Sunday, September 27, 2015

Four Months

Taken from the car as we drove along the 17 Mile Drive
in Carmel, California


Dear Hudson,

Sweet boy, I can't believe it has been four months since I saw your precious face and kissed those sweet cheeks. It has been exactly 124 days since we said goodbye.

We took you back to Carmel with us last weekend. That was always a special place for Mommy to go with your Grandparents and Uncles as I grew up. I got to go with your Daddy for the first time when we were pregnant with you. It was when you were almost 16 weeks, just a few days before we found out you were a boy. I remember walking the shops and seeing so many things I could have bought for you. In the back of my mind, I knew you were a boy and thought I should just get you something anyway but I didn't, just in case my intuition was wrong. I decided that I would instead look forward to the next time I came and I could spoil you properly then.

One morning while we were there, your Daddy and I got to take a walk, just the two of us - well, it was the three of us. I took him to the 18th green of Pebble Beach and over by the clubhouse, sharing memories of my family trips with him, like teeing off and my ball going straight into the bay or eating burgers with your Granddaddy in the Tap Room. Outside the pro-shop, next to the first tee, there was a statue of a little boy, dressed in golf gear that was too big for him, and a sign that read "Just like Dad." I took this picture of it and thought I'd frame it for my little boy someday. I even thought that if I was correct and you were a boy, that could be our gender reveal announcement.

I thought it would be special to go back with you this time and leave a little bit of you there. However, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I wasn't ready to part with what little of you we have. Carmel is Heaven on Earth sweet boy. The closest place that I can go and feel like I'm where you are. I hope that is what your Heaven is like.

There have been some beautiful sunsets lately, I like to think of them as your smiles that I never got to see. I love you so much Hudson. Even though you see me hurting, I am so thankful for you and that you were mine. Always know that.

Until I hold you again,

Mommy



Saturday, September 26, 2015

Mexitalian Chicken Spaghetti


I'm just going to put this out there: I love butternut squash. You will see it used in recipes around here a lot this fall.

What started years ago as an innocent chicken spaghetti recipe using a light cream sauce and chunks of vegetables, has evolved into this delicious creation as I became more familiar making sauces with different combinations. I love preparing this dish when I need to feed a large number of people, either for group dinners or when taking food to others. It re-heats beautifully and gives you a nice power punch of vegetables and protein. I have done this recipe with spaghetti squash and zoodles, but sometimes... carbs y'all. When making as a pasta, I typically use a linguini noodle. 

Enjoy!

Ingredients:
Yields 10-12 servings
  • 2-3 chicken breasts 
  • 1 cup salsa of choice
  • 1.5 cups butternut squash cubed
  • 1 can fire-roasted tomatoes and green peppers
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. Adobo sauce (from a can of Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce)
  • 6 oz. cream of chicken soup
  • 8 oz. Neufchatel cheese
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 1 zucchini, shredded
  • Parmesan or cheese of choice for garnish
  • Parsley for garnish
  • 1 box of your Pasta of Choice 
  • Red Pepper Flakes (only if you want to kick the heat up more!)
First, place the chicken in a crock pot and top with salsa. Let cook on low heat for 6 hours. I do this on a Sunday to use throughout the week, or in the morning before I leave for work.

Once you have shred the chicken, it's time to create the sauce. I've dubbed this a Butternut Squash Arrabbiata. In Italian, arrabbiatta means angry sauce, or a sauce with spice or heat, so it felt like a good name for it. To start, heat the oven to 375. I always buy the pre-cut, cubed butternut squash at the grocery store but like to cut those into small chunks. This allows them to roast faster and it is easier for the puree. Toss in olive oil and then bake for 20 minutes, or until soft.

As this cooks, you can shred your chicken, soaking up the salsa juices to add flavor. Add the rinsed black beans and the shredded zucchini to the chicken, stirring to combine. Let this remain in the crock pot on a low setting.

Once squash is roasted, puree 1/4 of the squash in a food processor, then add the vegetable stock slowly, alternating more squash cubes and thinning with the vegetable stock as needed. Once all squash has been pureed, add the tomato sauce and adobo sauce and puree until all is blended. I always like to have a can of this sauce on hand. It is a great way to put a kick of smokey heat into a dish but just adding a tbsp. of the sauce. If you really want to heat things up, you can use an actual pepper, done it, and it's too much for me to handle.

Now, boil your chosen pasta noodle, prepare you spaghetti squash or your zoodles.

In a large chef's pan/saute pan (large surface space with sides, higher than a skillet), saute your garlic in a little olive oil on a medium heat. Once fragrant, add the Neufchatel cheese to melt down, followed by the cream of chicken and the diced tomatoes. When well combined, add your butternut arrabbiata, stirring well to fully blend.

Once the pasta is cooked, reserve a cup of the pasta water when you drain. Add the chicken mix, to the pan of sauce, folding the sauce into the mix, then do the same with the pasta. If needed, use the pasta water to thin the sauce just a bit. If you do not use pasta for this dish, you can do the same with vegetable stock to thin out the sauce if needed.

Plate it up, then top with parsley and choice of cheese.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

When the Building Blocks Come Tumbling Down


A grieving person works so hard to stack an emotional block that they conquer on top of the other to build strength. At first it was being able to just make it through moment by moment. Then hour by hour. Finally it was day by day. We build on every ounce of strength that we can. However, just like the thing that caused our grief in the first place, it can all come tumbling down at a moment's notice.

This is one example.

Tonight, I am having a moment. Actually 90 moments and counting to be precise. For the last hour and a half I have been overcome with sadness. Leading up to the first of these 90 moments, I felt like I was out of the fog. For the first time, I was on a consecutive run of my head feeling more clear than it had in months. I felt sharp again and that my emotions were not going to get the best of me at any given time. Today I even had a meeting with a vendor that I hadn't seen since ...before... and I was able to handle the elephant in the room without tears or anxiety - as opposed to last week when I was caught off guard running into a pregnant friend I used to volunteer with, a sight in general that I'd worked so hard to avoid because of the trigger, and I could only thank my lucky stars that my sunglasses were on so she didn't see the hot tears about to run down my face. I texted with one of my loss mamas today, telling her that I felt like I was doing really well, that I felt like I was getting it together more and more. I had a pretty tall stack of building blocks built up and then, I don't know what happened.

Tonight we went to try a new place in the neighborhood for a casual patio dinner. We came home, snuggled Georgie Pup and watched Modern Family. I intended to go to bed when Max did, but couldn't. I wasn't tired yet. I decided to watch more TV. Two shows later, I sat there knowing I should go to bed so that I could wake up early, go to barre, have a productive day at work. That way I could build on the way that I was feeling these last two days and be good at "me" again, do my job well not just go through the motions, struggling to keep my head above water. Instead of moving from the couch, I sat there and let the sadness creep in. It was a simple thought that flashed through my mind, how the hell did all of this happen, how did I get here? My gaze shifted and I stared at the closed door to the nursery, then the tears began to fall. Emotions won the battle, I surrendered.

Maybe it was fifteen or twenty minutes later, I reigned the emotions back in to pull myself together and told myself that's all for tonight. I went halfway to that place but didn't want to go all the way into the darkness of my grief. Not tonight. I tiptoed into our room to get in bed. George was sprawled in my spot. As I slid him over and eased myself into bed, he coiled up next to me. I pet him and rubbed his belly, then felt the dark emotions rising again, silent-crying into his fur. His intuition let me love on him before his old-man nature got annoyed and he moved away from me and went to snuggle a sleeping Max, rubbing his nose on his arm. Max responded in his sleep by wrapping his arm around him and holding the pup. I looked at that image, thinking what a good Dad my husband would be right now. A Dad: it's what he is but he doesn't have his baby to be one to. And what kicks you hard in the gut when you're already down is not knowing when that day will ever come.

I had to get up and leave the room. Time to watch more TV, to escape reality by watching someone else's fake reality of the dramatic or satirical nature. Something to take us out of our own mind and give us a temporary relief. It's now almost 1 AM, tomorrow is going to be super fun.

At this point, I negotiate with myself. I can't wake up in four hours to get to yoga, and still remotely fire on even half my cylinders to pretend to function for a long day at work. So I turned my alarm off, putting my physical health on the back burner to try to salvage my professional appearance. Then I think about my physical health and we start to go down a vain bunny trail for a little while. At 33 weeks, I had gained 24 pounds from my pregnancy. When I got home from the hospital, I was down 9 lbs instantly, a week out I got to a total of 15 lbs lost and then I stalled out. The heartbreak diet isn't the same on this 31 year old body as it was in my early twenties. I still have my baby weight, I can't fit into most of my pre-pregnancy clothes, my thick pregnancy hair is finally starting to fall out in clumps but I don't have my baby with me. I don't have anything to show for any of it, just pain and feeling like I failed. I failed him. I couldn't protect him. I couldn't keep him alive.

I was cleared to ease into exercise again after 3 weeks post-partum so I started taking brisk walks, going to yoga and barre classes. I had to stop for a few weeks because of pains in my abdominal area, those stretched muscles were not quite healed and they were letting me know it. Once we started cooking for ourselves again, I was making a very concerted effort to eat right, but then I gained 3 lbs. I went to my doctor to get a referral to a nutritionist and talk to her about everything. She said that unfortunately, between hormones and the nature of giving birth, my body is completely out of whack right now and I don't have the ability to breastfeed to try to assist with the loss of the weight gained but it's normal and not to push myself. I know it takes time for post-partum women. Friends have said it took them a year to get back to what they were before. But they had their baby and are taking care of their little one which doesn't give them the ability to take care of themselves in the same way that I have the ability to do. So I try to work harder on myself, but then I get sad and my physical health suffers. I don't want to go on walks, I don't want to wake up early and get out of bed, after work I just want to come home.

Then the thought process turned into: I don't want to get pregnant again and put more baby weight on top of existing baby weight. Not because I care about the number on the scale but because that won't be healthy and it has the potential to increase my risk of future pregnancy scares such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, adema, and bed rest. I will already be going into another pregnancy an erratic head case, I don't want to add more fuel to the but-what-if-something-bad-happens-again fire.

After this thought process, I cry more. My body is not the same, it won't be the same. It's a daily reminder that I've been through hell and Hudson is gone. Each day when I try to wear something that's still a tad too small or stare in the mirror after the shower at a squishy torso and stretch marks on my hips, I have utter disdain for this version of myself, both outwardly and for the way I feel on the inside 75% of the time.

Enter Self-Loathing. It's a fantastic phase, y'all. It takes any insecurity you have ever had and springboards it at you when you least expect it, like target practice. I'm a thirty-one year old woman with a successful career, a loving husband, wonderful family and friends. I moved on from this smattering of petty things years ago. Well, not anymore. When it comes on, I don't want to go in public, I don't want to be in a picture, I don't want to be seen because I don't want the voices in my head - those nagging insecurities - to eat away at me. I'd rather hide away to help silence my mind. Either way, the insecurities win.

It's now nearing 2:00 am. I'm out of Kleenex. My head and eyes are throbbing to the point that I want to close them, so sleep seems like it is the next logical step. I don't want to wake Max up. Suddenly, I want to go all the way to the dark place because it's where I feel the closest to what has been lost. I go into the nursery and take his hospital blanket out of the little dresser drawer. I crawl in the bed, thinking how stupid the last hour of thoughts have been. None of that matters. I just want my baby. I flip through the photos on my phone that documented my pregnancy: the growing bump pics, sonograms, the nursery d├ęcor, little things I wanted to remember to get, a picture of my baby shower invitation. Then there are my pictures I have of us with him, his sweet little feet attached to those long legs. Those dark curls, tiny ears, turned up nose, full cheeks, peaked lips and dimpled chin. I sob myself to sleep. My last thought before that space went quiet was that I should be up right now feeding my child, not mourning him. This bed I am sleeping in shouldn't be in here, it should've gone to my parents house to make room for the crib. I should still be on maternity leave, cherishing the last few weeks with my sweet boy. If I were crying right now it would be because I'm not ready to go back to work soon, not because my baby died. I shouldn't be doing anything that I've been doing these last four months. This shouldn't be our life. But it is.

Morning came too early. I wanted to stay inside that room and away from the rest of the world. I negotiate with myself again and the inner pep talk starts. It's time to pull yourself together and put this on hold again until next time. You have a video shoot to do, a Groundbreaking to plan, a Board meeting to organize and a three page to-do list to get through today. Run a brush through your hair, find something that fits, cover the sorrow with makeup and just try to have a better day.

Time to start re-building the blocks and march on to conquer another day.





Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Butternut Short Rib Ragu


 It was Sunday at 11:40 am. I was sitting on the couch with Max watching the Green Bay Packers pre-game show, trying to think about what to make for dinner. The temperature had dropped below 90, heck it had dropped below 80, so that meant one thing: FALL.

Kind of.

I decided to make something that felt like fall, and thus a short rib ragu with butternut squash was born. I did a little googling only to discover that I could not find such a recipe. I had a beef ragu recipe that I've made and adapt a little differently each time, and I've made short ribs a handful of times so decided to combine the two. I used that as a base, added butternut squash cubes instead of traditional carrots and a few ingredients to taste.

This was hands down, maybe one of the best things I've made in the history of ever. It was rich in flavor and I love how it all came together! I served it over gnocchi, but it is versatile and would be great served with pappardelle, polenta or mashed potatoes. Like the filling for the Chicken Fiesta Spuds, you can make a big pot of this and have it for leftovers in various ways throughout the week. 

Grocery List:
Yields 6 servings
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 pounds short ribs, bone-in
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper 
  • 1 cup butternut squash, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 medium shallots, diced
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour 
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1.5 cups red wine, such as Cabernet
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1.5 cups beef stock 
  • 1 tsp. rosemary, minced
  • 1 tsp. thyme, minced
  • 1 tsp. flat-leaf parsley + additional for garnish, minced
  • Red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar
  • Chopped parsley Pecorino Romano, for garnish
Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Cook time: 3.5 hours (approx)
 
Pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees.

In a dutch oven or large enamel pot, heat the oil on high until almost smoking. Season the short ribs with salt and pepper. Place the short ribs two at a time in the pot and let brown on top and bottom. Set aside in a bowl and repeat until finished.

Turn the heat down to medium and add celery, onions, shallot and butternut squash to the oil. Cook for about 10 minutes or until softened.

Add flour, followed by the tomato paste. Stir to coat all veggies, then stir in the apple cider vinegar, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom. Turn up the heat to high, add the red wine and let cook until liquid reduces by half.

Add garlic, followed by beef stock. Stir your parsley, rosemary and thyme. Side note: your kitchen should be nice and fragrant right now.

Place the short ribs into the pot making sure you get them down in the liquid. Cover and place in the oven for 2.5 hours. Remove the short ribs and shred them, discarding fat and bones. Skim the fat off the top of the pot to help degrease. Add the shredded meat back to the pot and simmer on the stove for another 20 minutes to reduce the liquid by nearly half. Once reduced, stir in the brown sugar and red pepper flakes to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp for the perfect kick).

Serve your ragu with whatever chosen base, then garnish with pecorino romano and parsley.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Haves and The Have Nots



In life there are two types of people: The Haves and The Have Nots. I am not referring to wealth and social status, but as those who Have experienced extreme grief and those who Have Not. Just like the course of a tragic event can forever become a prominent mile marker in your life - before this and after it - so is the distinction of being in the population of Haves or Have Nots.
 
Throughout these few months, various emotions are striking me differently than they had before. At first I had to accept the fact that I was grieving and experiencing deep emotions I never knew. Then there were the hormones that were still wonky and causing various outbursts of emotion. Even through that, the emotion of sadness - when expressed for any reason, at any capacity - effected me differently than ever before. One particularly recent example of that is how this year, September 11 hit me at a different capacity. I'll never forget that morning in 2001, watching the footage on CNN with a piece of toast in hand. I had late arrival that semester and was getting ready to head to school when my mom gasped, "oh my God, it's going hit," and then we watched as the second plane hit the south tower. I remember my dad said "This is not an accident. This is an attack."

As a senior in high school, I think that event is what was the beginning of the end for my immortality complex. Suddenly, I realized bad things could happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. As a country we were stunned, baffled, shocked. We mourned this unimaginable episode and the loss of so many lives. Every year, on its anniversary we solemnly pay tribute to those lost and the event that changed the course of our country's history.

In my mind, as devastatingly tragic as it was, I didn't truly understand the depth and despair that these loved ones felt having a piece of their heart and life taken from them so abruptly, so unfairly, without cause or warning. For I myself had never experienced that. It was only as sad as I could imagine it to be, because I didn't know that kind of sadness yet. This year, as I read some of the most touching tributes written by family members of lives lost, it really shook me to my core. Now, to be clear, in no way am I trying to compare 9/11 to my stillbirth. I'm just saying that for the first time in fourteen years, I have a better understanding of the place of grief that these loved ones are writing from because I am no longer a Have Not.

For the first few months following Hudson's passing, I would have done anything to be a Have Not again. I didn't ask for this to happen. I didn't want to know this sadness. I never wanted to feel this extremely empty. I would have loved to never need to experience the deep pain it can cause. However, I am realizing that it has unlocked a depth of emotion that I didn't fully possess before. The way I empathize for those in times of sorrow is deeper now because I know it, I've felt it. I can never go back to being who I was, there are certain things about me that are forever changed.

Though this darkness is harrowing at times, maybe knowing it can be a gift. Maybe it reveals a part of you that you don't know until you have to know it. I'm going to try to look at my sadness through rose colored glasses so that maybe, just maybe, it can make me a better version of myself as a Have.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Fiesta Chicken Spud



This recipe was a perfect gateway to fall tastes. A nice blend of savory and sweet, with a kick! I looked at a few different stuffed sweet potato combinations and came up with my own version. This is not necessarily a recipe you can come home and whip up in 20 minutes, however, there are some ways to make that possible through preparation. You can pre-cook the chicken in a crock pot on the weekend and then have it to use throughout the rest of the week. I had plenty of this filling to use in both this and a chicken enchilada casserole within the same week. When meal planning, try to include both so you can get the most out of your grocery shopping purchases!

Ingredients:
Filling serves up to 8 people

  • Package of 3 chicken breasts
  • 1 jar of your salsa of choice
  • 2 sweet potatoes (try to get similar shapes for cooking time purposes) 
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup frozen yellow corn, thawed
  • 1 avocado, chopped
  • Chili powder, to taste 
  • Mexican blend cheese
  • 2 tbsp. Fat-free Chipotle Ranch dressing
Place the chicken in the crock pot and then cover in salsa. Let cook for either 6 hours on high or 8 hours on low.

Heat the oven to 415 degrees. Wash your sweet potatoes and then cover in foil. Set the spuds in the oven for 1 hour.

Take your chicken/salsa mixture and add the black beans and corn in the crock pot, or if reheating, do so in a large skillet.

I found that after an hour, mine still were not completely softened. I removed the foil and nuked in the microwave for 4 minutes. Cut off the top 1/3 of the potato and then using a spoon, create a shallow scoop into the potato lengthwise. Take the chicken mixture and pile it into the groove you have created in the potato. Sprinkle with chili powder for added flavor. Top with cheese (use microwave if you'd like to make it nice and melty), then add avocado. Finally, I used the chipotle-ranch dressing as a final flavor surge.

Fun fact: if you have a pup, use the discarded top 1/3 of the sweet potato for them. It is full of amino acids and antioxidants that are beneficial to your dog's overall health, but it can also help with digestion.

No-Bake Energy Bites



Nothing about these bites of goodness are new or different. Recipes like this have been around for years, this is just the first time I've made them. Therefore, they are shareable.

I am not a great baker - something always goes wrong - so I love to find treats that don't require the oven. When assembling these, the first four to five of them rolled together without any issue. After that, it started to become more difficult because my hands were getting sticky and they fell apart easily. Be prepared to rinse your hands a few times for an easier attempt.

This is a great one-two punch of nutrition. The ingredients allow for a packed bite of nutrient powerhouses found in flax and chia such as protein, fiber, calcium, antioxidants and omega-3s. These are great for snacking, a quick breakfast to start the day, or has the right amount of sweet to curb dessert cravings at night.

Ingredients:
Yields 14-16 balls
  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup flaxseed
  • 2 tbsp. chia seed
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup of organic peanut butter, melted + slightly cooled
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tbsp. of honey
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp. mini chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup ground peanuts or almonds (to roll the balls in)
Prep time: 15-20 minutes

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the first five ingredients, mix together, then set aside.

In a measuring cup, spoon in the peanut butter and then microwave for 30 seconds. This will make the PB slightly melty, like silk. Add the honey and vanilla to the measuring cup, stirring together to combine.

Once cooled, pour the PB mixture over the oats. Using a spatula, combine all ingredients. Then, gently fold in the chocolate chips.

Using your hands, role the mix into golf ball-sized bites. I rolled all the balls first, then went back and rolled them in the ground almonds for a final touch. Place them in the fridge to set for at least 15 minutes, then feel free to dig in. 


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Three Months






Dear Sweet Hudson,

I can't believe it has been more than three months. As of yesterday, you would have been 14 weeks. To be precise, it has been 99 days since we said goodbye.

Today I felt the need to see you. I went to visit you at the church where your Grandparents took your Mommy and Uncles when we were kids. It is the same church where Mommy and Daddy got married. The church that so many people who love you gathered to mourn your passing. The church where you belong. I enjoyed sitting there and just looking at your name, Hudson John Schlieve. You have a good name. A strong name.

I have your precious picture on my phone and I look at you all the time, it makes me smile. I wonder what color your eyes would be, if your hair would still be dark and curly. I didn't have very much hair when I was born but it was dark and curly like yours. I wonder if you would look more like your Daddy right now or if you would favor me. I hear that can change by the day, especially in those first few months! I take that picture of you, and I rub our identical noses together, like I did with you when you were in my arms. The way I had envisioned doing with you throughout your life.

Your pup George and I sit in your rocker all the time. We rock together holding your hospital blanket to feel close to you. We wrap ourselves up in the monogrammed blanket that Aunt Shelby had made for you. Someday your siblings will get to use that blanket and I will tell them about you. They will share your initials, HJS, so you all have a special bond that no one can break. This is how we can always honor you.

Your Daddy and I miss you. Our hearts are so sad sweet baby, but we are getting better. We are trying to be strong. It is hard sometimes because we wanted a life with you so much. We know you are in a place that knows no sorrow, no pain, no evil, no fear. It has been a struggle, the where do we go from here, without you. We know we want a big family but our hearts haven't been ready to even comprehend another baby, we only wanted you, we couldn't imagine any baby but you. Our hearts have started to change and we are beginning to think about your future siblings. Is that okay? Are we going to be able to do this again?

Be with us as we continue to prepare for a time when a new life will occur. We know you are with us, continue to help us seek strength and happiness together. Continue to show us signs of you from time to time.

I'm always watching for you. I'm always loving you.

Mommy