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 🙂  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 🙂

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 😉

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 🙂

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!
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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 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂
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 😉

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 🙂

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 ¼-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 ¼-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*.

__________________________

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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… 😉
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 😉

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.”

Have Baby, Can’t Travel…

Man, last night was rough.  I can’t complain because he is such an easy baby in every other way but, I’m starting to conclude:  Little Man is a homebody and he does NOT like to travel.

In that sense he definitely takes after me.  Daddy has a very adventurous spirit.  Not only will he go anywhere, any time, on any inconvenient mode of transport, but I’m pretty sure he actually aims for the least convenient modes of transport and travel times just to make it a more intense experience.  I mean this is a man who used to complain some years that the Minnesotan winters were not cold enough for him!  He also used to tell his swimming students – who were like 4 years old at the time – to repeat after him:  “From pain, will come pleasure.”  Now picture a chorus of swimsuit-clad four-year-olds echoing, in their sweet high-pitched voices, “From pain will come pleasure!”  That’s my man. 

Me, I’ve never liked anywhere as well as my own bed, and I generally favor avoiding pain if possible.  I went through a brief phase where sleepovers seemed magical, but by 7th grade I already dreaded waking up in a bed that wasn’t mine, with a breakfast over which I had no control.  This continued on into high school and college, where I never, not even for a minute, went through a phase of liking parties or bars.  Parties to me are one long uncomfortable experience of being in someone else’s home, with people you might not even know that well – and plenty of them.  Bars are slightly better since there’s less intimacy in a public establishment, but the only time in my life I ever found myself frequenting a bar was as a new lawyer in a firm where “happy hour” was expected on Fridays.  Eventually I came to tolerate it all right – if we went to the smoke free bar and if there was major work drama to discuss.  Which there always was…

Of course six months is a bit young to consider anything set in stone, but so far it appears:  Baby takes after Mama, in a major way.  I can’t complain:  I’ve now learned through many responses to facebook postings that my “travel baby” is how many other babies just are, in their own homes, all the time.  But as for mine, he’s a different creature when traveling and it cranks up the guilt factor on me, since I know it’s the travel and I know I can choose not to travel.

Ever since we got back from the hospital, baby has generally gone to sleep on his own, when placed in his crib.  Sometimes he’ll cry for a few minutes, but it’s a self-comforting cry – he’s rarely angry or alarmed, and if he is, it’s brief.  I’ve never once rocked him to sleep; we don’t even own a rocking chair or glider.  I credit (1) luck; (2) not having a glider; (3) not being able to comfortably sit or stand for very long for a good two weeks after delivery; but mostly (4) our cradle swing.  It did the rocking for me if he hadn’t fallen asleep nursing, and then I’d turn off the motion after a few minutes since The Sleep Bible says motion sleep is addictive and not as high quality as stationary sleep.  I would recommend this swing or similar to anybody.  Still to this day, if nothing else makes him happy, he can do a good 40 minutes in that swing, awake but calmed by the side-to-side motion.  And the transition to the crib was a piece of cake.  We just started using the crib for naps first, and used the same fan for background noise and blankie for attachment.  Smooth as can be!

Oh but my easy baby doesn’t accompany me on the road!  Before we left for Oklahoma, he was reliably waking just once a night (around 4-5 am) to eat, then sleeping until 8:30ish.  But in Oklahoma, all four nights, he woke up an additional time, about three hours after he’d gone to bed, crying.  It definitely wasn’t fun; I had to let him cry it out so as not to re-establish feeding him twice a night.  And his pack and play (portable crib) was right next to me so I was awake every minute he was, feeling awful for him.  But it was just crying.  Nothing that would strike panic into my heart or anything.

Fast forward to last night!  It was night #3 staying at Hillary’s parents’ home in Newton.  They need someone to stay with her dad when her mom is out of town, due to his M.S.  It’s a win-win situation – I’ll only accept much less than they originally offered, and have offered a free night before (tried to insist, but her mother paid me anyway).  Thus I get to feel like I’m helping friends, we make a little extra for the preschool fund (we literally have a preschool fund; the cheapest our friends could find out here was still $3,000/year for only 2 mornings a week), and Kristina and Dean – whom I love dearly – avoid the high costs of an overnight nurse.  Now if only I could explain to the baby how wonderful a setup this is!

Last night, for the first time ever, I’d say he literally screamed bloody murder for over an hour, around 1-2 a.m.  I’ve never heard anything like it from him!  It was like the Oklahoma thing but with the volume cranked up as high as possible.  And he’d been sleeping through the night back at home, every night. 

I tried to comfort him in the crib, like the books say.  This only made him more mad.  Finally, out of desperation, I broke every rule and turned the light on and held him to me.  I was so glad I did because even at that he took a good seven minutes to stop screaming – we were both crying for that.  When he finally did, he looked at me confused, as if seeing me for the first time.  Was this a night terror or just the travel, or both?  No idea.  I held him calm for several minutes, and then put him back down – where it all started over again!  It was sheer torture.  I ended up awake for two hours because I was too shaken up after the experience to fall asleep.  And then utterly shocked in the morning, to find he still smiles at me and appears to like, maybe even love me…

He seems fine today… but is his hearing permanently damaged?  Is he now less secure about the world in general?  Have I damaged his “baby self-esteem” by changing up the routine that allowed him to anticipate “what comes next”?  Have I planted the seed of mommy-issues that will plague him all his life?  Wait… don’t answer that last one.

Pretty sure parents are programmed so that their babies’ curdling cries inflict calculated emotional torture on their souls.  And I say parents, not just moms; Mark wasn’t even there for last night, thank goodness, but in the past has said that when the baby cries, he thinks it’s bad for his heart (his cholesterol condition).  It is brutal!  I remember those first few weeks back from the hospital, thinking of parents who were struggling with colic on TOP of their own physical recoveries and probable nursing issues and my heart just breaking for them because especially as a new parent, you really internalize those cries – your heart says “If only I were doing this right, my baby wouldn’t be suffering so!”  That was me last night, for 90 minutes.  So I say to any first time parents who had colicky or otherwise-difficult newborn:  My heart goes out to you, and you are my heroes.  I cannot imagine.

My homebody baby and I have three nights left in Newton.  And two back here (the readjustment is always hard), one in Chicago, three in Madison, one in Peoria, six in Madison, and six in Florida.  In my defense I had no idea the Madison and Florida portions would be that long; Mark planned the trip and he just got whatever tickets were cheapest.  But oy, here we go.  If the next three nights aren’t any better, do I go on the trip and subject my baby to seventeen nights of torture in constantly changing surroundings?  Or do I forfeit these plane tickets? 

Sigh.  Here’s to hoping for an easier night tonight…

Claire, Your Birth Story…

Dearest Little Claire,

Having already documented your brother Matthew’s harrowing birth story here, I know you’ll want to read about your own.  Here goes…

About five weeks before you were due, I started to sense that you were going to be early.  I had Braxton-Hicks contractions with both you and your brother throughout, but with you they started feeling stronger and, for lack of a better description, more “cervical.”  These stronger “practice” contractions would happen mainly in the evenings and especially if I’d been on my feet all day – which I usually had been, chasing your brother!  I called your Nonna to make sure she’d be able to change her ticket should I go into labor early, and had her plan to arrive at 39 weeks.

Right around this same time I started sensing that you were going to be smaller than your brother was.  I found it strange that I could tie my shoes all through pregnancy, and didn’t need 5 pillows to sleep at night.  As the end grew near, I actually started worrying that you weren’t growing.  At 38 weeks they did an Estimated Fetal Weight on you that “confirmed” (as much as these notoriously inaccurate ultrasounds could confirm) that you were about 6.5 lbs.  You ended up delivered 10 days after the ultrasound, weighing just 2 ounces more than predicted.  Exactly three pounds less than your brother had been, you – and I – were indeed much smaller this time around!  

Picking your Nonna up at the airport the Wednesday I turned 39 weeks with you, I breathed a sigh of relief.  I really wanted your brother to be cared for by someone he knew well and who loved him while your father and I were away at the hospital; I didn’t want it to be a baby-sitter he’d never met, and I didn’t want to impose on any of my busy mommy friends.  The timing ended up perfect.  For two full days Nonna and I got things done and had fun with “just one kid” while we still could.  She watched your brother while I had a dentist appointment in the nick of time – the day before you arrived!  We also hit the sales rack at “Janie and Jack” and got you an adorable pumpkin outfit for next year.  Finally, Friday night we took Matthew to Cabot’s Diner for one last fun restaurant outing, and stuffed ourselves full of a Reuben, turkey dinner, and malted waffle sundae.  Back at home that night, Nonna and I noticed that my nose looked swollen and my face flush.  The time was growing near for you to enter the world.  She predicted that night…

The next morning I awoke in early labor.  My friend Sarah and I had plans to hit up one last yard sale, advertising high-quality toddler girl clothing.  She picked me up and while out and about I started feeling a few of those “stronger than Braxton-Hicks” contractions – this was the first time I’d felt them at morning instead of at night.  Still, I managed to score 3 pairs of shoes for you for just $5 total for all three, two of which were like-new Stride Rites!  Haha.  By the time I got home, it was just a question of how long labor would take.  With your brother it took 15 hours before I reached a 4 and they admitted me, but I knew that second births usually went faster.

I called your father at work to give him a heads up.  He had someone who could cover the rest of the weekend for him but he’d have to make the time up… I really wanted to maximize having Nonna here while he was getting a weekend in.  So we waited just about as long as we reasonably could.  As the contractions became really debilitatingly painful I called him again and told him he’d better go.  He called his friend to cover him and biked from Dana-Farber to MGH, while Nonna drove me in the car.

One of my “worst pregnancy nightmares” came somewhat true as we encountered significant traffic heading into downtown Boston.  This wasn’t supposed to happen on a Saturday!!  As we sat there my contractions picked up quickly and I think I begged Nonna to put her hazard lights on and drive in the emergency lane!  After what seemed like the longest trip ever, we arrived at the hospital.  Your father was waiting for me out front and things were very intense.  This was at about 6:30 pm.  Upon admission I was already somewhere between a 5 and 6.  From there, they must have been a bit busy that night because it took a good hour to get my epidural in.  By the time it was in, I had progressed to above a 9 (10 is the max, and the you start pushing) with no pain meds.  An experience I never, ever want to live through again, but one that still wasn’t as bad as taking 15 hours to reach a 4 with my first baby.  Once the epidural worked its magic I was able to have a delivery I could only have dreamed of after how traumatic my first experience had been.  I was at peace with your daddy, just waiting for you to be ready to come into the world, when they came in to tell me it was time to start pushing.  After just 5 easy pushes they told me to look down and I watched you come right out!  You were all purple and crying and shiny as they put you on my belly and I have to say, it was a miracle.  There you were:  My daughter.

Born at 8:51 p.m. on October 13th, weighing 6 lbs, 10 ounces – three full pounds less than your brother!
Claire Annelise Murakami
Sweet Little Claire
Baby Claire

From there we spent that night and the two following in the hospital.  Your father brought me a sushi feast the next day – he knew I’d been missing it!  He also brought my two favorite cheeses, bread, fruit, cider donuts, and two fancy chocolate bars from Wilson Farm and Whole Foods – what a treat, and what an amazing father you have!!  He stayed with me in the hospital other than brief stints home during the days to shower and take care of other things. 

Family of Four!

Snuggles with Mommy

Head Over Heels

Your Nonna stayed a few days longer to help us get up on our feet, but then headed home.  By the time she left she’d braved 8 nights in the living room of our two-bedroom apartment, on an air mattress!  She did no end of cooking, cleaning, and taking Matthew to the park when we couldn’t… I hope you’ll always know and appreciate what a help she was bringing you into the world, and I hope I can return the favor to you someday.

Nonna and You

In the hospital I experienced many strong emotions but none stronger than feeling as if I’d won the lottery in terms of having both your brother and you as my children.  Matthew was the dream come true that I couldn’t have dreamed up myself, and you were my dream come true from childhood.  You are equally my most intense, amazing, vivid, ongoing, miraculous, and amazing dreams.  As I sit here with him 25 months old and you a full week, I am painfully aware that the time passes so quickly and neither of you is mine to keep forever.  But for the time being you are my children and I am, for all the hard and stressful times, blown away and mystified that twice in my life I’ve been blessed beyond any other possible Earthly blessing.   

Precious Pumpkin

Big Brother Matthew

First Kiss.

Matthew Shares His Shape Sorter Toys.

With Mommy.

Just the Beginning of the Rest of Your Childhood!

How “The Marriage Course” Saved My Marriage

Click HERE to find one near you (link is at the bottom too but I know most won’t read that far).

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We’ve all heard it before, right?

“Marriage is work.”

Everybody says this – speakers at weddings, little old ladies, your mom.  Your dad.  But nobody ever explains what the heck it actually means.  Is it just a vague FYI that marriage isn’t all fun and games… at least it wasn’t for the speaker?  Or is the speaker advising you to full-on adopt a grin-and-bear-it attitude, lest your marriage fail for your own naiveté?  Do all marriages take “work”?  What type of “work”?  How much “work” is too much work?  And what if you’re the only one doing any work??

Last February my husband and I did something that literally changed our lives.  And by changed our lives, I mean to tell you that the life it enabled us to have is literally *infinitely* more rewarding as the life we were otherwise living – a night and day difference.  It’s quite likely the single most important thing either of us have ever done:  We took “The Marriage Course.”

I really didn’t expect a “course” to help; I thought at best it would be a band-aid to get us through to when my husband had the flexibility in his schedule to allow for real therapy.  My mom is a PhD family therapist, so the idea that family dynamics could improve through a “class” was something I truly doubted.  Plus, the class was offered through our church.  I love our church; women can be pastors (and elders) and sermons sometimes extoll the virtues of gender equality.  But I had no idea what to expect and past experiences in other religious settings had me fearing we’d be hearing some trite, sexist, hopelessly simplistic message about “men needing respect and women needing love.”  I was practically rolling my eyes as we walked through the door; we needed something that would actually work.

***You do NOT need to be Christian to take this course – my atheist friend and her atheist husband LOVED it.  Gay couples could also benefit from it, IMO.  It is often offered via churches and the couple who started it is clearly Christian but the web description says that the course is for couples “with or without a Christian faith.”  Gender roles are not mentioned (other than a bit on the lesson on sex).  It’s all about individual personalities – as anything that actually works would have to be.***  

Our history…

We had dated for five happy years (all through college) and then been married for a few more before things really started unraveling.  Back then, the thoughts keeping me up at night included “Oh my gosh, someday we actually will have to say goodbye to each other… as in for real, for the last time… and what if, God forbid, it’s tragically early?!”

Happier times, 2003

But then along came some really rough times for us.  And I’m not too proud to tell you that they didn’t involve terminal illness, or paralysis, or (complete) economic ruin.  In the interests brevity and universality, I’ll try to keep this as simple as I can:  By the time my husband had finished medical school and all 4.5 years of his post-medical school clinical training (residency and clinical fellowship), our relationship had devolved into a tension-filled, adversarial dynamic in which affection (if not love) was all but gone – really, truly all but gone.  The thought keeping me up had become this: “I’m not giving my children the happy, secure family life that my parents gave me, and there seems no possible way to change this – what am I going to do???”  I was completely miserable.  I remember crying on the treadmill at the gym (not recommended; far from practical) when “Runaways” would come on my playlist:

At night I come home after they go to sleep
Like a stumbling ghost I haunt these halls
There’s a picture of us on our wedding day
I recognize the girl but I can’t settle in these walls.

My husband seemed like he was a ghost to me.  The sweet, loving young man I’d married a decade earlier had been stolen from me slowly, year by year, for many years at that point; it seemed pretty irreversible.  Part of it was prolonged sleep deprivation, part of it was depression (triggered by sleep deprivation), part of it was family history, and part of it was an intense passion and idealism turned just just as intensely into cynicism as revisions to residency regulations fell largely on the backs of my husband and his classmates, young patients couldn’t be saved, coworkers weren’t always competent, and sometimes the system(s) failed people.  Our college friends would marvel at how much he had changed from the sweet, crazily hardworking, always ethical perfectionist who had been elected co-captian of the track team in college.  “A completely different person,” they’d say.  “So jaded!”  “So cynical!”  So you can see why I thought this “marriage course” was just going to be a band-aid.  I told a friend that I felt like maybe there was one tiny glowing ember left, but that that ember was about to go out – forever.  “Real” marital therapy seemed my last remaining hope.

And yet, to my complete shock, the course did fix everything.  It somehow broke down all our walls – even walls we didn’t know we had – and found that ember.  It sheltered and nurtured the ember and allowed it to grow again into a healthy, vibrant, dynamic fire.  The thought that keeps me up at night now is this:  “I have two amazing kids and an amazing marriage, this is too much, something terrible must be about to happen, what could it be??”  Hey – I never said “real” therapy doesn’t still have its place!!

I’ve wanted to blog about this for awhile now because the course we took is national and it’s probably offered near you.  I have a lot of medical-spouse readers (and plenty of medical readers), and I know from feedback that my experience and struggles, while not universal, are far from uncommon.  But even if you’re not in a medical marriage and even if your marriage is already good, I would still recommend this course to anyone!  It’s fun and enjoyable and the bottom line is this:  There’s no possible way it won’t make your marriage even better – and that means your entire life will be better, every single day.

It’s hard for me to explain why or how the class worked for us; each of the seven sessions was filled with so many different “Aha!” moments, I can’t capture it in a blog entry.  Instead, I’ll briefly explain the structure of the class, and then I’ll relate to you some of the biggest and most notable ways it helped us.

The Course
The course is a series of seven “date nights.”  It’s very private; the only person you ever talk to is your spouse.  You show up and grab a table for two.  A host or host-couple introduces that week’s topic and plays a two-hour video.  The video consists of information and illustrative anecdotes from the main video couple (and other diverse couples the videos follow), and mini-breaks during which you and your spouse are instructed to discuss a certain topic, or rank certain values, etc.  It was actually fun!

Examples Of How It Worked For Us
Each marriage is different and the particular things in the course that worked wonders for our marriage are probably different from those that would work similar magic for others.  Money, for example, is a major issue for many couples and an entire session was devoted just to money.  But all we got out of that session was a confidence boost; it turns out we already see eye-to-eye on spending and saving.  Here’s what was really beneficial for us:

(1)  The couple leading the video served as a compelling example of a good and functional marriage, and they made such a marriage seem both desirable and attainable.  So too did the host couple from our church and many of the other couples followed in the videos.  Because my husband and I are both idealistic perfectionists, we really needed to see that having struggles in a marriage is normal, and does not preclude you from having a happy, fulfilling marriage – it’s still worth fighting for, with the right “work.”

(2)  The very last session, “Love Languages,” was key for us; it literally unlocked our communication.  We learned that my love language is words (could you tell?) and that means that I have a hard time feeling loved unless I actually hear or read it.  Gifts, for example, don’t have any emotional significance to me at all.  It also means that I’m extra sensitive to critical words – I can accept criticism but it has to be gentle and couched in love or I feel completely rejected.  Alas, the medical school and residency years were a time (a loooooong time totaling 8.5 years) during which my husband was too mentally distant and too emotionally drained for positive verbalization, and logistical stresses too frequently made for mutual criticisms.  Now my husband verbalizes his appreciation for a good dinner, for my parenting, or even for a cute outfit, etc., and approaches criticism gently.  And he wrote a lengthy ditty in my birthday card.  For me, this is night and day.

Also included in that birthday card was a very generous spa gift certificate; one that, when I received similar last year, I was unable to enjoy because we really couldn’t afford it.  This year though, I understand that my husband’s love language for giving love is gifts.  So rather than feeling like “this is an impractical gift we cannot afford, I wish he hadn’t done this,” I now see it as “My husband really loves me!  I’ll enjoy this love!!”  As with me and critical words, my husband is extra sensitive to times (in the past) when I haven’t fallen in love with a gift.  And now I know why:  He processes my hesitation with or rejection of a gift as hesitation or rejection of his love.

Last, my husband’s love language for receiving love is practical help.  He feels most loved when I make a tasty, healthy dinner or when the house is organized (pretty sure he doesn’t care and can’t even tell whether it’s actually clean, thankfully!).  I had no idea he felt that way until we took this class, because like I said, he’s not a naturally verbal person.  So now both of our daily lives are better – I enjoy my work at home much more knowing that someone other than me appreciates it, and our house is less of a disaster, which we actually both enjoy!

(3)  On breaking down walls, I would recommend one of the first session’s activities to anyone.  Each of us had to make a list of six things that we appreciated about the other.  At the time, our marriage was in such a bad spot that I seriously doubted either of us could do it (really, really sad to look back on).  But when I read what he had written, I was shocked and moved to tears:

  1. I appreciate that you make everything work in our family and at home when in difficult circumstances.
  2. Our children couldn’t have a better mother.
  3. I appreciate that you frequently have pleasant surprises at home like new dinners or baked goods.
  4. I enjoy your spirit when you advocate for your opinion on your blog.
  5. I am impressed by your adoptability/versatility with all the changes in our life.
  6. Thank you for making me invest more and have higher standards for our marriage and family life.

I had no clue that he thought any of that; like I said, he wasn’t verbal and I didn’t gather all this from the spa certificate!!  Meanwhile I’m sure he was pretty surprised to hear some of what I had to say about him, too.  I don’t have his list but for example, even with all his career successes (and there have been many) I had never once told him that I found any of it impressive and really admirable.  That might sound crazy but in my mind, my role was to downplay the importance of career success in an ever-present bid to remind him that career success is not of ultimate importance; I was protecting my children because in my book, they are of ultimate importance, and I knew he’d always be trying to balance and juggle family with a mega-career.  Ironically, my strategy could only have backfired.  An unwillingness to speak appreciatively of things one’s spouse has worked hard on doesn’t do much to entice them back into the home.  That’s not to say that there’s no room to remind a driven spouse that family is important too.  There’s room for both – in fact, the reminders will actually be better received if appreciation for the work is also expressed.  Plus, it’s the truth!  I’m so glad my husband got to hear that I’m impressed with him (and I think he’s hot – another thing I listed) while we’re still sort of young!

(4) As I mentioned above, we learned we see eye to eye on money; where to spend, and where to save.  This wasn’t surprising but it was surprising to learn that the only financial sticking point we’ve ever had isn’t even a sticking point at all.  Because our dynamic had devolved into “preparing for battle,” each of us had taken an extreme side of the college savings issue.  It turns out we both really value sending our kids to good schools, and we’re willing to sacrifice to make it happen – but neither of us is willing to sacrifice everything to make it happen.  (Before the course, I thought he basically didn’t want to save for college since college has so outrageously out-priced itself, and he thought I’d be happy with nothing less than sending our kids back to our now-$$$ alma mater).

(5) Finally, if you and/or your husband does well or tends to be competitive in “class” settings, well, the class setting is actually really helpful.  It was perfect for us.

Whew!  Sorry for such a lengthy entry but this course really changed our lives and I both want to document it to look back on someday and I want to encourage you to go take this course!  Click here to find one near you.

Do it for your kids, if not for yourselves.
For $340 ($40 + babysitters) we gave our kids a far better present than a pricey college:
We gave them a happy family.

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Homemade Fresh Peach Ice Cream with Ginger-Molasses Cookies

Some of the best desserts do require a great deal of effort, and this one is well worth making once a year in August when peaches are at their best.

Fresh homemade peach ice cream with mint sprig from our garden.

You’ll need an ice cream maker; we have the ice cream attachment for our Kitchenaid blender. 

Kitchenaid Blender with Ice Cream Maker Attachment

You’ll need fresh, ripe peaches.  If you want the ice cream to work as a stand-alone dessert (without the cookies) you have GOT to use the BEST, juiciest, most flavorful perfectly ripe peaches you can get your hands on.  Ho-hum standard but fully ripe peaches that just don’t *quite* pack that flavor punch won’t be good enough.  This ice cream relies on summer’s bounty for its flavor… and that goodness has to be timed perfectly in order to be fully harnessed.

This year’s peaches weren’t as good as last year’s… I jumped the gun and should have waited for August.

I adapted this ice cream recipe from “Ice Cream:  Recipe of the Week” by Sally Sampson.

You’ll need:

4 1/2 cups pitted, skinned, and dice peaches (about 7 peaches)
2 cups heavy cream (yup, ice cream is baaaaaad)
1 cup cream
4 egg yolks (large) at room temp
1 cup white sugar
Large pinch kosher salt
 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup Marcona almonds (salted), whizzed in food processor OR
Chopped fresh mint leaves and 3 tbsp cardamom – if going this route, add a full tsp of kosher salt

Place the peaches in bowl, cover and keep at room temp for a few hours.

Mash with a potato masher on occasion, or pulse just a bit in a food processor.

 You’ll get a consistency sort of like this.  A few chunks to stumble upon in the ice cream, but mostly just puree.  Cover and refrigerate.

 Now, simmer the heavy cream and cream in a pan until heated through but not steaming.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, salt together.  If you’re adding cardamom and mint, add it now.

Slowly add the warmed cream to the egg mixture, continuing to whisk.  Don’t go too fast or you’ll risk cooking the eggs with the warm cream.

Return the mixture to the saucepan and heat until just steaming but not boiling (note:  this probably doesn’t kill all the bacteria; pregnant women, babies, and the elderly should avoid homemade ice cream).  Once done, let the mixture reach room temp (or to hurry things along, put it in the refrigerator).  Once cool enough, add the peaches, lemon juice, and vanilla and stir.  Cover and refrigerate 2-3 hours or until mixture is fully chilled.

Process the ice cream in your ice cream maker, per the manufacturer’s directions.  If you are adding the almonds, add them just as the ice cream is coming together.

The ice cream will thicken as you churn.  I chose to churn slowly, this yields a more dense ice cream (and saves room in the ice cream maker if you’re short on space).

Transfer ice cream to air tight container and place in freezer until the ice cream reaches your desired texture.  Personally I prefer it about 3 hours into freezing, when it’s still somewhat soft.  Home made ice cream has a very short shelf life – it’s best within 12-24 hours of making, and after a few days it loses its charm – TRAGIC, this is a recipe to share with neighbors while the gettin’ is good!  

Now, if you’re feeling ambitious – or if you’re disappointed in your peaches – my husband agrees with me that this may be the best flavor combo we’ve ever found.  I have to credit our friends Aaron and Rachel for originally introducing us to peach ice cream with ginger snaps, and credit Kelly for finding the best-ever recipe for Big Soft Ginger Cookies.

You don’t need to make ice cream sandwiches, which involves letting the ice cream soften so you can shape it appropriately between the cookies.  It’s lovely as a small dish of ice cream with a cookie on the side.  

Homemade Fresh Peach Ice Cream with Ginger-Molasses Cookies.

This is my second year making this recipe in August and I hope to make it an annual tradition.  The ginger and molasses in the cookies are perfect compliments to sweet, fresh peaches-and-cream.  Ice cream and peaches are perfect for honoring the month of August, and the spices in the cookies hint of the cozy excitement just around the seasonal corner.

Enjoy!!

My toddler does not lack “socialization” because he’s not in daycare.

While I’m sure working parents get their fair share of intrusive and/or insulting comments, I just have to go on a little rant about one that I get as a SAH.  I’ve heard it many times and it’s so absurd that I need to set the record straight.
Hear this, people:  The fact that my toddler isn’t in daycare is not stunting his “socialization.”  
This should be so obvious that it’s almost hard to blog about it.  Do I really need to tell people that “staying home” with a toddler would more aptly be called “getting out of the house”?  Do people really not realize that at-home parents involve their kids in lessons, activities, and play dates as much as possible?  Should I really be telling people:  “Oh, it’s okay, my gym has a childcare room – thank goodness; it’s all that’s preventing my child from a life of social awkwardness!!!”?  And what do these people think about “The Greatest Generation” or the baby boomers – do the vast majorities these generally pre-daycare generations all lack socialization?  Tell that to you grandmother!
Seriously people.  
I’ve twice now had people I’ve met at playgrounds ask me if I’ll eventually put Matthew in daycare “for the socialization.”  Really??  Would anybody ask a working mother if she planned to eventually stay home “for the _[fill in the blank]__.”  I sure hope not.  
I always reply that when my son is 3, he’ll go to preschool.  What I’d like to add is that 3 is also the age where what is now almost exclusively “parallel play” will become interactive.  Having worked in the 1 and 2 year old rooms of a daycare, I can confirm all those studies that so state.  Want to know how else I can confirm that?  I watch my son do parallel play all the time… on play dates and at parks, splash parks, beaches, museums, gymboree, etc.
Tonight at the park, another toddler boy was being somewhat aggressive with my son and eventually took a toy from him.  My son is a pretty calm, sweet guy (with other kids… just not when I tell him it’s time to leave the park) and redirected his attention elsewhere – without any help from me.  His mother, whom I had just met, said to me:
“Your son just shares so well and he just rolls with it!  Are you sure he’s not in *any* daycare?!”  
Nope, he’s not.  And no – that’s not astounding.

Snow Day and Cookie Cut-Outs – Dream Realized!

As quickly as I can, before a kid wakes up… excuse the grammar…

Back in college I spent a lot of time fantasizing about the day when Mark and I would finally have a home and start a family.  Before you get all judgey and start thinking I’m some kind of anti-feminist for having had thoughts outside of my textbooks, know that he TOTALLY fantasized with me all the time.  When I spent a year in France we eased the absence (or tried to) by making each other small notebook “calendars” in which each day had a “thought, a memory, or a dream for the future.”  That way we knew we’d always “hear from” the other person every day, even though Mark was opposed to email because he hates for anything in life to be easy thought old-fashioned letters would be more meaningful.  Pretty much all the “dreams for the future” involved our kids, at the time named Claire, Matthew, and Kaitlin (in that order, we thought).  And in particular, one of these dreams involved a snowy blizzardy type day where I could make cookies with our kids and then the kids would decorate some cookies “for Daddy.”  Not sure if Daddy was out shoveling or out playing with one of the kids or at work or what in this fantasy, but I’m obviously too much of a kitchen control freak to have him get involved in sugar cookie cutouts.

Fast forward 12+ years to today.  Matthew was finally old enough (well… arguably) to do cutout cookies with me.  And Claire definitely wasn’t but oh well; early exposure is key in these matters.  It was blizzarding and I was way too tired to go anywhere because Claire is so cute and so sweet, and soooo awake at night.  I’d gotten my hands on pasteurized eggs so the dough would be safe to eat.  Matthew’s latest obsession is play-doh, and he’s always trying to eat it.  It was all falling into place…

And so we did it.  And some parts were just what I’d thought they’d be.  Others, not so much.  All in all, it went all right.  Here are some of the expecteds, and the not-so-expecteds:

Expected:

  • Two children named Claire and Matthew were present.  They’ve popped out of our dreams and into reality!
  • These children are fairly cute and fairly sweet, just like in the pictures we drew! (ha)
  • Yeah, I pretty much loved it <3

Not-so-Expected:

  • Fantasy totally involved me being all dressed in jeans and a cute sweater, and looking nice.  Reality involved pajamas.
  • Fantasy was definitely happening in Minnesota.  Had no idea we’d be doing all our baby days in Boston!
  • Fantasy involved perfect seasonal cookies.  Reality involved realizing I don’t have a shamrock cookie cutter.  And then realizing how crazy it is that I didn’t already know that.  And then wondering a little about the permanent effects of sleep deprivation.  

 

  • Fantasy didn’t involve a messy kitchen.   I mean it was fantasy after all.
Can’t wait to clean this.
  • Fantasy involved kids falling all over themselves to decorate cookies for daddy.  Reality involved Matthew hoarding all the “candas” (“candies”- sprinkles) I gave him and refusing to put any on the cookie.  Maybe next year?
Daddy’s cookie.  Matthew managed to part with a few hearts.
  • Fantasy didn’t involve one child taking a ginormous mouthful of flour when I looked the other way.  You can imagine how that ended.  It was basically snowing IN the kitchen.
  • Fantasy didn’t involve modeling a new baby outfit, but I’ll take it! 

So all in all, not bad and I’m glad I was able to snatch a few minutes to capture this memory, even if I’m now entering the dinner zone STILL in pajamas.  
This weekend is going to be fantastic, I cannot wait.  Mark has it off and Thursday was the only night since last Saturday that he’s been home before I had to go to bed.  We have big plans to move his office into our living room so that Claire can have a place to sleep that isn’t in our bedroom.  I’m a big believer that babies don’t sleep as well at night if mom is in the room, because they can smell her – this seemed very true for Matthew and seems even more true the more desperate I get to find an answer to the Claire Sleep Question.  Plus, she’s almost 5 months old and we’d like our room back!  There’s no way she can sleep in with Matthew – he often waits up until Mark gets home just to see him, so I’ll put him down at 9 and he’ll still be talking in there at 11.  Pretty sure Claire, who sleeps through nothing, wouldn’t sleep through that.  So my fingers are crossed that we can get the crib in there and not just a pack and play, and that the noise from the busy street and the lack of hot/cold air circulation doesn’t sabotage our plans.  There is a heating duct but it doesn’t seem to actually work, and the door to the attic being right there doesn’t help :/
And of course we’ll start tomorrow off with a nice family breakfast.  Dying for that.  As is Matthew, who loves to ask for “pancakes and cupcakes” at breakfast time.
Signing off, not a minute too soon. 

Tutorial: 13 Steps for Reselling Children’s Clothing on Ebay

I’ve blogged before about how how to have a “Designer Baby on a Budget.”  It can’t be done without reselling your gently-used, high-end clothing to the highest bidder.  I’ve been at this for awhile and here’s my step-by-step if you’re new:

(1) Get a Paypal account – and an Ebay account.

So simple and easy – and essential.

(2) Start Limiting Yourself to Resellable Brands.

Mini Boden, Hanna, Tea Collection, Janie & Jack, Persnickety, etc.  If you buy on a deal and resell, you won’t pay much more than you’d pay for the cheap stuff that you can’t resell.  Sometimes you’ll even make money!

I paid $20 for this, on sale at Janie & Jack.  After loving it all summer long, I resold for $30 on Ebay  (my “buy it now” price).  I then saw one go to auction an sell for fifty dollars(!!).  Why?  Because this item hits all the marks:  It’s Janie & Jack, it’s eye-catching but not too unique, and it’s fancy but can still be worn frequently for causal play.

(3)  Keep Your Clothes in “EUC” (Excellent Used Condition).

For stains, I’ve found the absolute best is Resolve Max Gel and I’ll combine it with a q-tip and straight bleach for any spots on white.  Rub it on as soon as you can, and if possible, wash the item shortly after the recommended ten-minute wait.  If that doesn’t work, try layering Resolve with Shout and then washing; that combo has worked miracles for me in the past.  And try, try again – these methods have gotten out stains that I’d long since believed to be permanent!

On washing, I usually do the gentlest cycle with Woolite, and I dry for no more than 10 minutes.

Last – a fabric shaver is cheap and goes a long way, especially on appliqués.  It removes all pilling simply by running it over the fabric.  This is the best one I’ve tried – only $12 on Amazon.

Best fabric shaver I’ve tried – only $12 on Amazon.  Say goodbye to pilling!


(4)  Note the “line.”

Take note of the name of the “line” you bought from (e.g. Matilda Jane “Hello Lovely”), and add it to your title.  Many buyers will include the line in their search terms.

(5)  Save the box.

Cute new designer children’s shoes?  Save the box.  Not only does it eliminate packaging costs, but it about $4.00 over putting the shoes in a slightly larger, corrugated box.  You can easily charge $5.00 for shipping shoes.  This way, you’ll keep $1.50 of it – instead of taking a small hit.

(6)  Prep your clothes and take great pics.

Wash them, iron them, snip any threads, and remove any fuzz with your handy fabric shaver.  Again, fabric shavers will make all your appliqués look brand new… and they’ll work miracles for some of the Boden knits that are highly prone to pilling.

For pics, it helps to have a DSLR but the most important thing is to use natural light instead of a flash.  Nothing makes clothing look worse than a flash.  Inside light is fine – aim for a sunny day, so the room is bright but the clothes are not in direct sunlight.

(8)  Buy Poly Mailers in bulk for shipping.

You can find poly mailers on Amazon or on Ebay.  Literally 1/20th of the cost of a bubble mailer from Target – works out to about .11 cents per package!  For nicer items, I stick the item inside a ziplock bag and then place it into the polymailer.

(9)  Be honest in your listing.

Ebay is very buyer-friendly; one unhappy buyer who gives you a negative report will impact your approval rating, and that will scare off other buyers.  If your item has stains or flaws, note them.  Better not to sell or to sell for less than to have an unhappy buyer.

(10)  List in the evening.

Free ebay listings run exactly 7 days, and most bids come in at the very end. It’s therefore best to list at a time when people are most likely to be relaxing with their computers; that’s when you’ll really get the  bidding wars.  Items listed during the work week or on weekends often get forgotten by watchers.

(11)  Describe your item.

When a buyer clicks on your posting to read more about it, they want to be sold on it.  If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have clicked.  So don’t waste the opportunity to verbally confirm the beauty they think they saw in the picture.  For the romper pictured above, I said:

We got no end of compliments on this gorgeous nautical romper by Janie and Jack.  Striking navy blue with white piping, in excellent used condition with no flaws.  I would say that if anything, it runs small; my daughter is 60th percentile for height and has a somewhat long torso, and I’m not sure it would have taken her through the full 12 months without feeling too short.  Also, please be aware that as with all J&J rompers, there are no buttons on the bottom; it’s more work for diaper changes but well worth it IMO.

Smoke and pet free home, ships to US only.  Returns accepted w/n 10 days of receipt; you pay return shipping.  Check out my other listings, I’m obsessed with high-end clothes for my 3 y/o boy and 1 y/o girl!

(12)  Buy off-season, sell on-season… and “on-season” means pre-season!

Do not try to sell your summer stuff in September.  Instead, at the end of each season, prep and photograph your child’s clothing and then store it to resell when it’s “on-season” again.  I find it most helpful to keep a spreadsheet of each item so that I can note the size, how it runs, and its condition – that way when I go to resell I don’t even have to look at it, I just hop on my computer.

(13)  Put as much information in the title as possible.

Ack!  Just one more that I’m updating to add:  Put as much info as you can into the title.  That way your item will appear in more searches.  For example –

BAD:  Janie & Jack Outfit size 3

GOOD:  EUC Janie & Jack Dress Outfit Leggings 3 3T Girl

In case you don’t know, EUC = Excellent Used Condition (pristine), VGUC = Very Good Used Condition (maybe shows very light wash/wear only), GUC = Good Used Condition (minor flaw or two).  Anything beyond that probably isn’t worth your time to list.

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If you’re buying… 

Reselling is key to all this but so is smart buying.  I’ve noted before that the best places to score a resellable deal include ebay and so-called “flash sale” sites.  Flash sale sites are sites that feature single-day “flash sales” on high-end brands.  You sign up (it’s free), and each morning you get an email telling you which brands are on that day.  My three favorite flash-sale sites are:

Zulily:  Featuring Mini Boden, Tea Collection, See Kai Run, Stride Rite, Hanna Andersson, and other high-end boutique and European brands.  For everything you need to know about Zulily, read my blog entry here.

MyHabit:  Amazon’s version of Zulily.  Less selection but $4 flat-rate FAST shipping.  Fantastic brands like See Kai Run, Stride Rite, Oilily, etc.  The very best use of MyHabit is stalking their European leather children’s shoes and boots… they reduce until stock is gone so you can find some AMAZING deals.

Got these off MyHabit – $200 leather boots by Ciao Bimbi for $53, and they are DIVINE.

GILT:  The luxury version of Zulily.  Their stuff is to DIE for.  And right now (January 2016) you get a $20 credit if you’re new, just for signing up – click HERE.

Got this off GILT.  Petticoat dress by Swedish luxe brand Llum.  Retails $90, $43 on GILT.  So in love.
Did I get this too?  Ooops… 😉  Oh well, I’ll recoup at at least half of it on Ebay!

Strategies on how to shop flash-sale sites are covered in another blog entry.  In that entry, I note that these sites are fantastic for lesser-known but ultra high quality boutique and European brands.  Those brands are harder to resell than, say, Janie and Jack.  When you resell those brands, be sure to add the words “designer” and “boutique” to your listing title to help your listing appear in searches.

If you’re buying on Ebay, here’s how to do it:

  1. First, be sure to check the seller’s approval rating and read any negative feedback.  Be wary of brands that that have a lot of knock-offs, like The North Face and Ugg Australia.
  2. Add the item to your “watch” list but do NOT bid on it!  Bidding will attract attention and push it up higher in other peoples’ searches.
  3. Wait until the last minute, THEN bid.  
  4. If you really want the item, use the option given to set a maximum bid – and do it as close to the end as you possibly can.  This way if other people are just placing individual bids (which they usually are), you’ll outbid all of them but the time will run out on driving the price up.

Happy Baby-Dressing!


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These cookies, I believe, will one day usher in world peace.

“The cookie debate is over.  O-ver.”  Those words, written about these cookies by Hillary’s colleague at the A.P. who wrote a food column with his NYC chef wife, ring in my ears every time I go to make the Best Cookies Ever.

If you really, truly dislike dark chocolate, these cookies may not be for you.  If not, make no mistake:  These cookies are for you.

And they’re easy.  REALLY easy.  Easier than chocolate chip cookies, really.  The only potential issue is getting your hands on some Dutch processed cocoa powder.  It used to be right there in the baking section of every grocery store, but now I only ever see natural or a blend.  Using a blend works all right, but these cookies are worth the investment of an order to Amazon.com for some dutch processed good stuff.

These cookies are known as “Korova cookies” and originated in a famous Parisian patisserie.  I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit over the years, and the following is my version:

Ingredients:

1 stick unsalted plus 3 tbsp salted butter, room temp
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp fine sea salt, rounded.  Not piled high, but softly rounded.
1 tsp vanilla

1 1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small bits (I usually take a hammer to a bar of Ghiradelli 70% cacao, but lately I’ve become lazy and I use the 60% cacao chocolate chips – either can be found in the baking section of any grocery store … the actual bar IS better, if you have a hammer).

Instructions:

(1) Sift the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda together.  If you’re feeling lazy, you can just run a whisk through it. 

(2) Beat butter until light and fluffy.  Add sugars, sea salt, and vanilla.

(3) Add dry ingredients to wet, and mix until just combined.  Add the chocolate bits and don’t mix much more.

(4) Divide dough in half and form into two logs, about 1 to 1.5 inches thick, like so:

(5) Refrigerate at least an hour.  If you go much more than that, let it soften a bit.

(6) Slice dough about 1/2 an inch thick.  The cookies will fall apart a little, but just form them back into circles as best you can.  Bake on cookie sheet lined with wax paper at 325 degrees for ten minutes.

(7) Enjoy your little slices of heaven.

Adult Life, Chapter Two… aka among medical circles “#ItGetsBetter”

“I feel like I just woke up from a really bad dream, and landed back in the life I had thought I was headed for … and I’m not sure where the wrinkles, gray hair, or children came from.”

I really can’t describe it any way other than what I said to Mark, above.  It was especially striking as we unpacked (and repacked for storage) box after box of our college love letters and other memorabilia, as part of a recent move.  It had been ever so long since we were the young, idealistic, head over heels couple we’d been in college… so much had transpired since then that it almost seemed we were looking back at the lives of two totally different people.  Was Mark really the same man who had started a “first year of marriage” calendar and documented all our special memories and occasions?  Were we really still the same people who had each made for the other a notebook of nine months of daily messages, memories, and “hopes for the future” to keep for daily connection while I was gone nine months in France?  We are, of course… but we’re also not.  Even as we finally, at long last, have all the missing pieces and things seem like they will permanently be good, I don’t know and seriously doubt that we’ll ever again be writing each other letters bemoaning the “unnatural state of separation.”  In fact, Mark is in Denmark for the week as I’m writing this and there’s no day-counting angst.  Is that just age?  Is it kids?  Or did medical training scar our relationship?  I suspect, unfortunately, *all* of the above… including the scarring.  But I can’t dwell on that because it’s such a relief to just to have good – if there’s one thing the medical life has taught me, it’s that you have to cling to the good.  When I was younger, naive, and a complete idealist I thought clinging to the good was “rationalization” – and it wasn’t for me, because I wanted to take in life with my eyes wide open, feeling all of it equally; I would simply perfect any area of imperfection (of course!).  Now that life has beaten me up a little bit, I know that for most adults clinging to the good is survival.  Life is hard and messy – at least sometimes – and eventually it involves some sort of life-changing loss.
By all of the pieces, we’ve had several **long** awaited changes this spring.  First, Mark finished his Masters in Biomedical Informatics and defended his thesis.  That degree was a major thorn in our sides … it was insanely demanding on top of his regular fellowship responsibilities and I credit it with ending the 8 months of bliss we had after taking The Marriage Course three winters ago.  It was one of those things (like the MGH residency itself) where we couldn’t not do it when it became an option… but we still wouldn’t recommend it.  In our situation it was free, it was Harvard, and medical research is increasingly dependent on biomedical informatics – a subject very few doctors know much about, so one that is often outsourced from medical labs (resulting in inefficiency).  This degree will dramatically impact Mark’s career and in fact has already enabled him to co-create the first national mouse-model cancer database, a database that has already brought millions into his lab and one that will make cancer research significantly more efficient on a national level.  So we couldn’t not do it… but it sucked.  It’s another instance where I feel like this life chose us; we didn’t choose it.
Second, our landlord kicked us out … a temporary heart attack that ended in a thank goodness, because we REALLY needed more space, nicer space, and a shorter commute.  We never would have left the insanely low rent we had at our old 2-bedroom.  Even with the dysfunctional dishwasher, slow draining bath and sink, permanently filthy, ancient cabinetry, flickering kitchen lights, and water pressure so low I’d think our shower was broken every time I returned from a trip.  The rent was just too good, and moving seemed far too daunting to even consider.  So I can only thank the Lord that our landlord’s family members wanted to move in.  After a massive, exhausting scramble we ended up moving to a new town (15 minutes from our old town) and into a very, very different place.  We now have four bedrooms, 2 full baths, a master suite, a glorious kitchen and more, all in brand new construction/renovation.  I feel like it’s okay for me to brag about this because we still live in a two-family … it’s still Boston, people!  And because we really put our time in living modestly (I’m 36 years old…).  But wow, it has significantly enhanced our lives and reduced our stress just to have our home be such a nice, well-lit, relaxing type of space (is there something to fengshui after all?).  And part of it you could do for yourself even if you’re not ready to make a big upgrade… no small part of the joy and relief came from having to go through ALL our stuff and get rid of everything we don’t actually use.  We have only a small area of a basement for storage here… and a lot of our furniture wasn’t worth replacing before the move, since we knew we’d move eventually, but also wasn’t worth the cost and effort of moving.  I seriously think we got rid of at least 1/3 of what we owned; everything junky.  And it feels fantastic to be fully pared down, I highly recommend doing it even if you’re not moving.  This is a digression but for real, try to just get rid of or sell ONE thing every week on trash day; I’d been doing that for years and not only was it awesome in and of itself but it really saved us for this move.  
Third, we have time.  Not only because the master’s degree is over, but because Mark’s commute is only 25 minutes instead of 50.  It makes a HUGE difference… it’s nearly an hour extra each day not wasted in travel … in addition to no longer being constantly swamped!  Mark is a fantastic partner when he’s around (and not sleep deprived), and we’ve fallen into a routine where he comes home at 6:30 or 7, takes the kids to the park while I finish making dinner, we eat, and he does bedtime with the kids while I clean up dinner and toys.  I literally didn’t put my own kids to bed until the sixth night we were living here.  I actually had to figure out where he’d been keeping the kids’ shampoo!!  Ah-mazing.
So there you have it.  Finally and at very long last.  My husband is around and not sleep deprived.  I hosted my mom and can host both of my parents comfortably in our place.  My bedroom feels relaxing and inviting rather than just being a room with a king sized mattress crammed into the corner, impossible to make – I make the bed every single day now, just because I can.  We have a play room; beautiful and well-lit.  We live in a neighborhood with families walkable to awesome food and cafes; we love our neighbors below.  I’m excited for Matthew to start Kindergarten at a public school, walking distance from us, that offers daily Spanish, and Claire will be in a Spanish immersion program MWF and at an adorable, classically East Coast preschool on T/Th (all half-days).  I’m back to work about 4-6 hours/day doing something I love that’s my own thing (if you’re a blog reader and you haven’t yet joined my Facebook group “Closet Deals and Steals!”, you should!!  I post only the best prices on the best products!).  Summer’s here and we have plans to go to Madison, Michigan, Maine, and Cape Cod between both sides of the family.  Matthew is the sweetest little man, loves his sister, loves snuggles, and has a heart of gold.  Claire is a powerhouse and was invited to be (by far the youngest child at 3.5 years) on Beginner Pre-Team Bronze at Brestyan’s Gymnastics, an olympic level gymnastics organization – the man who viewed her class and had his assistant invite her is Aly Raisman’s coach!  She was a little intimidated (there was a 7 year old on this “team”!!) so we’ll try her again this fall.  Mark, in addition to the mouse model database, has had a few other key honors has been to Europe twice this year; he seems relieved and happy to be where he now is.  Seven years after we moved here and I cried myself to sleep … and after many, many other nights of crying myself to sleep… I think we’re going to be okay.  I think we did it.  I still can’t say that “it” was worth doing, to be honest. This is a victory that feels at least a little hollow because of all the loss it required.  Time is life.  We lost life.  And I can feel that loss at 36… I know I lost some of the best years, years that should have been amazing and happy are laden with bad memories and holidays spent alone, filling the time with whatever I could until the gym and the stores and the schools reopened … and I will never get those years back.  But again, this life chose me.  And from a global perspective, I certainly can’t complain.  So here’s to the present and the future.  Here’s to a normal life.  Here’s a goodbye to the 7 year groundhog day of all-me, all-the-time, me and my kids, no family, no support, every evening, and almost every single weekend day.  Onward and upward, y’all.  Cheers.

Laundry on the main floor instead of two flights down.

Love love LOVE our kitchen.  

Main floor.  I wish I could do pics of the other rooms but we still have some work to do!

Two.

(written before the nausea set in… I recommend writing down your happy thoughts and excitement about a pregnancy before the nausea sets in…)

I love the sound of it.  I love looking at the word.  And most of all I love the idea that Baby M and I already have another teeny-tiny little companion, accompanying us as we go about our daily activities.

I love wondering if this companion will be a baby brother for M, or our first little girl.  I love that we have an October due date, with M’s birthday being in September.  I love the idea of reusing all of M’s most-treasured outfits, the ones that remind me of each wonderful stage with him.  And more than anything, I love the expression on my husband’s face when I asked him if he knew how many people he was looking at as I held M and surprise, elation, and sheer joy coalesced with an exclaimed “Three?!”

I have to admit, I haven’t always loved the idea of two.  I’ve *loved* it but I’ve also lived in fear of it.  The first time you’re pregnant, at least if you spend a couple months nauseated, you’re already wondering how you’ll ever do it while chasing a toddler.  The first time you deliver, at least it you have a rough delivery and recovery, you can’t imagine how you’ll ever manage a sequel while parenting a newborn and a toddler.  And then of course you also hear the warnings from other parents about how transitioning to two children is harder than transitioning to one.  Still others warn you that you haven’t experienced any “real” parenting until your child hits the “terrible twos”(or the “terrible three’s” or “age four” – whatever age their then-most-challenging child happens to be) – so you worry that you don’t even know what parenting is and you’ve already signed on for two children (yikes!).  If you’re me, you worry that although so many others have done just fine with it, you’ll be doing it with no family in the area and a husband whose career track means he won’t be around much for another few years… with financial struggles in an expensive and logistically difficult town.  :/

The best advice I’ve received on this front came from my good friend Jen, mom of two (ages 4 and 2) and soon to be mom of four.  “Nothing that’s really amazing is ever easy,” she said.  Of course, she does make it look easy…

In any case, once I saw that pink line my fears and reservations faded away, overpowered by happiness.  To my surprise, I’ve found that pregnancy the second time around is *at least* as exciting as the first time around(!!!)  Here’s why, and a few other differences between first and second time pregnancies:

(1)  This time, you know how amazing parenthood is.  You just can’t imagine that love and joy until you actually experience it for yourself.

(2)  This time, you’re not counting every.  single.  day.  (but you’re still counting weeks).  You’ve got a toddler to keep you busy!  And he’s still doing amazing new things every day as he grows, so you get your fill.  Actually, once my nausea hit I was counting the hours…

(3)  This time, you know what to expect from delivery – and you expect that there’s no way it will be as scary as the first time, or in many cases including mine, as physically traumatic.

(4)  This time, you don’t need to stress about baby gear.  You’ve done your hours upon hours upon hours of research.  Figure out your double-stroller and you’re done.

(5)  This time, you know your body better.  Believe it or not, I could tell I was pregnant within days of implantation, before any test could have detected it.  There were just the faintest of stirrings that I knew weren’t period cramps, and a few episodes where I was hungry in a certain way.  “Just knowing” seems to be pretty common your second time around, at least among my friends.  I also have a better gauge on how much I can actually eat this pregnancy.  Many women gain less weight the second time around.  Considering I only JUST took off ALL (but 2 lbs) of the baby-weight as I became pregnant with #2, I am really hoping to just not even go there again.

While I’d say that the *fear* has melted away, I do still have concerns.  Can I handle two kids on my own for weeks at a time while Mark is constantly working?  What if baby #2 is a big napper like M was – how will I keep M entertained in our 2-bedroom apartment during all those naps?  How will I get to the doctor, the dentist, or a salon with two kids in tow?  How will I *ever* fly home to see family when M needs his own plane ticket and we likely have to also pay for a taxi (not to mention, how does one fly solo with two very young children)????

But I come back to what my friend said – nothing worth it is ever that easy.  We know we want at least two, and we are thrilled that the timing was exactly our first choice.  So this is how it has to be.  I’m thrilled, elated, already SO IN LOVE, and feeling ready to face the challenge.

And he is too … right?  🙂