Well, it took a solid 18 months, but it finally happened. Ralph called me momma. He said it for the first time on Easter Sunday while we were playing in my parents' backyard-- a little sigh of a hi, mom. And then he plopped down on my lap like he'd been saying it for years. I replied with a hi, baby before even realizing what had happened, and then looked at my sister to ask if she had heard it, too. She had! And there was much rejoicing.
Since then he's been figuring out how to slowly include the word into everyday conversation. He sounded like a baby goat at first, very deliberately sounding out maa-maa with much concentration, and often a little finger pointed in my direction. Now that he knows what he's doing, he'll get creative with it, trying out ma-ma-ma-ma or mommymommymommymommy. It's wonderful and hilarious and really fulfilling to hear, even though the fact that it took so long for him to say it never bothered me all that much. I knew it would come. Only once did my impatience get the best of me, and I said to Ryan, "What if he can't find me? How will he call for me?" And then we both chuckled because we knew how ridiculous those questions were. Because, for starters, I am never very far away from this child. And he certainly doesn't need to be able to say momma to get my attention. One loud wail (the one that he's had 18 months to perfect) is enough to send me running to him. And that-- the fact that he hasn't needed to say it, because I am always right there, right by his side, ready to care for him-- makes me one happy momma indeed. A slightly hovering, annoying, helicopter mom? Yes, probably. But a happy one. Good enough for me.
But I mean seriously, Ralph, it's about time.
And now, in keeping with the theme, here are some pictures from Sunday. We went to our favorite beach after church, which, I guess, is turning out to be a Mother's Day tradition. (Except this time we didn't fight at all! Remember that?) The weather was gorgeous, so warm and still and slightly humid, and we spent the entire day outside. We planted some flowers, got tacos for supper, and the tree in our backyard bloomed little white blossoms. I was in heaven. Happy Mother's Day, dear ones.
After a few weeks of warmer weather and a good thaw here in Wisconsin, things have once again taken a turn for the chilly. Just when Ralph figured out how great it was to run free outside, the cold winds and April snowflakes shooed us back indoors, and we've been stuck looking for birdies through the windows all afternoon, instead of on walks in the sunshine. For the most part this weather regression has been bearable thanks to errands and play dates to keep us occupied, but Monday was rough. On Monday there was nothing to do but watch the snowflakes come down in chunks and dust the first few sprouts of green grass that had bravely shot through the ground. Ugh. Have you ever tried explaining to a 17 month old that he can't go play with the shovel and hose in the backyard because it's snowing? In April?
In an attempt to be optimistic, I took my camera out of its case and tried to find a little beauty inside the walls of this house that we've been cooped up in all winter long. I found a little bit here and there, in the neat folds of my dishtowels and the tidy tucks of my bed (there's so much more time for fussing with folds and tucks in the winter,) but I don't know. I just kept thinking that it'd be nice to see some flowers and sunshine and lush green trees. It'd be nice to have some beauty smack me in the face, instead of having to go look for it, you know?
But we're surviving. One more week of cracked hands and wrestling a kid into a thick, puffy coat. Just a few more witchy 4 'o clock hours inside with Ralph, waiting for Ryan to come home and give us a break from each other. One more pot of soup. We're allllmost there.
The first day of Spring seems like an appropriate time to share a recipe for my favorite vinaigrette. The days of bounteous fresh veggies will soon be upon us, and you know what that means. Salads! Every day, salads!
I first had this dressing right after Ralph was born. My sister brought some over in a jar the day we came home from the hospital, along with salad fixings and burgers. After having a baby and then having to eat hospital food for a few days, believe me when I say that that meal was one of the best I'd ever eaten. I've been making this vinaigrette non-stop ever since, and there's always a jar of it in the fridge. It goes great with everything-- any kind of greens or veggies you happen to have in the fridge will do. I really love it with just a plain spinach salad, with maybe some walnuts and goat cheese if you want to fancy it up. Arugula is good, too. I think I ate chopped garden tomatoes tossed in it every day for lunch last summer. Ohh, fresh garden tomatoes!
The best part is that it keeps for six whole months in the fridge. I really love that. Make it once, and you'll have weeks and weeks of homemade dressing for your lunch salads. Quick and easy. Bada bing.
(original recipe can be found here, a Martha/Lucinda creation, of course.)
1 tablespoon minced shallot or garlic
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
In a clean jar, mash together the garlic, mustard, brown sugar, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. Pour in vinegar, lemon juice, and olive oil. Cover tightly and shake well to combine and emulsify. Add salt and pepper to taste. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator, for up to six months. Makes one cup.
ps: my camera smells like garlic now.
On Sunday I turned 26 and Ralph took the best, most solid stroller nap ever. He's been doing this thing the past week or so, where he wakes up before the birds, refuses any sort of nap in his crib, and fights bedtime tooth and nail. My birthday was no exception, and our plans to work on the kitchen cupboards while Ralph napped upstairs were quickly scrapped. It was almost 3pm and, after numerous failed attempts at getting the child to just go to sleep already, we finally submitted to the truth that it wasn't going to happen. We were all tired of being in the house but it was too cold to take a long walk outside, so we strapped him in his car seat and drove to the mall.
The sweet, stubborn boy was fast asleep in less than two minutes.
Once we parked, I grabbed the stroller while Ryan unbuckled him, and we quickly transferred him from one to the other. And holy of holies, for the first time ever, he stayed asleep through the entire process. We headed toward the doors, sure that he'd wake up as soon as we made it inside. But he didn't. There he was, flat in his stroller, a small line of drool on his puffy cheek, dreaming away-- and there we were, with a baby that was finally sleeping and an entire mall to stroll through. We checked out the bar tools at Williams-Sonoma, took giant whiffs as we walked past Cinnabon, thumbed through the gardening books at Barnes and Noble, and picked one out to take home. It was like we were on a date, except better, because Ralph was there too. He was just napping quietly instead of bouncing to go faster and demanding pretzels every two minutes. The whole thing was really nice, in a surprising-parental-success sort of way.
The rest of the day was really nice too, despite the napping situation. When your birthday consists of church and coffee and flowers and Ralph chuckles and gardening gifts from your family and book stores with your sweetheart and a giant piece of cake, you can't really complain.
The first time we walked through this old house of ours two summers ago --the first time we realized that this was the little house for us-- we were sure that once we moved in, the kitchen would be the first thing to go. All the other rooms were outdated and in need of a coat or two of paint, but they weren't nearly as unfavorable to us as the kitchen was.
I'm sure some of those feelings were intensified by the fact that a baby was about to be born, and the thought of bringing him home to a dismal kitchen full of chipping paint and old grimy floors was depressing, to say the least. I hated just about everything about my little kitchen, from the dried drips of paint stuck on every surface thanks to all the previous sloppy paint jobs, to the way the cupboard doors wiggled on their hinges. I hated the grey rubber kick plate that lined the floor, and I hated the yellow and brown tie-dyed pattern of the linoleum even more. It all had to go, the sooner the better.
Of course, things didn't go as planned. Do they ever? Ralph was born, and between house payments and hospital bills and school loans, money was tighter than ever. We couldn't afford to do a darn thing to the kitchen, and I was stuck living with it exactly the way it was.
A house doesn't feel like a home until it has a little bit of your own dirt in it, is what I remember my dad repeating to me over and over the first few months of living here. And he was right. There came a time when I had washed the floor enough to know that it was just our own dirt I was scrubbing, and the crumbs I wiped out of the fridge were from our own food. The way Ralph's spilled cheerios disappeared into the pattern of the linoleum, not to be found again until you happened to step on one, grinding it into a fine powder underfoot, became sort of a (sad, annoying) joke. I grew used to the yellow-ness of it all. I started to notice the things I did like about the room. I loved the way the east-facing window let in all of the morning sun light.
The old lady that lived here before us was named Ruth, and the longer I live in this house, the more I think that she was a lot like me. I first noticed it last Spring, when the snow melted and everything in the backyard started to poke out of the brown earth. First a few daffodils sprouted behind the garage, and then some rhubarb showed up next to them. Not long after that, a row of lily of the valley came up by the back door. Then came the peonies, and the black eyed susans, and the cone flowers. So many of my favorites showed up one by one, and I was so delighted by them and by the woman who had planted them years ago. A while back, Ruth's daughter showed up at our front door asking to take a peek at what we'd done with the house she had grown up in. We chatted as she walked around and snapped pictures on her phone-- she was going to show them to Ruth, who had moved out of our place and into a nursing home. She was so kind, and when she left she gave me a hug, kissed Ralphie on the cheek, and made it very clear that our house had been filled with happy families since the beginning.
Ryan and I started working on the kitchen last weekend. We have enough money saved up to tackle it, just a little bit at a time. I finally took down the white and yellow curtains with the lace trim-- I'm sure Ruth sewed them up herself-- they're thin and threadbare from many runs through the washing machine. I'm going to peel off the pretty, flowered contact paper that lines the cupboard shelves (the ceramic goose towel holder is staying, of course.) We're going to paint everything white, although I'll admit that I kind of like the yellow walls now. My mom's kitchen was yellow for a time when I was growing up, and as much as I love to hate the banana split color of this kitchen, it has always reminded me a little bit of home. We're going to sand down the cupboard doors, replace the chipping counter tops, and put in a new white sink. We're going to take this old, yellow kitchen that someone else loved, make it our own, and create a giant mess in the process. But that's okay, because a house doesn't feel like a home until it has a little bit of your own dirt in it.
Spring is coming! Can you feel it? There's still a thick layer of snow on the ground here in Milwaukee, and this week's forecast is bleak-- I don't think we'll even reach 20 degrees in the next seven days-- but Spring is on its way, I just know it. There's still a smidge of sunlight left in the sky when Ryan comes home from work. Bunches of fresh asparagus have been $1.99 a pound at the grocery store for three weeks in a row. Gardening books have been ordered and are on their way to my front door right now, and I made a long list of flowers I hope to plant in the garden this summer. I'm taking great pleasure in filling the house up with tulips and finding pretty supplies to scrub things with, because when it comes to Spring cleaning, I'm on the same level with Danny Tanner. I can't help myself. I love Spring.
Last week the temps hit a glorious almost-50 degrees. It was pleasant enough to draw everyone in the neighborhood out of their houses to feel the warm sun on their face and shout things like, What a beautiful day! I wish it would last! Are you surviving the winter? across their yards and over their fences. And for the first time ever, I willingly let Ralph skip a nap just so we could walk to the park and jump in some puddles. We stayed long enough for him to get thoroughly soaked, and when his teeth started to chatter, I hauled him home through the slush while he screamed in protest the whole way. And then he had a nice warm bath while the sunlight poured through the window.
When Ryan and I went out for Valentine's Day last week, Ralph went to my sister's house to play with his older cousins, and he returned home with a new love for tools. He carries around his little tool box all day long, hammering on furniture and pretending to plug little nails into holes. He especially likes to press his screw driver into various screws around the house and make a loud errrrrrrrr sound. It's so fun to see his imagination start to take shape. Ryan and I are constantly looking at each other asking, Did you teach him that? And then we shrug, because nope, neither of us did. At least, not on purpose. He is a tiny sponge right now, and I love it.
Ryan turned 26 last Thursday. We didn't do a whole lot to celebrate, because I think I married the most easy-to-please man on the planet. All he asked for was a cheesecake, and I was happy to oblige. (I made this one, and it was definitely the easiest and tastiest I've ever made. Try it!) I also got him what turned out to be the manliest assortment of gifts ever-- a new baseball cap, a pack of beer, a beer brewing book, and a chainsaw. If I had all the money in the world I'd have him retire and then make him spend his days building things and brewing beer and maybe going fishing every once in a while. I'm pretty sure that's all he ever wants anyway, besides some slices of fresh bread with butter for supper every night. Ryan is just a good, goofy, happy dude and I sure do love having him around.
Also, here's the post I wrote on Ryan's birthday last year, just because it's a fun one.
Ryan and I went on a mid-morning date over the weekend. We dropped Ralph off at my sister's house, scooted away when he wasn't looking, and drove off just the two of us. It's only the third or fourth time Ralph has been alone without either of us around, and of course I cried a little bit over it, because I'm a big old sentimental wuss. I kept saying, What if he starts to look for me and I'm not there? And Ryan was like, Cool it woman, this is supposed to be fun.
We got brunch at a little place that reminded me of the cute bagel shop I worked at in high school. We sat at a small table decorated with flowers and stringed lights by the front window, and sipped coffee from mismatched mugs. Ryan ordered a french toast sandwich with ham and honey nut cream cheese-- the absolute last thing off the menu I would have expected him to choose-- which, I guess, proves that I don't know as much about the man as I thought. Ham and honey nut cream cheese? Total curve ball, Ryan. Who are you?
After brunch we took a drive down by the lake, the old standby in times of romance. We decided to walk down to the beach, but ended up just running around like fools because it was windy and freezing. Ryan got too close to the churning, icy waters and I scolded him from a safe distance because, though he might switch things up a bit here and there, I'll always be set in my wussy ways. I finally coaxed him back and trapped him into taking some pictures with me. There's totally one of us kissing, but I'll spare you that shot.
When our fingers and toes were nice and numb we headed back to the car, drove through downtown and back to our baby. He hardly missed us, as far as I could tell.
And, I don't know. We had our fun, but I'll always like it best when the three of us are together.