Memories of Baking

zucchini-bread

I made zucchini bread today.

 

This was not out of the ordinary. I make zucchini bread often due to the dark green squash’s ubiquitousness. If you or your neighbor has ever planted zucchini then you’re familiar with just how much one single plant can produce. Late nights in the muggy days of summer in the midwest are known to produce ding-dong-ditch bags of zucchini on the doorstep from neighbors and friends who had no idea that one zucchini plant already will give them too much zucchini, and they therefore planted two, and are now are facing the ultimate overabundance.

I bake zucchini bread for my husband. It’s his favorite, and I find baking meditative. I also love how it makes the house smell.

I can nearly automate baking, with the food processor and electric mixer at the ready, yet I make this by hand. I’ve been using Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for eleven years, since she first published it. It’s our favorite, my go-to, one I’ve bookmarked and written down on index cards stained with flour and oil.

I start by getting everything in place and pull out zucchini, dark green and freshly washed. I choose two and cut the end off of them both. They smell almost bitter and loamy - a fragrance of summer brought out either by sugar and spice in bread, or salt and oil in savory recipes.

They’re among my favorite vegetables (though I’ll argue the squash is a fruit - it has seeds).

The oven is preheating and I pull out the box grater I bought nine years ago when my husband and I lived in the two-story townhouse in Cincinnati. It was our second apartment, but first as just the two of us. We painted that apartment because we could. The living room was brick red and the kitchen a shade of pale vanilla bean. I had too little counter space in that galley-style kitchen and often found myself wiping flecks of green off the walls when I made this sweet bread, speckles on cream-colored walls.

I work slowly today, the house quiet. It’s naptime for my son, and save for the whisper of the zucchini passing over the grater, the house is still. I could play music, but today it’s me and the bread I’m baking as the oven beeps to tell me it’s finally hot enough

I eyeball the zucchini. When it looks like I have two cups, I measure in sugar from the glass jar I bought when we lived in the townhouse. We didn’t have a pantry, so I visited Lowe’s with a friend of mine and we put metal shelving, black, like what you would find in a garage, in the breakfast nook area of the kitchen. I bought jars for my sugar and flour not too long after, in hopes of containing the dust. The mouths of the jars are too narrow, and the measuring cup scrapes over and over as I scoop out  sugar to pour over the zucchini.

I pour in the oil and mix everything together, and the zucchini macerates and takes on a glistening sheen. The eggs I crack in are brown with hard shells and golden yellow yolks. They remind me of the summer I was sixteen and a friend gave me a dozen eggs from her backyard chickens. I drove home delicately, with those eggs perched on the front seat of my mom’s Ford Aerostar. I wanted the eggs to make it home safe and sound.

Warm vanilla comes next - probably my favorite flavor for both it’s complexity and nuance. Undetectable in the bread, it adds the home-y flavor that quick breads are known for.

Once the wet ingredients are together, I start adding dry. Baking soda and powder. Salt and cinnamon. I think of cinnamon as how a house should smell. I think of the first time I baked in the house we bought in Kentucky, with the golden wood floors and arched doorways, the house filling with the smell of sweet cinnamon as the bread rose in the oven.

Today, as the spice sits on my wet ingredients, its warmth evokes the memory of the first time I had red hot candy,  and it was almost too spicy. Once combined with the vanilla and other ingredients it will lose its heat and add nuance to what is a simple breakfast bread. I give the cinnamon a quick mix to incorporate it into the wet ingredients and it starts to smell like holiday baking on this warm spring day.

Before adding flour, I reach for an apron. I live by a simple motto in the kitchen: when you think you need an apron, put one on. This is one of my favorites: blue with ice cream trucks on it. It was made by one of my best friends and matches one that is toddler-sized. My son calls these our mail truck aprons, and I am not one to argue that.

I slowly add flour to the bowl. I realize as I pour in the first cup that it’s too small. It’s my favorite bowl, one I reach for every time I don’t use the mixer. It’s pale green, heavy plastic, and has a handle and a spout. It was a gift from my best friend’s mother the day my husband and I moved into our first apartment as young college graduates with barely any dishes to our name. She opened her home to me between the time when I started my full-time job and the day we were able to move into our apartment. Her joy in bringing me bright touches for our bare apartment brightens my memory every time I use the bowl. It’s made it through three moves since that day, and I’ll be sad when one day it meets its demise.

The too-small bowl forces me to go slowly as I stir in the flour. The green-flecked batter is lumpy when I’m done, smelling of sweet - not hot - cinnamon. It pours almost too easily into two metal bread pans and I slide it into the oven, metal clanking on metal just in time for the little one to awake from his nap and slide into my arms, hot breath on my shoulder, soft hair beneath my chin.

For an hour we snuggle and share chips on the couch, the sun filling the living room with light. I think about how far we’ve come since that first bare apartment and the second townhouse with the tiny kitchen. When the timer dings our house smells like home, and when I turn out the bread to cool, I think of all the memories in the making. All because of green-flecked cinnamon sweet bread.

 

CCMB: A Guide To Your Kid's First Baseball Game

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The National Anthem. Peanuts. Cracker Jack. The smell of leather gloves and the crack of a bat. Spring is beginning, and baseball season is just around the corner. 

This year, Major League Baseball begins its season March 29, which is earlier than years past. It’s also the first day since 1968 that every team in the Major Leagues will play on Opening Day. And I cannot wait for the unofficial start to summer and my goal to attend as many games at the ballpark as I can. Over the past ten years, I’ve attended over one hundred baseball games. In that time, I’ve become a baseball fan, learned more about the game than I thought possible, and many of the ins and outs of a day at the ballpark – especially as a mom.

Read more of this post over at the Collin County Moms Blog!

Recapping Bloom

At the start of 2017, I decided, after much deliberation (and with the help of Lara Casey's Powersheets), that my word of the year would be Bloom.

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The idea of blooming came on the heels of a very busy 2016 that started with the birth of my son followed closely by news that we would move to Texas.

Of course, I dug my heels in on the move, even as I wanted it. I wrote about my word for 2017 in a blog post in July, and now I'm back to recap what Bloom meant for me as I moved through 2017. I had no idea what the word bloom would bring, and now that we've begun the new year, I'm excited to look back and see just how much I bloomed.

2017 was full of a lot of change for me. Not nearly as much as 2016, but it was a busy year. It just happened to be the fun kind of busy, not the "what-on-earth-am-I-doing" kind of busy, in part because I became a stay-at-home-mom to my now two-year-old.

It was by far the best decision I could have made, though I was nervous going in. Since my last day of work, and first day of full-time motherhood, I've learned so much about parenting and keeping both of us busy and happy. We go outside nearly every day - unless it's very cold or rainy. We paint, color, and draw multiple times a week. Oscar lives for the library, and will ask to go multiple times a week (though we typically only go once a week, twice if we need more books). I do way more singing, dancing, and cleaning than I thought possible, and I absolutely love what I do now.

I also made  so many friends, ending up in a happenstance-yet-wonderful neighborhood playgroup. We met at the playground by chance - with children around the same age. They've become part of my squad, and now we group text daily about the kids, weather, and what's on sale at Target.  When my little man developed bronchitis in September, they were the first to offer to help out in any way possible, with one friend showing up with dinner, and another offering to go to Costco for snacks so I wouldn't have to take my miserable, sick kid out. 

In addition to local friends, I've become a part of a larger group by surprise, by joining a writing group through the blog Coffee + Crumbs. Joining midway through the year was a huge leap, and I was immediately blown away by the community I found within. Several of us joined together in Voxer to make a group chat and we're now planning a retreat for the summer, building our community of friends who help us grow as writers, mothers, and women. Since joining the group, I am starting to find my voice as a writer, and I cannot wait to see how they help me grow this year. 

Because of the writing group, 2017 brought one of my most valuable long-term lessons, and helped me grow as a writer. I've always expected to be good at most things, right away, and the truth is (and most of us know this, I think): I can't be good at everything. And to be good involves work. By not working on my writing, I wasn't getting any better. The only way to get better at it, was to write. This lightbulb moment, coupled with one in not tying up everything with neat little bows has led to making and finding time to write daily - morning pages, unfinished blog posts, half-written and written essays. I write daily to practice, improve and to continue to bloom.

Lastly, I've bloomed as a person, becoming more outgoing, adventurous, and patient. I'm typically a homebody, thriving on routine, and last year I worked hard to push past those tendencies, go explore and try new things. To lay down roots and grow as a woman, friend, wife, and mother. I've worked hard to take better care of myself- making time for the things I enjoy, like spin class, reading, writing, cooking, and baking. I am working to put down my phone and live within the moment, capturing just enough for the memory books before diving back into the imaginative play of my son. 

While I may not be perfect (what thing in nature is), I'm finding more and more joy the more I bloom. While my year of "bloom" is over, I'm sure I'll continue to benefit from making the choice to bloom as I walk into 2018, eager to see what the year will bring. 

A New Kind of Autumn

It's fall but doesn't feel like fall. Not every day. Not yet.

Coming from the midwest I expect crisp, cool air, bright colors, crispy leaves, and the smell of woodsmoke in the air when I step out the door at night. As mornings get darker and days get shorter, I find my brain trying to reconcile what I'm experiencing with what I'm expecting.

It's not easy. Maybe I need to change my expectations.

What I'm finding in North Dallas is very different. We've had a few crisp days where I've pulled out the skinny jeans, boots, and hoodies. More and more days feel like summer or spring than fall, and I'm still trying to figure out where wearing shorts in autumn - in November - is supposed to fit in.

Last week, my Alma Mater's Alumni page on Facebook posted a series of photographs that capture fall in my hometown perfectly. Large trees covered in fiery red and orange, set with a backdrop of brick buildings and brick streets. 

It's idyllic in a way that feels like home - because it is home. It's the home that i return to for the holidays and to visit family.

Now, I'm having to adapt to a new kind of autumn. One where kids are in school and the days are growing shorter while the weather is still hot. This autumn we're getting record highs in Dallas. The kind of weather I couldn't imagine experiencing in Ohio or Kentucky. Sunday was in the 90s. Today - Wednesday? It's the 40s, raining, and feels ever so fall-like. 

It feels absurd. 

It feels lovely.

Today we saw colors on more trees than not and the next week the highs will top out in the 70s - a cooler-than-expected, yet much welcome stretch of weather. I cannot wait.

This is autumn in the land where the sky stretches for miles and is the richest blue of any sky I've ever experienced. It's ups and downs. Late colors and cool temperatures. Days where mornings call for hoodies and afternoons, tees. It's the light coming at a subtle angle, instead of harshly overhead as we walk to the park in the afternoon, and mornings crisp  It's pumpkins on display while the days alternate between hot and cool; summer and fall.

Autumn in North Texas is exactly what I make of it, as I take it all in. Storefronts smelling of pumpkin spice and holiday songs on as I shop. Hot coffee in the morning while I write and watch the sunrise, baby sleeping cosily in bed. 

Yes, friends, I do believe that in early November, it finally is starting to feel like fall.

Life as of Late

It's October in North Texas and it's still pretty darn warm. Most days are still in the 80s and 90s, but fall is coming, as I find more crisp days happening each week. Soon it will be boots and jeans weather full-time, and I am working hard to squeeze every last drop out of summer that I can.

Oscar has started to put more and more together and surprised me just a few short weeks ago by counting, unprompted, to twenty. He does this often now, whispering numbers to me as we play with his Noah's Ark playset, and counts toys one after the other as he cleans up - one of his current favorites.

He's learned to whisper, too, which means my early mornings are filled with quiet cuddles and whispered questions: "mama, pictures?" he likes to ask before the sun has fully risen. He loves looking at the photos of him, his dad, and me that fill my phone's memory. 

Some of those pictures are taken by him, which means every once in a while, after he goes to bed, I'll find photos of our couch, his feet, or the cat saved within my albums. These make me smile and give me a small window into how he sees the world.

We are slowly getting ready for Halloween. Oscar is going to be Mickey Mouse - a new favorite for him. I am planning to go as Minnie to his Mickey, turning a simple dress into a costume for trick-or-treat. I'm eager to carve pumpkins with him, making a mess on the patio as we scoop out pumpkin guts and cut silly faces into the bright orange squash. I can't wait to create new traditions.

I'm working to find time for new habits and hobbies, and decide what old ones I want to keep, and what can go by the wayside. I'm trying to make more time to write and read - to say yes to creativity when I have downtime, and no to just scrolling through my phone. It's life-giving, and I am loving the pieces that are slowly coming together.

I am still loving my new role as stay-at-home-mom. It takes a lot of creativity on my part to keep Oscar active and engaged throughout the day, and every day we both learn something new. Next week, we're going to try homemade play dough and start working on handmade gifts for our families at Christmas. He teaches me new things every day and every week I feel like we both settle in more and more into this new normal we're creating. 

 

Being a Fit Mom

In May, a month after I stopped working, we joined a gym. Before my son was even an idea, I was a fitness junkie. You could search the archives of my blog for old posts about fitness, diet, exercise, and healthy living. It was kind of my thing.

Until it wasn't. For a while. Before I was a mom, running was one thing that kept me sane. When people ask if I worked out my entire pregnancy I feel sheepish answering "yes, except the first trimester."

Which is true. My first trimester knocked me on my ass and kept me there. Twelve solid weeks of exhaustion while my body took the energy I would otherwise apply toward walks, run, weights, and writing and used it to build an organ and the gummy bear baby I saw at our first ultrasound. Apparently organ construction is hard - who knew? 

I don't know why I feel so sheepish sharing my fitness journey before my son, even though I adored it. I ran a half marathon a year before I got married. A marathon relay (I was leg 3), three weeks before my wedding. I've run more 5k races than I remember, two 10k races, a 7k and a 15k. Running, writing, and photography were where I found joy. 

Finding time to run or go to the gym after Little Man was born was a challenge, especially once I was back at work. My gym in Kentucky didn't have childcare, and even if it had, the time I had to get there was limited. We were house-hunting and preparing to move cross-country. I was breastfeeding. Workouts of the nature of "before" just weren't happening. 

What was happening, though, was online workouts. Walking. Keeping active without having to leave the house or take a class. I ran with the stroller infrequently (and got really fast doing it). I knew that for me, keeping up with physical activity was crucial to my sense of self. So I did whatever I could to be active, including seven months of Kayla Itsines BBG Program, which I credit with helping me get my strength and pre-baby body back. Well, mostly. I will always have some squish round my middle, and I credit that squish with helping me to grow my adorable little boy.

Eventually, though, I wanted more. I wanted classes. My free weight collection wasn't quite large enough to reach my needs with BBG. 

So we joined the gym. A gym with childcare and classes and free weights and TRX and a pool. 

In short, we joined my dream gym.

And we started taking classes - spin classes - together. I took spin classes a touch in college, but hadn't been in a spin studio since a one-off visit right before Oscar and I moved to Texas from Kentucky (a class that renewed my love of group fitness). They were hard. Challenging. Wonderful. They still are. A few days a week we go to spin, or run, or just workout, and for that time I indulge my love of fitness and being a fit mom, or #fitmom. A hashtag I used to look at in awe, and now try to participate in occasionally. 

I found a community. My Wednesday night spin instructor has helped us build a tribe. A tribe where we get together more than once a week to ride our hearts out on bikes, to push to get 90rpm at a gear 9 for more than a minute and where 5 minute time trials are just another day's work. 

Since we joined the gym, I've gotten stronger and faster, and I've been able to jump back into running in a way I didn't think I would until Oscar was a little older. On a whim I signed up for a 5k Memorial Day weekend and smashed my previous PR by almost a minute - something I didn't think possible.

It did wonders for my confidence.

And that, my friends, is why I work so hard to be fit. Not fit by someone else's standards, but by my own. I workout to be strong for me, my son and husband. To be able to keep up with a toddler who rarely naps and never sits still. To be able to go as fast as I can, as long as I can, and come away from a workout feeling exhilarated, not exhausted. 

I may not be able to workout like I used to - I can't always just tie on my running shoes and step out the door. But I can check a class schedule, sign into a class and pedal my heart out while being encouraged to push just a little harder, and go just a little farther.

For me, that's what fitness is all about.

Delightful

The question seemed simple: what delights you?

It came up in a voxer conversation I was having with my writing group, and it made me pause and think, because I find joy in so many things, but delight? 

I wish I could say it varies and I wish I could say I find delight in everything. However, that wouldn't be true - and also wouldn't be fair. 

So what do I find delightful?

Well, the quiet reverence of an art museum. There is something magical about how people stop and simmer down when in a museum housing precious artifacts. Works of art house parts of our souls, and I think when we step into a museum we recognize this - the pieces of the souls of those still with us and those long gone. It's magical.

I also find delight in libraries and bookstores - so many choices and so little time. There is also a different kind of quiet reverence in a library or even a bookstore - the kind of quiet that lets you read or be with your thoughts. Quiet that awakens characters and brings the past to life. Quiet that brings inspiration for new heroines, princes, princesses, and tales of wonder. 

And nothing compares for me to the delight I find in a well-brewed fresh cup of coffee on a crisp autumn day. Bonus points if I'm in a soft hoodie and leggings on a patio in the morning light while enjoying it. 

It would seem I find delight in quiet, and yet.

Delight is something that springs to life within me whenever my son giggles or squeals or stops in wonder. I love watching his joy and amazement when his dad gets home at the end of the day. 

"It DADA!" he squeals as he runs to greet Allen at the door.

His joy overflows when we do some of his favorite things, too, like when we swim, or paint, or go to the zoo. 

I especially take delight when he takes a bubble bath and hands me bubbles, eyes big.

I see his delight in things small and big, new and old. My son does find delight in almost everything, though quiet reverence isn't quite his thing.

When I am asking what delights myself, I remind myself that delight CAN be found everywhere - if we only know what to look for.

Learning to be Patient

I’ve never been what you would call a patient person. I frustrate easily. I don’t like to play new games because it takes me a while to catch on to their rules or strategies. When given the option to open a gift now or later I almost always choose now, and then wish I waited for later.

Patience wasn’t really my virtue until I had my son; I had to learn to be patient for him. Watching him learn how to do things I took - and still take - for granted was fascinating.

It took a lot of energy not to help him with everything. Children, toddlers, and babies want to do it themselves--we all do, really. He wanted to get the monkey pacifier into his mouth on his own. To feed himself carrots. To stand up and walk, though he fell over and over again, he’d pick himself up and try again every time.

If I plopped onto my bottom as much as my son did while learning to walk? Well, I’d probably just give up. The same goes for missing my mouth with my fork as much as a toddler can in one meal, or not being able to reach something just out of reach, which happens more often than you might think.

In watching and participating in these activities, I’ve noticed just how much patience he has for what he is doing - how much grace he has for himself. Food fell off his fork? Let’s take another bite! Tripped while running down the hall? Oh, well, let’s just keep going!

It’s inspiring, and made me realize as he’s grown just how little patience I have for myself. If I mess up, I’m the first to cry “failure.” I’m likely to throw in the towel if I don’t learn a new skill on the first try. Like when I tried hand-lettering and was awful, or when I couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried, figure out The Electric Slide. I look back and grimace at my impatience.

This realization has changed how I see what I do. Instead of giving up, I get up and try again. I don’t get frustrated when I can’t figure out a new skill the first time - I just work harder at it the second time. And third - as many times as it takes. I allow myself time to learn and grow, just like I do for my son. His patience and persistence has been eye-opening to me, as I grow alongside him as a parent and person.

ow, I show myself patience in ways I never thought I would. I’m trying hand-lettering again, and while I probably will always be baffled by The Electric Slide, I’m going to try to figure it out. Even while I am teaching my son and leading him on this path we call life, I’m following his lead. I’m showing myself patience.

Quick Eats: Toast

I have a confession: I really like bread. Like, really good bread. 

Sourdough is one of my biggest weaknesses. So is chocolate. 

They make good toast.

But not for lunch. 

Okay, maybe for lunch. But that isn't how I've been devouring my sourdough bread lately.

No, I've been having savory toasts for lunch. A lot. Because what doesn't go well with sourdough?

Especially while I'm chasing a tot around. A one-handed lunch is always a plus!

It seems odd to write a super short post about... toast, but I wanted to share just a few of my favorites, because they're delicious, and until I put them together, or found them in cookbooks or at How Sweet Eats, well, I hadn't considered more than the typical cheese toast, peanut butter toast, or cinnamon toast.

Really, there's a world of possibilities!

Like goat cheese, arugula, and honey drizzle on sourdough (from How Sweet Eats cookbook - delicious!).

OR, burrata or ricotta cheese, heirloom tomato, cracked pepper and balsamic drizzle... also on sourdough (also from How Sweet Eats cookbook)

Or even peanut butter, bacon, and banana toast (okay, that one is a bit rich, but also delicious) on whole grain?

Oh and what about a tuna melt toast? Delightful!

And a classic: Avocado toast. I like mine with a sprinkle of red pepper flake, salt, and just a squeeze of lime. A drizzle of tapatio can take it over the top!

Plain cheese toast is also my jam. But so is cherry jam plus cheddar under the broiler for a quick snack.

I could probably go on and on...but I won't. At least, not today.

What are some of your favorite quick or on-the-go eats?

Dear First-Time Mama

Dear first-time mama,

I see you. And I want to tell you it's ok. It's okay to be nervous as a first-time mom about the life you're growing. I see you contemplating the maternity pants with your barely-there bump and pants that won't button, and I see you. Buy the pants. Pregnancy can be uncomfortable enough without feeling like you're out of space in your own skin with two more trimesters ahead of you. It's okay to be comfortable.

First-time mama, I see you in the baby aisles looking at the walls of options. So many options. They're overwhelming, I know. Why are there wipes for everything? Do you need them? I know you're hearing from so many people that you don't, but you aren't sure. And that's okay. We were all first-time moms once. Or first-time dads. If you think you'll use more than just diaper wipes, buy (or register for) them. Hand and face wipes smell like baby shampoo. Boogie wipes are wonderful alternatives to tissues in your purse. If you aren't sure, wait. Or see what shows up in a gift basket.

We got lots of wipes and soap.

Mama, I see you when you go out for the first time with your new little one. The grocery store is huge, isn't it? I see you at a restaurant with family, checking on your little one and being told over and over that they're fine. They're asleep. I want you to know it's okay to check on them. It's okay to not want to put them down and to keep them close to you if you want. This little life that you spent months nurturing or waiting for. The person you are getting to know. It's okay to want to sit and just be still with them.

I see you, first-time mama, when you try to take on several errands in one day and then cry after you're told you are trying to do too much. I see the wheels turning in your head as you wonder how, when you return to work, you'll be able to get anything done. You'll figure it out. It won't always feel like a production to get out the door. It's okay if it's hard now, and it's okay to ask for help.

I know, as a first-time mom you're getting a lot of advice. Buy this, don't buy that, do this, don't do that. So much of it is conflicting, and it feels like everyone has advice. It's okay to not want advice. It's also okay to want it. I know you're hearing a lot of things and I know it's not all what you want to hear, so mama, what I want to tell you is simple:

You are doing a great job. You may not get a shower every day, and you may run out of something you need right this very moment (and I always suggest a hidden travel pack of wipes for this very moment), but you are doing a great job. You are nurturing and loving your sweet baby, and you are learning how to be a parent. And? You're learning how YOU parent. Your "never will I's" may change, and you may do some of them. But mama, you're doing great, and in a year when you look back on this time, you'll want to wrap your arms around yourself with a reminder: nap sometimes when the baby naps. Newborns nap a lot, and it's okay to use one of those naps for you.

Don't worry about living in the comfy stretchy pants for a little while longer. Buy all of the wipes, or only buy the diaper wipes - whatever you need for you. You will find your groove in time, I promise. One day you’ll walk out the door with nothing more than the diaper clutch. Okay, and an extra shirt or three, but it will happen.

This time may feel hard, and overwhelming, and full of more love than you ever thought possible, but mama, you're doing a great job. When your little one is eighteen months old (or younger, or older), you'll look back on this time often.

And self? Yes, me: you were doing a great job. And you still are.

With love, Me

Everything Changes, Everything Stays the Same

When you were born, the nurses laid you on my chest as you squawked, confused by your sudden entry into our cold and bright world. Your hair was dark and slick; your skin mottled and soft as flower petals.

"Hello! Hello!" I said, unsure of what else to say.  "I'm here, mama's here, you're okay, hello!"

My voice broke as I looked at your father; "look, look at what we made! He's perfect!"

We spent the next hour together, at some times alone, at others, attended by many nurses, all cooing over you. In that hour I learned that your eyes were dark gray, and your hair was long, and dark (or so I thought). Your fingers were long and slender with dimples at the knuckles, and your cheeks already chubby, though you arrived four weeks early. When you looked at me, you looked wise and content. And I was content to just be that way, you and me. 

Once we left labor and delivery, you were whisked away to the nursery for some monitoring and a bath; the doctors wanted to ensure your 36-week gestation self could regulate your own body temperature. In that time I got to announce your arrival into the world and shower and meet my nurses. 

"Your son is adorable," they said, "he has such light hair!"

This confused me. Your hair was dark, wasn't it? 

When they brought you back to me I saw what they meant: once washed, your hair was light. Reddish. Long and fuzzy and downy soft. You looked like a tiny elf and as I held you I cried because you also looked like a little boy already. My hours-old baby. I could see you in one year, five years, maybe even ten. 

You were you. You were perfect. I was smitten and in love

*******************

You're six months old and reaching for my plate, trying to grab my dinner roll. You're so ready for solid foods. You can sit unassisted for longer and longer stretches and you have rolls for days and a smile that can light up a room.

Your once-gray eyes are now blue. Rich blue, and so clear. Your downy reddish fuzz is all but gone, and the hair coming in now is platinum blonde. I watch you as you observe everything happening around you. The other, older children at daycare fascinate you. You're intrigued by me and Dada. I can tell you want to do everything the big kids do. 

Your cheeks are still chubby, like when you were born, and you love to babble at me. When I look at you I can see what you'll look like as a toddler and I'm excited to see how these observations you're making are going to translate into you as a big kid. 

You snatch up my dinner roll and try to take a big bite, eyes round. It's a new texture, a new flavor. We sit you in your high chair and put on a bib and you coo and giggle as we feed you carrots. We cannot give you spoonfuls fast enough and you squawk, reminding me of a baby bird peeping for its meal. For a while, carrot puree will be your absolute favorite food, followed very closely by applesauce and bananas. 

I'm amazed by your curiosity and how quickly you're growing. Can't time slow down, just for a little while?

****************

Nine months into this thing called motherhood and you start to crawl; slowly at first, then picking up speed. The cats don't know what to do with a newly mobile you. We recently moved cross-country and into a new house where you have more room to play and bigger skies than even I know what to do with.

You love to play with balls and trucks and toys with buttons. Your Dada makes you giggle nightly, and I hear you singing and humming as I cook dinner most evenings. 

At daycare, you're learning new routines and new teachers, as are we. It's a rough transition for all of us, but you're taking it like a champ, finding new toys to love, and new friends to spend time with. Your new mobility makes us laugh and we're glad we baby-proofed at move-in, instead of waiting. 

I can tell, though, you're crawling but you really want to be walking, speeding around on foot. I can see it when you're chasing a cat or ball: on foot you would be faster (though not at first). Blue eyes follow us across the room every time we walk, trying to figure out exactly how we do it. 

Though you're bigger, you still look like my tiny baby boy in the hospital that first night. And at the same time, you look like the little tot you're becoming. Caught in between and still precious.

****************

One year has passed since that day in the hospital. You're not yet walking, but seem to be on the cusp, every day. It's your birthday and you're grinning, giggling, and talking up a storm. Your first word was "yay!" followed closely by "hi," "mama," "dada," and "baby." I love watching your face light up when you speak and we understand you. 

You're eating a giant cupcake tentatively, not sure what to do with the icing. Once you've taken a bite you grin a big toothy smile and dig in exuberantly, coating yourself in cake and frosting. 

My boy. One year old. A year ago I couldn't and could picture this moment. I could see your cheeks grinning at me as I held you in that hospital bed and wondered what and who you would grow up to be. One year later, I see that you're happy. You love to eat and play with balls. You adore reading and have a few of your favorites memorized (they're our favorites, too). 

When I was pregnant and people asked what our hopes were for you, we had the same answer, every time: that you would be happy. Now that you are one, we see that you are happy and cheery. You're observant and quick to learn new things. You love cake, but are just as happy with bananas, chicken, or peaches.

At one, you're both different, and the same.

****************

Now, you're almost eighteen months old. Language explosion. You have words for nearly everything, and what you don't have, you're learning. 

You're still happy. You still love to cuddle, and you still prefer fruit or chicken to cake and cookies. Though when we drive thru Starbucks, your tiny voice piping up for "cooookee?" from the backseat never fails to make me smile. 

At fourteen months you found your land legs and have been off and running ever since. I know where you are based on the sound of you narrating your runs through our first floor - your favorite word right now is "whoah," and I hear it often. 

You love to read, and just this morning you took your farm animals for a ride through the breakfast nook, kitchen, and living room in their tractor, singing your version of "Twinkle, Twinkle" to them.

When I look at you, I remember the past year and a half. I remember meeting you the first time and seeing the toddler version of you as your six-pound self slept in my arms. 

Today when I see you, I see the little boy you've become. Tall, curious, and snuggly. I love how happy it makes you when I peek around a corner playing hide-and-seek, and your giggles when we play at the pool.

You're growing up, little one. And as you change, you're still the same happy, wise boy you were the day you were born.

A Word Sets the Tone

Blooming. Blossoming. 

Similar, right?

When I set out to choose my word for 2017 way back in January, I had no hesitation in my choice: Bloom. 

And while it feels odd to be talking about my choice of word for 2017 in almost-July, I want to. 

Why? And Why bloom?

Well, as I wrote about my experience moving, when it was time to choose a word I felt like I was wilting. Change is hard. And in response to change you can do two things: dig your feet in and resist, or set deep roots and thrive.

I'm sure you know which one was me. And it's funny, because in the past I've worked hard at blooming. At thriving. This move was a struggle. We had three days to find a house over one weekend in July. We had a handful of days to sell our old house (it sold 24 hours after we listed it). There was packing. Moving. Finding a new daycare. Finding a new church. Making new friends. 

It was exhausting. And I was digging my feet in. The decision to move was hard enough that every choice I made thereafter was fraught. Was it correct? What if I made the wrong choice? What if enchiladas for dinner was totally incorrect and we should have had tacos instead? 

In retrospect, I probably should have been talking to someone. Even my husband. I was sad and lonely and scared and wasn't doing much to bloom. Everything felt SO different and to my husband and others it felt very much the same. But also, a little different.

My thinking and feelings on everything began to change when my mom visited in November. She stayed for almost a week, and that week I ended up working from home. Oscar fell sick the day she arrived, so it was unplanned, and all happened right before I took a long weekend devoted to exploring my new area. We did a lot of talking during my days split between caring for Oscar and keeping up with work, and from those discussions I came to a new sense: it's okay for things to be different. And it's okay for them to be the same. What I do with those feelings is really up to me.

So, we explored. Mom's theory was I couldn't decide if I liked it or not (after many texts where I told her I didn't), unless I knew where things were. I couldn't bloom unless I tried to lay down roots. 

Those roots just happened to fall along the tollways. 

We found yarn, smoked cinnamon, and pie north of home in a town that feels very midwestern to me. Downtown we found more pie, donuts, sewing and books. In my own neighborhood we found art supplies and a friend. 

All in just a few days' time.

When she went home I felt renewed somehow. Lighter. I had finally driven a sky-high overpass (those are far less intimidating now than they were nine months ago), navigated unfamiliar areas and secured my Texas driver's license (very important). 

So when it came time to decide what my word and theme for 2017 would be, my word was such a no-brainer to me: bloom. I wanted to learn more about my city. I still do. I wanted to lay down strong roots and find community here. We will be here for a while, and if I dig my feet in, I might never find joy where I am, and what fun is there in that? 

My choice to bloom where I am planted has led to so many wonderful things since I made that decision. I'm actively working toward making writing my job, stealing time between moments to write, compose, craft. I'm making friends, decorating my house, and laying down roots that stretch in all directions from my home to the tollways and beyond. 

God brought me to Texas kicking and screaming, and when I realized that this is where I am supposed to be right now, well, that is when I began to bloom. 

Making a New City Feel Like Home

Most of us know that moving is hard, whether it's cross-town or cross-state. I don't know how many of us really know how difficult it can be to move cross-country. I moved cross-state once, then out of state (sort of. I could see my previous state simply by walking a few blocks), and then last summer, we moved cross-country.

On Monday, I wrote about how I felt homesick after we moved.  While I alluded to ways I tried to feel less homesick, I didn't talk about what I did to make Dallas feel more like home. Today, that's exactly what I want to share - how I made my new city feel a bit more like home, and how I started to feel less homesick as a result.

  • I made my space my own. Decorating your home in whatever manner you enjoy is a great way to start making a new place - even in the same city - feel like home. We haven't painted, but we have hung pictures, bought some fun new furniture, and put out mementos of our old home. Decorating made our new house feel like home, not just a place we're visiting.
  • I looked for things I like to do. More specifically: I looked for coffee shops. When I was working, getting to explore organically was a bit of a challenge, so I googled. For coffee. I love trying new-to-me coffee shops and looking for a place to get weekend morning coffee led me to find two favorites: Summer Moon and Nerdvana, which are close to home with two very different atmospheres. Now, when I want to hang at a coffee shop with Oscar, I can choose one based on what we're planning to do that morning. While I did this for coffee, it also works for food, bookstores, art museums (also something I've done) - really the sky is the limit!
  • I joined Meetup .  Now, I joined Meetup after I became a stay-at-home-mom to find playgroups, but it can be used for countless groups. Some groups meet for coffee and gaming, others for Bible Study, and others for fitness. It's a great way to get to know people in a new area in a low-risk setting. Meetup led me to an amazing playgroup with a great mix of moms similar to me. We meet weekly at various locations around our area, which has the added benefit (for me) of helping me learn my way around our tollways and nearby suburbs, which means I am less reliant on my GPS. Always a plus (for me).
  • I took walks in my new neighborhood. Since I live in a suburb, I'm not going for walks to get food or ice cream, but to get out for fresh air. What started as a way to find my way around has become a daily activity. It helps keep us active, especially since we can walk to the playground (and do pretty much daily). Since we're out so often, we've made several new friends!
  • We spent (and spend) weekends exploring. There are so many little towns throughout Dallas that it's easy to choose a new-to-us area, see how walkable it is, and go. Exploring has led us to some great finds; like pit barbecue in Historic Plano, amazing food in Denton, an adorable independent bookstore in Deep Ellum, and pie in McKinney. We've also taken the train into downtown to spend an afternoon at Klyde Warren Park, which Oscar found fascinating!
  • We've worked hard at keeping in touch with friends back east. I can't tell you how many days of the week I'm messaging my best friends from Cincinnati. If I miss them, or I miss home, I send a message, an email, or a funny photo. On days where I feel lonely, or miss scrapbooking with a bestie, or cyclebar with another, I'm grateful that technology means they're a snap, a chat or an Instagram post away.
  • I accepted that it is okay to be homesick. Most days since the start of January I feel like this is my home now, but that doesn't mean there aren't days I miss Ohio, our old friends, old house, and old neighborhood. It's okay to be homesick and miss what was and grieve over what could have been. Even on good days I find myself wishing I could show something off to E, or go to spin with J, and that's okay. It's also okay to love where I live now and to work hard to continue to make it into home.

While this isn't completely comprehensive, it does encompass a lot of what I've done to make Dallas feel more like home and less like a foreign land. It's not easy to make a new city feel like home, and being homesick is very real, but little things can make it so much easier to feel at home, and to find a niche of your own. 

Cross-country moves and homesickness

Y'all remember when I told you that we moved to the Dallas 'burbs? 

Yeah, so, let's talk about that. I was going to share a list of things I've learned since becoming a stay-at-home-mom (let's get real, since becoming a parent), but realized after chatting with a friend about our move I never really talked about it here, or what led to it.

Also, I'm sure we don't need to talk about how for some littles routine and nap time are king and queen, amirite?

I'm not sure where to start, but we found out we were moving for my husband's job not too long after Oscar was born. And from the day we found out (or decided - let me just say it all happened during the fourth trimester of mamahood - I was adjusting to my new normal and some details are maybe a touch fuzzy), to the day we moved was maybe 7 months.

Yes, you read that correctly. Last year was a combination of firsts and lasts and lots of change. It was not easy. Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky were home. Very much home. In our little historic house we became our tiny family of two when we decided to get married. I ran a half marathon. We decided to have a baby and celebrated our pregnancy in the backyard of that house. We brought our baby home to our beloved little old house.

And we were leaving. 

Why? Well, I'd like to say "why not?" right now, but it was - and is - a great opportunity. A new city. A new state. New opportunities and things to do. 

But it was and is very far from home. And if I'm being honest, (and Dallas friends, look away), I didn't like it here when we first moved. Allen moved two weeks ahead of me and Oscar to receive our household goods shipment, buy a washer and dryer, and get the house set up enough so it would feel like home when we got here. 

That helped, a little, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was plucked up and away from home to a place that didn't feel like home. 

I didn't know where I was in space. I got lost in my own neighborhood. The grocery store wasn't right. My friends were too far away. 

Oh, and it was too flat.

Looking back it all seems silly, but it wasn't at the time. It was serious. I had major homesickness, y'all. I missed my coffee shops (I could walk to three in my neighborhood). I missed my friends. I missed the view of downtown Cincinnati from my second floor. 

I missed familiar.

While I want to say that I got over being homesick quickly, I didn't. I'd get lost coming home from work and struggle to not be grumpy all evening. I'd go for a walk in the neighborhood and wish it was the Purple People Bridge or The Banks in Downtown Cincinnati. When I ran out of the coffee I packed up when we moved? I cried. We argued quite a bit because I wanted this - didn't I? and I was being more resistant than even I could anticipate.

It was not easy.

But then, slowly but surely, things started to turn around. There wasn't a specific turning point for me, more like a series of (fortunate) events. 

First, there was the Dallas Coffee Festival in what is probably one of my favorite parts of Dallas. I came away from that event with several pounds of coffee, and a renewed excitement for local roasters to visit (I now have one within minutes of my house that I adore). 

Then, I made a new friend. With a baby - a daughter - my son's age. We had a playdate. Then another. We started texting pretty regularly and now we get together almost weekly- even attending the same church.

My mom came to visit and we explored as much as possible during her visit to try to make Dallas feel more like home, and less like a foreign land. I took her to Emporium Pies more than once, and we discovered some hidden gems throughout Deep Ellum, McKinney, and right by my neighborhood. 

I found my coffee shops and started to learn the tollways. We found magic at Frisco Square at Christmastime, and after coming back from Ohio in early January, we started to explore different parts of Dallas, finding gems in old Frisco, historic Plano, and Denton. 

Then, one day, I was able to get to Costco and the grocery store and back home without getting lost and frustrated.

I found familiar. 

There are for sure still days I feel homesick and miss what I had in Ohio, but it isn't like it was in the beginning. I no longer feel like a stranger in a strange land. I don't always feel like a local, but when asked, I can tell you a few places to get good barbecue, really good pie, and amazing coffee. I may also be able to tell you which tollways to take to get you to your destination, which mall I like best, and which churches have really good indoor playgrounds. 

I'm making this my home, and I really, really love it.

Sometimes, I miss walking to the coffee shop

Today feels like spring. Well, this morning does. The light is warm and low, the air is crisp but warming up, and it feels like a good morning where, if we still lived in Kentucky, I'd be walking to get a cup of coffee.

Last night, as I was falling asleep to the soft glow of the baby monitor, I was thinking about how life used to be and feeling nostalgic.

But I don't want to seem like I am not happy where I am now, because lord am I ever happy. I'm sipping coffee in the warm early spring light with a baby monitor beside me, in a house that isn't bursting at the seams. I'm waiting for my little man to get up so we can get ready for out day, all while bacon cooks away in the oven to go with our breakfast (mini pancakes for him, hard-cooked eggs for me). Also? Our neighborhood has a pool, and that pool (outdoor), opened April 28th, and was cool but still warm enough to swim in on April 29th.

I have new friends here. Ones who Oscar asks for by name for playdates (okay, he asks for their littles), and I am finally, I think, starting to figure my way out around this huge new city of mine. Finding all the coffee shops and enjoying all the places I can get brunch (I am a sucker for a good brunch). 

Loving it here doesn't mean that I don't miss life back east. We watch the Reds games on TV; I miss the crisp spring night games we attended our 9 years in Cincinnati. On days like today, I miss walking to the coffee shop for a croissant and a pour-over (which, admittedly was a Saturday morning adventure). I miss in-person debates with friends, and shopping trips with one of my best friends, and definitely Project Life afternoons with another.

But all that being said? I don't regret moving. It took a lot of getting used to in the beginning and I'll be the first to tell you that moving wasn't easy. It was hard. In some ways it was harder than giving birth. Or, a more apt comparison: than getting  a cat into the carrier to go to the v-e-t. But it was also easy in many ways. New adventures. New city. Lots to do. 

So today, I'm feeling nostalgic for what life was, but excited for what I have now, and for what today's adventures with Oscar will bring. 

 

Well, Hello There

 

Its been a while, I know. Almost a year - but who's counting?

A lot can happen in a year, and a lot has happened. It's a big reason why I stopped writing, but now I'm back.

Since I last wrote here, we sold our old house, bought a new house, and moved to the Dallas burbs. I became a stay-at-home-mom. Oscar learned to roll over, crawl, talk, and walk. 

I started working out again, after almost a year.. not. I walked a lot last summer while we soaked up our last days in Cincinnati, but that was the extent of my workouts. Most recently I've been running (with a stroller - challenging) and doing Beach Body Guide workouts, which I discovered via a friend on Instagram. 

I also dove head first into the Bible, and some days I feel like I'm running only on grace and coffee and that is okay. 

In the past year I've learned a lot about myself and about motherhood, and to be honest, I missed writing. I needed the break, and while I'm only going to be back here a few days a week (2 or 3), I'm back, y'all.

Pregnancy, Nursing, and Postpartum Body Love

I feel like there is a huge emphasis on the postpartum "new mom bod" in our society. Every time a celebrity has a baby there is lots of press touting her getting her body back, or how she looks post-baby.

It puts a lot of pressure on any mother - new mother or not. I mean, aren't we as women more than just our bodies?

Going into my pregnancy with Oscar, I would say I had pretty good body image. I had more good body image days than bad ones, but typically felt pretty at home in my body.

Or so I thought. 

Now, I am one of those ladies who kind of loved being pregnant. I say kind of because I was nauseated from about 7 weeks pregnant until I delivered and well, that part wasn't fun.

But it was hard to be at home in my pregnant body, even as I loved watching my belly grow as the baby grew, and seeing his kicks and rolls and punches. Heck, even as I was having contractions in labor and delivery at the hospital he was active, squirming the night away as he made his way into the world. 

After delivery, my belly was still soft. My legs and hands and arms were a little puffy (I had at least one bag of fluid during my time in the labor and delivery suite. If not more. I was a liiiittle preoccupied while I was in labor). And I was in awe at what I had grown. And really, since I'm nursing? Am continuing to grow.

Now I can honestly say I've never been more at home in my body. I love knowing what I am capable of. What I did. What I am still doing. I grew a human. I'm still growing him. When he was born he was technically in the 5th percentile for length and weight. I mean, he was four weeks early! Now he's at the 50th percentile and oh the rolls. The adorable little baby rolls.

I'm in love.

But I'm also in love with my body. I have new curves. A softer tummy, sure. And I'm pretty sure my butt relocated by about two inches closer to the ground. But I can still run and walk and lift weights. I lift and carry Oscar and we play "airplane" while he grins and kicks and squeals. 

Every time I sit down with him to feed him, I am amazed that I am still continuing to grow and nourish him, and have done so for four months. It's incredible to me, and something I didn't expect to love as much as I do. Now, I know nursing isn't for everyone, and I didn't think it would be for me, but it's something I genuinely enjoy. 

I truly never in a million years thought I could love my body for what it is and what it does as much as I do now, but I do. It's pretty incredible. I don't workout nearly as much as I would like to (because a huge part of my self care is physical activity) but I'm okay with it. I'm also way better at intuitive eating than I have ever been before. Granted, I'm always hungry and always incredibly thirsty but that's okay.

Sure, I still have some bad body image days, but they are few and far between. And when I do? I try not to let it turn into a bad body image week. One day at a time, right? And I work hard on self-care. Which I think it especially important for anyone, parent or no, women, man, child, adult. We all need to do what helps us live better lives. 

I would never go as far to say that the baby is the sole reason I love my body, but having a baby gave me a lot to think about. I don't want to teach any child of mine poor body habits. I want him to love himself for who he is, what abilities he has, and it is my hope that by actively working toward and becoming more aware of my self talk, staying positive, and learning how to love my body as I do today, that he will grow to be confident and at home in his skills, abilities, and personality.

I love where I am now. It's pretty incredible. And I can't wait to share more.