Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Bi-Coastal Playlist

On Friday morning my husband and I did something crazy for two sleep-deprived thirty-year-old parents: We flew to California for the weekend, sans children.  A good friend of mine from college was getting married, and when she announced that the wedding would be in Pasadena, there was no doubt in our minds that we'd attend, even though doing so meant leaving our three-year-old and three-month-old at home with my parents for two nights.

I have been simultaneously looking forward to and dreading this trip since before Peanut was born.  I mean, who wouldn't want to go to California, if only for a mere fifty hours?  Low humidity, incredible fast-food hamburgers, the way people's conversations revolve around the freeways: These are a few things I adore about Southern California.  But jetting off to the Golden State meant stocking the freezer with enough food for Peanut and fervently praying that this mommy-loving child would eventually break down and take a bottle.  My paralyzing fear that my baby might not eat in my absence almost persuaded me to cancel the trip.  But then I thought about how amazing it would be to wake up just one morning in a way that does not involve someone forcefully prying my eyelids open while shouting "It's breakfast time!  It's breakfast time!  I want oatmeal," and, well, flight on.

To maximize our stay out west, we took a 7 a.m. flight on Friday.  Most passengers were fast asleep before takeoff, but I chose to savor the six uninterrupted hours of me-time by sipping complimentary coffee, reading Traditional Home and Runners World, and jamming to my iPod.  I created two playlists for the trip: One consisting solely of songs that mention California to set the mood for our visit, and another with songs about New York and home to listen to on the way back to JFK.


1. Al Jolson, "California, Here I Come" (When I was a little girl, this unofficial state song used to play on the Disney channel, with a smiling sun bouncing up and down over the lyrics.  It made California seem like a happy, majestic place, and I promised myself I would visit there someday.  I finally did, for the first time, just after I turned 29-years-old. "Open up that golden gate, California, here I come!")

2. Delta Spirit, "California" (This song makes me want to up and move to California every time I hear it.)

3. 2Pac, "California Love"

4. Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Californication"

5. Marlena Shaw, "California Soul" ("No matter what you do it's gonna get a hold on you...")

6. The Mamas and the Papas, "California Dreamin'" ("...on such a winter's day...")

7. The Eagles, "Hotel California" (Obviously)

8. Weezer, "Beverly Hills"

9. Bob Seger, "Hollywood Nights" ("She stood as bright as the sun on that California coast")

10. Phantom Planet, "California" (Feel the angst.  By the way, The O.C. first aired TEN YEARS ago.  As if having two children and a mommy tummy didn't make me feel old enough already.)

11. Vampire Weekend, "California English"

12. Kings of Leon, "California Waiting"

13. Dawes, "Time Spent in Los Angeles" (Minnow's favorite song of life.)

14. The Head and the Heart, "Down in the Valley" ("I know there's California, Oklahoma, and all of the places I ain't ever been to...")

15. Sheryl Crow, "All I Wanna Do (Is Have Some Fun) ("...until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard") (Oh, and if you really want to feel old, that song came out TWENTY YEARS ago.)

16. Katy Perry, "California Gurls"

17. Dante Thomas, "Miss California" (This song reminds me so much of my friend whose wedding we just attended because she used to play it on a loop freshman year, I think to make the points that a) she was from California; and b) she was hot.)

18. The Notorious B.I.G. "Going Back to Cali"

19. Counting Crows, "Long December" ("If you think you might come to California, I think you should...")

20. Joni Mitchell, "California"

21. Billy Bragg & Wilco, "California Stars" (No song makes me miss California as much after I leave.)


1. Dan Auerbach, "Goin' Home" (From the movie Up in the Air.  Personally, I like Dan Auerbach's solo stuff better than his Black Keys stuff; I also think this is one of the most beautiful songs ever written.)

2. Diddy Dirty Money, "Coming Home"

3. Vampire Weekend, "M79" (Because in New York, unlike in California, taking public transportation is not stigmatizing.)

4. Ryan Adams, "New York, New York"

5. Jay Z., "Empire State of Mind" (When I ran the ING New York City Marathon, I heard this song being played each time I crossed into a new borough.  For me, it is THE New York City anthem.)

6. Billy Joel, "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" (Because, sadly, I don't live in New York City anymore; I live on Long Island.  This ditty about "Brender" and Eddie is THE Long Island anthem, written by the king of Long Island.)

7. Mason Jennings, "Be Here Now," ("...no other place to be...")

8. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, "Home"

9. Phosphorescent, "Mermaid Parade" (Phosphorescent is my new favorite band, although they have, apparently, been around for a good, long time.  This song, from their 2010 album Here's to Taking It Easy, is perfect because it's about life between NYC and LA.)

10. U2, "New York"

11. Alexi Murdoch, "Home"

12. Cat Power, "New York, New York" (An updated version of Frank Sinatra's classic tribute.)

13. Rosie Thomas, "Much Farther to Go" ("New York is lovely in the wintertime.  The sidewalks are white as snow...")

14. Phillip Phillips, "Home"

15. Simon & Garfunkle, "The Only Living Boy in New York" ("Hey, I've got nothing today but smile...")

16. Mumford & Sons, "The Boxer" (A cover of the Simon & Garfunkle original, about the boy who left home for a chance at glory in the City.)

17. The Head and the Heart, "Honey Come Home" (I do not exaggerate when I say it is impossible for me to listen to this song without bursting into tears.  I do not know why; I am not going through a separation.  But the lyrics are so raw, so emotionally true, and have little to do with New York but everything to do with the things we take for granted about home life.)

18. Eddie Money, "Take Me Home Tonight" (Because you'll need something to cheer you up after that previous song.)

19. Bonnie Somerville, "Winding Road" (Which, incidentally, mentions California, but is actually a song about home.)

20. Simon & Garfunkle, "Homeward Bound" (Wow, I didn't realize I was such a Simon & Garfunkle fan until just now.)

21. Ben Folds, "Landed" ("Come pick me up, I've landed...")

Our trip to California was amazing, and being away from the kids for two days was- I'll say it- good for the soul.  But when I caught a glimpse of Manhattan- all lit up at night- out my airplane window on our return trip Sunday, my heart fluttered.  There really is no place like home.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Come Inside, It's Fun Inside

Before Peanut was even born, I was asking Minnow what kind of party she wanted for her third birthday.

"Why are we talking about her birthday right now?" my husband inquired.  "It's June."

"Because I want to make this birthday extra-special, and for that I will need time."

Minnow has experienced a lot of change since we moved from Bronxville in April: Potty training, moving to a new house, transitioning to a twin bed, welcoming a baby sister, starting a four-day-a-week nursery school program.  If anyone deserves the birthday party of her dreams, it's Minnow.

Since moving into the new house, Minnow has become engrossed in all things Disney.  This, of course, is all my fault.  In Bronxville the only show Minnow was allowed to watch was Sesame Street.  Now that Peanut has joined the party, Minnow has been watching more television, usually at the end of the day when my answers to the endless barrage of toddler inquiries come out all garbled and incoherent.  Disney is my reprieve.

I think toddlers are born programmed to recognize and idolize Mickey Mouse.  Within minutes of the first time she saw Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Minnow was referring to all of the characters by name and doing the "Hot Dog Dance."  It should have come as no surprise to me, then, that when I asked Minnow what kind of party she wanted for her third birthday, she answered:


Specifically, Minnow asked that I "turn our house into the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse."  After three months of turning our house into a livable home, I wasn't sure I was up to the challenge, but I did my best to capture the essence of the show for her dream party.


The first step was to create a festive invitation to set the tone for the party.  After googling images of Mickey Mouse party invitations, I came up with the concept of doing a folded card that when unfolded resembled the iconic Mickey Mouse ears.  I bought an inexpensive pack of folded cards made from black card stock with matching envelopes from the craft store.

Using a circle cutter, I created a template by tracing one large circle for the face and two smaller circles for the ears onto an unfolded card.  It took some trial and error to get the size of the head and ears just right; it's a good thing I had plenty of extra cards!

Using the template I created, I traced the Mickey Mouse image onto unfolded cards, then refolded them to cut out the shape.

I used the circle cutter to cut out similarly-sized circles from red and yellow card stock.  The red circles were cut in half to create Mickey's "pants," on which I glued two yellow buttons.  I wrote the details for the party on the yellow circles and glued them to the insides of the cards.

I hand wrote the invitations using colored fine-tip Sharpie markers.  The tag line read, "If you've got ears, say CHEERS!"

When the invitations were completely dry I refolded them so they would fit into their corresponding envelopes.  Using all this card stock made the invitations quite heavy, and they required extra postage to mail.  If I were doing this again, I'd probably use colored construction paper, rather than card stock, for the red pants and yellow interior.  


I created a birthday banner using the same Mickey Mouse head template I used to make the invitations.  I stenciled letters onto blue, green, and yellow card stock (the same colors as the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse sign on the show), cut them out, and glued them onto the Mickey Mouse heads.  I punched a hole in the center of each head and linked the banner together with red and white polka dot grosgrain ribbon.  In retrospect, I think I would have punched a hole in each ear instead; the sign would have laid better.  Even so, the banner turned out super-cute.  

We strung the banner across the back window in our dining room.  It was the perfect backdrop for the food table, which was flanked on either side by bunches of balloons in the same Mickey Mouse Clubhouse color scheme.


Minnow's birthday party started at 3 p.m., between lunch and dinner times, so rather than serve a meal I decided to serve finger foods, which are easier for three-year-olds, anyway.  For a thirty-year-old woman, I had way too much fun planning the Disney-themed snacks.  On the menu were:

Meeska Mooska Mickey Meatballs (Swedish meatballs served with Mickey Mouse picks)

Minnie's Fa-mouse Macaroni and Cheese (Baked macaroni and cheese that I served in individual red paper cups)

Goofy's Hot-diggity Dogs (Cocktail weiners)

Donald and Daisy's Cheese and "Quackers"

Pluto's Favorite Dog Biscuits (Sugar cookies shaped like dog bones)

Chip N' Dale's Chick N' Nuggets

Clarabelle's Chocolate Milk (Horizon Organic chocolate milk boxes)

And a vegetable tray to make me feel a little less guilty about serving all this junk food to children.

The real star of the party, besides Minnow, of course, was the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Cake, which I had custom made by A Cake In Time bakery located in Mt. Sinai, NY.

The baker, Sherry, created the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse using carved Rice Krispies treats covered in molding chocolate.  When Sherry delivered the cake, Minnow squealed with delight and spun around in circles.  That reaction was totally worth the price, which was in the ballpark of more than our wedding cake. ("But, hey, I made the invitations and the favors," I reminded my husband.)  It killed us to cut into this masterpiece after singing Happy Birthday, but the delicious layers of buttermilk vanilla and sour cream chocolate cake with Oreo cookie buttercream made destroying it slightly less painful.


The playlist for the party included some of Minnow's favorite artists, including Adele and Dawes, as well as perennial party favorites like "It's Your Birthday" by Justin Roberts, "Birthday" by the Beatles, as well as "Hot Dog" by They Might Be Giants.


Originally I wanted to make Mickey Mouse party hats for the kids by pasting a pair of black ears onto red party hats, but, amazingly, I couldn't find plain red party hats at the party store.  I did, however, find these plush Mickey Mouse ear headbands for $2.99 each, which were even more fun for the kids (and some of the adults.  I'm looking at you, Pop Pop).

For the favors I glued two yellow buttons onto the front of red paper sacks and attached white Mickey hand party tags that I drew free hand and personalized with black letter stickers.  Inside the sacks were crayons, notepads, playing cards, and bubbles, but no candy because I'm normally a stickler about limiting sugar for children. (Which is probably another reason why Minnow went bonkers for her cake.)

Minnow says, "Thanks for dropping by my Mickey Mouse Clubhouse party.  Oh, Toodles!"

Thursday, October 10, 2013


I am sitting in the new glider in the yellow nursery feeding Peanut when my phone lights up.  I desperately want to ignore the call, but I can't.  I know it's my doctor and I know he is going to ask if I took the medicine he prescribed last night.  The medicine that is supposed to help stop the heavy bleeding I'm still experiencing three weeks post-partum.  The medicine that carries a label advising against breastfeeding while taking it.  The medicine that I did not take last night.

"Hi, doctor," I say into the phone.

"Good morning!  How are you feeling?  Crampy?"

I only met this doctor eight weeks ago, when I transferred to his Long Island office from Westchester at 35 weeks, but I really like him.  I don't want to disappoint him.

"No, not crampy..." I trail off.

"Why not?  You didn't take the medicine?"

"Well, I didn't think I could take it while breastfeeding, and I'm just starting to establish a good supply, so..."

There is dead silence on the other end of the line.  I feel like I'm back in the fifth grade, being reprimanded by my favorite teacher for rolling my knee socks down.

The doctor speaks slowly.  "I don't think you understand.  You need to take the medicine.  I know breastfeeding is important to you, but this is a matter of life and death."

My doctor isn't one to overstate the truth, so this grabs my attention.

"I don't think you realize how lucky you are," the doctor continues.  "We just got the placenta back from pathology, and that baby you're holding is a miracle."

I think to myself that after the pregnancy and delivery I just experienced, there is nothing that this man can tell me that will surprise me.  If my pregnancy with Minnow was textbook, my pregnancy with Peanut was a horror story that included four hospitalizations: Two for unexplained bleeding in the first and second trimesters, one for acute food poisoning and dehydration, and one after a low-impact car accident at 32 weeks.  In addition to all that, I was also diagnosed with a low-lying placenta at my twenty-week anatomical scan, and for most of the pregnancy we believed I would deliver Peanut by scheduled C-section.  The placenta finally moved far enough away from the birth canal at 37 weeks, and I was cleared for a natural delivery.  I was thrilled to deliver Peanut naturally four weeks later, but, unfortunately, after she came out things went very wrong.  The doctor could not control the bleeding after I delivered the placenta and I was rushed to the OR for emergency surgery to treat post-partum hemorrhage.  There was talk of a hysterectomy and I was scared out of my wits, but, thankfully, the doctors were able to stop the bleeding.  Sort of.  Three weeks after the surgery I am still experiencing heavy spotting, which is why my doctor has prescribed the medicine I refuse to take.

But all of this has little to do with what he tells me next, and it shakes me to the core.

"The pathology revealed that the baby had a velamentous cord insertion that ran for eight centimeters, resulting in a vasa previa."

I don't speak Latin, so I ask the doctor to explain.

In a normal pregnancy, the baby's veins run from the middle of the placenta to the baby through the umbilical cord.  The umbilical cord protects the veins from rupture.  In velamentous cord insertion, the baby's veins traverse the placental membrane unprotected before coming together in the umbilical cord.  Peanut's veins ran unprotected for eight centimeters and actually crossed the birth canal, which is what is meant by vasa previa.  If at 28 weeks during my food poisoning episode, at 32 weeks after the car accident, or at 41 weeks during labor and delivery these veins had torn as a result of contractions or membrane rupture, Peanut would have bled out in a matter of minutes.  She would have been stillborn.

In fact, when vasa previa goes undetected, as is it did in our case, the infant mortality rate is between 50-95%.  It is called the silent killer because it affects mothers and babies who enjoyed otherwise healthy, uneventful pregnancies.

When vasa previa is detected, usually by color Doppler, the survival rates jump to 50-95%.  That's because when vasa previa is detected, the baby will be delivered by C-section at about 35 weeks, before the mother goes into labor.  Vasa previa is so rare (1 in every 3000 pregnancies) that it is not screened for unless the mother exhibits warning signs.  I've learned that I exhibited many of the warning signs for vasa previa, including unexplained late-term bleeding, low-lying placenta, and a history of non-abortive uterine surgery, but my former doctor in Westchester did not screen me for the condition.

I don't know why my former doctor didn't test me for vasa previa.  I don't know why Peanut survived a natural delivery when the great majority of babies with her condition do not.  I've been taught not to question miracles.

I wasn't sure I'd ever share this story on the blog, but October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and I want to raise awareness.  One in 200 babies is stillborn and, sadly, some of those stillbirths cannot be prevented.  But some can be, if we inform ourselves about the causes of stillbirth.  If I had known about vasa previa, I would have asked to be tested for it after my first unexplained bleeding episode at 11 weeks.  I would have insisted on a scheduled C-section at 35 weeks.  I would not have put my baby, and myself, at risk.

To learn more about vasa previa, please visit The International Vasa Previa Foundation.  My story is not meant to scare, but to inform.  Vasa previa is rare, but if you or anyone you know is experiencing any of the warning signs listed on the website, insist on being screened.  It may seem like another unnecessary test during pregnancy, but it just may save your baby's life.

Before we hang up and after the doctor convinces me that taking my prescription is what's right for both me and the children I need to care for, he says one more thing that deeply impacts me:

"Do you believe in God?  Because I do."

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Ode to October and a Giveaway

You know what drives me bonkers? (I mean besides the careless misuse of homonyms such as "your" and "you're"?)  When people- other people- go on and on about how much they love October.  Listen up: No one loves October more than me.  I discovered October, just like I discovered Mumford and Sons.  October has been my favorite month since before Starbucks introduced the pumpkin spice latte and J.Crew declared tweed blazers fashionable.  So don't tell me all about the amazing time you just had at the Mumford and Sons concert at the Barclays Center, in your fedora hat and ironic overalls.  I saw them two years ago when they were a bunch of banjo-strumming nobodies playing Webster Hall.  I love October and I love Mumford and Sons more than anyone else.  Got it?

For me, October is a month-long festival that I observe with several hallowed rituals.  
Below are my 31 favorite.  All month on the blog I will be sharing pictures, stories, and recipes from our October celebration.

1. Go to a local apple orchard and pick apples;

2. Make homemade apple sauce.  (Minnow's nursery school class recently made apple sauce, and each child brought some home in a baby food jar.  Minnow and I ate it after dinner one night for dessert and it was delicious.  Minnow wanted to know why Daddy wasn't having any, and I didn't have the heart to tell her that Daddy doesn't care for boogers in his apple sauce.);

3. Bring home a jug of apple cider;

4. Warm the cider in a saucepan with one or two cinnamon sticks and enjoy on a chilly fall evening;

5. Throw in some bourbon and make it a hot toddy;

6. I like my cider or toddy with some Sweetzel's spice wafers.  If you're from Philly you know exactly what I'm talking about;

7. Go pumpkin picking at a local farm;

8. Take a hay ride and enjoy the sensation of straw poking your body through layers of flannel, corduroy and tweed;

9. Carve pumpkins and put them on your doorstep for the squirrels to get to;

10. Toast the pumpkin seeds and make pumpkin seed granola because, sadly for your children, you're that kind of mom, and not the kind that makes pumpkin muffins;

11. Feel bad about the pumpkin muffins and make it up to your kids by making yummy squash muffins.  They taste just as good, I swear;

12. Speaking of squash, make homemade butternut squash soup;

13. Decorate your home with plenty of gourds and mums;

14. Build a bonfire and toast some marshmallows for s'mores.  Or toast them over your gas burner in the kitchen, either way;

15. Drink a pumpkin spice latte.  I really try to hold out for October for this, but Starbucks makes it increasingly difficult each year.  This year pumpkin spice was available the day after Labor Day.  There is something inherently wrong with an iced pumpkin spice latte;

16. Drink a Sam Adam's Octoberfest.  Even though I grew up on Yuengling and it feels like cheating, I allow myself one Sam Adams Octoberfest each fall;

17. Drink pumpkin ale.  Pumking by Southern Tier Brewing Company, NY is my favorite;

18.  What are you drinking to?  Minnow's birthday is in October and this year we are celebrating with a  Mickey Mouse Clubhouse themed birthday bonanza.  Mama will definitely be tossing down the toddies that day;

19. Look, the trees are changing colors!  Load the kids in the car and take a Sunday drive to marvel at the radiant reds, fiery oranges, and vibrant yellows;

20. Collect leaves and make leaf prints by placing them under white paper and rubbing the flat end of a crayon over them;

21. Rake leaves into a large neat pile, then jump in and destroy it;

22. Okay, now rake them up again and stuff them into oversize pumpkin trash bags to decorate your lawn for Halloween;

23. Speaking of Halloween, it is never too early to start thinking about costumes.  Minnow will likely be trick-or-treating in her Minnie Mouse costume from last year because a) it still fits;  b) she is currently going through a Disney phase; and c) we didn't get to use it last year because of Super Storm Sandy. Peanut, like most babies her age, will be going as a pumpkin;

24. It is also never too early to start thinking about Halloween candy.  Don't be that house handing out Tootsie Rolls.  Tootsie Rolls automatically get tossed in the trash, along with every other piece of candy your mom suspects may have been poisoned, drugged, or inserted with tiny razor blades;

25. Don't forget to get an extra-large bag of candy corn for yourself;

26. And to burn off all that sugar, you may want to consider going for a long, brisk run at dusk;

27. Or run a marathon!  My husband and I are hoping to run the Chicago Marathon together next October;

28. Or if you're not the running type, you could do a scary movie marathon.  My scary movie pick is It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  That's as much scary as I can handle;

29. Watch fall sports.  October is the only month I actually care about baseball.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy attending the occasional baseball game in the summer (mostly for the ice cream served in tiny batter helmets) but what's the point in fretting over standings in June or July?  It's a long season (and it seems to get longer every year, sort of like summer itself);

30. Go to a college football game.  Even though I'm several years out of college, I still enjoy going to homecoming on the years I don't happen to have a wedding, which has been most years now that wedding season, like baseball, stretches into late fall;

31. Paint your nails pink and observe Breast Cancer Awareness month by making a donation to a reputable breast-cancer research foundation, like Susan G. Komen for the Cure.  

If you're like me and you love October (although, clearly, not with the same intensity), I have a giveaway for you.  All month long I invite you to share your favorite October rituals on Instagram with hashtag #athloctober.  Each tagged photo will be entered to win a $25 iTunes gift card. (Perfect for discovering the next Mumford and Sons!)  I will draw the winner at random on November 1, 2013.  I can't wait to see how you're celebrating the best month of the year.  Good luck!