Monday, March 28, 2016

book review: spritz by talia baiocchi and leslie pariseau.

Is it weird that I enjoy reading / leafing through / collecting cocktail recipe books? Maybe it is a little, since I don't drink very much at all. But I've always been interested in looking through cocktail recipe books. I guess it makes me feel fancy? I have a few very vintage "Old Mr. Boston" cocktail recipe books I found by chance at a used bookstore one time, and I think that may be what got me hooked on them.

So, naturally, I was drawn to Spritz: Italy's Most Iconic Aperitivo Cocktail, with Recipes
by Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau. The physical book itself satisfies my old-cocktail-book-collecting little heart. It very much has the look and feel of a vintage drink recipe book. And what's inside is even better!

Spritz begins with a fun delve into the history of the spritz, basically a mixed drink consisting of some variation involving wine with sparkling / soda water and other ingredients. It's meant to be a low-alcohol beverage to be consumed at the beginning of the evening (if you're all fancy and care about which beverage you drink when). I really enjoyed the history lesson, which was breezy, informative, and enlightening--kind of like an Alton Brown treatment on the subject. And something about the idea of the spritz definitely calls out to me--could be the low-alcohol portion, or perhaps it's the self-indulgent idea of making a wine beverage fancier. Oh la la, am I right?

Then came the section of collected drink recipes, which covered more traditional spritzes to funkier twists. I decided to try my hand at a sort of combination of a couple of the recipes, based on what I had on hand at home: dry red wine, mandarin flavored soda water, pineapple juice, and lime juice. It was similar to the "Sangrita" recipe on page 120, and it was definitely tasty.

The last section of the book shares some related recipes for nibbles to go along with your fancy spritzes at your aperitivo table. Many sound quite yummy--I will have to try the ricotta, prosciutto, and fresh seasonal fruit crostini for a future movie night with my bestie. The fare in this book is right up her alley.

So, Spritz is definitely a winner for me! Want to know more? Check it out:

  • More Info
  • Author Bio

  • **Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. However, all opinions are my own!

    Friday, March 25, 2016

    bits & pieces.

    Just a few bits & pieces of life lately:

    //Avery, Avery, and more Avery

    //An improvised salad with cranberries, walnuts, soft Swiss cheese, and Greek dressing. Trying to eat a little healthier now and then...

    //Avery is now wiggling out of her sleep suit at night. A new plan we must devise...

    //The pretty blossoming trees at my library

    //Avery & her favorite thing: piles of books. (A close second: piles of blankets.)

    Happy weekend!

    Thursday, March 24, 2016

    outside kid.

    You might have picked up on a bit of an outdoorsy motif around these parts. It's something I'm pretty passionate about--spending time outside in nature, or as close to "nature" as it gets wherever one may be.

    I've always been an "outside kid." I may be clumsy and not all that brave when it comes to things from climbing trees to scaling mountains, but I've always loved just being outside and soaking up nature. My philosophy has always been, if the weather is nice and you can do what you're doing outside, then why not? I can often be found sitting on a porch step reading a book in the sunshine. In fact, I've sustained way too many sunburns that way.

    Easter, circa 1989.
    Some of my favorite childhood and teenage memories involve being outdoors. From bike rides and park hikes with my family to taking a paddle boat ride with one of my best friends across a huge lake to a waterfall and creek we probably were trespassing in...I have many fond memories of spending time outside growing up. Nature has a very therapeutic effect, for one thing. And spending time in it gives kids (and adults!) invaluable opportunities to learn, grow, have positive social and emotional experiences, try new things, take risks, and have adventures. I know not everyone feels this passionately about it, but I feel like we really find a piece of ourselves--and maybe peace in ourselves--when we experience the outdoors.

    [Side note: check out this book and this website for more, especially pertaining to kids and nature!]

    This is something I can't wait to share with, and instill in, Avery. Outdoor adventures will figure prominently in our family life and near the very top of our family's list of values. I'm going to try my darndest to raise an outside kid.

    As luck would have it, spring weather is finally beginning to emerge
    where we live! So, very soon, I'm going to start having ample opportunities to immerse Avery in all that is outdoorsy. I can't wait to dive into our fun in the sun (and clouds--I'm a big lover of cloudy days). So today, I'm sharing a few bits & pieces of outdoor topics and activities I've been reading up on:

    ///THIS soon-to-be-released book, Vitamin N: the Essential Guide to a Nature Rich Life, by Richard Louv, the author of the above mentioned book. Full of 500 suggested activities for kids and grown-ups, essays, advice, and lots of other resources, this sounds like a gold mine for the nature-lover and/or nature-loving parent. I can't wait to get my hands on this book!

    ///THIS essay on how it's never too late to become an outdoor kid, and on how hiking can change your life.

    ///Ideas for outdoor water / dirt play for little ones, like THIS, THIS, and THIS. Pinterest is, unsurprisingly, full of great ideas for outdoors play!

    ///The concept of "forest schools" is intriguing to me. They're mostly a European / UK concept, where a preschooler's / kindergartener's time is primarily spent outdoors, learning through play and exploration. THIS is a good brief overview on the concept, and the Children & Nature Network is another good place to look for more info. Also THIS brief post gives some simple ideas taken from forest schools to do with toddlers.

    ///THIS post of tips for going on a nature walk with kids is more geared toward kids older than toddlers, but I like the concept and the tips shared, nonetheless. Something to keep in mind for later.

    So, those were just a few odds and ends, but I'm always looking for more tips and ideas for things to do in nature with my family. That said, it's also important to keep it simple, make as much time as possible to get outside, and just to have fun and find your outdoor adventures instead of planning everything! ;)

    What are your favorite types of outdoor adventures, either on your own or with kiddos? Are you an outside kid?

    Tuesday, March 22, 2016

    avery amelia's birth story.

    As I am waxing nostalgic and thinking back due to Avery's quickly-approaching first birthday, I thought I would take a moment to share her birth story. I actually posted this previously, before I did some blog refreshing and weeding out of old posts. I am going to edit this, though, to reflect some newer information.

    || One piece of that newer information is that in August of 2015, the ob-gyn who I saw all through Avery's pregnancy and who delivered Avery died very suddenly and tragically. He was the most amazing doctor I have ever met, and it breaks my heart to know he is gone. I am so lucky I had the experience of going through my first pregnancy and childbirth with him. ||

    Let me just take a second to warn you, this might get a wee bit graphic. If you don't want to hear about the nitty gritty details of childbirth, perhaps you ought to steer clear. Or go out on a limb and read on out of morbid curiosity? Whatever floats your boat...


    I really enjoyed sitting down and remembering Avery's birth story. It actually is a lot of fun for me to think back and relive the whole experience in my memory. I am still amazed and awed that I went through that, and proud that I was tough and made it through such a scary, painful experience. I guess it helps that the end result is something so amazing! :D  So, here goes:

    On the afternoon of Monday, April 6th, 2015 (my mom's birthday!), I had my second weekly doctor's appointment. He checked my cervix, which was dilated 1 1/2 to 2 cm and thinned and effaced a bit more than the previous time. So, nothing that shouts shortly impending labor. However, my blood pressure was elevated, which worried him a bit, so he told me to visit the hospital that Wednesday for some screenings to make sure everything was still okay. Needless to say, that didn't happen, though I was at the hospital on Wednesday...

    That evening, I was wiping a bit of my mucous plug / bloody show, which had begun happening at my first cervix check the previous week, so I didn't think much of it. We had Popeye's chicken from the drive-thru for dinner: a silly detail, but one that sticks in my mind. I guess I'll be able to tell Avery what I had for dinner before she was born! Anyway, we settled in on the couch to watch some t.v., and I began having what, after more than a week of confusing Braxton-Hicks contractions of varying intensities, I felt were the real deal. I began timing said contractions; they were pretty far apart at first but were gradually getting closer. I actually still have the note on my iPhone where I was recording them...

    So, at bedtime we went to bed, thinking that if this was going to be the real deal, we should try to get some sleep first. We decided that I would let Mike catch the ZZZZs he needed to be a good helper to me, and that I would not wake him up until things got more serious. So, he slept, and I wasn't able to. The contractions were getting more intense, though they were fairly inconsistent as far as timing goes. They were also very much in my BACK rather than in the front, which was a new sensation.

    Finally, the contractions were bad enough that I texted my doula to let her know I thought it might be happening. I was still second-guessing myself because of all the Braxton-Hicks I'd been having and how confused I was...but part of me knew it was the real thing, especially because of the fact that I was feeling it so much in my back. My doula called me up, and she wasn't as sure, however. She advised me to take a warm bath with lavender oil, go up and down the stairs a few times taking them two at a time to help with the back labor, and try to get some more sleep. So I tried; but the bath was gross and uncomfortable and cooled off too fast, so I had to get in the shower instead, and lost all the hot water very here I was, in labor, and taking the most uncomfortable cold shower...not pretty. I had to laugh so I wouldn't cry! The contractions were still bearable, so I went downstairs and turned Parks & Rec on on Netflix.

    As Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope tried to help me through the beginning stages of my labor, things really started to amp up. I was in some SERIOUS pain in my back, and the contractions were getting closer together. I sat on my birth ball for some relief, rocking and swirling my hips, pausing Parks & Rec to breathe through my contractions which were so bad I couldn't stand to have the show on during them anymore. Finally, at about 4:00 a.m., I went and woke Mike up. It was time. We called my parents so they would come and stay with the dogs. Mike tried to call the doc's pager to no avail, and then called the doula, who suggested I eat something before we left for the hospital--all I could get down was some applesauce and fig newtons. Finally, Mike loaded us up and took us to the hospital.

    I was wheeled up to triage (the staff all complimented me on my Death Star t-shirt, ha) and I was checked; I was dilated 4 cm. My contractions were pretty consistently 4-5 minutes apart at this point. Since I was positive for Group B strep, they got me admitted and got me my first dose of antibiotics. My doula came and things were rolling.

    Since I was having such intense, painful back labor, my doula was worried Avery might be sunny-side up. She had me try walking the halls, doing some lunges and leg lifts to try to get baby to turn. I only made it one lap, though, before I asked to go back to the room. I just was not feeling the walking around stuff. So, in the room, she had me try a few different positions, and tried her rebozo on me for trying to turn Avery, but when I found the holy grail of positions for laboring, there was nothing they could do to convince me to try anything different: on the floor, on my hands and knees, sometimes leaning an arm on the birth ball. I guess it helped take the pressure off my back. When I had to lay on the bed to be checked, I thought I was dying. It was the floor or nothing, folks. So they got down there with me and made it work. I was in primal mama state, my brain barely aware of what was going on around me or what was being said; I just focused in on my breathing and moaning (the doula kept telling me to "sing" my baby out and to make low noises) through the pain. I threw up a few times, I guess from the pain, and so my doula had me sniffing some aromatherapy oils which kind of seemed to help a little.

    I was on the floor on my hands and knees, laboring through the contractions, with my doula giving me reminders in my ear to breathe and to "sing," she and Mike taking turns putting counter pressure on my back and hips for 5 hours straight. We had a shift change of nurses and they probably thought I was nuts. I was getting the impression that the "natural" stuff wasn't seen all that much. Everyone was a little surprised that I was going sans-epidural (which, by the way, I asked for three times even though I had decided I wanted to avoid it! Mike and my doula kind of diverted me each time, not to deny my wishes but because they wanted to postpone it until she felt like baby had turned for our safety). I had a student nurse in the room for a whole shift, shadowing a senior nurse (who kind of butted heads with my doula!), and she was as sweet as can be and said she wanted to be a nurse-midwife. I vaguely noted them talking about how this would be her first time of seeing a "natural" childbirth. Everyone sort of talked like they were surprised by my avoidance of the epidural and by my insistence on laboring in this weird position. From my childbirth classes at the hospital, though, I had been given the impression that this was pretty common! I guess not as much as I thought. Everyone was very nice, and accommodating to me and my preferences. 

    I am not sure, but they may have given me my second dose of antibiotics while I was laboring on the floor. I vaguely remember holding out my arm for them to hook my IV line up to my saline lock. Shortly after, they had me lay on the bed to check my cervix--which was AWFUL, to lay on my still-painful back and hips--and found I was fully dilated and it was go time. I got really scared at this point! This was the scary part I was unsure about--pushing the baby out. Exciting, but so scary!

    My doctor came in, and my doula tried to make the case for me pushing in an upright position as I had put in my birth plan, but my doc talked me into laying in the classic legs-up on the bed position without much protest from me, actually. I was tired, in pain, and ready to make this easy for him to help me out. I definitely felt like he was asking, and not telling me what to do, and felt respected by my doc. I just didn't care as much anymore about some of the things I really thought I would care about when the moment arrived. So I laid there, and before the pushing began, he was about to break my water, and first reached a finger in just to check...and it burst and gushed everywhere. It was kind of crazy! Then Mike held one leg, my doula held the other, and after some coaxing (I was so scared to begin!), I started to push.

    Pushing a baby out is nuts! I did it in just 20 minutes, though. I didn't poop on the table, but I did pee everywhere, heh. It looked like a murder scene, too. I've never seen so much blood before! But I did it. There was much screaming, a good bit of pain that is thankfully fuzzy in my mind now--that is TOTALLY a thing--and I had a big ol' episiotomy AND a second degree tear. But nbd, that's all because Avery's head was (and is) freaking HUGE. 85th percentile. Yeah. GIGANTIC. It's a wonder it came out at all. Her head looked like the xenomorph heads in Alien, it was all squished to a point. But she came out facing the right way, and I pushed her giant head out with nothing but local anesthetic, which was mostly for the episiotomy and tearing. (My doctor also asked my permission before giving me the episiotomy--I had said I wanted to avoid getting one--and at that point, I could have cared less. I told him to go for it. Mike had a front-row seat and said from his view, there was just no way Avery was going to be able to come out without it. Yikes!)

    They laid her on me, I cried, Mike even cried a little, and it was awesome. Avery Amelia was 6 pounds, 11.4 ounces, and 19 1/2 inches long.

    I still can't believe I kicked ass and gave birth like that. I think just the very act of being brave enough and strong enough to do it AT ALL, however you do it, with whatever meds or procedures you do or don't have, is a huge thing. It's certainly a rite of passage and your survival through it, however it went, ought to give any woman a huge confidence boost. You made it through that! You are amazing! I can't say I definitely wouldn't go for an epidural the next time around, so I certainly don't feel like it gives me any sort of superiority for having gone without. Bragging rights, maybe, but trivial ones that don't make me any tougher than anyone else!

    So, there you have it. It was certainly an insane experience, and insanely painful, but one I look back on almost longingly. I must be some kind of crazy masochist because thinking about it actually makes me want to do it again. I don't feel sad about the parts that didn't go according to my wishes, which I'm thankful for--I went in knowing a lot would be ultimately out of my hands and up to chance as the events unfolded, and I'm glad I pre-let-go of any hangups on the experience itself. As my doc said, all childbirth is inherently natural, when it comes down to it! He also did Arnold Schwarzenegger impressions and made Harry Potter jokes while I was pushing the baby out, so, yeah...Basically the best doctor ever. I will miss him very, very much the next time I go through the experience of a pregnancy and birth.

    Monday, March 21, 2016

    flashback: my first pregnancy.

    It has been almost a year since my very first pregnancy ended. And, I may sound like a broken record, but I am floored by how quickly that year has whizzed by. So, today, in my series of posts leading up to Avery's first birthday, I am taking a moment to look back on the rollercoaster ride of my first pregnancy. (Whee?)

    We found out for sure that I was pregnant on August 1, 2014. It felt to us, anyway, like it was a long time coming, because we had been trying for the entirety of our marriage to get pregnant, just shy of 2 years. I know that isn't much to some who try for much, much longer or who have much bigger roadblocks than we did, but the wait is never easy regardless of the situation. So we felt very relieved and excited when it finally happened.

    My pregnancy was a pretty standard one, which is to say it wasn't always sunshine and rainbows, but it went off without any really serious hitches and resulted in a healthy mom and healthy baby. I suffered from a lot of "morning" (not just morning) sickness which included, like clockwork, throwing up every other morning before work for the first few months. I also had some pretty righteous heartburn, all the standard aches and pains, and some wicked Braxton-Hicks contractions for the last month or so.

    I had a few complications, too, but nothing that ended up being serious. I had to visit the emergency room for bleeding (scary!) which turned out to just be harmless ovarian cysts. The whole ordeal was long, exhausting, and terrifying, though! I also tested positive for Group B Strep, which isn't serious when treated but does mean you have to be given IV antibiotics during labor. 

    As I was in the midst of the pregnancy, it was simultaneously exciting and exhausting. I don't think I was too afraid of what was to come--childbirth and then actually having an infant to care for. I was more focused on the moment and how I felt. As I mentioned, my pregnancy was free from too many complications, but just having your body put through the ringer like that and used by another life is a physically and emotionally draining process. That said, I was also in a state of utter excitement and joy the whole time, as well. But I did come to realize that when I was struggling to get pregnant and felt annoyed by pregnant moms who seemed to complain more than realize how lucky they were, I had no way to know that you can be both overjoyed and also totally drained at the same time without being ungrateful. Pregnancy is a weird, complex experience to go through. 

    But the end result is pretty amazing!

    And I will definitely attempt to do it again one day. Being a parent is one of the hardest things I've done, but the rewards certainly surpass the difficulties. And Avery is so awesome, there's no way I'd miss out on trying to give her a little brother or sister one day.

    Check back in soon, if this is a topic that interests you, because this leads to another topic I will address soon: the lessons I learned from my first pregnancy, which I will certainly be keeping in my back pocket for the next one!

    Friday, March 11, 2016

    avy's faves: board books | march 2016.

    I knew my soon-to-be-one-year-old daughter was pretty advanced, but I didn't expect her to be writing her first blog post before her first birthday. Well, technically, I guess I wrote the post on her behalf. But we won't quibble over technicalities. She certainly chose the content with her careful and discerning taste in books. Avy can be pretty picky and critical when it comes to the quality of her reading material.

    Without further ado, please enjoy her selections:

    The Jungle Book: An Animals Primer (BabyLit series) by Jennifer Adams & Alison Oliver

    This is Avery's all-time favorite book. I'm not sure why this one specifically enchants her so much, but it does. She loves it and gets excited every time I read it to her. We usually gloss over the quotes on each page from Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book in favor of a simpler reading: I read the name of each animal, say what type of animal it is, and make that animal's sound to the best of my ability--what the heck do porcupines sound like? Jackals? Peacocks? Anyway. She always looks at me expectantly, waiting for each animal's sound. It's adorbs.

    Baby Beluga by Raffi & Ashley Wolff

    Mike and I read-sing Baby Beluga to Avery every night at bedtime as part of her nightly routine. It's part of her bedtime wind-down. So, this beautifully-illustrated board book is a definite fixture in her little life! Sometimes she really enjoys it, and sometimes I think perhaps she gets a little annoyed by it if she's wanting to resist bedtime, which it's a pretty clear signal of. But mostly she loves it.

    Tickle by Leslie Patricelli

    Avery loves the Leslie Patricelli board books I've checked out from my library. Tickle is an especially cute one, and Toot is another one she really likes! The pictures are just simple enough while vibrant and eye-catching. The text is brief enough but maintains a great sense of humor baby and grown-ups can appreciate. And the baby starring in these books is totally gender-neutral, too, which is cool.

    Dr. Seuss's ABC by Dr. Seuss

    Who can resist a silly, sing-song Dr. Seuss book? This one is a classic, and it seems to hold Avery's attention well with the rhythmic, rhyming text. I mean, what's better than a Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz, or Itchy-Itchy-Ichabod?

    First 100 Animals by Helen Parker

    This book is just one example of the host of similar books Avy loves--board books featuring bright, clear photos of real-life animals, people, and objects. She especially loves looking at farm animals and babies/toddlers. She also loves staring at family photos in our house and my mom's house; I really need to make her a photo album / book with photos of all her family members to look at. I really think she'd love that.

    Well, that's it for this first edition of book reviews on Avery's behalf. I have to say, the girl has good taste! I'll share again soon when I have another good batch of Avy's faves. :)

    Tuesday, March 8, 2016

    one month and counting!

    I can't believe it! Avery turned 11 months old yesterday!

    I know, you hear it all the time, but you can never really conceptualize it until you experience it: it goes by SO fast. This year has just flown by. I feel like I JUST had her. Now she's scooting and talking (mostly "dada" and "mama" and "banana" and "yummm") and cruising on furniture and trying to walk. It's sheer craziness.

    Since it's almost her first birthday, I am waxing super nostalgic, of course. I have one month to reflect on the past year and how crazy and life-changing it has (and in some ways, hasn't) been. Then our little baby will be a toddler! So, yeah, expect to see more posts on this topic in the coming weeks... ;-P

    Monday, March 7, 2016

    book review: pop painting by camilla d'errico.

    Art inspiration! Art techniques! A beautiful cover! I couldn't resist taking a look at Pop Painting by Camilla d'Errico. Lately I have been actively seeking out insight and instruction from other artists online and in book form, so this was a natural choice. Camilla's art style is different from my own, and well beyond my abilities, but the tips on techniques, art supplies and materials, and setting up your studio are still totally pertinent and helpful to me as a fledgling wannabe-illustrator.

    First off, I love the images of Camilla's art throughout the book. Her work is uniquely beautiful, surreal, and dreamlike. The paintings shown through the book are quite stunning to look at.

    Aside from showcasing Camilla's work, her book also delves into tips and tricks, painting and art techniques, tools and materials, art studio setup, and getting into art professionally. It's a well-rounded look into all these aspects of being an artist, and it's fairly extensive. I love getting an artist's perspective on her craft and her business. This book is right on topic for me and right up my alley!

    Want to know more about Camilla and her lovely art? Visit these handy dandy links:
    If you're not an artist or not looking for art techniques or tips, but you find Camilla's artwork to be beautiful and intriguing, I'd recommend taking a look at this baby just to see all the beautiful paintings!

    **Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. However, all opinions are my own!