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Friday, February 12, 2016

Dear 6 year old Owen,

Dear Owen,
I can't believe it's your sixth birthday. My, how time is flying by with our big boy. We are so incredibly proud of all that you are learning and achieving this year in Kindergarten. It's been so much fun watching you make new friends, come home and read stories to us every day (SO COOL!), and be excited about school. Dad says you literally RUN into school every day. That's amazing. I hope you never lose that zest for life and passion for trying new things.

Your favorite things lately are Ninja Turtles, trucks and digging outside, playing in and shoveling the snow, and Toy Story. You LOVE Buzz and Woody. We bought you Woody for your birthday present because it's your new favorite thing. I love how you're growing up fast, yet still our little guy loving to play with toys every day.

You love watching a new truck show on TV with Dad, all about towing trucks out of ditches and snow storms. It's cute seeing the two of you watch your favorite things. You two are buddies still, for sure. I love it.

You earned a helping certificate at school and were recognized by the Assistant Principal. It was awesome. You were picking things up in school and wiping up the messes on the floors. We're so proud of how hard working you are, always wanting to do more, work harder and learn things. I hope you always keep that interest and curiosity about the world. You've had it for six years, so I think you're going to keep it always.

You're my goofy boy. Always being silly and driving us crazy. You struggle with listening sometimes, mostly because you are on your way to doing something big and important and working hard at learning. You have a mind of your own, that's for sure. And we like that you use it for good things.

You are mostly kind to your sister. Sometimes you guys bicker "Stop looking at me! Stop copying me!" But we've trained you to answer in response to our question, "Why does your sister copy you?" and you respond begrudgingly (but I think you secretly love it) "Because she loves me and wants to be like me." Yes, little man, you are a big brother and she's your little sister, who just adores you. So have patience and be our responsible guy and help your sister out sometimes. She really loves you. She calls you "Owie." It's cute because nobody else calls you that. You let her, too, which is even cuter.

You light up our world, Owen. You really do. You are fast and furious, always on the go, busy doing something and thinking up the next thing every single moment. And yet, you're learning to stop and take in moments, breathe, listen, pay attention and sit still. It's growth and we're SO proud of you, Bud.

Let's keep learning, keep moving forward into fun new territory as you become 7 years old next year. Crazy how fast this is going! Thank you for always wanting me to tuck you into bed at night and for hugging me goodbye every morning before school. Thanks for telling me ALL about your day every afternoon when I pick you up after school and sharing with me the things you think are important. I think everything about you is important, little man. I'm so happy being your Momma.


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Mom of the Month - Larissa Ragazzo

Congratulations to our Mom of the Month, Larissa Ragazzo! She has two handsome boys and is a hard working mother, who is learning to make time for herself.

Such a great read, thanks for sharing your life with us, Larissa!

Images shared from Larissa Ragazzo

1. Describe your children in 3-5 words. How did you choose their names?
Both boys have family names. My oldest, Robert Paul II, is named after my FIL while my youngest, Kevin Lawrence, is named after my father and grandfather.  Robby is sweet, silly, quiet, and loves to learn new things.  Kevin is my wild-man, but he is also super sweet and loving.

2. How old are your children? How did you tell people you were expecting a baby?
Robby is 7, we couldn’t wait to tell family and told them right away!!  Kevin is 4, we called family, then posted a picture of Robby holding a big brother book to Facebook.

3. How would you describe your pregnancies? How was delivery, birth and labor for you?
My pregnancy with Robby was a roller-coaster.  At the very beginning they couldn’t hear a “strong enough heartbeat” for his calculated age, I was told that I might have a miscarriage and had to wait a week to go back for another ultrasound - turns out I wasn’t as far along as they thought!  Then at around 3 months my bloodwork came back indicating a potential for CF so I had to go get a more specialized ultrasound.  The ultrasound cleared him of CF, but showed a potentially horrific genetic disease so I made the decision to get an amnio (chances of said disease were less than 1% but I couldn’t live with the uncertainty for 6 more months).  Towards the end of my pregnancy, my blood pressure became high and a few days before my due date I was sent to the hospital for monitoring which led to an induction that took FOREVER.  There were a lot of babies being born that week and they kept having to wait to give me my next dose of meds because they didn’t have enough nurses on duty…  When I finally went into labor, I had been at the hospital for 3 days.  The actual labor took about 12 hours - I never realized how close I was to an emergency c-section until well after the fact.  

My pregnancy with Kevin was much less eventful ;)  His labor was also much faster - I went to the hospital in the middle of the night because my water broke.  Several hours later when contractions had still not started, I was induced with him as well.  Things were pretty uneventful until a nurse came to catheter me and saw Kevin’s head!!  15 minutes later he was here!!

4. Describe yourself as a mom in 3-5 words.
supportive, loving, frazzled

5. What type of mom do you hope your children think you were someday when they're old enough to tell you?

I hope my children realize that I was always there for them, no matter what.  That I supported them when they needed the support and pushed them to be the best that they could be.  

6. What things have you done as a mom that you're most proud of?
Instilling a love of reading and a desire to be active are the 2 things I am most proud of.  That my boys are pretty awesome is a nice accomplishment too ;)

7. What have been the most difficult parts to being a mom?
Taking time for myself has always been a challenge for me.  So much of my life is devoted to my boys (which I love) but I sometimes sit back and realize that I have not spent time nurturing my friendships or doing things for myself.  Now that they are older I am beginning to take more time for myself and my husband.

8. What is your favorite baby/child product(s) that makes your mom job easier?
It’s not really a baby/child product, but my whiteboard calendar on the fridge makes organizing our life so much easier.  Everything is written on the calendar - Related Arts classes for the day, days that my son is buying hot lunch, any commitments outside my normal work day, sports practices, and fun family activities are all put up so we can be prepared for the week ahead.

9. What advice about being a mom would you give to a brand new mother?

Take the time to snuggle your babies - some of my favorite memories are of those first few years just snuggling on the couch.  Also, no matter what, you will make choices that you second-guess - do what your gut tells you and move on.

10. What is a typical day like for you?
Get up around 4:15/4:30 go to the gym for about ½ hour.  Home to shower and get ready for work,  then downstairs to make lunches and breakfast.  Out the door by 6:55 (with lots of “I love yous” as I walk out the door) for my 10 minute commute to work.  I work at the local middle school as the Title 1 Coordinator which means that I spend a couple of hours working with small reading intervention groups and the rest of the day looking at data, or in meetings.  I leave work around 3:30 (even though the day ends at 2:30) to go pick both boys up at daycare/after school care (which just happens to be the same place!).  If we don’t have any afterschool commitments, we are home by 4:00 for homework and some time to chill before I start to make dinner/unload the dishwasher.  Dinner is usually around 6 then the boys can play while I catch up with my husband (he gets home anytime from 6-7).  Bedtime is 8:00.  Then I usually collapse and leave the kitchen clean up to my husband :)  

11. What 5 things would you like to do with your kids someday, if anything were possible and money no object?
Visit all the National Parks (they’ve already been to Acadia and we are going to the Smoky Mountains this summer)
Full week at Disney staying on property
Ski trip to Colorado
Drive across country
Travel to Europe

12. What are 5 things you LOVE about being a mom?
watching them turn into “real” people has been amazing
being the person they turn to when they are upset and knowing how to calm them
watching the boys play together and get along
did I mention hugs?

13. Tell us a time where you felt like you failed at parenting... but then realized you truly had not failed, things worked out fine.
Any time I have lost my temper with my boys I have felt like a failure.  I told myself that I wouldn’t scream at or spank my children, but in the heat of the moment, when I am truly overwhelmed, I have screamed and I have spanked.  I am not proud of it.  Every time it happens, I feel horrible.  However, without fail, every single time, my boys still love me and I them.

14. What makes you a strong mom?
Knowing that I am doing everything I can for the boys.  And being able to recognize the things that I cannot do.  

15. Anything else you want to add?

I am not an extraordinary mom.  I am just someone who loves her boys more than anything and will do whatever it takes to help them become well-rounded adults.  I see so many other moms who seem to have it better figured out than I do.  I do what works for my family and it probably isn’t what works for other families.  At the end of the day, my boys are happy and healthy, so I must be doing something right!

Friday, February 5, 2016

smashing fears: one plate -and lung- at a time by Heather Von St. James

I am always excited when someone finds my blog on the Internet and contacts me with something that totally inspires me to want to do more. Heather Von St. James has done just that! I am so honored to feature her on my blog today, as one more cheerleader in her army of support as she celebrates TEN YEARS CANCER FREE this February!

Her story is one of fear and courage, worry and determination. She has turned a difficult situation into a passion for helping raise awareness about a topic that is not typically discussed. She chose to stand up, keep moving forward, never give up, and to fight literally for her life. She came out on the other side of fear, and she lives her life now inspiring other women to do the same: to beat the odds, to take a day at a time, and to stay positive.

I LOVE her message, blog, and interactive site.

PLEASE join me in supporting this courageous and STRONG MOMMA! There is an interactive site at the bottom of this page where you can smash your fears while supporting her work.

THANK YOU, Heather, for being such an awesome person and for sharing your story with us.

Images shared from Heather Von St. James

1. What was your biggest fear when you found out you had cancer?

My biggest fear was that my daugher was going to grow up without a mother, and my husband without his wife. At the time of my diagnosis, I was told I only had 15 months to live. This was only 3 months after giving birth to Lily. 

It was the first thing that came to mind. Lily needed her mom, and Cam needed his wife. So many thoughts flooded my mind, would we lose our home? What would happen to me? What about my career? Any fear of the unknown can be powerful, but I couldn’t let that control me moving forward.

2. What did this experience teach you about how strong of a mother you are?
After the initial shock, fear and denial, a quiet determination set in. My doctor had a tentative plan put in place for my treatment, and the instinct to beat what I was faced with kicked in. I call it my survival instincts. As a mother I devoted all of the time I had to Lily, which taught me how I couldn’t live in crisis mode my whole life. I got into a routine and stuck to it. I didn’t think of what time I had left, rather this was just a hurdle I was going to be able to jump over. I very much tried to live in the moment, and adjust to my “new normal” as a mother and a wife.

3. What have you learned from this experience about life and about being afraid?

A cancer diagnosis can take away so much, but I couldn’t let it take away my sense of control over my life. I had to do everything possible to get a hold of the situation, which for me was the healthiest thing I could think of. When I faced my fears, I learned I was stronger than I thought. If you had told me down the line I was going to face a mesothelioma diagnosis, treatment, chemotherapy, radiation, the loss of my lung, and end up beating it, I wouldn’t have believed you.

4. What is your goal with your Lung Leavin' Day Web site and your work with this topic?

I want to inspire people to do as I did. 
I want them to face their fears head on, no matter how hard or overwhelming they may seem. And ultimately I want them to conquer those fears and not let it control them. 

That was a big part of my cancer experience and what I attribute my longevity to. The interactive site was created to help people do as I did, and encourage them to! I also hope to spread awareness on the topic.

5. What do you hope will happen by raising awareness about mesothelioma?
I want to see asbestos banned in the countries that it is still legal in. Asbestos exposure is the primary cause for mesothelioma and as a little girl I was exposed to it from wearing my father's work jacket. He worked in construction and drywall and his coat carried fibers that I had no idea would make me sick as an adult. Mesothelioma has a long latency period which means that symptoms don’t always appear right away, so you could have been exposed and not know until many years down the line. If asbestos had been banned and removed properly, perhaps wouldn’t have gone through what I did.

I try to share my story in hopes that it will help spread the word about this preventable disease, and keep families from dealing with what mine had to go through.

6. What is your advice to women for taking care of their bodies, being overall healthy, and hopefully preventing some cancers?
I think it is important to pay attention to your body. Had I not done that once my symptoms began to creep in, I may not be here today. I had a series of different symptoms which by themselves seem like nothing to worry about (weight loss, exhaustion, trouble sleeping, trouble breathing) but combined there was something very troublesome wrong. My advice would be to not downplay what you are feeling, if you feel something is not right you need to see a doctor. 

Sometimes early detection can be the difference between life and death, which was true in my case. You know your body best.

7. What do you hope your daughter learns from your experience? What is your hope for her?
My hope for Lily is that she sees what I went through and realizes that she was what kept me fighting. My hopes for her are so high and I am blessed to be able to watch her grow every day. I want her to realize that life isn’t about the little things. Every day should be taken in stride and it’s not about if you’re carrying a few extra pounds, or getting the dishes done as soon as someone dirties them. Live in the moment, and enjoy it!

8. Anything else you want to add?
I have my own blog series that really goes into detail about all of the steps that led me to my 10 year cancer free­ anniversary. Each section has its own theme, such as fear/denial, community, motherhood/family. I would love to encourage anyone interested to reach out to me via Facebook or Twitter, and if they’d like to smash their own plate on the Lung Leavin’ Day Page, here are the links:

Facebook -
Twitter -
Lung Leavin’ Day -

Thank you so much for this opportunity! 


It takes two seconds and it's well worth the feeling you get when you write out your fear and then SMASH it like it won't hold you back. Please help raise awareness by talking to your friends about this important topic, sharing Heather's story and reading her blog, liking her Facebook page, donating money toward mesothelioma awareness research, etc. 


a labor of love: TTC by Hyemi Draheim

OK this one made me tear up to read.... 

My sweet, loving, dedicated momma friend Hyemi Draheim has shared her story of trying to conceive both of her beautiful babies. It was a very, very long road for her of years of disappointment. And now, every single time I see her children and her smiling, proud momma face, I know she was meant to go through all of this for these two reasons right here: Noah and Harper. 

Thank you for sharing this with us, Hyemi, and for telling other moms they are NOT at fault for their infertility concerns. Your faith and hope are inspiring to other moms. 

Images shared from Hyemi Draheim

1. How long did you try to get pregnant? Matt and I tried to get pregnant for 2 years before we decided to look into getting some help. 2. How long into the process did you realize something wasn't working? How did you feel at that point? It just hit me all of sudden one day when I had realized I hadn't gotten my period for a while. I used to track them on the calendar so when I looked back and saw I hadn't had my period in over 9 months, I decided to go see my doctor. 3. How would you describe your feelings every month when you realized you were not getting pregnant? Emotional; sad and impatient.  

As each month passed, I wanted it more and more. It really became an obsession. It's all I thought about! 4. What helped you in this situation? What were things people said or did for you to help you feel better? The only people I really talked to about it was my husband and my mom. At that time, I didn't know anyone going through infertility and I wasn't a part of the Mommy Stories yet. Like miscarriage, it wasn't a subject people talked about. Somedays, I really felt alone. My husband and mom were a great support system, but they could only say so much. They didn't know exactly what I was going through, so Google became my BFF. Which everyone knows can be a good or bad thing, but honestly, I learned a lot. 5. What were some challenges, things that made it worse perhaps or that you struggled through?
Seeing people around me getting pregnant was hard. Of course I was incredibly happy for my friends, but I was envious. I wanted to be pregnant too and feel that same joy.  

Some people used to tell me, "well, it's not your time yet", "maybe your body isn't meant to make babies", "adoption is always an option", "it will happen". Yes, I know adoption is an option and yes, I know some women can't have their own babies, but that's not what I wanted to hear! 6. What is your advice to a woman who is desperately trying to get pregnant? Don't get frustrated, get educated. Join a support group. Talk to your doctor to see what options you have. Be open. Talk to people who have been there or going through it and most importantly, have faith. 

7. What is your advice to a mother who has a friend who is not getting pregnant? How can she be there for her friend? Be a shoulder to cry on, an ear that will listen and be someone who won't judge her for the things she will say or may do in a moment. Send her a card with encouraging words; maybe even a little care package with a few of her favorite things to brighten her day. 8. What do you think women don't understand about fertility concerns? One of the things I think some women don't understand is that, it's more common than they think and it's nothing to be ashamed of! I know when I was going through it, I was really feeling bad about myself and guilty. I kept thinking, " the one gift I'm supposed to be able to give to my husband; a baby, I can't give him". I was really mad at my body. When I went to Boston IVF in South Portland, the doctor reassured me it wasn't my fault, we would figure it out together and everything will be ok. 9. What were some feelings you had about yourself, your body, your future as a mother while you were going through this experience? After my miscarriage, I went through a little bit of a dark time. When I got the call to confirm my pregnancy, I was beyond happy! Then when I got the call no woman wants to hear, I was numb. Almost emotionless except for the fact all I could do was cry. Just thinking about going through treatments, the shot, ultrasound after ultrasound, etc I kept getting even more sad, but even more guilty. Like I mentioned above, I kept thinking, " the one gift I'm supposed to be able to give to my husband; a baby, I can't give him".  

I was really mad at my body. I didn't understand why, my body was so messed up. 10. What has this experience taught you about life, about being a mom? This experience has taught me to not sweat the small stuff and patience. I've always thought myself to be pretty easy going and patient anyway, but now that I'm a mom, I make more of a conscious effort. As a mom we have our days where everything frustrates us, but I have to remind myself, if I didn't have my precious babes, my life wouldn't be the same. It would be empty and I would feel like had no purpose. So, if they spill something or make a mess, SO WHAT! I'm happy to clean it up! It has also taught me to make each memory count. Take pictures, write things down, and most importantly, hug them, kiss them and tell them how much you love them every day. They may not remember somewhere you took them, but they will remember how much you love and encourage them.  

11. Any good Web sites, books, resources you found helpful? I didn't really find any books or websites that were helpful. A lot of them I feel like was very generic. I remember my husband telling me I should start a blog where women could speak to real women who have been through the same things and could feel safe. Just like the Mommy Stories. I wish I had listened to him! 12. Anything else you want to share about your experience? Have faith. Even during the darkest of days and you can't see the light at the end, just remember everything happens for a reason and when it's supposed to happen. Boy, when it does, it’s the most amazing feeling. Life will never be the same. "Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase."

a labor of love: TTC by Heather Paradis

I am grateful to Heather Paradis for sharing her story of trying to conceive her first baby, the heartache she felt when it took much longer than expected, and her ultimate joy in delivering a healthy boy.

I have several friends who are in the midst of this difficult time of trying to conceive and it breaks my heart hearing them sound so alone in their struggles. I know there are many women out there who have taken a longer road to starting their family, and it is my hope to feature those strong women here on my blog to help women feel less alone.

Thanks, Heather!

Images shared from Heather Paradis

1. How long did you try to get pregnant? 
We tried for 1 year to get pregnant before seeking the help of a fertility specialist. After which we tried for another 3 months before conceiving our son.

2. How long into the process did you realize something wasn't working? How did you feel at that point?
We knew after about 6 months, as I wasn't cycling. But since i had been on hormonal birth control for so long, we decided to give my body a year to reset itself. When then didn't work, we sought out medical help. 
It was hard on us, me especially, knowing that my body was failing me. Even harder knowing that friends who were not even trying, were unexpectedly expecting.
3. How would you describe your feelings every month when you realized you were not getting pregnant? 
In the beginning, it was devastating, and usually ended in tears. As the year passed, it just became the norm.
4. What helped you in this situation? What were things people said or did for you to help you feel better?
My husband was my rock. He was with me through the entire process. Reassuring me, and providing me with a listening ear, and a shoulder to lean on.

5. What were some challenges, things that made it worse perhaps or that you struggled through? 
Finding out that others were pregnant was by far the hardest part of it all. Another challenge was multiple people asking us when we were going to have a baby, and telling us it was time for us to start our family. We kept our struggles silent except with our parents, and very close friends. We tried to brush the comments off, but over time, they started to wear on us. I will never understand why people feel they have the right to comment on anyone else's family planning. I mean, seriously, its my uterus, not yours (sorry, clearly still a touchy subject, Haha).
6. What is your advice to a woman who is desperately trying to get pregnant? 
Seek help, see a fertility specialist, and learn what options you have. Our doctor was so helpful in creating a path for us. 
Don't give up, keep trying and a path will present itself. It may not be the path you originally envisioned, but it will take you on a beautiful journey.
7. What is your advice to a mother who has a friend who is not getting pregnant? How can she be there for her friend? 
Be a listening ear, and provide them the support they need. Do not over promise. Help keep them grounded to reality. It's vital to not lose yourself in it.
8. What do you think women don't understand about fertility concerns? 
I think women think it's easy to get pregnant for the majority of women, when in fact, many of us struggle. While my path was not as difficult as many women, at the time, it was a very difficult time for me. 
It made me feel like a failure as a woman and a wife. Infertility is not an easy journey, and for me, it felt as if I was alone, like I had never known anyone who struggled as I was.
9. What were some feelings you had about yourself, your body, your future as a mother while you were going through this experience? 
My body was failing me. I was letting myself and my husband down. After learning what my issues were, my attitude towards myself changed. I began to see myself in a more positive light, and change the way I looked at the situation. My child would be my miracle, I worked hard to get to this point, and I would love my baby when it finally happened.
10. What has this experience taught you about life, about being a mom?
The challenges started for me from the beginning, and have made me truly appreciate my child.

11. Any good Web sites, books, resources you found helpful?
Nothing for infertility, but I found what to expect before you're expecting pretty helpful.
12. Anything else you want to share about your experience?
It was a long journey, that ended with my beautiful son. I know that next time we try, we will have options to help us. It may not happen with ease, but it is possible.

We bought that Lotso about 6 months into our journey of TTC. I was super depressed about not conceiving and decided I would give myself something tangible that would be for our future baby. It definitely helped me. I would snuggle it every time I got sad or got yet another negative pregnancy test. To this day, our son still snuggles with it
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