A Few (More) Words About Breastfeeding

In late January, I wrote this on Facebook:

I’m working on a massive blog post about breastfeeding (spoiler alert: it’s not easy). In the meantime, I’ll just say this: Some of the so-called “lactivists” I’ve encountered in online support groups are really just mean girls in crunchy granola clothing.

Within a day, I’d gotten more than 50 comments from women wanting to offer their support, advice, and encouragement. Conversations cropped up in the thread about pumping, nipple pain, low supply, supplementing with formula. The response was surprising. It was also kind of overwhelming. but in a good way.

Then, in February, I finished the post about my struggles to breastfeed my son. There was another wave of support and encouragement, often from unlikely places. It was all very gratifying.

Here’s the elevator version, for those of you uninterested in slogging through the original post:

I was an exclusive pumper for the first 9 weeks of my son’s life, who had stopped latching even before we were discharged from the hospital. Then, after working with a new lactation consultant, the inimitable Katie Madden (a.k.a. “The Boobie Whisperer”), I got my son to latch using a nipple shield. We were working toward getting him back onto bare breast, but hadn’t gotten there yet.

Okay, so now you’re all caught up. Here’s what happened afterward:

Two weeks later, my husband and I had another appointment with Katie. I told her how frustrated I was that our progress had stalled. We’d been using the nipple shield for 7 weeks at that point, and frankly, it was still a gigantic pain in my ass. My son had relearned what boobs were for, but between all of the gear and the inefficiency of the shield itself, feedings took a long time. They were physically uncomfortable. And now that he wasn’t entirely bottle fed, I had no idea how much milk I was actually making on any given day, or how much he was taking in outside of the bottles. The whole thing was a total mindfuck.

Katie decided to make adjustments. I’d been nursing Jackson using the football hold, but at nearly four months, he’d gotten a little too big for it. So, she moved him into a cross-cradle position instead. This was an instant improvement.

I started nursing him using the shield. Then Katie instructed me to take it off. I did, and my son fussed. Katie knelt down, looked him square in the eye, and said, “Drink your milk, Jackson. Drink your milk.”

And then he did.

This is how I like to tell the story, anyway. If you ask Katie, she’ll add in some crucial details, like how he was smiling at her, flirting in his little baby way, and how she started opening and closing her mouth to show him what to do. And how, in imitating her, he finally – finally! – got it.

He nursed the boob empty, latching and unlatching himself several times. Katie had me switch him to the other side. He drained that boob, too. I put him back on the first boob, where he mostly comfort sucked for the rest of the appointment. By the end, he’d taken in six full ounces.

We joked about how my stubborn little boy would probably refuse to latch without her there telling him to drink his milk. “Keep me posted,” Katie said.

His next feeding had to be done by bottle, since I had a conference call for work. But the one after that, I strapped myself into my ginormous nursing pillow, took a deep breath, and offered him a boob.

He took it, easily, and nursed until he fell asleep.

I was in shock. My husband was in shock. Was this it? Had I finally reached my goal?

I took a picture of Jackson, still hugging my boob to his sleeping face, and emailed it to Katie with the subject line “Prepare to have your mind blown.”

Her response? “Yeeeeesssss!!!!!!”

In those first few days, I didn’t completely trust the whole back-on-the-boob thing. We gave a few bottles at home. But at a certain point, I had to hold my breath and dive in.

And then I had to grit my teeth.

Even though Jackson was just shy of four months, to my boobs it was like Day 1. His latch was shallow, his top lip didn’t flange out properly, and he was using me like a human pacifier. It hurt. It hurt a lot. My husband would stand there, watching me fight back tears, my eyes squinched up in pain, and plead with me to stop.

I didn’t. (But you knew that already, didn’t you?)

It took a while to break my boobs in. All-Purpose Nipple Ointment helped. So did good old-fashioned time.

There have been milestones along the way. The first time we left the house without a bottle in the diaper bag, for one. The first time I nursed Jackson in front of my stepdaughter, for another.

Transitioning to a nursing-except-for-day care relationship hasn’t been without its challenges, either. But that’s another post for another day.

Here’s what I know: when I look at Jackson, and I make the ASL sign for “milk,” his eyes get bright and his face lights up in a smile and he reaches his little arms out in my direction. I pick him up and he cuddles into me. Sometimes his eyes roll back in his head. Sometimes he does that triple breath-sigh thing that babies do. Often, he falls asleep, still hugging me close.

Way back when I first met Katie, even before my little burrito was born, she asked me about my breastfeeding goals. At the top of my list? To give my baby breast milk for at least six months.

Tomorrow, I reach that goal.

I didn’t get here alone, but if I thanked everyone who supported me on this journey, I’d be like the set designer who gets played off at the Oscars because her speech is too damned long.

So instead I’ll say this: I’m grateful to all of you. You know who you are.

Now, onto one year!

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I am the 1 in 4.

As of today, I’m roughly two to four weeks away from delivering my first child, a little boy my husband and I have been calling the Burrito (so named because for the longest time, I didn’t look pregnant so much as like I’d been eating too many burritos). But a couple of weeks ago I finally started to pop, and as I sit here typing this our little bundle of joy is punching and kicking me from the inside. Seriously, my stomach looks a little like Sigourney Weaver’s before that alien exploded out of her.

The Burrito will be our first baby, but he’s not our first pregnancy. Our first pregnancy ended two-thirds of the way through the first trimester, due to suspected chromosomal abnormalities. The loss would’ve been devastating no matter what, but it was made all the more so for us as we A) had been trying to conceive for nearly four years and B) put ourselves through two and a half years of infertility treatments before finally seeing a positive pregnancy test. It didn’t matter that we knew early on that my hormone levels weren’t doubling appropriately, and that the pregnancy was likely to fail, because at every ultrasound, the baby grew, its heart beating strong. Doctor after doctor told us that we shouldn’t be seeing what we were seeing, but that once a heartbeat had been confirmed, blood tests became way less important than what was on the screen.

So we watched and we waited and then waited some more.  Eventually the outcome we feared came to pass. But because of all of the medications I was on, due to conceiving as the result of IVF, I couldn’t even miscarry naturally. I had to be induced. And I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say the physical loss of that baby was literally one of the most traumatic events I’ve ever had to endure.

When I told the people who needed to be told that we’d lost the baby, I did it in the most perfunctory way possible. I asked them not to make a big deal about it. I told them that we were fine and eager to try again. The latter half of that sentence was 100% true; the former, not so much.

I know a lot of women who’ve suffered miscarriages and even stillbirths, to various levels of devastation, but not a single one of us felt “fine” immediately after. How could we? We’d grown a life inside our womb, baked a baby we’d never get to know.

After you have a miscarriage, you learn just how many women you know have gone through the same thing – some multiple times, even. It’s like you’re indoctrinated into a club, albeit one you wished no one ever had to join. In my experience, women speak more freely about pregnancy loss with someone who’s gone through or is going through the same thing. Maybe because, on some level, you will never be able to understand what it’s like unless it’s happened to you, too.

As for me, I didn’t want to talk about my miscarriage because talking about it would involve talking about my infertility, and I didn’t want to talk about that because I was still in the trenches, fighting my way out. Some women find their infertility embarrassing, but I am not one of them. Our infertility was largely caused by doctors, at least initially – one who administered drugs to my husband without informing him that they’d render him sterile, the other who removed what turned out to be my “good” ovary rather than trying to save it (even priding himself on the speed with which he’d done so).

When you are a woman of a certain age, trying to conceive yet failing to do so month after month, cycle after cycle, people start to offer you a lot of unsolicited advice. Things like, “You just need to relax” or “If you stop eating dairy, you’ll get pregnant right away.” (For the record: neither of those things worked for us. And trust me when I say we tried just about EVERYTHING.)

Worse than that, though, are the soft, pitied looks, the sad eyes and heartfelt frowns. I didn’t like people asking me for updates, especially when I didn’t have anything positive to report. So I didn’t talk about my infertility, and about a year into our diagnosis, I stopped talking about wanting to have kids altogether. In fact, I was so mum on the topic that when we announced our pregnancy this past spring, several coworkers told me they thought I didn’t even like children, let alone wanted to have one of my own. Of course, I probably contributed to this misperception; whenever new babies visited the office, I refused offers to hold them – not because I didn’t like babies but because it would hurt too much to hold one that wasn’t my own.

It’s easy for me to talk about those years of struggle now, when we’re so close to crossing over to the other side. But the pain of infertility never really goes away, even for those of us lucky enough to find success after it. The same can be said for the pain of miscarriage. I still think of that little gummy bear of a baby who didn’t make it. I still wonder what might have been.

I’ve been crafting this post in my head all month long. Probably even longer than that, as I knew when the miscarriage happened that some day I’d write about it. And yet I’m doing a horrible job at conveying everything I felt, everything I’m still feeling.

I will say this: Pregnancy after a loss is a weird, weird thing. At least it’s been that way for me. I spent the Burrito’s first trimester convinced that another loss was inevitable, despite an abundance of evidence proving otherwise. I’ve spent this last one half in a daze.

So, why write about my miscarriage now, when I’m about to welcome a new life into this world? Because October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month, and I feel compelled to add my voice to the conversation. Plus I don’t ever want to forget the baby that didn’t make it. She gave me a lot of things in the few short weeks I carried her, but the biggest was hope. That, and the courage to keep going, even when everything inside of me was ready to give up.

1 in 4

Mrs. Love, Cruce, and Andre III.

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, which always gets me thinking about the influential teachers I’ve had over the years. Here are a few (but not all) of my favorites.

Mrs. Love

Mrs. Love was my middle school English/Language Arts teacher. She was kind of a badass. Her classroom library was stocked with a bajillion titles, spanning a wide range of genres and reading levels. It was from her bookshelves that I first picked up Bret Easton Ellis’s Less than Zero. Yes, in a middle school classroom.

If you are unfamiliar with the book, there’s a lot of bad language, graphic sex, and of course, drug use. I liked the novel, but felt like it was a little too adult. I told Mrs. Love something along the lines of, “I don’t think this should be on your shelves,” for all of the reasons I just listed (language, sex, drugs). Mrs. Love’s eyes flashed at me and said, “I don’t censor books. If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t read it.”

I’m totally paraphrasing here, because let’s face it: seventh grade was a long time ago. Even though I can’t remember exactly what she said, I will never, ever forget that look in her eyes when she said it.

This is the story I always tell about Mrs. Love (and even recounted to her once we became Facebook friends), because it was such a defining moment in my life. Here was this adult who knew I was reading about really adult things, and was in favor of me deciding for myself if I was ready for them. Later, after I published Bringing Up the Bones and Anyone But You, and would receive letters from young readers telling me that the language or sexual situations made them uncomfortable, I would think of Mrs. Love. And in my response, I would channel her: “If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t read it.”

I spent a lot of time in Mrs. Love’s class. She introduced me to Louis Sachar’s Sideways Stories from Wayside School. I still remember my Sideways Story I wrote for an assignment, and how crushed I was that Mrs. Love seemed to like my friend Erika’s so much better. I cared what Mrs. Love thought about my writing, and spent most of my life convinced that in her eyes, I would never measure up to Erika.

When we reconnected on Facebook, and I shared the “I don’t censor” story with her, she shared a story with me. This is what she wrote:

I gave a totally ridiculous book report assignment: Write a book report using only 9 sentences, each of them corresponding to one of the elements of plot. Most of the reports I got I deserved: “The characters in this book are….They live in…..” Then I got a gem on Rebecca which began something like “The road to Manderly intimidated yet thrilled the young governess…” I was blown away by your writing, your insight, and your creativity.

This, truly, is one of the biggest and best compliments I’ve ever gotten in my entire life.

Cruce

I met Cruce when I was 16 years old and taking a summer college course at UD. I wrote a couple of pieces for class assignments that Cruce really liked. One was titled “Passion Pink” and was totally modeled after a story I’d read in Sassy magazine. Another was an autobiographical essay styled as a how-to about marrying my mom off for under a thousand dollars.

What I wrote wasn’t as important as the fact that Cruce believed in me and my writing. He worked with me to improve it. He taught me about the importance of revision. But most of all, he showed me what it meant to be in love with words.

I say this was all Cruce but it wasn’t; he co-taught the course with Rosemary Crawford, a high school teacher who shared his love of language and word play. I still remember how Rosemary’s face lit up after reading a few sentences from “A&P.” She said, “I’d kill to have written that!” And she meant it.

Back to Cruce: I kept in touch with him after the summer college course. I took his short story workshop my junior year in college. I wrote pages upon pages, some of which got published and some of which didn’t, but many of which got me into grad school. In fact, Cruce is one of the reasons I ended up in grad school to begin with.

When I left my crappy first job, working as a reporter for a crappy paper in crappy Fort Wayne, Indiana, I came home not knowing what to do with my life. I looked for jobs in journalism, but I didn’t really want to work in journalism. Cruce recognized this. He said, “Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to do it.”

What he said is another defining moment in my life. Because even though it’s a duh kind of statement, it wasn’t duh to me. It was a revelation.

I credit Cruce with me making the decision to attend grad school, but that’s not entirely true. He counseled me about grad school, and he gave me a letter of recommendation, but he kind of thought I was using it as a crutch. I only ended up applying to one school; if I hadn’t gotten in, I wouldn’t have gone. Cruce told me I was giving up control – letting other people make my life choices for me. He was probably right; at 21 I was completely lost. It still worked out for the best.

There are so many Cruce stories I could tell, so many times he played an integral role in my life. He is a father figure in the way my own father never was. In fact, I didn’t invite my dad to come to my wedding, but you bet your ass that Cruce and his lovely wife were there.

Cruce at My Wedding

I love this picture of Cruce. It is him, in a nutshell. Photo credit: Laura Novak.

 

Andre III

In graduate school, I took a novel-writing workshop with Andre Dubus III, son of the legendary short story writer. This was not long after The House of Sand and Fog came out, and Andre was being courted by Hollywood in a big way. He missed a bunch of classes doing book promotion stuff, and it pissed me off. I was paying a lot of money for grad school. I didn’t like it when my teachers canceled class.

Plus, I hated the workshop. It was filled with semi-pretentious writers who worshipped at the altar of Andre. They loved him. Adored him. And they hated my stuff. HATED IT. I workshopped a very early chunk of Bringing Up the Bones, and they tore it apart, syllable by syllable. Okay, I’m exaggerating. But it was a painful workshop unlike anything I’d ever endured. Later, I’d describe it as standing in a room full of strangers, buck naked, with everyone shining flashlights on you and pointing out every single flaw.

Yeah, it was that bad.

So bad that I didn’t write a word for a good, solid 7- to 8-week chunk of my first semester at Emerson. I remember long talks with my aunt, during which I told her I thought I’d made a huge mistake in trying to pursue my MFA. “I suck at this,” I said.

“You don’t,” she said.

“What if I’m no good?”

“Everybody feels that way.”

And then Andre’s father died, and we had class not long after, maybe a few days? He stood in front of us and said, “I need to talk about my dad.” Then he did. It was heartbreaking. My eyes filled with tears. I wasn’t the only one. There’s something about being around someone else’s naked pain that does that to you.

I met Andre for coffee not long after. I expressed to him my frustrations about the class, and how I hadn’t been able to write. I don’t remember our conversation word for word, but I do remember that we talked about revision. We talked about powering through the fear. He shared with me what he liked about my novel, what had stuck with him. And whatever he did say ended up giving me the courage to get back to it.

It wasn’t until long after the class ended that I realized just how much I’d learned from Andre. He was a proponent of writing from page 1 to The End, without outlining or penning scenes out of order. Doing that, he said, made the process inauthentic. If you were writing toward a predetermined point, you weren’t allowing the process to unfold organically.

He never wrote under the influence, even if he’d had a single beer. At least, he claimed not to. It was inauthentic, he said. It tainted the process.

Andre talked a lot about authenticity and the organic process, and Art with a capital A. All things I’d joked about with my grad school friends when I was in my “I hate this workshop” mode. But later, when I was able to fully appreciate what I’d learned from him, I felt kind of stupid. Andre was a good teacher. It just took me a long time to recognize it.

There are other teachers who had an enormous impact on my life – Iris Phillips, my first and second grade teacher. Mrs. Valentine, who taught me how to read between the lines through Lord of the Flies. Lisa Jahn-Clough, my grad school mentor and later friend, who introduced me to a world that felt like home. I could write a whole essay on her alone, but that’s another post for another day.

At any rate, I am so appreciative to all my teachers, and not just the ones named here. They helped shape who I am. They opened my mind, my heart, and my world. I know that sounds incredibly cheesy, but I mean every word of it. Sincerely.

Longest. Week. EVAR.

You ever have one of those weeks? You know, where you just get unexpectedly hit with…well, with a whole lot crap?

The week started off well. The Monday after a holiday break is never easy, but the Monday after an extended holiday break is brutal. Only, for me, this year, it wasn’t.

I got up at 6 a.m. I wrote for 90 minutes. I almost hit my daily writing goal (was maybe 100 words short). I got dressed for work, went into the office, and killed it. Stayed 30 minutes late to finish up a few things, then headed home, where I made zucchini soup and a tuna and white bean salad for dinner. I also made some “nutrient-dense” muffins for the rest of the week’s breakfasts.

Logged a little time with the husband, watched an episode of Doctor Who on Netflix, and then logged another twenty minutes or so of writing time, during which I beat my daily goal by 51 words. Afterward, I packed our lunches for the next day and nabbed a little more cuddle time with Joe before getting to bed at a decent hour.

All good things, right?

On Tuesday, I had a doctor’s appointment in PA. It’s about a 25-mile drive that takes less than 45 minutes to do when there’s no traffic. But on Tuesday, we had our first significant snow of the season. Joe decided to drive me; an hour later, we’d only made it about 2/3 of the way there. My morning decaf kicked in and I asked Joe to pull off at the first available exit so I could find a bathroom. He did, the brakes locked up, and we slo-mo skidded into a big ol’ HVAC truck. Here, see for yourself:

Crashed Car

So there was that.

Meanwhile, there was all of this Drama (capital “D” intended) with the tow guy that the state cops called to move our car out of a busy travel lane. I won’t bore you with the details but they took our smashed-up Fusion to a collision center in Chester, instead of the awesome Brandywine Body Shop (which is less than a mile from our house). And how the tow guy took off with our car but left us stranded on the side of the road, in the snow, and how we had to wait for over an hour for our rescue ride.

There were phone calls to AAA and State Farm and the Chester collision shop and our body shop and a million other people. There were problems with the rental car from Hertz, not the least of which included starting the car only to discover the low tire pressure warning light, calling the front desk to ask them to fix it, them telling me they couldn’t, and us having to seek assistance from a rival rental company’s techs across the lot.

Oh, yeah, that was a banner day, I tell you what.

But it really SHOULD have been a banner day, since Tuesday was when my new book, You First, was officially published. My first tween novel! My first novel period in five and a half years!

Picture Perfect

These arrived on Thursday. I literally squeed!

Wednesday was all about digging myself out from the hole I fell into with Tuesday’s shenanigans. Thursday was all about meetings – so many meetings, one right after another, my LEAST favorite kind of work day. It was topped off with the discovery that there was blood in my dog’s urine.

Yes, BLOOD.

In my dog’s urine.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried. A lot.

And then chased this crying with a viewing of Parenthood, which made me cry even harder.

This morning, I called the vet first thing. They could see Scout. Did a clean urine catch with some Tupperware that is headed for the recycling bin. Drove him over to the vet’s office at 8 a.m. Came home to work. Around 10:30, got a call from the vet’s office pointing out that Scout is scheduled for a dental cleaning on Monday, and did I want them to do it today? Sure, I say. Let’s knock it out.

Around 3 o’clock start having anxiety about the dog. The first time he ever went under anesthesia was for neutering. He was really small and had a horrible reaction to the protocol they used. We almost lost him. So now whenever he needs anesthesia, I usually need a Valium. (Not really. But close.)

At 3:30, I can’t take it anymore; I call the vet for an update. They still haven’t done the cleaning OR run the urinalysis. Great. More anxiety. Call the body shop for an update on my car. It’s still in Chester. They got the collision center to release it but asked State Farm to get it towed. State Farm didn’t. Get a call from State Farm. They chastise me for not returning “several calls.” I check my cell. There is exactly ONE missed call from 1:39 p.m. yesterday.

When is this week going to end?

Not before there is more lecturing from State Farm. It’s interrupted by a call from the vet telling me that she wants to do some radiography on the dog. Great, do whatever you have to do, this dog is everything to me. He has to be healthy. HAS TO.

I cannot deal with one more thing going wrong this week. I really can’t.

At 5:02, I call the vet again. Earlier I was told the doctor needed to leave at 5. I’m worried that there have been no updates. They’re still working on Scout, the front desk chick tells me.

This can’t be good, I think.

At 5:12, the vet calls. I was right. The news isn’t good.

Scout has two sizable bladder stones. They should be removed as soon as possible. By a specialist.

I ask questions. A lot of questions. I’m supposed to be leaving town on Thursday, for Wendy’s and my annual birthday trip. I’ll be back on the 18th. Can I get the surgery done on the 19th?

Risky, the vet says. If the stones get much bigger, Scout’s body might try to pass them. This could mean a blockage. Will someone be home with him 24/7?

Emergency surgery it is. EXPENSIVE emergency surgery.

The first specialist center I call tells me my best bet is to bring him in tonight. He’ll hang out in a crate until someone is available to do the surgery. Since he’s stable, he’d be at the bottom of the triage list. The cost? Between $3,000 and $3,500.

I call the second specialist center. They have zero openings between now and Monday. They tell me to call UPenn. UPenn can’t even schedule an appointment until Monday. If I bring him in for an eval and his situation is deemed urgent enough, they’ll call in an emergency staff. That costs money. LOTS of money.

The first specialist center it is!

Joe gets home from work and I fill him in on everything. Then I go over to CareCredit to apply for financing to pay for my dog’s surgery. We’re approved, print out the paperwork, and head over to Banfield to pick up our groggy dog, all so we can deliver him to the next crate at the next vet center, where he’ll wait for someone to cut him open and remove these potentially dangerous bladder stones.

In the car, I hold Scout tight and start to cry. I’ve had so much loss in my life these past couple of years – I can’t lose him, too. The bladder stone surgery isn’t high-risk but it will require more anesthesia, and as I said, Scout doesn’t do well on anesthesia to begin with. This is what scares me more than anything.

We sign in at the animal ER and are taken back to an exam room. A nurse checks Scout’s vitals. All is well.

An hour goes by without seeing a doctor. Bad things happen at the animal ER. A stray that was hit by a car gets brought in. I can see the blood on its white fur. Another dog comes in having had seizures. We hear its owners sobbing.

Scout in Hiding

Scout hiding under the bench in the exam room. We’d brought him a toy for the crate wait.

Another twenty minutes goes by. Joe and I are both starving. It’s been almost seven hours since I’ve eaten and I’m out of water. There’s a Wawa two minutes down the street. I leave Joe there with Scout and make a quick food run.

I am gone at most 15 minutes. But in my absence Dr. Kelly comes to talk to Joe. Scout doesn’t need surgery, she says. The kind of stones he has can be dissolved by the special urinary food that he’s already on. He’s got a UTI, she says, and the UTI might have caused the two stones to form in the first place. Let’s clear up the UTI, do a culture to make sure we’ve diagnosed the right kind of bacteria, and keep an eye on his urine production. Then, in two to three months, we’ll do another round of X-rays to see if the stones have dissolved or not.

When Joe tells me this, I’m relieved. But I’m also kind of pissed. I’ve spent the past several hours in blind panic over my dog’s health. Needlessly, it turns out.

The doctor returns in another 20 minutes to talk to me. Everything she says contradicts what we were told by Banfield. She wants to do a culture on his bladder, for instance. I say, “Don’t you have to put him under to do that?” She says, “No, not at all.” But Banfield told me that they DO put dogs under for that.

Dr. Kelly takes Scout back to get the culture. I feel suddenly exhausted, like I could fall asleep right there on the exam room floor.

Scout is discharged a short while later. We go over the instructions with a nurse. He trots out of the emergency vet center and hops into the car looking happy. The mood in the car is infinitely lighter than that of the drive over.

We walk in our front door at 9:38 p.m. I feed Scout so I can give him his antibiotic. Then I change into my PJs and prepare for some much-needed couch cuddles with my two favorite men.

Finally.

Goals vs. resolutions.

I stopped making New Year’s resolutions years ago. I’m just not the most resolute person. But I am someone who’s motivated by goals. So now, each January 1, I make a list of goals for the coming year. (Yes, I know that’s just semantics, but hey – whatever works.)

In an effort to keep myself accountable for this year’s goals, I figured now would be a good time to declare them publicly. So, here goes. In 2015, I will:

1. Beautify my home. This is an ongoing project with lots of little subgoals. I plan to repaint every room and install a new kitchen floor. The exterior needs to be power washed and the shed requires some repairs. I will continue to purge crap I don’t need and organize the stuff left behind. THIS WILL HAPPEN, PEOPLE. IT WILL.

2. Organize my virtual clutter. I have a lot of files. Word docs, photos, mp3s. Many of these files are in duplicate, triplicate, or quadruplicate. Basically, every time I get a new computer, my husband makes a backup of every single file. So right now, there is a 1T external drive that’s like an information hoarder’s daydream. I don’t have even a fraction of my music loaded into iTunes because I need to dedupe all of the extra copies. This needs to be the year I tame those files into submission.

3. Cut out the white stuff again (by February 1). Up until Cookiepalooza, which is what my best friend Wendy and I call our insane holiday baking marathon we do each year, I had been flour- and sugar-free for almost two months. While this sometimes made eating out more complicated than I would like, it was totally worth it. (Why the February 1 deadline? Well, Wendy and I take these fabulous birthday vacations together each year, usually around Martin Luther King Day. This year’s excursion to Washington D.C. will include visits to some of the best restaurants in that part of the fun we have is indulging our inner foodies in a completely hedonistic way.)

4. Blog 3-5 times a week. Here’s the thing: I really LIKE blogging. I do. The ONLY reason I don’t do it more frequently is that the posts I want to write tend to take me (on average) 2-3 hours to put together. That’s kind of a hefty commitment when I’m on deadline for a novel and in crazy crunch mode at my full-time job as well. But I felt really great when I was doing NaBloPoMo, so I will do what I have to in order to carve out the time.

5. Finish the new book. I almost didn’t add this one, because duh, of course I’m going to finish the new book. It’s under contract and everything. But, you know, writing novels while working a demanding full-time job takes a lot of time and energy. And when I do put this new book to bed, it’s going to feel incredible. So, yeah. Definitely on the list.

This is a relatively short list (for me). But, I’m thinking that it’s better to stay focused on a few important goals rather than try to tackle everything at once. And hey, once I knock one of these guys off, I could always add something else later.

What are your goals (or resolutions) for 2015?

2014: My Year in Review

It’s New Year’s Eve, and like many people, I’ve been in a reflective mood today. So, I thought I would take a few minutes to revisit 2014. Here’s what happened in my world:

Remember the Alamo

January: Fly to Austin, TX for Wendy’s and my annual best friend birthday trip. Drive to San Antonio and spend a few days there before heading back to Austin. Chase the quintessential Texas experience. Hit nearly every area except for Texas Two Stepping and the mechanical bull. Highlights: I don’t even know where to begin! Best girlfriend getaway EVAR.

Lara Loves Alton BrownFebruary: The shortest month is also my most boring month. BUT, we did get to have an early Valentine’s Day with Joe at the Grand Opera House, where we got to see THE Alton Brown and his Edible Inevitable Tour. Slip one of the stage hands a copy of The Sweet Life of Stella Madison for Alton’s daughter. (Yes, I’m that cheesy. Sue me.) Oh, and this was the first time I cooked with the Delicious Dishes.

March: Celebrate 2nd anniversary with Joe at Supper. Launch this blog! And then promptly become World’s Worst Blogger. Drive to Bensalem for a special fan screening of The Veronica Mars movie. Take Joe to see Man of La Mancha at the DuPont and end up in the Best Seats Ever (that no one else would ever want – it’s got a partially obstructed view BUT gives Joe tons of leg room AND there’s no seat directly behind his 6’4″ self so he doesn’t have to scrunch down). Decide to get season tickets for those seats next year – goal achieved!

Funny Seder

These are my cousins, Zach and Josh. They make me laugh so hard my stomach hurts. Here they are riffing on the 10 plagues. No, I’m not kidding.

April: Another Passover seder with the Rosens (my favorite of the Jewish holidays). Then Easter dinner with the Kinna clan. Have the most amazing idea for a novel and start outlining it. A few months later, discover that I have inadvertently come up with almost the exact same plot as the new Jodi Picoult novel, only minus the elephants. It’s okay; around this time I have my first talks with Fab Editor about my next YA novel. Oh, and I get a big promotion at IRA.

May: Off to New Orleans for IRA’s Annual Conference! Get to see some of my favorite people that I don’t cross physical paths with all that often, like Julie D. Ramsay, Jen Scoggin (aka Mrs. Mimi), and my Crazy Reading Ladies, Mary Cotillo and Erin O’Leary. Discover the deliciousness that is chargrilled oysters from Drago’s. Survive my first Mother’s Day without my momma. Trip to NYC to see Heathers: The Musical with Wendy and Jenna. Corn Nuts!

June: Hire a whole new staff at work. Fly to Chicago for Confab Nonprofit and stay for the honeymoon Joe and I never got to take. Eat (and walk) our way across the city. Highlights: Buddy Guy showing up at Buddy Guy’s Legends and doing an impromptu set; spending the better part of a day at the Chicago Institute of Art; dinner at Girl and the Goal (with a Carl Reiner sighting to boot!); getting to hang out with Jaime and John our last night in town.

Us and the Bean

It’s hard to take a selfie when your husband is 14 inches taller than you are.

July: New staff arrives, rounding out the most kick-ass communications team a gal could ever hope for! Get back on a plane, this time to Tampa-adjacent Brandon, FL for IRA’s Council Leadership Academy. Talk to a lot of awesome educators about communications and social media. Later that month, splurge on a new Flexsteel couch, since our cheapie one is falling apart. Definitely worth the investment!

Jen JumpsAugust: Start the month off bouncing at Stratosphere Trampoline Park with Sadie and the McLaughlins (on Jen’s 40th birthday, no less!). Smurf up my hands later that weekend making Tardis blue velvet cupcakes for William’s birthday party. Start going on double dates with other couples. (Why didn’t we do this sooner?) Get an official offer on the YA novel I’ve been working on for HarperCollins. Woot!

September: Relaxing, post-Labor Day beach vacay with Joe in Ocean City, MD. Our hotel has an ice rink in the middle of it but Joe’s feet are too big for the rental skates. Doesn’t matter. Spend hours bobbing in the warm ocean, reading on the sand, and checking out new restaurants. Have my first Fractured Prune donut (amazing) and more chargrilled oysters (unremarkable). Make out with my husband all over town. Magical.

Wendy, Wylie, and MeOctober: Head to NYC with Wen to see Lips Together, Teeth Apart (a week before the rest of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants attend to support their good pal America Ferrara). Dinner = the supremely decadent tasting menu at the soon-to-be-closed WD50. Foodgasms abound! Also: pay off Joe’s student loans (yay!).

November: Hello, NaBloPoMo! Commit to writing one blog post a day for 30 days; miss the goal after accidentally skipping 11/29. Spend a lot of time thinking about/writing about Mom as the Year of Firsts draws to a close. Celebrate Sadie’s birthday by feeding monkeys and a bear at the Pocono Snake and Animal Farm. Spend Thanksgiving with the Royers and Mannons at Brenda and Brett’s. Spend Black Friday with the Rosens playing several heated rounds of Celebrity. Love ALL of my family.

December: Cookiepalooza 2014 = HUGE success. Discovered the gloriousness that is Oreo “coal.” Christmas Eve with the Kinna clan, Christmas dinner with Mark and Charlotte, post-Christmas weekend with the Rosens, Sadiepants, and close friends (Taco Game Night FTW!).

Ending the year in our favorite fashion: at home, in our PJs, watching movies and scarfing up Velveeta bean dip (1 lb. Velveeta cubed, 1 can Hormel Hot Chili No Beans, 1 can kidney beans – zap in microwave until it’s all melted. Sounds gross, tastes delish – trust me on this). We’ll stay up way too late, cuddle down around 3 a.m., and sleep in until noon like we’re people of leisure. It’s glorious, is what it is. (Trust me on this, too.)

Happy New Year, everyone!

When a bag of tea isn’t just a bag of tea…

I’ve been coming down with a cold for a while now, but it really started to set in Saturday night. Stuffy nose begat sore throat begat fun cough, intense enough that by yesterday afternoon, my chest started to hurt.

Well, this post-Thanksgiving Cold of Doom has officially ensnared my husband, who left work early yesterday with an achy head and raw throat. Today, both of us are riding the couch, pounding fluids and trying not to feel sorry for our infirm selves.

My tea choices are a little limited right now, and I’m too tired to keep drinking chamomile. So last night, when Joe heated up a kettle of water, I settled on Trader Joe’s Candy Cane tea, a seasonal variety that we stock up on every year. Randomly, I scanned the label and was appalled to find this:

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Sugar.

Yes, SUGAR.

In the tea bag itself.

Joe said, “Who puts sugar in tea?”

I said, “People do. But after it’s been brewed. Not before.”

I opted for 100% straight-up peppermint instead.

It makes me so sad how sneaky the sugar can be, even in a Trader Joe’s product.

Where will they stop? When will the madness end?