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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Toddler Tuesday: Why Doesn't Everything Have a Drive-Thru?

Today I'm asking the question I think many parents want to know: Why isn't there drive-thru everything?

When you first have a child, everything is a balancing act. You have to time outings according to his feeding schedule; you have to set your alarm to wake you up as quietly as possible so as not to wake him up; you basically build your life around an unpredictable, naturally moody infant. (And it’s great, for the most part.)

So why aren’t there more drive-thrus? I’m serious. When you have a sleeping child in a car seat, why can’t you go to a drive-thru gas station? Grocery store? Walgreens?

My husband watches our son during the day, but as any parent knows, 5pm-bedtime is “the witching hour.” I have the lucky job of taking our son on a 45-minute drive home most nights of the week, during said witching hour. If he’s not screaming, it’s because he has a bottle in his mouth. If I have to take him out of the car and put him back in to run an errand on the way home, it’s World War III.

My husband asked me why I thought it was so hard. “I take him everywhere,” he told me. “He’s great in the car.” This is true, yes – during the daytime.

Today I embarked on my 45+ minute journey with Johnny with not enough gas. Simple enough: I’ll stop at the gas station.
There should be a drive-thru where this guy is handing me a bottle full of milk.*

The first pump wouldn't take my credit card, which means a trip inside. I looked at Johnny. He was psyched at the idea of getting out of the car seat, of course. We went inside. I paid the cashier while Johnny screamed that I wouldn't let him push all the buttons on the cashier’s keypad. Suddenly, the cashier frowned.
“It’s not letting me put gas on that pump, ma’am. Can you pull forward to the next pump?”
Well sure, yes, I can, but that means I have to strap him back in the car seat (which he resists like it’s torture) to pull up four feet. I did it.
“Great,” said the cashier. “That pump seems to be working. Go ahead.”
Great! I set Johnny down in the bed of Matt’s truck so he could roam around while I pumped gas with my eye on him.
But nope. Nope, it wasn’t working. We went back inside. Now there was a long line.
“Excuse me, Sir?” I said plaintively. “It doesn’t seem to be working.”

“Hmm,” he said. “Let me see.” After checking out several of the people in line (while Johnny screamed again because he wasn’t allowed to punch the buttons on the keypad) the cashier gave me the go-ahead.

We went back outside. I put Johnny into the bed of the truck, as a man passing by loudly told his wife, "See? She lets her kid ride in the bed!" No I don't, I wanted to shout, but I was busy keeping one eye on the gas pump and one on Johnny.

Putting a willful one year-old into a car seat (or high chair, or saucer) when he doesn't want to is a challenge: they buck and squirm and - of course - scream at the top of their lungs. To any observer it probably looked like I was abusing my child as I tried to contort his body into the constraints of the safety buckles.

In conclusion, I implore you, retailers of the world: It is 2014. For us parents, can you please build drive-thrus everywhere? Then my son would more often look like this:

The Mom of a Willful One Year-Old


Monday, February 24, 2014

Isis' Style: Going Bold in All Red

Isis got both this red shirt and the strapless red dress underneath at Express, so she feels confident matching the two reds together.

The charm on her necklace is a whale and was a gift from her father, because whales represent strength.

Earrings: American Eagle Outfitters
Shoes: BCBG

Local Review: Blue Willow Restaurant

This weekend I got a rare treat: since I had to go into work on Saturday morning my husband told me to meet up with my mom and sister while he watched the baby so I could have some "me time." As an avid extrovert, I generally think "me time" is an overrated concept, but add the company of my two favorite ladies and it immediately sounds like a great idea!

We went to lunch at the Blue Willow, which has been around forever (since 1978, to be precise). My mom and I love the restaurant, but it was my sister's first experience there. We were trying to think of a place with an outdoor patio that doesn't border one of Tucson's busy streets, so I suggested this restaurant. It has a beautiful enclosed patio in the back of the building filled with lattice, blooming plants, a fountain, and strings of lights.

My mom and I ordered the grilled chicken breast sandwich, made with basil pesto, tomato, mozarella cheese and served on brioche ($8.95).* My sister ordered the Eggs Benedict Blue Willow (also $8.95), even though it was 3pm. (I never judge anyone for eating breakfast at all hours - breakfast foods are often the best foods.) Everything we ordered was delicious.

My Grilled Chicken Breast Sandwich

If you care, they have Vegan and gluten-free menus. In fact, this restaurant is so healthy my sandwich came with a fruit garnishment instead of fries. Personally, I would prefer the fries, but if you're more health-conscious than I am you will enjoy the variety of healthy options they offer.

This restaurant was the perfect patio experience we were seeking, and it's classy enough for my mom but not too expensive - or so hoity toity my sister couldn't wear her workout pants.

Bonus: It also has a pretty cute gift shop! My coworker bought this magnet there:

*I realize this review would be more helpful had my mom and I ordered different meals, but it just sounded really good; sorry.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

It's the Little Things: White Teeth

There are lots of little things that affect your opinion of someone's appearance, but that you don't consciously notice. One thing I observed that makes people look noticeably younger is a set of pearly-white teeth. And I'm here to deliver some happy news: in most cases, you don't have to break the bank to get them!

Obviously, we all notice when someone's teeth are yellow (or missing), but a dull white hue is something you may not notice. Still, it affects our overall appearance. Someone with bright white teeth looks cleaner, brighter, and yes, younger.

I'm not going to hate on Lindsay Lohan because that's been done enough, (and not my style), so I'll give you a subtler example, of Nicole Kidman:

She's beautiful, yes, and you would probably say so looking at either picture. But the subtle difference here is her teeth. In the picture on the right she looks brighter - almost sparkly.

If you are blonde or have fair skin, white teeth make a huge difference (see how monochromatic Nicole's entire head looks on the left?). White teeth also pop against dark hair and a tan. So here's the great news I promised... Unless you really feel you need a whitening procedure, Crest Whitestrips do the trick!

Yes, I'm telling you that all you need to do is purchase these over-the-counter whitening strips (I've found they're usually cheapest at Target), and you will see results. Unless you have deep stains, I never spring for the fancy 3-D strips - I just go with old reliable, the original. I used them both in my beer-guzzling college days and the caffeine-fueled days of my early career, when my teeth should have looked like Lilo's.

A few applications makes a world of difference and you don't really have to use them twice a day, as the directions recommend*. They seem expensive, but used sparingly they last forever and keep your teeth pearly-white.

I have sensitive teeth, and they can give you a tingly, uncomfortable feeling at first. But it's worth it (remember all those braces tightenings at the orthodontist? They seem worth it now, don't they?).

Below are two pictures: the first, before I got pregnant and used Crest White Strips semi-regularly, and the second, while I was pregnant and too paranoid to put chemicals on my teeth. The difference is subtle but clear. In both, my roots are showing, and these pictures were taken mere months apart; still, the difference is apparent.


So get yourself some Whitestrips to make that subtle difference that will enhance your overall look! Chances are, nobody will say, "Wow, your teeth are really white" - but they might. And if they don't notice, but see how good you look, you'll get some compliments anyway.

It's the little things.

Friday, February 21, 2014

6 Toddler Toys We Just Love

From our house to yours, here are some of the toys that Johnny can't get enough of. All of them teach him something and I recommend them for any child (mine is 15 months). I hope your toddler enjoys them as much as ours does!

1. A Musical Table

This is something Johnny loved as soon as he was big enough to stand. It's actually called an "activity table," but my son just presses each button (skipping the educational numbers and colors) until the music comes on and dances! Be prepared to have all the songs memorized. Buy it here.

2. A Play House

Is your child as obsessed with light switches as mine?* We can't walk by one without him yelping because he wants to turn it on... and off... and on... So whenever he's adamant about the light switch thing, I tell him to go get his "house." He plays with the switch ad nauseam, and the other features are pretty fun for him too. Buy it here.

3. Stackable cups

When he hadn't quite reached the right developmental stage, all Johnny wanted to do was throw these. Now, it's amazing to watch him figure out how they fit together (or don't). He stacks them upside-down and rightside-up... and still occasionally throws them. He even tried to put one inside my water cup, which makes perfect, logical sense for a 1 year-old! Buy them here.

4. A Book Like This

My little one went through a phase in which he had zero interest in books. After months of being seemingly enthralled with Little Blue Truck**, he squirmed and slapped the pages shut whenever I tried to read to him. Our pediatrician suggested books he could relate to - ones with pictures that had something to do with his everyday life.

On a trip to Buy Buy Baby I showed him this "Words" book, and because the cat pictured looks exactly like our gray cat, he immediately leaned in and kissed the page. I bought the book - not just because once my child's slobber is on something I feel obligated to purchase it - and he loves to bring it over to me during playtime so I can read it with him.

Bonus: It has sliding windows so he can see the word "ball" and listen to me say it as he slides it over. Buy it here.

5. Stuffed Animals

Obviously, I know. But having a few of these around the playroom brings out a different side of Johnny. Maybe it's because we actually have a dog, but whenever he picks this guy up he transitions to a softer voice, strokes him and lays his head on him - almost like he's taking care of the dog. He never throws him like he does everything else. It's fun to see your little one playing parent to one of his toys.

6. Balls

Another "duh," but worth mentioning. My son loves throwing, kicking, and giving us his balls. Because he's had so much practice and exposure, he knows what we mean when we say, "Johnny, where's your soccer ball?" He will pick up the soccer ball instead of his football. Great for learning, and especially great if you have a very physical child.

If you have any great toys your child loves, please share them in the Comments section!

*Good to know we're not alone, isn't it? I choose to believe he is advanced, of course.

**Little Blue Truck is easily my son's favorite book of all time. It has it all: narrative, animal noises, different voices, and you can act out what's going on as your child gets older (swerve when the dump truck swerves, etc.) Buy it here.

Video Monitors are Great. Here’s When I Don’t Use Mine.

As expressed in my previous post Baby Registry 911, I think video monitors are amazing*. They let you check on your little one when you don’t want to risk a meltdown and demands of “Pick me up!” However, there is one instance when I won't use my video monitor.

Since my son was a newborn, I’ve tiptoed into his room once I knew he was asleep to say a little prayer over him in his crib. I think about the giggles, the kisses, the “conversations,” the playing – even the meltdowns – that happened during the day. I thank God for him. I pray that he will be safe, healthy, smart and strong. I know that when he’s older, we’ll say these prayers together. But while he’s too little to understand, it’s important to me to take these short moments to thank God for such a little (and BIG) blessing.

The video monitor is great for naps, great for checking on him, and great for making sure he’s asleep before I sneak into his room to pray for him. But being without him for 11+ hours a day while I’m at work means that any extra chance to be in his presence, hear his breathing, and watch his tiny movements is too sacred to experience through a monitor. I treasure that quick prayer and the wave of gratitude that comes over me when I say it after a busy day – maybe even a day I was too “busy” to give him 100% while he was awake.

I guess when he’s 14 he may not appreciate me coming into his room to thank God for him. But for now, it’s one of the best parts of my day.

*Buy one here.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Thankful Thursday: Our Happy Jar

Everyone knows, or has read, or has heard it preached to them, that counting your blessings makes you feel happier. ("White Christmas," anyone?) And we all say Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, I should count my blessings… whatever. Go away.

Well, thanks to Pinterest (of course) I found a fun and easy way to count our blessings. Get a decent-looking glass jar (my mom found this one for us at Garden Ridge in Phoenix*), then every time something makes you happy write it down on a little piece of paper and drop it in the jar, all year long.

My vision is that my husband, son and I spend Christmas Eve by the fire unfolding every piece of paper and smiling at each other, feeling blessed. A more realistic vision is probably one or both of us chasing Johnny around trying to keep him from doing a Kamikaze dive off a table or picking up Cheerios off the floor and eating them while the other attempts to read the notes aloud.

At first my husband made fun of it (of course – he has to poo-poo my nonstop attempts at positivity), so he wrote “Beer” on a piece of paper and dropped it in the jar. Later I caught him writing something he wouldn’t show me, and that’s really the whole point.

I don’t want to know what he writes, and I don’t want him to know what I write. But just like my Hundred Happy Days, this makes us conscious of the little things that make us feel good during the day-to-day grind. Life is hard. Work is hard; commuting is hard; parenting is hard; finding time to appreciate your significant other is hard. The list goes on and on. Finding idle moments to write on a piece of paper and put it in my silly jar is hard! But if we can do it every once in a while, hopefully our jar is filled to the brim by Christmas.

Like all my other attempts to bring positivity into our lives, this will take a little bit of work. But when I think about it, really, how hard is it for me to jot something down while Johnny munches food in his highchair? Sure, he yells at me for not paying attention to him, but when I (theoretically) put all these lovely memories into a scrapbook, he just might be glad that I did.**

If you have any tips for focusing on the positive things in life, please share them with me!

*See, again, how my mom makes my pipe dreams come to fruition and basically helps me function in life.

*Or perhaps my vision of teenage Johnny sitting on the sofa beside me looking through scrapbooks is also a little off. He will probably be calling me lame and making me call him John by then. He might laugh at his dad's "Beer" entry.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Monday Money Madness: Suddenly Living on One Income

I'm sure there are a lot of us who worry about money. I think about it all the time, especially since I had my son. I've been on both sides of the money situation. I have been so responsible I had enough to go out and buy a brand-new bed when I was five months pregnant and could no longer stand ours, and I've been so down-and-out that I couldn't run the heat in my car because I didn't have enough gas to get me through the work week.

After my son was born my husband decided to go back to school. He had reached the ceiling at his job and wanted to move forward, so he started taking classes Monday through Thursday from 5:30-10:30 at night. For awhile things were just busy and stressful; then, he lost his job. Things went from busy and stressful to terrifying. We realized that unless he could find a job that paid at least what he made before, it didn't make sense for him to go back to work. He became something he never thought he would be: a stay-at-home dad.

We also were down to one income. Instead of putting 20% of our earnings into savings the way we did before, we suddenly found ourselves living paycheck to paycheck. Afraid of running out of things like milk. Afraid to check the mail only to find bills we couldn't pay. Afraid we wouldn't have enough gas to get to work and school.

For most of my life I've believed that you don't talk about things like money, whether you have it or you don't. I kept our financial stress to myself because I was embarrassed. I didn't want my coworkers, or even my close friends, to know that my always successful husband was out of work and that we were barely scraping by.

Then one day, he told me that he shared our troubles with my coworker and good friend. I was mortified at first, not just because I didn't want anyone to know, but because I was afraid she would think I was deceptive for not telling her. Her reaction surprised and touched me.

This particular friend always seems to have it together. She and her husband are successful - as in, This weekend we bought a 70-inch TV or We pay $500 a month for our daughter's private school successful. The type of successful I've never been, and I always assumed it was because they were smarter or better or more responsible than we are.

She told me that she understood why I didn't say anything, and that she'd "been there." When I balked she looked me in the eye and said, "No, I mean I've been there. My husband lost his job when our daughter was a baby. I went back to work but we had to give up one of our cars. When he finally got a job one of us had to drop the other off. I know what it's like to have $13 that has to last two weeks until payday. And it's only in the past three years that we've stabilized."

I was shocked. Because I never say anything and she never brought it up, I had no idea that she really knew what I was going through. It gave me hope, because I know that when my husband graduates (in six weeks, by the way - hurray!) we will begin to "stabilize" too. I was also unburdened: I no longer had to tell her "I just don't have the time" to get my hair done. I could admit that I can't afford it. And she said she was praying about our situation, so now, simply because she knows, I have extra prayers shooting up to heaven for us.

I am also grateful because since I opened up to her, our friendship opened up too. She started to tell me about her own burdens - and maybe she would have anyway - but there is a trust that exists now because we started talking about things we never did before.

There are all kinds of stresses we keep secret, either because we want the rest of the world to think we have it all together or because we just don't want to talk about it. But I've found that opening up to someone creates a new reality: you don't have to hide your troubles all the time. Certainly my boss doesn't want us to start having therapy sessions on the clock, and we're both too busy with our own families to get together outside of work. But just the fact that we know what's going on in one another's lives means that someone else understands what we're going through. And all of us could use some extra prayers on our side.

My husband and I celebrated Valentine's Day the way we've spent many happy nights: home, talking, cooking and eating. Some things have changed: we're down to one income and there was a one year-old asleep upstairs, but we are still laughing. I'm proud of his accomplishments and we love each other, so we're "successful" as far as I'm concerned.

If any of you have "secret stresses," or stories of sharing them, please tell me about it! I hope things get easier, and if everything's going smoothly, I hope it continues that way.

Monday, February 10, 2014

5 (Mostly) Non-Medicinal Comforts for When You're Sick

I figure this time of year, most of us are either sick, avoiding people who are sick, or nursing sick children, so this seemed appropriate.

Recently I had a terrible flu/cold. (Who knows what it really is? Even when you go to the doctor they give you some vague virus/viral diagnosis, charge you a copay and tell you to take Tylenol.) I felt awful, and none of my old stand-by treatments were applicable because now I have an "adult" job and a child. I couldn't call in sick and sleep all day, and my early-twenties cure of alternating Dayquil and Nyquil made me too groggy to function as either an employee or a parent. So, I had to get creative.

1. Zicam! This stuff (pictured above) was first recommended to me by my cousin, who is a nurse. If you start taking it when you're already sick, your cold will last a few days as opposed to a week or two. If you start taking it when you feel the first tell-tale tickle in your throat, you won't get sick at all. I kid you not; this product could cure the common cold if we all took it diligently. That's the catch: you must follow the instructions. Take it as often as the box advises, and you can stop reading here.*

2. Chloraseptic. If you have a job that primarily consists of talking, cough drops don't cut it. When your cough is in those early dry, hacking stages that hurt so much but don't even sound bad enough to get any sympathy (the way the late-stage, rumbly cough does), Chloraseptic numbs your throat. It helps with the tickle that makes you cough, and makes it hurt less when you have to cough.

3. Chamomile Tea. This stuff soothed me when I was pregnant and needed to unwind. The steam and mild flavor make it go down easy, soothe your sore throat, and kinda clear up your sinuses.

4. Vicks Vapor Inhaler. Old-fashioned Vicks is great, but this thing provides instant relief. When you're awakened in the middle of the night because you can't breathe through you nose at all, it gives you a shot (literally and figuratively) at a deep breath. It also works when you first wake up in the morning and everything up there is so solidified, blowing your nose is an optimistic endeavor.

5. Matt's Miracle Cure. This has long been a marital secret because... well, because I never had a blog before. When I first began dating my husband and got sick, he came over and ordered me to drink his "miracle cure." I did, and everything cleared up instantly. All he does is buy a shooter of "good" vodka (Grey Goose is his go-to), pour it into a glass of orange juice, and... maybe it's psychological, but it works for me. You aren't drinking enough alcohol to make you impaired - just enough to relax your entire body - and it clears your sinuses, soothes your throat, and of course is made up primarily of orange juice (vitamin C!).

This cold was particularly heinous, so he tinkered with his miracle cure and poured brandy into a cup of hot chamomile tea. This is, of course, the age-old cure known as the hot toddy. My blue-collar husband, however, told me if I called his miracle cure a hot toddy he would stop making it for me.

In time, my flu/cold/virus/viral nightmare ended, and yours will too. I hope some of these small comforts help you through it in the meantime! Stay healthy, and for the love of your coworkers, take your Zicam :)

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor nor am I giving out medical advice. This is just personal opinion and based on my own experiences. Always consult a physician.

*Note: Zicam is zinc, pure and simple, and it tastes terrible, which is why I recommend the spray as opposed to the rapid melts, which have to linger in your mouth until they dissolve.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Baby Feeding 101

I am no expert in this arena, and it's been a process of trial and error in our house, but if I can help, read on!
My son was breastfed until about 6 months, when we moved and my commute turned from 15 minutes into 45; it was just too difficult. From then on, it was formula (Expensive! Stinky! Still a great option for moms who can't breastfeed for any reason). I noticed he might be ready for solid foods when he started to take a deep interest in what my husband and I were doing when we ate at the table.

I tried rice cereal, which he hated. When we moved on to baby food I discovered that some of it is a home run (sweet potatoes!) and some of it gets slapped away and, eventually, spit out (those apple-banana-blueberry mash-ups that sound like a delicious smoothie? ....huge failure with my son).

I also discovered that some of it has a great consistency and some of it is runny and slops all over the highchair tray... and him. A few examples:

Great Consistency Foods:
Green beans

Runny Mess Foods:

Note: If it's runny and you think, I'll just put some rice cereal in here to thicken it up! but your kid hates rice cereal, he will reject it. Listen to your kid; he is the boss.

Well, at first my baby was so choosy I was afraid he inherited it from his dad, who refuses to eat - among other things - tomatoes, eggs, mashed potatoes with lumps in them or instant mashed potatoes, and anything with "casserole" in the name.* However, according to my pediatrician, this is completely normal for 1 year-olds (no word on whether it's normal for 32 year-olds). So, having been in the trenches, here is some advice:

Tip One. A bib in my house is referred to as a cape (inspiration here.) When it's time for baby food, I ask Johnny if he's ready for his cape, make an elaborate whoosh sound, and Velcro it behind his neck. I've found if I don't do this, he rips the bib off in a mixture of disgust and protest (sometimes he does anyway).

Tip Two. Make lots of noises. Airplanes, birds, choo-choo trains - they all work (unpredictably, so change it up). If you can get your kid to smile or laugh, that mouth is open and it's go time! Sneak the spoon in there while they're laughing and you scored because it is now in their tiny bellies.
At the risk of looking like a total doofus, here is me looking like a total doofus getting my baby to eat.

Tip Three. Get crazy. I have danced, sang, made crazy hand gestures with the spoon, rapped, and beat-boxed to get my little guy to eat. Again, variety helps, and bonus: it's pretty fun.

Tip Four. Be persistent. If green beans are rejected, try carrots. And don't be discouraged if he eats something today and refuses it tomorrow. As someone pointed out to me: for a 10 month-old, a whole jar of carrots is like an adult eating a bag of carrots in a day. Would you even want to look at carrots a day after that? It's all perspective.

Tip Five. Let him eat what you eat. Johnny was always very curious about what the "adults" were eating. So I started feeding him pieces from my plate or giving him a Goldfish or Cheez-It cracker here and there, and now I hardly have time to eat myself. Bonus: when you have to shovel food into your own mouth quickly so you can pick off pieces of ground beef or slice up veggies for him, you unintentionally lose some baby weight.**

In Conclusion...
Don't worry. Whether your child is a tank, a grazer, or just stubbornly loves his milk (mine has been all 3), it's normal. Babies, for the most part, know when they're hungry, so pay attention to their cues. For weeks I thought Johnny was being difficult and trying to play with his food because he insisted on dropping Cheerios into it. Eventually I realized: he just loves Cheerios. Once I fed him a Cheerio in every bite, he ate it all!

...And over time, feeding him became easy. He grew up; he realized he wanted food, and now he only rejects the stuff he actually thinks is gross (still anything that sounds like a delicious smoothie - go figure).

Note: DON'T be sad if your little one eats better for one person or another. For a long time Johnny ate nothing for my mom (who watched him full-time while we were at work), sometimes for me (who he sees in the morning and at night), and always for my husband (who he hardly ever saw). Once my husband stopped working during the day to focus on school, everything flipped. Johnny was home with him during the day and refused to eat, continued to eat sporadically for me, and ate much better for my mom, simply because Granny's house was now a treat.

My theory? Baby-feeding is one-on-one attention in a rare form. You are standing, or perched, directly across from your baby, making every effort in your arsenal to get a bite of apple sauce into his mouth. I think mine craved one-on-one attention from whoever he saw the least, and that's why he always ate readily and happily for that person.

*Side note: If you have a choosy husband you can always try what I did. Since Matt turned up his nose at casseroles, I changed the names to things like "Crunchy Green Beans" and "Sausage Surprise." No joke: he did not catch on until I confessed to it years later.

**As previously mentioned, we parents learn to do things very quickly. When you have a newborn you're all, "Oh my gosh I have to pee because he might wake up any second!" By 10 months, you're peeing one-handed with the kid under your arm. By 15 months, you're eating meals in under 4 minutes while your little one squawks and grabs at the food on your plate... if you have time for plates.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

What I Learned at the Dermatologist

I have fair skin that's delicate as paper, prone to sunburns and turns bright red if I take a five-minute walk in seventy-degree weather. I've always had to take extra care of it (though I haven't always been as diligent as I should).

I've used various products to keep my skin looking youthful, but a recent trip to an actual dermatologist taught me a lot and I want to share it with anyone who's into skin care (and possibly, admittedly a little bit vain).

During pregnancy I developed something called Melasma on my face.

The sun has always given me splotchy freckles, but this was different. It bothered me but of course I didn't want to use any chemical products on my skin until my little one was safely out of my body. I thought about seeing a dermatologist when I went back to work, but it wasn't until one of my students told me she graduated and was working for one as a Medical Assistant that I knew where to start. She gave it a glowing review (and said if I mentioned her name I would get a friends and family discount!).

So I made an appointment at Specialists in Dermatology, a great place if you live in the Tucson area. They didn't try to sell me a bunch of products or services; their approach was more to educate me about skin care. Here were my dermatologist's recommendations for pretty much every concern I had.

1. Obaji Nu-Derm Clear for Sun Spots

For the Melasma I used Obaji Nu-Derm Clear, which not only got rid of the Melasma but also erased almost every splotchy freckle and brown spot I accumulated by tanning without abandon throughout my early twenties.

2. B5 Gel for Glow

She also told me about a magical potion called B5 gel. I don't know how, but it brightens your skin and gives you a glow I can't describe. Whenever I use it people remark that I look pretty. It's just a small thing that boosts my confidence and makes my husband do a double-take.

3. Sunscreen Newsflash

She also told me two things about sunscreen I didn't know. The first is that I need at least SPF 50. Most of us have read or been told that after a certain level, SPF isn't any more effective. But for my white Irish skin, she was adamant. The second thing: reapply every four hours. For years I've put on my sunscreen in the morning and called it good for the rest of the day. No good, says my dermatologist. Even if you're just walking from your office to your car you need to reapply, and window tint does nothing to protect your skin from the sun.

Now, I don't wear a lot of makeup on my skin so I don't mind slathering on a moisturizer with SPF midday. But if you're worried about smudging or greasiness, try this stuff a friend swears by:

4. Microdermabrasion Gets Rid of Dead Skin Cells

Okay, I did get a procedure done. For $100 I got Microdermabrasion, which doesn't hurt and essentially sloughs off the top layer of dead skin cells. Honestly, it's such a mild procedure I didn't notice too much of a difference, so until I'm bold enough to try a peel or anything painful, you'll have to wait for a review on that!

Another perk: at Specialists in Dermatology if you pay for a procedure, they will do 5-10 "extractions" for free. So she used a chemical to seal several pores I had that looked like gaping holes, got rid of a tiny skin tag on my neck, and removed a blackhead under my skin she noticed before it ever surfaced.

All in all it was a great experience. The only reason I haven't been back is a lack of free time! If you're looking for ways to improve your skin but aren't interested in plastic surgery or spending a bunch of money on products that may or may not work, talk to an expert. Dermatologists, at least in my experience, aren't salespeople or scalpel-happy doctors. It was informative and well worth the money (to me - as previously disclosed, I am a little vain). Give it a try!

A Week of (Mostly) Homemade Lunches From My Mom... With a Helping Hand from Costco

I am blessed to have a mother who not only watches my son and helps me when things get too hectic, but who also brings me food! She knows that between working full-time and having my husband in school four nights a week, cooking is pretty much out of the question for me.

So when she cooks something delicious, she usually loads up our refrigerator. This week she was a cooking machine, which means I have amassed a smorgasbord - no peanut-butter sandwiches or Lean Cuisines for this lucky girl!

Day One. We watched the Super Bowl at my mom's Sunday night, so instead of chicken wings and potato chips, we feasted on homemade ham and (not-homemade but delicious and available at Costco) scalloped potatoes! (My husband even broke away from the -granted, pretty boring - game to eat at the table.) Monday's lunch: leftovers!

Day Two. My mom's famous homemade chili. She's been making it for as long as I can remember, and whenever I bring it out people start coming around, sniffing the air and asking for the recipe. The recipe is actually from a 1973 edition of Good Housekeeping. I don't have a link for where to purchase that, but she did send me a picture of the recipe page. And yes, it is as good as it smells!

Day Three. There is nothing homemade about this one, but it is 100% delicious! Oven-baked chicken penne alfredo, also sold at Costco. (Can you tell we shop there a lot? Hey, I have a kid in diapers, remember? I buy in bulk. Or, on super-lucky weeks like this one, my mom buys in bulk and shares.) When you heat this stuff up the alfredo sauce honestly melts in your mouth. Bonus: my Costco diaper-clad little guy eats it like it's his job, even on pickier days.

Day Four. We tried some ravioli from Trader Joe's. Now, I've been buying a delicious spinach ravioli from Costco that feeds my family three times from one bag. This ravioli is amazing, easy to prepare, and filling. I have actually eaten it cold on occasion (it's that good).

This week we tried the Trader Joe's ravioli, pictured here:

Mom and I agree: it was bland! I tried dressing it with olive oil and parmesan and then dousing it with pasta sauce, but the filling just wasn't good. If you want ravioli, go with the spinach stuff pictured above. It comes with two packets of flavored seasoning and we use pasta sauce for the third serving.
Day Five. My grandmother was such a good cook, we used to beg my mom to fix her recipes. We only got Grandma's cooking when we went to visit her in St. Louis. If my mom cooked something and we wouldn't eat it, she lied and told us it was "Grandma's recipe." So I was thrilled when part of this week's deliciousness included Grandma's famous meatloaf (yes, we were a little heavy on the pasta and ground beef this week).

Now I like spicy food as much as any Arizonan, and this meatloaf is Midwestern through and through: no surprises. But something magical happens when these ingredients come together. My mom says she's pretty sure this recipe came from the back of a Lipton box, and I want to give credit where credit is due. Anyway, it's a pretty simple recipe and I recommend it to anyone!
I'm grateful for my mom every day, and this week she made my life even easier than usual. I hope some of these recipes and foods make your life a little easier too!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Isis' Style

I have never been particularly fashion-forward - I do most of my shopping at Ross - but we all have people in our lives who just always look like they have it together. My coworker Isis not only has a cool name, but she also knows how to put together an outfit, style her hair, and accessorize like nobody's business. She made fun of me a little but agreed to help me with my blog by posing for pictures whenever she comes in wearing something supercute. Here is today's edition:

It was cold by Arizona standards (58 degrees), and this girl has the style to own and rock an adorable white trench coat!

Not only that, she was sick, came in to work, and accessorized like a boss. I'm lucky if I enter the office healthy, on time and not covered in food or some sort of child-related gunk. (Don't get me wrong: I never looked like this pre-child. I just looked like a less-mussed me.)


Isis is my fashion hero and a stud because she came in sick (though not contagious - she's not a jerk) to get stuff done!