Being a Mom

I loved being pregnant. I was fortunate to have an easy pregnancy with Little Man. Every day I was in awe of how my body changed and became something so different from what it was before, of the tiny creature growing and moving and thriving inside of me. I loved the way complete strangers would look on me with such kindness, would go out of their way to be helpful and give a smile, simply because they saw that I was a soon-to-be-mom.

While pregnant, I studied What to Expect When You're Expecting and a few other parenting books. I signed up for the weekly newsletters from online parenting magazines. I agonized over what stroller and crib bedding and high chair to purchase, spending hours researching and reading reviews and comparing prices. I approached my last month of pregnancy with a fair amount of trepidation, knowing that I stood on a precipice, at the point of no return—once I stepped off, once our Little Man entered the world, my life as I knew it would never be the same. The old Julie would be gone, replaced by Mom Julie.
But all that was fuzzy, intangible. I was realistic. I knew having a baby wasn't going to be easy. But I also knew how many women successfully raised children every year, many with a lot less preparation and support than I had. And women kept having babies, some one right after another. They encouraged other women to have children. So it couldn't possibly be that hard.

You know what? Parenting—particularly motherhood, particularly for those first few months when your little bundle of joy is not always so joyous and you're trying to care for his every need without really knowing what he needs or how the heck to give it to him—is much harder than I ever imagined it would be.
While I was in the midst of nine solid months of serious sleep deprivation, struggling to produce enough milk to sustain my hungry fellow, feeling every day like I was a failure as a mother because this messy, stressful life wasn't anything like what people made motherhood out to be, I railed against the pretty, perfect picture people paint of the joys of having babies.

To be fair, some practical books do cover the nitty gritty details of all the problems you might face with your little one. But those helpful advice tomes seem so abstract compared to reality. And the truth of the matter is, they're often more confusing than helpful. Take our sleep challenges, for instance. One book would tell me I should do one thing to help Little Man sleep better. Another book said the complete opposite. Websites, other moms interested in lending their advice, whatever the source might be, there was absolutely zero agreement on one best course of action for me to take. It made my head spin and left me more confused than when I started.
That's when I started to realize that there isn't one right way to survive having a baby and being a new mother. There is no one perfect, agreed-upon way to do anything related to newborns. What worked for five other new moms and their little ones will not work for you. You really do have to just do what feels right to you, what you think is best.

But how do you know what's right, what's best, when you can't even see straight from exhaustion? When you question whether every decision you make regarding your baby is wrong? When you have no inherent knowledge, and certainly no experience, to rely on?

It can be hard to rely on mother's intuition and insight when you don't think you have a lick of it. I wondered many times during those first nine months if I was cut out to be a mom at all. How could I be so terrible at something other women seemed to do so effortlessly? How could I be so confident presenting information to a room full of strangers or editing a book or whatever else I was capable of doing in my "other" life and yet be so incapacitated and unsure of myself as a mother?

And why the heck weren't any other new moms having as tough of a time as I was?
Only after the fog of those first nine months started to lift, when Little Man no longer relied solely on me for sustenance and finally started to sleep for longer stretches, when I became a bit more comfortable in my skin as a new mother, did I realize the truth.

All those other new moms probably were having just as tough of a time as I was. In fact, a few I spoke to admitted just how hard it had been for them, how much they wished they had known other moms went through the same thing.

They thought it was just a personal problem, like I did. They thought maybe they weren't cut out for this motherhood stuff while all other moms were perfectly-put-together saints. They spent sleepless nights laying awake questioning every action they'd taken that day, not realizing that all across town other new moms were doing the same thing.
During those first months that were so hard, when I felt so alone, I wish I would've known other young mothers were struggling too. I wish I could have connected with them somehow. I also wish I would've realized how today's access to information only fuels our feelings of inadequacy as mothers.

Every day on Facebook new moms post cheerful updates and happy smiling baby pictures. They rarely mention how sore their nipples are from breastfeeding, how many times they've been peed on in the last 24 hours, how they were so exhausted they smeared toothpaste all over their faces before bed instead of face wash. The same thing happens on so many blogs (I'm guilty, even right here, I know—but who takes photos of the hard parts?) and a million other places where moms have a presence.
Then there's Pinterest, where you can pin photos of dreamy birthday cakes, the ultimate outdoor activities for every age, patterns for quilts and clothes and a million handmade things perfect moms are making every day for their children while their babies nap peacefully beside them in their bassinets. It's a new (real life) mom's nightmare.

And don't even get me started on the mass media and the general public, who these days seems to think that their place is right in your living room beside you as you feed your baby. There's public outcry from all corners when moms dare to speak about choosing formula over breast milk, then there's more outcry when breastfeeding moms say they're stopping before a year or continuing past two years. Disposable diapers vs. cloth? When should children be immunized? When is it OK to give kids highly allergenic foods? To let them watch TV? To potty train them? Tread lightly, new moms, because everyone—even people who've never been there themselves—have strong opinions.
It's information overload. An overabundance of options (don't even get me started on all the products new moms should have, all the choices they have to make just to figure out which bottle or burp rag to buy). It's too much content not saying enough about the reality of motherhood. It's enough to make your head spin. To make you question every decision you make. To make you wonder why you got into this whole motherhood thing in the first place.

But odds are, if you're like me, when you're finally able to quiet your mind, to stop second-guessing yourself, to just be present with those ten little fingers and toes and that adorable nose, you realize none of the chatter or the pressure or the debates matter. What matters is that you have a healthy baby. What matters is that you are the single most important person in your child's life. And that, despite how difficult those first few months may be, you are better off having your little one in your life.
In a few months, the things you agonize over now will seem rather inconsequential. Your little one will be running around and chattering nonstop, becoming his or her own person. You'll laugh and cuddle and play together and know that everything is alright.

It's a wild ride from here, to be sure, but things get easier than those first challenging months. You're a good mom. Did you hear me? I mean it. You're a good mom.
Your child will grow to be strong, healthy, and happy. You'll be stronger, healthier, and happier, too. You'll discover yourself again, you'll get more sleep, you'll find a balance between being a mom and still being your own person. You'll savor the little moments and perhaps even look back with fondness on the craziness of the beginning.

You'll see. Trust me. If I survived this far, you can too.


Random Recipes

Last night I made chicken picatta for dinner. I did not take a photo of it, so you'll have to use your imagination. But imagine it was hot and tender and a bit lemony, and you'll have the gist of it.

I used a random recipe I found online from Giada De Laurentiis. It was good, very good. I will likely make it again.

Lately I have been making a lot of random recipes. Sometimes they're recipes I come across on Pinterest or on my favorite food blogs. Other times they're recipes I seek out because I'm looking to use certain ingredients—the chicken breasts in the freezer, as was the case last night, or some leftover bacon, or produce from our weekly CSA delivery that I don't normally cook with.

Some of the recipes I've tried recently include mashed potatoes and turnips with greens; grilled garlic scapes (yum); a slaw with fennel, cabbage, and kohlrabi from a weekly CSA email; a gluten-free version of strawberries and cream biscuits (a failure once they baked, though as you can see above they were pretty pre-oven; but the original version from Smitten Kitchen looks divine so please make them for me!); black bean sweet potato flautas (below); cheese papusas; huevos rancheros; and beef with snow peas from The Pioneer Woman. Most of these recipes were good. Most of these recipes I'll make again.
Along with those random recipes I've been making recently, though, I've also been relying on a couple of cookbooks.
The first is Gluten-Free Girl Every Day by Shauna James Ahern. She writes my favorite gluten-free cooking blog, which I reference frequently here, and also wrote the first gf cookbook I ever purchased. That first book, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, tells a lovely story and includes some delicious albeit rather aspirational recipes—most aren't the kind you'd have the time or ingredients to make on an the typical night. (Well, maybe you do, but I sure don't.) That's why I picked up the new book. Because it's made—as the title says—for everyday cooking.

One of the things I like best about the new cookbook is that it doesn't just give you recipes. It tells the story behind them and includes the hints and tips and tricks that make cooking easy and enjoyable for the Aherns. I appreciate knowing what substitutions I can make or how I can modify a recipe if, say, I don't want to include dairy.
So far from the new cookbook I've made waffles (though not the fried chicken that accompanies them—cross your fingers I have time for that soon!), the browned butter peach buckle (above), a chicken recipe that involves lemon and raisins and pistachios called "everyday chicken," and a nice loaf of bread (which I'll share with you someday).

I've also been cooking—a lot—from PrairiErth Farm Cookbook by Katie Bishop. This one has a special place on my countertop because it's actually the cookbook written and published by PrairiErth Farm, which is where we get our wonderful fresh organic produce each week.

The recipes are divided up by type of produce, which makes it easy to find something to make with our loot. If I want to make something with leeks or fennel or kale, I just flip to that section of the cookbook. A lot of the recipes come straight from Katie; others are from other CSA members. I have yet to try a recipe I didn't like. So far this year we've had roasted beets with rosemary, scalloped potatoes with fennel, and garlic scapes hummus (below).
As I write this, I'm pretty sure I've made more than just those few recipes, but now I need to get out the cookbook and check. You should probably just go order a copy and try them out for yourself anyway.

So there you have it. A random roundup of some of the many recipes we've tried recently. I welcome any suggestions you might have on other recipes I should add to my "to try" list.


A New Front Door

I always loved this door.

It had great midcentury modern style and so perfectly fit with our little brick ranch house that was, naturally, built in the middle of the last century.

But this door had to go. For one, the outside had become so weathered you could quite literally get a splinter just from leaning up against it. (Had I thought to remove it, stand it, and stain it when we moved in more than five years ago, it might have looked OK today. But that thought never once crossed my mind until it was beyond repair.)
Plus it was so old and warped that you could actually see light coming through from outside on three of the four sides. That, of course, also means cold air was escaping in the summer and warm air was coming in. Not cool.

And, perhaps most importantly, the door handle no longer worked. It flat out didn't work. We tried to replace it when it broke, but our door is so old that new hardware won't fit it—the knob and lock on this door is set much farther away from the edge of the door than new hardware is. So we went for months with a worthless door handle that jiggled but did little else, with our only security being the deadbolt.
In other words, for this decidedly un-handy family, the door was beyond repair.

Since we aren't very good DIYers, of course, we finally had to break down and hire a contractor to install a new door for us. (We used the same company that did such a great job on our new kitchen.) So the hardest part for Conservative Hubby and I was picking the door and the color.

The book of doors the contractor gave us didn't include prices, so naturally we selected an incredibly expensive one without realizing it. After we went back to the book and tried again, we found a door we liked at a price we could handle. We also picked out a new screen door, which is one of my favorite parts, because the screen is built right into the door so all you do is push down on the top of the glass to let in great breezes. (Butter likes it, too.)
We knew we wanted to let in lots of light, so we thought this door would be just right. One thing we didn't consider, however, was how little privacy we'd have with so much clear glass. (Nor did we realize that it's hard to find curtains that actually fit a door like this, but the sheer hanging there does the trick for now—at least it ensures people don't have unfettered views straight into the dining room.)
For paint, I picked the same sandy-white hue as the walls for inside. For outside, I wanted something a bit fun, so I decided on a playful but not too crazy bright green called "Edamame."
I have to say, it's wonderful having a door with a handle that works, that opens and closes easily, and that isn't a safety hazard. Plus it brightens up the front of our house, which is a plus.

Another household to-do crossed off the list. Now if only those darn ugly bushes would just disappear ... and the carpet would replace itself ... and oh how I could go on ... and on ... and on ...


Fruit Pizza

Hello. How was your long 4th of July weekend? I hope it was filled with fireworks, fun in the sun, and good food. That about sums up ours.

Since we went to Georgia for Memorial Day weekend this year, we stayed home for July's big patriotic holiday. It was rather quiet around here, but there's something nice about a long weekend that moves at a slower pace.

Conservative Hubby golfed five days in a row, the last two of which were a tournament he plays in each year. That left plenty of time for Little Man and I to take walks, dig in the dirt, go swimming, and generally run around seeing what trouble we could get into. I took Little Man back to daycare this morning covered in scrapes and bruises from all of his debauchery outside (and looking rather tan despite liberal applications of SPF 50+). This, to me, is the sign of a good weekend.

On Saturday night we had some friends over for a low-key BBQ. Conservative Hubby requested a fruit pizza for dessert, so I went on the hunt for a recipe, as it had been a few years since I made one.

I decided I really wanted to find a fruit pizza that Little Man and I could eat too. Since most fruit pizzas have what is essentially a sugar cookie crust, I figured I just needed to find a decent gluten-free sugar cookie recipe.

Let me tell you, I spent a long time looking at and dismissing gluten-free sugar cookie recipes leading up to Saturday. For one reason or another, none of them seemed right to me. For one thing, as I've made clear here before, I'm a bit of a sugar cookie snob, so I was reluctant to try recipes that seemed incredibly different than my old standby or that included a ridiculous amount of random ingredients (because trust me, with gluten-free baking, sometimes the number of ingredients is downright insane). I was also being cautious because I really wanted to find a cookie that wasn't "good—for gluten-free." I wanted it to be just good. Good enough that no one else eating the fruit pizza would know it was gluten-free in the first place.

But after quite a bit of searching I realized I was going to drive myself mad trying to find the perfect recipe. So I just decided to try one that looked like it had potential—and if it didn't turn out how I wanted, I'd go buy premade sugar cookie dough to slap in the pan and bake at the last minute.

The recipe I tried is from The Gluten-Free Homemaker. One reason I picked it is because she says it's not an overly sweet sugar cookie. (The big fluffy grocery store bakery sugar cookies are so sweet my teeth literally hurt when I bite into them—not what I wanted for my fruit pizza crust or what I want when I make my own sugar cookies.) The other reason I decided to give this recipe a try is because it seemed pretty manageable and not that far of a cry from my usual sugar cookies, aside, of course, from the substitution of flours.

This recipe involves butter and coconut oil, sugar, egg, vanilla, a touch of milk, baking powder, then rice flour, potato flour, and a bit of xanthan gum to replace the wheat flour. I creamed the butter, coconut oil, and sugar, mixed in the vanilla and milk, then combined the dry ingredients in a separate bowl before adding them to the liquid mixture. Once everything was mixed together, I refrigerated the dough for an hour before spreading it in my pan to bake for about 15 minutes.

I had enough extra dough to make three cookies, which I baked beside the fruit pizza crust. I figured this would give me a chance to try the crust without cutting into my (hopefully) pretty fruit pizza.

The dough baked up well. Light, golden, looking very much like my sugar cookies I usually make. And although they of course didn't taste exactly like my go-to recipe, the cookies I ate were good. Nice, subtle flavor. Not too sweet, as advertised. I ate all three cookies just to be sure the crust would work (sometimes this baking stuff is hard work) and decided it would make a great fruit pizza base, no "for gluten-free" addendum required.
Just before the BBQ, I mixed 8 ounces of softened cream cheese with 1/2 cup powdered sugar for the "frosting" on the pizza. Some fruit pizza recipes use less sugar, some also use a bit of vanilla. There are plenty of variations out there. But I decided to go ahead and use the sugary version since the sugar cookies weren't all that sweet. Then I cut up some fruit to place atop the pizza and voila! it was ready to serve.

Conservative Hubby loved it. In fact, he said it was "unreal." So there's your assurance that this version is, in fact, worth serving to the masses.

P.S. The lady in charge of photos around here sure stinks at her job. She didn't even bother to snap a pic until after she cut into the pie and people had already eaten a few pieces. Oops. Might have to fire her. Then again, the pay is pretty lousy, so what do you expect?


Sponge Cake with Whipped Cream and Berries

Once I finally got settled in our new kitchen, I was overcome with the serious urge to bake something. Anything. Preferably a cake or pie. It had been a long time since I'd bothered much with baking since our old oven was so unpredictable.

Although my first choice is always a pie, since it was Father's Day weekend I decided instead to make a cake to celebrate. But I didn't want something heavy, like the German chocolate cake Conservative Hubby suggested at first. I wanted something light and fresh and springy.

So I decided to make this sponge cake with whipped cream and strawberries.

Admittedly, I was a little nervous about tackling this recipe. For one thing, I don't bake cakes all that often. For another, I was trying out our new oven for the first time. And—this was the big one—I decided to be brave and try a gluten-free sponge cake recipe.

The recipe I used, from Gluten Free on a Shoestring, looked easy enough. Eggs, granulated sugar, freshly squeezed lemon juice, cornstarch, kosher salt, vanilla extract, and a gluten-free flour blend. (She includes a link to her preferred blend with the recipe, but I used my usual mix instead.)

Mixing together the ingredients was easy. (There's something I can't quite describe about how lovely a bowl of cake batter can be. Perhaps someday I will try to put it into words for you, when I'm feeling a bit more poetic and my stomach isn't growling at me.)

Pouring the batter into the pan was easy.
Waiting for the cake to bake—and praying it would turn out OK—was excruciatingly hard.

Fortunately, the cake turned out beautifully. Golden and spongey, just as it should.
Once the cake cooled, I made some homemade whipped cream. (Nothing fancy. Just 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 cup heavy whipping cream, mixed and mixed and mixed some more until I had a bowl full of sugary-white peaks. This, by the way, made more whipped cream than I actually needed. But there's nothing wrong with having some leftover whipped cream.)

I cut the cake in half, generously slathered the top of the first half with whipped cream, added cut strawberries, placed the second half of the cake on top, and repeated the slathering and placing. Easy as can be.

And the results? Absolutely delicious. No one would have been the wiser that it was gluten free, except that both Little Man and I got to enjoy a rather large piece of cake—and otherwise, we would've passed on it.

(He said "mmmm" after each and every bite and ended up with whipped cream from his chin to the top of his head. That, in my world, is success.)

I'm thinking of making this cake again this week, in fact. With some blueberries thrown in alongside the strawberries, I imagine this would make for a rather festive Fourth of July treat.