feast of the seven fishes

The feast of the seven fishes is an American Italian tradition and for my family, it is how we spent Christmas Eve every year growing up. My dad worked in an Emergency Room and thus worked many a Christmas but almost always had Christmas Eve off, so my fondest memories stem from that. Each year, we would go to my Aunt Sherry’s and Uncle Mark’s house where UM would cook up his seven-fished feast: baccala, calamari and homemade sauce with pasta, smoked salmon, scallops, and a few other seafood offerings in my Aunt Suzi’s gumbo.

We used to have so much fun running around and eating and enjoying each other’s company. When my husband and I started spending Christmas together, we started this tradition with our own family. We stopped traveling and stringing ourselves out and kept with this Christmas Eve offering of love, merriment, and seven fishes. This year was no different; on the menu: shrimp cocktail, scallops, lobster stuffed tilapia, crab cakes, seafood stuffed mushrooms, and calamari.

As usual, our feast was a big hit (and so were the accompaniments of vegetable and fruit trays, my mom’s cheeseball recipe with crackers, and of course, Christmas cookies. This year, though, instead of feeling my usual joy and reminiscence, I felt a deep sadness. My Uncle Mark is no longer with us; he passed fourteen years ago on the 11th. His sons, my cousins, Mike & Jack have both since passed as well. Both passed three years ago in September and December respectively.

I don’t typically miss people who are no longer around and mostly just continue on with my day but this year was different. I am not sure if it’s because I’ve felt their presence or their absence (even though they wouldn’t be celebrating in MA regardless) but it’s hit me harder than it has before and ultimately, the feast that has brought so much joy and happy memories served a different purpose this year.

I have tried to make the most of the holidays this year. Tonight, after dinner, we had cookies and opened presents from our Bruttie boy. Brutus is known around our family for delivering gifts of pajamas and books each year: This year was no different, as each of the kids got pjs and MadLibs. So fun. For me, Brutus somehow managed to order a personalized mug and book with him pictures in cartoon form — it’s awesome and such a thoughtful collaboration with my husband.

I am hoping that the pit of sadness I’m feeling is lifted a little tomorrow. I took a yin yoga class today and my body was really resisting many of the poses. (Yin is not new for me — I typically take a Yin class weekly, actually.) I’m not sure if that class stirred up something that has me in my feelings or if it was the nearly three hour long chat I had with another cousin of mine today. Either way, I’m trying to breathe my way through tonight and hopefully, bringing in that new energy and out the old will help ring in the holiday cheer tomorrow morning.

Happy holidays to those missing loved ones — and a special hug to those dealing with addiction and/or the fallout around it.

breaking the cycle

Over the weekend, my husband and I had the pleasure of attending an annual trip to the Finger Lakes region in NY with some of my closest college friends, their spouses, and a gaggle of other friends. There were 16 of us in total; six couples; two sisters and a friend; and another friend of the group. Ten of us are parents who were really excited for a kid-free, adults-only weekend — what a time to be alive!

We rented a limo-bus for the big wine event and spent the entirety of the day eating snacks, visiting wineries & breweries, wine tasting, and singing songs. Honestly, this is the next best thing besides a wedding reception and basically all that we have to look forward to as a time to let loose since we are all married. We capped the night off with a trip to a local bar that was within walking distance.

At the bar, we were all paired off and checking in with each other on recent moves, familial relationships, our kids, work, etc. This is not atypical. We are a group of doctors, engineers, marketers, educators, and law professionals (among other things). My friends and I seem to have similar familial backgrounds and strangely, so do our husbands — dysfunction, hurt, frustration rising to the top of the guys’ childhood experiences.

It is not lost on me that each man in this group serves as an amazing supporter of their wives, their children, and each others’ children. We are all the better for knowing one another and I cannot express my gratitude enough that within this group of men who have experience emotional abuse and more, each one of them has made promises to themselves to do better; to be better.

Each of these guys wakes up each morning, determined to be a better version of those who modeled parenting and manhood to them. Each approaches each day making deliberate decisions that encourage and better not only their spouses and children but society as a whole. Each and every day, these men break the cycle that was modeled for them — a cycle that set out to destroy the livelihood of those around them (and those including them).

My admiration runs deep for each and every single one of these guys who chooses to prioritize feelings and family over anger and abuse. We so often read about breaking cycles and statistically, we know how difficult that can be, so to be surrounded by people who looked at toxic relationships in their lives and decided they deserved better and their children will not get that exposure to such toxicity from them is really powerful.

Our bar chats were very serious, especially on the heels of a lighthearted limo ride full of wine, dancing, and scream-singing, and fortunately, our Wendy’s nightcap was also light and full of laughter, but those conversations between are so meaningful and I just cannot believe how fortunate my husband and I are to have such strong support from afar all year long and have such compassion and strength from this group of friends (most of whom we see once a year for this event and some of whom we only know because of this event).

On the drive back to MA on Sunday, I brought this up to talk to my husband about it and he noted it’s something that has stood out to him as well. We are all able to support each other so deeply because we all have respect for one another’s experiences and we trust that the support and advice given is genuine and out of care. We should all be so lucky to have such models around us and our families, pushing toward a new normal for all to see.

end-of-year goals

About halfway through November, I realized I didn’t set any written goals aloud but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been working towards some. I recently met with a nutritionist who I talked to about trying to lose enough weight to get within my healthy zone — I know that more than weight counts for health and I’ve been definitely working on my health this year. I have lost twenty pounds with minimal effort and have maintained that loss through many trips and even more cupcakes. Still, I want to match that loss in 2020.

With the nutritionist, she recommended I actually increase my carbs intake. I’m certainly not on a low-carb diet and I eat lots of potatoes but she recommended using more oats, brown rice, and pastas. I also talked to her about incorporating more plant-based meals into my life. Before I met my husband, I rarely ate meat because I won’t touch raw meat and thus won’t cook it — it’s really easy to eat plant-based when you refuse to handle any proteins. I decided to largely go back to that (and take my family with me). My husband was easily on board because so many of his runner friends told him that moving toward a plant-based diet would help improve his running time.

Incorporating more grains and eating less meat kind of go hand-in-hand in my mind, so this has been a fairly simple transition. Trader Joe’s makes it easy enough to buy meatballs if the kids want to add meat to a pasta dish and last week, we bought a rotisserie chicken and my husband broke it down so that there was the option of adding chicken. 11 & 13 (especially) are big on meat eating; 4 is like me — he could take it or leave it. This is a central part of our end-of-year goals; basically, intuitive eating with foods and nutrients.

Additionally, I have been focusing on moving more. I have struggled to get into a routine and my nutritionist asked why I felt the need to be in a routine. She suggested I look into ClassPass, which has been great. My old yoga studio in the city participates, as do several in my immediate area — these classes coupled with my gym membership on campus and my at-home cardio equipment and weights should have me covered. So, my goal is to get to at least two yoga classes a week — I can typically fit them in on weekends and then take further advantage on days my husband works from home. On other days, I can just do cardio at home or use the spin bikes/Expresso workouts at the gym.

So, my goals around fitness are to keep on this path — do what I feel like doing and if I don’t feel like doing anything, try to talk myself into getting in a 10-min yoga video or a mile run. So far, this has been working for me and I’m hoping to continue to push forward with continuing this way.

Lastly, I’ve been straightening my hair more regularly, which has given me a big boost — hair, eyeliner, and mascara accompanied by high-waisted ‘mom jeans’ and crop sweaters.

With all this being said, here’s to ending 2019 in such away that encourages me to keep eating carbs and plants, moving my body in ways that push boundaries and ways that make me feel healthy, and getting myself ready for tasks like the grocery store.

national adoption day

Every year, we try to observe and celebrate National Adoption Day. Our Gotcha Day is one of the most special days I’ve experienced, but we don’t tend to celebrate it wholly because it’s a mere two days after our son’s birthday. We want to give our little man all of the celebration he deserves for being so resilient and amazing and so we use the distance from his birthday to observe this special time.

Each National Adoption Day, we’ve celebrated with a special treat (usually, one involving actual sugar and not just nuts — 4 considers almonds a ‘special after-dinner treat’) and read all of our adoption picture books. 4 knows that he’s adopted; it’s something we talk about often and try to have open and honest communication about. We always want him to be able to ask questions and talk openly about his feelings now and of course when he better understands what adoption means.

National Adoption Day is such a special day for so many families. I understand that adoption started by a child being separated by his/her bio family and I’m sure there is a lot to digest and process at some point about that. I have several friends who are adopted and several more who’ve adopted (two of my sorority sisters adopted their beautiful littles and are also adopted themselves). I am so grateful for their support and openness to answering questions when I’ve had them.

I always like to take the time to think of 4’s village when National Adoption Day rolls around. We are so fortunate to have so much love showered on our little guy and even more so that we keep in touch with his former foster family. His former foster mom is amazing and she’s also his Godmother; the most special piece about maintaining a relationship with her (aside from our friendship) is the bond 4 shares with his former foster sister. I call her little girl Mother Hen — she’s only a year older than 4 but just loved him to pieces when he was a baby and they still share that bond when they’re together.

I joke that Mother Hen is 4’s ride or die; sometimes he’ll talk about her and say they’re going to drive her mom’s car for an adventure. I just picture them joyriding as teens — it’s a good thing they don’t live close-by so that this isn’t a true possibility but their bond is special and I cherish it for my son. This year for National Adoption Day, we will go through our pictures from his adoption and will read our favorite books: The Tummy Mummy and Wish are two of my personal favorites.

We try to ensure that our little love always knows how special he is and how loved he is by everyone who’s entered his life. I mean, we are talking about a small child who brought a clinic team (nine physicians from nine different departments) to tears as they beamed with pride over his growth. I love celebrating him and celebrating this special day as a family filled with joy on this special day.

 

national zoo

This weekend, 4 and I are boarding a plane and heading to our nation’s capital to see ‘the bunnies’ — 4 has been obsessed with pandas (or bunnies, as he so lovingly names them) since he first saw one in a book. Two years ago, we were in town for a baby shower and took him to see them at the zoo — enter, Little Bunny, the stuffed panda he chose there. Little Bunny has been his right-side guy every night since then. It seems 4 is excited to add a sister-bunny to the mix this weekend and has already asked if he can pick one out.

Who am I to say no?

I am really excited for this mommy-4 trip. Our last trip together was in the spring when we went to Great Wolf Lodge; there, my son kept yelling, “I’m trump patrol and I’m ready to roll” — what he meant was ‘chug patrol’ from a British cartoon he enjoys: Chuggington. I can only imagine what little statements will come up on this trip.

We land late Saturday morning and will head straight to our hotel and then lunch with a dear friend. Sunday is our national zoo trip with some of my closest girlfriends and one’s little lady (she’s two) and Monday is completely up in the air — whatever the little man is into, I suppose: Could be a museum trip or a few hours at a local playground. At the end of the day, I’m just really excited to have this time to spend with him. He’s my little buddy and our time together is so special.

I am also excited to share with him where I spent nearly 10 years of my adult life. I love getting back to DC and haven’t been there in two years now. I have kept in touch with my closest friends from there (of course, I just went to Charleston with one) and so having 4 be a part of that circle is also something that’s so very important to me. Every trip we take, he gets to learn more about his tribe of people who care for him endlessly.

I’m not sure what else will be on our agenda — I’ve thought about a special dessert trip to the Melting Pot because who doesn’t love chocolate fondue and I read about a local doughnut shop just near our hotel; of course, I love my favorite Tex-Mex restaurant in DC, Cactus Cantina and 2Amys, right next door with the best pizza I’ve ever eaten. I am packing our Rider Safe so that we can take a taxi through the city if we so choose and maybe get to my alma mater for a quick tour.

I am all packed and ready to go and my heart could just explode thinking of all of the memories we get to make this weekend. To top it off, 4 had a great day at school today, so we are heading into the weekend in a really good headspace and are ready to take on our mommy-4 adventure!

*Note: This was written Friday but I set the publication date to go live after our return (safety reasons).

mom’s trip

Traveling is good for the soul; this is absolutely a fundamental belief of mine. I love to go places and experience new things; without hesitation, quality time is my love language and what better way to spend quality time with people than to head off on an adventure.

If you’re looking for ‘proof in the pudding’ … I do not have an engagement ring or a wedding band. My husband and I traveled to Vietnam in lieu of an engagement ring and spent two glorious weeks trekking through that beautiful country. Chicago was a little trip that took place of the wedding bands. While my husband is my favorite travel companion, I was able to travel to meet my dear friend this past week.

She and her family moved to Florida over the summer and the prospect of heading someplace other than Kansas was great. We decided to ‘meet in the middle’ and spent a few days in Charleston, SC. Holy moly — what a beautiful, quaint town. When I returned home, my son asked what we did the whole time and I told him that I talked so much, I lost my voice.

It’s true — we walked 20+ miles in 3.5 days, talked, took a tour of the Aiken-Rhett House, moseyed around The Battery, walked through outdoor markets, and met up for rooftop drinks with my first DC roommate. It was a great way to celebrate 16 years of friendship and the much needed friend time I so badly desired.

Charleston was a breath of fresh air: It was in the upper 70s and was super sunny each day; had some issues with our hotel but they compensated us with prosecco and cake; and we were picked up Friday night by my old roomie in his golf cart and then got to meet his girlfriend and her son.

Everything that went right could have and I returned home to hugs and a visit from my parents (they got to our house about 30 minutes after I did). Friendships are something that I cherish and I try to stay in touch with people the best I can, so this trip where I got to spend a few days with my DC bestie and then get to meet up with another old friend was great.

We all knew each other before significant others — there’s nothing like the people you navigated the waters of your early 20s with. We’d all moved to DC at the same time; I met my bf at the Steelers’ bar my first weekend there and as the only two girls in the bar, we became fast friends. Then, I found a place in Georgetown but needed a roommate: Enter, Roommate — he was the first out of 16 people I’d met who I didn’t think would murder me in my sleep (or when I was awake for that matter). We spent our earliest twenties bar hopping and making not the greatest choices at times. It’s great to reconnect with those we know at different parts of our lives and was fun to reminisce about what life was like before kids and a dog.

I always feel like I’m the best wife and mom I can be when I have time to be ME instead of always H’s wife or 4’s mom and what a better way to be true to yourself than spend a few days with the people who knew you before any of the big life changes did. In a couple weeks, I am taking 4 to DC to get together with friends of mine — these are people in his village who love him and support him from afar. They are also people who knew single me and love me just the same.

Being a stay at home mom certainly can have its challenges. For me, those challenges have nothing to do with my child but rather the difficulties around maintaining my own personal identity and it really is great to have that time which always allows me to come home feeling like I can take on the world … or at least my household.

a week in review

Wow! This past week has been a whirlwind!

3 turned 4 on Monday — with Monday being a school holiday, my husband used his last free PTO day so that we could take the kids to Great Wolf Lodge. I took 3 there in the spring (thanks, Groupon, for mid-week specials) and I’ve wanted to take 11 & 13 (I took them to Water Country over the summer and we enjoyed the slides for a solid nine hours — so, I knew they’d love it). We prepared all kinds of food to take with us: chicken tacos and raw vegetables for the kids and prosciutto-wrapped chicken salads for us for dinner; boiled eggs and fruit for breakfast; and lots of snacks.

We took the 75 minute journey after church on Sunday and were greeted with wolf ears and a chance to hop right in the water. We spent six hours on the slides and at the pool on Sunday; needless to say, all three kiddos ate like savages and were out cold by 8PM. My husband took the kids back to the park Monday morning and I stayed in the room to get some reading done for one of my grad classes; after that, we packed up and headed home. We’d planned to stop for pizza and cookies along the way but 4 passed out, so we adjusted our plans. It was such a fun weekend and I think a much needed break for everyone.

Once we were home, it was back to the grind: 13 had a service meeting after school to prepare for the field trip which was on Thursday, 11 continues to learn more songs on the trumpet (I think he’s up to 15 now!), and 4 had t-ball and his Gotcha-day anniversary. Throw in my husband’s busy work schedule (huge presentation and meetings with his boss while he was in town from CA) and my workload and it made for quite the time.

We got through it and 13 loved her field trip on Thursday, despite the crummy weather with high winds. They went into Boston and had a lunch/dance party on a boat, did a scavenger hunt in the city, and had dinner in Faneuil Hall — highlights included the taco, brownie bites, and seeing celebrities shooting a film. I was so relieved to hear she had a blast — as the wind blew on Thursday, I worried that the trip would be unpleasant. This was another highlight of the week!

Friday rolled in and we put an end to the week with shrimp quesadillas and an early bedtime. Of course, for me, it means I was wide awake at 3AM, so I’ve been in the basement family room, online browsing, and watching Temptation Island. Having a day of separation from the week’s busy allows me to realize all we accomplished last week and how happy everyone was to get in some extra family time and then share personal achievements/excitements.

Our goal for this year (not calendar year, so much — because I operate on a school calendar year) was to be more deliberate about planning a family date each month. In September, the family date day was a camping trip in Salem, MA. I didn’t stay the night (stayed with the dog) but was there each day and this month’s was the Great Wolf Lodge. Next month, our family date date is going to be holiday shopping and dinner out — not as grande a gesture but still should be a fun chance for us to bond outside of the house.

We have a busy few weeks coming up, so it’s nice to look forward to the days where we can stop the busy and enjoy each other. I’m looking forward to next week; I’m traveling solo to visit with a friend — I’ve been trying to get ahead of my school work so that I can enjoy this trip without stress or work to do. I have three library books to read for pleasure and I’m so excited to get this girl time. My parents are coming to visit the following weekend; they try to schedule their visits when 13 & 11 are here so they can visit with them and so the kids never feel slighted for missing a visit.

We are in a season of busy — kids are busy — we are busy — but we are trying to enjoy the down time we have with nightly family dinners, walks, little trips, homemade weekend brunches, and basic conversation. I so very much look forward to these coming days but am happy I took the time to reflect upon this last week. It was truly, very special.