A Very Merry Raphael Christmas

I’m sitting here sipping hot apple cider and reflecting on the last couple of weeks.  It has been such a wonderful mix of Christmas merriment, relaxation, QT with my family, and getting some items knocked off my always-too-long to-do list. As much as this holiday has served to recharge us all for the first quarter of 2015, I think we’re going to struggle to get back into the swing of things (What do you mean I can’t sleep until 9a and wear my jammies all day?,” says every member of the Raphael family … well, except Chad, who actually went to work for a few days last week.).

Here are some of our photos from the holiday. I hope you enjoyed a wonderful holiday season like we did!

The Raphael kids on Christmas morning

The Raphael kids on Christmas morning (best I could get)

Campbell loves to help in the kitchen -- here she is making Christmas cookies

Campbell loves to help in the kitchen — here she is making Christmas cookies

Decorating Christmas cookies

Decorating Christmas cookies

Cleaning the carrots for the reindeer (can you tell she's a little excited?)

Cleaning the carrots for the reindeer (can you tell she’s a little excited?)



Santa came!

Santa came!

Campbell and the Barbie 4-wheeler

The playhouse

Campbell deemed the new playhouse “the condo.”


Baby 4-wheeler

See saw

Caroline and her little wagon

Caroline and her little wagon

Delta wants Santa's leftovers sooo bad

Delta wants Santa’s leftovers sooo bad

My sweet niece, Sadie

My sweet niece, Sadie

Thomas getting some good cuddles from Uncle Joe

Thomas getting some good cuddles from Uncle Joe

Lots of eating happened...here is Caroline eating Granddaddy's Christmas cake

Lots of eating happened…here are Caroline and Sadie eating Granddaddy’s Christmas cake

We also had a great family date on New Year’s Eve! The Raphael Five went to dinner and then came home to play games, watch movies, and ring in the New Year together. Campbell and Thomas even made it to midnight!

Girls ready to go to dinner

Girls ready to go to dinner

New Year's Eve games

New Year’s Eve games

A Frozen New Year's Eve

A Frozen New Year’s Eve


Working mom guilt…and why I don’t have it

What is this working mom guilt everyone speaks of? I hear about it often – in the articles flooding my Facebook newsfeed, in the parenting blogs that seem to post about it constantly, in the chitter chatter among my friends.

I don’t have it. I feel like the oddball, but I simply do not feel guilty for having a career. I am a working mom of three kids, and I don’t for one second feel guilty about that.

For me, working is part of being a good mom. I work FOR my children…to be responsible for them…to give them a better life. I cannot even tell you how many times I’ve gotten the pity stare when I tell people I have three young children AND I work full-time. I don’t understand this, and I certainly don’t need pity. I’m proud of what I do, and I’m confident in the kind of mom that I am.

Here are the reasons I have maintained a career while (gasp) also being a mom.

Setting an example for my children: I know my kids are a long time away from understanding this, but I’d like to think that, over the years, I’ll be showing them through my actions that women are a critical and valuable part of the workforce. I also hope to instill some work ethic into them…the same work ethic my parents instilled in me.

Multitasking: I enjoy having lots to do. Ha ha! Ha ha ha ha! Well, I’ve certainly achieved this and then some. I honestly have much more on my plate than I can even manage, but I really do need lots going on to feel successful and engaged.

Satisfaction: I like to work. Really, I do. Now, I’m not saying that I’d be working if I won the Powerball, but since my chances of winning that are one in a bazillion, I will stick by my statement that I like to work. I need a challenge outside of the home to feel satisfied. And, I like my job. I get to work with some really fun, really smart people who teach me something new everyday.

Thrill of the challenge: I enjoy the sense of accomplishment I get from working. I don’t get this same sense from housework or craft projects (uhhh…not sure I’ve ever even done one). Sure, I get all kinds of thrills being with my kids, but they are at preschool all day. I need the challenge of my job to keep me going.

Sanity/relaxation: I used to think I had a super stressful job. Then, I had three kids. Now, sometimes being at work is relaxing. I can dress in nice clothes that (most of the time) don’t have spit up or mashed-up food or worse on them and drink a cup of coffee in my quiet office. I might as well be at a day spa.

Money: Hello? I work for money. Don’t most people? I need a paycheck. We are more comfortable as a two-income family. It makes us feel more secure. We crave security because we have three little ones running around who are 100 percent dependent on us. I sleep better at night knowing we have two paychecks coming in.

My family is my priority in life. They know that, and I am confident of that fact. My kids are not deprived because I have a career. They are loved SO much. I truly enjoy my children and spend pretty much every moment with them when I am not working. We’re eating dinner together, reading bedtime stories, going for walks, swinging on the playset, swimming in the pool, watching movies, doing all the things kids love to do. Our evenings and weekends are filled with memorable moments (and, yes, tons of chores and errands).

Love and fun. This is what I want my kids to remember about their childhoods, and I know they will. And, hopefully, they will remember that their mother (and father, for that matter) worked really hard to make it happen.


Merry and Magical Christmas

We have had the merriest of Christmases in my home. As sappy as it sounds, I feel like I will carry the magic of this Christmas with me for the rest of my life. It was THAT great.

Christmas Eve with my baby girls

Christmas Eve with my baby girls

Lots of stockings across our mantle now

Lots of stockings across our mantle now!

Let’s be honest – Christmas can be a lot of work and stress. It can be hard to balance all the holiday prep with the everyday responsibilities of taking care of a family. In my book, it’s worth it. I love the Christmas season, and this one didn’t disappoint. There are so many reasons I feel this way. Here are just a few.

Baby’s First Christmas: There is something so sweet about introducing a baby to her first Christmas. I’m so grateful that we had another little Raphael to spend Christmas with this year. Now, I know Baby Caroline didn’t understand what was going on, but that doesn’t matter. Her first Christmas gave me such special moments to store away in my memory bank.

Christmas 2013 165

Christmas 2013 176

My little elf helped me wrap gifts

My little elf helped me wrap gifts

Christmas 2013 023

Even Elfie was thrilled to have Caroline around to celebrate Christmas with us this year. He spent a little time in her stocking on Christmas Eve before flying back to the North Pole.

Even Elfie was thrilled to have Caroline around to celebrate Christmas with us this year. He spent a little time in her stocking on Christmas Eve before flying back to the North Pole.

The 5yo and Santa: This was SUCH a fun Christmas for Campbell, and it was awesome to watch her experience it. She’s been singing in the church choir and got to be a part of a Christmas concert. She has been enamored by Christmas light displays, big and small. We’ve been watching Polar Express, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Disney’s A Christmas Carol over and over and over again. She is old enough to truly understand the joy of giving and has been making special crafts for us all season. She unquestionably believes in Santa, and it was just so fun to believe with her. This girl brought the magic of Christmas into our house in a big way.

Campbell is such a big helper now. She helped me decorate the tree this year!

Campbell is such a big helper now. She helped me decorate the tree this year!

Decorating Christmas cookies

Decorating Christmas cookies

Reading Twas the Night Before Christmas with Daddy
Reading ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ with Daddy
Santa brought Campbell a HUGE dollhouse!

Santa brought Campbell a HUGE dollhouse

She got an American Girl doll that looks like her. A big hit!

She got an American Girl doll that looks like her. A big hit!

The 2yo and Magic: Speaking of magic, I think Thomas is a magical little boy. He is so full of life, love and joy. I am thankful for him every day of my life, but that feeling of gratitude is magnified at Christmastime. I am so lucky to be living life with him. I don’t know how he does it, but he managed to bring so much additional joy into our home during an already joyful time of year. My favorite “Thomas story” from Christmas: We had A Christmas Carol on the TV yesterday (see above about our viewing frequency of this movie this year). He is practicing walking around holding one of my hands instead of both (he’s getting good at this!). Ebenezer Scrooge’s image pops up on the TV. Thomas pauses his walk to look up at the television to wave at Scrooge. This boy loves everyone…even ol’ Ebenezer Scrooge. Cannot even begin to describe my love for him.

Handsome guy on Christmas Eve

Handsome guy on Christmas Eve

Santa brought my little buddy a train/car track set and garage. He loves it!

Santa brought my little buddy a train/car track set and garage. He loves it!

See...he loves it!

See…he loves it!

Very busy...

Very busy…

Enjoying Christmas dinner in his jammies

Enjoying Christmas dinner in his jammies

Chad: I’ll keep this short and sweet so as not to completely embarrass him. Let’s just say I married well. Chad is loving, thoughtful and very family-focused. I know all these things about him, but Christmas was a sweet reminder.

Campbell LOVES her Daddy

Campbell loving on her Daddy on Christmas Eve

Daddy and baby at Christmas dinner

Daddy and baby at Christmas dinner

Family: We were lucky enough to share Christmas with my mom and dad, as well as with Chad’s mom and step dad. This is the first year we’ve had both these sets of grandparents with us at Christmastime. Very special. {We missed my brother, SIL, and niece. They are soaking up the sun in Mexico.}

And, last but certainly not least, Health: I had a health scare recently. I’ll spare you the extreme details, but I had to have a complete thyroidectomy. I had two nodules on my thyroid gland – one very large and the other much smaller. I had the large one biopsied a few months ago with benign results. Because the nodule didn’t decrease in size over the course of a few months, the doctors recommended having my entire thyroid gland removed to ensure  no cancer was present (supposedly a biopsy is not definitive when a nodule or mass is larger than a certain size…which mine was). I had the surgery as quickly as I could schedule it on Dec. 9 at the Sarah Cannon Cancer Center at Centennial Hospital. It was surreal. How could there be a chance I have cancer? I’m young. I have three very young children. I have my whole life ahead of me…and the lives of others.

The results came back benign. I am beyond relieved and oh-so-very thankful. But, the situation was very scary. As I’m sure many of you did, I saw the viral story about the photo shoot a young dad and his daughter did where the photos mimic the wedding photos he’d had made with his wife. The wife passed away from a rare form of lung cancer at age 31. Tragic. I totally broke down when I saw this. Others have not been lucky like me and received a clean pathology report. Don’t take anything for granted, folks. As you can imagine, absolutely every sweet thing that happened this Christmas brought tears to my eyes.

Clearly, I am overflowing with gratitude this Christmas. As I listen to my children in the other room playing with their new toys, I have a feeling of peace and happiness that I know will last well beyond the holiday season.

And...even Delta got a Christmas treat! See...we don't ALWAYS forget about the dog.

And…even Delta got a Christmas treat! See…we don’t ALWAYS forget about the dog.

How my 2yo has taught me to live in the moment

Having a child changes your life. It changes who you are. There’s no doubt about it – you view everything in a different way once you welcome a child into the world. You parents out there know what I mean.

Having a child with special needs drastically changes your life and who you are, or it did for me. The changes have all been positive. I am a better person with a clearer perspective, more compassion, more acceptance of people’s differences and more patience. Thomas has done this for me, and for that I am grateful.

I literally live my life in a different way now than I did before Thomas. Here’s how.

Thomas has taught me to live life in the moment. Like, fully in the moment. To be grateful for what you have right now. To see all the happiness in your life right now. To stop worrying about the silly things you can’t change (or that just don’t really matter all that much – office drama, anyone?).

You see, I could worry all day every day about the future. If I let myself, I’d be in constant tears over what the future could bring (or be an absolute nervous wreck to the point of needing medication). Will Thomas have friends in school once he gets older and kids start to realize he’s made a little different? Will people be mean to him? Will he learn to speak clearly enough for people to understand him? Will he ever be able to hold a job…drive a car…live independently? Will he find love? What happens when Chad and I get too old to care for him, or worse…when we are no longer here to care for him?

OH MY GOSH. Did I just stress you out, or what? I can’t even think about these things. I am a basket case just typing them out.

Here’s what I know right now.

Thomas is loved tremendously (and not just by his adoring family). He is the happiest child because he is loved. He is a rock star at preschool, and sometimes I feel like I’m his entourage. All the teachers know him and love him. Parents know him by name and speak to him as we are walking down the hallway every day. His friends in his class get excited to see him when we walk in the classroom in the morning. This kid is popular.

When we are at the grocery store, Thomas has this ability to make even the most crotchety old man stop, smile and speak to him. Thomas smiles and waves, and you simply have to stop and talk to him. He’s figured out how to be a charmer, and he uses his mad skills freely when we are out and about.  Let me tell ‘ya, he is hard to resist. It’s really hard to not be happy when I’m around Thomas, and I think others would agree. He is happy…he is fun…he is joy.

He’s doing great in all his therapies (more on these in later posts) and is really progressing. He plays and has fun…he throws 2yo tantrums…he gets into 2yo mischief…he’s just a kid doing kid things.

Thomas has a lot going for him. And, he is doing FANTASTIC. And, we are a happy family.

So, why stress about the future when I have no idea what it will bring? I mean, I don’t sit around and worry about what Campbell’s future holds. I’m OK with just letting it happen, and I’ve decided that’s how I’m going to approach Thomas’ future, too. I will be there to support him every step of the way and will help him achieve as much as possible. And, I have every confidence that this boy is going far.

Now, this doesn’t mean I’m not preparing for the future. We’re putting money into our 401Ks. We’ve drawn up wills and established a special needs trust for Thomas. We are being responsible about the future in a business sense.

But, I refuse to waste away all the fun and happy moments we are having right now for worrying about what’s to come.

I encourage all of you to jump on board with this philosophy. It’s seriously a great way to live. It’s Thanksgiving every day in my world, and I have a very cute 2yo to thank for it.

Having fun at Disney World last spring while riding Jungle Cruise.

Having fun at Disney World last spring while riding Jungle Cruise.

Journey with Down syndrome: my pledge

Oh, Thomas.

How do I even begin to write about my boy? My precious, funny, smart, amazingly AWESOME boy who makes my heart sit at near-explosion at all times.

As I said in my intro blog post, one of the reasons I couldn’t resist starting a blog is because I want to take part in educating my little corner of the world about Down syndrome. I’ve learned so, so, so much about so, so, so much since Thomas was born in June of 2011, and I’m just bursting at the seams to share what I’ve learned.

For the last few weeks, my mind has been racing ‘round and ‘round about all the things I could share, and I’ve really been struggling with where to start. I’ve decided to begin with a short and sweet post in which I declare a pledge to you.

I will be real and honest.

Those of you who know me know I’m a pretty “real” person (or, I think you know that about me). I have no desire to create a false image of myself or of my family. We are who we are. Period. So, I will not use this blog to paint a perfect picture of life. I will share the immense joy of raising Thomas (and my other children, of course). I also will share the challenges associated with raising a child with Down syndrome. I’m definitely a more optimistic person than pessimistic, so you’ll see that in my approach to raising Thomas.

I am an open person (obviously…I’m blogging), and I want to share my parenting journey. I love to talk about my kids and have to be very intentional about not going on and on {and on and on} about them. I could be wrong, but I think people have questions and curiosities about Thomas and my life with him.  I hope to answer some of these via this blog and hope the fact that I’m blogging demonstrates that anyone and everyone is welcome to ask me questions if you have them. I love to talk about Thomas and am not weirded out in the slightest if you ask me questions about Down syndrome. I am BEYOND proud of my boy and would love nothing more than to talk about him. Down syndrome is not a shush-shush sort of thing in my house. We do not look at it as a bad or negative thing, and you shouldn’t either.

Here are a few recent pictures of Thomas. Oh, how I love this little boy! Looking forward to sharing our journey with you.

One of our last pool days of the summer. What's cuter than a toddler in a diaper??? And doesn't his hair look like that of a teenager here???

One of our last pool days of the summer. What’s cuter than a toddler in a diaper??? And doesn’t his hair look like that of a teenager here???

I never have any problem getting this boy to smile for the camera. He's quick to flash a great smile!

I never have any problem getting this boy to smile for the camera. He’s quick to cheese it up!

Thomas' first night in his "big boy" bed. We found him a twin bed that is very low to the ground so he can get in and out of it. It's perfect for him, and he's done so great in it.

Thomas’ first night in his “big boy” bed. I found him a twin bed that is very low to the ground so he can get in and out of it. It’s perfect for him, and he’s done so great in it.

Signing that he's "all done" with his dinner. The boy LOVES yogurt!

Signing that he’s “all done” with his dinner. The boy LOVES yogurt!

Getting a first-class ride to his first University of Tennessee football game. He loved it (and did better than the 4yo at the game).

Getting a first-class ride from Daddy to his first University of Tennessee football game. He loved it (and did better than the 4yo at the game).

Oh my. Be still my heart.

Oh my. Be still my heart.

Hanging out in the wagon at the pumpkin patch a few weeks ago

Hanging out in the wagon at the pumpkin patch a few weeks ago.

Tips for feeding your family home-cooked meals

It’s hard, y’all. Hard to get a good, home-cooked meal on the table after working all day. I make it a priority to cook as often as I can and have learned some lessons along the way.

Here are my tips for successfully feeding your family home-cooked food. I hope they ever so slightly inspire you to give cooking a shot.

  • Cook in quantity. Unless you have nothing else to do…ever…no one has time or desire to cook every single night. When you do take the time to cook a good meal, make plenty of it. Double that dainty soup recipe. Don’t shy away from making a big lasagne. If you are grilling, throw some extra chicken on so you have meat for another meal or two.
  • Learn to love leftovers. This is a biggie, folks. If you really want to feed your family more home-cooked meals, you MUST be willing to eat leftovers. What’s that? You say you don’t like leftovers? GET OVER IT. There’s nothing better than coming home after work and quickly putting a good meal out for your family that you had to spend very little time preparing.
  • Find recipes for dishes that re-heat well. If your leftovers don’t taste good, you aren’t making the right foods. Let me tell ya, food can be just as good (sometimes even better) the second time around. Maybe I’ve just brainwashed myself into thinking this, but so be it. I can’t emphasize it enough: Leftovers = Love.
  • Meal plan. Gone are the days of deciding at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday what sounds good for dinner that night and then making it happen. Over the weekend, decide what your family is going to eat for the week. Go the grocery store to buy what you need to pull those meals together, and make yourself eat what you’ve cooked.
  • Never start a work week with an empty fridge. I promise (because I’ve made this mistake numerous times)…if you start the week with no leftovers and no groceries, you won’t be able to catch up until the next weekend. Cook one or two good meals over the weekend so you have a few meals of leftovers ready for the work week. Try to limit yourself to cooking once during the work week (twice if you are super ambitious).
  • Take a shortcut. Look for ways to make your recipes a little easier without sacrificing the healthy factor. Grocery store rotisserie chickens are your friend.
  • Cut yourself a break. If you can’t get a home-cooked meal on the table, don’t make yourself feel guilty. Everyone loves to eat out here and there. Sometimes you just need a mid-week dinner {and drink} out to break routine, or you need to pick up takeout. Our favorite takeout is Papa Murphy’s for pizza (did you know you can get any pizza on the menu in whatever size you want for $10 on Tuesdays?) and Whole Foods. Whole Foods’ family value meals are so good and a great price at only $14.99 or $17.99, depending on what you get. Our faves are the turkey burritos and the veggie lasagne, and both dishes come with a big family-sized salad.
  • Don’t stress about dirty dishes. Maybe a sink full of dirty dishes sets some people off into a panic attack, but I’m not one of them (thank goodness). When I cook during the week, I don’t have time to cook the food, eat the food, and then clean everything up to a sparkling shine. The dishes can wait until another day. I figure my kids aren’t going to remember that the dishes piled up here and there…but rather that we shared meals as a family.
Here's what my sink looks like right now. Ain't no shame. #real

Here’s what my sink looks like right now. #real

What are your tips for getting good meals on the dinner table? Please share!

How my 4yo taught me to be OK with my “mom body”

My third child was born in July. You know how “they” tell you each pregnancy is different? Well, I’ve found that to be true. With my third pregnancy, my belly seemed to grow larger than with my other two children. I didn’t necessarily gain any more weight with this pregnancy, but my belly was definitely larger somehow. I don’t know…maybe my body was already a bit, uh, stretched out from carrying two other babies.

After Baby Caroline was born, my body didn’t bounce back like it did with the other two. Still, three months later, I feel like I look a little pregnant. I have a pooch. And quite a few new stretch marks. I hate to say it, but I admit it bothers me.

About a month ago, I was getting dressed for the day, and my 4yo daughter, Campbell, was hanging out with me as I got ready (as she often does). I was in my skivvies. Campbell reached up to touch my belly and said something to the effect of, “Mama, look at how your belly is still round.”

I was devastated. I was angry. I was hurt. I snapped at Campbell and told her she shouldn’t say things like that to people…that it hurt my feelings. I could tell by the bewildered look on her face that she didn’t understand what she’d done wrong. She apologized sincerely (my girl thought she’d really hurt my feelings and felt bad about it).

I couldn’t stop thinking about the look on her face after I snapped at her. In fact, I laid in bed that night going over and over the scenario in my head. Here’s what I realized:

While I was pregnant with Caroline, Campbell and I would marvel over my growing belly. We talked about it constantly. How it was so awesome to watch my belly grow and know that meant the baby was growing. How we couldn’t wait to meet Baby Caroline. She would rub my belly at night when I put her to bed. When she hugged me, her head was at the perfect height to place it right in the middle of my belly, and she would snuggle right up against it. Pregnancy is amazing, and it was such a wonderful experience to share it with Campbell this time around since she is now old enough to comprehend it in its broadest sense (as opposed to when I was pregnant with Thomas when Campbell was only 2yo).

I’m sure she was shocked when all of a sudden I didn’t want her talking about my belly, especially commenting on the size of it. Why not? We talked about it for months and months. Why was it suddenly not OK to discuss it? Baby Caroline was still very little, somewhere between six and eight weeks old at the time, and she had grown in my belly. Why was it bad that I still had some remnants of that?

Of course, after I had time to let all this sink in, I hated myself for reacting the way I did with Campbell.

The next day, as I was getting dressed, I apologized to her for snapping. I acknowledged that my belly was still a little round, and that was because I had grown Caroline in my body until she was ready to be born. She hugged me and told me she thought it was neat that my belly was still round from growing Baby Caroline. It brought tears to my eyes to think that, while she was still in awe of the fact that I had GROWN a baby in my body, I was frustrated over a tiny tummy pooch that had not gone away a mere six weeks after the baby’s birth.

I hate that society makes women feel like they shouldn’t look like they’ve had children when that’s what our bodies are made to do. Just look at the recent stories about the mom who posted a picture on Facebook of her super fit post-baby body with the headline “What’s Your Excuse?” Or, all the stories I’m seeing about Kate Middleton’s post-baby flat tummy.

I am very proud (understatement of the century) of the fact that I have used my body to grow three beautiful children and then nourished them after their births via breastfeeding. You know what “society,” you should listen to the wisdom of my 4yo who totally gets the beauty of the scars motherhood leaves on a body.

A few days ago, Campbell asked me what all the “marks” were on my belly. I told her they were stretch marks from when my belly grew when Baby Caroline was in there.

Campbell: “That’s cool, Mama.”

Me: “Yes. Yes, it is.”

Here I am with Campbell just a few weeks before Baby Caroline was born

Here I am with Campbell just a few weeks before Baby Caroline was born