organicglory

simple nibbles of natural goodness

My Top Six Blogging Tips {from #AltSummit}

What a great weekend of learning, networking and inspiration I just experienced at the Alt for Everyone conference! If you’ve never been, Alt (short for Altitude Summit) is a design, social media and blogging conference held every year in Salt Lake City….and again online for those of us who can’t travel cross-country in person because of work, kids or whatever. This was my first year “attending,” and I picked up loads of great information for this blog, for my full-time job, and for work-life balance in general. As bloggers, writers and artists, it’s important to recharge with other like-minded creatives from time to time; you get to hit the refresh button while picking up loads of great business and lifestyle tips, from rethinking your branding and styling to making sure you avoid burnout and screen-time overload.

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The classes streamed pretty late into the evening for East Coasters, but luckily I had a buddy to help me power through.

So what really rang true for me over three days of Alt for Everyone?

IT’S TIME TO QUIT FACEBOOK

Not because it’s bad for my blog–because it’s bad for my life. Letting go of the addiction (if it has become that for you, like it has for me) frees up all kinds of space to dislodge writer’s block, embrace creative hobbies, allow for “boredom brainstorms,” and enjoy your family again, instead of constantly plotting how something will look to the social media universe. Is it more important to help my baby learn to walk confidently, or capture her first steps on video so my Facebook followers share in it? I don’t want to be that person who is so busy cultivating an online persona that I’m missing out on my actual life, and nearing max capacity as I try to juggle my job, husband, daughter, house work, volunteering, hobbies, and exercise alongside blogging.  I’ve been saying I’m going to cut back on Facebook for months. It’s time to actually do it.

YOUR BLOG IS A BUSINESS — TREAT IT THAT WAY!

Don’t sell yourself short! That was my big takeaway. It doesn’t matter how much this blog earns — it’s a business, and it needs the right legal documents (privacy policy, affiliate/sponsorship disclosures, invoicing template, tax ID number) and promotional tools (slam-dunk media kit, editorial calendar, style guide, top-notch photo staging). I learned a ton about the right way to pitch potential sponsors and advertisers, and got a general pep talk about remembering to sell myself, hone my aesthetic perspective and stick by it, and be egotistical in negotiations. This last one should have been a no-brainer for me, because I do PR for a living: it’s critical to save press clips and testimonials to share with potential advertisers. DUH! Now I’m on it.

REPEAT AFTER ME: PATIENCE, PATIENCE, PATIENCE

According to Jaime Derringer of Design Milk, it can take 6 months (at least) to show a return on your investment in a particular advertising partner. Most brands are willing to wait for you to show them what your blog can do for them, and amplification of your blog posts featuring their brand — on Instagram, Pinterest, etc. — can be just as important to them as actual conversion rates. There are lots of different ad-selling arrangements out there, and it will likely take time to evaluate each one properly and find the most lucrative space and method on your blog for each.

YOU NEED TO BE USING RICH PINS

This I already knew, but had been avoiding. Rich pins are especially critical for food bloggers, because they allow recipe embedding right in your pin, meaning nobody can override you as the original source. I had been thinking about rich pins as something that would take me more time, not necessarily prevent other pinners from stealing my content without attribution. Now I’m definitely adding this to my to-do list. Read more about how to do rich pinning here!

NURTURE YOUR CREATIVITY & REAP THE BENEFITS

Ideas I loved:
  • Mood boards are my friend. Am I drawn to black and white? Bright colors? Rustic? Masculine? Modern? Lived-in? Feminine? Joy Cho posted a great example this week of how to do this in writing about developing her latest collaboration with Target.
  • Create a secret Pinterest board with examples of blog templates, photo styling, and color palettes that you love.
  • Imitate with abandon to get the ideas flowing…but throw the imitation away before you publish a ripoff. Redraft, and watch something even better emerge.
  • Analyze those you idolize (as a musician, I know this intrinsically). Look for patterns you love — just like in music — and replicate the sensibility.

AUTHENTICITY COUNTS

We’ve all heard it before: authentic content is king. Turns out, that’s because it’s true. Brands are looking for good engagement from your readers and lots of genuine content…not necessarily high page views or tons of previous sponsored posts (that can actually be a red flag, because you may appear un-discerning). For someone like me, that read as a challenge, because my page views have been skyrocketing lately but my ad revenue and my engagement have flat-lined. So now I have a very real charge for the months ahead (in addition to the redesign I was already planning!) Hand-in-hand with authenticity is the notion of consistency. Don’t leave your readers wondering when you’ll post, or why your photos and overall post format vary so widely in design. Be organized and predictable!

THERE WERE ALSO SOME VERY QUOTABLE MOMENTS.

A few of my favorites, from the webinars I took:

“Be a visual DJ”

“Boredom gives you the best ideas”

“When you don’t have butterflies, it means you are doing the same thing over and over.”

“Study your heroes” and “follow your competitors!”

“think like a marketer”

“fake it ’til you make it”

“start thinking like a window dresser” and “create an environment that people want to visit often.”

***

That’s it! I learned so much more, applicable to this blog, my day job and my creative life, and I am definitely feeling motivated, empowered and excited to take things to the next level in all these areas.

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Special thanks to instructors Laurie Smithwick of Leap Design, Raphael Aquino-Jose of Bing, Jenner Brown of Lumineux Films, Hilary Rushford of Dean Street Society, Whitney English of Whitney English, Melanie Burk of Caravan, Chris Gardner of Curbly, Rachel Faucett of Handmade Charlotte, Amy Christie of This Heart of Mine, Alison Faulkner of The Alison Show, Monique Malcolm of Antisparkle, Kelly Beall of Design Crush and Susan Brinson of House of Brinson.

***

Did you go? What did you learn? And if you are from Boston and you participated in #AltforEveryone, do you want to meet up for coffee and debrief/network/commiserate over our long task list?!?!

Prepping for fall, naturally

Fall has hit New England with a bang! Suddenly there’s a snap in the air, and the leaves are starting to turn. You know what that means: time to go apple picking, bake some pies and crisp, rake the last of the leaves, store the patio furniture for the winter, and give the house one last scrubbing before it’s too cold to leave the windows open.

In our house, we’ve been prepping the car for winter (oil change, snow wipers, check hoses & fluids), storing our summer clothes with the last of our vacations behind us, buying Georgia a winter wardrobe in her new size, and insulating some key sections of our house that always let in the cold, such as eaves and overhangs that jut away from our foundation. I always talk about how important it is to use natural cleaning products from reputable, environmentally-conscious companies such as Honest, Norwex and Babyganics, but do you know what we’ve discovered that many people probably never even consider when renovating or deep-cleaning their homes? The surprising prevalence of asbestos in everyday life.

We ran into this when we started to do a “simple” renovation to our bathroom in preparation for Georgia’s arrival last year, a project that started with re-tiling our tub and ended with us having to take the entire side of our 100-year-old house down in a hail storm of lead paint, black mold and rotten wood. Being pregnant at the time, I knew we had to take precautions to make sure I and the baby weren’t exposed to any toxic substances used when our house was built in 1920. We had professionals taking those things into consideration, so I knew we were safe. But I didn’t realize until very recently that you also have to keep guard against things like lead and asbestos in everyday products — and that asbestos is still the top cause of occupational cancer (Mesothelioma) in the United States, more than 30 years after its peak use in construction of schools, houses and municipal buildings.

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Courtesy Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

In recognition of Mesothelioma Awareness Day, which is today, I’d like to share the story of Heather Von St. James, a survivor of Mesothelioma. Her story is alarming and inspiring, and as a natural mama this seemed important to share. It’s also close to my heart, because my grandfather died of mesothelioma after a lifetime working in the Charlestown Navy Yard. Eight years ago, at the very young age of 36, Heather gave birth to her daughter, Lily. Three months later, she was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure — only she had never worked with asbestos. She was given just 15 months to live, but she beat the odds.

Even more shocking?

  • Asbestos is still found in many schools, homes, and industrial buildings
  • It is still used in building materials and consumer products manufactured in the developing world
  • On average, 30 million pounds are still being used in the US today
  • Only a few asbestos-containing materials are currently banned by the EPA

mesothelioma facts

Were you inspired by Heather’s story, too? Then share it, educate yourself about the dangers of first- and second-hand exposure to asbestos, and spread the word that there is hope for those diagnosed with Mesothelioma. Visit Heather’s website to learn more and share.

By being smart about the toxic substances we’re all still at risk of being exposed to in everyday life, we can help keep our families safe. I hope you’ll join me in supporting this worthy cause.

Bites in Brooklyn

Hey everyone ~ whew, what a yucky past couple of weeks this has been in our house. I thought we’d seen the worst of the back-to-school bugs, but apparently these germs weren’t quite done with us! Two weeks, two chest colds and a couple of very gross stomach bugs later, I’m back on the blog and ready to share some great fall recipe ideas and snippets from our life. This past Monday, Mark and I left Georgia with her grandmother and took a mommy-daddy day trip to Brooklyn. He was shooting an episode for the travel channel at Brooklyn Fire Proof sound stages, so I hung out for a couple hours at the attached gallery/cafe space, BFPEast. Boy, did I feel old and square killing time with the hipsters in East Williamsburg. But I had an awesome lunch and found the company pretty laid-back and friendly, especially considering how little I ate relative to how long I lingered:

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I overheard two climate change activists talking about their weekend, which included bfpeast’s $5 brunch. It sounded awesome. Personally, I tried the mac n’ cheese with jalapenos on top. omgdelicious.

We did the entire trip in one day, and managed this only because we avoided Manhattan, where the UN was starting their high-level meetings. We even made it through Connecticut in time to stop for dinner at our favorite road trip break spot, Rein’s Deli. When I was pregnant and suffering big-time with “morning” sickness, Mark stopped here to get me matzoh ball soup and pickles on his way back from a job in New York. I hated having him drive alone, but I was pumped that he brought home some amazing comfort food for me and our baby-to-be!

Speaking of which, guess who walked this weekend (finally)????

Of course, she squats whenever I try to take a photo of her walking by herself, but you’ll have to take my word for it. We took her to brunch Sunday and she made the waitresses practice walking with her up and down the middle of the restaurant! She also took off on her own when we went shoe shopping at Carter’s and she spotted the Lego table in the middle of the store. The cat has the same effect…poor kitty. I don’t think she’s gotten over the idea of Georgia crawling yet, and now this?

We took G for her one-year appointment last week, and she’s right in the 50th percentile for height and weight…everything except her enormous head. Have I mentioned this yet? Her head has been tracking in the 98th percentile since she was about 5 months old, and after ruling out any dangerous reasons for it at Children’s, we just have to laugh at the way she outgrows clothes “head first” and how we have to buy her hats meant for four-year-olds. We have a gorgeous winter hat from Restoration Hardware that a relative bought us and she wore exactly once before her potato head couldn’t squeeze into it anymore. Fed up with such difficulties, and fueled by the desire to own a trendy winter hat myself, I knitted us matching slouchy hats on the car ride to and from New York:

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Georgia’s hat has just a baby amount of slouch. The pattern is pretty easy — you just knit in the round in a 2×1 rib for however long you want the headband to be, then switch to seed stitch on larger needles (I used 11 and 13) until the desired size. I fit mine to my own head on the go, and then just used up the leftover yarn from one skein of Lion Brand Thick & Quick for Georgia’s hat. With no decreases (which would eliminate the slouch), you simply bind off after purling together three and then two stitches at a time and pull the yarn through the remaining loops at the top! It’s so easy. I want to go make a hundred more in different colors.

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Oh! Before I forget…is anyone else “going to” Alt for Everyone this weekend? I am super excited to be joining in this year! I can’t wait to translate lots of what I learn back to this community as well as the web family I manage at my day job. If you’re going, I’d love to connect online this Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I’ll be the one on a sugar high from the delicious lemon candies they sent in the swag bag!

Well, that’s all I’ve got for today. In my free time (ha!) I am already shopping for Georgia’s Christmas outfit (because, you know, booking holiday photos for the Christmas card has to happen in September these days…) and my strategy this year is probably going to be stalking ThredUP and Kidizen for fancy consignment duds. The thing gets worn twice at best! Seems smart to go second hand, yes?

Have a great rest of the week, everyone!

Catching up from vacation!

Hi everyone! We had an extremely restful week in Myrtle Beach (book-ended by a couple harrowing flying experiences, but that’s a tale for another day). I’m trying to get caught up at work these days, and trying to STAY caught up with my now-toddler, who is crazy! 

She’s definitely in the middle of a growth spurt and I am struggling to keep her from eating us out of house and home. New favorites for her include a hummus sandwich on two bagel thins, kiwi, papaya, jicama, macaroni & cheese, and grits. She also learned how to bite into crackers and take a small piece to chew, which opened up a whole new category of food for us! The hardest part about feeding her these days is the fact that she only wants what WE are having, even if her own favorites are sitting right there in front of her. This has caused me to realize that I eat way more chocolate chip cookies, mini snickers and sour cream & onion chips than I was ready to admit before Georgia took notice.

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I’m also struggling to get over the fact that summer is over, and that I have to rein in my diet after going whole hog with that tasty Southern cuisine. 

I bought up the last couple bottles of lemonade and limeade at Trader Joe’s this weekend so that I can hang on to that taste of summer for as long as possible. I like to combine them with seltzer to cut the sweetness and calories (a few of my top combinations below):

It’s still nice enough out in Boston for me to walk Georgia home from daycare, which will be great once Mark starts rehearsals for his next show on Monday. Being a one-car household as we are, my feet are my vehicle when he’s rehearsing and tech-ing!

I’ll be sharing photos of our trip very soon. In the meantime, check out this awesome video that Daddy and Georgia made right before we went away. It kind of went viral last week when ABC in New York picked it up :)

Until next time, read all about the science behind the most delicious cookies, and why the world’s most Michelin-starred chef has decided to reopen his Paris restaurant with a nearly meat-free menu. Plus, have you seen Cookie Monster’s famous sugar cookie recipe (with illustrated directions?) It’s adorable.

Pesto Flatbread

Anyone who has kids (and relatives who watch them) knows that it’s handy to have lots of food in the house for everyone to snack on. I’ve gone from being the type of person who never kept junk food around as a way of watching my weight to buying crackers, cheese, salsa, soda, fruit juice, granola bars and cookies in bulk so the grandparents have something to nibble while babysitting! Boy do I know how that goes: you only have one hand to eat with while chasing after the baby, and the fruit bowl can only get you so full when you’re entertaining a crazy toddler.

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The thing is, I love providing food and drinks that our babysitters and relatives enjoy, because they are doing us a huge favor … but it’s hard not to start snacking on the stuff yourself after a long day at work. Diet coke, wheat thins, tortilla chips and pastries suddenly have a standing place on my shopping list, taking me into aisles I never even would have entered before, and tempting both Mark and I when we are home. Lately, I’ve realized that we also seem to order takeout a lot more often than we intend to, because we get home late and then suddenly it’s Georgia’s bedtime and we are starving on the other side of it, with no energy left to cook. So, I am starting to try out recipes that come together really quickly with extremely few ingredients, ideally the kind you can keep on hand.  It’s a way to avoid the pizza delivery guy and have fresher options than processed foods on hand. That’s how I came to this recipe:

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I love that it has just a few ingredients, and that they are the kind of thing you can keep on hand easily. Plus, it comes together in 10 minutes. I served it with a salad and lime seltzer for lunch when my mom and brother were over, and then we finished it off with some homemade zucchini bread!

Pesto Flatbread

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 packaged pizza round or one large tortilla (any flavor/variety)
  • 1 small refrigerated jar of prepared pesto (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • pecorino or parmesan cheese, shaved
  • optional: fresh basil (I had some lying around from this)
  • extra virgin olive oil

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven per the dough or crust directions. You can also use something like Pillsbury dough and lay it out flat and square). On a pizza stone, cookie sheet or round non-stick pizza pan, assemble the flatbread by layering olive oil on the crust (or tortilla), then spread the pesto in an even layer, then top with as much cheese as you’d like, grating as you go. If you have fresh basil, add it on top, tearing off small pieces and adding to your taste. Cook until the edges of the crust are browned, or about 10 minutes. Slice into individual pieces and serve warm.

We decided to call this a “flatbread” since it’s so thin and snackable, even though you make it like a pizza. Calling it a pesto pizza didn’t seem to capture the experience of eating it, since it’s so light and uncomplicated. One of these easily fed three people the afternoon I made it.

I’ll be on vacation next week, but I will share some photos of our trip to Myrtle Beach and Charleston as soon as I’m back! I can’t believe it’s Labor Day weekend already. At least we all got over the stomach bug just in time to take our trip. 

Skillet Gnocchi with Sausage and Tomatoes

Hi everyone! What a whirlwind couple of weeks. I was off for half of last week planning the Georgia Peach party — photos coming soon! — and having fun in Boston with visiting family. Now, Georgia has had the stomach flu for two days straight, and Mark and I have been alternating staying home with her…and next week we will be flying to Myrtle Beach for vacation with Gramps and Nan! So here’s a quick and easy recipe I tried and loved recently. It’s perfect for using up all those late summer tomatoes and extra basil from the garden. Enjoy!

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This recipe inspiration comes via thekitchn.com.

Skillet Gnocchi with Sausage & Tomatoes

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb. gnocchi
  • 1 package chicken sausage, any flavor, sliced into coins
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half
  • a handful or two of fresh basil, julienned
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

First, heat a medium size pot of water to boiling and cook the gnocchi for two or three minutes, then drain; toss with olive oil in a room-temp bowl and set aside.

In a large cast-iron skillet (or dutch oven, like my Le Creuset), heat a light drizzle of olive oil over medium. Add the sausage and cook over for a few minutes or until they start to brown. Push the sausage to the side in the skillet and turn the heat up to high.

With the skillet very hot, add the tomatoes face down, cramming if you have to. Cook for a couple of minutes or until they are blistered.

Stir in the sausage. Cook for a few more minutes or until the sausage and tomatoes are both browned. Finally, add in the gnocchi and stir until just combined but before the tomatoes have broken down.

Remove from the skillet and stir in the basil strips. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

TIPS

  • You can use a non-stick or other type of skillet, but you won’t achieve the same browning effect as cast iron.
  • You can use any type of sausage you like, including spicier varieties or even imitation sausage links to make this vegetarian-friendly. Both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s carry great options for meat-free “sausage” links.
  • I love making this as colorful as possible by grabbing orange and yellow tomatoes, if you can find them.
  • Don’t let the tomatoes cook too long or you’ll very quickly find that you have a sauce instead! You want to take them off the heat just before this happens.
  • Be careful not to heat the cast iron skillet too high at the outset. The cardinal rule of cast iron is that it heats up VERY fast, and is very difficult to cool down from there. ‘Medium’ on cast iron is probably going to feel like ‘high heat’ on nonstick.
  • I wouldn’t personally add cheese to this, but you can if you want!
  • Heats up well as leftovers, and tastes great with Pinot Grigio on a hot night :)

PSST — speaking of pasta, tomatoes and basil! — a new book I’m excited about just got released for pre-order. I already love Chloe’s Kitchen, so why wouldn’t I race to grab Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen? She’s the inspiration for my creamy Vegan Pesto, Vegan Spinach and Artichoke Dip, and more. Even if you aren’t vegan, her recipes are always simple and fun, and great for adapting your favorite guilty recipes to be lower calorie as well as safe for friends with lactose intolerance.

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Have a great weekend, everyone!

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Georgia boogies to her favorite song

Nothing too serious today ~ just a cute video of Georgia breaking it down to Pharrell’s “Happy.” She’s the only person alive who isn’t sick of the song already! Check out her moves:

I’ll be back after the craziness of G’s birthday party this weekend. Can you believe she’s going to be one?? It’s like she was just born.

Tips on Pumping

Yes, I know: strange coming from me, who hated pumping (then again who doesn’t) and stopped breastfeeding when Georgia was 9 months old. But I’ve found myself in the odd position of helping others who’ve struggled with pumping and low supply a lot recently, even though I myself tried everything and had pretty spotty success. So I decided to write it all down, in case you can benefit, too.

At least I had a constant companion in Tasha to cheer me up.

At least I had a constant companion in Tasha to cheer me up.

I’m certainly not encouraging anyone to skip breastfeeding. By all means, do it and pray for an easy time — I want that for you. But let me be the one to explicitly tell you: it IS possible to try everything the lactation consultant, pediatrician and mom blogs tell you, and still not make it to a year (or longer) nursing. I don’t know who set that deadline, but I can’t tell you the hours of undue stress it caused me (and my husband) when I felt I was “falling short.” And trying isn’t just OK, it’s downright heroic. Because you grew a child in your body, and you are continuing to give it life today, whether that’s with breast milk or formula.

Nursing 24/7 and having the doctor tell you your baby isn't growing properly: devastating.

Nursing 24/7 and having the doctor tell you your baby isn’t growing: I’m not sure there’s a worse feeling.

Formula, though not ideal when compared to Mother Nature, is quite literally life-saving for some babies. I’m aware of all the things people don’t like about it, and I am definitely troubled by statistics showing that only 16% of women nationwide are able to continue exclusively breastfeeding by the time their babies are 6 months old. But I think the solution will come via national change at the policy level, when this country decides to support all mothers’ and  babies’ health by providing high-quality prenatal, postnatal & pediatric care (plus lactation consultants and dual-phase, double electric breast pumps), at least 6 months of paid maternity leave for all parents, and access to high-quality, affordable child care. It’s shameful that one’s race, finances or address have anything to do with breastfeeding outcomes, but this chart has the latest data and it’s pretty damning:

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Personally? As a mom to a baby labelled with “failure to thrive” just two weeks home from the hospital, I feel like a freakin’ champion to have lasted 9 months. I know breast is best, but I won’t apologize to everyone I meet for not being able to “EBF” (exclusively breast feed, for those of you with better things to do than follow internet mom jargon). My breastfeeding experience is not the totality of who I am as a woman. Plus, where does this debate leave adoptive parents? Or gay dads? I could go on. But I won’t; I’ll just cut to the chase and give you my tips.

Tips on Pumping

Tools of the trade

First, you’ll need (ahem) a pump. Call your insurance to see what Obamacare will provide to you for free, then order it from an approved vendor. Or, ditch that route and do what I did — get the one you want on Amazon. In my case, that was a hands-free, double electric, hospital quality pump from Medela (affiliate link). I used and loved the Freestyle, but the Pump In Style is another great option (key difference is that the Freestyle clips to your clothing so you can walk around, whereas the Pump In Style is built into a tote that you carry and sit with. Both have multiple speeds and shield sizes and are relatively quiet and fast).

Second, you’ll need a hands-free breastpump bra. I tried and returned a lot of these. Thanks to friends, I finally settled on this one by Simple Wishes. Women of literally any size can wear this thing, because it’s so adjustable, which helps as your boobs change size gradually; it’s also extremely easy to put on and to fit the pump flanges into, and the seal is really secure.

For a basic introduction to setting up and using a breast pump, check out this step-by-step video by FitPregnancy.

Some other things that help:

  • Extra bottles. I got another set of the Medela bottles that came with my pump, so it wouldn’t be as problematic if I left full bottles at work or clean bottles at home accidentally, but they are small. So you may have to transfer the milk to a larger bottles for feedings, or get extras in a bigger size if your supply is really high and you fill these really quickly (alas, not my personal case, but I suppose I have other talents). You can also use special freezer bags if you’re pumping enough to put some away for later. These store flat and can be marked by date so you don’t let them expire, and are great if you travel for work or go away for the weekend. Most day cares will take either bottles or bags, as long as they’re clearly labelled.
  • Bigger nipples as baby gets older. You can get faster flowing nipples for the Medela bottles (or whatever brand your pump requires) so that your baby doesn’t get frustrated trying to drink from a tiny newborn opening. This helped Georgia a lot. We couldn’t seem to overcome nipple collapse, however, because Medela bottles (as well as Dr. Brown’s) share a nipple design that just didn’t work for her (and in my opinion, looks nothing like an actual boob!) To work around this, I only used breast milk straight from the Medela bottles at bedtime, when she wasn’t as ravenous and thus didn’t drink so forcefully, which caused the nipples to flatten or cave into the bottle.
  • At least one ice pack. My pump came with a reusable cooler pack and a contoured ice pack (meaning it could fit in between four round bottles) but it couldn’t hurt to have a spare in case you lose or forget it. There was a point, before I realized I just wasn’t going to be one of those women who could pump enough to replace three 8-oz. bottles during the workday, that I considered getting a mini fridge or an extra freezer for our basement, since the fridges we have at home and at work are pretty tiny.
  • Cleaning supplies. You can use any number of products to clean your pump in a hurry, but I always found that it performed best when I took everything apart and washed it with good old fashioned warm water. Then you just dry it with some paper towels and pack it up for next time. Other options: wipes and steam bags. I had access to a microwave and a sink near my pumping room at work, so I tried all three methods.
  • A nursing cover. This comes in handy if you have to share a nursing room with someone else at work, or pump in your own cubicle/office discreetly, or in the car. It’s good to have on hand if you’re headed to a meeting or conference where you don’t know what pumping accommodations can be made (it never hurts to call ahead). I have one by Bebe Au Lait but I’ve heard good things about Udder Covers as well.
  • You might also find hand sanitizer, extra makeup for touchups, spare napkins for spills, and nursing tea plus a mug to be helpful items to keep around. I also found that breastfeeding made me really thirsty with very dry skin and lips, so I stashed lip balm, hand cream and bottled water in my diaper bag and pumping tote.

Getting set up at work

I was very fortunate. My company set up a privacy room for nursing mothers to use two years ago, and then expanded it when we had a bit of a baby boom. With a solid computer terminal, a full-length mirror, a rocking chair, fridge and plenty of locked cabinet storage, it had essentially everything you needed to pump while working or resting. The only thing it lacks is a private sink to wash the pump parts, but with a bathroom and kitchen down the hall, those resources were in close proximity. What companies are obligated to provide varies by state and workplace size, but it can never hurt to ask for more. That’s how we got an improved setup at my place!

I was also lucky that my workplace offers nursing mothers extra breaks or unbilled time in the day during which to pump, which is crucial to being successful at breastfeeding, no matter how much supplementing you’re doing at home. The main challenges I encountered? Rescheduling meetings around my pumping time, without extending my workday beyond 9 to 5; people texting me questions while I was pumping, so as not to “bother me” by phone; having to eat lunch while pumping because I had no other time to fit it in; eating and drinking enough before pumping so my supply didn’t drop; and keeping the stress of work problems at bay so they wouldn’t affect my letdown or my yield. While the pumping room was awesome, fitting in the actual pumping in a workplace that values long hours, no lunch breaks and tight deadlines was beyond tense.

What to wear

At home, this was easy: leggings or a stretchy skirt plus a nursing tank top. Drop the front panel, attach pump, and go! At work, this was harder to figure out. Some days, I simply made a nursing camisole my base layer under a blazer, sweater or cardigan, and then took off the top item to pump; other days, I wore a dress that unzipped in the back instead of going over my head, and that was equally comfortable. It turns out that dresses make great wardrobe staples for busy mornings with crazy toddlers, too, since you don’t have to think about matching separates. Thus, I continue to build my professional wardrobe around them, and hardly ever wear pants anymore at all. I found it helpful to keep a pashmina or other soft scarf in my office in case it got cool in the nursing room at work.

Taking care of you

Not getting adequate sleep (ha, HA!), drinking too much caffeine and too little water, stress, and exhaustion can all drastically reduce your supply. Same goes for waiting too long to eat lunch, or not eating the right things. Sound like anyone else’s typical day at work with a newborn at home?? Right. Do the best you can not to guzzle an XL coffee or engage in a tense discussion with your boss before pumping, and block out enough time for the full phase of expression on your pump to get what you need (for me, this was the full 30 minute cycle just to get 2-3 ounces per side, so the whole affair took a solid hour after setting up the pump, disrobing, cleaning the pump in another room, rearranging myself and storing the milk). If you have to pump more than once per day, which is very possible, then I suggest doing one when you first get in and another in the late afternoon so you’ve eaten a meal before each session and you don’t go so long between nursing that you get engorged on the way home. Other moms I know had better luck pumping at home while they were getting ready for work, or just before bed, in addition to once during the workday. It all depends on your supply and your baby’s appetite!

Eating right

Good foods to eat: oatmeal, soup, lactation cookies (seriously!), granola bars, good fats like nuts, olives and avocados, and cold-water fish rich in DHA such as salmon, shrimp, catfish and crab. Fenugreek is a supplement that several lactation consultants suggested I take to boost my supply. Keep a reusable water bottle at work wherever you pump, so you can’t forget to fill it every time. As a general rule, have healthy snacks on you at all times. And keep taking your prenatal vitamin.

Bad foods to eat: salad, unless topped with any of the foods mentioned above to round out the meal; too much alcohol, which enters your breast milk and can affect your let down; excessive caffeine, in the form of coffee, tea or energy drinks; any soda; and anything that may irritate your baby via the bottle, such as garlic, beans, onions, peppers and broccoli, all of which can cause gas and fussiness. The last thing you want to do is pump all that milk and have baby refuse it (been there — Thai takeout, we cannot be friends until baby is weaned).

Here are two helpful charts to help you meal plan while pumping:

food chart breastfeeding

chart breastfeeding

Overcoming hurdles

You know, I wish that all women were as supportive as some of my friends and family. At one point, when I really felt like a failure for all of this nursing business not going the way I had planned (so what else is new with babies), Mark just turned to me and said “where are you feeling all this pressure from? It’s not me. It’s not our parents. It isn’t even Georgia’s doctor. So what is it?” And I didn’t know what to tell him, except that I spent my entire pregnancy being indoctrinated that breast is best so intensely that I never even considered the possibility it wouldn’t turn out to be so simple. I know I was lucky to give birth at a hospital that didn’t give formula in the nursery after birth, and that made so many lactation consultants available in the first few days. That coaching was invaluable. If you’re running into problems with nursing, pumping, or both, I would highly encourage you to reach back out to your OB, or your child’s pediatrician — that’s who connected me with my local LCs, when Georgia was a few weeks old and we were really struggling — or search online using the International Lactation Consultant Association’s web tool. Insurance is obligated to cover these services now. And, please, never hesitate to reach out to me directly. When I confessed how much trouble I was having nursing over social media, loads of women reached out….but what killed me was how many said I could never tell anyone  about it, because they had lied to their own families and friends about supplementing!

This madness has got to stop. Surely there are better things women can be doing than judging one another for this crap. Do you know what’s actually important? This.

Georgia and Dad

Now on to a few reasons you might pump (other than to make bottles). Even after I stopped pumping at work, I used my Freestyle to “pump and dump” after I’d had migraines that required medication Georgia couldn’t safely ingest through my milk. Because I continued to nurse her before and after work and on the weekends, I had to pump off any contaminated milk that resulted from taking my migraine medication. The same would go for having drank too much alcohol (generally one glass of wine or beer is considered safe while nursing) or for any other non-nursing-safe meds. Of course, you could also keep a simple hand pump around for times like these.

You might also want to pump just to “take the edge off” when your baby first sleeps a good long stretch at night, until your body gets used to going 6+ hours without nursing. Within a couple days, your body should regulate, just like it will as you gradually wean (whenever that happens). I’ll never forget pumping for 10 minutes while blow-drying my hair on the way out the door just to make sure I wouldn’t leak during the opening night of my husband’s show last fall. The things we do.

If all else fails

I practiced pumping between feedings in the weeks before I returned to work, so I’d get used to it, and so my supply would ramp up. I pumped twice a day when I got back to work full time. My supply fell bit by bit every month until eventually, no matter how many times I pumped or what I ate and drank, I was only getting an ounce or two total — and my baby was drinking three (!!) 8-ounce bottles while I was away. So, I made the decision to stop pumping when she was 6 months old, right after we went to Florida, and then two months later she started to refuse nursing at the two remaining times I offered every day (6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.) I continued to offer her the breast until it became clear, between 8 and 9 months, that we were done. Apart from nursing her for comfort when she had two bouts of the flu at the end of May, that’s been that.

Do I miss it? Not really. She’s not an infant anymore, and by 9 months she was standing, crawling and investigating her world, not cuddling up to me for hour-long feedings. Also, I got my body back. The last pregnancy pounds dropped off, I had freedom to go running early or take yoga late, and I didn’t physically “belong” to someone else anymore. I could reconnect with the greater world again. No more rushing home to do bedtime or risk my milk drying up, or going into work late on those days Georgia decided she really missed me and needed an extra-long nursing session in the morning, or hiding in someone’s bedroom during a cookout or family gathering. Nor do I miss having to craft my outfits around half-undressing at lunch to put on a pumping bra in a cold office every weekday.

But, not knowing whether or not we’ll have more kids, I am sad that I may never again have the lovely feeling of nursing a tiny baby to sleep, or of smelling that musky scent they get after eating, or have a tiny hand reach up to stroke my cheek when it’s just the two of us in the wee hours. Those things are really, really, profoundly special, and I’m blessed that I got to experience them at all.

My boobs shrank back to their previous size (sigh) and I’ve packed away all my nursing tanks. There are days I can’t believe it’s over, and then there are days when I trip over my pump — still sitting in my office at work — and wonder how the heck I did that for so long. And I know so many with babies Georgia’s age who are still going! It’s an individual journey, ladies, and no two experiences are the same. If I have another baby, I guess I will see how it goes for me next time… for now, I’m simply enjoying my perfect, beautiful, precious joy-filled miracle of a baby.

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‘Later ta-tas, it’s been real.

Psst: If you love data and can’t get enough breastfeeding stats, you can read the CDC’s full 2014 Breastfeeding Report Card right here. Other great web resources for pumping and nursing in general are KellyMom.com and La Leche League. Special thanks to the staff at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Melrose-Wakefield Hospital for critical coaching, literature and support. And, of course, my friends who sent supportive Facebook messages, texted advice, drove me to lactation consultant appointments with a screaming, hungry newborn in back, or recruited me into local breastfeeding support groups. It’s mind-blowing that some women have to go this alone, and I am thankful every day that I don’t.

Trader Joe’s Tag: Chimichurri Rice with Chicken Sausage

Y’all know I love me some Trader Joe’s. So when I discover a new recipe that only uses TJ’s ingredients, I’m doubly excited! We go there for groceries probably every two or three weeks, pick up a few of our favorites plus a couple of new treats, and fill in the regular food haul from Target, the farmer’s market, or (if we have to) Shaw’s or Stop n’ Shop (so expensive!) This one has a slight kick that’s balanced nicely by the sweet sausage. It goes freezer-to-table in a flash.

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This has a moderate level of spice to it, and easily turns from a side dish into a full meal with the addition of sausage links and fresh vegetables. You can use any variety of sausage you prefer. The seasonings in the rice include garlic, ginger, creme fraiche, cilantro and pepper.

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Chimichurri Rice with Chicken-Apple Sausage & Fresh Peas

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 bag Trader Joe’s Peruvian-style Chimichurri Rice (frozen)
  • 1 package chicken sausage, any variety you like (we chose apple)
  • 1/2 pound fresh sugar snap peas, ends trimmed

DIRECTIONS

In a good-sized skillet over medium heat, cook the sausage slices until just starting to brown. Add the veggies (in my case, peas) and cook for just a few minutes. Add the entire bag of frozen chimichurri rice to the pan and cook, stirring, until heated through. Enjoy hot with a glass of crisp white wine!

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I had lots of extra peas left over from the huge farmer’s market bag after eye-balling the amount for this recipe. I eat them raw, dip them in ranch dressing, or steam them, sometimes garnished with lemon zest or mint. And of course, they make the perfect addition to any stir-fry or grain salad. And they’re so plentiful right now!

In baby news, we suddenly have a big girl on our hands — her first birthday party planning is in full swing, she took her first steps this weekend, and she’s moving into the “transition room” (1-2 years) at day care today (SOB!) She’s not shy about exploring our house these days, including the stairs, cat food dishes, DVD player and breakable vases. It’s never a dull moment. Last weekend, she and daddy had a special breakfast date together while mom got her nails done!

In news unrelated to food but very much related to the urban grind, check out this video for the winner of the 2014 Bike Design Project, which sets out to create the perfect commuter bike for all conditions (bad weather, hills, theft resistance, etc.). I don’t care how much it costs, I pretty much already want this thing and it’s not even being produced yet:

Have a great week everyone!

How to reheat Alfredo sauce

I’m probably the only one who wasn’t aware of this trick until recently, but I thought I’d share anyway! Don’t you hate it when you order some awesome fettuccine alfredo at a restaurant, but when you take the leftovers home, the sauce separates into a buttery mess in the microwave? Well, there’s any easy solution: warming it over low heat on the stove top instead. When you reheat in a saute pan instead of the microwave, the ingredients in the sauce don’t separate, and you get to keep your creamy, cheesy Alfredo just as it should be: fattening and delicious.

Have you ever been to the place this dish was invented — the original Alfredo in Rome? If you’re planning to visit Italy any time soon, it’s a must-see. They make the dish right at your table and serve it piping hot. And then you die and go to heaven. No really, it’s that good! And interestingly, in Italy the recipe doesn’t include cream. Same goes for carbonara, in case you were wondering! (Adding cream to pasta is a very American invention).

Hope you all have a lovely week, and that you’re making the most of these waning summer days :) It goes so fast…

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