Friday, August 29, 2014

Time to Brag- Featured in Huffington Post!

Forgive me for bragging, but I'm so excited and I just can't hide it!  (cue Jessie Spano!)

Huffington Post runs a column every Friday, called Blended Family Fridays.  I took my blog article on that topic and submitted it, and was chosen to be featured this week!  I'll copy and paste the article below, and link to the original.

This Stepmom Has Great Advice For Making A Connection With Your Stepkids

Posted: Updated: 

As part of our Blended Family Friday series, each week we spotlight a different stepfamily to learn how they successfully blended their two families. Our hope is that by telling their stories, we'll bring you closer to blended family bliss in your own life! Want to share your own story? Email us at
If there's one thing Christine Nestrick knows about step-parenting, it's that you can't force a relationship with your stepkids.
"There is no instruction manual for being a stepparent, but you do have to take things slow," she told us. "Rather than forcing a relationship or being over the top with my stepdaughter, I forced myself to let our relationship evolve naturally. After all, this was new to everyone. "
Below, Christine shares more step-parenting advice and explains how the birth of a second daughter brought her blended family even closer together.
Hi Christine! Want to introduce us to your family? 
There's four of us: me; my husband Chris; my 15-year-old stepdaughter Olivia; and our 9-month-old daughter Sabrina.
Chris and I met through happenstance at work. We became friends, and then as the days turned into weeks and eventually months, our friendship began to feel like something more. Six months or so later, we became engaged, on Christmas Eve 2012. We married in a small, but absolutely perfect wedding on July 6, 2013.
(Image courtesy of Christine Nestrick)
Tell us a little bit about your relationship with your stepdaughter Olivia. 
I first met Olivia in the summer of 2012. I had already met and became close with Chris’s family, but we wanted to wait until the time was perfect for me to meet Olivia. I remember having a nervous, queasy feeling in my stomach. She was only 13, and yet she scared me on a profound level. I knew that my relationship with her father would never work if she and I didn’t get along, and that thought was terrifying. I remember trying not to be nervous, trying to make polite conversation, trying not to say anything stupid.
We saw each other a lot that summer, at family gatherings, going out to dinner, mini-golf, things like that. Was everything effortless? No. Did it feel natural, like a family? Of course not. But we kept at it. We continued to spend time together, even when it felt a little awkward because we knew that was OK. The makings of a blended family does not happen overnight. It can't be forced. I did not try to be maternal with Olivia. She has a mother, who obviously isn’t me, and I was not looking to fill that role for her. Instead, I just tried to show an interest in her life, in her friends, in her activities. I tried to give my thoughts and opinions on things -- not to butt in, but just to simply show that I cared. At 13, and now at 15, she has the right to think her own thoughts and have her own feelings, outside of mine and even her father's. I was raised to be independent, and I hope to foster that in Olivia as well!
What are some of the biggest challenges of blended family life?
Making sure that there is enough time and attention devoted to every member of the family can be hard. Our family is very active and busy. Olivia is sophomore class president, on the varsity swim team, a competitive dancer, a flute player, a member of the show choir, part of her high school musical, and I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Chris and I both work full-time. And Sabrina is a 9-month-old who is crawling, almost walking, and getting into everything she’s not supposed to within 10 seconds of you looking in another direction.
Some nights Chris barely has enough time to say goodnight to Sabrina before he has to take Olivia somewhere or pick her up from somewhere. Our weekends are spent running errands, taking care of the house and the yard, doing laundry, and trying to find time to spend together in between. It is a huge challenge, one that leaves us exhausted most days. We love every minute of it, but it is a huge challenge.
Given all that, how do you deal with stress at home? 
We talk. Even if it’s an uncomfortable conversation, we talk. Sometimes it might just be Chris and Olivia having a heart to heart, or Chris and I might have to have an adult discussion on something that is going on, or sometimes it's all of us sitting at the dinner table, hashing things out while eating dinner. Sometimes we make a plan to deal with the stress, sometimes we know that all we can do is vent and move forward.
We just always try to be kind and patient with each other, even when we are stressed or tired. Some days we might fall a little short of our ideals, but we know that tomorrow will be a better day.
You mentioned that the birth of your daughter Sabrina has really helped bring the family together. Tell us more. 
Once I became pregnant, and even more so after she was born, it went from being Olivia and her dad and me to just "us." We all had a common bond now, a daughter and a sister to connect the dots. With Sabrina, our familial relationship became more effortless. We spent more time together, playing with Sabrina, taking walks... Everything just started to click. She was the puzzle piece that we didn't know was missing.
What advice do you have for fellow stepparents who are struggling to make a connection with their stepkids? 
My advice is twofold but related. Give it time, and hang in there. The best things in life take time, and this is so true of relationships with a stepparent or stepchild. Rather than being a parent or a child by blood, you are one out of circumstance, but that doesn’t mean that eventually your relationship won’t evolve into one that is just as strong as those by blood. It’s a totally different dynamic and it cannot and will not happen overnight, nor should it.
I think of it almost like a courtship. When dating, you take your time to get to know the other person, their likes and dislikes, what is important to them, who they really are. Things might start casually, but as time goes by, things likely get more serious, as more time is spent together. It is the same with building a relationship with your stepchild (or stepparent). And if you have a bad day, take a deep breath, and start over tomorrow. It doesn’t mean that the world is unraveling, it just means it was a bad day. We all have them. Hang in there.
  • Shalyn, Bridgeville, Pennsylvania
  • Prestige Portraits
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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My Feelings Matter. I Matter.

Photo from 

Today has been a rough day for me.  I got very little sleep last night.  Up at 11 to pee, up at 12 to put the dog to bed (no joke, most nights she comes in to get me to take her to her bed to tuck her in), up at 12:30 to take her out, up at 2 to feed Sabrina, up at 3 with the dog having a seizure.  Up at 6:30 for the day.

This morning, Sabrina had her 9 month well-child visit.  No shots for the 9 month appointment, so what could go wrong??  Try EVERYTHING.  She basically cried from the minute the nurse came in until we were walking out of the building.  I became sick in the middle of the appointment and had to go sit on the floor in the cold bathroom until I felt better.  (Long story that I don't want to share, sorry, some things even I don't want to talk about, other than I AM NOT PREGNANT!)  Worst of all, we found out via the "Cover Test" that both of Sabrina's eyes are pointing inwards and that she needs a referral to a pediatric ophthalmologist.  My mom had mentioned a couple weeks ago that she wanted me to talk to the doctor about Sabrina's eyes but I had never before saw what she was talking about, and really only notice it in pictures.  So I was a bit in denial, hoping that it was nothing.  Apparently it's more than nothing.

So back to work I went after her appointment, feeling queasy and like someone had punched me in the gut.  I talked to a few people about what was going on, and I kept hearing the same thing over and over again:  "It could be worse."  Yes, I know it could be worse.  It could be much worse.  One thing about the internet is it puts people and situations far worse than yours right in front of your eyes.  There are several pages that I like on Facebook that follow the stories of kids with cancer or chronic seizures or other debilitating conditions.  The Ice Bucket Challenge is everywhere, bringing to light conditions such as ALS.  Without a doubt, our situation is not grave, is treatable, and is certainly not life threatening.

But I am Sabrina's mother.  She is my only baby.  Am I not allowed to feel some amount of sadness for my child and for myself?  This is the first issue that we've really faced with Sabrina, other than "typical" things like jaundice and acid reflux.  I myself have had glasses since early elementary school.  Chris also has glasses.  So why do I feel this horrible sense of sadness and devastation over something that is certainly not devastating to the logical mind?

Because she is my baby.  Because she sat screaming in that office this morning, breaking my heart in two to the point where I felt physically ill.  Because she matters, and in the same way, I matter.  My feelings matter.  I know people only meant well by saying that it could be worse.  But in trying to possibly put a positive spin on something negative, they inadvertently made me feel worse, because I felt as though my feelings were inconsequential because someone out there is going through something far worse than I am.  

So many times, we unintentionally dismiss other people's feelings because we or someone we know may be going through something similar or worse.  It is human nature to try to relate your feelings or experiences to others.  But the unintended result of doing so could be making the other person feel as though their feelings aren't important or valid.  I think as mothers we do this to each other far too often. 

And we do this to ourselves. We are so busy worrying about what others are thinking and feeling that we forget that our own thoughts and feelings matter a great deal as well. During our days filled with long workdays or keeping the kids entertained, filled with being a mommy taxi service or sending e-mail after e-mail in which it feels like you're talking to yourself, we do not acknowledge our own feelings, nor do we talk about them enough. But sometimes that exactly what we need to do. We need to talk, to vent, to make our feelings known.  Whether that is through coffee with a trusted friend, talking to your mom, or seeing a therapist, we should all be aware of and acknowledge our own feelings more. Start a blog, write a journal, join a moms group, talk to someone at your church or place of worship. As mothers, we need to build each other up. We may not share the same feelings or views on things, but we need to create a culture of motherhood where we matter.

I am still inconsolable about Sabrina's possible vision issues. Luckily she goes go the specialist on Friday, so hopefully we will get some answers soon. And even though I acknowledge wholeheartedly that it could be worse, I know that it's okay for me to be upset.  I love my daughter and I want what is best for her, as we all do with our children. So I am going to give in to the sadness and hope for the best. 

If you encounter someone who is saddened or upset about something that is happening to them, empower them to go with their feelings and encourage them that tomorrow is another day, hopefully a better one. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My Furry Baby

Baby and Mommy on our wedding day
Long before I was mommy to Sabrina, I was a doggy mommy. Baby is and always will be my first "child". She and I have been through so much together in the last 3 and a half years. Through broken relationships, through several moves, through 2 jobs, through dating and marriage and new babies, my Baby has been by my side. 

Growing up, my house was a no dog house. My parents didn't want the responsibility and they knew how hard it would be when the dog would inevitably age and hard decisions would have to be made. So why, at the age of 27, I decided that I HAD to have a dog, I'll never really know. But I made up my mind and that was that. I knew I wanted to rescue a dog, so I started doing some internet searching. That was when I came across Baby's shelter posting. She was abused and neglected and her "owner" (if you can even call the scum that) surrendered her, assuming after some kind soul called the humane society to report her owners. She was shy and scared. The first time I saw her, she sat next to me and put one paw on my leg, as if to say that she was mine. That sealed the deal forever. 

To say I love that dog would be an understatement. The joy that she had brought me, the companionship, the overwhelming and unselfish love that she gives to me was something I never ever expected. She also taught me how to be a mother. She taught me responsibility, like vet appointments and not being away from home for hours on end because she was home waiting for me. She taught me what it felt like to get up in the middle of the night to tend to someone else's needs. She toughened me up when it came to gross things like poop and pee and puke. She broke my heart with every seizure that she's had since she came into my life. I have felt every emotion you can imagine when it comes to my dog, and now I get to feel all those things (and more) with Sabrina.

It hasn't all been sunshine and roses. Adopting a rescue who has been abused has it's definite drawbacks. Baby started her life with me scared and quiet. But now she has found her "voice". She barks at passers by, especially the dreaded mailman. She knows her "pack" and loves us dearly. But she also has an aggression issue when it comes to strangers. Last year, my worst fears were realized when she bit our teenage niece. I can honestly say that it was one of the absolute worst days of my life. I cried for hours and hours and hours. My Baby is such a sweet, loving dog. But outside of our family and my parents, she is fearful and she acts out with aggression when she is scared. We know now to keep strangers away, but it presents huge challenges every single day. I am at a loss for how to handle it, and it absolutely breaks my heart. I need to have her see a trainer, which I've put off for too long, but can someone really undo all the damage to her, none of which is really her fault?  I don't know. I am skeptical.  But I want her to get better and I want to help her like she's helped me. 

During the darkest days of my postpartum depression, I'd lay awake in the middle of the night on the couch, Sabrina sleeping (or not sleeping..  Lol) in the rock and play next to me. And as if she could read my mind, Baby would always snuggle up next to me on the couch, and there we would sleep, together. Not the most comfortable of sleeping arrangements, considering she is about 60 pounds with long legs and killer claws, but I didn't care. I needed the comfort, and she provided that just by being there. 

This was our sleeping arrangement.  Comfy.

I will go to the ends of the earth for my dog, because I know that is exactly what she would do for me. I love her for everything that she has meant to me, for being by my side through some of my worst days as well as some of my best.  She is a part of me, an extension of my soul. So today might be National Dog Day, but quite honestly that's everyday in this house. I love you Baby, and there'll be a special dish of Frosty Paws for you for dessert later. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

{Lucky I'm In Love With My Best Friend}

I've blogged about many things since I started this blog a month ago.  Everything from my experiences as a new mom to my thoughts on items in the news and even one of my own personal recipes.  But it occurs to me that, while this blog is focused mostly on my life as a mommy, a huge gaping hole in my writing is the love, respect, admiration, and thankfulness for my husband, my other half, my best friend, my Chris.

Chris and I met through "happenstance" in that we both are part of the same department at work- we both work on our inpatient EMR at the hospital system where we work.  I saw him standing there, as the whole department gathered to greet me on my first day, holding a Mickey Mouse coffee mug in his hand.  Without even thinking, I said to him "The only way I could like you any more would be if you were a Steeler fan".  A collective gasp came from our coworkers, as one remarked "He IS a Steeler fan!".  It was fate, of that I am sure.  We became friends, and then as the days turned into week and eventually months, our friendship began to feel like something more.

Six months or so later, we became engaged, on Christmas Eve.  Soon after, we set a wedding date of July 6, in our beloved Pittsburgh, my hometown.  We found out I was pregnant on March 29, 2013.  We married in a smaller but absolutely perfect wedding on July 6, in the midst of nearly 90 degree heat.  A few months later, on November 18, 2013, our lives changed forever when our Sabrina came into the world.  

We have lived so much life together, and I haven't even known him for 3 years yet.  That fact absolutely boggles my mind, because I feel like I've known him forever.  I am so lucky to be his partner in life, his wife, his best friend.  

Our life is wonderfully simple and amazingly happy.  I am lucky to be in this parenting journey with him for so many reasons, but the everyday things may in fact be the ones that mean the most, the ones that set him apart from so many others.  With every breath he takes, Chris effervesces dedication.  To his 2 daughters, to me, to our family, to our life, to his job...  He cooks, does the laundry, cleans, takes care of the yard, takes care of the girls, takes care of me, takes care of the dog, works 40 hours a week, and always with a smile on his face and love in his heart.  It's not always easy, as he has had 2 back surgeries and will need hip surgery at some point in the future, so his body sometimes tires before he'd like it to, but never does that stop him from playing on the floor with Sabrina, walking up and down several flights of stairs with laundry baskets, or cutting the grass outside.  That's just who he is.  He is an amazing person, who gives of himself without expecting anything in return.   

It is so easy to get caught up in everyday life, especially when you are a parent.  In between planning meals for the week, trying to keep a clean house, making sure the kids are fed, happy, have clean clothes and diapers and food, reading the same books over and over again, watching their every move to make sure they don't do a header into the furniture or eat the dog's food, and everything in between, it is easy to forget how important and how brilliantly amazing your spouse is, and how they are so important to you that without them none of it would be possible or remotely enjoyable.  I like to think that I don't ever forget that, because I honestly don't.  I do get distracted from it sometimes, just because my brain can only retain so much at any one time, but the love, gratitude, and respect are always there.  

So to my love, I say thank you and I love you, a million times over.  Without you, none of our wonderful life would be possible.  I hope that one day our girls find their other halves in this crazy world, and I hope that they can live up to the very high bar that their daddy has set.  We are all extremely lucky and I hope that with every beat of your heart you know that you are loved beyond words.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Recipe Favorites: Pumpkin Bread!

Thanks to my good friend Jill for sending this to me... :)

It has been a relatively cool summer here in the Northeast (although it's supposed to be in the mid to high 80's this week, so summer apparently is making a comeback.  Boo), so my mind has been on my very favorite season of the year: Fall!  Last weekend, I made zucchini bread with a zucchini from a friend's garden, which now has me craving one of my favorite recipes and a definite crowd pleaser- my pumpkin bread.

I do not come up with my own recipes from start to finish.  I am not nearly that creative or that much of a foodie.  Rather, I usually make something as written, and then tweak it from there to cater more to my tastes as well as my family's.  So that is where this pumpkin bread recipe came from.  I found the original years ago on, and after reading the user comments and knowing what I know about baking, I use this recipe time and time again.

A word of warning about this bread.  The first time I made it, it came out of the oven hard.  Like, really hard.  I was so disappointed as it smelled delicious while baking in the oven.  I wrapped it in plastic wrap and set it on top of my microwave, dejected after making what seemed like another bogus recipe.  But the next day, like magic, the bread was moist and flavorful.  Hurray!  So I would suggest making this a day ahead of when you want people to eat it.  Something happens when you let it sit overnight and it ends up being delicious the next day.

The other issue that this bread presents is baking time.  I always always end up having to leave it in the oven longer than the recipe calls for.  The top of the bread is always a little gooey, so I generally add 7-10 minutes onto the time it calls for.  (I set the timer as it states to in the recipe and then add on as needed)

I hope you enjoy this recipe.  I will post others from time to time.  Again, I am no foodie, but I do love to bake and have some pretty good recipes, especially my mom's Christmas cookies when that time of year comes :D  

Pumpkin Bread

15 oz pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie mix)
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil (I've heard some people do 1/2 cup oil and 1/2 cup applesauce)
2/3 cup water
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine above ingredients in large mixing bowl.

3 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon (I like cinnamon so sometimes I put a full 3 tsp in)
1/8 teaspoon cloves (I am not a fan of cloves, you could add more if you like the flavor)
1/2 teaspoon ginger

Combine dry ingredients together.  Add to original ingredient mixture and mix until blended.  Grease 2 loaf pans (I use Pam Baking Spray).  Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Our Infant Sleep Saga

See how happy she was in her Rock n Play?

It's no secret that I love to sleep. Seriously, I love it. I haven't really been able to sleep in since I joined the adult working world, but I had no issues with retiring early to make sure I got plenty of shut eye. 

During my pregnancy, I slept miserably. Especially my first trimester. I don't know how one can feel so tired that your body literally hurts but then doesn't sleep. It's one of the many mysteries of pregnancy and motherhood. I remember thinking that I was prepared for the lack of sleep that came with a newborn since I wasn't sleeping anyway. HAHAHAHAHAHA. I just gave myself a good laugh at that one. 

No way in hell was I prepared for the ongoing drama that was, and still is, Sabrina's sleeping. I read The Happiest Baby on the Block when I was pregnant. I had my 5 S's all ready for when Sabrina made her entrance into the world. I even made a promise to myself to not use a bassinet and instead just put her in her crib from day one, since I've heard so many stories of people's kids having a hard time adjusting to their crib. If only I'd been able to stick to my plan. (Plan? With a baby? HAHAHAHA again. Cracking myself up here)

Sabrina slept pretty well in the hospital, but I did take advantage of the nursery to try to recover from my c-section.  Our first night home with her was an utter disaster.  Between my milk not being in and her flat out refusal to sleep in her crib, we basically got no sleep.  Thus began the swing sleeping phase of our sleep saga.  When she was in her swing, with the motion on, she slept.  Not for long stretches of time, as she was still up every 2-3 hours to eat, but she still slept.  

Once we transitioned to formula feeding, I began sleeping downstairs on the couch.  The bottles, formula, and swing were all downstairs, so it seemed like a no brainer.  Plus, keeping Sabrina downstairs would allow Chris to get some decent sleep before he had to go to work.  I remember wondering why she was still getting up to eat every 2-3 hours even after being on formula for awhile.  Somehow I expected there to be a magic sleeping switch that came in the Similac container.  Here's a little nugget of advice: If the main reason you are considering switching to formula is so that your baby will sleep longer, let me be the first to tell you that I believe that to be a total lie that someone made up, either to push formula or to make formula mothers crazy, wondering why their dang kids aren't sleeping more.  Either way, at least for this mama, there was no noticeable change in her sleep habits from breastmilk to formula.  She still didn't sleep.

The most maddening phase of Sabrina's sleeping saga was the witching hour.  Or hours.  Eventually we found out that she did not have colic, but she did have acid reflux.  No matter what we did, what time we fed her, where we fed her, if we gave her gas drops, gripe water, stood on our head, prayed, cried, screamed, whatever...  every night around 7:30-8:00, she completely and utterly lost her mind.  Screaming bloody murder like you would not believe.  We would walk circles around our downstairs, we would hand her off from one of us to the other, we would hold her, put her down, pick her back up, try the swing, pick her back up again, walk, run, jump, spin in circles...  We were sure she was teething at 2 months, tried
Probiotic drops, gripe water, gas drops. Many nights she refused to take a bottle at all, arching her back and screaming. I called the doctor, who put her on Zantac liquid. At first, they told me to give to to her in a bottle nipple straight. One problem Sabrina never had, until then, was spitting up. That day, I swear she spit up a dozen times. Called the doctor again, and this person told me to mix the Zantac in with her bottle, just to make sure she took the full amount. Phew, much better.  That did help quite a bit. 

But it also created the biggest obstacle of Sabrina's life of sleep (or lack thereof)...  The Fisher Price Rock n Play!  Now at first, let me not mince words here. It was a savior. A godsend. I can't over-stress how big of a difference it made. The elevation of her head in the Rock n Play made a huge difference with her reflux. She began sleeping 4, 5, occasionally even 6 hours in a stretch. Finally!  I loved that thing so much I wanted to hug it. Eventually we moved it up to her room, and I got to sleep in my own bed again.

Not sure if you can tell from the pictures I've posted, but Sabrina is definitely ahead of the curve size wise. As in, wearing 18 month clothes at 9 months. She also is very long. Therefore, there came a time when the Rock n Play started to look a little crowded. And then it happened. She rolled over in it. We had never bothered to belt her in there. Thankfully Chris saw it. So in her crib she went. She could only cry for so long before she'd give up, right?  WRONG. After several hours of screaming, I waved the white flag of surrender and put her back in the Rock n Play, this time belted in. But it got to a point where she was so smushed that she wasn't comfortable, so she'd cry from discomfort. That's when we knew that it was TIME. Time for the dreaded crib battle that we both knew was coming. 

We did not do cry it out. I don't subscribe to a "sleep training" theory. I just try to know my baby, her cues, and use my mommy intuition. We did let her cry, usually for way longer than I wanted to, but we would comfort her and try to calm her down while leaving her in the crib. We started for a stretch of a few hours per night for a few days- the rest of the night she went back in the Rock n Play. Chris ordered a Woombie online. I am not one to push a product but this swaddle saved our lives and our sanity. It made her feel secure like she was in the Rock n Play.  With much time and many prayers and partially sleepless nights, she finally got the hang of sleeping in her crib. 

Sabrina, at 9 months and 2 days old, has only slept through the whole night (8 or more hours) maybe once or twice. On a normal night she still wakes up twice.  Just this week, she started to cut teeth (finally) so she's been crying a lot more, very restless seeming. 

During her crib training, I posted many hopeless posts on Facebook, and was surprised by the number of parents who responded that their kids too had sleeping issues. I felt so alone in all of it, like everyone else's kids were perfect sleepers and my kid was the only one still waking up or having other issues. To this day, I can't express my gratitude to all those who reached out to me, during one of the lowest lows I've experienced as a parent. When you haven't had enough sleep, and you are upset, your mind goes some crazy places. It was so reassuring to hear from others that I wasn't losing it, and that I was going to be okay. 

I'm sure there will be many more chapters to this sleep saga. I am sure that I will be tired every day from now til kingdom come. But at least I can say that my sanity is still intact (mostly), that I at least feel mostly rested some days (way better than it used to be), and that everyone happily sleeps in their own beds now. It was an epic struggle to get there, but we did. To new parents, you will too. Eventually. Until then, I recommend coffee, sugar, and going to bed at 8:00. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I Don't Have Time

My baby is 9 months old now. Sigh. 

Today, I am feeling frazzled.  I find myself feeling the way so many other mothers feel; like I just don't have the time. 

There are many things that I miss about my childless days that I no longer have the time to do. Sounds terrible, but it's true. I miss being able to watch TV and being caught up on my favorite shows. I don't even bother trying anymore. I just watch old reruns of my favorites, like NCIS, Seinfeld, and The Big Bang Theory. That way, if it gets interrupted by a crying baby, no harm done since I already know the ending. 

I miss reading. I love to read. Books, magazines, gossip sites, you name it. I just don't have the time anymore. I do get some free time after Sabrina goes to bed, but by that point I'm too tired to really concentrate on something I am reading. 

I miss baking too. I am no Susie Homemaker, but I do enjoy baking for my family or my coworkers on the weekends. I make a mean pumpkin bread, and I try to take after my mother when making Christmas Cookies. I was able to bake some zucchini bread this past weekend, and it felt GREAT. 

I absolutely love being a mother. I wouldn't trade it for all the free time in the world. But it seems to me that many mothers feel like they just have to abandon their own hobbies and interests the minute they have children, and on top of it they aren't supposed to care. I don't subscribe to that theory. I was a person before I became a mother. I still am that person, just a different version of her. So I know that for awhile, I have to give up some of the things that I liked to do before. I have to give whatever time I have to Sabrina. And I'm okay with that, because I know that someday (maybe when she's 18) I will be able to watch NCIS again (the new ones!) or watch a new TV series with my hubby. 

Today, I am also feeling the crunch of trying to find the time to meet and exceed the demands of my job and be a loving, devoted, non-distracted wife and mother. My days lately have been full of meetings, full of spreadsheets and issues and email after email. I make a point to leave work most everyday to go see Sabrina at lunch, but I must admit that I find myself looking at my work email occasionally and making sure there's nothing going on there. I hate doing that, like I'm somehow a bad mother for checking my email. But I feel like that's how I can leave everyday, because I'm just a quick email away. 

I don't ever want Sabrina to feel negatively impacted by the fact that her mother works. I want her to know without a doubt that she is the most important thing and means far more to me than any job ever would. But the reality is that I am a working mom, who has a very busy, fast paced, demanding job, and in order to maintain that job I have to fulfill my responsibilities. 

I have no answers. I have more questions than answers tonight. I hope I can do it all. I have to do it all, for my family. But tonight, that realization feels heavy sitting on top of my shoulders. And I'm just tired. 

Luckily, tomorrow is another day. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Tie that Binds: Our (Blended) Family

I read an article recently about step parenting and blended families. The author did not like the term "blended" and said that she chose to think of her family as a "frappuccino" family, because they are meant to be blended and taste great. I love this concept and it has been on my mind ever since. 

Chris and I moved in together in late September of 2012 and got married in July of 2013. Thus, our own "frappuccino" family was formed. It feels like a long time ago now, but I remember those early, awkward, anything but blended days. 

The first time I met Olivia was when our niece was born, at the hospital. We said hello and exchanged pleasantries but I know it was a bit uncomfortable for us both. I knew Chris loved his daughter more than life itself, and our relationship would never work if we couldn't find a way to get along. Rather than forcing a relationship or being over the top, I forced myself to try to take things slowly and let our relationship evolve. After all, this was new to everyone. 

When we got married, rather than lighting a unity candle, we did unity sand. The idea being that even though the colors of sand are individual, once they are poured together you cannot separate one from the other. Just as it would be with our new family. I did this idea because it was different and symbolic, but a little more than a year later, I can say how honestly true it is. 

Our little ray of sunshine, Sabrina, has truly been the tie that has forever bound our "blended" family together. Once I became pregnant, and even more so after she was born, it went from being Olivia and her dad and me to just "us". We all had a common bond now, a daughter and a sister to connect the dots. With Sabrina, our familial relationship became more effortless. We spent more time together, playing with Sabrina, taking walks...  Everything just started to click. 

Being a stepparent can be challenging at times. I've never thought of myself as Olivia's mother. After all, she was already a teenager when we met. I think of myself more as an aunt like figure- still an adult, still with responsibilities, but not the same as a mother. I don't always know exactly how I should handle step parenting situations, and I'm sure I've made my share of mistakes. There is no instruction manual for being a parent, and that definitely includes being a stepparent. 

So our blended family continues to evolve as time goes by. Each day and each new situation presents itself with challenges, which we face together. We have no secret recipe. Most of our discussions are at the dinner table during our nightly sit down dinners.  We don't solve the worlds problems, but we do take the time to talk about things as a family unit. (Sabrina's contribution is usually whining for more snacks and "dada".)  

I can't imagine our "blended" family without Sabrina. She was the puzzle piece that we didn't know was missing. We love to chase her around the room crawling, read books, eat play food, whatever activity she is interested that day. But the key is, we do it together. We make it a point to spend time together, if not everyday then most days. No magic potions, no secrets, just love and commitment to each other and to our blended "frappuccino" family. 

Frappuccino family concept originally from Brittany Wong- 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Insecure: My Post-baby Body Image Struggle

One of my hated "chubby" pictures.

I recently went to my gynecologist for some routine tests and an exam. As with every visit, they checked my weight and other vitals. For the first time, my weight started with the numbers 14...  I can't tell you my exact weight, because at that point I passed out. Never in my life have I weighed this much. Except in my 3rd trimester of my pregnancy. 

In my defense, their scale is notoriously high, or as I call it, "mean".  I try to make it a rule not to weigh myself at home. I don't have a scale in our bathroom so I don't become obsessed with the number on the scale. 

However, I am currently the healthiest I have been in my adult life. I eat fruits and veggies more than ever before (still not enough, but who can really eat that stuff that often?), I drink coffee (cream only), unsweetened iced tea, milk, and water. That's it. I don't binge on junk food or sweets. We take Sabrina and the dog for walks daily. I am not especially active, and I do have a sedentary job, but walking has always been enough to maintain a weight I was comfortable with. 

My wonderful husband constantly tells me how beautiful I am. And yet, I don't always see that when I look in the mirror. We had professional pictures taken for Sabrina's baptism, and I couldn't help but look at myself in the pictures and think that I looked "chubby". Something I've honestly never really thought about myself before. 

I got close to my pre-baby weight while home on maternity leave. But that was also a time in my life where I was depressed, didn't have a normal appetite, and honestly didn't have time to eat much of the time that I was home alone with Sabrina. But after I went back to work and actually had time to sit at my desk and eat, I noticed my weight starting to creep back up. Even though I didn't weigh a lot more than I did pre-pregnancy, I had to go up 2 sizes in pants due to my midsection getting wider. 

I don't consider myself to be a vain person. I have no problems leaving the house in my sweats with no makeup on. But, I am really having a problem with this weight gain. I don't want Sabrina to grow up with a mother who is constantly worried about her appearance. I don't want her to have those thoughts ever, because she is beautiful inside and out. But I know she will, like all girls do at some point. So I have to find some way to be okay with my weight now. 

I know I could do all the fad diets and crazy workouts (I'm looking at you Paleo and P90X) but honestly, I don't want to. I want to spend my time with my family, not working out, something I DESPISE. I want to indulge in my favorite treats (hello ice cream!) occasionally without feeling like I'm cheating someone or something. 

So I guess I will consider myself a work in progress for now. I will continue to eat healthy and will try to find more time for taking walks.  Hopefully with time I will accept myself and realize that the only person worried about my weight is me. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

My Letter to Savannah Guthrie

Photo via Today Show


You and I don't know each other. But I feel like I do know you. You see, when I was home on maternity leave, struggling with life with a newborn and postpartum depression, I looked forward to seeing your face every morning on the Today show. You and I have some physical similarities (hair and eye color) and in many ways I saw myself in you. Happy, outgoing, intelligent...  You represented what I no longer felt I was, but gave me hope that someday I could get back to being that person. 

I am back to work and can no longer watch the Today show. When I heard you were pregnant and getting married (I was also pregnant at my wedding), my heart leapt with joy. I followed your pregnancy journey, often read your blog, waiting the arrival of your little one. 

Yesterday, when I heard the news that baby Vale had arrived, I was ecstatic. I quickly searched my Facebook News Feed for pictures, and I was surprised and ecstatic at what I saw. Rather than so many pictures we see of new moms with their babies, hair perfectly styled, makeup done to perfection, there was your beautiful, natural face beaming while holding your baby girl. No makeup, no hair style, just a baby and her beautiful mama. 

I don't know if you posted those beautiful, au natural pictures consciously or not, but please know that you have made a difference by doing so. You have shown new mothers that they are beautiful, no matter what, and they should capture those moments without concern for how they look in the photos. That they are beautiful inside and out. 

As a fellow mommy with insecurities of my own, I thank you for what you did. Congratulations on your beautiful baby girl. These next few months will be some of the best and hardest you will face, but enjoy it, because it sure does go fast. Try to get some sleep :)


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Loss of a Child

Today started like any other day. Got up, took a shower, got my Dunkin Donuts, got to work, sipped my coffee, read my emails... And then in an instant it all changed. I saw the words in front of me, but I couldn't seem to wrap my mind around them being true. A close coworker of mine's 3 month old son had passed away unexpectedly. 3. Months. Old. I sat at my desk, mouth wide open, completely stunned. 12 hours later, I am still stunned. 

This sweet angel was one of twin boys, born with a heart condition. He came home after a stay in the NICU, and from all accounts was getting stronger.  I chatted with their daddy about his wife breastfeeding, and even about how his boys baptisms were the same day as our Sabrina's. 

And in the blink of an eye, for them and everyone connected to them, it changed. Forever. This beautiful little soul went to be with the angels, leaving behind his parents and his twin brother, who will never get to know his other half, at least in this lifetime. 

I am completely devastated. Our pregnancies overlapped, and I shared my new mommy horror stories with their daddy when I got back from maternity leave. Daddy beamed with excitement. And now, in a matter of a few months, one of their beautiful sons is gone. 

How will they go on?  I know they will, for each other and for their other beautiful son.  But a piece of them is gone now, and as a parent I can't even fathom it. The death of a child is always devastating, but this is the first time something like this has happened since I became a mommy. It has hit me hard. I can't help but put myself in their shoes, on just a superficial level, and I cannot imagine my life without my Sabrina. It's too much to bear to even think about it for one second. Yet I know that this is their new reality, a parents nightmare. 

I ask for prayers for this family. For the parents, to allow themselves to mourn their son in heaven while still carrying on for their son on earth. For their earthly baby, who will miss the brother he never knew for the rest of his life. For their angel baby, to be their guardian angel always. Also pray for all families who have lost a child. For strength, for comfort, for peace. 

I will continue to blog about the minutia of my life as a working mommy. I will complain about not getting enough sleep, about not having the time to read a book or catch up on my queued up episodes of NCIS. I will be sarcastic and silly and attempt to be funny with my narrative on life. But today, none of that matters. Not one thing. Because I know that somewhere tonight a mother is mourning her son, and would gladly take sleepless nights and cranky babies if it meant having her baby back. So I will hug Sabrina a little tighter and will save my complaints for another day.  And I will thank God for the gift that he has given us. 

Sleep with the angels, little one. ❤️

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams: Gone Too Soon

I am literally heartbroken over Robin Williams' death. And stunned.  It seems so out of the blue. He was one of the funniest men to ever walk this earth.  He had a genuineness about him that made him likable and relatable.  His characters were diverse, showing his depth as an actor and a comedian.

Growing up in the 80's and 90's, he was everywhere.  And to my generation, he was like a father to us.  Movies like Aladdin, Hook, and Mrs. Doubtfire portrayed him in a paternal role, yet always with a spin. In Aladdin, he brought the Genie to life, to look after and grant wishes for his pal Aladdin.   In Hook, he never gave up the love of his son Peter and went between worlds to bring him back.  In Mrs. Doubtfire, that same love drove him to dress up as an elderly woman to remain in his kids' everyday lives after divorce.  He made us laugh, and he made us cry.  We all loved him, no matter what role he played.  He was easy to like, and you laughed on the inside just looking at him, because he was THAT funny.

So the news of his death, a probable suicide, rocked us all to our very core.  How could this have happened?  How could a man, so funny, so loved, have felt so alone that he took his own life?  He had a family who he obviously loved, and who obviously loved him in return.  He had the admiration of his fans.  Apparently he sought help in the recent past, but it would appear to have been too late.  Something inside of him was not settled.  

A few thoughts have stuck out in my mind since this tragedy happened last evening.  The first of which is that depression is real and it is scary.  I know how I felt when I was dealing with postpartum depression, which was thankfully temporary and short term,  and I can honestly say that I was not myself.  I was not thinking and acting and feeling like the real me.  I was going through the motions in life, but I wasn't really living it.  So in that way, I can relate even a little bit to how Robin must have been feeling.  His struggle with depression obviously took him out of his "normal" mind and into a dark and scary place.  Despite all the love that surrounded him, he just couldn't deal with the reality around him.  I know that feeling.  Thankfully my depression never got to the point where I had thoughts of self-harm, but I see how quickly it could escalate to that point.  I am thankful that it didn't for me, and I am heartbroken that it did for him and so many others.

The second thought that keeps crossing my mind is to not judge a book by its cover.  Before yesterday, most people could never have imagined Robin Williams as a man with depression who would end up taking his own life.  He was the consummate funny man, his name synonymous with the sound of laughter.  And yet that is exactly what happened.  As a society and as individuals, we are sometimes too quick to judge others only by what we see in front of us.  In reality, that is only a snapshot of a person and of their life, their situation, their circumstance.   I myself tried to put on a brave face during my postpartum depression.  I didn't want to admit to others how I was feeling.  I was ashamed of it, and felt like less of a mother as a result of it.  Those closest to me saw the truth, but those more removed saw my Facebook posts and smiling pictures, not realizing the misery that I was feeling behind it.  I have to believe that this is what happened with Robin Williams as well.  As an actor, he could put on a brave face that probably could fool just about anyone.  I'm sure those close to him tried to help, as those close to me did.  But the truth is, there's no magic pill, there's no cure.  Something inside of you just has to change for the better.  I guess it didn't for him.

Lastly, I beg of anyone that feels the way that Robin did, or anyone who might be struggling with depression as I did, GET HELP.  Please.  Stop caring what society thinks of you, stop caring about others judging you, stop feeling weak because you have a problem.  You matter.  Take care of yourself, physically, mentally, spiritually, whatever it takes to help you find peace.  Life is too short, and you were put on this Earth for a reason.  So please, do something.  Talk to a counselor, talk to a priest or pastor or rabbi, talk to a friend or a coworker.  Go to church, take a yoga class, start a journal, start a blog, reconnect with old friends or loved ones.  Try something.  And if that something doesn't work, try something else, until you find something that gives you even a little bit of peace.  And finally, don't give up.  Just don't.  Call someone, call 911, call a mental health professional.  But don't give up.  

I want to end with a quote from Mrs. Doubtfire that brought tears to my eyes this morning.  This is how I will always remember Robin Williams.  I hope and pray that he is at peace now, and that the angels are roaring with laughter.

"All my love to you poppet.  You're going to be all right.  Bye bye." <3

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Case of the Blahs

This look says it all.

I try to be a positive, upbeat person.  It does NOT come naturally to me.  I tend to see the glass half empty by nature.  But, I know that's a crappy way to live, and I want better for Sabrina, so I take a deep breath and try to see the silver lining when something bad happens, or at least focus on other, happier things in life.  I have a wonderful life, so there should be no shortage of things to make me happy.  It's my own brand of learned optimism, and most days I am successful at this way of thought.

Today, however, there is none of that.  It is Monday, it is my first day back from vacation, my sweet Sabrina has an ear infection, I am still not feeling well (today's annoying ailment of the day is a headache that has me all kinds of wobbly and dizzy), there are a few things in my personal life that are frustrating me (but I won't use this blog to air my dirty laundry)...  To paraphrase the popular children's book, today is my Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

This is Sabrina's first real sickness, other than a stuffy nose and slight cough during the winter, mostly due to the dry heat of being inside all day.  This illness started last Wednesday as a low grade fever (while at my parents house on vacation) and has continued with her coughing, her nose running, and now a lack of appetite.  To most people, those symptoms aren't anything to lose any sleep over.  But I am a mom, and a first time mom at that, so obviously alarms have been going off in my head since I found out she had a fever.  Being in Pittsburgh didn't help matters, since we had to wait til today to get her to her pediatrician.  So today starts the amoxicillin which I hope to God tastes better than it did when I was a kid.  (pessimist alarm- I'm sure it doesn't)

Vacation was WONDERFUL...  Pittsburgh has my heart and always will, and I don't get to spend nearly enough time there.  It was nice to not have a lot planned, to be able to spend time with my parents and brother and aunts and uncles, catching lunch here or dinner there.  Best of all, Chris and I got to do COUPLE THINGS again!  We got to eat several meals out (I got to eat food, when it was hot, prepared by someone else!), just us, and even went to Steelers Training Camp and to a Pirate Game.  I forgot what that felt like.  We try to spend every second away from work with Sabrina, and she's just not at an age yet where it's easy to go "out" with her.  We try but most of the time we end up eating cold food and entertaining a grumpy half infant half toddler with empty water bottles, straws, and anything else that will keep her attention (of course the army of toys that we bring with us simply won't do).  But as they say, all good things must come to an end, and that end was a screeching halt of a 6 hour car ride with a sick, grumpy baby (and mommy), followed by getting home only to have to grocery shop, unpack, make dinner, and collapse into bed feeling so woozy that the room was spinning.  Pessimist Christine made her return yesterday and has been back with a vengeance.

As moms (and dads!), I feel like we are pressured to always put on a happy face.  To grin and bear it, whatever unpleasantness has invaded our lives that day.  But today, the pessimistic me is winning, and I have decided that I'm okay with that.  It's okay to have a bad day, or a bad few days, every once on awhile.  Life is short, so hopefully my bizarro optimistic self will return soon.  But for now, I'm going to give in to the blahs, eat some chocolate, maybe binge on carbs for dinner tonight, watch mindless TV (hello Seinfeld!), and go to bed early.  Hopefully I'll be my better half when I wake up tomorrow.  She's in there somewhere...

Friday, August 8, 2014

Staying Home or Working?


This morning, we took a walk up to my neighborhood's daycamp to say hello to one of my childhood friends whose kids were attending the camp. It was like a walk back in time for me. I attended that daycamp as a child and worked it as a counselor as a teenager. It's moments like that that make me so happy to be home. I can almost feel the nostalgia seeping from my pores. 

The number of mothers that were able to be there at noon on a Friday struck me. Some are school teachers, so they are off for the summer. Some have flexible jobs where they work from home, or work part time in the afternoons or evenings. And some are traditional stay at home moms. I couldn't help but feel a pang of sadness for myself and for Sabrina. I hope one day that she can attend that same daycamp that I did, but I know that I won't be able to be there for her like so many of those mothers were. Working will always be part of my reality, lottery winnings notwithstanding. 

I often find myself internally debating whether or not I would want to be a stay at home mom. I know, that sounds kind of terrible. What kind of mother doesn't want to be with her kids as much as possible?  The truth is, I think that if I were a stay at home mom, exclusively, 100% of the time, that I might lose my identity. That I might just see myself as Sabrina's mom, when I know that I am much more than that. 

While I was home on maternity leave, I spent every second of my day obsessing about Sabrina. About her eating, her pooping, how much she did or didn't sleep...  All while still recovering from my bout with postpartum depression.  While this should have been a happy time, 3 months straight spent with my new baby girl, I felt anything but happy most of the time. Many emotions coursed through my veins. Dread of going back to work, fear that once I wasn't around her all the time that Sabrina would somehow not love me or forget I was her mother, worry about juggling working with having a house, a baby, a stepdaughter, and still finding time for my wonderful husband. I just couldn't make it all fit together in my head. 

But the truth is, it did all fit together. And it still does. It took a few weeks, but we eventually established a routine.  Instead of falling apart, we all thrived in this new routine and continue to do so. Sabrina has blossomed since going to "daycare" at Chris's mom's, her Nana's. She has started napping better (not for us of course), learned to sit up and crawl. She hasn't had many issues with separation anxiety and chatters up a storm. She get socialization with her 2 cousins and is used to being around caretakers other than mommy and daddy. She is a well-rounded, happy baby. 

And yet, despite all of this, I still feel guilt and sadness, knowing I will never get to stay home with her on her summers off from school. I'll never take her to the library everyday for story time, or be the mom that works all the holiday parties at school. She will have to go to before and after school care, or maybe be one of the lucky kids whose grandparents pick her up, like I was growing up. And maybe I'll achieve my dream of working part time someday, but I honestly wouldn't bet on it. In this day and age, and with the commitment Chris and I have made to each other to be financially responsible and not spend beyond our limits, the reality is we will always need to be a 2 income family. 

My hope is that I can show Sabrina that it is okay to be a working, professional woman while still raising a family and having a happy marriage. I hope that she knows that I never chose working over her, that I made the absolute most of the time I had outside of work to be with her.  I hope she can appreciate the situation I find myself in, and that she might find herself in one day. I hope she knows that it's okay to be a stay at home mom, a working mom, or something in between. The most important thing is not if a mom works or stays home, but that she loves and spends time with her children, making a lifetime of happy memories. 

But that doesn't mean I won't still envy those daycamp moms.