Thursday, February 28, 2013

An Urgent Matter

One of the funniest things about a three-year-old is the urgency they feel about absolutely everything. There’s no differentiation between things that matter and things that don’t. Everything matters. I was thinking and chuckling about this yesterday when Lucia left the lunch table to go to the bathroom. Here was her monologue, delivered in a loud, frantic voice as she sat on the potty:

“Mommy! Mommy. Don’t eat my sandwich. Don’t let Greta eat my lunch. That was a lot of pee-pee! That was close. Mama—the toilet paper is almost gone! I need my blankie! I have a stuffy nose! Don’t eat my sandwich! Can I have more pear? Watch Greta so she doesn’t eat all the pear! Mommy! I’m finished! I didn’t wash hands! I’m still hungry! I will check one thing and be right back to sit down!”

This is pretty much her pitch for most of each day. Just all-out, all-in investment in minutia. She just urgently delivered a speck of dust to me at my desk (this is Quiet Time) so I could throw it away.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Letter to Greta: 16 Months

Dear Little Miss,

What a little person you are now, and what a lot of naughtiness you’re discovering. You have discovered that “no” exists for you as well as your sister, and you have discovered your ability to defy that “no” and keep doing what you want. You like to stand up in your high chair. You like to rattle the cabinet doors under the kitchen sink. You like to stand up on a chair at the little table. You like to stand on the bottom step and rattle the baby gate. You like to turn your milk bottle upside down and shake drops of milk everywhere. The list goes on.

You are very unlike Lucia right now. You are unafraid of strangers, for the most part; today I took you both to Whole Foods for a story and craft hour, and you kept running off, approaching strangers, climbing onto a motorized handicap cart. Lucia was immersed in adding glitter to her construction-paper snake, and you kept reaching onto the table and grabbing anything within reach; all the kids there seemed to have glitter on their tables, but you and Lucia were absolutely covered in glitter. It was a little insane.

You love your Bibi and are rarely without it. You like to carry around other things as well, particularly your corduroy cat and puppy. You like to press your animals into our faces for us to snuggle and kiss; you, too, snuggle them to your chest with the snuggle-snuggle-snuggle motion I so love in a baby. You use a pacifier but don’t seem totally obsessed; if it’s in sight, you want it, but you spend much of the day without it.

Though you didn’t like the snow, on the rare afternoon when we’re able to go outside for a little while, you love it. You usually throw a fit when it’s time to come inside, and you carry your shoes around, wailing “Shoe…shoe…shoe…” because you want to put them back on. You also pound on the front door yelling “Side! Side! Side!” We’re all ready for spring.

You are still heartbreakingly too little to do some things, like run close to the water when we go to the duckpond to feed the ducks. Lucia bounds around, tossing bread, while you watch everything from your stroller, yelling “Quack! Quack! Quack!” at the ducks. You want so much to join in.

You’re learning new words almost every day. Some new ones are fuh-fuh (woof-woof), meow, moo, seat, and read. You're also getting much better at running, thanks in part to the new rec room in the basement.

You’re still taking two naps, an hour or so in the morning and about an hour and a half in the afternoon. You’ve been doing okay with your nighttime sleep, but we’ve had a couple of 5 o’clock wakeups that are just brutal (the difference between anything before and after 6:00am seems more pronounced than it should be). Three days ago we finally put Lucia’s crib in your room. You’d still been sleeping in the mini-crib and were getting far too big—and you were able to swing your leg over the side. Now you’re in a real crib, and you seem to love it.

You are definitely the high-maintenance kid these days, especially with some teething going on, but we’ll keep you anyway. Even when you wallop our heads with your hands screaming “Hair! Hair!” or poke at our teeth and eyes with your tiny fingers.

Favorite toys/activities: ball popper, Squinkies, felt sandwich set, stacking cups, Sit N’ Spin, chalk, play food, Lucia's Dolly, running around the rec room (as in the pictures above)

Favorite books: Mouse Paint, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Duck & Goose A Book of Opposites, Birthday Monsters, Where Is Coco Going?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

DIY #2: The Guest Bathroom

When we moved in, our house was pretty much left as nice as it could be. Everything was freshly painted, and the wood floors had been refinished. There wasn’t much the sellers could do about the ancient kitchen or second-floor bathroom, which need to be gutted. But you got the sense that they’d done what they could to make this house appealing to people like us—ready to fall in love with a real gem of a home, and willing to put in some work.

Then…you get to the attic. There, you get the sense that the sellers just threw up their hands and prayed the rest of the house would carry its deadweight. The attic is kind of a mess. There’s one really great wooden room, billed as a bedroom and ideal for an office or playroom someday, once it gets insulated. There’s a large raw storage space. There’s also a guest bedroom and guest bathroom, and it’s in these rooms that Rochester would have found ample comfort for his insane wife.

The guest bedroom is a DIY project for another time, so I’ll save the details of that for the future. But the guest bathroom required some attention, particularly since that’s the bathroom I use: I refuse to shower in the dungeon-stall in the second-floor bathroom, and though the guest bathroom was a wreck, at least it had a normal tub and shower. When I say “wreck,” I’m not being a picky perfectionist. There was peeling, disintegrating, discolored wallpaper that hadn’t been applied properly in the first place. The paint on the ceiling, nubbily textured, was raining down steadily; each morning, I stepped with damp barefeet from the shower onto a snowdrift of crunchy paint flakes. Ick and ick. The discolored, hideous linoleum on the floor was peeling up along all the edges. All the paint was yellowing and old. The window blind was broken. It was beyond a mess.

Every morning as I showered, I had time to study these things, and I decided we could address this room ourselves. We plan to renovate the entire attic someday into a fabulous master suite or something, so we didn’t want to put too much money into renovating this bathroom—but it needed help. So, one weekend, we decided to just dive in and start fixing it up.

We (Andrew) scraped the paint from the ceiling. I tore down the wallpaper. We got a new blind. We repainted the walls and trim. We laid down peel-and-stick tiles. We got a new bathmat. Andrew recaulked and installed a tile over the strange fixture-holes in the shower wall. And—that was it. It was a lot of work, and the results aren’t perfect, with part of the plaster already crumbling despite Andrew’s spackling; but it looks quite nice, and it’s actually a pleasant space now.

Estimated time: less than 2 days
Actual time: 5 days (working in the evenings)
Number of trips to Home Depot/Target: 2
Tools borrowed from neighbors: 1 (caulk gun)



Sunday, February 24, 2013

DIY #1: The Sleeping Porch

We have no DIY experience. We own a small toolset, a drill with a cord, and a cordless drill. That’s it. Our house came with an elaborate workbench in the basement, along with a large selection of nails, bolts, and other misc., but it has yet to be used for anything but piling things on top of.

I say all this by way of introducing the next few posts I’ll write here, highlighting the DIY projects we’ve completed so far. I’ve taken lots of before-and-after pictures, but I haven’t yet put them together. So, here we go, with DIY #1: The Sleeping Porch, which we undertook at the end of the summer.

“I didn’t expect this part to be so…difficult.”

If we’d been featured on the HGTV show Renovation Realities, this comment from Andrew would have flashed onto the screen, immediately after an arresting image: Andrew and me in our painting clothes, winter scarves tied tightly around our mouths and noses, the “sleeping porch” we were attempting to renovate barely visible in a swirl of white dust.

The sleeping porch (as the previous owners called it) is on the second floor, off of my office. It’s a pretty beautiful room, lined with windows that wind open. The problem with this room is that it’s not insulated—it’s truly a room to use only in warm weather, despite the gorgeous sunlight it gets. I like going in here now and then even when it’s cold, because it gives a bird’s eye view of the backyard and gives me the sense of being high up in a lighthouse.

This room had a lot of problems. First, the floor: asbestos tile. Second, the walls: painted a hideous mint green, with earnestly hand-rendered (but also hideous) flowers scrolling along the top. We saw this as low-hanging fruit, as far as DIY goes: a simple painting job, followed by some peel-and-stick tiles, and the room would be transformed. And it was pretty easy, at first. We did almost all the taping and painting over two nights. Then we hit the flowers and realized they’d still be visible under the paint—the paint was really caked on, raised well above the surface. So I took the girls to Home Depot the next day, where I was instructed to purchase a canister of Wallboard Joint Compound and a trowel. Applying the compound took another night. Then it had to dry overnight. Then we had to sand it down with an electric sander we borrowed from a neighbor. Then we had to paint over that. Suddenly our two-day project—a day for painting, a day for floor!—hit the seven-day mark.

We eventually finished the painting, and then turned to the floor. This was our first adventure with peel-and-stick tiles, and they proved to be remarkably easy to use, with a very satisfying end result. Cutting the tiny pieces to fit along the angled edges of the end of the room was time-intensive, but overall this proved to be the easy part.

And voila—a transformed sleeping porch. We’ll probably return to this room in the future, to tear up the asbestos tiling and add insulation to make it more of a livable space, but for now, for our uses, it’s great.

Estimated time: less than 2 days
Actual time: 10 days (working in the evenings)
Number of trips to Home Depot: 2
Tools borrowed from neighbors: 1



Thursday, February 21, 2013

Skipping Town!

It's been much, much too long since a post on my blog has had anything to do with skipping town. Of course moving to the suburbs was a town-skipping of sorts, but definitely not in the original spirit of this blog. Now that we're in the 'burbs, with two little chicks running around, I should really just go ahead and rename this blog "NOT Skipping Town."

The weariness you may hear in that observation has little to do with my overall happiness and most to do with the simple fact that I miss those travelin' days. It's been well over three years since I've left the country. Lucia and Greta's passports are stiff and new, bearing no sign that we've planned all along to take them around the world. Andrew's been to Germany and India and Mexico for work, so his passport looks much less neglected. Now that we're deep into winter, when we barely leave our house let alone the country, the idea of new places and new challenges seems more faraway than ever. It's no wonder that I've found a little winter malaise setting in.

But all this is about to change, because in two weeks, the girls and I are joining Andrew for a two-week stay in Mexico City. Andrew's been traveling there quite a bit for work this year, and he felt a longer stint would be helpful to him, so we decided to make this our first family-travel adventure. I'm still a little shocked that it's all worked out--but I'm getting incredibly excited, not least because it's 80 degrees there.

We'll be staying in a large apartment in one of the city's nicest neighborhoods, just a few short blocks to a large park and right down the street from what Andrew says is a huge playground. I'm glad we'll have some home-comforts for my first out-and-about-abroad experience with the girls--there's a Starbucks around the corner from the apartment, for example, as well as a couple of nice grocery stores. Being someplace new, navigating a new city--this is not new for me. Doing it all with two tiny appendages--this is whole new territory for skipping town.

I'll write with more details as we figure them out. This is big--a challenge with a three-year-old and a one-year-old, both of whom are very home-focused and routine-reliant. Perhaps this trip will put me off international travel for a few more years. But even if it does, I welcome this shakeup to the winter. Time to open the creaking chest of wonders that is my scant memory of Spanish ("Yo soy bufanda!") and get ready to go.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Snowy Weekend

We got snow two weekends ago. A lot of it. About fourteen inches, in a great white blanket over our yard and driveway, making our property look magical and highlighting all the lovely places where the girls will one day build snow hideouts and forts. Lucia was absolutely thrilled with the snow. We went outside, all four of us, a couple of times on Saturday and Sunday, and she had so much fun shoveling, building a "stump" of snow, climbing in snow piles, eating icicles, making snow angels. It was quite cold all weekend, but she didn't seem to notice and stayed outside with Andrew long after Greta and I retreated inside.

Greta, for her part, was not so thrilled. Bundled in her snowsuit, Andrew shoveled out "pens" for her to walk around in--the snow was far too deep for her to navigate--but she would simply stand there forlornly, uninterested in playing. She liked going into the playhouse and looking out the little windows, but this was pretty much it.

Next year, I predict great snowy fun for both sisters. Lucia was the same way when she was one--no interest whatsoever in playing outside if it was snowy and cold. Greta is a lot more physically active, but she still doesn't care for winter. So it was a good thing this snowstorm fell on a weekend, when Andrew was around and both girls could spend time the way they wanted. As for us--we hunkered down and built a fire each night and enjoyed winter in the suburbs.

Letter to Lucia: 40 Months

Dear Little One,

How funny you are these days. Full of funny voices and funny dances and funny walks. You find silly things hilarious, like making up nicknames for Greta—“Hi, Banana Pie! Hi, Chocolate Pie! Hi, Wall!” Few things make you laugh as much as screaming and laughing with your sister.

It’s not all fun and games, of course. You’re three. You’ve always had hoarding tendencies, which are becoming more pronounced now that Greta wants some toys as well. I thought I could avoid such squabbles by making sure I had great quantities of things, like Squinkies; when there are so many Squinkies, obviously there are enough for everyone. Not so. You now want all the Squinkies. You want both spinning flashlights. Greta got a pink corduroy cat from Gra and Pop-Pop for Valentine’s Day—she’s coveted your beloved cat for a while—but now you want her cat and yours. There seems no way to win this. Perhaps there never will be.

You seem very self-aware these days, and clear about your feelings. When I left you and Greta with a sitter last week, you told me, “When you leave, I will cry for a few minutes. I will play in my room, and then I will come down.” The sitter said you did exactly this. A minute or two of crying in your room when I left, and then you came down and had fun the rest of the time.

Mature as you can seem, you remind us now and then that you are, indeed, three. I’d been letting you have a highlighter and paper during Quiet Time, but this week I went into your room and discovered that you’d drawn all over your walls. With highlighter. Not washable. As soon as I gasped, you burst into hysterical tears, threw yourself into my arms, and said “I’m ssoooorrry, Maamaaa.” Heartbreaking strategy, child; how could I yell at you when you’re wailing with remorse?

Quiet Time continues to be more or less successful. You always instruct me to go into my office, NOT downstairs, and now and then you’ll wander in to ask a question or ask if Quiet Time is over. You always whisper, and you walk on tiptoes up and down the hallway. You’re kind of like a little ghost, often wandering into my bedroom without my knowing it to sip from a water glass on my nightstand or swipe a lipgloss. You go to the bathroom by yourself during Quiet Time—I hear you rattling around, putting on the potty seat and pulling over the stool. Sometimes you do funny things, like show up in the doorway only in your underwear and whisper-announcing that you’d decided to change your underwear into different ones.

You’re drawing faces now, with smiles and frowns. You can write C, D, G, L, M, O, T, U, V, W, and X. You are alarmingly adept at the iPad. More than anything, you love playing with your “tiny foods”—eraser foods that come apart (of course) into a million pieces. Your favorites are the desserts—donuts, cakes, a cupcake. You love Cinderella and are alarmingly fixated on the prince. “I want to see the prince,” you say as soon as the movie starts. “Where’s the prince?” You like laying out a blanket on the floor and calling it a beach, arranging toys on it, and going through elaborate routines of swimming away from whales and sharks. Creating “setups” continues to be more or less your primary way of passing the time.

Three is fun.

Favorite toys/activities: tiny foods, play food, Squinkies, wands, blocks, jumping in mud puddles, a stuffed manatee, your doll

Favorite books: Sheila Rae the Brave, Chester’s Way, Where Is Coco Going?, I Spy

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Difference

These days, it's mealtimes that really highlight how different Lucia and Greta are. As longtime readers of this blog know, Lucia's eating has always been a vexing part of our lives--though now, at three, that's mostly all behind us. She likes a lot of different foods, still loves fruit, wildly loves carrots, and drinks a ton of milk. Still, if given the choice between eating and doing pretty much anything else, she'd forgo eating. It's just not interesting for her. She sits at the table but gets distracted; lately, she breaks up the meal but claiming she has to go potty, where she then retreats for a while, singing songs (though she does, eventually, go). More often than not, she'll eat a satisfactory amount; and after dinner, she then gets to choose a beloved dessert. Most nights, just before heading up to bed, and even if she's eaten a decent dinner, she asks for a banana and eats about half. Somehow, getting a "new banana" has become part of the bedtime ritual.

Then there's Greta. She's been an amazing eater from the start, and this has not changed save for periods of teething or sickness. She eats at least as much as Lucia at each meal, and usually more. If it's her favorite meal--macaroni and cheese--she will eat until we stop giving her food, putting it into her mouth steadily, her focus only on her plate. At lunch today, she was eating mac and cheese leftovers, and each time she cleared her plate, she picked it up and handed it to me. We really did have to cut her off. When Greta is done eating, or uninterested in what I've given her, she pokes at the food with one skeptical finger. This rarely happens. She just--eats. I serve her food, and she eats it, and then she's done.

Tonight, I served the girls plain pasta and meatballs, while Andrew and I had pasta with spicy sausage ragu. Lucia ate all her food. Greta took one look at her plate of plain pasta, then looked at what I had, and began yelling. She wouldn't touch her food until Andrew replaced it with the ragu (minus the spicy sausage). She seemed miffed that I'd given her something less interesting than what we had.

So mealtimes are interesting. Lucia is chattering and playing and sitting sideways in her chair and occasionally oozing to the ground to do a ballet spin or a "funny dance" (which, unfortunately, usually makes me laugh, which just encourages her), or asking to go to the bathroom, or engaging in complicated renditions of "one for one" (which we do when I'm eating something she wants, like crackers, before she's finished her meal--she can have a bite for a bite, or a bite for two bites, or--it is head-spinning). Then there's Grets, just eating away. Greta is high-maintenance in a lot of ways, but, for now, not at mealtime.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Thursday Tidbits

Lucia's current favorite things to play with are her Squinkies. Of course, they are therefore Greta's most coveted objects as well. She's gotten much better about not putting small things in her mouth, so I let her hold the Squinkies now--that is, when Lucia lets her. Scoring a Squinkie or two is Greta's mission whenever they come out. Last weekend, when my parents were here, Lucia was carrying the Squinkies around in a tupperware container and put it down momentarily on the piano bench while she went off to do something else. Greta was across the room, but when she spotted the unattended Squinkies, she toddled over as fast as her little legs could go, thrust both hands into the container, grabbed two fistfuls of Squinkies, then beelined for my mom's lap, where she threw herself into a protective crouch, her fists hidden under her body and her head tucked into her chest, guarding her prize. It was truly hilarious.

Both girls will be receiving some new Squinkies for Valentine's Day, because really, there aren't enough tiny things in this house to keep track of. Lucia has gotten very adept at getting out the flashlight and peering under the couch whenever she loses anything.

Greta loves to do stickers. I peel them off the sheet and hand them to her, and she sticks them onto the paper, usually in one small area.

A reptile handler came to Lucia's preschool today. Lucia pet a giant albino python without fear.

Downton Abbey Season 2 took over my life this week. But that theme music sends me straight back to St. Luke's-Roosevelt: I watched Season 1 during my month in the hospital. It's so much more pleasant to watch it not in a hospital, in front of a fire in our fireplace, eating brownies with ice cream.

I'm not sure what it says about my priorities, or emotional balance, but when all this talk of the huge upcoming blizzard started, my first thought wasn't milk or bread or a generator--I immediately declared I had to go to Target to buy a sled. It's a good thing breathing is automatic because truly the only thing my mind is full of in these child-rearing days is planning ways to amuse the girls.