seeing my sons while in the hospital

March 2014, Indianapolis, Indiana

The day after I was admitted to the hospital with a diagnosed brain tumor and the day before I was to have surgery to remove that brain tumor, I saw an email with new pictures of the boys pop up on my phone.

Dan was sitting next to me on the second hospital bed the nurses had pushed together to make a full-sized hospital bed for us to sleep on. I was emotional and I was fearful, and if it’s even possible, I was also very calm. A nurse was in the room… There were always nurses in the room.

I silently opened my email and tipped the phone for Dan to see. I just wasn’t sure I was ready to share with near-strangers that not only do I have a brain tumor, but by the way, we have been waiting tirelessly for years for our sons to be able to come into our home. 

We opened the pictures, and I melted. One full-body picture of each boy. Both wearing crisp, clean polos tucked into elastic-band khaki pants. Little sandals on the feet. The same sandals as the previous month’s pictures. The boys were each holding a bright, plastic toy, and standing on a walkway with grass and plants behind them. The pictures were clear and bright. I melted again.


When the doctors told me in the ER the night before that I had a brain tumor, I fell apart a little. I didn’t cry, but my thoughts crumbled into a disoriented mess. I first thought: Am I going to die? And then: Will I leave Dan a widower already? And then: Will this mean we can’t bring the boys home?

The answers to all those questions were “no,” of course. But in my fear, I had emailed our adoption agency to tell them what was happening. They replied to my email with reassurance and pictures of the boys. 

The nurse overheard me and Dan talking about the photos, so I showed her. She was visibly touched, which touched me more than I can explain. “I know they’ll be home soon, honey,” she said. “I know.” 

This is the twenty-third post in my 31 Days series. This page will be updated each day with the newest post, if you want to come back to it from time to time.

moments that mattered to me // 31 days @ little things + big stuff

when I first saw my sons

September 2012, St. Louis, Missouri

Our adoption agency’s program director had called us to share the details she knew about the twin boys and their story. (Those details are their story, and we will never widely share that first information or all the information we’ve since received.)

She estimated they were about six months old. She said they looked fairly healthy but possibly malnourished. Would we like to see pictures of them? 

Of course, we would. As a binge watcher of YouTube adoption videos, I had seen videos of families seeing the pictures of their future children for the first time. They always cried; I always cried.

We hung up and waited for the pictures to come through. I squealed — an excited but nervous squeal that has become common in this process — and squeezed Dan’s hand. He did his overly-exaggerated smile and bounced his knees while we waited.

The pictures came through, and we set up the computer to record our own YouTube-moment reactions.

seeing adoption referral pictures for the first time

We opened the pictures up one by one in new tabs. Two pictures of each boy — a fully-body shot of them held in someone’s arms and a photo closer up of their faces.

My reaction was not what I expected. At first, I felt horrible that I didn’t have a stronger emotional reaction. Their clothes and overall appearance was what you would expect for babies with their story.

But we kept staring at the pictures. Clicking from tab to tab. Examining the one-shoulder-latched overalls and long-sleeve oversized polo shirt and little pink socks. We noticed their hair — different but similar. We noticed the drop of milk on I’s mouth and laughed about “little milk mouth” for days after.

And now, when I see those pictures — or even think about them! like right now! — I get teary. I had no idea how we would continue to study those pictures and long to know those faces. For how long we would continue to study those faces. I had no idea how those 6-month-old faces would transform into almost 3-year-old faces through pictures nearly every month. 

I wanted to believe then that I was seeing my sons for the first time, and I still want to believe that today. 

This is the twenty-second post in my 31 Days series. This page will be updated each day with the newest post, if you want to come back to it from time to time.

moments that mattered to me // 31 days @ little things + big stuff

piglet race

October 2012, Millstadt, Illinois

We went to a local farm to pick a pumpkin for our apartment. The plan was to explore the farm’s other offerings before the hayrack ride out to the pumpkin patch, but our expectations were extremely low.

When we got there, we took a quick glance around. The pumpkin cannon was pretty fun to watch, and we liked looking at the farm animals.

Eckerts Country Farm film photography

We heard a people cheering a bit down a hill, so we walked there to see what they were doing. What we found we are still smiling about today: A piglet race. Each of the pigs had celebrity names morphed to include some version of “pig,” “swine,” or “pork.” It was stupid and hilarious. We laughed hard, and like a small child, I really truly did not want to leave.

Eckerts Country Farm film photography

Eckerts Country Farm film photography

We have used this moment as a lesson for many more experiences as we’ve explored our cities and traveled. We set our expectations low, create a rough game plan, and prepare to enjoy something unexpectedly stupid, weird, or funny along the way.

Eckerts Country Farm film photography

This is the twenty-first post in my 31 Days series. This page will be updated each day with the newest post, if you want to come back to it from time to time.

moments that mattered to me // 31 days @ little things + big stuff

he took me to pizza

January 2011, St. Louis, Missouri

The day after Dan asked me — and I agreed — to “officially” date, he took me to pizza. We walked the block from my apartment to Racanelli’s. It was mid-January, cold, and pitch dark outside. We were the only ones there.

We sat at a two-top table by the window looking out on Euclid Avenue. We ate a big, New York-style pepperoni pizza. And he told me his intentions for our relationship. Intentions for which we still daily strive.

I want God to be the absolute center of our relationship. I don’t want it to be all about us. And I think we safeguard against that by letting our friends and family in to our relationship. So they can challenge us when they see it happening.”

I just nodded. Never before had I dated a man so intentional and so wise. 


This is the twentieth post in my 31 Days series. This page will be updated each day with the newest post, if you want to come back to it from time to time.

moments that mattered to me // 31 days @ little things + big stuff

7 tips for Whole 30 success

7 tips for Whole 30 success

photo by Dominik Martin

1. Think ahead: We set a date to start Whole 30 about three weeks in advance. During those three weeks, we purposely became more concious of what we usually ate and what wouldn’t be allowed during Whole 30.

2. Get rid of non-compliant foods: We ate up some of the things we didn’t feel really guilty about. We threw out some things. And we put the items with long shelf-lives in a Rubbermaid tote in our basement.

3. Plan: I started a Pinterest board of Whole 30 recipes, and we brainstormed more straight forward recipes like chicken on the grill and burgers without buns.

4. Decide on deal-breakers: We decided that we would keep going with Whole 30 even if one of us had a cheat day. Others I know quit and started all over again after even just one little cheat. Decide what’s best for you.

5. Eat at home and invite others over: We found it too tough to eat out or visit others’ homes, because there just weren’t enough compliant options. We set out knowing we’d be eating at home for almost every meal.

6. Find your lifesavers: I wrote about my lifesavers. Applegate hot dogs, carrot sticks, Lara bars, passion tea. Find yours and fight the I’m-so-tired-of-this-urge.

7. Take before and after pictures and measurements: Though mine will never see the light of day, the after pictures really did provide an extra boost of confidence that Whole 30 was worth it.

adoption conversation with my boyfriend

April Showers by Olivia Raufman

April Showers by Olivia Raufman

March 2011, St. Louis, Missouri

“So, I’m going to an adoption forum at our old church tonight,” I told Dan, hoping he wouldn’t think I was crazy. I knew he knew I cared deeply about adoption, but I wasn’t sure if he would find it odd that I was going. We had been dating less than two months. “Can I go with you?” he asked.

So we went. Surely the only unmarried couple there and definitely the youngest. The topics and stories weren’t necessarily new information for me, but I had a feeling some of it would be new to Dan.

When the forum ended, we walked outside to find it was pouring. It was a cold, dark, rainy early spring night. My favorite kind. The church was near a large park, so we drove to a shelter to sit and talk.

I had been praying long before I met Dan that I would someday meet a man who would be open to adoption. And when I started dating Dan, I had prayed regularly for a good time to initiate that conversation.

This seemed to be that time. I worked up the courage and finally asked: “Would you be willing to adopt someday?”

Dan smiled while the thunder cracked and the rain poured. He said he was absolutely willing. He had always wanted kids, but he was open to the idea of how God would add them to his family.

When my mind is racing with happy thoughts, I can’t sleep. And I didn’t sleep that night.

This is the nineteenth post in my 31 Days series. This page will be updated each day with the newest post, if you want to come back to it from time to time.

moments that mattered to me // 31 days @ little things + big stuff

my first real job

After completing two different practicums in grad school — one in foster care and one in youth development — I knew I preferred to work in foster care.

A few months before graduation, I had started stalking job boards on general sites as well as several specific agencies. Dan and I were married by this point, so I absolutely needed to (wanted to!) stay in St. Louis.

I loved the foster care agency where I had interned. I had done a short stint in the adoption and licensing department, and while I enjoyed case management, I saw the advantages of a less rigorous position. I had emailed my former supervisor to have her put in a good word for me in the adoption and licensing department. She replied that I had just barely missed an opening, and they had hired someone that very day. I was bummed.

A couple weeks after this and a few weeks before graduation, I attended a conference in town about arts and development. I was pulling out of the parking garage at the Chase Hotel when my phone started ringing. It was the foster care agency.

I answered, expecting to hear my former supervisor. But it was the head of the adoption and licensing department. “Hi, Natalie? Could you email me your resume ASAP? The position we just hired for is already vacant. We’d like to interview you.”

And a few hours after my interview, I got the call: I had the job. My first full-time real job. My first social work job.

I started the day before graduation.

Master's graduation

This is the eighteenth post in my 31 Days series. This page will be updated each day with the newest post, if you want to come back to it from time to time.

moments that mattered to me // 31 days @ little things + big stuff

paper home and residential treatment

Paper Horizon by Misty Hughes

Paper Horizon by Misty Hughes

March 2011, St. Louis, Missouri

I pulled through the gate into a rather sprawling campus. It was a residential treatment facility, or a “children’s home.” Either term is really sad. There were very few features of the campus that resembled anything you would see in a home.

I parked and checked in at the front desk, showing my agency badge with my picture and title: Intern. I was given direction to Cottage B, where the foster child I was visiting was living. He had not lived in a real home for quite some time.

It was one of the most restrictive buildings on the campus. He — I’ll call him D — had done some things that could be considered extreme and warranted such a placement. I was nervous. Though he was only 12 years old, I pictured a very big, angry, violent, young man. And he had experienced some very big, angry, violent things in his 12 years.

I walked over to Cottage B and used the buzzer outside of the door. A staff member answered, and I told him who I was there to see. D had recently lost a substantial number of his privileges. He was in his room, instead of participating in the activity the others were completing. I took a deep breath. I really didn’t want to know what he had done.

“His room is the second door on the right,” the staff member said pointed down one hallway. The entire cottage was silent, and I think D was the only one still there.

I walked to his room. Inside sat a short, scrawny kid in pajamas with little pieces of colored construction paper all over the floor. He had no obvious belongings, and there was nothing on the walls like most kids’ rooms I had seen. There was only a bed and a chair.

“Hi, I’m Natalie,” I said. “I’m filling in for Jessica today.”

He said hi, and immediately went on to show me the product of all the construction paper scraps. He explained how he had made it using paper and glue. It had walls, a cardboard floor, windows, rooms, and doorways. It was a construction paper house.

D, who hadn’t lived in a home for so long, had made his own home in the confines of this bare, sterile room in a residential treatment facility.

This is the seventeenth post in my 31 Days series. This page will be updated each day with the newest post, if you want to come back to it from time to time.

moments that mattered to me // 31 days @ little things + big stuff

telling my dad I wanted to be a social worker

November 2009, Muscatine, Iowa

I met my dad at a little family-run restaurant near the municipal airport in my hometown to have lunch and talk about social work. Though I was positive I wanted to do it, I had a strange fear — a fear founded on nothing but a lack of confidence — that he would think it was an unwise decision.

We sat down in a corner booth — he in his business attire and me in my Thanksgiving-break hooded sweatshirt and jeans. We ordered food and started talking.

And I just started crying. And I could not stop. My hometown is a small town, and there were most definitely people there who knew me and my dad. They probably thought something horrible was happening.

My dad made a joke about it, and I apologized, wiping my face with the paper napkin. I’m still not sure why I was crying.

I think it might be this: Even when it’s based on no reality, I have a high degree of fear that those I love and whose opinions matter to me will tell me I can not or should not do something I really want to do. I have an intense desire to please those I love, too. I don’t care much about acquaintances, but family and close friends? It makes my stomach hurt to think I would let them down.

I had spent three-point-five years at college, supported by my parents, taking every opportunity I could to advance my education and prepare for a job in journalism. It was well-planned, and every piece was in line to be successful in that goal.

My dad was, of course, fully supportive of my decision to apply to graduate school for social work. And he has been supportive at all other major turning points in my path and decisions I’ve made in my life.

I just wish I hadn’t cried in Good Earth off Highway 61.


the only picture I can find of myself from Thanksgiving break that year :)

This is the sixteenth post in my 31 Days series. This page will be updated each day with the newest post, if you want to come back to it from time to time.

moments that mattered to me // 31 days @ little things + big stuff

Stitch Fix box and prices

With some more credit on my account, I decided to request another Stitch Fix box. In my notes, I requested a specific tunic I had seen on another blog, no bottoms, and unique pieces… think Anthropologie. Here’s what came from Stitch Fix, as well as the prices:

Kut from Kloth Broderick Tile Print Tie Front Blouse, $34.00
I was not a fan of this at all when seeing it in the box. I really didn’t care for the primary pattern. When I put it on, the pattern grew on me, and I realized the red was flattering. But the strange buttons + tie at the bottom looked cheap to me, and waist ties like that make me uncomfortable. The price was right on, but this was sent back.

Kut from the Kloth Broderick Tile Print Tie Front Blouse - Stitch Fix

Skies Are Blue Benson Embroidered Trim Top, $48.00
This was comfy and flattering. I love extra details on shirts, so the stitching detail along the neck and pocket was awesome. I don’t have anything that looks like this or is this color — and Dan really liked it — so I kept it! And my credit brought it down to $21.

Skies Are Blue Benson Embroidered Trim Top, $48.00 - Stitch Fix

Skies Are Blue Benson Embroidered Trim Top, $48.00 - Stitch Fix

41Hawthorn Candice Embellished Tie-Waist Tunic, $78.00
Okay, first? $78 is more than I would spend on this. I did request a tunic, but I was thinking a straight-line shift dress type tunic, which this was not. I do like navy, but the cut of this wasn’t especially flattering. I think a smaller size would have worked well. But the embellishment looked a little cheap and not-unique to me. Returned.

41Hawthorn Candice Embellished Tie-Waist Tunic, $78.00 - Stitch Fix

41Hawthorn Candice Embellished Tie-Waist Tunic, $78.00 - Stitch Fix

Fate Adalrich Scoop Neck Knit Sweater, $58.00
love this color. And I really like open-weave sweaters. The sweater was soft and not scratchy. And the price is appropriate for the quality. But, unfortunately, this sweater had strangely long sleeves. Like, super long. So it went back.

Fate Adalrich Scoop Neck Knit Sweater, $58.00 - Stitch Fix

Papermoon Ivan Embellished Collar Striped Knit Top, $48.00
Another pretty embellished collar. I really loved this one, and seeing the picture again, I love it more. It was three-fourth sleeves with a normal hem. I do have another top that looks like this, though — striped with an embellished collar. It was also hand wash only, which yes, I pay attention to in my adult life. Sent this one back.

Papermoon Ivan Embellished Collar Striped Knit Top, $48.00 - Stitch Fix

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