Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Family Art of Eating

Being the Mom has really made me look at myself and what I actually do, not only what I want to teach Ben. I am reading a book about feeding your child and its made me reflect on what I was taught about food and health. My mom was amazing when it came to teaching us about food. She enjoyed food, didn't obsess over it and was an equal opportunity eater. I have a great model to work from when it comes to feeding Ben. We had a garden growing up (which I don't). It made me appreciate very simple food. No chemicals, no additives or preservatives- produce that came straight from the ground to our kitchen table. My mom grew the kind of tomatoes that you wanted to eat like apples, because the taste was like an explosion. It was all you needed. I don't even know how to compare the tomatoes you can buy at the store. Its a pathetic comparison. Hopefully someday I will catch the gardening bug. One of my favorite things was picking ingredients for dinner from the garden in the summer twilight. I can remember the smell of the valley and the way the dusty vegetables felt in my hands. It made food feel like a way of life.

Mom is so against the "clean your plate" philosophy, and she would defend us against it when we were much too little to understand. We either ate as a family, or Steph and I would eat together in the kitchen and I would try to get her to taste things she hated, like olives. We could eat as much or as little as we wanted at dinner or snack time, as long as it wasn't too close to dinner. Desert was usually two small cookies that we were allowed to steal from Dad's stash. He kept them in old-fashioned animal cracker tins on the top shelf. I remember them being red, with pictures of tigers and other circus animals in caged train cars. Sometimes Mom would put together fancy elaborate deserts. When I say elaborate, I don't mean layered and decorated cakes or some kind of Martha Stewart hand painted cupcakes. I mean hearty, country style pies or peaches and ice cream. That was a treat in our house and she always seemed so excited to announce it, and we were excited to hear it.

When Mom makes dinner its always at least three courses, and she always offers you bread and butter. We always had a glass of milk and candlelight. She has a flair for presentation- she would arrange the food, add garnishes, and bring the big dishes to the table. You serve yourself, as much or as little as you'd like. She used brown or wild rice, was careful about how well the meat was cooked, and packed the salads. Light on the lettuce, heavy on the healthy stuff. She is incredibly creative in the kitchen, and got increasingly so with every passing year. She can make a meal out of anything, and can visualize a quick, healthy snack without even looking in the fridge. When we were growing up she cut cheese from blocks (none of this pre-sliced extravagance) she bought heads of lettuce, just-pulled-from-the-ground carrots. Our fridge could sometimes look like a farmer's ice box from the forties. It was real food, and it was really good.

We were your average unappreciative kids who just didn't know better. We said our pleases and thank yous and helped set the table, but we dawdled when it was time for dinner, and we had to be reminded to comment on how good it was. Mom loved us. She could tell by the way I quieted down, and Steph danced in her chair that we loved a meal.

We had no idea how much work it took to put a meal like that on the table night after night, much less how wonderful it was that she loved it and poured love into it. Not every night was magical, of course, this isn't some kind of perfectly polished television show. But there was scarcely a night that she didn't put forth the love and the effort, hoping for the magic. She taught me so much about nutrition and caring for my body and what went into it. She taught me how to be comfortable in your kitchen, to experiment, try again and to care about the process, not the perfection. Dad taught me not to rush through a meal and to avoid talking business at the table. It's a time to relax, to savor, to smile over dancing candlelight at the ones you love.

Cheers to that.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

2011 Smells Good

I was just taking the garbage out, and noticed the fresh, cold, familiar smell of newness. Cal Poly used to smell like this in the Spring. It is a new-friends, new-opportunities, who-knows-what-cool-stuff-is-gonna-happen smell, and its incredible! New things:
         1. Scott is right now helping our friends Sarah and David move into their super cute house just across the freeway from us. Thrilled!
         2. A routine is beginning to take shape for Ben and I. The little rituals that we do everyday, like a story and a song before napping in the crib... or playing in his high chair in the morning that will eventually turn into breakfast time... I can see them emerging.
         3. Our living room has achieved permanent child play area status. The only thing missing are some safety gates.
         4. Today was Ben's second ride in the stroller without his car seat. It is also his second day of falling asleep by himself without rocking and shushing and bouncing. Lots of crying, but last night he slept better than he has in weeks, and seems uncomfortable when I try to hold him and rock him. It looks like he just needs to do his thing and work it out. The way he used to cry in the first three months would evoke such a palpable anxiety in me that I could never just leave him to it. These days, his cry sounds okay. I don't know how to explain it. Angry, not anxious. He is getting bigger and I know he knows I am here, because his attitude doesn't seem to change even when I do come in and wipe his eyes and give him a pacifier. He just looks at me and keeps crying. I feel good, he sleeps better... its not a radical change, he's just ready to adjust that last bit. Its a new year and he is growing so fast.

We have his two month appointment on Thursday. Can't wait! This last week has made a huge difference. Its just getting easier every month. Thank goodness!!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year

Christmas was crazy. Lots of bit-off-more-than-I-ended-up-chewing... but the social circus that I did tip my toe into was just super high quality. Kirby and Emily arrived with my sister about a week before the big day, and Kib and Em stayed for about three days. They were great days. Ben just loved Emily and would spend all this time just gazing at her prettiness. It was love. And Kirby apparently is hysterical. He could be a stand up comic for babies. Ben finally let loose with his first laugh- which was, predictably, more of a quiet little flutter stutter. That kid is one tough sell. Like his Dad, he doesn't quite see the point in displaying emotion on the outside. He has huge smiles in the mornings, but if he's into it, usually the most you will get is some widened eyes. Also predictably, no repeat laughing since. It was the same when he began smiling- he let one beautiful warm smile go, and then we didn't see it again for weeks.

Grandma and Grandpa arrived as Kirby and Emily left, and wow that was awesome. They are such amazing grandparents. They love to spend time with Ben, and not just the easy fun stuff. I try to let them know that they can just enjoy the frosting, they don't really have to do the bouncing and shushing and fussing thing. But they don't listen! They deal with the tears and the screaming and the diaper changes with the same loving awe as the smiles and cuddling. Amazing grandparents. They took Ben in turns with Scott and my sister, and I was able to make a book! I received a Wacom tablet for Christmas this year and I wrote and illustrated "Merry Christmas Monkey" for Kelly's son Zach. Steph and I were talking about the Llama Llama children's books that I love, and Zach and his monkey, and out came a rhyme! Then another! And after forty some-odd hours and one completely numb finger, a book was born. It was intense, but the feeling of exploding with all that creative thinking was exhilirating. It always makes me feel useful and unique when I can produce something like that. And it was all because of the Grandma/Grandpa time that Ben was getting. After that we were able to spend a day with the Schmalbachs, and Ben saw Dean rolling over, and he has to do everything Dean does.

Ben is almost four months old! Just a few more days. His latest mission is to turn over. Yesterday he made it from front to back, but he really wants to do back to front. He gets really upset when he can't do it. He is still obsessed with being bounced on the exercise ball to go down for naps. He still needs to be swaddled and he will take his pacifier when hes tired, but only for a minute usually. He "talks" ALL the time and is getting better at holding his toys, although he can only really hold onto thin rings and washcloths right now. Everyday he is becoming more aware of the world and more fun to play with. This year is going to bring a lot of new things for our little man. We also went out on our first official date on 12/30! It was nice to be out together, but luckily we get a lot of one-on-one time in the evenings after Ben goes to sleep around 7. Last night we spent our evening together taking down all the Christmas decorations.

Usually taking down Christmas really bums me out for awhile, but this year I'm excited. The house was feeling really small and crowded with all the baby things plus the tree and I was feeling a bit claustrophobic. On top of that, one of my best friends is moving from Paso to Arroyo Grande and the new year means she will be settled in her new house and we will be able to get together much more often. Her baby girl is almost ten months old and is so much fun. They will have a little playroom in the front of the house, and when we take the tree down we are setting up a little play area in our living room, too. There are two baby gates parked in our living room in boxes, waiting to be installed, and there is a toy storage bin on its way to our house- to be stuffed with books, stuffed animals and other fun things!

Ben taking a wonderful Emily nap

First Christmas!

First Laugh

Grandma time

Opening some early presents

Grandpa with the burrito baby

with Dean, who DOES smile all the time!

Chrsitmas morning with his stocking

trying so hard to be just like Dean

First Post-Ben Date

Happy New Year!
This one is just super cute....
So the new year means play time with our friends, more learning and growing for Ben and its time for me to start cutting down on sugars and getting more exercise. By the time Spring is here, I am excited to see what our family pictures will look like. Yay for 2011!