Tuesday, October 27, 2009

All about sleeping

Having been away for a week in New York, rushing around doing lots of fun things, all I felt like doing this weekend just gone was staying at home and chilling.

Unfortunately, my daughter had other plans for us all (as children do!). She has most of her teeth now but teething has had little impact on her good, deep, night time sleep thus far. But now the poor little thing is teething one set of her big molars, so she was wide awake screaming at 5am on Saturday and was inconsolable (immune to cuddling, Calpol and sleeping in our bed). So that's when the day started for us.

In truth it was fine because she is such a delight and we knew we could all catch up on sleep later in the day. However, the early start meant a very stressful morning as she wasn't ready to nap but at the same time was extremely cranky so not much chilling got done. She finally napped (as did we) for an hour or so after lunch. Thereafter, fully rested, she was a dream child - happy, playing, rested, chilled. The afternoon turned out to be wonderful.

She woke up screaming at 4am on Sunday, but thankfully went back to sleep within minutes of me giving her some magic potion (= Calpol!). Then she slept on another few hours. Consequently, Sunday was wonderful for all of us as she was fully rested. We simply played with her all day long. And in the afternoon, after her post-lunch nap, my mum came to visit her. My mum also bought M and I dinner for that night - homecooked chana dal curry and cauliflower curry. So delicious that we had to eat it again on Monday night (rather than freezing).

Honestly, life with my daughter is just so much fun (much more fun than when she was a baby). She's got a cracking sense of humour, laughs all the time, chatters away non-stops and her vocabulary is growing by the day. She can point to things and correctly name them eg leaves, trees, cars, bin, bib, books, flowers - she pointed to a buttercup in our garden and said, "Flower!" and then she pointed to a nasturtium and also identified it as a "Flower!"... She saw a photo of a boy and said, "Boy!", and she saw both her Grandmothers in a photo and she exclaimed, "Gramma!" It was particularly sweet when we were leafing through a photo album together and we came across a photo of the three of us together. She pointed to the image of M and exclaimed, "Daddy!", she pointed to the image of me and said, "Mummy!" and then she stopped at the image of herself and hesitated, really staring at it. M said, "Who's that?" And she replied, "Baby!"

She also now enjoys pointing to animals and imitating the sounds they make: "Woof woof" when she sees a dog, "Squeak, squeak" when she sees a mouse, "rrrbit, rrrbit" when she sees a frog, "meeeooow" for a cat... When she sees a lion, she flings her arms back, thrusts out her face, opens her mouth wide and really roars!

She loves dancing to music - she stomps her feet and shakes her body and flaps her arms around. The other day I caught her trying to imitate a woman doing a yoga pose on TV (the tree pose, incidentally). She also enjoys pretending to read - she'll open a book up and look at the words and babble away as if she is reciting a nursery rhyme (sing song style) then turn the page over and repeat. It's very endearing.

Life is more difficult too. As a baby, she was far more mobile - we could, generally, take her anywhere. But now she has a mind of her own. If she's decided she doesn't want to be somewhere, she makes her feelings known loudly. If she doesn't want to eat or do something then she will emphatically say (or shout, or cry) "No!" and turn away. We don't push her too much if she doesn't want to do something. I recognise that at the moment she cannot be reasoned with so I have little choice but to go with the flow. Going with the flow is a learning experience for me!

She also really fights going to sleep in the buggy when we are out and about - there is too much for her to see and do and she doesn't want to miss out on all the fun. It means we can no longer go out for longer than a couple of hours at a time before she is beside herself with tiredness but refusing to nap and so is hysterical. It's okay. It's just a phase. Eventually her stamina will build and she will no longer need to nap anyway.

Sunday afternoon ended with M carving out a happy Halloween pumpkin for Little Planet (photo above). We lit it and switched off all the lights. We kept switching the lights on and off because she was so excited by it all - she was literally shaking with excitement.

Sunday night was a little better for her and us in terms of sleep. She is usually a deep sleeper at night (a light sleeper during the day) and regular readers of this blog know that she started to sleep through the night from 12 weeks old (generally 7 to 7 or 7 to 6.30). But teething makes her night sleep much lighter and more broken, so on Sunday night she was roused from her sleep just by M and I going to bed at 11pm. She cried for a minute and then went back to sleep so we didn't need to go into her. She also cried out at 2am in the morning but fortunately went back to sleep after a minute so again I didn't need to go to her. Unfortunately I was, then, wide awake and it took me an hour to get back to sleep!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

New York minute #3

Monday was our last day in New York and we began the day by packing our bags and checking out of our very cool Hotel On Rivington. We headed over to Battery Park and boarded a packed ferry to the Statue of Liberty (our first visit ever despite numerous visits to NYC). Then we walked alongside the Hudson River to Tribeca for an early lunch at Bar Artisanal. There we ate the very best cheeseburgers, fries and craft beers in beautiful surroundings. Bar Artisanal is truly a great place to eat and Tribeca itself has numerous good restaurants and cafes. We'll explore more when we next visit New York. Afterwards, we walked off our lunch by strolling through Central Park in the glorious sunshine. But dodging the hundreds of determined joggers was hard work! We escaped onto 5th Avenue and did a last bout of shopping in Barneys department store before heading back to the hotel to pick up our bags and a cab to the airport.

Returning to London on Tuesday morning was bittersweet: we were sad that our vacation was over and were very tired from the overnight flight, but we were excited about seeing our baby daughter again. When we arrived at our house, we napped for a couple of hours. M's wonderful mother had already cleaned the house and done all the laundry. After our quick sleep, we picked Little Planet up early from daycare. As soon as she saw us she shouted, "Daddy!" then "Mummy!" and jumped into M's arms. It was lovely!

And now it's back to reality again and work, work, work, play, work, work, work, play. Still, we have the weekend to look forward to and we plan on doing nothing but chill out at home with our daughter.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

New York minute #2

Apart from the sheer buzz and energy of the place, eating is a primary reason for us to stay on the Lower East Side when we come to New York. There are some seriously good bars and restaurants to eat at here. You already know about Schiller's Liquor Bar where we ate and drank on our first night. On Friday, we dined at wd-50 on Clinton Street. To start off with, I had eggs benedict (photo above) and M ordered hanger tartare with smoked almonds, banana and hibiscus. Then I ordered the scallops with pine needle udon, grapefruit dashi and Chinese broccoli. M ordered the duck breast, Worcestershire spaetzle, parsley root and mustard greens. For desserts, I devoured the sake sorbet with licorice and Bartlett pear, and M chowed down on the soft chocolate with peppermint ice cream, black cardamom and toffee. Everything was exquisitely fresh and light and perfectly portioned.

On Saturday, we dined at The Stanton Social on Stanton Street, which encourages diners to share several small dishes. So we chose: Stone-ground blue corn crabcake corn dogs; lobster paella cakes with chorizo and artichoke salad; grilled cheese slider with Cheddar, house-cured jalapeño bacon, fried green tomato and lemon aioli; Rhode Island-style lobster roll; butternut squash and sweet potato ravioli with vanilla brown butter and candied pecans; charred squid lettuce wraps with spicy papaya kimchi, miso mayo and jalapeño-soy; grilled hanger steak with a smoked paprika crust, caramelized onions, potato and chive tater tots and Spanish bravas sauce; and finally roasted beets with lavender honey and goat cheese. Once again the food was achingly fresh and delicious. On a Saturday night in LES, the place was heaving so the atmosphere was terrific.

And on Sunday night, we ate at Freemans, which is at the end of Freeman Alley off Rivington Street. Surrounded by taxidermy on the walls and immersed in candlelight, we started with hot artichoke dip with crisp bread, and shrimp and grits with bacon, shallots and green pepper puree. For our main dishes, M chose a stew of Colorado lamb with butternut squash and grit cake, and I chose a Hudson Valley duck breast with local mustard greens and a Concord grape reduction. I couldn't resist a dessert of sweet potato pie and buttermilk ice cream. M had his first sour mash. The place was heaving and it was a lot of fun.

Aside from eating on the LES, we ate a lovely lunch on Saturday at the Austro-German Cafe Sabarsky in the Neue Galerie on Fifth Avenue. We always eat here when we come to New York because the food is excellent, the atmosphere is lovely and the cafe is close to the Met. The long queue to get in was worth it for the bratwurst mit sauerkraut and röstkartoffeln (roasted sausage with Riesling sauerkraut and roasted potatoes) that we ate. For dessert, M ordered sachertorte (Viennese dark chocolate cake with house-made apricot confiture) and I ordered milchrahmstrudel (Quark cheese strudel with vanilla sauce).

Beforehand, we had explored the new American wing at The Metropolitan Museum and saw Robert Frank's The Americans exhibition there (photo above). As always, the photos were amazing. I loved the way he focused in on people to describe a larger event - such as close-ups of politicians' faces or an orator at a political rally rather than the crowds at the rally itself; or close-ups of a few attendees at a funeral rather than a typical funeral scene such as a casket being carried or lowered surrounded by mourners. I was most intrigued to learn that Frank was friends with Beats such as Kerouac and Ginsburg, and to later "alternative figures" such as Sam Shepard and Patti Smith.

Afterwards, we visited The New York Public Library (photo above). M and I have both been blessed by opportunities to study in some wonderful libraries - the Bodleian in Oxford, the British Library in London and the reading room of the British Museum also in London. But none have been open to the general public. So it was a real pleasure to see the beautiful NYPL building.

The rest of Saturday was spent shopping along Fifth Avenue, culminating in a visit to toy shop FAO Schwarz where we bought Little Planet a couple of Charlie and Lola stuffed dolls and several books from Barefoot Books (photo left) - I love this publishing company because their books are very colourful and bold and also multicultural. Incidentally, both Barefoot and Charlie/Lola are British companies/brands.

On Sunday, we visited the Witney Museum of American Art, which disappointed us with its meagre collection. I wanted to see more Edward Hoppers, more Winslow Homers, more Franz Klines and Andy Warhols and Jasper Johns... more of everything.

Afterwards, we stopped off for coffee and pastries in a lovely independent cafe on Lexington called Corrado Bread & Pastry. And then we browsed the big stores Bloomingdale's, Bergdorf Goodman and Macy's (the latter of which disappointed - it was so rundown).

Then we became real tourists and climbed up to the top of the Empire State Building. What a view - we giggled and took photos and tried to identify buildings and our hotel. We felt like kids! I can't wait to take Little Planet up there one day (photo above). And then we came back to the LES for diner in Freemans, but I've already mentioned that.

More soon...

Friday, October 16, 2009

A New York minute #1

It's 4.45pm and we're back in our hotel to catch our breath before dinner. M's having a bath and I'm reading Sarah Napthali's exquisite book Buddhism For Mothers Of Young Children - Becoming A Mindful Parent.

We've just come back from 5th Avenue, where M bought some shirts from Brooks Brothers. Before that, we were on Bleeker Street having lunch with a friend from university who usually teaches at Harvard but is doing a year's research at NYU so is now living in the West Village. And before that, we were walking The High Line from Chelsea to the Meat Packing District - a 1.45-mile section of elevated freight railroad which has been redesigned and planted as a green and verdant parkway (photos above).

We've also seen some very good art shows today - Jeff Wall's pseudo-documentary photographs (photo above) at the Marian Goodman Gallery (staged images of a couple eating fries out of a paper bag, people lining up at pawn shop booths, a man siphoning fuel from a car, a man throwing knives at a garage wall, and more); Daido Moriyama-trained Keizo Kitajima's portraits of people on New York streets or in dive bars off the US Army base in Okinawa and of Tokyo drag queens, to name but a few, at the Amador Gallery; and Edward Burtysky's monumental photos of oil tankers, oil refineries, oil fields and other stark landscapes such as quarries and even an LA freeway interchange (photo below).

We'd arrived in NYC on Wednesday night. After we'd checked into the Hotel On Rivington, we headed to the excellent Schiller's Liquor Bar for steak and fries and beer. This is my fourth trip to New York, M's seventh and our third trip here together as a couple. Each time together, we have stayed at the Hotel On Rivington. It goes without saying that we love this city and if we ever had the choice to live and work outside of London, then it would be here in NYC. And we particularly love staying on the Lower East Side - this part of town has the same buzz and energy as London's Shoreditch or Hoxton, with a little bit of Brixton thrown in.

Yesterday, we walked through SoHo, shopping for clothes at Vince (where I bought some amazing quality knitwear as it had turned cold and rainy in NYC and I had arrived unprepared!), Thom Browne, and Odin which sells clothes from US designers (M bought a very cool, grey woolen Woolrich jacket designed by Daiki Suzuki - again, he was as unprepared as I was for the sudden downturn in the weather). We also stocked up on books and magazines at McNally Jackson on Mott Street, where purchases included two children's picture books based in NYC for Little Planet: Good Night New York City by Adam Gamble and Joe Veno, and Subway (right) by Anastasia Suen and Karen Katz - two very colourful and sweet books that I can't wait to read to my daughter when we get back home next week.

Food is a very important part of our trip. Before we arrived here, we'd pored over magazines such as Time Out New York, New Yorker and New York as well as guidebooks and the internet. We stopped off for very good coffee and raspberry thumbprint cookies at Ground Support on West Broadway, chilling out and people watching from a repurposed cedar wood bench and table. The cafe reminded me of my favourite London cafe Fernandez & Wells.

We knew we wanted to eat at Keste Pizzeria on Bleeker Street. We met up with one of my childhood friends for dinner there and we were blown away. This truly is terrific pizza and I want to eat there now for every meal! My friend was born and brought up in London but now works as a business development manager in NYC. He lives in Manhattan and loves it. It was good seeing him after so long. Earlier on in the day, we'd lunched at La Esquina Taqueria and Cafe in Nolita where we ate delicious Mexican food - sopa de tortilla (soup of shredded chicken, tomato, onion, ancho chile, cotija cheese and lime), huevos rancheros (a little too much sauce on this dish), and carne enchilada (soft corn tortillas with char-grilled adobo rubbed pork, grilled pineapple, onion, cilantro, salsa verde and lime).

After lunch we took a tour of two restored homes of two Eastern European Jewish families who lived in a tenement building at 97 Orchard Street at the turn of the 20th century. The tour was operated by the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and was incredibly detailed for just one hour. I highly recommend it.

And what did Little Planet do yesterday at home in London? Her two Grans are looking after her. They give us regular updates via texts, emails and calls. My baby is doing absolutely fine. Yesterday she was visited by a little 8 month old friend who lay on the floor while Little Planet stroked her hair, brought her endless toys and cooed "Baby, baby, baby!" Obviously my little baby is no longer a baby herself at 16 months but a little girl :-)

Of course I miss her terribly. M and I talk about her constantly as we stroll New York's streets. But this trip is so good for our marital soul. Each year, I think, we will go abroad just the two of us and let Little Planet enjoy quality time with her Grandmothers.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Life 2.0

My weekend began on Friday evening at 7pm. I had just put Little Planet to bed and had now settled down on the sofa with a novel (The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz). I love the hour or two of silence that descends between putting my daughter to bed and my husband returning home from work.

A couple of hours later and M came home bearing assorted pizzas from Princi which we ate with salad in front of the TV. We watched our recording of steamy, brooding vampire drama True Blood. Apart from the football, I can't remember the last time we watched TV in real time. We record everything - TV 2.0.

My Saturday began at 6.30am. I was wide awake, lying in bed, my mind racing with work thoughts while my husband and daughter were still fast asleep. A little later, everyone was up and while M and Little Planet ate their breakfast, I headed into town to get my hair done at Aveda in Holborn, central London. I was very annoyed, actually I was mad, at the Tube driver for ruining my attempt to read my book in peace by making endless announcements. The wonderful head massage I received at the salon, though, soon calmed me down.

I ate a stodgy vegetarian brunch at Neal's Yard Salad Bar - not the best vegetarian food I've eaten, though the soya banana milk shake was delicious. I bought Indian and Colombian coffee beans from the Monmouth Coffee Company in Covent Garden. Then I watched Pixar's new movie Up in glorious 3D in the Covent Garden Odeon. I found the film very poignant and I loved it though I wondered whether it was really suitable for some children. One boy - perhaps 6 years old - in the audience said loudly, "It's very sad, isn't it?" Another boy of a similar age was whimpering, "I'm scared Daddy, when will it finish." I admit that I cried a fair bit, but then again I am a big softie.

After the movie, I popped into Borders bookshop on Charing Cross Road to buy Parents and Real Simple magazines. Queuing up to pay, I couldn't resist being tempted by a bright yellow Mr Happy umbrella for Little Planet (photo top). Then off to Muji on Tottenham Court Road to buy candles, soap refills and notebooks. I took a bus up Oxford Street to Selfridges where I bought a DKNY grey cardigan and a John Smedley black cardigan for myself for colder weather. Finally, I ended up in John Lewis where I bought Mini A Ture lilac trousers for Little Planet, a bath mat, a mattress protector, a grey lambswool throw for one of our couches, plus cheeses, fruit and snacks from the Food Hall. Though I work in central London (off Oxford Street, in fact), I rarely have time to pop out and shop on this scale aside from weekends and days off.

Laden down with bags, I caught a cab home and spent the rest of the afternoon with Little Planet, M and my mother-in-law who is staying at our house for a week and a half to look after Little Planet when M and I go away to New York this Wednesday - our first holiday in two years!

Dinner was pan-fried cod with a hazelnut and caper crust, accompanied by sauteed potatoes and a salad of spring onions and tomatoes from our garden. Did I mention in a previous post that M's home cooking is one of my "best things in life"? One of my "worst things in life" (post to come) is washing up afterwards!

Sunday began, as all weekend mornings begin in the Planethalder household, with a big family cuddle in our huge, super-kingsized bed. Our weekend morning ritual is this: Little Planet wakes up and shouts out from her bedroom. One of us brings her into our room and changes her nappy whilst one of us goes downstairs to warm her milk and make coffee. Then one of us feeds her her milk in our bedroom whilst the other snuggles back into the bed. After her milk the three of us end up snuggling in our bed with the CBeebies channel on. It's a lovely routine.

Later, after breakfast, my mother-in-law and I took Little Planet to get her (fourth) haircut then we took her to visit her auntie and uncle who live nearby. M stayed at home to chill out in peace (though he also cleaned and hoovered the house, good man!). Little Planet snacked on almond croissants with us, plus blueberries and strawberries. Then I took her home for lunch. She hates being strapped into her buggy so she screamed most of the way - I tried to distract her with leaves and keys, which worked for a while. Her frustration with being in the buggy makes going out with her quite difficult, but we persevere as we have to go out. It's all a phase, so won't last. But it does stress me out hearing her getting so mad. Oh well.

On a positive note, for the first time ever she properly strung two meaningful words together - her Dad was walking out of the bedroom and she waved and said, very clearly, "Bye bye Daddy!" Mind you, she was saying "Off we go!" a couple of months ago when she was 13 months. New words she's said this week include, "blueberry" and "finished" (when she shows us her empty plate).

She ate a good lunch of pasta and tomato sauce, and then she went down for her nap. In the afternoon, my mum and dad came to visit, so Little Planet was in her element with her two Grandmums and her Granddad all showering her with attention. I had to work though, for a few hours, upstairs as I have a big presentation in Paris tomorrow (fortunately the trip can be done in a day so I will be back tomorrow night). M also had to work for an hour.

And now it's the evening. M made Little Planet a stew of sweetcorn and tomatoes, which went down well. He'll be roasting a chicken for our dinner. Then we'll settle in to chat, read the weekend papers, do a little packing, and watch some TV.

Another weekend over, but I am not sad because in two days' time we will be off to New York (have I mentioned that to you?!)!!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Best things in life...

  • When my daughter chuckles to herself at something she's doing or thinking
  • My husband's home cooking
  • Being immersed so deeply into a project that I lose track of time
  • Anticipating a holiday - as satisfying often as the holiday itself!
  • Coming out into daylight after watching a matinee movie in the cinema
  • The Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota - an hypnotic environment redolent with so many fond memories for me
  • Hot, buttery mash potatoes
  • Marmite on white buttered toast (always has to be butter)
  • An empty hour or three with a good book or the weekend newspapers
  • My mother's embrace - so comforting when I'm upset
  • The sound of silence
  • Very loud rock music
  • Bach's cello concertos - the only music that has brought me to tears with its beauty
  • All Stars or Converse sneakers - the best things for my feet
  • Trashy rom-com movies - my guilt pleasure
  • British weather - I truly love the unpredictability of it
  • A Sunday movie on DVD - I am really looking forward to the day Little Planet can curl up on the sofa and watch a movie with me
  • Living in London - every day here is an adventure and I can't imagine living anywhere else in Britain
  • Spontaneous hugs from my husband or daughter
  • DKNY t-shirts
  • John Smedley cardigans
  • Nicole Farhi jumpers
  • American Apparel baby clothes - bold colours and well made
  • Standing out in the garden at night when the world is hushed and breathing in the fresh chill air and looking at the stars
  • Freshly roasted Monmouth coffee
  • Napping
  • Dancing with my daughter
  • A foot massage from my husband
  • Snuggling... into my husband, into my baby, into a duvet
  • Being pregnant - I loved my hair, my skin, my body, feeling her move about inside me, the nesting, the dreaming... I felt so powerfully feminine
  • Pottering at home
So many more things, but this is it for now...

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Adult tantrums

Ever since I hit puberty, I have been blessed not to be cursed by my monthly periods. Yes, I have suffered a few cramps, a few spots and low level mood swings, but overall... nothing unbearable or dramatic. And certainly, over time even these low-level cramps and mood swings have disappeared.

So it was a shock to all when my temper turned exceedingly foul this weekend. Even my daughter and her constant babbling - usually so endearing (well, most of the time) turned me into a black-hearted witch. I was so irritable, all weekend; I couldn't stop moaning; and it got so bad that I even voiced the taboo phrase, "I wish I had never had a baby!".

Now, I am naturally quite quick-tempered. But I am also quick to calm down. I am going through a stressful pitching process at work. But again, what's not stressful about my job. I have a few medical worries too. But, these are part of my life now. I have a toddler who is expressing her independence. But she's a toddler and it's all part of normal development.

Despite my black mood, we managed to have a good(-ish) weekend. We walked down Marylebone High Street - buying winter clothes for Little Planet from Bonpoint, books from Daunt's, meat from The Ginger Pig and vegetables and cheese from La Fromagerie. We then walked down to Piccadilly and saw Subodh Gupta's amazing sculptures at the Hauser & Wirth gallery (all photos).

We ate some really good meals: on Saturday, rare fillet steaks and greens stir-fried with garlic; and tonight M is making Nigel Slater's pork chops with apples and cider. We saw my mum.

And we spent alot of time playing with Little Planet. Well, M did... I was in too dark a mood to do anything other than work (on a work presentation), lie prostrate on the couch and generally grumble and whinge like a toddler. Even my own toddler was better behaved than me this weekend.

I hope I snap out of this soon.