Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Free Reflection Worksheet

I'm taking a tiny little break from revising the acknowledgements segment of my book, and I came across this lovely reflection worksheet from Andrea over at Superhero Journal. I'm eager to sit down with it and immerse myself in introspection!

I hope your holiday season is unfolding joyfully...

Miss you!

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Vacation! (Or Putting This Blog to Sleep for a Short Nap)

Actually, that's a misnomer. It will feel like I'm vacation to those of you who frequent this here blog, but I'm actually going to be too busy to post. My book deadline (about how to plan a meaningful and memorable wedding without losing your savings or sanity) is January 1. Although I wrote 55,000+ words a couple years ago while I was looking for an agent, I still have to devote massive time and energy toward finishing the last 10,000 words and revising and reorganizing the whole thing.

Plus, we'll be traveling to see both families this year. We'll drive to Florida to see my family (in the Tampa and Orlando/DeLand area) and then fly to Indiana (Bloomington area) to see Matt's family.

I will try to pop in here and there to say hello and share interesting ideas, but I can't make any promises!

I do know that I'll be filling out my New Year's Reflection Form to reflect on the past year and set my intentions for the upcoming year.

I hope your next couple weeks are filled with joy, connection, rest, rejuvenation, and delicious food! I feel so thankful to have this community and this space in my life. Thank you for being here!

Be well,

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dwelling in Possibility: Updates!

Hmm...I want to spill my guts and update you about everything that's happening, but it seems kind of irresponsible to put the intimate details of a real estate transaction out there for the wide, wide world to see.

But it's killing me! I want to tell you everything!

I think I should wait. Yes, that would be the most prudent thing to do. But I want you to know that I am honestly taking wide steps toward my two major goals (to build a micro-pocket neighborhood and to start a public Montessori school in Austin). Even though I can't exactly talk about what those steps are at this very moment, I want you to know that it's hard work, scary work, insecure work, but I'm doing it anyway. That's the best we can do, right? Give it our very best shot? Even if we're scared that we'll fail? Even if others think we're a little loony? Even if there's a possibility that we will be severely disappointed?

I'm inspired by so many relentless, hopeful, optimistic women around me (well, via my computer) who are at various stages in their journeys toward imagining what's possible for their lives. There's Kelly Rae who uncovered her inner artist and launched a career for herself. There's Meg who just turned her book into an Amazon bestseller through hard, hard work. There's Kelly who's following-through on her creative commitment to herself and the community, one scarf at a time.

For me, it's a combination of dreaming big and creating a bite-sized to-do list. I try not to fill up every available free moment with Facebook or television. I try to give my mind a little space in those small windows of time to dwell in possibility. And then I carve out larger chunks of time to brainstorm, make lists, cross out ideas. And then I take the ideas that stand out and start breaking them down into things I can actually accomplish during one of Henry's naps.

And so this is what I'm doing. I'm finishing a book. Trying to purchase land, so we can build a house. Recruiting a board of directors, so I can start a non-profit school. Designing a website. Trying to sell our house.

One action item at a time. One nap at a time.

I will say, if you're interested in being our neighbors in our sooner-rather-than-later pocket neighborhood in East Austin, please e-mail me to let me know. Each lot will cost about $45,000, and we're going to have eco-friendly, modern homes built for about $140/square foot. If you want to buy a lot now and save up money for a house later, that could work, too. I know this stuff takes time.

Okay, back to work! Hopefully I'll be able to divulge more soon!

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

About Page

You may have noticed by now that I have some fancy new navigation buttons in my sidebar (courtesy of the wonderful and reliable Sebrina). Or you may never notice those links if you're using a blog reader....

I have links to the following:
  • Photos of our lives (with a focus on Henry, of course)
  • Notebooks: An overview of how I use a writer's notebook to collect and develop ideas
  • Pocket Neighborhood: Information about the little community I'm trying to pull together in Austin
  • Community: Directions about how to join the Feeding the Soil community (which is sadly quiet!)
  • Organization: I share my system for staying organized with my Life Binder.
  • Home Tour: Exactly what it sounds like!

The other thing I need to create is the "About" page. When I was in college, I loved whipping up quirky and eclectic bios of myself. I also enjoyed it during my early twenties when I was doing internet dating.

But now I'm not so keen on it. Not sure why. It just seems so impossible hard. Do I summarize myself by how I spend my time? Do I highlight things I've accomplished? Do I mention what I'm trying to develop in myself? What I collect? What irritates me?

Egad. The possibilities seem endless.

But alas. I need to write something for that page. Let me take a stab at it below.

I get a serious case of writer's block whenever I sit down to churn out a little bio of myself. I mean, where do I even start? Do I summarize myself by how I spend my time? Do I highlight things I've accomplished? Do I mention what I'm trying to develop in myself? What I collect? What irritates me?

  1. Whenever I start to get overwhelmed, I resort to bulleted lists. I guess that's the first thing to know about me.
  2. I was born in San Diego and spent 12 developmental years growing up there, dude.
  3. I collect vintage pottery of the sea foam green variety.
  4. My immediate family consists of my partner Matt, our bloodhound Hoss, our two chickens (who are also named in the Bonanza genre), and our son, Henry (born 2/28/11). (Editor's Note: They are listed in order of acquisition.)
  5. I spend my days running two blogs, facilitating an online course about preparing your mind, body, and life for pregnancy, writing a book about how to plan a meaningful and memorable wedding without losing your savings or sanity, starting a national network of Montessori charter schools, and volunteering as the Director of Operations and Compliance for Austin Achieve--but only during Henry's nap times. Thankfully, he's a good napper and goes to bed early.
  6. I used to be an over-achiever because my biological father never wanted anything to do with me and doing good work helped me garner the appreciation and love I so desperately wanted from him. Now I'm just an over-achiever because working on different things keeps me engaged and interested.
  7. I spend my free time playing board games that involve letter scrambling, reading, jogging, doing yoga, crafting, making templates, or planning adventures.
  8. I'm passionate about educational reform (first as an AmeriCorps member, then a Teach For America corps member, a KIPP teacher, independent consultant, public Montessori teacher, and now as the founder of Montessori For All, a national network of high-performing, authentic, public Montessori schools in diverse communities). I believe that the kind of world we create will depend on how we nurture our children.
  9. I've been a vegetarian since 2001 for environmental, ethical, and health reasons.
  10. I'm a staunch supporter of same-sex marriage and feel ashamed to live in a historical period that has such a huge example of blatant discrimination hanging over its head.
  11. I'm pretty terrible in the garden and the kitchen, yet I wholeheartedly want to be better in both areas.
  12. I'm not so sure about how to end this list. I was born in 1978, so I have a lot of years to pull material from.

I guess I'll end with one of my favorite expressions:


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Monday, December 12, 2011

Babies' Receptive Language

One of the things we talk a lot about in Montessori is that babies' receptive language (i.e., what they understand) is greater than what they can produce for a long time. For that reason, we spend a lot of time talking to babies. Kylie wrote a great post about how to talk to babies, which includes things like using real words (such as "pacificer" instead of "binky" or "toilet" instead of "potty"). We also spend a lot of time describing what we're doing (e.g., "Now I'm washing your left foot."). Further, we try to imitate the noises that Henry makes. We'll continue that practice until he really starts trying to produce actual words. At that point, we will stop mimicking him and instead reinforce the real vocabulary.

The other day, I realized that a major shift has taken place in Henry's receptive language. I could finally say "No" in a sufficiently serious voice and he would move away from the forbidden object.

As I've talked about around these parts, we try to create an environment of yes's. First, it's better for Henry's development to be in an environment that encourages and honors his need for movement and exploration. Second, it's good for my sanity not to have to chase my baby around all day long, trying to keep him from getting into stuff that he's not supposed to touch. It takes work on our part to keep our house de-cluttered and vacuumed and to pick up the dog bowls every day, but it's worth it to us.

However, there are a few things we simply can't change. For example, our security system has a couple things that plug into the wall and cannot be removed. I've been working around the annoyance by doing various things.

Finally, however, Henry has gotten to the point where he understands "No." The other morning, for example, he was crawling toward the security system plug. I said "Henry, no" in a very serious voice. He started laughing (perhaps because my face never looks that stern?) but he moved away from the plug. The next day, he started crawling toward it again. I refrained from saying anything. Before he got close enough to touch it, he veered to the right and crawled toward something else.

Now that we've started saying no, we really need to pay attention to our follow-through. If we say no about something, we need to mean it, and we need to follow-through if Henry doesn't listen. At this age, that will look like physically removing Henry from the situation if he doesn't listen to our "no."

I still hope to maximize the "yes's" in our house and minimize the "no's", but it's so cool to see his development.

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Holiday Ideas

The most recent issue of Better Homes & Gardens had two brilliant holiday ideas.
  1. You can cut an inch off the bottom of your Christmas tree (which helps with absorption anyway) and use a marker or pen to write your names and the year. You can attach a piece of ribbon and create an ornament to commemorate every Christmas together.
  2. You can make a tabletop Christmas tree by poking sticks into foam in a planter, covering the foam with moss, and decorating the tree with small ornaments, pine cones, etc.

You could also make your own advent calendar, using these tutorials from Oh, Happy Day!

We've got our holiday countdown calendar hung to inspire us to slow down and focus on the season. Good times!

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Gift Certificates: Purposeful Conception E-course

'Tis the season!

If you're looking for a gift to give a friend or relative, or if you're making your own list of what you want this season, consider a gift certificate to the e-course Purposeful Conception: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy!

There will be a session starting January 15 (although the gift certificate can be used on any course throughout the year).

You can purchase a gift certificate by registering for the course and including the name and e-mail of the gift recipient in the "Notes to Seller" section. I promise not to ruin the surprise by contacting the recipient before January.

Once you pay the registration fee, I will send you an e-mail with a gift certificate attached.

If you're interested in receiving notification about registration for the next course opens, you can sign up to receive an update!

Happy holidays....

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Nine Months: Happy Birthday, Henry!

Dearest Henry,

This month was the first time when I sat back and thought, "The time is going too quickly! Please slow down!"

In three short months you are going to be a year old. You are growing so much every day. It's clear that you understand more and more of what we say and do. If your dad blows raspberries on my stomach and then tells you to do it, you will crawl over, lift my shirt, and blow raspberries to make me laugh. You like to chase and be chased.

You are also good at communicating that you don't want to stop eating grapes and cheese in order to drink water. You love eating! You can eat for 30 minutes straight!

You have also grown into a fantastic sleeper. You go to bed at 7:30pm and wake up around 6:45am. After you've gone to bed, it's common for your dad and I to look at pictures of you and talk about what a sweet boy you are.

You are becoming more and more verbal with each passing day. Your dad and I parrot your noises back to you, and you are very good at taking turns in the conversation.

We constantly tell you that we love you and that you're so cute. We also can't stop kissing your fat cheeks.

You bring so many smiles and laughs into our lives. We are so thankful for you.

With love...

P.S. With this month's picture, you were very intent on separating the stick from the fabric flag. Once you did that, then you wanted to put it in your mouth.

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Monday, December 5, 2011

Reflection & Rejuvenation: December

The last month of the year! Egad!

I have officially started scrambling. I don't have much time left to accomplish my yearly goals before 2012 rolls around. My best friend tries to remind me that 2012 is just one day after 2011, but it's more than that. I have to trust that I can set and achieve goals for myself. There is so much about life that we can't control. But there is also so much that is in our control. I want to focus on the things I can influence and accomplish. I want to take responsibility for my life.

And so, December is going to be a big month of action. Oy! But I will temper that urgency and action, so that I continue to live a joyful life.

Let's see how I did on my intentions for last month:
  • Be the best mother and teacher I can be for my son, Henry. I have to remember that all the time and energy I put into parenting now is an investment in our future together. Is there anything I want to focus on in particular? Perhaps getting him to fall asleep independently for naps? (He goes to sleep by himself at night but, during the day, I have to lie next to him and apply pressure to his back so he doesn't crawl off his floor bed and start playing.) I tried a few times but he's not quite ready for this. I will keep trying.
  • Plan spring break. I'm working on it. Does anyone happen to have a free and interesting place we could stay?
  • Plan Montessori For All website. Yes! I'm partnering with an old friend from college to get it designed.
  • Make serious progress on my book about how to have a meaningful and memorable wedding without losing your savings or sanity. This is no joke. I really need to do this. Haven't done it. I have no choice but to do it this month. It's due January 1.
  • Get Christmas presents: All of them are planned. Now I just need to execute.
  • Plan and present a workshop for the Texas Charter Schools Association conference. Yes!
  • Help Matt plan an awesome birthday party (we're hosting a 1980s Slumber Party, complete with pizza, junk food, episodes of Saved by the Bell, facials, games, etc.). Yes!
  • Prepare a nice present for Matt's birthday. Yes!
  • Make something delicious to bring to my friend's house for Thanksgiving dinner. Yes!

Other things I managed to accomplish this month:

So now the final month of 2011 is upon us. Here are my intentions:
  • Be the best mother and teacher I can be for my son, Henry. I have to remember that all the time and energy I put into parenting now is an investment in our future together.
  • Finish my book about how to plan a meaningful and memorable wedding without losing your savings or sanity.
  • Publish consistently on Feeding the Soil.
  • Participate frequently in Purposeful Conception: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy.
  • Do a major reflection of this year and plan my intentions for the upcoming year.

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Dwelling in Possibility: Building Community

Friends, things are moving very fast on the Austin Pocket Neighborhood front. We modified our original vision of trying develop three acres of land and are instead seeking adjacent lots within a pre-existing neighborhood. That way, everyone can buy their own plot and build their own house, but we will still have shared communal space and an overarching intentionality to our little "neighborhood."

Things are moving quickly because we've found an appealing piece of property. I wasn't even going to start looking for land until we sold our house, but you know me. I love to plan. I really couldn't help myself.

So now we're trying to see if we can buy the land as soon as our house sells and start building a house (which would take approximately six months). In terms of next steps, I need to talk to a lender to find out what we could qualify for. We're also working with a realtor to put together an offer.

As for the "community" piece of it, we think that 3-4 of the 7 lots are buildable (due to set-backs from the road and creek bed, as well as flood plain issues). Matt, Henry, Hoss and I will take one of the lots, and we have one other committed person. If we can't find people to commit before it's time to buy the land, then Matt and I will have to buy 6 of the plots. If we do that, I'm not sure we'll be able to build right away (or afford rent, for that matter!).

There are a lot of moving pieces right now. The land might not actually be buildable at all due to flood plain issues. Matt and I might not qualify for the loan we need, since we only have one steady income. Someone else might put an offer on the land before we do.

But it's fun. I spend my day-dreaming time thinking about the kind of house we want to build.

Here are some of our thoughts right now. We want:
  • A completely open kitchen, dining area, and living room (like one big rectangle with the kitchen at one end, an island that faces a long dining table, which faces the couch and chairs in the living area)--with a whole wall of windows and sliding glass doors!
  • I want the kitchen to have an island with stools, but I only want it to be waist-high with no backsplash, so that the people working at the island (which will hopefully have a sink and a dishwasher--is that possible?) can easily see the people sitting on the stools and the people sitting at the dining room table.
  • A little flip-down drawer under the sink to hold a sponge
  • A beautiful piece of furniture that encloses the TV, so it's not the center of the living room (we have no TV right now, but we want to get one so we can institute a Friday night movie + pizza ritual when Henry is older)
  • A giant sectional couch (by the way, does Bitter Apple work to keep stubborn dogs off comfy couches?)
  • Geothermal heating and cooling + solar panels to make the house net zero
  • A convenient place in the kitchen to plug in cell phones inside a drawer so they are out of the way while charging
  • A whole-house stereo
  • Natural light in every room (including bathrooms)
  • An area for a slide-out trash can in the kitchen
  • Kitchen drawers that slide out to hold pots and pans
  • A built-in soap dispenser in the kitchen and a spray sink

Any thoughts about those wish items? Feel free to poke a hole in my fantasy balloon if one of my ideas is impractical.

Anything you would add if this were your list? Please, please share! This process is a little overwhelming.

The image is courtesy of ma modular, the builder we are considering

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Eliminating Sugar

We're in the middle of the last Purposeful Conception course of the year, and several of us have decided to reduce (and/or eliminate) added sugars from our lives.

It's something that's been stirring around in my mind for a while now. When I was pregnant, my midwife advised me not to eat anything that had more than six or so grams of sugar. Basically, the only exceptions I made on a daily basis were a glass of calcium-fortified orange juice and a cup of plain yogurt for my green smoothie.

During that time, I felt completely and utterly amazing. I'm not sure if it's because I was napping every day, walking 2.5 miles every day, drinking green smoothies, taking vitamins religiously, being overrun by hormones, or not eating sugar (or all of the above or some combination of the above--who knows! Life is an imperfect science experiment). I do feel gross immediately after I consume large quantities of sugar, so I definitely know it has adverse effects on me.

The thing is, when I was pregnant, I didn't really crave sugar. It was definitely hard at times, but I was able to forgo all kinds of sugary goodness (or disgustingness?) that I normally would have consumed. [Editor's Note: Those of you who teach in K-12 schools know how much crap is out and about on a daily basis!] The fact that I didn't crave it then (when I wasn't eating it) combined with the fact that I seriously crave it now (and I have no willpower when it comes to saying no to sugar) makes me believe that I might have a sugar addiction.

So I'm experimenting with staying off the sugar for a bit. It's definitely not easy. I went to a potluck and had to turn down homemade fruit cobbler. Then Matt had his '80s Girl-themed Slumber Party birthday with rootbeer floats and candy. But it's actually not as hard as I thought.

My wise friend, Angie, says I'm being extreme and that it makes more sense to reduce rather than eliminate my intake. In general, I absolutely agree with that thought. But when it comes to what feels like an addiction, I might just have to eliminate it for a while and see how it goes.

This New York Times article has some interesting information, and this e-book about how to eliminate sugar looks fascinating.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Books: The Backyard Homestead

Books are among my favorite gifts to receive. I love spending Christmas morning flipping through the pages of a new book, making plans. Last year, my favorite gift was Sewing for Baby.

Getting a new book is a big deal around these parts, since I primarily use the library for financial and ecological reasons. I want to make my requests wisely!

This year, I'm thinking about requesting The Backyard Homestead: Produce All the Food You Need on Just a Quarter Acre. Have any of you read it? Do you recommend it?

Once we sell our house, move to Austin, and create a pocket neighborhood, I really want to get my hands dirty and start growing our own food. Hooray! I'm excited just thinking about it. This book looks like the perfect inspiration and reference guide.

While I was searching for that book, I came across another book that I really want to read: The Quarter-Acre Farm: How I Kept the Patio, Lost the Lawn, and Fed My Family for a Year. I'll try to request that book from the library, since it seems like more of a read-it-once kind of book.

Have you come across any other books in this vein that you recommend?

P.S. I'm on Goodreads now. You can find me as "Sara Cotner" or join the "Feeding the Soil" group. Thanks for the recommendation!

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Monday, November 28, 2011

DIY: Winter Baby Shirts!

A couple weeks ago, I was brainstorming ideas about how to use freezer paper as a stencil for Henry's shirts. During the process, I decided to order the pdf version of this pattern to make some winter shirts for Henry. As a side note, I highly recommend buying pdf versions of patterns and printing them on your own computer. Although it's more work to piece and tape the pattern together when it doesn't fit on standard paper, it's so much easier to work with real paper as opposed to tissue paper. Also, you can print out as many patterns as you want, which means you can print and use all the different sizes as your child grows.

I had some great organic jersey knit fabric from Spoonflower left over from a baby shower gift, so I went to a thrift store to by some coordinating fabric (in the form of XL men's t-shirts).

My last difficult experience with trying to follow a pattern was fresh in my mind, so I decided to be proactive by scheduling a craft date with my friend, Lene. She is MUCH better at reading patterns (i.e., she can do it; I can't).

Despite her help, I still struggled with the first shirt (the navy blue + gray one). I followed the pattern and put the seams on the outside. However, the second shirt came together much more quickly and easily. For that one, I decided to put the seams on the inside, which is a style I prefer.

In the end, I didn't get around to making the freezer paper stencils. I like the shirts the way they are. I look forward to going back to the thrift store to pick up some more "fabric" and make more shirts for Henry's winter wardrobe!

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

To Read: Vintage Notions

'Tis the season to start finding the loveliest gifts for my nearest and dearest (and to start making a list of what my family can get me if they aren't feeling creative).

This book, Vintage Notions, is on one of those lists (probably the latter?). The description says it is a "blueprint for living a simple, fulfilling life." The book features:
  • Inspirational essays and projects for each month of the year
  • Seasonal recipes and decorating ideas
  • Twelve Magic Patterns easy-to-make, chic sewing projects
  • Vintage timeless advice on health, character, beauty, style, fashion, parenting, communication, friendship, spirituality, community
I first came across the book on Kelly Rae's blog. She wrote:

"I've been wanting to learn more about home arts: cooking, sewing, crafting, decorating, needlework, mending. When I say home arts, I'm thinking about slow, deliberate, meaningful work that we do with our hands, crafts often learned from those before us - our mothers, our grandmothers, our elderly friends + neighbors - and crafts that hold so much history and story that we pass them down to our children and to our grandchildren. I want that kind of art+craft in my life, in my family's history."

Her thoughts resonated with me deeply. As the year draws to a close and I gather my sticks of ideas and inspirations for next year's intentions, I'm tucking this idea into my satchel.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Recipe: Maple Pear Cheesecake

From Martha Stewart, of course

Please accept my apologies for being obsessed with sugar this week. Last year while pregnant, my no-sugar stance was really hard on me during the holidays. This year, I'm free, free, free! (Well, not really in terms of the weight I want to lose, but at least now I can moderately indulge.)

For the past couple years, I've gone to friends' house for Thanksgiving dinner. Last year, a woman made the most delicious maple pear cheesecake. I can't really attest to its deliciousness, but people were seriously swooning over it (and not just in that I'm-trying-to-be-polite-by-telling-you-this-is-good way).

So this year, I'm all about making the Maple Pear Cheesecake. Actually, it seems pretty lame to replicate a recipe that someone else brought to the same function the year before, so perhaps I'll wait for another occasion. Or maybe not. (Incidentally, I just ran into the woman on a walk through the neighborhood, and she confirmed that she will not be attending the event this year.)

Maybe I'll save the Maple Pear Cheesecake for a solstice party and instead make Kelsey's chocolate cake (which is actually Molly's chocolate cake). I've been meaning to make that, too. By the way, are you reading Kelsey's blog? It's really good!

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Vegetarian Marshmallow Recipe

I was flipping through the most recent issue of Better Homes & Gardens, and I came upon an image of a glass jar full of marshmallows. Yes! I need exactly that kind of jar in my kitchen, too.

Since I was pregnant last year at this time and limiting my refined sugar intake, I didn't drink a single cup of hot chocolate. This year is going to be different!

Two years ago, I made these marshmallows from scratch, but I vowed never to use gelatin again. I'm a vegetarian and shouldn't be using gelatin in the first place, but the smell of plain gelatin plus water was exactly the reminder I needed. Ick!

So, back to my trusty friend, The Internet, for more advice. This time, I'm going to use this vegetarian recipe.

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Reflections on Motherhood

Two of my favorite bloggers recently wrote reflections about the difficult intersection between our personal lives as mothers and our professional lives. Amy of Progressive Pioneer wrote a whole essay about how she decided to temporarily give up blogging. She explained:

This is what it came down to, the choice between the illusion of a life lived and the real, flesh and bones, eye to eye, heart to heart life lived. Pixels versus people. The gap between the life represented on screen, and the day-to-day happenings in our home had grown to an unacceptable level. I wondered when I had crossed over that murky, gray line into the territory of living to blog, rather than blogging about life.

Meg of Sew Liberated wrote a post about "chucking your to-do list" and fully immersing yourself in motherhood. She wrote:

For some time there, I had it all wrong. My head was filled with work obligations, to-do lists, and future sewing exploits while I was with the boys. I was anxiously twiddling my thumbs in anticipation of naptime, trying to get "things done" while watching them (always a bad idea) and working myself into a ball of stress with inner dialogues of "I-should-be-" and "I-need-to-."...The moment I chucked my to-do list, a weight lifted from my shoulders and I was able to enjoy my boys again. The most deleterious side effect of my to-do list was that it made me feel like parenting full-time was a chore - something of a burden because it kept me from being productive.

Over here at my little blog, I'm having my own crisis at the intersection of the personal and the professional. I chose to stay home full-time with my son--despite the financial hardship--because I believe that the early years of his life are the foundation upon which the rest of his personality is built. I feel honored to be part of that process with him.

Although I am completely committed to that ideology, I have a hard time implementing it day in and day out. I am realizing that--at my very core--I am not a baby person. Spending hour after hour with an infant does not make my heart sing.

Eep. I've said it. I've confessed that I am not a "natural" stay-at-home-mom. I am not like Ruby Ellen over at Cakies who had this to say about adding a fourth child to her family:

How I would so love to freeze these moments that are passing by much too quickly for my taste. I had my 6 week post-partum visit yesterday and I can hardly believe that it has been 6 weeks since our lives had more of a glow.

Even though I feel some guilt (or more like remorse?) for not being that kind of mom, I have to give myself credit for working my butt off every single day to be the kind of mother Henry deserves in action, if not in thought. I have to give myself credit for the patient way I talk to him, for all the smiles I bestow upon him, for the peaceful environment I seek to maintain for him, for the healthy food I prepare, for the games we play. I can't control how I feel, but I can absolutely control how I act on those feelings.

I think I would have been in even more of a tortured spot if I had returned back to full-time work at the end of my 3-month maternity leave. I would have been so busy all day long and then returned home to even more work of taking care of Henry. I would probably be stressed and tired and feeling guilty about having someone else spend more waking hours with my son than I was.

I honestly think the best scenario for my family and me is what we're doing right now. I can stay at home for a full year. When Henry turns one and is developmentally ready to be part of a larger community, then we can enroll him in Montessori school and I can work part-time. That way, I can nurture my professional passions and have time to be the patient and creative mother I strive to be.

The truth is, I only have four more months until Henry turns a year. Unlike Meg, I cannot chuck my to-do list. My to-do list keeps me sane and grounded in the adult world. Unlike Amy, I cannot give up blogging. Unlike, Ruby Ellen, I cannot gush about how our life had more of a glow in those earliest weeks.

But I can take something from each of those women. Like Meg, I can more fully immerse myself in those chunks of time when Henry is awake. My to-do list should not exist during those windows of time. When he is sleeping soundly, then I can throw myself wholeheartedly into my work.

Like Amy, I can remember that I chose to make motherhood a priority. And like Ruby Ellen, I can focus on how fleeting this stage of motherhood really is. I can savor Henry's dependence on me and remember that how I help him meet his needs now will forever shape his relationship with himself, others, and the world.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Slipper Renovation

Images courtesy of Felting by Grazim

I've been coveting these slippers on Etsy for a while now. Since I can't justify the price tag while we're in Penny Pinching Mode, I thought about adding them to my Christmas wishlist.

But then, while doing an errand at Walgreens, I stumbled across a pair of slippers in the $1 bin. In general, I try to steer clear of those kinds of cheap products because they aren't really cheap at all (they take a huge toll on the environment, workers, etc.). But sometimes I compromise those values in favor of my values related to saving money.

I scooped up that pair of $1 slippers (even though it was the middle of the summer!) and set them aside for a little reworking when I had the time.

Now that the temperatures are cooling down, deep in the heart of Texas, I find myself actually wearing them. I desperately need to upgrade the pom-pom balls for something more stylish, like felt flowers.

The Etsy slipper shop featured above actually sells PDFs about how to make felt flowers or even how to make the slippers! I'm a little sad that I'm feeling too stretched thin to undertake that kind of project. But I have to be honest with myself about how I'm feeling and honor my lack of desire to undertake such a big project right now.

So really I'm looking for simpler inspiration about how to make felt flowers to replace the pom-poms on my $1 slippers.

I could make something really simple like these felt flower pins I used to make.

Or I could just try to replicate the flowers on the top pair of slippers.

Regardless, I need to schedule a craft date with my friend, Lene, pronto. It's the only thing that keeps me accountable to getting any crafting done these days!

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Importance of Practical Life

Since I started chucking my to-do list during Henry's awake times, I've noticed that he's become more needy, demanding, and clingy. Of course it's partly due to his age (8 months) and his developmental trajectory.

However, when I read this post and this post by Stephanie, a Montessori mom, I decided to try a different strategy. I decided to make myself busy around Henry. I started doing my own work around the house during his awake time. In her posts, she specifically said to stay off the computer and the cell phone during this time, since it's a distraction to the child's own work.

I decided to start by doing more chores around the house. Instead of doing laundry, cleaning, and cooking in the evenings when Matt gets home, I started doing these things while Henry is awake. It gives me something to do while Henry is busy doing his work (crawling around the house, pulling himself up on the coffee table or books shelves, cruising along the couch, practicing his pincer grip on crumbs he finds on the floor, watching the chickens out the back door, taking his toys off the shelf, etc.).

So far, it's working like a charm. I keep an eye on Henry's safety out of the corner of my eye, but I try not to distract him by obviously checking on him. If he cries or tries to pull up on me, I pick him up and carry him around for a few minutes while describing what I'm doing. Then I try to set him down and engage him in a new activity.

He is back to being more independent. However, I also find that he wants to do what I'm doing. Many children are ready to actually help with chores around 15 months of age, but it's never too young to get myself in that frame of mind. For example, when he followed me to the washing machine, I tried to model for him how to pick an item out of the dirty clothes basket and place it in the washing machine. In classic Montessori style, I didn't use many words. Instead, I just modeled it with exaggerated actions. Henry watched me repeat the demonstration several times, although he was not ready to mimic my actions.

I also try to model for him how we restore the environment when he's done playing. For example, instead of just picking up his balls and throwing them into the basket (which I'm tempted to do because it's more efficient), I model how to pick them up one at a time and place them back in the basket.

I'm also giving a lot of thought to how we prepare our home, so Henry is encouraged to participate in our family life as much as possible. I've been revising a list about how to set up each room in our house. I plan to purchase child-size items (like a broom, dust pan, dirty clothes basket, aprons, etc.) from the sites below:
In Montessori from the Start, Lillard writes: "[Maria Montessori] suggested making the child the adult's daily companion in these simple activities of home and family for one reason only: out of respect for the possibilities of human life as found in the small child." Instead of providing play kitchens with play food, for example, we teach children how to cook alongside us. Instead of setting up separate areas where they "play house," we provide them with real brooms and let them sweep. I'm excited to see how it goes as Henry gets older and older!

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Dwelling in Possibility: Hold Fast to Dreams

A prefab house built by one of the companies we're considering

As I move full-speed ahead on my two, big goals (to start a national network of high-performing, authentic, public Montessori charter schools in diverse communities and to start a pocket neighborhood in Austin), I'm beginning to realize that it's necessary to maintain a delicate balance between holding fast to my original visions while simultaneously compromising enough so that I can actually move forward.

For example, my original vision for the pocket neighborhood was to purchase three acres of land and develop it with five or so other families. Executing that vision is definitely easier said than done. Another cohousing group in Austin (called Kaleidoscope Village) spent many, many years trying to bring a similar vision to fruition (although their cohousing community was much larger).

They were very far along in the process (already had the city install sewer and water, had an architect fully design the community, purchased the land, etc.). And then they found out that they couldn't get conventional financing and the whole thing collapsed from under their feet.


And the thing about my vision is that I don't actually want to spend years working on it. I know that sounds arrogant and impatient to say, but I'm just being honest with myself. It's going to take me years to get the school up and running; I don't also want to spend years getting a community going. I want my core--my center--to be stable and comfortable.

So I've been trying to figure out how to help make the community a reality as quickly as possible. My newest idea is this:

We find adjacent lots within an existing neighborhood. That way, everyone could purchase their own land and build their own house without fussing with joint financing. Our houses could all face the street like normal houses, but we could connect our backyards for shared, communal space.

There's actually a model for this kind of cohousing. It's called N Street Cohousing in California. It started when two houses decided to tear down the fence between their yards. Now they have 19 houses all together. You can view a video tour, if you're interested.

The problem is that it's difficult to find adjacent lots in pre-existing neighborhoods (while also meeting our desire to be near nature). And would this model be comprising our vision too much? What if we could only build four adjacent houses? Would that be too small to have the true benefit of community?

Of course we could also seek to grow our community over time by inviting more and more adjacent houses to share space with us. We could also encourage cohousing-friendly people to purchase homes in the rest of the neighborhood when they become available.

But there are no guarantees that we could be able to cultivate the kind of community we crave. I worry that this alternate vision would be too much of a compromise.

On the other hand, it's actually a very manageable vision that could come to fruition very, very fast.

It's hard figuring out when to hold your cards and when to fold them in the most strategic way possible!

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Buying a Vacation Home

Images courtesy of Brand 66 via Dezeen

When I took the Mondo Beyondo e-course last year, I generated a list of big, audacious goals. Much to my amazement, two of them have already been actualized: give birth to a healthy baby and sign a contract on my book about how to plan a meaningful and memorable wedding without losing your savings or sanity.

I'm currently in the process of working on two others: starting a national network of high-performing, authentic, public Montessori charter schools and building a pocket neighborhood in Austin.

And now I'm wondering if I should add another to this list: buy a vacation home for our family.

Part of me thinks: How ecologically irresponsible! You want to own not one but two homes? Think about all the people who don't even have homes!

And then part of me thinks: What an amazing ritual for our family. We could return to the same spot for vacation every year. Since the school I want to open will be on a year-round schedule, we'll have two weeks of vacation every nine weeks, which means we could use the house several times a year.

Are there ways to reconcile these conflicting perspectives?
  1. What if we bought the house with other people, so that it would get more use?
  2. What if we rented the house out via Vacation Rentals by Owner when we weren't using it?
  3. What if we looked into investing in a time share instead?

And where we would buy said house? Would we want it to be within driving distance (like an 8-hour radius), so we could save money on airline tickets, bring Hoss, and bring all our stuff with us? Maybe a lake house in the mountains of Arkansas?

Of course we are no where near being about to afford such a thing, but now's a good time to start thinking about whether or not I want to add it to my list of goals. It would require lots of planning and saving!

REMINDER: The next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy starts this weekend on November 13. Register today! We'd love to have you join us!

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

DIY: Fabric Stencils with Freezer Paper

Henry's outgrowing the elephant hoodie I made for him

As you probably know by now, Feeding the Soil should not be your go-to blog for the most hip and updated information about trends in the blogosphere. See, I don't even know a cooler word for "hip" than "hip."

So sad.

Anyway, today I will be sharing something cool that I just learned about, six years after the fact: using wax paper to make stencils.

I'm finally getting inspired to start making a few clothes for Henry, since his rate of growth is slowing down. He can now wear something for more than a day before I have to toss it into the bag of clothes I'm saving to make a quilt for his first birthday present.

My friend told me that you can use freezer paper (which is similar to wax paper but only waxy on one side) to make a stencil (either by drawing straight on it, tracing a printed image, or printing directly on it). Next, you cut out the shape. Then you can temporarily iron it in place, so that it doesn't shift when you're painting. Once you've finished painting with fabric paint, you can simply peel it off and admire your crisp, clean image.

I think I'm going to purchase this pattern to make some long-sleeve t-shirts for Henry. Since I'm trying to save money, I'm going to head to the thrift store and see if I can buy some large men's shirts to repurpose.

I'm having a hard time deciding which images to turn into stencils. I try to stay away from traditionally masculine stuff like trucks and words like "tough." I don't want to have preconceived ideas about what kind of person Henry is, just because he's a boy.

Perhaps I should stick to animals, since he likes them so much? Or random things like an accordian? Or maybe fruits and vegetables since he's obsessed with eating?

Let me see what I can come up with during a Google image search:

I'm excited to have a project this weekend!

REMINDER: The next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy starts this weekend on November 13. Register today! We'd love to have you join us!

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Preparing for Pregnancy

No, I'm not preparing for pregnancy yet. My plan is to give birth to a school and a community and then see how we feel about having another child.

But I am eager to participate in the final Purposeful Conception course of the year. I was at my healthiest when I was preparing for conception in the eight months before Matt and I started trying. I'm eager to prioritize myself again.

I got negative feedback about the fact that I didn't contribute much in the community area during the last course, so I'm looking forward to participating frequently this time around.

I'd love it if you could join us! See more details below...

Are you thinking about getting pregnant or are you already actively trying? Welcome to Purposeful Conception! This course is for all of us.

The idea is simple: bringing a baby into the world is both an overwhelming joy and a life-changing commitment. When we approach conception with intention and purpose, we create a welcoming and prepared space for children in our lives. Many of us spend months or years planning our weddings and/or working to advance our careers. Why not also devote time toward preparing to bring a child into the world?

This online course will help us position our minds, bodies, and lives for pregnancy. Over the course of four weeks, a new lesson will be uploaded each weekday. The lessons will address a whole host of topics, such as preparing your body through solid nutrition and exercise, finding balance between what you can and cannot control, making space in your life for pregnancy, deciding whether to track your cycle, building a solid partnership as a foundation for your future family, and much, much more. As a participant in the course, you'll receive information, tips, reflection exercises and prompts, and a community of like-minded kindred spirits who are on a journey similar to your own.

Interested in learning more? Visit the Course Overview or About the Author. Or Register Now!

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Recipe: Roasted Vegetables + Chickpeas

Photo courtesy Better Homes and Gardens

Henry has gotten to the point where he knows the difference between his pureed foods and the food we're eating, and he prefers the latter. So now we try to cook foods that he can eat right alongside us (just in smaller bites).

This recipe for roasted vegetables and chickpeas is delicious! It was easy, tasty, healthy, and inexpensive, which is exactly my kind of recipe.

We still feed Henry at his Montessori weaning table for breakfast and lunch, and he still joins us for dinner in his high chair pulled up to the table. The only difference now is that I mainly feed him what I'm eating: vegetarian chili, quinoa with butternut squash, black-eyed peas, vegetarian pizza, cheese quesadillas, black beans and rice, sauteed spinach--the kid sure does love to eat!

My hope is that by exposing him to lots of different flavors and tastes while he's really young, we'll get him accustomed to eating normal food and we won't have to get into the habit of making something separate for him, like peanut butter and jelly (although I know it's easier said than done!).

UPDATE: The next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy starts on November 13. Register today! We'd love to have you join us!

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Breastfeeding Retrospective

I always knew that I wanted to breastfeed Henry, if it was possible. Of course there are the health benefits (both for the mother and the baby), but I honestly skipped over most of those chapters in my pregnancy, birth, and breast feeding books because I didn't need convincing. Breastfeeding just felt like one of the most natural, simple, and pure processes imaginable.

Although I still think it's one of the most natural, simple, and pure processes around, I also understand the less romantic aspects of it, too.

While I was pregnant, I did a lot of research about breastfeeding. I read books, rented DVDs, went to classes, attended a La Leche League meeting and took lessons from my friends (yes, for real). I still feel like all of that research gave me a solid foundation. And, honestly, I wish I would have done a little more (for example, I didn't learn anything about pumping or storing breast milk). I learned all about the importance of the latch, different holds, possible complications, etc.

Breastfeeding got off to a great start, once we got home from the hospital (after I transferred during my home birth) and my milk came in. I didn't have any engorgement or nipple tenderness. A week later, I was counting my lucky stars that my nipples still weren't tender. My midwife kept saying that if I could make it past the first week, I would be set.

However, at about the week mark, I started having difficulty. First, it was a plugged duct that I had to prevent from turning into mastitis. Then it was extreme nipple tenderness. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't keep Henry's mouth open and wide; he just wanted to suck on the very tip. Every time I would break the suction and re-latch him, I would be subjected to shooting pain that came at the start of every latch. To make matters worse, Henry wanted to eat for looooooong stretches of time. One day, he ate for a total of nine hours. Because I needed both hands (one to keep his chin down and the other to keep him close), I basically couldn't do anything except watch movies on Netflix (since we don't have a TV). I did try listening to an audio book, but it was boring and I didn't bother getting a different one. In the middle of the night, I needed to turn a light on to see what I was doing. The first week or two, I had to wake Matt up to help me get Henry latched on.

And my nipples were sore all the time. Drying off with a towel or putting on a bra was no fun at all. I kept asking the women from my prenatal yoga class, "When does the pain with latching go away? When will my nipples stop being so sore?" They said 3-4 weeks.

Well, 3-4 weeks came and went and I watched breast feeding get easier and easier for my friends. I had to use My Brest Friend religiously to position Henry right, and I still needed two hands (I prefer this pillow to the Boppy because it can latch behind your back and stay in place more easily; it just depends on personal preference.). They had one hand (or both!) free and looked as comfortable as could be. I finally switched from cloth breast pads to disposable ones, which definitely felt better on my sore nipples.

I went back to the hospital to visit the lactation consultant again. She answered some of my questions and gave me some advice (like just put lanolin on the protruding part of the nipple, not on the entire areola, so that the baby's mouth doesn't slip). I continued to get plugged ducts left and right.

I remember crying a lot. I really wanted to continue breastfeeding, but it felt like so much struggle and sacrifice. I was the only one who could feed Henry in the night (since I hated pumping). Matt couldn't do anything to relieve me of the constant responsibility of feeding my son eight times a day. Thankfully, I persevered to the 6-week mark when things got a lot better. My soreness decreased and the positioning got easier.

At three months, things really got better. Henry suddenly started eating much, much faster, and I was able to free up one of my hands. I stopped having to lug My Brest Friend around with me everywhere.

Now, I'm so, so thankful I persevered through the difficult times. They seem so distant. Even trying to write this post is a struggle because my mind is blurring out the difficult details.

In terms of some practical issues, I still highly recommend this bra. If I had known about it earlier, I would have worn it through my pregnancy (especially because the sizes are only S, M, L, and XL). As far as nursing tops go, I decided not to spend any money on specialized clothing. I tried to stick to tops that could be unbuttoned. I used this shield to cover up in public (which was hot and annoying but sometimes necessary).

Now that I'm more comfortable with everything, it's much easier to breastfeed in public by nestling into a chair and lifting up my shirt. I wish I loved nursing tanks, so that my stomach would be covered, but I find that Henry's body does a decent job of keeping me shielded. Nursing tanks just don't feel comfortable to me.

Despite the difficulties I've had (though not as many difficulties as others), I'm so thankful for my ability to nourish my son. It's amazing to see another human grow and thrive, simply by feasting on something your own body produces.

In the hard moments, I try to remember these things:
  • My midwife said that babies are growing and changing so much in those first few weeks. Even if something is hard, it is likely to change very quickly as the baby matures (which has been true of Henry's latch and his sensitivity to cow's milk protein in my body).
  • Before I know it, Henry is going to be driving a car. These days go so fast, and I should try my very best to savor them and focus on the positive.

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