Diane Keaton's Got Nothing On Me

Do you remember the movie Baby Boom? It's that late 80s classic where Diane Keaton "inherits" a baby from a distant dead cousin and goes from high-powered executive in NYC to gourmet baby food entreprenuer in Vermont, once she realized how popular the baby food she was both making for her daughter and selling in a country store was with visiting tourists?

Well, I've decided to channel my own inner domestic and dust off the infrequently used appliances in my kitchen in order to make Isabella's baby food myself. My motives are twofold.

First, after doing a lot of reading on the subject, homemade baby food really is so much more healthy and surprisingly a heck of a lot more cost-effective than buying the little jars in the stores. There are no added sugars, starches, preservatives or additives (all stuff babies don't need) in the food you make yourself. And since I've decided to go the organic route, I'll know that everything that goes into Isabella's mouth is pesticide-free, and contains 10-50% more antioxidants than traditionally grown vegetables and fruits. Homemade baby food is fresher, it tastes better, and you can make a ton of it in a short amount of time, and then freeze it and have food for weeks. And unlike the jars, which can cost anywhere from .60 cents to $1.20 each, you can buy vegetables on sale and your money goes a lot further.

How's this for an interesting statistic. According to this book, by the time American babies reach 12 months of age, each infant will have consumed an average of 600 jars of commercially prepared baby food. But by contrast, the average baby born in Western Europe will only have consumed 240 jars. And in Eastern European countires, only 12 jars! Of course, Americans (myself included) rely on convenience food far more than other countries, which is why we're more unhealthy than the citizens of most industrialized nations as well. So, in making Isabella's food, I'm doing my small part to ensure the healthiest diet possible for the wee one.

And second, making Isabella's food is oddly and weirdly satisfying. It borders on the ridiculous how proud I was of myself after making the first batch. It's not that the baby food was difficult to make, or even time-consuming. It was that I was cooking! I was baking squash and sweet potatoes in my oven, and I wasn't screwing the whole thing up, which, in itself, is nothing short of miraculous.

Okay, so, here's how my first attempt went down.

First, I did a lot of reading. And I mean, a lot. I bought two books myself, and was given two others. Because I am a massive nerd, there's really very little I do without first researching it extensively first. So, I schooled myself on food safety guidelines, storage practices, and the right kinds of foods to make and introduce first (in case you're curious, most experts recommend introducing vegetables before fruits, because the latter are much sweeter and if you do fruits before veggies, your baby might not take to the vegetables later on).

Next, it was time to buy the food. The nice man in the green apron at the grocery store told me that these are what are known as vegetables. So I trusted him, and brought some home.

Then, I assembled the stash of baby food-making supplies I needed, which actually were pretty minimal. A blender or food processor (in having tried both, I prefer the food processor), a potato masher, some ice cube trays in which to freeze the food, some small jelly jars to store the food in the fridge, a vegetable steamer, and some freezer bags were all I needed.

Time to get to work! I peeled a sweet potato, and then boiled it, and then let it simmer for 20 minutes. In my second batch, I ended up baking another sweet potato in the oven along with acorn squash and butternut squash.

Next, I let the cooked potato cool. Once that happened, I popped the little pieces in my food processor, and then pureed until smooth. Finally, I spooned the puree into my ice cube trays.

Once frozen, I simply popped out the cubes, stuck them in a freezer bag, and voila! I've made baby food!
But Isabella's first food wasn't something I made. Her doctor recommended rice cereal to start, so Saturday was the big day. I mixed up some rice cereal and breastmilk.
And presented it to one very eager-to-eat little girl.

The results? Well, let's just say she was underwhelmed, and leave it at that.

Luckily, the next day when I tried again, she gobbled it up.

Isabella at Six Months

I remember the place I was in this time last year. We had recently broken the news to my family that we were expecting. We were praying every night for a healthy baby, the baby we had struggled to conceive for two years. And on Thursday, that baby turned six months old.

She's begun putting together consonant-vowel combinations "Baaaa" "Gaaaa," etc. And when she cries, you'd swear she was saying Ma-Ma. She hugs my face and gives my cheek huge open-mouth wet baby kisses. She pulls my hair constantly, which, if you can imagine, hurts. Like, a lot.

When you stand her on her legs, she's remarkably steady and sure-footed. She can sit up by herself for about a minute before leaning (and always to the left, just like Samara) or tipping over. She has toy preferences now, clearly expressing her desire for one over another. And changing her diaper has become a major challenge. The baby that once lay still, content to watch the mobile above her head, or play with a rattle now twists and rolls all over the place, anxious to get the monotony of a diaper change over with, so we can move on to the next activity.

She is absolutely obsessed with watching people eat or drink, often reaching for utensils or cups. This weekend, we're giving her her first taste of rice cereal, followed soon after by the vegetable purees I'm making her. Stay tuned for posts on my efforts to make Isabella's baby food because considering the fact that I

A) Don't cook


B) Don't eat vegetables

should make for some interesting culinary endeavors.

She's also a rockstar, and seems to know it. Her fans, with whom she shares a bloodline, couldn't possibly be more obsessed with her if they tried. They fight over who gets to watch her when I have to go to work for a meeting. When we bring her over to my aunt's house for Sunday dinner, we rarely see her until it's time to go home, because some relative is always holding her, fighting with another relative to hold her, or playing with her in another room. They buy her diapers and clothes, and give her Valentine's Day and half-birthday cards with money in them. And they shower her with a level of attention that is sure to elevate her perceived sense of importance in this world to levels I'm not sure I want to deal with when she's a teenager. She rewards them with remarkably good behavior, charming smiles, and adorable mannerisms, of which she gives her parents a mere fraction. But when Isabella is in the company of her grandma or her aunts, well, let the good times roll. She's truly blessed to have so many people who love her.

Happy Half Birthday, Little One.

DVR: A Love Story

In the spirit of last week's Valentine's Day holiday, I thought I would write an ode to the new love of my life. Now, I realize I'm behind the technology times a bit, and that people have been enjoying the benefits of my new love for years now, but for me, in my tiny no cell phone, no CD player in my car, no flat panel tv in my house universe, my love is New! Fresh! And Exciting!

My friends, I'm talking about my new DVR (Digital Video Recorder).

And here's how this little black box has changed my life.

Rich and I view the act of watching television as a continual learning experience. We fill our nights in front of the tube with symphonies on PBS, documentaries on our country's greatest presidents on The History Channel, and forays into the outer reaches of our planet on the National Geographic network. Our television will never be known as the "idiot box" because we don't watch the conventional tv programs that everyone else seems to find so popular. And now that we have our DVR, we don't have to worry about missing that special on James Garfield, and we'll never tune into Masterpiece Theatre late again.

Now, if my interests were as evolved as I sometimes delude myself into thinking they are, then maybe I would be watching (and DVR-ing) those kinds of shows. But I'll be honest here. My television interests are much more base than these. At the end of a long day of child-rearin' and workin', I want to sit in front of the tube, turn off my brain, and be entertained by the trainwreck antics of humanity. And that, my friends, is how DVR has enabled my reality tv-watching obsession and changed my life for the better.

Rich and I no longer have to miss the nightly pummeling contestants subject themselves to on American Idol because Isabella decided to wake up in the middle of the show. All we do is hit the rewind or pause buttons once one of us finishes getting her back to sleep (yes, people, the DVR allows you to rewind and pause live TV!), and we're back in business.

Isabella changes her napping pattern and suddenly I can't catch What Not To Wear anymore? I don't need to miss a single one of Clinton and Stacy's fashion tips (and believe me, I can't afford to). I can program my DVR once (once!) to record the show and I'll never miss a single episode, regardless of what time it's on.

There's no searching for a blank tape on which to record Survivor. There's no tracking issues preventing me from seeing Phil's special eyebrow arch that he does especially for me on The Amazing Race because we used an old tape ("wait, are we sure that's not a beta tape from 1988?"). And we can watch other reality tv shows (and let's face it, there are many) on the same tv at the same time we're recording another show!

Yes, I'm fully aware that reality tv rots your brain so lest you think less of me now that you know my deepest, darkest addiction, I'll have you know that I also watch (and now DVR!) Grey's Anatomy and Lost, which while I realize hardly qualify as quality tv are likely a step above Beauty and the Geek and Fear Factor.

But my heart of hearts lies in love with reality tv for evah.

And my DVR?

Well, it's the glue that holds us together.

Baby Love

February 14th ushered in Paula Deen, frozen chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick, and by the time the day was over, over 20 inches of snow.

The hubs is a teacher currently going to school to become a principal. When he got the call that his school was closed early yesterday morning, he normally would have had to go into work anyway, because he's serving his internship as principal of the elementary school in his district, and even on snow days, administrators have to report for work. But, because the weather was so bad, he didn't! And the board meeting that would have kept him at school until 10 o'clock at night (on Valentine's Day!) was cancelled. So he stayed home with Isabella and me all day long. A fab V-day to be sure.

Here's Isabella with my gift subscription from her and her Daddy. Mmmm... Paula Deen. Tasty!

And here's what we got the hubs. I saw the company profiled on The Food Network. While the chocolate-covered part doesn't do anything for me, the cheesecake inside was delicious.

This morning I took some pictures from the front steps of my house, without putting one tootsie outside into the mounds and mounds of snow outside. While nothing even close to what Syracuse has received lately, 20 inches in one day is quite a lot, even for upstate NY.

I hope everyone had a great Valentine's Day!

Cooking for Dummies

If you've been reading here for awhile, you know that I don't cook. As in, hardly at all. As in, toast is a major feat for me. And so is cereal. In total, I probably make about five things that one would consider actual meals, among them, this Chicken and Beef Taco Ring Thing, which has actually become a weekend staple in my house.

So the hubs and I have been subsisting on the leftovers of the weekly Sunday dinner at my great aunt's house, which can last until Tuesday, at times (Score!), and on things that come in bags or boxes, which can then be cooked in the microwave.

Until now! Because on Sunday, a friend and I went here and now my freezer is stocked with enough meals (and I'm talking real meals here. Meals that don't include the words "Remove the cellophane wrapper" or "Microwave on high for five minutes" anywhere on the package) to last for weeks! I think I'm in love.

Here's how it works. You sign up to make either 6 or 12 meals, selected from a menu that changes monthly, on their website. You arrive at the "kitchen," don an apron, and move from station to station, each of which is set up with all the ingredients you need to make whichever meals you signed up for. Not only is everything pre-measured (so, for instance, if what you're making calls for 1/2 cup of diced tomatoes, the scoop that's in the container of tomatoes is a 1/2 cup scoop), but the second you're done with the spatula, bowl, or spoon used to prepare the meal, an employee whisks it away from your station. There's no clean-up! Once you're finished making a meal, you stick it in a fridge on a shelf labeled with your name, and you move on to the next meal station.

And, that's not all! The employees wander around offering fresh-from-the-oven and still-warm cookies to you as you work. There's also free coffee. And their lounge? Has two huge comfy sofas, and a wall-mounted flat screen TV. Playing what, you ask? Well, the Food Network, of course! And ya'll know how much I love the Food Network.

When you're done, you load up the box or laundry basket you brought with you to store all your meals, an employee carries it out to your car for you, and off you go. Once you're home, you stock your freezer with your stash of food, all of which comes with labels for preparation, and you have meals for weeks. Weeks, people!

I had such a blast. I made Calzones, Beef Stew, Pizza Meatloaf, Marsala Chicken, Beef Stroganoff, and Baked Ravioli Casserole. And who cares that I'll only eat three of these (given that I don't eat red meat)! The hubs has dinners for quite awhile, considering that each meal serves 4-6, and so far, there are only two of us with teeth in our household. So, in two hours, I made six meals, which actually translates into at least 12 meals.

From what I understand, this is a chain, and they have these places (sometimes under different names) in other cities across the country. If there's one where you live, and you're cooking-challenged like me, or if you're pressed for time to make dinner during the week, I'd highly recommend doing it.

This sorta counts as the cooking normal people do, right?

I'll Take a Grande, Decaf, No Whip, No Kid Frappuchino, Please

A little over a year ago, I read this article. Essentially, the owner of a coffee shop in Chicago put up a sign that reads, "Children of all ages have to behave and use their indoor voices when coming to A Taste of Heaven." Parents in the neighborhood, offended by what they saw as someone attempting to tell them how to parent their kids, were outraged and organized a boycott. The article then goes on to outline the battle between the "child-free" and the "child-centered," and how this issue is being addressed in restaurants, bakeries, and other establishments that aren't generally seen as "child-friendly."

At the time, I discussed this issue with my sister, and we both agreed that so many parents nowadays seem to have this sense of entitlement, this belief that they can go anyplace with their children that they did as a childless person and that the proprietors and customers just need to "deal with it." Of course, at the time, I wasn't a parent. I was just a child-free gal who would get supremely annoyed by parents ignorning their misbehaving kids whom they decided to take to a nice restaurant on a Friday night.

Now that I'm a mother, though, my opinion on this hasn't changed. Children are not accessories. He or she is not a handbag, or a cell phone, or a Crackberry that you can just tuck into your person and take anywhere with you. They are living, breathing, and often crying, whining, screaming, and fussy beings. Their presence and behavior impacts others, especially in a small and quiet environment. For me, it's this simple: there are just certain places that are not "child-friendly." They are meant to be enjoyed by adults, and adults only, and if you do plan on taking your children there, you best watch them and monitor their behavior like a hawk. And at least for me, my beloved coffee shops fall into this category.

Now, that said, I must confess that I want to go back to hanging out and meeting friends for coffee like nobody's business. This was a huge part of my pre-baby life, and I miss it desperately. Coffee is my preferred drink of choice (I chug down about 10 cups a day of vile decaf at home), and I've always enjoyed visiting Starbucks and my other coffee shop hangouts. But now I have Isabella. And given the hubs' work schedule, she's as much a part of my anatomy now as my arms are. If I want to go somewhere, well, chances are she's coming with me.

There's nothing I want more somedays than to hit my local coffee shop, plunk myself and my kid down, and dig into a book and a scone and an overpriced coffee for an hour or two. But Isabella is five months old now. She's very active. And very vocal. And frankly, I think I would get very depressed at the prospect of getting all settled in with my coffee only to have to pack up and leave because she's tweaking out. That's not to say I don't plan on trying it, because someday I am going to do exactly that. But one peep from her, and we're out. People visit coffee shops for peace and relaxation, often to work or to study, and to engage in quiet conversation. They don't want to hear my kid screech at a decibel level normally heard only by dogs, no matter how endearing I might think it is (which, for the record, I don't).

I miss my favorite restaurants. I miss going to the movies. And I miss my Starbucks. I'm a parent now, but I also remember what it was like to frequent these places as someone without kids, and how annoying it was to watch completely unsupervised kids wreck havoc on their surroundings. Now, granted, they're just being kids. Their parents, however, should be strung up by their fingernails.

I guess my main point is this: If you're going to take your kids to a place that's meant for adults (and I believe coffee shops are exactly this, because as far as I know, kids don't drink coffee and 95% of the drinkable menu items at coffee shops are coffee-based), you need to ensure they behave appropriately. And if they don't, no matter how much you want to stay and read your newspaper or chat with your friend, you need to get up and leave. For me, it's as simple as that.

Just Like Heaven

After a particularly rough-on-my-mental stability week, the hubs suggested that if I wanted, I should take some time this past Saturday and get out of the house on my own, sans baby. After contemplating this solo venture for approximately three-tenths of a second, I said, "Can I leave now?" Unfortunately, it was only Thursday at the time we were having this conversation. But Saturday came soon enough. And so, following the little girl's afternoon nap, I headed out the door.

And I went to Starbucks. Oddly enough, the one closest to my house was completely packed. At 4pm. On a Saturday afternoon. There was not a seat to be had. Undeterred, I turned around and headed to the Starbucks in the next town over, which is newer, but with fewer comfortable chairs than the one nearest my house.

My friends, my time there was glorious. Glor-I-Ous. I drank this. And I read this, the first book not containing the words "Moro reflex," "sleep cycle" or "nipple confusion" that I've touched since Isabella was born in August. It was relaxing. It was quiet. There was no needy little person permanently attached to my hip and demanding my constant attention. I felt more like me in the hour and a half that I spent there than I've felt in the last five months.

But in my mini-break from mommyhood, I noticed some changes in Starbucks since the last time I was there.

1. The "older set" has embraced the coffeshop culture. There were at least seven "seniors" (and by "senior," I mean at least 70 years of age) sipping away at their drinks on Saturday. Now, this might not seem strange to you, but my older relatives place Starbucks on par with The Apple Store. It's just not a place they'd ever enter, or have reason to enter. Their missive on Starbucks is twofold. One, on the rare occasions they've had Starbucks coffee, they've pronounced it "too bitter." But keep in mind that the coffee they brew in their own homes is little more than brown-colored water. And two, they've deemed Starbucks coffee too expensive ("$1.50 for a small coffee??!!?? I can go to McDonald's and with my senior discount, a large is only 3 cents!!").

But apparently, my older relatives are in the minority now, because the senior set has set up shop in my Starbucks. And frankly, I think it's very cool.

2. People have begun eating muffins with a knife and fork. Is this something that's been happening for awhile, while I've been cocooned in my house all day with a baby? Someone help me out here. I mean, I know their muffins are on the large side, but I saw not one, but two people eat their muffins with utensils. I'm not suggesting they cram the whole thing into their mouth and attempt to take a bite that way, but I think I'm firmly entrenched in the "tear away a piece" method of eating muffins. Who's with me?

3. What is with the signs advertising new drinks emblazoned with employee comments underneath? Is Starbucks trying to morph itself into Barnes and Noble? I saw a sign for the new Cinnamon Dolce Latte (which looks and sounds yummy, by the way), and written in black ink at the bottom of the poster was a commentary about the drink made by an employee. Since when do I care that Daryl, the weekday morning barrista, thinks this drink starts spicy with a mild buttery finish? Odd. Very odd.

4. And finally this, and I have much to say on this topic. Children have invaded Starbucks, and I do not like it. At. All. Whatsoever. About 10 minutes before I left, two parents brought in their four kids under the age of ten. They took over enough table and chair space to cover a city block with discarded coats, hats, scarves, and mittens. The kids immediately started "exploring" the display shelves of expensive coffeemakers, cups, and dishes. And the decibel level inside rose considerable. To be fair, they were only behaving like kids do. They're not to blame here. They were just "being kids" in a place in which I believe their parents shouldn't have taken them into in the first place. Stay tuned because I intend to wax poetic on this topic later on this week.

An hour and half of pure and unadultered baby-free bliss later, I made my way home refreshed and re-energized. And I couldn't wait to grab and hug my little bean as soon as I walked through the door. I think a weekly "Starbucks Saturday" is called for here, don't you think?

Betty Friedan is Rolling Over

When I got married in 2001, I chose to keep my maiden name. Now obviously, this is a very personal choice that every woman has to make for herself, but for me, it was prety much a no-brainer. Historically, women entering into marriage were viewed as property, and responsibility for that "property" was exchanged from the woman's father to her husband after the wedding. And with that exchange of property went a last name change from that of her father to that of her husband. Seeing no reason to participate in this "tradition," I kept my name. And my husband is fine with it (and if he wasn't, he wouldn't be the kind of person I'd want to spend my life with anyway). I use his last name socially, so if we go to a wedding, I don't have a problem being referred to as Mr. and Mrs. X. Same thing with Christmas cards, etc.

So I always applaud when I hear stories about women keeping their maiden names, or changing their middle names to their maiden names, or hypenating their last names. Or even combining their last name with that of their husband to form a new last name that both of them share. If I'm not mistaken, that's what the co-founders of The Farm Sanctuary did.

Then I read this story. Here's the gist: A couple went to obtain their marriage license. The husband-to-be wanted to change his last name to that of his future wife's because he was estranged from his father and because his future wife wanted to prolong her family name, since she had no brothers. They discovered that in the great state of California, however, a man cannot simply take his wife's last name upon marriage. While a woman needs only to fill in her husband's last name on the marriage license form, a man wishing to take his wife's last name must file a petition, pay more $300, place a public notice for weeks in his local newspaper, and then appear before a judge.

What century are we living in again?

And this is taking place in California. California, people, where you can legally go from this

to this

and no one bats an eye. Where you can name your children Moon Unit, Pilot Inspektor, Jermajesty, Moxie Crimefighter, and Coco Cox. And yet it's somehow a huge problem for a guy to take his wife's last name upon marriage?

I. Do. Not. Get. It.

Quick Snapshot:

  • 34-year-old writer and
    mother to a daughter
    born in August 2006 following
    IVF and girl/boy twins born in October 2008 following FET. Come along as I document the search for my lost intellect. It's a bumpy ride. Consider yourself warned.

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