Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My baby is FOUR!

The clock has now ticked over into a new day, so this post is a belated birthday wish to Blake, my 4-year-old baby! I can't believe he's so old.

Fortunately, this also means that the birthday mayhem is also now finished for a while, at least until April when Noah's special day rolls around. It has been a rather tiring couple of days getting everything ready for Blake to celebrate, but we got through it with relative sanity intact and everyone still speaking to each other!

At our lovely - and totally crazy and manic - party on Saturday (I spent pretty much the whole time muttering to myself, "What was I thinking?!"), not one, not two, but three of our - three - cameras ran out of their batteries, so party shots are limited while we wait for the batteries to recharge so that I can download the limited number of pics that we did manage to take, on to the computer. It was a fun party, and I think most importantly, Blake had a great time.

On Monday, he decided that he wanted to have another sleepover with Granny Karla and Grandpa John (Bishy and Peter were also visiting, so it was an extra special sleepover). That was fine, and he seems to love this big boy adventure of the sleepover, but what it meant was that on his birthday morning, he wasn't at home for me to wish him happy birthday! Mom came over to help get Noah dressed and ready, and I headed off to work thinking to myself that I thought I wouldn't not get to see my child on the morning of his birthday at least until he was a teenager! I felt a little bit sad for myself and then had to remind myself, again, that it's not about me - it was about what he wanted for his special day.  Sniff, sniff...
They also took the cupcakes I baked last night off to his pre-school class for them to enjoy. Praise be, if I haven't said this before, for the import/export Gods who decided to bring Betty Crocker cake mixes and ready-made icing to UK supermarkets. 

I stopped on the way home from work and got fish and chips for a special dinner, mainly saving everyone the hassle of having to cook anything (ok, "special" = "lazy" dinner). We then opened some presents and Blake was so excited with what he got. He gave the SWEETEST hug to Matt after Matt gave him our present, some sort of hulking plastic creation that is apparently Batman's Bat Cave. Blake walked over to Matt and hugged his leg so tightly it made me want to cry!  It does seem like a pretty cool toy and Blake and Noah managed to play with it together for a while, always a result, even if temporary!

And so, here it is - February 29th. If you remember, and if you're doing the calculations, Blake came very close to being a Leap Day baby four years ago. But he made it into the world at 7:35 am on the 28th, and has been my love and joy ever since. Ok, not every single moment, of course - like tonight in the bath when he and Noah seemed to get into a head-butting match which left both of them bawling their eyes out (the concept of a relaxing bath doesn't seem to exist in our house!) but he's a great son and I love him to bits. Happy birthday, sweet boy - we love you...

My baby in 2008, one day old...
And now, a big 4-year-old...!
Bless Noah, as soon as Blake moved on to open a new present, Noah would focus in on the newly-available-to-play-with toy...!

Treated like a king and queen!

Matt and I were treated to 24-hour babysitting services two weekends ago, and took advantage of our relative youth and the fact that we live in a European capital city to enjoy a night away in central London. We got a deal on to stay at the Westbury Hotel in Mayfair, which was nice (although getting a massive discount on the normal room rate also meant that we were in all likelihood given one of the worst – or at least the smallest – rooms in the hotel!). No matter, as we weren’t there very much and instead were out exploring all that the local scene had to offer. We headed off at around 4:00 pm on Saturday, leaving behind a dinner of Spaghetti Bolognese and explicit instructions on how to operate the dvd player. The instructions weren’t really needed, because Mom and Dad have become experts in their 5 weeks+ at operating this crucial device for children’s entertainment. After Matt and I checked in at the hotel, and inspected the full 8x8 hotel room and amenities (the £6 can of beer from the mini bar got a pass), I had to laugh at what we did next. Scoping out the local shops (which included Vivienne Westwood and Issey Miyake – I would be unlikely to even afford a single sleeve or trouser leg on any items of clothing in these shops!), we headed straight for…Hamley’s – London’s largest toy store! I was just struck by how strong those ties to your children are…even when we were free to think about anything but them, there we were, trying to find a Cars 2 “Professor” car for Blake. Sheesh. The place was a madhouse, so we quickly made our purchase and then headed out to look at a few more shops, before stopping for a beer at the Red Lion pub. That was more like it! It was fun to people-watch and remember what it was like to be able to do this type of thing whenever we wanted!
Later on, we had cocktails at the hotel’s Polo Bar - wild lavender and pomegranate martinis which were very tasty. We then went and had a pretty amazing dinner at the Japanese restaurant Chisou, where, of one of the dishes I tried, I had what I think was the most amazing eel sushi I’ve ever eaten in my life. So good. I also sampled a new flavour of ice cream – azuki bean, which was really yummy. The best part of the whole weekend was perhaps the fact that we got to sleep in the next morning – until about 9:15. I can’t remember the last time that happened, but I don’t think it’s been in the last 2 years at least. We rounded off the trip with a posh brunch at Cecconi’s – where everyone but us seemed likely to have this be their local brunch spot.
We headed back on the tube to Brixton and then got the bus home – bringing us back to earth with a small bump! Mom and Dad and the boys had had a good night, and were at the Rosendale for lunch, so I headed up to meet them. It was a fabulous night off, and I can’t thank the babysitting team enough for their help!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Matchbox 20 and a certain hour

She says baby,
It's 3 am, I must be Mona!

Very much looking forward to singing that in Chicago in July with Mona and the girls!

The cake is progressing.  Trying to color the fondant was probably a mistake, or rather, there would probably have been easier ways to get colored to buy colored fondant!

I think I am too tired to work on the web (ha ha, no pun intended - I mean the spiderweb!), so I'm going to try to clean up all my fondant-y bits that adorn the dining room table, and call it a night.

If I choose to look at this as a learning opportunity, I guess in many ways I have learned a lot tonight, so it must be good! I fear it may actually taste disgusting, and a lot of people just throw that layer of fondant away anyway, even when it's not going crusty and with various holes and cracks as mine has!  Fortunately I also made some brownies earlier if the cake tastes hideous.  And at least it won't taste like a bottle of food coloring...

Is it that time of year already?!

It is usually at this time of year that I start to ask myself if I will ever learn. Yes, it's birthday time for Blake, and as is my tradition, I am usually spending the night or two before his party scouring the internet for easy-to-make cake designs, and instead finding lots of beautiful but complicated cake designs that I would like to try baking, but won't be attempting because they require a level of skill and experience that I simply do not have! Then I go through the "Oh, why didn't I think about this at least a week ago - as opposed to the night before?!" And well, the answer is because it's me, and that's what I do! We have Blake's party on Saturday, and we hired a small church hall nearby and have invited just a few kids to join us for the Spiderman-themed party. My main regret on Thursday was not having arranged for some form of entertainer - whether a clown, magician, or storyteller...anything so that I would not have to play the role of Mistress of Ceremonies and lead the kids in games such as musical statues. I hope we get through it intact!

As for the theme, Blake had several weeks ago chosen Spiderman, and we are eternally grateful for Granny Karla's magical suitcase of birthday surprises.  If there is one thing she does very well (she does a lot of things very well, by the way), it's load an entire trolley suitcase full of goodies that come in VERY HANDY for her daughter (me), when I think about the things I would have to buy if she hadn't already done so, and bring it across the Atlantic for consumption by British children who don't even know there is so much choice in the party decorations department.  Spiderman party bags, pencils, notepads, cake toppers, balloons, balloon centerpieces, streamers, coloring pages, stickers...and I am probably leaving something out there in that list!  Oh yes, I am - Spiderman napkins, paper cups and paper plates.  It is amazing...on Thursday it felt like opening a true treasure trove leading to birthday planning bliss.

So that left me with the simple task of the cake.  Chortle chortle.  Oh yes, simple.  I said to someone yesterday that if there's a hard route or an easy route, inevitably I take the hard one...wonder why that is?  Anyway, after some Internet research last night, I worked out that there was one singular place in London that might help me out with achieving my goal to creating this Spiderman cake, and that place is Jane Asher in Sloane Square.  I had watched a video on how to color fondant icing - after feeling slightly sick thinking about how much red food coloring I had to use on Noah's red double decker bus cake last year.  The good news is, there is a better solution than using an entire bottle of liquid food coloring, and that solution is called icing paste.  But, according to Google, the only place I could actually purchase this today in London was miles away from anywhere near my home or work.  So, of course I went there!

The place was amazing - it is one of those shops that make you realize how little you know about something, in this case, baking.  It was definitely more like a craft shop than a kitchen supply shop; they had things like edible writing pens (where you would just write on your cupcake or cake or cookie or whatever - how rad is that?!).  They had cake tins, cupcake cases, sparkly edible glitter, sugar stars, sprinkles, decorations, icing sugar, candy melts, candles, and the list goes on...but crucially, they also had: icing paste.  I bought 4 colors, asked as many questions as seemed allowable before it got embarrassing for me, and headed back to work (this was all happening during my lunch hour!).  Incidentally, they also - unsurprisingly for being a cake-making company along with being a cake-making supply shop - sell a Spiderman cake, but if you have a look at the detail you'll see why I would be reluctant to think I would be placing an order with them for it.  It is rather exceptional though!

And now, around 12 hours later, I'm about to start my own humble cake.  I have the idea firmly in mind, and oh, how irrestible that idea can seem initially.  When the clock is about to tick over to midnight, however, and the house is asleep, I can think of a lot of things I would rather be doing than embarking on this activity.   Stay tuned to learn more of my adventures with Spiderman.  Will I defeat the evil forces of fondant icing?  Will I regret not forking out additional money for a "cake smoother"?  Will I get any sleep?  I'll report back tomorrow...

To give credit to where credit is due, I would like to thank Eloise at the Gourmet Cupcake Company in Chelmsford for this terrific video on how to make blue fondant.  I happened to see this one on Thursday night and love it for many reasons, one being the fact that at some point she clarifies whether the camera is rolling, which I just love.  It is also extremely informative, and having watched it a second time tonight I also noted about her use of gloves, which could save me from some unexpected trauma (a la forgetting to wipe your self-tanning lotion off your hands...ha ha ha!).   Thanks, Eloise - I love your videos!

Friday, February 24, 2012

The power of HeLa

Continuing with my aim to provide you with a content-rich blog – as opposed to just stories of what’s going on in our lives – I have a question for you: have you read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks? If the answer is yes, it’s likely that you’re a blog reader who recommended this book to me last May. I’m pleased to say I finally got around to reading it. If the answer is no, get thee pronto to a bookshop – or even better, your local library – and read it. It’s fantastic.

Henrietta Lacks was a black woman who died of cervical cancer in the 1950’s, when the world of medicine was a very different one to what it is today. Part of that is due to Henrietta, though, in that it was her cells (known as “HeLa”, after the first two letters of her first and last names), which first grew and replicated in a lab, providing the opportunity for scientists to do testing, create vaccines and cure diseases. What wasn’t so obvious to those scientists, however, was that HeLa cells once belonged to a person, and that person left behind a family, many members of which never even knew their mother.

This book, falling into the genre of creative non-fiction, reads as easily as any fiction novel I’ve ever read – I laughed and I cried, but I also learned something and thought hard about the issues it brought up: the rights of patients, the commercialization of cells and tissue cultures, how a person lives on after death, the lack of a socialized health care system in the US, oral history, how much medicine and civil rights have progressed in the last 60 years…those are all pretty big issues, but it was all the intimate family-related part of the story-telling that made this book such a joy to read. Rebecca Skloot went on a heck of a journey to write this book, and thank goodness for her readers, and for Henrietta Lacks’ family that she did. This book is a wonder, and I highly recommend it!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

February milestones

Monday was a special day in our family, as we celebrated two milestones: Granny Karla’s birthday, and Blake’s first sleepover! We headed up to Mom and Dad’s rental house after nursery, and I quickly shoved a ready-made chicken pie in the oven while Blake and Noah and I got to work on baking Granny Karla some Peppa Pig Muddy Puddle cupcakes. Our oven at home is awful – burning pretty much everything unless it’s covered tightly with tin foil – so it was a treat to use a working, normal oven where you set the temperature and assume it’s not going to go any higher than that!
We had a nice dinner and Granny Karla enjoyed herself. We had packed up Blake’s Trunki suitcase, several sets of pajamas and clothes, and his duvet, so that he could have his first ever sleepover! When Matt and Noah and I headed home around 8:15, it felt very strange not to have Blake around for the evening routine! I slept with both phones by my bed in case Mom needed to call me to come get an upset Blake, but apparently once he went to bed he didn’t stir. I am not sure Mom slept very much though!
When Noah woke up this morning, he seemed a little lost and confused as to the whereabouts of Blakey, but around 8:00 the little traveller and Granny arrived back at our house, Blake wearing the proud smile of a boy who had slept away from home for the first time! I am not sure we’ll make this a habit anytime soon, although already tonight he was talking about his next sleepover. It’s both amazing and sad to me to see him growing so quickly – in many ways the sleepover is a further milestone in his growing up. Next up in terms of our sleep routines and changes….we’re contemplating when we should move Noah into Blake’s room and give Noah his own bed. He seems to love to crawl under duvets and pretend to be sleeping, so it seems he would like it. Whether or not he’s ready for a big boy bed, I don’t know…and in the meantime we also need to kick him of his bottle habit. He’s never been the most verbal child, bless him, but his language has been coming on leaps and bounds in the last couple of weeks. He’s now putting a couple of words together sometimes (“Daddy shoes”) which is nice, although he pronounces “milk” as “mock” and seems to prefer a Spanish brand of o-shaped breakfast cereal called “Heerios”. What a character he is though.
Making cupcakes...

So happy birthday, Granny Karla – the best mom and maternal
grandmother to the boys ever! We hope you enjoyed your party…we loved celebrating with you!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Not a Material Girl, but a Ticketmaster Queen

In the past week, I have been center stage in that drama of life where you don't hear or think about someone or something for months, and then all of a sudden they're everywhere!

A week ago, I had even forgotten that Madonna was going to performing at the Super Bowl, but having watched the video highlights afterwards, her performance inspired me to write my first blog post in ages.  Funnily enough, I then got an email from Ticketmaster on Thursday afternoon letting me know that tickets for one of my favorite performers would be going on sale the following morning.  Oh yeah, I thought.  She is one of my favorite performers, isn't she?!  I had no idea that she was even starting another tour.... 

After seeing her on her Hard Candy tour a few years ago, I'm pretty sure I decided that I was no longer going to shell out money to attend concerts.  Ticket prices are just crazy now, and unfortunately Madonna's shows are now much more about the theatrics of it all - her costume changes, the lighting and pyrotechnics, the countless dancers, the political messages...the spectacle of Madge.  I say "unfortunately" because my ideal concert would be for her to sing all the hits from her first four albums (taking us up to 1989) and then forget about all the newer stuff (apart from if she wanted to include some of the songs from Evita!).  Ideally, of course, she would make way for me to perform my Like a Prayer dance as well, which, really, as we know, is actually better than her own. 

I was supposed to have a meeting on Friday at 10:00, and at the last minute it got cancelled.  It was, I decided, a sign, so on I went to ticketmaster.  In a matter of minutes, I was the proud owner of two tickets to see Her Madgesty in Hyde Park on July 17th.  Matt got first right of refusal - and he did in fact decline the invitation, bless him - so I'm on the market for someone who'd like to go with me.  If we're lucky it will be warm and sunny and she'll turn back the clock and sign only the hits that I know the words to.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The "Heart Way"

Although I count a crowded dance floor as one of my favorite landscapes, I wouldn't say I'm actually a "music person".  There are some people - and I'm always intrigued by them - who listen to music a lot.  They have to have it in the background, or in their headphones, or just wherever they are.  I'm more of a type to enjoy my thoughts and the occasional solace that silence brings!  Apart from on the dance floor, and well, then you need music!  Preferably Madonna or Motown...
When we go out in the car, however, I do like to have music on.  In our car's glove compartment is my random collection of my attempts to bring "the South" to the South of England: several Dixie Chicks cd's and my current driving favorite, Mary Chapin Carpenter's Come On, Come On.  The first song on the album is called "Hard Way" ("Everything she got, she got the hard way..."), but Blake thinks that the name of the song is "Heart Way", and he'll ask for it by - incorrect - name.  It always makes me smile.

As you hopefully know by now, it takes me a while with posts like this one, but I eventually get around to having a point in providing that introductory context.  It's been a busy few weeks for us, starting back in the middle of January when the "Grand Army" rolled into town on a US Airways flight from Charlotte.  We were so glad to see Granny Karla and Grandpa John, and they held the fort with Matt while I went on a business trip to Boston.  I was lucky to see Katie and Haes in NYC for about 40 minutes at an aptly named "Beer Bar" (I had a beer!), and Marisa and I dined together in the exclusive surroundings of Boston's South Station during Friday lunch hour.  It was great to see them all, if even briefly.  I was really happy to get home though, and back to the boys, Matt, and Mom and Dad.

One of the things that made the trip slightly harder than it might have been was that I was in the midst of getting an appointment scheduled for Noah related to his having had a few episodes late last year where his lips went blue.  Strangely, it didn't always happen when he was cold, and in fact sometimes it happened when he was warm and running around squealing with glee about something Blake was doing.  One GP had dismissed it as probably nothing to worry about, but on an insider tip from my expert family pediatrician (thanks, Amy!), I happened to notice one night in the bath that Noah's tongue also looked blue in relation to Blake's.  Again, at the time Noah showed no other signs of being unwell, but I took a quick photo of the two of them as my evidence, and headed back to the doctor's office a few days later.  This time, a different doctor agreed that it was probably best that he get referred to have a closer look.

If there are any two words which, when paired together, can strike terror in a parent's heart, those words are "pediatric" and "cardiologist".  Actually, cardiologist on its own would probably strike a certain degree of anxiety in many.  Anyway, we booked Noah in to see a cardiologist to see if there was anything wrong with his heart, its valves, the way his blood was being oxygenated, etc.  I decided it was best to not even do the internet research that's available to any stay-at-home wannabe doctor.  We had the appointment last Wednesday night, at the Evelina Children's Hospital.  It was a surreal and scary feeling to have my little shirtless boy lying on me while having the scan gel rubbed on his chest, and then to see the images of his heart come up on the screen.  I'd obviously seen his heart in a scan before, but it was just when he was  unborn and inside me!  Now he was my big boy Noah and being so good at lying quietly in this slightly darkened, very warm room with a kind of children's ceiling light going around pointing out different letters of the alphabet.  At one point I had to imagine that my own heart was beating so hard in my chest that it probably could have been heard through N's chest!  So it was with a huge amount of relief that the cardiologist wasn't able to see anything wrong - everything was the right size and doing the right things in terms of oxygenation, pumping...and well, at that point I'll admit to having stopped listening a bit, after hearing that he was all ok!

I had had a gut feeling that the scan was not going to turn up anything worrisome, but it sure was a relief to go home knowing that we could put any major worries to bed.  The doctor couldn't actually say what might have caused it (and in fact, I don't think Noah's had it happen in at least a few weeks now, which is reassuring), but he could rule out anything serious and heart-related which was definitely the best news. 

So Happy Valentine's Day for those of you who are so inclined to be romantic.  I'm very happy that I got to see the heart of one of my loves and can report that it looks great.  I sure I am grateful that we got to learn what we needed to know through the "heart way" and not the hard way.

Bathtub boys on Valentine's Day...lips looking nice and pink!

Monday, February 06, 2012

I share with you my thoughts on...

I've had a cold since Friday, but it's not just a's a really really bad one - constantly blowing my nose, honking into a Kleenex, coughing so hard I have to hold myself around my middle. I'm not sure what this has to do with much, apart from finding myself awake at 2:30 in the morning last night (after waking myself up from coughing) and deciding that I should go down and watch the end of the Super Bowl. The browser on my bedside iPhone told me the score was Giants, 15 - Patriots, 17. Interesting. I manage four people in the US, and 3 of them are based in Boston and one is in NY. My company's US employees, bar say half a dozen to a dozen, all work in either Boston or NY.   I don't really follow American football, so I didn't really have a favorite.

One of the first plays I saw was the play that will surely go down as the Most Reluctant Touchdown Ever in a Super Bowl. That poor guy for NY who scored the last touchdown, only because it seemed he got a bit too far in to actually justify turning around and running OUT of the unbelievably sad was that?! Of course he now has a Super Bowl ring on his finger, so all's well that ends well, but can you imagine? Do what you've been trained to do from probably shortly after you're able to walk, and have a collective groan go up from your own fans after you pass through that invisible barrier of glory?  Because it might have been safer to end up with a field goal and less time on the clock for Tom Brady to lead his team down the field to victory?  If anything, I think it's an interesting lesson about the notion of seizing the moment.  What if he had gone to ground before scoring the TD, and on the next play the Giants had fumbled?  They were behind after all.  Anything really could have happened, so in a way he did what he should have done, which was do what came naturally to put his team ahead.  I'm glad it worked out for him. 

And then, it was on to the all-important halftime show, which I did miss seeing live, featuring my all-time favorite icon.  I watched it on YouTube tonight and had many thoughts, which were namely the following.  If you want to read my commentary while watching a replay, this would kind of read as the color commentary to the play-by-play. 
- Where is she?  Is she going to come out from beneath the stage?  I've seen her do that before.  Oh no, look, she's coming in on a chariot.  I wonder what Mom and Dad and other Latin teachers would think of all this [not realizing it was meant to be Egyptian and not ancient Roman].
- I wonder if Vogue, the magazine, paid for this show?  "Vogue", is this a kind of weird choice to include in this show?
- This is sure a spectacle, though.  Hang on a second, sometimes she's not really singing. What's that about? 
- Uh oh, did she just nearly fall off that bleacher?  I think she did.  I'm very glad she didn't.
- How nervous must this guy on this tightrope be?!  Oh my god, I can't even imagine.
- Who are these other girls singing this song I don't know?
- Who is this big guy with her?  I hope he does not collapse on stage; it looks as if it is a possibility. 

- She is amazing.  She's getting on a bit (how old is she again?) but she sure still has it.
This was my star thought of the night:
- Oh good, she's doing my song. ("Like a Prayer" obviously)
That one just has to make me laugh.  She's doing my song.  Brilliant role reversal and somewhat delusional thoughts on my part, but I'm sorry if it does feel like mine.  She does it well, though. 
Final thought was: how do I get to be in that "Like a Prayer" choir?!  I'm going to write a letter.  

That's all for tonight, folks.  Hope you're well.