My Fibromyalgia Story

I feel honored and lucky to have been asked to share my fibromyalgia story over on Julie Ryan’s blog. She, too, is a fellow fibro warrior and an advocate for those who also live with chronic illness. I haven’t taken the time before now to share my entire story of how I came to a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. My hope is that my story will help someone else who is now in the position that I was once in: knowing something is wrong with my body, but not being able to name it. I believe that as more stories are shared, fibromyalgia will become less nebulous and individuals will be able to better advocate for themselves with doctors so they may get a correct diagnosis.

The Lightning Strike


That’s how suddenly my headache hit. Like a lightning strike to the right side of my head, it was sharp and insistent as it cleaved my brain. I grabbed my head and groaned. Then, as suddenly as the pain came, it vanished. Unfortunately, it left a trace of it having been there: numbness on the left side of my head and face. My left arm also didn’t feel right. While I still had control of my muscles, it didn’t feel like they were responding normally. If I scrunched up the left side of my face, it seemed to take forever for the muscles to relax once I had released them. The best way I could describe the feeling is if you stretch out silly putty, it will not snap back into a lump like a rubber band once you let go. Rather, it slowly re-forms with some resistance.
Obviously alarmed by what was happening to me, I called my doctor’s office to see if I should come in. I was advised to go straight to the emergency room. I asked a coworker to drive me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t leave the office without minimal drama because: 1) Word always traveled faster than gasoline on fire when something was going on in that place, and 2) I couldn’t walk without the help of co-workers and the wall because of how woozy I felt. After a few hours in the ER I came away with a big shrug and an order to follow up with my doctor.

Well, we know what it’s not

Thus began months of trying to figure out what was happening to me. I continued to have sharp headaches and facial numbness. On top of that, my limbs always seemed to be on fire. My primary care doctor was concerned about MS and blood clots. As a precaution against blood clots, he had me stop taking my birth control pills. Once the blood work came back normal, I was referred to a neurologist. The neurologist sent me for an MRI which, after having to badger the office for the results, came back normal. I was unhappy with this doctor’s unresponsiveness, so I moved on to a new one. He sent me for another MRI. This one was more thorough, to include other places on my spine and contrast.
A word about MRI’s: I never considered myself to be claustrophobic. That was, until, I had an MRI. I was inserted into a tube with very little room around me. It felt like it was about to be sent into cryostasis. The process seems to go on forever. And holy fuck, is it loud! Fortunately, I was given headphones with music and there was a mirror strategically placed so I could see my feet and out of the chamber. So my only real problem was feeling the need to pee really bad. I was stuck, so of course I had to pee.
The second MRI wasn’t quite as……pleasant? I had had more blood work done recently, so I had a massive bruise on my right hand. My veins like to play hide and seek with nurses and phlebotomists. More often than not, they end up needing to draw from the back of my hand. The nurse trying to find a vein for the contrast on the day of the second MRI also had a problem tapping a vein. She tried and dug around in the crook of both arms and failed. So she did the only thing that made sense; she beat the shit out of the hand with the massive, very visible and painful bruise to get the vein to show up. That vein was tapped. This time I had neither headphones nor a mirror. Panic settled in my chest and my hand held the panic button tightly. I made it through without pressing the button, but it was a horrible 45 minutes. The icing on the shit cake that was that day? It was Mike’s birthday. While I had my MRI, he watched the memorial service for the victims of the massacre that had taken place at our alma mater, Virginia Tech.

I had looked at the comments on my copy of the MRI cd before I had my follow up appointment with the neurologist. I knew my results were normal. I felt depressed and defeated, not knowing what was hurting my body. I tried to explain this to the neurologist when he expressed surprise at my disappointment. That’s when he cut me off and yelled at me. He yelled that there were plenty of people out in his waiting room who were sick and wished they weren’t. With a heavy amount of disdain, he wrote an order to be tested for Lyme’s Disease and left. After that and all my experiences leading up to it, I was super excited and ran right out to have more blood work done so I could get back in the neurologist’s office faster and have more interaction with him!

Yeah……no. I gave up.

At that point, the symptoms had seemed to subside. So I let it go. We wondered if it was my birth control that had caused all of this. A few months later I had a miscarriage. I decided to try birth control again. My symptoms came back almost immediately. That settled it for us. No more birth control. The next July, we welcomed Rachael into our family.

It’s baaaaaaa-aaaaaaaaack

In January of 2012, I started having burning pins and needles in my head and limbs again. While I had had some fleeting episodes in the intervening years, (including a three week episode of debilitating back pain) this was the first time since the initial onset of symptoms that they were consistent and lasting. After a few months, back to my primary care doctor I went. This time I happened to see the head of the practice. She took me seriously and offered a few suggestions as to what could be happening. I had more blood work done, to include the test for Lyme’s. Once again, all normal. She gave me two options: a nerve conductivity study with a neurologist or taking Neurontin to make the pain stop. Having no desire to go through more dead end testing, I chose the drugs. I asked her if it was something I could take as needed, since my symptoms weren’t happening every day. She said yes. And then I did what most people do these days, I looked it up on the interwebs. Things like don’t suddenly stop taking Neurontin and could cause sudden, violent death did not make that option sound appealing. So I turned to chiropractic.

Sniffin’ on lemons and spittin’ in vials

“We believe the body heals itself. Do you believe that?”

Um, way to put me on the spot. They’re both looking at me. What am I supposed to say? Sure, tell that to anyone who’s died of cancer? Of course the body doesn’t always heal itself. Shit. It’s the voodoo I was afraid of. What do I say? What do I say?
“Um, no? Not for everything. I mean, maybe for some things. But not for…um….I don’t know. I’m open?”

This was my second visit to the chiropractor. In my first visit, I gave my history, had X-rays taken, and was told I needed to break up with Diet Coke. He believed it was possible I had aspartame poisoning which could, in part, cause the neurological symptoms I was having. At that point, I was so fatigued that I was averaging 4-5 12 ounce cans per day.
The X-rays showed that that my spine right at my neck was slightly out of alignment, so I was to start with two sessions per week. The chiro also agreed with my suspicion that it was hormones causing my neurological symptoms and wanted to do a month long test of my hormones. This involved a month long of spitting into little vials and freezing them. He explained that since a blood test is only a spot check of your hormones, submitting a month long sample would give a more accurate picture. (My OB/GYN said hormones wouldn’t cause these symptoms, but I was still suspicious as they seemed to spring up again around the time that I started having irregular spotting and bad cramping in between periods. That whole set of mess led to a diagnosis of adenomyosis.) You guys, you have no idea how hard it is to spit when it’s on command. Apparently sniffing lemons will help you salivate. So many a night there I was, parked on our couch, deeply inhaling over half a lemon and subsequently spitting.
As the weeks progressed, things did not getting better with the soreness I had come to experience in my neck and hips. In fact, in began feeling worse after sessions. In the evenings I walked around our house like a marionette because of pain in my hips. And then one day I was introduced to, dunh dunh duuuuuuuuunh, the Table of Torture. Supposedly it was a massage table. Supposedly for others, it’s five or more minutes in paradise. For me, it was pure agony. Rollers undulated up and down my back. It was tolerable, albeit still uncomfortable, in the middle of my back. But once it hit my lower back/top of my toush and my shoulder blades/neck, it felt like I had sharp boulders under me. When I said how awful it had been when my time was up, the assistant was genuinely shocked. It had been on the lowest and easiest possible setting.

I have a diagnosis

Not long after the Table of Torture, I stopped going to the chiropractor. I had been trying to stick it out, but the pain was getting to be too much. In addition, it took about an hour of travel each way and I had both girls in tow for each appointment. The stress of it all became too much for me. At the beginning of June 2012, I had a D & C to remove excess uterine lining that wasn’t expelled because of my adenomyosis. I thought that after surgery I was feeling better. That, however, was short lived. It was getting harder to participate in aerobics. The workout seemed to exacerbate my symptoms. It was also really painful in my lower back/butt to do sit ups or any kind of crunches. I couldn’t place my weights on my shoulders because of how tender they were. I noticed this at other times, too. Carrying in heavy grocery bags was murder on my shoulders and in the crooks of my arms. It was awful when I rocked Zoë to sleep at night. (And plenty of times it was all night. There was so much night waking, screaming bloody murder, and refusals to go sleep back in her bed. And, of course, more often than not, no one but mommy would do. More nights than I care to remember, I slept in our rocking chair because it’s the only place any of us could get some sleep.) I could barely play with Rachael and Zoë anymore because of how much it hurt when they climbed on me. And if I was on the floor with them, then they were climbing on me. I knew how bad it was getting when Rachael kissed me hard on the cheek one night and it made me scream in pain.

As August came to a close, I knew I needed to go back to the doctor. I was withdrawing from my family. I barely paid attention to my girls during the day. I lost patience so easily. I felt I was constantly screaming at them. I felt so exhausted all day, every day. The pain was becoming intolerable. After Mike had to work from home two days in one week to take care of the girls and me, I called the doctor. The doctor I had seen before had me see a different doctor. I hobbled in for my appointment that day, hardly able to look up. I had both girls with me, which made focusing extra difficult. When the doctor came in, I begged. I begged for help. I cried over how much pain I was in and how I just wanted it to stop. I said that I suspected fibromyalgia, that it all seemed to fit. Then my doctor said the words that I was dreading: How do you feel about going in for an MRI and evaluation with a neurologist and then reevaluating? I said no. I told her I had already been through two MRIs and they found nothing. I told her I had no interest in going through that again. She hadn’t realized I’d already had MRIs done. (Read the history. Come on.) But at least something different was happening in this appointment. This doctor who didn’t look much older than I listened to me. Not only had she asked how I felt about the MRI, she understood why I had no interest in repeating those steps. As she sat there, really looking at me in the eye, she asked me if I felt depressed and anxious. Well, yeah, I said matter of factly. Of course I was depressed and anxious. Starting to feel pain and knowing that it means I’ll be on the couch for the rest of the day with no means of alleviating it is depressing and anxiety-producing. My doctor was unwilling to call it fibromyalgia right away. First she wanted to see how I responded to medication. She explained that if I’m labeled with fibromyalgia, then doctors tend to be dismissive of other problems you may be having, simply chalking it up to fibro.

Where am I now?

I now have a rheumatologist to help me manage the fibro, while my primary care doctor manages my depression/anxiety. My cocktail of medications prevents me from having cocktails. Why they made medicine that prevents you from drinking when stress is a primary trigger for flares is beyond me. All of us are still getting used to this new normal. Mike has to remind himself that there are just some things I can’t handle anymore. It’s not a matter of sucking it up. While Zoë is old enough to understand pain and asks me if I’m okay, she can’t begin to comprehend that this illness is chronic. Rachael, on some level, understands that this is a chronic illness, but doesn’t really get how this affects me every day. She is frequently upset with me for not being able to handle having someone over to play after school. In one moment she’ll be the epitome of the oldest child, helping and caring. Quite often, she’ll offer to help me walk, (which is just holding my hand as we walk.) In the next, she’ll hang off of my neck in her hug or jump on me in a burst of exuberance. In the next, she’ll be whining and pitching a fit over why we can’t do this, that, or the other, not understanding that I’m not choosing to ruin her day by laying on the couch. Even I have to remind myself some days that I am sick. I wonder to myself why I’m so exhausted. Then it’s like, Oh yeah. Fibro. I have to force myself to pace myself and not overdo it. I have to force myself to forgive myself when the house is falling apart from a lack of clean dishes, laundry, and bathrooms. I have to ask for help. I have to fight back the notion that this isn’t real and that I’m over exaggerating; I have to fight back the thought that I’m just lazy or a hypochondriac, like my grandmother.

It’s not easy. Some days are better than others. Some days I get to experience a fresh new hell. Yesterday I spent the day with chest and back pain that made me worry about having a cardiac episode. Fortunately, I had seen on Twitter about costcochondritis, whose name makes me feel like it should come at a bulk discount and cheese samples.

Days like yesterday send me into fits of tears, but on the whole I try to stay positive and not let this define me. I’m not fibromyalgia woman. I’m Julie. I get stupidly excited over finding the right pattern of chevron for my friend’s baby shower. I’m Julie. I adore sweets like a Pooh Bear, but will also growl at you like a dog if you try to take away a good steak. I’m Julie. I’m a post-evangelical agnostic whose politics lean left of center. I’m Julie. I will correct you if you quote Star Wars incorrectly. I’m Julie. A gorgeous pair of shoes will make me say, Hello lover, like Carrie Bradshaw. I’m Julie. I’m a sarcastic introvert who screams at the tv when the Hokies are epically failing and they need to break the other running back’s knees. I’m Julie. I like tabletop gaming and am a terrible loser. I’m Julie. If I believe you to be a douche canoe, I will not be able to help antagonizing you so that you come down a peg or two. I’m Julie. I have never learned the girly art of tact and have therefore offended a lot of people accidentally. I’m Julie. The words I say when I offend those people usually end up haunting me for years. I’m Julie. I’m a college educated wife and mother of two wonderful girls, who I hope grow up to pursue what they love and kick ass while doing it. Oh yeah. And I live with fibromyalgia.

The Whole Me

Yesterday, I read this blog post by conservative evangelical blogger, Matt Walsh. It showed up in my Facebook feed because a friend liked it. Typically, I pass over his stuff because I think he’s full of hot air. But last night, I bit the click bait. The sentence to draw people in?

“How are participation trophies and divorces linked?”

I’d like to say that my reaction was of one, Sheila Broflovski, saying, WHA WHA WHAAAAAAAAT? In reality, I had already read enough of his blog to know that I was in for a long, rambly, unnecessarily angry post. He tends to substitute facts, reality, and substance with broad generalizations and trying to convince you of his “absolute truth” by grabbing you by the shoulders and shaking you while screaming, I’m right because REASONS!

This post argued insisted that undeserved praise was the root of people being whiny, narcissistic bitches. (Pause for irony.) He sets up a false dichotomy; receiving participation trophies when you clearly suck with either: 1) Make you feel worse about yourself because you know you suck and deserve nothing, or 2) Turn you into a self-absorbed asshole.

“If a severely impoverished child wore a burlap sack to school, he would be utterly humiliated if his teacher, with all good intentions, decided to award him the honor of “best dressed.” That’s how many kids feel when their mediocrity is put on a pedestal and treated like it’s something exceptional. They aren’t fooled, as much as they’d like to be.”

Outcome 2, he conjectures, is clearly the reason the divorce rate is so high. (Nevermind the people who, on the whole, no longer feel compelled to stay in dysfunctional or abusive marriages because of the church, society, or inheritance laws that favor men.)

As evidence of this self-important sickness, he offers an abridged Marilyn Monroe quotation that has made the rounds on social media.

“If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.”

He then puts it in the context of the full quotation and rails against it and anyone who embraces it. In doing so, he completely misses the forest through the trees. He misses the intent, especially of those who embrace the abridged quotation.

“I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”

So often, society demands perfection, inside and out. The flawed need not apply. Too many people want no part of the baggage another person is carrying. Seriously, if you want to see someone back away slowly and wide-eyed, tell them how you’re really doing when they ask. And if you have mental health issues? They will suddenly need to go because they need to walk their plants and left their cat on in the oven.
The intent of the original quotation, and I’m sure any number of people who have posted it, is not what Walsh suggests. In an epic leap of thinly veiled misogyny, (“…and it stretches beyond one offensive quote from a 20th century Playboy Bunny”) Walsh insists that by claiming such a quotation, one is getting in the world’s face saying, I’m a horrible person. Deal with it or fuck off! Perhaps that’s true for some people, (and anyone who’s had five minutes of a psychology class could tell you there’s more going on there than undeserved trophies) but not so for all….and probably not so for Ms. Monroe.

The key word is “me”. If you can’t handle me. The implication is that there is a whole person. A person is not a set of flaws, nor are they only untouched perfection. A person is all of those things. To be in a relationship with someone, be it friendship, familial, or romantic, means that you are not compartmentalizing that person. You are in it for the whole person, the “me”. Nowhere does it suggest that the other person shouldn’t challenge the “me” to grow, to work through and transcend those flaws. What it does say is that the “me” wants no part in a relationship with someone who is only around when things are good and uncomplicated.

Walsh concludes his post by saying, “The only ‘participation trophy’ you’re awarded from life is death.” In the end, if you’re what he would call an awful human being and don’t earn anything, then you deserve nothing. I guess it’s a good thing Jesus doesn’t see it that way.

Let the Gender Stereotypes……..Begin!

Image credit

Rachael loves dinosaurs. No, not, The Land Before Time that’s a longneck…and that’s a three-horn…and they eat tree stars kind of love. We’re talking a brachiosaurus is a sauropod, quadruped, herbivore, which lived in the Jurassic time period kind of love. I just asked Rachael to confirm for me that a T Rex is a theropod. She can also name a dinosaur for each letter of the alphabet and will correct your mispronunciations of each species.
Thanks, Dinosaur Train! High 2!

So you can imagine my shock when she declared that she didn’t want to read The Magic Treehouse: Dinosaurs Before Dark. Moreover, I was horrified when she gave her reason for not wanting to read it: It’s a boy’s book.

Now, we are a household of princesses, fairies, and dress up. We are also a household of Legos, gaming, and outer space, (real and both Star Trek and Wars.) All of these are things in which Rachael has expressed interest. Never have we labeled things as “boy” or “girl” toys/interests. We have never discouraged her from something because of her sex. Hell, I even tried to get her to be Iron Man for Halloween because she thinks Marvel superheroes are cool. (She ended up choosing Rapunzel.) So where was the labeling coming from?


(For the full effect, i.e. how I hear it said in my brain, say it in a German accent and like a hero has just discovered that the villain behind the jewel heist is his arch nemesis.)

She was learning this drivel from fellow classmates. Thanks, public school!

This was confirmed for me at a classmate’s, (and her twin brother’s) joint birthday party. Blue and pink sunglasses were laid out on the party table as favors. (Rachael chose blue.) Blue and pink cupcakes were distributed. A boy received a pink frosted cupcake. That’s when the teasing began. One of Rachael’s male classmates, (we’ll call him Rambarzenegger Van Damme) started jeering at the other boy, saying he had a girls’ color cupcake. The boy with the clearly effeminate cupcake didn’t seem to notice or care about RVD’s taunts. So RVD changed his focus to a girl with a blue frosted cupcake. Two guesses as to which gender he believed blue to belong. The girl did notice RVD’s taunts, but did not respond. With a slightly fallen face and crouched shoulders, she continued to eat her cupcake. So I did what any other parent would do; I antagonized a 5 year old. I asked RVD why blue was a boy’s color. He looked at me, stunned. His eyes flitted back and forth as he fidgeted in his seat, desperately searching for his answer. Finally, he deflected, saying that he was busy eating. He promptly shoved his gender appropriate cupcake in his mouth.

I know most of us are participants, consciously or not, in perpetuating gender stereotypes. I certainly am guilty of decorating the girl’s rooms in pink, purple, ruffles, and butterflies. But I try not to purposefully perpetuate the stereotypes. I never want my girls to believe that there are things they can’t do, simply because they have vaginas. I don’t want them to believe lies like: they are biologically predisposed to not be as good as boys in math and science; that they can’t share in an equal partnership if they have a relationship/marriage with a man; that they are bitches if they are strong, ambitious, and stick up for themselves; that they aren’t allowed to like dinosaurs.

The night Rachael refused the dinosaur book, we talked. I explained that it made me sad that she didn’t want to read the book, because I knew how much she loved dinosaurs. I explained that there is no such thing as a boy thing or a girl thing. And, when all else failed, I told her that one of her best friends liked the book. We read the book. I “quizzed” her on boy things versus girl things. I couldn’t manage to trick her. Her answer was always “both”. I told her to never believe someone if they tell her she can’t do something because she’s a girl.
That’s when she related a story. Boys in her class, (I’m sure RVD was involved) told her she shouldn’t color with a black crayon because it’s a boy color. I asked her what she did. She said she just ignored them and continued coloring. I wasn’t surprised. She’s not confrontational, but she’s also not one to be told what to do. Quiet and stalwart, she colored with a boy color. That’s my girl.

Snow Day

Today is a stark contrast to the day we had yesterday. A mild, sunny day in the upper 50’s coaxed the girls and me out to a local farm and park. The girls peeked at peacocks, snorted at pigs, and bleated at goats. We tiptoed through muddy sludge to get a closer look at the turkeys and roosters. An adorable calf with big brown eyes came to the fence to sniff us and give a friend’s hand kisses.

Doing her best Peppa Pig impression, jumping in muddy puddles. She was in heaven!

Photo filters automatically make pictures deep and meaningful.

But that was yesterday. Today, school has been cancelled in anticipation of a bad snow storm.

* * * * * * *

That’s where I left off yesterday. I couldn’t finish the blog post because I moved my neck every so slightly and my neck and back thought it appropriate to retaliate for such a heinous infraction. Fortunately, Mike was working from home and was able to take care of me. As a consolation prize, I was able to spend the day watching two seasons of Sherlock. Holy shit is everyone in that show brilliant!

Cuteness captured before throwing out my back. They were watching the fairy snow.

Last week I visited my rheumatologist to follow up on my blood work and how the new drugs were doing. For the first time since the medical community decided to pimp vitamin D, my vitamin D levels were awesome. (It has been helpful for energy.) But after 5 million different thyroid tests, my body finally decided to show its hand a little. My levels were as low as they could possibly get and still be within normal range. So it’s possible that I’ll be adding that fun thing into the mix. We’ll know more when we re-test it in 3 months.
It would completely make sense if I did have an under active thyroid. It runs in my family. I also had a few days last week where the fatigue was so bad I couldn’t function.
And for those of you who have never experienced overpowering fatigue, try this:
Try to perform a simple task, say, brushing your hair. Ah, but first, place 20 pound sandbags on each shoulder, clamp 10 pound weights onto each wrist, stand in dry sand, and replace your legs with jelly. Go! Not your thing? Another one you might try is taking a dose of Vicodin and then try to read a book to your child without falling asleep mid sentence.
I also learned that thinning eyebrows is symptomatic of hypothyroidism, (only the descending half of each eyebrow seems to be aware of this.) Sensitivity to cold? Only when it’s below 74 degrees in the house and I’m not bundled up with socks and a blanket. (You know I’m miserably cold if I’m wearing socks. My feet like to free ball it.)
All the lovely problems I’ve had with painful periods and my uterus holding onto tissue like a fucking hoarder.
What is a symptom of hypothyroidism? ……I’ll take “Potpourri” for 500, Alex.

So we’ll see. My money is on it coming back normal again, because that’s how my body likes to play poker. It’s devilishly good at bluffing.

Easy Helping Hand Meals

Image credit

Last week I was informed by one of the other moms at Rachael’s bus stop that our neighbor down the road had just had surgery. Her three grandchildren live with her, and since she really wasn’t able to get out of bed, the kids were basically fending for themselves. I volunteered to help put together some food for the family. I have a couple of “go to” recipes that I make whenever someone has had a baby or needs help, which I thought I’d share.

Blueberry Muffins


I love this recipe because it’s so easy to make. Seriously, it’s just about as easy as a boxed mix. They’re just as delicious with or without the streusel topping. Fresh blueberries burst in your mouth with every bite of these fluffy treats. The added bonus is that they freeze and reheat easily. If you double or triple the recipe, you’ll be able to give the person(s) you’re helping breakfast for several days.


1 ½ cup flour
¾ cup sugar
½ tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
~1/3 cup milk
1 cup blueberries

Streusel topping
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp flour
2 Tbsp cold butter, cubed
¾ tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 400°. Grease or line 8 muffin wells with muffin liners.

Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Place vegetable oil into a 1 cup measuring cup; add the egg and enough milk to equal 1 cup. Mix this with flour mixture. Fold in blueberries. Pour into lined muffin cups; fill to the top.

To make streusel topping, combine listed ingredients and mix well with a fork until crumbly. Sprinkle over tops of muffins.

Bake at 400° for 20-25 minutes.

Recipe from Annie’s Eats



I perfected this cheesy goodness while in college. It’s hearty and lasts for a few days, depending on how many people are eating it. It can also be divvied up and frozen in individual servings if you want to save some for later. My favorite part is the Italian sausage in the meat mixture. The fennel and other spices in the sausage give the lasagna extra flavor and dimension. Make sure you use good marinara in this, or your lasagna will suck. (That’s the technical culinary term.) I like using a basil and garlic sauce. (I’ve even made it with homemade tomato sauce, which makes it even better!) Note: You will have extra meat sauce. You can send it along with some spaghetti noodles and extra sauce.


1 pound ground beef
1 pound mild Italian sausage (use spicy if you want an extra kick)
7 cups marinara, divided
3 cups ricotta, room temperature
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Lasagna noodles, regular or no boil, unboiled (I prefer traditional noodles)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Brown ground beef and Italian sausage over medium-high heat, crumbling with a spatula as it browns. Drain fat. Reduce heat to low and add 3 cups marinara to meat mixture, stirring to combine. Allow the mixture to heat together while assembling the lasagna.

Spread a thin layer of sauce (about 1 cup) in the bottom of a 9×13 broiler safe dish.
Place uncooked noodles on top of the sauce. (If you’re using traditional noodles, place 3 noodles horizontally and 1 vertically at one end. You will need to break the vertical noodle to fit.)
Spoon the meat and marinara mixture on top of the noodles, just enough to evenly cover the noodles, about 4 cups.
Spoon large dollops of ricotta on top of the meat mixture, spread evenly with a spatula. (If the ricotta is not room temperature, you will have difficulty spreading the ricotta.)
Place another layer of uncooked noodles on top of the ricotta.
Spoon about 3 cups marinara on top of the noodles, spreading to cover evenly with a spatula.
Sprinkle cheese on top, covering evenly.

Spray aluminum foil with non-stick cooking spray. Cover the lasagna with the foil and bake for 45 minutes.
Uncover the lasagna and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

Set broiler on high. With the rack on the second highest level, broil the lasagna for an additional 2-3 minutes to brown the cheese. Keep an eye on the lasagna to make sure you don’t over-brown the cheese.

My best thinking

I never used Twitter before I began blogging. It was a trend I didn’t see the point in. Besides, Mike always told me what Wil and Anne Wheaton tweeted anyway. But Mike peer pressured me into getting on Twitter as a means to shamelessly promote my blog.

Side note: I had a fantastic idea when I thought about peer pressure. Why are schools not using The Borg episodes of Star Trek as a means to teach about peer pressure? When you think about it, it’s pretty perfect.
“They don’t really care about you as an individual. They just want to assimilate you into their Abercrombie cologne-hazed collective conscience. …..Don’t give in to peer pressure!”

Anyway, as I was reading my Twitter feed the other night, I read a series of drunk tweets from one of my favorite bloggers, Jenny Lawson: The Bloggess. As usual, she did not disappoint and had me laughing hysterically while Mike shook his head at me. Because he’s basically dead inside. It’s the only logical explanation. Or maybe his funny was just broken.

Today, though, it made me sad. Because of the assortment of medications I’m on for my fibromyalgia, (I’m definitely going to need a medicine pantry whenever we buy our next house) I’m no longer able to drink. My ability to drunk tweet has been stolen from me.
Of course, there are other things fibro has taken from me: the ability to lose weight; the ability to not gain weight; restful sleep; my energy; my ability to be a better parent; my mental acuity; the choice of whether or not to ever have another child.
But chief among these is clearly the ability to drunk tweet. I even thought up a poem about how sad it is while I was in the shower.

How many tweets could a girl drunk tweet,
If tweeting girl could drunk tweet?

….I really do my best thinking in the shower.

Salted Chocolate Caramel Layer Cake


Last week I lamented over my choice to order layer cake for dessert when Mike and I had a date night. I believe this cake more than makes up for that dried out, caramel deficient disappointment of a cake. The cake is moist all on its own. The caramel is thick, rich, and oozy, but doesn’t make the cake overly sweet. Sprinkling sea salt on whipped chocolate ganache-like frosting adds dimension to each bite, giving the sweet cake a salty kick. The cake is heavy without being dense. And when I say heavy, I mean wielding a two-handed weapon heavy, -2 to diabetics.

The components can be made ahead, stored in the fridge, and assembled up to three days later. You’ll need to warm up the caramel a bit prior to spreading it in between the layers. I warmed mine over a pot of boiling water in a heat proof bowl for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. You will want a consistency that is spreadable enough to not rip up the cake, but not super thin and liquidy. You may also use the microwave to warm it in short 10-30 second bursts. It’s faster, but less precise.
If you made the frosting ahead of time and refrigerated it, you will need to whip it with electric beaters before frosting the cake. (Whip it good.) Let the bowl sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes, then break up the frosting with a spoon, if needed. Beat frosting until it is smooth, light, and fluffy.

Salted Chocolate Caramel Layer Cake



Unsalted butter, room temperature, for pans
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablepoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract


4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons


1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
Coarse salt
12 ounces semisweet chocolate + 4 ounces dark chocolate, melted and cooled
Garnish: sea salt


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the cake: Butter three 9-inch round cake pans and dust with flour, tapping out excess. Sift flour, granulated sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt into the bowl of a mixer. Beat on low speed until just combined. Add buttermilk, water, vanilla, and oil; beat on low until just combined. Raise speed to medium and add eggs one at a time. Beat until smooth, about 3 minutes.
Divide batter among pans. Bake until cakes are set and a toothpick inserted into the center of each comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let cool in pans set on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks and let cool completely.

Make the caramel: Combine granulated sugar, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water in a medium saucepan over high heat. Cook until mixture is dark amber, about 14 minutes. During this time, don’t stir the mixture. However, you will need to gently move and fold the mixture on the edges into the middle, allowing the mixture on the top and middle to cook evenly. It will also prevent the mixture on the bottom and side from scorching. Remove from heat, and carefully pour in cream (mixture will bubble violently); let mixture settle for a minute; stir until smooth. Return to medium-high heat and cook until a candy thermometer reaches 238 degrees, about 5 minutes. Pour caramel into a medium bowl, stir in 1 teaspoon coarse salt, and let cool slightly, about 15 minutes. Stir in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. It is easiest to fold the caramel over the butter to allow it to melt quickly. Let cool completely.

Beginning of caramelization

Not quite yet

Ready for the heavy cream


Make the frosting: Whisk together cocoa and warm water in a bowl until cocoa dissolves. Beat butter, confectioners’ sugar, and a generous pinch of coarse salt in a bowl with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in melted chocolate and then cocoa mixture. Beat frosting for a few minutes, until smooth, fluffy, and lightened in color. Let stand for 30 minutes before using.


Cut each cake in half using a large serrated knife. Except for the top layer, cut the rounded part of the other layers off, leaving a flat surface for stacking. Top each layer with 1/2 – 3/4 cup of caramel, using an offset spatula to spread the caramel toward the edges. Refrigerate until set, about 1 hour. Frost cake.

Useful to maintain even layers when cutting in half

Broken middle layer leads to hot mess

A gooey, gooey hot mess. Frosting redubbed “caramel containment mechanism”.

Also, a cake goiter.

And if you have leftover caramel….


Recipe slightly adapted from Martha Stewart

How to Fail at Breast feeding


Before I had kids, I was an expert breast feeder. I knew it usually took a couple of days for your milk to “come in”, and that any attempts by hospital staff to give a bottle would ruin your breast feeding experience forever! I knew that any parents to be who had bottles on their registry were planning to fail by allowing formula feeding to be an option. I knew anyone who failed just didn’t try hard enough. I knew Dr. Sears was right: Anyone can breast feed.

Holy fuck, was I a smug little shit.

Rachael was born exactly four weeks early. Establishing herself early on as a girl who is determined to do things her way, she busted my water and then took her sweet time before she made her grand entrance. (Exit?) And she was perfect. Even with Apgars of 8 and 9, she scared me to death because she just laid quietly on the table as nurses cleaned her off. She was busy taking everything in and looking like a baby doll.
I felt excited and ready to begin what I felt would be a beautiful and successful breast feeding experience. I put Rachael to my breast… and nothing happenend. With the help of a lot of nurses and two lactation consultants, we were able to get her latched. But Rachael just wasn’t interested. Over the course of several weeks, we tried everything: skin to skin; co-sleeping; a visit to an IBCLC; hospital-grade pump; regular home pump; swallowing fenugreek like candy; Reglan; Domperidone; a visit to the endocrinologist. Even with a super supportive husband and experienced breast feeding friends, I couldn’t get anything to work. I gave Rachael what I could for about four months, at which time she started refusing the breasts that never made enough for her.

I felt like a failure. If anyone could breast feed, then what was I doing wrong? Why was it that the more I pumped and offered by breast, the less milk I had? What was wrong with my body? All of this certainly did not help the post partum depression I was already experiencing.
Over time, as Rachael grew, healthy, smart, and strong, I came to forgive myself. I had done everything I could to give Rachael the best nutrition I could offer.

By the time Zoë came along, I was determined to try again. Maybe my experience with Rachael had been a fluke because of her early birth….or something. Zoë came 8 days past her estimated due date. She was healthy, strong, and ravenous. We both knew what we were doing. I immediately put her to my breast and she latched on and went to town. Just to be sure I was doing it all right, I took a good friend up on her offer and had her come to the hospital to help me.
But over the course of several weeks, Zoë could never get enough. It was nursing with Rachael all over again, except infinitely more painful because of the constant nursing.

While I was sad that my body had failed me once again, I refused to beat myself up this time. I had done the best I could, and anyone who wanted to give me shit for bottle feeding could suck my left tit. (They wouldn’t find much there.)

So, if you’re in the same boat and are having a hard time breast feeding, I want to give you a few tips on how to handle it.

1) Ignore the crazy boob nazis.

Realize that these angry women have nothing to do with you. They have an agenda and don’t necessarily care about you, your baby, and your story. I recently read a short blurb on Jezebel that simply asked what you were doing on New Year’s Eve. A commenter posted a picture of her baby who had just been born. Her baby was bottle feeding. She felt the need, in her post, to preemptively explain and defend the reason why her baby was bottle feeding. And it’s because of the insane women out there who don’t know you, but immediately feel the need to be an asshole to you simply because your baby is nomming on a bottle instead of your breast. Know now that no matter what you do, you’ll always be doing something “wrong”. It’s not worth your time and energy trying to please these people.

2) Accept help from your pro-breast feeding friends.

If you’re like me, you have a lot of friends who have successfully breast fed one or more babies. They’re here to help. Don’t feel the need to soldier on alone. Let them be a resource to you. Sometimes they’ll tell you stuff you already know and have tried, but they will often have good ideas. Most importantly, though, they’ve got your back. Their support, when you’re struggling, is a tremendous gift.

3) Have a plan in place prior to birth.

Breast feeding is fucking hard! Even experienced breast feeders will tell you that. (Anyone who sells you anything different, especially when you’re struggling, deserves to be throat punched.) That’s why it’s important to have a plan of action beforehand. You have a birthing plan. This is no different. It will allow you to work the problem without the added stress of not knowing what to do and who to turn to when things get hard. Have an experienced breast feeding friend available to help. Make sure your pediatrician is breast feeding friendly. Get recommendations for a good IBCLC, or look at their website to find one near you. You may even want to schedule them to come to the hospital or home, if you have a home birth. (Some insurance even covers consultations.) Have a pump ready at home or plan on renting a hospital pump, just in case. Research natural supplements and meds that increase milk production beforehand. BRING. NIPPLE. CREAM. TO. THE. HOSPITAL. HAVE. A. STOCKPILE. AT. HOME.

4) Don’t let breast feeding control you.

Breast feeding is really important, but it isn’t the end all and be all of motherhood. You are still a good mother, even if it doesn’t work out. Your sanity is much more important.

5) Know that you are NOT a failure.

It’s okay to be sad, and even to mourn, if breast feeding doesn’t work out. But know something very important:


You just grew a parasite human being inside your body and gave birth to said being. That makes you fucking amazing! You are a goddamn Wonder Woman, even if milk never spills from your breasts.

And don’t let anyone tell you or make you think otherwise.