May 21st, 2013
For us the question wasn’t if we were going to find out the sex of our third, it was when. And how. I know two people who’ve recently had gender reveal showers—they have pink- and blue-themed drinks and snacks and decor and place bets and then there’s a big balloon launch or cake cutting ceremony and the color of said balloons or cake reveals the sex. I think that’s a really cute idea for your first…if you can handle learning that information in front of all your friends and family. I’ve always wanted to find out privately so I have time to process the info (what if one of you were disappointed and it showed?!). With Alex and Nora, the technician at the 20-week sono told us in a very nonchalant way and then we called/texted/emailed our family and friends after the fact. But this time I was up for having a little fun.
Here’s what we did: As I mentioned, I had a chromosome blood test done at 10 weeks that, in addition to other more important things, determined the sex. The doctor wrote it on a piece of paper and stuck it in an envelope. I wasn’t too anxious to open it but everyone else in our families desperately wanted us to. So we came up with a plan. Over Mother’s Day weekend we were down in Florida for a quick family getaway. Nick’s mom met us there for a glorious few days of fun and sun. We hit the ocean, the pool, we played golf, we went to Disney and, most importantly, we got to be with my MIL on Mother’s Day, which I don’t think has happened ever since I’ve known Nick. Her present: The envelope. She cried when we told her what it was and that we wanted her to open it and read it to all of us. We are her only source of grandkids and this is definitely going to be her last so it was extra special. We had a big dinner with the kids and all went around the table taking bets on what it was (Nora’s I-refuse-to-be-wrong response: “I think it’s going to be a girl…OR a boy.”) Then Debbie opened the envelope and gasped and turned the paper around and scrawled in little doctor writing was…
We’re having another girl! After we let it sink in for a few minutes,we called my family who were all at my parents’ for dinner. They put us on speaker and on the count of three Alex and Nora shouted “It’s a girl!” When we first found out we were all kind of shocked. I think deep down I’ve been rooting for a girl all along but after writing my list of reasons I wanted a boy versus a girl, I was starting to like the idea of a boy (i.e. that they are way easier than girls). And Nick and Alex, because they are boys among other reasons, were thinking it would definitely be a boy. I honestly don’t think anyone expected to see girl on that paper although in retrospect, it makes perfect sense (I’ve felt much more icky belly with this pregnancy than with Alex and I also look like crap and don’t they say girls steal your beauty?). We are all thrilled, of course, (and would have been either way), and I think the family dynamic is going to be awesome. Mostly, I am pumped for one reason: My daughters will have a sister. And, as I’ve said, there’s nothing better (yes, I’m biased). So now I have to give away Alex’s old clothes which will free up some storage space and start taking better care of Nora’s clothes and brace myself for more pink (ack!) and, perhaps, take a class in doing hair. At the very least I need to learn how to French braid. I have till November. Stay tuned!
P.S.: As you may have heard, Parenting magazine and parenting.com were bought by another publishing company and the magazine—where I’ve had a writing contract for years—has been closed. The July issue will be the last. Still no word on the fate of parenting.com or Mom Without a Filter so please check back here often for updates. I promise to keep you posted!
May 14th, 2013
By now you’ve probably heard about the op ed Angelina Jolie wrote for The New York Times about her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy (if you haven’t, take a second to check it out now). I read it this morning over coffee and I cried through most of it. As a cancer patient and a mother and a daughter and an advocate for cancer research and prevention, it touched me on so many levels. I think any mom has those moments when she fears she won’t be there to see her children grow up but when you have cancer—or you’ve lost a parent to cancer, as Angelina did—that fear is much more palpable. I literally can’t even type the words without crying. Of course I’m currently off my life-saving cancer medication and 14-weeks pregnant with my third child, so all of the maternal worries and what-ifs are definitely on the front burner. I’d be lying if I said my mind didn’t drift to those dark places lately where I picture saying the impossible goodbyes and Nick raising our three children on his own. We’ve even had the super-fun conversations where I insist that after a respectable period of mourning, he remarry (so long as she doesn’t look like Angelina Jolie). Over the past 11 years, I’ve had countless bone marrow biopsies and blood tests and each time I wait for the results, even though deep down I know I’m fine, I wonder if this will be the time my luck runs out. You better believe if there were some way to (literally) cut that risk down to nearly nothing, I would do it.
We’re constantly reading about what Angelina Jolie does for the international community but I love that she’s brought her do-gooder abilities stateside to help the millions of women affected—and potentially affected—by these cancers. She could have very easily kept her very personal decision private but she didn’t and that, to me, is worthy of all the praise she’s getting today.
“I am writing about it now because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience. Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people’s hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness. But today it is possible to find out through a blood test whether you are highly susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer, and then take action,” she wrote in the op ed.
Giuliana Rancic, Christina Applegate and Sheryl Crow are some of the many celeb moms who’ve gone public with their breast cancer battles, which is awesome, but this is different because Angelina doesn’t have cancer…yet. She was in a position to prevent it and she chose to do so. And by writing about it in such a personal way (I love that she shared her kids’ heartbreaking concern and the fact that they talk about “Mommy’s mommy” and that Brad Pitt was by her side for all the surgeries), she showed other women that they can choose it, too. As mothers, we owe it to our children to do whatever we can to be here for them as long as possible. Taking care of ourselves is the best gift we can give our families. You know how I feel about the importance of maintaining mom mental health (date nights, kid-free time with friends, wine) and the same goes for our physical wellbeing. We need to go to the doctor, to get regular check ups, to follow up on any weird hunches, to get rest, eat well, exercise and, if we can, take whatever measures possible to cut our cancer risks. Because I can tell you, being a mom and having cancer is not a good combination. (Read all about that in my momvivor piece.)
Very recently one of my best friend’s mothers (who I was also very close with) lost her long battle with breast cancer and a day doesn’t go by where I don’t think of both of them and feel extreme sadness. They don’t have the breast cancer gene but I know if they did, my friend—a mother of three—would have already had the surgery. Not that it’s an easy decision or an easy procedure, but if you could do something about your risk, wouldn’t you? I’ve written many breast cancer stories over the years and I’ve had the privelege of getting to know many wonderful advocates and survivors. One of the hands-down coolest: Lindsay Avner, who started Bright Pink, an organization devoted to helping women assess breast and ovarian cancer risk and take preventative measures (Guiliana Rancic is a huge supporter). Lindsay has a ton of family history (her grandmother and great grandmother died young of breast cancer within a week of each other) and at 22, Lindsay tested positive for the same genetic mutation Angelina carries, increasing her lifetime risk of breast cancer to up to 87% and ovarian cancer up to 54%. Can you even imagine? At 23 she became the youngest person in the country at the time to opt for a preventive double mastectomy. And since then she and her organization have helped hundreds of thousands of women do the same. Many of them mothers. “What is so special about a mom like Angelina Jolie’s decision to take any sort of preventive action, whether that is surgery, surveillance, or a change in lifestyle factors, is not only what she is doing for herself but also the example she is setting for her children, for the future generation,” says Lindsay. “It’s a message of strength and courage. And we all know that actions speak louder than words.” Bright Pink is an awesome resource and you can use their Assess Your Risk tool for both breast and ovarian cancers. First gather your family’s health history on both your mom and your dad’s side (“don’t forget your dad’s side,” says Lindsay, “these cancers manifest more often in women, but the males can still carry the genetic mutation, and we get 50% of our genes from mom and 50% from dad”). This information will then inform your answers on the Assess Your Risk tool, which combines that health history with lifestyle factors and provides an analysis you can save, email, and print out to bring to your doctor’s office to start working with them to create the best risk reduction plan for you. Easy, right?
Say what you will about Angelina Jolie (full disclosure: I have), but what she has done by simply sharing her experience is a HUGE gift to women everywhere. Sharing your cancer story—whether you’re an Oscar winner or just a regular writer/mom/person like me—helps people, period. It helps them cope, it helps them feel less alone, it helps educate and inform them. I hear from CML patients and survivors all the time about how comforting it was for them to find my book or my blog or my Glamour magazine column when they were diagnosed. I can’t tell you how that propels me and keeps me doing what I do (raising funds, speaking with patients, oversharing). And I’m just me. The fact that A-list, mega-star, international-goddess, mom-to-six Angelina Jolie wrote about this experience in such a big public way rocks. She will save lives. She will save mothers. She will save families. And so can you. Take a look at the piece and share with the women in your life.
10May 3rd, 2013
You may remember a post I wrote for Parenting back in March where I laid out the many reasons Nick and I were on the fence about going for the third kid. Well, I found out I was pregnant the day after writing that. So, yes, as some of you probably figured out from the way the post ended, we had already decided to at least try. Of course we had no idea it would happen so fast. We figured we’d give it six months and if it was meant to be, awesome. If not, we’d be fine. And then I got pregnant the very first month, which was shocking but also really great medically speaking. As you know, I have cancer and take a drug that keeps that cancer in remission and I have to be off of it to procreate. The plan, which my oncologist and I mapped out meticulously, was to stop Gleevec a few days before I ovulated and stay off until I either had a positive pregnancy test (in which case, I would remain off until giving birth) or until I got my period, in which case I’d go back on until I ovulated again. Going on and off the drug isn’t ideal but we wanted to limit the amount of time I’d be sans treatment completely (nine months is a long time as anyone who’s been pregnant can tell you so the idea was to add as little to that as possible). I did it this way with Nora and was pregnant on the third month but I recall some stomach issues with the stopping and starting of my hard-core drug so not having to do that was kind of awesome. So apart from just being fertile lucky, we were also cancer lucky. And I am beyond grateful. And for the first time in a long long long time, the should-we-or-shouldn’t-we-debate is off the table.
I honestly still can’t believe it. But I knew it. I was in Massachusetts for my cousin’s baby shower drinking a delicious bloody Mary thinking, what are you doing, Erin? You know you’re pregnant (I was only a day late for my period but I’m never late). Rather than pour another, I switched to water and on the way home from the weekend, I stopped at my sister Meghan’s house and peed on one of her leftover pregnancy tests and, yup, positive. So my sisters knew before Nick. I snapped a pic and texted it to him, which would have been awesome and just our laid-back-about-the-whole-thing speed, but I actually got home before he read it so I just handed him the pee stick. Romantic, right? We were both a little bit in shock and a lot happy and just…wow. And yes, I obsessed about the Bloody and the wine I drank the night before for a decent amount of time. That was exactly two months ago. But that time has flown. Seriously, the weeks have just ticked by as they tend to do when you have two little ones and a full DVR. And apart from being a little more tired and needing to pretty much eat salty snacky crap all day long (some of you picked up on my recent Goldfish and Carvel obsession), I’ve felt great. I certainly have no complaints. I have my blood drawn and shipped to Oregon (where I’ve always been followed) once a month to make sure the cancer stays at bay. So far so good. (It never came back with either of my other two pregnancies, which is why my oncologist was so quick to endorse us trying this time.)
I’m just past my first trimester; I’m due sometime late fall. Just kidding, I’m not a celebrity—I’ll tell you my due date: November 9th. Cool, right? I’ll have 20 days to get settled before I host Thanksgiving. Plenty of time! We don’t know the sex yet, but we will probably find out soon. Our doctor knows because we had the Harmony chromosome blood test done (I’m 35) but I said I didn’t want to know the sex yet when they called with the report. I just wanted to be able to share and enjoy the pregnancy news once I was out of my first trimester (even though I’ve been lucky and never had a problem, I tend to not get too excited about pregnancies until well, well into them—in all honesty, I don’t get fully excited until I see the baby). We haven’t told many people yet and so it’s just starting to feel real. It will feel really real once I hit post on this blog! Nick definitely wants to know the sex so I’m sure I’ll get talked into it sooner rather than later. Which is fine. I honestly don’t care. And I will keep you guys posted, of course.
We told the kids last night and they were predictably excited/confused/sweet/funny/ultimately uninterested. Alex, who had just gotten a buzz cut, said. “Well, a baby is more important than a haircut, right mom? So I guess that will be my optional comment at school because we’re only allowed to share one thing.” So that’s where the news stands in our house right now: It’s officially feeling real, we’re starting to tell people (obviously), the this-is-really-happening panic/excitement is setting in and the importance of this third child ranks somewhere just above a new haircut. Sounds about right. Stay tuned for much, much more!
April 12th, 2013
This is the stuff that’s been on my mind lately that, for one reason or another, didn’t make my feed. These updates would likely have been too dull, a tad mean, perhaps incriminating, TMI. But since it’s Friday and, as you’ll see, I’ve had a lot flowing through my noggin, I thought today would be a good day to unload. So here are the statuses I’ve drafted in my head but spared you from this week. Let the oversharing begin!
- Too soon, Mr. Ice Cream Man, too %$&! soon.
- I kind of wish my kids were born on dates that were easier to remember. I feel like a real idiot when I screw them up (or have to count on my hands) every single time I’m asked at the pharmacy and doctor’s office. 9/2/07? I mean, c’mon.
- A man in the bagel store this morning told me he always had a thing for redheads. My response: “I wish I had known, I would have brushed my hair before I left the house.”
- Flat everything, scallion cream cheese, large coffee. It doesn’t get any better in my book.
- Time to hide some folks.
- I have eaten my weight in goldfish this week. More on that later.
- Does anyone else watch The Mindy Project? Love, love love. Love. And the male nurse, who at first I thought would annoy me, might be my favorite.
- Is there anything better than sending a wishful last-minute text to your sitter—“any chance you’re available tonight?”—and getting this in response: “Sure! What time?” In other news, anyone want to do dinner tonight?!
- I sent Nora to school today wearing Alex’s giant transformer underwear because every single pair of hers (and she has about 40) are dirty. Guess it’s time.
- I can say with confidence that peeling a hardboiled egg is the culinary skill I lack the most. And by lack I mean my blood boils every time I start chipping away at shell and half the whites come off with it. Am I missing something?! Not a good way to start the day!
- Loved Zero Dark Thirty but mostly it made me miss Homeland.
- Does anyone else find organic peanut butter really, really—gulp—really hard to swallow? It’s yummy, but man if I don’t feel like my throat is closing when I eat it.
- Is there anything worse than when people, who shall remain nameless, go to non-bank ATMS and rack up insane fees both from the non-bank ATM and their own bank? I mean how hard is it to drive to the effing bank? (I’d tag Nick Ruddy here)
- Nora just told Alex to “shut the you-know-what up.” And by “you-know-what” I don’t mean heck. Or hell. I mean the really, really bad one. We do let the curse words slip in this house but we have never, not ever, said that phrase. Dad? Aunt Mimi?
- New neighbors about to move in. Excited to meet them; bummed to have to stop walking around naked with the curtains open in my bedroom.
- Alex is working on his speech (saying his sh words properly, specifically) and I caught him in the bathroom in front of the mirror going, “Sh Sh Shut up Nora, Sh Sh Shut up Nora.” It didn’t have the heart to stop him.
- Nora just asked me who my favorite friend at work is. Um, facebook? Jezebel? The FedEx guy?
Alright, that’s about all I got. Hope you all had a great week. If you’ve got any FB out takes you’d like to share, fire away. Happy Friday, enjoy the weekend. Talk to you next week! Oh, and I added a few more photos to the Mets dinner post. Check em out!
April 10th, 2013
I wrote a big piece for the April issue of Parenting called “The Risks and Rewards of Youth Sports.” In it I covered everything from the massive benefits sports offer our kids (better grades, more social, more confidence, less likely to do drugs, get pregnant, etc.), to injury prevention and the latest trends. But also something called “the professionalization of youth sports” which frightens me and fascinates me. You can read the whole piece here. I absolutely loved reporting this story because I’m living it right now (read the lede for a great example). The best part of my job is that I get to research and write about the things that are relevant to my life. I have learned so much about so many things as a freelance writer and I feel extremely lucky that I get paid to do this. But knowing so much also gets me a tad obsessed with things (see antibiotics), which can be an occupational hazard. And this is one story I can’t stop thinking about—or talking about with anyone who will listen.
I live in an area where youth sports are huge. And competitive. And they start young. Certainly things get competitive and kids specialize in one sport much earlier than we did in my day. I have a five- and three-year-old so we’re not in the thick of things yet, but we’re close. My five-year-old son, Alex, loves sports and, so far, seems to excel. He’s currently soccer obsessed (he wants to be Lionel Messi when he grows up) and he’s quite good…for a five year old, anyway. Nick and I adore his passion and love watching him play. But we are constantly tempering his athletic pursuits with other stuff: Playing in the backyard, fishing with his grandfather, family vacations, art, homework, down time—all of which he also loves. Sure, we could find him a travel team or get him a trainer or put him in winter camps or spend hours after school every day playing goalie for him but man if I don’t have more important things to do with my time. And I want my kid to be a kid for as long as possible which, these days, ain’t very long. I also don’t want to burn him out on a sport he loves. What would be the point, anyway? So he can get be The Best? To what end?
As any of you who are currently in the youth sports world know, my attitude is not necessarily the norm. There are people who hold their kids back from starting kindergarten just so they’ll be bigger and faster and more coordinated than their peers for sports (it’s called redshirting—read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, it’s fascinating). Why? So you can brag to your friends that he scored the most/made the travel team/gets a college scholarship? And then what? You think he’s gonna make the Mets? Or the Knicks? Or the Giants? Don’t get me wrong, I want my kids to play sports. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want them to excel in whatever they do. But mostly I want them to love it. And to be well-rounded humans and to try lots of things and learn a lot and choose their own path. So that when the sports thing is over (and eventually it comes to an end—for many kids much sooner than you think), they have some life skills and other interests to fall back on.
And then there’s the selfish part of all this. I don’t want to spend my entire life schlepping to practices and games. At least not yet. I have friends who don’t go away for family vacations anymore because they’re at lacrosse or baseball tournaments…for their seven-year-olds. My sister is at baseball games all weekend during season and her son practices Friday and Saturday nights in the off-season. What the what?! I am just so not ready for that. Again, maybe I’m being naïve. Maybe once my kids are really in it to win it I will have no choice. They will beg me to be on these teams and they will love it and I will support them. I don’t know anyone—in my own circle, at least—who is pushing their kids to play against their will. The kids love this stuff. It’s their normal. But is it normal? Is it good? Are we setting them up to get burnt out? To suffer overuse injuries? To miss out on all the other good stuff childhood has to offer? These are the questions I think about as I begin signing up Alex for more and more sports. And I know Nora will be right behind him.
As I mentioned in my post for parenting, I had a bad college athletics experience and my career ended after only one year, which has definitely influenced me here but I’m not bitter, I swear (not anymore…). You might think I’m nuts talking about college already when my kids are so young, but trust me this is in the air for youth sports parents way sooner than you’d think. My quick takeaway: After many, many years of being sports obsessed, once I stopped playing and started doing other things (working for the school paper, spending more time in the art studio, doing magazine internships, making non-athlete friends, learning how to really live on my own), I realized how much of college life (and real life) there was to be lived outside of the train-train-train, win-win-win world of college athletics. And I felt very prepared for the real world, which, for most of us, doesn’t involve playing sports for a living. I was at a big program and it was intense; I know not everyone has this kind of experience, but mine has shaped me as a human and a mom in a way that I can’t deny. It’s not that I don’t want my kids to play sports in college if that’s the path they choose but trust me, I would be very happy if they opted to play club or went to a Division III school. I know a lot of my athlete friends would completely disagree with me here. And I think a lot of the more intense youth sports parents (you know the ones I’m talking about) are truly gunning for college scholarships for their kids. Check out the sidebar of the Parenting piece for the chances of that happening….
I realize that it’s easy for me to make lofty declarations since my kids are still young and we’re not in the throes of this stuff yet. Maybe I’ll be eating my words the way I did with the “I would never let my kids act like that on an airplane” thing. D’oh! I know I will eventually be sacrificing plenty of weekends to drive them to games and cheer them on and I look forward to it. Lord knows my parents were on the road constantly with me between soccer and volleyball so I’ll have no right to complain. And as long as my kids are enjoying it, I’m willing to do it. Who knows maybe one day we’ll be watching one of them on ESPN. (Nick and I have jokingly fantasized about Alex being QB for Michigan…even though we don’t plan on him playing football…nor are we Tom Brady fans, just had to clear that up).
That said, I will never, not ever, let them think that playing sports is the end-all, be-all. Or that being an athlete in any way absolves you from also being a well-rounded person, a good student and a contributing member of our family. We all knew the athletes who thought their shit didn’t stink just because they walked around in a team jersey carrying, say, a lacrosse stick. Full disclosure: I’m sure I thought my shit didn’t stink when I was playing for our high school soccer team (we were state champs and ranked No. 1 in the nation my junior year, I mean can you blame me?!). Being an athlete—and being on a winning team—is a whole lot of fun and I wouldn’t want to deny my kids that. But I want to keep it all in perspective. I know this post is a little all over the place but it’s the stuff I’ve been thinking about lately. I just worry a little. For my kids. For myself. For my sanity. I see how easy it is to get swept up in the culture of the day and I just hope I can keep one eye on land. Is this a good problem to have? Sure. My kid is healthy and athletic, cry me a river. Could my kid quit sports tomorrow and pick up the trumpet? Absolutely. Am I losing sleep over any of it? No. I just don’t ever want to lose sight of what, to me and Nick, is most important for our children. And it ain’t accumulating the most sports trophies.
Would love to hear your thoughts on this. Do your kids play sports? Are they on travel teams? Did they start young? Do you want them to play in college? Did you play in college? Has that influenced you as a youth sports parent? Have you seen the crazy competitive stuff start yet? Let’s discuss. And don’t forget to read the Parenting piece.
April 2nd, 2013
Monday night I was given the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s “Relentless for a Cure” Award at the Mets Welcome Home Dinner. It’s a gala/fundraiser the organization has every year on opening day. Half of the proceeds go to LLS and half to Katz Women’s Hospital out here on Long Island. I was being honored for my work with LLS over the past 10 years and it couldn’t have been more perfect considering what big Mets fans we all are. I still remember the thrill of being able to stay up way past our bedtime (and seeing the Mets win, of course) during the ’86 World Series. I also remember my dad’s friend Bob, a die-hard Red Sox fan, nearly having a stroke in our living room when the ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs.
The event was amazing, full of Mets old (we met Mookie Wilson, John Franco, Dwight Goodin and Ron Darling) and new. The 2013 Mets sat up on a dais and our table was directly in front of David Wright. I’m pretty sure Melissa stared at him the whole night. He was so nice and adorable and all the guys seemed really happy to be there. Melissa got up on stage to introduce me and she was nervous (she said so in her speech several times) but she did great. She said lots of nice things about me too—mentioning my Glamour column, my book, my work as a patient advocate and, of course, the big Woman of the Year win last year that so many of you helped me earn. When I got up, I thanked Melissa and then explained to everyone just how big a fan she is—her son Gregory’s middle name is Shea and, as I told Ron Darling who was right next to me, her childhood bedroom was full of his posters. Then I got into the real stuff. Here’s my speech:
11 years ago, when I was 23, I was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia. Without effective treatment I would have had as little as five years to live. But just before I was diagnosed the FDA approved a targeted drug therapy—a little pill that was putting people’s CML into remission without making them sick. It was being called a miracle drug and, for me, it was exactly that. Within a year of starting treatment, my leukemia was in remission. Unfortunately, just a year after my diagnosis, my sister, Melissa, who you just heard from, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She was 27 and seven months pregnant at the time. There was no miracle drug for Melissa so she endured months of chemotherapy and radiation and then, a year later, she relapsed and had to go through it all over again, this time leaving her then 10-month-old son for a month so she could move into Sloan Kettering for a stem-cell transplant.
Our family has been through a lot, but we have so much to be grateful for. Today, thanks to groundbreaking and life-saving treatments, Melissa and I are both doing incredibly well. We are healthy, happy and we have five beautiful children between us children we never thought possible when we first heard the words “you have cancer.” (The baby Melissa was pregnant with when she was diagnosed, who got chemo before he was born, is now a whip-smart 4th-grader and star of his baseball team—he wants to play for the METS, naturally).
And despite what we’ve been through, we feel incredibly lucky. We are incredibly lucky. We are not only surviving, we are thriving. And that’s why I’ll never stop raising awareness and funds and giving back to LLS, the organization that has given us so much. LLS funds research for groundbreaking cancer drugs but it also takes care of patients and their families with incredible support services. Melissa and I have benefitted tremendously from LLS’s work and we want to say thank you. And, more importantly, we want to help others. We need to keep fighting for a cure and for new and better treatment options because we all know that not everyone is as lucky as my family has been. But I also know that it’s possible…
Gleevec, the drug I still take every day that keeps my cancer in remission, was approved by the FDA just six months before I was diagnosed. Before Gleevec, the survival rate for my type of leukemia was 55 %. Today, thanks to Gleevec, the survival rate is 95 %. The drug was developed with funds from LLS, funds that came from generous people like you. My sister and I are living proof that your dollars really will save lives. So on behalf of our parents and husbands, who are sitting right there, and our beloved children who are home with sitters so we could have a good time tonight, thank you. Thank you to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for this amazing award, to the entire Mets organization and to all of you for being here tonight. And let’s go mets!
My job for the night was not just to accept the award but to share LLS’s mission and why it’s so important to keep fighting for a cure. After the speeches, we ate, mingled, bid on silent auction stuff and met the Mets. They are all so nice and were so appreciative and supportive and, um, hot. I’ve got to say it, those boys are handsome. Full disclosure: I’ve always had a thing for baseball players (just ask my college roommates). At the end of the night, Nick and I “won” a David Wright-signed bat and a Lauren Merkin bag, respectively—and by “win” I mean be paid good money, but it all went to a good cause (my cause!) and now we have an awesome sixth birthday present for Alex (the bat; the bag is mine).
It was a great night and I’m so honored and excited about my award. And so pumped for the Mets season! We could really use a good one this year, right? I’m hopeful as always. Here are a few more pictures (and there are more good ones coming so check back later!)…
March 29th, 2013
The temperature has finally been above freezing this week in New York, which means many awesome things including the start of spring cleanup. As you probably heard—or experienced—we in the northeast were the recipients of apocalyptic-type weather last fall/winter. From Sandy to Nemo and plenty of fun in between, we—and our yards—took a serious beating. And now it’s time to pick up the pieces. Nick and I have been spending some time outside accessing the damage. We were lucky to only have lost a few trees and bushes but there’s still a lot of crap to be picked up and some sad-looking spruces to be put out of their misery. But in the midst of all this death and destruction, I found some life. Leafy green, delicious life…
Sitting in my garden, among the twisted dead vines and crunched up leaves, was a big bunch of kale and three bunches of spinach—I guess I had never harvested them in the craziness of fall (um, Sandy) and the fearless greens managed to grow and survive during some of the worse weather we’ve ever seen in these parts. At one point my garden was under nearly three feet of snow! My garden guru and friend Elizabeth came by to check things out a few days ago and talk about expanding (we’re adding another box!) and she explained how when crops like these live through the winter (“over-wintered greens”) they actually get sweeter—and they’re still edible. And so I ate them! We had two delicious salads this week courtesy of my backyard and nothing gets me more pumped for spring than that. And so in honor of the season and warmer weather and Easter weekend and celebrating new life, I wanted to share these two quick and easy, healthy and yummy superfood salad recipes. I made these with just the stuff I had in my house but you could add more or get more elaborate depending on what you love. These definitely kick-started my salad fetish, which I needed. It’s been a looooong winter but it seems like spring is here to stay. Enjoy!
Quick Spinach Salad with Bacon and Mushrooms
Wash and dry the spinach, tear into pieces. Top with thinly-sliced mushrooms (white or baby bella work well), thinly-sliced red onion, chopped bacon and a simple vinaigrette (I didn’t use the bacon drippings to make a proper spinach salad dressing because, well, I had already eaten bacon for breakfast and enough is enough). Dressing (there will be leftovers): whisk together one teaspoon dijon mustard (or more depending on your preference), about a quarter cup red wine vinegar, a pinch of kosher salt and cracked black pepper then whisk in about half a cup (or less depending on how vinegary you like your dressing) extra virgin olive oil. I don’t measure when I make dressing–you can always add more of something to balance it out if needed.
Quick Kale Caesar Salad
Wash and dry the kale, remove the hard ribs, then chop into thin strips, almost like you’re shredding it. Toss with a quick Caesar dressing (or a more elaborate one if you have time) and anything else you have around–grilled chicken, homemade croutons, roasted squash, apples, whatever. My dressing, which served one: whisk together about half a chopped garlic clove (fine), freshly grated parmesan cheese (I used about an eighth of a cup because it’s all I had), juice from half a small lemon, a pinch of Kosher salt, cracked black pepper and about an eighth of a cup of extra virgin olive oil. I topped with a few shaves of the remaining parm which, PS, is quite possibly my favorite thing in the world.
Happy eating, happy holidays, happy weekend, happy spring!
March 27th, 2013
Back in October, Nick and I took a four-night trip to Sonoma, California for some wine tasting, relaxation and, quite honestly, much-needed time away from our beloved children. I wrote about the mini vacay for the March issue of Parenting (check out that story here), but I didn’t get to share pictures or too many nitty-gritty travel details and I think that’s important to showing people just how doable/important/fun something like this is. And so…
We spent our first day at SIMI Winery, which makes some of our favorite California wines (full disclosure: I buy the chard by the case). We got to meet the winemakers, Susan Lueker and Megan Schofield, who both happen to be super-cool women, which was a huge highlight for me (kinda like if Alex and Nora got to meet Twist and Marina—which, bummer for them, will never happen because I can’t stand The Fresh Beat Band). I’d arranged a tour with a wine educator, who gave us the history of the winery and the region and so many fascinating morsels of info about the process of making wine. I now know what brix are (the level of sugar in the grape) and that the rubber stopper that goes into the hole of an oak barrel is called a bung (yes, we giggled). Another reason I’m so in love with Simi: They had the first female head winemaker in the United States back in the early 1900s when 18-year-old Isabelle Simi took over after her father Giuseppe and Uncle Pietro died in the flu epidemic (she ran the winery successfully until 1970 when she sold it—but kept working in the tasting room as a greeter until she was in her late 80s). Perhaps the most practical bit of wisdom: Simi is pronounced “See Me,” which means we’d been saying it wrong for years. Whoops! Having a preplanned “activity” like this gave our trip a little structure, which I liked (you can take the girl out of her routine but….). And don’t they say you’re supposed to learn something new together to keep things alive in your marriage? Or is it that you’re supposed to drink a lot of wine? Either way we were covered.
We also met up with our friends, Jamie Kutch and Kristen Green, who left Wall Street to start their own wine label and now put out the delicious and high-end Kutch pinot noir (read that incredible story here and learn about Kutch wines here). We dined with them at Fremont Diner, which is super laid back (we brought our own wine—Kutch, naturally—and drank it out of little mason-jar type glasses with our local ribs and pork butt). Yum. Here are some of the photo highlights (warning: they all involve food and wine).
Having a few days to really soak each other in without the ticking clock of a sitter was truly rejuvenating. I mean it’s not like we morphed into some sickening Kay Jewelers version of ourselves or anything. In fact at one point when we were crossing the street in the adorable town of Healdsburg, we grabbed each other’s hands as we sometimes do (not because we’re romantic but because Nick thinks I don’t pay enough attention and will get killed), and we kept walking hand in hand…for about five paces until we looked at each other and simultaneously said, “eh, let’s not.” We were still us, just the version of us we don’t always get to be when there are lunches to be made and deadlines to be met and Dora the Explorer toothpaste to get out just-washed and blown dried hair. We ate, we drank, we talked, we laughed. It was awesome. On the last day we drove down the coast and stopped for lunch on Tomales Bay at a place called Nick’s Cove, where I could eat every meal for my remaining days on earth. I’m still dreaming about the BBQ’d oysters and the just-picked local peppers with fried cilantro. Salivating! Then we stopped in Sausalito (beautiful!) before reluctantly hitting SFO. It had been six years since we’d gotten away just for us without any obligation on the other end (a wedding, a work conference, etc) and it came at the perfect time. As you know by now, we’ve always made our marriage a priority—if Nick and I don’t work, none of it works—and this trip boosted our healthy-relationship points for sure. And for foodies and wineies (winos?) Sonoma was the perfect spot to be. Gorgeous, laid back, fun and way cheaper than couples counseling. I couldn’t recommend it more. And I can’t wait to go back! When was the last time you got away sans kids? Have a trip on the calendar? Even a night away can work wonders. Here are my road-tested tips for maximizing whatever time it is you find to get away:
- Have a wheels-up kid-talk rule. You don’t want to spend too much time talking about the minutiae of raising children (talk about how cute they are, sure, but not whether you should get her in dance this year or how to handle the bus driver’s birthday gift). Get it all out of your system en route to the airport/train station. Once you’re in the air, try to catch yourself if you feel a parenting comment coming on. Part of the point of the trip is to remind yourselves that you’re more than just parents. Talking about something other than child rearing is a good way to do that!
- Don’t bring a book. Well, bring a book for the airplane maybe (remember, there is no kid-wrangling to occupy your time) but not a good one. You don’t want to spend the trip with your nose in, say, Gone Girl, which I was so obsessed with on our family vacation last summer that I actually read it for an hour in the car while ignoring my nausea and my wild children in the backseat. For a couple’s getaway, stick to magazines and non page-turners.
- Rest up before your trip. It will be tempting to spend much of the getaway getting caught up on sleep, particularly if you’re staying in a hotel with one of those featherbeds (heaven!). But unless you’re in bed not sleeping, don’t waste too much time in there. Get up and out, explore, adventure, laugh—or just go sit somewhere together and drink wine as we did most days.
- Agree to not worry about the kids. Check in once a day or whatever works for you but in between that, don’t allow your mind to wander home. An important step to enabling this to happen: Leave them with someone you trust implicitly (my MIL flew in for us) and stock the house with plenty of instructions, food, entertainment and bribes (in our case, Rio and Gnomeo and Juliet). Then let it go.
- Don’t forget to snack up. You know how with kids you always travel with a stash of chips and cheese sticks and granola bars? Well, parents can have low blood sugar moments, too. On our way to Sonoma from the airport, Nick and I were starving and snackless and had to make a late-night emergency stop at an In and Out Burger (which is a bit of misnomer since it took 40 minutes to get said burger) to prevent meltdowns. Man, was that tasty.
- Pack a GPS. Or at least download a navigation app. Nothing will undermine your bonding experience more than a where-the-$^#!-are-we? why-did-you-tell-me-to-go-this-way? episode. Trust me on this one.
- Get some mileage out of it. I surprised Nick with the trip a few days before we left as a big birthday present (the ticket was tucked into a Patagonia fleece that he had both picked out and paid for himself). We are not big on creative gift giving (see Patagonia fleece) so it was a big thrill to do this. And the fact that I’d already booked everything meant he couldn’t say no to the trip.
- Be prepared to go with the flow. Just because kids aren’t onboard doesn’t mean there won’t be bumps in the road-trip. We had to end our fab getaway a day early to fly home before Superstorm Sandy but we didn’t let it ruin the fun we still had left to have. Well, I did whine a lot but in retrospect I’m glad we got home to prepare since it turned out we lost power, heat and phones for two whole weeks. Thankfully, we had our wine. Lots and lots of wine.
March 20th, 2013
Did you know that the cows, chicken and pigs we eat are routinely given our antibiotics to help them grow faster and to compensate for unsanitary conditions? Before you hit the supermarket, read this post. I promise I’m not being alarmist and there is something you can do!
Last week, U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY) introduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2013 (PAMTA). Under the bill, eight classes of antibiotics critical for curing infections in humans would be available for use on industrial farms only to treat sick animals. I spoke with Representative Slaughter (a super-cool woman and the only microbiologist in Congress) while I was reporting my antibiotic story for REDBOOK and I learned all about the antibiotic crisis we are facing—both in human medicine and in agriculture. Since I did so much reporting that ultimately got cut (that’s how it works in magazines), I thought I’d share some of the farm story here. Because it’s fascinating/appalling/enraging and because there’s something we as consumers and humans can do. The news of this bill being introduced is huge and I want to do whatever I can to help it gain momentum and get passed. Because, well, when it comes down to it superbugs scare the shit out of me (read about my ordeal with MRSA) and I would really, really like antibiotics to stick around and keep working. Call me crazy.
So here’s the back story: According to nearly every respectable medical agency out there, there is a definitive link between the use of antibiotics in food animal production and the crisis of drug-resistant infections in humans. Every time we use an antibiotic—correctly or incorrectly—we chip away at its efficacy because the bacteria are given the chance to adapt and outsmart the medicine. They develop and share resistance so the next time the bacteria see the antibiotic, they’re not as susceptible. Meanwhile, all those resistant bacteria—which can be more virulent—are passed around the community. Each year, antibiotic-resistant infections are responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and up to $26 billion in extra health care costs. Crazy, right? How about this: The FDA recently reported record-high sales of antibiotics for use on industrial farms in 2011 (29.9 million pounds); over 70 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States were intended for food animals.
“If animals get sick with something antibiotics can fix, we should treat them,” says Gail Hansen, DVM, a D.C-based public health advocate who works with the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, a non-profit effort to save antibiotics. “What doesn’t compute is feeding them to animals just to get them to grow faster—to get chickens to market in 45 days instead of 49, for example—or to compensate for overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.” But that’s exactly what’s happening on our farms. In many cases the animals haven’t even been exposed to disease, they’re just given antibiotics as a preventative measure (on factory farms, chickens ingest small doses of antibiotics in their feed every day). “This would be like if your kids were going to daycare and you said ‘let’s give them some antibiotics just in case,’” says Hansen, who served as the chief epidemiologist and public health veterinarian for the state of Kansas for 12 years. “We would never conceive of that for people but it’s done routinely for animals.” And because these doses are so low, they do not kill the bacteria. Instead, they create the perfect environment for antibiotic-resistant bacteria to proliferate, bacteria that are then passed to humans in a number of unsavory ways.
When you think superbug, MRSA probably comes to mind but there are many more out there. There’s even a resistant strain of e-coli causing hard-to-treat urinary tract infections. And when a UTI isn’t stopped by an antibiotic it can progress to a kidney infection and then to a blood infection, says Lance Price, Ph.D., a microbiologist and professor at The George Washington University who studies the sources and spread of antibiotic resistant bacterial diseases. Price and his colleagues traced the resistant bacteria back to poultry farms. “We noticed there were “outbreaks” of the resistant UTIs, much like you’d see with e-coli on ground turkey or spinach,” he says. “And we were able to link them back to resistant e-coli found in poultry.” (They believe women are getting the bacteria into their systems from either handling or eating infected meat.) I’m sorry, but that one just skeeves me out. Ick. “Why are we still doing this? I have no idea. I think it’s literally insane,” says Price. More insanity: Unlike with human medicine, most antibiotics on the farm are OTC—if a farmer wants to use them to speed up the growth of his animals or to prevent illness from the jam-packed, stressful conditions, he doesn’t need a prescription or a veterinarian, he just picks up the drugs at the feed store. Still, no one is doing anything illegal. These uses are FDA approved. But, says Hansen, they were OK’d 60 years ago when the only concern was that the antibiotics not be in the meat (producers are supposed to stop feeding antibiotics to animals at a certain point before they’re killed to give them time to excrete out all the antibiotics in their system). “That was long before anyone had a clue what it might be doing to the community of bacteria as a whole—and what it meant for human health.”
But a lot of these farmers don’t even know they’re using antibiotics. “95 percent of the meat we get in this country has been contracted out by large food production companies,” says Hansen. That means cows may be raised on a family farm but a big company (think Tyson or Perdue) is dictating what and how they’re fed. In many cases, the antibiotics are already mixed into the feed that comes from the larger companies. “Even if the farmer knows about the antibiotics, he or she doesn’t have a choice,” says Hansen. “If they tell the contractor they’re not going to give the animals their feed, they won’t have a contract anymore.” One of the reasons the industry will give in defense of this practice is the need to raise more product for less money to keep up with demand. But, says Hansen, there are ways to do that without antibiotics. “In the European Union non-therapeutic use of antibiotics is banned and they are raising animals just as intensively and just as efficiently as we are in this country,” she says. It would mean a little more space for the animals, better air circulation, possibly a different feed, watching them closely and keeping their premises clean and dry. (For pigs, specifically, it may mean weaning them from their mother’s milk a little later in life.) “I don’t want to negate the fact that there will be a cost to the farmer,” says Hansen. “Farmers work on very thin margins. We get that. But the increase in cost isn’t huge, particularly if the farmers pass it on the consumer, as they should.” The most recent data from the National Research Council suggests that it would cost a family of four between $4 and $10 more per year to have animals that were grown without the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics. That’s nothing compared to the endless antibiotic co-pays if you get a resistant bug. Trust me.
So why is it such a tough sell? Companies—and farmers—have been doing it like this for 50 or 60 years. “It’s hard to tell them, ‘Oops, this is no longer a good idea,’” says Hansen. The FDA has tried to place regulations on antibiotic use on farms over the years but they are continuously thwarted by Congress. “The science is strong but the agriculture lobby is stronger,” says says Margaret Mellon, a senior scientist with the Food & Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Folks in agriculture are not going to be told they cannot use drugs that they’ve used for years as part of their operation.” And they have the power to block legislation, even legislation that’s supported by almost every major medical organization out there. But now with PAMTA making its way around Congress, there is something we can do. Something you can do. Write to your members of Congress and ask them to co-sponsor the bill. Pew has an action alert that makes it easy. Take a look. Hansen has heard farmers and industry insiders say that consumers aren’t asking for it so why should they change what they’re doing. “Consumers aren’t asking for it because they don’t know it’s an issue they should be concerned about!” she says. “Most people have no idea how much antibiotics are used in our food animals. Unless you grew up on a farm or work on one now, why would you know that?” Well, now you know.
For more on what you can do as a consumer (e.g. only buying meat that says “raised without antibiotics” or getting your grocer to stock more options) check out Pew’s Campaign.
For more on human misuse of antibiotics (because we’re certainly not innocent here!), read my REDBOOK piece Antibiotics Are Not Candy.
I realize this isn’t my usual light and lively blog post but I am absolutely obsessed with this topic and really wanted to share everything I’ve learned. Let me know if you have any questions!
March 12th, 2013
See the giant poster board in the photo? That’s what I did today instead of working. And I’m still not finished. It was a task given to me by my son’s school’s PTA and one I took seriously. Because I don’t know any other way to take tasks I’m given, especially by other moms (who may potentially judge me). In the PTA info meeting back in September, I volunteered for “Teddy Bear Clinic”—it’s an assembly where the kindergarteners take teddy bears to different stations to learn about health and safety. Cute, right? Other moms said it was a good one to volunteer for because it involves interaction with our kids. Last week was the pre-event meeting and we perused all the stations and their corresponding materials. I immediately volunteered for water safety—I was a lifeguard, I’m a boater and pool/beach safety is a passion of mine (i.e., kids + bodies of water scare the shit out of me and I basically spend May through September having drowning nightmares), so I felt like I could talk about all of it with some authority. Anyway, the old poster board was a bit outdated and dilapidated and the PTA leader woman asked if the other station volunteer (a dad) or I felt compelled to re-do the poster or if we just wanted to leave it. Again, I immediately volunteered (after asking the dad if he minded, which he didn’t). First, the poster needed help in a major way. Second, if I’m expected to give a presentation, I want to be the one preparing the materials because, well, I’m anal like that. If I’m involved in something I want that something to be good. (Full disclosure: I want it to be great.) Even if it’s for a bunch of five-year-olds.
Fast forward to today. Nick came home for lunch and saw me down in my office not typing away on my deadline but covered in glue with bits of paper everywhere wielding a giant paper-cutter (I ran to my parents’ to borrow theirs—nothing I hate more than uneven edges). I had already spent $30 on supplies last week (the little scrapbooking beachy/boaty stickers I couldn’t resist) and reworked the text to include sun safety, first aid and biking (over the years, those were added to the water safety station to save time—lucky me!). I had to hold myself back at every turn from going seriously overboard. For example, the construction paper I used to mount the safety tips is probably from the 90s (I found it in my parents’ basement) and it’s faded. And I used it anyway. Also, you may notice there are no biking stickers. This is because they didn’t have any at Michael’s and I told myself I was not allowed to go searching for biking stickers. And yet…I’m still tempted. I did make sure there were no widows on any of the tips (that’s when one word spills over to its own line and makes everything look off–like in the paragraph above), which brought me back to my days at Glamour when we’d be shipping a piece and I’d be sitting in the production department trying to figure out how to say “he just wasn’t my type” in one word instead of five (the answer: “next!”). And I made the language a little more playful while still sounding life-or-death serious, which is not an easy feat. The writer in me wanted to call my CDC contacts for quotes, I kid you not, but the I-don’t-have-time-for-this mom in me thought better of it. I’m not gonna lie, it’s been fun to do this and I’m happy with the result (if you find a mistake, don’t tell me—I can’t handle that!), but man what a time suck. I think I am way too much of a perfectionist for projects like this. Or maybe I just like to waste time (ding! ding! ding!) and so I took what should have been a couple hours of printing and pasting and turned it into a day-long song and dance. Also, I could have assembled the poster last night instead of lying in bed watching three episodes of House of Lies (still can’t tell if I love that show or hate it—stay tuned), but, as a freelance writer who works from home without anyone monitoring my productivity, I have the ability to occasionally do non-work things during the day. And today was that day in a major way. I literally spent an hour just deciding which “kid with sunscreen” image to use (see “likes to waste time,” above). Unfortunately making this poster isn’t going to pay the mortgage if you know what I mean. And mama has deadlines. I worry that my all-in, color-coordinated, gotta-be-perfect attitude is a little dangerous considering my kid is only in kindergarten. What happens when he asks me to help him on a school project for credit? Ack! Which is why I don’t think I should volunteer to do something like this for a while. Or maybe ever. Unless they ask. And then I can’t say no. (I’m a lethal combo for the PTA, huh?). So, are you in the PTA? Do you ever volunteer for your kid’s class? Are you tempted to go overboard? Do you? Is not going overboard even acceptable in the PTA? This is my first real foray so I’ll let you know how it plays out! In the meantime, I’m off to find some bike stickers!