Saturday, September 29, 2012

Dear Ellie - Six Months

My dear Ellie,

As of today, half a year has passed since the day you were born. As usual, I cannot believe it. I feel like these six months have flown by, and I know that now I will blink and all of a sudden it will be your first birthday. I love watching you grow and change so much, but I just feel like it's going so fast and I'm trying desperately to preserve each and every moment of your life in my mind. It breaks my heart that your newborn days already seem like a distant memory.

You are getting to be such a big girl. You sit up unassisted very well now, and we can just sit on the floor with you and play for long stretches of time. You continue to be extremely observant and inquisitive, and "playing" for you at this point still means close inspection of the toy that has found its way into your hand, followed by a quick move to put it right in your mouth, and then inevitably throwing it to the ground. Some of your favorite toys this month are your musical radio toy, Sophie the Giraffe, your tag toy, your butterfly, and a handful of pacifiers that we finally gave you to just play with, considering that we still had them laying around and you never did like them for comfort. You do, however, like to chew on them, and many times I have found you using the nipple part as a handle while you chew on the edges. Whatever works, my dear.

As for your favorite "toys" that aren't really toys, you are still a big fan of the remote control, our iPhones (both for chewing on and watching videos of yourself, which always makes you smile), and our glasses. You have become a pro at snatching glasses off our faces, so much so that while I was at the eye doctor yesterday I was inspired to order smudge-proof lenses on my new pair of glasses. Sometimes I'll even be nursing you on my lap and you'll stop, look up at me, grab my glasses off my face and toss them aside, then resume your meal. I must admit, it's funny enough that I don't mind the blurred vision and lenses covered in tiny fingerprints and tongue smudges.

You still can't roll from your belly to your back. STILL. How many months have I been saying this now? You're so strong yet this skill is still giving you trouble. At least you have become much more tolerant of tummy time. In fact, you now prefer to sleep on your belly and roll right over when we lay you down at night, and stay that way until you wake up in the morning. Sure, you still generally wake up mad, but we quickly learned that trying to roll you back over during the night was pointless, as you would almost immediately roll back onto your tummy. Hopefully you can figure out how to go back by the time you leave for college.

Just within the last week or so, it seems you really want to move. You have been a bit fussier than usual the past few days, and it seems that the reason for your displeasure is that you want to get going already but can't really make it happen. You will see a toy (or Achilles) in front of you and bounce up and down, desperately reaching forward and trying to make your way to the object of your desire. Your arms are ready to move forward, but your back end hasn't figured it out yet. Sometimes you try to go forward and end up in a face plant, other times you just bounce up and down, and sometimes your excited movements lead to scooting backwards, even further from where you want to go! I can see how this would be quite frustrating, so I'm doing my best to help you figure it all out. However, THERE IS NO RUSH HERE, BABY. I get the feeling that a mobile Ellie will keep me very much on my toes. As excited as I am to see you reach these next milestones, the very idea makes me ready for a nap.

Speaking of napping, that has been a project this month. I decided that it was time for you to nap in your crib and we just went for it. I cherished our last few cuddly naps together, and then made the transition. It was very difficult at first but you quickly caught on, and you even took a full two-hour nap in the crib by yourself on the very first day of this new routine. I was so, so proud of you! I knew you could do it. We still struggle sometimes, and we're currently working on making longer naps more consistent (you most frequently only nap 30 minutes these days), but I think we'll get there. You have also moved your morning wake-up time to 5:30 a.m. in the past week, which is something else we wouldn't mind seeing extended. But as usual, you sleep so well at night that we don't have any room to complain about any other sleep habits. We're very lucky!

This coming month, you will be starting solid food for the first time. Today marks six months of exclusive breastfeeding for us, which was a goal I set for myself and am so proud of us for reaching it. It gives me such a great feeling to know that you have grown and thrived for your first half year with only what I have been able to provide - what a cool thing! I know breastfeeding can be such a struggle for so many, and I realize how blessed we were that it really went very smoothly for us. Even with the easy time we had, there were still days when it was tempting to throw in the towel. I'm so proud of us for making it this far, and I have loved the closeness we have been able to share during your mealtimes, especially early in the morning when we cuddle close in bed together. And now, I'm very excited to start introducing you to new foods. I can't wait to see what you think of everything and figure out what your favorites are. As silly as it may be, I'm ridiculously excited by the thought that you will be able to eat a baby version of a Thanksgiving dinner with us this year. This whole food thing is going to be a very fun new adventure for you!

I think a major theme of this past month has been that you consistently impress me. Gone are the days of me whining that I can't take you anywhere or do anything, of feeling trapped, feeling like life would never be any kind of normal again. Now, we are able to take you places. We go to play groups and other meetings regularly. We have gone to the movies, to Fashions Night Out, celebrity-watching and sightseeing. Each time, after the event is over I find myself saying to your daddy, "She was so good." And you were. I am constantly amazed by what you are able to do, how you handle everything in stride and even seem to enjoy these new experiences. At the very least, you are a trooper and are very patient with your crazy parents who love to drag you around town. I love that we've been able to give you these experiences, and I am especially looking forward to being able to do more someday in the future when you will actually remember them!

Ellie, you amaze me every single day. I am just so in awe of you. Here you are, only/already six months old, this perfect, beautiful, funny, smart, curious, happy, wiggly, delightful little girl that I really get to call my daughter. It's all still so surreal. I still can't believe I'm somebody's mama, and I especially can't believe my luck that that somebody is you - perfect, wonderful, lovely little you. I am so, so thankful for you and I love you more than I could ever say. I am so incredibly blessed to have you and your daddy as my family.

Happy Six Months, Sunshine.

All my love,

* * * * *

Dear Ellie,

Happy six months! You are officially halfway to your very first birthday. (Incidentally, I am also halfway done writing you these letters.) As of today, you are doing a lot of cool things and are just so much fun to hang out with.

This month you started and basically mastered sitting up, and it already seems like you want to get moving. You are now leaning, folding and twisting from all positions and you look like you are trying to figure out how to go get the things you used to carefully observe. We'll see how long it actually takes you to start crawling given that you still haven't really gotten the hang of rolling from front to back, despite doing it for the first time months ago. For now, it is fun to watch you grow and figure out how your body works.

In any event, sitting up on your own means we can actually play together. Several times a day, we will put you on the alphabet floor mat and your mommy or I, or both of us, will hand you toy after toy so you can inspect it, taste it, throw it down and pick it back up. Sometimes, we even sit with a book and read to you while you watch and talk to the pages. These play times are frequently accompanied by music and almost never involve background television. Honestly, it's not because we are trying to follow the literature to make sure that you end up being super smart, but rather because you seem to like the music and you are cuter and more interesting than anything on TV.

In general, I would describe month six as another happy one. While it's true that you have had a few "off" days, it's hard to hold these against you. As I said before, you are working on all kinds of new movements and you have started napping, or at least trying to nap, on your own this month. I understand these things can make it difficult for babies to sit back and enjoy regular life, so I hope you keep continuing to make steady progress. As for the solo naps, although they promise to do wonders for Mommy's free time, they are still very much a work-in-progress. I will leave the details to her letter, but I really hope you make great use of this skill, because, even though you have been pretty good at getting the hang of it, the cost in listening to you cry has been pretty steep.

While I know you have no chance of remembering any of the things we have been up to, I sincerely hope I never forget how precious you are right now. One of my favorite things in the whole world is to sit and stare at you while we play. Even though I am making all the faces I can think of to get you to smile, finding a successful one is so surreally awesome that I feel like I am having an out-of-body experience. I can't think of any other way to describe it than to say how wonderfully present I feel while it is happening.

Thank you, baby girl, for being so great. Though, in fairness, I can probably take at least half the credit!

All my love,

Friday, September 28, 2012

Big Brother Achilles

Today is Achilles' 9th birthday! Or, to be more precise, it is the 8th anniversary of the day we adopted him from a shelter in Gainesville. He was a year old at the time, sporting a black snout that has long since turned gray, and was even crazier than he is today (hard to believe that's possible, am I right?). Those were the days of chewing through doors, leading us on wild goose-chases around the neighborhood, and barking at every person that was not either Eric or me. He sure was cute, but man, he had some issues. I loved him to pieces, though.

Vintage Achilles, at two years old

Of course, his issues may have lessened over time, but some have been hard to break. These have been well-documented on the blog (see here and here for separation anxiety, or here for smoke detector get the picture). Needless to say, some of these issues, coupled with the fact that he is my "first baby," made me a little uncertain about how Achilles would handle the addition of his new little (human) sister to our family. My gut told me that he would be unsure or maybe even jealous at first, but in time would come around. Still, I couldn't help but be a little worried.

Achilles cuddling with my belly as his days as an only child near their end

As it turns out, I had absolutely nothing to worry about. Achilles is a wonderful big dog brother! I never should have doubted him.

When we first brought Ellie home from the hospital, Achilles was very curious. We had this whole big plan to introduce them: we would keep Ellie in her bassinet while Achilles said hello to me, and then when he settled, we would give him a (very closely supervised) first look at his baby sister. However, this plan was foiled when Achilles said hello to me on the couch and caught sight of Ellie's little arm waving in the air over the top of her bassinet. From then on, he just wanted a good look at this new little furless puppy we had brought home.

Achilles and Ellie on their first day together

Early days of sibling love

He would get really interested when Ellie would cry. For the first few nights, every time she made a peep, he would rush over to peek into her crib to see what the fuss was about.

Why so sad, little baby?

After the first couple of weeks, Achilles' interest turned to indifference. He mostly just steered clear and tried to pretend like she wasn't happening.

Achilles is desperately trying to stay in denial.

He did occasionally try to "reclaim" me. I would try to cuddle with him and show him some love when I could, but unfortunately, I often had to remind him that he had moved down a notch on the family totem pole. Luckily, for the most part, Achilles seemed to understand and was happy with what he could get. And, Eric has really filled in the role of Best Friend To The Dog since I have become a bit preoccupied.

Achilles taking any cuddles he can get from all members of his family

As a side note, I will admit that I have felt pretty terrible that my patience with Achilles often runs thin. It's as if I expected him to step up and do what he could to help make my life easier now that I have a baby - as if he would understand that his role as big dog brother is to help Mama out while she focuses on the new baby, as if he could magically cure himself of any and all previous issues just because I brought a baby into the house. Clearly, this is a stupid expectation and totally unfair to Achilles, because this is a big upheaval for him, too. And, you know, as smart as he is, he's still a dog. I'm trying to mellow out some, and I think we are all getting into a groove now so it's getting better. He has been so good so really, I can't complain. He's good with Ellie and he forgives me easily when I get short with him! What a sweet pup.

And lately, Achilles really has been a wonderful big brother. When we returned from our Florida/Cleveland trips, it was like something clicked and all of a sudden Ellie and Achilles really took notice of each other. Well, Ellie noticed him, at least! Our first day back at home from our travels, she only had eyes for Achilles and smiled and laughed when she saw him.

VIDEO: Ellie cracking up at Achilles!

Achilles took notice of her, too, although not by choice - her newly-grabby hands forced him to acknowledge her!

Yes, we're already working on the term "gentle" with Ellie. We'll get there soon, Achilles, don't worry!

Despite her tendency to pinch and yank, Achilles quickly learned that Ellie isn't all that bad. In fact, she is a whole new person to lick - and, even better, one who cannot yet tell him to stop!

If he thinks this is fun now, just wait until she starts eating real food!

VIDEO: Ellie on the receiving end of some Achilles kisses!

Plus, Ellie gets to go for a lot of walks. Achilles doesn't always get to come, but he definitely walks more now than he did in his only child days. I don't think he hates that.

Out and about with the kids

And, now he has a partner to dress up with for holidays and themed photo shoots. I'm sure he's not too torn up that some of the focus has been taken off him.

We're already thinking about plans for Halloween, so I hope these two are ready...

Achilles is always very patient and gentle with Ellie. She can kick, pull and tug at him with little to no reaction from a normally very reactive pooch. It's very sweet. Achilles is a very attentive big brother, too - always quick to come check on Ellie when she is upset.

Don't cry, sister!

And really, these two seem to just enjoy hanging out together.

Best buds!

It's just so sweet to watch my two "kids" interacting and becoming friends. I know they will only bond more and more as the years pass.

I'm so thankful to have such a sweet pup, one who is so loyal and loving, who has so seamlessly welcomed our new addition into our pack. Despite all the craziness he has put us through over the years, he really is a very good dog and we're lucky to have him.

Happy birthday to my "firstborn," my precious little Achilles!

Birthday boy!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Day With the Rays

Two Fridays ago, through the magic of Twitter we learned that a few of the Tampa Bay Rays players would be making an appearance at the MLB Fan Cave in the Village. The tweet in question mentioned that said players would be handing out free pizza. In order to get a piece of this free Rays Pizza (a play on words that tickled me so - get it? Like the actual Ray's Pizza?) you had to throw a strike with a wiffle ball.

At least one of the members of my family is a super baseball fan, so we knew we had to go. We just couldn't let Ellie down. (Ha!)

The event was said to begin at 11:30, but thanks to the Baby Time Warp (in which time just seems to disappear, and all of a sudden you're like, "wait, it's what time? Where did that half hour go?!"), we were late. No worries, because they were waiting on one of the players and didn't actually get started until 12:30, so at least we weren't the latest. When we arrived, there was a Line #1 in the front of the Fan Cave, and Line #2 along the side of the building. We took our place at the back of Line #2 and made conversation with the guy behind us, who was a dedicated Rays fan from Tampa and had flown up for the weekend to go to all three Yankees v. Rays games!

Lines around the Fan Cave

The line consisted of both Yankees and Rays fans alike - even dogs!

The players in attendance were Evan Longoria, Matt Moore and Rich Thompson. To kick off the event, they did some interviews and threw a few strikes themselves.

Rich Thompson, Evan Longoria and an obscured Matt Moore

Longoria ready to throw some strikes

The set-up - you to throw a strike into that opening on the far right (behind the ladder)

Longoria's girlfriend, Jaime Edmondson, was also in attendance, and she LOVED Ellie!

We had been warned that because the Rays didn't have much time, those of us at the back of the line might not get our turn to meet them and throw a strike (perhaps the Rays should have been on time then, but I digress). However, once they started letting the fans have their turn, the line moved pretty quickly and soon Line #2 took over the place of Line #1. We were so close!

A couple of Rays fans waiting in line

As we neared the front of the line, one of the event coordinator guys came over and said they were stopping the line and the group in front of us would be the last to get a chance to meet the Rays! Luckily, Eric thought to think up and said, "But what about the baby?!" and hold Ellie up for all to see. And who could say no to a baby? So naturally, the guy relented and said, "Okay, the baby is the last one." We made it! Yes!

When we got to the front of the line, Ellie met Matt Moore. He even asked her name and spoke to her for a minute or two.

Ellie, Eric and Matt Moore

"Hi, Ellie!"

Then, she and Eric met Evan Longoria.

She's super impressed.

Eric had his turn to throw a strike, and naturally, he did. Unfortunately, I was too sidetracked to remember to snap a picture of his throw. Sorry, Eric! They had plenty of pizza left, so we all got a slice (even folks like me who did not earn one).

Ellie is going for that pizza. In about two seconds she's going to have a fistful of cheese and marinara.

The Fan Cave posted a video of all the fun, including a cameo by Eric behind Longoria at 2:21 and all three of us as they show the whole crowd! Ellie was right next to Longoria!

VIDEO: Go Rays! (Ellie is even in the thumbnail for the video! See her on the right?)

There's Eric!

See the three of us in the crowd? Ellie is totally into Evan.

We ate our Rays pizza as we walked over to Washington Square Park, where we hung out for a bit.

Fountain rainbow!

Ellie's first time at Washington Square Park

We enjoyed some nice music...

VIDEO: Musicians in Washington Square Park

...admired some chalk art...

I thought this was beautiful.

This way!

...and had an overall nice time.

My sweet girl enjoying the day (I love her untied shoelace!)

From there we walked over to Union Square for a very productive shopping trip at Babies 'R Us. Then it was time to head home, because some of us were just plumb tuckered out.

Meeting baseball players is exhausting.

It was just one of those wonderful New York days. The weather was beautiful and there were such fun things to do and see. Every bit of it was perfection. This city is just the greatest place ever.

And, just for good measure, here is a picture of the cutest Rays fan there ever was, modeling her new floor mat we bought at Babies 'R Us on that perfect New York day:

Go Rays!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Hoboken Italian Festival 2012

Two weeks ago Hoboken held it's annual Italian Festival, touted as "the premiere Italian-American festival in the New Jersey tri-state area." We stopped by last year while my sister was in town, and enjoyed some delicious cannolis and fun carnival games. A good time was had by all, so we made plans to check out this year's festival, too.

The festival runs for four days, each boasting live music and lots of fun, but we only went out on Sunday, the final day. It was a beautiful evening.

We got outside just in time to catch the tail end of the procession, which started at 2:00 p.m. and snaked its way all through Hoboken.

The procession walking north on Sinatra Drive

The band

As the procession moved on, we just wandered along Sinatra Drive to check out all the vendors, games and rides.

The Italian Festival



Having fun with my little Italian girl

We stopped for an order of fried ravioli, which was delicious. We hung out in Sinatra Park while we ate and listened to the live music.

My husband and our fried ravioli. Both look quite delicious, if I do say so myself.

Come to mama.

Sinatra Park

Scenes from the festival

By the stage in Sinatra Park


When we finished eating, we did a little more wandering before heading back inside for dinner and bedtime. Oh, such an exciting life we lead!

Eric and Ellie at the festival

Sweetie pie

The whole festival ended with a fireworks display. We took Achilles downstairs to this last year, but this year I stayed at home with the babe and the pup while Eric went solo. They set off the fireworks from Pier A, which is maybe a quarter mile away, and they're just so loud. Poor Achilles could barely stand it last year, so this year we stayed put and I turned on just about every source of white noise I could think of to keep the noise to a minimum for my sleeping baby. Eric did a great job taking photos though!

Doesn't the Freedom Tower also look gorgeous these days? It was red, white and blue (the red is at the very bottom, hard to see)

I just love Hoboken - you can have fun events like this in your own neighborhood, plus all the fun of the city. We're so lucky to be here!