Family, Year in Review

Year in Review: 2023

Happy 2024!

I always love when a new month starts on a Monday, and I think it’s beyond satisfying to have the whole year starting off on a Monday. I know Mondays often get a bad reputation, but it’s usually the day of the week when I’m feeling the most motivated to get stuff done, so that’s why I’m actually getting out the yearly recap for 2023 on the first day of the new year (something I highly doubt has happened before).

Last year was a landmark year for us, in so many ways. I can mark a definite shift in most everything, and even though it was an intense year with some very real challenges, I can honestly say it was one of the best years of my life. It held so much personal growth, so many amazing highs and sweet joys, and so many unexpected (but not unwelcome) surprises.

Here’s the recap, complete with a family picture a week (which we still miraculously didn’t miss doing, although some of the family pictures were obviously missing Naomi when she was in the NICU):

January

January is typically pretty hard for me because I struggle so much with the winter blues, but I purposely took a lot of steps this year to make it so that I wouldn’t actively dread the month so much. Firstly, we took a long weekend trip down to Southern Utah with my mom and stepdad in the middle of the month, which gave us a nice escape into (slightly) warmer weather and gave us a much-needed change of scenery. I also started teaching a community education class about cut flower gardening at the local college the day after we got back from vacation. I taught the class once a week for five weeks, and I loved it! It was so fun teaching again (especially adults who actually wanted to be there!), and it gave me something to ground my weeks. At the end of the month, I attended a large flower conference sponsored by the Utah Cut Flower Farm Association, which I’d won tickets to. All of those things combined together to make one of the best Januaries I’d had in a very long time, and it definitely lit a fire for the flower farming season ahead.

In family news, Hyrum moved from the nursery into Primary at church, which was an interesting transition since he *barely* made the cutoff and so therefore was the youngest one in there. He behaved great from the get go, but just appeared to be very, very overwhelmed and super confused about why he could no longer play with toys for the second hour of church πŸ™‚

February

There isn’t much to say about February, except that it felt way longer than the shortest month of the year ever should, mostly thanks to the very intense winter we had. We had continuous snow from November through March, and the temperatures were just frigid all the time. I did a couple noteworthy things this month, like finished up teaching my community class and had fun celebrating Valentine’s Day with the kids, but that was about it.

I will say that this was the month when Matt and I BOTH got bit by the minimalism bug, and February was really the month when we kinda both made the decision to really start purging our house like crazy. We made a huge dent in the storage area in our basement, and we ended up getting rid of two huge van loads of stuff in February. It also ended up being the tipping domino for us to decide to try and go full-on minimalist by 2024. Minimalism had been much more “my” thing ever since I discovered it ten years ago, but this was the year we both really bought in. (Now, we still would need the rest of the year to get even CLOSE to that goal, but February at least gave us a really solid start.)

March

March basically consisted of two main things: potty training Hyrum, and dealing with sickness. We knew that March was kind of our only window to do potty training before the baby came, and we’d already waited longer than we really wanted to (Hyrum was 3 years, 3 months when we started). The older two kids had shown more readiness signs than he ever had, but we knew we couldn’t wait any longer, so we just went for it.

It was, in a word, awful.

My older two were quite a lot easier to potty train, but Hyrum just had a huge resistance to the whole process from the start, which made it all very, very frustrating. When he ended up getting sick in the middle of it, I seriously thought about just throwing in the towel and trying again after the baby was born, but we stuck with it. He wasn’t quite done by the end of the month like we’d hoped, but he at least had made progress, so it wasn’t a total loss (even if it did mean that we had to cancel a much-anticipated trip we’d wanted to take that month to go visit old friends). We were also unable to do pretty much any of the usual flower farm prep this month because the weather was unusually cold and snowy still and made it virtually impossible to do anything. It wasn’t the easiest of months, for sure.

In two good things, however, Matt was able to get away for a short trip with his brothers and dad at the beginning of the month, and the kids also had Spring Break. We kept it pretty low key, but we still enjoyed some short excursions to places like the park and McDonald’s (which did indeed have to be on the short side since we were still dealing with potty training accidents regularly).

All in all, not my favorite month of 2023–way too much crying over poop. Literally πŸ™‚

April

I expected April to be the normal crazy that is spring on a flower farm since it’s when the fury of spring planting and seed sowing coincides with the first of the harvesting for the season, and we celebrate both Raven’s birthday and Easter — but I had NO IDEA just how much our lives were about to change forever. But let’s start at the beginning of the month.

We had a very late start to spring in 2023, so every day we possibly could, we were out working on the farm, prepping beds, clearing old weeds and dead plants, and overall just trying to create a semblance of order before the harvesting would officially start in the middle of the month. Part of that early prep was starting a new perennial area (top left photo) in an area that had previously been some old raised beds that were already here when we bought the house and not much else. We started ripping out weeds and tearing down some of the old beds this month.

Then we had a whole bunch of super fun stuff right in a row. It was Easter first (complete with multiple egg hunts for the kids, egg dyeing together as a family, and more), then it was Raven’s 8th birthday, which we celebrated by having her very first (and maybe only, ha ha) friend party ever and by going on the actual day to the aquarium as a family, which was actually doing double duty, as it was Hyrum’s reward for basically finishing up potty training. I distinctly remember on the day we went to the aquarium particularly that it was about as perfect and magical an experience that it possibly could have been. You know how you often dream of how much your kids are going to love something, but often it doesn’t quite match up to what you’re picturing because one of the kids is grumpy, or because someone throws a big tantrum right as you’re leaving? Well, that aquarium trip was amazing. It was everything I could have hoped for, and it was just a magical memory day that I know I’ll remember forever. Everyone was cheerful, the kids were in awe over everything, the weather was finally warming up so we could spend some time exploring the outdoor stuff too, and so much more.

Everything was looking great this month with my pregnancy, too. I’d gained the least amount of weight with this pregnancy, which made moving around in general a lot easier, and I hadn’t experienced all the prelabor symptoms that had put me on bed rest when I was pregnant with my third. All my doctor’s appointments looked great, and we were all hopeful that I might even make it to 37 weeks (or even later!), which I hadn’t even dared to plan on.

Our flower farm season officially started in the middle of the month, I was feeling great, and then, around 3:30 in the morning on the 27th, I woke up to go to the bathroom, and my water broke.

It was a total shock. (Keep in mind my official due date was June 9th!)

I didn’t go into active labor (thank goodness), which gave us enough time to make the hour and a half drive to the hospital without incident. Since I was only a day away from being 34 weeks along, my doctor opted to wait to induce me until the next day (April 28), so I could get a pair of steroid shots for the baby.

Naomi Jean came in the evening of the 28th. If you want more details of her birth, you can check out her official birth story HERE, but the night she was born, we heard for the first time that she had markers for Down syndrome, which was a total surprise. The next couple days were a total whirlwind as we adjusted to long-term NICU life (we were told to expect a 6-week NICU stay) and to the news of her diagnosis, which was confirmed a few days later with a blood test.

The truth is, I’d always feared having a child with special needs because I worried I wouldn’t be “good enough” as a mom to deal with that. As I came to experience Naomi’s strong spirit and amazingly cheerful and resilient nature though, I was blown away by how her presence in our lives gave us a crystal clear clarity we hadn’t had before about what we wanted our family life to look like for her and what we wanted to do with our lives. I feel like so much of my life will now be measured by Before Naomi and With Naomi, and her birth will forever mark a major turning point in our family’s life, in the best possible way.

What was interesting is that soon after she was born, both Matt and I had very similar spiritual impressions, but in two totally different locations and at two different times. Both of us felt two things very strongly, which were 1) Naomi came exactly as she was always meant to, and that our family had been preparing to receive her all along, and 2) the flower farm was very important. The first impression made sense at the time (obviously), but we both were surprised at how strongly we’d both felt the second impression.

Little did we know that just a few months later, that second impression would all of a sudden make PERFECT sense.

May

May was extremely intense, as I spent basically the whole month in the NICU, with only a couple days sprinkled here and there back at home during the week to attend to the bouquet subscriptions for the flower farm and to make sure I didn’t miss any of the super important milestones of the older kids, like their end of school programs.

I was a total wreck on Mother’s Day because although I chose to go to church and spend it in a more “normal” fashion, I was heartbroken that I couldn’t have all my kids with me that day, as Naomi was still at the hospital. Also, right before Mother’s Day, Matt’s beloved Grandma Goldie passed away. Basically, May held a lot of tears and processing of new information (like about Naomi’s congenital heart defects and the confirmation of her Down syndrome), but it also held a lot of tender sweetness as well, mixed with a whole lot of gratitude for our support system and for our faith. We had innumerable acts of service performed in our behalf, and it was definitely a month when I felt more buoyed up by angels (both earthly and heavenly) than I can say.

Matt and I celebrated 12 years of marriage on May 7th. We definitely didn’t celebrate it in the way we expected, but we were grateful to both spend time together at the NICU and go out to eat together as a couple, which were rare luxuries that month, indeed.

Raven participated in the usual May Day ceremony for her school to celebrate the end of another school year (she completed second grade), and Mathias had his special preschool graduation ceremony. The older kids enjoyed having their grandparents come down to watch them during the week so I could be up at the NICU and so Matt could continue to go to work, and they especially loved the week they actually traveled up north to stay with our families at their houses. Raven also played softball for the second season this year. I only was able to make two of the games, but I did notice that she’d generally improved in both confidence and ability from the year before, and that was even with us basically having zero time to practice with her at home.

While I was basically living at the NICU, I had the important realization that I needed to be an advocate for Naomi. Some of the doctors and nurses only saw Naomi’s diagnosis and didn’t want to let her do things like try bottle feeding at all (they even talked about a permanent feeding tube before we’d even tried a bottle), but as I got more confident with her primary care nurses (whom I’d chosen personally) and as they encouraged me to vocalize more what I was noticing, I saw that Naomi started progressing a lot faster towards being able to come home. I still plan on doing a separate post all about our NICU experience with her, but May held some vital lessons for me as a mom, for sure.

June

At the beginning of June, we had the joy of watching Raven choose to get baptized on the first Saturday of the month. It was a wonderful day of celebration and love, and it gave us all a boost during a super intense season. We’d had to postpone the baptism because she’d originally been scheduled to be baptized the Saturday right after Naomi was born, but the new date actually worked out way better because way more of our extended families were able to come and support her than would have been able to come otherwise.

On June 8, we were finally able to bring Naomi home from the NICU, one day before her original due date. Once you’ve had a baby in the NICU for so long, it’s a bit nerve-wracking to feel safe bringing them home without the presence of constant monitors and nurses, but it was also SO GOOD to get back into a normal routine and find a new rhythm. There was definitely a bit of adjustment for all the kids (especially Hyrum, who had been very used to being the baby for over three years), but by the end, things had settled into a good rhythm.

The biggest adjustment we perhaps had to make (next to just figuring out the logistics of having four kids now) was the fact that Naomi had to be put on oxygen right before we left the hospital. It was mostly a precaution because she’d never really been put to lie down flat on her back in the NICU on account of her reflux, and when they started to (because that’s the recommended sleep position for home), her oxygen levels dipped just enough for her to be prescribed the lowest dose. On the one hand, it was hard to move her too much during the day because of the sheer weight and awkwardness of her huge oxygen tank, but on the other hand, having her be on a constant monitor for heart rate and O2 levels really helped my nerves about having her home.

We celebrated Mathias turning 5 in the middle of the month with a simple party with grandparents and the breaking in of the new family-size pool we’d picked up from Sam’s Club for the summer.

July

July was kind of the calm between two storms. We had mostly adjusted to life at home as a family of six, and we settled into a good working rhythm for the summer. The three older kids all took swimming lessons during this month, which was a fun way to start off our mornings, and we celebrated the 4th by watching the local parade and then letting the older two kids go to our neighbor’s house for fireworks in the evening.

We still weren’t supposed to take Naomi out basically at all, so a lot of the month was just staying at home, tending to flower farming and enjoying baby snuggles. We were super happy that Naomi was thriving at home — she gained about an ounce a day throughout the month, and we were even able to get her off supplemental oxygen. July was a good month!

August

Life got a bit hard again in August. On the 10th of the month, Matt (very) unexpectedly lost his job of ten years, and we had to scramble to try and get our financial ducks in a row and unemployment insurance set up, in addition to trying to unsnarl the absolute nightmare that was trying to figure out a glitch with Naomi’s health insurance. Imagine, months and months of call after call after call to various offices and departments while the entire time, I’m literally getting bills for hundreds of thousands of dollars for a 6-week NICU stay. The good news was, however, that I finally was able to get the issue resolved near the end of the month after dealing with it since May.

In better news, Raven started third grade in August, and Mathias started kindergarten, which he’d been eagerly counting down to for months (years, really). He was so excited to finally be at “the big school” with his big sister!

We also had a big pivot with our business plan for the flower farm. Every other August since starting the farm, we’d done our town’s farmer’s market and then sold anything extra in pop up sales on social media during the week. However, I found out that the farmer’s market was canceled this year, so I quickly had to find a way to try and make up some financial ground in the business. I started reaching out to local florists to see if they would be interested and also looked into selling wholesale directly to the public, and both ventures ended up being so much more successful than we’d originally thought that we decided to focus basically just on bouquet subscriptions and wholesale in the future.

September

September held a lot of good things for us. At the beginning of the month, we blessed Naomi in church and enjoyed a little more freedom in taking her out and about (for one short month before flu/RSV season hit, anyway), and Hyrum finally started preschool, which he’d been waiting and waiting for since his older siblings had already been going to school for a couple weeks by that point.

I attended a local entrepreneurship conference, which was part of the requirements for doing a business pitch for award money a couple weeks later, which I also did, and I actually ended up taking home the grand prize of $3,000!

Matt and I both celebrated our birthdays near the end of the month, with us both turning 37. The end of the flower farming season is always insane as I’m frantically harvesting about every last stem before frost hits, but it’s super satisfying to be able to count all the bouquet subscriptions as completely fulfilled and also wrap up a season’s worth of super hard work! Our birthdays were super low key, but we made sure to at least go out for burgers and shakes at our favorite diner with gluten-free hamburgers buns πŸ™‚

October

October started off with a bang as I advanced to the statewide business pitch competition because of my earlier win, and I ended up making the Top 8 at state! I didn’t take home any of the grand prizes, but I did win two judges’ awards, which meant I took home another $3,000 for expanding the farm next year and also a mentorship with Utah’s Entrepreneur in Residence. Because of all the “wins” the flower farm had had (and the lack of news on the job-searching front), Matt and I started seriously talking about what it would take to turn the flower farm into a full-time business that could support our family.

A couple weeks or so after I won the pitch competition, I had a virtual meeting to meet with the mentor I’d won two sessions with. That conversation ended up changing everything. My mentor made me see that we really were able to go full time with the flower farm with the resources we currently had, but I don’t think we would have been brave enough to try it had he not told us he seriously thought we should “run towards it.” We came up with an official 2024 business plan, and we started one important component of that — selling compost — later this month to see if that would work as we hoped it would (a trial run, if you will). It ended up being so much more successful than we dared to hope right out of the gate, and it definitely gave us a boost of confidence as we publicly announced that we were taking the flower farm full time that same month.

October was a good month for fun things, too. In addition to Halloween with its accompanying family and community parties and trick or treating, we also hosted my dad for a couple days when he flew in from Missouri, and one of my long-time friends brought her family over for a whole day to help us preserve applesauce.

November

November was largely about figuring out the logistics of taking the flower farm full time and also figuring out how to balance Matt’s and my household and childcare responsibilities with our flower farming duties. We continued to sell an INSANE amount of compost in November, which not only gave us a much-needed boost in confidence, but also some upfront cash to put towards expenses for next season’s farm expansion, since we’d be growing about 8-10X as much as were before.

We also loved celebrating Thanksgiving with my family (plenty of card games for all!) and spending a ton of time together as we all worked outside to get all the bulbs planted for spring and as much prep work done as we could on the farm. Matt was able to get the land we’re renting for next year completely ready to go, and we also were pleased that our tulip and daffodil bulb sales went so well, and that I was able to finally make some progress on getting a website set up for the farm. A very productive month, indeed!

I think the best part about November though was the immense PEACE that I felt about everything. Even though it had been one of the craziest years of my life thus far, I could so clearly see God’s hand in EVERYTHING this month, and I just felt so much gratitude that we were being given this opportunity to go for our dream of flower farming full time, which we’d thought we wouldn’t be able to do until we were financially independent and Matt had retired from the traditional workforce (so, about 15 years off).

December

December was an interesting blend of restlessness combined with holiday busy-ness. December is the one month a year that there isn’t a ton of actual flower farming work to do (other than back-end stuff, like updating the website and spreadsheets and tax stuff and such), and since there wasn’t a ton to work on, both Matt and I had a little bit too much time to worry about if we were totally crazy for doing this, ha ha πŸ™‚ We did open our bouquet subscriptions for 2024 for the first time at Christmas though, which ended up surpassing our expectations.

The older two kids participated in their school’s Christmas program, but only I was able to go since Hyrum got RSV and we’re not taking Naomi out much to crowded events at this point. Hyrum was still a little sick for his birthday (he turned 4), but we still had both sets of grandparents over who live in the state, and he still seemed to enjoy himself. He also was taken for his first birthday outing with my mom and stepdad, who take out all their grandkids once a year for their birthdays starting at age 4.

Naomi was able to get the new RSV shot in December (about a week before Hyrum got RSV, luckily!), and that gave us a lot more peace of mind when it came to being able to take her to family Christmas events and such. We still avoided taking her to the really big extended family parties or community gatherings, but we did make it to both Christmas parties with our immediate families, which was really nice. She did have a meeting with a specialist in December though about her lungs, and he recommended we put her back on supplemental oxygen at night, just because her levels had been dipping a bit at night.

Christmas Day was magical, and I just love the unbridled enthusiasm all of our kids show at these ages for the smallest traditions and effort made on our part. It was a bit bittersweet since it very likely might be the last Christmas where all of our kids believe in the magic (our oldest is 8), but I soaked in every minute. They also loved our Winter Solstice celebration on the 21st (a hike during the day since our weather has been weirdly warm, and a candlelit dinner that night), and we’ve had a wonderful break at home just enjoying a lot of quality family time together playing some of the new games we got for Christmas, battling each other on the classic NES Nintendo, and so much more.

All in all, it was a beautiful end to a life-altering year, and we couldn’t be more grateful or more excited about what 2024 holds for us.

We appreciate every one of you so much following along with us, and we love you all. We wish you the happiest year of growth and goodness ahead!

I’d love to hear — what were some of the highs and lows of your 2023?

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