Monday, June 29, 2009

Tripp Trapp

When The Right Start went out of business in my area, I was very disappointed. I loved that store from before the Z-man was born in Chicago and was so excited that one had opened here in The Woodlands before Little Ladybug was born. It was so convenient to go in there to get all of the handy gadgets that make parenting easier. Plus, they had great toys so my kids were entertained while I shopped and a clean restroom and changing table. All in all, it was a frequent destination of mine and I was bummed to see them go.

However, I did manage to score some good deals when they were closing. I had always wanted a Tripp Trapp high chair but had never wanted to spend $300 on it. However at 40% off, I pulled the trigger. From about 5 months on, Little Ladybug has been in her Tripp Trapp and we have been loving it. It is modern, stylish, simple and puts her at the table with us rather than behind a huge plastic tray. We have found this to be both convenient and pleasant as she seems to be more a part of things sitting with us at the table. Plus, it is all open so it is really easy to clean. There are no creases and crevices for food to hide in.

We have the Tripp Trapp and the baby rail. At first, we didn't use the shoulder straps because they are just kind of a pain and the baby chair had been keeping her pretty contained. However, lately the Little Ladybug is becoming a big shot. First she was standing up on the foot rest. No problem; it was easy to lower it down. Then, she was pulling one foot up onto the seat and trying to climb out.

This child will definitely not be like her brother, who to this day, at three and a half could not and would not climb out of a crib. Z-man has been in a big boy bed for months and is really good about not getting out until it is time to wake up. But, a few weeks ago, he got "stuck" in his sister's crib and did not even attempt to get out of there. She is 9 months old and I can see her already trying to figure out how to get out of there. One day I forgot to put the rail all the way up and I got her from her nap and she was standing up, holding on, trying to put her leg over the side. No, I am not kidding!

Anyways, in addition to trying to pull up on everything, Little Ladybug wants to eat big people's food. She wants to feed herself. The problem is, the chair is pulled up to my round table. So, as she learns her pincher grasp and tries to pick up her food, she is dropping a great deal of it on either side of her chair. My dog is sitting there, waiting to pick up any morsel that she drops. However, the dog is getting older and we don't want to make her sick from eating too much people food. So, until the Little Ladybug learns to eat neater, this chair will not work for her and we had to drag the big, ugly plastic one down from the attic. Yuck!

But, all was not lost. We took off the baby rail, made some adjustments and now the Z man has a seat at the table that is just the right height for him. He does not have to sit on his knees to reach the table and he can now begin to eat a little bit more neatly. Yay! The Tripp Trapp will be with us for years to come.

Summer Cravings

It is so f-ing hot here! When I step outside, I often get the feeling that there must be an oven or a furnace open and if I take a couple of more steps, it will return to normal. But then I realize that, no, all of outside is an oven or furnace and this is normal until at least October. Just disgustingly, brutally, stickily hot.

Last summer I was very pregnant and it was so much worse. I would often say, "I hate outside!" after just exposing myself for a few seconds. This year is much better; I can bear it for a few minutes at a time. However, I realize that my constant cravings from last summer had much less to do with pregnancy and more to do with trying to stay hydrated and refreshed. I managed to not gain a ridiculous amount of weight with my last pregnancy because it was just too hot to eat and all I wanted to do was eat watermelon and drink lemonade (and sleep . . . )

Well, thank goodness I am not pregnant this summer (and NEVER plan to be so ever again. I am not a good pregnant person. I have two amazing little kids. But I digress . . . ) Still, I find myself once again only wanting to eat watermelon and drink lemonade. Local watermelons are in season and I am getting one weekly at the farmer's market and cutting it up to snack on all week. Pretty healthy, though all of the sugar in it does add up when I am eating plate after plate of it. Luckily, I have found a very lo-cal way of satisfying my lemonade craving. Chick-fil-a makes diet lemonade with that is so good! It has the perfect puckering tartness, real pieces of lemon, and is sweetened with Splenda, my very favorite calorie free sweetener.

In the past week, I have gone through their drive-through daily to get my large diet lemonade. It has become quite the addiction. So, yesterday after grocery shopping, I pulled in only to see that they were closed. The horror! Who ever heard of a fast food joint being closed on a Sunday? F-ing Bible belt! So, today I got smart. I got in line at the drive through and ordered a gallon to go. Now I don't have to worry about them being closed and can quench my thirst and my craving any time I want.

On another note, I hope that someday they don't find that Splenda will kill you because I will be a goner for sure!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Beddy Bye Time

Sometimes I have NO patience for my kids. Heck, some days I have no patience for them. Part of it is because they are both at ages and stages where they need so much attention. Part of it is that I am selfish and really want my Mommy time and Mommy space. But lately it is because MrRuckus has been working so much and such long hours that I just don't really get a break until after they go to bed.

I realize that I am extremely fortunate. I get to stay home to care for my kids and have the flexibility to spend time with MrRuckus when he does have time off. When he is home, MrRuckus is 100% hands on and does whatever needs doing for the kids. We have the means to get sitters whenever we want to go out or if I do need a break. There is great child care at my gym and I use it for the full two allotted hours a few times a week. But still, I do lose patience with my kids more than I want to admit.

However, no matter how tired and drained I might be at the end of the day, I love bedtime lately. 3 year old Z-man and Little Ladybug are so in love with each other and have been playing so nicely together (she trying to do whatever he does), that I now try to put them to bed at the same time. I put them both in the bath, her in her little safety seat, him right next to her and they splash each other and trade bath toys back and forth. Then I get them both in "gagamas", brush teeth and we all read a book on the Z-man's bed. Little Ladybug loves to be up on his bed and snuggles right onto his pillow. After the book, Z-man says, "let's cuddle" and we all have a cuddle and lots of kisses. Then I take the little Ladybug, nurse and rock her until she is drowsy, put her in her little crib, come downstairs and feel all content.

And now I get that mommy time!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bacon and Chocolate

I have been a huge fan of Vosges chocolate since we lived in Chicago, where the company began and is based.  They make really high quality chocolates with interesting flavors.  When they first started in Chicago, they had a small boutique in Lincoln Park, just down the street from our apartment.  I would treat myself to one of the delicious and beautiful little truffles every time I was there on Armitage, window shopping and walking.  They have such a great design scheme, and truly innovative flavors; it really made an impression.

But, alas, I thought that I left that (and many other tasty treasures) in the windy city.  Then I found some Vosges chocolates the other day at Hubbell and Hudson.  I should have known that a company as cool as Vosges would be busy expanding in the intervening years since I last tasted their delicacies.  Of course, I bought a couple of bars to try the new flavors!

Last night, in my bath, I had a square of the red fire bar.  It is dark chocolate with chipotle chiles and cinnamon and was perfect to savor slowly.  

Today, after a delicious lunch of BLTs on fresh, homemade french bread with homemade garlic- saffron aioli, I thought that a piece of Mo's Bacon Bar would be the perfect little sweet.  Bacon and chocolate, how could you go wrong?  Salty, tangy, chocolaty and rich!  Perfect.  Welcome to Texas, Vosges!  I hope to see a lot of you.

Bacon + Chocolate - Mo's Bacon Bar - New

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Swimming School Dropout

This week, the Z-man began a series of private swim lessons at the "new gym" (this is it's name around here, even between MrRuckus and myself).  Their schedule for group lessons didn't work for us, and we know that the Z-man does not like to be taught anything.  At all!  First of all, this kid is stubborn (must get that from his dad).  When he makes up his mind about something, there is no budging him.  Secondly, he is a bit if a wuss.  Third of all, he hates to try new physical skills. And, fourth, he is completely uncoordinated.  As in could not jump with two feet off of the ground until last month (he is 3 and a half!)

So, for swimming, we knew that us trying to teach him was only going to be a battle of wills and that, because at some point he is bound to win the battle, it should not be about swimming.  Thus, I signed him up for a package of six private lessons.  He loves to be in the pool, so I thought that he was going to actually do really well at it.  I didn't think that he would be skilled like my friend K's son, who is turning 4 this month and can already do the butterfly, but I was hopeful for a head under and a doggy paddle.

Until Tuesday's class, every time the Z-man goes in the pool, he has worn a flotation vest.  This has worked extremely well for us as he is very buoyant in it and has the confidence to flutter kick his little legs around the pool.  We even moved him this year to a less buoyant vest and he is able to stay (mostly) above the water.  So, on Tuesday he went into the pool with the instructor and sank like a stone.  Seriously!  Some kids are floaters and some are stones. That kid is a boulder!

But, for a half an hour, I watched Z and his instructor kick around the pool and tried to stay out of it and let them do their thing. (Is it bad that I was admiring this teenager's tanned, defined torso and not paying much attention to much else?  Bad Mommy!)  At the end of the lesson, the instructor told me that he has to work on floating on his back in order for him to learn to swim.

So, yesterday afternoon MrRuckus and I brought the Z man and the Little Ladybug into the pool.  9 month old ladybug loves the pool. Kicks her little feet and squeals with delight.  Loves to go on her back, even tolerates being splashed in the face.  The Z-man?  Not so much.  Only wants to push his toys around the water.  We both tried so hard to get him to float on his back but he screamed and would not release his vice grip on our necks.  We put him on a pool float to lie back and you would have thought we were waterboarding him.  Yet he was willing to try to swim a few feet under water, kicking like mad, to get from one of us to the other.  Go figure!

Fast forward to this afternoon's class.  First, the instructor decided to use the inside pool as there would be fewer distractions.  (Damn!  Then I couldn't stare at him!)  So, I took the Ladybug outside and played with her.  15 minutes later, Z-man is brought to me in instructor's arms.  I was told that he would not cooperate and that when the back float was attempted, he pitched a fit and refused to swim any more and did I want him to force the Z man to cooperate?  Sort of !  I can't make him do it, maybe he can!  But, I said that I didn't think that was a good idea.  So, the instructor said that there is not much they can do until he can float on his back, that it is not really safe for him to be in the pool without that skill, and I should cancel the rest of my lessons until he is ready to do that because it is a waste to just kick him around the shallow end.  

I was so pissed!  Not at the instructor.  I think he was correct - it is dangerous for him to be in the pool without him able to back float and get himself to the surface where he can breathe.  And, it is a waste of money to have him kick around holding on to the instructor.  He basically does this in his floatie vest at home.  No, I was pissed at my wussy, stubborn son because I don't know how to get him to do this.  I can't make him and he won't do it until he is ready.  We are at a standoff!

But, oh he is so sweet and so smart and so funny and so considerate.  So, maybe he is destined to never do anything athletic.  Maybe his sister is the great hope! 

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Easy Summer Dinner

We made such a fantastic dinner tonight and it was so easy!  This past month's Cookie magazine (I agree with Yummy Mummy about why this is the best) had a recipe for blender soups and we decided to try one today.  It was so good, I licked my bowl:

1 avocado
1 cucumber (seeded)
1/2 cup fat free greek yogurt, 1/2 cup skim milk (the Cookie recipe called for 1 cup buttermilk but we used these substitutions)
1 Tbsp shallot
juice from 1/2 lemon
cumin and salt to taste

Put it in the blender and whir it all together

This afternoon, after lunch at Hubbell and Hudson, we bought some sea bass for dinner and the preparation of this was equally easy and delicious:

1 cup wine
1/2 cup red miso paste (I keep this in the fridge, it lasts forever and is such a good flavoring)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp ginger powder

Mix together and marinate fish for 2-6 hours.  Then put it on the grill on medium high heat for 6 minutes per side.

We had slow roasted some sweet potatoes and had these along side and some blueberries for dessert.  Oh! And I finally broke into that fancy box-o-wine (Washington Hills) that was light, sweet and paired well with everything.

As Backpack would say, "yum, yum, yum!  Delicioso!"


After last week's disastrous date night (way too much wine resulting in a very sick MsRuckus), we were determined to be a little more mellow.  As we have been sampling many of Houston's finest restaurants lately, we thought that it was high time that we try Hugo's, known around town as one of Houston's best restaurants and one of the best Mexican restaurants in the country.

Though they have an amazingly well thought out wine list, I had their $28 margarita, listed on the menu as the "best margarita you'll ever have".  I had to try it, and while very good, I am not sure if it was head and shoulders above all others.

Our meal was really great, starting with goat cheese stuffed squash blossoms and the grasshopper appetizer.  Yes, grasshoppers! If there is something interesting on a menu, we always have to try it.  These were just little ones, sauteed with onions.  By themselves they were slightly crunchy and grassy.  In the blue corn tortillas with a little avocado and sauce, they were crunchy, grassy and delightful.  We then had the slow roasted goat and lamb.  Both were tender and delicious.  However, the true highlight of the evening was the dessert course.  I had churros with a variety of sauces served with a big bowl of Mexican hot chocolate. The churros were fresh and lightly dusted with cinnamon and sugar. The chocolate and caramel sauces were finger licking good, but that hot chocolate!  Rich, cream, spicy and utterly delicious.  MrRuckus had a bread pudding that was divine as well.  I can't wait to go back. It would be so much fun to go with a big party for a birthday dinner.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

NY Weekend

Though I was just in NJ/NY last week, that trip wasn't planned.  My mom had surgery for which I wanted to be there, so I booked a trip last minute.  She is doing much better now, but I went back to NJ this weekend for a long planned trip.  I wanted to bring my baby girl to see her grandparents and to do a number of other things.  It couldn't have worked out better.  Getting to see my mom up and about was a highlight.  

In addition to the little Ladybug, I brought a good friend with me since MrRuckus decided to stay home and have a boys' weekend with the Z-man and his brother.  So we had a girls' weekend with my sisters and a little bit of time with mom and dad.  Luckily for me, they all got a chance to spend some QT with the Ladybug while my friend L and I had some QT with the city.  For a day and a half we walked, ate and shopped in my favorite city in the world.  NY in perfect weather, with great company and lots on sale, what could be better?  

Started out by showing L the Union Square Greenmarket, then wandering through the Village and SoHo.  We just wandered in and out of stores, purchasing trinkets from street vendors.  We finally made our way to Magnolia Bakery and took our cupcakes to the park across the street to get our "fix".  

We then went to a shoe store where I purchased one of my all time favorite pairs of shoes years before and each had luck finding something that fit our styles perfectly.  Shopping bags in hand, we headed back uptown through the meatpacking district.

Now, this area I do not know very well at all, so we were just wandering.  Then, all of a sudden, we passed a shop with windows filled with beautiful shoes with red soles.  My heart, literally, started beating faster.

We were standing outside of the Christian Louboutin store and I hadn't even planned it!  I have wanted a pair of Louboutins for years, but have never pulled the trigger as they are usually so pricey.  We immediately went in and started delighting in the beautiful array of shoes only to hear that an entire wall of the store had a sale going on.  At this point, I was practically hyperventilating.  I spotted a pair of shoes that was very much my style: basically simple with a rock and roll edge.  And, they had my size!  These babies have 5.5 inch heels and a pewter platform in front and are so beautiful and make me feel so good (except at the end of the night after walking many blocks, but that was my fault, not the shoes).  Buying them was one of my most exciting shopping moments EVER!

That night, we went to the chic bar at our hotel, none other than the Palace, (home of Serena Van der Woodsen) and then on to dinner at Asia de Cuba (Cuba being the thing that brought us to NY that weekend in the first place).  The restaurant was quite good and was still trendy, stylish and lots of fun.   Went back to the room and feel asleep watching Confessions of a Shopaholic (fitting for the weekend).

Sunday morning dawned (okay 9:30 a.m.) bright and beautiful.  Here is the view from our room, St. Patrick's right there and all the way to the Hudson in the distance:

We had a delicious brunch at Fred's and then spent the next two hours exploring every other floor of Barney's.  L decided that she loved Barney's so much that she wanted to live there!  Barney's also had a huge sale going on, but we restrained ourselves and only bought presents there for our families and nothing for ourselves.  Then we went back to the room, checked out, and took the bus to Hoboken.

The whole purpose of the weekend was to attend the opening of my father's first one man gallery exhibit.  The Almanac Gallery in Hoboken showed a collection of his recent photos of Miami and Cuba, and it was wonderful!  I was so proud of my father, who has been passionate about this work for so long.  Many of his friends and family members were there to support him and his work looked amazing hung together there.  

All in all, it was a great weekend.  I love and miss NY so much.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Greatest (Diaper) Bag

One of my original intentions in starting this blog was to share with people my favorite "finds", but lately all I have been writing about is food.  However, that is about to change.  

I am, without a doubt, a "bag lady".  I love bags, purses, clutches, even suitcases. Also, because I am also a mom of two little kids, I love diaper bags.  With the Z-man, I had a few of them, none of which I really loved.  But now, for the Ladybug, I have one ultra-fabulous, utilitarian and handsome diaper bag.

The Jamie by Storksak.  What originally sold me on this bag was the tough but supple leather and the overall unisex look to it, cool enough for me but manly enough for MrRuckus to carry.  (Brad Pitt carries this bag.  I have even seen pics of him carrying it without any of the kids in tow, though how he manages to get out of the house without having to take even one of them is a wonder.)  But, the more I have used it, the more I have loved it.  It has numerous internal pockets, some of which zip, for stowing extra clothes, Desitin, hand gel, breast pads, binkies, etc.  There are two insulated pockets for bottles, a really handy detachable key holder, and a folding changing mat.  It easily fits a laptop as well and has an external mobile pocket.  And, because it is a really light color inside, you can easily find everything.  However, the best thing about it is that once it is all broken in, it can hold so much stuff!

The dimensions of this bag are reasonable:  14"Hx12"Wx4"D.  However, it just swallows up whatever you give it and leaves you room for more.  Right now it is all packed up to take the Ladybug to see her grandparents in NJ (and have a little Mommy time in NYC with my friend "L") for the weekend.  So, currently inside this baby are:

  • 6 size 3 diapers
  • 3 swim diapers
  • an entire package of wipes
  • 2 changes of clothing
  • the changing pad that comes with it
  • a bottle
  • a tube of desitin and a hand gel
  • 4 packages of baby food
  • a pack-n-play sheet 
  • a copy of Goodnight Moon
  • my Medela breast pump and bottles
  • Some Fiber One bars for Mommy
All of that, and room to spare!  Unbelievable, right?  It is like one of those clown cars at the circus.  I love this bag, my husband loves this bag, the child care staff at the gym love this bag.  It goes over the handle of the stroller and is easy to sling over your shoulder or wear messenger style because of the adjustable strap.  I got mine new on eBay for about $175.  A quick check on finds it at a number of stores for about $200.  For this quality and utility, it's a bargain.

Plus, look at how lovely it is:

Monday, June 1, 2009

Farmer's Markets

I find it very difficult to get myself and my children out of the house quickly.  Well, I should rephrase that.  I find it very difficult to get myself out of the house quickly.  Getting the three of us out is sometimes close to impossible.  I just don't know what happens to time in the morning, but for me to get out of the house takes a bare minimum of 45 minutes, and this is with no shower and no latte.  If I need to do the whole routine plus kids, I need two hours.  So, I am really curious how I am going to get the Z-man to preschool next fall at 8 a.m. As it was this year, half of the days that I had to take him, I was still in my PJs and glasses and the baby was unchanged.  And school started at 9!  I really don't know how I am going to do it.  I am considering finding a different school just because I don't know if I can deal with the 8 a.m. preschool start.

Because of my slow-pokiness, I have NEVER made it to the Farmer's Market in Grogans Mill while there was any produce left.  But, last weekend I was determined to get there when it started at 8.  But, when we did get there at 9, we were all cleaned, dressed and fed, so I was pretty pleased with myself.  And, pleased with what I found there! Lots of fresh, seasonal produce, meats, eggs, breads and delicious Indian Food!  I had no problem walking around, getting what looked best from every stand (and parting with lots of cash.)  I plan to make this a weekly occurrence when we are in town. (It runs from 8-noon all Spring).

All last week, I was in NJ because my mom had surgery and I wanted to be with her and there for my sisters and my dad.  We were pretty busy running back and forth between their house and the hospital, but I did have some time to be in my favorite place in the world, NYC.  So, last Saturday, in an effort to stock their kitchen with fresh, healthy food to eat over the next week, my middle sister and I decided to go to the Union Square Greenmarket.

I loved every minute of being at that Farmers Market.  First of all, the day was gorgeous and the square was filled with thousands of people enjoying the day and the markets offerings.  So, the overall energy level of the neighborhood was just incredible.  Secondly, it is still mid-spring in the northeast and everything green is at its height.  We tasted so many delicious veggies and bought lots of them, filling our market bags quickly.  I only wished that I could have stayed to cook and eat the food with them, but I was returning to Texas the next day.

The Bryan Caswell Empire

One of the best things about living in The Woodlands is that it is less than an hour to Houston. One of the worst things about living in The Woodlands is that it is almost an hour to Houston.

A couple of weeks ago, we had a free day and it wasn't too hot, so we decided to try to take the kids to the zoo before schools let out for the summer.  I also had an ulterior motive: to try the sliders at Little Bigs, purported to open in Late Spring 2009.  So, we loaded the kids into the car and got to the zoo before 10 a.m. only to see that every school in Texas had decided to take an end of the year field trip to there that day.  It was too crazy for us so we decided to take the Z-man on the Hermann Park train.  We had just done this a few weeks before with playgroup and he thought that it was the greatest thing in the world.

The miniature train goes all around the park and through a tunnel (!!), with many stops to get out and play.  We had a blast riding it around and stopping to play and then returned to the main train station/gift shop.  Of course!  Where MrRuckus bought a new train for the Z-man.  Of course!  But, the new Little Bigs Hermann Park was not yet open.  

So, we loaded ourselves back into the car to drive down Montrose to the original location of Little Bigs, the "slider shack" opened last year by the team from Reef.  What a great concept and what a treat!  I happen to love sliders and these did not disappoint.  They are really tasty little burgers and truly delicious fries.  My favorite part of the meal, though, might have been the sangria slushie that they serve.  If I lived near there, it would be a summertime addiction.  As it is, I can't wait to go back.

The next night, we went with some of our favorite friends for a highly anticipated night out.  I had made reservations at Reef because I am a total nerd for foodie magazines and when I read that there is a restaurant in Houston that was:
  • Top 10 Best New Chef by Food and Wine
  • One of 50 Best New US Restaurants by Travel and Leisure
  • #1 Seafood Restaurant in the US by Bon Appetit
Well, I just had to go.  In the meantime, I read every Yelp review of the place and thought hard about which fish dish I would order.  Luckily I went with fantastic people who were not only great to spend the evening with, but were willing to share and taste everything.  I think we managed to taste much of the menu that way.  The food was delicious,  beautifully presented, cooked to perfection, but did not blow me away.  The room was cool, very lofty and open, but quiet loud.  All in all, I had a great night and a good meal, but would not even put Reef on my list of top five restaurants in Houston, let alone the US.