A City That Holds Significance: Discovering New Orleans

This post is sponsored by Holiday Inn brand. As always, thoughts and opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting the brands that make this blog possible!

It was almost four years ago when she gently handed me the most beautiful, precious gift: her baby girl

I soaked in every word, every gesture and every characteristic I could about my daughter's birth mother. Her strength, poise and thoughtfulness amazed me. When we hugged each other goodbye on that unseasonably hot August day, I told her, "I hope she turns out just like you." And I meant it with every fiber in my body. 

After we went our separate ways, I remember scribbling down notes. I wanted my daughter to know her roots -- from her birth mom's favorite foods, hobbies, pregnancy cravings and the things she loved about her hometown of New Orleans -- I wanted to remember it all for my daughter. 

When we said yes to adopting her, we also said yes to learning about her culture, embracing her heritage and instilling a sense of pride with where her family comes from.

While my notes have been safely tucked away in the pages of her baby book for a few years now, it's been on our bucket list to visit the city that holds so much significance for our daughter's birth family. Since it's part of them, it's also -- in many ways -- part of us.

That's why when the Holiday Inn hotel offered to open its doors to our family in New Orleans (just as they did when we first met our daughter four years ago), we couldn't pass up the opportunity.
Holiday Inn Balcony View - French Quarter
View of the French Quarter from our balcony

Our travels proved to be a bit complicated with three toddlers, their car seats and our carry-on luggage in addition to multiple flight delays and a last minute cancellation.
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
But we made it to New Orleans a day later with plenty of time to soak in the southern sunshine! 

The cool water in the swampy New Orleans humidity was just the refreshment we needed after our travels.
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
After playing in the pool, the hotel staff recommended a kid-friendly spot for dinner a few blocks away.
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
We enjoyed the delicious Cajun and seafood cuisine at Oceana Grill.
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
The next morning we filled our bellies with a yummy breakfast buffet at RF's Restaurant conveniently located a few steps off the hotel's elevators.
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
Kids eat free: ALL THE PRAISE HANDS! 
The pancakes and bacon hot off the griddle, fresh fruit and unlimited supply of coffee were the fuel we needed for a day of sightseeing and exploring our daughter's roots. 
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
It didn't take long -- just a few blocks from the hotel, actually -- for us to discover the distinct jazz music that New Orleans is known for.
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
We danced in the streets and took in the sounds of the city.
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
As we made our way through Jackson Square, we could smell the sweet, sugary goodness of beignets at Cafe Du Monde, a New Orleans staple cooked and fried in an outdoor cafe right off the Mississippi River.
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
According to locals, there's one way to eat these fried pastries covered in powdered sugar: by not breathing. 
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
Of course, if you try telling two toddlers to hold their breath while putting a sugary pastry in front of them, you're not going to have much luck ;) 
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
But these melt-in-your-mouth, fried fritters are delicious and well worth the mess.
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
Our oldest would tell you they are "lick-your-plate-clean" worthy!

We liked 'em so much we picked up some of this beignet mix to try and make them at home...although the environment in our house is a little less memorable than the live music and soul-singing we enjoyed while dining at the outdoor cafe.
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
When our self-paced walking tour through the French Quarter got hot, we found a great place to cool off that happens to be one of the city's most notable landmarks.
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
St. Louis Cathedral is the oldest Catholic cathedral in the country, and it's as beautiful inside as it is outside. 
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
We waited out an unexpected afternoon downpour and soaked in views overlooking the Mississippi River at JAX Brewery nearby.
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
This is the where our youngest daughter tried alligator gumbo -- she clearly has a more expansive taste pallet than her momma!

The history behind the brewery is fascinating, the food was light and served in a casual atmosphere which worked out well for our family (although I would like to go back when I'm not pregnant so I can try a local brew or two!)
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
After lunch was over and the rain tapered off, this horse led us on a 30-minute carriage tour through the French Quarter. 
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
The girls were most excited about Stella leading us through the historical parts of the French Quarter while the hubbs and I were more interested in the history itself -- the buildings, their fancy courtyards, and the areas that served as slave quarters during the years of slavery. 

As a white mother raising two children of color, I couldn't help but imagine how different my daughters' lives would've been in this very place more than 100 years ago.

Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
If the brick walls of these buildings could talk, I'm sure there would be an array of experiences and stories they'd share. 
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
By the time our tour was over we had some sleepy girls so we walked back to our home away from home for nap time. 
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
When they woke up, we didn't have to go far for some more family fun.
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
The girls played dress-up with dozens of Mardi Gras necklaces while we freshened up before enjoying our final night in the Big Easy with another good meal and more dancing in the street to the rhythm and blues you can only find off Bourbon Street. 
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
As we flew home early the next day, I couldn't help but reflect on how special this trip was. 
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
Saying goodbye to the culture, cuisine and people in New Orleans was tough -- not just because it's so memorable and we had such a fun time together, but because this city is literally part of our family. 
Family Vacation - NOLA French Quarter
And that's something we're pretty proud of.

Until next time, N'awlins...

Related content:
The Important Lesson My Kids Taught Me at Disney
When Tomorrow Doesn't Come
Finding Joy in the Fleeting Moments of Motherhood
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Holiday Inn. The opinions and text are all mine.


This Father's Day, I'm Choosing to Remember

A Journey to Father's Day
Tonight I watched you on your hands and knees with a gaggle of giggling girls on your back.

The loud laughter and gasps for air bounced off the ceiling, echoed off the walls and seeped straight into my heart as I stood and watched your bedtime trip down the hallway from afar.

It's moments like tonight where I remember...

I remember walking into the infertility clinic, clenching your hand and watching the sun shine in through the windows while we heard the news that biological children were likely not in our future without extensive fertility testing, invasive treatments and uncomfortable procedures.

I can still see the devastation in your eyes.

I remember the mornings you'd ask if I took a pregnancy test. And a few minutes later you'd ask if I was sure it was negative.

I remember the morning of our final round of treatments where you didn't bother asking if everything was okay because you already knew the answer by looking at my face.

I remember the cold, winter afternoon we decided to pursue adoption. And how nervous we both were to tell our families.

I remember six months later, watching you frantically load up our SUV so we could catch the soonest flight to a hospital hundreds of miles from home and meet our daughter.

I remember feeling you wrap both of your arms around me in that hospital nursery, and with a lone tear rolling down your cheek you whispered in my ear, "I can't believe she's ours."

Eighteen months later, I remember frantically picking out a car seat in the middle of an Iowa snowstorm before driving across the state to meet our second daughter who had been born earlier that morning.

It was late when we arrived, and I nervously clenched your hand in the hospital hallway. I watched tears spill out of your eyes when they wheeled her into our room, swaddled tightly in that plastic bassinet.

She was beautiful.
A Dad's Journey to Father's Day
I remember hearing your voice crack as you held our new 8-pound miracle. You said, "Hi Kendra, I'm your Daddy." The next morning, I remember you holding me and crying with me as we said goodbye to her beautiful birth momma. Our joy of a second baby girl came at the expense of her heartache.

Months later, I remember making a list of pros and cons to move to a new city; and when the pros outweighed the cons, we packed a moving truck, our dog and two kids under the age of two and settled into a 3-story town home while we waited to sell the house we built our family in.
A Dad's Journey to Father's Day
I remember how stressful it all was, and how physically exhausted I was becoming; and I remember you encouraging me to find a doctor with our new insurance coverage to help figure out why I wasn't feeling well. I assured you it was because the move was so stressful.

But later that week, we found out the most unexpected surprise in the most unconventional of ways: I was pregnant.

I remember finding out our third miracle was a baby girl growing in my belly.

Months later, I remember yelling at you to hurry up because we had to get to the hospital and meet her. I remember being terrified and you holding my hand in the hospital bed telling me, "We're gonna get through this just like we've gotten through everything else."
A Dad's Journey to Father's Day
I remember the nights you'd spend tucking all three girls in for bed and then driving to the fixer-upper we bought for our family. Between refinishing the hardwood floors, tackling plumbing issues and surviving an asbestos scare (we can laugh about that now, right?), we had our work cut out for us. But your determination made it happen.

Then, a few months after we were settled I remember feeling hot in the supermarket and picking up a pregnancy test, and sneaking it inside so you wouldn't suspect anything and then freaking out when I saw not one but TWO pink lines. And then I remember telling you with my heart nearly beating out of my chest, "Oh my god. I'm pregnant."

And I remember finding out weeks later finding that our fourth miracle was a boy after you popped the blue confetti  all over our living room floor (thanks for vacuuming that up, by the way)
A Dad's Journey to Father's Day
I remember every twist and turn and unsuspecting bump in the road that has led us to these seemingly ordinary nighttime routines of bedtime books and pillow fights and horsey rides down the hallway.

This Father's Day, I'm choosing to remember it all -- the good, the bad and everything in between.

Most importantly, though, I'm choosing to remember how grateful I am that I get to watch you be a dad. It's a title that didn't come freely or easily, and you had to trudge through some mucky times to get there, but boy is it worth it.

Happy Father's Day.

Related content:
Infertility Changed Me
Life Is Full of Exciting Surprises
Love at First Sight: Powerful Photos of Meeting Our Daughter
To My Husband, The Social Worker


The Big Reveal: Our AMAZING $500 Custom Shelving Unit

I'm almost embarrassed to post these pictures.
Beautiful DIY $500 Custom Shelving Unit
But I like to keep it real around here. And let's face it, no amount of Instagram filters would make this mess of an entryway look good.
Beautiful DIY Custom Shelving Unit
Since moving into our fixer-upper last fall, our shoe situation has been out of control.

It felt like I walked into the path of a tornado anytime I came or went through our main entryway between the garage and kitchen.

When I reached out to a few local carpenters and asked how much it'd be for a custom shelving unit (similar to these units I'd seen on Pinterest), all three of them said it was "too big of a project."

Of course my hubby saw that as a challenge and decided to tackle it himself.
Beautiful DIY Custom Shelving Unit
He's a social worker by trade, but he happens to be smart and handy so I pretty much hit the jackpot there.
Beautiful DIY Custom Shelving Unit
After countless trips to the home improvement store, this new circular saw and a few late nights of sanding and painting and staining...
It's DONE!
Beautiful DIY Custom Shelving Unit
Seriously. How AMAZING is this custom shelving unit?!
Beautiful Mudroom DIY Custom Shelving Unit
I still need to pick up some baskets for the shoes, but at least each kiddo will have their own space and we're not tripping over them anymore!
Beautiful Mudroom DIY Custom Shelving Unit
And best of all, this custom unit was built with love and less than $500 -- a win-win in my book!

Related content:
Seven EXTRA Stunning Before & After Photos of Our Home
How to Beautifully Update Your Kitchen for Less Than $100
No, We're Not Crazy. Welcome To Our Fixer Upper


Infertility Changed Me

We walked into the clinic and sat in the waiting room.

It was quiet.

Dozens of women and couples sat next to us.

No one said a word, but they didn’t need to.

The air was thick with anxiety, and none of us wanted to be there.

A nurse called my name and ushered my husband and me back through a hallway into a brightly lit office. She smiled, told us to take a seat. The doctor would be in shortly.

The sun beamed in through the windows. It felt strange. Our lives seemed a far cry from sunshine and blue skies.

A hand gently knocked on the door.

“Good morning!” She was delighted to see us, but I can’t say we felt the same about her. After all, who wants to find themselves sitting across from a fertility specialist?

Her brown, shoulder-length hair draped over a white lab coat. She had coffee in one hand and a stack of files in the other.

As she pulled up her chair, she put on a pair of dark-rimmed glasses and began flipping through pages of our medical history. Lab results, baseline blood draws, ultrasounds, semen analysis reports. It was strewn across her desk like a million-piece puzzle that couldn’t fit together.

My husband’s knee restlessly bounced up and down. My heart raced. I’m sure my chest was blotchy. The nerves were getting the best of me.

Then she said it.

She took off her glasses, put them on her desk and said the words no one wants to hear: “You have unexplained infertility.”

I slunk into the chair. My chin quivered, tears glossed over my eyes. My husband’s knee stopped bouncing. He stared out the window into the sunshine. It was a beautiful day for everyone, except for us...

Read more HERE.

Related content:
When Comparison Almost Steals Your Joy
Hoda Momma: What I Would've Said Had I Known You Were Adopting
I Used To Be One Of Them
Life Is Full of Exciting Surprises: Our Fourth Miracle Is On Its Way


When Comparison Almost Steals Your Joy

I was happy for her. I genuinely was. I love when good things happen to good people, and she’s certainly a good person.

But after I hung up the phone and corralled my toddlers, I sighed.

Why can’t my life be perfect?

I could feel the envy start flowing through my veins.

I was knee-deep in dirty diapers and sippy cups. My hair was dry-shampooed yesterday. And I had oatmeal all over my pants.

My thoughts began spinning into a cycle of comparison.

I wish I didn’t have to deplete my savings account for a chance at becoming pregnant. In fact, I wish I’d never had to stare at a negative pregnancy test or be diagnosed with infertility in the first place…I wish I didn’t have a credit card bill…I wish I could be reimbursed for continuing my education…I wish I could pay off my student loans…I wish I wasn’t tens of thousands of dollars in debt from the adoption process…I wish I had a new refrigerator…I wish our minivan didn’t need $1,500 worth of repairs...

I became busy counting and wishing for her blessings instead of being grateful for my very own.

Comparison. It’s a dangerous place for the mind to wander, and it can be a hard thought process to escape.

I sighed at what my life had become — in that moment, I felt similar to the crusty, dried oatmeal flakes still stuck on my pants from breakfast with my daughters.

Her View From Home Contributor

Read more HERE.

Related content:
Hoda Momma: What I Would've Said Had I Known You Were Adopting
I Used To Be One Of Them
Life Is Full of Exciting Surprises: Our Fourth Miracle Is On Its Way