Monday, December 15, 2014

Life lately

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

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

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

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

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

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

How was your weekend?

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

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

Thursday, December 11, 2014

When patience is nowhere to be found

On a scale of 1 to 10, I would say my parenting so far today is hovering around a 3. It feels more like -3, but I am giving myself credit for both children being alive and fed. 

Being patient is so hard when I am sleep deprived. Not just hard--impossible. And patience is exactly what you need when you have a toddler who is programmed to test limits.

Children, I hope to be a better parent tomorrow. If not tomorrow, then maybe sometime in the next month or two. And if not then, just know I am doing my very best.

It's just a phase right? It's going to get better? That thought is the only thing that keeps me going these days.

The longest, shortest time indeed.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Home for the holidays

Last year we visited both sides of our family for Christmas--two weeks of vacation split between Missouri and Arkansas.

We read, we ate, we relaxed, and generally enjoyed a low-key holiday. HP was a champ when it comes to traveling and went with the flow. Later nap than usual? Delayed flight? Long trips in the car seat? No problem. The child who normally woke up before 5:30 a.m. regularly slept until 7 at both grandparents' houses. Amazing. All in all, the holidays were lovely.

That said, I am looking forward to staying home this year. Not because we had a bad time, and not because there was anything particularly stressful about our experience, but because I want HP to experience what I had growing up--a simple, beautiful Christmas at home.

I have always been attached to spending Christmas with my family--probably too attached at times. I love all of our traditions (most of which revolve around food, of course) and I wanted HP to be a part of it. But being home last year made me realize that I don't want to recreate memories of my childhood for HP; I want to create new memories and traditions with him.

After having stress-free Thanksgivings in Austin the last few years, the thought of spending Christmas at home is even more appealing. I don't want HP's holidays (or ours!) to be filled travel--no matter how pleasant the experience is once we arrive. Never having to travel for the holidays? Now that is living the dream.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Simplifying toys

It is no secret that I have been purging our belongings since our move to the rental house. With each new sweep through the house, I find even more things we can do without. I started by focusing on my own stuff, then on to communal items, and eventually to HP's toys and belongings.

Even before my interest in minimalism, I do not think he had an excessive amount of toys. We have been intentional about not bringing in too much and are fortunate to have relatives who give him thoughtful gifts without going overboard. During my latest effort to minimize, I took about a third of his toys and put them in the closet to be rotated back to the play area at a later time. With Christmas around the corner, I am sure even more will be put away as new ones take their place.

Here's a look at the current setup, starting with the main play area:

HP's room:

And finally, his little table where he likes to draw with markers:

We also have two cabinets in the living room with HP's stuff. One contains board books, the other has extra toys that usually only come out on playdates. He is allowed to get them out any time, he usually chooses another activity.

The reduction in toys has not adversely affected HP. I am not even sure he noticed that there were fewer toys out on the shelf or in his room. We want him to have plenty of things to spark his imagination and keep him engaged, but have learned that it takes very little to meet those goals. In fact, I have observed that having an overwhelming amount of toys out inhibits rather than fosters creative play. Ninety percent of the time, HP wants to do one of three things: (1) read books, (2) build with blocks, or (3) play outside. So all he really needs is a library card, things to stack/build, and access to the outdoors. It doesn't take much (in the way of physical objects) to keep a two-year old happy.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Holiday traditions

It's that time of year again.

This year, more than years past I am being intentional about what traditions we want to create in our family. This is the first year that HP will really "get" Christmas, and it's also the first year we'll be having Christmas in our home.

I am not sure of the right balance to strike in our approach to Christmas. We are not religious, so focusing on that aspect of the holiday--other than as part of our cultural heritage--is not important to us. But we also don't want to make it all about the presents either. Instead, we will try and center our celebration around family, food, and the values we cherish (as vague as that may sound).

I loved that growing up we always had Christmas in our home with specific traditions we did year after year and want to create that for my children. Here are some that I want to either continue or start for our family:
  • The tree. We decorated our pallet tree this past weekend. Maybe eventually we'll have a real tree, but for now, this works for our space.
  • Chex mix. We always had huge tins of homemade chex mix during the holidays growing up and I would have a bowl for breakfast while we were waiting for everyone to get up to start opening the stockings. If I had to choose between chex mix and holidays sweets, I would choose the chex mix every time.
  • Advent calendar. Growing up, we had a giant board my dad made. It was divided into squares and each square had four nails. We'd go to the grocery store and buy bulk candy, then fill little drawstrings bag with the candy. Every night after dinner each child got to take down the bag from that day and eat the candy. I do not want our calendar to be focused on candy, but I would like to find a way to celebrate Advent and mark the days before Christmas. Maybe reading a different Christmas book each day? Something with crafts? An advent wreath? A nativity set? Any ideas (that do not involve candy or food) are welcome!
  • Treats. I will be sure to have cheese ball on Christmas Eve--another staple of my childhood. Growing up, we also had a "treat tray" that would come out after dinner. My mom went all out--fudge, toffee, chocolate covered oreos and pretzels, haystacks, almond crescents, lebkuchen, the list goes on. Making all of that feels like too much to me, but I'd like to pick a few to make myself.
  • Christmas breakfast. I want to make egg casserole and my great-grandmother's cinnamon rolls for breakfast Christmas morning. The rolls are a bit complicated, so I'm not sure I'll actually do that one, but I will try. When we're at my house, my sister makes stollen that is delicious, so maybe I'll go that route. The egg casserole is non-negotiable.
  • Stockings. My great-grandmother (of cinnamon roll fame) knitted every family member a stocking. My mother has taken on that task for the newest generation. In my family, we always wrapped all of the stocking presents. In Neil's, they did not. I think we will not wrap them to help simplify--less wrapping, less trash, more time. Sounds like a win to me.
  • Christmas dinner. I know I do not want to do the traditional feast, as that seems like too much work on Christmas day. I am contemplating making a tradition of having a simpler meal like enchiladas or lasagna that can be prepped ahead of time and popped in the oven. Or maybe a particularly delicious soup with bread and salad. I want to be intentional about not creating too much work for myself or Neil so we can enjoy the holiday.
  • Christmas presents. Neil's family opens one gift at a time with the whole family watching. My family did this on Christmas Eve when we all got to choose one present to open, but not on Christmas day, partly because we often had fifteen people in the house and that would have taken hours and hours. When it's just a small group though, I love doing it more slowly and really focusing on each gift and giver.
This will be the first year that I am the person responsible for creating the memories rather than the recipient. I am excited to make the season special for our children and see how our old traditions evolve and new ones develop throughout the years. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving in the country

We spent our Thanksgiving with one of my closest friends in Austin, her husband, and their toddler daughter who just happens to be HP's best friend. Sadly, they are moving to Portland at the end of the year.

Their family is temporarily living on 400 acres of property southwest of town. I hadn't made it out there since they moved a couple of months ago (biking isn't exactly an option) and was excited to see and explore the place we had heard so much about.

We loved getting out of the city and spending time with friends in nature. Living in the center of Austin allows us to be car-free, but I forget how nice it is to get away from it all and just be in a place less crowded, less hectic, and not covered in asphalt.

The ranch is a toddlers' paradise. The two of them had the best time climbing the mulch pile, going down the cardboard/mulch slide--on riding toys!, throwing rocks and sticks in the creek, and generally exploring the outdoors. They were both worn out by the time we left--the sign of a successful day outdoors.

Baby E was unimpressed with the festivities and spent the day asleep in the carrier.

Perfect weather, delicious food, good friends, and a beautiful setting. A lovely Thanksgiving, all around.

Now, on to Christmas!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


It feels like surviving is all we've managed to do this last week. I know I said we were doing great and the adjustment was easier than expected. And it's true--we are doing just fine. Most of the time.

Then the evening arrives with all of its crying and chaos, at which point I want to find an empty bed and pair of earplugs so I can curl up under a comforter and sleep all my troubles away. Sadly, that is not an option. So instead Neil and I attempt to soothe a crying infant and meet the needs of a tired toddler.

The other night we were sitting on the bed, staring at the wall in utter exhaustion after both of our children were asleep (victory!). Then we had the following conversation:
S: What are you thinking about?
N: How hard this is.
S: Yep.
Then we went to sleep.

And that, my friends, pretty much describes my life right now.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Back on the bike

Yesterday was my second bicycle trip since a week before giving birth. And it was amazing. The weather was perfect. Eighty degrees, a nice breeze, leaves changing colors. In a word, bliss.

In fact, prior the stress of bedtime with two small children, the whole day was lovely. In the morning, HP, Baby E, and I walked to the farmers' market and enjoyed the scene for an hour while chatting with friends that we happened to see there. Then, everyone napped (including me!). That is no small feat, friends.

Then before the younger set woke up I hopped on my bike to see a friend's art on the East Austin Studio Tour. The ride was exactly what I needed. Out on the bike, fresh air, exercising, not being responsible for anyone or anything.

There's a lot to be thankful for these days, not the least of which are bike rides through the neighborhood. I won't be biking as much as usual until Baby E can be on the bike, so while it may seem like a small thing, it is big in my world.

Happy Thanksgiving week!

Monday, November 17, 2014

One month in

We are more than a month into parenting two children. So far, so good. Great, in fact. The transition has been easier than I anticipated, probably because I anticipated complete chaos, so reality feels like smooth sailing in comparison.

Don't misunderstand--we're tired, our toddler still only naps a couple of times a week (with evening meltdowns a regular occurrence on the days he forgoes the afternoon rest), the house is never picked up, and we've had more than one night where dinner consisted of scrambled eggs and carrot sticks.

But we're doing alright.

We have had such great support from our community of family and friends. Neil took three full weeks off, and is now back at work two days a week plus a half day telecommuting. He doesn't have to be back full time until just before Christmas (!). My mom came for a week and fixed all of our meals and took HP on morning adventures so he could get out of the house and we could rest. Neil's mom came for a weekend and helped with HP, the house, and E so we could sneak in frequent naps. So many friends brought delicious meals those first weeks, which was nothing short of amazing.

E is a very relaxed little gal. She only nurses when hungry (rather than for comfort like HP), sleeps for 3-4 hours stretches at night (she even did 5 hours last night!), and rarely cries. She doesn't care for getting her diaper changed or getting dressed, but otherwise goes with the flow. HP is adjusting well and is a sweet big brother.

Documenting my thoughts here has not been a priority as we find our new normal, but I hope to be back in the swing of things soon. So much to say! But so hard to sit down and write when I could be napping...

Friday, October 3, 2014

The calm and the storm

Just hanging out on the deck.
This summer I have been savoring the calm before the proverbial storm of child number two's arrival. Life feels so... settled. While we are beyond excited to meet this baby and move into the next phase of our lives, I know that settled is the last thing we'll feel in the first few months (or year) after his or her arrival.

So for now, we are soaking it up. HP sleeps through the night. He talks in full sentences. He has a predictable routine (hit or miss naps aside). Parenting him feels almost (dare I say it?) easy. Of course there are challenging moments as toddlers are designed to push their limits and our buttons, but overall, we've found a rhythm that works for us.

Just thinking about going back to the sleepless nights and scheduling around multiple naps makes me want to curl up in a corner. A few months ago two good friends of ours had a little girl. We spoke to them on the phone when their daughter was only two weeks old, and her mom was raving about how well she was sleeping--three hour stretches at night! I know that is good sleep for a newborn, but I just remember thinking to myself: Soon I am going to be the one thinking that a three hour stretch is amazing... And I found that thought depressing. What can I say? I love my sleep.

The challenge of sleep deprivation does not even touch on the bigger issue: learning to be a parent of two instead of one. I know it will take awhile to find our normal, so I have already decided to give myself a pass for at least the first three months. Possibly year. Or more realistically, until the babe starts sleeping through the night. Before that milestone is reached (and possibly for awhile afterward), I will consider the day a success if we all make it through the day alive and fed.

That said, I am ready to soak up everything newborn. We know this will be our last child, and infancy is fleeting. The tiny fingers and toes. The adorable yawns. The falling asleep in our arms. The newness of it all.

The calm has been nice. But we're ready for what's next. Bring on the storm.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Selling our car

Rocketstar packed with all of our earthly possessions before we started the drive from Missouri to Oregon (Fall 2008)
Earlier this month we marked the five year anniversary of life without car ownership. We still use a car on occasion, usually when we are on vacation or if we need to haul something too large for a bike trailer or cargo bike. In our everyday life, we often go months at a time without any of us setting foot in one. 

My conversion to car-free living started years before we sold our car. After my original epiphany of the benefits of car-free transportation, the balance in my life slowly shifted toward non-motorized transportation until it reached the point that having a car felt unnecessary.

From 2004-2008, Neil and I enjoyed biking and walking places, but were both still reliant on cars for every day transportation. For Neil, the balance tipped toward car-free living in the summer of 2008 when he moved to Little Rock without a car. We shared mine, but since I took the car to work, his bike became his primary mode of transit. For me, it wasn't until we moved to Oregon for graduate school a few months later that I left the car parked for most of my trips.

In the fall of 2008, we moved to Corvallis, Oregon--a car-free paradise. The city itself is tiny; a mere fifteen minutes on a bike and you are out in the country. I normally walked everywhere, both because I found it annoying to haul my bike up and down the stairs to our second-floor apartment and because I almost always prefer to walk when given the option. Neil usually rode his bike to get to his destination more quickly. Public transit was available (and free for students!), but the town was so small it was almost always faster and more convenient to bike or walk.

Corvallis spoiled us. If our destination was five miles away we thought it was so far. Downtown was less than a mile to the east, we lived on the on the edge of campus, and the local food co-op was just over a mile from our apartment. We started having to make special trips just to get the car out every once in awhile so it wouldn't sit idle for months on end.

In the fall of 2009 I was preparing to spend six months living and working in Senegal and The Gambia. Before I left we took Rocketstar (our 1992 Honda Accord) in to get her oil change and regular maintenance. We learned that while she was running fine now, there were several repairs in our near future--repairs that were going to cost nearly as much as she was worth.

We had talked in passing about selling the car, but after that visit to the mechanic we began to seriously discuss reasons to make the leap.
  1. Practical. I had used the car the previous semester when I was recovering from a knee surgery. Neil never used the car. Ever. When I returned from West Africa, I would be biking and walking easily again. It just didn't make sense to continue holding onto a car that we so rarely used.
  2. Financial. Paying for car insurance, gas, and upkeep, was not worth the handful of times we felt that we needed a car. And after selling, it turns out that need is relative. There are always alternatives when you are forced to look for them.
  3. Environmental. There are many ways to reduce ones carbon footprint, and driving less is one of them. Selling the car was one way we could align our life with our values.  
  4. Lifestyle simplification. Not having a car gave us one less thing to take care of. Yes, it was an adjustment, but since we had been slowly moving in that direction for years, it felt like the natural next step rather than a drastic measure.
If there was ever a good time to try life without car, it was while we were in graduate school living in a small, progressive, bike-friendly town. Well-meaning friends and family worried that we would regret the decision or that our next town we moved to would not be as hospitable to the car-free lifestyle. I took comfort in the fact that if it didn't work out, we could always buy another car; the decision was not irreversible.

Less than a week before I boarded a plane bound for Dakar, we listed Rocketstar on Craigslist and sold her the following day. And we haven't looked back since.

Not having a car has changed the way we live for the better. It has saved us money, made us healthier, connected us to our community, and--most importantly--it's fun. We truly prefer life this way and are happy to have made the switch.

So here's to half a decade of life without a car! May there be many more in our future.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Preparing for labor

I am not ready to give birth. Both in the sense that the babe needs more time to grow (though at almost 35 weeks, not much more) and that I am mentally unprepared to go through labor again. I have known this for awhile, but the depth and reality of my unpreparedness became clear when I came down with the flu last week.

So why exactly did the flu make me dread labor? Because it reminded me of being in labor. As I was doubled over in pain losing fluids at an unnatural rate, I kept remembering how similar I felt during labor with HP, and how I would be going through that process again shortly. I just kept thinking I don't want to do it. I am never getting pregnant again. The morning sickness that lasts for weeks, and then, at the end, while you're in some of the most intense pain of your life, you're also throwing up. It's the worst. Is there any way to get out of it at this point? Maybe an epidural wouldn't be so bad...

Leading up to labor with HP, ignorance was my friend. I did not fear or dread labor. In fact, I had a bring it on attitude. If billions of women have given birth in the past, so could I. It appealed to my competitive spirit. So many people complete the task every day, how hard can it be? Turns out, pretty damn hard.

Before having my naivety shattered by the reality of birth, I took comfort in the fact that I had successfully taken on challenging physical tasks in the past. Not the same thing at all. When I was running a cross-country race or doing wind sprints for ultimate, I was the one pushing my body. When I was in labor, my body was dictating what happened with no input from me. I did not get to decide how far and for how long to push myself; I had to go along for the ride.

This time, I have no such illusions. Labor is painful. Labor is uncomfortable. I am not looking forward to it.

But let's stop the whining. Labor is coming, so I might as well prepare myself. Here's what I'm doing to reframe my mindset going into the birth:

(1) Remember the mantra that I found helpful in labor with HP. I call this one my "Gambian mindset" because I learned and applied it when I lived there. In labor it goes something like this: "Right now I am in pain. It is terrible and awful and miserable. Eventually I won't be." (This can apply to anything. For example, "Right now my toddler is tired, upset, and whining which requires me to use every ounce of willpower I have to remain calm. Eventually he won't be." or "Right now I am biking up a steep hill the heat. Eventually I won't be." Etc.)

(2) Reread the birth stories in Ina May's Guide to Childbirth. I read her book during my first pregnancy, but I think I will get more out of the stories after having been through the process once myself.

(3) Remember that this is likely the last time I will experience labor and delivery. Yes, it's painful, but it's also amazing to see what my body is capable of.

(4) Spending time each day focusing on my breath. I cannot control the contractions during labor, but I can control my mind and how I breathe. In order to hold onto that, I need to practice.

(5) Focus on the reason for the process: a new baby. I can't wait to meet this new little person who will be joining our family.

Only a few more weeks!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Life lately

Seedlings sprouting.
I was struck down with the flu last week for three days. It is always unpleasant, but feeling that ill while eight months pregnant with toddler running around is its own special form of misery. I thought I was in the clear, but was struck down again last night. And now HP has a cold. Neil is fine other than his seasonal allergies. Let's just say things have been a little rough 'round these parts.

I cannot stop getting rid of our stuff. I would say it's a problem, but I love it too much. We've decided to move HP into the office and make his current room the baby/playroom. Making that switch means we need to find a new home for some of office furniture. The desk we'll move into our room, but the filing cabinet and the bookshelf are getting sold on Craigslist. Getting rid of so much stuff you can eliminate pieces of furniture? Amazing.

Next project: sorting through all of the clothes for the baby and HP figuring out what we need/want to keep and what we can pass on. There is no need for such tiny people to have a wardrobes three times larger than their parents. Besides, the three giant boxes of clothes in the closet are taking up precious space that could be empty instead.

I know I already posted a list of things to do before the baby arrived, but it feels never ending. I have become more productive than usual in my efforts to get everything "ready" before a new person joins our family. Even so, it feels like the list is getting longer rather than shorter. Making curtains for the office/HP's new room (though that's Neil's domain--he's the genius with the sewing machine in our family), finishing up cloth book gifts for friends, figuring out what insurance we are all going to be on next year, take books cleared from the shelf to a used bookstore... It feels like as soon as I cross one thing off another takes its place.

The weather here is finally cool enough to open up our house in the evening. It was so chilly last night we had to turn off the overhead fan. Crisp fall mornings, how I love you. I am so looking forward to the long, mild winter of Central Texas. We went outside the other morning and HP said, "It's cold out!" It was 75 degrees. Oh, my little Texas boy.

Happy Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fall planting

Since we've moved into the rental house, I have let myself off the hook for gardening.

I have plenty of excuses, the most notable being that we moved in June--a terrible time for planting in Central Texas. While it is true that the summer heat that fries most plants to a crisp, I was ready to take a break. In fact, I mentally gave myself permission not to worry about growing food until the fall of 2015. Because let's be honest--gardening is not going to be a priority once the baby is here. know myself and am confident that weeding, planting, harvesting, and watering are going to be low on my list of things to do in the sleep-deprived days of having a newborn.

While I am still scaling back, I have reentered the realm of gardening a year sooner than anticipated. We had compost leftover from the spring, four-inch pots for seedlings, and seeds that were begging to be planted--all the ingredients for growing seedlings. If they are a success, I will use some of them plant a (small) garden in the front bed of the rental house and sell the excess through the Yard to Market Cooperative. A little extra income and/or food is always appreciated.

When HP saw the bucket of dirt on the table, he immediately wanted to help. He filled up the pots, planted a few seeds (quite liberally--not sure we need or want ten broccoli seeds per pot), and watered with the watering can. I love that he is at an age where he can help grow food and start to understand the process. Though for him, it is mostly about digging in the dirt. His first impulse after we finished planting was to dump the pots back into the bin. Looks like I'll need to find a safer place than the deck for the trays if I want the seedlings to flourish...

I had low (read: non-existent) expectations for gardening this fall, but am glad I decided to do something. Next step: clear out the grass that has taken over the front bed to make room for cilantro, collards, chard, broccoli, and cauliflower. A project for next weekend.

Here's to cooler weather and the crops that come with it!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hill Country

Over the summer I had been toying with the idea of taking a weekend getaway before the baby is born--a babymoon, if you will. HP is in such good place with his routine and sleeping (sporadic napping aside) that I knew he would be comfortable having someone else staying with him. Once the baby arrives, it will be a long time before we will have the freedom to be child-free overnight. I wanted to capitalize on the opportunity this fall before we are in the throes of newborn-dom.

Before I had firmed up any plans, Neil's parents offered to fund a weekend getaway as their birthday present to him. His mom even came down to visit so she could watch HP all day and night Saturday while we headed out on our own. Don't worry, I fully appreciate both their generosity and our good fortune.

So on Saturday morning, we got picked up a rental car and headed west into the Hill Country. The weather was more Oregonian than Texan--unseasonably cool, cloudy, and drizzling. In a word, perfect. We hiked, we read, we ate, and generally enjoyed breathing in the country air.

Our weekend adventure was the first time we had both left HP for a full day/night. We have each taken trips away from our son, but HP was always with the other parent overnight if the one was gone. Unsurprisingly, HP did great and loved spending time with his grandma. He didn't even ask about us once, which I take to be a good sign.

Now we are back in the city, with no plans to leave in the near (or far) future. We both appreciated the break from the city and the chance to spend an extended amount of parenting-free time together.

A happy birthday indeed.

Monday, September 15, 2014

(Maybe) a family of three

I have been going back through some of my old writing from last fall, and wanted to share this piece. Clearly, we have since decided to have another child. Moving from where we were when I wrote this to where we are today is a different story for another time, but I wanted to publish this to remind myself where we were and what it looked like for us to wrestle with opposing viewpoints in our marriage.

At just shy of fourteen months, my son mastered walking. After weeks of taking hesitant steps before returning to the more familiar motion of crawling, he now happily toddles across the room. He is unabashedly proud of this newest accomplishment, and often throws a sneaky grin over his shoulder when he reaches his destination. When he is feeling less modest, he enthusiastically claps. In moments like those, it is hard to imagine not adding another child to our family.

If you had asked me a decade ago how many children I wanted to have, I would have confidently answered three or four. Two seemed too few, more than four seemed unwieldy. If you had posed the same question on the eve of my wedding, I would have responded two or three and my soon-to-be husband would have said one or two. I figured we would end up compromising with the overlap--two. But children are not something you compromise on and today—more than a year into parenting our son—we would both answer maybe just the one.

It was responsible and productive to talk about having children before we got married, but it was a purely speculative exercise. We tried our best to imagine what it would be like and how we would feel, but thinking about it and living it are different beasts. After wrestling with the reality of the latter, it was clear we needed to integrate our past ideas with our present lives to create a workable vision for the future.

At first, this integration looked more like manipulation as I struggled to let go of my desire for a larger family. I knew that my husband was leaning toward only having one child, but I naively thought I could change his mind. Sure, you only want one child, but I really want two, so that’s what will happen. I did not say that out loud, because even at the time I could hear how selfish it sounded. Children require a lot of time, attention, and sacrifice from their caregivers. They bring joy into our lives, but they also bring stress. Despite what well-meaning strangers on the street would have us believe, the joy does not take away the stress; you have to make room for both in your life. Our son brings love and happiness to our home that would not be present without him, but acknowledging that fact does not lessen the sleep deprivation, accompanying irritability, or feeling of being spread too thin.

After months of going back and forth, we reached a stale mate.  I wanted another child; he did not.  When I got desperate to bring him around to my side, I resorted to the regret card.  You know the one--the I just don’t want to look back on my life forty years from now and wish that we had had another, and the I can see myself regretting not having a child, but not the reverse.


If I was asking him to seriously consider the idea of having another child, then I needed to seriously consider the idea of stopping with one.

So I did. I set aside my preconceived notion that a family of three would be incomplete and sat with the idea of our son being an only child. In that process I realized that holding on too tightly to a decade-old idea of what I thought our family should be was preventing me from enjoying what our family is.

Ironically, one of the things that convinced me I could be happy stopping with one was the very regret argument I tried to use on my husband, only now I worry that we might regret having a second child, not the reverse.

I do not worry that we would not love that child; there is always more love to give. I do not worry that we would be unable to adjust to new routines and schedules; our parenting journey so far has been nothing if not a crash course in flexibility. I do not worry that we would resent the child; we are capable of dealing with our emotions in a way that would not transfer them onto our son or daughter.

But I do worry about the impact a second child would have on our family system. My first obligation is to our marriage and I fear that another child would ask more of it than I am prepared to. Yes, it is a sacrifice to put aside my desire for a larger family. But it would be more of a sacrifice to put our family in a position where the balance between stress and joy tipped in the wrong direction. If having another child means stretching us further than we are capable, then I want to stop with one. Could our marriage survive having another child? Yes--I have no doubt.  But merely surviving feels like an awfully low bar to set.

If circumstances in our life were different, this conversation might have had another outcome. But part of living in the adult world is making decisions based on the cards we are holding, not the ones we hoped to draw.

Intellectually, I came the conclusion that stopping with one child might be the smartest course for our family. But it took longer for my emotions to catch up to my brain. I needed time to mourn the future we may never have and acknowledge what I was losing.

I may never be pregnant and get to feel a child growing and moving inside of me. I may never hold a sleepy newborn of my own as she drifts in and out of sleep. I may never see another child learn to crawl, walk, talk, read, or dance. I may never witness a second child’s first day of school, graduation, wedding day, and the thousand moments before, after, and in between that make a life.

And that’s okay.

I am doing my best to embrace the journey as it unfolds with my son. Even if we have another child, all of those experiences would eventually be in the past. Time moves forward, children grow up, and all of the milestones and sweet moments become memories, no matter how many children we have. 

The longer I sit with the idea of being a family of three, the less it feels like a sacrifice and the more it feels like it could be right choice for us. When I told my husband that I was comfortable with the idea of our son being our only child, he was the one unwilling to permanently close that door.

Before these recent conversations, I always strongly and passionately argued for having another child—and soon! My enthusiasm made him feel the need to stand more firmly on the side of stopping with one lest he become swept away by my relentless attempts to persuade.

Once I stopped approaching these discussions with an obvious motive, we could both admit our doubts—his about our son being an only child, and mine about adding to our family. The tables had turned. Now he was the one convincing me not to abandon on the possibility of another child.

We have tentatively decided to remain a family of three. It is not the final word for either of us; it is more of a natural default position while we decide the best path forward for our family. I still feel the pull to have another child and find myself daydreaming about how our family would look with two children instead of one. He still has reservations about expanding beyond our current size, both logistical and philosophical. But neither of us is willing to convince the other while we have lingering doubts about our respective positions. 

I have come to accept that it is a leap of faith either way. If we decide not to have any more children, we have to let go of all of the possibilities another child would bring. If we have another child, we have to let go of our anxiety about how we would juggle the competing needs of a new child, our son, our marriage, and ourselves.

Decades from now, I am confident we will not regret our choice—whatever it may be—because neither choice will leave with some less-than version of an otherwise ideal family; it will leave us with our family.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

To do before I'm due

We are two months (or less) from this baby being on the outside. Before s/he makes his or her appearance, there are a few things we'd like to accomplish. Forgive the long list, but it helps me to take all of these thoughts out of my brain and onto the page.
  • More decluttering/minimizing/organizing. Specifically:
    • The big closet. We've sorted through the stuff we want to get rid of, but what's left is inaccessible. We need to create a system so we can easily get to our winter clothes and other items.
    • The pantry. I have already gone through this area once, but it could use more culling and organization.
    • The back porch and utility closet. I'm looking forward to spending more time on our deck once the weather cools off. Having a clutter-free area will make the experience much more pleasant.
    • Our external hard drive. We've been through multiple laptops since we started using this drive and I know we have duplicates or even triplicates of many photos stored under different names. I need to sort through, delete, and organize the files in a way that is easy to understand. We also want to start using a cloud backup system for our documents and photos.
  • Make freezer meals. I'd like to have several meals stocked up along with muffins, bread, and other staples to help us in those first few months. 
  • Decide where we are going to put the baby and set up that space. Our rental house has a weird layout and we aren't sure how to best use the space. Eventually we want HP and the baby to share a room, but that won't be for at least a year. For the first few weeks the baby will be in our room, but after that we need to have a plan in place. I am leaning toward converting the office, even though it means the baby will be on the opposite end of the house from us. Either way, it will require some consolidation and reorganization.
  • Build these shelves for HP. He loves to read and his books are everywhere, which makes me batty. Once these are in place we can rotate books through as needed.
  • Sign me up for life insurance. Neil has coverage through his work, but I do not. We'll just get a short term plan in case anything happens while our children are young. I have looked into it multiple times, but have never followed through.
  • Go to the dentist. At our two-year well-check they told us HP should start seeing the dentist yearly. It will be much easier to take him before the baby is born. Neil had his cleaning yesterday and mine is next week, so we'll all be set in that department soon.
  • Make Christmas plans. We are staying in Austin for Christmas, but we need to find out if anyone in our families is traveling and how we are handling gifts this year. My family just buys for the kids, but I am not sure what Neil's family's approach will be this year since it is unlikely that we'll all be together. I know I will not have the mental or physical energy to find thoughtful gifts after the baby arrives, so I want to get everything together early.
Writing it all out makes the list seem manageable. Neil's mom is visiting this weekend, but then our weekends are open until the birth. Right now, I am feeling a lot of motivation to tackle these tasks (nesting, anyone?). Hopefully that feeling lasts for the next seven weeks.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Labor of love

I hate making cookies. I am not much of a baker to begin with, and of all the types of baking, cookie making is my least favorite. With a cake you just mix up the batter and dump in the pan. But with cookies, you have to make the dough, spoon them onto a sheet, bake them, then take them off to cool. I know, I know--it's not that hard. But it's hard enough that I make them only once a year, for Neil's birthday.

I regularly make all kinds of things from scratch and cook dinner most every night, so it is not as though I avoid time in the kitchen. But for some reason, I have a mental block about cookies. Case in point: for his birthday dinner I made a butternut squash galette, which took longer and was more involved than a batch of chocolate chip cookies, but it was the latter I dreaded making.

I almost skipped it this year since Neil's mother is coming into town a few days after his birthday and I am fairly confident that she'll bring cookies. Not only that, she is a cookie making expert. My cookies never turn out as well as hers, so I figure, why bother? He'll get a treat and I will be off the hook.

But it is his birthday, and he does love cookies, so I managed to stop my whining and made him a batch. They're a little thick and floury and a few got overdone on the bottom, but they are still cookies.

Happy birthday, Neil. For you (and only you), I will make cookies.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Making (even more!) room

This weekend I read Everything That Remains, which inspired me to jettison piles of our belongings. I don't necessarily recommend the book, which is a memoir of two men who abandoned their corporate, consumerist lifestyle and embraced minimalism, but I found the concept fascinating.

Space is a premium in our new house with only two closets for the three, soon to be four, of us. I felt great after our last trip to Goodwill, but reading the book showed me that I can let go of so much more.

In the book, the authors talked about how people hold on to items "just in case," when years and year go by without that case ever presenting itself. Guilty. If something is useful, I feel like we should keep it, even if we don't actually use it. When I objectively looked at the situation I saw how silly it was to keep these kinds of "useful" items around. So gone are the chopsticks rolling around in the kitchen, the skirts I haven't worn for years, and the exercise equipment collecting dust.

I also identified with the concept of objects representing our identity. We hold on to books because we want people to know that we are well-read, board games because we want to show we are are fun-loving, crafting supplies because we want to feel creative. Sometimes we are trying to tell those stories to other people, but a lot of the time we are telling them to ourselves. Admitting to myself that I am never going to read my religion textbooks from college again and removing them from the shelf felt fantastic. So did donating the empty picture frames that taunted me with my inability to print out photos to place inside.

My biggest challenge has been letting go of gifts people have bought for me over the years. I feel intense guilt donating or selling an item someone gave us, even if I never use it. There are a couple of big-ticket items I am still holding onto because I can't get over the fact someone gave it to me, even though I almost never use either one. The gift givers would want me to pass it on to someone who would use it, right?

Earlier this week I sorted through my portion of our dresser drawers, went through HP's toys and books, the kitchen drawers, our bookshelf, and am finally finishing sorting through and digitizing our CD collection. Next task: the file cabinet. I am fairly certain I have our electric bills from five years ago neatly filed in a folder. Seems unlikely that I will need those in the future.

When a friend and her daughter came over yesterday she said, "Your house looks so clean!" My response: "Clean? You mean that it looks liberated from all of the physical objects that were mentally and emotionally weighing me down? Why yes it does."

Okay, I didn't say that. But I thought it.

Less stuff. More space. So liberating.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

HP and the edamame

Here's a scene from our dinner on Tuesday night:
Me: Don't put that edamame in your nose, HP.

HP smiles as his pulls out the piece he was shoving up there.

Neil walks back to the table after filling up the plate with seconds. HP recognizes the opportunity to see what Dad will say about shoving food into his nostrils, looks straight at him, and puts the piece back in his nose.

Neil: We don't put food in our nose, HP. Please take it out.

HP proceeds to push the edamame with his finger, making it disappear into the depths of his nose.

Neil and I exchange a look.

Me: Did he really just do what I think he did?

Neil: I think so...
We took him over to the couch, brought out the flashlight, and tried to find the offending bean. It was in there alright, the edge just visible when he breathed.

After consulting Dr. Google, we determined that the bean likely wouldn't work itself out on its own, could fester, cause an infection, and/or be aspirated. Several unsuccessful attempts to retrieve it later, we called the after hours number for our doctor and got him an appointment at a clinic that stayed opened late.

HP seemed utterly unconcerned about the whole process. On the way to the doctor he was chatting away in the backseat about all of the vehicles and construction equipment he saw. In between excavator sightings, he would say, "Going to the doctor. Get the edamame out of your nose."

The doctor's visit itself was fine. The actual retrieval was traumatic for HP as we had to physically restrain him while the nurse shone a light up his nose and the doctor worked to get the edamame out. I am sure it didn't help matters that it was past his bedtime. As soon as she pulled it out he said, "Want to hold it!" I think we're going to pass on that one, kid.

He was back to his cheery self for the ride home.

The next day our peditrician's office called to see how he was doing and to make sure everything got taken care of after hours. Turns out our regular doctor has a trick she recommends: Cover the unaffected nostril, put your mouth over the child's and blow into it to force the offending particle out. Wish we would've known that sooner, as we likely could have saved ourselves a late night trip to the doctor. Next time.

Of course we hope HP has learned his lesson and there won't be a next time, though I am not counting on it since this conversation happened on the way home:
HP: Stick it in your ear? Said as he holds up an object ready for experimentation.

Neil: Let's not stick things into any of our orifices. That hasn't worked out so well for you tonight...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Pregnancy: The third trimester

Approximately 29 weeks
As of a couple of weeks ago, I am officially in the third trimester. Seeing as how I have taken no pictures and written no updates for this pregnancy, it's probably about time to share how it's going.

In general, this pregnancy feels more relaxed than my first one. I am much less in my head about all the details, which I consider to be a good thing. I am too busy living our life to obsess about exactly how far along I am or reading every pregnancy book, blog, and forum in sight. The whole experience has been low-key, in a good way.

But about those details I said I wasn't obsessing over...

Fatigue. With HP I do not remember being as tired as I am with this pregnancy. I have been napping more often than I did with him. I napped almost every day from weeks six to twenty. Even now I am resting at least one or two days a week. Without the extra sleep, I feel drained.

People say that I am more tired because I am chasing a toddler around, but I don't think that's it. Actually, I think that the whole "chasing a toddler around" line is one of those things people say because everyone says it, not because it's necessarily true. HP is a low-key kid. Yes, we get out every morning and do something around town, but it's not strenuous. We usually go to the park or the splash pad and I sit on the bench and chat with other moms while he does his thing. I think this pregnancy is just different.

Sleep. I'm entering the phase where nighttime sleep is hard to come by. The wake-ups to use the bathroom don't bother me since I wake up for that even when I am not pregnant (though usually not multiple times a night). It's the inability to find a comfortable position that is compromising the quality of my sleep. I am a stomach sleeper, which is challenging (read: nearly impossible) in the third trimester. Sleeping on my side hurts my right hip and I hate back sleeping. So far the hip pain hasn't been too extreme, but I remember how intense it was with HP near the end--not looking forward to that. I am also having trouble turning my brain off in the middle of the night, even when I am exhausted. All of that combined has meant a lot of poor quality, interrupted sleep at night, hence the need to nap more during the day.

Exercise. I have had to slow down much sooner this pregnancy than I did with HP. I don't go to the gym or have regular workouts, but I am active every day since we walk and bike everywhere. Lately even biking short distances leaves me exhausted and my legs feeling sore. The heat of the summer isn't helping things, but it is more than that. With HP, I biked long distances right up to the end, and he was born at the end of June. Though then I wasn't biking with another child, and having an almost thirty pound toddler on your handlebars is no joke. I am doing my best to listen to my body and not overdo it, but we still need to get around.

Movement. Feeling the baby move is the highlight of this whole experience. This babe is not exceptionally active, but I love when I am able to stop and notice all of his/her kicks and jabs. The whole process is surreal. It's easy for me to forget that there is a real, live, person inside of my body, until said person decides to remind me.

Mental preparation. I am not prepared to go into labor. At all. I need to do some work on that front, if for no other reason than it is a waste of my energy to dread something that just has to happen. As for the rapidly approaching reality that we will have another child in the house, I am excited. Nervous for the lack of sleep, but excited to meet this baby and have our family together on the outside. Three months or less.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Books lately

For the past month or so I have been on a mediocre book streak. Nothing terrible (though I did absolutely hate The Goldfinch--which represents a week of my reading life I will never get back), but at the end of every book I felt... unsatisfied. 

Just when I was getting discouraged, my hold for Brigid Schulte's Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time became available. I desperately needed a dose of good writing and critical thinking, and it delivered. It is easily the best non-fiction book I have read all year. The quality of the research and writing reminds me of Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won't Stop Talking, which I have raved about before.  Neil's going to read it next so we can discuss it both in general, and which aspects we would like to apply to our lives, marriage, and family.

In addition to whatever books I pick up on my own, I am a member of two book clubs--one that meets locally and one that meets virtually.

The local book club just finished reading The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara and I am still not sure what I think about it. I would not say I highly recommend it, as I found the writing tedious at times and the plot dragged in the middle. That said, it did make me think and pushed me out of my comfort zone, which are marks of a good book. The novel dealt with themes of child sexual abuse, the role of science in society--particularly its potentially destructive nature in a cross-cultural context, and moral relativism. This New York Times review a fellow book clubber found may have said it best:
Provocative and bleak, “The People in the Trees” might leave readers conflicted. It is exhaustively inventive and almost defiant in its refusal to offer redemption or solace — but that is arguably one of its virtues. This is perhaps less a novel to love than to admire for its sheer audacity.
I love that book club challenges me to read books like The People in the Trees that I would not otherwise pick up. I always leave our meetings feeling differently about the book then when I walked in. Sometimes I end up liking the book more, as was the case with Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things, and other time I like it less, which happened with Maria Semple's Where'd You Go Bernadette? Either way, I come away with a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the book.

Other good books from the summer that I would recommend:

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell 
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

And as always, please let me know if you are reading something excellent so I can read it, too.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Getting away

At the end of last month I took a five day trip to New Jersey to be in a high school friend's wedding. It was the second time I have been away from HP for more than a day, the first being a three-day trip to this same friend's engagement party last summer in New York.

I thought it would feel more momentous to be gone for five days, but it felt ... well, normal. Like it was no big deal. I take that to be a good sign.

I love all of the time I get to spend with HP, but I also love my time alone to rejuvenate. Most of the time, I find those moments of solitude in the down times of our day or on a weekend morning when HP and Neil go to the park without me, but I have to admit, it was refreshing to have multiple days in a row where I was not responsible for another human. This trip felt particularly luxurious as I got to spend two nights in a hotel room by myself (!).

Both times I've taken a multiple-day trip away from HP people have asked, "Do you just miss him so much?" And of course I miss him. But mostly it just feels like I am living my life and I know he is living his. Being a parent does not define who I am as an individual.

It was easy to enjoy my trip because I knew HP and Neil were having a good time together. Besides, they went camping with friends while I was gone, so I am fairly certain they were having as much fun as I was.

When I arrived home after a long day of travel, HP was taking his bath. Did he jump up to hug me upon my arrival? Tell me how much he missed me? Cry out with joy? Nope. He said, "Takin' a bath. Washcloth (points to the washcloth). Mama wearing stripes." and then proceeded to name the colors of each of the cups lined up on the edge of the bath. And you know what? It made me happy that my return was such a non-event for him. I take it as a sign that he is a well-loved, well-adjusted little boy.

I appreciated the break from our regular routine and enjoyed my time away, but I was glad to come back home to my little family when it was over. I think that is the perfect way to feel.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The end of the nap?

Most weeks, I love the rhythm of our life. It's slow, it's simple, and we've all been in a good place. But last week was rough. I mentally struggled to maintain my calm, easygoing demeanor. If I had to pick a theme for the week, it would have been: Parenting is hard.

Things that have made the week especially challenging:
  • HP decided to stop napping. He's doing fine with it; I am not.
  • Neil is busy at work and coming home later than usual. Normally he is at the house well before dinner time, which allows me to cook in peace while they hang out. So relaxing. This week, we've been lucky if he makes it home for dinner.
  • The Texas summer, which has been so mild and pleasant up until now, has begun in earnest. I always think I won't let the heat bother me, but it inevitably does.
Our days used to have five distinct phases: morning hang out time (reading books, eating breakfast, independent playtime for HP, chores for me), morning activity (park, swimming, museum, playdate, etc.), nap time (a blissful 2.5-3 hours!), afternoon hang out time (more books and independent play), and after dinner hangout time (usually Neil and HP playing in his room). Now nap time has been replaced with "rest time", is much shorter, and the whole day feels out of whack.

The new schedule suits HP just fine. He is on edge by the end of the night, but holds it together surprisingly well considering the lack of daytime sleep. It's not until we wash his hair and brush his teeth that the meltdowns start. Bonus: he is in bed by 6:30 or 6:45 on no-nap days and sleeps later in the mornings. So really, he's getting the same amount of sleep as before; he's just consolidating it at night instead of spreading it out to a nap. But it's still an adjustment.

After mentally fighting the change, I am trying to embrace the new normal. I am not completely convinced that naps are a thing of the past. A few weeks ago it seemed he was dropping his nap, then just as suddenly he started napping every day again. He is cutting his top two-year molars, so I am crossing my fingers that is the reason for the change. But at this point, it feels like a long shot and that I need to let go, admit that trying to force a nap on him is more about me than it is about him, and follow his lead.

I am a huge believer in young children needing a lot of sleep. I think there are far too many children who are not getting enough rest, either during the day or at night. I fully intended my child to be napping well into his fourth year of life. So of course, I would have the child who decides to drop his nap at age two. Parenting is nothing if not a crash course in humility.

It's a new week, and I am already planning strategies to make it better than the last. So far I've come up with:
  • Using the morning time to accomplish tasks that I normally would have done during his nap time.
  • Letting go of the expectation that I will have a long chunk in the afternoon to myself and accept that "rest time" is only an hour. Easier said than done.
  • Keeping the house straightened. When the house is a mess, everything feels more overwhelming and frustrating.
We'll see how it goes.

Update: HP is currently on a three-day streak of great naps, including taking one in the middle of me writing this post about him dropping his nap. Children are unpredictable.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Making room

When we moved two months ago, we lost a significant amount of storage space. Our old house had four closets in the bedrooms, one linen closet, three medicine cabinets, an enclosed garage, and a shed. Our new house has two bedroom closets, and small enclosed front porch, and a small utility room out back. Needless to say, we had to pare down our possessions.

We are not a family of hoarders. I would not go so far as to call us minimalist, but we have no problem parting with our stuff in the name of space and organization. Cross-country moves by car (one Honda Accord en route to Oregon) and train (ten boxes, two bikes, and four carry-ons leaving Oregon) have trained us to hold on to only what is absolutely necessary and to sell or give away the rest.

Our new storage options (or lack there of) forced me to take a hard look at what we owned. While I was in the midst of our project I read about two other bloggers undertaking similar purges. I love the William Morris quote Kelsey references to "have nothing in your house that you do not know to be beautiful or believe to be useful."

There was the craft bin of old t-shirts I one day planned to make into a quilt. After five years of hauling it from place to place, it was time to admit that it wasn't going to happen. I thought admitting that would feel like a failure, but it felt freeing. The t-shirts have since been donated, put back into my regular rotation, or cut up into rags.

Then I confronted the box of physical pictures that has been with me since high school. I got rid of ninety percent of the photos, and am working on the way to organize the rest. That project took all of an hour and a half, but I had put it off for years

Neil is fully supportive of my organizational efforts, but is slightly less willing to part with things than I am. My philosophy is if we haven't used it in the last year, let's get rid of it. His philosophy is "it might come in handy at some point." I let go of the fact that I think he has far too many t-shirts and tools that will never be used, and worked on minimizing the the stuff that I could. And honestly, he's probably right that the tools will come in handy. The t-shirts, well, there is still an excess of those.

Hours of sorting, a trip to Goodwill, and the passage of bulk trash day later, and we feel much lighter.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Guest post on APW

Today I'm writing over at A Practical Wedding about being a feminist homemaker. Come visit me there!

Monday, July 7, 2014

The move

The last two months have been busy. And by "busy" I mean "so crazy that I was reduced to tears on more than one occasion." At the beginning of May we found a rental in a central, walkable neighborhood, applied for, got it, and then proceeded to scramble to find renters and complete all of the house projects we had put off. In the middle of all that, we went on a ten day vacation to Arkansas (file that under "less than ideal timing").

So that's where I've been.

We've been in the new place for almost exactly a month. All the stress, the crazy running around getting our house ready to rent out, the late night projects that left us with precious little free time--it was worth it.

We're now in walking distance to the library, three parks, two splash pads, one pool, and downtown. Neil cut his commute by more than half. When the new baby arrives, we will be off the bike for the next ten months, so having those amenities close will be essential to our whole family's sanity. HP and I will still need/want to get out of the house most days. In the old house, it would have been a real challenge to make that work. Additionally, there's a good chance Neil's work will move three miles further out, so moving closer will keep his commute more reasonable if/when that change happens.

There are lots of things in life that I think I want (a smartphone, for example), and then I ask myself, "Would X really make me happier?" Usually the answer is no. In this instance when I asked myself that question about moving, the answer was an unequivial yes. I know I could have made it work from our old house, but I didn't want the first year as a family of four to just be "making it through."

Neil and I went back and forth for a couple of months on whether we should make the leap. When we found the perfect place to rent we had to make a decision quickly about whether to move forward. I remember looking at him the night after we saw it and saying, "Do you think we should go for it?" His response: "Let's do it. It's been awhile since we've had a big adventure." Just thinking of his answer still brings a smile to my face.

Is it pathetic that moving to a new house is our "big adventure"? Maybe. But it feels good to know that when we had the power to change our circumstances for the better instead of sticking with the status quo because it was easier, we did.

And you know what? It does feel like an adventure.

Monday, February 24, 2014

My love/hate relationship with Austin

It is no secret that I have struggled to embrace life in Austin. The summers are hell. It's in Texas. And it's a big city.

But. But. There are so many aspects of our life here I love. I know I will forget the positives in a few months when the heat of the summer is upon us, so I best write it out now while my heart is full of love for this place.

So here it is. What I love, and hate, about life in the Texas capital.


The winter. It's blissful. The past two weeks have been in the mid-seventies, sunny, breezy. Perfect park weather. Perfect biking weather. Perfect everything weather.

The food culture. There are farmers' markets at least four days a week all year round. We live less than three miles from four urban farms. There is a local, seasonal, bulk only grocery story. A cooperative grocery with two branches. More food trucks and restaurants that I could ever hope to try. Even though we rarely go out to eat, we are glad to live in a place that has so many options, many of which are focused on local and seasonal foods.

Our backyard. HP spends at least an hour every day exploring our backyard and the parkland beyond. We usually meet Neil in the driveway on his way home from work. I'll take Neil's bike inside and work on dinner while they head out back to run down the path, throw rocks in the creek, climb the hill to the bridge, and explore the boulders at the bottom of the stream below. Besides the obvious benefits for engaging a toddler, we have space to hang up our laundry, grow a garden, and look out our back windows and see nature, rather than concrete.

Our house. The major repairs are almost done and we will soon be able to kick back and enjoy the fruit of our labors. It brings a smile to my face just thinking about it. The size of our house is just right for our family (1300 sq ft including an enclosed garage we use to store our bikes, tools, strollers, etc.). If anything I would say it is slightly too big. The mortgage is affordable, which in Austin's real estate market is becoming harder to come by.

Community. After a low point last summer, I stopped making excuses for not getting out of the house and made socializing a priority. It has paid off and I am significantly happier now than I was a year ago. Austin is a young city full of transplants, which makes it easy to meet people once you reach out.

Neil's job. He likes the work he does, has coworkers he enjoys being around, and is making a meaningful contribution to the world. It's hard to complain about that combination.


The summer. I am terrified of the summer. Yesterday HP and I were down by the creek while Neil worked on replacing outlets in our house. We had on long sleeves to block out the sun, hats, and suncreen. The heat was uncomfortable. Not unbearably so, but still a notch above pleasant. It's February

The size. It's a big city and we are not big city people. Austin is not a dense place; if it were, the large population would be less of a problem. Almost anywhere we want to go requires a minimum three mile bike ride, usually closer to five or six, and sometimes more than ten. Not terrible, but not amazing. Besides the inconvenience of a large land area, the air quality is terrible and borderline non-compliant.

Cost of real estate. Ideally we would live in a more central, walkable neighborhood. I love our house and yard, but I wish we could walk down the street to the library or to grab a coffee with friends. Simply put, we are priced out of those neighborhoods. I try and pretend we're not and frequently browse the listings, but when I stop and do the math I have to admit that it's not going to happen.

The politics. I know crazy stuff happens in all parts of the country. My native Missouri (home of the infamous Todd Akin) is no exception; I am always horrified when I read the local newspaper and discover what the state legislature is up to. But Texas is its own special brand of crazy. Austin is somewhat isolated, but we are still governed by Rick Perry and have to follow the curriculum decided by Texas State Board of Education. (If you had any doubts about the incompetence of the Board of Education, please watch this documentary.)

The lack of nature. There are some beautiful parts of the city and state, but it's no Oregon or even Arkansas. I miss having beautiful hiking trails and mountains nearby. There are always vacations...

Austin is likely not our "forever" place, but even taking into account the negatives, it's a good place to call home.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Life lately

I would start out by stating how crazy my life and how I have had no time for blogging to explain my lack of recent posts.  But that would be a lie.  Here's why I've really been away:

(1) I've been reading. Every night I think about all the things I want to blog about, but when nap time rolls around, I pick up my book instead of writing. There are worse ways to spend the afternoons and I can't say I feel guilty about it. My favorite books from the past month? Divergent, A Partial History of Lost Causes, and the Family Fang.

(Can we also talk about how ridiculous the Austin Public Library is for only allowing users five holds? Because five holds is not enough. Especially when I have to wait MONTHS for popular books. Example: I am number 242 in line for the Goldfinch. Two hundred and forty-two. There are 42 copies, but it will still take several months before I make it to the top of the list. Ugh.)

(2) Every time I start a post my phrasing feels all off, my word choice is awkward, and I give up before I have halfway through.  My answer to that is that I am going to hit publish and stop worrying about it. Because I like looking back on old posts and seeing where I was and what I was thinking.

So here I am. Writing.

This means you can look forward to many more posts of this nature with no general theme and lots of rambling.

The garden is sad. Very sad. I did manage to plant for the late winter/early spring the weekend before last. My seeds are old though, so the germination rate is likely to be low. The radishes have sprouted, but the rest of the garden looks just as barren as before. We do have cilantro going strong if that counts for anything.

The weather has been amazing for the past week. Absolutely gorgeous.  Mid-seventies. Sunny. Perfect for going to the park and wearing the toddler out. I thought I could trade the awful summers here for a real winter, but I have realized that may not be true. It doesn't get below freezing often, but being trapped in the house on the couple of days where it has been too cold to bike somewhere was ... challenging with a toddler. And yes, I know I have nothing to complain about and that when it is cold here it's not even that cold. Let's just ay I have become much more sympathetic to parents of small children who live in cold climes.

We have been waking up in the five o'clock hour for the past month. Usually the first half of that hour.  Usually the first quarter of that hour. I am a morning person and am happy to be up by six. Quarter till would even be okay.  But five? It's a little much. When we try and lay down with him to coax a few more minutes of sleep into all of our lives, he now sits up and emphatically says "no! no, mama! up! go! go!" When I ask if he wants to get breakfast he sweetly says, "o-kay!"

We (finally) closing in on our house projects. The bathroom is almost done. I have been slowly chipping away painting the trim in the main room. The front doors still need to be painted, quarter round needs to go up, and any number of other smaller projects. But we are getting there. Can you imagine how much free time we will have on the weekends when large projects aren't looming over our heads? I can. It will be glorious.

My birthday is next week and Neil is taking off work so we can spend the day together. It will involve breakfast tacos and tamales, time at the park, good cheese, and a cup of coffee and a good book while the boys have their own adventure. We even hired a babysitter for the evening so we can check out a new restaurant on the eastside. I love birthdays.

My child is still sleeping right now, which means he has been down for three and a half hours. Morning at the park with friends for the win. What was not a win was discovering my bike had a flat tire just as we were preparing to leave the house with HP already strapped in and ready to go. Once it became apparent that I was not going to be able to find the source of the leak immediately, we switched to my other bike and the trailer, so no harm done. Fixing it is my project for the evening. Not my favorite task.

And he's up! Off to make frittata for dinner.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Best books I read in 2013

Last year I complied a list of the best books I read in 2012, and it is time to do the same for 2013.

In January, I set a goal to read 52 books by year's end.  I know the number of books read is an incredibly arbitrary measure.  Some books take a few hours, others take weeks to finish.  The point of setting the goal wasn't about the number, but more of a way to encourage me to make reading for fun a priority.  I have always loved to read, but if I'm not careful, I'll use my free time to read blogs, check Facebook, and catch up on my favorite shows.  There is nothing wrong with those pastimes, but balance is key and I know I am a happier person when reading is a regular part of my life.

I achieved my goal and ended up reading 54 in total.  I had a long lull in June and July where I only read one book over that two month span, but in November and December I was averaging two a week.  Here are my top ten, listed in the order I read them:

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor
I was getting tired of reading uninteresting, poorly written memoirs, but Taylor restored my faith in the genre.  Leaving Church follows her move from leading a large Episcopal congregation in Atlanta to a small church in the countryside, and her eventual decision to leave the ministry altogether.  I could relate to her musings on the role of church in the life of both the community and the individual.  As someone who is taking a break from organized religion, this was perfect dose of spiritual stimulation.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Strout's prose is simple and at times sparse, but her characters come to life.  This book is a series of short stories, each of which features Olive Kitteridge.  In some stories she is the main character, in others she only appears briefly.  We learn more about Olive--the good, the bad, and the human--with each chapter.  A beautiful portrayal of life in a small Maine community, it's obvious why she won the Pulitzer.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
This year I read Kaling's book, Tiny Fey's Bossypants, and Caitlin Moran's How to be a Woman--all of which are compilations of autobiographical humorous essays.  Kaling's was by the far the funniest and most relatable and had me laughing out loud.  It far exceeded my expectations.

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
This is a reread, but it was a different experience now that I have a child.  Bronson reviews the research--and debunks common myths--on topics such as language acquisition, lying, praise, and racism. 

The Call by Yannick Murphy
A novel that follows the life of a Vermont veterinarian as he tries to find the person responsible for the hunting accident that injured his son.  Yannick tells the story entirely through his notes on the visits (or "calls") he makes as a vet.  Unique, and effective, way to tell the story.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Non-fiction that reads like fiction.  I am still trying to make sense of my time in The Gambia and what it means to be an American in a world filled with staggering inequality.  Boo's work gave me a new opportunity to engage in those questions.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
By the end of the year I was burnt out on contemporary fiction that left me depressed about love, life, and marriage, but this one still made the cut.  Wolitzer follows the lives of six friends who met at a summer camp as a teenagers.  This one was of those books that I could not stop reading once I started. 

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
A compilation of advice columns written by "Sugar."  Once I got over Strayed's pseudonym (Sugar?  Really?), I was sold.  I was moved to tears multiple times by her compassionate, funny, and insightful advice. 

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
A well-written young adult fantasy book (dragons!) with a strong, complex, female heroine.  I am looking forward to the next installment of the series.

The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption by Kathryn Joyce
If I had to pick only one book to recommend, this would be it.  I loved Joyce's earlier work--Quiverfull--and she has managed to do it again.  Informative and well-researched, this book showed me how much I have bought into the cultural narrative of adoption as a "win-win" situation when the reality is so much more complex.  Fascinating.

Honorable Mention (also in the order read):

Wild by Cheryl Strayed
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
Song of Ice and Fire (Books 1-5) by Geroge R.R. Martin
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University by Kevin Roose 
Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

I have several books on the docket for the next few weeks, but am in need of good fiction recommendations.  As much as I love non-fiction, I get burned out if I don't regularly mix-in quality fiction.  I enjoy all kinds--contemporary, young adult, fantasy, and historical.  Basically anything but chick-lit (though I will indulge on rare occasions).

Here's to a year filled with good books!