December 14, 2016

Bumpin' | 32 & 34 Weeks

How far along? 32 weeks (November 30, 2016)
How big is baby? Honeydew melon, about 16 inches head to toe and 4 pounds
Milestones? All organs are fully developed except the lungs
Maternity clothes? Yes
Sleep? Usually decent so long as I am all set up with my 4,289 pillows surrounding my body, but I am getting up once per night to pee now. For those of you who know me well with my 12-hour-shift-no-time-to-pee, nurse-trained, camel bladder, you know that is significant!
Symptoms? Braxton-Hicks contractions and a full blown waddle have arrived
Food cravings? None
Food aversions? None
Gender? Boy
Labor signs? My body is definitely getting ready, lots of tightening and light cramping going on
Belly button in or out? Flat
What I miss? A body that doesn't ache all over
What am I looking forward to? Getting home and finishing HP's nursery. It has been a challenge to blend Eloise's white, somewhat girly crib with our old playroom furniture to create a cute and cohesive boy room. I think I am a few final touches away from creating a happy space for us all to enjoy. All of his bedding was delivered to Michigan since we have been in transit with moving, and we have been picking up accent pieces here and there since the shopping in Missouri is slim to none. I am itching to get back and see how it all looks together. Pictures to come soon! 
Best moment this week? Lots of fun, friends, and family in Michigan. Once we got the house set up in Missouri we headed north to spend Thanksgiving and the following two weeks with our families. You can imagine how thrilled our moms are to each have us home for an entire week. We are appreciating all of the home cooked meals, board game marathons, and opportunities to shop or see a movie toddler-free thanks to plentiful babysitters.

How far along? 34 weeks (December 14, 2016)
How big is baby? We had some testing done for a little health scare, and luckily our baby is just fine. Thank you to those who have been praying for us! But thanks to the extra peeks at him, we know he is 5 lbs 4 oz right now and therefore estimated to be about 7.5-8 pounds full term.
Milestones? Baby is practicing inhaling and exhaling amniotic fluid to prep for breathing our air
Maternity clothes? Yes
Sleep? Ditto to 32 weeks
Symptoms? Nothing new
Food cravings? None
Food aversions? There is a restaurant just outside of the main gates here called Dr. Phil's Catfish & Ribs. My stomach literally turns every time we drive by. So, apparently, catfish and ribs. No offense Dr. Phil, your cuisine may be excellent for all I know! 
Gender? Boy; our extra ultrasound confirmed our dude is certainly all dude.
Labor signs? Ditto to 32 weeks again
Belly button in or out? Flat
What I miss? Tying my shoes without losing my breath. And the way our beautiful garland looked wrapped around our banister and down the stairs in our Tennessee home. And Michigan Christmas tree farms with big, beautiful fraser firs...not the dinky little tree we were forced to choose from the Lowes parking lot here. Although I will say, I am pretty pleased with how our new house looks all decked out for the holidays!
What am I looking forward to? My mom, dad, and sister spending Christmas in Missouri with us. Eloise seems to be really understanding the joy of the season, and I cannot wait for all of us to see her light up on Christmas morning together. Not to mention all of the usual Rantz family traditions in which we will surely still partake. 
Best moment this week? First of all, ARMY FINALLY BEAT NAVY AFTER 15 YEARS! I surprised Brad and had his best friend from West Point, Shay, come up to watch the game with us. Seeing the two of them experience the historic victory together was incredibly special, and Eloise loved being tossed in the air by Daddy for every point Army scored (a tradition my Dad started with me when I was little watching Michigan State games). Second, arriving back home to our house, all set up and decorated for the holiday. The two weeks of marathon unpacking before our trip to Michigan was definitely worth it. Our visits were wonderful, but my heart is so glad to settle in now, enjoy the holidays including Eloise's 2nd birthday, and wait for our boy to arrive. One last happy note --- Brad and I have been singing the carol "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" to Eloise a lot, so now every time she see's Santa anything she exclaims, "SANTA! COMIN'! TOWN!" It is the cutest, and she is the sweetest.

November 20, 2016

Bumpin' | 28 & 30 Weeks

How far along? 28 weeks (November 2, 2016)
How big is baby? Eggplant, about 15 inches head to toe and 2.25 pounds
Milestones? Fetal brain waves detect sleep cycles, which means baby may be dreaming
Maternity clothes? Yes
Sleep? Much better actually. I considered buying a body pillow specifically for pregnancy but opted to save the money and go for the princess and the pea method of propping myself up with a million pillows instead. 
Symptoms? Nothing new or noteworthy
Food cravings? None
Food aversions? None
Gender? Boy
Labor signs? None
Belly button in or out? In
What I miss? Nothing in particular that I can think of.
What am I looking forward to? Setting up our new house. I am such a type A personality when it comes to planning furniture layouts everything. On post housing doesn't give you any floor plans or pictures before you move, so I am very antsy to get in there and make our house a home. We did find out our specific address and discovered the house is right next to a quiet, wooded cul-de-sac with a play set made just for toddlers across the way. We really lucked out with the perfect spot!
Best moment this week? I have to document two:
  1. Trick or treating with Eloise was an absolute blast this year. I think it was extra special sharing the evening with our beloved neighborhood knowing we only had a few days left in our house. I dressed up as Winnie the Pooh (I happen to have the ideal belly for the role), Brad was Christopher Robins, and Eloise was the sweetest piglet you ever did see. She was a huge hit and said "thank you" unprompted at almost every house. We were so proud watching her confidently march up front porch steps while hanging in there with the big kids and a candy basket nearly heavier than her that she insisted on carrying herself.  
  2. We saw HP's sweet face in high definition 4D ultrasound. When he popped up on the big screen Eloise pointed and shouted, "CUTE!" She quickly lost interest and was much more fascinated by my belly button, which she hilariously calls a bee-bo thanks to one of our favorite Sandra Boyton books. HP was the perfect model. We think he has chunkier cheeks and a bigger nose than our petite featured little lady, but we shall see. I cannot get over how handsome he is, and I am endlessly fascinated by both the technology that allows us such a special peek and by my body for the capability to grow such a perfect miracle. 

How far along? 30 weeks (November 16, 2016)
How big is baby? Head of cabbage, 16 inches head to toe and 3 pounds
Milestones? Baby has about a 98% chance of survival on his own if born premature at this point
Maternity clothes? Yes
Sleep? Still pretty decent. Hooray! I think the fatigue of packing, moving, and unpacking has helped.
Symptoms? Achy. I think I am officially rocking the waddle sometimes lately.
Food cravings? Lime tortilla chips. Again. Ate the whole bag practically in one sitting.
Food aversions? None
Gender? Boy, and I am getting exponentially more excited day by day about experiencing boy life.
Labor signs? None
Belly button in or out? Neither, just flat/nonexistent.
What I miss? Target. Or just some type of retail civilization. The closest to our new house is an hour away. I wish I was joking. 
What am I looking forward to? Tons of family time. Brad reported to his new company at Fort Leonard Wood just for them to tell him he has no assignment until class starts in January. All he has to do is sign in once per day on a sheet of paper at headquarters. All of this togetherness is such a big deal for us considering the amount of time away his previous job, and obviously deployment before that, required. We are loving every single second of it and will cherish the 2016 holiday season together.
Best moment this week? Moving into our new Missouri house was certainly a highlight, but it was definitely bittersweet too. I sobbed walking room to room saying goodbye to our Tennessee home. Eloise gave me huge hugs as we stood in her room together one last time. Besides the move, I would say the best part of life lately is just embracing Eloise right now. Some of the things I never want to forget from this age are the way she just says "much" to mean thank you and "soon" to mean goodbye because of how often I say, "thank you so much" and "see you soon." Toddlers are such intellectual sponges! But when she says "much" she really enunciates the "-ch" with pursed lips, and it makes my heart burst every time. She also now knows her ABC's, how to spell her name, and can count from one to ten. She loves to spell anything and everything from t-shirts to a Merry Christmas banner I have up in the house to storefront signs. She is working hard on learning her colors, and she loves to be a helper. Putting her clothes in her hamper, handing me utensils from the dishwasher to put away, pushing all of our chairs back in after meals, and taking items to the trash are some of her favorite tasks (I hope this phase never ends). She has a big sister book that she loves to read, and on every page she has to point out the "sissy" and "brudder." I think she is really catching on to what is coming for our family soon. Clearly I could go on for days raving about my girl. I am feeling increasingly emotional and in love with her and with our one-on-one time as the baby's due date quickly approaches.

October 22, 2016

Bumpin' | 22 & 26 Weeks

How far along? 22 weeks (September 21, 2016)
How big is baby? Spaghetti squash, about 11 inches and 1 pound
Milestones? Baby has eyebrows and developing tooth buds
Maternity clothes? Oh yes
Sleep? Not good. Any suggestions for improvements, mamas?
Symptoms? Nothing crazy beyond fatigue and aches and pains. I am pretty sure that is partially just toddler mom life though, not all pregnancy.
Food cravings? I scolded Brad for making a lunch meat sandwich in front of me the other day, and when I returned to the kitchen he had sweetly and without complaint took all of the meat off and had just bread and cheese. Since then, I have wanted plain cheese sandwiches every day for lunch. 
Food aversions? None
Gender? Boy
Labor signs? None
Belly button in or out? In
What I miss? The season for apple cider, including the spiked variety, has arrived. Very rarely do I miss alcohol during pregnancy because I am not a huge drinker to begin with, but I will admit to feeling a little heartbroken missing out on a seasonal favorite.
What am I looking forward to? Getting up to Michigan for a visit to share Eloise with my family. She is growing and learning so fast these days, I am really anxious for them to marvel at her the way we do. She can say her own name now (although it typically comes out a bit more like "Elle-Wee") and seems to learn a handful of new words daily. I adore hearing her sweet little voice!
Best moment this week? Finally getting our house officially on the market. Although it is very bittersweet, it means we are one step closer to the move that will provide us some much deserved family time. We also enjoyed a quick visit from my close friend and fellow Army wife Amy and her husband. Things picked back up right where we left off, as they always do with true friends. And Eloise was beyond happy running back and forth between the two of them delivering big hugs all day long. It was fun to see them appreciate what a sweet little girl our baby has grown to be. 

Due to toddlerhood, our trip north, and a house for sale...a 24 week bump picture just did not happen. 

How far along? 26 weeks (October 19, 2016)
How big is baby? Butternut squash, about 14 inches and 2 pounds
Milestones? Baby can open his eyelids and senses changes in light from inside the womb
Maternity clothes? Yes
Sleep? For whatever reason, I slept pretty great while in Michigan. I think my parents' firm guest bedroom mattress rather than our pillowtop may have done the trick. Would anyone like to buy me a new mattress?
Symptoms? Nothing new or noteworthy
Food cravings? Ditto
Food aversions? Double ditto
Gender? Boy, and our little man finally has a name! We gave ourselves the 8 hours of our drive back from Michigan to Tennessee on Sunday to make a decision from our top favorites. I already feel so much more connected to him calling him by name now, although we will keep it to ourselves except initials until his birth day just like we did for Eloise. 
Labor signs? I think I am feeling some Braxton Hicks contractions lately. I never had them with my first pregnancy (that I know of), but a rock hard belly and mild cramps are coming and going.
Belly button in or out? In but becoming increasingly flat
What I miss? After meeting baby Scarlett, the 7-week-old cutie of our friends Josh and Brittany, in Michigan, I will admit my arms are beginning to ache for a newborn again. I am so thankful for the timing of this guy on the way. Eloise was amazing and so gentle with Scarlett, or "Lolly" as she calls her. 
What am I looking forward to? Being back together with Brad. We were apart for a week while Eloise and I were in Michigan, enjoyed a quick weekend together, and then dove into another week apart during field training. It feels like it has been a long time since we enjoyed family time at home. Also, three close girlfriends who have moved away from Fort Campbell are all coming back this weekend for a visit and to celebrate a few babies on the way (including ours). I am excited beyond words to reunite! Our family Halloween costumes are also nearly complete. I cannot wait to see how Eloise reacts to the festivities and fun of it all. Lots to look forward to in the weeks ahead, and a lot of boxes to be packed too. Yikes!
Best moment this week? We had so many great moments visiting family and friends during our week in Michigan. The highlights included sitting front row at a fantastic Ingrid Michaelson concert in Milwaukee with my friend Aura and attending a Beauty and the Beast movie viewing party my sister Whitney planned for Eloise given her recent obsession with the beast. Grandma Sue also spoiled baby boy with lots of new clothes while we were in town. I am finding that worthy boy clothes are definitely harder to find, but because it is such a challenge, finding something adorable feels like such a huge victory.

September 12, 2016

Bumpin' | 18 & 20 Weeks

How far along? 18 weeks (August 24, 2016)
How big is baby? Bell pepper, about 5.5 inches head to bum
Milestones? Baby can now flex and extend his elbows and legs, and I am definitely feeling it!
Maternity clothes? Yes
Sleep? No good. I'm usually a deep sleeper, but lately I'm tossing and turning all night. 
Symptoms? Nausea finally seems to be gone (knock on wood)! Just tired and becoming sore by the end of each day.
Food cravings? The lime tortilla chips from early first trimester strike again
Food aversions? None
Gender? Boy. Well, hopefully. Ever since our gender switcheroo with Eloise I am always a little hesitant to believe what we are told. I am hopeful our 20 week ultrasound soon will clearly show our little mister is still all boy. 
Labor signs? No
Belly button in or out? In
What I miss? My old clothes. I'm already sick of maternity clothes, and it is way too early to be feeling this way. Hopefully the arrival of fall and a new season's wardrobe options will help. 
What am I looking forward to? Our big ultrasound at the end of the month and the start of football season (GO GREEN)!
Best moment this week? Feeling so many more movements. The increase in first little pops are my favorite part of pregnancy. I love the constant reminder that I'm growing a new member of our perfect family. Such a beautiful and amazing thing! 

How far along? 20 weeks (September 7, 2016)
How big is baby? Banana, about 10 inches head to toe
Milestones? Baby can now swallow and his chest rises and falls to practice breathing motions
Maternity clothes? Definitely, plus a few new pieces from my sweet friend who is on her last baby and unloading some of her cute maternity clothes
Sleep? Still pretty terrible. I never had pregnancy insomnia with my first, but it seems to strike between 2 or 3 am most nights lately. 
Symptoms? Increasingly uncomfortable, but I am trying to stay active with our morning walks to combat the aches and pains. I am also experiencing heartburn for the first time in my life after I eat apples, of all things. While it is awful, I'm not sure it will stop me from my beloved apples and caramel as we welcome fall.  
Food cravings? Fruity Pebbles cereal this week. I am not sure my pregnancy cravings can be considered legit considering they change weekly, ha! Once I have had my fix of the craving of the week I am on to the next. 
Food aversions? None
Gender? He is still a he! My anxiety was quite clearly and certainly put to rest at our anatomy ultrasound.
Labor signs? No
Belly button in or out? In
What I miss? Simpler times in our Tennessee home we love so much. We got our official military orders to move back to Missouri this week. How did three years fly by so fast? Let the chaos of packing and selling our house begin. I have to laugh picturing me trying to get a toddler, two cats, a dog, and a rapidly expanding belly out of here in time to show our house. 
What am I looking forward to? Getting more moving tasks accomplished and plans made. The more I knock out the better I begin to feel about conquering everything. Also, and on a much more fun note, a week-long trip to Michigan in October. A concert with my best friend to hear our favorite artist, a visit to an apple orchard for cider and donuts, and a Michigan State football game are all on the schedule. Fall in Michigan is simply divine!
Best moment this week? I got the Dyson cordless animal vacuum as an early birthday gift from my mom and dad! You know you are an adult when the highlight of your week includes cleaning gear. But seriously. It is the best. Keeping our hardwood floors crumb and cat fur free to show our house is so much easier now. 

August 13, 2016

Bumpin' | 16 Weeks

How far along? 16 weeks
How big is baby? Dill pickle, about 4.5 inches
Milestones? Baby can see hear us and detect major changes in light
Maternity clothes? A mixture of both
Sleep? Sleeping well
Symptoms? Still sick to my stomach about once or twice a week (and very emotionally and physically tired of it)
Food cravings? Nothing new lately
Food aversions? Just dinner in general
Gender? Our instincts were totally wrong. We found out on Sunday, August 7 that we will welcome a baby BOY to our family in January! 
Labor signs? No
Belly button in or out? In
What I miss? Feeling fit. I'm at that awkward phase where I just feel chubby and not cute. I have been much more active this time around, out walking 2 miles faithfully every single morning with Eloise and our dog Ruby at 7 am (despite the brutal southern heat), and will continue to do so. But I have always have a hard time initially taking the changes in my body to heart.
What am I looking forward to? The end of the summer. So hot! 
Best moment this week? Definitely finding out the gender. With Eloise we knew the gender before we cut into a pink reveal cake with our families. This time, we waited to find out with our friends at a "Waddle It Be?" themed BBQ. Eloise dropped a bath bomb rubber ducky into water, and we all watched anxiously as it slowly fizzed and eventually changed the water blue. Brad and I were extremely shocked! We can't wait to experience the best of both gender worlds. I loved that Eloise got to participate, too - "duck" is a favorite component of her expanding vocabulary right now. 

July 28, 2016

A Look at Our Library: 18-Months-Old


Side note: I really want to be able to sneak a y'all or two into natural conversation. I just love it. Am I qualified now that we have lived in Tennessee for almost three years? Almost?...Sort of?...Not really even a little bit close to being qualified? Oh well. I will keep trying anyways.

End side note.

My daughter loves books.

I mean, she absolutely adores them. As bookworms ourselves, nothing makes my husband or me happier. That being said, there are some truly awful kids books out there. Am I right? The kind that make you want to rip your hair out if you have to read recite them one more time.

When all your kiddo does all day is back her cute, little booty right into your lap to read, you really need to up your library game. I am constantly on the hunt for something new and unique to add to her collection, and I am excited to share our current favorites with you today!

1. Gaston | Adorable illustrations and storyline about the true meaning of family love. A fellow blogger I admire pointed out long after I had already fallen in love with this book that it is perfect for adoptive families. 
2. Stick and Stone | The clever and rhyming shenanigans of two unlikely friends makes me smile every time. A subtle anti-bullying message is an added bonus for little ones. 
3. Plant a Kiss | My husband's current favorite. A simple but sweet lesson in the joy of giving to others. My daughter loves to feel the texture of the sparkling kiss as it blossoms too. 
4. Each Peach Pear Plum | Classic, rhyming storybook characters are hidden on each page for little eyes to find. At 18-months-old, my daughter already finds excitement in spotting them all herself. 
5. Waiting | Five toys sit and wait at the windowsill for something amazing to happen. Reminds me a little bit of Toy Story. The ending is so unexpected and made me laugh out loud the first time I read it.
6. Hedgehugs | My sister gifted this to us for Valentine's Day, so I have to give her all the brilliant credit. Horace and Hattie the hedgehogs are best friends, but they cannot hug. The solution to their prickly problem is ridiculously cute. There is a sequel coming out this Christmas, and I can't wait to snatch it up for our library. 
7. Napping House | A personal nostalgic classic. My mom read this to me often growing up, so of course I am loving reading it to my daughter. She thinks the illustrations are just as divine as I do. 
8. Cloudette | Being small doesn't mean you can't make a difference in a big way. This book is full of clever details to keep adults laughing too.
9. Where Does Love Come From? | The text in this one is just mediocre in my opinion. But my mom checked it out at library storytime while we were in Italy and taught our daughter to identify the shape of a heart. Now she exclaims, "HEART!" every time she sees one, including a million times in the card section at Target as I hunted for an anniversary card for friends. Obviously, we had to own our own copy. 
10. Hello in There!: A Big Sister's Book of Waiting | The absolute perfect lift-the-flap book for teaching big sisters about the wonder of the new baby growing in mommy's belly. 
11. Always | Sweet message about a parent's love for their little one through the good and the bad. I think the metallic illustration accents in all of Emma Dodd's books make them extra special. 
12. The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear | Another favorite from my childhood that I am enjoying passing on to a new generation. The illustrations revealing mouse's journey to protect his just-picked, perfect strawberry are so vivid and heart warming. 
13. Beautiful Oops! | A must-have for all blossoming perfectionists like my own (the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, folks). I have been loving the unique way this book teaches through flaps, tears, smudges, crinkles, etc. that not only are mistakes okay, but that they can be a grand adventure in creating something beautiful. 

There is not too much I can guarantee in life, but these books will make you smile. That is a fact. I hope they bring you as much joy as they bring to us daily. 

Let's swap notes! I am antsy to pick up a few of the books that bring both you and your little loves happiness as you read together. What are your favorites?

July 24, 2016

Bumpin' | 13 Weeks

In the very last hours of Sunday, May 15, those beautiful two pink lines told us we had another little Witt wonder on the way! After a long drive returning from our friends' wedding in Michigan, I decided on a whim to take a pregnancy test. We had just gotten Eloise to bed, unloaded luggage, and Brad was upstairs cleaning the litter boxes and refilling food dishes for hungry felines. Glamorous, I know. 

I had not been experiencing any pregnancy symptoms, so I was hopeful but not expecting big news. My heart raced as I set the first test, immediately and very boldly positive, aside and reached for another. For so many months I had taken test after test that turned up negative. I had spent too many mornings squinting at strips, trying to convince myself there was a faint second line there. When it, too, came up quickly positive, I scooped up both tests and bolted upstairs. 

In our dimly lit storage room as Brad was mid-poop scoop, I ran into his arms, beaming. He seemed initially annoyed I was interrupting the final chore standing between him and sleep, until I showed him what I had in my hand. There were happy tears shed as Oliver and Lola purred at our feet. In hindsight, I have to laugh at how I told him compared to how I told Brad the first time. I suppose it is just the beginning of the first born receiving special treatment because everything was brand new! 

The entire first trimester was a whirlwind of weddings, vacations (more to come on our trips to Disney and Italy), and a lot of nausea and naps. Getting around to starting bump pictures was honestly a dark cloud hovering overhead. By the end of my first pregnancy I absolutely dreaded taking and designing them. But, with that being said, I am beyond thankful I documented my growing bump so thoroughly. It is crazy how quickly you forget what it feels like to carry your little one around for nine months. I know I'll be glad to have these memories, so here we go, starting with 13 weeks. Better late than never, right?

How far along? 13 weeks
How big is baby? Jalepeno pepper, about 3 inches
Milestones? Baby already has tiny fingerprints and fingernails
Maternity clothes? I just brought the box down this week! Best decision ever. I am much more comfortable. 
Sleep? So. Much. Sleep. I'm usually zonked out on the couch by 8 pm every night, and I've been sleeping so hard that my dreams have been crazy and very vivid. 
Symptoms? Awful morning sickness and fatigue
Food cravings? Pickles! Also in earlier weeks, french onion chip dip and watermelon
Food aversions? Nothing specific, but I opened the pantry one morning and the combination of odd smells made me immediately throw up in the kitchen sink. The nausea of this pregnancy has been a totally new experience compared to my first pregnancy. 
Gender? Brad and I both think it's a girl. I have always pictured him with a gaggle of Witt girlies. Because my pregnancies have been so different, nearly everyone else thinks it's a boy, but we are not convinced.
Labor signs? Obviously, no
Belly button in or out? In. My belly button actually never popped out with Eloise. 
What I miss? A nice, big deli meat sandwich
What am I looking forward to? The second trimester energy burst, and finding out the baby's gender at the beginning of August. Also cooler temperatures and all things fall just around the corner.
Best moment this week? We took Eloise to her first big girl movie in the theater. We saw Finding Dory, and she was happy, quiet, and focused through the entire thing (probably partly thanks to the steady stream of popcorn we supplied)! She even laughed at appropriate times and shouted "MO!" ("Nemo" in Eloise language) when Nemo came on screen. We loved every minute of it. 

And just for kicks, the entire series of bump pictures with Eloise! Have a happy week, everyone.

May 11, 2016

A Truly Great Grandpa

My Grandpa Emery finished his beautiful life here on Earth today just shy of 93 years old. I know he is enjoying his first morning coffee, donut, and newspaper in Heaven right now.

Emery Rantz, husband, brother (to 10 siblings!), veteran, father, grandfather, great grandfather, and friend to many, was the epitome of a kind-hearted man. I think Eloise was the only one who got his title just right by honoring him as the great human that he was.

Here are just a handful of my favorite memories of and with my Grandpa Emery.

+ His love of cheese. He passed his cheese-loving gene on to me. He and I shared many sneaky snacks of sharp cheddar together.

+ His sports enthusiasm. For many seasons growing up, our annual Michigan State football tailgates included Grandpa Emery. He loved to hear the marching band warm up with the fight song echoing through campus. Grandpa Emery was also a devoted Cubs baseball fan. Someday (and that is a big, optimistic someday) when the Cubs finally win the World Series, I know it will be for him. Once while golfing with my dad and grandpa, I chipped a ball from a ways off the green and sunk it right into the hole. Trust me, it was a total fluke. But my Grandpa Emery, the avid golfer, smiled for weeks.

+ His smile. Getting Grandpa Emery to smile for posed family pictures was always a challenge. But when he was truly happy or proud? See for yourself throughout these pictures.

+ His love for Brad. Maybe it was their shared service or their matching kind hearts, or maybe Grandpa Emery was just glad to finally have a grandson! Whatever it was, their bond was special. Once the two of them got to chatting together, the rest of the world just faded away. His pride was palpable when they would video chat while Brad was in Afghanistan.

Receiving a flag flown in his name in Afghanistan from Brad

+ His simple pleasures. Grandpa Emery loved my grandma's homemade pie, ice cream, and a good dinner roll or three on his Thanksgiving plate. He loved attending Lakeshore softball games (sorry none of your granddaughters were even remotely athletic, grandpa). He loved his many mornings at Dale's Donuts with his buddies. He loved summer concerts at the bandshell downtown. I love that he cherished the little things.

+ His pride in his service. Grandpa Emery was a WWII veteran, serving alongside four of his brothers. He loved to talk about his time in Europe, and it was very clear how proud he was of his country. His oldest brother was killed in action at the Battle of the Bulge, and he honored him often in many conversations. I know traveling to West Point for our wedding and experiencing it's military history was a major highlight of his life.

+ His adventuresome spirit. My Grandpa Emery and his wife, my Grandma Jean, were married for 67 years and shared a lifetime of adventures. They loved to travel to Australia, and for 18 years they "worked" security at the Masters golf tournament. Their adventures together were beyond what many dream of.

October 1948

+ His family pride. Many of my classmates probably remember my grandpa as the random guy at the gas station who would ask anyone in a Lakeshore varsity jacket if they knew Whitney or Kayla Rantz. He was endlessly proud of my sister and I and was quick to tell anyone and everyone all about it. He was always in the stands for Friday night football, but he was actually just there to see Whitney cheerlead and me dance at halftime. Every time the honor roll was printed in the paper, we were quietly slipped a proud $20 bill from Grandpa Emery. Lately he loved to brag to his medical providers about my nursing career. He was all of our biggest fan.

+ His kindness. Hands down, my favorite thing about my Grandpa Emery was his kindness. His words always made you feel important, and his actions were always in the interest of others. He made friends everywhere he went, and he valued them all. Even in his last days, he was recalling fond memories from decades ago with such sharpness as if they were yesterday.

+ His role of great grandpa. The first time Grandpa Emery met Eloise, his spirits lifted and there was a new spark in his eyes. The rare but genuine smile I mentioned earlier was bigger than ever. He loved to admire her blonde curls, and her grin matched his sitting on his lap for a picture after her baptism just ten days before he passed. I cannot express the joy it brings me knowing Brad and I were able to give him the gift of knowing his great granddaughter.

With me in 1988 and with Eloise in 2015

I could go on and on. Instead, I think Eloise and I will go enjoy a cheese snack together in the sunshine and smile in appreciation of such a long and happy life. 

I think the hardest part of this for me is witnessing my dad's heart break in losing his own dad. This is the first time either my mom or dad have lost a parent. We have been fortunate to have so many great years with all four of them. Dad, I see so much of grandpa in you every single day. The way you love Eloise is exactly the way he has loved me.

Grandpa Emery, I will carry your kindness with me always. Rest peacefully. The head of the table at family dinners will never be the same without your smiling face. 

I love you so very much, and I miss you already.

May 8, 2016

For the Dreamers on Mother's Day

Becoming a mom to our Eloise has been the greatest gift of my life. I never have and never will take it for granted. On this Mother's Day, I want to send a different wish out to a special group of people.

This is for you. The one who dreams of sleepless nights. The one who dreams of filling that spare closet with tiny clothes. The one who dreams of scrubbing spit up and blow out stains. The one who dreams of that new baby smell. The one who dreams of soothing teething pains or tummy troubles. The one who dreams of finally seeing those two pink test lines appear.

The good and the bad, you dream of it all.

I, too, have longed for all of the things you are dreaming of. I have felt the sting when another friend is quickly pregnant, seemingly with the snap of their fingers. Keep smiling, keep giving congratulatory hugs, keep happily attending baby showers, keep bringing meals to brand new parents, but most importantly, keep dreaming. God willing, it will be your turn soon. You would not want to look back and regret allowing your sadness to overshadow the genuine happiness you really do feel for your friends.

For a long time, we prayed for our daughter. I could never see clearly why it was taking so long for us despite doing everything right and leading healthy lives while it seemed too easy for others. I promise you that once your baby is finally in your arms, your frustrations and impatience and doubts will vanish. It becomes so simple to see. You were just waiting for the precise genetic mashup of the baby meant to be yours. I truly believe if I had been pregnant any sooner, Eloise exactly as she is would not be here with us. That single thought blows my mind and makes every heart ache along our journey worthwhile.

And lately, it makes every time I am asked, "When are you going to try for another one?" easier to bear.

We dream of the bond of siblings. We dream of pulling out the infant swing from storage. We dream of laying eyes on that first black and white image of a fuzzy little bean. We dream of skimming familiar lists on the hunt for another perfect name. We dream of big sister kisses on a growing belly. We dream of becoming a family of four.

My husband and I dream with patient hearts these days, because this time we know waiting for the baby that is meant to be ours will be worth it.

Happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there whose dreams have become the realities of beautiful motherhood! And Happy Mother's Day to the dreamers, too. It may seem like you are alone out there in a sea of pregnancy announcements from everyone except you, but that is so far from the truth. By putting my own dreams out there on this special day, I hope you will know that we are all quietly dreaming big dreams of tiny fingers and toes together.

And I am rooting for you!

Let's vow on this holiday to continue to support one another until the day we each can shout our joyous news for all the world to hear. And when those pregnancy discomforts or tired mom moments come, let's turn our complaints into gratitude and send all of our hopes and prayers along to those who are still out there dreaming.

Elation over two pink lines and the beginnings of a bump in 2014

We stopped "trying" for a baby after I was hired into a great job as a research nurse specialist in breast cancer clinical trials at Vanderbilt. Month after month of optimism with no success had left us tired, stressed out, and discouraged. We planned to refocus on our careers and other happiness and let life play out as it was meant to be. I got pregnant the very next month. Eloise was meant to be.

May 4, 2016

A Mitten State of Mind: April 2016

I have said it a hundred times before, and I will say it again now. I hate every second of stolen time the Army takes from our family. Life is just so much harder without my husband and so much happier with him. BUT, with that being said, I do appreciate the trips back up to Michigan that are so often motivated by field training events or deployments. Eloise is able to build bonds with family members during our visits that she otherwise might not, and I get to catch up with many of my Michigander friends from high school and college.

Here is a sampling picture overload of the fun we had in the great mitten state during the last two weeks as seen through the lens of my iPhone (which Eloise dropped in a full bathtub while we were visiting, so quality I cannot promise).

We kicked off the trip with a visit to Clawson to see my college girlfriend Michelle and her then boyfriend, now fiance (!), Nathan. These two love birds got engaged about a week after this picture was taken, and I have not stopped beaming since she called me with the wonderful news! Although I'm afraid Eloise's maniac behavior at dinner may have totally freaked them out. The world might have to wait a little longer now to be graced with baby Stachels. Oh well, I suppose it was a good eye opener to the realities of parenthood as I caught the dish of salsa she chucked across the table!

On Tuesday my parents and I took a whirlwind trip down to Saint Joseph to see my Grandpa Emery and my Aunt Ninie. Many of you know my grandpa's health is declining in old age, and my aunt suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm a few months ago and is now completely paralyzed. She does open her eyes to voices, and I swear she tried to smile when she saw Eloise, but it is hard to say how much of her is really "there" anymore. It was good, although emotionally draining, to see them. I have been longing to be at both of their bedsides since I got the tearful phone calls from my parents. Please continue to pray for their peace and healing. 

The following day continued tour de grandparents as my mom and I made our way to Grand Rapids. Eloise really bonded with her Great Grandpa Jim during our visit and giggled at just about everything he did. I love this shot of her looking up to him with such admiration. I used to hold his pointer finger exactly like that on walks when I was little. 

We took soup from my parents' restaurant for lunch; I'm fairly certain Eloise thinks she owns the place now. 

Thursday was a quiet day after four days of travel. It was rainy and my parents were busy catching up at work, so I took Eloise on a donut and library date. It was her first ever trip to a public library, and we lucked out arriving just in time for a special musical story time. My heart was in a total puddle watching her participate and sit with the big kids.

On Friday we hopped in the car again (are you tired yet just reading this?) and made our way to Brighton to see Brad's Aunt Lanie and cousin Liz. Her son Charlie was born just two months after Eloise, so our visits watching them interact and grow side-by-side are always a blast. 

That evening was spent eating pizza and lounging with my dad, mom, and sister. It doesn't get much better than a Rantz family Friday night! 

Saturday was truly "A Beautiful Day for Football!" We attended the spring football game at Spartan Stadium with my Uncle Scott, cousin Eric, and our family friends, the Stevens. Michigan State's campus was incredible in full spring bloom. The building peeking through the pink blossoms is Beaumont Tower where Brad proposed to me five years ago. Eloise was all smiles and dancing to the marching band until we got into the stadium with the sun beating down. I totally forgot to pack her a sun hat. Mom fail. We only stayed until halftime, but I enjoyed every minute in one of my favorite places. How many days until football season? 

We wrapped up the weekend in Flushing visiting Brad's parents. I shockingly did not snap any pictures, because Brad's mom spoiled me with a shopping trip while Papa Mickey entertained Eloise. Trips to their house always reminds me how lucky I am to have in-laws I love and enjoy spending time with, even when Brad can't be there.

Monday took us to Holt Junior High School for a lunch date with Aunt Whitney, or should I say, Mademoiselle Rantz. It was great to finally see her classroom, and I loved witnessing her in proud aunt mode showing off her niece to her students. After lunch we took a cruise around the capital building, which is literally in my parents' backyard, in the red radio flyer from my childhood! When Eloise wasn't scaring the pants off of us trying to stand up, she was loving the wind in her new pony tail/water spout/Cindy Lou Who hair/"do-dop-on-top". Little girl moms, what are your favorite hair styles for this awkward transition length we've finally hit?

During a visit the next day to see the new baby of my sister's best friend, Eloise surprised Aunt Whitney at the door with an extra special balloon. A note tied to the top delivered a message asking her to be Eloise's godmother. Of course, happy tears were shed and she said yes. Baby Claire's mom Nicole is avoiding posting pictures of her on social media, so you'll just have to take my word for it that she is a bundle of perfection.

On Wednesday my dad and I travelled back down to Saint Joseph to see my grandpa and aunt again. I stayed over night and hopped the early morning train to Milwaukee to spend the weekend with my long time best friend Aura and her husband Alex. Eloise was an angel on the train, and I thoroughly enjoyed the lakeside view from our window as my girl quietly read her books.

I had the best time with Aura. We have been friends now for 16 years, and I know we will be a big part of each others' lives forever. I loved touring Milwaukee and appreciating the shops and restaurants they frequent. Most of all, I enjoyed our time at their apartment, just chatting and watching Eloise and their sweet pup Hobie play together. 

Brad had planned to fly into Chicago on Saturday and reunite with us. When we found out he was getting back from training a day early and had Friday off, we jumped at the opportunity to book a new flight. Money suddenly becomes no issue after a month apart, even if just to gain 24 hours of bonus time together. Worth every penny.

Eloise was a little bit shy for the first few minutes of our reunion, but by the time we got to the car she could not stop planting big, open-mouthed kisses all over Brad and wrapping her arms tight around him. I love them both so much, and I love the love they share even more. The rest of the weekend was spent visiting the Milwaukee zoo, eating tacos, drinking margaritas, and laughing together. Brad and Alex had not been able to spend much time together, so it was great to see them sharing common interests and twinning in their accidental matching blue sweaters.

Thank you, team Brackman, for a fabulous visit! We will be back again soon. 

On our way back to Saint Joseph we got off the train in Chicago to catch Elise, my brother-in-law's girlfriend, in The Theatre School and DePaul University's production of Peter Pan and Wendy. She played the role of Nibs the lost boy perfectly, complete with mohawk and all! Eloise loved her first play...for the first 45 minutes or so. I spent the rest of the show chasing her around the lobby in a crowd of toddlers with limited attention spans. Uncle Preston and Aunt Elise gave Eloise a crash course in popsicle eating and brain freezes before we hit the road back to Michigan. I just know Preston and Elise, with their city lifestyle and love of art and literature, are always going to be the cool aunt and uncle in Eloise's eyes. 

As the cherry on top of a great trip, we celebrated Eloise's baptism on Sunday, May 1, 2016. It was just too good of a day to summarize, so stay tuned for a separate post soon. I'll leave you with a sneak peek of one of my favorite pictures from her special day. Perfectly poised godparents next to parents trying to wrangle the rambunctious star of the show. Sounds about right!

If you are still reading, give yourself a pat on the back, and perhaps a nap too! You deserve it. Lord knows we earned ourselves a nap or two after bouncing between friends and family all over the midwest. I would not have traded our time with loved ones for any amount of rest though. I woke up in Tennessee on our first morning back home with bags under my eyes and mounds of laundry, but the elation I feel after being loved on by so many people will stick around for a long, long time. 

Until next time, Michigan!