I’m back! So after two months in the hospital, two months trying my best to be the best NICU frequent flyer, and then adjusting to stay at home mom life, we are finally finding a groove. It helps that it’s the Newett family’s favorite season FALL!
So today I’m going to walk y’all through how to make changing leaves sugar cookies. I like them because they’re aesthetically pleasing without being covered in icing. (I don’t really like icing). My son also doesn’t need to eat the layer of pure sugar. He’s 3, two months from 4, and he doesn’t need any extra energy.
Cameron is usually the source of all of our food stuff. However, when it’s time to bake, that’s my lane. Cameron doesn’t like to measure or level. He is, despite this, incredibly talented and I have zero complaints.
FIRST! Read all directions before beginning anything.
Preheat your over to 400 degrees.
1.5 cups room temperature butter
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla flavoring
1 tsp almond flavoring
5 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Yellow, orange, or red food coloring
Using a mixer, cream together sugar and butter.
Add eggs, vanilla, and almond, mix until creamy.
Add baking powder and salt. Then add flour one cup at a time until thoroughly mixed.
Add yellow food coloring and mix until even.
Wrap cookie dough in wrap and refrigerate until cold all the way through, at least one hour but overnight is best.
After chilled, take out a fist full of dough at a time. This makes about 1 pan of cookies.
Add orange food coloring (3-4 drops). Add one drop, knead the dough, add another drop, etc. The more you knead it, the more mixed it will look. I preferred only kneading a couple of seconds because rolling out the dough helps spread the coloring and make it look more marbled. You may need a practice round to see how you want your colors to blend.
Roll out your dough on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin. (Did you know you’re not supposed to eat raw flour? I didn’t know until recently. Reason #198 I shouldn’t have made it so long.) Your dough should be about .25 inches thick.
Use your favorite fall leaf cookie cutters to create your shapes. We got ours at the Home Store. (Formerly Garden Ridge?) You can re-roll your dough if you have a lot left over. Be careful on the third or fourth roll out because your dough might get too much flour and get flaky. Toss it or add it to another batch if you need to adjust the texture. Make sure you also flour your spatula so the cookies are easy to put on the pan. We like to use a silicone baking sheet. It’s so much easier to clean!
Bake 7-8 minutes on 400.
Let cool, ice lightly if you’re into it. I used a sparkly gel icing. Everything is better sparkly. This recipe will give you about 2-3 dozen cookies depending on how you cut and roll them.
Shout out to my mom for passing down all of her baking magic. She also has the world’s greatest witches’ cackle, so hopefully I can incorporate it into our Halloween post.
While you’re enjoying your cookies, fill out a Fall Bucket List with your family! I loved this one from A Beautiful Mess, which is what I want my blog to be like when it grows up. I follow them on Instagram as well, their projects and souls are so beautiful, so send them some love. I love supporting others who inspire us!
In life, there are a few milestones where you really question identity. Adolescence, of course. Marriage. Parenthood. Retirement. For those who aren’t living the traditional linear expectation model, it may be a particular birthdate or promotion that creates this existential crisis of “Who am I?”
When I had my first son, I tried my damnedest not to let motherhood change me. I wanted to be the woman who was still herself, but also had a child. I tried to add on the responsibilities of parenthood and marriage without personal sacrifice, and was so fooled. Over time I gave up being a color guard director, I stopped staying for after school tutorials with my students, I stopped trying to do adult activities with my friends. More and more of my free time was spent as a family, and we were happy. There was nothing wrong with the transition in the moments it was happening. I adopted the identity of mother and wife and embraced them.
However, very innocently, about 5 months ago my husband made the passing comment, “Before you met me you were just an English teacher.”
Was I JUST an English teacher?
Compound this statement with giving up my career and village in Texas to relocate to California. Compound it with a 50 day hospital stay in antepartum. Then compound it with a 59 day wait for my son in the NICU. Needless to say, I’m working through some shit.
Now that my son is home, my family is together, and I’m “fun”employed or on maternity leave, however you want to perceive it, I can feel myself longing for the person who was ‘just’ an English teacher. There is something about the label of ‘mother’ and ‘wife’ that just aren’t enough for me right now. I need to be able to point to an accomplishment that is solely my own and say “LOOK! I DID THAT! ITS MINEEEeeee.”
From my perspective, I wasn’t JUST an English teacher. I was more than that. I was passionate, I was political, I was environmental, I was a dancer, I was a photographer. I loved live music and craft Texas beer with my friends. I was drawn to artists and musicians and creatives; other liberal arts junkies who spent too much money on a degree to never have the career to it pay off. We sat around on old couches in indie coffee shops and solved the world’s problems. I was interesting, and outgoing, and fun, and positive.
Now I stand at preschool functions making random small talk in hopes another mom will befriend me. Now I send mom memes to the women who used to watch live music and go dancing with me to try and keep a hold of whatever connection we have left. Now I use the portrait mode on my iPhone and pretend that it validates the art and photography classes I took in community college.
I feel boring sometimes. It feels like postpartum anxiety making me hate the idea of socializing because somehow I know I’m not going to be good enough. I feel bitter because I miss that person I used to be.
Can you be both? Can you be the person you were before parenthood and a good parent? Or do you have to lose yourself in your children?
This transition is temporary. I know that as time goes on, and I process the past 6 months, I will find a balance between who I used to be and who I am becoming. The mother of two. The Californian.
I think the most important thing to remember is that non of us are written in stone. The only constant in life is change.
I do love the happy moments with my family. I love the dinners on the back patio free of humidity and mosquitoes. I love living down the street from my in laws. I love watching my older son love on my newborn so beautifully unconditionally. But the next time I pour one out (to be honest it’ll probably just be me accidentally spilling breastmilk on the counter) it will be for the women we were before we were mothers.
My other blog posts were written when everything was going well. When I wasn’t having obvious complications and my overall well being was pretty positive. This is not a positive post.
Things have taken a bit of a difficult turn. Last weekend I spent two days in labor and delivery on Magnesium Sulfate to stop signs of labor. One nurse jokingly called the medication “a hangover without a party.” Basically I felt like someone had given me a strong benadryl that made me horrendously nauseous, gave me a splitting headache, and made me feel like I was literally on fire for over a day. At one point I began sobbing because I couldn’t take the feeling of the medication and I wanted to peel my skin off and go home.
I was so depressed because my son was too scared of me in that state, and of the machines, and the noises in labor and delivery to come visit. Plus, I spent 2 out of 4 of my days with my amazing Abby completely incoherent. She was, as usual, a wonderful friend and bed side nurse. It just wasn’t the slumber party I had imagined when I was counting down to her visit. Cameron is an amazing rock, and reminds me that when we got here a month ago I’d be willing to do anything for baby Owen, but ever since that trip upstairs, I’m broken and am questioning my limits of ‘anything’.
I’m on 24/7 heart and contraction monitoring for Owen, which means I can’t sit or lay comfortably. I have to lay or sit in a way that nurses and doctors can constantly monitor baby, which at 27 weeks pregnant, means I feel uncomfortable. ANY maternity book you read says, “when pregnant, don’t sleep on your back.” Guess how I’m being forced to exist? On my back, slightly inclined. I get one break a day, my shower. It feels so good to not be lying down or have the monitors slowing giving me a rash. (I get heat rash easily and the gel from the doppler makes it worse) They usually ask me to rush out of the shower so I’m not vertical too long.
On top of that, they’re monitoring my blood sugar because my glucose test said my fasting sugar was too high. So four times a day I have my finger pricked, to the result of a normal sugar level. (It’s usually between 93 and 115). However, I’m still on a limited diet unless Cameron brings me outside food. Today Cameron brought me a Five Guys burger and shake. Even after my delicious cookies and cream shake, my blood sugar was only 120.
I can’t go on a walk. I can’t go outside. I can’t put my son in bed or take him to the park. I can’t pick my clothes from my closet or choose my food. I can’t teach. I can’t even wrap my hands around my belly to feel Owen move because I have monitors covering where he is. I can’t nest and wash Owen’s clothes or prepare his nursery and I’m so done not having any control over anything.
I swear to anyone who says “Oh but you’re getting such good rest!” I will kill you. If you think this egg crate mattress and CONSTANT disruption in the middle of the night to adjust monitors is “rest”, by all means, allow me to trade you. I am a blow and go, do it all and then some kind of person and I can’t handle the vegetative, isolated, shell of a person I am.
Today, when I was denied a walk outside and began crying, the nurse asked me if I wanted to discuss an antidepressant with my doctor. I wanted to say: No, you psychopath, I need sunshine and fresh air, not a chemical. You want to know what’s wrong with me? Read The Yellow Wallpaper.
This is not to say that I’m not incredibly thankful that we made it from 22 weeks and 4 days to now 27 weeks and 6 days. The fact that I had almost no fluid and am now at a normal level is nothing short of a miracle, especially since I haven’t gone into full labor. I know that the sunshine, prayers, books, craft supplies, face masks, and love that have been sent our way have made this so much easier to handle.
But I’m not made of steel. I am not resilient against feeling alone and helpless to do something for my little fighter, Owen. His heartbeat is always in my ear, and each time it begins to slow, or drop, my heart stops too. My body is literally broken, and we’re a ticking time bomb to his arrival. Advice from doctors on what to do? “Rest, and drink water.” GREAT. Thank you. I’ll get right on that.
So if you feel the need to send us something, first send prayers for strength and positivity to make it to week 34 (that’s 7 more weeks). If you must send something tangible, make it for baby Owen or big brother Colby, but not me. A mother’s joy comes from the light she created in her children, and when it shines through their laughter or smiles, that’s when we’re the happiest.
First, I, with every ounce of my soul, deeply appreciate everything I have been given to keep me occupied or beautified. I totally bedazzled a unicorn the other day and painted my nails complete with nail stickers. I, however, did want to give some pointers on what to gift to help those who might also be bed ridden, bored, and possibly hormonal.
I collaborated with my very close, soul sister level, amazing friend Abby to make these lists for you. We met eight years ago, long before we even knew our husbands, or had degrees, or had very much of life figured out. We were just good friends waiting tables and eating Chimy’s Taqueria together. Over time, I learned she is Wonder Woman. Shortly after I began teaching 9th grade with her five years ago, she had a 41 day hospital stay surrounding her heart-lung transplant. If anyone knows how to make the best of an unfavorable situation like a long term hospital stay, it’s her.
The Starter Kit (Possibly for shorter stays with a concrete release date)
Book or two
Coloring or activity book/Colored Pencils
Hospitals are terribly cold, and so DRY. I haven’t really felt the need to wash my hair just because I feel like I’m not producing oil. I have leg dandruff. Ew. Which especially means if the person you’re shopping for is also in danger of bedsores, good quality moisturizers make a world of difference. While staying busy, I am a fan of a good phone game like Words with Friends, but sometimes I just don’t want to stare at a screen for a while. The activity & coloring books I’ve been gifted are good for giving my eyes a break while still working my brain. However, if the nurses use the phrase, “you may want to bring some comforts from home…” because you’re not going home anytime soon, use the next list.
The Long Haul
Cozy blanket or pillow from home (the below picture features my wedge pillow, which supports my baby bump, and I love it)
Favorite coffee/tea mug
Long term crafts
Apple TV/Amazon Firestick
French Press/Pour Over/Tea Bags
When Abby was in the hospital, she made everyone friendship bracelets. I wore mine like a badge of honor until it fell off. I’ve picked up macrame. (Which, by the way, is just a REALLY BIG friendship bracelet! They use the same knots.) Our friend circle during her transplant stay had a rotating schedule of going to visit. It kept Abby from getting too tired of any one of us. We usually ordered queso or cookies and watched a lot of girlie T.V. like Vampire Diaries. If you’re swinging by to keep someone company, try and keep what you bring simple.
Swing by Gifts
Snack food- especially favorites from local restaurants
One time use crafts
One time use self care (Like face or eye masks)
This list is short for a reason. After a while, stuff accumulates. Even stuff from home. Eventually, someone’s partner, parents, children, or designated awesome person has to take all of that home. So when you swing by, its best to bring things that are consumable and wont take up space they might not have. The other day my friend Monica brought by carne asada fries and oh my goodness they were HEAVEN to my pregnant soul.
I want to say, on a personal note, I will never ever turn down a good book. I didn’t major in English because I love having a useless degree. I love literature! However, I also don’t need anything, after being here a month (Yes, ALREADY), I’m pretty set. If you decide you need send or bring us something, send something from our baby registry to the house. I can’t nest from here, or do any baby shopping. Which is probably for the best for the bank account. I’m sure my husband is already seeing a small savings from my inability to go to Target unsupervised. However, the biological urge to nest is definitely NOT being satisfied from here. I am sure there are many other mamas on bed rest who would share the same request.
I am having a rough week. The itch to be and do something productive has hit me pretty hard. So this week’s countdown is to Abby’s visit. ONLY four more days until my very amazing Abby is coming to California to visit and keep me company. I cannot say enough how emotionally healing it is to have someone who is full of positivity and support keep you stable. I know she’s been there done this, and even when she wasn’t even at 60%, she made it look so easy. While my husband is doing a beyond amazing job for me and our family, sometimes you need to lean on someone besides your partner. Abby is my good friend, work wife, matron of honor, permanent favorite coffee date, and I cannot WAIT for her presence to be in my bubble. (Sorry, Abby, that I am forever trying to poison you with hazelnut biscotti or macaroons.) A huge thank you for letting me share part of your story, and for sharing your expertise.
I have officially been in the hospital three weeks. My perspective is not the same as many others I know who have been bed bound because, well, I’m not sick. I’m not battling a disease or fighting off infection or recovering from a surgery. I feel really good. The part of this process I am struggling with is knowing I will not be going home anytime soon, and when I do, life won’t be the same.
So if you happen to find yourself, like me, stuck in bed for weeks or maybe even months, here are some of my tips for making the most of bed rest.
First, create a schedule or routine. Mine changes if I happen to get a visitor besides my family or have unexpected medical things that have to get done (like an extra ultrasound). I try to stick to it so I don’t feel like I’m wasting my day.
I wake up, force myself to get up out of bed, and wash my face and brush my teeth. Then I turn on the news and make myself a cup of coffee. I have to ask my nurse nicely for hot water to do so, but its worth it. My husband bought me amazing pour overs so I don’t have to drink the watered down hospital Folgers. I also have an Ember mug that keeps my coffee warm, so if I’m interrupted, I can still enjoy my coffee after everyone leaves. The mornings have lots of interruptions between vital checks and medications and doctor check ins and baby stress monitoring. After Good Morning America wraps up, I turn the T.V. off, pick a playlist on Spotify and do a craft until lunchtime, or until I finish. After lunch, I usually read or color until my husband or father in law and son come to visit. They usually hang out until dinner time. We often go for walks or if the weather isn’t great we just color together in my room. Sometimes we do dinner together, sometimes I eat the hospital dinner and they eat at home. After they leave I’m usually pretty bummed and wishing I could go with them, so I binge watch happy T.V. to distract myself. Once the nurses come by in the evening I make a cup of tea and once its empty, I make myself turn off the lights and go to bed.
Second, do the little things that make you feel human.
I always shower in the morning and put on a minimal amount of makeup. It’s usually just concealer under my eyes and mascara, but it makes me look so much more awake. I take the time to moisturize and use belly butter on my bump. If I am feeling really motivated, I will blow dry my hair too. I try to clip or paint my nails once a week. These little things make me feel less like a baby making zombie. And yes, it feels insane to basically say, “do basic self care and hygiene!” But when you don’t have anywhere to go and your only responsibility is to ‘drink water, grow baby’, sometimes its hard just to wash your face or get out of bed. I also have my own butter and coffee creamer. Every hospital has a different set up, but I have a small mini fridge that I can keep some snacks in. Having my coffee taste like mine is HUGE. I order a lot of my snacks through Whole Foods PrimeNow, so if you’re in a bigger city, see if it delivers to your area. It saves your family a trip to the store and you get exactly what you want and not the weird brand your person decided was ‘better’.
Third, make your wardrobe work for you.
One pretty great part about being a long term antepartum patient is that I don’t have to wear a hospital gown every day. I have chosen to live life in compression socks, compression yoga pants (the fear of blood clots is real y’all), and basic maternity t-shirts. The compression socks are a non-negotiable with my doctors. I chose to order cute ones from Amazon rather than wear the 1940’s style, thigh high, nude colored hosiery offered by the hospital. The nurses like them and they’re doctor approved. Old Navy, yes the partner company to the Gap, actually has amazing maternity basics online that aren’t expensive. Plus, a lot of their pants have fit options for your belly based on what trimester you’re in. (WHAT A CONCEPT!) I also have plenty of house sweaters my husband is nice enough to rotate out for me as they get messy. A house sweater, for reference, is a sweater you own that is super comfy and probably well broken in that is socially acceptable to wear in your HOUSE but not really in public. You own them, I own them, one probably used to be your partners but you stole it, they’re a necessity.
Fourth, talk to someone outside the hospital every day who isn’t your partner or parent.
I am a very social person who thrives on contact, so I like talking to lots of people. However, there is something to be said about having someone who you can talk to who will give an outside perspective to the world and doesn’t have any responsibilities for your care. They’ll help keep you centered and remind you of the life outside your immediate circle.
Fifth, create excuses for positivity.
Countdown the days until a milestone, or a visit from someone important, or a holiday. Do things you can be proud of. I’m pretty crafty, a lot of people aren’t, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create something worthwhile. Youtube and Pinterest are pretty infinite in terms of ideas to keep you occupied and how to’s. Ask the volunteers to go on walks. There are lots of young college students wandering around eager to refill water and would love an excuse to not stock nursing supplies. I was gifted a coloring book with positive quotes. They take forever to color, but sometimes just reading through the quotes themselves helps.
I am very lucky that I have a really positive and supportive village. People who have known me a really long time know that I wasn’t always a consistent ray of sunshine. I think over time I trimmed out the people in my life that weighed me down and surrounded myself instead by people I wanted to be more like. They’re all happy, and positive, and choose to be inspiring and motivating. The older I get, the less tolerance I have for things that weigh my heart down. So I’m hoping by keeping up with the positive ways I’m getting through this, I can help someone else do it to.
I am usually one to do a lot of writing and sharing. I am a very outgoing person. While I think I’ve done a lot of sharing pictures recently through Instagram or Snapchat, they’ve mostly been the result of starving for human interaction. I haven’t wanted to share what the reality was of why I was in the hospital or what I’m actually feeling. When people ask how I’m doing I just respond with “I can’t complain!” or “Just stir crazy!” Which might just be me psyching myself out of feeling the really negative feelings that come with being by yourself 20 out of 24 hours of the day.
I have officially been in the hospital 17 days. The goal is for me to be here 84-90 days if all goes perfect.
My husband’s family and many of his close friends are nearby and thankfully they’ve helped with our son and brought things to keep me busy. I’ve read plenty of other blogs about hospital bedrest and helpless husbands who can’t cook or do laundry. I read about a woman who had to make phone calls to schedule dinners brought to her husband. I am extremely thankful that I have a self reliant husband who can take care of everything, to a fault. He is not the type to ask for help or admit he might need it. However, I think he’s doing an exceptional job finding balance, or at least putting on a great front for my sake.
People who know me really well know I am a can’t stop, wont stop personality. So in the past 4 months when I had a small uterine hemorrhage (which I was told not to worry about and would heal like a bruise), moved to California, transferred my teaching credential, and started a new job, it didn’t occur to me to slow down. We had lives to start over and damn it, I didn’t have time to lose. My pregnancy with our first son was a BREEZE. What did I have to worry about? Even after I was in the hospital, I put in grades in my gradebook to make sure my students knew I was still there for them. So after my campus cut off all of my log ins, I had a couple days of “Well… what the hell do I do now?” It’s also been a heart breaking emotional struggle to know the parts of parenting that were my job are now being taken care of without a problem and I’m not there. My son’s needs are being met, and he’s happy. He even has a new fish named Spunky the Fish and loves him. My job now is to sit. Drink water. Sit. Pray. Piddle with crafts. Sit. Drink water. Eat. Wait for my family to visit. Sit. Drink Water.
Female bodies are pretty amazing. We’re biologically predisposed to do whats best for the growing human inside us, and my body told me to pump the breaks. Amniotic fluid is measured in an index I don’t understand but normal is between 8 and 18, below 5 is considered minimal. At our anatomy scan I was at a 3. At the point we came to the hospital about 4 hours later, pretty much 0. This is medically called oligohydramnios. They confirmed my water had broken and I would have to stay until delivery, which could be any moment, even now. I was given an IV of fluids, a number of antibiotics, and put on a contraction monitor. I was 22 weeks and 4 days. I was told they couldn’t do anything for baby if he was born until he was at least 24 weeks. They kept asking us if we wanted to terminate. It was not a good day. It was not a good week.
The good news is that this past week at my 24 week update my AFI (amniotic fluid index) was 4.6. Baby Owen is measuring average for his gestation now and is head down. I am now not attached to anything in terms of IVs or monitors, outside of 20 minutes twice a day they record baby’s heartbeat and my contractions, which have been normal. I can wander around my room now and shower when I feel like it. I did get two steroid shots to help baby’s lungs develop. The only medication they give me is really for pregnancy maintenance. Cameron takes me on wheel chair rides so I can get sunshine, fresh air, and ice cream. Colby rides in my lap and leaves me souvenirs of whip cream or popsicle drips. For the most part, I feel really good! However, because I am at a high risk for infection, I won’t go home until after I deliver.
There wont be any nesting. No rebuilding of our first son’s crib or washing of his onesies in Dreft so I can huff baby scent. No unnecessary trips to Hobby Lobby to set up the nursery. I’m not reading big brother books to my son at night in the rocking chair to help him get ready for the baby. I’m missing my best friend’s baby shower in Texas. Which means it will also be even longer before I can hold my other bff/college roommate’s new baby that was born in December. We wont take family photos for mother’s day like I wanted. (I insist on family photos for mother’s day every year because getting Newetts to take any photo is an act of Congress). I can’t be where I feel like I’m needed. I’m not doing my jobs as a mother or wife. I’m not working. I’m sitting. Drinking water. Praying. Piddling on social media. Sitting. Counting the hours until my family visits. Crying. Drinking water. Sitting. Counting days until friends visit. Drinking water. Sitting.
It could be worse. This could have been over 17 days ago, but it isn’t. Baby is growing and making improvements every day showing no signs of trying to make his entrance. This is HARD, but I keep reminding myself that I have a village of amazing people that have shown me that long hospital stays are no big deal. Steroid shots can be cake. (I don’t have to give myself any of the shots… major kudos to my people who have to inject anything into themselves.) I know NICU warriors who spent months driving back and forth and now have happy, healthy children. If they can do it, so can we. My husband has been incredible and puts up with my Amazon PrimeNow orders, and goes out of his way to make me feel loved and to bring pieces of our normal life to me. Yes, I really want to go home. I really, REALLY want to go home, but someday these 84-90 days will feel like a blink, and I’ll be at home in our bed with all three of my boys and all of the negative won’t be what I remember.
We have things in two locations of storage, plus what we have in the house. Sometimes we know where things are, sometimes we don’t. While it was fun to go “shopping” for maternity clothes in storage because it didn’t cost me anything, I also spent 2 hours trying to find the power cord to my Cricut, which was packed in a different box. I definitely wish I had been more focused the week we packed.
Label, Label, Label. Nothing is worse than opening 10 boxes labeled Kitchen when you’re trying to find ONE stock pot. Label the room, then a summary of the contents. Kitchen- Pots and Pans or Master Bedroom – Office Supplies
You have to pack differently if you’re moving directly to your forever home versus storing temporarily. Also, watch that Marie Kondo documentary before you start packing. There is nothing worse than the feeling of, “Why did I move this crap?”
Driver’s licenses are not treated the same
California has different laws when it comes to getting a driver’s license. In order to get a REAL ID, yes that’s what it’s called, you will need your social security card, birth certificate or passport, and proof of residency.
In Texas, there are two forms of your birth certificate, a long form, and a short form. California won’t accept the short form. So I ordered a long form of my birth certificate and my passport at the same time. Strangely, the passport office accepted my short form birth certificate. My passport arrived first and I was able to get my driver’s license!
I missed two questions on the test: One about the speed limit you drive in the rain (drive the speed limit safest for the conditions) and the other about legal u-turns (You can only make a legal U-turn in a residential area). In California, you also have to pull into the bike lane in order to make a right turn, which is not something I’m used to. You can also have your license suspended for using your phone while driving! So if you come to visit, connect to Bluetooth!
If you’re a teacher, submit documentation early
The California Teacher Credentialing website clearly states it can take up to 50 business days to process a credential. In Texas, we call it our certification. My biggest hiccup was because once I moved, they required I re-do my fingerprinting in California, rather than accepting the fingerprint cards I had done in Houston. So far I’ve invested $130 into making sure the Department of Justice has my fingerprints.
Do not expect to have the same certificate/credential transfer. In Texas, I am certified for English Language Arts and Reading grades 7-12 with my ESL supplemental. In California, I hold a Single Subject English credential which allows me to teach Pre-K through 12th grade, but no EL accommodation. Insanity! But considering how much of the Texas ESL test was just Texas law, I’m not surprised it didn’t transfer. Also, I have no intentions of going elementary. That’s a different breed of educator.
Healthcare is subsidized, yay! It’s also a hot mess of bureaucracy
Cameron has healthcare through his new company, but it was way too pricy to add me and Colbito. Through Covered California, the government assesses your income and needs and subsidizes your healthcare costs accordingly.
If you are expecting, they automatically make you sign up for MediCal, the California healthcare for all. We applied really early in Texas, so we have BlueShield California for cheaper than my health care through the Texas Teacher Retirement System.
I spent 4 hours on the phone with 3 different insurance organizations on Monday. Our personal insurance agent said, “This is the idiotic bureaucracy you can expect if Healthcare for all really passes.” Not sure if I agree, but it was an intriguing perspective.
People might be genuinely more friendly here, but don’t expect any southern or Mexican food to be the same.
The food isn’t bad, but don’t go into a restaurant expecting it to taste like Tex-Mex or your neighborhood southern fried chicken and barbeque, goods are not as advertised.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t good! There are some awesome locals making really good food. We tried a Mexican restaurant called Descando with an hibachi style grill but it was repurposed as a taco bar. It was so cool to watch my chile relleno grilled with melted cheese before me, rather than fried or baked behind the scenes.
I’m most curious about Harper Barbeque, one because it shares a family name, and two because they are promising central Texas-style barbeque, and I happen to be an expert. They can be followed at @harperbarbeque on Instagram. Anything else I’ve tried wasn’t even close to home but the promise of a piece of the Hill Country might make me a happier Californian.
There isn’t a grocery store remotely similar to HEB. You have to make multiple stops for different items depending on price/availability/brand. The only thing familiar is that Ralph’s is basically Randall’s and they carry similar products to Kroger. I did research and they’re all owned by Safeway.
Five more tips for not murdering everyone around you during the process of moving… and finding a job.
Make a to-do list every day
Even if it is just to do laundry, wash your face, and go on a walk. Give yourself a daily purpose.
Have goals for the day, week, and month
Being able to see something outside the moment you’re in will make a huge difference in your perspective
Take time to center
Things can, and will, get overwhelming. Take moments to breathe and absorb the moment you’re in rather than be overwhelmed by the situation as a whole
Do things that bring you happiness
Have I been playing pop-punk covers in my car? Yes, I have. Fall Out Boy’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody is GOLD. Ok, maybe bronze, but I love it. Unapologetically choose to be happy and do happy things.
Contact your village often
Sorry not sorry to my Texas girls I’ve been texting all day every day. But you know what? I feel like your village keeps you centered.
Moving to a new city is scary enough, but moving with your child or children is even more terrifying. All of a sudden the decisions you make suddenly feel ten times more important and the fear of the consequences feel equally daunting. So one of our first chores in moving to California was finding childcare for our son. He’d spent about a month out of preschool jumping between different relatives’ homes for the holidays and NEEDED STRUCTURE. To anyone who compliments me on my son’s behavior, I credit it to routine, routine, routine. Threenagers (or really anyone, ever) need expectations. Our son, more than I think some other children, craves and enjoys structure. So for us, Montessori school was the way to go. Luckily, after some interesting school tours around the area, we found one that was walking distance around the corner and our son seems to be thriving.
Below are a couple of the basics of Montessori that are reasons I LOVE it. (For those of you who aren’t educators or well versed in the psychology of child development.)
It is based on the studies of Maria Montessori. Different schools with the name “Montessori” interpret her studies in different ways. ALWAYS do a tour and ask lots of questions. The name is not a brand, but rather an ideology.
My favorite elements are that work and learning are play, toys are ‘materials’, and the environment is shaped for the needs of the child. Wouldn’t it be nice if secondary education adopted some of those ideals?
Children are responsible for themselves. This includes responsibility for cleaning up messes, potty accidents, or behavior. YES, even for 2 and 3-year-olds. Self-reflection is reinforced very early and this is something I felt my child needed.
Children are often in cooperative learning environments not structured by age. This will look different based on how the school decides to structure it, but I feel that having exposure to learners outside of your age bracket is great for development. How many parents can say their second child learned to speak, walk, or read faster than their first? Why not allow young children that exposure during preschool outside the home!? In many cases, it will be a child in the next developmental stage up from the first assisting with a puzzle, painting, or outdoor activity. For example, a five-year-old showing a three-year-old how to use a material.
Social-emotional awareness is taught to both teacher and student. Remember watching Mr. Rogers growing up? How slow and methodical he spoke and how he asked us to breathe and think about how to control what we’re feeling? Montessori does that too.
My method for choosing childcare
Back in college I always, always shared relationship advice but never took my own. (Didn’t we all?) The one activity that actually worked for dating, or really any difficult decision making, and still works now that I am married with a little one is THE T CHART.
On a sheet of paper make a T chart. It is best to do this with your partner. On the left list all of the positive values you have for childcare. Clean facilities, kind staff, locking gate… etc. Then on the right make a list of the negative values that are “deal breakers” that would prevent you from choosing that location. Children in duct tape, lack of curriculum, run down facilities, etc… Try to come up with 10 values for each column. Mine is below as an example! Ok, I only did 9, but you get the idea.
While it is the age of technology, and you’ll probably start with Google like the rest of us millennials, don’t be afraid to just drive around and look at properties. Many older or faith-based child care centers may not be online. Shocker. I know. Make a list from the Google of places to call and schedule a tour.
ALWAYS TOUR A DAYCARE or PRESCHOOL. If they don’t allow a tour or observation, you probably don’t want to attend there. Once you’ve done the tour and met with the teachers, review your list and see how many values it filled, or left empty.
Again, also works great if you’re dating! Just ask my former roommates.
No daycare is the best fit for every child, because every one has different needs, values, and priorities. Maybe you want one that is faith based, or nature based, or does interpretive dance yoga, COOL! You do you!
So our step one with settling in California is complete! I hope you found our insight useful and you can use the chart soon.
I’ll be writing again soon to talk about my QUITE emotional adventure in transferring my teaching license (credential) and sharing some shrimp and crawfish boil advice.
I love Texas, which has made this move to California a little rough. In the first grade, we did an “I Love NY” shirt project. We had to decorate a t-shirt with something we really loved. Other children decorated shirts with their dogs, or their parents, or a favorite color. Mine said, “I LOVE TEXAS”. It had armadillos, cacti, cowboys boots, and hats.
Chili is Texan. In a previous draft of this post I started out discussing how my inflated Texan ego believed it was Texan, but I wasn’t sure, so I did some research. IT IS in fact Texan and specifically originates from the San Antonio region. There are different stories of its creation with connections to cattle ranching and Catholic missions. However, the most common story of the introduction of chili to the world was the San Antonio chili booth at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.
Chili and cornbread are my favorite comfort foods. We have three chili ideas for you, plus my jalapeño cornbread recipe. Chilis include my Deep Roots traditional Texan chili, Newett family chili, and white chicken chili, which is my favorite. Sorry, Texas.
Deep Roots Chili
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 Gun chili mix -This can actually be purchased on Amazon, or larger HEB stores if you’re in Texas. It includes masa, chili powder, cumin, salt, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and oregano.
2 lbs of ground beef or chili meat (My mom buys shoulder roast and then chops it into cubes)
2 cloves garlic
2 cans of seasoned diced tomatoes (Rotel, or plain if you prefer your chili less spicy)
1. In a large pot heat your oil and add the onion and garlic. Sauté until the onions and garlic are translucent.
2. Add the chili mix, leaving out the masa. The masa is a thickening agent, so you can leave it in if you like heartier chili, we prefer ours a little thinner so it gets soaked into the cornbread. It is entirely up to you! Stir the mix into the onion and garlic mix until absorbed.
3. Add your meat and brown.
4. Add the two cans of seasoned tomatoes, do not drain them! Then add one can of water. Yes, cans are units of measurement. Add one of them.
5. Let sit on the stove until your house smells good, stirring occasionally. While you’re waiting, make your cornbread.
Cheddar Jalapeno Cornbread
3 cups flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups milk
3 large lightly beaten eggs
2 sticks of butter, melted
1 cup of grated cheddar cheese (Half of a 16-ounce bag)
3 tablespoons of chopped jalapeños
1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Take a large (about 9-10″) cast iron skillet and coat with butter. Place the skillet in the oven while its preheating.
2. Fork together your dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a separate bowl combine the eggs, butter, and milk together. Then add the jalapeños and cheese and let sit for about 15 minutes.
3. Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix until all dry ingredients are evenly moist.
4. Pull your skillet out of the oven, pour your cornbread mixture into the hot skillet.
5. Cook cornbread 30-35 minutes. If you put a toothpick or butter knife into the cornbread, it should come out clean.
White Chicken Chili
3-4 tablespoons of olive oil
3 chicken breasts
2 chicken thighs
1/4 cup minced garlic
3 cartons of organic chicken stock
1 can diced green chilis
1 can organic sweet corn
1 can organic kidney beans
1 can organic butter beans
1 bag frozen hatch chilis
1. Pre heat your oven to 425. In a large stock pot heat oil and cook garlic about 5 minutes until browned. Add chicken stock, corn, beans, and bag of diced chilis. Add one jalapeño and a handful of chopped cilantro.
2. Season the chicken with salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Bake in the oven at 425 for 20-25 minutes. Set aside to cool.
3. Chop chicken into bite sized pieces and add to stock pot. Let the soup simmer and sample until you’re too hungry to keep waiting.
4. Serve and garnish with fresh tomato, cilantro, avocado, sliced jalapeño, sour cream, and cotija cheese.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 stick of butter
1/4 cup copped garlic
1 pound steak meat
1 pound ground beef
small handful of dried chilis
crushed red pepper
smoked ancho pepper seasoning
1 can kidney beans
1 can pinto beans
1 can northern beans
2- 32 ounce cans of whole tomatoes
1. Heat oil in a stockpot. Add onion and garlic and sauté until translucent. Set aside a tablespoon of onion for garnish.
2. Add spices to preferable taste, Cameron doesn’t measure anything but I suggest about a tablespoon of each.
3. Add ground beef to the stock pot and brown.
4. In a separate pan, add 1/4 stick of butter and coat pan. Brown steaks on both sides (about 6 minutes each) until cooked medium-rare.
5. Cut steak meat into cubes and add to stock pot.
6. Add beans and tomato and simmer until tomatoes begin to fall apart.
7. Garnish with sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, and onions.
Gumbo is about as American as America gets. Gumbo does not have one recipe. Gumbo in its backbone has a few of the same ingredients, but very few. A protein: chicken, crab, sausage, shrimp, duck, crawfish, oysters, etc. Vegetables: celery, onion, and bell peppers. The spices aren’t consistent, the proteins aren’t consistent, heck, even the use of okra isn’t.
I love okra. When I was very young, four or five, we lived in Winters, Texas. It is so flat it feels like you can see for miles and there my mother had a garden. It was filled with okra, squash, jalapeños and Lincoln roses. I recall taking the tiny spuds of fluffy okra and gently rubbing them between my fingers with warnings whispered in the background not to pick them. I believe it is absolutely necessary to good gumbo.
I found in my research that okra is a hot button topic. Most of my fellow Texans I polled agreed it was best deep fried. Texas is on a line of being south and southwest, hence the name of the enormous music/tech/art fiasco that happens during spring break every year, so the use of okra in gumbo is up for debate around here. I was raised understanding that you used it in conjunction with your roux as a thickener.
Cameron however, does NOT share my affinity for okra. One morning during one of our early dates as a couple, we ordered brunch bloody marys. As garnish, the bartender used celery of course, but also had an impressive skewer of olives, pickles, pepperoncini, and spicy pickled okra. Cameron, being from the West Coast, had never seen pickled okra, and didn’t know how to eat it. I explained that you just bite it, but don’t eat the stem. He somehow couldn’t bite through the okra, but instead skinned all of the fuzzy hairs off. I still wish I had recorded this hilarious event. However, I haven’t been able to get him to try another since.
Until (drum roll please)
Duck and Oyster Gumbo
1 whole duck (You can buy them frozen, they come with an orange glaze packet typically, just throw it away)
2 smoked turkey wings (You can find these in the supermarket with the odds and ends of the meat department.
1 cup rendered duck fat (If your duck doesn’t render enough fat, sub vegetable oil to make your roux)
Smoked pork feet
2 cups chopped celery
about 6 cloves chopped garlic (or use pre-chopped and add 1 teaspoon at a time)
1 diced onion
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
2 cups chopped okra
1 bag (3 cups/24 ounces ish) frozen crawfish (If it is crawfish season you could use fresh. These are next to the seafood counter
2 lbs of shrimp (Cameron suggests U-12)
1 cup ISH all-purpose flour
3-4 links andouille sausage
2-4 cups white wine -Use a chardonnay you don’t mind drinking with while you’re waiting for things to cook. I was also taught to never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink
1 pint shucked oysters
If you have the time, cook your duck, remove the meat, then use the carcass for your stock.
Preheat your oven to 400 F
Remove the giblets poke holes and score the top layer of the skin not the meat so the fat can release into the pan. Place duck in a roasting pan elevated from sitting it its fat and cover with salt, pepper, and Herbs de Provence. Roast the duck approximately 2 hours until the internal temperature reaches 165 F.
While the duck is roasting, prepare a stock pot of smoked turkey wings, smoked pork, the ends of celery, onion, garlic, and carrots.
Chop vegetables and thaw any frozen shrimp and crawfish.
When duck is finished, pour fat rendered into a heat resistant container and set aside. You wont be able to separate the fat from the juices, chill all of the liquid together
Start your roux. This is an ART FORM. Cookbooks will very simply say “Brown flour in animal fat or lard”. It is not that simple. Go watch someone’s great-grandma do it. Place 1 cup of reserved duck fat (or vegetable oil) into a dutch oven and let it get shimmering hot. Adding 1 tablespoon at a time, brown the flour into your OIL This takes focus and a second sense of timing. Turn the heat down if you get nervous. You will need to use your sense of sight, smell, and feel to know when your roux is ready. It should smell almost like roasting peanuts, with an earthy smell. It should have a dark reddish brown, but not burned, color. When I asked Cameron how it would describe it, he replied, “Warm Nuts.”
Let the duck cool and shred the meat for gumbo. Some like to carve and cube the meat, we prefer our gumbo more primal in texture.
Separate the solids from the stock with a strainer. Fill your stockpot half full with stock. If you have leftover, save it.
On the highest heat you can muster, toss the shredded duck, a fathand’s pinch of Cajun seasoning, and a gulp of wine. If you’re a risk taker, add some crystal hot sauce. When the liquid is gone, add to the pot.
Place back half the pot full of stock, adding duck meat, cajun seasoning, and white wine.
In a sauté pan toss together sausage, 1 tsp cajun seasoning, and 1/4 cup white wine. Simmer together until wine is reduced and sausage is cooked through. Add to stockpot.
Throw in shrimp, cajun seasoning, garlic, and 1/2 stick of butter to the sauté pan. Simmer together until shrimp are pink. Add to stock pot. Next in the sauté pan, throw in okra with cajun seasoning and the other 1/4 cup white wine. Sauté okra until it just starts to get slimy. Add to stock pot.
Cook the crawfish the same as above. Add cooked crawfish and stir until well blended. Add contents of pan to stock pot.
Take your roux and add one heaping spoonful at a time and blend into the contents of your stock pot. Add a bit, drink some wine, re-visit. You want always add more roux later, but you can’t un roux the pot. Allow to simmer long and slow until your house smells amazing. Add the oysters 20 minutes before serving.
This dish has lots of components, phases, ingredients. Mise en place is critical to this working successfully. You need to have a plan. You need to be thinking 2-3 steps ahead or you will 1) screw it up 2) make a mess in your kitchen 3) not have fun.
There is no one way to make gumbo. Our gumbo is a representation of our, The Newett Home’s, tastes and culture. I know a LOT of duck hunters who could easily use this recipe to make use of the duck they’ve shot. The oysters are reflective of our proximity to the gulf. You don’t want to eat Texas gulf oysters raw, you fry them or you put them in gumbo. If you’re creole, you’re more likely to use butter in your roux. If you’re cajun, you use lard or animal fat. Move father east, you may be serving your gumbo on grits or even potato salad rather than rice. The use of okra as a thickener comes from western African cooking, so if your heritage reflects that a little brighter, you might find your grandmother putting eggplant in your gumbo. As you move west, your gumbo gets spicier depending on the influences from Cajun or Mexican culture.
My frustration with calling any country where Americans have immigrated from a “sh*thole” is that we wouldn’t have some of our most beautiful, flavorful staples of American culture if it hadn’t have been for those immigrants. The gulf is one of the greatest melting pots of culture because it attracts so many people from different parts of the world. We have almost every continent represented in the school where I served outside of Houston, Texas. There is a restaurant around the corner from my school where I can order my gumbo on pho noodles. What matters, however you throw together your gumbo, it that should reflect you