I Always Feel Like... Somebody's Watching Me!

Friday, May 27, 2011

More than a Tourist Trap

Beautiful AND energy efficient

  I have visited Niagara Falls many, many times over the years. I rode the Maid of the Mist as a little girl, took our German exchange students to see the amazing waterfall, stopped on the way back from our Honeymoon trip to Toronto and just last summer, we brought the kids as a side note to scouting Buffalo.

  And being in such close proximity to it now, I wasn't really excited since I have seen it so many times. With all of the wonders to see in the world, I am the kind of person who rarely likes to visit the same place twice. Niagara Falls is a fun, touristy destination - but I wasn't really looking forward to the prospect of driving there every time we had visitors here in Buffalo. I'll take the kids on the Maid of the Mist, sure, but I'd much rather spend our weekends exploring our new city and other places around Lake Erie.

  But I might owe the Falls another visit to show my true appreciation for a hidden talent I have never considered before: hydro-electric power. Oh yes, that wonderful scientific feat that has given us the lowest electric bills I have ever seen! You might be thinking, "DUH", Buffalo has been receiving power from the Falls since 1896. I just never made the connection.

Our visit last summer
  Gregory and I both have been wondering how it was possible to have such low electric bills here. The rental house is smaller and has less overhead lighting and fans. Without cable, the TV isn't left on as background noise. We have less appliances plugged in here on a constant basis... but that didn't explain the difference of over $100 saved every month. We were beginning to wonder if we had just been crazily energy inefficient in Pittsburgh.

  The science alone is pretty damn impressive - but I am appreciative of the benefit to our bank account. God Bless you Niagara Falls and Niagara Diversion Treaty! Now anytime someone says that Buffalo must be an awful place to live because of the neverending winter... I will remind them that it isn't so bad because it costs us a third of the price to keep our house warm!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Good Clean Fun

Thank you KOA for a good, clean, fun "kamping" trip! 

 It was our first foray into the woods with three children - and thank God we had backup! We met up with family in Erie for the weekend, to continue the celebrations for Jackson's birthday. While the packing and loading of the car is NOT fun, relaxing around the campfire after a long day definitely IS fun. I love everything about camping (minus spiders): just the feel of a sleeping bag induces memories of giggling at summer camp and waking up in the middle of the night to hear strange animals in the woods.

We started with a picnic on Presque Isle; the weather was beautiful. The Darth Vader candle made a return on a brownie cake this time and everyone bought Jackson such cute, generous gifts.

The best thing about meeting up with family to camp - is that you can relax, philosophise about why the rapture didn't happen at 6 pm, and everyone is free to move at their own pace. The second best thing: they remembered everything we didn't! Extra chairs, a night-light lantern for the kids, a camping stove, oatmeal, more hot dogs (to cover for the ones that fell into the fire), paper plates, etc. I didn't even have to tend the fire once... which would have been a sad display of camping experience if our fire had lasted for only one hour. Matthew kept it going long into the night.

We stayed in a little "kabin" this time - just for the fear that if it did rain, I would feel very guilty making Elliot sleep in a puddle. So, yes, we wimped out a little bit, but our kids also have the tendency to get up and wander in the middle of the night. The cabin was clean, had the perfect amount of windows and Ayla and Jackson got their first taste of bunk beds.

 It's always a little tough making the kids fall asleep in the same room, but after Elliot and Jackson were passed out - Ayla made a little appearance at the campfire. She told an epic "scary" story about meeting a bear in a cave and punching him in the face, which then turned into a hybrid tale of both Rapunzel and Coraline.

 I'm so thankful that we have people in our lives that are willing to drive for two hours to spend the day with us! I had such a great time, the perfect beginning to summer. And ... I didn't see any spiders.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Muppets. DUH.

 I was going to write about going camping this weekend... but must delay that post and give a shout out to my Muppets instead. Excitement, elation, giddiness, pee in my pants crazy happy don't quite describe what I feel about a real Muppet comeback.

 The rest of the world may have believed that the Muppets had lost their edge - but I haven't really been disappointed with anything Kermit related, well, ever. Muppets Take Manhattan may have a special place in my heart, along with countless years of Fraggle Rock, Muppet Babies, Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. But all of the recent movies are still pretty damn entertaining. I've never lost hope that the Muppets will reign supreme. I was just watching the first season of the Muppet Show the other day and snorting with laughter.

 Dancing chickens are always funny. ALWAYS.

 So check out the trailer...a new generation (and old - yeah Billy Crystal!) is giving props to the comic genius of pigs, cows, chickens and whatevers!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Beginning of the End

 It is a day anticipated, but also feared. It evokes feelings of pride, worry and a little bit of sadness. It marks the end of an era.

 It happens when you have your guard down, not expecting to see it... and hey! your baby is standing in the crib!

 Last week I sleepily stumbled into Elliot's room when I heard him crying in the morning and my proud man was standing, arms locked on to the side of the crib. Once this happens, the "honeymoon" infant period is totally over! I've already been chasing Elliot as he army crawls across the room, to the top of the basement steps, into my plants, etc. But now that he has figured out standing - I'm done for. In a matter of days, he not only is standing in the crib, but pulling himself up in the bathtub, the stairs, on the kitchen stool and anything else that looks vaguely sturdy.

  When we first moved to Buffalo, I could leave him lying on his floor nanny and walk out of the room... knowing that the worst he could do was roll over. Now he sneaks into all sorts of trouble. It's sad to see him leave that lovable little lumpy stay-in-one-place stage of life, but the wonder of his development is certainly fun to witness.

  I'm just waiting for the seemingly inevitable head injury that comes with standing up and walking. I caught him at the last second with the palm of my hand behind his head after a misstep in the kitchen yesterday. Faster reflexes with the third baby? I hope so!

Already trying with one hand - slow down kid!
YUM - peeling paint on an 18 year old crib!
Jackson's new bed is the perfect height for practice.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Star Wars Birthday

 Or to be more exact, coming from Jackson's mouth it sounds like, "Sterwers Birtday"! He's getting better with his words AND he's three years old today! He has been telling everyone about his Star Wars birthday for weeks. Happy Birthday big boy!

What a lucky guy at three: everyone in Ayla's preschool class drew him a picture. He got to push his own mini-cart in the grocery store (which resulted in a 2 hour shopping trip!). We played on the playground, ordered chinese food, baked a cake, not to mention the presents!

I spent all day relishing in the wonder that our Star Wars obsessed, tutu-wearing, lovable, sometimes violent, sometimes insane, always adorable boy somehow changed from newborn to infant to toddler to...almost preschooler.

Thank you Jennifer and Dale! The camera arrived just in time... he loves it!

Lovin' his lo mein.

"No mer picters!"

Big boy bed (hopefully this will keep him upstairs at 3 am). And I found these vintage Sesame Street sheets at Goodwill for $5! Score!

"Darth Verader" holds the candle.

It took some coaching... but he finally blew it out.
  With his new haircut and sophisticated age of three years, I'm sure big changes are ahead for our Jackins. We love you so much Jackson... although sometimes I don't understand why you act like a rabid animal!

 And in other news, Gregory passed another huge test in the air traffic control scene. It's hard to believe that he has been working in Buffalo for almost six months. I am so proud and so impressed by the hard work it has taken to get here! Nicely done!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Babies (In my house and on tv)

 I know I am about two years behind in entertainment news, mostly because of my absorption in babies and their developments. So one might expect that when I do take the time to watch a movie - it would be about anything other than diapers, breastfeeding or babies. Nope. I just watched the documentary Babies ... and I LOVED it.

 It isn't a big stretch to understand why I would enjoy two hours of baby clips; my life is one big series of baby events and milestones. However, this movie was very well edited and the concept so simple, yet profound.

  I have found that having children can be isolating. We are so focused on caring for the immediate needs of our small people, that we lose a connection with the outside world. We also compare our "progress" with the standards of our environment - and in the United States, the baby industry is so complex and complicated. It's refreshing to watch a movie about babies growing up in Africa and the isolated tundra of Mongolia. The mothers there are not conflicted about keeping up with their careers or understanding their role in motherhood. Whether they like it or not, it is all-consuming. Breastfeeding is the option, for years on end. Their babies learn how to crawl and navigate in nature - on the muddy earth or with the family goat as support. It isn't completely sanitized and controlled by a Fisher Price marketing campaign.

 While I'm not going to abandon antibacterial soap, the pediatrician or plastic toys - I can appreciate that all of the aforementioned are luxuries. Babies can thrive ( in healthy situations) and learn, and some would argue that they do it better without all of the American "necessities". The baby in Mongolia spent a lot of time with his older toddler brother, with only a string tied to a bed to keep him from wandering off. It isn't "safe" by our standards... but a majority of the world raises their babies in those types of environments.

 The movie was beautifully edited and made me, as a chronic multi-tasker, sit down and watch. It is simply fantastic to watch a baby discover smiling, or his own hands or the victory of standing up on her own. Whether you have the baby bug or not, there is something to be learned about human nature in the universal experience of new life. (And my heart nearly exploded with every scene of the Mongolian baby.... those Asians get me every time!)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Documentary Photography

 Jackson is capturing the real-life story of being a toddler in the midst of a crazy family. He's got an older sister bossing him around, demanding that he be the prince. He's got a younger baby brother, who spits food all over the table and is allowed to splash in the bathtub. His parents try to teach him the running man before learning to tie his shoes. And he documents this all day long with our camera.

Every time I connect our digital camera to the computer to upload our most recent photos - I find that over half of them have been taken by Jackson. His improving stealth means that he often takes about 20 photos of items in the house (or me with my back turned) and then returns it to the same place. I don't realize that he's even used it until I see the images on the computer.

Some of the pictures are really creative and some are candid self-portraits (lots of boogers!). He could be occupied for several hours a day, just snapping pictures and looking at them in the display. We are looking for a durable kids camera that we can trust in his hands for more than five minutes - because we've already gone the route of lending him our old digital camera. Unfortunately, Mr. Disaster dropped it on the kitchen floor and cracked the lens.

I know every parent says this about their child - but I think he is talented! He chooses to take images of the bright colors on his toys, his cute little feet and is beginning to capture his everyday life in little photo essays.

The trusty calculator - satisfies the need to press buttons when I'm tired of Jackson texting people from my phone.

Uncle Matthew!

Oh my - Elliot loves his big brother.

I can't get him to smile when I take the picture!

I had no idea he took this. I'm not hovering over the toilet - I am rinsing out cloth diapers with the sprayer.

Breakfast time fun.

New love of his life: Cheerios.

Dumb dog Baxter in the backyard.

I can see this hanging in Ikea - seriously! Very mod.

Monday, May 9, 2011

I Heart NY Driving

  Let's move backwards to go forwards. My favorite NY driving story dates back to 2001 when my friend Nathan and I spent a winter day walking and gawking in New York City. We drove to New Jersey from State College and then caught a bus into the city. We made no attempt to drive right into the heart of crazy, aggressive city driving; although I do love me some road rage.... Most of the day was spent walking the streets and waiting in line to view Ground Zero. Those somber moments looking at the naked earth in the middle of a metropolis were soon evened out with one of the funniest moments of my life. It's one of those stories that I can think of and bust out laughing. I hope I can describe it without you feeling like, well, guess you had to be there.

  As I recollect, Nathan and I were standing and waiting to cross the street. There was significant traffic and a bus was making a turn, probably getting in the way of several cars trying to do the same thing. Horns were honking, middle fingers were flying and windows were being rolled down to scream excellent expletives at each other. Anger turned into a stand-off between one guy in his little car against the bus. And we all know that bus drivers (like truck drivers) feel some sort of strange ownership of the road, just because they spend all day and night using it. The bus driver opened his door, was leaning out of it and ripping into the car driver.

 All while this is happening, Nathan and I are standing there like two country bumkins... staring and I know I was feeling genuine glee over getting to witness true NYC road rage. It was awesome. Everyone else on the street couldn't have cared less, not paying attention at all, but we were enraptured and starting to giggle.

 When would it end? Who would move? Turns out the guy in the car had the magic words. While they had already called each other every m-fing, sh%t-tastic name they could think of - the final straw was when the car driver said, "Just drive your F*^&ing bus." Sheepishly, the bus driver crawled back into his vehicle and moved on. I guess stating the obvious was the way to go. Shame the man back to his public transportation.

 Drive your f*#king bus. Yep. Nathan and I were laughing hysterically, clearly a bunch of idiots from smaller towns. That to me, will always be the epitome of NY driving.

 And moving forward, Buffalo is not a comparison to NYC, but I see the same adventurous spirit on the roads AND a lot more favors. People really do obey the "no blocking side streets" law and almost always let me out in front of them. I see little old men weave across four lanes of backed-up traffic to turn the wrong way into a parking lot across a major road. And I really appreciate that it is illegal to be on your cell phone while driving. Call me an nerd if you want... but it makes most people drive like assholes.

 The only place that I feel true fear driving is the parking lot of Ayla's preschool. Pick-up and drop-off time is mayhem. No one (really NO ONE) uses the yellow lines as guidelines for parking. It's just a free for all and most days, I have to honk to stop someone from backing into me. Craziness.

 Short from parents forgetting how to drive with their preschoolers in the car - NY state has some pretty sweet driving. While I love my Pittsburgh, I don't miss the unexplainable "tunnel effect" that causes everyone to slow to 12 miles an hour when they see the sign saying, "Don't slow down before tunnel".

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy "Mother's" Day!

 Feeling lots of love today, with the mommy shout-outs from facebook, an awesome card from my sister, text messages and emails. I wish women were always so positive with each other - encouraging instead of judgemental, inclusive instead of one-upping each other. We're all trying to accomplish the same thing every day; maintaining our sanity while caring and loving and witnessing the amazing growth of our children.

 My favorite quote of the day is, "The essence of motherhood is not restricted to women who have given birth; it is inherent to both men and women. It is an attitude of the mind. It is love, and love is the very breath of life." Whether you came to motherhood through the actual use of our birth canals, adoption, marriage or reaching out to a friends' child - enjoy the celebratory day! In my book, any "mother" out there who loves a child deserves the recognition.

My Mom - always baking a bad-ass cake.

Couldn't resist the picture with baby Evie!

 I am personally grateful of course to my own Mom, but also to all of the women who show an interest in my life. Some of the best "Moms" out there are the aunts, friends, godparents who make the effort not because they are supposed to, but because they want to. (Don't worry, men, you'll get your appreciation on "Father's" Day!)

 As for the crew in my house: Ayla showed her appreciation through cards, drawings and helping to unload the dishwasher. According to her, "My mom is good at driving a car and she never gets into trouble." Jackson gave me a few hugs, uttered the words Happy Mothers Day in his cute, cute dialect and didn't make that big of a mess running to the potty. Elliot was all cuddles, mostly because his third tooth is about to push through. Some of the moments I feel most appreciated as a Mom are when he nurses.... he holds my hands, strokes my face, looks up at me to make sure I'm still there (as if I wasn't connected!), smiles and does his best to make contented noises.

 Although Gregory had to work this morning, I am really looking forward to my new favorite meal of fish tacos. He knows me well and found all of the ingredients for my favorite drink: Dark N Stormys!

 Bring on the alcohol for Mother's Day! :)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

5:30 AM

 The argument can be made that nothing good happens at 5:30 in the morning. Sunrises, all-you-can eat breakfast buffets, polar bear swimming.... much more enjoyable after staying up all night than waking early to enjoy them. Me and the AM hours have always disliked each other.

 So while a surprisingly high number of Americans were waking at this god-awful hour to watch the Royal Wedding...I was trying to catch my last moments of sleep. To he honest, I don't think I would even get up at 5:30 AM to attend the wedding of someone I loved, let alone some pretentious people in England.

It seems to be a cruel twist of fate that my kids now love waking up early in the morning. And even if they aren't ready to wake up - our animals are doing everything they can to sabotage my sleep.

Set scene: 5:30 AM, my pillow. I am crunched between Elliot, Gregory and Jackson in my bed. Elliot has thankfully fallen back asleep after crying and nursing. Enter Koko... who jumps in his un-catlike, clumsy way right onto Elliot and scares the crap out of him.

 Elliot is crying, Koko literally gets a spanking, and we are now awake for the day. Hasn't Koko learned anything from his previous escapades?