Thursday, August 28, 2014


These guys love helping in the kitchen.  It is both wonderful and harrowing.  It is exhausting and delightful.  Much like them :)

Carter is very serious about his work.  He wants to do everything that the adults are doing...and wants nothing to do with "little" jobs.  

Samuel is...less precise.

This picture encapsulates so much of the very big personality inside his very tiny body.

Also, he insisted on wearing Andi's shirt for this dinner prep.  Because...obviously.

This season is fleeting, pulled up chairs in the kitchen and the constant spilling of ingredients and grabbing tipping pitchers just before they crash and spill.  I know it is. But I hope the season of our family together, mixing and stirring, chatting and laughing among the preparation of meals is not.  This is the stuff of sweet memories, and I am grateful to share this crazy season with these people I love so much.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: If you tell a mouse he can make a cookie...

...he will coat your kitchen in flour and laughter.
And it will be worth it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Quiet Graces Photography

I met Melissa at church in a parenting class.  I introduced myself like this:
"Hi!  I'm Teri Lee!  I recognize you from your blog.  I..umm.. found it through a friend of yours who saw I was trying to eliminate dairy for Carter and recommended it to me.  Carter's over there...yeah.  He's my first little one.  Oh yeah!  So I've read a lot of your blogs and it really helped me a lot and then I recognized you and I just wanted to say...hi."

That whole introduction took less than 2 seconds because I was talking too quickly and it was just as awkward as you are imagining.

Melissa and I live on opposite ends of town and have personalities on opposite ends of the spectrum in many ways.

And yet, because of Jesus, we are sisters and I can feel it.  I feel "family" when I'm around her, and it's a gift to me. One of my favorite things about the Lord is that He puts His people in families.  Not businesses, not a hierarchical systems, but a Kingdom of family.

 Melissa runs a small business on top of her full-time job mothering twin girls and their little brother.  Quiet Graces photography specializes in newborn photography.  Melissa has an eye for art, technical skills with the camera and editing software, and a gift for handling babies and their brand-new mothers.

Melissa spends as much time rocking, bouncing and shushing babies to sleep in her arms as she does clicking the shutter.  She holds tiny arms in place and waits and waits and waits for sweet infants to decide to keep them there before releasing her hand, finger by finger, from position.  She takes accidents in expectant stride as the babies are diaper-less for most of the shoot.  

Melissa has patience with the over-tired, hormone-charged new mothers.  She builds in plenty of nursing breaks, understands tears that come from nowhere and has much grace for all the different mothering styles good mothers practice.  Her understanding demeanor is a kindness in those first days home from the hospital and is a gift in and of itself.

And sometimes, when there isn't a way, Melissa's business, as well as her art and personality, are her gift as well because she sees Quiet Graces as more than just a means to a paycheck or a means to an end.  It's a dream, a calling and a gift she uses and gives and shares.  

Without Melissa, these little newborn moments can fade so quickly in a blur of a time period with no sleep and lots of round the clock care.  They are the sweetest and most fleeting of times.  When I look at them, I remember just how my Ella girl felt in my I felt holding her.  That memory...I can't describe its worth to me.

The way Ella curled and snuggled just so has already shifted and changed.  Her hair has grown and her sleeping face aged.  She is already altogether different from this girl in the photos, but always, always, always the same.  Always my girl.  Always loved.  Always a joy for my soul.

The only thing I can think of more dear than the memories we create is a log of the times we want to remember.  A way to build a remembrance of what God has done in our past to remind us of His grace and sufficiency for a million tomorrows.  

Bundled up in these photographs is a miracle of creation, gifted to an undeserving mother.  A gift of joy wrapped in dark hair and her great-grandmother's eyes.  These shots remind me over and over and over and over that I will never be able to earn the love and acceptance of my God...and that I will never need to.

When I see them, I am reminded of His Quiet Graces to me in the form of new life in my soul and in my arms.  He is so good, and I am so grateful for this remembrance.

**Obviously, if you are local, I would highly recommend Melissa Aldrich for all your newborn photography needs.  Let her know I am your mutual friend.  It would make us both smile.
Website  Blog  Facebook  Instagram

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I gotta write that down...

**a continuation of the "Carter says" series...except Carter isn't the only one saying funny stuff these days**

Carter: "I wasn't hitting Mama!  I was giving Samuel a fist bump on his face!"

Me: "Carter, please don't touch the pictures."
Carter: "I'm not touching them Mama.  I'm just hitting them."

Carter turns off all the lights in the kitchen.
Me: "Oh no!  The lights!  Now we can't make supper!  Who can solve this problem!?!?" (Honestly, the drama runs thick around here...)
Carter: "JESUS!"
Me: "Oh.  Well, yes.  Jesus is the only one who can solve all our problems Carter.  He is so strong."
Carter: "Yeah Mama, I can't solve all your problems.  I have to SLEEP."
Walks over to the switch, turns on the lights.
Carter: "Here Mama.  Lights are on for you to make supper.  I gotta play now."

Me: "Samuel are you still eating supper or are you allllllllll done?"
Samuel: with a big grin "Allllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllmost."

Samuel after practically every meal for a week or so: "Dank you for dis suppah Mama....dis is my FAVORITE!"

Me: "Samuel, you crack me up!"
Samuel: "Hahaha!  (I don't know how to describe his little manic laugh he used here.  Hahaha will have to do.)   I'm gonna crack you like an egg!"

After asking Carter to come to the door once, I asked him again and then added, "Carter, I need you to obey the first time."
In all seriousness and without a trace of defiance, Carter pointed out, "Well Mama, I think it's a little late for that."
Well. Unfortunately, that was true.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Ella: 1 month

10 lbs, 5 oz (77.25 percentile)
21.75 inches (83.11 percentile)

(Samuel at one month and his stats)
(Carter at one month)

**All three have been almost the exact same size at their one month appointment...with just a few ounces separating them!

 This is almost two weeks late...which means I'm halfway to 2 months.  Oh well.  That first's a doozy.  I can accept a two week late curve.

These pictures...they're all from my phone..but at least they are all from the first month.  We are taking what we can get.

 Our Ella girl is a sweet one.  I mean, just so sweet.  When she's hungry, her mouth gets big like a little bird searching in the air for the worm he knows his mama will bring.  As long as I get busy quickly, she never cries.  However, once she decides she is hungry, I only have a few moments.  She's not one you can "hold off" for any period of time.  Ella will go long stretches, but once that mouth starts searching, you have just moments before she lets you know it's past time.  Other than that, she only cries when she is gassy.  She is a brilliant little sleeper.  She'll sleep in our arms, but she'll also go off to sleep on her own in bed, in her chair...on a blanket on the floor.  Her favorite is to nurse to sleep at night, but during the day, she puts herself to sleep with the chaos of two older brothers banging around just feet (and sometimes inches) from her pack 'n' play.  She's one easy lady.

When Carter was little, he rolled over for the first time on this mat while I was cooking in the kitchen.  I didn't even see the first time...I just turned around and he was on his back.  Samuel did the EXACT same thing.

Just after Ella crossed the 1 month milestone, she rolled over from tummy to back while I cooked in the kitchen...on the same, exact mat.  We could help the company re-brand the product and sell it to over-competitve parents who are highly concerned with hitting those first milestones early.  The "rolly-poly mat that helps your baby roll early!" or some nonsense.  We could use these Castillo babies and their adorable little faces to sell them like hot cakes.  I like the mat...but those faces?  I'd buy what they're sellin', for sure.

Ella is sleeping so well.  Mostly three hour stretches between feedings.  Sometimes two and sometimes five.  I don't mind.  The five hour stretches sometimes come at night...and sometimes during the day.  It's nice to sleep a long stretch at's also nice to have a long stretch during the day with just two little ones who need me.  It's win-win for me.  And really, she can eat as often as she likes at night with her laid-back personality.  She literally eats and drifts off back to sleep.  Usually I am already back to sleep when she finishes, so I am none the wiser.  No burping, no settling her back down to's a dream.  If someone would have told me about this when Carter was a baby, I would have laughed.  And cried.  And maybe not believed them at all.  Babies need different things...and I don't like it when these babies who sleep well and are generally laid-back are called "good babies" as if babies who need more holding, less sleeping and require more feedings are "bad."  They're not.  They just need more attention.  However, having Ella third...that has been a gift.  I know what it is to go without sleep and have muscles that ache from bouncing a baby for 24/24 hours.  It makes it easy to appreciate Ella's nature in this season of three little ones.

If our Ella girl loves anything, it is bath time.  The baby bath tubs always made me nervous and made my back hurt.  This time, I have a bucket that fits perfectly in the sink.  No spilling, no leaning, and this girl loves being submersed in the warm water.  I don't know that I could have balanced Carter with one hand and bathed him with the other almost four years ago, but I can with our third.  She loves it...which is nice since our dear girl is a sweater...and needs lots of baths to keep her smelling sweet and her hair fluffy :)

Ella also loves the Moby wrap. She has a little growing to do before I can pop her into the Ergo.  We both get rather hot in this warm weather, but it's our favorite mode inside when she needs arms to hold her and I need my arms for everything else.  She loves to curl her little hand up beside her chunky cheek and sleeps and sleeps and sleeps.

She's smiling now.  Big smiles that are usually the result of little Eskimo kisses and singing.  Those are both her very favorite.

Like most babies, she prefers to poop in a nice, clean diaper that has just been changed.  Her least favorite things include hiccuping and sneezing.  These two things assail her often, and while her general disposition is so cheerful, these things do not meet her approval in the least.

Ella loves to be swaddled when she sleeps on her back, but wants to be on her tummy when she sleeps with a pacifier.  She is pretty ambivalent about that paci...we pop it in from time to time, but she generally doesn't seem to care much one way or the other about it.  

Ella loves her brothers.  She prefers gentle kisses to rough ones that appear before she is ready (quite understandably), but she very much appreciates the way Carter is so fast to reinsert fallen pacifiers and the way Samuel sings to her when she cries.  She likes the way they introduce her as "my baby" to those we meet and the way they have built up her ability to sleep through loud things like a champ.  

The first month with our "Ella Bella" as she is called more often than not, has been a bit of a dream.  She is such a dear little soul with a steady, contented joy that seems a part stitched into her very soul.  

My little love, you are treasured and precious.  We are so grateful you are ours and for the joy you bring.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: The Middle and the Little

These two.  
(Carter was moving too fast this particular morning to slow down for pictures.)

One of my favorite things about being a mother is the way my children each reflect different aspects of the Lord's character by being His creation.
Right now, Ella reminds me of His steadfast joy...steady and bright.
Samuel makes me think on His good gifts that He is so happy to give His children.  Nothing is as sweet as hearing Samuel delight in gifts that come from my hand...the chance to sit with me after naptime, unexpected cookies after supper, the promise of a friend coming to play.  
Carter reminds me of His relentless grace that does not give up, offers freedom, and doesn't offer cheap cover-up of sin, but deep forgiveness.
Being their such a gift to me.

Friday, August 8, 2014

She came on her due date

*Carter's birth story
**Samuel's birth story

Disclaimer: This is the story about a birth of a baby.  It’s not super gross or full of weird details, but it is about birth.  If the word “dilated” or “contractions” give you the queezies, you should back away slowly and scroll toward the little “x” immediately.

I picked out a due date that I thought would be a good one, and to be honest, I actually thought she might come that day.  Crazy as that is, I really did.  As it turns out, it was better for her not to come that day, and I really did enjoy those last weeks of being a mom of just two boys.  I also think my labor and delivery were much easier because she had those last weeks to gradually prep to enter the world.

I used the Greenville Midwifery group this time and truly could not recommend them more highly.  They were so kind, never made me feel like I was being rushed through an appointment while simultaneously NEVER making me wait in the waiting room (I kid you not, I have never, ever sat down in their waiting room) and most importantly, made me feel like a valued, capable mother instead of a patient who needed treatment and to be told what and how to do birth.  That's a tall order, and they filled it remarkably.  I would recommend every midwife there and cannot be more grateful for the experience they provided for me.

I started having Braxton Hicks contractions around the beginning of the third trimester.  All very normal for a third pregnancy.  For me, these contractions weren't uncomfortable at all, but I noticed them.  They seemed to be doing slow work, as Ella moved into a super low position by the last month of pregnancy.  When I would bathe the boys, walk upstairs, or get super busy, the contractions would pick up considerably.  They weren't painful and they didn't ever get into a regular pattern, but they were a consistent part of my days.  I never had the midwives check for dilation at those last visits because it can do crazy things to your emotions to know you are dilating or you aren't...and it isn't any real indicator of anything concerning when a baby may appear.

But finally, I caved.  The day before my due date, I had the midwife check because I just was too curious to not know.  I felt like I had been in the early phases of labor for a few days, and I really did want to know if I was dilated enough that I might need to rush along to the hospital if things picked up.  The midwife told me I was 5 cm dilated and to please make sure I hurried along to the hospital when things moved toward real labor as she felt Ella would come quickly based on what she saw and what we knew about my previous deliveries.  After the appointment, I had pretty steady contractions all day, and actually nested the afternoon away.  That's never happened to me before on delivery day...but the floors and laundry appreciated it :)

After the boys were in bed, Mama and I walked up and down the street, contractions picking up as we walked.  I have never been able to time contractions.  Carter's pitocin-induced contractions came on continuously in an awful, relentless fashion that couldn't be timed.  Samuel and Ella's were just not uncomfortable enough to really get a handle on when they were starting unless I got still and which point they completely stopped.  As we walked, I could feel the contractions getting more intense and it seemed like they were coming and going constantly...but I could still talk through them with absolutely no problem.  Finally, it was dark so we went inside.  I cooled off, had some water, and finally rested on the couch to see if labor would stall out if I rested a little (and I was also, obviously, tired :)).  The contractions came to a steady halt.  Except, if I stood up, they totally picked right back up.  Now I was completely unsure of what to do.  I really didn't want to go to the hospital in the middle of the night just to get sent home and have an exhausting day the next morning (and let's be honest...I didn't want to pay for the triage visit!), but I also really didn't want one of those unintended, unassisted births in the car.  When I had Samuel, I was totally fine managing the contractions until my water broke...and he was born 20 minutes later.  I really didn't want those last 20 minutes of, "I'm sure this is labor, oh my gosh!" to happen in the car, but I also didn't want to spend hours walking the hospital halls!  Finally, I decided to just go to bed.  I stood up from the couch and had the most intense contraction so far.  That contraction made me fairly certain this was actually, really labor.  One would think that by the third time, a mother would know when it was time to go to the hospital!  At that point, I decided we probably should go and we started gathering things for the car.  Just before we left, I got a message from a dear friend describing a dream she had about me and the boys and LOTS of water.  This friend is so incredibly intuitive, it somehow made me certain that it meant I was really in labor and was close to having a the water :)

We left around 10:45 pm.  On the way, I called the midwife to let her know I was on my way.  When she heard my cheery voice, I could tell she felt like she was being dragged out of bed for a girl who was definitely not having a baby tonight.  When we got to the hospital, the doors I was sure I was supposed to enter through were locked.  Unsure of what to do, we entered through the ER where the check-in nurses asked me how far apart my contractions were.  I had no idea (terrible at timing, remember?, they had totally stopped in the car) so I just told them less than five minutes since I knew that was the right answer and I knew I was close to having a baby.  They gave me skeptical smiles and rolled me up to OB triage where I am sure they all knew I would be sent home.  After the OB triage nurses smiled the same polite smiles as the nurses from the ER, they hooked me up to the two bands that measure contractions and the baby's heart beat and asked me to lie down in bed.

I am an easy-going person, and I am pretty happy to follow the rules, generally speaking.  But when I had to lie down, I realized these "easy" contractions hurt quite a bit when I had to lie down.  Standing up and moving?  Happy as a lark.  Lying down?  Super grouchy and uncomfortable.  I gave them lots of ideas for how they could get what they wanted while I stood, but the triage nurse cheerfully shut me down, and I laid on the bed for the twenty minutes they requested.  The contractions slowed considerably, but when they checked after, I was dilated to seven cm, so they consented that I probably was in real labor and sent me on to a delivery room.  As they rolled me upstairs, the clock rolled over to the next day, and I entered the delivery room on my sweet girl's due date.

This is me in labor prior to my water breaking and NOT having to lie down=happy  

Since I was being assisted by the midwifery group, I had the option of a water birth.  I had filled out all the consent forms for this, but definitely wasn't committed.  I figured that I'd try it.  If I hated it, I could just...get out.  If I loved it...well, that would be great.  Once I was in the room, I chatted up the nurses, answered all the questions they had, bounced on a birthing ball and watched them fill up the birthing pool.  I turned on my favorite Pandora station that I have finally convinced to play the best collection of hymns.  Around 1:30 am, the midwife came back in and let me know I was at 8 cm.  She went ahead and broke my water then and around 1:40 am, I got in the birthing pool.  I was surprised at what a game changer this was for me.  The contractions that were now screaming in my lower back were super painful, but manageable as long as I stayed in the water.  I got to the part of labor that is just so hard.  Just before 2 am I called the midwife to come back in, because I just needed her to help me walk through this part.  She propped up next to the pool and suggested I start pushing if I thought it would help.  I remember how extremely quiet it was.  Everyone in the room was silent, my iPhone was playing softly, and I closed my eyes to focus on getting through what I knew must be the last moments of labor.  At 2:12 am, I pulled my sweet girl out of the water and into my arms.  The room was dark and quiet, with just the midwife and one nurse in the room.  There wasn't a huge hustle and bustle, and her little cry was a welcome break in the quiet.  

After a few minutes, I passed Ella to Mama to get dry and in bed and then snuggled my girl back in my arms while the midwife did her final duties.  Though it was a peaceful, easy delivery, I had too much bleeding, so I had to get the IV I had thus far avoided and a shot of pitocin to the leg to calm everything down.  Once they got things settled, Ella started nursing and didn't stop for the next hour.  Nursing Carter was such hard work, and it took Samuel several days to really catch on.  It was such a sweet blessing for Ella to be such a natural. 

Around 3:30 am, the nurses rolled my bed over to the mother/baby wing and offered me a sandwich while the nurse bathed/weighed and measured Ella.  She weighed in at 8 pounds, 2 oz and 20 inches, my heaviest baby by one ounce and my shortest baby by an inch.  I wasn't interested at all in the sandwich but did decide to get on up to use the restroom.  Thankfully I had a nurse to help because I passed out cold on the trip.  For some reason, wheelchairs were a hot commodity in the hospital that night, so they had to use an office chair on wheels to get me safely back to bed.  The whole situation struck this deliriously tired girl as hilarious.  We finally "got to bed" around 4:30 or 5 am.

The next day, we alternated resting and visiting, feeding and changing.  Every nurse and doctor that checked us talked about how healthy we both looked.  After my significant struggles after Carter was born, and Samuel's little neonatal nursery stay, it was such a blessing to have a healthy, normal stay in the hospital.  In fact, we were so healthy and normal that they were ready to send us on home the next morning.  We unloaded ourselves and bags at home and started to catch up when I glanced up at the clock and noticed it was 2:15 pm...just 36 hours after Ella had entered the world.  It was so nice to be home where no one checked on us night and day!


Giving birth to Carter was one of the most joyful days on my life.  He made me a mother that day, and that is a gift I will treasure more deeply than he can ever know.  I learned through his birth that I am much stronger than I ever knew and that I can push past more pain than I thought possible...for much longer than I would have every imagined.  It was also the most difficult physical experience I have ever been through, to this day.  Healing was a long process and left me with a level of anxiety about future deliveries.  Samuel's birth was such redemption.  I felt more in control, stronger and relieved that birth could be different.  It was easier, and it gave me new hope.  It was painful, but not as scary because it wasn't as unknown.  (And also because it was just truly not as painful or difficult.)  Because the fear from Carter's birth had been redeemed through Samuel's day, I was able to enjoy Ella's coming with less trepidation.  I knew there would be pain, but I also knew (x's 2) that I had a 100% track record for making it to the other side.  I was finally able to not fear the pain, but acknowledge it for what it was and make it through anxiety amplifying the pain in my body and mind.  There's this moment that I think comes during every delivery where the mother is certain she won't make it.  She can't do this.  It's too hard, too painful, too much.  You start to feel like you are losing control.  It's then that the baby is so close.  It is in that moment that you are just moments from holding your baby in your arms.  It seems that in both birth and life in general that that moment that it seems like all hell is about to break loose is the moment just before heaven bursts forth.  When it is all just too much, that is when miraculous, amazing things are just around the corner...just breaths away.  Knowing this can fill those dark corners with hope, allowing you to enjoy even the hardest moments.  That moment just before Ella came was filled with pain, but the pain was manageable because I knew she was just a moment away.  Ella's birth was such a gift of joy to me...much like she is.

Our sweet, peaceful girl came quietly in the night just when I least expected her...because who comes on their due date? (Apparently, it's approximately 5%...if you wondered.)  I will never forget that first moment, when I swept her up in my arms before I had even really seen and examined all the details of her newborn self.  Before I had examined her toes, fallen in love with her "Ma" shaped eyes, kissed her round cheeks, or run my fingers through her waves of soft, infant hair, I felt the most incredible, perfect sense of relief and joy in this tiny life.  There was so much love for Ella before she even arrived, but in that first changed.  The love that comes in that first instant I held her weight in my arms was so profound that it made me stop breathing for a moment.  That one moment defines a truth that will hold fast as long as we both live.  I will never love her because she is smart or pretty or fast or funny.  I will never love her because she is kind or creative or responsible or giving.  There is not one thing she can do to earn my love or any thing she can do to make it go away.  I love her because she is my dear gift, a part of me.  I love her because she is my daughter.