Friday, February 7, 2014

Hello again!

I have been thinking about this blog a lot lately, even if I haven't been posting. With the holidays and a bunch of work projects, these past couple of months have been busy. But that's only part of the story.

My 2014 planner
I've also been reflecting on what I want to write about in this space moving forward. After a long day with baby E and a bit of work, I often use the evenings to crank out some writing or just relax with Scott. (E has been going to bed around 7 pm these days and (mostly) sleeping through the night, which is awesome.) I feel like I spend way too much time in front of my computer.

It also feels like there is so much noise, all this content and sharing and conversations. The benefits of the Internet -- always accessible, lots of information at your fingertips, the opportunity to connect with people you never would otherwise -- are amazing. But they can be overwhelming too.

When it comes to my blog's direction, I don't have it entirely figured out. You'd think being a writer and helping my clients with content creation and strategy, I'd have a clear focus for my own content. But here, this space, is a bit of a blur between personal and professional. I want to share things that provide value to others and give a peek inside my life.

With all that Internet noise, it sometimes seems like everything that could be written has been. But I think about what I'd tell my clients: Everyone brings a unique perspective. Your personal story and your experiences and your voice make your content different. What you write has the power to touch other people, to make an impact.

And that's why I write. It's wonderful to have this blog to record events and memories, but the reason I'm doing so on a public platform is to share my thoughts, make connections, and help other people.

Awhile back, I added a tagline to my header: celebrating creativity and the pursuit of happiness. I think that still rings true for me, both in life and on this blog. I want to celebrate. I want to be creative. I want to find happiness, fulfillment, joy in the everyday and the extraordinary.

I hope you'll join me in the journey.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Carrot Cake... and Other Sweets

I didn't mean to take a two-week blogging break, but hey, things happen. Things like a sick baby, work projects, a few appointments and events, and an early Thanksgiving celebration with the in-laws.

I'll also be taking next week off to spend time with family and celebrate Thanksgiving. But before that, I'm leaving you with a peek at my birthday celebration (which happened at our place earlier this month) and the desserts I made for Scott's family's Thanksgiving gathering.

Plenty of treats to satisfy any sweet tooth!

My birthday was a low-key afternoon party with desserts and drinks. I served up a spread of puppy chow, compost cookies, pumpkin bars, chocolate chip cheeseball, and a banana cake with chocolate icing (just used a box cake mix and added an over-ripe banana to the batter).

And for Scott's family party, I made oatmeal carmelitas and a carrot cake. Lots of butter in the bars... and lots of sugar in the cake... so very good.

Carrot Cake
Recipe from my mom

4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups flour
2 to 3 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2 cups grated carrots

1/2 cup butter or margarine
3 oz. cream cheese
3 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 to 3 Tbsp milk

In mixing bowl, combine eggs, sugar, and oil; mix well. Combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Beat into eggs mixture. Stir in carrots. Pour into 2 greased and floured 9-inch round pans. Bake 35 to 40 minutes at 350 degrees or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes before removing from pans.

Frosting: Cream butter and cream cheese. Gradually add powdered sugar and vanilla. Add enough milk to desired consistency. Frost cake (I chose to only frost the top of each layer). Garnish with a few grated carrots if desired. Refrigerate.

Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Writer's Mindset

Just popping in today (on my birthday!) to announce this month's newsletter theme.

During November, Sarah and I will be sharing some of our tips and strategies for getting into a good writing mindset -- how to stay motivated, ward off procrastination, feel confident, and be productive.

It's these little things that can make a big difference in the quality of writing you produce. As I have said before, there is no "perfect" time to write -- but a positive mindset and a good working environment will help you do your best work.

If you haven't signed up yet, you can do so here. The first newsletter of the month arrives in inboxes tomorrow (Thursday) morning.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Give It Time: The Crazy, Strange Postpartum Period

I've been thinking about writing this post for weeks now. About a month after becoming a mom, I came across this article on those first blurry weeks with a newborn. Reading it, I felt like I wasn't alone. (Seriously, if you're a new mom, read it!)

Having a baby is a wonderful blessing, but I don't think we talk enough about how rough the first weeks and months can be. Perhaps it's because we're in survival mode then, and by the time we emerge, we've already forgotten how truly disorienting it was.

For me, I felt like a different person. I'd been so focused on labor and delivery that I didn't give much thought to recovery. I remember looking in the bathroom mirror at the hospital at my body after giving birth and thinking, is this really me? Thanks to Duchess Kate, I knew my belly would still be there and slowly shrink down over time, but I didn't feel like myself.

The night my milk came in, I cried -- partly from the pain of rock-hard boobs and partly because I was so hormonal. I remember saying to my mom and Scott, "I feel so out of control." My body didn't feel like my own. Everything was so different.

Physically, I was in pain from giving birth and adjusting to breastfeeding. I was sleep-deprived and my hormones were out of whack. I was sweating all the time. My breasts felt full constantly. When Evelyn would fall asleep, I'd race to take a shower. Getting clean felt good, but the water hurt my sore nipples and I'd have to carefully towel off and quickly get dressed before I started leaking milk. I let my hair air-dry and didn't have time to put make-up on. I'd eat a PB&J for lunch. On top of it all, I was trying to learn how to take care of a newborn.

Some days, I felt like all I did was sit on the couch and hold Evelyn, nursing her and trying to get her to sleep. I couldn't get anything done around the house -- and I couldn't imagine how it would get to the point where I ever would! Doing one load of laundry was a huge feat. Getting out of the house was a gigantic accomplishment.

Many times, usually in the middle of the night, I wondered if Evelyn would be an only child.

I distinctly remember running a quick errand by myself, while Scott watched the baby at home, and feeling like I was separate from the world. It was as if everyone was still living their lives as usual and mine had completely changed. It was surreal and bizarre and uncomfortable.

Everyone kept telling me, "Give it time." It was hard to be patient. I wanted to savor all the little moments, but I also wanted to fast forward a bit.

And then somewhere around four weeks postpartum, I made it to the pediatrician with Evelyn on my own and then went to Buy Buy Baby to pick up a few things. The whole outing went pretty smoothly. By that point, I wasn't in as much pain and my milk had regulated so my breasts didn't feel so full all the time. I started to feel a little more confident. I could put the baby down and she wouldn't cry immediately, so I could get a thing or two done -- make lunch, do some laundry, unload the dishwasher. It felt like a small turning point.

Slowly, things started to get better. I felt better. I felt more like myself. A different version but myself.

I'm still wearing yoga pants most days and rarely dry my hair or put on make-up. I still have stretch marks on my hips and a belly that pooches out even though I'm almost back to my pre-pregnancy weight. I still have some pelvic pain (which is a bit unusual and something I'm working through). I still can't get as much done as I used to. And I'm still slightly sleep-deprived.

But I can get out of the house to run errands, take a walk, or go to the grocery store with Evelyn. I'm more comfortable with her. We have a routine of sorts. I take a shower every day, make myself lunch, get things done around the house, and I've even been squeezing in work during nap time. We're getting more sleep. I feel more in control.

And let me tell you, the sweet baby smiles really make everything worth it. Melt my heart.

Life is definitely different, but I can already see that the craziness of those early weeks is in the past. I'm settling into a new normal -- a wonderful new normal. I'm trying to let go and cut myself some slack. I'm recognizing how amazing my body is for producing this new life and serving as her source of food. I'm noting the small victories. And I know I'm still in the midst of adjusting. Things will continue to change. They will continue to get better.

It's difficult to put it all into words, but I wanted to share my experience, not to scare anyone but to let other new moms know they are not alone. We don't talk enough about what happens after the baby arrives. It's hard. But I'm here to tell you, it does get better. Give it time. Give it time...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Why We're Using Cloth Diapers

Some people thought I was crazy to consider using cloth diapers. The usual visual is something involving folding and pins and leaks and lots of poop. But trust me, a surprising number of people use cloth diapers these days. And it's not as complicated or messy as it seems.

First, I did my research. I Facebook-messaged a couple of girls I went to high school with who are successfully cloth diapering to ask some initial questions (huge thank you for your help!). I read through websites and blogs to get more information. I dragged Scott to a class at a local baby boutique so we could see and feel all the necessary supplies and possible options. What seemed overwhelming and confusing at first started to sound totally do-able.

I made sure Scott was on board (all I had to do was calculate the cost savings ha!) and we decided to make it easy on ourselves by using BumGenius 4.0 one-size pocket diapers. They look a lot like disposable diapers with a microfiber insert that you stuff inside. With all the snaps, they adjust to fit babies from 8 to 35 pounds. The initial investment can be steep, but it definitely pays off. We registered for what we would need and were blessed to receive many of the items at our showers or through using gift cards.

There are tons of benefits of cloth diapering (good for the environment, less diaper rash for baby, fewer blowouts, super cute colors, etc), but the #1 reason we decided to move forward was the cost savings.

Hope she doesn't kill me when she's older for posting this... but it's too cute!
We used disposables for the first five weeks or so, until we got the hang of things and Evelyn grew a bit (the one-size diapers are a little big for newborns). We're still using disposables at night but might eventually venture into using cloth and double up on the inserts to increase the absorbency.

So far, we're loving our cloth diapers! We use cloth wipes with a little water on them, so we just shake the insert out of the dirty diaper and into the pail, throw the diaper and cloth wipes in, and we're done. We also use a Planet Wise diaper pail liner (we have two to rotate) which can be tossed in the washer along with the dirty diapers (no need to touch anything nasty!). Everything gets a cold rinse (to cut down on staining), a hot wash cycle with cloth diaper-friendly detergent, and another cold rinse (to get all the detergent out). Then the inserts and wipes go in the dryer and the diapers air-dry on the rack. Once everything is dry, we stuff the inserts back into the diapers and they are ready to go. We have 20 diapers and 36 wipes and do laundry every 2-3 days. (I feel like I keep saying "we" but Scott is just as involved with diapering and laundry as I am!)

We also have cloth diaper-friendly diaper cream on hand (regular creams can cause repelling and affect absorbency). Once E starts solid food, we have a diaper sprayer to attach to the toilet in case we need to get rid of some of the mess before throwing it in the pail, or we can use liners which we can peel out and toss or flush, but while she's exclusively breastfed, we don't have to worry about that. When we're out and about, we usually use disposables, but we have used cloth and just bring a wet bag along to stash dirty diapers.

There is so much information on brands and products and different washing processes, but if you cut through all of that, it isn't as complicated as it sounds. I'm just starting out, so things may change and I'm sure I'll learn as I go, but at this point, I'm happy to answer questions if any of you are thinking about using cloth!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Nursery Reveal

Here's the long-overdue nursery reveal!

I took these photos pre-baby, but we've found that the layout works really well now that we're actually using it. We're constantly trying to make the most of our space, tucking things in the drawers, under-crib storage, changing table baskets, and "overflow" corner of the room.

Many of the accessories are from HomeGoods/TJMaxx/Marshall's. The bedding and mobile are from Pottery Barn Kids (we later added white black-out curtains from PBK too). And the rug is from Rugs USA. If you are curious about sources for anything specific, just ask!

The final result is functional and cute... if I say so myself! What do you think?

Family wedding pictures -- we displayed these at our wedding reception in 2010!

Friday, October 4, 2013

14 Must-Have Items for the First Month with a Newborn

When building my registries, I looked to other moms for their recommendations and read through tons of reviews online. But I also knew I couldn't anticipate how the baby would like things or what would work well for our family, our space, and our lifestyle.

Now that it's been a few weeks, these are what I consider to be our "must-haves" for the first month -- the things I would highly recommend. Other people may or may not agree, but in case these items could help make someone else's life easier, I just had to share!

Fisher-Price Rock 'n Play Sleeper
Evelyn sleeps really well in this sleeper (and has since day one!). It's nice that it folds up, moves easily from room to room, and keeps her feeling snug and secure.

Miracle Blanket
This blanket makes it easy to get a tight swaddle and keeps Evelyn calm so she can sleep soundly. And the special arm flaps prevent her from wiggling out of her wrap.

Basic white onesies
We go through these onesies like water. With all the spit-up going on, sometimes it doesn't make sense to put her in a super cute outfit every day!

Cloth diapers as burp cloths
You can't beat cloth diapers for their absorbency. We use these all the time for spit-up, bubbles, drool, etc.

Aden + Anais bibs and swaddle blankets
These bibs catch any dribble as Evelyn nurses or spit-up afterwards. And the lightweight blankets are great for keeping her warm while she naps, shielding the sun out of her eyes, and covering her while we're out and about.

My Brest Friend nursing pillow
The Boppy works, but I really like My Brest Friend for nursing. The flatter surface keeps Evelyn supported and allows me to have a hand (or two!) free.

Bravado nursing bra
This style is comfy and stretchy but supportive, which is great in the early days when you're sore and your size is changing.

Lanolin cream
Breastfeeding is wonderful for babies, but it hurts at first... This helps soothe the pain!

Lansinoh disposable nursing pads
No leaks, keeps my skin dry, not too bulky!

Carter's Keep Me Dry lap pads
We keep one of these on the changing pad to protect the cover from accidents. That way, we just toss the lap pad in the wash, rather than have to change out the whole cover every time.

"The Happiest Baby on the Block" DVD
I read the book too, but for my husband who doesn't like reading, this (short) DVD was wonderful. It covers soothing techniques that really work! We watched it at the end of my pregnancy and it gave us some go-to moves for when Evelyn was fussy or crying.

White noise machine
They say the womb is as loud as a vacuum cleaner so babies often need (loud) white noise to calm down or sleep peacefully. (I also came across some moms online who swear by this YouTube video. While the video is creepy, the sound has snapped Evelyn out of crying episodes and quieted her down quickly!)

Fisher-Price Cradle 'n Swing
Okay, we just bought this last weekend, so we didn't have it the first month. But I wish we had! I resisted getting a swing since it takes up more room than other baby gadgets, but Evelyn loves being jiggled and rocked so we decided to go for the swing... and it was a great move! Plus when she dozes off, I can hop into the shower, eat lunch, or get a few things done.

Crockpot freezer meals
My mom stocked our freezer while she was here the first week after Evelyn was born. These recipes are super simple and only have a handful of ingredients, so I'm actually making a few more now that we've finished the ones my mom made. Pull a meal out of the freezer, thaw in the fridge for 24 hours, then toss in the crockpot for a few hours, and dinner is hot and ready!

Am I missing any other must-have items for those first few weeks?


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