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Monstera Embroidery DIY Collaboration

Candace Brodmann

“Groovy Monstera” by Ellie Pavlichek

“Groovy Monstera” by Ellie Pavlichek

We are so excited to celebrate our new Monstera print with a fun collaboration! Ellie from @Ellie__Makes is kind of an embroidery master around Savannah. We love the textured florals she creates with simple embroidery floss. Ellie designed this beautiful pattern inspired by our Monstera print. Today she is going to walk us through the steps so you can make this gorgeous piece on your own! If you want to skip the craft store shopping, you can purchase a pre-made “Groovy Monstera” kit from Ellie that comes with everything you need plus video tutorials!

“Groovy Monstera” Embroidery Kit!

“Groovy Monstera” Embroidery Kit!


Materials Needed:

Step One – setting up your hoop

Stretch embroidery hoop

Start by opening the top of the embroidery hoop so that the inner hoop comes loose. Don’t take the screw all the way out, just loosen it. Lay the fabric over the inner hoop. There will be enough to fully cover the hoop with some hanging off the sides. Push the outer hoop on to the fabric covered inner hoop. Pull gently to get any folds out of the fabric. Tighten the screw at the top of the outer hoop. Begin to gently pull the fabric around the whole hoop so that the fabric you have caught between the two circles is taunt and tight. You don’t want to pull so hard that you warp the fabric, just tight enough so you can tap your finger on the top without it coming loose. You will need to repeat this step after tracing your pattern to flip it to the outside of the hoop.

Step Two – tracing on your pattern

Find or draw a the motif you would like to embroider. Take your water-soluble maker, frixon pen, or a pencil (use this LIGHTLY and find a good eraser if this is all you have) and lay your hoop with the fabric touching the paper on top of the pattern. Trace the pattern onto your hoop with your marker or pen of choice. Pull it up when you are finished and make sure you didn’t miss any small parts that do not show through the fabric. Take the fabric out and repeat Step One so that the picture is now on the top and no longer on the back inside of the hoop.

Splitting embroidery thread

Step Three – starting the stitch

threading the needle

This embroidery will use the jade green thread in 3 strands. Each DMC floss comes as 6 strands wrapped together. In order to separate the strands, you need to cut the length of the piece you want to use. Then at one of the ends, roll the thread between your fingers until you can see the 6 separate strands. Then take 3 strands in one hand, and 3 in the other. Gently begin to pull them apart from each other. If you pull too fast they can get tangled because they have been wrapped together. Pulling them slowly apart from each other will help them not get tangled. You will only need to do this for the green floss to stitch the monstera leaf. The other stitches use all 6 strands of floss. You will need to thread your needle. This can be one of the most challenging parts of embroidery.

Satin stitch

Step Four – time to stitch

You will be learning these stitches for the following part of this embroidery.

  • Back stitch to outline the monstera leaf

  • Satin stitch to fill in the monstera leaf

  • Lazy daisy stitch to fill in the rest of the fabric

These are common stitches that are used in most embroidery pieces. If you purchase the complete embroidery kit, you will get video tutorials on each stitch.

back stitch

Back stitch

Outline the monstera leaf To back stitch, start anywhere on the outline of the monstera leaf. Make a stitch about a centimeter long, following the outline you drew. To do the next stitch, go a centimeter up from the last stitch you completed, and push the needle up though the fabric. There should be a centimeter gap between the last stitch you did and where you poke the needle back up. Go back and fill in the gap by putting the needle in the last hole of the first stitch. This is the back stitch. Repeat this until you have outlined the entire monstera leaf.

satin stitch

Satin stitch

Fill in the monstera leaf To fill in the leaf, you will be doing long stitches to cover the fabric. You will start by putting your needle up through the fabric next to one of the outline stitches you did. I started in the stem of the leaf. Then go all the way across and push the needle back down next to the other side of the outline. The stitch should cover the whole length of fabric between your outline. I find that stitching at an angle helps me fill in the leaf easier, but you do what feels best for you. Remember, if you don’t like how the stitches are looking you can always cut them out and start again.

Lazy daisy stitch

Fill in the remaining fabric In order to do a lazy daisy stitch, you will need to start my putting your needle up through the middle of the outer flowers drawn on your pattern. Then, push the needle back through the same hole, but do NOT pull the thread back through. Leave it long on the top. You have created a really big loop by doing this. Gently, push the needle up through the top of one of the outlined petals. You do not want to pull the loop you created through. Once you push the needle up at the top of the petal, catch the loop with the needle. Now you can pull the thread so that it goes back through the fabric. The loop should still be caught on the needle. To finish the stitch up, put the needle back through the same hole on the top of the petal so that you have the loop sew in place on the fabric. Repeat this stitch again and again to create all the petals of the flowers. (Swipe through the photos above for the tutorial)

Step Five – finish the piece

When you are happy with your piece and ready to finish it off, you will want to take a wet washcloth and push it where you can still see blue lines from when you traced the pattern. Another option is to take it out of the hoop, rinse the piece off to get the blue off, and hang it to dry before putting it back into the embroidery hoop. Once you have done this, make sure that you have the fabric pulled very taunt, and the top screwed as tightly down as you can get it. I like to hot glue the excess fabric to the inner hoop, and then trim off anything that is left. You can hot glue a card stock circle to the inner circle as well over the fabric to cover the back. Remember to sign and date it so you can always remember when you finished this embroidery piece! 😊

Make sure you follow Ellie on Instagram so you can catch all her latest pieces and kits. How amazing is this one!?

Ellie's Work
ellie pinterest.jpg

DIY Screen Printed Tote Tutorial

Candace Brodmann

Photos by Paprika Southern Magazine

Photos by Paprika Southern Magazine

Welcome to Part 2 of our DIY Farmers’ Market Tote with Moss & Marsh! For Part 1 of this DIY, which includes instructions for sewing your own tote bag, click here.

Candace here again for part 2 of our DIY project! One of the things that has fueled the Moss & Marsh brand is screen printing. Designing repeat patterns is my favorite and having the ability to create completely original fabrics is so satisfying and something that sets our products apart. Today I’m thrilled to show you a simple way for you to do at-home screen-printing. All of the products below can be found at Michaels or your favorite craft store. To celebrate our newest print, Monstera, we’re giving you a free leaf pattern download to use for this project!

Click here to read the DIY Screen printed Tote tutorial on the Paprika Southern blog!

DIY screen printing at home

DIY Farmers’ Market Tote Tutorial

Candace Brodmann

Photos by Paprika Southern.

Photos by Paprika Southern.

Hello lovelies! I’m Candace Brodmann, owner of Moss & Marsh. Part of the reason I started M&M is because I adore making functional things from scratch as well as crafting gifts for people. So, I was super excited when Paprika Southern and I started working on this fun DIY project for you all to enjoy…because who doesn’t love having the perfect bag to stroll through a farmer’s market on a sunny Saturday morning? I’ve always liked whipping up easy projects on the sewing machine and today I’m going to share a quick tote bag tutorial with you.

Click here to read the DIY Farmers’ Market Tote tutorial on the Paprika Southern blog!

DIY Tote Bag Tutorial

Creating Work-Life Balance as a WAHM

Mary Elaine Baker

Balance: to bring into harmony or proportion.

Isn’t that what we all strive for in our lives? I’m fortunate to be a work-at-home-mom (WAHM), and I’d like to share with you a little about how I got here and some tips for creating work-life balance. It’s important to note that achieving balance between work and personal life needs is a moving target, and each person has to work out her own unique solution. However, improving your circumstances is possible if you’re willing to make some changes and establish good habits.

Let’s be honest, working from home sounds ideal. You can control your own schedule, take your work wherever you go, and accomplish all of your work from the comfort of your couch while wearing yoga pants and rocking the messiest of messy buns. Meanwhile, if your child is sick, you don’t have to take a day off from the office or have to leave work in the middle of the day to pick them up. You are more available for your family. What’s not to love? Those were some of the reasons for my decision to leave my former career as a full-time teacher and enter the world of virtual assisting.

I am the co-founder and president of Patriot Advantage, and we have primarily military spouses on our team who work remotely for various clients around the country. My husband Brett and I are passionate about providing work opportunities to military families who are striving to have more balance and stability in their lives. We know first-hand what a blessing it can be and how it can improve the quality of family life.

When I have my initial call with each applicant I’m always very honest about the realities of working from home, especially when the family has young children. The two biggest challenges I’ve personally encountered, and many of my team must overcome, are having to establish our own unique work structure and coping with feelings of being overwhelmed.

Establishing Structure

Having complete freedom to work when it’s most convenient can actually make it more difficult to establish a routine, especially if you are accustomed to a structured work environment imposed by an employer or you have a chaotic schedule at home. Fortunately, there are some helpful techniques for establishing structure.

Failure to plan is a plan to fail.

Create a daily routine and use an online calendar that you review every Sunday for the upcoming week, then review and update it each day. Schedule every meaningful thing you do throughout the day. For example, my calendar includes events for waking up and getting the kids ready, travel time to drop off my daughter at school, time for exercising and completing my personal morning routine, and time for sitting down to focus on work. You will also find blocks of time when I am not available for phone calls and meetings, all of my children’s activities, and even my husband’s activities. A good idea is to also include your meal plan for the week. Both my husband and I use a Google calendar. I “invite” him to all the activities he needs to be aware of, and I add pertinent notes in the invitation.

Find your most productive hours.

Don’t do laundry and don’t wash the dishes when you’re most alert. If your mind works better early in the morning, make that your scheduled time to work. If you have young children who are not in school yet take advantage of nap time, or if they don’t have a nap time, establish a consistent daily “quiet time”. I strongly encourage not using technology as a way to distract them on a regular basis or for extended amounts of time. I get it, trust me. I have an eight year old and a four year old, and I’ve had my fair share of desperate moments over the years when I needed them occupied so I could work. It’s so convenient and easy to hand your child a tablet or turn on the TV in an attempt to steal away some uninterrupted time to focus. What we can’t ignore, however, is compelling data that doing this consistently and frequently is harmful for children. While a simple Google search yields many available resources, click here for one excellent article on encouraging independent play for toddlers.

Enlist help!

Are you friends with another WAHM? An affordable way to have help during the week is taking turns with a trusted friend or family member who is also home with small children. Alternating a day of the week when you can each receive a long break and uninterrupted time to focus can be very helpful. If you don’t have that friend in your life yet, join mom groups and start networking! Join a local online community and attend meet-ups. If one doesn’t exist in your area, create one! It can be hard to put yourself out there, especially if you tend to be introverted, but it’s so important to have a small tribe of people who are going through similar life situations who can be mutually supportive with help and advice. Working from home can sometimes feel isolating. Leave the house, get some sunshine, and connect with others.

Sara Dasher Photography

Sara Dasher Photography

Coping with Feelings of Being Overwhelmed

Your client is calling you, the baby is crying, you have to make dinner, and you have a thousand other items on your to-do list that need to be complete by the end of the day. Sound familiar? Part of your normal schedule needs to be taking care of yourself!

Mornings matter.

I’ve listened to multiple podcasts, attended numerous conferences, and read blogs and books by different speakers, authors, and entrepreneurs that all give the same message: Start your mornings strong. This may require you to wake up before your family. I personally love waking up when the house is quiet and I can sip my coffee slowly. I read a devotional, set my intentions for the day, get myself ready, and listen to a podcast that nurtures my mind. If you’re able to throw in 30 minutes of exercise in the morning, do it! On the days that I stick with my morning routine it makes a significant positive impact. Establishing a new habit can be difficult. Creating a productive morning routine is one habit that’s been a game changer for me personally.

Set personal boundaries.

Don’t take calls before and after set hours. Establish your normal business hours and stick to them. As soon as you respond to a client during hours that are dedicated to your family or yourself you create an unrealistic expectation for your client that is not sustainable long term. Excepting true emergencies, be protective of your time.

Clock out.

Turn off notifications on your phone when you have “clocked out” for the day and don’t sleep with your phone beside your bed. It’s so easy to feel like you can’t truly disconnect from work if you constantly have notifications going off and you look at your phone before you go to sleep and first thing in the morning. Get a traditional alarm clock, or if you prefer use an electronic assistant such as Amazon Alexa to set alarms.

Be realistic.

Many of us have a natural tendency to say “yes” when asked to do something because we don’t want to disappoint others. It takes a healthy level of self awareness to know, understand, and respect your limitations and the reality of your capacity. Learn what that capacity is and how to say “no” kindly but firmly. Set realistic deadlines, manage expectations, and be kind to yourself by setting aside time for rest and relaxation.

Celebrate all victories.

No matter how small! Give yourself a pat on the back and reward yourself! We seldom celebrate our own successes and just keep moving on to the next item on our priority list. Slow down and recognize yourself for what you’ve accomplished. Call someone and share the good news! Treat yourself with a healthy reward and practice writing down your successes.

Sara Dasher Photography

Sara Dasher Photography

The competing demands working mothers face daily challenge us be there for our families, contribute some (or all) of the household income for material needs, and still have a modicum of time for ourselves. Getting the balance right is tough, but achievable. Are you a WAHM? What techniques do you find helpful for maintaining balance? What other challenges do you face?

-Mary Elaine Baker



5 Keys to a More Stress-Free Mom Life

Julia Cruzan

julia blog.png

Today, I have the pleasure of being a guest writer for Moss & Marsh Blog offering some tips to make parenting easier. 

Being a mom is far from easy. No one day with kids is ever the same but, I wanted to share 5 keys to a more stress-free mom life. Who doesn't want to be a little less stressed? It's taken a few trials to figure out what works for our family, but I promise incorporating any one of these strategies will help you feel more productive and less anxious so you can enjoy motherhood even more!



 As parents, we tend to put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect. Pinterest sure doesn't help when it comes to planning birthday parties, packing Instagram-worthy bento box lunches and teacher appreciation gifts for example. It's gotten out of hand! In the big picture, your kids will not remember those things. They will remember how you loved them and how you made them feel. Stop putting that pressure on yourself and just be the best parent you can for your child! Doing this alone will help you enjoy parenting so much more.



Kids thrive on structure and routines. My kids come to expect certain things at certain times each day.  For example, my girls know exactly what they need to do in the morning. We wake them, they head straight for the bathroom and brush their teeth, then change their clothes, put on socks and shoes, pick out a snack for school, and I do their hair once I get the babies ready. Most mornings there are no fights and no need for me to remind them of what to do next. A daily routine will help your day run smoother, make you feel less stressed and your kids will feel empowered as well. 



Time is the biggest trigger for stress. Not enough time in the morning or not getting everything done at night. I've had plenty of mornings where I am running around like a chicken with its head cut off and often times those are the mornings I end up forgetting something and feeling super anxious. Preparation is very important. Give yourself 15 extra minutes. Whether you choose to do it at night or in the morning. Use the time wisely and prepare. For example, I check the kids folders and make lunches at night. This saves me time in the morning. Another example, in the morning I'll get the babies' socks and shoes together before they wake up. It's one tiny task that saves me time. Giving up sleep can be hard but I find just giving yourself an extra 15 minutes makes a world of difference. 


Figuring out what to cook during the week for the family, especially with picky eaters, can be a huge stress. I find that planning out my meals for the week makes dinners so much more enjoyable for everyone and it also makes budgeting and grocery shopping easier. We only grocery shop once a week so it's nice to only have to make the one trip instead of picking up items as we need them. I am always looking for healthy, easy, and kid-friendly meals on Pinterest. Every Sunday as I am drinking my coffee I make a list. Everyone knows what we are having and I have less fights and arguments about what we are eating.  I even assigned my pickiest eater some homework. She gives me a list of things she will eat and that way it makes my job easier when I go looking for recipes to incorporate her choices.  Check out Moss & Marsh’s blog post on monthly meal planning!


Parenting can be overwhelming and there are some days you count down the time until the kids go to bed. During the day, when you're feeling super anxious or you find yourself ready to explode on the kids, take a moment to leave the room, breathe and count to 10. Just taking a few minutes to reset will not only help you, but possible prevent a damaging episode with the kids. There are some great apps you can download that help you with this. One, for example, is called Stop, Breathe & Think. It's an app that reminds you to just stop and breathe with mindful guided relaxation series depending on how much time you have. 


Are there some strategies that have worked for you that I did not mention above? Comment below and share because I would love to incorporate more ideas if it makes parenting easier and less-stressful! Thanks for reading today's post and join me over on my blog, Glitter & Juls. I blog about my adventures in motherhood as a mom of four and also share affordable fashion inspiration for the every day gal! 

5 Tips for Organizing Your Nursery

Kate Jones

Hi mamas! My name is Kate and I’m the Owner + Lead Organizer for Orchid Organizing here in Savannah, GA. Although, I only have a furry daughter myself, we often organize for new moms and expecting moms, too! Candace was so sweet to ask for my advice on how to create a nursery that’s both useful and organized. So, here are 5 helpful tips for organizing your nursery:

1. Set the room up from bottom to top.

This may seem like a no-brainer but your baby is small and they start their lives living in the bottom two-ish feet of a room. When you’re organizing and setting up your baby’s nursery, you need to think from the bottom and go up. This means keeping the floor clear of anything but necessities and a couple baskets of toys. The more items on the floor or within their reach, the easier it is for them to get into something they shouldn’t. Hang Moss & Marsh towels up high, store diaper bags on a shelf and keep baby products up out of reach.

2. Soft is best.

Going off tip #1, your baby is going to get into everything that’s on the floor. Heavy wicker and wire baskets or wooden crates are beautiful, but will hurt her when she tries to pull up and it flips over. Instead, opt for soft-sided baskets like these from Pottery Barn.

3. Create a diaper caddy.

Diaper changes are so much easier when you have everything you need together and within reach. Use a clear container like this to store the essentials: diaper cream, nail clippers, a few diapers, Moss & Marsh burp cloths and a swaddle.


4. Reminisce on college days.

Make your baby a shower caddy, just like you used to have in the dorms. Have it stocked with shampoo, a Moss & Marsh bath mitt and a cup for rinsing. Having it in a clear container or caddy will make it easy to grab what you need. Make sure you have your hooded towel within reach for when bath time is over, so you aren’t scrambling to find one. And when you’re done with bath time, you can put it back up on a high shelf so her little hands can’t get into it.

5. Hang baby’s outfits together.

To make getting your wiggly baby dressed a little bit easier, hang all the pieces of an outfit together. For example, put a onesie, overalls and matching Moss & Marsh bib all on one hanger so it’s just grab-and-go.

These are just a few tips to help you get you baby’s nursery organized. We’d love to know, what organizing tips have worked best for you? Which ones of these do you plan to try? Comment below and let us know!

Where to find us: We’ve had so much fun sharing with you our favorite ways to organize a nursery. For more organizing tips and tricks, follow us on Instagram, on Facebook, and on our Blog. We love to hear from you about what you’d like to hear more of and what organizing products you love, so drop us a line or send us a DM!

5 Tips for Organizing Your Nursery

When you plan an Insta-worthy life but end up in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy

Leah Trotter


It’s no secret that social media has changed the way we perceive our lives. I am so guilty of gushing over how perfect the lives of others seem through the screen. I was well on the way to my very own picture perfect family when life stopped in its tracks. My whole world fell apart during a season (this season) when everyone is celebrating, cheerful, and thankful. I became an island of secret sadness and grief; a zombie amongst the Christmas elves. When my son was a newborn, the beloved holidays turned on me and became only painful reminders. My name is Leah and two years ago during this beautiful season of giving, my son was being taken from me.


My son, lovingly known as Jack Jack, was born on July 23, 2016. I was the happiest I had ever been as the wife of my college sweetheart (Cliff), mom to a vibrant 3- year-old daughter (Rowan), and now the mom of a newborn son (Jack). Rowan went straight to NICU when she was born for breathing difficulties, so I was overjoyed to have a “normal” experience this time around. Everything was great; I had Jack on a Saturday morning and we were home by Monday evening. I started thinking that this having babies business wasn’t so hard after all. And this is where I must forgive my younger naïve self because you just don’t know what you don’t know. And all the while I was soaring through pregnancy, labor, delivery, and the first few days of Jack’s life, he was silently struggling to survive. You know how the saying goes, the higher you fly…and boy did we ever fall far. Jack was life-flighted to a leading Children’s hospital when he was five days old because he was in status epilepticus. Status is just prolonged seizure activity with no recovery. I thought I was in a fictional episode of something when I first heard the words status epilepticus. Let’s be honest, it sounds made up or like some sort of Harry Potter spell. No such luck, though. Reality is so much more raw than watching other people through Instagram or your favorite TV show.

I’m so excited to share Jack’s journey with a rare genetic and neurometabolic disorder called Pyridoxine Dependent Epilepsy. However, before I do, I want to share something even more important. This is something I wish I could go back and tell myself, tell my family & friends, and shout from all the freaking rooftops. We are the writers of our own narratives and even when it feels like there is nothing left, we are still in control of the narrative. No one else can write your story, especially not a doctor. DON’T let a doctor or a diagnosis dictate the way you feel about your life or make you question your own feelings. Don’t confuse a doctor’s opinion with your own feelings because I have done this so many times and each of these times, I failed my son. He needed me to be his voice and speak up, not take what a doctor said as infallible. I want to make sure I never make this mistake again so now I advocate every day to make sure other mamas in similar positions don’t feel so painstakingly alone. My life is different than I thought it would be for sure, but it is so much more beautiful than any previously planned insta worthy life. So instead of feeling sad when I write this story, I feel proud to be Jack’s mom and proud to be vulnerable if it helps even one person.


baby jack epilepsy.jpg

Jack was admitted to PICU at the children’s hospital that I previously mentioned, and he spent 5 days there before being transferred to a neuro floor with the diagnosis of HIE (Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy). The neurologist who delivered this news was noticeably upset and told us that this meant Jack would have Cerebral Palsy (CP). The way this neurologist delivered the news was absolutely devastating. I had no idea what CP truly was and the doctor didn’t take time to explain. She just acted like we should be devastated because this meant our son had a severe brain injury and so we obliged and were absolutely devastated. If I had known ANYTHING at all about the CP warriors that I know today then I would have never felt devastated because I would have known the possibilities for my child and known there was so much hope. But unfortunately, our world chooses time and again NOT to celebrate or show different abilities so instead of hope, we have fear. If I can replace anyone’s fear with hope then my job is done and my heart is full. I am here to be transparent about our journey in hopes that the world will also learn to embrace differences and accept people as is instead of always looking for perfection.

rowan and jack.jpg

After our first life-altering hospitalization with Jack, we immediately started early intervention to try and compensate for what had been damaged in Jack's brain. Jack was placed on many medications, including a large dose of phenobarbital to control his seizures. We swallowed his bitter diagnosis as well as the treatment plan and started again. The further from the hospital our lives got, the more hopeful we grew. Unfortunately, Jack required more hospitalizations within weeks for breakthrough seizures. He was hospitalized 3 different times before being admitted again to PICU at 11-weeks-old in status epilepticus. This time the narrative that was slowly spiraling out of control again would become even more unimaginable. During this horrific hospitalization, Jack was inpatient just over two weeks. He suffered so many seizures, including an incredibly rare type called gelastic seizures. Gelastic seizures are uncontrollable fits of laughter and most often associated with a certain type of brain tumor, as we were informed. Thus, when Jack went in for a special kind of MRI known as an MRS, we knew he had a brain tumor but we were hopeful that he could beat it. Never could we have imagined the cruel results this test would bring. We met with the team to finally get the dreaded results. There were three doctors, along with my mom, my mother-in-law, myself, and my husband. They brought in a big computer screen to show us the MRS like we would understand anything through the crushing blow they were about to deliver. We were told that Jack had Mitochondrial Disease and in no uncertain terms that he would not live long. We were told to stop all therapies, go home, and love our baby. We met with Palliative Care, got our special new medical supplies for Jack’s care, a new list of medications, and were sent out into the world to live out something that you would expect to see on Grey’s Anatomy; only on Grey’s, Derek Shepherd would come running to save the day.

Over the next few months Jack was hospitalized four more times, but proved that he wasn’t going anywhere. I was no longer listening to the doctors just because they were doctors. I was letting Jack and my mama instincts lead me in the best way they could. I was making the best of our new life, even if that meant frequent hospitalizations. It was a privilege to fight for my son and that’s exactly what I had to do. I decided I was no longer living out a Grey’s Anatomy nightmare, but instead had to become more of a no-nonsense Sons of Anarchy-type mama so the doctors would hear me. So when Jack was hospitalized in December of 2016 after weeks of struggling with severe seizures and no relief, I came in like a wrecking ball…and I mean hot!!! During this two-week hospitalization, it was beyond clear that Jack was finally fighting for his life for good. We missed our daughter’s 4th birthday and almost Christmas during this pinnacle hospitalization. BUT like some sort of Christmas miracle, the genetic testing our son’s neurologist had sent off almost 3 months prior came back. Just like that, as simple as unwrapping a gift, we had an answer to everything. The doctors had overlooked something in the very beginning as Jack’s presentation was not exactly typical of this disorder. Jack was diagnosed with a gene mutation of his ALDH7A1, causing the rare neurometabolic disorder called Pyridoxine Dependent Epilepsy. This time we were told that not only was our son going to live, but there was a also treatment for his disorder that could likely give him a good quality of life. It was hard to believe the same doctors who had just told us months before that there was no hope for our son were now not only giving us hope, but giving us our son’s life back.


Again, this diagnosis was presented grimly as there are still many lifelong issues PDE patients must deal with, including developmental delays and severe communication deficits. In addition, Jack still had a brain injury due to an undiagnosed neurometabolic disorder that wreaked havoc on his brain for 6 months. We knew there was no way to know how he would develop, but I was determined to prove everyone wrong and give Jack back the time that had been wrongfully taken from him. I had been given the most precious gift and I knew I had to fight to help him regain his quality of life. This meant that we started a rigorous schedule of feeding, physical, occupational, and speech therapies. In addition, Jack was able to wean off ALL AEDs (anti-epilepsy drugs) because his specific disorder is controlled through diet. He is on what is known as Triple Therapy for PDE. He gets a special lysine and tryptophan free formula, arginine supplement, and a high dose of Pyridoxine (B6). I am beyond thrilled to share that after starting this treatment, Jack’s seizures became under control within 6 months and he has been seizure free for a little over a year now. Jack’s life is still super busy with therapy appointments. He does 2 sessions of Speech therapy, 2 sessions of Physical Therapy, and 2 sessions of Occupational Therapy each week. In addition, Jack attends a music class as a therapy option and endures many mommy in-home PT/OT/ST activities. He has a Gtube for his medically necessary formula and supplements. He is also able to eat by mouth now, but has a very strict low protein diet to ensure the success of the triple therapy method of treatment. Jack recently learned how to walk after much work in PT and the help of a Kaye Walker. He still struggles in many areas and is globally developmentally delayed in all areas. But if you ask Jack, I know he thinks he is the king of the world just like all kids do and should at his age Jack’s disorder has led to many other diagnoses, including CP, Sensory Processing Disorder, Apraxia, ASD, and more. But one of the most important things I have learned is that these labels and diagnoses mean nothing. They are important because they help kiddos get the therapies they need and help guide care, but they are not synonymous with your child and the doctors who hand them down do not dictate how you feel.


So if the whole world and especially the holidays seem to be turning against you, remember that you get to control this narrative! And when you don’t want to be in control, just turn on Grey’s and watch someone else’s fictional life go to sh*t. We are all insta worthy, even if we are bursting at the seams trying to navigate a life less traveled. I learned this the hard way, but I am here to tell you that it is true! Don’t accept defeat and devastation just because someone hands it you. Emily Perl Kingsley’s beautiful poem about raising a special needs child is truly the best way to describe what life is like when you find yourself on a journey that’s much different from the one you planned. Please read below and thanks for sticking with me! I love connecting with other moms and helping in any way I can so please reach out if you would like to connect or have any questions. I currently serve on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Family Advisory Council where we work to make sure the family voice is heard throughout CHOA. In addition,

I’m incredibly passionate about helping others with PDE and other metabolic disorders/epilepsy. I recently applied to go to the capitol with Rare Advocates to work on getting PDE added to the newborn screening so no child or family will ever suffer the way we did again.

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When you plan an Insta-worthy life but end up in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy

A Halloween Birth Story

Candace Brodmann

I treated my pregnancy as though I was in the back seat, along for the ride. The entire process was a new adventure, or this is how I chose to look at it instead of being terrified. For those of you who don’t know me I’m someone who usually faints at the discussion of medical procedures. If there is blood being drawn or a shot in sight, forget it, good bye, I’m out. I was even known to pass out and have seizures from a simple shot. But my baby gave me strength to overcome these fears. I knew I had to be strong for her and for our future together. I took an extended birthing class to help me understand instead of fear and that really helped me - I advise it for those of you who have fear and anxiety in the unknown.


Overall, I had a mild pregnancy, some nausea and heartburn, but no complications, thank the Lord. But you came here to read the birth story, so let’s get on with that shall we?

October 31, 2014, 7:30 am, my husband wakes to get ready for work. This, of course, reminds me I need to get up to pee for like the fifth time since I went to bed. I stand up and think, “did I just pee myself?”. Harry (my husband) gets out of the shower and I tell him, “I don’t think you’re going to work, honey”, that’s right, my water broke! I’m trying to stay calm, while Harry is loading the car with the go-bag and carseat. As he is strapping the car seat in, he looks over to see the neighbors loading skeletons into their car. Oh, right…it’s Halloween. We’re not big Halloween people and with a November 11 due date we never really considered this happening. We laughed about it as we headed to the hospital.

We arrived in the emergency room to find all of the nurses dressed in costume. Great, just what you want, a Ninja Turtle delivering your baby. Luckily, all of the labor and delivery nurses were dressed as vintage nurses, which I adored. I honestly thought it was their real uniform. When I complimented them, they quickly laughed and said, “girl, I would not work here if I had to wear tights!”.

After getting checked in, the doctor informed me I was barely a centimeter dilated. My birth plan, per what I learned in my class, was to wait as long as I could to get the epidural. My reason for this was so the baby and myself were not extremely drugged once she arrived. We began playing the waiting game. My contractions were not too bad at this point. That afternoon the doctor informed me that I was still not dilating, she advised giving me pitocin to speed up the process. This scared me. I waited another hour with no results, so I went ahead with the pitocin. That stuff is no joke. My plan of waiting on the epidural did not last long after that.

We called for the epidural. I mentioned I have a needle phobia right? I was beyond thankful for my husband during this moment, he protected me from the sight and held me up. Ok, for real I just had to stop typing and take a breather because the thought of this moment made me light headed. I sat facing away from the door (so I wouldn’t see it) on the bed and Harry held me upright and still. Harry says I didn’t scream much throughout the whole labor, but this was the worst. I have to agree. If you plan to get an epidural, please don’t let this deter you, it was worth having, I’m just being honest!

Now the plan was to try to relax and let my body and gravity do the work. They angled the bed upwards and positioned my legs in the stirrups to get things moving. The doctor began checking my progress hourly. (Side note - a male doctor from my obgyn was on call, not my doctor. I was not comfortable with this, so we decided to have the (female) resident physician perform my checks and delivery.) The day was creeping into the evening and we were wondering if today would in fact be “the birth day”. The nurses told me the woman in the next room was having her fourth child and she would probably go before me, because the first time takes more pushing.

At 10 pm, the doctor came in to check me and told me, “you’re ready, let’s try to push”. This is the point when I was so happy I chose this doctor. Yes, she was new, but she was eager and excited to help me through. It wasn’t just another day on the job, which is the vibe I got from the doctor on-call. She talked me through how to push with my body and when to do it. This may sound like an easy thing to do, but when you’re numb from the waist down it gets tricky. When nothing happened with the first few pushes, she asked me if I wanted to wait a bit until she was further down so I didn’t tire myself out. By this time I could feel my contractions above where the epidural was inserted, and the only thing that alleviated the pain was pushing. I opted to keep trying. Let me tell you this biggest pushing tip: if you do yoga, you know how you have to rotate your pelvis forward in mountain pose? That’s what I did to push! And guess what? After 30 minutes of pushing, there she was! My beautiful, healthy baby girl arrived (crying her head off) at 10:51 pm, 19 inches and 7lbs 4oz. Oh, and by the way, I delivered before that other mom ;) don’t tell me I can’t.

What an amazing experience to be “along for the ride”. One thing I learned, that I’ve learned with every major event in my life (you’d think it would sink in) is that your plan may not be THE plan. Be flexible and content because everything happens for a reason.

Cut Your Grocery Spending in Half: Monthly Meal Planning

Candace Brodmann

Pictured: Moss & Marsh  Shopping Cart Cover

Pictured: Moss & Marsh Shopping Cart Cover

Who likes grocery shopping every week? Last month I was sitting down to decide what meals to make that week and create my grocery list. Then I thought, what if I planned meals for the month? So, I took fifteen extra minutes, a calendar and got to work.

Now, I’m in my second month of monthly meal planning and I can’t wait to share all the benefits with you. I cut my grocery spending in half and here’s why:

  • Buy in bulk, spend less.

  • Less time grocery shopping.

  • Less impulse buying. Think about it, every time you shop you end up with more than the items on your list.

  • Less eating out because you don’t know what to fix for dinner. I don’t always stick to the exact calendar schedule, but I always have ideas to choose from.

So, here’s how to do it!

Pictured: Moss & Marsh  Shopping Cart Cover . Photo by Abravemess.com

Pictured: Moss & Marsh Shopping Cart Cover. Photo by Abravemess.com

  1. Find a calendar (I used a template in microsoft word) and head to your favorite recipe source, mine is pinterest.

  2. Map out your meals each week - I only do about four meals a week and we eat leftovers the other nights and for lunch.

  3. Plan for those nights where you don’t feel up to cooking. Find some healthy prepared frozen meals or try What’s for Dinner? !

Once you have your meals picked, it’s time to make your grocery list. Remember to buy in bulk and plan for the whole month! For example, if you’re having ground beef three times in the month, buy a 3lb pack (adjust for family size) instead of a single pack for the week. Next rule, buy frozen vegetables. This doesn’t mean you can’t eat fresh, you can buy fresh produce for the first week and pick up more throughout the month, or stop by a local produce stand. Last, don’t forget snacks, lunch items, and household products. I started using Amazon prime subscription service for things like toilet paper and paper towels to cut out the bulky items when shopping for a month.

Below is a sample monthly meal plan with linked recipes and a grocery list. You will probably have to adjust the list to suit your family’s needs. I try to stick to a primarily Paleo diet (no starch or dairy), but you can easily add cheese or grains to these recipes. If you don’t get it right the first month, don’t give up. I was more prepared on my second monthly grocery shopping trip and so far I’ve only returned to the store once for a few produce items!

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Grocery list does not include snacks and children’s lunches etc, customize to make your own!

Grocery list does not include snacks and children’s lunches etc, customize to make your own!


Salmon foil packs

Shepherd’s Pie

Turkey Meatballs

Paleo pancakes

Chicken Enchilada Soup

Asian Turkey Lettuce Wraps

My Recipes:

Buffalo chicken stuffed sweet potatoes- cook chicken breasts and shred. Toss in buffalo sauce. Stuff in cooked sweet potatoes. Top with ranch or blue cheese.

Sausage Breakfast Skillet - Cook sausage in skillet. Remove from skillet. Then sauté’ shredded sweet potato. Layer sweet potato and sausage on plate, serve with fried egg on top.

For baked chicken, pork chops, sautéed fish and tacos I typically pick up seasoning packs or marinades to make life easy!

20190215_141755_0001.pngCut Your Grocery Spending in Half: Monthly Meal Planning

Infant Nutrition: Common Problems & Solutions

Jessica Donaldson

Hi, I’m Dr. Jessica Donaldson from Children’s Care at Memorial Health! Today’s topic on nutrition and feeding concerns is something I deal with on a regular basis because I take care of hundreds of children, and, in many ways, their parents also. So, here is my advice on infant nutrition. 

(Disclaimer: these are general recommendations, and are derived from the American Academy of Pediatrics, however make sure to still discuss specific concerns for your child with the Pediatrician who knows your child, as these recommendations may not apply to every situation)

First, breastfeeding! 

Pictured: Moss & Marsh  Nursing Cover . Photo By  Monica Jean Photography .

Pictured: Moss & Marsh Nursing Cover. Photo By Monica Jean Photography.

Breastfeeding has gained a lot of traction from a medical perspective in the last several decades, however it is really an age-old practice that has always stood the test of time.  So, why so much publicity now?  The medical community has discovered and proved there are so many benefits for both baby and mom!  Just to name a few:

  • Breastfeeding lowers your baby’s risk of asthma and allergies, plus babies who are exclusively breastfed for 6 months have fewer ear infections, respiratory infections, and diarrhea illnesses! 

  • If that doesn’t sell you- it also helps moms get back to their pre-pregnancy weight, by increasing your body’s metabolism through all that milk production. 

Breastfeeding isn’t all easy and happy though- it can be quite difficult to get the hang of, and many moms get discouraged.  The reasons I see moms stop breastfeeding are not “I don’t think it’s best for me or my baby” or “I don’t think it’s important.”  The top 3 reasons I hear on a daily basis are: painful nipples, perceived or real lack of milk supply, or lack of support.  These 3 reasons are usually able to be overcome with the right information. 

Pictured: Moss & Marsh  Nursing Cover . Photo By  Monica Jean Photography .

Pictured: Moss & Marsh Nursing Cover. Photo By Monica Jean Photography.

Here’s my advice for breastfeeding problems: 

Painful nipples are typically an indication that the baby’s latch isn’t quite right.  It’s important your baby has a wide-open mouth to latch on comfortably.  Other latch problems can be addressed by your Pediatrician or Lactation Consultant, either from the Newborn Nursery in the hospital, or at your Pediatrician’s office.  The support is out there- just ask!  Prolonged sucking more than 30 minutes can also cause pain.  Babies should not need to feed on one breast for more than 30 minutes.  If they are, either they are not really feeding, but may be using you as a pacifier, or perhaps, the latch is not correct and they’re having trouble sucking/getting milk.  In general, fixing the latch and suck will help the pain resolve, although it may take 1-2 weeks for the nipples to fully heal.  In the meantime, Lanolin cream can help.  I can’t stress enough- reach out to your Pediatrician or Lactation Consultant for help- don’t be afraid or embarrassed, it is something we talk about every day at work, and a little support can go a long way!

Worried their baby isn’t getting enough milk?  First, know that babies are not supposed to get a large volume of milk the first 2-3 days after birth.  Your body makes Colostrum, a thick nutrient-rich version of milk, which gives babies a chance to take in less volume and still get nutrients while they’re learning to nurse.  This gives your body a chance to ramp up the milk production as well.  This is a normal process, and milk production is expected to come in more fully by 3-5 days after birth.  So, be patient before you jump to formula to supplement!  Secondly, if you’re not making much milk after the first 3-5 days, 90% of the poor milk supply in this time frame is due to inadequate milk removal from the breast.  The more the baby nurses and removes milk, the more your body makes- a supply and demand process.  If baby is having a hard time with latching or emptying the breast at first, try pumping to stimulate your body to make more milk in the meantime.  Often moms, being concerned for their baby, may jump to supplementing formula (not that formula is bad, and we’ll talk about that next) but adding on formula means the baby may not nurse as long or as frequently, removing less milk from your breasts, causing even decreased milk production.  This can be a tricky cycle, because you may be tempted to offer more formula to keep the baby full.  Offering formula is not a bad thing, but if you want to keep breastfeeding also, you’ve got to keep eliminating milk from the breasts either by nursing frequently, or with a pump at least every 3-4 hours, just as if your baby was solely nursing.  So, stop worrying about which supplements to take to increase your supply, and spend more time regularly pumping.  As I said, this will fix 90% of the poor milk supply problem!  And remember- the content of your milk is dependent on your diet and general health, so keep taking those Prenatal vitamins and maintain a healthy diet and good hydration to keep your breastmilk full of good nutrients!

Going back to work. Another reason moms may stop breastfeeding, is they may be planning to go back to work.  Again, this is a lack of support issue.  Moms, know your rights- there is a federal law that requires all companies (with at least 50 employees) to provide the time and space suitable for mothers to pump during the workday.   Also, most insurance companies are required to cover a double electric breastpump free of charge for nursing mothers.  Electric pumps are much faster and easier than manual ones :)

Here are some quick facts about breastmilk storage:  At room temperature, clean (meaning baby hasn’t started to drink out of the bottle and contaminated the milk) expressed breastmilk can last 4-8hours, in the fridge- 4-8 days, frozen- 9-12 months, and thawed-24 hours.   

What’s the scoop on formula?

Pictured: Moss & Marsh  Burp Cloth  and  Bandana Bib . Photo By  Adlib Photography.

Pictured: Moss & Marsh Burp Cloth and Bandana Bib. Photo By Adlib Photography.

Ok, but maybe, apart from the above reasons, breastfeeding is not right for you or your baby.  What’s the scoop on formula? Why all the different versions?  Be careful not to fall for all the ads- formula companies are like all companies, they want to make money.  Here’s what to know about formula: All brands of formulas are required by the FDA to contain the recommended vitamins and nutrients for infants.  They all are supplemented with iron (good for baby’s brain growth), and have 19-20 calories/ounce.  So that means the generic brand formulas are nutritionally the same as other “name brand” formulas!  This is a great place to save money!  Apart from the recommended and standardized nutrient content, there is not a lot of research on other additives in formulas.  So although different brands may advertise “for spitting up” or “helps gas,” these things are not necessarily proven by ‘gold-standard’ research.  And while we’re talking spitup: 70% of babies will spitup, and the majority of those babies will continue to grow and develop normally and “grow out” of their reflux by 6-7 months of age. As my elder colleague in our practice always says, “Spitup is a laundry problem, not a medical problem!”  (Obviously, there are certain situations when changing formulas or addressing spitups are important, so again, still talk with your Pediatrician about your baby’s situation!)

One last thing on infant nutrition- Vitamin D! 

Every baby needs a vitamin D supplement.  Breastmilk content of Vitamin D is variable, and babies who are formula fed do not get enough from the formula until they are taking 30oz/day.  Being Vitamin D deficient puts your baby at risk for Rickets and bone growth problems- which are totally preventable with a daily Vitamin D supplement, which is recommended from birth until babies are taking more Vitamin D fortified solid foods or 30oz of formula /day (around 6-9months). 

Stay tuned for Part 2 on Toddler nutrition!

Infant Nutrition: Common Problems & Solutions

"My baby girl has WHAT?!"

Kerry Kavlie

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

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Everyone has a tribe.  It is how we survive.  When you first become a parent, you suddenly find yourself wanting to be surrounded by others who are finding joy in the piles of diapers and sleepless nights.  There is something special about the bond that happens between two people who are on the same journey.  (I guess they always say that misery loves company.)  We were created to be in a community and to live life each day to its fullest…together.  It is how we thrive instead of just survive.

Tribes, however, are fluid and seem to be constantly changing.  We grow and our change interests.  We relocate because of school and work. Sometimes a new tribe comes crashing down on you when you least expect it. That’s exactly what happened to me in the fall of 2012.  It was a day that I will never forget.  It was the day when I first heard the words, “Your child has cancer.”

“My baby girl has WHAT?!”  I remember uttering those same words over the phone to my 24-month-old’s pediatrician late one Tuesday evening.  She had just been to her routine well check the day before.  Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.  As soon as we left the office, I made the typical post-appointment call to the grandparents to let them know that their granddaughter nailed her well check like a champ.  We were all completely clueless as to what was about to happen.

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You can see why I was taken slightly off-guard when I received that dreaded call.  At first, it didn’t seem abnormal until he started asking me very detailed questions about my daughter (who just so happened to be playing beside me on the floor).  Was she feverish?  Was she black and blue anywhere?  Was she having night sweats?   Was she pale? The questions kept coming and were becoming more and more bizarre.  I just simply answered “no” every time.  She looked great and was acting totally normal (if “normal” is even possible when referring to a two-year-old).  The pediatrician proceeded to tell me that her routine bloodwork showed that she had leukemia.  He said that the results were odd since she was not showing any symptoms. Yet, he had already scheduled an appointment for her at the hospital the very next morning.  We were hoping for the best, but already bracing for the worst.

The following morning, the new bloodwork did, indeed, reveal that my little girl had cancer in her blood. It was there that I began to meet my new tribe—doctors, nurses, child life specialists, and other volunteers that would soon be our cheerleaders along this journey that we were dreading.  I remembered being ushered to our room (our new “home away from home”), with my husband by my side and our daughter in our arms. Tears were streaming down my face.  At that point, I already knew God had a plan.  It was just so hard when I really couldn’t see it.

The first 24 hours at the hospital were filled with a surgery for her port, blood transfusions, her first of many spinal taps and bone marrow aspirations, and first of countless bags of chemo.  At some point, her oxygen levels dropped and my seemingly healthy baby girl, won us our first trip to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit when she passed out in my arms in her hospital bed.  The next two years were a whirlwind of ups and downs, some of which I do not even remember.  In the end, the perfect concoction of poison, antibiotics, and blood products did the trick, and we were able to celebrate her end-of-chemo party surrounded by our old and new tribe just before Christmas in 2016.

The world of pediatric cancer is real.  It is filled with complications and things that no parent should ever see.  Yet, here amidst this world of suffering and tears, I have found some of life’s greatest joys.  I have found a group of people who has a new-found passion for living and who never take a moment for granted.  I have met young girls who have learned that true beauty isn’t based on the latest trends or hair styles, but how you handle yourself in the face of adversity.  I have seen parents that have had to learn how to make quick, informed decisions during times of physical and mental exhaustion and put the rest in God’s hands.  I have learned the value of a perfectly-timed hug or encouraging word.  I have seen the good-hearted nature of communities that come together to support families on treatment.  The list could go on and on.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.  Hopefully, this does not mean much to you. However, many have already been introduced to the world childhood cancer. You maybe had a friend who had cancer when you were growing up.  You might have had a classmate of one of your children who has battled cancer.  Even worse, you may have had this horrific disease strike your own family. There are nearly 16,000 children diagnosed with a form of pediatric cancer each year.  That is a 24% increase in the past 40 years. Yet, less than 4% of the nation’s cancer funding is aimed at pediatrics.  It is a harsh reality.  I was a mom who was tricked into thinking that it could be prevented by my healthy lifestyle, homemade organic baby food, all-natural body cleansers and laundry detergents, and chemical-free house cleaners.  Cancer can strike without warning.

Here’s the good news.  Through our experience over the past five years, I have discovered that there is an entire tribe of people right now that are actively fighting to see an end to childhood cancer.  Our goal is that one day we will be living in a world where we will never again lose a child to something that could have been cured.  Our hope is that you will never have a personal experience with cancer.  We also want you to know that, if you do, we’ve got your back.  

-Kerry Kavlie

Patient & Family Services for CURE Childhood Cancer and mom of childhood cancer survivor, Rachel. Kerry is also the author of the bible study, “Glory Girls”.

For more information about CURE’s mission to fund research and support patients, visit our website at www.curechildhoodcancer.org or follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/curechildhoodcancer/.

Moss & Marsh will be donating 10% of website sales for the month of September to CURE.

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6 Ways to Prepare for a Newborn Photography Session

Libby Muenckler


Newborn sessions don’t have to be stressful. Being prepared for a newborn session will make your photoshoot run smoother and result in gorgeous memories that last a lifetime. 

Newborn wrapped in a Moss & Marsh  Swaddle.   All photos in this post captured by  Adlib Photography .

Newborn wrapped in a Moss & Marsh Swaddle.

All photos in this post captured by Adlib Photography.

The first thing you need to do is decide what type of photos you would like. Browse the Internet, ask friends, and think about how you would like to document these first memories.

I myself am a lifestyle photographer. I come to your home and take pictures of you all as a family in a place you’re most comfortable- sometimes clients opt for being outdoors. I document families laughing on the bed together, newborns swaddled asleep in their own crib, even the chaos of crying. I document dogs being introduced to their new siblings and big brothers and sisters in their new role.

There are many types of newborn photographers besides just lifestyle photographers. Another style is incredibly skilled photographers who do studio sessions during your babies first few days of life. They strategically pose newborns in the most perfect ways. These photographers are skilled in the safety of posing newborns and it’s important to choose those who are skilled in this area if that’s the style you want. 

It’s important to know the difference in these types of photographers and go with the photographer that fits your style. I am never offended when someone prefers a style other than mine and I’m quick to recommend other incredibly skilled photographers that fit my clients' needs. 

Big brother in his Moss & Marsh  Bandana Bib !

Big brother in his Moss & Marsh Bandana Bib!

Once you have chosen a photographer it’s important to speak with them and make a plan for your shoot. Below are the points that I like to go over with my clients. Hopefully, these tips help you have a stress-free and fun newborn session.

  1. Set a date. Even if you deliver early or late it’s nice to have the peace of mind that you’re on the schedule. I suggest doing the photos within the first 2 weeks but there’s no right or wrong time in my option. It’s perfectly ok to wait.

  2. Pick out Outfits ahead of time so you’re not scrambling the day of. Simple outfits in neutral colors look great. Comfort is also key. You don’t want to be wearing a tight pair of jeans a week after you have just delivered a baby.

  3. When your photographer arrives show them around your house. I typically go for areas with window light. Sometimes I shoot in a living room or bedroom or nursery or even a back porch. Your photographer will know what will look best.

  4. Show your photographer things that mean most to you. I always love it when clients tell me about blankets knitted by great grandmothers or outfit worn by multiple generations. Incorporating things with meaning into your photo shoot are great.

  5. Be flexible. Be flexible on your end and find a photographer that is flexible on their end. Naps, feedings, diapers, crying newborns and spit up happens. Going with the flow allows for a stress-free photo shoot.

  6. Smile. Have Fun. In the moment it may seem awkward or stressful to be looking as though you have it all together during the photo shoot. But these are the best moments.

Thank you Libby for this fantastic advice! Now, do yourself a favor take a look at some of her newborn shoots below. This was hard to narrow down because they're all so good, but I love the variety shown here. - Candace

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6 Ways to Prepare for a Newborn Photography Session

The Perfect Summer Craft by Henny Penny!

Candace Brodmann

How many of you moms are scratching your head for fun things to entertain the kids this summer? Especially when its raining or just too hot to go outside. Here is an adorable craft project designed by Carrie Christian, owner of Scribble Art Studio and and she runs the art space at Henny Penny Art Space & Cafe. The "To-Go Bakery" is fun to create and play with once it's finished, perfect for all that summer traveling. So, let's hear Carrie's instructions for the DIY To-Go Bakery! (Or if you'd rather get out of the house and sip on a latte, you can always go to Henny Penny and buy the kit!)

to-go Bakery

How cute is this?!

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The Henny Penny To-Go Bakery Kit contains:

  • Little suitcase

  • Sculpty clay

  • Peg person

  • Mini table

  • Tiny wooden tray & plates

  • A cut and color page of bakery images (designed by Henny Penny)

All of these items can be purchased at Hobby Lobby or Michaels - this particular wooden suitcase was purchased at Michaels. You can use cardboard or even the clay to create plates and furniture.


Here's how to create your own To-Go Bakery at home!

  1. Draw the front of your bakery on one side of your little suitcase. Make sure to draw in pencil first in case you want to make any changes. Helpful Hint= the larger you draw the easier to paint, so draw BIG! Some kids painted the whole suitcase including the inside, really it's up to you how far to take it

  2. Next paint your bakery front with Acrylic paint or color with markers (either will work!)

  3. Next, make mini clay cakes, cookies, doughnuts, let your imagination run wild! Bake clay treats in the oven (15 mins @ 250).

  4. Next create your Peg Person Baker, draw face/clothes with pencil first. Then color or paint Peg Person. Add little clothes/apron made from fabric or paper scraps

  5. You can make a table and chairs from thread spools and cardboard or even your Sculpty clay. Add a rug, Make cardboard shelves, the sky's the limit.

  6. PLAY!

- Carrie Christian

The Perfect Summer Craft by Henny Penny!

Life as a Mom with 9 Children & a Mini Farm

Candace Brodmann

The Mullins Family

The Mullins Family

Every Sunday I sit in the back of the sanctuary with my husband and wiggly toddler and gaze at the Mullins' pew full of well-behaved children and I think, "how does she do it?". And that's exactly what I wanted to share for this "Mom of the Month" feature - a look inside the life of a Christian mom raising nine children (with no T.V.), homeschooling them, and keeping over two dozen animals. I know you're intrigued, so let's dive right into the interview...


1. Tell us how many kids you have and their ages:

Nine children ages 26, 25, 22, 19, 16, 14, 12, 10 and 8.  Seven sons and two daughters.

2. In one sentence how would you describe your mothering style?

A dear friend told me that I practiced “intentional mothering”: I consciously seek to make deliberate and purposeful choices for my home and family life.

3. What is your biggest struggle as a mom? 

I volunteer too much!  I blame it on being born and raised in Tennessee, the Volunteer State.  It is my nature that when someone says, “Who will help?” my response is, “I will help you!” I am always working on something, sometimes stretching me thin, as Bilbo Baggins said, “Like butter scraped over too much bread.” There is very little margin in my life between commitments, and yet I always worry,  “Am I contributing enough? Is there something more I should do?"

4. When you’re having a tough day on the mom front, what Bible verse inspires you and gives you peace?  

When having a tough day, I try to focus more fervently on the goodness of God. I will sing Psalm 46 (“God is our refuge and our strength” and Psalm 27 (“The Lord is my light and my salvation”) in my mind.  But if I must select one verse, I would say Psalm 27:13.  “I would have lost heart if I did not believe I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living."

5. What is the highlight of your day?

At the end of the day we always gather together in the living room.  After a time of talking, unwinding, and recapping the day, we have family worship.  What we do for family worship has changed in different seasons of our life, but currently one of us prays and we read the Bible.  This is such a sweet time, and an important time to reconnect.  After worship, the little ones go to bed.  The older ones might stay up and read.

6. What keeps you focused and energized?

I could not get up and homeschool my children each day if I did not have the conviction that this is the way God wants me to raise my children.  I think about that often.  To me, “not homeschooling” is not an option.

7. Since your kids are older now, can you tell us what an average day was like when they were little ones (to provide encouragement to those of us in the newborn/toddler season)?

I honestly miss having newborns and toddlers.  They are such amazing little humans!  

Typically I would rise before the children and spend that time in having prayer and coffee with my husband, quiet time for myself,  taking care of paperwork.  I always intentionally woke my children up, usually at 7 a.m.  I found waking them in the morning, instead of letting them sleep in, set a template for the day.  They would roll out of bed, still in pajamas, and we would have morning worship.  The content of that time has changed as my children have grown, but always included prayer and Bible reading.  We might also sing songs or hymns, or I might ask questions from the Children’s Catechism.  For many years I read from Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening and Chequebook of Faith.  (Currently, we are working through Daily Readings by JC Ryle.)  At that time I would usually be holding and nursing the baby.  The children would then get ready, eat breakfast, and do a few morning chores, with the goal of starting school by 8 a.m.  

The little ones stayed by my side.  It is so natural for little ones to crave being in the presence of Mom. If I were reading aloud, they would sit on my lap or next to me looking at a picture book.  If the big kids are writing, the little ones might be coloring.  I always kept board books in the schoolroom in a basket along with quiet toys.  I deliberately removed all projectile toys and toys with electronic sounds, and I rotated quiet toys.  They might have Duplos for a while, then next week they might play with plastic dinosaurs, then wooden blocks, then race cars. Don’t think for a moment that the room was quiet or tidy!  The schoolroom cycled through “trashed” then “picked up” several times throughout the day.  And it wasn’t a room full of silent scholars either!  My older children can testify to the amazing ability they had concentrating in college thanks to years of having siblings crawling under their desks or making explosion noises as the “rebels” launched an assault on a dollhouse full of dinosaurs.  I never tried to get the little ones “out of my hair”, and I have never used electronics as babysitters.  In fact, my children have been raised without television and are not allowed to play video games.  (I can think of no reason to ever play video games.  We know they are harmful to our minds, our bodies, our relationships. I don’t believe they are ever a legitimate way to redeem the time.)

My babies typically napped around 10 a.m., and that is the time when I tackled tougher subjects with my children, such as phonics or math.  We would break for lunch at noon.  For many years my husband was able to come home for lunch, which was always a delight to the children and a help for me in case I needed a little advice from “the principal”.  I usually used the lunch hour to prep for dinner.  The children would play outside until school resumed at 1.  When we completed our school day, my children were free to play or read.  The preschoolers and babies would have a nap around 3.  For many, many years I would exercise on the treadmill every day for an hour, starting around 4.  I had a playpen, and the only time I ever used it was when I was treadmilling.  If a little one was awake, I would put him or her in the playpen.  I could see the child, the child could see me, and the child knew that he or she would not be parked there forever and ever.  After exercise, I would shower and get cleaned up before my husband came home.  My little ones usually played at my feet while I made supper, and I always sacrificed a lower drawer in the cabinets for them to play in.  Again, it is not so much that I had to entertain or distract them.  They just want to be near Mom, and wanted to mimic what I was doing.  After supper, the older children cleaned the kitchen; my husband or I bathed little ones. Afterward, my husband would read aloud to all of the children, then we closed the evening with family worship.  I put my little ones to bed when they were tired - not rocking them to sleep, nursing them to sleep, or lying down with them- and they fell asleep in their beds without any special effort.  

The Mullins' lamb sporting a  dog bandana ! Photo by  Alanna Volen Photography

The Mullins' lamb sporting a dog bandana! Photo by Alanna Volen Photography

7. What tips can you give mothers who are homeschooling older children with younger ones (not school age) who need attention too? And How did you deal with unmotivated learners (if you had them)?

Incorporate your little children into your school day.  Do not try to separate them or isolate them from your school activities.  Usually, they are content to be with Mom and the older siblings. Have a place where you “do school”, and have toys that are kept and only played within that place.  Do not have an “us and them” attitude to your school, but fold those little ones into your life.  Can you imagine the joy the older children will have when they see the baby take his first steps?  Or the delight in your own heart when you see your early reader “decoding” a book aloud for your toddler?  For sanity, plan “pick up” times throughout the day so that your school work is not buried in an avalanche of toys.

The problem with an unmotivated learner is not an academic issue, but a heart issue.  Just as I am called to be a wife and mother, my children are called to be students, and it is expected that they will apply themselves to their schooling because that is where God has placed them at this point in their lives.  They need to do their schoolwork the best they can, not just because Mom expects them to, but because God commands it.  If a student is refusing to do what they are capable of doing, it is an issue of rebellion and not a learning problem.  Does that sound harsh?  I believe in Providence, and I believe that God made me the mother of these children.  He did not give them to the Queen of England.  He did not give them to subsistence farmers in Bangladesh.  He gave them to me and I need to have confidence that He expects me to parent them, with humility and love.

While I am an advocate for homeschooling, I honestly do not believe that everyone has to homeschool her children.  I believe that I am called to homeschool mine, and I believe that every mother is accountable to God for the choices she makes in educating her children.

9. What's your favorite rainy day activity?

My family LOVES playing board games, and a rainy Saturday is a perfect excuse to play long games, like Axis and Allies, Risk, or Settlers of Catan.  We are also voracious readers, and everyone might be curled up on the sofa with a book. My husband might read aloud for hours while the children work a puzzle.  We also enjoy cooking something complicated or special, such as homemade pretzels, chocolate fondue with strawberries, homemade fresh mozzarella cheese, French macaroons, crab cakes…

One of the Mullins' goats. Photo by  Alanna Volen Photography

One of the Mullins' goats. Photo by Alanna Volen Photography

10. How many animals and bees do you have? What inspired you all to get them and in what ways has it helped your family? 

We literally have more animals than I can number!  We have a cat named Betty who is almost 22 years old.  We have a cockatiel and a parakeet, who for many years mimicked my daughter’s harp practicing.  We have two momma goats that we milk daily, and I make cheese several times weekly. We have nine chickens who keep us in eggs.  We have a dozen quail - impulse purchase, long story.  We have two doelings (young female goats) and we will breed them when they are ready.  We have a lamb, an American Blackbelly sheep, whom I bottle-raised and who adores everything about me.  (Everyone needs a sheep.  Wonderful for self-esteem!)  And we have an enormous livestock guardian dog.  He is an Anatolian shepherd, weighs over 125 pounds, and continues to grow and act like a puppy.  Finally, we have four beehives, and each hive contains thousands of bees.

I have always loved animals and raising them is a source of joy to me.  I marvel at honeybees, I am amused by the sheep and goats, and I am entertained by the birds.  The care and nurturing of animals is an amazing way to teach responsibility (and the facts of life) to children.   We have not always had so many animals, but we are in a season of life where we can and want to.  I would not recommend this to young families who are in the thick of baby-bearing.  Right now I have children who are old enough to learn animal husbandry and truly contribute to our little farm.  Chickens are low work/high yield, and I would recommend those for a young family, but goats are much more demanding.  (There is a saying that goats sit around all day, thinking up ways to die.)

We don’t have to raise these animals, but as in many things, there is “joy in the doing”.

11. Tell us two recipes: your go-to weekday meal and one you serve for dinner guests. 

When it is six o’clock and I missed planning supper, my go-to recipe is quiche.  I try to always keep deep-dish pie crust in the freezer, and I always have eggs!  The basic components of quiche are pie crust, 1 1/2 cups of cheese (maybe feta or cheddar or swiss or goat, or one of those pre-shredded blends), 4-5 eggs, 1/2-3/4 cups of half and half or whole milk, and 1 1/2-2 cups of “other”  (sausage, mushrooms, and onions; spinach and tomatoes and bacon; pancetta, tomato, onion, olives; ham and broccoli).  Below is my basic quiche recipe and a ridiculously delicious recipe that I got from Publix, Dijon-Onion Crusted Pork with Creamy Caprese Salad.  

Basic Quiche

  1. Pre-cook pie crust according to directions (may be frozen, the rolled-up kind, or homemade)
  2. While crust is cooking, brown meat and saute vegetables like mushrooms, onions.
  3. When pie crust is ready, remove from oven, and spread cheese on the bottom.
  4. Layer your “filler” ingredients on top of the cheese.
  5. Whisk eggs and milk (or half and half) in a bowl.  Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. May add a pinch of nutmeg or tarragon or herbal blend.  Pour into pie shell evenly.
  6. Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes.  
  7. Let rest about five minutes before cutting.  May be served hot or room temperature.

One quiche serves 6.   I typically make four and have left-overs. My favorite combination is spinach (don’t pre-cook, just layer it in shell), feta, and onions.  My kids love sausage, mushroom, and tomatoes.


Dijon-Onion Crusted Pork

1 tablespoon canola oil
3/4 cup french-fried onions, coarsely crushed
large zip-top bag
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 pork tenderloin (about 1 lb)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 oz  sharp white Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup roasted garlic Alfredo sauce
1 (6-oz) can mushroom steak sauce

Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat baking sheet with oil. Place fried onions in bag and crush; add panko. Cut pork into 1-inch-thick slices; coat pork evenly with mustard, salt, and pepper. Place pork in bag; shake to coat, then press with fingertips to coat pork evenly. Arrange pork on baking sheet; bake 10 minutes. Turn pork pieces over; cook 6–7 more minutes or until pork is 145°F. Meanwhile, shred cheese (1/3 cup). Combine Alfredo sauce, mushroom sauce, and cheese in saucepan, stirring occasionally, or until cheese melts and sauce is hot. Serve sauce with pork. I serve with rice or polenta.

 My children LOVE this, and it is reliable and impressive for company. I quadruple the recipe.

Creamy Caprese Salad

8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed
2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt
1/4 cup basil pesto sauce

Cut mozzarella into bite-size pieces. Chop tomatoes. Combine in medium bowl: yogurt and pesto sauce until blended. Fold in cheese and tomatoes until evenly coated. Serve.

12. Finally, what is the best tip you would give a new mom or one considering a large family (Lord willing)?

 I can not think of any other task as worthy as striving to leave a legacy of faith in my children.  We know that in the Bible and throughout history, God has grown His church through Covenant families, and the years we spend child-rearing is just a portion of our lives.  Just step back and behold the amazing thing that God will work in your family!  Whether He gives you one child or many, savor the milestones and keep perspective during the challenging times.  (For example, it is better for a child to learn self-control from you when she is three years old than learn it the hard way when she is thirty-three.)  God knows what He is doing.  We have to trust that He will equip and enable us to do the work He calls us to, and with humility, love, and grace.


Cynthia Mullins is a wife and mother of nine. She currently lives in Savannah, GA. She is the president of the Family Education for Christ.

Summertime Safety with your Baby

Dr. Ben Spitalnick, MD

Hooded Towel

Coastal Georgia has a year-round offering of outdoor activities for your family, but summertime is really when options are most plentiful.  The beach, the pool, the boat, and the park are great places to have family fun with kids of all ages.  A successful outing comes with just a little preparation, to make sure the smallest ones are safe from common outdoor hazards.  Below are a few tips that may help you make the most out of your summer.

Protection from the sun can be easily forgotten, especially on a cloudy day, or when the expectation of a short day in the sun becomes longer.  There are many excellent brands of sunscreen available, but it’s important to make sure to choose one that offers “broad spectrum” coverage (both UVA and UVB protection).  It should be applied at least 30 minutes before going outside, and should be reapplied about every 2 hours, especially with water activities (the term “waterproof” is less effective than you think).  And yes, even on a cloudy day, or away from the peak of Summer, the sun is bright enough to cause sunburn.  I’m at my laptop writing this just after most schools in our area have had spring break, and already seeing so many babies and children with first sunburns of the season.  As usual, many parents forgot the March and April sun is indeed bright enough to cause damage.  Sunscreen can be used as young as 4 to 6 months old.  And for the youngest, barrier protection is key, including canopies, hats, and other shelters from early sun exposure.

Our large  Swaddle Blanket  is great for lawn seating!

Our large Swaddle Blanket is great for lawn seating!

Bug repellant is also essential, especially in the coastal areas where mosquito season lasts most of the year.  Insect bites are a common cause of superficial skin infections (often caused by bacteria that live on our own skin), called cellulitis or impetigo.  Also, mosquitos in our area can in rare cases transmit severe diseases, such as West Nile Virus, Zika Virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and others.  Bug sprays can be used safely starting at 2 months old.  And yes, DEET is both safe this young, and, the most effective for mosquito bites.  The DEET concentration is found on the front label of most commercially available insect repellant, written out as “N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide”.  The concentration of DEET is an indicator of how long the protection will last; expect about an hour of protection for each 5% of DEET concentration (10% should last 2 hours, 25% should last about 5 hours).  Concentrations above 30% have shown little increased benefit, and not recommended for children.  DEET products should be applied just once and not be reapplied throughout the day.  There are DEET free alternatives that some parents prefer, which include eucalyptus, citronella, or cedar.  These are safe to try, but often less effective than DEET.

There are also combination “bug and sun” products available, but these are not recommended for children by the AAP.  The reason is sunscreen should be reapplied frequently, but insect repellant should not.  And, the insect repellant may make the SPF less effective.

Pictured: Moss & Marsh crustacean  Burp Cloth

Pictured: Moss & Marsh crustacean Burp Cloth

For a baby spending excessive time outdoors, hydration is an important concern as well.  Water is a large component of both breastmilk and formula, thus generous feedings are the best help in ensuring good hydration.  Commercially available electrolyte solutions such as Pedialyte are a useful supplement at times.  While plain water is ideal for rehydration of older children, it should be avoided in infants, since it does not contain important electrolytes.  A common question from parents is to how to tell if their infant or child is showing signs of dehydration.  There are indeed subtle signs, such as decreased urination, warm skin, or dry lips and mucous membranes.  These, however, can be difficult for even the most experienced parents to identify, thus any concerns you have should be taken seriously and addressed by your physician or other medical personnel immediately.

Dry off after a fun pool session with our snuggly  Hooded Towel !

Dry off after a fun pool session with our snuggly Hooded Towel!

Swimming pools are another fun experience with your baby, starting at about 4 months of age.  Younger than this the effects of chlorine are not fully known, and new studies suggest early chlorine exposure may lead to respiratory issues.  Also, under 4 months old infants are less able to regulate their body temperatures, especially when submerged for long periods of time in cold water.  Infants in swimming pools should have “touch supervision” at all times, which means an adult is always within touch distance, even when the infant has some sort of flotation device attached.  And, pool barrier safety is key, as the most severe pool accidents happen when toddlers and children wander into the pool area alone.  Most experts recommend childproofing include a fence directly around the edge of the pool, even if the pool area itself if fenced in.  These fences include alarms if the fence is penetrated, and should have no furniture pushed up against them that a child could climb up on. 

Go outside, and have fun!

Ben Spitalnick, MD, MBA, FAAP

“Dr Ben” is Co-Author of the AAP parenting book “Baby Care Anywhere: A Quick Guide to Parenting On the Go”, and President of the American Academy of Pediatrics Georgia Chapter.  He practices with Pediatric Associates of Savannah at their Waters Avenue and Whitemarsh Island locations.

All photos in this blog post were taken by Monica Jean Photography.

Summertime Safety with your Baby

Expectations: Breastfeeding and the New Mom

Christina Flaherty

When I meet with pregnant women at their prenatal doula meetings, I often get asked, “What can I do to prepare for breastfeeding my baby?”  Often times, women have preconceived notions of what breastfeeding will be like from watching friends or family members.  Maybe they have heard how wonderful it is to bond with your baby or how inexpensive breastfeeding is or maybe they have even heard horror stories about mastitis or thrush.  Every woman brings her own unique perceptions of what to expect in the first few days and months of life with a newborn.  So when I get the question, “What can I do to prepare for breastfeeding my baby?” I first have to break down that woman’s already preconceived notions.  What have you heard?  What have you seen or read?  She must ask herself how that has impacted her perceptions.

Photo by  AdLib Photography  featuring our  Nursing Cover

Photo by AdLib Photography featuring our Nursing Cover

A big misconception about breastfeeding is that moms sometimes think that they will be able to get a lot of projects done or tackle those novels that they have been wanting to read during the time that they are home with their baby.  WRONG!  Breastfeeding takes a lot of time.  A LOT!  So when a woman who believes that she will have time for all of these extra projects comes home with her baby, it is sometimes a very rude awakening (no pun intended for those sleepless nights!).  It is normal for babies to want to nurse around the clock – from every hour to every 3 hours.  It can often feel very overwhelming.  Many women feel like they don’t even have time to do some of the regular every day things that they used to (like showering).  But rest assured, this is the way nature intended.  After women give birth, they need their rest to recuperate – breastfeeding forces women to sit down and keep off their feet.  Breastfeeding frequently also helps the mother and baby to bond - something which is so important in the first days and weeks of the baby’s life.   The tummies of babies are the size of a marble when they are born, so it does not take much to fill that tiny space.  Therefore, breastfeeding frequently will allow babies to gain weight even if they are eating only small amounts at a time.

Photo by  M  onica Jean Photography  featuring our  Nursing Cover

One of the most common expectations is that breastfeeding is going to come naturally. For some lucky women this is true.  God bless them!  But for the majority of first time mothers and even second and third time mothers, it is a work in progress.  Therefore, it will give you much more mental sanity if you think about breastfeeding as a process.  Just like you didn’t get pregnant and then give birth the next day, try not to think about giving birth and breastfeed perfectly right away.  It is a process of learning for you AND your baby.  Over the first few hours of life, your baby is learning how to coordinate the ability to suck, swallow and breathe – all at the same time!  This is a lot to learn all at once for your little human.  So give them the time they need and be patient.  The first few feedings are an introduction – not a Thanksgiving meal.  Your baby puts on a lot of extra weight at the end of your pregnancy so they are nice and pudgy and have what they need until your milk comes in.  Plus, the colostrum that you are making is packed with tons of calories and immunities for your little one.  It is absolutely normal for your baby to lose up to 10% of their birth weight.

Photo by  M  onica Jean Photography  featuring our  Nursing Cover

An important thing to know about breastfeeding is that you are not alone.  It is easy to feel isolated when you are spending a lot of time at home.  Over the first few weeks of your baby’s life, you may encounter some breastfeeding challenges.  Challenges can range from engorgement to milk supply issues to mastitis.  If you know about resources in your area to turn to for help, you will not feel the pressure to get through these challenges alone.  Go to a Le Leche League meeting or breastfeeding support group and talk to other moms who have been through this before.  Contact a lactation specialist and schedule a personal consultation.  Getting the right help will increase your chances of having a successful breastfeeding relationship with your baby.

In addition to Christina being one of the doulas of Natural Baby Doulas, she is a Certified Lactation Specialist offering in-home breastfeeding consultations to new mothers.  Christina also teaches Breastfeeding classes in her home in Elon.  To contact Christina, email Christina@ncnaturalbaby.com

Expectations: Breastfeeding and the New Mom

Preparing Kids to Read Early!

Robyn Drake Castellanos

Learning to read and write is an ongoing process that starts early in life.  Therefore it is never too early to start preparing your child to read!  Research has shown that the more early life experiences a child has with language and literacy the more likely a child is to succeed in reading, and school in general.  Contrary to popular belief, children don’t start learning how to read in kindergarten and first grade-- the learning starts at home!  You as the parent get to play a key role in your child’s early literacy development.  In this article I will lend some advice for preparing your child to be a successful reader!

Reading Terms:

First things first- Print concepts and book handling skills:  Before a child can learn to read they must understand what it means to read.  You can start by showing your child the front cover and back covers of a book and demonstrate which way to turn the pages.  Demonstrate to your child that you read from left to right by tracking the words with your finger.  When you get to the end of a line you “swoop” your finger down to the next line, starting from the left again.  These are basic book handling skills.  Knowing concepts of print means that your child understands that print is made by using letters of the alphabet and that letters combine to make words.  This also includes environmental print- the words around you!  Be sure to point out labels and signs to your child!  This also fosters a child’s natural curiosity to learn about the world. 

Ideas to engage your child in reading:

Read out loud to your child!  I can’t emphasize this enough.  Reading to your child expands their oral vocabulary and strengthens your child’s listening comprehension skills.  When I was in graduate school studying early children’s literacy my professor told me that children who are read to regularly enter kindergarten with a vocabulary of over 1,000 more words than children who are not read to regularly!  By reading to your child you give him/her a sense of words and sentence structure, plus it makes reading a meaningful shared experience.  If you have trouble finding the time there are tons of great audiobooks available for free in libraries or online.  One website I use in the classroom is www.storylineonline.com.  It’s free and kids love it!

Read Wordless books

Wordless books are a great way to start your child’s love of literacy.  Wordless books can be read at any age with or without an adult.  These books are told entirely through illustrations, so your child can be the author of the story!  Sharing wordless books with your child can be a wonderful experience that promotes storytelling and conversation.  These books also help children start to understand the basic elements of story structure.  Sit back and enjoy your child’s response when you show them a wordless book and say, “Tell me what happens in this story!”  You are bound to hear some very creative (and sometimes hilarious) stories.

Here are a list of great wordless books for kids of all ages.

Read Nursery Rhymes and Poems

The first steps of learning to read are speaking and listening.  Children must learn to speak and listen before they can read and write.  Rhyming is a part of phonemic awareness.  A huge part of early literacy and phonemic awareness is rhythm and rhyme.  When children listen to nursery rhymes, poems, and songs, they start identifying common sounds in rhymes.  Children can eventually start predicting rhyming sounds, and this prepares them to make predictions when they read.  Dr. Seuss books are also great for teaching rhymes!

Build conversational skills

Language and literacy develop together and influence one another.  The better a child’s communication skills the better a student will be able to understand sentence structure and communicate with someone about what they are reading.  So believe it or not, just talking with your child is setting him/her up for success!  It’s especially important to have conversations when you are reading.  You can start introducing your child to basic story elements: characters, setting, beginning, middle, and end. 

Build vocabulary

The more words you can expose a child to the better.  This can happen in day to day life.  Vocabulary knowledge supports a child’s comprehension and helps a child gain meaning from what they are reading.  This betters their understanding of the world around them!  Vocabulary development is essential to reading achievement.  Have fun pointing out strange words to your child like “platypus” or “hippopotamus”!  Children with strong vocabularies are more likely to be able to figure out a word’s meaning while sounding a word out.

Make reading fun!

Most importantly, teach your child that reading is a fun experience.  With so many distractions like television and video games, it’s hard for books to compete.  If you encourage a love for books early in life your child is more likely to become a lifelong reader.  Kids learn better by not necessarily being “taught” but by having enjoyable conversations and experiences with books.  Bringing your child to story hour, for example, can be an excellent way to expose him/her to books.  It’s usually free and most public libraries and bookstores have story hour.  Find out what your child is interested in and find books on that topic!  Expose your child to a variety of different texts, including fiction and nonfiction.  Some children are more interested in books that teach information rather than books that tell stories.  Another way to encourage children to read is to set an example- let them catch YOU reading!  If they don’t see you reading, why should they?  Finally, make reading a tradition in your home, even if it’s just for ten minutes at bedtime.  This way reading will become a cherished memory in your child’s life that he or she will want to continue for a lifetime.


Good luck and happy reading!


Robyn Drake Castellanos is a first-grade teacher in Raleigh, North Carolina.  She went to Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she received her Master’s in Elementary Education with a specialty in Literacy.  She lives in Raleigh with her husband, rescue dog, and a big collection of books.

Preparing Kids to Read Early!

Redefining "Mom Goals" to Empower Yourself

Kate Engelmaier

Hey Y'all! My name is Kate and I am a mom and lifestyle blogger from Savannah, GA (Moss & Marsh’s home). I am a young single mom to a sweet, 11-month-old James Max. The comparison game is a game I have found myself playing far too often and I hate to admit it’s not all the media’s fault. Yes, I see all these moms on Instagram with what looks like they have it made but is everything you see the full picture? No. Never. A picture can only tell so much and as a blogger I can tell you behind every one great picture is a screaming child, spilled product, crooked frame, bad lighting, and posed shot. So, why am I still trying so hard to be 12 versions of moms that aren’t me?!

Photo by  Shutterbug Studios .

One thing I am focusing on in the new year is being my own version of “mom goals”! One of my favorite quotes is:

Today you are you. That is truer than true. There’s no one alive that is youer than you.
— Dr. Seuss

I think this quote translates perfectly in motherhood. There is no one more meant to be YOUR child’s mom than YOU. God placed that child in your life for reasons - some you may not even know yet. Max teaches me something new about myself each and every day and I try to teach him something new just as often - if not more. So why am I trying to change myself into a mom that I was not meant to be? Well, because it looks nice but as my mom always told me “it’s not always about the looks” which is SO TRUE in motherhood.

With it being the new year and all I thought that I would set my own definition of mom goals that applied to me and I challenge you to do the same! Make them realistic, meaningful and empowering. Don’t set a goal that will bring you down - focus on not only empowering others but empowering yourself. You can’t take care of others until you take care of yourself.

Photo by  Monica Jean Photography . Kate is using her Moss & Marsh  Nursing Cover !

Photo by Monica Jean Photography. Kate is using her Moss & Marsh Nursing Cover!

My #MomGoals for 2018:

  1. Be present - in Max’s life, in my friends and families lives, and in my own life.

  2. Lean on God - being a single mom is tough and I may not have a man to lean on when times get tough but I do have The Big Man and He is always there.

  3. Community over competition - in the world of social media it’s very easy to get lost in comparing yourself to others. I would find myself asking why I didn’t have this, why I didn’t look like that, why my kid wasn’t doing the things other kids were. I spent so much time worrying about others I forgot to focus on the things right in front of me. This year I want to spend more time building friendships with the amazing women I have met through social media. Empowering and encouraging them to be their own definition of mom goals.

  4. Award myself - being a mom is TOUGH. Sometimes ya gotta award yourself the first place trophy even for the smallest accomplishments because a small accomplishment for a mom is like going to space for anyone else! You are super mom - NEVER forget that.

  5. 5So, if you need someone to hold you accountable, check in on you or just a lending ear, I am always available to listen and would LOVE to hear your steps to becoming your version of MOM GOALS. Feel free to send me a DM over on Instagram at @abravemess or through my website, abravemess.com ! I hope your 2018 is all that you hope for and that you remember that there is NO mom better for your baby than you.


Kate & Max

Photo by  Monica Jean Photography . Max is wearing his Moss & Marsh  Bandana Bib !

Photo by Monica Jean Photography. Max is wearing his Moss & Marsh Bandana Bib!

Redefining "Mom Goals" to Empower Yourself

Family Worship: Delight or Drudgery?

Catherine Stewart

Catherine Stewart is a wife, mother of 6, author and pastor’s wife. She currently lives in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is the editor and a contributing author of “Letters to Pastor’s Wives: when seminary ends and ministry begins” which can be purchased here on amazon.com. And she is currently working on a second book for pastor's children.

Catherine Stewart, her husband Neil, and their six children. Photo by  See Anything Photography

Catherine Stewart, her husband Neil, and their six children. Photo by See Anything Photography

I dare say it would be nothing short of a practical victory to say that after 6 children, we have got this family worship “thing” down. I wish I could relish the opportunity of you coming into our home and spectating our efforts to show you how perfect family worship works and how we have accomplished all of our desires for our children’s spiritual learning. Alas, having considered our first daughter to be the proverbial family worship guinea pig, we find ourselves wondering if we will ever “arrive” and produce that picture perfect scenario where we all gather around the kitchen farm table, singing with jubilant joy, with every child hanging on every word their daddy says.

In reality, it hasn’t quite worked that way. However, we have not yet ‘thrown the towel in', because our long-term goals remain unchanged. All of our efforts in family worship are simply a desire to attain a little picture of an orderly Sunday morning worship service. Why? Because, as believers, that is where our souls are most fully nourished and where we meet Christ to worship him with the gathered body of his people. Naturally, we want our children to share in those blessings that come to them as covenant children. But is it realistic to expect our little ones to walk into a church service, plop their little derrières onto the pew, sing, pray, confess their sins, listen to a 40 minute sermon, and not launch a small child size ballistic missile in the process? Well, actually, yes!!!! And it is attainable; not without considerable planning on both mommy and daddy’s part, and not without a little sweat and much fervent prayer. But family worship is the perfect training ground for our little ones to taste something of the glory of the bigger, better place of Sunday worship. So how does that work? Undoubtedly, cultivating a methodology isn’t necessarily going to lead our children to Christ, and yet the most effective ground in which to plant their foundational experiences of worship, is found in the mother of all learning; repetition. If I might add Zig Ziglar’s addendum to that quote it will perfectly convey our desire;

“Repetition is the mother of learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment.”

Training our children from a very young age, even from the moment we walk out of those hospital doors with that newborn baby in our arms, leaves them with an inestimable legacy. Instilling predictable habits from their earliest moments provides a framework for limitless understanding of God’s Word as they mature in the faith.

Let me throw out a few practical guidelines to spare you the trial and error that we took 21 years to work through. At the end of it all, while you may not have your perfect scenario, you might just have a little more order to your worship table and thus facilitate a place of worship and spiritual growth.

Catherine Stewart and her husband Neil. Photo by  See Anything Photography

Catherine Stewart and her husband Neil. Photo by See Anything Photography


Mommies, be sure, the process of this effort does not lie squarely on your shoulders. It is of course primarily in the hands of your husband, and yet reality dictates that many mommies are going this journey alone, either as a single mommy or with an unbelieving husband or with a man who simply doesn’t share your passion. Don’t lose heart! Many women have gone before you and many great men and women of the faith owe their spiritual nurture entirely to the tender teaching of their mothers. Read on!

Keep it simple: Please don’t begin this journey by taking out your church bulletin from the previous Sunday and attempt to embark on a full blown worship service at the kitchen table. Your children are little and you are not throwing enough mud in the hope that some will stick! Pick a time that works for everyone. For our family that is first thing after breakfast in the morning. Fellowship is so much sweeter over a meal and worship easily becomes a continuation when it’s done around the meal table.This is true of adults and it is also true of children. If that doesn’t work, be flexible and work out a time that is going to be a good fit for your family.


So where do you begin? For some of you this will sound radical, but why not begin by singing a hymn or a psalm? Granted, our family singing is not always very melodic, in fact sometimes it sounds more like a squawking cat than a hymn, but it is a joyful sound, and after all, that’s what the Lord wants us to bring to him. If you have only recently come to a desire for family worship, your older children may find this “uncool” or awkward. Singing is rarely a passion for children once they get into the middle school years, but along with all of the other insecurities that age entails,“this too shall pass!” Persevere!


Secondly, keep it short. No one wants to live with the burden of endless “sermonettes” or clock watching while trying to worship. Let the older children know what time you are planning to start and what time you will finish. And for the sake of your little ones you, remember their capacity for attention and dwell with them with understanding.


Thirdly, if you aren’t comfortable opening up the Word and sharing some truths from it yourself, there is no harm in utilizing the wisdom of others. A couple of excellent books that we have used are “The Children’s Storybook Bible” by Sally-Loyd Jones, and you might also consider using, “Leading Little ones to God” by Marian Schoolland? This latter book also incorporates catechism questions which are a fabulous tool for teaching snippets of theology to unwitting hearers! These two books will be sufficient for up to a 1st grade level.


Fourthly, when you have finished singing and reading, be sure to pray around your table, whether it is simply a one sentence adoration or a brief supplication, teach your children to pray out loud from a young age. This is incredibly helpful in bypassing the later challenges that so many children dread when asked to offer up a prayer if it is anything other than giving thanks for a meal.


Fifthly, when you have little ones in diapers or at their mother’s breast, the easiest way to keep them settled is to nurse them. And yes, it is possible to nurse and do worship at the same time: We mommies are superstars at multitasking right?! And sometimes those wriggly little arms and legs are best stilled with a soft small toy, no bells and whistles, but something that their hands can hold while training their bodies to be still.

Oh, a thousand other ideas run into my head as I write this: it’s a subject worthy of a lot more attention, but for now, suffice it to say that I hope this will at least set you on the first rung of the ladder.

P.S. Be real with yourself, we are literally in the middle of the craziest season of the year, so don’t go doing any heroics by trying to start implementing all of this first tomorrow morning. Give yourself a bit of grace and take some time to plan and in the meantime, why not start with simple memory verse work or even wait until things settle into a workable rhythm.

Adoption Changes Everything

Beth Oliver

In 1988 a thought went through my head, “I want to adopt”. I was 12, it was a thought. I never verbalized it that I remember, nor did I think anything else about it. It was just a thought, but it seemed to speak a truth. Little did I know that thought would shape my entire marriage and place my husband and I on a path to serve as foster and adoptive parents for many years.

The Oliver family after returning from China. Photo by  Sarah Kohut Photography

The Oliver family after returning from China. Photo by Sarah Kohut Photography

In January of 2003, I was almost 27, I went on a date and then another with a friend of a friend who “finally got the nerve to ask me out”. He was 35. In those two dates, that thought became a conversation, as I now verbalized my desire to adopt. It was immediately met with “I want to adopt too, my father adopted me when I was 18 months old and I’ve always wanted to do the same”. After these two dates, I knew this is who I would marry.  By March 17th we were engaged, then married in August of the same year.

Jeff and I knew that we would never be the family who “made lots of money” so immediately after we were married, in November, we attended a meeting to set “life goals” and figure out how much money we needed to save or what we needed to do to provide a home for a child, or children who needed it. Within that first meeting, we first found we were financially able to immediately adopt and second, our hearts were opened to the desperate need for foster families. We immediately signed up to do respite care for other foster families and began to open the doors to adopt if any child would need a permanent home.

A few years after serving as foster parents we found out we were pregnant with a little boy, soon to be followed by a little girl. Our hearts never lost our desire to adopt or foster. Once our youngest was 18 months old we were able to list our names as an adoptive home with a private adoption agency and wait to be chosen by a birth mom who would read our file and choose us as her child’s adoptive family. We waited patiently at times, as we never wanted mothers or fathers to have to make this hard choice. We prayed for moms and dads who may have been placed in a situation that would need an adoption plan. We prayed for people to come into these mom’s and dad’s  lives and love them and give them wisdom and support. We worked with some birth moms and dads and organizations that loved on them, helping them gather what they needed to parent. We were actually matched with a birth mom who then decided to parent after the baby was born. We were sad that we would not be welcoming a new little one into our home but so joyful that she would be able to parent. Adoption is a hard thing. It’s not a word to use lightly. We have attached it to so many things that it almost loses it’s impact. Lives are changed. Forever. And that’s big, hard, sometimes messy and wonderful all at the same time. As Jeff approached his 45th birthday we felt that maybe that “thought”, that “conversation” was just that. At 45, we would no longer be able to be listed as an adoptive home, so we requested our file be mailed to us. We wanted to send our file to several agencies to let them know, we had a home for those that might need it. The phone rang on October 10, 2012, a Wednesday, less than one month before my husband’s 45th birthday. I was teaching an art class, but  when I was able to return the phone call,  the voice on the other line did not sound like she was about to say “we mailed your paperwork”. As I listened to her speak and zoned in and out in unbelief, I managed to hear “can you be here Friday to pick up your son?”. In just 48 hours after that phone rang, after opening our home to adopt about 9 years earlier, we would adopt a beautiful baby boy and lives would be changed forever.

On Friday, October 12th, 2012 we met our 12 day old son. He was perfect. And as much as I remember that day, I can’t remember a day without my son in my life. Maybe because he’s been there since I was twelve. Maybe that thought was to prepare me for this day. And now, with him we gain another family, his birth family. Our family grew more than just one little one, we gained an entire family. His life has it’s own story as much as our story changed and I’m able to write about adoption, he is adopted, that’s part of his story. His beautiful birth mom chose this life for him. And I think of her often, she indeed is part of our family too and I am thankful.

When our newest son was 18 months old we accepted a placement to be a temporary home for a newborn, 5 months later he was united with his permanent home. We had the blessing of loving on several other newborns temporarily as they awaited a permanent plan of adoption or parenting. Our hearts were again restless with the word adoption. It’s like we answered half of the conversation we had and the other half remained unanswered. So we started looking, looking at ways to open our home again. We had one more bed available, this time for a little girl, or whomever, but the boys shared a room and our daughter was in a room alone. So it made sense, not that it had to make sense, but it seemed like a starting place. Jeff was working nights and there I was on the computer every night looking at requirements for the state, private agencies and even international adoption. We were happy and content and all those things, but the thought of knowing we had one more space and the number of children who had no permanent place to live just really moved us once again.

We found out through the state that due to the lack of time as active foster parents, we would need to start over, all the way to an orientation meeting. We found out through private agencies that we did not qualify for the age requirements and several other factors that would delay the process maybe for years. And then I landed on an international adoption website, so I thought. And night after night I started seeing pages and pages and pages of children as I read about 140 million orphans around the world and I was overwhelmed. How can this be? For weeks I would just look through pages and pages and Jeff would come home and he would look through them with me and after a while the same 3 little girls just kept tugging on us. We had NEVER thought about international adoption but no doors were opening for domestic and so we began to ask more questions. We carried a picture of three little girls on our phones for 2 months and just prayed, and talked and wondered. We finally just said we can either pray about this as if we need not act or just act and pray that the doors open or shut, whichever is the way our hearts should go. I realized I was indeed on an advocacy site not an adoption site so I emailed about the first little girl, who two months later, had been matched. So I emailed about the second little girl and we were asked to do a preliminary qualification assessment. And the doors began FLYING open. We were “matched” with our newest daughter and the only thing that seemed like an obstacle was the expense. We called the bank and within 24 hours we were fully funded with a loan. We walked through one door after another as we gathered papers and did fundraising and waited and wondered and missed our daughter that we had never met. Within a year of that first phone call Jeff, my oldest daughter and I were on a plane headed to China. We aren’t travelers nor did we know that a conversation on our first and second date would shape the next 14 years and take us to China.

So here we are, Oliver party of 6, and our family was grown out of adoption and it not only gave us a family that now has 4 children, it changed everything: how we spend our time, how we spend our holidays, how we spend our money and just about everything else. Although our children are a part of our story, a thought, a conversation, each of them also is writing their own. We weren’t a part of the first six years of our daughter’s story, nor were we a part of the story that brought our son to us, so we have a big family, even though only six of us live here. Our family crosses oceans, has taught us some Mandarin, encouraged us to do 5ks, and brought us into large fellowships of adoptive families. We spend birthdays writing letters to our son’s mom and celebrate Chinese New Year. We go through the Chinese drive thru to talk to our Mandarin speaking friend, we talk to strangers that ask questions or offer help as we struggle, we take lots of pictures because we can’t believe we get to live this powerful and fun life, we love the mailman because he helped “deliver our daughter home”, we celebrate good English and kiss our kids in the mouth, some of our dearest friends are caseworkers, we cry during certain hymns and songs with lyrics like “hallelujah He has found me”, we celebrate gotcha days and let our 6 year old do things your toddler probably isn’t allowed to do anymore, we laugh, we yell, we are far from perfect, we are far from “good parents”, we forgive, we laugh when our son says he didn’t come out of my belly but his daddy’s belly, we don’t have scheduled date nights or Netflix and have iphone 4s and I’m glad we didn’t wait until we were ready to adopt because all the while so many children are waiting to be adopted. Adoption doesn’t fix the brokenness of this world but it helps heal the broken. It has changed and grown our hearts, our children’s hearts and those around us in ways that no other worldly experience has.

My husband and I went out the other night to attend a formal ball, which is totally out of character for us but made us feel like rock stars. And somehow after dancing to young people’s music, we found ourselves talking about our family. As hard as the last 14 years of marriage have been, through highs and lows, my husband celebrates every bit of it. He always sees the joy in our circumstances. This night, as we were dressed like prom king and queen he admits “my only regret is that I didn’t meet you sooner so we could have started earlier”. Adoption changes everything.

Adoption Changes Everything