Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Update: Building a Community

It's been a while since I've shared an update on how my effort to build a pocket community in Austin is going. Last I mentioned, we had our sights set on seven adjacent lots in a pre-existing neighborhood. Three of the lots weren't buildable, due to floodplain issues, but we would have been able to use them for gardening. The lots back up to 30 acres of City of Austin park land (with a proposed hike-and-bike trail running through it!). The neighborhood is only three miles east of downtown. A huge neighborhood park (with a public swimming pool) is right around the corner.

The coolest part is that we even found a couple (with a baby due in June) to buy one of the plots. They are super-awesome people and would make fantastic neighbors. The timing was perfect for all of us.

We finally got the seller to agree to an expensive and comprehensive survey of the property, so we could have clear data about floodplain issues, trees, set-backs, etc. Once the data came back, we trekked to the Development Assistance Center to sit down with a consultant from the city. He promptly informed us that the land was entirely unbuildable because it all lies in the floodplain.

Womp. Womp.

At that point, the other couple found an awesome house and put an offer down, so now we're back to square one. Honestly, I'm feeling okay about where we are in this process. First of all, I no longer have a clear sense of where I really want to put down roots (neither does Matt). I want Henry's circle of independence to get larger and larger as he grows up, but we're only going to feel comfortable with that if we live in a relatively safe neighborhood. Also, I'm having some feelings of consternation about contributing to the gentrification of East Austin. Also, trying to corral people who are interested in community (and who have a timeframe that perfectly aligns with our own) is very difficult.

I'm starting to realize that making this dream happen by the end of 2012 probably won't work out, and I'm making peace with that realization. Henry's new Montessori school (which he will attend for at least the next two school years) is right up the road. If we moved to another part of town right now, it would be a major pain to get him to school in the mornings and pick him up in the afternoons.

Right now we're just keeping ourselves open to possibility. We're meeting new friends, talking with different people about various neighborhoods, and generally exploring. It definitely makes sense for us. It also means that it will be easy for us to pay for the ridiculously high costs of Montessori childcare and private school (since we have money from the sale of our house in Houston).

That's another thing I really want to keep in mind as we contemplate our next move: I want us to be sure that we don't stretch ourselves too thin. Who knows what the future holds? One of us may lose our job, want to go back to graduate school, decide to stay home with a second baby--the possibilities go on and on! Plus, we want to be able to save money for traveling and retirement. It will probably be very difficult for me to settle for a more modest house (especially because Austin is such an expensive place to buy a home), but it will be important in the long-run to maintain flexibility and security for our family.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Getting a Baby to Sleep Through the Night

Or Getting Our Baby to Sleep Through the Night
Or How We Got Our Baby to Sleep Through the Night (We Think)

Kylie's recent posts about sleep inspired me to share our story about sleeping. I wrote this lengthy post early on in the process, but I wanted to share some updates. I think figuring out the sleep situation is one of the most difficult parts of being new parents. First and foremost, you absolutely want to do what is best for your child, but you may also want to help your new family reach equilibrium as quickly as possible, which can include helping your child learn how to sleep through the night. Matt and I were both equally committed to helping Henry sleep through the night (as soon as it was healthy and safe for him to do so) because we are both much better people when we've had sufficient rest (and better parents).

In the early days, weeks, and months when Henry simply wasn't biologically ready to sleep through the night, we tried to put a bunch of systems in place to help us feel more rested. We would go to bed early and wake up later, plus I would try to take a nap at least once a day while Henry was napping.

At our first doctor's visit, our European pediatrician (whom we adore and trust) gave us the following advice:
  • Don't try any sort of sleep training before four months. Babies aren't ready for it. But try to finish by six months because after that it gets much more difficult.
  • At two months, babies should be able to sleep 6 hours without eating in the night. At four months, they should go 8-10 hours, and at six months they should go 10-12.

We stopped co-sleeping with Henry at two months. When he would wake up in the night, Matt and I would alternate who would go in. If it was earlier than the amount of time our pediatrician recommended, we would soothe Henry back to sleep without feeding him (unless he persisted and seemed truly hungry--then we fed him). This strategy helped him sleep longer and longer stretches, since he wasn't always expecting to be fed. When he was four months-old, we went on a two-week road trip to New Mexico and Colorado. He slept terribly! He woke up all night long. I finally ended up pulling him into the bed and just feeding him all night.

Once we got home from that trip, we waited for his sleeping to get back to normal. We found that he was waking up more than ever. We were more tired than we had ever been. We finally decided to try a modified version of the "cry it out" method. The first time he cried, we would wait for five minutes and then go to him to pick him up and put him back on his Montessori floor bed with a pacifier. If he still cried, we would wait ten more minutes and then repeat. Then we would wait 15 minutes and repeat (and continue every 15 minutes). The first night, he woke up three times, cried a bit (but not an overwhelming, fearful cry), and then went back to sleep. The second night, it happened twice. The third night it happened once. Since then, he's been sleeping from 7:30pm to 7am.

The main exception is when he's sick. He didn't get sick much at all the first year, but now that he's in daycare he gets sick frequently. If he's sick we go in right away instead of letting him cry and make his congestion worse.

A few other things we did (although I have no idea if they actually helped him sleep through the night):

  • In the early days of breastfeeding, we encouraged him to take full meals instead of snacking (for example, if he started to fall asleep after drinking just a little, I would brush his cheek or rub his back to wake him up.
  • We keep Henry on a pretty consistent nap schedule (although his changing needs dictate when those naps are--it changes every couple months), and we try to honor his nap schedule by being home when it's time for him to nap.

I think transitioning Henry to his own bed, following the pediatrician's advice about how long Henry could go without milk in the night, adhering to a consistent nap schedule, and being okay with letting Henry cry a little (plus his personality thrown in) have all coalesced to help Henry sleep through the night. I am so thankful for the specific advice given to us by our pediatrician. I will definitely attempt to follow this advice again, if we have a second child.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Thoughts on Being More Present

I have a lot of lessons to learn from yoga, such as how to fully immerse myself in the present moment, to separate myself from the planning/worrying part of my brain that analyzes the past to inform and shape the future. I need to learn how to breathe into the here and now, to acknowledge--and then let go--of tension and discomfort and float on top of the sea of this moment.

I've been thinking about this lesson a lot as I transition to a new city, as my schedule as a mother and a professional shifts, and as I undertake audacious/scary/uncertain dreams related to building/finding community and starting Austin's first public Montessori school.

I will not lie; it has been hard. It's hard leaving behind all the connections that sustained me and made my life easier (my daily walks with my neighbor and her daughter, the babysitting co-op, playdates with good friends and good conversation...). I have to make friends all over again. Although I have a long list of people to meet thanks to this blog, I'm an introverted person, which means that meeting new people drains rather than energizes me. That's not to say that I'm not incredibly thankful for the people I've met so far, but the early stages of relationships leech my energy.

Not only did I leave behind my individual friends, Matt and I also left behind our "couple friends." It's incredibly difficult to cultivate friendships with other couples that Matt and I both like (although we're working on it!).

And starting a school from scratch in a new place is no small undertaking. It can feel downright impossible (or at least insane) at times.

These past few weeks, when I did have spare moments, I found that my motivation was lower. I didn't feel like researching how to submit Articles of Incorporation to the Secretary of State office, nor did I feel like fully unpacking our garage. I worried that I was slipping into a weaning-induced depression, but honestly I think I've just been doing too much and--more importantly--expecting too much. I shouldn't expect to feel settled and fully-friended and completely enamored with my new city/life just shy of two months. I need to have patience for the transition. I need to pay attention to my breath and to breathe into the here and now.

It's a lesson I wish I would have learned as a new mother: "to have patience for the breathe into the here and now." In so many ways, my greatest strengths are also my greatest weaknesses. I am a problem-solver, an action-step-maker, a strategic-thinker, a time-manager. In many cases, I can activate those skills and side-step suffering. That's not the case when you're a new mother or you move to a new city.

Yes, there are still problems I can solve and action items I can add to my to-do list. Finding Henry childcare was a huge step in the right direction. Implementing a new weekly action plan has helped me feel less stressed. Taking the leap back into running and yoga has been transformative. But for every step forward, there will inevitably be some steps back or some hesitations. I need to have patience for the transition. I need to pay attention to my breath and to breathe into the here and now.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spending Time in Nature

Spending time in nature is a huge component of the Montessori approach, and it's an idea that completely resonates with me. I haven't read much of anything on the topic, like this book, because I don't really need any convincing. It makes sense on so many levels.

For example, I believe that the foundation of environmental stewardship is just a downright love of nature. The more children love being outside in the natural world, the more likely they are to take care of it. Plus, nature is an amazing backdrop for creative play and exploration. Children can satiate their natural curiosity and love of learning by turning over rocks, look up at the sky, stepping in creeks, etc. Further, the first six years of a child's life are the "absorbent mind" period according to Montessori theory. It makes sense that Henry should spend as much time as possible outside, soaking in the natural world as he forms the very core of his being.

We started taking Henry outside when he was an infant. He and I would lie on a blanket under a tree and he would stare up at the limbs as if they were a mobile. We would also sit on the front porch swing or go for walks in the Moby wrap. As he got a little older and more mobile, it was more difficult to take him outside because he put everything in his mouth very, very quickly. I don't mind if he tastes a rock or a leaf here or there, but it was very stressful to monitor him constantly. We instead took daily walks in the morning (and most evenings) in the stroller.

Then one magical day, he stopped putting EVERYTHING in his mouth. He still tasted a fair bit of the world, but it was much slower and more infrequent. That's when I started taking him to the park almost every day. He loved crawling around in the mulch, climbing up play structures, watching the other children, swinging, and going on the slide. We also spent more time in our backyard watching the chickens.

Now, we try to spend even more time in nature. Henry shows a lot of interest in nature. One of his new hobbies is looking for birds (I want to get him this bird feeder!). Our backyard is the perfect spot to hang out. We watch bugs, point out birds, practice saying the word "tree" (well, I say the word and Henry points at it). I still take him to the park sometimes (which is also directly behind our house), but I love to give him an informal natural environment to explore.

Since moving to Austin, we've started going on weekend hikes. Henry is so content to ride along in an Ergo carrier (we're looking for a hiking backpack). He watches absolutely everything. My favorite part, though, is when we get to a good spot and get him out. I love to let him walk around and explore. It feels like he's learning so much about how the world works and he's learning to love the natural world.

When I start to get busier and busier with my work, will you all please remind me about how important it is to spend time in nature? And about how I want to slow down and spend time as a family doing the things that really matter? Please and thank you!

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Weekly Action Plan Template

I know I write a lot about updating my organization system, but I'm just being honest about how much I tinker with my system to make sure it fits me just right. Every time my job situation or responsibilities shift, I generally have to make a change in my org system. If I don't, then I end up feeling all sorts of friction with my old system until I finally set aside time to revamp it.

I was using this system through my maternity leave and into my year as a stay-at-home mom. But now I'm starting to work more and more (both on my part-time job as the Director of Operations and Compliance for a new charter school and on the creation of my own charter school). I need more room to record daily tasks, and I need more space to chunk out my time and schedule work time for specific projects. I'll be working four mornings a week at my part-time job, picking Henry up at 12:30, spending the afternoons with him, and devoting Friday morning to my school. It's time to get back to a Weekly Action Plan.

I sit down on Sunday morning and look at my calendar for the week. I transfer all of my appointments and due dates to my weekly action plan. Yes, transferring these items is double-work (instead, I could use something like Outlook and my monthly items would populate my weekly view), but the act of transferring them from my tangible calendar to my tangible weekly action plan really helps me wrap my brain around what I have coming up.

Once I have all the have-to-do's on my action plan, I look back at my monthly goals and figure out what I want to accomplish this week in order to be on track to complete those monthly goals. Then I block off chunks of time during my week to work on those things (this is a way to be proactive about my time, rather than just reacting to all the demands that come at me throughout the week).

I can separate out my daily to-do items a little more. I'm sure I won't get everything done every day, but at least it won't be too difficult to look back at the previous day to catch up on a few things.

You can download the template here, if you're interested.

Today on 2000 Dollar Wedding: Reducing Stress with small steps...

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

DIY Whiteboard

I wrote this post a while back about how we purchased inexpensive shower board from a home improvement store, asked them to cut it to our specifications, and then used removable wall adhesive strips to secure it to our bathroom wall.

I'd like to report that the removal process went pretty smoothly. The only negative consequence was some slight discoloration on the door where the adhesive strips had been for so long.

We decided to hang our "whiteboard" at our new house because it's so useful to have a centralized place to record family-related things. We opted for the kitchen this time. Right now, we've been using to record our meals for the week (have you been using Meals for a Year, the free meal planning site we created?). I also write notes to the babysitter and include a packet of information about Henry's schedule (secured within one of those plastic sheet protectors).

If I erase the marker in a timely fashion, it comes off very easily. If I let the market sit for weeks and weeks, then I have to break out the nail polish remover to get it really clean, which I don't mind. Shower board is definitely an inexpensive option for large whiteboards! You could even build a frame around it, like John and Sherry did at Young House Love.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Busy Girl's Guide to Composting

Since Matt and I moved to our new house in Austin, we've changed up our composting system. Before I share our new system, I wanted to share our old one because it was super-simple.

I got the old one for free in Baton Rouge back in 2001 when I was doing Teach For America in rural Louisiana. It looked just like a trash can, except it had a big hole at the bottom that opened up to the ground. It was similar to this one. I'm convinced it's the absolute best system for someone who wants to keep as much out of the landfill as possible but a) doesn't care about actually using the compost when it breaks down and b) doesn't have a lot of time. We used this system by collecting our egg shells and fruit and veggie peels throughout the week in a big piece of tupperware in our refrigerator. When it got full, we would take it into the backyard and dump it into our composter. That's it. That's all we ever did. We never added water. Never really added brown material (like leaves and twigs). Never aerated it. We just used it like a permanent trashcan. Because everything was constantly breaking down, it never got full. It just decomposed back into the earth.

I may be giving terrible advice (if I am, please speak up!). Perhaps this strategy only works in warm weather climates. Or maybe it's really bad for the soil to have such a concentrated area of either carbon- or nitrogen-richness (I can't remember which it is). All I know is that I have used this strategy at four different houses, and it has worked well every time. I even used it at an apartment complex by hiding it among all the black trashcans.

With the kind of system I described above, I've found that it's difficult to get the compost out once it's broken down. It's constantly buried beneath new fruit and veggie peels. That's why Matt and I opted for a different system now that we actually want to use it for a garden. We searched high and low for a spinning tumbler that has two compartments. You can fill up one side and then let it sit and finish breaking down while you fill up the other, separate side. Although it was on the pricey side, I think it will be worth it (and thankfully the city of Austin is giving us a $75 rebate). The other option would have been to buy two separate composters, so we could let one sit and biodegrade while we actively used the other one.

The only downside with our new system is that it actually takes work if we want to get good compost out of it. We need to add three parts of brown material to every one part of our normal stuff. First, that's a lot! Second, we don't naturally have brown material (e.g., leaves) to compost. So every time we put in one part of normal material, we have to scrounge around for three times as much other stuff. The suggestion I've heard is to bag your leaves all fall/winter and then use them to sustain you through the spring and summer. But who wants bags and bags of leaves lying around all year long?

We'll have to see how we do with our new system. I do love that it's off the ground to discourage pests, and it's very simple (and even fun) to rotate, which helps the process a lot.

I'll keep you updated!

Today on 2000 Dollar Wedding: Planning my next DIY quilt!

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Henry Helping in the Kitchen

I just had to share this video of Henry helping with lunch (on his Learning Tower). Editor's Note: Please ignore my annoying high-pitched baby voice. I try hard not to use that voice, but apparently it still sneaks in.

Of course I also need to say that the rest of the process was not this smooth. I tried to teach him how to smear pizza sauce with a spatula, but he wanted to do it with his hands (which was fine except then he grabbed a big chunk of the dough and stuffed it in his mouth).

Henry's new school offers parent education classes (hooray for learning more about Montessori!), and one of the instructors said, "Children need to learn about the physics of the world before they are ready for Practical Life." That idea makes a ton of sense to me. Henry needs to splash in water (in the tub, outside, etc.), play with faucets, drop things, etc., before he will be motivated to follow procedures in the kitchen. Also, he's young for Practical Life in the kitchen. Children are generally ready sometime between 15 and 18 months. I need to be more conscious of not rushing his development. But still, he's definitely ready to be more involved with what we're doing in the kitchen.

Here's a video of Henry helping with his breakfast smoothie.


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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My Love/Hate Relationship with Running

Dear Running,

I hate you and I love you. It's as simple as that. When we started our relationship over nine years ago, you opened me up to new possibilities. You showed me that changing my daily habits can actually change my identity. By showing up to the park five times a week and making the trek around the three-mile loop, I became A Runner. I felt healthier, stronger, less stressed, and more proud of myself. I lost weight, built muscle tone, and eventually got comfortable running in just a sports bra. (I gasp just thinking about that now!).

But there was always the underside of our relationship. I always had to force myself to spend time with you. I have never been the kind of person who exercises for fun. Once I'm done and on my way home, then I think, "Oh, that was good," but I never actually looked forward to spending time with you.

Before I even knew I was pregnant, I started feeling uncomfortable running. When I finally took a pregnancy test and my midwife said it would be better to walk than run every day, I latched onto that excuse for dear life. It was much easier to motivate myself to walk. Walking is easy. It's relaxing. I don't have to look at my watch or push myself "to just make it to the next signpost."

What a glorious nine months! After Henry was born and the midwife said that breastfeeding was hard on the joints (for hormonal reasons, I think), those nine months stretched out to a year and a half.

But now I'm slowly making my way back to you. It's so hard! When I have my precious free time, I want to savor it, sink into it, enjoy it--not make myself gasp for air. But I'm doing it. I know you're good for me. You make me better. You make me happier (after I'm finished).

It makes me self-conscious to be out there among all those fit Austinites as they speed along the lake. My body has changed since we've been apart. I feel like everything jiggles up and down more than I move forward. I get passed by everyone. My leg muscles and abdomen muscles (which, by the way, don't feel like they're where they used to be) scream at me when I get home.

But that's okay. We're back at the beginning with our relationship. Time and distance can do that. We'll get there again, one foot forward at a time.


Today on 2000 Dollar Wedding: Do you have any habits that hurt your marriage?

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Birthday Ritual

I mentioned in this post that I was thinking about creating some kind of candle ceremony to commemorate Henry's birthday every year. When I stumbled upon this 9-candle holder on Etsy, I realized it was the perfect complement to the ceremony: one tealight candle for every year until he's 9, then a colored candle to represent 10 years, and additional tealight candles in the remaining eight slots to take him to 18.

Here's how the ceremony went:
  1. I printed out his one year-old photo.
  2. We clipped the photo to a ribbon using these mini-clothespins.
  3. We lit the candle and read the following letter.

Dear Henry,

You bring joy and light into this world. We light this candle to celebrate another year of your brightness.

You came to us two weeks late on the very last day of February, after a 45-hour journey into the world. We were so thankful for your safe and beautiful arrival.

You've changed so much in just one short year. In the early days, you and I would spend time outside, lying on a blanket, watching the underside of a tree. Now when we're outside, you crawl everywhere, pulling up on trees, looking for birds and picking up sticks.

You've gone from a silent observer of the world around you to an active participant. You still look closely at everything and notice the smallest details around you, but you interact with the world by babbling a lot, laughing when those around you laugh, pointing at things, and make it very clear what you want.

Your favorite thing has consistently been our bloodhound Hoss. He brings a smile to your face several times a day. You also love to eat. And your newest hobby is reading books. You are a sweet, sweet boy, and people always say, "What a happy baby!" That's the number one thing we've heard about you this year.

You shine and brighten our lives and the lives of others.

It was the perfect ceremony for us: meaningful, memorable, and simple. It's something we can return to each year to commemorate and celebrate our dear Henry.


Today on 2000 Dollar Wedding: Enter to win a photobook (hopefully for real this time!).

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Gearing Up for Toilet Training (i.e., Toilet Awareness/Learning)

Montessorians believe that the sensitive period for helping children use the toilet independently is 12-18 months (according to the book Montessori from the Start). The author cites studies that indicate that in the 1950s, ninety-two percent of babies were using the toilet successfully during the daytime by 18 months of age.

We've done a little Elimination Communication with Henry from early on to help him associate diaper changes with the toilet (and we've always set up his changing area in the bathroom), but we honestly didn't have much success with it. Even though I was home with him full-time for the first year of his life, I was never adept at reading his cues. We have accidentally caught several pees and poops, but the ratio of caught to missed has not been favorable.

In anticipation of the 12-month mark, coupled with the fact that we moved to a new house and were therefore setting up a new environment, in addition to the fact that Henry had a really bad diaper rash for a long time, we started gearing up for toilet awareness. Here's how we did it:
  1. We purchased cotton training pants from Hanna Andersson. They are expensive, but luckily we caught a 20% off deal. The other training pants that have been recommended to me are Under the Nile Organic Cotton Training Pants (although I've heard they run small), Potty Patty's or Potty Scotty's, and the ones at Target. Henry will need these training pants when he starts Montessori school in the fall (he's at a Montessori daycare right now which isn't an authentic program).
  2. We put a basket in the bathroom to hold his underwear, right next to his Baby Bjorn toilet.
  3. We created a spot for Henry to sit while he's putting his underwear on and taking it off (simply by flipping a basket over).
  4. When Henry is home with us, he only wears his training underwear and a shirt. For the most part, the underwear will hold one pee or poop (the one exception to this was when Henry was on a play date at a friend's house and for some reason it leaked and he peed all over their floor. Oy.) We make it a point to make frequent trips to the toilet to give him the opportunity to try and go to the bathroom. We let Henry choose between a book and a toy when he sits down on the toilet.
  5. When he does go to the bathroom on the toilet, we say something neutral like, "You did it. You peed in your toilet," rather than conditioning him with external praise, like "Great job!" Then we dump it in the big toilet and give him the opportunity to flush the toilet.
  6. We put his cloth diapers on him when we're going to be away from the house for an extended period.

Our current process is working out well. The training pants help us immediately recognize when he has gone to the bathroom. He can feel the wetness very easily, and we are getting a better understanding of how frequently he actually urinates. With pooping, it's getting easier and easier to notice his little grunts, so we are actually able to get him to the toilet quite a bit for that process.

It still feels too early to actually expect him to internalize this process, but it feels like the right time to start. His ability to understand language and the world around him astounds us on a daily basis.

We still need to get a small stepping stool for the bathroom, so he can reach the sink and we can start associating using the bathroom with hand-washing. We also need to hang a towel at his level for hand-drying (I think we'll sew a wooden ring onto it, so he can easily hang it back on the hook).

Good times at the Cotner-Bradford residence!


Today on 2000 Dollar Wedding: My idea to create a new ritual for Henry's birthday.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Montessori Bedroom for a One Year-Old

I've been meaning to share pictures of Henry's new Montessori bedroom. It's a lot different than his Montessori nursery in Houston.

In our 1930s bungalow in Houston, we only had two bedrooms, so Henry's nursery also functioned as our office, guest bedroom, and craft room. We designed it with all those functions in mind. It was also my favorite room in the house, so when Henry and I were home together, we hung out in there like a living room (which is why we put his movement mat, mirror, and mobiles there instead of in the living room).

Now that we live in a ranch-style home with three bedrooms in Austin, Henry has his own room, and we have a separate room devoted to the office, crafts, and guests. Henry primarily uses his bedroom for sleeping and a little playing. We tried to make the environment simple, natural, calming, beautiful, and orderly.

Henry has an IKEA shelf that holds some toys, including bell and ball cylinders, a xylophone, a box/ball toy that helps with object permanence (I removed the rubber pieces and the hammer, so it more closely resembles an authentic Montessori toy), a discovery basket, a Skwish toy, another ball toy, some hand grasping toys from Etsy, and a basket of books. I also made him a set of rattling jars with pistachios, quinoa or couscous, black-eyed peas, and popcorn (I used little jam jars from restaurants). Everything has a place, so it's easy to restore the environment after Henry has been playing in there. If we had more toys, we would rotate them out every couple weeks. But honestly, we have toys in the bedroom, three different places in the living room, and in the car, which means we don't have any extra in storage.

We hung three pieces of art on the wall, at a height that was low enough for Henry to have a good view of them but high enough to keep them out of his little reaching hands.

His floor bed is against the wall, with a handmade decorative pillow and a quilt for added warmth. The Montessori floor bed is still working out really well for our family. At nap time, I put Henry on his bed (he sleeps on his stomach) with a pacifier, leave the room, and close the door behind me. If he's tired, he falls asleep right away. If not, he plays by himself in his room. It's designed to be as safe as a crib would be. When he is tired, he crawls back over to his bed and falls asleep. Sometimes, he'll play up to 45 minutes by himself before deciding he's tired.

I like to look at the room from Henry's perspective and make adjustments as necessary. I love the view out his window!

On the window sill (which is safely out of reach), we keep plants and other natural objects.

We still need to modify the room a little to facilitate independent dressing. We need to get his closet set up properly so he can pick his clothes each day, and we need to hang his mirror on the wall and add a stool and laundry basket. We will also add little rugs to the rug basket, when he starts pulling activities off his shelf and siting down to work on them.

I feel so thankful to have found the Montessori philosophy. It resonates so deeply with Matt and me, and its principles align with what feels right to our family. Although it's not a valid science experiment because the sample size is so small (one!) and there's no control and I'm not a scientist (and the list of other reasons goes on and on), I feel like we see some of the expected outcomes. Henry is very comfortable in new environments, and he enjoys exploring independently. We just found out that he got accepted to an authentic Montessori school in Austin (just up the road!), which he will start in the fall when he's 18 months. When I observed the youngest children's community, I honestly had tears in my eyes because it was so beautiful. If you are at all interested in Montessori, I highly recommend that you schedule a tour. It's a truly inspiring thing to watch.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Choosing Clothes the Montessori Way

The weather is already warming up in Austin (hello, Spring!), which made me realize that Henry needs new clothes. The only warm weather clothes he has are onesies. They are getting too tight, and now that he's going to school, it feels like shorts are in order.

Although I prefer to buy used clothing whenever possible, I didn't have the patience or time to seek out good stores for used baby clothing in my new city. Instead, we took a short trip down the street to Target so we could get exactly what we needed for school the next day.

I kept Montessori principles in mind when selecting new clothes for Henry. I tried to prioritize function over fashion. I looked for clothing that he could put on independently (I opted for pull-on elastic shorts, which weren't nearly as cute as the zipper and button ones). I also looked for clothing that could be mixed-and-matched, so I can set out choices for Henry. My plan is to keep all of his clothes on the higher hanging racks and in the higher compartments and then to move a couple options down for Henry every day. He can pick a shirt from 2-3 options and pick a pair of shorts from 2-3 options. No matter which choices he makes, the options should coordinate nicely with each other. He will be able to select his shirts from a closet rod at his height. The goal is to facilitate his independence with as many aspects of daily life as possible.

It's definitely challenging to follow Montessori principles in modern clothing stores. So many things have cartoon-type characters on them, or they have downright stereotypical messages about gender (i.e., "tough guy"). But we're doing our best!

We also need to hang a mirror in Henry's room for dressing (we're using his movement mirror, turned vertical instead of horizontal), and we need to get a stool for him to sit on for putting shorts and pants on. We also need to purchase a child-sized laundry basket. Before we know it, he'll be able to carry his own clothes to the washing machine.

In Montessori from the Start, the author writes, "If you take time and effort to select your child's clothes carefully, show her how to dress herself, and allow her to practice, she is likely to get her clothes on and off by herself as early as fourteen months...she needs to make her own choice of what the wear and to take part in the care and storing of her clothes."


Today on 2000 Dollar Wedding: Enter to win a photo book from Shutterfly!

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Balancing Henry's Needs with My Own

Being a parent is tough in the sense that it means you are responsible for ensuring that another human's needs are taken care of every single minute of every single day. That responsibility is a heavy burden to bear (while also being an immense blessing, of course).

It's important to me to keep my own needs at the forefront of my mind, so I continue to live a joyful, vibrant, and healthy life. If I take care of all of Henry's needs at the expense of all of my own needs, then I will not be a very good mother for Henry. It's a delicate balance, for sure.

Every once in a while, I think it's important for me to sit down and reflect upon what I need on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis and ensure that I carry all of those needs in my figurative pockets, pull them out as needed, and tend to them properly. I feel like we're at a transition point, now that Henry started daycare from 8:15-12:30 every day, and my time has suddenly opened up. It seems like a good time to sit down and have this conversation with myself.

So, dear Sara, what is it that you need on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis?

  • Eight hours of sleep
  • Healthy meals
  • Plenty of water
  • Quality time with my family
  • Time outside
  • Meaningful and productive work with inspiring and engaging colleagues
  • Time on my computer


  • Exercise at least four times a week
  • Time to myself
  • Conversations with extended family and friends


  • Time to create something
  • A quirky and interesting event on our calendar
  • A date night with Matt


  • A big vacation
  • A couple self-development endeavors (conferences, retreats, etc.)

When I write it out, it doesn't feel like an overwhelming amount at all!


Today on 2000 Dollar Wedding: An easy way to help guest keep track of their glasses at a party.

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Henry Goes to School (and My Heart Breaks a Little)

There are moments of motherhood that drag all too slowly ("How many more minutes until nap time?") and then there are the moments that come all too quickly and remind you how fleeting childhood, growing up, and life in general are.

I remember when Henry needed to nap on our chests--every single nap, five times a day--for the entire first three months of his life. My dear friend Sarah reminded me in the moment that it would be fleeting and that we should cherish it while we had it.

And then there was the bitter-sweetness of co-sleeping. There's nothing like the most tender, vulnerable little being nestled up against your side in the depths of the night. I was eager to reclaim my space, more uninterrupted sleep, and my blanket (and--more importantly--to help Henry separate as part of the attachment process), but I cried when it was time to move him to his own room.

And here I am again, crying, because it's time for another major separation. It's time for Henry to start school. Of course on one level I am absolutely ready for him to start school. I am eager to reclaim my time, my freedom, my personal passions. And he's absolutely ready to start school. He is one now, and I can completely tell that he is ready to go to a different environment every day, to interact with other children and adults, and to return to our family each afternoon with his heart full of adventures.

But still. He's growing up. I want to take a moment to acknowledge that fact, to immerse myself in what we've been through together, to celebrate the painstaking time and energy I have put into establishing a foundation of love for that little boy. His circle is widening. Every time that circle widens, it seems that I will need to celebrate and mourn.

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Learning Tower

I have been so eager to get our hands on a Learning Tower. Although they are cumbersome and insanely large, they seem like such an awesome way to help young children participate in the kitchen life of the family. Although I've read that "Practical Life" activities usually start around 15 months, I can sense that Henry is ready to at least be elevated to the counter with us. A few nights we've had him stand on a chair (with one of us standing directly behind him) in order to watch us wash dishes or make dinner. He's completely enthralled.

I've seen directions for making your own Learning Tower (that folds up!), but that option didn't sound too appealing. The materials seemed expensive, and neither Matt nor I are particularly adept with power tools. If only we were like John and Sherry...

Instead, I've been scouring Craigslist nearly every single day (no joke!) trying to score a used one. They go fast in Austin!

Luckily, Matt's family decided to buy us one for Henry's birthday. Woo-hoo! We are so eager to involve him in kitchen activities. Working with us in the kitchen will help him develop focus and concentration, foster his independence, build his self-esteem, develop his fine motor skills and his hand-eye coordination, help him cultivate diverse tastes, and allow us to spend quality time together. It will definitely be messier and slower, but I hope that we continue to prioritize this time with Henry. If you're interested in supporting your child's growth in the kitchen but don't know where to start, stay tuned for the book Kylie and I are working on! It should be available on June 4.

Matt and I toured a Montessori school the other night, and I was just blown away by the youngest classroom (ages 18 months through 2.5 years). The children walk around in just training underwear and a shirt, since they start toilet learning that young. The children also make brunch every day for the community. They slice bananas and avocados, and sometimes they make something like biscuits. They set the table, first with a table cloth and then the dishes. I can't wait to go back and do an observation when school is in session. It's amazing what children can do when we step back and let them show us!

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