This mom stays in the picture

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Many moons ago, I stumbled upon a piece by Allison Tate: “The Mom Stays in the Picture.”

I was newly engaged, blissfully planning my wedding, not yet close to being a mother. I was also in the best shape of my life. In 2013, I lost 35 pounds and was the happiest, prettiest and most confident version of myself to date. I felt young and beautiful. I was powerful: Meg 2.0.

I read Tate’s post because it spread through my social networks like wildfire, discussed and “liked” by many high school friends and coworkers toting toddlers of their own. Many noted the piece was a tear-jerker, so I clicked over.

It’s a beautiful piece. Solid and honest and real. It resonated with me, the importance of mothers taking pictures with their children, but I read it from a distance — and as a photographer myself. But I just wasn’t there; I didn’t feel it. I’d grown up in a household with parents who photographed everything, and my mom is still our family historian. I’ve lived my entire life in front of the lens.

Why wouldn’t I want my picture taken?

Though never weight-obsessed, exactly, I’ve struggled with my size for the better part of adulthood. Getting down to a healthy weight in 2013-14 was a major accomplishment for me, and I had hoped to continue my solid habits after getting pregnant. I was afraid of slipping back into old habits, you know? Ones I worked so hard to break.

But I did, of course.

There are many reasons why. I was pregnant, for goodness’ sake; if I wanted a milkshake, I got one. My pregnancy and subsequent release from the confines of tracking every Weight Watchers Point was refreshing. Though I love WW and plan to return to the program, letting myself stop obsessing about every pat of butter, jelly bean and French fry felt . . . good.

And there were complications. My weight ballooned rapidly with the onset of severe preeclampsia. Close to my delivery date at 32 weeks, I was swollen beyond measure and in physical pain, my face and feet and hands all puffy and foreign to me. I felt bloated and uncomfortable, though I’d chalked it up to “third trimester woes.” Learning that my illness was causing most of those symptoms was surprising but, later, a relief.

In the three months since Oliver was born, I have shed 30 of the 60 pounds I gained in pregnancy. Most of it was water weight that fell off within a week. My post-childbirth body was unrecognizable; I barely looked in a mirror for weeks. Having a baby in the NICU meant every shred of my energy, care and concern went to him, and weight was not on my mind. Not even a little.

Once Oliver was home, gaining weight himself and getting stronger, I began to consider stepping out of my maternity jeans. I was tired of feeling lumpy, frumpy and weird, though I had no idea what size I now wore and knew that stepping on the scale would be a rude awakening.

When I finally did, I was shocked by the number I saw: almost exactly where I’d started when I joined Weight Watchers in January 2013. To the pound.

It seemed a cruel joke: after all that discipline and hard work, adopting new habits and changing how I think about food, I was right back where I started? On top of the trauma of Ollie’s premature birth and my lingering blood pressure concerns, I felt overwhelmed. Depressed, even.

Still, since April, my attention has been on nurturing our 3 pound, 9 ounce baby boy to more than 13 pounds of pure chunk and love. My husband and I adore this baby to the tips of our toes, and I could spend hours just looking at his little face.

But I’ve had to look in a mirror, too.

The early photos of Oliver are of . . . Oliver. Because I’m our little family’s photographer, I documented countless tender moments between Spencer and Ollie in the NICU and beyond. There are a handful with me in them, too, but I didn’t press the issue. I rarely handed Spencer the camera.

Because I looked — and felt — exhausted.
Because my hair was always crazy.
Because I rarely summoned the energy for makeup.
Because my face was still bloated.
Because my clothes didn’t fit well.

I had dozens of excuses, you know. So many excuses for not taking pictures with my baby. I cut myself some slack because Ollie was hospitalized for a month . . . and I was lucky to remember to bring snacks and my cell phone on our long drives to Baltimore, let alone stage a photo shoot once we got there. I was more concerned with locating a breast pump than my camera. That was how it had to be.

Our Oliver grew stronger. He learned to take his feeds by bottle, to regulate his body temperature outside the isolette, to widen his little eyes and gaze out at the world. On May 7, Spencer and I finally got The Call: bring the car seat, baby – he’s coming home!

As exhausted as we were in those early weeks (er, months), I knew documenting that time was important. I tried to take as many pictures as possible, sneaking in time to upload them when Ollie snoozed. Many were with my iPhone, because that’s what I had handy. By the time my maternity leave ran out in mid-June, I wanted to have all the photos I’d taken so far organized and ready for an album.

And I would look through them, this collection of precious images, watching Oliver’s cheeks begin to plump and his little eyes widening. I saw the rolls appear around his sweet baby wrists, and the pudgy thighs that have now started supporting his weight as he “stands” on my lap.

But I’m not in many of them.

My own mom has taken thousands of photos of me over the years — and many with Oliver in my arms. Lately, I haven’t focused on his cheeky grin or adorable ears. With laser-sharp precision, I see my double chin and flyaway hair — and I cringe. And puff out my cheeks. And want to untag myself on Facebook, though I don’t.


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The truth? I’m self-conscious. I’m uncomfortable. After publicly embracing Weight Watchers and documenting my weight loss journey in my newspaper column, on Facebook, through this blog . . . well, it’s a little embarrassing. There is such pressure surrounding “post-baby bodies,” and it doesn’t help that two other new moms in my life have already seemed to return to their svelte pre-pregnancy selves. Others complimenting them is not an insult to me, but I can feel my cheeks burn when others praise how great they look. So I look away.

I know no one faults me for not slipping back into my skinny jeans — that it’s not about the skinny jeans, really. I know I’m being too hard on myself, and that no one notices the “flaws” we point out in ourselves.

And more importantly? And I know that, above everything else, I am not a body. We are so much more than our looks. A number on a scale does not determine my self-worth.

But I still don’t feel great. I feel slow and unhealthy and . . . like I did before. When I was a me I’d never planned to be again.


When I look through the home photo shoots I’ve staged with Oliver, my husband is in many pictures. One of my favorite shots is of Ollie peeking up at his dad, one fat fist extended, as Spence looks on and smiles.

Spencer is wearing an old gray T-shirt. He hasn’t shaved. To be honest with you, I’m not even sure he’d showered that day (sorry, babe).

And you know what? No one cares. It doesn’t matter. You can’t even tell.

So why did I beg off when Spence offered to get me in the frame?

Since he came home, I’ve taken pictures of Ollie every two weeks. I like to do them on Sundays, before the chaos of another work week, and try to edit them before Monday morning. Oliver was born late on a Sunday night . . . so that feels reverent to me, too. A reflective time.

Spence helped with Ollie’s 14-week shoot, as he always does. I took the classic photos of father and son I’ve come to know so well. But when I lifted the baby to reposition him, Spencer lifted my camera off the bed and turned it on me.

My first instinct was to refuse, as usual. To make up excuses. To push my son back into the spotlight. To scramble back into the shadows.

But I thought of Allison Tate. I thought of the collection of pictures on my laptop, all of a precious baby boy but not his mother. Of a woman pushed into motherhood two months earlier than planned, and how much I longed for and planned and endured to bring this baby into the world. Of how much I’ve changed, and how much stronger I’ve become.

And I stepped in.

I’m stiff in the first few. You can sense my awkwardness as I stand in my plain, new-ish shirt that already looks old, stained with spit-up and soft from many washes. My hair has grown long since the spring, and I’ve taken to pulling it into a messy, unkempt knot at night. I’m wearing makeup, but it’s smudged and minimal. Reminders of teenage acne dot my cheeks. I look tired.

But beautiful, too.

I think I look beautiful.


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I didn’t expect that. Didn’t dare even hope for it. When Spence wanted to take pictures of Ollie and me, indulged him because he’s my husband and I love him and, deep down, I would like photographic evidence that I was here during this time in my son’s life.

I mean, I’m obviously here. I’m catching tossed pacifiers, making bottles, changing the diaper trash in his nursery, washing onesies. I’m avoiding his splashes during baths in the sink and laughing with his dad over his hilarious expressions, doing anything and everything I can to make him grin.

I’m rocking him at 2 a.m., and 3 a.m., and sometimes 4 a.m. His dad and I are making major and minor medical decisions for him, looking for symptoms and calling doctors. I’m dealing with insurance, grappling with post-NICU anxiety, folding his blankets. I’m sending long missives to friends about he’s doing and uploading his sweet, chunky face to Instagram.

But he won’t know that. He won’t remember.

“I’m everywhere in their young lives, and yet I have very few pictures of me with them,” Tate writes. “Someday I won’t be here — and I don’t know if that someday is tomorrow or thirty or forty or fifty years from now — but I want them to have pictures of me. I want them to see the way I looked at them, see how much I loved them. I am not perfect to look at and I am not perfect to love, but I am perfectly their mother.”


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I look through these photos from a sunny afternoon and feel joy, and hope, and love. I sense all the dreams I have for Oliver pouring from my arms into his little body. I see the recognition in his own face — This is my mother — and feel my own: This is my son.

My body hasn’t “bounced back” from baby. That double-chin is prominent. I look exhausted and greasy, a little threadbare and worn thin at the edges.

But I’m in the picture. I want to always be there, holding and loving him.

And thirty years from now? My 30-year-old son might turn to me and smile.

“Wow, Mom,” he’ll say. “You’re so pretty. So young.”


Book thoughts: Memoirs from Lena Dunham & Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler and Lena Dunham

I spend a great deal of time in the car these days. With the addition of driving to Oliver’s day care each weekday, I’m commuting at least 40 minutes daily — so I can plow my way through an audiobook or two a week.

Which is awesome, actually . . . given I’ve had so little energy to read physical stories since Ollie came home. I’m often determined to settle down with Jennifer Weiner or Meg Cabot before bed, thinking that tonight is the night I’m going to finally read for goodness’ sake, but something comes up.

Or, more accurately, the eyelids come down.

Through plenty of trial and error, I’ve come to realize that my favorite audiobooks are memoirs — particularly when read by the author. I’ve checked out all sorts of non-fiction I wouldn’t normally read in print, but adored them as audios.

But I didn’t need any convincing to read Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl and Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. They arrived on hold for me at the library at the same time, and I didn’t have the heart to leave either lady there. Good thing I didn’t, either; I’d finished both in three weeks, a new record, and desperately missed them both when their stories were done.

So. Lena.

Dunham, a 29-year-old New Yorker, is a polarizing figure. Known for being the creator, writer, director, producer and star of HBO’s “Girls,” Lena has no problem putting it all out there — literally and figuratively. Some declare her the voice of our generation; others label her a self-important drama queen. I happen to be in the former category, and I’ve watched “Girls” for years. The show isn’t perfect, but it’s thoughtful and entertaining. Lena’s Hannah is messed up and whacky and self-absorbed, but she’s refreshingly realistic in her obsession with writing and love. I relate to her. Not all of her, but enough.

In reality, Lena is not Hannah . . . but, in some ways, she is. Not that Kind of Girl is Lena’s life-story-in-vignettes with tales of her awkward adolescence, search for acceptance, demanding of respect and growth. There are some squicky moments, yes, and it’s not for me to debate the level of their squickiness. But I think Lena is mostly guilty of oversharing. (Can you overshare in a memoir? Probably.)

Look: Lena can be brash. She’s controversial. She’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s okay. From a feminist standpoint, I appreciate hearing her voice above the din and look up to her for all that she’s accomplished before 30.

Her memoir is quick, pithy, easy on the ears and often very funny. There are some deeper, disturbing moments, but it’s not a depressing story. If I’m honest, I’d normally be super jealous of an under-30 talented takes-no-prisoners writer lady who is actually younger than me, but really? I’m just kind of proud of her. In a big sister kind of way.

And then we have Amy Poehler, who’s Yes Please was the perfect companion to my morning drives. Like pretty much everyone in America, I was introduced to Amy through “Saturday Night Live” and was a mega-huge fan of the often-underappreciated “Parks & Recreation,” which I watched religiously with my dad. Leslie Knope is it.

Poehler’s memoir is part motivational speech, part biography, part behind-the-scenes glimpse at the shows and people who helped boost her to monumental success over the years — and I really enjoyed all of it. Like Lena, Amy comes across as a down-to-earth but badass lady who has me totally rethinking what it means to be deemed “bossy.”

Bossy women get stuff done.

Amy is like your cool aunt who admits to recreational drug use while still cautioning you against it, and comes across as deeply knowledgeable about life because she’s probably “been there.” Growing up in Massachusetts, Amy later moves to Chicago to begin working in improv and eventually marries and divorces Will Arnett, has two sons, achieves great success on “SNL” and “Parks & Rec” and then, when it’s over, must find what’s next again.

She sounds like an amazing friend, colleague, daughter and mom, and you get a sense of all those roles while listening to Yes Please. I loved her stories of and take on working toward success — and it doesn’t have anything to do with it happening overnight. Overall, her memoir was equal parts funny and empowering: a perfect recipe.

Both Lena and Amy narrate their own books, as you’d hope and expect. Each does a wonderful job. These women are storytellers, and these are their stories. Who else could possibly tell them?

By the time I’d finished both audios, I felt like I’d just sent a new friend off on a long vacation with no way to get in touch. Amy and Lena have both further endeared themselves to me, and I’d definitely recommend their stories to anyone who wants to think about life, snort into their commuter-friendly coffee mug and feel good about the road ahead.

Four stars, both of ’em!

Not That Kind of Girl / Pub: 2014 / 265 pages
Yes Please / Pub: 2014 / 329 pages


The view from 30

Me at 30

Yesterday, I turned 30.

I wrote a long, meandering, overly-philosophical post about Life and Love and Where I Am At This Point versus Where I Thought I’d Be.

And it’s not bad, that post. It’s full of hope and reflection and features shout-outs to my husband and loving family, wonderful friends and darling baby son.

But it was missing something. Something real.

Though Oliver is sleeping a bit more all the time, exhaustion still steals so much of my creativity. Even when I have a moment to sit and write here, my favorite space, it’s like my brain misfires and words become jumbled. I’m still reading and writing for work, where I’m paid to not suck and meet deadlines, but all of my extra energy goes toward caring for Ollie before and after getting home. And things like feeding my husband and me . . . you know, as time allows.

So as my thirtieth birthday rushed up to greet me, I started thinking — weeks ahead, actually — of what I might like to say to mark the occasion. There isn’t much I haven’t documented here, and I wanted to write a big ol’ important post to remember what I was thinking on July 18, 2015.

But mostly I was thinking . . . zzzNAPzzz chips more coffee please.

Now that I’m caffeinated and have a napping infant finally settled in his swinging chair, I can reflect. I can process.

Over the last three decades of life, I’ve learned what I like and what I do not. What I will stand for and what I will not. My 20-year-old self would have been far too timid, too nervous, too insanely anxious to tackle any of the things my 30-year-old self deals with regularly . . . and though I know I talk about it constantly, having a baby — especially a premature baby — has completely changed my perspective on everything. Especially what matters.

So what matters?

Being there for people when and how you say you will. Keeping your word. Making time to look up at a night sky and hold hands with someone you love. Drinking good coffee. Getting outside your county, state or country to see and appreciate the vastness and beauty of the world around us.

Eating good — and good for you — food. Dressing in a way that makes you feel powerful and comfortable and strong. Listening. Putting thoughts behind actions. Celebrating the holidays — especially the ones you create yourself. Cheering for small victories and large ones. Recognizing when someone needs a hand and offering it, expecting nothing in return.

Carving out time for small indulgences. Watching movies that remind you of the goodness of humanity. Playing favorite songs loud enough to wake the neighbors (at a reasonable hour, of course). Visiting the ocean. Occasionally painting your nails. Remembering that the “flaws” that seem so obvious will be invisible to those that love you.

At 30, I certainly don’t have it all figured out. Though I’ve been out of college for eight years (!), I’ve never stopped being a student. I love talking to others, absorbing their stories, churning out my own. Like all readers, I constantly seek powerful books that make me think and feel and want to help.

I’m incredibly grateful for the friends I’ve made — at work, at school, through this blog — and the fact that, at some point, I started letting people in. That sounds silly, doesn’t it: letting people in? Cheesy, maybe. Slightly embarrassing. But the truth is that, for years in my mid-twenties, I felt a little detached and adrift. Then I met my husband and stopped pretending like I didn’t want — need — friendship, and everything changed. Everything got better.

At 30, I love my family more than ever. Sometimes I sit back in awe of the little tribe around me, and I appreciate what it means to be loyal and devoted to others. Relationships — romantic and familial — take work, and I try hard not to take any of them for granted. I often look at Spencer and think, There is my partner. Seeing my husband tenderly hold our son never gets old.

When we needed our tribe in April, they were there. And in life, that’s what matters.

In this next decade of life, I look forward to building our little family up and making our home even homier. I hope to see the world with Spence and Oliver at my side and listen to more of my loved ones’ stories. At my next milestone birthday, Ollie will be 10 — and I hope to be his staunchest supporter and cheering section. I hope, more than anything, to be a wonderfully fun and compassionate and loving mother.

I look forward to eating ice cream, scribbling stories, finding a dress that really makes me feel fabulous. Walking through Paris and watching the leaves turn color. Making scones and sharing them with friends both new and old.

I’m open to it. To all of it.

Just after my next iced coffee.


The tired life: Oliver at 3 months

Week 12 (5)

Looking over a doctor’s office summary from Oliver’s recent check-up, one line under the “Family Life” section stood out to me: “Mother reports that house is returning to normal.”

I actually laughed out loud when I read that — a loud guffaw, incredulous and surprised — because, honestly, I didn’t remember saying that (though I certainly could have), and also because I’m not sure what “normal” is anymore.

Well, with a 3-month-old baby . . . I guess it looks a lot like bottles, babbles and long, sleepy nights. Day care drop-offs and little feet kicking in bath water. Spit-up and diaper disasters, the constant tumble of laundry and tiny fingers wrapping around yours.

I’m writing this after “rising” around 3 a.m. with a fussy man who repeatedly wanted his pacifier, the one he can’t actually keep in his mouth, so perhaps this isn’t the best time to reflect lovingly upon my babe . . . but you know what? I’m completely ready for work almost two hours before I need to be there, and seem to be too dead to the world to even contemplate writing after I get home from writing at work.

So.

Here we are.

And here he is.

Week 12 (7)

Okay . . . that face makes me feel better.

Much better, honestly.

Three months into motherhood, I do feel like we’re settling in and getting adjusted to the newest member of our family — even if Spencer and I are chronically exhausted and zombie-like by Fridays. I went back to work on June 15, and developing that “new normal” around our dual work schedules has been challenging — but doable. We’re making it work.

It feels good to be back in a groove at the job I’ve had since college, though much has been changing around our office. It’s comforting to return to my normal workload and face familiar challenges, however, and getting back to writing my column has been a good way to process what I’m experiencing as a new mom. Reader feedback has been encouraging, and I’m grateful to know I’m not alone.

In many ways, it’s just a relief to feel like a “regular mom” instead of a “preemie mom” or, even harder, a “NICU mom.” I’ve never worn a title so anxiously in my life. Having Oliver home, healthy and growing has soothed my worried soul. Even in my most exhausted moments (and there are many), I can’t help but remember how lucky we are . . . and how grateful. Things could have gone differently, but they didn’t. We are blessed.

There are times I feel like I have everything together and have mastered this mama thing, and other times I feel frazzled and overwhelmed by absolutely everything. I cried last Monday for the first time since he came home, just feeling so worn out by life in general that something inside me cracked and splintered. I was so tired. I sobbed for a half hour, actually — tears I didn’t see coming, which meant they really needed to get out.

But then I took a deep breath, mopped my face with endless tissues, hugged my husband . . . and got up to help put the dinner leftovers away.

So it goes.

It’s not Ollie’s fault. Ollie is a sweet, innocent, hilarious little baby — and a very sweet one at that. Spence and I got our first “real” smiles on July 2 — much sooner than I expected with his prematurity! — and enjoy frequent giggles and grins these days. Oh, how they warm my heart . . . especially after one of those dark nights of the soul. You just can’t stay frustrated with that little guy.

As of last Thursday, Oliver weighs 12 pounds — and has officially tripled his birth weight of 3 pounds, 9 ounces! That number made me giddy with relief. Ollie has gotten so big so fast that his doctor took him off his special preemie formula: the one we were told he’d be on until his first birthday. He went from needing it for a year to “catch up” to being off in less than two months! I’m not going to lie: that was really exciting. He’s our chunky monkey, no doubt, and his 0-3 month clothing fits . . . for now.

In the last few weeks, Ollie has really “woken up” to the world around him. He has seemed to recognize our voices since birth, but now actively turns to listen to us and seeks me out. Eye contact and staring at our faces is a regular pastime, and he frequently kicks his arms and legs when I sing him silly little songs. (Which I do — all the time.) Bright lights — from the TV, the iPad — always intrigue him, too.

He takes about 4 ounces at a feed, give or take, and eats at times that have become increasingly erratic! This little man likes to chow down. His NICU nurses had him on an every-three-hours schedule, which is when Spence and I could come help with his cares, and we were able to maintain that . . . for a while. Now? Well, he’s basically fed on demand. And demand is frequent. His doctor seems to think this is okay, but we’ll revisit that with her in a few weeks.

Things Ollie likes, in no particular order . . .

— Still staring at ceiling fans
— Cuddling with Mama
— Chin tickles from Daddy
— His ever-present pacifier
— Cruising in his swing
— The music of Muse, apparently

We had our first dip in the pool yesterday — and though Ollie loves baths, the chillier pool water was definitely not a hit. He looked super cute in his little swimmer outfit, though!

Ollie swims

In the month to come? Well, I’ll be turning 30 this Saturday (! more to come on that), and we’ll be celebrating many family birthdays over the next few weeks. Grandma and Grandpa Johnson will be coming for a visit, and we’re hoping to squeeze in some fun summer activities before the season vanishes like smoke.

All in all, I guess the doc was right: we are settling in, and the house is returning to “normal.”

It’s a new one . . . but a beautiful one, too.

And since 12 pounds is the magical “sleep through the night” number, let’s hope that magical moment isn’t far behind!


Be our guest

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Though the entire concept of “interior design” and, er, decorating is still a new one for me, I’m getting better at the whole visualization thing.

When we bought our house last year, I was most excited about the idea of a blank canvas I could design to my heart’s content. I spent weeks before move-in obsessing about paint colors, art work and color schemes . . . overlooking the fact that we had repairs to make before all the fun stuff could start.

Also, that I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing. At all.

It’s taken almost a year, but we’ve made major progress in our guest room! Our energy had to shift to Mr. Oliver’s room this past spring, but we have the nursery just about finished (and I’ll plan to give you a tour soon). With my mother- and father-in-law coming to visit next week, I’ve felt the urge to push and get our guest space looking nice for them.

We started out with a dusty, closed-off room with featuring walls where the previous owners had painted around furniture. That’s right, friends: furniture lines.

Guest room

Guest room2

Painting that room was our first order of business, actually, because it was just so hideous. The dark blue carpet was stained, quite possibly by coffee, and the shelving in the closet had been unceremoniously ripped out. Spencer patiently patched the holes, removed any lingering wood bolted to the walls (hunks of plywood, specifically), and we painted the entire space a cool, calm dark gray.

The antique white bed was a purchase from Overstock, and the tables were recent finds at Christmas Tree Shop. I spent months looking for cute, affordable end tables that would match the overall style of the room, then stumbled upon these when I least expected it. Isn’t that always the way? Bonus: they were the cheapest ones I’ve seen!

Finding yellow lamps to pop the bedspread, purchased at Target, became my recent mission. Every yellow lamp I could find was either a) super expensive; b) the wrong style; or c) both.

Enter Goodwill!

My husband is addicted to the thrifting experience. He adores the thrill of the hunt — the serendipitous way certain items will fall into your lap. We spent many Saturday mornings at a giant outdoor yard sale, combing through others’ trash and treasures looking for it. Whatever “it” might be.

I’ll admit that, in the beginning, these adventures held little appeal for me. I went because I know he loves it, and he does have a knack for finding awesome things quite cheaply. Because he’s so handy, items that are broken or old to others are just brimming with possibilities for Spence . . . he can envision something more. I love that about him.

On Sunday, we were running errands and taking Ollie on his first Goodwill/Lowe’s run when I spotted them: two perfect, vintage yellow lamps high on a top shelf. Dusty and missing their shades, they were nevertheless exactly what I was looking for . . . and I got both for $15.

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We have a little more to do . . . mostly sprucing, like hanging the sheer curtains currently draped on the bed. And all the artwork I’ve found over the last year or so. But the bones are finally there, and I’m loving how tranquil the room is feeling! Especially by soft lamplight.

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We’ve come a long way, baby.

And now I can’t wait to go back to Goodwill.

Grilled corn and tomatoes with a honey lime dressing

Roasted corn

Come Saturday morning, you’d be hard-pressed to find me somewhere other than the farmers’ market.

Given we have a stroller and adorably demanding human in tow these days, those trips have to be a bit more planned out . . . but since Oliver has been cleared for public strolls, we try to pack the little guy up and head out.

We were housebound for a while there — and the last time I made it to our local market, we had a choice of zucchini, squash and a few paltry peppers. This past weekend? Well, friends, it was a veritable smorgasbord . . . and I went hog wild.

Cherry tomatoes.
Watermelon.
Cantaloupe.
Blueberries.
Tomatoes so fat, you want to bite right in.

And after picking up half a dozen ears of corn for our little Fourth of July barbeque at home, I remembered a simple corn and tomato side dish I whipped up a few times last year. Like this cucumber and onion salad, this dish is light and fresh and comes together in no time flat.

Especially valuable when the little person inside the aforementioned stroller has a meltdown.

The original recipe calls for the addition of avocado, but I didn’t have any on hand — so I skipped it. It’s delicious without, so I’m imagining it’s even better with!


Grilled Corn and Tomatoes
with a Honey Lime Dressing

Ingredients:
1 pint grape tomatoes
4 ears of fresh sweet corn
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro, or 1 tbsp dried cilantro

For the dressing:
Juice of 1 lime
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp honey
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
Remove husks from corn and grill over medium heat for 10 minutes. (The corn should have some brown spots and be tender, but not mushy.) Cut the corn off the cob and remove silks. Set aside to cool. Slice tomatoes in half.

To make the dressing, add all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Combine the sliced tomatoes, cilantro and grilled corn with the honey lime dressing and mix gently until evenly coasted. Chill the dish for at least 30 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Epicurious


Book chat: ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ by Jenny Han

To All the Boys I've Loved BeforeIt’s been too long since I sank into some solid young adult fiction. And with my limited attention span these days? Well, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before really hit the spot.

The middle of three daughters, Lara Jean Song is used to hovering behind her successful older sister — often feeling a bit adrift behind Margot’s perfection. But with her sister heading off to college abroad (and breaking off her relationship with Josh, once Lara Jean’s own crush), this Song girl is ready to shine.

Maybe.

When a secret box of Lara Jean’s letters disappears, she is suddenly forced to confront her crushes — past and present — as her notes land in mailboxes around town. Lara Jean has always taken to letter-writing as a way to release her feelings for the boys she has loved: her first kiss, her summer camp love . . . even Josh, her sister’s ex-boyfriend.

As her crushes receive her notes and press her on her feelings, Lara Jean is forced to own up to her emotions — even as a faux-relationship with Peter, a popular boy on the rebound, begins to actually blossom. On the home front, Lara Jean is charged with caring for Kitty, her sassy younger sister, as well as her warmhearted but busy, bumbling father.

Though she’s initially mortified by the letters, are they actually the key to moving forward?

Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a sweet story with plenty of family dynamics, high school loves and entertaining escapades to delight its audience. Though it’s described as the tale of Lara Jean confronting her crushes, it’s also about family and self-acceptance.

Have you ever written a letter you never intended to send? As a teen, I frequently drafted notes to crushes and ex-boyfriends as a way to “get out” whatever angsty, complicated, 16-year-old drama I had stored up without fear of embarrassment or reproach. In fact, I had a floppy disk (a floppy disk! You too will get old someday, kids) full of such missives.

Had someone found my super-private collection of letters to the adorable guy in my math class or my first kiss or first love and actually sent them, I’m pretty sure you would have had to pry me out the dark cave I would have made my new home. But Lara Jean? She’s a pretty resilient, courageous cat. As a narrator, she’s entertaining and matter-of-fact — the sort of person who doesn’t realize she’s funny, which is the best kind.

Though I enjoyed Lara Jean’s burgeoning friendship/relationship with Peter, the charming boy-about-town, the real highlight here was the Song sisters’ dynamic. Especially tight-knit since their mother’s death, I found their closeness heartwarming and realistic. I loved that Lara Jean appreciated Margot even more after she was off in Scotland, and young Kitty is a wise-beyond-her-years and fun character pivotal to the story.

A breezy and enjoyable novel, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before demands little of readers except their rapt attention . . . which you’ll happily hand over. Sometimes that’s exactly what we need!


4 out of 5

Pub: 2015 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg