Five things on Friday

Magazine

1. The gender reveal is ON for tonight! Our elective ultrasound on Wednesday was a success, and our technician was able to get Baby J to move enough to “clearly” tell what s/he is. The baby was initially hanging out on its belly, just like last time, and I had a moment of abject panic where I thought, “C’MON PLEASE NOT AGAIN.” Only because I’m ridiculous and impatient. But after a few minutes, we saw a little somersault and got the money shot. And we all find out tonight through a gender reveal cake! I. am. excited.

2. But in the midst of all that excitement . . . I’m dealing with my second cold of the winter season. The first came on in early December, and I’m pretty sure I never really got over that one? This has been one of my busiest work weeks in ages, and I’ve had to muster up every ounce of energy I have to get through it. Unmedicated. Also, I’ve gone through three boxes of tissues in two days . . . so. It’s fun hanging out with me!

3. I’ve become something of a magazine hoarder. Unintentionally, of course. Which magazines do y’all subscribe to? Glamour, Cooking Light and Southern Living regularly arrive in my mailbox. I have them all piled up in the office for a rainy day but, when I finally sit down to read, I almost always reach for my latest novel-in-progress instead. I want to get better about reading and passing them along, though; maybe that’s a good weekend project?

4. Speaking of projects, Spence and I have started looking at paint colors for the nursery. Regardless of whether we’re having a lady or lad, we know we don’t want a pink/blue explosion . . . so we’ve been playing around with a pretty pale purple for a girl or a very subtle blue for a boy. I guess nurseries need a “theme”? I don’t know. I think I want our theme to be, um, soothing and tranquil . . . after all, s/he won’t be paying as much attention to the room as we will. And we’ll be tired. For a little while, at least!

5. And just because shopping is fun, how cute is this little wooly egg doll? She’s reading! A book! I fell in love with the wooly guys when a good friend shared a link with me years ago, and bought her a set as a gift. I think they’re straight-up adorable.

Happy weekend, friends!


Book chat: ‘Me Before You’ by Jojo Moyes

Me Before YouOh, you guys.

I can’t really think about this story without tearing up. I mean, I am deeply hormonal — but I really think I’d have been reduced to a whimpering mess even without a baby playing havoc with my emotions.

This book is powerful. Redemptive. Uplifting. Soul-wrecking. Funny, exhilarating, memorable. Basically, it’s everything I want in a book — and though I ardently wished it could have turned out differently, I understood it. This book? This book was love.

Louisa “Lou” Clark and Will Traynor meet at the most complicated points in their lives. For twenty-something Lou, life is a tireless march between the home she shares with her parents, sister, nephew and grandfather and the tea shop where the regulars all know her name. Day-to-day, nothing much changes; day-to-day, Lou has no plans for change. Or escape.

Will Traynor was a handsome, successful, high-flying London hotshot until a freak accident left him paralyzed with no desire to live. Now wheelchair-bound and living with his devastated parents, Will spends his days immersed in music or staring blindly at films. What he doesn’t want — or need — is a babysitter, but the freshly-unemployed Lou seems determined to fit that bill.

Though initially prickly, distant and cold, Will can’t help finding himself won over by Lou’s eccentric dress and caring personality; she is funny, kind, beautiful. Their days once spent in silence are soon filled with soaring conversation, and they open up to one another within the confines of Will’s home.

When Lou dares to begin to venture outside the safe walls Will has constructed, their friendship deepens — and her desire to make him see the world (and himself) as valuable becomes her reason for rising each day. But what — or who — could change Will’s mind about life?

Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You is easily one of my favorite reads in years. I whipped through it like crazy, simultaneously unable to part with it and absolutely dreading having finished it. When I got to the pivotal conclusion (which I will not spoil, don’t worry), I was sobbing as though I’d just gotten word that my soldier was never coming home.

Lou and Will’s growing dynamic makes this story — and I really fell for Lou. She is so resilient, funny, strong-willed, independent . . . yet still vulnerable and searching, searching. When she meets Will, she’s initially afraid of him and his coldness — but desperately needs the money his parents are paying for his care. She’s not a nurse (Will has someone for that); she’s there for moral support. Companionship. Hired for her cheery disposition, Lou is determined to be a friend.

And she is. As they begin to trust one another, I felt my heart bursting as they set out on adventures like attending a concert or going for walks around a nearby castle. Though Will seems broken, physically and spiritually, he finds healing in Lou’s company. They complement each other perfectly, actually, and I loved the idea that love comes in many forms.

As I approached the last few chapters, I felt a gnawing pit open in my stomach. Though I was desperate to learn what was going to happen, I worried endlessly about both Will and Lou. There was a surprising amount of romance and sensuality in their interactions; their relationship became quite intense. I grew concerned that one or both would get hurt, but realized hurt is inevitable.

Hurt is inevitable. But we can choose how to build from that hurt, how to use that hurt to become something greater, something more . . . and though my heart absolutely broke for Lou, I could see her becoming the woman she is meant to be. The fighter, the dreamer, the do-er that Will encourages.

Me Before You is not a novel I’ll soon forget, and it has cemented Jojo Moyes as one of my favorite storytellers. I loved One Plus One, but this story? It’s one for the ages.


5 out of 5

Pub: 2012 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg


Early lessons in (not quite) parenthood

Twenty weeks

Back in November, we scheduled one of the most exciting appointments for parents-to-be: our 20-week anatomy scan, also known as the Big Exciting Ultrasound Day in which many parents get a detailed glimpse of their growing child — and learn the sex of their baby-to-be.

It was the week before Thanksgiving. I was still fighting off the urge to gag at chicken, Brussels sprouts, candy . . . everything, basically. And the idea of actually being pregnant — like, with a baby — was still pretty novel. Spencer and I had the shell-shocked looks of two people who had no idea what they were in for, and we sat at our first trimester screening holding sweaty hands.

Though I knew something was happening, that first abdominal ultrasound afforded us our first look at our little one actually kicking, squirming and air-punching. Moving. Until that moment, “the baby” was totally abstract. But there, on the screen, was the baby. He or she looked both foreign and familiar, new and old. Impossibly small. Totally beautiful.

When we scheduled our anatomy scan for January 15, it seemed like forever — an eternity — before we’d return to that office. I couldn’t imagine how I would look in two months . . . and even more importantly, how I would feel. I remember shaking with nerves and excitement, and consoling myself with the knowledge that the holidays would help the time pass quickly.

Because we wanted to know.

Despite friends’ efforts to convince us to wait for the Big Reveal at birth, Spence and I both agreed that we wanted to know whether we were having a boy or girl as soon as we could. I commend parents who can wait the whole nine months — actually, I think it’s awesome. But I am way too anxious and impatient. After our very first positive test, actually, Spence blurted, “So we’re going to find out, right?”

Right.

Our anatomy scan last Thursday was perfect. Baby J was moving, flexing its fingers and wiggling — to get comfortable? — across the giant screen. I started crying again, looking at that strong and flickering heartbeat, and felt all the anxiety I’d felt in the days leading up to the appointment begin to fade.

We saw the brain, kidneys, fingers and toes. A profile (with little nose!), stomach, roof of the mouth, the leg bones and arms.

Everything! Everything but . . .

Well.

Everything but whether he is a he or she is a she.

As I laid there with an ultrasound technician trying valiantly to gain access to our child’s private area, panic began to make my heart race. We’d planned a gender reveal get-together with our families for the following night — complete with a cake to reveal to us, too, what our baby will be. We’d waited so long. We wanted to know.

Spence and I had already prepped our technician to warn us if she would be getting close to any “tell-tale” areas and to please write the sex on scrap paper, which we’d been planning to deliver to a friend to bake our pink-inside or blue-inside cake. He or she — which will it be? I’d been scheming this Friday get-together for a month.

We tried several angles. Twisting, turning. The baby would shift, shift, then turn away — giving us a clear view of his or her backside with the umbilical cord tucked resolutely between their legs. When the tech had no luck, she called in the doctor to try and offer an opinion. She said she had “an idea” but, sadly, told us she just didn’t feel comfortable “calling it.” Uncooperative.

I. was. devastated. Devastated in a way that only a truly irrational pregnant woman can be. It was just abject disappointment, really; just a letdown. But I kept reminding myself of the actual importance of this visit: ensuring our baby is developing normally and getting stronger. And he/she is! Our due date is right on target for early June. Our wee little one now weighs 11 ounces.

That seems impossibly small and also . . . so big. Considering we found out we were pregnant when Baby J was little more than a clump of cells, smaller than a blueberry, we’re making great progress!

After I regained my composure on Thursday (and started making calls to cancel our little party), I realized we’d just learned an important early lesson in parenthood: life is unpredictable. Stay flexible. Don’t expect kids to do what you think they will when you think they will . . . in fact, don’t be surprised if they’re, like, doing headstands. In the womb. And totally ignoring you.

Despite our disappointment at having to wait longer to learn if we have a guy or gal on the way, I went to sleep Thursday with a happy, grateful heart. And rumbling belly. All things in perspective.

And we’re halfway through. Halfway!

Orange juice toast for everyone.


Tuscan chicken stew in the slow cooker

IMG_3453

It all started with fennel.

Now that we’re well into a sparkly new year and I’m no longer stricken with delightful nausea for most of my waking hours, Spence and I have been trying to get back into regular meal preparation. We both love to cook and enjoy coming up with creative dinners, but we don’t always have the energy to devote to that awesomeness during the week. It’s been a lot of pizza and skillet meals, friends — and I don’t feel great about it, but sometimes we have to do what we have to do.

Enter the slow cooker, which takes away that angst. If you’re not in love with your Crock Pot, especially in winter, I highly suggest giving it a try! We try to make at least one dinner in the slow cooker each week, usually on Monday or Tuesday, so we have homemade lunches for the rest of the week. It works out well . . . and hey, it’s always nice to have a husband who beats you home because he can’t wait for dinner.

Crock Pot nights are the best nights. Twenty minutes of prep in the morning and WHAM! — dinner is ready and fragrant as soon as you get home.

Turning to Pinterest for slow cooker meal ideas, I found this recipe for a stew that looked simple, delicious and healthy. And fennel! It has fennel! Seeing that, I was immediately in. We stocked up on the herb at an Amish grocery store months ago and love its distinctive flavor.

I made a few modifications from the original, outlined below. Because I’m always trying to clear out the pantry and use what we already have, I used canned tomatoes in place of fresh and chicken breasts instead of thighs for the meat, which we then shredded.

But you? You’re awesome. You can get creative and add whatever the heck you want. The thing I really love about soups is their versatility: if you don’t have fresh potatoes, add canned. If you have some kale or parsley to use up, throw it in! You can’t really hurt them. And who can’t use a few extra vegetables in their diet?

If you’re looking for a stew with excellent flavor that sticks to the ol’ ribs, look no further.

Can’t wait for lunch!


IMG_3450


Slow cooker Tuscan chicken stew

Ingredients:
4 chicken breasts, or 6-8 chicken tenderloins
2 carrots, peeled and sliced (or shredded carrots)
2 stalks of celery, sliced
1 red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can diced tomatoes, with liquid
1 can whole tomatoes, drained
12 baby potatoes, cut in half
4 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp dried rosemary
1 tbsp black pepper

Just before serving:
¼ cup water
2 ½ tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp salt (to taste)

Directions:
• Toss chicken, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, tomatoes, potatoes, chicken stock, tomato paste, fennel seeds, rosemary and black pepper into the slow cooker.
• Cook on the lowest setting for 6-8 hours.
• Remove chicken and shred with two forks, then return meat to stew.
• Just before serving, combine corn starch with water and mix until no lumps remain. Add the water/cornstarch, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire and salt. Taste and add additional salt if necessary. Serves 6-8.

Recipe adapted from Sweet Peas & Saffron


Chicken stew


From Points to pregnancy: dealing with weight gain so far

apples

This time last year, I was celebrating two milestones: my first anniversary with Weight Watchers and achieving lifetime status with the program after reaching my goal weight. Dropping those 35 pounds took me out of the “overweight” category for the first time in my adult life.

Shedding that weight was life-changing for me. Beyond being happier with my appearance, I actually had energy. Drive. Purpose. My new relationship with food made me feel empowered, not guilty. I slept better, walked taller and generally felt like Meg 2.0. And I was getting married!

Life was great before, but after WW? It was fantastic.

When I learned I was pregnant last September, I had every intention — every intention in the world! — of maintaining my healthy eating habits. Reaching for a banana instead of a high-calorie snack was just what I did — not something I thought about. I was so well-versed in the Weight Watchers way of life that I tracked Points in my head, naturally knowing when I’d overdone it or could indulge a little that day.

And I wanted — want — to have a fit pregnancy. As Spence and I began to discuss starting a family, I started researching prenatal health and nutrition. Armed with facts, data and support from doctors and other mamas, I felt fairly confident that I could continue to be me . . . just with a baby bump.

And then I got sick.


Funnel cake


The nausea started in week five, reaching a delirious fever pitch in week eight. Though I have heard so many stories that make my own morning (er, all day) sickness seem wimpy by comparison, there is no denying I was ill. Perpetually nauseous. Foods I once loved — Brussels sprouts, hummus, green beans, yogurt, chicken — became Enemy No. 1. In the weeks after we learned I was expecting, my husband and I basically had to empty out our fridge and start again.

There was no telling what would set off my gag reflex, which made it even harder. I would walk into a restaurant craving chips and queso, then panic and walk out before I’d even gotten to the counter. Something I loved one day — spicy pickles, chocolate ice cream — would sicken me the next.

What I could count on? Breads. Macaroni and cheese. Bagels. Potato chips. Rich, carb-heavy foods that seemed to settle my stomach the way my lighter fare could not.

In short? I wanted everything I stopped eating after committing to healthy eating. For the first time in more than a year, our house was packed with junk food — and I began packing on the pounds.

At this point, 20 of them.

Until I began to make my peace with it, that number terrified me. Though I limit what/how much I’m reading about pregnancy (online, especially), I know a “healthy” weight gain in the first few months is generally between one and five pounds. I probably gained that in the second week.

Now 19 weeks along, I’ve discussed this with my doctor. I’m closely monitored. I weigh in at every appointment, give blood and urine — all the normal procedures. And so far, I’m good. We’re good. At this point, there is no reason to worry or obsess about my weight — and that knowledge calms me down.

Also? I’ve learned to cut myself some slack.


Brussels sprouts


Those early months felt like I was stumbling around with an awful stomach virus — and if I thought I was going to be munching on salad greens with a light vinaigrette, well . . . there was no way. No way. I wasn’t sitting down to five-course dinners, but I was eating what I could stomach — and snacking often to keep the queasiness at bay.

Physically, I did what I had to do to get through it.

But emotionally, it was tough.

After feeling so healthy, strong and slim, my body’s rapid transformation was crazy. I felt sick, not pregnant, so it was psychologically tough to differentiate between gaining weight for a little one and just . . . gaining weight.

Those early months were hard.

I subscribe to a few baby boards for expectant moms also due in June. Though they can be something of a dark hole sometimes, especially for nervous first-timers, I do find camaraderie there — and answers to many “Is this normal?”-type questions. (Answer: probably. Everything is weird in pregnancy.)

But when I see a post called “No weight gain!!!” or “Feeling fat,” I know to stay away.

They’re triggers for me . . . especially when I started scrolling through posts from women who had not gained a pound — or actually lost weight — in their first trimester. Even recently, at almost five months along, some ladies can still fit into non-maternity clothing. Entire threads of women showing off their svelte figures at 12, 14 or 16 weeks made me self-conscious and anxious.

I bought my first pair of maternity jeans at six weeks along — because I really needed them. My pants with their single-digit tags now look laughably small, and 75 percent of my wardrobe is completely unwearable.

But this is a season. You’re growing a baby, I gently remind myself — so of course I’m growing, too.

Though I know they’re probably innocent, remarks about suddenly seeing weight gain “in my face” take me aback. I’m so happy to be having this baby, but the comments about my changing shape are hard to take. Especially with a smile.

A friend — a mom of two herself — recently told me that, once you’re obviously expecting, everyone feels as though your body is public property. Your breasts, rump and belly are all open for conversation, scrutiny and comparison . . . along with your eating habits. And parenting style. And so on.

When I was craving Milano cookies in November, someone casually mentioned “all the sweets” at my desk.

“Remember, you’re going to have to take all that weight back off,” she warned. “And good luck with that.”


I feel I need a disclaimer here . . . a big, bold one that says, Yes, I am so unbelievably happy about this baby! We already love him or her so much, and I know all these changes will be more than worth it. With time and patience, I’m sure I’ll begin to feel like my old self again.

But it’s still hard sometimes.

Honestly, it is.


So, the title of my post: how I’m “dealing with” weight gain at five months along? Now that the dark, sick days of the first trimester are behind me, I find myself . . . thinking again. Thinking like Meg 2.0.

About what I’m eating.
Why I’m eating it.
How it’s benefiting Baby J — and if it’s benefiting me.
Am I hungry . . . or bored?
If I’m hungry, is this what I’m really hungry for?

Slowly, slowly, the fruit and vegetables have returned to my plate. Slowly, slowly, I’m reaching less for the chips and more for the almonds. String cheese is back, as is Greek yogurt. And my appetite for meat, though smaller, has also returned. (Minus chicken. Something still doesn’t sit right with me.)

I’m feeling less like the junky, tired stranger who arrived in the fall and more like the empowered, choosy woman — the mom-to-be (!) — that I’m much more comfortable with. I feel human.

I guess that’s why everyone loves the second trimester, right?


Shifting from Points to pregnancy hasn’t been seamless, and I know I’ll feel a thousand conflicted emotions between now and June. (And, you know, for the rest of my life.) But I feel like I’ve reached a place where I’m feeling well enough — and strong enough — to take control of my nutrition again.

And I really want to. Moving forward, I want to approach healthy eating during pregnancy with the same zeal that first brought me to Weight Watchers in 2013.

Though part of me does wish we could take that whole “eating for two” thing literally sometimes — especially when funnel cake is involved.

Pass me an apple instead?


Wintry war

Snowy road

I’m no snow bunny.

After the wicked winter we endured last year, I still get panicky on icy roads and drive like an inebriated toddler as soon as the first fat flakes begin to fall. A Marylander through and through, I’m unused to bad winter weather and would prefer to, you know, never go out in it. Ever.

But I work at a newspaper. Believe you me: we close for no man (except for the year we got three-ish feet of snow in two days . . . but that was freakish. So.). Even with falling temperatures and scary, slick roads, we operate on a normal schedule — and I had to get my little self into the office.

I understand, though; snow isn’t supposed to slow us down. By day, I’m an editor and columnist and really like my job. There are always stories to edit! Pages to lay out! Columns to . . . columnize!

(That’s not a word. I apologize.)

But this year? I’m commuting for two. When I spy an icy patch of pavement, I legitimately think about how I cannot fall because I’m carrying a baby — and though he/she is partly to blame for my clumsiness lately, I’m already a mama of sorts. Totally in protective mode.

It’s making me nervous.

As a hardened New Yorker, my husband isn’t phased by any of this. Snow? Sleet? Press on. What scares him are, of course, the people like me — the nervous Nancys who drive 10 under the speed limit and shake a fist at the renegades who fly by in their BMWs on salty highways. The ones who have no idea what they’re doing.

When we visited Spencer’s hometown over Christmas break, I couldn’t believe how unfazed everyone was by the inches of snow that fell overnight. Where everyone in D.C. would be off work with hot cocoa watching “Judge Judy” snug at home (just me?), the good people of Western New York were donning their boots and setting off into the squalls without hesitation.

It’s kind of impressive, actually.

Though he’s lived in Maryland for half a decade, Spence hasn’t forgotten the tricks of the wintry trade that make him such a pro. We have shovels and salt, snow blowers and winter car wipers. Pretty soon I’ll pack my car with emergency rations and begin practicing my patented white-knuckle-grip on our back roads.

Last year we lived right off a major highway — and on a major plow route. This winter? We’re not in the middle of nowhere, but we’re in a neighborhood off a side street off a thoroughfare that’s off a highway . . . and in terms of being stuck, I have no idea what to expect. Will someone come to dig us out? Who will save us?

I’m being dramatic, I know. Extra-crazy hormones? I mean, it’s just winter. But where I’d rather be inside making homemade Hamburger Helper, burning candles and watching the woods whiten from the comfort of my window, I’m mentally preparing myself to join the masses schlepping to work and school without complaint.

Well, with a little complaint.

I’m only human.

(Is it too early to ask if it’s spring yet?)


Book chat: ‘Big Little Lies’ by Liane Moriarty

Big Little LiesWhen’s the last time you raced through a book like wildfire, so caught up in the story that you’re unable — or unwilling — to set it down . . . even if that means Mt. Laundrymore has grown in your bedroom and dinner just ain’t getting made?

For me, it had been a while. My reading in 2014 was, to be honest, pretty lackluster. After learning I was pregnant in September, my concentration was pretty much shot. Nothing interested me. Even with stacks of novels just waiting to be picked up, I could barely muster the energy to crack their covers.

That malaise traveled well into November and December . . . until I found Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies. A recommendation from Melissa, this novel follows the lives of several Australian families with children in the same kindergarten class: quiet Jane and her son, Ziggy, running from a disturbing past; beautiful Celeste with her wealthy and perfect husband, Perry, who transforms after-hours — and hides that side from their twin boys; outspoken Madeline and Ed, who are parents to two youngsters with Madeline’s teen daughter in the mix.

And then there are the Blonde Bobs: the seemingly-perfect moms who hover and preen and dictate, lording over the “inferior” parents when they dare darken the door of their beloved school. Madeline is well-versed in their antics . . . and all too happy to show newbie Jane, freshly arrived in Australia’s coastal Pirriwee, the ropes.

She knows young Jane needs it.

Interspersed with the narrative are snippets from an interview — and it’s clear something terrible has happened at the school’s Trivia Night. Terrible enough to leave someone dead. As readers, we don’t know what or who . . . but we do know when. And as we get ever closer to that fateful night, my heart began to pound.

What works so brilliantly in Big Little Lies is the wide, varied tapestry of characters we get to know and love. This is contemporary, domestic fiction that shimmers and shines; it’s engrossing, well-written, effortless to read. As I got sucked into Jane’s awful back story, Celeste’s current heartbreak and Madeline’s painful desire to connect with her daughter, I could think of little else. I didn’t want it to end.

But it did end . . . and what an explosive conclusion it was. I must admit to never guessing the twist, and the identity of the murder victim remained elusive until I literally gasped aloud during Trivia Night. My husband asked what was happening — but I shushed him, unable to fill him in with a little snippet. “It’s complicated,” I said.

It was . . . and it wasn’t. As Moriarty deftly unveiled many secrets, I was awestruck at her ability to throw me off while still leading me in the right direction the entire time. She got me — and she got me good.

With its glimpses into many marriages — some working, others not — and the families either trying to stay glued together or ripping apart at the seams, Big Little Lies will appeal to fans of domestic dramas and well-written contemporary fiction. I loved my time with Madeline, Jane and Celeste, and find myself thinking about them even after turning the final page.


4.5 out of 5

Pub: 2014 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg