Monday, May 26, 2014

Escapes!

Friends, my sanity has (mostly) returned. It turns out all I needed was to run away from home for a while.

In April, after I sunk into a depression upon cancelling my work trip to DC, I realized how much I needed a break. So I booked an inexpensive flight to Chicago (thank you, Southwest) to visit one of my best friends, Al. She moved there years ago and I've never visited and have always wanted to see the city. D gave me his full blessing to leave for a long weekend, even though Amelia was still having occasional difficult evenings, and he was really busy in the semester, but I know he sensed my mental health truly needed it.

When Al asked me what I wanted to do in Chicago, I said, "Eat great food in places where kids aren't welcome, do the architecture tour by boat, and go to the aquarium." I'm an aquarium dork and have always wanted to see Chicago's, but we actually didn't make it as the line on Sunday was incredibly long, and I hate to wait in line to get to tanks. Next time. But we had a great time on the boat tour and we sure did eat well, including a 16-course tasting menu at Acadia that will always stand as one of the most amazing meals of my life.

After three days of wonderful adult conversation, quality time with a dear friend (and her boyfriend, whom I wanted to know better, and sister, who was a fun addition), and a break from my children and my routine, I returned home refreshed and feeling like myself again. That said, I can't wait to go back. So, photos:

Required photo at the Bean

Riding a boat amongst sky scrapers

You know what you can't do with kids? Drink champagne flights in the middle of the day.

On one plate: veal cheek, crab and bone marrow. Pure decadence.

My adorable hosts.

Al and her sister have matching shoes and a shared interest in getting off the 103-story-high platform of Willis Tower.
Two weeks after my get-away, D and I got the chance to take a romantic trip of our own. We'd scheduled the time months ago and arranged for my mom to come stay with the girls. I had researched flights to Florida and the Bahamas, trying to get us somewhere exotic and relaxing within a three-day time limit. The planning became too difficult, and we were concerned that Amelia's constant requests to be held would injure my mom's weak back. We also just didn't know how the girls would do without us. (Sylvia loved staying with my mom when D and I took trips, but we've never left Amelia and she's always been the clingy one.).

So we settled on a two-day, one-night quick trip to Hendersonville, NC, about a 75-minute drive from here. We found a romantic-looking B&B and figured we'd make plans when we got there. We kicked off our trip with a couples' massage (ahhh!), then strolled around Hendersonville. We ate Thai outside, did a little shopping in the cute local boutiques, then headed back for naps, reading and general relaxation at the beautiful Melange B&B. The decor was lovely and exotic (the owners are from Turkey), but the rooms were private and modern. We strolled around a nearby lake resort and ate a nice white-tablecloth dinner there, then enjoyed our first night of sleep without threat of crying babies in almost two years. We had a glorious breakfast the next morning, went on a short hike, then hit the downtown again for some of the best sushi I've had in a long time (really! in small-town NC!). Full of exotic food, quiet time, good books and lovely couples'-closeness, we returned to our children, who seemed much more adorable than they had when we left (and who had been happy and wonderful with my mom, thankyouverymuch). Turns out you can really feel like you "got away" in just around 30 hours. Photos from our brief excursion:

Turkish tea and books on our private porch. 

Lakeside stroll before date-night dinner.

Jump Off Rock Scenic Overlook

Note the lack of children in these photos.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter

We talked about Easter in the car with Sylvia today. Because of her age, I didn't want to delve too much into the full Bible story, so we focused on the day as a celebration of God's love, of life, of spring, of new beginnings. I have never felt that sentiment more than this Easter day.

Easter bunnies
From April 4 until April 19, someone in our family has had a stomach virus (we now know it was norovirus). D. was hit the hardest and had a relapse; Sylvia had it the longest and also relapsed (she only went 4 days of 14 with no stomach issues). Thankfully, Amelia and I only had mild, temporary symptoms. But basically, for over two weeks, we've been anti-social, rather inactive, and in low spirits.

On Maundy Thursday, it was clear that things with Sylvia had taken a turn for the worse, as she had basically just given up. Out of energy and just so tired of being sick, she got behind on drinking and eating and just couldn't make up for it. Worried about dehydration, our pediatrician sent us to the hospital -- or first time to ever take one of our children. Two kids had gone in the day before with Sylvia's same symptoms, had been given IVs, and had stayed overnight. So I packed a bag, arranged for Amelia's care, and drove us to our first hospital stay.

Perhaps it was the excitement of going on an adventure of sorts. Perhaps it was fear of the impending needle, which I had tried to describe to her. Or perhaps it was the dull hour we had to kill waiting in the room. In any case, Sylvia quickly downed three glasses of water and Powerade before the first doctor saw us. Though my description of her condition had everyone quite concerned, the examinations showed she was no longer dehydrated. We stayed a few hours for observation, then made the call to come home. She was drinking again, her attitude was vastly improved, and I could see that she was again my bright and lovely child.

She spent Good Friday still sick and having to deal with my endless admonitions to drink. On Easter Saturday, though, she awoke in better spirits than I'd seen in weeks, her body seemed to be working again, and we decided to let her spend the day with cousins. We kept a close watch on her, but it really felt like we were out of the woods. Finally.

So Easter morning was indeed, for us, a new beginning, an end to the darkness*. After two long weeks, we are healthy and well.  After long days of bland meals and cancelled plans, we had feasts and celebrations. After several days of grey rain, it is sunny and beautiful, and we can actually get out to enjoy it.

Easter was indeed joyful in our home. I hope you all were able to experience the joy of Easter as well. Also, remember to wash your hands.



*This blog was a bit hard to write because I sound overly dramatic. Yes, this was a hard time for my family, but relative to the struggles some of my dearest friends are now going through, our hardship was minor at best. That said, I hope my friends are seeing the Easter joy in their lives. One had a baby at just 28 weeks, but that little girl has survived through the most difficult parts and is making healthy strides every day. Another friend, a mother of three, was just diagnosed with cancer, but she found it so early that her prognosis is very positive, and her attitude about it all is amazing.
It's easy to see the suffering around us, but it can be tricky to stop and see the turning points when things get better. Easter reminds us that such turning points exist. So whether the struggles are minor or all-consuming, they will take a turn for the better. And I give thanks for those moments.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Skillet Cookie, aka Skookie

My daughter turned 4 1/2 today (which she'll tell anyone who asks her age). Also, my husband was very kind even after Amelia kept me awake off and on from 3:30-4:30 a.m. before deciding to get up for the day at 5 a.m. Finally, D. capped off his big day by removing five spider egg sacs from our front porch. This day called for a celebration/food reward. I searched Pinterest for something easy and special, and low and behold -- I felt the day had come to try a skillet cookie (known to aficionados, apparently, as a skookie).

Problem: the skillet cookie was so easy, so quick, and so very tasty, I might start making them regularly. This past weekend, I actually Pinned a paleo version (called a pizookie: pizza + cookie) here, but that's not what I made today. Today, it was a full-out treat, and one that will be repeated often.

I'm posting the recipe because I changed it slightly from the one I found online. Next time, I'll add 1/2 cup of toasted walnuts.

Way-Too-Easy, Way-Too-Tasty Chocolate-Chip Skillet Cookie


1 stick (8 T) unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 teas vanilla extract
1 egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teas baking soda
1/4 teas kosher salt
1 cup chocolate chips (darker is better)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt butter in an 8" cast iron skillet set over medium-low heat. Stir in sugars and vanilla and remove from heat. Let the skillet rest until no longer very hot (about 5 minutes). While it's cooling, mix flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.
Crack an egg onto the butter and sugar mixture, and use a fork to whisk it well into the mixture. Add the flour mixture and carefully stir until flour disappears and the dough is dark tan and smooth. Stir in chocolate chunks and spread around pan if needed.
Put skillet in oven and cook for 15 minutes, or until it turns golden on the top and around the edges. Don't overcook -- slightly gooey is best.
For total decadence, serve with vanilla ice cream.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Parenting in the Internet Age

Two weeks ago, I was flattered to be invited by a friend, a nutritional counselor who now stays home with her daughter, to join her Facebook group of mothers who were into healthy foods for their Littles. Last night, I removed myself from the group after two weeks of feeling guilty about what I feed my kids, and how much more research I should probably be doing into their diets.


This feeling of guilt is not new. Since pregnancy -- or probably before -- I've been overwhelmed by the amount of things I'm supposed to know about raising children. I've posted about the exhausting number of (usually contradictory) advice books, but this guilt extends beyond choosing parenting tactics. A connected, educated mother can now dedicate her life to researching: what foods to eat and which to avoid; appropriate toys to purchase and those to avoid; how much plastic to permit in the house; how to discuss gender; how to educate (in school, at home, Montessori, religious, etc.); space to give or rules to set; and So. Much. More. It's exhausting. It's overwhelming. It can be paralyzing.

I sometimes find myself rocking my youngest daughter in the middle of the night, stroking her feathery head, and wondering if I'm even doing the right thing. Giving her love feels right, but is it setting a bad pattern? Encouraging a sleep crutch? Or responding appropriately to her needs? Why is snuggling suddenly so stressful?

I think the Internet, when combined with an inquisitive, research-trained mind, can be the downfall of the modern mother. Research can be endless, changes often, and is not always conclusive. Information can be overwhelming. And the pursuit of such research can be crippling to the actual act of parenting.

Before I toss out the baby with the bathwater, though, I also adore the Internet while parenting. I joined Facebook right before Sylvia was born, and I spent many long hours nursing her in one arm and feeling connected to the rest of the world while typing with the other. On long afternoons at home, a quick scroll through my phone helps me feel connected to other mothers. Status updates and posts from fellow moms make me feel like others are in the same boat, wading through the same struggles, and I feel buoyed and comforted by their fellowship. We are a scattered society -- most of my closest friends and family live hundreds of miles away -- but the Web keeps us together. My circle requires a Wi-Fi connection.

So I guess my real struggle is balance. How can I effectively use the Internet to see if that rash on Amelia's side is worth a doctor's trip, and then laugh with friends about Sylvia's latest conversation, but not fall down the rabbit hole of obsessing over BPA in my canned goods? If you have advice, that's some Internet research I'd happily take.


Friday, February 21, 2014

New Venture: PR Prep

I'm excited to finally get to share a project I've been working on for over a year, my new venture PR Prep.  

PR Prep offers practical, interactive seminars teaching everything you need to know about working in public relations – from writing and pitching to social media and metrics. We’ll be teaching the necessary skills to find, land and succeed at a job in public relations. I’ll be pulling from my experience as a writer and magazine editor, as well as my time spent teaching public relations courses at Clemson University, to lead lecture and discussion along with my friends Vanessa and Casey, co-owners of the digital PR firm Pivot Point Communications.

A PR Prep class is perfect for college students, for those looking to make a career change, or for current professionals who need to polish their skills in working with the media or hosting an online presence. Our first mini-session (one day only) will be offered in Clemson, S.C., on March 8, and our first full session (two full days) will be held in Washington, D.C., April 5-6.

You can find more information about the company and the classes at www.prprep.com. Please also follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/prprep and on Twitter @prprepDC.

I’m excited about this new venture and the chance to return to the front of a classroom to share my geeky love of grammar and passion for PR. I’d be grateful for any help you can give to spread the word and fill our first sessions. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Night Update - Because you're so very interested

This is yet another post about nursing and trying to sleep. ::Yawn:: 

I just logged into my blog for the first time in a long while. I reread my last post and chuckled. Shortly after writing that post about sleeping through the night, Amelia stopped doing so (of course!). First, she added a 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. wake-up, one that was easier to respond to with nursing and returning to sleep than fighting and waking up for the day. She became more restless each night after and broke out in a sandpapery rash all over her body. After I watched it for a week, we went to the doctor, only to find out she had scarlet fever (rash + strep), even though she'd never had a noticeable fever. Ugggh.

So, since she was sick, we allowed for some nursing again at night. But then it got out of hand again, and we returned to fighting her a few times each night. So then we fell into a pattern of 1-3 wake-ups each night, with any time (before 4 a.m., when I was OK nursing her) resulting in tantrums. D. took over these late-night soothings, but she reacted the same to each of us.

We have shuffled through, just trying to sleep and not go back to too much nursing, while still being sensitive to her long-lasting illness, constant runny nose, and the freakish weather that has given us some 9-degree nights. Since the nights became so difficult (trying to hold on to a fully tantruming 18-month-old at 2 a.m. is NO FUN), I instead dropped the pre-nap nurse last week, which was also NO FUN. She missed a few days of naps and made it clear she did not like the change, and I suffered because of it.

So while I thought we'd be done nursing by now (twice we have been down to once/day, setting a day to quit altogether), we are back to a just-trying-to-get-by pattern. She's been nursing at 2:30 a.m. and around 4:30-5:30 a.m. Her rash and runny nose returned, so I'm going to try to ride those out before we drop all of this.

I'm ready to be done, but I'm not ready to fight her tantrums. I'm ready to sleep, but not ready to be awakened without the quick-fix available. I'd be at my wit's end if I hadn't found a few other mothers of older babies who are in the same situation as I am. My first kid gave up nursing easily. This one is a fighter -- an opinionated, Mama-loving, poorly sleeping fighter. Wish me luck.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Scene from the Night

Her distinct cry forces me awake, interrupting a dream. I spend a few moments in bed, adjusting to the change from dream-world to reality, and hoping - though I know it won't happen - that she'll cease crying on her own. Her wails increase in volume, often changing to an insistent "Mah-Mahn!" Barely a part of the waking world, I shuffle out of bed and up the stairs, holding onto the railing to compensate for my unreliable coordination during these late-night visits.

I am resentful and frustrated. I trudge up the stairs promising that something will change. If it's been less than three hours since our last wake-up, I am even more annoyed. I recite mantras in my head: she is too old for this, she doesn't really need me, nothing bad will happen if I just leave her to cry. But still those cries affect my whole body; my nervous system twitches with each wail and longs to relieve her of distress.

I open the door to her dark room, making calm, shushing sounds. She stops crying immediately. I walk to the crib and reach into the darkness; my eyes still adjusting, I can't yet see her. Sometimes, she is still lying down, and I have to feel around the crib to find her folded up body. Other times, she is sitting, arms reached up, waiting for the mother she know will embrace her. I lift her heavy (when did she get so heavy?), warm body from the crib, wrapping my hands around her bottom, secure in its fleece footed pajamas.

I squeeze her tight, hoping that this time - this one time - my hug will be all she needs. But after a quick hug, she points to the chair and begins to shuffle her body down into my arms. She wants to nurse, to rock, to do what we've been doing several times a night since the day she was born. I sigh, frustrated but resigned, and carry this warm, demanding lump over to our cozy green glider.

I open my pajamas and she finds my breast in the dark, operating on some innate sense. Once she attaches, her whole body relaxes, seemingly falling back asleep within seconds. My resentment and frustrations leave as well. She is so content, warm, snuggly, sweet. This is my baby, my last baby, and these quiet times are our own time together. I want to sleep, I want her to not need me, but for a few minutes, I'm at peace with this ritual. She stirs as my milk lets down, gulping down what she needs as my body hovers in a sleepy haze, barely awake, almost dreaming again. After only a minute or two, her gulps slow down, her sucking lessens, and she begins to doze. Some nights, I gently separate her mouth from me, other nights she pulls off on her own. Surprisingly, she thrusts her body into a full lay-out, switching from warm and soft to rigid in one large stretch.

I heave my sleepy self and her stretched out, rigid body out of the glider and shuffle over to the crib. I lay her body down and gaze a moment, now able to make out the soft curve of her cheek, the gentle rise and fall of her chest. I rub my hand over her fuzzy, round belly and walk out. Now more awake, I walk into the kitchen for water (I am always thirsty) and into the bathroom. I return to my bed, pleased that my time awake was so short, but frustrated again that I was awake at 1am, 4am, 6am. D. stirs a little, rolls over. I take a few minutes to get comfortable again, making promises that tomorrow I'll figure out how to stop this constant waking. But I fall asleep quickly, heavily. In the morning, we'll be busy, awake, loud. For now, though, the house is silent, and for a few hours, we all will rest.

=======

This was the scene in our house every night from late April to January 3. Eight months of two to four (sometimes more) wake-ups each night. As Amelia grew from 8 months old to almost 17 months, I awoke with her each time to shuffle upstairs, full of both love and frustration, to nurse. She wouldn't tolerate any other visitors, anything other than nursing. Three days ago, I went through the painful but necessary steps of sleep training. We had tried before, but this time it worked. The first night of tears was terrible, but she understood the new routine by night two, and last night she slept, with few cries and no visits from me, from 7:30pm - 8:30am.

This is success. This means our family will sleep. We need to sleep. I may be able to spend a night away soon. We are moving on from a difficult two years. But I am mourning a bit. I knew I would. As painful as those nights (and mornings) were, they were my last nursing nights with my last baby.

Good night, sweet Baby Amelia. Sleep well.