Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Life lately: Happiness edition

Things have been good lately.  Really good.

On Sunday we hosted Neil's work Christmas party.  It started with a group bike ride on the trail, then we returned to make pizzas for dinner and munch on an obscene amount of delicious snacks and treats.  After dinner, we gathered around the fire pit in the backyard talking and drinking wine out of mugs.

Yesterday the high was sixty-eight.  Sixty-eight!  Today is turning out to be just as gorgeous.  The summer here is miserable, but the winter is blissful.

Snapshots from yesterday:

HP and I met up with a friend and her little girl at the park in the neighborhood.  Two hours of outdoor fun.

After nap time, we played in the backyard and creek.  Dirt + water + rocks + sticks = hours of toddler entertainment.

HP helped me make pumpkin pizza dough for homemade pies, which mostly involves him kneading it for a second and then sticking a big hunk in his mouth.

I attended a yoga class in the neighborhood--always a highlight of my week.  I leave feeling calm, centered, and realigned.

The whole day slow, peaceful, and lovely.

Tomorrow we leave to visit our families for Christmas.  First stop, Missouri.  Second stop, Arkansas.

I hope to write some over the next two weeks, but if I'm honest with myself, I know I probably won't.  I'll be too busy relaxing with our families, catching up with old friends, and generally enjoying the last two weeks of the year.

See you in 2014!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Introversion, what it isn't

This article popped up in my reader a few weeks ago.  It bothered me.  At first, I couldn't figure out why.  After all, it was just one person describing her experience as an introvert.  But really, it wasn't her experience as an introvert.  It was her experience, and she happens to be an introvert.  Introversion is not a one-size-fits-all explanation for behavioral quirks.  As an introvert myself, I bristled at her words.  Here's why:

Introversion is not social anxiety.

Introversion is not shyness.

Introversion is not the inability to be a good friend.

I am a textbook introvert.  I look forward to and enjoy spending time with friends and family, but I need breaks.  Often.  I need time alone to recharge so I can be my best self.  Being an introvert does not mean that I have trouble making small talk, that I become anxious when I have to meet a new individual, or that I am reclusive my nature.  It means I get my energy from solitude, not from other people.

When I am visiting people for days on end, I know that occasionally I will need to go into another room, stop talking, and be alone.  I go a little crazy otherwise.  Not crazy because I am uncomfortable with people or because it feels like work to socialize, but crazy because I find it mentally and emotionally draining to be "on" all the time.  I need space to just be in my own head before I am ready to rejoin the crowd.  I know these things about myself.  Introversion is not debilitating; it is just another way of being. 

I do not mean to dismiss her post; I think Glennon's post was brave and needed voice in the conversation.  She is honest about challenges in her life in a way that few people are and through her platform, many people think: Hey!  Me too!  I thought I was the only one!  But in this instance, she used introversion as an excuse, which perpetuates the many negative stereotypes and misunderstandings people have about introverts.

On one point though, we both agree--the beauty of Quiet by Susan Cain.  It was one of the best books I read last year (or really, ever).  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Adventures biking in the cold

The weather turned cold over the weekend.  Cold is relative, of course, but here in Austin anything below 40 degrees is cold, and it dropped into the twenties and thirties over the weekend, which is downright frigid.  (Sadly, the weather was so awful that my parents' flight to visit us was canceled.)

Last night was my first meeting with book group I recently joined.  (We read Wonder, for those of you who are curious.)  All morning I tried to think of excuses not to go--not because I didn't want to, but because I was being a wimp about biking in the cold.

I hate biking in the cold.  Walking in the cold--no problem.  But biking?  Ugh.  I'd just rather not.  The wind makes it feel ten degrees colder on the bike.  And then there's the problem with layers.  Finding the sweet spot of enough not to freeze but not so many you sweat profously ten minutes into the ride is nearly impossible.

Eventually I was able to rise above the internal whining about how I just didn't want to and remember that: (1) It's not actually that cold out.  (2) I have been cooped up in the house for days and need to get out and move.

So I biked, and it was fine.  Unsurprisingly, I made a big deal out of nothing.

This morning's adventure into the elements was less pleasant.  HP and I headed to the Thinkery--the new children's museum in town.  I checked the weather--cold, but no rain.  In fact, there was a zero percent chance of precipitation all morning long.

It rained the whole way there and back.

It wasn't pouring rain, more of a constant misting.  HP was fine since he was snuggled up beneath a blanket in the trailer and protected from the elements; he was practically toasty when we arrived.  I, on the other hand, was cold, damp, and cursing the Weather Channel.

I have rain gear from my time in Oregon--lots of it, in fact.  Not only do I have rain pants and jacket, I have a waterproof seat cover and matching booties that Neil sewed out of dental floss and an old tarp.  Of those four items, the only one I had with me was the rain jacket.  My shoes were soaked.  My socks were damp.  My jeans were soaked on the top and damp on the bottom. 

I considered turning back and scraping the whole plan when we were halfway out of the neighborhood, but I couldn't bear the idea of staying in the house all morning, terrible weather be damned.  So we continued.

Even with the cold and the rain, I am glad we went.  HP loved the train table and I loved how the morning flew by.  And let's be honest--I felt like a total badass biking in the cold rain.

Lesson learned: Wear the proper gear.  When you think to yourself, I'll be fine.  I don't need my rain pants!  Think again.  You definitely need the rain pants.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Simplifying gifts

Neil and I are not big gift-giving people.  For the last five years, we have not gotten each other gifts for Christmas or our anniversary.  We do find or make something small for birthdays, but nothing extravagant.  One year in Oregon Neil found a free bedside lamp on Craigslist the day of my birthday.  The next year I was working in West Africa he wrote new lyrics to the tune of one of our favorite songs and sent it to me in an email.  Last year I made a playlist of songs that referenced various parts of our relationship and wrote a short description of why I included each.  This year I got him a used belt from a nearby surplus store.

For us, the lack of big gifts is both freeing and practical.  Gift giving is not our love language.  Since we are both on board with this approach, it saves us money, time, and stress.  We still celebrate special occasions, just not with physical presents.

We are fortunate to have families that are on board with taking simpler approach to holiday gift giving.  The adults in my family draw names and only buy a gift for that individual.  We all still buy presents for the children in the family (five grandchildren, including HP), but no one goes overboard.  In Neil's family we get everyone something, but there is an understanding that the gifts should be practical, homemade, used, and/or edible.  Neil's family is not large (HP is the only grandchild) so finding or making something for each family or family unit does not feel overwhelming.

We want to make Christmas special for HP.  In my family we never got gifts outside of our birthdays and Christmas so those events were a big deal.  I want HP to experience the magic of opening presents on Christmas morning, but I think there is something to be said for opening a small number of thoughtful and meaningful gifts rather than a huge pile.

After many discussions, Neil and I came to an agreement on what to get HP this year.  From us, he's getting:
  • This wooden turtle shapes puzzle from Etsy
  • A knife safe for HP to use with me in the kitchen (stocking present)
  • Used books I got from the library book sale and a free toy swap
  • A small duck with wheels attached to a string that I found at Goodwill (stocking present)
  • Block beeswax crayons (stocking present)
I am also on the look out for a broom at a garage sale or thrift store that we can cut down to his size, but am not too worried about whether we find it in time for Christmas.

We could have scaled back even more since at this age HP does not even understand the concept of Christmas, but this feels like the right middle ground for our family.  We are getting him thoughtful presents that he will use and enjoy, but keeping it simple.

I would love to hear any creative gift exchanges or alternatives to gift giving you do with your families or friends.  A book group I am a part of is doing a used book exchange at the December meeting, which seems like such a great idea.  I am considering floating the idea of doing this for the adults in my family next year instead of a more free-form Secret Santa.  Share your ideas, please!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Giving thanks

If I could use two words to capture our Thanksgiving weekend they would be productive and relaxing.

Productive. We cleared brush in the backyard. We raked up mulch from the driveway. We trimmed bushes. We cleaned the disaster area that is our garage. We completed a small project in the bathroom. We re-created a path from our back gate to the dirt path and creek behind our property. We made real progress in organizing our digital photos. We finalized our gift list for everyone in the family.

Relaxing. We spent hours exploring outside with HP--walking the dirt (mud) path, throwing rocks in the creek, walking up and down the mulch pathway from our door to the gate. We watched a movie.  We enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal with a college friend and her family. We slept in.

At the end of the weekend just before we went to sleep Neil turned to me and said, "It's been a good weekend, hasn't it?" Yes. Yes, it has.

And for that, I am thankful.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Being in the backyard

One of the reasons we moved from a very walkable central neighborhood to a slightly less central and much less walkable neighborhood was space.  Not interior space--though we were outgrowing our one-bedroom apartment with HP on the way--but exterior.  I wanted to garden.  I want to hang clothes outside to dry.  I wanted the space to work on projects without compromising our living space in the process.  I wanted to look out my window and not see a parking lot. 

But more than all of that, I wanted my child to grow up in a place where he could connect to the outdoors in a real kind of way.  Of course there are parks, trails, and other community outdoor spaces, but it did not--and does not--feel the same as a yard.  A yard feels more intimate, more personal.

I have hundreds of memories of the backyard from my childhood.  I remember creating an ongoing story with my friends that involved a home we created under the pine tree near the fence as though we were boxcar children.  I remember the makeshift baseball field we designed and how we originally ran the bases the wrong way.  (We were not a sports family.)  I remember hours spent crafting daisy chains in the summer with our neighbors two houses down.  I remember the magic of catching fireflies on the back patio.  I remember thinking that there was absolutely nothing better than running through the sprinklers on a hot summer day.

I want that for HP.  Not a replica of my childhood, but an outdoor space that is uniquely his in a way that public places never will be.

Let clarify a few things about our yard.  We do little to no upkeep.  I would be embarrassed about it, but I can't be bothered to care.  We are terrible at landscaping, mowing, and generally keeping our yard looking presentable.  I blame the fact that our time devoted to all things house related has focused on interior projects like the kitchen and bathroom.  For the first year we lived here our backyard was an overgrown mess.  Now that HP is of an age where he wants to be outside as much as possible, we are slowly making it into a landscape fit for toddler fun.

We do not have a slide.  We do not have a swing.  We have no jungle-gym type contraptions.  We do have leaves, buckets, a broom, sticks, rocks, bugs, and golf balls.  Some days HP carries the buckets around collecting leaves.  Other days he wants us both to sit on them and chat.  This morning we spent half an hour walking up and down the mulch path that leads from our patio to the back gate and into the wilderness* beyond.


Over the past few weeks, I have noticed that I am spending less time picking up toys as HP and I abandon the confines of the indoors for the adventures in our backyard. 

I can't say I mind the change.

*Of course I use the term wilderness lightly, though the grass past the gate is taller than HP's head and eventually prevents him from continuing.  I think that's pretty wild in his world.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Life lately: Where I've been edition

It's been a long month, friends.  A long, long month.

Things big and small that have been happening 'round these parts, the most all-consuming of which were:
(1) HP sprouted all four of his canine teeth.  I know that is interesting news to no one but me.  But I do not care.  These teeth have been the bane of my existence for the last four weeks.  Sleep has been horrendous.  HP was waking up at least three and sometimes as many as half a dozen times a night.  Not okay.  Then last night, the first night as a sixteen-toothed baby, he slept for eleven hours straight.  I was so estatic when I woke up at 4:30 and realized we hadn't heard a peep from him that I could not fall back asleep.  Fingers crossed it wasn't a fluke.  And yes, the fact that my child got four new teeth gets first billing in our household.
(2) We did not have a functioning shower from Oct 12th to Nov 17th.  I could write more about this, but I think it's obvious--having a shower is great, not having a shower was not.
There's more (isn't there always more?), but those two items paint the picture.

The thought of coming here and writing occurred to me many times over the past month, but it just felt like too much.  Any free moment I had was dedicated to sleeping, mindlessly surfing the internet, reading, and streaming mediocre television shows--not necessarily in that order.  But now I'm back.

I've missed this space.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The fount of parental patience

I normally have an inexhaustible supply of patience when interacting with HP.  He dumps all his food on the floor for the tenth time that meal?  No problem.  He wants to read the same book ten times in a row?  Sure thing.  He is frustrated about some slight to his toddler self like the fact I do not let him run around the house with an uncapped pen writing on the walls?  I exude calm.

But yesterday, my fount of patience had run dry.  As a result, I engaged in some questionable parenting techniques as I entered survival mode.  The goal: make it to bedtime without completely losing my cool.  I started counting down the hours to bedtime at approximately 8 a.m.

HP is cutting his top eye teeth + has a cold that is preventing him from breathing through his nose + we are visiting my family so he is not in his usual environment.  That combination equaled little to no sleep on Sunday night.  He slept fitfully from 7 to 11 p.m., and from that point on was up at least every half hour.  I ended up just staying with him until the morning, but I am not sure that either of us slept for more than ten minutes at a time.  It was awful for both of us, and probably not so great for my aunt who was sleeping down the hall either.

I thought my tired child would take a nice long nap to make up for the broken nighttime sleep.  False.  He slept for an hour.  AN HOUR.  I ate lunch and read a book for the first part of his nap and then went to my room to try and sleep.  Less than two minutes after I crawled into bed he woke up.  Of course.

I had high hopes he would take a second nap since the child was exhausted.  Wrong again.  In an effort to tire him out with the vain hope that he would eventually take the much needed nap I took him outside.  In the cold.  While he was sick.  I did dress him warmly if that counts for anything.

While outside, HP found a tomato that had fallen in my father's garden.  He picked it up and started eating it.  After a few minutes, he dropped a piece, stepped on it, and smashed it into the patio with his shoe.  Then he ate it.  I felt like there should have been a sign flashing over my head that read: AWESOME PARENTING HAPPENING OVER HERE!  Because, really.  But I just could not muster up the energy to care.

I know I should have been more sympathetic to HP's plight.  The child was miserable all day.  And intellectually, I was.  But emotionally, I was angry that no nap for him = no nap for me.  Rational thought cannot gain traction in my sleep deprived mind.

Amazingly, we did make it to bedtime.  He was asleep at 6:30 and I followed an hour later.  With a large dose of Advil he did not wake up until 4:30, and eventually went back to sleep (in my bed) until 7 a.m.  And it was glorious.

Today is a new day.  HP is still sick, whiny, tired, and teething, but nine hours of consecutive sleep restored my reserve of patience.

Here's to hoping the worst is behind us so we can enjoy the rest of our vacation.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Life lately

It has rained a lot the past week, which was GLORIOUS.  Bonus: some of our doors were sticking and I was starting to freak out about our foundation (to the point that I have had several contractors out to give estimates), and after the rain, no sticking.  Hallelujah!

We have ordered everything we need for the bathroom project.  Fingers crossed it is done by the time I get back from a trip to visit my family (just HP and I are going).  I miss having a working shower.

I am starting to wean HP which has resulted in a battle of the wills between the hours of 4:30-6:00 a.m.  He is largely ambivalent to nursing, but desperately wants to in the wee hours of the morning.  Every member of our family has been starting the day in the 4 o'clock hour this week.  So, so tired.

On a positive sleep note, the child goes down for naps like a champ.  Today I told him to pick up his teddy bear, go into his room, and climb into bed for nap time.  And he did!  So sweet.  (Full disclosure: fifteen minutes later I heard him moving around in his room.  When I went to check his diaper and found that he had taken a box of books, dumped it out, and was wearing it like a hat while talking to himself.  Two minutes later he was fast asleep.)

Last Friday a made a full grocery run with HP for the first time.  Usually Neil and I trade off on the weekends--he goes one week, I go the next.  It takes a big chunk out of our precious weekend time, so I decided to try and make the trip solo.  HP was in the front seat, groceries in the trailer.  It wasn't the ideal setup since the bicycle that works with his seat is not designed for hauling a trailer.  It works, but is slower and makes climbing hills more challenging.


Just after returning home from the grocery run.

I am off to visit family for ten days.  Packing for a trip during cold weather is challenging.  I almost abandoned the effort to take only a carry-on + diaper bag (how I have flown with HP for the last two trips), but then I took it on as a personal challenge to get all of our stuff fit into a single backpack.  We may have fewer clothing options, but we will be $50 richer.

Picture me taking the city bus to the airport.  I will have one carseat, one stroller, one backpack, one diaper bag, one coat, and one child.  Oy.

Everyone in our household is excited about this trip.  I am happy to visit home, HP is happy everywhere, and Neil is happy to be able to sleep past 4 a.m.  Win-win-win.  (Well, not a win on me not getting to sleep in, but I will take what I can get.)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Kitchen remodel: Before and after

This is no DIY blog, but our kitchen remodel is finally finished and I feel the need to document the process and share before and after pictures.  The pictures are not of the highest quality, but you get the idea.


Cabinets

We sanded, deglossed, and painted the cabinets and shelves.  At first I picked a white that had a little too much yellow in it.  After one coat was on I biked to Home Depot to new paint (Decorator's White).  I debated leaving it the yellow-ish color, but I made the switch.  It looks much better now that is a more true white.

  
Counters

We pulled off the yellow laminate and then followed these instructions for making concrete counters.  If I could do it over again I would have either stained the counters a darker grey (maybe even all the way to black) or gone a completely different direction.  Even so, it is such a huge improvement over what it used to be.  Bonus: it cost less than $100.


Tile

After weeks of discussions over what tile to pick, we finally agreed on a traditional black and white pattern.  It is not what I had originally envisioned, but we both like it and it looks good in our space.


Other Updates

We installed new hardware, a new faucet, and put a new coat of epoxy on the range hood.

Unrelated to this remodel, but here are two of my favorite kitchen projects Neil completed soon after we moved in: built-in spice rack and custom pot rack

 Cost

These are rough numbers since I don't have the receipts in front of me, but I tried to over rather than underestimate when in doubt.  We used Ebates and Cardpool to get discounts online, shopped at the local Habitat ReStore when we could, and used some items we had around the house from previous projects.  Here's the breakdown:

Counters (concrete, sandpaper, sealer): 100
Cabinets (sandpaper, deglosser, one can of primer two cans of paint, hardware, paint brushes): 150
Tile (tile, grout, sealer, thinset, tools): 270
Faucet: 200*
Miscellaneous (epoxy for hood, new outlet covers, caulk x2): 30
Total: $750 (or less)

Not bad for a complete kitchen makeover! 

*In retrospect, we should have not have spent so much on the faucet.  It was almost a third of our total cost, which seems crazy.  A week after we got it, Neil and I both looked at each other and said, "Can you believe we spent that much on a faucet?!"  It was out of character for us.  I will say it is so much nicer to wash dishes using the new faucet with all of its fancy features.  Was it worth $200?  Not sure.  But I am sure we are enjoying it.

Summary

We started this project at the beginning of June and finally finished it up at the end of September.  Neither of us thought it would take so long, but that is the way of DIY projects.  The low-point happened when Neil wasn't able to get the sink reinstalled before HP and I returned from a trip to Missouri.  Five days of washing dishes in the bathroom sink was five days too long.

I am proud to report that we cooked meals at home throughout the whole process.  Sometimes our meals were prepared without a sink and with the stove in the middle of room, but we made it work, because who can afford take-out for months on end?

Next Project

The bathroom.  We demoed the walls this weekend and ordered all of our supplies.  In fact, some of the tile arrived at our doorstep while I was writing this post.  There is significantly more urgency to complete this project since we are without a shower until it is finished.  Neil can shower at work and HP can bathe in the kitchen sink.  I, however, am imposing on the hospitality of some friends in the neighborhood, showering at the Y, and/or going longer than usual between showers.

I will be one happy lady when all of the major house projects are complete.  Maybe by the end of the year?  That's the dream, anyway.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Gentrification

I have been spending a lot of time thinking about what it means for us to be living in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.  Historically, East Austin was treated terribly by the City or at best, ignored.  Now that it is the "hip" place to be, long term residents are being forced out as the composition of the neighborhoods shifts, sometimes just within a few years.

We do not live in most desirable neighborhoods on the Eastside, but our area is not immune to gentrification.  Since we moved in less than 18 months ago I can count at least six houses within a three block radius of ours that have been bought by young, white professionals.  In fact, every house that has been listed for sale since we moved in has been bought by young, white professionals.

The working class people of color who originally (and still) populate the neighborhood can no longer afford to buy houses here.  Increasingly, families who have lived here since the neighborhood's inception are being pushed out by the high property taxes.  

We moved here because this was a house that we could afford, with a large lot, and a reasonable bicycle commute to my husband's work.  We did not move here with the intention of gentrifying or making it unaffordable for longtime residents.  But whether or not we intended it, our presence is helping to do just that.

I can rationally list the reasons why moving here was the best choice for us.  Rents are skyrocketing in Austin and getting even a two bedroom apartment would have been hundreds of dollars more than our mortgage.  We could have afforded it, but just barely, and it would have meant living closer to month-to-month.  Costs aside, we wanted to own rather than rent so we could fix up a house, plant a garden, and not be beholden to a landlord after two frustrating experiences with terrible management companies.  

Even though I think we made the best decision we could have given our circumstances, I do not think it is fair or wise to brush off the discomfort I feel about living here or to ignore what it means for working class people trying to find affordable housing in the city.

All of my thoughts/doubts/confusion about gentrification were brought to the surface this summer as the community faced questions about the place of urban farms on the Eastside.  In one of the most recent articles about the process, Daniel Llanes, a neighborhood activist, made the following quote:
"There are two types of gentrifiers. The ones who realize they are coming into an area with people of color and a working class -- they take a back seat," said Llanes, who has lived in the area since 1988. "The other gentrifiers come to conquer: They come to tell us this is what the neighborhood should be like and here are the new rules."
At first I bristled at the idea that I had to fall into one category or the other--either I wasn't allowed to participate in decisions about the neighborhood (taking a back seat) or I was out to conquer.  While I do not think the characterization is entirely fair, there is an element of truth to it.  I want to be a part of the neighborhood and I do have a stake in how the neighborhood develops, but I would be remiss to ignore the role that my privilege plays in how easily I am able to influence the system.

There are no easy answers.  I do not need or want someone to wave a magic wand that relieves me of the struggle and discomfort I feel about gentrification and my role in it.  What feels the most honest to me is to sit with it, even if the process is humbling and uncomfortable.

In the meantime, I have put a couple of books on hold at the library that discuss modern gentrification.  I do not expect them to turn all of the grey into black and white, but I do hope they will add some shades I had not yet seen and help to put my thoughts into a broader context.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The joy of the bicycle

I love not having a car. 

Of course there are times when it would be easier to have a motor vehicle, but those moments only arise a handful of times a year (or less).  The vast majority of the time I am happy and grateful to be pedaling to my destination.


Picture me sweating as I am riding up hills, barely able to suck in enough air, while HP happily points at passing trucks from his perch on the front seat.  Or blissfully sailing down those same hills on the return trip with the wind cooling our bodies.  Or pedaling through flat roads, putting the power of my legs behind every stroke.  It feels efficient.  Peaceful.  Empowering.

Efficient in a "I am not wasting time sitting in a car or going to the gym" kind of way.

Peaceful in a "I am not dealing with the stress of traffic on the interstate or other major roads" kind of way.

Empowering in a "I am getting to my destination using the strength of my own body" kind of way.

It is cliche to say it is about the journey and not the destination, but when biking, it feels true.  The journey is often just as fun as the destination, and useful to boot (no gym membership needed!).

After experiencing the joy of life on a bicycle, I cannot imagine going back to the confines of a car.  I love biking through life too much.

(Also, sometimes I sing HP songs about bicycles to the tune of well-known songs, many stolen from the repertoire of the Yellow Bike Project's choir.  Example, to the tune of "This Little Light of Mine": "This little bike of mine / I'm gonna let it ride ... / Put it on a car rack NO! / I'm going to let it ride ... "

And yes, I actually sing that while we are biking.  Another favorite family favorite is "Wheels on the Bike.")

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Unsoliticed parenting advice

I know, I know.  It takes a village to raise a child.  I would just prefer if that village did not include strangers on the street who think they can and should tell me how to parent my child.

Last week HP and I took the bus to his 15 month well-check.  On the way home a man tapped me on the shoulder and told me I needed to stop my son from putting something in his mouth because there were germs on it.  As if I didn't know there were germs on public transportation.  My response was to smile and reply, "There are germs everywhere.  He touches everything and then sucks his thumb.  I am not worried about it."  His response?  "I raised three girls."  Not exactly sure what he meant by that.  Maybe he was trying to say that since he was older and has raised multiple children it is okay for him to tell me what I should and should not let my child do?  Ugh.

I get it.  I know that the public transportation is full of germs and disgusting things.  But we need to take the bus and I cannot control every aspect of his environment.  I accept that it is gross and convince myself it is fine in the name of building up his immune system.

A similar thing happened while we were waiting for the bus downtown.  HP was playing with the rocks that surrounded a tree in the sidewalk.  He was mostly picking them up and handing them to me, but every so often he would put one in his mouth.  He is past the age where I am worried about him accidentally swallowing a rock.  When he does put one in his mouth, he only puts in part of it while holding the other half.  After a couple of seconds, he takes it back out and drops it or hands it to me.  So I don't worry.  Yes, it's gross.  But his hands are all over the rocks either way so the germs are getting in--either from sucking his thumb or sucking directly on the rock--so I have decided not to fight that particular battle.  He's just being curious and if I did make a big deal every time he put something disgusting in his mouth, it would just encourage him to do it more.  When I don't fight it, he loses interest.  But two people nearby told him not to put the rock in his mouth because it was "yucky."  As if I wasn't standing right there watching my child.  I am sure they were trying to be helpful.  Maybe I was having a particularly bad day.  But it irked me.

It is just so strange to me that people feel like they can and should parent my child for me.  It is one thing if he was putting himself in danger--like running out into the street--and I was not paying attention.  But putting a rock in his mouth?  I don't think that warrants intervention by strangers.

These experiences did two things for me.  (1) It made me glad that we no longer have to take the bus regularly since HP can ride on our bikes, and (2) It gave me flashbacks to being pregnant when everyone thinks they know what you should be doing with your body.  This post nicely sums up my feelings on that point.

Moral of the story: unless prompted, people should keep their parenting (and really all other advice) to themselves.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Good

There has been a lot of Good in my life recently.  After weeks of Bad, I feel the need to document these moments so I can look back on it when life inevitably swings the other direction.  A sampling of the Good:

The temperature has dropped enough in the evenings to run the attic fan to cool down the house.  Sleeping with a comforter again = happiness.

Pumpkin-apple steel cut oats (+ almonds) for breakfast.  Hearty and delicious.

Kitchen is thisclose to being finished.  I smile every time I enter, which is often.

An uninterrupted night's sleep.  HP is sleeping through the night (6:45-5:30) five or six nights out of seven.  Sometimes, if we're lucky, he'll even sleep an extra hour after we go in at 5:30.

The adorableness of HP.  There are days when his cuteness is just overwhelming.  HP is smack dab in the middle of the "age of maximum cuteness."  I am soaking it up.

Feeling connected.  I have become more involved with a local mama meetup group and in general have been putting myself out there socially.  (Isn't it weird how much making friends as an adult can feel like dating?  The excitement of possibility, the fear of rejection, the relief at finding someone who "clicks"...)

Stocking the pantry.  I made pickled okra last week and am going to try my hand at fermented okra and pickled pears soon.  (The pear project inspired by Kate Payne of the Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking who demonstrated the process at the farmers' market yesterday.)

Fruit from yesterday's farmers' market trip.
My body.  I feel fit and strong.  Running, biking, yoga, and a return to eating well have made me feel at home in my skin in the best possible way.

Future possibilities.  I have a couple of projects in the works that will (hopefully) bring some balance between my homemaking and professional life.  And by professional, I mean anything not related to raising my son or keeping our home running.

 Fall* is here.  Life is sweet.  Things are Good.

*Technically speaking.  The high is 98 today... but with evenings in the 60s, you will not hear me complaining.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Garden: End of Summer 2013

It's been awhile since I last wrote about the garden.  I had high hopes going into this season that I would make more time to cultivate the plot. 

I was wrong. 

With the heat, I needed to get out early in the morning or after dinner to avoid the sun at its most brutal.  Mornings were out since for most of the summer HP woke up around 5:30 a.m.  Eventually I want him to spend time with me in the garden, but right now he is still too young for me to get real work done.  His version of helping involves pulling the leaves off the plants and walking through the rows.  I am working with him to be more gentle/careful, but he is only fourteen months old and the temptation to explore with all of his senses is often too much to resist.  Evenings would have been a good option to spend some quality time with the plants, but I have never been good at being productive past dinner. 

Moral of the story: I need carve out a regular slice of time to dedicate to the plot a few days a week.  Now that it is cooling off (read: only in the mid nineties!) and HP is getting older, it should be easier for me to find the time to make it a priority.

Enough excuses.  Here's how the garden looks today:

Lots of weeds in the middle row and Bermuda grass creeping in from all sides
Okra is going strong.  I get more than a pound every couple of days.  Sometimes I do not harvest as often I should (see excuses above) and some of it gets too woody to eat.  We are only just starting to get burnt out on pan fried okra (cast iron pan + olive oil + okra + cornmeal + salt), so I am planning to pickle some using this recipe tomorrow.  This venture was inspired by a jar of pickled okra Henry received as a birthday gift.  It was divine.  We (HP included) devoured it within a couple of days.

Hill Country Red Okra
Silver Queen Okra
Melons, melons, and more melons!  The cantaloupes are mostly done.  We harvested maybe seven or eight large (Hale's Best) and a handful of small (Honey Rock).  The watermelons are only just starting to be ready to eat.  A squirrel got to a Sugar Baby watermelon earlier this week before it was ready to harvest.  I was not pleased.  We have already harvested about four a larger variety (Mickeylee) and a dozen are still on the vine.  The biggest challenge has been figuring out exactly when the watermelons are ripe.  I completely related to Kristen's post describing the sadness of harvesting a watermelon too early.  The same thing happened to us.  Twice.  After the recent squirrel incident I am hesitant to leave them out for much longer, lest one of the furry friends makes off with another juicy treat, but am equally terrified of cutting into one too soon.  A dilemma.

Damn squirrel.  Hope you enjoyed your local, fresh, organic melon.
Two Mickeylee watermelons on the vine
Sugar Baby watermelon hiding under the okra
Amazingly, our summer squash is still alive.  Not quite sure how that happened, but we'll take it.  It produces one or two squash a week.  We are enjoying it while it lasts, as I know the end is near.

Yellow Crookneck Squash
A second batch of Red Ripper beans came in and are ready for us to harvest and shell.  In addition to these, we had a small crop of black-eyed peas and purple green beans.

Red Ripper Beans
Basil, chard, and peppers have managed to survive the summer relatively unscathed.  I planted the tomatoes (cherry and patio) too late and we only got a few before they died off.  I thought the parsley was doing fine, but when I looked a couple of weeks ago I could only find weeds and a few dried up leaves where it used to thrive.

I am planning on clearing out the beans and dessicated tomato plants to make room for fall crops this weekend.  I probably should have started planting a few weeks ago, but that didn't happen.  According to this list, there are still plenty of vegetables to plant even with my late start.

May we have a rainy fall and a bountiful harvest in the season to come!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Life lately: Weekend edition

Thoughts in my brain heading into the weekend, in no particular order:

I started running this week, emphasis on start.  HP and I go for a walk around the neighborhood most weekday mornings, usually for 45 minutes to an hour, with a long stop in the park halfway through.  On Wednesday I decided I was ready to incorporate a few minutes of jogging during the walk.  The first day I ran for three minutes.  The next day, I made it for seven.  Today, nine.  My goal is to run a half marathon, but I am taking it day-by-day.  If my knee or foot start hurting (problems I have run into before), I am out.  I am taking it slow, hoping to build up little by little and avoid the injuries that have plagued me in the past. 

Today is laundry day.  I declared Fridays our household laundry day about a month ago because I hated letting the laundry build up for more than a week and I do not liking washing clothes on the weekend.  For the most part, laundry is no big deal.  We wear clothes multiple times and HP's clothes are small, so we usually only have three loads a week (not counting diapers, of course).  I don't mind putting the clothes in the washer or hanging them up to dry.  But sorting laundry?  Ugh.  Putting laundry away?  Double ugh.

HP has been such a fun little guy lately.  He is understanding so much of what we say and how his world works.  The other day I was in the kitchen washing dishes and he was in the entryway happily playing.  A few minutes later he walks up to me with one hat around his neck, one on his head, one in his hand, and a shoe in each hand.  He then proceeds to hold out the shoes for me to put on and knocked on the garage door.  The child knows the getting out of the house routine.  When I finished cleaning up the kitchen, we left for the park.

It has been a long week, friends.  Henry worked late Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  I love hanging out with my kid, but I have missed having my husband around to take over parenting during those late afternoon hours.  The hour before bedtime is fine on my own; it's the hour before dinner that's the real challenge.  HP is at his most needy and I have the least patience to give.  I empathize with him--life is hard when you are tired and hungry--but that doesn't change the fact that I need to make dinner.  We don't have a learning tower* or a way for him to safely observe at the counter, so he incessantly pulls at my legs begging for me to pick him up so he can see what I am doing.  Yesterday I ended up moving the operation down to the ground because I could not handle the whining.  I am fairly certain that he took a bite out of at least half of the okra before I sliced it, and there was a moment when he walked through the cast iron pan and got okra all over his feet (don't you all wish you were eating at our house?) but otherwise, it was a great solution.

I had been looking forward to attending a happy hour this evening.  Henry was planning to come home early-ish and I was going to head out without a child in tow.  Turns out I got the date wrong, and it's not until Sunday.  Womp womp.  Looks like I'll be celebrating making it to the end of the week with a drink at home.  Well, after I re-stain the kitchen counters.  Turns out I didn't do a great job the first time and some oil has leaked through and stained a couple of spots.  Whoops!  Second time's the charm...

Happy weekend!

*Let's be real: There is no way we are going to spend $200 for a glorified platform with railings.  I do love the concept though.  We are planning to make something similar, following these instructions, or maybe these since it makes sense to go with something smaller that will better fit in our kitchen.  It is on our long list of things to do...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Mondo beyondo

I recently learned about the concept of "mondo beyondo."  Making one is simple: write a list of the wildest, craziest dreams you have for your life.  It can include items that may not happen for five, ten, or fifteen years.  The point is to dream big about your future and not hold back on account of what others may consider "reasonable" or "practical."

I, of course, loved the concept.  In my world, lists + dreams + (over)analyzing my life = happiness.

There is a class by the same name, which I briefly considered taking.  But let's be honest: I cannot justify spending a hundred dollars for an online course.  The idea of meeting other interesting, thoughtful, and engaging folks was tempting, but when I read the description, I knew that I already had the answers to the questions the course asks.  I know what I want and I know how to get there. I need to start doing, not spend more time (and money) talking about it.

Here's my Mondo Beyondo list:
  • Live in a decluttered, organized, major-project-free house
  • Create a productive garden that meets (most) of our produce needs
  • Have backyard chickens or ducks
  • Regularly can items from the garden so we have a well-stocked pantry
  • More crafting--collages, knitting, sewing, etc.
  • Become a freelance writer
  • Become an active member of a UU church
  • Find a way to regularly use my French
  • Move to a medium sized university town (preferably the one where I am from, but if not, then in Oregon or Washington)
  • Create a comfortable balance between time online and other pursuits
  • Travel to Alaska and Maine (two separate trips, obviously)

I feel like I should have more on my list if I am truly dreaming my "wildest dreams."  Turns out, I pretty much like the life I am living.  Most of other points of the list are expanding on things I already do (gardening, canning, crafting, working on the house).  In so many ways, I am living my version of "the dream." And for that, I am thankful.

The scariest / least developed / most difficult to share item of the list is becoming a freelance writer.  When I look to the future, I want to see writing becoming a more prominent part of my life.  I know that.  But saying it out loud feels ... terrifying.  The act of identifying what I want is powerful, but it also opens the door to self-doubt and plays on my fear of failure.  

But what's the absolute worst that can happen?  I'll fail.  The world will keep turning, the sun will still rise in the east, and my life will move forward.

So I am giving it a try.

In an effort to move this dream from the list to reality, I joined an online writing group. So far, so good.  Through the group I have been able to connect with other people and receive helpful, honest, and constructive feedback on my work.  In the next month, I plan to submit the piece for publication that I have been working on in the group.

It feels good to be living the life I outlined at the beginning of the year.

Monday, September 9, 2013

A lack of connection

For the past couple of weeks I have felt disconnected from Henry.  We have been like two ships passing in the night, only feeling a slight disturbance from the waves of the other, nothing more.  We have been so absorbed in our own pursuits and have failed to prioritize spending time with each other in any sort of meaningful way. 

I blame the books.  I know, it doesn't make sense.  Who blames innocent books for their troubles?  Apparently, I do.  Let me explain.

Henry and I go through phases with reading and watching television and often spend more of our precious free time in the evening indulging in one pastime while neglecting the other.  Lately, we have been all about the books. 

We are both reading the Song of Fire and Ice books, which are thousands of pages of fantasy fun.  I have been taking a break after each book to read something different before returning to Westeros, but Henry has been plowing straight through.  The minute HP is in bed, we both run to grab our books and settle in for the night.

It has been so nice to just escape at the end of the day, and there is nothing like a good book for that.  The problem comes when we become so absorbed in our respective literary worlds that it feels like we are in different places, not two people sharing the same couch. 

Reading has been a lifelong love of mine while the television and I have a love/hate relationship.  I love it because, duh, it is easy and fun to watch.  I hate it, because if I am not careful, I lose hours of my life to nonsense shows.

For most of the spring Henry and I were watching the Daily Show and/or the Colbert Report on Hulu most nights.  I do not usually think of television as a medium that brings people together, but in our case, it did.  During the frequent commercial breaks we would fix snacks, chat about our day, and laugh about the clips we had just seen.  We would usually still read in the evening, but just for half an hour before going to sleep.

Taking a break from television and diving headfirst in books the last few months has been wonderful.  Stepping away from screens has always made me feel calmer, more centered, and like I am making the most of this one crazy life I have been given. 

Until now.  Now it has made me feel less connected to one of the most important people in my life.

I was discussing this issue with a friend over the phone, and she made an astute observation: it is not the television per say that I have been missing, but the act of doing something together in the evening.  She reminded me that Henry and I used to play games together.   We love to play cards, cribbage, Carcassone, pente, backgammon, and the like, but we have not done that in months (and months and months).  It is such an obvious solution, I was surprised I did not see it myself.  (But what are good friends for if not to point out your density?)

So that's the new plan.  Well, that and paying for a babysitter a few times in the coming months so we can go out, just the two of us.  Now won't that be something!

Ah, the ever-illusive balance, I haven't given up on you yet.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Less toys, more fun

A few weeks ago, I saw this post on How We Montessori (a wonderful resource for implementing Montessori in the home) with a list of toys she recommends for one-year-olds.  The wooden coin box caught my eye as something HP would enjoy.  Right now he loves to manipulate objects and has taken to stacking his rectangular blocks and dominoes on their ends.  He also likes to transfer blocks from one container to another and then back again.  This toy seemed like it would both challenge and interest him. 

But of course, new toys cost money.  If I bought him every beautiful wooden toy that I found on the internet, we would be in debt, with lots of toys that HP played with for a few months/weeks/days/hours before tossing them aside, and buried under a mountain of forgotten objects.  Toys--no matter how beautiful and developmentally appropriate--often capture children's attention for astonishingly short amounts of time. 

Buying the coin box was out, so I moved on to Plan B: Make something similar myself.

I took a shoe box, cut a slit slightly bigger that a domino tuned on its side.  Next to the box, I placed a metal bowl with dominoes inside.  Viola!  A new toy.



Now I will admit, what I created is less elegant than the one that inspired it, but HP enjoys it, it accomplishes the same goal, and it was free.  That's a win in my book.



(Did you see how I scribbled in crayons on the top to cover up the label?  Yeah.  Didn't work.  Good effort though, right?)  



Throughout the day Harvey plays with his new toy unprompted.  I will often find HP at his shelf moving the dominoes from the bowl to the box, then lifting up the lid to see them all inside and laughing.  He also likes to turn the bowl upside on our concrete floor and see the dominoes going flying, but that is to be expected.  If asked, he will put the dominoes back in the bowl (he loves the loud clanging sound they make on the metal).

When I see lists like Kylie's, it is easy for me to get swept up in thinking about how much HP would like certain toys.  That is a slippery slope, my friends.  When I catch myself starting to slide, I step back from the ledge, take a deep breath, and remember that what HP loves best is (1) wandering around the park or our backyard picking up sticks, rocks, and leaves, (2) bringing us books to read over and over and over, (3) roaming the house and finding random items to move to other rooms.

HP does enjoy his toys--including the shoebox/domino combo--and I am glad I made it for him, but it is good for me to remember that he does not need specific toys to help him meet developmental milestones, grow intellectually, or have fun.  Let's remember, he's one.  He needs parents who love him, spend time with him, and let him explore the world. 

If I can easily make something with materials we have around the house--wonderful.  But if not?  He'll be just fine.  When it comes to kids, less is more.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Weekend getaway

Two weeks ago I left HP for the first time of any length when I took a three-day trip to New York City. It was amazing. The highlights:
  • Reconnecting with old friends--a college friend I hadn't seen since we graduated, friends I worked with in Senegal and The Gambia, and of course, my high school friend who got engaged.
  • Having a night to myself on Friday. The friends I was staying with were out of town that night so I had their place to myself. Chocolate mousse + blueberry cheesecake (yes, two desserts--vacation!) + the Good Wife reruns + going to bed at 9 p.m. = bliss.
  • Exploring Astoria, Queens on all day Saturday. Bagels and and coffee and a good book for breakfast, checking out the new local bookstore mid-morning, delicious pizza and salad for lunch, reading in the park with a beautiful view, and even more reading on the porch in the late afternoon. Obviously, reading uninterrupted is a luxury in my life.
  • Seeing one of my oldest friends get engaged. It was like something out of a movie, y'all. Sunset, overlooking Manhattan, with their families and friends present. Beautiful.
Before that weekend, the longest I had been away from HP during his waking hours was a few hours. Five at the most. I have not kept such close proximity to HP because I do not trust other people to care for him--not at all. I think it is good and healthy for him to have other adults caring for him. But the reality of our lives is that I am his primary caregiver and we do not have extra money for babysitters. So HP and I spend all day together, all the time. On the weekends I'll go off for a few hours at a time (usually to buy groceries when it's my week), but mostly, we are together. I remember before I had HP I would see parents of small children and think, They are responsible for that child ALL THE TIME. It boggled my mind and made me not want to have kids for a long, long time. Now that I am the one with a little person under my constant care, it just seems normal.

It may be normal, but that does not mean I was not looking forward to a break. It was harder to leave HP than I thought (I cried), but I left the sadness behind when I walked out the door.

Throughout the trip people asked me if I missed HP. Not to sound too callous, but not really. I missed him in the sense that I would periodically think of him and wonder what he was doing and imagine his smiles, the way he walks, and the games he plays. But I did not miss him in the sense that it in any way prevented me from enjoying my time away or made me I wish I had stayed home.

I enjoyed my weekend. A lot. But when it ended, I realized that I do not need a regular escape. It was fun to getaway, but I like my life at home. I love the slow pace, I love watching my son grow, I love spending time with my husband and our simple lifestyle. I did not feel let down when I boarded the plane for Austin; I felt like I was leaving one good thing for another.

I did the whole traveling the world, moving across the country (and to new continents), selling almost all of our possessions and biking through the mountains to farm--just because--gig. I won't say I "got it out of my system", because I hope there are more travels and adventures in our future. But right now, that is not where we are. And that's just fine. We are in a place where we get to watch our son grow and develop as we help him figure out who he is and how he fits into this crazy world. Most of the time, that feels like just as much of an adventure as any trip to New Zealand.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

And then there was one

HP is officially a one-nap-a-day guy.   

Hallelujah!

I know many parents are loathe to drop a nap and the accompanying alone time that comes with it.  But for us, it has been nothing short of amazing.

I am a big proponent of sleep, both for myself, my offspring, and really anyone I know. While I was itching to make the switch, I held off as long as possible.  I knew that if he would still go down for two naps, he needed two naps, even if he could technically get by on one.

HP has been on the verge of eliminating a nap for the last month, but was not quite there. He refused to fall asleep for his afternoon nap about half the time, but was just exhausted by the end of the day if he only napped in the morning. 

I always thought that most children drop their morning nap, not their afternoon one, but that was not the case for HP.  He was always so ready to take a nap in the morning and would fall asleep within minutes. It did not feel right to try and keep him awake in the morning when he clearly needed to be sleeping, even if I knew it meant he would not nap later in the day.

As a short term measure to ease his transition (and maintain my sanity), we started having a "rest time" in the afternoon in lieu of a nap. When it is "rest time" I put him down on his bed and turn out the lights, just like I would for a nap, but without the expectation that he would actually fall asleep.  Usually he lays down quietly for fifteen to twenty minutes and then plays by himself in the room for another ten. When he's ready to rejoin the world, he knocks (well, bangs) on the door.

The key to rest time was letting go of the idea that he should be sleeping. When I was trying to get him to take a nap in the afternoon, we would both get frustrated. I was frustrated that he wasn't sleeping, and he was frustrated that I was trying to make him sleep. Then, on top of my frustration, I would feel guilty that I had tried for so long to get him to nap instead of spending that time interacting with him. Fail all around.

Now that he rests rather than naps, we are both happier. Even though he is only in his room for a short while, it makes a huge difference in our lives. We both get alone time to recharge and are much happier when we are reunited. Win-win.

At first he was napping from 9-11 a.m. and then resting around 3 p.m. This week is he started resting at 9 a.m., napping from 11-1 (or 2!), and then resting again around 4 p.m. He still has an early bedtime--he starts getting ready for bed at 6:30 and we are out of his room by 6:50.

I am guessing that his nap time may eventually move to noon or a little after, but for now the 11 a.m. time slot is working well for us. He is still napping/resting close to the same number of hours (3) he did when he took two naps, he is just combining them instead of spreading them out.

I have been looking forward to this transition and the freedom it brings for months. Now that we have longer stretch of awake time on either end of his nap, we can more easily get out of the house and go on adventures. In the mornings we still stick close to home since I learned through experience how much he needs that first rest time. If we skip it and head out on an adventure, he gets overwhelmed.  But the afternoon is fair game for a trip to the pool, splash pad, park, or play dates with friends. If we're home, he'll rest in the afternoon, but if we're out, it's no problem for him to go straight through to bedtime.

I hesitate to the sing the praises of life with a one-nap-a-day child too much since the switch is so new and we are still tweaking his schedule. That said, my days now feel balanced in a way they have not since HP joined the family. Before, I always felt like I was sacrificing some of my needs to meet his. Now, meeting my desire for social interaction with other adults lines up with both his napping schedule and his desire to explore new places and people. I think that developmentally he benefits from our trips out of the house as much as I do, which I would not have said until recently. We still try to keep it low-key so he is not overstimulated (read: lots of parks with plenty of time to slow down and do life at his pace), but it no longer feels like our needs are competing.

One nap a day. It's a beautiful thing.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Birthday box

HP's first birthday came and went more than two months ago, but Henry and I just completed his present a few weeks ago.  I know I probably should feel a little guilty about that, but he's one.  So I don't.  The concept of a birthday and expecting presents is developmentally beyond HP and I see no need to torture myself when he has not felt the least bit slighted.

I think it was worth the wait.  I present, the birthday box.


 Built by Henry, painted by me.

The box is 2 feet tall and has holes on three sides.

Henry had fond memories of playing with a very similar box his father built for him and his brothers.  He wanted to bring some of the magic he remembered from playing in his box as a child to HP. 

It is currently up against the wall of the living room with a blanket in the bottom and a basket of books next to it, creating a little reading corner.  During the day I sometimes pull it out to the middle of the floor so he can crawl all the way through.  I am sure it will go through any number of locations and configurations over the months and years to come.

Happy (late) birthday, HP!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Slowing down

HP and I went to a nearby splash pad and pool this afternoon to (1) cool off since it is still in the triple digits here and (2) give Henry some uninterrupted time to work on putting up the tile in the kitchen.*  In true toddler fashion, rather than splashing, HP spent most of our time walking up and down a sidewalk, then up and down a hill, all while carrying my water bottle.

Whenever HP and I have been out in the world lately I have had Jack Johnson's lyrics running through my head:
Slow down everyone / You're moving too fast / Frames can't catch you when you're moving like that.
I have not been humming that tune thinking about how fast HP is growing up (that only feels true about half the time), but because he embodies the wisdom of that song with his little toddler life. 

More often than not, HP is uninterested in the main "attraction" of wherever we are.  Sure, splash pads are fun for a minute or two, but it is more fun for him to wander off the concrete to walk up the nearby hill and back down, or to leave the playground to wander through the grass, picking up every piece of trash in sight. 

At our local park there are days that he will ignore the playscape entirely.  Instead, he will sit in the rocks that surround the jungle gym and play with them for long stretches of time.  Picking them up, dropping them, handing them to me, throwing them, sticking his hands in them, putting them in his hat which never seems to stay on his head for more than ten seconds at a time, and of course, tasting them.

Today at the splash pad he decided it was his mission to carry my water bottle throughout the park.  We left the fountains behind and walked up and down the sidewalk, into the pool area, up a hill, and past a bunch of bicycles locked to the fence.  Each new area required lots of pointing, grunting, and examination before moving on to the next stop.

And you know what?

I love it.  I love getting to slow down with him and just be wherever we are.  I get to let go of my expectations and see what interests him instead of trying to push things on him that I think would be fun for him.  Sure, I thought we biked to the park to climb on the playscape or that we went to the splash pad to play in the fountains, but there's no reason why we should do that if HP would rather wander the grounds.  More often then not, his interest is trash (so many kinds! and it's everywhere! trash!), which I have to admit, I do not find quite as compelling.  But he is his own little person with his own ideas about what he wants to be doing. 

To be clear, he does not run the show.  There are plenty of times where we need to be somewhere or do something regardless of his preferences.  Naptime, bedtime, and meals and all non-negotiable.  But when it is playtime--either at home or out in the world--I see no reason to try and dictate to him how to have fun.

He does not need to someone to be constantly directing his activities or hovering over him; he needs to explore and figure out this crazy world.  When I give him those opportunities it feels like time slows down for all of us.  Not in a how much longer until we get to go home? kind of way, but in a good way, a we can hang out picking up rocks as long as you want kind of way.  It feels like we are present, in the moment, living life the way it is meant to be lived.  Not worrying about the next place we have to be, but just being in the place we are.

I know the whole "kids take forever to do things" can be frustrating.  Maybe it is just my personality, or maybe I am having a particuarly zen kind of day, but to me, living life in the slow lane of toddler time feels like the only way.

HP has slowed us down.  Way down.

I think the frames are catching us.

*The kitchen remodel is almost complete!  We just need to be grout and seal the tile, touch up the paint, and reinstall the hood over the stove.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

No Pinterest needed

HP's first birthday came and went nearly two months ago.  I never wrote a recap.  That is in part due to the inconsistent nature of my blogging, but mostly because it did not feel worthy of a post.

The internet is filled with images of beautiful, creative first birthday parties.  They showcase professionally designed invites, themed decorations, smash cakes--some even have matching labels for the elaborate spread on the food table!

When I stumble across such parties my reaction is never to think I should do that!  My inner dialogue is more along the lines of That's beautiful!  But thank God I am not doing that!  I do not feel like a failure as a mother or human being for not creating something equally extravagant; I feel relieved that I am not spending limited my time and money bringing those pins to life.

This is not a post to criticize elaborate birthday parties or the people who create them.  Planning and executing those events brings many people joy and happiness, and I think that is fantastic.  I am just not that person, and do not pretend to be.

With HP's birthday two months in the past, I can state with some certainty that no one will be pinning pictures of the weekend.  Its simplicity was both perfect for our family and unsurprising given my past avoidance of planning such events.  Case in point: our wedding.

There were no decorations when we got married.  Zero.  None in the ceremony, none at the reception.  There was not a single flower to be found (who needs a bouquet?) and I wore a blue off-the-rack dress I found on sale rather than a traditional white one.  At the time, people told me I would look back and regret those choices.  They were wrong.  When I look back on our wedding day, I think about (1) how happy I am to be married to my husband, (2) how supported we felt by our friends and family, and (3) all of the hours of stress and hundreds of dollars we saved by not investing in the day's aesthetics.

I applied that same "eliminate unnecessary details and stress" approach to HP's birthday.  The day before his birthday we had a small gathering of friends at the park.  On the actual day, Henry took off work and we had a family day of fun--pancakes for breakfast, children's museum in the morning, swimming in the neighborhood pool in the afternoon, and more cupcakes after dinner.

Part of my attitude is a result of my personality (see wedding description), but part of it stems from my upbringing.  As a child, we never--I repeat, never--had a birthday party where dozens (or even half a dozen) kids came to our home.  We had a family celebration and were allowed to invite one friend.  That was it.  I never felt deprived or jealous of the larger birthday parties I attended for my friends and classmates.  Birthdays were about spending time with family and the traditions we created.  It was the little things--like sitting at the head of the table and picking the dinner menu.  It sounds simple when I write it out, but it felt special as a child. 

And that is what I want to create for HP.  Not a big bash with a perfectly executed theme, but yearly rituals and time spent together as a family celebrating him.

No Pinterest-worthy events here.  And that is just fine by me.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Finding the joy

I have been working to snap myself out of the funk I have been in since the beginning of August.  Things that have helped:

(1) Getting out of the house every day, even when the intense heat makes it feel easier to hunker down indoors.  Most days we have just gone to the local park or splash pad, but even that small break from the house helps to break up the day and re-energizes us.

(2) Making regular social plans outside of the house.  I am such a homebody and am usually content to hang out with Henry and read in the evenings.  That's fine to a point, but then the lack of social connection sneaks up on me and crushes me with a wave of loneliness.

(3) Reading fiction.  It restores me and connects me to humanity in a way nothing else does.  I love social media and television as much as the next person, but those pastimes often sink me deeper into the swampland of depression.  Reading pulls me out.

(4) Working toward making our home a unit of production rather than consumption (a la Radical Homemakers)Over the last week I have harvested okra, red ripper beans, black eyed peas, cantaloupe, and squash from the garden, made 12 half pints of peach jam, and baked three loaves of bread from scratch.

Since I HP was born, I made excuses as to why I was not actively working toward creating a productive homestead--I was tired, taking care of HP took all of my energy, just putting food on the table and keeping our son alive felt productive enough, HP's naps were inconsistent and/or required a lot of parental assistance to go down, etc.  But something clicked and made me see that now is the moment I have been waiting for.  We have land and own our house, I do not work outside of the home, we only have one child, and that child now plays independently for large stretches of the day and naps without assistance.  I do have time to can and garden and knit--I just need to step away from the computer and make it happen.

Last Tuesday for dinner we had okra and cantaloupe from the garden, fresh baked bread with peach preserves, and eggs from a friend's chickens (whose coop I helped build two years ago).  The next morning I made french toast with the leftover bread and eggs and topped it with the peach preserves.  The simple act on dining on food so close to home made me feel like I am living the dream I described two years ago, cheesy as that may sound.

Things may not be perfect (when are they ever?), but the tide is receding and I am feeling like myself again.

What a relief.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Life lately

We are on day five of HP's digestive troubles (less politely known as diarrhea).  Intensitinal issues + bottom molars coming in = very little sleep for our whole family.  As a result, I have only managed a jumble of my random thoughts instead of a coherent post on this Monday morning.

After weeks of discussion, we finally picked out kitchen tile.  We did not go with any of the top contenders from my last post.  Instead we choose something completely different: white squares, with black diamonds.  It's classic, it matches the grey counters, it's mostly white (what I wanted) but still has some interest to it (what Henry wanted), is neutral enough that it likely won't offend future buyers, and it was one of the cheapest tiles we found.  A win all around.  Now, on to the install.

I talked to my mom last week about feeling frustrated (isolated/depressed) about our current location.  She kindly pointed out that this has happened every summer I have lived in Austin.  Am I that predictable?  It appears so.  Here's the post I wrote last year, and one the year before.  That gives me further confirmation that Austin is not our forever home, but it also reminds me that it is a season and I will feel better in the fall.

As much as I have complained about Austin recently, there is much I would miss if we were to leave.  Last night I had the perfect Austin evening with a college friend I see far too little for my liking.  We rode our bikes to Barton Springs, swam in the pool while bats flew overhead, watched the summer musical on the hillside, jumped in the pool once more during intermission, and then biked back home.  Only tacos and sno-cones were missing.  It was lovely, and just what I needed to restore my faith in my life here.

I have been spending all of my free time for the last week reading the A Song of Fire and Ice books (better known by the title of the first book, Game of Thrones).  Prior to this series, I was reading a lot of non-fiction.  Sometimes I forget how much I love fiction, then I'll pick it up again and think "Ahhhhh, this is what has been missing from my life."  I am only partway through the second book so I have many days/weeks of my life to invest in the series.

Here's to a week filled with good books, good friends, and many naps!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Kitchen Remodel Part II

Having a one-year old is not conducive to a quick and efficient kitchen remodel.  Shocking, I'm sure.

Nearly two months after starting this project, I am happy to report that we are (finally) almost finished.  The cabinets are painted, the hardware is installed, the cabinet doors are back on, the counters are sealed and waxed, and a new faucet is in place.  All that's left is choosing and installing the tile.

Oh, the tile.

Before we started this process I thought that Henry and I had similar interior decorating tastes.  Well, if I am being honest I would say that I thought that Henry did not care one way or the other--not because he's a man who can't be bothered, but because in the past he has shown little interest in investing money to make something more beautiful.  If it was practical and functional, that was enough.  I thought it would be the same this time.

That assumption was false.

Now we are trying to choose a tile we can both agree on that is within our budget.  I am glad we waited to decide until the cabinets and counters were finished because it makes it a lot easier to visualize which tile will look best.  Easier, but not easy.  Before we get to the top contenders, here's pictures of the kitchen in its current state:


I love this blue penny tile, but Henry is not so sure about the penny tile or the blue.  It will also be more annoying to install than square or subway tiles.

 Photo from Overstock


We've been leaning toward this square tile, but I am not sure how the green will look with the green paint in the house.  It could be the perfect way to bring everything together, or it could clash terribly.  It's hard to tell from a photo on a screen.  I slightly prefer larger tiles (penny tile aside, of course), but I am coming around to these small squares.

Photo from Overstock
I also think something like the one below could look good, though we'd want to install it horizontally, not vertically.

Photo from Overstock
My absolute favorite tile is this lantern tile, but if this isn't our forever house, I am not sure it's worth spending the extra money.  It's more than twice as expensive as the penny tile.

Photo from Overstock
I originally wanted white subway tile like in the photo below, but Henry hates it.  Most ideas he just does not prefer, but this one was vetoed immediately.  After having the counters installed, I can agree that he was right.  We need a some sort of color in the backsplash, otherwise it will feel very monochromatic and boring.  But isn't it beautiful?  So crisp and clean.  Looking at this picture makes me want it all over again...

Photo from Better Homes and Gardens
I do still love the subway look and we could do something like this:

Photo from Better Homes and Gardens
If we go with subway, the issue becomes picking a color.  We don't want to choose green for a solid color since our walls are a light green and it would be hard to not clash but also not be too match-y.  Henry is hesitant to add another color to the kitchen since we already have a lot going on (brown concrete floors, grey counters, white cabinets, light green walls).  I think blue would look good and be inoffensive to future buyers.  Maybe this more narrow rectangular tile?

Image from Overstock
Any and all comments, thoughts, and opinions are welcome.  We are hoping to make a final decision this weekend.