Family Matters

I’m so thrilled to announce to everyone that our baby was born on September 19th at 6:35 p.m.! (Though, if you follow me on Instagram, you probably already knew that.)

Our first week with Vivian has been amazing and trying and wonderful and exhausting. But I’ll share plenty more on that later. For today, I wanted to share her birth story because I remember getting a lot of comfort from reading other women’s stories when I was pregnant. Hopefully there’s a lady out there that gets some comfort from mine (or at least a better idea of what to expect from a drug-free labor). Before you dig in, this is a long post, and I get into some of the gritty details. You’ve been warned.

The first indications that labor was near started the Sunday night before Vivi was born. From that night on, I went to sleep with Braxton Hicks contractions, wondering if this was going to be the night. (When I would wake up the next morning without having gone into labor, I would always be a little bummed.) My mom got in from Iowa on the 15th, so after that we were just waiting the little lady out.

The night before Vivian was born, I had a pretty good feeling this was going to be the real thing. She was moving a LOT, and my whole belly just looked different — much lower and less like it was integrated into the rest of my body. More like a basketball just stuck onto my middle. Even Bogey was acting funny, not leaving my side and curling around my belly all night. The baby started pushing a lot on my cervix when we went to bed around 12:30, and I had a few cramps.

At 4 a.m., I woke up with contractions that were coming regularly every 7-10 minutes. I starting timing them with an app on my phone. (It’s called Full Term, and I highly recommend it — there is no way you are going to want to do math when you’re in labor, and this app tells you the average duration and interval of your contractions for the last hour and six hours so you don’t have to think. Plus, if you’re a dork like me and like stats and figures, it’s kind of a fun way to distract yourself from the pain.) When the contractions were consistently around seven minutes apart, I paged the midwives at our hospital just to let them know. I knew I wanted to spend the least amount of time at the hospital as I possibly could, and I wasn’t planning to get an epidural or any kind of intervention, so I didn’t want to head in until the contractions were much closer together or my water broke. I spoke with the midwife on duty, and we agreed I would call back when the contractions were 3-4 minutes apart. I woke Joey and my mom just to give them a status update. The contractions weren’t very painful yet, but I took a bath to relax and ate some breakfast per my midwife’s instructions. (Once you get to the hospital, you can’t eat or even drink water in case you have to go into surgery for an emergency C-section, so it’s good to fuel up before you get there.)

When the contractions were 3-4 minutes apart, I called again. Because my water hadn’t broken and the hospital wasn’t far from us, the midwife told me I could stay home as long at I felt safe there. So I stayed, and two of my friends came over to help distract me and coach me through contractions.

{My contraction team.}

{My contraction team.}

Now, about the pain. (We all know that’s what you’re really interested in, right?) The contractions became more and more intense every hour. I was sitting on the couch, and when I would feel one rolling in, I would lean forward into one of my friends, and Joey would push as firmly as he could on my hip bones since I was feeling most of the pain in my pelvis. This was a technique we had learned in our birth prep classes called the “hip squeeze,” and the counter pressure really did help with some of the pain. We also went for (short) walks every few hours. Walking made the contractions come a LOT more frequently, which was good because it progressed the labor but mentally difficult because I got less of a break between contractions. I took another bath and tried to eat more, but after a while I couldn’t really keep anything down. The middle of each contraction was the worst — I would feel like I was either going to burst into tears or throw up (and several times I did throw up). That made me a little nervous about having enough energy later in labor, but there wasn’t really anything I could do about that.

{Walking to progress labor.}

{Walking to progress labor.}

At 2:30, the contractions were 2-3 minutes apart and I decided we should go to the hospital (mostly because I wanted to get the car ride over with). A different midwife was on duty at that point. She actually wasn’t my favorite when I had met her in my routine appointments because she had a much more matter-of-fact manner, but that turned out to be exactly what I needed in labor. She examined me in triage and found that I was almost five centimeters, so I was admitted. This was my least favorite part of labor because they had to monitor the baby for 20 minutes to check her heart rate, meaning I had to lie on my back with a bunch of sensors wrapped around my belly. As difficult as contractions are in general, they are almost intolerable when you have to lie still on your back during them. I was also on an IV because I had to get a round of antibiotics before labor (I’m a carrier for strep B, so they gave me penicillin to protect the baby), meaning I had yet another tube to maneuver if I wanted to move anywhere. The pain was so intense that I threw up again, but finally it was time to take the sensors off and go to my labor and delivery room.

Once there, I bounced on a birthing ball for a while and tried in vain to find a comfortable position. About 40 minutes later, the nurse appeared again and wanted to monitor the baby for another 20 minutes. I thought I would cry just thinking about it. But this is when my midwife stepped in and basically kicked the nurse out, telling her I didn’t need the extra monitoring anymore so I could be in any position I wanted and having her clamp the IV so I didn’t have to be attached to the tower anymore. I was so grateful to her for looking out for me at a time when I could barely put a sentence together.

I tried a few more laboring positions, but nothing was really helping. Then I got sick a few more times from the pain, and I could feel my energy levels dropping. (Four hours of sleep and no food or water for 13 or so hours will do that to you.) Then my midwife recommended getting in the shower for a bit. The hot water in the bath at home had helped, so I sat on a chair in the shower and pointed the sprayer directly at my pelvis. It actually did alleviate some of the pain — I was even able to doze between contractions in there. I stayed in the shower for about 45 minutes, and Joey would reach in to push on my back during contractions, which also helped.

When I got out, I’m not going to lie, I was starting to wonder if I could do this without an epidural. It was about 6 p.m. at this point, I was so tired after about 14 hours of labor with nothing in my system, and I could barely think straight. But I also noticed that I was feeling a lot of rectal pressure (basically like I had to go to the bathroom…sorry there’s not particularly ladylike way to describe that), so the midwife checked me even though she didn’t think I was ready — after all, we had only been in the hospital for about three hours. Despite her misgivings, though, she announced I was at nine-and-a-half centimeters! I have never been so relieved in my entire life — we were nearing the finish line!

The midwife left to check her other patients, telling me that I could try pushing on the next contraction if I thought it would help, but she didn’t seem to think anything would happen for a little while. Most women will push for an hour or two before the baby is actually born. Remembering some of the labor positions I had liked when we practiced in our birth class, Joey suggested changing position to hold onto the back of my bed. This simple switch changed everything for me. I suddenly had a strong urge to push, and within minutes I had broken my water (it looked and sounded exactly like popping a water balloon) and could feel the baby coming out. One of my friends ran to find the midwife while I just kept pushing through contractions (because, honestly, I couldn’t have stopped if I’d wanted to).

Things sort of speed up into a blur for me at this point. The midwife rushed into the room and tried to find the baby’s heart rate, but she couldn’t with the position I was currently in. I think the main issue was that she was still looking for the baby in my belly and Vivi was already lower than she thought in the birth canal. She made me turn back over, and there were a few seconds we all held our breath until she finally found the heart rate again.

Should we talk about pain again? This probably won’t surprise you, but pushing a baby out does hurt. (STOP THE PRESSES!) But it’s a completely different pain from the contractions because you’re actually doing something (something with an end goal) instead of just gritting your teeth and surviving the pain. I was also very fortunate that this stage of labor went very quickly for me. After about two contractions and two or three big pushes, Vivi’s head and shoulders were out. The midwife told me to grab my baby, and I did without even thinking (I was in animal mode at that point). I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feeling of seeing her face for the first time (she looked EXACTLY like Joey), wrapping my hands around her, and pulling her out the rest of the way onto my chest.

But then she was here!! I tore a bit because she came out so quickly and with one hand by her face (a pose she was in often during her ultrasounds and still strikes when she’s sleeping), but I didn’t feel that at all. Joey cut the umbilical cord, and the midwife delivered the placenta and stitched me up while I nursed Vivi for the first time, which was a really amazing moment for me. All in all, I was in labor for about 14 hours and pushed for about 20 minutes.

{The sweetest face I've ever seen.}

{The sweetest face I’ve ever seen.}

Then everyone cleared the room except for Joey, and I got to spend an hour just holding her skin-to-skin and reveling in how incredible this tiny person is (definitely my favorite part of the day). As exhausted as I had been before her birth, I suddenly felt like I had all the energy in the world. We spent some time with our friends and family in our recovery room before going to bed. After 48 hours in the hospital, we headed home and have been enjoying getting to know our little girl more and more every day. She’s pretty amazing, if I do say so myself.

{Joey changing her first diaper.}

{Joey changing her first diaper.}

{So. In. Love.}

{So. In. Love.}

{Daddy's girl.}

{Daddy’s girl.}

{I spend way too much time just staring at her face.}

{I spend way too much time just staring at her face.}

{It's hard to be a baby.}

{It’s hard to be a baby.}

So that was it! (4,000 words later…)

One last thought on the pain: I’m not going to pretend it was a cake walk. I nearly lost my cool a few times, and I threw up almost a dozen times because of the strain on my body. But even though I remember in my mind that the pain was incredible at times (particularly those few seconds at the height of each contraction), I just can’t make myself remember the feeling anymore. Your body really does forget (and therein lies the secret to how so many people have more than one kid). It was some of the most intense pain I’ve ever experienced, but it was also completely bearable in hindsight. I think it helped to go in with the expectation that it was jus tgoing to be the worst pain ever, so that way anything less seems not so bad. I also have to repeat how helpful I think it was to keep working out during pregnancy — I felt strong going into labor, things progressed quickly and regularly, and the mental toughness gave me the grit I needed to get through the rough moments.

Phew, that was a long one. But, really, if you didn’t want a detailed account of a labor, you came to the wrong blog. This one’s on you.

I want to say a HUGE thank you to the staff at Beth Israel Mount Sinai Hospital for taking such good care of us and being so kind as we adapted to our new roles as parents. I’m also incredibly grateful to our friends and family that coached me through labor, brought food, and generally supported us through this whole process so far. We couldn’t have done it without you.






Are y’all okay if I spew a little mush on the blog today?

Seriously…just a bit? A tiny bit?

Oh wait. This is my blog. I DO WHAT I WANT.


About a month ago, Joey and I decided that not only did we want to take a “babymoon” before our little lady’s imminent arrival, we needed to.

Think about it: A baby is forever. After she’s born, it will never be just the two of us again. Sure, one day she’ll grow up and move out and get a job and her own life and whatever. But really, it will never, ever be the same as it has been for the last four years.

So, even though we are in super-saver mode these days, we ponied up the cash for two tickets to my grandparents’ condo in Florida. Of course, we weren’t being totally reckless. Staying at my grandparents’ place is significantly cheaper than booking a hotel or an all-inclusive resort (the dream), and we would have our own kitchen, meaning we could save on at least a dinner or two and all of our breakfasts and most lunches. And while we would have loved to take a 10-day trip, we opted to extend our Memorial Day weekend an extra day to preserve my precious few vacation days.

Though I will admit that I sprung for the slightly more expensive plane tickets that would give us direct flights to the most convenient airports in both locations. Because what’s the point of taking a relaxing vacation if the trip home is going to get you just as rattled as you were before?

The result of our plans? I don’t want to overstate this, but the trip was, in a word, perfect.

I’m always a little irked by those people who put #blessed in their Instagram captions because, to me, it seems like a fairly overt humblebrag. But after that trip with my husband, I have a hard time describing my feelings any other way. I’m so humbled by the way my husband loves me. I’m so grateful that we have the opportunity and the means to get away from regular life now and then to reconnect. I’m filled with awe by this tiny life growing inside me.

God is so, so good to us, and I hope I can hold onto these feelings even when things aren’t going so smoothly. Because while I don’t feel #blessed, I do feel blessed to live the life I do with the people I love.

So now it’s back to “real” life, with jobs and bills and schedules that don’t include things like “morning swim in the pool” and “leisurely lunch by the ocean whenever we feel like walking to the restaurant”. But you know what? The trips to the beach may be over and my tan has probably already begun to fade, but I think this fullness in my heart will last a while longer.

On this day, April 30th, 2015, four years after marrying my husband, I have officially amended the last vestige of my maiden name: my PayPal account.

Did you guys have any idea how difficult it is to change your name on your PayPal? It’s pretty dang difficult. Even when you have a legitimate reason, like a marriage, you have to provide PayPal with a copy of your marriage license and a photo ID showing your new name.

My bank didn’t even require that much paperwork. (Actually, it might have. But it was FOUR YEARS AGO and I don’t remember.)

Suffice to say, I put it off. For almost half a decade. But after PayPal mistakenly sent one too many packages to Justine Blanchard, prompting the mail carrier to refuse to deliver and me to have to take an inconvenient trip to the post office, I finally decided to bite the bullet and just get it over with.

Plus, I had to provide my office with a scan of my marriage license for benefits anyway.

It took over a week to officially process (I’m assuming a real human being has to verify your “proof”?), but as of this morning, Justine Blanchard is no more on any of my accounts.

I feel like this should feel more momentous to me than it does. But, to be perfectly honest, I never felt that much of an emotional attachment to my last name. (Not to be confused with my family — I am quite emotionally attached to them. The name just didn’t represent anything that crucial to me.) I had always planned on changing it when I got married, and I like how Joey and I have become our own, united unit.

In fact, I often feel this weird sense of detachment when I see my maiden name in print. Like, “Oh, yeah…that used to be mine. That used to be me.” Weird, right?

It could be that I was never really one of those people who went by their last name. In college, a handful of friends took to calling me Blanch, and shortly after graduation, a few workmates dubbed me JLB because I used my full name for my byline. But in general, I’ve always been just Justine.

(Side note: Trying saying “Just Justine” ten times fast without spitting. It’s really hard. See also: “This is Justine.” Answering my work phone is a nightmare.)

But anyway. Instead of feeling sad, I actually feel more complete having this last bit of Blanchard officially transitioned over. I can’t believe it took me so long. I guess it has to do with how I feel like I’ve really come in to my own identity in the last couple of years.

It’s nice to know my Amazon orders will also know exactly who I am.

Did you change your name after marriage? How long did it take? Do you have any last traces of your old name hanging around?

How to Plan an Anniversary Party

My parents celebrated their 30th anniversary this year. By any standard, that’s an accomplishment. My parents always had the kind of marriage that made me want to get married, too, so it was important to me to help them celebrate this milestone. I planned a party in my mom’s home state of Ohio for the whole family. Here are all the details of where and how we partied.

The Location






Their anniversary was in June, but the soonest I could get everyone together was August (close enough, right?). The party was in my aunt’s backyard (my mom’s sister), which turned out to be more than perfect. Not only is her backyard beautiful with giant trees and a huge hydrangea tree that created the perfect backdrop for photos, she also has a huge deck where we could put the tables. And, obviously, it was more budget friendly than renting a room at a restaurant — and it gave us a lot more freedom to customize the space.

We started the night on the patio where we had arranged cocktail tables and a drink table. On the deck, we arranged two long tables for dinner and hung string lights for a bit more ambiance.

The Flowers



To save money, I arranged my own flowers for the party. My friend Cynthia is an event planner, and from her I learned not only how to arrange flowers, but also about the company Global Rose, which will deliver fresh bulk flowers (for incredibly reasonable prices — free shipping!) almost anywhere. I ordered 50 peachy-pink roses, 10 white hydrangeas, and bulk greens to fill in the arrangements. That gave me enough flowers to create eight mason jar centerpieces and two smaller arrangements for the drink table. The flowers arrived in perfect condition and held up beautifully for days. I recommend having your flowers delivered at least a day in advance so the roses have time to open up a bit more. (Note: Hydrangeas aren’t as hardy, so don’t order them too far in advance and keep them in water constantly so they won’t wilt.)

The Stationery





I designed the menus in Photoshop and printed them on Kraft paper. For the gold “menu” at the top, I printed the original text in a light brown and then traced over it with a gold marker. I used the same marker to hand-write the place cards on Kraft paper tags.

To display the place cards, I made holders out of wine corks (I always save them). To create the holders, you’ll want to steam the corks for 4-5 minutes before using an exacto knife (or a bread knife if you realize you don’t have an exacto knife…that happens to some people). To keep the corks from rolling, I super glued a metal washer to the bottom of each one.

To finish off the tables, I printed black and white photos of my parents over the years and displayed them in simple white frames along with glass lanterns with candles.

The Food







The food came from a local caterer, BOSS Corporate Catering. And, you guys? My only regret is that this company is in Ohio and I can’t use them anytime I want to have a party in New York. The food was so good, and Crystal, the owner, went above and beyond, helping us move the food into our chafing dishes and arrange it for the party. She was also extremely responsive and accommodating during the planning process, which took a lot of stress off of me. We had Sicilian skewers and goat cheese bruschetta for appetizers, then dinner was chicken marsala, penne alfredo, zucchini and summer squash, strawberry arugula salad, and fresh dinner rolls with honey butter. Dessert was a lemon berry mascarpone cake and a chocolate espresso cake.

The Drink





The signature cocktail of the evening was an Elderflower Blush.

Fresh strawberries
Fresh basil
Elderflower Liqueur
Prosecco or champagne

To make by the glass, muddle strawberries and basil in a glass and add 1 oz gin and 1 oz elderflower. Top with equal parts of the bubbly stuff. (We made ours for a group, so Joey muddled the strawberries and basil in drink dispenser and added equal parts gin and elderflower and about two cups of seltzer. We filled the glasses half full with this concoction and then topped up each with Prosecco.) Garnish with a strawberry and basil leaf.

The night came together beautifully. It was so great to spend time with my family that I don’t see that often, and my sister took the loveliest photos of us all. Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad!



Photography by Figment Art Photo
Food by BOSS Corporate Catering
Flowers from
Glass lanterns from World Market
Paper and frames from Michaels
String lights from Target
Rentals from Sun Rental

My mom is pretty great.

In the last couple of years, she’s dealt with the stress of marrying off two of her children, the addition of multiple grandchildren, and being diagnosed (and beating) cancer.

Like I said, a pretty awesome lady.

So a few months ago, I decided I wanted to do something nice for her. I thought about flying us both somewhere, but ultimately decided I couldn’t afford it. Then I remembered I live in a destination city. Why not just fly her here and have a little “stay-cation”? (For me at least.)

That’s exactly what I decided to do.

With my dad ensuring she didn’t make plans on the weekend I had in mind, I set out making reservations, buying show tickets, and generally planning the ultimate NYC weekend for my momma.

A week and a half ago, I sent her a package of five envelopes:


As she opened each envelope, she found a clue as to what her surprise was. (Spoiler: It was that she was coming to New York. Have you really not been paying attention?)(yuk yuk yuk)

Once she got the packages, we only had to wait a few days before her visit. And now I’ve decided to share our weekend with you! Here’s where we stayed, what we ate, and what we did.

FridayMy mom got in on Friday around noon. Joey and I both took the day off to pick her up and keep her entertained.

That night, we headed into the city for dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, The Smith.


Fun side note: The Smith is actually where I first heard of my favorite drink, the French 75. So obviously it’s near and dear to my heart.

My mom had the trout, I had grilled shrimp with jalapeno grits (AMAZING), and Joey had the moule frites. It was all pretty great. We ended the night with the Quarter Pounders, three homemade chocolate chip cookies. If there’s one thing you need to know about me, it’s that there is nothing in the world I would prefer to warm chocolate chip cookies. So…yeah. I liked the dessert.

Saturday I had planned the New York-iest day I could think of for my mom. We started out by heading in to the city early in the morning. After dropping off our luggage at our hotel (more on that later), we headed to Union Square. After a quick breakfast (at Panera…not every meal can be fancy!), we took part in a little retail therapy.


I mean, is it really our fault that our first appointment was on 5th Avenue? No, no it is not.

Speaking of our first appointment, it was at a little place called Drybar. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s basically a salon that specialized in blowouts. (Which you know I love.)

IMG_4163Within minutes of arriving, we each had a drink (mimosa for my mom, champagne for me) and were on our way to incredibly voluminous hair.


Next, we headed to Bloomingdales (because why not more shopping?), and then headed back to the hotel to rest and get ready for dinner.

We stayed at The Sanctuary Hotel, which was conveniently located near Times Square. The rooms were…compact, but not in a way that felt claustrophobic. More like, in a way that made you feel like you were in a well appointed New York City studio.

Post-primping, we hopped in a cab to dinner at The House, a restored 1854 carriage house in Gramercy Park. We started off with drinks (I had The Ellington, my mom had a gin martini) and a deviled egg tasting appetizer, followed with the tile fish and the sea scallops. For dessert, we had a cookie sundae topped with fresh berries.




And, you guys. It was so good. Like, ridiculous. We couldn’t stop talking about it.

Then it was time for the highlight of the evening: Newsies!



We both loved it — the singing/dancing is pretty awesome. Plus, the cast is made up of cute, talented boys. Definitely a good choice to take your mom to. (In case you were wondering.)

SundayThe next day, Joey’s parents and sister joined us for a late brunch at The Thirsty Koala, which I’ve told you about before.


My mom and mother-in-law had The Three Sisters sandwich, my sister-in-law and father-in-law had burgers (one beef, one kangaroo), Joey had an omelet, and I had a spinach salad with shrimp. We all had mimosas. Because it’s brunch, you guys.

Then it was time to take my mom to the airport. (Sigh.) The weekend was over too fast, but we definitely made the most of it. Can’t wait until we’re together again!


On my way to work each morning, I pass three elementary schools. Invariably, I end up crossing paths with parents dropping their children off in the morning.

Without making it too creepy, I always try to catch a snippet of what they’re talking about. I feel like you can tell a lot about a person and their family based on what they decide is the most important thing to leave their child with before dropping them off for the day.

Sometimes I hear an older dad sharing an odd bit of trivia. Sometimes it’s a young mother repeating, “You know Mommy loves you very, very much…”

I’ve been thinking a lot about having children lately. (As a concept…still not pregnant, sorry.) Several of my friends have had babies in the last year, and the topic seems to keep coming up even amongst my childless friends. (Sure sign that I’m getting old.)

The scariest part of having kids to me is the pressure. I feel like there is just so much to teach and pass on — it’s completely my fault if my kid turns out ignorant or a psychopath or awesome, right? (Okay, probably not right, but you know what I mean.)

Even aside from the “what kind of person will he or she be?” bigger issues, sometimes I get overwhelmed thinking about all the knowledge little kids have to learn. How can I make sure they learn about the water cycle? Or different kinds of dinosaurs? Or what the largest land mammal is? Or long division? I mean, sure, okay, they’ll go to school, but what about all the little bits you pick up along the way? That’s up to me, right?

Obviously I’m stressing out a bit (okay, a lot) preemptively. And getting sympathetically stressed out for all those parents on the sidewalk isn’t helping.

But I can’t help but wonder: If you only had a 20-minute walk to share something with your kid, what would you say?