My favorite cookies, my favorite cause.

Now that my blog has some traffic, I want to do a post raising awareness for what I believe to be the most important cause of our time:  Slavery.  We tend to think of slavery as a demon of the past, but it’s anything but.  Literally millions of people – many of whom are children – are being trafficked as we speak – as you’re reading this.  It’s impossible for me to enjoy the childhood I’m working so hard to give my own children when I know that thousands of children just like them – just as innocent and sweet as they are – are being horrifically victimized every single day.

We have to do something to stop this.  Anything we possibly can.  This holiday season (Christmas for our family) I have set out to raise $200 for International Justice Mission.  One of the ways I’m doing this is by having baked 7 batches of my top 5 all-time favorite cookies, dividing it all by ten, and selling ten boxes of about a half-batch’s worth of cookies.  My boxes are going out today and my local list serve doesn’t allow photographs in posts, so this will also help me advertise these boxes (by posting the link to this entry).  But if you’re elsewhere and reading this and you feel inspired to give more this holiday season, to those who need it the most, please consider contributing to my fundraising campaign here:

https://fundraising.ijm.org/campaign/3173/Cookies-for-Justice/

My campaign page also has a video explaining what IJM is all about and how it works.  Please, please watch it!  And be sure to also “like” their Facebook page for updates on what they’re accomplishing!

As for the cookies, here are my favorites with links to the recipes (except chocolate chip, which is a matter of personal preference).  Enjoy!

  1. Korova (Parisian dark chocolate sea-salt cookies)
  2. Peanut Butter Cup Cookies (these are actually quite easy, you just need a mini muffin tin and they pop right out!  Also, I use Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups – WAY easier to unwrap and tastier too)
  3. Almond Sugar Cookie Cut-Outs with Cream Cheese Frosting
  4. Chewy Spicy Christmas Cookies; and
  5. “Life-Changing” Chocolate Chip Cookies

Final product!

Each box actually has two of the tree cookies πŸ™‚
If you want a tasty, easy recipe for thicker softer sugar-cookies, try this one.

Simply the BEST!
These are so good and SO easy, really!  You just push the PB cups into the hot cookies, let it cool, and they lift right out!

GIVEAWAY! One Gorgeous, Toasty, Tuff Kookooshka SeaCozy!!!

Just when you thought Tuff Kookooshka couldn’t get any better –

  • Adorable 100% Polartec Fleece jackets in unique, creative designs;
  • Not only the coats but the fabric itself ethically made in the U.S.; 
  • A small, family-owned company started out of one artist’s basement as she knit together salvaged scraps of materials;
  • Coats that are warm enough for almost all winter days, but thin enough to be safe for car seats;
It did.  !!!!!
Tuff Kookooshka has a new and exciting product, their SeaCozies.  Your kids will love snuggling up in these fun and gorgeous wearable blankets.  They’re perfect for keeping warm for a movie on the couch or adding extra warmth anywhere else you happen to be getting cozy.  These adorable little sacks capture the fun and whimsy of childhood perfectly, and the fabric is the same beautiful polartec fleece milled right here in Massachusetts that you find on their coats.  

I am thrilled and honored to once again be partnering with Tuff Kookooshka for a giveaway!  One lucky reader will receive a voucher for a FREE SeaCozy of his or her choice, a $99.00 value.  All you have to do to enter is “like” my blog’s Facebook page, “Married to Medicine Blog.”  Then find the post for the blog entry you’re reading right now, and comment below it with the size and type of SeaCozy you would choose (click HERE to view the options on Tuff Kookooshka’s website).  At 12:00 pm E.T. on Monday, February 2nd, one lucky winner will be chosen from the comments and will receive a code for the free SeaCozy.  ONE entry comment per person please; Facebook accounts with more than one entry will be deleted from the thread.

Good luck to everyone!

Black Magic Brownies

If you’re a lover of intense, deep, decadent, rich chocolate, please try this recipe.  I promise you’ll be glad you did.  As a friend once noted, they’re almost too intense to technically be brownies, and would more aptly be named “black”ies.  Whatever the name, give these a whirl.  They’re perfect any time you have a chocolate craving, but are particularly appropriate around Halloween when all things dark get their time to shine.

These are tiny 1″ squares on a tiny plate.  Tiny, intense brownies.

I adapted this recipe from Allrecipe’s Best Brownies, by making a few minor changes and one major one:  Using just half of the powdered sugar called for in the icing.  PLEASE trust me and do cut that sugar in half, if you use the Allrecipe’s version.  If you don’t, the icing ends up stiffer, slightly dry, and overly sweet.  While that was apparently good enough to earn 4.5 stars out of 4,100 Allrecipe reviews, that single significant change takes it to a full five star recipe, in my opinion.

Ingredients:

1 stick butter (or better:  Smart Balance)
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt, slightly rounded (i.e., slightly more salt)
1/4 tsp baking powder

3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup powdered/confectioners sugar
splash or two of cream

Directions:

Grease and flour a square pan (8×8 or 9×9).  A pie pan also works if you don’t have a square one.  Preheat oven to 350.  Melt stick of butter in small pot on stove.  Take off heat.  Add sugar, eggs, and vanilla.  Stir until consistent.  Add flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder.  Stir until consistent again and pour into pan.

Bake for 25-30 minutes.  Do NOT overcook.  If tiny air pockets have appeared all over the top surface, it’s done.  Cool at least 30 minutes before icing, but don’t worry about cooling completely.  If the icing melts into the brownies, heck, why not; these are even better the next day, after the icing and brownie have somewhat merged into one.  Top with sprinkles if desired.  For a chocolate souffle effect, serve microwaved with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream on top.

The very close up close-up.

Enjoy.  Tell yourself it’s healthy because to get this kind of satisfaction from regular brownies, you’d have to eat five times as much πŸ˜‰  Then proceed to eat that much anyway, and melt away into total euphoric bliss.

Yup, I’m starting a blog.

It’s time to face the facts:  My scrap-booking supplies have been in a box in the attic since I moved to Boston about sixteen months ago.  Prior to that, they spent six years in a box in a closet, since we didn’t have an attic in St. Louis.  The last scrapbook I made covered my senior year of college, a (gulp) whopping eight years ago.  And while I love my college scrapbooks, and my husband begs me to “create more memoires,” I think it’s time to admit that it’s just not going to happen. 

So, like many moms (and dads) before me, I’m attempting to document our family life in a blog.  I’m calling it “Married to Medicine” because our life pretty much revolves around and is dictated by my husband’s career.  That may sound antiquated, but it’s actually brought about by simple necessity.  I would love to have one of those idyllic (but perhaps mythical) modern marriages where housework and childcare are shared 50/50.  Actually, 80/20 would be great, since I’m a stay-at-home mom!  But when your husband works 80+ hours a week and commutes another 15-20, the reality is that when he’s home, he’s asleep – or if he is awake, he’s far too tired to help.  As I write this, at 10:22 p.m., I’m expecting him to walk through the door sometime in the next fifteen minutes.  At that point we’ll finally eat dinner, he’ll check his email, and we’ll briefly discuss anything that needs addressing, allocating up to 5 minutes for any life-or-death situations.  He’ll then go to bed around 11:30 – later if he took any work home with him.  I’ll follow shortly, after the kitchen is cleaned up.  Less than five hours later, at about 4:20 a.m., his alarm clock will go off.  At that point I’ll literally kick him out of bed, which will be painful but necessary for both of us.  Shortly thereafter, our five month old will wake up hungry.  He’ll be nursed and put back down, and he and I will sleep until around 8:30 a.m., waking up to the daddyless home that is our status quo.

To be clear, my husband isn’t “working late” tonight.  This is par for the course.  His next day off is 9 days from now.  Until then, he may see our son awake briefly every several nights if he happens to get back a little earlier, and if the baby stays up a lot later.

And so Daddy’s career is a pretty dominant force in our daily lives:  When do we next get quality time with Daddy?  Where will Daddy’s career take us next?  How long can we count on living in any one place?

 “Daddy’s Home!!!!!”  (it’s very exciting)

“Daddy” is currently an internal medicine resident at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston (a Harvard affiliate, and the main hospital featured on the ABC show “Boston Med”).  He’s about halfway through three years of training to become a board-certified internal medicine physician.  Technically, he’s already a “physician” and shoulders enormous responsibility in the trial-by-fire environment of MGH.  After this is over, he’ll have another four (yes, another four) years of hematology/oncology training that could be here or could have us moving as far away as Seattle or Houston.  His post-college academic and professional training will ultimately total thirteen years.  Thirteen years of sacrifice on both our parts – sacrifice of income, retirement and college savings, but above all, a sacrifice of what I consider everyone’s most valuable resource and gift:  Time.  Weekends, evenings, vacations, holidays, movies, friends’ and family weddings (I almost always attend spouseless, often dancing with my dad if he’s there) … Time.  A mommy friend of mine who is herself a physician recently explained that it’s never just one spouse who attends medical school and residency; it’s always both.  And I will confess to having felt a surge of gratitude and even relief when one of my husband’s attending physicians (i.e., his boss) complimented *me* on my husband’s top-notch doctoring.  When I thanked him but disclaimed that I couldn’t take any credit, he said “Oh YES you can!” 

And I do try my best to run our home such that he doesn’t have to lift a finger here – I don’t plan on doing that forever, but for these years we’re really both just trying to get by.  My goal as a mom is for the limited hours during which “Daddy’s home – and awake!” to go straight to our son.  So I’ve taught myself to do it all, even the guy stuff.  Definitely not a natural part of my personality, and certainly not always easy with a baby in tow.  But well worth it.

I’m sure that many reading this might think of me as some kind of anti-feminist or martyr (ugh!).  While it’s true that in addition to the above-mentioned sacrifices, I gave up my bar license, a truly “perfect fit” legal job, and all of my professional connections when we moved out here for his residency … plus even remote proximity to family and many dear friends … BUT (and this is a big but), I’m doing exactly what I want to do, and not all parents with the desire are able.  I’m staying home with our son – in spite of my law school debt.  I’m still not sure that I actually “can” do it.  As in, I’ll often say I feel “blessed to be able to stay home” – but I’m not sure I’m actually “able” to, by anyone else’s definition.  My husband ultimately wants to go into oncology research, so after this thirteen-year haul and our mounting educational debt – mounting because his resident’s salary doesn’t allow us to make our crazy-high student loan payments – he won’t ever have a “doctor’s salary.”

“Well why did you go to law school then, if you wanted to stay home??”  It sounds crazy, I know… 

But I enjoyed law school, I enjoyed my 3 1/2 years of practicing, and I’m glad I didn’t shortchange myself in “being all that I could be.”  I have no regrets, but I do have a lot of financial anxiety over our combined educational debt.  When my husband and I started down our medical/legal grad school paths, we had no idea he would fall in love with research and choose a career that would pay a fraction of private practice medicine – and oncology research at that, which entails 7 years of post-med school training before you EVEN get that salary.  We assumed money would be fine.  And as a general rule, I don’t (or didn’t) believe in women making any career decisions based on a wanting to later stay home with children.  These days I don’t know what I think about that… I do expect my husband to, eventually, balance his demanding career with our family’s needs – and by balance, I mean sacrifice.  But you can’t know, as a happily married grad student, that you’ll even be able to have children.  Would I still do law school again if I knew then what I know now about our finances?  I guess I can’t answer that until we see about kids’ college and retirement.

Basically, *both* my husband and I are of the “follow your dreams” generation.  We’ve *both* made choices that were economically difficult, in pursuit of those “dreams.”  But part of what drew us together, and maybe one of our few truly shared personality traits, is our intense idealism.  So we’re both living our dreams in this household.  And just hoping that our son won’t someday read this and say, “But guys, what about *my* dreams??  Like [insert expensive private college he worked hard to get into]?”

Ooooh this is really long.  LOL!  I guess my other reason for blogging is I have a *need* to write.  It was always my favorite part of practicing law.

My Top Ten Most Useful Products – Updated!

I originally wrote this blog entry back in 2012 and decided it was time to update!  I didn’t change a thing other than adding two new ones at the end – guess useful is useful!

My readers and friends know that I’m OCD about everything, but especially about shopping.  It’s not that I’m a compulsive shopper… I don’t overbuy (believe it or not).  Rather, I obsess over every.  single.  purchasing decision and then I take to blogging and posting about it.  I’ve been doing this for years; I once spent close to three hours reading and re-reading reviews of every single kind of measuring cup that exists – on Amazon.com, BedBathandBeyond.com, and Target.com.  I bought the perfect set and then wrote a review that 353 people found helpful.  And it *is* better than the others.  Wondering how?  Among other things, the 1/4 cup is properly weighted to sit up on its own and the circumferences on all the cups are slightly lower than on other sets, so even the 1 cup will scoop in a canister, and not make a mess when you level off the extra.  Cooking is more fun with these.

Anyway, here are a few products I consider to be worth every last penny.

(1) Amazon Prime.  For $99/year you get free shipping on almost anything you could ever need, from toiletries to food to baby products and more, with Amazon Prime.  Let me tell you, it pays for itself many times over.  First off, you’ll never need to go to Target, Walgreens, Babies R Us, Kids R Us, or anywhere other than the mall for your own clothes ever again.  A lot of people don’t consider wear-and-tear when they think about driving their car but the federal reimbursement rate is $.55 cents per mile, and gas is only getting pricier.  Each trip to Target costs me 40 minutes in the car and 14 miles (so about $8.00 according to the feds).  I would probably need to go once every 2-3 weeks as a mom without Amazon prime.  Say I went every 3 weeks for a year, and multiply by $8.00/trip.  That’s $140.  And that’s just Target!!  So considering that it literally pays for itself, you’re left with all the time and hassle (and pollution!) you’ll avoid by pointing and clicking on your item.  GOLDEN.  Bam, your life is so much easier.

(2) A Rockin’ Umbrella Stroller.  I’m talking nothing less than a Maclaren, but if you find a sale go for the Uppababy G-Luxe.  This stroller weighs just 11 lbs… about as much as a newborn named Matthew.  SO easy to pop in and out of your trunk, and folding and unfolding is a DREAM.  It’s also a one-handed push.  So if you need to run into a store, you pop it out, pop baby in, and you’ve got a free arm for your grocery basket.  It also rolls well enough to do walks anywhere, so you’ll never have to lug your heavy jogging stroller over to a friend’s house.  The cup holder for your coffee is worth its weight in gold (obviously).  And don’t forget to calculate resale value into your stroller purchases… you’ll get a decent return on this someday, and you can subtract that from the sticker price.

(3) The Best Floor Steamer You Can Find.  Still mopping?  How would you like to mop your floor in 1/5 of the time?  Trust me, you’ll NEVER go back.  No more getting out soap and waiting for a bucket to fill.  No more going back and forth to the bucket with the mop.  Just sweep, plug this baby in, run it over your floors, and you’re done.  My kitchen floor takes me about 10 minutes to sweep and mop.  Bonus:  no more cleaning chemicals for your baby to crawl on and then suck his hands.  We got the Shark “Vac then Steam”(then on sale at Costco).  They don’t make that model anymore, and we never used the “Vac” part, so I now recommend the Bissell for its excellent reviews.

(4) A Kindle.  Okay I cheated and my mom gave me her old one.  But these are truly worth buying, and have come way down in price since back when I first wrote this blog entry in 2012!  Especially if you have a baby – you can read while nursing without needing to hold a book open, you can half-read while you play with your baby (until they get older), you can read on a plane even traveling “infant in arms” because you don’t need both hands, you can read more easily on a machine at the gym, etc.

(5) Key Finders.  Probably going to be my new baby shower gift.  They should hand these out at the hospital.  Found them out of desperation after the 3rd time I searched through a very stinky kitchen garbage can for our keys.  Free shipping if you have Amazon Prime!

Especially if you have a toddler, best $20 (or so) you will ever spend.

(6) Laundry Sorter with Removable Bags.  Space is at a premium for us but we still made room for this thing.  Now I can see at a glance what load needs to be done (whites, brights, or darks), grab the bag, and head to the laundry room (down two flights of stairs in our basement).  Bonus:  It’s a LOT easier to carry a bag than a basket, especially downstairs (and then back up) – safer too.  Double bonus:  The bar overhead on ours isn’t very pretty but it enables us to keep more hanging clothes in our master bedroom – key, when you live in a 2-bedroom apartment with almost no closet space!

Love.  It.

(7) A DSLR Camera.  Oh, we had to save up for this.  I believe it was my birthday present from parents, in-laws, and husband and then some.  But this is another purchase that pays for itself.  And  the new version is now LESS than what we paid for ours way back when – click here to check it out!  We’ve never once paid for professional photos (update:  We did start these, when my son turned 3).  While we certainly still would if we could, we really had to choose.  We chose the camera and have never looked back.  I love that we have such high-quality photos from all ages and all trips, with all family members and with backgrounds that are meaningful to us and will bring back so many memories over the years.  After a *lot* of research we settled on the Canon over the Nikon.  I can tell you why, if you’re in the market.

(8) The Libman Soap Wand.  I’ve been through all the other brands and they all either leak soap or require you to repeatedly press a worthless button to get soap out.  This is the one to get.  Makes doing dishes a breeze – you don’t have to bother getting soap out or opening it.  I also wear some cheap kitchen gloves (from the grocery store, or often available as an “add-on” item on Amazon) – that way the water can get scorching hot and it doesn’t damage my skin.  Hot water + this thing = dishes done in a snap, even the ones that can’t go in the dishwasher.

(9) A Backpack Diaper Bag.  Nobody ever listens to me on this one, because they want something “cute.”  But if you’re a SAHM, believe me, the last thing you want to do 24/7 is have your baby on one hip while you’re balancing something else entirely on your other shoulder.  I had the Columbia Trekster Diaper Bag, but they don’t make it anymore.  The newer diaper bag backpacks look a lot better, actually.  It almost makes me want to have another kid.  No.  No no no.

Those were the days
Looks awesome.  No for real. See more like it here.


(10)  Lemon/Lime Juicer.  Best $1.99 I ever spent.  If you’re serious about cooking, you’re going to end up juicing lemons and limes – and there is a **major** difference between fresh squeezed juice and that nasty stuff in the plastic bottles.  You’ll need lemon juice for salads like the divine Winter Fruit Salad with Lemon Poppyseed Dressing, or in various cakes, cookies, and glazes.  I’ve also discovered that a little fresh lemon juice stirred well with sugar can really jazz up a fruit salad – add some crushed mint leaves; even better.  Lime juice you’ll need for various tex-mex dishes and meat marinades.  Lemons and limes are a major pain to juice without a juicer, but even the very cheapest juicer will make the task a piece of cake.  Ours (like the one pictured) is apparently too simple for Amazon but here’s one that looks great – for $5, measures the juice and strains seeds.

Ours is too simple for Amazon – snagged it in the grocery store.

(11)  I’ll end this piece with a list of other kitchen gadgets I would never want to live without.

  • A cookie dough scoop – scoop cookie dough (and muffin batter!) 5x as fast and have more even cookies, wish I had invented this one.  
  • Mini muffin tins for Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Cookies – an absolute all-time fave.  
  • An immersion blender for Curried Butternut Squash & Pear Soup – the recipe that is the staple of our autumns.  
  • Glass “tupperware” like these or for babies, these – so much safer than plastic and so much nicer to use – goes straight in the oven or microwave. 
  • I also think any serious cook needs a Le Crueset.  Mine was my Christmas gift from Dear Husband last year – his idea, kudos to him!  
  • And a *really wide and flat* “pancake spatula,” like this.  
  • Oh oh OH!  And I could NOT live with out our egg cooker – best $20(ish) ever spent!  Hardboiled eggs for all our salads and for egg salad and deviled eggs (it also soft-boils and poaches) at the push of a button – and they always peel easily!  
  • Finally, our newest addition:  The Griddler.  Best gift EVER EVER EVER.  It is crazy-easy to use and it grills perfectly indoors, or use the flat side as a griddle for the easiest pancake flipping ever!  

The Griddler.  

Egg Cooker.  Best $20 (or so) you’ll ever spend.

And there you have it, my master list.  If anyone else has products they can’t live without, I’d LOVE to hear about them!

And if you’ve been following me for awhile now, please join me in my new Facebook group where we all post our best-find deals and coupon codes on high-end kids’ and women’s toys and clothing!  Click here for the group!

________________________
Married to Medicine is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.


I Married a Swede + What to Add to Tuna Salad

When people find out that my husband is half-Japanese, half-Swedish, lots of people ask questions about his Asian heritage.  “Does he speak Japanese?”  “Has he been to Japan?”  Etc.  One time an fellow law student, herself Asian, even asked me for advice on “How I’d gotten his family to accept that he’d married a white woman.”  I tell ya’, it wasn’t easy…

Anyway, nobody has ever once asked about his Swedish heritage, which is too bad because I find it fascinating!  Also, he mostly identifies with his Swedish roots so it’s really all I can talk about.  In addition to his family’s amazing and very Swedish Christmas celebration every year (complete with two real Smorgasbords and this incredible from-scratch braided cardamom bread), his family lives near the Swedish area of Chicago, religiously attends North Park Covenant Church (a church with Swedish roots)… no pun intended… and I believe he was like the first person ever in his huuuuuge family not to attend college at North Park University.  I think even if you include those of us who married in, there are seriously only like 4 or 5 out of the twenty-two of us in this generation who did not attend North Park. 

Swedish Poser.
Christmas morning Smorgasbord.

This makes me a happily free-loading wannabe Swede.  I have LOVED being part of all these Swedish traditions – not to mention how cool it is to be part of such a big family.  As an aside, isn’t it great to be an American??  I love that my name is Japanese, my traditions are mainly Swedish, and my mom’s cooking is still some rockin’ Italian.  To all the haters I say:  I love this country and I love my heritage.

Anyway, one of our very favorite Swedish traditions is something anybody living anywhere near Chicago can do for themselves.  For decades my in-laws have enjoyed going to Tre Kronor, a little authentically Swedish cafe/bistro located right by the above-mentioned authentically Swedish college and church.  This place is T**D**F and to all those of you who live or lived in Chicago and did NOT go there even though I told you to:  Shame, shame!

[Some-of-the] Girls Brunch Out – Christmas 2006

Deciding what to order is seriously torture!!  I mean I HAVE TO HAVE the baked onion soup, every time:

And the Vanilla-and-Orange French toast:

Um, and this too please, thanks:

But… what I most frequently order doesn’t look nearly as exciting.  And yet, it’s SO DARN GOOD that it often beats these out.  I (and a few other family members) most frequently order their “Tuna Salad with Grapes and Almonds.”  And so because I’ve had this decade-long obsession, and in the hopes of freeing myself up to order more of my other favorites, I inspected it as closely as I could last time so that I could try to recreate it.  Here’s what I’ve got:

Save yourself a lot of stress and effort and just ignore exact measurements and do this to taste.  Seriously.  This salad could take you 10 minutes to prepare or it could take up to an hour… go for the 10 mins, you can always add more of something if it’s lacking.

(1) Start with tuna.  Obviously.  Say, 2 of the 4-5 ounce cans

(2) Add mayo.  For this much tuna, maybe a heaping big spoon.

(3) Add Henri’s Tas-Tee Dressing.  Lots.  Maybe 1.5-2x as much as the mayo.  If you can’t find it, use more mayo and a little bit of vinegar (white, or seasoned rice, or even apple cider would be fine) and increase all the herbs.

(4) Add dried minced onion (spice section – don’t dry it yourself) or TINY diced shallots if you like onion more than I do.  Fairly minor amount.  Maybe 2 tsp??  Depends on your preference.  I noticed teeny tiny diced shallots during my inspection at Tre.

(5) Add lots of salt and pepper.

(6) Sprinkle some celery seed – more, if you can’t get a hold of Tas-tee’s.

(7) Add plenty of dill weed, fresh or not doesn’t matter.

(8) Add dried cranberries (a handful).  This is my own addition, not found in Tre’s.

(9) Add very small diced celery for crunch.  Best way to get it small is to make several slices the long way that don’t go all the way to the end, then chop sideways through all the skinny long pieces.  This is also my own addition.  I like crunch.

(10) Add halved grapes, red is best.  Plenty.  The sweetness and the moisture are what make this salad.

(11) Add toasted almond slivers.  To toast, just pour some (1/2 cup?) in a saucepan and heat on medium low, stirring occasionally, until they start to brown and they smell done (5-10 min).  At some point, sprinkle with sea salt (or table salt) and stir to blend.  SO EASY.

Stir this all together, let the flavors coalesce for a bit, and enjoy.  I think tuna salad is the one sandwich that actually tastes better on wheat bread than on white.

My Baby Food Staples

In the Baby Blogosphere you’ll find no shortage of articles on baby food.  Parenting sites offer lists of the “best foods for your baby” seemingly once a month.  And entire blogs are devoted to “baby food recipes” and the new practice of “baby-led weaning” (a more apt name might be “puree avoidance”).  All of these are well and good and I delved into each of them with Baby #1.  But now that I’m onto #2, I don’t have time to cook actual “baby recipes” or even to putter around with baby-led weaning (plus, my father remains convinced that many of his patients are creating unnecessary choking hazards with BLW… I know: ‘gagging is different from choking’ – but I eventually concluded that I don’t like to gag on my food so I’m not into it for my daughter either).  In any case, at this time I’m only interested in baby foods that:

  • Make as little mess as possible;
  • Are as portable as possible;
  • Are as quick and easy to put together as possible; and
  • Are still as healthy and natural (unprocessed) as possible.

If you’re in my boat, here’s what I’ve come to rely on.  And I’d love to hear of your best finds as well.

(1) Oatmeal + Oat Bran + Milk.

Why It’s Great:  Adding Oat Bran to your standard oatmeal and making it with milk means two major things.  First, no mess – it’s not runny at all while you’re feeding.  Second, it’s thick enough not to boil over in most microwaves, depending on the bowl.  Just take your 1/4 cup and scoop it half full with Oatmeal, then finish with Oat Bran (use Quaker for both – and get Old Fashioned Oats, they’re healthier).  Then fill the scoop twice again with whole milk and microwave 1-2 minutes.  Chill in the freezer if you need it right away.

Why It’s Healthy:  It packs protein, calcium, and whole grains (even soluble fiber).  I went straight to this with Baby #2, no rice or oatmeal “baby cereal” this time.

What To Add:  Add fresh diced fruit if you’ve got some good stuff on hand.  Otherwise, you can sweeten it with a fruit puree (prunes are nice to avoid constipation) or with YoBaby Yogurt – which I find to be too sweet by itself.

(2) Fresh Mozzarella.

Why It’s Great:  No prep, no mess, no staining, easy to gum – even for toothless babies like my 8 month old.

Why It’s Healthy:  Great source of protein – much better than the baby food purees that include ground meats – and high fatty content is good for baby’s developing brain.

Photo Credit

(3) Petit Suisse Montebourg

Why They’re Great:  Okay these are a little pricey.  But especially if you need to feed baby on the go, they’re so worth it.  They’re actually fresh cheese – not yogurt – so they’re thick and fluffy rather than runny (no mess) and they’re high protein so they’ll fill your baby up.  They’re also just the right size.
Why They’re Healthy:  Each small container packs nearly five grams of protein and 24% of the recommended daily value of calcium… for a mere 67 calories!  We should all be eating these!!  Whole Foods carries them but we get them cheaper at a local place.


(4) Berries, berries, berries.

Why They’re Great:  Just rinse and eat.  Blueberries are so perfect for taking on the go, and you can just smash them a bit with your thumbnail as you feed them so they’re not a choking hazard.  Raspberries can be ripped in half for smaller bits.  Strawberries need to be cut up … unless they’re the tiny home-grown kind!

Why They’re Healthy:  Superfoods, hello!

(5) Scrambled Egg (& Spinach and/or Quinoa)

Why It’s Great:  So easy to make (and “chew”), and keeps well.  Just throw some spinach (and quinoa, if you have it – can top with cheese as well) into the egg you’re scrambling.  Easiest way to scramble an egg is to take a chilled stick of butter and lightly run it over the bottom of the heating pan.  Crack the egg, and push it gently around with a spoon or spatula a few times as it cooks.

Why It’s Healthy:  Eggs are no longer reviled for their high cholesterol content.  That’s because we’ve found that dietary high blood cholesterol is caused by diets high in saturated fat, not cholesterol – you can read more about it here.  Eggs have almost no saturated fat and are packed with nutrients – they’re a good source of protein too.  They’re often featured on those “best baby food” lists mentioned above.

Photo Credit


(6) Del Monte “Peas & Carrots”

Why It’s Great:  My toddler and now my baby eat these like candy – seriously, my toddler asked for these as a snack the other day.  Can opens easily and you can store it in your refrigerator with out a top on, if you’re in a rush.

Why It’s Healthy:  These do have some added salt and sugar but that’s fine by me because (a) I harbor no belief that my children will love 100% plain veggies as adults, no matter what I do; and (b) Um, my kids are filling up on veggies – anything else they’d fill up on would likely also have some sodium and/or sugar and … NOT be veggies.


(7) Cottage Cheese

Why It’s Great:  It’s a no-prep super high-protein main course, and my kids both love it.

Why It’s Healthy:  Check out the nutrition info – it’s higher in protein than Greek yogurt.  It’s a nice way to get protein while you’re eating other fruits, veggies, and grains.

(8) Mashed Avocado (and Miralax for any constipation!)

Why It’s Great:  Ripe avocados can be easily fork-mashed.  Add a little water and you’ve got a Superfood for your baby.  Add a little Miralax if your baby is having constipation – it’s safe and natural, not a “laxative.”

Why It’s Healthy:  Avocados have an insane amount of heath benefits, just do a quick google search!

(9) Mac and Cheese Add-Ins

Why It’s Great:  Opening a can of black beans or tuna is an easy way to ramp up the nutritional value of this childhood staple.

Why It’s Healthy:  Black beans are not only high-protein, but they’re one of the few foods out there high in soluble fiber – the only kind of fiber that actually lowers your blood cholesterol.  Sometimes I stir in a little salsa or avocado when I make mac and cheese this way too.  And I don’t think I need to rehash the health benefits of tuna.  As far as what kind of mac-and-cheese, I usually use Annie’s Whole Wheat Shells With White Cheddar.  But I’ve found that Kraft Whole Grain Macaroni and Cheese works better for adding tuna.  Boxed mac-and-cheeses are pretty high protein.  They’re high in sodium and I’m certainly not arguing that they’re the healthiest thing, but I think it’s fine on occasion especially if you serve it with fruit and veggies.

(10) Raw Apple Sauce

Why It’s Great:  Well aside from the fact that my mom and I came up with it and coined it with such a “now” sounding name, it’s SUPER healthy and my daughter goes CRAZY for it!  All you do is take your favorite apple (Pink Ladies or HoneyCrisps please!) and put it through the food processor.  Voila. A thousand times easier than making your own apple sauce.  Plus it’s less messy; my daughter won’t waste a bite of this stuff!

Why It’s Healthy:  Apples are one of the very best things you can possibly eat.  It’s no joke what they say about “an apple a day.”  And keeping it “raw” instead of eating it in the “sauce” form means you get to keep all the benefits in the skin, and all the benefits from eating it in its natural, unprocessed form.

All right, those are my faves.  I started this entry quite awhile ago and my daughter is about to turn 1.  If you have favorite EASY and healthy baby or toddler foods, I’d love to hear them!

Redeemed :)

I think somebody read my post from last night… when they finally got home from work at 1:30 a.m.

Because somebody miraculously got out of bed no later than 10:00 a.m., already talking about brunch places πŸ™‚  And when I went to check my email, what should I find pulled up on the screen?  My very own blog post from last night, scrolled down to the end.

It was a magical time.  Even Matthew made it through with barely a fuss, which was pretty amazing considering the 20+ minute drive to downtown, the ten minutes of searching for parking, the walk to the restaurant from the parking spot, and the thirty minute wait.  I think he just knew… his mommy needed a special outing.

Looking sharp, ready to take mommy out to Valentine’s Day brunch πŸ™‚

We ended up at Stephi’s on Tremont.  I love this place, and wouldn’t have dreamed it logistically possible with a 5 month old.  I’d been there once before; Maddie and I treated ourselves to one nice lunch out in downtown Boston when she visited.  We’d been aiming for Aquitaine but a friendly local (I never said none of them were friendly!!  Just that the frequency of budging is craaazy) advised that Stephi’s was even better.  That time I had the “French Onion Panini” (shaved prime rib, melted swiss cheese, and sherry-braised onions on sourdough, served with onion soup dip).  It was amazing.  So I was in h-e-a-v-e-n picking and choosing from the brunch menu.

The scene: 

(my photography skills are nonexistent and I don’t have one of those awesome cameras my friends all seem to be getting into… maybe someday).

The food did not disappoint.  We ordered a “ruby red grapefruit brulee” (L) which was a grapefruit covered in sugar and torched, like they do with creme brulees, to make the crunchy top layer.  It was awesome and so fancy.  To the right is my “cream of wheat with sour cherry compote and fresh whipped cream.”  It was perfect, and definitely inspired what I’ll be bringing to our next book club meeting, which is to be a brunch.  Ramekins, get ready!

The sticky roll (towards the back) was just okay.  But once you’ve tried Mark’s mom’s “Sticky Pecan Rolls” every other sticky roll is … just okay.

 I think we’d have had more appreciation for the French toast had we not already satiated our sweet cravings.  It was a brioche bread with cinnamon baked in, and served with a cinnamon honey butter and maple syrup.  It was good… but not out of this world or anything.

What was out of this world was the salty pretzel encrusted crab cake benedict, with whole grain mustard hollandaise and home fries.  We agreed this dish got an A, although I’d reserve my A+ benedict for the “lobster eggs benedict” at Cafe Luna.

Anyway this time together, out of the house, was like a therapy session for my soul.  That Mark actually woke up at 10:00 am to make it happen was so, so sweet.  And now my babes are both in bed, napping together, happy to be reunited.  I couldn’t ask for a better Saturday.

My first GIVEAWAY! Two $50 Certificates to Tuff Kookooshka!

Guys…  This is SO cool.  Allow me to introduce…

Tuff Kookooshka!

Here’s the story:

Last fall my friend’s son sized out of a fleece pullover I’d long been eyeing – it had the cutest ever little “monster” pocket and the colors were gorgeous.  I quickly snatched it up and we absolutely loved wearing it all last winter.  It kept my son toasty warm in what was seriously the most adorable way possible … even though we were its fourth owners, talk about quality.  I googled the brand “Tuff Cookie,” but couldn’t find it anywhere.  Tragic!

Fast-forward to last week.  I was browsing a Facebook resale page I run, “Boston-Area HIGH END Baby and Kids Clothes,” when I saw a little jacket that I had to have.  It was this:

This cute?!  Ethically made?!  And super warm – but not prone to overheating or too bulky for a car seat?!  SOLD.
The hoods on these coats are simply to die for.
Just have to include a pic of my fave boy version – love love LOVE.

This coat was so gorgeous . . . and so *cute*, all at the same time!  It was a brand I hadn’t heard of “Tuff Kookooshka.”  I started browsing their website and holy moly, ALL their stuff was to die for!  And a lot of it was discounted to half-off, end of season.  I was thrilled, but – as always – I was hoping to find an even better deal.  I messaged the site to see if they’re ever featured on any of the flash sale sites.  It turns out they are featured on Zulily once a year – but I’d just missed it this past February.

But I didn’t have to be disappointed.  The site administrator generously gave me a personal promo code to use for an additional 15% off any sale items – and you can use it too.  The code is good through the end of this week and it’s:

murakami422

Through the administrator I learned the following things about this great company:

  • All of their clothing is ethically made in the U.S., in Fall River, MA.
  • They’re a true family business; the owner started in a Cape Cod basement using remnants and salvaged fabric from Malden Mills in Lawrence, MA, and the administrator I contacted is her husband.
  • They now use the highest quality Polar Fleece still produced locally at Malden Mills, with accents and trims made from Luxury Wools out of Prato, Italy.
  • Um, yes.  They were formerly “Tuff Cookie.”  So it all came full circle… 
I’m a convert for life.  Every winter I’ve always found top-notch fleeces for both kids, because anything puffy isn’t safe for car seats.  Ultra-high end PolarTec fleece jackets, especially those with hoods or collars, keep my kids warm on all but the coldest of days (days I wouldn’t want to be outside anyway), and I don’t have to make them take off their coats off as soon as they get in the car.  Plus, high-end fleece holds its resale value – and that makes it affordable if you resell, like I do (check out my tips for reselling kids’ clothes on Ebay).

Just a few pics of some other fabulous Tuff Kookooshka coats and their adorable winter hats…

Love their pullovers.  Perfect for spring, fall, or even winter if you pair it with a hat.

They also make slightly thinner fleece coats for spring and fall – got a super hero at home?
Ready to save the world!
Siblings together!  Hood up on the flower coat – adorable.
Heartbreakers.
A very “Tuff” crew.
Love their character hats.
Pillbox hats.
I pretty much want to paste of all their stuff into this entry, but that would get too long.

I’ll leave you with the part you’ve been waiting for.  Tuff Kookooshka provided me with not just one but two $50 gift cards to give away to readers.  All you have to do to be entered in the drawing is (1) Go to my Facebook page “Married to Medicine Blog” and “like” the page; (2) go to the Tuff Kookooshka website and find your favorite item; and (3) post the name of the item in the comment section right below my post that links to this blog entry.  And don’t forget that if you see something you love, you can use my promo code for an additional 15% off their sale prices:  Murakami422.  The contest will end Thursday at noon.  The promo code is good through Friday at 5:00 pm.

Good luck, and happy shopping!

*** for additional chances to win, check out my friend Sarah’s Facebook page “SampleSaleMom.”  She’s running the same giveaway, and like me she has two gift cards!

Zulily: How To Shop It + Review of Brands (KIDS)

I love shopping on Zulily, but it helps to strategize.  In this post I want to tell you how best to use the site and I also want to have a review of some of the lesser-known brands.  This post is limited to children’s clothing but Zulily also carries adult and home items plus toys (KidKraft kitchens, Melissa & Doug, etc), strollers (Phil & Ted), and much more.

How To Shop It

Zulily can either be a decent deal or an amazing deal, depending on how it’s done, because shipping charges cut into your savings.  Here are a few tips on how get the biggest bang for your buck:

  1. Purchase “staple” items on Zulily so that you can get free shipping on other purchases.  If you know you need a Halo Sleepsack, or Stride Rites or Crocs or Keens, wait and purchase them on Zulily.  On those items, you’ll fare slightly better than you would Amazon, even with shipping charges.  Then you’ll get free shipping on any other Zulily purchase for the rest of that day (or weekend, if it’s Friday).  And those purchases are the ones you’ll really score savings on.
  2. Purchase one item at a time, and purchase your lightest weight item first.  This will minimize your shipping charges.  So if you know you need a Halo Sleepsack and you’re also getting some sort of Thomas Train set, purchase the sleepsack first, pay the shipping on it, and then get free shipping on the heavier item.
  3. Know the brands.  It’s hard to take advantage of your free shipping if you’re totally unfamiliar with the other brands on sale that day.  Some of them are absolutely amazing and others are not worth your money.  I’ve polled my two local list serves for feedback on lesser-known brands and this is what I’ve come up with.  I’ll cover the known brands first just in case you’re really a newbie.  If you’re reading and you’ve tried out a brand not mentioned here, please post a comment and let us know!
  4. “Heart” your favorite brands so that you’re notified when they’re on.  You probably don’t have time to look over everything in your daily Zulily email.  If you “heart” a brand, Zulily will send you a reminder email the day before it’s on so that you don’t miss it (if it’s something like MiniBoden, be sure to check Zulily right at 9 am because stuff sells out quickly).  To “heart” a brand, search Zulily for that brand.  If they carry it, it will come up with a little heart outline icon.  Click the icon to “fill in” the heart and it will be on your “favorites” list.  You might want to start by “hearting” Mini-Boden, UGG Australia, Stride Rite, Tea Collection, Hanna Andersson, See Kai Run, and Keen, to name a few.
  5. Join my Facebook group (click here) and set notifications to “receive all.”  I constantly scour for sales and I only post the best ones on the best brands (and not just Zulily!).  
  6. RESELL!  I can’t say it enough.  Any time you purchase a high-end clothing item, keep it nice and recoup what you can on ebay.  Check out my other blog entries “Designer Baby on a Budget:  10 Steps” and “Ten Tips for Reselling Children’s Clothing on Ebay.”
The Brands – Known Brands
  • Hanna Andersson.  Oh boy, it doesn’t get much better than this.  Heirloom quality knits by a Swedish-American designer.  These are soft and gorgeous, they last forever (fantastic resale value if you keep them nice), and they’re actually pretty practical for playing in.  Hanna Andersson really shines in fall and winter – you just can’t beat their sweaters and sweater dresses.
Hanna Andersson outfit with See Kai Run shoes.   To die for.
  • Halo.  Not sure what people did before sleepsacks.  They come in two types – 100% cotton and “mircro-fleece.”  I always do the micro-fleece in the winter for warmth.  And we used extra-large cotton ones the year my son figured out how to climb out of his crib but wasn’t yet ready for a “big boy bed” – bought us some time.
Love this Halo sleepsack for my little ladybug.  
  • Mini Boden.  Ultra high quality duds by British designer Johnnie Boden.  These are gorgeous and all the rage.  I have to be honest and tell you that I don’t find every last Boden item to be drool-worthy.  But when they do hit the mark, it’s ahhhh-mazing.  And they recently used a child with cerebral palsy as a model – how fantastic is that?
Boden:  T. D. F.
Click here for 20% off your first order if you order direct from Boden’s website.
  • Tea Collection.  Super soft “globally inspired” Earthy-but-modern clothing.  The designers actually travel the world twice annually to find inspiration.
Tea is also often featured on GILT, and you can get free shipping on GILT if you pay with a Master Card.
  • Oilily.  If you like bright colors and lots of patterns, this is the designer for you.  
  • Carter’s.  Carter’s is not that exciting but it’s high-quality stuff for the price.
  • UGG Australia.  Need I say more?
  • Stride Rite.  The go-to for high-quality kids’ shoes.  
  • See Kai Run.  Stride Rite quality but with a more “modern” look.  Less “sneaker-y.”
See Kai Run is also often on GILT and RueLaLa.
GILT gives you free shipping any time you pay with a Master Card.
  • Crocs and Keens.  The summer shoes.  Crocs are easier to keep clean and sometimes Keens get stinky and need to be run through the wash.  But Keens are more attractive and they seem like they’d be more comfortable too.
  • Pediped.  Kind of a cross between Stride Rite and See Kai Run.  They pride themselves on comfort.
  • Primigi.  The luxury version of children’s shoes.  Simply to die for.

Primigi shoes are also often on GILT and RueLaLa.

The Brands – Lesser-Known Brands

This, I really think, is where it’s at with Zulily.  The truly “boutique” brands are often the very best deals because they don’t quite have the name power to drive the world’s hardest bargain, but their quality is out of this world.  However, it’s hit or miss if you’re unfamiliar with a brand and sometimes the sizing is off (if it is, by the way, I’ve found that Zulily will take it back in spite of their stated no-return policy).  So in the name of more “hits” and fewer “misses,” here’s what I’ve found and what I’ve been told:

*** lesser-known brands are harder to resell.  Make sure you include the words “boutique” and “designer” in your subject title on Ebay.  Plan to relist several times.

Toffee Moon (0-24 months, boy and girl)
This is an absolutely fabulous brand out of the U.K.  I got the sweetest EVER romper for my daughter, one of my all-time favorite pieces.  Super soft material and I used the heck out of it with no pilling whatsoever.  Consider ordering a size up for the rompers; the dress and cardigan ran true to size.

Best Romper Ever.
Toffee Moon romper.  Wish these pics were better.

Our latest addition.  SO IN LOVE. 


Cloud Mine 
Downright divine.  Ethically made in the U.S.A.

She’s 18 months here, wearing 9 month leggings and a 12 month dress – that’s all they had, but it worked.

P’tit Mom
I got this dress and I’m just kind of “meh” about it.  I was really hoping the material would be softer and have better movement πŸ™


ELK Shoes
These shoes are gorgeous, and the top ones go perfectly with so many of our outfits.  So far they are holding up really well – LOVE.

Petite Amie
Just gorgeous.  Here’s the mint “lei” dress I got for Claire.



Twirls and Twigs 
I am IN LOVE with this whimsical but still practical brand that is ethically made in the U.S.!  And I see some Ebay listings that appear to be holding their value VERY well – maybe because it’s also found at Nordstrom’s?

We have this dress and I am IN LOVE.
Fabric is soft and quality, dress is lined and divine in every way.  Runs small if anything.

Me Too

I loved this dress by them.  But I haven’t really seen anything as cute as this in awhile.  Boo πŸ™

Summer dress by Me Too.

Nanette Baby
Hit or miss, but a hit is a great one.  I absolutely adored this outfit.  Delicate, vintagey, a change from the pink, flattering, easy to wash, soft, and easy to wear anywhere.  Lots of compliments.

Nannette Baby outfit worn for professional photoshoot.
Photo Credit:  Kelly Fitzsimmons Photography (Boston-area) – “like” her on Facebook!
By the way, my son is wearing a Janie & Jack sweater from Ebay and Talbots Kids pants from my local friend Sarah…
I love dressing him too, but we just buy all Sarah’s old stuff since her stuff is so good.


Another great outfit by Nannette Baby

FeatherBaby
Heaven on Earth.  This is the softest fabric I have ever felt in my life.  LOVE them for infant rompers.  I got no end of compliments on the footless romper my friend gave me for my daughter.  I’m actually not sure if Zulily features these anymore, but GILT definitely does, and shipping is always free on GILT if you pay with a Master Card.

FeatherBaby romper I cannot bring myself to resell.  LOVE.

Ciao Bimbi Shoes 
Okay this brand I’ve only seen on MyHabit (a site just like Zulily – but owned by Amazon!) but I had to update this entry and include it because I just got these boots for Claire and they are to DIE for.  They were $53 … not that much more than Stride Rite and these are $200 dream boots!  Going to try to get them in the charcoal color next time this brand is featured.

Ciao Bimbi boots – this brand is on MyHabit (just like Zulily but owned by Amazon).

Llum
Now I’m just sort of adding in my favorite brands from MyHabit and GILT.  Luum is an ultra-high end brand often featured on GILT and these are their “petticoat” dresses.  They retail for something like $90 but are just $43 (or less) when they’re on GILT.

I cannot exaggerate the amazingness of these dresses.  The sash is super long, making for a gorgeous bow in the back.  The petticoat underlay adds not only a new fabric but also a bit of texture to the bottom, for a hint of poof – but not so much that you couldn’t wear it to the park or on a playdate.  It’s a throwback to the 1800s, but with modern patterns, and soft easy-to-wash cotton … simply, *simply* divine.  

Petit Lem
Ultra high-end French designer clothing.  Makes my heart flutter just thinking about it.  I don’t own any of their girl stuff but even their little jammies and baby outfits are to die for!  (Lately I’m finding this brand more frequently featured on GILT – not sure if they still do Zulily).

Petit Lem lounging outfit – check out the tiny little cuffs, it’s all in the detail.
Worn with See Kai Run “Smaller” shoes.  LOVE.

Lucky Top
I got these boots, size 4 for my daughter … fantastic price and they make adorable fashion boots!  My daughter can walk with them easily.  Not sure they’d hold up in inclement weather but they are just too cute with dresses and leggings.


Pink Vanilla
Quality seems excellent, I’m loving this dress.  Runs VERY small (at least this dress does) – this is a 24 months and fits perfectly right as she’s turning 18 months.


Sweet Potatoes
Excellent quality and super cute but this brand also runs extremely small.  And I’ve heard from others so I know it’s not just this particular outfit – it runs 1-2 sizes small.

Size 24 months fits my daughter at 18 months.

PipSqueaks 
These sandals are to DIE for and they go well with so many things!  Quality seems excellent.  BUT BUT BUT be very careful when you order.  I ordered a “Toddler 5” and it was huge.  It measured 6 inches and had a Euro 23 marked on the bottom – making it really a 7.5 in US sizes.  I complained and Zulily made it right – LOVE their customer service.  If you’re going to order this brand, I guess be sure you look at the actual measurements box.  Apparently that box would have told me that a “5” was 6 inches.  Even though every other such box I’ve seen, including others on Zulily, measure a toddler 5 as 4.75 inches.


P’tit Mom
I’ve only tried one dress by them, and it’s very pretty and fits nicely but the material isn’t as soft as I was hoping for.  It’s fine… not excessively stiff or anything, but I was hoping for soft with some degree of stretch.

Rachel Shoes
LOVING these.  Got a pair of white sandals with bright flourishes on consignment and they are holding up spectacularly well.  Super cute stuff – some of it is very “Livie & Luca” but WAY cheaper – these were $16 on Zulily.

Like Livie & Luca but WAY cheaper – $16 for these on Zulily!

Classy Couture
This romper is super cute in real life and so far washes very well.  I love the ribbons.  I’m not a big fan of this fabric, but this is whatever the classic fabric is for all those smocked outfits.  Runs true to size.


Mole Little Norway
I’m OBSESSED.  I love nordic stuff and this is just divine.  This sweater is smooth and soft with amazing detail.  I definitely want to try more of their stuff this fall/winter.

The Silly Sissy
They have some cute stuff but I’ve tried two dresses and neither was my absolute favorite.  Fabric on the dress pictured here is simple cotton, wrinkles easily, no stretch or give.  Runs true to size.

Sweet Charlotte
I purchased this dress for my daughter.  I *love* the design (retro and Parisian) and it’s lined so that’s nice, but the fabric feels like very cheap cotton.  Not soft at all, and seems like it would be very difficult to get a stain out of.  Still, it’s very cute.


Leveret French 
A friend loves their fleece, footed pajamas.  Reports that they are super soft and have a very nice fit and weight.

Nohi by Nktoo
A friend loves the material of this loungewear – reports it’s soft, stretchy, and holds it shape.  She also appreciates the cute, modern, different designs.

Truffles Ruffles
A lister tried this brand but it was a bust, which is good to know since it appears SO adorable in Zulily’s pics.  She ordered black and white striped pants only to discover that the stripe was printed on rather than being part of the fabric.  Thus it wore horribly in all the places where the fabric needed to stretch.

Sage Creek Organics
A lister tried this brand and got a pair of leggings that were fantastic.

IPlay
A lister loves this brand for swimming gear and hats.  She reports that the swimming attire is soft, true to size, and has simpler and classier designs than a lot of other brands.  She says their hats are “the best” – thin enough that they’re not at all hot, and they dry quickly so they work great in a pool, and the only hat her son doesn’t try to pull off (possibly because it has a little elastic around it).

Nui Organics
Very soft and comfortable, runs a little small.  Watch for lots of buttons during diaper changes.

Kickee Pants
A fantastically soft brand using fabric made from bamboo viscose.  Super silky, especially great for summer, and lovely mod prints.

Sweet Peanut (babies) and Peanut Buttons (toddlers)
Another favorite.  Well made, cute patterns.  Runs small.

Lazy One
Very cute but sizing seems erratic.  Jammies seem very tall and skinny, hoping that they will stretch some.

Vitamins Baby
In my humble opinion… don’t waste your money.  Quality is lacking and sizing seems completely erratic.

Silkberry Baby
Amazing thin fabric, awesome for summer, and very soft and smooth.  “I just want to hug my baby non-stop when he’s wearing the romper.”  Be sure to wash on gentle cycle though – fabric is so thin it did start ripping around the snaps.  Runs true to size.

Petite Pomme
Runs small but is super cute, durable, and comfortable.

Frangipangi Kids
Adorable and great quality.

Parade Organics
Runs slightly big, if anything.  Quality seems all right.

City Threads
One lister’s all-time favorite brand.  Adorable and the knit pants fit over cloth diapers.  Be sure to price check on diapers.com before ordering on Zulily.

Kushies
Awesome footed pants for infants – the 0-3 months size fit a newborn and still fit well at 4+ months, somehow.

Bambino Land
Fabric was not soft – felt like slightly-scratchy muslin.  Disappointment.

John Deere
Cute, durable, runs small.

Little Traveler
“One of my favorite boy brands, the quality and fit are great and it runs true to size.”  Machine and vehicle themes for boys.

Jelly the Pug
I’ve heard mixed things about this brand.  One friend got a dress she is head over heels for, the other said that her outfit was cute but fell apart in the wash.

Max & Ella
I haven’t tried them myself but a lister responded that this is her all-time favorite stuff she’s ever gotten from Zulily.  She reports that it wears extremely well and that it runs slightly small.

Wonderboy
Excellent quality, true to size, very attractive attire.  More of a solid-colors type theme.

And there you have it.  All the information I could compile about Zulily.  If you have additional knowledge or brand reviews, please share it with me and I can add it to this blog entry!  I can be reached at lisa dot murakami at gmail dot com.

THE BEST (and EASY!) Sticky Pecan Rolls

My husband and I are big brunch people, and we love to try new recipes.  But there is one recipe (well, two actually) that we keep going back to – it’s now to the point where we just can’t have brunch without these.  Sticky, sweet, and savory my MIL’s “Sticky Pecan Rolls” are seriously to die for.  Give them a try – they’re easy to make and I promise you, they’ll change your life.

Sticky Pecan Rolls

On the first day, you’ll make a ball of dough and refrigerate it overnight:

For the ball of dough
1 pkg (1 tbsp) active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter softened
1 egg
3 1/4 – 3 1/2 cups flour

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water in your mixer bowl – wait a few minutes to make sure it foams to ensure the yeast is active.  Stir in 1/4 cup white sugar, salt, 2 tbsp butter, egg, and 2 cups flour.  Beat until smooth.  Work in remaining flour until dough is easy to handle.  Place in greased bowl.  Cover surface of dough with some shortening or butter so it doesn’t dry out.  Cover with lid, cling wrap, or whatever you have.  Refrigerate overnight or up to 5 days.

On the second day, you’ll roll out the dough, sprinkle the filling, roll it up, slice it, and bake it:

For the topping
1 stick butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1.5 tbsp corn syrup (baking section of store)
2/3 cup pecan bits

For the filling
1/2 stick butter, melted
3/4 cup sugar
3 tsp cinnamon

Stir together all the topping ingredients except the nuts.  Spread in the bottom of a 9×13 pan.  Sprinkle the nuts on.

Combine the sugar and cinnamon for the filling.  Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface so it’s roughly a 15″ x 9″ rectangle.  Spread it with the butter.  Sprinkle it with the cinnamon-sugar.  Roll it up the long, skinny way.  Slice into 15 one-inch slices.  Place slices on top of “topping layer” in pan – no need to grease the pan.  Cover with a wet cloth and let rise in a warm place until double (up to 90 minutes).  Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes.  Immediately invert on tray (take a cookie tray, cover the top of the pan, and flip the whole thing).

Dough is easy to roll, and your rectangle doesn’t have to be perfect.
Slices of the roll sitting in the “topping” ready to rise.
Just before rising.
Risen and baked!
Inverted onto cookie tray.
Ready to pull apart individual rolls and chow down!
Chewy, sweet, savory perfection!

Citrus Sweet Rolls (our Christmas recipe)

Oh.  My.  GOSH.  When my husband and I first bit into these rolls we were absolutely blown away.  Better than my wildest dreams, these rolls had it all:  Moist, stretchy dough texture – even on the outside of the roll, sweet citrus zing, and a hint of savory (if you do the cream cheese frosting – I now prefer a citrus glaze, details below!).

I love how citrus in seasonal in the winter – really brightens it up!

I wrote in an old blog entry that one of my goals is to try as many recipes as possible so that I can find THE best recipes to be the seasonal staples of my children’s childhoods. Devouring my first roll I knew: I had arrived.  I’d found THE #1 Christmas morning recipe for my family.  For us, there can be no more important recipe. Of course, it’ll be awhile before I’m hosting my own Christmases.  But for now, I’m thinking our tree-decorating day and whatever day we celebrate Christmas in Boston will include this recipe… and I’ll make it at NO other time of the year, to preserve its magic.

Here it is, with pics. I tweaked and combined two different recipes to arrive at our final creation.

For the dough:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 tsp instant dry yeast
pinch of salt
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs, lightly whisked

For the filling:
1 stick butter, softened
Zest of 1 orange
1 tsp orange extract
3/4 cup brown sugar (I used dark)

If you like cream cheese icing – leave butter and cream cheese out in advance!:
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
1.5 cups confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
1 teaspoons orange extract

If you prefer a citrus glaze:
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups confectioners (powedered) sugar)
pinch salt
2-3 tbsp milk or cream, as preferred for consistency
Zest of 1 orange

Directions (takes a little time, but not at all difficult):

Place the flour sugar, yeast, and salt in a mixing bowl.  Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the buttermilk – this should bring it to a little warmer than room temp (too hot will kill the yeast), swish it around in the pan and add it to the bowl of dry ingredients.  Lightly whisk the eggs – just use the same pan you used for the butter/milk mixture, and add those too.  Mix in mixer a little until it comes together – use a dough hook attachment if you have one – then knead with your hands for about 7 minutes.  Place in a lightly greased or oiled bowl and flip it over so the top of the dough is also greased.  Cover (I use a wet dishcloth for moisture) and let rise in a warm place (I turn my oven on and off briefly so that the oven is slightly warm) for 2.5 hours or until doubled.

You should definitely invest in these baking mats, it is practically miraculous how the dough does not stick to them at all even without flouring them!  Check it out:

While dough rises, prepare the filling.  Simply mix everything together.  Then grease or butter a 9 x 12 inch baking pan.

Punch dough down, and again turn it out on lightly floured surface or baking mat.  Roll until it’s about 18 inches by 12ish (doesn’t have to be perfect).  Spread the filling evenly all over.

Spreading the filling is a great time for kids to help!

Roll up, starting at one of the longer (18″) sides.  Once rolled, slice it into about 12 slices (so, 1.5 inches each to make 18 inches) – doesn’t have to be perfect!!  By the way, I’m told unwaxed floss is great for the slicing, but I use this dough cutter by OXO – it’s cheap and it’s also really handy for scraping flour off surfaces and into the trash.  Place the slices as evenly as you can in the prepared baking dish.  At this point, you can cover and refrigerate overnight if you prefer!

Cover (I used the same moist dishcloth but you could use plastic wrap, you may want to grease it a little because it’ll stick a little bit) and let rise again, again in a warm place, for about an hour, until rolls are all touching each other and appear to be the proper size.  If you refrigerated overnight, you may need to let them rise an extra 30 mins or so.

Fully risen, ready for the oven!

Then bake at 375 for 15 minutes, or until lightly golden on top.  Do not overcook!!!!  Or undercook.  It’s worth it to test a roll with a knife, you can just eat that one later.  While it cooks and cools a bit, prepare the glaze OR the cream cheese frosting.  Just add everything in and stir (glaze) or mix in mixer (frosting).

Cover with the glaze (or frosting).  Serve.  Heavenly!!!!

Frosted.  PERFECT December morning.
And here’s the final product with the citrus glaze.  I really can’t pick a winner!!!

Life Lately.

Hi all.  I haven’t blogged in awhile … I have big plans to gear back up for more medical/parenting topics,  but for now I just want to capture a few memories…  So on a personal note:

Summer is fading into autumn over here and it all has such a different feel with Matthew having started preschool (and swimming and t-ball!).  And I just have to say … I love it.  As much as I will always cherish the four years we spent of sweet, schedule-free, together-all-the-time baby days, we are definitely both ready move on a little, and to grow and change.  Matthew is having a blast at school – he loves his teachers and his friends and he especially loves the days he gets to stay for “lunch bunch.”  Oh my gosh it is so cute hearing him excitedly tell Mark what I packed for him that day!!  Not a single tear has been shed at drop-off (from either of us!), not even on the first day.  It’s probably partially a benefit of a September birthday… he turned four the very first week of school, meaning he’s a little more mature than he otherwise might be and I really did have four years at home with him already – a long time(!).  I’ve been loving a thrice weekly break, and it’s been so special to finally have some one-on-one time with Claire.  Tellingly, Matthew decided on his own that he wanted to be called “Matt” at school.  “Matt Murakami” was always the plan… we’ll still call him Matthew at home but I love thinking about my sweet, not-so-little Matt.

Meanwhile Mark is finally up and running in the lab, which has been an incredible change for our family.  To explain:  He finished residency two years ago and is now about two years into his oncology fellowship.  The first 1.5 years of fellowship were just like residency (read: outrageously grueling hours) except that he was able to practice his speciality (oncology) rather than general medicine.  So at this point we are SO GLAD to finally be DONE DONE DONE with all the *truly* crazy (as opposed to just sort of crazy) hours.  I can’t even begin to describe the relief and the impact this has had on our family… that’ll have to be another blog entry.  Mark is also clearly very happy to finally be able to focus more on what he really wants to do – the research.  Things are going well for him so far; we probably have another 3(+) years until he can get enough grants and publications to start his own lab, but that’s fine with us – we love it here, for now (could use some drawers and counterspace in the bathroom, but otherwise, it’s really pretty perfect!).  Blood cancers (leukemias, lymphomas, etc) are his area and his research is pretty exciting if you ask me!

We had a fabulous but crazy-busy summer, I barely had time to blink.  A few highlights:

Florida with Nana.  Nautical Janie & Jack romper off Ebay.

(1) We kicked it off right with a trip to visit my uncle in Florida (me, the kids, and my mom), and some time in Madison with my parents.  We managed to work in a few Chicago days with my in-laws and I even escaped sans kiddos to a girls’ weekend in Minnesota, visiting two of my oldest and dearest friends!

Three times a lady.
Back home in Madison:  Papa’s yardwork helper.
Museum of Science and Industry with Mo – watching the moon landing video.
Same trip:  We also made it to Geneva, WI for my SIL’s baby shower.  I got to spend time with my beloved Aunt Nancy who, I should note, has the same gray streak but with more strategic parting.  We both got it from my grandmother πŸ™‚  Pretty sure Claire will have it one day too, check it out:
Hard to capture on film but she has one streak of much lighter hair, right in that same spot.
She’d colored it here.
I still miss her all the time.

(2) We loved having our “third college wheel” (my BFF Hillary) and her family nearby for the summer.  Getting our kids together is nothing short of trippy – if someone could have shown us these pics back in college, all three of us would have just about died.  How did this happen?!

Our Mini-Me’s.  Stay tuned for “Ellingson Hall: The Sequel.”  In theaters September of 2030.  If we can afford it.
Hillary/Annabelle:  “No, I didn’t find the results surprising.  I’d long since suspected I was right-handed in a MAJOR way.”
Lisa/Claire:  “I might even stop saying ‘dude.'”
Mark/Matthew:  “Y’all want to to go to Hardees after this?”
Their destiny:  Megadorks!
Currently:  Dressed to impress.

(3)  We rocked some seriously great outfits, I can’t wait to resell these next spring.

“Could Mine” brand patchwork/rainbow tunic and leggings, off Zulily. 
LOVED this outfit.  Already resold!
Matilda Jane.
Matilda Jane.
Adorable Hartstrings go-go style dress bought on flash sale at RueLaLa.
“Baby Whale” nautical searsucker bubble/romper with long ribbon ties by Classy Couture, from Zulily.
Gymboree on the boy.
Janie & Jack.
Someday she really will be “sophisticated.”  Crazy!

(4) After so many years of not being able to go, we finally made it to Mark’s family’s “family camp” (Portage Lake Covenant Bible Camp) in Michigan.  WHAT A BLAST!  There was no end of fun stuff to do both at camp and in the general area, and certainly no end of family members to hang out and catch up with.  This kind of trip is right up my alley in terms of family, tradition (my kids are 4th generation at this camp!), and fun, and between camp and the epic Murakami Christmases I am really pretty excited to have married into the big family experience.    

Allllllllll the Murakami cousins.  So far, anyway!  (NO plans to add to this… but would be thrilled if someone else did).
Sleeping Bear Dunes. 

(5) My parents also came out here for their annual visit; we can’t host them in our two-bedroom apartment so – oh darn – they always rent a place in Cape Cod.  Cape Cod is such a fairytale and I feel so lucky to experience it every summer.  It’s New England at its absolute finest:  picturesque natural beauty, quaint little cafes and creameries, and a fabulous historic feel.

Babes on the Cape.
Hanging with dad.
Our local BFFs came up for a night… cutest crew ever!
Add a visit with some dearly missed friends who moved away a year(+) ago = a perfect week.

(6) Annual blueberry picking at Parlee Farms – can’t miss loot this good!

Dressed the part.  Of course!

(7) We barely used our trusty bike trailer this summer, we were just THAT busy!  But we did make it downtown.  Once.  !!!

Boston Commons.  Fave new outfit for Claire by Persnickety.

(8)  I discovered Persnickety.  My current favorite brand EVER.  (yes, I know… but that’s exactly what I mean).

(9) Overnight trip to scenic Connecticut to visit the Whites … late-night chatting and breakfast at “The Coffee Farm,” yes please!

I only contributed two of these kids.  Ever in awe of the amazing parents that Jen and Topher are.
(10) Matthew turned four.  Four!!!  He wanted a yellow cake and an excavator for his birthday.  This is about as creative as I get, and I don’t think I’ll ever pull it off again.
Saying prayers that night with Matthew I prayed for him “… and thank you for my yellow birthday cake with the excavator on top…” before I could go on I saw this sweet little smile creep across his face and he said, in a gosh-you’re-so-silly tone, “It was a backhoe.”  And…
He was RIGHT.  lol.

And two bonus snippets as we move into fall…

(1) Our first-ever after school snack of home made chocolate chip cookies and milk.  Been dreaming of this day for how long????

Seriously, if you haven’t tried this cookie recipe I IMPLORE YOU!!!!!!

(2) Shots from some mommy-and-me time with Claire.  And … more Persnickety πŸ™‚

Pink “Knickers.”  LOVE.  This has become a hobby and an artistic outlet for me.
Love her.
My sweet, goofy, outrageously brave, fun-loving girl.

So that’s that, I just wanted to capture a few moments before they got away from me.  I can’t believe how the last several months have flown by.  Here’s to hoping for a fun-filled, productive fall, with lots of happy autumn memories and maybe a little more blogging!

Foolproof Perfect French Crepes

This is a recipe I discovered during my year in Rennes, France.  Rennes is the capital of “La Bretagne” (Brittany), the region of France just south of Normandy.  Crepes and galettes (galetts are savory crepes usually filled with egg/cheese/meats/veggies/etc.) are considered a regional specialty.

Now there is, in fact, a trick to making awesome crepes that never fall apart.  But it’s not what you’re thinking.  It has nothing to do with any crazy wrist skills or even the type of pan you’re using to make the crepe.  I actually discovered it in the U.S., by making my own crepes often, and then read about it in France.  The trick is just to let the batter sit for at least thirty minutes after you make it.  Yup, it sounds weird but during my middle and high school years I noticed that the first few crepes of any batch never really held up as well as the later ones.  Then in France I read the answer:  The batter has to sit so that the flour and eggs and all that can “coagulate.”  It sounds really medical and a little bit gooey-gross, but it just means that the stuff has to sort of get itself together and stick.

This recipe is SO easy.  The hardest part is sifting the flour, but you could probably get away with just stirring it with a whisk.  (If you have the right sifter, sifting flour takes two seconds – I like the OXO one-handed flour sifter for $13).  Also, if you have time, you can let the eggs and milk get to room temp before you start the recipe.  This actually makes any recipe better, but isn’t necessary.

Ingredients:

2 eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp butter, melted
3 tbsp superfine sugar (regular sugar also works fine)
Large pinch of salt
1 cup plus 2 tbsp sifted flour

All you do is place the eggs, milk, vanilla, and melted butter in a blender.  Add the sugar and salt, whiz until smooth.  Add the flour and whiz again, then set aside for thirty minutes.

Stir the batter again immediately before making the crepes (separation is normal; get it back to a unified texture).

Heat a nonstick pan to somewhere between low and medium heat.  Spray with PAM.  If you’re feeling really decadent you can actually melt butter on the pan (sooooo good), but since we’re trying to be heart-healthy we use PAM.   Once heated, pour about 1/3 cup of crepe batter on the pan.  Start tilting the pan until the batter runs over the entire surface.  It’s okay to dip back into your batter for more; just use however much it takes to coat the pan.  It’s also okay to have holes that you fill with a little extra batter.  It’ll all work out in the end, because you let your batter coagulate πŸ˜‰

My pan is specifically for crepes; it’s very shallow and the surface is nonstick.  I got it in France but you could probably find it online, maybe Amazon.com.  The shallow edges do make it easier to slide the crepe off onto a plate, but really aren’t necessary.

Eventually your crepe will start to bubble up and pull away from the nonstick surface.  Ideally you want it to get to the point where it just slips right off onto your plate, with a little help from a spatula to unstick any stuck parts.  But even if you have to turn the entire pan upside down, it’s not a problem – just wait for the crepe to cool on the plate a little and then spread it back out for toppings.

Sometimes people ask me about cooking both sides.  I’ve never found that necessary.  Crepes are very thin and are they cook through quite easily.  Cooking both sides just isn’t worth the hassle, in my book.  (I also tend to like a wetter, chewier crepe – sometimes when creperies in the U.S. cook both sides they just get dry and boring).

We’ve experimented a lot with toppings over the years.  To be heart-healthy, our favorite remains fresh strawberries, blueberries, and/or bananas with brown sugar and maybe a little whipped cream (well, a lot of whipped cream for me; a little for him).  But if you’re on a chocolate fix (and really, who isn’t?) you can place chocolate chips on the crepe while it’s still cooking on the pan, and watch them melt before you slide the crepe off onto your plate.  Top that with whipped cream… and maybe some powdered sugar … mmmm.

And of course there’s nutella.  But here’s a tip on that:  In France, only the street vendors sell crepes with nutella.  It’s sort of more for the tourists and the children; you won’t find it in the self-respecting creperies (at least not when I was there, in 2000).  Nutella came to be during WWII when chocolate was scare due to rations and children still needed a treat.  It’s made from hazelnuts… it’s sort of like the French version of peanut butter in that way, though for some reason Europeans really think peanut butter is disgusting.  Anyway, if you’re at an authentic local creperie and you order any sort of crepe with chocolate, they don’t use nutella.  Instead, they throw a spoon full of butter on your crepe and douse that in chocolate powder… and it is SO GOOD.  I’ve been able to replicate it at home with melted butter, cocoa powder, sugar, and salt to taste – just in the microwave.  It’s amazing and goes well with on a crepe with just whipped cream or with any other type of fruit, too.

Anyway, if you’ve ever been interested in crepes, give this recipe a try!  It makes about 6 crepes and usually people want at least two apiece.  It can be a real crowd-pleaser with decadent toppings or, if you stick to mainly strawberries and a little sugar, it can be a pretty healthy, fairly light breakfast.

“This is it.”

 Ever since I realized I’d one day be “an adult,” I’ve spent a lot of time wondering and dreaming about that day.  I was never that into being a teenager – didn’t like parties or cliques – and I wasn’t exactly living up my twenties in law school, legal internships, and 3 1/2 years of practicing law.  Instead, I’ve sort of spent my life putting one foot in front of the other, doing all the things I “should” do… the things I “should” do to get back to my own childhood, this time as the adult.

I had a really great childhood.  I’m not at all trying to brag, just to explain what I experienced and what I want to give my children.  My parents had and still have a fantastic marriage.  My mom used to say that she never fit in with the other neighborhood moms in part because they were always complaining about their husbands and she had nothing to complain about.  “Your father is a good man,” she’d say.  My mom’s loud, Chicago-Italian laugh used to mortify me but my dad said it made his heart twinkle.  My mom was a fantastic mom – a little unconventional as a staunch feminist, but her work at a battered women’s shelter and her demanding of respect from me, my brother, and everyone else she ever met lent her an enormous amount of credibility in my young eyes and gave me the backbone I’m proud (and glad) to have today.

A young couple
Helping Daddy clean the car.

Could Daddy have an ear infection?

My mom mandated family sit-down dinners – every night, unless you were eating over at a friend’s house.  Everybody had to come to the table, and if you tarried after she called “time to eat!!” … well, you didn’t tarry.  She did the cooking but everyone else did the dishes and cleaning.  Television was generally off, as a rule, though I think we made a few exceptions for Roseanne.

Family vacations were annual.  We mainly continued my dad’s family’s three-generation tradition of going “Up North” every summer and renting a cabin in Minocqua, Wisconsin.  We did Disney twice, went skiing in Colorado once, and went to Cancun once too.  Nothing crazy, but my brother and I knew we were lucky to get to see these places.  Now I know I’m lucky to have the memories.

“Up North”

Cute baby brother
Dad took us sledding and built many snow forts… and taught us how to ride bikes and play chess… helped us with our math homework all the time… did karate with us for 6+ years… took me all over the state to weekend tournaments… took me to Minnesota a few times to visit colleges… and still takes me out to lunch when he can.

So throughout adolescence and early adulthood I’ve been trying to “get back to” that.  Maybe you have too.  I want to be the mom in a good marriage, with family meals every night, making summertime and the Christmas season times of happiness and wonder for my children.  Most of the time, it feels impossibly far off.  We live in a 2-bedroom apartment and will probably be here until we’re 36… as a family of 4 or 5.  We have one car and we owe my parents a ton of money for it.  My husband is rarely home in time to have a family dinner (or any dinner), and he often goes weeks only seeing our son awake a few times, and only for about 20 minutes.

So I don’t feel like an adult yet… I feel like a grad student, 27 years old max, with a baby.  The traditional markers of “adulthood” – or at least the ones I saw in my parents – haven’t yet been attained.  But this morning, as I sat on the porch drinking iced coffee with my beautiful baby boy playing at my feet, it occurred to me:  This is it.  I’m the mom, finally, I’m the adult.  And I’m doing everything in my power to give my son the same great childhood I had with my family.  Earlier that morning we had read books, gone on a long walk on the bike trail, and stopped at the park to swing and crawl.  Yesterday I roasted a bunch of broccoli for him and he and I had a “Mommy-Son Date” with Kelly and Henry, ice cream in Davis Square.  We then went back to their place and splashed around in their plastic pool, and had a burrito dinner with Luke and little Miriam.  We had a great time.  We’re having a great time, and a great life.

Not all the pieces are in place yet… but I believe they one day will be.  And until then I need to start realizing:  “This is it.”  And… it’s good.  My son is happy and loving life… even if it’s sad to watch him look around for his Daddy and so often realize Daddy isn’t home.  Daddy will be home more… someday.  And as Daddy says, “The ironic thing is that by the time this is all over, we’ll be looking back at these years and wishing we were back here, young again, with our lives in front of us.”  Yes, we will be.  So this IS it… and it isn’t bad.  Time to enjoy it more… summer’s here.

P.S.  Credit Kelly with the iced coffee.  Very easy to make:  Simply brew up some high-quality coffee extra strong, add and dissolve sugar while it’s hot (and a few drops of vanilla or almond extract, if you feel like it) and chill.  Serve with ice and add cream… top with whipped cream, if you’re me.  Enjoy on a hot summer’s day.

Moonlighting Blues & The Best Soup Ever

Before I get into this AMAZING soup, a bit about our lives.  For one thing, I get way more hits that way (apparently I wasn’t meant for food blogging) and for another, I do mean to document our lives for my children and other medical spouses.

So:

My husband’s moonlighting paperwork finally went through and that means he can start picking up shifts where he’ll actually get paid as a doctor.  Only problem is he’s still working as a resident!  His “senior resident” year was supposed to be a cakewalk but the ACGME passed a new rule this year that limits hospital shifts to 16 hours.  To compare, my husband often worked 30+ hours on his shifts as an intern.  So… someone has to pick up that slack.  And whereas at my dad’s hospital they’re turning to NP’s (nurse practitioners), MGH knows it has an even cheaper labor source in its senior residents – heck, they’re salaried so it’s a FREE one!  So weekends my husband should have had off, and evenings he should have been home… he’s working for *you*, MGH interns.  Enjoy your sleep!  Oh and be warned… if you’re counting on moonlighting money, like we were… well, it’s not so easy to find the time for it.

If you’re wondering whether this is depressing, um, no, it’s AWESOME!  Not.  This was supposed to be “the good year” and basically he’ll now either work his days off or if we’re “lucky” he’ll moonlight them.  So sad, especially for Matthew.  I do some full-day baby-sitting and I’ve been lucky to do a little legal work from home recently, but living in Boston on a resident’s salary with $1400/month student loan payments and a baby … doesn’t actually add up, people.  We’re out of the money I saved lawyering and that means we need [significant] cash.  And as a friend once put it, my husband and I “don’t have any fat to trim.”  We’re already living in extreme frugality.  (and *please* don’t ask me “whether I’ve considered” going back to work … it’s a little insulting, frankly; if I thought that was a good choice for us right now I’d obviously already have done it).

What a rant!  Clearly my Italian side doesn’t permit unlimited Pollyanna-ism and when even my husband’s Scandinavian stoicism has devolved into cynicism, the only cheery disposition to be found chez nous is the baby’s.  Thank God for him!

Anyway, my husband will be working Thanksgiving AND Christmas.  Woot.  Thanksgiving for free – allllll weekend – and moonlighting all Christmas.  No family in the area.  I don’t think I can convey to those of you whose spouses have holidays off how depressing it is to face them alone, with a baby.  Everything is closed and everyone else is having those moments that life is all about, but you’re just trying to figure out how to fill the time until the stores open again the next day and you can be excited for some grocery trip and seeing other kids at the park again.  In June my husband will start fellowship, where the first 1.5 years are supposed to be pretty bad.  So basically we’re both looking forward to January of 2014, when my husband will be in the lab and things will finally be normal (if we can remember what normal is by then… and if they’re actually normal…).  Sigh.  But as I told my own doctor, there are starving people in Africa.  Hmmm.  She still wants me to get therapy.  Her husband did the same programs, by the way…

On a brighter note, my brother’s wife Adora (aptly named – we ADORE this girl) urged me to try this soup last year and I have to say she found a MAJOR gem.  Be sure you use good ingredients – sweet ripe pears and fresh ginger – or it won’t turn out to be perfection.  But please, give this a whirl.  It’s heart-healthy too (with substitutions) so I’ll have to double post it on my HeartHealthyFoodie blog.  And it’s actually fairly easy – if you double the recipe, you’ll have a healthy veggie side dish with no cooking for many meals to come.

Curried Butternut Squash and Pear Soup

Finished Product.

Ingredients:

1 butternut or acorn squash
3 tbsp butter (heart healthy:  substitute Smart Balance Sticks)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tsp fresh minced ginger root (all produce sections have)
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp salt
4 cups chicken broth
2 Bartlett Pears, cored and diced (okay to leave peel on)
                                                                                      1/2 cup cream (heart healthy:  substitute milk)

(1) Roast the squash by slicing in half and removing seeds, and placing flat side down on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil.  Roast in 375 degree oven for 45 minutes.  When done, remove pulp from peel and set aside for later use.

Acorn squash before roasting. But go for butternut squash if you can find it.

(2) Melt butter in large soup pot.  Stir in onion, garlic, ginger, curry powder, salt, and saute until onion is soft. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Add pear and squash and simmer until pear is soft (about 30 mins).

Peeling and mincing the ginger root.
Sauteeing butter, onion, garlic, ginger, curry, salt.
Core the pear.
Easy pear dicing.
SO easy.  Scoop up with spatula and add to soup.

(3) Here’s the labor of this recipe:  If you don’t have an immersion blender, you need to transfer the soup to a food processor or blender in batches and blend until soup is pureed.  I highly recommend getting an immersion blender though.  They’re not very expensive and they can pay for themselves easily when you use them to make your own baby food.

Immersion blender.  Perfect for making your own baby food – or heart healthy smoothies.  $28 on Amazon, makes a great gift.

(4) Return soup to pot.  Stir in cream (or milk).  Reheat.  I like to serve with a dollup of low-fat sour cream in the middle.  So fancy right?

Double batch, baby.  It freezes perfectly in any container.

Enjoy πŸ™‚

Oatmeal, Berries, & Heart-Healthy Love

Everyone knows that you’re “supposed to” eat oatmeal to lower your cholesterol, but not everybody knows why.  Many believe, as I once did, that anything with fiber is great for heart health.  Well… sort of.  Obviously fiber has many health benefits.  But only soluble fiber has actually been shown to reduce cholesterol.

Sadly, soluble fiber is not easy to come by.  Only two cereals on the market are allowed to claim it on their nutrition info:  Oatmeal and Kashi.  As for veggies, you’ll be stuck with okra, zucchini, and egg plant.  It’s that “gooey”ness in all of these foods that does the trick.  Luckily, most beans are great sources… so if you’re serious about heart health, bring on the chili, hummus, and delicious black bean burritos (I add a can of tomatoes and top with salsa and low-fat sour cream, and I use 2 chipotle chilis in adobo sauce instead of jalapeno).

But back to breakfast.  I’ve heard so many people say oatmeal is boring.  No!!!  It doesn’t have to be!  Whether you do oatmeal or oat bran, or a mixture of the two (my personal fave), it’s all about the toppings. 

Saturday night, our friend Kelly tipped us off that berrries were on sale.  So we did strawberry, blackberry, and blueberries.  So good, and packed with antioxidants.  Thus, the recipe generally is:

– Make oatmeal, oat bran, or Irish steel cut oatmeal as directed but add *milk* instead of water.  Do NOT use instant oatmeal (use “old fashioned” or Steel Cut).  You won’t get the heart benefits.
– Add a tiny sliver of butter (or Smart Balance if you’re us) and a sprinkling of sea salt in each bowl
– Top with fruit.  If you’re only going to try this recipe once, please wait until August and use fresh ripe peaches.  The combination of peach and cardamom simply cannot be beat.
– Sprinkle with dark brown sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom.  The cardamom is very important!  Cardamom is a spice (so found in the spice aisle by the baking section).  It’s used in a lot of Swedish baked goods… I discovered it by marrying a half-Swede.  It’s great in coffee, just sprinkle some on… it’s also used in Indian food; try it with yogurt, mango, and honey for a “mango lassi.”  Add it to ANY smoothie for a greatly enhanced experience.

Mommy and baby sized oatmeal – baby sized in the front.  He ate half of that!

So, “oatmeal” is a pretty simple recipe but a great way to have a “special breakfast” that’s still healthy.  Bonus:  You can dice up the fruit nice and small for a baby.  Ours was IN LOVE with this breakfast, dancing a little as he ate it and grunting intensely as he reached out for more.  And now he’s had whole grains, fresh fruit, and cardamom in a meal shared with Mommy and Daddy.  What a great morning!

The Top Six LEAST Logical Anti-Vaxx Arguments

After a little rant I wrote went viral, I found myself mired in the black hole of vaccine “debates.”  And I’m putting “debates” in quotations because it pains me to even elevate much of what is being said to “debate” where so many “points” and “counterpoints” make no sense whatsoever.  It was hard to narrow it down but I think I’ve found the six least-logical anti-vaccination points of all.  Here they are, in no particular order.

1.  We can’t trust the researchers or the doctors because they’re all part of a vast “Big Pharma” conspiracy to make money off of vaccines.

There are at least five good and obvious reasons why this is clearly not true, but I’ll make room here for just one:  The “naive” parent who didn’t “do her homework” by running a google search or listening to her friends is not, in fact, the one paying for her child’s vaccines.  Vaccinations are paid for largely by private health insurance companies and, for uninsured children, the government.  Hopefully we can all agree that health insurance companies are not an innocent, naive, duped party in this or any other equation.  Not only is the health insurance industry a major political powerhouse, but health insurance companies employ hundreds of physicians whose sole jobs are to find ways to deny coverage for any medical care that is even arguably not “medically necessary.”  If you must have a conspiracy theory, and you really don’t believe vaccines work, maybe you should consider the idea that the “Big Health Insura” put out all the anti-vaxx internet quackery so that fewer people would vaccinate.  *I* know that’s not true, because *I* know that health insurance companies don’t want to pay for babies hospitalized with pertussis.  But if you’re a vaccine-denier, then I have to tell you that my conspiracy theory is far more likely than yours.

2.  They’ve never done a study of vaccinated versus unvaccinated children and autism rates.

They have, in fact, plenty of them!  Can you imagine if we’d been debating this for as long as we have been and nobody had ever bothered to check?!  Here’s one out of Denmark, published in the #1 leading medical journal NEJM.  It used data from all children born in the country of Denmark from 1991-1998.  Spoiler:  There is no difference in the rates of autism when comparing vaccinated to unvaccinated children.  Update:  Here’s another such study, this one a massive new study this year, out of the U.S.!  What they haven’t done is a double-blind study.  And that’s not because Big Pharma is preventing one – it’s because it would be considered unethical to randomly assign babies to not be vaccinated.

3.  It’s actually the vaccinated children who are dangerous – they are the ones most commonly infecting other people.

One good argument against that is that it’s factually not true.  See also this, this, this, and this:

Most of the 288 measles cases reported this year have been in persons who were unvaccinated (200 [69%]) or who had an unknown vaccination status (58 [20%]); 30 (10%) were in persons who were vaccinated. Among the 195 U.S. residents who had measles and were unvaccinated, 165 (85%) declined vaccination because of religious, philosophical, or personal objections, 11 (6%) were missed opportunities for vaccination, and10 (5%) were too young to receive vaccination (Figure).

But let’s imagine it were true, and vaccines were only (“only”), say, 85% effective.  Now imagine a town of 100 people.  Ninety of them are vaccinated and ten are not.  Everyone is exposed.  If this were to happen, in theory, 10 unvaccinated people would contract the illness, but thirteen vaccinated people would.  It’s simple math.

Oh yeah, the pertussis vaccine.  That one has its own ironic twist.  In 1997 we switched over to an acellular vaccine formula in order to appease vaccination fears.  The cellular formula was more effective but it had more side-effects – more fevers, and thus more febrile seizures.  But febrile seizures are not actually dangerous and if you’re prone to them, you’re not going to avoid them by not getting vaccinated.  My 13-month old inherited them from her father and while she never experienced one after a vaccination, she had one anyway when she caught a simple passing illness that spiked her fever.  She’s perfectly fine and was never in any danger.  So now to avoid a false danger we’ve increased the real danger:  a less effective vaccine where vaccination rates are declining.

**Even at that, though, studies show that even in populations including non-infants (so people far removed from their infant pertussis vaccines), the unvaccinated are 2.5 times as likely to catch (and potentially spread) the disease.  And as for infants – the people most likely to die from a pertussis infection – our current vaccine is still 90+% effective.

4.  If vaccines are actually effective, vaccinated people shouldn’t care whether some people don’t vaccinate.

Is this how you feel about hand-washing?

5.  It’s better to be “naturally” infected than to receive a vaccine.  

This reasoning is so circular it makes my head hurt:  It’s better to risk death, brain damage, paralysis, birth defects, and various kinds of cancer by getting a full-blown “natural” case of one or more of these diseases because… because it’s a more effective way of making sure you don’t ever get the disease you already had.

And if you do subscribe to this theory, I certainly hope you’re formula-feeding.  Antibodies passed to your infant through your breast milk won’t be quite as effective or long-term as the antibodies your baby’s own body would produce in response to full-on “natural” infections of various illnesses.  You wouldn’t want to jeopardize his developing immune system by nursing, would you?  (Disclaimer:  This is sarcasm; I’m nursing my 13 month old through this winter JUST to – maaaaybe – give her any antibodies I happen to acquire).

Photo Credit

6.  We shouldn’t blindly trust our doctors.

Agreed.  Physicians make mistakes, and we as patients can optimize our medical care by staying informed and by self-advocating where appropriate.  Thankfully, though, we have very little such work to do when it comes to vaccination.  Contrary to what anti-vaxxers would have you believe, vaccines are some of the most thoroughly studied medications out there and there is not just a national but a global consensus on their safety and efficacy.  Really, people, you might find my vaccination posts a little too snarky for your tastes.  But at least admit that it’s not exactly humble to ignore the consensus of every legitimate medical and public health group in the world.

Top Ten Space-Savers (for Tiny living with Tots!)

If you’re in a situation like we were (family of four in a 2-bedroom apartment) or if you’ll soon be headed that way with your residency move … OR if you just like to save space and keep things neat and tidy … this has been rolling around in my mind for some time now.  I’m finally putting it all down on paper, so here you go – My top ten space-savers:

(1) Better Than Boullion.
This may seem like an odd one to lead off with but it’s seriously the best product ever.  EVERYBODY should be using these; NOBODY should be hauling and storing cans of broth.  They not only save a TON of cabinet space (and hauling effort; each small jar makes 38 cups or 14 cans of broth) but they taste BETTER and you can make it a stronger dilution (add like 1.5 tsp per cup of water instead of 1) which almost always enhances the flavor of whatever I’m using it for.  Once you get into it it’ll become easier and easier.  I don’t even bother diluting anymore; I just add however many tsps I need and however much water right to the recipe.  And keep in mind that 3 tsp = 1 tbsp.  That’ll make it even faster.  You HAVE GOT to get on this.  Find them in the broth section of your local grocery store.
(photo credit)
(2) The Zinus 14″ Modern Studio Platform Bed Frame.
We actually only just discovered these bed frames two weeks ago but I’m obsessed.  These are easy to assemble (they come with all the tools you need), they work great, they eliminate the need for a box spring, and they leave a TON of room underneath for storage.  AND they’re cheap!  These are an awesome solution for city living OR if you have a lot of stuff you want to store in the bedroom itself rather than in a basement or attic.

Fourteen inches of storage!!
(3) On-The-Chair High Chairs
If you’re in the high chair stage and you’re short on space, do not get a freestanding high chair.  Get one of these – they work awesome and they sit on a chair you already have.  Bonus:  SUPER cheap.  You can get a 4-star one for $20 or less, or go for the 4.5-5 stars at $20-50.
(4) Fisher-Price Cradle Swings
One thing we didn’t have space for in our old apartment was a glider.  We didn’t need one for either child, thanks to this.  It did the rocking for me, right next to my bed – and was a complete magic bullet for my firstborn, I literally was never once up at night with him after a feeding.  As for the feedings themselves, I just used a My Breast Friend on the couch or another chair.  Saved so much space and so much money this way.  And got lots more sleep too!
We had the “Starlight” one.  LOVED IT.
(5) Mac Mini + Dell Monitor
If you’re an Apple devotee but you can’t swing the price tag, my husband came up with the awesome solution of getting a “Mac Mini” (the computer without the screen – it’s tiny) and using a Dell Monitor.  LOVE LOVE LOVE it.  Not only did we save hundreds and get me an awesome monitor, but when my mac needs to be serviced all I have to haul to the Apple store is the tiny Mac Mini.  It fits in my purse.  If you go this route, be sure to double check that you’ve selected a monitor and a mini that are compatible with each other!  And then presto, you’re good to go.  BONUS:  You can reuse the monitor when you need to replace your Mini.  This is WAY green, since monitors are one of the worst things for the environment, and saves you the cost of a new monitor AND the cost of recycling your old one, which is $20 where I live.

(6) Laundry Sorter Cart With Hanging Bar.
We could NOT have made it through our years in the 2-bedroom without this thing.  Not only does it keep all your dirty laundry sorted by color (white, bright, dark) and ready to be thrown in the wash, but the pole extends up so you can hang tons of stuff on it.  Yes, it’s an eyesore.  But it’s in your bedroom (or your kids’ room) so nobody sees it… and it’s really the only solution if you have a tiny closet.
(7) The “Closet Doubler.”
This is another thing I couldn’t live without, even now that we have lots more closet space.  I use it in my kids’ closet to keep their stuff separate but it would work great in an adult closet too.  
(8) These Kids’ Hangers.
Pretty much my favorite thing ever!  These hangers keep each outfit together and neat, instead of crammed in a drawer somewhere with the top nowhere near its proper bottom.  They’ll also save you a ton of space over using separate hangers for each piece.

(9) Best Ever Sound Machine.
If you’re in a tiny space with kids (or even without!), chances are you’ve got noise issues.  One kid needs to nap, the other needs to scream.  If that’s you, these are the ultimate… and they have a real fan inside (fans reduce SIDS).  They’re pricey – utilizing the newest technology in sound waves – but more sleep???  PRICELESS.
(10) Tegu Blocks and Magnatiles.
No space for toys?  Then don’t bother with them; you probably don’t have space to have other kids over either, and your (young) kids will be way more interested in your purse than their toys unless someone new is around to play.  Instead, stick only to the rare unicorn exceptions to the toy rule:  your kids will play with Tegu Blocks and Magna-Tiles (and art supplies, and maybe trains when they’re really small) even when other kids aren’t around … and they can be tossed in a bag for easy space-saving storage.  Their prices reflect their value, unfortunately, but very rarely (about twice a year) Tegu Blocks go up to 40% off – and when they do, I post the sale in my Facebook group that you are welcome to join.  Magna-Tiles I’ve heard are price controlled… I have never once seen a sale on them other than a minimal store-wide coupon.  BUT I have also heard that one of the knockoff brands,”Playmags,” is as good or better than the original, definitely worth checking out.  If you’re wondering about Magformers, those are great too… especially for the younger crowd since they’re easier to grip.  But they’re not quite as cool as Tegu’s or Magna-Tiles, once your child hits 3 years of age.
If you have to choose just one, get the Magna-Tiles.  But really, you want both – Tegu Blocks are great once your kid hits about 4 years old; they’re like a hybrid blocks/puzzle with the polarization of the magnets.  
(11) KidKraft Play Table with Storage.
I just have to squeak in one more.  These are hard to find… you have to kind of poke around periodically to find find them in stock and under $200.  But when you think about the cost of buying both a wooden toy box and a wooden play table, and you consider the space saved, they’re worth every penny even when they’re up around $200.  We LOVE ours.

UPDATE 3/18/17:  IN STOCK at Amazon and a GREAT price, click here!!!!

So there you have it.  My best-find products for smaller living.  Did I miss anything?  If so, let me know in a comment!
________________________
Married to Medicine is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

GIVEAWAY! Persnickety and Sweet Honey fanatics, meet Nani Kalani!

**Use the code Boston1 for FREE shipping!!**

Do frustrations with the available to-die-for brands leave you daydreaming about creating your own boutiquey kids’ clothing?  If your wish list would include:

  • Ultra high-end fabric
  • Persnickety and/or Sweet Honey style (old-fashioned dreamy meets edgy)
  • Wearable!  Meaning, for kids:  Playable.
  • and the kicker… you thought this was a long-shot, I know:  Affordable πŸ™‚

Then you have got to check out Nani Kalani.

Melissa Desmond, the owner and creator of NK, started NK out of her home just last spring; their first dress launched last year.  Inspired by her daughter Kalani (“Nani” means “beautiful”), Melissa followed in her mother and grandmother’s footsteps and began sewing what she wanted to see her daughter in.  The result?  No end of people wanting to know where she shopped.  When her husband suffered a serious motorcycle accident in 2013, they decided they could no longer wait to take chances on their dreams.

Today, Melissa and a slowly growing team of local ladies work tirelessly in what was her formal dining room.  Joy and camaraderie are part and parcel in the creation of each unique, whimsical fashion.  Dresses are released twice a month on Tuesdays at 8:00 pm EST; the next release will be the dress shown on my daughter below, this Tuesday!  In the meantime, we will be giving away a voucher to one lucky lady who will get to select a NK dress of her choice.  To enter the giveaway, follow these steps:

(1) “Like” my blog’s Facebook page on Facebook (click here to do so), if you haven’t already.
(2) The giveaway will be the at the top of the page; to enter, comment on the post with your favorite item shown on Nani Kalani’s Website.

Just for fun, “Like” Nani Kalani’s FB page too and try to name the new dress – click here!

That’s it!  I’m so pleased I could introduce you to this up and coming brand if you’re not yet familiar πŸ™‚

This gorgeous but playable woodland fairy themed dress will load this Tuesday at 8:00 pm EST.

The richness of the fabric and the attention to detail are what make NK – who doesn’t swoon over a double-ruffle hem?
Unique flourishes too; look carefully above, this dress ties on the side πŸ™‚
My little woodland fairy.  

A few of my other NK faves:

The namesake herself – soooooo darling.

This loaded last fall… hoping for something similar this fall!

Those.  Sleeves.  !!!!!!!

So unique.  Love the square button.

Perfect colors for summer – love this one.

Love how the stripes subtly hint at the 4th of July – perfect for the 4th, but still great any other summer day.

This one reminds me of Sweet Honey – but maybe with a hint of tang πŸ˜‰

It’s that upper neckline ruffle that gets me here.

And some leggings.  Love these.

** Use the code Boston1 for free shipping!! **

Try #2: Please Make This Easy, TDF Rhubarb-Berry Pie!!

It has come to my attention that NOBODY has tried this recipe yet.  
To remedy the tragedy, I’m going to post it again – this time with better pics, and instructions that will clear up any confusion over whether this pie is a miraculous paradox of SO easy and SO good.
SO easy and SO good.
People:  This is ALL you need to make the pie crust.  Oil, flour, water, salt, and sugar.  Who doesn’t already have these things?  And please believe me when I say:  Though crazy-easy, this pie crust is amazing.  AND heart healthy, using oil instead of butter.
To make enough for both a bottom and a top pie crust, you’ll need 3 cups of flour, 1 cup of oil, 9 tbsp ice water, 2 tsp sugar and 1 tsp salt.  That’s it.  So easy.
This is ALL you need for awesome pie crust.
First, place the dry ingredients in your blender.  Stir with a fork or whisk for good measure, or be lazy and don’t bother.  
Then, add the ice water to the oil.  Stir with a fork until you prove that oil and water do mix (it gets foggy looking – maybe 30 seconds).
Oil and Water
Oil and Water Mixed (using a fork)

Add oil/water Mixture to dry ingredients.
Blend or stir – you get this.
Then, divide the dough in two.  Stick half of it in the refrigerator for later.  Take the other half, and roll it out a little bit.  Doesn’t have to be perfect or even that big – this amazing dough is very forgiving and you can pretty much just plop it in the pie dish and press with your fingers until you get it where you want it.  
Dough rolled out – easy.  No need for extra flour or special countertop.
Dough pressed into pie dish.  Just keep pressing with your fingers until it gets where you want it to be.
Ah, now the filling.  Again, SO easy!  Would you believe it’s just rhubarb, raspberries, blackberries, flour, and sugar?

2 cups of rhubarb, chopped.  1 cup of raspberries, 1 cup blackberries.  Mmm.
Coat the berries with a mixture of 3/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup flour.  Let it sit an hour or two (or overnight if you want) to draw out the juices.   The juices will pool in the bottom of the bowl when it’s done.
Oh, one more thing.  Add 1 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice and 1 tbsp melted butter to the berries and gently stir, just before you pour the mixture into your pie crust.  Include all the juices when you pour it into the pie.  It’ll look like this:
Yum!  What better way to taste summer?

Now.  Get the other half of the pie crust out of the refrigerator.

Roll it out into a circle, roughly the size of the top of the pie.  Note:  It doesn’t have to be perfect.

I rolled it on wax paper, not sure that was necessary but either way, cleanup was easier.

Next, cut the circle into strips.  These will be your lattice top.

So easy.


To make the lattice top, start with the longest strips and make a cross over the middle of the pie.  The center of the cross should be the very center of the pie (even though the pic below doesn’t show it).

Then add additional strips, working from the center out.  It’s easy – just eye it to see which strips the new strip will need to go under versus over, and lift up the already-placed strips that the new strip needs to go under, then place the new strip down, and fold the old strips back over.  Like so:

Make the cross with the longest strips.
Lift a strip up for the next strip to go under it.

Place the next longest down on the pie, then fold the lifted strip back over to its original place.

Keep doing this until all the strips are used, working from the inside of the pie out, longest strips to shortest – shortest strips will go on the edges.

The finished product will look like this.  Notice:  It’s not perfect.  But it’s still pretty darn cute.

Last step – brush the top with cream and then sprinkle with sugar – be generous!  This pic shows just half the pie completed.
Bake at 390 for 10 minutes, at 340 for 10 minutes, and then at 325 for the final 30 minutes.  This will produce a fairly moist crust.  If you prefer crunchier, do not reduce the temp past 340.
Guess what.  This was the next day.  It’s great even as leftovers.

Fresh Sour Cherry Crisp with Sour-Cream-Brown-Sugar Ice Cream

Is that enough “sours”??

The sour is, in my opinion, what makes this combo.  It’s just a little something different from your typical sweeter fruit crisp with vanilla ice cream… not that there’s anything wrong with traditional, and I may blog about our all-time favorite fruit crisp recipe later.

Either of these recipes is well worth making on its own.  Sour Cherry Crisp is awesome because it’s so perfectly tart and you get to use beautiful sour cherries (you may need to call around; we found ours at a local farm, but Whole Foods probably carries them).  High-end vanilla ice cream will do the crisp justice just fine (for the record, I strongly believe that Haagen-Dazs “Vanilla” is the best store-bought vanilla ice cream available).

The “Sour Cream Brown Sugar Ice Cream” is also a decent standalone.  It’s a delightfully rich, not-too-sweet take on vanilla that pairs perfectly with any fresh berries or any other crisp.

Together, these recipes make for an unbeatable, somewhat unique experience.  My husband isn’t as prone to hyperbole as I am but he’s declared this combo the “best crisp-like-thing he’d ever tasted.”  

Sour Cherry Crisp

2 cups pitted sour cherries (see below)
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp flour
optional:  a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice 


3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (oatmeal)
1/2 brown sugar
1 stick butter (room temp or slightly softened in microwave)
1/2 cup shortening
optional:  several dashes cinnamon


First, rinse and pit the cherries.  I just used my thumbnail since they lose their shape when you bake them, but you can google “how to pit sour cherries” if you care to get fancy.  


Preheat oven to 375.  Stir cherries, 3/4 cup sugar, and 2 tbsp flour until combined (lemon juice too if you’re adding it).  Pour into 8×8 baking or pie dish.  In another bowl, combine remaining ingredients and use a fork or pie cutter to cut them together until crumbly.  Spoon on top.  Bake 45 minutes.

Gorgeous sour cherries.
Photo Credit:  Food Gawker

Sour Cream Brown Sugar Ice Cream
(recipe from Sally Sampson’s “Ice Cream of the Week”)


1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
6 tbsp brown sugar
2 egg yolks, room temp
3/4 tsp vanilla
1 large pinch kosher salt
1 cup sour cream


Place the milk, heavy cream, and 2 tbsp of brown sugar in a small pan and cook over low heat, whisking from time to time, until warm.


Place the egg yolks, vanilla, and salt in a small metal bowl and whisk until completely mixed.  Add 1/4 cup of the warm milk mixture to the eggs and slowly add more while you continue to whisk until it’s all uniform.  Eventually, return all ingredients to the pan on the stove and heat through until it just begins to thicken.  The recipe says not to boil but I actually let it get steaming for a bit and boiling on the edges if I didn’t constantly stir it, because I needed to kill any salmonella from the eggs since I’m pregnant.


Pour mixture through a medium fine strainer into a metal bowl and discard any remaining solids (not necessary, but nice if you have such a strainer).  Set aside until it reaches room temp (refrigerate to speed along if you like).  Once room temp, add the sour cream and stir well.  Cover and refrigerate until chilled.  Transfer to your ice cream maker and churn until thickening  When it’s beginning to come together but not yet hardened, add the remaining 4 tbsp brown sugar and process for about 5 more minutes.  You want to keep the specks of brown sugar if you can.

Photo Cred:  Desert Candy.

Photo Cred:  Desert Candy.

Matthew Lately.

Back in February, I started this blog post and made a list of five things Matthew was up to that I never wanted to forget.  Here I sit four months later… guess I have a lot of catching up to do!

The Original 5, February of 2012 (16 months)

(1) When Mark picked him up and patted him on the back, reaching around to pat Mark on the back (16 months).  He now (22 months) often pats us our backs as we hold him … this afternoon he woke Mark up by caressing his back!

(2) Two times recently where he’s FINALLY been willing to snuggle in bed with me.  He’s one independent little man!

(3) Taking him out to brunch this morning with a Groupon, and he behaved through the entire meal, sitting at the table (17 months).

(4) Grabbing dinner downtown with Mark last night (16 months) before his shift started, and he behaved the entire time ONLY after we got him a big-person chair instead of the high chair.  Apparently high chairs are beneath his dignity.

(5) When he first discovered Thomas the Train and for over three days did not let it out of his grasp – meal time, bath time, night time, all included (16 months).

Matthew as of June 2012 (1.75 years)

Oh Matthew, how you have grown and changed!  You are transitioning from “baby” to “boy” and it is absolutely delightful.  You’re still a man of few words and your GrandPa-pa has dubbed you the “cute mute.”  But you and I have entire conversations, because I know what you’re trying to say and so I respond at length.  (This might be why you don’t have many words… your Da-da is convinced that you really believe you are talking with your “Da-da-da-DA-da-da, Da-DA-DA-DA-da-da!” type exclamations).

What words *do* you have?  You have “Mama” and once had “Nonna” but only if you’re frustrated.  I’ve had a few “Mo-MMY!!!!!”‘s when I’m in the shower, but even though these were a couple of months ago you still don’t address me as anything in particular.  Your complete obsession with dandelions has led you to be fond of saying “It boke” when something breaks (usually a dandelion).  Over the past few days you’ve finally started shaking your head and saying “NaNaNaNa” for “No” – this is a new favorite.  A yard worker was declared “Tee guy” (“tree guy”) a time or two.  The other day when confronted with some letters you pointed at the T and said “T.”  Not sure whether that was a coincidence but you definitely know your colors.

You continue to be a sweet, sweet boy and you now love to snuggle with me and your blankie before and after every nap or night time sleep.  You still LOVE books and I once read you books for over 40 minutes, until finally *I* had to stop.  Your current favorites are “Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site,” “Time For Bed,” and “You Are Special.”  Once when I got to the part of “Time For Bed” that says “It’s time for bed little bee, little bee; yes I love you and you love me!” you turned excitedly and pointed at me and you, because you knew it applied to us.

You remain a big sleeper and will nap 2-4 hours a day.  In fact, once it gets to be around noon, watch out!  You *need* your sleep.  Due in part to this, the most trouble you ever give me is when I try to take you somewhere really fun and you do not want to leave.  Honey, even your Daddy admits:  You’ve got his stubborn streak (it’s served him well in many ways though).  At the museums or today at the beach, oh my.  It’s getting harder as I get more and more pregnant with your next sibling.  And after I explained it to you just twice, you’ll point at my belly if I ask you where “Mommy’s baby is.”  (Of course, you’re also my baby – and once you also pointed to yourself).

Matthew as of July 2012

And yet another month later, I still haven’t finished and published this post.  I must add a few notes about this weekend and wrap it up.

We had a wonderful time as family picking blueberries at Parlee Farm on Saturday.  Below are a few great pics we took.  Then today (Sunday) you had a few new and exciting words.  Until now your words have been very sporadic other than the reliable “Nooooo,” “Uh-Oh!” and “It bwoke.”  Then this morning you pointed to a blue dinosaur at the park and you clearly said “Blow.”  (I can’t say you clearly said blue, but you did clearly say “blow”).  The sweetest though was tonight as we sat down for dinner with Dada.  All on your own and without any prompting you folded your hands and your “Dada” and I both heard a little “DearJeshush…”  You’ve melted our hearts, Matthew.  We could not possibly enjoy raising you more.

“Come on, guys, hop in!  I’m taking us blueberry picking at Parlee Farm!”
Checking out the loot.
Couldn’t love you more.
Mommy & Matthew
From one baby to another.

Starting a Book Club! (aka, Girl Time Please!)

If there’s one thing that mommies (and medical wives) don’t get enough of, it’s girl time.  My mommy friends are always resolving to get together more often, but the reality is we usually only get around to it when someone is having a baby shower, or someone’s child is having a birthday party.  Such events can’t really count as “girl time” since everybody is still chasing kids and otherwise parenting!

As for me, if Mark happens to be available to watch Matthew that means he’s home, and I don’t want to miss a minute of him. 

What to do? 

I think we’ve found a solution.   A few friends and I decided to start a book club.  We’re meeting once a month, mainly at my house on Monday evenings at 7:00.  It may seem like an odd time, but it works well for my working-mommy friends who don’t have to give up any of their weekend time with their babies, and it works well for me because Mark isn’t usually home until after 9:00 anyway.  Can it still count as girl time when I’m hosting and doing M’s bedtime routine?  It’ll have to!

We had our first meeting last night and it was a blast.  We picked a Valentine’s Day theme (since it’s February) and the ladies – did I switch from the term “mommies” to the term “ladies”?  Success! – went all out on the food.  Incidentally, if you’re reading this and you live in our area, you are welcome to join us!  We’re reading “Firefly Lane” by Kristin Hannah for next month’s meeting.

I believe a fun escape was had by all, and I was really impressed that everyone pushed for monthly meetings (I had suggested either monthly, every 6 weeks, or every other month).  Even though next month I’ll be watching a friend’s MS-stricken father for nine days and then out of town another fifteen, these ladies found a way to make it work so we could have it sooner.  (Moms can do anything, don’t you think?)

Hopefully this will kill two resolutions with one stone:  More girl time, and more fiction reading.  It’s so easy for me to spend M’s naptimes at the computer, reading nothing but facebook status updates.  I *love* reading them and I’ll press the “more” button on the “most recent” (not just “top news”) until I’m back to where I left off.  Reading all the status updates of 469 friends takes a LOT of time!  I’m resolved to be more balanced in my reading, and make time for books once again. 

Some highlights from book club and two worthy recipes:

I’ve always loved this recipe, from “My French Kitchen.”  Chocolate pots-de-creme.  All you do is take 9 ounces of bittersweet chocolate and melt in saucepan (I used Ghiradelli 60% cacao chips from the baking section).  If you keep an eye on it and stir, you don’t need to bother with a double boiler.  In another saucepan you heat 3 cups of heavy (whipping) cream until it reaches a simmer.  Combine the two slowly, stirring and heating through until all is uniform (it’ll happen, give it time).  Spoon into ramekins (or espresso cups) and decorate as desired (I whipped the remaining cream and the cookies are Trader Joe’s Meyer Lemon Thins).  Chill at least 2 hours.  A complete indulgence, but sometimes life calls for those.

On the lighter, but equally tasty side, Kelly made “Fresh Pineapple Trifles with Orange Coconut Cream” from Epicurious.com  Amazing and they went really well with the more-indulgent chocolate dessert (because everyone who needs two desserts knows:  they’ve gotta mesh well).

The tea set was my grandmother’s.  I was so excited to finally use it!

Three of the five attendees, Kelly, Jen, and Susan.  Our new friend Connie was also in attendance!

Jen brought homemade artisan-quality bread – SO good – and Trader Joe’s English Cheddar with Caramelized Onions, which I cannot recommend enough.  And Susan introduced me to another new favorite, bread, bleu cheese, and honey!  I loooove mixing salty and sweet and this was simply amazing!  Connie brought red wine, which one can never have enough of πŸ™‚

Thanks ladies for a great time!  Here’s to more girl time and reading more books!

Fresh Strawberries and Whipped Cream Cake

I know strawberries aren’t in season yet (what, June is still 3 months away?) but right about this time of year I start craving the fresh flavors of spring and summer and yesterday I just had to jump the gun.

I chose this recipe because very little is added to the whipped cream to stabilize it.  Other recipes I found called for mascarpone cheese or cream cheese… I just wanted the pure, fresh flavor of berries and cream. Plus, this recipe has a great tip for stabilizing whipped cream so that you can use it in place of frosting on any cake you want.  My family’s birthday tradition has long been a chocolate cake with whipped cream frosting – love that I can now make my own from scratch.

Last, I love that it uses a from-scratch butter cake.  Shortcake is so often plain and dry.  This was the perfect texture and oh-so-moist… especially after drizzling the bottom layer with the strawberry juice!

NOTE:  If you do prefer a cream cheese whipped topping with your berries and cake, Allrecipes has a very good “Sturdy Whipped Cream Frosting” recipe – just omit the almond extract.  It’s fantastic on chocolate cake too.

Fresh Strawberries and Whipped Cream Cake

Got rave reviews from my husband’s colleague and her husband, who had us to dinner last night.

For the Butter Cake:

  • 3 tbsp (approx) unsalted butter, for greasing pan
  • 3 tbsp four, for dusting pan
  • 1.5 cups flour
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick + 1 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup caster “superfine” sugar (baking section – Domino’s box looks like this)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  1. Try to allow time for the butter, eggs, and milk to come to room temp.  If that’s not possible you can gently nuke them in the microwave in 10 second increments, but be very careful with the eggs because they cook FAST that way.
  2. Preheat oven to 350.  Using a small pastry brush and melted butter, butter bottom and sides of an 8 inch round cake tin.  Alternatively, you can use a paper towel with the butter to grease it on as well.  Line bottom of tin with non-stick baking or wax paper; butter paper and then flour bottom and sides of tin.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt into a medium-sized bowl.  Whisk to well combine, set aside.
  4. In a mixer, cream the butter, sugar and vanilla on high speed until light and fluffy.
  5. Add the eggs and yolks, one-at-a-time, beating well after each addition.
  6. Reduce the stand mixer speed to low, add the flour mixture in thirds, alternating with the milk in 2 additions, beginning with the flour and ending with the flour; beat until just combined (do not over-mix).
  7. Pour batter into prepared cake tin.  Spread evenly.
  8. Bake 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean. 
  9. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool in tin for 10 minutes.  Remove cake from tin and return to wire rack to cool completely.
Before baking.
After.

For the Strawberries and Cream:

  • 1.25 lbs or about 20 ounces fresh strawberries, hulled (green removed) and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 + 1/4 cup castor/superfine sugar (see above link)
  • 1.5 cups heavy whipping cream, cold
  • 1 teaspoon unflavoured gelatin (aka gelatine) – baking aisle by jell-o
  1. In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the strawberries and ΒΌ-cup sugar; set aside.
  2. Place two tablespoons cold water into a small-sized saucepan and sprinkle with gelatin; let soften 5 minutes.  Place saucepan over low heat, and stir until the gelatin is dissolved.  Remove from heat and let cool.
  3. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, whisk the heavy cream and the remaining ΒΌ-cup sugar until very soft peaks form.
  4. Continue to whisk, and gradually add the gelatin mixture; beat until soft peaks form.
Soft peaks.  Don’t let it get too stiff.

For the Assembly:

  1. Using a long serrated knife (like a bread knife) carefully cut the cake in half horizontally.
  2. Place the bottom half, cut side up, on a cake stand or plate.
  3. Drizzle the juice from the berries onto the cake.
  4. Evenly arrange half of the strawberry slices over the bottom cake layer.  Refrigerate the remaining berries.
  5. Top the strawberry layer with half of the whipped cream, leaving about a 1 inch border.
  6. Place the top half of the cake, cut side down, onto the layer of strawberries and cream.
  7. Top the cake with the remaining whipped cream.
  8. Refrigerate the cake at least 1 hour, up to 1 day max.
  9. Just before serving, top the cake with the remaining chilled strawberries.
Sliced down the middle and drizzled with fresh strawberry juices.
First layer of strawberries.
Alternate view.
First layer of whipped cream.
Ready to refrigerate until until dessert time!
SO GOOD.

“SAHM’s” and the “housewives” of the 1950’s.

With fewer moms staying home these days (22%), and stay-at-home dads still a rarity (though on the rise!), it’s easy to envision a 1950’s-esque existence when thinking about a SAHM (“stay-at-home mom”).  But comparing my experience to my grandmother’s, there are major differences.  Here are a few biggies:

The Biggest:  Staying home is a choice.

If you’re at home with your kids in this day and age, it’s most likely (barring a salary less than your child care costs) because you want to be there.  In fact, you’re probably making a major financial sacrifice to make it happen.  Gone are the days of the above cartoon, when staying home with children was seen as the ultimate aspiration for women everywhere and girls were raised with the expectation that they would stay home.  Medical and law school classes in the United States today are actually majority female!  These days, work/home solutions are tailored to the unique personalities, preferences, logistical situations, and priorities of each individual family.  If we took anything from the 1950’s, perhaps it was the realization that “if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

My grandmother (L) always regretted not having been able to go to college.

I sometimes regret my $100,000+ law school debt.

The internet keeps you connected to other adults.
SAHP‘s (P for “parents,” since dads do it too) aren’t likely to suffer the same feelings of “isolation” and “lack of mental stimulation” housewives of earlier generations reported.  Those poor souls were stuck with snail-mail and very expensive long-distance calling… nightmare!  Today, email and Facebook make it easy to stay in near-constant touch with pretty much everybody you’ve ever met.  Including your “working” friends…  Plus, virtually any publication is at your fingertips. 


Cleaning takes less time, thanks to technological advances.

I’m not just talking dishwashers and washing machines.  Floor steamers (like our ah-mazing Shark Steam Mop) mean that even tile and hardwoods can be “mopped” in a matter of minutes.  No buckets, no wringing, no soap.  Plus, no-iron clothing saves us, what, hours every week?!  

On the other hand, we all own more “stuff” now.  Perhaps “de-cluttering” is the modern house-spouse’s greatest challenge.

Online Shopping Means No More Errands!
Well, not completely but I really think you can cut down on at least 75% of your errands by online shopping.  My Amazon Prime subscription means I almost never go to Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, the hardware store, or just about anywhere else for an errand.  And it more than pays for itself when you consider all the gas saved and all the products I don’t stumble upon in stores.  I even do almost all of my baby and kids clothes shopping online now – so much better than shopping with a baby and toddler in tow.  Ebay, Gymboree, and Zulily are my absolute faves.

The internet has revolutionized cooking.

Can you even imagine being limited to whatever cookbooks you actually owned?  Beyond boring!  Now, if you want to make chicken soup, you can hop on the internet and find fifteen different recipes, read reviews of them, and pick the one that sounds best to you.  I know I’m not the only SAHP out there who is addicted to trying new recipes.  It’s not as fun when you already know the result, even if it’s a good one.
You need to make and effort to find peers for your children, at least until preschool.
With fewer parents at home, neighborhoods and even parks now seem empty during the day.  “Running around with the neighborhood kids” used to be status quo, but it’s a rarity today to be able to open your back door and have built-in near-constant playmates for your children.  

This has lead some to question whether staying home leads to struggles with socialization, for young children who are not in day cares with the rest of their peers.  Internet to the rescue again.  With local parenting list serves it’s easy to learn of many fun activities in which to involve your young children.  Baby M and I have been doing a “sign & sing” (where babies learn songs and sign language… or at least drool and babble while watching it).  And I have a swimming class all picked out for him once he stops taking his crazy-long morning nap.  We also have a “Groupon” for a month of Gymboree.  Early-start preschool (preschool at 3) is also on the rise, whether or not there’s a SAHP.  And many gyms provide childcare, so parents get a break while their child plays in a (somewhat) structured setting with other children.

Hardly anyone lives near “the grandparents.” 
If there’s one thing my other mommy friends are sorely missing (whether they work or not), it’s having their own parents around to help out.  What do you do with your kid(s) if you have a doctor’s appointment/hair cut/dentist appointment?  Teen babysitters are in school all day.  Unless you have another SAHP friend who can watch your kiddos, you’re in a bit of a pickle.  Every time I go back home I’m reminded of how much easier life would be if we lived near family.  Sigh.

Worries, Worries, Worries.
Did I wash the veggies enough or did I just give my entire family cancer?
Should I buy organic, or send my children to college?
Will my daughter start puberty at age 4 if I buy the wrong shampoo?
How will my son be successful in school when boys are falling further and further behind?
What’s more dangerous, the sun or the sunscreen?
Do the people staring at me think I’m a “mean mommy” or too lenient?
Am I neglectful for not having had my car seat installed at the police station?
What about not having a bilingual nanny, and not being able to afford bilingual preschool?
Should I “red shirt” and start my son later in kindergarten?
HOW WILL I EVER PAY FOR COLLEGE? 

I sense my own grandparents didn’t worry nearly as much as I and my peers seem to.  Maybe raising children in the shadow of a major world war gave a better perspective.  Or perhaps things really were just simpler back then.

Personally I LOVE staying home in this day and age… and I even love it as the wife of a medical resident.  It would be fabulous if my husband’s job were less demanding and we lived near family… but this is by far the best, most enjoyable, and most rewarding job I’ve ever had. *For me*.

__________________________

Married to Medicine is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

In Defense of the Mid-West

If you ask any native New Englander (or at least, many native New Englanders) what they think of the Midwest, they may look perplexed at the idea that their response to such a question could possibly be of interest.  If pressed, they may disclaim that they “don’t know much” about the Midwest and that all the states “sort of look the same,” or “look like big squares.”  A few honest souls may even admit they think of the Midwest as a vast nothingness of cornfields and/or a haven for strip malls, chain restaurants, and mega-churches.  In their minds, the East Coast is where it’s at – “it” being everything worth discussing.  Chicago?  A mere NYC-wannabe.  Abe Lincoln?  Wasn’t he from Connecticut or something?  And I’d love to pit an East Coaster against a Southerner for a discussion of who all can claim the coveted (or disdainful, depending) title of “Yankee.” 

To be fair, New England does have a lot to offer.  In just one small corner of the country you can take your pick of ocean beaches, mountain getaways, beautiful wooded hiking, and pristine swimming lakes.  You’ll never find yourself in a “blah” world of monotonous suburbia.  Rather, most any drive you take will have you winding and twisting up wooded hilly roads and occasionally passing an independently owned creamery or farm stand.  The historic homes you’ll inevitably pass will knock your socks off and send your mind spinning into fantasies of the colonial period happening “right here!” (until, if you’re me, you recall there was no toothpaste).  Yes, the quaint seaside towns and the charming little villages with their Old World main streets offer immense delight to lovers of U.S. history, lovers of all that is cute or “has character,” and, well, probably lovers generally, old and young.


Concord, Massachusetts, a neighboring “cute New England town.”

(View from historic cemetery established by some of the earliest settlers, and well-used by the same during their first New England winter).

Another view of Concord; the preserved historic homes at the foot of the cemetery hill.

Upstate New York is not too shabby.  (although the extreme poverty in the mountains definitely is).

Vermont could certainly be uglier.

The mansion walk in Newport, Rhode Island offers a fascinating glimpse into old money America.

And who wouldn’t love Boston Commons, the oldest public park in the U.S., and its gorgeous Frog Pond??  Image google “Boston Commons” – I can’t myself do it justice.

Yes, it’s just lovely out here.  Which really begs the question:  If this area is truly so fantastic, then why at the grocery store last night did I see an SUV proudly displaying a bumper sticker identifying its driver as a “MASSHOLE“?  Why, this morning at Panera, was I budged in line by the couple behind me, who apparently think “I’ll take who’s next” from a nearby cashier means – who else?  Why, them of course!  And how in the world did I end up flipping the bird to another driver on my way to drop off a meal I’d prepared for “Take Them a Meal”?

Sixteen months of living here have given me a lot of time (and a LOT of reason) to ponder the origins and phenomenon of the “M**hole.”  And basically, it’s all becoming pretty clear to my Midwestern self.  Having lived 18 years in Madison, five years in or just outside of the Twin Cities, six years in St. Louis (and one year in Rennes, France), the conclusion is inescapable:  the day-to-day living in the Boston area, well… it sort of sucks.  And when everyone in a highly populated, poorly planned, barely-zoned area is walking around on their last nerve, even sweet Midwesterners (who shall remain nameless) are liable to snap.

Oh sure, those fleeting twenty-something years could be really great here.  As a single, childless “young person” you could share a tiny apartment with several friends (or several random people you found on Craigslist and don’t particularly care for).  You could easily tough out a few years dealing with your inevitably soulless landlord and his attempts to bleed the property dry.  Mice and even birds (yes, I’ve heard of *birds*) will “make a great story” for your friends, and habitability is such a small sacrifice for living only a ten minute, frigid walk to the T.  Yup, the T will give you near-instant access to downtown Boston and about 10% of its restaurants (you probably can’t afford the other 90%).  Oh but that’s right, your access often won’t be “near-instant” because during rush hour, there are actually “T traffic jams” that not-so-infrequently tack on an additional 15-30 minutes to your travel.  ?????  And yes, that will at some point happen when you’re on your way to the airport (it’s terrifying).

But really, as a young person, you can deal.  The remaining 10% of restaurants you can actually afford are pretty decent.  You get a great vibe being in the birthplace of America, and even if you’re not associated with Harvard yourself it’s still a cool feeling to imagine yourself surrounded by brilliant thinkers (at least until they budge you).  Yes, Boston is navigable to the young and childless…

But let me tell you.  Once you’re married with children, all bets are off.

If you have a family in Boston and are not particularly rich, get yourself prepared for an endless amount of hassles and swallowed frustration.  Any Midwestern parent would surely balk at the idea of living fifteen minutes from a decent grocery store or twenty from the nearest Target.  And make that thirty if there’s a random traffic jam (which there will be – and it won’t be during rush hour because leaving your house at rush hour was already out of the question).  Oh and that grocery store and the Target?  Nowhere near each other.  So if you have a little one in tow who needs his naps, you can count on being able to do ONE (yes just one) errand per outing. 

Midwesterners would generally find the idea of a ninety minute work commute utterly outlandish.  The most I’d ever heard before moving here was an hour, but if you don’t think you can fit your family in a studio apartment and you’d like to stay under $1800/month for rent, get ready to spend your life on buses and the T (or waiting for a spouse whose new home is on said public transit).

And what will be your reward for such a heroic commute?  A two-story, 3-bedroom, 2-bath home such as many of your Midwestern friends have owned for years?  Ha.  Ha.  HA.  Nope, after 2-3 hours total on buses and the T, you’ll arrive home to your family’s two-bedroom apartment, and probably at least a one-floor walk-up.  If you’re really lucky (like we thankfully are), you’ll have a good landlord and things will generally be in working order.  If not, you’ll be getting evicted under false pretenses due to your new pregnancy and the Massachusetts deleading laws (yes, I’ve heard of this more than once) or at least fighting mice. 

This is our steep, narrow walk-up.  Every time my parents visit I find a new picture of it on their camera.  It appears they believe I will one day die falling down these stairs while carrying a baby (let’s not even think of harm befalling the baby).  Many out here would consider me lucky to “only” have a one-floor walk-up.  

Personally I think my parents’ worries would be better spent on our treacherous driveway.  I’ve already slipped and fallen once, thank GOD I was not carrying Matthew at the time.  I injured my shoulder and neck.

Shoveling this driveway when it’s slippery is a nightmare, even when there’s still room to put the snow.  Getting the car into it often takes a few “running starts” interspersed with shoveling and one particularly slippery time, Mark got out of the car to shovel a path for the wheels and try as he might he kept slipping back down the driveway and landing on the car.

Backing out is not as labor-intensive but leaves me terrified of killing unsuspecting pedestrians whom I cannot see beyond the tall mounds of snow. 

Intense winter storms yield charming New England scenes, but the utter lack of space for the snow makes for less-than-charming area inhabitants.

The sidewalk.  

But even when it’s not winter, the streets are still a disaster.  Winding, twisting, gorgeous roads are just fabulous on summer weekends but they pose nothing short of disaster during weekday rush hours.  When we first moved here, I nannyed for a family who lived just under five miles away.  Seems pretty ideal right?  No.  It typically took me 27-30 minutes to get to their house.  And on the way back it often took 35-40.  To go five miles, people!  And we are living in the ‘burbs!!

Apparently the roads here evolved from old cattle trails.  And those cows just could not walk a straight line.  There are no “blocks” here, because none of the streets are straight.  And so I can only imagine that older residents who had to tough it out without GPS systems simply have permanently shorter fuses.  I mean that’s all I can come up with to explain the behavior of the wealthy-looking gray-haired sixty-something year old woman who ended up on the receiving end of my favorite finger as I towed an infant and a carefully prepared meal-for-a-mom over which I had slaved all afternoon.  We live on a somewhat blind curve (don’t even get me started on the infinite blind curves and unclear intersections), and she was not visible when I pulled out onto the road.  Normally that’s fine, but this woman was in a serious hurry to get to the next inevitably-red, traffic-piled light down the way.  She (she!!!) came up behind me, dangerously and purposefully riding my rear, and you had better believe that I (I!!!) will not hesitate to express my dissatisfaction with any car getting too close to my baby.  I watched through my rear-view mirror as she rattled of a list of her own profanities and threw her arms up at me in response.  With 29 years of Midwestern living under my belt, I can truly say:  Such an exchange between two such people just wouldn’t happen in St. Paul, MN. 

And there you have it:  The Making of the M**holes.  It’s not that the people here are inherently less patient or more entitled.  I mean when you think about it, these are the people in our nation most likely be in favor of giving away as much of their income as possible to benefit government programs for their neighbors.  But if those same neighbors are legitimately ahead of them in any sort of line or traffic, and they have somewhere important to be?  Watch out.  This is a land where a lot of people have an excess of money but a shortage of time, and it shows.

And so I say, to those of you who think the Mid-West is boring or forgettable, or to any Midwesterners stuck out here and feeling less-cool than the natives:  Stand tall, be proud.  Yours are the communities built on functionality and common sense.  Yours are the friendly, helpful people who wait their turn in line.  And even if the scenery can’t quite measure up, let me tell you:  The wait at Cheesecake Factory out here is longer than it is in St. Louis, and that says a lot about the accessible restaurants in the area.

A Few Bright Spots in a Crazy-Hard Winter

If you don’t know me personally (actually, even if you do…), my apologies; you’ll probably find this entry super boring.  I’m still struggling with what direction to take this “family” blog now that it has readership.  Suggestions welcome!

The other reason I haven’t done any personal blogging is that this winter has just been really rough.  A few snapshots of frustration that will hopefully someday be humorous include:

  1. Our dishwasher breaking five or six times, full of dirty dishes each time, and including the week I was trying to bake all my cookies to raise money for International Justice Mission.  
  2. Our decade-old, pre-digital television also bit the dust this December.  Right before both kids came down with the stomach flu for a total of 4 nights and days.  And Mark was away at a hematology conference.
  3. Of course this was perfect timing for Matthew to spill water all over my laptop, which was a hand-me-down Mac from my mother.  Our printer had also been broken for months.  And we had no money to replace any of these things.  They’d still be sitting around broken today if not for a huge surprise from my mother’s brother down in Florida.  Turns out Santa did come this year.
  4. In early December we got some sad news about one of Mark’s patients.  This very young man had been diagnosed last winter with a cancer that is usually curable, but his cancer turned out to be highly aggressive, completely untouchable by any treatments.  In November Mark sent him to the NIH for some experimental treatment that occasionally works miracles.  On our own family’s “Christmas morning” (a Sunday before we were to fly back home for the holidays – for the first time in three years) Mark headed downtown to retrieve and read what we knew were likely to be this young man’s final scans.  Mark spent that morning downtown with the family; he wanted to be there and they wanted to hear the news from him.  It was very sad news, and my heart breaks again just thinking about what they’ve been through.  We thought a lot of this young man while we were home with our own families, knowing that he was home on hospice and he deserved so much more.  He was a very special person, very loved by all his friends and family; Mark said that MD-researchers often have a patient or two who inspire and focus their life’s work and he believes this young man will be his.  Mark attended his funeral in January; I wanted very much to go but had no childcare.  His mother’s eulogy is something I’ll never forget, even though I wasn’t there for it.  She said that as a little boy he’d always reach up to take her hand… and on his deathbed he reached up again to take her hand but she knew that this time, he was the one reassuring her instead of the other way around; that’s who he was, always strong for others and always positive.  I can’t imagine holding my child’s hand for the last time.
  5. Back to the logistical frustrations:  Picture it, the night before we’re supposed to fly out, frantically packing and prepping our apartment for deleading (which is no small task).  Matthew falls and hurts his arm.  Subtract nearly 4 hours in the emergency room (thank goodness he was all right).  Total of three hours of sleep that night, and about the same amount the following night since Claire didn’t take well to her new surroundings and cried for hours and hours.
  6. Of course:  Spilled coffee all over my new keyboard.  Of course.
  7. Return from the holidays.  Can’t find the window fixtures for Claire’s room.  Suddenly she’s waking up at 5:30 instead of 8:30.  Takes literally a week to figure it all out.  Because that’s the crux of residency:  It’s not just the time they’re gone, it’s what happens to the time that’s left.  Incredibly stressful.
  8. Could anything else go wrong?  Why yes.  Just as I was hoping to finally, after 5.5 years of intense training, settle into a more “normal” life out here as Mark commenced lab research, Mark’s PI (“Principal Investigator” – the head of the lab, and what Mark hopes to one day be himself) is suddenly being heavily recruited by Memorial in Manhattan.  Apparently some fat cat on Wall Street donated tons of money to Memorial and they’re filling their ranks with the best they can get.  Memorial is essentially neck-and-neck with Dana-Farber; some might even say it’s better, but the Harvard card is sort of a trump card in a lot of ways because, well, it’s Harvard and it always will be.  But if Mark’s PI leaves, that will leave us in a tough spot.  Either we would have to move to Manhattan, which we cannot afford and which would really not be fun after I’ve worked hard to carve out a life for us here, or Mark will have to start all over in a new lab here.  Starting over here would mean forfeiting the loan forgiveness for research that should come through for us this fall.  He spent months last fall working evenings and weekends on his application; it’s like writing a grant.  And we really need the forgiveness; $35,000 of principal forgiven would be fantastic, when we still have about $210,000 left.    
So anyway, I started out this winter at a sprint.  I thought I was about to finally hit the residency finish line in terms of a “normal” life and it energized me to bake my IJM cookies and push through cold after cold after cold – literally I was congested for three solid months – with no childcare help whatsoever.  But eventually these various minor disasters took their toll and I’m typing this right now in survival mode.  Just putting one foot in front of the other until the weather gets warmer and we figure out the lab situation, and until Mark finally finishes up a book chapter he was assigned to write half a year ago – it’s unpaid, and you “can’t say no,” politically.  Mark has been working late pretty much every night and I’m still “taking the kids” on the weekends so he can get more work done on that chapter.  Logically I know that we’re almost at the real finish line… things should get better really soon once the chapter is done and the lab situation resolves.  But my heart just can’t keep “bringing it” another day.  I’m on an emotional “pause” until it’s over.  I’m basically hibernating and hoping to find brighter days when I wake up.
As to the bright spots, I do want document these too:
(1)  We had an absolutely fantastic 3-day Christmas in Chicago with Mark’s family.  He has a huge family and there is no end of fun adults my age to chat with and adorable nieces and nephews to delight in.  Plus his family is Swedish and there is no end of amazing Swedish food and fun traditions.  I’d been missing all this for three years since Mark couldn’t go home either of the past two Christmases.  And introducing my kids to what will be such a special part of their own childhoods was the kind of joy that life is all about.
All the Murakami cousins.  Such amazing kids, each and every one of them.
Not-even-Everybody.
Family magic.
(2)  I also had a nice extended stay at my own house of origin as an after-Christmas.  It’s SO.  NICE. to have an extra set of hands (two, really) to help.  And I cherish the time with my parents.  Bonus:  My father’s sister and her husband, and two of their three children, made the trek up to Madison to celebrate together and meet Claire.  My aunt is one of my idols and certainly the most I have left of my grandmother, with whom I was really close.  And I love her family.  It was amazing to see them.  I am so glad they made the trip!

Papa and Uncle Jeff made a snowman with Matthew!
My cousin Maggie and my daughter.  Lucky me!!!
(3)  Claire is talking!  At 16 months she says tons of things.  She answers questions with a “Yes,” will tell you what TV show she wants and then say “That’s the one I want” if you click on it, she even said an emphatic “Da – AD!” when Mark tickled her the other day.  It’s hilarious how her sweet, garbled little voice actually says very “adult” things.  Love it.
15 months
16 months 
15 months.
Yes, I’m obsessed with dressing my children.  But I do it on a shoestring budget; here are my tips.
See, also, my Zulily tips.
(4)  Matthew continues to amaze me by being SUCH a good big brother to Claire.  Twice at the gym childcare drop-off he lifted his arms up to “take her” from me, melted my heart!  And I love it when I come back and catch them playing together.  They play very well together at home too which is an absolute godsend for me.  He never stops talking and hearing his often adorable thoughts brightens every single one of our days, no matter what else is going on.

Sugar Cookie Fun
3 years 4 months.

(5)  Mark and I have started a weekly marriage “course” at our church.  It’s painful to pay for a babysitter once a week, but we really need to get back on track now that our half-decade of “survival mode” is hopefully finally ending.  Our goal is to continue with the babysitter after the course is over so that we have at least three hours a week for us.  It’s clear that if we don’t schedule it in, it won’t happen.  And I’m not gonna lie:  We really need it.
(6)  My Mom-to-Mom group this year is amazing.  I love these women; I love that we come from such diverse backgrounds and situations, but we have all really bonded and we share laughter and even occasional tears every week.  Mom-to-Mom is a national program that originated at our church out here; every Thursday we meet for an hour of lecture/video on parenting and then another hour to chat with our “small groups” – childcare is excellent, you should definitely look into whether there’s a chapter near you.  The woman who started it, Linda, is herself a medical spouse – and the videos often mention the specific struggles of having a very busy partner.
There, now the blog is caught up in terms of documenting our family’s “story.”  Here’s to hoping that this is the very last residency chapter.  I’d love to write an “It Gets Better” chapter in a few months for all my medical spouse readers.

Once a lawyer, always a lawyer. At least if you’re a mom.

As a lawyer, you either innately possess or you quickly develop the following qualities:

  • The ability to develop and maintain a strong sense of loyalty to your client;
  • The love of a good fight or debate; and
  • The ability to say anything that needs to be said without caring what anyone else thinks.

These all came naturally to me (a little too naturally…).  But another quality did not.  As a lawyer (really, as a litigator) you basically need to be a very suspicious person, and generally assume the worst of others at all times.  This goes for the opposing counsel on a case – who may have been a colleague in law school, and even – or especially – for your your own client.  Anything else will only land you in a pot of hot water.

Natural or learned, these qualities have stuck with me into motherhood.  My love for and loyalty to my son is absolutely beyond comprehension, I would lay down my life for him without question (true of all good parents, of course).  I certainly loved him “at first sight” in the hospital, and I believe I loved him with my whole heart even then.  Thus I can only conclude that my heart periodically expands as I experience the deeper and more intense attachment that comes with watching his sweet personality unfold before my eyes, and creating memory after memory with him.

So as a loyal, former-litigator, suspicious-of-everyone mom, I have major bone to pick with the system that just cost my son 3 full days and 2 evenings of his father’s very limited and very precious time with him – and may well cost him next weekend too, after which we won’t have weekends for awhile (update:  it did.  UGH.).  What sort of a system, you might ask, is that?  It’s called the “hit list” and it’s what most hospitals do when a resident is out sick or on a family emergency.  Basically, everyone has a few weeks “on the list” while they are otherwise working good, 9-5, no-weekend rotations.  Then, if someone on a bad rotation has an “emergency,” the person from the good rotation has to step in and cover their crazy hospital shift, most often working overnight for them.

Seems sort of fair right?  “What goes around comes around”?  Well, in theory.  Except that there are no rules establishing what is and is not a valid reason to use the list, or how many days you get for certain types of emergencies.  This, according to my father and other medical family members, worked fine until more recently.  But as the culture of medicine changes, these lists are used more and more frequently for lesser reasons… by some residents, not all.  The results is an asymmetrical redistribution of work – and nobody is paid a dime for the extra hours they pick up.

But even if everyone could still be trusted, there’s plenty of reason to get rid of such an inhumane system.  Back when I was pregnant and worried I would deliver early (Ha…ha), my husband was not comfortable with the idea of having to use the list for my delivery, thereby slamming some other colleague with even more work and less sleep than that person already had that year.  I knew that he’d at most take 3 days off… probably even if I had delivered by cesarean section.  There is simply no way my husband would ever have any colleague cover a week’s worth of bad rotations for him, for any reason.

It’s too bad, isn’t it, that they don’t make the system more humane for everybody?  Perhaps residents who are “hit” could recoup their extra hours by getting days off of their next easy rotation, since their presence on those rotations is not truly necessary.  Really, when your family time is already at a major premium, each resident should finish the year at least having had the limited time they’re owed. 

I’ve long since been annoyed with this system and its vulnerability to abuse.  But as the loyal, protective, suspicious mother that I am, I just spent this long holiday weekend absolutely stewing over it.  Why?  Because a week ago today my husband was hit for FIVE DAYS, including this long holiday weekend he should have had with Matthew – and two evenings.

Yes, OVER a week ago we found out that someone in his program declared she was using the list for EIGHT DAYS.  I won’t include the details in a public posting, and I don’t need to.  My husband wouldn’t have used the list for eight days unless I was delivering our child and whether I’d live through the delivery was unclear for all eight days.  While such a situation may be medically possible (or may not…) even if it is, how did this person know a week ago TODAY that she’d still need to be using the hit list… today?  Sorry, people.  Not believable.

If this were the first time this had happened to us, I might be less infuriated (well, probably not).  But each time my husband has been hit (three so far, in the year and a half I’ve lived out here) it’s always been a sort of questionable story.  One girl called my husband in to work her overnight shift when she found out her grandpa died – not for the funeral, mind you, just for finding out that he died – she must have hit somebody else to cover the funeral.  Most professions, like teaching, don’t allow you to suddenly leave work in the middle of the day for the death of a non-immediate family member.

The key word here is “profession.”  As the “culture of medicine” changes, physicians are increasingly seen as employees and they increasingly see their own work as “shift work” instead of defining it through their patients.  That’s another blog post though.  The other time he was hit was for a Sunday evening overnight shift, Superbowl Sunday – a day in advance.  What kind of a family emergency is scheduled in advance for a Sunday evening, during the Superbowl?  We still have no idea…. because that person never even bothered to email my husband and thank him and explain.  EVER.  Two out of the three hits never even contacted him personally.  If you think I’m going to give these people whom I’ve never met the benefit of ALL reasonable doubt after THAT, sorry to say, think again.

What a stupid system.  I can think of at least five ways to change it and make it better, off the top of my head –

(1) Follow the neurosurgery program’s example, and have the person using the hit list repay the time to the hit person.  [Can you believe this isn’t done automatically??]  That way, people would only use the list for situations they *themselves* were willing to put in extra time for later – instead of having a colleague put in the extra time.  And they wouldn’t have to feel guilty, like my husband would, for using it. 

(2) Most simply and painlessly:  As I mentioned above, give the hit person as many days off of a later easy rotation as they were hit for. 

(3) For each hit shift, put the person using the hit list on the list for additional weeks.  Example:  A hits B.  A covers B’s next weeks on the hit list. 

(4) Pay the hit resident as a moonlighter, since that’s what their extra time is worth anyway.  My husband just worked an additional 55 hours over 5 days and is not getting paid a dime more.  He may work another 30 this coming weekend.  Ridiculous!  Still, I’d rather the time back than money; I’d prefer solution (1) or (2). 

In any case, I’m not afraid to say:  As a mom, I’m pissed.  This system is a truly awful one.  It was one thing last year when I was the one paying the price… I kept my mouth shut.  Now that it’s my son, and I have to watch him look around for daddy in the mornings and sometimes at bed time, and then give up looking…. you can bet I’ll be opening my mouth to anyone who will listen.  Sadly, pretty much nobody.

“It’s a Girl.” Claire Annelise.

“It’s a Girl… and I’m going to be a lot sicker this pregnancy.”

Those thoughts popped into my mind out of nowhere the instant I flipped over my pregnancy test and that sweet pink line confirmed what I already knew.  After five months of trying and truly not knowing with Matthew, this time around I knew I was pregnant before any test could have told me.  I felt the faintest of cramping long before I was otherwise due that month, and I felt hungry in what I can only describe as a “certain way.”  Perhaps because I could already feel the effects of this new inhabitant, my mind pegged it for a girl.  Supposedly girl pregnancies involve more nausea… 
I spent the next 14 weeks trying to remind myself that I didn’t have any real reason to believe it was a girl.  I did not want to become attached to the idea of any one sex – especially so early in pregnancy.  Mark and I planned to be surprised again at the birth, and I’ll never forget that moment during labor with Matthew when I thought they referred to him as a “she.”  At that point I was already half in love with the baby boy Mark and I both believed we were having, and I felt a stab of sadness and loss (through my exhausted delirium) for the little boy I had only even really been imagining for a few weeks.  To have such a strong feeling that this second baby was a girl, so early… was dangerous.  Especially because, already having a boy, I really wanted a girl.  (There, I said it…).
But try as I might to control it, my mind kept thinking of the baby as a “she.”  At the 12-week ultrasound, her movements seemed so much calmer and more graceful than his had.  Comparing their profile pics she didn’t seem to have his big Ellis forehead – which is generally a male Ellis trait.  When my OB told me that she had two children, a boy and a slightly younger girl, it was all I could do to stop myself from exclaiming, “Me too!!!!”

Can you guess which one is Matthew and which is Claire just by the forehead?  Answer below:

Matthew is on top.  Not that Claire’s forehead is small.

Eventually I gave up on convincing myself that I didn’t know, and tried to full-out convince myself that I was having a boy.  Two family members were already pregnant with girls and a third also suspected she was having a girl.  “I must be having the boy!  Four girls in one year would be crazy!”  I told myself.  Still, whenever Mark would refer to the new baby as “Buddy Junior” I found myself replying, “Oh come on, you know it’s a girl!” 

I ultimately came to accept that I could not rid myself of or control these feelings.  I then began considering finding out the sex sooner.  A few advantages quickly surfaced:
  1. If we did need girl clothes, best to pick them out pre-baby since it would be so hard to go shopping with a newborn and a just-turned-two-year-old.  
  2. Bonus:  Some sense of calm and planning as we started into the unknowns of Mark’s oncology fellowship.
  3. I realized that as fun as it was to be surprised with Matthew, I couldn’t actually remember finding out he was a boy.  So maybe this time around it might be nice to more fully experience that moment, and be able to remember and savor it … instead of having it be a vague realization through a haze of trauma and exhaustion.
  4. Most importantly, I realized that if it was a girl, I wanted to enjoy the anticipation of her.  In life, the anticipation of a joy often offers as much (or more!) happiness as the joy itself.  Think about the Advent season at Christmas… wouldn’t Christmas be robbed of so much if we were unable to really think about it until Christmas Day?  The sicker I got with pregnancy, the more I realized that news of a girl would be a great boost.  Especially during such a busy time in Mark’s schedule.
And so, as much as Mark didn’t want to find out, he was caving to my begging (and reasoning).  We planned to have them note the sex in a sealed envelope as we had with Matthew, but this time we’d look at it together at a special time.  At least, that’s what I was planning… πŸ˜‰
Fast-forward to my 18-week ultrasound.  Mark was miraculously able to go and so it was a family trip.  With Matthew getting into everything in the ultrasound room, Mark took him back to the waiting area (FYI, do not bring a toddler to an ultrasound without help – ever).  As I gazed at our little wonder swimming around on the screen, she did a flip… and it was then that I could have sworn I saw it:  Boy parts.
“Oh, it’s a boy…” my head was spinning.  I’d been trying to convince myself of this possibility for so long but my lack of success was obvious as soon as I knew I might actually cry.  No!!!!  How could I cry at any news of the baby I would soon love so much more as an individual than as either sex??????  I managed to hold it together.  Eventually, in came the actual doctor to double-check the tech’s work.  He was an older gray-haired guy, spry, with a gleam in his eye.  “So your husband is a resident here?”  He asked me.  I confirmed.  He then demanded that Mark (and Matthew) be brought back in.

When my boys arrived, the doctor began teasing.  “Now son, who’s going to be pushing this baby out??”  “And who’s going to be nursing this baby while you’re on call???”  I guess the tech had told him that I wanted to find out but Mark didn’t.  We all got a good chuckle out of it and still had him write it down and put it in a sealed envelope.  But once everyone else had left, I told Mark that I had to know.  

“I saw boy parts so I already know anyway.  There’s no point in waiting.  I can’t wait at this point.”  Score:  I still wasn’t crying.  Instead, I was shakily reminding myself that I’d always believed we’d have boy-boy-girl, and I’d wanted a close-in-age brother for Matthew.  Mark didn’t say yes but he didn’t say no, either.  As is the case with my dad, no “no” is a yes.  I told him I was going to open it as soon as we got in the car.  After concocting some reason not to get in the car (“Why fight to get Matthew into his car seat when we’re just going across the street to Costco?”) Mark still waited for me in the Costco parking lot with Matthew instead of going into the store.  I pointed to the envelope.  He didn’t approach but didn’t leave.  If you’re wondering whether we have communication issues, why yes, but we love each other to death and that’s all that matters, really.  I started opening the envelope.  I held my breath.  I could hardly believe I was about to find out, but at that point my slightly-wounded heart just wanted to get it over with.  I opened the card and suddenly all the other words on it glazed over and everything other than “GIRL” faded from my consciousness.  I could not believe it.  I was having a daughter!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  
I bolted from the car and ran up to Mark screaming and pretty much accosting him with the news.  “We’re having a GIRL!!!!  WE’RE HAVING A GIRL!!!  A GIRL!!!!!!!!!” I cried, shaking with the sort of elation you only feel a few times ever in life.  I think Mark was a little stunned at first but after about an hour of my intermittent squeals of delight, I started catching some grins he couldn’t quite suppress.  When I asked him if my reaction made it worth finding out early, another of these grins appeared… despite his very best efforts πŸ˜‰

While at first he didn’t want us to tell anybody – other than my grandma whose health is and had been failing – I eventually convinced him that I could tell my mom and my best friend, since I was seeing each of them in person.  That soon turned into telling “close friends or family I can tell in person” since Mark acknowledged that finding out in person is still cooler than finding out in a Facebook post, even if it’s “early.”  Since my best friend had already been planning on throwing me a baby “sprinkle” (like a shower but smaller gifts for a second baby) during her summer in town, it occurred to us that we couldn’t pass up doing it all in pink and having guests get baby-girl gifts.  Mark gave the go-ahead to announce the sex to the invitees via adorable invitations Hillary customized on Tiny Prints.  I will treasure these always:

Best invites ever.

Other shots from the girlie “sprinkle”:

(Most of) My Boston Besties.
Hostess Hillary, me, and Connie.
Homemade pink lemonade (and home made sweet tea – easy!), orzo salad with veggies, and “bruschetta” of apricot, fontina, chicken, and prosciutto.  SO good.
Raspberry Ice Cubes for the homemade Pink Lemonade.  Thanks Pinterest!
Girlie “Black Magic Brownies” with pink baking glitter and silver and white sprinkles.
Dessert:  A trio of home made ice creams featuring Crunchy Coffee, Sour Cream Brown Sugar, and Blueberry.
A gift for the big-brother-to-be.  Thanks Sarah!
Hillary slaved over these hand made coaster sets, the sprinkle favors.

Eventually when skyping with my in-laws I referred to the baby as a “her” or a “she.”  Yup, I’m pretty much the worst secret keeper ever.  My MIL asked point blank if we’d found out that it was a girl and there you have it:  The cat was out of the bag.  I delightedly called Mark’s sister Erin to share our news, since her new baby Lisi had been born in May and I’d been dying to let her know of the same-age-same-sex cousins we now shared.  I then posted to Facebook.  Now I’m just waiting to meet her!

Her name will be Claire Annelise.  Mark and I picked out our baby names in college 13 years ago, Claire and Matthew.  He’s been too attached to stray (“They already exist!”) and so other names I’ve also loved (boy:  Christopher, Nicholas;  girl:  Audrina, Rosalie, Savannah, Elena, Irina, Sabrina, Sienna, Isabelle, and Annelise) probably never really had a chance.

Choosing a middle name for Claire is a struggle; it’s such a short, delicate name that most other names overpower it.  In fact, that’s my theory on why it’s never that popular.  Because otherwise, in my opinion, it’s really a great name.  It works well on all ages:  cute baby Claire, sweet little girl Claire, fun teenage Claire, professional Claire, middle-aged Claire, and elderly Claire.  It passes the “lawyer” test (aka the “senator” test) but without being too stuffy.  As my friend Amy noted, “it’s simple, sweet, and feminine without being fussy.”  (Did you know that people are like-minded about names?  Amy and Scot almost named their daughter Claire Elise and the only other name Mark considered for a nanosecond was “Brooke,” which is the name they went with.  This like-mindedness about names has actually been shown in studies, and when I googled “middle name for Claire” I’d already considered most everything mentioned!).  Finally, all those flowery names I sort of dreamt of just don’t sound good with our long, bulky last name.  Even the ones that would work don’t actually sound good with it.

In the end, the final contestants were Claire Noelle, Claire Marie, Claire Elisabeth, and Claire Annelise.  Claire Marie was the obvious choice – it’s every female in my family’s middle name, my maternal grandmother’s first name, la la la.  But I just don’t like it (I can say that, right, since it’s my own middle name?).  Maybe because of “Lisa Marie” Presley.   I think Mark favored Claire Elisabeth but when my other friend Sarah insisted that it’s still pronounced with a “z” (“EliZabeth”), confirmed:  That spelling is too confusing and not satisfying.  I also sort of wanted to play up the more feminine, whimsical side of Claire, and the name “Elisabeth” is still pretty traditional and slightly heavy, even with the “s.”

I do like when middle names are family names and while no other family names were really sounding great with Claire, it occurred to me that Annelise is sort of a compilation of other names.  We have two Nancy’s in the family (my MIL and my aunt) and the name Nancy is actually a varient of Anne.  Obviously Lise and Lisa are both variants of Elizabeth.  Claire’s oldest cousin is named Elise.  And her closest-in-age cousin’s name (Lisi) is itself a variant of Annelise.  Most significantly to me, the name Annelise has an “e-l-i-s” in it.  So it sort of incorporates my maiden name, which is also Matthew’s middle name.  Matthew Ellis and Claire Annelise.

In case that’s not enough pain-staking detail, more on spelling:  The most traditional spelling is Anneliese (German) – Ann Frank’s real name.  Annelise (Danish) came on the scene next and eventually the Americanized “Annalise.”  In thinking about the spelling, my friend Susan pointed out that the “e” would tend to be a more delicate pronunciation that the “a.”  It’s such a subtle difference but she’s definitely right, and we wanted delicate – again, trying not to overpower “Claire.”  So “e” it was.  We then chose the “-ese” ending over the “-iese” ending because we want it pronounced “ees” not “eez.”  Hopefully it goes without saying that the “Anne” is pronounced as such (not “Ahn”).

And so there you have it.  Chapter 1 of my baby girl’s story.  Now we’re just waiting to meet her.  And I am so glad we found out it’s her.  While I’m sure the joys of meeting and raising her will, as they have been with Matthew, be beyond compare, I would not have wanted to miss out on this very special “advent season.”