Wednesday, December 19, 2012

See You in the New Year!

As much as I like the festive Christmas spirit, I really, really like the new year. I like the natural cycle of reflection, planning, goal-setting, dreaming, and the renewed sense of energy I feel.

My friends and I have been filling out this New Year's Reflection form since I created it in 2005. Last year, I added Andrea's reflection into the mix, which is more holistic. We also make a collage to represent the kind of year we want to have. I like Andrea's idea of having a mantra for the year. This year, I want to make sure I incorporate my mantra into my collage.

My mantra for 2012 was "Make Dreams Happen." I've definitely done that in many ways, including finishing and publishing my book, growing the idea of Austin's first public Montessori school from a small seed into a sapling, selling our house without a realtor and moving to Austin, finding land/designing a house, collaborating with good friends to write and publish another book, getting pregnant (twice), and learning how to run a charter school by working at a new one. 

Wow. It's crazy to see everything listed all together like that. 

What does this next year have in store for me? Actually, that sounds really passive. I should ask, "What do I want to create/bring to fruition/make happen in 2013?"

I want the state to approve our charter so Magnolia Montessori For All can officially be born. I want to give birth to a happy and healthy little one. I want to continue to nurture Henry and help him build the foundation of his personality. I want to make our new house a home. I want to bring food forth from the earth. I want to build community in our new city. I want to practice Spanish to improve my ability to communicate with diverse families.

What lays ahead in each month?
  • January = Finalizing our charter application
  • February = Completing the final push for the charter school
  • March = Publicizing A Priceless Wedding; Getting a head start on the school
  • April = Publicizing A Priceless Wedding; Getting a head start on the school
  • May = Publicizing A Priceless Wedding; Getting a head start on the school
  • June = Moving into our new house and getting settled; building raised beds; preparing the soil for fall gardening
  • July = Relaxing with the new baby
  • August = Relaxing with the new baby; Interviewing with the state to secure a charter
  • September = Working on my school part-time while I stay home with the new baby
  • October = Working on my school part-time while I stay home with the new baby
  • November = Working on my school part-time while I stay home with the new baby
  • December = Working on my school part-time while I stay home with the new baby
I look forward to continuing this process of reflection and intention-setting. We're going to take a 21-hour roadtrip to see my family in Florida (and then fly to Indiana to see Matt's family), so I'll have lots of time to refine my thinking and position myself for the new year. 

I'll see you on January 7th! May your next couple of weeks brim to the top with love, contentment, and connection!

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Dealing with Sadness

I've been experiencing sadness lately. I think part of it comes from all the pregnancy hormones. I think the other part of it comes from not getting all of my needs met. The last time I wrote out what I need on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis, here's what I came up with:

  • Eight hours of sleep (Still important! I'm basically getting this need met, plus a 1.5-hour nap every day)
  • Healthy meals (Yes, when my first-trimester stomach can handle it.)
  • Plenty of water (Sadly, no; I need to step up my game!)
  • Quality time with my family (Yes!)
  • Time outside (Yes!)
  • Meaningful and productive work with inspiring and engaging colleagues (Yes!)
  • Time on my computer (Yes!)
  • Exercise at least four times a week (Hm...not consistently. I have a plan; I just haven't been following through with it.)
  • Time to myself (Yes.)
  • Conversations with extended family and friends (Yes.)
  • Time to create something (I have not prioritized this one.)
  • A quirky and interesting event on our calendar (Not necessarily)
  • A date night with Matt (Nope)
  • A big vacation (Nope--can't afford it.)
  • A couple self-development endeavors (conferences, retreats, etc.) (Nope--also can't afford it.)
Going through that list was really helpful. It seems that I'm actually getting a lot of my smaller needs met on a daily and weekly basis; I'm just struggling with the bigger needs. I think it's the bigger things (creating something, doing interesting things, traveling places, going on dates, etc.) that help me feel most like myself.

So what is holding me back from doing the bigger things? How come I'm not crafting? Why aren't we seeking out interesting things? Why aren't Matt and I going on date nights? 

I know that I'm not going to conferences/retreats/etc. because of our budget limitations. That's also why we aren't planning fun and interesting vacations. 

So what is in my circle of control? What can I specifically do to better meet my needs?
  • Use the babysitting co-op to go on dates with Matt. This piece is very important and woefully missing from our life.
  • Start planning a big vacation for 2014. We'll have two full-time incomes by then. For me, planning is half the fun, so getting started now might help lift my spirits. 
  • Plan to make something for the new baby.
  • Clean and organize our current space. Our current rental house feels cluttered to me, and clutter makes me feel stuck and unmotivated.
Have a few next steps makes me feel a ton better already!

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Easy, High-Protein Breakfast

I'm still in the eat-whatever-will-sit-well-with-my-slightly-queasy-stomach phase of pregnancy, so I haven't been able to kick my healthy eating into high gear. Salads are just now starting to feel tolerable again. According to this online due date calculator, I am officially just beginning the second trimester. 

As a vegetarian, I want to make sure I eat plenty of protein. I can usually hit 60-70 grams if I eat a high-protein breakfast, dinner leftovers for lunch, dinner, and two high-protein snacks (including a protein bar recommended by my midwife).

I've had too many green smoothies lately, so I wanted to put a new option into the mix: an egg and cheese sandwich. My best friend taught me how to make these more than a decade ago, which is fitting because they are amazingly easy and would fit easily into any post-college lifestyle (which is perfect for a pregnant person who works two part-time jobs and tries to keep up with a toddler). 

  • One egg
  • Oil spray (I use olive oil in one of these bottles)
  • Whole wheat English muffin
  • Cheese (I use white cheddar cheese--ever since I read the ingredients and realized that orange cheddar cheese has added coloring for the orange effect--so weird!)
  1. Toast the English muffin
  2. Spray the bottom of a regular cereal-size bowl with olive oil or some other kind of non-sticking agent
  3. Crack an egg into the bowl
  4. Put the bowl in the microwave and cover with a light dishtowel (we try to be a paper-towel-free household)
  5. Microwave for 1 minute
  6. Cut up the cheese
  7. Assemble! (and add salt and pepper as preferred)
It's a seriously quick, easy, tasty, and protein-packed (about 20 grams!) breakfast. I'm not sure what I'll do when our house finally gets built (still waiting on the building permit from the Glorious City of Austin!) and we intentionally don't have a microwave. 

P.S. I just learned that the The Book Depository offers free shipping world-wide, so any international friends can easily order Kids in the Kitchen: Simple Recipes That Build Independence and Confidence the Montessori Way. And apparently A Priceless Wedding: Crafting a Meaningful, Memorable, and Affordable Celebration is also available; it's just currently out of stock.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Genetic Screening Update

I just want to acknowledge that writing this post was difficult. I've re-read it several times and have considered not publishing it. I don't feel proud of myself when I admit that one of the reasons we opted for genetic screening this time around is that having a second baby is going to push us to capacity.

But I can only be who I am. I am always striving to grow and evolve as a person, but I am who I am. As someone who publishes my thoughts in a public forum, I feel it is my obligation to share those thoughts honestly. 

Thank you, Dear Universe, for another opportunity to bring new life into this world. 

The results from our nuchal screening came back all clear!

As I signed in for my appointment, I asked clarifying questions about what our insurance would cover. She said, "Well, you have AMA, so the chances are good that it will be covered." I responded with, "I don't have AMA; I have Blue Cross Blue Shield." 

She clarified, "AMA means 'Advanced Maternal Age.'"

Oh. Then I remembered that the doctors count how old you'll be when you deliver the baby, not how old you are when you conceive. 

The risk for abnormalities skyrockets after the age of 35. I wish that weren't the case. I wish our minds could take the lead on when our best time for fertility is, based on where we are in life. Staring at the statistics with the genetic counselor was very, very frightening. 

With Henry, we opted not to do any testing. Even though I completely support a woman's right to choose, I didn't think I could bring myself to "choose" what kind of baby could live and what kind of baby could die (especially because our bodies are so good at deciding for us, which is why the rate of miscarriage is so high). 

A good friend of mine followed the same path. I remember hearing that she was getting screened with the second baby (when she hadn't for the first). I remember being struck my what felt like unfairness. Why was the first baby going to be accepted no matter what but the second baby had to be screened? 

And then I was in the same position. And I understood better.

Bringing a second baby into our family is going to push us to the very edge of our capacity. Matt and I struggled for the first 16 months of Henry's life to get the joy the outweigh the difficulty. We are not kidding ourselves about how hard it will be the second time around. Of course some things will be easier (we won't second guess ourselves so much, we won't worry about as many things, etc.), but we'll have to meet the baby's needs alongside a toddler's needs (and our needs!). 

There is so much that is out of our control. Even thinking about all the possible things that could go wrong on a given day and change our lives forever overwhelms me. So this time around, screening felt like one piece that was in our control. 

We did not reach our decision lightly. It involved lots of conversations with lots of different friends and family members. It involved lots of research. 

I think it's one of those things we need to talk about more. We need to bring it out of the shadows. I know it's hard to do because the risk for judgement and condemnation is so high. 

But it's one of those major life decisions we face. The lack of conversation around it makes it even more isolating and lonely.

I am counting my lucky stars that we got the best possible outcome. We opted for the earliest screen (which can have false positives which leads to more worry/stress/weeks of waiting) and we got the best possible news. I am flooded with gratitude.

Still gift shopping? Check out this step-by-step guide for planning a meaningful, memorable, and affordable wedding! Or, for the parents of young children in your life, this comprehensive guide covers the basics of involving kids in cooking to build their independence and confidence. 

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Talking to the First Child About a Baby

The difference between talking with Henry about a baby when I was pregnant back in May and June (when he was ~17 months old) versus now (when he's 21 months old) is drastic. Back then, he gave no indication that he understand what we were talking about at all. Now, he initiates conversations about the baby and adds his own thoughts. 

The first thing he said about babies is that they "cry." He sings "The Wheels on the Bus" at school, so he knows that babies go "wah, wah, wah." He even does hand gestures to go with it. After a while, he added to the conversation that babies "poop." A few days later, he added that they "pee." Most recently, he's added that they are "hungry." 

Yeah, that pretty much sums it up, Sweet Henry.

We decided to start talking with Henry about the baby because it's already such a part of our lives. We also want to give him ample time to adjust to the idea that a baby is coming. So far, he's really excited about the idea. The other day we walked into a store, and he heard a baby crying. His eyes lit up and he started exclaiming, "Baby! Baby!" Oh, my sweet little boy. 

We also talk honestly with him about what's happening. For example, last week, he knew that we were going to the doctor to see if they baby was "okay" or "all gone." I know not every family would make the same decision to talk about these kinds of issues with such a young child, but if something had been wrong, I would have wanted Henry to know why we were so upset and crying.

I decided to frame our first ultrasound picture and put it in Henry's room. We had an extra IKEA frame left over from when we set up Henry's weaning table at our old house. I turned the paper insert around and put a few dabs of BINGO paint on it. Voila! 

We're going in for another ultrasound this week for nuchal translucency screening. We opted not to do any genetic testing when I was pregnant with Henry, but this time we want to. I'm trying to release any and all stress associated with the uncertainty and waiting. I'm employing my mantra a lot: "Let it go." 


P.S. My book--A Priceless Wedding: Crafting a Meaningful, Memorable, and Affordable Celebration--is now shipping from Amazon! Do you know someone who is getting married? Give the gift of wedding planning sanity this holiday season! 

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Book Recommendation

I know I've recommended this book before, but I can't help it! It's designed to be read in stages--from diapers to dating--so I'll be coming back to it again and again as Henry grows. 

We've been following the book's advice to label the parts of the body using accurate terminology. Henry is particularly interested in learning new vocabulary, so it's felt like an easy and natural time to help him learn about the human body in a non-shameful way. 

Since Henry is rapidly approaching his 2nd birthday (at the end of February), I went ahead and read the chapter on "The Preschool Years: Ages 2 to 5." Lots of the content was too advanced for where we are, but a couple things stood out:
  • "During the preschool years, you will have many more opportunities to provide a beginning sexuality education to your children...Anticipating some of these potential teachable moments will allow you to give your messages about sexuality in a calm, relaxed way."
  • With regard to using accurate names for the body parts: "Try to be calm and matter of fact. You want to try to convey a message that all the parts of the body are good and special, and that all the parts of the body have their own names."
Also, the section on preschoolers recommended the following books when introducing a new baby into the family:
  1. How You Were Born by Joanna Cole
  2. How Was I Born by Lennart Nilson and Lena Katarina Swanberg
The books feel a little outdated, but they seem helpful nonetheless. I think it's really important to start the conversation about these topics while it's easy and comfortable. The longer we wait, the harder and more uncomfortable it's going to get.

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Our Baby Is Swimming Around!

Phew! What a huge relief. Everything looks great so far with our little Baby. I'm sorry to scare you yesterday. The whole scenario felt all too familiar: Go to the midwife at 11 weeks. Don't hear a heartbeat.

Last time that happened, I was hopeful that it was just too early. And then the miscarriage happened. 

This time, it wasn't so easy to stay optimistic. I turned off the comments yesterday because they get e-mailed to me, and I couldn't bear being reminded (even nicely!) while I was at work. As it was, I had to fight the tears a few times.

I was flooded with surprise when the ultrasound came on and I could see our tiny baby swimming around--little hands and feet and everything. So far, so good. Henry was very confused about seeing the baby on the screen but also trying to reconcile that with the fact that the baby is in my uterus. He kept looking back and forth between the two.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sad News

The midwife wasn't able to hear the heartbeat with her doppler yesterday. She thinks it might just be too early (12 weeks). I'm less optimistic. I'm going in for a vaginal ultrasound this afternoon. I will keep you updated, Friends.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Recipes with More Vegetables

Last week, I was inspired by a participant in this round of Purposeful Conception to watch the documentary Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. It's about a man who is overweight and seeks to cure a chronic disease by doing a juice fast for 60 days. After the 60 days, he continues with a healthy lifestyle that includes exercising, eating in moderation, and drinking juice daily. His quest inspires others to change their lives, too.

By the end of it, I was inspired to incorporate more vegetables into our meals. I then watched a 30-minute segment about The Engine 2 Diet, which relies heavily on vegetables. (As an interesting coincidence, the guy who authored it is a firefighter from Austin, and I actually know his wife really well.) I ordered the book from the library but also realized that they have some good recipes available on their website, such as this recipe for burritos. We scaled it way back (only one can of each type of beans). It was still delicious. I loved the brown rice inside the burritos, two different types of beans, and all the vegetables. Cooking them in the oven until crisp was a really nice touch at the end. 

Next time, I'll try to do some of the prep ahead of time when we're cooking other meals, such as making the rice. It was a lot of work (for us) for a single meal. But I look forward to making this recipe again and trying to squeeze as many vegetables as possible into our dinners (which we eat at leftovers nearly every day for lunch).

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Monday, December 3, 2012

December: Reflection & Reflection

Oh, November, the Month of Gratitude. I should start by focusing on the positive, such as the fact that I am so thankful we had so many friends rotate through our home this month: Andy and Beth at Thanksgiving, Andrew and Libby, Matt's brother John, and the band Naytronix

But I struggled a lot this month, mainly with physical illness that wiped me out and opened up big, wide spaces in my emotional life for sadness and uncertainty to sweep in. First we got some kind of stomach bug, which, at one point, left me sitting on the bathroom floor at 3am, with my arm stretched up to hold Henry on top of the counter in the middle of a diaper change, calling for Matt because I was about to faint (he was in our bathroom dealing with his own gastrointestinal issues). Those intense days of sickness pushed Matt and me to the very edge of our parenting. With no grandparents in town, we had to cobble together what felt like "coverage" for Henry. I am so thankful Henry wasn't also sick. We already felt like we were at the edge of our capacity.

After that blew through, a different kind of sickness entered in a couple days later. Stuffy noses. Sore throats. Coughing. Those symptoms--coupled with setting the clocks back--threw Henry's 6:30pm-7am sleeping schedule off-kilter. I haven't taken medicine since I was preparing for Henry's conception (around Fall 2010). I've mainly be able to prevent illness proactively, but when I do get sick, I try to sleep it off and drink a lot of liquids.

With this sickness, I tried the same strategies, but they weren't working. After seven days and no signs of clearing up, I went to the doctor. In under five minutes he had already prescribed a litany of medicine for me, which was different than the litany of medicine Matt's doctor prescribed him at his 5-minute appointment. For example, apparently his watery/crusty eye was pink-eye; mine was sinus blockage. 

I expressed my concern with taking any medication while in the first trimester, and I asked if it was absolutely necessary for me to take anything. He said he doesn't personally let himself suffer past one week, but if I wanted to go on longer, I could. I really just wanted to give the baby the same environment that Henry had had--one that was free from potentially dangerous chemicals. 

I waited another week and things started to look a little better, even though I was essentially still in sick mode: coughing, needing to rest constantly, and feeling generally awful. I started to realize that I was wreaking a different kind of havoc on our baby by subjecting my body to so much stress from illness for so long. I just kept thinking, "I've been sick so long and it feels like it's tapering; surely I'll be better any day now." 

But then my intense sore throat returned, and I decided it was time to try and wipe it out completely. I started antibiotics right away. Here we are in December and I am finally starting to feel better. In retrospect, I realize that I could have prevented a lot of suffering by taking the medicine earlier; I just didn't know that this sickness would persist in ways that others usually don't. 

The worst part about being physically tamped down was that it really affected my mental state. I wish I had mustered more optimism and focused on gratitude for what was going right, but I didn't. I worried a lot about whether this pregnancy is developing as it should or whether it's like the last one (which ended in miscarriage). In many ways, I still feel betrayed by my body for the miscarriage I had. I don't feel betrayed because the miscarriage happened; I trust that miscarriages are natural and happen for important reasons. I felt betrayed because it happened early in the pregnancy and I continued to feel very pregnant for many more weeks--almost to the end of the first trimester. 

So this month, as I struggled with some first trimester symptoms (but not with what seemed like enough), I had immense uncertainty about whether or not this pregnancy is progressing. I am going to the midwife tomorrow, and we should be able to hear the heartbeat if everything is going well. This spot was the exact one I was in last time when didn't hear the heartbeat and realized the miscarriage was happening. 

All sorts of other doubts swooped in this month, too. At one point late in the month, I was talking to my best friend about it and he said, "You know, you've gone through a lot of change in a really short amount of time." 

And that's when it all hit me. That's when I realized that my quest to "make dreams happen" with so much urgency--while exhilarating and empowering--is also completely exhausting. In less than two years, we gave birth to our first child, I wrote a book, sold our house without a realtor, moved to a new city, tried to get cohousing going, found land, started building a house, wrote and published another book, started a new job, worked on starting a new school, got pregnant again, had a miscarriage, and got pregnant again. 

No wonder I've been sick for a month. 

Although you may think I'm completely neurotic at this point in the post, may I at least try to explain myself? At the risk of sounding delusional? 

I just want the major elements of my life to fall into place relatively soon. I'm on the verge of turning 35. I've spent the past 15 years of my working life at various jobs that have inspired me to want to  start my own school. I'm ready to make this dream happen for myself (hence the need to sell our Houston house and move to Austin). I don't want to spend any more years working on other people's dreams. 

At the same time, I'd really like to grow our family to two children. It makes sense to do this before the school opens and it requires intense focus. It also makes sense to do this before my age potentially makes fertility more difficult. 

And the third piece--the house--is related to my intense need to feel settled. As a child, the longest I stayed in a single spot before high school was two years (for 5th and 6th grade). I want Henry to grow up in a single neighborhood. I want him to consider the park and the creek dear old friends. I want to celebrate birthday parties with the same families year after year. I want to plant a garden and return to it season after season. 

My best friend warned me, "Just make sure that once you've got everything in place that you actually feel content instead of feeling like you need to go and change everything again." 

I absolutely hear that concern. I think it's easy to become too goal-oriented. Pushing and striving can become the end rather than the means to an end. 

I'll definitely continue to be a pusher and a striver, but my hope is that those things happen within the context of the three big pieces in my life that will already be in place: work, family, and home. I hope that the job I create for myself will allow me to continuously take on new and exciting projects. I hope that my family and I take on new challenges like building a birdhouse and learning how to raise pygmy goats. I look forward to developing our homestead--getting it more organized, planting more fruit trees, meeting more neighbors.

I'm in a much better place as we head into December (and almost into the new year!). My intention for this month is to be more patient with this process of making dreams happen and to immerse myself in gratitude for what I have right now, even as I work urgently to create what I hope to add to our lives.

Photo Courtesy of the Nikki McClure Calendar

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Friday, November 30, 2012

Preparing for Garden Season

The next garden season is a long, long time away for me. First, we have to get our house built. Then we have to save up money to build raised beds. Then we have to [hopefully] have our second child and go through the difficult transition into infanthood all over again. 

But after all that, I want to be ready. I talked with my friend who works at Urban Harvest in Houston, and she gave me some great advice:
  • Start Small: Of course I wanted to start with many raised beds. She advised me to start with one, get a handle on it, and then expand the garden. I definitely see her logic.
  • Install Drip Irrigation: She explained that garden stores sell drip irrigation kits that come with timers, so you can make your watering more strategic and even easier. 
  • Start with Transplants: Of course I had grand visions of starting from seeds. She talked me back down to reality. I want to start as simply as possible, so that I'll be able to maintain what I start.
So here's my general plan:
  1. Ask for this book for Christmas, so I can learn all about the specifics of gardening in Austin.
  2. Create a master vision for where the raised beds will go at our new house. Even though we'll start small with one or two beds, we'll want to see how they will fit into the larger scheme. 
  3. Create a vision for where to plant fruit trees. We should actually prioritize getting them planted as soon as possible, so we give them more time to grow and produce fruit. We might be able to do this as early as February if a) the north side of our house is nearly finished and further construction won't interfere with the growth of our trees and b) we have enough money to purchase the trees.
  4. Start researching the best fruit trees to purchase. I need to visit The Natural Gardener. In fact, they have a free gardening class coming up in Austin. Let me know if you want to attend together!
  5. Start shopping for rain barrels. I think there might be rebates available for installing rain water collection systems in Austin. I need to investigate this a little further. We would save money if we could get these installed while our house was being built.
  6. Talk with one of my friends to see if she's interested in sharing a garden. She loves gardening but lives in an apartment. Our new house is going to be on her way home from work. She might want to share the costs, work, and harvest. 
  7. Find a good internet tutorial for building raised beds (ooh, this one looks good!) or go back to my All New Square Foot Gardening book. We should try to build one as soon as we move into the house (if there's time before the baby is born). Once the baby is born, I don't want to have any major to-do items hanging over our heads.
  8. Create a planting plan and schedule for Fall 2013! 
I'm very excited to get back into gardening. Matt and I had a big (yet mostly unsuccessful) garden in Denver. When we moved to Houston, we struggled with our overly-shady yard. Now we're in a rental house. I can't wait until we're settled into the house where we will hopefully stay for at least a decade or two. It feels good to slowly--but surely--be working toward our vision. By the way, I loved Nichole's post about building a homestead and putting down roots in a community for the long haul. Matt and I are getting closer and closer to doing this for ourselves.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Making Handmade Wrapping Paper with a Toddler

The Christmas festivities have started at our humble abode! I hung up our Christmas countdown calendar and our "Cherish" bunting. We purchased a potted Christmas tree (which we plan to plant in the backyard of the house we're building after Christmas--which, by the way, we still haven't started because the city is taking FOREVER to get the building permit to us!). 

We've ordered or made most of our Christmas presents and have started wrapping them. A couple weekends ago, Henry and I made our own wrapping paper. Here's how we did it:

  • Paper grocery bags
  • BINGO daubers (we bought three of them at the Dollar Store for $3 plus tax)
  • Scissors
  • Turn each grocery bag into a flat sheet of paper by cutting up the side and cutting out the bottom. 
  • Use the daubers to apply circles in a haphazard and fun way!
Okay, it's really so simple you didn't need me to spell out the directions. Sorry about that. 

A few suggestions for doing this activity with a toddler:
  • Work outside if at all possible and wear old clothes (the paint does splatter).
  • Don't expect perfect circles from a toddler. Henry liked to smear them, stamp incessantly, etc. 
This activity was inspired by Otis's work with stickers. We tried to use stickers to make wrapping paper for Ruby's birthday present, but our stickers didn't like to stay stuck to the brown paper. We had much better luck with the daubers. 

I hope your holiday preparations are merry and bright!

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Monday, November 26, 2012

How to File Paperwork

As the year comes to a close, I wanted to take a second to reflect on the paperwork organization system that I've been trying for the past 12 months.  

The set-up was really simple. I purchased a plastic bin that could accommodate hanging folders. I made a folder for each of the following categories:
  • Bills
  • Consulting records
  • Important records (birth certificates, social security cards, etc.)
  • Hoss
  • Receipts
  • Taxes
  • Cars
  • Henry Medical
  • Medical
  • Financial
  • Insurance
  • Montessori
  • House
  • Matt
We have a separate plastic bin with file folders for warranties, manuals, etc. We have one more bin for our taxes (organized into manilla envelopes with the year written on them). (These things are separate because I already had two smaller bins and didn't want to purchase unnecessary plastic.)

When mail comes in, I open it and process it into three piles:
  • To recycle
  • To shred (e.g., credit card solicitations that could be used for identity theft)
  • To file
Then I take the "To file" pile to my bin and file everything accordingly. I file all bills in one folder (with the most recent at the front) because I rarely have to go back and reference these. I've found that more granular organization is not necessary.

At the end of this year, I'm going to go through each folder and transfer stuff to separate manilla folders that are labeled "Financial 2012," "Insurance 2012," etc. That way, I can keep the manilla envelopes a couple years and then shred them. Here's a good guide for how long to keep paperwork.

If we can keep up with the system, I think it will work well for many years to come. As long as we shred the paperwork that becomes obsolete, we'll make room for the new paperwork, which will make scanning unnecessary.

P.S. I'm trying out a new posting schedule where I post on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, so I'll see you on Wednesday!

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A New Tradition

For the most part, I have completely curbed all frivolous spending at the grocery store (I need to write a post about some of my new strategies for saving money while still purchasing primarily organic). But this past weekend I found myself standing in front of a display at Whole Foods (Henry was eating a piece of their free Kids' Club fruit), longing for a beautiful, handcrafted Christmas ornament. They were $5.99 and proceeds go to an international charity. In particular, I was struck by an ornament that reminded me of Henry's classroom at his Montessori school. It seemed like the perfect way to commemorate this year for him.

I've already decided to start purchasing ornaments when we go on family vacations in order to commemorate our trips together, but I also thought it would be fun to get each child one ornament a year to celebrate something about the year (or to help them make an ornament when they're older). I decided to attach one of these tags to each ornament to label it with the year and a brief explanation. That way, when we unpack our ornaments each year and decorate our tree, we'll get to reminisce. 

I stood--paralyzed with indecision--for a good long time at Whole Foods (Henry was content to chow down on his banana). I wanted to make sure I was okay spending $5.99 in the middle of our major spending hiatus, especially when we need to save our money to spend on gifts for other people and plane tickets to see family for the holidays. I brainstormed ways to make the ornament instead of purchase it, but in the end I decided that I might end up spending close to $6 on supplies and that if I decided to handcraft it, I might not have the motivation to do it this year. My energy is at a premium right now as I go into my third week of being sick and I battle the general exhaustion of the first trimester.

As for Christmas presents, we're working slowly and steadily to acquire them. Ever since reading Kelsey's post about getting an early start on Christmas, we've been following suit. We might as well get our shopping/making done now and save ourselves the stress. Henry and I finished making our own wrapping paper, so we're ready to start wrapping!

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Holiday Guests

I'm so excited about the impending holidays. We're staying here for Thanksgiving, and my best friend and his sister (who is also our good friend) are flying in from Florida. They'll arrive on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively. On Thursday, we'll trek to Houston for the most delicious dinner at our friend's house. She is the most exquisite vegetarian cook, and we always have the best time with the friends she assembles.

I asked my best friend how he wanted to spend his time during his visit in Austin, and he said he didn't have any preferences. Although I don't want to plan the whole visit myself, I do think it's worth thinking through what our days might look like and creating a list of possibilities to choose from. Otherwise, I can see all of us sitting around indecisively saying, "I'm up for anything. What do you want to do?" 

Henry will basically dictate the general structure of our day since he wakes up at approximately 7am, naps from 12-2pm, and goes to bed at 6:30pm. We'll have the following chunks to fill:
  • Tuesday afternoon/evening
  • Wednesday morning
  • Wednesday afternoon/evening
  • Thursday morning
  • Friday morning
Here are some ideas of fun things to do:
  • Walk around the lake
  • Hike on the greenbelt
  • Go up to the top of Mt. Bonnell
  • Walk to the little farm in our neighborhood to see the llama and goats
  • Make pancakes on an electric griddle outside
  • Browse the vintage shops on South Congress and eat at the food trucks
  • Make dinner together
  • Prepare our contributions for Thanksgiving dinner
  • Go to a local farm for a Christmas tree (are we getting a Christmas tree this year or will we purchase a live one and replant it?)
  • Go to the Alamo Draft House for dinner and a movie (maybe in the evening if we can get a babysitter through the co-op?)
  • Play board games
  • Make some kind of holiday craft? Like make-your-own-stamp and then write notes to friends on little cards? Or origami paper crane Christmas tree ornaments that we write wishes on?
  • Visit the Austin Zoo Sanctuary
  • Visit the Boggy Creek Farm stand
If we eat out, some fun experiences might be:
  • Chuy's for Tex-Mex on the patio
  • Abel's on the Lake for a beautiful view of Lake Travis
  • Mandola's for delicious bread and bocce ball
  • Eastside Cafe for healthy food and a visit to the garden/chickens
  • Kirby Lane for a classic breakfast experience
What kind of food should we have on hand for breakfasts? Maybe ingredients for one or two of the following:
  • Oatmeal (with dried cherries and pumpkin seeds)
  • Green smoothies (yogurt + spinach + frozen mango + banana)
  • Egg sandwiches on whole wheat English muffins with cheese (you can cook an egg in the microwave by cracking it into a bowl that's been sprayed with a little oil, covering it with a dishtowel or papertowel, and cooking it for 1 minute)
It's interesting to see how are traditions are changing over time. Andy and I used to travel to exotic locations during our Thanksgiving Break (like Costa Rica!). Although I miss those kind of adventures, I also look forward to more grounded and calm time with friends. I look forward to good company and conversations!

P.S. Today's post on 2000 Dollar Wedding is a reflection on creating our own lives on our own terms. 

Photo of my best friend and me during our adventures in Costa Rica six years ago (ziplining!)

P.S.: Purposeful Conception: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy started today. There's still time to join us. Register today! We'd love to get to know you better!

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Friday, November 16, 2012

DIY Toddler Apron

I've been meaning to share this apron for a while now. It took me forever to get around to making it, but I'm glad I finally did. One of the things Kylie wrote about in her sections of Kids in the Kitchen: Simple Recipes That Build Independence and Confidence the Montessori Way was the importance of having aprons for separate tasks. They help define the task, and they provide another opportunity to practice independence.

Meg of Sew Liberated shared an awesome apron pattern for young children in a Montessori environment. It's specifically designed to honor the young child's need for independence. The neck has elastic built into it, so it can stretch over their (big) heads and then automatically tighten up around their necks without any adult intervention. The strap around the waist fastens with velcro on the front of the apron--again so the child can manage it themselves with minimal adult support. Being able to do things for themselves cultivates their confidence, and it's exactly what they need developmentally. Many of the tantrums that toddlers throw stem from their desire to assert their own will. The more opportunities we give them to be independent and do things for themselves, the more they fulfill their own needs and exhibit contentment. 

I didn't follow Meg's pattern exactly; I studied it and just improvised it (I was too lazy to print it and make the adjustments to Henry's size). Henry and I had more fun sewing together this time. I slowed down and lowered my expectations related to how quickly I could get the project done. We stretched it over several days. The project replaced our park time because all of us were under the weather for a while. Henry had the most fun picking the fabric out of our stash and putting the pins back into the container very carefully (and picking them up off the ground when he spilled them).

If you're looking for a holiday present for a young child or someone with a young child, I highly recommend pairing Kids in the Kitchen with something from Montessori Services. For example, the following gifts would be about $25:
Henry has and uses the wooden spoon, whisk, and vegetable chopper. We highly recommend all of them! As a reminder, all proceeds from this book go to the non-profit organization, Montessori For All

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

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Tour Pondering

Friends, thank you so much for your outpouring of support in response to this request for help with my DIY, budget book tour. I know it's a lot to ask. I try to only ask things of people that I would be willing to do in return (for example, I tried to get Meg to do a book tour stop in Houston with the promise of a homemade wedding cake). 

I've had so much fun meeting kindred spirits over the years, such as Kelsey, Meghan, Kelly, Jennie, Sarah, Monja--and more! That's the real appeal of a book tour--meeting more of you. Book tours are increasingly outdated as a publicizing strategy in this digital age. 

I considered every single city that you offered up (even the tiny ones!). I flipped between the comments on that post and Kayak. I searched prices for January/February/March. Based on my preliminary search, it looks like the top contenders are Denver ($142!) and Portland ($255). If I do both of those stops, I would have to leave Matt and Henry behind, since we couldn't afford all those tickets. I'm thinking I would do:
  • Denver
  • Portland
  • Houston
  • Austin
  • Maybe Baton Rouge or New Orleans
I just wanted to keep you updated. I need to talk more with my publicist before making any decisions. If you're interested, you can read today's post over at 2000 Dollar Wedding about holding the book in my hands for the first time. Craziness!

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

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Register Now: Purposeful Conception!

I've had two requests in the past two weeks to run another course about preparing your mind, body, and life for pregnancy, and that's enough motivation for me. I honestly feel like I'm living my best life when I'm traveling the path of healthy living--physically, emotionally, and mentally--with other kindred spirits. 

Here's some feedback from the last course:
"This course has done just what I hoped it would do - give me and my husband a framework of questions, exercises, and preparations for us to consider before starting a family. As a result, preparing for conception seems less learn-as-you-go, and much more of an intentional journey. Having a plan to work from will be so reassuring!"

"For me, [the lessons] were all helpful. Mainly because they helped me examine where we are in our journey and see that we're already doing so much right. If I'd taken this course four years ago, my answers and responses would have been so much different and I would have seen how far we had to go before being ready. I hadn't realized how much we've grown and how much of it has happened organically as a result of our conception taking so long....I feel so much more confident that we are READY!"

"Thank you so much for putting together this course and for all the support."
For those of you who are thinking about conception or are actively trying, this online course is for you! From November 19 through December 14, a new lesson will be uploaded each weekday. The lessons will address a comprehensive range 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.

The course doesn't presume that doing x, y, and z will lead to pregnancy. Instead, the idea is to focus on the things we can control in order to create a solid foundation (e.g., nutrition, stress levels, relationships, finances, etc.) and to make peace with the things we cannot control about the process.
I want to be upfront that I am not a healthcare professional. I simply spent a very long time researching and preparing myself for conception. This course is a compilation of all that information in one convenient and concise place--alongside information I did not find in any of the books.

Interested in learning more? Visit the Course Overview or About the Author. The total cost is $99 USD. Register Now! Or e-mail me with more questions. Happy Conceiving!


Please consider spreading the word by sharing this post via the buttons at the bottom of the post (especially the Facebook "like" button) or by reposting the information on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Thank you so, so much for your support!

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Babysitting Co-Op Revisited

It's been more than 10 months since we made the move from Houston to Austin. Some people said it would take about six months to adjust; others said it would take about two years. Honestly, I think it's both. I think it took six months to feel settled and comfortable; I think it will be two years before Austin really feels like home. 

One of the things we left behind in Houston was our amazing babysitting co-op. Since Matt and I don't have family and town--nor do we have extra money to hire babysitters--we are left to barter babysitting (which I honestly don't mind one bit). I love having Henry's friends over to play.

I've been reluctant to get a co-op going because we'll be moving to a completely different part of town in half a year or so, and I've been thinking a lot about how to minimize our driving. But I finally couldn't wait any longer. I reached out to two acquaintances in the neighborhood, and one of them was very interested in the co-op idea. We're going to follow the same set-up as the co-op in Houston: 
  1. Everyone who wants to participate begins with three tokens. Each token is worth one hour of babysitting.
  2. You contact people in the co-op individually or through the list to find a babysitter
  3. You drop off your child at the agreed-upon time at the babysitter's house, and pick them up at the agreed-upon time as well.
  4. You agree to the following norms:
    -Babysitting can only be done in one-hour increments. 15 minutes or less can be rounded down, but 16 minutes and above must be rounded up and payor must pay an extra hour.
    -All babysitting is done at the babysitter's home.
    -The clock begins at the scheduled time of arrival, regardless of whether the child is dropped off late.
    -Babysitting appointments must be cancelled with 24 hours notice or else payment is still required.
For "tokens," we are simply printing out the norms on 2.5" x 1" cardstock. Then we are putting a piece of magnetic tape (from a roll) on the back. That way, people can keep their "tokens" on the refrigerator for safe keeping.

On my post about marriage after baby, Carrie commented about the importance of spending time along with your partner (away from the children) as a way to keep your marriage strong and vital. I absolutely agree with the idea; we've just had trouble implementing it. 

I'm hoping the new co-op works as well as the old one!

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Montessori Holiday Presents

As the holidays approach, I've had a couple requests to talk about how we communicate to others about what kind of toys we prefer for Henry. It's a delicate situation, for sure. It's difficult to sound sufficiently and authentically grateful for others' generosity while simultaneously saying, "We prefer not to have plastic or battery-powered toys." We're lucky because our families ask for lists of things. When I gave them the list last year (see below), I tried to include a range from very specific items to general brands and/or stores that tend to sell more natural things.

Hi All,

I hope this message finds you well!

Matt and I have been thinking a lot about Henry's first Christmas, which is right around the corner! We're ecstatic that we're going to get to see both sides of the family. He's growing so much and we don't want you to miss anything.

If you need/want some gift ideas, here are a few links that might be helpful (I apologize that I just got around to sending this and it's almost December!):
  • Object permanence boxes are interesting for babies
  • This box with pull down drawers looks fun
  • This catalog has lots of kid-sized things that children can use to participate in family life, such as things to use in the kitchen, garden, etc. He'll be doing a lot of that once he hits the 15-month mark
  • Haba toys (available on Amazon) are beautiful wooden toys
  • Plan toys (available on Amazon) are also beautiful wooden toys
  • The Wooden Wagon has some beautiful wooden toys
  • I love this beautiful marble run
  • Nova Natural is also a good site
In Montessori environments, we try to use toys made from natural materials instead of plastic and prefer simple toys to over-stimulating ones.

We're also socking away money for his college fund, so you could always give him an empty box with tissue paper and donate to the fund instead!

The biggest gift of all is going to be playing with all of you! He loves to blow raspberries on bare stomachs, so beware! (And he will lift your shirt to expose your stomach...)

Biggest hugs,


This year, I want to try to think ahead to generate a list of the major things he might need from 2-3 years old. He already got a bike from one of his grandmas as an early Christmas present (which will be his only Christmas present from her). What else might he enjoy in the upcoming year?
It seems like the major categories are: art, music, gardening/outside, woodworking, toys, and cooking.

Wow. Thinking through all of this makes me dwell in possibility about what our life should be like as Henry continues to grow. It feels like our time at home should be filled with practical and creative pursuits: gardening, looking for bugs, watering plants, sweeping, collecting dried leaves for the compost, hanging dishtowels up to dry, fixing things around the house, building things, drawing, painting, sewing, reading, cooking, baking, canning--the list goes on!

And yet this is not what my life is like right now. My free time is mainly spent in front of the computer: blogging, running e-courses, responding to e-mail, and doing my professional work on the computer. I don't feel like my current priorities compromise Henry's childhood. I mainly do these things while he's napping (from 12-2pm) and after he goes to bed (from 6:30-9:30pm).

When his nap goes away and his bed time gets later, I'll need to figure out how to spend less time in front of the computer and more time living my life alongside Henry. I'm looking forward to it!

What else should I put on his list for year 2-3?

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Budget Update

As many of you know, Matt and I had to kick our saving into high gear in order to move forward with building a house. We revised our monthly budget and have had to work really hard to live within it each month, so that we can bank my entire part-time salary. 

At first, the adjustment was really stressful. I was very bought into the plan. While Matt supported the plan, he had a lot more difficulty implementing the plan (primarily because it meant eating out less). Once we adjusted to the differences, however, it's really been a lot easier. We eat out twice a week (spending less than $20 for all of us at each meal). It's still a lot of money to spend on eating out, but it's a compromise between how much Matt wants to eat versus how much I want to eat out.

I'm happy to report that it's actually working! We've been banking my part-time salary for several months now. Also, when extra money pops up (e.g., Matt's bonus for the year or a reimbursement check from work), we try to put it into other categories (such as Baby #2 and furniture for the new house).

The one area for concern is our personal allowances. Our personal allowances are comprised of Christmas and birthday money from family, as well as monthly deposits (which have ranged from $35-$60 this year). Now that we've essentially cut out all frivolous spending from our budget (except eating out twice a week), it means that we use our personal allowances a lot more. We used them to buy Henry some new things for the kitchen. Matt uses his to buy candy at the convenience store. I sometimes pay for things for the school. 

After tapping into our personal allowances a lot more the past couple months, I am now down to $50, and Matt is at $1 for the rest of November. His birthday is November 22, so hopefully he'll be able to build it up a little! Having the extra cushion of our allowances has been nice to help alleviate the constricted feeling that can come from living within a budget. We'll see how the next couple months go without those extra little cushions!

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Monday, November 5, 2012

November: Reflection & Rejuvenation

On the one hand, I can't believe the year is almost over, but, on the other hand, we still have 1/6th of the year left. That's not too shabby. 

Still, these two months tend to blur by. I want to stay ahead of everything that the season requires. 

Let's see how I did with last month's intentions:
  • Get my car's oil changed. I know this seems like minutiae and is hardly worthy of being listed as a goal for the month, but I need the accountability to get it done. Um, no. But I'm going to do it tomorrow, okay?
  • Be patient while we wait to see whether or not we successfully conceived during this cycle. Yes! My mantras helped a lot. And it turns out that I'm pregnant. I'm still in happy shock. Being pregnant after a miscarriage is a whole different ballgame for me. As optimistic as I try to be, I can't help but doubt the pregnancy nearly every single day. How come I don't feel more queasy? How come I'm not peeing more in the night? I've been reluctant to monitor the pregnancy by getting multiple blood tests done (to make sure my hCG is doubling nearly every day) for a couple reasons. First, I'm reluctant to fork over all the co-pays while we are on a super-strict budget. And, two, I have many other things to be doing and focusing on instead of trekking to the doctor. Really, I think I need to turn this topic into its own post.
  • Finish Purposeful Parenthood. I made some good progress, but I wasn't able to finish it.
  • Brainstorm Matt's birthday present. Yes! But I can't reveal it because it might get back to Matt.
  • Build our Christmas lists for family members. Oops.
  • Work on publicity plans for my book, A Priceless Wedding: Crafting a Meaningful, Memorable, and Affordable Celebration. A little bit. Thank you so much for your offers of support!
  • Publicize Kids in the Kitchen: Simple Recipes That Build Confidence and Independence the Montessori Way. Yep!
  • Read for fun and relaxation before bed each night (I hope to participate in this month's book club focused on Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs). Yep! I really enjoyed reading Wild, a memoir about a woman who hikes the Pacific Coast Trail to reconnect with herself.
  • Get started on the construction of our house! The appraiser considered the additional information we submitted and agreed to raise the appraisal another $10,000. It puts us close enough to make it work. We are so, so close. We closed on our construction loan. Now we are just waiting for the building permit to come back from the city. 
Extra things I accomplished:
  • Planned a play date at the park for families interested in the school.
  • Went to 17 meetings related to opening the school!
  • Planned an executed an event for community and educational leaders to learn more about our vision for the school.
  • Organized our craft room.
I struggled to accomplish all my goals for two main reasons this month: 
  1. The first trimester always knocks me on my butt. I'm napping for about an hour and a half every day. In the evenings, I'm not motivated to do any work. This month, I'm going to continue letting myself nap for so long, but I'm going to work harder at mustering motivation in the evenings. Henry goes to bed at 6:30, so even if I work for an hour or two, I still have time for relaxation before bed.
  2. I haven't been dutifully preparing my action plan at the start of every week. When I sit down to plan my week, I need to look back at my monthly goals and schedule in time to work on things. No excuses
So, this month. Let's see:
  • Continue to nurture the life growing inside me: daily naps, walks four times a week, solid nutrition, intentional stress release.
  • Select a midwife for a homebirth.
  • Get a lot of our Christmas shopping done. 
  • Select a partner for 2000 Dollar Wedding.
  • Enjoy Thanksgiving break with my best friend (and make homemade pumpkin empanadas with cilantro mint dipping sauce).
  • Make significant progress on finishing the charter application.
I know November is going to fly by, so I will stop there!

Photo Courtesy of the Nikki McClure Calendar

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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Dear Henry Jones: Halloween #2

I was able to keep up with the "living, breathing scrapbook" idea for Henry's first year. Once we hit the second year, I moved more toward the electronic version (i.e., sending notes, photos, and videos to a special e-mail account for him). I didn't think he'd want a binder for every year of his life. However, I might consider making him a book of photos each year. Or maybe some kind of electronic slideshow. I'm not sure. For now, I still like to capture notes and send them to him. Here's the most recent one from yesterday:

Dearest Henry Jones:

What a fun second Halloween! This year you dressed up like your second favorite fruit: a strawberry. I thought your first favorite fruit (grapes) would be too uncomfortable. You helped me sew the strawberry costume a little bit, although you made me nervous because you didn't want to try it on at all once we were finished. 

However, on Halloween itself, you totally pulled through! In fact, you didn't want to take off your costume. Every time we had to slip it off to get you in your carseat, you protested. First we went to the grocery store for early voting. You helped your dad cast his vote for Barack Obama. Then we went to another grocery store--Whole Foods--to "trick-or-treat" around the store. They had stations set up all around. You carried a little canvas bag with you to collect all the goodies they were doling out. We finished up the evening with some pizza on the outside patio. 

You are such a little joy to be around, dear Henry. You say "ya" to nearly every question we ask right now. You're so good at saying "please" and "thank you." You are such a sweet boy. Thank you for being a major treat in our lives. 

With love,

Mama + Dada

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Marriage & Motherhood

I just love this reflection over at Kelly Rae Roberts about marriage after baby. She says, "Parenthood, like any other big transition in life (marriage, separation, moves, etc), throws you into major opportunity to grow into new versions of yourself and into new versions of partnership and marriage. They aren't kidding when they say it's life changing. I think it's self changing. Marriage changing. All the changing isn't easy, but there is wholeness and healing at every turn."

She goes on to say, "We're finding the pieces just don't fit together the way they used to in the marriage puzzle, the self puzzle, the community puzzle. The pieces have changed. And so have we. Our edges are in some cases, more sharp, and in others, more soft. In some cases where there used to be tenderness there is anger. Where there used to be anger is now tenderness. The triggers are different. The lessons are different."

I've been thinking a lot about my marriage lately. As cheesy as it sounds, it is my anchor. It grounds me and holds me when everything else feels tumultuous or when I'm feeling pulled. 

But I also feel myself starting to take its security for granted. I feel like I let myself pull harder on the rope because of its strength. 

I've been working so hard to be a good mother to Henry. Mothering raises so many questions about what is right and good and true. I try to forge my path in the direction that feels right to me. I want to feel proud of the way I interact with Henry and the relationship we build together. I want to go to sleep at night knowing that I was the best mother I could be.

But I can't lose sight of the way I interact with Matt and the relationship we continue to build together. I have to continue cultivating it with care, even as my passion for building Austin's first public Montessori school grows, even as we have another child, even as our lives get busier. 

It's definitely easier said than done, and it's definitely a work in progress. But work worth doing.

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