Happy Birthday, Lucy Jane!

sThis is an unabashedly lovey-dovey proud mama post. I’m at that age where many of my friends are breeding like crazy:  Akiko had a son last week, Val had a girl yesterday, and Kristen is due in three weeks.  These events and Lucy’s 1 year birthday made me cry multiple times from joy.  There is nothing I love more than children—specifically babies!  This little girl, our flesh and blood, was named “light” because that’s what she is—pure energy and light.  2014 was undoubtedly the best year of our lives. I don’t want to forget a moment, even the beginning.

December 6, 2013
2pm: told we’d be having Lucy that weekend because of preeclampsia (instead of Jan 4)
4pm: admitted to hospital and induced with pitocin
6pm: contractions start

December 7
2am: mid-level contractions, sleep for 2 hours
noon: level 9 contractions, not dilating enough
9:30pm: nurse breaks water

December 8
morning: level 10 contractions, still not dilating enough
1pm: scheduled for c-section
2:30pm: receive epidural, c-section (it starts snowing while in surgery, which I think is a good omen)
2:58pm: Lucy Jane McCarty born, 3 lbs, 14 oz. Declared tiny but healthy! Put in NICU to fatten up :) Michael visits her. I meet her the next morning.

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what are you waiting for?

“Wait” is my third least favorite word in the English language. #1 is “moist” and #2 is “turgid.”  They grate against my ears.  Waiting is particularly hard, especially during the holidays.  This blog post is not about Black Friday, but Black Friday is what spurred on these reflections.  Particularly the emails pouring in the Monday before Thanksgiving—“Don’t wait—Black Friday deals start NOW!” One of my favorite Twitter accounts posted:

“black friday through the years:
2005: 5am
2010: 3am
2012: 12am
2013: thursday 8pm
2014: thursday
2020: 4th of july”

Americans are notorious for our need for instant gratification, until we can’t even wait for the actual good thing coming to us and have to have pre-sales. And pre-pre sales. And don’t forget the after-sales like Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. I will admit to spending two hours on Black Friday searching Amazon for dresses and car seats for Lucy, but that was about it. It was not very enjoyable—everything was highly calculated and researched, and then I went back to the fun stuff—more wine and baking with some of my favorite people. And a bath with lots of bubbles to round out the night.

While I can wait to buy things, and don’t feel this pressing need to get more crap (in fact, I’m in that lovely purging phase because our apartment is TINY), God/the universe is forcing me to wait in other ways. And it’s so hard. To wait for Christmas, to wait to see loved ones, to wait for medical answers: not just for my issues, but loved ones as well. Will my father-in-law go into remission after this third round of chemo? Will my only grandparent figure live long enough for Lucy to remember her?

And the doozy: We just found out that we will not be staying in Pittsburgh next year, and are waiting to see what job offers Michael gets elsewhere.

We are heartbroken because Pittsburgh is. . .well, it feels like home. We knew it might only be a 1-year gig, and promised ourselves we’d go into it 100%, and we have. We’ve tried lots of restaurants, made friends, enjoyed our jobs, explored the area and I halfway started a business with a very talented friend. But this news affected a lot of things. After meeting with a lawyer and accountant, I realized it would be too hard for my partner and I to do our business in separate states, which means I’m forging ahead on my own, and waiting to hear what state. . or even country. . .we’ll be moving to. In the meantime I’m doing market research, working on my website, and brushing up on my skills and knowledge. But oh, the waiting! To find out where we will be, and when I can do what I want to do! When my husband will find a semi-permanent or permanent teaching job where he can thrive and have time to get published, without the constant slew of applications. Waiting is agonizing.

If you are a Christian, or used to be a Christian, you might know a little bit about Advent. Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter—it’s a period of preparation and waiting to celebrate Jesus’ birth, rather than decking the halls immediately after the Thanksgiving turkey is cleaned off our plates. It’s the pause button in the calendar.  Think of Martha Stewart taking stock of her flower beds before the cold hard frost (I’ve been reading too many holiday magazines lately! ;) )  Often this little breathing period clarifies what I want most. Not presents, but peace. Peace in transience. Flexibility and confidence, even when I feel rootless.

My friend Emily sent me this beautiful collection of Advent reflections. The first page made me cry. It opens not with the story of Mary being told she’s pregnant with Jesus, but with the lesser-known story of Elizabeth and Zechariah, who were sort of godparents to Jesus and were barren.  Okoro, the author, talks a lot about waiting—waiting for peace, waiting to have a child, waiting to get married, waiting for that perfect job, that salary, that good health. I thought of my beautiful, talented, single girlfriends who want nothing more than to meet a strong partner they can build a life with, and yet they are waiting.  My girlfriend who wants a child but doesn’t yet have a partner. How long should she wait to adopt? Friends who are waiting until their non-traditional relationships are acknowledged and accepted. Friends who are hoping that maybe their surrogate will work out this time.

Waiting stretches us to our limits. I don’t know how many more moves I can handle. This next move, now slotted for the end of July will be #29 I think? I’m only 31 years old.  But Black Friday and Thanksgiving and this bad news taught me:  I want to say “Yes.” I want to be vulnerable and open to whatever happens, and thrive where I am, even if it’s only temporary. I want Lucy to have a fun, loving mom, not a mom who is tightly wound and always thinking of the future and clenching her butt cheeks in the checkout line because the people in front of her are buying the entire toy department for their kids.  The mom who’s got 99 problems but waiting ain’t one.  (This is my 99th blog post so I had to work that in somehow).

Whether you are spiritual or not, I’m sure you are waiting for something, and are in a similar state of anxiety. What do you want most and yet it never comes?  Let’s just sit there together for a second. Rest in that icky feeling of displacement. Stew in it and let your fingers get all pruney. Realize that nothing bad is happening. You are merely waiting. Breathe in and out. Be thankful for the air filling your lungs. Be thankful for the present moment. Maybe you ate a great meal or you can hear laughter. Maybe you are finally at peace with your body and don’t feel the need to torture it anymore. Maybe everything is going wrong but you saw a beautiful tree today or found just the right shade of blue. Hold onto that. Be thankful for the people and places in your life, the things that are sure and that you are NOT waiting for. When your mind races back to the “but I want. . .” or “if only. . .”—when the anxiety pulls you again and you want to lurch away from the present moment, breathe deeply. You are OK. You are beautiful and important and not alone. You will get through this.

lost love

I’m always nervous about posting my poetry. I guess posting it on here instead of filing it away on the computer makes it real. But Michael said “Your next post has to be one of your own poems,” and I promised him. This one came to me at the Natural History Museum in NYC, when I was contemplating someone who had a brief entrance and exit in my life, but whose memory can sometimes consume me.

____________________________________
You are marked in years
like tree rings

Not because you were there, but because
you weren’t:
Each deep breath in,
a span
of knowing that of
All the events in my life,

You should have been
a Circle.

timing, three ways

photo 5:: ONE ::
Me:  Are you humming “Heart?”
Michael, sheepish: Yes. . . .um. . .I’ve developed a love of arena rock.
Me:  Thank the Lord.  Never thought I’d see the day.

I tried to get Michael into “Heart” 10 years ago.  10 years.  I stopped after the first year and consoled myself that my friend Merry shared that love with me.  First Michael got into other 80’s stuff, then he bought a Bon Jovi album last month which he tried to hide from me, then he started humming this. For a guy who listens almost exclusively to 60’s and 70’s rock, it is a small miracle.  I wasn’t even that aggressive with trying to get him to give the 80’s a chance.  I’ve been most aggressive trying to get him to appreciate Thom Yorke’s voice, but I don’t think he’ll ever like that.  Now maybe if I play Radiohead and don’t say anything for 10 years, he’ll be humming it one day. . .photo 1What makes timing perfect?  My master’s thesis was on how objects persist through time (metaphysics. . .don’t ask) so I have a thing for time.  I recently read a lot of articles on balance—how parents can or can’t balance all the components in their lives.  My life doesn’t FEEL balanced. Sometimes I want to fill the car with gas, load up with 80’s CDs and drive into the mountains with no agenda.  Just typing that out made me sigh deeply.

:: TWO ::
My health is still a conundrum and I have more appointments: ENTs, allergists, a neurologist. I’m working 30 hours a week and am Lucy’s primary caretaker 2.5 days a week. And (drumroll) I’m taking a big leap of faith and STARTING MY OWN BUSINESS. Our house is always messier than I’d like, I don’t have the greatest social life (although we threw a rockin’ Halloween party), and I have to schedule all relaxing time down to the hour, sometimes giving Michael the Lucy feedings just so I can read one chapter of a book. We also don’t know if we will be in Pittsburgh next year (though my business partner and I have already planned around that so the business will continue). It is, from all reasonable points of view, the worst timing for starting a business. But. . .does life EVER give us good timing?

photo 2:: THREE ::
When we miscarried our first baby, a lot of people tried to comfort me by saying that we’d get pregnant again when it was “perfect timing.” I still think that’s hilarious, because I next became pregnant ONE WEEK after starting a 50 hour/wk job, in addition to having another part-time job as a personal assistant. I had weekly physical therapy appointments for herniated discs in my back, and we had JUST unpacked our Brooklyn apartment and were possibly moving in 4 months. We were also dirt broke. That’s pretty much the definition of imperfect timing. Whereas we got pregnant with the first baby when my back was OK, we were flush with money, were going to be in the same place for a year, and had spent over $15,000 to have that baby through in vitro. That baby was sorely wanted, paid for, and earned through physical pain and tears. It was “perfect” timing by anyone’s standards, and yet we never got to meet that baby.

Only God knows what perfect timing is. I’m not someone to judge, but I feel vulnerable when life just isn’t balancing out how I hoped. And yet, we get through it. I endured 10 years of my husband hating every 80’s song I sang at karaoke (this is obviously the least torturous example, but I really love “Heart”!) We had Lucy, and with lots of hand-me-downs and us having good jobs until she was born, she was well-provided for. Even now, when I wonder if I’ll get through a week because my schedule looks like a football play, I say to myself “there is no perfect timing.” There is no perfect timing.

Sort of a negative mantra, but it soothes me. Life is screwy. It doesn’t make sense. And yet if we are happy doing what we love and we are loving others. . .timing doesn’t really matter.

photo 4

testimony

552962_10100499038384963_1004193064_nIf tonight the moon should arrive like a lost guide
crossing the fields with a bitter lantern in her hand,

her irides blind, her dresses wild, lie down and listen to her
find you; lie down and listen to the body become

the promise of no other, the sleeper in the garden
in its own arms, the exile in its own autumnal house.

You have woken. But no one has woken. You are changed,
but the light of change is bitter, the changing

is the threshold into winter. Traveler, rememberer, sleeper,
tonight, as you slumber where the dead are, if the moon’s hands

should discover you through fire, lie down
and listen to her hold you, the moon who has been away

so long now, the lost moon with her silver lips
and whisper, her body half in winter,

half in wool. Look at her, look at her, that drifter.
And if no one, if nothing comes to know you, if no song

comes to prove it isn’t over, tell yourself, in the moon’s
arms, she is no one; tell yourself, as you lose

love, it is after, that you alone are the bearer
in that changed place, you alone who have woken, and have

opened, you alone who can so love
what you are now and the vanishing that carries it away.

:: Joseph Fasano ::

“Though I’ve lived in various cities for years now, I’m originally from a small town in the Hudson River Valley. I wrote ‘Testimony’ after driving north from New York City and walking out into some fields where I’d spent nights as a child. I remember thinking, among other things, of Larry Levis’s praise of the ‘winter stars,’ of Galway Kinnell’s reunion with the ‘wild darkness,’ and of Mark Strand’s wish to ‘lie down under the small fire / of winter stars.’ So I did. And the stillness that I heard there became this poem. Of course we’ve all tried to return somewhere and found it impossible, but sometimes that very impossibility can become its own song.”

I took the picture above during a solar eclipse in Tokyo. The clouds made it even better!

pumpkin zucchini bread

photo 222I know. . .You’re probably drinking a pumpkin spiced latte next to a pumpkin candle, JUST finished carving pumpkins for Halloween, have harvest ale in your refrigerator and are already thinking of pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.  What is it about Americans?  Why can’t we get enough pumpkin?  This pumpkin bread has a lot of healthy attributes, so if you’re over the richness of other pumpkin treats, never fear. It took three trials to create this recipe—at first I made a regular version, then a gluten-free version, then a vegan gluten-free version, and my friends, hubby and one intrepid baby—who ate a whole slice on his own—whole-heartedly approve.  photo 51photo 41This recipe is the gluten-free one.  To make it vegan, substitute flax seed for the eggs and use 1/2 cup grapeseed or coconut oil instead of the butter.  For a gluten-full recipe, omit the almond & cashew meal and use regular flour (I prefer half whole wheat, half white).  But honestly the almonds and cashews lower the carb (sugar) content while adding protein and fat.  And protein and fat are better for you than you think.  There are very few ingredients in this recipe but I’ll spare you from putting them all in the title.  Let’s just call this “pumpkin zucchini bread.”  After writing my last rant, I found the ideal example and have to share it with you. Here is the recipe title: “Hot Buttered Rum Apple Pie Stuffed Cinnamon Sugar Sift Pretzels.”  The length of these recipe titles reminds me of a sign Michael and I saw in Tennessee on the outskirts of Nashville. It pointed to a dirt road and said “River Valley Forge Butte.” Uh-huh.  This is not to say that the length of the title will prevent me from trying out that delicious-sounding recipe.photo 21My friend Ashlee came over for dinner the other night and she eats gluten-free, so I made this for our dessert.  That was the first permutation of it.  But I’ve been battling pretty annoying health issues (facial swelling that I’ve mentioned before, and random vomiting and nausea for the past few weeks—no I’m not pregnant) and eating gluten-free is something I skeptically tried after that dinner to see if gluten was the culprit.  I used to wonder if the gluten-free craze was a stunt done by women who just want to avoid carbs/add one more restriction to what they don’t eat.  Like Gwyneth when she was macrobiotic for a couple years and claimed that’s how her skin looked so awesome.  For sure, there are faddy Gwyneth people, but I’m now sympathetic to people with true intolerances/allergies.  While my gluten-free experiment didn’t help with swelling or the throwing up (sigh), it helped with severe indigestion and spending lots of time reading magazines in the bathroom. . .you get my drift.  I feel MUCH better avoiding wheat.  So there will be a lot more gluten-free recipes on here in the future. And the best part?—wine (my favorite food group)—is completely gluten-free! ;)  Now without further ado, grab that pumpkin that’s about to mold on your porch, and make something delicious.  And if using a real pumpkin terrifies you, substitute 2/3 cup pumpkin from the can for the sugar pumpkin.

photo 31Ingredients:

  • 2 cups almond meal/flour (this is basically ground, blanched almonds)
  • 2 cups cashew meal/flour (this is ground cashews)
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups zucchini (grated)
  • 1 small sugar pumpkin
  • 3/4 cup agave nectar
  • 2/3 cup browned butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 scant tbs cinnamon (I go generous on cinnamon—fair warning)
  • 1 tsp cloves

photo 4Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F, and generously oil/butter your bread loaf pan.  Set aside.
  2. Combine almonds, cashews, and all spices into bowl and mix thoroughly.  Set aside.
  3. Take your sugar pumpkin (they are cheap at Trader Joe’s!) and cut the top off.  Do a combination of scooping out the guts and slashing at the pulpy inside with a knife until the pumpkin is (mostly) emptied out.  Cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise (from top to bottom), and then turn each half over so the smooth, curved surface is facing you.  Slice the pumpkin into half-moon strips like you would with squash.  You can also cube it, it doesn’t really matter.  Just butcher that thing because you’re going to make your own pumpkin puree that doesn’t have that tangy tin metal can aftertaste.
  4. Drizzle olive oil on a baking sheet.  Lay slices/chunks of pumpkin on baking sheet, pour a little more oil on top.  Bake until oil saturates pumpkin and edges are slightly browned.  Don’t freak out that the pumpkin skin is still on.  I think that adds flavor and vitamins.  Also don’t freak out if you forget they are baking and char them slightly *guilty*.  I put the charred pieces into one of my versions and everyone ate it up and never guessed.
  5. Put pumpkin slices/chunks in blender.  Set aside to let cool.
  6. Put one stick of butter in a pan, and let simmer until it bubbles and turns slightly brown. Remove from heat before it gets actual brown pieces floating in it.  Measure out 2/3 cup of the butter, and add to pumpkin in blender.
  7. Add agave nectar to blender, and puree ingredients.  Feel free to eat some of this gooey deliciousness with a spoon.
  8. Remove puree from blender and add eggs.  Whisk until it’s lighter colored and frothy.
  9. Grate your zucchini.  One large zucchini produces about 2 cups.  Add zucchini to wet mixture.
  10. Combine wet mixture with dry ingredients slowly.  You want to make sure everything is well-dispersed!
  11. Pour into pan until it is about 2/3 full.  If you have extra, either eat the batter or make a couple muffins.  Michael and I taste-tested several times to get it right, then I was able to make three large muffins plus this loaf.
  12. Bake for about 40 minutes.  After about 30 minutes of baking time, cut a couple slit into the center of bread so that inside can cook thoroughly.
  13. Let cool COMPLETELY.  Flip bread pan over and gently ease loaf onto cutting board.  When slicing, cut the loaf in half lengthwise so that each slice of bread is small.  This gluten-free recipe does not contain any thickeners like arrow root or corn starch, so it tends to be delicate and smaller pieces are less likely to crumble!

**Modifications for next time:  My end pieces always get slightly crustier than I would like.  I need to experiment with different ways of buttering the pan/different temps.  Thankfully, my husband hates end pieces anyway, and the other slices were perfect.