Holiday prep and baby chatter

Thank you all so much for your kind words and well wishes on our pregnancy announcement! Honestly, for as excited as I am to share the news, I was also pretty nervous. Something about the reveal makes me anxious, and I’m not sure why. Before we told our families, I was literally shaking. Shaking!

And, I mean, it’s a good thing. A great thing. But it’s a huge change, too, and I think that’s what my body recognizes even if my brain is saying, “Just be happy. Don’t worry. Be happy.

I had my end-of-the-first-trimester doctor’s appointment yesterday and all is well. The nurse immediately found the baby’s heartbeat with a Doppler — the first time I’ve actually heard it. Spence and I saw it on ultrasound twice, but actually hearing it — the whoosh, the gallop — was so amazing.

It’s nice and strong, they said, in the 150s, so of course I’ve been Googling old wives’ tales about heart rate and gender prediction. According to all sorts of nonsense I’m reading based on that heart rate, it’s a boy. Of course, Chinese gender predictor charts say we’re having a girl. So. You know. Fifty/fifty and all that.


Pie


Anyway! Baby talk. I can get carried away.

Are you ready for Thanksgiving?! I am . . . not. Well, I sort of am. Twelve of my nearest and dearest will arrive at our door tomorrow and I have mustered the strength to, in no particular order:

a) clear off our disastrous coffee table;
b) wipe down kitchen counters;
c) gather together the spoils of our Sunday grocery trip;
d) scrub the bathrooms;
e) procure two additional folding chairs;
f) slice our stuffed ham;
g) get the guest room mostly ready.

And that’s about it.

As I was getting ready for work this morning, I noticed a sizable layer of dust on a side table that has probably not been touched since we moved in June. And lots of dust bunnies in corners. Plenty of debris on the stairs, which I swear I just vacuumed but . . . apparently not?

Anyway. I hope they’ll forgive me. My parents-in-law arrive this afternoon from New York, I’m heading home mid-afternoon and then the cooking, baking and delightful chaos will begin. Regardless of the state of our mostly-clean house, I’m sure we’ll have a good time.

I’m not as nervous as I was last week. This is my family, after all — they’re not going to judge a tiny bit of clutter, especially given I’m just emerging from the haze of the first trimester and am really most concerned with loading my plate with mashed potatoes.

Pregnant Thanksgiving — especially when I’ve just gotten my appetite back — is sure to be the best Thanksgiving, friends. I’m looking forward to hanging with the crew, hosting my in-laws and celebrating with all our favorite eats.

Hoping y’all have a wonderful holiday!


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Crafting new Thanksgiving magic

Plate

After signing a 30-year mortgage and getting hitched, preparing to host our first Thanksgiving dinner marks my transition into adulthood.

Since I was a kid, my grandparents have welcomed us for turkey, green bean casserole and Gram’s homemade pies. I’m very fortunate to have grown up close to both sides of my family, but my grandma and grandpa live a whole 15 minutes away. Even now — after I’ve moved twice.

Thanksgiving meant getting up early with my sister to watch the Macy’s parade from New York City, the pair of us eating Eggo waffles as we waited for the day’s festivities to begin. In later years, Kate and I began addressing our Christmas cards that day — a new tradition — and pouring over the flyers for Black Friday sales.

Things have changed, of course. For one, I usually have to work on Black Friday . . . though no longer as a cashier, thankfully. (Although I kind of miss those crazy, frantic sales days at Michael’s and Borders. It was the Super Bowl of retail, you know? Everyone banding together, ordering Chinese, wearing elf hats, working until the wee hours. I really did love the bookstore.)


Casseroles


And now we’re married. Grown-ups. Katie is at her place; I’m at mine. Last holiday season, Spence and I were very new newlyweds — and I was stricken with this panic that we should be starting traditions as a couple, trying to parse together what we should be doing on Thanksgiving morning. Which ended up being eating cinnamon rolls and watching the parade together, which . . . still good.

Now that we have a year of matrimony under our belts and I’m staring down the dark side of age 30, we’re beginning to cobble together our own traditions. When we settled on the house in May, I was already envisioning the holidays at our new place. The fireplace! The bannisters! The entryway! In my mind, everything was already covered in greenery and twinkling lights.

In fact, one of the earliest conversations I had with my mom — as we stood in the cold, dark house in the spring — was where we’d put the Christmas tree.

(And yes, I totally knew. In the corner by the fireplace, for sure.)


Thanksgiving cupcake


Now that Thanksgiving is a little over a week away, Spence and I have been busy getting the guest room ready for his parents’ arrival and plotting the extensive menu for our family dinner. As the guest list has expanded, I offered to take over hosting responsibilities from my grandparents this year. Gram has prepared our family feast for decades . . . and I thought maybe she’d like a break.

And here we are.

I’m feeling sort of sentimental about the whole thing. Thanksgiving, to me, is still buried somewhere under those sales flyers at my parents’ house — mixed heartily in with memories of Kate and me on the couch with stacks of cards, shouting when Santa appeared at the close of the parade. Standing over the stove with Mom as she made her mashed potatoes. Later, arguing with Dad over the wishbone.

It’s arriving at my grandparents’ home only to be hit with a burst of heat, Gram bustling in the kitchen as we all arrive in coats with covered dishes. Invariably someone will begin to sweat, prompting Grandpa to crack a door. “I’ve had the oven on all day!” Gram would say, pulling out casseroles and giving us our first glimpse of the much-anticipated turkey.

In time, someone would take over carving duties. My cousin, sister and I would steal olives and cream cheese-stuffed celery stalks from the dining room table. We’d all begin fussing with serving utensils, bread baskets, folding trays. And everything would appear in my grandparents’ dining room — magic.


Pickles and olives


Thinking that I am now partially responsible for said magic is . . . a little overwhelming. I want it to be awesome. I’m still processing the fact that: a) we own a house in which to even hold such an event; and b) I’m an adult who is also responsible for cooking. Until a few years ago, my contributions to Thanksgiving were . . . to show up with a smile? (I know. Terrible.)

And now we’re talking about roasting a turkey?

I mean, I’m being a little dramatic. Nothing unusual. It’s not like I am personally responsible for feeding a dozen people this memorable meal: everyone is bringing delectable dishes and desserts, and my mother-in-law — a talented cook herself — will be on hand to help before everyone arrives. Spence is also excellent in the kitchen and will be handling the turkey and ham, so I know we’ll be fine.

I’m just feeling a little nostalgic, I guess. About tradition.


Turkey


But new ones can be formed, I know. Changed, altered, added to, sprinkled with a layer of glistening fake snow. In the end, it’s really just about being with loved ones, isn’t it? Having everyone together, preferably without the aid of smartphones and FaceTime.

And the green bean casserole, of course.

Gotta have the green bean casserole.


A fall Friday

Pumpkin

Despite my static-filled silence, friends, I promise I’m a busy little bee back here in my solitude. Last weekend featured a surprise leopard-themed 75th birthday party for my grandma, who seemed shocked indeed, as well as a visit to one of our favorite local parks. Though the leaves weren’t too impressive, it was nice to walk around and soak up a little nature before winter gets here.

Winter. I shudder.

Saturday will be another fun family day as we celebrate a dear cousin’s baby shower, and I am determined — determined, I tell you! — to get through some of the remaining boxes currently littering our office and basement. One of the spare rooms upstairs has also become a dumping ground for my childhood memorabilia, and I have the sinking suspicion I should, like, do something about that.

I don’t know.

The house has gotten away from me. We stopped by our condo this week to just check things over (still looking for a renter/buyer, God help us), and I swear I wanted to fold myself up into one of its rooms and stay there. I love the house, don’t get me wrong — it’s amazing, and it’s ours — but the condo was cozy and warm. Comfortable. Familiar.

In many ways, I still feel like a kid who somehow wormed her way into owning property . . . it doesn’t seem conceivable that Spencer and I are actual adults with actual bills and an actual house, as opposed to the cute apartment we shared. I feel completely old enough to have an apartment, but a three-story structure I’m responsible for maintaining? All those toilets for the cleaning?

Yeah. No.

But I won’t dwell on that. I certainly have no regrets, and our house is our house. As much as I love the rooms and space and the library, though, sometimes I do get wistful for our first place. I only lived there myself eight months, but Spence was there for years — and we have so, so many memories there.

But, you know. Now I’m depressing myself.


Pumpkin II


Let’s talk about my favorite subject: food! I’ve been prowling Pinterest like a champ, mostly because I totally cheated on Halloween and have just gone straight to Thanksgiving. I have approximately 10 million fall-inspired recipes I want to try, but I won’t torture guests with an exclusively pumpkin buffet. Though we’re still ironing out the details, I believe we’ll be hosting the holiday meal this year — a first! — and I’m not nervous so much as fearful of breaking tradition. Thanksgiving has always been at my grandparents’ house, but sometimes change can be a good thing?

I’m going with that.

Focusing on food gives me purpose. Direction. Hunger. When I get a little antsy, I think about pumpkin cornbread and cheesy artichoke pumpkin dip and frosted apple blondies.

All better.

Happy weekend, friends!


Counting my blessings

Give Thanks


Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving!

A feast day. A day of thankfulness. This year we’ll be trekking over to my parents’ house — an entire 20-minute drive away, God help us — with Spencer’s trademark crock-pot ham and the green bean casserole I’ll be whipping up in the morning. And by “whipping,” I mean blending together to bake with one eye open as soon as I’ve had my coffee. With the parade blaring behind me.

I’m also bringing some of the Southern Maryland stuffed ham I stuffed with friends on Saturday morning, then baked for seven hours (!) on Sunday and finally sliced last night. Lots of work . . . and lots of ham. We already consumed some for dinner last night and will be indulging again at lunch today, so — all ham, all the time.

I’m okay with it.

Tomorrow is our first married holiday. I can’t believe we’ve been married less than three weeks. Seriously — the wedding was not even three weeks ago. To be honest, it feels much longer . . . perhaps because the weather changed so abruptly right after, casting us into sudden winter. The golden leaves are long gone. I looked forward to autumn for so long, the season we’d be married, and then . . . fall was over.

It’s so dreary outside. But nice and toasty inside.

As we draw closer to the end of a lovely but completely life-changing year, I’m incredibly thankful for my family. It was a tough year rife with health issues for many loved ones, but I will always be grateful we could all celebrate two wedding days together this year. In addition to my nuclear family, I’m very grateful to have married into a wonderful group of people who have welcomed me with open arms! (Literally. The Johnsons pulled me onto the floor for “We Are Family” at the wedding.)

More than ever, I realize how incredibly blessed Spencer and I are to have such wonderful friends — people who helped us, guided us, inspired us and just genuinely were there on the journey to our wedding day and beyond. I made new friendships this year and strengthened old ones, and I fully understand now that no one is an island. We wouldn’t want to be.

I’m endlessly thankful for the opportunity to do what I love each day: scribble words. Small ones, big ones. True ones.

My new relationship with food is also something for which I’m incredibly grateful — and I’m proud to have finally started taking my health seriously in 2013. I’m closing this year so much happier than I started it, and I can’t believe how much I’ve changed . . . physically and mentally. I could never go back.

As always, I could my blessings and not my “troubles.”

Sending you all warmth and love this Thanksgiving! Get out there and celebrate. Preferably with pumpkin pie . . . or cupcakes.

Cupcakes work, too.


Stuffed ham

Cupcakes

Pumpkin pie


Darn good fresh cranberry sauce

Cranberry sauce copy


Look, I have no beef — or turkey? (heh.) — with canned cranberry sauce.

There’s something sweetly nostalgic about the kind still bearing telltale ridges from the can. I’m sure my foodie friends would disagree, but I actually look forward to seeing it plop on one of my grandmother’s silver dishes.

But this stuff? Fresh cranberry sauce? Well, it’s a revelation. And it’s totally going on our table from now on.

We had our Thanksgiving potluck last week at work, y’all, and people really brought it. Turkey and gravy, Spanish rice and beans, sweet potatoes, corn casserole, homemade stuffing, mashed potatoes, pecan pie . . . a feast. When I saw the sign-up sheet, I noticed the humble cranberry sauce was missing from our line-up — but felt a little silly bringing that (and only that) next to my boss, who cooked an actual turkey. That morning. For us.

I’m happy to say my cranberry sauce totally stood up, though, and turned into a beautiful accompaniment for the many dishes I squirreled away on a single plate. Thanksgiving is such a great holiday — all the joy of Christmas, none of the pressure of presents — and it was fun to celebrate early.


Thanksgiving lunch


To make this fresh cranberry sauce, Spencer and I waited until 10 p.m. the night before — the only time I had to whip this up — and promptly threw everything into a pot, which simmered for 30 minutes to perfection. It was simple, quick, easy, uncomplicated.

And fresh. So fresh.

What makes it different? The fresh fruit. Adding diced apple and pear, as well as the zest and juice of an orange, elevates it from so-so to fabulous. With a classic tang but a sweetness that matches every tart layer with added pecans for crunch, this flew off the table at work — and off our plates at home. Less than 24 hours after I made a pot, not a speck remained.

The mark of a great recipe.


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Cranberry Sauce Extraordinaire

Adapted from AllRecipes

Ingredients:
1 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1 (12 ounce) package fresh cranberries
1 orange, just the zest and squeezed juice
1 apple — peeled, cored and diced
1 pear — peeled, cored and diced
1 cup chopped dried mixed fruit
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Directions:
In a medium saucepan, boil water and sugar until sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to a simmer and stir in cranberries, orange zest and juice, apple, pear, dried fruit, pecans, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cranberries burst. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.


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Thoughts this Thanksgiving week


Excuse my unexpected absence, friends — I managed to catch some weirdo stomach virus that knocked me flat for a few days. At first I thought, great — super sick and stuck on the couch, but at least I can get some awesome reading done! I’m behind! I have, like, 200 books in my bookcase — and just looking at those piles is starting to make me anxious!

Then I realized I was too sick to move, let alone focus on anything on a page. I wanted ginger ale, a cold washcloth, a quiet room and . . . that’s about it, really. So Roland Merullo’s Lunch With Buddha, no matter how lovely, would have to wait.

But the sickness has passed. I’m back on my feet. Spencer’s parents have arrived, kicking off our week of festivities, and I’m preparing to feast with family, Black Friday shop and drag out the Christmas boxes next weekend. (Well, all right — let’s be fair: my dad or Eric will drag out the boxes. But, you know.) It’s hard to believe we’ll segue straight from Thanksgiving to Christmas, but that’s the natural way of things. And since I’m crazy behind on my holiday shopping this year, that will be my next order of business.

I don’t know about you, but my Facebook feed has been flooded with friends’ “today I’m thankful for . . .” posts this month. While I haven’t participated publicly, I have been thinking about gratitude. When life feels stressful and I’m trying to hold my head above water, I remember how lucky I am to have been born in my country, my family and my world. I’m thankful for my amazing boyfriend; my job; my creative outlets. I’m thankful for this blog. I’m thankful for all of you. And I’m really just . . . thankful to be here.

In a year that has personally proven tomorrow is guaranteed to no one, I’m grateful for life. That’s cheesy, but it’s true.

This week? I will be making Spanish green beans, corn casserole and cupcakes. I will be addressing my Christmas cards on Thanksgiving morning, as is my tradition, and watching the parade with my sister. I will spend time with visiting relatives, who I’m so excited to see, and celebrate an “early” Christmas with my boyfriend’s lovely family. We will be decorating, eating and talking. Favorite movies will be watched. Hot chocolate will be consumed. I will be merry.

I’m thankful. And happy. And here.

And hey, after last weekend? I’m just thankful I don’t have to expect to spend Thanksgiving isolated in a darkened room, sick and angst-filled and without even a book to comfort me.

Some serious gratitude right there.