Sweet pregnant progress

Cookie dough ice cream

Remember how I was once all, Meh, sweets, bleh, whatever, just pass the chips and queso?

Well, I still really love chips and queso. (And salsa. And French onion dip. And anything salty, really.)

But my sweets aversion? Well.

I feel like I’m reaching critical mass in my pregnancy — and still have about nine weeks-ish to go. (Um, did I just state a single digit for the countdown? Yeah, I’m not ready for that.) Just in the last two weeks, I’ve started swelling within an inch of my life — just call me sausage foot — and have actually outgrown some of my maternity tops.

Just let that sink in a minute.

I’ve long resigned myself to not being one of those ladies “with a basketball up her shirt,” and honestly? I’m okay with it. I’m not a skinny girl. But I feel like I’ve gone from “Er, is she pregnant?” to “MY GOD, SHE’S PREGNANT.” in the span of two seconds.

(That Cookie Dough Blast has absolutely nothing to do with it, I’m sure.)

I’m regularly stopped by strangers on the street with kind questions, then avert my eyes from their pitying looks when I inform them that this little guy and I will be hanging out until June. Coworkers have commented on how I look like I’m already “about done,” and I have to laugh.

Because I am, in some ways. But also: I’m not.

While I’ll admit that the constant backaches, poor sleeping habits and inability to get up from couches and beds is a wee bit inconvenient, I am excited to be firmly ensconced here in the third trimester. It’s nice to feel the baby moving all the time, and reassuring to know we’re getting into the final lap of this journey.

We’re less than two weeks from my local baby shower, about a month from Spencer’s birthday and our New York shower, and I’m already working ahead to prepare for maternity leave. We got the nursery painted last week, have been doing some shopping and I’m finally at the point where I feel an urge to stock up on baby clothes. And diapers. And other necessities.

All this to say: I haven’t been doing much non-baby-related stuff lately. Or thinking about much beyond the growing kiddo treating me to 5 a.m. alien kicks each morning.

But I have been reading. And I’ll have reviews heading toward your eyeballs shortly.

Just after I finish this milkshake.


Book chat: ‘Attachments’ by Rainbow Rowell

AttachmentsLincoln didn’t plan on becoming a snoop.

Hired by the nascent IT department of a local newspaper to ensure their employees aren’t using the new-fangled Internet for nefarious purposes (it is 1999, after all), Lincoln’s primary job is to hang around at night reading others’ email.

For a while, nothing interesting happens. Aside from the occasional off-color remark, his filter remains resolutely boring. Until chains of messages begin to pour in between Beth and Jennifer, two members of the editorial staff who share their lives through a series of notes passed like a digital middle school experience.

Though he feels awful invading their privacy, the friends’ emails keep appearing in his filter . . . and he keeps reading them, partly because he’s bored silly — it’s an overnight shift in an empty building — but, gradually, because he starts to feel connected to them. Especially Beth, a sharp and funny movie critic stuck in a dead-end relationship.

When their paths cross in daylight, everything feels different . . . and his affections only grow. But how do you confess to snooping on your love interest for months — and all on the company dime?

Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments is a sweet, modern love story that immediately sucked me in. As an editor at a local newspaper myself, it was literally impossible for me to not relate to this quick, quirky and entertaining read.

Lincoln is the sort of dude you can’t help but root for — a man floundering a bit to find his way in the world after a nasty break-up, but undoubtedly someone with a heart of gold. I loved his relationship with his well-meaning but overbearing mom, of all things; it was incredibly realistic, right down to her shoving casseroles into his hands on his way out the door.

In his late twenties, Lincoln doesn’t plan to still be living at home . . . or working in a soulless IT position, where even a monkey could read flagged emails and send warning messages to the paper staff. But he knows there is something more — and he’ll find it. Eventually. His predicament is one many can relate to, I’d wager, though the story was set in the chaos of Y2K. (Also: nostalgia.)

Beth and Jennifer’s dynamic was wonderful. I read Attachments thinking often of who my own Beth would be (I mean, I’m definitely Jennifer, the married and nervously pregnant editor). Though we only get to know the pair through their constant emails to each other, this style — a modern epistolary — worked really well for me.

And it made for an incredibly quick read. Though Lincoln is the star of our show, every side character held his or her own — and as the story progressed, I was dying — DYING — for Lincoln and Beth to meet. I kept wondering how they would eventually run into each other, waiting to see if instant sparks would fly. Wanting shy, handsome Lincoln to finally make a big move.

Lovers of contemporary fiction and the ever-funny, ever-wise Rainbow Rowell will find much to love in this savvy story. It was an incredibly entertaining way to spend a few weeknights, and definitely solidified my Rowell love.


4 out of 5

Pub: 2011 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Complimentary copy provided by publisher for review consideration


Thoughts after childbirth class

Well, we survived childbirth class.

And not just survived, exactly . . . I think we thrived.

So, um, I went into the experience pretty nervous. As I’ve documented during the last 29 weeks, I entered pregnancy basically wanting to know as little as possible about how this all was going to wrap up. I’ve always been nervous about childbirth as a concept, and I can’t say it was something I was eager to experience.

Having a baby? Yep, want to do that. But having a baby? Er.

My biggest take-away from Saturday was that our birth experience will be our own. It’s okay to compare notes with the ladies in your life, but don’t expect a replica of anyone else’s labor. “It won’t be your mom’s, or your sister’s, or your girlfriend’s,” Maura, our instructor, told us. “It will be yours.

We learned some deep breathing exercises (“Don’t hyperventilate!”) and how to tell the difference between “real” contractions and Braxton Hicks. Maura touched on infant care, our likely experience in the hospital, breastfeeding tips and tricks, and how much water we should all be drinking (answer: lots).

We did watch a few videos of real births and, yep, that was wild. I know childbirth is a miracle and our bodies were made to do this and so on and blah blah, but c’mon: it’s gross, too. But I expected that. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the time in college when I literally ran from a family studies class because I got physically ill during an informational video. So: progress?


Onesie


I’m still nervous. Still a little fearful of how everything will go down. But as a type-A note-taker, I’ve been studying the hospital’s handouts and pondering all of Maura’s sane advice. After reaching the point where it was worse not to know than to simply educate myself on what we’ll be dealing with in just a few short months, I actually feel . . . empowered.

No one else can do this for me. Though Spencer will be there to cheer me on, I am responsible for bringing our child into the world. Now that I’ve accepted that, I really feel better.

It was nice to be back in a classroom, too — even if just for a few hours. I’m a geek; I can’t help it. Spence and I took seats at the front of the room, and I scribbled notes like the overachiever I am. We found comfort in the knowledge that we’re certainly not the only nervous first-timers; twelve others were in the room with us and having their first children, too. And one couple is expecting twin boys.

Basically, it’s real now. Really real. There have been so many surreal moments throughout this pregnancy — seeing him move on the first ultrasound; finding out he is a he; feeling that first kick, etc. — that took time to process. But I think we’re finally in a spot where we understand we’re having a baby, and I feel like we have a game plan for this whole process.

It’s just a plan, of course — and plans often change.

But it’s a start.

Less than 11 weeks to go . . .


Five years

Spencer and me in 2010


Five years to the day from when we first met, Spence and I will take our first childbirth class.

Could I have seen that coming? Maybe not on March 21, 2010 — but life moves fast when you’re in love.

Because we had a “date-aversary” before a wedding anniversary, I still look kindly upon March 21. When I started researching childbirth resources, the six-hour class tomorrow — filled with all the “necessities” of getting ready to bring a baby into the world — was the only Saturday available. Everything else was held during the week, broken up over multiple nights, etc., and I’m already tired with a short attention span.

And I really need to pay attention.

I’m 29 weeks along today, the first day of spring, and starting to get these jittery, anxious nerves firing through my body. In the home stretch. This is a phrase I’ve heard often lately — and even said myself — but, honestly, it hasn’t really processed yet. The third trimester sounded impossibly far away when I was struggling to keep down dry toast in those early days, and yet . . .

And yet . . .
And yet . . .

Here we are. Closing in.

I woke up at 2 a.m. this morning when Baby J landed a few good kicks to my left side. I put my hand there to feel that jerky, alien-like movement and was suddenly alert, wide awake. With each punch came the sudden, jarring thought that there is a baby in there. And that he must get out.

I know it sounds ridiculous. I mean, I’ll be 30 years old this summer — this isn’t exactly a mystery or anything. But I’ve always had a mental block regarding childbirth and have been, you know, afraid of the concept, so I was determined to know as little as possible in advance. Ignorance, as they say, is bliss.

That theory worked . . . in the beginning. Back when we were still in shock that I was actually pregnant, I consoled myself with the knowledge that we had so much time before I had to worry about a hospital stay and breastfeeding and pushing and . . . well, everything else.

So much time. Months. Three-quarters of a year.

But now, 11 weeks from D-Day, it’s time to be a big girl.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about what comes after the baby is here. We’re meeting with a day care provider this Sunday, for one, and Spence and I have already started talking about how we’ll be changing our schedules to accommodate the little guy.

Though I know nothing can really prepare you for parenthood, I’ve done some soul-searching about how our relationship might change . . . and how we’ll be growing as a family, not just a couple.

That’s intense, too — but in a different way. A good way. A way that decidedly does not keep me up at night.

But everything else?

Well.

Part of me is ready to get this show on the road . . . I mean, between the back aches, heavy belly, feet swelling, occasional bouts of lingering nausea and other fun symptoms, I’m less than comfortable. I can’t get off the couch unassisted. I’m tired all the time. The weight gain has been hard for me — and I still have months to go.

But another part of me? A bigger part, perhaps? Is totally okay with Baby J just, you know, hanging out in there for as long as he needs to. I recognize that this is a precious time in my life, and I’m not trying to rush it. Spence and I have our happy routines, and I’m content to daydream about all that’s to come.

Anticipation is half the adventure, right?

There’s something to be said for just soaking up the moment. Be Here Now — my life’s mantra — follows me everywhere.

And tomorrow, while I try not to panic and gag at the thought of all that labor entails, I will remember how I felt the day a curly-haired Spencer walked into a cafe and met my eyes with a smile. How we talked and sipped coffee on the first warm day of spring, soaking up the sunshine in a stiff breeze, and how my nerves drifted away immediately.

There was such a sense of this is right, you know? A sense of realness that I have never questioned. Anticipation buzzed right through me.

Five years later, we’ll be listening to the early signs of labor and taking notes. Later, we’ll pop over to the restaurant where we celebrated our first Valentine’s Day — probably one of our last “nice nights out” before Baby J arrives — and likely reminisce about that day at Panera.

It’s fun to remember what was . . . but even better to think of what will be.

As long as he’s next to me.


Wedding

Christmas 2014


Quick Buffalo chicken tacos

Buffalo chicken tacos


I’ve had exactly zero cravings for sweets during this pregnancy . . . but Buffalo wing sauce?

Forget about it.

Baby J is all about the spicy, savory, salty and hot. Though I won’t typically turn down a dessert, I’m much more likely to lose myself in a bag of chips than a slice of cake. And if those chips are flavored with jalapenos? Well.

My husband hails from the Buffalo area, so I guess we’re predisposed to love the food of his native land. But even before he’d convinced me to really embrace all things wing sauce, I was a fan. And these days? If we’re not making this chili, I’m adding Frank’s RedHot to sour cream and mayo to make our own quick dip.

I think I have a problem.

A good friend shared this recipe for Buffalo chicken tacos with me on Monday and, by Wednesday, I was tossing on the RedHot and salivating over the stove.

The best part about this dinner? It’s quick, painless and uses ingredients you probably have on hand. The tacos come together in 20 minutes or so, leaving you to devour them blindly and get back to the rest of your evening.

After you’ve happily stuffed your face, of course.

You’ll know what I mean.


Buffalo chicken tacos

Buffalo chicken tacos

Buffalo chicken tacos


Quick Buffalo chicken tacos

Ingredients:
1-1/2 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips
3 tbsp Buffalo wing sauce
12 flour tortillas (6 inch), warmed
1/2 cup Kraft Classic Ranch Dressing
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese

Directions:
Heat large heavy skillet sprayed with cooking spray on medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 4 minutes or until done, stirring frequently. Stir in wing sauce; cook 2 minutes or until heated through, stirring frequently. Spread tortillas with dressing; top with chicken mixture, celery and bleu cheese. Drizzle on additional dressing and wing sauce, if desired. Makes six servings of two tacos each. Enjoy!

Recipe from Kraft Foods


Buffalo chicken tacos


On the Irish Sea

Flags

Though our time in Ireland was brief, I think of Guinness and colorful flags and warm air.

Stone buildings, kind-faced people and shimmery green landscapes.

Castles and pubs, expansive seas, old cemeteries.


Guinness

Cemetery


I think of 2011: walking in a foreign country an ocean apart from Spencer, trying to find a way to call home . . . and somehow managing to exist without a cell phone.

For a week, anyway.


Irish sea


I think of waking up in Dublin to pull back the curtains in the tiny hotel room I shared with my sister, both of us bleary-eyed after an early wake-up call as we watched a buzzing city come to life.


Moss on stone


And I think of taking it all in with my family, laughing at how American we must have looked with our cameras, comfortable shoes and wide eyes.

I don’t mind being a tourist . . . or even looking like a tourist. So long as I’m soaking it all up, taking it all in, what does it matter?

We only live once.

And we should definitely spend part of our days on the Irish Sea.


Book chat: ‘The Godforsaken Daughter’ by Christina McKenna

The Godforsaken DaughterWhen her father was alive, Ruby Clare didn’t much mind that she was single, serious, plain and sturdy. She and Vinny worked side-by-side on the family farm in Tailorstown, Northern Ireland, toiling together in a way that felt less like work and more like camaraderie.

But after his unexpected passing, Ruby is left to care for her aging, tyrannical mother and ungrateful twin sisters — both of whom fancy themselves sophisticated ladies now that they’ve fled to Belfast, working at a department store and returning only to antagonize Ruby about their starched sheets on the weekends.

Mired in grief and desperate for hope, Ruby discovers a set of mystical objects left by her paternal grandmother — a spiritual woman who died in the lake outside their house. The deeply-religious Martha immediately fears that Ruby has been taken over by an evil spirit, remembering how her mother-in-law — awash in her own grief years before — had eventually committed suicide.

But Ruby is buoyed by the strength and confidence the objects give her, eventually finding the courage to stand up to her family and a sense of peace that she does, in fact, have some control over her own destiny . . . however fleeting.

Alongside the story of Ruby is that of Henry, a psychologist from Belfast who arrives in Tailorstown after fleeing his own wayward life following his wife’s disappearance. It’s the 1980s in Northern Ireland, and unrest is still all around them . . . and in Henry’s soul, too. Not knowing what happened to Constance, his beloved wife, is destroying him — but he’s been told to lay low and “stop looking.” He’s just not sure how.

The Clares and Henry’s lives eventually intersect in Tailorstown, where everyone is yearning for something about unsure how to find it. In the mix, too, are Jamie McCloone, a lonely farmer; Rose, his friend and Ruby’s new confidante; and Father Kelly, the devoted parish priest who tends to the Clares in their darkest moments.


Irish countryside


Christina McKenna’s The Godforsaken Daughter is an enthralling, well-drawn and incredibly evocative story of love, grief, redemption and faith. I couldn’t read a passage or two without picturing the rolling Irish countryside, and the idea of life on a small pastoral farm was intoxicating.

Of course, life for Ruby Clare is far from picture-perfect. I immediately bonded with our heroine as she traverses the strange, awful landscape of life without her father. Her mother, Martha, is a distressingly awful woman who leans mercilessly on her oldest daughter but offers little in return. When Martha threatens to parcel off her late husband’s farm, Ruby shows her first signs of a backbone — and I desperately hoped to see more.

There is so much happening in The Godforsaken Daughter, but it never felt cluttered. First, the time period: set in the 1980s during the Troubles, there is a sense of unrest and simmering violence throughout the narrative. Without giving too much away, several characters are affected by the Troubles. Though I’m not intimately familiar with Irish history, I remember stories of the violence and bombings in Belfast when I visited in 2011. My lack of knowledge didn’t hamper my understanding — and enjoyment — of the story.

And enjoyable it was! I fear my synopsis has made it sound darker than it actually is. Even with mysticism, seances, religious differences and death, The Godforsaken Daughter still manages to be . . . uplifting? interesting? wildly compelling?

McKenna draws each of her characters so vividly, you feel as though you’re sitting in a diner nibbling on pastries with Biddy or cruising through town in the back of Rose and Paddy’s car. Ruby is a Cinderella-like character who longs to be loved and accepted, and she eventually comes into her own. Though she’s in her early thirties, the novel also functions as Ruby’s coming-of-age story.


Irish Sea


Northern Ireland itself comes alive in McKenna’s tale, taking on a shape and personality as distinctive as any other character. I felt like I was on the banks of the Irish Sea, thinking about a different way of life in a town populated by such colorful people. I loved how easily I could picture each of Tailorstown’s residents — even the awful sisters, who were terrible brats I hoped would get theirs.

The Godforsaken Daughter is an engrossing, page-turning read about family, love, faith and moving forward. I adored its country setting, relatable cast and unique plot. By the last page, the loose ends had come together in a way that was deeply satisfying without being predictable. I really enjoyed it, and look forward to reading McKenna’s other works!


4.5 out of 5

Pub: 2015 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Digital review copy provided by TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review