Thursday, October 29, 2009


My new nephew's name is technically Judah, but after spending four days snuggling him, I get to call him Jude. Cause it rhymes with Dude. And you know how fun it is to do the whole baby-talk thing while rhyming. Even though I am actually terrible at rhyming. Just ask my husband. Or Elan, who just discovered the concept of rhyming a week ago and is already better at it than his mama.

Anyway, I got to steep myself in newborn-land at my sister & Jason's house outside Athens, Georgia, courtesy of my awesome mother-in-law who came here to watch Elan while I was gone. We took walks and experimented with all types of baby carriers (Mobys and Ergos and slings oh my!) since Judah likes to be worn. Elan was also a big fan of baby-wearing when he was a wee one. In fact, I believe that's the only way I successfully made dinner between months six and ten, when I could put him in the Ergo on my back through his early-evening fussy time. The only problem was that he hated it when I sauteed onions, and most of my favorite foods begin with sauteing onions.

It was notable to see how much easier it was to wear Judah for long periods of time than it had been to wear Elan. Jude's a little guy, at six weeks old probably about the weight Elan was at birth (8 lbs 4 oz). But I think it has more to do with the fact that I actually have stomach muscles now, as opposed to when Elan was six weeks old.

Laura walking, Judah pretending he's still in utero

I wasn't much in the picture-taking mood while I was in Georgia (all that quiet reflective time got me off my game), so here's a super-cute pic that my sister sent me. This was obviously taken during happy diaper change time, which generally goes on for a little while after a feeding, during which he actually makes those ridiculous baby noises like "goo." It usually ends suddenly, when the sheer exhaustion of figuring out this big world sets in and he needs to be bounced into sleep submission.

I was away from Elan for four and a half days. It didn't feel so much like missing him as much as it felt like I had lost an appendage. I kept walking around wondering where my third leg had gotten to. While traveling, my suitcase was so small and light that I kept worrying I had left something crucial behind, like all of my shoes. By the time I was on my way home, my craving for him was physical. I couldn't wait to be home. And he rewarded me with exclamations of delight when I appeared in the doorway to his bedroom and a big long hug (as anyone with a restless preschooler knows is an unusual delight).

My little guy, however, has taken to skipping naps more than his usual, and he's been getting up extra-early in the morning and some at night. I am hoping that my being home and our usual routine will get his sleep schedule back to normal before we head off on our Epic Back-East Trip in two weeks (more details on that to come in another post). I always panic a little (a little? my husband snorts) when his sleep gets off. We have had so many rounds of 4 a.m. scream-a-thon that I always fear the worst. So I'm crossing my fingers for a nap, and I'm going to go try to settle into home fast -- before it's time to start packing again.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Rainy Day Chili

We have been partying it up lately - four parties in four weekend days. Elan is exhausted from playing with so many kids' toys.

It's raining again. Second big rain so far in October. The weather is mocking our HOA's plan to paint the whole condo (4 units) by "the time the rains come." Right now the rain is falling straight down and hard and it is saying: "Ha! I'm here, and you haven't even picked the color yet! (but you have taken down your existing two semi-functional gutters and noted with concern all the spots where the exposed wood could start to rot)."

Anyway, for our housewarming party last weekend, I made chili, and I've had several requests for the recipe since. So here it is, courtesy of The New Best Recipe (whose recipes are extraordinarily thorough). Very delicious on a fall evening, and it really is even better the next day. For the party, I actually made it two days before and reheated it all day in the crock-pot. Yum. This is the meat-eaters' version - I made a vegetarian one too, but it wasn't nearly as good.

Beef Chili with Kidney Beans
serves 8-10

2 T vegetable or corn oil
2 medium onions, chopped fine
1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
6 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1/4 c chili powder
1 T ground cumin
2 t ground coriander
1 t red pepper flakes
1 t dried oregano
1/2 t cayenne pepper
2 lbs 85% lean ground beef
2 (15-oz) cans dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (28-oz) can diced tomatoes
1 (28-oz) can tomato puree*
2 limes, cut into wedges

1. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add the onions, bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander, pepper flakes, oregano and cayenne and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and add half the beef. Cook, breaking up the chunks, until no longer pink and just beginning to brown, 3-4 minutes. Add the remaining beef and cook, breaking up the chunks, until no longer pink, 3-4 minutes.

2. Add the beans, tomatoes, tomato puree, and 1/2 t salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, and stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. Remove the cover and continue to simmer 1 hour longer, stirring occasionally (if the chili begins to stick to the bottom of the pot, stir in 1/2 c water and continue to simmer), until the beef is tender and the chili is dark, rich and slightly thickened. Adjust the seasonings with additional salt to taste. Serve with the lime wedges and condiments, if desired.

Good choices for condiments include: diced fresh tomatoes, diced avocado, sliced scallions, chopped red onion, sour cream, and shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese.

The flavor of the chili improves with age; if possible, make it a day or two in advance and reheat before serving.

*I couldn't find a large can of tomato puree, so I used two large cans of "tomatoes in puree" instead of one can of each.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Boy Called Nemo

About a month back, on a whim, I ordered Finding Nemo for Elan.

It's a hit.

I am not proud to admit that he has watched this movie (or part of it) every single day for the last two weeks. Okay, maybe three. I've lost count. Thank god for Ellen DeGeneres. Her Dory is hilarious, my salvation. And the part with the sea turtles is awe-inspiring; I always advocate skipping to the turtles. The other thing I've noticed, as this movie forms the background to my early mornings, is how impressive the score is. The moments where the music shifts to contemplative remind me to take a deep breath, the quick beats remind me to eat breakfast and drink my coffee, the soaring melodies remind me to savor the quiet and appreciate the fact that he's not obsessed with Barney.

The other benefit of this movie entering our lives is that now Elan, Mikhail and I have alter-egos. Elan is Nemo, fittingly enough (he even has a "special toe" - two webbed digits on his right foot - just like Nemo has his "lucky fin"). Mikhail is Marlin (pronounced "Maw-in"), the devoted (and neurotic, which Mikhail is actually not) father who searches the ocean for his lost son. Elan used to call him "Chuck" before he picked up on the fact that was just a made-up name I pulled out of a hat one day naming his three toy fish. And I am Dory. She is a great alter-ego for me. Dory, a "natural blue", who suffers from short-term memory loss, is of the glass-half-full mentality. She can't remember enough to be stressed or worried. Her motto is Just keep swimming, sung with much gusto as she twirls into the darkness where lives the scary monster-fish sporting a light-up spinal column. Dory is happily ignorant of the existence of such threatening creatures. She bounces on the tops of jellyfish, not remembering that the tentacles sting. She certainly does not wake up at four in the morning unable to go back to sleep because she's worrying about the what-ifs in life. I find her a good balancing force for me.

And so current conversations in our household often go something like this:
"Nemo, let's go on an adventure out in the ocean now."
"Okay, Dory. That's a good idea. Is Ma-win going to come too?"
"That's right, Nemo. We're all going. Put on your fishy shoes and let's swim out to the car!"

And later at REI, we picked out a new rust-orange fleece for Elan, which won instant acceptance as his Nemo-jacket. Mikhail (temporarily) donned a bright orange women's XL rainshell and ran around the store after our wandering boy, literally finding Nemo, while I searched the racks for a suitably bright blue Dory-coat (but alas did not find one in this aquarium's budget).

On another topic, this weekend, we FINALLY had our one-year-later housewarming party. (And if you live locally and we forgot to invite you, mea culpa mea culpa, check your email junk box for an evite, and then call me up and berate me and let's get back in touch.) It went swimmingly. All those months that we thought we'd get around to having a party in our new house and then something else went wrong so we never did: you are over now. I really like to host gatherings, and luckily I'm married to a man who loves to socialize once he's in the midst of it (just never thinks to plan it), and we've got a child who is starting to understand that parties = cookies. Now I'm thinking about all the excuses to have parties coming up: Elan's 3rd birthday, Hanukkah, Mikhail's and my 34th birthdays. I'm imagining dinner parties for grown-ups after kids go to sleep, crazy child-filled afternoon rampages, and quieter playdates with hot (spiked) cider for the mamas simmering on the stove. After all, fall is here. There's a new oven range in our kitchen, and it's time to reap the benefits of our ugly but indestructible wine-colored carpet.

And if you're looking for a mantra for the week, may I suggest Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming swimming swimming...

And if you're in the mood for seven minutes of sea turtle (and baby sea turtle!) inspiration, click here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What To Say?

Sometimes words fail even the writers among us.

Photo courtesy of Elan's Aunt Sara & Aunt Renee, who hosted him at their house for a sleep-over while Mikhail and I went on a romantic weekend getaway. Thank you!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Meet the New Nephew

Judah Alexander Mann, born September 18. Isn't he adorable?

I get to meet him later this month, when I go to Georgia to see my sister, my brother-in-law, the three dogs, and him!