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Spring Memories: Many Mays and the Who

The purpose of Memorial Day, of course, is to remember the sacrifices of the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. But it's also a day that prompts many of us to think about beloved family and friends who are no longer with us. In this guest column, Jennifer Downing of Nourish reminisces about a series of special days spent with her grandmother. 

Twenty years ago, I imagine a long-distance phone call between mom and grandma, making plans for my brother and I to visit. Every year in June, or so it seemed, we visited our favorite grandparents for a week. Between history-based day trips, holly hock dolls and walks to Maggio’s for candy, we went strawberry picking. The field was a short drive down Route 45 from their post-war Cape Cod and as I recall, adjacent to a trailer park. Grandma always took the effort seriously, explaining the how-to’s of the task at hand. Most important was to remember to move the flag, signifying what row had been picked and to what point. Still, the scent of tiny, local strawberries warm with the sun renews wonderfully fragrant memories. I attribute some of my passion for food to those experiences.

Photo by nij4 on Flickr.This month, Doug and I are celebrating our 16th anniversary. The blooming of the lilacs usually coincides with our celebration and that May many years ago they were stunning. I cut a huge bouquet to dress the dining table to welcome my grandparents. Well into their eighties, they drove from Champaign to be at our wedding. We dined on fancy hors d’oeuvres and champagne. Grandpa had beer even though his doctor said he shouldn’t. The cake was ridiculously expensive – and perfect.

Fifteen years ago this month I was pregnant with our first child due in July. My grandmother, a widow by then, and I had made plans for a weekend together and it included strawberry picking. While it would be June until the berries were ready plans were at hand. Just beginning to have more time in the kitchen I wanted to make homemade jam use a hot water bath process. Grandma bestowed the virtues of paraffin wax and freezer jam.

Last week, I was in the attic putting up winter clothes and came across a bin of our wedding keepsakes and family things. Like the pile of pictures one stumbles upon at an odd moment that brings the day to a screeching halt – so this discovery left me. Teetering on the edge of a Christmas decoration box, pile of boots and sweaters at my feet, something fluttered in my chest – the joy of nostalgia. Stuck in a pile of cards and wedding announcement clippings I found a letter from my Grandma. Light blue with a deckled edge, I received many letters upon this stationary through our years of correspondence.

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Baby Boy Name Game ... Part 2

Our favorite name-obsessed, pregnant guest columnist returns to ask for more advice. If you missed her original post on the struggle to name her unborn son, you can read it here. Remember, she says one of you already suggested the leading contender!

Holy cow, you guys really rocked the name game! Thank you so much for all your suggestions! Keep ‘em coming! I’m keeping a word doc of all the names that J and I have come up with thus far and why we liked them and why they were eventually vetoed. The latest name we have makes for some hilarious initials (which you will read about once this little chicken is born). We still aren’t sold on the first name 100% -- but I’m honestly not sure if we’ll ever be. It’s a name we like. It is what it is.

Photo by ladybugkt on Flickr.I have eight weeks (probably less) to go and I’m freeeeaking out. I’m excited/anxious/nervous and holy hell what did we get ourselves into?! The name should be the least of my worries and sadly no, I’m so damn hung up on getting his name right. Since Ava’s middle name of James is a sort of a family name (a variation of), would it make sense to give the boy a family name too? It would be nice. We’ve run through both sides of the family, and I’m sorry but there isn’t anything that stands out to us. Isn’t that horrible? I would like to represent my side of the family but um, yeah... I can’t really get on board with my family names (even looked waaaay back into my family tree). I’m totally going to be stoned for saying that. I’M SORRY but I’m being honest and really you should know by now that’s how I roll.

My brother has my dad’s name as his middle. My name on the other hand was just randomly picked, and I’m totally OK with that. Do you think this kid will care if he doesn’t have a family name? I know it makes more sense for the boy to have a family name over the girl, at least that’s more traditional. I say screw tradition.

I want his name to POP and I do want his name to be meaningful. We went back to Ava to see if she had any more suggestions. She still wants to name him “Orange.” Gawd, woman, you are so bad at this game. We’ve tried a few names out on her and the one we are leaning heavily on (by the way, one of you nailed it) and she tells us she doesn’t like it and refuses to say it. Really child?

Are you sick of me asking you about names? Just eight weeks go to guys, hang in there with me because otherwise the swollen feet, carpal tunnel, heartburn, and back pain just might send me over the edge. Now, who wants to shave my legs for me?


Tales of Transformation: Settling Down, Outside of Her Urban Comfort Zone

I’m so excited to introduce a new columnist today. She happens to be very new to the far western ‘burbs, too. In fact, that’s what Sheila Corcoran-Abraham will be writing about over the coming months as she seeks to settle her family (including her toddler son) into their new home. Anyone got a recommendation for her of a great bagel place? Maybe a good bagel place?

Another suitcase in another hall - take your picture off another wall.

Sixteen. I can count 16 city apartments that I’ve called home in the past 25 years or so.

Sixteen moves, from numerous neighborhoods in Boston; Hoboken, N.J., and most recently the West Loop of Chicago. I’ve been a city dweller for the last two decades and loved it.

Each apartment had its own character and charm, from a garden level (basement) to a penthouse to most everything in between. Though I’ve never had a proper doorman, I’ve come home to a few odd characters sitting on the front sidewalk.

In the early days, my style of packing was simple. I’d toss my clothes, portfolio, various tchotchkes and a few family photos in a Hefty bag and then carry on to the next apartment. I learned to live minimally. Or should I say, I learned not to get attached to things.

Photo collage assembled by Sheila Corcoran-Abraham. The Mickey Mouse-shaped paint swatches are for the toddler's room, natch.What I enjoyed most was the challenge of transforming these quirky city apartments into something different. Each new space was a chance to start new, get inspired, create, build and paint.

I collected pieces of used furniture as if they were stray animals. The filthy end table that was found at the corner of Tremont and Mass Ave has been cleaned up and it works well with the coffee table that I made out of a tree stump that was pulled from the Hudson River. I knew how to dumpster dive and was able to repurpose anything. I was a repurposeista.

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Busting a Myth: National Infertility Awareness Week

I am so pleased to introduce today a new guest columnist. Her name is Jamie Weitl, and for her first post she writes about infertility, which is a subject she also addresses on her own blog, Sticky Feet: Part Deux. As someone who struggled with infertility for six years before having my daughter, I am so glad she chose this subject. Welcome Jamie!

This week, April 24-30, is National Infertility Awareness Week and Resolve (the National Infertility Association) has challenged us to bust a myth about infertility.  For me, the most daunting myth regarding infertility is the thought that couples struggling to conceive have to go through this journey alone.  While the path to have a child can be rocky, it doesn’t have to be a road that is traveled solo. 

I found solace in the blogosphere when I started publishing blog posts in 2006.  Soon, I had numerous infertile friends in the computer and found the mother of the ALI (Adoption – Loss – Infertility) blogosphere – Mel atStirrup Queens – who holds our community together.  I would not have survived 6 IVF cycles (including 4 BFNs, or "Big Fat Negatives,") without the wonderful camaraderie I found online.

Now, as the proud mom of a 3-year-old son and 1-year-old twin girls, I find myself with my arms and heart full, but the pain of infertility still present.  While I will not pursue treatments again, and feel blessed beyond belief to have my children, I also feel drawn to infertility advocacy.  I think I experienced infertility so I could share my journey and story with others.  As a result, I am very open regarding the struggle we went through to conceive our children in hopes of helping others who are also battling this demon.

I’m commonly asked, “Do twins run in your family?” and my responses is always said with pride, “No, I did IVF.”  For some people, this stops them in their tracks, for others, it opens a door.  One in six couples in the United States experiences some type of infertility and once the topic is brought up, you’ll be surprised by others you know who’ve also undergone treatments.

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Blissful Chaos in the Kitchen

Today's guest column comes from Jennifer Downing of Nourish. If this is your first time with Jennifer, make sure to go back and read her first GWYM column -- about how you can be a hero for your children just by eating a meal around your family table.

When I was young I always knew it would be wonderful to have a great big family. This seed was planted in my heart long before I understood it comes hand-in-hand with chaos. Chaos, as luck would have it, is my favorite consequence of a full house, and one I gratefully embrace. Today, I am the proud mother of four entertaining, thoughtful, and sometimes trying children. At our house there are always lots of friends, jokes, laughing, dancing and general noise. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all hearts and flowers. I am as appreciative of silence as any other maxed-out mom. And I must admit I find it profoundly enjoyable, to be in peaceful house after a long break or four day weekend. Still, I crave the chaos, and find the comfort of bedlam energizing.

A young sous chef serves up a tasty breakfast.With moderate pandemonium has come choices, or perhaps to some sacrifices. We don’t vacation as often as we would like, and there aren’t many big league baseball games or trips to the movies. When the kids were younger I spent a great deal of time searching for things to do cheaply – or better yet, free. We were never at a loss for fun and I am proud of our many adventures and treasure the times we shared and we all learned together.

As they’ve grown however, story time and the children’s museums no longer carry broad appeal. How happy I am to have stumbled (not over Star Wars Legos), but rather upon new ways to enjoy activities that don’t stress our budget. A rousing battle of Apples to Apples is pure entertainment. Netflix provides a more cozy theatre and a diverse snack bar, too. Years later, the search is still my second (fifth?) job but, I think we’ve gotten lucky in that we’ve continued to find ways to be together.

Our children, for better or worse have grown up in a food-centic family. Food, the thing that perhaps unnaturally occupies my brain has become a source of family entertainment. Whether around the kitchen counter, stove, and specialty appliance du jour, or on a smoke-filled patio, at any given time you’ll find a bunch of Downings. Surprisingly, sharing the pot stirring, meal planning and recipe reading with four children is far less exhausting than the last mile to bedtime when they were young. Sometimes, in fact, my days end a bit sooner with a sous chef in the kitchen.

Through the years we’ve found everyone has something to add. Those with still-tiny hands can dump ingredients, sift flour and smell cinnamon. Having to follow directions and practice math goes down much easier with a spoonful of chocolate chip cookie dough. It seems like common sense that being involved with food preparation encourages kids to be more daring in their food choices. Waging the “healthy food war” and glamourizing dark, leafy greens can never begin too soon. I am amazed how skilled the kids have become…both proud and saddened by how quickly they’ve graduated to grating cheese and flipping eggs. A sweet-faced chef offering very, VERY, well-cooked eggs, made in my favorite room of the house. How could I not be abundantly grateful?

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The Joy and Agony of Picking a Baby Boy's Name

The following comes from our guest columnist Stacia, who as she puts it, writes about "the underbelly of parenting." You can get to know her better by following her own blog Dried On Milk.

I had someone who is pregnant with their first child ask me how do I do it. Meaning be pregnant with another kid around. Um. Well. I just DO. Actually having Ava around allows me to forget I’m pregnant most of the time, except for when I’m trying to sleep at night and my hips revolt at relaxation and try to break in half, that’s if I don’t die from heartburn first. I feel like this pregnancy is speeding by. The last time around, I had my daughter unexpectedly six weeks from where I am now. SIX WEEKS PEOPLE!

Photo by ladybugkt on Flickr.This time though I’m prepared. With Ava, we were setting up her crib the very night she came home. She was even in the NICU for 13 days and during that time it didn’t occur to us to put the crib up. I’m usually the over-preparer and just couldn’t pull it together. Guys, having a baby is hard and so exhausting. I didn’t have a bag packed for the hospital either, still don’t but there’s time still right? RIGHT?! The only thing we knew for sure when Ava was born was her name.

We have always loved the name Ava and now of course everyone and their dog loves it too. And I’ll be damned if people still pronounce it wrong. We gave her a name in the top freakin’ 10 list of names and people still call her Eeeeva. Her middle name is after her late grandfather, she unfortunately never got to meet. It’s James. I often get strange looks for that one, but ya know what name I’m seeing as a popular middle name for a girl? James. GAWD.

This leads us to our unborn son and what the hell are we going to name him. This is proving MUCH harder than thought. We’ve gone through the name book a bunch of times, and I’m just shocked at so many of the names in there. They wouldn’t have put it in the book if it wasn’t used as a name but wow. Those poor, poor kids.

People can be real jackholes when you tell them the names you are thinking about. Suddenly everyone has an opinion. “Oh, I once knew someone [that name] and they went to prison... Oh I dated a guy with that name and he started dating my sister... “

BLAH BLAH BLAH. Don’t care. There are a lot of names we like but I can’t imagine calling my kid that for the rest of his life.  I know we are making ourselves vulnerable by telling people the names we think of, it’s just, people don’t have to be so dang mean about it. Also, I’m a big mouth and can’t keep a secret if my life depended on it. At some point this kid will have a name that both J and I love, and everyone will just have to shut up.

Go West Readers … Got any names I can borrow?

Editor's note: Stacia got plenty of suggestions when this post originally appeared on the home page. Check them out by clicking here.


When Your Daughter Is Afraid of a Butterfly

Guest columnist Suzanne Rowland is struggling with how to help her daughter, who is scared of everything from snakes to the drawing of an ant on the carpet in her preschool classroom. Unfortunately, Suzanne is scared of one of those animals, too.

My daughter is suddenly afraid of everything.

It started when Sarah, a girl in her preschool class, told her that if you bother a butterfly, it will bite you.

Photo by Jinx! on Flickr.Annabel asked me to tell her “all the ways” you could bother someone so she could be sure to avoid being bitten by a butterfly. My list was long and varied, ranging from crying when I accidentally give her the blue plate instead of the green one to doing her "Single Ladies" dance while I’m helping her wipe her bottom.  Both scenarios are unlikely to involve butterflies but it just felt good to mention them.

The next day when I picked her up from school she was desperately trying to hold it together. When I asked her what was wrong she begged me not to make her go to Africa or Australia. I promised and she told me that James said there are terrible snakes there – the black mamba and the Easter snake (turns out she meant the Eastern Brown snake). I reassured her that we weren’t traveling to either place and that her dad and I would always keep her safe.

To be fair to her, the thought of seeing either of these snakes, or any snake for that matter, terrifies me. I’ve always been this way. I was the only kid in preschool who wouldn’t touch the boa constrictor that came to visit our class. These days I won’t even watch a nature show about snakes. And I am eternally grateful to my mother-in-law, who made my husband get rid of his python before he could move home from college, saving me from dealing with the issue a few years later.

She knows how I feel about snakes so it’s no surprise that my reassurances weren’t enough. But then she really lost it when I got her in the car. “I haven’t told you … the … worst … thing … that … happened … today,” she said between sobs. Multiple horrible scenarios instantly ran through my mind.

 “James said there are snakes THAT EAT PEOPLE.”

I actually laughed out loud, but I swear it was because I was so relieved that nothing really terrible happened. Either way, she didn’t notice.

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