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

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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

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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

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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.

 

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Vivi has never been a great napper.

While overnight sleeping has been fairly simple since she was about three months old, daytime sleeping is ALWAYS a struggle. And, like most parenting struggles, it probably stressed me out more than it should.

But just imagine:

Vivi would GENERALLY nap around 10:30 a.m. and then again around 3 p.m. When she was around ten months old, we started cutting back to one nap, which could happen anywhere from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. As you can probably tell, that’s a pretty big range. As a work-at-home-mom, a big nap range means it was difficult to schedule (and count on) work calls, interviews, or even just work time.

For those of you playing along at home, that added even more stress to my life.

Before I carry on with my story, I have a little anecdote for you: Some of you may remember when I was putting together Vivi’s nursery. I made a big fuss about trying to ensure that the room was as dark as possible when Vivi would be sleeping. But when I actually put everything to the test with infant Viv, the black-out shades were not…well, blacking out. Anything.

And you know what I did? I let it go. Yup, me. Of Grand Sux Cafe fame. I shrugged it off and let go and let God.

So time went on. And, as you know, Vivi continued to nap terribly.

AND I NEVER MADE THE CONNECTION BECAUSE I’M A MORON.

Which brings us to a few weeks ago when Viv and I spent a week at my parents’ house. Their guest bedrooms are all in the basement, giving them all a cave-like darkness incredibly conducive to sleeping in. Which I realized when Vivi slept about 14 hours straight her first night there. And again when all of her naps were over an hour and a half.

Perhaps this whole “darkness” thing was really onto something.

When I got home, I immediately went out and purchased an actual black-out curtain. And you know what happened?

Suddenly, my 12-hours-every-night-without-fail started sleeping an additional half-hour-to45-minutes every night. And napping? A few days ago, she slept THREE HOURS. That turned out to be a (magical) fluke, but she hasn’t napped for less than half an hour since updating the curtain.

Basically what I’m saying is that I’m never going to let anything go ever again. (Kidding.)(Kind of.)

As a parent, I’m sure there are going to be a lot of those “if I knew then what I know now” moments. But right now, insist on the black-out curtains is topping my list.

 

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One of my favorite things about being Vivi’s mom is watching her develop a sense of humor. It has always been fairly easy to coax a giggle out of her, but lately she has started to realize that she is funny.

Sometimes I watch her do something just to get a laugh out of me or whatever adoring audience has gathered around, and I have to marvel at that instinct. Sure, making someone laugh always makes me feel good, but what an amazing thing that babies feel that high too.

As a result, Vivi is just so silly. She’s constantly babbling, waving her arms, running around, and putting on a show. She fake sneezes, shrieks with joy, and blows raspberries on my tummy (giggling like a fiend all the way).

Her silliness is a reminder to me, too. My days are so full, and it’s easy to get caught up in my to-do lists. It’s easy to get frustrated or distracted. But when I see that huge grin spread across her face, the one that puts all five of her teeth on display, I can’t help but put down what I’m doing for a tickle fest or another round of “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”

I want to be a good, responsible mom, but I also want Vivi to remember that we had so much fun. We danced and sang and talked in silly voices and laughed and laughed and laughed.

Let’s get one thing straight: I am not a lipstick person. It has always been the one cosmetic that I’ve shied away from, and even in recent years (when I’ve become admittedly more into makeup), it has been a struggle to find anything that a) I like, b) is comfortable to wear, and c) actually stays on my mouth.

So, when I tell you that I like these four lipsticks, you should know that years of searching have gone into finding them. Respect.

I don’t wear lipstick every day, or even every week, but here are the shades I find myself reaching for whenever I do want to look a little more put-together.

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My nude lip….Beautycounter Lip Sheer in Twig.

Remember when I said I don’t wear lipstick every day? This is the one exception. I haven’t tried Beautycounter’s other lip sheers, but if the Twig shade is any indication, they are perfection. Creamy, moisturizing, and with build-able color that looks as great as it feels.

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My pink lip…Marc Jacobs Le Marc Creme Lipsticks in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

I got this lipstick as a free gift from Sephora, and I was immediately in love with it. The texture is really nice and not drying at all, and the color is bright but still pretty universally flattering. I wear it a lot more in warmer weather, but it’s a good semi-neutral pop to have in my back pocket. (LITERALLY.)(Not literally, it would probably melt.)

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My mauve lip…Buxom Big & Sexy Bold Gel Lipstick in Sultry Mauve.

Despite what the name implies, you do not immediately turn into a sexpot when you put this lipstick on. I actually find it to be really subtle, almost like a brighter version of my natural lip color. Great for almost every season, this is the anti-lipstick girl’s answer to bolder purple-y hues.

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My red lip…Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick in Fiery Red.

True life: I have always been deeply intimidated by red lipstick. It always looks so great on other people, but on me, I always felt like it to too loud, too pink, too orange, too…something. So I resigned myself to a life of neutrals (and secret lipstick envy of my braver friends). And then I got this version (again, in a trial set from Sephora). You guys. It is actually a true red, not too anything, and it somehow looks exactly right with my super pale skin. My favorite thing about it is that I barely have to wear any other makeup and my whole face looks brighter and more pulled together. Efficiency!

Of course, there’s one thing that helps every one of these looks (and really, any lipstick) look even better: white teeth. I’m fortunate that my teeth are naturally pretty white, but as a coffee addict drinker, I had definitely noticed that my chompers were looking a little worse for the wear. My dentist confirmed that my teeth were healthy, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t use a little boost.

So I was pretty excited when Smile Brilliant reached out to me about doing a blog partnership. Their teeth whitening kit is different from other strips and pastes I had tried in the past because they create custom whitening trays exactly fitted to your smile. Here’s how it works:

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First, Smile Brilliant sends you a kit to create your custom trays. It seems a little intimidating, but all you have to do is mix two putties together, put them in the blue trays, and then bite down for a minute.

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Next, after letting the trays dry overnight, you mail them in a pre-paid envelope back to Smile Brilliant for them to create your teeth whitening trays. The custom whitening trays will arrive about a week later.

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Then you’re ready to start whitening! The process has two steps, whitening and desensitizing. The length of time you spend whitening will depend on your own sensitivity, but I typically left my teeth whitening gel on for 50 minutes to an hour (AKA, the length of a TV show on Netflix). Then, the desensitizing gel goes on for 15-20 minutes, and I found that it really helped with tooth sensitivity. You can view a really simple how-to video by another blogger here, and here are some things to know before you whiten.

It will take 7-10 treatments to see full results, but I noticed my teeth started looking significantly whiter after the third treatment. I really liked how the trays were custom fit to my teeth, so there was no sliding and the treatment gel stayed right on the surface of my teeth. They were very comfortable, so I didn’t even mind wearing them for an hour. It was a little hard to capture the change in a photo, but my teeth are at least a shade or two whiter (before on the left):

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PLUS, Smile Brilliant is hosting a giveaway where you can win your own whitening tray creation kit and whitening/desensitizing gels! Click here to enter. But if you just can’t wait, you can also use the code stopmeifyouveheardthisone to get 5% off a kit at Smile Brilliant’s website — easy-peasy. Happy whitening!

Whitening kit provided as part of a partnership with Smile Brilliant. Opinions my own.


Professional Teeth Whitening