Thursday, October 24, 2013

Things I Love Thursdays: There's Going to Be a Baby

When we found out I was pregnant, we knew we were going to need a little help breaking the news to Jack. I did some scouring for books that were about the actual pregnancy, not about being a big brother or having a new baby in the house (we'll get to those later I'm sure). I also wanted something cute, because I'm shallow like that. When I stumbled across There's Going to Be a Baby by husband-and-wife team John Burmingham and Helen Oxenbury, I knew I'd found just what I was looking for.

This book might be a little abstract for younger children, but for a 4 or 5-year-old, I think it's just right. The mom explains to her son that a baby will arrive in the fall, and then answers some of the little boy's questions about the baby. Most of the pages depict the mom and son on various outings, imagining what the baby will be when it's older. At first, the boy isn't thrilled with the prospect of the baby. When he imagines the baby as a zoo keeper, he muses over the possibility of the baby being eaten by a tiger. I guess this might be off-putting to some people. I found it hilarious.

Another page shows the boy standing up in his bathtub, announcing to his mother out of the blue that the neighbor's baby threw up all over the carpet. I love the humor in this book, and the illustrations are adorable with a vintage feel to them. The images of the baby performing his various imagined activities - banker, chef, sailor - are cute and silly, and Jack particularly likes looking at them. He also likes that the little boy wants to name the baby Spider Man.

By the end of the story, the boy begins to warm up to the idea of the baby, and I always get a little teary-eyed on the last page (granted, I'm pregnant). I was surprised by how well Jack responded to the book. He wants to read it almost every night, and he's memorized some of the questions and refers to the book when we talk about the baby - the last line is something like, "We're going to love the baby, aren't we?" and Jack has said multiple times that he wants "to love the baby." Ultimately, I feel somewhat indebted to this book for helping Jack get excited about the baby, instead of denying its existence all together like he was at first.

If anyone has any must-have reads for soon-to-be siblings, please share in the comments!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Writing Wednesdays: NaNoWriMo and My First Giveaway

Many of you know that National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) is just around the corner. Last year I participated and ended up with a shiny new novel at the end of November. It was so much fun and I really enjoyed doing it, even if I never ended up querying the novel (I entered it in a few contests and received some requests, but several agents suggested I switch it from third person to first person, and I'm in the process of doing that now, although I have other projects I'm more focused on).

Unfortunately, my crazy travel schedule for the month of November means I can't participate this year. I'm disappointed - it's such a great motivator, and there's nothing like drafting. But it just isn't in the cards. Instead, I'm going to take the month of December to finish a novel I started before moving to Russia (you may remember it - it's based on a Russian fairy tale). I needed to actually live in Russia to do the novel justice, and now that I've spent over a year here, I feel ready to really buckle down and write it. I already have the first 60 pages and a solid outline, and I'm looking forward to tackling this one. Plus, with a baby coming in April, I figure I need to get in all the writing I can before then.

In other news, I'm rapidly approaching my 100,000 page-view mark. I know that's not really a big deal, but it still feels like something worth celebrating, and I'm long overdue for a giveaway on this blog! So, when I get to 100,000 page views, probably some time in the next two weeks, I will be giving away a $20 gift card to Amazon! I know many of you aren't writers or avid readers necessarily, so you can spend the gift card however you want. You don't even have to be a follower (although I always appreciate it). People who want to participate can simply leave their name and contact info in the comments and I'll pick someone at random. I promise I'll give a heads up when the day approaches.

In the meantime, I'm leaving Russia (forever, most likely!) the day after tomorrow, so I'm pretty frazzled, but I'll try to blog in the coming weeks (especially for the giveaway). And if anyone else plans on drafting in December and wants to join me, let me know!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mommy Mondays: Morning Sickness, the Biggest Lie Ever

A few weeks ago, when I was in the throws of morning sickness hell, I turned to John and said, "The worst thing about the first trimester is the fact that I can't complain about it on Facebook."

John looked at me and asked, "Really, that's the worst thing?"

To which I replied, "Well, no, the worst thing is morning sickness. But it would make me feel a lot better if I could bitch about it publicly."

Morning sickness is a big, fat lie. Because if you've had it, you know that "morning" really doesn't come into play. It should be called "all-day nausea," or maybe "the pregnancy plague," because it's like having the damn stomach flu for two months (or longer for some people; I can't even fathom what it's like for the women who have hyperemesis gravidarum - at least that has a suitably serious title). If you're extra super lucky like me, it gets worse as the day progresses, so that you end up running for the toilet at 1 a.m. Yay!

I had morning sickness with Jack, and it sucked royally. But this time has been way worse. At least last time I could go to Trader Joe's and buy the few things that appealed to me (I remember one bizarre trip where I came home with a can of Spaghetti-O's, a box of lime popsicles, and a cantaloupe). Here, though, my pickings are slim. I craved the same sorts of things: anything cold and refreshing or doughy and tomato-y, but it was much more difficult to procure them. I also have a serious aversion to garlic and roasting vegetables, which I can't recall having last time (although I don't recall John being obsessed with those things four years ago, either).

I also don't remember having dysgeusia last time, or what I like to call bad-taste-in-mouth-at-all-times disease. Nothing I ate could get rid of it. I read somewhere that vinegary foods like pickles help (I wonder if that's where the cliche of pregnant women being obsessed with pickles comes from...), but wouldn't you know it, we didn't have any freaking pickles. I can't blame Russia for that, at least. We just didn't have any. And of course, with all-day nausea comes fatigue, weight loss, and a general inability to function, which is WAY worse when you have another kid to take care of. 

But perhaps the actual worst thing about the first trimester is that men don't understand morning sickness at all. I get it, it's hard to fathom that brushing your teeth or swallowing a pill can actually cause someone to vomit, but I'm not sure how much proof John needed. Apparently more, because he has been shoving vitamins and supplements at me like a dealer. I even found proof online that it's okay to eat whatever you can stomach during the first trimester, but John was undeterred in his quest to get me to drink green smoothies and take eight spirulina tablets a day. And despite me having to hide out in our bedroom every time he roasted anything, he persisted in his nightly broccoli and brussel sprouts (*vomit*) routine. 

Fortunately, I'm finally feeling better. Last week I was able to eat fairly normally, and this week my appetite is really kicking in. Which is great, considering I'll be in America on Friday. First stop, Chicago for Ann Sather cinnamon rolls, followed by Baked and Wired in DC (I was too sick for cupcakes the last time I was there - can you even imagine?), whatever is good in Rhode Island, bagels with tempeh bacon and cream cheese in Norfolk, an early Thanksgiving in Miami, and all the guacamole and virgin margaritas I can handle in Cancun. Second trimester, here I come!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Foreign Service Fridays: Some Thoughts on Pregnancy and the Foreign Service

Today at Most Eligible Family, I attempt to explain some of the reasons I'm leaving Russia (in one week! Eeek!). Have a wonderful weekend all, and wish me luck with packing!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Things I Love Thursdays: Butternut Squash Wrap

John and I have a tendency to buy produce that looks decent without really having a plan for it. I guess we just get so excited at the prospect of fresh produce (we eat a lot of frozen veggies over here) that our stomachs get ahead of our brains. So when John picked up a butternut squash the other day, I kind of wondered what we were going to make with it, especially since John doesn't eat wheat or sugar. I find the elimination of those two major food groups rather limiting, while John could happily live off of vegetables roasted in oil and garlic powder for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, I have had a major aversion to the smell of roasting anything since getting pregnant, so we've had more than a couple arguments over this subject of late.

Once it was clear my tried-and-true butternut squash recipe (cut it in half, bake it, and stuff it with butter, bread crumbs, and brown sugar - yum!) wasn't going to pass muster, I searched in vain for something that didn't require roasting or include wheat. Naturally, while I was out having a cupcake with Barbara (wheat and sugar - take that!; on a side note, they opened up a gourmet cupcake shop ACROSS THE STREET FROM MY HOUSE two weeks before my move. Nice.), John sent me a recipe to make for dinner that night. And guess what? It involved roasted squash! Argh! But I decided to give it a shot anyway, mostly because I was lazy.

Here's the recipe that inspired our meal. Unfortunately, we didn't have arugula, I didn't have time to roast walnuts, and we're out of red wine vinegar (I don't know where I'm expected to get apple cider over here). So we improvised. Here's what our version ended up like:

1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
2 tbsp (approx) macadamia nut oil
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
salt to taste

Toss all that together and roast on a baking sheet at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (or 204 Celsius if you're not in America) for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile...back at the ranch:

1 package of any kind of greens you can get your hands on (we used baby swiss chard)
1/2 can white beans (garbanzos would work too)
chopped raw almonds
olive oil and apple cider vinegar to taste
more salt if you're in our family

Now, John, being John, ate his salad as a salad. Me, being pregnant and finally allowed to eat carbs, wrapped mine up in a flour tortilla. Let me tell you, Sweet Green couldn't have done it better. And best of all, the house didn't stink because the squash only roasted for a little while and we used yummy fall spices instead of garlic. If you feel like mixing it up, you could add cranberries or raisins, feta or blue cheese, and you could easily substitute the squash with pumpkin. If you're one of those fortunate people within 1,000 miles of a head of kale, or fresh spinach, you could use that too. Even romaine would be good. The possibilities are endless!

(Alas, we ate it all before I could take a picture. So you'll just have to take my word for it that it was deeeelicious!)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

We're Expanding...

We're expanding! Or, more precisely, I'm expanding while John and Jack go about their normal routines. But some time in late April of next year, we'll be adding a new member to our family!

It's a little early for an announcement like this (I'm 13 weeks pregnant), and believe me, I have debated when and how to share the news a lot over the past few months. But since the news doesn't just stop at "we're having a baby," and things are getting down to the wire, I figured it made sense to let people know what was going on now, rather than waiting.

So, to make a long story longer, Jack and I will be leaving Russia in ten days. Permanently. It's a complicated topic and one I will explain in more detail later, but for now, let's just leave it at: I didn't feel comfortable getting the majority of my prenatal care in Yekaterinburg. I also didn't love the idea of spending another winter here, pregnant, or waiting until I get put on bed rest again to make the journey back to the States with Jack in tow. So Jack and I will be spending December, January, and February in Montana with my parents, and then we'll meet John in DC some time in March.

I'm obviously thrilled to be returning to the US next week, but it's a little bittersweet, because I feel like I didn't quite finish my time in Russia. I wanted to see St. Petersburg, go dog sledding and horseback riding in the mountains, and maybe get just a little less terrible at Russian. I'll miss my job and our Consulate family, the Russian friends I made, and this glorious, massive apartment, the likes of which I'll probably never see again.

But this pregnant lady is also beyond excited about the prospect of being with family, seeing good friends, and eating all the amazing delicacies I have missed so much these past 13.5 months. Wish me luck packing (I have to decide which clothing I won't miss for the next year and a half, since the majority of our stuff will go to storage next year and remain there until we go to Peru in June of 2015), pray we get our upgrade on the looong journey to Chicago next week, and above all else, THINK PINK!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Foreign Service Fridays: Thank You, Russia

Today I take a minute to reflect on the ways Russia has improved my life by improving my child. You can find that post on Most Eligible Family. Happy three-day weekend, everyone!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Things I Love Thursdays: Pumpkin Everything

I love fall for many reasons (the fashion, the crisp air, the crunchable leaves, etc.) but one of my absolute favorite things about autumn is pumpkin season. It's probably a good thing pumpkins aren't available year-round, because I'd likely get sick of them. But I love going to the pumpkin patch, roasting pumpkin seeds, making pumpkin pie, sipping on a nice hot pumpkin steamer, and even pumpkin decorations. Here are a few of my favorite things from around the Web.

Adorable (albeit worthless) 2" velvet pumpkins from Catbird.

This ridiculously amazing pumpkin meringue pie from Martha Stewart.

Gorgeous glass pumpkins from LukeGilveyGlass.

Pumpkin macarons from Trader Joe's? Say what?!

Jack as a, baby.

Normally I skip the whipped cream on my Starbucks drinks. Not on this puppy.

I have neither the time, nor the patience (nor the pumpkin), but still...

Monday, October 7, 2013

Dinner as a Metaphor for Life - Sort of

Tuna. Noodle. Casserole. Taken on their own, three rather innocent words. Put them together, however, and you have a recipe for... DISASTER!

Okay, so under normal circumstances, Tuna Noodle Casserole (or TNC as we'll call it from here out) is a relatively benign food. In fact, it's very benign-ness was why I decided to make it on Sunday afternoon. A friend had mentioned making it for her kids on Facebook, and - though I can't say I've eaten much TNC in my past 33 years of life - it sounded good for some reason. Comforting. Gooey. Rich. AMERICAN! I scoured the interwebs for a recipe that didn't call for cream of mushroom soup or a ton of mayo and found something that fit the bill. John even agreed to eat some, as long as I used corn pasta instead of wheat (because as you all know, wheat is the devil in our house).

John and Jack headed to the Hyatt for their Sunday afternoon swim and I gathered the ingredients. Naturally some substitutions were in order. I hate celery, so I left that out, and I'd forgotten to buy mushrooms, so I hoped they wouldn't be too greatly missed. We only had one large can of tuna left, so I knew the dish would be light on the T, but I had the peas, the milk, the butter, the onions and garlic and whatever else was in there. I started boiling water for the pasta, chopped up the onion, preheated the oven, and got to work.

Then things started to go wrong. The pasta finished too quickly and had to be set aside, along with the sauteed onions and garlic. I was still fairly chipper at this point, but as I scanned the recipe I realized I'd made a very serious oversight. The recipe called for a roux. And if you know anything about a roux, you know it involves two ingredients: butter, and flour.


That's when the panic set in. The pasta had congealed into a stiff yet somehow slimy mass of yellow noodles, and the onions and garlic were withering before my eyes. I scoured the cabinets for some kind of flour substitution, came up with a disgusting quinoa flour-based roux that immediately went down the drain (which immediately began to clog) and tossed aside one bizarre flour after another looking for something John would eat. By the time I had decided he'd just have to deal with the 1/4 cup of flour (in the entire massive recipe), I realized we didn't even HAVE regular flour. I proceeded to make a passable roux with organic pastry flour, butter, and heavy cream (since John didn't want me to use regular milk; lowfat anything is also the devil in our house). Then I threw in the thawed peas, tuna, the dried-up onions and garlic, along with the hardened blob of noodles, and proceeded to weep.

With tears streaming down my cheeks (okay, not really, but I was pretty pissed off at that point), I texted John my apologies.Then I shredded some cheddar cheese over the whole thing (I didn't even think about using the called-for bread crumbs) and shoved it into the oven.

The recipe that started it all. Here's the link if you feel like torturing yourself.

Over the next 25 minutes, while the bane of my existence proceeded to bubble and brown nicely, I debated whether or not John would humor me and eat the casserole, or if he would stand his ground and refuse it. On the one hand, John is very dedicated to his little no-wheat experiment, and even though Sundays are his "cheat day" (meaning he'll stomach the occasional oat or buckwheat kernel), I had a terrible feeling he wouldn't bend the rules for TNC. On the other hand, he's not an idiot. Surely he would see how hard I had worked, the substitutions I had made on his behalf (corn pasta ain't like regular pasta, I assure you, and those bread crumbs would have really added something), and how truly furious I would be if he refused my from-scratch dinner. I sat, and waited, and fumed, already anticipating his reaction.

Just as the casserole finished, John and Jack walked through the door. Jack seemed happy enough and immediately wanted to know where dinner was. But John. Oh John. The downtrodden - yet somehow determined - look on his face told me everything I needed to know. He would not condescend to eat the TNC. Even when he saw my face wither like so many sauteed onions, even as my hopes crumbled like the bits of bread I would not get to eat, even as the color rose in my cheeks the way that beautiful casserole had browned in the oven, still he would not yield.

So I dished up the casserole for Jack and myself while John warmed up a disgusting bowl of grechka. I can't seem to describe it properly for people, so here's a photo:

I assure you the only tasty thing in this photo is the butter. 

Now, grechka is what you or I know as buckwheat. How many times have you eaten buckwheat in your life? Assuming you occasionally order buckwheat pancakes, and assuming they actually use buckwheat flour in those pancakes, that's probably the extent of it. But Russians love buckwheat. It's generally served like this for breakfast (sometimes with milk and maybe something to sweeten it - which grosses me out because grechka is naturally savory) or as a side dish a la rice with lunch and dinner. Sour cream is a common topping, as are fried eggs. And butter is pretty standard. I have learned to stomach the stuff in my time here, but I will never - I repeat, NEVER - like it. John loved it since his very first encounter during language immersion last year. Jack, like his mama, was not a fan. But Katya, our nanny, is nothing if not persistent, and after serving it to Jack pretty much every day for a year, he appears to have developed some sort of taste for the stuff. Here's what happened next.

Jack, who had just started to eat the TNC (he'd never had it before and was skeptical), took one look at Daddy's bowl of plain (PLAIN!) grechka and said, "I want some of Daddy's porridge." He then proceeded to push the TNC out of his way and help himself to heaping spoonfuls of buckwheat nastiness.

And that's when I really started to cry.

So, you may be wondering, how IS life like a Tuna Noodle Casserole and not, say, a box of chocolate? Because sometimes, you work your ass off for something - maybe it's your job, or your novel, or DINNER - and no one wants anything to do with it. Sometimes your hard work isn't acknowledged or appreciated. Sometimes you want to throw your hands up in there and scream, "Why do I bother??" (Sometimes you might literally do this.)

And sometimes, you just have to suck it all up, grab a fork, and eat that TNC all by yourself. And guess what?

It was freaking delicious.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Foreign Service Fridays: снег! aka Snow!

Yep, it's already snowing here in Russia. Apparently we're skipping fall this year. A few fun facts about Russia in winter and a scary picture of a local water pump await at Most Eligible Family. Happy Friday all!