Just Last Week

Just last week I pulled into my driveway with a brand new baby. I took a deep breath and brought him inside our house, remembering the words of the nurse who discharged me. When worried I couldn’t handle the job without professional help, I implored her to come home with us. She smiled and told me, “Just love him. You’ll figure out the rest, I promise.”

Just last week I dropped a three year old off at St. Andrew’s preschool for two and a half hours. He was very brave and excited to be there, and I held my tears until I got to the parking lot. Then I went to Target and shopped child-free for the first time in three years. At pick up time, we both were very happy and proud of ourselves.

Just last week I dropped off my Kindergartener to school, and then spent the rest of the day baking cookies and waiting for him to emerge from the big yellow school bus. He emerged, and we ate cookies.

Just last week I sent my twelve year old to Washington, DC for a week long leadership program where he arrived knowing no one and returned with new friends from all over the country.

Just last week I gave my sixteen year old car keys for the first time and then proceeded to practice the breathing exercises I learned in yoga so many years ago. He came home, but I still continue to do those breathing exercises.

Just last week we started to receive college mailings and tour universities, but it still seemed like something very far into the future.

This week everything feels different.

As we’re counting down to the beginning of senior year, I am still pulling up to the same driveway I did seventeen-plus years ago. But there are no more car seats, diaper bags, Little Bear, and favorite stuffed bunny. There are no more babysitters, camps, play dates, comic books, Legos. I am keenly aware that this time next year, God willing, we will be packing up for college. It is simply an impossible thing for me to imagine without tears springing from my eyes.

I expected next summer to be difficult, but I was not prepared for everything I would be feeling this summer. I know I am a gifted worrier, but isn’t this a bit premature?

Just last week, when they gave me this baby to take home, no one warned me about how fast eighteen years would go by. They never told me part of the job requirement is to set him free into the wild one day, and that day comes faster than you’d ever expect. But I continue to love him, and hopefully I will figure out how to handle all the rest.

Nutella Pie

nightsinRodanthe

Greetings from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where we are enjoying a lovely week at the beach. This is the first time any of us have been to North Carolina, and we are very impressed with the beautiful beaches and warm, friendly southern hospitality. We’re vacationing with long-time friends who also have three kids, and our meals and cocktail hours together have so far been delightful.

Last night we enjoyed some fresh caught red snapper from the fish market next door. It was originally supposed to be taco and margarita night, but the state of NC had other plans for us. Apparently no hard liquor can be purchased on a Sunday in this state, much to the dismay of my heathen heart, so margarita night is rescheduled for Monday.

My work friend gave me this quick and easy recipe that immediately appealed to my trashy side. It seemed like the perfect dessert to prepare for a beach vacation or any other need-a-quick-crowd-pleaser-dessert type occasion. I know I probably write like I think I’m too good for Cool Whip, but I’m really not. Well, okay, maybe just a little. Anyway, this dessert could not have been any easier or more of a hit. Minimal effort and maximum praise makes it a big winner in my book.

I followed the directions exactly, and it turned out very well. Since I’m not at home and have limited supplies, I didn’t have the time or inclination to tweak it. However, in a perfect world, I would probably make my own graham cracker crust and top it with real whipped cream.

The original recipe appeared on allrecipes.com by cook Christina right here.

Nutella Pie

Ingredients:
1 jar Nutella, 13 ounces
Philadelphia cream cheese, 8 ounces softened
1 nine inch prepared graham cracker pie crust
Cool Whip, 8 ounces, thawed

Directions:
Spread 1/4 cup of the Nutella on the bottom of the pie crust. Whisk together softened cream cheese and remainder of Nutella. Fold in Cool Whip. Pour into the pie crust and spread evenly. Refrigerate at least four hours or overnight.

coolwhip

Just four ingredients, CAN YOU STAND IT?

nutellapie

Dawn’s Quick Summer Eggplant Salad

A couple of summers ago I went to a nutritional counselor, and she pretty much told me everything I already knew. I don’t want to say it was a complete waste of money, because I did get one or two significant things out of our sessions. For one, I was inspired to start this blog, something which has brought me great joy and satisfaction, and that alone was worth the price of admission. The other thing I took away is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, and that is the notion of “primary food.”

Primary food is the stuff that feeds your soul, but you can’t eat it. And when you don’t have it, you sometimes search for it through consuming actual food. No pepperoni pizza or hot fudge sundae in the world will ever be more than a fleeting substitute for real primary food. Unfortunately, I can not provide you a recipe for primary food; it is something which must be concocted individually. I am making great strides myself, but it’s still not always an easy thing to figure out. In the meantime, we still have to eat actual food, so I will continue to post recipes I’ve been enjoying.

Eggplant is one of those vegetables which I love eating but don’t always enjoy preparing. When I saw Mark Bittman’s recipe today for eggplant salad with mustard-miso dressing, I was excited to learn boiling the eggplant is an acceptable alternative to grilling or roasting. The downside to boiling is that it resembles slimy jellyfish. I would definitely grill or roast the eggplant next time, but I wanted to include the directions for boiling, which is a quick, easy, and less hot-in-the-summertime-kitchen alternative. I added edamame for a source of protein, but I think chicken or shrimp would work just as well.

Dawn’s Quick Summer Eggplant Salad
Serves 2 to 3

Ingredients
1 medium to large eggplant, ends trimmed and cubed
kosher salt
1/2 red onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin (preferably toasted from seed and freshly ground, but let’s be realistic)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
kalamata olives, halved
edamame, cooked and shelled

Directions:
Add cubed eggplant to a large pot of salted boiling water for about five minutes or until tender. Drain and cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together, onion, cumin, red wine vinegar, sugar, cayenne and olive oil. Toss with cooled eggplant. Gently stir in olives, edamame, and tomatoes. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

eggplant salad

Finding Nemo a Car

Having a new driver is probably one of the hardest parenting challenges I’ve had to face. I’m sure I don’t need to spell out why; my readers are pretty smart cookies. Even though I have a responsible, logical, fairly cautious child with good reflexes courtesy of Crazy Taxi and Grand Theft Auto, I still worry.

When I was a new mom back in 1996, I was a world class worrier. Part genetics, part circumstance, I could not help myself. MOMS Club meetings? Please. Why would I willingly bring my kid to a Lord of the Flies Germfest! Old school playgrounds? Hello, are you nuts?  Metal bars + gravity = permanent brain damage. McDonald’s Playlands with fecal encrusted ball pits? Right, thanks, I’ll take fries with that. I was never exactly a helicopter mom; we often didn’t make it to the airport.

By the time 2001 rolled around and I was pregnant with my second son, I had finally mellowed. I was a bit unrecognizable to my former self and would often wonder things like, “How did we ever have any friends?” How I got from Crazy Neurotic Nut to Something Resembling Normal is a long tale for perhaps another day, but let’s just say I got there.

In 2003, Disney Pixar’s Finding Nemo came out. As a hater of 99% of all children’s movies, I was surprised and delighted by how much I loved this movie. It should be required viewing for all parents. If you never saw it, I hope you will. If I had seen it sooner, I might have enjoyed my first early years of motherhood a lot more. This movie is therapy and entertainment rolled into one.

I’m not great a plot summaries, but the gist of the movie is an overprotective fish father (Marlin) goes on an adventure to find his lost fish son (Nemo) and meets a cast of interesting characters along the way. He enlists the help of fish Dory, who is footloose and fancy-free. And, of course, they live happily ever after. But the following exchange sums up everything I need to remember about parenting:

Marlin: I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.

Dory: That’s a funny thing to promise.

Marlin: What?

Dory: Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

So here I am, in 2013, finally drawing upon my stored up wisdom from Finding Nemo. The ocean is a terrifying place full of peril and danger, but that’s life. As my friend Heidi said, what’s the alternative? Chain him to the bed? All we can do is dive in, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming, and try to enjoy the adventure. Safe travels, my little fish.

Farmers’ Market Pasta with Leeks, Spinach and Summer Squash

Recently Cook’s Country magazine arrived in the mail for the first time, and I think it has potential to be a good one. As a subscriber of the now defunct Cook’s Illustrated Entertaining editions, I am assuming this magazine was sent in its place. Slowly but surely, life is starting to feel normal again. Well, normalish. Normalish enough that I actually opened up the magazine and looked at some recipes instead of filing it away unread. Any progress is good progress, right?

Of course I went to the quick and easy recipes first. I try to do a lot of my cooking and food prep in the morning before work, because I’m not usually home until 7:00 pm — and by then, I’m in no shape to tie my shoes let alone work with fire. A recipe like this is right up my alley: fresh, flavorful, one pot, and with some added protein, it’s a complete meal. It looked way too beige for my liking, so I added some cherry tomatoes. Since I also added a bit of arugula, I skipped the basil in the original recipe, but that might be preferable if you are just using spinach. This is both good served warm and at room temperature, and a nice change from the normal pasta salads we see this time of year.

Farmers’ Market Pasta with Leeks, Spinach and Summer Squash
inspired by Cook’s Country June/July 2013

1 pound penne or similar pasta
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced thin, & washed thoroughly
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 yellow summer squash (about 8 oz each), halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
6 oz (6 cups) baby spinach, chopped coarse
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
2 ounces good Parmesan grated (1 cup), plus extra for serving
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Optional: 2 cups grilled chicken, salmon or shrimp
Optional but recommended: a handful of arugula

1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in Dutch oven. Add penne and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve 3/4 cup cooking water, then drain penne.

2. Heat oil in now empty pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add leeks and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add squash and 1/4 cup reserved cooking water and cook, covered, until squash is tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in penne, spinach, Parmesan, tomatoes, remaining 1/2 cup reserved cooking water, and butter until combined. Add cooked chicken, salmon or shrimp, if using. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, passing extra Parmesan separately.

farmers'marketpasta

Spicy Cabbage with Pancetta and Shrimp

For the first time in what feels like many weeks, I was inspired to cook, and I have my original blogging inspiration to thank. Luisa from The Wednesday Chef posted this recipe, and it immediately grabbed me. It’s been a long while since I had that I-must-try-this-tonight feeling, and it’s good to have it return. I missed you, apron.

Transitions are always hard for me, and even though I’m very blessed to have a great work environment and lots of support on the homefront, I still struggle mightily with change. Eventually I get my bearings and wind up exactly where I belong, but it’s not always an easy journey.

I celebrated my 45th birthday yesterday. I have loved my forties so far and agree with everyone who told me it’s a great decade: lots of wisdom, and no time for nonsense. My only complaint is that the past five years really zoomed by, and at this rate I will be fifty before I know it. Not that that’s so terrible (as they say, better than the alternative), but I am always amazed at how each year goes by quicker than the last once you hit a certain age. Both at my very first job and my current job, I see a lot of fabulous, vibrant people in their seventies and eighties, so I know the party isn’t necessarily over just quite yet.

I was off the last two days and managed to pack in a lot of fun. Caught up on my Real Housewives of Beverly Hills while folding loads of laundry, just like the good old days. Had two long lunches with two different friends. Browsed Target, my former home away from home, at a leisurely pace. And, finally, blogged.

This is a very forgiving recipe which lends itself easily to variations. Sambal Oelek is this stuff, and it’s stocked in all my grocery stores (even the super white bready ones). I used pancetta, but you can omit it or use bacon. I used shrimp, but you can omit it or add another meat, chicken or shellfish. Luisa’s version is slightly different but I am sure equally easy and delicious. Serve with a hearty bread and call it a meal.

Spicy Cabbage with Pancetta and Shrimp

Serves 4

1 head green cabbage, sliced in strips
1 onion, chopped
4 Tablespoons peanut or canola oil
4 oz. pancetta, diced
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon Sambal Oelek or more to taste
10 to 15 large cooked shrimp

In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium high heat and add chopped onion. Once softened, add pancetta and cook until brown. Add cabbage and cook for ten minutes, stirring often. Add tomatoes, salt, and sambal oelek. Cover and lower heat for about ten minutes. Add cooked shrimp or other meat and serve.

cabbage

spatially challenged

The above picture is for my long-suffering Ed, who has dealt with my spatial challenges for over twenty years. Clearly he wasn’t home for me to ask, “Will this all fit in that bowl?” Note: Nine times out of ten, the answer is usually no.

spicy cabbage

Born at the Right Time

Tomorrow my sweet Nate turns twelve, but the celebration begins today.

Back when the kids were very young and the days were long and sometimes difficult, the phrase we and millions of other parents would utter during the arsenic hour is, “This too shall pass.” And it really did pass, even though I was quite sure at the time I would be stuck there forever. Looking back, I see that so many of the issues that consumed my daily life are barely discernible memories today. Today I am recalling the difficult journey that lead up to Nate’s birth.

We wanted our kids to be two to three years apart, and like many couples, we just assumed that when we were ready, we’d simply pick a month and then voila! Positive pregnancy test. That’s how it happened the first time and had every reason to believe that’s how it would be the second time, too. Not so.

Months on the hope and despair roller coaster of infertility turned into years. Test after test revealed no identifiable problems — all parts on both parties were in fine working order. Unexplainable infertility was the diagnosis, and it felt like a fancy way of saying, “Hmm, who the hell knows? That will be another $500, please.” I wished they would find a problem so we could either fix it or move on to acceptance that there would be no second baby.

When my best friend told me with great trepidation that she was pregnant with her daughter, I said all the right things (“congratulations!” “what a blessing!” “how fun to have two so close in age!”), and later cried my eyes out in the privacy of the shower. Then the baby boom started. Friend after friend had her second and sometimes third child while I still waited and waited for our turn. Slowly we started to accept that we might not get another shot, but we were lucky to be parents at all. That’s the thing about secondary infertility — you don’t really feel entitled to cry too hard. It feels whiny and self indulgent, and then you feel bad for feeling bad.

I am in no way negating the pain of secondary infertility millions of women are feeling or have felt; I have cried with you, believe me. But sitting here today, a mother of not two but three, it’s easy to forget the monthly drama that went on in my life for so long. It truly did pass, and it’s just a distant memory now.

Happy Birthday, my dear Nate. Life didn’t turn out the way I planned it (it rarely ever does), but it turned out the way it was supposed to.

Never been lonely
Never been lied to
Never had to scuffle in fear
Nothing denied to
Born at the instant
The church bells chime
And the whole world whispering
Born at the right time

— Paul Simon, Born at the Right Time

Greetings from the Trenches

Well, hello, strangers! Remember me?  I have started and stopped writing this post at least three times. There is so much I want to say. There is so much I can’t say. There is so much I’ve tried to say but none of it is turning out clearly. I am supposed to be vacuuming right now. Or folding laundry. Or cleaning a bathroom. Take your pick!

My first week of work went pretty much as expected, which is to say it totally kicked my ass. I knew it would be hard, and hard it was. But not in a bad way.

I am fortunate to have a really wonderful work environment filled with people I respect and enjoy. As one of my coworkers said, “It’s just so civil here.” And it really is. That said, it’s hard being the new girl, the bumbling one always asking questions or looking for clarification or just messing up. That’s all part of the process, of course, and my coworkers have been nothing but encouraging and supportive. In terms of work environment, I’m pretty sure I hit the jackpot.

Back on the home front, I have three responsible, independent, capable kids who do their homework willingly and only turn on each other occasionally. I have a a supportive spouse who is an equal partner and didn’t have to suddenly “learn” any of my mom duties for the first time last week. I have the freedom of knowing that if things get really hard, if the kids are suffering, if I am unhappy or if I simply change my mind, I can always walk away. Not that I’d ever want to, but I can. Knowing that I have support and options puts me in a very fortunate position, and it’s not one I will ever take for granted. Any way you slice it, I am a lucky, lucky lady. And it is still damn, damn hard, this juggling act.

I was hoping to get back into the kitchen to concoct something new and exciting to share, but I’m just not at that point yet. I am sticking to all of the familiar favorites and nothing worth posting yet. I am hopeful that I will find my groove in a few more weeks and carve out some time to write and cook, but for now my goals are meager: clean underwear, food, baseball, sleep. Eventually I will conquer more. Probably.

 

A Few Days in Palm Beach

My rarely spontaneous but always wonderful husband decided to book an impromptu little getaway for us last week to Palm Beach in honor of our April and May birthdays and twenty year anniversary (which is still many months away — we like to get this party started early). We were so lucky/grateful my mom was able to come up and watch the kids. Getting away as a couple has been very important and worthwhile for us, but I’ll admit I dragged my feet about ever leaving them until 2010. The kids were in good hands, and we were both able to take a nice little break from Real Life for a few days.

I am normally not a big Florida fan, but Palm Beach helped to convert me. And the Eau Palm Beach Resort and Spa (formerly the Ritz Carlton) sealed the deal. We were very fortunate to be upgraded to an ocean front suite, and when I opened to door to see this view, I gasped:

Palm Beach View

It was unseasonably chilly in Philadelphia when we arrived at this beautiful sight. I feel serene just looking at the picture.

Reading is an essential part of any vacation for me. When I wasn’t eating, drinking or napping, I was reading by the pool or beach or balcony. I am currently working on Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stroudt. (Note: also just downloaded David Sedaris’s newest novel last night, and I’ve been laughing my head off, much to the annoyance of my family. I will finish that before the other two).

I am not a trendy person at all, except when it comes to nail polish. Yellow is the hot color of spring/summer 2013, so I got right aboard that train — despite all the jokes from Ed. I think sometimes people in the, ahem, older generation have trouble accepting anything beyond the traditional pink/purple/orange/nude palate for nails. Even though I’m a bit of a nail polish snob, sometimes I slum it with Sally Hansen, which is what’s on my toes below, along with Eliza B flip flops. The formula of the polish is really clumpy, streaky and terrible (further fueling my future rationalization of pricy nail polish), but the color is lemony and cheery. And very Palm Beach, wouldn’t you say?

Years ago, I had the pleasure of knowing this lovely lady during my time in London, and through the magic of Facebook, she has always been generous about dispensing fashion and dining advice for many of my trips over the years. Based on her recommendations, we booked reservations at Buccan and Chez Jean Pierre, and they were both very good suggestions.

Buccan has a wonderful vibe, and despite not being of the Beautiful People set, we were treated very well. We met some friends last minute for cocktails at the Ritz and then dinner at Chez Jean Pierre and enjoyed a very respectable French meal (although in retrospect Buccan might have been the better spot to go with friends). It’s always the quirky, weird things I seem to remember over the years, and I can guarantee that this piece of artwork hanging over my head at Chez Jean Pierre will not soon be forgotten:

baby leg

In case it’s not obvious, that’s a baby leg and a black high heel shoe mounted on the wall. Perhaps after a few more cocktails I could have made sense of it, but instead I just wrote it off to the quirky charm of the French.

It is finally warm and feeling like spring, and I’m enjoying my last weekday of being a lady of leisure by reading, blogging, and watching some Bravo while folding a lot of laundry. I feel rested and restored and ready to return to the workforce on Monday.

Farewell to SAHMhood

On Monday, I will begin a new chapter of my life. Like all new chapters of really good books, I feel a little bit of sadness that the last chapter has ended and a lot of excitement about learning what comes next and how the story will continue to unfold.

After over seventeen years of staying home with the kids, I will be going back to work full-time. While I have dabbled in this and that part-time throughout the years, as well as helped manage our investment properties, I haven’t worked an eight hour day in a very long time. But what have I done?

I have changed a lot of diapers and nursed three babies and attended MOMS Club outings and play groups and swimming lessons and Kindermusik and Gymboree classes. I have treated preschool admissions like Harvard and parent-teacher conferences and well-visit annual checkups like an audience with the Pope. I have been Homeroom Mom and Staff Appreciation Volunteer and Halloween Party Helper. I have been covered in hot glue and glitter and stickers and Sharpie ink and addressed so many Valentines to girls named Caitlin and Kaitlin and Katelyn. I have been to countless field days and school plays and science fairs and chorus concerts and talent shows. I have been soccer mom and lacrosse mom and karate mom and tennis mom and basketball mom and baseball mom. I have driven many miles, mostly in a minivan.

I have dealt with various medical crises, some big and scary, but most blessedly just a nuisance. I have found the best pediatric specialists, whether for ophthalmology or otolaryngology or dental or educational testing or minor surgery. I have fought with several insurance companies, and I have usually won.

I have volunteered as an adult reading tutor and taught English grammar to immigrants wanting to speak better. I have volunteered at the local food pantry and animal shelter. I have happily cooked meals for women’s shelters and new moms and needy families and friends who just needed help.

I don’t regret a single minute of it, but it is finally time for me to move on from the world of stay-at-home-motherhood. I honestly never expected to be here for so long, but that’s what happens sometimes when your children are spaced out so widely. I will still be a mom, of course; that’s a forever job. But I will no longer be that mom.

Years ago, when I thought I knew everything, I was sure staying home and raising children full-time was the only right choice. On behalf of my former self, I apologize. There really is more than one right way to do this thing. I have seen friends and family members with impressive, demanding jobs raise amazing, well adjusted, nice kids who love their working moms every bit as much as my children love me. The answer is there is no answer. We’re all just trying our best.

Like all mothers everywhere, I would happily take a bullet for any of my children, but I no longer feel it’s in our best interest to make them my entire life. It’s time I find another identity besides wife and mother. Wife and mother will always remain my two most valued and important identities, but I am a working dog at heart. I crave a set schedule and a To Do list, and I’m happiest when I’m accomplishing something tangible.

The last couple of years have left me with too much free time, and I’ve not always used it constructively. As much as it sounds luxurious to do whatever you want, whenever you want, I can personally assure you that for my personality type, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. My mother-in-law has a caligraphied saying which reads, “Only through discipline may a man be born free,” and over the years I’ve come to understand that. I need the discipline and feeling of accomplishment that a job outside the home can bring.

One of the best things I ever did for myself was to start this blog. It has brought me so much joy and satisfaction to document parts of our life (and some of our better meals), and I have no plans of letting it go. I may post more, I may post less. Okay, likely less. I still hope to cook real food, although I can guarantee that won’t be happening much until I get my sea legs.

I hope you’ll stick with me as I start this new chapter. As always, thanks for reading.