Thursday, May 26, 2011

Are you happy now?

My son Jack has asked me that question a lot in 2011. It's not the "are-you-happy-now?" (i.e., you will never be satisfied...) question.  It's more hopeful: Have the clouds parted, Mommy? The boy saw his mama cry many tears earlier this year and he has also been been nurturing his own sense of empathy, so he's very aware of my state of happiness/sadness. (And, blessedly, those moments of tears are very few and far between these days.)

So, here's my question to you: Are you happy now?

Articles like this one from two days ago surface frequently, citing studies that having children make you less happy. I'm often at a tough spot to say I'm really happy these days. I've got two small children who depend on me for everything. I have a strong network of local friends and, of course, Maria, for daily support, but both Jeremy's and my families live out of town and if you look at it through a practical lens, that's just one less daily resource we have. And, honestly, the only time I let myself relax is a few minutes at bedtime, when I read a few pages of a parents or food magazine or go on some preemie online board.

And there are times - even more so lately - when I fantasize about my old life. And they aren't even that great of fantasies - just the dream of being able to work until 7 p.m. during a weeknight (so I could finally get caught up at work) and then meet my husband out for dinner, a movie, a play or a visit to a jazz club. Sigh.

My life is a middle-class kind of difficult right now. My husband and I are blessed with jobs we love, a roof over our heads and we shop at Whole Foods. We don't have to worry about our next meal or the safety of our neighborhood. When I say that my life is hard, the difficulties lie in me trying to balance work and home as a full-time working mama primarily. And not having a lot of time for myself.

When you put things into a broader context - as I'm wont to do - and I think about the devastation in Joplin, Missouri this week - or Japan earlier this year - or the 10th anniversary of September 11, I know I have nothing to complain about. Nothing.

So, am I happy now? I am - pretty much.  I do admittedly miss my old life sometimes. Jeremy would have one awesome wine collection by now if we hadn't had kids. I probably would have been to Paris by now too. And let's not even think about the euphoric state Roscoe the cat would be in.

Here is what I know:

I have a lot of joy in my life. Joy comes from my daughter's smile and her kicky legs and my son learning the concepts of rhyming and opposites in a single week (and me having no idea if he's behind or ahead of kids his age).

I am blessed.

I am thankful.

I am excited about the future. Honestly, I cannot wait to see the people my son and daughter will become.

I would never say my life was meaningless before kids, but I certainly feel more purpose these days - especially at my day job of saving the planet for Jack and Jossie. And that makes me feel satisfied.

So what about you?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Happy birthday, Mom


It’s the nicest word in the English language. 

When my son is hungry, tired or sad, “Mommy” is the first word uttered from his little lips. When my infant daughter gets to the point of no return, only I can pacify her. 

I love my job. I love being my family’s account manager. I am the nurturer - the one who soothes, feeds and cuddles. I make sure shoes still fit, puzzle pieces are in the right box and we have enough diapers before we leave home. 

And I learned from the best.

Today my mom celebrates her 60th birthday. Mrs. Caruso is 60. I think she’s been thinking a lot about this birthday and what it means.

Mom, you’ve got so much – a loving, devoted husband, three daughters who married well and four – almost five – adorable grandchildren.

And you are fabulous you.

So without further adieu, here are 60 things my sisters and I love about our mom in no particular order:

1.     She doesn’t or need to color her hair.
2.     She cries over a gift set of pots. And a Kitchenaid mixer. And a cake stand. And a serving tray. Oh, and the list goes on.
3.     She colors Easter eggs with me. (from Jack)
4.     She leaves urgent voicemails to call her immediately. When we call her back, she’s positioned at a kitchen store, wondering if we have a certain utensil or not.
5.     She’ll serve a minimum of three different desserts at the end of the meal.
6.     She is thoughtful.
7.     Don’t give her a glass of wine while she’s baking. She’ll forget the baking soda.
8.     She wears her faith on her sleeve and is not afraid to share it.
9.     She cares for our pets, even when we leave them for college.
10. She anthropomorphisizes anything, which has scarred my sisters and me for life. “Hey, lady, it’s starting to get hot in here,” she used to make the Thanksgiving turkey say to us from the oven.
11. She loves to bathe her grandbabies in the kitchen sink.
12. She’s worn three mother-of-the-bride dresses with grace.
13. Her family comes first.
14. She never says no to spending time to her family - from batting cages to manicures.
15. She read us books every night at bedtime.
16. She is kind.
17. She channels her inner “country girl” when trapping spiders.
18. No one ever turns down a dinner invitation to her table.
19. She mastered Zabar’s black and white cookies for the wedding cookie table.
20. Nothing grosses her out.
21. She made dinner every night for our family when we were kids.
22. She can neatly fold a fitted bed sheet.
23. She thinks you have to talk louder when using a cell phone.
24. She taught us the importance of a handwritten thank-you note.
25. She makes her own pie crust.
26. She can let loose during Moms’ weekend at college.
27. She is a great shopping partner.
28. She sews buttons on and fixes hemlines.
29. Her Italian Peasant soup soothes the soul.
30. She’s there in emergencies.
31. She was packing our lunches when we were in high school.
32. She made our Halloween costumes and homemade Play-doh.
33. She loves us for who we are.
34. Birthday cakes are always homemade.
35. Her grandchildren love her.
36. She was recycling and reusing before it was cool.
37. She has volunteered her time for many worthy organizations.
38. She taught us how to say our bedtime prayers.
39. She could do a cartwheel when we were kids.
40. She makes homemade curtains and shower curtains.
41. She epitomizes the Golden Rule.
42. If you tell her your favorite pie, she’ll most likely make you one.
43. “Cutting back” on Christmas baking means making only five different types of cookies (no less than three dozen each).
44. One glass of wine makes her “fingers tingle” but her drink of choice is a Long Island Iced Tea.
45. She has always supported Dad’s career advancements. Even when that meant moving four times in two years with three small children.
46. She makes extra food at holidays so there are enough leftovers for everyone to take home.
47.  Her new house is built around her fabulous new kitchen.
48. She is patient.
49. She sends care packages.
50. She bakes with me. (from Jack)
51. She uses her library card.
52. She is generous.
53. She reminds you to drink water.
54. You’ll never cry alone in her presence.
55. She is well respected by her co-workers.
56. She gardens to be close to God and her dad, who has passed.
57. She lent Dad her class notes when he transferred into her freshman geography class, and the rest is history.
58. She starts the wave at middle school softball games.
59. She plays the piano and loves to sing with her children and grandchildren.
60. She is loving.

Do you love my mom? I bet you do! Please add a comment!  To leave a comment, hit “comments” at the bottom of this post. Under “Post a Comment,” type your note in the text box. From the pull-down menu of “Comment as” choose “Name/URL.”  Use any name you’d like to identify yourself. No URL is necessary. Hit “Continue.” Hit “Post Comment.” Voila! C’mon, spread the love!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Chicken in little time

Great weekend...old friends are moving back to Chicago, and they were in town looking for a condo to rent. Most friends these days are moving away from Chicago, so we're so happy to be welcoming a few back. Also had a good playdate on Sunday, which included a great bottle of wine and BBQ. (Doesn't sound like your playdates? You gotta start having playdates with my family!)

And now the week begins again. I did my best sherpa impression as I go to and fro my office, carrying a breast pump, my laptop and work files, my purse and my packed lunch. It was a day of meetings, phone calls and Excel spreadsheets.  Back at home, I'm greeted by two excited kiddos. I only have a bit of time before Jossie's witching hour, so I need a quick-prep dinner. Here's one good for anyone who's had a busy day:

Rachael Ray's Chicken Piccata Pasta Toss

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/3 pounds chicken breast tenders, cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white wine
1 lemon, juiced
1 cup chicken broth or stock
3 tablespoons capers, drained
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 pound penne rigate pasta, cooked to al dente
Chopped or snipped chives, for garnish

Heat a deep nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil and the chicken to the pan. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Brown chicken until lightly golden all over, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove chicken from pan and return the skillet to the heat. Reduce heat to medium. Add another tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter, the garlic and shallots to the skillet. Saute garlic and shallots 3 minutes. Add flour and cook 2 minutes. Whisk in wine and reduce liquid 1 minute. Whisk lemon juice and broth into sauce. Stir in capers and parsley. When the liquid comes to a bubble, add remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter to the sauce to give it a little shine. Add chicken back to the pan and heat through, 1 to 2 minutes. Toss hot pasta with chicken and sauce and serve. Adjust salt and pepper, to your taste. Top with fresh snipped chives.

Friday, May 13, 2011

May 13 baby update

Been awhile since you’ve seen one of these updates, eh? We had Jossie’s 4-month check-up yesterday, and she is doing great. She’s still small at 10 lbs 5 oz – barely on the charts for a 4-month-old and in the 25% percentile for weight for her adjusted age of 2 months. But she is growing weight steadily (she’s more than triple her birth weight!), which is reassuring to our pediatrician and thus me too.

Her head’s a bit wobbly when she holds it up on her own but her other tricks of chatting with us with her baby talk and reaching for toys are characteristic of a 4-month-old’s behavior, which just tickles me to no end. I got so excited to hear this, I went home after our appointment and loaded her activity mat up with lots of toys for her to reach for. She was a bit overwhelmed with the mat this morning and fell asleep.

Back to our appointment: When Dr. Hong put Jossie on her belly and forearms, Jossie almost turned over – another developmental milestone. She hadn’t done this for us at home yet (unless Maria’s keeping it a secret from us!), so Dr. Hong and I were both pretty excited. Jossie made it from her belly to her side and then stopped – enough for now. Perhaps she is waiting to be home with Daddy to pull off the full roll-over onto her back (since Jeremy is still giving me grief about sending him out of the room for something right before Jack took his very first steps, I have to say I was relieved he didn’t miss this first for Jossie).

All in all, our little girl is doing well - nowhere near sleeping through the night but the smiles during the day make it all worth it.

Jack's loving life - he, Maria and Jossie took a trip to Navy Pier yesterday morning to visit the Chicago Children's Museum. They rode the bus (Jossie's first public transportation experience - someone get out the baby book), and he was thrilled. He's living it up until the fall when the realities of preschool - you know, playing with the class bunny, listening to stories, and eating paste - set in. We've got swimming lessons for him, Dino Camp at The Field Museum, and a few trips for this big brother.

Happy Friday!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Truly decadent

Some of us are bringing desserts into the office tomorrow for a co-worker's birthday. Yes, my kitchen is typically closed on Mother's Day, but I do love to bake with Jack, so we made these brownies together. We also had the calorie-free benefit of the chocolate smell wafting through our condo.

They are purely sinful; I halved the recipe:

Outrageous brownies
From The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

·        1 pound unsalted butter
·        1 pound plus 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
·        6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
·        6 extra-large eggs
·        3 tablespoons instant coffee granules
·        2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
·        2 1/4 cups sugar
·        1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
·        1 tablespoon baking powder
·        1 teaspoon salt
·        3 cups chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter and flour a 12 x 18 x 1-inch baking sheet.

Melt together the butter, 1 pound of chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl over simmering water. Allow to cool slightly. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee granules, vanilla, and sugar. Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature.

In a medium bowl, sift together 1 cup of flour, the baking powder, and salt. Add to the cooled chocolate mixture. Toss the walnuts and 12 ounces of chocolate chips in a medium bowl with 1/4 cup of flour, then add them to the chocolate batter. Pour into the baking sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes, then rap the baking sheet against the oven shelf to force the air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough. Bake for about 15 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not overbake! Allow to cool thoroughly, refrigerate, and cut into 20 large squares.

Messy perfection

It's Mother's Day, and motherhood has kicked my booty this year.

I have a three-year-old who likes to act like a three-year-old, testing limits and harnessing the power of the word "no!" I have both a preschooler and an infant, who both need and want my attention. I have the scars of an emergency c-section from that day in January.  I have not slept through the night for all of 2011.

So, darn it, I really earned today. I prayed for a sunny day, and it was a delightfully sunny day. Jeremy treated me to breakfast in bed, and I enjoyed and reveled in my laziness. He brought me a croissant from Floriole, a strong cup of French roast coffee, and yogurt with granola and berries. Jossie was my little bedfellow, nursing here and there, and blessedly falling asleep on my chest at one point as I watched Food Network. This being my second time around, I know these sweet baby cuddles won't last for long, so I soaked them in.

Jack couldn't stand me being lazy in bed - he brought in toy after toy and played at the end of the bed, asking me repeatedly when I was getting up.

Motherhood has taught me I'm not in control of my life. I may think I'm a control freak, a planner, a lover of to do lists, but I'm not in charge. Even a morning "alone" in bed means toys strewn across my room, spit-up stains on my pajama top, and a few spills of coffee here and there.

And that's just fine.

Because I have him.

And her.

And even though being a mommy is a lot of work, it's worth it. The smiles, the sloppy kisses, the true love. I hope I've made my own mom as proud as my kids have made me.

Happy Mother's Day to my mom, mother-in-law, sisters, aunts, cousins and friends!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Anniversary dinner

Six years, two kids, one condo, a few trips to various wine regions, and three job changes between us, Jeremy and I celebrated our wedding anniversary today. We tried Jane's Restaurant for brunch with the kiddos, and Jack ate his body weight in pancakes, eggs and bacon. Kid-friendly, creative offerings, cloth napkins, and a nice atmosphere - it was right up our alley.

Tonight, we had dinner at home. With two small ones, we wanted a nice - but easy - dinner. My mom had made this meal when we visited at Easter and loved it.

Linguine with Shrimp Scampi

·        1 tablespoon kosher salt plus 1 1/2 teaspoons
·        3/4 pound linguine
·        3 tablespoons unsalted butter
·        2 1/2 tablespoons good olive oil
·        1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
·        1 pound large shrimp (about 16 shrimp), peeled and deveined
·        1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
·        1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
·        1/2 lemon, zest grated
·        1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
·        1/4 lemon, thinly sliced in half-rounds
·        1/8 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

Boil water, add 1 tablespoon of salt and the linguine, and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, or according to the directions on the package.

Meanwhile, in another large (12-inch), heavy-bottomed pan, melt the butter and olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic. Saute for 1 minute. Be careful, the garlic burns easily! Add the shrimp, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and the pepper and saute until the shrimp have just turned pink, about 5 minutes, stirring often. 

Remove from the heat, add the parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, lemon slices, and red pepper flakes. Toss to combine.

When the pasta is done, drain the cooked linguine and then put it back in the pot. Immediately add the shrimp and sauce, toss well, and serve.

It perfectly paired with some vintage champagne. Two babes sweetly asleep in their beds, and lemon yogurt cake for dessert.