End-of-summer feast

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I didn’t make too many summer plans this year.

It’s just hot, for one. And we’re still tired. Oliver sleeps like a champ most nights, but I still find this residual new-parent exhaustion digging its claws in me at least once a day. The good news? I no longer feel the pressing weight of being behind, behind, behind in everything I do. The housework, my work-work, keeping up my friendships and marriage . . . it’s not all done perfectly, but I try. It’s happening.

It’s nearly September — the start of my most favorite season. Monday morning was . . . chilly. Like, actually a little cold. Wawa had pumpkin spice coffee brewed on their bar and I gasped at the sight of it, feeling a little bit wobbly with enthusiasm as I poured myself a cup.

The first cup of fall. Is there anything sweeter?

This weekend will be our end-of-summer crab feast with the family — an annual tradition going strong for years now. I always look forward to this chance to connect with our Virginia crew, who are such awesome folks, and get our hands messy chomping down on seafood.

It will be Oliver’s second feast — and I’m hoping he’ll sit still long enough for us to actually enjoy picking crabs with our cousins. At 16 months old, Ollie does not like to be contained . . . at all. Ever. Dining out is a struggle because the kid just wants to crawl away and get into anything and everything, but we’ve managed to hold him still long enough to have a few meals out recently. An endless supply of Puffs help.

After this weekend, I’ll be digging out my storage bins of gourds and scarecrows. I’ve started looking at the calendar to determine fall plans and have made a note of the many craft fairs that will soon start ramping up. We’re figuring out our Thanksgiving plans and Christmas travel arrangements, and I’m adding to that holiday gift spreadsheet already, determined to feel as little stress as possible this year.

Pumpkin spice lattes, cardigans, crunchy leaves, Halloween activities and azure skies — as always, I find myself wanting to rush through the sticky summer to just get to all things savory and apple pie-scented.

But first: crabs.

Can’t rush all the good stuff.

 

 

 

Five things on Friday

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1. As a belated Mother’s Day gift, my sister, Mom and I recently enjoyed tea and a tour at National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Despite living just 40-ish minutes outside the city, I don’t get downtown much these days — let alone on a Tuesday. It was such a cool, fun experience, and the food was delicious! We all I know was likely British in a past life, so the tea tradition speaks to my scone-loving soul. Highly recommend to anyone looking for a unique opportunity in the city.

2. I can’t help but feel like August is the only thing standing between me and fall. Glorious, beautiful, crisp and cozy fall. Last year I totally lost my marbles and started decorating before Labor Day, which I realize was . . . a little premature. This year? I’m trying to reign in my enthusiasm, but it’s pointless. Oliver was only 6 months old last Halloween, but this year I feel like he’ll be closer to “getting it” — and I’ll be able to better position him for pumpkin photo shoots! This is the No. 1 reason to have a child, by the way: photo shoots. (Just kidding. Er, sort of.)

3. I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I think I’ve earned a trophy for adulting for finally resolving a medical bill for testing during my pregnancy (!!) that has been haunting us since January 2015. It’s a long and boring story involving many phone calls, emails, stapled statements and blah blah blah, but as of yesterday, I fought the good fight and won. Just so happy to have that resolved. Insurance issues are the worst. Also, now I don’t have to worry about bankruptcy, so. Sweet relief!

4. Oliver has been saying “Mama” like crazy lately, along with “Dada” and “Baby” (bayyy-beee). He’s also beginning to wave, smoosh up his lips for a “kiss” and is definitely grasping the concept of “no” (whether he follows it is, of course, another story). So excited to be hitting these milestones!

5. I may or may not have started my Christmas shopping spreadsheet — along with said holiday shopping. As a list-loving American, this is the only way I can keep myself organized. Despite my good intentions, I was one of those people scrambling last-minute to finish shopping last year . . . and I wound up bulk-ordering on Amazon to just officially say I was done. Let me shout it loud and proud: I AM NOT doing that this year! Like, seriously. I want to enjoy the heck out of the holidays and not feel the rampant anxiety that consumed me last year, ’cause we all know that is not what it’s about. So I’ve already purchased a few things and scribbled down ideas for others. I feel better already.

Happy weekend, friends! And thanks for staying with me during the long write meg! drought. I find my creative juices stymied by exhaustion so much lately that it’s hard to put fingers to keyboard. But I’m not going anywhere. ❤


Handing him the spoon

Oliver

We’re inching closer toward sippy cups, not bottles. At meal times (which are now breakfast, lunch, dinner — same as us), Oliver grabs the spoon to “feed” himself. He’s cruising along the furniture, scaling walls and gripping ledges. He said his first word: “baby.” Now he says it all the time.

These developments fill me with joy, of course. We’re making strides! He’s growing up! At 15 months old, Oliver is a toddler. He toddles. His face his slimmed — along with those rubber band wrists. His legs are long and strong. He is tall enough to reach door handles and drawers, to pull down objects I never imagined he could reach. He surprises me daily by what he absorbs and parrots. He misses nothing.

Oliver is growing. And it is wonderful. I just didn’t expect to feel so . . . sad.

There is one blank date left in his “milestones” book — the one I’ve used to mark all his firsts since birth. It’s for first steps. And though I’m happy thinking about slipping on his first pair of shoes, about leading him along sidewalks and down new paths, I also feel intensely nostalgic when I realize the “firsts” are nearly done.

Will I miss the 3 a.m. feedings, the temper tantrums, the many bites of sweet potato that wind up in my lap — not his mouth?

Well . . . no. But yes. But no.

It’s bittersweet. Everything.

Parenthood is a study in opposites. It feels laughable to say I’ll miss washing bottles every night when it’s been the bane of my existence, but here’s the thing: it became our new normal. It’s a ritual, even a soothing one — and the idea of everything changing, as it so often does, fills me with apprehension. I just got used to this.

In some ways, I feel like I’ve only just found my mama footing. This stage is now comfortable, knowable. I don’t have to remind myself I’m a parent anymore — it’s been absorbed into my bones. And with my son now reaching for me, patting my cheek, resting his head on my shoulder — the only shoulder he sometimes wants in the world — well . . . that’s it. That’s it. What could matter more than that?

It isn’t all sunshine, of course. It never is. After a great visit with our family in New York, Oliver came home with a fever that burned him up for five days. The doctors couldn’t figure out why. It would climb to 102, 103, 104 — and just when Spencer and I would start to panic, fumbling for our car keys in the dark, it would break. He would rest. And then it would start up again.

There were many 4 a.m. baths in lukewarm water, frantic phone calls to the after-hours number, lots of pacing as we debated whether to drive to the hospital or urgent care or wait until morning, waiting and waiting and watching his chest rise and fall.

The panicky dread of those moments isn’t unique to us, certainly. No parent wants to see their child sick. But every time Oliver gets ill, I sink back into unpleasant memories of our month in the hospital. Sometimes I have to physically force myself to sit, take deep breaths and remember this time isn’t that time. Our 3-pound baby is now a 27-pound tank. He can handle it. We can handle it.

But that is easier said than done. One of my guilty pleasures is “Little Women: LA,” a reality show chronicling the lives of a group of friends, and several ladies are pregnant this season. Elena is expecting twin boys — and toward the end of her pregnancy, which is being documented now, she develops preeclampsia. Noting that she’s only 34 weeks pregnant, everyone is panicking at the idea of an early delivery — how risky, how dangerous, how life-threatening. “She can’t deliver this early!” they cry.

And I delivered at 32 weeks.

Preeclampsia changed everything. The idea of becoming pregnant again — and possibly not having the same happy ending — is terrifying. Thinking about adding to our family, well . . . I could get preeclampsia again, or I could not. And there is no way to know. There is no way to prevent it, to predict it, to expect it. If anything, I have a higher chance because I’ve had it once. It was severe, and it set in early.

It’s a roll of the dice. And I’ve never been a gambler.

We’ve reached the stage where well-meaning folks ask if we’ll have a second child. I probably get asked this once a week: by friends, acquaintances, readers. To the outside world, the world in which I look like a “normal” woman with a healthy child, I understand the innocence of that question. But there is no easy answer.

“We’ll see,” I say. What else can we do?

Contrary to, well, this entire post, I actually try not to dwell on the past — or the future. We’re usually too tired for that, anyway. Things could have turned out poorly, but they didn’t. I look at my son and feel relief and love and joy.

Oliver has been working with professionals to get “up to speed” with developmental tasks — particularly physical ones, like crawling — for a while. One of his therapists recently pointed out that it was me who was uncomfortable with Oliver feeding himself, projecting my fears of choking and other harm onto his daily habits, well . . . that hit me like a slap.

But she was right. And now I think constantly about how I cannot let my anxiety hold him back. Even when that is hard — or feels impossible. Even when I want to bubblewrap him and never leave our house.

So we try new things at dinner, even when he gags on foods he cannot possibly choke on (pureed green beans, anyone?). Even when I know we’ll spend longer cleaning up the mess than he actually spent eating. I let him grasp the lip of the coffee table, ready to spring into action as he moves along. We stand by as he pushes a toy walker, looking so proud as he plants each foot. He’s always walking toward the door, seeking sunshine. He loves peeking out.

I barely breathe when he falls asleep in my lap — a rarity these days. I’m still even when my arm is asleep. Even when I can’t reach the TV remote. Even when I have to use the restroom, and I’m starving, and I don’t think I brushed my teeth that morning. Even when I need to rest myself.

Savor it, hold on to it: that’s all I can do. Nudge him forward knowing he’ll always have a safe place to land — as long as his father and I can help it, anyway.

We hand him the spoon.


Mushroom asparagus quiche — all it’s ‘cracked’ up to be

Quiche

Something about quiche used to really weird me out.

I’m far from a picky eater, but I’ve never liked eggs. It’s weird, I know — especially given I’ll try just about anything. But no matter the style — scrambled, sunny-side-up, in an omelette — or flavor, I’d prefer to skip breakfast completely. I’ve been known to make a sandwich.

When we hosted friends for brunch after Oliver was born, I was looking for a quick vegetarian recipe that might look vaguely impressive to a well-traveled foodie couple (what? It’s the truth). I had that “new mom” sheen of greasy hair, half-closed eyes and unbrushed teeth, so . . . it couldn’t be complicated. I mean, just getting to the grocery store was a feat unto itself.

In my internet wanderings, I stumbled upon this mushroom asparagus quiche recipe from Taste of Home. Its base is a store-bought can of crescent rolls, friends. I can get down with that.

It’s filling, hearty and incredibly tasty — so much so that Spencer and I have made it many times since, usually doubling the mushrooms because mushrooms are life. It’s a great dish to make on a Sunday and slice up for breakfast leftovers during the week. It reheats beautifully and holds together well.

This quiche? It’s just really delicious. Good enough for me to have reevaluated my hatred of eggs as a whole . . . though, to date, this is the only acceptable vessel I’ve found for them.

But who knows. A few more bites and I just might come around.


Quiche

Mushroom Asparagus Quiche

1 tube (8 ounces) refrigerated crescent rolls
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
1 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1/4 cup butter, cubed
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon each dried basil, oregano and rubbed sage

Separate crescent dough into eight triangles; place in an ungreased 9-in. pie plate with points toward the center. Press onto the bottom and up the sides to form a crust; seal perforations. Spread with mustard; set aside.

In a large skillet, saute the asparagus, onion and mushrooms in butter until asparagus is crisp-tender. In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients; stir in asparagus mixture. Pour into crust.

Bake at 375° for 25-30 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting. Enjoy!

Recipe by Taste of Home


Addition, not subtraction

Me with Oliver

I’m sneaking this post.

My son has been asleep for the better part of an hour already, which means we’re on borrowed time. Spencer is outside changing a series of parts on his car — don’t ask me which — and I “helped” by holding a few bolts in place while he jimmied something together. We made lunch (frozen burgers), scrubbed a few random surfaces, and I made “progress” with the laundry by moving it from the dryer to the bed, where it is heaped and waiting.

But I am happy.

Now that Oliver is 14 months old, babbling like crazy and moving everywhere, showing his first signs of independence . . . I feel these little pieces of myself returning. For so long, I was too tired for anything that wasn’t an absolute necessity (and even some things that were).

But I’m reading again. I actually finished a real, physical book, and am making progress on another (and loving it).

I’m walking like crazy. My Fitbit has totally kicked my rump in the best way, and I — er, I mean Oliver — surprised Spencer with his own for Father’s Day so we can enter into a little “friendly competition” with our steps each day. I don’t always hit 10,000, but I remember many of your tips from my post last month and push myself to do just a bit more than I think I can every day.

When I think of my life with a newborn, I was a shell of a human being — and I am at peace with saying those were not the happiest days of my life. The months we’ve had with Oliver now, who is sweet and funny and mischievous, are easily better and more rewarding and more fulfilling than our hard, hard start.

I never wondered if I was cut out for motherhood, but I have wondered if it would always be that difficult. Putting prematurity aside, I didn’t know I could be so physically exhausted and still functioning. And working. And cleaning stuff.

But it’s been more than a year, and I rarely forget we’re a trio now — not a duo. We take walks with Oliver in the stroller on the nights the humidity doesn’t settle like a wool blanket, and I love watching his eyes take in the swaying trees. He swings his feet now and leans forward, gripping the baby-sized cupholders, and whatever irritable mood he was in before that moment is carried off by the breeze.

Life is not perfect. Nothing ever is. But I don’t have to try and remember if I’ve actually brushed my teeth or used the restroom that morning, which is a huge step up from where we have been.

I am finding balance.

Thinking of everything that has happened since we married in late 2013, I do try to give myself a break. I mean, two years ago this week, we were moving into our new house. One year ago, I had just returned to work after Oliver was born in April.

If becoming a mom was an adjustment, becoming working parents certainly added a new dimension to our lives. But Spence and I have made it work — even when I wasn’t sure how we would. It’s taken a combination of a wonderful babysitter, supportive local family, flexible bosses and work schedules . . . but we haven’t missed an appointment, meeting or deadline. And Ollie has been in great hands.

This year? I breathe more. I chat more. I find time for the little things that make me happy — baking, reading three pages of a book . . . heck, even shopping — when, in fits of exhaustion, I didn’t know if I ever would or could again. Sometimes it takes creativity, and it’s not as seamless as it may have been before we had a baby. But even someone terrible at math can see he is an addition, not a subtraction. Never a subtraction.

And when in doubt, I walk it out. I’ve never looked forward to being outside or slipping on sneakers, but those quiet moments of movement are as close to meditating as I get. Just like with weight loss, it’s less about a number and more about a feeling.

And I feel better. Calmer. And I am so, so grateful for that.


Book chat: ‘We’re All Damaged’ by Matthew Norman

We're All DamagedIt’s been a year since Andy Carter’s safe suburban life collapsed. His marriage explodes when his wife leaves him for a neighbor; his ultra-conservative mother has changed completely in her quest to take her talk-radio show to the next level, casting his father in the background. Andy loses his job, then acts a fool at his best friend — and former brother-in-law’s — wedding.

Skipping town seems wise — until the need to see his dying grandfather brings him back to Nebraska. It’s there that he meets Daisy, a young “friend” of his grandfather’s. Daisy has her own complicated background, but she takes a shine to Andy as she took a shine to his granddad. In the midst of this, the Carter family is targeted after his mother makes outlandish and homophobic remarks . . . just before marriage equality is achieved in the U.S. Some unseemly family information is released in the process, leading to further scrutiny.

Is that a light at the far end of the tunnel . . . or just a train?

Having loved Norman’s debut novel in 2011, I went into We’re All Damaged looking for that same sensational spark. The story started out promisingly, what with Andy getting dumped at an Applebee’s (!) and all. Our narrator was obviously going to be down on his luck, maybe a bit of a ne’er-do-well, but hopefully one with a heart?

Something about We’re All Damaged failed to click with me. It felt extremely current, tackling issues like gay rights, the conservative/liberal media, internet ethics . . . and I could appreciate the intent. But it just felt a bit full to me. Full of too many issues, too many characters, too much chaos for me to really lose myself in the story. If we’d had fewer hot-button topics to address, I might have enjoyed focusing more on Andy’s evolution. As it stood, I never broke past the surface.

Andy’s brokenness was endearing at first, but quickly became frustrating — especially as Daisy enters the scene. Daisy is totally a manic pixie dream girl — one I could never figure out, given we knew next-to-nothing about her (aside from her many tattoos, which are addressed constantly). She seems to be a nymph designed solely to help shove Andy out of his post-divorce funk. And that was boring.

Matthew Norman’s sly, biting humor peeks out occasionally, but isn’t used to best effect. I did like the nod to Curtis Violet, famed author/father in his first book, as well as the hilarious passages about Andy’s dad’s paintball assault on the squirrels smuggling goods from his bird feeders. His obsession and description of that battle felt just a little heartbreakingly human to me.

We needed more of that.

Though We’re All Damaged wasn’t memorable for me, I do look forward to meeting up with Norman — a perceptive, skillful writer — again someday.


3 out of 5

Pub: 2016 • GoodreadsAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher/TLC Book Tours for critical consideration