Our NICU Experience

I promise I have not forgotten about my sweet Mila Joy and the parts that go along with her birth and my mental health story. I have been working on that post and will be sharing it soon, I promise. Lord knows Mila always makes a story more entertaining. But, September is NICU Awareness Month so I felt compelled to share our experience with the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in both Hays and Wichita when our sweet Baker Ty was born.

On Wednesday, July 10, 2019, Ty, Nora and I loaded up and headed to Hays for Nora’s three year well-check and my 34 week appointment. I can’t remember if Mila got to go with Mema or Aunt E that day. I hadn’t been feeling well (but I don’t normally feel good when I’m pregnant) and I was hoping and praying we’d make it at least 2 more weeks. Nora’s appointment went well, mine did not.

At my appointment, not only was my blood pressure high, I was also having insane headaches and blurred vision. My doctor decided to send up down to L&D to have me monitored. We ended up staying in L&D for a while (thank God my mother-in-law could come pick Nora up) and after 4 hours, my symptoms met the criteria to deliver my little guy, 6 weeks early. My BP was all over the place; my headaches, swelling and blurred vision were not calming down at all.

My doc came in and told me he didn’t want me to have a stroke in the next few weeks with all the complications I was having. I started crying like a crazy peron when I knew how serious he was. I had wanted to make it to 36 weeks because that would help decrease any NICU time we might have to have, but I knew that wasn’t an option anymore. Before my doctor left the room, we discussed that a NICU stay would be necessary to help our little guy start to get going (but in my mind, that just meant a few extra days in Hays).

After that discussion, everything was all kind of a blur to me. The nurse came in and gave me a steroid shot to help with Baker’s lung development. Unfortunately since I had been on a daily aspirin regime for my BP, I was unable to get an epidural. Hays hospital doesn’t do VBACs, so the medical team made the call that I had to be put under completely to deliver Baker. I’ve had c-sections with all three of my babies.

After they wheeled me into the operating room, I was put under and remember nothing (obviously). Ty told me they brought Baker out to the NICU after about 25 minutes and it took me another hour to wake up after that. I ended up in a room at the end of the hallway in the OB wing and I didn’t have normal “nurse care” because my baby wasn’t in the room with me.

I vaguely remember being in the room and wanting to go down to the NICU to see him, so they wheeled my entire bed down the hall and I finally got to meet my baby boy, Baker. He was hooked up to machine; his poor little chest was contracting so hard. It terrified me. Thinking about it now still terrifies me. The worst part about it was that I couldn’t pick him up. I couldn’t nurse him. I couldn’t snuggle his chubby little cheeks or rub his little toes. I couldn’t do anything with him, except stare at him. (NICU babies aren’t supposed to be stimulated too much, because it causes babies to expend too much energy while they’re trying to keep their body temperature up).

Meeting Baker for the first time.

The guilt that I felt in that hospital bed while my baby struggled to breathe was crushing. It was my fault he was in that bed. He should have been able to stay in my belly for another 2-3 weeks where it was safe. It was my fault he had to lay in that bed, hooked up to a ton of machines, because I couldn’t keep him safe. I couldn’t get my BP and swelling under control. He was fighting for air, all because of me. Even though everyone around me reassured me it wasn’t my fault…I couldn’t get that awful feeling off my chest.

The next two days in Hays were incredibly emotional. It is HARD to have your milk supply come in when your baby isn’t actively nursing and he’s laying in a bed across the hospital. Mix those emotions with the fact that the guilt continued to paralyze me made the whole situation worse. Thursday (the day after Baker was born) Ty and I spent a lot of time walking the halls of the L&D unit and visiting Baker. We kept hoping for improvements but he was still requiring a LOT of oxygen. I remember the respiratory therapists and doctors saying that he shouldn’t be requiring that much oxygen.

Then they started to get concerned that he hadn’t eaten anything, because of the way his breathing apparatus stuff was set up. Honestly I don’t remember much, like I said, because I was less than 24 hours out from a major surgery and all I remember was his little body was hooked up to so much crap, it was traumatic for me to see it – and that he wasn’t making the progress they wanted him to make.

Friday rolled around and a new pediatrician was on call. He came into my room at 11am and said that if Baker didn’t make some major headway in the next couple hours, they were going to transfer him to Wichita to the NICU there. Wichita is a much bigger hospital and has a much larger, more advanced unit. I remember hoping and praying he’d turn it around.

A few more hours passed and Baker didn’t improve. He was on 45% oxygen and hadn’t had any nutrients other than sugar water since he was born. Our pediatrician came in and said that Baker was going to be transferred to Wichita. I remember asking if Ty could ride with him, since Baker had to be life-flighted, and the answer was no. We were going to have our 2-day-old baby loaded into a plane and flown to Wichita without either of his parents. Talk about absolute hell.

We got all the necessary paperwork filled out (which took forever); the flight nurses and docs came in and talked to us, and then we walked down the hall to see Baker off. I don’t think Ty or I have ever cried so hard in our lives. His little tiny body was hooked up to so many machines, and he looked so tiny. He was in a contraption that honestly looked like a miniature iron lung. I couldn’t even kiss my baby boy goodbye.

Holy shit, currently in tears as I type this.

I thank God every day for the support system that Ty and I have. My parents were able to take the girls back to their house, while Ty and I went to Wichita. Ty’s mom and dad were in Hays when they transferred Baker. Since I had been released from the Hays hospital and both Ty and I were so exhausted, Ty’s dad Richard volunteered to drive us to Wichita. I was so grateful; the last thing Ty and I wanted to do was drive anywhere.

I’ll never forget that drive from Hays to Wichita. We left around 5:30-6:00 Friday evening. We stopped in Salina for snacks and a bathroom break. Keep in mind I had just had a c-section 2 days before, was super freaking sore, and still very swollen. We got into Wichita around 9:00 that Friday night. Laurie (my mom-in-law) had gone home to get us extra clothes and met us in Wichita. I remember slowly crawling out of the car in the creepy parking garage at Wesley Medical Center, Ty helping me every step of the way. I only had one thing on my mind: getting to my baby.

We walked into the maze that is Wesley Medical Center and finally found the NICU. We gave them our ID’s and got our credentials so we could enter the unit. Walking into the actual NICU is something I will never forget. It felt like hell. The automatic doors opened, the wings of the unit were dark but there were, what seemed like, thousands of monitors and alarms going off. Lights blinking. Monitors and alarms beeping and creating a sound that I won’t soon forget.

It just so happened that Baker had arrived from his first airplane right before we got to the hospital. The nurses, RT’s and nurse practitioner that traveled with him met us by his bed. We saw him all snuggled up, and he actually looked quite comfortable. One of the huge advantages of Baker being in Wichita as opposed to Hays was that Wichita had so many more resources and machines that could help him get better, quicker. I don’t know the technical terms for all the devices, but I do remember that he was put on a ventilator when he got to Wichita and it helped him almost immediately. They were also able to give him an NG tube so he could have nutrients from breast milk, which they weren’t able to do in Hays.

After crying because we knew he made the flight ok, I went into the unit’s pumping room so I could pump. (My milk had finally come in). I remember, again, feeling so guilty about the whole situation. I kept blaming myself and the tears just kept coming. Ty was sitting with me in the pumping room because I think he was as concerned about me as he was about Baker. About the time I finished up pumping, Baker’s medical team came in to talk with us. His doctor came in and she told me that we had a beautiful baby boy. I just remember the tears streaming down my face the entire time they talked with us.

Baker’s doctor grabbed my hand, looked me straight in the eyes, and said, “It’s not if he gets out of here; it’s when.” I can’t even remember our doctor’s name but I can still see her face and I knew she meant every word. It was those 10 words that she said to me that night in the pumping room at the Wesley Medical Center that kept me going for the next 14 days.

We said goodnight to Baker and went to get settled at the hotel for the night. I didn’t get much sleep because I had to get up to pump every three hours, plus I couldn’t get comfortable and just wanted to get back to Bake. One of the best things I LOVED while we were there was the NICView. We could log into our account and see what Baker was up to, anytime we weren’t there. Here’s the first NICView we saw on July 12, when we got to the hotel.

NICView was amazing!

It was just so nice to be able to log on and see him, any time of day. I’m pretty sure every night when I was up pumping, I logged on and watched him. It’s truly amazing what technology can do, and how helpful it can be. It gave me so much peace watching his sweet little face when I couldn’t be with him.

The next day (Saturday) we went back to the hospital early in the morning. I was anxious to see Baker, and to possibly get the opportunity to hold him. (At this point, I had not held him yet and there was nothing more I wanted than the snuggle him forever). Our nurse that day was exactly what my tired mama heart needed. I always say people enter your life for a special reason and I honestly believe that our nurse that Saturday morning was an actual angel from the Good Lord.

We walked in and she happened to be by Baker’s isolette. I walked up and introduced myself to her as Baker’s mom. She smiled and the first thing she asked me was if I wanted to hold him. I remember breaking down again; I didn’t think I’d get to hold him for a while, but I immediately said yes. She told me that they liked to have parents do skin-on-skin for 1 hour, at least, and I said that would be no problem at all.

Before I got to hold him, Bake’s nurse showed me how to change his tiny diaper (which was hard because he was covered in cords), take his temperature, weight his diaper, do oral care and get him situated. Then, she got us situated and helped him and I have skin-on-skin time. Feeling his tiny little 4-pound body snuggled up to my chest for the very first time was one of the most rewarding moments of my life. Four days after giving birth to that sweet baby boy, I was finally holding him. He slept on my chest for over an hour. I didn’t ever want to put him down.

Finally, after 4 days, I finally got to hold our baby boy!

Skin-on-skin actually lasted close to two hours that first afternoon. It was such a blessing. But…like any mom, I was dealing with another bout of mom guilt, because I wasn’t with my girls. I remember feeling so happy every time I got to see Baker, but feeling so guilty that I wasn’t able to snuggle my girls at the same time. The mix of emotions that go along with a NICU stay, especially when you have other children that are home or staying with relatives, are tough. Shit, all NICU experiences are tough, regardless of the situation.

I remember talking to a nurse and saying, “Wow, my NICU experience isn’t that bad, there are some teeny, tiny babies in here.” And her reply helped with some of my anxieties. She said, “Don’t ever discredit what you’re going through. You are allowed to experience any emotions you need during this experience. All NICU stays are emotional.” I think that conversation finally gave me the ability to be content about NOT being ok with the whole situation. Even though we knew Baker was going to be ok, I was still allowed to mourn the loss of the “normalcy” I longed for after his birth.

The next few days in the NICU Baker made some huge strides. We went back every 3 hours during the day so I could change him, take his temperature, and give him all of his normal “cares.” Then, most days, we’d do skin-on-skin and I would get to snuggle him. It was the first time, I think in my entire life, that I didn’t feel pulled to be doing something on a to-do list, or work on a project, or talk to other people. Sitting there in the NICU, with my tiny little baby curled up on my chest, was right where I wanted (and needed) to be.

We did our best to FaceTime the girls whenever we got done spending time with Baker. I am so thankful for my parents and my inlaws for all the help they gave us during our time in Wichita. We couldn’t have done it without them. I seriously think Nora and Mila had an absolute blast while we were in Wichita. I know they missed us, but they also got to spend time with cousins and do all sorts of stuff.

Ty went home for a day and a half the first week of our stay and my mom came down to stay with me in Wichita. He said the girls were beyond excited to spend some time with their daddy and it did my heart good to spend time with my mom. My mom and I walked into the NICU one morning (I believe it was 4 or 5 days after we’d transferred to the hospital) and they had taken Baker’s nasal cannula out. That was a HUGE step, because that meant he was finally keeping his oxygen levels high enough he didn’t need the help of a ventilator or a cannula.

I was grinning from ear to ear when I walked up to his isolette because I knew my little dude was getting closer to getting out of there; like I said before, no nasal cannula was HUGE. The respiratory therapist walked up about the time that my mom and I did, she smiled and told me, “I just love seeing your smile and excitement.” I told myself daily that I had to keep a positive outlook, because my mental health could have gone to shit really fast if I didn’t.

Our big guy was nasal cannula FREE! A huge step in his journey…also, peep his awesome scowl that he was quite well known for.

I came to look forward to going to the hospital every three hours and do Baker’s cares. I think the entire time we were there, we missed one feeding. Ty and I tried to find stuff to do to keep ourselves occupied when we weren’t at the hospital, because even though I loved being there, I still needed a mental break from everything. Ty and I went shopping a few times, ate some really yummy food, visited some friends that we had in town, and even got stuck in a carwash one time. I was so grateful that Ty was able to be there with me the entire time. We watched a lot of Law and Order: SVU in the hotel and one afternoon, we watched Wimbledon for almost three hours.

Richard and Laurie brought the girls to Wichita one afternoon to see us – holy cow, they were WOUND UP! We went at PF Chang’s and the girls were so excited to see us, I don’t think any of us ate a thing. I’m thankful kids are resilient because even though they were away from us for two whole weeks, I know they were NEVER neglected. They still talk about the fun memories of spending time at Mema and Papa’s, and Papa and Nana’s and for that I am so grateful.

Baker spent exactly one week in what I call the “intense” portion of the NICU (essentially it’s where they get babies strong enough to move to the special nursery, where they don’t require as intense of care). On Friday, July 17 we got a phone call from the unit that they were moving Baker upstairs to the “Special Nursery.”

Once upstairs, he was in a satellite nursery with two other babies. There was a nurse in the room with the babies at all times. I still got to do his cares, nurse him, and do skin-on-skin, and he was making really good progress. We were hoping to be out in a few days. We were still staying in the hotel across the road from the hospital and we were super anxious to get home.

The satellite nursery was actually much easier on my mental status, other than when we did temperature checks. Those actually gave me crazy anxiety for a few days even after we got home. When you have a baby in the NICU, body temperature is huge. Babies are dressed in layers and swaddled so they can keep their body temperature up, and therefore gain weight. Baker didn’t do the best keeping his temp up sometimes and I would get such bad anxiety every time we’d check his temperature.

After Baker was in the special nursery for 4 days, we finally had the opportunity to share a room with him. Ty and I packed up our hotel room that we’d occupied for almost 2 weeks, and moved into the hospital with Baker. Neither of us were technically “patients” with him, but one of us had to be in the room with him at all times. We were in the same wing as the Special Nursery, and it was just like any other regular hospital stay.

I still giggle about “rooming in” with Baker in Wichita, because Bake and I would sleep as much as we could and Ty seriously did what he does in the hospital when I have babies – he finds a show and binge watches it – like genuinely binge watches it…(let’s just say he gets a little stir crazy).

After 13 days in the Wesley NICU, we thought we were finally going home. It was a Thursday. Baker wasn’t gaining a lot of weight, but his vitals were good, he was nursing well and the nurses and us ALL thought we’d be headed home. Even his temperature checks had been great. Then, the med school resident on a power trip came in for rounds. She didn’t think Baker was gaining enough weight and asked if I was nursing him correctly. I didn’t get sassy with anyone in the NICU, until that woman asked me that question. It was condescending and rude. Mama Bear came out.

I (somewhat aggressively) reminded her he was my third child and I knew what I was doing when it came to breastfeeding, NICU baby or not. BUT since she seemed to hold some sort of power to let Baker out of the NICU and go home, she opted to have us stay one more night, and directed us to give Baker this disgusting, super-nutrient dense formula crap. It smelled disgusting, Baker hated it…and the whole situation and power trip pissed me off. (Spoiler alert: he drank a total of 8 of those nasty bottles and then went back to solely breastfeeding. He hated it, it made him gassy and I wasn’t going to put him through it. Sometimes mama does know best).

But, moving on from the small annoyance that was the med student on a power trip: one positive about staying ONE more night in the Special Unit was that we got to have one of our absolute favorite nurses, one more time! Must have been a God thing because we all thought we wouldn’t have Erin again as our nurse, but we did and for that I was so grateful. Baker gave Erin the scowl NUMEROUS times, but I knew there was a genuine love there!

We were blessed with some of the absolute best nurses
in the entire world during our time at Wesley.
I still consider a few friends and am so grateful for the loving care my baby boy received!

Finally, on Friday, July 26, after 16 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Units in both Hays and Wichita, we were released to go home. Happy, happy, HAPPY dance! Baker was topping the charts at 4 pounds, 12 ounces (little shrimp – but you’d never know it now). I remember crying that morning we were filling out paperwork because it almost didn’t seem real. I had waited for this day and we were finally able to take our sweet baby boy home. We loaded up the 400+ ounces of milk that I had pumped (and the NICU staff had froze for me), put our teeny baby in his car seat and left Wichita. We were finally on our way HOME!

Friday, July 26, around 3:30, I walked back into our home after 16 days away. My mom and the girls were there to greet us, and to say the girls were excited is an understatement. Looking back now, I never thought I would be able to handle a NICU stay. I never thought I’d be able to handle not having my baby boy with me every second of every day. But I did it. Ty and I did it. With faith in the Good Lord and an amazingly loving support system, we all survived our NICU stay.

The afternoon we got home, Baker received all sorts of loving from his big sisters.
Josefiak, party of 5!

The emotions (and triggers) that go along with spending time in a NICU with your child don’t just “go away.” I’ve cried a few times writing (and editing) this blog, thinking back to the experience and all the unknowns. I remember going to the grocery store a few weeks after we got home from Wichita and the beeping of the cashiers checking out customers almost gave me a panic attack. I seriously started crying in the produce section at Dillions.

Sometimes it randomly hits me and I can still see all the NICU lights; hear the alarms and buzzers, and the emotions come rushing back. But, knowing that we were some of the lucky ones who were able to bring our baby home keeps me grounded and rooted in my faith. There are some families who have NICU stays for 100’s of days, and some who didn’t get to bring their babies home. Almost daily I find myself praying for all families affected by NICU life.

Our NICU experience made me incredibly grateful for my family and friends, grateful for a feisty little boy with a spirit that never quits, grateful for resilient little girls and very grateful for my husband.

Thank you for taking the time to read about our NICU journey. I never thought I’d say that a NICU stay made me a better mama, but I really think it did. If you find it in your heart, please remember all families affected by a NICU experience during the month of September, and always.

Our Breckenridge Vacation

I’ve always heard that vacation with little kids really isn’t a vacation at all. Normally you’re just watching your kids in a different location in a different house with a different atmosphere. I am here to say, that’s all crap; or at least it was when we went to Colorado! We had an ABSOLUTE blast! I’ll start from the beginning (and include some of my favorite places and activities we did while in Breckenridge).

We packed up mid-morning on Friday, August 7 and headed west. Ty, Nora, Baker and I in one car, and Mila, Mema Laurie and Papa Richard in the other. (I HIGHLY suggest bringing along reinforcements when vacationing – I was so glad my inlaws could go with us!) Luckily Garden City was on our way to Breckenridge, so we stopped at Buffalo Wild Wings and ate a quick lunch. The drive past Garden City as quite beautiful, actually. Everything is literally as flat as a pancake, but we got to see farmland and countryside that neither Ty or myself had ever seen. When we crossed into Colorado, the scenery slowly started to change.

Welcome to Colorado! Poor Mila had just woke up from a nap and wasn’t quite into picture taking.

Car troubles slowed us up a bit near La Junta. Richard and Laurie’s car kept stalling on them. We kept on trucking on to Pueblo (which is a gorgeous part of Colorado) and got to a Ford dealership before it closed, thankfully. They found out that the Ecoboost in their car was trying run on the least amount of fuel possible…but it apparently wasn’t quite enough fuel. Thankfully, we didn’t have any more issues once they got it checked out.

It took us about two hours from Pueblo to get to our cabin, so we arrived around 8pm on Friday night. We rented an AirBnB in the little town called Blue River. It’s 3 miles south of Breckenridge and had a wonderful front yard where the girls ran around constantly, collecting rocks and “treasures” with their papa and an awesome front porch where we grilled, ate sunflower seeds and relaxed.

Saturday morning the kiddos were up fairly early, but we took it kind of slow so we could acclimate to the altitude and have the kids settle in. I won’t lie, the altitude in Breckenridge is pretty intense if you’re not hydrated. I took one Liquid IV a day and gave myself and the girls Dramamine every day, just to combat any sort of altitude sickness we might encounter.

Late morning on Saturday, Ty and I loaded up the kids and drove around for a while, just to check out the sites. That evening we went into Breckenridge with Richard (Laurie wasn’t feeling well) and ate supper at the Blue Stag Saloon. It was DELICIOUS. They have an appetizer called “Drunken Queso”…O. M. G! My mouth is watering thinking about it. We ordered a pizza and fries to share and everything was delicious. Also, for some reason, I decided I was going to try all the margaritas while on vacation, and I’ll tell you – ones at Blue Stag didn’t disappoint.

After a restful night’s sleep on Saturday, we woke up Sunday morning and headed out to explore again. Thankfully Laurie was feeling better so she came with us. We ventured back into Breckenridge for lunch and went to Flip Side Burgers. Another 10/10 recommendation from me. Their food was AMAZING. (If you can’t tell, I’m going to center a lot of my Breckenridge recommendations around food). We ordered onions rings and cheese curds for appetizers and I loved them both. The onion rings were colossal but they were so good. For an entree, I ordered the Smokey Burger, which was topped with jalapenos, brisket, BBQ sauce and smoked gouda. To. Die. For. If I remember correctly Ty ordered chicken tenders and said they were legit as well. As for food, Flip Side was FOR SURE 15/10. I did order a margarita but it was so strong I couldn’t hardly drink it all.

After Flip Side we walked down Main Street, got some ice cream and enjoyed the sunshine. With everything being affected by Covid, the town of Breckenridge actually blocked off the entire Main Street so people were able to eat outside in the street. I loved it because we didn’t have to worry about traffic, and the weather was so beautiful we ate outside any chance we had. West of Main Street there is a large open lawn area where we could social distance, and let the kids runs around. Nora and Mila both had a blast running around and burning off some energy.

These two had an absolute blast running off their lunch and burning some energy.

Most days we tried to eat lunch in town and supper at the cabin so the kiddos didn’t get too worn out and weren’t too tired being in public. We took along the board game Let’s Go Fishing and it occupied Nora and Mila for numerous evenings. Papa normally took part in that activity as well. After the kids went to bed, Ty, his parents and I vegged out and watched TV. It was so nice to just be…and not work on anything.

On Monday, August 10 we slowly got around and got ourselves ready for the day. That was one thing I absolutely loved about this entire vacation – we didn’t have a plan. Laurie or I would look stuff up the night before and we’d do whatever we wanted to, really. There were no appointments or plans…and it was wonderful.

We headed to Silverthorne, which is north of Breckenridge, right on the interstate. You head north out of Breckenridge and go through a town called Frisco before you get to Silverthorne. Frisco has one of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen. It is right along the interstate; it is beautiful and it has all sorts of little islands out in the middle of it. There were people paddle boarding and boating. When the kids get older, we’re going to have to go back and spend some time at the lake.

In true mom fashion, when we got to Silverthorne, Laurie and I had to go into Target and browse around for a while. I am 83 miles from the nearest Target out here, so when there’s a Target near, I must visit it. After we walked around Target and I grabbed a Starbucks, we decided to eat an Italian restaurant called Sauce on the Blue. Another 10/10 recommendation. First of all, I think the margarita I got there was the highlight of the trip. It was a spicy margarita and I could have probably drank 5 of them. Ty, the kids and I ordered a family sized order of fettuccine alfredo and split it. The garlic bread, pasta and margaritas were delicious. I will definitely eat there again when we go back!

We explored a little more of Silverthorne when we finished up eating, then we loaded up and headed to Georgetown, Colorado to the candy store. Georgetown is east of Silverthorne about 25 miles, and I will tell you, I did not enjoy the drive there. First of all…I-70 in Colorado is NOTHING like it is in western Kansas. The curves and inclines about made me sick, and there is a long ass tunnel (like 1.6 miles long) that my claustrophobic self did not enjoy. But, we got to Georgetown, which is a cute little town nestled at the base of the mountains, and explored some more (and I did not get sick).

We went to the candy store, a jerky store, a few jewelry stores and gift shops, and got ice cream as a treat. Georgetown is cute, but again…the Colorado landscape might not be the best for me and my anxiety at times. It is literally BELOW the interstate and I slowly started to get claustrophobic while we were there. (I keep telling Ty I just need to get a shirt that says, “But first, let me be dramatic”).

The location legitimately gave me anxiety, but it was good for a photo opp!

We left Georgetown, headed back to the cabin and relaxed there for the evening. More Let’s Go Fishing was played and the kids actually went to bed (most nights) fairly easily. It helped that they were very tired from exploring all day, and there was a big, comfy bed for them to sleep in.

Tuesday morning we rode the Breckenridge gondolas, or “dominoes” as Mila called them. I was worried the girls would be nervous or scared but they loved every minute of it. We got to the top of the mountain and hung out for a bit. Unfortunately, due to Covid, a lot of the fun stuff at the top of the mountain were closed or unavailable. Normally they have a bunch of kids’ activities and bounce houses but not this time. The alpine slide was going, but Ty and I both thought that it would probably be too much for either of the girls so we skipped that.

The mountain area where the gondolas stopped was really beautiful!

After we rode the gondolas down the mountain, we ate lunch. I honestly cannot remember where we ate…so I guess it’s not worthy of a recommendation. Back at the cabin that afternoon, the babies took naps and the adults just hung out. Richard went out for a walk and came (running) back to the house. Our cabin was right by a creek and he was walking through the trees and saw a moose! So naturally we all walked over to where he saw the moose, and sure enough, a cow moose was standing there eating grass by the creek. She was completely un-phased by us.

We decided to take the babies into Breckenridge that night for supper. Mi Casa Mexican restaurant was recommended to us from the AirBnB owner and it was pretty good. I will say, not the best food we had on our trip, but it was decent. I ordered the chicken chimichanga (my go-to at Mexican restaurants) and an avocado pineapple margarita. The margarita was amazing. The chimichanga was good, but not mind blowing like some of the other food I’d had on this trip. After we ate we walked Main Street again; the weather got chilly enough for a hoodie and I loved it.

Wednesday was kind of a lazy day for us. Richard and Laurie went into town and ate at Ollie’s. They said it was good, but Ty and I never ate there so I can’t tell you what to get! The kids, Ty and I vegged out for most the day. They needed naps (Ty included) and I actually think I got a nap that day too.

Vegging out and being lazy was a definite highlight of our trip!

Wednesday evening was date night for Ty and me. We dressed up and went into town again. There were a few places recommended to us to eat, and we opted for Whiskey Star BBQ right on Main Street. Ty loves BBQ and I could eat brisket every day, so it was the perfect place for us to go eat. He got ribs and couldn’t even eat them all; they were so good. The margarita at Whiskey Star was good too; just your run of the mill margarita, but still delish. After we ate, we walked around Main Street for a while, did a little shopping, and a lot of laughing. It was so nice; we try to do date night once a month because it’s important to us.

At the end of our evening we stopped at the famous crepe stand in Breckenridge, Crepes a la Cart. If you visit Breckenridge, you HAVE to visit this stand. So. Freaking. Good. It’s worth the wait in line, even if the line is halfway down the street. We each ordered a crepe, because if anyone knows me, you know I love food and I’m not about to share with anyone, even Ty. He ordered the S’mores crepe and I ordered a Cinnamon+Sugar crepe. Mine was TO DIE FOR. Ty said his was good, but it almost had too many marshmallows inside of it. Regardless, they were so good and I wish we would have stopped more than once. I highly, HIGHLY recommend stopping at the crepe cart. Here is there menu: don’t drool too much.

After we ate our crepes, I made Ty snap some pictures of me for Instagram (he’s such an awesome Insta-hubby) and then drove to the top of the mountain to see the amazing view. It really was an awesome evening.

We got back to the cabin after date night and the babies and Papa & Mema were playing; Nora begged us to ride the gondolas again the next morning, which shocked me but we agreed we’d do it because it was a fun activity for the kids and completely FREE! So, we woke up Thursday morning and rode the “dominoes” (gondolas) again. After that ride (and immense amounts of excitement from the girls) we went down by the Blue River for a while and hung out. We skipped rocks, threw rocks in the stream, played with sticks and soaked up the sunshine. It was really the perfect morning.

After hanging out at the river, we went back to the Blue Stag Saloon for lunch, since Laurie didn’t get to eat there with us the first time. We ordered the fancy deviled eggs and everybody loved them. I had one more margarita at the Blue Stag (although my absolute favorite margarita on the trip was still the spicy one from Sauce on the Blue) and we ate all the yummy food. By Thursday afternoon, we were all pretty tired and ready to head home the following day.

We left early Friday morning and started the trek home. We went interstate through Denver, Goodland and Hays. It really was an amazing vacation. If you’re ever planning a trip to Colorado, I highly recommend Breckenridge. It was perfect, even with little kids. The temperature didn’t get above 79° and there was no humidity. (Plus I’ve been yearning for fall and I got to wear a sweatshirt so my week was made).

I already told Ty we need to start planning our vacation next summer…and we should probably just go back to Breckenridge 🙂

Hope you have a fantastic rest of your week!

Growing Up at the Moser Ranch

I truly believe we are a product of our environment, and I do pride myself on knowing how to work hard and power through, even when times are tough. I grew up on a cattle ranch in northeast Kansas. People have asked me in the past what’s so different about being a farm wife vs. living/working on a ranch. There are a few stark differences that I can glean from my time doing both. One of the biggest differences is that growing up, my family’s ranch didn’t have much for row crop (wheat, milo, corn, soybeans). That was something that was new for me when I moved to western Kansas.

Another aspect of farm life that I had ZERO experience with was irrigation. My family, like I said, did not farm a lot, we mostly ran cattle and put up hay. Irrigation was brand new to me. The first time Ty and I hung out, I actually asked him if irrigation pivots are put in the shed for the winter. I think he thought I was crazy (hint: they don’t take irrigation pivots down, like…ever). Ty’s family has been irrigating for well over 35 years, but more about that to come in a different post.

My jobs on our family’s ranch varied as I grew up. When I was really little, it was my job to feed the cats, play with the kittens and puppies, get muddy in mud puddles and every now and then my mom would make us pull weeds in her iris bed, and that…that I hated! As I got older, I mowed the lawn and around the barns, worked with my 4-H calves, helped work cattle when we had to vaccinate and doctor them, rode around with my dad to check cattle, and did whatever my mom needed me to.

In the last few years as a resident on the Moser Ranch, I got to stack a lot of large, round bales. My brother used to refer to my dad and me as the “little old ladies” chattering on the 2-way radio. Thinking back to that now makes me giggle.

One of the best highlights of growing up on a ranch, though, was the early morning wake up calls to go gather cattle. In the summertime in northeast Kansas, it gets very hot and very humid very quickly; so we would have to get groups of cattle gathered in the early morning to avoid getting them too hot and sweaty, plus it was easier on horses and help to do things while it was cooler. On mornings when we’d have to gather cattle, Mom would wake me up anywhere between 5:30-6:00 am to get ready for the day. Thankfully, my dad or sister normally caught my horse and had him saddled. I wasn’t and never have been a morning person, but on those summer mornings when I knew we’d be horseback and I’d get to soak in the early morning, it wasn’t so bad. Looking back now, I wish I would have embraced the mornings more. At the time, the only thing that kept me excited about getting up to gather cattle was the donuts and juice we’d get to enjoy afterward. Nothing better to enjoy than a Dillon’s glazed donut and ice cold orange juice on a hot summer morning after you’ve been on horseback for two hours.

Another highlight of those early morning wake up calls was that I got to hang out with one of my best friends, because her dad always came to help gather cattle. So naturally, Steph came along to help too. Stephanie, her little brother Tyler and I normally brought up the rear of the herd of cattle. Nine times out of 10 we were jacking around and talking really loud. Oh the memories! I think that should be a post on its own sometime soon.

There were always jobs around the ranch that none of us kids enjoyed. Sweeping out feed bunks, opening gates, chopping thistles and cleaning out the calving barn were not my favorite things; but most of the time, after a little grumbling, we got them done to our parents’ liking. We did have a lot of fun growing up in the country. When I was in grade school, one of my siblings and mine’s favorite games was jumping big round hay bales. We’d essentially play tag on the bales. We also had an awesome old “summer kitchen” that we made into a playhouse. It was a little ways away from my parent’s house; my sister and I would pretend to cook and have our own little house. When we needed “groceries” we would walk to my mom’s house and “go shopping.” I remember it was a pretty big deal to get an egg, flour, and noodles to pretend to cook with. We made all sorts of concoctions. When my brother wasn’t too busy helping my dad, he’d come by our playhouse and hang out in the loft portion. He had an old 2-way radio he’d pretend to talk on. Really kind of sounds like Mayberry as I type this. I do feel blessed to have had so many awesome experiences growing up.

One of the funniest memories I have growing up with my siblings was when it was snowy and we’d ride the sled behind the 4-wheeler. My brother was ruthless. He’d seriously drive so fast and sling that sled all over hell. There were numerous times where there could have been (bad) injuries, but the Good Lord was looking out for us. I vividly remember one time, in March, when we decided to get the 4-wheeler and the sled out. There might have been a skiff of snow on the ground, but definitely not enough to be sledding. I didn’t want to ride the sled but my older sister Kendra decided she would. So, Cameron (my big brother) was driving, I was riding behind him, and Kendra was on the sled.

We were out in a big alfalfa field. There were cow patties everywhere and it was frozen enough that when Cameron drove over them, they didn’t completely splatter, but they did kick some cow poop back. (I’m seriously laughing as type this). Anyway, Kendra ended up getting a lot of cow poop to the face. All three of us were laughing so hard, the laughter was contagious. Cameron seriously drove that 4-wheeler for probably 20 minutes and the entire time Kendra was laughing, with her mouth open. By the end of the “sledding” fun, Kendra was a mess. Cameron and I could not stop laughing. And needless to say, we still get a chuckle out of it to this day.

The biggest take away I have from my time living and working on my family’s ranch was that if you take care of the land and your animals, they’ll take care of you. Having pride in a job well-done and giving 110% in everything you do is essential.

My family’s ranch is still owned and operated by my mom and dad, and my brother Cameron and his wife. It’s in good hands. I love taking my kiddos back to visit and am so glad I had such an amazing upbringing. I know my children’s life experiences may differ, but I think in regards to all agriculture — farmers and ranchers everywhere do their absolute best to care for the gift of land and animals. The agriculture world isn’t for the faint of heart, but I don’t think my family would have it any other way.

I’m sure I’ll share more posts about my childhood in the future because I had a blast sharing these with you all, but for now I’m going to get back to laundry, harvest food prep and changing diapers!

Happy Wednesday and God Bless!


P.S. Be sure to follow along on my Instagram stories for updates regarding wheat harvest in south central Kansas – I’ll be documenting it all on there!

Wheat Harvest Time

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s almost that time of year where we will be spending the majority of our days at my in-law’s house; cooking harvest meals, being on-call to help move equipment and hanging out with family, making memories. Before I moved to western Kansas, I had NO idea how labor-intense wheat harvest was. I grew up in northeast Kansas where wheat is not generally planted or grown. There would be a few fields here and there to harvest in the summertime back home, but nothing compared to the thousands of acres of wheat that are planted and harvested in south-central and southwest Kansas.

The wheat that is harvested in June (and sometimes July) in our area is planted in September or October the previous year. Wheat has the ability to go dormant during winter months, therefore it is planted in the fall to allow the wheat to start to grow, making it more productive in the spring. You get a higher yield (amount of grain from each acre) from wheat planted in the fall, as opposed to wheat planted in the spring. The wheat is then harvested, as stated above, in June or July. We then sell the wheat to an available market, ours happens to be the local coop. It is then sold, from the coop, to a milling company where it is made into flour that is used for baked goods.

Like I’ve said before, I am incredibly proud to be married into a hard-working farm family. My husband’s family has owned and operated our farming operation for many years. Ty is the 4th generation to farm the land, which means my babies, if they choose to farm someday, will be 5th generation. In the past six years, I’ve learned more about farming and irrigation than I ever thought I would. It takes a special soul to love and care for the land as much as my husband and his family does. There is such a pride in raising a good crop, keeping the land fertile, and doing it all with grace (most of the time). Not to say there are not stressful times – our livelihood depends on the grain markets and more often than not prices aren’t as good as we would hope they’d be, but I don’t think there is another profession my husband would love as much as he loves farming. Farming isn’t for the faint of heart, and I truly feel it’s a job that you’re born to do. It’s not easy and times are stressful right now. John F. Kennedy said it best when he said, “The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways.”

This will be my 6th harvest in the Josefiak family. My first “official” harvest was in 2015, right before Ty and I got married. I remember hoping and praying we would be done cutting wheat by July 11, 2015. We were…thank goodness. Harvest was definitely an eye-opening experience. I quickly learned we don’t mess around when it comes to feeding the harvest crew at Josefiak Farms, and I freaking love it. Normally my mother-in-law Laurie, my sister-in-laws Heather and Nikki, and I organize and take charge with the harvest meals. We make meals twice a day (lunch and supper) and take it to the field so the crew doesn’t have to take too much of a break to eat.

I’ve come to look forward to the time we get to spend with family during those 2 or 3 weeks every summer. The kids play in the back yard, watch movies, eat a lot of snacks, and spend a lot of quality time together. Every day during harvest while we are actively cutting, we load up a few tables, the food & drinks, and head out to the field for both lunch and supper. Normally someone stays home with the kids, since the passel of grandchildren has grown – it’s easier if they eat at Mema’s house and stay in the air conditioning. (Sometimes kiddos will go to the field, but in the past few years we’ve kept a lot of them at home just because that’s a LOT of little bodies to haul around!).

When I first helped at harvest, my organizational brain needed something to help me remember what everyone was cooking and when. Soon after I created a harvest meal template. At first it was laughed at, but then I caught everyone checking out what was for lunch or supper and then I laughed. People like to know what they’re going to eat, who’s cooking and when they get their “favorite meal.” There are a few traditions when it comes to cooking at harvest. Prior to last summer, Ty’s grandma has cooked fried chicken every year, and the rest of us made the sides. We also try to have special desserts like my mother-in-law’s sopapilla bars, my sister-in laws’ stromboli and Whiskey Mustard Meatballs, and you know I always make my Potato Pizza Hotdish.

When it comes to planning meals, our cooking crew uses a meal template that I made a few years back. I’ve linked a WHEAT HARVEST template HERE. I’ve linked a GENERIC HARVEST template HERE. Some people have asked why I don’t have a full week of five or seven days on the template. I did that for two reasons. The first one is because if I made the boxes any smaller, we wouldn’t have room to put the main dish, sides and dessert (also ALWAYS write in pencil, because you might have to adjust!). The second reason is because during harvest, there really are no weekends, so it doesn’t matter how many days we schedule on a page, we just roll to the next one once those four days are complete. The guys cut as long as it’s dry, the conditions are good and we’re able to! Once we start, we want to get done.

Anyone else here love to cook? I especially love to cook for huge crews, especially harvest; I’m not sure why but preparing a meal for a large crowd just gives me joy. I think in another life I was an event planner or caterer. Anyway, I’ve decided to share a few of our harvest favorites in my RECIPE BOX. Feel free to screenshot any recipes you’d like to use for your family, or harvest crew!

If you’re new to the farming world, I hope you learned a little about wheat production and harvest in Kansas. If you’re a busy farm wife preparing for harvest of your own, whatever crop it may be, I’m wishing you the best (and safest) harvest season yet! I’ll post stories and pictures on my Instagram to document our harvest this summer – be sure to check it out!

Happy Thursday and God Bless!


Pictures from Wheat Harvest 2019

New and Improved

Welcome to my NEW and IMPROVED blog! While I loved my old blog, Topknots and Toddlers, I felt in my heart that I could create a space that was more my style; more timeless, classic as well as more interactive and user friendly.

Some people have asked why I chose to “rebrand” and start a new blog with a new name. First I’ll start with the name – while I seriously LOVED the name Topknots and Toddlers, I decided to change to my name for a few reasons.

The first reason is that while I love my long hair, I didn’t want to lock myself into a name of a blog running the risk that someday I MIGHT cut my hair off and not be able to rock a topknot. Secondly, while this time is my life is busier than ever and my toddlers keep me on my toes; sadly, they will not be toddlers forever. Some days I can’t wait until they grow up but other days I want them to stay innocent, hilarious little babes forever.

So, instead of keeping the name of Topknots and Toddlers for my new blog, I decided to rebrand and name my blog/brand Kayla Josefiak, Farm Wife + Mom Life. I won’t always have topknots and toddlers, but I will always be Kayla Josefiak. (Plus my last name is a good way to start a conversation because people are always interested in the origin and pronunciation of it!).

Secondly, I’ve been working incredibly hard to authentically grow my social media following as well as find and work with product brands I love. My goal is to share my favorite brands with you, share my story of Farm Wife + Mom Life, and, as always, be open and painfully honest about my own mental health journey. I have a lot of BIG dreams, and I feel like a new website is the first step in the right direction.

Here are a few explanations of the new website set up. The homepage will still hold pictures that are incredibly important to be, BUT a new addition is the email sign up at the bottom of the home page! I would ABSOLUTELY love if you would sign up to receive email notifications when I post a new blog! (I also have an About Me page, but it’s identical to my old one).

I decided to separate the Farm Wife + Mom Life portion of my blog from my Mental Health Journey. Both topics are incredibly near and dear to my heart, but I decided to make my day-to-day posts a part of FW + ML blog, and my mental health stories a page all their own. Someday, I hope to make those mental health stories into something more than a blog. More of that to come in the future.

Some new features THAT I LOVE on my new site are my Recipe Box and My Discount Codes. I decided instead of making blog posts about my recipes, I made them (and will continue to format future recipes) into recipe cards that you can screenshot and reference on your phone or tablet, while you’re cooking! In addition to the recipe cards, I now have a whole page devoted to my discount codes that I want to share with ALL OF YOU! Each code is linked to the respective website where I have a code. Click on the code to access each website and shop to your heart’s desire. There will be even MORE codes coming soon; I just need to do some research and make sure I’m sharing products I love. (There are also story highlights on my Instagram where you can locate my favorite products and discount codes).

Two more features are my Contact page and Archives page. The contact form is multi-use. I love to hear from all of my readers! If you’re a brand interested in collaborating, please feel free to fill out the contact form – I would LOVE to hear from you as well.

As always, please follow me on social media (Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest) and if you would, subscribe to my email list! I promise it won’t be spammy. Thank you again, so much, for being here and checking out the new site! It has been an absolute labor of love and I’m so proud of how it turned out.

Happy Monday and God Bless!