A Note from the Trenches

Not long ago at Barre class, someone I was meeting for the first time asked how old my kids were and when I answered that they were 4, 2, and (at the time) 8 months she said,

“Oh girl, you are in the trenches right now.”

I laughed because it was a comically accurate description of how I feel right now.

2017.  What a year.

On paper, it sounds like the most joyous year yet.  We welcomed our sweet baby boy, Hudson, our last baby, into the world. We also bought a new home to accommodate our growing family.  It’s in the best neighborhood with the most FUN neighbors with a flat yard and a room for each of our babies.

And it WAS joyous!

But it was also HARD AS HELL.

It was sometime in December after a rough morning of yelling at the kids and anger that I broke.

Like, legit broke.

I cried the whole way to preschool drop-off.  I sheepishly brought Charlotte in and tried to avoid everyone’s eyes so no one could see that I’d been bawling just moments before.  I sobbed the whole way back home.  I couldn’t stop the tears from coming pretty much all morning.

It was then, looking red-eyed in the mirror, that I realized that I was looking the reflection of someone I didn’t recognize anymore.  I hadn’t showered in a few days.  My clothes (ok, pajamas) were stained and I didn’t have make-up on.  The extra baby weight from Hudson was just hanging out, not going anywhere (because let’s be honest, I wasn’t doing ANYTHING about it).  And most alarming, the mom that I was that morning (the same one I had been for months) was not the mom I had been before and not the one I aspired to be.

I had lost myself.

Where had I gone?

Back when I wrote this post in the summer, I chalked it all up to the craziness that comes with three little ones, a move, and a tiny apartment.  I kept saying that things would be better once we got into the house.

But that wasn’t exactly the case.  Life didn’t slow down.  In fact, it sped up.  I had a great fall photography season with lots of amazing clients, but I really struggled to keep up with everything and still try to be a great mom to a fussy baby, a mischievous two year old, and a strong-willed four year old.  I lost sleep, I didn’t shower, I didn’t exercise, I ate like crap, I yelled.

I broke.

There were many times that I felt a lot of guilt thinking that I had forgotten EVERY SINGLE THING that Callie’s death had taught me because I wasn’t enjoying motherhood the way that I ‘should’ be.  But that quickly passed because, although I had definitely not done the best job of viewing 2017’s gifts as blessings instead of challenges, I know that I hadn’t forgotten those lessons.

What I had forgotten was myself.

In that broken moment, I realized that the cure was not a more perfect schedule, or a better organizational system, or a more effective discipline strategy.  The ‘cure’ was to find ME again.

In the craziness of each day, I did absolutely NOTHING and I mean NOTHING for myself besides the basics of brushing my teeth and getting my contacts in my eyes.  Every action, even the ones I thought I was doing for me (like reading parenting books), were really for my family in some sort of way.  Like one of my new neighbors says, “You can’t drink from an empty well.” so I put feelings of guilt and selfishness away and resolved to take care of ME first so that I could do a better job of taking care of everyone else.  Soon after that day, I joined a local yoga/barre studio and started going regularly.  I can’t even put into words how good this has been for me.  I also try to do small things like light a candle while I take a shower, listen to good music when my mood starts to go south, and get out of the house whenever possible.

I’d love to say that now everything is different and “YAY! Look at me!  I’ve got it all figured out!” but that’s definitely NOT true.  I’m still working on it every day and there are still lots of moments of frustration and tears.  I mean, let’s be real.  I have three kids that are really young and that shit is just hard.  But I do feel like I can breathe again a little bit and, although I wouldn’t say things are easy, I do think they are getting easier.  At the very least, I am a little more conscious now of my own needs and how important they are.  I was incredibly blind to this until recently.

This post has been sitting in my draft folder for over a month now.  I hesitated to post it because I felt like it might be perceived as whiny or ungrateful, but today I felt like sharing because, who knows?  Maybe someone else feels the same way and it’s helpful to know that someone else is struggling too and that it’s ok.

It’s all ok.





Three Years

Pay It Forward

We celebrated Callie’s 3rd birthday in heaven yesterday.  I always wonder what she would be like if she were here with us today.  What would her little personality be like?  What would she look like now?  For now, we will have to wait and wonder.


Today marks three years since our little angel went to heaven.  I wanted to share a poem that a sweet friend wrote and shared with me.  We have never met, but she we share a positive outlook, little angels named Callie, and the sweet rainbow gifts that our angels have given us.  It’s beautiful.

Livin’ in the Light You Left Behind…

It’s so hard to explain it
Almost impossible to describe
Just how warm it really feels
Livin in the light you left behind

To some you were a baby lost
A tragedy they might say
But to us you’re our sweet Callie
A beautiful daughter that couldn’t stay

It’s no doubt we’ve cried an ocean
Because we had to say goodbye
But it doesn’t mean your life doesn’t bring us joy
Livin in the light you left behind

You were a precious dream to hold
Now our hearts hold you safe and sound
We can only see you in photos or sweet memories
But there’s no doubt that you’re around

We feel you every single day
You never leave our minds
You left us a lifetime of grateful hearts
Livin in the light you left behind

You sent us your precious little sister
She reminds us so much of you
In her face, her smile, her sweet spirit
She’s a miracle just like you

You’re our sunshine angel
She’s our rainbow, in her we find
That hope is always possible
Livin in the light you left behind

You are our sweetest gifts
Our babies, our precious little girls
The pride and love you bring us
Compares to nothing in this world

She’ll always know her sister
And how you changed our lives
How you made us parents, helped us find peace
Livin in the light you left behind

Because now we live so truly
The glorious ordinary fills our days
Your time here on this precious earth
Has changed the world in so many ways

Oh what we wouldn’t give for one more kiss
One more snuggle, just one more time
But your love will last a lifetime, while we’re
Livin in the light you left behind

We whisper out your precious name
And we know that you’re right here
Your sweet and happy little soul
Reminds us not to fear

We know you’re safe in heaven’s arms
So until the good Lord says it’s our time,
We’ll be swaddled in your sweet angel love
Livin in the light you left behind…

~for our sweet Callies~
dawn helen jansen 11/11/14


Thanks for all the message, yellow, and acts of kindness.  It really brightens our day.


28 Weeks! Another Update…


28 Weeks!!  Woot wooooooooot!!  We are in the third trimester 🙂  So happy and thankful to be here.

Since my last post we have had another measurement check on little Wilbur.  She continued to grow, making what the doctor described as “adequate” growth.  There was a very slight slide in her percentile, but she remained the same number of days behind.  He was happy with the fact that she was continuing to grow and make progress.  However, one of her measurements slid below the tenth percentile so we are now having to make weekly visits to the maternal fetal specialists.  We will alternate weeks between biophysical profiles (BPP) on the baby to check on her well-being and measurement checks.  Today will be the first BPP and I have no doubt that it will go well…she’s an active, strong little thing.  The next measurement check will be next week.

All of the doctor appointments can be a little tiring, but we know she is being closely monitored and that can only be a good thing!  The doctor seemed a lot more optimistic about her getting to full term last week so that was really encouraging.

We just have to keep on doing what we are doing and staying positive!

Thanks to everyone again for all the messages and for checking in on us 🙂




Sometimes, things from the past just reach out and slap you in the face.

I haven’t been able to take a picture or video of Charlotte on my iPhone for awhile now because I had filled up my storage…AGAIN.  When I went to upload everything, I noticed a ton of space being taken up by text messages so I started deleting them since I never, ever do.  And there it was.

Jan. 27th, 6:52 a.m.

“Good luck”

Sent from my long term sub who I had messaged the previous day to tell her I was having Callie.  I was tapping her in, handing over the teaching baton.  I don’t know why my message to her doesn’t show up, but I’m glad it didn’t in a way.  I don’t think I could face seeing the happy message I sent to her having no clue what was about to transpire.

By the time this message was timestamped, Callie was at Children’s Hospital and I was lying in a hospital bed in Reston trying to figure out what the hell had just happened.

Seeing this message stings, but of course there were so many others.  Messages of support and love.

And with a click, I deleted them all.

Not because they don’t mean something to me- of course they do- but because I need to make room.

Yes, room.

Room for the future.  For the good things to come.  For the dimples and the giggles.  The dog licks and the tantrums.

I need room for these things.

But for now, this room feels pretty empty.


The Glorious Ordinary Project



Things are going really well with my photography business and I have had trouble keeping up with blogging lately.  Just wanted to give an update…

I have a new website for my photography business:  kristincornelyphotography.com

Please check out a personal photography project I’m starting called “The Glorious Ordinary” project.  I hope you’ll consider joining me!  I know that sweet Callie has taught me to look for my glorious ordinary moments in every day.


Kindness for Callie: April is “Special Needs” Month

What if?

What if her heart had not stopped?  What if they had revived her sooner?  What if we had known beforehand?

I can’t help but think about the ‘what if’s’ often.  Of course, our life is so different now because of Callie’s death.  There is no way to come away from something like that untouched.  It affects our very being, our core beliefs, and of course, changed the trajectory of our life path.  Without Callie, Charlotte would not be a part of our lives.  I cannot even fathom that possibility.  No, as much as I wish the cruelty of it all had never happened, I would not trade this place I stand today.

Yet… there is that voice of wonder, of curiosity that whispers (it used to shout) to me.  What if?

I hear the voice when I lay down to sleep sometimes and I am talking to Callie.  In my mind, I talk to her.  Ask her about her day.  Tell her about mine.  I tell her I miss her and that I haven’t forgotten her…even on the hustle-bustle days when her memory is deeper in my mind than I like it to be.  I try to picture her in those moments, our conversations.  Sometimes she is the newborn I knew for such a short time, too short…sometimes surrounded with medical equipment, sometimes just bundled in my arms.  And then there are the other times when I try to imagine what she would look like today.  Right now.  Two years old.

With neonatal Marfan syndrome.  

I see her when I see other children with Marfan syndrome.  I picture her when I see news stories about children with disabilities or special needs.

I know how different our life is because she died, but often I think about how drastically different our lives would be if she had lived.

Countless doctor appointments.  Scary surgeries.  Physical limitations.  The cruelty of others who do not understand.  The fear that we would have been living knowing that at any minute that we may lose her.

How would we have handled it?  What would we be doing right now, today?

We’ll never know.  Callie was spared many of these difficulties and that thought gives me comfort most of the time.  But, I have to say that I feel mad for her too.  Mad that, even though she would have faced hurdles and difficulties, she was robbed the opportunity to experience the joys of this life on Earth.  And those dreams were stolen from us too.  I know I would have loved being able to take care of her, no matter how difficult it would have been.  Even a difficult life is one worth living.

Life is love.  Life is joy.  Life is hope.

I just have to hold on to the knowledge that the eternal life she is living in heaven is filled with the same love, joy, hope, and the riches of being with God, filled with peace, and surrounded by angels without all of life’s pain and hardships.  That’s what keeps me going.



This month for the Kindness for Callie project we are honoring those among us who have special needs or who love someone who does.  Clearly, my heart will always be close to these types of causes and I hope that we can all work together this month to bring love, joy, and hope to someone else who may be facing great challenges in this life.

Ideas for April:

-Offer to babysit for free for the parents of a child with special needs so they can have some much needed time to themselves, whether it be to go on a date, take care of errands, or just take a nap 🙂

-Sign up to be a Special Olympics volunteer.

-Send in flowers, a special lunch, or Starbucks to the special education team at your local school.  They work SO hard and care SO much!  In fact, while you are at it- throw in something for the classroom teachers, specialists, assistants, and principals as well.  Education is a team sport! [without the multi-million dollar contracts 😉 ]

-Research a local animal/pet therapy organization and volunteer, donate to them, or train your animal to be a therapy pet.  In the northern VA area, here is a center for equine therapy.  I can personally attest to the power of watching highly trained dogs (so many are Goldens!! love them!) working with children and adults with special needs.  It’s a beautiful thing.

-Organize a team for a local walk that benefits a charity such as Autism Speaks.   (April is Autism Awareness month!)

-Sponsor the cost of medical equipment or a wheelchair for a person with special needs or physical limitations.

-Make a financial contribution to organizations that help those with special needs and their families.  Here are a few excellent nonprofits that I’d like to throw the spotlight on:

GiGi’s Playhouse:  is an established series of Down Syndrome Achievement Centers, serving children and adults of all ages providing educational and therapeutic programs at no charge to families

Autism Speaks:  has grown into the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families

The Morgan Project:  promotes awareness and facilitates support of parents caring for their children with special health care needs, and to enhance the quality of life for these special families

United Cerebral Palsy:  educates, advocates and provides support services to ensure a life without limits for people with a spectrum of disabilities

I could go on and on, but I’d love to know if you have a charity or nonprofit organization that benefits people with special needs that is near and dear to your heart that I didn’t list above.  Leave the name (and website if possible) of your favorite one in the comments below!


Thanks so much to those of you who supported the March K4C “Seniors” theme last month.  I heard from LOTS of people who shoveled driveways for elderly neighbors with all of the snow we had this winter.  Another friend told me about buying bus tickets for a senior citizen who relies on public transportation.  My sweet friend, Mabby, took a different spin on the theme by giving a neighbor’s ‘senior’ dog some fancy dog treats.  LOVE IT!  Thanks so much for the incredible support.  Can’t wait to hear all of your K4C’s for April 🙂


Callie’s garden update:  This year we will not be doing one big garden spring cleaning.  Instead, we are meeting once a month along with some church members to garden a little bit at a time.  We’ll be gardening on Saturday, April 12th and already have 3-4 volunteers signed up.  We could maybe use 1-2 more if you are interested!  The next gardening date is Saturday, May 17th.


By the way, I’m sorry that I’m posting this a few days late!  I’ve been working hard on my photography skills lately and it’s kept me pretty busy lately:)

Check out my photography sites:



Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a rainbow birthday party to plan for!  😉

I Heart Faces Photo Challenge: Best Faces of 2013


When I saw this contest come up, I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring 😉  Here is my favorite little face.  Charlotte was definitely the best thing that happened to me in 2013.  This IHeartFaces challenge is being judged by Kelle Hampton, whose blog I absolutely adore.  I found it after we lost Callie when I stumbled across her birth story for her sweet little Nella.  She is a wonderful writer and has a great book called Bloom.  You should pick it up!

Keep your fingers crossed for me! xoxo

Oh, and thank you SOOOO much to those of you who have already sent me your “yellow” acts of kindness this month.  One friend passed a yellow air freshener to the car in line behind her after she paid for their carwash!  How cute is that???.  I can’t tell you how much it means to us.

If you want to enter a photo to the contest too, go to the iHeartFaces website!