Kesterson_1015_019Our precious Penny is already 3 months young, and I’ve finally found a quiet moment to sit down and share the story of her birth! They say that 3rd babies are the game-changers and I’d say this was accurate even on her birthday! This was my longest yet easiest labor–although not by much in both regards.  I am beyond grateful to have had Jeff and my wonderful doula friend Ashley there both to support me and to capture these most cherished images!

Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that if birth and raw birth photos are not your jam then you need not read more. I am posting this just for me and for my family and for those who might genuinely read without judgement or disgust. Thanks!

So here goes…Way too early on a Tuesday morning in October, a few little contractions woke me up (5amish?). I couldn’t fall back to sleep, so I started the stopwatch on my phone and hit “lap” for each one I felt. They were steady, but wimpy so I wasn’t about to get my hopes up.

By 7:30am we had whisked Graham off to school and were getting Violet ready to head out the door on a play date. The contractions just kept coming and although they were still mild, they hadn’t gone away and so I figured it truly must be the real deal.

9:00am rolls around and I’d showered, tidied up the house, and had both big kids accounted for. I am thinking ” Ok! This baby is coming so let’s get this show on the road, get her out by noon and get on with our day! That way both Graham & Violet could come to the hospital to meet her in the afternoon and Jeff could even take them back home to tuck them in tonight!” It’s so funny how with babies #2 & 3 my biggest fear in labor was that I’d be scrambling to figure out childcare.  It’s also funny how the one thing you can count on is that your labor will go exactly how you don’t expect it to go (in other words, this baby would most certainly not be born by noon). You’d think by my 3rd I would have figured out that I just need to roll with it…

So instead of heading to the hospital, I headed to the grocery store so that at least this child would be brought home to a well-stocked fridge. I had it all planned out in my head–if contractions got fierce or if my water broke in the middle of the store I would just ditch my cart and bail. That didn’t happen. I kept having pokey, medium at best contractions every 5 minutes. The biggest excitement of my shopping trip was receiving a text from my 41-weeks pregnant sister-in-law saying “Hi! I’m in labor! Heard you are too. On my way to the hospital. The race is on.” My heart skipped a beat. How fun to have cousins born on the same day!!! And what are the odds!?!

Back home we dilly-dallied. I made scrambled eggs. I found more stuff to clean. We went for a walk all around the neighborhood and enjoyed the beautiful fall colors, which were just beginning to peak. We walked past Graham’s school and spied him playing on the playground at recess. I gulped back tears as I remembered doing this same labor thing 6 years ago and how much my first baby has changed and what a crazy adventure this has all been.

By early afternoon, I felt the contractions were maybe perhaps getting a bit stronger, but still every 5. Remembering that our Violet was practically born in the car, we made the decision to play it safe and head to the hospital before traffic slowed down and/or labor picked up. So we checked into the hospital at 2:30ish and met our wonderful doula, nurse & midwife there. I had no idea, but Jeff and doula Ashley astutely observed that they had put us in the same room where Violet was born. Here we go again, team!penelopebirth

There, I was 6cm and fully effaced in case that means anything to you. I guess it wasn’t all in vain–things were progressing but it still seemed to be at snail’s pace to me! So we walked in the hallways and chit-chatted a bunch…now pausing and needing to focus on breathing during what were becoming more pronounced contractions.  At one point I remember joking that I wished I’d brought some Sudoku or something. I was getting bored and so anxious to meet this darling girl!

At 4pmish things were finally getting real. I was done with walking and bouncing on the exercise ball seemed like the only thing that was “working” for me. I was hugging Jeff’s neck hard during each contraction.  Kesterson_1015_004Kesterson_1015_006

Then at 4:30ish my nurse walked back in the room and didn’t leave. Shortly after that, I announced I felt like I needed to push and the midwife was just like “Ok. Awesome. Then just go ahead and push.”Kesterson_1015_007

I gave a push or two and got a bit discouraged and chickened out. “Ouch. I hate this. This is the worst. I hate this.” My water still hadn’t broken, so each push just kinda felt like nothing. Like I wasn’t getting anywhere and it hurt. A lot. Obviously.

Not sure however many I-feel-like-I’m-getting-nowhere pushes occurred, but by 4:57 I guess I gave it my biggest and best, because my water broke and that poor sweet baby literally fell out into the bed without giving anyone a chance to catch her! Ack! Birth is so crazy/surreal/intense/insane/beautiful!

I remember telling her “Oh baby girl! I’m so sorry I dropped you!” before the usual hellos and I love yous and snuggles. I think she might have aspirated a bit in that birth bomb madness because it took her a few long scary moments to breathe. Not the finest Apgars at first, but quickly pinked up into her healthy perfect self.

Its so cliche but so amazing and miraculous how you just forget everything that just happened and can go from the lowest low to the highest high in a split second. This sweet lovely girl was so worth it.Kesterson_1015_008 Kesterson_1015_010Kesterson_1015_011Kesterson_1015_018Kesterson_1015_028Kesterson_1015_016Kesterson_1015_030Kesterson_1015_032Kesterson_1015_022We named her Penelope Celeste and she was perfectly perfect in every way. So much thick dark hair. Beautiful button nose. Reminded us so much of our baby Graham and a whole pound and a half lighter than her big sis Violet. (Praise.) 7lb 8oz. 21 in. Xoxo.

P.S. In case you were wondering, our sweet nephew won the race. He was born just a few short hours before Pen. (;

Our little wildflower turned 2 almost 2 months ago and here I am, finally sitting down to write a little bit about all the sugar and spice we’ve encountered at this sweet stage.  When blowing out her birthday candles and asked her how old she was, she cleverly replied “Not. 6…I’m 2.” (Because big bro is 6!)

Back in early September, just before the leaves began to turn in the crisp fall air, we set out to snap a few photos of this beautiful girl! She is finally warming up to the idea of dress-ups and so by bringing along her little butterfly wings and wooden birthday cake toy we were able to keep her engaged in the photos for at least a few minutes. (:

It’s so funny how such a little person can be so sweet and sooo sassy all at once. I sometimes find it hard to say no and discipline her when it’s all I can do to not laugh at her antics. Other times it is impossible to not get frustrated with her demands of “I do it myself!” when clearly, she cannot yet do…

Kesterson_0915_046Kesterson_0915_017Kesterson_0915_002midwest-film-family-photographer-111115-04midwest-film-family-photographer-111115-01midwest-film-family-photographer-111115-05Also while we were at it, Jeff also snapped a few of big guy Graham and my bulging 9-month belly, which I knew in hindsight would be beautiful even if I felt the exact opposite of beautiful at the time, (; 

We knew Violet would be a sweet big sis/mini mama because all summer she was quick to show off her own baby tummy…Which friends, you have to admit is sooo much cuter than the real thing! Ha!Kesterson_0915_063Kesterson_0915_025



It is always such a relief to cross projects off your Christmas to-do list!  This year we snapped some family photos at a nearby park–sneaking them in just in time before the snowflakes started flying.  Poor Violet cried pretty much the whole time, because it was so cold and windy out there!  This one was a winner, and am so thankful we got it, just a split second before the crocodile tears poured:DSC_6381I am a huge proponent of choosing just one, strong image for the front of a photo card.  There’s nothing wrong with collage cards, but I always think that one image can make for a much more stunning design, and pull your eyes in for a nice spot to “rest”, especially when there are often busy graphics and well-wishes with which to compete. Once we selected the image above for the front of our card, I set out to find the perfect graphics to surround it. I loved the golden grass in the background, but was having trouble figuring out how it would work well in a card design.  Since the background was neither light nor dark, both black and white letters seemed to get lost, and much to my chagrin, a gold or metallic card was definitely not going to work for us.  When I stumbled upon this design on Tiny Prints, I instantly fell in love with the golden yellow pinecone envelope liners, and the charming hand-painted look of the pinecones and pine sprigs made the perfect complement to our photo setting. Yay!DSC_0729

This was also the first year in a long time that we included a little letter with our card.  Hopefully it wasn’t to long-winded, but just a few sentences to keep our family & friends up to speed with our kiddos.  I printed the message on sheets of cardstock in sets of four, then cut them down to look more like Christmas tags. I also added a little gold yarn to mix things up and add a little sparkle and texture all in one. Jeff was a stellar sidekick, helping to stuff, seal, and stamp all of the cards with me.  We even managed to turn the big task into a sweet little date night–we cozied up on the couch one night, flipped on Lord of the Rings and got lost in our letters with our fireplace aglow.livingtheswelllifefamilyphotos14-01

Here are a few more of the photos that didn’t quite make the cut, but I love them just the same! (All but the one above on the right, the family photo which we choose to include on the back of the card):livingtheswelllifefamilyphotos14-02 DSC_6385

livingtheswelllifecoffeefilterwreathtutorial03I can’t seem to stop making these little wreaths this year! Something about Christmastime kick starts my crafting. Each wreath I make seems to turn out better than the last. It seems crazy that something so lovely could be so simple and inexpensive to make.  These wreaths are the perfect gifts for all of the hostesses/teachers on my list!

1. Gather supplies: Coffee filters (ever notice how they come in little clumps of 40ish?, that’s because it is the perfect amount to make one wreath!) Ha! You’ll also need 2 bags of black tea, 1 paper plate, gold paint, gold spray glitter, low-temp hot glue gun, paintbrushes, scissors and a ribbon for hanging.DSC_0766

2. With your filters still in a stack, paint around the edges. No need to be a neat-freak here. The distressed look adds to the charm.


3. Steep 2 bags of tea in 2 cups of hot water.
4. While your tea is brewing (and cooling), cut out the center circle of your paper plate.


5. Grabbing 3-4 filters at a time, soak them in your tea, then wring out the excess.  Lay flat to dry for several hours or overnight. Note: I dipped mine in quickly, but I’m sure you could experiment with longer dye times to achieve a deeper color.DSC_0774

6. Once your coffee filters are completely dry, fold them into quarters.  Add a dab of hot glue to the bottom point of your folded filter and begin gluing/layering them around your plate.  I chose to glue mine approximately 3/4″ apart. You can experiment with gluing filters in a more dense /loose pattern to achieve a more full/thin-looking wreath.  Once you are done, your wreath will look like this, which is actually kind of a cool, modern look in and of itself. I’m all for the poofy vintage ruffled look, so I don’t stop here…DSC_0780

7. The next part is super simple, I swear, but it’s difficult to describe. Begin fluffing your coffee filters by pulling them apart, tucking some edges in toward the center and pulling others out toward the edges. It takes a little playing to figure out how to fluff it best, but I promise it goes quick!livingtheswelllifecoffeefilterwreathtutorial02

8. Take your wreath to a well-ventilated area and finish it off with a coat or two of gold glitter spray. Once it is dry, tie a simple ribbon through your wreath and find the perfect place to display it!
Note: I experimented a bit with different embellishments to finish it off, but the minimalist in me decided I love it best plain with the subtle gold edges and sparkle!  I think I might just leave her up year ’round.