Thursday, November 3, 2016

Menu Planning and Bulk Shopping

Have you ever gone grocery shopping with 3 kids 4 and under? If you haven't, I'll let you in on a little secret, grocery stores are about 25 degrees hotter when you have small children with you. I don't know how they keep the perishable food cold. Maybe it's just me, but even when everybody is behaving, it's a stressful situation. I'm lucky. For the most part, my kids are pretty well behaved in the grocery store. But, for whatever reason, it always feels like we're a walking time bomb. At any moment somebody could completely lose their you-know-what and then I'm just stuck there with a cart full of food. So yeah. Not my most favorite activity.

I do get myself treats though. Coffee, Noosa (you haven't tried Noosa?! Get you a Noosa yogurt ASAP my friend!), maybe a nice bar of chocolate. So, not all bad.

I have always made weekly menus and grocery shopped once a week. I did go through a phase when we were living in North Carolina were I would do a bigger grocery shop every other week, with a smaller one on the in between weeks, but I've always been a once a week shopper. For a while now though, I've been wanting to give monthly shopping a try. Besides the fact that I end up feeling stressed, grocery shopping also takes a huge chunk out of our day. A huge chunk taken out once every week gets frustrating. And once we moved, my favorite grocery store went from being 5 minutes away to 40 minutes away. I did try out a couple other grocery stores, but I just couldn't quit my old favorite (Wegman's!!) Monthly grocery shopping was making more and more sense. So I gave it a try.

I. Love. It. Love. So much love. And every time I've posted anything about it on any form of social media, everybody has lots of questions. So hopefully here are some answers.

First part of monthly grocery shopping (ok so I actually do 3-3.5 weeks at a time) is making a monthly menu. This SOUNDS very daunting, but I promise you it's not. Theme days make it a lot easier. If I cook a full dinner every night, we end up tossing so much food. So Saturdays are always a leftover night, and Fridays are a takeout/homemade pizza/eggs/leftovers/fend for yourself night. So there's a good bit of the month planned. Wednesday nights the kids and I leave around 5:30 and aren't home until after bedtime, so every Wednesday I plan for an easy crockpot meal or soup and sandwiches. Tuesdays Kate has ballet until 6:00, so on Tuesdays I plan meals that can be made during naptime and either kept warm in the crockpot while we're gone, or heated up easily when we get home. Bigger, "nice" dinners on Sundays since I have more time and to restock our leftovers for the week (James takes leftovers to work for lunch). So all that's left are the Mondays and Thursdays! Themes! You could do Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Casserole Wednesday, Crockpot Thursday, Pizza Friday, whatever themes you want. Promise it makes monthly menu planning so much easier!

I get a LOT of my recipes from Pinterest, but also from 100 Days of Real Food. Seriously amazing blog and fantastic cookbook.

I print blank calendar pages to fill in with meals and keep them in my home management binder. They could be easily kept in a folder or written out in a notebook instead of a calendar page.

I do try to plan meals that have like ingredients to save money. Things that I'll buy in bulk to use for multiple recipes include:
chicken broth
canned tomatoes
frozen vegetables
shredded cheese
meat (of course)

Wegmans sells bulk packs of chicken breasts, ground turkey, and ground beef so the majority of our dinners come from that. I like Wegmans' quality and prices on their bulk items, but you can also use a membership at a store like Costco or Sam's Club.  I portion out the meat when I get home (or at least within a day or 2 of shopping), wrap tightly in plastic and foil, and keep in labelled freezer bags. I've found that the combo of plastic and foil keeps the freezer burn away the best. Someday maybe I'll have a vacuum sealer...

When my menu is finished, I make my grocery list. I write it out by aisle which makes shopping a million times easier and FASTER. I first write out everything needed for the recipes I have planned out for dinners. I obviously can't buy fresh produce for the whole 3-4 weeks, but pretty much everything else I can. After I'm sure I have all the ingredients for the dinners, I fill in what we need for breakfasts, lunches, and snacks. I don't plan those for each day, but I do keep a running list of things we normally eat. I usually stick with snacks that I can buy in large portions or snacks that I can make homemade (granola is one). A big bag of pretzels, another of animal crackers, and a few boxes of cereal bars (making these homemade is another goal) will last us through the month. After that I go through my pantry and check my staples like flour, sugar, coffee, etc.

A note on pantry staples. We are very lucky to live right in Amish country and so we are never far from an Amish bulk foods store. They have all your dry goods, including spices, sold in bulk for super low prices. I try to go every other to every 3 months to stock the pantry. The only pantry staple I consistently buy at Wegmans and not the bulk food store is my white whole wheat flour. The bulk food store doesn't carry it and Wegmans has it for the lowest price I've found. I go through it very quickly, (and I'm about to go through it even quicker since I've made it a goal to start making most of our bread homemade), so a low price is very important to me.

 A bulk food store and farm stand haul from this past summer!

The last portion of my list includes things like plastic wrap, baggies, etc. I try not to get any cleaning supplies or toiletries during my big grocery trip.

The day I go, my kids are bribed heavily prepped beforehand. They eat something in the car on the way there because hungry kids are obnoxious kids and Kate (who sits in the cart) is allowed to bring a little toy in. Henry gets wrapped.

Getting so much food all at once does make our trip a little longer, but since I take the time to organize my list by aisle it's really not too bad. I do sometimes go before the kids have Awana at church, and I end up running through the store in order to finish in time, but it's worth  it since we're out that way anyway. Saves gas.

If I've gone shopping before Awana, I pack the cold stuff away into coolers in my trunk. Regardless of when we go shopping, I only put the cold stuff away when I get home. I just cannot face getting it all away at once. Cold stuff goes away and shelf stable stuff gets all set out on our island to be put away later. I've also been known to put away the cold stuff, leave the shelf stable stuff in the bags during the kids naps so I can unwind, and then put it away later while I'm making dinner.

Once I'm actually ready to get it put away, I take everything that can be taken out of boxes, out of boxes. I have all sorts of jars and bins that I keep things in. When you buy so much in bulk, it can get really hard to organize. Emptying boxes into jars and/or bins helps keep things in order. Keeps it all fresh too!

So what about produce? Milk? Eggs? That stuff I do have to buy weekly. But during the spring, summer, and early fall I can get all of my produce at farm stands and our town's grower's market. In the spring I run to the closest store for a quick trip. Half an hour tops. Next summer and fall we'll hopefully be eating a lot of produce we grew ourselves. Couldn't manage to do that this year since we moved in July.

I don't know if this post has made monthly menu planning and bulk shopping seem any less complicated and daunting, but I promise it really isn't. It does take more thought and planning, but it is just so worth it! Besides saving me a lot of time and stress, it's been saving us quite a lot of money! And who doesn't want to save money right? ;)

I'm sure all of this will grow and change as time goes on. I'm hoping to start making a lot more of our snacks from scratch (I know we can do better than the boxes of cereal bars), as well as our bread, and if we can manage a good garden next year that will make a big difference as well. Stay tuned for how all of that goes!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Meal Prep..... Friday?

So meal prepping. I've done it a lot with dinners. Especially when I'm pregnant. I like to make a ton of meals and stick them in the freezer so when the baby comes I don't have to cook. When I was marathon training I did it a little bit for lunches because most of the time I was too exhausted to make much of a lunch. I never really got too into it though, although I always said I wanted to. I scroll through the #mealprepmonday hashtag on Instagram all the time. Food all neatly portioned out and organized into colorful containers might be my love language...

With Henry getting older (and mobile!), James working out of town, a move coming up, and just you know... life in general it has been becoming more and more apparent that prepping meals and snacks is something I need to be doing. I have been eating WAY more microwaved quesadillas lately than I care to admit.

So I did it! I made several portioned lunches/dinners for myself (plus leftovers for the kids), various pre made breakfast items, and some snacks. Before doing it I had 2 main fears. That it would be expensive and that the prep work would take way too long and be way too frustrating with the kids underfoot. My fears were (mostly) unfounded (it was rather frustrating at times, but let's be honest, most things are right now). Listing what I made (with links to recipes) for anybody interested in trying this out themselves, and also for future reference for myself! 

I stayed pretty basic for now. When I do it again I might branch out a little bit. We'll see. 

My biggest motivator was picking up these cute little containers on sale at Wegmans. I can't leave such adorable little things empty. They're Rubbermaid Take Alongs, but different colors than I've seen before. Can't find them anywhere online, so no link... Sorry!

What I bought:
Family size pack of chicken breasts
Red peppers
Green peppers
Yellow squash
Sweet potatoes
Plain Greek yogurt
Frozen fruit

What I had (most of these pantry staples I buy in bulk when my mom and I visit an Amish bulk food store once a month or so):
Raw almonds
Raw cashews
Raw sunflower seeds
Raw pumpkin seeds
Brown rice 

What I made:
Scrambled egg muffins 
Granola (I used coconut oil instead of butter. And also, do yourself a favor and check out this lady's entire blog and her book too. Such great stuff!)
Hard boiled eggs
Chopped raw veggies 
Yogurt parfaits
Cottage cheese & fruit
Shredded chicken 
Baked chicken
Roasted vegetables
Stir fried vegetables 
Roasted sweet potatoes
Baked sweet potato

What I did:

I honestly could have done all of this is just 1 day, but it took 2 days because I still went to the gym, ran errands, took breaks to play, watched a show with the kids, etc. 

I started with prep. I put half the pack of chicken into the crockpot, then cut up the other half, sliced all the veggies (I cut everything into long sticks so it would all work for Henry too), and mixed up the oatmeal muffins and egg cups. 

got the idea for the egg cups from a recipe on Pinterest, but didn't end up following it at all so it isn't linked. I just scrambled 12 eggs with a little milk in my spouted mixing bowl and then poured them into paper lined muffin tins. Dropped chopped veggies (peppers, tomatoes, baby spinach) and a little spring of cheese in and baked on 350 for about 20 minutes.

They did not come out pretty, but they're good! 

The half of the chicken that I baked I drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with granulated garlic. 

The veggies I roasted (zucchini, yellow squash, sweet potato) I drizzled with olive oil only. Henry will be eating these so I didn't season with any salt like I normally would have. When I eat them I'll probably sorting le a bit of sea salt or maybe some garlic.

The stir fried veggies (broccoli and peppers) I tossed in equal parts low sodium soy sauce and honey before cooking.

I baked one sweet potato and then sliced it into circles. 

The chicken in the crockpot I shredded. Some I seasoned with cumin, chili powder, garlic, and oregano and portioned out for my meals, some I'm leaving out for the kids or for me to add to salads, the rest I'm freezing in 1 cup portions. 

The brown rice I cooked in the oven. SO easy! I boiled 4 cups of water and then poured that over 2 cups of rice in a 9x13 dish. Covered and baked on 400 for an hour. Done. Perfect rice every time. I also portioned some in my meal containers, saved some in the fridge, and froze some in 1 cup portions.

Granola and oatmeal I linked recipes above. I used frozen berries on top of the baked oatmeal rather than the fresh recommended in the actual recipe. 

The yogurt parfaits are plain Greek yogurt with a little honey and a couple sliced strawberries. Then granola in the nifty little layered lid the cool containers I bought have. I used the same containers for cottage cheese and put frozen berries in the layered lid.

And that's it! It really wasn't hard at all and let me tell how AWESOME it was tonight when I wanted to give the kids chicken with rice and veggies for dinner and BAM. There it was. And next to no dinner clean up. WINNING.

 Next time I'll work with more than just chicken. Once we move and James is actually living at home again I'll be able to  make a lot more food, with a lot more variety, without having to worry about it going bad before it can get eaten (plus we'll have a much bigger fridge!). I'm already brainstorming other ideas.

If this works throughout this upcoming week, I'd really like to get in the habit of doing this regularly. I can already tell it's going to save me so much time this week! Not to mention I know I'm going to feel so much better (and maybe actually be able to see the results of my working out... what a concept....)  eating plenty of healthy food and not just melting a bunch of cheese onto a tortilla (in the microwave) at 9 o'clock at night and calling it dinner... 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Getting My Fix

Stitch Fix. A company that handpicks clothing and accessories for you and sends them to your door. Subscription box style.

For a couple years now I've been hearing about this Stitch Fix thing, but I always had plenty of excuses not to try it. Mostly, "I don't have anywhere to wear nice clothes." and, "I can't justify spending money on myself." My jeans and sweaters purchased when I was 18 are getting WAY old and tired by now, and I'm recognizing the benefits of not wearing workout clothes 100% of the time. (Maybe just 80%...) Plus, I'm less than 2 years from turning 30 now and it might be time to start dressing like a grown up. Not wanting to drag 3 kids around to several stores and try to focus on decision making and fitting room mirrors (ugh) over a million questions about dinosaurs and where we left that green car that one time, a box of clothes sent to my door was extremely appealing. So I got myself signed up and schedule my first fix.

My box arrived last night. I. Loved. It. I kept everything. It was like Christmas morning all over again. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I know people have questions about what Stitch Fix is and how it really works. So let's start there before hearing my clothing reviews. 

So. Like I said before, Stitch Fix is a company that has stylists hand pick clothing for you and sends it to your door. You can schedule a box (each one contains 5 pieces) to be delivered twice a month, every month, every 3 months, or you can just schedule a one time delivery (which is what I did.)

When you sign up, you're asked to fill out a style profile. Basic questions like your pant/dress size, if you typically buy small/med/large in shirts, if you work outside the home and what the dress code is, and general questions about body shape (Are you curvy on top or bottom? Do you have especially long legs/torso/arms?). Then there's questions about how you typically like to dress. A list of body parts (shoulders/back/legs/cleavage) and whether you'd rather flaunt them or keep them covered, if you prefer pants to skirts, whether or not you like to wear accessories, or if there's any colors you avoid. They provide pictures of several different outfits for you to rank (which is super fun). There's also a place for comments or to ask for specific pieces (if you have a formal event, like a wedding, coming up that you'd like something for they can do that for you!) and a place to provide links to social media accounts like Pinterest. You can create a fashion board on Pinterest and pin photos of outfits that you really like and your stylist will be able to view those. You can even pin pictures of shoes and accessories that you already have for matching purposes. When your profile is filled out you choose the price point you want to stay in and schedule your fix(es). At that time you're charged a $20 stylist fee. If you choose to keep any clothing from your box, that $20 is credited to the cost of them.

When your box comes (it's fast!) there's a prepaid envelope to send back anything you don't want (can you say EASY?!) and little cards for each piece with outfit ideas. You check out online you're able to leave feedback for everything in your box, whether you're keeping it or not. It's helpful to leave a lot of feedback for the items you send back so that your next fix will be even more personalized to you. If you chose to keep all 5 pieces they offer a 25% discount! I didn't realize that til I got my box and it was a pleasant surprise!

Ok so now the fun part! My clothes! For reference, here's my normal wardrobe:

And, to be clear here, I'm not totally turning my back on the yoga pants. I love them way too much for that ;) 

In my style profile, I asked for basic items that were easy to mix and match. I mentioned that I'm a mom of 3 small children so I need casual and comfy, but that I wanted to dress it up a bit. My stylist (Ali!) was right on with what she sent.

I selected the "as cheap as possible" option and everything averaged out to about $50 each (shirts and necklace less, dress and jeans a little more). It's more than I would normally spend on myself, but it feels very worth it to have some nice, well made clothes to mix and match with some of my cheaper stuff. 

In my box I got jeans ("a combination of jeans and leggings without being 'jeggings'"), a striped shirt, a cardigan, a black dress, and a necklace. At first glance, I thought I'd send the necklace back. I don't wear necklaces very much (ever) because of little hands, BUT the discount for keeping all 5 items was way worth keeping the necklace. And I want to step out of my comfort zone a little right? 

My outfit cards! 

When I saw the cards, before even pulling out the actual clothes, I said to James, "Oh I won't keep the jeans. I have enough jeans." Then I put them on.

Holy. Comfort.

I have never in my life worn pants that were THAT comfortable. They're high waisted (bye muffin top!) without being "mom jeans" and have just enough stretch.

I was a little nervous that the shirt and cardigan would look frumpy since they were pretty loose, but I liked the fit a lot more than I thought and they were crazy comfy.

The dress I love because who doesn't love an LBD? This one is so perfect for me because it can easily be dressed up with heels or down with leggings and boots. It looks great with the cardigan I got too! 

The necklace I almost didn't keep totally grew on me too! 

So I am a Stitch Fix FAN! I will definitely be scheduling a box again. At least one for summer, if not sooner! 

Another fun bonus? When you're signed up, you're given a referral link to share with friends. Anytime a friend signs up for Stitch Fix through your link, you receive a $25 credit to your account once their first fix arrives! Which is pretty awesome.

So, obviously, I'm going to share my referral link ;)

If you're on the fence about doing this for yourself, hop off that fence and let somebody else dress you. It's super fun ;) 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Our Playroom

So we're 3 days post Christmas, which means a lot of parents are suddenly in a full on, "Where did all these toys come from and where in the world am I going to put them?" freak out. Or was that just me?

We tried not to go overboard on the toys this Christmas, and I think we suceeded, but we still had a lot of new things that needed homes. Until today I was ignoring the problem. Which, to be honest, confused the heck out of my kids. They'd get up from a nap, "Hey! Our toys are still out!", I'd announce bedtime, "Wait. Don't we need to pick up our toys first?", and then the next morning, "Ummm Mama? Why are the toys on the floor still?" I've always been a stickler for twice a day playroom cleanup, such a stickler that even a 2 year old and a 4 year old immediately noticed when I skipped it.

Today though I'd officially had enough. Last night we were at Target for 2 things. So naturally, we left with a full cart, including a few bins I thought would be helpful for the new stuff. Our playroom was already fairly well organized. I have an obsession with storage bins so everything, for the most part, had its home. There were just a LOT of things needing a LOT of homes. So I decided to give toy rotation a try. 

I've been considering toy rotation for a while, but had no clue where to start because they seriously play with EVERYTHING. I had originally wanted to have 3 distinct rotations, but that was feeling overwhelming, so I just sort of culled down a few categories of toys that were a bit overloaded. Mostly vehicles. We had a small car/truck bin, a medium car/truck bin, a large car/truck bin, and still a few larger ones stored under the train table or on top of the shelf. Not necessary. Sure, sometimes Sam plays with every single one, but he obviously doesn't HAVE TO. So I consolidated all the vehicles into just 1 bin. After that I got into it and filled a couple boxes of less used toys to take down to the basement. I'll probably rotate them back up in 2 weeks or so. Once that was figured out, it was easy enough to find a place for all our new things. 

I had hoped to do all the toy downsizing furing nap time to avoid a lot of inevitable, "Heyyyyy! Where are you going with that?!", but that didn't work out so I parked them on the couch with a movie. I still got a few, "Wait! That's mine!", but they mostly stayed distracted.

They have been playing in the clean and reorganized playroom for 2 hours now, and not a single mention of the missing toys. Plus they've been fighting and whining less because their things are easy to find AND they have more room. I might even downsize a little more this week. Probably not necessary to have 2 baby strollers AND a shopping cart out all the time. Rotating them would definitely open up a lot of space! 

So here is our playroom! This is technically supposed to be the dining room in our tiny little house, but we sacrificed it and squeezed a table into our kitchen to free up space. I so love having s dedicated playroom that giving up a dining room was a no brainier! 

This was "before" (before Christmas even. So this is without the new toys. Here is is messy:


And here it is clean:

Organized, but still a little cluttered.

So here it is now:

I cleared off the top of the low shelf, to give them a space to build with Legos or do puzzles. I also corralled the dress up corner into one basket and a few hooks. All the bins are organized by category. So we have: Mega Bloks, animals, Little People, Barbies & action figures, gear building set, big trains, vehicles, and now one for baby toys too since Henry is starting to play a little.

Can't tell by the pictures, but there used to be a ton of stuff shoved under the train table. Now there's just bins holding various Duplo sets

On the other side of the room is the kitchen and Kate's babies. Luckily our toy kitchen has a good amount of storage space and I utilize that.

And here is our dress up corner:

When we move in the spring James will be building a little dress up cart to help organize all this, but for now this is working. 

We have a nice wide windowsill over the train table that I use to store our craft/coloring stuff. 

I kept out a couple of puzzles, but the rest of the puzzles and games (along with some of Sam's "big boy toys" like Legos and Playmobile) I keep in an organizer in our hall closet (it's crooked because the vacuum was put away weird)

Since Sam and Kate could easily clean up the playroom BEFORE I downsized a bit, I know that it'll be even easier for them now. So that's exciting. 

In my mind it's even neater and more organized, but that will involve a lot of projects first. So this is it until we move and have both more space and more time. 

Now enjoy some shots of my ridiculously cute kids (and husband... lol) playing ;) 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Henry's Birth Story!

This past Wednesday, October 7th, we officially became a family of 5 when we welcomed our third baby, Henry Philip, to the world! 

My official 'due date' was 10/4 and in the week leading up to that day I was SURE that I was about to go into labor at any moment. I was feeling a lot of pressure and the strength and frequency of the braxton hicks contractions I had been feeling all throughout pregnancy started to pick up a little bit. I went out on lots of long walks with the kids, and tried my best to stay patient, despite starting to feel a little antsy. Despite all my 'feelings' though, my 'due date' came and went. 

I had an appointment at the birth center on Tuesday the 6th. At the appointment we talked about my 'post dates' plan. I made an appointment for an ultrasound to check fluid levels and a non stress test to check on baby for the following Monday. Even though I knew I had almost a full week before those appointments and that a LOT could happen in that amount of time, I couldn't help feeling a little discouraged. Particularly because my midwife said the baby felt a little posterior with his or her (because at that point we didn't know!) back listing towards my back. The logical part of my brain knew that there were plenty of things I could do to encourage baby's back to turn more to my front, and that baby could even turn all on their own even during labor. The hormonal part of my brain though was going through all the what-ifs of a posterior baby. Head not engaging, very difficult back labor, very long pushing phase. I started to have panicky feelings that the reason I was having all these contractions that didn't turn into anything was because baby was posterior and I started to feel fearful of going all the way to 42 weeks and being unable to deliver at the birth center. I spent the whole rest of the day crawling around on my hands and knees and sitting on my big exercise ball to encourage baby to turn.

When I went to bed that night I wasn't having any contractions, but was feeling a lot of pressure. What I was mostly feeling though was anxiety. I knew that feeling anxious and panicky could actually keep my body from going into labor. Not to mention it could keep me from getting some sleep. So I went to bed and sat reading through the positive affirmation cards I had written for labor and delivery while working on deep breathing. Going through them already made me feel calmer. When I was finished with them I turned out the light and laid down to go to sleep. As I was falling asleep I thought of all the fears and anxieties I had surrounding going into labor, avoiding an induction, and baby being posterior. I acknowledged them and then started praying. I prayed for my fears to be calmed. I prayed for patience. For wisdom. For peace. For strength. For clarity of mind. For TRUST. Trust in God's timing and trust in my body's ability to bring my baby at exactly the right time. I prayed myself calm and fell asleep.

I woke up once or twice early in the night to pee and noticed I was having a somewhat painful contraction each time I woke up. Then, shortly before 2am, I woke up and actually laid in bed through maybe 2 strong contractions or so before thinking, "Oh! Those feel real!" I opened a contraction timer app on my phone and went to the bathroom. I noticed I had had my bloody show and my app was showing my contractions coming every 7 minutes. I had to stop what I was doing for each one so I knew they were 'real' and decided to give the midwife a call. Since this was my third baby and since we live about a half an hour from the birth center I was told not to wait too long before going in. I had no strong need to labor at home like with the other kids since the birth center was just like home and there would be nobody pressuring me into interventions. The midwife on call only needed to hear "3rd baby" "7 minutes apart" and "bloody show". She said she would gather up her stuff and head right over to the birth center and told me to do the same. 

This was happening!

I went upstairs and woke up James, "We need to go to the birth center." Confused and half asleep he asked, "Why? Are you in labor or something?" which made me laugh a little. "Well yeah. It's 2am..." So he got up and started getting dressed while I called my mom (she and my dad started getting their things together to meet us at the birth center) and started gathering things for the kids. My bags were already packed, but I hadn't put anything together for the kids since I didn't know what exactly they'd need without knowing what time we'd be heading in. I pulled together food, clothes, and books for them. I knew they'd probably end up watching movies most of the day and I had put together big brother and big sister goodie bags for them with a few new little toys, coloring books, and treats. As I moved around the house getting things together I was still having contractions and they even got closer together the move active I was. Once everything was together we woke up the kids (both of them were very excited!) and loaded up the van to go! By now it was 3am so we were looking at arriving at the birth center around 3:30.

Contracting in the car is AWFUL. I don't like sitting through contractions and all the little movements of the car just felt terrible. I was contracting about every 6 minutes during the drive so I didn't have TOO many, but the few I had were rough. I wasn't "in the zone" yet either which just made them that much more difficult. I felt like crying tears of joy when we pulled into the birth center parking lot. I knew I was due for another contraction very soon so I hurried out of the car to breathe through it on the sidewalk. The midwife on call, Gazelle, met us at the door with her trainee, Hannah, and we went in to get settled. Mom and Dad got there shortly after us and sat in the living room with the kids while James and I stayed in the bedroom so I could get a cervical check. I was pleasantly surprised to hear I was 4cm! I was 50% effaced so I still had a good bit of work to do in the department, but I was on my way. Gazelle and Hannah left us alone at this point and said they'd come check baby's heart rate in about a half an hour or so.

Through the rest of the dark hours of the morning I hung out in the living room while the kids watched movies (I thought they'd go back to sleep, but no luck there). My contractions weren't especially consistent. They were following a similar pattern to what I had experienced in early labor with Kate. They were coming about every 4-5 minutes, but only every other one would be especially strong. The ones in between were short and not very intense at all. My mom, James, and I (with Kate in the stroller in hopes sh'd sleep a little) went for a walk down the street around 5:15 in the morning.. Hannah was going to check me again at 5:45 to see if I was making progress and truly in active labor. Walking didn't make my contractions any more consistent, but the strong ones did get stronger so that was good!

At my check after the walk I was at 6cm and about 80% so that was good news! I was feeling tired at this point and my contractions took the hint. They spread out to every 10-12 minutes and I spent some time eating and snuggling my big kids. How awesome to be an environment where nobody was rushing me or watching the clock!

We went for another walk, but my contractions were still hanging out around every 10-12 minutes. They were definitely strengthening though and I felt a lot of pressure.After our walk my back was feeling really sore so I spent some time leaning over a counter in the living room letting my belly hang. It felt AMAZING, especially when coupled with James rolling a wooden roller along my lower back. Contractions were still quite manageable. I was using some hypnobirthing visualization techniques and deep breathing. As long as I was able to hold my focus through the entire wave I felt pretty great. There were a few where I lost focus and they were completely different contractions. Focus was obviously the key.

At this point Gazelle and Hannah had gone home as their on call shifts had ended and Sheila came in. I was so excited to see her. I had just seen her the day before at my prenatal appointment. The one where we made that 'post dates plan'. It was nice seeing her while in labor less than 24 hours later! Plus she just has a personality that really clicks with mine. She wanted to check me again at 9:45 since my contractions weren't getting any closer together and hadn't gotten any stronger. I was still at 6cm so we chatted a bit about some options to move things along. She said that my water bag was bulging and she'd break it if I wanted, but that would possibly take my dilation back a centimeter or even 2. That's exactly what happened during Sam's labor and I definitely didn't want that. Sheila was trying to be diplomatic and just lay out my options without influencing my decision, but I could see in her eyes that she didn't think breaking my water was a good idea. She said we could also try a little nipple stimulation, that hopefully 15 minutes on a breast pump would maybe get things moving along a little more. This was exactly what I had done with Kate and it had worked great so it was definitely an option I felt comfortable with. She also said I could absolutely just keep doing what I was doing and see what happened. No rush. I loved that. I loved how comfortable and not rushed I felt the entire time I was there. Sheila left the room then to let James and I talk about what we wanted to do. He and I both agreed that nipple stim worked in the past, so why not give it a try again. My contractions were already starting to regulate a little more just sitting in the bedroom. I told James I thought I needed some time away from the kids. That maybe relaxing a little, just him and I in the bedroom, would help things move along. I felt a little weepy at the thought of not hanging out with the kids, I had been feeling really clingy to them, but it really did seem like some time away would be a good idea. This was only reinforced when Sheila came back in and suggested some time away before even asking how we had decided to move forward. So we all agreed on taking some time away from everybody out in the living room, and trying some nipple stim. Sheila recommended I eat some more too. James went and got me some pretzels and filled up my water bottle. He came back in with Emily, our nurse who left us with the pump. At 10:29 I started on the pump, planning 15 minutes on, 15 minutes off, and then 15 minutes on again if it seemed like I needed a little more. About 2 minutes into pumping I felt a contraction starting. James rubbed my back and shoulders as I went through it, like he had been with a lot of the other ones, but this one was different. It was super strong and there was a lot of pressure. It lasted a long time and I started to lose control a little. When it ended I was immediately shaky and covered in sweat. James got in my face and said, "That was very intense. Are you ok?" I said, "I feel like I'm in transition, but that can't be right. I'm 6 centimeters. How many minutes have I been on the pump? I don't know if I can do another contraction on the pump if it's like that." Just as James was telling me I had been on it for about 5 minutes another contraction hit me, "Hit me" is really the only way to describe it. "Turn it off turn it off turn it off!" was all I could say to James. He turned off the pump and I threw the flanges and bottles onto the floor, standing up and grabbing onto a windowsill. I felt even more pressure and vocalized through the contraction for the first time. I was struggling to hold my focus. James asked if he should call Sheila in and I told him if I had another like that then yes. I was feeling that panicky, shaky, transition feeling, but not fully believing that's what was happening since I was still thinking I was 6cm. I told James I had to pee and he insisted on coming with me. I got halfway down onto the toilet and said, "I can't sit down." Another contraction came and I grabbed the wall, "Call Sheila now." but James was already getting her. She came into the bathroom and asked how I was doing. I told her my body was pushing and another huge wave came over me. She helped me walk back to the bed and she and her assistant started getting things ready quickly. Emily, our nurse, had gone upstairs to the offices and they were trying to get her back down there. My mom said she saw the nurse come running down the stairs and through the living room and that's when they knew something was happening. James went and got her right then so she could take pictures for us. Sheila was trying to get me onto the bed, but I couldn't do it. I went onto all 4s without even thinking about it and Sheila told me to stay there if I was comfortable. The crazy waves that had been crashing over me this whole time were easing off and I was feeling intense pressure. That's when it actually hit me that this was it! We were about to meet our third baby!

When the crazy waves were calming down I was able to regain my focus and use some hypnobirthing techniques again. I started to feel really calm and let my body do it's thing. I could feel the baby moving down without me doing anything but deep "birth breathing". Somebody brought James a cool cloth for my head just as I was opening my mouth to ask for one. Contractions started again, this time with a very distinct purpose. I was still just letting my body do what it wanted to do, not actively pushing, just breathing baby down. I did this for maybe 2 or 3 contractions, sipping water that James brought over to me in between each one. Then I wanted to push into the pressure a little. For the first time I was feeling 100% in control of the pushing phase. With both other kids this part felt totally out of control. This time was no less intense, but the amount of control I felt was so amazing! I was able to rest in between contractions which was wonderful. I'd keep my eyes closed, take deep breaths, sip water, and repeat positive affirmations to myself in my head. "This is it. My body is doing exactly what it's supposed to. Trust in that. I will be holding my baby so soon." Then when I'd feel the next contraction starting I'd say out loud, "Ok." and dig down deep.  I continued to breathe the baby down, just with a little more intensity now. Sheila broke my water then after asking if that's what I wanted. When she broke it I felt the most immense relief! I did hear somebody say, "Meconium." And I laughed a little and said, "Well we're 3 for 3. All our babies pooped." And then promptly forgot about it. I had already asked about the birth center's policies as far as babies born having already pooped. In the hospital that meant I couldn't have immediate skin to skin because they wanted the baby to be suctioned first. At the birth center though, they just keep an eye on the baby in those first couple minutes before determining whether or not they need suction. Knowing and trusting this, I was able to focus on getting the baby out and not worry about the meconium. The next contraction I felt baby's head coming out. I tried to breathe the head out slowly as best I could. That contraction faded just as Sheila told me, "Great job Sarah. You can reach down and feel your baby's head. The hardest part is over." That pause between contractions, knowing baby's head was out and being able to reach down and feel it, was sort of surreal. I felt really suspended between two worlds almost. I've never had a pause like that after my baby's head had been birthed. It was a very calming feeling somehow. With the next contraction, everybody helped me flip onto my back so that Sheila could assist the shoulders a bit. This was the one moment I felt any anxiety. My baby's have not always gotten their shoulders out very easily and I know that has the potential to be dangerous. I barely had time to dwell on that though because Sheila was saying, "Sarah. Reach down and catch your baby."

Having a baby born into my own hands, and being the one to pull this new little creature onto my chest was one of the most amazing experiences of my life so far. I cannot put into words the feelings I was having right then, but pictures almost capture it.

There was no crying from baby for a little while, but I didn't feel even a second of worry. Because I could feel everything. I could feel the baby's moving, I could see the baby looking up at me (oh what a precious, quiet moment!), and I knew that everything was absolutely fine. After a few minutes baby did cry, but only a little, and that's when I said, "Oh! Wait! Is it a boy or a girl?" Sort of really cool to hold our baby for several minutes before even knowing this important bit of information! James, who was sitting right next to me took a peak and called out (with obvious emotion), "Oh! It's a boy!" And I just kept repeating, "Henry! Hi Henry! Hi baby boy!" And just like that our family grew.

We waited for the cord to stop pulsating before James cut it, and around then Henry started rooting so I got him latched on while birthing the placenta. I had a small tear that required a stitch or two and once that was taken care of everybody helped move me up on the bed propped up on pillows. Henry stayed latched and nursing the whole time. Once I was situated my mom went to get my dad, brother, and kids. Sam and Kate climbed right up in bed with me and started loving on their brother. I couldn't believe I was sitting their with all *3* of my babies. Sam especially had such a sweet reaction. I was a little worried because he had been SO sure my whole pregnancy that he was getting a sister, but he accepted a brother with so much love. We counted all of his fingers and toes together and Sam exclaimed over how, "Tiny and cute!" they were. After a few minutes my parents and Tommy took the kids back out to get their Big Brother and Big Sister bags of goodies. 

Sheila was a little concerned at this point about the amount I was still bleeding an hour after birth, so I handed Henry off to James for some skin to skin while Sheila checked me out. Henry slept peacefully on Daddy's chest for an hour while we got my bleeding under control (thankfully it was never overly alarming, my uterus was just being a little on the lazy side which is apparently common once you've had more than 1 or 2 kids). Everything was perfectly fine and behaving the way it was supposed to fairly quickly.

After an hour sleeping with Daddy we got Henry's official stats (8 lbs even and 20.5in, our smallest baby!) and James gave him a sponge bath. Henry got to go to meet his Nana, Grandpa Bob, and Uncle Tommy for a little bit then while I ate. My mom had made my 'birth meal' (french toast, eggs, sausage, and fruit per my request!) while Henry was being weighed and bathed. Best french toast I've ever eaten! I showered after that and then everybody except James and I headed home. My mom took Sam and Kate back to our house. Henry had his official newborn checkup now and did great. Barely even fussed. He latched on again after that and James, our sweet baby, and I dozed off in the bed for a while. It was so peaceful. 

We woke up to get our discharge info. Just a couple sheets to keep track of Henry's and my vitals for the next couple days (nothing major, just temp and respirations/pulse) and clarifying the day and time for our home nurse visit to do Henry's hearing test and have him weighed again. After that we were cleared to go! So about 6 hours after our boy made his appearance, we were loading up in the car and heading back to our big kids in time for dinner and bedtime. So wonderful to be able to sleep in our own bed that very night!

I am so grateful to have been able to have a birth center birth. The entire experience was so relaxing. There was never a moment were I felt rushed or pressured. I truly felt that the experience was 100% MINE. There were no negotiations, no compromises, just complete trust in my body from everybody in attendance. I love that our family was able to stay together. I love that Sam and Kate met their brother when he was only minutes old, and that we were all able to snuggle in bed together. And I just love how calm the entire thing was. Such a beautiful way to grow from a family of 4 to a family of 5. We are truly, truly blessed.