On Turning 30

It’s my birthday tomorrow!

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Oscar is my spirit animal. [Source]

My thirtieth birthday.

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Hah hah heh hoo h-what?? [Source]

I’ll freely admit that I’ve always been the type to enjoy my birthdays. As my parents were quick to remind me recently, I used to celebrate the entire week, sometimes the entire month. Therefore it has come as quite a surprise that under the expected level of excitement (which, I will also admit, has waned with each passing year), there’s a creeping sense of dread this time around. Okay, “dread” may be a bit hyperbolic, but it’s apprehension at the very least. I don’t feel anywhere near 30; it completely snuck up on me.

As these feelings have deepened over the last few months, I’ve been extraordinarily contemplative. At first, the idea of this “birthday anxiety,” for lack of a better term, seemed absurd enough that I dismissed it outright. But here I am, hours away from the big day and the trepidation has only increased.

Rationally, I know it’s just another year. Despite the seemingly advancing pace of my life, I also know that each year feels faster because its relative length is shorter as I add more years to my life. (This article sheds more light on the psychology of time.) Surely part of my melancholy can be attributed to how damn fast everything is going by these days. As a human being, especially in the age of constant activity, it’s hard to remember to stop and enjoy every moment. Life does pass quickly. And though I don’t think of it this way often, its rapid pace can serve as a reminder that each year brings you closer to the grave. Part of me wonders if my discomfort with this milestone is because of this, but if I’m being honest with myself, I know there’s more to it.

Unlike the past few birthdays, 30 feels different. Thirty is fully within adulthood. I feel comfortable calling myself a woman now instead of a kid or a girl. In fact, I hate when I’m referred to in those ways. I’m not a spring chicken anymore, able to excuse reckless behavior, mistakes, or just plain idiocy on being young, naive, and carefree. The truth is that I’m no longer any of those things.

I often still feel 22, but, let me tell you, paying a recent visit to my college campus with the two kids in tow was the quickest way I could have imagined to confirm that I do not, in fact, have much in common with 22-year-olds. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t grieve my college years. I genuinely miss that freedom, lack of real-life responsibility, to-die-for metabolism, and youthful appearance. I look back very fondly at that time, which, as a friend recently told me, must mean that I did it right. Part of my birthday reflection has made me realize that, especially in a society that unabashedly–and foolishly–values youth as much as it does, it’s hard not to feel, at least a little bit, like you’re growing more irrelevant and less attractive just by doing what nature intends you to do.

Then that college nostalgia subsides and I look in the mirror to see the creases forming around my eyes, mouth, and forehead that betray my extra years. The extra years of living a full life. I am more experienced now, in ways that I couldn’t have anticipated just eight years ago.

At 30, my modicum of hard-earned wisdom is starting to earn respect from society, albeit a fickle one that has, ironically, simultaneously started to devalue my appearance. No longer am I treated like a clueless child. If I am, I no longer tolerate it. Each year brings a new level of confidence in myself, in my voice, and in my ability to speak my mind. Run-of-the-mill highs and lows aside, I feel confident, proud, and accepting of who I am. Happily, this includes a newfound respect for my brain, my heart, and my body (human bodies are amazing things and I’m determined to be more reverent of mine). I may not be perfect, but I love who I am. And, at 30, I’m finally ready to move on from people who don’t, without looking back. My energy is for positive influences only, please and thank you.

On the flip side, I recognize that I’m not old yet either. Thirty is a nice little sweet spot of vivaciousness where I have the energy and wherewithal to live life fully but not stupidly. It’s sweet, that is, until I’m around a teenager who looks at me like I’m the Cryptkeeper.

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Incidentally, this is also how I felt as I walked around campus. When did college kids start looking like middle schoolers? [Source]

As refreshing as it is to finally feel so comfortable in my own skin, turning 30 has made me realize there’s a strange dichotomy to growing older. On the one hand, you know yourself on a deeper level. On the other, you realize you don’t know a single damn thing about anything.

Like most kids, I guess I expected I’d have a lot more figured out by 30. While I take comfort in the fact that I don’t think anyone ever has anything all figured out (if nothing else, my 29 years have taught me this much), I think it’s natural to feel a little uneasy when you realize life doesn’t exactly come with a road map.

The trajectory of my life is something I wouldn’t change for the entire world. Here I am, about to turn 30, with my health, two incredible kids, a phenomenally supportive husband, an adorable–if occasionally irritating–dog, two sets of devoted parents, two loving grandparents, and a whole host of family and friends who would drop everything for me. I’ve had great work experience, even if I’m temporarily pausing from it, I’ve traveled across the world, I’ve gone on crazy adventures, and I’ve generally lived with no regrets. Needless to say, I recognize that I’m fortunate, privileged, and I have a whole hell of a lot for which to be grateful.

I’m lucky, that is for sure.

In the last few months, though, I’ve been thinking hard about the expectations I had for my life when I was still a fresh-faced adult. I never would have thought I’d marry young or have two kids by 30. Yet here I am, married for seven years with a baby on my hip and a toddler scream-singing “Let It Go” in the next room. And I’m loving it. I’m not even sure what exactly I thought life would be, but I look back at that kid and just think of how endless my opportunities were. I could have studied and become anything I wanted. I could have lived anywhere, done anything, been whomever I wanted. My future was largely a blank slate. There’s something to be said for being 18 with the world at your fingertips. You may be a bit wet behind the ears, but you still have so much ahead of you.

It was while reflecting on this limitless potential that I finally figured out that part of my uneasiness with turning 30 was realizing that I’m now officially old enough that some doors are just plain closed. To a certain extent, the course of my life has now been solidly established. It’s a strange thing to explore, because I love the way life has turned out so far. But there’s still a small part of me that wonders, “What if?” What if I hadn’t met my husband in college? What if I had lived abroad post-graduation? What if I had chosen a different career? What if I were still working?

I’m inspired by people who make huge life changes later in life (like, later in life; I know 30 is not that), because I still wonder what I want to be when I grow up. Add to that uncertainty the whole back and forth between expectation and reality, what I thought I’d have accomplished by now versus what I actually have, and it’s no wonder that I think often about my life’s purpose and future legacy.

In having this constant inner dialogue in the back of my mind, I’ve come to realize that some of this dilemma is simply related to being in the trenches of early parenthood. When you’re taking care of another person’s every need, it’s easy to feel like you are a little lost. Even more complicated is mixing in the realization that, though you devote your entire life to your children, they are young enough that they wouldn’t even remember you if you were to die. It’s morbid, but it’s true. These thoughts are so heavy, it’s easy to sometimes feel like I’m drowning in an existential crisis, trying to complete a puzzle that is inherently incompletable and ever-changing.

The more I think about it, however, the more I realize that I’d probably be asking myself the same questions regardless of my life path. I’d still be wondering what would have been, it’s just that the content would be different. Talking to friends who are experiencing these same feelings, despite living completely different lives, has validated to me that this is normal. I guess by 30, you’re smart enough to perform some regular self-evaluation and introspection. You’re also smart enough to release a sigh of relief with the decisions you’ve made.

While I’m not sure what the future holds, one thing is for sure. It’s pretty awesome to be satisfied with the person you’ve become and the life you’ve built so far. If I had to choose to do it all over again, I probably wouldn’t change a thing (well, maybe fewer tequila shots and cookie binges). I may not be curing cancer or winning the Pulitzer (yet!), but I am proud of my sphere of influence as it stands. I like to think I make a small difference in the lives of those around me, and if that ultimately becomes my legacy, then I’ll be proud of it.

Unless I somehow get to travel across the multi-verse, I’ll never find out where life could have taken me. But I’m realizing now that turning 30 is not only about trusting your body, your heart, and your mind, but learning to trust that you are where you are meant to be as well.

2 Years & 20 Days: Welcome to the Circus

Earlier this week, I walked into my apartment and thought I had been robbed. The furniture was askew, the chairs were flipped over, shredded garbage peppered the floor, and I couldn’t help but notice a particularly ripe smell. I quickly threw the (sleepy, cranky) toddler into the crib and set the car seat-bound baby on the floor before rushing to investigate further. “Jesus, someone broke into our apartment and stole our dog,” I thought to myself. I couldn’t find him anywhere–and in a small apartment, he’s not exactly a needle in a haystack. My heartbeat pulsed rapidly as I searched. Finally, I heard a muted, high-pitched whine. I opened the bathroom door and whoosh went the dog, running frantically with newfound freedom. His head was completely encased in an empty oats container, partially gnawed through so he could breathe. The container took away his peripheral vision, meaning he clumsily ran around our apartment while I continued to take in my doomsday-like surroundings. The best surprise of all was the smattering of dog poop scattered around the (small, totally easy-to-avoid) rug. What a delightful surprise.

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Me, coming home today.

[Source]

Based on the evidence, I suspect the dog rifled through the recycling, stuck his head way too far down the oatmeal tube, and got stuck. Then he proceeded to freak the F out, running around the apartment, anxiously pooping on the carpet, fleeing to the bathroom, and accidentally closing the door on himself.

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Because pic or it didn’t happen.

This story is relevant because it’s pretty reflective of the overall chaos that is now my life. Many people have asked what it’s like to transition to two kids (who are two years and 20 days apart), so let me lay it out.

Welcome to the Circus…

…where bodily fluids know no bounds

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If this were me, the whole shirt would be soaked. [Source]

In the last eight hours alone, I’ve been on the receiving end of a trifecta of bodily fluids, none of which were mine. (The unexpected bonus of being peed, pooped, and thrown up on is that you can feel very justified in leaving the dishes for your husband to wash.)

This damp menagerie, combined with the copious amounts of sweat I shed due to postpartum hormones and a practically built-on human furnace, means this mom is now often mistaken for a swamp monster.

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What a typical Millennial to include a selfie. [Source]

…where “germy” has taken on a whole new meaning

On a related, but worth-mentioning-on-its-own, note is the amount of germs that have taken this household hostage (despite constant efforts to sanitize). In case you’ve never been around a two-year-old, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: kids are gross.

Life to a toddler is a germy treasure hunt. The most-touched button in a museum exhibit? Leave it to a toddler to decide that’s the perfect time to suck his fingers. Find a cigarette butt on the ground? Better not turn around or it’s going in the kid’s mouth. Walked through urine puddles in the subway on the way home? Perfect time to treat the bottom of his shoe like an ice cream cone! To a toddler, learning he can use his diaper’s contents like finger paint is like winning the lottery. (Luckily, this last one has yet to happen to us. Sorry, Julie.)

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“If it exists, I licks.” [Source]

Toddlers have ownership rights to this sweet spot of revulsion where the disgusting things they think to put in their mouths are almost on pace with the disgusting things they expel. Snot is such an everyday sight anymore, I don’t even notice it. In a toddler’s mind, leaving any of the body’s many orifices unexplored is a missed opportunity. To their credit, their two-year-old fingers are the perfect size for their nostrils.

The new Baby Bear had a cold when she was just two weeks old thanks to her big brother deciding to use her hand as a tissue. (The next day, he sneezed into my mouth. My MOUTH.) Sure it sucked to have a congested newborn, but I figured at this rate, she’ll be a beast by the time she goes to kindergarten.

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A mother can only hope her child will be this kick-ass. [Source]

Being a mom to a toddler is like exposure therapy for germaphobes. You can use all the vinegar water and soap you want to try to keep things clean, but you can’t avoid a toddler’s grubby hands forever. I try to take comfort in the germs; with each cold comes a more formidable immune system for the entire family.

…where I learn as I go

I like to think of myself as a fairly laid-back person, at least as evidenced by my laissez-faire approach to germs. If there’s anything I’ve learned so far, it’s that kids are constantly changing and that parents adapt quickly as a result. No one knows what they’re doing, not really. Therefore there’s no sense in worrying too much about every little thing; it’s much less stressful to just figure it out as you go.

This second time around is no different. Yes, certain things were harder at first, like simultaneously carrying a sleeping toddler and a car seat up the stairs to the apartment. But with each passing day, my confidence grows. That, or I fail, have no choice but to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation, and learn for the next time.

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“How are you going to do [insert activity here] with a newborn and a toddler?” [Source]

…where my days are measured by coffee, wine, and diapers

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Honestly one of my favorite things about going to bed at night is knowing coffee awaits me in the morning.

As much as I like to think I’m still “cool,” having two kids has finally forced to acknowledge that my version of “cool” has drastically changed over the last few years. Gone are the days where I’d be able to attend a play’s opening night at the drop of a hat or direct friends to the best bachelorette hot spot. I’m aware that clubs still exist, but I’d be hard pressed to tell you the last time I entered one. That said, knowing the most entertaining playgrounds or the best kid-friendly breweries is valuable, too, and in those terms, I’ve got you covered. (Did I mention how stereotypically important booze is to me as a mom of young kids?)

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Me, talking to early 20-somethings. [Source]

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m extremely grateful for the ways staying at home has changed my priorities and given me more room to live now that I’m not tied to a desk. (But I’ll be the first to admit there are many days where a desk, some deadlines, and, hell, even meetings sound more appealing than having a toddler weasel his way into my personal space all day.)

However, while I’ve been a mom for two years now, I’m still occasionally hit with the peculiar realization that my daily life is now marked by the number of times I’ve changed a diaper, my ability to find that one car my two-year-old suddenly cannot live without, or the constant question of how many cups of coffee a day are still within reason. When asked what’s new in my life, I immediately, without thought, respond with what’s new with my family. My sense of self is harder to pin down now that my entire life is devoted to being responsible for two other, mostly helpless, lives. Self-care and alone time are still very important to me, and I have a lot of support to allow for them, but my self feels less pronounced right now. Grappling with who I am and the uncertainty of who I will be when the kids are grown is difficult.

As uncomfortable as it is to sit with that uncertainty, I am slowly learning to embrace it. If the blurry pace of the last two years is any indication, it’ll all be over before I know it and I’ll look back longingly on these harried days. My accomplishments may be of the playdate-related variety right now, but, dammit, they’re still mine.

…where my brain has turned to mush

Another reason my sense of self has faded is simply because I regularly feel like I’m losing my mind. It may not seem hard, but staying at home with a toddler is extremely mentally, physically, and emotionally taxing (hence the aforementioned wine and coffee). Chasing after a human being who repeatedly ignores me, throws himself down on questionable surfaces (read: parking lots, sidewalks, mud), and thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to sit in his own excrement is nothing short of exhausting. That’s not even taking into account the newborn who literally feeds off me for hours on end. Plus, kids are inadvertently skilled at the fine art of gaslighting.

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Me, after being forced to listen to “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” for 62 minutes straight. (This is not an exaggeration.) [Source]

I like to think it’s the lack of sleep and influx of hormones, but nowadays I’m lucky if I can properly string together enough words to form a decent sentence. In the grocery store yesterday, I found myself garbling verb conjugations to the point where I sounded more like English was my fourth language than my first. I used to fancy myself a valuable trivia partner, but lately I have a hard enough time remembering simple, everyday nouns, like “goggles,” much less when they were first used in the Olympics (answer: 1976). Try as I may to keep up with current events, pop culture, and literature, you’re not going to get much out of me lately unless you’re asking about the verses of “Wheels on the Bus.”

To make matters worse, I’ve taken these diminished language and general knowledge skills to the streets and have become accustomed to narrating my thoughts and actions throughout the day. This is perfectly benign when my toddler is in tow, but it becomes markedly more disturbing when I’m alone and using a sing-song voice to tell no one in particular that I have to go to the bathroom.

It’s hard to feel like you can add much value to a conversation when you’re constantly preoccupied with someone else’s well-being. Luckily I still do a few things that help keep me sharp, like reading and playing board games. Can I tell you about the author’s use of symbolism or the best strategies to win? No, but ask me to tell you the color of the book’s cover or if the board game box had letters on it? Now, that I know.

…where sleep is the world’s most precious commodity

You think you’ll never forget how sleep-deprived you were when your first child was born. Much like the intensity of childbirth, you can hazily recall that it was hard to get through, but you really don’t remember the details. It must be the body’s way of helping us decide to continue populating the earth. Then your second comes and pushes that sleep deprivation right back down your throat. Except this time, you’ll wonder why the hell you ever thought your newborn was hard.

Yeah, newborns wake up at night, but you know the hard part about two? You don’t get to “sleep when the baby is sleeping.” Instead, you are forced to get your weary ass out of bed at the crack of dawn (otherwise known as a toddler’s favorite time to warm up his vocal chords with a most spirited rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”).

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“Is he…is he SINGING at 6:00 A.M.?!?!” [Source]

Then you must entertain said toddler as they Tasmanian Devil their way through the day.

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Oh look, someone took a video of my toddler in the park! [Source]

I recently Googled “sleep deprivation Geneva Convention” to confirm that it is indeed recognized by the UN as a form of torture. It is often said that children are little sociopaths, and now I have proof.

My response when people ask how I look “refreshed”?

…where nap time is not to be taken for granted

I never realized how vital to my very existence nap time had become until it slowly started to fade away. My toddler has gone about 50% of the last three weeks without a nap at all. Before that, he reliably slept for three hours each day. (Yes, I was spoiled.) Now, every day is a crap-shoot as to whether or not he’ll go down easily, have a theatrical conversation with himself, scream at the top of his lungs, cry his eyes out, or some strange combination of the bunch. No matter how hard I try to follow our same old routine, this enigmatic dance often results in me quite literally ripping out my hair (figuratively were it not for my trichotillomania, but that’s for another day).

To give you a clue how it normally goes down, here’s footage of our typical nap time conversation.

Me:

My toddler:

Me:

Sometimes, if I’m very, very lucky, I can channel my inner wizard to get both kids to nap at the same time. Those moments?

…where I find my zen by whatever means necessary

Other times, the magical nap moments don’t happen and I’m left with the ongoing urge to scream and/or cry.

As is quickly becoming the theme of the post, toddlers are hard. They know how to push your buttons; it’s what they do. As such, it’s only natural that you occasionally feel rage. Sometimes it results in yelling. Other times, it results in the desire to shake them so they just. stop. whining. (It’s not talked about much, but everyone I know how has experienced this feeling before. It is normal and doesn’t make you a bad mom so long as you don’t act on it.)

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“STOP THROWING YOUR FOOD ON THE FLOOR!!” [Source]

Any time I feel this ragey Mom Hulk come out, I immediately feel a guilty pit form in my stomach. Over time, I’ve learned the best thing to do when I feel it coming on is to make sure everyone’s safe before walking away for a minute. Honestly, we both benefit from the space.

Though I’m not really one for meditation, becoming a mother of two has greatly increased my appreciation for silence. You know you’re in a silence deficit when you drive by a cemetery and think, “Wow, I bet it’d be so peaceful to sit in there by myself.” Lately, the most alone time I get is in the bathroom. I have therefore started to sneak away when Papa Bear gets home just to go sit on the toilet by myself with no one touching or talking to me. Soon maybe I’ll figure out how to bring in a cocktail without raising suspicion.

Until recently, I never thought a bathroom could feel like this:

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*Cheerfully* “All by myseelf…” [Source]

…where TV is the greatest invention known to mankind

I’m the first to admit that we probably watch an unhealthy amount of TV in our house. Before kids, I thought we’d be the type of parents to limit TV to only a few 30-minute shows a week, if at all. Now, I’m pleased if we only watch a few 30-minute shows a day. If you stay home and still don’t watch any TV, then major props to you. I’m not sure how you do it.

At least for me, with a newborn who wakes up all night and a toddler who starts each day at 6:30, I’m just doing what I have to do to survive. Sometimes I muster the energy to read, play with toys, or get a jump-start on breakfast. Other times I turn on the boob tube, sit on the couch, and let my coffee do its magic.

I only casually watch the shows I play for him (typically in desperation to see how much time is left), but I’ve seen enough to become highly critical of some of today’s children’s programming. For instance, why does Daniel Tiger’s mom wear pants when Daniel and his dad don’t? Does Mickey’s Toodles have all that random crap because he’s a closet hoarder? And don’t even get me started on what an asshole Thomas’s friend James is. Luckily for me, my toddler’s attention span is finally long enough to sit and watch an entire feature-length film. Unluckily for me, he wants to watch the same ones repeatedly.

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If I have to watch Cars 2 one more time, I’m gonna be ka-chout of my mind. [Source]

…where the car can become a torture chamber

It’s hard to explain, but if you’re a mom you’ll know what I mean when I say a kid’s cries go straight to his mom’s heart. Kids’ screams send some kind of biological signal that makes a mom’s stress level rise and stomach turn. It’s hard enough with one, but now that I have two children who occasionally sync their wails while I’m driving? Well, let’s just say this is me when we finally get to where we’re going.

…where small accomplishments count

Take a shower? Wash a dish? Work out? Keep your kids alive all day? Get out of the house? Or, *gasp* put on real pants?  I’m not gonna lie; if I do any of these on a given day, I try to allow myself to feel like the badass I am.

…where I sometimes just have to accept pandemonium

Patting myself on the back for the little successes is helpful to some degree, but sometimes there’s just so much chaos that there’s no choice but to give in to it. I often think, “This is my life now.” So my toddler watched five hours of TV and ate ketchup and cantaloupe for lunch. So I’m covered in vomit and my kid is drinking water out of the dog bowl. Who cares? It’s times like these where I try to acknowledge that I’m doing the best I can, that we usually have better days, and that there’s nothing more to do than laugh at the outrageousness of the moment. Honestly, these times usually make for the best stories anyway (see oatmeal story above).

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“Do I care if that gets marked on with pen?” is a question I ask myself more than I’d like to admit. The answer has increasingly been “no.” [Source]

…where my family and friends mean the world to me

I would be an absolute basket case, or arguably more of one than I am now, were it not for my friends and family. We’ve had such an outpouring of support in these last few months and I couldn’t be more grateful. To everyone who has reached out, helped us, or shown us love, thank you.

…where the sweet moments make it all worthwhile

The literal blood, sweat, and tears are hard. The increased mom guilt is harder. The sleepless nights, aches and pains, roaring hormonal shifts, occasional questioning of my sanity–all of it is nothing compared to those moments that make my heart melt. There is nothing quite like seeing Big Brother Bear cuddle up next to his baby sister, turn to me, and say, “Mommy, Baby Sister is so cute!” Better still is hearing, “I love you, Mommy.” It’s moments like these that erase all of the crazy ones.

My toddler may be a little nutcase at times, but he is genuinely invested in his sister’s well-being; he loves to rock her, give her kisses, hold her, and tell me when she’s crying. Lately, he’s big on giving everyone hugs and kisses. He is generally laid-back and listens well relative to many toddlers. He’s such a sweet, empathetic, adventurous, carefree, and funny kid, and I feel humbled to know that I’ve at least partly helped shape who he is. Sure, my patience may be tested on a regular basis, but knowing that it’s to help him learn and grow and blossom is more rewarding than anything I’ve ever experienced before. If I can replicate this to even a small degree with my daughter, I will have hit the jackpot.

Having the two of them has taught me that I’m happy to be a means to an end if it means the end is as wonderful as it’s been along the way.

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Me, when I realize I must not be doing so poorly (and I’ve had coffee). [Source]

It might be Crazy Town, but at least I’m the mayor.

In many ways, I still feel like I’m 20 years old. Therefore the realization that I am two months shy of 30 with two children often hits me like a ton of bricks. Then I take a look around at our beautifully chaotic existence and realize it’s just the beginning of the rest of our lives. And so far it’s shaping up to be amazing.

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We’re doing it! [Source]

[Featured image source]

Pardon the Interruption

Why hello there! This will be a very short post, but in an effort to dust off the ol’ keyboard after months of silence, I wanted to announce my return to blogging.

A lot has been happening in the Bear/Wear household. We went on a trip to the Netherlands (blog forthcoming, I hope), traveled around the States a bit, celebrated Baby Bear’s second birthday (I can’t believe it either), and have generally been busier than ever. Oh, and the other small update I’d be remiss to forget: Baby Bear got a big promotion.

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There’s a new Bear in town.

That’s right, Baby Bear’s official new title is Big Brother Bear. We welcomed our darling daughter in late July, and are finally settling in to our new “normal.”

Ideas for the blog have been swirling around my head for months, but until now I seriously lacked the energy to do anything about it. God willing, I hope to get back into the swing of things with several new posts in the coming weeks.

Some things you have to look forward to? Why you should visit the Netherlands during tulip season, what it’s like to be pregnant with a toddler, book recommendations from Big Brother Bear and me, an honest look at the transition to two, a whole bunch of board games for you to try, my birth stories, TV you should be watching, some new Chicago highlights, and much more.

In the meantime, I’m looking for ideas on how to shorten Big Brother Bear. BB Bear? No, too similar to Baby Bear. Bro Bear? Nah, sounds like a fratty deodorant. Biggy Bear? It kind of reminds me of a D-list rapper, but I’m totally down with this one. I welcome your suggestions, too.

I’m back at it, y’all, and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve missed you!

Until soon,

Mama Bear 2.0

 

 

 

[Featured image source]

7 Easy Ways to Help Save Our Planet

Happy Earth Week!* Let’s all take a second to reflect on and give thanks to this wondrous planet we call home.

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This picture was taken along the Village Walking Trail at Kapalua on Maui in November 2016. The trail you see here was the cart path along the old Village Golf Course, closed in 2007. When they built the new course, they decided to let nature reclaim this one, meaning that the vegetation you see here, already so full, lush, and overall jungly, was actually a fairway not that long ago. If you have the chance, I’d highly recommend stopping by; there are many different levels of difficulty available. The one we did was equally hilly and rewarding. Side note: read The World Without Us.

 

As I age and continue to read the horrifying stats about the shape of the planet, I find myself becoming increasingly concerned with my personal carbon footprint. Consequently, I’ve taken great strides to become a more conscious citizen of Earth in the last few years. I have also come to feel strongly that this needs to be a regular topic of conversation between friends and neighbors; sharing, educating, and spreading knowledge of how we can better care for our planet is the only way we will continue to make permanent positive changes.

Now, I recognize that this level of focus on the Earth’s health and well-being comes with a certain level of privilege. When you’re worried about meeting basic human needs, stopping to read a recycling label is certainly not going to be a priority. But for many of us, immediate personal convenience often trumps potential long-term ecological impact. Helping to save the Earth doesn’t necessarily mean you have to plant trees or contact your local legislator (although those things are important too!). Sometimes it’s rather simple. I’d encourage you to think really hard about the little things you do every day that may have bigger implications than you realize.

Don’t be like Titus.

[Source]

While I’m no behavior change psychologist, I’ve personally been most successful in making permanent changes when I start small. My goal in sharing the below list is that you may find something new to incorporate into your routine. Remember, every baby step you take is still a step forward.

*This isn’t really a thing, but since I dropped the ball by not getting this out on Sunday, I hereby proclaim the week following Earth Day to be Earth Week! Even better, let’s just go ahead and treat every week like Earth Week.

7 Simple, Eco-Friendly House Rules

1. Get yourself a reusable water bottle.

For real, this is 2017. There is no reason why you should still be using plastic water bottles. For one, they are expensive. Happily, in many cases, reducing your carbon footprint also means reducing your cash outflow. Secondly, multiple studies have proven that there is no real difference in quality between tap water and bottled water (most Americans have access to clean drinking water). In many cases, bottled water is actually just purified tap water. If you’re afraid to use the tap, just get a water filter for your fridge. Lastly, and very importantly, bottled water bottles produce a helluva lot of waste. According to Ban the Bottle, Americans recycle only 23% of plastic water bottles used, meaning 38.5 billion bottles flood our dumps each year.

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I really like my Klean Kanteen because it’s a good product and because of the company’s mission to help people kick single-use habits.

2. Turn off your lights when they’re not in use.

This isn’t just a cool little Mormon trick!

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Just like the tip above, this one is not only good for the environment, but it saves money, too. My grandfather used to admonish me when I’d leave a trail of lights behind me, “Are you the one paying the electricity bill?” Now that I am, it sure feels good to keep the bill as low as possible. Especially since doing so means I’m helping to reduce wasted energy as well. While the amount of energy saved really depends on the type of bulb in question, suffice it to say it’s best practice to turn off any light that’s not needed.

That said, consider getting rid of your incandescent bulbs altogether. Of the energy they use, 90% is given off as heat and only 10% produces light. That is pretty horrible in terms of energy waste and it can also result in potential fire hazards, especially if the lights are left on for prolonged periods. You’re better off with compact fluorescent bulbs which, while more expensive upfront, will last longer, more efficiently consume energy, and save you more money in the long run. Learn more here or here.

3. Similarly, turn off and unplug appliances and electronics.

Simply put, if you’re not actively using an appliance, you don’t need to have it turned on (obviously the refrigerator and freezer are different). Mom, Dad, this is when I tell you again that Nestle does not need to watch TV while you’re gone. She just doesn’t.

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Also important to note, however, is that many appliances consume energy even when they are not turned on. While this “standby power” is sometimes helpful because it allows certain appliances to show a clock display, use a timer, etc., in many cases it’s wasted energy, consumed for no other reason than because that appliance is plugged in. According to the Three Actions Project and Energy Star, “the average household spends $100 per year to power devices while they are off (or in standby mode). On a national basis, standby power accounts for […] more than $10 billion in annual energy costs.”

There are a couple of easy ways to improve this. One, try to only plug in certain, more single-use items when you actually use them, like your toaster, coffee maker, phone or toothbrush charger. Two, group some appliances together with a power strip so they can all be unplugged at once, like your TV, cable box, and game console. Realistically you don’t need these things plugged in for more than a few hours at a time, and that way you don’t have to go through the hassle of re-plugging them individually.

4. Remember to stash your reusable shopping bags everywhere.

Even though I do reuse the ones I have as garbage bags for my bathrooms, plastic bags make me so anxious. They’re terrible for the environment, take thousands of years to break down, and are difficult and costly to recycle. (I like this list of reasons why they should be banned.) Thankfully, many cities are wising up and straight-up banning these flimsy atrocities altogether.

Also thankfully, there is a very easy alternative to the plastic bag and that is the increasingly present reusable shopping bag. They can be found at almost any retailer nowadays, and some stores are actually sending you away with their own branded version in lieu of any other type of bag. It’s not hard to accumulate quite the stash (in fact, I recently had to unload a bunch for the sake of storage space). What’s more difficult is actually remembering to bring them with you when you go shopping, especially for those unavoidable impromptu stops.

To combat this problem, I like to keep a few in the car and at least one in the stroller (since we walk so many places). I recommend you do the same!

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I used to have this exact bag!

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5. Recycle, recycle, recycle (but do so responsibly).

First, become acquainted with what you can recycle, especially as it can vary by city (here’s Chicago’s guide or find your city’s here). Recycling can be surprisingly complicated, and unfortunately many of us (I’m definitely guilty of some of the no-nos) are aspirational yet misinformed recyclers, leading to increased contamination and, sadly, more trash. Some general tips?

  • Don’t bag your recycling. Doing so often results in the entire bin going to the landfill instead. This also includes leaving the recyclables in brown paper bags. Shake them out first, then throw the bag in.
  • Don’t recycle some of these common contamination culprits:
    • Styrofoam
    • Electronics
    • Coffee cups
    • Toys
    • Plastic bags (some grocery stores recycle them, but home recyclers do not)
    • Pizza boxes (unless you’ve removed the greasy parts)
    • Anything stringy (like hoses or lights)
  • Do rinse out your food containers before recycling. Again, anything greasy or filled with food could cause the whole bin to be thrown in the trash. Anytime you feel annoyed by the 30 seconds it will take to clean a container, think of how sad it would be to clog up the landfills instead. Yes, I even mean the damn peanut butter container. Think of the planet!

Well, maybe not that last one.

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6. If it’s yellow…

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This one is going to be more controversial, but I think that’s more because of baseless societal norms than logic itself. In fact, it’s a policy that can result in major water conservation.

According to Conserve H20, the average modern toilet uses 1.6 gallons of water per flush (older toilets can use up to four times more while high-efficiency toilets use 1.28 or less). Let’s say you have an up-to-par, modern toilet and pee at home six times a day (conservative by my standards). That means you’re flushing 9.6 gallons a day. If you only flush once every three pees, or twice in that same time period, that means you’re saving roughly 4.8 gallons a day, 33.6 gallons a week, 144 gallons a month, 1,752 gallons a year! Because there is “not an infinite supply of water,” it’s important to acknowledge what a huge impact we’d have on one of our most precious resources if more people started to save this much water each day with such a simple change.

And if you’re worried about cleanliness, don’t be. Assuming you have no sort of infection, are properly hydrated, and regularly clean your toilet, holding back on flushes for a couple of hours will have no impact on the cleanliness of your home. In fact, it might even increase it because the amount of toilet particles flying into the air upon flushing will be reduced. (Real talk. Can we make it a RULE that people have to close their toilet lids before flushing? If you think I’m gross for not flushing my pee each time, just know that I’m judging you for your poo splatter.)

7. Switch to all-natural cleaning supplies.

Despite what you think of me now after having read that above suggestion, I am a clean freak.

Please. Disorderly is different than dirty, okay?

 

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I love to clean. Strangely enough, cleaning bathrooms is one of my preferred chores. But since I’ve become more focused on greener living, I’ve had a hard time justifying the use of potentially dangerous chemicals to so. Instead, I’ve started to use one of the oldest tricks in the book: plain old water and vinegar. Now my go-to, all-purpose cleaner, I use it almost everywhere in our apartment (sigh, I still prefer Windex for glass). I use it on our floors (for the hardwood, I add a little olive oil), in our bathrooms, on our counters, on the door handles, to dust, even to help rinse off our fruits and veggies. Everywhere.

Aside from its ridiculously low cost (so incredibly cheap; out-of-the-ballpark cheaper than any solution found in stores), I rest much easier knowing that I’m not “cleaning” my apartment with chemicals that come with warning labels, or releasing said chemicals into our air or water supply. I’m not afraid my toddler, who has been known to lick random surfaces on occasion, is going to come across the bottle, and I’m not afraid to breathe the air when I clean. Win-win-win-win-win.

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Here’s my set-up. It’s about 1/3 white vinegar and 2/3 water with a few drops of lemon oil (or lemon juice if I have a fresh lemon). I bought the nozzle from a gardening spritz bottle at the dollar store and just screwed it straight onto the vinegar bottle. I keep another vinegar bottle for refills.

 

A Few Other Simple Tricks

These don’t need much explanation, but are always worth mentioning.

  • Turn off the water as you brush your teeth.
  • Take shorter showers.
  • Walk more and/or take public transportation if it’s available.
  • Buy locally sourced produce and meat. Better yet, try eating less meat overall.
  • Wash your clothes with cold water.
  • Pay your bills online and unsubscribe from paper notices.
  • Use your blinds accordingly to help regulate your home’s temperature (open during the winter and closed during the summer).
  • Buy second-hand toys or toys made from recycled plastic (I love Green Toys).

Educate Yourself

All of these tips help make a difference in terms of eco-friendliness, but overall I want to stress the importance of mindfulness as it relates to energy consumption (something I continue to work toward every day). In general, I think we do a poor job of thinking where energy comes from when we’re going about our daily lives. Yet much of what we do requires some level of power and has some level of impact on the Earth.

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Remember, right now, most of our energy comes from burning fossil fuels (petroleum, coal, gas). Fossil fuels are high in carbon, so burning them produces a lot of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is a leading cause of global warming. Plus, while they are naturally formed, we consider them to be non-renewable resources because the process by which they are formed takes millions of years and, no surprise, we are going through them much faster than that.

The bad news is that we simply don’t have time to waste on the climate change denial crisis going on. But…

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The good news is that there is a concerted effort taking place by many of the world’s top scientists to increase the efficiency, cost effectiveness, and prevalence of renewable resources, and it led to record high wind and solar production in 2015.

Long story short, there are things we can all be doing better to help improve the quality of our planet. The only way it will get better is if we all start to think outside of ourselves a little more and do the best we can, now.

What’s Next?

First, I will take a deep breath. If I already felt a little panicky about the state of our environment, doing research for this article sure as hell did not help the matter.

Not me.

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Okay.

Now, I must remind myself that becoming greener is an ongoing process. Even the above tips, which I already practice regularly, can be improved and refined. For example, I’m terrible about unplugging my phone charger each time I’m done with it. I also just now learned some of the important rules of proper recycling.

There are also countless ways I can continue to build on and enhance my personal eco initiative. I shamefully admit my dependence on paper towels and napkins. In the coming months, I’d really like to work on this, especially because we already have some of these adorable “unpaper towels.”

For more ideas of how you can reduce your carbon footprint, check out some of these lists.

Do you feel jazzed about the environment now? Because I do! Let’s do this people!

Raymond Holt is hands down one of the best characters on television. If you don’t watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine, you aren’t doing it right. I also firmly believe he’d do everything in his power to reduce his carbon footprint.

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What are your favorite eco-friendly tips?

 

The Wisdom of The Vampire Diaries

It is official, blog followers. By now, you’re aware that I’ve been steadily binge-watching my way through The Vampire Diaries. In a feat of human strength and perseverance, I can now say I am a graduate of TVD!

I use the term “graduate” very deliberately, of course, because to graduate from something suggests that an actual life accomplishment has been achieved. If I think of the time it took to watch all 171 episodes in the span of 53 days–approximately 120 hours, 7,182 minutes, or five consecutive days–in any other way, I’d be forced to ask myself some pretty tough life questions. Instead, I choose to continue with the idea that the experience has been educational.

As such, my first post in almost two months (I’m sorry!) will be to impart the wisdom I have gained from one of our country’s finest cinematic triumphs. At the very least, I’ll share some of the things it made me learn about myself.

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Kermit gets me.

[Source: Instagram]

What I Learned from The Vampire Diaries

1. I know more about vampire lore than I ever thought possible.

See, this isn’t my first foray into vampire studies. I’ve done my fair share of reading about and watching vampires in all their silver screen glory. Of course, each piece of vampire literature has its own take, making for a pretty well-rounded vampire education.

For example, some vampires are to be feared (Dracula, Interview with a Vampire, or I Am Legend) while others are of the sexier and less frightening variety (The Vampire Diaries or, shudder, Twilight).

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Okay, so maybe “fearsome” isn’t the right word, but this is certainly not Tom Cruise’s best look. Sometimes being a vampire means turning into a scarier version of yourself. #harshtruths

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Some vampires live in a world where their existence is common knowledge (True Blood) while most others dwell in secrecy and shadows. Can they survive–even if begrudgingly so–on animal blood? Do they require sleep? Can they go into the sun or are they confined to dark places? Are they able to eat human food or, more unconventionally, procreate? The list of potential vampire qualities is nuanced and practically endless. In talking to people about my obsession with TVD, I’ve come to realize that I can explain, in greater detail than I’d care to admit, which universe has which kind of vampire and how their differences affect their quality of life and level of human interaction.

2. If I were 164 years old, I sure as hell wouldn’t spend my time courting a 17-year-old high school student in Virginia (or anywhere else for that matter).

I know, I know. Stefan already traveled the world, lived his best life, and came home again after a long time away when he happened upon a beautiful teenager who reminded him of a long-lost love. Of course he had to stick around to learn more about her. But really, willingly going to high school again? Are you kidding me?! I can think of at least 1,757 things I’d rather do first, even if it meant waiting for the “love of my life” to graduate. College, at least, would be a much more fulfilling way to pass eternity.

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Yeah, really, Stefan, WTF are you doing?

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This also begs the question: wouldn’t someone so old be more intellectually attracted to older women, women who have much more wisdom and life experience than a teenager? I get that he has been 17 for 147 years (at least in the above picture; by the end it would have been 153), but are those 17-year-old hormones still so powerful that he is more sexually enticed by a fellow 17-year-old than someone more mature? Perhaps, but if I were such an old vampire, I like to think I’d be drawn to someone a little more in the middle. But then there’s the whole human-ages-while-vampire-doesn’t conundrum. Hm. I guess I’ll never know.

3. High school is still not accurately portrayed on TV.

For one, what high school has such frequent and elaborate dances? Insane social calendar implications aside, can you imagine any high school kid having the budget for all of these costumes and gowns? Below is just a sampling of all their formal events. There would be too many to even show here. Oh, and don’t tell me they’re just rentals. These events usually end in bloodshed. No one in their right mind would return the security deposit on a blood-soaked dress.

[Sources: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here]

Or how about the fact that these high school kids can have sleepovers with their significant others and no one seems to care? I do realize that Elena’s parents are deceased and her guardian is a young and someone lax aunt. Still, I don’t know a single person who was allowed to conduct their life this way when they were in high school.

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Just a regular morning for a high school student on TV.

[Source: Instagram @tvd_obsession]
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A sleepover on a school night, no less. Even if I were allowed to sleep over with a boyfriend, the idea of being late for school as a result wouldn’t have been worth the anxiety. I guess I’ve always had my priorities straight.

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And if you thought a regular old sleepover was absurd, imagine spending a romantic weekend together at your family’s cabin! What?!

Most importantly, these kids are barely in school with all their vampire-related goings on: conducting spells, burying classmates, learning how to use a crossbow, taking lengthy trips across country with their boyfriend’s brother (okay just one girl; see sleepover comments above), traveling to a remote island to dig through a crypt, learning you’re a doppelganger (don’t even ask), being turned into a vampire, losing your humanity. That’s just scratching the surface. It’s a wonder any educational system would grant diplomas to such absentee students. I mean, did they ever even learn the struggle of deciding where to sit at lunch or having a too-heavy backpack weigh you down between classes? Do they even know what a textbook is?!

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They attend college in the following season, but the real question is when did they even have time to apply?

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4. My life is way more mundane than life in a TV serial.

I’m not a supernatural creature. To my knowledge, my city isn’t overrun with supernatural creatures (though depending on what time I’m on the Red Line, I’d say that’s debatable). I–knock on wood–haven’t been around many dead bodies, I haven’t had much interaction with law enforcement, and I haven’t had nearly the amount of relationship drama that these folks have. It’s a sign of privilege, I guess, to go along living my peaceful little life and getting my fill of drama through a TV screen. But when I think of the alternative, I’m pretty grateful for it.

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And here I am, sitting around and typing on a computer. The biggest explosion I’ve seen lately was when I turned on the stove.

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5. I can never say I don’t have enough time for something ever again.

You heard me before. I watched the equivalent of five straight days of TV in the span of 53. And that’s just counting the time I spent on TVD. Papa Bear and I are definitely what I’d call “TV people,” so it’s unfortunately not as if tube time was limited to vampires. If nothing else, this calculation made me realize that if something is important enough to me, I’ll make time for it. In this case, “important” meant lounging around and burning brain cells, but I’ve come to terms with it and have learned to accept who I am. Don’t worry, I mostly watched the show while Baby Bear was sleeping, so chances are good he never felt neglected.

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If Netflix had eyes, this is how it would look at me. “Are you still watching?” You know goddamn well I’m still watching, Netflix.

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6. I can fangirl like the best of them.

I’ve become so entrenched in the TVD universe that I now dream about it and have found myself thinking about it at the strangest times (like at the opera, for example). I follow many of the actors on Instagram in addition to countless fan accounts (I’m honestly too afraid to count). I’ve spent way more time than a respectable 29-year-old should going down Instagram wormholes (#stelena and #delena are my personal favorite TVD hashtags). I’ve rewatched some of my favorite scenes more than twice. I cried during the series finale even though I was left disappointed by it. I even strongly considered going to the recent TVD convention in Chicago. I am, for lack of a better term, a total fangirl.

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“Hello, brother.” *tear*

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7. There is real value in a guiltless guilty pleasure.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from this whole shebang is that having a “guilty pleasure” can actually be really good for you. There is a lot of crazy stuff happening in the world today–“crazy stuff” being a rather lighthearted euphemism. I think we’d all benefit from stepping away from it from time to time and allowing ourselves to be wholeheartedly entertained by something like The Vampire Diaries. My binge experience made me realize that there is no shame in mindlessly escaping to a fantasy world of juicy and wildly dramatic tales of lust, love, and betrayal. Quite the opposite, actually; watching the show left me feeling more relaxed, sane, and centered than before.

It also doesn’t hurt when the characters look like this.

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Yes, yes you do.

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So…Now What?

You know, there isVampire Diaries spinoff…

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Must. Not. Watch. Must. Regain. Control. Of. Life.

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The Case for Romance Novels

Happy day after Valentine’s Day! I’m taking a much-needed break from my recent Vampire Diaries binge to bring you a special edition book post, and what better day to discuss the merits of romance novels, the literature of love, than today, the day after the corporate-sponsored holiday of love?

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No, I don’t read this language. Thank you, stock photography.

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P.S. For those who are interested, I’m on season 5, episode 19 of TVD. This means that, in three and a half weeks, I’ve watched (gulp) roughly 71 hours of the show. Lord help me. #stelenaforever

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At this point, I’m so entrenched in the show I feel like these are my real friends.

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Okay! Back to a different kind of unreality.

In 2016, I read 115 books. Unlike in years past, where I’d typically read one romance out of every 10 books, last year I reversed that ratio. Yes, you calculated that correctly. I read 103 romance novels last year, and I like to think that I did it for science.

I’ve always loved romance novels. In fact, when I was young, I’d sneak over to my grandma’s hidden bookshelf, selecting the book with the most windblown, chest-bared, ruggedly handsome man I could find, and furtively rifle through its pages to read the juicy parts. (Interestingly enough, those more traditional types of romances typically include phrases like “juicy parts,” not to mention “heaving bosom” and “swollen loins.” They’re not all like this, I promise).

Nowadays, I find myself turning to romance novels when I need a pick-me-up. Last year was heavy, politically and socially, and I found myself more and more attracted to them (no pun intended) for this reason. I decided that by reading over 100 romances in one year, I’d be conducting a bit of research to help you, dear readers, discover what it is that is so delicious about reading a sultry romance novel, and why you shouldn’t discount the genre based on your assumptions or what you may have read in the past.

Listen up. If you haven’t already delved into the world of romance, you’re missing out.

Attention family members, this might be where you want to tap out. Our relationships will probably be better off if you don’t know too much about my love of romance novels.

5 Reasons to Read a Romance Novel

Today’s world of romance novels is very different from how it used to be. The proliferation of e-readers and self-publication has allowed the genre to explode (not to mention the success of erotic–albeit poorly written–fiction like Fifty Shades of Gray; trust me, my recommendations are much better). If you dig the old-school Fabio-esque covers, by all means continue to read them. But if you’re looking for something a little more updated in terms of relatability (read: less “petal-soft folds” (shudder) and more literally anything else), there are so many good reads available to you.

Why should you take the time?

1. They provide a wonderful escape from reality

Seriously, romance novels whisk you away to a fantasy land where awkward situations actually make you smile, fictional hotties make your heart flutter, and any bad or cringe-worthy thing that happens to the characters doesn’t actually affect you in real life. Really any fiction could do this, but romance novels are a much sexier and more pleasurable (again, no pun intended) escape than, say, a drama set in a post-apocalyptic bomb shelter. Which leads me to my next point…

2. They make you happy

Reading romance novels allows you to experience the feeling of falling in love over and over again. You know, that feeling that makes you warm and fuzzy all the way to your toes, that warms your heart and makes you swoon, and that makes you smile like an idiot, in this case down at the pages? Who wouldn’t like to experience that?! Bitter over a breakup? Read a comedic romance and believe in love again. Happy in your relationship? Read a steamy romance and skip to #4. No matter your life story, a romance novel is almost a sure-fire way to cheer you up.

3. They are short and easy to read

It seems like most romances today are between 200 and 300 pages. The language used is also very approachable and easy to understand (and many times very well-written!), making them perfect candidates for a fast read. Plus, they almost always follow a predictable arc: couple meets, couple falls in love, couple experiences some heart-wrenching moment that almost or does break them apart, couple comes together with a love stronger than ever. You know what you’re getting into with a romance novel, and that kind of predictability is especially nice in a world that generally isn’t so.

4. They are great for your own romantic life

Romance novels are great for your sex life. There’s nothing like reading about other people getting it on to make you want to as well. As a bonus, you’ll also have some fun new ideas to try out at home (or wherever the mood strikes, that is). Trust me. Read a romance and you and your partner will thank me (and if there is no partner, nothing’s stopping you from enjoying the mood by yourself).

5. There’s a genre (and recommendation) for everyone

Unless you are asexual, you cannot tell me there is no genre of romance that appeals to you. Here are a few recommendations to get you started, but Google or Goodreads can help you find more titles than you could possibly imagine. There is something for everyone (and no judgment here how dark you get; I’ve read some bizarre ones myself).

Contemporary romance

Contemporary romance is a blanket term for any romance that takes place from about 1950 to today, and there are several subcategories within it. If you start to dig around, you’ll also see the term “new adult” romance used quite a bit, which really just means a romance that takes place between 20-30-somethings. Since that’s mostly what I read, you’ll see a lot of crossover with my recommendations and those lists.

Alpha male

Right

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Right by Jana Aston
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This is the second, and my favorite, book in the Wrong series (Wrong is listed below, but I really liked all four books), so I’d recommend not reading it first. The hero is a successful and confident businessman, but unlike others in the alpha male category, he is simultaneously sensual and sweet. The heroine, meanwhile, is a know-it-all who thinks she’s destined to be with someone else. Though she’s irritating at times, I was quickly won over by the story and his rather exhilarating efforts to prove her wrong.

Friends-turned-lovers

Blurred Lines

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Blurred Lines by Lauren Layne
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Two friends who decide to embark on a no-strings-attached relationship is a trope that’s been done time and time again, but this one included just the right mix of friendship, romance, conflict, emotion, and sexual chemistry that it kept me turning the pages until I finished.

The Hookup

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The Hookup by Kristen Callihan
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There are a lot of sports romances, and I usually tend to avoid them because the characters can be so meathead-y, which isn’t really my thing. This book (and the subsequent books in the series, The Friend Zone and The Game Plan, both of which I also really enjoyed) took me by surprise because the jocks turned out to be fleshed out, intelligent, and thoughtful characters. Shame on me, perhaps, for thinking they’d be otherwise. In this friends-to-lovers, opposites attract book, the heroine tries her hardest to resist her attraction to who she assumes is nothing more than a cocky football god. She finally relents, they hook up, and the chase that follows is funny, heartwarming, and incredibly sexy. This entire series was enjoyable and well-written.

The Virgin Romance Novelist

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The Virgin Romance Novelist by Meghan Quinn
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Friends-to-lovers is perhaps my favorite category of romance, and I already wrote about this one in my Fall 2016 Reading List. It made me cringe, laugh out loud, and feel warm and tingly all at the same time.

With a Twist

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With a Twist by Staci Hart
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This is the first book in the Bad Habits series (the second, Chaser, is listed below). It tells the tale of a ballerina and a doctoral student who have been friends for a long time, but have never thought of each other as anything else. Once they start to consider their potential as something more, you’ll feel the slow burn of realization and desire, and will probably laugh a bit along the way.

Yours and Mine

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Yours and Mine by Lacey Silks
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Whereas the aforementioned recommendation made me laugh, this one made me cry some big ol’ fat tears. It’s a heartfelt yet tragic romance about two childhood best friends who become lovers. Yes, it still contains some nice sex scenes, but it’s a far deeper story than I expected and it left a mark on me in a very good way.

Non-specific romance

Friends without Benefits

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Friends without Benefits by Penny Reid
[Source]

Also mentioned in my Fall 2016 Reading List was the Knitting in the City series. This is the second of the series, but it’s the one I enjoyed the most. The heroine is a stubborn and sarcastic doctor who begrudgingly decides to let a hotshot comic back into her life after years of despising him. While she tries to resist it, the chemistry between the two is off the charts and the hero (a family man to boot) will have you hot, bothered, and swooning.

Idol

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Idol by Kristen Callihan
[Source]

This one can technically go in the rockstar subgenre, but since I don’t read too many of those, I put it here instead. Like some of the others on this list, it was another romance that surprised me by how much substance it contained. Sure, it included several titillating moments, but like The Hookup (above) before it, I was impressed by how well the author developed the characters and their relationship. I also loved the second book in the series, Managed.

I’ve Got Your Number

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I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella
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While this one doesn’t have any steamy sex scenes, it does offer adorably quirky (and not surprisingly British) characters, a far-fetched but fun plot, and a delightfully engaging budding romance.

Royalty

The Royal Marriage Market

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The Royal Marriage Market by Heather Lyons
[Source]

This one is kind of a friends-to-lovers book because they befriend each other to stave off unwanted marriage pacts, but because they are royalty, it gets lumped into this category. Perhaps their friendship is why I enjoyed it so much, but regardless, I loved their chemistry (you feel the heat pretty immediately), banter, and overall love story.

Some Like It Royal

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Some Like It Royal by Heather Long
[Source]

This is a pretty classic rags-to-riches Cinderella story, where the heroine is actually a long-lost princess and is persuaded by the handsome and intelligent self-made billionaire to act as his fiancée so he can use her royal heritage to successfully enter the European market. Naturally. As wonderfully unbelievable as the plot is, the romance between the two feels genuine, sexy, and sweet.

Historical romance

Three Weeks with Lady X

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Three Weeks with Lady X by Eloisa James
[Source]

I don’t read a lot of historical romance, and this one reminded me that I probably should. Its heroine was snarky, smart, and self-sufficient (especially rare in this genre), and its hero was strapping and headstrong, making for quippy dialogue and a fiery seduction.

Forbidden romance

There are several subgenres in the forbidden romance category, but these are some of the more interesting ones I read last year. You’ll quickly learn what you like and what you don’t if you start down this path. For instance, I learned I can’t stand infidelity, Stockholm syndrome, or abuse, so I’ve learned to steer clear of those.

Best friend’s brother or sister (or brother’s best friend)

Chaser

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Chaser by Staci Hart
[Source]

Here’s another comedic romance, this one about a scorned heroine who finds solace (if you want to call it that) in her brother’s best friend. The hero of the story is kind of a playboy, but ends up being incredibly sweet and charming as he tries to convince the girl that what they have is forever. This is the second book in the Bad Habits series (With a Twist, above, is the first).

Mr. O

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Mr. O by Lauren Blakely
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Don’t let the title of this one mislead you. Yes, it refers to the main character’s cartoon alter ego (he illustrates the dirty adventures of Mr. Orgasm), and yes he is a little sure of himself and his abilities to please women, but he’s secretly so charming and lovable. Told from the hero’s perspective, this book about a man falling for his best friend’s sister is the perfect combination of sizzling and dreamy.

My Best Friend’s Brother

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My Best Friend’s Brother by Hazel Kelly
[Source]

Another super common subgenre, I’ve read several iterations of this story. This is one of the ones I enjoyed the most, especially because it’s not just the best friend’s brother, but it’s also one of the main character’s best friends. And we all know I love that category of romance. The realization of their attraction and resulting sneaking around behavior adds to the sexiness and overall appeal.

 

Boss

The Sexy One

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The Sexy One by Lauren Blakely
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This was one of the most charming romance novels I read last year. Simon, the boss, is sexy, sweet, and smoldering, and, even better, a true gentleman, which isn’t something that can be said of all romance heroes nowadays. This one made my heart swell and my chest (and other areas) ache in the best ways.

Couple swap

The Ground Rules

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The Ground Rules by Roya Carmen
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This is about as far as I could go in terms of taboo romance genre and still enjoy it, and I’m glad I tried it. The jealousy that resulted from the swap made me a little on edge because, as stated above, I really don’t like any infidelity. But reminding myself that it was consensual, not under-the-table, and, of course, fictional, made it easier to enjoy. There were some pretty sexy scenes in there, after all, even though the writing was not all that great. I wouldn’t bother with the sequels.

Doctor

Wrong

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Wrong by Jana Aston
[Source]

Okay, stay with me. The doctor/patient relationship is quickly removed because of the obvious ethical dilemma it presents. What’s left is a powerful upper 30-something doctor and a younger 20-something student with scintillating chemistry. As stated above, I thoroughly enjoyed all of the books in this series (the others are RightFling, and Trust).

Professor/student

Losing It

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Losing It by Cora Carmack
[Source]

This was the first really good professor/student romance I read, where the dynamic wasn’t abusive or creepy, but just really sexy. Sure, it’s still a taboo relationship, but the chemistry and tension add so much to the overall reading experience. The other books in the series (Faking ItFinding It, and the novellas in between) were okay, but I enjoyed this one the best by far.

Pushing the Limits

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Pushing the Limits by Brooke Cumberland
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It’s surprisingly hard to find teacher/student romance novels that don’t take place between a high school student and his or her teacher (which I’ve read, but feel weird about), so I was pleased to find another great story that takes place in the college setting. After acknowledging but trying to deny their instant lust, the art student heroine has the unexpected opportunity to post nude for her class (and professor) and the heat that follows is reason enough to check this one out.

Roommates

Roomhate

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Roomhate by Penelope Ward
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Don’t be fooled by the Roommates title above; that was actually about stepsiblings who room together. Another popular subgenre, though, is actual roommates who become lovers. This one surprised me with its complex character development and overall story arc. While it’s as sensual as the best of them, I also really respect this romance because of how honest the characters are with each other; there are no unnecessary and immature games here like there are in so many other romance novels.

Stepbrother

Roommates

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Roommates by Hazel Kelly
[Source]

This is a very common subgenre (don’t be so shocked!), and there are some really bad ones out there. But there are some pretty hot ones, too, and this is one of them. The being-forced-to-live-together factor upped the tension and the resulting chemistry was really enjoyable. The second one in the series (My Best Friend’s Brother, above) was also worthwhile.

Need more recommendations?

Let me know what you like and I’ll help you find one!

4 Ways to Get Started

The above list of recommendations is long (and by no means extensive) and the lists you’ll find elsewhere are even longer. Don’t let that intimidate you! Here are my tips for how to start.

1. Use your e-reader

I am ALL FOR supporting local bookshops, but I’ve found that with the amount of romances I read, it’s fastest, cheapest, and easiest to read romance novels on my Kindle or Kindle phone app (which is free, by the way). Plus, you’ll be able to read those erotic scenes on public transportation without fear of embarrassment or judgment. Only your flushed face will give you away.

2. Check out the library & sign up for Kindle Unlimited

Romance novels rarely cost more than $5-7 apiece, but you’ll quickly realize how fast that adds up if you read as many of them as I did last year. My suggestion to curb the cost is to check out your local library to see if they have any e-reader licenses for the titles you want to read. I also recommend signing up for Kindle Unlimited, which has several romance titles and allows you to download as many of them as you want for $10 a month.

3. Be open-minded

Start with one of the suggestions above and go from there. You’ll learn quickly what you like and what you don’t, similar to what I mentioned about forbidden romance. I’ve been known to go down several subgenre or author rabbit holes because I’m temporarily intrigued by a particular style of writing or topic.

My favorite romance novels include some hot scenes, but also offer a good amount of substance and romance, too. Others just want to read about sex and that’s okay. Still others don’t want to read about any sex at all and just want the love stories. You’ll figure out what kinds of books you enjoy, how you like them told (POV is a big deal in the romance novel world), and what level of spice you want. Like I’ve said repeatedly, there is something for everyone. There’s even Christian romance!

4. Don’t settle for terrible writing

Many romance authors write beautifully, some write a little less beautifully, and some are just plain terrible. Don’t read the latter! If you start a book and you’re appalled by its writing, stop! Life is too short to settle for crappy quality. The nice thing about the Kindle is that you can return a title after you’ve started it. I’ve done this on more than one occasion and I don’t feel guilty in the least.

The Last Word

While I don’t plan to read another 103 romances this year, I do openly acknowledge that I love the romance books and will continue to read them for as long as I can read.

It really irritates me when people discount the entire genre, because it seems awfully presumptuous and close-minded to believe there is no good literature in such an enormous category. If you fall into this group of people, then I hope to have given you a little motivation to at least try to change your mind.

If you are a little more excited about the prospect of reading a romance, then welcome to the club. I hope you can find something here that suits your fancy.

As always, I’d love your recommendations. Please feel free to comment with your favorite romance novels; I’m always adding to my list.

 

 

One Week Later: How to Cope

What a week.

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[Source: Instagram @momowelch]

So much has happened since I wrote on inauguration day that it’s difficult to find a single source to summarize it. Just for my own record, let’s do a quick recap.

The First Week

President Trump (a term that still triggers my gag reflex, and probably will for the foreseeable future) signed a record 14 executive orders and presidential memoranda during his first week in office (notably missing one about ethics). This included the overturn of the Affordable Care Act, the reinstatement of the “Mexico City policy” that bans foreign aid to international nongovernmental organizations that perform or discuss abortion, the revival of the XL Keystone and Dakota Access pipeline projects, the order to start construction on the Mexican border wall, and, most recently, the “temporary” ban of Syrian refugees and blockage of all visa applicants from seven primarily Muslim countries. That list doesn’t even include everything. His administration also coined the now-satirized term “alternative facts,” ordered a “media blackout” at the EPA and U.S. Department of Agriculture, continued to spew misinformation about voter fraud, and demoted the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff while promoting chief strategist (and alt-right conspiracy theorist) Steve Bannon to the National Security Council. Even that doesn’t cover everything. Pass the wine.

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More, more, more.

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If you feel your head spinning and blood pressure rising, you are not alone. We are in unprecedented times of political chaos (perhaps a redundant phrase in today’s world). I waited all week, in vain, for things to slow down. With each passing day, my anxiety and sense of heartbreak grew. By Friday evening, I experienced a strong urge to shut down completely simply to maintain my dwindling sense of sanity.

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Me by Friday night.

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As dizzying as the last nine days were, it’s important to remember some not-so-minor victories, if you will, along the way. Chief among those was the global Women’s March, where nearly 5 million women around the world marched for women’s rights, human rights, and equality. I was lucky enough to participate and the feeling I left with was, to say the least, one of hope.

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Some of my favorite signs from the Chicago Women’s March.

Another wonderful turn of events was the amount of rogue environmental and scientific Twitter accounts that emerged amidst the media blackout. And, because facts matter, it looks like there will be a Scientists’ March on Washington later this year, too. #sciencenotsilence

We also saw a short-term victory regarding the federal stay preventing the deportation of people detained as a result of Trump’s ban on refugees. In all of this, we must remember that the law still matters. The Constitution still matters. Even though these executive actions have been signed, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will come to fruition. Executives orders are still subject to judicial review. It’s also possible for Congress to create laws that would make funding for some of Trump’s endeavors harder (like the Mexican border wall, if we’re lucky). It’s startling that Trump has so quickly tackled some of the most controversial issues by way of executive action, therefore bypassing the approval of Congress, but what I’m here to remind you of is that it’s not necessarily the end of the story.

Wait, Isn’t This a ‘Mom Blog’?

“Wow,” you might say, “for a ‘mom blog’ she’s sure spending a lot of time writing about politics.” You’d be right, though I would like to clarify that the blog is self-described as one about babies, board games, and books. So you’d be a third right.

Maybe this political environment has no close ties to board games or books (except for the best-selling 1984, of course), but it absolutely does relate to babies and motherhood.

As a mother–as a parent–you are forced to confront a lot about yourself: your passions, your strengths and weaknesses, your ideals, and your values. You must think about what it is you want to pass on to your children (and what you don’t), and, hopefully, what kind of people you hope they become. It’s a heavy exercise, especially since we don’t necessarily think about our values in those terms very often. What we value is woven into our very fiber; it’s what makes us who we are. This is exactly why politics and motherhood go hand-in-hand.

Many of the things I hold dearest to me, the things I want to pass on to my children, like equality, kindness, and compassion, are being threatened right now in this bizarre political environment. The lessons I am trying to instill in my son are in direct conflict with what is being taught by our nation’s leadership. While he’s too young to understand what’s happening, I fear for the school-aged children who are learning that facts apparently don’t matter and can be made up to suit your needs. I fear that our children are watching the fear-mongering and learning that it’s okay to hate people who are different from you. It’s a (real) fact that bullying is up since the election and this is frightening.

Though I may not be able to control what kids around the country are absorbing or how it is shaping them for the future, I absolutely can speak up, make a difference, and one day tell my children that I did everything I could to fight for what was right.

This is why I have been writing about politics, why I’ve been thinking more about politics than ever before, why I’ve been calling my representatives, and why I now consider myself to be a political activist. If not for me or my generation, I’m doing it for our children. Our children, because what we do or don’t do now could have long-lasting effects on every child around the world. We are global citizens and the world and its children are watching.

How to Deal with…Everything

Now, before I go on even further, I must say that this week has made me realize two things, if nothing else. The first is why I am so invested in politics (see above). The second is that this investment has the real ability to eat away at my mental well-being. The anxiety and frustration I felt each time I read the news are simply not sustainable for my health or that of my family.

With the help of friends and therapist (I firmly believe everyone would benefit from talking to someone), here are my suggestions for how to cope.

Stay informed with trusted sources

First we must accept that this is reality. Denying that this is the world in which we live is not going to help any of us in the long run. I don’t identify with Trump in the least, but I do acknowledge that he won the democratic election and is now our president. In fact, I firmly disagree with the #notmypresident movement. It’s unhealthy for us to reject the truth because we don’t agree with it. On the contrary, we have to face it before we can move forward and make progress.

Once we come to terms with Trump as our new POTUS, we owe it to ourselves to stay informed. Instead of allowing myself to click from article to article–a surefire way to make my head spin–I am going to gather my news from a few trusted sources and try hard to filter out the rest of the noise unless I decide I want more information.

Some sources I recommend:

For an informative daily conglomeration of news, I recommend theSkimm.

Acknowledge your feelings

Just as it is healthy to accept reality, it is also okay to accept how we feel at face value. Trying to suppress or control our thoughts and feelings is a pointless exercise. We are human beings and should be allowed to fully experience a range of thoughts and emotions without self-judgment. The key is to not let them control our lives.

The next time I feel anxious about politics, I am going to try to acknowledge that anxiety for what is and let it pass without winding me into knots and turning into full-fledged panic.

Focus your energy

As hard as it is to not feel deeply about everything I read, I have decided that I must narrow my focus for the sake of my mental health. Plus, by focusing on a few key issues that mean the most to me, I am probably going to be more knowledgeable about those issues and therefore have a greater overall impact. That’s not to say I wouldn’t make a call to my representatives about something else, but my goal is to not get so far in the weeds on everything I come across. My brain needs some breathing room.

As of right now, here are the issues on which I plan to focus.

  1. Human rights, which is a generic category I’m using to include women’s rights, equality, refugee rights, etc.
  2. The environment, because I want my children and my children’s children to have a place to live.
  3. Education, because it is our duty as adults to secure a quality education for our children.

Get involved

Remember: our representatives are public servants. They work for us and therefore need to know what we’re thinking in order to do their jobs well. Are you passionate about a certain cause or bill? Contact your representatives.

Figuring out where to start

There’s an overwhelming amount of information about how we can get involved with our government and it’s hard to know what’s most effective or what exactly to say. I encourage you to subscribe to organizations that align with your values (for me this includes Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Natural Resources Defense Council to name a few). Following organizations like these on social media or subscribing to their email alerts is a helpful way to stay informed about what’s happening with the issues you care about and how you may be able to make a difference. Donations to these organizations are also a great starting point.

In addition to following individual organizations, I also really like things that package together easy-to-accomplish calls to action like you find at Donuts and Democracy, 10 Actions / 100 Days, and 5 Calls.

Voicing your opinion

No one really loves to talk to strangers on the phone, but from what I’ve read, it seems a phone call carries a lot more weight than an email in terms of getting through to your Congressperson.

Tips for the call:

  1. Be nice; the staffers have to listen to strangers rant to them all day long.
  2. Provide your name, city, and zip.
  3. State the issue and your position, then ask for the representative’s position.
  4. If (s)he agrees with you, tell the person taking the call that you support the rep’s position. If (s)he disagrees with you or is undecided, have a short prompt written to recap your position and why you encourage the rep to consider your stance.
  5. Say “thank you.” The Golden Rule and all that.

Find your Senators here and find your U.S. Representatives here.

Treat yo self

It is no coincidence that I started binge-watching The Vampire Diaries on Netflix this week. For a blissful 40 minutes an episode, I could focus on fictional bloodsuckers instead of the real ones at the helm of our country. Whatever it is that you enjoy, give in and indulge a little. We all need ways to decompress and relax. If that’s watching two attractive 30-year-old actors pretend to be 17, embrace it.

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Moral of the Story

It’s been an arduous nine days. Honestly, as much as I hope you enjoyed reading this post, the primary reason for me writing it was for my own catharsis (mission accomplished!). However, there is a potentially long road ahead of us, for all of us, regardless of party affiliation, and it’s important that we help each other digest the rapid-fire changes taking place in our country. The sooner we can accept what is happening and how it may conflict with our own values and moral code, the sooner we can decide how to fight against it.

The term “fight” seems strong, and I hate to keep repeating it because it feels a little contradictory to my positivity goal, but there really is no better way to say it. In trying times, we must fight for what we hold dear. And without sounding even more dramatic, I plan to prepare for this fight like any good soldier. I will stay informed, in tune with myself and my mental well-being, focused, and active. I will also comfortably indulge in life’s simple pleasures like television, romance novels, and ice cream. (That’s how soldiers prepare, right?)

This is just the beginning, but already I am ready.

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We would all benefit from channeling a woman who is this confident in red lipstick and a skin-tight leather suit.

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[Featured image source]

Today, I Am Grateful

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Readers, I refuse to label today as a black-letter day. I am still a bit dismayed at how we arrived at this time and place, where the words “President Donald Trump” aren’t followed by a slap on the knee, a hearty laugh, and a “gotcha,” but nonetheless here we are.

Rather than allowing myself to think about all that could go wrong (my therapist would remind me that the future is where anxiety lives), I am going to focus on some of the positive things in the world and in my life specifically. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to eat my feelings today, but my theory is this: if we continue to focus on being positive, grateful for and reflective of what is good and right in the world, the more we will want those things to build and continue. 

Acknowledging what we have going for us will help us see more clearly what we have to fight for, protest, question, and challenge. Plus, happiness breeds happiness, right? It’s just like how they say that if you smile long enough, you’ll actually start to feel happier. Maybe this technique is a bunch of kumbaya bullshit, but it’s getting me through the day and that’s what it’s all about.

So today, I pledge to inject my life with positivity (even if it’s contrived at times) so that I can, in turn, create more positivity. Here are things I’m grateful for right now.

I am grateful…

…for freedom of speech.

Without it, I wouldn’t be able to post some of these hilarious political cartoons that have helped me cope with our current political landscape.

…for humor in general.

We are living in a bizarre time and sometimes the best way to deal with the absurdity is to laugh in its face.

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…for the integrity, vigilance, humor, and poise we saw over the last eight years with the Obamas and Bidens.

I truly believe history will look back kindly on this period as a time of progress and change.

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Thanks, Obama!

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…for the press who have and will continue to pursue the truth even when faced with blatant disregard and disrespect.

We are counting on you, press corps.

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…that I have the access and wherewithal to seek out the truth.

In this frightening Age of Ignorance, I commit to fact-checking, ignoring the abundance of fake news and confirmation bias, and supporting my arguments with the data and not opinion. Science and data matter!

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Last Week Tonight is a must-watch.

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…for democracy.

Though I (clearly) don’t agree with the candidate who was chosen to represent us at the highest level, I do very much support our democratic process. I appreciate that we live in a country where we have the ability to vote for our representation and have our voices be heard (even, I cringingly suppose, if they are influenced by the Russian intelligence community).

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…for my voice.

Similarly, I’m grateful that I, personally, can voice my opinion to those representatives. Just this week, I called both Illinois senators as well as every single senator on the HELP Committee to tell them to vote “no” for Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. My voice might not carry far, but at least I can use it.

Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn): “You can’t say definitively today that guns shouldn’t be in schools?”

Betsy DeVos: “I will refer back to Sen. Enzi and the school he was talking about in Wyoming. I think probably there, I would imagine that there is probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.”

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Wut.

(Here’s how to contact your senators to do the same.)

…that there are a lot of like-minded people right now.

Clinton won the popular vote by almost 2.9 million votes (with 65,844,954 (48.2%) to Trump’s 62,979,879 (46.1%)). This, as #45 would say, is yuge. It’s tremendous! It means that though he is now our president, the majority of Americans didn’t support him or condone his abhorrent behavior. We, the not-so-silent majority, must continue to band together to promote freedom, liberty, peace, love, and togetherness. We must help people understand that we are more alike than we are different and that fear has no place in America.

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“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” – Emma Lazarus, “New Colossus”

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 …that I’m proud to be a strong, empowered, and intelligent nasty woman.

I’m grateful that I live in a time where I am able to choose how to live my life. I can make my own choices about my body, my career (if not an equal paycheck), and my future. I’m proud to live amongst other strong women, and grateful that we can stand up for ourselves in a way women never could before. Women’s rights are human rights!

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…for my friends and family.

It goes without saying, but what would life be if not for the people in it? I’m grateful for those who love and support me, even if they don’t agree with my political views.

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[Source]

A Little Reminder

Remember, in the United States, we stand together. We rise together and we fall together. I am the first to admit that I want our new president to succeed because I want our country to succeed. I hope our new commander-in-chief can change my opinion of his character and judgment, and pleasantly surprise me (maybe he’ll end up being a champion for human rights; it could happen). In the meantime, I’m never going to be silent, I’m never going to stop fighting for myself, for my family, for my rights, for the little guy, and for what I believe is right. What I am going to be is positive and forward-looking. Cheers, America, and may God have mercy on our souls.

Mama Bear’s 2016 Holiday Wish List

Hello again, readers, and happy holidays!

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I’d be fine without a white Christmas if it meant living here. This festive one-of-these-trees-is-not-like-the-others photo was taken during my absence.

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a month since my last post and, more importantly, the election. When I last communicated with you, I was under the hopeful impression that we’d be looking back and laughing right now at how absolutely ludicrous it was that we ever even entertained the idea of a Trump presidency. Well, much to my–and the nation’s–surprise, I was wrong.

Though I’ve been legitimately busy over the last month, I primarily decided to pause on a blog post because I simply didn’t know what to say in response. Because my last message was one of unity, about our “our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another,” I didn’t feel comfortable with a gut-reaction rant. While I’d shower and think of a string of words to convey my incredulity, fear, anger, and resentment, they just didn’t feel right.

So, like I’ve done with the majority of my good life decisions, I paused. I decided I needed to calm, reflect, and observe before I came back here.

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It doesn’t hurt that my calm reflection period took place in Hawaii.

Now that I’m back, I decided that rather than write about my (probably obvious and widely shared) feelings about the election itself, I’d write about what I’m going to do in a post-2016 election world. This relates to the holidays, I promise.

My Post-2016 Election Promise

I hereby pledge to help those in need and at risk with more fervor than I would have before the election took place. Maybe that’s a sorry excuse for a lack of activism before, but I can’t exactly change the past and figure this is as good a time as any.

I’m going to take my passion for equality, justice, and the little guy and turn it into advocacy. As a stay-at-home mom, I don’t have the ability to physically volunteer a lot of time right now, but I am able to put a little money where my mouth is to help effect change and protect rights. And what better time to start than over the holidays?

Mama Bear’s Wish List: Donations

This year, instead of asking for gifts, I’m asking for (and making!) donations to the following organizations. Unfortunately, the list of deserving organizations to which I’d like to donate is long, but as I have limited resources, I forced myself to narrow it down to the ones that felt most personal to me. As such, I present you with my finalists. For more ideas, see this list from John Oliver or this list from The Cut.

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May my holiday gift boxes be as empty as this ornament. Strike that, I don’t even want boxes. Too wasteful.

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Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago

This 100-year-plus organization’s mission is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever. Chicago is going through a particularly dark period in terms of violence, and I believe this organization is chief among those that can make a difference for children in the most affected areas. In fact, there is a ton of anecdotal and statistical evidence that proves what an impact the Big/Little mentoring program has. While I hope to maybe mentor a child myself one day, this month I can donate in hopes of changing a life now.

Donate here.

Gulf Coast Humane Society of Corpus Christi

This non-profit, no-kill shelter holds a very special place in my heart because it’s where Papa Bear and I found our fur baby, Doggy Bear (new nickname; not sure how he’ll like it). It’s the largest no-kill shelter in all of South Texas and therefore has a lot of work on its hands. This shelter saved our dog’s life and there are hundreds more whose lives will be saved with a donation. #AdoptDon’tShop

Donate here.

Planned Parenthood

I have long been passionate about Planned Parenthood and its importance, but I cannot emphasize how strongly I feel now given the disgusting political attacks it has faced in recent years. I firmly believe Planned Parenthood will be under more fire in the next four years than ever before, which is why I feel an urgency to donate now. Despite what “gynoticians” (politicians who fancy themselves as medical doctors) will have you believe, Planned Parenthood offers high-quality, affordable health care, education, and information. It’s not just an abortion provider (but I’m glad it does that too!); it provides comprehensive and life-saving care to millions of people across the country. In fact, one in five American women has gone to Planed Parenthood at least once in her life. Women’s health and sexual health are population health; they affect us all.

Donate here.

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

Another organization that will need a lot of help in upcoming years (based on Trump’s climate-denying EPA Advisor pick alone) is the NRDC. This organization uses nearly 500 attorneys, policy advocates, and scientists, along with millions of member activists, to defend, protect, and safeguard the earth for its people, plants, and animals. Before it’s too late, we need organizations like this to help fight human greed and ignorance.

Donate here.

Final Thoughts

This holiday season, I encourage each of you to think of a cause that you hold dear. Instead of loading your wish list with frivolous goods, consider adding a donation to said cause. I’m not saying don’t ask for anything, and I’m not saying you need to give a ton of money (though, if you can afford it, consider an ongoing donation). Any little bit helps, and chances are pretty good the people (or animals or whatever) it helps need that money more than you need your stuff.

Your Dose of Perspective on the Eve of the Election: A Pale Blue Dot

It’s difficult to find a combination of words to accurately describe all my thoughts on the election tomorrow.

To put it most simply, I would love my son to take for granted a world where two formerly inconceivable things are a simple reality: that the Cubs are World Series champions and that a woman is President of the United States of America. 

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Not pictured: toddler who kept trying to run away from this beautiful marquee. At 1, he has no appreciation of the struggle. Hell, at 28, I barely do.

While I’m extremely happy to say we’re halfway there (#flytheW), I hesitate to say with confidence that the majority of Americans will cheer for the latter the same way they did the former (let’s be honest, the only people who cheered for Cleveland live in Cleveland). I’d be remiss to deny that there is a real possibility that America will elect that misogynistic, hate-spewing, turd-blurglaring, flaming hot evil Cheeto as our next President. In fact, there’s also a chance I’ll be thrown in jail for the aforementioned description should that apocalyptic possibility become a reality.

However, on the eve of this truly momentous day, a day that has been so long in the making and that has polarized millions of people, I came across the following refreshing and humbling reminder of our existence. Despite these paragraphs above, it caused me to focus on something larger than my personal views, those of my fellow Facebook friends Americans, and the great divide this election has caused.

My hope in sharing it is that it helps you, too, reflect on our collective past, present, and future, on the things that bridge us together, and on our foremost status as citizens of Earth. Regardless of who wins tomorrow–and to be very clear, I’m definitely with her–I hope we can remember that in the grand scheme of things, we are far more similar than different. As Earthlings, a term I so reverently use, I hope we can remember to be kindcompassionate, and united for the betterment of ourselves and for the protection and preservation of our planet. Enjoy.

Perspective: We Are a Pale Blue Dot

In 1990, at the suggestion of famed astronomer Carl Sagan, the spacecraft Voyager 1 took this photo of Earth from about 4 billion miles away. Here, Earth measures at less than one pixel and can be seen among scattered light rays as it was taken so close to the Sun. Sagan presented his reflections on this picture in a 1994 speech at Cornell University. What he said is as follows.

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Look for the pale blue dot in the orange ray. That’s Earth.

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“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

 

 

 

 

[Featured image source]