Ready with the twinkle

With Santa

Not even the merriest of Santa’s elves could feel jolly when it’s 70 degrees, humid and raining.

But we press on here in Maryland. Because Christmas is Friday!

Honestly, I’ve struggled to get into the spirit this year. Despite it being Oliver’s much-anticipated first holiday, I’ve felt overwhelmed and stressed since Thanksgiving — just perpetually behind. Trying to accomplish many things, and doing none of them well.

It’s the pressure, I think. THE PRESSURE. Self-imposed pressure to create the “perfect” season — but still. Knowing we’re winding down on my son’s first year has made me reflective . . . more than usual, I mean. The idea that this time — his first Christmas — is an important one, a time that will live in our memories forever, has made me tough on myself. If I haven’t been enjoying every moment, I feel doubly awful for not enjoying it. You know?

I’m a mess.

But I want to feel relaxed. Calm. Bright. With the best of intentions to get my shopping done early, I’ve been scrambling for last-minute items for days — and even made one fretful trip to Walmart on Saturday, the busiest shopping day of the year, to brave the chaos and meandering check-out lines. My version of purgatory, basically.

But I can’t be too hard on myself. Work has been insanely busy for both Spencer and me, leaving us with little energy in the evenings. Plus, in early December, Ollie got sick — again — and this time, instead of a run-of-the-mill cold or the dreaded hand, foot and mouth virus, it was with croup. An illness straight out of 1942, apparently.

That was almost three weeks ago.

After many trips to the doctor and urgent care, we got him feeling marginally better . . . only for Spencer to get sick. Then me. With no ability to be off work and so much to do.

You know what’s exciting? Interviewing a chef for a restaurant feature with no voice. Literally: none. Trying to contain your cough around people just trying to enjoy their seafood. Stifling your sneezing in a library as you meet with the sweetest children’s librarian ever — a woman with whom you can barely chat, given you can’t even be heard in a silent library.

But did I get those articles written? Did I meet deadline? I DID. Beast mode.


Sleeping


Having three ill people in one house with no one to be primary nurse did test our limits, though. Poor Ollie was so congested and uncomfortable, though he did sleep — thank God. I couldn’t take another scream-fest that was hand, foot, mouth in November. These back-to-back illnesses have made me want to quarantine ourselves forever — and I can see why many families, especially those with preemies, tend to exist in a bubble until spring.

And yet. I won’t dwell on the negatives, the hard times. We are all well now! And we’re well for Christmas! And we have wonderful family and friends we’ll be making memories with over the next few weeks. After the tumultuous year we’ve had, our dear son is thriving — and becoming such a little man. A true delight.

Despite our exhaustion, I have tried to soak up the atmosphere. We made it to see Santa Claus — twice! — and walked around holiday markets in town. We’ve made hot chocolate with delightfully defrosted whipped cream. Though I tend to fall asleep on the couch by 9 p.m., I’ve watched a few so-cheesy-they’re-awesome Hallmark movies on the DVR . . . and have more saved up for the weekend.

There have been quiet moments with my husband and son: reading Bear Stays Up For Christmas and watching “Charlie Brown,” looking through our holiday cards and pointing out each soon-to-be-familiar face to Oliver. Hanging our stockings, scrawling “Mommy” on gift tags. Buying the cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning.

But the most delightful part of December has been watching Ollie each morning as we descend into the living room. His face splits into the biggest grin at the sight of the glittering tree and fireplace, made magical again overnight.


Rolling


And he’s rolling now! Independently. Totally independently — and much to his own delight. It happened for the first time last weekend, and now he cannot. stop. He’s addicted to the roll, I’m telling you. And he looks so proud of himself with each flip, lifting his head to smile at Spencer and me. It makes me teary.

At 8 months old (6 months adjusted), we’re hitting milestones at our own pace — and for the most part, I’ve been OK with that. I don’t read baby books, generally speaking, and resist the urge to compare him to friends’ children. The “Your Baby Now!”-type app has been uninstalled on my phone.

Though I’m still working on my acceptance of preeclampsia and his prematurity, I have learned that sweet Oliver is Oliver. He moves at his own pace, but he does move. Our journey might look a little different, but that just means we fight harder.

Still: that roll? That tangible progress? The perfect early gift for his mama.

Now that we’re days away from Christmas, 95 percent of the “work” has been completed. We’ll soon gather at my parents’ and grandparents’ houses for our traditional Christmas Eve and holiday festivities, and head up to see our New York family next week.

This season may not have been the cookie-cutter “perfect” time  I imagined for Oliver’s first year, but . . . what in life truly goes as planned?

And it’s not about how or when you turned on the twinkle lights, anyway.

The point is: they’re twinkling now.

And we’re ready.

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Off with the news, on with the tree

Christmas

I’d pictured the moment countless times.

A darkened living room. Our son’s eager, upturned face. The reflection of twinkle lights in his dark and mesmerized eyes.

Imagining our baby’s first Christmas was a common daydream during my pregnancy. It was a hopeful fantasy and reminder that, regardless of the pain or sickness I felt, it would all be “worth it” — that phrase parents constantly pass back and forth like a balm, soothing us on our darkest and most exhausted days.

When is the last time I felt that magic, that sparkle?

Decades?

Sunday was The Day. Though I’d been looking forward to decorating for Christmas, I’d been awake since 4 a.m. for a feeding — and my energy level had reached a new low. Still, Spencer and I spent the morning dragging holiday boxes up from the basement and put the artificial tree in the corner.

There is the etched glass ornament announcing my birth 30 years ago, still clear and pristine. My Pink Power Ranger, a relic from the ’90s, and the pillow-soft Cabbage Patch orbs. Spencer’s Grinch ornaments, a Christmas goose. A hot air balloon. Santa’s grinning face.

Then, the ones we acquired together: “Our First Christmas” on a sparkly round ball; a trolley car from our first trip to San Francisco. From there, our December engagement; our wedding; a key for our first home. Last year’s additions celebrated our pregnancy, back when we didn’t even know Oliver was Oliver. I’d unknowingly placed our first sonogram picture at eye level, where Ollie and I look at it every day.

It’s so strange to see that little photo, the edges now battered from frequent handling. I initially tucked it in my purse, this beautiful secret, but later showed it friends and family as though it were a gap-toothed school picture.

“Here’s our baby,” I would say, the words foreign in my mouth. “Our baby” was smaller than a blueberry — a tiny white shape on a black background. The biggest thing in my heart.

I’d imagined putting up our first Christmas tree would be this beautiful experience. We’d listen to holiday music, sip eggnog, lift Ollie high to “help” with the tinsel.

In my mind, it was cozy.

In reality, it was hot.

Spence and I were exhausted from carrying boxes before we’d even begun. I was sweaty, unshowered, without makeup. I would hastily unpack ornaments and decorate while Spencer tried to calm our fussy baby; the three of us were rarely in the same place at the same time. I took very few photos.

It was not magical. The house was destroyed. Pieces of Styrofoam from my village houses floated like fake snow, and the couch was covered in glitter. Fake pine needles blanketed the carpet — right where our son would reach for them. I was overwhelmed.

But eventually, mercifully, Oliver fell asleep. We moved him upstairs to his crib while we finished unloading our decor, the pair of us whispering and sipping warm beers as the day wore on. I couldn’t see it at first, as I rarely can, but the room took shape.

We haven’t been in our house long enough to have set traditions, particular “ways.” Santa doesn’t have to go on the mantel; the angels can sing from the hall, not the table. Everything is pliable. We can form it as we go.

When Ollie woke up, darkness had fallen. Our living room glittered by white twinkle lights. Spencer and I crept to lift him from his crib, slowly making our way downstairs to watch his expression. It was suddenly the most important thing in the world.


It’s hard to be a human these days, let alone a parent.

During my pregnancy, an older friend and I often discussed current events. Working for a newspaper, it’s inevitable — and as always, it was awful: gun violence; racism; hate-mongering; political upheaval. Ebola and hunger. Sadness and heartbreak.

My son was born in Baltimore the day Freddie Gray was taken into police custody. It was three miles away. Gray died a week later — in the hospital a few floors below where my son laid in his isolette. Oliver was taken out of the city by ambulance the morning the riots broke out — just blocks and a breath or two away.

“It’s a sad, strange time for America,” my friend said last year, words that were also true in April and July and December. “I don’t know, Megan . . . I don’t know if I’d want to bring a child into the world these days.”

She wasn’t saying anything I hadn’t already considered. But it’s different — scarier — to hear it from someone else. In light of the many tragedies over the last few weeks (months? years?), that conversation flooded back to me this week.

I thought of the world in which Oliver will become a child, a man. Hopefully a father himself.

I hadn’t known what to say at the time, but I now know:

I brought a child into this world out of love. Hope.

I brought a child into this world out of the belief that, in time, we can fix what is broken. We can persevere. With understanding and tolerance, we will find a way to be good to each other. That hatred and evil cannot win.

And more than anything, I brought a child into this world for a moment like Sunday: Oliver’s mouth forming a curious “O,” his fat fists reaching for the sparkly ornaments on his first Christmas tree. In an instant, a month’s worth of hard news disappeared beneath its branches. I felt I could breathe again.

When I came home from work each night this week, I turned off the news and turned on the lights. We sat close to the tree, this precious boy in my lap, his tiny hands reaching for a future we cannot yet see.


And a very merry Christmas to you

O Christmas tree

Though I feel entirely unprepared, Christmas is upon us! I’m off for an entire glorious week from work, the final presents are wrapped and I’m definitely ready to relax with family and friends. This year will feature a healthy mix of traditions both new and old, and I’m looking forward to seeing our New York family on a little adventure!

From my cozy spot on the couch in my ol’ sweatpants, I’m wishing you a very happy holiday and wonderful start to the new year! I’ll be back in early January to share my favorite reads from last year and continue preparing for the chaos and joy that is sure to be 2015.

I mean, we’re going to have a baby next year. A baby. Every time I start to wrap my brain around that, something refuses to process — but I’m sure that, with my burgeoning belly, this will load very soon. I can’t believe that I’ll be almost halfway through my pregnancy in mid-January . . . and that we’ll learn the gender of our little babe in just a few weeks.

It seemed so far away . . . and now I find myself wishing that time would slow down. I have a hunch that will become a common thread for me.

But for now? I’ll just enjoy the now.

It’s a pretty great one.

Merry Christmas, friends!


The Great Cookie Meltdown of 2014

I’ve had exactly two pregnancy-related freak-outs in the last 16 weeks.

The first came shortly after Thanksgiving. Freshly home from work and dying for pickles, my cliched craving of choice, I plunked down next to my husband. “I really want some of my baby pickles, but there’s a crumb in the jar,” I said slowly, then promptly burst into tears.

Big, fat, rolling-down-the-cheeks tears.

“Are you okay?” Spencer looked over suddenly, clearly alarmed. “Are you crying? Over pickles?”

“YES,” I screamed, also laughing at my known ridiculousness. The laughing/crying combination is a familiar one; I’ve come to know this strange twist of double-crossed emotions quite well.

Logically, I realize that crying over a crumb in a pickle jar is beyond silly . . . but that knowledge doesn’t stop the waterworks. Just picturing my beloved pickles with an errant bread crumb floating in the jar — thereby contaminating them, of course — was enough to send me into hysterics.

I. am. a. mess.

Once Spencer stopped laughing (kindly, of course), he went into the kitchen to fish out some “clean” pickles and returned with a bowl for me. I couldn’t stop crying long enough to eat them, moved again at his willingness to eliminate the offending bread crumb for the sake of my sanity.

In the weeks since the Pickle Incident, I’ve tried to maintain a grip on decorum. I’m going to blame hormones. My emotional responses are weird — and sometimes inappropriate. Most commonly-overheard phrase at my house? “I don’t know why I’m crying.”

And usually, I don’t.


photo


Last weekend was to be a time of desserts and revelry. It’s Christmas! A time of joy and laughter! I attend a cookie exchange at my aunt’s house every holiday — and foolishly decided to try new recipes this year. I made plans to bake at my parents’ house with my mom, who was concocting gumdrop cookie bars, and had my ingredients ready. Get the flour and let’s roll.

Because I needed to have eight dozen (!) cookies to share on Sunday night, I decided to make four dozen of two types. About halfway into making the dough for the brown butter snickerdoodles, I realized this was going to be far more time-consuming than I’d planned.

And stressful. Can’t forget stressful.

My other variety of cookie — a rocky road-type treat with marshmallows, pecans and chocolate chips — was a recipe shared by a friend, clipped from a long-ago magazine. While the dough came together faster, the results ended up being . . . well, explosive. Literally.

Where did it all go wrong, friends? Honestly, I’m not sure. I thought I’d followed the directions closely for both recipes, but we all know that cookie-baking is a science. Where we can fudge along a bit with cakes and cupcakes, pies and trifles, cookies? Unforgiving. They don’t care if you’re tired and pregnant and nervous and stressed, you know? Cookies don’t care.

Thirty seconds can be the difference between delectable and bottom-of-a-kettle burnt.

I’m always on the wrong side of that line, it seems.

Five hours after we started, I pulled the last of the cookies from the oven. While my snickerdoodles were not photogenic, I nibbled on one and found the flavors solid.

But those rocky roads? Oh, dear.

When I say they exploded, I literally mean the marshmallows self-destructed and sent a gooey, crispy mess all over the cookie sheet (and each other). They baked at the recommended temperature for the correct amount of time — in fact, I actually pulled them early when I got wise to what was happening — but, you know . . . disaster.

“Look at this. Look!” I yelled to my husband and sister, both standing nearby with naked fear in their eyes. “I mean, this one has a HOLE IN IT.”

Katie stepped closer, peered down and gave me a sympathetic look. “It does,” she conceded.

“How does that even HAPPEN? HOW?”

Spencer grimaced. “It’s okay. I’m sure . . . they taste good,” he added limply, pushing the overcooked dough with a finger.

Unwilling to be consoled, I began to cry and gnash my teeth and froth at the mouth in a way that made the Pickle Incident look like a stroll through the park on a sunny day. After hours of cookie preparation, my results were pitiful. The rocky roads looked like freshly-destroyed cookie roadkill.

If the cookies had been for us, you know, I would have been disappointed — but ultimately gotten over the horror. But these were cookies for gifts at a holiday exchange with nice women who clearly knew what they were doing . . . and me? I’m just a cookie imposter.

An angry, emotional cookie imposter.

But you know what?

They did taste good.


Next year, new tradition: we’re lobbying for a wine and cheese social. Desserts are for the birds.


Holiday-themed pity party

cupcakes

The first Christmas party has been thrown!

Twenty friends and their kiddos arrived on Sunday for a holiday party, hosted for the first time at the Johnson residence. My sister and I co-hosted the event (with, you know, our husbands) and began discussing details back in October. In fact, Kate had me send out a “save the date” in early November. We were on it.

And then I got sick.

Early last week, my throat began to feel itchy. Within two days, I was wallowing in a congested-sneezing-clogged-nose hell that had me Googling every medication under the sun with “safe for pregnancy” afterward.

Spoiler: none were.

If I thought being sick was awful before, being sick while pregnant pretty much sent me into an existential tailspin. Everything is deadly; nothing is safe. I’ve never been a “natural remedies” sort of girl, but by golly was I searching for anything under the sun to get relief by Friday morning.

I’ll freely admit to once rolling my eyes at others’ dramatics when it comes to the common cold because, you know, I was tough. Chug a little DayQuil, grab an extra pack of tissues and keep it movin’, you know what I’m saying?

Yeah. Well.

I got mine, friends. Several times over. After suffering through a few work days and grossing out everyone in my vicinity, I finally called uncle and stayed home on Friday. What followed was a day of crying, cursing and throwing myself a holiday-themed pity party complete with bad daytime television, mugs of half-drunk tea and texting my husband repeatedly to learn when he’d be back to bear witness to my continued freak-out.

I’m so fun.

In my defense, I didn’t realize how much I rely on medication for comfort. Got a headache? Advil. Back hurts? Advil. Congested, hard time breathing? Decongestant. Bad cramps? Advil.

With nearly all of my go-to drugs off the table, I felt helpless. And pregnancy hormones? No joke. I have been a big, steamy mess of nonsense for the last few weeks — even before I became infected with this scourge. After going through three boxes of tissues in two days and calling my doctor repeatedly for something, anything I could take (finally got permission for low-dose Sudafed), the cold began to break on Sunday morning.

Just in time to host the party.

After disinfecting and de-cluttering everything we could, dear Spencer set to work making food while I read recipes from a bubble in the corner. I pumped myself full of water and baby-safe drugs before everyone arrived, then dissolved into a puddle of gratitude as my sister and brother-in-law showed up to help take over responsibilities.

And then I could just have fun!

And so we did. Mostly because I couldn’t believe we’d pulled it off and actually had everything go as planned. In a panicky moment on Friday, I was convinced the whole thing would fall apart because I was too weak to do more than reach for another tissue. Spence and I had looked forward to hosting our friends at our first shindig, and I didn’t want to cancel.

But I rallied, everything went off without a hitch — and I’m only feeling about 30 percent ridiculous today. The cough is sticking around, but I can handle that.

Hug your NyQuil a little closer for me, friends. You never know how much you love something until it’s gone.


Time for the tinsel

Christmas tree

Is there anything lovelier than a home at Christmas?

I love this time of year because, you know, our home has insta-style. And that style is holiday. Decorating is still a somewhat daunting task for me, so our house has many bare walls — but when you truss them up with sparkly garland, evergreens and jolly Santa figurines, you’ve really got something goin’ on.

And oh, it’s going.

I’ll be honest: Christmastime is still a little bittersweet for me. Despite the fact that I am happily married and expecting, part of me longs to be back with my mom, dad and sister doing all our old-timey holiday traditions. Last year? Kind of sad. Not because I wasn’t thrilled to be spending it with Spencer in our own place, our first married Christmas, but because . . . well, because it was different.

Different can be hard.

This December, I’m determined to be perky! and excited! and not stressed!, which has meant getting organized earlier (I have spreadsheets!) and starting to wrap gifts before it becomes an intimidating task that results in lots of gift bags and frustration. Fun fact? I actually love wrapping presents with all the bells and whistles, but I tend to wait too long to complete the task. I don’t want to be freaking out on Christmas Eve, you know?

Not. Doing. It.

You know how, when you’re a kid, the holidays are a theatrical production put on by Santa, elves and your parents — an event in which you’re simply expected to delight in the fruits of others’ labor and absolutely nothing is expected of you?

Adulthood is . . . not like that.

At nearly 30, I should have accepted that responsibility was coming down the pipeline. Speaking of which, I think hosting our first Thanksgiving was a resounding success. Did I panic a little at the thought of arriving at our house for the annual feast? Sure. Yes. Absolutely. But I had tons of help, Spence made the turkey and ham, my mother-in-law was an excellent help in the kitchen — and ultimately, our family chipped in big time . . . just as they always do. It was a grand time.

But now it’s the holidays and Christmas is shaking its sparkly stick at me, demanding attention. The pressure to contribute to the family holiday, come up with amazing gift ideas and somehow manage to spend time with everyone in a meaningful way is . . . difficult. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, friends; this is something we all coordinate, something we must all work out for ourselves.

And I’m getting there.

Our calendar is brimming with fun, festive events in the next three weeks (!!) — and even though I have plenty of shopping and scheming left to complete by December 25, I know that’s not what Christmas is really about.

It’s laughs and meals with family.
Crunchy sugar cookies.
“Charlie Brown” and hearing the angels sing.
Cinnamon rolls in pajamas.
Fat stacks of colorful cards in the mailbox.

And so much more. So, so much more.

As this is our last holiday without a little one, too, I’m determined to make it a happy and memorable one for our family of two. More than anything? I just want to adorn it all with sparkly tinsel, sip hot chocolate and watch cheesy Hallmark movies. You know the ones.

And I’m going to get there.

Extra cinnamon rolls may be necessary . . . but I’ve made my peace with it.

A sticky, delicious, gooey peace.


Etsy find Fridays: Lovely bookish finds

As a friend has helpfully pointed out, there are six Fridays until Christmas. Three pay days. Seven weekends.

I’m someone who has, in recent years, relied on the Internet for most of my shopping needs — but I’m already struggling this year. With limited time and a limited budget, how do we find gifts that impress? Everyone loves the look of delight on friends’ faces when they open something tailor-made for them, but getting there — that magical moment with gift wrap shredded — is the hard part.

I’m something of a gift lover. Presenting presents means more to me than receiving them, even, and I’ve been spoiled by thoughtful parents who always seemed to find “the right thing.” The right thing does not mean “the expensive thing,” of course — just the perfect little something you never knew you’ve always wanted.

And that’s a lot of pressure.

Everyone knows I’m a reader. Despite my awful track record in 2014 (let’s not speak of it), books will always be my solace. Many of my friends are readers, too, but we all know the perils of trying to buy novels for the readers who have everything.

The odds of me picking out a paperback that a devoted reader has not read are pretty slim, honestly — so I rely upon Etsy for inspiration to wow literary pals. When I was working on the library at home, I drew inspiration from many of these items, too, and may hope Santa has a few hiding under the tree for me.

You never know when he’s listening . . .


Books are the quietest print

Books print, $20, by ladypoppins


Jane Eyre book scarf

Jane Eyre book scarf, $42, by storiarts


Book lover clock

Book lover clock, $49, by the accessory corner


Jane Austen bookmarks

Jane Austen bookmarks (set of 6), $9.50, by CastleOnTheHill


Library card shirt

Library card shirt, $22, by GrammaticalArt


This post was not sponsored in any way;
I just love Etsy and sharing cool finds with you!