Room for new things


I have a new desk at work.

It’s a simple thing, really: changing spaces within an office. In the eight years I’ve been with my company, I have moved within the building four times and been seated in four different departments. I’m no stranger to packing up my paper clips, highlighters and bric-a-brac, but this move is different.

For the last six years, I shared an office with two people who were my teammates. When you sit with someone for eight-plus hours a day, spending more time with them than you do your own family, it’s wonderful if you can get along. It’s even better if you are friendly, and the best if you become close friends.

I miss them.

I’ve been given new responsibilities and am tackling new challenges, and that feels good. I’m writing more than ever, and moving into a new phase of my career.

My new responsibilities are awesome, and I love the corner of the newsroom where I hang my metaphorical hat each day. My desk is new and clean, and I’ve quickly adopted a minimalist approach to my workspace.

After being a pack rat, an office hoarder of sorts, I shocked myself by . . . completely changing this time. Totally a 180.

Back when I had a physical office of my own, I treated it like an extension of my living room. Artwork hung on the walls; freestanding lamps took the place of fluorescent lighting. It had a cozy, homey feel, a refuge of sorts. And given I had no windows or natural light, it could also feel like a cave.

Hence all the lamps.

But that was three moves ago. I haven’t had my own office since 2010 or 2011, yet until last week? I was still carting around all those old photographs and trinkets from my larger space, never bothering to pack them up and take ’em home. I was surrounded by boxes, actually: boxes of random belongings from years and years ago.

After a while, you stop seeing stuff. It becomes a part of the background, a backdrop to your daily life; you forget about the Christmas decor on which you’re propping your swollen pregnant feet (hey, it was actually a good footrest), or the boxes and boxes of tea — so much tea — you must paw through to find a stupid spoon in your drawers.

Last week, I cleared it out. I spared nothing. I’ve been reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but haven’t extended any of her principles to my own home yet. I’ve been afraid to take the plunge, scared of starting the tidying process, but at work? I was ruthless. It was time.

I easily purged half of my belongings without thinking about it, bagging up tons of stuff I’ve been moving from desk to desk for years. Why did I still have it? What purpose did it serve? Who did it benefit?

No one.

Though I must confess that those belongings are now at home in a spare room waiting for me to bag most up for Goodwill, the physical act of getting them out of my office and away from where I sit all day, brainstorming and writing and working, has made such a difference for me — a major difference.

Everything feels scrubbed clean and new. My workspace is tidy, dust-free, uncluttered. I love having a desk clear of papers and junk and Post-Its, a place I can spread out the newspaper or my planner and not knock over ten random objects.

Why didn’t I do this ages ago . . . years ago? Why did I let myself sit each day surrounded by so much clutter? I can’t say, really. Force of habit? Laziness? Regardless, I’m never doing that again.

Though I’m still not ready to extend Kondo’s tidying principles to our home, this first cleaning hurdle at work was a powerful one.

Being a “stuff” person, I never thought I’d see an empty surface as anything but that: unfinished, barren, dull.

But now I see cleanliness and possibilities . . . room for new things.

Life-changing magic, indeed.

Book chat: ‘Why Not Me?’ by Mindy Kaling

Why Not MeActress and writer Mindy Kaling is my vision of a talented Everywoman.

Confident but approachable, warm and vivacious, Mindy is someone I aspire to be more like. I love her sass, her wit, her style . . . and also love that she “doesn’t look like most women on TV,” a statement Mindy herself ponders in Why Not Me?, her second memoir.

I went into this book hoping the Mindy I know and love — wise, funny, a little quirky — would shine through, and she absolutely does. Her memoir is a collection of short stories about many topics, including her days on “The Office”; the hard work and long hours behind “The Mindy Project,” her (awesome) TV show recently picked up by Hulu; and many anecdotes about friendship, college, growing up, looking for love, self-confidence and more.

Though the only uniting thread seems to be Mindy’s insistence that we should be ourselves regardless of what anyone thinks and work hard for what we want, that was enough. That totally worked for me. This 240-page book left me feeling motivated and renewed, like I’d just had a cleansing cryfest with an old friend.

Plus? It’s funny, but in a warmhearted way. Mindy is hilarious. I especially appreciated that, while she is grateful women see her as a realistic role model, she’s not afraid to admit that, at times, she does wish she were thinner, bolder, more confident or [insert societal standard or adjective here]. That vulnerability is appealing — and also comforting. It’s more than okay to love and accept ourselves while still striving to improve.

If you’re a fan of Kaling, Why Not Me? is a book you’ll likely savor. Having not read her first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) (I know: way behind), I can’t compare the two — but this short, easily digestible and enjoyable series of stories definitely feels like you’ve invited Mindy over to give you advice on being a bad boss lady while she still owns up to some of her foibles. I totally dug it.

4 out of 5

Pub: 2015 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Copy borrowed from my local library

Books on Oliver’s shelves

Oliver and books

Last Christmas, shortly after announcing my pregnancy, I received a gift for Baby J that made me cry — and it wasn’t just the hormones: two sweet board books from Magan at Rather Be Reading, favorites of her daughter’s. The official beginning of our little one’s library.

In April, Baby J became Oliver, and our son’s book collection has grown exponentially. Like many excited readers and parents-to-be, I’ve been quietly building his stash for years. I wrote about my “secret” book-buying back when he was the proverbial twinkle in my eye, and I’m finally able to share many of the books I’ve been collecting with him.

At nearly 6 months old, Ollie is starting to show an interest in “reading.” I prop him up in my lap with a book in front of us, then try to be patient as we’re inevitably interrupted by baby hands slapping the pages or a hunger cry breaking the momentum.

I love reading aloud. Not to, you know, toot my own horn or anything, but I was pretty much the designated class reader in fourth and fifth grade. So.

Since my reading talents have been dormant for the better part of two decades, I’m really livin’ it up now. The whole reading-to-my-belly thing never felt natural, but reading to an actual infant is an entirely different experience.

Ollie is too little to have obvious preferences, but he does kick his little feet crazily to a few “favorite” books. Here’s what we have stacked in the nursery right now.

(And P.S.: taking a page out of Steph’s book, I created a Goodreads shelf to catalog Ollie’s reading adventures. I plan to keep up with them there!)

Children's books

The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen
Illustrated by Dan Hanna
This unique, adorable story — with very clever rhyming — chronicles the Pout-Pout Fish’s excuses to friends as to why he’s a total downer. A shot at love turns that frown upside down. The Pout-Pout Fish is so much fun to read, I find myself thinking of the little rhymes — “I’m a pout-pout fish with a pout-pout face . . .” — throughout my work day. You know: alone.

On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman
If you want an instant parent tearjerker, look no further. A sweet, soothing story describing the uniqueness of each child welcomed into the world.

Nothing we’ve read feels as personal nor has impacted me as deeply as this book, which was a gift from a family friend in New York. We didn’t receive it until Oliver had been home from the NICU for a few weeks, but I read it once and immediately fell in love. I’ve read it with and without Ollie, and have the entire story memorized.

The “night” part is what gets me, I guess. Oliver was born at almost 10 p.m. I remember laying alone in my hospital room after my husband went to see him, the first person in our family to touch his tiny hand. Though I know it’s cliche, we were changed forever. On the Night You Were Born so perfectly summarizes those feelings for me, and how special and unique each tiny baby is. It’s just . . . a beautiful book.

Don Quixote by Jennifer Adams
Illustrated by Alison Oliver
This retelling of Miguel de Cervantes’ famous story is simple, but compelling to little eyes: bold colors and vivid illustrations with both English and Spanish words. Something about this book ignites a fire in Ollie; he kicks his feet like a madman and loves it.

Whoever You Are by Mem Fox
Illustrated by Leslie Staub
A story that packs a powerful punch. Regardless of skin color, nationality or origin, children everywhere are alike, linked and connected. A great primer for teaching about differences, tolerance and friendship.

Firebears, the Rescue Team by Rhonda Gowler Greene
Illustrated by Dan Andreasen
If you know a future firefighter (or even if you don’t), Firebears will captivate them. The story of a rescue squad ready to (adorably) protect the community, the Firebears come to the aid of neighbors and cats stuck in trees before fighting home fires.

Given I was a child so paranoid about flames that my parents purchased a fold-up ladder for my second-story bedroom, this might have freaked me out as a tot — but the message about safety is a good one, and I love the vertical images of the bears sliding down the fire pole. Cuteness.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
This classic has enchanted me since childhood with its bright colors, beautiful illustrations and evolution of a hungry caterpillar who eats everything, then eventually emerges as a butterfly. This was the very first book I read to Ollie (who slept the whole time, of course): short and truly sweet!

A Halloween Scare In . . . by Eric James
Illustrated by Marina La Ray
Written for each state (we have Maryland), this Halloween story will delight children and parents equally with its local places, clever state connections (the flag on a mailbox!) and cute story about being yourself and facing fears. My hometown is mentioned, which is really icing on the witch-shaped cake. Very adorable!

I’m always seeking new reads for Oliver’s collection. What are some of your favorites? What books do your little ones adore? Please share!

How I’m getting it together — for the holidays and beyond


I know, I know: the “H” word.

For every delighted person out there reaching for their carol book and favorite Thanksgiving stuffing recipe, there are the folks who just want to burrow back in bed and pretend the whole season just isn’t happening. Yet.

For the most part, I’m in the former category . . . and this year, I’m starting early.

No scrambling through Target three days before Christmas, looking for something — anything — for that hard-to-buy-for relative . . . and miraculously coming up with something that fits the bill, but not without a great deal of stress.

I’m also not blowing a ton of cash in a desperate attempt to “just be done” with my holiday shopping already, as I’m wont to do when exasperated.

Now that I have an infant, I feel especially compelled to take care of huge, pressing matters — like the extravaganza that is Christmas — as efficiently as possible.

So I started. The Great Holiday Gift Spreadsheet 2015 has been created, and the first gifts are on their way.

I know it seems crazy to talk about this now on the cusp of a golden October. Thinking about Santa with a pumpkin spice latte in my hand feels off, but I don’t want anything sneaking up on me this year.

I’m 30 now — time to get my stuff together.

I considered making this “spreadsheet” just a physical group of notes I could carry around in my purse, but decided that would too easily fall into the wrong hands (my husband’s), revealing all of Santa’s top-secret machinations, or just get lost in my bottomless bag.

So. It’s definitely digital. But I did make a big non-digital change in September.

In a desperate attempt to stop feeling like a crazy person who is constantly two steps behind, I broke down and ordered an Erin Condren LifePlanner*. I’ve officially returned to the world of paper planning. I still use Google Calendar daily for appointments, birthdays, trips, etc., but I’ve started using the ECLP to track day-to-day tasks and things I need to accomplish.

Bills to pay.
Calls to return.
Birthdays I can’t forget.
Meals for the week.

All the stuff that my cluttered, tired brain can’t hold anymore.

Returning to a paper planner for the first time since college has been . . . interesting. In our digital world, I’m so used to tapping everything into my iPhone that it felt strange at first: a miniature time warp.

But using a physical planner has been hugely beneficial for my mental health, friends. I’m cool with preaching the Gospel of the Planner.

The literal act of writing something down makes a huge difference in whether I actually remember to do it, for one. Just as taking notes in class once helped to commit concepts to memory, scrawling out a reminder to bake cupcakes for a coworker’s birthday means I may actually do that. You know: before her next one.

I don’t want to blame it all on that sweet baby, y’all — but the hard truth is that I have less energy and mental storage than I did six months ago. Work is challenging, too, and I’m a mom who comes home to care for a child, make dinner with her husband and figure out something reasonably unwrinkled to wear to work before getting up at 5 a.m. to do it all over again.

I was forgetting things — silly things — and, honestly, I’ve just been extremely stressed out.

Something had to give.

I’m going on three weeks of meticulous note-taking now. Though initially it felt like writing in the LifePlanner was just something else to do, I’ve definitely gotten used to it and really enjoy having everything I want to do in a single place. My anxiety has dropped, no doubt.

Beyond the planner, I took some time last week to set up a few spreadsheets to get me through the next few months. With so many celebrations, birthdays and holidays through January, I knew I needed a way to keep track of gifts, cards, etc.

I take these things very seriously.

If you’ll pardon a moment of gender-based generalization, I typically find women are responsible for a great deal of anything that falls under the category of “Holidays, Celebrations Thereof.”

Gift buying.
Tree trimming.
Party hosting.
Stocking stuffing.
Thank-you-note writing.

You get the drift.

I hope the gentlemen reading this aren’t offended. I don’t mean to imply you’re not interested at all or don’t help . . but women do tend to take the lead in these matters.

And that’s okay! I’m not complaining. I love traditions, and I love to do those things.

But . . . it’s a lot. Lots to take care of, keep track of. I know you can do as little or as much as you want (for any occasion), but our family has always liked to do it up big — and I don’t want to overlook a detail or forget someone. I’m afraid of something . . . coming up short.

That’s a personal issue. But this is only my second married Christmas, and my first as a mom, so . . . yeah. Oliver’s first Christmas? This is major.

Enter the spreadsheet.

Mine is nothing fancy, but I’m happy to share the ol’ tools of the Meg trade with you. If you’re interested in creating your own, spreadsheets through Google Drive is basically where I store the contents of my caffeine-addled brain.

While signed into your Google account, start by accessing Drive. Click that handy-dandy red “New” button at the top left in the sidebar. Select “Google Sheets.” A fresh, blank spreadsheet should open.

Xmas spreadsheet

In the “A” column, I put the names of everyone I need to shop for: husband, son, parents, grandparents, friends, etc. Everyone has their own color, just ’cause it’s pretty and helpful when scrolling.

The “B” column is for presents. Black text means it’s already purchased; red text means it’s just a gift idea, and has not yet been ordered or brought home.

That red text? Super important. Whenever I think of a cool gift for those folks who seem to have everything, I tap it in there so I won’t forget. As soon as the gift is purchased, it’s changed to black text and I go on my merry way.

The “C” column has been getting more use in the past few years: cost. The price of each item goes there. After a bracing glass of eggnog (or four), you can click the top of the “C” column for a fast, Google-calculated sum of everything you’ve spent.

The “D” column may seem a little redundant at first, but that’s where I keep track of everything spent on each individual. I just add up the cost of each present and tally it there as I go, which helps me stay on budget.

And I am on budget.

That’s the other reason I’m starting so far in advance, friends: money. Shopping in September and October allows me to spread out the payments before the mad post-Thanksgiving rush, though I’m sure I will still be gathering up odds and ends in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

But my goal this year is to have most presents purchased and wrapped by Thanksgiving, so I can really relax and soak up the season. No mad dashes, frantic Amazon scrolling or anxious running through the mall on my lunch break.

Which leaves more time for hot chocolate sipping, “Home Alone” watching, party throwing — and photo shoots featuring Oliver as an elf or reindeer, of course.

Definitely scheduling that in the planner.

*Affiliate link. I will earn referral credit if you click through and make a purchase,
but I only ever discuss products I love!

For the love of nurses

Everyone with an Internet connection heard about the controversial, disparaging remarks made toward Miss Colorado — Michelle Collins, a registered nurse — on “The View” last week. Joy Behar and the show have since apologized, but the whole spectacle left a bad taste in many mouths.

My hospitalization in April was easily the scariest time of my life. Between not knowing how sick I would become and if we would have to welcome our baby early, I met some of the kindest and most compassionate people who checked in on us daily: our nursing staff.

Before we transferred to a major medical center with a NICU in Baltimore, where Oliver would be born, we met a nurse named Jenn who monitored my blood pressure when I was admitted three times before “the big one”: the trip I was told I wouldn’t be going home without a baby.

Everything about Jenn exuded calmness. Nothing was a problem; no issue — even the scary ones — too difficult. Even as I began to crash and had to be transported to Baltimore late at night, her reassuring face was an anchor.

She and a colleague stayed with Spencer and me, talking us through some of the unknowns and reassuring us that all would be well. Jenn and a fellow nurse administered the steroids to strengthen Oliver’s lungs in utero, should I need to deliver, and that seemed crazy at the time. But when I did deliver two days later, I thought about and thanked them.

They were there long after their shifts ended; we overhead them talking with others. Our nurses stayed for us.

After arriving in Baltimore, countless nurses came through to see us in Labor & Delivery. One was from a neighboring county, a woman who reminded me of my sweet mom waiting down in the hospital lobby. She chatted with us as though we were all just standing in line at Starbucks. Though we were only a few hours from home, knowing this kind nurse was from our corner of Maryland made me feel strangely better.

As my situation worsened, another nurse came in hourly to check my blood pressure. I was still in denial that the baby might come early, but she confided that she had also had preeclampsia — twice. Her two children, both preemies, were now happy, confident elementary students. Bright and wonderful. She smiled at me, giving me a positive glimpse of an unknown future, and came to see us twice more before officially leaving for the night.

The long day after Oliver was born, this nurse — a mother, a nurturer — came to find me on a different floor. I was in shock and drifting on a sea of drugs when she “knocked” on the thin curtain separating my bed from many others. “I had to come see you,” she said, as though we were old friends. She held my hand as I released fresh tears, telling me again that everything would be okay.

She didn’t have to do that. Those women did not have to do anything — nothing but take my vitals, check my healing, change my sheets. But they were checking on more than just my bruises: they were checking on me. On us. On my family.

They weren’t pretending.

They cared.

And all of this is to say nothing of the many NICU nurses that would go on to care for our fragile baby, holding and loving on him when we could not. They could have their own series of posts.

There were many others, too: Maura, who led our hospital child birth class in March and worried for us when we reappeared too early in April; the funny, no-nonsense grandmotherly type who forced me to get out of bed days after childbirth when I was too physically and emotionally numb to move. “You want to see that baby, don’t you?” she’d bark, fixing me with a stern look above her glasses. “I know you want to get better and see that baby.”

I think often about these people who rode that roller coaster with us, all just a part of their daily work: nurses who cared for me before our son was born, then helped him enter the world. Women and men who monitored me and noticed all of the critical signs that finally brought Ollie to us.

Until April, I was fortunate to not have much experience with medical staff. Aside from an old obsession with “Grey’s Anatomy,” I had no personal connection to doctors, nurses and the many challenges they face daily. I cannot begin to imagine what they see, hear, clean up and deal with all day — physically and emotionally. The decisions. The emergencies. The heartbreak. They are amazing.

I’m not saying all this to pile on the anti-“View” standpoint. Behar has apologized. But to the many nurses that cared for us last spring and continue to care for so many vulnerable, hurting, frightened people every day: thank you so much. I never got my chance to express that, and I don’t know if I’ll ever see our nurses again . . . but thank you. We need you, and we are lucky to have you. <3

Rest, rattles and baby babble: Oliver at 5 months old


Sleeping (mostly?) through the night. Smiling and laughing at all of our ridiculous antics. Growing like a weed, and surpassing medical expectations of where he “should” be — as a preemie — at this point in his journey.

My friends, we’ve reached a golden time. Oliver is 5 months old!

We moved him into his own crib about a month ago, a milestone we did not take lightly. From the time he came home from the hospital, Ollie “slept” (that’s a generous term for the all-night grunting, kicking, squirming and snoring, honestly) in a co-sleeper bassinet next to our bed.

Given his premature arrival and issues with apnea in the NICU (he would forget to breathe, basically, and require stimulation by nursing staff, who monitored his breathing constantly), this arrangement worked well. It was necessary. I was already a nervous wreck; having him in a different room would have been . . . well. Not good.

But by mid-August, just as he passed the four month mark, we started seeing signs that he was ready. Ollie was almost too big for the bassinet, for one; at 17 pounds with long limbs, he was constantly bumping into the sides. This kid loves to stretch, so he was constantly waking himself up. And he just seemed . . . uncomfortable. Fidgety.

We started putting him the “big” crib in his nursery for naps on the weekends, watching to see how he responded and whether that helped with the fussiness. It did. And so, on a random Friday evening, our babe was placed in his very own room for the first time.

His nursery became a haven while he was hospitalized. Because he was two months early and I’d been feeling ill for a while, we’d done nothing before he was born but paint the walls. As we waited for him to come home, we poured our energy into getting this space ready for him. But for the first four months of his life? He was really only in there for diaper changes and occasional reading in the comfy chair in the corner.

It’s a totally different experience, having Ollie in his own room. Spencer and I can actually put him down for the night around 9 p.m. and go to sleep together, as opposed to the weird hybrid evenings we endured for months. (Spence took the “midnight” shift, which would really mean he was up until 2 a.m., and I would take over starting around 3 a.m. each day.)

It hasn’t been perfect. After sleeping for eight- or nine-hour stretches for weeks in his crib, Ollie is back to a nightly feeding around 1:30 a.m. each day. But his dad and I take turns, dutifully rising in the dark to tend to him, and it’s not nearly as soul-crushing as it was back in June.


We have no teeth yet, but Oliver has started showing signs of teething. A friend with a 4-year-old and a 4-month-old recently told me that her doctor said all mothers of 4-month-olds think their children are teething (and they’re not), but that remains to be seen. We have many telltale signs: excessive drooling; screaming/crying for no apparent reason; biting on absolutely everything, including Mom and Dad’s fingers; inability to be soothed.

But that could be . . . infant stuff? I don’t know. Either way, we’re working through it. It’s not constant, thankfully, so it’s all right.

Oliver has always been a joy, our sweet baby man, but more and more of his personality is starting to come through . . . and I find myself giggling at all the silly stuff he does, especially now that he has taken to holding a conversation with his hand in his mouth.

I joked about that with Spencer, his little baby “language” with fingers stuffed against his gums, and my husband immediately laughed. He knew exactly what I was talking about.

Goy goy goy,” Spence mimicked.

“That’s it!” I shouted, never piecing together that Ollie says exactly that all day long. “Goy goy goy.”


He hasn’t been weighed since his four month appointment, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say he’s close to 19 or 20 pounds at this point. It definitely feels like it when you’re hauling that kid upstairs! He can still wear 6-9 month clothing, but the stretch of a few of those onesies is being put to the test. Ollie also wears size 3 diapers, and our chunky man is holding his head up very well.

We’ve started thinking about the fall, my favorite time of year, and all the places we want to take Ollie! They’re just for us, I know, as Mr. Man will never remember pumpkin patches or hay rides or corn mazes later on. But I want those photo ops — bright blue sky; smiling and red-cheeked baby — for our memory books. We’re headed to the county fair tomorrow, where I will unabashedly nosh on funnel cake and remind a jealous Oliver that he can try some next year.

I’ve been swept up in so many memories lately. Last September, I was anxiously waiting to take a pregnancy test, wondering and hoping but also fearful and unsure. We couldn’t quite picture our lives as parents, though we were excited to see. To find out.

I rode the Ferris wheel with my sister, looking out at a sea of people while the excited calls of children from the Scrambler carried on the first cool breeze of fall. Spencer and I were just one week away from getting the news that would change our lives forever.

September will hold those memories now, too — a beautiful conglomeration of change, what fall has also symbolized for me. Fresh pencils and homeroom schedules; crisp back-to-school clothes, making new friends. My sister’s wedding on a beautiful day in early fall, and planning for our own November wedding — now almost two years ago.

I’ll also savor those weeks of knowing without quite knowing: the time I had a hunch, a glowing premonition, but had to wait (im)patiently to be sure. And by late September, learning that Baby J — later, sweet baby Oliver — was on his way.

The path has not been easy, and the year that followed the night I clutched a pregnancy test with shaky hands has been as frenetic and stomach-dropping as a carnival ride.

But it’s been thrilling, too. The biggest, craziest thrill of our lives.

So many milestones will be coming for us soon: starting solid foods in October; getting better at rolling over, hopefully, then crawling; starting to “talk” in some fashion, even if it’s just more sophisticated and hilarious Ollie Talk.

We’re so excited.

And hanging on.