Book chat: ‘Food Whore’ by Jessica Tom

Food WhoreTia Monroe knows food.

That passion is what propelled her into New York’s fashionable, dirty, complicated, cutthroat culinary world. A young critic and baker once featured in the New York Times, Tia now hopes to gain an internship with a famed foodie at work on her next cook book. . . until that opportunity crumbles like a days-old cookie.

Left starting in the coat check (!) at an upscale restaurant, Tia makes the acquaintance of Michael Saltz: the Times critic known for making and breaking the city’s top establishments. Michael giveth, and Michael taketh away — until a strange medical issue threatens to take everything away from him.

Rich, powerful and well-connected, Michael Saltz needs Tia’s perspective — and her palate — to uphold the lavish life to which he’s accustomed. And Tia? She’s wooed by the promise of Michael finally connecting her to the mentor she wanted in the first place. (The pricey meals, expense account and hot chefs are a bonus.)

But can she get out from Michael’s grasp without getting burned?

Jessica Tom’s Food Whore was fast-paced, light and entertaining — everything I love in good chick lit. Comparisons to a foodie version of The Devil Wears Prada are pretty spot-on, but I liked Tia’s persistence and willingness to step out to reach her goals.

Even if that meant getting stepped on.

As a narrator, Tia could be frustrating, though. She’s frequently gullible, though I can’t pretend I would know better. The plot line with her college sweetheart was a little irritating, given dude was as interesting as plain vanilla ice cream (let him go, lady), but I liked the push-and-pull Jessica Tom established in Tia’s conscience: settle for the old, or strive for the new?

Though Tia is our main squeeze, Michael Saltz — and his creepiness — seep between every crack in the story. He presents himself as Tia’s savior, a one-man ticket to a better life, but I had the sense he was all bluster from the beginning. We know his intentions aren’t romantic (he’s gay), but his obsession with Tia as the one remaining tether to his lifestyle and prestige is . . . unsettling, to say the least.

Food Whore moves quickly — so fast I finished it in a few days, which is a record for this new mama who rarely reads more than a few pages at a clip. It often kept me up past my bedtime, and I found myself thinking about Tia and her madcap adventures throughout the day.

Fans of women’s fiction, tantalizing food descriptions, New York settings and speedy reads will enjoy Food Whore. I really liked slipping into Tia’s stylish shoes for this adventure through New York’s culinary culture — and I would return in a heartbeat.

4 out of 5

Pub: 2015 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided for critical consideration

The naptime fight

My son hates to sleep.

I guess most babies do — perhaps because they’re afraid of missing something, an infant-sized dose of FOMO that compels them to scream their heads off when you even venture near the crib.

Where Oliver would once drift off in his rock ‘n’ play without much of a fight, our almost 10-month-old (I’m sorry, did I just type 10-month-old?) now loses his noggin if he even gets a whiff of you wanting to put him down for a snooze.

The problem? He’s exhausted, of course. And when he gets exhausted, he gets mad. Our easygoing, never-met-a-stranger child becomes a possessed possum when he’s sleepy: clawing his way back to consciousness, refusing to give up the ghost.

I have no idea what his kind day care provider does, honestly. She never reports a problem. But I’m kind of afraid to ask.

There is no foolproof solution to this. He once wanted his bottle before drifting off, but eventually gave that up. He doesn’t take a pacifier anymore. Spencer and I just do the best we can, soothing him into his midday snoozes with a story or well-timed car ride. He goes to bed just fine at night, thank God, but those naps are a fight that takes all the energy we’ve got. And some we don’t.

That’s most of parenting, I’m finding: everything you have until you are empty, depleted. It requires you to become an excavator, digging around for something — anything — to give again.

But then they smile at you, reaching out a chubby hand or thoughtfully tugging a lock of your hair.

It is hard. It is so worth it . . . but it is hard.


sleeping


Yesterday morning, I sat by his crib as he rubbed, rubbed, rubbed his eyes and screamed, a red-faced and angry shriek that cut straight to the bone. It took everything I had not to reach in and scoop him up, whispering anything I thought would comfort him, but I knew the war would only wage again five minutes later.

I reached for a book, perching in the rocking chair just out of sight — close enough to hear every breath, grit my teeth through every cry, but not where Oliver would see me.

Maybe he sensed me there, trying to relax while my child kicked and howled. Maybe, in a strange way, it was comforting.

But he finally relented, falling fitfully into baby sleep. His face eased. The tears — thick rivers down his cheeks — quickly dried. I moved delicately toward him, pulling a bunched-up blanket away from his face, and crept downstairs to finally eat the cold English muffin I’d toasted an hour before.

And then the doorbell rang: solicitors. With pamphlets.

And I guess that’s just parenthood, too.


Snowy mama mettle

Ollie and me

Well, the Great Blizzard has become the Great Melt.

After five days snowed in at home, I finally got back to the office on Tuesday. “Civilization!” I cried, planting smooches on any human face I encountered. “People! Sunlight!”

Just kidding.

Well, kind of.

Though we made the best of it and I enjoyed being cozy with my boys, I was pretty claustrophobic by Monday. It snowed most of Friday and all of Saturday, finally stopping with 23 inches down by the early hours Sunday morning.

Spencer did a great job keeping our driveway clear, but neighborhood roads were still impassable until Tuesday. With temperatures climbing into the 50s (Maryland weather is nothing if not ridiculous), the roads began to flood. On the one hand, I was quite relieved not to worry about ice. But now, of course, there’s the issue of refreezing . . .

Anyway. Enough boring science stuff.

We never lost power, so there was no need for The Bunker. I knew we had rations to get through the long weekend (and then some), but having no heat was another animal entirely — so I’m very thankful we lucked out there. We never ran out of diapers or formula or water or any of the other essential items I gathered like a rabid Gollum, afraid of someone swooping in to steal my preciouses.

After the storm settled (literally), we went outside with Ollie for a grand total of, oh, ten minutes . . . long enough to snap a few photos. My sister and brother-in-law braved slick roads to come see the Ollie man and his first big snow.

He wasn’t too interested. But that was mostly because of the dreaded jacket/hood combination.


blizzard


Back when Ollie was tipping the scales at 5 pounds and we stared at him all day, convinced he would stop breathing without our vigilance, going outside at all was a process. The day after he came home, we went his first pediatric appointment just a few miles away.

The first night was horrible, of course. The month after Oliver was born but before he was released was the strangest of my life. I’d given birth, but our child wasn’t there with us. We made near-daily treks to his hospital in Baltimore, but . . . we had gone back to sleeping.

Sleep. Sleeeeeeeep.

I slept horribly throughout my pregnancy, especially toward the end. I could never get comfortable, especially since I’m a back sleeper (a no-no while expecting). After he was born, of course, I still wasn’t resting well . . . too many churning thoughts with insomnia. But when I could sleep, I did. For hours. Unbroken. For as long as I wanted, or could.

As soon as our son came home, of course, that rest became an exotic memory. When we arrived at Dr. M’s office that first morning, I was practically frothing at the mouth. We had barely slept, Spencer and me, and I’d spent most of the night staring at this impossibly small child wondering where he had come from.

No love lost for last May, that’s for sure.

When we saw Dr. M and introduced our preemie, it was a relief to learn she had welcomed a premature child herself. Our biggest questions were, of course, How do we do this? Are we ever going to sleep again?

(Yes. I wish I’d known that for sure nine months ago.)

In the beginning, Oliver could not get comfortable at home. He’d spent his entire life in a cozy, temperature-regulated isolette with nurses tending to his needs around the clock. Ollie was suddenly in a dark, quiet room with two strangers — us, his parents — and I cried to my husband, “He wants to go back!”

We worried he was cold. Or uncomfortable in his snap-up outfit. I thought we were supposed to put pajamas on babies, not realizing that it makes no difference at all. So I’d forced a footed thing on him, thinking that was what we were “supposed” to do, only for him to spend the whole night miserably trying to kick it off.

He is, and has always been, a kicker.

I remember asking Dr. M what to do about the kicking. Terrified of SIDS, like all parents, I knew we could not have any loose bedding in his bassinet — but he just seemed cold and out of sorts. He kicked off anything we tried to put on him. She confirmed we could swaddle him . . . but he didn’t love that, either. Ollie hates being confined, so the wearable blankets we received are, um, ready to be passed along in pristine condition, shall we say.

Dr. M was comforting. She reminded us, in her gentle way, that we are his parents. The nurses are gone; the NICU is gone. We are responsible for his care, and we make the decisions.

“Sometimes you just have to say, ‘Little baby, I know what’s best for you, and this is what we’re going to do,’” she said.


Family


It seemed a little hokey at the time — especially given we feared Oliver was actually a vampire child, sleeping soundly during the day but alert (and shrieking) all night.

But I get it now. Ollie definitely has his own personality, with likes and dislikes and temper tantrums for the latter. He despises anything being on his feet or head, so hats and socks and hoods are immediately shucked off. Don’t even try shoes.

Jackets really irritate him — which is fun because, you know, it’s winter. And about 25 degrees. But as Ollie goes stiff-armed to avoid the sleeves, having a meltdown when I lift the hood to shield him from the cold, I summon my motherly courage — the mettle I guess I had in me all along — to give him the hair eyeball.

“I know,” I say. “Mama hears you. But my baby, I know what’s best for you, and this is what we’re going to do.”

And we do.

Er, most of the time.

Have to pick our battles, right?


Let it snow, snow, snow (whether we like it or not)

Winter snow

The weather reports are pretty unanimous now: we’re in for a big one. At least a foot of snow, if not more, plus strong winds, ice, low visibility — the works. Needless to say, all plans are cancelled and we ain’t going anywhere. It’ll be our first family snowed-in weekend!

Our last major snowfall was the February snowpocalypse of 2010. About 2 feet of snow fell around D.C., grinding the area to a halt for more than a week. It was about a month before I met Spencer, and I remember everyone — ev.ery.one. — logging into OkCupid, bored at home and rekindling their efforts to find romance. It was kind of fun.

So now it’s six years later, and we’re staring down another monster storm. I’m a little excited . . . and nervous, too. It’s strange to know a crazy weather event is coming to pummel your area full days in advance. We’re grateful for the warning, of course, but we’re all just holding our breath as we wait. It’s going to be bad, but we don’t yet know how bad.

As long as the power stays on, we’ll be fine.

And if it doesn’t, we’re heading to the basement.


Snow


Spencer and I have spent the last few weeks transforming a little-used storage room downstairs into a space for my crafts, home decor, organization of random junk I’ve somehow carried through two moves, etc. January seems to be the time for that. Put away all the Christmas decor and you’re suddenly aching for a clean, fresh, unsullied start.

After dropping way too much cash at Lowe’s, Spence is building me a counter/table work space. I’ve been Googling “craft rooms” and saving all sorts of photos to my own for inspiration, turning to Pinterest and basically pretending I know what I’m doing. (I don’t know what I’m doing.)

But we’re figuring it out. Sometimes it’s easier to pinpoint what I don’t like, decor-wise, and I basically buy everything from Zulily, anyway. So soon I’ll be dragging plastic storage bins down from every corner of the house to finally have my art supplies, stationery, seasonal decor and such in one place.

No more chaos. Organized chaos, perhaps, but I can work with that.

I’ve never considered myself OCD, but a coworker recently commented on how “clean” my desk was. I glanced over at a strange blend of clementines and bananas (always have healthy snacks on hand! Still going strong on Weight Watchers), many scratchy notes on Post-Its, various magazines I’m using for research, Coke Rewards caps, etc.

Everything was in tidy piles: right down to the bottle caps. Square things were at right angles; round things were grouped together.

I’ve always thought of it as being orderly. I just like things the way I like them.

But we have to be flexible sometimes, right? With the looming storm, we’re converting my soon-to-be craft room — currently just a newly-painted space with a bookcase — into The Bunker. The basement is strangely warmer than anywhere else in the house, plus it’s below ground . . . and, as in a tornado warning, that makes me feel safer.

The Bunker will have bottled water, extra blankets, a power pack for charging cell phones, the baby’s formula and extra bottles, flashlights, etc. I don’t know why I’m treating this like, say, a hurricane . . . but weather-related disaster prep is apparently all in one mental manila folder.

I have always lived in suburban Maryland, surrounded by bedroom communities with commuters heading into D.C. every day. The jokes about Washingtonians not being able to handle a single inch or two of snow aren’t wrong, but that’s not the full picture. Trust me, I get it; my husband grew up outside of Buffalo. What freaks me out doesn’t even begin to worry him.

But the roads quickly get congested and messy here. Our traffic is horrendous on a normal day, let alone during a rush hour with sleet coming down. We’re not used to cruising on ice, and hey — no one is safe on ice.

Plus, in our case, we have this little baby now.

I can worry about my own safety just fine, but worrying about Oliver’s safety is an entirely different shade of anxiety. Being responsible for a child is stressful in the best of circumstances, but having a 9-month-old still recovering from a weird virus, refusing to sleep and dealing with an upcoming blizzard has had me hitting the coffee — my drug of choice — pretty hard lately.

We took him to the doctor yesterday, knowing he wasn’t too ill yet . . . but we’d soon be stuck inside for days, and on a weekend. We’re no stranger to emergency rooms and urgent care, unfortunately, but I’d rather stave off that sort of craziness if we can.

Ollie is doing better today, thankfully, and I’m hoping the worst has passed. I stocked up on diapers, water, formula, etc. on Tuesday, ducking out after work before the crowds got unmanageable. Marylanders do tend to panic at the word “snow,” but this time? Well, I think that’s warranted.

I’m not going to lose my cool, though. We’re working from home today and tomorrow, Ollie is doing better, we have plenty of peanut butter for PB&Js if it should get a little dark in here.

And if nothing else, we’ll have stories — many stories — to tell.

Stay safe and warm, my friends! I’ll be looking for your Instagram photos and snow totals this weekend. Keep those yardsticks handy.


Like a sack of baby potatoes

Ollie

I never thought parenthood would be so . . . physical.

Back in my pre-baby days, I only ever pictured myself cuddling a newborn. My chief concern revolved around babies’ floppy necks; I mean, aren’t they tiny and breakable? I was only imagining sunny afternoons curled up in our squishy couch or the whish, whish, whish of a rocker. Featherweight and lovely.

Oliver’s small size at birth — 3 pounds, 9 ounces — aligned perfectly with that fantasy. He fit in Spencer’s hand.

And then, quite thankfully, he grew. At almost 9 months old, our preemie now tips the scales at 23 pounds, 2 ounces. He’s wearing 18-month clothes. An adult-sized Santa hat recently fit on his noggin.

This kid is heavy. A warn anyone who swoops in to lift with their legs sort of heavy.

Baby chub aside, parenthood is physical in so many other ways. There are the practical demands of picking up and unloading a stroller, a car seat, the pack-and-play dutifully carted to others’ homes for a visit. If you’re bringing the baby to the car already strapped into said car seat, you’re lugging more than 25 pounds in one (formerly weak) arm.

Plus your purse. And lunch bag. His bottle bag, and maybe a diaper bag. And the Amazon package you have to return, an extra pair of shoes for running errands after work, your recyclable grocery sacks . . .

I’m tired just typing all of that.

Eh, I’m tired all the time.

I make two trips to the car before work every morning. When the temperature dipped below 20 degrees last week (don’t worry — we were back into the 60s yesterday! Yay, weirdo Maryland!), I sprinted out to my car twice to get it warming up with approximately half of my house loaded in my arms.

Then I had to go back for the baby.

When I do manage to keep a grip on Oliver, he’s learned to slap. He loves the sound his palms make when connecting with human skin, so I deal with his swats and hits and slaps — literal slaps — when we’re doing fun things like walking downstairs. Slipping down the steps while holding a baby is a major (and rational, for once!) fear of mine, so it’s natural that Ollie would add another element of danger. Just to keep things interesting.

He’s also a little furnace. The exertion of carrying him combined with his natural warmth makes me feel overheated in the coldest breeze. Even now, in winter, I wear tank tops at home because I am sweating about 90 percent of the time. Holding Ollie is like wrestling an alligator — especially now that he suddenly has his own opinions. And prefers to be free of my tender grasp.

My man wants to run.

He’s not even crawling yet — an elusive milestone that bothered me for a while. Preemie parents know the odd mixture of pride at all your baby has already accomplished interspersed with sadness because he’s not on the “normal” full-term timeline in baby apps and parenting books.

But then I picture the sweet, exhausting day when I’ll have to chase my son and haul his baby butt up and down three sets of stairs.

And the house looked so beautiful when we bought it.

It won’t be long. The baby wheels are churning, churning, and he’s gone from rolling over occasionally to literally leaping from our arms and trying to walk — or, more accurately, jog — around the living room.

He’s going to be a wily one.

Good thing I’ve now got serious muscles.


Weighty issues (oh, and slow cooker thyme pork roast)

Pork

I think I set a record on Sunday.

The very first person — ever, in the history of kitchens — to call out, “Oh, don’t even TELL me we’re out of caraway seed.”

Because … who uses caraway seed? And who uses caraway seed so often that they actually fear running out of it?

(Well, my delightful grandmother, who made the Polish-inspired dishes from her own youth that I devoured in mine. But, you know.)

Never fear: our jar of caraway seed was more than halfway full, so I could stifle the panic building in my chest as I prepared this slow cooker meal for Monday. That’s right, friends: I officially got my act together and prepared a meal a day in advance, refrigerated it and pulled it out Monday morning to simmer for that evening’s dinner. (Just let the crock warm up to room temperature first, of course.)

And it was delicious.

Like, oh, much of the adult population, January finds me thinking about goals and priorities and all that adult-ish stuff. Now that I’m also a mother, a working mother and an often stressed working mother, I really want to get back to writing out a serious meal plan on weekends, sticking to it, grocery shopping on Sunday and placing an emphasis on healthy eats.

Despite my hesitancy in my last post, I went ahead and jumped back into Weight Watchers (affiliate link). It’s been three years since I nervously attended my first meeting and two since I hit my goal weight, dropping 35 pounds, but I’m now — post-Oliver — heavier than I was when I started in 2013.

I just wasn’t sure I was ready for that level of commitment. Last summer, when I was an exhausted new parent who had just returned to work, I got it into my head that I needed to get “me” back. Now. If I let myself slack off with my eating, I thought, I’ll never lose the weight again. I’ll roll right back into old habits. That will be the end of the person I used to know.

Well, I was right — and wrong.

I’m not my pre-baby self again, of course. Everything that happened in 2015 — the beautiful, the scary, the overwhelming, the miraculous — changed me forever. Becoming a parent changes you forever . . . and I’m extremely grateful for that! I mean, it should.

But I did go back to old habits. It’s tough to come out of a pregnancy — unexpectedly early, too — and go right back to tracking every single thing you put in your mouth: something I was not in the habit of doing. Like, at all. For the last few weeks of my pregnancy, I pretty much lived off Chick-Fil-A’s frozen lemonade milkshakes.

When Oliver remained in the hospital for a month, Spencer and I ate whatever was quick and convenient. This translated to many lackluster cafeteria meals a few floors down from his NICU, as well as Wendy’s and Chick-Fil-A runs at odd hours driving back from Baltimore.

When he finally came home, it was just about stuffing something in your face between feedings, and diapers, and screeching.

Prepping enough to prepare healthy, quick meals with a newborn in the house? It just didn’t happen. I had grand ambitions of getting freezer meals ready before the baby came, trying to make our lives a little easier, but . . . well. That obviously didn’t happen.

After I went back to work in mid-June, I thought: it’s time. I now have nine uninterrupted hours in which I can focus on my job and control what I’m eating at ye ol’ desk.

That didn’t happen, either.

I was tired. And sick. Our company was sold over the summer and everyone’s duties changed quickly. Many of my friends were laid off, and I was staring down an extreme amount of change in a short time. It was the final straw in a very stressful season.

Quite honestly, I was depressed.

Though I haven’t discussed it publicly, I’ve been struggling with PTSD and postpartum anxiety since last spring — and there are times it was all I could do to get through the day. I finally sought help in the fall and feel about 1,879,986 times better than I did in October. The pressing weight of worry has lifted.

Through all that? I wasn’t obsessing about eating pumpkin pie, I can assure you.

pie

But I’m out of excuses now.

Oliver has been sleeping through the night — with the occasional hiccup, of course — for months . . . which means Spencer and I have, too. That early haze of dead exhaustion, which clouded absolutely everything, is gone.

Work has settled down. I’m happy and excited with my new responsibilities, and enjoying the new challenges. I’m still writing my column, but also working on projects and articles about different, interesting things. It’s really . . . fun. I miss my friends, of course, but we’ve kept in touch through the holidays.

The holidays are over. They were beautiful, but there’s something refreshing about vacuuming up all that rogue tinsel. It was sad hauling out the Christmas tree, but let’s be honest: the holidays have their own pressures that can’t be denied. Choosing perfect gifts, paying for said gifts, trying to see family and friends in a short time, traveling. It’s . . . a lot.

But January is bare. January is clean. January is scrubbed fresh, a calendar waiting to be filled with whatever we choose, and I’m ready again.

So I’m choosing my health.

It’s been a whole four days since I got back on track with Weight Watchers, so the aroma of my enthusiasm is still quite strong, I know! But honestly, there’s comfort in getting back to a familiar program that helped me so much before. It taught me to control my eating — and gave me such confidence — for the first time in my adult life.

Weight Watchers has been revamped for 2016, and I love the changes. LOVE. (They are not paying me to say this, by the way; my subscription is paid for by yours truly, along with generous affiliate referrals.) With their new “Beyond the Scale” approach, there’s a much greater emphasis on physical activity — not just your pants size. Obviously we’re all joining Weight Watchers to learn healthier habits and drop pounds, but everything begins and ends with overall health.

They’ve revamped how points for foods and drinks are calculated, and the new method makes much more sense. Under the old system, fats were fats; it didn’t matter if they were saturated, “bad” fats or good, healthy fats, ones we need and should eat. For example, a tablespoon of olive oil and tablespoon of butter could have the same points value. So what’s the incentive to go with the healthier option?

Many things haven’t changed, thankfully: fresh fruits and vegetables are still zero points, so you can — and should! — eat as much as you want. That was my saving grace the first go ’round. If I’d overindulged earlier in the day and was out of points for that after-dinner snack, I could always reach for a clementine and not feel deprived. There was always something to eat — as long as I’d made the effort to stock up on healthy food for the house. (But that’s another post.)

The first time I joined WW, I wanted to feel better: physically, mentally, emotionally. And I absolutely did. But I’ve come back to WW because I want to get my blood pressure down, return to a much healthier relationship with food and start showing my son — right now — that how we treat our bodies matters. And I know WW works.

So: there it is. My current weighty issues. It feels good to just . . . get all that out.

And I swear, this started out as a recipe post!

So, um, did you want to talk about pork tenderloin? Sure. Okay. Let’s do this.

This recipe is a WW recipe, actually: from the Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook, which is ringbound and glossy and pretty. Some of the recipes I’ve made from it have been hits, others misses, but this one? Definite hit.

If you don’t like sauerkraut, you won’t like this. But if you do? You will. So much that you’ll want to make it again immediately. The apples lend a delicious sweetness to the dish, while the sauerkraut, caraway seed and onion — which mellows through slow cooking — give it punch.

It’s the perfect blend of sweet/sour. Dig in!

Pork

Slow cooker pork roast
with sauerkraut and apples

Ingredients:
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 (1 1/2-pound) boneless pork loin roast, trimmed of fat
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 (2-pound) package of sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
1 large red or white onion, sliced
1 McIntosh or Cortland apple, peeled, cored and diced
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
1/2 cup dry white wine
Chopped fresh parsley

1. Sprinkle thyme, pepper and salt over pork. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook until browned on all sides, about 6 minutes.

2. Combine sauerkraut, onion, apple and caraway seeds in 5- or 6-quart slow cooker. Place pork on top of vegetables; pour wine over. Cover and cook until pork and vegetables are fork-tender, about 4-5 hours on high or 8-10 hours on low.

3. Transfer pork to platter and cut into 6 slices. Spoon sauerkraut mixture around pork and sprinkle with parsley. Serves 6.


Hello, 2016

New Years

So, you know. I ended 2015 how I wanted to spend most of it, the most life-changing year of my life: asleep. Despite a valiant effort to stay up with Spencer to welcome 2016 at my in-laws’ home, I passed out on the couch . . . at 8:30 p.m.

I mean, I am 30 now.

In my defense, I’d been up since 4:30 a.m. with the little guy — and I did wake up 15 minutes before the official ball drop, so I was technically awake at midnight. I just . . . can’t remember much before or after that.

New Year’s always tastes bittersweet to me. I always find it a little . . . melancholy. Saying goodbye to another year; heading into an unknown future. Trading the sparkle and glitz of Christmas and an action-packed December for the cold, empty calendar of January.

But 2015? It was the year I became a mother: the year I found out we would welcome a son, grappled with his premature birth and settled in as a family of three. Becoming a parent pushed me to my absolute edge — physically, mentally, emotionally — and there were times when, yes, I worried that this much-longed-for child would have me packing a passport, dying my hair blonde and changing my name.

But that was the exhaustion talking.

(Mostly.)

It was a tough year, a great year, a joyous year, a terrifying year. I experienced moments of pure happiness and bouts of fear and guilt so intense they threatened to carry me away. In 2015, I was the happiest I’ve ever been: the moment Oliver first offered his first real smile; coming down to find my amazing husband cradling our child in his arms, both asleep on the couch; watching Ollie’s face light up with pride when he rolled over on his own.

But I was the saddest I’ve ever been, too: sitting desolate in the hospital before he was born, a tight blood pressure cuff’s readings sealing my fate; the agony of childbirth; being discharged without Oliver. I have never cried as I did the first night spent without his kicks as he lay in an isolette in Baltimore, hours away. I have never felt that broken. The weight of that fear and despair? Not something I can articulate, really. It was . . . heartbreak.

Life pushed forward, however. Ollie got stronger (and cuter! sweeter!), and our Ollie came home. I don’t take that for granted — not for a second. We got through it and, with time, I’m learning to get past it. But I don’t punish myself on the tough days when I can’t, either.

In all, 2015 was the year I learned I’m made of some pretty tough stuff. When I became a mother, my heart grew ten sizes — and so did my backbone.

Honestly, the year was a blur — a hazy, lazy, dreamy and overwhelming mix of 2 a.m. feedings, diaper blow-outs, baby giggles, lots of snuggles and days spent in my pajamas. I barely read, tried to clean, didn’t vacation . . . but the little corner of our living room where I first held my baby boy at home became our haven, and it’s where we sit together every day.

And through it all, I continued to work full-time. Becoming a working mom has added an entirely new dimension to my stress, but it’s a challenge I’ve accepted — and can manage. Our newspaper was sold over the summer, followed swiftly by many changes in just a few months. After many friends were laid off in October, I’ve had to tackle entirely new challenges — and have adapted. Pressed forward.

I have grown.

In an attempt to not set myself up for failure, I’m not making “resolutions” for 2016 — but I want to continue to grow. And cut myself some slack. As a lifelong perfectionist, it’s hard to admit when I need help . . . but I don’t scold myself when I get behind on emails, let the dirty bottles wait until morning or choose to knock out some shows on the DVR rather than vacuum. In the long run, it doesn’t really matter.

Making “time for myself” is something of a misnomer, but I am finding ways to slowly return to the hobbies I’ve shelved since Oliver was born. Now that we’re all sleeping more, I have renewed energy to read — and plan to knock out some books that have been languishing in the library for years in 2016.

Ollie will turn 1 in April. We’re going to have a hell of a party. Spencer turns 30 in May, and I’ll be 31 this summer. Though our plans lately have, for the most part, centered on just getting through each day, I want to return to healthier habits and start meal planning again. I haven’t decided if I’m ready to recommit to Weight Watchers but, after experiencing much success in 2013, it’s definitely an option. We’ll see how it goes.

Regardless, I do want to get healthy again. In my post-preeclampsia life, I know how important it is for me to lose weight and get my blood pressure under control — and that will be a focus as I move forward. I want to choose my health. I’m just afraid of putting any hard-and-fast rules on myself, as with Weight Watchers, because I don’t want to ride the accompanying waves of guilt if I “fail.”

Progress, not perfection.

We have so many milestones to come with Ollie: talking, crawling, walking, running. He’s already changed so much in the last nine months — I can’t wait to see more of his little personality develop. He’s already so funny, quirky and sweet. Even on the dark, tough days, I adore being a mom. His mom.

But I’m also a wife, daughter, sister, employee, friend. A writer, reader, photographer and serious coffee drinker. These roles have changed dramatically in the last 12 months . . . and I’m still discovering new facets and challenges for each. But it’s okay to learn as we go.

Isn’t that what we all must do?

As I plod back into work tomorrow morning to sift through emails, clear out the residual holiday decorations and hang up a shiny new calendar, I’m ready — and eager — to push forward.

The best, as they say, is yet to come.