Deep in my heart, it’s Texas

Texas

In late 2008, I was more than thrilled to pack up the few things hurricane Ike had left us and skedaddle up north to Kansas City. I was ready for an adventure with my new husband in the place he had always thought of as home.

Moving from a small Texas coastal town to a medium-sized Midwestern city was a bigger culture shock than I’d expected. I stuck out like a loud, drawling sore thumb, for sure.

But it was fun – braving the snow, learning my way around the city, and enjoying the comforts of living within driving distance of five different Target stores, a BBQ joint on every corner and more Starbucks than you could shake a latte at.

But when we made the decision to come here, we didn’t count on a few things. One, that we’d have a kid. Two, that we’d have two kids. And three, that we’d miss that mosquito-infested, hurricane-threatened, refinery-stenched Texas town and all the crazy people in it so much. So much that it was physically painful at times.

But oh yeah, that all happened.

And despite the wonderful friendships we’d built and the quiet existence we’d carved out in our little Heartland home, we felt that we needed to find a way back to the Lone Star State.

Well friends, after more than a year of trying, God opened a door for us to do so. Today my husband accepted a job offer that will put us right smack dab in the middle of things back home in Texas. Tonight he tendered his resignation with a company that has provided for us since the beginning – a company he’s been with since before we met.

It wasn’t easy for him to do that, and it won’t be easy to say goodbye to those we love here in the city. We’ve got two weeks to get packed and get gone, and we’re a bittersweet mixture of excitement and sadness.

But we’re sure of this, I know. We are SO prayed up on this. We are ready for the next adventure and we know there’s a whole crowd of folks waiting on pins and needles for us to get on home.

Texas, we’ll see y’all soon.

No more licking the baby

Brothers

I still haven’t gotten a chance to write Mouse’s birth story, because every time I would try to sit down and put that beautiful day into words I was reminded of this big dark cloud that has been hanging over our heads.

When Mouse was a week old, we received a call from his pediatrician telling us that he’d had an abnormal test result from his newborn screening.

In all 50 states, hospitals are required to collect blood samples from a heel stick shortly after a baby is born. This blood is then tested for a whole host of disorders like PKU, hypothyroidism and MCADD, only to name a few.

Our son’s test had been flagged for high IRT levels – meaning he could have cystic fibrosis, a deadly inherited chronic disorder that could destroy his lungs and leave him unable to process nutrients.

Our second reaction to this news (our first being immediate and fervent prayer) was to learn everything we could about the disease. We’re information junkies, but this wasn’t knowledge we really wanted to have.

Nevertheless, while we waited a week for an appointment to have true diagnostic test done (and another week for those test results) we read all we could find about CF.

Early symptoms of the disease include failure to thrive, coughing and wheezing, stool issues and salty-tasting sweat. So we weighed our baby every few days before his morning feeding. We trembled at each sneeze and cough, inspected every diaper. And yes, we licked the baby. A lot.

And while his sneezes seemed normal, his poop perfectly formed and his weight gain impressive (27 ounces in two weeks), we worried that maybe he did taste a little bit salty.

When it came time to have his chloride sweat test performed, we made the nerve-wracking trek to the children’s hospital. There, the technician strapped electrodes to our baby’s arm and applied an electric current to stimulate his sweat glands, then wrapped a spot on each arm with gauze and plastic. I had to hold him still for this, shushing him through his grunts and cries of protest.

That in itself was a supremely shitty experience, but it had to be done so I put on my calm mom face and did it as my husband sat close by, white as a ghost and looking like he’d like to vomit. Later, as the days ticked by so slowly while we waited for test results, we took turns consoling each other.

That’s one of my favorite things about our marriage – the unspoken agreement that we are forbidden from collectively losing our shit in times of crisis. We have to take turns. Somebody has to be the badass at all times.

We were, thankfully, one of the lucky ones this time. Our son tested negative for cystic fibrosis. But I know too much now, and I can’t just go back to being oblivious to this disease.

While it once proved fatal for children early on, cystic fibrosis is now much more manageable. The average life span for a person with CF reaches into the late 30s. There is no cure, but science is working on it, folks, and with our help I believe that in my son’s lifetime there will be.

Cystic fibrosis is a sneaky little recessive disorder. More than 10 million Americans are symptomless carriers of the defective gene. It’s not something that can be predicted by family history – and it will strike one in every 3,500 live births in America.

Next month is Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month and I’d like to begin now doing my part to help fight this disease. I encourage you to read more here, and if you feel called, to join me in donating here.

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is in the business of adding tomorrows, and I hope you will join me in helping them.

An afternoon with the Kansas Freezer Meal Queen

This morning I’m sitting on the couch, looking like a Buddha in yoga pants and a maternity t-shirt, humbly contemplating the blessings of true friendship that I have.

Friends from back home in Texas who, even four years after I abandoned them to the storms and mosquitoes, still regularly keep in touch and send gifts to my boys. Friends from all over the Internet, some of whom I’ve never met, who care for my family and are helping welcome our new son.

I have one friend who sends me morning text messages checking up on me when she somehow just knows it’s going to be a rough morning. I have another who sends me silly Facebook messages and keeps me laughing.

And I have this friend who, even though she juggles four kids, a yard full of dogs, a household and her own successful, busy blog, still took an entire Sunday out of her schedule to shop for and prep a freezer full of meals for my family and me.

Superwoman here, she’s working on running 500 miles this year. She’s mastered a gluten-free lifestyle for herself and her family. Her birthday parties are epic. And she can turn a cart full of groceries into nearly a month’s worth of meals in one afternoon.

Greta presents Freezer Meals!

Yesterday after a tasty brunch we hit up a few stores for supplies. Greta was kind enough to refrain from making fun of me as I huffed and puffed and grunted my way down the aisles. I had chosen eight or nine different casserole recipes that used groups of similar ingredients and spent about $150 on food and pans – not bad for a dozen dinners (that will yield plenty of leftovers)!

When we got to the house, Greta roasted the chicken, browned the ground meat and boiled the pasta, all while looking cute in her coordinated pink apron/shoes/phone combo. I sat in a chair at the table, ate chocolate and whined about my pelvis.

She makes cooking look cute.

Over a period of about three hours, we assembled a variety of baked chicken pasta dishes, a couple of Mexican-inspired tortilla bakes, and one very badass macaroni and cheese. There’s some greek chicken pasta in there, some pizza pasta, an enchilada casserole that I’m using all of my willpower to avoid cooking RIGHT NOW and a tater tot casserole that will be my guilty pleasure one day.

casserole collage

My kitchen was a glorious wreck through much of the process, although it cleaned up right quick when we finished. Looking back, the whole experience was an absolute blast and I look forward to being able pay it forward and do this for another mom one day. In the meantime, I plan to make “Freezer Cooking Day” a new tradition around here.

If you’re interested in giving freezer cooking a try, you just need about an hour on the Internet, some good organizational skills, a great friend to help out and one afternoon a month.

I hope to show off some of these meals on Fridays after the baby is born – you know, once I can form coherent sentences again. In the meantime, check out a few resources if you’d like to get started on your own freezer stash!

Our Best Bites

Happy Money Saver

Denise Rudolph’s Pin Board

 

Full term and fabulous

Yeah, ok, so not really. When the OB asked how I was feeling today, I told him I felt like an irritable, sore gummy bear. And it’s true! I have very little patience. My pelvis is coming apart in places. My belly is so big I can’t reach my feet to tie my own shoes and I’ve officially got two chins.

So here we are, nine months and twenty pounds into our pregnancy. My rings still fit but just barely. I haven’t been able to breathe out of my nose for at least the last three months. I am SO. OVER. IT.

But damn, my hair looks good. So there’s that. (I took this pic this morning. If you compare it to the one I took a couple weeks ago, it looks just about the same, which kind of cracks me up. I have A LOT of purple maternity shirts, yes?)

Almost done

And the little guy seems happy to bake away in there. He measures up around the 77th percentile now, a sizeable jump from the 47th percentile last month. According to the ultrasound, he looks a lot like Homer Simpson – which totally explains the cravings for donuts and beer.

Anyway, now that we’ve gotten our twin blizzards out of the way and my husband is officially forbidden to travel anymore, I do declare that we are ready to have this baby. Not that the declaration influences him one way or the other, of course. I think he’ s perfectly content to continue harassing my rib cage.

But really, Baby Homer, anytime is fine. Mom and Dad are ready to meet you. Big Brother is beginning to think Mom is lying about there being a baby in her belly. Aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins are looking forward to tickling your toes and snuggling you – and several of them are even flying all the way up here to do so!

Your friends from all over the world, the ones who read this blog and comment and keep your mom sane through everything, they’re ready to see you too. They’re ready for Mom to stop whining about being pregnant and just post baby pictures already, dammit. They’ve even sent gifts for you – outfits and toys and this beautiful, handmade blanket from sweet Jennifer who writes Just Jennifer and lets mom sit at her lunch table on Twitter from time to time.

blanket

You are already so loved. See you soon.

SnoPocaGeddon ’13

I find that when you can’t overcome or prevent something, it’s best to just give yourself over to it fully.

We woke up this morning to snow that was just beginning to fall. Over three hours, we accumulated about seven inches and it’s still falling. The gnomes were not impressed.

#SnoPocaGeddon

Neither was the dog.

#KCSnow

At first the kid was less than thrilled.

#KCSnow

But wait, this is kind of cool.

#KCSnow

Nah, Daddy, I got it.

#KCSnow

Ok, that’s enough. Pick me up now!

#KCSnow

Final verdict? I think it’s safe to say that while our son is genetically identical to his father in appearance, he’s totally Texan deep down in his blood like his mama and is not a fan of this cold, wet, sticky mess!

#KCSnow

35 weeks: Still rockin’ and rollin’

I wrote this morning on Twitter that I no longer feel human. That I feel like an incubator glued to a couch being fed Cheez Its as fuel.

I think that accurately sums up the last month of pregnancy. It’s just not fun. Your brain stops working, everything is beginning to swell and hurt and your uterus thinks it’s fun to randomly contract here and there. Because of the excruciating heartburn, there are like six things you can eat without burping lava.

It’s a miracle that I’ve got makeup on in this photo of my 35th week. My hair is even done. I am wearing a bra.

IMG_4174

We had a little bit of drama a few weeks ago with the pregnancy. I am currently classified as high risk for some issues, and so every week I go in and have a few tests done on the baby to check that he’s growing well and is healthy.

Well, during one of these tests, the baby was terribly uncooperative and decided to take a nap. Not just a light snooze, mind you, but one of those mouth-open, deep-sleep on the couch naps you take during the first trimester. Nothing would wake him up, no amount of buzzing or shaking would get him to respond.

So the doctor stamped a big ol’ FAIL on our test results and sent us up to Labor and Delivery for an afternoon of constant monitoring.

I was kind of in shock, having expected a quick 30-minute visit first thing in the morning. My phone wasn’t charged, I hadn’t eaten breakfast, and I had other plans.

But, nope, we got into an actual labor and delivery room, had to put on a gown and get into bed and get strapped with heartbeat and contraction monitors. I was so nervous that I put the gown on backward. (In my defense, I was thinking, “Well, they’ll want access to my front so it should open to the front.”)

Check it out:

IMG_4081

Whatever, backward or not, my lovely lady lumps and I totally rocked that gown.

Anyway, baby further frustrated people by turning himself so his back was against my back and his hands and feet were in my belly. The monitor couldn’t pick up his heartbeat for more than a few minutes, so we couldn’t get the 20 straight minutes we needed to be released.

I sat there for four hours with my mischievous fetus until the doctor finally decided I’d been tortured enough with hospital food to let me go home with a clean bill of health.

Luckily, we passed our tests last week (I may have visited Starbucks on the way to the appointment) and didn’t have to repeat this procedure, although I’ve been warned that it will most likely happen again, and in the event that he doesn’t cooperate and pass monitoring in the hospital, it’ll be “Happy Birthday Baby.”

Meanwhile, life goes on as usual around the household. Hubs is still working lots of hours and is so very much my hero lately. He takes care of so many things that I normally do and to show him my appreciation, I planned an afternoon of fun this weekend at a traveling music exhibit.

My husband is a music geek of the highest caliber. His iTunes collection is massive, we have all kinds of noise-making apps and gear and I’m often treated to long lessons on music history, theory and various performance critiques. (Well, it could be worse, he could be addicted to baseball too. Oh wait…)

Anyway, Union Station in Kansas City is serving as the first stop for a traveling exhibit called The Science of Rock. The exhibit is extremely hands-on and a blast for all ages and levels of musical experience.

Along with a couple of our friends, we marveled at the displays, played with the instruments and laughed as Monkey made it his personal mission to try on every pair of headphones in the place.

On the way out, we had to do some train watching, of course.

SoR collage 1

soR collage 2

sor collage 3

If you’re in the area and would like to visit the exhibit, you can plan your outing here. In addition to the exhibit, Union Station offers many activities perfect for family outings and also serves as a great date night destination.

Linking up with Greta and Sarah for #iPPP this week!

GFunkified

The 2012-2013 Holiday Saga

Spanning two weeks, three states and five different beds, here’s Mamamash’s fourth grade essay, “What I did on my Christmas vacation.”

Let me preface this by saying that over this holiday season, I did a few things differently. One, I deleted my Twitter, Instagram and for a time, Facebook accounts. I needed a break from the external noise and a chance to focus just on what was in front of me. Two, I don’t think I used my big fancy camera at all except for Christmas eve and morning. And three, I didn’t think about blogging during any of the festivities. I just sort of hung out with my family, completely immersed myself in the insanity and ate ALL the food.

So yeah, the pictures, they kinda suck. But they do give a pretty accurate portrayal of what this incredibly special holiday was like for us. 

My mom, sister and nephews made the trek to Kansas City the weekend before Christmas Eve. They arrived bearing bags of citrus fruit, Christmas gifts and even a large Swiss Colony tray – a tradition we’d had as children that my mom thought it would be fun to start again.

Christmas 2012

I’m not sure if we would call this Christmas “The Pajama Christmas,” since we pretty much spent three days in our jammies indoors thanks to the freezing temps, or perhaps “The Christmas Poo Debacle,” since a water main in our neighborhood broke Christmas Eve morning, leaving about 50 houses without running water until late afternoon.

(FYI, it takes several gallons of water to make a toilet completely flush the morning waste of eight people, and the people at Walgreens will totally look at you funny if you keep popping in to buy more gallons all day, and you will definitely want to kill your husband when you find out he’d neglected to mention there was a full five-gallon bucket of water in the basement you could have used instead.)

We adopted a few new traditions (a Mexican casserole feast on Christmas Eve instead of gumbo, at my husband’s request, and a popcorn tin and Christmas movies before bed) and continued a few old traditions (driving through the Longview Lake Christmas light display, baking a birthday cake for baby Jesus and singing to him).

Christmas 2012

Christmas 2012

Christmas 2012

Christmas morning was the usual mad dash down the stairs (the adults looking for coffee) and slow plod through the hallway (the children, lured from their warm beds by the over-excited adults who were entirely too cracked out on caffeine to pay attention to the early hour) followed by a brief break to clean up wrapping paper, a long family nap and lots of playing throughout the evening.

Christmas 2012

Two days later, we loaded everything up into two cars to make the trip back to Texas with everyone. My husband had been unexpectedly called to work down there at the last minute, so we got to have one more visit with our extended family before the baby comes.

The drive was a little scary at times through Arkansas, which had received almost a foot of snow in places. Although the roads were mostly clear, there were a few mountain passes that required white knuckles and prayer. And of course, The Posh had to stop and get out to touch the “ice rocks.”

Christmas 2012

We stopped about eight hours into the drive to spend a night at a hotel, not something I normally do but definitely a welcome break from being cooped in the car. Third trimester traveling is frowned upon by my OB, but between this hotel stop and the eleventy hundred gallons of water I drank, I managed to avoid any pregnancy-related issues.

The little boys wreaked havoc in the hotel room together while the big boys went swimming downstairs with their mom, then we all passed out for a few hours before hitting the road again.

Christmas 2012

The visit to Orange was an absolute joy. There was no shortage of cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents to play with.

Christmas 2012

Christmas 2012

Sometimes play was gentle, like with the other little guys and girl.

Christmas 2012

Other times, it was wild and probably dangerous, like spinning chairs and dogpiles with the older boys.

Christmas 2012

Christmas 2012

Some cousins shared their toys willingly, others, not so much.

Christmas 2012

texas 2013 14 Christmas 2012

Not even if you hug them first and say please.

Christmas 2012

We got to help Meme peel shrimp for gumbo and help Aunt Jan grind pepper for steaks.

Christmas 2012

Christmas 2012

There were a few Texas-true moments, like finding a deer tail in the outside fridge, making sauces using produce from Pop’s own trees and driving back and forth over the majestic bridges between Bridge City and Port Arthur.

Christmas 2012

Christmas 2012

Christmas 2012

We even got to go to work with Daddy for a little while.

Christmas 2012

New Year’s was rainy and a little cold, but we still headed out to the country to blow things up with some friends. Living next to an amusement park has made Monkey pretty immune to the noise of fireworks, but he still enjoyed the “BOOM! BOOM!” they provided.

Christmas 2012

On the way back to Kansas City, we stopped for a night at the lake house. When we arrived we were greeted by a roaring fire and a gorgeous home still decorated for Christmas. And by decorated I mean decorated. Aunt Karen even has a Christmas tree in the bathroom. Oh, and yeah, that’s totally a Santa dressed in camo. Of course it is.

Christmas 2012

Christmas 2012

Christmas 2012

The next day hubs, Monkey and I set out for the longest part of the drive – the drive back to life as usual. As we snaked our way north among forests and mountains, I amused myself by snapping pics of such wonders of the world like snow-capped ridges and my husband’s massive beard.

Christmas 2012

Christmas 2012

About halfway through Arkansas, Monkey was totally over the drive. OVER IT.

Christmas 2012

So we stopped and let him run in an indoor playplace while we stretched our legs. Man, you give my husband a couple of McRibs and my son unlimited access to a slide and life is good once again.

Christmas 2012

I am thankful we made it home safe and mostly sane. It has taken us a few days to recover from the holiday, but life is up and running again as usual and we’re finishing up preparations for the newest member of our family, set to arrive in a couple of months. As you can see, I’m now more than a little bit pregnant, although some of that might be gumbo, and cookies, and Shipley’s donuts, and…

29 weeks

Discovering snow (again)

Stage One: Wut?

snow 2012 6

Stage Two: DAFUQ MOM?!

snow 2012 2

Stage Three: There’s stuff on the glass! I can’t see the street! Hey! HEY!

snow 2012 3

Stage Four: Clean it up. 

snow 2012 4

Stage Five: I not like it, Mama. I not. I hungry. Bacon? Applesauce? 

snow 2012 5

Maybe we’ll go out and actually play in it once it stops blowing around. Or not. Not sounds more fun. 

 

In the Kitchen: Divinity

When I think of my great-grandmother, Grandma “Bridge City,” I think of the color red. I think of the blessings she had in the form of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren who she got to meet. And at Christmastime, I think about her candy making. I remember standing in her kitchen – a kitchen that would one day be my own – and watching her set out plates of divinity, fudge and bon bons that we would portion out into little tins to give away.

Food is a love language in my family, one that we all speak fluently, one that clearly communicates across the generations. We’ve passed down techniques and recipes to use for pork roasts, gumbo, and even a “birthday cake” for baby Jesus. And although the family is split into two factions over how dumplins should be made (Flat! NO! Puffy!) we still unite in our love for all things foodie.

This year I thought I’d resurrect my great-grandmother’s Christmas candy craze and try my hand at making divinity. It’s basically a cross between a pure puff of sugar and a meringue. Some people put nuts in theirs, some like to add food coloring to make a pretty pastel presentation. Either way, divinity should be smooth and melt in your mouth. It might be one of the most delightful things you could eat for the holidays.

It’s also one of the most dreadfully difficult things to make just right.

I mean, sure, there’s a recipe. Recipes are fail-proof, right? Just follow the directions. Pffffttthhht. Not with divinity.

With divinity, you have to get lucky. You have to be blessed. You can’t make it on a humid day. You have to beat it just right. Otherwise, you just end up with polar bear poop.

Sadly, I was neither lucky nor blessed at my first divinity attempt. I followed Paula Deens’ recipe, cooked the sugar to 248 degrees, beat the sugar and egg whites until glossy and…plop.

Paula Deen, you are drunk.

According to the rest of the internet food world, there is no way your recipe will work because A) the sugar never got hot enough and B) you’re supposed to beat the cooked sugar and whipped egg whites until they STOP being glossy. You beat them like a redheaded stepchild. You beat them until your stand mixer begs you to stop.

I had better luck with my second try – cooking the sugar mixture to 260 degrees and beating the ever-loving hell out of the cooked sugar and whipped egg whites. When the candies set up and cooled and took a nibble off of the end of one and was instantly transported back to my great-grandmother’s kitchen. They were perfect, and I felt triumphant and somewhat redeemed.

Christmas Divinity

2 1/2 cups white granulated sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup 

1/2 cup water

1/4 tsp salt

2 egg whites, room temperature

1 tsp vanilla extract

nuts (optional)

food coloring (optional)

There are a few really important techniques to remember when making divinity. First, make sure all bowls and utensils are clean, dry and free of any debris. Second, don’t make this on a rainy day or if you live in Florida. Humidity equals polar bear poop. Third, make sure your eggs are at room temperature. Fourth, get a candy thermometer. Don’t even try to eyeball this.

Clip your candy thermometer to the side of a saucepan and boil the sugar, corn syrup, water and salt to 260 degrees. It will look like boiling glass.

While you are waiting for the sugar to boil, beat the egg whites in your mixer until they begin to form stiff peaks.

Once the sugar has reached 260 degrees, slowly stream it down the side of the bowl into the egg whites while the mixer is on high. Continue to beat the mixture until oh, about Tuesday. Seriously, beat it forever. I’m not going to give you an exact amount of time, just leave that sucker on high and go paint your toenails.

Ok, maybe not that long, but you get the drift. When the mixture starts to become a little less shiny, turn it off and lift up the beater. The candy should form a column from beater to bowl on its own. If it drizzles back down into the bowl, it’s not ready. Beat it some more. Read a magazine. Take the dog for a walk.

WAIT. STOP. IT’S READY.

Add your vanilla. Stir it in along with any food coloring or nuts you want to add. Quickly, take the beater out and set the bowl down next to some non-stick foil or wax paper. Dip a spoon in cold water and scoop out some of the mixture. The texture will be unlike anything else you’ve ever scooped – sort of marshmallowy, kind of souffle-ish. You can make messy little dollops, or you can try to make them pretty by placing a pecan on top.

Let the divinity sit out and dry until you can handle it without it sticking to your fingers. Now, you can box it up and share it, or you can store it in an air-tight container in your nightstand where Santa can’t get his fat fingers on it.

 

Santa, no. Trains, yes!

Union Station is one of my favorite places in Kansas City, especially during the holidays. Every year we go downtown to see the model train display and marvel at the Christmas decorations. The majestic architecture of the train station is beautifully complimented by the brightly lit trees and sparkling snowflakes hanging from the ceiling.

This year we figured Monkey was old enough to enjoy the Kansas City Southern Holiday Express, a train “unlike any other train in the world, with its smiling engine “Rudy”, gingerbread boxcar, flatcar carrying Santa’s sleigh, reindeer and a miniature village, snow covered stall filled with model train displays, the elves’ workshop and even a little red caboose.”

If you want to catch the Holiday Express, you have the option of standing in a three-hour-long line OR, if you’re quick with the internet skills, reserving VIP tickets online so you can enjoy the not-so-cheerful glares of others as you skip ahead to the front. We got lucky this year and snagged reservations before they ran out.

We did not get so lucky with the Santa picture.

My son HATES Santa. HATES HIM.

But he loves trains, and so through the Holiday Express we went.

At the end, Monkey received a big red bag of candy which he later enjoyed, minus the parental chocolate tax. We posed for a quick picture in front of Rudy the locomotive, checked out a few Extreme Gingerbread Home Makeover Prize Winners and got home in time for dinner and snuggles and (unfortunately) another football game on tv.

Next weekend, Texas invades Missouri and we’re looking forward to the house full of chaos with my mom, sister and our nephews. Our chances of a white Christmas are slim, but no matter the weather we’re expecting a festive holiday full of food, friends and family. We wish you all the same!