Thursday, March 31, 2011

small steps: stepping out in faith

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a dear friend about my fears associated with this pregnancy. We talked about how fear can rob you of joy during pregnancy and motherhood, and how to step out in faith, even in small ways, to honor the Lord during times of doubt.

My friend said, "Let me ask you a silly question. Are your pants tight?"

I lifted up my shirt and showed her my work pants, which were halfway unzipped and barely held together by a strained safety pin.

She said, "Wait here. I'll be right back." She ran upstairs in her house and returned with a belly band and said, "Buy one of these today. You need it. Only worry about what you need right now, this week, in your pregnancy. You don't need to choose a crib, a name, or think about the registry yet, but you do need to keep your pants up and fastened. Show the Lord that you trust him by stepping out in faith and buying one of these."

She pumped me up about buying this belly band for the next five minutes. She assured me that the baby wouldn't die because I bought a belly band. If something did happen to the baby, it was the Lord's sovereign plan, and not because I bought a belly band, or browsed online for cribs, or told people about the pregnancy.

What a novel idea, huh? Now, for better or worse, gentle readers, perhaps you have a better understanding of the depth of my irrationality right now.

My friend closed the deal when she said I could just order one online if I was too afraid to go into a store to buy it. We decided that purchasing a belly band was my "homework" for week 13 of pregnancy.

It took me two days to do it, but I finally braved Target and bought two BeBands. I patted myself on the back for going into the maternity section of Target rather than hiding behind my computer monitor and ordering the bands online. (Although, honestly, I barely stepped foot in the maternity section. I rushed to the table that held the bands, grabbed two, and escaped to another corner of the store.) Then I got home and my bravado crumpled. I tried one on for Brad and burst into tears because I felt like an imposter. What was I doing wearing a belly band? Surely there must be some mistake.

It took me another week to muster the courage to wear the BeBand in public, even though it was carefully hidden underneath my shirt; that task became my homework for week 14.

Now, I'm trying to set reasonable goals for each week of pregnancy. I don't need to dive into the to-do list at once, or even create a master to-do list, as that task would only overwhelm me right now. (I must be turning a new leaf--I don't think I've ever not had a to-do list in my entire life!) But, focusing on only what is necessary each week is a great way to step out in faith and show the Lord I trust him.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March recipe challenge: filet de boeuf en croute . . .

. . . also known as beef wellington. I used Julia Child's recipe from the second volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which involved baking bread, something I vowed to never do again after last month's challenge, and TWO DAYS of preparation and work. Thank goodness for a week off for spring break/furlough last week! I never would have had time to make this dish, per Julia's strict and complicated instructions, on a weekend.

Don't most people buy frozen sheets of puff pastry for this recipe? Oh no, not Julia. The horror! The embarrassment!

I also had to buy and use cheese cloth, which I thought was kind of fun because I've never had to do that before.

Julia's a firm believer of substituting brioche dough for puff pastry. Last Tuesday, I made the dough, let it rise twice, and stored it in the refrigerator for the next day. I also made the sauce, which took me more than two hours!

On Wednesday morning, I made the filling and cut, prepped, and stuffed the beef tenderloin. Julia advocated cutting the tenderloin into slices and stuffing the filling between the slices, which is what I did.


Then I wrapped the pieces together nice and tight in cheesecloth. It looks like a large sausage, doesn't it? I roasted the beef in the oven for about 20 minutes.


Wednesday afternoon, I rolled out the dough and wrapped the beef in it. I had some extra dough, so I embraced my artistic skills. (Note: The "T" is the first initial of Brad's and my last name. It does NOT stand for the sports team that my husband is obsessed with.)


Then I roasted the bundle in the oven until it became nice and brown. The two lines of the "T" separated, and my hearts grew puffy!


Even though the beef was already sliced, carving the entire thing turned out to be a little trickier than I thought. But it tasted great! I served this dish with roasted asparagus.


What a nice (and complicated) meal for a random Wednesday night!

Monday, March 28, 2011

blossoms!

It's that time of year again! Even during a cold spring, the cherry blossoms are out earlier than usual.


How I love these trees!



The blossoms aren't supposed to peak until later this week, but Brad and I paid them a brief visit on Saturday. Sunday's forecast (and eventual delivery) of snow made me nervous and I wanted to see the blossoms before the snow hit them.

Some trees were full and bushy, like this one.


The clusters of blooms on other trees were scant.


Cold, wind, threat of snow, endless tourists, no parking . . . nothing can keep me away from these gorgeous trees--proud to be witnessing my 11th cherry blossom season as a DC resident!

Friday, March 25, 2011

fighting for joy

Gentle readers, thanks for your kind words this week. I have a lot to catch you up on.

Please understand my fear and paranoia at sharing our pregnancy news. Even now, at more-than-15-weeks pregnant, I'd love to tell you that my fears have disappeared and I have 100% trust in the Lord.

Sadly, they haven't, and I don't. Trust is something I am praying about and working on daily, even hourly. It's getting better, but I still struggle sometimes. Please pray that my trust, faith, and hope in the Lord continue to increase as I better understand his grace and mercy, and my dependence on him.

Brad and I went through IVF. We spent months praying, thinking, and seeking counsel about this decision because we are Christians and desired to go about it in a way that honors the Lord, and there are plenty of ways to dishonor the Lord with IVF. If you are in a similar situation and would like to know more about the decisions we made and the boundaries we set, please be in touch. I would be happy to talk to you and pray for you as you proceed.

To our joy, all five of my mature eggs fertilized. But by the time we made it to the doctor's office for a consultation the next day, two of the five were no longer viable. Not wanting to take any more chances with fragile, new life, Brad and I decided to transfer the remaining three embryos to my uterus that day. As our doctor said, "As advanced as science is, nothing adequately replaces the womb." We'd rather give our potential children a chance at life in their natural environment than allow any more to perish in a Petri dish.

We spent the next weeks praying fervently for triplets. One embryo made it.

The loss of all our embryos but one was rough. Of course, we are thankful that one seems to have finally acquired Brad's and my persistent natures, but the loss of four embryos, along with twins last summer and one baby in November, took a toll on us. We have seven children waiting for us in Heaven. Lord willing, we'll have one on this earth in mid-September.

IVF was physically unpleasant. I endured 48 shots in the stomach, numerous blood draws and transvaginal ultrasounds, anesthesia and surgery to retrieve my eggs, and more drugs than I've taken during the rest of my life combined. But, the emotional side was worse and I wasn't prepared for it. Maybe it's because I had already experienced pregnancy loss, but the grief of having four of our five embryos die sometimes overshadowed the joy of one succeeding. I've had to fight through periods of numbness and grief to find joy in this pregnancy. Remember what I said in an earlier post about replacement babies not existing? Well, it's true. Getting pregnant again doesn't take away what you've been through.

Of course, we are beyond grateful to God for this persistent little one, and we pray daily for his or her continued growth and development. A good doctor's appointment will put us on a high for a day or two, and we feel joyful and the fear subsides. But then numbness seeps back in and anxiety rises again. I live for my next doctor's appointment. I can't even think about my due date yet--it's hard for me to see anything on my calendar beyond the next doctor's visit. Thankfully, I visit the doctor more often than most women in my stage of pregnancy. But I have to constantly remind myself that my assurance is not in the doctor or the visit. Assurance can only be found in Christ.

Some people have asked us how they can be helpful. We cherish your prayers for our increased trust in the Lord and that this pregnancy continues to develop normally. We greatly appreciate your joy and encouragement, but we also ask you to remember our losses. Infertility and pregnancy loss are awkward topics--we get that--but ignoring them because we're pregnant now feels demeaning. Be joyful, but please don't overwhelm us with your enthusiasm, questions, or advice. Give us some time to work through our fears and to catch up emotionally. Pregnant women fall into one of two categories: those who know loss and those who don't. Because I'm in the latter, please understand and be sensitive to the fact that I will feel and act differently about my pregnancy than a woman in the former. Some things that mattered a lot with my first pregnancy no longer feel important.

As time passes, I continue to feel better on all fronts: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I feel more confident, hopeful, and joyful today than I was two weeks ago, and, Lord willing, two weeks from now, I'll be in an even better place than I am today. Recovering from loss and building up hope is a gradual, but steady process. Praise God I'm headed in the right direction.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

hope

I want to cushion what I'm about to say with love and compassion for those of you struggling with infertility and pregnancy loss. If you've been following this blog over the past months, you know that Brad and I understand your suffering because we're hurting in similar ways. Some people have taken extra care to "soften the blow" of their pregnancy announcements to us, which we will be forever grateful for. Others haven't, which has stung. I never want someone to hurt because of me.

So, keeping all of that in mind, let me deliver this news as gently as I can: Brad and I are expecting a baby in mid-September.

Please join us in praising God for answering prayers, and also in praying for others who are still longing for the opportunity to make their own special announcement.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

water for elephants

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is on my list of all-time favorite books, and I'm excited to see the movie next month.



I love Reese Witherspoon, and although Robert Pattinson isn't the best actor, he is and always will be Edward to me, so how can I not see any movie he's in?

Any other Water for Elephants fans out there?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

when witch blondie comes out

Effectively managing students' behavior in large lecture classes, or failure to, can make or break a course. It took only one semester of a zoo-like, spiraling-out-of-control environment over five years ago for me to say, "Never again!" and turn into Witch Blondie when my students act like toddlers, which happens much more often than you would think.  

My 140+ sophomores learn my graduate assistant's and my expectations early. By week four of the semester, 99% of them sit quietly through lecture and take notes. Facebooking and texting is minimal. They even, for the most part, show up on time to class.  After the first three weeks of class, we have very few behavior problems because we nip them in the bud early and make examples of the students who act out. No one else dares to follow in their peers' footsteps. How do I do this? I tap on shoulders and shake my head, call students out by name (because I've learned all their names over the summer) and ask them to stop whatever it is they're doing, pull students aside after class, and most importantly, I address a bad behavior as soon as I see or even sense it. I keep a smile on my face through 95% of these confrontations and never raise my voice. But students get it right away that I mean business.

An unintended consequence of this expectation setting is that the good behavior often extends past the one-semester course. This semester, I don't see my sophomores regularly, but they still show up to meetings on time, behave themselves, and show respect to me in various ways--most of them are even overly friendly!

But, my freshmen--oy vey--are another lot. I have to keep reminding myself that my sophomores were freshmen--and acted the same way--once, too. My spring class (with freshmen) is structured differently, and I only have the entire class (144 students) together in lecture a handful of times throughout the semester. And although I correct bad behavior when I see it, several weeks can pass between lecture meetings, so I don't have the regular opportunity to hammer home my expectations. Every lecture meeting is like the first class all over again--excessive tardiness, loud talking, reading newspapers, texting, facebooking, sleeping, and obnoxious comments among other sins. Do some students act this way in every class? And why do instructors let them get away with it?

Baby freshmen, beware! Act as you please now, but come fall, Witch Blondie will likely make her appearance, and by October, class will be quiet, calm, and even enjoyable for everyone. Let's hope.

Monday, March 14, 2011

saving or savings?

I tend to be a day late and a dollar short on these grammar-related posts. But, springing forward this past weekend reminded me of a commonly misused term: daylight-savings time.

I confess that I mistakenly called it daylight-savings time, too, up until about five years ago. The proper term is daylight-saving time (singular, not plural). I agree with Grammar Girl, and hyphenate daylight and saving because I consider them a compound modifier, but that's a style choice. Simply writing daylight saving time is appropriate, too.

The moral of this story is that just because a majority of the population says daylight-savings time doesn't mean it's correct.

Regardless of using the correct term, I'm doing a happy dance at having the sunlight last past 7 p.m. Come on, spring!

Friday, March 11, 2011

teach the mail carrier by example

In honor of National Grammar Day, which I missed last Friday, let's revisit one of my favorite grammar-related topics: proper use of the apostrophe.

A reader recently asked me the following question:

If the family name is Morgan, how should we label the mailbox?
1. The Morgan's
2. The Morgans
3. The Morgans'

What's your answer, faithful readers? How much have you learned from my previous posts on this topic?

Let's think about each option.
1. Labeling the mailbox The Morgan's implies that one person with the last name of Morgan lives in the residence, and that person is taking ownership of the mailbox. (Singular Possessive)
2. Listing The Morgans implies that more than one person with the last name of Morgan lives in the residence, and this family is simply labeling an object with their last name. (Plural)
3. Writing The Morgans' implies that more than one person with the last name of Morgan lives in the residence, and this family is showing ownership of the mailbox. (Plural Possessive)

I prefer option 2 because I don't see a mailbox as any different than the myriad other objects one would label. However, one could make a valid argument for option 3.

Option 1 is wrong, assuming more than one person with the same last name lives in the house.

What's the moral of this story? Mail carriers need to learn proper grammar, too. So, do your best to set a good example.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

a likely purchase

My book club is reading Room by Emma Donoghue for April's book club meeting.

As soon as this book was selected, I ordered it from two libraries. As of today, I'm 122 on the DC Library's list and 194 on Arlington County's.

What do you think my chances are of getting the book from either library in the next month?

I suspect I'll be buying this one. I hope it's worth it!

Has anyone read it?

Monday, March 7, 2011

no buried treasure here

Growing and maintaining grass has always been difficult for Brad and me, but this year, we have an extra tough challenge. Look at the havoc the squirrels have wreaked on our backyard this winter.


Every time I look out the kitchen window or door, I see at least one squirrel, sometimes more, frantically digging in our backyard. They must be searching for buried treasure. Look at how they've destroyed our grass.


Brad and I spent a good chunk of Saturday following my boss's "foolproof" method of growing a bed of thick, healthy grass. We'll see if it works!

On another note, I planted my first produce of 2011: peas and Mesclun greens!


I'm thrilled the dirt digging has begun!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

"and may we recognize each other without sound or sign..."

Alpha Gam house at U of I     
A few weeks ago, a young woman who graduated last May from my alma mater emailed to tell me she was moving to DC. We are members of the same women's fraternity, and Rosie had gotten my name and email address from an alumnae database and was looking to network.

We arranged to have dinner once she arrived in town. Monday night, as I walked into the jam-packed restaurant, without knowing anything about Rosie but her name, I picked her out of the crowd immediately. She's an Alpha Gam--I could just tell--and sure enough, when Rosie saw me, she instantly knew who I was.

We recognized each other without sound or sign, exactly as our new member educators had taught us, 14 years apart!

Those of you who are not Greek won't understand this phenomenon, and will roll your eyes--like Brad did when I burst into the house and told him all about it--as you read this post, probably for good reason. But . . . I just can't explain it. When it actually happened the other night, I was blown away.

I had a ball getting to know Rosie. We compared notes on what it was like to live in a sorority house with 71 other women. We compared our respective leadership positions within the house. After I explained that cell phones didn't exist when I was in college and I didn't have an email address until senior year, we laughed about how technology has replaced certain chores that my pledge sisters and I got stuck doing.

We both spent our college years nurtured by Nancy, the dearest and most compassionate house mother any sorority girl could ever ask for. And, Rosie's anxieties and concerns at age 23 mirror my own from that phase of life.

Technology advances and the world races to keep up. But some things--from the instant bonds of sisterhood to the heart-wrenching days of figuring out who you are post-college--never change.

 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

giving back or working the system?

Brad and I won't be running the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler this year because the race's lottery system didn't choose us. But we'll be there anyway, volunteering. After honoring this runner's rite of spring for the last five years, I couldn't bear to miss the race, even if I was benched.

Plus, after five years and at least 20 races, it's time we gave something back. We've enjoyed countless water stations, post-race snacks, and encouragement along the course thanks to hundreds of volunteers.

I confess that my service is not entirely selfless. 2011 race volunteers are supposedly guaranteed entry to the 2012 race. Goodbye lottery, for one year at least!

Brad and I signed up to work at a water station. If you're one of the lucky ones running the race this year, let me know so I can watch for you and cheer you on!