24 Days of Holiday Activities

24 Days of Holiday Activities for Kids

I LOOOOOOOOVE Christmas.
It’s just, the best. All the little things are my favorite.

The decorating, the smells, the music, the baking the lights, the candles, picking out the perfect gifts.

Having kids takes it to a whole other level. Their excitement and wonder is infectious, but, as with most things that are done with kids – it can be messy and chaotic.

I am not on Christmas number EIGHT with kids – and with four littles I am learning to do LESS and plan MORE.

So, here are the activities I have planned for us to do. I am starting TODAY on November 14th, because, try as I might, I NEVER have the energy or ability to do something EVERY SINGLE DAY during the holiday season.

We are stretching 24 days of activities over 42 days. This is going to be just perfect for us. It works out to about 3 days a week, until the week before Christmas when we will have something every single day.

In addition to giving ourselves more time to enjoy Christmas, I am also planning ahead like WHOA. You’ll probably think I’m crazy, but I planned out each day, and went shopping today for all the little things I will need for each craft and each activity. I labeled 24 brown paper bags, one for each day, and filled it with all the supplies I will need for each day.

Some days don’t have anything inside, except a piece of paper telling us what we are doing that day. Other bags are filled to almost bursting (the day we are making a homemade gingerbread house has SO much candy and decorations!).

I have also included in each bag a reading from the Jesus Storybook Bible, so I don’t have to search for it, it’s already planned out.

I’m really excited, I think we might have a CHANCE of enjoying these activities and crafts…but you know, with four kids, I’m sure we’ll have some less than picture perfect Christmas memories as well! And that’s ok.

Here is the list that I made for us:

If you want to download the PDF to print, click here –> 24 Days of Activities for Christmas.

I’ve also compiled every craft and recipe we are doing on a Pinterest board – it doesn’t have a million pins, JUST the ones that correspond with this list.

Ok – my kids are begging me to get off the computer so we can start day 1!! Here we go!

Finding Freedom in a Laundry Basket

There is this area in my life that I have been trying to get ahold of for YEARS and yet, despite my many promises to myself to “do better” and “try harder” I seem to fail and fail time after time.

Keeping my house clean.

You might think I’d be embarrassed to admit that so publicly, but let’s not kid ourselves, we all have those areas – right? I mean, maybe you are perfect and are in control and living exactly how you’d like to live, but I am going to go out on a limb and guess that you have similar areas in your life. Areas that are ALWAYS bothering you, that you wish you could get control over but just never seem to be able to.

Shame lives in darkness, so I’m bringing it out in the light – airing my dirty laundry (which I seem to always have a lot of in this house) but not just for the purpose of venting or being gross or having a pity-party, but because I’ve had a minor break-through and I’m hoping it will help you as well!

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So, in all my years as a fitness coach and business mentor, it is my job to help people have breakthroughs in areas where in the past they have failed and the biggest mistake people make when they try to change behavior is just that – they try to change BEHAVIOR. You can try to pull apples off an apple tree and staple oranges on it all day, but it won’t be long before the rotting oranges fall off and apples grow once more.

Behavior is a SYMPTOM of mindset. We all do what we WANT or what we believe is best. Until we change our MINDSET, and tap into a deeper motivation or belief, and get the ROOT fixed, the fruit and behavior will never change.

Buying a new workout program, joining a business opportunity, putting together a budget or chore chart, those are all well and good, but they won’t last, unless the mindset has shifted.

So, first I had to identify what my CURRENT mindset was when it came to keeping my home clean. What were some of the thoughts and core beliefs I had? I actually wrote them down, and here’s what I came up with:

  • I have four small kids, our house will never be clean.
  • In order to have a clean house I’d have to be one of those uptight, anxious, no fun, anal people that makes everyone uncomfortable when they come over, and I don’t want to be like that.
  • Having a clean house would require me to be cleaning 24/7 and I’d rather be present with my children, not worth it.

It’s the mindset that stops us isn’t it? I had convinced myself that all this was true. I’d tell myself these things over and over, even though I was incredibly unhappy with how our home was kept, I just believed it wasn’t possible, or the sacrifice I’d have to make wasn’t worth it.

It wasn’t until just a week ago, when we had to evacuate because of Hurricane Irma and ended up staying with a good friend on mine in Orlando that all my “reasons” disappeared.

We were graciously hosted by my friend Sarah, who has three children, the same ages as my older three and is pregnant with her fourth. She works a full time job, has a husband and of course the kids to care for, and is a Beachbody coach to boot! Yet, somehow, her home was so clean, and organized and well kept and peaceful and comfortable and I never felt like the kids couldn’t be kids, and I never felt like she was stressed or overwhelmed or missing out on time with her kids because she was scrubbing the floors all the time.

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I’m sure she’d tell you she gets tired by the end of the day (she is growing another human after all), but during the week we were staying with her, I saw her constantly taking an extra minute or two (that’s really all it took) to clean a dish in the sink, wipe down a counter top or table and put away the toys the kids had finished playing with. Probably what had my jaw on the floor the most was when she pulled a load of laundry out of the dryer, folded it all and put everything away, all at the same time.

You can do that?!?!

Never in my life had I actually done all of those steps all together in one day: wash, dry, fold and put away.
(gosh, we are REALLY getting into some embarrassing reveals here aren’t we?)

Something finally clicked for me.

Having lots of kids didn’t mean it would be IMPOSSIBLE for me to have a clean home.
I could work hard to maintain a clean home without being uptight and making guests feel uncomfortable.
I could still spend beautiful, quality time being present with my children and just do the laundry all at once after they are in bed.

Seeing someone in MY SHOES, doing what I thought could not be done gave me such HOPE. It allowed me to believe it was possible and made me actually want to work hard to make it happen.

Over the past three days we have been home, I have never felt so happy with our little place. I cleaned, organized, threw out unnecessary clutter and have consistently maintained our home to a level I have NEVER in my life done before. I even washed, dried, folded and put away a load of laundry all in one day.

Being a visual person who thrives on beauty, I had no idea how much it was affecting me to be living in such a dirty and cluttered home. I even feel like I am more thankful and in love with our home now that I am showing it some love (which is actually the same thing that happened when I started working out and eating well, I started loving my body more, just from the sheer action of being kinder to it).

Taking care of my home isn’t a waste of time, like I thought it was, in fact, if my home is clean and peaceful and under control it can be a place of SERVICE to others – just like Sara’s home was to us while we were fleeing the storm.

I guess I am writing all this to say, if there is an area of your life that you are unhappy with, but you are CONVINCED there’s nothing you can do about it, maybe it’s in the area of health and fitness, maybe you want to start a business, or a blog, or a YouTube channel, want to write a book or pay off a large amount of debt….dig a little deeper. What are the “reasons” you are giving yourself for why you can’t. Are they ACTUALLY true? You will never attempt something until you BELIEVE it might be possible.

Is there someone in your life that you can go to, watch, learn from and be ignited with a spark of HOPE? Sometimes that’s all it takes, to see someone doing all the things you thought couldn’t be done!

Maybe, all the hard work to get healthy, build that business, live frugally, keep the house clean, seems like a drag, but time after time I am learning, it’s actually just the payment for a much richer, happier, peaceful and wonderful life.

Healthy Meals and Snacks for Kids

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When I first started making small healthy changes in my life I knew my kid’s eating habits also needed to change, but being that I was already overwhelmed with just ME – I decided to table that for the moment. I focused on what I was eating, getting into a routine and finding recipes that I liked and that worked for our budget and then – I could focus on the kids.

Well, a funny thing happened. As I slowly started to change what was on my plate, my curious little humans would inevitably sneak over and peek in and ask me: “Mommy, what’s that?” “Mommy, what are those?”

They were so curious and I would take a leaf of spinach and offer it to them. Or take a roasted beet and give them a taste. Sometimes they would like it, sometimes they would make a face and give it back.

Then, when I started learning about sugar addiction and how powerful it is (To watch my video series on sugar addiction, click here) I really buckled down and decided that I needed to start to phase out sugar. If I could reduce it or remove as much of it from my children’s diet as possible, I could stop it from having such a stronghold over them in the future.

My personal struggle with sugar addiction has been long and hard and I knew I wanted better for my children. (My story of sugar addiction is here) So I started making healthier treats for me and the kids. I got them involved with the making of them – things like three ingredient pancakes and chia seed pudding. They loved them and so I stopped buying the cookies and animal crackers that I was used to buying them and one by one, the unhealthy food started being replaced by the healthier foods. And one by one, overwhelming things, like making my own granola, started to become second nature.

But it’s hard! And I remember knowing that I didn’t want my kids eating sugary cereal for breakfast, goldfish for snack, frozen chicken nuggets for lunch, cookies for snack #2 and then picking at their dinner and begging for ice cream afterward. I just didn’t know what to give them instead.

So, here are my favorite healthy substitutions for some of the unhealthy things my kids used to eat, and even better – these are some of my KIDS favorite things now too!!

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(disclaimer – I have FOUR kids. They each have their own favorite healthy foods and that’s ok. My husband and I don’t like the same things. I would HATE it if my husband FORCED me to eat HIS favorite healthy snacks, so I don’t MAKE my kids eat ONE particular healthy thing. Through trial and error I started offering them all sorts of healthy things and when we found something they liked, we went with it.

Also, I always eat the healthy things WITH them. At first, they were wary of hummus, but I was eating it and I gave it to them to try with some multi-seed crackers. They took little tiny licks of it, and then a little bit more, and the next thing I knew they had their fingers in the hummus and were finishing off the container. Next time, I brought out carrots and bell peppers to dip in the hummus. One of my children liked the carrots in the hummus – the others prefer the peppers. Small changes, being patient and modeling the behavior you want to see are all SUPER important with kids)

Breakfast:

Cereal was always a staple for me and the kids, but MAAAAN cereal is EXPENSIVE (as is milk) and FULL of sugar, and in an hour my kids were complaining that they were hungry! So I knew this was one of the first things that had to go!

Here are some of the healthier options I rotate with my kids now:

  • Scrambled eggs with cheese
  • Multi-grain toast with peanut butter
  • Whole grain waffles with peanut butter and banana slices and chia seeds
  • Whole Milk yogurt with fresh fruit and homemade granola
  • Daily Sunshine smoothie
  • Three Ingredient Pancakes
  • Oatmeal (not the packets that are filled with sugar and expensive, but just old fashioned oats from the big cylinder. I let the kids choose their toppings: honey, maple syrup, raisins, pecans, chia seeds, peanut butter, coconut flakes, berries – they love it!)

Snacks

Snacks were the next thing on my list to change. Crackers, crackers, crackers, and cookies and chips. Ugh!! I hated it, but I literally couldn’t think of anything else to give my kids for snack. NOW these are our favorite snacks and I literally don’t buy any crackers, cookies or chips anymore (and it helps my grocery budget SO much!!).

  • Carrots & Peppers with hummus
  • Fruit (Apples and Bananas are staples, but we usually just go with whatever is in season)
  • Popcorn (not the kind you microwave, but air popped on the stovetop. We LOOOOVE our Whirley Pop but you can do it in a regular pot as well. This way we control how much salt and butter goes on and again, it’s WAY cheaper to buy the corn in bulk than to get the microwave packets)
  • Daily Sunshine smoothie
  • Cheese sticks

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Lunch

I still feel like I could use some improvement in my lunches, but here’s what I have so far!

Dinner

When it comes to dinner, they eat what we eat. I encourage them to eat at least three bites. Maybe it’s just my kids, but dinner is their LEAST consumed meal. They pick at it (well everyone except my oldest who is growing and consuming everything in sight) and push it around their plate. Foods they loved just the day before (like rice) all of a sudden they don’t like anymore. Frustration central.

So, I have my three bite rule, I sit with them (when I have the patience) and make the fork into a choo choo train or an airplane and help them finish a few more bites. In the end if they are just NOT having it, (and they’ve gotten in their three bites) I’ll give them some Daily Sunshine for “dessert” , they think they’ve “won” but really…I’m the winner here.

Treats

I really do try to limit sugar AS MUCH as possible for my kiddos – which is no easy feat. Not having it in the house makes it a LOT easier!!! But they are kids, and they still want some treats, so here are a few of our favorites.

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I hope these ideas are helpful to you. Again, take it slow with your kids, change one thing at a time. Food is a comfort and when it is changing it can feel disorienting and scary for adults and especially for kids.

The exciting thing is – if we can change their eating habits NOW they won’t have to undo as much damage later. If we can keep our kids from being the 1 in 3 that are overweight right now in America, we can teach them how to love and fuel their bodies and hopefully keep them from feelings of shame or self-loathing.

WE have to model it first and foremost – we can’t force anything on them, but through leading by example and making small changes to their diet, over time I think you will find that you can make a world of difference in your child’s life!

If You Get Lost You Can Always Be Found

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A major focus of my blog is an appeal that the “hard” things we shrink back from, are actually the GOOD things that in the end will make our lives better. Daily workouts, clean eating, natural child birth, homeschooling, building a business from home….and now, living abroad.

These things aren’t for everyone, but I feel like most of the time people focus on how DIFFICULT they all are, when in reality, when you push INTO the hard, they can be INCREDIBLY rewarding and beautiful.

But in order to do that I have to acknowledge the hard.

Yesterday was our first full day in Merida, Mexico and it was hard. We are on full sensory overload, everything looks different, smells different, sounds different. Simple things like grocery shopping are confusing and overwhelming. Add to that, four crazy kids who are constantly running all around and more than a few miscommunications between the hubby and I (oh, and NO ONE napped yesterday – no one.) and ya, it was a hard day.

Here’s the thing. IT’S OK. It’s ok to have hard days. It’s ok to try things that don’t always work. A lot of times trying things that don’t work is the only way to know it doesn’t work. Miscommunications help you communicate better. Naps missed are always terrible, sorry, no way to sugar coat that one.

So, here’s the story:

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EVERYONE wakes up at 5am, because it’s one hour different and everyone is in new, strange beds and bedrooms. Mama didn’t get her early morning time and half the bags were still yet to be unpacked. Daddy was anxious to get out and see the city and the sights, but mama wanted to settle in, organize the house and get her bearings.

Daddy’s pressure made Mama stressed, finally out in the neighborhood we go, only to be completely overwhelmed at the grocery store – kids are knocking down large, perfectly stacked mountains of fruit and asking for every new and exciting sweet treat that we don’t have in the states. Daddy and Mama are trying to convert Kilos to Pounds and Pesos to Dollars, baby is hungry and cranky.

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Finally we make it home (walking half a mile in 90 degree heat each way) and try to put everyone down for naps. SURELY they are tired. Nope, after several attempts, tantrums and desperate pleas, we give up and decide to go to the local park. Only now, it’s the HOTTEST (and I mean HOTTEST) time of the day. Which is the reason we were trying to get the kids to rest, so we could stay out later and enjoy the COOL evening. But kids don’t understand things like that.

So we are melting into the pavement, but make it to the local park, which has a small playground made entire out of METAL. The kids tried their best, they even used some of my baby wipes to place on the see saw seats so they could play one it without burning their little bottoms.

We didn’t last long, but saw on google maps that there was an dessert place just a few blocks away. We were promising our kids something sweet and delicious if they would just keep walking a few more steps!! Only, as we got to the spot, there was no dessert place. Nothing, just a house. We almost had a mutiny on our hands.

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Finally as we walked back, we found the cutest little food truck with agua fresca, kombucha and smoothies. The kids got their sweet treat, and a respite in the shade and we learned our lesson – no going out in the heat of the day.

Dinner finally got done at 8:30pm (and I literally just made fried potatoes and onions….I don’t even know what happened) and we all collapsed into bed.

There you have it. Day one. I won’t detail EVERY day for you over this next month – but day one was all sorts of challenging, overwhelming and hot as heck and still good, and learning and stretching and moving outside of our comfort zone is never easy, but when we do it we grow.

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Here’s to much more growth (and naps!) over the next four weeks!

A Homeschooling Story

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“Ok Vanessa, you can do this!
You were homeschooled, sure it was like 20+years ago when you were in 1st grade and you were a kid so you weren’t taking notes from your mom, and you had no idea how much pressure you’d feel being completely responsible for the intellectual formation of one of the human beings you love most in the entire world, but it’s 1st grade…how hard can it be?”

Just a little pep talk I gave myself at the beginning of the year.

When we started this year of homeschooling I felt like it was my first “real” year. I had to officially send in our letter of intent to the State of Florida, letting them know – we are DOING this. I will be taking FULL responsibility of the education of my son this year, thank you very much.

Fhew! Totally scary. Not going to lie.

I had a newborn at the beginning of the year, so I kept thing VERY simple. We would do Phonics, Math, History and Bible. No frills, no co-ops, no involved science experiments, no Latin or science fairs. I know other moms who did all of the above (and more) and some even gave birth and had newborns during this school year – I just knew my capacity and went with that.

I was anticipating a crazy year of homeschooling (in addition to my newborn, I also had a VERY energetic and attention needing three year old, a sweet five year old and then my first grader) but what I was not anticipating, was a child who did not want to learn to read.

Nope. He was not having it. We tried several different approaches, four reading curriculums, prizes, songs, games, threats, rewards – anything I could think of and yet – to no avail.FullSizeRender

Apparently, if a child does not WANT to learn, you cannot MAKE them learn! What a concept!

And I was faced with a very difficult inner dialogue.

“What if this isn’t the best way to educate? What if I’m not a good teacher? We keep butting heads. This isn’t working. I thought education at this age is supposed to be fun. I must be doing this wrong.”

Yup, one year in and this girl who LOVES school, was homeschooled herself, has been looking forward to this for YEARS, was ready to throw in the towel.

Thankfully I have been surrounded by an amazing community of more seasoned moms – moms who remind me that the goal of homeschooling isn’t for the child to master a certain skill set by a certain date. We are creating LIFE-LONG learners. We are investing in character as well as intellect and it is as much MY character that is being built as his.

Throughout the year I have seen a change in my heart – from one of despair, discouragement and failure, to one of hope, trust in God and patience.

I am called to be faithful, to teach daily, to model hard work and a love for learning. (Now if only I can remember that at the end of every lesson gone wrong!)

I have seen myself changing from the mom sitting two inches from my child’s face, pointing at each word saying “what’s this word, sound it out, sound it out, what is that letter? Common, you know this, read the word.” Veins popping out, stressed, striving. To the mom who prays before EVERY lesson, encourages every small victory, has set aside the reading curriculum for now, and simply enjoys reading stories aloud IMG_5328together, focusing more on the areas he DOES love to learn in – math and history. Spending lots of time outside, exploring the world and talking about what we observe.

For a goal-oriented, book loving, first time, “am I doing this right?!” mom, this has been my biggest victory. My homeschooling story is a humbling story. It’s certainly not the story I thought I would have, but it’s OUR story and I’m thankful for it.

Congratulations to my sweet children for enduring their crazy mama this year!
Congratulations to my son for completing the first grade and my daughter for gracefully completing kindergarten.
Congratulations to my three year old for always needing to poop RIGHT when we are at the most crucial moment in our lesson.
Congratulations to my sweet 10 month old baby, for nursing and sleeping anywhere and everywhere this year.
Congratulations to my husband for supporting me EVERY day, listening to my fears and wiping my tears.

One year down. 18(ish) to go!

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Slow Days Ahead

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Hey friends!!!
Gosh, I haven’t had this long of a hiatus from blogging since starting, over three years ago.

The reason for it was simple, I felt the Lord pressing on my heart: “Do less, be more present. Be fiercely devoted to your priorities and do away with all that is secondary.”

My poor sweet little blog, although massively important to me, and always will be a part of my life, needed to take a back seat for a bit. But, in the past few weeks I’ve felt the need to get back to it – content ideas stirring up inside – excitement to get writing again….and there’s also a new chapter in our life that may be fun to document.

You see, in addition to my blog taking a back seat, my husband and I have been having many – many long, late night talks about our life. How do we want to live? What kind of priorities do we have as a couple and are we honoring those priorities? How can we live more slowly, more intentionally and prepare now for future ministry?

We threw around several ideas, and some of them had potential, but none of them fit 100%. You see, our goals in life, as we prayed and talked and prayed some more, seemed to always revolve around these core thing:

– A desire to live for MORE than the status quo and the “American Dream”.
– A rejection of the accumulation of THINGS and debt and being a consumer of entertainment and addicted to comfort.
– A desire to be a strong, stable family, emotionally, spiritually and financially, so our home can be a place of ministry.

Living abroad with our family kept coming up as something we would like to do in the next 5 years. It just seemed to fit with all of our goals and vision.

And then, we both had a crazy idea (we actually came up with the idea SEPARATELY on the same day, and when I told Fernando I needed to talk to him about something, he said, “Me too!” and it was absolutely INSANE when we both had the same idea, same country and all…)- why not try it out this summer?

My husband is a teacher and has the summers off, we’ve ALWAYS wanted to travel with the kids during the summer but I was either pregnant, giving birth or we were broke.

I can’t believe this is really  happening, but….the tickets have been purchased, the AirBnB is reserved, we will be spending one month this summer in Mérida Mexico.

We truly have no connections to this place, no family, friends or churches that we know, but surprisingly almost everyone I’ve spoken to about this knows someone who lives or has lived there, and we’ve got several great people over there that we are talking to and a little community waiting to receive us and give us tips and help.

Mérida is a historic and beautiful city, from what we gather, and we are thrilled Merida07to get to take our kids out of the country, live with the locals, improve our Spanish and bond together as a family unit.

Who knows what the next 5 years may hold, and if we end up living long term out of the country at some point. These summer travel plans and these principals around which we are building our lives may not be popular or understood by most, but there’s something SO freeing to take action on a big decision and KNOW that it lines up PERFECTLY with your core beliefs and values.

It’s literally a dream come true and to think that this is only possible because of the flexibility I have to build my business ANYWHERE and the amazing income to support us while we are there!

Something in my bones tells me this trip will be pivotal in our family’s history – I can’t wait to go (trials and all, because I know there will be bumps along the road).

Mexico – here we come!!

FitMom Tip #1 – Believe You Can (and ditch the excuses)

If you don’t know already, I love – LOVE learning, growing and sharing that knowledge with others. It’s kind of my obsession. So, I am thrilled to indroduce you to my latest project: FitMom Tips. They are quick, informative and the perfect little pep-talk for busy moms who need to be reminded to keep their health a priority.

I know that none of us has a lot of time, but sometimes even just the smallest reminder or tip can make a world of difference in our day – so here is FitMom Tip #1 and it’s all about belief. If you are constantly telling yourself you can’t, and rehearsing all the reasons why it won’t work for you – you are guaranteeing it won’t. If you have ANY desire whatsoever to get healthier, change bad habits and establish good ones – you’ve got to silence the excuses in your head (because there is ALWAYS a way) and BELIEVE.

A Letter to Myself – three kids ago

Dear First Time Mommy Vanessa,

I know you are scared. I know you are waking up all throughout the night to make sure the baby is still breathing. I know you are tracking every single feeding, diaper and nap on that baby app. I know you are doing it out of love.

You want that baby to thrive. You’ve never done anything this BIG before. Another human’s LIFE depends on you now and that scares the shit out of you.

I also know how much you love hate advice, but I’m going to give it to you anyway.

  1. Another life depends on you now.
    So don’t forget about yourself. Don’t forget to shower, sleep, eat well, get outside, enjoy time with friends. I know it seems like a lot of unnecessary work to brush your hair and put on a fresh pair of clothes, but YOU are the center of this little life’s world. You need to be strong, positive, happy, vibrant and focused – that only happens if you take your eyes off the baby, put him down for a few minutes and do a little self-care.
  2. Listen to your instincts.
    Ya, I know you read all those books and you understand baby sleeping patterns now, but those books don’t know YOU or your baby. You do. You are his mama for a reason. He and you are inexplicably connected and you will understand things deep in your soul that no expert can tell you. Your motherly instincts and good and true – stop doubting yourself and looking to others to validate what you know deep inside. If it feels right to pick him up, pick him up. If he seems hungry – even though he ate one hour ago – feed him. Babies are people, and people aren’t robots.
  3. Parenting is about love, everything else is gravy
    How you feed him. Where he sleeps. What he wears. These things seem monumentally important, and they are somewhat – but the main factor between children who struggle and children who thrive is LOVE. Nothing else, nothing more. Love him and show him how you love Jesus and how you love your husband and how you love yourself and the rest is just gravy. Stop stressing about doing parenting “right” and look into those beautiful baby eyes and tell him how much you love him. Look into your Bible and strengthen your marriage. Focus on LOVE and the rest will fall into place.
  4. Enjoy this time
    Oh wait, I remember  – you totally did. Even with all the extra stressing and tracking and making yourself crazy trying to follow the advice of books and others you did a pretty good job of enjoying that first baby. Smelling his sweet smell, tickling his soft, round belly and chubby thighs. I guess that’s something we both have in common, no matter how many worries you had with the first, or how much craziness I have now with the fourth, we know that this stage won’t last forever and we are doing all we can to soak it in.

Cheers! first time mommy Vanessa – you probably won’t  believe me, but this motherhood thing actually gets sweeter and sweeter as the years go by and these kiddos are some of the most brilliant, funny, kind and amazing humans you’ll ever meet.

Maya Isabel’s Birth Story

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This birth story, as most are, is a love story mixed with a war story. It was a battle that was hard fought, emotional and beautiful.

I knew this time around, after many conversations with other moms, I wanted to share – in real time – what I was going through. I wanted to show – as best I could – what it was really like to go through a contraction without the drama of the hospital. I feel like my experience is so rare – a peaceful, unmedicated, birth center birth – that I wanted to share how beautiful and supportive it was. I decided to share on Snapchat (van_fernan) but felt a little embarrassed when I started telling everyone I was going in to labor on Monday June 27th, only to find it was a false alarm – ahhh well! It happens.

On July 2nd, a sleepy Saturday morning, I woke up and started waddling around the house, getting breakfast ready for everyone. When I finally sat down to eat MY breakfast, I felt a gush. It wasn’t a lot, but it was definitely not pee and it felt like my water had broken. Still no contractions, but constant cramping in my lower back.

After going to the bathroom and seeing a lot of fluid and my mucus plug I suspected that today might be the day! But I was cautious in my suspicion because of the previous false alarm. We were planning to head out to the beach that day to enjoy the holiday weekend a bit, but after more gushes and a few contractions starting up I told my husband: “I don’t think we are going to the beach today!”

With my second and third births, once I started getting strong contractions it was not very long before I met my baby! Just four hours with my second and just 45 minutes with my third. So I was a little anxious. I knew the strong contractions hadn’t hit yet, but once they did, I didn’t want to be too far from the birthing center.

My dad came over to take the kiddos and Fernando and I headed over to the birthing center around 11:30am. When she checked me, I was only about 3cm and not very effaced. She told us to walk around the mall, get a good lunch in my belly and come back at 3pm. So we decided to make it a date! It was SO funny to be walking around the mall – in early stages of labor – breathing through contractions while eating my Thai Chicken Lettuce Wrap on the Cheesecake Factory patio. This one lady approached me at H&M (after a fashion emergency forced us to grab a new pair of shorts for Fernando) and said, “You look like you’re about to pop!” and I replied, “That’s because I am! I’m in labor right now.” Needless to say she was quite surprised.

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Finally we got back to the birthing center and I got checked again, 4cm only and contractions were still at about a 5 pain-wise. I tried using the breast pump for a bit, but it didn’t help much and hurt like crazy so I decided to take a nap instead. During that time as I laid in silence (my mom, sister, Fernando and the birth photographer Bianca, were all chatting quietly in the next room) the contractions started getting stronger and I started to feel afraid. I started to remember the pain that lay ahead of me. I started to wonder if this time I would be able to handle it. I wondered if this time would end in the same happy, healthy delivery as the previous three had. It shook me.

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My sister came in after a while and having her and the rest of my family helped to distract me but as I sat up and started chatting with everyone the contractions stopped again. Not being in control of the process is probably my LEAST favorite part of natural childbirth (that and the pain).

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Finally I got up and decided to walk around the birthing center grounds. I needed to get outside, it was a hot but beautiful day and the birthing center is covered in large, lush tropical trees. I walked with Fernando, praying and clearing my head. I confessed to him my fears and felt a renewed sense of strength as he reassured me that HE believed in me and that God would be with me as well.

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This time the contractions finally kicked in and picked up. It was about 5pm. My mother in law, sister in law, both sisters, mom and Fernando were all there – everyone chatting and I enjoyed the company. I would retreat to a quiet corner of the room to breathe through a contraction and then things got stronger.

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I retreated to the birth room, leaning over a birthing ball and moaning through each contraction. It was my way of working through the pain. Every wave felt more powerful than the last but at least I could feel her moving down, I could feel my body opening up – it was painful, but I focused on what that pain MEANT. It meant she was getting closer to me.

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Through it all I just kept thinking of that moment when her slippery, chubby, soft sweet body would be in arms. It was all that got me through.

After one particularly body rocking contraction I told my midwife to fill up the tub. It was getting close, I could feel it! But after laboring all day, starting at 8am, by this time I was *exhausted*. I was worried I just wouldn’t have what it took to push her out at the end. I got in the tub and as soon as I did it all came back. All the memories of my previous three (who had also been water births) the sensation of pushing the pain and the joy. Here we go – I thought – here we go.

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It is hard to describe the last few contractions before pushing. Mentally I go to another place. Nothing else exists, just the job ahead of me, enduring the pain and seeing my baby. My body was SO tired I asked Fernando to hold my head up because it felt so heavy and like too much work to even hold my head up during a contraction. Finally it came, the pushing – I tried not to push too much – I didn’t want to tear, but the sensation was there, she was coming out. After that I had to change positions in the tub, leaning forward and on my knees, my hands gripped the handle at the front of the tub, I closed my eyes as every muscle in my body prepared to push. I could feel her head moving down, I didn’t know how close she was, but I knew she was close. Then I heard my midwife say “the head is out.” I opened my eyes and put my hand down to feel. The contraction was still going and with her being so close I decided to give it one more good push – I wanted her in my arms. We were so close, why wait for another contraction?

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I gave it everything I had left, screaming from deep within and out she came.

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I burst into tears as I held her in my arms, her little cry was the best sound in the world. She was SO beautiful and chubby and perfect. Sitting there, soaking in the moment, feeling the relief, realizing that I DID IT. I know this was my fourth time around and I should have been the most confident, but I struggled with so much fear this time and the relief and joy of having her in my arms was powerful.

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These past three days with her have been amazing. Peaceful, restful, beautiful. She is a sweet baby who LOVES to be cuddled, kissed, talked to and held. Here siblings are in love with her – we all are. It was a birth I could not have predicted, but absolutely perfect and I am thankful for the gift to have been able to bring her into this world, strong and healthy and surrounded by love and family.

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(All pictures captured by my amazing birth photographer Bianca Valentim)

Meal Plan and Grocery List for Week 1 of the 21 Day Fix

IMG_7573I am so excited for this round of the 21 Day Fix. I am doing it in the last 21 days of my pregnancy and honestly this will be a REALLY challenging time for me – husband out of town, my son’s birthday, oh and I’m about to give birth – but I know when I am following this program I feel AMAZING, so instead of letting those things be an excuse for me to slack off, I am actually letting them be a MOTIVATION for me to dial in and make this happen, because if there is ANY time that I need extra energy, stress relief and strength – it’s in these last few weeks!

Here is my meal plan for the first week and when I went shopping at Aldi I came in around $83 for everything, so I am sharing that shopping list as well! If you are interested in this program but feel intimidated to try it, shoot me a message! I’d be happy to encourage you, share meal plans, hook you up with a discount on the IMG_7528program and include you in my private groups on facebook where I offer coaching and daily motivation.

Ok, let’s get to the good stuff! Here is my meal plan for the week! With my pregnancy
weight and not calculating for a “weight loss” (not my goal right now!) I am in the third bracket of the 21 Day Fix eating plan (which is a heck of a lot of food!!!)

Monday
Breakfast: 2 Eggs scrambled with spinach, watermelon, whole wheat toast
Snack 1: Peach & Gluten Free Crackers
Lunch: Tuna on Salad with Quinoa and Cheese
Snack 2: Celery with Peanut Butter
Snack 3: Shakeology with 1/2 Banana
Dinner: Chicken Breasts, green beans, sweet potatoes

Tuesday
Breakfast: Turkey Bacon, Green Juice (spinach or kale blended with 1 fruit), Oatmeal
Snack 1: Sweet Peppers with Hummus
Lunch: 2 Hard boiled eggs, Sandwich thin, Spinach
Snack 2: Shakeology with 1/2 Banana and Kale
Dinner: Turkey Meatballs, red sauce, whole wheat pasta, side salad
Snack 3: Homemade all-fruit popsicles (for those late night sweet cravings!)

Wednesday
Breakfast: 2 Eggs scrambled with spinach, watermelon, whole wheat toast
Snack 1: Peach & Gluten Free Crackers
Lunch: Tuna on Salad with Quinoa and Cheese
Snack 2: Celery with Peanut Butter
Snack 3: Shakeology with 1/2 Banana
Dinner: Thai Turkey, Peppers and Mushroom sauteè, Brown Rice

Thursday
Breakfast: Turkey Bacon, Green Juice (spinach or kale blended with 1 fruit), Oatmeal
Snack 1: Sweet Peppers with Hummus
Lunch: 2 Hard boiled eggs, Sandwich thin, Spinach
Snack 2: Shakeology with 1/2 Banana and Kale
Dinner: Taco Salad (ground turkey over a large green salad), Chips and Salsa

Friday
Breakfast: 2 Eggs scrambled with spinach, watermelon, whole wheat toast
Snack 1: Peach & Gluten Free Crackers
Lunch: Tuna on Salad with Quinoa and Cheese
Snack 2: Celery with Peanut Butter
Snack 3: Shakeology with 1/2 Banana
Dinner: DAY OFF! Kids get pizza and I just have my Shakeology for dinner on this night! (mama needs a break every so often!!)

Saturday
Breakfast: Turkey Bacon, Green Juice (spinach or kale blended with 1 fruit), Oatmeal
Snack 1: Sweet Peppers with Hummus
Lunch: 2 Hard boiled eggs, Sandwich thin, Spinach
Snack 2: Shakeology with 1/2 Banana and Kale
Dinner: Turkey Sausage with peppers and onions and sweet potatoes
Snack 3: Homemade all-fruit popsicles

Sunday
Breakfast: 2 Eggs scrambled with spinach, watermelon, whole wheat toast
Snack 1: Peach & Gluten Free Crackers
Lunch: Tuna on Salad with Quinoa and Cheese
Snack 2: Celery with Peanut Butter
Snack 3: Shakeology with 1/2 Banana
Dinner: Salad with Chicken Breasts and Brown Rice

IMG_7552As you can see, I simply rotate my breakfast, lunch and snacks every other day and my dinners are the only things that stay unique throughout the week. This is just my way of simplifying things!!

Now onto my grocery list!!

Dairy:
3 Dozen large eggs – $2.37 (they were $0.79 each!)
Butter – $2.99
3 32oz containers of yogurt (for the kid’s breakfast) – $0.75 (they were $0.25 each!)
Sharp Cheddar – $1.69
Organic Whole Milk – $2.95

Produce:
Mushrooms – $1.29
Peaches – $2.79
Baby Carrots – $0.99
Celery – $1.39
Yellow Onions – $1.69
Bananas – $1.76
9 Multi-colored Peppers – $4.47
Organic Grape Tomatoes – $1.29
Organic Kale – $3.48
Flat Leaf Spinach – $1.79
Watermelon: $2.99
2 containers Strawberries – $2.60
Red Grapes – $1.78
Blueberries – $1.29

Meat:
2lbs Ground Turkey – $3.78
Boneless Chicken Breasts – $5.49
Turkey Sausage – $4.00
Turkey Bacon – $1.89

Grains:
Gluten Free crackers – $2.98
Brown Rice – $2.79
Granola (for kid’s breakfast) – $1.99
Old Fashioned Oats – $2.39
Wheat Bread – $1.79

Misc:
Frozen Pizzas (for the kids) – $8.00
Hummus – $1.99
Toilet Paper – $1.99
Coffee – $5.29

Total – $82.33

Obviously there were some amazing deals this week (Eggs, Yogurt, Fruit) but beyond that this is what I typically pay for groceries. I try to feed our family of five for under $100 a week! Hope this helps as you are planning your own healthy menu!

If you are interested in following my 21 Day Fix journey you will find every day documented on my facebook page!
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