LP loved his birthday party. I loved planning it. It's a win-win situation.
Thanks to my mom who helped out a lot this year again. The Ferrari cake turned out amazing! In total, we used 30 eggs, 6 pounds of butter, and 12 lemons. About 10 hours were required to make it happen, and 4 people took part of the big venture (mostly M and her).
We streamed a retro Italian radio station, and even listened to that. No really we did. It's a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine.
Monday, January 31, 2011
LP loved his birthday party. I loved planning it. It's a win-win situation.
Friday, January 28, 2011
I started to read and write before school. I'm not sure how it happened, but my mother taught letters to me early (before 3?), and then I started to bug her about how this and that word was written, and I would align the letters one by one on a sheet of paper. Later, I distinctly remember the moment (I was a little younger than 5) when my uncle was reading a story to me while I sat on his lap, and it just clicked. The letters together formed words. The words he was reading aloud were the same ones that were on the page. All the things we were saying also had a written equivalent, and I could make a connection between the two, by learning how to match specific letters and sounds! I soon started to read very simple, short books, and basically never stopped.
LP started talking early, and it's one of the things his teachers always note: he has a very good vocabulary, a great pronunciation, and is quite articulate for his age ("I guess that's what humans do... They go through the days" (ils passent les journées), he matter-of-factly remarked the other day, which made me laugh a lot). All this to say my husband and my (both written word junkies and annoyingly talkative people) intuition has always been that he would learn to read early. We weren't interested in breaking earliness records -which I think parents do mostly for self-congratulatory reasons-, but just rather to go with his own flow and help him along.
And something has been happening, recently. He's suddenly very curious about words. He keeps asking how they are spelled. He asks his dad to help him write letters down. He loves recognizing letters everywhere, and is becoming quite good at it. Sometimes, like in these pictures, we sit down and write words with cutouts: I help him, but he probably does half of this by himself.
We are so excited about this, and so eager to help him learn. I don't think he would need a lot of pushing to begin to grasp the basics of reading and writing at this point, and our first instinct would be to encourage him!
But we're also feeling a little conflicted about it. As is quite prevalent and unfortunately quite widespread in Quebec culture, there's always a bit of a "leveling down" effect, which I guess could be viewed as the opposite of overachieving. And so a lot of people, including his previous teacher at daycare, urged us not to. In fact, the last time we talked to her about possibly teaching him early, she looked at us with horrified eyes and said: "Oh please, don't. Because then, he won't be at the same level as the other kids in school, and he would be really bored throughout first grade, and it would set the tone badly for him to develop a positive learning experience in the years to come." We also had the same response from a co-worker of mine, whose son began being extremely curious about reading at 4 while his 6 year-old sister was learning about it in school. For the same reasons, instead of teaching him as well, he and his wife went out of their way to avoid him being in contact with any material that could help him learn, putting him in another room while his sister did her homework, taking away books and so on, for two long years!
Obviously we wouldn't want that to happen to him; I loved school but M pretty much hated it, and he is very sensitive to that. But I don't remember feeling bored because I started first grade pretty much knowing how to read already... I think, in this case, it's the teacher's job to adapt the curriculum slightly according to the student's levels. I know that's what my sister does anyway (she teaches first and second grade). I also feel it's the parents' job to find ways to keep their kid engaged.
I still think that if LP wants to learn, we should teach him. What do you think?
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Our little friend Prince Liam the Brave, six year-old wonder, has lost his battle with neuroblastoma on Monday. I hope his inner and outer beauty, unflappable spirit, and incredible strength will never be forgotten. I plan to continue raising money for the charity his parents started after he was diagnosed, Cookies for Kids Cancer, so other little warriors can maybe later be saved.
Thank you Liam for all that you brought me. You were such an example of sheer courage and simultaneous capacity to be amazed by the joys of life. I feel so privileged for having known you, met you, held you and kissed you. I cannot imagine the pain your family must be in at this point, and it breaks my heart so much. Knowing that from now on, you will not suffer anymore, you will not have to endure a relentless schedule of scans and horrible treatments anymore, and you will not have to live in a hospital ever again probably brings them very little comfort. You, and they, will be an inspiration to me for the rest of my life.
P.S. I hate to be such a drag... I never thought I would have to post so much lately about the loss of children, which shatters me in a million pieces. But that is a lot of heartache related to the name Liam for one lifetime, let alone one month. Hug your kids today, and tell them that you love them. Breathe in their hair, kiss them on that space between the eyebrows, and appreciate that they're there and healthy. It's an order.
P.P.S. We didn't want to bring F to New York in the winter at this point, but we're definitely going now. I'll keep you posted.
Friday, January 21, 2011
When LP was little and people started to ask me when would the second one come, I had the same answer to offer: "Gosh, not now, not soon, my son is a bit of a handful right now..." And they would always say: "Well, don't worry, the second one will be completely different!" And of course I knew that. I didn't mean that I would end up with two clones who wouldn't sleep or take the bottle, more that LP seemed enough for what I was able to take at that moment.
And my two kids are different. F is already starting to sleep through some nights for instance (let's hope I'm not jinxing myself), and don't seem to mind that her milk is given by dad through a latex nipple once in a while. And even though she also has colic (quite bad episodes, actually), I don't sense in her this sort of insecurity LP seemed to have been born with. For all of that, I guess, only time will tell.
But you know what strikes me the most? The are SO alike on so, so many things. Much more than I ever expected. They have very similar physical features up to the smallest details (unruly left brow, funny-looking middle toe, slender frames with chubby little fingers, hair pattern, little grooves on their ears), for one, and also follow the exact same percentile curve for height and weight. They are also doing a lot of the exact same things, little physical expressions and movements, little reactions to what's happening to them, and little ways of trying to communicate with us. They both jump on their pacifier in the exact same way, and it seems to comfort them much more than the breast does sometimes. I sense the same definite frustration in F that I did in her brother, about not being able to do or say much yet. I don't seem to have it in me to make very calm, blissfully unaware, always happy babies, either; mine just seem to come with a certain high-maintenance personality. I know all babies are similar in a way, but I can also tell from other ones around me that not all of them are doing these; it does seem like a sibling thing, something that just happens when M and my genes are mixed. Which I find fascinating, from an evolutionary point of view.
We recently found this picture of LP at 9 weeks, taken by my mother-in-law on Easter Day in 2007. It's not the best in terms of clarity or composition -this little bouncy seat is completely necessary, however I hate the look of it passionately... But we were so astounded by how much he looked like F in this one, that we tried to reproduce it with his sister at the exact same age. We didn't get it completely right, but I'll let you be the judge.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Much to my surprise, I recently came across several articles (such as this New York Times one) on the sudden trendability of a very peculiar, supremely vernacular Quebec food specialty: la poutine. This ultimate staple of local greasy spoons is, apparently, rapidly becoming the latest thing.
Poutine is simple: French fries, covered with cheese curds, and ladled with gravy. It's really heavy, a little gross, and oddly satisfying at 2 AM after a night of drinking. McDonald's serves it here, and everyone has their favorite places and recipes. I've actually had poutine in Seoul, South Korea in 1999, in a cheap, semi-westernized chain restaurant called "Goût de France" (!?). It was bad, but just a chance, what-are-the-odds quirky culinary experience I still had to embrace. Come to think of it, I also had it in London once, at the Maple Leaf pub in Covent Garden, so I guess the internationalization of the dish was not exactly recent. In the last few years, I started hearing more and more about it from sources in English Canada, where it is apparently now ubiquitous. I always thought it was funny that even more than smoked meat or bagels, people have started fondly associating the ultimate Montreal experience with a million-calorie meal usually served in a styrofoam dish and half-drunkenly eaten with a plastic fork... But they are on to something. Poutine is both embarrassing and fantastic, hated and adored. It will block your arteries straight, but also send you in comfort food heaven.
But poutine also has pretensions to become haute cuisine, and the results can be very interesting. Martin Picard, who is probably Quebec's most respected and renowned chef, serves a rendition with his signature ingredient, foie gras. And this wonderful, very authentic English pub near my former office makes one of the best I've ever had, with old cheddar and Stilton, as well as a homemade gravy including port and caramelized onions.
Next time we're in New York, we're going for a poutine crawl. Because as unlikely as it sounds, Park Slope is now deemed the new poutine paradise.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Well, well, well, isn't it time to plan for LP's birth day again... His fourth (!!!), coming on February 2, but celebrated ahead the weekend after this one.
This year, he asked for an Ferrari cake. Mhh yeah. It will probably take a lot of team effort, between my mother (the decorator), M (the carver) and I (the baker) to pull this off (here were the cakes from last year and two years ago). The plan is to bake a sheet cake (perhaps lemon flavored), stacking it and cutting it into shape, then cover it with fondant (which I've never worked with). In theses cases, homemade does not mean cheap: the decorating supplies alone cost me $65, excluding the ingredients to bake the cake itself. But it will be unique and I guess having this made would have been much more expensive still.
I first thought about a Ferrari-themed party, but soon deviated into something a little more general, which has had a special connection with us in the last year: an Italian theme! We'll forgo the checkered tablecloths, plastic grapes, and funny hat-wearing, mustachioed, singing pizza chef... But I was thinking about a few retro touches, like red, white, and green bunting, as well as little carnation arrangements in tomato tins... Things like mini pizzas, a big platter of antipasto, mozzarella sticks with marinara sauce, proscuitto and melon, bocconcini, tomato and basil skewers to munch. Beautifully-hued bottles of Italian sodas for the kids, San Pelligrino, Moretti, and blood-orange Bellinis for adults.
What do you think? Any other ideas?
Friday, January 14, 2011
Cloth diapers. We're been using them since F was four weeks old now, so we now have a good 5 weeks experience, making us practically veterans :). I previously blogged about us deciding to go this route (and I thank you again for the great, helpful input), but I wanted to follow-up on our experience so far.
In short, it's been GREAT. Much easier than I ever expected, and with only one tiny negative point: they're bulky so F needs to wear clothes one size bigger than she would without them. Except for that, it's been so easy and seamless that I really wonder why they aren't more widespread. That's just to say how strong and durable negative perceptions are; when I mention we're doing them, I can see a hint of disgust in most people's faces, as if they were still smelly, rough squares of cotton you needed to tie with pins and rub by hand in a poop-laced basin.
I have 18 of them, and wash them about every other day, when I see that I have between 2 and 4 clean ones left. So the only real impact they have in my life is three loads of laundry a week. We have an HE front loading machine, so the water needed is minimal, and the energy is optimized.
The brand is Easy Fits by Tots Bots.
Here's how it works. I chose all-in-one diapers, so you put them on just like you do a disposable one. They have Velcro fasteners and snaps that adapt to the baby's size (they're supposed to fit until F is potty-trained). The only difference is that I add a disposable liner, which looks like a dryer sheet. When it's time for a change, you take the liner out, so the diaper itself is minimally soiled. The liners are flushable, but our changing station is far from the toilet, so for now I don't bother and just throw them out. You then fold the diaper in two to "close" it, and put it in a pail. The pail is dry, and is covered with an especially made plastic-lined fabric bag, which keeps the pail clean and can be thrown in the wash as well.
When it's time for a wash, I grab the bag and simply put it in the machine; I don't even handle the diapers at this point. I do a rinse cycle first, then a normal wash with detergent. Then they go into the dryer for a full cycle. Once they're clean, it takes me five minutes to refill the absorbent material inside, put liners on them, and stack them open in a box, ready-to-use.
I guess the two things people fear the most are getting your hands dirty, and the smell. But first, what I realized is that whether you use cloth or disposable, you need to clean up the baby just the same. And that's the part that's a little gross, not what's in the diaper itself, which you never even touch. As for the smell, right now there isn't one; F is exclusively breastfed. This will change when she starts eating solids, but I don't expect it to be different than disposables, either. It's the same thing to put your diaper in a wastebasket or a pail; the diaper and its smelly content usually still stay around for a while. I don't think many people take out the diaper-filled trash bag several times a day; with LP anyway, we would usually do it every second day or so, and I can assure you our house didn't smell...
They are much cuter and softer than disposables, and very absorbent (F sometimes sleeps 6 hours stretches at night these days, and so she has stayed in the same one for about 7 hours without a problem. We have had some leaks, but these happen with disposables as well in newborns -or maybe we're just really clueless). And what I like best about them: knowing I will only likely need to buy one package of disposables per size until we're diaper-free for good. Yes, they were a substantial initial investment: about $500 for everything. But our city gave us a $150 rebate; a lot of them do, so it's definitely something that's worth checking out. I can imagine that if someone is short on money but still wants to use them, it would be easy to put them on a baby registry...
Disposables cost $60-$80 per month, every month, for about 28-36 months. Each child wearing disposables will create about one ton of waste in landfills. During the month we were using them with F, it simply blew my mind how many we were dumping in the trash, sometimes after even just a few minutes of use. And they will then each take about 500 years to break down! Additionally, without giving in to panic, disposables are treated with bleach and dioxin; do you think it makes sense for these to be in contact with our babies' genitals at all times for years on end?
My biggest regret is not having used them with LP as well; clearly it would have been even better for the environment and more cost-effective. I wanted to, but everyone discouraged me, and it just seemed so steep of a commitment, so off-putting... Things were quite different even 4 years ago; what I would have needed then is someone telling me that it's really OK! That it's completely doable, and neither gross nor time-consuming... No domestic martyrdom involved whatsoever.
Hence this post.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
There's a new organic supermarket that opened near our house. It's not Whole Foods, but it's a start.
Me: Hey, check this out. These are goji berries.
M: What are those?
Me: You know, that's what's in that new yogurt you bought the other day.
Store clerk, stepping in: It's the new superfruit. Dozens of different vitamins, antioxidants, and trace elements. If you want to buy them, I suggest this brand over that one. It's a little more expensive, but they have done all the research on the fruit. And also, they're the only one to properly label the origin as Tibet, instead of China, so they're more fair.
Simple, mundane anecdote, I know. But I think that in these few sentences, that man had perfectly summarized everything that appeals to me about organic food, and on a larger scale, about that change we initiated towards things that plainly make more sense. One fruit. A quality, honest product. Health benefits. No exposure to chemicals. A planet that's not depleted. An ethical stance. And, without even having to ask, respected human rights as a bonus.
These kind of things reassure me that it's worth the (little) effort.
Monday, January 3, 2011
I guess some form of communication occurs from birth. Babies are born knowing how to cry, and there are other little things, too: grunts and other sounds, little gestures they make (both my children do (did) the exact same thing to tell me it's time to eat: nodding repeatedly on my -or other people's- shoulder, gently pressing against it each time).
But smiles are something else. It's crazy, when you think of it, to realize how early they occur: 5 weeks with LP, 6 weeks with F. It's, literally, a matter of days between your baby not really seeing you (or anything) clearly, and her sending you the following non-verbal message: "Mom! I'm so happy that you're here!"
Smiles are the first thing new parents eagerly await. Smiles never, and I mean never, lose any of their appeal. Smiles make it all (the night wakings, the long evenings of fussiness, the diaper explosions, the "I want to give up breastfeeding" moments at 4 AM when your entire body aches) worthwhile.
Thank whatever's out there for smiles.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
Happy new year to all of you!
As per the tradition, here is when I review my resolutions from last year and comment on them.
- Really, fully, completely reconcile with this idea of giving LP a sibling (I guess I did OK on that one, didn't I!)
- Make wonderful discoveries that make me feel enlightened and alive (music, readings, movies, etc.) (Mhh. Sure.)
- Always try to find ways to become a better person, wife, mother, relative and friend (Not there yet, and I have different little bickerings with my family this year to show for it. :-( )
- Launch a kicka*s website for my flower sideline, get more contracts (In progress, so that's something!)
- Count my blessings (Very much so. Every day.)
As for 2011:
- Be there in the moment with my kids and my husband. Pay attention.
- Properly launch the flower business.
- Be more patient. (I am usually but unfortunately this is directly related to the fifth resolution).
- Lose the baby weight (hey, welcome back, you. Aren't we are old pals... I'm warning you I don't ever want to see you again after this year though. I'd really like to be able to put my rings back on one day. And wear something else than leggings and nursing tops -I know it really doesn't look like it right now, but the woman has her pride).
- Catch up on my sleep. (Haha! Good one. I'm so funny!).
- Resume my blogging schedule.
- By the time my mat leave is up in October, have enough freelancing clients and work so that I can avoid going back to a corporate job, a full-time one at the very least. (That's clearly the tough one).