February 09, 2005
As you can see by the long gap between Irish entries, we spent quite some time at home over Christmas. We had planned on being in Rhinebeck for Christmas, anyhow, but our stay became extended – on both ends.
It was week 32 of the pregnancy when we got the call that Anne was in the hospital being checked out, that the doctors were doing what they could to stop contractions. But Babies A and B were making their way into the world no matter what. Baby A was, in fact, lined up and ready to go, but Baby B was sideways. C-section was the solution, and Baby A, later known as Alexander Witherspoon Lytle, was lifted out at 6:38 in the evening on December 1. Rabbit, rabbit! Two minutes later Baby B, soon to be called Mary Jane Elizabeth Lytle, was born. Pinch, punch! First of the month!
Both babies were safely born, Anne was fine, and there was much rejoicing on both sides of the Atlantic! Xander, above, weighed in at 3 lb. 12.9 oz, and Janie upped him by an ounce. She had a strong grip right from the start.
Both were in good shape, but the final touches involving coordinated breathing, sucking and swallowing were still to be learned. Evidence of success would show in weight gain. So they spent their first twelve days in Baystate’s NICU. They quickly shed various tubes and wires. Feeding tubes for pouring Anne's milk into their tummies remained in place.
I was able to come home in time for their one week birthday, and I picked up Mom/Gran, the great grandmother, in North Branford. The two of us traveled together to see the new babies. Gran held Alexander, and I held Janie.
Mark arrived a week later and was the first to hold the pair at one time.
Shortly, they graduated into the Continuing Care Nursery. Many visitors in addition to their parents came by and had a chance to cuddle the little babes.
On January 7, Xander headed home, and four days later on January 11 Janie joined the family at home.
Mark, now known as Papa, had to head back for second semester classes at UCD on January 9. But I, Abu, on sabbatical myself, could make my own schedule. I settled in with Anne and Jess in South Hadley for the next several weeks. I made myself useful cooking, stoking the woodstove, doing errands, cleaning (ever so briefly) and holding, changing and feeding babies whenever I had the chance. These sweet little babies slept well and often, and they learned to nurse and to drink from a bottle - that being the easier task. Needing less sleep than in my earlier years, I happily volunteered for the middle of the night wake-up feeding. No two nights were ever the same, but somehow I changed, fed, burped and rocked both babies and put them back down, even remembering to turn Janie’s oxygen up at the beginning and down at the end. Janie was to continue with increased oxygen for a half hour after eating, and I wondered whether I would stay awake for that half hour. It turned out to be a treasured, peaceful time. I would sit by their crib in the rocker under the gentle glow of Tom’s lamp and knit, watching them through the end slats. A half hour later I would tiptoe downstairs to the oxygen tank to readjust the dial, rinse the bottles and then sneak back up to my cozy bed for a couple more hours of sleep. If I were really lucky, the dogs missed my footsteps going downstairs, and I didn’t have to quietly but firmly point out to them that it was not yet time for their breakfast.
As the days went by, Xander and Janie had more wakeful moments, fortunately during daylight hours.
Concentric black and white circles captured their attention.
Babies sleep on their backs these days so they need tummy time for exercising more muscles. Can you imagine lifting your legs like they do?
Both lift their heads, but Alexander seems to have a notable amount of stamina for this challenge.
They also are both intrigued by the mobile over their crib. Janie especially likes it up close and personal.
One Sunday, when Kate and Danny were visiting, we contacted Mark by phone and on-line. We used little video cams so that we could see each other across the ocean on our computer screens, and we donned the telephone headphones so we could hear each other as well. Xander happened to be awake so he caught a snippet of a Papa lecture, and Mark could hear Xander's little sounds, most of which we feel mean that he is hard at work processing, that his digestive tract is in gear, or, as Jesse puts it, he's having office hours.
Still, much of their days were spent asleep. Anne's grandfather had made a cradle that now holds Janie and Xander when they are downstairs during the day in the livng room near the warmth of the woodstove. They seem to settle down best when swaddled in their cozy flannel blankets. Note their jaunty caps, handknit during the dark of the night by their loving Abu!
They also sleep well in their crib upstairs in their sunny yellow bedroom. Don't they look peaceful? There are times when we would find them trying to worm their arms up and free, often out of the neck opening of the stretchsuit. We especially appreciated what we thought of as Janie's alien imitation. She can stretch her neck way high, reminding us of an alien emerging forcefully from its chrysalis.
As a grandparent, you get all the joys of babies for a fraction of the effort and worry of parenthood. The parents were the ones to be concerned about whether the bathwater was the right temperature for their first baths at home, and I got to be the swaddler and photographer. Then I got to have my picture taken, too!
Anne and Jess are seemingly tireless, patient, enthusiastic and loving parents. They are also sensible and generous. Janie and Xander are lucky little kids. I also count myself incredibly lucky to have had the time and opportunity to share their new babies with them. It was not without tears that I wrenched myself away on February 2.
I brought these photos of the babies with me, and I marvel at their growth over the first 8 weeks of their lives. At their due date towards the end of January, they looked like healthy little newborns. Xander weighed 6 lb. 13 oz., and Janie weighed 6 lb. 2 oz.
Fortunately, I had Mark and Ireland to return to, no small thing - and plane tickets for a trip back in March!
P.S. I was just chatting with Anne and listening to Xander sounds, and I told her how hard it was to send only these few photos. Would you be surprised to know that there are hundreds in existence? You can count your lucky stars that I was somewhat circumspect. (And you can also ask for more!)
February 07, 2005
Eating Our Way Through Ireland
On February 2 I left South Hadley in the ice and snow and arrived in Dublin where the lawn is being mowed and the cherry blossoms have burst open. People say that spring starts in February. I guess so! Days are longer with the sun well up by 9AM. The sun is getting higher in the sky, blinding when you walk into it, warming your back as you walk away. The temperature is in the 40’s, and I gather that March may bring colder weather back again. But, for now, I am further north than you all at home and clearly into spring.
After a wonderful three weeks with Anne and Jesse and the twins, I am back in Ireland. Mark planned a trip for us in order to take the sting out of baby separation, and we headed south to Cork the morning I arrived. Not having had complete nights of sleep in a while, I felt sure I would adjust quickly to the 5 hour time change. The first day was rough, though, and one way to cope was to eat meal after meal after meal. We stopped part way down in Cashel, a town that is built up around the rock so-named.
Many ruins still stand around Ireland. We often see a remnant of castle wall in the middle of a field, and portions of old church walls are incorporated in newer buildings. But, the Rock of Cashel with its round tower, castle and cathedral is the focal point of this town, and shops, pubs and homes have clustered around its base for hundreds of years.
We had loved exploring the castle four years ago, and we decided to have a special lunch nearby. We were not surprised to find that our chosen restaurant was not open. In this case, they are remodeling during the off-season. It is great to travel here quietly in the off-season – except that many things turn out to be closed down. We shrugged, asked a passer-by for a recommendation, and had a lovely, rich Irish stew in a pub nearby - and I had my first fresh Guinness in 8 weeks.
We made good time down to Cork, even as the highway slowed to a crawl through village centers. We aimed to beat the forecasted rain and hustled out to walk the port city.
City centre is an island in the middle of the River Lee, and the northern part of the city rises steeply away from the river. Some of the narrow alleys accommodate the little cars, and some are for pedestrians. The British used most of Ireland’s wood centuries ago to build their navy so most houses were necessarily made of stone and plaster. Whitewash has given way to cheery colors, which seem especially welcome on grey days. Quickly fading, again, it seemed to be time for another feeding, and we were lucky to have an amazing vegetarian dinner at Le Café Paradiso, touted as one of the best veggie restaurants in Europe. We tried to remember the interesting combinations of ingredients with varied textures and flavors. The Portobello mushrooms with crispy, crushed nuts atop were the highlight until dessert arrived – limono paradiso or supremo or ultima (whatever, sensational) – a perfect contrast to the dinner proper – four miniature lemon treats - canoli, tart, cake and sherbet. This restaurant came into being some 20 years ago, quite an adventurous attempt in this carnivorous county. Now Cork is famous for its exceptional and varied dining options. It is also famous for its English Market, a collection of food stalls in a large, U-shaped passageway in city centre. We found (chewy, amazingly) sourdough bread, garlic olives and local cheese, aged some 14 years. Were we ourselves local, we would have bought fresh fish as well. The English Market was originally named such because they supplied meat to the British navy – and offal to the Irish. We could also have taken home a nice hunk of tripe or drisheen.
Friday was conference day, “The World After 9/11,” where Mark spoke at University College Cork about the roots of the conservatism we see much of in US government these days. As I was included in the lunch before and the dinner after (Did we do anything other than eat?), I felt a certain obligation to attend the conference as well. It turned out to be quite interesting. I noticed one member of the audience in particular, who was responding in a lively fashion. She would nod her head, make notes, chuckle at asides and even raised questions. How un-Irish! And, of course, she wasn’t Irish. We met her afterwards, and Liz turned out to be an American professor of history at UC Cork who had, along with her husband, moved to Ireland some 30-odd years ago. We quickly realized that, though we did not know each other, we had actually both gone to Vassar at the same time and had even lived in the same dorm. I enjoyed hearing about her life choices and, in particular, how Ireland has changed over the last 30 years. When we bumped into her and her husband the next morning at the bread stall in the English Market, it was like running into an old friend.
Our good fortune with the weather continued Saturday morning and into the afternoon, and Mark and I strolled over to the art museum at the university to take in the Irish Craft Council's 40 Shades of Green. We drooled over some wooden bowls, dyed and inlaid with dots of silver. Shortly we took to the open roads again. We headed for Yeoghal (as in “Y’all come back.”) only to find, no surprise, that the pottery there was not open, despite the open sign and the listing that indicated it would be open. We stopped by Yeoghal's harbor and sucked in the brisk salt air, and looked across the calm bay to the headland. From there we decided to head more directly to our destination for the day and night, Ballymaloe House. We traveled along unmarked, narrow roads, fortunately not meeting much traffic coming the other way. Did we see one car? High hedgerows meant we couldn’t see the surrounding area, but we were able to stop at one widened section of road and climb up to see out over the farmlands and to the sea.
We buzzed by Stephen Pierce’s pottery (actually, more of a factory these days) and stopped abruptly, just one driveway past a sign for Micky Donovan’s pottery. A quick turn-around and we pulled in where Micky was wiring lamps he had built. As we exited his little shop, we started chatting with him – and, seemingly out of the blue, he asked whether we knew of Nantucket. It turns out that he is the ill-fated potter who briefly had a shop down the side street by the Dreamland Theatre on Nantucket. What a small world. At that point, then, we had to make a purchase. We left the large pots with raised sperm whales in his shop and brought home with us two lovely, simple bowls in his trademark matte, sandy glaze.
Once more we were on the road to Ballymaloe, only getting waylaid one more time as we ended up at the cooking school rather than the country house. I was considerably cowed as we pulled up to the former castle now just a manor house.
What were we doing in such fine surroundings?
We were quickly put at our ease by the family staff who make a point of being friendly and welcoming. Amazed that the rain was still holding off, we left our worldly goods in The Blue Room (our bedroom that looked out on to the gardens) and strolled around the grounds, which include the working farm (and our dinner, still alive), a short golf course, tennis and swimming pool. Snow drops blossomed in clumps. Daffodils and rhododendron were getting underway. Had the trees begun to leaf, it would have really seemed like spring.
The colorful sunset gave us hope for the morrow, and that evening we heard a new version of “Red sky at night” where shepherds, not sailors, are looking to good weather in the morning.
The Allen family is famous for its cooking, using fresh local produce, fish and meat, and Mark and I were bowled over by the fabulous 5 course dinner we were treated to. Mark’s favorite moment may have been when the waitress came over and asked him if he would like seconds – or perhaps it was the sampling of unusual, local cheeses before dessert. My favorite moment was the soup, both Mark’s and mine – mine was Jerusalem artichoke and mushroom with hazelnuts sprinkled on top, and Mark’s was a creamy pea with coriander and chili. After dinner we walked out under the stars, returning shortly to the drawing room where we settled down in comfortable stuffed chairs to listen to traditional (well, not really – more folky/pop) musicians and a poet reading her work. We were among about 20 other guests. We were the sole Americans among mostly Irish - a staid, upper crusty couple whose toes tapped lightly to the music, a flamboyant gay couple, youthful yuppies, and two couples from the neighboring county Kerry who were splurging celebrating one of their 58th birthdays. There was also an unusual trio - a hip young Englishman with, perhaps, his mother along with his Jamaican partner. Everyone sipped Guinness, coffee, brandy or port and hung around for quite some tiime. We headed to bed hours later and listened to the confused rooster out back announce the time.
On Sunday morning the fine weather persisted, and, after a tasty breakfast with farm fresh eggs and warm, chewy (Again! Wow!) raisin bread, we left for the beach in Ballynamona. (Bally, by the way, is the English version of the Irish word baille [pronounced, “bah-lyeh”] which means town - hence, many Irish towns start with Bally.) It was low tide and the cold wind blowing across the flats was the first wintry chill we had had. After we drove up the winding, steep, narrow streets to the top of the cliffs in Ballycotton, we decided it was time to head back to Dublin.
We drove the southern coast road east through rolling farmlands and then headed north through Waterford. We made a quick pit stop at Jerpoint Abbey, a lovely Cistercian abbey on the main (but you know what that means now) highway back to Dublin. My favorite carved figures looked none the worse for wear since four years ago. They just sit there, those saints, quite chipper on the end of the tomb.
Within an hour of Dublin, pouring rain greeted us, and we knew the party was over. We were safely back at Shanagarry before dark, and the time had come to really settle back in to our life in Ireland.
The weather gods have given me a gift since. It has cleared again and, along with it, my spirits. Mark and I are looking forward to the visitors who have planned to come this spring. Ireland is a place to be experienced, not viewed from afar. Prepare yourselves to wander the countryside, meet friendly people and eat good food!