Baby Evil Genius

It probably goes without saying that my children are very advanced. Ryan, for example, is already a credible Baby Evil Genius. I first suspected this was true when I noticed that occasionally, while nursing, he would unlatch for a moment, throw his head back, make an “ah-ah-ah-ah” sound that was remarkably reminiscent of maniacal laughter, and then quickly latch back on before I could put his meal away.

We constantly see him hatching his Evil Plots, now that we know what to look for. Of course, he is a baby, so his Evil Plots involve things like trying to get into the toilet, which he recently realized was full of that most wonderful of toys — water. He also diabolically attempts to seize Nathan’s toys. While Nathan is right there. Nathan, by the way, is considerably bigger, stronger, and more dexterous than Ryan. Ryan’s plots are not particularly well-planned nor well-executed, but he is, after all, only a baby.

Like all Evil Geniuses, he tries to disguise himself with a clever alter ego. In his case, he falls back on playing the “cute baby” whenever he needs to keep up appearances. For example, one of his latest games is to play fetch with himself. When he finds a ball on the floor he likes to give it a good toss, crawl after it to catch it, and then repeat. He can work himself all the way across the house with this game. We’ve tried to play catch with him as well, which he gets very excited about, but he fails to understand the part where he throws the ball back. Dave rolls the ball to him, he successfully snags it, and then crawls over to his father with it, hands it back, and crawls into Dave’s lap where he bounces up and down. “That was fun!” he seems to say. “Let’s do it again!”

He did manage to topple one of our closet doors the other day. I’m still not sure how, except that it involved a bamboo stick underneath it; but I’m very, very glad that I chose to go over and investigate his complaints about not being able to get the stick out, because it meant that when the door fell, it did minor damage to my wrist instead of major damage to his little baby head. As I mentioned, his strategic planning is not yet fully developed.

Sure, he may seem like just an innocent baby. But the other day I suddenly heard someone breathing like Darth Vader, and looked over to see him with half of a plastic Easter egg in front of his mouth, mimicking the sound of the Sith Lord. Coincidence? Perhaps.

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First Steps

Ryan has now officially walked on his own. Granted, it was only for two steps, and he has seemed uninterested in repeating the performance, but I figure it still counts.

We’ve seen him practicing standing up on his own for a while now. He’s very good at standing up, perfectly straight, with no handholds or other assistance. Those chubby little baby legs are strong and able to do squats.

The other day I was watering the garden and Ryan was trying to hang out near me, but complaining about crawling over the pokey grass. I was trying to assure him that yes, I would pick him up in just a minute when I finished up the watering. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw him stand up and take two steps to reach me. When I met his eyes he was beaming in full-on baby delight at his own accomplishments.

But he is a boy with his own mind. Attempts to have him walk back and forth between me and Dave have been met with complaints, arching, and a firm insistence on grabbing onto a parental hand before he’s willing to move a single foot, thank you very much.

The Potato Experiment

Well, after the not-entirely-successful sweet peas, I wanted to share something that worked out a bit better. Early this spring I bought a small bag of Russian Banana fingerling potatoes from the grocery store. They are touted as being very good potatoes indeed, and I wanted to see if it was worth our time and money to grow them. So I shelled out $5 for a little one-pound bag and we did a taste-test. Verdict: we could tell the difference in a direct comparison, but it wasn’t enough of a difference to pull us off the super cheap russets we normally get.

But a few weeks later, I realized that I had eight of the little guys left which I hadn’t found a use for, and which were now sprouting. I didn’t have any place to plant potatoes, though… or did I? I had some big pots, I had a bunch of compost destined for the garden… So I figured, what the heck? I’d never heard of planting potatoes in pots, but it seemed like a minimal investment for an experiment.

Fast forward to the weekend of July 4th. We were gone for three days, and while it wasn’t super hot, the potato plants (thoughtfully located on the hottest side of the house, with no shade — oops) dried out and died.

The experiment was, de facto, over. I spread out a tarp, upended the pots, and prepared to find out whether it had been worth it. I started to pull apart the dirt, and lo and behold, little caches of golden-skinned potatoes appeared. My eight little potatoes had grown into almost five and a half pounds of delectable little gems. And by the way, “digging” potatoes out of pots was even more fun than digging them out of the ground, a job I’ve always liked.

Now I have only two questions to answer: First, can we fit in another potato-growing season this year? And second, what recipe for New Potatoes and Peas (always the traditional potato-harvesting dish when I was growing up) should I use?

Birthday

Birthdays are awesome.

I remember thinking that as a kid, of course. Then for a long time I went through a phase where I was pretty matter-of-fact about them. Well past the age of having a party, I might make myself a special dessert but otherwise I let them pass without much notice.

But this year… this year was really, really good.

I started off the day with a 90 minute massage. It had been over a year since I’d gotten a massage, and in the meantime I’ve spent an awful lot of time hauling around kids (sometimes two at a time; that’s sixty pounds of kid). While my body has mostly adjusted to the work, it isn’t at all unusual for me to wake up a bit stiff. So lying on a table for 90 minutes, letting someone work me over — that was sheer, unadulterated bliss. Thank you Dad. Best birthday gift ever.

I came back home to find that my husband has transformed the disaster area called our kitchen (bit of a hectic night the night before) into a pristine work environment, ready for me to prepare Rhubarb Raspberry Crumble Tart (raspberries from our garden, rhubarb from my dad’s — thanks again, Dad!). These two things set the tone for the whole day. We did lots of playing, lots of working in the garden, lots of just being together. I did manage to check things off my list, but only in an unhurried way. Even when the day didn’t go just as planned (Nathan’s early lethargy turned out to herald illness, of the body-purging kind) it was ok. One of my requests had been to not have to cook, so instead of going to a restaurant we ordered in pizza; I took a shower with Nathan to help clean him up; and there was much snuggling and niceness, reading and drawing and quiet time.

Nathan, after another pretty hard day, is now doing much better.

And can I say it again? Thank you, Dad. You are awesome.

The Sweet Pea Experiment

I like flowers. I do. The fact that, in the two years we’ve lived here, I’ve planted almost no ornamentals, should not be construed to mean that I’m opposed to them.

But most of my interest in flowers has been pushed aside in our current focus on Things You Can Eat. I simply haven’t been able to justify using my garden time (already limited) on things that can’t be consumed.

Last fall, though, I had an idea. I had some lovely, fragrant overwintering sweet peas and was trying to figure out a place to put them. They needed a trellis, but trellis space is even more valuable in my garden than other spaces. And then it hit me: peas are an early thing, right? Like, well before tomatoes? And overwintering varieties even more so! Maybe I could plant the sweet peas in the spots in my garden where I intended to do tomatoes, let them grow and bloom, and then rip them out when they were done and put in tomatoes instead. If it worked, it seemed like a brilliant double use of the space.

So I tried it. I planted carrots in long rows to the front and back of my tomato spaces, and radishes in the middle interspersed with sweet peas. Three crops, two edible and one visual, tucked into a space that would otherwise remain unused until June!

And much of the plan worked. I got an early crop of radishes and a slightly later crop of sweet, delicious carrots.

So I tried to be philosophical about the fact that, when my tomato plants were ready to be put in, the sweet peas had really just started to get going. They were lovely, they were fragrant, and it felt entirely unjustified to be ripping them out in huge handfuls. (On the plus side, this activity delighted Nathan.)

You don’t know until you try, right?

And… now I know.

I picked all of the open blooms first, which made a gorgeous bouquet for about half a day until my husband came home, found it too “stinky” (this is the same man who doesn’t want me to plant a lilac bush) and requested that I move it outside. It was still gorgeous after that, I just had to go out onto the back patio to enjoy it.

I’ll have to figure out another place for sweet peas.

Linked to Friday’s Flowers.

Passing On Some Childhood

Last weekend we visited my dad, and this was a particularly special visit. We stayed for three nights — much longer than we usually do. I wanted time to share with Nathan some of the places and things that had made my childhood really special: the beach, the woods, quiet time on the deck during the evening, walking through the vineyard, and so many more. Most visits seem to be a whirlwind of family and activity, which is fun but also very hectic, and things like taking a ride in the rowboat simply never happen.

This time we were there specifically for a quiet vacation. We took the kids to the beach and turned over rocks to find crabs. I pointed out china caps, baby snails and barnacles, and Nathan got his first barnacle scrape. (During summers my feet always had small, infected cuts from walking barefoot on the mud flats and getting caught by occasional bits of shell.) We threw (or skipped, depending on skill) rocks into the water. Some of us attempted the latter but ended up with the former.

We got the rowboat out, too, but hit an unexpected snag: Nathan wanted nothing whatsoever to do with getting into the boat. He’s only ever been on one boat before, a big cruising type, so I think the nature of a rowboat took him by surprise. He stood on the shore after we’d loaded in the rest of the family and steadfastly refused to leave land. So we took Ryan out for a little spin instead, leaving Nathan on the beach with his grandpa. After seeing his brother escape unscathed, and with some coaxing, Nathan agreed to sit in Dave’s lap for a short trip. We tried to take him out to see a buoy, but that was apparently too far — “Out” he said when we were halfway there, and so we turned the boat about.

I’m not worried, though. I, too, like to dip my toes into something new and scary before really committing. There will be other trips, other opportunities, and I have faith that continued exposure without pushing will allow Nathan to acclimate to the joy of small boats at his own pace.

We did a few fireworks, too. Nothing big — we picked up a small pack of things like smoke bombs and little fountains, as well as a few sparklers. Nathan and Dave shared their first father-son bonding experience of blowing things up. I have vivid memories of sending flowers spinning over the slab when I was a kid.

I was definitely sitting on the other side of the fence this time, though. For example, I never when I was a kid, not once, thought about the toxic metallic smokes given off by fireworks. Yet I found myself thinking about that a lot with Nathan. “Don’t stand right in the way of the smoke!” I found myself saying as we lit off smoke bombs, simultaneously remembering how fun it was to splash around in the swirling colored smoke. And strobes? I turned away and shielded Ryan’s eyes, and tried not to think about epileptic seizures.

We didn’t do any big fireworks, but several people across the water did. And we were staying in the perfect room to watch them; our family snuggled up in bed together and Nathan fell asleep to the show.

There were lots of other bits — walks in the woods, the two of us whacking at weeds with sticks like I used to do with my brother, exploring the playhouse, peeking into the tractor shed — but I’ll spare the details. One of the sweetest moments, though, was when Nathan fell asleep in the sling while we were standing on the porch, looking out at the water. Some of the moments I treasured as a kid were those quiet times that I stood next to my dad on the porch, looking out at the beauty of the world, saying nothing.

Zoo

One Saturday recently we found ourselves all dressed with no place to go. (No, I did not forget the “up” in that sentence. All four of us wearing pants at the same time on a weekend is rare enough.) We’d packed for a weekend at my dad’s, made food for the trip, and were just about to start loading the car when I noticed the flashing light on our phone, alerting us that the trip needed to be canceled.

What to do? It seemed silly to just waste all that prep. Getting kids dressed and ready to go is a non-trivial effort. And we’d been telling Nathan that a trip was in the works; it seemed pretty anticlimactic to just take off our shoes and do some chores instead.

We decided to head to the zoo for a family outing. I’d been to the zoo once before with the kids, in the context of his playgroup. On that day the place was packed, and I noticed that the parents did a lot of work to coax the kids along. Nathan in particular seemed to want to spend longer staring at the animals than the group really allowed.

So I was excited to go back in a smaller, less crowded context, and give him time to look to his heart’s content. I was also happy to go with Dave, because the 1:1 kid:parent ratio is just really so much better.

We looked at sea lions, at elephants, at fish in a (man-made) tide pool. And yes, it was more fun moving at a more relaxed pace. Nathan’s two favorite parts (judging by how long he stared) were the tide pool “blowhole” and the animatronic dinosaur, but the elephants came in pretty close.