Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Luca's Newborn Session

Last week, on the day Luca was exactly two weeks old, we did a photo shoot with my friend Richelle Bozung.  She was so patient and worked for hours to take the best photos possible.  These are my favorites from her edited images, and I love how they turned out.  Thanks Richelle!




















Monday, February 8, 2016

Welcome Baby Luca!

Three weeks ago, on January 17th, our baby Luca was born!  Since both Gigi and Orion arrived more than a week after their due dates, imagine our surprise when exactly on Luca's due date (January 16th) I started to have contractions at a party we attended that afternoon.  Earlier that morning I had attended a Waldorf Education Day at Gigi's school and sat in on a "3rd Grade sampler".  The teacher had us run and skip around in a big circle to learn the 3x multiplication tables just as the kids do.  When he added that I could tone it down to whatever level I thought would be appropriate, I joked that if skipping around would get labor started, I'd try it!  And who knows, maybe that is what got things started...


That afternoon after we returned home from the party, we continued our evening as planned - movie night at our friend's home.  My mom came over to watch the kids at our place, and Marcos and I went to watch The Martian with our close friends Amber and TJ.  My contractions had been regular (though infrequent) for a few hours, and so during the movie I had Marcos download an app on his phone that allowed me to track the frequency and duration of the contractions, and then rate how strong I felt they were.  By the end of the movie my contractions were coming every six or seven minutes, but I was still rating them mainly "mild" and I knew that I was still in very early labor.  Since Amber was a wicked brilliant nurse in a past chapter of life and TJ is a urogynecology Fellow at UNC, we joked that if I was going to labor at any friend's home, I had done a really good job choosing theirs!

After the movie we returned home late, and asked my mom to stay the night with us just in case I ended up having to leave with Marcos in the middle of the night.  Sure enough, by 2am I felt like things were really progressing, and I woke Marcos and we drove to the hospital.  Unfortunately, on the car ride over I experienced exactly zero contractions, and since in my history that car ride has traditionally been one of the worst car rides of my life, I knew that labor had stalled out a little and that it wasn't even worth checking in to triage.  We turned around, drove home and went back to bed.

By 4am I had been sleep-contracting for enough hours that I was thoroughly exhausted and so very, very ready for the epidural I had been dreaming about.  Before I had kids I imagined that I would do birthing very naturally, but with both Gigi and Orion I had asked for an epidural along the way.  After two rounds of back labor and so many hours of missed sleep, the epidurals had brought such rest that this time I embraced the idea and made it part of my birth plan: show up at the hospital, request an epidural, sleep and rest, and then put all of my good energy into birthing baby boy when I was dilated and ready to go.  

And that's more or less how it went.  We arrived at the quiet hospital at 4am, and by 5am I was checked in and had my epidural (I was the only one laboring on the floor at that time - miracle!).  From then until mid-morning I was able to sleep peacefully, with Marcos sprawled across the couch in my room.  We awoke to an absolutely beautiful sight of a sky full of snow flurries outside of our huge 4th floor window - the first snow of the season!  My feeling that morning was of perfect peace - the silent white sky, the joyful anticipation of meeting my son that day, the restful feeling that had been afforded by the epidural, and the time Marcos and I had to connect meaningfully with our midwife Shannon Keller and our wonderful nurse Michele (to the right and left of me, below).


Unfortunately, the epidural that allowed me to rest and conserve energy also ended up stalling labor.  When I awoke from my morning rest my contractions were virtually non-existent, and after an unsuccessful attempt to jumpstart my labor by having Shannon break my waters, we ended up putting pitocin into my IV and that really got things going.  On the monitor, the contractions started to pick back up into perfectly regular mountains.  By early afternoon, I started to feel like the epidural was wearing off, as the pressure of baby's head started to descend and prepare to exit the birth canal.  I had forgotten how intense that pressure is, and started to feel robbed of my plan to have a peaceful delivery!  By 3pm Marcos was coaching me through incredibly intense contractions, and I was fully dilated.  The pressure did not abate because baby boy was in place and ready to go!

I have to say that in my opinion, the one part of labor and delivery that I really excel at is pushing out the baby.  With Gigi, I pushed for 25 minutes and felt like a real champion for getting her out so quickly after a good day and a half of being in labor.  With Orion, it took 5 minutes for me to push him out.  So, I was a little cocky and had told the midwife and nurse that I was good at pushing out babies, but I had spoken too soon: with Luca, the pushing felt like an eternity.  I remember feeling like I was zooming away from earth into a black expanse with stars, as I squeezed my eyes shut and gave it my all through the contractions.  At one point I gave up, and told everyone that I couldn't do it, but there were too many experienced women in that room and they all encouraged me to keep going.  Once his head was out, I knew that I could do the rest, and with one final push our son was born!  


I was fairly certain that I had pushed for a long time, but when I asked, the nurse said that I had started pushing at 3:00pm and he was born at 3:08pm - 8 minutes!  I felt so incredibly proud that I had birthed our son, and especially because he surprised us all by being so big.  For the first hour or two after he was born he snuggled naked on my chest and slept cuddled under blankets, but when they weighed him and cleaned him up, we confirmed that he was a big guy.  We all made guesses but he beat them all - 9 pounds 4 ounces, and 22 inches!  Wow!  I felt so thankful to have had a talented midwife who helped me to birth a 9+ pound baby in 8 minutes, and without any tearing at all.  Go team Prieto!           



My mom was so helpful and stayed with the big kids so that Marcos and I could enjoy a relaxing two days in the hospital.  Tutu brought Gigi and Orion each day for a few hours and we ate sushi together, enjoyed the pampering from the nurses who loved the big kids and brought them gifts, and visited the pantry on the floor for small cups of chocolate ice cream and Italian ices.  Gigi and Orion LOVED meeting their baby brother, and were extremely sweet and gentle with him.  When Orion visited, if I got up to go to the bathroom he insisted on holding my hand while I walked, "In case you fall, mama".  Gigi took off my hospital socks and gave me foot rubs every chance she had.

And then it was time to pack up and go home.  It was bittersweet leaving the hospital and all of the help that was available at the press of a button.  As I was being wheeled down to Marcos and our waiting car I thought about when I had left the hospital with Giovanna as a brand new mom, and remembered very keenly the fear and overwhelm that I had felt.  The first time I took that ride down to the car there were tears running down my face, and this time I was confident and peaceful.  Amazing what power comes from experience.  Welcome to our family, little Luca Armand!



These photos were taken maybe a week or so after Luca was born.  I was mainly trying to capture my favorite little part of his body, which is that tiny spiral cowlick on his forehead.  That, and to expose him to a very warm sunny morning, in the hopes that it might help his jaundice.


To answer a few questions we hear often...

Q: Where did you get the name Luca Armand?
A: Many years ago my sister friend Lindsay and her mom Carol went to Europe on a grand tour, and in Italy their tour guide was named Luca.  They came back talking about their handsome Italian tour guide "Luca", and the name has been bouncing around in my head ever since.  It was on our list of possible boy names, but it wasn't at the top (Emerson and Achilles were our top choices for a long time), but when he was born it just seemed to fit best.  We are not sure where the name Armand came from.  We may have come across it when we were looking through lists of names online, but perhaps it just jumped into our heads at some point.  In any case, we just feel like there is something royal about it.

Q: Is he a good eater?
A: The first day of his life, Luca did not have any interest in eating.  The nurses said that sometimes when babies are born quickly they don't get all of the amniotic fluid squeezed out of them and so therefore their tummies are still somewhat full and they might not feel hungry.  The first night of his life I don't think he woke up once!  But as his system cleared out his appetite emerged and he has been a great eater ever since.  About one week to ten days into his life, breastfeeding was killer, but now we are on the other side of that hump and I am healing and we are both doing well.  The pediatrician is very happy with him because at one week he was over his birth weight, and at two weeks he was already 10 pounds.  

Q: Is he a good sleeper?
A: So far, so good.  He eats about every four hours through the night, which isn't bad at all for a newborn.  During the day he eats every three to four hours, and sleeps most of the time.  I have had a few friends say that big babies are better sleepers and so far that seems accurate for Luca!

Q: How is the transition to three kids?
A: My answer is always, "Ask me when Marcos goes back to work!".  Marcos is on his fourth week of paid paternity leave, and it is not wasted on us that we are incredibly lucky.  Now that I am getting around more I have plenty to do, but having Marcos get up with the big kiddos, make lunches, and do all of the driving to and from school, coop preschool, etc. etc. has been incredibly helpful.  The first few days were rough as Marcos and I adjusted to being around each other so many hours every day, but we've really grown to enjoy this quality time together with the big kiddos and with Luca.  Marcos has been extremely supportive and I am really thankful for him.


Monday, December 28, 2015

Maternity Shoot

Rewind back to October again, when I was about 6 months pregnant (now I'm nearly full term and feel like a house).  My friend Lissette had loaned me some maternity clothes and when I tried on one of the dresses I just felt like it was such a Greek Goddess dress that it needed to be featured in some photos.  So with the help of my friend Hayley who does hair and makeup, and with local photographer Sarah Gilreath, we tried to capture the vision I had seen in my mind's eye.  

The morning of the scheduled photo shoot I almost called Sarah to cancel, because skimming through maternity photography on the internet for ideas had reminded me how absolutely horrifying and ridiculous maternity photography can be...  but this is my last baby (or at least my last time being pregnant) and so we plugged on.  All in all, I'm really glad that I pursued this vision.  Pregnancy can be really uncomfortable and especially as late in the term as I am now, so miserable at moments, but it is definitely participation in a miracle and one of the times I feel most beautiful in all of this abundant womanhood.  








M&M Birthdays

Rewind back to the beginning of October.  This year we turned 31 and 34, and we celebrated in usual M&M style, meaning very little fanfare and a lot of eating good food with friends.  Maybe it's because I am hopelessly untalented at gift-giving, but celebrating birthdays has never really been my "thing".  Despite my extroversion, I just don't love being the center of a party.  So, on Marcos' birthday (the 4th) we had a nice family breakfast, my mom made a yummy dinner for us and and we had friends over for dessert, and on my birthday (the 8th) we went out to sushi at our favorite place.  Top that off with the annual birthday celebration spaghetti night at the Hill Casa, and we called it a great roll over into a new age.



At our favorite place, Shiki Sushi, if you order enough you get it delivered to the table on a huge wooden boat.  We are so glad that the kids love sushi just as much as we do!  We polished this off and then ended up ordering more (and then rolling out of the restaurant...).  YUM.



Thursday, December 17, 2015

Nancee's Molasses Sugar Cookies

Our neighbor Nancee has a few recipes that she has collected over the years that are to die for.  I'm still figuring out how to wheedle her chocolate mousse recipe out of her, but until then, we can happily feed our sorrows on her Molasses Sugar Cookies.  I don't consider myself much of a cookie baker, and somehow manage to ruin cookies very frequently, but these are my fall and winter go to cookies and they are nearly Metta-proof.  These are also, notably, the only cookies sans chocolate that I will even bother making.  They are just that good.

Nancee's Molasses Sugar Cookies

Ingredients

3/4 cup butter, melted (hey, I never said it was healthy)
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
1 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Beat butter with molasses, egg and sugar.

Sift together remaining dry ingredients and add them to wet mixture.  Mix well and refrigerate until firm.

Form dough into 1-inch balls and roll in additional sugar.  Place dough balls on cookie sheet a few inches apart, and bake 8-10 minutes.  Tops of cookies will start to crack when done.  Don't overbake, unless you want a crispier cookie (also delicious, but not quite as satisfying as the soft molasses approach).  Let cool on pan 1 to 2 minutes before removing to finish cooling on rack.

Makes about 40 cookies.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Sweet Potato Casserole

I really like the holidays.  One of the things that I love are the potlucks - not only do we get to enjoy the company of friends, but we also have the opportunity to try out some new recipes.  When I am making a full meal for my family, I have to streamline because I am balancing a variety of different dishes, but when I am only contributing one dish to a meal, I can pour in more time and energy than usual.  Tonight I made something worth recording for the generations to come: this delicious Sweet Potato Casserole.

Sweet Potato Casserole

Ingredients

4 or 5 large sweet potatoes
1/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup chopped pecans

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Place potatoes on a cookie sheet and slide onto the middle rack.  Bake the sweet potatoes for 1 hour, or until the potatoes are fork tender.  Pull out the potatoes, turn down the oven to 350 degrees F and allow potatoes to cool.  

2. Being very careful with the warm potatoes, slice them down the middle length-wise and scrape the soft insides into a large bowl.  If they are cooked well, they will fall right out of the skins.  Mash potatoes and then mash in the sugar, eggs, salt, butter, milk, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and vanilla.  Mix until smooth.  Transfer to a 9x13 inch baking dish, or a casserole dish.

3. In medium bowl, mix the brown sugar and flour.  Cut in the butter until the mixture is coarse.  Stir in the pecans.  Sprinkle the mixture over the sweet potato mixture.

4. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until the topping is lightly brown.

* Note: The casserole can be made the night before, put in the fridge, and then baked prior to eating.  Just let it sit for a few minutes to bring the dish closer to room temperature before placing in the oven, and add a few minutes extra onto the cooking time.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Family Comes to Visit

In September my Auntie Katy, Uncle Don and my cousin Sam came from the West Coast to the East Coast for a Virginia wedding and decided to make a stop in Chapel Hill for a few days and pay a visit.  It was so nice to see them, and strange to think that they had never met Orion before, since it had been over three years since we had been together.   


We had cold, rainy days when they visited, but it didn't stop us from planning a really crazy trip out to Wrightsville Beach.  I had checked for rain that day but forgot that at the beach, wind speed can also be a deterrent.  After driving two hours out to the coast, we spent about twenty minutes on the beach, dodging the stinging flying sand, and then escaped to Wilmington for thrift store shopping, some walking along the river and a delicious dinner and ice cream.  The salt air is always therapeutic, but next time I'll check for wind speed before I make the 4 hour round trip to the coast.



The nice thing about having family visit is that even when there are not frenetic plans, being together is enough.  We cooked hot soups together, played a new card called Square 9 (almost every night), we gardened together in our community garden, picked scuppernong grapes at a friend's house, and went to the Emerson Waldorf School Contra Dance, which was so much fun.



All in all, a really nice time to catch up and enjoy time with our family!  Thanks for visiting!


Friday, November 6, 2015

Cookie Stand

Back in September, Gigi and our neighbor Michael finally had their big opportunity to live out their dream of running a joint venture.  Tutu was helping to organize a yard sale, and although there was already another kid lined up to do a lemonade stand, we decided to jump on board with a cookie stand so that the kids could experience a little piece of running a business together.

First up was cleaning the stand.  Michael's dad James had painted a cute stand yellow and blue but it was filthy so we put the kids to work.  



And then after baking and cleaning up the stand, the big day rolled around.  Michael and Gigi wrote the name of their bakery on the chalkboard on the front of the stand, and opened shop.  Unfortunately, business was slow and they found that running a joint venture was more complicated than they thought it would be.  Within the first hour, the partners were split and mad at each other, and Michael wanted to go home.  It was awesome teaching Gigi about welcoming customers and how to do sales though!

Oh well, first time for everything!