Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 in pictures

Happy New Year!  I cannot believe that a year has come and gone in what seems like 2 minutes.  How did I go from lolling about, miserably pregnant to holding the hands of my baby as she takes her first steps??  This has been the single fastest year of my life, filled with incredible moments and major exhaustion.  Here are a few of the highlights:

1. Kate Evelyn arrived 5 weeks early on January 12.  My water broke at 4:30pm and by 3:33am Kate had come into this world and changed our lives forever.  I will be eternally grateful that despite her early arrival, Kate was perfectly healthy and my labor and delivery was a life-changing and beautiful experience.

2.  We've been so fortunate to have such good friends and family who have traveled (sometimes multiple times) to visit us and help us out with baby care.  Kate is one very-much loved little girl.

3.  We managed to log 3 airplane trips with Kate in her first year.  One was to Atlanta for our niece Martine's confirmation.  We spent a week in FL in July and then Kate and I spent the rest of the month with my mom while Len flew to England for the Farnborough International Air Show.  The second trip to FL was for Thanksgiving with my dad and Gloria.  Len also spent a week in St. Louis for work and fit in a visit with his brother Butch and his kids.  Our final trip was to drive to Atlanta for Christmas at my brother's house.  Alas, our final leg of that trip, to visit some friends in TN, was derailed by a snowstorm which made the road to their home impassable with our Prius.

4.  The adoption front has been topsy-turvy to say the least.  We have had to let our dream of adopting from Nepal go.  We are, however, still committed to adopting from China and have started the paperwork (again) in order to keep current.  We filed Kate's passport application (somewhat optimistically that we may travel in 2011) yesterday.

5.  Although our Nepal-adoption dream did not materialize, it did for two very good friends of ours.  Kelly and Keith came home with M this summer and Candice came home with Antara late this fall.  What a joy to see them home with their long-awaited daughters.

It feels like there should be more news but honestly, we stayed close to home and tried to savor every minute we could with Kate.  We know she will be grown and gone long before we are ready.

The music on the video is Lullaby by Dixie Chicks.

Kate is perfecting her dance moves

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Kate's First Christmas

I've finally gotten our pictures downloaded and into some semblance of order.  We decided to forgo all the Christmas air travel and take a road trip down to Atlanta to visit my brother and family this year.  We bundled everything into our car and took off from Chicago on December 23rd.  We stopped overnight in Nashville, TN where Kate helped us to unpack.
We forgot about the time zone change and got a late start on Christmas Eve.  Kate got up late at 7:30 but was dressed and ready to face the day nonetheless!
We ate in Cracker Barrels the entire way down and we got this funny comment from one of the waitresses when she noticed we were feeding Kate:

What are they making you eat that's green?

Most green foods in Cracker Barrel have been cooked into submission with some type of pork. Kate's food was bright green (it was kale). No worries--she ate meatloaf, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole and catfish as well.
We arrived in Atlanta and enlisted the help of cousins to unload the car (thanks Nick!) and entertain Kate (thanks Martine!)
Christmas morning came late as everyone (Kate included--yay!) slept in.  After a fabulous breakfast Wheez played Santa and handed out the gifts.
Kate received a dolly, a book and a fabulous velvet dress from her Uncle Terry, Aunt Wheez, Ryan, Nick and Martine.  Of course Kate liked the green bow the best.
Kate with her dolly.
Pretty dishes for us!
 Nick and Martine opening gifts!
Kate still enjoying the wrappings.
Martine with her pretty ring.
Chilling out.
Kate with her velvet dress.
More paper to eat....
Terry and Wheez opening their gifts from us.
Kate received two Christmas dresses from her YiaYia and Papou.  Here she is in one of them.
And just like that, Kate was done taking pictures for the morning.
After a failed nap but some quiet time in her crib, Kate rejoined the festivities in the kitchen where Wheez was in action making eggplant parmesan, lasagne, and salad.
Kate completely conked out after supper...at the table.
After Kate's bath and bed, we got to enjoy some of Martine's excellent apple pie and a rousing game of Mexican Train.
Handsome Nick does not like to be photographed so of course we tormented him with paparazzi flashes.
Kate learned a few new things on this trip including how to go up stairs.
Alas, the trip ended all too soon and we piled back in the car for the trip home.
 As you can see we got snow in Atlanta for Christmas! 
Kate slept quite well in the car and missed a lot of the icy scenery. 
There was a rock slide in Kentucky which we were glad to see had happened before we got to it.
Lake Michigan was quite slushy when we got home.  Chicago got about 6" of snow on Christmas Eve/Day.
Which meant we had to shovel in front of our garage to get our Prius in the door.
Another package was awaiting us when we got home.  Spiff and Paul sent Kate a gigantic dog which she was a little dubious about at first but has since warmed up to him.  We're calling him Bernard.
Len doesn't have to be back to work until the 4th so we're really enjoying our time off, trying to get a few things done (passport for Kate, install new carseat, etc) while still taking some time off for fun (sledding, afternoon lunches, possibly the Botanical Garden).

I hope everyone is having a fabulous holiday and looking forward to the New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Riding a sleigh is exhausting!

We woke up to a gorgeous winter morning so we decided to give Kate's new sleigh from Santa a try out by the lake.  She loved the ride, especially going down her first hill.

The ride was apparently tiring as she completely conked out on the ride back home.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Peek-A-Boo with Nana

We spent the holiday in Atlanta with my brother, his family and my mom.  We made it home today and have managed to unpack and settle back in.  Kate learned a lot of new things just in the few days we were gone.  One of them was to initiate peek-a-boo by putting her hands over her eyes which she first copied when her Nana did it to her.  Here she is on Christmas morning at breakfast practicing her new-found skill.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Christmas Everyone!

Happy Christmas and New Year from our family to yours.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

New Do

I noticed that I was starting to look like all the women I see with infants: hair pulled back in either a ponytail or twisted up in a clip, no makeup, sweats.

I thought: Ok, I can fix at least one of those things immediately.
So liberating!  Now to get out of these sweats...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dashing through the snow!

Ok, so it's not exactly dashing or snow but Kate was having a great time nonetheless. Santa came early to our house since he's so busy this time of year and he knew Kate had been a very good girl. He left behind a cute sleigh that we hope to use a lot this winter! Here she is getting a first ride courtesy of Ms. Tricha!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Petition for those left behind in Nepal

My friend Candice has been home with her daughter for a while now but there are still many U.S. families living in limbo in Nepal.  Please take a moment out of your day to click on this blog post that Candice has written. Then click on this link to a blog that the remaining families have started.  And finally, but most importantly, please click on this link to sign the petition to our government officials asking them to bring these families home for Christmas.  Many of these children have been living with their adoptive parents since August, living in limbo.  Others have had to stay in the orphanages because their parents had to return home to take care of other children or to return to jobs.  Please consider signing the petition--every signature helps.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Book Review--Hungry Monkey

Last year Len had a work trip to Seattle and I tagged along. As often happens on these trips, Len worked all day so I had a lot of free time on my hands. On past trips with him I have walked all over Seattle from Pike Place all the way to Capitol Hill and points in-between. On this trip I was pregnant and not feeling all that great so I stayed closer to the Westin where we were residing. It was a fairly rainy trip overall so in addition to viewing the Bodies Exhibition I also spent a good bit of time in the local bookstore.  And that's where I picked up this book, Hungry Monkey: A food-loving father's quest to raise an adventurous eater by Matthew Amster-Burton.

Matthew is a Seattle-based restaurant critic and food writer with a blog, Roots and Grubs.  What caught my eye first was his recipe for Larb Gai, one of my favorite Thai dishes.  I thought, if he's fixing this for his child,  I've got to find out what his secret is.

Turns out he has a pretty adventurous little girl, Iris, on his hands.  I know a good bit of this is luck but I'm also inclined to believe that you can nurture at least a little bit of this in a child.  Kate eats things that just astound my friends but I figure, if it's not offered, how will you know if she will eat it?  Just last week I made a spicy Tunisian Chickpea soup.  It had a good amount of harissa sauce in it which made it fairly nose-cleansing.  I pureed some in the blender to see if Kate would eat some with me for lunch.  She ate three bowlfuls.  I don't think I would have thought to try such exotic foods if I hadn't read this book.

In keeping with my rule that the first paragraph should be a grabber, here is a "taste" of the beginning of his book:

My daughter's first meal was supposed to be, oh, let's say local organic carrots pureed with homemade chicken broth in a hand-cranked food mill.  That's what everyone wants for their kid, right?  I swear I was totally planning a feast of that nature when fate intervened and a doughnut fell on her head."

So his three month old (she was four years old when he wrote the book) had her first taste of solid food in the form of a doughnut crumb.  He goes on to cover the kinds of foods that Iris started out eating and how her tastes have changed and become more challenging as she has entered the toddler years.  Granted, a lot of the stuff she eagerly slurped up (think spicy foods) have had to be modified as she has gotten older, i.e. pickier.  But I was happy to see that not only can you feed your child something other than chicken nuggets and pizza, most recipes can be modified for smaller palates with just a little tweaking.

Matthew's book is set up just like the last one I read, with recipes at the end of each chapter.  He also provides notes as to what things a child might be able to help do with the preparation.  He has found that the more Iris helps out with the food prep, the more likely she will be to actually eat it.  As someone who really enjoys cooking and hopes to pass that love along to her child, I find this book quite inspirational.

He makes no nods towards low-fat, low-salt, no butter, etc.  He enjoys food and eats it all in moderation.  He also tries to buy local, especially from his local farmer's market and the Pike Place Market which goes a long way towards staying away from the processed foods that contribute to later health problems.  He does not pass along food hang-ups or calorie-consciousness.  He simply enjoys preparing and sharing delicious food with his family.  Granted, as a stay-at-home day with a writing gig, he has more time than a lot of parents do with both shopping for and preparing food.  He has an entire chapter on the joys of grinding your own meat.  While this may sound time-consuming and thus unobtainable for most parents of small children, he actually enlists Iris's help with it:

"On our bookshelf is a charming 1968 volume entitled What to Do When "There's Nothing to Do." It's full of wholesome rainy-day activities to keep kids and parents entertained. "Teach your child how to operate a meat grinder" does not appear in the book."

It's not as difficult as it seems, especially if you have the meat-grinder attachment for the Kitchenaid mixer (note to self: put on Amazon wishlist).  Iris takes great joy in pushing chunks of meat through the feed tube, using a wooden dowel of course!  This has led to such joy in the preparation of foods that Iris will actually request certain dishes that she knows requires freshly ground meat such as Ants on a Tree, a dish  of cellophane noodles (the trees) dotted with morsels of ground pork (the ants), red chile, and Szechuan peppercorns.

Iris's spicy phase lasted about a year and then she started requesting things with less heat.  But, Ants on a Tree is still her favorite dish...

even though I refuse to dumb it down into some bland P.F. Chang's spaghetti.  Not that I'm bitter or anything.  I'm learning to serve dishes that can be made in simultaneous spicy and nonspicy versions with little extra work.  My friend Fahmida tells me this is exactly what they do for children in her native country of Bangladesh, where the food is as wildly flavorful and spicy as that of neighboring India.

At the end of the book he has two sections.  One is Recommended Reading, which covers books about or in some way referencing food that Iris enjoys.  They are as varied as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which Kate currently enjoys, to cookbooks like Jamie's Dinners by Jamie Oliver, also known as the Naked Chef (who isn't really naked, I don't need to tell you that right?)  The second section covers his favorite convenience foods like organic bagged salad greens, rotisserie chicken, frozen potstickers and chubs of polenta, a lot of which I was happy to see I already buy on a regular basis.

I am really looking forward to having Kate stand next to me on her little stool, working side-by-side on the evening's meal and then enjoying the dishes we have prepared all together as a family. This book provides many opportunities for inspiration and hope that we won't be that family eating mac and cheese and carrot sticks dipped in ranch dressing five times a week.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Love Letter, Month 11

Dear Kate,

You are eleven months old today.  Right now you are in your crib for your morning nap and I am sitting here listening through the monitor to you babble to yourself.  You make these sounds like a motorboat “brrrmmmm, brruuummm” and then spit seeps onto your shirt in great waves.

You have three more teeth coming in, two on the top and one more on the bottom to make a total of 7 teeth.  I keep wondering if the gap between your two front teeth is an indicator of the Lauren Hutton beauty you will become or just another passage for spit to leak out of your mouth.
You are asserting your independence more each day and that unfortunately involves screwing your face up into the most adorable pout followed by a long, mournful cry and big, fat, wet tears when something is not going your way.  This occurs most often when I try to take something away from you.  Even though I am careful to mirror good manners

Please, Kate, may I have that remote control?

you still act as though I have killed your favorite puppy and served him for supper.
This independence though, is helpful sometimes.  Like when you let go of your toy with your right hand so you can help me push your hand through your sleeve and then switch your toy back so you can push your left hand through.  Now if we could just translate that helpfulness to your legs because OHMYGOD will you ever stop peddling those feet long enough to get the tiniest socks in the world on them?!

You stand up every chance you get, pulling up on anything and anyone.  This has led to a lot more falls and a cut on your face when one of the things you tried to balance on wasn’t very stable.
I can hear on the monitor that you just turned on your mobile which means you are now standing there, pointing at the light on the mobile face and smiling as the monkeys dip down and touch the top of your head as they go around. 

Speaking of pointing, this has become your second most popular form of communication.  You will point to your food when you want more, to things in the book we are reading, to your daddy when he comes home.  And it’s a lot cuter than your first form of communication which is to backhand quickly and repeatedly when something I am offering you is no longer valued.  This most often occurs at mealtime but is now becoming something you do at storytime too.  Dr. Suess gets the back-of-the-hand treatment most often.  You really don’t seem to care for his books which I hope you grow out of because they are some of my favorites.  Your favorite books right now are B is for Bear, Pat the Bunny and Goodnight Gorilla.
You are babbling a lot more and we are certain you say Mama and Dada discriminately, although you do say Mamamama when you are hungry or really tired.  I guess since I’m still nursing you that is to be expected.  I am always surprised when I say something and you seem to really understand it.  The best was when I asked for a kiss and you totally smacked your lips together and then grinned. You also started clapping and will clap your hands spastically together when I say "Clap!", I don't even have to clap mine anymore for you to understand what I've asked.  So I guess this is now the point where I really need to be careful about what words I am choosing because before you know, you'll be saying

Where are my fucking car keys?  I know I left them on the counter....this is bullshit!

And then I'm going to catch a lot of flack for that.

You are getting a lot more toys now that Christmas is upon us.  Not that you aren't already drowning us in enough plastic and battery-operated toys to keep us permanently out of the running for a spot at the Waldorf school.  You aren't enjoying playing with them yet as much as you like just pulling them all out of your toybox and then crawling away to tip over the recycling bag.
Speaking of Christmas, we took you to the Christkindlemarket at Daley Plaza last weekend and you met Santa for the first time.  You seemed dubious at best.  Frankly, so did he.  You both sized each other up and then you turned to look for me to see if it was ok that some giant hairy man in a red suit was holding you.  And that was the moment your picture was taken. 
This is what makes me love being your mama.  Having you turn to look for me, concern written all over your face, and then when you see me, the concern melts away into the sweetest smile I've ever seen.  Unfortunately, you only get one photo on Santa's lap so the smile was not captured on film but I can assure you that it is etched on my heart.

Happy First Christmas little one.  You are the best gift I've ever received.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Clap your hands!

So I've been clapping my hands at Kate for months and all I ever got was this blank look that said

Why would I want to do something that makes me look as silly as you look right now?

And then this morning she woke up and started clapping like she had been doing it secretly all this time. I'm going to have to watch this kid.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


My mom, from as far back as I can remember, has always had at least one book going at all times.  You will never catch her waiting in a doctor's office or sitting on a plane without a book.  It's unthinkable.

She would take me with her to the used book store where she would return bags and bags of books and walk out with nearly as many as she had gone in with, some of them for me.  When she would finish the book she would always put her initials on the bottom of the spine so she would know she had read it since she would read all the titles by an author that she liked and that helped her to keep track of them.  I have inherited my mom's great love of reading and I have married someone who reads more and faster than I do.  Fortunately, we share a lot of the same reading interests so we can double up on our books.

With Kate's arrival, my book reading has plummeted.  Now that she is older and having more naps quiet time in her room, I feel like I have come out of a fog and found a really good friend waiting for me.  The library is only a few blocks from our house and with the online reserve system I don't even have to troll through the shelves.  I've listed one of my favorite book review blogs over on the right (Everyday I Write the Book), written by a good friend of mine from DC.  Her lists are a great jumping-off point when I am stumped on what to read next.

I thought I might spice up these posts every now and then with a short book review of whatever I have lately finished on my night stand.  My latest conquest was Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard.

I have to say that the title alone was enough to make me pick this one up.  I am a sucker for new recipes and if it also involves travel and eating in exotic locations, I'm sold.  I have this dream of one day living abroad.  Not forever mind you.  But for long enough that it's not a vacation.  Long enough to shop for groceries, learn where the locals go for coffee, and lose the tennis shoes that automatically label you "American". 

Quick tangent, it'll only take a second, I promise.  While I was finishing up my degree in Design at LSU I had the opportunity to study for the summer in Italy and Switzerland.  Len was teaching and finishing up his dissertation that summer so he was unable to go but he encouraged me to go for it.  Not many husbands I know would be thrilled with their wife leaving them to go study abroad but he did get a puppy out of the deal--our dog Zoe, a wiggle bunch of golden retriever, came to live with us that summer and luckily for me, had already graduated from doggy manner class by the time I got home in September!

Anyhoo.  That trip only whetted my appetite for all things European and my lust to live there again and in the meantime, read about others who do.  This one looked to fit that bill.

In choosing books to read, the first paragraph needs to be a keeper. Lunch in Paris does not disappoint:

I slept with my French husband halfway through our first date.  I say halfway because we had finished lunch but not yet ordered coffee.  It turned out to be a decisive moment, more important for my future happiness than where I went to college or years with a good shrink.  The question was posed lightly: It looked like rain.  We could sit it out in a cafe or, since his apartment was not far, he could make tea.  I was not fully aware at the time that American girls in Paris are sluts by definition, willing to do sober what British girls will only do drunk.  It seemed like a simple choice; I like tea.

This book is very much like other memoirs of ex-pats who find themselves and their lives changed by a chance encounter in a romantic land.  Think Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes or My Life in France by Julia Child.  Each chapter ends with mouthwatering recipes for things like chocolate profiteroles, trout en papillote, and lamb shanks with orange and star anise. 

The story is made more interesting in that she's not just an American in Paris.  She's a New Yorker in Paris.  That fact alone could not be more different than her husband-to-be, Gwendal. 

He's just so fucking happy all the time.  It's weird.  
It was as simple as that. He's a happy person and I am fundamentally suspicious of happy people.  In the America that I grew up in, little kids don't say, "When I grow up, I want to be happy."....We say, "When I grow up, I want to be a doctor, an astronaut, a fighter pilot."  Happiness to me was something very abstract, the end of a long equation: initial self-worth multiplied by x accomplishments, divided by y dollars, z loans, minus f hours worked, plus g respect earned....
I worried that Gwendal was too contented, that if he wasn't constantly striving (and therefore constantly dissatisfied) like myself, that there was something wrong, something missing.  "How is he ever supposed to be successful? He needs to be a little bit miserable, like us.  It's how you get to the next thing."

What makes this book more interesting is that the story doesn't end with her meeting Mr. Right and taking up residence in Paris, THE END.  No, it starts there and then follows their relationship and her love/hate affair with France, what she should do with her life and how to just RELAX FOR GOD'S SAKE.  She's a woman who has always had a 5 year plan for her life and marrying a non-striving Frenchman and living in Paris permanently did not fit seamlessly into the grid.

As someone who can only read in snippets now I found the short chapters easy to manage.  Each chapter ends with a few recipes of the meals mentioned in that chapter.  Like Julia Child before her, Elizabeth finds that the more she delves into French cuisine, the more Paris itself opens up to her. 

Curl up with a nice glass of burgundy wine and this book.  Peut-être déjeuner à Paris peut changer votre vie.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

All three girls finally together

When I first moved to Chicago, this blog led me to two women who have become very good friends.  We were all united by one common goal: to be mothers. 

I met Candice first.  She is a single mom with her own business who had not found the right guy yet but wanted to be a mother.  She and I met at a local coffeeshop and compared notes on our journey to the country we had chosen to adopt from.  There are not a lot of countries open to single women.  She had originally started out in Ethiopia but was told by her agency that the country would soon close to single women and suggested Nepal might be a better option.  She did some research and felt like Nepal was a match for her.  I found her to be witty and clever, very strong and independent and I liked her immediately.  I admired her ability to see what she wanted and work to get it.

Kelly and I agreed to meet at The Drake for high tea.  Kelly's journey was very similar to my own.  Married to a great guy, unable to have bio kids. Her journey to Nepal was much more personal.  She had already been to Nepal on several occasions and her brother works and lives there.  She was drawn to the people and culture of Nepal in an almost visceral way.  She knew her baby would come from Nepal and never considered any other country as an option.  She never stopped believing that the people of Nepal are ultimately good and kind and she loves it as much as she loves her own country.  Kelly is a funny, intelligent, compassionate person who believes that good will always win out.  What's not to like about a friend like that?

If you've been following this blog long enough you will know that our own journey did not lead us to Nepal.  But for Kelly and Candice, the story has a happy outcome.  Kelly got her referral first and brought back her daughter, M,  in June.  They have been doing quite well and we've had the chance to have several playdates with them.

Candice, as you know, had a much harder journey.  She got her referral in June but wasn't able to travel until August, just as our government changed the rules on Nepal adoptions.  She spent four months in Nepal with her daughter, Antara, but is finally home.

We finally managed to get a brunch on the calendar for this past Saturday so all three families could get together.  I had been looking forward to meeting the newest little girl for weeks.  I spent the day before making a strata and making sure the gifts were ready to go.  Saturday dawned bright and early.  A little too early.  As in, oh dear, I feel very sick, I need to get to the bathroom...

I had apparently gotten some kind of intestinal virus and was knocked flat for three days.  Heartbroken, I sent Len and Kate with the strata and gifts with strict orders to take lots of photos.  So, at last, here are the three girls we could only dream about when we first met.


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