Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Live, from Indiana!

Family photo from Colorado vacation, not Indiana. Just in case you were confused by the mountains.

Since I last wrote (four months ago--yikes!), a lot has happened:

  • Neil applied for, got an offer, and accepted a new job in Bloomington, Indiana.
  • We moved out of our rental, put our stuff in storage, and moved into a one-bedroom apartment for the month of June.
  • We said good-bye to our Austin friends and flew off on vacation to Colorado.
  • Neil flew back to Austin to (1) get the house on the market and (2) load all of our belongings into a 6ftx10ft trailer. (Thanks, Neil!)
  • I flew to Missouri with the kids to spend time with family and have the kids be out of the way while Neil was wrapping everything up in Austin.
  • We all met up in Bloomington to unpack and settle into our new life.

Phew! It's been a lot. I feel like I haven't had a chance to catch my breath since, oh, about April. But now we are here. Our Austin house is under contract, we are 90% unpacked, and no move in sight.

Thank goodness.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Best books I read in 2014

2014 was a good year for books. HP had a great routine for most of the year with regular naps, which equaled many hours of reading. The start of this year has been a different story and I am struggling to make it through even one or two books a month. But back to last year! Here are my favorites in alphabetical order, all of which I felt merited four or five stars:

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
If I had to pick one book as favorite work of fiction from the year, this would be it. I am still processing my time living in West Africa and this novel provided a new lens to look at that experience. The main character grows up in Nigeria, but then moves to the States in early adulthood. Adichie follows her life in the States and her eventual return to Nigeria. I highly, highly recommend it.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
This was a book club read from the fall. It was one of those books where I wanted to read slowly just to soak up the language. Beautifully written and an interesting look at human nature and how we respond to extreme situations.

Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert
I was not a huge fan of Eat, Pray, Love, but Committed struck a chord with me. She did have one incredibly offensive passage about women who stay home and how we need to "construct a world where healthy children can be raised and healthy families can prosper without women having to scrape bare the walls of their own souls to do it." But otherwise, a lovely book. I enjoyed looking at something so personal (marriage), in a historical and societal context.

Divergent by Veronica Roth
I know, it's young adult distopian novel--as if there aren't enough of them in the world. But this one came to me at a time in my life when I just needed to get lost in a book, and it delivered. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book of the trilogy, but found the next two comparatively disappointing.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Another young adult read. I wasn't sure about this one at first, but then I got sucked it. Rowell accurately captures what it is like to fall in love as a teenager. So many feelings. Park and Eleanor are both charming and believable. Teenage love. The best.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
All-around quality fiction. I did not find it easy to identify with one of the main characters, but that did not take away from my enjoyment of the book. In fact, I found it a good kind of challenging to think differently about the situation and try to see it from another point of view. Bonus, I learned a lot about Indian history.

Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte
Hands down, best non-fiction read of the year. Schulte explores why we (Americans, and parents in particular) feel so busy. What are we busy doing? How can we reclaim that time for ourselves? Why are women in particular struck by a constant feeling of "overwhelm"? I put this book on par with Susan Cain's Quiet, which is saying a lot. Well-researched and well-written, I recommend it to all.

A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer duBois
This was a book club choice from early in the year. The writing was beautiful and the issues at stake are thought-provoking. What does it mean to live a good life? What is fate? How do we face death / impending debility with dignity and grace? I loved it, but fair warning--almost no one else in my book club did.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Burnt
Burnt explores the fear surrounding homosexuality and AIDs in the 1980s through the voice of a young girl dealing with the death of her beloved uncle. This book came to me at a time when I was in a reading slump. Every book I picked up was just... meh. Then along came Brunt's novel, restoring my faith in quality fiction.

To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care by Cris Beam
I have to admit how ignorant I was of the history and reality of foster care in this country before reading this book. Beam seamlessly weaves together the stories of foster families and the history of the foster care system. The subject matter was not always easy to read, but I am glad that I did.

Honorable Mention:
All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior
Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
You Can Buy Happiness (And It's Cheap!) by Tammy Strobel

Phew! Glad I finally published this even if it took me until March. It's been taunting me from my drafts folder for two months.

In case your interested, here are my lists from 2012 and 2013.

Happy reading!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

2015 | This moment


We're a little over two weeks into 2015 and I can already tell you that I year from now I will not use the word calm to describe it. The honeymoon phase of E's newborn days has worn off and we are in the thick of parenting two small children. As I told Neil, I don't expect 2015 to be bad; I expect it to be hard.

With HP, there was a distinct turning point around fifteen months when he went down to only one nap. Freedom! Everything felt easier--because it was easier. E will turn fifteen months a few days into 2016. So while I know this year will be marked by all of the wonderful infant milestones and the joys of having a daughter in addition to our son, it will also be marked by the constraints of multiple naps a day and being off the bike for half the year. Neither are terrible situations, but both make life that much more challenging.

Before 2015 arrived, I spent time thinking about a word(s) I wanted to keep as a guiding intention/mantra for the year. I kept coming back to the phrase embrace this moment.

The inspiration for my mantra is from the book Momma Zen. One chapter in the book that focused on the fact that there is just this moment. Remembering that fact has changed my mindset. When both children are crying and melting down because they are exhausted and it feels like we are drowning: There is only this moment. As simple as it sounds, it helps. It helps me put it in perspective; it helps me see the situation for what it is; it helps me stop judging and just be.

The first year of parenting is hard. I'm sure all the years are/will be hard. But the first year is hard in a we are so tired and have no time to ourselves kind of way. So when life feels like it's falling apart all around me, I want to remember that this moment, as messy, stressful, and frustrating as it may be--or alternatively, as beautiful, joyous, and happy as it may be--is all there is. Just now. I don't want to spend my time with my kids constantly thinking about how after bedtime I'll get to read by myself. Or how if they would just nap at the same time I could write. It is not bad to look forward to life's small pleasures (for me, watching The Good Wife while eating dark chocolate), but I don't want to do that to the exclusion of seeing what is in front of me right now.

So this year, I want to soak it all in--the good and the bad. Because has hard as it may be, there will only be one 2015. I'll be working my way through, one moment at a time.

*I made the pictured collage at Sara's Reflection and Rejuvenation New Year's gathering to visualize the kind of year I want to have.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

2014 | A look back

Mid-January isn't too late to post my year-in-review, right?


 On January 1st, I spent some looking back at the last year and planning ahead for the next at Sara's "Reflection and Rejuvenation" gathering. We individually reviewed 2014--what happened, what went right, and what could have gone better. With the past firmly in mind, we made plans for the upcoming year. Before I turn to 2015, I want to share my reflections on the last year.

The biggest events of 2014 were deciding to have a second child, getting pregnant, and giving birth. Everything else paled in comparison to becoming a family of four. When I zoomed out and thought about what words that best described the calendar year, I kept writing down calm, settled, and community.

Calm

It feels like our society has a competition for who can be the busiest. I have no interest in competing for that prize. I like having a free time, and Neil and I have set up our life in such a way to maximize it. We read for fun. A lot. After the kids are asleep, we sit around a talk, rehashing our days, laughing at silly jokes, and making plans for the day/week/year/lifetime ahead. We cook a homemade meal most every night and eat around the table. We go to bed at a decent hour. And that is just how I like it.

Of course, E's birth has thrown a wrench into a lot of that, and for the last quarter of the year much of the time it felt like we were just surviving. There was a whole month where it took two to three hours to put E down for bed. So we'd get our tired, non-napping toddler to sleep, then trade off with E until she finally went down, at which point we were too exhausted to do anything other than go to sleep ourselves.

And then there was the craziness of the move, where every spare moment we had from mid-April until mid-June was spent working on projects to get our house ready to rent.

So I guess I wouldn't say that the whole year was calm, but somehow, it's still the word that feels most right. Because even in the midst of moving and having a newborn, I still felt so centered. Yes, parts of our life were in upheaval, but other parts were not. Which leads me to the next word:

Settled

I feel settled in Austin. Phew. It's taken me awhile to get there. We have found a community, both in terms of physical place and people. While I am still not sure this is our "forever place," I am happy here. I have officially lived here longer than any other city as an adult and it feels like home.

Community

The longer we are here in Austin, the larger our community naturally grows, but I have also taken concrete steps to expand and deepen our ties here.

Sometime after HP's first birthday, I started getting serious about making friends here in Austin (making friends as an adult is hard!). Through that process--which was basically me asking people for their number and then actually following up--I met and got to know many new people. Some of my (and HP's) closest friendships are a direct result of those efforts.

Friends with children are wonderful (and essential at this point in my life), but I also need time to connect with the parts of myself not related to being a parent. I joined a book group at the tail end of 2013, and have loved that social and intellectual outlet. I am the only member with children, which means I get to spend hours in the company of other women without once mentioning diapers, naps, or toddler tantrums. Amazing. In addition to the lovely company, I get to read and discuss books--a favorite pastime of mine.

In late 2013 I joined the Steering Committee that helped to create the Yard to Market Cooperative and in May of this year, I was elected to the Board. My participation in the cooperative has connected me to the larger community and allowed me to keep a foot in the local food movement. Bonus: I get to interact with many thoughtful, engaged individuals who are passionate about increasing the economic opportunities available to small-scale growers in Austin.

The extent of our community revealed itself immediately before, during, and after E's arrival. There is nothing like having a baby to show you how many people you have who love and support you. Multiple friends who watched HP while we were at the hospital, countless meals brought to our doorstep (our friends are amazing cooks!), family who came to stay and helped with whatever was needed, and most importantly, people who offered a listening when I needed it most during the transition. There is no overestimating the importance of community during life's major transitions.

2014, you were good to us. New baby, new house, and a sense of being "settled." I'll take it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Life lately


Since my post on Thursday, things have looked up considerably.

E, my child who would only sleep in the Ergo, suddenly decided that she prefers to sleep on her bed and have a (somewhat) predictable nap schedule. This change will make it more challenging to be out and about with HP in the mornings, but overall, I love it. Now I can focus more attention on HP while she's napping in the mornings, and then they both (!) nap in the afternoons. Seriously amazing. Fingers crossed it lasts.

Having Neil home over the weekend makes everything easier. With him watching the kids, I can get other stuff done around the house, and vice versa. In addition to normal life, we managed to season all four of our cast iron pans, lanolize two wool covers to go with our new overnight diapers*, and take a load of stuff to Goodwill.**

On a slightly less positive note, we attended Neil's work Christmas party on Friday night. Neil was hesitant for us all to come, thinking it would be more stress than it was worth. I pushed hard to all go (because the other option was for him to go by himself, and I love a good Christmas party and wanted to attend), so we did. And he was right; it was stressful. E didn't want to fall asleep in the carrier like she usually does (see note above), so she was exhausted and crying most of the time. It didn't help that the other baby present, who is exactly one week younger than E, alternated from being alert and happy and dozing in people's arms. Not our child. HP did great--especially considering he stayed up two hours past his bedtime--but a two-and-a-half year old on the loose in a new house needs constant supervision. Confession: at one point in the evening, this happened:
Neil: Where's HP?
Me: I thought you had him.
Neil: Nope.

Neil starts walking through the house looking for him. I scan the crowd from my perch on the couch (I was feeding E at the time) and spot him. Outside. He had opened the door onto the back porch by himself and was pressed up against the glass door looking in on the party. I guess he needed a break from the action...
The thing we love most about Christmas parties is the food--obviously. I can summarize the general feeling of the experience by saying this: it was the first time I have left a party hungry, because there just was not time to eat. The whole time I kept thinking, this is just a season. Next year they'll be older and it will be a different story. Or we'll hire a babysitter. Problem solved.

In Christmas related news, I am inspired by the Girl Next Door podcast to bake Christmas cookies for our neighbors. I think HP will love this project, and I have been wanting to get to know our neighbors better. We'll see if it actually happens since it may feel like one more thing to do, in which case, I will happily abandon the idea in the name of sanity.

How was your weekend?

*We got the diapers for E, but are going to try them on HP, too. He's been in disposables at night for the last year or so because we could not find a cloth solution that he didn't leak through. We have heard good things, so hopefully this is it!

**That's right--I'm still getting rid of stuff. I just. can't. stop.