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I’ve been putting off writing this post — writing any post — because, honestly, I wasn’t sure how to write it. And I didn’t feel like I could just skip it or gloss over my egregious absence.

I’ve been dark for a while. I decided long ago (never to live in anyone’s shadow…wait, focus, Justine…) that I wouldn’t apologize for gaps in posting because, gosh darnit, it’s my life, and if I want to live it instead of writing about it, that’s my prerogative.

But this wasn’t me being too busy to write. This was me going dark. In a lot of ways.

In short, I’ve been depressed. In the interest of not over-inflating things, I’m okay. I know other people deal with much more extreme versions of depression. Mine is a cyclical thing that I can usually anticipate with the days getting shorter and the weather getting colder. For me, depression comes in the form of exacerbated insecurities, claustrophobic feelings of being trapped, and feeling unloveable. It typically lasts anywhere from two weeks to a month, but this time it stretched over two months time, and that messed with my head. I felt like it would never end.

So, yeah, it’s a real trip.

And when feeling like holding my head just barely above water is just about all I can do, things like blogging about home decor and recipes and funny little things about my day aren’t even in the realm of possibility.

But what am I telling you for? If you’ve ever experienced depression (and I believe most people have and do), you already know.

Again, though, I’m fine. I only share this because, well, it felt dishonest not to. But I honestly feel like I’m finally on the other side of it — we’re on our way up out of the valley; the light is clearly visible. I’ll be returning to your regularly scheduled home decor and recipes and funny things about my day now.

But I wanted to say it. I wanted to share it. Because, odds are, you are feeling that way or have felt that way or will feel that way someday too. And you’re not alone. And it’s important that we all know that.

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Last week, I went to get Vivi after hearing her call me one morning and found her covered in vomit in her crib. She seemed totally unfazed (and didn’t have a fever), so I tried to stay calm, peeled off her dirty jammies, and popped her in the tub to clean her off (“A morning bath, Viv! Isn’t this fun?!”).

She smiled and babbled, but didn’t ask for breakfast or even milk (very out of character) and refused water, so I immediately suspected some kind of stomach bug. But without a fever, I couldn’t be sure. A few minutes after we got out of the bath, Vivi started gagging, and I held her over the sink while she threw up again. She handled it like a champ, but was clearly distressed and wouldn’t let me put her down even for a second.

 

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that (fortunately) Viv was back to normal within 24 hours. Whatever bug she had passed quickly after some homeopathic treatment, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

It’s such a scary thing, a sick baby. I’m not one for panicking, but I don’t know what to do with myself when I can’t make a plan or find a solution. Vivi can’t tell me what’s wrong, so I have to guess and trust my instincts that I know this little body inside and out when trying to figure out what to do next.

It’s such a strange thing to have this tiny person you feel so connected to — that you once were connected to — but who is now separate and, in some ways, unreachable. Lord knows how I’m going to handle it when she can really, truly go off on her own.

So I learn patience. I sit by her side with a sippy cup for the moment she wakes up, taking comfort in her steady breathing and telling myself rest is the best medicine when she doesn’t feel well. And I feel so, so, so grateful that this is the first serious illness we have encountered. I’m fortunate that the reason I don’t know what to do is because she normally is such a healthy, happy girl. And, not for nothing, I’m so glad I have a job that lets me be home with her while she recovers.

We probably have dozens of flus and sick days ahead of us in Vivi’s lifetime, but this, the first real one, I’m pretty sure I’ll always remember. But here’s hoping that the next time around, she can tell me what hurts or feels yucky.

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I think of myself as a pretty self-aware person. I have described myself that way numerous times in life (and on this blog). I have a tendency to overthink and overanalyze and (unfortunately) that often results is a lot of self-critique. For better or worse, though, if I have a problem, I’m the first one to know about it.

Or so I thought.

Because then sometimes something happens like my friend Madison talking about postpartum hair loss, and I read it and think, “I didn’t really have that. I mean, I have been hating my hair for a few months lately. It just seems like I can never get the texture I want anymore. And it doesn’t hold a curl anymore. And the color always seems a little off. And OH MY GOSH HAVE I BEEN HAVING POSTPARTUM HAIR ISSUES THIS WHOLE TIME?”

And then, just like that, I don’t think I know anything about myself.

So I do a little internet research and scour the comments of Madison’s post and order some collagen and wipe my brow because PHEW that was a close one.

But then I think: Have I lost touch with myself?

It’s not a crazy thought. I’ve spent the last almost two years consumed with caring for another person. And while I felt super connected to my body during pregnancy, lately I feel disconnected. Adrift. Maybe a bit numb.

And I’m not sure how I feel about that. (HA.)

It’s possible that I need a break. We’re going out of town this month to get out of the city and see some friends, and I could not be more excited for a change of pace and scenery. This city is wearing on me, folks, and it’s especially ugly in January.

Maybe a little refocusing is exactly what I need.

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Dang, EIGHT years? That’s a long time. If you’ve been reading for EIGHT years (so, my mom and dad), then you know I end every year with a recap since my blog-iversary is December 25th. (I don’t know why I started on Christmas Day. I think because I was on break from school?)

First, let’s recap 2016:

Vivi and Me

I quit my job and full-time work completely.

I knew the second I grabbed that tiny little baby for the first time that I wouldn’t be going back to work. January was my first foray into full-time freelance life, and I’ve never looked back.

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We went west.

Travel is significantly less frequent with a baby, but we did take a trip to Seattle and Vancouver this year for our anniversary. Vivi was much more impressed than she looks.

I redecorated our bedroom, and did a bunch of other projects.

I destroyed my phone for the first time.

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We went to Virginia.

This was one of Vivi’s first real road trips. Fortunately, we packed the car with some of her favorite people and a lot of snacks, so it was pretty successful.

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Vivi had her first party.

Clearly, much fun was had by all.

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I started pioneering.

And it has been great. And exhausting. But mostly great.

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Vivi turned one.

And I cried. And laughed. And breathed a sigh of relief that we had survived our first year.

I feel like I owe you guys a million more posts, but all I’ve got for your right now is my annual sum-uppance. Let’s get to it:

Age: 29. Though, if you ask my brother, I’ve been 30 for about four years.

Location: New York City

Occupation: Editor/freelance writer. This year brought a few on-staff gigs, but all that I can do from home.

New favorite food: Apparently your taste buds change every seven years (or so I’ve read), and this year, I found myself actually liking red wine and not hating olives. It’s a brave new world.

TV shows I’m watching: This Is Us is my favorite on-air show (IT’S SO GOOD AND I DON’T KNOW WHY YOU’RE NOT WATCHING IT), and I’m also Netflix-ing Revenge. Mostly because of all the amazing dresses, not going to lie.

Book I’m reading: I just borrowed She’s Come Undone from a friend, but my reading is severely limited these days. #momlife

What’s my hair doing right now: This question started out as a joke, but my answer is literally different every year, and I find it genuinely interesting to look back. (That sounds shallow, but y’all know I have a lot of theories on the link between hair and happiness.) Is grown-out lob a thing? Because that’s what I think I have. And the color is a root-y blonde, which probably just means I need to get my hair done on all counts. Did I mention #momlife?

How I did on my goals from last year: Just to remind you, these were last year’s goals, along with how I did:

1. Travel: We did make it to Vancouver and Seattle, as well as back to Iowa and to Florida to visit my parents. So CHECK.

2. Simplifying: I cut back on so many unnecessary expenses this year, I’m really proud to say that for the first time in a long time, I don’t have any credit card debt AND I have some money in my savings account. (I mean, it will all be gone when we pay taxes, but yay for small victories!). I’m also always on a campaign to clean out the clutter, and I think I did a pretty decent job of that this year, too.

3. Make this whole freelancing thing work: This was such a big change for me (I’ll blog more in depth about it at some point — I think I’m just scared to jinx it), but I’m so happy to say it has been such a big success. I’m loving my work-life balance, and I’m actually really enjoying all of my jobs. Who knew?

4. Keep raising Vivi successfully: It seems crazy to pat myself on the back about this, but I think we’re doing well. I love (LOVE) being Vivi’s mom, and I think she’s growing up to be pretty awesome.

And now…goals for next year:

It gets harder and harder for me to make goals the older I get, I think because I realize more and more how little control I have over anything. I want to get my time in as a pioneer. I want to keep doing a good job as a mom. I want to keep doing a good job at work. We’ve been talking a lot about next steps for our family, so I’ll keep you posted on any developments there, but right now, I’m waiting and seeing. Not an easy task for me, but it’s always good to try new things.

See y’all next year!

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I had a moment a few days ago that I’m not really proud of where I got unreasonably jealous of someone to the point where I nearly started crying.

That sounds horrible and pathetic, right?

You didn’t ask for my excuses, but, in my defense, I was also tired, after having to welcome in a plumber for an emergency visit at 7 a.m. and then having to clean up after said plumber and then having to clean up after Vivi about 8,000 times before 10 a.m., and I had just started my period. That sentence is barely coherent, but the point is, I wasn’t at my best mentally or emotionally in this horrible and pathetic moment.

So I saw something on social media (because OF COURSE #MILLENNIALLYFE) and immediately spiraled into a dark place.

I’m happy to say that this doesn’t happen often. When I was younger, it did. It happened all the time. But I worked on it, and I worked on myself, and it’s a small relief to me that, no matter how horrible and pathetic it is when it happens, it really, truly does not happen that often. (And, also, again, I had just started my period. BUT ENOUGH EXCUSES.)

The point is, it happened, and even as it did, I realized what an unattractive moment it was. I do not like jealousy in others, and I really don’t like it in myself. So I started making a mental list of all the good things in my life, because oh my GOSH, you guys. I have it so good.

I have a wonderful husband, who had actually just sent me breakfast that morning because he knew I was dealing with the plumber situation and might not have time to make myself something. Who, even as I type this, I hear reading aloud to Vivi in her room, making her giggle as they practice animal sounds with each turning page.

I have the most perfect baby, who astounds me and makes me laugh out loud (usually multiple times) every single day. Who is excessively talkative and confident and boisterous one moment, and then suddenly sweet, melting into my lap and spontaneously stretching up to kiss my chin for no reason at all except that she loves me.

We are all so healthy, and I’m not a momma who has to spend hours and hours at doctor visits and in special hospitals, holding her scared baby’s hand and unable to do anything except pray, pray, pray for something good.

We have a warm, safe home, and I don’t have to worry when I see the temperatures dropping than any of us will go to sleep cold and shivering.

We have so. much. food. And it never even crosses my mind that I can’t grab a banana or a squeezy pack or a string cheese the moment Viv whines in hunger at the park.

I’m able to work from home, spending every day with that precious baby and not missing a single moment or milestone while I help to support my family with a career I actually enjoy and find fulfilling.

We have so many luxuries, be it spur-of-the-moment coffee or the ability to order dinner in minutes or new clothes or an overabundance of technology and entertainment.

I have my faith, which sustains me through everything and brings so much purpose and contentment to my life.

I have everything I need, and so, so much more on top of that.

As I washed my second load of dishes for the day (dishes dirtied by that abundance of food, which was eaten by that ridiculously healthy baby), I repeated my list to myself and tears came to my eyes for the second time that morning.

The thing is, there will always be someone with more than me. Someone with more things, more money, more free time, more whatever. But you can guarantee they have their stuff to deal with, too. And me? Well, I have everything I need. (And so, so much more.)

A few months back, we had a pediatrician visit where we were warned that Vivi was entering the stage of her life when she would start to show signs of finicky eating.

We’ve been very fortunate in this respect for most of Vivi’s life. The kid loves to eat. And, up until recently, she seemed to enjoy just about everything we put on her plate and would gobble it down without much resistance.

And then the toddler years hit.

It’s not that Vivi became exceptionally picky, but I did notice a new resistance to trying new foods or textures. Bread reigned supreme, while zucchini got the cold shoulder. Even foods that I knew she actually liked, like avocado or ground turkey, would sometimes be met with rejection upon first presentation. Rather than succumb to the temptation to simply fill up her belly with pasta and marinara sauce every night (always an acceptable option in Vivi’s book), I focused on trying new foods in familiar ways, adding tasty sauces that would dress up less appealing items, and capitalizing on flavors I know she always likes — all whilst keeping nutritious veggies in the forefront of her menu items.

It doesn’t always work (I am dealing with a toddler, after all), but these five recipes are pretty consistent ways I’ve found to get the little stinker to consume more produce. (And, bonus, they’re also totally delicious for adults.) Two of them I created myself, but the three others I’ve linked below. Enjoy!

Peanut Butter and Jelly Oatmeal

peanut butter and jelly oatmeal

Ok, this isn’t technically a veggie recipe, but it does get a hefty serving of fruit into your toddler (and it can barely even be called “cooking” because it’s so dang simple).

Ingredients:
1 packet instant oatmeal (I prefer this version from Trader Joe’s)
handful of frozen organic berries
1 T natural peanut or almond butter
1 T chia seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Start boiling a kettle of water. Pour the instant oatmeal into a small bowl, and then top with frozen berries, peanut butter, chia seeds, and cinnamon. Once water has boiled, pour desired amount over oatmeal and stir to combine. Once the berries have softened, you can give ’em a little squish to get all those delicious juices to naturally flavor and sweeten the rest of the oatmeal. Tip: Pour the water directly onto the berries to thaw them quicker.

Spinach Pesto Spaghetti Squash with Turkey Meatballs

spaghetti squash with spinach pesto

I love, love, love this recipe, and not just because it provides multiple servings of veggies in every bowl. The first time I made it, I had serious doubts about whether or not Vivi would even try it, and she wolfs it down every time. Total mom win. (FYI, the picture above is when I made it with chicken sausage, which you can totally do if you’re strapped for time, but I think Viv actually prefers the turkey meatballs and that’s how I usually make this one.)

Ingredients:
1 spaghetti squash
1-2 T olive oil

Pesto:
1 bag organic baby spinach
1 avocado
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
2-6 cloves garlic (I use a TON of garlic, but you do you)
1/4 c olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Meatballs:
1 T olive oil
1 package ground turkey
1/3 c bread crumbs (sub GF if you don’t do the gluten thing)
1 egg
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 t oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Clean your spaghetti squash and cut in half length-wise. Drizzle with olive oil, and place cut side-down on a baking sheet. Bake for 35-45 minutes. Once it’s done baking, remove and allow to cool. Once the squash is cool enough to handle, use a fork to scrape out the inside. It should come apart easily into noodle-like strings.

While the squash is baking, put all of the pesto ingredients into a food processor and pulse until smooth. (Note: This makes a lot of sauce, so you will probably have enough left over to smear onto sandwiches or drizzle onto tacos. Do your thang.)

Next, put the T of olive in in a large skillet set to medium-high. Combine all of the other meatball ingredients in a medium bowl and mix with your hands until just combined. Form into 1-inch balls. Once the oil is shimmering, add the meatballs and cook, slowly turning until all sides are browned and the meatballs are cooked through (about 5-7 minutes).

Assemble your plate spaghetti squash>meatballs>pesto. Tip: I always serve the squash with a bit of sauce to Vivi first, then meatballs. She tends to give veggies more of a chance when she’s at her hungriest.

Sweet Potato and Chicken Sausage Hash

sweet potato and chicken sausage hash

For this one, my only tip would be to make sure the peppers are thoroughly cooked and soft. Vivi likes the taste of cooked peppers, but if I leave the skin on, they’re difficult for her to chew unless I cook them down for at least 10 minutes.

Slow Cooker Honey Garlic Chicken and Veggies

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Again, I really recommend starting your toddler with the veggies here. We tend to serve Vivi’s meals in “courses,” and it typically goes green veggies (broccoli, green beans, spinach), then sweeter veggies (carrots, sweet potatoes), then protein, then bread or carb. And because Vivi isn’t a huge fan of white or red potatoes, I put potatoes and carrot in each forkful and she ate happily.

Greek Turkey Burgers

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Pictured is the adult way to eat these. (So delicious.) For Viv, I served a cucumber course with yogurt dipping sauce, then a burger with a bit more yogurt, then a piece of bread, and she ate all without any fussing at all.