Nursery Organization Tips

I’ve been obsessed with organizing ever since I can remember. I used to spend way more time setting up and putting away my Barbies than I did actually playing with them (I may or may not have used a small tackle box to store their shoes by color). When it came time to set up Lyla’s nursery, I wasn’t sure where to start. I had never had a baby. How was I to know where all that tiny stuff should go?! Now that I have eight months of experience under my belt (baby months are like dog years), I’m sharing my tips on how to organize your nursery storage!

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Grab and go: Many things babies need, they need urgently. Make sure those items are stored where you can grab them quickly. For example, bibs and burp cloths for spit up, blankets for tummy time, and a diaper changing station stocked with everything you need. You’ll need to be able to grab things with one hand, so avoid containers with lids or fasteners. Pictured above is our diaper changing station. The bin contains diapers, wipes, diaper cream, hand sanitizer, and lotion. The top drawer of the dresser is always stocked with an extra container of wipes, extra diapers, extra disposal bags, and clean changing pad covers.

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At a glance: Make staples easy to see so it’s obvious when you’re getting low. There’s nothing quite like realizing you just put the last diaper on your baby’s bum to strike fear into a parent’s heart. I keep our diapers, wipes, and extra changing supplies on this cart.  You can use them creatively in so many ways. They’re attractive enough to be out in plain sight, but the wheels allow you to tuck them away if needed.

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Out of sight: There will be a lot of things you need for baby eventually, but you don’t need them front and center right away. Store those items in a place that allows you access to them fairly easily, but keeps them out of sight and mind in your day to day routine. This cube storage worked perfectly for me. The top three cubes hold clothing in sizes she hasn’t grown into yet, the bottom three hold feeding supplies, bedding, and towels. Things I do need are easy to grab (like a towel for her bath each night), but infrequently used items are neatly stored away all within the same piece. I like that cube storage can grow with her needs as she gets older, and we can swap out bins as her tastes change.

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Bonus Tip: Baby things are so small! Drawer dividers or small bins will go a long way in helping you keep it all sorted. I use these in Lyla’s drawers to separate her clothing by type so I can get her dressed quickly and easily. I use tape for labels so I can switch them out as the seasons change.

Babies are constantly changing, but these storage solutions have grown with Lyla and served her ever-changing needs. I’m a firm believer that life will throw you plenty of chaos you can’t control, so you might as well organize the chaos you can control!

 

My Favorite Treat Recipes

We’ve all had delusions of domestic grandeur. I told myself when I got married that I would learn to love cooking because it’s something I’ll be doing for the rest of my life. Alas, I never quite got bit by the Betty Crocker bug. I will cook. I can cook. But I don’t love it. I do, however, love baking treats! It’s a good exercise for me. You need to follow the recipe to a tee (since baking is basically a science experiment), which appeals to my rule-loving nature. But it’s also messy and creative, which are muscles I need to work more often. Today I’m sharing my favorite easy sweet treats. As we slowly start to emerge from this quarantine, I hope that some of the slow-down will stay with us–like making time for messy kitchens and the smell of something sweet baking in the oven.

Cake Batter Fudge

Source: Baked From A Box via Pinterest

Ingredients:

1 cup Funfetti cake mix
1 cup confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, cut into small squares
1/4 cup milk

Instructions:

  1. Place cake mix in a microwave safe bowl. Add butter and milk. Do not stir.
  2. Microwave for 2 minutes. Stir immediately until combined.
  3. Spread into greased square pan. Refrigerate 1 hour to set up.

Notes: This makes just a small square pan of fudge. This would be a fun after school or weekend activity for kids because it’s so easy and quick, and it doesn’t make a huge amount so they can’t get too terribly overloaded on sugar.

Blueberry Lemon Quick Bread

Source: Kroger magazine (Come thru, Kroger!)

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/3 cup sugar

1 Tbsp lemon zest

3/4 cups milk (can use almond milk for non-dairy version)

1 egg, beaten

2 Tbsp canola oil

1 cup blueberries

For lemon glaze:

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1-2 Tbsp lemon juice

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; whisk well. Add the sugar and lemon zest/ stir.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together milk, egg, and canola oil. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir just until combined.
  3. Toss blueberries with a few pinches of flour, and gently fold them into the batter.
  4. Pour into a greased 9×5 inch loaf pan. Bake 40-50 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
  5. To make glaze, whisk together confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice until mixture is thick but pour-able.
  6. Let bread cool in pan 15 minutes, then remove from pan and place on a wire rack to continue cooling. Spoon glaze over bread in a zig-zag pattern.

Notes: This makes a great breakfast bread.

M & M Cookies

Source: Modern Honey

Ingredients:

1 cup Cold Butter (cut into cubes and microwave on high for a few seconds)
1 cup Brown Sugar
1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons Sugar
2 large Eggs
2 teaspoons Vanilla
2 3/4 cups Flour
3/4 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 bag mini M& M’s (You won’t use the whole bag, you will add them to your batter to your taste)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter, brown sugar, and sugar for 4-5 minutes until light and fluffy. Scrape the sides of the bowl halfway through to ensure even creaming.
  2. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix for 1 minute longer.
  3. Stir in flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt. Mix just until combined. Fold in M&M’s.
  4. Scoop cookie dough onto baking sheets. Place extra M & M’s on top of cookie dough balls so the M & M’s show up after baking.
  5. Bake for 9-11 minutes or until the edges just begin to turn a light golden color. Remove from oven and let set for 5 minutes before removing from the cookie sheet.

Notes: I grabbed a bag of mini M&M’s on a whim in the baking aisle one day and I really do think they are preferable to regular-sized if you like soft cookies. I didn’t measure them out. I just added them until the dough looked good to me and pressed four on top of each cookie. How many you add on top will depend on how large you make your cookies.

Fruit Pizzas

Ingredients:

Sugar cookie mix of your choice (break and bake, slice and bake, or a powdered mix will work fine)

1 block cream cheese, softened

1 cup brown sugar

1 Tbsp vanilla

Fruits of your choice (Blueberries, strawberries, kiwis, raspberries are good options)

Instructions:

  1. Bake cookies according to package directions. Make sure the balls of dough are smooth so the tops of the cookies will be fairly flat.
  2. Beat softened cream cheese in mixer until whipped. Add brown sugar and vanilla. Beat until smooth.
  3. Chop any non bite-sized fruit into smaller pieces.
  4. Serve as a build-your-own-fruit pizza bar or pre-make pizzas by spreading cream cheese on the cookies and adding assorted fruits on top.

Notes: These are so fun when you have company for dinner, especially during the summer. Kids can feel like they’re building their own dessert, and the icing is thick enough that it won’t turn into a total disaster mess-wise. And even if it does, it melts off with water. Grown ups can have fun, too, trying out different fruit flavor combinations. You can also make this but press the cookie dough into a greased 9×13 pan, bake, and top with dip and fruit once cooled. It makes a great 4th of July dessert with all red and blue fruits.

What treats have you been making during these crazy times? Any go-to recipes? Share them in the comments!

I Gave Up On Breastfeeding And I’m Still A Great Mom

Breastfeeding was the most difficult part of my postpartum experience. I’m sharing my story because these are the words I needed as a brand new mom. If you are wrestling through these feelings right now, please know you are not alone.

I gave birth at a “baby-friendly” hospital. If you’re not familiar with that term, it’s a healthcare initiative started in 1991 by UNICEF and the World Health Organization. It encourages newborn care practices like round-the-clock breastfeeding, skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby, and rooming-in (the baby spends most of his/her time at the hospital in the room with the parents instead of the nursery). It is considered prestigious for a hopsital to achieve this distinction.  I am not against baby-friendly care. I can, however, say from experience that in pursuit of the “baby-friendly” label, the care of mothers is sometimes set aside—yielding potentially dangerous consequences.

I cannot fully articulate the amount of pressure I was under to breastfeed. At every prenatal appointment, I was asked at least once if I planned to breastfeed. Each time I gave the same response: “I’m going to try my best!” There was no acknowledgement on the part of my healthcare providers that breastfeeding might not work. I was reassured that lactation consultants would work with me to overcome any issues that may arise. I was given stacks of literature on breastfeeding. Ever the rule follower and authority-figure-pleaser, I took multiple classes at my hospital where I was given even more breastfeeding info. Each pamphlet contained a seemingly endless list of “don’t’s”—things not to do if I hoped to breastfeed successfully. The amount of information overwhelmed me. The ideology surrounding breastfeeding was dogmatic, requiring an on-demand feeding approach, exclusively offering the breast until feeding had been firmly established (at least one month but probably longer), and forbidding the use of the pacifier lest the baby develop “nipple confusion” and start rejecting the breast. I left our breastfeeding class saying to Andrew, “Wow…breastfeeding is the hardest thing I’ve ever heard of.”

For every message I received about how incredible breastfeeding is, I received two about how inferior formula-feeding would be. Bottle/formula feeding was treated as an afterthought in conversations, classes, and written materials. The attitude was that formula feeding would be a last resort only for those who stubbornly refused to feed their babies breast milk. I was even given one pamphlet that said, “Breastfed babies’ stool will be fairly sweet-smelling. A formula-fed baby’s stool will have a foul odor, more like an adult.” So…quite literally…if you breastfeed your baby, their poop won’t stink.

In spite of all this, I tried to keep an open mind toward feeding during my pregnancy. I planned to breastfeed but knew I might not be able to. But  nothing could have prepared me for the way my hospital’s messaging about breastfeeding would seep into my thinking.

Lyla’s birth was not long, especially for a first birth, but it was challenging. For the duration of my labor, there was reason to believe the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. The high risk doctor was called in. I had a small hemorrhage during and after the birth. I prayed and fought with everything I had to get her here safely. I was physically and emotionally spent by the time they laid her on my chest. I think it’s safe to say all women are spent after giving birth. During our initial skin-to-skin contact, Lyla latched and seemed to feed well. There were a couple times in the hospital she breastfed successfully. The rest of the times (and there were many) were complete disasters.

Lyla was born over eight and a half pounds. She was hungry. Everyone kept assuring me that she just needed the tiniest amount to fill her tummy. The shrieking baby on my chest begged to differ. Over the course of our time in the hospital, we saw five different lactation consultants. After working with us, each one confirmed that both Lyla and I were “doing everything right.” We always got her latched after some work, her suck was strong, she had no physical issues preventing her from feeding well, and I was doing all I could to help her get what she needed. My body simply was not responding. After one particularly traumatizing feeding, the lactation consultant asked me if I had tried something I had already tried a hundred times, as if that was going to be the solution to all our problems. I opened my mouth to calmly respond, and instead began sobbing uncontrollably. The consultant suggested, very timidly, that we supplement Lyla’s feeding with formula. I said, “I just want my baby to have what she needs, I don’t care how she gets it. She needs to be fed!” At the hospital’s suggestion, we began syringe feeding her. The mindset of syringe feeding is that if you give them a bottle to start, it will be difficult or impossible to get them back on the breast because the bottle is so much easier. So, in my weakest moment, I was yet again reminded that our goal was not to get this baby to eat, but to get her to breastfeed.

Andrew, ever my hero, asked that Lyla be taken to the nursery and syringe fed so I could get some sleep. The consultant agreed. I cried as they wheeled her out in her plastic bassinet, feeling like a failure but simultaneously knowing in my bones that I had nothing to give her. Andrew helped me to the bathroom as my legs were still weak from the epidural. He brought me a cup to use to brush my teeth because I couldn’t stand up long enough to do it at the sink. I did my best to get comfortable and closed my eyes for the sleep I needed more than I had ever needed it in my life.

Less than one hour later, the door opened. It was a nurse wheeling Lyla into the room. “Time to feed the baby!” she said. Andrew said, “I think there’s been some miscommunication. We have to supplement with formula so she was supposed to be fed in the nursery so Ashton can get some sleep.” The nurse replied, “Oh they did feed her, but we still want her to keep breastfeeding, too.” I cannot express what came over me in that moment. It’s something I try to block out when I think back to those first days with Lyla, which should have been some of the happiest of my life. In that moment, I knew on a cellular level that I was alone. Even if I had the best husband in the world. Even if I showed every lactation consultant at that hospital that I was giving it my all. Even if I hadn’t slept in days and wasn’t strong enough to stand up on my own, and had wept like a baby myself begging for help. None of that mattered. Unless I continued putting that baby to the breast, I was not going to receive any support from my caretakers. When I had that realization, I went to a place of survival mentality. Getting out of the hospital became my sole objective. I made another unsuccessful attempt to feed Lyla. I didn’t ask for the lactation consultant. I asked Andrew to go to bed and I stayed up holding my baby for hours. It was us against the world.

When we left the hospital we were given a syringe feeding plan and an appointment at the lactation clinic. When we got home, the first thing I did was try to feed Lyla. I honestly don’t even remember how it went. It’s all a complete blur. After a day at home, my milk came in but wouldn’t let down. I was severely engorged. No one at the hospital had mentioned engorgement. Everyone I worked with kept saying, “It will be so much easier when your milk comes in!” It wasn’t easier. It was extremely painful. I pored over the literature I had been given. There were very few mentions of engorgement. Suggestions for remedies included alternating hot and cold compresses, pumping around the clock and feeding around the clock. I tried all of the above to no avail. My breast pump literally got out vapor. VAPOR. Lyla was screaming bloody murder because she was trying her best but not getting anything from me. All of it hurt like hell. In the midst of all of this, the syringe feeding was causing Lyla to suck down a ton of air during feedings. This gave her painful gas and was making life a nightmare for all three of us. Still determined to feed my baby the “right” way, I locked myself away in the guest bedroom to try to hand-express breastmilk. After days of trying, the maximum I had been able to express was 1.5 milliliters. I rushed to Andrew with the syringe filled with it. I was so proud watching Lyla drink it. I had finally given her breastmilk! But I knew it wasn’t enough.

I laid there in the guest bedroom weeping. I felt like I was failing my baby in every possible way. I felt angry at my body. I knew if I went to the lactation clinic, I would be asked to strip myself topless and strip my baby naked. Lyla would be weighed. The consultants would then watch me attempt to feed her. They would weigh her after the feeding to confirm what I already knew in my heart. Lyla was not getting food from me. Then they would give me the same tips they had given me at the hospital. They would tell me that I was doing everything right and I just had to keep trying. I couldn’t imagine anything more humiliating. Sensing my distress, Andrew came in the room with Lyla. He told me how amazing I was. How I was the best mother he had ever seen. How I had given this baby every single thing I had to give and then some. I cried and cried because none of that seemed to matter if I couldn’t breastfeed her. We both knew we had to make a decision right then and there. Once I had calmed down enough to speak, I said in a moment of clarity, “I feel like right now I have to choose between breastfeeding my baby and enjoying my baby. And I’m not prepared to sacrifice this time with her just to be able to say I breastfed. Not when formula is a perfectly viable option.”

After discussing it at length, we decided we had to call it. We were pursuing an exercise in futility. Our baby was literally starving and I was severely depressed. We decided to start bottle feeding. I knew if I called the hospital, they would try to pressure me into changing my mind. Andrew called and explained our situation. They STILL insisted we go to the lactation clinic and continue with the syringe feeding. Finally, fed up with the whole thing, Andrew spoke very firmly. “We have done everything you told us to do and it isn’t working for us. Now I want you to stop counseling me as someone you’re trying to convince to breastfeed and tell me how much formula I can give this baby in a bottle.”

Then and only then were we given a straight answer.

Lyla is almost eight months old now and she is thriving. Except for a milk intolerance that required us to switch formulas, she has had no issues with formula feeding. Formula has met her needs and has worked well for our family by allowing Andrew to be an equal part of her routine. It has taken me every bit of that eight months to heal from the trauma I experienced surrounding breastfeeding. And yes, I think calling it trauma is appropriate. There are still days I mourn the fact that it’s something I couldn’t do for her. The further and further I get from my decision, the more I realize it was a decision I made for my mental health as much as anything. My hospital spent so much time preaching to me about watching for signs of postpartum depression and telling me to ask for help if I needed it. But when I asked for the help I needed, they didn’t support me. Because the help I needed didn’t look the way they wanted it to look. Because if they admitted I couldn’t breastfeed, they had to admit their methods might not work.

If we’re going to support women postpartum, we have to support all of them. Not just the moms who breastfeed. If we’re going to talk about mental health and PPD, we have to acknowledge that it’s not just hormonal. It’s external. Breastfeeding is just one example of the mountain of pressures heaped upon new and expectant mothers.

I wish my story had been different. I wish the information given to me about breastfeeding had been empowering rather than lecturing. I honestly think if I had been given the space and support to figure it out in my own way, I could have done it. But I’ll never know. My body literally could not perform under the pressure. There is a part of the experience of motherhood that I will never have, and I can’t get it back. But I know in my heart that I made the choice I needed to make to be the mother I wanted to be. And no one can make me feel ashamed of that.

I wish every mom in the world was able to breastfeed. If you breastfed your baby for any amount of time, I fully and genuinely believe you have done the hardest thing in the world. I literally think you should win an award. But if you find that you can’t, please hear me say that it is OK. No one told me that, so now I’m telling you.
Please note: I take no issue with any individual doctor, nurse, or staff person who administered my pre-natal and postpartum care. I know they were doing their jobs and I truly appreciate and respect all those in the medical field. My birth experience was wonderful and I loved my nurses and doctors. The lactation consultants were trying to help me, I know it. My concern is with hospital policies made at a corporate level by people who are not medical practitioners that affect the mental health of new mothers.

Lyla’s Favorite Things

The two types of content that have been most helpful to me during these quarantine times are: 1) Deep Feels and 2) What people are buying/using. In light of that, today I’m sharing a list of Lyla’s favorite things. These are the toys and baby gear we’re getting the most mileage out of as we spend our days stuck at home.

Learning blocks

These blocks are soft enough for Lyla to chew and bonk herself in the head with, and they have lots of play options for when she’s older. Each block has a number or math symbol, an animal, fruits for counting, shapes, and textures. I love toys that can grow with her so we’re not constantly buying something new. And, selfishly, the colors on these are to die for, which is a nice break from the usual loud and gaudy baby fare.

V-Tech Sit to Stand Walker

Speaking of loud and gaudy…I finally broke down and bought a toy that makes noise. As much as I hate background noise, I had to face facts. Poor baby was getting bored, and this thing is a feast for her little senses. I pull this out when things are getting desperado and I need her to be entertained for a hot minute. This is another toy that can grow with her, as the activity portion can be attached to a walker for when she starts pulling up.

Silicone teethers

I’m sure every baby has their own teething preferences, but for Lyla’s money you can’t go wrong with a silicone teether. The other things she chews on most are wood and metal, but I don’t find those as easily. I’m linking this teething blanket that she munches on in the carseat and stroller. I ordered it because she hadn’t really taken to a lovie, but she was always putting blankets and burp rags in her mouth. And the fact that it’s a rose for Lyla Rose didn’t hurt, either.

Fisher Price Sit-Me-Up

Alas, Lyla is on the verge of too chunky for this seat, but I’m going to squeeze her in it as long as I can. This has been my favorite baby seat we’ve had. It has toys attached but also has a tray where she can play with other toys. I linked our gender neutral one here but I love this one and this one that are new since we registered, too.

Excersaucer

There are a million varieties of these bad boys. It’s a stationary play gym that allows your baby to stand and jump without going anywhere. They come in every theme and DEFCON level you can fathom. The barnyard theme spoke to me. I like that this one has multiple different types of motor skill and sensory activities, but it doesn’t look like some insane sproingy thing that a Who child would get for Christmas in Whoville.

So that’s how we’re surviving these days! I just move her from toy to toy as she starts getting bored. On nice weather days we go for a walk outside. It’s so hard to wrap my head around navigating the first year of my baby’s life during a historic event. How are you all making it? Are there any products that are saving your sanity right now? Let me know in the comments!

My Personal Ranking of Taylor Swift Songs

I started this post when I was 38 weeks pregnant and needed something to occupy my mind (besides the endless list of unpleasant side effects of being great with child). I never published it because I thought people would think I was insane for writing it in the first place and I didn’t think anyone would read it.

My how times have changed!

Now we’re all quarantined for Coronavirus and we have enough time on our hands that maybe a few people will be bored enough to read this admittedly ridiculous post. And…Taylor Swift is the topic I get asked to write about more than any other topic. So I’m giving the people (all five of you) what they want! Full disclosure: this list does not contain “Christmas Tree Farm” or “Only the Young” because they were released after I wrote it and I was NOT about to go back and re-do all the numbers. But I can sum up my thoughts by saying: Christmas Tree Farm slaps, Only the Young does not.

Some items of note:

-Cover songs & songs released by other artists are not included

-Taylor’s age when writing the song was taken into heavy account when ranking

-I like country music/singer-songwriter music better than pop, which influences the rankings

128.Girl At Home: I cannot come up with one positive thing to say about this song, which is why it ranks last. The entire premise is annoying. A guy wanted to cheat with her and she said no. Based on the lyrics, she thought this made her a feminist hero. It did not. I still cringe at the clunky “I know I don’t know her but I feel a responsibility to do what’s upstanding and right.” When it comes to the Taylor Swift discography – in the immortal memes of Mariah Carey – I don’t know her.

127.I Heart ?:This was released on the “Beautiful Eyes” EP exclusively for Wal-Mart in 2008. And you know what? Wal-Mart deserved better. Even at the time, when I was positively guzzling the Taylor Swift Kool-Aid, I didn’t understand the point of this song. It doesn’t make any more sense in hindsight. It’s supposed to upset a guy who did her wrong that she has “I Heart ?” written on her hand. Yeah…I have a lot of question marks, too.

126.Christmas Must Be Something More: Listen…I think Christmas means something more. But this song is preachy nonsense. I’ll take my Yuletide sermons from The Grinch and The Muppets, thank you very much.

125.Beautiful Eyes: Another Wal-Mart EP release. Because Swift is such a prolific songwriter, even her duds aren’t bad, per se. This track is simply irrelevant in comparison with some of the other stuff she wrote at this age.

124.Stay Beautiful: I never could get into this one. Yet another song about pining away for a guy who just doesn’t know she’s been there all along. I have no problem with that theme (see You Belong With Me), but this one never gets off the ground lyrically.

123.Speak Now: The theme of the Speak Now album is derived from the phrase in a traditional wedding ceremony, “Speak now or forever hold your peace.” The premise is: it’s better to say how you feel and risk the results than it is to sit in silence and let your chance go by forever. Unfortunately, this title track does not capture that sentiment. It’s awkward and contrived. Speak Now is such a triumph as a whole, which is why this song sticks out as particularly bad for me.

122.Gorgeous: I want to like this song. I’m happy that Taylor is happy. But the lyrics leave so much to be desired. I mean I really can’t say much for the sad/mad rhyming in the bridge and the monotony of the verses. She has spoiled me to the point that I expect more from her.

121.Superman: This bonus track from Speak Now is about seeing your man as a hero, even if he’s just walking out the door to go to work. That’s a wonderful premise. Below the surface, it’s about a relationship that is absolutely toxic. Swift hopes he doesn’t “save some other girl,” and says she’ll be waiting for him on the ground, wishing he would call. We can surmise through context clues that this song is about John Mayer, which adds a whole ‘nother level of cringe.

120.Innocent: This was written about the Kanye situation. I guess I should specify…the original Kanye situation, when he stole the mic from Taylor at the VMA’s and declared Beyoncé’s video the greatest video of all time. It features poignant lyrics and an almost haunting melody, but feels just a teensy bit gratuitous given that Kanye didn’t, like, murder anyone. His subsequent behavior feels more deserving of a strong response than his original offense. Also, while I have the microphone, Beyoncé doesn’t need Kanye to advocate for her. She’s Beyoncé.

119.A Place In This World: This one gets some pity points for being one of the first songs Swift ever wrote. She was just a kid, after all, which explains why this track doesn’t say much of anything. Although…there are people (or should I say men?) on country radio right now who couldn’t write this song now, much less as a child.

 118.False God: Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” already did what this song was trying to do and did it better. Also, I am completely creeped out by songs that equate sex with religion. Not today, Satan.

 117.The Moment I Knew: Taylor Swift has an uncanny ability to make her experiences feel universal, no matter how many personal details she shares. However, the hyper-specificity of heartbreak resulting from the realization that your relationship is over because your boyfriend didn’t show up to your birthday party after he said he would be there is too much for even her abilities.

116.The Outside: Another one of Swift’s first songs. This one is about feeling left out by girls at school. A bit redundant alongside “A Place in This World,” I rank this one the higher of the two because it has a clearer narrative.

115.Call It What You Want: I’m so glad Taylor is at a place in her life where she doesn’t care what people say about her relationship, she’s happy, and she has boundaries in place to allow her to keep some things for herself. I just did not connect with this song. I find the bridge where she answers her own question (Would you run away with me…yes) annoying. I feel bad even saying that because I really am happy for her and I want her to feel the way this song describes. It just didn’t do anything for me personally.

114.Sweeter Than Fiction: I have a love/hate relationship with the songs Taylor does with Jack Antonoff. This one leans closer to hate. I forgot it immediately after listening to it the first time. It struck me as clunky and over-produced. But he also gave us Out of the Woods, so it’s hard to be that upset.

113.Starlight: Taylor has been known to be quite the revisionist historian (she once gave an interview where she claimed “Style” was inspired by the timelessness of certain fashion trends), and she takes several liberties with this fantasized account of how Ethel Kennedy met Bobby Kennedy. I’m just not a huge Kennedy family fan, so I’m not prepared to dance to a song about their matriarch’s fictionalized love story. *shrug emoji*

112.King Of My Heart: Again, I couldn’t be happier for Taylor. I don’t care for the chorus on this one and overall it’s a bit too electronic for my taste. An honorable mention for the line: “Is this the end of all the endings?”

111.Superstar: This song has a beautiful melody, but I am just not a fan of the subject matter. It’s about being in love with a celebrity and knowing they’ll never know who you are. I mean…we can all relate, but I’m not sure we need to sing about it. The chorus gets stuck in my head sometimes in spite of myself, which is a testament to Taylor’s ability to craft the perfect earworm.

110.Christmases When You Were Mine: Leave it to Taylor Swift, The Patron Saint of Breakups, to provide us with a song that laments feeling lonely at Christmastime. If you’ve never been broken up with during the holidays, perhaps you can’t appreciate how deeply it sucks. But let me assure you from personal experience, it definitely feels like something there should be a Taylor Swift song about.

109.A Perfectly Good Heart: A bonus track from her debut. There’s nothing wrong with this song, but there’s nothing great about it either. Of course, if you were a recently heartbroken teenage girl circa 2006, this song was required listening.

108.Tied Together With a Smile: Written about a girl Taylor knew in school who struggled with bulimia, this one struggles a bit in the verses. But the chorus is so good I can’t rank it any lower.

107.I’m Only Me When I’m With You: A cute bonus track about feeling understood in a relationship. It’s an encapsulation of what it’s like to be young, when we all feel like no one understands us except our friends. I loved this song when it came out; but it’s not one I go back to like some of her other early tracks. It also gets knocked a few slots for production that sounds like it was recorded in an abandoned barn, which I think it sort of was.

 106.You Need To Calm Down: I always respected that Taylor wanted to keep her politics to herself. I never understood the backlash she got for that. I also respect that we all grow and change over time, and she is now at a place where she wants to use her platform in that arena. It does, however, feel a leeeeeetle bit much to go from being completely silent on all things political to literally telling people who to vote for and endorsing federal legislation. Like, I have whiplash from just typing that. It’s a fun song that makes some good points. I’ll stop there because the internet is a scary place for discussing politics.

 105.The Lucky One: Ah, the classic “fame sucks” lament that every artist eventually puts out if their career lasts long enough. I loved the aesthetic of the Red album so much, and this just didn’t fit with that vibe. I must give credit, though, for the lyric: “And your lover in the foyer doesn’t even know you.”

104.Picture To Burn: Two tracks in on her first album and Taylor was already showing us she could serve up a revenge track ice cold. Dripping with sass, this song perfectly captures the bratty emotions of high school heartbreak. What Southern girl didn’t want to scream “You’re a redneck heartbreak who’s really bad at lying” at her cheating boyfriend? You’re not likely to hear this one now if Swift has anything to say about it. Its politically incorrect original lyrics have made it a song she refuses to perform.

103.Welcome To New York: Eventually everyone who moves to NYC succumbs to the Stockholm Syndrome of the place. This song gave us a wealth of Instagram captions for our trips to New York. As the 1989 opener, it also brought to life the 80’s synth sound Taylor was exploring on her first official foray into pop. I could take this song or leave it, especially in comparison with some of the other songs on 1989.

102.Mean: For reasons unclear to anyone but Taylor, there was a time when she was fixated on the negative feedback of one particular critic. I won’t name him here because he’s gotten enough attention. This song was a direct response to his negative reviews. It’s hard not to love an anti-bullying anthem set to banjo, but the bridge is a bit harsh. Swift calls him “pathetic and alone in life.” At the time she released this song that felt like a sick burn. Now it just feels, well…mean.

 101.Better Than Revenge: This is probably one of those songs Taylor should have written but never released. It’s objectively a good song, with major Paramore energy that sees Swift embrace delicious, villainous pettiness. It’s everything you want to say to the girl your boyfriend left you for, but saying it out loud in front of the whole world is not ideal. Add to that the fact that Swift performed this on tour complete with faux slapping her backup singer across the face and you get a big fat yikes. ALSO, this song is on the same album as “Mean.” Irony abounds.

 100.Bad Blood: In the same vein as Better Than Revenge, this song was about a personal vendetta and ended up playing right into the media trope that women are catty rivals. The songwriting once again shines on the bridge, however. “Band-aids don’t fix bullet holes. You say sorry just for show. If you live like that, you live with ghosts…If you love like that blood runs cold.” A chilling lyric, indeed.

 99.Look What You Made Me Do: There’s a lot about this song that I respect. The fact that it was such a MOMENT in pop music, the genius of sampling perhaps the wormiest earworm of all time (Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy”), the fact that she finally played the villain and not the victim…I could go on. But what attracts me to Taylor’s music is the lyrics, and this song doesn’t deliver in that arena for me. But of course, Taylor is incapable of writing a song without at least one lyrical nugget. Here they’re “Honey, I rose up from the dead, I do it all the time!” and “I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me. I’ll be the actress starring in your bad dreams.” P.S. my feelings are still hurt from seeing all the Old Taylors falling down in the music video.

 98.Eyes Open: I rank this one higher than a lot of songs I listen to more often because it demonstrates Taylor’s ability to extract a narrative even when she hasn’t lived it. Commissioned to write for the Hunger Games movie soundtrack, she penned this from Katniss’ perspective in the arena.

 97.The Man: This song makes all the points and it couldn’t be more well-timed. I don’t rank it super high because I don’t want to listen to it over and over. It’s a bummer how true the lyrics are, especially in the music industry.

 96.Wonderland: This 1989 bonus track compares a tumultuous relationship (i.e. Haylor) to a fall down the proverbial rabbit hole. As Taylor notes, “It’s all fun and games ‘til somebody loses their mind.” The song feels very dissonant and frantic, emphasizing the meaning of the lyrics.

 95.London Boy: In spite of the fact that this sounds like if the EPCOT U.K. pavilion wrote a song, I like it. As a totally basic Anglophile, it speaks to me. Critics have been hard on it but Ryan Tedder said it’s one of his favorites so…critics who?

94.Red: I always say I don’t like this song, but every time I go back to the Red album (every fall, obviously), I have to admit it’s a banger. For me, this is one of the few Taylor Swift songs where the production/performance value outshines the lyrics.

93.Stay Stay Stay: The secret message (oh, how I miss those days) in the album liner for this song is, “Daydreaming about real love.” We can therefore presume it’s not about anyone in particular. But I like to imagine Taylor listening to this song now and realizing it was about her current relationship, she just didn’t know it at the time. One thing I love about Taylor’s music catalog is you could make a playlist of the saddest breakup songs or the happiest, bounciest songs with equal ease. Stay Stay Stay is most definitely on the bouncy playlist.

92.Never Grow Up: This song features one of the saddest lyrics I have ever heard: “I just realized everything I have is someday gonna be gone.” SHEESH. Taylor wrote this song after moving out on her own and it reflects beautifully on the fleeting nature of childhood. I don’t tend to go back to this song much because it’s so very sad.

91.Change: This victory anthem was written after Swift’s first big wins during awards season and ended up being the Olympic theme for Team USA. There’s not all that much to say about this one, but it ranks above others I like for the sole fact that it shows off how freakishly long Taylor can hold out a note.

 90.I Forgot That You Existed: I’m a little bummed about all the songs Taylor has written about Kanye West. I’m sad that he took up that much space in her life. Hopefully, this is the last one we’ll ever hear, because it’s the ultimate kiss off. Broadly, it applies to the moment you realize you’ve stopped giving a toxic person power in your life—and it no longer takes effort. “It isn’t love, it isn’t hate, it’s just indifference.” I wish you all the freedom of that moment with the toxic people in your lives. (Lord knows we all have them.)

89.I Wish You Would: This Jack Antonoff track has a little too much going on for me, but it features Taylor at peak pop star vocals so things even out. The lyrics feature things we probably all wish we could say to a lost love in those weak moments when we want them back.

88.Dancing With Our Hands Tied: This song gives us a glimpse into what it’s like to have a relationship in the public eye. Taylor had all but decided she would have to be alone as the scrutiny surrounding her relationships seemed to make them impossible to manage. But then she fooled around and fell in love. I wish this was a little more ballad and a little less bass drop, but I do appreciate the glimpse into her world provided by the lyrics.

 87.ME!: It can’t be overstated how much Taylor loves an emo moment. So it makes total sense that she would work with Brendon Urie of Panic at the Disco! fame. But…plot twist! They teamed up for the happiest little self-love anthem you’ve ever gotten a spelling lesson from. I love the juxtaposition of the lyrics “And there’s a lot of cool chicks out there/And there’s a lot of lame guys out there.” Ain’t it the truth?

 86.How You Get The Girl: I seem to recall Taylor saying in interviews during 1989 press that this song contains the instructions you should follow if you want to win back a girl you did wrong. This sweet-as-cotton-candy track, like the wispy treat, is best enjoyed sparingly-but it sure is fun from time to time.

 85.New Romantics: Clearly influenced by her life in New York, this strikes me as the modern version of something F. Scott Fitzgerald might have written about the 1920’s. I realize that’s an extremely bold statement, but it’s about navigating a social landscape that is completely of its time. If I were still in college I would write an essay about this parallel. This is another that’s chock full of one liners Swift had surely been sitting on like, “Cause baby I could build a castle out of all the bricks they threw at me.” Another honorable mention: “The rumors are terrible and cruel, but, honey, most of them are true.”

 84.I Don’t Wanna Live Forever: I want to rank this lower because I have so much distaste for Zayn and Fifty Shades of Grey. But I love the bridge, Lord help me! It would be hard for anyone to keep up with Zayn vocally, though it pains me to admit it, but Taylor delivers.

 83.Dress: I mean…what to say about this song that I’m comfortable publishing on the internet? I think what separates this from other *sexy* songs of this era is that it highlights the intimacy of being known and accepted even at your worst by your significant other. I honestly can’t believe no one beat her to this hook, but then again of course they didn’t. She thinks our thoughts before we think them, y’all!

82.I’d Lie: I would have taken this on the debut album in a heartbeat before A Place in This World, The Outside, or Stay Beautiful. This is one of my favorite early Taylor songs and it’s a crying shame it was relegated to the Walmart EP. This is an early example of Swift’s ability to include hyper-specific detail (“…born on the 17th”) and yet somehow make the lyrics feel totally universal at the same time. “First thought when I wake up is, ‘My God, he’s beautiful.’ So I put on my makeup, and pray for a miracle.” Who can’t relate to that…especially in high school?

81.So It Goes: My vanilla, conservative self is a bit scandalized by this song, but I love the production. And the bridge, as so many of her bridges, goes OFF. I do take issue with the lyric, “I’m so chill but you make me jealous.” I love her dearly, but if anyone on this planet has no chill, it’s Taylor Swift.

80.Come In With The Rain: A lovely ballad with profound lyrics like, “I’ve got you down, I know you by heart. And you don’t even know where I start.” This bonus track from Fearless: Deluxe Edition is fairly simple but packs a punch.

79.Tell Me Why: A Fearless deep cut that sees Swift finally telling off a person who insists on keeping her down. This song contains one of my favorite lyrical asides: “And here’s to you and your temper, Yes I remember what you said last night.”

 78.The Best Day: This is a lovely tribute to Taylor’s mom. The last chorus always gives me chills. I’m pretty sure if you listen to this and “Soon You’ll Get Better” back to back, you’ll turn into Sadness from Inside Out.

 77.Miss Americana And The Heartbreak Prince: Taylor swears this song is a political commentary. I don’t think the song makes a ton of sense regardless of how you look at it, but as the kids say, it’s a vibe.

76.Invisible: Though lyrically a bit simplistic compared to some of her other ballads, this song captures the big, big feelings of watching the boy you like date someone else. This appears to be something Taylor experienced a lot of in her time, which could be why I latched on to her music so tightly. Ya girl knew a thing or two about unrequited love, and no one articulates it better than Ms. Swift.

75.Mary’s Song (Oh My My My): A sweet storyline inspired by Swift’s elderly neighbors, this song has aged well. If you want to feel all warm and fuzzy inside or need a song to play at your grandparents’ 50th anniversary party, might I recommend this track? The fact that this was never a single upsets me to this day.

74.Should’ve Said No: This song showcases some of Taylor’s best early vocals. If you’ve ever been cheated on and you haven’t scream-cried to this song…you’re lying. This song also represented a *moment* in Swift’s career. It was given the honor of a rain performance and played at some of her earliest award show appearances. This is not a song I tend to go back to, but whenever I hear it, I must say it holds up well.

 73.Hey Stephen: Who knew so many words rhymed with Stephen? One of several songs where Taylor names names, this one details a meet-cute that left her daydreaming about a future with the Stephen in question. This track is sweet as sugar, and I’m a sucker for any song that includes a well-placed giggle. It also has several stand-out lyrical moments, including, “All those other girls, well, they’re beautiful, but would they write a song for you?” We know as well as Stephen that the answer is no.

72.It’s nice to have a friend: The production on this one is so interesting and soothing. It really evokes the feeling of simple companionship talked about in the song. I like the linear imagery of an easy childhood friendship, a friendship that blossoms into romance, and ultimately enjoying friendship with a spouse.

 71.Getaway Car: Finally, a peek inside what in the actual heck was going on in her mind during Hiddleswift. Don’t get me wrong, Tom Hiddleston is attractive, but even as a diehard fan I remember thinking “What is she doing?!” As it turns out, she needed a reason to leave Calvin Harris, just as everyone who has ever dated a professional DJ eventually needs a reason to leave them. She uses a sort of Bonnie and Clyde metaphor to describe a doomed relationship that was only ever meant to be a diversion. If you’d like a visual aid to go with this song, I suggest googling paparazzi photos of Taylor and Tom in Italy, where it is abundantly clear on her face that nothing good starts in a getaway car.

 70.Today Was A Fairytale: There is a substantial amount of hate for this song within the fandom, but it’s my party and I’ll stick up for underappreciated soundtrack songs if I want to. I think seeing the magic in everyday life is a hallmark of Taylor’s songwriting and it’s a tenet of my worldview, so Today Was a Fairytale forever! This song was the cornerstone of the soundtrack for Garry Marshall’s “Valentine’s Day.” Her vocals are gorgeous, the lyrics are sweet, the haters gonna hate.

69.The Way I Loved You: Sigh…the lure of the bad boy. If you’ve ever been guilty of thinking that drama = love, this one’s for you. With a breathless head rush of a chorus, narrative verses, and a driving bridge, this one is a standout on an album of pretty much all standouts.

 68.End Game: In case you ever wondered if Taylor Swift could write rap, the answer is yes. “And I bury hatchets but I keep maps of where I put them” would be at home on any hip hop chart topper. She also serves us sultry power vocals and cheeky winks at the camera like “I swear I don’t love the drama…it loves me.”

 67.Ready For It?: As I just mentioned, Taylor Swift can rap. Who knew? There will never be a bigger flex than “He can be my jailer, Burton to this Taylor.” Now…when are we gonna get that Drake collab?

66.Shake It Off: I loved this song so much when it came out, I made it my alarm. Consequently, I am now #triggered every time I hear it. But I will still never be over the bridge. And I maintain that “the fella over there with the hella good hair” is Harry Styles.

 65.Daylight: When I heard “I once believed love would be burning red, but it’s golden,” I was shooketh. I don’t *love* ending an album with a voice memo, but the line “you are what you love” made sense to wrap up an album titled, “Lover.”

 64.Crazier: Don’t @ me, but these are some of Taylor’s best vocals ever. What a travesty that they appear on the Hannah Montana movie soundtrack of all places. This is a sweet country slow dance that, in my opinion, didn’t get enough love from fans.

 63.Sparks Fly: The Taylor Swift fandom is living proof that if you just b*tch and moan enough, eventually you will get your way. This song is Exhibit A. It was an unreleased track Taylor had only performed live, and fans essentially harassed her until she recorded a studio version. Another lyrical classic from the School of Swift Songwriting, it features kissing in the rain and a metaphorically significant staircase. This song loses it a little bit in the second verse for me, but the chorus goes so hard I don’t really care.

 62.Untouchable: This is the only cover song to appear on this list. Swift gets songwriting credit for completely re-imagining the melody of this Luna Halo tune. Honestly, she did this song several favors. We can’t give her credit for the lyrics, but this may as well be a Taylor Swift song by the time she’s done with it.

 61.You’re Not Sorry: Taylor has evidently met a lot of toxic people in her time. This song describes the moment you decide you’re done with a person who apologizes over and over but keeps hurting you. As always, she is well beyond her years here in terms of emotional maturity.

 60.The Story Of Us: That awkward moment when you dated John Mayer and it ended badly (does any relationship with John Mayer end well?)  and then you’re seated near each other at an award show. We’ve all been there, amirite? Despite the inspiration behind this song being something none of us will ever experience, Swift works her magic and spins a narrative we can all relate to. She serves up major Shania Twain vibes with the sassy spoken transitions (“Next chapter…”). This song is chock full of impactful one-liners that describe what it’s like to watch the story of a relationship change so drastically from what you thought it would be. Among my favorites? “But you held your pride like you should have held me.”

 59.Death By A Thousand Cuts: Mmmkay, full disclosure: the phrase death by a thousand cuts doesn’t super resonate with me. But this mega-bridge cannot be denied. (Her heart. Her hips. Her body. HER LOVE.) Thank God she can still write a breakup song. I may be happily married but we all have feelings to feel!

 58.Jump Then Fall: This first track from Fearless: Platinum Edition fits perfectly with the rest of the album’s themes. Young love, jumping into a relationship without fear, and Being Extremely Cute…all elements of the Fearless Era. The dreamy verses and lilting chorus are full of lyrical gold nuggets like, “I had time to think it o-over, and all I can say is come closer.” If you can listen to this song and not smile, you might be broken.

 57.All you had to do was stay: Inspired by a dream, this pop anthem is a big sorry ‘bout it to an ex who wants you back when THEY’RE THE ONE who let you go. I love the lyrics in the pre-chorus “People like you always want back the love they gave away, and people like me wanna believe you when you say you’ve changed. People like you always want back the love they pushed aside, but people like me are gone forever when you say goodbye.” You tell him, Taylor.

 56.I think he knows: When the relationship is so on you don’t even have to define the relationship. Despite the fact that I could not for the life of me understand the lyric “I want you bless my soul” and FULLY believed it was “I want you, that’s my toe.” and was baffled as I have never been baffled in my life, this song grows and grows on me. Let’s all sing together: LyricalsmileindigoeyeshandonmythighwecanfollowthesparksI’lldrive.

 55.You are in love: If I practice cognitive dissonance and willfully forget that this was inspired by Lena Dunham and Jack Antonoff, two people whose relationship I would like to know absolutely nothing about, this one is in my top tier of her love songs. I love the quiet pulsing–the imagery of those seemingly mundane and yet in hindsight huge and defining moments in a relationship. There’s also a pretty defining Swift lyric in the bridge, “And you understand now why they lost their minds and fought the wars. And why I’ve spent my whole life trying to put it into words.” Also, the dancing- in-a- snowglobe lyric? We have to acknowledge that You Are in Love walked so Lover could run.

 54.I Know Places: This is a song about Taylor realizing that any relationship she has is going to have to take place out of the public eye in order for it to survive. At least, that’s what she said during 1989 press. She went on to put us through Calvin Harris and Tom Hiddleston so I’m not sure the lesson sunk in at the time. This song gets me in my feelings because I love her and Harry Styles and I feel like they just never got a CHANCE because there were so many eyes on their relationship. I don’t think they would be together today, but I do think they could have had a long relationship with an amicable breakup. (Or, if I’m being honest with myself, he would have habitually cheated on her with Victoria’s Secret models). But just think of the songs we’d be missing out on if it weren’t for all the turmoil.

 53.Holy Ground: Part Three in the Joe Jonas Trilogy. Swift looks back on a relationship with the patina of time and hindsight and realizes it was good. There’s not a single low point in the lyrics, the driving beat is downright exhilarating, and she sings the crap out of it. A personal favorite moment? The way she attacks, “And I guess we fell apart in the usual way, and the story’s got dust on every page, But sometimes I wonder how you think about it now, And I see your face in every crowd.”

52.Treacherous: Poetic verses, a pretty chorus, and a bridge that could be a chorus make up this song about recognizing a relationship might be risky, but going for it anyway. A standout lyric: “And all we are is skin and bone; trained to get along. Forever going with the flow, but you’re friction.” If we got a whole album of this singer/songwriter vibe from Taylor I would die happy.

51.The Last Time: This duet with Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol is immersive, understated, cinematic, and y’all have slept on it long enough. Honestly the entire Red album is so emotionally evocative for me (except Starlight and The Lucky One, boooooooo!). This is one I don’t hear a lot of fans talking about but I love it. So I guess as the kids would say I’m a “The Last Time” stan? Regardless of how you phrase it, if you see me in my car with this song turned up way too loud trying to sing both parts by myself…just mind your business.

 50.Begin Again: The sweetest little almost-acoustic ballad about working up the courage to go on a first date after a bad relationship. For inquiring minds, this was inspired by a date with the lead singer of Parachute and I’m willing to bet “Kiss Me Slowly” is about this same date or a date thereafter. I love the sentiment of this song and it’s one of her many that we can all relate to. It’s SO hard to open yourself back up after being hurt. I love the hopefulness of this song. It feels like she’s laying down a weight she’s carried far too long and taking a deep breath.

 49.We are never ever getting back together: Written as bubblegum pop as possible to piss off a Top 40-hating hipster ex, this song gives us new levels of pettiness to aspire to. (Or not aspire to? Don’t be petty unless it’s making you a lot of money.) One of my many obsessed fan opinions is that the voice memo in this talking about him calling her and saying “I still love you” is about the same phone call she references in All Too Well. That’s called GROWTH, girlies.

48.Long Live: A lot of Taylor Swift fans could take or leave this song, but I have a personal connection to it. I did a Cru summer mission working at Walt Disney World the summer after Speak Now came out, and all the fairytale references fit perfectly with my experience. You know those experiences where you live so much life with a group of people that you can’t really explain it to anyone who wasn’t there…kind like summer camp? This song is the anthem for those. So many of the lyrics are special to me, but the one that makes my heart flutter is, “Long live the walls we crashed through, how the kingdom lights shined just for me and you.” #emporiumforever

47.Afterglow: Thanks to Taylor, women now have an anthem for when they get into a needlessly huge fight with their partner because they were feeling a lot of things. I can think of so many arguments with Andrew that fit into the narrative of this song, where I made assumptions that then fueled my emotions without ever giving him a chance to explain himself. I love the heavy drums in this track and the line “This ultraviolet morning light.”

 46.I Did Something Bad: I wish so badly this had been the opening single from Reputation. What Blank Space started, IDSB finished. Swift fights back against criticism surrounding her dating life with this banger she claims to have written from a character’s perspective. Personally, I think she was just being completely honest. The lyrics left me wondering, “Girl, did Tom Hiddleston spend your money?!” The production, the hand claps, the clap backs…who could ask for anything more?

 45.New Year’s Day: Yet another example of an incredible lyric being tossed in as an outro: “Please don’t ever become a stranger whose laugh I could recognize anywhere.” This piano ballad sees Swift reflecting on having found a relationship that will weather the highs, the lows, and the mundane in between. Your love is not just by your side for the glitter and excitement of New Years’ Eve, they’re cleaning up after the party with you the next day. Ever the songwriter, she notices the poetic significance of this.

 44.Delicate: The opening lines of this song knocked the wind out of me when I first listened. “This ain’t for the best. My reputation’s never been worse, so he must like me for me.” Wow. This prequel to Cornelia Street is full of all the hope and vulnerability of the beginning of a relationship, before it’s officially official. That stage when you realize you really like this person and you don’t want them to date anyone else but you aren’t sure if it’s too soon to say that. Well, you better believe Taylor Swift says it.

 43.Cold As You: The fact that this song was co-written by a 15 year old is stunning. The lyric “So I start a fight cause I need to feel something, and you do what you want cause I’m not what you wanted” still slays me. The lyric about dying is the only reason this song doesn’t rank higher for me. It pushes it just a little too far over the top. But the emotional intelligence she displays here is truly impressive. If you’re a casual fan but have never listened to deep cuts from the debut, this is one to seek out.

 42.Soon You’ll Get Better: The only reason this song and Ronan aren’t ranked higher is because I can’t really listen to them without getting depressed. They are both beautiful songs and there are people who need them. For those who don’t know, Taylor’s mom has been battling cancer for the last several years. This song, featuring fiddle and breathy harmonies from the Dixie Chicks because that’s her mom’s favorite band, gives us a glimpse into the private fears and grief Taylor has been carrying as her mom fights. There is nothing to critique about a song that so bravely and beautifully captures something so many can unfortunately relate to.

 41.Ronan: I don’t know of another artist who could write this song. I’ve only listened to it once because it was so devastating, but I think about the lyrics often. The main charity Taylor works with is St. Jude. Through her work with childhood cancer, she found the story of a four year old boy named Ronan who died from a rare form of cancer called neuroblastoma. His mom kept a blog of their journey. Taylor was inspired by her words to write this song. She names Ronan’s mom as a cowriter, ensuring she would get a share of the royalties, and donated proceeds from the song to cancer research. I wish this song didn’t have to exist, but I have to imagine it captures the feelings of anyone who has lost a child to cancer. What a wonderful way to use your talent to impact those who need it most.

 40.Haunted: Taylor Swift can do so many things well. Haunted sounds like it could be an Evanesence song. But no, it’s just Taylor, embracing her emo side. Pulsing violins create a frantic sound and Taylor’s aggressive vocal is fraught with emotion. In addition to her versatility, Taylor can also articulate emotion sonically as well as lyrically. Haunted is a prime example.

 39.The Other Side Of The Door: Dare I say it? The ranting bridge to end all ranting bridges. Every Taylor trademark you could want is present and accounted for: waiting in the pouring rain, rocks tossed at a window, fighting hard and making up harder. This is a song about fighting with a guy and then wanting him to try and win you back. If only Elizabeth and Nick had this song, Annie and Hallie might never have been separated. (Thank you to anyone who appreciates that Parent Trap reference)

 38.Cornelia Street: An instant classic from her latest album, Cornelia Street is the sequel to Delicate. The memories from the start of this relationship are so precious, she couldn’t bear to relive them if she ever lost this person. Those of us who have been lucky enough to find true love can relate to that. This song has one of my favorite lyrical couplets of hers, “Barefoot in the kitchen, Sacred new beginnings.”

 37.Out of the woods: This is another Taylor Swift song that I have lain awake at night thinking about. You guys. It literally SOUNDS like being lost in the woods. I mean how? The whole second verse is amazing (the paper airplane necklace reference!!), and the bridge features lyrics both hyper-personal and universal, as is her genius. (I say hyper-personal because none of us have ever been in a snowmobile accident with Harry Styles.)

 36.Back to December: Remember all those memes about how Taylor Swift should have a song called “Maybe I’m the problem”? (I won’t get into my feelings on the sexism of that because the internet is not large enough to contain them.) Well joke’s on them because she already did, and it was called “Back to December.” This was the first time Taylor apologized to a boy in a song. Taylor Lautner was real sweet to her, you guys, and she let him go. But at least he has this beautiful balled to remember her by, with lyrics like, “It turns out freedom ain’t nothing but missing you.”

35.Forever & Always: Every breakup needs a good emo moment (or several), and this was Taylor’s when Joe Jonas broke up with her quite unceremoniously over the phone. I detect a bit of Alanis Morissette energy in the line, “Did I say something way too honest? Made you run and hide like a scared little boy?” I can tell you right now that as a senior in high school who was ghosted by the boy she was dating (before ghosting was even a term) literally the week this album came out, this song spoke to me. Taylor would go on to record a piano version of the song that explores the lyrics as a devastating ballad rather than an angry romp. In either version, her songwriting shines.

 34.Style: Yet another song that applies very specifically to Taylor’s life and yet manages to remain relatable. On the one hand, a song about dating Harry Styles and not being able to stop dating Harry Styles even when you’re not dating Harry Styles. On the other hand, a song about a relationship that always seems to have a place in your life, even when the two of you aren’t officially together. To be honest, now that I type it all out, both scenarios are equally relatable.

 33.Teardrops on my guitar: There is only one word for this song in the TSwift canon: Iconic. Even if the song itself isn’t your favorite, it established so many distinct characteristics of Swift’s songwriting. She names names. She switches up the lyrics in the last chorus. It features an excellent use of the repeated opening/closing lyric. This song also demonstrates Taylor’s ability to magnify minutia sonically and lyrically to match the way it feels. The reality is, Drew was some scrub she had a brief crush on in the single year she actually attended high school. This song turns those feelings into an epic. If you’ve never watched her cover this on the Red tour, do yourself a favor and look it up now.

 32.Our Song: Swift wrote this for her high school talent show. Let’s have a moment of silence for the self-esteem of the other performers. Our Song is a lyrically innovative story of young love at its sweetest. Lines like “When we’re on the phone and you talk real slow, ‘cause it’s late and your mama don’t know” provide the relatable emotional snapshots that are such a trademark of her songwriting. Just try to listen to this song without feeling like you’re 15 again.

 31.Don’t Blame Me: Taylor tries her hand at “church choir but make it sexy” and dang it if she doesn’t knock it out of the park. I feel like because we had this song, we didn’t need False God. If you’re one of those people who still insists Taylor Swift can’t sing, please listen to this song and get back to me. Actually don’t get back to me. I don’t have room in my life for that kind of negativity.

 30.Paper Rings: Add this one to your kitchen dance party playlist. I love the lyric “Honey, without all the exes, fights, and flaws, we wouldn’t be standing here so tall.” I want this song to soundtrack the next Drew Barrymore rom-com and I really can’t give a higher compliment than that.

 29.If This Was a Movie: This bonus track from Speak Now has never gotten enough love. There has been some lyric confusion in the fandom surrounding Taylor’s lack of annunciation. How many Eli’s out there mistakenly thought this song could be about them? This song captures the sadness we feel when we realize it’s not going to work out like it does in the movies.

28.Ours: A bonus track that ended up taking on its own life as a single because it was just that good. The whole chorus is gold. Ours is one of many examples of Taylor sneaking heart-stopping lyrics in bubblegum songs. “Don’t you worry your pretty little mind, people throw rocks at things that shine.” You’d be hard pressed to find a lyric like that in anyone else’s bonus track.

27.Fifteen: “In your life you’ll do things greater than dating the boy on the football team. I didn’t know it at fifteen.” That’s just one of many impactful lyrics in this reflection on this tender age. Anyone who has ever been a fifteen year old girl has cried to this song. It’s true; all you want is to be wanted at that age. But there are bigger dreams out there for us all than fake love from high school boys. Thank God we have Taylor to remind us.

26.Fearless: This is a Taylor Swift song I go back to over and over. This whole album is so thematically perfect. It came out my senior year of high school and listening to it is like stepping into a time machine. Swift’s songwriting doesn’t always thrive on title tracks (see: Speak Now), but this song captures the essence of the album while also standing alone.

25.State of Grace: When you think arena rock, you probably don’t think Taylor Swift. And yet this song exists. She describes the beginning of a relationship as a state of grace, before anything has gotten messed up and everything is possible. This was truly a new sound for her at the time, making it a perfect opening track to Red. She fires off one-liner after one-liner with huge vocals surrounded by an immersive drum beat. “These are the hands of fate. You’re my Achilles heel. This is the golden age of something good, and right, and real.”

 24.I knew you were trouble.: I will go to my grave swearing this song is about John Mayer. I think Miss Revisionist History puppeteer-d the narrative that it was about Harry Styles because it sold more albums. Or maybe it’s a Carly Simon “You’re So Vain” style roast of several guys. Who knows? Regardless of who it’s about, this was the song that solidified Taylor as a pop star.

 23.Safe & Sound: Taylor Swift has served her fans just about everything we could ask for over the years, and with this song she served us spooky lullaby vibes. The macabre little weirdo in me could not love creepy Taylor more. The harmonies created by The Civil Wars only enhance the goosebump factor. This was another track she did for the Hunger Games soundtrack (See: Eyes Open) when asked to imagine the lullaby Katniss might have sung to Rue in the arena.

22.22: I agonized for longer than I care to admit over these rankings, but when I saw that 22 had ended up ranked number 22 without me trying, I knew I was done. This song came out the year I turned 22, my senior year of college. I lived with three of my best friends. For each of our birthdays, we were woken up by a dance party to this song. The amount of love and nostalgia I feel for this song is hard to measure. In addition to having a personal meaning, this song just nails what it’s like to be in your early 20’s. It is, in fact, miserable and magical, oh yeah. This is a Taylor Swift song that became a cultural *thing.* Everyone who has turned 22 since it came out has referenced it in some way, even Harry Styles himself.

 21.Wildest Dreams: Even when she’s a cynic about love, Taylor can still write the heck out of a song. The pounding of Swift’s own heartbeat anchors this mournful yet resigned reflection on the fact that almost all relationships end. With lyrics like, “Someday when you leave me, I bet these memories follow you around,” this is one of the few Swift songs that doesn’t end on a hopeful note.

 20.Come Back…Be Here: This is a bonus track buried deep on the Deluxe Edition of Red. It’s a long distance relationship theme song. More specifically, it’s about realizing you’ve fallen for someone after they’re gone. It’s also the first time she used the word “delicate” to describe the beginning of a relationship. So basically Come Back…Be Here walked so Delicate could run.

 19.The Archer: This is Taylor Swift at her most self-aware, and consequently her most vulnerable. Her vocals blanketed by synth and vocoder, she sings “Who could ever leave me darling—but who could stay?” There’s a lyrical juxtaposition between this song and New Year’s Day, the album closer on reputation that I love. In the first bridge of NYD, she sings “Hold on to the memories, they will hold onto you. And I will hold onto you.” In The Archer, she sings at the end of both verses, “Help me hold onto you.” It’s so interesting to hear her acknowledge that she maybe doesn’t know how to be in a good relationship. We can all have a tendency to self-sabotage. And now we have a Taylor Swift song about it.

 18.Sad Beautiful Tragic: As much as I love “22,”  “I Knew You Were Trouble,” and “We are never ever getting back together,” there’s part of me that wishes Red had been all ballads and singer/songwriter acoustics. Part of the reason I wish that is because of this song. Taylor has a way of finding beauty in sadness. This song is about the moment in a breakup when you stop villainizing the other person and realize you two were just bad together. There were beautiful times that felt like magic, but for whatever reason the two of you could never get that back once it was gone. The lyrics are wonderfully brutal. “Words, how little they mean when you’re a little too late.” “You’ve got your demons and darling they all look like me.” “Hang up. Give up. For the life of us we can’t get back…” This song makes me wish I was sad even when I’m not.

 17.Everything Has Changed: Here is another example of Taylor Swift just nonchalantly throwing in one of the best lyrics you’ve ever heard. In the outro she sings, “All I know is we said hello, so dust off your highest hopes.” She wrote this song with Ed Sheeran on a trampoline, and I don’t know a better way to describe it than to say it sounds like she wrote it with Ed Sheeran on a trampoline.

 16.I Almost Do: In a catalog of highly relatable songs, this one might be the most relatable of all. Instead of calling an ex she knows she shouldn’t speak to anymore, she writes this song. If only we could all be so productive in our moments of weakness.

 15.This Love: Over time, this track snuck up on me as one of my favorites from 1989. Taylor originally wrote this as a poem. It was produced by Nathan Chapman, who she worked with extensively on her country albums. It sounds like a siren song that might call out to you in a dream, with layers upon layers of restrained vocals. Seemingly built upon the old adage “If you love something let it go, if it comes back it’s yours,” the lyrics tell of a love she let go only to have it come back into her life right on time. “These hands had to let it go free and this love came back to me.” Poetry, indeed.

14.Enchanted: This might be the most Taylor Swift song there is. It honestly boggles the mind how she can take these tiny moments that we all experience, and blow them up lyrically and sonically to match how it felt to live them. Taylor meets a guy and thinks he’s cute and that they have a connection. Out of that we get this sweeping, cinematic masterpiece. There are sparkles and wonder and 2:00 am hoping…all the whimsical elements that make up our beloved TSwift.

13.Tim McGraw: The one that started it all. RIP to the careers that were killed when a 16 year old girl rode in on a song she wrote with Nashville veteran Liz Rose and it was this good. I’ll never forget hearing this for the first time in the car with my mom. We both stopped talking to listen to it all the way through. When we got home I Googled “Taylor Swift,” and the rest was history. A perfect country song, this track features a clear storyline and references Georgia, a Chevy truck, back roads, and God.

12.Breathe: Another song I go back to time and time again. This is such a poignant reflection about having to cut a person out of your life, but knowing they’re not a villain. I love the line, “Never wanted this, never want to see you hurt. Every little bump in the road I tried to swerve.” It’s been ten years since this album was released and every time I listen to this song may as well be the first time.

11.Blank Space: Taylor Swift saw your boyfriend slideshows and she raised you this irreverent bop. (For heaven’s sake, she did not date Zac Efron.) The day 1989 came out I had a hard time getting through the whole album because I just wanted to listen to this song over and over. Years later and I could still have it on repeat. I can’t pick one lyric to highlight because they’re all solid gold. And that pen click in the chorus? *chef’s kiss*

10.Cruel Summer: I didn’t know that Fall Out Boy Taylor was missing from my life until I heard Cruel Summer. Written as a Pete Wentz-style series of compelling imagery and jarring one-liners, this contains some of her boldest lyrics. “I love you, ain’t that the worst thing you’ve ever heard?” she shouts on a frantic bridge bookended by searing verses. I’m not sure but I think to drive around on a summer night with a car full of friends singing this as loudly as possible might be the law now.

9.Clean: If you have never gotten in your feelings in your car while it’s raining and this song plays in the background…have you even lived? Taylor teams up with delightful weirdo Imogen Heap to create a musical wonderland that describes what it feels like when you realize you’re finally over your ex(es).

8.You Belong With Me: If we were in a Ghost of Christmas Past style flashback of my life right now, we might look through the window of my hot pink bedroom and find an 18 year old Ashton performing the living hell out of this song in front of her dresser mirror. This is not just a song—it’s an anthem. Yet another example of Swift’s ability to include personal detail that feels universal.

7.Lover: With the sonic ambience of the last song played at a local dance in the 1960’s, Lover is Taylor’s greatest love song. I’ll never stopped being confused that she thinks leaving Christmas lights up until January is an act of rebellion, but that hardly matters in comparison with the rest of the lyrics. “My heart’s been borrowed and yours has been blue. All’s well that ends well to end up with you.” “And at every table, I’ll save you a seat.” She captures the cosmic coziness of true love.

6.White Horse: A breakup song that takes the fairytale theme and turns it on its head, with yet another reference to a stairwell. (Seriously, she loves stairs.) There are so many beautiful lyrics in this song, but the one I find most affecting is “This ain’t Hollywood, this is a small town. I was a dreamer before you went and let me down.” One of the things I love about Taylor’s breakup songs is they always end with a declaration of strength. In White Horse, she leaves that small town in the rearview to find bigger and better things. How is she so sad and yet so powerful?

5.Last Kiss: Undoubtedly one of the most devastating breakup songs ever written, Last Kiss features lyrics that silence even the loudest Swift skeptic. “So I’ll go sit on the floor wearing your clothes, All that I know is I don’t know how to be something you miss.” The entire bridge is so sad I can only describe it as emotionally indulgent. Like any Taylor Swift ballad, Last Kiss hurts so good.

4.Lovestory: Out of all her songs, this one is probably the most closely associated with Taylor by the world at large. It details a storybook love that feels timeless in any age. The lyrics ask us to believe that the fairytale love we dream about is real, even when it’s difficult. I don’t know her personally, but having listened to her most recent album, Lover, I have a feeling that sentiment rings more true now than ever for her.

3.Dear John: This song—and hear me out here— is one of the greatest acts of feminism in the last century. I don’t know if we can put audio in the Smithsonian but, if we can, I nominate Dear John. We all suffered watching human Lisa Frank kitten Taylor Swift date walking STD John Mayer circa 2009. When she came out of her teenage-girl-infatuated-with-brooding-guitar-player stupor, she wrote this song. Where do I begin? The opening Mayer-esque guitar licks…the searing vocals…the triumphant reminder that she’s not just a girl in a dress. She’s a songwriter. And rest assured, she’ll write your ass under the table if you break her heart.

2.Mine: “You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter, You are the best thing that’s ever been mine.” YOU.MADE.A.REBEL…OF.A.CARELESS.MAN’S…CAREFUL.DAUGH.TER. This is the lyric Taylor tosses in to an upbeat, radio-friendly pop song. I have lain awake at night thinking about the genius of that lyric. This ranks number two for me because if you’re asking me the top examples of who she is as a songwriter, number one is a devastating ballad. Number two is a sparkly pop song that, created by any other artist, would have been fun but forgettable. When created by Taylor Swift, even the bubbliest pop song is packed with stunning lyrics.

1.All Too Well: In the Taylor Swift fandom, it’s downright cliché to rank this song as her best. But I just can’t help myself. I still remember the moment I first heard this song. I had been through a breakup the year before where the guy I was dating long distance broke up with me over the phone. I cried in my car as each lyric seemed to read my most intimate thoughts. “And you call me up again just to break me like a promise, so casually cruel in the name of being honest.” Though much ado has been made about the scarf featured in the song, that is not the point. (I swear if one more “journalist” asks Jake Gyllenhaal where the scarf is, I’m going to light something on fire.) The scarf is simply a metaphor for the little pieces of yourself you leave with someone in a relationship, and you never get those pieces back. Your mind races with memories, and the distance between those memories and the heartbreak you feel once the relationship ends can be devastating. But the triumph of Taylor Swift is that even in her sadness, she is empowered. “You can’t get rid of it, ‘cause you remember it all too well.” Swift knows she’s a lot to lose. And when you listen to this song, no matter how heartbroken you are, you know that you’re a lot to lose, too.

And that, reader, is her gift to us. Taylor Swift never runs from a Big Feeling. She embraces, embodies and magnifies what it’s like to feel without restraint. Are you sad? Great! Cry about it. Is there a bathroom floor nearby? Lie on it. Is it raining? So much the better. Have you fallen in love? How wonderful! How magical! Might I suggest kissing in the rain, having a pivotal conversation at 2:00 am, and feeling sure your love for this person is eternal despite having known them a literal day? That is, after all, what Taylor Swift would do. And God bless her for it. She’s become the soundtrack to so many of our lives by unapologetically living her life as an exposed nerve, acutely aware of the poetry of everyday life. And for that she will surely go down in history as one of the greatest songwriters of all time.

Easy Dinner Recipes

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If you’re like me, you dread coming up with dinner ideas each week. With a newborn baby and a husband who often works on call, getting dinner on the table is the last thing I want to deal with in a given day. With that in mind, I’m sharing some of my easy, go-to recipes. I’m not a food blogger, so there are no fancy pictures, just straightforward, fool-proof meals. The quantities listed make enough for two people in our household. One of those people is built like a Hemsworth brother and we still usually have leftovers, but if you’re feeding a family with kids, you may need to double some of the ingredients.

  1. Crockpot Hawaiian Chicken
    • Ingredients:
      • 2 chicken breasts
      • 1 can sliced pineapple in water or pineapple juice
      • Lawry’s Hawaiian or teriyaki marinade
      • 1 cup water
      • Minute rice (follow box directions for serving size)
    • Instructions:
      • Place chicken breasts in crockpot. Pour water over chicken.
      • Pour marinade over chicken.
      • Layer pineapple slices over chicken. Pour in rest of slices/juice.
      • Cook on low about 6 hours.
      • Prepare rice according to box directions.
      • Shred chicken and serve over rice.
    • Notes:
      • Choose whichever marinade gives you the flavor you want. The Hawaiian marinade is very tangy. The teriyaki is sweeter. I generally use a whole bottle of marinade because YOLO. I also use Minute rice because I cannot cook. We make one cup of rice and it’s plenty for the two of us.
  2. Sausage, rice, and beans
    • Ingredients:
      • 1 Turkey Sausage (link, not ground)
      • 1 can black beans, drained
      • 1 cup Minute rice, prepared according to box directions
      • 1 Tbsp olive oil
    • Instructions:
      • Slice sausage into bite-sized rounds
      • Heat olive oil in a skillet
      • Brown sausage in skillet once oil is hot
      • Add in beans and rice. Cook in skillet until sausage has reached desired brown-ness (I realize that sounds idiotic, but again, I’m a bad cook)
    • Notes:
      • This recipe is so simple, it’s name is just a list of the ingredients. I honestly don’t think I can legally call it a recipe. We buy a Hillshire Farms turkey sausage, but I don’t think there’s a huge difference between brands. I wouldn’t get ground sausage because I don’t think it would go as far as the link. You literally cannot mess this up. One thing I do is add the rice to the skillet before it has fully absorbed the water in the pot, that way it soaks up some of the juices from the sausage.
  3. Crock Pot White Chicken Chili
    • Ingredients:
      • 2 chicken breasts
      • 1 can yellow corn, drained
      • 1 can white beans, drained
      • 1 can diced tomatoes
      • 1 boxed chicken broth
      • 1 pack white chicken chili seasoning or taco seasoning
      • Shredded cheese (optional for serving)
      • Sour cream (optional for serving)
      • Tortilla chips (optional for serving)
    • Instructions:
      • Literally dump all ingredients in the crock pot and walk away. Cook on low around 6 hours.
    • Notes:
      • Andrew and I hate spicy food, and our definition of spicy is pretty broad. If you like a little more kick, you can get diced tomatoes with green chilies and/or opt for a spicier seasoning. This is also a great recipe to make for a group. Just double all the ingredients.
  4. Dutch oven ham & white beans
    • Ingredients:
      • 1 ham steak, diced
      • 1 can white beans
      • 1 boxed chicken broth
      • Minced garlic, to taste
    • Instructions:
      • Add all ingredients to dutch oven
      • Cook covered on medium heat, time will vary (see notes)
    • Notes:
      • The cooking time for this depends on if you get a ham steak that is pre-cooked or not. It should specify on the package. If you get a pre-cooked steak, you technically only need to let it sit in the Dutch oven until it’s heated through. If it’s not pre-cooked, dice & follow package directions for cooking…then add it to the Dutch oven to simmer with the other ingredients. For an even quicker option, buy diced ham. For some reason I’m a diva and I don’t like the way the pre-diced ham tastes, so I always just slice up a ham steak. The longer you let this recipe simmer, the more flavorful the beans will be. We usually put it on the stove an hour before we want to eat and let it cook the whole hour, turning it to low once the ingredients are heated through.
  5. Honorable mentions: other easy dinner ideas
    • Taco night-chicken or ground beef, lettuce, shredded cheese, etc. I think we all know what goes in a taco. Keep these types ingredients on hand and you can also do quesadillas, enchiladas, etc. by mixing and matching with seasonal ingredients.
    • Walmart deli pizza-so much cheaper than having pizza delivered and, in my white trash opinion, just as tasty.
    • Sandwich melts-Bust out the George Foreman and turn it into a panini press. We do tuna melts, ham & cheese melts, etc.

As you can probably surmise from this list, cooking is not my strong point. Please share in the comments if you have other easy meal ideas!

What I Packed in my Hospital Bag

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Packing our hospital bag was one of the things I stressed about most during my pregnancy. The only way I had a clue what to bring was by reading blogs, so I thought it might be helpful to share what I packed. I wanted to wait until after Lyla was born so I would know what we actually ended up using. Taking a childbirth class at our hospital was also really helpful because it gave us an idea what the hospital would provide. I highly recommend taking a class if your hospital offers one!

For mom:

-Phone charger

-Toiletry bag (you’ll want your own shampoo, soap, etc. and contact solution & glasses if you wear contacts.)

-Basic skincare products (face wash & moisturizer)

-Makeup (I just brought the basics)

-Nursing bra if you plan to breastfeed

-Nightgown if you want to change while there. I ended up just wearing the hospital gown because I was too exhausted to even think about changing clothes until we were leaving. Make sure it is nursing friendly if you plan to breastfeed.

-Loose outfit for going home. You will still look about six months pregnant at first. If you end up having a C-section, you won’t want anything tight pressing on your incision.

-The biggest pair of shoes you have. Your feet will most likely be even more swollen than they were in pregnancy.

-Grippy socks or slippers for walking around your room

-Sweater or sweatshirt. I ended up not needing mine because it was 100 degrees the day Lyla was born, but it may be cold in your hospital room.

-Pillow & blanket if you want your own. The hospital will provide both.

For dad:

-Phone charger

-Toiletry kit

-Snacks (so he doesn’t have to leave your side during labor but also doesn’t faint from not eating. Make sure they don’t smell too strong in case you have nausea during labor)

-Pajamas

-Going home outfit

-Slippers for walking around hospital room

-Pillow & blanket if he wants his own

-Contact solution & glasses if he wears contacts. Andrew’s eyes got so dry he was glad to have his glasses.

-Socks & underwear

-Comfy shoes. He may have to do a lot of walking depending on how large the hospital is.

For baby:

-Onesies in varying sizes (I brought preemie, newborn, & 0-3 month since I wasn’t sure how big she would be. Before we left I donated the preemie onesies to the NICU.)

-Socks

-Mittens (baby’s nails will probably be long & they’ll want to scratch their face)

-Going home outfit (we just did a plain onesie and wrapped her in a pretty swaddle for photos. Just keep in mind you have to unswaddle for the car seat if you go that route.)

-Portable sound machine. We put this in Lyla’s bassinet and she slept great.

-Nursing cover if you want any type of modesty. People will be in and out of your room constantly.

-Swaddles if you want to change them out of the hospital swaddle. Keep in mind, the American Academy of Pediatrics cautions against swaddle blankets that could come loose during sleep and cover baby’s nose and mouth. The safest options use Velcro or zippers. If you put your baby in a plain swaddle blanket without fasteners, make sure to monitor them closely.

Even with this relatively small list, there were still items we didn’t use. Honestly, our hospital stay was terrible because we couldn’t get ANY sleep with all the people in and out of our room. So there were a lot of things that went out the window, like changing into a nightgown and changing Lyla’s outfit. But every person who took care of us was wonderful, and I’m so thankful for the nurses who helped me! Moms out there, any items that made your hospital stay better? Items you wish you’d left at home? Let me know in the comments!

 

Lyla’s Birth Story + My Epidural Experience

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Our baby girl is finally here! Lyla Rose Cude joined us at 5:37 pm on Monday, September 9th, 2019. I’m sharing her birth story today because it was so special and I always enjoy reading birth stories from other mamas. I chose to have an epidural, and I’ll also share how that impacted my birth experience. Please know that I would never try and sway any woman toward any particular choice when it comes to birth. I just think the more information you have, the more informed your decision will be. I had a completely positive experience with my epidural and I feel like most of the things you hear about epidurals are negative. So…without further ado…the story of Lyla’s birth!

They say every labor is different. My labor progressed over a period of weeks. Lyla was head down and VERY low for most of my third trimester. This made the waiting extra hard because it felt like my body was teasing me. I was so uncomfortable. Every contraction I would think “Is this it?!” but it would inevitably subside. I wanted labor to be like a checklist, and I had completed every step except the baby coming! I reached the point every pregnant woman talks about…I wanted that baby out! We had discussed the possibility of induction on September 10th with my doctor, but for some reason an elective induction just didn’t feel right for me. As much as I wanted to meet our daughter, I wanted her to have every chance to come on her own. I ended up going into labor on my own at 39 weeks, 5 days pregnant.

Andrew and I spent all day that day just relaxing around the house. We were both trying not to be anxious, but we were so ready for her to come. I paced the house, did squats (yes I tried to squat my baby out), and tried my best to stay somewhat comfy. I was so sad when we were getting ready for bed because I had the whole weekend with Andrew and she didn’t come, and there it was time for him to go back to work the next morning. As we lay down to sleep, I began to pray. I prayed that God would help me to trust his timing. I prayed that if Lyla wasn’t ready, that she would stay in my belly. I prayed that he would help me have peace knowing that if she wasn’t coming, that meant she needed to stay in there for some reason. I prayed that if she was ready, that he would compel my body to respond to her so she could make her way into the world. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that as soon as I prayed that sentence, my water broke. And this was no maybe. Lyla has a flair for the dramatic and there was no denying that’s what had happened. I gasped and said, “I think my water just broke!” Andrew turned on the light and confirmed what I already knew…this baby was coming!

Andrew packed the last minute items in our hospital bag while I showered and tried to figure out what to wear while my water was actively breaking (Spoiler alert: there is no right answer). During the drive to the hospital I was nervous, excited, anxious, and everything in between. We checked into triage where they confirmed that my water had, in fact, broken and admitted me to labor and delivery. By that time I had been in labor for about two hours. My contractions were painful but nothing I couldn’t handle. I chose to labor for a little longer without medication while I felt like the pain was manageable. We watched The Golden Girls on the hospital TV to distract me. After three more hours of labor, I decided I was ready for the epidural. I wanted to get it before the pain got too intense just in case there were any complications and we needed to re-do it. Even as confident as I felt about my decision to get the epidural, I was absolutely terrified. My entire body was shaking. Andrew helped me calm down as much as I could. My anesthesiologist was patient and reassuring. Thankfully my epidural “took” on the first try. The only tiny hiccup was that it didn’t numb my contractions at first because it didn’t get up high enough. We consulted the anesthesiologist and all it took was for me to lay completely flat for about half an hour and we were in business!

I know every woman, every labor, and every baby is different. For me personally, the epidural was the right choice. I was completely lucid and fully present for the whole birth. I didn’t have any complications with the placement. I was able to feel everything I needed to feel to push. And most importantly, the relief provided by the epidural allowed me to focus on my baby instead of focusing on the pain. Had I opted for natural childbirth, I would have had to devote all my energy to dealing with the pain. I’m not sure I would have had enough remaining energy to push. I also have anxiety, and I was concerned that if I went natural, the pain would get to a point where I could no longer cope and I would enter a state of panic. If that were to happen, I knew there was no way I would calm back down because the pain would only intensify as labor progressed. For me, the epidural was the most empowering part of my birth experience, because it provided me the relief I needed to take on the task ahead without fear.

After I had labored another several hours, my dilation stalled at five centimeters. Since my water had already broken and time was of the essence, they gave me Pitocin to speed up dilation. At my next check I was up to seven centimeters. Lyla didn’t love the Pitocin, so they stopped it and allowed me to progress on my own from there. The next time they checked me it was time to start pushing. This is where things really got interesting.

What we didn’t know until it was time to push, was that Lyla was in a position called LOP. Her head was turned sideways with her chin tilted upward. They couldn’t just turn her because they couldn’t tell where the umbilical cord was. My whole labor, Lyla’s heart rate had dropped with every contraction. This led to concern that the cord may be around her neck. My doctors wanted to give me a chance to push, but they also had to act with an abundance of caution for Lyla’s safety. My doctor explained everything to me and said, “Babies in this position can be delivered vaginally. I’ve seen first time moms do it…It is very hard.” She let me know that if at any point they felt I was exhausted or Lyla was in danger, they would do a C-section before the situation turned into an emergency. I was so thankful for her honesty and I trusted the team of people in the room to make the right decision if a C-section became necessary. But there was just something in me that told me I could get my baby here by pushing. She had been so low for so long, I just felt sure that she knew what to do and that I had the strength to help her.

With each push, Lyla made progress. Then she promptly scooted back up and all progress was lost. That pattern went on for an hour, with her heart rate continuing to drop each time I had a contraction. They put me on oxygen to give her as much air as possible. At that point they brought in a high risk doctor. I also had a whole team of nurses ready to prep for a C-section if the need arose. They all cheered me on and, no matter what happened, they never gave up on me. I really think that made all the difference in helping me not feel defeated when I kept losing progress. I told them I could keep pushing and we decided to go for one more round and then assess the situation.

I have never been so focused on anything in my life. I kept my eyes closed and listened to Andrew in one ear and my doctors and nurses in the other. Andrew said I was like Lebron James before a big game…completely in the zone. I prayed and prayed that the Lord would be near to us and help us as he had so many other times during my pregnancy. Finally, during that last 30 minutes of pushing, Lyla began to keep her progress after each contraction. Andrew said, “She knows you’re in charge now!” After 30 more minutes of pushing, Lyla made her entrance into the world! I was so relieved and overjoyed! She weighed 8 pounds, 9 ounces and had the chubbiest cheeks.

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I’m so grateful for my birth experience. The epidural helped me feel empowered to face labor, delivery, and the after-birth care I needed. The team of doctors and nurses around me were encouraging and positive. I trusted them to make the medical decisions necessary, but still felt like they let me have as much say as possible. Andrew was incredible. He never left my side. He comforted and supported me during labor and cared for me so tenderly during my recovery. We are so blessed with a healthy baby, and all of my prayers for my birth experience were answered.

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If you’re nervous about giving birth and you have any questions for me, don’t hesitate to ask! I’m an open book. Whatever type of birth you want to have, you can do it! My only advice is to stay open-minded because you truly don’t know what will happen. Every birth is different. Make sure you’re comfortable with your doctor and be willing to take their input, knowing they want you and your baby to be healthy and happy. And know that you’re allowed to change your mind as circumstances change. If you wanted a natural birth but it starts to get overwhelming…get the epidural! Don’t suffer. There’s no award for whose labor sucked the most. If you thought you’d get the drugs for sure but the time comes and you feel like want to go natural, do it! If you end up needing a C-Section to get your baby here, then thank God for C-sections! That is MAJOR surgery and could potentially save your baby’s life or avoid dangerous complications. Don’t let anyone tell you a C-section is somehow “less” than a vaginal birth. My wish for every woman is that she would come out of her birth experience feeling strong and empowered. I’ll get off my soapbox now, but I really mean it when I say to reach out with any questions.

Mamas, what are some of your sweetest birth memories? Any pieces of advice you wish you’d been given beforehand? Share them in the comments!

Baby Registry Tips + Lyla’s Showers

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We were so blessed by family and friends with baby showers for Lyla. Andrew’s family threw us one, one of my childhood best friends threw us one at my home church, and our Sunday school class here in Lexington threw us another! As first-time parents, we truly would not have been able to get everything we needed for baby if it hadn’t been for the generosity of loved ones. We are so grateful that Lyla is already so loved and cared for!

When it came time to create a baby registry, I was completely clueless. Now that we have everything ready and waiting for little miss to make her debut, I wanted to share the tips that were helpful for me!

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Do your research

Do not…I repeat…do NOT just walk into a baby store and start scanning. They will have you convinced you need every gadget on the planet. Before you register, do some research on what you’ll actually need. I asked friends and posted a new mama SOS on Facebook. I found Lucie’s List helpful. She’s practical and her info keeps up with current safety regulations.

As far as advice from others, remember that every baby is different. Try to take in what’s helpful and forget the rest. I’ve personally found that other moms are happy and willing to offer their insight in a non-judgmental way. Don’t feel bad if you get overwhelmed. Learning about car seats alone made me feel like I was earning an online degree. No one knows what they’re doing the first time around, but thankfully there are lots of great resources out there.

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Register for everything…except clothes

We had serious sticker shock as we realized a lot of our baby must-haves were big ticket items. We didn’t expect people to spend tons of money on our baby, but we also wanted to be honest about what we needed. We registered for everything from our crib and rocker to small items like baby shampoo and Infant Tylenol. Having a range of price points on the registry will allow people to select a gift in their budget. Having larger items will be helpful for family who want to gift you one of your major needs, and allows groups to go in together on a gift.

Some people advised me to register for clothes so people will know your style. Truth be told, baby clothes are the most fun thing to shop for, and people are going to get you the clothes they think are cute regardless of what’s on your registry. I registered for a few basic onesies in varying sizes to make sure she had simple things to wear at home. Other than that, I personally wouldn’t use my time to pick out clothes. Trust me…you’re going to get them anyway.

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Location, Location, Location

Think about where your baby item buyers live before you choose where to register. The truth is, there really aren’t that many options when it comes to baby stores. Make sure the places you select have a user-friendly online option where people can view and purchase from your registry. We registered at Buy Buy Baby and Target. Our hometown doesn’t have either of those stores. I tried to register at Walmart, but their registry system was so difficult to use I gave up after three attempts. I explained to friends and family back home that they could view our registries online and were welcome to purchase similar items at Walmart instead. Many people chose gift cards, which allowed us to complete our registries after the showers without spending much money. Also be mindful of the customer service at the places you are registering. Do they offer any discounts on non-purchased items? How do they handle returns? For example, Buy Buy Baby was very easy and fun to register with, but their return policy is very strict. I ended up having a much easier time returning things purchased from Walmart.

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Don’t be afraid to edit

Don’t be afraid to make updates to your registry as your pregnancy progresses. I took items off and swapped things out as I learned more about baby gear. You may also have to make updates as you receive gifts if those shopping didn’t scan your registry. If your registry gives you a coupon for items that didn’t get purchased, make sure to add anything and everything you may need as those coupons are often for a one-time use and only apply to items on your registry. I ended up adding a floor lamp and a storage cart to our Target registry before completing it. Discounts on larger items like that really adds up.

Remember, at the end of the day, all your baby actually NEEDS is love, food, a car seat, and a safe sleep surface. Everything beyond that is just for convenience and…let’s be real…fun! Other mamas, what are your baby registry tips? What do you wish you’d known when you were registering? What are your must haves and what did you never use? Spread that mama wisdom wealth in the comments!

Lyla’s Nursery Reveal

NDHL1051I’m so excited to share Lyla’s nursery with you! I had so much fun (and a few sleepless nights) putting this room together. Interior design is a great outlet for creativity. I think we all feel like we have an inner Joanna Gaines just waiting to come out! Today I’m sharing my inspiration for her room, how it all came together, and where all the pieces are from.

The inspo:

The first thing I chose for Lyla’s nursery was the color. I love everything pink, but I didn’t want to design a room for me. I also believe in how colors make us feel. I chose a very soft lavender because I knew it would be soothing. 

The next step was to choose a “theme.” I didn’t have anything that I wanted to commit to, so I chose Team No Theme. I just wanted the room to be soft, timeless, and feminine. I wanted it to look like a baby lived there, not an adult hipster. I knew I wanted to incorporate florals, but I didn’t want to go too crazy. I also had the luxury of knowing we are moving sometime next year when Andrew’s residency ends, so her nursery didn’t have to transition into a little girl’s room. As long as we were living in this house, it only had to be a room for a tiny baby.

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The process:

Decorating this nursery proved to be one of the hardest projects I’ve done. You only get to bring your first baby home once, and I wanted everything to be just the way I envisioned. That desire combined with pregnancy brain gave me decision paralysis like I have never had in my life. I am normally a VERY decisive person. But while putting together the nursery, I second-guessed everything. I literally lost nights of sleep over the curtains. I kept having to remind myself that all my baby actually needs is love, food, and a safe place to sleep, and I had those covered.

To somewhat preserve my sanity, I made a list and a Pinterest board of all the elements I wanted for the room. That helped me stay focused while shopping.

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The sources:

I’m not a cool enough blogger to have an account where I can link all the sources for you, so I’ll list them here for those curious:

Crib: Buy Buy Baby

Dresser (used as changing table): Leah Shea Interiors in Paducah, KY

Blanket ladder: Facebook Marketplace

Paint color: Sachet by Valspar

Rocker: Target

Side table: Marshall’s

Cube storage & floral cubes: Walmart

Gallery wall: Frames are from Goodwill, Marshall’s, and At Home. Mirror and cross are from Hobby Lobby. The wooden sign is from Home Goods. The other pieces in her gallery wall are:

-“The Rose Fairy” print from this series by Cicely Mary Barker. She was an English artist in the 1920’s and 30’s, and I love her prints for nurseries or little girls’ rooms.

-Vintage sheet music for “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I’ve had this sheet music for years and I saved it knowing I would want it in a nursery someday.

-A vintage Barbie sketch print from a set of greeting cards like this one.

-The Art of Disney theme parks “Vision” postcard. I tried to link this but couldn’t find a source I trusted. This is a postcard I bought while I worked at Disney. It depicts the land on which Magic Kingdom is built as it looked when Walt purchased it, with a hologram of the castle over it.

That may be more detail than you ever wanted to know, but that’s the story on our little girl’s nursery! We can’t wait to bring her home!