Picture Perfect

Social media and blogs are famous for only showing the best of the best. Carefully curated images of stunning vacations, hearty meals, adorable children, and pristine living rooms. If you could smell what’s wafting from my stove right now… you’d be glad you weren’t in my house.

Yes, I have an adorable baby, I do take some fantastic vacation photos (full disclosure, I have a degree in photography), and on occasion can bust out a photo-worthy meal. Yes, I make my own baby food, put care into decorating my house, and sometimes I get around to actually posting about the aforementioned things on my blog. But, as any mom human will tell you, everything can’t go according to plan.

After putting Luke down for his first nap of the day, I tiptoed up to my office (I like to keep the house quiet during his naps, less so for Luke, and more so for myself to enjoy some uninterrupted peace and quiet) to get some work done. With priority number one checked off my to-do list, I decided to check something quick off the list and paid two bills. No sooner had I clicked submit than Luke woke up. Looked like I was only going to get a 40 minute nap out of him (usually the first one sets the tone for the day and is at least an hour. A clingy tired baby and a second 40 minute nap later, and here we are:

Let me preface by saying that I prefer to make baby food while Luke’s awake so that the food processor doesn’t cut a strong nap short. Plus, I can put him in his high chair and get at least two types of food made before he looses interest. That doesn’t mean I don’t still try to make 4-5 types of food (one day I’ll learn).

I hardly count bananas as a thing because they require zero prep. Just peel and stick in the food processor. Everything else needs to be boiled soft before it can be turned to mush. So with the bananas done and the squash and blueberries each boiling in their own pots, I started to peel the sweet potatoes. I set them to the side when I was finished, and pulled the blueberries off the stove, blended them, and poured them into containers. Since Luke eats more now, instead of using ice cube trays, I fill Dixie cups.

Luke started fussing as I was putting my blueberry-filled Dixie cups into the freezer and I missed the shelf. Warm blueberry compote spilled all over the freezer, my pants, and the floor. I had to jump into action to avoid stains everywhere. For the next several minutes I wiped blueberries off of the freezer and floor while Luke continued to fuss – he didn’t understand that blueberries don’t waste time staining everything they touch. Eventually I decided that the kitchen was ‘good enough’ and decided that the pants needed to get into the washing machine asap if they were going to be spared.

After starting the washing machine, I put the sweet potatoes on the stove to boil and took Luke out of his high chair and into the living room to entertain him. While our kitchen fiasco was happening, the mail had been delivered. Luke decided that the Harry & David’s catalog looked good enough to eat tear apart, which was fine, he was happy. I sorted the rest of the mail and printed a shipping label. A faint smell of Thanksgiving came wafting from the kitchen. The sweet potatoes!

A lift of the lid and Thanksgiving turned into that pungent smell that only burnt food cooked into the metal of the saucepan can produce. And typing that sentence just reminded me that the food that I set aside to be refrigerated for the next couple of meals is still sitting on the counter. One sec… and back. The pureed bananas look leopard print from being left out for the past hour.

So here I am, typing this in a t-shirt and underwear (did I mention it’s laundry day overdue and I was wearing my last pair of clean pants – regular AND pajama pants included) waiting patiently for the dryer to buzz, in a house that smells like burnt food, with a baby going to town on the Harry & David’s catalog, my feet stained with blueberries and which are also now inevitably crusted into the portions of the freezer that I didn’t get wiped up immediately when I decided to stop wiping because my pants were more important (the pants were only a month old, and I do want a new refrigerator after all, haha).

Oh well. At least I can cross ‘make baby food’ off my to-do list.

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The Tribe

Mike and I drove up to Wisconsin today. So did Kathy, Szy, Katie, Ian, Diana, Joe, Jim, Kelly, Sam, Bequita, Chad, Mik, Adam, Kaylee, Joe, Matt, Amy, Steve, Jeanna, Jenn, Shelley, Eric, Nick, Derek, Darren, Erin, Jake and so many more people that the crowd spilled from the church out into the narthex for seating, with several more streaming in via tablets from a few states over to as far away as Hong Kong. We were all behind Adam. Literally sitting behind him, and symbolically as a tribe of his friends, there to support him and mourn the loss of Nichole at her funeral.

The word Tribe kept surrounding my thoughts today: as I listened to Adam’s breathtaking eulogy, her family, and our friends, also taking turns speaking heartfelt and hilarious memories; as I walked hand-in-hand with Mike while we followed the herse to the cemetery down the road; as we took turns tossing roses into the grave; and as we all gathered at a barn later to celebrate Nichole, at which time a rainbow formed the shape of a smile directly above us just outside of the barn. Somewhere along the way a group of students spanning almost a decade’s worth of graduating classes from the same suburban college (and a few of us non-alums who happened to make our way in via dating and marriage) took a shared love of the stage – be it on stage, back stage, or in the audience – and spun a network of deep hugs and even deeper friendships.

As the coffin was being slowly lowered into the ground, I looked around at my friends, this tribe. We all grew a little bit older today. With tears streaming down our cheeks, we watched as our own young naivety was lowered into the grave alongside Nichole. It wasn’t supposed to end this way, not at 28.

Tomorrow the sun will rise, we’ll hang up our black clothes, put tea bags over our cried-too-hard puffy eyes, and to put it as our friend Steve wrote, “we’ll honor the dead by continuing to live”.

The Post that You Never Want to Have to Write

It’s been radio silence on the blog this past month, I feel like each week it’s something: post-vacation catch-up, catching a cold, giving that cold to Luke, but this most recent week it’s the worst of the worst, waiting for the phone call that says that a close friend of yours has passed away.

The best way that I can describe Nichole is that she was really good at being a friend. She was excellent at keeping in touch, remembering little details of a conversation and then actually checking back in to see how whatever you mentioned panned out, and coming to visit. As someone who is really good at thinking to do those things, but never actually getting around to doing so, I can say that I really appreciated the effort that she put into every single one of her friendships. And she had a lot of friendships. If you happen to be friends on Facebook with anyone who was friends with her, you’d be reading some of the most beautiful sentiments from people who just lost a really great friend, and one very eloquently written post from her newly widowed husband. She touched so many people that when word spread that she wasn’t going to be leaving the hospital, folks started making travel arrangements to come into town to say goodbye. Frozen meals are being prepared, funds collected, and prayers said, as a whole community of her friends learns how to grieve for one of our own.

Nichole fought with stage 4 breast cancer for a little over a year. When all was said and done it had spread to her liver, back and lungs. She passed away less than a week shy of her 29th birthday. If you didn’t see her slowly disappearing, you’d never know she wasn’t going to make it. In every conversation about cancer that we had, she had optimism. Optimism for the next drug they were putting her on, optimism that she’d be walking for our friend Katie’s wedding, optimism that she’d be heading back to work in October, optimism that she’d hold on long enough for a cure to be found. Even a couple of weeks before she passed away she was calling the oxygen tank temporary and we talked about future chemo-holidays (being off chemo for an extended time if your numbers are low enough). I remain completely blown away by the grace that she possessed.

Mike and I were fortunate to see her awake in the hospital one last time before she passed away last night. Even though she was struggling to stay awake, I got a trademark eye roll at a joke that I cracked upon kissing her on the cheek as we headed out of the room, I still smile thinking of that moment and the look she gave me. And then completely fall apart thinking of the last look that we gave each other, as I blew her a kiss from the doorway, somehow holding my composure in the moment. It was a beautiful end.

Luke woke us up in the middle of the night a couple of nights ago, and after he was soundly sleeping again, I was left there in the darkness, awake and alone with my thoughts. I cried for Nichole, not knowing how she was able to handle knowing that her days were numbered in the low single digits as she said goodbye to all of her friends and family as they flocked to the hospital at her request. I cried for her husband Adam and her dad. I selfishly cried for myself, not out of pity, but out of anger that I never managed to visit as often as I’d wanted to, or text every time that I thought about checking in. I wanted to apologize for not living up to my friend-potential.

There are two paramount things that I’m taking going forward, the first is to watch over my health like a hawk. Nichole was the one who inspired me to get my dark, raised mole removed and tested, even before she was diagnosed with cancer. She’d been on me about it since 2012, and I finally took care of it in spring of this year, I need to be more proactive about stuff like that. Second is to be a more involved friend to my friends. I need to take a page from her playbook and actually contact people instead of just thinking about contacting them. As a friend, she is the friend that I’ll forever aspire to be.

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I was honored to do Nichole and Adam’s engagement photos, taken long before she knew she was sick. Here are a few more candid moments.

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Luke’s Breakfast

MIKE: (smells the baby food that he thawed for Luke’s breakfast) ugh what is this, it doesn’t smell like peaches
SYD: I didn’t make peaches, which ice cube tray was it in?
(Mike shows Sydney the tray)
SYD: you’re giving Luke butternut squash for breakfast.

(While holding Luke she dances around the house with him singing “butternut squash for breakfast… butternut squash for breakfast”)

Thankfully Luke enjoyed the squash and wasn’t phased by eating it for breakfast.

Seasonally Confused

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It’s smack dab in the middle of July, and I walked to work – chilled – wearing a blazer, humming Christmas carols (Oh, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… good luck getting that out of your head for the rest of today).

In theory, the temperature drop can be explained easily enough. Word around the internet is that the “Polar Vortex” from the endless winter of 2013/2014 has returned, bringing highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s. Personally, I LOVE it. Seriously, the 50s to the 70s in the Chicagoland area are absolute perfection. And they definitely beat our typical July weather, which usually has me sweating by 7am.

Which leaves the explanation behind the Christmas carols playing on loop in my brain: while the rest of the country doesn’t get bit by the Christmas bug until the day after Halloween (or in some extreme cases, October 1st), crafters and retailer buyers are in full holiday swing by July 5th. Ever since early July, when I finally came up with the idea for my card line for Holiday Season 2014 (the late start was probably due to some combination of new-mom-brain and a busy wedding season), I’ve been feverishly painting (yes, painting) my card designs in any spare time that I can find… and all the while songs like Silver Bells and It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas have been dancing like Sugar Plums through my head.

Once the cards are finished and pitched to their respective retail buyers/loaded onto the Etsy and the soon-to-be-open shop on Studio255’s website, and the heat (regrettably) returns, I’ll have a few months to enjoy summer and early fall before the Holiday 2014 busy season kicks off.

Life Hacks

Wearing so many hats (mom, wife, business owner, commuter, employee, artist, myself) I’m finding it increasingly important to find the little things that make a big difference in my day/week.

One of THE most important little investments that we’ve made was purchasing a Microsoft Surface Pro 2. It’s lighter and more portable than a laptop, and since I can work pretty much anywhere in the house, it is significantly easier to get non-design-work done on than my large desktop computer in the upstairs studio. This way I can e-mail Etsy customers through Etsy’s site, order and print shipping labels, order supplies for my brides, do the books and research while at my parent’s house, while watching TV with Mike, and while Luke is otherwise occupied – without having to make Luke play up in my office (which he and I have learned is not a very exciting place for a baby). At least once a month I find myself thanking Mike for suggesting that we purchase the Surface.

I get a lot of e-mail. Be it from wedding, home and lifestyle blogs that I get delivered to my inbox, brides (current and prospective), Etsy customers, vendors, retailers with coupons, shipping notifications, and lord knows what else. When I was in the hospital for the 2 days after having Luke, and stayed off e-mail, I had hundreds (plural) of e-mails in my inbox. It was easy to stay on top of all the incoming mail when I worked full time and spent my entire day in front of a computer, but more recently I’ve been having a hard time keeping up. I tried unsubscribing to anything that 1. I never signed up for in the first place and 2. no longer interested me. The only successful unsubscriptions were from bloggers since they use delivery systems such as Feed Burner and Mail Chimp, systems take that stuff seriously. The retailers and stuff I never signed up for… yeah, no such luck, that was still coming. Enter Unroll.me – it’s this fantastic (free!!!) service that manages one’s inbox. The way it works is this, after you enroll it scans your inbox for any ‘subscriptions’ that you have. It found 247 things that I had allegedly subscribed to. It puts them in a list for you and you click either ‘roll-up’, ‘leave in inbox’, or ‘unsubscribe’. Anything you tell it to leave in your inbox will continue to get delivered as it normally would. Anything that you say to unsubscribe from, it takes the time to unsubscribe you, and if the pesky website keeps sending stuff your way, Unroll.me blocks it. Lastly is the roll-up. It takes anything that you ask it to ‘roll-up’ and stores it in a folder (making it easy to delete in one click later on). At a time of day that you specify, it will send you your roll-up in an e-mail that you can view from your inbox or on their website. Your roll-up is a bunch of thumbnails of those e-mails, making it easy to quickly scroll through and decide what you want to read. When you find something that you’d like to read, you click on it. This has helped keep me off of my phone during the day, constantly reading/deleting non-business related e-mails to keep my inbox from piling up.

If you’ve ever planned a vacation, you know that trip planning can be a serious time-suck. Doing it online is like going down the rabbit hole, you start clicking on link after link after link. Next thing you know, you’re on Amazon shopping for scissors, and not quite sure how your Google search for Kentucky got you there. And you have yet to even book a hotel. Plus, with a baby and a company, who has time to spend hours scrolling through websites that consist mostly of other people’s opinions of ‘top travel destinations’. What I found to be significantly faster: going on each state’s website that interested me… and ordering a free travel guide (they even make city-specific ones as well for once you’ve narrowed down your route). Spending 30 minutes, one day a few months ago, and ordering about 15 travel guides made planning this year’s trip much easier. I can thumb through the guides as they arrive, file away the ones that definitely didn’t make the cut for this year, and then read in more detail the ones that interest me… while I’m on the train, while Luke is playing, while I’m reading in bed before I fall asleep. Oh the flexibility. And, and, and!!! Next year I already have guides waiting for me – no internet required.

This next one seems a little counter-intuitive: make your own baby food. Just the sound of it sounds time consuming and overly complicated. With something like the Baby Bullet, it’s actually fairly simple and quick and yields a ton of baby food with only a little mess to clean up afterwards. And if you’re anything like Mike and me when it comes to grocery shopping (despite our best intentions, it only happens 1-2 times a month), it’s much easier to defrost one of the 30+ servings of baby food that’s currently in our freezer than to run out to the store because Luke needs breakfast and we’ve run out (he obviously doesn’t have the luxury of eating toast like we do when our typical breakfast food has been consumed). Don’t have time to defrost something? As long as you have some form of produce at the house, it takes between 2-10 minutes to whip up something fresh.

Last one for the time being, but certainly not the least: have a bedtime for yourself. Mike’s encouraged me to do that long before I was even pregnant and it has made a significant difference in my life. Rarely am I not in bed (I might not be asleep, but the legwork of getting to bed has already been accomplished), after 10:30. Even when Luke was first born, Mike would usher me off to bed while he stayed awake with Luke until it was time to feed him. Having that kind of consistency and self-discipline keeps me from burning the midnight oil at my computer. There’s always more work to do, and if I stay up late into the night doing it, then I’m going to be useless the next day and the work will pile up again. It’s way easier to just walk away from whatever I’m working on around 10 to start getting ready for bed and to pick up where I left off in the morning. And sometimes, if Mike isn’t ready to head to bed yet and knows how to do whatever it is that I was working on, he’ll finish it for me 🙂

Note: None of the products or services that I mentioned are in any way affiliated with or sponsoring my blog – I’m just letting you know what works for me and my honest opinions of it.

Uniform

One of my greatest challenges day in and day out has always been dressing myself. Sure, I’ve got some great clothing, but the combination of articles looking good together AND being clean AND fitting properly AND being weather/situation appropriate AND the list goes on… always left me scrambling. It got even tougher when I had to factor in my in-between pregnant and regular size figure that I refuse to spend more than a few dollars ($25 total thus far, more on that in another post) to dress since I’m still slowly losing weight. Add to that Luke’s level of patience for multiple outfit changes for both him and me (even though he’s a baby, he’s still a guy: I get one chance to get each of us dressed before his patience wears thin haha) and there’s no room for outfit-making-errors.

Since the summer heat has started to become a factor, I was pretty much relying on jeans + either my one unstained-by-hot-chocolate polo (that makes it sound like I have multiple stained polos, I just have the one) or a lace shirt with a tank top underneath for the two days a week that I work downtown. Neither was an ideal solution since I 1. was sweating walking to/from the train and 2. didn’t love how I looked in either one.

A solution inserted itself into my wardrobe rotation on a particularly hot morning when I threw on my dark jeans,  two tank tops layered and tucked a blazer into my bag to put on at the office. It was such a simple solution. Tank tops breathe more than polos, the blazer looks hipper than the old lace shirt, and I own plenty of both so I can mix-and-match and still have options left over for times during the rest of the week/weekend when I need to look presentable. No more pre-work scrambling, no more didn’t-finish-laundry-last-night remorse, no more spending the day wondering why I even own the shirt that I’m wearing.