Category Archives: Family

Something New and Good: Hello 30’s

So I’ve said my good-byes to my 20’s. Tomorrow I turn 30.

I will begin this decade as a mother and wife. As a homeowner. With a stable job, and a side gig I really love. I have two dogs.

In one sense, none of that “external stuff” changes you or grows you up. You can still be a raving lunatic with all those boxes checked. Because who you are determines what kind of mother, wife, employee, neighbor you will be. The uptight kind? The scatter-brained kind? The generous kind? The faithful kind? That has a lot less to do with the hats you are wearing than the head underneath them.

However, in another sense. I do think that those things changed me. Getting married, strange as it sounds, made me more independent. Not independent of Lewis, but independent of all the people I’d looked to for approval. Someone trusts me with his life and his heart, and this has given me more confidence and determination than anything else I’ve ever done. Someone loves me for who I am, and the condemning world can kiss my well-loved ass.

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Pregnant Lady or Hobbit? [the ring of power]

I need to apologize to my mother. For the last 30 years I have been so assured of my own immortality that I’ve probably terrified her within an inch of her own. Over Skype, “Surprise, Mom! I’m in the middle east! Hear that? It’s the call to prayer!” Late one night while home from college, “I really want to move to Uganda.” As a 16-year-old backing down the driveway with a breakfast taco in one hand and less than all my attention on the rearview mirror. As a 9 year old, squeezing myself into the washing machine.

Look, Ma! No safety code!

Look, Ma! No safety code!

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Questions you should NEVER ask

What is it about reproduction that turns perfectly lovely and polite people into giant oafish wrecking balls. I’ve been genuinely shocked by how often certain things are said and done. Things I’d heard about and thought, “Surly no one really says that sort of thing!” They do.

And it’s funny, because no one feels like sex, the starting point of babies, is fair game for random questions at church, in line at the supermarket, or in the aisles of retail stores. No one asks you about your bowel movements or the color of your mucus in these situations. No one asks your IQ, weight, income, political affiliation. So many things we don’t talk about outside of an entirely appropriate context. But reproduction is somehow public domain.

So…some thoughts on discussing all things child related. Hopefully to contribute to a more decent society.

Things to Keep in Mind on the Topic of Reproduction/Child-Rearing Continue reading

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Pregnant Lady or Hobbit? [The Shire]

I’ve never been accused of being a homebody. Travel and adventure are probably my favorite hobbies. Jumping off of things, eating weird things, finding new modes of transportation. I love it.

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And I still do, in theory. But as my belly grows, I’m finding this weird compulsion to stay in my house where everything is pasteurized and level. My fondness is growing for quiet evenings on the couch, familiar restaurants, and low-stress activities like raking leaves, watching documentaries on Netflix, and eating yogurt.

What’s going on?

They tell me it’s hormones, that I am turning into the Mama Bear, protecting my little cub from bacteria and collision and neurosis. I have excesses of dopamine pumping, so I’m more prone to sit around more and thing about how happy I am. Someone asked Lewis if he enjoyed my  being pregnant, and he commented on how much more docile and cuddly I am.

It’s true. I just want to snuggle. All. the. time.

But there’s something else as well, and it’s the crazy fear mongering of our culture when it comes to children. Now that I have one growing in me, I have been coaxed into the deep end of the “Everything-is-bad-for-your-child” pool. I’m not sure what came first, nervous mommies or excesses of safety information/products/forums. It’s probably one of those chicken and the egg things.

If you search for ANYTHING followed by “while pregnant” you will find some forum devoted to people who worry about it. You can probably also find a product being sold to protect your little one against whatever it is.

There are a few things going on here. 1) Pregnancy is weird and full of symptoms that are oddly similar to terminal illnesses, 2) suddenly being a “good parent” is suddenly just as important as being “good in bed” used to be, as far as identity is concerned, and 3) the market is all over this, with a hormone-addled, socially beleaguered, physically uncomfortable consumer base.

So suddenly the fresh squeezed orange juice looks like a bottle of neurotoxins. Riding a bike is an extreme sport and requires a spotter. I am running out of yoga positions that are “safe.” (Meanwhile running out of sleeping positions that are comfortable.) And I feel terrible when other pregnant women see me eat deli meat…which I got permission from the midwife to consume, by the way.

This would not be happening these days.

This would not be happening these days.

And there are so many websites and apps to help you make sure that everything is on track with your pregnancy. They even found a way to turn my previously enjoyable evenings watching the baby move like a little alien under my skin into an anxious nightly test, making sure she gets in at least 10 kicks over a two hour tracking period. There’s an app to track it. That is two hours, every night of wondering which movements counted as “kicks” and worrying that she won’t get 5 more movements in before the buzzer in 20 minutes. (For the record, I don’t need to use the kick tracker, because from the hours of 7pm to 11pm every night, the kid never stops moving. Never. Her kick count is somewhere in the millions. However, if I took the reading between 11am-3pm, I’d be at the doctor’s office all the time. She refuses to be disturbed during that time.)

Of course everything comes with the caveat to “talk to your doctor” and that “every pregnancy is different.” And so so many people tell you just not to worry about it, to relax, to follow your instincts. As though that’s going to keep the Mama Bear at bay when she’s convinced that she just accidentally consumed 3 grams  over the recommended weekly allowance of tuna. Mercury poisoning for sure.

Because for every person who tells you that “women in Japan eat sushi the whole time they are pregnant,” or that they drank raw milk during all 8 of their pregnancies or whatever…there’s someone else to tell you how nitrates are going to make your kid have low SAT scores, and you feel like an ass if you say, “Eh, I don’t really listen to that stuff.”

Again…none of this is “me.” That’s what’s so strange and new. I’m a homebody, bacteriaphobe, who will order any $30 bottle of snakeoil if it promises to keep my circulation healthy? When did that happen?

Further evidence that I am, in fact, becoming a hobbit. A safety-loving, creature of comfort who keeps an orderly and predictable day full of pleasantries and low risk activities.

But…like Frodo and Bilbo, I’m also going to have to go on an adventure, because kids are certainly germy, fragile, messy creatures. And if I’m going to go on this adventure with joy and bravery I’m going to have to do as the hobbits do. Trust my instincts and resist any temptation to Google my symptoms.

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Florence’s So- Called Life, Season 1 ep 8

Florence visits the ranch and is aghast at how uncool Wiley is in the car.

(read in the voice of Florence, which sounds uncannily like a 14-year-old Claire Danes)

I love my life in the city…it’s, like, full of energy and stimulation. The dogs on my block…they bark all. the. time. Bekah gets really really upset when we try to join in. I just wish she would, you know, relax?

It’s really stealing my joy.


I’ve been in trouble a lot lately. It just seems like everything I do (eat) upsets Bekah and Lewis. I just can’t get it right. Apparently I can chew on sticks and toys, but not painted wood or vines or little trees? Those things are just asking to be eaten. They’ve only been there a couple of months and they are totally flimsy.

It’s so much easier when we go to the ranch. There are like no rules out there. I feel like I can just…breathe?

Every trip to the ranch starts with a car ride, which is great, because it’s the only time when Bekah and Lewis say that I am better at something than Wiley. I mean, obviously I’m faster and prettier. But they always say that Wiley is the good dog…except in the car. I am really good at riding in the car. I even jumped in by myself this time. Once. The other time Lewis had to lift me in like usual.

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Bekah can’t lift me in anymore because she’s getting…fat? Round? I don’t know what’s wrong with her. Wiley says she’s having puppies, but I don’t see any evidence of this.

Anyway, Wiley is a basket case in the car. He get’s waaaay too excited. It’s so…like….I’m embarrassed for him. He needs to get that under control. Delilah (the cool dog next door) can totally see him muttering and drooling all over the place like a moron.  That’s why I play it cool and just lay down. I’ve been riding in the car my whole life. I’m just not impressed.

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At the ranch, we get to run around ALL DAY. It’s all we have to do. And there are treats. And the Ranch Labs are there to admire how much fun we are. Cody gets involved sometimes, but Bella just shakes her head and makes disapproving looks. She’s very “classy.”

I love the ranch so much.

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This time, it was Christmas, and so we got PRESENTS! Before we left I got some Chum Treats from my friends the Walkers. They taste so good. Made with real salmon. And Bekah has to hold her nose every time she tries to feed them too us, which just makes me even more excited about them. She’s not a “high taste” person like me.

But then, when we got to the ranch, as though that wasn’t enough, Judith gave us ribs. Again, Bekah was not so excited about the look and smell of them, but she’s such a stick in the mud about these things. I loved my rib. I went and found a special place to enjoy it all day.

Special treats are another thing that makes Wiley act weird. He gets nervous and looks at me like I’m going to, like, attack him and take his special treat. I HAVE MY OWN! Obviously! I don’t need yours. Until I finish with mine. If you haven’t eaten or buried it by then, well, it’s your fault for being slow, and I’m going to come and steal it. That seems…fair, right? It seems fair.

In the end, we loaded back in the car. Wiley was still a mess. Sigh.

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We made it home, and I have never been so tired in my whole life. I forgot to beg for food, that’s how tired I was…and we went to sleep with happy dreams of Christmas with our favorite (though still a little overzealous about furniture and plants) people nearby.

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Florence’s So-Called Life Season 1, Ep 7

In which Florence explains her favorite things and goes on an adventure.

(read in the voice of Florence, which sounds uncannily like a 14-year-old Claire Danes)

Okay, I’m like waaay to old to believe in Santa. I gave that up when I was, what, 10 weeks old? Something like that. I had my first birthday last week though, and I laughed at the memory of myself last year, totally believing in Santa. I was so…young. Sigh.

But I still love Christmas. And there’s this song, it’s not really a Christmas song (according to Lewis and Bekah), but people still play it at Christmas time, so doesn’t that like, make it a Christmas song? I don’t know. Anyway, it’s about some woman singing about her “Favorite Things.” Wiley says that we should boycott it because the woman talks about dogs biting, and she should be singing about how petting dogs is one of her favorite things.

I mean, I agree…but still…I like the song.

So in honor of Christmas, I decided to think about my favorite things. Yeah, so there are two things I love in this world: people hands and food.

Note: corn tortillas are not food…I hate corn tortillas. Wiley likes them, and he always swipes mine because I don’t eat it fast enough. But that is neither here nor there.

Wiley waiting to snatch my corn tortilla, which I am sniffing, because really, that does not smell like food.

Wiley waiting to snatch my corn tortilla, which I am sniffing, because really, that does not smell like food.

People hands. The pet me, they taste salty when I lick them, and they deliver food (and then they taste like food when I lick them).

Food….I. LOVE. FOOD. (except corn tortillas)

I love peanut butter. So much.

I love peanut butter. So much. And that hand holding the peanut butter jar…it will now taste like peanut butter. I will lick it when she tries to pet me.

A reminder to everyone just how much I have always loved food.

A reminder to everyone just how much I have always loved food.

And you know where those two things come together? Napkins. People hands and food, in one convenient, shreadable, delicious rectangle of grease, sauce, and seasoning.

Plastic spoons. Next best thing.

Plastic spoons: Next best thing to napkins.

So I’ve been really bummed at Bekah and Lewis’s newfound vigilance about leaving paper towels, tissues, and napkins lying around. All I want for Christmas is a well-used napkin, preferably one that was used at a bbq.

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Why no paper goods???

So the other day, Bekah put the leash on me. I love the leash. It’s the first step in all our best adventures. And she DIDN’T put Wiley’s on. So I knew it was going to be a special walk and NOT a trip to the vet (which is always more fun on the way and not as fun in reality). I get to go on special walks. I don’t want to, like, rub it in or anything. I mean, I don’t want to make Wiley sad…but…I really love special walks. Bekah and Lewis both pet me the whole time. Even though they are sort of grouchy about it and they make me sit more than we actually walk…still…I just love being special.

I got really excited while Bekah was putting on her shoes. Why didn’t she do that before she put my leash on? She knows I can’t be still once the leash is on.


So we headed off toward the river. That’s what we do on our special walks. We go to the river and I get to look at things (that are NOT for chasing), and see people (who are NOT for greeting), and smell plants (that are NOT for eating or pooping on).


But this time the air was different. There were shiny things and unfamiliar green, needly, plants everywhere. These are not native to my back yard. And Bekah and Lewis have none of this twinkly, greeny Christmas stuff in the house. Bekah keeps talking about it, but it never appears.

Anyway…so we’re walking…and then, at the top of the river, where we usually turn around…we just didn’t. We walked up into the tall buildings and suddenly we were surrounded by…PEOPLE HANDS and FOOD!

Everywhere. It was, like, my Christmas Wonderland. The Pearl Farmer’s Market. Nothing but people hands and food.

Then Bekah and Lewis got two Chinese Chili Dogs. If you imagine all that sounds delicious to a dog, that’s what it is. That’s why it’s called a dog. I wanted it so bad. I just…couldn’t…contain…myself. So Lewis had to tie me to his chair. I still did my best to express my desire for food and dislike of being excluded…I mean…isn’t this special walk for…me?


Oh my gosh. Lewis’s hands are going to taste SO GOOD after this.

I thought Bekah was going to give me some of her Chinese Chili Dog…but then I realized that she’d just poured some water in the tray to “quench my thirst.” I DON’T WANT WATER! I thought. So I tipped it over and tried to lick the remnants of sweet pulled pork and Chinese spices off of the dish. Not the same.

Then we left. And there was no special food for me! My Christmas Wonderland was not so magical…until I saw it. Fluttering against a landscape rock…a white morsel in the wind…a napkin.

It was the best napkin in the world. Eventually Lewis pried it out of my mouth, but not before I got a Christmas size helping of my two favorite tastes: people hands and food.

Back to the boring old water bowl, and dreaming of the wonderful farmer's market napkin.

Back to the boring old water bowl, and dreaming of the wonderful farmer’s market napkin.

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The grapefruit harvest that ended with me cutting down a tree

Grapefruit harvest has become one of my favorite things about living in the Little House on the Eastside. We have many fruit trees, but the only one, thus far to produce to it’s full potential in both taste and quantity is the faithful grapefruit tree.

The meyer lemon tree is a phoenix, which is finally producing after we thought it died in 2011. Verdict is still out on the quality. The pear tree produces plenty of fruit, edible only by Florence, who also eats plastic, wood, and probably metal. The pomegranate bush produced exactly three of the saddest fruits I have ever seen. Our fig tree is really only a fig tree in theory. The loquat tree produces plenty, but who needs that many loquats? The tangerine tree, usually pretty reliable, if extremely tart, is taking the year off, and our pecan trees barely survived the drought, so we’re not asking much.

Last year, we harvested in early December  in running shorts, sweaty and itchy as we climbed ladders and picked through the highest branches.

Harvest 2012. Note the shrubby anacua in the lower left.

Harvest 2012. Note the shrubby anacua in the lower left.

This year, the harvest came early, as I looked at the forecast and saw a freeze approaching. So I bundled up and headed to the orchard to see what I could salvage. It was 2 hours before we needed to leave for church, which is when all worthwhile projects are hatched.

Here’s how it all went.

2:50 pm: Upon inspection, Bekah determines that the meyer lemons were in fact, not ripe. Ripe meyer lemons are bright orange, and these are still a little yellow. However, while examining the lemons she did find this amazing creature.

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3:05 After filling 4 grocery bags from just the low-hanging grapefruit, Bekah goes inside and fetches the little step-ladder to get the next level. Lewis is nowhere to be found, and thus the plan goes forward half-baked and without precaution.

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3:10 A shrubby anacua and several hackberry saplings present an obstacle. [note: I’m not opposed to “trash trees” the way that some people are. True they will take over your back yard as aggressively as bamboo, and they are nearly impossible to kill…but they are native, the birds love them, and they aren’t ugly…well, okay, they aren’t too ugly.]

The shrubby anacua, seen in the photo from last year, was particularly obnoxious in dominating the space beneath and around 3 branches full of plump grapefruit. It had to go.

3:15– Bekah enters the house where Lewis is now working.

“Do we have a saw?”

“I’m sure we do…why?” (Lewis tries to keep the panic from showing on his face)

“I need to get rid of a hackberry tree.”

Bekah goes to the laundry room and finds the handsaw, instantly thankful for the Great Organizing Binge of 2012. Lewis gives some instruction on how to use the handsaw, which Bekah pretends to understand before she returns to the orchard and begins sawing down little hackberry saplings scattered beneath the grapefruit tree.

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3:29: It becomes clear that the handsaw is not going to be enough to bring down the shrubby anacua in any timely fashion. Or maybe ever. Don’t let “shrubby” fool you. It’s a fairly mature tree, it just has leaves all the way to the ground, because it came of age during a drought. Don’t feel sorry for it though. It was a bully shrub tree.

3:30: Bekah goes to the garage to find the ax. The ax came with the house, along with several other ancient tools. It’s approximately 1.5 million years old, and the origin of the old phrase, “fly off the handle.”

3:40: Tired from swinging the ax, Bekah alternates between handsawing the tiny hackberry trees all over the yard out of spite, and returning to the shrub, which has proven harder to kill than she’d anticipated. That’s the thing about South Texas natives (plants, animals, and humans), they are built to survive forces far more lethal than a pregnant woman with a dull, million-year-old hand tool that falls apart every few minutes.

The tiny hackberry saplings prove more rewarding.

3:50: Bekah marches back in the house, sticks and leaves in her hair. Lewis, no longer masking his concern, silently braces himself for news of disaster, but wisely resists the urge to intervene.

“Isn’t brush collection day coming soon?” she asks.

“Yyyeesss….” Lewis says.

“Oh good.”

Lewis is tempted to check on the situation, but knows that not knowing is sometimes the better option.

Florence follows Bekah back outside and proceeds to wretch throughout the remainder of the project. Who knows what she ate.

Bekah returns to the ax, only to realize that the shrub is so intertwined with its little sister shrub that the only way to fell the first one is to go for both simultaneously. Another brilliant survival move by the anacua, and nascent illustration on the importance of community…or the bond of marriage…or something.

3:55– Bekah puts the head of the ax back on the handle for the final time, checks to make sure that Florence is not within range should it go flying,  and keeps chopping.

4:00: Bekah finally topples both anacuas, does a celebratory dance, and realizes that she cannot lift the fallen shrub trees over the antique washing machine, that is for some reason a fixture in the back yard. She will need to do this in order to drag it to the sidewalk for brush collection day.

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4:01: Bekah goes inside, asks Lewis for help. Lewis looks openly relieved to be invited to supervise this unplanned project…and he didn’t even know about the ax.

4:02: Lewis is left outside to finish the job of hauling and chopping the shrub trees into manageable pieces, because, as Bekah says, “The baby and I are tired now. We’re going inside.”

4:05: Bekah remembers that the entire point of cutting down the anacua and hackberries was to get to some of the best grapefruit. However, she’s already started a hot shower and peeled off her wet outer layers, and the grapefruit will have to wait until tomorrow.

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Happy Birthday, Lewis!

We were watching “Lars and the Real Girl” a few weeks ago, and there’s a scene in which Lars asks his brother what it means to be a “man.” His brother answers that being faithful and taking care of the people you love is what makes a man (in more appropriately manly words).

It’s not just age.

Today,  33 years ago, the world got a little bit better, because Lewis Maverick McNeel was born. I wasn’t around to notice, but I’m sure that if I had been, I would have woken up a little happier without even knowing why. I think I’d have felt it.

I’ve gotten to celebrate the last three of those with this guy.

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Every year I feel like there’s not really a gift to sum up how happy I am that he’s in the world.

His birthdays have included surprise parties, flamenco dancers, five course meals…still, nothing really communicates just how happy I am that he was born.iPhone upload May 23 2013 067


But this one is different. This time, I am absolutely positive that the events of his birthday will show Lewis how and why I am so very thankful for him…

Today is so full of semi-birthday semi-fun that the only time he could go to CrossFit was at 6:30 am.

While he was gone (and I was just waking up), sensing the occasion, Florence decided to make a present on the floor. I could not leave the bedroom without gagging so hard my eyes watered, and so the present was there waiting when he got home. (Though, I will say that when I fled the stench, I fled to Bakery Lorraine to get him some breakfast).

The shower curtain got so excited that it fell down.

“Birthday lunch” was planned exactly 15 minutes in advance.

And his birthday night will begin with an elementary school choir concert.

Lewis diligently went to work out at 6:30 am. He came home and cleaned up the poop. He doesn’t know about the shower curtain yet…but usually when it falls down, he just gets out the ladder and hangs it right back up. He let me change the time of his impromptu lunch 2 different times, without letting on if it threw of his schedule. And he’s happily dressed to impress for the elementary choir event. Which he’s going to for our growing-up flower girl, whom he’s come to love like part of the family.

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So today, more than any other birthday, I can look at everything that’s happened and say, “This, this, Lewis McNeel, is why your birthday deserves to be celebrated. You are patient, kind, dutiful, loving, strong, and capable. And you have a somewhat compromised sense of smell, which is really helpful when the house smells of dog sh**.”

You, Lewis McNeel, are a man, and we, your whole little family, are very very thankful for each of your 33 years.



Florence’s So-Called Life: Season 1, ep 6

In which Florence loses control of her destructive behavior.

(read in the voice of Florence, which sounds uncannily like a 14-year-old Claire Danes)

Sometimes…I just…destroy things.

I thought I had it under control. Chew on some socks or underwear occasionally…and I’ve been working my way through the rug for months. And there was the blue pen incident (which was blown way out of proportion by the humans). But it wasn’t, like, a daily compulsion or anything.

But then, like…a switch flipped? I dunno. I just really…need…to destroy things.

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And it used to just be stuff left on the floor or dangling off of chairs.

But now…it’s just all right there…on the table…on Bekah’s desk…it’s just there. Calling me to tear it to shreds.

There’s the sod in the back yard…

Credit cards…


Post-it notes, but only the ones with phone numbers and notes on them from Bekah’s office…

And whatever Lewis was working on all night at the dining room table…

And the weird thing is, even when they discipline me, and shove it in my nose. I just don’t even care. My tail wags and I sort of just like the attention.

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Bekah and Lewis were convinced that I just needed better toys.

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But something happens at 6:30 in the morning…when I’ve been crying for 30 minutes because they think they can just feed me and let me out to pee and then go back to bed…and I get this rage. I don’t want their stupid toys. I don’t want to be placated. I want to be PLAYED WITH. And then I black out. When I come to, there’s plastic and paper everywhere…

I think I need to go to rehab.

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Pregnant Lady or Hobbit? [Second Breakfast]

I’m pregnant. I think.

I wake up ravenous.Yesterday morning I had to be out the door by 6:30 am. So I grabbed a chewy granola bar to take the edge off, telling myself I’d have a tiny, nutritious snack when I got back home around 8 am. Okay, tiny or nutritious. You can’t have it all.

I came home, considered my options, and went for two hard-boiled eggs. I don’t like hard boiled yolk, so it would be just the whites. What is that, like 60 calories total?

Juuuust as I dropped the eggs into the boiling water, I realized that at my current hunger register, two egg whites would hold me over for approximately 45 seconds.

But two poached eggs…now that sounded more amenable my hormone-addled brain.

Snatch eggs from boiling water (with fingers). Add vinegar and salt to boiling water (don’t measure, just pour). Crack eggs into cup and lower into the water, and voila! Poached eggs.

But poached eggs by themselves? How will I sop up the yolk? (Never mind that the yolk was not entirely runny, thanks to the eggs’ brief dip into boiling water back when they were to be hardboiled)

Better add toast…umm, er, make it two pieces, one for each egg.

Mmm…doesn’t the smell of toast always make you want tomatoes? (Probably not…unless you are very British or pregnant with a constant craving for tomatoes.)

Tomatoes, poached egg, and toast. What’s missing? Of course, Parmesan! Finely grated Parmesan – the strangest impulse buy I’ve ever made at Central Market. Yep, sprinkle that on top.

Now that is what I call…SECOND BREAKFAST!


As I get rounder, I have to wonder…am I going to have a baby? Or is Gandalf going to show up at my door on March 16 and send me off to Mordor?

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