Anatomy of a Panic Attack

For any of you who may not know me: I'm Billie. Wife, mother, and bossy Italian human with anxiety. I've written some over the years about my struggles with anxiety (which you can read about by clicking HERE and HERE) and over time, my relationship with my anxiety has changed. I had several (blissful) years where my anxiety lived on a shelf somewhere in my brain and didn't bother to show itself.

Then I became a mother. My entire chemical makeup got a one-two punch and was transformed. My anxiety re-emerged as an entirely new beast. I had postpartum anxiety, and I struggled immensely. Now, I am in a much better place mentally, and physically, but I STILL experience anxiety and, on occasion, full-blown panic attacks.

One of the bits of feedback I always get is that the people around me would never know I was having trouble. I seem totally steady and "put together" on the outside. The "you seem fine to me" phenomenon, I suspect, is not something I experience in isolation. In an effort to bridge the gap between what people think they know, and what happens for a person in the grips of panic,  I want to attempt to dissect a recent panic attack. I hope this will help people without anxiety understand what happens to those of us who have it, despite whatever we might seem to look like externally.

I feel it's important to note this is merely my experience. There are as many types of panic attacks and  presentations of anxiety as there are people. It's a highly individualized thing. I also believe in the universality of our experiences, and I want to give voice to something that simply isn't talked about with enough regularity. At the end, I'm also giving a short blurb on what I think is helpful when I am experiencing anxiety or panic. I am hoping readers will comment in and give every one more helpful tips as we collectively raise awareness!

The Lead Up
It was a normal Monday, and I knew my head didn't feel quite right. After lunch, I tried to rest a bit to try and cool off the "buzzing" I was experiencing in my head. After about 40 minutes, I decided I needed to go run my errands--that it would be easier without my daughter in tow, given how I was feeling.

I was knocking out the grocery shopping for the rest of the week. The grocery store was packed to the gills, a common occurrence for our small beach town when it's brimming with vacationers during the hot, summer months. The lines were about three people deep no matter where I went, so I pulled up my cart and prepared to wait patiently. As I got in line, I began to feel some tingles in my body and I thought I had better distract myself while I waited.

Being an anxiety veteran, I am unsure if this distraction tactic is a coping mechanism, a reflex, or a bit of both, but I worked to pull my focus from the "bigger picture" of the bustling noise of the store to the more "close up" details around me. I did this through observation...a magazine with a picture of Megan Markle on it, Cosmopolitan Magazine with some ridiculous headline about some sexual position that will change your life, a man tapping his thumb on his cart... I tried a little too frantically to concentrate on something because I noticed I was being pulled from one thing to the next and  quickly getting overwhelmed.

**The distinction for me with my panic attacks is that they are not brought on by a specific fear, or thought. While that may have been true in the past (I once was deathly afraid of thunderstorms for a period of about a year), at this point, I seem to only experience the physical side of anxiety. My inability to focus is almost like having the opposite of thoughts...there were no thoughts, but an over-abundance of feelings.

The Attack
That was when the switch flipped. All at once I felt a strong sense of disorientation come over me. It is akin to suddenly feeling the ground shift underneath of me. I had been cold in the store, so earlier I put on a light sweater, but at this moment, it was as though someone threw a ball of fire into the center of my chest and it suddenly exploded, sending a fiery sensation up through every limb and out of my head. A burst of heat overtook me swiftly, as I struggled to get out of my sweater. My heart was racing wildly. My palms were suddenly clammy, sound began to take on a "wonky" quality, and the inability to focus turned to sheer panic. In this flight/fight/freeze scenario, I was frozen on the spot.

On the outside, I probably only looked as thought I got a little warm and needed to remove my sweater, but on the inside, I silently wondered if I was going to faint and hit the floor or dissolve into thin air. I took a breath, and I told myself to bend my knees, which I did. The lights were overwhelming, and I wanted badly to run from the store because standing still--staying patient--seemed an insurmountable task. Simultaneously, I needed to sit down and/or run a marathon, neither of which were possible in the moment because I could barely move. I realized I might cry. I tried to orient myself, even though my vision was somewhat obscured by my mental experience. I repeated to myself in my head "stay. stay. stay." (This is a technique I got from meditation.)

My hands were shaking as I saw a tiny sliver of the conveyor belt had opened, and I began to put my items on the belt, still unsure if I was going to be able to talk to the woman behind the register. I felt desperately alone in a sea of people. There was all of this brisk life happening around me, and I was struggling to catch up to it... in the grips of anxiety to this degree, it's as though sound and light, even faces, were distorted and the ability to process and recognize what's happening was delayed.

I focused on putting each item on the conveyor belt, my hands shakily grasping them, I worried I would drop them. By the time I was able to connect my eyes to the familiar woman at the register, the worst was, in fact, passed. I was still not myself, and I was fighting back tears. I said very little as the transaction concluded.

The Comedown
By the time I was able to pay for my groceries and began walking out the store, a huge relief was settling over me. I knew that by the time I reached the car I was "safe" and could go on with my day, so to speak. I was still shaking, and not quite myself, but I was in a phase of recovering. I can't really remember putting my groceries in the car, but I did.

Once I was back in the driver's seat, I slid on my sunglasses and let the tears roll. I want to note that crying during or after a panic attack may be common for many people. For me, though, this was pretty new (and not unwelcome as it felt like a concrete release). I put my hand on my heart, told myself I had done well, and I told myself "I love you." And I made a decision right there to allow myself however much time I needed to cry it out.

After this ordeal, I was quite tired both mentally and physically. It was an overwhelming moment that lasted about 10 minutes or infinity, depending on your perspective. I fell asleep quite early that night, and needed extra rest to accommodate what had happened that day. I was grateful that the people around me were as gentle with me as I was with myself in those moments.

How you can help 
In this case I was by myself when my panic attack occurred. Sometimes this is a blessing, and sometimes this is a curse. If you are in the presence of someone who is experiencing a panic attack, they are likely feeling very overwhelmed. The first best thing you can do is to say as few words to them as possible. Start with something along the lines of, "I am here with you, and you're safe. I'm not going to say much until you are ready. Let me know."

Offering a loving presence without expectation, at least for me, takes the pressure off. I don't want to explain how I feel because sometimes I can't. But it's nice to know that someone is with me. Another thing you can do is breathe deeply (and sort of exaggerate your breathing sound) so that the person having the panic has something to latch on to. You could even say, "I'm going to take some deep breaths, if you want to do it with me."

Lastly, wait for their cues. They may want to walk, they may want to sit still. They may request something from you, if only you give them the time. If this is someone you are close to, like a family member, I would highly suggest asking them in advance of a panic attack what the best reaction for them is...a sort of panic action plan, if you will. You can make agreements like, "I will not touch you unless you touch my hand, then I will know it's okay for me to hug you." or "We will immediately find a quiet place alone and ask others who may want to help to give us ten minutes."

I hope that those who found this helpful will share it with their loved ones, and open conversations (both online and in real life) about how they can support their loved ones with anxiety, or how they can be supported. If you have a technique that has worked well for you, please share!!! 

Yes, I Yelled At Your Kid(s).

There are two types of parents in this world: those who believe that no one should ever discipline their children except for them (not me), and those who believe that if their kid is being a butthead, other parents have the right to step in tell them so (me.) I was reminded of this the other day when I yelled at a child who was not mine. Let me back up a little...

It was the most exquisite beach day and we headed down to our favorite beach spot for a couple of hours of playing in the sand. When we first arrived, I spotted this little boy, a couple of years older than my daughter, and I knew he was going to be trouble from the moment I laid eyes on him because the second I saw him, he was holding his boogie board above his head, ready to clobber mine over hers.

Since he relented, I said nothing. I also said nothing when just moments later, I saw him splashing and splashing my daughter and repeating the phrase "You will die!" in an effort to eradicate her from the area by the rocks where he was also playing. She got the message, and eventually left. In situations like that, I try not to intervene if I can help it because, you know, kids have to learn how to handle things for themselves.

But my nerves became frazzled past the point of reason when, just several minutes later, I observed the same kid, this time in tandem with his older brother, trying to muscle my daughter off of her Beater Board in the ocean. I marched over there, and yelled a little louder than intended "HEY! I saw you splashing her, and now you two are trying to push her off her board! That's hers! Beat it!" And the boys, sort of shocked, I assumed, by this tiny woman in her floral bathing suit and not-even-matching-a-bit striped sun hat, aborted their mission and backed off. The older boy carried on in the water. The younger boy, went and told his mom.

Back up on the beach, I overheard the boy telling his mom, "a lady yelled at me." I raised my index  finger in the air and copped to what I had done, explaining what had happened. She made him sit in the beach chair, and I heard threats of his iPad being taken away. I figured it was over...until...I heard another member of her party in the ocean, yelling at my husband. She even threatened to get her very large husband to "take care of this situation." Oy vey. Thankfully, the husband's solution to "taking care of the situation" was to placate his wife, and he calmed her down. After all, it was not even her child I had reprimanded.

In those moments, though, I felt bad for the larger issue this stirred up. I could feel the adrenaline in my system, and I took some deep breaths to calm myself. I knew I had stepped in a parenting landmine...Probably I shouldn't have been so harsh with those boys. This isn't New York City, it's a sleepy beach town, and I should have used my sleepy beach town voice when telling the boys that they couldn't pick on someone half their size. Later I apologized to the other mom, (when her agro friend left the beach) and she was pretty cool about it, even admitting, "it was probably well-deserved."

Now, I'm fully aware that some people will say that I was just flat out wrong, and I get that. Others will argue that I was justified as the day is long. As I noted in the beginning, there are two camps here, and they are pretty clear. But rather than pitching my tent on either of those sides, after giving this serious thought, I would like make my camp right on the line, and maybe you will join me because I can't stop thinking about the moral dilemma of it all.

You see, I trust other parents in the broad sense of the word. If my child had gotten yelled at by another parent on the beach, I would have marched her over, had her make an apology and thanked the parent for stepping in, and gotten the rest of the story later. Because why else would a parent step in like that? Sometimes kids are straight up jerks, and as adults we have to rely on one another. We are the world, as they say.

The other thing is that this other mom, or rather, the people she was with, undermined adult authority in a sweeping way, and the kids were watching. Whether they meant to or not, they sent those children the message that if an adult you don't know tells you to knock it off because you're being a jerk, then you can get your posse and they'll bully those people. Or, they basically said, "You don't have to listen to the village." I feel that this attitude contributes to an imbalance in our society where kids think they are running the joint, and it worries me.

When we talk about how unruly today's children are, or how they don't respect authority, we have to take some responsibility for that. As adults, we should have faith that others are, overwhelmingly, doing the right thing. I do think I (mostly) did the right thing because both of those boys--who had been running roughshod over the beachgoers--finally calmed down enough to play nicely with everyone else on the beach. And the day was really awesome! I think the other mom also did the right thing in asking me what happened because, of course she should. But everything that happened after that was complete and utter bullshit, and I have to speak truth to that.

Yes, I yelled at her kids. Next time, I would be nicer about it. I would use my "teacher voice" and not my "mama bear" voice. Lesson learned all the way. However, if you fall into the category of "no one should ever tell it to my kids except for me" you may want to consider about the greater consequences of undermining the overall concept of adult authority. Sometimes adults will be wrong, but we have to also weigh the messages we unconsciously send children when we don't let strangers (in public places) tell our kids when they have stepped over a line, even if they do it differently than we might have as parents.

My Favorite Chewlery

For the last several months, we've been using Occupational Therapy techniques with my daughter. It's been a great tool for our family and has made our daughter, The Bird, feel tons more comfortable in her skin as well as helping her to overcome anxiety, especially at school.


While she has the most issues in the proprioceptive realm, this manifests in a few ways. The neat thing about proprioception is that it crosses into other territories, one of those being oral. For us, this meant that my daughter wanted to lick her hands a lot, or mouth and bite a lot of toys. While this may not seem like a big deal, when it comes to cold and flu season, or toys in shared spaces, it was really becoming quite a nuisance!

Luckily, this was really easy to us to remedy because we came across jewelry that was meant for chewing called Chewlery. After looking at several different brands, I settled on the Munchables brand and ordered a necklace. The day it came in the mail, my husband and I walked down to the mailbox with The Bird, telling her there was a surprise in the box. The minute we opened it and showed it to her, she took one look and popped it into her mouth! Viola!

We knew it was a good fit for her. And it was really cute, too. It just looked like a cool necklace that a gal her age would wear! Most people in our extended family didn't even know that its purpose was for chewing on. It's really made a huge difference for The Bird. She enjoys chewing on it and it's directed her away from chewing toys and the hand licking completely resolved. I was unsure, at first, if she would even wear because classically, she's never liked having things around her neck, but the ability to chew outweighed that!

I was so excited about the product, I reached out to the company, and talked with Laura May, the owner. She's a mom of two, and she runs her company from home in Canada. (Shout to her because working from home with little kids takes moxxy!) She says, "Munchables kids’ products are perfect not only as fashion accessories, but also for children that chew. Our sensory chewelry provides a safe alternative to chewing on collars, cuffs, fingers. Redirecting chewing to a safer option can increase focus and confidence."

I can definitely say that I have noticed these benefits for my own child. Also, a word on the necklaces themselves. The owl, which was our first necklace, is for lighter to moderate chewers only because of the beads on the sides. I learned after receiving the second one (the unicorn) from Laura, that The Bird is a heavy chewer, and so that one was a more accurate fit for her. However, my child loves to wear both necklaces at the same time, so when she chewed through the smaller beads on the owl necklace, I just removed them and it continues to be a favorite!

These necklaces are durable, fashion friendly, and safe. I love that they unsnap (so that a child won't be in danger should the necklace become twisted) and they are pretty lightweight, too! If you have a child that munches on their hands, or has sensory issues, these are an awesome solution. I got my first one on Amazon, but you can also order directly from their website BY CLICKING HERE. 

How Occupational Therapy Changed Our Family

As you may know, my husband and I are raising a Spirited Child. That has been its own journey, and it's full of laughter, joy, hardship, and patience. Today, I want to talk about something that can frequently go hand-in-hand with Spirit, and is lesser known, but could ultimately be the missing piece of a puzzle for you and your child. That's Sensory Processing Disorder and Occupational Therapy.

Some of you may have heard about Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) as being associated with autism and the spectrum. In fact, this was how I associated it at first. I remember being on a Spirited Child group on Facebook and seeing all the parenting talking about SPD and literally thinking "Thank god I don't have to deal with that!" Hahaha laughed the parenting gods. 

The thing is, I didn't know much about it, how it could present, and mostly importantly, how identifying SPD and engaging in Occupational Therapy (OT) could make such a stunning difference for my child and our family. Because of my experience, I feel a strong responsibility to speak about OT to all parents, educators, and practitioners because it can be a total game-changer. My daughter is currently four years old, so we are lucky to be in this position from a young age where we can help her come up with confidence! But remember, it's NEVER too late to start your sensory journey!

My lightbulb moment.... 
A friend of mine commented in on a Facebook status about something totally unrelated and said her child had Oral Sensory Processing issues. I immediately messaged her and asked if she was raising a Spirited Child. Our conversation, and her generosity of spirit and openness with me, opened a panacea of information for me. A lightbulb went off in my head as I realized, "Oh my gosh--her kid is what I would classify as bright, fun, and like most other children." That was when it first dawned on me that maybe my child could have SPD as well. Not all children will have other developmental issues and have SPD. There is a broad spectrum when it comes to SPD and children can effected in different ways. The field is vast, people!

So, what is it? 
According to the Star Institute, it is defined as "SPD is a neurophysiologic condition in which sensory input either from the environment or from one’s body is poorly detected, modulated, or interpreted and/or to which atypical responses are observed. Pioneering occupational therapist and psychologist A. Jean Ayres, Ph.D., likened SPD to a neurological “traffic jam” that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly."

We have seven (not five!) senses where we get input in our bodies. The two that aren't always talked widely about are proprioception and vestibular senses. These are body awareness and movement. The other five that we are often more familiar with are tactile (touch), visual, audio, oral (gustatory), and olfactory (smell.) When a child has SPD, one or several of these can have trouble integrating.

Children can avoid certain things, like the feeling of getting their shirt wet or the texture of a certain kind of food, or they can seek out more sensory experiences to satisfy an unmet need, like rough housing to feel deeper pressure. For our child, who has proprioceptive, vestibular, and oral issues, she wasn't able to articulate, "Gee, I have no idea where my body is in space and I need pressure on chest and limbs!" And it's no wonder--what adult could even articulate that?!

How symptoms present
For our daughter, The Bird, some symptoms were obvious and some were not. The biggest symptom that was causing issue was anxiety. Mornings before school were especially hard, despite implementing a positive reinforcement system, gentle parenting, and new communication style. Sometimes my daughter would cry the whole time at school! Turns out, there is a huge connection between anxiety and SPD, and ultimately this is what pushed us to get a sensory evaluation. Through working with our school's Child Mental Health Consultant, who wanted us to attend therapy, I realized that before we went that route, we should get a Sensory Evaluation.

There were other things that seemed like personality quirks, but turned out to be SPD symptoms. For example, she was always licking her hands, chewing her toys, and mouthing other items. She also loves spinning in circles, rough housing, was sometimes rough with other children, and would get wound up to the point of no return. The Bird loves a good mess, and was always seeking to make them.

Some less obvious symptoms that were a direct result of SPD were performance based. For instance, she wasn't able to participate in school activities without great difficulty. Circle time and sitting still were a challenge, or telling the teacher what a certain color was near impossible, despite the fact that she knew all her colors. Not to mention meltdowns, which were simply due to her inability to soothe herself and her sensory needs.

The Sensory Diet 
After getting our Sensory Evaluation, we began what is called a "Sensory Diet." The Sensory Diet is basically a series of exercises and activities that are highly individualized to meet your child's specific needs. For us, it looks (something) like this:
Morning
Brushing each limb 10 times (in a downward motion away from the body)
Joint compression
Wiggling legs and arms (with a song) 
Tapotement on the back 

Evening- 
Brushing each limb 
Deep Massage
Joint compression 

As needed/ Throughout the day (before any special occasion) 
Tapotement on the back 
Wiggling arms
Sensory Tube 
Bouncing on a ball 
Bear hugs
Log Rolls 
Squishing between pillows (we call this game "ice cream sandwich") 

There are also some things we do all the time that help a great deal. For example, brushing teeth was always a huge ordeal for us. Since our OT recommended an electric toothbrush, I've not had a problem. Also, the hand licking was an issue during flu season, but since understanding her sensory needs we got her chew necklaces (more about this in an upcoming post!) And we now use tools like her sensory tube, a weighted blanket and weights for her to use on her lap at school and in the car. All these things help tremendously. 

I also am pretty diligent to offer sensory experiences whenever I can. Play doh, kinetic sand, water (even if it's just an extra long bath), vinegar and baking soda experimentation, and good old fashioned mud puddles are ALWAYS on the menu for us. Once a day, we try to do some sort of sensory play together. 

Ongoing Process of living with SPD 
Right off the bat we experienced some pretty wonderful results. I am aware that it doesn't always work this way. If you have a child who is sensory avoiding, it can be a totally different process. For us, because she is sensory seeking, it was easier to know what she was craving and how to satisfy that. 

Through adding many of the tools and exercises, my daughter was able to go to school and felt comfortable. This happened almost immediately. The teachers and staff could hardly believe how much the OT and our sensory diet gave her relief and allowed her to participate in the classroom with such ease. She immediately felt more comfortable being away from me, even asking to do overnights with her grandparents! 

However, I do want to concede that the process is ongoing. For example, we are now in the process of changing classrooms at school because she has moved up an age group. This has been disturbing for her on a few levels and has changed her sensory needs. We have to give her extra time because she's also spirited, and routine is BIG for her. So we see some regression because of this. And that's OKAY. We just go back and re-tool the formula a little bit. 


Find Support Wherever You Can! 
I am always looking for new and creative ways to get her sensory needs met. One of my favorite websites is Yourkidstable.com  There is so much great information on there! Another thing that I have found that has made this process easier is support. Everyone in my family and many of our friends are all on board. They ask us questions about sensory needs, watch and even participate with exercises! Both sets of grandparents regularly do exercises with my daughter, and my husband's mother (who sews) helps us making sensory tools (like a resistance band and a sensory tube) for my daughter to enjoy. Support is key! 

Also, we have found terrific support from my daughter's school which is also a full time daycare. They have installed a sensory cubby for her with several soothing items. They noticed she liked the tight space of sitting in the cubby, so they allow her to go there whenever she is having a hard time, or even a meltdown. They are helping her to learn to soothe and trust herself when I'm not there, and that gives me a great deal of piece of mind! 


Chinese Hot Pots {My Way}

Who doesn't love a good Asian-style noodle soup? Since I first tired pho, I've been obsessed. I have rarely met an Asian soup I don't love. I make my own pho at home as well as my own ramen noodle inspired bowls. But a few weeks back I came across something on Pinterest called "Chinese Hot Pots." I had to give it a try.

When I tried to the recipe, I wasn't too impressed, the broth was too vinegary and the vegetables too underdone. So I did what any bossy pants mama would do: I made it my own! The basic concept with the hot pots is that you make a delicious broth you ladle over the raw veggies and they cook in the hot broth for a few moments. This is a great concept, but there are also some veggies I prefer boiled just a little. Maybe this makes me a hot pot blasphemer, and I'm comfortable with that.

In my version of the hot pots, I cook the baby bok choy and the mushrooms a bit in the broth, and then I add that to some raw veggies laid out in the bowl. It's the best of both worlds! I feel like this dish would be the outcome if pho and ramen had a baby. Doesn't that sound amazing?! After posting some shots to my Instagram account (by the way, you can follow me on Insta @bossy.italian.wife), I had a few requests to share the recipe. As they say, "sharing is caring!"

ALSO, it is of note that this dish can be tailored to anyone's dietary needs. It's naturally dairy free, but could also be converted to be vegetarian/vegan. And the vegetables? Merely suggestions! You can add or subtract any of the vegetables you like best. Get creative! That's what cooking is all about--an expression of creativity.

What you will ultimately end up with here is truly a beautiful bowl of soup, perfect for Spring when it's sometimes still cold and you want a warming bowl of soup, but with all the loveliness of fresh, colorful vegetables. It's basically Spring in a bowl. Mmmmmm.

Chinese Hot Pots {My Way} 

Time: 45 minutes or so | Serves 4 | Difficulty: Easy-Moderate 


You Will Need:

5 boneless skinless chicken thighs
3 heads baby bok choy
1 8-ounce package Mushrooms, sliced
Bean sprouts
1/2 Red pepper, sliced thin
1 bunch scallions, sliced
Chinese noodles (your choice) I used thin, wheat noodles that reminded me of ramen noodles.

Broth:
Enough water to cover chicken in pot + more for later
Heaping tablespoon Better Than Bullion chicken base
Heaping teaspoon Better Than Bullion pork base
2 whole star anise
5 cloves garlic, minced
Palmful ground ginger
Heavy glug of soy sauce
Tablespoon (more if you like) of sesame oil

Finishing:
Chili garlic sauce
Hoisin sauce

Method:

Put chicken in a soup pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and poach about 20 minutes or until chicken is fully cooked. Remove chicken from water, let cool, and slice. Add more water to pot (I have a standard soup pot and I usually fill it halfway.)

Add star anise, garlic, ginger, soy, chicken and pork bullion, and sesame oil. Bring to a boil and allow to cook about 15-20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. You may want a little more chicken or pork flavor, or more soy sauce, depending on your personal tastes.

Meanwhile, cook noodles and drain. Set up bowls with cooked noodles, chicken, sprouts, green onion, and bell peppers.

When broth is done, remove star anise pods. Add sliced mushrooms and bok choy to broth and allow that to boil about 5 minutes. Ladle hot broth into bowls and serve with hoisin and hot sauce!


Why I Ditched Over Half My Wardrobe

You might have noticed less of a presence from me both on my blog and on social media. Rest assured that just because you aren't seeing me doesn't mean I'm not up to something. I am. I've been up to something for several months now...a sort of inner journey. I'm not quite ready to talk about all that, but what I do want to talk about is how this inner journey has effected my outer appearance, namely, the way I dress.

The Lead Up: 


If you follow what I'm currently reading, you'll see I'm reading, "The Power of Myth" by Joseph Campbell. All thoughts about Campbell "the man" aside, I feel this book is really valuable for where I am in my life. Something that resonated deeply with me in the book is when Campbell talks about deliberately changing your style of dress when you enter a new phase of life as a means of ritual. *BADA BOOM* It was a mic drop for me. Thank you, Joseph Campbell.

You see, black in September I cut bangs again. I love my bangs. They make me feel like myself, and I can't explain why. But they do. When I read that bit about clothing, it really made me think deeply about the way my clothes make me feel, and how I can become more of myself through clothing. Back when I was pregnant, I had a smaller wardrobe because, hello, maternity stuff ain't cheap! But you know what? I loved every piece I had, getting dressed was easy, and most importantly, I felt good in everything I was wearing! My maternity clothes were literally the highlight of my pregnancy. Truth.

Since giving birth, I have sort of waffled on style. My pre-pregnancy stuff didn't really fit...I wasn't sure it was my style anymore, anyway, etc. etc. To sum it up: being a mom changes your body, your mind and your life. I was in the style desert wandering aimlessly for the last 4 years. And what I needed was a radical fashion change to help me come into the person I am now. Yes, people, we are talking fashion as a means of transcendence. 

The Problems: 


Standing in my way, first and foremost, was that I have this weird thing about me and the clothing I wear that I will share with you guys: I hate being seen in the same thing twice. I have had this strange belief that if someone sees me in the same outfit twice they will be the impression that I am poor, fashion illiterate, or just a loser. Secondly, I had to ditch all the clothing that was weighing down my closet and my life. And finally,  I was lacking a definition of my personal style. So I had to really hone in on my three fashion "key words."

The Process: 


To deal with the fear of being seen in the same outfit, what worked best for me was developing a loose uniform. This was easier than you might think because what I long to wear most every day of my life is pretty simple: a white t-shirt and jeans. Once I identified that, it was my paradigm for my uniform. And the premise is pretty simple here in developing a uniform: people are going to see me in the same thing nearly all the time, SO THERE! AND, I'm going to love what I am wearing, feel good, and look good, so I won't care.

I would also like to take a beat here to say that after giving it a lot of thought, I realized that 1) people just aren't really paying that much attention to what you are wearing and 2) that my value isn't merely decorative. While I like to look good and feel confident in what I'm wearing, it shouldn't cause me stress and getting dressed was, in fact, causing me a load of mental stress.

The next step was decluttering my life of all these clothes. In my searches on Pinterest, I came across two words that really helped me: CAPSULE WARDROBE! It's basically having a set number of pieces in your closet that you dress from on a seasonal basis. The pieces are meant to be interchangeable, high quality, and ideally, each piece should be something that you would want to wear at least once a week. I love a good template, and this worked for me.

Armed with this knowledge,  I went out, bought a bin at Dollar General, got a trash bag (or two) ready, and scrutinized every single piece of clothing in my wardrobe. I looked at each piece and thought about why it was in my closet, if it was practical to the life I live, and whether or not I actually wore it. The result: 60 pieces left hanging in my closet. I had either stored or gotten rid of more than half of wardrobe. *Cue sigh of relief.*

Finally, I looked at all the things in my closet, and after taking inventory of them,  I put a set of nine words up on sticky notes and attached them to my closet door. These words were descriptive of what I thought my ideal wardrobe looks like. After sitting with the words, I chose three I thought best fit my personal style and they were: Casual, Chic, and Bohemian. I love a simple, casual style with bohemian touches.



Where I am now: 


Now, I have a closet filled with things I absolutely love. There is room for everything I have and I am continuing to get rid of things that don't fit my lifestyle, don't get worn, or just don't look good on me. I plan on re-doing my capsule wardrobe every three months with the seasons, but still sticking to my basic uniform style as my go-to/signature look. I can dip into my "storage bin" each season, re-clean it, and take things out and in as I please. It's like shopping in my own attic!

While some fashion bloggers and experts are super strict about the number of items they keep in their capsule (like 37 items including shoes and accessories) I have been much more flexible with myself. I keep track of what I am wearing by putting a piece of washi tape on the hanger after it's been worn, so I can honestly assess if I'm making use of my clothing. When it is time to go shopping, I have a list of items I'm looking for, for example: red striped shirt, or black pants. I am not randomly finding things in stores that I am merely attracted to that can't be easily interchanged with one another.

Most importantly, I feel happier, and lighter, as a result of having less clothing and a more defined style. It takes me no time to get dressed, and I think I look better. I've been getting more compliments on my hair, too, because I am using my extra time to style my bangs or straighten my hair. It's also forced me to take a realistic assessment of my life as it is, in this moment. For instance, why did I have so many formal dresses in my closet when I probably attend 1-2 formal events (if even!) This, for me, has brought a deep sense of security to dressing for my day, and that is the best gift of all!!  





Why I Deleted My Facebook App

It was a Monday and I had been contemplating it for months. I told myself that moving my Facebook app to the back of my phone in a file labeled "Media isn't Social" would keep me from opening it so much. And it did...sort of. But the amount of self control it took sometimes wasn't even worth it. So I held down the icon, waited for it bounce, and I hit the "X." My heart rate immediately rose. 

The thing is, Facebook can be so much fun. And informational. And enlightening, even, at times. But it can also be a grim filter through which to see the world. And depressing. And argumentative. Despite the fact that I had been limiting my use of Facebook, something was really beginning to nag at me. Well, several things actually. A mounting list of things I was doing (and that you probably do too) weren't sitting well with me. 

The first thing was something most people complain about: it's an increasingly negative experience. Everyone has an opinion, and I get that because I can be amongst the strongest when it comes to "taking a stand." It's great that we have a platform to get our causes out there, and to share ideas and exchange information. It's also kind of exhausting because you begin to see the same sets of opinions from the same 25 people.  

Think about it...when you post a political status (or any status), you probably know exactly who is going to like it, who will love it, who will hate it and tell you so, and who will argue with that person over the merits of the status. And how many minutes add up to hours spent on a virtual platform arguing over a political ideal that no one is really going to meet in the middle on? For me, the answer to this was "too many." Here's why: I value debate. There are some friends of mine that I can count on for robust disagreement without all the dramatics, and that's great. I prefer my debate in person where no one can catch a case of "keyboard courage" and go ape shit on me. 

Mostly though, at this point in adulthood, I have no interest in arguing points with acquaintances, "that guy" from high school, (god forbid) a coworker that I don't know super well, or my best friend's mom (I love you Jan!) It never goes well, and minds aren't being changed, but sometimes real feelings get hurt. 

A second issue for me is that I have noticed when we get on platforms and throw out political stances, we are tricked into the notion that we are "doing something," when in reality, we aren't. Donating money, calling your congressman or woman, writing a letter, attending a meeting or joining a committee, VOTING IN AN ELECTION--those are things you can DO. And there is a big difference. If something is truly important to me, I want to be moved enough to actually do something. Saying something about it simply isn't enough for me anymore. 

And all these things, they would probably be reason enough to log off altogether, but they really weren't. The kicker for me was a realization that boils down to much more than petty annoyance (because keeping your mouth shut is always an option, amiright?) The real issue for me is this: I am a complex, wonderful human being, and I don't deserve to be whittled down a single Facebook status. I don't want to be viewed in pieces and through filters, and neither should you. 

When we put these snippets out there on the Internet, we are doing each other a disservice. There are people I love in my life and the experience of them in real life is amazing. But if you only looked at them through something like Facebook, you might not want to even start a conversation. It's dividing us before we even enter the world, and I don't like that. Someone may not like my stance on a particular issue, but they might really like ME. These things can coexist. I'll bet you have friends that you absolutely love and you probably disagree on a few things, maybe even strongly, and I would be willing to bet that you would worry about it way less if you just got off of Facebook a little more. 

When I step outside my door, the world is a humbling and beautiful place. THAT is the experience I want to begin having more and more. It's not that I'll never go on Facebook. There are aspects that I love about it...like Messenger and posting my blogs! But if it's your way of "keeping up" with people, maybe it's time you started shutting down the app, and picking up the phone and give your friends a call instead. 

It's been a couple of weeks since I deleted the app, and I have to say, I don't know as much about what my friends did today, or what the political pulse is. I have only seen the pictures posted to Instagram (which I love), and I get my news by either going to a website, or watching TV. I haven't seen any cute kitten videos lately. But I sure have been reading more, and connecting with the people I love. My daughter hasn't asked me to put down my phone as much, and I've been looking up more recipes than statuses. My time isn't wasted nearly as much as it was before when I was using Facebook as entertainment. 

I feel like more of a spiritual being and less of a virtual one. And for now, that's really working for me. So what are you waiting for? Delete your Facebook app, and see what happens! 

Parenting With Spirit

No matter what kind of child you have, parenting can be really tough at times. It's exhausting, begs of your best self, and challenges you at each pass. Once you get used to a stage, it changes. Not to mention dealing with the social stratum that is preschool/daycare and eventually the public school system. It's a wild, rewarding ride.

For me and my husband, though, parenting seemed to be encompassing a bit more than the above-mentioned, run-of-the-mill parenting trials. It started fairly early on when, as an infant, I noticed that could never put my daughter, The Bird, down. She always needed to be touching me to sleep, and her separation anxiety took on a life of its own. Later, as I looked to some of my more seasoned friends and family for parenting advice, I noticed that despite taking their advice, the techniques just didn't work.

Coming into last summer, I felt that I was doing something wrong. The people around me would tell me that I was a good parent, and I knew that I was truly striving to be one, but inside I didn't feel like a good parent. I felt I had fleeting successes, and a lot of frustration. Why, I would ask myself, is everyone else's kid doing what they ask and mine seems incapable? What am I doing wrong? 

A series of events over the fall found me looking a little bit deeper. Behaviors that people said my daughter would "outgrow" simply weren't going away. I Googled...furiously. I was going to find an answer if it was the last thing I did and that was where I found two words that changed my life: Spirited Child. Faster than you could click a mouse, I ordered up "Raising Your Spirited Child" by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, Ed.D., and thanks to my Amazon Prime membership, it was here in two days.

It arrived on a Saturday. By Monday, I felt a seismic shift in my parenting, and in my confidence as not only a parent, but a person. Finally, everything I had experienced up to that point: my parenting failures, my inability to integrate parenting advice from friends successfully, and the how's and why's of my daughter's behavior, all made so much sense. I am not exaggerating when I say that the contents of this book changed my relationship to my child, and my enjoyment level as a parent has gone up exponentially.

The book espouses gentle parenting, which is something I am innately drawn to. But in order to put something into practice, you have to have clear techniques and phraseology. This book lays it all out with clear techniques for your child's individual personality traits. For example, my child is a "spirited introvert." For my child, socializing can be quite exhausting, and she needs time to recharge. Changes in routine can be perplexing and disruptive, and so she needs to know when things change, and how it will be different.

The book also explains what makes a spirited child different from other children in terms of them just being "more." They are more sensitive, more persistent, more EVERYTHING, and as a parent to a spirited child, I am therefore required to give MORE. (If you are parenting a spirited young one, no, it's not your imagination, you are, in fact, working very hard.)

Spirit is why you can't let your child "cry it out" during a tantrum (it would never. ever. ever. end). It's why the ingrained style of discipline we parents have may not work (these kids respond to very specific techniques). It's why it's extra hard to leave them with anyone--grandmas, schools, babysitters. It's why your child is acting like a complete maniac in the crowd at an outdoor festival, despite her own excitement. It's why they don't sleep like other kids. It's also why your kid loves play doh, the water, and other sensory experiences. Or why they don't. It's why they can lock into something for hours. It's why they are hilarious, and creative. It's a part of who they are.

Now I am more familiar with terms like "slow to adapt," and I can anticipate hard moments and try my best to head them off at the pass. I am familiar with WHY I was failing before, and I'm experiencing a lot more success. I am also aware of how much calm it's going to take on my part, and that is a new kind of exhausting. I am parenting harder than ever before, and I have to be really on top of my game. But on the flip side of that, my family is having some of the best times we've had together. We are communicating, disciplining, and loving better.

In my mind, I had this vision of being a parent. I want my child to know me for who I am, and I want to bring that truest vision of myself to my child. Before I knew she was spirited (and an introvert), I was spinning my wheels, and I felt bad about my parenting because it was going against who I wanted to be...now, I find that I am being pushed to be a more thoughtful parent, and bring more of who I am at the deepest level to my parenting. It feels really good.

Parenting a child with spirit in these early years is a challenge. But I know that I have been given this challenge because I can not only handle it, but I can succeed at it. Spirited children are said to make wonderful teenagers because the qualities that make them a challenge to parent in early life are the same qualities that make the impervious to peer pressure, boast leadership, and create good problem solvers. So that is a major silver lining.

If you are parenting a child with spirit, then you've probably been suspecting that something was up. I cannot recommend this book enough. It is life-altering for parents and children alike. This book really validated some of the things I knew in my heart, but couldn't really wrap my head around, like why my daughter doesn't want to kiss or hug people hello. Now, I don't feel bad for a single second telling people (kindly) to give her a little space. I don't feel like I need to keep comparing why my parenting isn't getting me anywhere because now I have techniques that really ARE working for me. They don't look like what my friends do, but for the most part, they get us at the same place.

Are you parenting a spirited child? Feel free to discuss in the comment section below!!


My First Elderberry Syrup

I have been on a healing health kick this New Year. It's not really a resolution, as I have been pretty homeopathic over the years. I love to make a yearly batch of fire cider (CLICK HERE for recipe), and I have been drinking kombucha for a few months now to heal my gut. With the flu season in full freaking swing, I figured it was time for me to finally take the leap into making elderberry syrup. 

Now, you can buy remade syrup in the store, and I'm sure it's great, but it's expensive. And I'm on a tight budget. So for us, it made more sense to purchase the dried berries on Amazon, and make it myself. I got a whole pound of European elderberries (which are black elderberries), for about $26. You also need a cup of honey for the recipe, so that gets a little pricey because you want to use a high quality, raw honey. But still, it's worth it for the amount you get. 

I used the Wellness Mama recipe, which is pretty popular, and SUPER simple. Basically, you add the elderberries to water with some spices, and simmer it until it reduces. Then you strain it, let it cool a little, add your honey and VIOLA! Elderberry syrup. I used ginger, cinnamon, and whole cloves to flavor mine, and I really liked what the spices added to the final result. 


What I did not expect when I started this little syrup project, was the SMELL. I read up a lot before I made it, and no one warned me about the smell. Let me just be honest when I say, that the boiling berries smelled so gross, that my three year old was literally gagging and asked to leave the kitchen! I was so turned off by the smell I really thought there was going to be no way for me to actually take the syrup once it was made. 

BUT LET ME ASSURE YOU, once you add the honey, and it cools, it's actually pleasant and quite sweet. I am even able to sneak it into my daughter's orange juice and she hasn't complained at all (which is really saying something!) I have been giving her a half teaspoon per day, and I have been taking a full teaspoon. This is basically a preventative dose, and if you come down with a cold, you can take a larger dose a few times a day to help stem the tide of the symptoms. I was pleasantly surprised that the batch was also big enough to share. My mom wanted some for immunity and my mother-in-law is trying some as well because I read it can be good for nerve health. 

These powerful little berries really pack a good punch, and so far, I am really enjoying having the syrup on hand. If you are thinking of making your own, this is the type of homeopathic remedy that seems to have more benefits than drawbacks, and is safe for the whole family. Of course, this blog is not medical advice, and you should always consult a doctor if you have medical questions/conditions. And be sure to do your research--some elderberry varieties are not safe for consumption. 

Italian Wedding Soup {Updated}

I think I am going to have to change my name to "Soup Lady." Recently, a few of the people around me have been in need of care, so I have been breaking out my soup kettle, and doling it out. I never knew how many soups I made, but you know, when you are in need some comfort, nothing gives you nutrients and ease of travel quite like a soup does. Plus, you know, it's winter. And winter and soup are just great pals.

The other day I was in the mood for soup (yet again.) So I busted out this recipe. It's a real people pleaser. It's got little meatballs, and spinach and chicken broth and teeny tiny pasta. What more could you want in life? Worth the mention here: this sucker is dairy free AND Italian-American. For me, that means I am firing on ALL cylinders. This soup checks all the boxes.

Updated: I was making this soup again, and this time I decided that even though salad is a great pair, I wasn't in the mood for another salad this week. So, I decided to pair it with homemade crescent rolls. CLICK HERE for the recipe. Even better? I stuffed a third of them with pesto sauce, and a third of them with pepperoni. Heaven, I tell you, heaven! Of course, you don't have to make them from scratch to enjoy this recipe. You can certainly doctor up some store bought dough! *No shame in that game!*



Italian Wedding Soup 
Time: 30-40 minutes | Serves 6 | Difficulty: Easy 



You Will Need:

1 pound ground meat (I use venison)
1 egg
1/4 cup bread crumbs
6 cloves garlic, minced (2 for the meatballs and 4 for the soup pot)
Dash of onion powder
Pinch of salt
1 onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 stalks of celery, sliced
1 package of frozen spinach
1 cup pearled couscous
1 glug of olive oil
2 heaping tablespoons of Better than Bullion chicken base
8 cups water

Method:

Preheat oven to LO BROIL.

In a bowl place 2 garlic cloves, breadcrumbs, 1 pound ground meat, 1 egg, onion power, and pinch of salt. Get in there good and mix it up with your hands until fully combined. Roll the meat into small meatballs (about the size of a ping pong ball.) You should get 20-30meatballs depending on how you roll. If you do them super small, you can get 40. I'm not here to tell you how big to make your balls.

Place the meatballs on a greased cookie sheet. Place in the oven for 15-18 minutes or until the meatballs are brown on top. Set aside.

In a big old soup pot, heat your glug of oil. Add your onion, carrots, celery, and garlic. Mix and cook over medium high heat until onions are translucent, about 5-7 minutes.

Next, add your frozen spinach, bullion/base, and water to the pot. Bring it to a boil and then lower heat, covering, and let it simmer about 20 minutes. Add your meatballs into the pot and continue to simmer (covered) until ready to serve. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

When you're nearly ready to serve, prepare your couscous (according to manufacturers directions). In general, pearl couscous ratio is 1 1/4 cups water boiled, which you add 1 cup of couscous to. Allow that to boil for 8-10 minutes.

To serve: put your pearled couscous into the bowl and pour soup over. Top with parmesan cheese and enjoy in good company! <3 Serve with crescent rolls, if desired.


Vegetable Soup with Curry Spices {Recipe}

Well hey, hi, and hello to you all out there in cyber space! I hope you are having a SOUPER New Year. Hehe. I know we sure are. Like, literally. I have eaten so much soup since the start of the New Year, that I actually *almost* got sick of soup. It's one of my favorite foods, and so I tend to make a lot of it.

We had a HUGE snowstorm here in the beginning of January, and everything basically shut down for about six days. In those six days, we ate soup for five meals. From pork belly ramen to chili to ham soup, we covered a lot of bases. But I don't only tend toward meat soups...sometimes I like to take it to the vegan realm. And that's what I did with this soup.

Us in the snow storm! 
When I'm feeling like I need something soothing for my digestion (which, for me, is more often than I would like), a pot of vegan soup can really do the trick. It's got some curry-ish flavors in it, but it's not over the top, just a little something to be different enough from your traditional veggie soup. By now, you all know my propensity for eat-downs by now, right? It's something we do virtually every time we shop in order to save money. So we can go up to 20 days without going back to the grocery store.

The good news about this soup is that it's something you can make with whatever veggies you have on hand, and good staples from your spice rack and pantry. AND, my mother-in-law told me this is ZERO Weight Watcher points, so you can eat it up until you can't eat no more! Also, I didn't add any noodles to this soup, but if you want, throw in some pasta, which would taste great. Okay, here we go!

Vegetable Soup with Curry Spices
Time: 30 ish minutes, more to simmer | Serves: 4-6 | Difficulty: Easy-peasy  

You Will Need:

2 carrots, peeled & chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
1 medium onion, diced 
4 garlic cloves, sliced or minced (your choice) 
1 large potato, diced
Small knob of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thinly 
Spinach (whatever you have, I used fresh) 
Cabbage (about a cup, shredded) 
Frozen corn and/or frozen peas, a good handful of each 
1 large can of crushed tomatoes 
5 cups vegetable broth 
1 teaspoon turmeric 
1/4 teaspoon coriander 
two good dashes cardamom 
1/2 teaspoon cumin 
1/2 teaspoon paprika 
1/2 teaspoon salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
Olive oil  

Method:

In a soup pot over medium high heat, add your oil. Once the pan is heated, add your carrot, celery, onion, garlic, potato, and ginger. Sauté for about 5-7 minutes or until the onions are becoming translucent. 

Add the rest of your ingredients to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover, simmering for about 30 minutes to an hour (however long you have). If desired, add some fun, shaped pasta during the last 12 minutes of cooking, but do bear in mind that the pasta may absorb the broth so you may want to add more veggie broth accordingly. 

Serve with buttered crusty bread! 

** Keep in mind that the vegetables I added are mostly what I had on hand. You can add whatever you like to this soup, or omit anything you don't like. Zucchini, squash, green beans, okra, garbanzo beans, or kidney beans would also be delicious in this soup!!