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 Neil.  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.

Neil 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 Neil 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 HP 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.

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.