New Mama (U.B.C. – Day 20)

I have a real thing about journals.  I collect them and keep them in a book shelf in my bedroom, all beautiful and blank, waiting for me to fill them with words.  I love them and I get antsy whenever I think about not having access to them.  It’s a problem.  Really.

I recently pulled a half filled journal out of my nightstand drawer and was thrilled to find the journal I began when The Boy was an infant.  I had been told for many years that it would likely be impossible for me to get pregnant, as I had been struggling with abnormal growths on my cervix for the better part of six years, so when he was born shortly before my fortieth birthday, to me it was nothing short of miraculous.  From the moment he was born I knew that he would be my only child, so I wanted to keep a journal of his life and my experience being his mother.

The first entry in this particular book was written when he was four months old.

My sweet little T, as with all that I am and have, this is for you.  I want to write down everything I can – all the special moments, all my thoughts and feelings, all of the wonderful things about you and how being your mother makes me feel – because as I lay nursing you recently, I realized that if I didn’t write it all down, you would never know it.  My memory, while great, will doubtless fade with time, and the fact is that there is simply no one else who shares these memories with me, besides you – and you’re far too young to remember.  I know it will be many years before you read this, if ever – and if you do read it, you may even have a child of your own by then – but I want you to know what you were like as a child, and I want to remember, as well.  I want to remember how you loved to kick your feet, most of the time kicking me (smiley face), how you were so intent on learning all about your world that you sometimes did’t realize you were hungry until you were hysterically crying for food, and how talkative you were, especially in the mornings when you first woke up.  I want to remember how much you loved to stand, even before you could sit up or roll over.  There will be so many photographs of you – there already are – but nothing will capture the tears of that I cry at times when I look at you asleep in my arms or next to me on the bed.  Nothing will capture how much you love diaper changing time or getting washed up (your toilette, we call it), or even getting your hair washed on bath night.  You still aren’t so sure about the actual bath, but we’re getting there.  And I’ll never capture on film the way your eyes widen and your eyebrows go up when you hear the chirpy noise your grasshopper toy makes.  Nor the way your eyes roll back and you wiggle your eyebrows when you begin to nurse.  No one but me will ever see that, and I want you to know it and me to remember it.  I want this to be a joyful thing for you to read, a context for you, a piece of your history, and a reason to smile if for some reason I’m not still here when you read it.  I love you so very much,  my little T.  I didn’t think it was possible to love someone as much as I love you.  You are my miracle, the best thing I’ve ever done and it is my honor to be your mama.  I’m so lucky to be able to help you and watch you grow.  I love you, my little man.

*********************

Be kind to my sleep-deprived, postpartum, baby-obsessed self.

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Something New: Fiction (U.B.C. – Day 19)

I’m currently working on a novel (yes, I know, me and the rest of the world) but this morning as I sat down to work on the revisions my agent is seeking, there was something nagging at me that I couldn’t ignore, so I sat down and put fingers to keyboard.  It has nothing to do with the present project, but appears to be an entirely new one rearing its head and demanding attention. Read more

Artichoke Squares (U.B.C. – Day 17)

I reverse engineered this recipe from something I had at a Halloween party ten or so years ago.  It was my only option as I never could find out who had made them … a hazard of attending party at which the only people I knew were my sister and her friend.  Little squares of artichoke and cheese heaven.  My cobbled together version tastes a little different than the original, but pretty good nevertheless.  It’s also easy to double the recipe for larger groups. Read more

The Girl in the Mirror Grows Up

I didn’t understand how I got there:  mid-forties, and seeing numbers on my scale and in my clothing that I hadn’t seen since I was pregnant.  I was living my adolescent and young adult terror of being what my grandmother used to euphemistically call “heavy.”

On an intellectual level, I know that I was not “heavy,” that my height and weight combination gave me a 21.9 body mass index (BMI) – perfectly normal and healthy, but I was used to being firmly in the “underweight” BMI category.  I was used to wearing a certain size clothing, and seeing two or even–gasp!–three sizes higher than that threw me into fits of insecurity and brought forth in me an irrational need for self-flagellation.

After being told I was underweight and it would be difficult for me to get pregnant at my weight, I gained twenty pounds. Gulp. Once I  got pregnant, I then gained another eighty-five pounds (no, that is not a typo!) during my pregnancy, but after my son was born and I was breastfeeding, I dropped all one hundred plus pounds within six months.

Yoga, walking and a busy lifestyle kept me thin, and while my over-forty friends complained of slow metabolisms, I held steady between 110-115 lbs.  Then my son began to get more independent, my family started requiring more of my time and energy, financial issues started requiring more of my time to be spent working, and my life hit a few major snags brought on by my father-in-law’s death and nasty litigation.**

That’s when the time I was able to devote to staying fit decreased and my weight started to creep up slowly.  That’s when my normal jean size began creeping up one inch at a time.  That’s when gravity started catching up with me.

So there I was.  I know how I got there, but on a visceral level, I didn’t understand how.  My entire life, my whole manner of living, had always focused on staying thin, and as I got older, staying fit and healthy while being thin.  I shuddered at the thought of venturing into a gym the way I looked and felt at that time, but I was caught in a catch-22:  while I knew I needed a gym and classes to motivate me and peers to hold me accountable, I didn’t want either until I was back in shape or dropped at least twenty pounds.  I loathed that I had to buy clothes because I could no longer fit into the majority of what was in my closet, but I refused to squeeze into too-small clothing because it looked horrible and made me feel worse about myself.

I found myself counting calories, something I hadn’t done since the height of my battle with anorexia.  I was counting and mentally tallying everything that went into my mouth, then beating up myself if I succumbed to the siren call of Dairy Queen or the Gifford’s Lobster Tracks sitting in my freezer.  I threw chia seeds into and onto all my food in vain attempts to make myself feel full.

Our refrigerator was stuffed with yogurt and fruits and vegetables, our pantry full of granola and low glycemic index foods.  Of course, given that I live with a junk food junkie, there is a lot of “bad” stuff in there, too, but since eating it made me (and still makes me) want to worship at the altar in my water closet, I was and remain pretty adept at avoiding it.

At that time, I turned away from looking in the mirror because I didn’t recognize the woman I saw there.  I didn’t see the woman I know I was and still am; instead, I saw someone I never wanted to become.  I saw the caricature of the suburban mother and harried housewife that the media so often portrays, and not in a positive light.

So I stopped looking. I stopped doing anything that didn’t feel right. I was tired of being angry at myself, of chastising myself.

And I started. Walking. Eating only when I was hungry instead of at socially predetermined times for the classic three meals a day. Drinking more water and fewer cups of coffee. Cutting sugar out of my diet little by little.

And here I am.

Five years later, back to feeling like myself again.

My body is still different than it was in my 20s and 30s, but now it’s different because I’ve carried, given birth to, and nourished a child. Now it’s different because feeling strong is more important than what size my jeans are. Being healthy is the most important thing to me now.

I want to be healthy–to experience life with my family, to see my son grow and to watch him build a fulfilling life for himself, to watch him find happiness and love in all that he does.

So now I eat what feels right, what makes me feel healthy. Now I move my body when it wants to move, and I rest when it tells me to stop. Now I live for myself and not for some artificially imposed definition of what is good for a woman–of a certain age or of any age.

** Fortunately, the financial issues and the litigation have been largely resolved by some hard work and by some amazing individuals determined to suss out the truth about our situation and rectify a long-standing injustice.  However, I have not yet figured out a way to bring back my husband’s beloved father.  If I do ever figure out that particularly thorny issue, you will likely find me traveling the world in search of the perfect beach, because I’ll be in much demand as a re-animator.

The Beauty of Clean Laundry (U.B.C. – Day 15)

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Today is many things in my household.  It is, of course, tax day.  Fortunately, we have an accountant who keeps us in line there, so I don’t worry too much about it except to keep her in the know with the appropriate documentation.

It is also the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing.  For us, it is a day to be extraordinarily thankful, as my eldest step-daughter was running the race last year and was less than a half mile away when the bombs went off.  Other than a foot injury sustained in the crush of humanity rushing this way and that in a panic, she was unharmed.

This April 15, however, holds another, more immediate reason for gratitude.  Yesterday our hot water heater was replaced, and today I can do laundry for the first time in nearly two weeks.  Towels, sheets, socks, underwear … it’s all going into scalding hot water today and I couldn’t be more excited.

Perhaps after the laundry is all done, I can start catching up on the rest of my to-do list….

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National Pecan Day (U.B.C. – Day 14)

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Apparently April 14 is National Pecan Day.  With that in mind, I thought I’d share two of my favorites from my pecan recipe stash.  I do not know the origin of these recipes, only that they likely came from my mother and that they are written down on index cards in my little recipe box.

The first recipe is for Cinnamon-Suger Candied Pecans.  This recipe makes 1 pound, and it is easy to double if you need an extra large batch.  If you’re not a pecan fan, try this with your favorite kind of nuts instead. Prep time is about five minutes and you cook the nuts for an hour.

Ingredients:

1 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

2 egg whites

2 tablespoons water

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 pound pecan halves

Cooking Instructions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 250 degrees (Farenheit).

2.  Line a jelly roll pan (cookie sheet with sides) with parchment paper; put aside.  You will cook the pecans on this sheet.  If you don’t have parchment paper, wax paper works, as well.

3.  In a large zip-top bag, combine the sugar, cinnamon and salt; put aside.  The bag must be large enough to hold all of the pecans.

4.  In a large bowl, whisk together the egg whites, water and vanilla extract. Add the pecans to the bowl and stir them into the egg white mixture with a rubber spatula, making sure they are all moistened.

5.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the pecans from the egg white mixture and drop them into the bag containing the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Once all of the pecans are added, seal the bag, and shake it until all the pecans are coated with the sugar mixture.

6.  Using a clean slotted spoon, remove the pecans from the bag and place onto the prepared baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 1 hour, stirring/turning them every 15 minutes.

7.  Remove the sheet from the oven and place on a cooling rack.  Cool the nuts to room temperature.

The pecans can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

 

The second recipe is for Pecan Upside Down Cake.  Prep time for this is about 20-30 minutes depending on how fast you are in the kitchen, and total cooking time is about 30-35 minutes.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/3 cup chopped pecans (you can use up to 1/2 cup if you like more nuts and less gooey stuff)

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon Baking Spice blend (I really like Penzeys spices but any mixture of cinnamon and allspice will do)

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup milk

2 tablespoons vegetable oil1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

Cooking Instructions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (Farenheit).

2.  You can either melt the butter in the 9″ round baking pan by placing it into the preheating oven or you can melt it in a saucepan on the stove-top over a low flame.

3.  Once butter is melted, transfer it to the banking pan if necessary, then sprinkle all of the brown sugar evenly into the butter, followed by ¼ cup of the pecans.

4.  In a large mixing bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and spice blend.

5.  Add the remaining ingredients to the mixing bowl and beat until smooth (you can use a hand mixer to speed up the process).

6.  Pour the batter into the baking pan on top of the butter/pecan mixture and spread the batter to the edges, taking care to keep the toppings at the bottom of the pan.

7.  Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

8.  Run a knife or metal spatula around the edge of the baking pan to loosen the cake, then cover the pan with a plate and flip over to remove the cake.

9.  Let the cake cool for 10 minutes before serving to allow the pecan mixture to settle.

 

I’ve seen recipes for this cake using coconut or pineapple, but I am a bit of a pecan purist, so I don’t add anything. Enjoy!

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On Being Alone With My Husband (U.B.C. – Day 13)

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Last night Ernie Hemingway and I had a free night. A night without children. The Boy was with my parents for a sleepover, and the youngest daughter was off visiting a friend in Boston and doing whatever it is young twenty-somethings do these days. The antics of my youth seem tame in comparison to some of the stuff I hear about now, but I digress.

We had the annual fund raiser at The Boy’s school last night, a fun evening for which the parents get all gussied up and go drink wine and beer and bid what we hope are absurdly large amounts of money for items drummed up for donation by the two awesomely amazing women who co-chair the event.

It was a fun night, and we got to schmooze with a lot of people we wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to meet, as our kids are not in the same grade. It was nice for the parents who are not doing drop-off and pick-up on a daily basis to have the opportunity to meet and talk with other parents. It was lovely to see everyone dressed up in their finery instead of in jeans, yoga pants or sweatpants, with hair and makeup done, their faces bright and expectant instead of tired and wanting just a few more minutes before the alarm goes off.

The best part of the night, however, was the hours after the auction. Ernie Hemingway and I got to be just “us” for a few hours, no place we needed to be, nobody we needed to pick up, nobody waiting at home for us. We got to sleep by ourselves for a full night instead of experiencing the normal routine of The Boy coming in to snuggle at 5:00 am each morning. We got to wake up by ourselves and talk about things we wanted instead of having to leap out of bed to make somebody else breakfast, get somebody else dressed or bring somebody else to school.

Last night reminded me of the myriad reasons I love my husband, reasons that often get obscured as we rush through the daily grind of life, barely seeing one another some days except for a few minutes at night when we fall, exhausted, into bed. My husband and I got to spend twenty-four hours together being one another’s best friend and confidante, instead of only being one another’s partner in family management.

It was heavenly.

Random Thoughts (U.B.C. – Day 12)

Saturday.  It’s one of those charged concepts.  Does it mean a day of relaxation or a day to get twice as much done around the house because my husband is home?  Usually the latter.  Yesterday was no different.

Starting out early because The Boy awakened us at 6:25am, I tried in vain to coerce him into slumbering longer.  I summarily informed him that if he was going to wake me so early, he was forbidden to speak with me until I had my coffee.  He seemed to grasp that he’d crossed a line and was remarkably silent until I’d sucked down two cups of java. Read more