision for your family.

So tomorrow it is.
And every day after that, at least for now.
Cheers to the moms that make it look easy, who manage and balance and shuffle and compromise.

And in case you need to hear it today too, whether you stay at home or work part-time or full time:

You’re a damn good mom.

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Leo Emerson: newborn photoshoot

A few weeks after Leo was born, my friend Laura (who also did our maternity photos) came over to our house for a newborn photo shoot. While my goal was to try to capture some of those sweet, naked, sleeping newborn photos, Leo was wide awake! I’m so glad too, because she was able to take some very precious photos of Leo’s wide eyes.

It was so special doing our first family photoshoot and I’m excited for many more over the years with my boys.


Leo Emerson – 11.30.16 – 8 lbs 5 oz – 21.5 in

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A year ago, I wrote a reflection on 2015, the year of becoming. It was a transitional year in my life, pivotal in laying the foundation for my life today: who I am, where I am, where I’m going. It was an incredible year, the best I had yet known.

In 2015:
The chapter of a decade long relationship closed, and I found peace despite the pain.
I started my blog, a goal I’d had for years, and was able to connect with others traveling through similar seasons of life, opening the conversation in so many directions.
I bought my first house, and shortly after, my boyfriend moved in with me to create the home together.
I fell in love: hard, fast, and completely.
I traveled to familiar and new places around the US: Orlando, Atlanta, Vegas, South Dakota, Chicago, Rhode Island, Boston, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Philadelphia, and all around Michigan’s beach towns.

We ended 2015 and welcomed 2016 up north in a little town called Frankfort for a long weekend to rest, relax, and explore northern Michigan. We took walks into town for breakfast, watched the bowl games at the one screen movie theatre in town, and grabbed brews at Stormcloud. On New Year’s Eve, we stumbled upon a party in a local furniture store just down from the brewery and movie theatre, and enjoyed a few hours mingling among total strangers, perusing furniture, enjoying the band, and even a little dancing.

Little did I know that 2016 would top 2015 and every year before that.

In 2016:
I fell even more in love with Cody and the life we are creating together and happily accepted his marriage proposal in April under a glittering Eiffel Tower.

We finished the remodel of our house: kitchen, dining room, office, guest room turned nursery, laundry room.

I became a mom to the most beautiful boy, Leo Emerson, on the last day in November.

I traveled to familiar and new places around the world: Montreal, Chicago, Florida, Cape Cod, Boston, Oklahoma, Amsterdam, Paris, Florence, Barcelona, Venice, and Rome.

We ended 2016 similar to 2015, in the little beach town of Frankfort for a weekend to rest, relax, and explore. I love that this trip has become a tradition, the perfect bookend to the year, coming full circle. This time, we had our little Leo with us as we explored Traverse City and its wineries, grabbed brews at Stormcloud, and enjoyed a reflection on the incredible year its been.

I love the transition that the New Year brings, the soft close on one chapter of life that unfolds into a new one. There is something peaceful and promising in not knowing what lies before us in this year: the travels, the defining moments, the firsts for us and for our son, as well as the struggles, the disappointments, the failures. We have dreams for this year, and the years that come after it, both personally and as a family, and I’m so excited to see how those chapters unfold before us.

And I hope as I sit to write my reflection a year from now, I can say 2017 topped 2016, and 2015, and every year before that.

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Holiday Gift Guide: For Her

It’s the week before Christmas. If you’re a last minute shopper and need some gift ideas for her, I’ve got 10 must have’s on my gift guide!

1. Initial Wine Stopper
51082326-copyThese Target wine stoppers in gold make a great hostess gift paired with a bottle of vino, or a great stocking stuffer!
2. Emily Ley 2017 Planner
I love organizing and planning, and Emily Ley’s planners are incredible. I especially like this gold, navy, and white pineapple planner for 2017.
3. Drybar Travel Set
Smells great, works great. Great gift for friends, a stocking stuffer, or to go along with a surprise weekend getaway!
4. Dinner Plates
I’ve been eyeing these Anthro plates all.year.long. They are super cute for a spring and summer tablescape.
5. Necklace
I’m loving this statement necklace for winter paired with faux fur and black skinny’s.
6. Purse
This purse is great year round and the quality means it’ll last forever.
7. Wine Glasses
Always with a stem, never stemless! I’ve been contemplating investing in these wine glasses for a while now.
8. Hair Dryer
The price is outrageous, but for a hair dryer that is good for your hair, fast, and will last forever? Worth it.
9. Recipe Box
Rifle Paper Co. already makes some of the most adorable items like notecards, planners, to do lists, and more. But this recipe box is awesome and comes with dividers. (Also great as a shower gift!)
10. Watch
I’m loving this watch for winter paired with dark denim and a feminine blouse for casual. Or dressed up with a high waisted skirt, tucked in bow blouse, and tights for holiday parties.

What’s on your must have holiday list?

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Leo Emerson

All these months of planning and preparation, of waiting and praying, of watching him grow inside me, and he is finally here. And its better than I ever could’ve imagined, sweeter than I ever could’ve dreamt, more beautiful than I could’ve ever thought.


Shortly into dating Cody, we talked about kids, family, and our individual hopes for the future. We both desired greatly to become parents, and we quickly knew we wanted to do so together. However, I didn’t know if it was possible for me. The surgeries, the absence of periods…I was told for years that it would likely be difficult to get pregnant, and if I did, I would likely struggle to be able to carry a pregnancy to term. I still remember sharing this with Cody, and the comforting words and promise he had for me. He was the first person to ever make me smile and laugh about it, as he said with certainty that no matter what, we’d have a lot of fun trying. We talked about adoption as a possibility, something we both desire, and for the first time, that afternoon at Rose’s overlooking the lake, I felt at peace with my body, whatever was meant to be.

I was running on the treadmill the week before we left for Europe. I had just returned from a business trip in Florida and needed to unpack and repack the same suitcase. I was breathlessly dictating a to do list into my phone while in motion, when the tenderness and pain hit me. I felt my chest bleeding. I ran into the bathroom to check, but there was nothing. Leaving the gym, I went home, took a pregnancy test, and continued to pack. I nearly forgot about it until I returned to the bathroom to pack toiletries. There, in the daylight, unmistakably, two pink lines. I was 5 weeks pregnant. An answered prayer, albeit sooner than we would’ve planned, an answered prayer.

My pregnancy wasn’t the easiest, from extreme morning sickness through the first 23 weeks with multiple trips to the fertility center for IV’s, to the third trimester’s weeks of passing out in public and in my car, to the people that were once close to us but have not come around to the fact that we have started our family before we have the piece of paper declaring us a family through marriage. Despite the hardships, our baby grew and flourished in the womb. I loved feeling him kick and hearing him hiccup.

We learned he was a boy, we celebrated together, we were showered by my family and all our friends, we painted and decorated and built the nursery, and we prayed for the life this little boy would have. That he would know love and be love, that he would grow strong and courageous, and that he would live a life of adventure and purpose.

We looked at his November 25th due date as a finish line, and as the days led up, then passed, I grew anxious to hold him. Each day beyond the due date feels like an interminable groundhog’s day, repeating the same mundane tasks, not venturing too far from home, and trying the same tricks to ease into labor: lots of sex, walking, bouncing on the exercise ball, spicy food, pineapple, red raspberry leaf tea, massages, baths, chiropractor adjustments, membrane strippings.  It is true what they say: they will come when they are ready.

The morning of the 29th, I went for a 4 mile walk around the same lake where we discussed kids and our hopes for a family together. That night, at 12:20 am, without any contractions beforehand, my water broke, and I was instantly in labor. The contractions came immediately, no more than two minutes apart. Our plan was to labor at home as long as possible, before arriving at the hospital with our doula. It was clear, however, that we needed to go to the hospital immediately. When we arrived at 1:20 am, we met our doula, Megan, in triage at 4 cm and 100%. I felt nauseous so Megan grabbed some peppermint oil to put on a towel near me. Labor moved quickly and intensely, and by the time we moved to our birthing room 40 minutes later, I was 8cm. Cody drew a bath, our plan from the beginning, but I could only stand to be in it for one contraction before starting to push. The next hour is a blur, and I am so thankful for the amazing team and support that was around me: Cody, my love and life, who gave me water, encouraging words, and hands to grasp. Megan, for her encouraging words and support, while rotating between pressing a heating pad into my lower back, and applying a warm compress and stretching my perineal so I did not rip. The on call doctor and rockstar nurse, who did not let me die despite my request. And again to Cody, for advocating for our wish for a natural birth, and telling the doctor absolutely not to the epidural I requested just minutes before our son was born at 3:56 am.
8lb 5 oz
21.5 inches
Absolutely perfect.


I knew nothing could’ve prepared me for the instant love I would have for this precious baby. But more than that, nothing could’ve prepared me for how much deeper in love I fell with Cody. I didn’t think it possible to love him more than I already do, but the moment I saw him become a dad, and hold our son, is indescribable.

Short and sweet, strong and steady.
Latin for lion, the name of great popes, soccer players, writers, actors and activists.
There have been many great Leo’s in this world, but never yet this Leo, our Leo. The name is also shared with my late great grandfather. As my grandmother held Leo for the first time this past weekend, at 4 days old, she told me of her father Leo’s wish that she would name her firstborn, my dad, Leo. When he learned she was pregnant, he wrote her a card, the envelope addressed to Leo VanTongeren. My grandmother chose the name Thomas instead, and even after all these years, she still wished that she would’ve used Leo for one of her children to honor him. She looked at me, smiled, and said that surely he was smiling down at us. He finally got his Leo.

All these months of planning and preparation, of waiting and praying, of watching him grow inside me, and he is finally here. And its better than I ever could’ve imagined, sweeter than I ever could’ve dreamt, more beautiful than I could’ve ever thought.

Of all the things my hands have held,
Of all the things my eyes have seen,
the best by far is you.


Maternity Photos

This past weekend, my friend Laura met Cody and I in an orchard near our house for a last minute maternity photo shoot. After looking at beautiful pregnancy portraits on Pinterest and talking with my mama friends, I realized that I would really regret not having a few professional photos to remember this chapter, body, and moment before everything changes.

A huge, grateful thank you to Laura for making me feel beautiful at 9.5 months pregnant (not an easy task!) and for Cody for being such a good sport and willing to spend part of his birthday capturing these with me. (31 looks very, very good on him!)



Long Dress: ASOS Maya Maternity
Gray Dress: Jade boutique, Rockford, MI.
Ivory Wool Blend Coat: H&M
Navy Tights: J.Crew
Boots: Frye (similar)

Photo Credit: Laura Scholten http://www.arajoetta.com

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Best of: What to Buy at Ikea

Decorating a home or apartment on a budget is not always an easy task! Before owning a home and dedicating time and energy to decorate and DIY it, I really had no idea how expensive it could be. I knew quality furniture would come at a price, but was surprised to also see how much items like rugs, lighting, and shelves could be too!

Some of the most functional and complimented items in my home actually come from Ikea! While finding your way through the Swedish superstore can be overwhelming, and putting together some of the pieces according to instructions can be confusing and time consuming, there are some excellent buys at Ikea that are definitely worth the trip!

Here’s my top 10 List:

ONE// Ribba Frames  $2.99-$14.99
Picture frames aren’t necessarily an expensive buy on their own, but they can certainly add up once you’ve got a few in each room. I’ve purchased these frames in almost every size for every room. They make for great gallery walls.
office 4guest room
TWO// Mosslanda Picture Ledge $9.99-$14.99 (two sizes)
I love these picture ledges! They come in two different sizes and two different colors, and really add a lot to the space. I have them in my office, hallway to the laundry room, master bedroom, and even used three of the large ones to create a library in our nursery to feature all of the books.
office 1nursery-5
THREE// Hemnes Dresser (8-drawer) $249
I am completely obsessed with this dresser, although I must admit I am not the one who had to put it together, following 56 steps and working with very small pieces.
This dresser is a quality piece, has tons of storage with the eight drawers, and really looks nice. We started with one for our master room, but decided another would be great for the nursery, where we can have tons of storage  for onesies, hats/socks, pants, diapers, sheets/swaddles/burp cloths, and utilize the top for a changing table. An easy hack to make it look classier and put your own style to it is to replace the black pulls that come with it with some of your own (mine are gold and white from Hobby Lobby.)
nursery-8guest room 2

FOUR// Fixa 260 piece screw pack $7.99
This kit has become a staple in our house. And for $7.99?! No brainer.
FIVE// Lack Coffee Table $7.99
I still can’t believe these tables are under ten dollars. They are great styled as end tables, but also make an amazing coffee table when putting two together side by side!
top image via: http://theeverygirl.com/feature/how-to-style-a-coffee-table

SIX// Godis Glass (6 pk) $4.99
Save your money to invest in nice wine glasses and pick these tall and straight glasses up for every day use. They’re attractive, yet completely affordable at $4.99 for 6!

godis-glass__0372759_pe551981_s4SEVEN// Fargrik Dinner Bowl/Plate $2.49
These bowls are not great for soup, as they are large and shallow, but make for excellent single serve portions of salads, pastas, and stuffed peppers. When I’m cooking a large Sunday dinner, they are great for all my sides: potatoes, corn, salad, etc.

EIGHT// Lappljung Ruta $79.99
Finding a rug for under $100 is a difficult task and finding one with a pattern is even more of a challenge! This black and white rug is modern but not overpowering, and looks great styled in both a living room and dining room.
top image via: heissgeliebtes.blogspot.de
top image via: http://www.decorationconcepts.com/best-living-room-ideas-2015.html

NINE// Kallax Shelf Unit  $65.99
This storage shelf can be set vertical or horizontal and could be used easily in any room. Use as a divider in a studio apartment, as a beverage station, decorative bookshelf, command center, etc!
kallax-shelf-digsdigstop image via: digsdigs.com
kallax-shelf-comfydwellingtop image via: Comfy Dwellings
Add storage bins to hide toys, movies, or décor. Ikea sells bags, bins, and boxes separately, but you can also find ones that fit at stores like Target.

It even comes in a larger size, which is great for a large statement piece against the wall, for lots of storage, or a command center in the office.
kallax-large-ironandtwinetop image via: Iron and Twine

TEN// Hjalmaren Wall Shelf $89.99
I love this leaning wall shelf for so many areas of the house, but especially for a smaller bathroom with all the necessary storage. It would also be great in your entry way!
Do you have any of these top 10 Ikea products in your house? I’d love to see how you styled them! Tag @emeraldandoakblog on instagram!

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