Sunday, September 26, 2010

The best dinner in the history of dinners

Cincinnati has two of the best Indian restaurants I've ever been to.  They were where I had my first taste of Indian food, and nothing else has ever quite measured up.  Several months ago, Tim came across a recipe called Pastor Ryan's Chicken Tikka Masala, and made it for us one night.  It instantly became a date night in favorite and we have had it several times since, most recently last night.  I always look forward to the carnival of smells in our kitchen -- onions, garlic, ginger, and all those herbs and spices.

When I looked up the recipe and read the article, I was interested but not too surprised to see that this Pastor Ryan created this recipe with his favorite Indian restaurant in Cincinnati as inspiration (maybe the same one as mine!).  I don't know how he managed to steal their closely guarded secrets, but somehow he did.  I am grateful to Pastor Ryan for stealing the secrets, and to Tim for doing such a good job cooking it up.

It can be as mild or as spicy as you prefer.  The first time Tim made it, he used half a bottle of garam masala, and it was pretty intense.  This last time, he used only a little garam masala, and it was mild enough to share with Annie today at lunch.  We agreed it needed to be taken up a couple notches next time.  But still, I told him while we were eating it, "This is the best dinner in the history of dinners."  I decided I must share it with you.  You're welcome.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fire Ants!

In our yard, we have three fire ant mounds that I can think of right off the top of my head.  I knew that we had a problem, but until I did a little research last night, I didn't know jack diddly about fire ants.

I thought that if I stepped on a fire ant mound, they would swarm on me and bite me, and it would burn.  Then I would scream and run to the nearest sink, or hose, or shower -- or if it was my child, I would run with her screaming to the nearest sink, hose or shower.  Then I would douse her or myself.  Turns out I was wrong on both counts.

If you step on a fire ant mound -- or just happen to be too close for their liking -- or happen to be standing between them and a food source -- first they will swarm you.  But here comes the part that's really disturbing.  They don't bite.  They use their mandibles to grab your skin and hold on tight.  Then, with the stinger in their abdomen, they stick you and release their venom.  Then they pull the stinger out, pivot while still attached, and do it again.  Then again and again in a circle.  Each  individual sting is a world of burning pain.  Just one ant will sting you numerous times.  But more likely, you will have 20 ants doing this simultaneously.

Running to a water source, even jumping into a pool, would  be a waste of time.  These are very tough bugs.  The only way to remove them is to wipe them off.  Then wash the skin with soap and water.  After that, you manage the pain, and then severe itching, as best you can with ice, benadryl, aloe, whatever it takes.  The stings are not deadly unless you are allergic.  You do not itch the pustules that have formed.  If it is your child, you do whatever it takes to make sure they don't itch it, because that will lead to infection.

Fire ants are among the hardest pests to get rid of.  They have no natural predator, and they can survive pretty much anything.  It takes 8 to 12 hours to drown them in a bucket.  They are native to almost nowhere, but can be found in almost all 50 states because as goods and people move around, so do they.  Just like bed bugs.

I know the Orkin man came to our house while we were traveling, because he called us and talked to us.  He left and they're still here.  That's what we're dealing with.

I am practically shaking because, for the last month we've been here, we've been letting our little girls run around in that yard, just telling them to stay away from the mounds.  How about nobody's allowed in the yard until these fire ants have been dealt with!  I thank God that we have all avoided run-ins with the ants so far.

My research has yielded so many suggestions for how to rid the yard of fire ants, that it's hard to know what to do.  Pour grits on the mounds.  Don't bother pouring grits on the mounds.  Tuck your pants into your socks and pour the whole ant mound into a bucket sprinkled with cornstarch.  Don't get too close to the mound, because you don't even know what too close is.

We'll have to figure something out.  I'll keep you posted.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Delaney's room makeover

First off, I want to say how thrilling it is to be making changes in this house.  We didn't make any changes in the Quantico house because it was base housing and we were only there a year.  It was really frustrating living in a house that was painter's beige all throughout, and hardly anything on the walls because why bother?  I think we've both been  looking forward to having a place for long enough to be able to make it our own.  There wasn't much we need to do paint-wise in this house -- just the little girls' rooms.

Delaney's room was item number one on the agenda when we got back from Massachusetts.  I love this room with the high ceiling and the big pretty window.  Before we came along, this room belonged to a set of two-and-a-half-year-old boy/girl twins.  The soft blue color worked for them, but we knew we wouldn't be keeping it around for long.


This was several days in the making, and truly a labor of love for Tim.  We decided to stick with the ladybug theme, since we still have all the pieces for it, and we still think it's so fitting.  Tim thought stripes would add a new twist, and I agreed.  The plan was to do three of the walls with stripes on the bottom and a pale green on top, with a painted pink border in lieu of the ladybug wallpaper border that we'd used for her nursery in Massachusetts.  The fourth wall, with the bed, would just be solid green from top to bottom.

Yikes, sorry about the dirty window.  We cleaned the inside, but I guess the outside needs it too.
The stripes were very time-consuming.  Tim got so sick of taping.    The colors worked out well, but we found that the pink border looked awkward somehow.  Tim got the idea to use a thin pine molding painted white on the edges of the border to break it up a little.  He had never done anything like that before, so he had to learn as he went.  From time to time he laments that he was 32 years old before he ever picked up any kind of tool.  I think he's catching up quick, though.  It was a lot of work, and there were a few mistakes along the way (like bang!  bang!  crack!  uh-oh!), but when he was done it looked really good.  We thought about stenciling something in the pink area, but after we'd put the rest of the room together, we concluded that would be overkill.
These are my baby shoes.
The letters over her bed are the same ones Tim made for the original nursery, with wooden letters from Michael's, scrapbook sheets, and Mod Podge.

The vinyl tree decal is something completely new.  I just decided I wanted a tree for Delaney's room, so I looked online and I found this one on Etsy.  It was a little departure from the theme, with its owls and orange butterflies, but I love it.  I spent Annie's morning nap putting on all those leaves individually.  Delaney's not as impressed as I thought she'd be, but she likes it.

All in all, I think this is the perfect bright and sunny little girl's room that fits Delaney to a T.  It's still kind of a nursery too, I realize, with the baby shoes and other baby-ish details.  She'll be 6 by the time we leave here, and I don't know if she still needs to have an ultrasound photo hanging up in her room when she's that old.  But those are small changes.

We're waiting on a couple finishing details for Annie's room, but otherwise it's finished, and I can't wait to show you what we did there too.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Annalise at sixteen months

Our secondborn has a hard time deciding at any given moment whether she wants to be a baby or a "big kid" like Delaney. One minute she wants to be off exploring, with no help from Mama, thank you very much; and the next, she is whimpering and holding up her arms.  Sometimes, she'll whimper and hold up her arms, then squirm back down as soon as I pick her up.  She's very indecisive like that.  And she has an annoying habit of grabbing both my legs and trying to put her head up my butt while I'm working in the kitchen.  I think those cooking competitions on TV would be much more fun to watch if those chefs each had their own toddler clinging to them as they dash around.

She's going through a little bit of a moody phase again, spending most of her waking hours acting like she's ready for another nap.  Maybe it's a growth spurt coming on.  She still takes two naps a day, one in the morning around 8:30, and one in the afternoon around 1.  She'll probably have to miss that morning nap a couple times a week when Delaney starts preschool.  I remember that Delaney gave up her morning nap completely when she was 16 months, but Annie seems nowhere near ready.

She still only has six teeth, and she drools constantly and copiously, leading us to believe she'll get more at any time.  Tim can't wait until she gets molars; he's a nervous wreck watching her eat.  I want her to have molars too, but to a lesser extent.  I think most foods are easily broken down by saliva and gums, with lots of chewing.  We're not feeding her nuts or anything like that.  The problem is, she often doesn't take the time to chew properly, and that problem won't be solved by molars.  At the rate she's going, she might not even have molars until she's three!

Here are some other Annie-isms, in no particular order (as well as a video that I just felt like throwing in there because it's cute):

-- She loves to be tickled, and she loves to be chased.  She loves to be chased down and tickled.

-- When she's tired, she moves her mouth like she's nursing, and hurls her body around recklessly -- usually into somebody, but also sometimes into something, like wood furniture.

-- Whatever Delaney's having, you'd better have one for her too.  I have taken to making sure I put two bowls on the table simultaneously, or two sippy cups into their waiting hands.

-- She claps after I sing her a song.

-- She waves bye-bye by flapping her whole arm.

-- She yanks out the cute hair things I put in her hair.  That's why you see her in all these pictures with hair down to her eyes.

-- If you strip her down to her diaper, she will take the diaper off too, and almost certainly, pee on the floor before you can get it back on her.  I have it on video, but I've decided to heed my father-in-law's advice and not post it here.

We sure do love this girl!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Massachusetts Part 2

Another busy few days has gone by as Delaney's room has gotten a makeover and we're planning Annalise's.. can't wait to post about that!  Now back to the Massachusetts trip..

We spent a few more days in Grafton after we got back from the Cape.  I was not prepared for how hard it was to send Grace back to Cincinnati.  I had gotten too used to having her around.  For those who know Grace, it's easy to understand why.  For those who don't, I'll attempt to sum her up quickly.  She's my sister, 11 years younger than me, a dear friend, quick with a helping hand or a funny observation, always thoughtful, often silly, adores the kids (and it's mutual), is generous and has a huge heart..   I don't know what else I can say.  Seeing her leave, I had an ache in my heart and a tear in my eye.

After Grace left, we dropped the girls off at Grandma and Grandpa's, and Tim and I went to a wedding that was about an hour-and-a-half away in a small town we'd never heard of.  I was glad to be getting dressed up and going out on our first date night in I don't even know how long.  I think the last time we went out alone it was to buy a car, and we didn't dress up for that.

Who cuts off a full body shot at the ankles?  Grr..
On Monday we had a Labor Day cookout at Tim's parents', and on Tuesday, his sister Karen took the day off to go with us to Southwick's Zoo.  It is a privately-owned zoo that we love.  It seems like you can get so much closer to the animals there, even the ones that are behind fences.  The first time I went was when Delaney was three months old, and it was really just to get us out of the house.  We also went when Grace came to visit us soon after Annie was born.  It's a nice walk with lots of shade, and has a lot of interesting and cute animals.  It also has a deer forest, which I've never seen anywhere else.  We took our niece Natalie along too.  The older girls were at school.

This mama and baby made me smile.
In the deer forest, Annie and Natalie watch in disbelief as a real live deer approaches.

It was so nice being surrounded by a big family again.  It prompted us to revisit our ongoing conversation about where we'll eventually wind up when he retires from the Marines.  The answer is still we don't know, but one thing we do know is this: although there are many places we'd love to settle down (like San Diego), it will most likely either be around Cincinnati or Worcester.  We both grew up having grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins around as part of our lives, and we liked it that way.  We'd like it for our kids.  We've entertained the notion of living somewhere roughly halfway, maybe in Pennsylvania, where we'd be half a day's drive from either family, but then dismissed it.  We want to be close enough to see them on a regular basis.  So that will be a tough decision to make one day.  Until then, I just keep waiting for the goodbyes to get easier, and they never do.

We decided to leave EARLY on Thursday morning to make sure we missed rush hour in NYC.  Tim said 5, and was prepared for resistance from me.  Instead I said, "Why not get up at 4, and see how fast we can get out of the house?"  Surprised, he said, "OK."  And we were driving away at 4:23.  This time we made it home in only 12 and-a-half hours, with two stops.  I know I under-hydrated myself a little in order to accomplish this feat, and Tim probably did as well.  But I can't speak for Delaney, and the mystery of how long she can go without peeing that has always amazed me.  We gave her things to drink the whole time.  My guess is she just spent so much time entranced by her movies that she rarely took time to drink anything.  I barely remember the drive, because as Tim said, I was asleep for half of it.  It was more like, I slept, I read my book, slept again, and so on.  A good book is a must for a drive this long.  I drove for the last five or six hours.

As this crazy summer is coming to a close, I look back on how daunting all our plans looked to me in June.  A drive to Cincinnati by myself with the girls; a week in Pennsylvania with challenging sleeping arrangements; MOVING; and finally, the long drive and two-and-a-half weeks in Massachusetts.  It all looked pretty overwhelming to me at the outset, and I lost sleep more than a few nights thinking about how we were going to do it all and how were the kids going to handle it.  It feels so good to look back and say we did it, it's done, and we have so many great memories.  Our kids are two of the most versatile kids ever.  For a couple weeks, I don't think they knew where they were going to lay their heads next.  As for me, I ventured out of my comfort zone and it was good for me, helped me become a more flexible mom.  Naps were missed, bedtimes were delayed, meals happened wherever and however we could make them happen.  I ate so many PB&Js they started to make me sick.  I was reminded of how grateful I am to have a husband who is the perfect partner, who keeps me sane, and remembers the things I forget.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Massachusetts Part 1

Not quite two weeks after moving into our house in North Carolina, we packed up the girls and everything else but the kitchen sink to drive to Massachusetts.  I was worried I wouldn't have any fun at all on this trip since we had just moved in and still had so much we wanted to get done around here.  It was hard shifting gears yet again, just as the last box had been unpacked, and we were starting to get comfortable.  I was like, 'Here we go again, back to living out of suitcases.'  But it turned out I was so glad we went, especially since we hadn't been back there in more than a year.  Massachusetts holds a special place in my heart as the place where Tim was born and raised, and where our little girls' stories began, while he was Officer Selection Officer in Boston.  It was a relaxing and fun vacation, filled with great memories and priceless time with family and friends.  I'm glad we took this break, because now that we're back we can hardly sit still, with our to-do list a mile long. 

We left on the morning of August 25, and we had some MapQuest directions that were going to help us avoid a big chunk of 95.  But somehow we went astray (as the wife and navigator, it was my fault, of course), and our OnStar directions led us right back to good old 95.  It was annoying for us, since we had just done this big detour around, adding another hour to the trip.  But at least we can't mess up 95 -- just point the car north and go.  Somehow we drove through every major metro area on the east coast without running into any traffic.  That was like walking through fire and not getting burned.  Even New York City at 5:30 p.m. was a breeze.  I don't know how and I don't know why, but I was and am grateful.  The girls were champs like they always are.  We arrived at Tim's sister Karen's house in Grafton (central Massachusetts) that evening, about 15 hours from the time we left.  It was a surprise how chilly it was that night.  It was as if we'd driven right into fall.

The next day we picked up my sister Grace at Logan Airport.  She had graciously volunteered to come up and accompany us to Cape Cod to give us a hand with the girls and let us have some time to ourselves now and then.  It was funny because we were standing in baggage claim with our cranky kids, and when Grace appeared, I wanted to just flag her down right away.  But then I saw Tim start to smile, and I changed my mind, deciding maybe it was more fun to just watch her wander around looking for us.  That's what he's always done to me, and I guess we both have the same confused look on our faces.  He said to me, "Hmm, that reminds me of someone else I know."  I was like, "So, that's what I look like wandering around baggage claim.."  We're mean, aren't we?  Sorry, Grace.

For a couple days, we all just hung around catching up with family.  We packed up the car again on Saturday and drove two hours to Cape Cod.  We had such a fantastic week there!  Every day was like a dream.  The weather was perfect, 85 and sunny every day, not a cloud in the sky -- at least not until Hurricane Earl showed up and we left one day early.  The ocean was a little cooler than I'm used to, but not too cold to go out and float around in.  We had the best little house to stay in, owned by people who had young kids.  So they had a shed in the backyard with a cozy coupe, a wagon, and all kinds of beach gear in it.  There were three cute little bedrooms, plenty of books and games, and even a booster chair in a closet in the dining room.  All the details that are greatly appreciated when you're traveling with small children.  We'd brought a lot, but we couldn't bring everything!

The beach was a fifth of a mile away so we walked every day, at least twice.  Every afternoon while the girls were napping, Grace and I would walk down ourselves and lay out in the sun for at least two hours.  Tim does NOT like the beach in the heat of the day, and neither does his skin, so it worked out well for us all.  Sometimes we'd all walk into town, where there were places to eat, places to shop, and a nice little ice cream place we went to at least twice.  Almost every afternoon, Tim and I went running; and then, still sweaty, we'd play in the backyard with the girls.  After that, we'd eat plenty of breaded and fried seafood, sometimes out, but most often carryout at our dining room table.  We couldn't convince Grace to even take one single bite of any of it, much to our disappointment.  It was beef or chicken for her all week.  Stubborn girl!  Tim's parents came to visit for a couple days each.  We went on some excursions, including a seal-watching boat tour, and a kids' deep sea fishing trip (that was just Tim, Delaney and Grandpa).  Every day ended with more walks to the beach.  There's nothing like the smell of an ocean breeze and the feel of the sand under your bare feet.  I could go on and on about what a wonderful, peaceful, and relaxing vacation it was, but I will stop and leave you with these pictures.  It was really hard picking just these many.   And many thanks to Grace for taking such good photos of us!  The one or two photos of Grace you see here are the only ones we have of her at all.  She prefers not to be photographed.  Add that to her dislike of seafood, and the massive amount of space she took up in our car, and you have a real pain in the butt, haha! 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Delaney at three years, two months

Delaney is being shortchanged this month.  We are still not back in North Carolina (leaving tomorrow), and still pretty busy, so this will not be the best update I've ever written.  But I just couldn't bring myself to skip it!

She never ceases to amaze us with her thoughtfulness and attentiveness to detail.  I told her before naptime at Auntie Karen's that if she was quiet and good (not banging on the door to the closet where her sister was sleeping), I would give her a treat.  A couple hours later, on the way to Tim's parents for dinner, Delaney said, "I was quiet at naptime."  I said, "You were, and I said I'd give you a treat if you were."  She looked very pensive and said, "But you didn't."  I said, "OK, I owe you a treat."  She notices things out of place too, and finds things that are lost.  That's good, because her mother is so forgetful.

She is very alert to our moods and to the things we say, even under our breath. I have to try to curb my talking to myself because Delaney wants an explanation for what I've just said and why. It's amazing how hard it is to come up with sometimes! And "I'm just thinking out loud," or "I'm just talking to myself" don't cut it. Apparently I talk to myself a lot, and am accustomed to being able to carry on a dialog with myself in the car. Now that dialog includes Delaney. She also wants to know why I say "ugh" or "hmm" or "grrr..".

One time recently, she was talking about something and saying, "That's funny, isn't it, Mama?" I was a little tired and exasperated, so I just said, "Yes, it was funny." She said, "You didn't laugh."

She made us laugh the other day when she put a stuffed animal under her dress and said, "There's a baby in my belly."  Then she started shaking her dress and wiggling back and forth, saying, "Shake it out!  Shake it out!"  (Would that it were so easy!)  When the stuffed animal fell out, she said, "See, I told you there was a baby in there."  I think she must have gotten that idea from seeing pregnant goats at the zoo.  I had said to her, "I think that goat has babies in her belly."
It fills us with wonder and awe to see her little mind at work.  This month was full of great experiences, and watching her soak it all in gave us a lot of joy.