Simple Summer Caprese Spinach Salad with Salami and Balsamic Vinaigrette


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

One of the books on our wooden coffee table is Table Life, by Joanne Thompson. A favorite line is in the forward, "May your table become a place for joyful connection where your children flourish, your heart grows in faith, and your community of faith is strengthened in love."  I see the title of the book often, as it sits next to John Shea's colorful little Beatrice Potter books (lovingly beaten up and chewed on!) that we read over and over again every day. Those two words, table life, were front and center in my mind this weekend as I was reminded yet again that all facets of daily life can be shared together, and what better place than at the heart of the home around the table. Not only the good and the celebratory, but also the disappointments, the bad news, when feeling alone and in need of encouragement and community. I think that simple things like a meal together as a family are never so important as when those needs arise. There is comfort in good food, wine, and a shared meal that surpasses our bellies. And also in a pre-dinner living room dance party with your toddler! I'm thankful that this whole weekend was uplifted by shared meals: Katie and Kev in our home!!, a really sweet bbq a couple from church threw to honor the military families in our congregation (and they sent us with a case of their really, really good backyard wine!) and then the four of us, both around Cam's beautiful farm table and my tiny bistro table that just barely and hilariously fits my husband. This simple salad was one of the things we enjoyed, and hopefully you will, too.

While Cam was in Zagreb last month, he not only house hunted and took care of all of our logistical details, but he also explored the whole city for us and did some very important reconnaissance: taste-testing the local cuisine and wine. Good man! He ate at a restaurant in a piazza near the Zagreb Cathedral surrounded by outdoor tables and cafes... local salami and cheese, fresh bread, wine from Zagorje (a region just outside of Zagreb known for its vineyards and castles) that he said was out of this world, and meat burek. Everything was fresh, simple and local. He brought me back an amazing bottle of olive oil that I used in this salad, made of produce from the Monterey Farmer's Market. It was delicious while we waited for our Mozzarella and Brie Pizza to finish cooking. We're keeping meals and well, everything, simple around here while we get ready for the movers in two weeks.

Croatia...  vidimo se uskoro. See you soon!! 

Caprese Spinach Salad with Salami and Balsamic Vinaigrette 

about 3 C fresh spinach
2-3 C halved cherry tomatoes
2 ripe tomatoes, sliced
large handful fresh basil, roughy torn
1-2 C fresh mozzarella balls
salami or crispy cooked bacon (or even chicken!), roughly torn 
1 avocado, sliced
sea salt
Everyday Balsamic Vinaigrette

Toss all of the ingredients together with the vinaigrette and a good pinch of sea salt. Serve with crusty bread and hopefully a glass of wine, too. It's great for a light lunch or an appetizer. Enjoy!

Your Best European Recommendations?


Friday, June 26, 2015

Do you have any favorite or "must-see" or "must-stay-at" spots in Europe?? I'm starting to plan out trips for after our move, and I know a lot of you must have some really good tips!! Where have you loved the most?

(A spot Cam and I still talk about years later was this amazing hotel in Venice. It had just opened so the prices were great (not sure what they are now?) and it was the prettiest room we stayed in (right on the Grande Canal) during our whole trip through Europe. Also, have you ever been to or heard of Matera, Italy? It's an ancient cave city in the southern region of Basilicata and one of the most surprising places I saw the year I lived in Italia.)

(Photo is of Hvar, Croatia and from Jordan's beautiful Instagram) Happy weekend!

Mommy & Me Photos


Monday, June 22, 2015

How lovely is this herringbone blanket?! It was a gift for Gracie from one of my favorite companies (Tiny Prints!) and I love snuggling her in it every day. It's honestly the softest thing we have for her, and was kindly monogrammed for her, too.

It has been crazy here lately while Cam and I run around trying to get everything done for our move in a couple weeks, and also, in going from one baby to two! It is the most precious gift to get to love and raise those two. My heart is every loving, happy, cheesy phrase I can think of, we are so thankful. But it's also been a healthy dose of total bananas! So, the other night, we went to our favorite beach in Carmel to let John Shea run around before bedtime and to enjoy the gorgeous evening together.  Cam was holding my camera for me, and then just like that, thanks to him, Grace and I have mommy & me photos for her baby book, maybe one for her nursery in Zagreb and for one day when she's older. I'm so glad he took these! We quickly learned with John Shea that this sweet time in their little lives goes so fast, too fast, (Grace is already over a month old!!) so the day she's older and would appreciate these, Good Lord willing, will be here before she knows it. What an absolute privilege it is in this short time to get to be parents to our two darling children!!

Two Weeks with my Family!


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Snuggles and afternoon nap with her namesake, Grandma Emina!

Look at our baby's sweet double chin! When we left the NICU, the nurses and doctors were most concerned about her gaining enough weight at home since she came so early. We weren't worried. I'd been praying she'd be a good eater, and how many family and friends were praying for her to be a healthy, strong baby. She's averaging a pound a week!

Love our family! We just had my parents out for two weeks and we soaked up every day of them here. Just like Cam's, mine flew in and took over everything for us so that Cam could try to concentrate on these last weeks of intensive language class and I could try to recover, and so they could simply love on our kids (and us, too). Mom and Dad, how can we ever thank you enough!? You are two of the most fun people I know, and the wisest.  John Shea got so much love and attention that he badly needed with a new darling little sister in the house. He was snuggled every time he woke up during the night, woke up every morning to homemade breakfast, usually chocolate chip pancakes and Curious George (I miss waking up to those pancakes, too), spent all day smiling, laughing and playing outside with Gramppio George, had the time of his life with his cousins... it's been so much fun to see him on cloud nine the past two weeks! We ended our time together on Sunday with my whole immediate family together (minus my little brother Mikey, missed you! Can I even call you "little" anymore since you're 6'5 and I'm 5'4??) for Grace's baptism (!!) and to celebrate my Daddio's birthday. It was an amazing day. Since Cam and I are always living all over, and about to leave the country again, we cherish time with our families so dearly. I feel incredibly thankful that we both come from big families with parents still married, and that apart from all of our weird imperfections and dysfunctions, we all really love each other.

Our sweet Grace was due three days ago on Sunday, which became her baptism day, but we've already had her with us for a month! A whole glorious month. She's so precious that the time is flying too fast...   Also, we're in the newborn days, figuring out life with a toddler and newborn, learning (and haha, failing!) as we go, and totally sleep-deprived (but soo happy!) so hopefully I'm making some sense here!

Grace's Birth Story


Monday, June 8, 2015

I need to rewind a little bit to start Grace's birth story, back to when I was about 26 weeks pregnant and was rushed to the hospital the night we found out I had placenta previa. That night I spent in labor and delivery was actually really special... we'd thought when I woke up at home with a terrifying amount of bleeding and no movement from our baby girl that we may have lost her; once we heard her heartbeat after arriving in the hospital, I wanted to hit myself. Of course she was ok, she's amazing! I spent that night happily listening to her heartbeat every hour the nurses came in to check on her and I, so content with her snuggled inside. With our busy, irresistible, energetic toddler John Shea at home, it was the first time I felt like we really bonded, and was so overwhelmingly thankful she was ok, and for what a precious gift her life is. I kept thanking God for her and thinking how she is purely the result of God's grace. His amazing, amazing grace. Cam and I had loved the name Emina Grace (after my Mama) years before she was even a glimmer in our eyes, but I'd been praying throughout my pregnancy that God would put her name on my heart. From that night on, I quietly knew that was it.

Fast forward about ten weeks of bed rest to her birth...

Cam left for Zagreb to house hunt for us and to start setting things up with the Embassy and the University in preparation for our move. That was on Friday May 15, and he was set to come back late on Wednesday May 20th, which turned out to be Grace's day of birth. Nana Beth, Cam's Mom, flew in from Colorado to help me with John Shea while he was gone since I couldn't be on my feet for more than a few minutes at a time. Nana was in place both times -- when I was hospitalized at 26 weeks and again for her birth -- none of us knowing at the time that either of those events were going to take place. She stepped in and took care of John Shea and everything at home for me. She was the definition of a God-send. Her being with us added to the feel of calm around Grace's birth that I'd been praying for. (My amazing parents, Gramppio George and Grandma Emina had flights to be here for her scheduled birth, so they're here with us now, HOORAY!)

Cam got so much done by Monday afternoon (and we missed each other!) that he changed his flight that night to return a day early. I picked him up around midnight that Tuesday night and we went to sleep saying how excited we were to sleep in the next morning and spend the next day relaxing. Five hours later, I woke up with blood clots the size of my fist (sorry if this is too much information...) but I felt oddly calm. Maybe I was just so used to bleeding and clots at that point, but I knew in my heart that she was totally fine and everything was going to be ok. I called out to Cam from the bathroom and he immediately jumped up out of bed and ran to me, saw what happened and snapped into go-mode, packing his hospital bag and asking where mine was and what I needed. I'd packed mine weeks earlier and threw in some extra comfies knowing that being this close to my c-section date of June 3 that I probably wouldn't be coming home for a while. It was around 5 or 6am so Nana and John Shea were still sleeping. What a relief to know she was there with him and we could just leave. We hurried to the car and Cam drove the short five miles to the hospital as fast as he could while I called Labor & Delivery.

As soon as my doctor got in, he came into triage and with a smile asked me, "so, you ready to have a baby today?" I assumed I'd just be kept on bed rest in the hospital until my c-section date or atleast to get further than 36 weeks, but he was certain it was time. Actually, at one of my appointments a week or two before, another of his patients also with previa had her placenta rupture, she lost her baby, was internally hemorrhaging and he left our appointment to go save her life. He saw the tears coming to my eyes and assured me that we had a good strong baby in there, and from his 40 years experience and the bleeding I'd had that morning that it could potentially be fatal if we waited any longer. He said the c-section was on and I had a bit of time to let it soak in. As soon as he and the nurse left, I turned to Cam and cried. Hello hormones, and it's a little overwhelming to be told a month before your due date and weeks before your c-section date that you're going to have your baby within a few hours! We were so excited to meet her, but I was also terrified for the surgery and the spinal. Cam and I prayed together and he reminded me again how the Lord had totally provided and taken care of her and I my whole pregnancy and that we were going to meet our baby girl in just hours!! And how much we love and trust my doctor, he's the best of the best. And we were together!! Cam listened to the tugging on his heart in Zagreb to leave early and had miraculously gotten back to me just in time! I was so thankful I cried all over again. Just before it was time, my friend Lindsay came in (with peonies and TJ's peanut butter cups no less, for when I could eat again!) and as soon as I had texted Ahn that morning, she got in her car and drove the two hours from Oakland to be there for Grace's birth, and also walked in. They talked and laughed with us until it was time to go in.

Cam had to stay out of the Operating Room while I got wheeled in for my spinal block. I was shaking I was so nervous. I'm not sure why, but seeing the huge lights on the ceiling and the operating bed in the middle of the room terrified me. The anesthesiologist was so kind, I'd asked him about ten times beforehand, "you're sure I won't be paralyzed forever, right?" and he just laughed outloud with me and promised that in his entire 35 year career of administering it, that no, no one had ever been paralyzed. One of the sweet nurses had me put my head on her shoulder in an embrace since I was shaking so badly while I sat and leaned forward for the spinal block. My right leg shot up uncontrollably and before I could even say anything, he explained it was totally normal, that there are nerve endings in the sack they administer the drugs into, and promised again, chuckling at me as I tried not to panic, yes, you'll be able to move your legs again and no, I didn't just paralyze you. (I'm laughing as I write this, but I was so, so nervous at the time.) They laid me down and I could immediately begin to feel my body go numb. I loved the anesthesiologist - he talked me through the entire process (and surgery) and when I told him I was burning hot and my chest felt tight and I couldn't keep my eyes open, he gave me something in my IV to help. Once I was all ready to go, Cam came in and stayed by my side. He did such a great job of keeping his face neutral. He's fascinated by anatomy and surgeries and has both been medically trained and has witnessed more than you could imagine in war, so he was totally calm watching the whole surgery while holding my hand. I asked him not to give me any play-by-plays, I didn't want to know anything until after it was all done and I had Grace in my arms. I did ask him though if they started and he was like, OHH YEAH. And something about just the first layer of three. Guh. I tried so hard not to think about it and to breath and instead just concentrate on the fact that we were minutes away from our darling girl being born. My doctor told me I'd feel some tugging (Cam said they were literally yanking my flesh open and reaching their arms into my abdomen...) which I thankfully can't even remember if I felt or not.

This was it!

I heard my doctor say, "Oh! She's beautiful!" and the nurse say how cute she was. Cam's face had heaven all over it. I held my breath during the moments waiting to hear her, and then, that beautiful, beautiful, glorious cry. I lost it and started sobbing, the most joyful cry. Cam went to her while they weighed her and checked her. It felt like forever while I waited, but those moments were a rush of relief and pure joy knowing she was right there and hearing her precious little cry while being measured. Cam brought her over to me. I didn't get to hold her right away since she was technically considered a preemie (by four days...) and had to be taken right away to the NICU to be looked over, but Cam put her precious face to mine so I could kiss her and feel her. I'm crying all over again re-living that moment. She was perfect. So tiny and precious and so perfect. Our darling Grace, how we love you.

For about the next half hour my doctor stitched me all back up and got the staples in and the anesthesiologist stayed by my side, chatting about all kinds of things, keeping me company while I kept crying happy tears. Once they were done, they lifted me onto another bed and took me into the recovery room. Sometime soon after, Cam and Grace came in and I finally got to hold her and have her skin-to-skin on my chest and really look at her beautiful face. Oh, she could not be more angelic or sweet. Our precious baby was now physically revealed. Her beautiful face so perfectly matched her beautiful soul I knew and loved so fiercely in the womb.

My doctor told me after, that as he was nearing the end of the surgery he checked as he always does to see if I was dilated, and I was. Substantially. I'd been feeling contractions regularly all that morning and they had showed on the monitor, though at that time none of the nurses seemed to be concerned about them. As it turned out, I had been in labor without even knowing it. He said that's probably what caused the bleeding I'd had that morning. Grace was on her way that day. Had my doctor not gone with his gut instinct to do the section right away, the labor could have easily caused my placenta to rupture and I can't even think about what would happened to our darling girl. Again, I am blown away by God's planning and His care and His grace in every single detail.

The rest of that day is already somewhat of a happy blur to me, but one of the NICU nurses came in to get Grace and then informed us that her breathing was labored while she tried to get the excess fluid out of her lungs and because she was considered a preemie that they were going to have to put her on pressurized air and then likely an IV and oxygen. We knew exactly where this was heading after our experience with John Shea. I told her I really wanted to speak with the NICU doctor, who was fantastic. He came in and said the same even after I asked him to let me hold her and see her first. He said he really felt like that was the best plan for her but I put my foot down and strongly disagreed. I told him I needed to see her and I knew she needed me and that I wanted to hold her and do skin to skin again first before they started any of that. He obliged. The nurses were wonderful and wheeled my bed to the NICU since I couldn't walk yet, and stopped each time I needed to throw up (I puked the whole day from the morphine...) until finally I was reunited with my Gracie. We only had maybe ten or twenty minutes together but in that short time, she completely turned around. Her breathing and all of her vitals regulated and by that night she was able to work out the excess fluid on her own. The staff in the NICU did everything they could to get her and I released as soon as possible. For the rest of the day, they brought her to me every three hours to nurse, and by the next day, she was rooming with us. Those were such sweet days, that we absolutely treasured, staring at her, snuggling her, breathing her in. There were also a few nurses I loved so much I wanted to take home with us! John Shea had his eyes on one, that he literally pulled out his break dancing moves for and had us on the floor laughing. After three days, we were both released to go home.

As I was being wheeled out, we passed the entrance to the Emergency Room. I immediately thought back to that painful afternoon last August, coming out of those doors, sobbing uncontrollably after miscarrying and walking into the parking lot, feeling so sad and broken. But now, I was struck in that present, joyous moment by my handsome husband beaming back at me as he proudly carried our sweet Grace in her car seat, and how in less than a year God had restored us in ways so good that only He can; that Grace's birth story goes so far beyond her or us... her story, in every way, is truly a story of God's unending love and grace.

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