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5 memoirs to read just for fun

In another life, pre-kids, I never appreciated all the free time I had to read whatever I wanted and whenever I wanted. Being an English major and former teacher, I was always a bookworm. Then the kiddos came along, and it seemed like I never had a free moment to myself to read anything other than parenting books about sleep training and weaning.

Thankfully, as my girls got a little older, I discovered that I could actually get through quite a few books in the time I had here and there between waiting to pick up my daughter, naps, and other rare moments of quiet. Having the Kindle app on my phone was key in being able to read on the go, as was discovering that I could borrow Kindle titles from my library.

In the past year, here are five of the best memoirs I’ve read. I love memoirs because they are generally immediately engaging and inspiring, drawing you in right away. I also appreciate seeing a new perspective into the lives of women who are so different from myself, and yet being able to relate to many of the things they struggle through.

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The way we play

Play and learning have always been of big interest to me. My mother is a teacher, and I worked with kids of all ages all through high school and college, so when it came time for me to become a mom, I really took the idea of being my child’s first teacher head on. Before Baby Carrot even made it home from the hospital, our bookshelves were full, our toy box was loaded with blocks and learning toys, and I was ready to talk to her nonstop as she grew up, as all the advice recommends, to make sure that she was hearing lots of words. And then my inner introvert knocked and laughed at all these plans.

One of my first struggles between figuring out how to be the engaged parent I wanted to be and my inner introvert was when Baby Carrot started doing tummy time and hanging out on a play mat. She hated tummy time, so I would talk to her for a few minutes until she got upset, then flip her over and describe the play mat and what she was seeing. All that took about 2 minutes, then I ran out of things to say, and I felt like I was failing at mom because I really just wanted to look at my emails or read a blog while she played. I felt like I was leaving her alone, and depriving her of that valuable learning, and the introvert inside was screaming for a little decompression, making it even worse. Introverts generally have a hard time with lots of “on” time and with a baby of any age, you’re always “on.” Lack of sleep aside, the most exhausting thing for me, especially in the early days, became the constant interaction with another human being, even if that human being didn’t do much beyond eat and sleep.

What helped a lot was coming across articles, blog posts and studies on independent play. After reading about the value of leaving Baby Carrot to explore on her own, even if that meant she just lay there in those early days, and talking to some friends who had older kids and did the same, helped me feel less guilty. And after I did some digging about what unstructured and independent play meant, I did still spend as much time as I could talking to my daughter, but when I ran out of steam, I let her be and gave myself permission (and felt OK with) to do my own thing – which usually involved reading parenting blogs and learning about something else baby related.

As Baby Carrot now enters the toddler years, interaction is more important than ever, but so is letting her explore independently, so I’ve been aiming to follow a few general rules for how she and we play:

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Vietnamese Lettuce Cups with Pickled Carrot Strings

I’ve been getting really sick of eating and cooking the same 5-10 meals over and over again, so I recently decided to try a few new recipes to change things up a bit. First up is the Vietnamese Lettuce Cups, featured in Nom Nom Paleo’s latest cookbook. I love ground meat dishes because they are so versatile. You can put them on lettuce, add it as a topping over rice, or even eat it on its own topped with an egg.

Don’t skip out on the pickled carrot strings because they really add a whole new dimension to this refreshing dish.  It, along with the diced apple, also gives it a different textural dimension. The mint and basil really adds a brightness to this dish too that makes it scream summer! Add more fish sauce than the recipe calls for if you want more umami and an extra punch in flavor.

My daughter and husband (two of the pickiest eaters I know) really loved this dish, and I hope you will too!

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Hopes for “Normal”

In my mind, I clearly remember the first time I noticed the bright pink sign on the door to my room in the post-partum wing.

The night before, Elliot & Finn arrived in the world and were swept away to the NICU. I had been down to see them after we got the clear from the NICU staff the night before, and we went back down first thing the next morning. We spent the morning holding Finn when we were allowed to do so, staring at him in his isolette, and holding Elliot’s hand since we couldn’t actually hold him. We brought our parents in to meet their grandbabies for the first time. We were trying as hard as we could to be “normal” parents and do “normal” things with our newborns.  That afternoon, we headed back to my room to take a nap between hands-on times. I’d been on my feet all morning, leaving my wheelchair behind as much as I could so I could interact with both boys, and at less than 24 hours post c-section, I was running out of steam.

Mr. Blue wheeled me to the elevator and down the hall.  The nurses asked how the babies were and shot sympathetic looks our way. We got to the door of my room, and there was the sign: a bright pink laminated sheet of paper with a single, giant letter on it.

N.

I stared at that letter N for a moment, confused by what it was or what it meant.  Slowly, comprehension spread through my mind.  The “N” was for NICU. It told every nurse, doctor, etc. that there was no happy family inside that door, that when they entered no baby would be nursing on its mothers breast, no proud father would be introducing his child to family. Instead, it was an empty room where someone clearly slept but nothing else.  This wasn’t the place that a family would spend its first days together. It wasn’t the place that a recovering mom could lie down with her child in her arms.  It wasn’t a celebratory place. It was just a place to sleep and take meds and grab the occasional shower.

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How to Use Dry Shampoo

As a busy mom, I am always looking for shortcuts to reduce my time getting out the door. Since becoming a mom, I’ve taken to packing lunches, setting up my coffee machine and picking out CB’s and my school clothes the night before. As far as the actual morning goes, I’m still working on finding shortcuts, but my absolute must-do and favorite shortcut is using dry shampoo and washing and drying my hair less frequently.

Besides saving time, dry shampoo is healthier for your hair. You have probably heard that sulfates in shampoo are bad, bad, bad news bears. They are the same ingredients that are found in dish detergent, which make them extremely harsh on your hair, stripping it of its natural oils. Over time, hair grows accustomed to shampoo and whenever it’s not shampooed, your hair feels super greasy because the natural oils freak out and try to overcompensate for the oils that have been previously stripped. Very technical terms, I know.

There are sulfate-free shampoos on the market, some better than others. I use the L’oreal brand, but if it wasn’t so expensive, I’d use Wen instead. You can also make your own non-shampoo, like this cool gal – I definitely want to try this, but I’m not quite ready to make this big leap yet.

Anyway, I wash my hair maybe once every 3-4 days and can go as long as 6 if I have to. This includes days of “working out” (i.e. taking my dog for a brisk walk in the hot sun or throwing in a Jillian Michaels DVD), playing at the pool (with my hair up so it barely gets wet), etc. When I first started reducing the number of washes, it took a bit of time to “train” my hair to get used to the lack of shampoo. I’d start by washing every other day and wearing my hair up in a ponytail on the second day so the hair grease was less obvious. Classy, I know. On non-hair-washing days, I simply put my hair in a ponytail or bun and hop in the shower. The ends of my hair will often get wet, but it’s not a big deal. You can also be like my sister and wear an old lady shower cap instead.

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Gifts for One Year Old Under $15

Juliet got a wonderful array of birthday gifts this year. We truly feel blessed she was showered with presents, but truthfully at one she is just as enamored and interested with the wrapping paper, boxes… heck even a pile of laundry. Besides that she has so many hand me down toys to boot. When friends and family would ask for suggestions, I told them to not go crazy since she really wouldn’t know the difference.

I scoured online to see to find nice age appropriate toys for her age set for less, and compiled this list of toys under $15.

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We Have A Social Worker

I know, right? It doesn’t really sound like a good thing. But truly? It’s one of the best things that has ever happened to our family. Let me backtrack and explain exactly how it is that a social worker came into our lives, and what it is that she does that is so completely invaluable.

Writing this is bittersweet, because in less than a month Ellie’s case will be closed. I think I feel a little like a swimming student who’s been getting along super-great with a floatation device. “Okay, we’re going to take that off of you now. You can do it! Come on– you’ve got this. You don’t need it anymore,” says the coach. “But I do. I do need this. So give it baaaaaack,” thinks the voice in my head.

Ellie has been doing really well. Her teacher at school noticed towards the end of the year. Other adults we’ve encountered, both socially and in the world-at-large, have noticed (and their positive comments have really been important to Ellie). We’ve noticed at home, too. I can’t say I was that surprised when Lena* (not her real name) brought up closing Ellie’s case. I was starting to feel a little ridiculous getting such wonderful and helpful services when Ellie was clearly doing so well. But, hello denial– I pushed that thought far, far into the recesses of my mind. Because can we really do this? Can we survive without her?


The happy graduate

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