Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Christmas gifts

My goal is to be done with gifts this year (including wrapping and shipping items we are sending) before December 1st. There is enough going on in December that I don't want to be running around or spending time online trying to finalize our gifts. I am well on my way because shopping is almost done! I need to make a quick trip to the bike shop and make one gift for E, but otherwise everything has been ordered or found.

It is easy for us to keep gifts minimal since our kids are still so young and they have no expectation of receiving pile after pile of presents. But I also strongly feel that we are laying the foundation of what they can expect for future years as well: a few thoughtful gifts and lots of time spent together as a family creating memories (here's more on some of our holiday traditions).

We have been minimizing our toys extensively and we've always liked to keep it simple, so whenever I would think of a gift idea for one of them I asked myself: "Will I want to donate this in a few months?" If the answer was yes, then I crossed it off the list. Here's what we've decided on for the kids this year:

HP (will be 3.5):
  • Two wooden alphabet puzzles--one uppercase, one lowercase. He has been showing an interest in letters and likes to make them out of blocks and attempt to draw them on paper. I know he'll use the letters to stack, build, and make other creations in addition to actually working the puzzles.
  • A thick board with nails started in it wrapped with a hammer so he can pound away (supervised, obviously). He enjoys helping Neil whenever he is working on a project around the house and is fascinated by tools. He will be able to pound to his heart's content!

HP's Stocking:
  • A roll of painters' tape--he loves the stuff! He likes to wrap up toys around the house and say they are for someone's birthday and fix things that are "broken." He will love having his very own tape instead of having to ask us for it constantly. No damage to the house and hours of entertainment.
  • Toddler scissors--he likes to cut things and usually uses our scissors, but it would be safer and easier for him to have a pair his own. 
  • Dried mangoes (and maybe dates?)--a sweet treat we rarely have.
  • Toothbrush. Because he needs a new one.

E (will be 14.5 months)
  • A walker wagon we found used. She has taken a handful of steps, but is still mostly crawling. I have no doubt she'll love to put things in and out of the wagon and wheel it around the house. Bonus: HP will think it's fun, too.
  • E is big into putting things into containers and taking them back out so I am going to make her a little box like I did for HP (we have since recycled his) so she can slide dominoes into the slot. Easy, free, and fun.

E's Stocking:
  • Two snack packs and a set of metal containers. We already have one of each of these but we need more since we never have enough when it is time to pack snacks. Most of our containers are glass, which aren't ideal for toddlers at the park. Enter snack packs and metal containers--problem solved.
  • Some sort of food treat. Maybe crackers since she loves them and we don't keep them around the house?

The kids will also get a few things from aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Our family is great about giving thoughtful gifts that the kids love without going overboard. I feel so thankful for their approach--I know that presents (how many, what kind, etc.) can be a source of stress for many families and that is not the case for us.

Gift-giving among the extended family adults has become more laid back over the years. We all buy for the nieces and nephews, but not for siblings. I would write more about our plans there, but don't want to spoil the surprise before the holiday since some family members read here.

Neil and I don't generally exchange gifts. I am getting him a couple of small, useful things for his stocking, but no big present. Gift-giving isn't our love language and we are fine with it. We have been contemplating a big purchase for the family (a Vitamix!), but haven't pulled the trigger yet.

It feels so good to be nearly done with presents in November!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Why we left Austin


Fall. Not something we had in ATX.
Austin was a wonderful first home for our family. Our situation there was good--no, great. Neil had a job doing meaningful, challenging work that made the world a better place. He liked his coworkers and his boss. He had an amazingly flexible schedule and six weeks paid parental leave! I had a great community of friends--other moms, people involved in the local food movement, a book club, neighbors. Through my work on the board of Yard to Market Cooperative and at the farmstand I was able to continue to pursue my pre-kid interests. We were finally feeling settled.

So, that begs the question: why did we leave?

I believe that I can be happy anywhere. I think there are places that are easier to be happier than others, but I do not think my location determines my happiness. I was happy in Austin. Very happy, in fact. But when Neil and I discussed where we wanted to be in five or ten years, it wasn't Austin.

Austin felt too big, too expensive, and too hot. Even so, I was willing to consider staying in Austin long term. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to find your "people" in any given place. Once I had found mine, I was loathe to give it up on the chance that we might prefer aspects of other locations better than Austin. But then Neil said, "Every day I bike home over the South Congress bridge and I think: What are we doing raising our children here?" The size, congestion, and pollution all come into sharp relief during rush hour as thousands of cars crawl along I-35.

Now, to all the lovely, wonderful Austinites out there, please do not take offense. It's not Austin, it's us. Really.

I knew Neil didn't want to stay in Austin forever, but sometimes I would joke with him that we were never going to leave. The longer you are in a place, the harder it is to uproot; it was easy to imagine a future as permanent Austin residents. I was coming around, but Neil bristled at the idea. He said he didn't want to wake up in the future wondering why we were still there. If we didn't want to be in Austin in five or ten years, then we needed to do something about it now.

Once we made the decision, we started looking for opportunities elsewhere. If Austin wasn't our forever place, I wanted to find that place and put down roots while the kids were still young. Leaving good people and making new friends as an adult is not easy. I had a "rip off the bandaid approach" and figured it was going to be hard no matter when it happened, so we should just get on with it.

I grew up in a college town and have always been partial to the idea of raising my family in one. They are generally progressive for cities of their size and offer many of the amenities of a larger city in a smaller package. When a job opportunity came available in Bloomington, I was hopeful that it could be our forever place. It had so many of the things we were looking for: smaller, bike-friendly, great schools, beautiful nature, and lower cost of living. In a word: perfect.

And I have to say, so far, Bloomington has not disappointed. Almost every day I let go a deep sigh of relief and think: We made the right choice. Beautiful parks, bike trails, a thriving farmers' market, a wonderful library... I could go on and on. Every day it feels more like "home."

I am apprehensive about facing our first real winter in years, but over the moon excited about experiencing Autumn. Sweaters! Fall colors! Chilly mornings! Bring it on.

We could have stayed in Austin and been perfectly happy. We were perfectly happy. But I am glad we decided to find a place that is a better fit for our family.

Austin, you were good to us. Thank you for a memorable four years. Bloomington, we look forward to getting to know you better.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Preschool


HP started preschool last month. I have had in my head that it would be great for him to start in a part time program the fall after he turned three. In Austin I kept putting it off finding a program for him because it was so hard to find a place that met our criteria:
  1. Within two miles of our house
  2. Had a part-time option
  3. Was reasonably priced
  4. Did not radically go against our parenting ethos (read: we wanted a place with lots of free play and outdoor time and little to no emphasis on academics)
There were places that were close, but they only offered full-time slots. There were places that emphasized free play, but they cost more than our mortgage--for part time. There were places in our budget that did part-time, but they were five miles away. So. I crossed my fingers and hoped that our plans to move would work out and that there would be better options in the new location.

Luckily for us, that's exactly what happened! We found a place that only does part-time (perfect! all the kids are in the same boat!), is amazingly affordable, and emphasizes play.

HP is doing so well. There were no tears or clinging on the first day or any day thereafter. He just found something to play with and off he went. He is one of the quieter kids in the class, which is not surprising to me since he has always been more of an observer in group situations. The teachers have told me that he is "easy," "calm," "so zen," and "composed in the midst of chaos."

Preschool came at just the right time for us. Since moving here, HP's been spending most of his time with me and E since we are still in the process of meeting other families. Back in Austin, we saw friends most every weekday. HP was missing playing with kids his age, and preschool is the perfect opportunity to meet a whole slew of new friends (for him and for me!).

Another benefit: On preschool mornings I get some time to myself while E naps. The first morning I came home, I put E down, made myself a cup of coffee, and read a book in the quiet. Bliss.

It's been interesting for me to have him in an environment where I don't know exactly what goes on. Not bad, just different than what it has been up until this point. Usually he is either with me, Neil, or a relative. Preschool gives him the opportunity to regularly interact with unrelated adults and negotiate a different sets of rules and expectations. I also love that through preschool he has something that is just his, not just something he does with our family. It made me think of this post by Jennifer Dary, specifically this passage:
It reminded me of the feeling I had when my brother went to Kindergarten. I distinctly remember him talking about some of the things they did on his first day of school and realizing that my brother was going to know people and do things that I knew nothing about. Up until that point I had known his whole world... now he was going to have parts of it that were private. He was beginning to write his own story and that's how I feel when I think of Noah spending some of his days at a daycare too.
It's good for HP. It's good for me. It's good for our family. Preschool, it is so nice to have you in our lives!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Box bike or bucket bike?

Back in the spring, we decided to buy a longtail cargo bicycle to accommodate our family of four. We have been happy with the Yuba Mundo, but since moving to Bloomington we've realized that we need to find a biking situation for the kids that will work in the colder weather. Riding a bike in the cold is okay for the rider, as you warm up quickly when you pedal. For passengers, it is a different story. Especially for passengers that are too young to know what is good for them and proceed to pull of mittens. Solution: a cargo bike with a rain cover, either a Madsen (bucket in the back) or a bakfiets (box in the front).

Image courtesy of Madsen Cycles

WorkCycles Kr8: ready-steady-cargo!
Image courtesy of WorkCycles

We were almost ready to pull the trigger on the Madsen last week, but I have been waffling. It is a major purchase and I want to make sure we are making the right choice.

Pros of the Madsen:
  • It can comfortably holds four children so we could pick up friends and bike-pool as the kids get older (most bakfiets only hold two or three).
  • Cheaper than most bakfiets.
  • It would be easier to handle the bike from the get-go. I am sure I would adjust to the handling of a bakfiets, but the steering and balance is different than a traditional bike. The Madsen would feel more familiar right away.
  • It would last longer as a child-carrying device since the kids would outgrow the bakfiets before they would outgrow the Madsen.
  • The bucket is larger than the box on the bakfiets and rated for heavier loads. It's larger cargo capacity would make it useful long after the kids were done riding in it.
Pros of the bakfiets:
  • The kids ride up front. It is easier to carry on a conversation and more fun to bike with kids in the front.
Looking at these lists it seems clear that the Madsen is the better choice: cheaper, holds more cargo, and easier to ride from the start. But the one pro of the bakfiets is the reason I haven't been able to make a decision. I really love the idea of the kids in the front.

Decisions. If anyone has any advice or opinions, I would love to hear them!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Selling our home




All photos courtesy of Twist Tours

Neil and I just finished signing the closing documents on our house. By the time this post is live, the money will be in our account and we will no longer be homeowners. *Insert celebratory cheers!* All things considered, the sale of our house went smoothly, and we couldn't be more thankful for how things turned out.

This house was the first home we owned. It was where HP was born, learned to walk, and said his first words. We have so many good memories from our time there: walks through the neighborhood while wearing HP, exploring the creek and trail in the parkland behind our house, baths for HP in the kitchen sink before bedtime, conversations with neighbors, and snacking on our harvest from the front yard, to name a few. It was a good home to us.

We moved out of the house last summer to be in a more walkable location. This spring we decided that we would sell when our tenants' lease was up at the end of June, regardless of whether or not we were leaving Austin. Things moved faster with Neil's job search than we anticipated and we ended up with a very small window to get the house ready to sell after our tenants moved out and before we left town. We managed to list it the day after we moved to Bloomington.

The first weekend we received six offers--five above asking price. I thought it would be smooth sailing from there, but we went under contract three times before it finally sold. It all worked out for the best, as the final contract was actually the best offer we had received throughout the whole process. We were incredibly lucky with our timing for both buying and selling--we bought before the market took off in Austin and sold in a strong sellers' market.

We bought the house in the spring of 2012 and moved in just a few weeks before HP was born. To anyone considering buying a house while pregnant, I recommend not buying a fixer-upper. I am sure that is obvious to most everyone in the world, but apparently not to us. Here's the list of work we've done on the house since buying it (items in bold done by us, and by us I mostly mean Neil):

  • Removed ceilings and abated the asbestos (asbestos was in the popcorn on the ceilings and was cracking/peeling)
  • Installed new ceilings
  • Patched, cleaned, and stained concrete floors
  • Put in radiant barrier in the attic to improve energy efficiency
  • Installed new insulation in the attic
  • Installed a ridge vent on the roof
  • Installed a whole-house fan
  • Refinished the pantry with all new wood
  • Put in a garden and built compost bins 
  • Replaced a rotting window in the enclosed garage with French doors 
  • Installed a solar tube in living area
  • Remodeled the kitchen
  • Remodeled the bathroom
  • Installed new energy-efficient windows
  • Repaired the foundation
  • Replaced the back half of the roof (the front had been replaced a few years before we moved in)
  • Installed a new bamboo privacy fence
  • Refinished the bathtub
  • Repaired drywall cracks
  • New paint everywhere (ceilings, cabinets, trim, and walls)
On the one hand, I am so glad we put the work into the house. We were able to sell the house for a profit. Most of the price increase was due to appreciation (the market in Austin is bananas), but a big chunk was from the work we did. I feel fortunate that Neil is able to fix/remodel/install things for a fraction of the cost a contractor would have charged. That said, many weekends during the first two years of HP's life were spent on house projects. In retrospect, I wish we had bought something more move-in ready. I console myself with the knowledge that we made the best decision we could with the information we had at the time.

I have many thoughts about what we will look for in our next (hopefully forever) home. But for now, we are going to enjoy a few months of just being renters.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

How meal prep is saving my sanity



In Austin I had a friend who regularly spent her Saturday or Sunday afternoons prepping meals for the week. She would make muffins, cook and shred a chicken, make a soup, and generally get ready for week's meals. I was always jealous of the outcome, but never motivated to give up a chunk of my weekend to do it myself.

Not wanting to put in the time was only part of the reason I never did any meal prep. The main reason I resisted is because I thought I didn't need it. Cooking dinner every night wasn't a burden; I enjoyed it. HP was (and is) interested in the process. At our rental in Austin, he would often stand on his climber and help chop (rather ineffectively, of course), put ingredients in the pot, and stir. I enjoyed spending that time with him and I liked that he saw how our meal was made each night. When he wasn't up for helping he would usually play independently in the living room without (too much) complaint. Some days Neil was even home early enough that he would hang out with HP while I listened to All Things Considered and cooked, which was the best.

Enter child number two. What used to feel relaxing and enjoyable has now become stressful. At the end of the day, HP and E are both demanding my attention. Neil usually isn't home until the bulk of the dinner work is already completed. My patience levels when I am not sleeping well (thanks E!) are limited. Not a recipe for a happy household in the hour leading up to dinnertime.

I knew something had to give and reading about Shutterbean's meal prep was the final push I needed to give it a try. I've been doing it for three weeks now, and I am officially sold. Here's what I accomplished last week:
  • Frozen burritos for lunches or last-minute dinner
  • Hummus
  • Carrots, celery, beets, and green beans prepped for snacking
  • Chickpeas and black beans soaked and cooked for meals
  • Veggies for all meals prepped (carrots, onions, acorn squash, peppers)
  • Tofu chopped and marinated for snacks and meals
  • Dozen eggs hard-boiled for snacking
  • Two dozen muffins for breakfasts (minus the peach and honey, plus cocoa)
It was so worth the few hours it took. I caught up on podcasts while I worked and Neil took the kids out to the park. Meals were a breeze all week long, often requiring no more than ten minutes of hands on time from me. Throughout the day it was easy to reach for a healthy snacks since there were multiple options ready to go. And on Friday, when I just couldn't deal with the world, I pulled out the freezer burritos for dinner.

I may not find the time to make it happen every week, but I am going to try. Even I only wash and chop some of the veggies for the meals, it will go a long way toward making the end of the weekdays feel calm and smooth. Well, calmer and smoother anyhow. At this stage, I will take what I can get.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Baby's first bike ride


It's official. Everyone in the family is now on a bike. A biking family of four! I am so glad to have reached this milestone.

There is conflicting advice on the best time to start riding with children. Just like with HP, we waited until E was around ten months to start riding as a family. This age felt comfortable for us because it was when (1) both our kids were sitting very confidently by themselves (and had been for some time) and (2) the helmet finally fit.

E's first ride was a week or two after she turned nine months. We weren't planned on starting then, but HP needed to go to urgent care and we hadn't gotten our front seat set up for her. I loaded the kids in the trailer and off we went.

She hated it.
 
Fast forward three weeks. We adjusted the straps on our beloved Yepp Mini and the Lazer infant helmet to make the ride safe and comfortable for E. We took a short trip to visit Neil for lunch at his work with plans to continue on to the local children's museum. The museum was closed for cleaning, but all was not lost as HP enjoyed playing in the fountain outside City Hall. E hated wearing the helmet--which was her main protest in the trailer. More specifically, she disliked getting the helmet on. Once we were moving she was content. I wouldn't say she loved it, but she didn't complain when we were on the road.

HP's preschool was a huge motivator for getting E on the bike. His class is only three hours long, so if we walked the 1.5 miles each way E and I would be spending most of the morning taking him there, rushing home for her nap, then walking back as soon as she woke up. It would be a lot of sitting in the stroller for E and while I love a good walk, I didn't want to commit to six miles every preschool morning.

I was not completely satisfied with the way the front seat sat on the Yuba Mundo (pictured above) so I decided to switch to my Electra Ticino for the preschool drop-off. Success! E seems to be enjoying the ride more each time we go.

It is such a relief to be biking again. I had gotten used to walking everywhere over the last ten months and honestly didn't feel too anxious or impatient to bike with E. But getting back on the bike was like talking to an old friend I hadn't seen in years. We've only been biking a week, but I already feel the same wave of freedom I felt when HP reached this milestone. Biking is easier, faster, and more convenient.

E, welcome the world's superior form of transportation. I hope you are ready for many family adventures traveling on two wheels, because now that you are on a bike there's no stopping us.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Life lately

We are settling into life in Bloomington. Some thoughts on life lately:

August in Indiana is lovely. Such a welcome change from Austin this time of year. I know, I know, we'll pay for come winter. But no need to focus on that now; I'd rather soak up every beautiful second while it lasts.

We live so much closer to Neil's work than we did in Austin. Twice already we've met up with him for lunch at a nearby park. One of the many perks of small(er) town living.


Earlier this week HP and I went to a "Meet the Teacher" for preschool. That's right, my first born is going to preschool next week. How did he get so big? I know that he is going to rock it. It will give him an opportunity to make new friends here and spend time with another adult in charge. It will give me time to myself and to focus on E. A win all around. This year he'll be going two days a week for three hours in the morning, which I think will be just right.

Baby E. What can I even say? She is the sweetest, happiest little lady around. It is almost enough to make me want another baby. Almost.


I've been in a reading slump lately and have had trouble finding something that sucks me in. I have three book club books coming up later this month (two through meetups here in town that I am doing in an effort to meet new people and one through Google Hangouts with college friends). I haven't started any of them. I guess I know what I'll be reading for the rest of the month!

E is so close to being ready to regularly ride a bike. We need to get her helmet situation sorted and then we'll be off. I am looking forward to the speed and ease of traveling by bike again. Soon! Until then, we'll continue wheeling around town with the double stroller.

Life finally feels like it is slowing down as we find our new normal here. After the whirlwind that was the spring and early summer, I am enjoying the slower pace. Especially when slower pace = impromptu trumpet concerts.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Am I going to miss this?

I wrote this back in March, but never got around to publishing it. So, here it is, four months later! (Pictures are also from March.) Things are feeling easier in some ways, and harder in others. Such is the nature of parenting.





There have been many nights lately where we will be eating dinner and Neil will ask me how my day was. I look around and see HP melting down, E is in my lap nursing because she is tired and too fussy to be set down anywhere, and the house is a complete mess. So in response, I just start singing this song and after a beat Neil joins in.

Because moments like those? We aren't going to miss.

But there are plenty of moments that we will. This afternoon we were outside (March in Austin is perfection). While we waited for Neil to get home HP was busy dipping a paint brush in water to wash off the chalk drawings we made yesterday. E was content hanging out, being her relaxed little self. I was laughing with HP and smelling E's feather soft hair. When Neil arrived we decided to have a picnic in the front yard. And I thought, I am going to miss this.

I just went back and reread Glennon's Carpe Kairos essay. I think I should set a reminder for myself to read that once a week, because it always makes me feel less alone. Lately, parenting has been hard. So hard. At the end of the day have me in tears telling Neil how very not okay I am hard.

I am fairly pragmatic about my parenting experience. I known there are parts I am going to miss, but I also know I am not someone is going to wax nostalgic for these early years. I will remember the hard moments, the just-trying-to-survive moments, and the please-God-let-this-be-a-phase moments.

When I look back on this time, I hope I can say that I did my best to soak in the sweetness of having an infant and a toddler. But I also hope I remember that sometimes even that was too much to ask, and give myself a high-five for just making it through.

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.