Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Big City

We've been wanting to go back to New York, but were waiting for nicer weather since we knew it would involve a lot of outside time. Last Saturday was a gorgeous day, sunny, temps going into the upper 40s, so we were more than ready to spend the day out of the house. Our plan was to take the train in and go to the American Museum of Natural History, where there's currently a live butterfly exhibit, have a nice lunch, and then on to the Central Park Zoo, which we missed this summer because of the lines.That was our plan. Things don't always go as planned.

Oliver loved the train ride. Well, he loved the first 2/3 of the train ride. See:



The part we didn't capture in pictures is when the train broke. Yup, you know the thingy on the top that connects the cables from the car to the cables overhead? Yeah, well, that thingy fell off and started loudly slamming onto the roof of our train car. I've never heard so many people say "WTF?!" at the same time before! Sure enough, the train stopped, men in uniforms got out and started looking up and pointing. We knew things weren't looking good when they also started laughing and shaking their heads. They got on the intercom and told us the train is damaged and we have to wait for another train to pull up beside us and hitch a ride with them. Great. So we waited for that train. But the best part was that they only had one of those little "bridge" things to connect the two trains together, so once the other train finally arrived, we all had to walk all the way to the front of our train, cross over to the new train, and then walk all the way to the back of that train, in order for us all to fit. Yeah, try doing that with a toddler, diaper bag, and stroller. Thank goodness there were two of us! It was exhausting. Eventually, we found a place to stand for the remainder of the ride (we had about 30 minutes left), and a very nice lady moved her stuff so Oliver and I could have a seat. Amazing how polite people are these days (insert eye roll here). I mean come on. You see a woman carrying a baby, and you still let them walk all the way to the back of the train. Nobody could offer us a seat? Nope,  not until we got all the way to the back. And we weren't the only people with babies, I saw several others doing the same hike. Oh, how I long for the 1950s. Except for the whole oppression of women part. I mean, since when did equality = lack of common courtesy??? But, I digress.

So over an hour late, we arrived in New York, already tired. We knew we'd be doing a lot of walking, so I convinced Marty to take a cab from Grand Central to the Museum. That was very fun for Oliver, and a little scary for mom and dad...our first ride in a car without a carseat. Oliver seemed more interested in the television and credit card swiper  in the back of the front seat than the city going by, and we were just trying to keep him from slamming into it. Wow, things have changed since I lived there. If there had been credit card swipers in the cabs then, I would probably still be paying off those credit card bills!! We had a few restaurants picked out near the Museum, so we thought we'd get to that part of town and eat lunch first, given the late hour of our arrival. Then we could spend the afternoon in the sun in the park. So we had a very good lunch at Jackson Hole Burgers, which lived up to the great reviews we read online. Oliver loved all the attention from the waitresses and hostess the most...he is such a flirt! Oliver loves the ladies!

Then we went to the Museum, and wow, was it packed! You'd think everyone would be outside on such a nice day! But no, the lines were horribly long. We decided it was not worth the wait. The butterflies will be there until May, so we hope we'll get a chance to go back because I think Oliver would love seeing them (he whispers "by-fy" very reverently whenever he sees one in a book). So we walked through the park and went on to Central Park Zoo. Hooray, no lines!! See how empty it was when we arrived:

Unfortunately, it didn't stay so empty. Still, Oliver had a great time. There wasn't a lot to see, the animals mostly seemed to be asleep (hibernating?), but he loved walking around. Watch out if you were in his way!

He was in charge, and we were chasing him everywhere. That got a little more difficult as it got more crowded, especially in the Rain Forest exhibit, which was indoors, and included lots of stairs. That place was packed. And explain this to me: there were these 2 men that Marty described as "Eastern European Paparazzi"  who were walking around with these huge cameras with long lenses. No, Britney Spears wasn't around. They were photographing all the birds and animals. And no, they didn't appear to be zoo employees. What they were was annoying. Who cares if your child is trying to see the monkeys, they shoved their way to the front and stood there not moving. They had earbuds in their ears so you couldn't even try a nice "Excuse me!" So picture this, Marty & I, chasing after a nearly running toddler who refused to be picked up, in a crowded 100 degree room, dodging paparazzi. What happened to our fun relaxing day in the city?

We went back outside to watch the Sea Lions get fed. That's when you saw how crowded it had gotten. I've never seen so many strollers in my life. Expensive strollers too: Maclaren, Peg Perego. I swear we were the only ones with a Graco stroller. I felt like we were the Clampetts coming to the big city! I guess if I could afford to live in NYC, I'd have an expensive stroller too. Though why anyone needs a $1000 stroller (I'm not exaggerating) is beyond me.

We moved on to the children's part of the zoo, where you could feed the animals. Of course, we didn't let Oliver near them, what with Marty afraid of germs and me afraid of that crazy goat trying to bite my child's finger off! But Oliver enjoyed it until we got near the cow, and it moo'ed. He's not afraid of cows, but he freaks if he hears a real cow moo. Seriously, we had to turn off the sound to our Little People Farm because the moo sound it makes when the door opens was a bit too realistic and Oliver had a fit.

Then exhaustion started to set in...for all of us. Oliver hadn't napped. Marty and I were wiped out from chasing him around. So we started walking towards Grand Central, thinking we might stop at FAO Schwartz (famous toy store) if it didn't look too crowded. It wasn't bad, so we went in. Big mistake. It was crowded. And overwhelming. We escaped without buying anything, though I'm dying to go back and do the custom Muppet thing for Oliver one day! That's right, they do custom Muppets. You pick the body and all different accessories, and they build it right there...kind of like Build-a-Bear, but so much cooler!

We get to the train station, thinking we'd just sit and have a drink or something while we wait for our train. We made the mistake of not noting the schedule, so we weren't sure when the next one left. Of course, we look at the boards, and our train was leaving in 5 minutes. So we had to rush. Then we can't find a seat. I finally find one by asking a lady to move her bags, and Marty stood in the doorway with the stroller. And that's when the tantrum started. Nothing would calm him down, not snacks or sippy or bink or books. Finally, a woman in the row in front of us gave him a little Alvin & the Chipmunks toy, like from a Happy Meal or something? You push his head and it says, "Hello, Gorgeous!" I guess the passengers in our car were happier hearing that 72,000 times than Oliver screaming. It worked. He was calm. A few people got off and Marty was able to sit with us, and it took us both to try to keep Oliver happy the rest of the ride. No sleep for him.

But eventually, finally, we were home. Why is it so hard? We have a whole list of things that we want to go back to do in the city. I'd like to go meet some friends there with just Oliver some day when Marty's at work. But I don't know if I can do it by myself! Heck, I don't even know if I want to do it again with both of us!! This trip reminded me of a lot of things I hated when I lived in NYC. How impossible it is to simply cross the street in certain parts of town. The incredible rudeness of people. How difficult even the simplest thing becomes. Ugh. Add a toddler and a stroller and it's that much harder. Stairs everywhere. Sure, the sidewalk corners have little ramps, but it's like fighting a war to get through all the people to get to one of them with a stroller. Tiny restaurants, or even big restaurants, but packed so full of tables that there is nowhere to put a stroller so we can sit and have a nice meal. I just don't know if I can do it again! I know, I sound like the small town girl complaining about the big city. But I lived there for 6 years, and while there are a lot of things I loved about it, I think there were more I hated. Maybe I'm just a small town girl at heart, and that's just fine!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

All lined up

I've mentioned Oliver's propensity to line things up before . . . acorns, toys, etc. From what I've read, this behavior is normal for toddlers, so I shouldn't be worrying about obsessive/compulsive disorders or anything. Which is a relief, because I think it's hilarious. His most recent examples, the first 2 are from today, the last from a week ago.

His Little People, animals, and cars...all lined up and facing away from him, even the helicopter is butt out!

The remains of his lunch after he was "all done." It was a taco quesadilla cut in pieces.

The contents of the diaper basket, including wipes and diaper cream.

Monday, January 11, 2010

White Chili

One of our winter favorites, it's quick and easy, super yummy, and healthy! The recipe is from my step-mom, and it's derived from Lewis & Clark's White Chili, which is apparently famous (the restaurant, not the explorers).

White Chili
2 pounds boneless chicken breasts, cooked (or use equivalent of canned chunk white chicken)
2 cans Great Northern Beans (or cannellini beans), rinsed
1 T. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 packets Williams Chicken Chili Seasoning mix**
2- 4 oz. cans chopped green chilis
4 c. chicken stock or canned broth
Shredded Monteray Jack cheese (optional)
Sour cream (optional)
Jalapeno peppers (optional)

**Do not use the McCormick brand, it is so different, and we don't like it at all. The Williams brand is great. I made Marty bring a bunch back from his last trip home because we can't find it in the Northeast. If you can't find Williams, use this seasoning combo:

2 t. ground cumin
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
1 t. oregano

Dice chicken (or drain canned). Set aside. Saute onions in oil until translucent. Stir in garlic, chilis, spices, and saute 2 more minutes. Add chicken, beans, stock. Let simmer 20 minutes.
Ladle into bowls, and top with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkling of cheese, and a few jalepanos (optional).

We often don't add the dairy, to keep it healthier, and it is just as good in my opinion. This time we made it with the leftovers from last night's crock pot Rotisserie Chicken, and that is definitely the best. Canned isn't bad, it's great in a pinch, but the Rotisserie Chicken in there was just fabulous!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Snow Days

Last week after our return home from our holiday trip, we took a few days to just relax and take it easy. Then a few more days were added when we got a bunch of snow, and then a few more when we all got some 24 hour stomach bug. As a result, we pretty much didn't go anywhere but the grocery store from last Wednesday to Sunday. Ah, the joys of being stuck in a tiny apartment with a toddler! We tried to make the best of it.

Oliver on New Year's Eve

And one year ago back in Iowa. I just had to put up this comparison!


Daddy teaching Oliver to pedal his Big Wheel. Yes, indoors.

During the sick days, wanting to go back outside in yet another snowstorm

Fine, if I can't go outside, I'll just run laps in the living room.

Got tired of running laps, but riding this horse is fun!

Finally, back outside again!

Thursday, January 7, 2010


I've always felt that New Year's Resolutions are just a set up for failure, so I haven't really made any in years. However, I do think that stepping back and taking a look at your life every once in a while is a good thing. Where you've been . . . where you're going. Now that I'm writing this blog, this type of exercise feels quite appropriate. We have gone through a lot of changes in the past year, and I have the unique opportunity to choose a lot about what my future holds for the next year or so. This will probably consist of a lot of rambling random thoughts, but one thing I'm learning is that this is for me first, and I'm ok with that.

2009 was quite the year for us. It wasn't bad. I know many people who had a truly bad year. Ours was just . . . challenging. For months, we knew the "temporary" move to Connecticut was probably going to happen, but it took forever to get a final answer from the company on it. That was stressful, not knowing your future. Oliver went into daycare full time while I worked, resulting in far too many illnesses and ear infections, and finally, ear tubes. I was teaching the Picasso course that was incredibly time intensive. Especially when you have a sick toddler. Marty was working on his MBA and very busy, leaving Oliver & I on our own many nights. Then of course, the move itself and the significant transition that was for all of us. And finally, trying to figure out who I was as a stay-at-home-mom at the age of 41.

Not that there weren't good points. Watching Oliver grow from a 9 month old to a 21 month old was just amazing. Every month I'd say, "This is my favorite age." I'm still saying it. We did a lot of traveling and really enjoyed exploring this part of the country. We always have fun seeing family on our vacations and when they visited Connecticut. The Picasso class, wow, while it was incredibly demanding, I can also look back on it and be very proud of myself for pulling it off. I'm still sick of Picasso and will run screaming out of any Picasso room in any museum we visit (which exists in, pretty much, every museum in the world). Maybe someday I'll get back to appreciating him. I don't tend to get very political on this blog, but the inauguration of Barack Obama was definitely a high point. The way our country came together and celebrated that event was something I'll never forget. Unfortunately, it seems half our country has already forgotten. And that's as political as I'll get.

I'm learning that life is what you make of it. I am not just a stay-at-home-mom. I have a very important job. Everyone hates their job sometimes. But I'm learning to live in the moment and treasure them all, because I know this is a special opportunity that I am lucky to have. Some days, each hour is what you make of it. If I am excited to read that alphabet book again because I can see how much it is helping my son learn his ABC's, then sure, hand it over! But if I'm sick, tired, or just plain sick of that alphabet book, reading it one more time is almost painful. I know you can't always choose your mood, but sometimes the power of positive thinking really does turn a crappy day into a decent one. I think the first few months of my stay-at-home-mom adventure I allowed myself to get frustrated so easily, which led to some unhappy days. But the past few months I know we have turned a corner and are making the most of each day.

So now for my list. Call them Resolutions or just a To Do list, whatever. They're just some ideas, some old, some new.

Things I'm going to do in 2010
  • Lose weight (It's always at the top of the list!), which includes exercise more
  • Give up wine. Maybe completely, we'll see how it goes when I lose weight. My acid reflux has been so bad lately, and it almost always happens when I've had wine. I can't stand it anymore. Side benefit: it might help in that whole losing weight thing.
  • Explore new ways to teach Oliver. It's so amazing how fast he is learning things these days. He knows all his shapes. He knows his numbers 1-9 (nine is his favorite). He knows many letters and tries to sing the alphabet song. I want to take advantage of his sponginess (is that a word?) and give him more to soak up. I want to make sure I'm doing everything I can. No, I don't want to be one of those psycho moms whose kids can do algebra in kindergarten. I just want to make sure I'm doing my job the best that I can, and my job is to raise a happy, kind, smart, productive member of society. 
  • Find something for me. If you haven't noticed, I'm a bit Oliver-centric lately. It's part of the job. I can't just "leave it at the office." Part of being a stay-at-home-mom and having a toddler is losing a little of who you used to be. I'm going to try to find something, maybe a class of some sort, to find a little bit of me again. Not an academic class, but a fun class, like pottery or knitting or painting or something.
  • Blog more. Maybe not even so much as more often, but more variety, and more thoughts. I don't want it just to be a reporting of events, though I value that now as a record of Oliver's growing up. I wish I had started it when he was a baby. So that will still be there. But I want it to be more . . . something . . . we'll see.
It won't happen all at once, so don't expect miracles. I might have a few more ideas in my head, but I think I'll keep them there. Gotta keep a few things just for me.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Gimme 5!

Tonight, Oliver counted to 5 for the first time!! Hooray!

In the past month or so, he's been able to identify almost all the numbers one through nine, except for seven. Apparently, seven is hard. We've been practicing counting with him a lot with various books, or our fingers. But when he'd try to "count" something it was usually "one, one, one, one" or random numbers but not pointing at things. But tonight, for the first time, he actually pointed to the five things in the book and really counted each one of them: one, two, three, four, five. I'm so proud. ::sniff:: My boy is growing up!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy New Year!

I know, I know...I'm a few days late. We'll blame some 24 hour stomach bug and/or some bad breakfast sausage for that. Probably a big sign I shouldn't be eating sausage anyway, huh?

Still, we survived our long Christmas vacation, and had a wonderful time seeing our families. We even survived Oliver's first plane ride, which he loved (and thus the other passengers on board loved too).

Flying in the winter is always a bit risky, add a toddler to the mix, and yeah, my pre-vacation anxiety level was through the roof. Of course, the day we were set to leave town (the 19th) was the day the Blizzard Of The Century was forecast for the northeast, canceling almost all the flights from our airport. We were so lucky that our non-stop flight to Chicago was not canceled and got out just in time. We are also lucky that we have an amazingly well-behaved toddler who, though he missed a nap and didn't sleep a wink on the plane, enjoyed the two and a half hour plane ride with hardly a fuss.

Walking up and down the terminal (over and over and over again...we took turns). Yes, that's a harness disguised as a backpack in the form of a teddy bear. Don't judge. You try roaming an airport with a toddler who won't hold your hand and doesn't want to be confined to the stroller. For 2 hours. He loves his bear. We do too.

Watching the planes. We flew Southwest. I love them. They don't charge for luggage (helpful when you are hauling a pack-n-play), and you get free sodas and snacks on board. Like the old days, sigh.

Getting ready for take-off! Yes, he is in his car seat. Though it was a pain to haul around the airport, it was awesome on the plane, and so totally worth it. He never once asked to get out of it. I can't imagine him crawling around on us for 2+ hours.

First stop was Kankakee, to visit Ma-maw and Pop-pop and Uncle Dan (Marty's parents and brother).  It was very nice and relaxing. Oliver couldn't get enough of his Ma-maw, literally wouldn't leave her side the whole time. I was worried it was becoming annoying, but who am I kidding, she loved every minute of it! And I loved the break!! I'm so happy Oliver is already close with all his grandmas. I had special bonds with mine, so I want him to have that too.

Playing "This Little Piggy Went to Market" with Ma-maw

Family photo before our Date Night at a Fancy Restaurant (minus Oliver).

Uncle Dan and Pop-pop before their night at the movies.

Oliver giving Dad high fives over his stack of Christmas gifts.

Leavin' him hangin'

Reading with Ma-maw

Looking at his Elmo Christmas ornament

We all had a great time! Thanks again to Ma-maw and Pop-pop for the new sofa bed, the (too many) nice presents, the wonderful hospitality and the fun times, including a game of Catch Phrase we'll never forget.

From there, we hopped in a rental car and drove to St. Louis, to see some of my family for the remainder of the holiday. The highlight of our road trip was of course a stop at Steak n Shake. Uncle Dan, these photos were taken just for you!

 "Don't you people know I don't like hats?"

"Eh, I don't think it looks any better on you Dad."

St. Louis was a blast, as usual. Ate way too much food and drank, well, actually less than usual this year! We must all be maturing. My brother Bryan had a party for the Illinois/Missouri game, and Oliver was the life of the party, dancing the night away and eating lots of pizza (sorry, no pics from that night). Christmas was lovely with (too many) great presents and lots of laughs. And big coincidence, another lively game of Catch Phrase! Thanks to Grandma Linda for putting up with all our cooking messes. We promise to make Red Velvet Cake again every year because we know how much you enjoyed that! Big congrats to Liz & Ty on the new baby, it will be so fun to have s/he on our Hawaii Christmas trip!

Oliver was thrilled to be near a piano again!

 Demonstrating that his musical skills extend to the drums too. This does not mean that anyone should buy him a drum kit as a gift next year. Or ever.

My crazy family

Uncle Bryan's Bowl O' Gravy

We'll never escape the kid's table.

More presents!

Fun with Tupperware and Aunt Bonnie!

Playing gently with the pretty tree at the nursing home.

Riding the carousel with Dad. He wasn't quite ready to ride the animals yet, though he loved watching them.

Our plane ride home was almost as successful as the first. We got very lucky again because our initial flight left late, but our connecting flight was also delayed so we didn't miss it. Oliver was a little more fussy...maybe because of Southwest's boarding policies which don't allow families with babies to board first (ok, so my love for them was short-lived). I will be writing the company on that one. We sat in the very last row. Not a good place for a toddler. But still, he settled quickly and actually fell asleep for a little bit. For having 2 plane rides in one day, he did great, better than we could have expected.

Ok, that was a long post to write, and it's getting late. Family: these photos and many others will be posted on Shutterfly in the next few days (those will be better quality than these). Give me a little time to get them on there. If you don't have the link, email me and I'll send it to you. Thank you everyone for a great Christmas, and we wish you all the best for the New Year!