Thursday, January 26, 2012

Living with the imperfection

As I was walking up the steps from the train this morning to work, I saw a text from Maria on my phone.

You left your laptop. Do you need it dropped off?

Um, yes, please.

So that's life lately - I was up a lot of the night with a super-cranky, teething Jossie and now running to work for two important meetings that I did not feel prepared for this morning.


When I was 7 or 8 years old, I declined an invitation to a friend's house because I had to go home and clean my room. Because I wanted to. I definitely have practiced that through life - I need to have things in order before I can do the "real" work - I almost think that's one of the reasons I really like to entertain - it gives me time to plan a menu, execute the menu, clean my house, have the music playing, the candles burning and things just so.

As a working, volunteering, blogging mother of two small children, my perspective has been forcibly changed.

My work desk is a mess. My home desk is a mess. My to-do list is written in 10 different spots. My email inbox is out of control; I've gotten to the point of quickly scanning it to make sure I hit the fires before anything else. (And, yes, I realize I work for a nonprofit; it's not like I'm curing cancer or anything.) My DVR at home is full of good shows I can't get to (Glee, I miss you). I can't go too far into my work before someone pops their head into my office.

For days at home this week, we have had no paper towels. I hated that. Jeremy was so tired of hearing me complain, he went out the other night to specifically buy some. As I stood in my kitchen this morning, I see the sticky floors, I see the kids' out-grown clothes I want to organize and I see the piles of stuff on my desk I want to go through.

I need to go to Target and I have no idea when I will get there.

But yet: I have had a good - albeit disorderly - week so far and that counts for something, right? I had a really fun tea with my dear girlfriend this past Saturday, had dinner with the besties Saturday night at Browntrout, a lunch out with a friend/co-worker at Bin 36 yesterday, and lots of good conversations with co-workers about what's to come this year at work, including a happy hour on Monday night. I met with new web guys earlier this week, who are super-geeked out on things we could do to our organization's website. I also met with two lovely people Wednesday morning to talk about volunteering with a board. I would love to join the board and am mulling it over but it's a huge commitment. It would bring together my personal passions of good food and nature.Though, it's probably best to stay as a big fan of their work for now.

And Wednesday's dinner was simple, penne pasta with meat sauce. Jossie's round face was stained orange from her pasta sauce, and Jack was doing his constant little dance as we ate dinner at the stools at our kitchen island. I had pulled up the Frank Sinatra station on Pandora and Jeremy opened wine. Sticky floors be darned; this sure was a nice moment to savor.

So the week's almost done - the work to-do list is still long and I'm contemplating that trip to Target tonight. But tomorrow is pj day at Jack's school and Jossie has her big 1-year-old doctor's appointment. And this weekend is another weekend of celebrating babies, birthdays and long-time friendships.

I might even leave my bed unmade.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Today's comforts

I'm really trying not to, but my mind often likes to play the game: So what was I doing last year at this time?

At this point last year, I had been released from the hospital and Jossie was in the NICU. Sundays at the hospital were the quietest. I would typically go in the afternoon to be with Jossie and stay until after her 9 p.m. check-up. I would invariably end up in the cafeteria for dinner because it was too cold to walk to a nearby restaurant and I didn't have the energy to pack a meal. Jeremy would be home with Jack, and on this Sunday last year, he watched the Jets come thisclose to going to the Super Bowl.

The same young guy would always be working at the grill in the cafeteria on Sunday evenings. He was probably the least senior guy and hence he worked this shift, and as I would order a piece of chicken, we would both stand there, feeling sorry for each other, the cafeteria lonely and quiet behind us.

Those were the gray moments of Jossie's NICU stay. I told my friend Marisa recently that I'm glad to be a year beyond those memories, and with each year that comes, we will flutter down a new set of memories atop those days. And I hope my friend Alissa (all of my friends' names do not rhyme, by the way...) doesn't mind me quoting her, but "'s not bad to reflect on hard times, if for nothing but to remember how fortunate we are for what we have."

And so when I shake myself of those memories, I open my eyes to the technicolor of today. Jossie has her adorable crawl on, and Jack is constantly inventing new games to play. "Mommy, we're in a spaceship and Roscoe (our cat) is in trouble," he says as he's hopping on one foot. "We have to put our space suits on and we're going to take this rope to rescue him from the moon."

This particular Sunday was a day of pjs, long naps and toy explosions in the living room. I made a super-simple dinner that made the house smell good all day:

Memphis-style pulled pork

1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1 T. yellow mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. paprika
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 t. Liquid Smoke
1 onion, finely chopped
3-4 pounds pork shoulder (bone-in)

  1. Combine ketchup, Worcetershire sauce, vinegar, mustard, garlic, paprika, brown sugar, Liquid Smoke and onion to make BBQ sauce.
  2. Trim any visible fat from pork shoulder; put in slow cooker and coat with sauce.
  3. Cook at least 6 hours and up to 8 hours on low. 
  4. Take meat out to rest. Put sauce into a glass measuring cup and let the fat float to the top top. Skim off fat, then put sauce in a small pan and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes.
  5. When the pork is cooled, shred the meat, discarding the fat and bone. Serve alone or on buns.
We ate it with roasted sweet potato and carrots, sprinkled with a dose of our favorite spice blend, Back of the Yards Garlic Pepper. And my friend Margaret turned me on to Trader Joe's cornbread mix so we made some cornbread with our dinner. She jazzes it up with cheddar cheese and jalapenos but we go straightforward in our house. And it's delicious - cake-like and not dry at all. Try it and you'll see! I did top my cornbread with some local honey from the Chicago Honey Co-op, a Green City Market vendor. You haven't lived until you've tried non-grocery store honey. The floral notes were over the top - I could seriously taste the flower petals that the bees danced upon. Also, eating local honey is good for your health, acting as an immune booster, reducing your seasonal allergies against local flowering plants. How great is that?

Happy week ahead...

Friday, January 20, 2012

For fun

Well, I could give you a retrospective on Jossie's first few days in the NICU, since we're celebrating that anniversary. But it's Friday afternoon; it's snowing like there's no tomorrow; and my husband's probably stranded in Minneapolis, where he'll have to suffer sleeping by himself in a W Hotel with room service.

So I present to you:

How my 12 month old is like a drunk person
1. She staggers around, holding on to furniture to pull herself up.
2. "Personal space" is not in her vocabulary.
3. She'll grab the Fisher-Price microphone and start to babble into it.
4. She's constantly drooling.
5. She likes to throw food.
6. It's illegal for her to drive a car.
7. She'll laugh for no good reason.
8. She has no concept of time.
9. If she wants to prove her point, she gets louder.
10. She'll be kissing me one moment and crying the next.

Happy Friday!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Birthday fun

A plate of cake crumbs and a mug of milk sit beside me. The birthday weekend is winding down.

We celebrated Jossie girl's big day (which is Tuesday, mind you) with a small family party Saturday. The theme was Woneder Woman, and I got all craftastic beforehand with some comicbook-covered letters, sweets and an homage to my sweetie.

How to get your Mod Podge on
I didn't even know what the heck Mod Podge was before I started this crafty journey, but my sister set me straight. Blessedly, this glue product is non-toxic, which is important when I decide to craft, as I usually get my supplies all over my pj top, the cat and the kitchen sink. Seriously, I'm not a crafter; this was a super-simple project:

1. Cardboard letters, which you can buy from any craft store or if you want to get snazzy, from Paper Source.
2. Cool paper to cover the letters; I used Wonder Woman comics, which was a journey in of itself. I headed to a comic store that was literally a block from my office. I never even knew it existed.
3. A foam roller.
4. A craft knife and self-healing cutting board (I used one of my Ikea cutting boards).
5. Mod Podge for paper (I prefer matte - I hear it has less fumes).

1. Using foam roller, spread Mod Podge over the front of cardboard letter.
2. Place paper over letter and flip over.
3. Cut around the edges of the letter using your craft knife.
4. Flip over and admire your beautiful work.
5. Spread one more layer of Mod Podge atop the paper (it will dry clear) and let dry overnight. 

Jack and I also made a sweets plate of red and blue star sugar cookies with edible gold glitter, chocolate red lips and Twizzler yellow lassos.

Everyone got a party favor bag of these treats to bring home; a great Etsy seller made me some fun custom stickers and I found the brown kraft bags at The Container Store.

And for the last year, I've been taking pictures of Jossie month by month; I copied this birthday banner idea from my friend Abby:

A good time was had by all. We served sparkling wine, which I highly suggest for all birthday parties. I was tickled pink (sorry) that Jeremy found a J Vineyards Brut Rose.

And there was cake from Sweet Mandy B's.

Which little sister greatly enjoyed:

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Life is messy

Sitting in Openlands' conference room this morning, I expressed my dissatisfaction to our chief operating officer about our strategic planning process. I fancy myself as a Type-A kind of gal. And this process is an interesting process - things reveal themselves at unexpected times.

"You have to trust the process," he told me. "It's like life. Life is messy, and sometimes you have to wade into the mess. You can't follow the usual path to get a game-changing result."

I've been working on this post for weeks in my head. I would like to give you a tidy summary of where life is at these days, on the anniversary of me being admitted to the hospital for a week of monitoring before Jossie's early birth.

And the conclusion so far, is that it's a mixed bag: It was and will be a big deal in my personal history but, honestly, it's not that big of a deal today, right here and now. Today, I have lots of gratitude and happiness for my family, friends and everyone's good health. Jossie is on the growth charts for her actual age; we've never had to visit a specialist for her; and she's crawling and can say a few words. She's even still nursing, which I'm very proud of as a working mom.

I'm thankful that the ideals of hope, optimism and promise exist; I'm a firm believer in them all. Quite frankly, I practically miss (not really) those days of monitoring, being by myself, my only jobs to rest and drink water. And my tolerance for detours is higher than it was before. Otherwise life is what it is - going to work, planning birthday celebrations and wiping runny noses.

I've been changed in good ways...a bit more patience, definitely more empathetic for those with health troubles and lots of in-your-face gratitude for what Jeremy and I have.

Jossie has us all wrapped around her pudgy little finger, Jeremy especially. Her growth has helped us grow. I'm not perfectly zen (please see opening example) but I'm better. I'm really trying to focus on the good and not the bad. My family is going to have so much cake this year - birthday cake, baby and bridal shower cakes, wedding cake and more. And that's the good.

On January 1 of 2011, I blogged: "I've been thinking a lot about this new year. I often feel overwhelmed about what I have to accomplish, let alone the unknown of what might come up."

Old self, get over it. The unknown can be good and one heck of a teacher.

Monday, January 9, 2012

For Christen

Christen, a friend of my friend Tracy, has suffered from migraines and was admitted to the hospital this weekend. A MRI found lesions on her brain. A biopsy on the tumors has now left her unresponsive, and her husband and the surgeons have decided that there is "no further course of action that could realistically and beneficially be taken." She is a mom with two young children - a daughter and a son - and lives in Chicago. Please say a prayer for her, her husband and children.

1/10/12 update: Christen passed away last night. Her family is relying on their strong faith now to get them through the coming days. I didn't know her and I know you didn't either but please send a prayer in support.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


I'm a big fan of montages. "One Shining Moment" at the end of the Final Four? I eat it up. The tributes at the Academy Awards? Love them.

So I present my somewhat-clumsily written montage for 2011. These are the moments that still make me laugh and cry. Sometimes both.

All of the miracles leading up to Jossie's birth, allowing Jeremy to be there, me to be awake for the actual moment and Jossie being given the best care possible from the moment she took her first breath...Leaving Jossie at night in the NICU, I would close her window shade because I was afraid the nurses would forget and the sun would wake her too early in the morning and me doing anything to feel like I was in control...Friends Amy and Mark allowing Jack to climb into bed with them while they kept him during my hospital parents' and Jeremy's parents unending generosity in their own personal ways to support us...the thoughtfulness of our family and friends who surrounded us in love throughout the weeks surrounding Jossie's arrival...future brother-in-law Daniel emailing Jeremy and me the day before he proposed to Cassie...crying at the pediatrician's office after learning Jossie was on the growth charts for her actual age...reuniting with our nannyshare friends after they moved to Cleveland...holding Jack on our friends Emily and Steve's new rooftop deck in Wrigleyville, the summer breezes encircling us as we took in Wrigley Field and the views of downtown, so grateful that our friends had moved back to early dinner at Navy Beach at the end of the earth - Montauk, NY - everything sparkled that evening - the drinks, the food, the water as Jack tried to skipped stones...Jack so capably adjusting to life as a preschooler and big brother...standing with my co-workers at the conclusion of our gala benefit at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, the moon heavy over the Lake Michigan shoreline and our U.S. senator stopping by, not as a politician but as a person supporting our work...seeing my sister's nurturing ways and spunk in her toddler daughter...Maria's daughter Ruby telling me that she's "loved Jack since he was two months old"...Jack's preschool teacher crying as she said good-bye to one of Jack's classmates who would be moving over winter break...looking at my perfect baby nephew Logan on Christmas Eve across the dinner table...holding my two brown-haired babies on my lap Christmas morning, feeling their sweet heartbeats...

What 3 lbs 6 oz has taught me: People I know have had much harder troubles than me in 2011. I'm grateful for my family's health and will never take it for granted.  I continue to reflect on the babies in the NICU during our time there - beyond just surviving, they embodied the human spirit of thriving. We use that word a lot now - thrive - to talk about how Jossie is doing. But I think it's also a good outlook for 2012. Life is always going to have its usual trappings (like sweeping up crumbs underneath the highchair - I hate sweeping up crumbs underneath the highchair) but you can choose your outlook for how you spend your days. Take care of yourself and the ones you love; spend more time doing things that are important to you; and try your best to tamp down your worries and trust you are making the right decisions.

From today's daily devotion from Fourth Church: We are each called by God--called to be better than we believe or allow ourselves to be.

Here's to writing the best stories we can for our lives in 2012.