Family Portrait – Capture Your Grief

This is my family: Mila, Jensen, and I.

Our family portraits will never look ‘normal,’ but they’re perfect to me. They’re still full of love and an actual representation of who we are as a family.

Story time.

I was being brave today. This whole month I’ve felt exhausted. In the middle of potty training Max AND Mila (yes, I will post those adventures soon), doing school work, and trying to get back in the swing of subbing, plus everything else, I found myself neglecting what actually means a lot to me… Capture Your Grief. Every October I’ve done my best with it and this one, I just have been doing what I can do.

When I saw today’s prompt, I told myself I was 100% participating and going to get a picture of us. I picked out Mila and I’s outfit and Jensen’s bow. We grabbed our fall stuff and a big blanket to take outside. For like 15 minutes, I was in the backyard finding the perfect spot while rigging a stand up for my phone to sit…

I wanted it to be perfect with a fall background and all of us looking in the camera. Let’s just say… that didn’t happen.

Toddler’s aren’t the best at taking direction and Max wouldn’t sit still and Mila kept taking Jensen’s bow off and it seemed impossible to run back and get us all set up in time in a matter of ten seconds.

Did I feel a little defeated? Yes. But, I looked at Mila and held Jensen bear close to me and realized the most important people in my life didn’t care about a picture. They cared about me and know I’m doing my best. I let grief and stress and feeling like a bad mom get the best of me. It happens to all of us and that’s okay.

After my moment, I squeezed Jensen bear again and got Mila to come sit with us. I was going to get this picture no matter what and what’s wrong with a selfie?

This is our life. It’s three and a half years of grieving and a year and a half of parenting after loss. It’s one full of love and craziness. One that the only thing I’d change is having Jensen physically here with us.

I love our little family portrait today. My littles are in my arms and close to my heart. I’m smiling and everything is going to be just okay.

Kisses for Jensen.

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Guess Who Ran Barefoot Through Fields of Sunflowers…

I know a little girl who ran barefoot among the sunflowers.
With the wind in her hair and dirt on her feet, she laughed freely.
Only looking back to see who follows, she knows she holds all the power.
No matter how wild and free, I’m proud to say this girl belongs to me.

I’m not the best poet in the world, but Saturday was so magical that words flow through me when looking back on pictures. Mila and I had a day full of adventures that I could not predict what all was going to happen.

A few weeks ago, I saw that Ramseyer Farms near Wooster had a sunflower festival going on. I had never been to the farm before or really knew what to expect, but I thought it might be cute for Mila and I to go. Well, it turns out this place is HUGE. There’s so many playgrounds, big slides, farm animals, corn mazes, food, and more that people of all ages can enjoy.

We started off our time at the playground designated for little kids. There was a huge play set that had slides everywhere. I thought Mila was a little too little to go by herself, so of course I went down them with her, check out the video at the end. We unfortunately probably didn’t wear the best clothes, but we rocked it anyways. She loved that I got to play with her and was smiling the entire time. There was also a baby corn maze. She thought it was hilarious and ran right through it. Then, we got to this wagon full of corn that kids could play in. We didn’t leave there for a long time. It was relaxing to just float on top of the corn and I could definitely tell it made her sleepy. So after thirty minutes we went off to the next thing.

I swear Mila was supposed to grow up on a farm because she thrives in this setting. She absolutely loves animals and has no fear of them. They for some reason respect her and are all gentle. I hope she always stays curious and keeps her love for them. Unfortunately when trying to see the little chicks closely, Mila fell of a few steps and hit hard. Of course, right? She’s accident prone, what can I say… Instead of sticking around, we did a little random act of kindness and our quarters by all the animal food so others could have a turn in feeding the goats and pigs too. (By the way, that’s one of our bucket list items we checked off! Only a few more to go!)

Mila and I tried to get to all the playgrounds and big slides, but time went really quick. We went through one corn maze, ate kennel corn, and drank apple cider. I was hoping she’d get some type of sugar rush before we ended our time at Ramseyer Farms in the sunflower fields. Thankfully it worked.

I have never seen anything as cute as Mila running wild in the fields. She refused to wear her shoes after a little while and it just made her look like she belonged there. Lots of people just looked at her and smiled. I think watching a child just be so innocent and carefree brings adults back. With everything I’ve been through, I really live in moments like these. Mila’s taught me to smile and love life again. For that I’ll always be thankful for her.

After picking our sunflowers and getting back to the car. Thank you to the random man who helped me carry everything back. I brought the wrong stroller and no bag… not good planning on my part, but thankfully there’s good people in the world. On the way back home, Mila finally passed out. I didn’t realize we were there for four hours, but loved the day.

As we drove through Strasburg, I noticed that people were sitting really close to the road. They were having their own festival going on and there was a parade! One of the items I didn’t think we were going to get to on the bucket list was a parade. So, while she was still asleep, I found a parking spot and waited until she woke up to walk to a spot. It felt like such a lucky day.

We found a spot next to some people and just enjoyed the rest of the evening. It had felt like Jensen was with us all day, then we got a balloon that was blue and orange. They were everywhere, so it was a nice visual reminder that he’s everywhere we are too. Mila absolutely loved the parade and watching everything go by. She got candy and chocolate, which of course was great to her. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the day.

I know this post was a really long round up of Saturday, but it’s a day I don’t ever want to forget.

Complete picture overload, but it was too perfect not to document and share. Enjoy this little video of us going down the slide. I wish I had one of us on the huge slice, but maybe that’ll be what we do next time!

Dinner Date at the Lake.

I feel like I just talked about how quickly summer is coming to a close, but it really feels like the days are going faster. Even though there isn’t really any pressure to get the remaining bucket list items done, I’m still trying my best.

Last night, I thought would be a perfect night to combine two of them: lake day and go on a picnic. It sort of turned into lake evening and eat our dinner on a picnic table. Either way, it was a beautiful night.

Mila’s ate outside before, but she was loving the picnic bench. She thought it was cool that the seats and table had holes in it. Then we got to eat Subway for the night, which meant she got a juice box and a cookie. Absolutely wild for her.

It’s not a normal night without Mila falling or getting hurt some way… she did fall off the bench once and bit her cheek. No ER visit thankfully!

One thing that was persistent throughout the night was feeling Jensen with us. It’s a feeling I don’t know how to describe other than just knowing he was there. First it was in the cookie to make Mila feel better.

He always shows up in orange and blue. His colors showed up in the sunset too. It felt like he was surrounding us and watching Mila and Max play while letting me know it was all going to be okay.

Even though we didn’t get a full day at the lake, Max and Mila were loving it. They got their feet in the water and climbed in the rocks. I showed her how to skip rocks, which she thought throwing them was just as fun too.

I know I keep saying I can’t believe how big she’s gotten, but it’s crazy. She’s so strong and smart. Her independence is mind blowing to me. She soaks everything up around her and seeing the world through her eyes is something I’ll always be thankful for.

Through everything we go through life like loss and situations you can’t see the end to, these moments are the ones that keep you going. I miss Jensen so much and can see where he’d be everyday. This bucket list was something to give us things to do for the summer, but it really turned into so much more. I know that probably sounds lame, I just see all these items as memories that’ll never go away.

I’ll never regret the time I get to spend with Mila and I’ll always wish Jensen was here with us. Sometimes dinner at the lake puts everything in perspective… and a lot of beautiful pictures.

Mom Fail: Summer Toddler Bucket List Edition.

“Good try mom.”

Mila and I have been outside 70% of the day throughout the summer. When it rains and we’re stuck inside, it makes for a long one. One thing we do everyday, rain or shine, is read books. Before bed we read and any time I need her to settle down. I thought the combination of outside and reading would work out beautifully…

Turns out, I was wrong.

Technically we got to read outside, Mila just wasn’t anywhere near me. I read loud enough where she could hear, but who knows if she was listening.

This was the closet picture I got of her near the book.

My little, marathon runner got a good workout in running circles around me and going up and down the stairs with Max.

Although it didn’t go as I thought it would, I laughed so much and she had just as much fun. We got to read the books later that night and everyone was happy. Which is all I could ever ask for.

The Toddler Bed.

I would love to say Mila has finally graduated from crib to toddler bed, but I’d be fibbing a little. Mila has never spent a night or nap in her crib. I know there will come a time where she sleeps in her new ‘big girl bed,’ but we haven’t gotten there yet.

One of the hardest things I had to do when I was pregnant with Mila was to put Jensen’s crib up in her room. It was always his. I remember picking it out for him and pairing it with orange and blue. His bedding fit perfectly with it too. So a little over a year and a half ago when I put the crib up with pinks and golds, it was hard. It was even harder seeing it up, wondering if a baby would ever make it to sleep there.

The answer to that was no. When she finally came, I couldn’t let her out of my sight. I didn’t listen to typical ‘safe sleep’ and we co-slept.

I did get to see her in it though. From the first pictures I took of her at home, to her learning how to stand, and eventually jumping every time she got in there. Jensen’s empty crib gave Mila a safe place to grow. Now it’s transformed into a toddler bed. A toddler. A stage I never thought I’d encounter after Jensen died and even those first months after Mila was born.

She really is a ‘totally amazing sister’ and an ever better daughter. Even when I had my moment of looking at his/her toddler bed, she flashed her infectious smile at me letting me know it was all going to be okay.

Jensen truly handpicked her for me. No one could ever tell me any different.

These moments of parenting after loss can really knock me down, I’m just glad I can be mom to both of them.

Toddler Friendly Bucket List: Ducks and Drive-Ins.

Hello September! I can’t believe summer is almost over and Mila and I still have a few things led to check off our bucket list. Even though Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer, I’m going by the solstice. That means our bucket list needs completely by September 23.

Although it’s gotten a little trickier to get out of the house for long periods of time with Max here, Mila and I marked a few off the last week. Now we can cue the cuteness.

Feed the Ducks

We had so many nice days last week, but I took advantage of last Wednesday. After a lunch date, we went to Tuscora Park to see the ducks. Mila has gotten super interested in animals. Every animal she sees she wants to go pet or tries to call them to her. I was really excited to see how she’d react to all the ducks.

I don’t know why I didn’t think she’d be different with the ducks. She kept slapping her leg for them to come up to her and finally she decided she was going to get to pet them one way or another. Right after I took the above picture, she tried to go right into the little pond to get the ducks. Thankfully I got her out before she got all the way in…

When she realized we could go up by the fence and actually throw food (oatmeal which is safe for ducks!) she got excited. First, she thought she deserved a snack too.

It didn’t take any time for her to give the whole mason jar of oatmeal to the ducks. They were very pleased with their little snack and Mila thought it was the coolest thing. It’s definitely something we’ll continue to do in the future.

Drive-in Movies

Lets just say, this picture perfectly captures how well the drive-ins went.

This past weekend, Mila and I went to the Lynn Drive-In Movies. It’s the oldest drive-in movies in Ohio and the second oldest in the whole world! It’s such a treasure for us to have locally and holds so many past memories for me hopefully future ones for Mila. The Lion King was the first movie of the night and since Mila is loving on animals, I thought it’d be perfect to take her to.

The back of my Jeep turned into a makeshift bed. We had so many blankets and pillows piled up to make it feel homey and comfy. I came prepared with snacks and drinks, but we just had to buy popcorn too. Mila thought it was pretty cool that we were in the back of the car and eating chocolate. She was all smiles and when the previews started, she couldn’t believe her eyes.

I can only imagine what was going on in her head when she saw all the animals talking. She enjoyed the music and was pretty into the movie. A little before halfway, she started snuggling up to me. I knew she had to be tired. She finally settled while cuddling and soon after she was fast asleep.

To be honest, I thought I would be super overwhelmed with taking her to the drive-ins at this age. She’s not super into watching TV yet and is usually running around. I figured she’d be mad she wasn’t allow to run outside or just be fussy since it was late. She blew all my expectations and I’m actually wanting to take her more times next year.

I’m hoping to knock a few more off the list this week. Fingers crossed the weather stays semi nice and we get them done!

Also, I’ve been obsessed with this picture. She’s growing up to be such a little lady.

I’m thinking about a fall bucket list too. If any of you have suggestions with what we could put on it, please let me know in the comments.

One Weekend In Cincinnati: Toddler Included.

It’s my birthday week and to celebrate early, my family treated me to a weekend in Cincinnati! To be completely honest, I have no idea why they’re so encouraging in my celebration this year since I’m just turning twenty-six… but I’m loving every moment of it.

So why Cincy, especially with a toddler?

Three reasons, which will make for great bullet points for this post. Two of them checked off items off the bucket list and the other, well, it was just all for me. Plus, it’s only about a four hour drive from where we live, which makes it a great weekend escape.

Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden

I have been patiently waiting for the right moment to take Mila back to the zoo. We went a couple months ago to the Akron Zoo and she really enjoyed it. Now she’s even more into animals so I was excited to see how she reacted.

The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden is the second oldest zoo in the United States. It houses 1,896 animals and there is so much plant life as well. Some facts or bits of information you might recall about the zoo is the death of the gorilla Harambe and the birth of Fiona the hippo. Both have made national news in the last five years. There’s also a ton of other information you might want to look up if you’re in surrounding states before you’d want to go. You know, incase my recommendation of the zoo isn’t enough.

Anyways, we drove over Saturday morning and went directly to the zoo. We got there around 12:30 and didn’t leave until 7. It was a HOT day and I’m so thankful we got some rain on us to cool us down. They did have fans with mist throughout the park, which Mila was obsessed with. There was a lot of shade throughout the zoo too and great indoor exhibits that got us out of the sun as well. They had awesome food and such a wide range of animals to see. I was really impressed with how big the enclosures were. I always feel bad they’re stuck there, but the animals seemed really content with their surroundings.

The best part of the zoo for me was seeing Mila react to her surroundings. After we first walked in, we went to see reptiles. She was shocked when she saw the alligators and snakes. Her mouth was wide open and she kept looking at me like, “Mom, do you see that huge animal right there. It’s not fluffy like our cats.” She would point to every animals she saw and loved watching the birds. When we got to the mountain lion part of the zoo, they were doing an ‘encounter,’ which meant they were testing the animals instincts and treating them with meat. Mila realized the mountain lion was going to be right in front of the glass, so she just took off and pushed her way in front of everyone. She smashed her face on the glass to get a closer look and everyone was laughing at her because she was so intently watching. Thankfully she smiled and laughed at the people… there.

Even though she loved seeing all the animals and watching us interact with some of the educational games the zoo had set up, Mila had her toddler moments. The whole entire time, she did not want to sit in her stroller. She wanted to push it herself with NO help. When we would try to help her steer or grab the handle, she would yell “NO” or “DON’T.” Eventually she gave up and let herself sit for a while. She had to be tired, but didn’t nap until we got back to the car. Then, in the gorilla exhibit, she pushed a little girl down and yelled at a little boy. For no reason really, just because they were close to her and she didn’t want them to be. What can you even say though? I’m constantly trying to tell her to be nice, but she has a mind of her own.

Thankfully those were only minor incidents with her. She loved watching all the animals and smiled every chance she got. I can’t wait until the next time we go back to the zoo and she’ll know what sounds the animals make and maybe won’t be a little bully too.

King’s Island: Soak City

When I put ‘waterpark’ on our bucket list, I just thought we’d go to our local one. This one though… way better. There were different attractions for all ages to do. Mila loved playing in one particular area, but also ventured out in other areas that might have been a little advanced. She went down this ship slide a few times and then decided she was queen of it. During this time, she directed all the other kids to go down the slide and would tap on their backs when they weren’t going fast enough. Have I raised a strong willed child? Yes. Do I regret it? No, maybe at times now, but when she grows up, she won’t let anyone push her around.

She loved that our whole family was in the water playing with her. We splashed her in the kiddie pool and threw her back and forth in the big wave pool. On the kid slides, we attempted her to go down as many as we could do. She was a little afraid of a few of them, but I’m glad she got to experience what she thought she was ready for. The grownups, had fun playing with Mila and riding different rides. I think everyone enjoyed their time there, even though it completely wore us out.

Something memorable I did was take a waterproof, disposable camera with me. I take a TON of pictures and I wanted to make sure I didn’t hurt my phone and was able to get up and close with Mila in the water. I’m pretty sure she held the camera more saying “cheeeeeeese,” than I actually had it in my hands. No matter what though, I’m so thankful for what we captured on camera, but more happy about the lasting memories we made together.

Watching Mila discover the world and travel is everything I ever wanted for her. I’m so thankful we are able to go to different places and do things that aren’t always easy to do. These are the days that are so special to me and it truly made my birthday week, even though it’s not even over yet.

Rhinegeist Brewery

I know this post has gotten entirely long, so I’m keeping this short and simple. Rhinegeist holds my beer of the summer and it’s called Bubbles. This brewery is probably one of my favorite places in the world and I’d recommend it to anyone. Definitely check it out if you’re in the area. You will not be disappointed.

Plus it had a pretty amazing rooftop too.

So, there’s a few more bucket list items checked off. We’ll be working diligently to get the rest off as well. Fingers crossed. It’s going to be a busy next few days.

Weird Things My Toddler Does: Part One.

Little humans can be so strange. Mila is exploding the world around her and finding out everything she likes and dislikes. Since she’s been walking, she’s began this HUGE love for shoes. It’s one of her new words too. Every morning she wakes up, gets her Crocs, and either asks me to put them on for her or does it herself. Let me just say, knowing she can put her shoes on and is starting to dress herself makes me so proud. Such a good mom moment when she came to get me with her shoes on and on the right feet.

I let Mila wear her Crocs everywhere, but I didn’t realize how much she was obsessed with them.

A couple nights ago, I got her ready to take a shower with me and when I went to take off her shoes, she screamed. She ran away from me, only to come back to the bathroom and walked into the shower with her shoes on.

It’s so weird how much she loves these shoes and never wants to take them off. If I’d let her sleep in them, she probably would.

She loved showering with them cause she could make big splashes. I think it lets her feel more sturdy too, since the tile is so slick. Anyways, even though I think it’s so weird, I was just happy she let me clean them off since she won’t any other time. I’ll take my little victory.

I’m sure she’ll be doing something new and just as cute next week. For now, the Crocs are here to stay… in the shower, in bed, and everywhere else she goes.

One Month Free of ER Visits!

Can anyone believe we’re already five days into August? I feel like the last two weeks have flown by because I’ve been so busy.

Mila and I have been checking a lot of items off our bucket list and spending most of our time with family and friends. It’s been one of the best summers I’ve had in so long and it’s not quite over yet. I wanted to do a quick recap of what we’ve done lately and want to get back into writing my three days a week. Hopefully you guys like seeing our bucket list item posts because they’re so much fun to share!

I also wanted to share on here that I’ve joined the Newsymom team, for which I’ll be writing for once a month. This is my first writing month. I’m a tiny bit nervous, but definitely am excited to be apart of such a great team and organization. When my posts go live, I’ll make sure to link it under the Motherhood tab.

Anyways, I’m going to give a quick story for the three bucket list items we’ve done. Something else I’ve been thinking about for the future is a fall bucket list. If you have any ideas for one, let me know in the comments or a message!

OG S’mores

We did s’mores earlier this summer, but with a new twist. Instead of graham crackers, we used fudge cookies. That’s why I wrote OG S’mores instead of it left being implied. I’d definitely recommend using cookies instead of graham crackers though, it was so good. But, it turns out.. Mila is a marshmallow girl. She takes it out of the s’more and eats it. Then she realized how good the chocolate was too and ate it as well. It was a messy night, but one I won’t forget.

Root Beer Stand

Fun fact… when I was pregnant with both Jensen and Mila, the first thing I craved was root beer. That’s actually how I knew I was pregnant with Mila. So when coming up with things to do for summer, I knew I had to take her to our local root beer stand called Fundays. They have an outside eating area, but since Mila is getting pretty daring while she runs around, we played it safe and ate in the car. Fortunately, she thought it was pretty cool to sit up front and eat in the car with me.

After we ordered our food, she kept wanting to give me kisses and dance to the music. I wish I knew what she was thinking when they brought food to our car. She looked pretty shocked, but didn’t back down to eating. I also let her try some root beer… which if you know me, I don’t really like to give Mila too much sugar. If she was surprised at anything, it was how pop bubbles. She laughed and giggled with it. I’ll definitely link the video down below so you can see.

I would definitely take her here again since it was so easy and she loves the food. It’s not an expensive place to eat and it’s really convenient not to force her in the high chairs at other restaurants. Hello toddler tantrum with those.

Plant a Flower.

I was really excited to plant flowers with Mila. She absolutely loves being outside. Every morning she pounds on the door to get out and cries when we have to go in when it’s bath time. That’s helped me get a lot of things done outside this year that I couldn’t last. When I made the bucket list, I had my tree in the backyard in mind. I wanted to plant flowers, put up a little barrier, do a cement craft with Mila, and just make it look really nice. Unfortunately I haven’t gotten to everything on that list, but planting some flowers is a good starting point.

We picked out our flowers earlier in the day and once it cooled off a little, I thought it was the perfect time to plant away. Mila mostly enjoyed playing in the dirt and putting weeds into her new wheelbarrow. She also kept chasing our cat around so it was definitely a workout.

I love doing these projects and bucket list items with her. Hopefully as she gets older she can look back on everything we did and want to add more things on future ones too.

We still have a good amount to go with our days dwindling down. I definitely don’t want summer to end anytime soon, but am always happy to see how she grows.

Yes… Mila did get more face boo boos in the last couple weeks. She’s too much of a daredevil. At least there hasn’t been anymore ER visits!

And Her New Word Is…

Mila has mastered a handful of names so far, but the one we were working hard on she just refused to say. Anytime we’d ask Mila to say my brother’s name, Logan, she’d either call him ‘dog’ or flat out shake her head no.

Granted, it’s probably not the easiest name to say, but keeping in mind she says Courtney and Chelsea, I thought it’d be up her alley. One time she attempted to say his name. She didn’t do too bad, but after that.. nothing. Then yesterday she just decided to come up with her version of his name. Of course he wasn’t there to witness it, but the power of video is magical.

Here she is in her talking (and braveness) glory. You can see why were in the ER so much with this video… but still. It’s cute. Enjoy!

Thanks for always being there for her, Uncle Lo Lo.