Saturday, July 30, 2016

An open letter to the mamas: Five things I learned after birthing twins

When I found out I was pregnant back in 2012, I was stunned. When I found out I was pregnant with twins, I was hysterical. Literally. I shouted at the doctor, and then I started to laugh. A lot. Uncontrollably. I laughed my way out of the office and into my car, and then I laughed the whole way home. I laughed until I got home to face my fiancee, and then I started sobbing.

I was terrified. I had never known anyone that had twins, especially not recently, and I had no idea what to expect... which is kind of par for the course when you're expecting anyway, but one biscuit in the oven is scary enough. Two is heart-stopping.

I knew I would be in for a rough ride, and I tried so hard to prepare myself. I read blog after article after blog and I called my mom a hundred times a month, I read "What To Expect When You're Expecting", I watched TLC's "A Baby Story". My best friend was pregnant at the same time I was, and her daughter ended up being born only a month before my boys, so I was fortunate to have her. It was like making a pact with a friend to work out more, or to stop smoking, only it was growing babies.

I learned a few things the hard way. I'm not sharing this information to educate anyone, because I'm sure most of you have already figured it out, or at least guessed as much. I'm sharing this because if you've experienced these things and felt the way I did, I want you to know that you're not alone, and you're a damn superwoman. If you haven't experienced these things, you're still a damn superwoman. Because you're a mama.

"Sleep when the baby sleeps" is a giant load of crap. Don't listen to people that tell you this. If you CAN and WANT to sleep when your peanut is sleeping, please do it. I could not. I was plagued by the thousands of chores and tasks that I needed to take care of, because I'm OCD and I couldn't stand it. Bottom line? Do what you want with that down time. Squeeze your blackheads. Binge on Netflix. Do the dishes. Pay the bills. Do whatever the hell you want, and whatever makes you happy, because you've earned it, mama.

Breastfeeding is great, but it is not for everybody. I struggled with this for a long, long time, and sometimes I still feel guilty. I am painfully envious of the moms that can make this work, and work well. I could not. I had a horrible infection after my C-section and I was forced to pump and dump the liquid gold while I was on medication, which hurt my heart. Three weeks later, my milk supply was garbage, and on top of that, one of my babies was tongue-tied, which made latching horribly painful and difficult. I tried everything to fix it, to give my babies what I thought they deserved: I took supplements, I took baths with them on my chest to encourage the latch, I slept about an hour a night trying to nurse them both as much as possible to kick-start my body in to mama mode, I went to a lactation consultant weekly, I pumped religiously, I did everything I was supposed to do.

Three months in, I finally was forced to give up, because at that point, the boys were exclusively formula-fed because my body just flat-out refused to cooperate. I sobbed and beat myself to a pulp over it. What if this had been a different era? My babies wouldn't survive, because I had failed at being able to nourish them.

But it's not a different era. It's now. We have wonderful, glorious formula, and my children thrived on it. They are in perfect health and have been since birth. They're also giant toddlers. I think the breast milk might have been a little too much on top of the formula, because they're over three feet tall and dwarf all other kids their age. Ha! The point is, mom-shaming culture shoves breastfeeding down our throats like it's the only thing that matters for our kids' health. It's not. If you can make it work, you're awesome. If you can't, you're still awesome, and don't let anyone freaking tell you otherwise.

C-sections are hell, and anyone that makes you feel like less of a mom for having one can suck it. I have plenty of friends who gave birth "naturally". Their recoveries were easy-breezy. Of course, they now had a shrieking, puking, pooping milkball to take care of, but they could do it without the battle of healing from major surgery and possible complications. That's awesome... I'm jealous.

C-section mamas are forced to take on twice the stress. The baby is hard enough for anyone at first, but have you ever had major surgery, abdominal or otherwise? It hurts to laugh. It hurts to fart. It hurts to pee, or move, roll over, sit up, lay down, sneeze, cough, poop (assuming you can that soon), it hurts to raise your voice. You have NO IDEA how often you use your abdominal muscles on a daily basis until someone has sliced through them and sewn them back together.

Spoiler alert: It's a freaking lot.

Schedules, especially with multiples, will literally save your sanity. Granted, any changes in schedules or routine took a little time to adjust to for everyone involved, but I'm telling you, FIND A ROUTINE AND STICK TO IT, no matter how many babies you have. I literally thought I was going to explode any time my schedule deviated even a bit, because I have horrible anxiety, but having a general routine at all was an absolute life-saver. When the twins were teeny-tiny, it was sleep, eat, cuddle, sleep, play. It was the same routine throughout pretty much the whole first year, with sleep gradually fading from certain points in the routine.

To this day, at three and a half years old, my boys cannot yet go without a nap and make it til bedtime, so we have a set nap time in the afternoon (they go down any time between 11am and 1pm, and wake up about 2 hours later), and we have a meal/snack schedule. They know it, and I know it, and it makes life just a bit easier while I'm spending the rest of the time literally pulling them down off the walls and picking up a thousand paper clips they stole at 2am and took to their room, or maybe cleaning up the juice that they chipmunked in their cheeks and then spit on their bedroom carpet where I couldn't see them at the time. Or maybe when they're trying to stick their finger in the cat's butt, or take their diapers off to pee on the dog (though they flat-out refuse to potty train). SCHEDULES. They leave you just enough sanity to deal with the rest of the cluster-mess!

You do not have to cherish and love every single moment. Nobody should expect you to, because you're a full-time zookeeper to a tiny, angry alligator that might be happily nomming on your boob while you wince in pain, or pulling the DVDs off the entertainment center shelves while she teachers herself how to pull up into a standing position, or crapping up his own back in that beautiful, brand new outfit your aunt bought him. You're allowed to be frustrated, and feel overwhelmed, and you do not have to smile twenty-four hours a day at the overload of cuteness galloping (or speed-crawling, or pooping, or whatever) all over your house.

Should you try to relish the happy, quiet, fun, exciting, and/or proud moments? Absolutely. Enjoy your little terrorist. But also take care of yourself. Retreat to your quiet place, whether it's somewhere inside your head or in the natural world. Read a book, watch a movie, take a nap, whatever... just don't feel like your attention should be 110% focused on your baby all day every freaking day. Don't neglect your kid... but don't neglect yourself either. You're allowed to be selfish, and you have to be, or you're going to go nuts. You're allowed to get annoyed with your kid; that's what they're made for. Don't feel guilty if you don't see every single moment of their lives as nothing but blessings and smiles and happy times. It's a whirlwind of ups and downs: embrace both.

I love my boys and I would die for them a thousand times over. I am incredibly grateful and fortunate to have had perfectly healthy, happy children, and I cannot imagine what some parents go through with serious health issues or even allergies, for crying out loud. My kids manage to make up for it by being tiny dictators, but I'm so glad that they're healthy enough to do it. But motherhood has not been 100% kind to me. I've dealt with PPD and a hundred other personal issues, in addition to behavioral and other issues with the boys. They scare the crap out of me.

The point is, I'm doing what I have to do to survive the free-fall down the mountainside of parenthood, and I'm making zero apologies for how I do it. I hope you'll do the same, and keep being super, mom.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

You did the best you could.

If you're on Facebook, you may have seen a story come up from a young mother that lost her four year-old boy recently in a terrible car accident. I saw this a few days ago, and it was the absolute most soul-shattering, heart-shredding thing I've read in a long, long time. If you haven't seen it already, you can read her story here.

The media blows up any and every opportunity to get a rise out of us, and through the development of the internet and social media, a new breed has been born among us, the likes of which I would love to never, ever see again: the mom-shamer.

Mom-shamers adopt the most nauseating of holier-than-thou attitudes regarding others' parenting struggles, mistakes, mishaps or simple accidents. This is easy to do from behind a keyboard, where you remain mostly anonymous and have the power to block anyone that would disagree with or speak against you. It's convenient, isn't it? Why do we get such a sick thrill out of shoving our views down other peoples' throats just because we can control the backlash, to a certain degree?

Ashley, the woman that wrote the story I linked above, was a good mama doing the best she could do. She tries her best to protect her many children (have you ever tried to care for a child? How about more than one?). She loves them and cherishes them and wants nothing but their health, safety and happiness. Why then, was she robbed of the life of one of her children? A tragic, unfortunate accident, but an accident. A split-second decision she made to try and keep her babies safe, which turned sour and backfired on her.

And the internet tore her to shreds for it.

It makes me ill... why do we have to do this? Why can't we just support each other? Why does this shaming culture exist at all? Is it so people that hate themselves and their lives can let their anger out by misdirecting it at someone who doesn't deserve it? The same thing happened with the two year-old boy that was taken by the alligator, and the little boy that fell into the gorilla enclosure in Cincinnati. People. Had. A FIELD DAY.

What would you do in those situations? How would you feel? How would you handle knowing that no matter how much you might love and try to protect your babies, things happen that you can't control, mistakes are made, accidents happen, and human error steps to the forefront because we're all just simply human. You can't say it wouldn't be you, or it wouldn't be your child. You literally cannot say that and make it true, because you will never know what's going to happen to you, or how, or why.

My point is, can we please, please stop shaming each other as parental failures? We all suck at this, darlings. We all make mistakes. Raising a child is literally just a gamble as to how little you manage to screw up. You are not a perfect parent, and nobody should ever expect you to be. Can we stop hiding behind our Facebook pages like cowards and ripping other people apart? We're human parents, and therefore, we are REQUIRED to make mistakes. Kids don't come with a manual.

Please do not misunderstand: I'm not saying there aren't horrible parents out there. The ones that neglect, abuse, or otherwise hurt their babies. I, for one, think those people should be sterilized and quarantined (and yes, I realize Hitler did this to innocent people... the point though, is that it takes a special kind of monster to hurt a child, much less your own). But for those of us that do the best we can, I think we deserve to cut ourselves and each other a little slack.

That's all we can do. That's all we can EVER do.

So Mama... Daddy... whoever you are to that child... if you can say at the end of the day that you did the best you could, then you're doing a damn fine job.

Even when it looks like this.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Happy Planner -> Bullet Journal: How I made my life even easier!!

When I was a stay-at-home mama, I was busy with two babies at the same time. I was running all day, cramming in chores when they slept, wolfing down dinner alongside my husband after they went to bed at 7:00, scrambling to keep them both alive and as un-harmed as possible. I was busy, but there wasn't much to keep track of. Poop, food, bottles, poop, clothing changes, poop, chores, repeat.

When I took on a part-time job working from home, suddenly my schedule exploded, because around this time I also started coming into different responsibilities that came along with home-ownership, toddlerhood, doggie ownership, and general life. So, when I discovered the Happy Planner, I was elated. But then....

Oh, but then.

I also discovered Bullet Journaling: yet another beautiful organizational system created by Ryder Carroll. The most fun part about BuJos is that they are created exclusively by the user, with Ryder's tips and various blog resources from BuJo users across the world. Bullet Journals (according at least to my personal interpretation) are essentially a glorious visual display of any and everything you want to keep track of in your life. The possibilities are endless. I will go into more detail as to what I include in my personal BuJo in a minute.

Index page with fold-out color coded key (there are corresponding color tabs on each page)

Left: "A Year In Pixels: 365 Inside my head", which features a box for each day of 
each month and a color coded chart to indicate my moods each day.
Right: Focus Page "My Addictions"

When everything really came together for me was when I realized that I could COMBINE my Happy Planner with my Bullet Journal. Here's why I did it:
1. The removable pages in a Happy Planner make it SO much easier to plan out and draw out your bullet journal. I bought a pack of MAMBI's note/graph paper and I use that for my BuJo. I recycled an old Happy Planner divider to specify where my BuJo would go in the planner.
2. If you have fully invested in the Happy Planner and you already have extra stuff laying around (as I did), you can recycle parts of your old HPs into a shiny new bullet journal all on its own. You can keep your BuJo in your actual planner, or take old covers, rings and pages and make an entirely separate one JUST for your Bullet Journal!
3. It's far more forgiving than a standard journal. You don't have to destroy things by ripping out pages, so if you make a mistake, and you're as OCD as I am, you can just remove the page cleanly and put a new one in without sacrificing anything. You could also glue a coloring page over the page you made the mistake on, glue two Happy Planner pages back-to-back to hide it, whatever you want to do. But the point is, if you use something similar to, say, a leather-bound journal, you don't have to rip or cut pages out and compromise the beauty of your finished journal.
4. Happy Planner decorations work beautifully for Bullet Journals ;) Washi tape, stickers, anything you like!
5. I am obsessive-compulsive and I want everything in my life to be in order... however, that does not mean that I have to use five different systems to stay organized! I've condensed all my tools and methods into one gorgeous little book!
6. IN THIS SAME JOURNAL that I created from Happy Planner materials, I also have my MAMBI home planner and recipe book. So basically, I have an everyday planner in one book, and all the rest of my stuff in another, with the option to combine the two into one big book if I so choose! That's why I love the Happy Planner system so much: it's so VERSATILE!

Savings Tracker pages

If you haven't been introduced to Bullet Journaling yet, please go check out my planning and journaling board for all kinds of awesome ideas for your own BuJo. You can track everything from personal goals, to habits, to finances, to books you want to read... the list is ENDLESS, and there are so many tutorials out there on how to learn hand-lettering and different banners and dividers to use in your journal/planner.

Check it out! I promise you won't regret it!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Happy Planner: An Overview for Newbies

LADIES (and applicable gentlemen). If you have been on the hunt for the perfect planner your whole life (as I have), and you have not yet discovered the Happy Planner, I hope I am about to rock your entire world. I discovered this little guy by accident, and at first, I passed it up because I thought it would just be another disappointment.

I was wrong. So wrong. Monumentally wrong.

What Is It?
The Happy Planner is a meticulously designed planning/life management system that is fully customizable and can be completely disassembled and put right back together without ripping or tearing any pages. [Me & My Big Ideas (MAMBI)] offers a full line of accessories and extensions for their planners, including but not limited to stickers, pocket folders, and inspirational cards.

Mambi even recently changed the weekly layout pages, which feature three vertically-stacked spaces for planning. The colored bars above each space used to be headers that read "morning", "afternoon" and "evening", but have been removed, I assume, to allow even further customization.


Each 18-month happy planner is comprised of a heavy-duty laminated front and back cover, both monthly and weekly pages, and dividers for each month, all bound by a set of plastic discs, which are designed to allow the pre-cut pages to pop in and back out with minimal effort and zero damage. The 18-month planners begin in July of the current year, and end in December of the following year (ex: July 2016 through December 2017). The different customization options available are listed below, and may not be a full list (who knows what else is out there?!). View the mostly-full line of available Happy Planner stuff and prices [here], on Hobby Lobby's website. I get all my Happy Planner stuff at Hobby Lobby, because you can use the 40% off coupon on one item for each visit to the store (the exclamation points indicate that the product is already pre-punched and ready to be added to the planner).

Left: Back side of pocket folder (pocket on each side)
Right: Pocket page with insert cards

*Replacement cover packs (various designs in one pack) (!)
*Replacement disc sets (mini, medium or expandable)
*Extra dividers (!)
*Pocket folders (!)
*Note/graph paper (!)
*Page protectors (!)
*Pocket pages (!)
*Decorative/inspiration cut-outs that fit the pocket pages (you can also make your own, or use photos!)
*Six-month extensions (!)
*Fitness, wedding, recipe and home management extensions (!)
*Sticker packs (packs of 5-6 sheets in various design and color schemes, including puffy stickers)
*Sticky notes attached to a bit of cardstock to keep in your planner (!)
*Inspirational cards
*Washi tape sets in various design/color schemes
*Half-sheet note paper (!)
*Elastic place-holder bands
*Decorative binder and paper clips
*Decorative magnetic page clips
*Pen holders
*Happy Planner hole punch
*Storage/carrying case
*Pencil pouch with elastic band to attach to planner

Pastel Blooms sticker set from Danielle at FitLifeCreative, used in conjunction with Mambi stickers.

Pro Tips
-Here's the best part. Ready? You don't even need all this stuff to glam plan, BUT IF YOU WANT IT, you can buy one or two things per trip to Hobby Lobby and use the 40% off coupon on one thing EVERY TIME.
-You can add literally anything you want into this planner. You could buy the hole punch with a coupon, OR you could just use an existing planner page, mark the holes, and punch them with a standard hand-punch, then cut slits in to fit.
-The free printables are an OCD decorator's dream come true. Visit [this] post for a list of my favorite printable designers that offer lots of gorgeous free "sticker" sets (though I don't print them on sticker paper, just printer paper, and glue them into my planner). Mambi also has some free printables on their [website]. There are printables on sites such as Etsy that cost money, but the pool of free options is vast and gorgeous!
-Glam planning is a relaxing, productive, and joyful activity. I crave the hour or two that I sit down every few days to get crafty
-You can buy a starter kit for around $35 (closer to $21 with a Hobby Lobby coupon) that includes a 12-month planner and various accessories. This isn't a bad idea if you're on the fence and don't want to invest, and you can purchase six-month extensions if you decide you like it. If you have zero doubts though, as I did, I suggest going big or going home, and just getting the 18-month planner with a few accessories/sticker packs and starting there, then browsing the printable options.
-If/when you buy a new planner for a new year, SAVE THE OLD ONE! I disassembled my old one and kept all the parts as spares. You could even use the covers and small rings to start a new Happy Planner from scratch for, say, recipes/home management, or something of the sort. My plan is to recycle my old planner for my home management extension, recipe extension and fitness extension, and use that separately from my daily planner.
-You can make your own inspirational cards using old, pre-punched dividers! Many of the dividers have lovely quotes and such on them, and others have cute designs that you can write over yourself.
-My favorite pens to use with the planners are the [PaperMate Flair] felt-tip pens. They're a perfect hybrid of pen and marker, without the excessive bleed-through of a Sharpie. You can get them for different prices, at different places, in different color schemes and counts! (Currently, they have a limited edition tropical pack that is soooo adorable!)

A Few Final Notes
This planner is literally for any and everyone. Students, teachers, parents, single ladies (or guys), employed, unemployed, ANYONE. If you're busy, you can keep track of your life and take some down time when you like to decorate and glam plan. If you're not busy, you have plenty of time to decorate! There is no down-side! I very HIGHLY recommend to everyone that enjoys being creative, organized, or both to check out this planner.

Here's a completed week in my planner:

Look at this satisfying photo. LOOK AT IT.

Remember to check out [this] post for more information about free printables and other resources!

Thanks for reading, and HAPPY PLANNING!

*DISCLAIMER: I am receiving no compensation or payment for anything I am writing, nor any of the affiliate links in this post. All photos are my own. I am writing this blog of my own accord to share information, and I am not being paid by Mambi.

Happy Planner: Resources and Tips

Hey, folks! Here's a compilation of information I use for my Happy Planning and bullet journaling. Read on for some great resources!!

*Pinterest is an incredible resource for all things Happy Planner, or Erin Condren (if you prefer). Check out my planning/journaling board and follow it if you'd like to snag some of the pins I come across!

*Here's a photo that shows the exact measurements of the Happy Planner, if you'd like to make your own decorations:

Here are my top five resources for GORGEOUS free printables:

There are also a number of websites and Pinterest pins that give you ideas for things to keep track of in your planner. Try searching Pinterest for "happy planner", "glam planning", "journaling prompts", and "bullet journal" for some ideas!

Have fun!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Furry toddlers

I recently adopted a one year-old Siberian Husky. My parents have a husky, who is a sweetheart and a relatively calm dog for the breed (he is older, though), and while I knew this new dog was going to be nuts, I was COMPLETELY FLOORED at how unbelievably similar he was to my three year-old twin boys.

This is Chewbarka the Woofiee, who has earned his name (changed from "Theo") due to his INSATIABLE appetite and love of chomping.


So, not even kidding, Chewy is a 43 pound furry toddler. I watch him with my boys, and I'm grateful that he's such a great-tempered dog... he never jumps on them (I am not off-limits though), he's calm and gentle with them, lays in bed with them while they nap, runs alongside them back and forth across the house... he was an instant fit when we first met him and he's been awesome!

However, Chewy is very chewy.
Chewy is hyper.
Chewy is ornery.
Chewy is an asshole.
Chewy is exactly like my toddlers.

Here's a fun little chart, for those of you considering a Siberian Husky as the newest addition to your family. They are awesome dogs, and so much fun. They are very friendly and sweet once they get used to you. BUT IT IS LITERALLY LIKE HAVING A TODDLER. Tread carefully if you are kid-free or have enough of them on your hands already.

Friday, April 22, 2016

REMODEL: Thrift shop curio cabinet turns TV stand

This is, by far, my best project yet. Granted, this remodel was done in a full garage, with the right tools... rather than on the front lawn of a townhouse apartment with a few hand tools and spray paint. But still! Here's a peek into the process involved.

-Curio cabinet: $40 (Goodwill Home Store... highly recommended! Sadly, I believe the only one is currently in Bowling Green, OH, as it's a prototype)
-Behr gloss paint in Antique White (1 gallon): $15
-Behr gloss paint in Watermelon Sorbet (1 quart): $15
-2 sheets medium-density fiberboard: $13
-Deglosser/liquid sandpaper: $6
-Old rags: $0
-Shelf pegs (recycled from an old bookshelf): $0
-Washi tape: $2
-Palm sander/sandpaper: $0
-Power drill with hole saw attachment: $0
-Backsaw: $0
-Paint brushes, roller frames, and roller covers: $0
TOTAL COST: About $100

The first and most important (and also infuriating) step was to figure out how to get the YEARS worth of goopy, waxy polish off of the curio cabinet. It was a lovely dark stain, and someone had certainly taken care to protect it... but I had a hard time appreciating this. I scraped and sanded and scraped, and eventually discovered the glory of a healthy coat (or four, in this case) of liquid sander. Eventually, I got through the yuck, gave it a quick once-over with a sanding sponge, and went to work.

I removed the doors and all of the hardware on the front of the cabinet:

The stinky twinkies helped by adding some colorful accent pieces.

Then I went to work painting. I started with the outside, to see how well the white would take to the dark stain. It took about three coats before it was fully covered, but I added a light fourth coat for good measure (I might have a tendency to over-do things sometimes, but it worked in this case):

The coffee cup left a slight stain, and I was delighted to see it 
wipe right off with a little Windex. Yay for gloss paint!

The fiberboard was the cheaper option for shelves (over solid wood), and wasn't too bad to work with. I measured about forty times, marked my lines, and then started cutting with a hacksaw. I quickly discovered that this was a bad idea:

It probably didn't help that I don't own real sawhorses or a workbench. 
I used a junk door on a set of plastic sawhorses.

The top of the hacksaw got stuck as I tried to cut long-ways. So I switched to a back saw, which is titled as such due to the fact that the cutting is done primarily on the back stroke. It was much easier! I lightly sanded the edges of the fiberboard to smooth them out, and then painted them the same color that I was painting the interior of the cabinet: Watermelon Sorbet!

The painting part is pretty straightforward, even if you're not familiar with painting. Cut in the edges and tight spaces with a brush, bringing the strokes outward toward the middle. You should cut in at least two coats, and then you can roll the rest (2-3 coats, depending on the color underneath. I used three!).

For the shelves, I re-used old pegs from a bookshelf that fell apart. I matched the diameter of the pegs to a drill bit, and then took strips of painter's tape and measured/marked the holes (I did three rows of holes for adjustable shelves on the left side; the right side already had holes for a large, single shelf). I stuck the tape where I wanted it and measured and leveled, then drilled straight through the tape. The holes were perfectly placed and level, and I just re-used the tape every time I drilled!

At the very end, I lined the fronts of the shelves with pretty, coordinating Washi tape to hide the ugly fiberboard edges. I sanded a bit to distress the edges, cut holes for cords in the back with a hole saw attachment (similar to this one; it attaches to a drill so you can cut a clean hole), and voila:

We built the free-standing shelf on the bottom right to keep the stereo receiver elevated 
so it didn't overheat and destroy the Blu-Ray player ;)

I'm thrilled with the way it turned out, but the ONLY thing I regret (and learned from) was the extra step I took to protect it: two coats of polyurethane in a spray can. If you use this stuff, ever, MAKE SURE you get the non-yellowing kind. This same piece now has some weird yellow stains on it from the polyurethane, and I'll probably have to re-paint it to get rid of it. 

Other than that, it was a super-fun, educational project that taught me how to do a lot of things!