time capsule

This blog has become a sort of time capsule these days. I love that about having an online presence–it’s sort of like a giant scrapbook of things that were (and are) important to me at different stages of life.

I took several years off from long-form blogging when I had children. It just so happened that right when I was passionate about sharing daily updates on my tiny humans, Facebook and other micro blogging sites appeared. Now that my little ones are big enough for their online identities to impact their lives (meaning I talk about them less online), I’ve found myself coming back to this format, using it as a place to mull over ideas and issues that puzzle me.

So, for those of you rejoining after this long break and those of you joining for the first time, welcome! Thank you for being here with me. :) To summarize, I got married in 2004 and divorced in 2016. That was a big change. Transitioning from married with children to divorced with children was necessary, but not easy or enjoyable. My life now revolves around co-parenting in a bi-nuclear household, finishing my BS in Nursing (May 2019, woot!), and working in the healthcare field.

What changes have you had in your life recently? At my current age (39), I’ve noticed that years 10 and 15 seem to be critical junctures for a lot of marriages (ones where communication issues come to a head and result in progress toward a better relationship or dissolution of the marriage). Have you noticed the same phenomenon?

Much love to you, and thank you for journeying alongside me.

Stress is like pain–it can reach unbearable levels

TLDR: For those who don’t want to read this long post: Stress is like physical pain–it hurts, sometimes too much for our existing coping mechanisms. We can’t always avoid this type of stress. Knowing this, what is the best (i.e., healthiest and most sustainable) response?


Recently, I had the privilege of weathering a brutally unfair, chaotic, and unexpected roll-out of a new, academic testing format. It was one of those situations in which my intuition (born from working in 4 different degree programs over the last several years) told me that something terrible was going to happen. Regardless, I dug deep to access my depleted-but-still-present reserves of optimism. I proactively thought about the worst possible scenario (failing this last test and getting kicked out of my program only 3 months from completion) and how to guard against it (studying as if I’d already failed so that I could anticipate any weird curve balls the new test might throw at me). I looked straight at this scenario and decided it wouldn’t happen. I studied my brains out, using every available resource that my mentors recommended: student resource center, calls with my course mentor, calls with my academic mentor, 1500 + practice questions, etc. I ranted/vented/complained to sympathetic friends and family. Still, I felt like something was missing, but neither I nor any of the people I went to for advice could think of what it was. I practiced remaining calm and approaching each test question as if it was my first, reading carefully, answering mindfully, and researching my mistakes to ensure that I didn’t make them again. I worked to the point of burnout, exhausted and sick of the material.

Finally, it was time to take the real test. I took it and did NOT pass, missing it by just a few questions. While I’d anticipated this, it was still devastating. I only had one more chance to pass it, or risk not graduating and rendering all of the sacrifices of the last 3 years invalid.

The stress of this knowledge took a heavy toll on every aspect of my health. My skin went dull. My body, already struggling to recover from Grave’s disease and thyroid issues, bloated with inflammation and water weight, making my clothes feel tight and uncomfortable. I had trouble regulating my body temperature, finding it difficult to warm up no matter how much I bundled or heated my home. I had dreams where all I did was toil. I woke up every morning feeling exhausted not matter how early I went to bed. I got sick, a terrible cold, that dragged my fatigue into a whole new level of misery. My stomach cramped and delayed emptying, making it hard to eat healthy, fiber-and-protein-rich meals without feeling uncomfortably full for hours. My muscles spontaneously tensed and spasmed, even in the middle of supposedly relaxing stretches and movement. Yoga class was wonderful in the moment, but I still felt heavy and brain-fogged from the stress. Worse yet, the exertion of even gentle, restorative yoga left me too fatigued to study effectively, meaning I couldn’t start my day with classes like I normally would. My creativity and problem solving abilities noticeably diminished. It felt like my brain was a computer infected with malware that slowed down every essential process.

Looking back at this, I know all of these things came from the stress of failing and having to retake such a high stakes test. (I did retake it and pass with flying colors, btw).  :) And now, gazing back at the past couple of months from the vantage point of having survived, I had an epiphany: stress is like pain. It can sometimes reach unbearable levels that overwhelm my existing coping mechanisms.

It helps to think about stress like a bad headache or like severe back pain. As a migraine sufferer, when I feel a headache coming on, I quickly head it off with medication (usually Excedrin and several glasses of water). I’ve learned to do this because if I don’t, I end up curled up in a ball with that miserable, extreme photo-sensitivity plus a pounding/vice grip sensation around my entire skull that only migraines can bring. Likewise, if my back muscles get too achy, I go to a chiropractor or get a massage, or do some extra stretches to work out the tension.

In contrast, when I feel my stress levels creeping up, there’s no quick way to derail that process. I can do yoga, create positive visualizations, eat healthy, and meditate. I can talk with friends, pray, sing, and prepare for the upcoming difficulties as best as possible; but there are times when stress becomes unbearable. If my physical pain becomes unbearable, I can always go to a hospital for help. But what about when stress becomes overwhelming? What happens when a stressful situation is the only thing I can think about, kind of like the emotional version of a distractingly awful toothache? Is there some sort of stress-banishing version of Excedrin that I’m missing out on?

The most helpful part of this thought experiment has been to embrace the idea that it’s not a failure on my part if my stress levels exceed my ability to process them. Sometimes, through no fault of our own, life ends up being overwhelming, emotionally painful, and psychologically draining. The key to staying sane seems to be to make whatever changes I can to ensure that a state of overwhelm and exhaustion doesn’t become my norm (and to accept that making those changes doesn’t always guarantee that the overwhelm will vanish quickly).

If you think about it, we caretakers regularly grapple with this dilemma–sometimes our children, parents, or partners need extraordinary amounts of care. Is it our fault that our loved ones get sick or need long term, intensive care? No, of course not.

Concomitantly, is it our fault if caring for a sick loved one (or dealing with any other difficult situation) becomes stressful and overwhelming? I’d argue that it’s not. However, the prevailing attitude toward stress always seems skewed toward blaming the stressed out person for his or her own situation. Stressed? Oh, don’t let outside circumstances dictate your emotions! Feeling overwhelmed? Remember that we can’t control what happens, but we can control our response to it. Well, sure…I can control my response to the point of not raging or hurting myself or someone else. But living with high levels of stress is like living near a massive building fire—no matter how much I try not to breathe in the smoke-filled, polluted air, I still have to breathe and my available filtration masks can only filter out so much. What happens when that building fire 1) requires my involvement but is not something I can put out myself and/or 2) already has professionals working to extinguish it, but won’t be extinguished for several weeks or months?

I wish I had a solution for this. I know from direct experience that too much stress is toxic and destructive on every level: emotionally, psychologically, and physically. I’m also a believer in the power of love and positivity to redeem even the most dire situation. Is the best way to cope with overwhelming stress to ask for help while proactively and systematically trying everything I can think of to remedy the situation? Or is it to find ways to endure just an hour longer, living minute by minute and looking for the next actionable item? Is it to attend therapy to seek expert advice on dealing with an extraordinarily difficult situation? Is it to delegate/offload less urgent tasks so that I have more energy for the stress inducing ones? If I compare stress to a raging toothache, it looks like my priority should be to resolve the issue ASAP, because how will I possibly be able to focus on anything else when coping with it is devouring all of my resources?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on stress and on dealing with high levels of stress for long periods of time. Much love to you , and thanks for being here for this journey.



One of those {good} days

Today started out terribly–I woke up feeling like I was 8 months pregnant again: agonizing round-ligament/hip pain, lower back pain, a migraine brewing, exhausted. And then I realized that it was just “that time of the month.” I dosed up on Naproxen and curled up on the couch until it took effect. Thankfully, the hubs kept the girls entertained for a while.

I felt well enough to make a yummy breakfast of Almond-Chai-Quinoa Hot Cereal–it IS the first day of the YumUniverse Plant Powerful 30 Day Challenge, after all! Then, we got T’s passport application submitted at the post office–YAY! That was one of those sticky tasks that’s been hanging over my head for a month now, so it feels wonderful to have it done. I made a yummy lunch for the family, an act of service that I’ve realized is something of a love-language for me. I get such a happy, warm, satisfied feeling when I’ve provided us with an enjoyable, nutritious meal.

Then, the hubs headed off to work (with a yummy PBJ made with homemade PB) and the girls and I proceeded to have an AWESOME afternoon together. We transitioned seamlessly from free-play on their parts to reading books, to playing outside, to resting, to waterplay in the kitchen sink, to a sensory basket experiment with Trinity that River helped me with, to snack time, then more playtime outside, stickers, mapping out our airplane route for our upcoming trip to Manila via Seoul, more books and snacks, and finally dinner and a short video time, per River’s request.

Even though T. is teething brutally, she’s surprisingly easy going and will play on her own for up to 15 minutes before she needs to be moved or needs a change of pace. River is also doing more and more activities on her own and just coming to ask for help when she needs it. I find that having a day like this when I can check email, read a few blogs, post pictures, & cook healthy meals while the girls play, in addition to getting some awesome one-on-one time with each girl leaves me feeling refreshed rather than drained.

Many days, I feel like fully meeting the needs of my two little ones is tough, especially when they both seem to urgently need me at the EXACT SAME TIME, multiple times a day. Today was one of those days that just went well, and I want to document it here as a reminder that it’s possible, even if it won’t happen all the time.

2013, Quick Update


We’ve definitely had several transitions in the past few months–most notably, our Trinity-girl is now 5 months old(!!). She is utterly adorable–I’m continually shocked at what an easy baby she is. She’s almost always in a good mood (even when teething), eats like a champ, burps herself, rolls over onto her tummy, laughs at anything River does, and has just started “singing,” i.e., vocalizing like a baby dinosaur with high squeals and shrieks. She’s so overwhelmingly cute and cuddly that it’s almost unbearable. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to parent a full-term baby after first experiencing a preemie. It makes me delight in the effortless-feeling, developmental-milestone-smashing course that Trinity is on, rather than taking it for granted.

At first, having 2 children was a bit daunting–the first 6 weeks felt very overwhelming. However, thanks to Trinity’s great personality, River’s surprisingly open acceptance of her sister, and the help of friends, family and babysitter, I feel like we’ve found our equilibrium (well, as much equilibrium as one can muster with children in the mix).


I’m still avoiding gluten as a holistic means of combating my Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, although I’ve relaxed a little bit when visiting family. It’s so hard to find gluten free food at parties and gatherings that I tend to chalk up those days as ones that will result in my being very bloated for the following 72 hours. I find that I still have a rather addictive response to the combination of refined flour and sugar, and I’ve had some increased refined-sugar cravings after relaxing my gluten free regimen. Definitely NOT a coincidence, I think. I have settled into a good routine at home and have found that creating a 5 week plan of naturally gluten free breakfasts, snacks, lunches, and dinners (complete with page #s for recipes, etc) makes it a lot easier for me to serve things that all of us enjoy. When I say “naturally gluten free,” I’m referring to meals in which the original recipes don’t call for gluten-containing ingredients. Example: a breakfast might be scrambled eggs with cheese and cottage potatoes instead of eggs with gluten free toast. I’m trying to eat “whole foods,” rather than using gluten free substitutes b/c most store-bought gf substitutes have a terribly high glycemic index and fairly low nutritional value.

I’ve also found an edible, tasty snack/sandwich bread from Elana Amsterdam’s  The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook. I LOVE the high protein content and the dense, moist texture of her quick-bread recipes. Here’s a similar recipe from her website for her “Bread 2.0.” The bread is easy to make and actually tastes great without incorporating loads of sugar or rice-flour. I have to say that it’s definitely my best experience with savory, gluten free bread thus far.

On a less holistic note, I’ve also started taking Levothroid. I’m in awe at how fantastic I feel after just a week. My TSH was only at 3.1, but since that’s on the high end of normal and at a level that can have negative hormonal effects, my primary care PA suggested that I try a tiny dose (25 micrograms) to see if it made a positive difference.  My energy levels are higher than they’ve been in over 4 years, I’m sleeping well, and I don’t crash after just a few hours of activity. It’s beyond awesome to feel “normal” again.

I don’t love the idea of being on a medication for the rest of my life, but at this point, having low energy is just not an option, and I haven’t been able to find empirical studies showing that going gluten-free *actually* helps keep Hashimoto’s in check. The suggestion makes intuitive sense to me as a lay person, but I’m willing to concede that it may be misguided. Still, I feel better eating gluten-free, and since I have multiple generations of diabetes in my family history, eating in a way that minimizes my consumption of grains and maximizes my consumption of protein, whole fruits and veggies will still have massive health benefits. I’m not prepared to go Paleo, but I am convinced that eating as if I’m trying to manage diabetes (high protein, carbs from non-starchy veggies, etc), even though I don’t have diabetes, is probably the best thing for my body.

On the crafting docket for Feb 2013…

There are so many inspiring resources available that I find myself mentally planning and Pinterest-pinning activities and stopping there. So, I’ve compiled a short, doable (rather than wishful) list of Valentine’s Day related activities that I’m going to do in the next 4 weeks. I think of it as my antidote to Pinterest-paralysis. :)

  • Salt Dough Ornaments in various, embellished heart shapes. I’m going to string these onto garlands–one for us and a few others for friends and family. My plan is to do most of the work on my own, and then have River paint the shapes with glitter paint and glitter glue, since that’s one of her favorite things to do. I made the dough tonight, and it’s in the fridge to use tomorrow. I already have a few ideas for variations brewing–mixing glitter into the dough so that it doesn’t flake off, and possibly coloring the dough pink.Image (Photo credit and idea credit go to the brilliant and inspiring Jean, at The Artful Parent)
  • Soap Petals–I just adore these and have always wanted to make my own for some weird reason. February is a good month to do something like this with the container of pink, silk rose petals in my craft cabinet. My mom has already put in her order for some, and I think River will get a kick out of using them. Image Photo credit goes to Donna DeRosa of the lovely Etsy Shop, Blushing Rose
  • Find and read a story about St. Valentine that’s appropriate for a 3 year old and talk about the origins of the holiday.
  • Memorize a short love poem with River.

I’m thinking that “Love Came” by Rumi might be a truly fun one to memorize with her if I incorporate lots of interpretive gestures. Sure, it might come across as ridiculing a gorgeous, profound poem, but if silly gestures get that gorgeous, profound poem into her head, I’m OK with the indignity of it). I plan to read the poem aloud with her (with gestures), then record it on her digital recorder for her to listen to, then practice it with her a few times a week. We’ll see how it goes.

  • Memorize John 3:16 with River. (Well, I already have it memorized, so it’s more like helping her learn it). I plan to use the same techniques for this verse as for the Rumi poem.
  • Let River go crazy with a pack of 200 heart-shaped stickers to create 6 Valentine’s Day cards that we will address and send to select friends and family. Yes, I’m deliberately doing only 6 cards. If I get very ambitious, we’ll address these cards with photo address labels similar to the ones Meg of Sew Liberated uses in her little guy’s letter-writing activity. My idea for the cards is to have her put stickers on waxed paper, iron another sheet of waxed paper on top of the stickered one, and cut out hearts that she can then glue onto cards. (It’s an easier variation of Martha Stewart’s “Heart Covered Waxed Paper“).
  • Bake a heart shaped cake topped with strawberries and whipped cream. I will probably do a gluten free one so that I can enjoy it. If I’m ambitious enough, I’m going to attempt a GF version of the child-friendly, French yogurt cake that Pam Druckerman raves about in Bringing Up Bebe. If I’m too tired to have my 3 year old “help,” I will do it by myself while she is occupied with playdough. :-P

So, there you have it: garland, soap, stickers, cards, a poem, a verse, and cake. I figure that mixing in “love” themed activities gives me the entire month of February to do some of these. :)

Pregnancy Update, Week 27

Wow! This pregnancy feels like it has flown by: definitely not what I expected, but I’m not complaining.

Current Stats:

  • 27 weeks (at 28 weeks, a baby has a good chance of not needing a ventilator if she makes an early exit, so this milestone is an exciting one)
  • Baby is a GIRL according to the 18 week ultrasound. It was very difficult to get any good pictures of her, though, as she used her hands to cover anything we tried to look at–face, skull, heart, gender-determining parts, etc. I’m hoping to get another ultrasound at an upcoming visit to confirm the gender.
  • I’m THRILLED at the thought of having another girl–I’m just a little shocked that my instincts could be so wrong. Though, now that I’ve been saying that, several moms have related their own “I was TOTALLY wrong about the gender” stories, so it’s not unheard of.
  • This baby is astoundingly active compared to how River was in utero. I’m actually experiencing that lovely “squirming alien about to burst from my tummy” phenomenon. She also likes to play games and will kick at various spots that I push on. River moved, but her movements were much less emphatic. This baby also HATES anything (even my arm!) being on my tummy and will kick and kick until I remove the offending object or limb.
  • River is extremely excited about the baby coming–she curled up in front of my tummy and said, “I’m laying next to the baby!” and she talks about helping feed the baby when she arrives.
  • Weight Gain: I think I’ve gained a total of 12 lbs, and I feel great. I’ll be getting all the usual tests for gestational diabetes, etc., as well as some tests to ascertain thyroid function and levels this week. Hopefully everything comes back normal
  • Back Pain: Not so great. I generally can’t walk or stand for more than 10 minutes at a time without feeling like my pelvis is going horribly out of alignment and causing my back to ache and twinge. I’m seeing a chiropractor and massage therapist on a not-regular-enough basis, and they do help a bit, but not as much as they helped with the last pregnancy. I think a huge factor is that I haven’t been exercising at all during this pregnancy, so I’m really feeling the effects of weaker muscles now that I’m getting bigger.
  • Silhouette: Another nice difference with this pregnancy has been my silhouette–this pregnancy has a much more belly-centric emphasis on the weight gain (I think b/c the weight gain has been slower), so I look a little more pregnant than with my last baby. Even though I don’t have the classic, “all-belly” look, it’s nice to at least look pregnant rather than just bloated or fat! :-P
  • Energy: Depends on the day. Some days I feel reasonably energetic and others I feel devastatingly tired. I’m been getting better at pacing myself and avoiding driving whenever possible. For some reason, driving even short distances tires me out like nothing else. The nice thing is that unlike the first trimester, when I go to bed earlier or take naps, I’m actually refreshed when I wake up. It’s nice that sleep actually helps now instead of having no effect!
  • Assistance: The wonderful husband suggested hiring a babysitter. We found a great one, and having her help out for 10-12 hrs a week has made a huge difference in what I’m able to get done and how well I’m feeling.

Overall, I’m excited to welcome this little one–I know that amount of work and sleep deprivation that’s coming up in the next year, and I’m ready for it and not afraid to ask for help when it’s needed! :)


Pregnancy #3–Week 13

(Clarification: We have one little girl with us and another little person who we never got to meet in this life due to a miscarriage. This is our third pregnancy).

When I found out I was pregnant this time, my reaction was completely different from when I found out I was carrying River. I was thrilled instead of petrified, and not at all surprised rather than flabbergasted. Also, since I went crazy researching EVERYTHING about pregnancy last time, I feel a lot more relaxed about this one.

Still, this pregnancy is shockingly different from the last one. Here are some comparisons:


  • awful morning sickness but decent, steady energy levels throughout
  • huge appetite
  • terrifyingly effortless weight gain (20 lbs)
  • worked full time outside the home
  • no libido whatsoever
  • craved sweets like nobody’s business AND had a chocolate aversion for several months (I’m normally a chocoholic)
  • knew I was carrying a girl, but was afraid to believe it because I wanted a daughter so badly
  • frequent headaches and back pain

Pregnancy #3

  • Virtually no nausea, and when it DOES appear, it’s more like a vague, background feeling. Shockingly low energy levels most of the time, combined with occasional, 1 day spurts of crazy energy and productivity.
  • Very low appetite.
  • No weight gain (yet!!), but my tummy keeps getting bigger!
  • full time Mom–SOOOO much harder than working my paid full time job. :)
  • Remember what I said about opposites? ;-)
  • Virtually no sugar cravings (weird, as I’ve battled these my entire adult life). No chocolate aversion.
  • Am convinced that I’m carrying a boy, and since I’ll be equally happy to have a boy or a girl, I have no qualms about trusting my instincts this time around.
  • And, unfortunately, the last factor remains the same: still battling almost daily headaches and back pain. Massage and chiropractor visits help a bit, as does the Fioricet prescribed by my OB.

Overall feelings:

I have a lot of optimism about this pregnancy and hope that it will go well with no pre-eclampsia this time. (I have a 10% chance of getting it again, which means there’s a 90% chance that I WON’T). :) I’m much less stressed with this pregnancy even though I’m working much harder as a pregnant, full-time mom.

The novelty of eating when I’m hungry without guilt no longer exists, as I’ve been eating that way since River was born. I think this is helping me keep my weight at a healthier level early on.

Now that I have an extraordinary little one running around, I’m grieving more for the first pregnancy that we lost and I’m also much more emotionally invested in this pregnancy. While I’m able to intellectually say, “What will be will be,” my heart screams, “I want this baby to be born healthy and whole and I want to get to know him in this life!”

I’ve also been looking back at the NICU experience and thinking about the consequences that another such experience would have for River. I know that we’ll pull through anything that comes our way–we have a great hospital, fabulous support network, and lots of orneriness. :) Still, as a toddler, River is still extremely attached to us (me, in particular), and having to divide our time between her and a NICU baby would be a heart-wrenching, energy-sucking challenge that I’d prefer not to have to endure.

On a completely shallow note, I’m REALLY enjoying my pregnancy induced cleavage–SO MUCH FUN, given that I normally have none! :)

What does River think?

River doesn’t have much concept of time yet, so when I tell her there’s a baby in my tummy, she gets very excited and asks to see it. She then gets confused when she can’t see it through my skin and promptly loses interest and forgets all about it. I think  that once the baby is a lot bigger and moves enough so that River can feel him through my skin, the concept of a baby joining our family will be much more real. We’re not talking about it with her specifically at this point (other than the occasional, “There’s a baby in Mom’s tummy!”) because we don’t want her to be sick of the concept by the time the baby arrives–we want it to be a fun, exciting surprise that she can look forward to. So, we’ll probably talk about it more in the last few weeks before the baby arrives.

To our little one:

I’ve felt a deep, emotional connection to you since before I got an official, “positive” pregnancy test. We’re so excited that you’re joining our family. Stay put and grow, OK, little one?


One of the best things about our year in CT was the glorious natural beauty of the East Coast. We were in an suburban setting, but our city was still filled-to-bursting with trees, vines, flowers, rivers, streams, cardinals, bluebirds, robins, badgers, woodchucks, squirrels, swans, ducks and geese. And we were 3 miles from a tiny, beautiful beach, also filled with trees!

Even a simple drive to the grocery store was filled with jaw-dropping beauty that changed with the seasons–stunningly gold and red leaves in the fall, snow piled in unimaginable shapes on top of branches in the winter, fluttering swirls of pink flower petals in the spring, and shades of green so bright that they almost hurt my eyes in the summer.

Returning to our extremely suburban, smog-filled CA neighborhood was painful at first. River used to call out “GREEEEEN TREEES!!” whenever we drove in CT. In CA, she seamlessly switched to “BRRROOOOWNNN TREEES” with the same amount of enthusiasm.

Driving around without her, I felt my spirit sink at the site of rampant graffiti, trash-filled train yards, brown-brush-covered hills, endless freeways with comparatively no plant life growing alongside them, ugly, utilitarian buildings and houses, and the overly industrialized feel that our area has.

But driving around *with* my toddler-bug completely changed how I saw the same things. Instead of wincing at how close the garish RV dealership is to our home, I saw the pretty, fluttering, colorful flags that she squealed in delight over. The train yard was simply the COOLEST THING EVER in her eyes–because there were TRAINS that went “CHOO CHOO!!!!” The graffiti was something that added colors to our drive, and the brown, sad (in my eyes) trees were still trees that swayed in the wind, which meant they were just as exciting as the gorgeous, green, masses of trees that I was mourning.

Now that we’ve been back for several months, I’m able to admire more things–the beautiful views of the mountains when the air is clean, the jaw-droppingly colorful sunsets that we get because our air is so dirty, our long, long, sun-filled days, Grocery stores that have an abundance of parking. The glorious amount of ethnic and specialty cuisine and food items that are readily available.

And while I still miss our little beach and being 1/4 mile from both a Children’s Museum and a park, I’m delighted to be closer to the people we love and to be back in our own home. It’s nice to live in a place we own (rather than rent) and be able to customize it to what we need. I’m grateful for Riverbug’s joyful perspective to help me see the beauty around me, even in unexpected places. 


This time 2 years ago:

I was painfully driving myself to the hospital to spend hours snuggling with my baby girl in the NICU.

I’d take forever to climb into the car and position a pillow between my c-sectioned tummy and the seatbelt. I always tried not to think too much about what would happen to my insides if I was in a car accident.

I remember that deep, unsettling ache at my incision site and how much it hurt as I took tiny, snail-paced steps through the parking lot.I didn’t really care that I had to walk at a snail’s pace–it was such a relief to not need a wheelchair!

I remember how loved it made me feel when my mom bought me some cable-knit, sweater-y leggings and a beautiful, pink and lavender sweatshirt to wear on my nightly treks to the hospital. Every time I wore them, I felt like I was getting a hug from her.

Walking through the automatic doors in  the hospital lobby (with a sigh of relief at not having to open a heavy door by hand) always made me smile, no matter how tired I felt. The lobby was brimming with a sparkling, Santa’s village, potted pointsettias, and a giant display of gingerbread houses made by local children.

Sloooowly making my way to the elevator, I admired the waxed, tile floors, kept in pristine condition by the janitorial staff.

Since the hospital was for children, I frequently saw very ill children and their parents in the elevator. It put my experience into perspective. I was just waiting for my baby girl to grow and learn to drink milk on her own.

The whole experience was such a study in contrasts–yes, my baby girl was in the NICU and not home with me. But I got to snuggle her in a reclining chair and stare out the NICU window at the pretty Christmas lights that decorated the balcony below us. Even this year, driving past the hospital and seeing those same Christmas lights brings tears to my eyes.

Yes, I had to pump milk in a hospital with nurses going in and out (or else trek to a pumping room down the hall)….but I had access to a pump and I was able to make the best possible food for my tiny girl.

As the month wore on, it got harder and harder to leave the NICU. I put on a cheerful smile, only left when River was sleeping (it was impossible to leave during those few waking hours), and then cried to my mom on the phone when I was out where the nurses couldn’t see me. I worried that if they saw me cry, they’d think I was weak and unable to care for her and that this might factor into when she’d be able to come home. In retrospect, this was a bit silly.

Yet, on a daily basis, I heard nurses murmuring about a baby who hadn’t made it, or a baby who was still in the NICU, 6 months after being born…or a baby with severe complications of prematurity. Hearing this always reminded me of how great my situation really was, and of how many things I could be deeply grateful for.

I remember carrying River’s empty car seat into the elevator, taking it to the NICU so that they could see if she could maintain her breathing and oxygen saturation levels while in the seat. I was thrilled, as this indicated that River would be strong enough to come home soon. A brand new father joined me in the elevator with his tired but beaming wife. They had been in the hospital for 2 days and were taking their healthy, full-term baby home. Blinded by his own joy, the father boisterously joked, “Hey! Where’s the baby?” indicating River’s empty seat. I was surprised at how much his question hurt. I wasn’t upset that his baby was going home and mine wasn’t. It just hurt to have to face how much I wanted her to come home and that she couldn’t.

I remember our amazingly supportive friends and family–bringing food, praying, rejoicing at our updates and pictures, posting encouraging Facebook messages, sending flowers….I remember feeling surrounded and held by that love.

I remember the NICU nurses–sweet, informative, bustling, efficient, gossipy, funny, and invaluable in making me feel empowered and knowledgeable enough to care for such a tiny, fragile person. I loved that River’s high-pitched, preemie cries were “loud” to them, and that they marveled at her expressiveness and strength despite her size. I loved that they rejoiced at her progress and were as excited as we were when she moved to a crib from an isolette.

I will never forget the day they told us that in 24 hours, we’d be taking her home. I bustled around the house making sure it was perfect. I took our car and her carseat to a CHP office to have an officer install it so that it would be as safe as possible. I skipped my NICU visit that day so that everything could be perfect and ready for River’s return. The next morning, as we got ready to leave, making sure our camera and her “going home” outfit were packed in the car, my cell phone rang. “I’m sorry,” the doctor said. “River hasn’t gained any weight for the last 2 days, so we’re not going to be able to release her today.”

Keeping my voice bright, I replied, “Oh, OK. Well, we’ll just come over and spend some time with her then.”

Hanging up the phone, I dissolved into tears, crumpling onto the couch as I tried to relay the information to the husband. “Maybe she didn’t gain any weight because I skipped yesterday’s visit,”I irrationally worried. “Maybe she felt abandoned and was overly stressed….”

I was so sad and out of it that I left my cell phone in the car. By the time I realized it was there (the following morning), the NICU had called my parents trying to reach us, and they called the husband’s phone. We called the NICU and they said that River COULD come home…but that the doctor who could release her had already gone home for the day, since we’d taken so long to return their call.

The nurses called his cell phone and the doctor TURNED HIS CAR AROUND, drove back to the hospital, and did all the paperwork with us so that we wouldn’t have to wait another day to bring our little girl home. What a compassionate man.

And we had our little girl home for Christmas.

And 2 years later, her delight in the Christmas season is more heart warming and hilarious than I ever could have imagined: “Sparkly TREES!”

Thank you, God, for Christmas, for family, and for letting us bring our little girl home.

Life with a 2 year old Riverbug

Well, my Riverbug turned 2 years old this month. I have to say that 2 year old River is even more fun than 1 year old River.


Some of her recent “isms”:

“Sunshine! It smells GOOD!”

“I sleep [in] a toddler bed!”

“I get you another one” (talking to her “Miss Spider” stuffed toy as she tucked the critter into bed and got her a second blanket).

“I remember your dogs” (to our friend who has 3 adorable, tiny dogs that River fell in love with).

“I DON’T like it!” (this is said more often than I’d like, but she says it SO clearly that it’s still hilarious).

“In a Grandma-house!” (whenever we visit my mom).

“Hands are grubby! I need to wash them!”

And I love, love, LOVE how she’s starting to quote her favorite lines from Dr. Seuss and other books. And yes, we still read loads of books on a daily basis.


We have liftoff! Yes, indeed we have TWO-FOOTED, unassisted jumping! She regularly jumps up and down, multiple times in a row, and has jumped off of a slightly elevated surface twice. The funny thing is that her very first jump (at 23 months) was the result of being mad at me for not picking her up. She had asked to be picked up while I was doing something in the kitchen, so I said “Not right now.” She got annoyed at being turned down and loudly said, “Up UP with MAMA!!!”, swung her arms up above her head and completed her first successful, both-feet-off the ground jump. We were so excited that we started clapping, and she forgot to be mad and started practicing her jumps. :)

She’s also getting much taller and actually wears size 2Tclothes! And they don’t fall off! I’m not sure how heavy she is, but we have found 4 children her age that are either her size or smaller, so she’s definitely catching up to her peers in weight and height.

We’re hoping to start swim and dance lessons this month.


She enjoys coloring and drawing circles, lines, and “dots”. We made some lovely Christmas presents for the relatives this year using her art (tutorial to come after the holidays, as we don’t want to spoil the surprise!!). My goal is to do more playdough and gluing projects with her in the near future.


She’s finally starting to eat more like an 18-20 month old. Although she’s still behind her full-term peers, she now eats more solid food than pureed food, and she’s finally able to chew and swallow animal protein like chicken and turkey. She still takes a bottle 2-4 times a day, but we’ve transitioned to a mixture of formula, coconut oil,  and milk and are moving toward eliminating the formula. I found some organic, lactose free milk (FINALLY!) at the supermarket of all places, and she seems to enjoy the taste of it and hasn’t had a negative reaction to it just yet. I’m being very, very careful to introduce it slowly, as the last few times I’ve tried to give her milk, her tummy did not appreciate it.

She also loves whole-milk yogurt and organic cheese, edamame, broccoli, pasta, corn, pickles, crackers, rice, eggs (only from Dad’s plate), deli turkey (depending on the day), ice cream, peanut butter (but only from a spoon), and my pureed carrot soup. She’s also still an adventurous “taster” and will try anything off of our plates. I’m taking the “big picture” approach to her diet, making sure that I look at what she eats on a weekly basis rather than freaking out if when she eats almost nothing or a barely varied diet on a particular day.


She’s definitely more accustomed to adults than to kids her age. She’s slowly getting better at being friendly with other toddlers and babies and is FINALLY interested in playing with them. I find that “neutral territory” (e.g., a location that is NOT one of the toddler’s homes) is much better for conflict-free play dates. She really enjoys playing with other children when they’re not playing with her toys (and this holds true in reverse for the other toddlers we’ve visited). Obviously, she needs to work on sharing, but it’s nice to know that she can be friendly and sweet to other kids.

She’s going through a LOVELY independent phase and is letting lots of other people hold her, hug her, play with, and read to her. This is SO nice when we visit friends since it means that I don’t have her begging me to hold her the entire time.


We’re working on potty training. I haven’t really done a full-court press on this, but I need to. Ugh. I’m just not looking forward to the messes I’ll be cleaning up. She uses the potty several times a day, sometimes before she’s gone in her diaper and other times right after. So, her awareness is definitely there.

She can feed herself using a spoon, fork, or her hands and she can also drink from a small cup, all with reasonable accuracy. SWEET! She can also sort-of blow out birthday-cake candles and LOVES to assist any birthday girl/boy with their candles too. I have the sweetest picture of her “helping Dada” blow out the candles on his cake.

She’s getting better at washing her hands and just this week started to turn the kitchen sink faucet on and off by herself (THANK GOODNESS–I was getting tired of the back and forth). She loves to brush her teeth and wash her hair and body in the shower (not bath–shower). She also dusts the floor with a dustmop and can mist plants with a small spray bottle, and water plants with a small watering can.

Mushy Stuff:

Her smile is absolutely electric–I can actually feel mischief and energy radiating from those sparkling eyes. And I love that she’ll occasionally grab my face and kiss my cheek or hug me in a giant outburst of affection, as if she just can’t contain her feelings anymore. And while I look forward to the whiny phase ending, I love the outpouring of verbal expression that comes with this developmental phase. YAY for the terrific twos! :)


Gluten Free, (mostly) Soy-Free, and Low-Sugar Update

I’ve been very blessed recently with reasonable energy (not needing naps daily) and with a growing toddler who can do a bit of sustained, independent play, meaning that I can get more labor-intensive food preparation done with less distraction!

After doing some more reading on going gluten-free to combat the thyroid destruction that comes with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, I’ve realized that some people recommend going TOTALLY GF…as in, eating as if you have Celiac Disease and striving to remove every molecule of gluten from your diet.

Honestly, at this point in my life, that just sounds insane. I enjoy eating out at restaurants with friends and at other people’s houses. Eating is a very social, emotional, meaningful activity, and I don’t want to complicate it even more than going GF already has.So, for now I’m going to do my best, meaning that I’m going as GF/Soy Free as possible while staying sane and not thinking about food all the time.

A WONDERFUL (with one caveat) resource that I’ve found? A cookbook titled Gluten Free Artisan Cooking, by Kelli and Peter Bronski.They have a lovely blog on which they share some of their recipes and their most important discovery–their whole grain, artisan, GF flour blend. It was such a relief to run across this blend–it’s made of brown rice flour, sorghum flour (a wonderful, nutrient-rich seed), corn starch, 2 kinds of potato flour, and xanthan gum. I am now on my second 12-cup batch of this flour (I mix it up in advance so that it’s easier to make their recipes), and have made the following from their book: Yellow Cake, Pie Crust for apple pie, Waffles, Pizza, and Corn Bread.

Their recipes are designed to taste delicious and have beautiful textures. They’re both hardcore foodies (she’s a baker and he’s Italian), so they really care about the appearance, texture and taste of their foods. I haven’t been disappointed with any of the recipes.My favorite so far has been the cornbread–it was fluffy, light, deliciously nutty with a pleasantly distinct cornmeal flavor, and not too dry. All of my non-GF tasters loved it, and I had no trouble finishing off what was left the next day.

The only caveat is that their flour mixture takes a while to get used to. The cake I made gave me and my taster tummy aches (admittedly, we both ate 3 servings of it)–I think that sorghum is so foreign to our guts that our tummies reacted by getting gas-y, which caused some pain. I experienced the same thing with the pizza. However, the Corn Bread didn’t do this to me, probably b/c it has a lot of cornmeal and just a small amount of the flour blend. It took me about 2 weeks of eating recipes made with this flour blend to get to a point where my tummy isn’t surprised by the blend.

Looking at some of the reviews of the book on amazon, at least one person professed to be unable to digest sorghum, and thus returned the book. So, I’m not alone in having a reaction to the sorghum.

Another thing that I LOVE about this cookbook is its focus on whole, “real” ingredients, as well as recreating comfort foods. The only unusual ingredients that they use are their flours–everything else is easy to find and tastes great. I’m looking forward to trying their cinnamon roll recipe, as well as their recipe for soft, chewy GF chocolate chip cookies.

Some people on amazon complained about the fact that the Bronski’s include recipes that are “naturally” GF (e.g., a few rice recipes, several ethnic recipes, sweet potato recipes, oven-fry recipes, etc). I actually liked this inclusion b/c it’s a good reminder that many cultures’ foods are naturally GF (Hispanic, Asian, African), so eating GF doesn’t mean that one has to modify every single recipe.

Some other resources: A Facebook friend of mine recommended these two recipe blogs:

Oh She Glows (tasty, nutrient rich, vegan and frequently GF recipes)


MELOMEALS, a vegan, frugal recipe site maintained by a chef. If you click on the link, you’ll get to my current fave recipe on her site–the Chunky Monkey Mug Cake with Banana Pecan Ice Cream. :)

Happy Gluten Free Munching!

Workout #2

Did a repeat of the 20/20 Workout from Blogilates. Subbed squats for Burpees and only did 5 Elbow Pushups (arms were super weak from the tricep dips).

Time: 24 minutes

Overall feeling–my core feels a bit more stable and my back is less sore while exercising. Feeling more in tune with my body–e.g., when I was doing crunches, I focused on not straining my neck by noting how much of my upper back was coming off of the floor with each crunch and trying to get a little more of it off the floor with the next crunch.

Workout #1

So, as a way of keeping track of my progress and which workouts I enjoy, I’m chronicling my workouts here! Sorry if it’s boring. However, if you’re like me and aren’t naturally athletic but want to be in shape, perhaps you’ll enjoy the workouts I discover on this journey.


Weight: 131.8 (first thing in the morning)

Height: 5’3″

Today’s workout:

The 20/20 Workout (substituted crunches for Burpees)–here’s the video demo of all the included exercises.

Time to complete: 25 minutes (I know, I know)…

and the “Muffin Top Meltdown“, both from Cassie at Blogilates.

I was able to do these during River’s naptime and I worked up quite a sweat! Since my core strength is something I want to build up, this Pilates-based workout is perfect for me. :) It was embarrassing to slowly huff and puff my way through these, but I completed them with good form, which is what counts at this point.

7 Quick Takes

1) Now that she can speak clearly and eloquently about almost anything she wants, River has begun the timeless, elongate-the-bed-time-routine quest that all toddlers embark on. Tonight’s attempt was so cute and funny that I thought I’d share. She called me in about 15 minutes after she went to bed, then proceeded to ask for: “blanket”. Then, “2 blankets?” then “Wee Pooh again sing” (Musical Winnie the Pooh that was mine when I was a tot), “hug”, and then for “milk”. Pretty impressive for a first attempt! :)

2) We’re getting so close to having the house fully liveable. It’s clean, pretty, neat (!!), and massively decluttered. Our next huge project is to reorganize the garage, and we also have tons of those little, annoying, outrageously time consuming projects that come up when you’re a homeowner. Still, it’s nice to not be buried in boxes, clutter and a year’s worth of dust.

3) I’m experimenting with gluten free baking. Thus far I’ve had 1 unqualified success (Hot & Spicy Brownies), 1 delicious but hideous looking success (Incredible Hulk Bread), and am looking forward to seeing how these Chocolate Chip Cookie Pancakes with Cashew Creme turn out (I’m waiting to make them until I’ve eaten the Hulk bread). I’m extremely impressed with how much better my whole grain, homemade, from-scratch, gluten free products are when compared to commercially available items. Sadly, most gluten free breads and desserts sold in stores are designed to mimic food made with white flour, so they’re bland, overly sweet, have awful texture AND are unhealthy. Not something I want to eat or spend money on! Thank goodness for the internet community of GF health nuts! :)

4) I’m extremely homesick for the East Coast Autumn weather. The Fall season was so stunningly beautiful (and fleeting!) last year that it I’m pining for it this year. Experiencing it once was NOT enough, and there are so many fun crafts that require real autumn leaves and dried plants… ::sigh:: Also, I’m realizing that I was too tired from our cross country move, River being 11 months old and waking up 4 times a night, the wunderhusband working insane hours, and adjusting to living somewhere unfamiliar to fully experience my first (and only!) East Coast fall.

5) I AM, however, thrilled to be back in the land of fabulous and easily accessible Mexican food and frozen yogurt!! I didn’t really crave fro yo in CT b/c it was virtually non-existent. However, now that it’s around every corner, I’ve had it FIVE TIMES in 2 weeks! And I’ve lost count how many times I’ve eaten Mexican food. :) Mmmm. Good stuff.

6) The wunderhub and I actually agree on the arrangement of River’s playroom. We tend to have pretty divergent aesthetic preferences, but we both love how her play space has turned out. I will post “before and after” pictures soon!

7) I REALLY miss having a finished attic like we did in CT. That small, dust-free, easily accessed room was such a wonderful place to store seasonal items or things used once a week….I think about it wistfully at least once a day! Makes me realize how important it is to have a well designed house. Even though I’ve radically pared down my non-essential items, there are still so many things that I’d like to have easy (non-garage) access to but don’t want in my main living space. A walk-up attic is the PERFECT solution for that (things like seasonal decorations, clothes that River isn’t quite ready for but that I don’t want to forget about, giant winter coats that aren’t necessary yet, or even things like my gift-wrapping station). Our next house needs to have a good attic! :)

Blessings to you, and have a lovely weekend.

Why Go Gluten/Soy/mostly-Sugar Free?

It’s funny. For YEARS now–at least ten years–I’ve been toying with the idea of eliminating refined sugar, eating vegan, or eliminating processed foods.

I generally love vegan and raw foods, enjoy whole foods, and feel better when I avoid lots of processed items.

However, my weakness has been–and probably always will be–sugar and sweet baked goods. I LOVE me a perfect cupcake, buttery-crusted berry pie, or meltingly-fresh-from-the-oven, made-from-scratch, chocolate-chip cookie. Take me to a restaurant with a twenty page wine list, and I’d rather see their dessert menu.

Also, I love artisan breads, muffins, pastries, etc.

In this first-world, American society in which I live, wheat and refined-grain products are omnipresent. It’s so easy to eat a bowl of wheat-based cereal for breakfast, have a whole wheat-bread sandwich for lunch, snack on cookies or crackers (wheat flour), and then have a dinner that includes–you guessed it–some sort of wheat-based item (bread, pasta, tortillas, pita, croutons).

These things are all relatively low calorie, often tout their “whole grain goodness”, and are easy and cheap to obtain.

So, I needed an extremely compelling reason to make the radical shift to push wheat and gluten out of my life.

And that reason came in the form of my thyroid. I’ve recently been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an extremely common form of hypothyroidism. When I read that 1) there’s no cure (once the gene that carries it “activates”, there’s no way to turn it off) and 2) it creates antibodies that systematically destroy your thyroid, I went on a researching rampage.

There was NO way that I was going to NOT find a way to at least slow the destruction of my thyroid.  What I discovered was that there’s a link between gluten sensitivity/intolerance and Hashimoto’s. It’s theorized that both are an autoimmune response and that if you eliminate the aggravation caused by the gluten, you can reduce the antibodies that are attacking your thyroid.

Similarly, eliminating refined sugar has a similar effect.

Finally, consumption of soy products has been found to be less-than-ideal for people with impaired thyroid function, hence my elimination of soy (actually harder to do than gluten!).

So, every time I’m faced with a choice to eat something with gluten, soy or refined sugar, I ask myself: is this worth promoting the destruction of my thyroid? I almost always come up with “No!” as an answer.

However, when I went to Eataly in New York City last week, I enjoyed some gluten-free but by NO means low-sugar desserts. And since I will probably only be there once in my life and since the desserts were out-of-this-world awesome and unique, my answer came up, “Yes!” : )

Having eliminated wheat and sugar from my diet, I’ve experienced what I never thought possible. I don’t crave them! I’ve craved wheat and sugar for as long as I can remember (since I was about 9 years old). Now, I simply don’t.

It’s actually rather weird, and I keep expecting the cravings to return.

It’s not that I’m no longer interested in food–I’m as much of a foodie as ever. I just don’t have those cravings anymore.

What I *have* noticed, though, is that if I make something like a low-sugar, GF cake, I eat WAY too much of it and have a similar, addictive response to it as I used to have to wheat-based, baked goods. So, there’s still a grain dependency to be conquered.

I’ll keep you updated on further developments! :)

New Food Endeavor

I’ve embarked on a New Endeavor: going gluten free and soy free. Also, eating as if I’m insulin resistant (no more than 30 carbs in any 2 hr period + linking carbs with protein when I eat). Oh! And eliminating 95% of refined sugar.

I’ve been doing this for 3 weeks and have been shocked at the difference in how I feel. I wasn’t expecting to feel any different. I chose the dietary changes as a long term means of combating my newly diagnosed Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (more on this here).

Changes? No more bloating after meals. Ever.

I used to think that getting a bloated tummy after meals (of any size–tiny snacks or a big lunch) was just what happened whenever I ate something other than a smoothie. Apparently, I’ve had gluten sensitivity for quite some time now.

The Insulin Resistance method of eating is extremely simple to follow and is a gentle, effective reminder to avoid mindless eating and to maintain portion control of high carb/low nutrient foods.

I’ve also cut out 95% of refined sugar. I still eat some super-dark chocolate, and I use tiny bits of honey and agave as sweeteners when needed. I just can’t stand Stevia. I bought it in 2 forms–powdered and liquid, and not only does it not truly sweeten things that I put it in, it leaves the WORST, bitter, chemical-ly after taste. Disgusting. I’d rather have the calories and nutrients of honey.

My doctor wants to test for Celiac–if I end up testing positive, I’ll have to be a lot stricter about being gluten free. For now, I’m avoiding gluten and not eating anything with wheat. However, I’m eating foods that don’t contain gluten but that are processed in factories that also process wheat, etc. For someone with Celiac, it’s supposed to be important to avoid as much cross-contamination like that as possible.

I’m also surprised at how do-able it is to eat GF. When I go out, there’s virtually nothing I can eat at fast food places other than salads, but that’s OK. I almost never went to fast food places anyway.

At home, though, as long as I cook primarily Asian/Mexican (sans wheat tortillas, of course) or Indian, there are virtually no changes to be made other than an occasional substitution of arrowroot or cornstarch for flour as a thickener. And, I’m able to eat “whole” foods, not a bunch of processed, bizarre substitutions.

Giving up soy was a drag for me, but I’ve essentially replaced it with quinoa. While I haven’t attempted to make quinoa milk yet, I’m relying heavily on quinoa as my protein and iron rich “fast” food. It’s nice that River loves it too (she calls it “rice”), so we generally have a quinoa dish together at lunch.

There is a wealth of wonderful information online via GF bloggers. What I’m hoping to do now is to find a wonderful recipe for GF bread that I can make at home (I’m not much of a fan of Udi’s as the quality varies too much between batches).

At the top of my “TRY THIS!” list is “The Mother-loaf” from Open-Ended Question. It looks outrageously yummy. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

I’ve already been extremely happy with the “GF Berry Shortcake”  from Simply Sugar and Gluten Free that I made for our 4th of July dessert.

And, as always, Meghan Telpner of Making Love in the Kitchen remains my go-to girl for creative, whole-food, minimal-grain, gluten free, incredibly tasty goodness. :)

in defense of parenting books

Before I became a parent, I unconsciously internalized a disdainful skepticism of parenting books and literature. After all, their advice is the fodder of comedies, and who hasn’t been told that “those books don’t tell you anything about real life” or “every child is unique, and no parenting book is going to tell you what you need to know about him/her.” I also remember hearing older parents (in my parents’ generation) bemoan the disconnect between reality and what they read about parenting.

Still, when I found out that I was pregnant, my natural drive to research pushed me toward the parenting section at my local library. I read, and read, and read. My husband even expressed disbelief that any of my reading would be helpful. He even worried that it would prevent me from seeing our child for who she truly was, since I had so many parenting “lenses” through which I might view her.

One positive: my voracious reading and his skepticism lead to some lively debates over parenting issues and questions that my reading brought up. After all, he and I both had the same goal: to be the best parents possible for our little one.

After River was born, I found that having an arsenal of infant-parenting tips and a general sense of developmental “norms” for babies was immensely helpful and allowed me to better process her behavior and understand her needs. This remained true, even though she was born 2 months early and dealt with several issues that aren’t common to the full-term babies that the books are written for.

This experience reminded me of when I went to Italy, in my senior year of college. In preparation, I took a semester of basic Italian. I cannot begin to describe how helpful that teeny, but vital bit of information was during my trip! Because I had a foundation on which to build, I was able to “pick up” additional vocabulary and to more effectively use my resources (traveler’s dictionary, local signs, etc) than if I had gone with no knowledge. Sure, there were plenty of situations in which I was still clueless or lost, but overall, the preparation was invaluable.

Incidentally, research backs up my experience–in one of my language acquisition classes, I read an article in which a linguist went to a country where he was completely unfamiliar with the language. As an experiment, he immersed himself in the language with great dedication (attempting conversations, befriending locals, going out and listening to the language for hours a day). Yet he found, to his dismay, that he made virtually no progress in learning the language because he knew nothing about how its grammar and syntax functioned, or even what its alphabet was. Just having (or not having, in his case) those bits of knowledge made all the difference.*

Now that River is a toddler, I’m back to my research and am devouring books on toddler activities, development, parenting, discipline, art, reading, Montessori activities, etc. And while she is definitely her own, strong person, the benefit of having some “hooks” on which to hang my new knowledge of her has been, once again, invaluable. In a way, it frees me to see her for the unique person that she is because I have a sense of the developmental “norms,” giving me something to build upon.

Reading so many books on parenting has also forced me to come to identify what issues are important to me and where I stand regarding them. There are so many strong opinions on both sides of any major parenting issue, and interacting with various authors via their books was a nice kick-in-the-pants reminder for me to consider my own stances.

I imagine that as River gets older, and the developmental milestones become less concrete (able to kick a ball) and more general (able to think in abstract terms), perhaps it will be harder to find books that are so directly applicable.

Still, for our infant and toddler experience, I’m beyond grateful for the wealth of written information available. I encourage any new (or experienced!) parent to NOT make the same assumptions that I started with (parenting books = useless) and to see if there are any that resonate with you.

Checking them out from the library is a great way to see which ones are helpful without blowing your diaper-toys-and-nursery-decorating budget! :) Even my badly stocked, underfunded library in CA had more than 30 parenting books on the shelves!


* sorry! I can’t remember the name of this article but will update when I find it! :)

listen to your body

So, I’ve had this weird craving for beef for the last few months.

I HATE beef.

The last time I ate beef, I was pregnant. And I still hated it, even while I was eating it to satisfy a craving (the texture, taste…everything is so gross).

Now, 2 years later, I know a lot more about beef production methods, etc., and I only buy grass fed, free range beef for the husband and daughter. Cooking beef grosses me out enough to not want to eat it, even when I know it’s been humanely raised.

So, when I started craving beef, I immediately took a pregnancy test. Negative.

Then I got my iron levels tested at a primary care doctor’s office. Normal.

Then, for a variety of other reasons, I saw a holistic-emphasis endocrinologist, and he did a massive battery of blood tests.

And lo and behold, I have a Ferritin deficiency…an iron deficiency that can be present, even when the regular tests for iron levels show that you’re not anemic.

Plant sources have lots of iron, but the type of iron means that you have to eat a LOT more of the plant sources in order to absorb enough (some sources say that only 2%-8% of iron from plant [non-hem iron] sources is absorbed by the body. Other sources say that non-hem iron is a lot more sensitive to potentially inhibiting dietary factors and that the rate of absorption can vary 20-fold depending on what else you eat that day.

So, my body was telling me to eat hem-iron, and I ignored it. And now my iron stores are depleted.

This all goes to show that you should listen to what your body is trying to tell you. Note to self. ;-)

Saving a life daily

This week, River (19 months) and I took a trip to our neighborhood playground.

It’s a dream of a playground–tons of open-ended, well maintained equipment, and connected-but-separate areas for different ages of children. River and I normally play in the “5 and under” section, but we decided to explore the “5-12” area. It has a slide made of rolling cylinders that she enjoys going down, and the entire structure is shaped like a giant pirate ship with bridges, ladders and tunnels connecting the various parts.

For the first time ever, we walked around on the ship as we made our way to the slide. I held River’s hand and she was happy to explore until she saw an open section in the structure. It lead to a vertical ladder, and the drop from where we were standing to the sand below was about 7 feet.

She decided that she HAD to walk OFF of the ledge and get to the sand. There was no way for us to safely navigate the ladder, so I tried to distract her by pointing out the cylinder slide. She would have none of it, and actually started to FIGHT me and try to hurl herself off of the 7 foot ledge.

Since I’m at least 6 times her size, I simply picked her up, sung a song, and carried her off the structure to play on something safer.

But I was still in awe at 1) the downside of her fearlessness (normally it’s a beautiful thing) 2) her ignorance of consequences of actions, and 3) her need for parental guidance as a life-saving measure.

It made me wonder how God must feel when we fight his guidance and principles and try to throw our two-foot-tall selves off of seven-foot-tall ledges. And all the while, we’re so sure that this is what we want and need.

When I relayed the story to the husband, he said: “Do you realize that you’re saving River’s life–or at least keeping her from being maimed for life–EVERY day, just by watching and caring for her?”

It’s definitely a humbling thought. And in a few years, when I look back with sadness on how quickly she’s grown, I’ll remind myself: “Thank goodness she’s grown and (hopefully) become wiser and less of a danger to her own existence!”


do it RIGHT the FIRST time (I get it now)

Having been very gently introduced to and inspired by the Montessori philosophy of child development by Meg of Sew Liberated, I dove into researching it before and after River was born.

My local library here in CT has a wealth of primary sources (books written by the founder, Maria Montessori) and teacher-oriented books on the method, and internet is a wealth of illuminating illustrations and real-life examples. I found a combination approach of library and internet research to be vital in exploring this philosophy because it has a lengthy set of carefully thought through principles behind everything it does. The exegesis of these principles just doesn’t show up on the Montessori blogs and websites that I’ve found (and I’ve combed through more than thirty), so the books gave me a much needed foundation for applying these principles.

One particularly odd principle that I came across in the books was the emphasis on teaching a child to do a task by modeling it PERFECTLY. This means that if you’re going to teach your child to, say, scrub a table top with a sponge, you practice doing this activity yourself until you can do it fluidly, perfectly, and clearly. Then, you model it for your little one.

There is even a book that contains lengthy instructions on how to model each “life skills task”–sweeping the floor (even describing your hand placement on the broom, etc).

Naturally, being the brilliant educator that I am, I blew off this principle when I showed River how to clean her outdoor table with a sponge.

She happily dunked her sponge in a basin of water, pulled it out, squeezed the excess water out with both hands, scrubbed diligently at the table, and periodically rinsed the sponge.

I was thrilled. Until I thought about transferring this activity to an indoor table. And I realized that she was squeezing the water out of the sponge AFTER she’d pulled the sponge out of and about a foot away from the basin of water. This wasn’t an issue when we were playing outside….

But I realized to my horror that her current method meant that every time she rinsed the sponge, my floor would get doused with at least 3 oz of water if we moved this activity indoors.

“No worries,” I thought to myself. “I’ll just playfully show her how to squeeze the water out OVER the basin, so that it splashes in. She’ll change her method in no time.”

Well, those of you who interact with toddlers on a regular basis are probably already chuckling at my delusional optimism.

River was NOT thrilled with my proposed change, no matter how fun I tried to make it, and she became even more emphatic about doing it her ORIGINAL way. I left her to her cleaning and am now pondering reintroducing the activity in a week, when she’ll hopefully have forgotten her original method and will be more open to the new and improved method.

But I get it now. TEACH IT CORRECTLY THE FIRST TIME! It’s not just a perfectionistic goal–it’s a practical, time-saving, labor-reducing (in the long run) concept.


Toddler Alphabet Learning

I’ve been doing a lot of alphabet exposure with River, and wanted to share what we’ve been doing and the results we’re seeing.

I hope you’ll take this compilation in the spirit in which it’s given–it’s not meant to pressure or brag. Since I had to do a ton of research to find toddler alphabet materials that I was happy with, I thought it would be nice to list all the ideas that worked for us in one place. The books I mention would also make GREAT gifts for any mom of little ones under 5.

My current philosophy is adapted from the Montessori school of thought. It emphasizes that it’s more important for a pre-reader to know the SOUND of the letters before knowing their names.

I’m not 100% comfortable with just teaching sounds, so I’ve taken the stance that we work on both, and if River knows a letter by sound rather than name, I don’t correct her. (E.g., she currently says the sound for “d” rather than the name of the letter, which I think is fine). This is actually quite helpful b/c the names of letters frequently sound confusingly similar (Example: “B” and “P” are horribly similar in name but much more distinguishable by sound).

Current materials used:

1) Singing the alphabet (since birth)…daily, in the car, at home, as a distraction…MANY MANY times. :)

2) Signing (American Sign Language) and singing the alphabet simultaneously (since birth)

3) Reading

  • 12 months–B is for Bear by Roger Priddy. It has textures and fun visuals and was an immediate hit. It also has ONE huge, clear picture per page/letter, which was perfect for a beginning alphabet book.
  • 13-14 months–Happy Baby ABC, another Roger Priddy book. The format is a bit busier (usually 2-4 pictures/page, and it’s a smaller book). She didn’t immediately like it, but after a couple of week, she warmed up to it and now it’s a favorite. There are some more advanced objects in this book and some that I think are dumb (like “jigsaw” or “yacht”), but the photos are clear and interesting.
  • Dr. Seuss’s ABC. I introduced this around 12 months, and she rejected it. I stopped reading when she pushed the book away, and just kept coming back to it. At 14 months, she would sit through 30-50% of the book if it was read with tons of animation. By 16 months, she loved the whole thing and now at 19 months it’s a daily read.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough–it has produced our most noticeable results (mentioned later), and is thoughtfully written to include accurate, varied usages of each letter. For example, while other ABC books use “Xylophone” for the letter “X”, making it seem like the sound of “X” is actually “zzz”, Dr. Seuss simply says, “X is very useful if your name is Nixie Nox. It also comes in handy spelling ‘ax’ and ‘extra fox.'” Thus, he illustrates the most common and obvious sound of the letter, which is what a pre-reader needs.

  • Alphabet, by Matthew van Fleet & Paula Wiseman. Introduced at 15 months. Was an immediate hit–I should have introduced it around 12 months or younger. GREAT textures/tabs and pullouts, and tons of unusual animal names.

4) Magnetic wooden refrigerator letters from Melissa & Doug. (Introduced at 16 months). These are the safest I’ve found b/c there are no small magnets to pose choking hazards. Each letter is coated with a magnetic paint/glaze and adheres strongly to any metal surface (no sliding off). Note: this set comes with both lower and upper case letters, which I think is too much for a little one (52 pieces!!). I usually just put up the upper case letters. It’s a nice set to grow into.

She REALLY enjoyed moving these around on the fridge and being able to take them off and put them back on.

5) Fridge Phonics by Leap Frog. I was skeptical about this toy, as I’m trying to keep electronic toys to a minimum. However, I grabbed this for $8 at a consignment store and gave it a try. Boy am I glad that I did! The toy is very toddler friendly, and builds coordination (fitting the letters into the holder), shows cause and effect (a little song that gives the sound and name of each letter rewards a successful letter placement), and also sings the alphabet to her on demand. She has just started (at 19 months) to echo the singer and to say the sounds and names of the letter.

6) Foam Alphabet Letters in the Bath (any safe brand is fine). I introduced these around 16 months (in retrospect, they’d have been great earlier), and they were a huge hit. At 19 months, she’s starting to identify the letters with some accuracy as she sticks them to the side of the tub.

7) Audio recording of Dr. Seuss’s ABC from the library, just so she can hear another version of the book. We use this occasionally, but she isn’t thrilled with it yet.


First, River is now 19 months old. In the bath this week, I started reciting Dr. Seuss’s ABC, and when I paused after the rhyme for each letter, she correctly predicted the next letter for all but 3 letters in the alphabet. WOW! And that’s just from reading the book!

E.g., I’d say “Big A, Little A, what begins with A? Aunt Annie’s Alligator, A, A, A”, and she’d pipe up with “B?!?!” and lead into the next verse.

She also has “favorite” letters like “E,” “F,” “S,” and “T” that she can pick out from her magnetic fridge letters.

She enjoys letters and associates alphabet play with fun sounds that we get to play with together during reading time or while I’m cooking and she’s playing with her fridge letters.

She’s not making any effort to sign the alphabet or sing the song, but she’s so obviously engaged with it, that I’m not too concerned about that.

Hope these ideas are helpful–I’d have to say that reading the multiple ABC books aloud and letting her see my mouth form the sounds has been the most helpful thing for her.

Please also note that I’ve given River’s chronological age for each introduction. However, since she was born 2 months early, her developmental age is 2 months younger. So, if I introduced something at 19 months, you may want to introduce it at 17, etc. if your baby was full term. :)

In-depth Review of StraightTalk Wireless Service

As someone who cares about such things, I’ve decided to do a detailed review of Walmart’s Straight Talk Cell Phone Service Plan.

Continue reading “In-depth Review of StraightTalk Wireless Service”

we have “PLEASE!”

It’s a historic day here, in CT! We have our very first use of “please” by the Riverbug.

Normally, whenever I ask or encourage her to say “please,” she gets this look on her face that says, “This is meaningless. I’ve already told you what I want. Why add an extra word? And what does “Please” mean, anyway? If it’s not something edible or something I can play with, why would I say it?”

It’s a hilarious look.

Normally, I just say “please” for her, to remind her that it’s part of civil human interaction. Since most of what she asks for is food, I don’t delay giving her food to enforce her saying “please.” (I REALLY just want her to enjoy eating and to eat as much as possible since she’s such a small mite).

But today was different. I’d handed her a red-white-and-blue pinwheel, and she was asking to hold the second one that was standing on the kitchen counter.

“Do you want the pinwheel, River?”

“Yes, YES!!”

“Say ‘Please.'”

::pause:: I could see the “this is pointless” look play across her face, and she subtly shook her head, pointed to the pinwheel and whined.

“Say ‘Please.'”

::point and yell::

“That’s OK. You don’t have to have the pinwheel if you don’t want to say ‘Please.'”

I turned and starting loading dishes in the dishwasher.

She looked a little puzzled, then pointed again.

“Do you want the pinwheel?”

“Yes, YES!!”

“If you want the pinwheel, say ‘please.'”

“Pweese? Pweese?” (rhymes with “geese”).


And of course, she got the second pinwheel. :)

I’m not fooling myself into thinking that she’ll magically use “please” for everything now, but it’s nice to know that she’s physically capable of saying it. :)

East Coast Update

It doesn’t seem possible that we’ve been here for NINE MONTHS already. Only three more months to go until the husband’s residency is finished, and we head off to …well, wherever we’re heading off to.

Things I will miss about Connecticut:

walking to the children’s museum, park, and gym

trees and flowers growing wild everywhere

the Riverwalk just 1/2 a mile from our house

an abundance of cute creatures, the sitings of which amuse River to no end (squirrels, dogs, cats, badgers, racoons, robins, cardinals, sparrows, bluebirds, geese, ducks, etc)

pedestrian friendly cities

four outrageously distinct, gorgeously spectacular seasons.

the sound of snow whispering to the ground during a quiet snowstorm.

Being only an hour away from NYC

The incredibly well funded public library system. It’s like having my own personal amazon.com/borders/barnes & noble all rolled into one and getting to raid it FOR FREE so long as I bring everything back in two weeks. :) The thought of leaving this behind comes pretty close to bringing me to tears.

Interesting and different ethnic diversity (lots of Eastern Europeans, South Americans, etc–WAY more than in CA)

Having EVERYTHING that I need within 3 miles of my house.

The dangerously awesome children’s consignment stores–so many great toys and clothes for pennies on the dollar! And tons more high end items than in CA.

The surprisingly polite, generous drivers (for the most part)

Feeling safe walking around in my neighborhood, even when it’s just River and me.

Wild hydrangeas in my backyard

Tons of rain pitter-pattering through thousands of trees.

Living three miles from a beautiful, tiny beach filled with trees, tidepools, and playgrounds.

Stew Leonard’s raisin croissants.


what it is to hold a happy toddler

Heather Armstrong, of dooce.com, describes the ecstasy of holding a happy toddler….SO TRUE (emphasis mine).

“The only way I can describe what it’s like to hold you as you make these high-pitched, exhilarating outbursts about the simplest of things is, well, use of illegal drugs. People ruin their lives with illegal drugs because they want to feel that feeling I feel when I’m holding you in the morning.

Because it is the purest essence of that which hasn’t been desensitized by pain, loss, disappointment, or failure. It’s the thrilling rush of hope and possibility shooting right into the meaning of what it means to be human: we are alive! We live! Look! Another day to be alive! That is the fundamental principle behind everything meaningful. We are alive to witness.” ~Heather Armstrong

(See the rest of her letter to her daughter Marlo, on Marlo’s second birthday, here).

Food for thought

While this article tells of a situation that is disturbing and sad, I found a lot to hope for after reading it. I mean, if a morbidly anorexic woman can raise a child–a daughter, no less–who is relatively free from eating disorders, then there’s hope for the rest of us moms who struggle to make peace with food.

The article, “I Was Starved of a Normal Childhood,” is one woman’s description of being raised by an incurable, in-denial anorexic whose eating disorder lead to her mother’s early demise at age 48. This woman’s daughter (the author of the article) has obviously done a lot of thinking about and processing of her situation and describes her journey in coming to terms with both her mother’s beautiful qualities as well as her destructive, hurtful behaviors that injured herself and her daughter. It’s worth reading for anyone who has food issues or who knows someone who does.


Everything in its place…

River (15 months/13 months adjusted) is going through a “put-everything- away-where-I-think-it-belongs” phase. Today she was walking around carrying a teaspoon. Her pants had come uncuffed, and she slipped and fell.

I called her over, saying, “Come here so I can fix your pants, River.”

She obligingly toddled over, and when I leaned down to fix her pants, she neatly placed the teaspoon she’d been playing with, down my shirt and into my bra.

Everything in its place.

DIY, no-sew, non-slip, baby knee pads!

learning to crawl...it's so arduous!

My daughter just started crawling, and we’re currently in a house with slippery wood floors. She can just barely crawl, and tends to push off of the floor with her knees (rather than fully lifting them), to propel herself forward.

This disqualified the regular (and slippery!) baby knee pads that I saw on amazon.com and various DIY sites–they were just focused on padding and didn’t include non-slip provisions. (Note: lots of people whose babies crawl normally seemed pretty happy with them, so I’m not saying they’re terrible for everyone). :)

The Snazzy Baby knee pads looked WAY too bulky for her little legs, and several reviewers complained that their babies were uncomfortable wearing them.

too bulky!

My first attempt at non-slip baby knee pads was an EPIC fail. I took a pair of baby legwarmers (since I knew they fit), and drizzled them with glue. I figured that the glue would dry as a grippy substance. I forgot that not all glue dries flexibly (there’s a special fabric glue that does, but naturally that’s not what I used).They were stiff and incredibly uncomfortable.

epic fail! too stiff and uncomfortable.

I then thought about chopping off the non-slip pads from a pair of footed PJs and ironing them onto tube socks via fusible web.That COULD work, but was a lot of work….

Which lead me to my next idea….why not just use socks that already have grip? Like slipper-socks?

I took a pair of slipper socks, trimmed off the toe and the material above the heel, slipped them on her legs, and she was off and crawling!

finished in 30 seconds :)


I used fleecy-chenille-like textured socks, so they didn’t unravel when cut, thus eliminating any need to hem or finish the edges. They stay in place surprisingly well, even when she’s crawling on carpet. I think it helps to leave the heel of the sock on as extra material to prevent slippage.

not too tight, but they stay on pretty well!


Here’s what another version of the sock looks like (before being chopped up).

see the grippy dots on the underside?


The socks are made to be “one-size fits all,” so they’re pretty roomy. My daughter’s legs are very small, so there are about 2 inches of extra room inside each pad, so she’ll definitely be able to grow into them.

The down side is that the slipper socks are pretty warm, so I’m not sure how great they’d be during hot weather.

baby knee pads on the go!

For cooler weather, though, they’re flexible and comfortable protection against hard floors AND slippery surfaces!

happy crawling to all!

Lisa Vollrath’s Holiday Printables Giveaway!!

HURRAY!!! It’s HERE!!! The highest quality and most beautifully presented holiday printables giveaway is here!! It’s starts December 1st.

I’m a huge fan of Lisa Vollrath’s work (she operates TenTwo Studios, as well as Lisa Vollrath.com). She’s a uniquely disciplined, prolific, eclectic, and communicative artist with a passion for empowering others to express themselves artistically. I own several of her books (they’re fantastic) and regularly follow her blog and newsletters.

If you want lots of inspiring, useful, FREE, printable/downloadable holiday images, tags, collage material, and who-knows-what-else-may-be-coming-this-year, check out Lisa’s Holiday Countdown Printable Giveaway (she’s giving away 1 holiday themed printable each day).

Happy Birthday, Riverbug!

Happy Birthday, River!

Since your birth, I’ve been continually reminded to never, ever take your presence for granted. From your scary, 2-months-early leap into the world at just 2.5 pounds, to our friend Kirsten losing her darling Ewan-baby so recently, I’m reminded daily that having you in my life is a blessing and privilege. I don’t know why I’ve been given so many of these reminders, but I’m grateful for them; and most of all, I’m grateful for you.

This year of being a Mom has been a whirlwind:

the longest hospitalization of my life (8 days)


the longest hospitalization of your life (31 days in the NICU)


a glorious, just-in-time-for-Christmas homecoming for you


a fun, low-key New Year’s celebration with Auntie Rose

the weird lighting makes it look like we're partying, but we're at home on the couch :)

successfully weathering the RSV/flu season and your many, many vaccines,


ending maternity leave and making the decision to be at home with you (I’m so blessed to be able to spend this time with you with your Dad’s support!)


your baptism into the Anglican church in the same church where your Dad and I got married

Dennis & Krysta celebrate River's baptism with us (they were in this same church for our wedding too!)

traveling across the continental United States (literally from one end to the other) with you and your Dad and relocating to CT


exploring New York City with you


and readying ourselves for another year of new experiences.


You’re now SIX TIMES LARGER than you were at birth (yep, that’s 15 pounds!). You grab our fingers and pull yourself up to stand. You can sit up like a big girl with no support. You’re endlessly playful, enjoying your toys, exersaucer, walker, bouncy chair, books, blocks, and “Locks & Latches” board.

Your favorite activities are jumping (preferably with someone holding you), playing “horsy” with Dad, and emptying containers of whatever is in them.  You took your first three steps two days ago. You were holding my index fingers and walking toward your toys. As you got near them, you simply let go of my fingers and took 3 steps as if it was the easiest thing in the world. I love the fearless way you go after what you want. You’re also enchanted with the American Sign Language alphabet and even move your fingers to try to imitate the movements when we sign it to you.

Your faux-hawk (you can thank your Dad’s Asian heritage for that) is the source of many compliments when we go out. I appreciate your faux hawk for the “mom street cred” it gives me—it makes me look far more edgy and trend-setting than I actually am. Also, it’s effortless—your hair pops up on its own after a bath, and stays that way no matter what!

On the train to and from NYC, you make eye contact with other passengers, willing them to smile or make faces at you (they always do) and rewarding them with that crinkle-eyed, thousand-watt smile of yours. If they’re very lucky, they’ll even get one of your rollicking, infectious giggles or belly-laughs.

You enjoy eating your melt-away, organic apple and veggie puffs, pureed prunes, butternut squash & corn, oatmeal, fruit purees, cinnamon cookies, and rice cereal.

You can hold your own bottle, but choose to do so only when you feel like it.

Your Dad tried to encourage you to hold your own bottle one day when you didn’t want to. You looked him in the eye and hurled the bottle to the floor, even though you were hungry. Yep, that’s my strong, opinionated girl, already taking a stand!

You’re also increasingly vocal by the day! Every morning, I hear new syllables, consonant combinations, and even entire words from you. It never fails to amaze me, even though it happens daily!

This year, we look forward to more adventures on the East Coast and seeing what is in store for us once your Dad’s PA residency ends in September. We are also focusing on keeping you healthy—for now, this is the final year in which we have to be uber-careful to not let you get sick. This just means that we’re hand-washing, hand sanitizer-spraying helicopter parents who don’t let anyone touch you until that person has cleaned up.  We don’t mind. : ) Your Dad and I also pray for you to come to a loving relationship with our Creator, one that empowers you to love with your heart, soul, and mind and to share that love with those you encounter.

Your smile, determination, assertiveness, affection, and zest for life bring joy to everyone around you, River. Happy First Birthday! We love you more than words can say.