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Make Your Own Agenda (or My Love Affair With Paper and Pen)

14 Jan

I seethe with jealousy when I see people’s gorgeous designer agendas, but every time I’ve committed to treating myself to one, I can’t seem to find just what I want.  There are always pages I know I’ll never use, and the calendars are never laid out the same way my brain works.  I was the same way with lesson planning back in my public school teaching days.  The standard lesson planning books bought at the local teacher store never quite fit the bill, so I always printed up my own.

And yes, I know technology is wonderful and I could use some combination of iCal, gmail, and some family calendar app to sync everyone and everything together, but it always seems like so much more work to unlock my phone, open the app, and thumb-type in my appointments.  Add in the additional 10 minutes I will inevitably spend checking email, FaceBook, and text messages upon unlocking my phone, and what should have been a 2 second job has now taken 300 times as long (no, really, I did the math).  Compared with jotting down a note on paper, there are just too many steps involved for it to be practical for me.

Pinnable Agenda Image

So I Frankensteined together my own agenda book, using a 1″ binder and some dividers I had in my old teaching supplies.  I use the “Weekly Family Calendar” from Mommy Tracked, and print about 8 weeks at a time, filling out the dates far in advance of needing them.  I have sections for Doodlebug’s school information, my piano studio, and plastic zipper pockets for things like checks, receipts, and notes.  A threadbare sticky note marks the current week and the binder often stays open during the day so I can check off appointments and tasks as they are accomplished (in my head, I say, “Boom!” every time I check something off.  It’s like my own little celebration).

Planner Image

I went through several different calendar pages from many websites before settling on the Weekly Family Calendar.  I love that it has just enough space for everything but a small “to do” area.  It only allows me to put a few most important items for the week, keeping me from overloading myself.  The bottom area houses sections for kids’ activities, dinner plans, and notes.  It’s where I do my weekly meal planning in anticipation of this:

PeaPod Ipad

That’s right.  I can order my groceries on my tablet and then pick them up at the store’s drive-through.  It’s like I have 2 hours of my life back, every single week.  And while I pay a smidge more for the convenience, it’s well worth the time I get back.  I still end up with a once-weekly Whole Foods trip for our meats and produce, but that’s a quick 10-minute visit after preschool drop-off.  I also think we spend less because our food shopping for the week is planned out and there are no gratuitous impulse buys (my DH is the worst about this).

I think my favorite thing about using a pen-and-paper system is the satisfaction of seeing, at a single glance, everything I have accomplished during the week.  You don’t get the same feeling with computerized calendars.  And as a stay-at-home-mom (who dabbles in several small home businesses and volunteer jobs), that kind of validation is hugely uplifting.  Maybe when they’re older, my kids will think I’m old-fashioned, with my ink-filled writing device and wood-based single-use tablet, but I’m getting old enough not to care.  That’s the consolation prize for getting older, isn’t it?

Do you have an agenda or calendar system you love?  How do you keep track of the chaos?

Making Paper Bells

23 Dec

Bell ImageI’m still so, so sick, but the girls and I are bringing you a simple holiday craft: Cut paper bells.  The lovlies are delicate and will leave your holidays guests wondering how you made them.  But I promise, they are so, SO easy!




Supplies Needed:  White copy paper, Scissors, String (for hanging), pencil (optional)

Origami Diagram Paper Bell1. Fold the paper and cut off the extra as shown to make a square with your paper. You can leave your paper folded for the next step.
2. Fold your triangle in half and then in half again.
3. Holding the triangle at the bottom tip, plan (or draw on) your lines.
4. Cut almost all the way across the triangle, alternating sides, beginning at the hypotenuse and ending before the inside tip.
5. Carefully unfold until flat.
6. Trim the middle of the square to give yourself a flap to hold onto.
7. Hold middle flap and gently tug down on outside corners to stretch out the bell.
8. Hang and enjoy!


Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

1 Dec

Snowflake Pin ImageI’m blown away that the Learned Happiness Facebook page has 102 fans!  When I starting blogging, I never expected anyone to read except maybe a few close friends.  But now, the blog has become a platform for mental health advocacy and a way to stay connected to a variety of people from all over the globe.  I’m so glad I took the plunge and began writing online.

And as promised, I’m giving away a snowflake-inspired crochet craft in celebration.  Snowflakes are my favorite way to decorate for the holidays.  They are inclusive of all the winter holidays, simple, pretty, and easy to make (at least the paper ones are).  If Buddy the Elf came and decked my halls in a flurry of white paper snowflakes, it would seriously be the best Christmas ever.

Snowflakes in progress

I’ve been crocheting, pinning, and starching these lace snowflakes for a week now and I’m in love with the results.  I might need to make a set for my tree! They can hang as ornaments with a hook or ribbon, be strung on a string, or placed as table decorations.

To win the set of three snowflakes, you have three ways to enter.  Do one, do two, do all three.  It’s up to you!

1. Leave me a blog comment telling me what holiday or holidays you celebrate and your favorite tradition.

2. Tweet about the giveaway.  Leave me a comment telling me you tweeted along with your twitter handle.

3. Follow Postpartum Progress on Facebook.  Come back and let me know you did so in a comment.  Santa’s watching, so be good.


On Friendship

16 Oct

I have kept in touch with very few friends from my childhood days.  I mean, there are tons of them on Facebook, which roots me to those early elementary day.  It’s wonderful to visit with people who knew me before my days as a mom.  They share my memories of Mrs. Reagan’s 1st grade classroom being decorated in bears, the Jamaican US history teacher from middle school, and of being hollered at by Mr. Logan on the marching field for missing a mark on the 5 yard line. They remind me of who I am deep down inside.

But there are not many folks who I’ve seen in person, exchange birthday mail with, or talk on the phone with from those “olden days.”  I think as you grow up (and move across the country), it gets harder to stay connected to the people who aren’t in your everyday life.  The internet has made it easier to check in, but has also decreased the depth of our interactions.

There are, however a few people who seem to have “made the cut.”  I just can’t quit them.  Whether we talk weekly or only occasionally, when we do, we pick up right where we left off.  They are the people I can be vulnerable with.  Soul sisters.

Melissa and I attended high school together.  Because she was in choir and I was in band, we ran in different social circles.  We actually weren’t that close in those days, but we had classes together and both belonged to the “nerd” crowd, sitting together in our GT AP English class making snarky comments about the long-term substitute.  And if I’m being honest, I always thought she was too cool for me.  Too smart.  My respect for her was built on my admiration for her talents and her apparent ease with friends.   And her writing.  Oh, her writing.

As adults, she and her kids have visited several times.  She flew up from Texas for my oldest’s second birthday.  When DH and I traveled to Las Vegas a few years back, we met up with her husband for a hilarious visit to the wax museum.  Our times together are easy and our friendship is built on a mutual respect and girl crush.  I truly love any time we get to spend together.

And though we trained for different careers and settled down across the country from one another, our lives have become curiously parallel.  We’ve both found ourselves non-religous after extended periods of belief earlier in our lives.  We’re music educators with private studios who understand the excitement inherent in planning and executing the perfect recital.  And all of a sudden, Melissa and I stumbled into roles as health advocates.

Diabetes and depression don’t seem at first glance to be similar health complications, but as it turns out, Melissa’s pancreas and my brain have impacted our lives in similar ways.  She understands deeply how stigma shapes my experience with mental illness and the guilt I battle about how my health affects my children.  My conversations with her about how she manages her diabetes without allowing it to run her life have contributed more than she knows to my ability to make peace with taking medication for my anxiety and depression.  And we’ve both found how online communities can completely change how a patient copes with a life-long diagnosis.  Her work as an advocate in the diabetes community inspires my work within the PPD community and on my blog.

She’s the kind of friend who listens with her whole heart.  She builds me up without letting me get away with anything.  She celebrates my successes and mourns with me when I struggle.  Her friendship drives me to be a better person while at the same time validating my inherent self-worth and value.

I don’t know where I would be in my journey to self-acceptance and PPD recovery without her.

Melissa, I love you.  So very much.  Thank you for being my friend and for all you have brought to my life.

Oh, and Happy Birthday.

One Kidney McGee

14 Aug

Did you know I only have one functioning kidney?

I discovered a lump in my abdomen when I was 8 weeks pregnant with Doodlebug almost 5 years ago.  My OB chuckled and told me it was probably just my organs moving to make room for my growing uterus and joked that I was so tiny that it was probably my kidney being pushed up.  When it failed to stop growing and moving around (I marked my skin with sharpie to document its comings and goings), and it began to hurt, I went back 4 weeks later and insisted on an ultrasound.

Two hours after my scan, the OB called and asked me to “come in right away.”  I was instantly sick to my stomach.  She explained that the ultrasound showed a large mass, 11cm x 18cm, and they were unsure what it was.  She wanted me to go for more tests and to see a surgeon for removal of what might be a cyst.  At 12 weeks pregnant, the idea of abdominal surgery terrified me and every doctor I spoke with seemed unsure as well.  Turns out, pregnant women make doctors (and their malpractice insurance) very nervous.

One day before my scheduled exploratory surgery, I had an ultrasound with a specialist to check on the baby.  With one glance at the screen, she diagnosed me with an enlarged kidney.  Apparently the first set of doctors didn’t put two and two together when the original ultrasound showed a large mass but noted that my left kidney could not be found.

I was then diagnosed with severe hydronephrosis of the left kidney, caused by a congenital defect that narrowed or blocked my ureteropelvic junction. Basically, the urine created by my left kidney couldn’t drain into my bladder, backed up into my kidney, and slowly destroyed the healthy tissue.  All I had left was a thin membrane of kidney tissue filled with fluid.

Here’s a picture:

The good news? Hydronephrosis is benign in most cases.  A severe urinary track or kidney infection is the largest threat I face because of the difficulty the doctors might have treating it.  But the reality was that my kidney had most likely been this way for a while and I never knew it. It’s often diagnosed in infancy or childhood and corrected with a simple procedure, but mine was never caught.  In fact, the human body can function just fine with only one kidney!  This article from Scientific American describes how the remaining kidney can grow to compensate.  Thankfully, my right kidney has done just that and has 99% function.

None of this was much consolation while I was pregnant (and an anxious mess) for the first time. Doctors weren’t sure how my still-functioning right kidney would do when the pressure from the pregnancy caused the expected (and totally normal) mild hydronephrosis of pregnancy in my right side.  I was given options to stent the UPJ, to drain the kidney to relieve the pressure, or to do nothing.

I am grateful for the St. Louis urologist (because that’s where I lived at the time) who talked patiently with me while I weighed all my options.  He treated me like an intelligent partner in my health decisions and was frank but kind about the risks.  He helped me find a knowledgeable high-risk OB who monitored me closely, watching for signs of preterm labor and additional stress to my body and the baby’s.  And he supported my choice when I decided not to undergo any procedures.  He’s the kind of doctor everyone deserves.

My first pregnancy (and subsequent accidental second pregnancy) were thankfully unaffected by the kidney.  I am not, however, symptom-free.  The kidney is still huge.  The size of a small loaf of bread or a large eggplant.  It presses on nearby organs (including my intestines) and can be very uncomfortable if I move the wrong way or exercise too hard. I wish I had a copy of the MRI image to show you – it’s impressive how half of my abdomen is basically all giant-balloon-animal-kidney-thing.

The plan is to have it electively removed.  I even had a surgeon all lined up to take it out laproscopically before I got knocked up with Bean (oops).  My risk of kidney infection and my discomfort will both be ameliorated by its removal.  Plus, there’s nothing like a good old nephrectomy to lose a few pounds.  Kidding.  Now is just not a good time – we’ll do it when the girls are a little older.

I used to think about how I was down one kidney all the time.  It used to terrify me.  Now it’s just another part of my day, but I do take good care of Ol’ Righty.  Which is why I’m writing this post in the first place.

People, take care of your kidneys.  Drink water.  Pee when you have to – don’t hold it in.  Assess your risks for kidney disease.  Don’t take for granted the amazing work your body does for you.  I sure don’t.


That extra little bulge above my hip?  Kidney.

Here I am 35 weeks pregnant with Bean.  That extra little bulge above my hip? Kidney.

The Big Purge

12 Aug

Well, it’s time.  It no longer makes sense for me to hoard strollers, bumbo seats, newborn clothes, and pants with belly pouches.  We’re done.

The only solace is in packing things up to send to expectant friends, I know I will get to see the jumpers and frilly dresses again on their little ones.  And items donated are going to help a new mom care for her child.  Yet I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to holding back tears while sorting through the last of the infant clothing this afternoon, portioning out sets for friends, donations, garbage, and for sale.  It’s equal parts sad and mystifying that my two girls ever fit in those tiny onsies and itty-bitty socks.  But it is time.

I have two big boxes ready to ship to my friends A and L.  And a giant bag of clothes going to Isis Maternity for families in need.  And still there are some beautiful clothes left over.  Things I can’t just toss.  So I’m trying something new.

I’ve created an instagram account called MYBABYSCLOSET and have listed about a dozen items for sale.  Things I hope others will treasure like I have.  I’d love for you to click over and help me purge!


My Baby's Closet Instagram Shop

Sibling Rivalry

9 Aug

Mom, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for the time I knocked two of  my little brother’s teeth out with the back of my skull even though he had my arms pinned behind my back and wouldn’t let me go.

And remember when he flushed my favorite washcloth down the toilet and I screamed and cried for days?  Even thought it was just a washcloth? Yeah.  Sorry.

For all the times I waited for him to do something bad just so I could tattle to you and get him in trouble.

And for the multitude of moments when you just wanted us to play nicely together so you could drink your tea in peace but that were inevitably punctuated by screaming.

I wish I could say it was all his fault, but I know better now.  And I’m so, so sorry.

This sibling rivalry nonsense?  Totally sucks from my new perspective.

I hear it’s normal and that I’m not doing anything wrong as a parent, but my god do these girls ever drive each other and me to tears.  They are almost 5 and 2, certainly more than the 4 and 1 their birth years would suggest.

Now, I know they adore each another.  The first person that Doodlebug wants to see in the morning is her baby sister.  She looks forward to the moment when Bean’s face will light up and they both grin silly smiles reserved just for sister.  Doodlebug’s mere presence in an unfamiliar environment is enough to fill Bean with sufficient courage and confidence to tear herself away from my arms to explore.  And noone has more adorable nicknames for the baby than her big sister.  They crack each other up and inspire a creativity that I couldn’t begin to understand.

So why are they constantly at each other’s throats?  Toy grabbing.  Screaming matches.  Shutting doors on little sisters.  Throwing toys at big sisters. Crying about toys “I was thinking about playing with but then she played with it and she’s never going to be done playing with it and IT’S NOT FAAAAAIR.”

It’s a passive agressive war for family dominance and I’m the one caught in the crossfire.

And though it’s truly exasperating, I’m trying to reframe it in a positive light.  Our home and family is the one place where both girls feel safe enough to experiment socially.  The can try things out, knowing the safety net of family love will catch them. And like lion cubs, they are testing their strength on one another.

So. Their sibling rivalry is important to their social development.  But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.


Banana Pops

27 Jun

I can’t be the first person to do this and I haven’t checked but I’m pretty sure I’ll not be the first to blog about it either.  But these are just too good (and easy!) not to share.

My youngest (18 months) is teething.  Has been teething.  Okay, is constantly teething.  She is currently working on seven (yes, you read that right) teeth: 3 molars and 4 canine teeth.  It takes, on average, a month for a single tooth to completely erupt, so you can imagine how much fun it’s been around here lately.  Those parenting books that claim “some kids aren’t really bothered by teething,” are full of crap.  I have yet to meet a parent whose toddler didn’t morph into the devil while working on a new tooth.  And rightly so.  A piece of popcorn stuck in between my teeth leaves me gumming nothing but applesauce and popsicles until it is dislodged and I swear never to eat popcorn ever again.  It makes me grateful I don’t remember getting that first set of chompers.

Anyway.  Some days, Bean doesn’t want to eat much of anything.  Cold washcloths, and teething rings get dropped immediately after being handed to her.  And I can only give her so many sugar-filled popsicles in one day without feeling guilty.  Enter the banana.  Perfectly soft and mushy for breakfast, and as it turns out, perfectly cold and chewy when frozen.  Except she didn’t want to pick up the cold banana chunks.

So? I stuck a craft stick in the middle of a leftover piece of banana one morning and popped it in the freezer for later.

You need these in your life.  Truly.  Who doesn’t love how sweet bananas get when frozen?  Like bananas, only better.

banana pops

It’s a no-brainer.  But Doodlebug and I took some snapshots of the process for you anyway:

You'll need: ziploc baggies, bananas cut into chunks, popsicle sticks, one chubby baby knee

You’ll need: ziploc baggies, bananas cut into chunks, popsicle sticks, one chubby baby knee.

When pushing the popsicle stick into the unfrozen bananas, hold the banana firmly and press the stick in slowly.  Doodlebug was able to do this with no trouble at 4 years old.

When pushing the popsicle stick into the unfrozen bananas, hold the banana firmly and press the stick in slowly. Doodlebug was able to do this with no trouble at 4 years old.

Place each banana pop in its own baggie, zipping the bag closed around the top of the stick.  Place in freezer.  It takes about 3-4 hours for the pops to freeze, depending on how big your banana chunks are.

Place each banana pop in its own baggie, zipping the bag closed around the top of the stick. Place in freezer. It takes about 3-4 hours for the pops to freeze, depending on how big your banana chunks are.

Healthy, fun, and because of the stick, my girls think it’s dessert.  I’ve considered rolling them in melted chocolate or sprinkles before freezing, but part of the beauty of these is that they create no mess and have nothing artificial at all.  It’s going to be a summer mainstay here.


You Are Beautiful

27 May

This post won’t have a picture of me in a bikini.  It’s not about what I look like.  It’s about how I feel about what I look like.

There’s nothing that brings more dread come spring than the idea of bathing suit shopping.  No matter what your size or shape, something about having every inch of your curves exposed or hugged with spandex shakes your confidence.

I like to think of myself as intelligent and not susceptible to advertising’s dirty tricks.  And yet, as I stood in the mirror this week, trying on bathing suits in an attempt to walk that fine line between vulgar and mumsy, all I could think about was how I compared to the models displaying the suits online.

This is ridiculous behavior, I know.  But apparently I suffer from the same negative body image that I hope never to instill in my daughters.  Some of this was the depressive episode.  Depression lies – twists reality until you struggle to trust your own thoughts.  But I’ve honestly always been self-critical and dissatisfied with one or more parts of my body.

My husband was disappointed he missed the bathing suit fashion show.  “I wish you could see you the way I see you,” he says.  I do, too.  He looks at me and sees the whole package.  He sees how well I am proportioned, how beautiful my big, brown eyes are, and how my form curves in all the right places.  I see the dimples on the back of my upper thigh, the loose skin remaining from my two pregnancies, and the extra pounds that snuck on during a well-deserved cheese bender.

Yes, I see you checking out that avitar on the right.  I realize I’m saying all of this with a weight and body shape that many women envy.  Perhaps some will dismiss this post as vain and silly.  But I think it speaks to the scarcity culture that Brene Brown writes about in Daring Greatly.  Never enough.  We’re all programmed to believe that we never have enough, are never thin enough, are never good enough.  And that our value is based on our accomplishments or attributes instead of being intrinsic to who we are.  Additionally, in a culture where women are valued more for their appearance than their intellectual contributions to society, it’s hard not to get lost in society’s beauty standard.

I happened to text a couple of pictures to good friends of mine in a moment of vulnerability.  I admitted my insecurities and they assured me I was beautiful.  And though my husband had said the same thing, it was them I was able to really hear.  These are women I believe to be stunning.  And when I look at them, I don’t see flaws.  I see their strengths.  I see their glowing skin, their long, wavy hair, their luscious lips, and their deep brown eyes.  I see their spirits, their histories, their stories.  It is the culmination of all these that make them beautiful.

Our conversation redirected me to look at myself the same way I see them.  It helped me shake free of the cultural bias and recognize my anxieties for what they were.

I hope you have women in your life like this.  Women who make you feel as beautiful – because our culture sure isn’t going to do that for you.  And if you don’t, seek them out.  They are worth the hunt.

So.  In case no one has told you lately?  You are beautiful.  Believe it.

On Twitter and Being “Popular”

21 Apr

I love social media.  No, really.  It’s connected me to amazing people, provided incredible opportunities, and has allowed me not only to stay in touch with friends and family from my past but also to make new ones.  It was through twitter that I found my online tribe of #ppdchat mamas – women who have been through an identical hell and teach me daily to value myself and my journey.  Because of Postpartum Progress, I found my perinatal psychiatrist, Dr. Marlene Freeman at MGH.  She was absolutely essential to the diagnosis and treatment of my antenatal depression during my pregnancy with No2.  And now, I find myself on the other side of the coin, helping other new moms navigate a frightening period in their lives that I promise they will look back on one day in memory instead of agony.

But all this social media?  Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blogging?  Has its dark side.

Twitter Profile

See, when you tweet something, whether it’s a “good morning” to a friend you know is drinking her coffee on the other side of the world at the same time, or a link to a selfie taken because of a good hair day, you put it out there for everyone to see.  It’s a bit different from calling up a friend for a chat, because when the tweet or status is public, you are also advertising your conversation.  And that is how people end up feeling left out.

I like to think of twitter as a big cocktail party.  I take the elevator up to a large terrace, the doors open, and there are hundreds of people having interesting conversations.  All the interesting people, all these conversations, are served up for my choosing like a menu at a restaurant.  All it takes is a well placed #buttingin hashtag or a quick “hello, everyone” to announce your presence and you’re in. At least that’s how it used to be.

Twitter QuoteFolk who have been on the twitters for the past 2 years will also tell you it’s changed.  People who are following social media “rules” (created to increase traffic and readership) are less concerned with just having conversations.  So now, many of the interesting people I follow are taciturn, leaving me to look like that girl you know who never stops talking.  I genuinely don’t have a problem with how people use social media.  It’s perfectly okay to feel that following the “rules” is in your best interest.  But like my friend A’Driane says, “It’s just not authentic to who I am.”

Anyway.  When you enter into a twitter or facebook conversation that the rest of your followers can see, you unintentionally do several things:  You open up the conversation to others who might want to jump in.  You namedrop, as everyone can see who you are talking to.  And you make it obvious to others that you are not talking to them.

There is only so much time in the day, and I only want to spend a small percentage of it online.  So I do tend to focus that time on the women I already know.  I think it’s only natural to find your tribe and interact mainly with them.  But I found that tribe and met these women because they opened up their group to me and welcomed me with open arms.  I admire bloggers who excel at this.  Galit Breen is one of the best.  Though “popular,” she always returns comments with a genuine response, and strives to leave no one out.  I honestly don’t know how she does it all and still has time for her family and to write, but she’s inspiring.

Which brings me to the dreaded word.  Popular.  I was the queen of awkward middle schoolers.  I was a band geek in high school.  And college.  And I still struggle in social situations.  I always feel so… awkward.  So to hear myself described as “popular” was at first laughable.  Then after reading a few posts and twitter conversations, I realized that because I had become close with a few women who started blogging around the same time I did, and because some of us roomed together at BlogHer in 2012, I had unintentionally become part of an “in crowd.”  And I felt terrible.  I suddenly understood that to some of the newer bloggers out there, our group appeared as a closed-off huddle, with no room for outsiders.

Finding people like you and forming communities is a normal, natural part of the human experience. So I don’t feel guilty.  But I do feel regret.  It was never my intention to leave anyone out.  Truly.

So.  Please know that in the social media world?  My huddle always has room for more.  Just like in preschool, we will join hands, all take a step back, and make the circle bigger for new voices and stories.  You just gotta ask.  And if you’re only interested in using social media to create elite communities? I want no part of it.  You’ve been warned.

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