Darby met Sophie and there were instant fireworks.  Love at first site… er, bite.   But with one squeak, Sammie knew she had to have her and committed herself to winning Sophie for herself.

Sophie1

Darby: Oh Sophie!  I just love you so much! *Kiss* *Kiss* *Kiss*

Sammie: I can’t listen to this.  I hurts too much.  Ho hum.

Sophie: Do you think we makeout too much, Darby?  Can’t we just talk?

Darby: Shhh… *Kiss* *Kiss* *Kiss*

Darby: Ooooh, Sophie… I just lo… I feel like someone’s watching us.  SAMMIE!

Sammie: Sophie, I just wanted to tell you that I love you.  I want you to be mine.  I want to be the one who makes you squeak!  Please, Sophie!  PLEASE!

Darby: I can’t believe this is happening.  You know what, Sammie?  Take her.  I don’t care.  Sophie, if Sammie is what you want then FINE!

Sammie: No, I don’t want her this way!

Sophie: I don’t know what I want anymore.  I just want… to be loved!  Darby, can’t we just talk?!  Please, Darby!  PLEASE!

Darby: Don’t come up here and try to make nice like nothing happened.  I can’t take the drama, Sophie!  This is too much!  I’m only 5 months old!

Sophie: I just want to talk!  Please, Darby.  You were my first love… my only love!  Please.  I’ll let you suck on my face some more…

Sammie: Gross.  I can’t listen to this.

Darby: Oh, Sophie.  It has always been you.  You’re the only rubber giraffe for me.  Can I suck on your face now?

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Maya

We were all walking back to the car the other day and I was holding Maya. I whispered in her ear, “Who loves you?” She replied, “Mommy loves me!”

“Who else loves you?”

“Daddy loves me!”

“Who else loves you?”

“Seth loves me!”

“Who else loves you?”

“ME loves Me!… Myself loves me!!”

 

Thanksgiving weekend was big doings around our house this year.

Darby, the newest member of the clan at the ripe old age of 5 months, was coming to visit… for 6 days, no less!!

Oh, and son Michael and daughter-in-law Michelle came along, too.

Auntie Ju Ju and DarbyYou see, this was a special and unusual time.  As there are two families to host holidays and since no one lives near anybody else, the holidays get split each year.  Thanksgiving is not our holiday.  We have one in the Spring.

But this year, we all were guests at a friend’s local wedding held over the holiday weekend and so, bingo, we hosted Thanksgiving. Michael’s sister Judith (aka Auntie Juju…by her own choice!) spent much of the weekend with us, enraptured with Darby. Our 96 year old aunt managed to find the strength to come, just to see the baby.  Darby’s great uncle from Georgia made the trip, too.  Yes, a special time, indeed.

We had prepared as best we could for the grand arrival.  We were offered no less than 4 pack-n-play units from friends, we bought a package of diapers (how strange was that!  BTW, there are too many types to choose from…what do they all mean??), we moved the humidifier into the baby’s room for her left-over congestion, we loaded up on food…and food…and more food.  We spent days and nights preparing all the old favorites to serve.  We even practiced making homemade pie crusts…a first around here!  And then made real pies to serve.

We have been empty nesters for a long while now.  Two people living in a house that used to hold a bustling family.  We are used to it being quiet.  So it was both a change and a treat to have lots of people in and out and the sound of a baby once again here with us.   We delighted in having non-stop smile moments with Darby.  She is a good baby.  No, wait, she is a great baby!  92% of the time she is happy and prone to smile.  She loves her teething toys, she loves her hands and feet, she just loves everything in her emerging world.  And that was so much fun to watch and enjoy.  And when she had her fussy moments, well, Mom and Dad were there to fix it all.  Perfect!

We got to babysit one evening.  It was a lot of fun.  We had been given a whole routine to follow.  Playing, changing, feeding, burping, sleeping…all the steps.  It wasn’t so hard to recall doing this all the first time around.  But, boy, babies are a lot of time and work.  And they come first, no matter what, in demanding and receiving attention.  As it should be.

We stay close to our son and his new family. We visit by plane for weekends every 6-8 weeks.  We Skype a lot. We have a special song we sing every time to Darby, in the hope she will eventually connect the song with the faces who sing it.  We are beginning plans for a beach vacation time together in the summer.  We do the best we can to stay connected and to be part of the new family’s life and building traditions.

But we are still envious of those with grandchildren who are a 20 minute drive away.  Who can spend a Sunday afternoon as a family time.  Who can help take care of a grandchild for a day, either regularly or when needed.  Family helps, when help is needed.  Family helps to build memories that children need.  Family matters.  And we wish we could do these things without the need for time and travel planning. But we make do and will continue to do so, as we can think of no more important activity.

We had a great time over Thanksgiving.  We know why young people are the ones to have children!  As hosts and partial Darby-care providers, we were tired when the long weekend was over.  But we were thrilled to have her with us and relish the chance whenever we can to do it again!

A friend of mine posts blogs on a website for moms.  She recently sent out a Facebook note asking parents what types of presents they get their kids, ages 0-2.

This got me thinking.  Other than a couple of Barbies and a handful of other things, Jeff and I haven’t gotten Ella gifts for holidays or birthdays.  We would much rather put some extra money into her college savings account or build her stock portfolio.  How fantastic a gift would it be if Ella could go to college and come out DEBT FREE or be able to have a large down payment for a new home?  The reality is, Ella has so much stuff that she doesn’t even know what she has!  Baskets and baskets of toys go unnoticed on a daily basis.  She plays with the same few toys repeatedly and is happy as a little lamb, plus, it’s less toys for the Toy Fairy to take away when Ella decides she doesn’t want to clean up.

I think there is so much emphasis on gifts for holidays and birthdays that it overwhelms kids in that age group, at least it does Ella.  Why do we feel the need to be so excessive with gifts on a consistent basis?  In 20 years when Ella is, hopefully, out of college, has no college loans to pay off and possibly a nice safety net, I hope she’ll be able to appreciate the lack of gifts as a child and see the value in what we chose to give her instead… I know I did.

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I’ve always expected a lot out of my kids. They don’t need to be perfect, but I want them to grow up into respectful, humble, successful people. I feel like setting the bar high will give them big goals to shoot for and will help them realize that they can do anything they desire as long as they have passion and work as hard as they can. But I’ve found that these grandiose plans I have for their future lives also start creeping into their little preschool lives as well. I start having “expectations” for my three year old triplets. I hear myself saying, “He’s almost four years old, he should be able to put on his shoes and socks without help,” or “Don’t most kids this age know how to write their name? Is she behind if she isn’t doing that yet?” I start the never-ending battle of Compare-My-Child-to-Your-Child and the expectations begin to mount.

Although I think it’s healthy (and necessary) to expect certain things from your kids, I’ve learned that countless lists of expectations get you nowhere. Expecting things like manners and obedience is a given, but who cares if my kid can’t draw a circle when he’s 18 months old like little Sally can (damn that Sally and her advanced fine motor skills!)? My triplets have fielded the brunt of my advanced expectations because they have collectively served as my first “child.” I was a first child and a lot was always expected of me. I always felt like I had to measure up to a set of prescribed expectations and I find myself asking my triplets to do the same thing! You would think that I would have learned. As for my youngest child, expectations have been thrown completely out the window. I find myself not expecting him to accomplish or master certain things nearly as early as I expected them from the triplets. Can I chalk it up to parental experience? My own laziness? Finally seeing the light? Regardless, I’ve learned that expectations can be great, just don’t define your kids by their timely achievement of them.

It was time.  Ella turned three and swimming lessons were lingering in the back of our minds.  Ella has always loved the water, mainly playing by the steps, kicking, splashing and making her Barbie’s swim, etc.  Over the summer while we were at the beach I forced her down a water slide probably one too many times (mainly because I was having so much fun)… but that’s the extent of us forcing Ella to do anything she’s been very uncomfortable with.  So we signed her up for swim lessons, got thrown on a waiting list and finally heard back.  Her lessons started November 12th and I must come clean and say I was incredibly anxious at the thought of my slow- to-warm child going into a new situation completely on her own.  I gave the swim school a heads up that she would probably scream her face off but they said they were prepared for that.  Whew!

So, after talking it up with Ella for over a week we finally arrive at the swim school.  It was a huge gymnasium type of room where there’s a glass wall surrounding the pool so you can see your child acting like Ariel from The Little Mermaid.  I definitely thought we’d have to go home because if she saw us, she’d freak out and not follow the teachers instructions.  So, Jeff took Ella into the swimming area and tried to get Ella comfortable with her swim teacher, Maddie.   The oddest thing happened, though. Ella got right into the pool and never looked back!  I watched as Jeff stood there waiting for Ella to cry out to him to rescue her.  I finally had to signal Jeff to come back and sit with me.   I watched in awe as Ella immediately took to her teacher and started playing in the water.  Everything Maddie asked her to do Ella did without hesitation.  Dunk her head under water.  Sure!  Swim using water weights.  Why not?!  Wear a bucket on her head.  Abso-freaking-lutely!

The week after her first class, all Ella did was speak of her swim lessons and Maddie.  So this last Saturday, which was her second class, Ella walked into class, got right in the water and Maddie would push her thru the water, completely submerged!  Ella would lift her face out of the water beaming with pride that she’d done it.  She’d look at us and we’d clap and give thumbs up.

Needless to say, thus far swimming lessons have been a tremendous success and we only anticipate them getting better.  Jeff has already begun dreaming of waking up with Ella and going to swim practice at 5 am before school each day.  I think we have a few years before we need to worry about that, though…

(This was originally written for and posted on the Association of Public Health Laboratories‘ (APHL) blog.)

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate family and friends, enjoy the fall harvest, and to stuff our faces full of delicious food.  No matter your specific traditions, I’m certain the stuffing-of-faces is common across all Thanksgiving tables.

I must confess, I’ve never prepared a full Thanksgiving meal although I have contributed dishes.  When I cook any time of year, not just for Thanksgiving, I have two goals: 1) Make delicious food and 2) Not make people sick.  Both require following some simple rules – for #1, a recipe.  For #2, a set of rules that I’ve learned from my colleagues on the Food Safety Team at APHL. Rules that effectively put bacteria on a stake in your front yard as a warning to all other bacteria saying “You are not welcome here! You will be cooked properly!”  Not following these rules means inviting Auntie Campylobacter and Cousin Salmonella to your table.  Unless you would like to spend the best shopping weekend of the year doubled over with a fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps, pay attention.  And, truth be told, these rules don’t just apply to Thanksgiving.

Roughly half of all meat in the US is contaminated with some sort of bacteria.  While that is pretty gross, it is also pretty easy to address.

  1. DO. NOT. RINSE.  Did you hear me?  Don’t listen to your grandmother and her grandmother and all the grandmothers who tell you to rinse your poultry.  DO NOT RINSE YOUR POULTRY.  I’ve got science on my side on this one, Grandma!  Rinsing your poultry – any bird, not just turkey – can actually cause bacteria to aerosolize (how’s that for an image?) and spread around your kitchen up to three feet! Three feet!  That’s really far!  Within three feet of my sink, I have my spice rack, cooking utensils, coffee pot and my baby’s bottles sitting on a drying rack.  What is within three feet of your sink?  Yeah… gross, huh? Plus, it is completely unnecessary.  Rinsing poultry does nothing to get rid of most bacteria – the bacteria that it does eliminate are now splashing around your kitchen.  What does eliminate bacteria? Proper cooking (we’ll get to that).  We aren’t the only ones who will tell you this.  Our friend, USDA, agrees.   And, from a cook’s perspective, you really want a dry skin on your poultry so it can get nice and crispy.
  2. Avoid cross contamination.  When you handle that big beautiful bird, make sure nothing else is around.  You don’t want any of those raw turkey juices getting on anything that you can’t immediately clean.  If Tom needs to be trimmed, use a separate cutting board and knife than you plan to use for your veggies.  Did you happen to see Dr. Richard Besser on The Chew last week talking about safe food handling?  Cross contamination can happen to the best of us, but we should do everything we can to prevent it.
  3. Wash your hands.  Wash your hands.  Wash your hands.  What was that?  Wash your hands.  You cannot wash your hands too much while handling raw meat.  Think about everything you touch while preparing food – utensils, towels, the countertop, your clothes, your body (why does my nose always itch when I’m cutting up chicken?), even the soap dispenser.  Washing your hands properly will help keep all that bacteria from making its way onto every item in your kitchen.  And if it does get on another surface, wash it.
  4. Don’t thaw your turkeysicle on the counter.  The raw turkey needs to be kept at 40 degrees.  If you thaw it on the counter, the outside (the part that is defrosting the fastest) will likely get warmer than 40 degrees and therefore become more susceptible to bacteria.  Thaw your turkey either in the fridge or in cold water.  Yes, it takes a very long time to thaw a big bird that way so be prepared!  Here is a handy chart with thawing times.  Another good tip – put your turkey in a dish while it sits in the fridge.  You would hate to find out about that tiny hole in the plastic while it is defrosting… a flood of raw turkey juices in your fridge is not so pretty.  Er, so I’ve heard.
  5. Cook your turkey to a safe temperature – which also means getting a good meat thermometer.  All poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees.  We’ll talk about stuffing next, but if you plan to cook your stuffing inside of your turkey that means it also needs to be cooked to 165 degrees.  It is that simple, folks.  Pay no attention to those popper things that come in the turkey.  Check the temperature yourself.  Unlike with your kids, you actually want your turkey to have a fever of 165. Recipe
  6. Let’s talk about stuffing.  First of all, I’m from the South where we call it dressing.  For the sake of food safety, we should all call it dressing.  Why?  Because stuffing can be unsafe because it is stuffing.  Let’s break this down… you fill the cavity of the bird with stuffing so that Tom’s delicious juices add great flavor to your stuffing.  Correct?  As we discussed above (see points one through, well, all of them), Tom’s juices are loaded with bacteria.  Those bacteria are now in your stuffing in the center of the turkey, the part that is farthest from the heat source and therefore takes the longest to reach a safe temperature (165 degrees).   So you have two choices.  You could: 1) Cook the turkey to its perfect temperature while it is still perfectly moist, serving it with the stuffing that is not cooked to the perfect temperature and therefore at risk of carrying bacteria that is going to send your guests home with a party favor they did NOT ask for, or 2) Cook the bird and the stuffing until the stuffing in the center is cooked to a safe temperature thus overcooking and drying out your turkey.  If I had to pick from those options – undercooked stuffing or overcooked turkey – I’d choose… tofuky.  There are two secret options that mean everybody wins.  Either 1) Cook your stuffing separately.  Use a delicious, rich stock (chicken, turkey, or vegetable) to add the flavor you’re looking for.  I promise it will taste good.  Or 2) Cooking the stuffing in the bird, remove it, and continue cooking it outside of the turkey until it reaches a safe 165 degrees.  Recipe
  7. Avoid BPAs.  Now, this next “rule” is really more of a suggestion.  I think by now most people know that canned goods have a liner that often contains Bisphenol A or BPA.  We buy BPA free water bottles and BPA free toys for our kids yet somehow on Thanksgiving all of that knowledge of BPAs goes out the window because, goshdarnit, we Americans love our canned cranberry sauce.  If it isn’t still in the shape of the can complete with rings, we don’t want it!  Myself included!  Well, not anymore.  I didn’t order harmful chemicals with my cranberry sauce, thanks.  Make it yourself from fresh or frozen cranberries.  It is easy and delicious… and much safer.  Recipe

Remember the two goals I mentioned at the beginning – making delicious food and not making people sick?  They can both happen at the same time by following some simple rules.  When it comes to safe food handling, it is all about awareness.  Be aware of cross contamination, what you touch, and the internal temperature of your food.  Follow these rules and your guests will be thankful that they didn’t learn the word “campylobacter” for the first time while at your house.

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