Just Grillin’

The Irishman’s birthday present this year was a grill. A gorgeous, TRU-technology (whatever that means) stainless steel gas grill.

If that isn’t the stereotypical “man gift,” I don’t know what is. This grill has taken center stage in our house over the last week as we have been grilling, well, everything. Steaks? Check. Pork chops? Check. Souvlaki? Check. Cod? Check. Portabellos, tomatoes, onions, pineapple? Check, check, check.

There is something fundamentally intimate about the way a man feels about his grill. The Irishman has taken exclusive command of the grill and has lovingly and meticulously cooked every morsel of food that has touched it’s glossy, stainless surface. After the cooking is done, he cleans the grates immediately and then dries them thoroughly before putting the grill to sleep (complete with a protective cover).

A wonderful unintended side effect of the grilling operation is that we have FINALLY (after 2 years) started eating our meals on the deck. I have no idea what’s taken us this long to eat out there since we certainly do enough coffee drinking and sun tanning on the deck, but for 4 meals in a row, we’ve sat in the nature’s lap and basked in our fruitful, grilled bounty.

Now if only we had hunted the food ourselves, our transition to mountain living would have been complete.


A Saint Patrick’s Day Celebration…Senior Citizen Style

In the days of old (think pre-offspring), the Irishman and I used to really go all out for his birthday. Usually, we’d find the largest St. Patrick’s Day event happening within a 4-hour radius and go party it up with the other green beer drinking fools. While large events and crowds are my personal version of hell, my husband’s personality is much more, uh, boisterous than mine so the block party version of events suited him just fine.

And then we had a kid, so he was out celebrating like a maniac on his own. And then we had two kids, which brings us to this past weekend. We had a very mellow dinner out with my parents and our children before eating a store bought apple pie at home. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Still, it was nice in a Partridge Family kind of way. I’m sure that we’ll be back to our hell-raising days eventually…we’ll just be tooling around on electric scooters while we’re tossing back the beers. Here are some scenes from the Irishman’s mellow, senior citizen birthday celebration.

Lexi, perusing the menu.
Parker and the Birthday Boy, er, Old Man
Boy, they certainly start texting young these days.
Fact, it is a statistical impossibility to get both children looking at the camera at the same time.
The princess drinking from a straw.

All joking aside, we had a nice time and it was great to wake up feeling refreshed instead of feeling like I had been beaten with a blunt object and then dragged over hot coals.

Irish Soda Bread


Whenever I get back from Greece, there are two things that I miss the most: bread and feta cheese. It’s not that we don’t have these things in the states, it’s simply that they have a less central role at the dinner table here. In Greece, the acquisition of bread is so important to meal time that one of us generally makes a trip down to the bakery first thing in the morning and picks up a loaf before they sell out, which is usually around 9am. Of course, the bakery also sells sweets, so they are open for the remainder of the day….you just won’t be able to find any bread. While that sounds a bit odd, purchasing anything other than bread baked that same day is unheard of. In contrast, I think of the packaged loaves that we buy here in the states and maybe it’s not so hard to understand why bread isn’t a staple in my house. It just isn’t worth the calories.

This year, I decided that instead of just daydreaming about fresh baked bread, I’m going to learn how to bake it myself…not in a bread machine, but the old fashioned way. I mean, if my ancestors have been baking bread for centuries without even the aid of a stand mixer, then certainly I can figure it out as well, right? So, I’m officially a bread-baker in training. At least the birds will profit from my “failures.”

Since I’m new to this, I decided to start with the absolute simplest recipe I could find. It just so happens that last week, my friend Katie turned me onto this site called The Gracious Pantry and on that site, they had a recipe for Irish Soda Bread. I researched a lot of other Irish Soda Bread recipes and they included things like sugar, raisins, eggs, etc… This one was basic, rustic and pure. Here’s what you’ll need:

3 cups flour (white, whole wheat or a combination)
1.5 teaspoons of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 cup buttermilk

Now, I never have buttermilk on hand, so I just add a tablespoon of white vinegar to regular milk and let it sit for 10 minutes. Once that’s done, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Pulling the bread together is very simple. Just mix the dry ingredients together, create a well in the center and add in the buttermilk.

I usually add all but 2 tablespoons of the milk because it’s easy for the bread batter to get too wet. Just knead it with your hands and if it’s too sticky, add a touch more flour. You don’t even want to know the shenanigans that went on the first time I was trying to get the consistency right. It was a sticky mess! However, you’ll know it’s ready once it easily forms a ball (if it’s too dry and falls apart, add more buttermilk) Then, just put it on an ungreased pan (I use my pizza stone) and score an X into the top of the bread to allow steam to escape and put it in the preheated oven. That’s it. You don’t need to wait for it to rise or punch it down twice or do the hokey pokey with it. Just bake it for 15 minutes at 450 degrees and at 325 for another 10-15 minutes.

Let it cool enough to handle and serve. Now, I will tell you that this is traditional soda bread, so it isn’t sweet at all. It does have a wonderfully rustic flavor and the texture is lovely – crunchy on the outside and soft and dense on the inside. The Irishman said that it was exactly as he remembers it from his trip to Ireland. I can’t wait to bake and serve this alongside some Shepherd’s Pie. In the meantime, I’ve been eating it with a schmear of butter and a dollop of honey. Very tasty.

Next up on the bread baker-in-training schedule is a whole grain bread loaf. I can’t wait until I no longer need to buy bread from the market.

*Originally posted 7/12/10

Day Four Of Sleep Wars: Elvis, Is That You?

It’s 3:32am, Lexi is wide awake, intermittently babbling and shouting at us. Her voice is starting to get hoarse from all of her talking (going on two hours) and we are losing our resolve to continue the sleep experiment.

My husband looks over at me and whispers, “Something went very wrong here tonight.”

I grab his hand fiercely. “She’s trying to break us,” I whisper vehemently under my breath. “Don’t give in. Stay strong. If she breaks us now, we’ve lost forever.”

He makes eye contact with me. “I think I’m hallucinating. I have no idea how we’re supposed to function tomorrow.”

I squeeze his hand to impart strength. “As long as you’re neither seeing Elvis nor moving towards the light, I think you’ll be fine.”

Regardless of how our nights are going (badly), Lexi’s disposition does not appear to be suffering. Here’s a picture of the kids yesterday at the park. I don’t think they can get any cuter.


Day Three of Sleep Wars: Who’s on First??

First of all, thank you all for the support. You guys rock! I appreciate all of your messages, texts and words of encouragement. I realize that in the grand scheme, this is going to be just a blip on the radar of our parenting journey (and frankly, I feel a bit silly chronicling the whole thing on the blog), but right now, it feels like this big, insurmountable thing that we have to get through. I think that’s because I was just plain scared of the process. It just goes to show you that fear in and of itself can be a big, ol’ hindrance to progress.

Yesterday was interesting. First of all, Lexi didn’t go down for her morning nap until 12:15pm! Historically, she’s taken a nap from 9:30-about 10:45, so I was surprised to see that she dropped that nap entirely. The optimist in me wants to think that she’s napping later in the day because she slept better the night before. It could be true, right? Regardless, she did both naps in her crib, but neither was longer than 45 minutes.

Last night, I put her into her crib awake. She wasn’t closing her eyes yet, but she was very still so I knew that she wasn’t too far off from sleep. The Irishman went in there a couple of times to lay her back down (she kept pulling herself up), but after about 10 minutes, she was finally asleep. This is the part where it gets fuzzy. I thought that she slept from 8:30-11:15pm, but my husband swears that he came in to shhhh her once during that block of time. It could be that she went back to sleep so easily that it didn’t register with me. Then, from 11:15-12am, she was awake and fussing on and off. She would doze off and then wake up voicing her displeasure for 30 seconds before dozing off again. I finally nursed her at midnight and she fell back asleep 2 minutes later and slept for 4 hours straight. Score!

This is where it gets interesting. Parker came into our room around 3am and the Irishman and I both sprung out of bed to make sure he didn’t wake up Lexi (her crib is right by the door). The Irishman took him back to bed, but 30 minutes later, he came back in. I walked him back to his room and did our “nightmares be gone” ritual, which involved spraying Monster Repellent (air freshener) into his closet and under his bed. As an aside, that’s a trick I picked up from my mom who used to spray hairspray around my room to keep the aliens out. Well played, mother.

Okay, so of course, 30 minutes later when the clock chimed 4am, Lexi is back up. This time, I stuck to my guns and put her back in her crib after I nursed her. She shook her little fists at me for a minute as I was patting her back, but she had drifted back off to sleep before I had even tucked myself back into bed. She woke up again at 6:15am, the Irishman brought her to bed and she slept in between us (not nursing) until Payton the Cat barged in at 7:15am for his brekky. The only reason he was able to do this is because we had left our door cracked for Parker since he makes so much stinkin’ noise trying to open our bedroom door. Naturally, Payton thought that the open door was his invitation and in he came, announcing his presence loudly. We grumbled about it, the Irishman kicked him out, and we got about 30 more minutes of sleep before Parker was up and ready to go. It was his daddy’s turn to get up with him, but Lexi was up 30 minutes later (are you noticing a theme here?) so we all just got up. I went straight for the coffee and then came in here to update all of you since I know you’ve been on pins and needles about this. Ha!

So, the Day 3 Wrap Up: She was in bed 12 hours, woke 3 times, nursed twice. This was a marked improvement from the night before and I am hoping and praying that over the next week, we can knock out one (or both!) of her nighttime nursing sessions and that one day, she may blessedly sleep the entire night in her crib by herself. I still think that this is a parenting myth, kind of like the not-picky-eating-toddler, but I will be the first to scream from the mountain tops (literally) if Lexi accomplishes this elusive feat.

Day Two of Sleep Wars: Hangin’ In There

I can’t tell you how apprehensive I was going into last night. Would she sleep? Would she freak? I think that the unpredictability of it all is what makes this whole process so stress-inducing. I mean, if someone can just tell you, “Hang in there momma, she’ll be out for the count in 3 minutes,” I’d at least have a goal to hang on to. As it is, this whole process is judgment and intuition, not logic and precision.

That’s probably why the Irishman is having a much easier time of decision making than I am – he’s a feeler and I’m a thinker. I know this because he’ll make comments like, “She doesn’t sound sad to me, she just sounds annoyed that we’re not getting her.” Sure enough, when I checked on her, there were no tears, just tiny little fists waving her disapproval in my face.

While I can tell the difference between a pain cry and a hunger cry, I’m apparently less astute at telling the difference between her many emotions and that’s because the only emotion I’m used to sensing is, “HAPPY!” I think the reason that the Irishman understands the other stuff is because he had to fly solo during my two work trips and, lacking lactating breasts, had to make due with a bottle and his intuition to figure out what she needed. As I’m typing this, I’m realizing that he’s a damn good dad. While I already knew that he could handle diaper changes and feedings and trips to the park with two kids, I’m humbled that he is so in tune with our munchkin’s level of disgruntlement, particularly when I’m not.

Anyways, back to last night – I know you’re waiting on pins and needles for the outcome. Okay,you’re probably not on pins and needles, but I like to pretend that we’re all in this together. It’s the parenting version of COPS and our theme song is, “Le-xi, Le-xi, whatcha gonna do, is your mommy going to comfort you…” Apparently, the hallucinations are setting in. Ha!

Okay, so I laid her down last night the same way that I did the night before – very drowsy, but not yet in a deep sleep. She had only had one very long nap yesterday, so we put her to bed around 7:15pm (about an hour earlier than usual). She went to sleep in 6 minutes (an improvement from the 8 minutes that it took the night before). From 7:15am until 1am, she woke every 45  minutes like clockwork and the Irishman was able to get her back to sleep within minutes. I did nurse her at 11pm, but I put her right back in her crib and she was asleep in 3 minutes.

At 1am, she woke up angry. I knew she wasn’t hungry since she had just nursed two hours before and I also knew that 1-3am is her “witching hour” even when she’s in the bed with me. She’ll toss and turn, latching and unlatching, until she finally settles in for the rest of the night. I knew that this particular testing was going to test our resolve. If we picked her up, it would set the pattern for all nights to come. It took 12 very long minutes to get her back to sleep. She would cry, then fall asleep, cry, then fall asleep. Again, her cry had me “meat” to it, but it still broke my heart and even as I’m typing this, I’m judging myself as a heartless, cruel person. But deep down inside, I know that I’m neither of those things and that I love this little person more than the entire universe. I also know that she wasn’t fussing because she needed to be nursed or held, she was fussing because this was the part of sleep that she regularly had difficulty with.

So, we patted and shhhhed (probably more often than we were supposed to) and blessedly, she was back asleep for good by 1:15am. I should mention that her crib is in our room, so we feel every second of her displeasure. There’s no sleeping through it, we just lay there holding hands and praying that she settles back down quickly and that we’ve made the right choice in this.

Well, the big news of the night is that once we got her over the hump, she slept from 1:15-5:15am. YAY!! That also means that she went from 11-5:15am without nursing. I’m going to slowly work on cutting out that 11pm feeding, but for now, I’m thrilled with that 6 hour stretch. At 5:15, I nursed her and pulled her into our bed instead of laying her back in the crib. That was more for my benefit than hers – I needed to cuddle her and silently apologize for not snatching her up the second that she made a peep.

I slipped out of bed at 5:30am, made coffee and for the first time in almost a year, I’m enjoying my favorite time of the day. Getting two hours of peace and contemplation before my lovely (and loud) family wakes up is a gift that I didn’t think I’d get to have for years to come.

I think the last hurdles are going to be getting her to put herself back to sleep at her 45 minute wake-ups and dropping the middle of the night nursing. Slowly but surely, we’ll get there. Amen.

Reporting From The Trenches: Day 1 Wrap Up

Hi folks, this is Cyn reporting from the land of second-guessing and sleep deprivation. Last night, we tried to lay Lexi down after she was asleep 3 different times. Unfortunately, she was on to us after the first time so after a “coaches meeting,” we decided to lay her down drowsy to see what happens. We committed to leaving her in her crib for 5 minutes and then we held each other for support. While she definitely fussed, there were no tears (just whining) and no screaming. This was good. After 5 minutes, the Irishman went in, shhhhhed her until she was quiet and then left the room. Crying commenced. In a panic, we started debating our options and then suddenly, 2 minutes later, there was silence from the room. I sent the Irishman to check on her because for Lexi, “mommy=booby time” and sure enough, she was sound asleep. Success!

She woke up 45 minutes later and he was able to pat and shhhh her back to sleep. The same pattern repeated twice more until she woke up heartily crying just before midnight. I went ahead and nursed her (I thought that cutting out the night nursing cold turkey might not be the best option under the circumstances) and after she nursed, we both passed out (in my bed) for 4 hours. She nursed again, slept for 2 more hours and she was still sleeping when I left for work this morning.

While she was only in her crib for just under 4 hours, I think last night qualifies as a success. What’s important is that we started the process and kept to our parenting philosophy of minimizing tears as best we could. While I definitely felt guilt over the whole thing, it wasn’t as traumatic for either of us as I was anticipating, so for better or worse, we’re sticking with it. With all aspects of parenting, consistency is key and hopefully, each day will get a little bit easier.

Just now for her morning nap, I rocked her until she was almost completely asleep and I put her down in her crib. Same as last night, she fussed for 5 minutes, I rocked her a little bit more and then she was completely asleep (after being PO’d) 2 minutes later. We’ll see how long she sleeps for, but so far so good (it’s been 20 minutes).

I’m not going to lie, I’m scared about tonight. I have a feeling that it’s going to get worse before it gets better because she now anticipates what’s going to happen. I have to believe that a good night’s sleep for her is what is best for the entire family. My intuition tells me that she is ready for this and the one thing that I do know is that a mother’s instinct is usually right.

As always, prayers, good vibes and wishful thinking are all appreciated! Until tomorrow –

Cyn, over and out.