Three Good Things, the Cozy-Up-to-Fall Edition

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Hooray, Fall has officially arrived in these parts. We’re talking a chill in the air, leaves on the ground, and a need for warm beverages of all kinds. I may or may not have taken inventory of my sweaters…and then ordered a couple more off ThredUp. Don’t judge.

I’m a little sorry to see October – my most favorite of all the months – go. I celebrated the start of it by finally framing the print I got for Katie’s nursery all those years ago, and the end with a frenetic, sugar-laden spate of birthday and Halloween parties. Now it’s time to look ahead to Thanksgiving…and maybe to break out the early, cozy Christmas music. (Like I said, don’t judge.) But first: my good things of the last month.

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Three things I’ve loved:

Libraries, and other people who love them, too. When I got back into reading, I really got back into using our library system. And I’m not alone: our neighborhood branch is full of people every time I’m there – scanning the shelves, using the computers, sitting and reading with their kids. So when a columnist tweeted that “nobody goes to libraries anymore,” and that we should “close the public ones,” he got a whole lot of pushback – in the form of 110,000+ replies — and especially from Alex Halpern, who calls himself “The Angriest Librarian.” I love the Angriest Librarian.

How Reese Witherspoon is changing Hollywood for women. An interesting look at the power Witherspoon commands, and the niche she has carved out for herself. But beyond that, I loved the thread in here about how her life as a reader has shaped this part of her career, and how much of her studio’s work is aimed at lifting up stories by and about women. Plus, her Instagram book club feed is a total delight.

Parents who turned heartbreak into doing good. After Rebekka and Randy Hauskins’ daughter Hayden was stillborn in 2010, they spent a year paying off their hospital bill. They went on to create Hayden’s Helping Hands, a non-profit that helps families in similar situations pay their medical bills. They’ve since helped pay the hospital bills for 43 families. What an amazing service they’ve done for other grieving parents.

Three things I’ve learned:

A Philando Castile memorial fund erased school lunch debt in St. Paul. The fund’s sponsor originally wanted to raise $5,000 to help kids get their lunches, just as Castile did in his job as a nutrition services supervisor at a St. Paul school. Then the fund raised over $72,000 – enough to pay off all the school lunch debt in the city. (School lunch debt remains a stigmatizing problem across the country, though, and fundraisers have collected tens of thousands of dollars in many other cities, too.)

How a cheerleader became the face of the Pam Am 103 attack. Pan Am Flight 103 was bombed over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988, killing 259 people, including 35 Syracuse University students on their way home from a semester in London. Every year, SU celebrates Remembrance Week in honor of the students the school lost. As we get further from the bombing – none of the undergrads at SU now were even alive back then – and the same stories have been told multiple times, it’s hard to bring a new angle to the story. This Daily Orange piece manages to do it, by telling the story of the cheerleader whose tear-streaked face became the viral picture of the disaster.

Don’t bother buying the good cinnamon. I can go through buckets of cinnamon in my fall baking – what pairs better with apples and pumpkin, really? – so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Washington Post’s taste test showed it’s not worth spending extra on the “really good” stuff. (From my own experience, though, I’d say good vanilla is worth every penny.)

Three things I’ve been grateful for:

A sleep coach. Katie’s never been a great sleeper, and there have been a few times in the last three years when I’ve considered turning to a sleep coach. But then the phase would pass, and she’d finally settle into some semblance of a sleep routine, and I’d catch up – a little. But this fall? No dice. She finally broke out of her crib in early August, and that freedom combined with the upheaval of starting at a new preschool has destroyed her sleep (and ours). When we hit almost three months of not sleeping through the night and sharing our bed with a fidgety three-year-old, I had to call in the big guns. Our consultant digested my copious notes about Katie, her schedule, and her sleep patterns to come up with a set of recommendations for us. Some of them are unconventional, including sleeping downstairs outside her room, to help her stop waking overnight, but at this point I’ll try anything. (I knew she got it when her report started with this assessment: “Strong-willed. Attached to mom.”) We’re not fully through the fog yet – and now we get to deal with the end of daylight savings, eeep! – but I can see it clearing. Sleep, how I love thee.

Podcasts to get through some difficult days (aka how to stay engaged and keep resisting without totally losing it). It truly seemed like the world was spinning off its axis on some days in October. On the days when I just couldn’t listen to another hour devoted to the stressful news of the day (or week, or month, or year), but I didn’t want to fully disengage, I was glad to have episodes from some of my favorite go-to podcasts to help me process my anxiety (see, The Mom Hour, The Edit Your Life Show, Selfie).

Beth Caldwell. After being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2014 — and amid rounds and rounds of difficult treatments — Beth became a fierce advocate for more funding for research into MBC, which kills 113 people every day and yet receives only 7 percent of all breast cancer funding. She founded the non-profit MET UP to raise more research dollars, and she taught me so much about the politics and the reality of cancer funding (see, pink washing). Even as she faced her own mortality this year, she fought tirelessly against efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid funding; we were lucky to have her in our court. I’m glad that our paths crossed then, and I only wish that they had sooner. She loved bourbon and eggnog lattes; smart-ass t-shirts and socks; and her family, not necessarily in that order. Beth died this week, and I miss her already. I’ll think of Beth whenever I wear my own smart-ass socks, and I’ll do as much as I can to raise that 7 percent. Give to MET UP here and to the memorial fund set up in Beth’s name at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center here.

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Smart-ass socks, in honor of Beth

What have you loved, learned, and felt grateful for lately?

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Three Good Things, a Reboot


I’ve written and rewritten the top to this post, and planned and shelved the actual posting of it. It’s felt wrong to post lists of good things when such horrible things keep happening – when, in the words of Jimmy Kimmel, it seems like a window to hell has been opened.

But then I remember that it’s in these times that we need to look for the good. We need to be reminded that even amid horror and hate and heartbreaking sadness, good things do happen every day. They’ve felt a little hidden at times in this last year that I’ve been away from these posts, but the more I look for the things that make me smile, the more I find them.

And so, as the first notes of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” ring in my ears, I give you what I’ve loved, learned, and felt grateful for lately.

(Full disclosure: Some of the items on this list may be old news to you, but I still think they’re worth counting.)

Things I’ve loved lately:

  • The Hamilton soundtrack. Yes, I may have been one of the last people on Earth to catch on to the wonder of Hamilton. I’ve caught up this year, endlessly streaming the soundtrack, watching and rewatching the PBS documentary, scrolling through #ham4all social media posts – and starting to plan my trip to see the show. What’s your favorite song? “Dear Theodosia” has felt particularly resonant to me lately.
  • I Mom So Hard. There’s so much truth in these moms’ videos, and I laughed so hard at their live show that I cried. Any of their episodes is an instant 5-minute mood brightener.
  • Pret a Manger’s spiced pumpkin latte. You didn’t actually think I’d get through a whole October post without mentioning pumpkin, did you? I treated myself to my annual Starbucks PSL on Teddy’s birthday, but I grimaced at the price tag and even I had to acknowledge that the taste is a little…lacking. Enter the Pret SPL: more pumpkin, less $$$. Now if fall would just get here and stick around so I don’t have to sweat my way through my coffee, that’d be great.

Things I’ve learned:

  • What will happen when Queen Elizabeth dies. This exhaustive piece from The Guardian goes into great detail of “London Bridge,” the plan for the days after QEII’s death. On the one hand, it’s kind of creepy. On the other, it’s fascinating. “It will be 10 days of sorrow and spectacle in which, rather like the dazzling mirror of the monarchy itself, we will revel in who we were and avoid the question of what we have become.”
  • How to support your favorite authors. Are you on Goodreads? Did you know that you can help an author just by shelving their book? (It gets them greater visibility as other people search for books with similar titles, genres, etc.) I learned this and six other tips for supporting writers you love – apart from buying their books – from my favorite book blogger and podcaster, Anne Bogel (of the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog and What Should I Read Next? podcast).
  • Stephen King’s writing lessons. Last winter, I finally read Stephen King’s On Writing, and I understood why so many writers say it’s an indispensable part of their bookshelf. His story of selling Carrie is striking: it came after lots of rejection, when he and his wife had so little money that they were living in a trailer without a phone. The publisher sent a telegram to tell him he’d sold his book. On Writing is part memoir, part writing lesson. He expanded on those lessons in this Q&A with Jess Lahey. Good stuff.

Things I’ve been grateful for:

  • Read Something, Anything Book Club. We started a book club based on the premise of, “let’s get real, a bunch of moms probably aren’t all going to read the same book every month.” Hence, the read, something – anything – name. Some months we all bring different books to discuss. Others, most of us are lucky to have glanced at headlines. But the club has given me renewed incentive to find some new books, and my favorite read of the year (The Boston Girl) came on the club’s recommendation.
  • Good health, and good work on health care policy. As I approach my 10th (!) cancerversary, I’ve been reminded often that I was healthy, until I wasn’t. Much of this year has been dominated by health – Teddy’s, on a micro level, and on a more macro/work level, a seemingly never-ending battle to save the Affordable Care Act. I’ve shed a lot of tears on both accounts, out of frustration and exhaustion and fear. I’m so grateful that Teddy’s healthy, and that we’ve been able – at least so far – to stave off efforts to repeal the ACA. (On a related note, there are so, so many allies in the health care fight to be thankful for, but chief among them are the Little Lobbyists – families with medically complex kids who helped policymakers and the public understand the very real risks to cutting health care funding and rolling back important protections.)
  • The Calm app. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that this year has been a tough one. Not all of my coping mechanisms have been the healthiest, but I am thankful that one of my friends nudged me to buy the paid version of the Calm meditation app. I use it most nights to fall asleep, Teddy and Katie love its kids’ sleep stories, and during the worst of health care this summer, I did a 3- or 5-minute meditation before I dove into work. I may or may not have also used its “emergency calm” meditations a few times in there, too.

What have you loved, learned, and felt grateful for lately?

A Letter to Teddy at Five

Five. You’ve been counting down to this milestone birthday for months, and to be honest, so have I. All birthdays are worth celebrating, but this year has had more than its fair share of bumps and bruises (and doctors and nurses) for you, which makes marking this day with cake and candles and maybe even a surprise celebratory call from your Paw Patrol buddies (shh!) all the sweeter.

I haven’t written much this year, but I couldn’t let today go by without reflecting on what’s been such a full year, in ways both great and less so. There were the surgeries, and the stitches, and far too many trips to the doctor. (On the brighter side, you did score a LOT of Minions swag from the nurses, and you learned a mean game of tic-tac-toe while sitting in a lot of waiting rooms. And, reader: don’t worry. The surgeries were for a benign, but stubborn, cyst. All good now.)

Looking back, I’m amazed that you were able to keep your sweet demeanor through it all. You fought us and the doctors – with good reason! – but you came out smiling. You fell asleep while getting stitches in the back of your head. That’s more than I could have done.

I do hope that when you look back on this year, though, you remember more of the good and less of the bad. There were trips to Philadelphia for the Please Touch Museum and Sesame Place (where you were a bigger fan of the rides than the characters), Lancaster for Dutch Wonderland and the Strasburg train ride (your train obsession continues nearly unabated), and Massachusetts for lots of fun with your cousins and your grandparents.

Closer to home, there’s been backyard baseball and a backyard pool and bike riding and scooter riding and so many visits to the playground. The tooth fairy came for a couple of earlier-than-expected (and lucrative) visits. Legos have arrived, and you’ve used nearly every free inch of space in our house to build and create. Your mind and body are running, always, with new ideas and stories, new places to go and things to check out.

I’m so grateful to have been able to be by your side for all of it. Here’s to a very happy – and healthy – year ahead. FIVE!

Love,
Mom

P.S. Maybe you could have stuck with Momma for another year?

Here are my letters to Teddy after he was born, at one, at two, at three, and at four

A Belated, Grateful Goodbye to 2016

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This is my year-in-review post, albeit a week or so late. Hey, that’s just the way 2016 went.

So, it’s been a while. Happy New Year. How are you? How have your fall and early winter been? I’m not going to blow smoke: the election knocked the wind out of me, and my funk translated into a real season of writer’s block.

Oh, who am I kidding? 2016 felt often like a year of unending writer’s block. It sucked the creativity and the prose right out of me – but that pales in comparison to what it did to so many other people. It was a rotten egg of a year, in altogether too many ways.

You don’t need me to rehash the stinkbombs that last year laid. But, with this being a so-called year-in-review post, I suppose I should at least take a look at how my goals for 2016 ended up.

When last we checked in at mid-year, things were looking good. I was on track to meet most of my goals.

And then, the #suckysummerof16 hit. Followed by the fall funk. What’s that they say about all good intentions? Let’s review.

I wanted to read. I missed getting lost in books that weren’t about baby sleep and toddler temperament. I picked out 11 books that I’d had on my to-read list and said if I read even half of them, I’d consider it a win. Guess what? I read 19 books! I’m almost certain that that’s more than I’d read in the four previous years combined. Some fiction, some non-fiction, some that stunk up the joint, and some that left me clamoring for more. (The best of the bunch: Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld, and A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles, by Mary Elizabeth Williams.) But I read only two books in the entire last quarter of the year, when I spent more time falling into (and digging myself back out of) social media rabbit holes than turning pages.

I wanted to write. Well, I did…some. I had designs on writing for the blog once a week, submitting to more and different sites, setting aside time each week at lunch to write. Not so much. But I’m grateful to Lacuna Loft, Scary Mommy, and The Manifest-Station for running strikingly different pieces of mine. As I’d missed losing myself in others’ writing, I miss getting lost in an essay of mine own, now. It’s time to get back to the keyboard.

I wanted to work out. I found barre, and I loved it…for a while. Then it got kind of repetitive, and less fun, and I lost steam. And then our treadmill literally started smoking, and my butt found a cozy and warm place on the couch. You know how this story goes. I’m not beating myself up for not finding a consistent workout habit in 2016; there were many points through the year when I simply needed some mindless TV and a cup of tea and my pjs more than a water bottle and a running mix and my sneakers. Some years are just going to go that way. All that said – my mental health now demands that I change it up in this department in 2017. Stay tuned.

I wanted to dress up. Ah, Stitch Fix. Such a fun friend for a while, but it turned out to be one of those who’s good for a season but not for a lifetime. That’s okay. I loved trying on the clothes, and writing the recap posts, and learning more about what’s in style and what looks good on me. It was a great way to swap out the old, ill-fitting clothes in my closet for things that I’m excited to wear. I also tried out Rocksbox (jewelry rental!) and Rent the Runway (fancy dress rental that now isn’t stuffed in the back of my closet!).

I wanted to get out, and get away. I count this one in the success column. I went back to my annual girls weekend, we got out for date nights, and we finally got away for a kid-free night to a friend’s wedding. Gotta keep a good streak going this year.

I wanted to get back to gratitude. I have never regretted taking the time to keep a gratitude journal. As I’ve told many people, I believe firmly in the power of gratitude; the more I look for the good, the more I find it. And yet, I went quiet in my gratitude journal for long stretches of 2016, most notably from November 8 on. It was a time when I arguably needed to pay more attention to the small things I was grateful for every day – because even in a time when so much has felt uncertain and frustrating and scary and infuriating, good things have still been happening – and yet I couldn’t pick up the pen. I lost the string on my daily habit, and on my lists of the things I loved, learned, and felt grateful for each month.

I plan to get back to my Three Good Things posts later this month, but for the time being, a few thoughts that I haven’t captured here, yet:

  • Katie turned two in October (yes, I still owe her a birthday letter).
  • I hit my nine-year cancerversary in November. I had two regular visits with my endocrinologist in which he used the terms “stable” and “low risk.”
  • All things Royals, including Netflix’s The Crown, which served as a welcome distraction in the weeks around the election.
  • My kids fell in love this year with everything Christmas, including light displays — “More lights, momma! I see more lights!” — and my all-time fave, the Muppets Christmas album…to the point that we may or may not still be listening to it. “Five go-o-o-l-d rings, bah-dum-dum.”

I’m okay with a little leftover seasonal spirit in the form of Kermit and Miss Piggy carrying us into the start of 2017. I’ll have more to say soon about what I hope the year ahead holds for me, but I’m wishing right now — for those near and far — good health, love, and PEACE.

 

Reading, Watching, Listening [the All-Pumpkin, All-the-Time Edition]

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If my summer media diet was one of fluff – at least until the summer went to hell in a handbasket and I gorged on heavy, difficult news and commentary – I’m looking to mix it up a little more this fall. Call it the pumpkin spice fall to-do list of books, tv, and audio, if you will (and I will, because pumpkin spice haters be damned, the fall is my happy time, and as far as I can tell, pumpkin just makes it better).

On my list as I pretend it’s not 80 degrees out and wear a sweater anyway:

Reading

Over the summer, I had a grand plan that the fall would be my time for “self-improvement” books. Then I added about 30 books to my to-read list, and now I have no theme other than “finish them before my library loan runs out” or “just finish them, already.”

  • Better Than Before. Gretchen Rubin’s newest, about forming and keeping habits and (of course) how habits contribute to happiness. I already knew a lot of what’s in this book thanks to her weekly podcast (Happier), but it was a good read nonetheless. If you’ve read the book or listen to the podcast, you know about her Four Tendencies framework; for the record, I’m a classic Obliger.
  • A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles. Mary Elizabeth Williams’ memoir of her diagnosis, treatment, and recurrence of melanoma — along with a straight-forward discussion of how immunology is changing cancer treatment for some patients — is one of the best books I’ve read in years. I’ll have more to say about this book soon, but for now, put it on your list. While you’re at it, follow Mary Elizabeth on Twitter and read her stuff at Slate, too.
  • Miller’s Valley. No, really, I’m going to finish this. It’s Anna Q.! How can I not? Yet somehow, other books keep creeping in ahead of it…
  • On Writing. Stephen King’s book about his craft makes so many writers’ must-read lists and favorite quotations that I figure it’s about time I read it, too.
  • Big Magic. It’s been on my shelf for a year, just as my creative writing has gone through its own fits and starts. Maybe this book from Elizabeth Gilbert, all about encouraging your creative self, will give me a nudge?
  • News, news, and more news. I mean, let’s be honest here. The headlines are driving me mad and sapping my ability to focus, but I’m reading them anyway. My eyes (and brain) will be grateful for November 9.
  • Go Fug Yourself. The antidote to the news, namely the weekly Royals Round-Up. Heather and Jessica always seem to know just when to drop in a few pictures of horribly dressed stars at a premiere or a critique of yet another pair of Kate Middleton’s beige heels to distract me.

Watching

  • Pitch. Now in lieu of watching the Sox play into October (THANKS, Porcello and Price), I’ll be watching this new (fictional) show about the first female MLB pitcher. A great concept for girls who love baseball to see themselves on the field. I hope it sticks around (and not only because it also stars my long-time celebrity crush, Mark-Paul Gosselaar).
  • Football! Fall means football in our house – namely, fatty football parties with friends. They’re a little different than our pre-kid days, as I wrote here, but still a great way to round out the weekend, and they give me a chance to continue to wear my Vince Wilfork jersey. #75 for life, baby. Touchdown, Patriots!
  • Washington Week. We rarely watch Meet the Press anymore; it’s just never been the same since Tim Russert died, and 10:30 on Sunday mornings isn’t exactly prime TV-watching time in our house anymore. But Fridays at 8? I can make time for a half-hour of civilized political discussion with Gwen Ifill.
  • The Affair. We originally had Showtime for Homeland, and stayed for The Affair because McNulty. Now I’m past the point of even hate-watching Homeland, but I’ll gladly re-up our Showtime subscription for The Affair, a show where, to paraphrase showrunner Sarah Treem, “everyone’s an asshole.” It’s back on November 20, just in time to fill my election void. (Related/unrelated: as creepy as it may sound, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for this show because I watched the first episode in the hospital the day after Katie was born.)

Listening

Full disclosure: I had to declare bankruptcy on some of the podcasts I subscribe to; I just had so many unplayed episodes, stretching back into the spring in some cases. But my love for the medium is unabated. Bring me my earbuds!

  • Rick Steves’ Ireland. We’re starting to plan for a trip to Ireland next year! At least half the fun of travel (for me) is the planning and the anticipation, and these episodes about Irish sights and culture are getting me excited.
  • Tony Kornheiser. He’s no longer doing a radio show, just a podcast from “an undisclosed location in Chevy Chase,” but with all the familiar trappings of the old show, ridiculous rants and all.
  • Election podcasts (for the next three weeks, at least). If I’m reading about the election, and I’m watching about the election, you know I’m listening to podcasts about the election, too. In my feed: Keepin It 1600, an unabashedly partisan look at the presidential race from former Obama and Clinton comms staffers — now twice a week, because that’s really what my psyche needs — and Pantsuit Politics, a pod from two friends, one from the right and one from the left, in search of nuance. Anyone who can find nuance in this election has my ear.

What’s on your list these days? What’s missing from mine?