Opting for Natural Beauty Products

I’ve recently had two friends battle (and defeat!!) breast cancer, and it was a conversation with one of them that sparked my thinking about the types of chemicals I put on my body on a daily basis. As a result, I’ve gradually been swapping out my beauty products for natural alternatives, and while I’m not a beauty blogger, I wanted to share with you some of my favorites in the event that you too want to change up your routine.

I started out by making adjustments to my cleansing and moisturizing regimen. I’m a big fan of Ever Skincare and Eminence Organic Skincare and use a mix of both lines. After having my first child, breastfeeding, and subsequently becoming pregnant again, my skin had really gone to pot. I had more breakouts than I had in years, not to mention the dryness. I’m happy to say my skin has cleared up and any new breakouts are minor thanks to Ever’s Youthful serum and Daylight daytime moisturizer and Eminence’s Stone Crop Gel Wash and Coconut Age Corrective Moisturizer for use at nighttime.

After making these changes, I started to look into organic alternatives for my make-up products. Now this was a tough one. It’s taken me years to decide on which brands I prefer for which products. I wasn’t convinced any natural line would ever hold a candle to my faves. Specifically, I had been on the hunt for a natural mascara for several years since an allergic reaction left me looking like Quasimodo for my first month at a new job. Not how you want to make a first impression, let me tell you.

IMG_1768I’m very picky when it comes to my mascara, mostly because my tiny lashes need as much help as they can get. Ever’s new mascara Whiplash is exactly what I’ve been looking for. I can’t believe an organic mascara gives this kind of result! If this is any indication of the rest of Ever’s new makeup line, then we are all in for quite the treat. Thanks to Nicole Steiner for introducing me to this amazing line!

I have a long way to go in my quest to use more natural products, but we have to start somewhere, right? The next areas I want to change over are hair products and deodorant. If you have any favorites in these categories, please share!

 

 

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Letting go to let in

In just over two months, my husband, Ryan, and I will welcome our second child together into this world. Baby A’s life is about to change in a way he can’t even anticipate. As the youngest in a house of six—I have three teenage stepchildren—he is used to being the center of attention and doted on. More than that, he is accustomed to having mama’s undivided attention.

Admittedly, much of this is due to my inability to relinquish control to just about anyone when it comes to him. Since the day he was born, I’ve spent nearly every minute with him. Part of this was due to elevated levels of postpartum anxiety for the first several months, and the other part of it is simply that I want to soak up every last drop of him. I know this time will go by quickly, and soon, he’ll be too big for me to rock to sleep and too big to fit into my arms. The days are long, but the years are short—isn’t that how the saying goes?

At the encouragement of my husband, I have gotten away for many evenings out with girlfriends and even two overnights at a nearby hotel. My first night away, I slept for 12 uninterrupted hours, unless you count waking up to pump, and it was heavenly. The second time, A was older, and I was less sleep deprived so I made time for shopping, a movie, and a massage in addition to a good night’s sleep. Apart from those two overnights and evenings out, A has been the center of my world.

As we prepare for Baby G to arrive, I find myself regularly worrying about how I’ll hold both of them at the same time. How will I do A’s bedtime routine and rock him if I need to nurse Baby G? What if A needs me, but I can’t put down the baby because she needs me too?

I’m realizing that I need to let go a bit so that I have room for her, both emotionally and physically. They say that when your second child comes, your heart grows and makes room. But I feel like I need to prepare. I feel like I need to make room.

So what does this look like? I’ve been slowly letting Ryan do more. For the first time just a few weeks ago, I let him take A with him for his older brother’s basketball game so that I could get some writing done. It wasn’t the first time Ryan had asked to take A somewhere without me, but it was the first time I agreed.

It’s been hard to let go and let Daddy do more, but I’m also realizing that life has a way of working these things out. This change coincides with A actually being excited to spend more time with Daddy, and sometimes he even prefers Daddy. My heart hurts a little to see him reaching for people other than me, but I know this is a natural part of growing up and a necessary development ahead of the birth of our next child.

Until then, I plan to soak in these bedtimes when I’m easily rocking both of my babies, one a toddler in my arms and the other, a baby in my belly.

Pregnancy hormones are making me crazy

I always thought movies and TV shows exaggerated pregnancy hormones. “Get out of my f@#$*&^ car!” Katherine Heigl’s pregnant character tells Seth Rogan’s character as they’re driving down the road in the movie Knocked Up. There’s no way it’s this extreme, I thought as I watched years before I became pregnant.

As it turns out, it wasn’t that off base. I’ve experienced this same type of rage while pregnant and in the months following. And that’s not the only emotion I’ve felt. Sadness, irritability, and thankfully, happiness too—these are just some of the ups and downs that together have made pregnancy and postpartum one wild ride.

During my first pregnancy, I felt a lot of anger. I don’t know if it was the testosterone running through my body since I was having a boy or what, but I remember feeling unjustified rage over things that didn’t really matter. The worst incident had to be when I insisted my husband take us back home on our way to a BBQ. Why was I so hell-bent on getting back to the house? Well, I couldn’t bear being seen with him in his current outfit. I mean, who wears a winter sweater with flip-flops and a dirty baseball cap? As we were driving there, I told him if he didn’t turn the car around and return home to change clothes, I would open the door and tuck and roll. TUCK AND ROLL, I shrieked.

Who was that person?

I thought for sure I would feel like myself again once the baby came, but it took several months before everything leveled out—and I credit my exercise routine with FIT4MOM for helping me get my sanity back. It was during the postpartum period that I had what my mommy friends and I now refer to as my “silhouette moment.” I was thrilled when I saw a local silhouette artist was coming to my favorite consignment shop and immediately signed up my baby. Many of my friends had silhouettes of their children done at Disneyland, but we didn’t have any plans to go there until kids were older. This seemed like the perfect opportunity.

After making my baby sit patiently for the artist to cut out his likeness on black silhouette paper, she told me there was a flaw in the original so she was going to give me the copy, which was a mirror image. Apparently, I misunderstood because I thought she was saying I was going to get an extra one, since one was flawed.

“No, you have to pay for that one if you want two,” she told me.

“But you just said it’s flawed, so why can’t I have it? Won’t you just be throwing it away?” I asked.

“Oh no, I’ll use this for advertising,” she told me.

Frustrated, I walked out of the store. As I was buckling my son in his car seat, I decided that wasn’t acceptable. I marched back in there, guns blazing, and firmly told the woman that I would be taking the other silhouette for free because she did not have permission to use an image of MY son for advertising. We went back and forth, and the exchange became heated. Sure, I was arguing against her using a solid black cutout of my son’s profile, which was virtually unidentifiable. But he has one freaking cute profile. Have you seen his button nose?

In the end, the artist ripped up the silhouette and threw it in the trash, and I dropped to my knees to pick out each tiny piece. I was then escorted out of the store as I felt the judging eyes of several moms waiting their children’s turn.

“I’m going!” I said with my baby in my arms as the manager swiftly shooed me out.

I’ve never felt so crazy before in my life.

Fast forward to more than a year later, and here I am, pregnant again. This time, it’s not rage I feel primarily. Most days it’s sadness. Logically, I can tell you that I have more than enough reasons to be very happy; nonetheless, I have a cloud overhead that I can’t seem to shake.

The tears also come more easily with this pregnancy—maybe because of the additional estrogen due to this baby being a girl. On a recent trip to the store, I just about lost it after having to ask three different employees to help me bring a mattress to the front.

“My cart is full, I have a toddler, I’m very pregnant, and I have to pee,” I explained after they said no. Not one minute later, my raspberries rolled out of the container onto the floor, and my eyes immediately welled up with tears.

That’s when a woman, bless her heart, swooped in and said she would not only go get the mattress for me, but she would also get me a new container of raspberries. When she met me at the front with both, she gave me a hug and told me everything would be okay.

This woman saved me that day.

While it can be easy to make light of these situations, particularly after they’re over, the truth is postpartum anxiety and depression is real and can be debilitating for some women. It’s something we rarely talk about but should. If my hormones don’t level out for me after this baby like they did last time, I plan to discuss a treatment plan with my doctor that involves more than exercise. There is no reason to feel shame about that, and if you’re in this boat too, I encourage you to do the same.

And mamas, let’s save the judgment. Instead, let’s be the woman who hugs the mother she sees struggling in the store or wherever she may be. Who knows? Some day you may have your own silhouette moment or feel the urge to tuck and roll, but know that there is a village of mothers who are here to catch you when you fall.

How To Buy High-End Baby Clothing Without Breaking the Bank

When our son was born 18 months ago, my preference for high-end clothing brands shifted from buying items for myself to purchasing clothes and accessories for him. Specifically, I developed an affinity for just about anything European or vintage. Peter Pan collars. Knee socks. Oxford shoes. Hand-knit gnome hats. Swoon!

Lucky me, I fell into the small percentage of American women who actually receive maternity leave, and not just any maternity leave—PAID maternity leave. What happens when you have a sleep-deprived new mother up at all hours of the night breastfeeding with a disposable income? I’ll tell you. Packages start arriving day after day, and you have zero recollection of having ordered the items.

Did I click purchase in the middle of the night again? And these weren’t small purchases. $100 for a European sweater set that he’ll wear one time? Sure. $55 for a knit hat from the UK? Why not? The charges kept adding up, but with my cushy job at a major tech company and plans to return to work in a few months, I didn’t bat an eye.

That’s all changed now that I’m a Stay At Home Mom relying on my husband’s salary for our soon-to-be family of SEVEN. Yes, I said seven. That’s five, count them, FIVE kids. Not to mention the two dogs that are basically the size of horses.

Because my fancy tastes haven’t changed, I’ve had to find creative ways to fulfill my desire to dress my child in completely impractical European outfits solely for the photo op. In case you too have lavish taste for your child, or simply want to buy things that are higher quality and last longer than your average kids’ clothing, here are some tips to do so without breaking the bank:

  • Shop an app called Kidizen, where moms sell all sorts of brands at reasonable prices. I’ve found several pieces for Baby A from my favorite European brands. I’ve also found several NWT (that stands for New With Tags for all of you new used clothing shoppers.) shoes from See Kai Run. For something they can grow out of so quickly, this makes way more sense to me than paying full price. Bonus, you can re-sell the items on Kidizen when you’re finished!
  • Check out Instagram for mamas with similar styles to yours who are reselling their kids’ clothing. I have a friend who regularly finds deals this way.
  • Ebay is a great option for shoes.
  • Don’t forget about Etsy–I recently found a great deal on a vintage button down for Baby A and a Christening outfit!
  • Look for Buy, Sell, Trade groups on Facebook for your favorite brands. I found a national and local one for Hanna Andersson (HA) and Mini Boden, two of my personal faves. If that’s your jam too, do a search and request to join. There is a ton of great stuff on there!
  • Keep an eye out for garage sales, especially in neighborhoods where parents are more likely to shop the high-end brands you prefer. I scored big last weekend when I found a MASSIVE Hanna Andersson garage sale. I dropped a few hundred dollars for what was easily more than $1,000 worth of kids clothing—all in excellent condition.
  • Find a local consignment shop. If you’re a Seattle area mom like myself, I prefer this one on the Eastside. It can be hit or miss, and finding a quality brand like HA is rare, but it can happen! As proof, I scored an amazing LIKE NEW HA snowsuit for my son.
  • Look for local consignment sales like Just Between Friends. The Issaquah one is coming up THIS weekend!
  • If you’re not into buying used clothing, wait to make purchases when the sales are BIG or you have coupons. Yes, it can be annoying to receive regular emails from stores, but you don’t want to miss a sale of 30-40 percent off like HA had last week. If you miss those, you can always buy clothes off season, and there are always the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, which is when I purchase our Christmas jammies each year.

Happy shopping, mamas!

Confessions of a Pregnant Woman

After the same ad kept reappearing on my Facebook feed almost daily, I decided to click the “hide” option. It wasn’t just that it continued to pop up on my feed that irritated me—I also couldn’t stand what it said.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love being pregnant,” the sponsored ad said, “but it isn’t always a walk in the park.”

What was it about that line that got under my skin so much? Well, what if you don’t “love being pregnant?” I thought to myself. Why do you need to caveat that you love being pregnant before talking about uncomfortable changes and aches to your body? What is it that makes us as women feel like we have to say we love being pregnant, whether we do or not? Like we’re some monster if we scream from the rooftop,

I HATE BEING PREGNANT!

Clearly, that must mean that you’re a horrible person who doesn’t deserve to be pregnant in the first place, let alone experience the miracle of life at the end of the 40 long weeks.

Maybe the woman in the post truly loves being pregnant. I know those mythical creatures exist. I’m, however, not one of them.

While I had next to zero complaints or problems during my first pregnancy—until of course the very end when no one in their right mind can be comfortable that size—I still hated it. I hated the feeling of being out of control of my body as it changed in ways I could never imagine. I hated feeling like I was sharing my body with someone, but most of the time it felt more like something.

“When he starts to kick, it will feel real to you, and you’ll love it,” friends told me.

I must admit, when it happened I was legitimately freaked out. Was this a baby inside me or an alien? Only time would tell.

With this pregnancy, I thought surely I would feel differently. Now that I’ve confirmed that it was not in fact an alien and experienced the joy of my son, I thought for sure I wouldn’t feel like I had a foreign visitor inside of me this time.

Wrong.

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Stephanie Rubyor managed to make me forget about the stretch marks and discomfort long enough to feel beautiful, and dare I say, glowing in my maternity session.

I still feel weird about it. And it’s not just that. This pregnancy hasn’t been an easy go around. Perhaps it’s the old wives tale of girl vs boy, but my first trimester was wrought with morning sickness and exhaustion not to mention enough tears to fill the Atlantic Ocean. I’m also not one of those women who feels the most beautiful she’s ever felt when she’s pregnant. You’ve heard of those people, right? You know, the ones who are glowing.

I’m here to tell you that passing gas without so much as a two second warning or peeing a little when you sneeze are about the last things that make you feel sexy.

Oh, and remember that blog post I wrote bidding farewell to my voluptuous breasts when I stopped nursing? Well, they’re back. In full force. And don’t even get me started on what my nipples look like.

So why am I putting myself through this again, you ask? You see, the thing is, it really is all worth it in the end. The moment you see your baby for the first time tops my list as the most incredible moment in my life. Bringing Baby A into this world is my proudest accomplishment, and I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to do it again in just a few months when we meet our baby girl for the first time. (Someone remind me of this post when I’m several hours into labor hating life and wanting to give up, okay?)

I love the end result, but I’ll be damned if I tell you that I love being pregnant.

Advocating for your child when the school district won’t

“There is no school equal to a decent home and no teacher equal to a virtuous parent.”
-Ghandi

We recently learned that sometimes the very entity you hope is looking out for your child’s academic success can fail you in a big way. Last May, we received a letter in the mail telling us that our youngest daughter, L, was placed in the Common Core Math Pathway. These pathways, which are designated at the end of fifth grade, have been very controversial in our school district because they determine children’s math classes throughout high school.

The Common Core Pathway, or slowest path as it happens to be, does not give the students Pre-Calculus early enough to adequately prepare them for the SAT. We had heard of parents appealing their children’s placement, but my husband and I didn’t give it much thought because we assumed our daughter would place in the Accelerated or Exceptional Pathways. After all, she was just as good at math as her older brother, who placed in the Accelerated Pathway just one year prior, and she had a natural proclivity for STEM—math in particular. As such, you can imagine how shocked we were when we learned that she didn’t.

When we looked closely at her scores, we saw she had an above average score for the ITBS, but she received a zero for the CogAT. We learned that if a student did not score above a certain score on the CogAT, the student was given zero “domain points.” We assumed this must have been the case. Upon further inspection, we learned that L didn’t have a CogAT score at all! You see, she moved in with us from her bio-mom’s house in a different school district in January, and for whatever reason, her old school did not give her the CogAT.

As a result, we appealed the decision, noting it was not a proper placement for her because she did not have an opportunity to take the CogAT to prove her abilities. We told them that as her parents, we strongly believed the next pathway up, the Accelerated Pathway, would be more appropriate for her. A month later, we received a letter in the mail that our request was denied. L would remain in the Common Core Pathway.

That’s when I kicked it into high gear. I contacted the name and number at the bottom of the letter, who I learned was an analyst who served as a “gatekeeper” for the administration on this topic. She was armed with a calm voice and lots of pre-packaged compelling data points—she was the perfect person to walk overzealous parents insisting their child was gifted, off the ledge.

I explained L’s situation and how she didn’t belong in Common Core. Her father and I simply wanted to set her up for academic success, and we didn’t feel she would be appropriately challenged in the slowest pathway, I told her. I asked if L could have an opportunity to take the CogAT and prove she deserved to be in the Accelerated Pathway.

That’s when I was told that the CogAT was not a math test. The district simply used it for that purpose since it was already a State-required test, and they didn’t want to require the students to take another, more appropriate, one. 

It was a “test to identify students who were truly gifted.”

When I asked that L have an opportunity to take the CogAT, she told me only 50 out of 700 students in the entire district scored as high as she would need to score to be put in the Accelerated Pathway, and it was unlikely our daughter would score that high. She recommended L continue in Common Core, and if we still felt it wasn’t a good fit for her, we could appeal again in the spring of L’s sixth grade year. Our chances of approval were much higher then, she told me. If I wasn’t satisfied with this explanation and approach, I was welcome to take my concerns up the chain to district administrators.

That’s exactly what I did.

It took three emails, a phone call, and an escalation email to the Assistant Superintendent before I received a response from the administrator in charge of the Math Pathway Program. I then waited weeks for an in-person meeting, only to be called by her assistant the day before the scheduled meeting to tell me she needed to reschedule for the following month. I told her that was unacceptable. I planned childcare for my baby, and I had already waited weeks for this. She said she had time on her calendar that afternoon, if I could make it work, almost certainly a throw away offer because she knew I likely didn’t have childcare. I said I’d be there. I texted a friend who lived down the street to watch our baby, and I gathered my data and armed myself to fight for our daughter.

The administrator also came armed to the teeth with data. I learned before the meeting that she had a reputation for being stubborn and not changing her mind even in the face of surmounting evidence. As someone who used to brief U.S. policymakers in Washington D.C., some of whom were very difficult customers, I wasn’t intimidated. I diplomatically went back and forth with her for an hour, and I think she found I was a formidable opponent. It was clear she wasn’t expecting a well-educated, polished speaker who wasn’t going to back down when it came to her child’s education.

The administrator repeatedly told me that L “needed the gift of time.” She told me she didn’t come to my work and presume to be an expert, and similarly, I shouldn’t tell the experts who made L’s pathway decision how to do their job. I told her the “experts” who sat around the table did not know our daughter like we do. L had only been in the district for two months when this decision was made, and she was missing a test score that was instrumental in the placement decision. Why didn’t one of those experts speak up and say that L needed to be tested in order to make a proper decision? Why was she not given the same opportunity that every other student was given? There was no data that indicated L would struggle in a higher placement, so why not give her a chance?

After my insistence, the administrator agreed to let L take the CogAT. I worked through the analyst with whom I spoke initially to schedule a time for L to take the test. My husband and I crossed our fingers that L would do well enough on the test to be placed where we knew she deserved to be, but we were anxious knowing that the test wasn’t meant to measure math abilities at all.

L came home from taking the test feeling nervous, and we all anxiously awaited her test results. We received a call the following day, telling us L scored a 125, well above a 116, the score necessary to place her in the Accelerated Pathway.

She blew it out of the water!

Not only were we ecstatic, we were vindicated.

We know that if it weren’t for our advocacy and intervention, L would not have had the opportunity to prove her abilities and thus be put in the best pathway for her. It begs the question, how many other children are placed in an inappropriate pathway yet their parents have trusted that the district knows best? Or simply aren’t a stay at home parent like myself who has the time to ride the district until their child gets what he or she deserves?

The school district’s website says that they are “committed to preparing all students to meet their highest potential.” This, unfortunately, wasn’t our experience.

Telling us that the test was for children who were “truly gifted” and that L likely would not score as high as she needed to score was unacceptable. Do not tell me my child is not gifted. Do not tell me my child can’t do something. Give her a chance. She will show you what she can do.

We strongly believe we should never count a child out without giving her a chance to prove her abilities.

I sent this feedback to the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent. If they don’t know when and how they’ve failed, they can’t improve.

I also sent this feedback to the administrator who sat across the table from me earlier this summer and insisted my daughter was not ready. That she couldn’t do it. I thanked her for helping us drive home an important life lesson to our daughter—do not let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do something.

To the stepmom bringing home her first baby…

I see you holed up in the dark nursery with your tiny newborn and sore nipples, learning how to breastfeed. You don’t have the option to sit and let it all hang out on your comfy couch in front of the TV like other new moms because you have a teenage stepson and that’s just weird.

I see you biting your tongue and clenching your fists every time your step kids want to hold your tiny, fragile bundle of joy. Did they wash their hands? Why do they need to hold him at all? Don’t breathe in his face! Don’t touch his face! Only touch his feet!

I see you guzzling down the diet soda as you figure out dinner not just for you and your husband, but for your growing stepchildren too. You wonder what it would be like to only have the stress that comes with a new baby instead of also feeling the weight of managing a household of six—the meals, the basketball games, the laundry.

Postpartum hormones alone are enough to make a woman feel overwhelmed, but throw in the complicated feelings of a blended family, and that is MORE than enough to make a woman feel completely CRAZY.

I am here to tell you that you are not crazy. You are going to feel a lot of different emotions when you bring your baby home from the hospital. Some of these feelings may even come as a surprise to you because you have a positive relationship with your stepchildren. You may feel like you walked into the hospital to give birth feeling one way about them and walked out hours (or days!!) later feeling a completely different way toward them.

You may not feel like sharing your baby. That’s okay. You may also be mourning the life you thought you would have – you know, the one where you get married and experience parenthood for the first time with your partner. It’s okay to be sad that he’s already done this before.

But mama, it will get easier. Your hormones will gradually level out. Your baby will become sturdier, and when you’re ready, you’ll let others hold him so that you can do things like brush your teeth and wash your hair. Now that’s a benefit most new mamas don’t have! Oh, and remember how you were sad that your husband has done this before? Now you are thankful that you have a partner who already knows what to do and is comfortable with a teensy tiny baby.

Not only will you start to find a groove, but you’ll also find sweet moments of joy. When your stepson makes your baby giggle like no one else can. When you find your 11-year-old stepdaughter is more nurturing than you ever knew. When your 14-year-old stepdaughter steps up and shows leadership. When they fight over whose turn it is to change the baby’s diaper or help with his bath. When you’re all on the floor, cheering him on as he takes his first steps. When they come home from their bio-mom’s house and can’t wait to see their baby brother.

I won’t lie to you. Blended families are no joke. It can be a lot to juggle, especially when bringing a tiny human into the mix. But I am finding that in between the moments of chaos, they can also be wonderful. The bond between siblings transcends DNA and in our case, a several year age gap, and it really is something special to witness.

So hang in there, Mama Bear. You’ve got this.