Tough Conversations With Kids

Expect the best, prepare for the worst.” ~ Muhammad Ali Jinnah

Tough conversations with kids about fire safety

Risk analysis is my jam.  You could put me in a room, and I could both identify and prepare for any risk that might even remotely be presented.

We had the monitor to alert us if the boys’ breathing became irregular, we were early adapters to child-proofing, and I still cut up hot dogs for my 2 ½ year-old so they don’t pose a choking hazard.

What mom hasn’t felt her risk antennae become a bit sharper after having kids? From the minute our child comes into our life, every cell in our body reprograms with a new mission – keeping him or her safe.

But that’s hard. We can’t always be there. Nor do we want to be. Therefore, the best way we can protect our kids is to prepare them.

However, this can lead to some tough conversations…

Read the rest of this first post of my Tough Conversations with Kids series on the Birmingham Moms Blog.

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Mommin’ Ain’t Easy

“Friendship…is born at the moment when one person says to another: “What!  You too?  I thought I was the only one.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Bless the moms who always look fantastic and put together, who’s doting kids always appear to listen to their mother’s calm requests with a polite smile on their faces, and who’s children are grateful for every minor correction given by all-knowing parents, as if they know that their momma truly does know best.  Bless them.

Photo by Bridgett Shepherd

The perfect moment captured.

If you were to catch a glimpse of me on the right day, at exactly the right moment, when the wind is blowing just right, and the world (aka the two boys) seems in sync, you may think I am one of these unicorns.

However, let me assure you my friends that I am not.

On my best day I am like the mom equivalent of a mullet – perfectly manicured in the front, hair on fire in the back.

In my short two-and-a-half years as a mother, I have learned that in fact, there are no unicorns.  There is no perfect mother with perfectly behaved kids.  That perfectly put together mother with her well-behaved children I see at the grocery store, soccer practice, and at daycare pick up – she’s right there in the trenches too.  I just happened to catch her at just the right moment.  And you know what, that’s why when I see that mom, I give her a nod as if to say, “Sister, I know what it took to get here like that.  You go girl.”  Then my face likely reflects a tinge of longing as I thing, “Tell me your secret.”

Photo by Bridgett Shepherd

The behind-the-scenes captured

However, despite the craziness, the mom-buns, the dry-fit shirts (a new staple of my momiform here in Birmingham), and the suitcases under my eyes, I wouldn’t trade being a mom for all the perfect and/or quiet moments in the world.

But mommin’ ain’t easy.  It isn’t for the faint of heart.  That’s why we need friends.  We need friends who we can join with, share with, be in the trenches with, and laugh with.

I’ve always loved the above C.S. Lewis quote.  But, I treasure it as a mom.

Whether it is a co-worker, a fellow soccer mom, or your favorite blogger, there is nothing more reassuring or encouraging as a mom than when you hear or read something that makes you say, “What? You too?  I thought I was the only one!”

Birmingham_Contributor_BTNThere is strength in numbers ladies.

That’s why I am so thrilled and honored to join the fabulous team of ladies at the Birmingham Moms Blog as a contributor.

Check out the introduction post to read a little more about how we got to Birmingham, my career change, and what the true meaning is behind the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child.”

The posts will include some local flavor as the boys and I explore our new home here in the Magic City.  However, I hope to also relay those universal moments we all have as moms in the trenches – the ones that make us laugh, cry, and everything in between.   So be encouraged mama – no matter where you are, you are not the only one.

 

Pregnancy Favorites

“Pregnancy and birth knit womankind together.  Help weave a gorgeous thread to add to the fabric.  Be supportive.  Be kind.  Be wise.  Be open.” ~ Desirre Andrews

The saying goes that it takes a village to raise a child.  I’d back that up a bit.  It takes a village to go through pregnancy.

It did not long for me to realize that the best resources at my disposal as a newly minted first-time momma-to-be were not the books at my bedside which laid out (sometimes in horrifying detail) what was to come, but the ladies surrounding me who have gone before.

In fact,after seeing those two pink lines, one of the first lists I made consisted of women I had questions for.  These women have been my village.  And thank God for without them, I would be lost without a compass.

However, being pregnant has this weird way of converting you back to the days of your youth.  This has proven to be both a good and bad thing.

For example, the first couple weeks of being pregnant, all I wanted was mac and cheese.  This often sent my loving and patient husband to the grocery store when all I wanted was Annie’s.  Then he’d graciously make it for me and add (or hide if we want to be more accurate) the chicken so I got my protein in a way that didn’t make me gag.  When’s the last time someone had to hide your nutrition.  But this wasn’t so bad.

The weird and unnerving part is that once some people sense you’re pregnant, it’s as if all of the sudden years fall off of your age.  These people often see you not as “with child” so much as a child yourself.  They watch you, tell you how to act, what to eat, what not to eat, and what to do.  Most of which is unsolicited.  Think of them as the village’s door to door salespeople.  This is not what I mean when I say it takes a village.  However, it is your village that will  help you get through this unsolicited advice and assist you in separating the useful information from the noise.

With that being said, this list is not an end all be all “must-have” list.  This is simply a list of what I have found to be my favorites during pregnancy.  All women are different, which makes all pregnancies unique.  One of my first (and favorite) questions was, “what did you just have to have while you were pregnant?”  I found it fascinating what helped different women during pregnancy.  So from my village to your’s, here is a list of some of my favorite things.

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From top to bottom, left to right:

  1. Water bottle.  I’m going to be honest.  I’ve never been a huge fan of water.  It’s always been a necessary evil.  I’m one of those weirdos that “doesn’t like the way water tastes.”  However, the strangest thing happened when I got pregnant – I started to CRAVE water.  This falls under the category of, “Isn’t the human body amazing.”  You see, it makes sense that I started craving water since staying hydrating is vital during pregnancy.  It helps your body not only absorb nutrients but also helps in the aid and transportation of these nutrients to your little one.  Water also helps stave off many of those unpleasant pregnancy symptoms including fatigue, headaches, swelling, and constipation.  That in and of itself should be enough of a reason. The Institute of Medicine suggests that during pregnancy, most women should try to drink 10 cups (2.3 liters) of water each day.  Having a big water bottle like this helped me do that, especially while at work.  Staying hydrated is also key if you continue to work out during pregnancy…which is a whole other post.
  2. Thick pair of maternity leggings.  Yes I bought maternity jeans, but these, these are my happy place.  Despite all of the cute maternity wear out there, while it may seem like an eternity, you are really only pregnant for a short time.  Instead of spending a lot of money on maternity clothes, I decided early on that all I really needed were good solid wardrobe staples.  I finally found these at Gap after ordering a couple other pairs that didn’t pass the test.  While a lot of maternity clothes may be bought online, leggings are something you just have to see in the store and try on.  However, if you must buy online, avoid any that include “light” or “lightweight” in the description. No one wants to be that person.
  3. Simple shirred tops.  On the topic of simple staples, I have about five different colors of this Gap top.  I found it to be so comfortable and easy to dress up for work during the week or wear with jeans on the weekend.  Plus the gathered sides made it the perfect fit throughout pregnancy.
  4. Contour kit.  Let’s face it, no matter how self-confident you are, at some point, you’re just going to start to feel well…pregnant.  Your body goes through so many changes, there were days that I would look in the mirror and just didn’t feel like myself.  I had been wanting to try a contour kit for awhile and figured this was the perfect time.  I ended up getting this one at Ulta, and I love it!  Overall it was a great beauty find but I really love it on those mornings where your cheekbones appear to be hiding.  It’s a great way to give your face the definition that that little one of your’s may be stealing for the time being.
  5. Vitamin water.  Luckily, the first trimester was not too wrought with sickness but nausea is one of the things I fought each morning as I got ready for work and each night on my drive home.  In my search to find a remedy, I read Chic Runner’s blog where she listed that Vitamin Water really helped with her nausea because it is packed with b-12.  It was perfect timing because this mama-t0-be was getting a little sick of ginger ale.  Plus, chugging ginger ale at 8 am is a dead giveaway that you’re pregnant.  I found that these really helped me.  I would have half of one in the morning and then the rest as I drove home and it really helped.
  6. Pregnancy pillow.  The Bump Nest, or Bumpy as we lovingly call it, has been a lifesaver.  Luckily, due to working out, sleeping hasn’t been an issue. However, sleeping on my side was proving to be problematic.  I got the Bump Nest early on (another Chic Runner rec) and found it perfect for support, keeping me on my side, and for keeping everything aligned, which helped keep away issues with my sciatic nerve and lower back pain.  As your pregnancy progresses, you can change the position to support either your back or bump.  And as an added bonus, both the pillow and cover are washable.  The Bump Nest is a bit more expensive but if you’re going to splurge, this is where to do it.  Now I just have to figure out how to justify keeping Bumpy in the bed once our little guys is here.
  7. Workout shirts.  As I mentioned above, I’ll have to do a separate post about working out during pregnancy because it has truly made all of the difference.  But for now, here’s the shirt I wore every day.  These shirts aren’t meant to be for maternity but the fabric, softness, breathability, and flexibility made them perfect for working out.  The description says they are “shape retentive.”  I’ll update you on that one!
  8. Palmers.  Stretch marks.  To be honest, I’m not sure if I’ll get away unscathed or not my the time this is all said and done.  But from the beginning, I have used Palmers.  This is not necessarily because I believe it will keep the stripes away, but a little moisture can’t hurt right?
  9. Cardigans.  Simple staples right?  I got three cardigans in different colors and have worn them nonstop.  These are perfect over the shirred tops mentioned above and over long maxi dresses.  Pair it with a chunky necklace for date night and you’re good to go.

What were some of your favorite things while you were pregnant?  Or onto what will be my next question – what are your favorite things post-baby?

Calmness

When planning for Spain and the Camino de Santiago, I decided I wanted to devote time every day to read a devotion, reflect, and write. The benefits of just a couple moments of silence to think, create, and be still each day are numerous. However, it is the one thing that seems to slide down, or off, of my to-do list.

After some thought, I decided to take a much loved devotional from my days at the publishing house with me. I had never read it personally, but I knew how much it meant to so many people. I was also given a copy when I left to I to law school. Unfortunately, it has taken me over three years to pick it up.

This morning, we were still two hours away from Madrid, and I couldn’t sleep. So I decided to look at the devotion for the day. I have excerpted part of it below:

“STAY CALMLY CONSCIOUS OF ME today, no matter what. Remember that I go before you as well as with you into the day. Nothing takes Me by surprise. I will not allow circumstances to overwhelm you, so long as you look to Me. I will help you cope with whatever the moment presents.”

This is perfect for so many reasons. A new country and a trek like this can at times be overwhelming. So the meaning of these words are not lost on me there. However, it was something much deeper that made my heart twinge over the Atlantic Ocean this morning.

I have a post-it on my computer at work that reads: calmness is trust in action. It is something a good friend and co-worker once read to me. That quote and the devotion for today strike at the core of what I hope to learn and carry with me from this amazing trip.

Too often I get anxious and overwhelmed looking at the next thing instead of enjoying every moment, no matter what it brings, and trusting. I too quickly lose my focus. I miss the beauty right in front of me when I am concerned about the future.

As we shuffled off of the plane and we’re greeted by beautiful morning in Madrid, I decided that this trip, I am going to be calmly conscious. I’m going to soak it all in. No matter what each day brings I am going to trust and enjoy. And hopefully these habits will go with me back to the states.

Let’s Go on an Adventure

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” ~ Lao-Tzu

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Hello my name is Jacklyn and I’m an Arranger. Well, as of tomorrow, a recovering Arranger.

So I have taken the StrengthsFinder test multiple times.  Once while in college, once at the publishing house, and most recently, here at the law firm.  Apparently, “Arranger” must have been just hanging out there at number 6 just waiting to show its face.  It obviously picked the perfect time…after law school.

I cannot avoid it.  I’m a perpetual planner and a habitual arranger.  There should be a group for people like me.

And as much as I love my job, I cannot avoid the fact that it revolves around deadlines, constantly tracking the progress of cases or legislation, and recording my time in six minute increments.

Each of us has that element to what we do.  We have checklists, deadlines, and to-do lists.  It keeps us organized, keeps us upright, and on track.  However, I am convinced that we also yearn for adventure, pine for the unexpected, and crave the beauty that a new experience brings.

My recent checklist has been one of my favorites.  It has consisted of: get hiking boots, figure out what a spork is, learn to pack for two weeks in a foreign country in a single bag, and try to learn as much Spanish as you can.

Tomorrow I am going to give in to the yearning and give up the arranger and planner in me. I am ecstatic…and nervous as hell.

Tomorrow I board a plane, with my husband’s mom, bound for Madrid and then on Friday we hop on a train to Ponferada. In Ponferada we start our trip along the Camino de Santiago. We’ll meet our guys who have been on the trail for almost three weeks now and head to Santiago de Compestela.
 

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I have no itinerary and no plans except to soak up every second of every minute. From what the guys have told us already, it has been an incredible and life changing experience. Of which the best part is who you meet along the way.

I simply cannot wait.

The guy have been posting pictures and updates from their travels and I’m sure we will do the same at Buen Camino.

Sunday Brunch Day

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” ~ Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Fall TableThere is just something about Fall.  The crisp air, the colorful leaves, and the cooler temperatures seem to beckon you to come gather at the table.  The Fall table does not require formalities, she simply asks you to come as you are, and to come hungry.

When I was in law school and the Husband, then boyfriend, moved up here to Cincinnati, we started family dinners on Sunday nights.  It was a time to come together with family amidst all the craziness of the past week, relax together, and to reconnect.

With the Husband’s work schedule or studying often pulling him away on Sunday, we have gotten out of our little routine.  And I miss it.  This past Sunday though, schedules aligned and we brunched.

Now, I’m a breakfast person.  There is no mistaking that.  So I couldn’t wait to welcome everyone with a warm cup of coffee on a cool Sunday morning.  And let’s be honest, there’s no better way to watch football than with a warm and happy stomach.  So before the Steelers play, or if you side with the Ohio contingency of my family, the Bengals or Browns, it was time to come to the table.

pumpkinEveryone has their go-to for brunch.  Whether it’s a soufflé, your grandmother’s cinnamon rolls, or strata, there’s that one dish you pull out of your back pocket to please the morning crowd.  For years mine was a Rachel Ray casserole.  We made it the morning of my law school graduation so it only seemed fitting to make this past weekend to celebrate passing the Ohio Bar.  However, I decided to break out of the mold and break into my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.

On the menu this past Sunday morning was the Farmer’s Casserole and Pumpkin Bread.  It only seems fitting.  They were delicious! So next time your family gathers, break out these little numbers and they will be sure to please.  This Pumpkin Bread would also be great as gifts.

Pumpkin Bread
From Better Homes and Gardens

Makes 2 loaves.  This can be made ahead of time, which is always key for brunch.  If making the night before, after the loaves are completely cool, wrap and store overnight.

Ingredients
– 3 cups sugar
– 1 cup vegetable oil
– 4 eggs
– 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
– 2 tsp. baking soda
– 1 ½ tsp. salt
– 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
– 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
–  2/3 cup water
–  1 15oz. can pumpkin

Directions
– Grease the bottom and sides of two loaf pans; set aside.
– In a very large mixing bowl beat sugar and oil with an electric mixer on medium speed.  Add eggs and beat well; set aside.
– In a large bowl combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
– Alternately add flour mixture and water to sugar mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined.
– Beat in pumpkin.
– Spoon batter into prepared pans.
– Bake at 350 for 55-65 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near the centers come out clean.
– Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes.
– Remove from pans and then cool completely on the wire racks.

Farmer’s Casserole
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

This makes 6 big servings but I would suggest doubling the recipe because people will go back for seconds.  This can also be made ahead of time.  Cha-ching.  If making ahead, go through second step.  Cover, and chill up to 24 hours.  Then bake uncovered at 350 for 50-55 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Ingredients
– 3 cups frozen hash brown potatoes
– ¾ cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese, cheddar cheese, or a mixture
– 1 cup cooked, crumbled, turkey sausage (the recipe calls for diced cooked ham or bacon, but the turkey was great in it and a bit healthier)
– ¼ cup sliced green onions
– ¼ cup diced red pepper
– 4 beaten eggs
– 1 ½ cups milk
– 1/8 tsp. salt
– 1/8 tsp. black pepper

Directions
– Coat 2-quart square baking dish with non-stick cooking spray
– Arrange potatoes evenly in the bottom of the dish.
– Sprinkle potatoes with cheese, turkey, green onions, and red peppers.
– In a bowl, combine eggs, milk, salt, and pepper.
– Pour egg mixture over potato mixture.
– Bake, uncovered, at 350 for 40-45 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.
– Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

What is your brunch go-to?

Cloudy with a chance of meat sauce

“There is no such thing as Italian ‘haute cuisine’ there are no high or low roads in Italian cooking.  All roads lead to the home, to ‘la cucina de casa’ – the only one that deserves to be called Italian cooking.” ~ Marcella Hazan

Grandma Rosemarie as a baby

Grandma Rosemarie as a baby

Some of my very fondest memories of my Grandma Rosemarie center around cooking.  While growing up and spending summers at the lake with Grandma and Grandad, the most important question of the day was always, “What’s for dinner?”  And it was usually asked at the breakfast table.

It was not that we particularly cared what we were eating, but it was that by figuring out what she was planning on making, we knew when to come up from the lake to help.  We did not want to miss a minute of it.

The house, and our family, revolved around the kitchen and the large gathering table my grandparents had built to accommodate their 5 boys and all of their grandchildren.  While Grandma cut tomatoes and basil for bruschetta, a gaggle of cousins brushed ciabatta bread with olive oil, Grandad would put on music, and one of the aunts would be arranging fresh flowers from Grandma’s garden to place on the table.

Despite all the hub-bub, Grandma was always patient.  Everyone had a job, and nothing was rushed.  While the pasta would cook, the smell of marinara sauce would float through the air and mingle with the laughs and conversations that filled the room.  This has always been the image I conjure up when I think of family.

Hazan-Essentials-of-ItalianI don’t remember seeing Grandma use many cookbooks.  However, Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is one that I distinctly remember on her shelf.  This comes as no surprise as a wonderful piece in the New York Times last Sunday after Hazan’s death summed it this way, “Mrs. Hazan embraced simplicity, precision and balance in her cooking.”  This is what I remember about Grandma’s cooking.

My brother gave me my own this past Christmas.  With law school, moving, the bar exam, and starting a job, it was still in a box with all my other cookbooks.  However, after reading the NYT piece and seeing the weather here in Cincinnati called for rain, what better way to warm up an otherwise dreary Sunday than in the kitchen.

In Hazan’s own words, “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is meant to be used as a kitchen handbook, the basic manual for cooks of every level.”  I have been dying to make a good bolognese sauce from scratch for years, so I decided to make Hazan’s ragu, a dish she was known for.  I couldn’t help by smile as I was making the ingredient list and saw it called for nutmeg, a hint of which you could always taste in Grandma’s sauce.

Rosemarie as a baby with her older sister

Rosemarie as a baby with her older sister

 

From the very first recipe, I could already tell this book was going to be a staple in my kitchen.  Hazan’s recommendations throughout the book and effortless prose make me feel like I was right back in my Grandma’s kitchen.  Nothing is rushed, everything has a purpose, and you are always welcome.  As I read through Hazan’s pointers before the bolognese recipe, I almost felt as if my Grandma was right there beside me making sure everything turned out just right.

  • Make sure the meat is not from too lean of a cut.
  • Be sure to add salt immediately when sauteing the meat because this will extract the juices.
  • Cook, uncovered, at the merest simmer for a long, long time; no less than 3 hours is necessary; more is better.

To me, this last one is key.  It says, calm down, have a glass of wine, converse with family and friends, and do it right.  This recipe is perfect for a lazy Sunday.  A perfect dish to make for a family dinner or like I did, for a night in on a rainy Sunday with the Husband.   It is comfortable, warm, and welcoming.  Just like I remember Grandma Rosemarie.

photo-17Bolognese Meat Sauce
Originally from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, and  some ingredients adapted/multiplied by Leite’s Culinaria (a fabulously mouthwatering blog that you must read if you do not already)

Ingredients
– 2 Tbs. vegetable oil
– 6 Tbs. unsalted butter, plus 2 Tbs. for tossing the pasta
– 1 cup chopped onion
– 1 1/3 cup chopped celery
– 1 1/3 cup chopped carrots
– 1 1/2 pound ground chuck beef*
– Salt
– Black Pepper
– 2 cups whole milk
– 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
– 2 cups dry white wine (I used sauvignon blanc)
– 3 cups canned imported Italian tomatoes, crushed, with their juices
– pasta (I used cheese tortellini)

Directions
Put oil, butter, and onion into the pot over medium heat.
– Cook and stir the onion until it becomes translucent, and then add the celery and carrot.  Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring to make sure the vegetables are coated.
– Add the meat, a large pinch of salt, and pepper.  Break up the meat with a wooden spoon and cook until the beef has lost its red color.
– Add the milk and simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely.  About 1 hour.
– Add nutmeg and stir.
– Add the wine and let it simmer until it is evaporated.  About 1.25 hours.
– Add the tomatoes and stir to makes sure all the ingredients are coated well.  When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn the heat down so that the sauce cooks  at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through to the surface. (Honestly, Hazan’s words just make me hungry).
– Cook uncovered for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time.
– If the sauce begins to dry out and the fat separates from the meat, add 1/2 cup of water whenever necessary to keep it from sticking.
– At the end, make sure that no water is left and the fat must separate from the sauce.
– Season to taste.
– Toss with cooked drained pasta, adding the remaining 2 Tbs. of butter.

 

*Hazan recommends a variation of the sauce that uses pork, an important part of Bologna’s culture and cuisine.  She recommends 1 part ground pork for every 2 parts beef.  David from Leite’s Culinaria did 1/2 pound each of ground chuck, ground pork, and ground veal.  This is key.

Don’t make the mistake I did.  I could not find ground pork at the grocery so I just went with ground beef (since I did not know the difference between ground beef and ground chuck).  Newbie mistake.  Next time I will either get chuck since it is fattier, more flavorful, and tastier.  Or, I’ll head down to the butcher.  Since you’re spending the time cooking it, make sure you get good meat.  It is the foundation.  And as the queen of Italian cooking says, “Flavor, in Italian dishes, builds up from the bottom…a foundation of flavor supports, lifts, points up the principal ingredients.”  Aka…get good meat.