How Much Does Emptiness Weigh?

I’ll tell you that I’ve been dragging my feet on setting up a not-for-profit organization in memory of my son, Hank, but in reality maybe I just wasn’t ready to do anything about it until now.  Sure, we’ve done a March of Dimes walk, we’ve got a Facebook page and a twitter (@HanksHope), and we have Hank’s Hope t-shirts.  We have no signature project- that is, until now.

Many people have asked me (either as constructive criticism or pure conversation) what I’ve needed as I’ve started to come out of the hole that is stillbirth and climb back into the equally frustrating saddle of infertility.  In the hospital, there were social workers, and nurses, and Percocet, and lactation consultants, and my beloved obstetrician, and chaplains, and literature.  But, there was nothing to hold.  Every bone in my body ached to hold something.  Isn’t that why I was pregnant, after all?  To take what my body has made and carried and HOLD IT?  After giving birth to a stillborn, your body still reacts the same way as if your child was born breathing, although now your mind is compounded with the numbing reality that your body is betraying you now.  It’s trying to do a job that isn’t needed anymore.  More than anything, in the hospital and now at home, almost 11 months later, I still ache to hold something.
Taking the concept of tangible comfort to the next level is now something I’m ready to do.  Maybe I just needed time?  Maybe I needed a gentle nudge from a complete stranger who is now my inspiration, or maybe I finally needed to accept the support and cries of “whatever you need me to do, I’ll do!” from family and friends?  Either way, it’s time.  All part of the grieving process, I suppose.  The support group at the hospital is called Loving Arms, and they’ll be the first beneficiary of our new project.  Only now am I realizing how significant the name of this group is for me, and that the physical aspect of loss is just as hard as the mental part.  
Empty arms and hands are heavier than anything that could ever fill them.
On the bad days, when I catch a glimpse of my C-section scar in the mirror and am momentarily reminded of the fact that I have a physical reminder of giving birth, or when I get a letter in the mail about the upcoming memorial at the hospital in October and I need to write a check for Hank to have his name on a leaf on the bronze tree, I think about the hope that maybe I can eventually give to someone else.  And, on the really bad days, when I am reminded that another month has gone by without a positive pregnancy test, or when a friend has a baby or announces a pregnancy, or when the nights seem too orderly and calm without a cry every few hours coming from the spare room-turned nursery-turned spare room again, I can think that, wildly, maybe this will never happen to anyone else again.  In the meantime, I can just keep tracking the good days and good moments and trying to forget about the bad ones, while continuously pressing against the weight that forever rests on my arms.

Copyright 2014 Anne Mathay

When Life Gives You Lemons….

I set this challenge for myself, for my 32nd birthday (7 September, for those of you keeping track).  I think this stems back to my 30th birthday, which ended up being a depressing, disaster of a day, completely unrelated to actually turning 30.  I decided to take a picture every day for 30 days prior to my 30th birthday of something that made me happy.  Some days were easier than others.  Some days, at 10pm, I’d be wandering around, trying to find some simple pleasure to photograph.  I’m sure I was overthinking it, but at the time I was working through a major bout of depression, so finding something soothing and happy at the end of the day often times would put me into a slight frenzy.  But, as usual, I digress.

This year, I decided to give myself 38 days (August 1 to September 7) to attend 32 yoga classes before my 32nd birthday.  I have been practicing yoga fairly regularly (2-3 times a week) for the last six months or so, and in case you don’t know me, I don’t really have a “gradual, let’s ease into this” mentality.  What better way to spend the month before my birthday than holed up in a yoga studio, bending and twisting my evenings away?

There are two main yoga studios I frequent.  The one in Glen Mills is hot- like, almost 90 degrees hot.  You sweat out of your nose pores, that’s how hot it is.  For 65 minutes you hold 26 positions.  Sometimes I’m dizzy, sometimes I teeter and fall, sometimes I move from one asana to the next with little effort and steady breath and a serene feeling.  I love it because it never changes- it’s the same thing every day, every time, every teacher.  The studio in Wilmington is also heated, but it’s vinyasa, so you flow pretty quickly from one posture to another.  It’s not quite as warm but it’s still pretty freaking hot, and it’s 75 minutes, and you’re moving the entire time.  There are a few other places I go (when you’re going every day and work full time 40 minutes from home, you need to be a little flexible), but these two places have been my mainstays for a while.

Anyway, I had planned on doing a double today (that would be a class before work and a class after work).  I woke up this morning and just couldn’t do it.  No big deal.  I’ll just go tonight and make it a one-class day.

Well, here I am- 7:39pm.  On my couch.  Face washed, comfortable clothes on, contacts out.  This lovely look is also known as I’m not leaving my house.  And, of course, the feelings of guilt set in.  I can’t help but look at the calendar as I’m in the kitchen, knowing that I should be five or six classes ahead of where I am actually pacing, that I should have just taken some Advil to rid myself of my headache and just gone, but I didn’t.  When I was telling one of my yoga teachers about my challenge recently, her advice to me was twofold- never do more than two classes in a day if you’re doing them hot, and LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.

Forget my body, I think.  My body does what I tell it to, not the other way around.

Tonight is a night where I’ve finally made the correlation between my mind and my body, outside of the yoga studio.  My body says sit down, relax, and, hey, while you’re relaxing, there’s a whole bowl of lemons so why don’t you make some lemonade?  Which is exactly what I did.

To me, yoga is all about connecting the breath with the body, the mind with the body, and a higher level that gets thrown into that mix.  Above it all, my mind is always in charge.  Tonight, though, my body is for a change- and I’m listening.

Copyright 2014 Anne Mathay

Real Pasta, Sauce, and Meatballs

It seems like just everyone has an Italian grandmother.  I didn’t.  I had a WASPy one that wore Lacoste sweaters, ran the garden club, and cooked things for me like tuna salad and Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup.  She had a lot of legacy to leave behind, but one thing that she didn’t pass down was a family sawce recipe.

Sauce (or gravy, as some people call it, even though I have no idea how you could possibly use the words interchangeably, but I digress) is a comfort thing to most people.  It reminds them of a time when eating a bowlful of pasta didn’t require a carbohydrate induced guilt trip and a six mile run the next morning.

After a healthy take on this recipe last week, below is the original.

Meatballs (make 18):
1.5 lbs ground beef/pork/veal mix
2 cloves garlic
2 eggs
1/3 cup grated Locatelli cheese
fresh parsley, chopped
onion powder
Italian seasoning
Red pepper flakes
1/3 cup breadcrumbs (whole wheat, seasoned)
salt and pepper

Gently mix together in a bowl until just combined.  Line a sheet with foil, spray away with Pam, and bake for 30 minutes at 400.

3 quarts fresh tomato puree (skins removed, seeds removed)
handful fresh basil, chopped
fresh parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 can tomato paste
Italian seasoning
onion powder
1 long hot pepper, grilled
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 tbsp. butter

Add olive oil to your pot, and warm.  Add garlic and brown.  Add tomato paste, almost toasting it in the pot.  Then, add the tomato puree.  Reduce tomato puree down until a little thinner than desired consistency (this will take some time, depending on how watery your tomatoes are to begin with).  Add remaining ingredients except for the butter and simmer for 2 hours.  When meatballs are done, add to sauce and simmer another 20 minutes.  Either remove the long hot pepper completely, or leave in.  Mine stayed whole, so I left it in, just removed the stem.  Add butter before serving and stir to melt into the sauce.

Serve immediately over pasta.  Don’t go for a run the next morning.

Copyright 2014 Anne Mathay

Zucchini “Spaghetti” with Fava Beans and Turkey Meatballs

A healthy spin on spaghetti and meatballs….

For the “spaghetti”–
5 small/medium sized zucchini
2 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter (optional, but I used it.  What the Hell, right?)

Cut off the ends of the zucchini and rinse well.  Use a vegetable peeler to make your “spaghetti” noodles.  Stop peeling when you get to the seeded part.

Fava beans–
I bought two pounds of fava beans, momentarily forgetting that two pounds of fava beans in pods equals approximately .025963 cups of actual beans.  They were more in here for shits and giggles (and a little boost of something else healthy).

For the meatballs–
Let me preface this by saying I’ve never ever made good meatballs.  They’re always too something- too dry, too gross, too cooked.  This recipe is awesome.  Go me (!!), since I made it up.
2 lbs. ground turkey (use organic if you can)
1/4 cup breadcrumbs (I used whole wheat breadcrumbs, panko would have been my first choice)
5 or 6 shakes of the following:
– garlic powder
-onion powder
Italian seasoning
-red pepper flakes
1-2 tsp. fennel seed
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
2 eggs
salt and pepper
a handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped

Combine all ingredients in bowl and mix until just incorporated.  Don’t mash it all up- this is what makes meatballs tough when they’re finished cooking.  Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with Pam (my secret kitchen hero).  Shape meatballs into whatever size you’d like and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.

Take a sauté pan and, over medium high heat, warm olive oil and butter until melted.  Add minced garlic and stir.  Add zucchini, stirring so oil/butter/garlic covers the vegetables (at this point I added my six-bean haul of favas).  Salt and pepper them.  I let this cook over high for 5-6 minutes, and then added about 1/2 cup water, covered, and let the zucchini steam.  Take off the lid and reduce heat to medium low for another 5-6 minutes to let the liquid reduce.  Salt and pepper again.

Toss your “pasta” and meatballs and enjoy!

Copyright 2014 Anne Mathay


Questions For a Marriage

    Ever see those things like “Questions To Ask Each Other Before You’re Married?”  Yeah, me too. The other night, as we were laying around doing nothing, I came across a questionnaire online and asked Noah if he wanted to play along.
    After the second or third question, we stopped- partly because we already knew each other’s answers, but partly because not every question could be answered easily and I wasn’t looking to have a gigantic discussion at 7pm when no one had even mentioned dinner yet.  Is it important to know if you want children, or what religion you want to raise them, or whether or not you believe in an afterlife?  Yes, and you should make sure that you know some of these answers prior to tying the knot.  But people change their minds, and their goals, and their perspectives.  What your answers may be at a young, 24 year old with eyes wide open may not be the same when you’re a tired, jaded, worn out 48 year old.  So, the question shouldn’t be “do you want to have children?” but instead “if we go through fertility treatments and money and a miscarriage and a stillbirth and then more infertility and money and grief and loss and anger and sadness and a little more anger and sadness, do you still want to be married to me in spite of it all?”
     Take these quizzes with a grain of salt.  You should generally be on the same page, but expect those pages to turn, and, if they do, do you still want to keep reading the book?
     Oh, one more thing- two MAJOR questions that were omitted- how many ice cubes should you leave in the tray before you fill it up again?  Who is going to set the mousetraps or get the dead snake out of the garage?

Copyright 2014 Anne Mathay

Comment est-ce que vous vous appelez?

Our homegirl Juliet famously said “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet.”  In her case, because she and Romeo had different names (and therefore different worlds), they could never be together.

So, what really IS in a name?

Take me, for example.  I am writing this post anyway.  I was born with a first, middle, and last name.  I was never addressed by my first name, my parents for whatever reason choosing to call me by my middle name (my brother has the same deal).  When I got married, I wanted to drop my first name since I didn’t ever use it, but because it was my first name it was technically considered a legal name change.  Enter an add in the paper, lots of state-mandated paperwork, a trip to Social Security and Motor Vehicles and, a few hundred bucks and a court date later, the illusive “Emily” was no longer a part of me.  As a little tribute to my former self, to this day when I initial something, I use the initials that I had at birth.  Call me crazy, but I like the ambiguity of it all.

Over a few (not really, more like many many) drinks this weekend, my friend Mary Kay was filling me in on her high school reunion she attended in Washington State.  She spoke about how some people referred to her as Mary, even though she goes by Mary Kay.  I remarked that I was Annie as a kid, but when I was eight or nine and therefore an adult in my mind,  I made a declaration that I was now to be addressed as Anne.

I’d like to go back to Annie.  I like the ability to reinvent myself, or change myself depending on the situation.  If you’re a Michael, you can always be a Mike.  If you’re a Robert, you can be a Rob (or a Bob, or Robby, or Bobby, or maybe even a Bert).  When you’re an Anne, you’re an Anne.  That’s it.  So, maybe I’ll be an Annie- it smells just as sweet, after all.

Copyright 2014 Anne Mathay

I Know You Want It

Ever have a moment where you realize you’re sort of getting older?  I’m only 31, but was recently introduced to what is arguably the biggest pop single of the summer, Blurred Lines, via NPR.  Subscribing to Spotify is both a blessing and a curse (I can listen to the same ten songs over and over and over again but am not introduced to new music unless I know what I’m searching for) and since I don’t listen to the radio anymore, I’m out of the loop.  As I’m listening to people my parents age discuss a pop song and it’s come-and-get-it lines and video that objectifies women and erases all of the work women have done for equality, I’m feeling ancient.  I should be telling these people what’s hot, not the other way around.  But, I digress.

I dial up the song and am immediately hooked- to the point where I’ve listened to it probably 30 times today (I did already admit to being slightly obsessive and repetitive with my music).  While the song lyrics are controversial, the video is even more so.  If you’re not humoring me and clicking my hyperlinks, I’ll fill you in.  The song (which samples Marvin Gaye’s Got To Give It Up) is chauvinistic and refers to a woman as a bitch while the video shows nearly nude women parading around, purely for enjoyment.

I like it.

Sometimes it’s fun to be sexy, to have attention because of your physical appearance, and to walk into a room and have eyes on you.  It feels good to look good.  It’s empowering, not degrading.  And yes, sometimes we, as women, “want it.”  We all do.  We’re humans, after all.  We have sex, and most of the time for fun.  It’s what we do on Saturday nights, or Sunday mornings, or while we’re waiting for the dryer to stop running or the kids to wake up from their naps.  We do it with our spouses, our boyfriends, and yes, we do it with strangers via one night stands after partying. 

Yes, I understand the critics who express the concerns with this song and video.  The women are nearly naked in the unrated version, scantily clad in the safe for work one.  The men are fully clothed.  These women are here for fun, clearly.  But why is that always bad thing if you’re a woman?

Women should always be in control of their power and their sexuality and unfortunately, sometimes they’re not.  Sometimes lines do get blurred to dangerous results.  But sometimes the lines are blurred because we want them to be- we want to be beautiful but smart.  We want to be flirty but intelligent.  We want to look good and feel good.  Blurry lines aren’t always a negative.  We, as women, blur them ourselves because we can.  We have that power and we have that control.  And that makes us for sure the hottest bitch in the place.

Copyright 2014 Anne Mathay

Jane May Be Onto Something….

     When studying literature in school, I remember learning that Jane Austen originally wanted to call her book First Impressions, but for whatever reason she settled on Pride and Prejudice instead.  Although I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t remember the story very well, I do know that first impressions are important- but are we wrong or right about our first read of people?
     I met someone recently, and knew within the first thirty seconds that they weren’t what I was looking for.  Jane Austen whispered to me to keep getting to know them and not be so dismissive, so I continued (I always listen to my inner Jane Austen).  Although thirty minutes later I still knew this person wouldn’t work, I did have a very enjoyable conversation and made a new friend.
     It’s so easy to judge someone, especially at first.  Chances are, our gut instinct is right.  But gut aside, even if the person aligns with our preconceived notions, they’re almost always worth getting to know.

Copyright 2014 Anne Mathay

Don’t Be A Joyce

     We decide to wait until the warmest day of the summer so far to go stand out in a field and pick fruit at our local “PYO” farm (pick-your-own for those not involved in any 4H in high school).  In our case, we drive ten miles to a farm to gather our own harvest and pay twice the price for it.  But, it’s a fun activity, something to do together, and a reason to get out of the air conditioning (which feels stifling and confining until you leave it, and then you realize why it’s running in the first place).
     Peach and blueberry picking was described as “excellent” so we decide to be crazy and go for dual fruit.  Peaches take all of three minutes to pick our previously decided three dozen, so then we set off for the blueberries, which involves taking a little hayride out to the field. 
     The entire area is covered in what looks like mosquito netting as to not let in berry hungry birds.  You slip through the net at the beginning and then you’re in a world of fruit.  We decide on the divide and conquer method, leaving our flat in the middle of a row and each of us taking a quart container.  It’s easy to get lost in the mazelike quietness.
    After my quart is full, I’m wandering around, simultaneously looking for Noah and for the flat, and I’m aware of a father and his sons that are around the same area I am in.  Dad is a typical dad- big floppy hat on, cell phone strapped to his belt, dressed head to toe in what he probably considers to be outside, rugged clothing.  My first thought is When did berry picking become an adventure sport? but I silence my thoughts in my continuous effort to only think nice things.  I’m now standing in front of Dad, and he says loudly “you’ve got some big ones!”  It takes me a split second to realize that he is talking about the blueberries in my hands.  I give him my polite laugh and continue walking.  I listen to Dad and sons banter back and forth- the kids are about ten or twelve, old enough to be at the beginning stages of parental embarassment.  Dad suddenly realizes that his wife is nowhere to be found, and the boys dart back, retracing their steps.
    Finally, Mom appears- slightly out of breath, face flushed, wearing ankle length pants and sweating bullets.  Mom is clearly not having fun.  She is hot, she is tired, she is finding nothing entertaining at all about being in this patch of bushes and embracing all of the places on your body that produce sweat in situations like this.  Mom can’t figure out how to cut through the bushes, or go under the nets, or pick very much.  The boys are both frustrated at Mom’s inability to keep up, and proud that they’re able to do things she can’t.  Dad’s exasperated cries of “Joyce!” over and over make me smile at this whole scene.  Finally, Joyce’s complaints subside when everyone thinks they now have enough blueberries, so they head for a break in the netting to wait for the next retrieval hayride and the creature comforts that are so desperately needed at this moment.
    I assume that Dad and Joyce and their boys made it safely back to their 72-degree house without any heat-related illnesses.  I think about sweat, and how it is the body’s way of cooling off itself from exertion.  Traipsing through a field with your kids may have been effort for Joyce, but I can’t help but compare how I relished the sweat from doing something fun with someone fun.
    Tonight, after dinner is made but not yet eaten, Noah and I are on the deck, reflecting back on how hot today was, how we skipped the hayride back to the farm and opted to walk up the hill in an effort to take in the views, and how excited we both were that our respective deodorant/anti-perspirants were not only tested but passed.  I ask him, jokingly, if he noticed that I didn’t complain once today about being hot, or tired, or thirsty, or sweaty, or overall uncomfortable.
     He smiles and says, “Yeah, I did notice.  You weren’t a Joyce!”
     “Don’t be a Joyce,” I echo.

Copyright 2014 Anne Mathay