Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Toy story

This was the morning after the day before, aka Boxing Day back home. That's Louis, surrounded by all his presents. Well, almost all of them. Great-grandpa's lamb (Baa-rack Obaa-ma) was hanging out in Louis' crib along with his stripy elephant. And there were a few more items of clothing. Suffice to say he did very well out of his first Christmas even if Santa did forget to visit. (In Santa's defence, he knew Grandma Penny was in town.) A lack of stockings notwithstanding, Louis thought Christmas was great. All that attention. All those gifts. All that wrapping paper. Yum. 

Now that Louis' toy box is bursting at the seams, what I want to know is, who exactly invented toys? And why did they bother? I say that not to sound churlish given the recent generosity of close friends and family members but because half the time it's a struggle even to interest Louis in his toys. After all, why play with something that's been specially designed for a baby when you could play with something far more exciting. Like the telephone flex. Or the DVD recorder. Or Mommy's hair. 

Given the choice of his very own frog mobile phone and Mommy's, he'll pick Mommy's every time. And as for his special "Where's the bone" soft book versus the dirty newspaper? No contest. Always the paper. If I dangle a toy in front of him when he's on my lap, nine times out of ten he'll opt for my belt buckle. My double bluff necklace-cum-teether has him fooled sometimes, but he still much prefers grabbing the silver necklace I got for my birthday. Today he excelled himself, crawling under a table to unearth an old poster tube; far more fun than his rainmaker percussion tube I ordered specially from Mothercare. Then there's the Christmas tree; far better to grab one of its tempting low branches than a building block. 

Looking on the bright side, if LJ is so easily pleased with the various bits and bobs lying around the house, he'll be a cheap date growing up. Just as well given the outlook for the economy and my wage packet. 

Saturday, December 20, 2008

District of Christmas

Five Santa bobble hats; four Christmas sweaters; three model train sets; two reindeer deely boppers; one giant Menorah. Such is the holiday season Stateside, where grown women - and men - think it okay to parade around town in outfits more suited for their local pre-school's last day of term. Top spots thus far include a jaunty Christmas jumper complete with white pom-poms on a Kennedy Centre show goer last night; matching reindeer antlers on a Mom and daughter out shopping in Boston; and flashing Christmas lights on a SUV's front grille. 

Considering large swathes of the country's early settlers didn't even celebrate Christmas (the Puritans who wound up in Massachusetts set sail partly to escape such Old World customs with their Church of England ties), Americans have sure made up for lost time. Cheesy Christmas light displays are old hat over here, so Yuletide aficionados have to show their devotion in other ways. Less wearing your heart on your sleeve and more wearing your Holiday decorations out of the house. 

The trick though is not forgetting that the holiday season here is about more than just Christmas. Saying "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" is something of a faux pas. The city will get a reminder about how PC DC is tomorrow when a giant Menorah joins the giant Christmas tree on the White House lawn. People don't have Christmas parties here; they have holiday parties. I should know: I've been to three, including one Louis helped host for his fellow yogi-babies. (The other two were Mum's and John's work do's.)

Louis is making the most of his first ever Christmas and checking out all of DC's festive sights. His favourite so far is the Botanic Garden's Windows to Wonderland exhibition. The centrepiece of this homage to kitsch is a poinsettia-bedecked replica National Mall complete with landmarks crafted out of natural plant parts. That's the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial behind Louis above. There's also a special Christmas model train display, model trains being a quintessentially American Christmas tradition. Who knew? 

Trains have apparently been circling Christmas trees here since the early 1900s when model train sets were the gift of choice for a certain class of kid. Space at Christmas being at a premium - all those relatives, all those presents - the only place for the tracks was round the tree. Or so the popular history goes. Daddy J is already eyeing up which train set he can buy Louis. Next year.  

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sophie and fans

                                    Louis and Sophie
                                    May and Sophie
                                   Alex and Sophie

It's a cliche, but the old ones are the best. I'm talking, of course, about baby toys. Specially, about a certain 1961 hand-made rubber number that is the hot teething toy among a particular strata of DC moms. (And happening Bermondsey ones.) Let me introduce Sophie La Girafe, who has achieved cult toy status on both sides of the Atlantic without so much as a celebrity endorsement. 

Louis has been a fan for the past month or so, but it's only now, with his first tooth rearing its pearly little head through his inflamed pink gum, that I've remembered I need to spread the word about Sophie to any non-believers out there. At first glance, the dappled rubber giraffe may not grab you as much of a looker. Granted, there are many fancier looking teething toys. Take Louis' vibrating star for example. But behind Sophie's simple face lies a gem of a toy. Her squeezey, squeaky body has just the right number of extremities in just the right places for even a tiny baby to grab and the sensation of natural rubber against a sore gum provides just the sort of relief that itchy teeth coming through require. Well, that's Louis' verdict anyway.

It was May, pictured above, who first alerted me to Sophie's existence. (Or her Mum, Jill, to be precise.) Next thing I knew Lisa was raving about Alex's Sophie (also pictured above). Suddenly there were Sophies everywhere. Almost every baby at yoga seemed to be knawing on one in between their downward dogs. So, of course, Louis just had to join in. For any Sophie virgins out there, she's Amazonable (isn't everything?) and if you pay the special delivery charge then your baby too can have a Sophie in time for Christmas. Or, more importantly, in time for that mouthful of choppers to arrive. 

PS. I take it back about the lack of celebrity endorsements: Sophie La Girafe's UK homepage features Harlow Madden (who is none other than Nicole Ritchie's daughter - not that you'd know from the name) having a good old chomp. Looks like Sophie's underground days are numbered. 

Monday, December 15, 2008

Missing: kitchen kudos

If writers get writers' block when they can't think of something to write, then what happens to chefs when they can't come up with a new recipe? I ask because I used to think myself fairly handy in the kitchen. I'd count a quick post work game of Ready Steady Cook using the dregs of the weekly vegetable box and our kitchen cupboard as relaxation. Back in Tbilisi, I even used to fancy myself as a bit of a Nigella mark two: true, her  cookery column was for Vogue while mine appeared in  the Georgian Times but I saw that as a mere detail. 

That, however, was all B.L. I refer, of course, to the time before I had Louis. The days when my brain was my own and I took having two hands at my disposal for granted. Becoming a Mom has done something funny to my culinary imagination, turning my mind to Jello when I try to think of anything to cook. And I don't mean funny ha-ha. I see now why pregnancy books tell you to stock your freezers full of homemade meals before the baby turns up: post-partum you will struggle to think of anything to eat bar hummus and crackers. Sorry, I mean chips and dip. 

I now find planning meals up there with planning a wedding in the stressful stakes. And as for completing a supermarket shop in one go, forget it. Sometimes I go back to the store three times in a single day. And even then we can be out of milk come morning. Occasionally I imagine I have re-found smidgeons of my previous kitchen kudos. I made a passably good stuffed aubergine dish when Mum came, and I can knock up a decent stir fry. But then I'll go and do something truly awful, like the butternut squash and spinach lasagne I invented the other night when John invited a couple of work friends. Why? (As an aside, I'm convinced US butternut squashes are way sweeter than their UK counterparts, like everything here, but that's an entry for another time.)

There is one flip side of having Louis though. Now that he's started solids, I've found a level of cooking I can cope with. Steaming and whizzing a batch of carrots was strangely satisfying the other night. And judging by Louis' face after he'd finished eating, it hit the spot for him too. It's no picnic though, preparing baby food. I realise now why it took one friend the best part of her Sundays to prepare her son's weekly meals. At the time, I thought she must have exaggerated how long it took to mash up a few veggies, but I take it all back. It's time consuming stuff. If you don't believe me, try shoving four giant sweet potatoes through a sieve. (Daddy J pleaded sweet potato elbow after just five minutes of helping me.) What I'll do when Louis gets on to needing more sophisticated combinations I'm not sure. I can already imagine turning to the very Annabel Karmel baby recipes I seem to recall scoffing at back in the days B.L. 

Not breakfast in bed but Louis in his makeshift Boston hotel room highchair...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Louis Boston

I'm the kind of person who walks through life looking for signs. I'm also the kind of person who walks through cities trying to picture myself living there. So I clearly thought Fate was working overtime when I stumbled upon a store called - wait for it - Louis Boston - when wandering through, yes, Boston last week. And not just any store, either. A super high end, Barneys eat-your-heart-out kind of a store. My kind of store, in other words. Well, in my dreams at least.

I'm not letting the fact that we couldn't even afford a roll of wrapping paper interfere with the message I'm sure some higher force was sending me. (Or the fact that the store was so baby unfriendly that without Daddy J's help Master Louis Boston himself would never have seen the inside. Honestly, for a country that's supposedly so litigious I'm staggered at how hard it would be to get around in a wheelchair. Haven't the Yanks heard of ramps?)

We were in Boston, clocking up Louis' fourth American state in three months, to visit Grandma Penny who was there for her firm's holiday party. And a week's work, of course. She kindly squeezed us into her hotel room, which was no mean feat given we needed a crib as well. With Louis in tow we did less of the hard core history buff stuff that I'd done when there a decade or so ago with Mum and Grandpa and more of the street pounding, imaginary flat hunting sort of stuff that is my favourite sort of city sight seeing. 

Louis Boston aside, DJ's highlight was the Mapparium, a 3m high glass model of the globe that you can walk through. Built in 1935, it's on show at the city's Christian Science Plaza. Excitingly for the young newspups among us, the Mapparium was inspired by the New York Daily News' spinning globe back when the Christian Science Monitor was a newspaper to be reckoned with. Given DJ's map obsession, getting to stand in the centre of a giant globe was like all his birthdays and Christmases coming at once. Louis thought it was pretty cool too, especially the acoustics: his "Mamamamamaing" reverberated superbly around the world, bouncing from the Soviet Union to French West Africa via British India. (Geopolitically, the world is stuck with its pre-WWII territorial boundaries.) 

Other Boston sights we managed to tick off included Harvard, John Kerry's house and JP Licks - a famous ice-cream joint that had come highly recommended by one of my American Mom friends who went to school there. Aside from brushing up my revolutionary American history, the best fact I learnt during our stay was that Bostonians eat more ice cream per capita than any other US citizens. Quite a feat given how cold it can - and did - get. Something to look forward to when we settle down there!