Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Comfort Me with Cinnamon & God is Good

My hands hover above a tray of peach melba shortbread, sifting powdered sugar that falls like snow flurries over the browned almond top. And they gently lift the egg whites from the very bottom of the mixing bowl, willing the egg whites to rise and rise of their own accord. And my hands are cold as I pull the frozen strawberries from the sheet pan, after I quartered and cored them before freezing so that my family can eat in-season strawberries all year round. And I pat the biscuit dough into a neat fluffy pile before I smack it gently down with a rolling pin. A hundred memories of my hands in the kitchen, of cinnamon settling on my hair after I poured too much and a cloud of flour and sugar erupted from the mixing bowl. I don't want soup, and I don't want comfort food, but give me some butter and flour and I will comfort myself with baking.

These are things I thought about as I laid on the table this morning. This morning, the day after our baby died. No more little heartbeat, no more swimming bean. No more little green shoot, no more garden womb.

It wasn't me, it was her. A fluke. Something was just wrong with the baby, according to our doctor. She never would have lived. This is really personal to write about, but I will absolutely not have a secret baby. A baby whose name I never say, a baby who we don't talk about. I saw her heartbeat, she made me queasy for hours on end, and last week I went through two whole jars of Klaussen pickles (the cold kind), so I just can't roll over and pretend like I didn't grow a baby for the last 14 weeks, like I didn't dream about her and think about her and pray every night that God would put a hedge of protection around her. We named her. Her name was Violet. And there is an empty ivory-colored velvet baby snow-suit hanging in William's closet that I bought just for her. For my little winter baby who is not really ever coming. 

And even though I am so sad, and I just don't understand God's reasoning for giving me a baby that could only live a few short months, I know this much: God is good. And God is enough. Even when my baby's heart stops beating, He is still enough for me.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Note to Self: Stop Hoarding

Trouble has been brewing in our bedroom for quite a while. Not in the bed area, thank you, but in the dresser, closet, closet floor, top of the dresser, and now the floor all around the dresser. The problem is that my husband and I are both clothes hoarders. I'm the "I will probably wear that again when I go back to work in several years/ This has never fit but it would if I just lost three inches off my shoulder width/ I have never once worn this six-year-old $100 blouse but it's too expensive to just give away" kind of hoarder, while my husband is an emotional hoarder, as in "I can't part with this faded old t-shirt that I haven't worn in 4 years because it says physical therapist on it and I am a physical therapist."

So, over the course of the past five years of marriage, our clothes hoarding has gradually turned into a big, fat mess of clothes that are too numerous to be contained in our closet, dresser, and floor. Our once-clean bedroom that is supposed to be an oasis of calm in what can be a loud and entertaining home has turned into a place that is barely functional. I dread doing my husband's laundry because I know there won't be room for his clothes, especially his 27 white t-shirts, once they're folded. That's not cool.

Enough is enough. Today, I lovingly demanded that we separate the wheat from the chaff and whittle our wardrobes down to what we really wear and what can reasonably fit in our home. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. As I went through the piles of clothes on our closet floor, I tossed into a plastic bag anything that we hadn't worn in over a year, needed major altering to make it work, fits funny, or is something we are keeping for emotional reasons.

I'm not gonna lie. It was hard to gather up my work shoes for donation. I used to have a thing for heels, and I loved my shoes. They come from an era in my life when I gave presentations at medical schools, when I was a road warrior, when my work day began at 3 a.m. so that I could catch the first flight to Los Angeles, work a full day, and catch a red eye to Washington. But you know what? At the end of the day, those shoes are just shoes. They are nothing more. They are NOT me, or a part of me, and they are NOT a memory, though they may trigger memories. It was freeing to throw them in the donation bag and have a little more space to breathe.

Don, on the other hand, took a bit more convincing. I understand that he has fond memories of grad school, being a graduate assistant, and working on cadavers. But donating this t-shirt that hasn't been worn in two years will not mean that he is donating his experiences or memories. It finally clicked and he was able to pack up half of his side of the closet. There were a couple of meaningful items, including a tie his father bought him when he was in junior high, and we took pictures of it to document it and then added it to the bag.

When all was said and done, we packed up over 200 items to be given away. That's a lot of clothes, y'all. And to make sure that we don't find ourselves in this same situation a few years down the road, here are our new ground rules:

1. It's okay to give gifted clothing away. The fact that someone bought something and didn't give it with a gift receipt does not mean we have to keep it, especially if it doesn't fit or isn't something we need.

2. We're only keeping clothes that fit us right now, other than maternity clothes.

3. No more duplicates. I only need one black pencil skirt.

4. No making up meaning for clothes. Clothes are just clothes, they are not people or memories.

I feel like I can breathe again in our bedroom.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Our Daily Bread

I don't make bread that often. Or at least I didn't until recently, but I have the extremely important responsibility of nourishing a little tiny human (or two, if you count the gummy bear-sized babe I'm currently growing) with food. This responsibility has made me pause and consider what I know about nutrition and feeding a family. Baby and toddler nutrition is especially important to me because I've noticed that some of the most convenient baby foods are the least nutritious and a hungry baby + sugary snack or empty calorie snack = major meltdown. I feel like it's my responsibility to stay one step ahead of William by having healthy snacks that will encourage steady blood sugar levels. I take this responsibility seriously since I used to live off of chips & salsa and gummy bears, pre-baby.

I wanted to see if I could start making our bread myself on a weekly basis. I figured I'd try an easy recipe, and if it didn't work out, I'd suck it up and continue spending too much money on bread for the peace of knowing we were eating food that was prepared well and wouldn't cause sugar rushes and crashes. I knew that the recipe couldn't require a lot of time, a lot of time kneading, or strange ingredients I don't normally have on hand. And the recipe had to be 100% whole wheat.

Ta da!

  This recipe met all of my criteria (minus requiring dry milk, but a box of the stuff was easy to find). I did shape the dough into a rectangular log before putting it in the bread pan, which I "greased" with Pam 100% pure olive oil spray. 

The bread rose well and baked perfectly in 30 minutes. Plus, there's something so satisfying and homey about having a kitchen that smells like freshly baked bread. People reference that smell all the time, but when was the last time you actually smelled it in the air? It had been a while for me. 

The recipe is so easy that it's become something I make twice a week and it's completely replaced the need for me to buy english muffins and sandwich bread at the store, which makes my wallet and my heart happy.

Making this particular recipe for homemade bread isn't a "stay at home mom thing." It takes a whopping 15 minutes to make a loaf and if I can pull it off, then you can, too. The idea of bread baking used to freak me out (who are these people who make their own bread? how on earth do they have time to do that? etc.).  If your family eats a ton of sandwiches and you like the idea of making sure they get good, clean ingredients that will fill them up without weighing them down, I would encourage you to make this recipe just once and see how you like it. It's pretty satisfying to hear William "mmmm" over a slice of warm whole wheat bread. Happy bread baking!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Whole Wheat Apple Muffins

I have been experimenting with cookie and muffin recipes that use whole wheat flour. A friend who is a professional baker (hi, Sara!) recommended the King Arthur flour recipe for whole wheat apple muffins last year, and while trying to find the recipe online, I found this variation by Smitten Kitchen. Let me just say that I can't believe I've been missing out for this long.

I only strayed from the recipe a little, using 1 cup of fresh homemade applesauce instead of the apple chunks and 1 cup of fat-free greek yogurt in place of buttermilk or full-fat yogurt. I also used only 1 teaspoon of cinnamon since I use a decent bit of cinnamon in my homemade applesauce. I also didn't use nearly the same amount of brown sugar on top of the muffins. The recipe calls for sprinkling 1/4 cup of brown sugar over them just before baking, but I found that a tablespoon or so was plenty. For a crispier and more sugary top, go all out. But if you plan on serving these to your 11 month old son as a treat, it will make you feel less worried about sugar rushes to decrease the amount.

William has started pointing to what we're eating, like, "Let me have a taste of that already, will ya?" Despite being super cute, it's also super annoying because it means I have to explain why I am drinking a diet coke despite knowing that it is worse for me than drinking a regular coke. It just doesn't make sense to tell him, "No, no. Mommy can drink chemicals but chemicals are not for babies." (I miss you, diet coke. Call me. Please?) I digress. While I was testing one of these muffins straight from the oven, he crawled to my feet, used the legs of my jeans to pull himself to a standing position, and started pointing at the hot muffin and smacking his little pink lips. A part of my heart melted immediately, and I knelt down and gave him a bit of the muffin.

He simultaneously devoured it and managed to break it into tiny crumbs. Tearing any bite of food into no less than 20 small pieces is a skill he has perfected. As soon as the muffin crumbs disappeared, he began flailing his arms over his head and pointing with one tiny finger to the muffin tin cooling on the counter.

Even a small boy can't resist the allure of hot bread from the oven. I stuck him in a high chair with the rest of the muffin, and he was in heaven, curled toes and all.

You should definitely make these muffins. They are so worth the effort.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Tiny Kitchen Workhorse

Have you noticed that it's the tiniest annoyances that can bother you the most? Take, for example, a teeny snag on your thumbnail. Or a small chip in the polish of a freshly pedicured toe. Or a zit on the chin of a bride on her wedding day. I could go on and on.

I've noticed that our kitchen has worked great for us, except for a few tiny chin zits. Ha.

This is the entrance to the kitchen, which is visible from the front door. Our kitchen is a fairly small galley-style kitchen. It doesn't feel confined because the back of the kitchen has 10 foot windows that provide plenty of natural light, and the left side of the kitchen opens to the living room. Glass front cabinets allow light to travel between the rooms and help it feel open.

This is the left side of the kitchen, open to the living room.

Right side of the kitchen.

You can see the area above the cabinets that still needs to be painted sage.
The general lay-out of the kitchen is great, with a work triangle of stove, sink, dishwasher. The things that aren't working for us were easy to fix.

I realized that the reason I dread unloading the dishwasher (aside from any general laziness) is because the dishes we use most were stored all over the kitchen, which meant that unloading took way too long. Glasses went in upper cabinets to the right of the dishwasher, plates were in an upper cabinet to the left of the sink. The colander, bowls, and silicone ice cube trays I use to make William's food went in their own drawer. So I rearranged a few things and put all of the dishes and bowls we use on a daily basis in the cupboard right next to the dishwasher. The drawers pull out, so everything is easy to grab quickly.

It turns out that this tiny change really did save time. It takes less than 2 minutes for me to unload the dishwasher now, but the true timesaver is that I don't put off unloading the dishwasher all morning while new dirty dishes pile up on the sink and countertops.

Before, with a cluttered lazy susan that takes up too much space, and a blender as far away from the fridge as it can be.


The other tiny change with a huge impact was rearranging the lazy susan of spices and cooking utensils we keep on the countertop so that their location makes more sense for how we cook. We are smoothie people; even William slurps one down on a daily basis. Moving the blender right next to the fridge lets us pour in the soy milk and frozen fruit before the freezer door has even closed again, which means I don't have to lug all of the ingredients to the tiny counter on the left of the stove before blending. We moved the spices from the lazy susan into the spice cupboard (novel concept, I know).

The eat-in kitchen area is a little awkward for us. Our round table seats the three of us perfectly, even though we almost always use the dining table to eat. I imagine this area being a banquette with big cushy throw pillows (made of outdoor fabric) and a soft place to land at the end of a long day. This would be the ideal place for William to work on homework or his little brother/sister to color while I'm in the kitchen. We're still thinking of exactly what we need to get out of this area before we commit to a building plan, but we definitely plan on having it built before the arrival of baby two.

Our kitchen is small, but it's proof that a small space can work just as well as a large one. I prepare our meals in this kitchen every day and love doing it because it blends so well with the rest of our home. Despite being the smallest room in our house, this is definitely the heart of our house.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Nonnie's Casserole

We celebrated Mother's Day with Don's parents on Sunday evening, and I made Smitten Kitchen's crispy potato roast.  I only had about half the amount of potatoes the recipe called for, so I added a sweet potato to the recipe and proceeded, not thinking to reduce the amount of butter and olive oil used in the recipe since I was using far fewer potatoes than required.

What should have been a very crispy, lovely dish turned into a still lovely dish of crisp potatoes that were nearly swimming in golden buttery goodness. I realized my error only after taking the potatoes out of the oven and seeing the butter oasis hedged by its stately potato border. 

I felt a little guilty presenting the potatoes with that much butter showing...especially since I was supposed to have made southern scalloped potatoes but had decided not to, at the last minute, since I can't feel good about serving my family that much fat and artery clogging hurt, no matter how tasty, more than once a year (and I had just made the potatoes for Easter). I looked and looked but couldn't find a small casserole dish to house my potatoes.

And then I remembered that a couple of years ago my mother gave me my grandmother's old casserole dish from the 1950s. It's small, presumably since people used to eat normal size portions and not vats of side dishes. I lifted the taters as carefully as I could, though some fell.

The dish was perfect and it was nice to carry something of Nonnie's on Mother's Day. She was such a wonderful grandmother. She always had glass canisters filled with different candies in her cupboards. My sisters and I each have some special dishes of hers, and I'm going to make it a point to use this one more often.

In unrelated news, I had a really wonderful first mother's day. The thing about babies is that they don't understand that they get to sleep in on the weekends, and so they continue to wake up at 6:00 a.m. daily, seven days a week. Don played with William while I slept in an extra two hours (holla!) and then when I stumbled into the living room, still tired since it was just barely 8:00 a.m., there was hot coffee waiting for me. My two boys left for the market so they could make breakfast tacos and I got to stay home, lay on the couch with my crack coffee, and watch the Ghost Whisperer while they were at the store. (Yes, I said Ghost Whisperer. I netflix it. What? I like the clothes and set design.) Laying on the couch and watching TV with coffee that early in the morning (or at all, really) is not something I have done since the pre-baby days. It was a beautiful, beautiful thing. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

For My Mother

Every last thing I know about enduring love, I learned from you.
Every last drop of it.
About kisses on foreheads, marriage vows, standing my ground, praying for change, making soup, has come from you.

What I know of tradition, of making cookies, of the importance of wearing sunscreen and reading books: gifts from you.

You taught me to see the light in the darkness. You taught me to walk. You showed me that a mother's love is an invisible cord, a tether of safety, not broken by miles or wanderlust or plane rides across oceans.

"I will always love you," you told me as I sat on your lap, "no matter what you do."
"Even if I get in trouble at school?" I asked, curious about how much love there was.
"Even if you get in trouble at school."
"Even if I crash a train?" For my five year old imagination, a train crash was the worst of the world's horrors.
"Even if you crash a train."
"And what if I get put in jail for robbing a bank, even if I didn't really rob the bank?"
"Even then, Mary-Bear, even if you rob a bank, I will still love you. I will always, always love you, no matter what you do. I am your mother."

Even all these years later, I remember so clearly the lessons you taught me.

And despite the inevitable drama of my teenage years, my sassy tongue and rolling eyes, 
it was you I called when I needed something unspoken, comfort that really and truly, only a mother can give:

Mom, I can't finish grad school. This is too much. (You talked me back from the ledge.)
And later, when I moved to England to prove that I could, "Mom, I hate it here. It's dark at 4 pm and they eat butter on their turkey sandwiches." You sent me a care package, covered in sparkly stickers and filled with tokens from home.
And when I had good news, "Mommy, Don asked me to marry him!" and then a few years later
"Are you sitting down? I'm pregnant!"

And it was you, when I was in labor, absolutely unable to talk as my head rolled to the side in contractions, 13 hours after my water had broken, 26 hours in hard labor, I looked to you, and no words were needed. You reached over, with your cool hands and your endless supply of clean, damp washcloths, and wiped my forehead. Blood all over the hospital sheets, the monitors beeping all around me, my heart rate, my unborn child's heartbeat, dropping dropping dropping green flicks on a black screen. You were there with me. When Dr. S came in and said, "I'm worried, this baby needs to come out now." When my sweet husband cried over his wife and baby because there was a chance things would not be okay, you were there. As I closed my eyes, I heard you praying over us.

You taught me that it's okay to cry. An invaluable lesson.

You taught me that it's important to have dinner together, sitting at a table.

You taught me that babies need to be rocked. And that I should use my china. And decorate for Christmas. And that it's okay to take a sick day every once in a while and get a fancy haircut. And that lipstick can do a lot for your mood. That I should always carry Kleenex in my purse, and extra "feminine  products" just in case, and pay my own way, and never have more than three things on my plate at a buffet.

All the love and rushing hope and peace and protection I want to wrap my son in,
you felt for me. Feel for me.

Thank you, Mom. 
Thank you for teaching me how to be a mother, too.

Decorating in Stages

Before we bought this modestly sized house, we rented a tiny house built in the 1930's in Hyde Park (Austin, not London) and then an apartment down south. Both were easy to decorate because they were tiny and our hodgepodge of handed-down and thrift store furniture made them seem cozy. 

But decorating a regular sized house has been hard for me. Other than color indecision, I had a hard time finding substantial, affordable, tough furniture that didn't look like it was straight out of a big box store. When we first moved into our current home, we just used the things we already had and decided we would wait to purchase anything big, other than a few essentials (like a large farmhouse table for the dining room that we got on sale). Here's a picture of the living room before:
I can't find a photo that shows the whole room, but we had avocado green walls, maple floors, and a yellow-brown floral rug. Though I like everything separately, the combination was haphazard.

We repainted the room Svelte Sage from Sherwin-Williams, replaced our gold-tone 5' X 7' rug with an indoor-outdoor 8' X 10' rug, removed the pine shelf we had over the fireplace, scooted the furniture toward the center of the room to help it feel larger and cozier at the same time, and had the wood floors replaced.

The mirror over the sofa reflects the natural light from the kitchen windows.

The wicker trunk in front of the fireplace prevents William from playing with the fireplace. The trunk holds extra blankets. Note the one black and one white french door to the guest room; I still can't decide which I like best.

We haven't rehung the curtains since we painted. We also need to paint the wainscoting. 
To make the room work better for us, we ordered a swivel arm chair that is taking forever to get here. The swivel chair will allow people to face the fireplace (in winter), the TV, or talk to someone in the kitchen without craning their neck all the way around. We only ordered one because we had sticker shock, but we've decided to save up and order a matching chair next year if we love this one.

The larger rug sets a better boundary for the room, and since it's indoor-outdoor, it can stand up to muddy shoes, spit up, and spilled food. We just vacuum and wipe it up with a wet rag if it gets messy.

The next stage of decorating is to add color and accessories...the fun part. I'm hoping this will be my mother's day gift. There's a not-so-subtle hint for you, hubby. The changes we've made our small, but they've made this room feel so much more suited to our growing family.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Getting Organized...or Trying Anyway

So, if you are a casual visitor of our home, you may think we are decently organized. There aren't toy explosions in every room, the bathrooms are decently clean, etc. If, however, you are my mother/mother-in-law/sisters/best friends/or-my-neighbor-Brandi, then you know that, in fact, Don and I are pretty messy people.

Dang, I wish it wasn't so. But it is.

There are a few things in our home that just don't work as they are now. Like the pantry, which I've mentioned before.  We're trying to get some of these problem areas in good working order before our new baby comes, and I tackled the pantry first.


It's not amazingly organized, but I don't think it will be totally right for us until we have time to remove the weird u-shaped shelves and replace them with standard flat shelving. Don is limiting the number of projects I can assign us over the next few months, since we're planning on building a banquette in our small kitchen, so this pantry make-over will have to be put on hold.

The best part of cleaning the pantry is that I found a treasure...

Don't worry. I didn't eat it (today, anyway).

P.S. I labelled our glass jars with chalkboard adhesive so that I can erase and re-label the jars as needed. It's the same stuff I talked about here.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Two Lives

Dear baby of mine,

New baby. Baby two? I don't know what to call you yet. As much as I dream about baby girl clothes and velvet shoes and matching bows, I just have a feeling that you are a baby boy. That I am a mother of sons.

There aren't many pictures of me pregnant with your big brother. This is because I travelled for work, all the time, out of state. I didn't stop traveling until I was eight months pregnant.

This time, your father and I want to take pictures. Here is a picture of me today. A self-portrait.

Isn't it amazing that really there are two in this picture, not just one? I didn't take a picture of my belly because you can't be seen there yet, though soon that will change. Your brother and I were playing when I took this picture. Freckles, no lipstick, bangs that need to be trimmed. So filled with awe that life will flourish inside such a small, unseen place. I think today that my abdomen is a garden, and you are my little green shoot.

You are so quiet, so tiny, so different from the last time I was pregnant, when I was either sick or fatigued for those first few months. This time, there has been no physical symptom really, save for a thrilling sensation of just knowing I was pregnant, that a whole new person was being formed in the vessel of me. And that uplifting knowledge that comes for me: He heard my prayer. God is real, and He heard ME.

Just like your brother William, you are my answered prayer. You are my little number two. My tiny secret garden, a forming, glowing gift. Grow, grow, grow, little baby, and I will hold you when you are all done.


Your mama

Monday, May 2, 2011

This Weekend

It was just us this weekend. The three of us (four, if you can't those living in the womb, too). It was so nice not to have plans and just be a family. Normally, I go crazy without's a character flaw I struggle with, always needing a project or a party.

But this weekend was so peaceful. I am always praying for peace in our home. I think it's one of the most amazing things you can have. I'm not talking about the "peace and quiet" kind of peace. I'm talking about the peace that you feel when you step inside a home where things are in harmony. It's hard to explain, but I have a feeling you know what I'm talking about.
Here's a random picture and tidbit for you. Did you know you can add 1/4 cup of whole oats (the old-fashioned Quaker kind) to a smoothie for a serving of whole grains? Totally undetectable after you blend them in.
We keep this thing up all the time, just in case. I used to think these signs were crazy. Can't these people's kids sleep through a ringing doorbell? Come on. But then I had a child and realized a very valuable lesson: if you don't have kids, you probably don't know what you're talking about.
I fell victim to the marketing ploy of a cute little bag of dried spices called "Midnight Sauce" at Central Market. It was $5. Five dollars I will never see again. There were so many red pepper flakes that I had to add cream to mute the heat, which largely defeated the purpose of making a very healthy vegetable lasagna in the first place.

Oh, well. You can't win 'em all.