Thursday, January 31, 2008

Maylin sings "Jingle Bells"

This evening was "Culture Night" at Maylin's school. Potluck of international foods, demonstration of Indian dance and African drumming by students, and activities including tortilla and gnocchi making (separate tables, of course), basket weaving (at least that's what it looked like), nail polishing ( is that cultural?), painting, and origami (I volunteered to teach jumping frogs and balloons). The evening was fun but getting there was quite an ordeal. I made it hard on myself by making a bacon and leek quiche entirely from scratch (including the pastry crust*) so it took a little longer than planned (I had to wrap my hot-out-of-the-oven quiche in a beach towel and throw it in the back of the car with the stroller). And then Stefan was very fussy because he was tired. Fortunately, Maylin was easy to get ready.

Stefan was a very good baby sitting on my lap throughout dinner (can all moms balance a paper plate full of food in one hand and a baby in another?) and in his stroller for most of the activity time. Maylin painted and made tortillas with her friends. I was so happy she came over to my table and learned how to make the frog and balloon.

But she really impressed me on the drive back home. Out of the blue, she said, "Let's sing 'Jingle Bells.'" This may not sound earth-shattering to you, but for me, this was the first time she sang an entire song in front of me. It was just the refrain (about three times), but I had never heard her singing voice before really, and it was so sweet and clear, and surprisingly strong. And although some of the words were approximations, it was the best rendition I had ever heard.

The Sound of Suckling

I have held the post of "resident I.T. guy" in the household even though I'm not a guy…even though I'm not the one working in the tech industry. Solving computer problems drives John crazy – John, the calm, even-keeled one. For some reason, I kind of enjoy this kind of problem-solving.

So disaster struck yesterday in this internet-dependent home. I had no internet connection! I turned on and off my modem and checked all the cables. Should’ve worked, but didn’t. I thought I’d give it twenty-four hours to resolve itself and give myself twenty-four hours to survive without the internet. I was happy to give up e-mailing for a day, but I felt like I had my hands behind my back when I needed to look up where all the parking garages are downtown (met up with Maylin’s classmate and mom for library and ice cream, toting Stefan). Eh, it was all right. The old-fashioned way of just driving around and looking worked just fine.

[By the way, that playdate was so much fun! Maylin got her own library card (she signed it herself! oh my girl!), picked out a book, and played games on the computer. Then we had ice cream at a gelato place on Shattuck Avenue. The guy behind the counter (who was quitting because he lived out of town) was so friendly and generous – let us taste whatever we wanted. I probably tasted at least five flavors, while the girls probably tried almost ten each. (Let’s indulge once in awhile!) I think I had more fun tasting than actually eating my final choice – a medium-size of pink “rose” and purple “violet” was a bit much, but the girls were happy to help me finish. We had the entire cozy, yet modern shop to ourselves! After seeing two people drop off employment applications, I considered applying myself (just kidding). As we left the shop, a man on the street saw our gleeful bunch and commented, “Looks like a lot of fun.” And yes, what could be more fun than taking two cute kindergarten girls out for ice cream – the girls were certainly giddy on the happiness of being together and the sugar.]

Anyways, back to the I.T. story. This morning, it was time to resolve the internet problem. Even though Stefan looked a little sleepy, I thought I’d chance it and make the call to AT&T. But first, where to find the right number? I looked in my files and couldn’t find it on any of my documents. Argh! I need the internet! I remembered that our neighbor was kind enough to let us mooch off of his network, so I did that to find the number on ther internet. It seemed like forever, but I finally found the customer service number – completely buried on the AT&T site. Once I called them, there were the menus to sift through, the automated trouble-shooter, the very nice tech support agent (I was able to do the tests because I had put Stefan down in his crib), and then finally, the maintenance guy who recognized the sound of a baby suckling on his mother’s breast.

How did this happen? Well, since I was being put on hold for the maintenance person, I thought I’d take the opportunity to nurse Stefan – that poor hungry, sleepy boy. In the middle of the feeding, of course, the agent begins talking and asks me to check the lights on the modem while he performs a circuit check. I had to explain that I was unable to do that while nursing my baby. He said he thought he had heard something. Yikes! He recognized the sound! That phone’s a little too good. He began talking about how his wife nursed their three kids and how the babies worked so hard that they had sweat on their brows. I really didn’t expect this much information from an AT&T employee, but I was enjoying it. In the end, he ordered me a new modem after determining that mine was defective. Yay. You know, I don’t think this conversation would have occurred in France, where breastfeeding is not very popular and where telephone customer service is something to be avoided at all costs. (I’ll have to tell you my electricity story, which I think was pre-blog. That was a nightmare. I was saved by a wonderful neighbor.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Stefan's first music lesson

20 minutes isn't that long to have a baby on your lap while you're teaching a music lesson. I did have decreased mobility, but somehow managed to lead the kindergarteners in the "Snail Song," with everyone holding hands and walking in a spiral. I also tickled a few hands with my little frog puppet while we sang, "Frog in the Millpond." Instead of dancing with them this time in the "Teddy Bear Song," I had kids come up in threes to sing in front of everyone else (and hold one of my teddy bears). Boy, did they love "performing." I think they liked the applause afterward, too.

Stefan was a dream the whole time. He's always loved music. Calmed by my music-playing and charmed by my singing. When I sing to him, his face really slight up! It makes me feel great! I've found my biggest fan!

Friday, January 25, 2008

My antidote for stress: prevention

One of my friends had noticed that I was more relaxed and happier than I was in the past. Boy, was she ever right. I stressed out about everything. Just my personality. Most of my stress was either time-related or performance-related. Long ago, I often felt like I was running late (rush, rush, rush out the door) or I wasn't prepared enough for my job or a concert. I was the same way in college -- probably worse. I'd step out the door the requisite three minutes it took me to get to a particular class. My severest symptoms of stress were nausea and bathroom-related (in high school, I couldn't even keep track of how many times I had to go to the bathroom the hour before a final exam).

As a health worker at U.C. Berkeley, I was trained to educate my dorm community on how to relieve stress. Imagery and progressive relaxation techniques were at the forefront. But now I wonder why we didn't promote stress prevention instead of stress reduction because this is the only way I can keep a sane lifestyle.

My time-related stressors are still there (getting Maylin ready for school, leaving the house to meet someone at a specified time) but I have a lot less stress because I plan in more preparation time. I just start everything a lot earlier. Instead of planning to get somewhere right on the dot, I plan on getting there early.

My personal performance-related stressors are virtually non-existent (yippee) because I don't take on more than I can handle. I used to say "yes" to anything and anyone and ended up with way too many activities, jobs, and concerts on my plate. I was not a happy camper (even though people always saw a smile on my face). Of course, there were still moments of joy, but in my belly, I could feel the pain of my stress. Now, I am careful about volunteering at Maylin's school (I am not going to pressure myself into becoming a room parent -- why?), I don't schedule too many social activities (having a baby is a great excuse for not hosting a dinner every week), and my music-making is all for fun these days (no auditions and big concerts, at least not yet -- phew!).

When Maylin was a baby, I stressed a lot about her. Is she getting enough to eat? Am I feeding her the right things? Should I be talking to her more? Should I be singing to her more? Should I be playing more music for her (on my instruments or on the stereo)? Does she need more stimulating toys? Etc., etc. My problem was that I was reading too much about what people should do with their babies. I pressured myself to be the perfect mom. This time around, with Stefan, I'm not reading a darn thing and I am a very happy and relaxed mommy. I also have a very happy and relaxed baby. Don't know if there's some cause and effect going on here, but life as a mom is much better now. Instead of stressing about being a perfect mom, I'm just focusing on being a happy mom for my children.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Maylin "in rapture"

I just got back from teaching music to Maylin's class. Loved it. Feel totally energized. Her teacher told me that she was trying to take a picture of Maylin's face during the class because she was looking up at me in rapture the whole time. Wow. It's nice to know I'm having such an effect on her. At home, I don't get that look, but I do get hugs and kisses which make me happy already. But this -- this is really special, too. Imagine seeing your mom in a whole new light. In front of all her classmates, I'm singing, teaching, playing violin, and putting voices to puppets (and making everyone laugh). I wonder what she's feeling and thinking as I entertain and enlighten. Is she proud of me? Does she respect me more?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Multilingual Maylin?

Unfortunately, Maylin is resistant to speaking French. If I start speaking in French, she tells me to stop. (And my accent's pretty good! Can't say the same for her father. hehe) So if she refuses to speak, she at least has to listen to it. If I can remember, at least once a week for an hour, I will speak only French to her. And now she has to watch her movies in French once in awhile. Have you ever watched Disney's Cinderella in French? Very cool.

Now, for the Mandarin, we're hoping her new sing and play class will get her into it. It starts in a little over a week. Also, Grandma's speaking to her in Mandarin when we get together, and my brother will be bringing her lots of Chinese cartoons on DVD. That should be good for me, too.

Friday, January 18, 2008

How do you get a baby to sleep through the night?

Keep him awake all day! Stefan was rather restless yesterday, napping occasionally for only 30 minutes or less at a time, instead of the two or more hours that we were accustomed to. He finally had a long stretch of sleep -- at night, fortunately -- from 10:30 pm to about 5 am. Awesome! I slept like a baby, too!

Quick after-school snack: Buttermilk pancakes (click here for recipe)

I've always liked making pancakes from scratch and have always preferred the buttermilk ones. This recipe that I found is really good and really simple, though I would add an extra 1/2 cup of buttermilk so that it's pourable (you'll also have a better chance of getting uniformly round pancakes). Heat should be between medium and medium-high. Serve with REAL maple syrup (I prefer grade B -- darker, more maple flavor, might even be cheaper, too). Sorry, can't stand the fake stuff.

It's a great after-school snack because it's super-fast to make (5 minutes prep, really!). Use one kitchen implement (a whisk) to "sift" your dry ingredients in one bowl, beat your wet ingredients in another bowl, and combine dry and wet (don't overbeat, just wet your flour and don't look for a smooth consistency). You can even have the kids help you with the ingredients and the mixing.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

What's happenin'

Well, I only have a moment to blog, so here's my life at the moment in bullet-points:
- Maylin started ballet and tap last Friday; she was so pretty in her pink leotard, tights, and skirt (and a pony-tail!); she has two friends joining her from school -- it was her idea to invite her friends to dance with her; photos later
- I started teaching music to Maylin's class which is so much fun!; I haven't taught since 2002 but it all came back quite naturally; not something I could imagine doing all day long, but fun to do for 20 minutes once a week; I also showed them my violin since John was home to take care of Stefan; I taught them the anatomy of the violin (and fiddled a tune afterward, "Boil the Cabbage Down"), the concept of low and high notes (we're working on it), and introduced them to several folksongs through the Kodaly method which I studied years ago
- Yesterday, my father's birthday, Stefan rolled from his tummy to his back for the first time (or at least the first time we noticed); I didn't even get to see it happen even though I was sitting right next to him on the floor (Stefan flipped to his tummy, I turned to talk to John, and while I was talking, Stefan had flipped over to his back); this all happened on his playmat (Amazon link later)
- Stefan jumping like crazy in his Johnny jump-up (I'll give you the Amazon link for that, too)
- Stefan had his four-month visit two Mondays ago and we discovered that he's 95th percentile in length! We know where he gets that from! His 6'5" daddy!
- We've had some gorgeous, clear days here. Walking Leo in the Berkeley hills affords me great views of the San Francisco Bay. How lucky we are to be here!
- I am singing this Saturday in an informal Works-in-Progress performance. I'm bringing John and the kids. Still don't know what I'm singing! My voice has gotten quite rusty in just the last couple of months. I've been too occupied to sing (besides nursery songs mostly to Stefan). I've a bit of my higher register which I hope I can revive in these couple of days. Otherwise, I'll sing a mezzo-soprano piece!
- I finally hooked up our wireless network so I can use the computer anywhere in the house! Freedom!
- I am thinking of setting up some online shop to sell some of my creations. But I have a lot of things to think about first. Name, banner/logo, logistics of shipping, whether or not to design my own site or use a host, etc. Might take awhile.
- Oops, forgot to say that Stefan can also sit up if he holds himself up with his hands. It's really cute. And he loves having the better vantage point. Oh, I also had him "skate" across the dinner table on his butt. In figure-eights. I had him facing away from me, held his waist, and gently maneuvered him around. He was so happy. Baby version of an amusement park ride. Maybe the teacups?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Blueberry coffee cake recipe (click here)

If you've ever been to a Hobee's restaurant (do they still exist?), you have very likely had their delicious blueberry coffee cake. I had it when I was in high school a couple of times and have never forgotten it. In December, I found a recipe for it online and was I ever excited. You've got to try it! It may take about 10 minutes longer than they specify (depends on your oven).

Saturday, January 05, 2008

My first antique purchase

old school desk
Originally uploaded by Caroline in Paris.
Remember the school desk I bought a few months ago? Here it is. I found it at the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse for $25. They are located in Oakland and have a website:
But you never know what they're going to have. Stock is constantly changing, although they seem to always have fabric, paper, crafts, video, and CD sections.

That's my girl!

Maylin on new bed
Originally uploaded by Caroline in Paris.
Maylin's growing up so fast!

Grandpa and Stefan

This photo came out really great! I'm so happy!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Happy New Year!

Hello, everyone! Hope you all had a wonderful holiday. Funny, I always have plenty of ideas to blog when I'm not on the computer, and now that I'm here, my mind is blank! Well, I can always give you an update on where I am on my projects:

(1) learning the cello (on hold for the moment)
(2) writing a children's book (on hold)
(3) baking and decorating cakes (may begin soon)
(4) baking and decorating cookies (did a lot Christmas eve and Christmas day; would like to try a different cookie recipe once a week -- maybe too ambitious)
(5) make greeting cards from my stamp prints or photos to sell (may begin soon)
(6) teaching Maylin violin (to start this week!)
(7) volunteering to teach music to Maylin's class (very soon)

A lot of these are on hold because I feel the need to get the house in order before jumping into all the fun stuff. The back room/office has become my dumping ground ever since we moved back. There's less and less floorspace and it's starting to really bug me. I won't have a sense of peace until everything's found its rightful place in the house. And this back room is very uncozy -- would like to put a convertible sofa and some rugs to warm and soften this stark, dark, uninviting space.

Plus, John has gotten a lot of work done on the house so there's dust everywhere. Dirty and disorganized is really unsettling to me.

Otherwise, things are going great. Maylin has been the best little helper with Stefan and Stefan is still the happiest baby ever. He's starving and he has a poopy diaper, but he's still smiling!

He is pulling himself up to the seated position but still needs assistance otherwise he topples over. His abs and neck are STRONG! Spitting up less milk, but is drooling tremendously and gnawing/sucking on his fists. He is officially teething! Wow, Stefan's four months old today, isn't he. He's so cute now, I don't want him to grow up! We all live for his smiles.

My dad, the pediatrician, says it's time to start Stefan on solids. At four months, I started Maylin on solids and wasted baby food until she was eight months old. She rejected every spoonful and frustrated her mommy considerably. This time, I'm going to wait until Stefan shows obvious signs of interest in eating (should be evident when he's watching us eat at the table). I'll keep you posted.

Maylin's drawings are getting pretty amazing. She's much better than when I wasa five. After watching Bambi, she drew a beautiful picture of Bambi and an owl in a tree, both animals facing away from the viewer so that you only see the backs of their heads. This is a first. And, this is her first deer. Also, she's drawing more side profiles of people. Geez, I drew people from the front for years! I still do!

I believe she still wants to be an artist (as she clearly stated in the car on the way to Corsica back in April 2007), but she seems to want to perform on stage, too (she got that from her mom). Before signing up for ballet and tap, she wanted to know if they would be "on stage." She had also wanted to join choir to be "on stage." We're going to hold off on choir for a little bit. I think she's got enough activities going on for a five year-old. Ballet, tap, Mandarin, and violin? Phew!

You know what? Maylin didn't ask Santa for anything this year. Didn't have a reason to write a letter. She was still excited about Santa coming and set out cookies for him and wanted to wait up for him. Of course, she had to sleep and stay in bed until morning if she wanted her presents. Santa brought her one present -- a beautiful, little girl doll -- and Maylin said that that was just what she wanted. I guess Santa always knows. I'm glad Santa only brought one present because she got many other presents from family -- thank you all!

I'll post some photos soon!