Since becoming a mom I have loved making the boys their own special birthday cakes and enjoy decorating them. I’m by no means a professional or have any kind of training – but I have learned a few things along the way as the evolution of photos at the end of this post shows! I thought I would share some of the simple tips that have made a big difference in my cake game, from amateur mom baker to another.
Make it easy on yourself – I don’t make the entire cake from scratch… I’m all about jazzing up a box cake mix (using milk instead of water, butter instead of oil). If you want to try to do a fun decoration don’t feel like you have to DO IT ALL. Make things easier where you can!
Invest in a cake kit. The first few years I didn’t spend the $17 for a cake kit and I kinda wish I had. A turntable, a scraper and a couple decent spatulas can really make a big difference. This is the one I bought this year. They sell ones with dozens of more pieces but I opted for something simple.
Freeze your rounds – this was a tip I discovered last year. Freezing or chilling your cake rounds makes frosting SO much easier!! There’s none of that crumbling you normally experience and it doesn’t take away from the taste or texture. Just make sure to wrap them in plastic wrap tightly if you plan on chilling or freezing for longer than 30 min.
Start small and pick a design or style that you’re excited about – I get most of my ideas off pinterest & I try to pick cakes that feel doable. Over the years I have slowly expanded what I felt like was “doable” 3 years ago I would have never even tried this Cars cake. The idea of doing a fondant checkerboard bottom alone would have been too much. Even this year, I was fully prepared to scrap that detail if it wasn’t working out!
Stop by your local bakery! – did you know most grocery stores will sell you their cake frosting?? This year I went to Safeway and bought a bunch of white frosting directly from the bakery & then dyed it red! I’ll definitely be doing this going forward. Again, make things easier where you can! Maybe someday I’ll have time to perfect my own cake frosting but for now this is a short cut I’ll be taking!
BONUS: Have fun with it! Even if your cake flops it won’t be the end of the world. I have store-bought cupcakes as a back up & I focus on the fun aspect! Also don’t underestimate the power of crumbled graham cracker or Oreo cookie as a way to add texture and make the cake look more detailed!
For most people March means the welcoming of Spring & St. Patricks Day. But for me, March will always make me pause, make me look around and think about all the different ways my life could have gone. Three years ago on a random March Monday our world flipped upside down. I thought I was taking my husband to the ER for an unmanageable migraine. In the hours that followed, his mentation deteriorated, I held my 10 month old son, and watched as my coworkers work fervently trying to figure out what had caused my high functioning husband to suddenly become unable to finish sentences, use his hands, or even follow commands. I sat beside him as a machine breathed for him, in the same room I had cared for countless intubated patients over the years. Stunned that this was my reality.
About a month after Chris’ “outage” as we jokingly refer to it now, I did write a post about our experience with viral encehphalitis, you can read it here . It’s funny because there are similar threads, thoughts on immense gratitude for life but reading it now it’s clear that at the time I thought “welp processed that, time to move on”. I refer to Chris’ recovery in the past tense, when in reality it would be over a year before he truly felt like himself again. And I would spend the year having intense flash backs and resisting attempts at truly processing it. Perspective baby.
I wish I could say that those nights in the ICU were the hardest part but the weeks and months that followed would be far more arduous. The get well flowers wilted and life outside our apartment walls went back to normal but inside I felt shell shocked. I was on edge wondering if every bout of dizziness or return of a headache was the start of Chris’ encephalitis returning. In the midst of balancing the household responsibilities and caring for our ten month old son the trauma loomed over us. At the time, I remember mostly saying “I don’t wanna talk about, let’s just move on”. Spoiler alert – you can’t just move on from your trauma without ever processing it.
I resisted for so long, thinking the walls I was building up would protect me. My decade as an ER nurse has been a masterclass at keeping trauma at arms distance, emotionally detaching myself from immense sorrow. It’s how us nurses are able to go from compressing a lifeless chest one minute & doing a vision test the next. A skill that I’ve since learned should be used with measure. When it came to this, the more I turned away the more it hurt. As much as I yearned for everything to “be normal” again it wouldn’t be. And that was the point. This was meant to transform us, if we’d let it.
I started recognizing that even though I didn’t want to “relive it” I already was, and it was happening out of my control (usually at work). Those memories seared into my brain, played like a movie with crystal clearness. I would get flashes of what happened that day, my coworkers sprinting around. The looks on peoples faces. The same hallway I walk dozens of time per shift, that I sat and sobbed in, all those memories loomed under the surface, red hot. About a year ago I was transferring a patient to the ICU. The patient was going into the same room Chris had been in. When I crossed the threshold in an instant I was taken right back to being at his bedside. The first two nights I had ever spent away from my son. As I wheeled my patient waves of overwhelming heaviness and fear washed over me. Fear of not knowing what life would be like when he was extubated. Wondering what would he remember, how much PT would he need, how far from baseline would he be starting at? Would I suddenly be caring for my son & my husband? All the feelings and fears I never allowed myself feel in real time because I was flexing my detachment muscle as hard as I possibly could.
That night I went home and wrote. I wrote about what it felt like to walk back into that room, I wrote about my fears, I wrote about the last twelve months. I wrote about things I didn’t even realize were below the surface. Some of which would be the skeleton of this post. My younger self used to fill journal after journal growing up. That habit abruptly stopped when nursing school took over my life. Writing in journals suddenly felt juvenile, like something I did only as a kid, before I had real problems. But here I was watching the words pour out of me. Chris’ encephalitis albeit life altering and terrifying has been the single biggest catalyst for change for not only Chris but myself as well.
This transformation certainly didn’t happen overnight, and in writing this, I know it is still ongoing. In some ways this experience feels like yesterday and other times it feels like a lifetime ago. It isn’t until you’re met head on with life’s raw fragility that you’re faced with either growing and evolving or hiding away. I could have continued to turn away, continued to say “I don’t wanna talk about it or relive it” but I’m convinced I wouldn’t have grown. Instead, eventually, I turned into it.
Right away we prioritized physical health – Per his doctors recommendations we did the Whole30 diet to figure out what had caused his body to be in such a hyper-inflammatory state. Chris embarked on Neuro Physical Therapy. I leaned into my at home workouts that I knew were keeping me from totally losing it. We slowed way down. Chris started talk therapy, and I actually agreed to open up about my experience. We discovered our enneagram types and recognized the role they played in our relationship, our daily lives and the way we communicate with one another. I started writing again. And last year I started meditating. Sitting with my thoughts, creating space and stillness has opened entire new worlds for me. I started intentionally choosing to use that experience to shape my life going forward. I recognized that through bettering myself, through facing my trauma I could help others.
This March I felt a very strong pull to lean back into things that bring me genuine happiness. I bought a doodle pad, I dusted off my sewing my machine, I’m reading books that make me laugh and cry. I’m posting here more! I’m planting flowers in every open space in our yard. I’m filling journals again, I’m overcommitting to projects (because I secretly love that)!
So this morning, this March Monday, I’m up before the sun. I’m giving my mind the gift of pausing. I’m moving my body and overall I’m thankful. Because even thought it may not seem like it it. It’s all connected. Your gifts, your circumstances, your purpose, your imperfections; your journey, your destiny. It’s molding you. Embrace it.
Nearly all of us have made New Years resolutions only to watch them fizzle out before February. The end of the year can stir up all kinds of feelings. Whether your year was filled with great change, new additions to your family or maybe your year was filled with setbacks or grief, or maybe like most of us, a little of both. Sometimes it can be hard to look back and try to set goals especially if maybe your goals haven’t changed much. I love reflecting on the year, and thinking about what I want to take forward with me into the new year, but the idea of making resolutions is kinda bleh. A few years ago I was listening to a podcast where they shared the idea of instead of making resolutions creating a list for the year (20 for 2020, 21 for 2021 etc). Often times resolutions don’t strike us as fun things, although they certainly could be. The list is a way to reframe resolutions. You can fill your list with anything you want. Maybe it’s a list of 22 recipes to try this year, or 22 hikes. Or maybe it’s a list of half fun half tasks. They even suggest leaving a few spaces blank so you can fill it out with throughout the year when you get inspired. I personally like to fill my lists with some fun things, a few larger goals for the year, and easy things that I’ve been putting off but that can be crossed off in a day. The goal isn’t necessarily to get every single thing crossed off the list. It’s more just about thinking of what you’d like to accomplish in the year and adding some whimsy! I figured I would share both my 2021 & 2022 lists to give some inspiration!
21 in 2021
Take the boys to the snow!
Go to the dentist – did this with 8 days left in the year!
Night away with Chris
Take the boys to the beach
Meditate / gratitude daily
Take Will on day dates (I want to do more of this in 2022 – we only did a handful of these this year)
Read 10 books (currently reading book # 10)
Create 2020 photo book
Holiday photo frames
Get family photos taken – had these scheduled but bad weather had us cancelled. 2022!!
Swim lessons for Will
Have a spring garden
Host at our house
Redo boys closets
Find a PCP
Go to Yosemite
Less than 5 hours screentime / day
Get Johnathans birth certificate
Hike LimeRidge – This was a 2020 roll over! Made it happen this year.
Overnight BFF trip – This did not happen this year but will happen in 22!
22 in 2022
Get family photos taken
Read 12 books
Trip to NYC
Redo front yard landscaping
Day dates with boys
Switch to clean makeup
Run a 5k
Go to the dermatologist
Find a PCP
Do 3 Day Refresh
Get pictures off old macbook
Do a 30 minute meditation monthly – I want to push myself to sit in stillness longer this year.
Take boys to Tilden / BADM 3x
Plan and Plant a spring / summer garden
Pay off mazda
Take Juno on weekly walks
Make an album of now
Paint master bath / add shelving
Take a social media Sabbath each week
Go to a National Park
Shiplap entry way
I’d love to know how the ending of a year makes you feel? Do you enjoy reflecting on the year? Is it hard to come up with resolutions? Or do you take a spin on resolutions and do something whimsy filled like a fun list?
I think most of our lives are more complex than just “good year” “bad year”. 2021 for me was filled with seeing more family, getting to take our boys on adventures, finding a new world of calm and presence through meditation. Turning inward and looking at barriers and old wounds that are holding be back from being the happiest version of myself. There were also moments of grief and struggle. We lost my cousin this year. And in October I laid with my son in a hospital bed for 70 hours while doctors decided if he needed to go to the ICU. None of us are immune to the sorrow that life will inevitably throw at us, but we are capable of looking for light & allowing that light to come in. I’m always brought back to a quote by Milan Kundera from his book The Unbearable Lightness of Being “The heavier the burden the closer, the closer our lives become to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. what then shall we choose? Weight or lightness”. No matter what 2021 brought to you, I hope you are able to find light & take that light in 2022 with you!
Cheers to a New Year! Oh & if you make a list I’d LOVE to see it!
Why doesn’t anyone warn you about sensory overload as a mother. I feel like we hear about moms being “touched out” but it’s not just being touched. It’s the dog barking, it’s the wooden hammer on the cabinet, it’s the doorbell ringing, it’s the repetitive phrase your toddler has chosen to say louder and louder, it’s that toy with the annoying song that someone left on.
I struggle with overstimulation big time. I first started really noticing it a few months into breastfeeding J. Combining feeding a distractible infant while cross monitoring what a busy two year old is getting into had me almost always in this fight or flight mode. It was not the peaceful breastfeeding experience I had with Will. After stopping nursing I realized another rapid fire way for me to get sent into sensory overload was when we would roughhouse. It would only take getting hit in the face a few times for me to suddenly feel like my walls were closing in, my skin would start crawling, I’d immediately want no one to touch me.
It is easy to question yourself, to feel alone. Why is the dog barking or my kid wanting to “wrestle” me causing me to feel SO uncomfortable. My heart beats faster, I feel annoyed, angry at seemingly insignificant things. Each noise feeling like an interruption into the single thought I’m trying to complete. I found myself deeply craving silence. In the moment feeling like I want to retreat into darkness.
Before we had kids I would occasionally feel this way after a busy shift. Chris would play music in the mornings and I remember this same feeling, the music was too much, it felt like my brain was still too close to that fight or flight mode. Even if I slept it still felt like all the alarms, ringing phones, or screaming patients were still right there. All it took was turning the music down and it’d go away quickly. Well with kids you can’t just turn down the volume and often times the volume feels like it’s just increasing.
If you feel this way too, you’re not alone. It is totally normal to get sensory overloaded and you are not selfish or a bad mom for wanting silence. Letting our brains decompress from the stimulus of motherhood is absolutely necessary in order for us not just to survive but thrive in motherhood. We all have difference tolerances and triggers when it comes to stimulus but there all ways to help both prevent and rescue yourself from fight or flight.
Know your triggers & set boundaries around them. Find out the sounds or types of stimulus that push you quickly into that mode If that toy remote your kid has plays a song that makes you want to tear your hair out – take the batteries out! Make certain toys for outside play only. I personally stopped buying dog toys with squeakers, instituted a drumming outside only rule, and encourage loud play to be done in bedrooms instead of common areas. I also know to put my hair up so it doesn’t get accidentally snagged by a toddler, and to set clear boundaries when we roughhouse I usually say something like “If I get hit in the face again, I will need to take a break from the game”. It sounds silly but the boundary setting works & is another valuable skill to teach your kids. When it comes to your body setting clear boundaries that you hold in turn teaches your kids that it is okay and they can set boundaries with their bodies too! Tickling is the prime example. Whenever my boys say stop to tickling we ALWAYS stop. Continuing to tickle your kids when they say stop is saying “it’s okay to ignore people’s boundaries”.
Practice LOUD & soft – when your kids are already screaming is not the time to try to teach them how to whisper. Instead turn it into a game at a time when they are fairly calm. We play this at the dinner table. We can’t expect our kids to know things we haven’t bothered to teach them, teaching them how to control their volume is an important life skill and future teachers will thank you!
Breathe mama breathe – When you are seeing white & are in that mode. Literally stop moving, and start breathing. Take a slow deep breathe, hold for 4 seconds, exhale. repeat. Closing your eyes helps too. This physiologically will help bring your body and your nervous system out of fight or flight.
Carve out quiet. I personally get up 1-2 hours before my kids now that they both sleep through the night. I use this time to meditate, journal, read, workout, get breakfast ready. I know this is not for everyone. At the very minimum I get up 10 minutes before them. Enough time to sit in silence and stillness. Creating a quiet morning ritual will give you a sense of control over your day. You are not immediately thrown into a reactive state. This has probably been the thing that helps me the most. Sitting in stillness feels like the most luxurious thing once you have kids and meditation has helped me actualize this concept that peace is within us and are able to find it whenever we like.
Use a screen, recompose, and don’t feel guilty. You will be more present and a better parent. When I had peaceful nursing sessions it was either in the middle of the night, while Will was sleeping or when will was watching Mickey Mouse. Looking back I’m thankful I did that and wish I had recognized this sooner and found more ways to make more peaceful nursing sessions.
Speak Up. Do not suffer in silence. Name what you’re feeling. Is the clutter overwhelming you, is the music too loud, is toddler hanging from your leg pushing you into a reactive hyperstimulated state? Name it. Talk about it. If you are lucky to have a partner or support system talk to them, and try to find ways to release. Some days when my husbands comes in from work (he works in a detached office in our yard) I will tell him I need to go sit in the office for a few minutes of silence.
Can’t believe it’s been a whole month with this guy and in true second child fashion this post is going up 2 weeks after these photos were taken. This first month has been wonderful, Johnathan got to meet both sets of grandparents & William has fully embraced big brother duties. Johnathan also moved out of our room & into his own, but he’s still snoozing in his bassinet. Per usual time is flyyyying by, but we’re over the moon with our littlest man.
Postpartum can be a roller coaster & anything you can do to make life a little easier or comfier is a no brainer. Below are 10 of my postpartum must haves this time around!
After Ease drops – this tincture helps with afterbirth contractions that typically become more painful with each consecutive pregnancy. I added a few drops to my water before breastfeeding & I noticed a big difference when I used it versus when I forgot.
Frida Mom Ice Maxi Pads – These are AWESOME. I know at the hospital they give you ice packs but i found these to work SO much better, colder, lasted longer – highly recommend.
Cute Button Down Pajamas – It’s easy to feel really frumpy & gross postpartum, none of your clothes fit, you want to wear something comfy & easy to breastfeed in. Treat Yo Self & get yourself some cute soft pajamas, you won’t regret it.
Heating Pad – I tucked this into my hospital bag. Depending on your labor you can definitely feel like you got hit by a train. Although my labor was significantly quicker & less dramatic this time around, once my epidural wore off my back was SO sore. I don’t know if it was from the epidural itself, or if it was from a way I was laying, either way a heating pad can offer relief if the advil just isn’t cutting it!
Placenta Capsules – this is by far my top postpartum must have! I encapsulated my placenta my first pregnancy & did it again this time around. Although still not widely practiced here in the US, placenta encapsulation is extremely popular in Eastern Medicine – benefits include: replenishing Iron stores in your body, decreased postpartum depression, decreased anxiety, increased energy, increased milk supply. Last pregnancy I wasn’t certain that the pills helped, I felt good but I didn’t know if the pills were part of that. This time it was our second day home & I remember this feeling coming over me of just wanting to bawl. And I hadn’t taken any of my pills yet, Chris suggested I take one & see. Within two hours I felt SO much better. I felt like myself. Now I take 2-3 daily. I notice a boost in energy & mood when I take them. If you’re interested in encapsulating your placenta but don’t know where to start, I have found that often times doulas will offer encapsulation services!
Nursing Tanks – I like these from H&M they come in a lot of colors / prints & are fairly affordable.
A good water bottle – I personally couldn’t live without my hydroflask, I love ICE cold water so this bad boy serves me well. I’m never without it. When I’m breastfeeding I’m incredibly thirsty & it’s one of the best ways to keep your milk supply up.
Nipple Cream – I used this nipple cream when I was breastfed William. A little 1oz jar will last you for so long.
Hakka Pump – Breast pumps can be SO pricey – this little silicone pump from amazon is a great snag. It’ll run you under $15 & just put it on the opposite breast while feeding & it’ll catch the let down. However it’s not great if you have an oversupply of milk as it can cause your oversupply to be worse.
Tap Light – this little light is one of my absolute favorites. In fact I often gift it to new mamas. It is super light weight, cordless, and can be dimmed & changed from warm to cool lighting. I packed it in my hospital bag this time & I loved having instead of having to turn on the aggressive hospital lighting. Once we’re home I keep it on my bedside table for middle of the night feeds & in fact we still use the one we got for William two years ago!
Yesterday my bestfriend came over & we shot Johnathan’s newborn photos. We did this when William was a newborn too. Newborn photography can be costly & intimidating but they don’t have to be! These photos took about an hour all in all to shoot. Ideally you want to take photos in the first week or two when babies are the squishiest & easiest to pose & they tend to stay asleep through different positions. Below I’ll share tips for taking your own photos & the set up we used.
The Set Up
Heating Pad – Be VERY careful with a heating pad. I placed it under a thick plush blanket & set it on the lowest setting, checking frequently to make sure it wasn’t too hot, I ended up turning it off completely.
Plush Blanket – something with texture is nice
Somewhere near a window with lots of light!
I put the heating pad over the boppy pillow, followed by the plush blanket I wanted to use. This blanket is extra special because my late aunt sent it to us shortly before she lost her battle to cancer one day after our son was born.
I positioned the boppy / blanket set up on our bed near a window that got plenty of afternoon light. But when I took William’s newborn photos the set up was on his rocking chair, near a window. The key is finding an area of your home that gets good natural light.
The heating pad helps keep baby nice & cozy & asleep. I use it when I’m taking photos when baby isn’t wearing anything but a diaper. As I mentioned previously, exercise extreme caution when use the heating pad, don’t use it above the first setting and check frequently the temperature!
Next up: Angles! I go by one simple rule: if you can see up the baby’s nostrils it’s not the best angle. You want to shoot the opposite way. Granted you’ll notice not all of the photos live by that rule but it’s a good thing to keep in mind while you’re taking photos.
Editing: Most photo editing apps have a lot of free features you can adjust. For newborn photos I usually follow these basic steps: Straighten the photo, increase exposure, decrease shadows, decrease texture & clarity. I use light room to edit all my photos so I’m also able to fiddle if I want to decrease any hues of certain colors. You’d be amazed at how much better a photo can look just by simply straightening it & adjusting the exposure.
If you’re on a budget, don’t want strangers in your home taking photos during a pandemic or are like me and can’t stomach paying hundreds of dollars for photos you can take yourself try out these tips!
Last night we spontaneously decided to head over to Baker Beach for the sunset and it ended up being one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve probably ever seen. This past week was so busy, Chris was gone Monday through Thursday for work, I worked 3 shifts including Saturday night. I celebrated a friends birthday & Sunday we went to Dim Sum for a red egg & ginger party. So Sunday was the first day Chris, William & I were all together for a whole day in a week!
Before having Will I used to take Juno to the beach weekly. It’s truly her heaven on earth but now days it’s a two person job. One to wrangle the dog and one to wrangle the toddler. I’m acutely award that we won’t live 10 minutes from the beach forever so I’m trying soak up all the beach days I can & even though it can be hectic I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Part 2 of our trip to Tennessee & Georgia! These photos are from the wedding we attended in Bell Buckle Tennessee. As you can tell by most* of the photos William had a blast. We got to spend some great time with family, we all stayed at a B&B together & were just a few blocks from the rehearsal & wedding.
It’s officially summer & San Francisco already had it’s first heat wave of the year. Temperatures got up into the 90’s which is about 30 degrees higher than our usual summer temps! Keeping a toddler entertained as well as trying to get them to sleep when it’s 90 degrees in your apartment is no joke. So in the spirit of summer I thought I’d share some ways to beat the heat with a toddler & share some photos from the heat wave & the weekend we spent enjoying the heat at my brother’s house.
Water tables – these are an awesome investment! We got this one for William’s birthday. And it was a serious lifesaver during the heat wave. I highly recommend water tables – they are fairly affordable & provide so much entertainment for toddlers. Even when it’s a little too chilly to be playing in the water William has a great time playing with the table without the water. He loves putting the balls down the track & finding things in the yard that can go in the water table. If you live somewhere remotely warm I’d totally invest in a water table.
Popsicles – pair a Popsicle with a water table and you’ve got yourself one happy toddler, enough said!
Baby wipes in the fridge – talk about a quick & inexpensive way to cool off. This is such an easy trick to make your baby or toddler or even yourself just slightly more comfortable in the heat.
Stroller fan – this is a good gadget to have if you live somewhere that experiences a fair amount of heat. This is perfect for car rides where kiddos don’t always get the best airflow in those hot car seats especially facing backward. You can also clip it onto a stroller.
My final tip for beating the heat is to seek out AC wherever possible. Libraries are a great free place to take a toddler to try to get some reprieve from the heat. Even just an hour wandering around the grocery store or target was a great way to get out of our stifling apartment. So if you have a membership to a museum, a local library you’ve been wanting to check out or if your kids are old enough a movie theater these are all great places to try and escape the summer heat, especially if you’re living somewhere without AC like we are!