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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Best of: Grand Rapids Boutiques

I’m not a mall person. In fact, I probably go 1-2 times a year, only when I need something the same day and can’t find it at Target or TJ Maxx. I enjoy window shopping though,  and absolutely love well styled neighborhood boutiques. There’s something about well curated collections, rarely disorganized displays, and one of a kind finds that draws me.

A big goal of mine is to open my own Emerald & Oak brick and mortar one day and I love drawing inspiration from boutiques I shop in from lines they carry, display and decorations, and gift ideas.

In the past few years, the Grand Rapids scene has really popped with a great range of boutiques featuring baby gifts, luxe women’s wear, local artisan creations, home décor, and eclectic gifts.

Grab your girlfriends and make a day of exploring one or all of my favorite boutiques in the area!

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Located in a renovated garage on the corner of Wealthy and Eastern, this boutique carries high end denim, luxe dresses and gorgeous jewelry.
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blue door antiques header.png This boutique is excellent for one of a kind home décor finds for all price ranges. Last year, I scooped up a beautiful side table for $72, but they also have gorgeous pieces all the way up to $4995! This store is great for chandeliers, knobs, ornaments, fine china, and unique furniture pieces.
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This boutique is awesome for finding gifts and hostess presents, and you’ll be hard pressed not to laugh as you’re reading their selection of snarky cards! RR sells everything from Little Rebel baby gifts, blanket scarves, made in Michigan jewelry, and a great selection of gifts for Him (great stocking stuffers!)
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picture1These connected stores have a little bit of everything: upscale tableware, wedding gifts, plush linens, high end candles, and rugs. I purchased a rug for my laundry room from here that I absolutely love! The other side of the store is great for everyone else on your list, featuring children’s books, toys, and gifts, purses, planners, organizers, and desktop notepads, plus an entire section of Kate Spade tumblers/luggage tags/phone cases/and everything in between.
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pink lemonade header.pngThis has to be one of the most darling shops I’ve been in! This store really narrows in on gifts for her and gifts for baby. There’s a selection of great accessories and gifts for brides to be, as well as mom’s to be. You can even make a registry here! For moms to be, you’re sure to love the Petite Pehr line of luxe nursery items, as well as the selection of baby mocassins, onesies, and adorable outfits.
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This store is perfect for a great gift for your mom or mother in law. Carol’s magnets and home décor are beautiful and can change out for any season or celebration. I’ve featured her front door wreath here before, and absolutely love it!
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georgies-headerAgainst my better judgment, I’m sharing this gem with you. Georgie’s is THE consignment shop in Grand Rapids and the best place to discover name brands like Tory Burch, Prada, Pamella Roland, and more at a fraction of the cost. I’ve been able to pick up some great J.Crew and Banana Republic blazers here, as well as a few BCBG summer dresses.
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This boutique is all about trendy and carries woman’s fashions from brands like Free People, Roxy, Splendid, Hudson, and more. There’s also an extensive selection of apothecary items, shoes, jewelry, and accessories here.

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bailey-and-james-header Just down the street from Paperdoll and Jade, Bailey and James is an adorable home décor and gift boutique. I love the foliage bar in the back! This shop features great brands like Muse candles, Pehr Designs, Rifle Paper Co., and so many more. The selection of tea towels is so fun to look through, as are the recipe cards and boxes!
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jade-headerI love Jade for the affordability and diversity of styles they carry. They have great denim, but also a wide range of dresses, jackets, sweaters and tops, and amazing necklaces-most of which are under $34! Jade also offers private shopping events after hours, where you can host your girlfriends for a night of shopping while sipping on wine and hors d’eouvres. The best part is, everyone will get 15% off their purchase!
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Do you have a favorite Grand Rapids boutique not on this list? I’d love to hear what it is!

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The First Trimester: Expectations vs. Reality

View More: http://hannahinnisphotography.pass.us/canan-baby-announcementThis post has been incredibly tender to write, but I believe in authenticity, always. I believe it better to be known than portray an incomplete version of myself.

I’ve always dreamed of being a mother. In hopes and plans for the future, I never imagined a life without kids. I remember crying to my then-husband, confiding that I felt a strange jealousy when our mutual friends were getting pregnant, because our relationship wasn’t at that point, and I always thought we’d be in those chapters at the same time. When we divorced and the decade dream of having children together was gone, I still didn’t rule out children. I turned one of my savings accounts into an adoption fund and started saving faithfully.

I imagined pregnancy to be joyous from the moment I would find out, to feel confident in my newfound glowing skin, finally embracing the stomach I always hated myself for. I imagined taking pictures each week to document the bump, growing snugly. Since I already don’t drink coffee, I imagined giving up my beloved red wine as the only major caveat. I imagined making pregnancy look as effortless as you see celebrities like Blake Lively achieve.

I found out I was pregnant in March, shortly before heading to Europe on a two week, five city exploration. I stared at the test as the two lines appeared, whispered our baby name, and cried in the bathroom. The tears, one would assume, would be those of happy, I-cant-believe-this-dream is being realized, emotion. I wish I could tell you that’s what it was.

Our plan wasn’t to wait until we were married, but we hadn’t planned to start trying until September. The plan was to have a summer baby, in which baby and I would be able to enjoy the sunshine, with options to go for a warm walk around the lake or work in the salsa garden during nap time, without clearing snow or bearing through a dreary, gray day cooped up inside until what little daylight there was decided to give up at 4:30 p.m. Truthfully, I’m scared of the winter, of the cold, of the dark, and I have strong feelings post-partum depression could hit me harder during those months.

Selfishly, I was also looking forward to European wines, as well as two wine trips planned with friends back in Northern Michigan during the Spring. Wine tasting is something of a sport to me and I take it seriously. I was looking forward to a summer of working out, happy hours, visiting with my sisters in Cape Cod, grilling out with friends, finishing a few projects with the house, and mastering my newer job. This summer was to be a bucket list of activities and dreams before deciding on starting a family.

Within the week we found out, two couples close to us confided that they each suffered miscarriages. Their babies would’ve been born just weeks before ours. They had each been trying, praying, and planning for the addition to their family, and were devastated by the loss, rightly so. This pain takes residence in people, and because we care deeply about them, their pain matters greatly to us too.

I felt enormous guilt that it was so easy for me to get pregnant, that we weren’t even trying, that my reaction wasn’t pure joy, when so many of my friends are struggling with fertility. They’re crying in the bathroom each month staring at just the one line, trying medicines, and shots, and IVF. They’re mourning the physical and emotional fallout of miscarriage, and they’re angry at their bodies. And at the very same time, I was angry at my body for betraying me, for getting pregnant when I didn’t want to be. At best, I felt ungrateful, and my worst during the first trimester was much, much uglier.

The first trimester was incredibly hard on me emotionally and physically. There’s a level of exhaustion that crept its way in like a heavy fog that didn’t totally dissipate until week 18. On good days, I threw up once or twice. On my worst days, I threw up 12-20 times, pulling over on the highway, running from the bed to the bathroom, or hugging public toilets in major cities as flies buzzed around the warm, wet bathroom. I didn’t even have the energy to produce tears.

I lost a significant enough amount of weight that my doctor put me on IVs filled with antinausea medication and fluids to make it stay down. At $153 a visit, I emptied one of my retirement accounts to keep up with my new expensive habit which also took 90 minutes out of my day. I excused myself from nearly all social events, opting for the couch, or my bed. I missed out on social engagements I looked forward to, and felt I let my friends down, all while keeping my pregnancy a secret to most, not ready to share, not yet feeling excited about our growing family.

The first trimester was hard on our relationship. My fiancé was thrilled from the moment I told him, which made it hard to comprehend or share my polarizing emotions. He often felt helpless, just wanting me to feel better, to eat something, to be able to offer something that would magically work. He would stand nearby the bathroom, ready with a cold washcloth for my forehead and a Gatorade, and would tuck me into bed, sometimes as early as 7:30. I am so incredibly grateful to have an amazing partner: patient, kind, helpful.

My sister gave birth to her first born, Lily, in May. Her pregnancy was physically great, but it was incredibly difficult to witness the lack of support, excitement, and celebration my family had for her. Christie and I attempted to pick up the slack, to generate excitement, and to do everything we could ourselves, but our efforts didn’t mask what was missing. Knowing I was also pregnant made me reluctant to share our news, and sad to need to emotionally prepare for a lack of support and celebration as well.

When we began to share the news with family and friends, there were comments that got under my skin, the kind that are hard to ignore, and more difficult to forget. Fortunately, our relationship has only grown stronger through each one of them. Our path may not be traditional, but our commitment and love is strong as ever.

When we were able to hear the heartbeat and see our baby’s image projected on the wall, kicking and wiggling, it started to change things in me emotionally. The baby was real, the heartbeat was strong, and this baby wasn’t leaving me. The part of me that fears abandonment and loss so much, I realized, was holding me back to the point I couldn’t bear to get excited about the baby until I knew it was certain.

The first trimester was incredibly tough for me, physically and emotionally. It’s a period of time I know I’d like to gloss over, to forget, to pretend it didn’t happen, but I don’t feel right about that. Perhaps by sharing my experience, someone else will find connection, to know its ok to feel this way, and to know that it gets better in time, just as life always does.

We’re starting to plan the nursery, gender neutral with grays and whites, and I’ve had a lot of fun looking at little outfits for our baby.

This experience has been a different journey than the one I expected, but it has been beautiful in its own way. And as I sit here to write this, feeling the kicks, there’s no mistaking the tears in my eyes come from happy, I-can’t-believe-this-dream is being realized, emotion.

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A New Year

Certainly, every year holds unexpected events and disappointments. 2015 was not exempt. Life going into this year was complex, messy, hurtful.

I’m reflecting on 2015, what it took, but more than anything, all that it gave me.

By trying new things and establishing a routine, I’ve found so much passion, creativity, and joy in pursuing my hobbies of reading, writing, blogging, cooking, redoing my home, and working out.

By giving myself permission to fail, I’ve learned about myself, my resilience, my strengths and weaknesses, and what I value most. I’ve learned to laugh at myself, to push myself toward the unfamiliar, and to recognize my limits in other areas. A constant reminder: I can be anything, but not everything.

By asking for help, I’ve become stronger than ever.

Through vulnerability in sharing both the bad and good of my life, my reality as it is, I’ve been able to connect with others and direct my energy into incredibly healthy, life-giving relationships. I’ve been able to empathize with others experiencing similar events, opening the conversation in so many directions.

It’s been a year of becoming.

The most tender, beautiful parts of my life have come from the wreckage of a life left behind, from the familiar falling apart and the gradual process of laying the foundation for a new, infinitely better one.

In 2015, I traveled to Orlando, Atlanta, Vegas, South Dakota, Chicago, Rhode Island, Boston, New Jersey, New York, Dayton, Philadelphia, and spent countless weekends all around Lake Michigan.

I started my blog, bought my first house, and fell in love.

I grew in my faith and in my friendships.

It’s truly been the most incredible year.

I’m not sure what 2016 holds in its entirety, but there’s already so much to look forward to: a new business venture, travel in Montreal, Barcelona, Rome, Venice, Florence, and Paris, expanding my blog, redoing the kitchen completely, weddings (maybe even ours), babies (maybe even ours), and so much more.

Happy New Year, friends!

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photo credit: Laura Scholten http://www.arajoetta.com

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The Story I Never Knew How To Write

I found his eyes before they found mine.

His nephew had just come up to me with outstretched arms, wanting me to pick him up. I had him on my hip, my free hand setting the table while his sister finished dinner in the kitchen. He was out in the sunroom, holding his newborn niece.

I wanted to observe, to see the way he cradled this tiny newborn in his arms and imagine him as a father himself, but as soon as he met my gaze I knew he saw right through me.

I was all in. This. All of this. A million times, yes.

I prayed for him, or rather, the idea of him, for years before knowing him. But even my wildest dreams pale in comparison to the incredible man he is. He’s everything I’ve fought for my entire life, everything I refused to believe I had to settle for less than. But he is so much more.

I see the same theme coursing through so much of life: brokenness, redemption, salvation. It’s played out prevalently in my life this year. I’m in awe of our God, the masterpieces he creates from the broken pieces. I’m grateful our God is a God of second chances, of futures so much better than you can imagine for yourself. I’m humbled our God knows the desires of our hearts and brings the right people in your life at the right time, never a moment too soon. A God of grace and abundant love.

We owe our set up partially to his best friend, partially to Facebook, and maybe even partially to this blog, but ultimately, all to God.

We have so many mutual connections, it’s amazing we haven’t met before this summer. Its as if we’ve been circling each other for the past decade.
-My best friend’s dad used to teach Sunday School with his mom.
-My dad worked with his best friend’s dad’s, and tried to set my sister up with his best friend.
-Many of his friends went to college with me and he would come to visit often.
-One of my mom’s coworkers used to be his teacher.
-One of my high school teachers paints with his brother in law.
-My best friend dated one of his best friends.
-Ten years ago, We even went to the same wedding, driving in the same car, sitting at the same table, with different dates.
-Craziest of all, he knew my ex-husband even before I did, serving on the same disaster relief team for hurricane Katrina, back when I was still in high school. Then, years later, he saw my ex downtown who told him how he had screwed up and was going to Chicago to get me back for good and marry me.

The list goes on, and on, and on. I like to believe that all of these close encounters, all of these almost connections, and all of the life moments we had apart from one another were all in preparation for life together, to the story we’re building now.

I don’t wish for a second that we would’ve met sooner. I love our stories separate from each other, the seasons of growth and struggles. The memories we can share with each other, the experiences and travels and discoveries we’ve made through our twenties before coming together. These years and experiences all contribute to the strong foundation we are laying now.

He is kind, in ways that few people are kind.
He is genuine and good hearted, with family values and evident faith.
He leads us and prays for us.
He is extremely loyal and protective, and would do anything for those he loves.
He is a committed, amazing teacher, and I can’t wait to see him coach JV basketball this winter
He’s the fun uncle to lots of nieces and nephews and will gladly give up his night to watch them.
He’s a builder, and more than willing to take on any project for friends and family in his down time, always giving his spare time, energy, and positivity to help others.
He’s constant in a world of inconsistency.
He is intuitive and patient.
He encourages me, listens to me, and plans with me.
He lives with me in the moment but dreams with me for the future.
He is supportive of my goals and dream and aspirations: to travel the world, to work on a vineyard, to blog full-time or write a book.
He tells me how he feels and asks what I need.
He’s excited to see me and shares stories about me to his friends and family. On top of all that, he has the most incredible family. He is charming, social, athletic, tall, and a Michigan fan.

We have each been searching for a long time, wanting to settle down and have kids like our friends. We both know the struggle it can be at times to be the single in a room of pairs, one of the few, or only, to not be married and have children.

In all my searching, none will ever compare to the one that found me when I wasn’t looking.

His eyes met mine that day as dinner was ready. The table full of pulled pork, potatoes, bread, and all the Sunday dinner sides. But more than that, filled with love, kids, and family. The good stuff.

Of all the life moments, none compares to the moment you realize you are in love.

And as his eyes found mine, he smiled because he knew.

He’s the love story I always believed in, but never knew how to write.

This. All of this. A million times, yes.

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What I Learned Through The Fall

My life fell apart last year. (You probably already know this.)

Everything I thought I was building, working toward, establishing, was suddenly gone. My marriage was crumbling as soon as it began, or if we’re honest, in the on-off years leading up to it, and no matter how hard I tried, I was alone. I was exhausted daily. I could barely focus at work. My friendships and family were neglected. I wasn’t taking care of myself by exercising and eating well. I drank too much wine. I rarely spent time on the hobbies and projects I wanted to. All of my time and energy was endlessly poured into my marriage, and I was equally generous and resentful with the attention I was giving toward it. I exerted everything to try to make it work, to prove my value to someone that refused to see my worth.

When life was falling apart, I was angry, bitter, resentful. Defeated. Neglected. Abandoned. Unloved. I lost 25 lbs in five weeks. I looked sick, and I felt sicker.

It didn’t happen instantly, there wasn’t a defining moment when it turned. It was gradual over time, the way leaves change color in the fall. The tree is blazing with radiant oranges, reds, and yellows, leaves that changed over time, becoming the most beautiful version of themselves. Slowly, then all at once. The fall is unexpectedly beautiful.

There’s so much good that can come from the bad.
There’s a plan at work, even though you can’t see in front of you right now.

Be easy on yourself.
Forgive your shortcomings.
Be proud of your progress.
Practice gratitude.
Laugh about something.

I’m so thankful for the past year. It is a year I’ll remember with such joy and thankfulness. A year of courage, immense growth, redefining, and becoming. Of fiery resiliency, rooted determination, and gratitude that bloomed in every area of my life.

It’s been the best year of my life.

Without this year:

I wouldn’t have started my blog.
I wouldn’t have had the time and energy to run 15 miles every week.
I wouldn’t have started cooking more, letting negative feedback and rejection overpower.
I wouldn’t be as strong in my faith as I am today.
I wouldn’t have bought a house.
I wouldn’t have become closer with every one of my family members.
I wouldn’t have the level of transparency and authenticity in my friendships I do today.
I wouldn’t have made such amazing connections and been able to talk openly and honestly with other’s reading my blog who are experiencing the same hurts, troubles, and disappointments in life.
I wouldn’t have traveled spontaneously to visit my sisters.
I wouldn’t have said yes to a trip with a friend to South Dakota.
I wouldn’t have established my sense of self worth.
I wouldn’t be damn proud of the woman I am today.

I wouldn’t have fallen in love.
First with myself.
Then with my life.
Then with Cody.

This is it. This is what I want you to know, because I’m living its truth right now, a truth I never really believed until I started experiencing it myself.

Things get better. So much better than you can imagine right now.

It might not be in the way you’d plan for yourself, or in the ways you’re praying for at this very moment, but it’s happening, a little bit each day, even on the most desolate days you’re sure you’ve lost it all. Things are changing, and there is a future you cannot even imagine right now.

The plot lines of your life are being connected and intertwined by each moment, each experience, and every day, including (and maybe especially)  the bad.  Every time you’re hurt, every time something breaks and life falls apart. There is remarkable beauty emerging from tragedy, and one day you’ll be able to look back and know that the paradise waiting for you was worth any hell life could put you through. It still might not make sense, but we’re not always meant to understand. You can still appreciate, love, and grow.

Things will be lost, abandoned, and stolen from you: relationships, money, health, status. But I promise you there is a plan at work that you cannot see, one that will start to unfold in small joys, little steps, opened doors, and new faces.

My life fell together this year. And this is the story I want you to know.

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