Friday, April 30, 2010

Gag Me With a...Pea

When Ryan was four months old, we started giving him "solid" food. I have to put the word solid in quotation marks because the stuff we gave him could only be defined as solid in the absolute loosest sense of the word. Baby rice cereal, applesauce, pureed pears, and mashed sweet potatoes are more liquid than solid. But they've got more to them then watery formula, so "solid" it is.

And over the past two months, we've been working our way up to foods that are a little closer to the true definition of solid. We've been mixing the rice cereal and oatmeal thicker and thicker each time. We've recently experimented with Stage 2 foods that are a bit less finely pureed and have some texture to them.  We have a couple of little mesh feeder bags that we've given him with ice cubes or chunks of melon to suck on and to gnaw on a little. And in just the past couple of days we've tried teething biscuits. The initial reaction to the teething biscuits was less than stellar: Ryan gnawed happily for a bit until a few crumbs came off in his mouth, then he made a very strange face and made the "hairball" noise (anyone who's ever had a cat will recognize that sound). He did NOT like that texture in his mouth one bit. But the ultimate food rejection so far was last night when Daddy gave him a mashed up pea.

Never have you seen such elaborate gagging faces as his reaction to said pea. You'd think we'd forced him to eat a cockroach or raw octopus. I guess the sweetness of the nice fresh pea was lost in the unpleasant (to him) mouth feel.

So I guess we're back to smoother foods for a while yet. But we'll keep trying new things. Who knows, maybe it'll be something like cockroach or raw octopus that appeals to him.

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Do You Hear What I Hear?

I’ve read several articles recently that warn that many 6-month old babies develop a habit of fake coughing to get attention. Right on schedule, Ryan has started fake coughing – only it’s definitely not to get attention. It’s because he is absolutely fascinated by the sound of his own voice.

For a number of weeks now, he’s been showing lots of interest in other people’s voices - and not only voices, but other mouth sounds. He loves listening to someone click their tongue, or whistle, or blow raspberries, or make a cork-popping noise. But now he’s discovering that he can make all kinds of different noises himself. We often wake up in the morning to the sound of Ryan cooing in his crib, but lately it sounds more like he’s experimenting with his voice. He’s like a mockingbird: he goes through his entire repertoire (fake cough, laugh, “wwooOOooww”, soft hum, loud hum, wolf whistle, giggle), pauses for a moment, then goes through it all again.

He also loves it when you echo him. We were at my mom’s yesterday and the two of them spent lots of time making funny noises back and forth at each other (honestly, I’m not quite sure who was imitating whom). Ryan was in fine form, doing not only the fake cough but the combination cough-laugh, the Woody Woodpecker snicker, and even the Elmer Fudd chuckle, plus several unidentified vowel sounds and the occasional moan.

But above and beyond the sound of his own voice, he loves any sounds he can make with his hands and feet. He’s discovered that scrunching paper makes a lovely crinkling noise and will help himself to my grocery list or the church bulletin any other unguarded piece of paper I have in my hand.

Preparing to pounce on Mummy's wrapping paper

He has several toys with crinkly ears or squeakers that he loves to play with. Yesterday my mom gave him a favorite toy of mine as a baby, a set of stacking rings that rings a bell each time you slide a ring onto the pole. He couldn’t manage sliding the rings, but he had a wonderful time shaking and jiggling the toy so the bell would ring! And just this morning he discovered that Daddy had put a new stack of diapers on the changing table and left them in the plastic sleeve – ooh, what a wonderful crinkly noise THOSE can make!

The world is full of wonderful noises for him to discover. I can hardly wait until he discovers the piano and the guitar in the living room!

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Back the Truck Up

For the past few weeks, Ryan has been working very hard at getting more mobile when he’s on his tummy. He’s gotten very good at reaching for things, although he gets frustrated when a toy is just out of reach, and he hasn’t quite figured out how to scoot himself forward to reach it. But just last night he discovered a new trick: reverse!!

Yup, he’s mastered the skill of pushing himself backwards. He finally figured out that he needs to lift his big chubby belly off the ground and tuck his knees under a bit, but apparently either his arms are stronger than his legs or those poor clothed knees just don’t get enough traction, because he ends up pushing himself further away from his toys instead of closer. Which, understandably, provides even more frustration.

It’s a shame, because after just a few hours of practice he’s already got some pretty impressive speed going. He can scoot himself a few feet backwards in just a few seconds. I have no doubt that as soon as he figures out how to reverse the process, he’ll be off like a rocket, scooting all over the place. I think I’d better start baby-proofing his room right away, because with all that strength and a little more coordination, he’ll be into everything within a day or so.

I’m excited about this new step, and I can’t wait to watch him explore the world a bit more on his own. He already loves when I carry him around to look at different things, and I wonder what he’ll choose to check out when he’s able to choose for himself. Will he spend all his time chasing those toys that eluded him when he was less mobile? Will he want to explore the hidden places like the closet and under the dresser? Or will he be drawn, like a moth to a flame, to examine everything dangerous, like the electrical outlets and door hinges and all those other things that give mothers the heebie-jeebies.

But for now, I think I’ll just enjoy watching him back the truck up.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

I Hab a Code

Last week Herb caught a miserable cold, and despite our best efforts, Ryan caught it on Friday night. He was fine during the day, but he was crankier than usual during the evening, and he woke up at 10:30pm with an unpleasant cough, a stuffy, runny nose, and that awful “misery” cry that says he’s horribly uncomfortable. We gave him some Tylenol for the sore throat, put the humidifier on for the stuffy nose, and gave him a small bottle for general comfort, and he fell back asleep for a few hours. But when he woke up at midnight, he was inconsolable. I snuggled him, bounced him, fed him, patted his back, and sang to him for over an hour until finally he fell asleep on my chest from pure exhaustion. He slept restlessly for a few hours than woke in misery again. We repeated the cycle all night: crying, Tylenol, bottle, more crying, exhausted sleep, wake, lather, rinse, repeat.

I think what must be most miserable for a baby who’s sick is that he has no idea that he’ll get better. Children have very little comprehension of time, or of things that change over the course of time. All they understand is the here and now, so when they have trouble breathing because of a stuffy nose, or their throats hurt, or their tummy is upset, in their minds this is how it will be forever. Remember that viral YouTube “David After the Dentist” video? The little boy is recovering from anesthesia and is disoriented and seeing double, and asks his daddy despairingly, “Will I feel like this forever?”

Fortunately, even if Ryan doesn’t know he won’t feel like this forever, Mommy and Daddy know. So we do our best to keep him comfortable and distracted, we wipe his nose and pat his back and crank the humidifier. We walk him, we bounce him, we sing all three hundred variations of “Old McDonald Had a Farm”, we even reassure him that he’ll feel better soon. Sometimes it feels like nothing we can do will help, but just holding him when he finally drops from exhaustion and misery makes me feel like I’m doing something. I may not be able to make him better, but at least I can reassure him that Mommy is here. He won’t feel like this forever, but Mommy and Daddy will be here for him forever.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

The Privileges of Childhood

Have you ever been in a long boring meeting and wished you could just put your head down on the conference table and do this?

Ah, the privileges of childhood. You don’t have to force yourself into a particular schedule, eat at a certain time, even go to sleep at a certain time. When you’re hungry, you eat. When you’re tired, you sleep. And if you’re lucky, you can even do both at the same time.
Life is pretty tough for a baby. You can’t tell anyone what you need, most of the time you can’t get it for yourself, you’re dependent on others to feed you, clothe you, take you places, and change your diapers. There’s not much freedom there. But you are free to obey your body’s impulses. That’s not a bad tradeoff, when you think about it. How often have you thought to yourself, “I would love to take a nap right now, but I can’t”? Or, “I’m hungry, but I shouldn’t eat because it’s not lunchtime yet”? Or even, “I really have to pee, but I’d better finish this project before I take a bathroom break”? Babies never have to worry about that. Hungry? Cry and someone will generally feed you on the spot. Have to pee? That’s what diapers are for, go ahead and let loose. Tired? Doesn’t matter where you are, just lay down your head and off to sleepy-land. And believe me, kids can sleep anywhere. A friend of mine told me his son had once fallen asleep on horseback. No, not a merry-go-round horse, an actual horse.

What a fabulous privilege!

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Off-Duty Time

As much as I love being a mom, even being a stay-at-home mom, there are definitely times when I need a little break. You can’t do anything 24/7 without losing your mind eventually. So those hours when I get to put up the mental “Off Duty” sign are just wonderful.

Take last night, for example. I went out to dinner with a girlfriend and Herb took baby duty for the evening. Now, I don’t want to make it sound like he never does this, or that I’m usually in charge in the evening. As a matter of fact, most of the time as soon as he comes home from work, he takes charge of Ryan and I get to make dinner unencumbered, or work at the computer, or run a load of laundry or dishes. Any he always does tubby time and bedtime. But I feel like I’m still on call, simply because I’m there. And of course, the mom-radar never shuts off, so I’m still on alert. But getting to be out of the house, blissfully unaware of any fidgeting or crankiness or lack of cooperation, now that’s being off duty.

Even this morning I’m getting a bit of off-duty time. I heard Ryan fussing at 6 am (!!) this morning, and when I went in to check on him, he was flipped over on his back, turned sideways in the crib, with his blanket off him and mushed in the corner, and he was grinning exuberantly at me, absolutely wide awake. So I put him back on his belly where he could reach his toys, tucked his blanket back over him, and waited to see what he would do. Instead of turning to me or fussing, he very contentedly began chewing on his elephant’s ears, and as I headed back to bed for what I hoped would be 15 or 20 more minutes of peace, I heard him turn on his sunshine music box. I dropped off to sleep pretty quickly, so I’m not sure if he kept playing for a long time or if he dropped back to sleep pretty quickly himself, but I do know that when I got up at 8 to take a shower, he was sound asleep. And as I’m writing this, he’s just barely starting to stir. Which means that I had a wonderful leisurely breakfast all by myself (Daddy’s getting over a bad cold so he’s sleeping a bit late, too). I enjoy having company, but every now and then it’s nice to have a few minutes to myself without my “mommy” hat on.

And I find that those few minutes to myself rejuvenate me for another day of mommyhood. I’m glancing at the baby monitor as I write, and I feel a little thrill of excitement and joy as I see some stirring, a little hand squeezing his blanket, a fuzzy little head turning back and forth, hearing an occasional soft peep. I’m looking forward with renewed energy to another day of watching my little man explore and discover and learn. But for a few more minutes, I’ll enjoy being off duty and just watching him sleep.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Uncooperative Octopus

They look so sweet and innocuous, those little hands and feet, don’t they? And if you count them, there really are only two of each. But now that Ryan is learning to control them, they seem to have multiplied. Or maybe it’s just that I’m only using two limbs to try and control his four. But whatever the situation, it’s often like dealing with an uncooperative octopus.

I first discovered that this could be a problem when I had Ryan on the changing table and suddenly I was being whapped in the face with a (clean, fortunately) diaper. Mr. Flaily Arms had discovered the stack of clean diapers that was conveniently within arm’s reach (his as well as mine) and had also discovered that clean diapers make a nice crunchy sound and are easy to clutch by any of their parts. Daddy had apparently discovered this issue before I had because I noticed that the bottle of hand sanitizer had been moved to the far end of the changing table. (Wonder if that was a messy discovery?)

Feet are also an issue on the changing table. Even aside from the difficulty of slipping pantlegs over feet which don’t wish to be encumbered by clothing, we have the difficulty of diaper kicking. Naturally, diaper kicking is much more fun when the diaper is poopy – and there has been poop on my nursery walls to prove it. Fortunately, I am resourceful enough that I’ve managed to create a system of holding Ryan’s legs and backside up in the air with one hand while folding the diaper with its unpleasant contents safely sealed inside with the other hand. But again, Mr. Squirmy makes even that supposedly simple task something of an aerobic exercise.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted to see him exploring with his hands and feet. I love watching him carefully and deliberately scoop up a toy with both hands. I love watching him stretch out his toes to pull his bear toward himself. I love that he’s gaining more and more control over his limbs every day. I just wish that he’d be a bit more of a cooperative octopus sometimes.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Baby Rulebook

Yesterday, Ryan spent an hour and fifteen minutes in absolute hysterics until he finally dropped from exhaustion – but then his nap only lasted for 45 minutes. Doesn’t that seem a bit unfair to you? Mom spends an hour and fifteen minutes walking, rocking, bouncing, and singing, only to be rewarded with a mere 45 minutes of peace? I decided there should be a baby rulebook prohibiting such things.

So the first rule of my rulebook would be a minimal scream-to-nap time ratio. The time of screaming must be rewarded with equal time of napping. That’s a fair rule, right? But what other rules would I include in my rulebook?

There would probably be a whole section on diaper rules. Minimal time between diaper changes, for example. Ryan has had several episodes where I changed his diaper and less than fifteen minutes later he needed to be changed again. I would institute a 30-minute minimum policy. Also, peeing on the changing table would be prohibited at times when a) baby is wearing a dressy and/or dry-clean only outfit, and/or b) mommy is running late and doesn’t have time to dig out a second clean outfit. Oh, or c) we are out and about and either didn’t bring a change of clothes or already peed/pooped/spilled on the first outfit and have used up the change of clothes we brought. Also, peeing on the changing table at such velocity and volume that the stack of clean diapers, clean clothes, various assorted teddy bears, or the carpet below the table receive a dousing would be strictly prohibited.

Closely related to the diaper rules would be general laundry rules. Spitting up would only be permitted on outfits (baby’s or mommy’s) whose color coordinates with the dinner of the day. Carrots and sweet potatoes are acceptable on orange or yellow shirts, green beans and peas on green or khaki clothing. Pears, bananas, and rice cereal are wild cards. Similarly, overflow pooping would be prohibited on white onesies but acceptable on brown or khaki pants. Wet-only leaks are acceptable on quick-drying fabric only.

What about behavior? I’m not so unreasonable as to ban crying or whining altogether, but there are limitations. Whining at mealtimes should be limited to the end of the meal, not beginning just as the family sits down to eat. Crying in church is welcome during hymns, loud anthems, and the passing of the peace, but must be avoided during prayers and sermons. Church crying should also begin quietly so as to allow a parent a moment to escape unobtrusively. Sudden screaming without warning is unacceptable. Restaurant behavior should follow church behavior with the exception that pleasant cooing and the occasional reasonably quiet interjection is acceptable.

I bet I could get scores of other moms to support this rulebook. Now if only I could figure out how to get the babies to read it…

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Clothes Make the Man

There’s an old saying that “Clothes make the man.” Now, I don’t believe that what a person wears has any bearing on his or her character, but I certainly do believe that what a person wears has a very strong effect on his or her behavior. When I’m dressed up in a fancy cocktail dress or a formal gown, I stand a little straighter, I walk a little taller (and perhaps with a bit more sway), and I’m much more aware of using my “party manners”. When I’m in jeans and an oversized sweatshirt, I’m more likely to slouch, shuffle my feet (or even skip) rather than using a dignified walk, and to drink my soda directly out of the can. What I’m wearing can, and does, affect how I act.

And even at such a young age, Ryan seems to be aware of what he’s wearing and change his behavior accordingly. I have no doubt it’s because the fit of his clothes makes him feel differently, rather than any awareness of the situation. And it may even be that people (including Mummy and Daddy) treat him a little differently based on what he has on. But when he’s all dressed up in church clothes, he seems to sit up a little straighter, comport himself with a bit more dignity, and whine and complain a bit less. (Just a bit, but we’ll take what we can get.)

A well-behaved Ryan in his various holiday finery and formalwear.

Somewhat slouchier in his more casual clothes.

So I’m not sure if it was the elegant suit he was wearing, but Ryan behaved like a dream for his baptism yesterday. His behavior in church is something of a crap-shoot these days, mainly because church starts right around naptime, which means that sometimes he falls asleep in the car on the way there and gets a second wind just in time to be awake (and often cranky) during the service, and sometimes he fights falling asleep through most of the service and whines or yells until sleep wins out. But on Easter Sunday he slept peacefully through most of the service and woke up gently during the final anthem, happily staring at the choir while they sang. And I was hoping against hope that he’d be as well-behaved yesterday – and miraculously, he was! He was wide awake but contented and quiet for the beginning of the service, and didn’t make a single protest when Daddy handed him over to the minister. He didn’t peep when the minister dipped his hand in the water and wet his head. He even smiled like the little charmer he is when the minister walked him into the congregation to welcome him into the church family. I was such a proud mom! (Not to mention relieved.)

Of course, shortly afterward he started to protest and Daddy had to bring him to the nursery, but he got a nice nap there and then was back on his best behavior (mostly) for brunch with the family. He even stayed awake and played happily back at the house while everyone else socialized (and finally exchanged Christmas presents, but that’s another whole blog right there). And again, once the company went home, he dissolved back into a bit of a cranky spell, but he had his company manners on when he needed to.

So maybe clothes make the man and maybe they don’t, but I’m certainly proud that my little man lived up to his wardrobe yesterday.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Three Is a Magic Number

When I got home from picking Herb up at the airport yesterday afternoon, one of the first things we did when we got out of the car was have a family group hug with Ryan in the middle. I had one arm wrapped around Herb and one around Ryan, Herb had one around Ryan and one around me, and Ryan was flailing at both of us and getting a big kiss on each chubby cheek from us both. It was the best feeling ever!

And then late this morning, Herb took a short nap and just before his alarm was set to go off, I snuck in the room with Ryan and let him pat Daddy’s face to wake him up. Naturally the three of us ended up in a big clinch in the middle of the bed, wrestling and giggling. Best group hug ever!

There’s just something amazing about the family all snuggling together. Physical contact is truly an emotionally bonding experience, and when all three of us are in such close contact, I just feel like my heart will burst with happiness over how precious a family I’ve been blessed with.

It reminds me of the line from Schoolhouse Rock: “Man and a woman had a little baby – there were three in the family, that’s a magic number.” One point is just a point, two points are a line, but three points – that gets you a whole plane! Three points make a stable tricycle, a solid stool, a useful tabletop. Three is a special number throughout the Bible: the three gifts of the Magi, the three sons of Noah, Daniel’s thrice-daily prayers, the three parts of the Godhead, the three days between Christ’s death and resurrection. There’s a special significance to three, a sense of completion and perfection.

Our true family already includes more than three, and our family may not even be complete yet. But the three that are in our household right now? Are absolute perfection.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Universality of Motherhood

As Ryan was playing in his exersaucer this morning, I was idly flipping through the channels and I came across an episode of “Tori and Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood”. It’s a reality show chronicling the life of Tori Spelling, her husband Dean McDermott, and their two kids, Stella and Liam. Tori is the daughter of the late uberproducer Aaron Spelling, creator of such 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s TV gems as The Mod Squad, Charlie’s Angels, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, T.J. Hooker, Charmed, 7th Heaven, and Beverly Hills 90210, the latter of which starred a teenaged Tori as part of the ensemble cast. So her claim to fame is basically growing up as Beverly Hills royalty, becoming a teen television star and then moving on to a series of Lifetime movies. I’d always seen her as a bit of an airhead – sweet, but pretty vacuous and superficial. So it was interesting to see her as a mom.

I have to admit, even after the first few minutes of watching I felt a kind of a kinship with her. She and her husband were planning a cross-country RV trip to visit a friend who was recovering from surgery, and although I wouldn’t be able to rent a giant RV and take off across the country on two days’ notice, I can certainly relate to packing up the family for a long camping vacation. Her kids may live in a mansion, but they still throw their toys and cry for no ascertainable reason and refuse to go to bed. Her husband may be a recognizable actor but she still scolds his driving habits and rolls her eyes at him occasionally and disagrees with him sometimes. She may be a bit of a dingbat, but it’s obvious that she loves her family and is devoted to her children, and she, like me, strives to be the best mom to them that she can be.

There’s something universal about motherhood. It doesn’t matter whether a mom is a millionaire, or a working stiff, or living in a homeless shelter. There are moms from all walks of life who love their kids, who sacrifice for them, who worry about them, who do everything they can think of to take care of them and give them a good life. And the kids don’t care if they live in a mansion or a hut, they just want to be loved and played with. And I can identify with that. So if you’ll excuse me, there’s a munchkin waking up upstairs who needs to be played with.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Driving Mr. Ryan

I’m generally a pretty good driver. My years of living and commuting in the Boston area forced me to become a more assertive (if not necessarily aggressive) driver, not to mention learning to parallel park and “bang a U-ie” pretty much anywhere. I can creep into the tiniest break in traffic, I can jump a light to make a left-hand turn, I can get myself across four lanes of highway within a quarter-mile when necessary. But I find that when I have Ryan in the car, my driving style changes completely.

I suspect it’s a universal parent thing, to switch into “parent driving mode” when there’s a little one in the car. I recall my dad’s driving when I was a fairly young child, and hearing him censor himself as he drove. Not that I ever heard my dad swear under any circumstances, but in the car he had a habit, whenever someone cut him off or tailgated him or did other irritating or dangerous behaviors, of muttering under his breath, “Youuuuuu……turkey.” As an adult, I realize that something other than the word “turkey” was in his mind, but he was aware of little pitchers with big ears riding in the back seat and naturally revised his interjection.

I don’t often swear at other drivers, although I’ve been known to mutter an irritated phrase or two at someone who is driving like either a maniac or an idiot, according to George Carlin’s definition: “Anyone who drives faster than you is a maniac and anyone who drives slower is an idiot.” But it’s really my actual style of driving rather than my language that I tend to clean up when Ryan’s in the car. I don’t speed, I don’t tailgate, I pick much larger breaks in traffic to jump into, and I don’t cruise across multiple lanes of traffic. I’m very aware of the delicate burden in the backseat, and I’m careful not to do anything that might harm him. I’m much more careful of his safety than I am of my own.

I guess it’s a good reminder for me to be more careful of my own safety, as well. After all, this little life is dependent on mine. My responsibility when I was single was only to myself, when I got married it was also to my husband, and now that I’m a mom it’s first and foremost to my son. So I intend on being a much more careful driver even when Ryan’s not in the car. After all, even when my precious burden isn’t with me, his precious mother always is.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Best Thing I Ever Ate

Food Network has a series entitled “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” in which various chefs and food critics talk about their favorite foods and their favorite restaurants. Basically, the show is half an hour of food experts talking about fabulous food and where to get it. Well, after this weekend, I can’t help but get in on the act and spend this blog entry talking about the best thing I ever ate.

Last Sunday night, as part of our romantic anniversary weekend getaway in Newport, Herb and I had dinner at the Castle Hill Inn and Resort. The dining room is right on the water, facing west (oh, the magic of New England’s tumultuous coastline!), so with our 6:30 dinner reservation we had a perfect view of the sunset.

As we usually do when we go out for a nice dinner, we were both dressed to the nines, Herb in an impeccably crisp tuxedo and I in his favorite black velvet and lace gown. Despite the dress code of business casual with a note that “many gentlemen will feel best in a jacket,” the other patrons were dressed in a mix of extremely casual (the “I just stepped off my yacht” uniform of sweater or polo shirt and khakis) to a few jackets and ties. We got a few approving glances and smiles from nearby patrons, particularly when our waiter welcomed us with glasses of pink champagne and a warm, “Happy anniversary!”

We knew we were in for a special treat just seeing the elegant table settings, the fine crystal and silver, the warm glowing candleholders, and the gorgeous food on the other tables, but that knowledge was immediately cemented by the spectacular service. Our waiter was personable without being overly casual, extremely knowledgeable of the menu and the wine list, and solicitous without hovering. Our empty champagne flutes magically vanished from the table, our wine and water glasses were refilled before we noticed they needed it, and on the rare occasion some member of the waitstaff or other couldn’t read our mind to anticipate our next need, one glance and someone was immediately there to take care of us. Excellent food is necessary for an excellent restaurant, but excellent service is almost more important, and Castle Hill has the best service I have ever encountered.

But on to the food! We opted for the three-course prix fixe menu. The meal began, as is often the case in such an elegant restaurant, with an amuse bouche, a tiny flavorful mouthful designed to tantalize the palate even before the appetizer. The chef’s creation for this evening was a spoonful of marinated pineapple. My less than sophisticated palate didn’t recognize the flavors other than the sweet tanginess of the pineapple, but that tiny bite was yet another foretaste of the marvelous culinary experience in store. My bouche was indeed amused.

For my first course, I chose the spring onion soup. It was presented in a pristine white soup plate with a wide rim. The soup itself was cream-colored, with a swirl of spring green basil oil around the garnish of a lovely heap of diced potatoes and lobster with a few sprigs of herbs artistically standing at attention in the center. Even before I took my first bite, the aroma wafting up from the bowl was fresh and delicious. I started with a sip of the broth, a smooth puree of onions and potatoes with just a hint of herbs that tasted the way a spring breeze smells. Moving on to the central garnish, I savored the al dente diced potatoes and the tender sweet lobster meat. The flavors were each distinct, yet perfectly blended, and the mouth feel added yet another dimension of sensuality to the dish. It was an appetizer in the truest sense of the term: it stimulated my appetite rather than filling me up or clogging my taste buds. I felt like I had just gotten a pep talk from the coach and I was ready to take my place at the blocks and wait for the starter’s pistol!

For our entrees, I had ordered the Hereford Beef served two ways and Herb had “Elysian Farms Lamb”. When they arrived at the table, we had to take a moment to admire the beautiful presentation of both dishes before we could even think about tasting them. The lamb was two rib chops served with the long bones arching outwards, creating a lovely “lollipop” effect. The beef was served as two small filets on a medallion of Swiss chard and drizzled with Bearnaise, and as a terrine over roasted and caramelized potatoes and sweet spring onions. The meat was very lightly seasoned and cooked perfectly, allowing the natural sweetness and juiciness of the beef to be the featured flavor. The portions were exactly the right size, encouraging the diner to eat slowly and savor each bite so as to have room to finish the dish yet not feel uncomfortably full – and most importantly, to have room for dessert.

But before we get to dessert, I need to mention the wonderful wine accompaniment. Despite our comments to each other that our waiter hardly looked old enough to drink wine, he was extremely well-versed in the extensive wine list and made an excellent recommendation of a Rosemount GSM blend.

Over the time I’ve known Herb, I’ve grown very fond of red wines, and even a bit knowledgeable about them. So when the waiter described the wine as full-bodied, with heavy fruit flavors tinged with tobacco, I knew I would enjoy it. As soon as the waiter began pouring a small taste for Herb’s approval, the rich burgundy color struck me, and as I swirled my own glass moments later, the full bouquet made it hardly even necessary to taste the wine in order to enjoy it. The flavor was strong but not overpowering, rich and fruity but not too sweet, and complex and layered without being too busy. Even the mouth feel was smooth and crisp and clean, not chewy or gummy as is often the case with full-bodied red wines. It was the perfect complement to both entrees, and I was glad I had some left in my glass for the dessert course, since it served as a lovely complement to that as well.

Ah yes, the dessert course. I love desserts, so the decision of a dessert is often the most difficult of the entire meal. However, in this case I knew it was a win-win decision. I finally went with the cheesecake. Of course, at any restaurant with a dedicated pastry chef, cheesecake is never served in a standard wedge. Oh, no. Our desserts both arrived on plates decorated with the words “Happy Anniversary!” in elegant dark chocolate script around the rims, but that was only the beginning of the glorious presentation.

The base of my cheesecake was a wafer of buttery hazelnut crust drizzled with a rich raspberry coulis, with a perfect little circle of creamy cheesecake perched on top and garnished with an elegant cookie wafer and a single perfect hazelnut. The cheesecake was impossibly smooth and rich without being heavy or overly sweet. It was the perfect completion to a perfect meal.

We stopped at a glass blowing shop on the way home and brought home one of the specially commissioned lovely amber Castle Hill votives so we’ll always have a special memento of that special night and that special meal.
I don't really need a memento to recall this wonderful meal, though. I’m sure that my perception of the perfection of the meal was somewhat colored by the joyousness of our anniversary celebration and the delight of being out on the town with my wonderful sweetheart, but even so, this meal was, indeed, the best thing I ever ate.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Not Just Mommy and Daddy

One of the greatest gifts that parents can give their child is the example of a happy, healthy, devoted marriage. And one of the best ways to keep a marriage happy, healthy, and devoted – especially once children are in the picture – is to find a balance of family time and parents-only time.

And since today is our second wedding anniversary, Herb surprised me with a romantic 3-day weekend starting with a day of hiking (with Ryan) in the Blue Hills followed by lunch and a quick shopping outing on Saturday, then on Sunday we left Ryan in the very capable hands of Herb’s sister, brother-in-law, niece, and nephew, and went to Newport, Rhode Island, for our first overnight trip without baby.

Ryan was completely unfazed by the visit. He’s been to their house a number of times and adores playing with his cousins. I knew they would keep him entertained. (I also knew they would keep him fed and in dry diapers, but the “entertained” part is a lot more difficult, not to mention requiring a lot more energy and creativity.) I, on the other hand, shed more than a few tears both as I packed what felt like all of Ryan’s worldly possessions and again as we drove away from dropping him off. It wasn’t that I was concerned that he wouldn’t be well taken care of – it wasn’t even that I was concerned that he wouldn’t be as well taken care of as he would be by me. But the thought of being away from my baby overnight was very traumatic for me.

I managed to calm myself (with help from my wonderful husband), and it wasn’t long before I was focused on the romantic weekend ahead instead of the baby we’d left behind. And what a wonderfully romantic – and FUN! – weekend it was! We’d originally planned to rent bicycles for the afternoon, but when we arrived at the rental place, we were both taken with the mini “scooter-cars” out front and decided we could cover more ground in those than with bicycles. (I don’t know what they’re actually called, but the best description I could come up with was that they looked like the love children of a motor scooter and a bumper car.) So with Herb on the throttle and me riding shotgun and navigating, we giggled our way around Newport in our cool shades and dorky helmets.

Our first big giggle came when we discovered the hard way that straddling a pothole in a vehicle with only one wheel in the back is not such a good idea, and the laughter continued as we both noted the “bum massage” we were getting from the somewhat rough-riding little roadster and its hard plastic seats. And as we drove along, we got lots of grins from passers-by – although I’m not sure whether they were smiling at the funny car we were in or at our obvious enjoyment of ourselves – but that only made us smile all the more.

Before we reached the row of mansions that was our real destination, we drove past a waterfront park, and since it was quite a windy day, there were scores of kites flying and we decided to stop and watch for a bit. A van in the parking lot was selling kites, and we overheard the dealer mention that he was also a competitive kite-flier. He demonstrated a huge, wheel-shaped kite we had seen as we were passing, and as we strolled to the far end of the park to check out a few kites with extra-long tails we saw tethered carefully on the ground, he followed us and proceeded to demonstrate how he controlled all three at once. It was an amazing display of both technical and artistic wizardry, and the three kites chased each other, wheeling in circles, then suddenly one would break off before re-joining its mates.

[Click here for videos of the Kite Wizard!  Kite Flying Magic  More Kite Flying Magic]
Eventually we pulled ourselves away from the delightful show and headed back on the road toward the mansions. (More giggling ensued as we recalled that the car had no reverse gear and we had to push it backwards out of the parking space – and yes, I did in fact run over my own foot. Oops.) We admired the lovely, if forbidding, gates on many of the estates we passed, and oohed and aahed over the meticulous landscaping we could glimpse through the gates and fences. We stopped to take a tour of “Marble House”, which was lovely but proved to me the adage that money can’t buy love.

The lady of the house had spent $11 million making her home a showpiece, but she divorced only a few years after the house was finished. Even more sadly, her writings provide evidence that she was rather proud of that fact. She was a leader in the suffragette movement and apparently her divorce gave her a sense of equality to and power over men. Ironically, she controlled every facet of her own daughter’s life, allowing her not a single personal possession in her own room and marrying her off to a Duke simply to have a Duke in the family. The entire house had a very cold, distant feel to it, and all I could think was how much more cozy and welcoming my own humble home is, and how completely happy I am there.

Which brings me back to my initial point: spending time away from Ryan every now and then rekindling our romance is one of the greatest gifts that Herb and I can give our son. We both benefitted from having parents with happy, healthy, long-term marriages, and that is a gift we both strive to give our own children. We want to set an example of how a marriage can be strong, even when it isn’t always perfect. We want to teach our children from a very young age that marriage isn’t easy, but that it’s worth the hard work. We want them to see that sometimes we disagree or even argue, but that we always work things out in the end and that we apologize when necessary. We want them to see that we treat each other with respect and love even when we don’t agree. And most of all, we want them to see how much we love each other, and how we treat each other because of that love. It’s one of the best legacies we can give them.

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Friday, April 9, 2010

Happy Anniversary To Us

Two years ago this coming Monday, I married the most wonderful man I have ever met.

In the past two years, my life has changed in ways I never could have imagined. They say that the first year of marriage is often the hardest, and if that's the case, we can expect pretty smooth sailing from here on out, because is many ways that first year was a cinch. Although when I think about it, we had a lot of tough things to deal with that first year. I had a miscarriage, my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I was laid off, and I began a very difficult pregnancy. But my memories of that first year aren't of the pain of losing a baby, or nearly losing a parent, or losing a job, or being nauseous 24/7. They're of having my wonderful husband by my side, supporting me and loving me and sharing those burdens. They're of the laughter rather than the tears and of the love rather than the loss.

The second year was also a mixed blessing. It began with six more months of being sick 24/7, but it ended with six months of watching our beautiful, sweet, good-natured, good-looking, absolutely perfect son grow up. For every sleepless night those first few weeks we've been rewarded with days full of baby chortles. For every tear shed over a baby who wouldn't eat at first, we have laughter over a baby who's so big he keeps growing out of his clothes. For every tense, stressed-out snipe at each other for some nonsensical reason, we have a hug and a kiss and apologies on both sides and feeling closer than ever because of it.

The saying goes that marriage is hard work, and I agree that's true. But it shouldn't be the kind of hard work that makes you wonder if it's worth it, that makes you feel like you're tilting at windmills, that leaves you exhausted and frustrated at the end of each day, and that makes you want to throw in the towel. It ought to be the kind of hard work that makes you proud at what you've accomplished, that makes you want to take on the challenge anew every day, that gives you a sense of confidence that you've created something wonderful that enriches your own life and the lives of others.

I love working at my marriage like that, and I look forward to continuing to work at it for many, many years to come. For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Handy Dandy

At just over five months old, Ryan is getting into the “exploring everything” stage. He’s finally getting some real control over his hands, and everything within his reach he wants to touch, taste, and manipulate.

He nearly always has something firmly in his grip, whether it’s his rag, my hair, his stuffed duckie, a frozen teether, or one of the toys on his exersaucer.

His hands are always as busy exploring as his eyes are! In fact, he’s often looking in one direction while his hands are grabbing at something in the complete opposite direction. There are too many things waiting to be explored to focus both senses on only one thing at a time! In his jumperoo, his eyes may be watching his shadow on the floor, but his hands are busy stroking and gripping the pleated fabric of the springs. In his exersaucer, his eyes are paying attention to the flashing lights on one side while his hands are spinning the steering wheel on the other. In my arms, he’ll look towards Daddy but reach over my shoulder to grab my hair. On the changing table, he looks toward the window on the far side of the room but his hands are reaching for the stuffed bear or the rag on his other side.

It’s amazing to watch him gain more and more control with each day. It used to be that he would only feel things when he accidentally brushed against them, then he learned to deliberately flail towards what he wanted, then he was able to specifically reach for something, and now with enough concentration he can pick something up with both hands and grasp it, move it around, and put it in his mouth. He’s getting bolder and more curious every day.

I can imagine that one day those little hands may wield a scalpel as a surgeon, or a paintbrush as an artist, or a baton as a conductor, or a wrench as a plumber. But I bet that even then, in my mind’s eye I’ll still be seeing chubby little fingers covered in drool reaching out to explore the world.

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