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This past weekend I took a much-needed solo trip to Atlanta to visit my longtime BFF, Lauren. I haven’t been feeling quite myself lately, but there’s something about spending time with someone who has been a friend for more than half of my life to help me remember who I am. It was the first time I’d ever spent more than a day away from Jack and I reveled in the luxury of not being responsible for anybody but myself for nearly 72 hours. We did all kinds of wonderful things I wouldn’t normally do–sat around and read during the day, drank as much wine as we wanted at night, got pedicures, and stayed up late talking about the past. It was, in a word, indulgent. There were even cupcakes.

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I usually don’t enjoy driving long distances, but I was able to load a couple of audiobooks from the library onto my phone and play them through the car’s Bluetooth. Yay technology! It was my first audiobook experience and I am definitely a fan. The miles flew by as I immersed myself in lowbrow literature. And I laughed when one of the characters, a psychologist, said to her longtime best friend as they were discussing past relationships, “I didn’t spend six years at Vanderbilt to have some punk I’ve known since before we got our periods tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about.” Lauren and I have, in fact, known each other since before we got our periods (too much information?), but neither of us would dare tell the other she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. And although Lauren is a successful businesswoman and I have a master’s in social work I look to her for emotional guidance as much as she does me.

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I really, really needed that short vacation. It was so refreshing. As for Nick and Jack, they survived, but yesterday morning Jack felt hot and a trip to the doctor confirmed that he has strep throat. I’m glad I’m back home to be with him. I missed his little face!

The bad news: I started smoking again. The good news: I quit again already. Smoking is one of those things that nothing good can come of, and yet I really do love it. If it weren’t so disgusting and dangerous I’d never quit. I gave up smoking in 2010 and to this day I count quitting among my greatest accomplishments. Once or twice a year since I’ve shared a cigarette with a friend, but it was overpowering and made me wonder why I’d ever loved it.

Then a few people in my life started using electronic cigarettes and I thought they were the best thing ever! They were less powerful than tobacco cigarettes, but almost as fun. I picked up a disposable e-cigarette (equivalent to a pack or two) once every couple weeks when I was feeling feisty or planning to spend my evening at home with a glass of wine. Then we went on vacation and I wanted an e-cig but couldn’t find an inexpensive disposable at the beachside gas station. So I bought a pack of Camels, figuring it was okay to cut loose a little on vacay. Over the next few weeks I started craving cigarettes more and more and before I knew it I was up to half a pack a day.

Smoking is frowned upon no matter what, but I felt especially ashamed to be smoking now that I was a mother. I knew I had to quit. I waited until a week when I was scheduled to work every day, since I’ve never smoked at this job before. Being in a different environment really helped, but I couldn’t have done it without nicotine gum. I used the gum to quit back in 2010 and it was a lifesaver. Because while smoking is a habit, it’s also a chemical addiction. You know how sometimes when you’re thirsty, it’s not necessarily because your throat is dry or any other specifically identifiable issue, but you just want something to drink? Your brain is just telling you, hey, give me some water. That’s what craving a cigarette feels like. I want one like a thirsty person wants water, even if I don’t want the stink, chest congestion, and carcinogens that come with it. A piece of nicotine gum can help me satisfy that craving and then it’s easy for me to slowly back off the gum. I haven’t smoked in a week but just writing about it is triggering a craving–good thing I’ve got a few pieces of gum left!

So why did I start smoking again? The nicotine got me hooked, of course, but why did I start in the first place? I’m not sure. I smoked through most of college and grad school and a lot of people I loved smoked when I was growing up. Despite knowing all the risks I have a lot of positive memories associated with smoking. Maybe at 29, with my career well established and an ever-more-independent toddler at home, I’m a little restless. I’m craving some adventure. This weekend I’m heading to Atlanta to visit my best friend from high school. It’ll be the first time I’ve traveled on my own since Jack was born and I think it’ll be good for me. I need some quality time to myself and despite my distaste for driving long distances I think all those hours alone on the open road will give me plenty of time to think.

Even though Nick is a very involved father this will be the first time he’s had Jack all to himself for this long. He keeps calling it “Guys’ Weekend” and talking about all the fun they’re going to have. Hopefully I won’t miss them too much! Fingers crossed that I come back feeling more relaxed.

If you stumble, make it part of the dance

Have a great weekend, y’all.

I spent hours working on the yarn ball mobile that you can see hanging over Jack’s crib in this old photo. The hardest part was getting the strands to all hang from a single point without letting them get tangled.

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We shortened the mobile when Jack learned to stand and took it down entirely once we transitioned him out of the crib, but I wasn’t ready to let the materials used go to waste. I used the green hoop to display a piece I embroidered for him and this weekend I finally got around to stringing all those yarn balls together into one long garland to hang from his ceiling.

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I tied the existing strands together where I could, and where I couldn’t I used a small crochet hook to thread the yarn balls onto fishing line, tying each one in place. I hung it up in the office/playroom for a few days to make sure it was sturdy enough before putting it up in Jack’s room. Can’t have my toddler waking up entangled in balls.

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To hang it, I tied a key ring to each end and secured it to a cup hook screwed into the soffit.

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I looped the middle of the garland over the same ceiling hook that held the mobile.

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I really love the way it looks and kind of wish I’d done this instead of a mobile in the first place!

First off, I am super sad about Robin Williams. Nick and I watched The Crazy Ones last season so it feels like I just saw him. I know that’s not the same as actually knowing somebody, but he touched a lot of people. I worked at a crisis hotline for several years and have my own struggles with depression, so it always hits me kind of hard when I hear of someone dying by suicide. If you’re having thoughts of suicide please reach out for help before making any decisions. You can call 1-800-273-TALK to reach a trained counselor anytime of night or day.

Now onto comfort food. I feel like one of the best strategies in getting more comfortable in the kitchen is to develop a few basic techniques that can be tweaked to accommodate whatever time and ingredients you have available. I’m not sure why cooking isn’t just taught this way in the first place. If you know how to cook some basic ingredient without requiring a specific recipe then it becomes easy to build a meal around what you have. Example: my technique for Perfect Chicken.

Start by seasoning one large or two small chicken breasts on each side. I use salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika. Heat some olive oil over medium heat in an ovenproof pan and brown the chicken for four minutes on each side.

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While the second side is browning you may add other ingredients if you like. I’m a fan of onions, frozen spinach, mushrooms, garlic, butter, and a splash of vinegar (a variation of this recipe).

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Bake for 25 minutes. I boil a pot of water during this time and cook some pasta. The chicken comes out smelling and looking awesome.

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For this particular meal, I prefer the chicken shredded. I pop it in my stand mixer on low for about five minutes and voila, shredded chicken. Then I add it back into the pan with the pasta and some shredded cheese and bam, dinner is ready.

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The great thing about this technique is that you can adjust it to your needs and preferences. I’ll skip all the extra ingredients and just cook up the breasts for some chicken salad, or season the chicken breasts with some Mexican seasoning before cooking and use them for burrito bowls. This particular meal is a big hit in our house so I usually make it every week. You can also leave the chicken out altogether if you’d like.