Thursday, September 26, 2013

NO Sugar Homemade Ketchup

Ketchup is a staple in our house. Frankie puts 'ketchup on his ketchup'... I could list the items but really any way to get him to try something or even eat at times is with a pile of the yummy stuff. When I embarked on the challenge of eliminating processed sugar from our diets, one of the biggest culprits I found was ketchup!! So after many attempts and many requests for the recipe, I have finally nailed it (according to Frankie).My only suggestion would be to start with 2 Tbsp of honey and add to taste; we like it on the sweet side so we use a little more. I use a Vitamix to blend together, but you could easily use a food processor or even a regular blender should work. This makes a decent amount and fills one of these plus an extra batch to freeze.

NO Sugar Ketchup

2 cans tomato paste (organic preferably with no added ingredients - BPA free)
2 cups water
1/3 cup vinegar
3 Tbsp sweetener (I do a combo of honey, pure maple syrup, and molasses to taste)
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp all spice
1/4 tsp ground mustard
1/4 tsp ginger
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of sea salt and pepper

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mama said there'd be days like this...

I didn't cry when the twins walked for the first time, or spoke their first words, or even on the first day of school. I am happy, excited even and right there cheering them on feeling so blessed to be their mama. I celebrate their victories one milestone at a time. I am eager for what's next and when they have grown and learned a new skill I am so incredibly proud. 

Today though, as I sit here and write this; my heart is breaking. We've been having issues with our listening skills around here. Seperately the twins are dreams. They do as they're told, are so sweet and helpful; wonderful, wonderful children. Even together there are long spans of time that are uniquely delightful and so much fun. But then when it's not, it's really not. The competition, the fighting, and the constant negotiations would give the best trial lawyers out there a run for their money. Some days it seems impossible to solve their disputes and not cause too much damage to their young souls. So I try taking myself out of the equation. After all, they are 4 and perfectly smart enough to know right from wrong, notwithstanding they also know how to tug on mamas heart strings. I try to sit out and let them resolve their own arguments, but they don't. It becomes a tattle tail tornado that has no truth or fact and just lies lies lies spewing from those sweet innocent faces. How do you navigate thru these moments? I can't watch them every second and if I don't see what happens then who do you believe hit who first, or who stole a toy, or who has more milk, or who can grab mamas attention the most and hold onto it by any means necessary? Do you punish them both then? At what point do you realize things are not working and make a big parenting move? 

As we teach the twins a hard lesson on consequences and responsibility for their behavior; I realize that of all the firsts this is the one that will make me cry.  With young twins it's hard to follow thru for the sheer fact that you can't leave one home alone! So then they both have to miss out, which is so not fair. So we tend to create a situation where they can make it better thru a time out, good behavior, or an apology; but lately it just seems that they know that that's the only consequence, and big deal. There's no real threat of them missing out so they act like (and kinda are) the boss. Well that's all about to change... I hope.

It's our natural instinct to protect our children, to make everything ok again; not be the ones causing them to hurt. I feel the ache in my heart and the anxiousness for what the day will bring. Deep down I was praying this moment would be unnecessary, but I can't make any more excuses. I know how devastated they both will be, one because they will miss out and the other because it will be equally traumatic to leave their buddy at home. At the end of the day they are best friends and seeing each other upset instantly will bring the other to tears. Their hearts are big and they LOVE each other. Overshadowed in a second by the realization that they now have the opportunity to taunt and tease the other about the fun they will have. You may say all young kids/siblings have problems listening, fighting, competing; and you're right; but there's something about 2 at the same age, 2 at the same mental and emotional state that makes this a fine line to toe. When you have to make a decision in a second on who to believe, bedtime shenanigans while each has a hundred things to do or say to delay the process, and the whining/crying demanding crazyness fighting for your attention from morning til night... This is not the dynamic I want in my home, not the relationships we want to nurture and grow as parents. So united we stand, hoping our hearts can make it thru a little tough love in order to reset acceptable behavior and expected consequences... Ha... Can we go back to 2 babies please?? Life was so much less complicated when it was just the demands of 2 newborns and not life molding decisions.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

9/11 Memorial

I am lucky. On so many levels. I will list them all in due time, but today I will focus on something that I don't talk about often. I don't talk about it because I never felt I had anything to add to the conversation that wasn't already better said or better left unsaid. I'm still not sure I do, but this is my story. 

My (incredible) husband and in laws hung with our kids, and I was able to visit my beloved city recently; alone to just be Jennifer for an entire weekend. I hadn't been to ground zero for a very long time and felt that I needed to pay my respects to the victims, New York, and my life within it all.

I lived in New York at the time of the attacks, just a year out of college and on the path to fulfilling my dreams of a professional dance career. I am lucky. I survived. I am not a loved one of a victim, and I didn't lose anyone I loved that day. I was at a safe distance away. I spoke to my mom that morning after the first plane hit so she knew I was safe. She was able to tell family and friends I was ok. I am lucky. I never felt that I had any right to feel anything about it because so many more suffered far worse than I. 

Around this time every year I get sad, really sad. It's not even a conscious choice and most times I don't realize why I am feeling down until the day is upon me. You just push it down and keep living, until it boils to the surface. I remember a Halloween party I attended in my hometown in 2004. There was a costume party and the winner was dressed up as Bin Laden. I was furious and went ballistic. I couldn't believe people were glamorizing evil in such a flippant way. I was sobbing uncontrollably and ended up at a friends place. I could tell they were at a loss of how to console me, but that just made me cry harder. We were in such different spaces, they could never truly understand. I felt so alone with the pain. So you push it down, ignore it, keep moving forward. Until it comes crashing in like waves and I wait for it to dissipate with the tide again.

It took 10 years for it to really catch up to me and on that anniversary I was out of country, away from my family and I was overcome with sadness and pain that I could hardly contain. I was staying with friends in London and hearing their stories helped me open up about mine. I saw the effects of someone else's pain who was nowhere near New York at the time. It is rare for me relate to someone about it who wasn't there, and for the first time in years I chose to share my story with them; two of only a handful of people I had ever talked about it with. All the emotions became very overwhelming and combined with missing my family it shook me pretty hard.  The volcano was gearing up to blow and that day in London, on the 10 year anniversary, was that moment.

I remember every detail, every decision starting with the night before. It starts playing in my mind here like flashes. How I ended up back at a diner on the upper east side instead of going to an insider favorite near the towers; in the wee hours of the morning. On late nights I most often stayed with my two best friends living in midtown, but I chose to head home to Astoria that morning. My mom waking me a short while later praying I was home safe in my bed, the last phone call for hours that got thru to me. Crawling up my wrought iron headboard hovering in sheer terror as the first tower collapsed, and then the second. I couldn't tell you how long before I came down. Waiting to hear if some of my closest friends down in the area were all safe. The cops thinking I was nuts for going back into the city that night. But I was desperate for familiar faces and human contact. Riding the subway when they finally lifted the lock down and staring at my fellow passengers, everyone silent. That moment frozen as we went below the water to emerge in the city. Walking out to desolate streets. Meeting my friends, all of us like zombies unable to express what we were feeling. Not leaving each others sides for days.  Even writing this I can feel it in my heart as if it is still happening. A fear I hadn't known until that moment, but will forever be within a thoughts reach. I remember the months of walking by the armory with a wall of missing people flyers, thousands. The candlelight vigil's happening all around the city of people gathering and coming together not to figure out what the hell just happened but for compassion and camaraderie. Searching the newspapers for familiar faces, firemen and financial people who were my regulars for years at the bar I worked at. Slowly surfacing, needing to share their story. I remember all of them, their stories on a loop playing back like an old film movie. The anxiety every time a fighter plane flew overhead, or the heavy guns and military presence everywhere you turned, or watching low flying planes. Panicked they might be headed into anything nearby. I remember sitting on the uptown bus imagining the buildings falling on top of me, what it would feel like, how/if I would survive.

In 2003 I was on tour in China and I remember being on stage performing and I couldn't get it together. I felt awkward and I was completely disconnected from it, as if in a foreign body. Auditions started to feel more like a chore and I stopped going to class. I couldn't see the point and it all seemed really silly to me. Dance seemed frivolous and completely indulgent rather than art.  All I really know is that I felt differently before and after the attacks; like I lost a part of me. I tried hard to get it back, to not "let them win" but I just didn't have the same passion anymore. Not that I realized any of this at the time. I was bitter and resentful, and made some choices that I'm not entirely proud of.

 Travelling to Africa, changed my path again. For the first time since the attacks, I had left New York for an extended period of time and was able to let go of the fight I didn't realize I was fighting. I felt at peace there and I knew that if I didn't make a change I would blink my eyes and wake up 10 years later so far from where I wanted to be. Walking away meant believing in today and having faith that it would lead me in the right direction.

My parents gave me the strength and support to walk away and change course. They always told me it was my choice and leaving wasn't a failure. I never questioned their love or what they would say. I only knew they would love me and support my decision every way they could. I am sad they were never in a Broadway theater to see me perform, or that I never got to fly them to Paris to see my opening night; but it had run its course and the time for change was upon me.  I'm sure they had a million questions, but respected me enough not to ask. And at the time I couldn't have given any answers.

I had gotten quite good at suppressing it, but thoughts of that time in my life had been haunting me alot that year. Bin Laden was found and killed, I had recently moved away from family and friends again; and I couldn't stop examining the decisions that brought me to where I was today. After some soul searching and help I realized for the first time that maybe I had survivor's guilt or PTSD or maybe even both. At first I couldn't accept that, still struggling with it, but with time I am learning to let go of the guilt and allow myself to open up about it. It took 10 years to begin the process of understanding the effects of such a tragedy on my life and I am still coming to peace with it all.

Going to the memorial was a moment I needed to take. I went with a friend, a great friend; one of the only people I know that understands what can't be put into words.


We were put off by the tourist feel of entering the memorial. Felt as if we were in line to visit numerous other attractions in the city. There were more than a few people taking selfies at the fountains that made me want to rip their camera's out of their hands and throw them, but gazing past that it was remarkably peaceful and beautiful.

A pear tree that made it thru the attacks that day, nursed back to health and then survived hurricane sandy. Fittingly named The Survivor's Tree.

Quiet waters fueling a powerful waterfall. The bottomless hole in the center matching so many of my feelings about that time.

The white roses placed on the victims names on their birthdays. Such a simple gesture but one that reminds me I am not alone in my thoughts.

The coldness of the stone the names of souls lost are etched in.

Many there to reflect, gather, remember, and keep the conversations going; the ripple effects still visible. Finding peace through this tragedy seems impossible at times. Among many things, I used to believe that if you work hard you can make anything happen. It's just not true. I lost my innocence. The reality of evil bringing about understanding in a brutal way. I want my kids to plan and dream and fight for what makes them happy, but to know full-heartedly going in that it is not a guarantee. It can be derailed in an instant. It's how you channel those moments that will define your life and hopefully guide you back to happiness. 

I still feel the pain as real as ever, but I am finding peace. With that comes the ability to live in the moment and enjoy life in spite of the sadness. This year I'm starting a new tradition of lighting a candle in the morning and letting it burn til end of day. The peace and calm of the flame to quiet my mind and free myself to be happy. 

Being happy is ok, more than ok it's what we all should strive for. I look at my kids and I try to freeze the moments in my mind; with the hope they will be the ones that I recall in an instant that make my heart hurt with love. The feel of their cuddles, watching them learn and the pure joy in their souls, this incredible family I have. These moments are happening each day and I get it. I am a lucky girl. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Walk Through the City - Pt 2

On day 2 we headed back into the city around lunchtime to meet up with another one of my favorite ladies. She traveled down from Mount Kisco by train to frolic in the city and we rendezvoused at the clock in Grand Central. During my years in NYC passing by this magnificent space was common practice, but it still took my breath away every time. Still does.

We headed uptown on foot, chatting and enjoying the gorgeous weather.
This is one of the first spots I ever visited and I think there's a picture of my dad and I below it somewhere. My parents and I had driven out on my spring break to visit Marymount Manhattan College and explore the city. I loved it immediately, loved the school and the seriousness of the program. I remember thinking if I can get in here, it's life changing. It was intimidating and being pre-Giuliani, very dirty. I loved it all, but no way did I think I would go there. I decided to audition anyways, mainly to see if I was good enough. Although the magnetic pull of the city never really left my thoughts after that trip. And after a 2nd visit I was hooked. I was accepted into the BFA Dance program with a Presidential Scholarship that made it possible for me to chase after my dreams.

The Plaza Hotel is magical. Very special memories flood in walking by this stunning building. Meeting my roommates parents for the first time at dinner here dressed in, wait for it, a leapord minidress. Yea, I know, but to my defense it was New York in the 90's and after a year and a half of 8-10 hour days in the studio and a lifetime of dancing I was in pretty good shape and able to pull it off. I hope... They embraced me anyway and it still makes me smile. I also celebrated my 21st birthday here and had my first legal cocktail in the swanky Oak Room.

The entrance to the children's zoo in Central Park, a must see next time we visit as a family.

I love Central Park and on a Jennifer weekend it was top of the list. I love the architecture and detail surrounding every bridge and entrance way throughout the park.

The fountain in the background is where the kid in the movie ransom was taken. I can't help but think of it every time I'm here. It pops in my head immediately. Beyond that its a great place to relax and there are always people around soaking in the rays and peace.

The border that brings you down a long path and into Sheep's Meadow. This is by far one of my all time favorite spots in the park. 

On a sunny day it is the place to soak in the rays, touch grass, socialize and just enjoy the beauty of the skyline in the distance surrounding the park. We met another one of my favorite people here along with his beautiful wife, baby girl, and MIL. It was so sweet to share in a Saturday in the park with their family.

The other reason I love it here. The corona guys.

Here's a moment I would like to put in my pocket and pull out on the really hard days.

On our way out we added one more surprise guest!! She saw on FB that I was in town and actually sought me out. It was pretty humbling to have her and her husband just show up like that. Here are my lovely ladies exiting the park, musicians creating a soundtrack of the perfect day in New York.

The West Side is gorgeous. I still wished I had had the opportunity to live on this side of the city. If you don't believe me take a look at a couple shots captured on our walk to The Boat Basin

There are those special people that no matter the time or distance between, when you see each other it's as if nothing has changed. You just pick right up with a great dynamic, catching up hearing about their lives, loves, and pursuits. This city is a feeding ground for inspiration. The energy and drive that moves the people in it is pretty amazing. The time always goes too fast. The day flew, but by the next morning I was anxious to get home to my family. I'm not sure if it's being older, or a parent, or what, but I appreciate the moments so much more now. I feel them and I hold on to them close to my heart. And this day, in this city, with these beautiful friends is one I will treasure for a long time to come. 

Those I didn't catch this trip, I say till next time! And your always welcome in Cleveland :)