Monday, December 04, 2006

Destruction was never so beautiful

As far as I'm concerned, construction may as well be brain surgery. I am consistently amazed when I see what a couple of skilled guys can accomplish in an afternoon. Install a steel beam in the ceiling? No problem. Relocate an exterior door? Piece of cake.

Watching our carpenter Marius and his associate Joe do it reminds us why we are not DIYers. Don't get me wrong, for some, doing the weekend warrior thing makes sense. But for Bob and me, it would be the worst decision we could make. The two of us are often outwitted by the simplest of home improvement projects (see past failures: relocating speaker wire about 10 feet on the same wall, replacing outlet cover and myriad other fiascos too embarrassing to admit.) I figure, if Bob gets hired to do chip floorplanning and one day, God willing, I will once again be hired to write a smokin' marketing plan, why should we expect that our talents should extend beyond the realms in which we excel? More simply put, just as I wouldn't expect Marius to try his hand at our jobs, why oh why would we try to do his? Many have told us there's money to be saved by us doing at least part of the job. But I have my doubts; I envision us doing more harm than good, as in, "Uhh, the house is rocking... do you think that could have been a load bearing wall?" I'm reasonably certain the best thing for all involved is for us to leave it to the pros. We take the immortal words of Mike Holmes seriously, "If you can't afford to do it RIGHT, then you have to WAIT." Besides, if you looked that good in Carhartt overalls, I'd listen to you too.

It took a few weeks of demolition and another couple of weeks of framing but now we've officially turned the corner and the state of affairs at the house is steadily improving each time we visit. For a while there was chaos everywhere with unidentified wires snaking around and steam pipes running from ceiling to floor where once there were walls. But now the mess is disappearing and in its place we're beginning to see what's to come. There's plenty more work to do but it looks like we may be able to move in mid-January. That means it'll be a non-traditional Christmas here in the apartment where the blinding whiteness isn't from the snow outside but from all the glaringly barren walls. Thankfully, it doesn't bother Sam in the least, in fact he loves to play the drums on the giant moving boxes that litter the apartment. It's amazing how much stuff one can live without when it's thought to be temporary. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we'd be here so long but I'd certainly rather live here than amidst the dust storm currently raging inside our house. I also consider myself fortunate that this year Sam hasn't quite figured out the logistical challenges Santa will face on Christmas Eve when he tries to figure out how to get in this apartment without a fireplace. Rest assured next year it'll be another story; the stockings will be hung by the new-and-improved chimney with care.

Friday, November 03, 2006

This parenting thing's not so simple

Now that I've got the monumental responsibility that comes with having a kid of my own, I consider more of my actions than I ever did before. Thinking ahead about parenting decisions instead of employing the old shoot-from-the-hip-method will help us (I hope) make fewer decisions in need of overturning at a future date. Whether or not to celebrate Halloween is one such decision.

In my early years, I experienced the joy of dressing up as a princess and other benign characters to survey Grandma and Pop's neighborhood for treats. Later in my growing up years, say from the age of 10 on, my parents decided that we'd not celebrate Halloween because it was a pagan holiday with evil roots. Once they learned about the day's origins, my parents took the holiday seriously and thought it best for my sister and I to exclude ourselves from dressing up, parties and trick or treating. For me, it was like the blind person who loses her vision as a child-- I knew what it was like to have the fun of canvassing the neighborhood-- so taking it away was traumatic. To my knowledge, Sarah never got to trick or treat since she was so much younger when my parents had their revelation. That's traumatic too for a young kid-- having to explain why you're the only weirdo in 3rd grade who doesn't have a costume on. I'm not going to be overly dramatic and say all those missed Halloweens ruined my childhood (I can only speak for myself) but the whole thing would have made a lot more sense to me if I'd never been allowed to dress up and it was family policy from the beginning.

So these days, I know my parents' reasons and I agree with some of them. But I think just because you let your kids put on a costume doesn't mean next year they'll lead a seance. In my opinion, just as you can make Christmas all about Santa Claus if you so choose, you can also make Halloween just about the wholesome fun that comes with it. That's not to say we do the former, it's just an example of how the true purpose of a holiday can easily be separated from how one chooses to celebrate it. That said, Sam and his future siblings will get to celebrate Halloween within range of our watchful eyes, choosing costumes that are friendly, funny and cute.

On a somewhat related note, I noticed a slew of horror movies on tv this week. For me, it's like a sadistic curiosity. When I was ever drawn to one in the past, I inevitably ended up with nightmares and a feeling of dread in my stomach. This year I passed on the horror because I decided there's nothing good about putting such dark visuals into my head. And the same goes for Sam; as he grows up I want him to input good stuff like puppy dogs and canoe races. I realize there'll be plenty of negativity going in that's out of my control. Bob disagrees though. One of his favorite movies is Hannibal which, when I think about it, scares me a bit. He swears it's for the scenes of Italy. What's your take on the horror genre?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Progress aplenty

Sam just turned 21 months old and he's talking all the time, stringing sentences together like he was born to communicate. Today he awed us by showing off his counting skills. It brought a tear to my eye to see my smart baby boy feeling so proud of himself. All these months of counting the stairs on the way up to our third floor apartment did more than make me breathe heavy. I can't wait for the day we can count the steps as we climb up the one flight to his new bedroom.

To that end, progress on the house continues although slowly. This week, there were two remarkable milestones. First, our general contractor placed the yard sign in front of the house announcing the arrival in short order of a dumpster and plenty of workers pounding nails at 7:00am. The day that noise begins polluting my neighborhood I will listen closely to the sonata and kindly ask my neighbors for their patience as the days pass and the debris pile grows.

Although the GC hasn't started any of the remodeling work yet, our lead abatement contractor started and completed his bit this week. Admittedly I'm a bit of a lunatic about lead--ask Bob about the time I made him take me to Urgent Care because I was certain I was thinking slower as a result of poisoning myself while refinishing furniture. The doctor thought I had a screw loose but that had nothing to do with lead. Thankfully, there wasn't much of the stuff in our house compared to other similarly aged homes and we knew the deal before we bought it because we had the house professionally tested as part of our home inspection. In our real estate shopping we learned that many don't take lead seriously. We actually had one realtor tell us that lead poisoning was only a problem in the inner city where children were malnourished and relied on chipped paint to supplement their diets. Perhaps the ignorant biddy didn't know that all kids put things in their mouths regardless of hunger. Personally, I can't believe so many people would pay so much to get into the right school district and then jeopardize their children's mental development by leaving lead in their homes exposed. Perhaps they don't realize how serious it can be. To us, it was just part of the work required to make the house safe and habitable for our family. If you had a boy as smart as ours, I'm sure you'd do the same.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Home Improvement for Dummies

Thank you to Rox and Doug who offered their renovation suggestions after reading my last post. We've particularly enjoyed reading The Inept Homeowner's Guide to Surviving Renovation and Remodeling your Home: Avoiding Litigation and the Resulting Cost Overruns. Both are enlightening books on the subject making me want to kick myself for not fighting through Bob Vila's prickly exterior to make friends with him that day I was behind him in line at the Whole Foods.

I am pleased to report that we've finally found a design/build firm that inspires confidence and doesn't threaten to send us over the edge into the money pit. We've spent the last few weeks working with Mike, the lead estimator, to do the planning required before we sign the contract and work begins. Mike's a character and a no-nonsense straight shooter. It's funny how quickly we've gotten to know and trust him. As soon as I see him furrow his brow and put his head in his hands, I know I've asked for too much. Once when I asked him what would happen if we raised Sam's bedroom ceiling to the rafters, he told me, "Your husband might kill you." This is the same guy who called me a tree hugger when he heard I was interested in Lyptus cabinets. If he thinks I'm a tree hugger, he should see my son.

We learned a few things making the selections for our place in Arizona and we're trying to learn from that experience. This project is different though; we have not only the finishes to choose but also the layout. Whereas last time, we picked the tile, countertops and light fixtures, this time we need to determine where walls should be. It's much more like building from scratch when you tear out so much of what's existing. Planning the details takes precious minutes, hours, days. One of the many contractors who came to the house advised us that erasing a line in a plan is much easier than knocking down a wall. We're heeding his advice and making sure that the plan is one we've fully thought through before any demolition begins. It's a little maddening but a necessary exercise in self-control. On several occasions Bob has restrained me with my sledgehammer from taking matters into my own eager hands.

We hope the updates will modernize the home in terms of how it meets our family’s needs, but the implementation will be done in a style reminiscent of its earlier origin. On our real estate venturing, I was often struck by how glorious cherry cabinets and wall-to-wall stainless appliances felt out of place in humble homes of a similar vintage to ours. It is a personal preference of course, but I feel we owe it to the house to respect the years it stood before we were even born. We can do that by making selections that harken back to an earlier time with its own set of principles and ideals. It's one way I can help those principles persist.

In this life where so much stuff is disposable, I hope that one day our house will be worthy of a discreet placard on the front noting its date of construction and original owner. But that's a long way off. For now, I'll rely on the Colonial charm in its structural symmetry, warm hardwood floors, and crystal doorknobs from which to draw inspiration. Whatever changes we make, I know the decisions made now will result in the establishment of our surroundings for years to come. Every design decision is a commitment and for better or worse, I've awoken in the morning wondering if sconces might be a better lighting option in the powder room. Perhaps it's design fatigue, maybe it's a symptom of being TKO--whatever it is, I'm taking tomorrow off to enjoy the onset of Fall in the great city of Boston with my best guys.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

10 things you don’t want your prospective General Contractor to do

Arrive at the first meeting in a brand new Porsche Cayenne.

Belittle town building inspectors and call the last one he worked with an “ass.”

Tell you your project timeline is unrealistic because he and his family are leaving next week for a month long vacation in Greece.

Assure you that, “When you build green, the details just work themselves out.”

At the appointed meeting time, place a call from 11 Arnold Street to say he's knocking on the door and why are you not answering? (Our house isn't on Arnold Street.)

When asked if ours is a larger than average size project for him, answer, “Nah, I once built a $5 million gas station.”

Show up to the first meeting red faced, sweaty and dressed in tennis whites.

When asked why the price for the work is so high, proclaim proudly, “This is Wellesley!”

Insist you throw pecuniary caution to the wind because every dollar spent on a kitchen renovation will certainly result in a return on that investment when you sell the house.

Estimate the cost of renovating the kitchen will cost you somewhere between an MIT professor and Boston Mayor Menino's yearly salary.

Some of these are annoyances, others are downright ridiculous. And yes, we've now experienced them all. The fact of the matter is that if we don’t find a contractor who is a good match for us soon, we're going to move into the house as is. And if we do that, then I’ll bet we won't update it for years since the prospect of doing so will only become more daunting. Please oh please Mr. Reliable-Reasonably Priced-Able-To-Work-Now-Contractor where are you? I really think our house can be great, we just need you to put hammer to nail.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Her way, His time

Yesterday should have been a celebration of 90 years of your life. What an accomplishment! You lived through the Great Depression, the Vietnam War and Daddy's permed hair phase. In that time you were independent before women were so. You were charitable even though you didn't have the means to be. You knew fun and adventure despite sadness and strife. I'm sorry you left us just a couple of weeks too early to see Sam's smile firsthand. But I'm sure the time was right.

Perhaps some thought it inappropriate in your eulogy I mentioned that my Dad was, in my opinion, your greatest accomplishment. Please understand that I don't discredit your other accomplishments, I see most prominently before me though that raising such an honorable man without a husband is something remarkable. Finding that laminated clipping from a 1986 Redbook amongst your belongings made me think you must agree. Remember the one? The story references a then-new study finding that a boy's intelligence comes from his mother. I think that was your way of taking duly earned credit. I know he makes you proud. Nevertheless, I hope you understood that I meant only to share my gratitude for giving me such a wonderful father.

Sarah made a beautiful board of photos for your funeral in case you didn't see. My gratitude will continue on as will those memories. I promise to convey my recollections of passing Skip-Bo cards from my childish to your long nailed hands. Early December I'll make those 7-layer cookies we looked forward to receiving from you in holiday tins. And whenever I see Canadian Club on the shelf I'll smile and think of you.

Rest in peace, Grandma Eleanor.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

A cut, a dog and a Fourth of July blog

I have something to admit. I conducted a poll a while back and then disregarded the results. I feel guilty. I asked for your opinion and you were kind enough to offer it. I hope you know it wasn’t out of apathy. Bob went to see Barber Jen a couple of weeks back but I’d forgotten the camera so Sam prolonged the inevitable. We waited until we had the chance to make Sam’s first haircut the fun event we wanted it to be. Our guy went in looking curly and girly and came out a no-doubt-about-it boy. Here he is in the chair as Jen moves swiftly with her magical scissors. Thankfully Sam didn’t notice the Playboys in the old school waiting room. I swear there are big time man laws operating that place even if Jen owns the joint.

The patriotic bunch over here spent the 4th watching all American sports on tv. While true sports lovers were anxiously awaiting the big soccer game between Italy and Germany, we couch potatoes tuned into ESPN’s broadcast of the 2006 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. Finally, a sport us Americans can win hands down! Or so we thought.

The funniest thing about the contest was the commentators who were dead serious describing the action like this was their big audition for Sports Center. They called the contestants “trained athletes” and reminded viewers “don’t try this at home.” We watched in awe and disgust as the contestants focused intently on the matter at hand: chowing pig parts and dunking the buns in carbonated slop so they could shove the whole vile thing into their gullets. By the time the 12 minutes were up, the Japanese victor, Kobayashi, had powered down 50+ hot dogs. Ever the marketeer, I pondered why Nathan’s would sponsor such an event; I can’t be the only one who felt nauseous after watching. Thereafter even the thought of a barbequed Tofu Pup made me queasy.

For those of you who read my gastric woes as suspected pregnancy, I am not but there is other happy news. My honey and I celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary on Sunday. A few years older, a couple of hairs grayer but I’m still not feeling that 7 year itch. Thanks Bobby for being mine.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Congratulations to the happy couple

I realize I'm no Steven Spielberg. But this weekend, we got to see my sweet Daddy propose to his girl Sue in a most appropriate venue and I was able to take this little video. I was more nervous than he was and so my hands are shaking throughout but I hope the video captures the spirit of the event. Thanks you two for sharing your joy with us. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The new Casa Dwyer?

If all goes according to plan, this little home will be the new Casa Dwyer by the end of the month. There are inspections, contracts and a mortgage to get in place first but as of last night, we've made an accepted offer on this little home. After last weekend's negotiations, the current owners had a mid-week change of heart and decided to accept our offer after all. The next question becomes, what type of scary things are we going to find in the home inspection *shudder* of this oft-renovated 1940 Colonial?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Memorial Day minutiae and reverence

Somehow every year Memorial Day sneaks up on us. We know vaguely that there's a day off somewhere at the beginning of summer but inevitably, we find ourselves with no plans and no thoughts for how to make the most of the long weekend. This year, things were a bit different. We saw some houses in Wellesley, made an offer on one, accepted delivery of our cars, hung out with our friends Scott and Nikki who were in town for a race and found out our offer was meagerly countered by the current owners.

Saturday morning we stopped at Sam's would-be elementary school to try out the playground. Bob was thrilled to finally find a hoop the right height for him to dunk. The little dude was more interested in shooting hoops with his Papa than climbing the playground equipment. We even met a perfectly yuppy family who also came to spend some time at the playground. All in all, it was a great Saturday morning. Note to Grandmothers: No knees were skinned in the course of our playtime.

Even though we spent the weekend mostly absorbed in our own affairs, we did spend a few moments yesterday thinking of the servicemen and women who've lost their lives to protect our nation. Now that we live in the Land of Liberal, I'm certain many of our neighbors will not share my political ideals. Even so, I hope that I'm in good company recognizing that men and women in uniform make sacrifices so we can continue to live our comfortable, protected lives. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the current war and its genesis should have absolutely no bearing on the respect due our veterans. They don't choose war, they choose to trust in their leader and assume the role they've been given. That takes bravery I'll never have. And as a mother, that's bravery I selfishly hope my son never has. (Ok, maybe that's not exactly true but perhaps he can show his devotion by serving stateside.)

Patriotism was an underlying current in my upbringing. As a second generation American, I never learned Italian (nor did my mother) because once the family came to America, assimilation happened relatively quickly. The importance of family and food persist but all else from the old country is virtually gone. My Grandmother gained her citizenship, learned English and raised her children American. In some ways, I think making the choice to move to this country makes her even more loyal to it. And although I can't remember those words ever being spoken, they were implied in subtle ways.

One day I'll explain to Sam why we hang a flag on Memorial Day, why we take it down when it rains and more importantly, that our freedom is something precious for which we should be grateful. But explanations can only help instill so much. I hope too that he'll learn by way of different subtleties-- the tear in my eye when I hear of a soldier lost or my hand over my heart whenever the national anthem plays-- and become a man of strong character who recognizes that thanking those who sacrifice for us isn't just an act of patriotism, it's an act of humanity.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Which Credit Cards are Best?

Last year, I did a review of the credit cards we were carrying and after some analysis I decided to change all of the cards we were using. I thought what I learned might be interesting to others so here's a summary of what I found.

Previously, we were primarily using an American Airlines Citibank MasterCard which carries a $55 annual fee and offers 1 American frequent flyer mile per dollar spent. American was our airline of choice and miles were always useful since we were traveling quite a bit. Increasingly, however, we found it difficult to utilize the miles we'd accrued. Flights are just never available, even with a lot of advanced notice and nowhere near holidays. I used to think an airline mile was worth 1 cent to me, but I think they are worth less now. We've got tens of thousands of miles on a bunch of airlines and last time I tried, I couldn't use the miles on any of the airlines! We also had an American Express Golf Card and a Discover Card that were seldom used.

To improve this situation, I did an analysis of our spending patterns for the 6 months prior. I created a spreadsheet that categorized each of our purchases into the buckets that credit card companies offer varied percentages back for: "gas/groceries/drug store", "dining out", "travel" and "other".

Some of the credit cards have very complex cash back schemes. If they were too complicated, I tossed them out figuring they were trying to bamboozle me with complexity hoping I wouldn't be able to figure out how weak their offerings were. I also knocked out any cards that charged an annual fee, and any card that offered anything other than cash back. It is possible that cards offering things other than cash back are good deals, but I really don't want to be obligated to spend my money in a particular way and I like the liquidity that cash offers.

After completing this analysis, I determined we were leaving about $1,000 per year on the table with our present cards as compared to what we could be getting with our new cards. Here are the new cards we use:

1. "American Express Blue Cash"
-5% cash back on gas/groceries/drug store
-1.5% cash back on all purchases
-Cash back is offered on first $50,000 spent per year
-AmEx not accepted everywhere
-All spending less than $6,500 annually is only 0.5%/1.0% cash back
-Cash back is credited to your account at your card anniversary date

2. "Chase Cash Plus Rewards Visa"
-5% cash back on gas/groceries/drug store
-1% cash back on all other purchases
-Visa/MasterCard readily accepted
-I don't see this card offered anymore (too good a deal?)
-30,000 "point" limit annually
-There's a very similar card from CitiBank called the "Citi Dividend Platinum Select Card". The specs on the Citi card are identical to the Chase card, but I've had bad experiences with CitiBank soliciting me frequently and I've had pretty good luck with Chase in the past
-Cash back comes in the form of checks in $50 increments and can be requested the month they're earned

Other card to consider:
-TrueEarnings Card from Costco/American Express
-3% back for dining out, 2% back for travel expenses, 1% for everything else
-It's the next card I'd consider, but I already have 1 AmEx and the complexity associated with using a special card for dining out/travel could be annoying. Further, I find getting a card rejected by a server at a restaurant to be annoying sometimes.

Card to be avoided:
-Any green/gold/platinum/black American Express Card that charges a fee. I like AmEx customer service and I've occasionally heard stories that make carrying an AmEx seem like a good idea. But I just cannot justify paying the significant annual fees these cards charge.

Do you have other suggestions for credit cards to check out or avoid? Please post a comment if you do.


When it rains, it pours (quite literally)

While the floodwaters receded in Massachusetts, we were hard at work back in Arizona coordinating the cross country move to end all moves. Seriously people, this time we mean it. No more flighty back and forths, this is the REAL DEAL. Bob says we are "mailing it in" and never ever moving, or for that matter, traveling anywhere again. At least that's the story today, after a week of moving mayhem with a feverish toddler. I'm sure by next weekend he'll be talking about a San Diego getaway or at the very least, a Newport-bound roadtrip.

So we flew back to the desert last weekend, worked with the packers on Monday and Tuesday, the loaders on Wednesday, closed on Thursday and spent Friday nursing Sam back to health in preparation for our Saturday flight back to New England. Don't you know that Wednesday he woke up with a 102+ fever? The flight back yesterday was bearable mostly thanks to Sam's Benadryl induced sleep. I felt a bit guilty about his unprecedented three hour nap but hey, his doctor told me to keep him comfortable so that's exactly what I did. His doc diagnosed him with a virus so it's just a matter of time before he's back to his wild ways. Even though the timing was lousy for him to fall ill, I'm still glad we brought him with us because he got to play with his cousins and I would have felt sick myself if I'd been so far away from my glassy-eyed little boy.

The move itself was efficient, and all things considered, did not require much more of me than orchestration. The benefit is that I barely had to pack at all; the bad news is that I saw summer sandals being packed in the same box as a gum ball machine. In other words, I will likely be hunting for possessions until every last box is unpacked. Our cars were confidently loaded onto a transport truck to make the trip and we hope that despite its position, the BMW will not suffer an early demise resulting from low clearance roadways. Also, I didn't watch my beloved antique china cabinet get wrapped or loaded. I try not to think about it and when I do, I remind myself -- it's all just stuff.

When we left the house for the last time, I was struck, to my surprise, with melancholy. Listening to the echos off the barren walls made me reminiscent of our early days there before Sam. Of the two and a half years we lived there, almost all of that time was spent preparing for and adjusting to life with him. I recall walking the neighborhood endlessly with Bob, gently urging the dude to make his appearance. I remember putting the infant carrier down on the dining room table for the first time feeling the magnitude of those expectant eyes looking back at me. Before settling down to sleep in our bedroom for the last time, I relived his early days when, same as ever, I would check on him careful not to step on the squeaky spot outside his bedroom door dare I wake him. Once all the last bits of our stuff were out, we walked around one last time and all three of us shed a few tears. Some were for the past (Bob and me) and others were out of impatience (Sam). Before long, we remembered the two scorpions and diamondback (not the kind that plays baseball) who greeted us upon arrival and we knew it was time to go.

Now that we're back in New England, there's an excitement in the air. And some humidity too. There's no better time in my humble opinion than spring here to start something new. The home search begins now in earnest and according to my Dad, time is of the essence! After all the rain, the time is right to weed out the leaky homes from the tight ones. I say, bring on the new listings!

Monday, May 01, 2006


There's something worrisome about counting my chickens before they're hatched but nonetheless, I can think of almost nothing besides the pending sale of our home. Saturday evening we received an almost gleeful call from our dear realtor Max who reported that he was holding an offer in hand for its purchase. We hemmed, hawed, went back and forth and finally settled on the terms last evening. Closing is scheduled for the 18th and I can barely believe it. Provided nothing goes awry, we will be moving to Massachusetts in short order.

Bob was a little melancholy last night as he looked at the sunny photos of his beloved desert getaway. While I too have a fondness for the place we call our home, there's nothing sentimental about my own couch or pots or books that reside within those walls. My home is wherever we come at the end of the day to reconnect; it's wherever I know my boys will rest their heads. I view our moving as a new chapter. We've chosen a place that we think embraces the values we share and a community where we can see ourselves a part. It's always hard to move past the known and into the unfamiliar but we hope it will be worth all this effort.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Join the family debate

Is it time for Sam's first haircut?
Yes, do it immediately or else strangers will think Sam is short for Samantha.
Yes, but take your time. Those curls are precious.
No, longish hair on boys is cool.
Absolutely not, he's perfect just the way he is.
I've seen his mother's father. Just be glad he HAS hair.
Free polls from

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Better than fairy dust

Right now the dude is napping and we're approaching 2 and a half hours. You may think, what a wonderful sleeper he is! Ah yes, unless you consider last night's midnight ride when we piled into the car, pj clad, in hopes of calming a screaming baby who could not be consoled. This morning it seems, we are making up for lost time.

I have been working on weaning him off his formula and onto regular milk because I decided it was about time. His diet is complete without the manufactured nutrition and I'd just prefer getting him off that upon which he's become reliant. The transition has been anything but smooth and it's led to an all out test of wills. The dude screams until he gets his beverage of choice and Mama eventually succumbs to maintain peace in the household. So much for being the resolute parent some predicted. On one hand, I want to be firm so Sam learns that we're in charge but on the other, he’s just my little bambino and I want to make his world gentle and comforting. You should see this kid while he's enjoying his pre-bed bottle of formula. I swear, he cuddles that bottle more lovingly than his precious Prayer Puppy.

Lately though glimmers of baseless toddler fussing have caused me to reconsider making any and all accommodations in the name of a happy baby. I mean give me a break, is organic whole milk so bad? The way he behaves you'd think I was starving him. (A cursory look at his meaty thighs should quickly clear me of that charge.) Or worse yet, you'd think I was trying to take the bottle away cold turkey. Last night, for better or worse, we'd run out of formula so there was no pacifying him with a bottle of his beloved and we paid the price. Bob declared NEVER AGAIN would our household be without the magic powder. I can just see it now, one day he'll come home from work after a rough day and mix himself up a cocktail (shaken, not stirred) of Baby's Only.

At least there's some good coming from the weaning effort. I've renewed my efforts to serve my boys healthy balanced meals. Yesterday we had lovely Swiss Chard Raviolis and tomorrow I'm planning to make Lemony Angel Hair with Crème Fraîche, Parmesan and Artichoke Hearts. And, if all goes according to plan, I’ll be making Thumb Print Cookies to deliver to our new apartment neighbors. To our delight, they have a 15 month old boy who I hope will be so enticed by our cookies that he and his mom will come right upstairs to play in Sammyland. That's great as long as they're not expecting any milk with their cookies.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Extreme real estating

Bob and I have invented a new sport. I liken it to the downhill slalom whereby we go careening down an icy street slamming past what may, to the uninitiated, look like harmless 'open house' and 'for sale by owner' signs. The adrenaline of a new listing warms us despite the freezing temperatures. Scoring is a complicated tabulation of price per square foot, days on the market, current price reductions and lot size square footage. Subjective scoring also plays into the equation. That assessment usually goes something like this:

Me: "Forget that place. I don't care if it's 1800 square feet; it looks like a shoebox."
Bob: "You're right. I think I saw the interior of that house featured in that commercial where the girl just wants to make an omelet. Look at the one down the street though. I think they call that style late-century rambling wreck."

After a day of house stalking with only some success, I ask myself, why don't we do this like normal people? I know the score; I watch House Hunters. Step 1: Hire friendly realtor happy to pull a couple of listings for sure-thing buyers. Step 2: See 3 houses, look at the pros and cons, balance it with price. Step 3: Make a decision and an offer on the hood of realtor's car while still parked in front of house #3. Not us. We need to see every house in the town we like. We drive around neighborhoods trying to spot possible pockets of charm. We size up proximity to key landmarks like Peet's Coffee (Starbucks in a pinch) and Whole Foods. The net result is that in Westborough there are exactly 2 neighborhoods that we find acceptable. In Wellesley, there are slightly more.

The good news is, we've actually found towns that we like and can afford if we indeed move to Massachusetts. The bad news is that the moving situation is tenuous especially since Bob's situation with his customer took a turn for the worse this week. But I can't help that. All I can do is help drive us to the optimal decision IF the work situation improves AND our house sells for a reasonable price. I'll come back to that in a minute.

So, as we look at homes in Wellesley, it becomes quickly evident that in order to buy enough square feet to raise a little family, we'd need to sacrifice quality. By quality I mean we'd likely have to live with a dank kitchen, dark paneling and a halloweenie* basement or something equally unappealing until we can find the means to renovate. The part about picking new cabinets and flooring gets me giggling like a little girl but then I check my head and realize that demolition and renovation would not be fun to live through especially with a toddler who has a proclivity for chewing on construction materials. Anyone have any experience and advice on how to find a contractor who won't rip us off?

Speaking of checking one's head, do you all find the first sentence of this listing to be as profane as I do? Marketing lesson 101: Know your buyer. I felt for a short time like throttling the horrible realtor who thought this description would appeal to potential buyers. Call me crazy but it infuriates me that she's demeaning 10 years of work, equity we've earned on our actual first home and the savings we've managed to accumulate by suggesting that this is what we should have been able to purchase fresh out of school. Is she so out of touch she thinks a young couple makes a combined salary of $250k which is approximately what they'd need to qualify for this uber-mortgage? Or is she such a poor saleswoman that she thinks, starter home = starter family without considering the financial reality of that assumption? Or perhaps she thinks it's normal for one to buy property later in life say, mid-career. After all, according to our friend David who is currently living there, most Parisians will never own their own home. Perhaps Bostonians will be forced into the same predicament. Whatever the case, I believe she must be part of the cartel leading people to believe that taking out interest-only mortgages is a sound way to get into a home. I couldn't help but smile a little when I read this article promising that she must be living in a cardboard box afforded by her real estate salary of $50k which will be so diminished shortly that she and her cohorts will be on their way to the unemployment line.

On the selling side, I'm equally as rapt. Our realtor Max, will surely tell you that we're his most high-strung clients to date. Our place has been on the market for 3 weeks now and in that time, I've devised a website, created a marketing plan and researched all the advertising venues available. Now I'm trying to resign myself to the reality that, short of standing out in front of our gated neighborhood waving a sign as is the custom in Phoenix, all I can do is sit by the phone waiting for Max to call with offers.

*Bob's taken to using this word as an adjective to describe any dark, enclosed, spider-infested section of a home. Usually it's the basement but believe us, some people don't see these areas as a selling drawback. But then maybe they haven't been watching Lisa Laporta's genius.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Busy little bees and 14 months is a charm

Instead of writing on the blog, our little family was kept busy with many other endeavors. Here's a sampling of our past month:

1. congratulated Sarah on her new job working on Capitol Hill for this guy
2. accepted a three month assignment in Massachusetts
3. put our house on the market in case the assignment turns into a permanent relocation
4. moved our family cross country by way of planes, automobiles and the ever-faithful UPS
5. battled our first family cold (even our bastion of good health Bob got the sniffles this time)
6. left Sam for the first time for more than an overnight with Grandma Maria
7. finished paying our medical bills from Sam's birth (don't get me started on the inefficiencies of our health insurance)
8. visits to 1 dentist, 1 dermatologist and 2 pediatricians
9. got around to mailing Sarah's Valentine's Day present
10. vacationed on the Kohala Coast, Hawaii
11. Bob played golf with the CEO of his company and came home bleary-eyed from all the Mai Tais consumed
12. stalked homes on the market in our favorite Massachusetts towns
13. Zillowed all of those homes to find out if it will take a major shake up of the real estate market before we can afford to buy a respectable home in a Boston suburb
14. read this mediocre book
15. realized how wonderful my in-laws are as they stopped to help us clean baby vomit out of Sam's car seat en route to the airport
16. celebrated Grandma's 86th birthday in Connecticut with her
17. spent quality time with our nephews and their mom and dad
18. thought about blogging and hoped my readers would not think I'd abandoned the Internet
19. caught up with my friends, the Whiteheads
20. visited with my aunts and uncles who we'd not seen since Christmas

and last, but certainly not least, applauded our son as he took his first steps!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Baby’s first trip to the ER

Trust me, I would have much preferred to report that Sam took his first step but this lousy milestone came first. I thought he was getting better after his undetermined illness last week when all of a sudden it came back with a vengeance on Wednesday night. By Thursday afternoon, he had virtually nothing to eat or drink all day and anything he did had certainly come flying right out. I called his doctor and she told us to go to the Emergency Room because she was concerned he was dehydrated. When we got there (in record time) we were triaged and called into the Pediatric Emergency unit in less than 30 minutes. I'm not sure if that was because we were urgent or if there was a lull in business. In any case, it was quick service for us which is more than I can say for the long time obvious smoker who was asleep on the waiting area couch when we arrived and still there when we left MANY hours later. Note to parents who find themselves in a similar predicament in the future: go to the ER late afternoon/early evening. Don't wait till bedtime because it seemed like once we got in, all the other kids started arriving.

Pretty quickly they determined the dude was indeed dehydrated and they did the battery of poking and prodding necessary to do several tests. More self-accusatory thoughts ensued. In the meantime, they hooked him up to IV fluids and he finally got to rest a bit. Bob's sister Sheila arrived, to my surprise, and I was so grateful to see her. Since Bob was traveling, he called her to let her know what was happening and she came to help me. Everything happened too quickly so I didn't call anyone besides Bob thinking I could handle it all by myself. And I could have but it was so nice to have Sheila there with whom to talk things through and to keep me company when I otherwise would have felt all alone.

We were released at 2:00 in the morning or so and after a long night, we headed home to get some sleep. When I called Bob before I went to bed, he was already on his way to the airport to catch an early flight home. Since then, Sam's had a little more appetite and a little less poop but he’s still just on the mend. Most importantly, the smiles are back and that's my best indicator that he's starting to return to his former sunny self.

This afternoon at lunch we tried our own marketing campaign called the “Sammy Challenge” whereby he drinks from each of the cups to choose his favorite. He may be a bit young but I'm keeping this tactic in my back pocket if I ever need it again. But what kid do you know chooses water? I bet it’s the same kinda kid who picks the tennis ball in the parody.

One more thing, I'm willing to share this story with whoever happens upon my website but to my dear family members, as far as Grandma is concerned, mum's the word on the whole hospital visit bit. No need to worry the 'more.

Friday, February 17, 2006

A brighter day

He's definitely still sick but a new day brings with it a happier boy anxious to make up for yesterday's lost playtime in Sammyland. His favorite new songs can't help but start the day off right.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Not your typical Valentine

He was hot and bothered all night and very little sleep was had. Sadly, I'm not talking about Bob, my poor little Sam has been fighting his first real illness this week. Since Monday night he's had a high fever, vomiting and other unsightly symptoms. We went to the doctor today and after several tests, a chest x-ray and A LOT of crying, my dude comes home with a diagnosis of mild bronchitis and a still-to-be-determined-by-lab-results infection. I had to actually fill a prescription for an antibiotic for him which was a first for me in my adult life. After a tsp and a half of what smelled remarkably like Strawberry Quik, he went to bed with plenty of overtired crying. Rough day.

As a parent you experience these moments when hurting your child temporarily is for his benefit in the long run. While he had blood drawn he screamed, the phlebotomist got nervous and the whole process ended up requiring two men and more sticks than should have been. I whisper to him, "trust your Mama" in an effort to console him. I wonder if he understands those words and if so, what he must think about me, his supposed protector, being the one to hold him down while people hurt him. Why should he trust me?

It breaks my heart to think how forsaken he must feel, that his own Mama, would let these things happen. He's aware enough to feel pain, but not enough to understand it's only temporary and in the long run he'll get better faster if we do the blood draw/urine specimen/throat culture. I almost think this period before real comprehension will be the hardest because he can't understand the whys of these tests. That it's pain with a purpose. All he knows is those people in scrubs ALWAYS hurt him and his big sad eyes and genuine crying aren't enough to make Mama whisk him away to the safety of his stroller.

Mercifully, I tell myself he won't remember this experience but I can't help but think subconsciously he'll trust me a little bit less than he did previously. He'll keep with him a feeling in the very deepest part of his gut that for the most part Mama is there when he needs her but sometimes she fails to keep the hurt away. I go to bed tonight with a heavy heart.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Two things for my Dad

The other day I figured, hey it's not too soon to start teaching Sam about the household chores. So I gave him a tour of the dishwasher and how it works. He was a natural. One look at how he inspected the rolling racks and examined the basket and I knew he, like my Dad, would be a dishwashing extraordinaire. Child labor laws you say? Hmmph!

Then last night, we had a little family Superbowl party with just the three of us. Sam, in his Steelers onesie, couldn't get close enough to the action even before there was any. That's the news my Dad will be glad to hear as HE spent the evening wearing a hat with a faux steel beam. Big football fan that I am, I just paid attention to the commercials mostly to see the latest and greatest. My favorite was the easy being green commercial with Kermit. If a company like Ford can go green, by God can't we all? Sorry Dad, I know you're a Chevy man but the closest they come to eco-friendly is green paint.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Stay (Faraway, So Close!)

While I was here barely surviving the domestic life until Bob got home from a week long business trip, my dear sister Sarah had a brush with greatness in DC. The funny part is that her day started by seeing the Presidential motorcade and waving to the President and Mrs. Bush. That’s not what I’m talking about. Shortly thereafter she found herself in the same hallway as Bono who was speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast. Sadly she was so starstruck that she didn’t get his autograph. She was however able to tell him she loves him -- I’m sure he’s never heard that before-- before he disappeared down the hall. Oh Sarah, have I taught you nothing? I almost certainly would have made some witty comment to make him laugh (or sputtered something unintelligible) and walked away with at least a photo.

Sarah’s recounting of the story made me even more certain that Bono is approaching what I imagine the perfect man to be. The first reason I grew to love him years ago (circa Zooropa) when I was in high school was his musical talent, his song writing and his onstage performance. These days he’s a humanitarian who is using his fame to help the impoverished in Africa. And now, he’s a prayerful man? In my book, it doesn’t get better than that. Well, except for my Bobby that is. He’s my very own code-writing rockstar.

A note to the musically challenged (that’s you, Mom): The first o in Bono is a soft o; don’t you dare liken his name to Bozo the clown.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The irony of motherhood

The last two days I've seen glimpses of a different little boy than the one I've come to know. It's pretty typical for Sam to crawl commando-style across the room huffing and puffing at me as if to say, "I'm going to get you!" When he arrives at my side, he'll swat at my face, grab my hair or put his fingers in my mouth. He does these things unknowingly, and not at all meanly; these behaviors are just his boyish inclinations. But yesterday, I saw a flash of the gentle infant who I used to hold in my arms. Just before his would-be naptime, he came over, put his face right up to mine, looked in my eyes and put his head on my shoulder in a hug without arms. Pure joy, I thought.

This simple gesture was more emotionally communicative than most anything he'd ever done. It felt like his way of saying "Mama, I'm a little tired and I'd like to feel your warmth for just a minute." My guy is fiercely independent even from this very young age and this small gesture was gratifying because he was more than just my little wild boy, he showed he's a boy who needs me too. It struck me that he isn't like the needy toddler I imagined before I met him. Some kids weep as their parents exit the room or they cling to their moms in uncertain surroundings or when strangers are around. Not my Sam. He's never displayed even an inkling of separation anxiety. If we're out at a park or someone's home, all he wants to do is get down so he can wander off and explore. Now I love that adventurous spirit but surely it wouldn't be so terrible for my guy to glance back to make sure Mama's still around. Would it?

Perhaps it's because he's certain I'll always be here for him. And, God willing, I will. Even so, there are days I ache to know he cares for me even a fraction of how I care for him. I suppose that feeling pain and pleasure is the irony of motherhood. And if this little phase (if I can be so hopeful to call two days a phase) ends abruptly, as I suspect it might, I'll just have to enjoy the special occasion hugs and think of them fondly the next time he gets a good, firm grip on my nose.

Friday, January 20, 2006

"buh" is for balloon

I finally realize how it is that parents can distinguish their children's first words even if they sound like nonsensical babbles to the rest of us. Previously I believed it to be some secret language spoken by babies and understood only by their auditorily gifted parents. Now I see the way it really works. Newly verbal child points or stares at an object and repeats a specific sound. When asked what that object is, future linguist repeats the exact same sound. In our case, it also didn't hurt to have 5 dozen birthday balloons in the house to cause me to consider that the repeated "buh! buh! buh!" could be something more than just normal verbal experimentation. No, he was only saying "buh" when referring to the balloon. Hey, I'm adaptable. Can I count that as a new word?

Everyday Sam is actively learning this challenging language we call English. With the exception of balloon, he's mastered several other more recognizable words including clock, sock, cup, pa, plant and bye. "Clock" in particular is repeated ad nauseam, even in the opinion of his adoring mother. Does he want to teach me the fine points of time management? Does he want to convey his preference for fine Swiss movement? Whatever the case, there sure is some importance he's attaching to the clock. I guess that will remain a mystery until he's got some more words.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A year ago today

Sweet baby Sam,
One year ago tonight I held you in my arms for the first time. You were a little wide eyed monkey, fragile and soft against my skin. Every breath was a new experience for you. Today I looked at you while you played on the living room floor thinking about how far you've come. Now meeting new people, saying new words and taking assisted steps are your new experiences. I pray that in twenty years you'll be experiencing other firsts like traveling the world and falling in love. It's a wonderful life you have ahead of you; thank you for sharing your first year beside me. Watching you come into yourself will continue to be your Mama's greatest reward.

Happy Birthday, my love.

*Photos* from Sam's 12th month and his 1st birthday party
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