This year hit me with a bit of a crisis. I had spent nearly five years earning a degree that I had suddenly thought to myself, “What if I never use this?” It’s a scary thought, in some ways, freeing in others. While I covet the chance to have my own classroom, to plan units, to guide students through one year of their teenage lives, I am also open to the idea that may not be my path, at least not yet or in the way I had initially thought.

What’s more, there’s grad school. I’m going. At some point. I just don’t know where or how or for what. I have a list saved in Evernote on my iPad listing all the possible programs I’d like to check out, ranging from straight up education to library science to creative writing (and everything in between, it feels). I just don’t know what will be right for me, because, as a friend at work pointed out, what you get your Masters’ in sort of determines what you do for, like, ever. That’s a bit of a heavy decision.

So, I haven’t quite known what to do with myself at the moment. I’ve been going after a goal nonstop for years now, and with that initial goal crossed off my list (graduating with a bachelors’ degree), I feel lost without something else to work towards. I needed, more desperately than I realized, I think, something to work on. And I think I’ve found it.

This weekend I’m attending a doula training course. A doula, in case you were wondering, is a labor support professional, a woman who helps laboring women have the best, most fulfilling birth possible, regardless of circumstances. She is an advocate, an advice giver, a go-between for the parents and caregivers, and, in many ways, a birth partner, helping to physically and emotionally support the laboring woman in the most amazing event of her life.

I could get into the what’s and why’s in my decision to pursue becoming a certified doula, but I don’t want to – it’s complicated and long-winded and I seriously doubt anyone wants to read my explanation. But I will say that I am utterly thrilled that I have given myself this opportunity. Maybe the most exciting thing about being an adult is that I can choose to do this. For the first time in a long time I feel like I’m making a really great decision for myself entirely on my own. I didn’t consult anyone – I just did it.

This is, I think, the first step into creating a future of which I have dreamed.

I’m slowly starting to make the transition to all natural, mostly homemade cleaners (in addition to moving out other unnecessary toxins that my family is exposed to on a regular basis). While I love my super basic vinegar and water mixes and scouring my sinks and tub with Borax and baking soda (it’s so freaking cheap!!), one of the major things that I worry about is bacteria. I mean, I have a four year old, for pity’s sake – there is bacteria floating around everywhere! While I do have a bottle of Seventh Generation anti-bacterial surface cleaner (which is supposed to be safer than other brands), I was hoping to find something I could easily make myself and is cheaper than nearly $4 a bottle.

Here was the solution:

The school/clinic in our area had posted this short little “recipe” on their and I couldn’t wait to delve in. The suggestion: Fill a jar with citrus peels (in my case, lemon and orange) and vinegar, let steep for two weeks, then clean away! Citrus, , has some antibacterial properties, as does vinegar, AND citrus is known to cut through grease and other nasty substances, so soaking the peels with the vinegar can make a powerful home cleaning remedy, and one that I’m happy to use.

So, why am I making these switches, slowly but surely? Because, one, it’s way, way more inexpensive to buy big ole boxes of Borax and baking soda and a giant jug of vinegar than it is to buy anything else, environmentally safe or not, and these cleaning supplies are toxin free. Kids these days are exposed to so much crap that I feel like it isn’t such a bad thing to bring all down a notch at home. I know I can’t control what E. breathes in the air each day or touches or is exposed to at preschool or other places, but at least at home I can rest at ease that what I clean our home and her toys with is safe.

Next step on my list of to dos: Find out how to safely dispose of the cleaners I will no longer be using but are still hanging around.

I’ve dealt with a lot of yucky, disease related stuff in my short time as a mom. I’ve been projectile pooped and puked on. I’ve endured long, unhappy nights of crying and peaking fevers. I’ve snuggled, made special couch “beds”, and poured cans of ginger ale into foamy, ice filled cups. But I’ve never dealt with them for as long or as urgently as I have the past couple of days.

E. has had a fever for two full days, the poor bug. We’re spending another day at home tomorrow and will probably be making a trip to the doctor’s office in the afternoon. I’ve been trying to figure out what, besides the usual, could perk up my little wilting rose (and keep me busy after I completed all the house work I could possibly find while she slept on the couch).

I decided to bake a Sick Day Cake.

I found a simple (and delicious) recipe in my Domestic Goddess cookbook (by Nigella Lawson) for Victoria sponge cake and used some frozen berries, defrosted, jam, and chocolate frosting to fill and frost the cake. And then I fed it to E.

It’s yet to be seen if the cake has cured her, but it was nice to see her cheer up a bit (and eat something, even if it was just cake) and feel a bit more like a little kid again and not Ms. Sicky Sickerson. I most certainly see this turning into a (hopefully rare) family tradition.

I’ve been aware of my body for a long time. I’m not sure why – I don’t have a specific early memory of someone saying something to me (but plenty of later memories) – but I’ve known for a long time that I’m not one of the “skinny” girls.

Maybe it was being surrounded by taller, slender little girls in ballet class. Maybe it was that most of my earliest friends were these wispy, adorable kids who had boundless, physical energy (when I would prefer to sit and talk or read or draw and “write”). Maybe there were subtle comments made by the women in my life about their own bodies that I subconsciously picked up on, their own insecurities unwittingly effecting me. All I can solidly recall is that early on, far too early on, I felt that there was something a bit wrong about my body.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been plenty of times in my life where I thought I had a great body, that was beautiful, useful, and that I loved. Two key times come to mind: my mid to late teens, where even donning a “plus size” 14, I felt incredibly attractive. The best part: I was able to realize that not only did I look good, I was confident and I was smart and a few people chose to find me interesting, rather than a bit obnoxious (which, really I was more of the latter). The other time was during my pregnancy. I’d never been more gigantic, but when your body is just so full and ripe and full of life, it’s hard to not feel a bit sexy and fertility goddess-like (and any goddess is pretty damn hot).

After my pregnancy, when I chose to do very little for a long time to lose the weight I had gained since I graduated from high school and then over the course of my pregnancy (plus, my stomach was completely and utterly shot – and I wonder if there is any number of crunches that will bring my formally flat, belly-ring worthy tummy back), my body image slowly slipped into a dark abyss. I’m not entirely sure if my confidence in my attractiveness had ever been lower. But I had to make a decision, because, after E. was born, I was not looking in the mirror, silently thinking critical thoughts just for me. I was thinking them for her as well.

I believe the way a mother talks about her body directly effects how her daughter will look at herself. If your little girl thinks you think you’re beautiful, she will think she is beautiful, too (especially if you reinforce it with your own words towards her). If all you can muster are cutting remarks about how you look, then how can your daughter help but assume she, too, must have inherited the same disgraceful features (especially if you’ve birthed a little mini-me, which I have)? I made the conscious decision very early on that no matter how I felt I would only speak positively about how I looked, and as I’ve been losing weight, I have tried very hard to emphasize the health end of things rather than constantly talking about weight and pants size. It also helps that my wonderful husband has no problem telling me that I’m looking good (which is often, apparently) and casually flirting with me in front of our kid (appropriate, maybe not, but at least E. knows someone besides Mama thinks she’s all that and a bag of chips).

There are lots of things that I want E. to know about herself: she’s brilliant, she’s hilarious with great comedic timing, she has boundless and wonderful curiosity that she must never, never lose, she is worthy of every good thing that comes her way and that she is strong enough to tackle any challenge laid at her feet, and I also want her to know that she is gorgeous, body and soul. She will probably be built like me, therefore, she will be short, curved, and cute, but the fashion magazines she might glimpse on our grocery store shelves and her endless collection of Barbies might place that little niggling feeling of doubt that she is “less than” – which she’s not, and never will be. Among all my jobs as her mother, one is to help her know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she is “more than” in all areas, including her body.

(If anything is a sign of the self-confidence E. has in her own body image, it’s the amount of pictures I had on my iPad to chose from to put here. She loooooves to photograph herself or have her picture taken. She also spends more time in front of the mirror admiring herself than anyone I know.)

Big, big news on the weight-loss front: I am down thirty-five pounds. I am muy, muy impressed with myself, if I do say so.

My current weight, which I’m choosing to not disclose here (at least not right now), is the lowest it’s been since I got pregnant with E., nearly five years ago, and I’m only about twenty-four pounds away from my high school weight (which was more than it ought to have been, but I have to say I looked pretty cute). My final goal weight is still another sixty-four pounds away (I’m trying to not think too hard about that part – sixty-four seems like a lot). While it occasionally feels discouraging and sort of impossible to reach my goals (I’d like to lose another twenty-five pounds by July), I am encouraged by the fact that I have in fact gotten this far, which is awesome, something I never thought I’d be able to do.

So, what have I been doing? Anything different from the last I posted about weight-loss? A couple of things:

1.) Finding things to motivate me when I’m feeling down and out. Looking at those pairs of shorts I fit perfectly into now. Flipping through Self magazine, which simultaneously provides me with simple recipes, good workouts, and a little bit of healthy guilt. Remembering that I want to have the most healthy body I possibly can this summer so getting pregnant and staying that way is as easy as possible.

2.) Turning parts of this into a hobby. I’ve started to take up running. Yes, running. I’ve always thought runners were the coolest, what with their jogging and saying, “Yeah, I’m going for a run.” And the sweet kicks and iPod bands. I’ve realized that this is possibly one of the only sports I can participate in as an adult and alone (I’m not much of a team person), and in order for my healthy lifestyle to continue, I’ve found that investing myself in a related hobby is one of the best ways to do go forth.

3.) Nonfat, plain Greek yogurt. So, I’m still doing Weight Watchers (though I’m not always completely faithful to my points), but I’ve found a few things that make keeping under my points so much easier. Number one: Greek yogurt (as described above). I loooooooove sour cream. Like, I can eat it plain straight from the container. Plain Greek yogurt has a very similar taste and texture, and when you through a dollop of that on top of pierogies, with salsa, or on some chili, the difference is barely detectable. I’ll also mix it with a bit of feta, lemon juice, and dill and it’s perfect with cucumbers. Best part? Two tablespoons is ZERO points with Weight Watchers. While I don’t like it as just regular yogurt (even with fruit mixed in), it’s wonderful in savory dishes.

4.) Continuing with the food, here are two dishes I’ve been making consistently that are low-cal and totally yummy:

Turkey Chili
1 lb. lean ground turkey
1 can pinto beans
1 pepper, cut up
1 onion, cut up
1 can stewed tomatoes, drained
Red pepper powder
Salt and pepper

There really aren’t directions on how to cook this (and add or remove spices at your discretion). Basically, throw it all in a skillet and cook until the veggies are tender and the turkey is cooked all the way through. This makes several servings. The hubs doesn’t like ground turkey, so I’ll serve some to E. and I, leave some for lunch the next day, then freeze the rest.

Parm Pasta
1/2 – 1 cup pasta of your choice (I like whole grain or the veggie pasta)
Frozen spinach (as much as you feel like eating), cooked
2 Tbsp. fresh parmesan (if not freshly grated yourself, at least avoid the stuff that comes in the can in the pasta section – get something that need refrigeration)
Teensy bit of butter or oil
Juice from a lemon wedge
Salt and pepper to taste

Again, this is basically a cook as you like it and then toss it all together meal. Add to the ingredients based on who’s eating (this is, like, a one person deal). But, I’m telling you, between the fresh lemon and cheese and a little bit of color from the spinach, this pasta rivals anything with a sauce.

Food, I will say, remains my biggest issue. While my eating has gotten a lot better, there are still many days of weakness. Exercise, thankfully, remains the same, or is getting better (I am looking to register for a 5K in August, so now I have even more motivation to continue to work out. Losing weight has made exercise easier. My stamina is better, I feel stronger, and I can do more. That alone, even if I wasn’t looking better, which I am, would be enough reason to continue with what I’ve been doing.

I hope those others out there who are on their own weight-loss journeys continue. It’s a long, hard slog, but with positive motivations, some stick-to-it-iveness, we can all reach our final, healthy destinations.

We’re on our second day back from April vacation and it’s amazing how quickly it feels like vacation never happened. My house is a mess again, I’m thoroughly exhausted (though, we were so busy during break that I really didn’t get those wonderful, rest-filled days (anyone with a four-year-old can understand how this is possible), and my mood is fairly foul lately.

Getting back to work and feeling this way almost makes me wonder if there was any point in going on April break (for me, anyway – I’m thinking selfishly, I know) to begin with. It’s funny how vacations can become just as tiresome as the time you spend during your usual schedule. I find myself wondering what I could have done differently. I mean, yes, I was busy (I sort of had to be), but I did work some relaxation/fun in there as well. I read…a lot. I discovered my new love, Gotye (totally, totally obsessed with his music…and him). We visited family, enjoyed the beautiful weather, and E. even took a little “swim” during one the warmer days last week.

I don’t know…I suppose I need to, I don’t, write more. Why this comes to mind isn’t clear. I just feel better when I’m writing consistently (and I don’t necessarily mean on here – I have other things going on, you know). Creating, thinking, lovingly crafting sentences, carefully choosing words. It feels so good.

I suppose that now I have a charger for my iPad (part of the reasons posts have been so scarce lately) I’ll have more opportunity to write…to write anything.

No vacations from writing for me.

First of all, on a completely unrelated subject, I apologize for the serious lack of posts. Between Easter, the total lack of a working iPad charger, and quite a bit of exhaustion, I just haven’t been able to get anything written (super frustrating). So…sorry. (However, my absence has allowed me to finish THREE books, including 50 Shades of Grey, which was strangely amazing).

But here’s what I really want to talk about: Cervical mucus.

Oooh, yeah, you heard me.

Sounds sexy, doesn’t it?

All right, I promise I won’t get too weird on you, but I want to share my latest new hobby: fertility awareness. I mentioned some time ago that I had purchased the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility with the hopes of doing just what the book’s title describes and possibly getting pregnant more quickly, once the time came. Well, the time is nearly upon us and I’ve been tracking a few different items relating to my fertility for several weeks now, and while I’m far from an expert, I have absolutely no problem extolling on the virtues of the fertility awareness method (FAM) as both a way to more quickly conceive AND as a form of birth control.

What exactly is FAM? Basically, the fertility awareness method encourages women to observe a variety of “signs” of their fertility, primarily their basal body temperatures (your temperature first thing in the morning using a specific kind of thermometer – easily found at Wal-Mart, for example) and cervical mucus. If these signs are correctly observed, a woman can easily cause or prevent pregnancy (outstanding factors not withstanding) by timing when she and her partner have sex.

What are the advantages of FAM?

1.) For me, the number one reason I’ve switched to FAM as a form of birth control (because we aren’t yet trying to get pregnant) is the fact that I’ve, for one, gotten pregnant while on the pill, and for two, while I still had an IUD it drove me nuts (too many reasons to explain why).

2.) There are no foreign objects or extra hormones floating around in your body. I’m hormonal enough, I don’t need any help, and I always worried something would happen with the IUD that would result in some sort of internal injury. Plus, FAM is about as natural as you can get for birth control.

3.) It is extremely empowering to learn so much about your body and cycle. The more I read about what the female body does to allow for conception and the growth of a baby the more I am completely amazed. And when you actually observe it happening, you’re blown away. It’s like learning how some amazing and complex machine works, only cooler, because it’s your body.

4.) Once you learn how to do everything, FAM is far easier than taking the pill, wearing a patch, or having to insert a ring (and less physically and mentally altering).

5.) It puts the responsibility of birth control on both partners, rather than forcing just the female party to worry (which makes sense, considering men are fertile all the time and women are only fertile a few days a month).

What are the disadvantages of FAM?

1.) If you genuinely don’t feel like you have time to take your temperature in the morning and periodically check your cervical mucus during the day (easily done during bathroom trips), then you probably won’t be able to use FAM effectively.

2.) If you’re squeamish about your body down there, FAM probably isn’t a good option.

3.) There are periods of time when you will have to “abstain” or use other kinds of protection, because you’ll be fertile (i.e. you could get pregnant). That said, those periods of time give you and your partner a chance to get creative and find other ways to be intimate.

4.) I honestly believe if you’re not in a committed relationship, this isn’t the best form of birth control because it does hold a higher risk of pregnancy if you’re not really on top things and very careful. But, I also believe you shouldn’t be intimate with someone unless you’re in a committed relationship to begin with, so there.

5.) Like most hormonal, non-barrier methods of birth control, FAM does nothing to prevent STIs.

I think that even if you are not going to use FAM as birth control or you’re not trying to get pregnant, reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility or looking up other information about the fertility awareness method is hugely beneficial. There is no reason why a woman should not fully understand how her body works and why they do the things they do. A firm and clear understanding is so empowering and allows women to see that their bodies are truly amazing in more than one way.

I mentioned a while ago that E.’s fourth birthday is coming up soon (this Sunday). While we have two family “parties” planned (they’re not really parties so much as little gatherings for each side of the family) for this weekend to celebrate both E. and Easter, we aren’t doing E.’s BIG friend party for another few weeks. And it is that party that’s making me a bit crazy and lots excited.

The first thing to mention is that I did go with a theme (yes, I’m going to be one of those annoying parents): ladybugs. E. discovered them this winter as a few retreated in our house to escape the cold weather and has been in love since (we’ve got ladybug flip-flops, a bathing suit, pillow pet, among other things). So, while I’ve planned a variety of different ladybug/spring/garden themed decorations, foods, and games for the kiddos who will be at our house (all of which I plan to share here), the first order of business was to make the invitations.

Here’s what I made:

In case it’s not obvious (and it may not be, since I’m not as skilled at paper crafts as some), the front side is a ladybug and the back gives the party information. One of my favorite parts of the invitations is the font used (which, of course, you can’t fully appreciate in the poor quality photos). I found the font via Pinterest and it’s called “Doodlebug.” Very appropriate, right?

We’re really looking forward to finally handing these out next Monday (we had a slight delay because preschool had been cancelled for several days before our April vacation due to some pretty serious flooding). Hopefully I’ll be able to pop back in with more party plans as the week goes on!

My mom does this thing on my birthday every year. She’ll look at me with that weird, nostalgic mom look and wistfully say, “At this time, twenty-*insert appropriate number here* years ago, I was…” and some part of my miraculous arrival would be revealed. I know I roll my eyes every time I hear it (in fact, I rolled them a bit as I write this), but in reality, I kind of like it (okay, love it). I don’t remember the day I was born, so it’s nice to know that someone remembers.

And now I find myself doing the same to E.

Today is her birthday, and every time I glance at the clock I try to guess where I was at that moment. It’s hard to remember, because time moved so quickly that bright Tuesday in early April. What I remember, however, with absolute clarity, is the moment I heard her and the moment I saw her and the moment she was placed in my arms and I held her to my chest. It was time slowed down, every emotion flooding through my body, out my fingertips, making my heart pump the blood through my body with a sudden new purpose.

I was a mother, but, more importantly, this was my daughter. If I didn’t have a reason for life, I most certainly had one now.

And the last four years have been the purest I’ve ever experienced, with the greatest joy and the greatest love (and sometimes the greatest fear and frustration). E. has transformed from a beautiful baby, the model infant – perfect nurser, sleeper, completely content – to a full blown child with ideas and loves and a vivid brilliance and ridiculous vivaciousness. I try to not think so much about how she has changed and how quickly it has all happened, because it can bring me to my knees with joy and wrench my heart with the horrible speed in which it has all happened.

I expect the next four years will go in much the same style the previous four have. I will blink and too much time has passed. There will be the cliche struggles and joys. And ever before me will be a girl who I will simultaneously see as the growing, wonderful person she is, but also as the bawling, raw, pink baby quickly thrust over the curtain as she was delivered nearly exactly four years ago today.

Happy Birthday E. You are loved.

I don’t think it’s every mom who sends their little one to daycare only to have them come home with a CD full of lovely photographs.

Our daycare provider (really, really wonderful woman and mom, Megan) also happens to be a professional photographer (here’s her ). Last week E. mentioned something to me about “having my picture taking! Megan made me do all these silly things!” Now, perhaps in another setting I would be a bit sketched out by this, but considering I knew Megan had been building her photography business for quite some time now AND took pictures of her handsome boys all the time, I didn’t worry too much.

However, I did not expect the CD E. came home with, much less these gorgeous pictures:

I won’t deny it – I am one lucky mama.