Two

2014 August 15
by Jennifer

Travel back in time with me for a moment to May–when my baby (my BABY) turned two…

I never thought I’d be one of those mothers getting weepy because tear, tear, I have a two-year-old and tear, tear, the time is going by way too fast. But here we are. I am apparently that kind of mother. I get teary just thinking about how much I love her and love this age and want the whole thing to just slow the heck down.

I am also the kind of mother that felt the need to seriously celebrate the occasion of my little one turning two. Her first birthday went by without any fanfare but two was thoroughly celebrated. She is old enough to sing happy birthday to you and she is most certainly a birthday cake enthusiast.

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It wasn’t a grand affair, but I would venture to say that two-year-olds and their mothers have never dined better on a Thursday afternoon at Beaverbrook Park. It was a low bar, but I think we crossed it.

The menu for the little kids included a turkey or PB&J sandwich, string cheese, an applesauce pouch, cheddar bunnies and grapes.

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Harper decorated the lunch bags while I did some cooking and crafting of my own.

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Oh haaaaay, Pinterest.

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The menu for those over the age of five was roasted vegetable orzo, fruit salad, seedy crackers and chocolate chip cookies.  I portioned everything out into takeout containers and  assembled bagged lunches for each of the ladies which made serving everything at the park a breeze.

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Many a mother has asked me for the orzo recipe, and I have to credit the Barefoot Contessa with that one. I followed this recipe for Roasted Vegetable Orzo virtually to the letter except for a few minor modifications: I used half as much oil as Ina calls for (because whoa she can be heavy-handed with the good olive oil), omitted the eggplant (couldn’t find it) and the pine nuts (too expensive), and squeezed an extra generous dose of lemon juice on top before serving. The whole thing can be made in advance and served at room temperature which makes it ideal for picnicking. So so SO good.

Harper was totally the hostess with the mostess, and by the time she left the park she was sweaty and watermelon stained, bruised and scraped. When we got home she took a cold shower and passed out on the floor. College.

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But it’s not all Pinterest butterflies and cupcakes around here. I now have a two-year-old, and studies have shown that two-year-olds are a particularly challenging kind of child.  At two, she has OPINIONS and in a single minute she can demonstrate the entire spectrum of human emotions.  Don’t believe me? Then you be the one to tell her that we don’t eat cookies for breakfast or that she can’t wear her pearly white church shoes to the muddy park. Now be her total hero by blowing bubbles while singing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”  Her ability to create real tears then immediately turn them off is truly Oscar-worthy.

I definitely caught a little glimpse of the terrible twos, so  figured it best to tighten the reigns before they came to stay.  That meant that Harper’s summer included some time spent in obedience boot camp…at our house with me serving as head counselor.  Until recently, Harper thought “come here” meant to laugh and run in the opposite direction. It is a work in progress, but she is beginning to catch on to the fact that I am the boss.  Progress! Now I only have to ask six times and threaten time-outs and corporal punishment to get her to do as I ask . Kidding. Sorta.

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Harper is always testing the limits and learning what will fly. Thankfully, she got over the desire to stick her fingers in electrical outlets months ago. But recently she hasn’t been touching the outlets with her own fingers, but holding out her baby doll’s little hand to touch them. Then she looks up at me innocently, as a bit of a challenge to see what I will do. I am afraid that she inherited my penchant to creatively interpret the rules.

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Harper is totally her own little person these days and I adore her spunky little independent spirit. She speaks in sassy little complete sentences and I really never know what she is going to say. (Hashtag no filter.) If she isn’t talking, she is singing.  Most days she is an absolute delight, though some days certainly require more wine patience. But every day she makes me laugh and every day I am beyond grateful for my joyful little bunny.

On the horizon for Harper: moving out of the crib into a big girl bed and potty training—and at the rate I update this blog, drivers-ed and senior prom.  Stay tuned.

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The Naughty List

2013 December 11
by Jennifer

My Mom and I took Harper to see Santa last week.  After the epic display of tears last year, I figured I better put in some legwork beforehand to prevent such an outcry this year.  I spent the week before our Friday visit showing Harper pictures of Santa online, pointing out his likeness when we saw it around town in holiday decor, and cranked up the volume when a song about him came on the radio.  On cue, she would answer my questions: Me: “What does Santa say?”  Harper “Ho Ho Ho!”  (And in an attempt to not completely muddle the Reason for the Season:  Me: “What are you going to tell Santa when he asks you what you want for Christmas?”  Harper: “World Peace!” )

The day of the big visit we were ready.  Harper looked absolutely adorable and we were uncharacteristically punctual for our 1:30 reservation.  (Yep. You read that right. Santa takes reservations now).   She was all smiles and giggles and ho ho hos until she saw him.

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Her tears turned into a full-on shots-at-the-doctor’s-office cry when I put her on his lap.

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And then, as if to spite me for forcing her to snuggle with a creepy old bearded stranger, she gave me the finger.

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I have seen her cry and I have seen her put her finger up her nose, but never at the same time.  Behold, the Magic of Christmas!

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As we left the North Pole that afternoon, I got a nod from one of Santa’s elves, the same elf that put the hard sell on me to pre-commit to a pricy professional photo package. Something deep inside told me this was not the year to spring for Photo Package C with a 16×20 print, a dozen wallets, and a DVD video of our visit.  Maybe next year.

Life Lately

2013 November 12

 

Well, Harper just turned 12.

Not really, but it has been eons since I updated ye old weblog.

Since last we spoke, we have traveled to Hilton Head to visit family, the North Carolina mountains with friends, Lake Rabun for a surprise engagement celebration, and to Nashville to see my sister and her man.  We also took day trip to the Pumpkin Patch and Harper started preschool. Man oh man do I wish I had taken the time to chronicle each of these events, but life moves way too fast. (And truth be told we started watching Breaking Bad which is pretty time consuming. Late to the game, I know, but daaamn.)

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Our October began with a week at the beach in Watercolor Florida.  This time it was just the three of us: My Man, That Baby and me.  My Man and I take vacation very seriously and aim to squeeze all the resting, reading and relaxation from our time away.  Before baby, that meant hours sitting on the beach while reading and listening to music, long bike rides, late breakfasts and leisurely dinners.  With baby, our beach vacation looked a little different. There were zero point zero minutes where My Man and I sat side by side poolside.

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That Baby is fearless and never stops moving and therefore needs a fully-attentive chaperone at all times, especially when surrounded by open water.  We worked in shifts and alternated who was on bunny patrol (suicide watch) with who got to sit in a lounge chair and sip sweet tea.  Whilst on vacation, Harper even developed a taste for sweet tea.

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The weather was perfect and the beach was empty. We took long walks, bike rides and  afternoon naps, ate seafood dinners, built sandcastles and played boardgames.  Vacation is the very best–even, and perhaps especially, with The Bunny in tow.

Now for an update on Harper, the hairless wonder:

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Harper’s little personality is becoming more pronounced every day.  She is an independent little extrovert who knows what she wants and is officially able to tell us.  Don’t ask her a question unless you want the hard truth.  She tells it like it is.  Me: “Harper, can I give you a big hug?” Her: “No tank you.” Me: “Harper! Did you just stick your hands in the toilet?” Her: “Yeah. Uh-oh.”  She says new words every day and our conversations have expanded well beyond me quizzing her on the animal sounds and the location of her body parts.  And she has recently started to string together sentences like a little foreign exchange student.  “Go see MiMi, yeah?”  “Me go park, yeah?” She can even sing a version of The Wheels on the Bus that would make anyone opt for  public transit.

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Our little lady also makes persistent song requests from the back seat as we drive around town.  Like My Man, she likes to hear her latest favorite tune on repeat over and over again until it’s worn out.  Her current favorite is Hello Everybody, the mildly annoying, sing-songy first cut from the Music Together CD.  She loudly and frantically shouts “Hello plees, hello plees plees plees” from her car seat until I finally acquiesce and cue up the track.  Then she relaxes into it, smiles, and exhales like a junky who finally got her fix.

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They say boys are all over the place and into everything, but I can’t see a little boy being any more hands-on than Harper.  She is fast and fearless and unfortunately quite injury prone.  I have a collection of signed incident reports from the gym childcare, preschool and the church nursery describing Harper’s accidents– noting the location of the bump, the presence of blood, and whether or not ice was applied.  I have to sign them because I think they are worried that we will file a lawsuit. Just yesterday she ran full speed ahead into a wooden column.  She is a human pinball.  Good thing she has extra padding and bounces back fast.

And what kind of parent would I be if I neglected to post Halloween pictures of my costumed child on the internet?  I’m pretty sure that is the reason for the season.

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Harper was a strawberry for Halloween.

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Aaaaaand she was also a chicken.

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Certified free range organic.

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For the second year in a row, I pulled a pageant mom and had multiple costumes for my child.  It is not that off the wall to have options considering she attended no fewer than five (5!) costume parties in the week leading up to Halloween.  Boom. Justified.

And I can think of no better way to end this long overdue blog post than with a picture of That Baby in a backpack.

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Happy fall, y’all.

Inside Edition: Motherhood Year One

2013 July 17
by Jennifer

When a mother of a newborn or eensy-weensy infant cheerfully says that she is “having the time of her life” and  has “loved every minute” of motherhood, part of me is jealous of her (and her means to employ a staff of maids, nannies, night nurses and round-the-clock-caregivers) and the other part of me rolls my eyes in disbelief. While I have loved my precious baby every minute, I did not love love love every minute of our first weeks and months together.  I could go on and on about the good stuff, but allow me a moment to reflect on the realities of this motherhood gig that don’t make the Lo-Fi-filtered Instagram photos and the warm and fuzzy Facebook status updates.

The first month of motherhood was particularly hard.  I knew my life would change but I didn’t know how much.  Finally she was here, and no books or baby shower or Bradley class could prepare me for what to expect when the one I was expecting arrived.  In those first few weeks I felt immense joy and gratitude for the blessing of a healthy, beautiful baby girl. I also felt…tired.  And emotional.  Totally par for the postpartum course.  I loved Harper like crazy from day one, but figuring out the complex Sudoku puzzle of a newborn baby is serious business, especially for first-timers.   The haze of hormones and exhaustion had me convinced that that the rest of my life would be lived in three hour cycles and at best, my nights would consist of a string of two-hour naps. And I know I’m going to get fined for saying this, but I sort of most definitely missed my old life. I had it really good.

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My outlook improved once the hormones left my system around week two or three, but I still wouldn’t have used the word “fun” to describe my day-to-day scenario. I was eager to reclaim some sense of order to our days and sleep to our nights. Sorry hippies, but I was not okay with breastfeeding on-demand a zillion times a day and throughout the night. Though I have always thought of myself as a go-with-the-flow kind of gal, having my baby on an eating and sleeping schedule became the Holy Grail.  I heard rumors of 8-week-old babies who slept 12 hours at night and I was desperate to have my baby be one of them. I envied those babies’ mothers with the same awe and wonder I’d previously directed towards gorgeous houses with fine furnishings, my sister’s perennial tan, and Italians with 42 days of paid vacation. Harper’s consistent daytime and nighttime sleep was a priority to me – for her sake and for mine.  But mostly for mine.  I asked my mom friends a zillion questions, read books and blogs on the subject, and trusted my instincts.  I got down to business when she was just a few weeks old, and soon enough that baby got her AMs and PMs sorted out. The first time she slept till 7am we threw a parade in her honor.  The first time she till 8am we decided to keep her.  Soon her naps became consistent and I was actually able to know when to plan things based on her eating and sleeping schedule.  What a luxury it was to be able to tell a friend a time to come over for a visit when my shirt would be on!

That’s a perfect segue to the next topic.  Before we dive in, I encourage the two men who read my blog to kindly reroute to ESPN dot com.  It is about to get national geographic graphic up in here.

Ladies, circle up and let’s talk about it. Breastfeeding.  These days the pressure is on to do it and love every minute. Otherwise, there’s a hundred percent chance that your child will be an obese biting asthmatic bed wetter forever in the slow reading group. I went to the classes and read the books and was delighted when things clicked and Harper was a good eater from the beginning.  But breastfeeding is hard, even when it’s working well. Nursing is, at the very least, incredibly time consuming. In the early days that baby was eating at least 8 times a day, 30 minutes a feeding. That adds up to a whole lot of time spent topless. For some mothers breastfeeding can also be painful and frustrating if the logistics aren’t panning out and there are latch and flow issues.  To be physically needed by your baby is both beautiful and incredibly intense.  I was the only one who could meet her needs.  Sure I could have someone else give her a bottle, but I would still have to pump it.  And pumping is a whole other level of awkwardness and pain that can be filed under “the things we do for our children” and “the things that repulse and confuse our husbands.”  Breastfeeding can also be pretty isolating for those of us who don’t feel totally comfortable baring it all in front of friends, fathers-in-law, dinner guests, and mall patrons.

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On the plus side, I had breasts Real Housewives pay big money for.  Double D’s y’all. But on the minus side, they were achy and purely utilitarian.  You know your relationship has turned a corner when your man comes home from work to see his woman is sitting topless on the sofa and he doesn’t even bat an eye or do a double-take.  In the old days that would have been an invitation to get frisky, but not this time. Carrying on regular how was your day, traffic was terrible, what’s for dinner, do we need anything from the store conversation while one of us was half nude takes it all to another level.

Despite my occasional gripes and constant questions, (is she getting enough? Does she have reflux? Should I cut out dairy? Will I pop a button if I wear this shirt?) there were certainly moments of sepia-toned wonder where I felt like a winged radiant earth mother.  It is amazing to be able to provide all the nourishment your baby needs. And holding a drowsy milked-up baby is pure pleasure.

I (mostly) happily nursed Harper for a grand total of seven months. In conclusion: Glad I did it. Glad I’m not doing it anymore. I’d definitely do it again.

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Fortunately, those memories of the hard and less glamorous parts our first few weeks and months together are all but forgotten, tucked away with memories of the physical pain of the whole event, and upstaged by sweet thoughts of holding that tiny baby in my arms and becoming a family.  Nonetheless, aspects of motherhood can be (and will likely continue to be) confusing and isolating and disorienting and exhausting.  But those feelings have been in short-supply compared to the deep feelings of joy and pride and purpose and grace that I have felt this year.  Life is different now, but I can say with complete certainty that it is even better than it was before. So much better.  I love being a mother and not a day goes by that I take the gift of my little girl for granted.  Watching Harper grow and change and learn every day has been incredible. And watching My Man take to fatherhood so naturally has made me have an even bigger crush on him. No one in the world loves Harper as much as we do and we are obsessed.  Sharing her and loving her together is the very best. We freaked out (and continue to do so) with every new development. She grabbed a toy! She rolled over! She babbled! She climbed up the stairs! She walked! It’s all gravy. I am caught somewhere between wanting to freeze time so she stays this little and chubby and adorable forever and anticipating the excitement of the next stage.  Talking! Hair!

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Before I go to sleep, I sometimes quietly open the door to Harper’s nursery to sneak a peek at my sleeping baby.  There is nothing in the world sweeter.   In that short 15 seconds of my day, I feel a deeper sense of pure resounding joy than I have ever felt in my life. There are no words for that kind of love.

So to you new mothers of newborn babies, perhaps reading this post by the light of your iPhone during a 3am feeding: I am here to assure you that it not only gets better, it gets fun. Right now you are in the trenches. Running on adrenaline—surviving and making sure your little Giga Pet is fed, watered, swaddled and rested. You may have seen glimpses of the good stuff, but it is headed your way in buckets.   One day oh so soon you will catch yourself laughing at and loving your little bitty human and wonder how on earth you got so lucky.

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Currently

2013 April 4
by Jennifer

It’s been a while since I checked into to my little nook in the blogosphere, so I figured I’d catch us up on what has been going on lately.

Watching…

HBO.  We recently switched our cable service from Comcast to AT&T.  (Side note: Take that Comcast! That’s what you get for refusing to lower our rates. We are with AT&T now. Those were not empty threats!) To sweeten the deal AT&T threw in three months of free HBO. Commercial-free movies? Yes please. Girls and Game of Thrones on-demand? Don’t mind if I do.

Wondering… 

why we didn’t join the public library sooner? I confess that until recently neither me nor My Man had been in a library since college or shortly thereafter.   Joining has been a total revelation. You guys. At the library you can borrow books and movies and audiobooks. For free!  It’s all there for the taking and you can even place holds for your desired goods online with the click of a button. Instead of going to Amazon to buy the next book on my list, I go to the Atlanta Public Library website and reserve it and check it out.  Just like that. Totally free.  I know some of you are thinking “no duh” but if we have been missing out on the wonder that is the Public Library, I believe at least one of you loyal readers may be missing out too. Go there. Whisper.  The librarians are still as loopy and meticulous as you remember.  And the place smells exactly the same.

Reading…

Driving…

an electric car. You heard me right. Electric as in needs no gas to go. No gas at all. This, my friends, is the future.  We got rid of My Man’s decrepit gas guzzler and added this one to our fleet.  And the government gave us free money in the form of a tax credit for being so environmental.  It was a steal and My Man is a tad obsessed with his new ride. I call him George Jetson.

Listening to…

NPR programing stream on my computer. I try not to have the TV on much when Harper is awake so that means that I don’t watch the morning news like I did pre-baby…that is if you consider The Today Show news which is highly debatable. So now I listen to it in the morninsg while Harper eats and plays and tries to put fireplace ashes into her mouth and  attempts to stick her hands in the toilet to splash the water around. It’s like a delightful morning commute without the traffic.  Once I have my fill of current events, I turn on the All Songs Considered 24/7music channel.  It is a great way to discover well curated new music.

Eating…

my very favorite scores from a recent trip to Costco: Angie’s Sweet & Salty Kettle Corn, Sheila G’s Brownie Brittle, and Homestyle Sweet Picked Beets.

Ya heard me. Beets!  Don’t knock ,’em ‘till you try ‘em.  If you like beets, which you should because they are colorful and delicious and do magical things for your health, then you’ve got to try these!  The best way to enjoy them is in a salad with all the fixings. Recipe as follows:  Greens (kale and/or spring mix lettuce) + Beets +apple + celery + green onion +avocado +dried cranberries + pecans + cheese (Gorgonzola or Goat or Feta) +dressing (Balsamic or Trader Joe’s Champagne Pear Vinaigrette)

Beets not your thing? Gurl you crazy.  The good news is that this salad will still be delicious without them. Add some chicken or salmon and you’ve got dinner. Brownie Brittle for dessert.

Looking forward to…

a visit from my friend Marie and her baby Henry this weekend! My Man will be out-of-town whooping it up with his college friends so Marie and I will be housebound with our wee ones. Last time we saw each  other we were both pregnant.  You better believe we plan to take dozens of those adorably clichéd naked babies in the bathtub photos.

I’m also looking forward to a baby-free trip to New York next weekend to visit my friend Emily.  Shopping! Shows! Wining! Dining! Good times ahead.

Loving…

my little one.  Obviously.

God gives parents an amazing gift in that everyone thinks their own baby is awesome and wonderful and adorable and hilarious.  It helps us get through the early days of round-the-clock feedings and the loss of personal freedom resulting from being housebound for naptimes and early bedtimes. That love helps diaper changes not smell as revolting as they ought to and helps us cope with the fact that no baby gate, play mat, or exersaucer will ever match our interior décor.

These days I just want to nibble those chubby cheeks and thighs and hug her tight. That girl is my heart. She cracks me up as I see her little personality emerge more and more every day.  She laughs a lot and gets a total kick out of being chased around the house and crawling up the stairs the second I put her down.  Harper is constantly on the move and finds pleasure in the simple things: plastic cups, spoons, blocks, books—and unfortunately can’t resist the lure of computer cables, outlets, open toilets and the entry table I constantly tell her not to touch.

The sweet ladies in the nursery always comment on how happy and easy she is, but recently the report has been something along the lines of, “Harper sure knows how to take care of herself.  You won’t have to worry about her.”  This was a euphemistic way to tell me, her mother, that my sweet round daughter is something of a bully with the other babies.  Apparently my little bald brute is a hair puller.  I guess it is human nature to want what we don’t have.  We’ll work on it.

 

The Baby and The Bear

2013 February 27
by Jennifer

I looked at Harper the other day as she was sitting on the rug, babbling at her bellybutton book and it hit me: She is becoming her own little person.  Until a few months ago, I knew all there was to know about her.  My body met her nutritional needs, I knew when she needed a meal, a nap, a cuddle, and a dry diaper. But suddenly she is becoming this adorable little girl whose tastes, preferences and personality is beginning to emerge. Every day I am discovering more and more of who she is but this I know for sure–she is a round mound of pure joy.

Here are a few tidbits about That Baby these days that I wanted to document.

Nine Month Milestones: she had her first taste of ice cream, she got her first black eye, she clapped, she waved (at herself, but I think it still counts), she now gives heart-melting slobbery kisses when asked.

Harper Likes: ceiling fans, red heads, Pat the Bunny, bananas, cornbread, mirrors (just like her daddy), putting leaves in her mouth, baths, watching the washing machine, cereal (just like her mama), when My Man plays guitar, appliances, other babies, electrical sockets, and her teddy bear.

 

Harper Dislikes: Carrots. Having her nose wiped.

I Like: when Harper laughs, reading to her, naps, Infant Tylenol. (The motto around here is “when in doubt, medicate.” You can pre-order my parenting book on Amazon.)  The Nosefrida The Snotsucker Nasal Aspirator -Those Swedes invented the very best device to clear up infantile congestion.  It works and it is more addictive than blue corn tortilla chips and the first season of Homeland.

I Dislike: Harper’s not-so-charming habit of blowing spit raspberries all the time: when she is playing, when she is eating, and when there is food in her mouth. Hoping this is just a phase she’ll outgrow. by tomorrow.

Things People Say: “She sure eats well, doesn’t she?!”  “She looks exactly like her father.”  “Look at those cheeks”  “Hey there little fella.”

Nicknames: The Bunny, The Bunns, Agent McBunny, The Agent, That Baby

What Harper is Up To: She is crawling now and has been for the past few months. That Baby is curious and loves to explore new places.  She is great at playing by herself and can happily lose herself in her books and blocks and kitchen utensils. Harper hasn’t met a stranger and doesn’t have separation anxiety when I hand her over to other people. (I try not to take it personally.) She can stand independently for a grand total of seven seconds and I am in no rush for her to start walking. Chasing a crawler to prevent her from putting her fingers in electrical outlets and stop her from putting fireplace ashes in her mouth keeps us plenty busy.

The first nine months have flown by. And I definitely have moments where I want her to not grow up so fast, to just stay this portable and joyful and adorable forever. I see why people have more than one.

In conclusion, the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject goes to “Harper Goes Nuts: A baby FREAKING OUT at her bear”

 

And how convincing is My Man’s bear impression..?!

Seriously Delicious Chocolate Cake

2013 January 23

 

Tell your health and fitness related New Year’s Resolution to step out in the hall and do some crunches while you and I have a word.  Come a little closer and let me whisper in your ear.

Chocolate cake. Like seriously delicious chocolate Cake.  Make it. Eat it.  Find an excuse to make it again.


My Man’s birthday was last week and it was only fitting that we celebrate with a dinner party and a super special dessert.  I scoured the internet for recipes and recommendations and salivated as I scrolled through Pinterest pins of sweet delights.  Then I happened upon this recipe for Barefoot Contessa’s chocolate cake.  She says that of all the chocolate cakes she’s ever had (and between us, I think she has had quite a few) this remains her very very favorite.  I have actually seen the episode where she makes this cake for one of her high-rolling gay Hamptons friends and it looked delicious and totally doable.  My Man deserves the very best, and if there ever was an occasion to dust off the KitchenAid Stand Mixer, this is it.

The following recipe created the best homemade chocolate cake that I have ever had.  Though I may not have eaten as much chocolate cake as Ina, I have had more than my fair share.  This one meets my VERY high standards and will be heretofore my go-to chocolate cake recipe.

Double-Chocolate Layer Cake

from the Barefoot Contessa

Time: Prep:40 minutes Total: 1hour 30 minutes

Cake Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Frosting Ingredients

  • 6 ounces good semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee powder

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter two deep 8-inch or 9-inchround cake pans and line them with parchment paper then butter the paper. Dust the pans with flour, tapping out any excess. (OR spray liberally with PAM)
  2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined.  In another bowl, whisk the buttermilk with the oil, eggs and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly beat the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients until just incorporated.  With the mixer on low, add the hot coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 30 minutes, and then turn cakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
  4. For the frosting: Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature. (OR In a microwave-safe bowl, heat the chopped chocolate at high power in 30-second intervals, stirring, until most of the chocolate is melted. Stir until completely melted, then set aside to cool to room temperature.)
  5. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until pale and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat for 1 minute, scraping down the side of the bowl. At low speed, slowly beat in the confectioners’ sugar, about 1 minute. In a small bowl, dissolve the instant coffee in 2 teaspoons of hot water. Slowly beat the coffee and the cooled chocolate into the butter mixture until just combined.
  6. Set a cake layer on a plate with the flat side facing up. Evenly spread one-third of the frosting over the cake to the edge. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the remaining frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

*A few recipe notes:  Um, this recipe has over 1600 five-star reviews on the Food Network site. That’s sayin’ somethin.’  It was also printed in Food & Wine magazine wherein they recommend refrigerating the cake for at least 1 hour before slicing.  Consider it optional as the Barefoot Contessa didn’t do this when she first printed the recipe and served it to her clique of eccentric Hamptonites.  I also used two 9 inch pans because my 8-inch pans were too shallow.   Made ahead, the frosted cake can be refrigerated for 3 days. Let stand for 1 hour before serving.*

The cake is dark and super moist but somehow very light and airy. Overall the cake came together quite easily.  The only high-maintenance aspect of this recipe is that it calls for hot freshly brewed coffee.  You don’t really notice the coffee except that it magically enhances the flavor of the chocolate.  And you have to beat the butter in the icing for a long time to get it fluffy. But OHMYGOODNESS it’s worth it. This is hands down the best homemade chocolate cake that I have ever had.

Served with vanilla ice cream, this cake is a revelation.  Make it for you and/or someone you love.

 

Twas the Night Before the Night Before Christmas

2012 December 23
by Jennifer

Dream:  Our family gets all bundled up and heads to the snowy hill country to cut down our own Christmas tree.  On the way we drink hot chocolate and listen to Christmas tunes. We trudge through the snow to select that perfectly shaped fraser fir to take home and decorate for the holiday season.  What joy! What memories!

Reality:  Trees at Costco are 27.99 plus tax. That’s half the price of a tree from Big Johns or Home Depot and half the hassle of cutting down our own. Sold.

But here’s the catch. It’s a bare bones operation. You don’t get to walk acres or isles of trees to choose the most full and perfect.  In fact, you don’t really get to see your tree at all before you buy it and get it home.  You simply present your receipt to the man standing by the large truck in the Costco parking lot and he takes out up to three wrapped trees from the hundreds he has in the truck.  You have to pick one of the three.  It’s kinda like a gameshow.  The trees are bundled tight in their mesh wrapping, so we used our best judgment to *hopefully* pick the best in the bunch.  No unwrapping allowed.

This is the second year we have gotten our tree from Costco, so I guess you could say this is our family tradition…? Only last year, they tied the tree to the top of the car. There must have been some lawsuits or something because this year we had to do it ourselves.  The tree truck man said he wasn’t even allowed to help supervise or offer tying tips.  Eeeks.  So I nominated myself for the job of tying the tree securely to the top of the car because I’d recently watched an episode of the Barefoot Contessa wherein she ties a stuffed pork tenderloin with butcher’s twine. Honestly how different could it really be?

Apparently very different.  We were barely a mile away from the Costco parking lot when the tree started moving. So we opted to take the slower scenic route home and took turns reaching out of the sunroof to hold the trunk.

Fortunately, we made it home without losing any branches or causing any collisions. Once we got home, it was time to give the tree a fresh cut to even out the catawampus stump (they don’t help you out on that one either). It’s harder than it looks but my woodsman took care of it on the front porch while I put the wreath on the front door.

Then, as they say on HGTV, it was time for the big reveal. My Man cut the mesh while I waited nervously whispering, “move that bus. Move that bus.”

A solid 8 out of 10. Points deducted because she is a little thin and narrow.  Nothing that couldn’t be fixed by lights, a few ornaments and the magic of Christmas.  Behold the magnificence.

In other December happenings, we took Harper to see Santa.  I couldn’t resist dressing her in a dress that I wore when I was little bitty.  It was hand-smocked by my grandmother who lovingly made a matching dress for me and each of my girl cousins.  That Baby looked absolutely precious and was all smiles until we handed her off to Santa.  She looked at him with a mixture of confusion and who the hell are you, took a tug of his beard, and then lost it.

Maybe next year she might understand more of Santa’s connection to gift giving and their time together will be tear-free.

She likely won’t remember her first Christmas tree, the tumble she took of the sofa while we were decorating it, or her first visit with Santa, but we will.  And the best is yet to come. It’s only Christmas Eve Eve Eve.  

What joy. What memories.

 

Babies Be Shoppin (baby gear: the first 6 months)

2012 December 6
by Jennifer

All that babies really need is food, sleep and love.  Aaaannd apparently a whole bunch of other stuff. This is America after all!

When I was pregnant I asked a bunch of my mom friends for their must-haves.  I wanted to drill down to the stuff that we really needed…and learn from the mistakes of the mothers-to-be who bought wipe warmers and the like.  I got lists and links and spreadsheets full of favorites that were really helpful as I navigated the aisles of infant paraphernalia.  Now that I am a mother I have a list of my own.  This is the stuff we really use(d) that I consider must haves–the items that made our first six months happy for both mother and child.

Play Mat (Fisher-Price Rainforest Melodies and Lights Deluxe Gym) : Starting at around four weeks, when her depth vision exceeded 12 inches, That Baby began her love affair with her play mat.  She would lay there with a grin and happily stare at the purple butterfly for hours.  A few weeks later she discovered the dangling toys and then learned to grab them.  Her first 360 spin and first roll happened on that mat. Milestones, people, milestones.  Because she is so content to play and roll on that little mat, I am free to do the things I need to do without a baby in my arms.  Independent play time for my child equals independent play time for me, her mother. Holla.

When we came to pick her up after her first stint in the church nursery, the kind nursery caregiver told us that Harper was “such a happy baby!  And just as happy as can be playing by herself.”  I took it as a compliment.  Then I felt guilty because omygosh maybe I’m not playing with her enough? What does this mean? Am I neglecting my child? Do I not hold her enough?  Didn’t she miss me at all? Then I took it as a compliment…a compliment made possible by her good training on the Fisher-Price Rainforest Melodies and Lights Deluxe Gym.

Additional selling points: The dangling toys can be  moved around and re-purposed–we attached one to her car seat. And I didn’t even turn on the lights and sounds until a few weeks ago and now she goes crazy for them.   It also folds up real nice and goes into the closet when That Baby goes to bed, allowing us to reclaim our living room.

(And just like that, I wrote 314 words about a play mat. A play mat.  If my college self could see me now…)

Walking and Jogging Stroller (BOB Revolution SE Single Stroller) : If our house was burning down and the fireman said that I have 30 seconds to go salvage one (1) baby item from the flames, I would get the BOB.  I didn’t know it was possible to have a love so deep for a stroller. The BOB is pretty much the Lexus LX570 of strollers.  It costs as much as your dad’s first car but it’s worth it and we use that thing almost every day.  It corners like a dream and Harper is so cozy in there that she usually falls asleep while we stroll.  I walk with it on the reg and My Man runs with it and he loves it too.  Simply put, it is the best.  I did my research so save yourself the trouble.

White Noise Machine ( Conair SU1W Sound Therapy) : Apparently the womb was pretty noisy, so newborn babies are particularly comforted by the sound of white noise.  Now that she is no longer a newborn, adults in our house are particularly comforted by the sound of white noise.  We crank it up in her nursery and close the door, allowing us to have loud dinner guests and dance parties while Harper sleeps soundly.  Thanks to her noise machine, That Baby doesn’t hear a peep.

Baby Seat (Fisher-Price My Little Lamb Deluxe Infant Seat and ) : Unless you are of the babywearing ilk, you need to have somewhere to put your baby when you need to put her down and the floor just wont do.  At six months, Harper is still quite content sitting in her bouncy seat chewing on her Sophie and watching the action. (Though I turned around the other day and she was headed for the door.  That’s one adorable little escape artist. So I would recommend using the straps once your baby becomes mobile).

The vibrate setting was particularly useful to settle her down when That Baby was little bitty.  Aesthetically speaking, the colors of this seat are nice and neutral and not quite as abrasive as the playmat and other themey baby gear. So if, if, Martyn Lawrence Bullard or Mary McDonald were to come to call, they wouldn’t have a total conniption if it were out in the living room.  (Thank God Andy Cohen that Million Dollar Decorators is back for season two.)

BabyBjorn (BABYBJORN Baby Carrier Synergy)   On the subject of babywearing, there is a certain school of parenting thought that promotes round the clock baby holding and wearing, and there are forums and chat rooms and even an online association dedicated to the practice.  Apparently it is a way of life/parenting philosophy akin to co-sleeping and attachment parenting. That is not really how things go down in our house, but there are some serious advantages to having a hands-free way to carry your little one.  I don’t strap Harper on when I’m in the house, but when I am out and about running errands, strapping her in and wearing her like a little kangaroo pup is the easiest way to get things done.  Thanks to the Bjorn, I have both hands free to put things I didn’t know I  needed into my cart at Target.  And because That Baby isn’t quite sturdy enough to be able to sit in the grocery cart just yet, I always use the Bjorn when I go to the grocery store.  In fact, I just used it the other day when we went to Whole Foods.  Hippies at Whole Foods and the natural food store love love love to see you wear your baby.  They practically clap for you as you walk down the aisles and shower you in organic quinoa and hemp milk.

Breast Pump (Medela Pump in Style Advanced Breast Pump with On the Go Tote ) :  If your husband wasn’t traumatized enough after watching his precious wife birth an eight pounder, seeing this contraption in action will do the trick. I don’t really need to explain the logistics of this one, but needless to say, it gets the job done.  Though I’m still not sure where the “style” part comes from.

Miracle Blanket Swaddle (Miracle Blanket Swaddle) : Harper slept longer and stronger when she was bundled up like a burrito in the Miracle Blanket.  We tried the velcro swaddle and the aiden and anais swaddle blankets but this was the only one that she didn’t bust out of.  Our swaddle days are over now, but I would recommend that any mother-to-be buy a few of these.

Pack ‘N Play (Graco Pack N Play Playard with Bassinet) : That baby slept in her pack n play for a week at the beach and regularly goes to sleep in it when we are over at friends’ houses.  This simple model was a consumer reports favorite and it gets the job done quite well.

Babywise (On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the GIFT of Nighttime Sleep) :  The book should actually be called “Giving YOURSELF the Gift of Nighttime Sleep.” I wouldn’t have had the first clue about how to get That Baby on a schedule without this book.  It taught me the basics like how much sleep babies need, what to expect at what age, and how to “troubleshoot” things that might come up like acid reflux and teething. Baby Wise presents an infant care program which the authors say will cause babies to sleep through the night beginning between seven and nine weeks of age.  That means no middle of the night nursing and a baby who learns to self soothe. It emphasizes parental control of the infant’s sleep, play and feeding schedule rather than allowing the baby to decide when to eat, play and sleep.  I didn’t and don’t follow their schedule to the letter, but Harper started sleeping through the night at around seven weeks and we have Baby Wise to thank for that.  This blog , Chronicles of a Baby Wise Mom, was also wonderful at filling in the gaps.

Car Seat (Chicco Keyfit 30 Infant Car Seat): Obviously you gotta have a car seat to take your baby home from the hospital. Allegedly it’s the law. We chose the Chicoo Keyfit 30 based on Consumer Report’s strong recommendation.  They put that thing through the ringer and it came out on top.

Sophie Teether ( Vulli Sophie the Giraffe Teether) : I don’t know what it is about the international sensation that is Sophie the Giraffe, but this is Harper’s go-to teething toy. We seriously don’t leave home without it.

In-town, loving (free) babysitters- Man oh man. My parents have been so amazing and are ohsovery willing to take care of That Baby when My Man and I need a night on the town. Such a gift. Unfortunately they aren’t available for purchase on Amazon.  Maybe check eBay.

So that’s the short list of the things we couldn’t live without for the first six months.  Mothers out there–what was on your list?  Anything I need for the next six?

Go forth and multiply.

Harper’s First Halloween

2012 November 5
by Jennifer

I have no choice but to share a few photos from Harper’s first Halloween.

Dressed as a little chickadee, she was all smiles and none the wiser to the moderate ridiculousness of her barnyard getup.  She happily wore the chicken suit to party #1 with a group of our friends.  Their neighborhood hosts a HUGE pre trick-or-treat party at a nearby park, complete with a parade, pizza and a DJ. Yes, a DJ. It was chaos and the kids were adorable but running amuk in anticipation of the delectable frenzy that would transpire later in the evening. The parents drank from their spiked solo cups and watched their hyperactive ninjas and princesses dance to Gangnam Style and Call Me Maybe.  If I had to take a fleet of 7-year-old sugar-high superheroes door-to-door for hours in the cold, I’d be drinking too.

Standing back and taking it all in, I had one of those surreal “oh my…this is my life now…I’m really a parent” moments.  But since That Baby is not of trick-or-treating age just yet, I make the calls on costume(s), and I don’t have to brave the elements to aid her quest for candy, I figure I’m just dipping my little toe into the waters of (holiday) parenting.

I pulled pageant mom and insisted on a quick costume change before heading to our second stop of the evening.  My little chickadee magically became a pumpkin for the Halloween extravaganza in our neighborhood.

Good Times and Butterfingers were had by all.

Beach Trip

2012 October 17
by Jennifer

We’ve just returned from a week at the beach.  This was our first vacation with That Baby and it was a little different.  Great, but different. This trip I foolishly and ambitiously packed three books and a waist-high stack of magazines and brought the entire stack of untouched New Yorks, Vanity Fairs and Verandas back home with me. Apparently there is not much time for pleasure reading with an infant in tow.

Though the days spent beach cruising, lounging, resting and combing through hundreds of glossy pages may be in the past, we tried not to let That Baby cramp our vacation style too much.  Harper is on something of a schedule but we decided to let the schedule slide whilst on vacay because we didn’t want to be home-bound for naptime and in early for her Atlanta bedtime.  Instead, she napped in the stroller or by the pool or not at all, and stayed up late so she could join us for half-priced glasses of wine and raw oysters at happy hour. We took long walks together to ogle at the gorgeous houses and made shady beach-side oases to keep pristine baby skin burn free.  ((A note about the photo below: Harper was all, “Mom these glasses totally clash with my swimsuit.”  And I was all, “I know baby, but they were the only ones I could find in your size.”  Harper’s hoping Santa brings her a pair of baby wayfarers just like her archrival Blue Ivy Carter.  Kids these days.))

Though we let the schedule slide on vacation, there is one thing I hold onto for dear life at home and away.  You see, Harper wakes up for the day between 7:30 and 8am and then goes back down for a long nap right after she eats and plays a bit. We are talking at least 2 or 3 hours of solid peepless baby sleep.  So most days on vacation, when the little one took a morning nap, so did we.  I don’t know how long this blessed season will last, but My Man and I are enjoying it.  Leisurely mornings are my love language.

We shared a house with my parents at Watercolor the first half of the week.  They were delighted to have so much quality time with Harper and were willing babysitters so My Man and I could play tennis, do some mild gallivanting and have a night or two on the town.  My parents (Buzzo and Honey to Harper) are absolutely over the moon in love with That Baby and it became even more evident after our time together at the beach.  My mom took great delight in being the “naptime hero,” the one who gets Harper out of her crib after a nap.  Then there was the time when my mom woke me up from a nap to see if she could wake Harper up.  I was taking a flying first class style nap with ear plugs and an eye mask and was in a deep sleep when the overzealous grandmother knocked on my bedroom door to see if she could go wake up That Baby.  Needless to say, that didn’t go over well.  That day Honey learned that waking a sleeping mother is arguably worse than waking a sleeping baby.

The second half of the week our little family of three rented a house of our own a little ways down the beach at Seagrove.  We rolled the dice and went for a deal we found on VRBO.  The house was juuust fine. Cons: loud 1980s beach décor, really uncomfortable beds, and lacking the Watercolor charm we had grown accustomed to.  Pros: amazing water pressure, cranking up the AC to my heart’s content on the owner’s dime, and being at the beach.

The week went by way too fast and before we knew it we were on the road back to Atlanta.  Harper did better than expected on the 5+hour drive each way.  She did a good bit of sleeping and babbling and fortunately her tears were few.  However, about 20 minutes away from home, tears lead to screams and screams lead to projectile vomiting the entire contents of her stomach over the back seat of the car. It seems she’s learned young that vacation is amazing and reentry to the real world can be rough.

 

Milestones

2012 September 29
by Jennifer

Between working, taking care of that sweet baby, Pinteresting and watching Downton Abbey, there is time for little else—hence the neglect of ye olde blog. But it’s high time I caught you up on what has been happening.

First of all, I celebrated a big birthday.  A lady never reveals her age but let’s just say that my twenties are officially in the rearview.  Because my birthday fell on an anti-climactic Wednesday this year, it meant we partied in high style all week long and I got to bookend the Big Day with celebrations both weekends. My parents were sweet enough to volunteer to look out for the little one all day Saturday so My Man and I could have a day-date to ring in the new year.  We have had a sitter and been out for dinner sans-baby plenty of times, but what I craved was a whole entire day of quality time with My Man and—no judgment—without our little love child.  The day would have been a totally typical day in our life pre-baby (what we affectionately refer to as our “single life”), but it felt special to just get out and go without the thought of schedules, swaddles, naps, nipples, diapers and feedings.  So what did we do with our day of freedom? We went for a long walk on the trails, had a leisurely lunch, did some shoe shopping, hit golf balls at the driving range and ran some errands.  Ring-a-ding-ding, right?  Maybe I should have requested something more lavish, but it was so nice to spend more than three hours out of the house and with my shirt on.  It was a happy birthday indeed.

Last year on my birthday, I made a very specific wish when I blew out the candle on my cake…

It came true!

My little birthday wish reached a major milestone in infant development a few weeks ago.  Wait for it…wait for it…she rolled over.  I think I’ve got a real Gabby Douglas on my hands. The endorsement deals are already piling in. Of course we freaked out, took a movie, and called both sets of grandparents immediately.  The enthusiasm we demonstrated when Harper started babbling, grabbing toys and rolling over was previously reserved for Major Life Events like promotions, raises and engagements.   Who knew that My Man would clap for baby coos and overdue bowel movements with the same conviction he exhibits when he cheers for the Braves.  (And that’s sayin’ somethin’.) Geesh. First-time parents.

Every day I fall more in love with my little girl. I seriously have to hold myself back from taking a nibble from those chunky thighs.

(I had to censor the picture above so she can’t use it as ammunition to fuel her future teen angst.  But seriously. With all that chub, it’s hard to tell what’s what down there.)

You may recall that in the early weeks of my new life as a mother, I was sending tearful exhausted texts to friends begging them to tell me it gets better.  Well, shortly thereafter things got really good—and somewhere along the way it got great.  Having baby indubitably turned my world, my life and my heart upside down, so naturally it took me a minute to recalibrate and get my barrings. We definitely have our days, days where she wont take take an afternoon nap and days when I could really use one, but I think we are hitting our stride.   I am totally wholeheartedly digging my new gig.

Operation Whittle My Middle

2012 July 19

It’s an unfortunate truth that (most) every woman can name at least one part of her body that she isn’t happy with. Post-baby I can say that that area is my mid-section. Pregnancy, to state it gently, shifts things around a bit.  I’m pretty sure Jessica Simpson would agree.

Two months postpartum, things aren’t quite as taught and trim as they used to be.  Now I’m not complaining—and I think it’s important to marvel at the Big Picture here. I am amazed that my body knew exactly what to do to for 41 weeks and in the end we were blessed with a perfectly healthy baby girl. It is seriously amazing what a woman’s body is capable of—and I am so proud of my body and beyond blessed that I got to experience the miracle of childbirth…

…but let’s get back to the small, more self-absorbed picture.  Sweet Baby Harper, not the wobbly bits around my middle, is the only visual evidence I need of that miracle.

Walking is my preferred form of exercise but unfortunately it is prohibitively hot outside.  With temperatures holding steady in the mid-90s, putting baby girl all covered up in her car seat in the stroller creates an incubator-esque situation for her.  I took her for one walk in these conditions and she lasted for a total of 10 minutes before screaming hysterically. When I got her out of the stroller she was soaking wet with sweat.  Not fair for her to suffer for my sake. (Oh, the sacrifices we make for our children!)

And I am a member of gym that offers childcare BUT I am a skittish first-time parent and not yet ready to put my child in that germ factory while I take a joyride on the elliptical.  I’m sure I’ll get over it, but currently there isn’t enough Purell in the city to alleviate my fears of her picking up the bird flu or the whooping cough from a total stranger’s stinky snot-nosed child.  No thanks.

So that leaves me at home with brief interludes during naptime to tackle the matter at hand. Enter the workout DVD.

Here are a few of my go-to videos that I have collected over the years–videos that have collected a lot of dust over the past year:

After taking it easy for six weeks post-baby and not doing a single pushup or sit-up for the better portion of the past year pre-baby, I practically felt the burn after my first march in place warm-up.  I was tempted to give up and settle into mom-jeans and skirted swimwear until I had a breakthrough.  Here is the secret to my (pending future) success and the thing that keeps me energized, inspired and going back for more:

Once I have done a video a few times, it is easy to get the gist of things, especially with Jillian who does two sets of each exercise.  I simply put the DVD in my computer, mute the bossy lady barking commands, and turn on the TV for some real entertainment.  When I am working out I can freely indulge in all the Bravo, Style Network and Retro MTV shows I please.  Knowing my DVR is loaded with such quality programing motivates me to break out the mat and the arm weights and get crunching.

The assortment of Reality TV Gold currently on my DVR includes The Hills, Giuliana & Bill, the Real Housewives of NYC, The Real Housewives of Orange County, Tia and Tamera, Shark Tank and HGTV Design Star.  ((I obviously watch The Bachelorette primetime. With My Man.  Don’t tell him I told you.))  Watching these shows is the real incentive because I try not to give in to such mindlessness just sitting still. And I guess achieving muscular definition akin to that of my team of personal trainers is pretty dang motivating too.

 

I’m not going to post before and after photos but I will say that after three weeks of committed DVD workouts whilst watching the telly, I’m not dieeeeing after a set or two of bicycle crunches.  I definitely have to thank Bravolebrities and Lauren Conrad for any progress I’ve made thus far.  Odds are I’ll be bikini ready by summer 2013.  But I’m guessing Jessica Simpson will be rocking the skirted one-piece until at least 2016.

Great Summer Dessert

2012 July 5

It has been a while since I shared a recipe, so I think it’s appropriate to share this old standby that can even be decorated to celebrate the most patriotic of holidays–or the upcoming Olympic Games.  Trifle, which must be French for delicious layered dessert, is one of my very favorites.  And there is really no wrong way to do it as long as you start with the essentials:  Some sort of cake, some kind of fruit, and a pudding or custard. Make it quick and healthy by using angel food cake and instant pudding, or laborious and indulgent by using pound cake and homemade custard.  The choice is yours.  I’ll choose the healthy way because it’s bathing suit season and pound cake might undo the postpartum work that Jillian Michaels has begun.  ((And don’t knock instant sugar-free pudding until you try it spiked with a splash of Grand Marnier.))

Summer Berry Trifle

  • 2 1.5oz boxes sugar-free vanilla or white chocolate pudding
  • 3 ½  cups Skim Milk
  • 2 ½ cups CoolWhip (thawed in the refrigerator)
  • Splash of Grand Marnier (optional but encouraged!)
  • 1 Angel food cake
  • 4 cups cut strawberries
  • Blueberries for garnish

To make the pudding layer, combine the instant pudding and the milk and whisk until it sets up a bit.  Gently fold in a 1 ½ cups Cool Whip, reserving the other cup for the top layer.  Now add a small splash of Grand Marnier. Taste the mixture and see if you want to add more.  Add a little more.  I’d start with a tablespoon and then add more to taste.  (If you don’t use Grand Marnier, a teaspoon or two of almond extract is a nice addition to give the pudding a kick.) Next, cut the angel food cake in thin slices.   Wash and cut the strawberries.  Now you are ready to get layering.

In a glass dish or bowl, begin with a layer of angel food cake. Then top the cake with a layer of pudding. Now sprinkle on some strawberries.  Repeat the layers until you’ve used up all the ingredients.

For the top layer, spread a thin layer of Cool Whip and get artsy and patriotic with the strawberries and blueberries.

You can serve immediately, but it tastes even better after you let it chill in the refrigerator for about two hours or so.  Enjoy!

Now that you get the gist, feel free to get creative with the whole thing.  Sometimes I add toffee bits between layers, crumbled vanilla meringue cookies, peaches, brownies instead of cake, chocolate pudding instead of vanilla.  You get the idea.  Just layer up and dig in.

Happy Fourth Fifth! Go Team USA!

 

Pregnancy Perks (and gratuitous photos of my baby girl)

2012 June 20
by Jennifer

 

 

So it’s been 6 weeks now.  And just like in pregnancy, I’ve found that mothers measure their new life and the baby’s lives in a series of weeks.  The math is mind boggling—but I get it.  With each week come firsts and major milestones in the baby’s life and my own.  The past 6 weeks have flown by in a blur of delirious joy and exhaustion, but somehow it feels like ages ago since I was pregnant.  And there is not much I miss about those days—except for this one thing:

The General Public was SO nice to me when I was pregnant. Strangers struck up conversations with me about my due date, the baby’s gender and whether or not this was my first child.  My round belly invited kindness, compliments, opened doors, let me cut in lines, and precluded me from paying extra for guacamole at Mexican restaurants.  Sure there were the awkward and unappreciated comments (“oh, you’re not wearing your rings, are your fingers swollen?”  “are you sure you’re not having twins?” etc) but all in all, the world smiled and embraced me and the life I was creating.  It was like I was a VIP and I guess I got pretty used to smiling and waving as I glided down the red carpet life roles out to expectant mothers.

My first postpartum baby-free trip to the grocery store was a real wake-up call. In just days, I had gone from a VIP with an all-access pass to a totally invisible nobody.  No one spoke to me, no one offered to carry my groceries to the car, and although I was grunting quite loudly—no one stopped to offer to help me grab the box of cereal from the top shelf.  But in reality, I was the one that needed help! I was a basket case the first time I ventured in public post-baby.  I had probably gotten three hours of sleep in the past 48 and my body had just gone through the major trauma of birthing a human. I was the one needing a compliment and a wink from the Willy’s employee as he heaped on the free corn salsa and cheese dip.  Someone should have given me a medal for spelling my name right and remembering to put the car in park before getting out.

Yes, when you are pregnant you are rounder than usual and there can be a bit of nausea, cankles, stretchmarks and heartburn, but life goes on pretty much exactly as it always has. Shortly after giving birth, you are still rounder than usual and the cankles and stretchmarks are in no hurry to go away. Now add in sleeplessness, soreness and the physical demands of keeping a human alive.  Exponentially harder.  Now that I am on the other side of pregnancy, I will give the courtesy grin to expectant mothers but I will save my real smiles, my sympathy offers for assistance and my “you look greats” for mothers with newborns and small children.  NOW I KNOW.

But needless to say, I would obviously trade all of the pregnancy perks in the world for the happiness that this baby girl as brought me.  I seriously love her more every day. And last week she smiled at me and I just went crazy.  Now my day is spent trying to make her do it again and again and again.

I can’t wait to see what the next 6 weeks bring.

The First Three Weeks

2012 May 29

Many of you were kind enough to compliment how great I looked in the pictures taken at the hospital, mere moments and hours after I had given birth to our 7lbs 8.5oz bundle of joy.  Thank you.  And here’s why:

In the hospital, I was given access to two magic buttons.  The first was the button to self-administer an increased dosage of the epidural.  When I felt a contraction coming on, I simply pressed the little green button and got a hit of the good stuff. Exhale. Let me be clear that having a medicated birth did not eliminate all labor pains, but it made the pain much more manageable and far less excruciating.  Thank Goodness for the green button.

As soon as our baby girl was born, they wheeled me into a private recovery room to spend the next two nights.  There, I was given two options: #1. Have baby Harper stay in the hospital room with me or #2. Have baby Harper bunk up in the Nursery.  Without hesitation I chose option #2.  The nurses would bring our sweet baby down the hall from the nursery for me when it was time to feed her.  Once she had a full tummy and had been sufficiently snuggled, I pressed the red button on my bed that summoned the nurses to come and get her.  I slept oh so soundly thanks to the pain meds and the peace of mind that comes from knowing your little one is in the capable hands of trained professionals.  Hearing her being wheeled down the hall in her bassinet will forever remain one of my very favorite sounds.

They said we could leave the Four Seasons hospital as early as we wanted on Friday morning.  To be honest, I was in no hurry.  We opted for a late checkout.

At the end of the day, they sent us home with our baby and three pages of tips on how to care for a newborn.  (Note that our car seat has a 30 page manual. And our toaster came with a bound notebook of operating instructions.)  The drive home was surreal and certainly one of those life moments I’ll never forget.

And this is the day My Man and I became Adults.  Getting grown up jobs, getting engaged then married, opening a joint checking account, buying a house and refinancing our mortgage were all preludes to true adulthood.  It became official the moment we brought our baby girl home from the hospital.

The first night home was a blur of joy, panic and delirious exhaustion .  You see, our baby never cried in the hospital in our presence—but sure enough she found her voice when we got home.  At 2am we were watching YouTube videos about how to swaddle and soothe a baby while our unswaddled baby cried hysterically.  And there was no button to press to bring us or our screaming baby any relief.

Night one we broke the “no pacifier until the baby is one month old” rule. No regrets there.  By night two we’d made three panicked calls to the pediatrician and taken four rectal temperatures—each confirming that there was absolutely nothing wrong with our child.

All of this to say, the new mother glow captured in those photos taken at the hospital was gone a few days later.  The whole first week at home I looked and felt like a sleep deprived refugee prisoner of war.  And my unfortunate flu-like reaction to the TDAP vaccine didn’t help the situation.  And there were hormones and there were tears.  The first week we were in the trenches. I sent text messages to my mother-friends along the lines of “tell me it gets better..?!”  They assured me that I does—

And they were right. Every day is better! There are certainly hard days and the (fingers crossed-occasional) sleepless night–but in the past few weeks I have experienced the most profound sense of joy and sheer gratitude that I have ever known. Every day I grow more and more smitten with my little girl—and every day I learn something new about how to care for her.  And My Man has been amazing. I fall more in love with him as I watch him fall in love with our little girl.  Fortunately for his sake, the hormones have left the building and he has his (mostly) even and optimistic woman back.  I bet he was worried that he’d lost me for a minute there.

We are getting more sleep around here and have mastered the swaddle (thanks, Miracle Blanket!). We have also fallen into something of a rhythm with the new normal.  And I like it. I know this is exactly where I’m supposed to be and I couldn’t be more grateful. Our life will clearly never be the same—it will be even better.

 

She’s Here!

2012 May 14
tags:
by Jennifer

Yesterday I celebrated my first Mother’s Day.

 

Our baby  girl, Harper, celebrated her 4th day.

 

We are obviously, totally, completely head over heels in love with the newest member of our family.

This is Joy.

Pregnancy Update (The Final Chapter)

2012 April 30
by Jennifer

Still pregnant! I’m two days from the official due date and I’m getting increasingly uncomfortable ready for the little one to arrive.  The bun in my oven is fully baked.

What have you done to get ready for labor? Though haven’t taken a Hypnobabies, Lamaze or Bradley Method class, or written out a detailed birth plan, I have taken this equally essential step to prepare for labor:  I’ve made a delivery iPod playlist for our entertainment at the hospital. It has a mix of everything from old classics to inspirational tunes to recent favorites.  My Man may be a tad embarrassed by some of my picks as they blare down the hospital corridor, but whatever. His veto power is very limited since I’m the one that gets to physically experience the miracle of childbirth. My iPod playlist is about 8 hours long. Unfortunately, I get the impression from ladies who have done this before that 8 hours may be a bit of a conservative estimate for first-time labor and childbirth.  Chances are that we will be listening to the playlist a few times.

Any contractions? A few here and there.  Yowza.  But I’m actually ready to feel some serious pain because it means that things are moving and the baby is close to being here.  Since my bag is packed and the car seat is installed, I googled ways to induce labor in an effort to get this show on the road.  If it wasn’t confirmed before, the internet is infested with crazies who live to share their most intimate details and witchcraft voodoo magic on medical message boards.  Teas, herbs, oils, galloping, reflexology, meditation, walking, spicy food, bumpy car rides and aromatherapy were some of the more mainstream recommendations to kick start labor. And men have somehow propagated a widely popular theory that a certain something also induces labor. I’ll give you a minute to read between the lines.

Any cravings? Sleeping on my stomach, red wine, sushi and imported cheeses.

But other than the obvious wanting what I can’t have, I really haven’t had any serious needitrightnow cravings throughout the pregnancy. But since this is a place of honesty, I probably should confess that My Man and I have developed a fancy for On the Border in recent months.  Not a pregnancy craving, per say, but it has definitely been thrown into the mealtime mix. Out of nowhere, this strip mall chain restaurant with enthusiastic waiters, television commercials and pictures on the menu has made it into our otherwise more refined restaurant rotation. It’s become our guilty pleasure secret spot for an economical fiesta.  Their salsa is amazing, their cokes are perfectly carbonated, and we are guaranteed not to see anyone we know (which to us means that we can boldly sit on the same side of the booth). Yep. We are those people.

How did the rental maternity dress work out? As you may recall, I rented a dress to wear in my friend’s wedding two weeks ago.  Fortunately the dress arrived in time for the big event. Unfortunately it was made of shiny stretchy bathing suit material and it was super low-cut in the front.   I had to do a minor safety pin alteration job on the straps so that I wasn’t sharing all my secrets as I walked down the aisle.  I wasn’t in love with it by any means but it got the job done.  Verdict?  Well worth $36.

Nesting? Fact or Fiction? Throughout the pregnancy, my hormones have been totally even keel. Trust me. You can even ask My Oneandonly and he will agree.  There have been no unjustified tears, screaming fits or breaking dishes out of rage.  I’m starting to think that playing the “cravings” and “hormones” cards during pregnancy are simply justifications for completely unleashing on the impregnator and demanding him to drive you through the Krispy Kreme drive-through when the “hot now” sign is on.  And that is totally understandable.  I may be calling balderdash on these alleged side effects, at least for me, but I’m here to say that the nesting instinct/phenomenon is real! (and damn is it expensive).  Feathering my nest has encouraged me to take on a lot of projects that the baby might not appreciate—at least not yet…like getting new bedding in the master bedroom, buying fabric to get a custom shower curtain made in the guest bathroom, and undertaking a complete outdoor overhaul.  Now we have new fancy professional landscaping in the front yard and three-plus weekends worth of do-it-yourself grass seeding in the back yard.  And I suddenly discovered a new-found energy surrounding tasks like organizing the junk drawers, cleaning out the freezer and unabashed use of the label maker. Some days I need  a nap, the sofa, the DVR and my seabands,  and on other days I feel like I’m a 1950s housewife on speed. It really is quite remarkable.

Is the Nursery finished?  The nursery is 95% finished and I will post pictures as soon as we hang the art on the walls and make the finishing touches. Here is a little preview though.

So what now? It is crazy being this close to such a massive and exciting life change—but not knowing exactly when it will happen.  It’s highly possible that last weekend was the last weekend we will have before we have a baby. Or it could have been the second-to-last since I feel pretty confident that I’ll go past the due date.  So confident, in fact, that I have an appointment to get my hair highlighted on Thursday afternoon.  The way I see it, this is my last chance to influence baby girl’s genetics and I’m hoping to pass on the natural blonde gene.  I’m not quite sure what to do with myself during this weird waiting period. Likely I’ll continue working, nesting, watching Bravo on DVR, and trying some of the tactics to naturally induce labor.

Hopefully next time you hear from me, it will be with news of the arrival of our healthy baby girl!!

Tween Beat

2012 April 18

I guess you could say my recent love affair with tween pop and tween lit started with The Hunger Games.  Knowing that the movie was coming out impelled me to download the book on My Man’s Kindle.  Two weeks later, I had blazed through The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and half of Mockingjay, the third book in the series.  I only paused to return the hijacked Kindle so My Man could get in on the action and get excited about seeing the movie with me.  He too read the books in record time and the two of us went to see the movie on the big screen shortly after it was released.  As far as book to movie adaptations go, I found it well above average and we were both thoroughly entertained.  I have thus far resisted the Harry Potter phenomenon and haven’t even been tempted to dive into the whole Twilight craze, but now I’m reconsidering.  It seems that these tweens are onto something…and apparently we may have similar tastes in books and (gulp) music.

Justin Bieber.  I am in no way the target demographic for his saccharine-sweet brand of pop.  That would be 12-year-old girls and the indulgent mothers who fund their allowances.  I rolled my eyes when I saw the little girls faint and swoon over his white boy dance moves and his shaggy hair flip.  And when he debuted his new haircut and diamond studs, I agreed with KD Lang who went on the record as saying it made him resemble a great looking lesbian.  [Indisputable evidence below].

The whole Bieber fever was beyond me…until I saw this video.  Watch it.

It’s just Biebs and his girl Selena Gomez and a handful of their friends lip sinking and dancing to the song “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Japsen.  These wildly famous teens are hanging out and doing exactly what my friends and I did to pass the time way back when we were young American kids.  We had dance parties and made music videos too.  These kids are just like us! (The only difference is that they are multimillionaires whose video garners 33 MILLION YouTube views.)   Seeing this made Justin Bieber more normal to me—normal in a good way.  Almost likable. Now I see the draw. No, I won’t be diving deep into Bieber’s catalog or throwing a single dollar at his massive empire of music and merchandise, but now I get It. NOW I get it.

But accepting Bieber and his posse of tween idols was my gateway drug to discovering and embracing the current Big Deal in teenpop: One Direction.

I was curious enough about Simon Cowell’s latest creation to watch the “British invasion” when they were on the Today Show in March.  Rockefeller Center has never been so crowded, even when my boy Bieber was preforming.  Then I watched—and re-watched—the boy band’s appearance on Saturday Night Live a few weeks ago.  Now I dare you to watch these tunes without getting their catchy wholesome family friendly pop stuck in your head:

“One Thing”

 

“What Makes You Beautiful”

These guys are going to be big time.  They (or Simon Cowell) know exactly the formula to make the little ladies swoon.  A version of the same formula worked for New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys and their older counterpart, Celtic Thunder.  Formulating One Direction was as simple as this: gather a group of guys with decent voices, varying hair colors, above average looks and throw in the zinger: British accents.  Then let them sing catchy songs that make girls feel pretty.  It’s almost too easy.   Girls love getting ready for the Homecoming Dance while they waltz around their bedrooms listening songs that make them feel special-imagining that the lyrics were written about them.  With choruses about “What Makes You Beautiful,” “It’s Got to be You” and “You’ve Got that One Thing,” middle school girls are putty in their hands.  I have fallen for it too.  Just like every other preteen, I have a favorite band member.  It isn’t Zayn Malik, the “quiet and mysterious one,” or Louis Tomlinson “the funny one ,” it’s “the charming one,” Harry Styles.  Swoon.

Amiright? Am. I. Right.

So I seem to be regressing a bit as I exchange my mature tastes in books and music for what middle schoolers are into.  And just yesterday a box of Corn Pops found its way in my cart at the grocery store and into my breakfasts bowl this morning.  What’s next? Sunny D? Sun-in? Totino’s Pizza Roles? Glitter eyeshadow?  If so, bring it on.  The way I see it, I have about two-ish weeks left before I become a real adult, so why not take a dip into adolescent fantasies.  Time to live it up.

What (not) to Wear

2012 April 10
by Jennifer

I was honored to be asked to be in a wedding by a longtime sisterfriend.  As far as attire goes, my assignment was simple enough: look dazzling in a formal long black dress.  Yes, simple enough for the non-pregnant. But for this girl who is three short weeks from her due date, looking dazzling in anything—and procuring said long black dress posed a bit of a challenge, especially given my self-imposed $60 budget and the fact that I have waited till the very last minute to find the dress.

You see, I KNOW this is something I will only wear once so I was hesitant to spend real money on the dress.  Well-made and borderline cute maternity clothes are definitely out there, but man are they expensive.  Since I’m no Kardashian, I did an internet search for a lower-end option.  All the internet came up with was the “Maternity Prom” section of a number of retailers like 9 Lover, Best Plus Size Dresses and David’s Bridal, all full of tacky taffeta nightmares. Not a chance.

So I sent an email to my friends who have found themselves in a family way, asking if while they were pregnant, they had purchased a black tie black maternity ball gown that they would be willing to let me borrow.  No luck—none of those girls had a dress to fit the bill.

Back to the worldwide web.  I’ve heard of Rent the Runway so I crossed my swollen fingers that there was a maternity equivalent:  a place online where for far less than retail, you can rent a designer dress for your occasion.  Aaaaand Jackpot! It seems I’m not the only one with a post-conception clothing conundrum. RentMaternityWear.com, Belly Bump Boutique, Borrow for your Bump and Mine for Nine all seem to be legit operations catering to the frugal yet fissionable mom-to-be.  Formal long black dresses were still scarce, but I found the best of the bad options and placed my order. Thirty-six dollars later, my rental gown is in the mail, hopefully scheduled to arrive by the time the wedding bells chime this Saturday.

Without further ado, here she is, the Grand Prize Winner:

I’m hoping for a happy ending to this tailored tale, but I’m nervous about two things:

  1. It won’t fit.  Unlike some of the rental sites, Borrow for Your Bump only sends you one size—and these days my size is increasing by the day. (Doctor’s orders! It is the only time that medical community actually celebrates the fact that the numbers inch their way up on a weekly basis.  I’m embracing it. Yumm. Nachos. ) I’m just hoping I guesstimated/forecasted my size correctly.
  2. The other x factor of this particular dress is the length.  Does that look short to you?  Chances are it will hit somewhere between my knees and my cankles.  Not a flattering length on anyone.

Since I like to live on the edge, there is no plan B.  I’m rocking my rental in the wedding no matter what—even if it is too tight and tea length.   And if it does, somehow, miraculously make me look and feel like a pregnant prom queen instead of a side-show-attraction, I will definitely be wearing it more than once.  I don’t have to send it back for 30 days!  I’ll give myself a black tie dress code between now and delivery.   I may even wear it to the hospital when I go into labor.*

*Dry cleaning was included.

 

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