Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Magic of Motherhood (Book Review)

Magic of Motherhood Ashlee Gadd Melanie Dale coffee + crumbs

So there's this blogger I started reading a few years ago, Melanie Dale. I've bought both her books and at this point it's really only a matter of time until I can power through my introversion long enough to go get them signed next time she's anywhere near where I live.

She's written with a ton of honesty and courage about infertility and adoption and the reality of building siblings out of a trio of distinct individuals, none of whom are related to each other by blood, only by those deeper - but harder to create - things that we build our families on.

At some point, she became part of a collaborative blog on motherhood called coffee + crumbs, and I've been reading that basically since its inception, too. It's a blog that is all about the space between the idealistic visions of being a mom and the reality of the day-in, day-out.

It's one of about three blogs I actually check for updates every single day, alongside Wardrobe Oxygen and Franish.

There's a lot of writing on coffee + crumbs about infertility, pregnancy, marriage, managing siblings... just about anything you can think of.

And the ladies over at coffee + crumbs just released a book.

I saw it pop up on Melanie's social media before it even came out and basically high-tailed it over to Amazon to pre-order so I could make sure I had it before we left for our family vacation to see my family in Illinois.

Of course, then they did a big ol' Target card giveaway where you had to take a photo for Instagram of the book in your Target cart to qualify and I was like, I already bought it and read it and it's already actually got a coffee stain on it...

Guess I'll pass on that contest, unless there's a runner-up prize for "fastest amount of time it took for one of your kids to physically damage your copy of the book" (for the record, it was approximately six hours after it arrived at our house), in which case I feel like my prize is probably in the mail.


This is a book review, isn't it.

I really liked the book, so I thought I'd write a little bit about it. I know I owe all of you a bit more actual blogging-blogging, my usual kind, where I tell you what adorable thing my children do now or regale you with tales of my faltering attempts at acting like a real grown-up, but you know what, I wanna talk about a book so I'm gonna talk about a book.

The Magic of Motherhood is big. I don't mean that it's a particularly long book, but rather than it is just big in size.

It has a built-in ribbon bookmark, which is one trend in books lately that I am ONE HUNDRED PERCENT BEHIND, as I've never owned a bookmark for longer than 3.6 days before losing it.

It's a series of essays by the coffee + crumbs writers, sometimes the same writer popping up multiple times on different topics or relating topics. The essays flow really well, jumping from subject to subject but in a pretty organic way.

Interspersed is the occasional quote from whichever essay you're reading, superimposed over some beautiful landscape or still-life photography.

It's a good book, and at its heart it is immensely sweet. I read it when we were on the road and at my mom's house and a bit just before bed. The essays stick with you, but they're mostly short and sweet and so you can grab a quick chapter or two before bed without a lot of trouble.

Some of them are sad, some are sweeter, and some are funny - Melanie Dale's are the ones with the humor that most resonates with me, but you may find Ashlee Gadd or another one of the writers speaks most to you.

Basically the perfect Mom Book (and trust me, I'm damn near an expert on Mom Books these days I think I might actually own them all now and I have like three ideas in my head for Mom Books I want to write, too). The only thing that I didn't like was that sometimes things seem a bit too wrapped in a bow of the Great Grand Meaning of It All by the end, but that wasn't true for them all and it wasn't enough to really bother me.

Would I buy it again? If I accidentally dropped it into an active volcano or it was stolen by someone who just really really wanted it, yes, I totally would go buy it again.

Would I buy it as a gift? Oh Lord yes. It's kind of a specific audience I'd buy it for, but I think it's a really great book and it'd be a perfect gift for that mom, mom-to-be, or wish-they-were-a-mom-so-badly you know who is just about ready to claw her eyes out from sleep deprivation or hormone injections or spit-up or early labor and could use a bit of time to read a chapter and say, "Me too me too me too" out loud.

(Melanie's included essay about finding "the label" for one of her children, who receives a specific diagnosis, and the way there is the mixed relief/sorrow there, is my personal favorite of the book - as is her other included essay about the ways in which our children take over our bodies from the second we become their mothers and just flat refuse to give them back to us)

Overall rating: 4.5/5 stars, super highly recommended, and to be honest I totally recommend the coffee + crumbs blog, too.

Friday, March 24, 2017

That Time I Accidentally Kind of Bought Drugs

This is a piece of chocolate I bought at a local hippie-ish store yesterday.

It's also drugs, sort of.

Let me explain.

Yesterday I ran to grab a salad for lunch. There's a particular place right near where I work that makes an amazing Greek salad, so I popped over to grab one. I didn't really like their tea selection, though, and I was searching for a hot tea that didn't have caffeine that sort of tasted like it did have caffeine as part of my current attempt to stop drinking like nine cups of coffee a day.

I went next door to the aforementioned local hippie-ish store. I looked over the different tea options, eventually found what I wanted, and went to leave.

Next to the cash register were tiny bars of chocolate for impulse buying.

I'm impulsive.

I bought the chocolate.

"This is a good thing to toss in," The cashier told me, throwing some random sample vitamins in there as well, including something called a "vegi-cap" which I am deeply intrigued by but those are not the drugs in this story. Those are different drugs and I didn't buy them, they were given to me, which is totally different.

Also vitamins aren't drugs.

Well, the other sample that gives you eight thousand percent of your daily required B12 (or is it B6?) might be considered a drug. Or turn you briefly into Bugs Bunny.


Back to my story.

So I grabbed the chocolate, reading only "dark chocolate" on the label at the time and having no ability to control myself when presented with new and different forms of sugar.

I took it back to my desk, ate my salad, and broke off a chunk of the chocolate to eat for dessert. After a couple of seconds I realized the roof of my mouth and my tongue had gone numb.

Well, that doesn't normally happen when I eat things, I thought to myself.

I checked the label.

(identity of the company protected because it's not their fault I didn't know it was drugs)
"Vegan Dark Chocolate with Kava Root," it read. I tried to read it out loud but since my tongue had, as I mentioned, gone numb, what I actually said was "Bee-gah Dahh Chah-laht wit Ah-va Oot," which looks really cool but I promise did not sound cool at all.

Now I have definitely had vegan chocolate before, and while it was always missing some particular something-or-other that I assumed was due to a lack of animal involvement in the chocolate's creation, I had never had my tongue and my whole mouth go numb.

Unless "vegan" now meant "laced with cocaine", the vegan thing probably wasn't the issue.

"Promotes natural relaxation," the label continued. That seemed reasonable - I know I'm definitely more relaxed after a snack. Still... what sort of dark chocolate advertises relaxation? The only thing I'd ever heard of that made a point of advertising natural relaxation after ingesting it was...

"Oooooh no."


Not possible.

This wasn't Colorado, after all.

The kava root was probably the problem, I reckoned, as it was literally the only ingredient I didn't recognize. I'd never heard of it, though, and couldn't begin to understand why a simple plant root would make your tongue go numb.

So I checked the back of the label. Here is what it said:


I began to feel slightly alarmed at the idea of buying a bar of chocolate children not only shouldn't eat, but that I was explicitly being warned against giving to them.

Avoid using with alcohol.

"Um," I said out loud.

I was alone in the upstairs part of the office at the time, so I was the only one who heard me.

Not for use by persons under the age of 18.

"Did... did I accidentally buy a drug?" I asked no one in particular. "Or cigarettes? Or a lottery ticket? Or a beer back in 1970 before they changed the laws?"

If pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs (especially sedatives or MAO inhibitors), consult a health care practitioner prior to use.

Prior to use? What does that mean exactly? I don't have to call my family care practitioner every time I eat a Snickers (although I probably should, so she'll tell me to stop eating Snickers bars). Also, why is it referring to eating chocolate as using chocolate?


"There's no way this is drugs. They don't just put drugs in chocolate. Do they put drugs in chocolate now?"

Do not exceed recommended dose.

"See, now, I definitely don't like that phrase."

It was... unsettling.

Excessive consumption may impair ability to drive or operate heavy equipment.

I sat there in silence, studying that final sentence. After a very long time of staring out a window, I sat back and spoke one final sentence aloud to the empty office attic:

"Yep. I totally bought a drug today."

dark chocolate with kava root

For the record, kava root isn't really a drug.

It's a homeopathic remedy of some sort that claims it will "increase mental alertness and clarity" and "induce relaxation and stress-relief". Since those two things are almost certainly in direct opposition to one another (and the suggestion to not drive if you eat more than the recommended dose suggest "mental alertness" probably isn't something you'll receive from it), I'm doubtful as to whether or not it would have had much an affect at all.

Took about half an hour for the feeling in my tongue to come back, though.

That's the last time I buy impulse chocolate from a store while I'm checking out.

Oh, who am I kidding. No it isn't.

Friday, March 17, 2017


Raise Good Humans Shirt from Weestructed

Usually, I post these on my birthday or as close to it as possible. Within a week, at most.

Of course, last year I didn't post one at all.

31 was a pretty quiet birthday. I took the day off work and spent a couple of hours reading and enjoying a drink at Barnes & Noble, then Jason and I went to lunch downtown and wandered around being adults that were not trying to manage, herd, feed, or quiet small children.

It was a pretty sweet few hours.

It's a busy month, in every conceivable fashion - at work, at home, on the road trying to figure out just why it is that every single other car seems to be duty-bound to make my drive to work as slow as possible.

My free time, in the evenings after the girls go to sleep, involves a lot of staring at nothing for about fifteen minutes and trying to remember how to focus on a book long enough to finish one.

Ellie has finally accepted the concept of a bedtime and sleeps in her own room, although she's still wide awake at 2 AM just about every night, unwilling to settle herself, content to squawk and make pterodactyl noises until we finally drag ourselves out of bed just to keep her increasing volume from waking up Audra.

Audra also has a disturbing tendency to wake up in the middle of the night still, although that's primarily because she has discovered the ability to remove her own clothing. She'll wake up at 1:30 and rather than, you know, going back to sleep, she'll take off all her clothes instead.

Then she'll get cold, and start calling for someone to come help her put her pajamas back on.

While she has mastered the art of removing clothing, she'll still a bit stymied as to how to get all of them back on.

So, as far as 31 is concerned, there is this:

I have become more focused than ever, in light of the world as it stands these days, in raising my daughters to be outspoken, strident, and demanding of every right they deserve.

I am just as focused on raising them to be compassionate, caring, considerate, and ready and willing to fight for the rights of humankind and the innate dignity and worth of every human being.

Also, I am so so so so tired.

I started using an age-reducing daily moisturizer which does not seem to reduce my age, but it does smell really nice, so I'm calling it a win.

I am so so so so busy.

I did not fall asleep in the bathtub two days ago but I was in there so long that my husband became concerned that perhaps I had.

I am so so so so overcaffeinated.

The Starbucks spring cups have a yellow option with a smiling sun face and that sun seems just irredeemably smug to me. He is mocking my exhaustion, I'm sure of it.

Stupid smiley sun face.

Sometimes, my baby kisses me. Sort of.

It's more like she kind of wipes her mouth on my face?

But, you know, it's a start.

Frankly, Audra's kisses also mostly consist of her using me as some kind of dishtowel, so I'm not really in a position to judge Ellie's.

Oh and I watched a whole movie the other day, so that's somewhat notable.

Audra has been singing the same song over and over for like two and a half weeks now, and it is like a slow Chinese water torture, but damn if she isn't the most adorable water torture on Earth when she's singing.

Welcome to 31.

motherhood stress and stars

Previous posts about my birthday can be found here.

Friday, February 24, 2017

My Hair is Trying to Escape My Life

No, it really is.

Happens every time, of course — I decide it sounds like a good idea to have a baby, I get this head full of hair that I can barely get a comb through, I have said baby, and then four months later all my hair falls out all over everything in my house.

I find it on the dog and the baby, on Audra and sometimes I discover hair on toys or inside the pages of a book. I sweep the floor and discover hair. I don't even look in the bathtub after I shower anymore.

Sometimes I rake a hand back through my hair, intending just to get it out of my eyes, and discover twenty-two individuals hairs just floated away with my fingers.

Yes, it was twenty-two.

I counted.

Just when I start to wonder if I'm really still losing postpartum hair or if I'm actually going totally bald from stress and the aftermath of explaining to Audra for the eighth time why she can't eat the dog's food, no not even "just one bit", the rate of loss begins to slow.

After a while — a month or so — things seem finally to settle.

Oh, sure, huge chunks of that luxurious fast-growing pregnancy hair are gone for good, but what's left...


About that.

What remains on my head sticks out all over the place. It seems to have somehow learned how to work together to spite my comb. It defies me.

It curls up at the ends in weird places but is stick-straight in others. It seems... coarser. It rejects shampoo. It's mean to me. Like all the naive and innocent hair was lost and all that's left is the cynical hair that's seen some things and lived to tell the tale. 

It's like all the good hair got to the seventy-fifth time we watched the same episode of Bubble Guppies and it just. couldn't. do it. again and peaced out and left me with the grizzled old hair that just grits its teeth and mumbles something about how you couldn't possibly get milk from a cow that's also a fish and settles in for the long haul.

What's left is the survivor at the end of a zombie film — damaged by the senseless horde that has overtaken the world but refusing to give up and admit defeat.

My hair stands strong.

It does not give up.

It does not surrender.

It badly needs a haircut and a drink.

At this rate, I've become a bit concerned that my hair will be stronger than the stylist's scissors.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

I Live in a Haunted House

Everywhere I go, I am haunted.

Every room has its own little ghosts, its own very special spirit I can't escape. 

Oh, they're not the spirits of the departed... our house was built in 1992, there hasn't been all that much time for the departed to gather. Plus, I find most haunted houses sort of look haunted on the outside, as though they've been preparing to host ghosts since the day they were built. 

My childhood house had that sort of look — it looked like the kind of home that might maintain a ghost or two.

No, our house in its cheerfully jaunty little yellowness is not a house prone to actual ghosts.

Instead, I am haunted in my own home by tiny socks.

Oh, never two of the same pair - that'd be too easy. Then I could simply fit them back together or toss them into the wash and trust them to stick together, which you'd think they would want to do.

Instead I find one tiny itty bitty Ellie-sock stuck in a corner underneath one of Audra's books. I might not see the other half of the pair for two weeks, then come across it sitting out in plain sight in the middle of the living room floor, as if to taunt me.

I see one of Audra's striped socks on the floor of our bedroom, pick it up to put it in the "loose sock box", and move on with my day, only to forget about it entirely until I find the other one a few days later. Heading back to the loose sock box to put the pair back together, I find the original sock inexplicably missing. So I put the sock in the box and then forget about it.

Rinse and repeat.

We're not great at keeping up with our own socks, and they're four to six times the size of the girls'. I tend to find Jason's socks and my own in literally every room of the house at any given time. It's not because we necessarily leave them there, either — Audra has a tendency to make her own choices as to where certain things belong, and her logic rarely matches up with ours. I've been known to ask her about a pair of socks I've been searching for for two months, only to have her happily go grab them from inside a cabinet in the kitchen, handing them to me with the smug assurance of any child who legitimately just outsmarted a grown adult.

Sometimes we simply run out of clean matched socks, just flat run out of them, for Audra. I send her to school in mismatched ones and sort of hope no one notices, then come home from work and find six or seven pairs simply... lying underneath her bed.

Let me point out that those socks weren't there four days ago, when I cleaned under there.

So I continue to stumble across the little things, continue to scramble to find a pair for Ellie to wear in the morning even as I know very well Ellie should have enough socks to go a full two weeks before we'd run out, continue to just shrug and let Audra wear whatever mismatched notion she takes into her own mind.

I continue to be followed throughout my own home by a trail of itty bitty little socks.

Honestly, there are days I'd prefer an actual ghost.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I Write So Much About Sleep Because I Am So So Sleepy

stress and stars blog motherhood

Audra has decided naps are for the weak.

Oh, don't get me wrong, she's never been what you'd call a good sleeper. While sleep training did wonders for so many of my friends' babies, my own first child stubbornly insisted on being awake whenever she damn well pleased, ignoring our own desperate need for more than three hours of sleep at a time. Luckily, she was at least cheerfully awake and therefore much easier to handle than if she'd been the sort of child who cried all night.

Oh no no no.

My child just wanted us to look at her at 2 o'lock in the morning.

She's a restless little thing in her bed, flipping and flopping all night long. There are occasionally slightly worrisome-sounding thumps and bumps audible through the wall and she ends up in a tangle of toddler legs and blanket, all of which are on her tiny toddler bed and precisely none of which are actually touching her somehow.

We used to rely on having the three of us just sleep in one big bed when staying at hotels, and discovered that her ninja-kicks never stop while she sleeps, they just end up being unconsciously aimed at the kidneys her parents need to live.

The part where we expect her to nap in her room, that palace of just-for-her toys, books, and interesting rocks she sneaked in when we weren't looking? The temptation to do anything but sleep is just too great.

On Saturday, she declared, at least to herself, that there would be no napping today. Oh, she went willingly and cheerfully enough into her room. Then she embarked on a campaign of doing whatever it took to avoid closing her eyes.

First, she screwed around with her night lights until we made her stop. Then she found some neat shoes to move around the room. A package of diapers just begged for inspection.

She sang to herself for a while, then talked when she ran out of songs.

Eventually, we realized she had been in there for more than an hour and a half and the nap just wasn't going to happen. I went in there and got her back out, figuring she'd had some quiet alone time, if nothing else, and put on a movie for her to watch with me. She wiggled and wriggled her way off the couch, picking this up and moving that, restless and exhausted.

Within forty-five minutes, she laid her head down on my knees and said, "I want to snuggle just for a minute."

I picked her up and held her in my lap, all 35 pounds of her, half as tall as I am and all diamond-sharp knees and elbows.

She fell asleep about thirty seconds later.

So I threw a show on Netflix and settled in for a very long snuggle with a sleeping two-year-old who rarely stops moving long enough for me to hold her like that anymore. It was a good reminder of the tiny six-pound infant we first brought home in 2014, who would sleep and sleep on our chests but nowhere else for so long, those long first eight weeks where I watched Frasier and Cheers and Friends in their entirety on Netflix while she breathed.

Ellie is even outgrowing that early stage, too, and it's nice to get the reminder to occasionally sit back and enjoy an ever-changing child just wanting to curl up with you for a while. Sooner or later, the next time she can't sleep until she's holding me is going to be the last.

I try to remember that reminder when she wakes us up at 3 AM because she needs a hug after a bad dream. I really try to remember that when the 3 AM wakeup is followed by her being up, cheerful, and thrilled to start her day before six.

After the Great Nap War of Saturday, I followed up on Sunday by just taking her into Jason and I's room and curling up in the bed with her. She fought as hard as she could, giggling and talking and murmuring and eventually just silently thrashing, for a good half an hour before she fell asleep.

Then she rested her head on my shoulder, snored in my ear for about an hour and a half, and I finished a book I've been trying to read since shortly after Ellie's birth.

It was a pretty wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

My One Word for 2017

One word for 2017

I've really enjoyed watching other bloggers do the "one word" trend, where you choose a word to sort of center and represent your year. I've followed Natalie Freeman over at Natalie Creates for a couple of years, and watched how her "word" for the year kind of rolled itself out for her even if it wasn't exactly how she expected it to.

In January 2016, I chose the word Nurture to represent my year. It's kind of funny in retrospect. I wasn't pregnant with Ellie yet when I wrote out that post, but nurturing is basically all I did all year long! Between having to sort of nurture myself through a second pregnancy that left me reeling from feeling intensely fatigued and sick all the time for nearly five straight months (I actually lost almost fifteen pounds in the first two trimesters), to taking care of a newborn and a toddler at the same time, to dealing with the way that this second baby wildly changed my body even more than Audra did, to working hard to maintain a marriage that puts us and our identities as people and spouses alongside our identities as parents, not behind them... I definitely can say I nurtured the hell out of 2016.

For 2017, I've given it some thought, and I've come up with:

In 2017, I want to focus on appreciation.

I am too prone to seeing something and wanting it — whether it's new clothes or a coffee drink or new books or or or or, I tend to fall into a trap of wanting.

This year, I'm going to focus on appreciating what I have.

I have a family, near and far. I have my two babies, already wildly different individuals in their own right, that I need to focus on. I have my husband. I am the undisputed queen of conjuring amazing soups out of literally anything I can scrounge up in the fridge when our pantry seems empty.

I have piles of books in my house I haven't had time to read, or have only read half of, as parenting tends to leave me so wiped out that by 7:30 when Audra goes to bed, I don't have much brainpower left to do anything but brush my teeth.

I have plenty of things. I don't need new things.

But I could stand to look into picking up a new state of mind.

Not that I'm going to stop buying coffee, books, or clothes.

I'm pretty sure I am not physically capable of that.

I'm just going to push myself to a renewed focus on appreciating the coffee in our cupboards, the books on my shelves, the clothes already in my closet. To considering, when heading out to a bookstore or the mall or downtown, whether or not I actually need anything or if I just want to buy to have something new.

I don't know if I'm starting my Year of Appreciating Things on a high note, exactly, since I literally just showed Jason a new dress yesterday.

But you have to start somewhere, right?

As one of my favorite bloggers, Allie over at Wardrobe Oxygen, says, "If today you take one more step than you took yesterday, that's still progress."

2015 and 2016 have been hard years for my body, my emotions, my household, my family, and my country. 2017 is likely to be hard, too. All of adulthood is hard, one way or another. That doesn't mean there isn't anything there to be appreciated, to be thankful for.

This year, I'm going to appreciate the life I've worked to build. I'm going to take time to really pay attention to my daughters, to the way my body has grown stronger even as having two babies close together changed it, to the food we cook and eat, to the household we've put together, to the fortunate way that the downsides of 2015 still led to Jason and I being able to spend way more time together now than we could back then.

What's your word for 2017? Did you make any New Year's Resolutions?