The care-about-hair gene


Growing up, Saturdays at the beauty salon were a way of life.

My mom has always been faithful about her monthly haircuts. I spent many a morning sitting with my sister in the reception area of Diane’s beauty shop, the smell of perm solution and chatter of adult women part of the soundtrack of my childhood.

It was an adult’s world in the salon — a grown-up world, a sophisticated world. A place for gossip and transformations. I loved seeing the women enter with pin-straight locks and emerge from a loud contraption with luscious curls. Watching the stylists work their magic, setting it all with a halo of hairspray, I was pretty mesmerized.

When Katie and I got too old for my mother’s trims over the bathroom sink at home, we, too, began seeing Diane for our cuts. I don’t remember the first time I went for a legitimate lady ‘do, but I do remember that with my new bob — circa 1995 — and oversized red eyeglasses, people said I looked like a little Sally Jesse Raphael.

Music to a 10-year-old’s ears, as you’d imagine.

I have friends who make standing hair appointments every month, showing up to see their stylist like clockwork. Their cuts might not vary, but they’re religious about returning to see the same individual month after month, year after year.

At 31, I still go to Diane — but my appointments are . . . well, a little haphazard.

As in, I tend to go in when my hair’s length is suddenly making me insane — and I want to cut it right that second. I grow it long; I cut it short. I grow it long; I cut it short. It’s a cycle.

My mane is fussy, wavy and frizzy and thick. It’s not curly enough to be cute and sassy, yet far from straight. I once spent time trying to straighten it, and even considered begging my parents to fund a semi-permanent straightening solution as a teen.

But later, something weird happened.

I stopped caring.

Today, my hair does what it does and I don’t worry much about it. I’m all about simple, low-maintenance hairstyles — and for me, that typically translates to keeping it long-ish with layers so I can easily pull it away from my face. Which I do. Just about every single day.

“Hair down” days have become special occasions. For one? Right now I’m a perpetually-hot pregnant lady, and hair tickling my neck sends me into a sweaty rage. Even on the days I vow to look professional-ish and keep my hair down for work, I wind up scraping it into a ponytail before I’ve even stepped foot in the office. I don’t even use a mirror. You know: just living on the edge.

Sometimes I wonder if I the care-about-hair gene just skipped a generation. My mom and grandma certainly have it, both arriving for regular sessions with their stylists for cuts and color. Even my great-grandmother, well into her 80s, would have my aunt take her for regular perms. Losing her eyesight didn’t prevent her from wanting to tend to her tresses, and I can remember her self-consciously patting her locks as we’d arrive from a long trip, asking if she looked like “ZaSu Pitts.”

I won’t be one of those people that just blames their appearance on motherhood, but . . . well, as you’d imagine, if I didn’t care a whole lot about my hair before? I care even less now. My morning routine is pretty low maintenance, mostly involving a shower and quick blow-dry before Oliver starts calling from his crib and I have to get both of us out the door. I’ve done my makeup the same way for decades, so I can get that step done in minutes. The easier, the better.

Maybe I’ve just . . . given up. Like many teens, I used to page through magazines filled with cute hairstyles and dog-ear pages with looks I loved. But when I arrived at Diane’s for the big hair transformation, the result — on me — would always look . . . off. I never took into account the different types of hair best for each style. When my hairdresser would gently try to steer me away from certain looks, I just dug in my heels. I wanted to look like Natalie Portman! I wanted to be Keira Knightley! How bad could it be?


Now in my thirties, I like to think I’ve simply embraced who I am and stopped trying to fight the natural wave of whatever my hair wants to do. It’s a special kind of ridiculous to be both pregnant and going gray, but the increasingly wiry strands at my temples don’t lie. I’m getting close to needing a decision on whether I’ll start coloring my hair, too, but I’ve been hesitant to give in.

I mean, plucking the offending follicles will only work for so long. I think I’m creating a bald patch.

Ah, well. Nothing a ponytail won’t hide.


Totally necessary fall bucket list


Do I make these every year?


Am I totally, completely OK with that?


Now that Oliver is so fun and aware of the world around him, one of my favorite things to do is to drag him to seemingly “ordinary” activities and watch him just … take it all in.

They say that to live again is to view the world through the eyes of a child. And I can’t think of any better way to describe that. A fallen leaf, a cardboard box, a Target receipt — all items of intense interest to my 17-month-old, and seeing him try to make sense of these things gives me a fresh perspective, too.

Since fall is undoubtedly my favorite season, I’m dreaming of corn mazes and hot apple cider and cozy fleece and pumpkin patches. Last fall I was dealing with some pretty intense anxiety as a first-time parent, and honestly? Autumn was a bit of a blur.

But this year? I am better. Gold feels golden again. I am less the husk of a tired mother and more the somewhat-capable, excited and “normal”-ish woman that I remember from so many years ago.

There are never enough days in October and November, so I’m not going to worry if we can’t get to every single one of these delectably-autumnal activities. But I’m going to make a concentrated push to fill the family calendar with fun (and funnel cake!), and to soak up my favorite of seasons with our family of three before we’re zombie people again next year.


Johnson Family Fall Bucket List

  1. Visit a pumpkin patch and find the perfect gourds for carving. We always bring pumpkins home, but don’t necessarily carve them for Halloween — definitely want to do that this year. Ollie is going to flip out at the sight of pumpkin guts!
  2. Hit as many craft fairs as humanly possible. I spent several days compiling a master list of all the local shows happening this fall for my magazine at work, and to be honest? That “work” was not work at all. Sometimes I open the link just to salivate at the idea of all the fun shopping we’ll be doing. Craft fairs are an annual tradition with my mom and sister, and I am SO EXCITED about these.
  3. Check out a corn maze. Many farms here in Southern Maryland open their doors for folks wishing to “get lost” in family-friendly mazes, and Spence and I hit a few early in our relationship. Those are happy memories for me, and I can’t wait to take Oliver.
  4. Make hot cider. In a slow cooker. Maybe with this recipe, or this one.
  5. Host a Halloween gathering. This spooky holiday falls on a Monday this year (bleh), but I’m hoping we can convince our family and some friends to swing by while we give out candy. Our neighborhood is pretty quiet, so we don’t get many trick-or-treaters, but we’ll be taking Ollie out to hit a few houses! And definitely watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and “Hocus Pocus.”
  6. Speaking of which… watch “Hocus Pocus”! Tradition. My husband tries to get me to sit down for “The Nightmare Before Christmas” on Halloween, too, but my 31-year-old self still gets spooked by that one. I don’t know how a scaredy cat like me wound up with ardent Tim Burton fan, but … here we are. (Don’t mind me — just hiding behind the couch.)
  7. Rake leaves and jump in the piles. Ah, to be young again.
  8. Roast pumpkin seeds. Our attempt at this last year was a big fail, but I’m convinced we didn’t give the seeds the attention they deserved. This will dovetail nicely with carving our jack-o-lanterns. I’m stoked!

So there you have it, friends — our to-do list for the next few months. Anything on your fall bucket list, too? Any additional suggestions? I’m always up for some new autumn fun.

Soon to be four


Where to begin, where to begin?

Remember when I wrote this post about people asking if we were planning to have a second child and how stressed that was making me and how we were just so undecided and nervous and … blah?

Well, I was already pregnant. I took the positive test that night. My first clue came in the form of my emotions being all. over. the place., which isn’t necessarily unusual for me — but I remembered that out-of-control hormonal feeling from a previous experience. Namely: a previous pregnancy.

It was … surprising. Exciting! And scary.

It’s different this time. While I was blindly, happily naive to any sort of possible “complications” during my first pregnancy, I’m approaching this one with open eyes. Putting aside Oliver’s traumatic birth and my preeclampsia, my husband and I know what it’s like to have a newborn in the house. We know what those sleepless nights and early mornings will require of us. We know we’re going to have to invest in a king-size can of coffee, like, every few days. We know we’re going to be tired.

I’m almost 13 weeks along, preparing to bid adieu to the first trimester and generally coming back to life. This pregnancy has been easier on me physically — less nausea, less exhaustion — but tougher mentally. Having a 17-month-old during the early, awful days when I wanted nothing more than to lay in a dark room eating crackers was tough. I can’t just concentrate on me this go ’round; I have sweet Oliver reaching for his Puffs. My husband has been awesome (as always), but it’s always Ollie and me getting ready for work and daycare in the morning. Mornings are hard.

And, you know, work. I’m probably busier at my job than ever before — and working in a completely different environment this pregnancy. Different building, different coworkers, different boss… different company, actually, though we’re still the same newspaper. This is good, really, because I love our staff and get a lot of joy from what I do. But? You know, it’s work. I don’t want to fall behind in any area: as a parent, wife, employee. The balancing act is tough.

It probably sounds selfish, but we are all finally sleeping again and I am … scared about what adding another child to the mix will be like. Maybe all second-time parents feel this way. (I hope?) I feel like we’ve just gained our footing as a family of three, and now we’re expanding to four. While I’m thrilled and feel very fortunate to be having a second child, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared, too.

The difference between this pregnancy, so far, and the last one? Well, I’ve come a long way from the woman whose chief concern was how quickly she’d be able to shower after childbirth. (Seriously? Yeah.) Being hospitalized for a week beforehand will do that to a lady.

So many of the concerns I had as a first-time parent have softened with experience. We have already taken care of an infant. Of a premature infant. Of a fresh-from-the-NICU infant. We have driven home with a 4-pound baby. We have been away from our child and close to our child and we have stayed up until 2, 3, 4 a.m. listening to him breathe. We’ve driven to the ER in the dead of night, and dashed to our son’s hospital bed after surgery.

And we have laughed together, cried together, watched endless (endless, endless) episodes of “The Muppets” together. Sometimes I still look at my child and think, I have a child. A child who now reaches out to run his little fingers through my hair, who croons “Mama” in my arms just before he falls asleep.

We have known fear, and we have known grace. So much grace.

So no, I’m not the pregnant woman I was before … but I think I’m someone stronger. And hungrier.

Someone who desperately wants tortilla chips and super-spicy queso all the time.

And cake. Brownies. Cookies.

You know what? Just bring the whole dessert platter. Let’s do this.

End-of-summer feast


I didn’t make too many summer plans this year.

It’s just hot, for one. And we’re still tired. Oliver sleeps like a champ most nights, but I still find this residual new-parent exhaustion digging its claws in me at least once a day. The good news? I no longer feel the pressing weight of being behind, behind, behind in everything I do. The housework, my work-work, keeping up my friendships and marriage . . . it’s not all done perfectly, but I try. It’s happening.

It’s nearly September — the start of my most favorite season. Monday morning was . . . chilly. Like, actually a little cold. Wawa had pumpkin spice coffee brewed on their bar and I gasped at the sight of it, feeling a little bit wobbly with enthusiasm as I poured myself a cup.

The first cup of fall. Is there anything sweeter?

This weekend will be our end-of-summer crab feast with the family — an annual tradition going strong for years now. I always look forward to this chance to connect with our Virginia crew, who are such awesome folks, and get our hands messy chomping down on seafood.

It will be Oliver’s second feast — and I’m hoping he’ll sit still long enough for us to actually enjoy picking crabs with our cousins. At 16 months old, Ollie does not like to be contained . . . at all. Ever. Dining out is a struggle because the kid just wants to crawl away and get into anything and everything, but we’ve managed to hold him still long enough to have a few meals out recently. An endless supply of Puffs help.

After this weekend, I’ll be digging out my storage bins of gourds and scarecrows. I’ve started looking at the calendar to determine fall plans and have made a note of the many craft fairs that will soon start ramping up. We’re figuring out our Thanksgiving plans and Christmas travel arrangements, and I’m adding to that holiday gift spreadsheet already, determined to feel as little stress as possible this year.

Pumpkin spice lattes, cardigans, crunchy leaves, Halloween activities and azure skies — as always, I find myself wanting to rush through the sticky summer to just get to all things savory and apple pie-scented.

But first: crabs.

Can’t rush all the good stuff.




Five things on Friday


1. As a belated Mother’s Day gift, my sister, Mom and I recently enjoyed tea and a tour at National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Despite living just 40-ish minutes outside the city, I don’t get downtown much these days — let alone on a Tuesday. It was such a cool, fun experience, and the food was delicious! We all I know was likely British in a past life, so the tea tradition speaks to my scone-loving soul. Highly recommend to anyone looking for a unique opportunity in the city.

2. I can’t help but feel like August is the only thing standing between me and fall. Glorious, beautiful, crisp and cozy fall. Last year I totally lost my marbles and started decorating before Labor Day, which I realize was . . . a little premature. This year? I’m trying to reign in my enthusiasm, but it’s pointless. Oliver was only 6 months old last Halloween, but this year I feel like he’ll be closer to “getting it” — and I’ll be able to better position him for pumpkin photo shoots! This is the No. 1 reason to have a child, by the way: photo shoots. (Just kidding. Er, sort of.)

3. I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I think I’ve earned a trophy for adulting for finally resolving a medical bill for testing during my pregnancy (!!) that has been haunting us since January 2015. It’s a long and boring story involving many phone calls, emails, stapled statements and blah blah blah, but as of yesterday, I fought the good fight and won. Just so happy to have that resolved. Insurance issues are the worst. Also, now I don’t have to worry about bankruptcy, so. Sweet relief!

4. Oliver has been saying “Mama” like crazy lately, along with “Dada” and “Baby” (bayyy-beee). He’s also beginning to wave, smoosh up his lips for a “kiss” and is definitely grasping the concept of “no” (whether he follows it is, of course, another story). So excited to be hitting these milestones!

5. I may or may not have started my Christmas shopping spreadsheet — along with said holiday shopping. As a list-loving American, this is the only way I can keep myself organized. Despite my good intentions, I was one of those people scrambling last-minute to finish shopping last year . . . and I wound up bulk-ordering on Amazon to just officially say I was done. Let me shout it loud and proud: I AM NOT doing that this year! Like, seriously. I want to enjoy the heck out of the holidays and not feel the rampant anxiety that consumed me last year, ’cause we all know that is not what it’s about. So I’ve already purchased a few things and scribbled down ideas for others. I feel better already.

Happy weekend, friends! And thanks for staying with me during the long write meg! drought. I find my creative juices stymied by exhaustion so much lately that it’s hard to put fingers to keyboard. But I’m not going anywhere. ❤

Handing him the spoon


We’re inching closer toward sippy cups, not bottles. At meal times (which are now breakfast, lunch, dinner — same as us), Oliver grabs the spoon to “feed” himself. He’s cruising along the furniture, scaling walls and gripping ledges. He said his first word: “baby.” Now he says it all the time.

These developments fill me with joy, of course. We’re making strides! He’s growing up! At 15 months old, Oliver is a toddler. He toddles. His face his slimmed — along with those rubber band wrists. His legs are long and strong. He is tall enough to reach door handles and drawers, to pull down objects I never imagined he could reach. He surprises me daily by what he absorbs and parrots. He misses nothing.

Oliver is growing. And it is wonderful. I just didn’t expect to feel so . . . sad.

There is one blank date left in his “milestones” book — the one I’ve used to mark all his firsts since birth. It’s for first steps. And though I’m happy thinking about slipping on his first pair of shoes, about leading him along sidewalks and down new paths, I also feel intensely nostalgic when I realize the “firsts” are nearly done.

Will I miss the 3 a.m. feedings, the temper tantrums, the many bites of sweet potato that wind up in my lap — not his mouth?

Well . . . no. But yes. But no.

It’s bittersweet. Everything.

Parenthood is a study in opposites. It feels laughable to say I’ll miss washing bottles every night when it’s been the bane of my existence, but here’s the thing: it became our new normal. It’s a ritual, even a soothing one — and the idea of everything changing, as it so often does, fills me with apprehension. I just got used to this.

In some ways, I feel like I’ve only just found my mama footing. This stage is now comfortable, knowable. I don’t have to remind myself I’m a parent anymore — it’s been absorbed into my bones. And with my son now reaching for me, patting my cheek, resting his head on my shoulder — the only shoulder he sometimes wants in the world — well . . . that’s it. That’s it. What could matter more than that?

It isn’t all sunshine, of course. It never is. After a great visit with our family in New York, Oliver came home with a fever that burned him up for five days. The doctors couldn’t figure out why. It would climb to 102, 103, 104 — and just when Spencer and I would start to panic, fumbling for our car keys in the dark, it would break. He would rest. And then it would start up again.

There were many 4 a.m. baths in lukewarm water, frantic phone calls to the after-hours number, lots of pacing as we debated whether to drive to the hospital or urgent care or wait until morning, waiting and waiting and watching his chest rise and fall.

The panicky dread of those moments isn’t unique to us, certainly. No parent wants to see their child sick. But every time Oliver gets ill, I sink back into unpleasant memories of our month in the hospital. Sometimes I have to physically force myself to sit, take deep breaths and remember this time isn’t that time. Our 3-pound baby is now a 27-pound tank. He can handle it. We can handle it.

But that is easier said than done. One of my guilty pleasures is “Little Women: LA,” a reality show chronicling the lives of a group of friends, and several ladies are pregnant this season. Elena is expecting twin boys — and toward the end of her pregnancy, which is being documented now, she develops preeclampsia. Noting that she’s only 34 weeks pregnant, everyone is panicking at the idea of an early delivery — how risky, how dangerous, how life-threatening. “She can’t deliver this early!” they cry.

And I delivered at 32 weeks.

Preeclampsia changed everything. The idea of becoming pregnant again — and possibly not having the same happy ending — is terrifying. Thinking about adding to our family, well . . . I could get preeclampsia again, or I could not. And there is no way to know. There is no way to prevent it, to predict it, to expect it. If anything, I have a higher chance because I’ve had it once. It was severe, and it set in early.

It’s a roll of the dice. And I’ve never been a gambler.

We’ve reached the stage where well-meaning folks ask if we’ll have a second child. I probably get asked this once a week: by friends, acquaintances, readers. To the outside world, the world in which I look like a “normal” woman with a healthy child, I understand the innocence of that question. But there is no easy answer.

“We’ll see,” I say. What else can we do?

Contrary to, well, this entire post, I actually try not to dwell on the past — or the future. We’re usually too tired for that, anyway. Things could have turned out poorly, but they didn’t. I look at my son and feel relief and love and joy.

Oliver has been working with professionals to get “up to speed” with developmental tasks — particularly physical ones, like crawling — for a while. One of his therapists recently pointed out that it was me who was uncomfortable with Oliver feeding himself, projecting my fears of choking and other harm onto his daily habits, well . . . that hit me like a slap.

But she was right. And now I think constantly about how I cannot let my anxiety hold him back. Even when that is hard — or feels impossible. Even when I want to bubblewrap him and never leave our house.

So we try new things at dinner, even when he gags on foods he cannot possibly choke on (pureed green beans, anyone?). Even when I know we’ll spend longer cleaning up the mess than he actually spent eating. I let him grasp the lip of the coffee table, ready to spring into action as he moves along. We stand by as he pushes a toy walker, looking so proud as he plants each foot. He’s always walking toward the door, seeking sunshine. He loves peeking out.

I barely breathe when he falls asleep in my lap — a rarity these days. I’m still even when my arm is asleep. Even when I can’t reach the TV remote. Even when I have to use the restroom, and I’m starving, and I don’t think I brushed my teeth that morning. Even when I need to rest myself.

Savor it, hold on to it: that’s all I can do. Nudge him forward knowing he’ll always have a safe place to land — as long as his father and I can help it, anyway.

We hand him the spoon.

Mushroom asparagus quiche — all it’s ‘cracked’ up to be


Something about quiche used to really weird me out.

I’m far from a picky eater, but I’ve never liked eggs. It’s weird, I know — especially given I’ll try just about anything. But no matter the style — scrambled, sunny-side-up, in an omelette — or flavor, I’d prefer to skip breakfast completely. I’ve been known to make a sandwich.

When we hosted friends for brunch after Oliver was born, I was looking for a quick vegetarian recipe that might look vaguely impressive to a well-traveled foodie couple (what? It’s the truth). I had that “new mom” sheen of greasy hair, half-closed eyes and unbrushed teeth, so . . . it couldn’t be complicated. I mean, just getting to the grocery store was a feat unto itself.

In my internet wanderings, I stumbled upon this mushroom asparagus quiche recipe from Taste of Home. Its base is a store-bought can of crescent rolls, friends. I can get down with that.

It’s filling, hearty and incredibly tasty — so much so that Spencer and I have made it many times since, usually doubling the mushrooms because mushrooms are life. It’s a great dish to make on a Sunday and slice up for breakfast leftovers during the week. It reheats beautifully and holds together well.

This quiche? It’s just really delicious. Good enough for me to have reevaluated my hatred of eggs as a whole . . . though, to date, this is the only acceptable vessel I’ve found for them.

But who knows. A few more bites and I just might come around.


Mushroom Asparagus Quiche

1 tube (8 ounces) refrigerated crescent rolls
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
1 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1/4 cup butter, cubed
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon each dried basil, oregano and rubbed sage

Separate crescent dough into eight triangles; place in an ungreased 9-in. pie plate with points toward the center. Press onto the bottom and up the sides to form a crust; seal perforations. Spread with mustard; set aside.

In a large skillet, saute the asparagus, onion and mushrooms in butter until asparagus is crisp-tender. In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients; stir in asparagus mixture. Pour into crust.

Bake at 375° for 25-30 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting. Enjoy!

Recipe by Taste of Home