One good birthday, one good year

30 04 2007

Ben at the feeding clinic

Today was Ben’s birthday, and we were back at the hospital, this time to meet with the feeding clinic. That made it a good reason to be there, and things went well, but the spring air and the trees budding around the hospital brought some of those feelings back from last year. It’s hard to go through the day without thinking “Where were we now?” a year ago. And right now we were in the hospital scared shitless. Ben was just a few hours old and we knew something wasn’t right. We didn’t know that this night would be the easiest night we’d have for a long time.

For those who don’t know, our youngest son Benjamin has Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. You can read about it on Karen’s blog.

Some random thoughts on our first year with Ben:

When Ben was born I wanted to be the one to tell Mommy whether it was a boy or a girl (we’ve never found out early), so I was looking “down there.” Apparently my attention was so focused that I missed seeing his right arm. His partially formed right arm. “Never mind that, is there a scrotum or isn’t there?” (That’s not what I said) We all have our priorities.

It took us a while to name him, at least an hour, maybe two. We’d really struggled with names during this pregnancy, especially for boy names. We picked a name while he was in the nursery with the pediatrician. First we picked Benjamin, but we were having even more trouble with a middle name. A three syllable first name is tough to follow, so we picked Emmanuel; plus I thought we might need God to be with us.

There are times when I think that my kids have life figured out better than me. Some time in those first couple of days Isaac asked his mommy “Why does Ben only have one arm?” Mommy was very honest and said “That’s how God made him.” Isaac paused, thought things over, then turned to Mom and said “That’s not fair.” No it isn’t.


Of all the toys Benjamin has played with, stroked, or squeezed, his favorite toy is his little arm. It is also Jonathan’s favorite toy.

When Jonathan was born Isaac liked him immediately, but nothing prepared me for the affection shown to this little child by his big brothers. They simply adore him, and he returns the sentiment. Isaac likes to hold Ben and help take care of him; Jonathan plays with him incessantly. I’ve given up saying “Jonathan stop that!” because Ben usually has a smile on his face when I do. Now I say “Be careful.” Everywhere we go there are children that ask about Ben; “What happened to his arm?” and “What’s that tube sticking out of his shirt?” Isaac is ready and quick to answer all their questions; he is so proud of his baby brother. Jonathan is starting to be that way with the kids at preschool.

Jonathan was the first person Benjamin smiled at.

Jonathan rocking Ben back and forth

Thank you to our friends who babysat Isaac and Jonathan while Ben was in the NICU. Thank you to Aliyah who watched them when Karen was in labor, and helped out around the house also. Thank you to my father- and mother-in-law who flew up from Trinidad to be with us and to watch the boys while Ben was in the NICU, and then during his surgery. Thank you to all the families from Isaac’s preschool who made us dinner for almost a month. We had so much food we had to freeze some. Thank you to the people from Karen’s office who gave us $400 in gas cards since we had to drive an hour each way to visit Ben in the NICU. And thank you to everyone whose thoughts and prayers helped us get through one tough year.

Benjamin is fascinated by his feet. A couple weeks ago he was sitting in his Bumbo seat in front of some toys we had for him to play with. Brightly colored toys hanging from a mobile, and he’s craning his neck to see his toes.

Isaac and Ben playing with cousins

Benjamin also seems to have life figured out. We’ve received and we’ve purchased a lot of toys for Ben, more than I thought I ever would for a third baby. He enjoys playing with his toys and likes to roll on the floor from one to the other, but they never make him smile like he does when he’s playing with people. He truly craves human attention and interaction. Perhaps this is why he likes Jonathan so much.

I went for a walk with Jonathan this evening. We were gone for about a half an hour, and he never shut up once. I didn’t hear all of what he said. Okay, I didn’t hear most of what he said, but I didn’t have to. We were just walking and he was happy to be out, just the two of us.

Not ruined, but not great

29 04 2007

I don’t set out to ruin dinner when I cook. I just don’t always have all the ingredients that are called for. Especially getting ideas from chefs on the food network, some of these ingredients can’t be found out here in the country. So I look around my kitchen and think “What else can I use?” That’s when my famous substitutions come into play, and I’m not too keen on dragging three boys to the grocery store just to pick up some weird cheese that they may not even have.

I told Karen “I’ll make dinner” before she went to work, so I had to come up with something. Searching through our book of internet recipes I found this roast chicken with garlic and citrus that Karen had made before. The only problem was that Giada wanted me to roast the chicken whole, and it was already 5:30. I cut up the chicken and put the garlic, lemon, and orange slices on top.

Looks good so far…

It turned out very nice actually, and even the sauce was good. My only complaint would be that it didn’t brown in the oven since I stacked things on top of it. Who knew?

So what if it didn’t brown?

In other news, we did move the furniture back into the dining room. There are still some loose ends to tie up, but we did entertain on Saturday. The neighborhood got to watch, too, since one of those loose ends is to hang the blinds on the windows.   Karen has some pictures of the (kind of) finished product.

Belated Christmas present, or bacteria infested death candy?

25 04 2007

My brother in law Lawrence and his girlfriend Rhoda spent a few weeks with us over Christmas, and when they were leaving their suitcases were over weight and I had to bring some of their stuff back with me.  I’ve burned Lawrence’s underwear, but  recently I came upon a bag of his stuff that I’d forgotten about.  It had an electric screwdriver (thanks bro) and this box:

too tempting…..must eat…..

We knew that they had gone to the local candy shop while they were here and bought some chocolates to take back with them.  I discovered them with one kit-kat and four or five packs of gum that will keep my breath fresh until their next visit.  I ate the kit-kat immediately and contemplated the chocolates.  Freshly made candies don’t have preservatives (I would assume), so what are the chances that they’ve gone bad in three months’ time?  Karen told me flatly, “Don’t eat those!  They’ve been sitting in the boys’ closet for three months! If you want chocolates that much, go buy some more.”

What should I do?

The picture above actually was taken after I’d eaten three or four of them.  As I did I pondered as to why they didn’t take the candy in hand on the plane.  Either they originally intended for the boys to eat them or they were trying to kill me.  I’m assuming it’s the latter, since I’ve become very stingy with sweets lately.

Just writing this has made me hungry.

I have no business sense

23 04 2007

Springtime, with the April showers, the lilac blossoms, the warm spring air, the smell of manure (give me a break, I live in central PA), means one thing is on its way.  Bulk trash day.

Every spring we put out the furniture, appliances, and garden tools that have lost their usefulness in the past year.  The boro tells us when they’re going to come, and what they will and won’t pick up.  There’s only one catch.  The boro has never picked up our bulk trash.  They’ve never gotten the chance.  We must be the Mercedes of trash or something.  I’m not sure what these people do with the stuff they take from our curb; all I know is I must not be resourceful enough for my trash to make me money.  Here are some of the things we’ve put out and people have taken:

  • Lawn chairs with cushions left out over winter
  • A threadbare couch with puke stains all over it
  •  40+ year old shovel and hoe, with splinters and a carpenter bee living inside
  • A straw broom with the bristles bent to a 90-degree angle
  • A non-working above-range microwave oven

Not only did all of these items get taken by scavengers, none of them lasted more than two hours.  The microwave got discarded this year, and since I knew someone would take it I left the mounting brackets out with it.  It even had the glass tray inside.  With all my dining room shenanagins I had no time to get anything out of the attic to put out.  The boro trucks have already been past to collect the trash, but I’ve been wondering something.  If I leave something else out will somebody come by again and pick it up?  I’ve been toying with the idea.

Serious Yum

20 04 2007

Have I said in the past that I’m a food network junkie? There are certain shows that I check almost every day to see what’s on and if it’s worth recording. Most Bobby Flay shows are good, and anything Alton Brown is great. I also like Mario, but he doesn’t do cheesesteaks.

I saw cheesesteaks on Good Eats and also on Throwdown, so I know what I’m doing. Heck, on Throwdown they had a master cheesesteak artist from Philly show us all how to make them. So now I’m an expert. Karen kept asking “Are you sure that’s how you do it?” and I kept saying “Tony Luke did it that way, so I’m doing it that way.” Name dropping gives me an air of credibility. Truth be told, I’m not even sure what kind of steak he used. But Bobby’s recipe was online, so I went with his, and Karen got a 1-pound sirloin from the butcher. She sliced it as thin as she could, which was pretty darn thin. I was skeptical because from what I’ve seen the meat is supposed to be deli thin, but it turned out to be very tasty.

Step 1 of this procedure is as follows: Open a can of Spaghetti-O’s for the kids. Seriously, this food is for me. Karen cut up the steak, so I set to work on everything else.

Ever see an instruction in a recipe and think “I’ve heard that word before, but how do I do it?” I like cookbooks that don’t assume any previous cooking knowledge and have good illustrations. I found one (Alton Brown of course) so now I can julienne cut an onion. Aren’t I special? I know it’s not authentic, but in our house onions just don’t happen without peppers and mushrooms. Karen was disappointed I didn’t throw in some garlic too. Those are creminis and shitakes in the picture.


I grated some provolone and it didn’t melt like I’d hoped. It was good, but it needed more than just residual heat to melt I suppose. Perhaps cheddar or american next time.

Makes me hungry right now

You know you want some. Do I even need to say it was yummy? Perhaps some hot peppers next time as well. Karen says jalepenos and serranos aren’t hot, but she does appreciate the effort.

Glutton for punishment

17 04 2007

I’m running behind on the dining room project. Topping that, there’s something else I need to do by April 28. It’s just a painting project, so hopefully it won’t take very long. I promise, there’s no wallpaper to remove. Actually, there was some patching of the wall needed, but I’ve done that already.

What lovely drapes!

This entry / stairwell is actually the first thing you see upon entering our house. Come in the front door (That’s it on the left, below), and you are greeted by another door and a flight of stairs (don’t ask). Choose wisely.

Which door to choose?

Go up the stairs and you’ll see a big ugly wall that probably hasn’t been painted since 1957. The walls and the ceiling are the same color since it’s very hard to reach up 20 feet to the ceiling. I’m going to try. I bought ceiling paint and everything. Here’s hoping it doesn’t look like a three year old painted it when I’m done.

Going up and up and up..

Can you believe we’ve been living here for three years and we haven’t done anything to this hallway yet? Can you see why we’ve been putting it off? Hey, another thing. One room, three different wall materials, maybe more. Going up the steps, wall to the right is plaster, wall in front is drywall, and wall to the left is plywood.

I love old houses.

I still don’t know what “light & fluffy” means

15 04 2007

Happiness on a small white plate:

yum cookie yum

The boys and I made these Sunday afternoon.   Karen was working and I decided no TV, so we made cookies.  Is there any cookie better than chocolate chip?  I certainly don’t think so.  Isaac and Jonathan enjoyed measuring out all the ingredients, and then licking the spoon afterwards.  They turned out delicious, but I never really know when I’ve reached the “light & fluffy” stage.  I turn on the hand mixer and let it go until I figure it’s been long enough, but it’s all guesswork and hoping on my part.  And cooking shows are no help.  It goes something like this:

Guy on a cooking show: “See how it’s light and fluffy?”
Me: “no.”

So there you have it.  As bad as I am at cooking, I’m worse at baking.  Imagine what this blog would be if I started making desserts often.  How funny would that be?   It seems, however, that cookies are truly foolproof, because I’ve never ruined a batch.

Famous last words

Obsessive Painting Disorder

12 04 2007

I mentioned that we were away for Easter weekend. We got home from a three hour drive late in the afternoon Sunday, and I just had to start painting the walls in the dining room. Two and a half hours later the first coat of primer was on, only I could still see all the patches of spackling underneath the paint. So Monday afternoon another coat of primer went on, in another two and a half hours. Ugh, what a nightmare. But then something amazing happened. The patches disappeared. I saw a smooth white wall, ready for some color. It was just begging for some color. Karen came home and was pleasantly shocked. I was so excited after all this work, I waited until the kids were asleep and started painting Monday night. It was 10:30.

I learned something that night. After about 9:00 I’m very slow, no matter what I’m doing. Next thing I know it’s 2:00am and I’ve done the walls with windows, and that’s it. Three walls done, three to go, but this time I can get out the big roller.  It turns out that I did most of the detail work, because we’re not painting the windows, just leaving the stain alone and giving it some polyurethane. We’re very glad we made that decision.

Goodbye Green!

No more dining room pics until the job is done.

For my next trick I will burn water

9 04 2007

We went to my sister’s house over the weekend so Monday evening we had precious little food in the house. Round about 5:00 I went through the kitchen to see what we have. We had a red and a green bell pepper, garlic, three bunches of green onions and some freshly grated parmegiano regiano from last night (Karen made fettucine alfredo). Add to that the ground beef in the freezer and a jar of Prego and I said to myself “Spaghetti!”

Normally spaghetti isn’t really worth mentioning. Isn’t that what we make when we have nothing else to eat? That’s what I thought until I burned the bottom layer of noodles.


That’s it, I can’t even make pasta correctly. Anyway, the spaghetti turned out well and was delicious. I’m not just saying that because I was starving at the time either. The kids had apples with their dinner since they don’t like spaghetti sauce. Who doesn’t like spaghetti sauce?  Green onions and parmesiano reggiano for added yummyness.


Yummy, huh?

An inch of snow

5 04 2007

Mark and his snow machine 

Ever start a project, and then a half hour into it realize what you’ve gotten yourself into?

That was me in August, when I first tried to pull wallpaper off our dining room walls.  I saw the work ahead of me and ignored the project for the next six months.  Now I’m finally at the stage where I can paint.  When I think about all the hours I’ve put into this project it depresses me.  Probably 12 hours for pulling down the wallpaper, another 2 hours for washing off the glue and residual wallpaper backing, 7 hours for patching the uneven spots with spackling, and now 3 or so hours of sanding.  Sanding, that part of the project after which you can make snowmen with the kids – in the living room.

Ever start a project and then wish you’d never been born?

If you’re looking at patching a large portion of wall, or if you’re hanging drywall in your whole house, here are some pointers for when you’re sanding:

  • Don’t use much spackling at all.  It’s amazing how you think you’re only using a little and then it turns into lots and lots of dust.
  • When sanding, wear a hat.  When the water from the shower hit my hair, it hardened up like concrete.  For a brief moment I thought I was going to have to shave my head.
  • Wax all of your body hair off, including eyebrows and eyelashes.  Any exposed hair will become a magnet for the dust.
  • Purchase a hazmat containment unit for your room to keep the dust from getting out.  Now before I can paint I have to wash off the bread and the coffee maker and everything else in the kitchen, as well as everything in the living room.
  • If you use an electric sander, purchase an attachment that sucks the dust into your shop vac.  Do they make these?  That would have been a good thing to use.
  • If you don’t want it covered in dust, take it out of the room.  You don’t want to see my vacuum cleaner.

I had a fan sitting in the window blowing out, trying to keep the dust from the rest of the house.  Here’s what my window screen looks like now:

See, I was trying to blow the dust out the window…. 

If you know of methods or techniques that would’ve made my life easier on this project, please keep them to yourself.  Unless, of course, you just like being mean to me.