As a Christian, this time of year is a season of contemplation of my faith and the reliance I have on Jesus Christ. And now that I'm a mom, each year when I think about Jesus being born over 2,000 years ago, I often think about Mary, and all of the feelings she must have experienced becoming a new mom, carrying the Savior of the world, and birthing him in less than desirable circumstances (in a barn, no family around, and during a time when young boys were being slaughtered by King Herod). Regardless, of whether someone believes that Jesus was the Messiah, giving birth like Mary did is a victory alone. When I compare it to my my birth stories (they were hard just because it's frickin' child birth), I can't imagine how any person could get through that experience without a greater power to rely on. In this installment of The Real Mom Series, we are sharing our birth stories. My religious beliefs are my own and this topic just happened to fall during Christmas, so be sure to read everyone else's stories and experiences.

REAL MOMS: Thoughts by Natalie, The Effortless Chic, A Daily Something, Design for Mankind

Elle and Levi are opposites in every way - gender, interests, ages, personality and even their birth stories. 

Elle was my first. We took the classes and read the books. I went into the idea of birthing not wanting any pain medication and having a set birth plan (like many first time moms). Everything was as planned as I could make it be. And then my water broke three weeks early in the middle of the night just after celebrating Ryan's birthday, and, well, that wasn't in the plan at all. We went to the hospital, and once we were admitted we needed to make sure we had a baby within their set timeframe or it was straight to c-section. Looking back on it, it was definitely not an ideal birth situation. I didn't progress, so they hooked me up to pitocin (grrrr...I HATE that stuff). My contractions got super intense without dilating past a 3 cm for quite a while. I was in sooooo much pain and the contractions were coming so fast I couldn't catch my breath. I finally opted for an epidural, but since it was Labor Day weekend (ironic, right?) no one could get to me for an hour. I'm somewhat embarrassed to say that I got stadol (worst drug ever). I don't remember much that happened when I got that, but I know I said some CRRRAAAZY things to the doctors and Ryan. I finally got an epidural after that, but then my body started shaking non-stop, and the epidural didn't take right. My legs were numb, but I could feel every contraction. So, several hours of labor, without being able to walk and shaking made for super fun times at the hospital. 17 hours of labor total, and two pushes and then she was in my arms. And then the world just melted away because I became a mom in that moment. 

For Levi, it was text book for the most part. I labored at home without really knowing I was laboring for the majority of it. It was about 5:30pm on a Saturday night when things started getting more intense, but I was still functioning through it and doing my usual tasks. I had a feeling it could be "the day," so I told Ryan to go take the dog and Elle over to his parents' house. During that short hour that he was gone things intensified quickly. When I realized that I was actually in labor I wobbled upstairs to take a shower (knowing it would be awhile before I could do that again), and then packed my bag. I was huffing, puffing and screaming through it all. Finally he came home, and when I couldn't even have a conversation I knew it was time to go the hospital. There were so many swear words that came out of my mouth while driving to the hospital. I seriously thought I was going to have a baby in the car. When we got to the hospital I was already at 8 cm. It was crazy! They rushed me back into a delivery room, and told me that I was going to have a baby in the next hour. By this time it was 8:30pm, and there was no one at the hospital. I had such great care and attention by the staff. I ended up being able to get an epidural, and I'm thankful that I did because the only snag in the perfect birth experience was that the cord was wrapped around his neck. It took two and a half hours of pushing to get that guy out. They had to put me on oxygen because his heart rate would drop with every push. I don't think I realized how scary it was for the doctors until afterwards. They were just trying to keep me focused, and I was. He finally arrived at 1:21 a.m. on a Sunday. It was perfect. He slept forever, and we just snuggled. (Read more of his birth story in a past post here).

My post-partum experiences with both of them were the hardest part of it all, but that's for another Real Moms installment! Merry Christmas everyone!


This post is sponsored by Coca-Cola.

Every extended family has that one person that champions Christmas. That person that rallies the troops for holiday baking, sets a date to see Christmas lights or plans the secret Santa gift exchange. I have someone like that in my family. It's my sister-in-law, Nicky Vender. Her home is always decorated beautifully for the holiday, she bakes the best cookies and she gives the best gifts wrapped to perfection. She is always the person you secretly hope picks your name for the gift exchange because you know your gift is going to be awesome. Well, this year Coca-Cola has asked me to highlight my unsung heroine of Christmas as part of their #ShareACoke campaign, and I would like nothing more than to #ShareACoke with Nicky. Truthfully, her jolly Christmas actions go unthanked a lot, and I want to thank her with the ultimate gift basket!

Her energy and excitement for the season is what keeps me going because I think my energy peeks shortly after hosting Thanksgiving or maybe it's because my kids tire me out...Either way, her holiday spirit and joy make Christmas much more fun. To honor her, Coca-Cola personalized her favorite drink, Diet Coke, with her name on it, and then I put together the ultimate gift basket.

Gifts always feel more special when they are personalized. Wouldn't you agree? You can get 40% off a personalized six pack of Coca-Cola using shopping code HOLIDAY40 at checkout.

To take the personalization one step further, I had a wooden sign made for her family that she can hang on a wreath year round. In addition, I packed some more of her favorite things in a lovely basket. 

1. Diet Coke - Her favorite drink
2. Madonna ornament - Her favorite 80's pop star
3. Chocolate and caramel - Her favorite treat
4. Bottle opener  (similar)- To help her enjoy her Diet Coke, of course
5. Personalized wooden sign for any wreath or basket - It can be used in many ways
6. Hand cream - Beauty products always win.
7. Nail files - Her toes are always painted to perfection
8. Wrapped soap - Who doesn't like to bathe in the scents of Christmas?! Haha!
9. Throw - To keep her warm and cozy
10. Beautiful basket - Something that she can use to store things in her home
11. Boxwood wreath - It's a beautiful and neutral gift for the season.
12. Bouquet of Holly - Everyone loves flowers, especially Christmas ones. 

I left the basket on her doorstep like a good little elf to let her be surprised, and she sure was! I got a call with tears and joy. I'm sure Santa would be proud. The fun doesn't stop there though. I want to give you something special too.

You can win your very own six pack of Coca-Cola that's personalized with your name, as well as a $100 gift card. The total value of the prize is $130. To enter, please tag your Christmas hero or heroine in my Instagram post (click here). Contest ends on December 11th at 11:59 PM, and one winner will be chosen by December 12th and contacted via direct message on Instagram. Please make your Instagram account public so that I can contact you if you win.

This prize was provided by The Coca-Cola Company. The Coca-Cola Company is not a sponsor, administrator or connected in any other way with this campaign.

Photos by Rennai Hoefer


This post is sponsored by Coca-Cola.

With a three month old baby and a three year old, you can bet that Ryan and I aren't getting much alone time these days. We usually like to plan one nice date night out a month with a sprinkling of quick coffee or dinner dates throughout the month, but that's just not reality in this season of parenting and marriage. So, what do we do instead?

Movie nights at home by the fireplace. Honestly, sometimes I love it even more than going out. I think the only thing that can keep it from being a good date night is if Elle gets out of bed or Levi doesn't stay down for the night. If you're in the same boat as us, try to make a special Christmas movie night with your guy or gal. It's important to carve out some quality time, especially when stress levels can be high around the holidays. 

Make some gourmet popcorn (chipotle rosemary popcorn or candy cane popcorn), dessert nachos, pigs in a blanket, serve ice cold Coca-Cola and sit back and enjoy. And if you're on a budget here's a FREE movie guide if you are a Netflix or Amazon Prime subscriber. I'm sure your wallet will thank you later for this date.

  1. While You Were Sleeping (Netflix)
  2. Love Actually (Netflix)
  3. Finding Neverland (Amazon Prime)
  4. Serendipity (Netflix)
  5. White Christmas (Netflix)
  6. Happy Christmas(Netflix)
  7. I'll Be Home for Christmas (Netflix)

Merry & Bright Christmas


Christmas is almost here. Only four more days until the family is together eating delicious food, laughing at each other, watching kids open gifts...I'm really looking forward to Christmas this year mostly because it's the season of hope, and where would we be without hope? MelissaJill_15blog

New beginnings are just around the corner, and 2015 will be a new year of peace and simplicity. More on that soon, but for now may your Christmas be merry and as bright as this neon skirt.


Get the look: Neon skirt from Nove Boutique, leather top from Bailey 44, boots by Matt Bernson.


Photos by Melissa Jill Photography

DIY Winter Terrarium


This post is sponsored by Coca-Cola Licensing.

Terrariums have become quite popular over the past two years. More an more people want to learn how to grow things in their home and breathe life into the stale air of the indoors. Usually, you will find succulents and cacti in terrariums, and even those will hold up well in the cooler months, we thought it would be fun to create winter terrariums. (This is a great craft to do with your kids too).

Instead of sand we used fake snow, and instead of succulents we use mini pine trees. See how below:

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1| Choose your terrarium. You can use a variety of things, and even a glass dome on a plate. We chose these West Elm faceted terrariums.

2| Fill the bottom of your terrarium with fake snow that you can purchase at any craft store. Then add some moss, and then sprinkle some more snow.

3| Place your winter objects inside. We used miniature trees that can be found at Hobby Lobby. You could also put a tiny deer or even build a mini snowmen with pom-poms and cotton balls.

4| You're finished! Now you just have to choose where you want to put it in your home.

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Photography by Melissa Jill, Floral design by Hoot and Holler, Art Direction by Alex Evjen.