Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I'm going on a blogging hiatus until the new year. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season filled with fun times, family, and friends. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Riding the train with Santa Claus

Oliver finally talked to Santa! And rode on a train with him! Seriously, could there be a better day in the life of a two-and-a-half year old?

On Friday evening we went to the Railroad Museum of New England, in Thomaston, where we rode the "Northern Lights Limited" train. The historic train was all decorated for Christmas, and it took us for a 90 minute ride to see Christmas lights in the area. It also made a special stop at Santa's Workshop, where Santa boarded the train and made his way though all the cars talking to everyone. It made for a fun Christmas memory for our family, especially because it was the first time Oliver talked to Santa (I'm not counting the time at 9 months old when he sat on Santa's lap in the mall and screamed.).

Mommy and Oliver outside the train, before boarding. Oliver really likes doing the cheesy grin these days!

The trip is underway, and Oliver starts to snuggle in for a long winter's nap. That train motion will do it every time. Didn't last long though.
Excuse the messed up lighting, but I actually think it made for a neat photograph.

Daddy and Oliver, striking the Mr. Cool pose

Looking out the window.

About 15 minutes into the trip, we stopped to pick up Santa. No, he wasn't in jail. This was where his workshop was located; I guess they have to protect all those presents with a chain link fence! We were lucky, the train stopped so our window was right where Santa came out, so Oliver got to see him getting on board.

Unfortunately, Santa then went to the back of the train and made his way from back to front, and we were in the front car. So we had a long time to wait.

But he finally made it into our car! Unfortunately, we had to wait for him to talk to other kids before he made his way to our seats. Oliver was definitely excited, but wary.

As Santa got closer, Oliver snuggled into Daddy more. He's not closing his eyes to sleep, but from fear.

Oliver knew it was a big deal to get to talk to Santa, so he could tell him what he wanted for Christmas. So he was very brave and when Santa came and sat down with us, he sat on his lap. But he refused to look at him. 

Santa was very nice and talked to Oliver in a soft, soothing voice. Oliver almost looked at him. He asked him if he'd been a good boy this year, but Oliver couldn't answer because his fingers were in his mouth. Santa just kept on talking about how he knew he was a pretty good boy, and even if he was bad sometimes, he was more good than bad. He got that about right. 

Santa asked Oliver what he wanted for Christmas, and what did he say--trains, blocks, puzzles, and cars? No, of course not. Without looking at Santa, Oliver whispered, in the quietest voice ever, "Ammo." Santa looked at Mommy quizzically for a translation, and Mommy replied, "Elmo." Santa was relieved to hear it wasn't ammo. Then Santa talked about how Elmo laughs and how laughter is what Christmas is all about and that's how you keep Christmas in your heart all year round. It was really sweet. 

I know Oliver liked it too, even if he wouldn't look at him because he was too busy eating his fingers off his right hand. 

Then Santa moved on to visit with the other passengers, and Oliver moved back to Daddy's lap. Then one of Santa's elves sat down in the spot where Santa had been sitting, in order to give Oliver a toy from his sack. That pushed Oliver over the edge, and he jumped on Daddy's neck and tried to climb down his back and started screaming. He didn't know what to do about this strange guy! The elf didn't seem to take the hint, and tried to offer him a toy of a little stuffed Santa, but Oliver threw it at Mommy and hid again, and finally the elf got up. Then Mrs. Claus came to the rescue, and told the elf to move along. She's so nice! I think Oliver had just had enough excitement, and was ready to be "all done!"

We returned to the station, and he recovered, and got very excited after the fact that he got to talk to Santa. The night only got better when we went to get pizza for dinner!

We might have one problem though. Santa has finished doing all his shopping, and I don't know if there was an Elmo on the list! Ack!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

He's making a list . . .

I love that Oliver is old enough to understand Christmas this year! Ok, he doesn't understand completely, but really, the whole idea that some fat guy with a white beard watches him sleep and brings him presents because some it's some other dude's birthday is pretty confusing, isn't it? Try explaining it to a toddler. He's got the basics down anyway: he can identify Santa and knows he's supposed to be good, and he thinks the coolest thing about Jesus being born was all the animals that were there with him. He loves to see Christmas trees, and knowing that my mother-in-law will have at least two up in their house eases some of my pain about having no decorations in our apartment, aside from the beautiful pictures Oliver made in school. We haven't gone to see Santa yet, but the last time we were in the mall he hid behind me when we got near him. I hope to try again, because really, it isn't Christmas without a photo of a screaming child on some strange man's lap, right?

But Oliver's favorite part about Christmas is The List. I think I mentioned this before, but it all started last month, when he became interested in the ToysRUs ad in the Sunday paper. He kept trying to "pick" the trains off the page with his fingers, imploring, "This one!" So Marty got out his Blackberry and told Oliver we could put anything he wanted on The List, and if he was a good boy, Santa might bring him some things from it for Christmas.

A few weeks later, in an attempt to create an actual list for Santa and our families, we took him to Target to look at toys. Brave, aren't we? We explained to him that he could hold one toy at a time, and that anything he liked would be added to The List in Marty's Blackberry, but we weren't buying anything. Tantrum city, right? Nope. Amazingly, he did great. We went up and down the toy aisles, and he would point things out or we would show him something, and if he liked it he held onto it until he saw something else, then we'd put the first item back, and so on. We bought nothing, but it was ok, because he was excited about The List.

The best part has been the catalogs. I remember pouring over the Sears Christmas Wish Book as a child. I have no idea if I started doing it at two and a half though! Well, it's the same thing but for the new millennium. I must have gotten on some mailing list, because I've been getting all kinds of toy catalogs, and I must say, they have some really cool stuff out there! Oliver loves these catalogs. He studies them, finds his favorite pages, and shows me "this one!" all the time. A lot of the stuff is too old for him, or too expensive for us, but some of it are things we have gotten him for Christmas, and some things we've told Santa to get as well.

I took these photos one day recently, after returning from the grocery store. We got the mail, which Oliver now helps with by putting the key in the slot, opening it, and pulling out anything that might be for him. A catalog had arrived! We went inside, where he proceeded to plop down in the middle of the kitchen floor while I unloaded groceries, and peruse the latest offerings. Note that he is still wearing his coat--he couldn't be bothered to take it off! And the last shot, where he's looking at me annoyed that I have interrupted his studies!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Photo Friday: The Water Fountain

Oliver's first time drinking out of a water fountain was when we were at the park in Brooklyn during our NYC trip with Marty's parents. Isn't it awesome how everything new is so wonderful to toddlers?!

 Pop-pop helping Oliver get his first drink.

 This is fun!


 Grandma helping this time.


 So refreshing!

 Letting Uncle Dan have a turn.

 Ok, my turn again!

 Should I lick this cold metal thing?


Later, on our way out of the park, he wanted to stop for a drink again. This time, his germaphobe father was with him, and made sure he didn't touch anything.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Recipe: Italian Beef

This recipe is so good that I've made it twice in the past three weeks! The funny thing is, I've had this recipe for a long time, but never made it myself. My aunt Bonnie makes it, and so I already knew it was wonderful. My husband is from the Chicago area, and a huge Italian beef fan, and yet in the 7 years we've lived together I had never made it for him. No reason, I just hadn't thought to. It wasn't until shortly before Thanksgiving, when I was thumbing through my recipe binders looking for things to make while Marty's parents were visiting, that I stumbled across it. Since they were driving halfway across the country, we weren't sure when they were arriving, so it would be the perfect thing to cook for their first night, ready to eat whenever we wanted. As a former vegetarian, I'm not generally a huge beef fan, but this was amazing. You must make it!

I forgot to take any pictures as I was making it, but I stole borrowed this one online. It looked exactly like this, I swear. Not that Italian beef is pretty anyway, it just is what it is.

Bonnie's Italian Beef

3-5 lbs. rump roast
1 can beef broth
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. crushed red pepper
 1 Tbsp. Oregano
3-4 bay leaves
1 clove garlic, crushed
5 pepperoncinis

Place meat in slow cooker, salt the outside. In bowl, mix remaining ingredients, pour over meat. Cook on low 6-8 hours. {I was short on time the 2nd time I made it, and did high for 4 hours, low for 1.5 and it was still great}. Remove meat from slow cooker and place on cutting board to rest 15 minutes. Slice as thinly as possible, cutting across the grain. An electric knife works great for this. Place slices back in the juice in the slow cooker for 15 minutes to heat through. Serve on toasted rolls. Optional topping for Chicago folk (as pictured above): giardiniera.

Note: Bonnie's recipe adds 1/2 quart of water when roasting it in the oven, 3-4 hours at 325.

I made it again last weekend, at Marty's request. I have a feeling it's going to become a regular part of the rotation around here! Full disclosure: Oliver wouldn't touch it. But that's not saying much, since he rarely eats anything other than cheese and grapes these days.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Homemade Christmas Gift

Want to know one of the worst things about living in a corporate apartment? Not decorating for Christmas. It's seriously depressing. Especially since we are going on year 3 of no decorating (last year we were here too, and the year before Oliver was a baby and we were traveling anyway). All my boxes of decorations are sitting in our basement back home, in the new house we have yet to live in. Isn't my life sad and pitiful? Feel sorry for me yet? Well, don't, because I have a great son and a husband who understands. So the other day, after a bad wind storm, I noticed that a limb had broken off the birch tree out the back window to our apartment. I casually mentioned to Marty how if we were back home, I'd have him cut the limb into sections that I could use to make candle holders. Then I blew it off as impossible because it isn't our tree, and we have no tools here anyway. The next morning, upon returning from his run, Marty told me he was going to do it anyway. He ended up borrowing a saw from our neighbor, and he and Oliver set about on their Project to make Mommy a Christmas gift.

The birch tree, on the far left, as seen from our balcony following a snowstorm last winter.

 Marty sawing, and Oliver observing from a safe distance, at Mommy's insistence.

 Counting the pieces.

 Bringing them inside.

 Waving to Mommy (I was shooting from the balcony).
 Look at his cold red hands!

 Marty presenting me with their gift.

 Aren't they beautiful?

 Counting the pieces (again). 

He enjoyed re-arranging them too.

I know, you're waiting for a photograph of them as candles, all lit up, as a gorgeous centerpiece on our table. That will have to wait until we get back home and have access to the rest of the tools to make the holes for the candles and even out the tops. For now, they are sitting in a box on our balcony drying out.

But this is what I picture, but with a dozen or so, varying heights, all  lined up down the middle of our dining table:

So, it'll be pretty next year, when I'm home, surrounded by all my Christmas decorations. I promise to share pictures then!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

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Saturday, December 4, 2010

New York City

Marty's parents decided to come to town for Thanksgiving this year. His mom had visited us here last year, taking the train the whole way from Illinois because she does not fly. This year his newly retired (and therefore full of free time) father decided to drive them across the country, just for some turkey and dressing, and a little sightseeing. We had taken his mom to Boston last year, so this year, despite her fear of big cities, tall buildings, and terrorism, we took them to New York, or as Oliver kept calling it, the Big City. It was a whirlwind overnight visit, and we stayed right in the heart of my old stomping grounds, Times Square, on the 34th floor of the Doubletree Suites, and Grandma survived it just fine.

It is strange for me to go back to New York. It feels like a completely different time in my life, so distant, and yet oh so familiar. I was again reminded of everything I loved, and everything I hated about that place. As the cliche goes, it's a fun place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there! And I did for over 6 years! I had given Marty's parents a list of things to do, catered to the idea that they've never been there, and probably will never go back again. We did everything we could on that list in a day and a half. It was kind of nice to play the tourist, though there were times I was acutely aware of how touristy we all looked, it just made me giggle inside.

A word about the photography (yes, it's my obsession lately). But I'm starting to get really frustrated by it. This was not the first time that I had high hopes for taking some awesome pictures, and ended up sadly disappointed. Everything seemed just right, it was a gorgeous day, and we were going to be in some picturesque locations, so I just knew I'd get some awesome,  potential Christmas Card worthy shots. Nope, didn't happen. Not unless you think a great Christmas Card photo would be the back of Oliver's head. Sigh. It takes more than a fancy camera to get good pictures, that's for sure. But I'm going to blame the crowds, the toddler-tude, and the distractions, and not the skills of the photographer!

So instead of gorgeous photos, a travelogue...

 On the train to NYC, cuddling with Grandma

 Having lunch at Katz's Deli, the New York institution where Sally got all excited in When Harry Met Sally. Oliver is ready to eat, pickle in one hand, fork in another. Sitting between Grandma and Uncle Dan (Marty's brother).

Riding on the subway. Doesn't my hair look fabulously shiny?!

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge: Dan, Pop-pop, Grandma, and Oliver pretending like he's asleep so he doesn't have to pose for a picture.

 The back of my head again, it's my best feature, really.

 Eating ice cream in Brooklyn Bridge Park

 Oliver and Pop-pop

 No, I'm not posing, Mommy!

 Didn't I say I would not pose?!

Nope, not even for a group shot!

Save me Grandma!!

 Get me away from the paparazzi!

Finding rocks wherever he goes . . .

 and throwing them.

 Finally, a group shot! Except Pop-pop is in the shadow of Oliver's gigantic head. Sigh.

Father and Son

After hanging out in the park for a while, we ended up walking back across the Brooklyn Bridge and over to Ground Zero. Though I lived in NYC on 9/11, I had not been to that part of town since then, and while it looks just like a construction site now, the vastness of it is overwhelming. 
Exhausted from all the walking, we took the subway back to our hotel to rest and freshen up before dinner. We ate at John's Pizzeria on 44th Street, a favorite place when I lived here. It was still as good, and kid-friendly too!

 After dinner, we explored Times Square.

 Oliver seemed to like it, I think it was all the lights!

Posing with a bum dressed as Elmo. This is a new thing since I lived here, but there are Elmos and Cookie Monsters all over the place, and after you pose for a picture with them, they hold out a sock for a "donation." Not sure what Pop-pop paid them, but I think these guys make a lot of money!

People-watching from the stadium seats by the TKTS booth. The other new addition since my time there, along with some pedestrian mall areas which are really nice. We were all really tired by now, can you tell? Back to the hotel, where we all slept great!

 The next morning, at the Toys R Us in Times Square, which has a ferris wheel inside. Pop-pop, Daddy, and Oliver in line.

 Riding the Ferris Wheel

 Waving at Mommy!

Daddy and Oliver making the same cheesy grin for Pop-pop.

The rest of the day was a whirlwind of touristy activities, and not much photography. After Oliver had completely explored the huge Toys R Us, we headed down to Macy's to see the Christmas decorations and the window displays. Then on to the Empire State Building for a trip to the top, only to change our minds when we realized how short of time we were running. A quick lunch, some t-shirt shopping, and we headed to Rockefeller Center. The scaffolding was still up on the tree, but the rest of the decorations were nice.

At the ice rink.

Then Marty and his Dad ran back to Times Square to get our bags from the hotel, and we went to St. Patrick's Cathedral for a peek. Then we booked it on to Grand Central and speed-walked all the way to the last car on the train before finding a seat. We didn't want to miss that train or we would have been fighting with commuters for space. We made it just in time.

On the train back to Connecticut. Does anyone else think it's not fair that Oliver's asleep, when he's the one that got pushed around in a stroller for 2 days?! He shouldn't be as tired as we all were!