A Marriage/ Parenting Analogy

I remember when I got engaged; people came out the woodwork to wish my (now) husband and I well. It was like an alternate universe where you're suddenly planning for a decadent affair. You get in touch with people you maybe haven't had a chance to keep up with. There are parties. Oh, the parties. And the presents....

It's just like a fairytale, or at least that's how it was for me. I was always busy between dress fittings, manicures, parties, planning for the wedding, and the sheer anticipation of getting married is just blissful. That's why I always encourage long engagements. I mean, who wouldn't want to prolong the sweetness of a time that is so wonderful!?

And then we got married. We honeymooned, came home and, to be honest, things had changed. Yes, they changed. Even after seven years of cohabitation, they changed. We were married. It came with a set of expectations, a deeper commitment, and some problems. People who are married who tell you they have never had any problems as a couple either haven't been married long enough, or are just plain lying.

The thing is, marriage is wonderful. It's a walk--a journey. But it doesn't come without struggle. It took a couple years to iron out the kinks of our new arrangement. Yes, you read that right, a couple years. Arguably the most challenging two years in our relationship were the first two years of marriage. But iron it did, and while we still get wrinkles here and there, we have found a formula.

Funny enough, then, I noticed a similar pattern with pregnancy and parenting. After a few years of marriage, my husband and I decided to take the plunge into parenthood. For me, this was much scarier than getting married, which should have told me something right there. But I was "ready" and committed.

When I got pregnant, well, it was sort of like being engaged. People were ecstatic. Over. The Moon. I was surprised, very pleasantly might I add, by other people's enthusiasm because it helped me get excited too (even though I was terrified.) Again we found ourselves planning for a big event. There is a lot to do when you're having a baby. Lots of product reviews to read, things to pick out, and there is, of course, the baby shower, which we made a big fuss over.

And then I went into labor. I forgot all about the fear in those moments, I became blissfully excited. Even the first day in the hospital I was overjoyed and filled with a sort of void that happiness (and relief) that a safe birth brings. There she was, all ours and ready to come home with us.

The reality of parenting didn't really hit me for probably a couple of weeks. And it wasn't the sleep thing (my daughter is a good sleeper) and it wasn't the breastfeeding thing (also no problem), but it was the enormity of it all that was so overwhelming to me at times. I was responsible....for a person.

The thing is, parenting is wonderful, just like marriage. It is it's own kind of journey. But that sweetness of having a child doesn't come without struggle. Those parents who tell you it's without challenge need their heads examined. Of course, it's totally worth it. There are moments when I'm so happy I literally burst into tears. Being a parent has softened me up considerably and I've been surprised about the places in myself I have found.

So here's the analogy: 

Engagement is to marriage what pregnancy is to parenthood. 

It's not something that you can fully comprehend unless you've lived it. And certainly, neither marriage nor parenthood are for everyone (which, by the way, is totally cool). Engagement and pregnancy are the fantasies that give way to the realities that shock and amaze us. Sometimes that shock is good, and other times it forces you to dig within yourself and find the energy to go on, the will to compromise, and the wisdom to shut the hell up. At least that's the way it's been for me.

How has it been for you? Share your experiences with me in the comments section below! 

Let Me Tell You About My Village

You always hear people throwing around the phrase "it takes a village." When I was pregnant, I was so aware of this phrase, and I vowed to let that village in; you know, in case I needed them, which I thought I might. Boy was that the best decision I've made in a while! As it turned out, I needed the village.

It really does take a village. From everything from trying to figure out how to put my breast into my child's mouth when my milk came in (holy hell, those things swell!) to needing diapers and clothes, my village was able to surround my family. The funny thing is, even though I was aware that I wanted to let the village in, I wasn't sure who they were. That is, the villagers I speak of, well, some of them were really surprising! So, I wanted to introduce my village because I love them! 

My family & friends 
Oh my gawd. I never knew that when I was having a panic attack/total meltdown, how much I would need my girlfriend Jenn. Or that the instant I gave birth I would love my parents so. Much. More. Or that having my mother-in-law just a mile down the road would become SO essential. These people are in the trenches with my husband and I on the daily and without them, well, let's just not think about that.... 

My zumba family 
My Zumba family has been awesome through EVERYTHING...especially my spotty schedule these days (eek, I swear, I have the best of work out intentions!) But these ladies not only threw me a shower, but also offer support nonstop in the way of advice, gifts, and camaraderie. 

Our bank ladies (aka, Ruby's fan club)
When I was pregnant, the ladies who work at our local Fulton Bank were soon excited for me. And when Ruby was born? Even more! I have been constantly cheered on by this group of people (mostly women, but there is a guy or two who works there), and it fortifies me. And it sure as heck makes getting to the bank a lot more cheerful. 

Our mail carrier, Sharon
When Ruby was born, I was surprised in the best way when our mail carrier Sharon came up the drive with presents for her. It was one of the sweetest things EVER. She brought outfits and a case of diapers. She totally didn't have to do that, but it reallllllly gave us the warm and fuzzies. Faith in humanity? Restored. 

The employees at my grocery store 
This might sound off the wall, but I love these people. I mean, I see them all the time. Plus, I'm freaky about the grocery store--I love grocery shopping! I am always interacting with them about new products, or asking for certain things, et cetera. I enjoy the consistency of seeing them each week and knowing they are there with a friendly smile or asking how we are. And my grocery pharmacist actually knows my name, which I think is just so sweet.

So that's my village. And I love them each and every one. I hope I haven't forgotten anyone. Tell me  a bit about your village in the comments section below!!! 

Have Yourself A Merry Little Cheesecake

This isn't really a Christmas or holiday cheesecake. Well, it is in the world of color themes, but not in taste. Let me back it up a little here...

So, I have been doing some catering and personal chef work. It's been a lot of fun. Of course when I started doing it, my mom immediately wanted to support me because she's an awesome mom like that. Every year she has a Christmas party for her office, and this year she asked me to cater for her. It was going to be Asian themed, which normally isn't my strong suit, but lately (because of the dairy free thing) I've found more and more Asian recipe sneaking their way into my repertoire.

Back to the cheesecake at hand. I had to come up with a dessert. My mom requested cheesecake, which of course isn't near Asian at all, but then, like a lightbulb going off, I had it: why not make a green tea cheesecake?!

For this, I used one of my favorite little secrets to bake with: matcha! It's green tea powder.


Matcha can be a little expensive, but it's worth every penny because just one small container goes a long, long way. You can use it to make all sorts of stuff from iced green tea lattes to my green tea wedding cake cookies to this awesome cheesecake you are about to make. So splurge. Treat yourself to this amazing little powder packed with green tea goodness. (No, this was not a paid advertisement, I'm just passionate about my powda.) 

Any-who, this dessert will look beautiful on a Christmas dessert table, but also would be wonderful in any season. The flavors lend themselves to any time of year, if you ask me. So let's get to it. Ladies and gentlemen, start your ovens. We're gonna make some cheesecake with a slightly Asian twist.

Green Tea Cheesecake 
Time: 1 hr, 30 mins | Makes: 1 hell of a cheesecake | Difficulty: Easy-ish 

You Will Need: 

2 cups shortbread cookie crumbs
2 -8 ounce packages of cream cheese (room temperature) 
1/2 cup greek yogurt 
4 eggs 
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
3 teaspoons matcha powder 
1 small package of raspberries
Fresh mint 

Special equipment: Springform cake pan and a bigger bake pan that will hold it. 

Method: 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. 

Take tin foil and wrap the bottom of the springform pan (from the outside) with three layers of the foil. Grease the pan and then press the shortbread crumbs in the bottom (not the sides, just the bottom) of the pan. Set aside. 

In a stand mixer, mix the cream cheese, yogurt and sugar until smooth. I did a medium (ish) speed. Once mixed, add your eggs, one at a time and vanilla. Once incorporated, go ahead and add your matcha. I found that little beads of matcha stayed in unmixed, and it came out just fine. Just be sure it's about as incorporated as it can be. 

Pour your mixture into your prepared springform pan. 

Place that pan into a larger pan and fill it halfway with hot water. Carefully place the cheesecake into the oven and bake it about an hour or until the center moves just slightly. I found it took about an hour an fifteen minutes, but my oven gets a little weird sometimes. 

When finished, carefully remove the pan from the oven and then remove the springform pan from the water. Place it on a wire rack to cool for one hour and then place in the refrigerator up to two days before serving. 

To serve: Take the outer ring off the springform pan and place the cake on a serving tray. Slice your mint or tear into "rustic" pieces. Mix with the raspberries and then place the mixture on the cheesecake. Slice and serve! 

And Then I Got F**king Shingles

So I had what was one of the worst flu viruses I have had in recent memory. That took up the first portion of my month, and it was not fun, let me tell you. As a result, I didn't get my Christmas shopping done, but I told myself I had plenty of time to attend to all that. Or so I thought. 

In the short time that I was feeling marginally better from the flu, I had a lot to do; there was a party for my father-in-law, and that week, I did a ton of cookie baking. That week, (last week) I also catered my mom's office Christmas party, which was a lot of fun. I've got a recipe for a green tea cheesecake coming up that is to DIE for!!! 

Anyway, there we were, shooting my daughter's seven month picture in the middle of an already hectic week, when my girlfriend and husband said, "Hey Billie, you've got a weird rash." I didn't feel a rash of any sort, so I was really surprised. I had a swollen lymph on my groin, which I thought was from me being sick the week before, so I just ignored all of it. Until I couldn't. 

The rash came on Friday, and by Sunday, my hip was a lot of really weird pain, and that rash? Well, it was really not looking any better, in fact it was looking worse. It wasn't until Monday morning that I knew I had to go to the doctor...and by then I had (with the help of google) put together all these symptoms to decide I had shingles. At first I thought I was batty....how could I have gotten shingles? But no, I was right, I did have it, and my doctor confirmed this. 

Apparently sometimes when you get the flu, it knocks down your immune system soooo much that you get shingles. Shingles lives in your body if you've had chickenpox before. I couldn't believe it. The way my symptoms presented was a little strange to me, but hey, I've never had shingles before, so, go figure. 

First, the rash looks like little bug bites, but then becomes sort of scabby. Also, there was a pain in my hip (near where the rash was, but not in the same place), and it felt like a bruise which kind of got worse. There really isn't any treatment I needed other than some tylenol and rest. More rest. *Sigh.* 

Luckily it's not contagious as long as no one touches it. I have to keep it covered with clothing, which really isn't difficult. It is painful, but it's not unmanageable, so I'm thankful for that. Doctor says in a week or two I should be good as new. I'm over the whole "being sick thing," but I guess my body hasn't gotten the memo yet. I wonder if breastfeeding is compromising my immune system, but I am determined to keep it up! 

It's hard for me, clearly a type A personality, to rest. And I had done such a good job of resting while I was really sick, but I was ready to kick my holiday into high gear here. It's just not going to happen. It's more rest and staying home. No workouts (my doctor's orders....sheesh). No physical exertions. So it's back to bed I go. These days I feel like I can't catch a break from being sick...which is SO not me! 

Ah, well. So there it is. I got shingles for Christmas. 

A Very Non-Dairy Christmas [Cookies, Cookies, Cookies!]

Sometimes you just get a hankering. And for me, it was cookies. I wanted to make some nondairy chocolate chip cookies. That was well over a week ago. Before I could make the cookies, I was stricken with the flu and I was laid up for nearly a week. A. Whole. Week.

In many regards, this was awful. Like the fact that I couldn't even get out of bed for two days. In other ways, it was enlightening; I was reminded of how wonderful my mother and mother-in-law are to me in my times of need. They came to play with Ruby and help me while I was sick. Gotta love that.

Anyway, what does all this have to do with my cookies? Well, once I was better again, I sort of when stark raving cookie mad. Losing a week of Christmas joy has a way of doing that to me.

So I started to bake. I started with those dairy free chocolate chip cookies, which my husband professed passed the test with flying colors. He said no one would ever know! I found THIS RECIPE on Pinterest. It's easy and impresses. After that, all bets were off.

Basically, I used the chocolate chip cookies as a warm up round. Since then, I've made snickerdoodles (I subbed coconut oil for the butter in this recipe), at the request of my husband, and then I got crrrrrrazy and went for a Mexican Wedding Cake cookie, with a little twist: I added in some matcha! Then, just for kicks, I threw in a round of thumbprint cookies, made with my very own strawberry jalapeƱo jam!



Let's just say that I am in freaking cookie heaven over here.

If you are bit by a cookie, holiday, cheer bug and you want, for whatever reason, to keep it all dairy free, I've got your back. Heck, if you just gotta have your dairy and you wanna sub butter for the coconut oil, be my guest--I can't tell you what to do!



Here is my adaptation of the Mexican Wedding Cake cookies. They are my mom's favorite, and I am really excited to share it! I think I've turned my husband onto them too, so it looks as though they may become a new tradition.





Green Tea Mexican Wedding Cake Cookies 
Time: 45 minutes start to finish | Makes 24 (ish) cookies | Difficulty: Easy 

You Will Need: 

1 cup coconut oil 
1 cup Powdered Sugar, divided
1 Tablespoon Vanilla
2 cups All-Purpose Flour
½ t. Salt
1/2 teaspoon powdered matcha
1 cup Pecans, chopped

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle blade, cream together the coconut oil and half of the powdered sugar. Add the vanilla.

Add the salt, flour and matcha until combined. Stir in the pecans.

Form the dough into balls and lay them out on a cookie sheet (I like to use parchment paper because it's soon easy to clean up.) Bake these little suckers about 15 minutes.

When you remove them from the oven, let them cool a few moments (5-10 minutes) and then roll them in the reserved powdered sugar. Let them cool completely on a wire rack.

Serve with almond milk or a nice cup of tea! 

When Mommy Needs A Sick Day

Well if I ever thought that getting sick was bad, I had no idea what I was talking about. Getting sick when you have a baby is worse than anything I've yet to experience. In the last several years, I've found my immune system to be stellar, but since I started breastfeeding, I've been sick twice. I wonder if there is any connection--opinions on that, anyone?!

The first time I got sick was when Ruby was 3 months old. It was just a bad cold. This time, I got the full on flu; fever, body aches, and eyes that watered mercilessly making me look like I'd been crying. For. Days. With a nearly seven month old child who had just learned to crawl and pull herself to standing, this was a horrible turn of events. Suddenly I was sicker than sick and chasing around a very active baby.

I needed a sick day in the worst way, but really, moms just don't get them...especially nursing moms. Thank goodness for my village. I had to call in my grandma dream team, who both brought me soup and played with my little firecracker while me and crazy drippy eyes went to bed. My husband filled in the holes between his last two weeks of school and work. My advice to moms who need desperately to take a sick day? Call in your reinforcements. People love to chip in and help, and when you need it, you need it.

I held on to hope that "tomorrow" I would feel better. I was a little bitter that I lost an entire week of holly jolly Christmas plans. My Christmas shopping, wrapping, and reveling were put on hold. But at least I was able to take care of myself (for the most part). It was also a week of a lot of skipped baths and minimal family meals. But you can't win them all.

What I did learn, though, were some great home remedies for nursing mothers as well as some good tricks for getting rest. So I figured I would share them in case you also find yourself in need of a sick day with a baby on your hip! Also, let's note the silver lining in this situation: that when you nurse your baby they get all the immunities they need against your illness. How truly wonderful is that?! Okay, here we go.

Mother's milk tea
I had no idea that fenugreek was a decongestant! I drank my mother's milk tea while I was sick and it helped (temporarily). Plus, it helped me get my fluids.

Bragg's Vinegar
I came to the party a little late on this one; really I wish I would have started it right when I got sick, but I felt it really helped break up the ick that was plaguing me! I just took a shot of vinegar and chased it with a glass of water. Make sure if you do this that it's apple cider vinegar, and frankly, make sure it's the Bragg's. The basic concept is that it helps the body become alkaline, which is a state in which infection can't thrive. I've actually used Bragg's for bladder infections in the past, but after this stint, I'm thinking of making it a part of my everyday routine.

Essential Oils
I ate a TON of Thieves (from Young Living) and I also used deep relief on my sinuses. Both helped. The Thieves felt amazing on my sore throat.

Epsom Salt Baths
Nothing better for aching muscles. Plus, bath time is a time ally to yourself.

Naps, naps, naps!
Nap time, people, nap time! Generally I put my baby in the Ergo to take a nap so I can get things done while she slumbers. But while I was sick, we took our naps in bed together and it was great. I noticed she napped longer and I was able to veg for a couple hours, which I totally needed. We may just keep this as a part of our routine!

So what are your sick mommy secrets?! How do you help yourself when you are sick and need to be mommy? Help us all by leaving it in the comments section below!


On The Subject of More Children

When I was pregnant, people were already asking me if I wanted more children. I cringed then, and I cringe now when people ask me about it. Even though I know it's normal. Even though I have, at times, been guilty of asking other couples or women the very same child question. I suppose it's human nature...but I can't get comfortable with it. But at least now I have figured out why, and I'm trying to get more comfortable with it.

Every time I hear people say that they know they want children, or that they want more than one child, I feel a twinge of envy. Not because I want more children, but because they know. They know that they want more, or how many they want, or that they want them at all...and I've never known any of those things.

As bonded to my own child as I am, I didn't know until literally the moment I decided to become pregnant if I wanted any children at all. (Even then, I am not sure I really knew.) So it should come as no surprise to anyone that now that I have a child, I'm not sure that I want any more. Still, people ask. They started asking right away, in fact, if I wanted more.

My first inclination is generally to go into defense mode. I would say "no." Well, I didn't actually just say no...I said, "NO! NO! NOOOOOO!" Because to have a sense of certainty seemed somehow superior to being ambiguous about the subject. But it didn't satisfy anyone. It didn't satisfy others, (who were somehow determined to change my mind and convince me I do want more children) and it didn't satisfy me because the exchange was just so uncomfortable, not to mention inauthentic.

So, I switched gears and began saying I didn't know. Which is when I realized that if you say you don't know, people take it to mean "yes." Or that you are considering it and want to discuss it--which I didn't. That is, I'm not considering it. But I can't tell the future. In my tirelessness of trying to answer this question in a way that would be less confusing, I found the real problem was that I didn't even know how to begin to answer the question. What I didn't realize at the time, but realize now, is that in order for me to be authentic with my answer, I had to be comfortable with not having an answer. Then I learned: society doesn't really do uncertainty.

I literally have no clue if I want more children...there, I said it.

It's that simple...and that complicated. It's not that I don't want to my child to have siblings. I just don't have an answer. I am the Sweden of having more kids. Neither for nor against, just standing in a place of neutral ground. It is this kind of neutrality that really bugs people, which is not what I am trying to accomplish at all. I wish that I could pick a side, but my guess would be that I won't until the moment I do...and who knows when or how or where that will (if ever) happen in my life.

My suspicion is there are a lot of people like me out there. We are undecided, with no real notion of where we may fall on the "more kids" issue. It can be a frustrating place to be. I look at those of my friends who are having big families--who always knew they wanted big families--and I wish I could function with that sort of assuredness. I talk with my husband, who knows he would love to have another child, and I think "what must that feel like, to know in that way what you want?"

There are some perks, though. One such is that not knowing helps me to stay more present for my daughter's milestones, as I think "this may be the only time I see another person say their first word, or crawl or marvel at our pets." It gives me great determination to follow through with breastfeeding (despite my panic attacks) because who knows if I'll ever  do it again. It makes the time precious. It makes the hard days more manageable.

But it still doesn't give me a good answer for those who come with questions. It doesn't erase the fact that no matter what I say, even if I say I am undecided, that other people will try to color the conversation with their particular feelings and philosophies. However, the farther down the road of parenthood I get, the more I realize that it is my journey in life to become comfortable with uncertainty and impermanence.

So, that's where I am; I am trying to become comfortable with the fact that I don't know what life holds, on this question of children, or really on anything else. It's a scary thought on some levels, but I guess I better cozy up. The only constant is change, and life is an uncertain place...

How has this subject been for you? Did you always know how many (if any) children you wanted, or are you a bit like me? Share and discuss (judgment free) in the comment section below! 

Sometimes It Ain't Pretty....

It’s 11am and I’ve officially cried all of my make up off. It’s just one of those days. I guess I had them before I became a parent, but somehow they didn’t feel this bad. Nothing is that bad when no one is looking, right? These days, there is always someone looking. She’s little now, but she sees me nonetheless and sometimes I am painfully aware of it.

Maybe it’s a mixture of breastfeeding hormones, the bad night’s sleep I had, or the fact that some days I wake up and I just don’t feel like it. And how can I explain it… not to you, dear reader, but to my husband who has, this entire last year and a half, not experienced a hormonal roller coaster of epic proportions? He, who gets trot off to whatever normalcy sustains him. Away from me who sometimes feels resentful.

It’s not that I’m complaining. Sometimes it comes off as complaining when I just have to cry. And I don’t know why. I’m overwhelmed at times. It’s not my kid, really. I love her so much and in so many ways she’s a breeze. Being a mother is just… So. Emotional. And apparently, emotion doesn’t come as easy to me as I would have hoped. Over the years of my adulthood, I learned to keep things light and pleasant—this doesn’t serve me as a postpartum parent.

I never realized that, at times, it would seem as though everyone (including the dogs) wants a piece of me. I never thought I would wonder who was there to take care of me; certainly it can’t be ME when I’m clearly so busy taking care of everyone else! I never thought it would be easy. I wasn’t under any illusions when people gave me their dreamy versions of what parenthood was like for them…

I cry while I unload the dishwasher, while I put dinner in the crockpot, and while my child naps (strapped to my chest in her baby carrier.) I don’t know why I cry, exactly. When my husband asks me, I tell him I’m frustrated. I give the usual list of reasons, and we fight and I continue to cry. It’s not pretty, but sometimes this is parenthood. We make up, sort of. Tonight we’ll put it all away and tomorrow we’ll start anew.

God save you if you are a non parent reading this. It’s nothing that would scare or even phase a mom. Not that we’re so different, mind you. In fact, us moms are just like you gals who haven’t had kids except that now our emotions are severely heightened and our kids are constantly watching us. If you’re a dad, I am sure you are nodding your head and thinking back on the time your wife told you that you weren’t present enough, or that she needed a break through tears that just would not stop coming.

This is my experience: being a parent is the vacillation between sheer joy and terror. There is rarely an in between moment where you think, “eh, this is just neutral.” Neutrality is for Sweden; parents have no such luxury. In today’s world of the Internet, it’s easy to look at Facebook or Instagram (or even someone’s blog) and see all the beauty. Of course, it’s  easier to share your happiness than it is to admit to the world that you’ve cried off all your make up before 11:00am. But it also isn’t real.

Sometimes life is fucking rough. Or emotional. And I want you to know that I know that. So I wrote this post as an offering because sometimes we all need one. Has parenting been pretty easy for me? Yes, for the most part it has been. Even still, there are days when I don’t even recognize myself. Tomorrow might be different (in fact, sometimes I count on it), but there is no shame in admitting that the truth is imperfect, and that’s okay too. 

We Need To Talk: Breastmilk Donation

I walk a fine line under normal circumstances when it comes to food preservation and hoarding....so why would it be any different when it came to my breastmilk? In the beginning, I was practically tethered to my breast pump. I guess I thought that I would be prepared for going back to work. So I pumped. And pumped. And pumped.

I pumped until I was so tired of the breast pump I had to take over a month long break from pumping. But by that time, I had pumped out an astounding 59 bags of milk! There was just one problem: along the way, I discovered that my Ruby couldn't tolerate dairy in my diet. All that wonderful milk I had pumped was chocked full of dairy! So, I just put in the deep freeze to preserve it thinking maybe one day she will be able to make use of it. 

Fast forward to month five and I'm going back to work as a personal chef. That was about the time I discovered that my daughter would rather go on hunger strike than eat from a bottle, or a sippy cup despite her capability to do so. Not that she could tolerate the milk with dairy....and anyway I had a new stockpile of "non dairy" milk by then. So, what to do with all that milk? 

I took to the internet to look into milk banks. Wow. What a lot of information that lead me to. These milk banks, on the surface, seemed like a great idea. Yes, they made you take a blood test. Yes, you had to submit a DNA sample...and that seemed a little invasive, but I understood that they had to check and make sure that the milk was, in fact, coming from the person who giving it. But then came the kicker: after those things, they take your milk and they pasteurize it! WTF!?!?!?! 

Maybe I have missed something here, but if they take your milk and pasteurize it, doesn't it sort lose all that mom's milk goodness that breastmilk is famous for? I just couldn't do it. So, back to the internet I went, this time to Facebook and a friend of mine who is well connected with other moms...maybe someone out there was in need of my milk, I thought. Turned out, there was. 

I was able to donate directly to someone who needed breastmilk for their baby who couldn't tolerate formula. She came, took all my bags of frozen milk, and then she told me something that really upset me. She said those milk banks you donate your milk to (the same ones that pasteurize the goodness from the milk) then turn around and try to sell the milk to people like her for $5 per ounce! 

I don't want to discourage anyone from donating....that's not what this is about, really. In fact, if you are producing milk and storing it away, I hope that you will consider donating to someone in need because as mother's we have to be able to lean on one another. It's about doing your homework before you do. If at all possible, try and give to someone in need in your own community. Because companies can be a-holes who turn your good intention (not to mention all that hard work spending pumping) into profit. And that's bull. 

That's not to say that there aren't good places to donate to; I'm sure there are. But in a more rural area like where I live, I wasn't able to find any local programs. Even if I had, the thought of having my milk pasteurized was a little more than I could handle. That, and, there are local people in need who don't have the $5 an ounce to spare. 

So tell me, have you donated milk? Have you been in need of milk donation? If you know of a good milk donation source where you personally had a good experience, please leave it for me in the comments section below! 

Mock N' Cheese Recipe [Dairy Free Mac n' Cheese]

I miss CHEEEEEEEESE! Or, at least, I thought I missed cheese. I had a hankering. Mac n' cheese is one of my very, very favorite things to eat. And maybe by now my daughter's system is more mature and can handle dairy, but it just wasn't a risk I was willing to take. I guess I just do things the hard way. But at least I knew there was a way, and that way was in the kitchen!!! 

I had to make a dairy free version of mac n' cheese. And it's almost [inadvertently] vegan but for two egg yolks...which you could totally omit. And I know that I fell down on the picture taking (once again), and I'm sorry for that. It's just that I am busy eating and then I plum forget. *Sigh* It's beautiful, I promise. 

I wasn't even going to try this one on my husband because I figured, "Yea, that'll go over like a lead balloon." But after my girlfriend told me about how awesome it was, I was feeling really confident. What do you know--my husband loved it! Go figure! So, don't take my word for it, take my husband's: this is one good dairy free imitation. 

The more I get into this dairy free lifestyle stuff, the more I realize it just isn't that bad. This dish proves that. It's also just something different than your usual. So dairy free or not, I suggest you get in that kitchen and give it a whirl...because it's pumpkin season! (Don't make me put on my yoga pants and Uggs, and pumpkin latte in hand, tell you again!!!)

Billie's Mock N' Cheese 

Time: About an hour | Serves 6 | Difficulty: Eeeeeaaaassssy 


You will need

1 pound of elbow macaroni 
1 30 ounce can of pure pumpkin 
1 15 ounce can coconut milk 
1 cup almond milk 
2 egg yolks
3 garlic cloves, minced 
4-5 dashes cayenne pepper 
salt and pepper, to taste 
extra virgin olive oil 
Breadcrumbs

Method:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Grease a large casserole dish (butter is fine if you're eating the dairy, otherwise, coconut oil is terrific as well), and set aside.

Make elbow macaroni according to manufacturer's directions. When done, drain and set aside. What I did was make my pasta and then I used the same pot for the next step. This was mostly because I only wanted to use one pot. Call me lazy.

In a big pot,  heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add your garlic and cook a couple minutes. Add the pumpkin, coconut milk and almond milk to the pot and bring to a bubble. Add the tofutti, cayenne, salt and pepper. Cook and stir until the tofutti has fully incorporated.

Add the cooked (and drained) pasta to the pot, along with the egg yolks and stir to combine. Once combined, pour into your prepared casserole dish. Top generously with the breadcrumbs.

Cook the whole thing in the oven for 35-45 minutes or until the breadcrumbs are golden and crispy and the sauce is bubbling well in the pan!

Enjoy with a person you love. 

Tips For Natural Childbirth

I have seen a lot of lists (while I was pregnant and after) about ways to have a natural childbirth. I think there is an inclination to move toward natural childbirth these days, and I am really happy to see this. Women's bodies are amazing, and natural childbirth is just one of those many wonders. I wanted to share some of my own tips for natural childbirth because the experience, for me, was profound. I hope that this helps other women to reach their childbirth goals.

Of course, I also feel compelled to say that no matter how you choose to deliver your baby, it's a beautiful event that will change your life! 

Bottom line is that you need to know the process if you expect to get through it. And a hospital class is not going to cut it. My Lamaze teacher was instrumental in teaching my husband how to support me during childbirth, but also in educating me about the process of birth. She instilled in me a confidence and by the end of the class, I knew I could do it! 

Ditch the complicated birth plan
Every single midwife I talked to told me to do away with a birth plan. Their reasoning was that it was a sure-fire way to be disappointed. Hard as it was, I listened to them, and I was happy I did. My birth plan simply read: NO INTERVENTIONS. 

What I did have was an "after birth plan," and I also had a c-section plan. 

Have a plan for a c-section 
I know this seems counterintuitive, but I really believe it's important. I have these friends, and they call this technique "the reverse black cat." Basically, it's preparing for the worse and hoping for the best. If you have a plan, then you won't be caught off guard. In the middle of my natural birthing experience, they thought I needed a c-section, and because I had a plan, the stress was greatly reduced. I was lucky that it was a false alarm, but having a plan helped me keep my cool while we sorted things out. 

Stay Positive 
People can be real jerks to pregnant women, and I speak from experience. It almost never failed: when I said, "I'm having natural childbirth," people practically burst into laughter. Most often they said, "yeah right, you'll want that epidural!!!" You have to --HAVE TO-- stay above the fray because people are only trying to be helpful (but instead they are being jerks.)

I had a mantra. I kid you not. Every day I would say to myself, "I am so happy and thankful for my safe and natural childbirth." Believe in yourself, and STAY POSITIVE.

Put together a supportive birthing team
My birthing team of my husband, my mother, my mother-in-law, and my best friend Jenn was instrumental in getting me all the way there when I was in labor. Did I have a ton of people in the room? Yes, I did. Will that be for everyone? No. But no matter who you have in the room, you have to be sure that they are there to support you in your desire to have natural childbirth. 

When I professed "I can't do it!" They helped me and when it got real bad, they asked me to wait a half hour. That half hour turned into pushing and then, the next thing we knew, we had a baby! 

Familiarize yourself with the hospital's practices 
Not everyone can get to a birthing center, or deliver at home (which are the ideal settings for natural childbirth). If you plan on delivering naturally in the hospital setting, you should be familiar with the hospital's regular procedures. Take a tour, talk with the nursing staff, and be prepared to deal with hospital dynamics. I also suggest a nurses' gift basket if you're gonna be in the hospital--trust me on this one!

Have a mantra 
Did negative thoughts about c-sections and fears of my baby being breech creep up on me? Yes, yes they did. When you are pregnant and birth is on your mind, it's just gonna happen. Not to mention there will be a lot of fools who are needlessly making you scared when you should be instead boosting your confidence level. So, the way to combat it? A mantra, of course!

My mantra was "I'm so happy and thankful for my safe, natural birth." Every time a negative thought would come upon me, I would change it to my mantra. It takes some active thought, but in the end, I think it really helped me. 

Kim Kardashian's Shiny Ass

Okay, alright....twist my arm...I'll talk about Kim Kardashian's new shiny ass picture on the cover of Paper Magazine. I mean, it seems like everyone else is talking about it, for better or for worse, so why not weigh in? Sometimes I have to take a break from nap time, nursing, and my other wife and mommy duties to talk about some good old fashioned celebrity culture.

First of all, my thoughts immediately go to "DAMN." The woman looks amazing. She's had a baby, and still, she's looking every bit of DAMN. And yet, to accidentally (now) quote Taylor Swift, "haters gonna hate."

I have seen everything from "she's a disgusting human being," to "is this empowering for all women?" So I guess one could say that reactions are running the gamut over the world wide web. I think it's positively amazing that a woman's bulbous ass, which is pristinely oiled might I add, can cause such a stir that leads to such polarization. After all, this isn't exactly the first time we've seen the backside of Ms. Kardashian. Apparently, it never gets old.

Love or hate Kim K, you aren't likely to fall in the grey area. Everyone has an opinion.

For me, I have to say that I am a Kim Kardashian fan. I know that this may surprise some, but I a complete (unashamed) reality television fan. I don't find her vile, or stupid. I find her funny and quirky. I enjoy the Kardashian clan's antics and tom foolery; seriously, it's great TV. And honestly, if it were me, I would probably be oiling up my buns for the camera too. An ass that glorious needs to be shared with the world.

As for the question of whether or not a photo of this nature is "empowering" for all women, well, I'm not sure. I mean, I don't think it moves back in the fight for equality. It's probably very personally empowering...looking great naked, I mean on the real, how can that NOT be empowering on the personal level?! But as for women as a whole? I'm just sure that it's relevant or matters all that much. More than anything, I think this falls into the "give the people what they want" category. But that's just me.

What do you think? 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

These cookies....ERMAGERD. I have to apologize because I didn't snap a picture of them. So I guess you'll have to use your imagination on that. OOPS.

I wanted cookies one day and I had a real hankering for peanut butter. But I also had a need to use up two bananas that had seen better days. So what did I do? I took it to Pinterest, where you can find practically anything you ever wanted to know about cooking. I am so in love with Pinterest.

And there, after much searching, I found these amazing [vegan] cookies. You know what's funny about being dairy free? You find a lot of vegan recipes. But who cares, right? Good is good and these cookies looked good. They didn't have chocolate though. Chocolate was my husband's request. When I said "peanut butter" he said, "with chocolate?" And I said "YES!"

Cocoa powder and I are good friends these days. But I am wondering if maybe I should be going for the raw cocoa instead...any opinions on that? I would love to know what people really think. Leave it for me in the comments sections if you're feeling frisky.

So, I tweaked the recipe and what I got were they cakey yummy cookies with bananas, peanut butter, and chocolate. I feel like I should call them "monkey cookies" because I think some tree swinging monkeys would eat these up.

Can I share something with you? (It was more of a rhetorical question.) Vegan cookie batter is, in fact, the holiest of cookie batters. Know why? (Again, rhetorical.) You can totally eat all the leftover batter, and lick the spoon, and the bowl because there is no egg. Not that I have ever let a little egg stop me...but seriously. I licked it. And I made funny faces at my five month old and she laughed, and a good time was had by all.

And then I baked these suckers and they were ready and I ate them. Muahahahhaha.

Whether you are vegan or not vegan, you should be a fan of these cookies. Because awesome is awesome and that's all there is to it.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies 

Time: Prep- 10 min. Bake- 10ish mins. | Makes about 15 cookies, depending  | Difficulty: Easy

You will need: 

2 veeeerrrry ripe bananas 
1/2  cup peanut butter 
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1  cup all purpose flour 
1/3 cup cocoa powder 
pinch of salt 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Peel those 'nanners. In a bowl, mash bananas. Add sugar and peanut butter and mix well. 

Add flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda. 

Spoon your dough onto a cookie sheet (greased or lined in parchment paper.) I did heaping globs but you can do whatever you like...if you like smaller cookies, more power to you! 

Bake in the oven about 10-12 minutes. Or until they are looking good and baked. 

Remove from oven and allow them to cool on a wire rack. 

Once totally cool, I stored mine in the fridge because they were super moist.  

We Need To Talk: Postpartum Anxiety

I have had anxiety issues for about six years now...or maybe I always had them, but they got bad enough to force me to deal with them six years ago. So going into my pregnancy, I was prepared to deal with anxiety. Well, I guess I should rephrase and say I was ready to be proactive and cross my fingers and hope that I wouldn't get anxiety.

The thing is, people talk a lot about postpartum depression, but not as much about postpartum anxiety. Anxiety is a tricky little sucker, so it's harder to nail down. Inevitably, it gets lumped in with postpartum depression, which I think is a disservice to anyone who suffers with it because they are really very different beasts.

Before I got pregnant I had been anxiety free for about a year. One glorious year where I had that formula down. Most of my issues with anxiety stemmed from the fact that I had been on hormonal birth control, which was causing me to have panic attacks. (Read about that experience by CLICKING HERE.) So, when I got pregnant, guess what? Panic attacks in the first trimester. This was largely because the hormones in the first trimester mimic those in birth control. Thank god that they went away around week 11, and I only had one full blown panic attack in the third trimester (at a concert because I thought I was dehydrated and then got panicked....)

While I was pregnant, I meditated daily and kept my exercise routine. This has been my classic formula for avoiding anxiety and it's served me pretty well. Postpartum I planned to encapsulate my placenta in order to keep a hormonal balance that would hopefully keep me level. (Read about my experience with placenta encapsulation by CLICKING HERE.) For the first six weeks, this worked beautifully.

And then, the moment when my daughter and I were alone for an afternoon and I thought to myself, "I am just gonna cuddle you all afternoon," BOOM. A panic attack came on, and that started the waves of panic that have been pretty enduring. The anxiety I have felt postpartum has been different than other anxiety I have had in the past.

My symptoms have included:
Dizziness
Feeling like I am going to faint
Overwhelmed "hot" feeling
Fear of being alone with my baby
Tingling in my feet and hands

The symptoms were so different than other ones I have experienced in the past that I went to my doctor to be sure that I wasn't deficient in any vitamins. I began having fears that I would faint and drop my baby. So we played a lot on the floor, and I made that doctor's appointment. A blood test and urine sample later, I was normal and guess what? It was just anxiety. Again. It's always the anxiety.

I was struck with an intense anger toward my panic that I have never really had before. Despite the fact that I hopped back on the exercise and meditation bandwagons, there were still days I couldn't seem to stave off the anxiety and it pissed me off big time. It was robbing me of precious moments with my daughter... moments that I would never get back.

I put myself right back in therapy as soon as the panic attacks began. I tried to tell myself to cry it out--maybe all I needed was a release of emotion. That did help to an extent, and I would say that if you are having anxiety, giving yourself permission to cry is important. But beyond meditating everyday, exercising 2-3 times a week, crying, and being easy on myself, I wasn't sure there was much else I could do.

After close consultation with my therapist and doctors, we're pretty sure a lot of the panic is simply hormonal. It's my body's reaction to all the stuff going on... but mostly the breastfeeding hormones. My doctor has suggested that if the anxiety gets to unmanageable levels, I should consider discontinuing breastfeeding. For many people who have really bad anxiety and/or depression, this is probably a good suggestion.

In my own situation, I have decided to keep up the breastfeeding because it's healthy and like the bonding aspect of it. Because I feel my anxiety peaks at the moderate level, I am able to manage it well. After all, I don't have to do it any of this again if I don't want to. My mantra, "I never have to do this again," really helps, and believe it or not, allows me to break away from my anxiety sooner and get back to enjoying my awesome baby.

There were times when the panic has been so bad that I have needed to call a friend or family member to come over and help me until I felt better again. Wow, that was a hard one for me. But the experience of reaching out is one that I find very valuable. I think that if we suffer alone, we suffer more, and so if you are having a lot of panic, I would encourage you to reach out often. If you don't have a strong support network, there are resources online as well as mommy groups.

I still have bad days as the hormones shift and morph and do their funky, rotten, no good hormone thing. I keep in mind that it is temporary and I reach out when I need to. If you are having postpartum panic or anxiety, it's important to know that you are not alone. In fact, my doctor told me recently that most women experience their first episodes with anxiety and depression postpartum. So it's bound to be more common than we think.

Have you had an experience with postpartum anxiety or depression? Please share your experience in the comments section below, and feel free to share what worked for you in recovery as well. Together we can hopefully help other women on their journeys through similar situations. 

Stuff I Use: Tofutti

I am sure by now you've caught wind of the fact that I am dairy free. And in this journey, which is wrought with lots of vegetables and meats, I had vowed not to do replacements for cheese. Oh how I eat my words, one bite of Tofutti at a time. The thing is, one does get to missing cheese, and technically, this isn't really a cheese substitute, it's cream cheese substitute. But it was more than that.

Back when I was pregnant, a friend of mine gave me the Eating for Your Blood Type book, which is a great read. I am still referring to it because it takes you through breastfeeding as well as going one step further to include your baby's blood type diet! My daughter and I are the same blood type, and so, I was checking it out and saw it said that in the postpartum period I should eat more soy products.

That was when I remembered my friend Amanda had mentioned Tofutti and how good it was. So, all of these things combined took me to that special place: the aisle of the supermarket where the nondairy products and soy meats live. And I bought it. And then it sat in my fridge for a while I contemplated how exactly to use it because I don't really eat bagels.

I'm telling you, once you get out of the habit of cooking with dairy, it's a hard thing to return to. But I don't want you to worry, I found some uses for it and booooooooy was I happy then! First, I had a jelly and "cream cheese" sandwich. Then, I used it in place of cheese in a meat pie recipe. I also used it in a recipe for dairy-fee mac n' cheese (which is coming soon!) And finally, I whipped it up with some almond milk to make a mock sour cream for a taco salad.

My friend Amanda was 100% right, this stuff is the bomb! If you are dairy free and you have a hankering, or a special need that only cream cheese can fill (like carrot cake icing!) then this is the product for you. I am really happy to have found it because even though I will eat cheese again on occasion, as a household we are pretty happy being dairy free, so it's unlikely we'll go back to our pre-baby dairy eating ways.

I Had The Birth I Wanted....So Why Am I So Sad?

It's something that I know I'm not "supposed" to talk about. I had the natural birth I wanted in the hospital setting, but somehow, weeks later, this feeling of disappointment cropped up and it turned into sadness. No, it was not postpartum depression; it was only related to the birth experience. I had this festering sadness that I felt unable to process or speak about. And then I felt ashamed... because there are so many women who don't get the birth they wanted. Because some babies aren't healthy.

I am not those women, and I am very lucky...but I was still sad. I felt like it wasn't okay to talk about it because who was I to complain when, in fact, I got what I wanted? 

The thing is, I felt the same way in pregnancy. Because I had a healthy pregnancy, relatively free of complication, I felt it was somehow selfish to give voice to any portion of my experience that felt negative. I grappled with the question of what was acceptable to complain about and what wasn't. In the weeks after my daughter was born, I felt very similar about my birth experience. 

What was funny about the whole thing was that when I came home from the hospital, I was in a really positive space about the whole birth experience. In fact, I still maintain that the hospital (for a hospital setting) did a good job, and was very baby friendly, as their certification boasts. It's a great option for lots of local women and their families. However, even knowing that, I still felt this deep sense of sadness whenever I thought about the birth. 

For weeks, I was crying in private, almost not knowing what about it was making me so sad. Finally, I confided in my girlfriend Jenn, who is also Ruby's godmother and attended the birth, about my feelings. Her response was a deep exhale out as she said, "Oh thank God! I was happy you felt satisfied with the birth, but I couldn't believe it! I thought it was just so strange being in the hospital, and I didn't feel the same about it as you did, but I didn't think it was my place to say anything!" 

So maybe I wasn't crazy. 

Finally, I was able to talk about the duality of the experience; yes, it was beautiful in many aspects (my god, there was nothing to compare to the moment when we met our child), but there were some things that were just not what I had envisioned. There was the fact that I had to stay overnight, even though I was really and truly ready to go home. And that I didn't get to sleep in bed with my husband that night...there was never a night where I felt more bonded or closer to my husband. I wanted to be held all night by him, and instead we had to sleep in separate hospital beds. Is it the biggest deal in the whole, wide world? Of course not. But it was a beautiful moment that I wanted to share with him, and I couldn't. There were other things, too; things that are a bit more private that I would like to keep for myself. 

The truth of the matter is that the hospital could have been the best hospital in the world and it still wouldn't have been the right place for me. I knew that going in, but tried very hard to simply "get over it." I would have rather been at the birthing center or at home, but a small piece of me still felt safer in the hospital and so that was where I went. That was the choice I made. 

The strange thing is that even though I know I would have been happier at a birthing center or at home, I'm still okay with the decision I made to go to the hospital. There were some draw backs to it, but I don't regret it. And even though I got what I wanted for the setting I was in, I have given myself permission to be a little sad about certain aspects of it.  I figure that if I feel this way, there are other people who feel this way too. 

Some this just has to do with the trauma of birth itself. Even the best, most natural birth is a feat and a trauma to the body. There were nights that I woke up from nightmares about being labor again. Or dreams I had about being pregnant again, which were equally as scary! Now that my daughter is about five months old, I am really beginning to be able to put the birth experience behind me, which is why I am able to talk about it more openly. 

If you find yourself sad about your experience....or embarrassed about it, as many woman can also feel, just know that the freshness of the situation lends itself to that thought process. It does go away to a certain extent. For me, I also found that some of what I was labeling as sadness was just pure emotion, and we often don't have accurate words for that. Birth is a raw thing chocked full of so much emotion and even the most perfect birth where things go as planned can leave a woman feeling her emotions very keenly. 

I think that by acknowledging that there were things I was disappointed about, I was able to heal very quickly from them. Giving emotions a voice is just so important that when we sweep them under the rug, we find ourselves unable to deal with them. I know that there are many people who have had far worse things to deal with surrounding their births, and can only imagine the healing that has to take place for them. We all have our journeys, and I am grateful for mine being as easy as it has been. I am not comparing my experience to anyone else's....but I think it's important that we all share these hurdles (big or small) as they arise. 

How did you find the birth of your child to be? Did you have small disappointments in hindsight? Was your journey a bit more tumultuous and upsetting in a big way? Share your story (free of judgments) in the comment section below. You never know who you might be helping by sharing your story! 

More Adventures In Babywearing

So, several weeks back I wrote about my experiences with different baby carriers that I had been using. Like a true babywearing mama, I've gone through about three carriers at this point. The older my daughter seems to get, the more places we go and the more lessons I learn. I was schooled, or rather I should say my back was schooled, when I recently went on a walk with my daughter in the Infantino carrier. Holy back ache!

I love going on walks with her, and I have a great stroller, but at this stage of the game, keeping in strapped into anything (like a carseat) has a funny way of pissing her off...go figure! So I thought about going to get another Infantino carrier that was a little more supportive in order to keep up with my growing gal, but then I thought again. I didn't want to keep buying and buying carriers.

I have my sling, which was PERFECT for those early months and still works great for front carrying. But I have to say, I am bigger fan of the legs out front carry. When my husband and I were at a bluegrass festival a couple weeks ago, we ran into a fellow babywearer (with twins!) who were also five months old. She had two Ergo carriers, and was super friendly about answering questions. So I picked her babywearing brain and decided I was going to pull the trigger on the Ergo.

The next day I ordered it. Oh wait, I should also add this: the next day I went and solidified plans for some work I would be doing in the personal cooking arena. Holy heck, I was so excited about this new job I could barely contain myself! Cooking for money? Why yes sir, I'd love to! Then I came home, put my baby in the carrier and as she napped and my back felt a little twinge. I thought about my mother and mother-in-law, who would be watching her while I was at my new job... and then I ordered the Ergo.

And then it came in the mail. I put my daughter in it, and the next thing I knew? She was passsssed out. I thought it was because I had been gone all day. Uh, no. This thing is the comfiest way for her to catch some zzzzzs. She's been napping in the Ergo and just loving life.

I love the secure feel it has and the options for growing with her. The support it gives doesn't hurt my back at all, and it's so easy to adjust that it goes seamlessly from one person to the next. All in all, i have to say it's the best babywearing option I've had so far. For new moms and dads, this is a must! You can get so much done while your little one enjoys the ride! 

Chocolate Banana Muffins

I feel as though I keep harping on the fact that I am dairy free. Dairy free. Dairy free. Blah blah blah. On a more serious note, we need to talk chocolate. I don't know why's happened to me...I never craved chocolate or sweet until I was pregnant. And while MOST of my sugar cravings have subsided, every now and again, it's like a monster disguised as me goes into chocolate panic mode.

Also, since I am breastfeeding, I am hungry a lot. So let's put alllllll these fun little facts into a package and come up with a snack that fits the description. It's these muffins. They are delightful. I keep them dairy free by omitting the chocolate chips. Cocoa powder is my life these days.

I got this recipe on Pinterest. I am happy to report that despite my unwavering devotion to parenthood, I still have time to hang on Pinterest and scout for good recipes. Get this [awesome] recipe by CLICKING HERE . I would also like to let everyone know these translate really well to gluten free recipes! I made them for a client g-free and she was quite pleased.

Because they are so moist, it's best to store them in the fridge. Because there is no butter, I also consider these a good breakfast food. Because we can, we should dance with them in our hands while drinking coffee and eating these chocolatey muffins.

AAAAAAAMEN! 

Can We Knock Off The Mom Shaming?

I became a mom in May and yes, it's a special and wonderful thing. I love my daughter soooooo much and since I am mainly staying at home with her as my primary mission in life, of course I feel it's a valid experience (read: just as good as earning a paycheck.) But when I gave birth in May, I didn't lose my mind. I don't think that being a mom is the only way to live life, or even the best way. I don't look down on my childless counterparts...or feel that my life before was "meaningless."

So why is it that so many mothers feel compelled to voice just such views about their pre-baby lives? It is ceremoniously laid out in these flowery blog posts and articles and it makes me seriously want to throw a diaper pail at someone. 

I'm positively fed up with mothers who think that they are somehow better than the rest of the population. This type of close-mindedness is one of the great divides among women. Yes, you've contributed your DNA to the world, and for the most part, we're thankful to you. Yes, your child is probably great and cute, and we all know what a saint you must be for staying at home with your human you made, but for the love of god, would you please stop acting as if you've sacrificed the world?!

I have to say it, loud and clear: 
THERE IS NOTHING SANCTIMONIOUS ABOUT BEING A PARENT. 

I feel I am in a unique position to say these things, having experienced both sides of the coin. I don't feel as though I have "given up" everything in order to be a mom. Actually, I feel like I am incredibly lucky to be able to stay at home because I know there are a million moms and dads who would kill to be able to do what I am doing. Of course there are days when I need a break--I'm a human. When I took on the responsibility of parenting, I knew what the deal was, and I was as ready as one could be for it, but I'm not a martyr. 

I still say the f-word (it might be my daughter's first word). I still enjoy cocktails and sex and I even had a girl's night out recently. I exercise several times a week. These are stay overs from my pre-baby life, and I'm so grateful for them because they remind me that I'm still (sort of) the same person I was before I became someone's mother. But I'm not without insight; my life before my daughter was great, too. There are things I miss about it, and things I don't miss about it. It wasn't better or worse, it was just different, and this is a new phase of life for my husband and I.   

For those who haven't chosen to become parents, more power to ya. I know that had I chosen to not become a parent, I would be different than I am today, but not the same as I was either... All our choices in life change us. What truly astounds me is that in today's (supposedly) feminized America, we still feel the need to mom shame people who aren't even mothers by saying that life without children is selfish, or meaningless.  It's just ignorant and doesn't take into consideration the women and/or men who want children and can't have them, or just choose not to have them, both of which are very true and real experiences. 

My heart goes out to women who have truly given up too much to become parents. I know they are stressed, tired, overworked, and probably don't get enough help. I think sharing our experiences as parents is an important part of the journey. But when people do share their experiences, I wish they would make it about themselves. We shouldn't make it about the fact that other people must be so selfish not to make the same choices we made. To me, that just says that people don't value their own unique journeys.

If we want to be great role models to our children we need to let them know that being a parent isn't the only way to live life. We need to model that it isn't cool to judge other people's life choices because we never know what in the world got them there. I have this inclination that if people felt more comfortable reaching out to one another...or if more moms thought it was okay to express the duality of parenthood free of guilt...then perhaps there wouldn't be the need to dump on others in order to validate our own choices.

What do you think? Have you been mom shamed? Share your thoughts on this [very loaded] topic below!!!

Thumbprint Cookie Recipe

So normally I would associate these cookies with the holidays...which technically I think this would be timely since we are officially into the fall season. My mother-in-law served these cookies at a dinner we had in early September and I was like, "these are awesome!" I love them for many reasons.

First of all, they taste great, which, let's be honest is the very most important thing for a cookie to be. Also, these little suckers are the closest we can get to a healthy cookie. There is no dairy, no eggs, and no butter. I know, right? Perhaps one of my most favorite points about these cookies? They have jam in them! And I made a TON of jam this summer, so, it works out perfectly. It's a match made in cookie heaven.

So if you've been searching for a cookie, this may be the cookie for you. You can roll with it any old time of the year, but I'm gonna say the holidays are an especially good time for these guys and they make great cookie gifts.

Thumb Print Cookies 

Time: 20 minutes | Makes 20-25 cookies | Difficulty: EASY! 

You Will Need

1 cup almond meal 
1 cup rolled oats, ground into flour (or oat flour) 
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 
pinch of salt 
1/2 cup maple syrup (or brown rice syrup) 
1/2 cup oil 

jam of your choice (I used blueberry!) 

Method

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. 

Mix all the ingredients, except for the jam, in a mixing bowl. Roll them into walnut sized pieces and press your thumb into the center to make an indentation. Place about a teaspoon of jam into each indentation. 

Bake the cookies for 15 minutes. Cool on a rack. 

Enjoy with a smile and hopefully a loved one! 


Pumpkin & Sausage Pasta Recipe


It's fall which means that the pumpkin flavored everything craze is in fuuuuuullllll swing. So I had to jump on the bandwagon. Because I'm a bandwagon jumping kind of gal. Well, at least in the case of pumpkin. I know I've been harping and harping on how I've had to give up dairy because of breastfeeding and blah blah blah, but seriously, it's something no Italian blooded gal should have to do.

And yet, somehow, I have managed to continue my affair with pasta despite the absence of dairy. This, I tell you, is no small feat. This pasta recipe is one that I am really excited about because it lacks for nothing without the dairy. It's packed with flavor, tastes like fall and is EASY. All these things make me incredibly happy. It's no overly pumpkiny either, which I think is important.

Obviously, if you eat dairy, you can top this dish with a hearty helping of parmesan cheese. If you do, sprinkle it on, say a prayer for my dairy-free existence, and carry on. Amen. Grab a skillet and a pot of boiling water, we're making pumpkin pasta, people. Hehe, pumpkin pasta people...say it three times fast.

Pumpkin & Sausage Pasta 

Time: 20 minutes | Serves 4 | Difficulty: Easy 

You Will Need: 

1 pound (or 5 approx 5) spicy Italian sausages, casings removed 
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-15 ounce can pure pumpkin
8 ounces chicken broth
1 onion, sliced
2 tomatoes, diced 
salt and pepper, to taste

1 pound box of penne pasta 
1 big pot of boiling water

parmesan cheese (to top, optional). 

Method: 

In a heavy skillet, cook your spicy sausage, breaking it up with a spatula into smaller crumbles as you cook it. (10 minutes or so). 

In a big old pasta pot, bring water to a boil. When it's boiling (and while you are preparing your sauce,) cook pasta according to manufacturers directions. I like to wait until my sausage is cooked because it lines up nicely then. 

Once your sausage is cooked, add your garlic, onion, and tomatoes. Cook until the onions are translucent, about 5-7 minutes. 

Once the onions are cooked, add your pumpkin and chicken broth. Stir to fully combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to simmer until your pasta is done. 

Drain pasta when it's cooked and then return it to your pasta pot (do not put it back on the heat, though.) Add your sauce to your pasta in the pot and combine. Serve and enjoy with someone you love and some parmesan cheese (if you aren't dairy free, like me!) 

YUM! 

Motherhood Has Made Me Nicer

I can barely believe I am going to admit this, but it's true. Motherhood has made me a nicer person. While I was pregnant, I had the suspicion that I was becoming nicer, and after having my daughter, I knew it was true. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that while I was pregnant, people showered me with kindness and it was just infectious.

But it goes deeper than the kindness of friends, family and complete strangers. Something within me shifted. I looked at people differently, with more compassion, and suddenly wanted to give complements to people where before I might not have. I wanted to do things for people to make them smile--that sort of thing. It's not that I wasn't nice before or anything...I think I was, but there was always a bit of a edge to me that seems to be breaking down more these days.

Last week I was having a visit with my mom and I asked her if she thought I was different since becoming a mother. She, without hesitation, said, "I think you're nicer." I started to laugh and I said, "I think you're right!!!" I should clarify that I remember somewhere in my teen years being like this; more emotional, compassionate, and overall just having a more open heart. I'm so thankful to finding this part of myself again.

Maybe it was the experience of birth itself. To be frank, it's so much more than the birth of a child. For me, it was the rebirth of my own soul. Pushed to the physical peak, I was forced to face my fears and I was confronted with a reality of love I never knew existed. I don't necessarily mean the love for my child, which is itself an overwhelming feeling, but more so the love of the people who supported me during the birthing process (my husband, mom, mother-in-law, and friend Jenn). The people who were there for me in those moments gave me a gift that I hope, over a lifetime, I can repay.

All of these things have made me a more humble person which, in turn, I think makes me nicer. I'm sure that there are more gifts that parenthood has in store for me, but this one is surprising. I figured I would come out more jaded, honestly. I haven't lost my sense of sarcasm, of course, or my dark sense of humor, but I am different nonetheless and kinder version of my former self. Or I suppose you could say I am more of my former self way back before adulthood caused a slight shift in character.

I know that this may not be the experience of every mother...but I'm thankful to realize it as my own experience. And certainly, there are those who are childless who are born with an innate kindness in their souls that just bubbles over. What is your experience? Has a life circumstance made you more kind, less kind or revealed something about you to yourself that was profound? Share in the comment section below! 

Daddy's Chicken Salad Recipe

When it comes to the kitchen, we all know it's mostly my domain. But there are somethings my husband does better than me. Since our daughter was born in May, he's been stepping up to the stove and trying his hand at learning more. He makes a mean chicken soup, and great egg salad. One of our favorite things to eat is chicken salad. There is just something great about it, isn't there?

Well, since my time is a bit more limited these days, I've been buying more rotisserie chickens, which means more chicken salad! Since that has been the case, my husband has been hard at work trying to perfect his craft. A couple of weeks ago when he made a few simple changes, we both got wide-eyed and said, "THIS IS IT!" So here it is, the chicken salad that has had me chickening out! 


Take the white meat from one rotisserie style chicken and chop it up finely. 


Then take one half and onion and dice it smalllllllll. 


And same thing for one large celery stalk. 


Okay, here are our secret ingredients, which, incidentally, aren't so secret anymore! Haha. 
Pepper relish, which my canners and I make and cajun seasoning, which just happens to have the best name in the history of cajun seasoning names...Slap Ya Mama. Too awesome right? 


So you add your secret ingredients, as well as some mayo, to all the rest of it. 




And then, I take a pretty picture of it to demonstrate that it happened.... 
And then you mix it!!! 



And then you serve it up RIGHT! 
So, this is how my husband eats his, with crackers and LOTS of pepperoncinis. I had mine with pretzel chips AND crackers and a pickle. Sandwiches work too, as well as chicken salad on a green salad....yum! How do you eat yours?! 

Daddy's Chicken Salad Recipe 

Time: 10 minutes, tops | Serves: 4 (makes 1 pint) | Difficulty: Easy! 

You will need: 

The white meat from a rotisserie chicken, diced 
1/2 white onion, finely diced 
1 big celery stalk, finely diced 
a couple of dashes cajun seasoning (to taste)
1 heaping tablespoon pepper relish
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste 

Method

In a small mixing bowl, combine ingredients and stir to fully combine. 

Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. 

Enjoy with someone you love!