Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Memorial Day Weekend

Two days off a week is definitely not enough! I want to have a 3-day weekend EVERY WEEK! Saturday would be an "ease into it" day; Monday - "get ready for work" day; and Sunday - a perfect "not a care in the world" day.

Since we don't have a grill and/or a bunch of friends and relatives that we could invite over for the official opening of a BBQ season and since Mark is too small for long car trips, we decided to spend the weekend exploring the neighborhood. On Saturday, armed with a camera and a guide-book, we drove to Chapel Hill for a walk around the UNC campus. The place is very beautiful and historic - the first public university in the country. And since the classes are over for the summer break, there's plenty of parking and traffic is very light. The down-town area looked very promising as well with its little cafes, boutiques, and independent bookstores. But it was getting very hot and Mark was getting very cranky. So we retreated to the arboretum that is almost right in the middle of the campus. We walked around a bit until we found a perfect little lawn. We rolled out a blanket for Mark in the shade of some very fragrant bush and spent half an hour simply laying on the grass , playing with Mark, watching the birds, and taking pictures. Then we walked some more around the historic neighborhood before heading back home.

On Sunday we stayed home and moved the furniture. We now have a furnished living room! Of course, our office became quite empty in complete accordance with the Principle of Furniture Conservation, itself an extension of the Principle of Mass Conservation. And we also got groceries. Completely exhausted, we spent the rest of the day watching movies.

On Monday I started my new work-put plan. It is based on the plan in the book "Bikini Bootcamp" except I alter some of their recepies (to save time and money) and spread all the work-outs throughout the day. The program calls for 15 minutes of yoga every morning followed by a 1-hour long walk and about half-hour long circuit training session. And then there's a core training session every other day that takes another 15 minutes or so. With a full-time job and a full-time baby, I can't do all this back-to-back. Anyway, for my walk on Monday we all went to Lake Shelley. It is a very nice lake with a paved road around it and connections to several of Raleigh's greenways. Just as other such parks in the area, this one has a boat house with rental boats, benches and grills for picnics, a nice big lawn, a playground and other cool things. And there are always plenty of kids of all ages there enjoying all these facilities.

Mark was very busy this weekend. He was very talkative, making all sorts of funny sounds. He also made some new discoveries on his playmat - he grabbed two of the toys (a giraffe and a monkey) at the same time and tried to introduce them to each other. He also spent a lot of time on his belly, holding his head up high and looking at his own reflection in the mirror. I don't think he realizes that it's just a reflection. But he smiles and cooes and tries his best to crawl towards it. Also, he spends a lot of time in his swing now. It is not a 0-3months swing, but the one for older kids. He doesn't fall asleep in it, but instead looks around and pays special attention to the plastic casing that hides the swing's motor.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Block Party

Home Owners Association here, at Avent West neighborhood, is very different from what we had in Florida. First of all, it's 100% voluntery. The membership fee is $30.00 - a year! And noone tells you what to do and what not to do. Sure, there's no community pool or golf course or gym or some such thing. But there is a book club, a baby-sitting co-op, other special-interests groups. The side-walks are everywhere, yards are clean and houses - well-kept, playgrounds - safe; it seems that people live here for generations and all know each other. In short, it is a very pleasant older neighborhood that we live in. And they have an annual neighborhood party!

This year's party was a short walk from our house, at Valerie Drive cul-de-sac. The entire cul-de-sac was blocked off from traffic. There was a small band playing, some entertainment for kids, and a tent with all different foods. Most everyone brought either a dessert or a side dish and there were also hot-dogs and BBQ. More experienced neighbors brought chairs and coolers with wine and beer. As for Chris and I, we sat on a grass in one of the front-yards. But mostly we walked around since Mark didn't like standing still. We met my playdate pal Melanie and her husband, Will and their relatives and friends. They were wise in the ways of block parties and brought beer and wine that they shared with us (well, with Chris). And there were so many children there! Kids of all ages, from a few months to teenagers, vastly outnumbered adults. It seems that each family here has at least 2-3 kids!

And speaking of children... Mark is learning new things every day, it seems. He's a very talkative fellow now - says all his "hoooo, heeee, haaaa, neee, gaaa" and such very loudly and one after another. These are his happy sounds; he usually smiles right before or after saying them. His unhappy sound is still a loud cry, but now it is even higher-pitched and insistant than ever. He spends a lot of time in a semi-sitted position, proped on the pillows or on our knees. And he looks at pages of different books that we show him. Another thing that he's quite proficient now is rolling from his back to his side when properly motivated. It is funny to watch because he swings his legs to give him the momentum. Finally, Mark started waking up with a big stretch and an even bigger smile and he smiles before going to bed too. But it is very hard to catch him smiling for the camera. He usually pretends to be very serious when photographed.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Hooray-Hooray! It's my first Mother's Day!!!

How exciting - my very first Mother's Day when, instead of giving, I'm finally doing some getting! Chris is an absolute darling about it. He thought of two great gifts for me; but I'll talk about it a bit later.

This has actually been the most fun weekend in a very long time. Finally, we didn't have pressing engagements, finals, Army, etc, etc. We even skipped some of the housework; it can wait until later this week. Instead, last morning we braved a thunderstorm and went to the Farmers' Market. Finally, I had strawberries that not only looked good and were fully ripe, but actually tasted like a fresh-picked berry should - sweet and tart and very juicy and warm! We bought tons of strawberries, some spring onions and chard; Chris also bought goat chevre (it's a kind of soft cheese - yummy).

Then we came home to refuel. Some of us also needed to change (hint: neither myself nor Chris). The rain stopped and it got very hot. So we decided to get out of our immediate neighborhood, explore a bit of Raleigh, and do our shopping - at the Briar Creek Plaza. We drove and drove and drove and then we shopped a bit. And then, just as I thought nothing exciting would happen, we stumbled upon the HomeGoods store! What a find! Tons of goodies and cheap, too! So I shopped to my heart's content, something I practically never do. I bought a couple of good cutting boards, a ceramic baking dish, and a very pretty utensils holder for my kitchen, all for just over $30.00 We had to hurry back to the car because a huge and scary thunder storm was moving in; so I didn't have time to look at home decor and bed and bath section... will have to go back soon

And in the evening I got my first gift - a beautiful painting that Mark painted for me with my and Chris's help. You see, Chris got this smashing idea of getting some finger-paint and some crafts paper so Mark could make his own little gift for me. His favorite giraffe agreed to be the model. The technique chosen by my son was abstract expressionism, somewhat along the lines of Pollock and Kandinsky. My other gift, this one from Chris, was of a hot-pink iPod Nano. I named it "Mama-Bear", if you want to know.

Today we did some shopping and went on a little stroll on the grounds of the Meredith College. And then we grabbed some Ben&Jerry ice-cream. And now we're back home. I'm going to cook a dinner of veggies and eggs and a rubarb and strawberry crisp - dishes that lifted from Barbara Kingslover's book - and then we'll watch a movie. Happy Mother's Day to y'all!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Parents' Visit - May

Another month brings another visit from my parents. Idiosyncratic as they are, they are always welcome here, invitation or not. As a matter of fact, I would prefer for them to move down here altogether and not because they'd make a babysitting search unnecessary.

How cool would it be to live close enough to them to have a weekly family gathering like the one we had last weekend? Ok-ok, so maybe a whole weekend would be too much, but 2-3 hours on a nice spring Sunday afternoon would be perfect. Plus they'd provide a much-needed Russian-speaking environment to develop Mark's bilingualism. Of course, Chris and I won't be without benefits - a child-free date once a week would be almost guaranteed.

So I spend better part of each visit enticing them to move. I casually flip through the Real Estate and Job Classifieds sections of our local News&Observer. I take Mom on long walks in the neighborhood carefully planned to showcase our most picturesque front yards and the houses with vegetable gardens in the back. I talk to Dad about beautiful weather in the mountains. And of course, I even had a perfect location picked out for their future move - a small house in one of the newer developments. It'd be small and new enough for the two of them to maintain. It would have a small yard for Mom's tomatoes. And it would be in a community with all the wonderful amenities such as a golf course and a swimming pool.

But for now, they are still residents of Rockland County, NY. And they try their hardest to make it here for a day or two about once a month. This time they arrived on Saturday afternoon. I had my digital camera fully charged - Mom is a total shutterbug when it comes to taking pictures of Mark or neighborhood flowers. As usual, Dad felt very nervous at first about holding Mark. He would freak out every time Mark would even attempt to cry. But quickly enough things settled down - Mark got used to his grandparents, they got used to his kvetching, Xander got his share of attention (finally), Mom started taking over the kitchen, and Dad - taking over Chris' laptop.

On Sunday, Mom and I went to the JC Raulston Arboretum. I'd never been there before even though it's just minutes away from the house. It's a wonderful place - small enough to not feel rushed or overwhelmed and loaded with various plants and theme gardens. After a short stay there Mark got hungry and cranky and we went back home. In the evening, I cooked my gourmet meal (see one of the posts) and we all spent the rest of the day taking turns holding Mark and taking his pictures (he must've felt like a big celebrity).

Making Children Books

One day I read something on the news about this guy that climbed a 30-foot tall tree to retrieve his very expensive parrot. I didn't say he retrieved it, just tried. Instead, he fell down and had to be treated for bumps and bruises. Almost immediately, I came up with a little story that I told Mark. Since he's too little to understand or remember it, I wanted to write it down. Then I decided that if I make it into a scrapbook-style storyboard and somehow introduce my parents and Mark as main (and really the only) characters, it'd make a fine gift for Dad. That was back in late March. I just finished the project this weekend and only because Mom and Dad were visiting and spending enough time with their grandson to allow some spare time for me. The book is entirely in Russian. But here are the snap-shots of each page along with the translation.
Once upon a time there lived Grandpa and Grandma. They were having a good life and getting on each other's nerves just a little bit, but not too much. Grandpa had a parrot, named Kesha; this parrot was Grandpa's best friend. Kesha lived in a birdcage and spent time munching on nuts. And Grandma had a little kitty-cat, Tyoma. Tyoma was red and very furry.

One day Grandpa and Grandma forgot to close one of the windows in their house and Kesha flew away. He perched on top of the highest branch of the tallest pine tree that grew near the house. Cat Tyoma started chasing Kesha and climbed up the pine tree. He sat on a branch just under the parrot, but couldn't climb down because he was so afraid of heights. "Mew-mew", - cries Tyoma...

Grandma heard Tyoma and ran outside to check on him. She climbed up the pine tree to rescue Tyoma. She climbed so high, almost up to the branch where Tyoma was sitting. But she couldn't climb down because she also got scared. "Help! Help! Save us!", cries Grandma. Grandpa heard the noise and ran outside: "What's going on?! What's all the rukus?". Grandpa set up to save Grandma and started climbing up the pine tree. He almost reached her, but got scared of heights and couldn't even climb down. It was a good thing that Grandpa had a cell phone with him. He called "911" and cried for help.

The rescue squad arrived very quickly. And with them the youngest, most handsome, most bravest of all the rescuers - firefighter Mark. "Don't be scared, Grandpa! Don't be scared Grandma! I'll rescue you!", said Mark. He took the tallest ladder, leaned it against the pine tree and started climbing. He climbed higher than the roof and saved Grandpa. Climbed again, higher than the chimney, and saved Grandma. Then he climbed again, high above all the other trees, and saved cat Tyoma. Finally, he climbed so high, straight through the clouds, and saved parrot Kesha.

He saved them all! Kesha was very happy. He sat on Mark's shoulder and kept saying: "Good Marrrk! Brrrave Marrrk!". Tyoma walked circles around Mark, purring: "Purrrfect rrescuerr!". Grandma baked an apple pie just for Mark. And Grandpa invited Mark to sit in the most comfortable chair and brought him a bottle of ice-cold...lemonade.


What's new with Mark

This has been a busy week for Mark as well. Tons of important little thing happened. For example, he finally and irrevocably outgrew his newborn clothes. Yes, I retired his first outfit a couple of months ago. But it was an exception rather than a rule. Most other clothes fit him just fine. That is, until last week. All of a sudden, onesies became difficult to button or zip up and Mark's arms and legs were poking out of too-short sleeves and pant-legs. It was clearly time to move him into size 3-6 months outfits which we got plenty of.

Mark already knows how to suck his fist. For some reason he really doesn't take to a pacifier and frankly, we don't insist. But sometime last week Mark made a very important discovery - he learned that he can grab a toy and pull it to his mouth as well. He is not eager to grab things yet, but rather does it on and off. So far, he purposefully grabbed his toy giraffe, a hand-held rattle and a stroller rattle. He is strong enough now to hold these things a while and in case of a rattle, even shake it (he doesn't pay any attention to the resulting sound though). Thanks to his mobile, he follows objects really well with his eyes and can follow even smaller things, such as a little bell, in a 180-degree arc.

His old mobile broke yesterday. It was so unfair! It still hangs above the changing table and Mark loves looking at it. But now the mobile doesn't move and doesn't make any sounds. So Mark tries his hardest to entice the mobile to action - flashes it his cutest smiles, cooes and nees, waves arms and legs, stretches his hands to the giraffe - all to no avail. I feel terrible! Maybe the mobile is still salvageable?! It's a simple mechanical one so it just might be. The new TinyLove mobile that I bought at half-price on eBay (gotta brag, right?!) has arrived and is great. But maybe because of its newness or because so much is going on in this new mobile, Mark gets overwhelmed too quickly and starts crying.

What else... Well, the rest is kind of an old news, just more of it - more of staying awake and VERY alert throughout the day, more of strange bird-like noises, more sqeals of delight, more smiles, more of all the fun baby stuff.


And absolutely no time to even catch my breath...pant-pant... Last week was a blur of little happenings that while not adding up to anything significant, fill the achievements void.

I registered on and will upload more pictures as time goes by. For now, I'm acquiring a network of friends, relatives, and such, virtually bridging a "social contact" gap. Work is overwhelming with several tantalising promises - large important projects, new software, new work flow, etc. One is tied to another, so if and when things start happening, it's going to be a snowball of improvements and professional development which in turn will lead to a raise and possibly even a much-needed bonus for me.

I'm also kicking around some business ideas and continuing education possibilities that don't include hand-crafting gift-baskets or receiving an MBA degree. For now I'm going to try not to spill the beans thus jinxing the entire enterprise.

Among my more tangible accomplishments is almost reaching a much-coveted status of a domestic diva. A couple of weeks ago I set to achieve it with my Big Spring Cleaning event. It got downsized (the reality of having a very small and very demanding baby) to just 2 rooms and a kitchen. This week, I approached diva-hood from a different angle by trying to cook a gourmet meal.

Last week I accidentally bought Barbara Kingslover's new book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle". I bought it because a) I wanted a non-fiction easy-reading that would not be about children or saving money and b) had a Barnes&Noble coupon for this book (a total 40% in savings!). I am very happy that I did buy it. The book is a fun read and is hard to put down. Yes, it is a bit heavy on preaching about locally and sustainably grown foods. But such are the times we live in - we're urged to pick a side by the most unexpected advocates.

This book is very inspirational and both Chris and I are looking forward to next year when we start our little vegetable garden (we are not up to raising chickens yet though). It's only early May now. So to satisfy my urge for action, I decided to cook some dishes from recipes in Barbara's book. On Saturday, I started off by cautiously making an "Eggs in the Nest" dish (poached eggs over sauteed onion, carrots, canned tomatoes and chard over rice). Yummy! Then on Sunday, I kicked it up a notch and made an asparagus and mushroom pudding (I used white 'shrooms instead of recommended morels on the account of the latter price - $49.99/lb; Barbara gets free morels in her backyard) and a strawberry-apple crisp (couldn't find ruhbarb). To finish it of, I even made my first ever muffins the recipe for which I took straight from the back of the cornmeal package. Voila! Last night I modestly assumed a crown of The Kitchen Goddess. Even my Mom was suprised at such display of my cooking skills. Dad remained unmoved however since none of the dishes had any meat in them.

By the way, all the recipes can be found on the book's official website. But don't be cheap, buy a book as well - it's a good read.