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.

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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.