Monday, October 28, 2013

'Tis the Season!

Ah, 'tis the season of holidays! With a new baby around, I forgot that I like to start thinking about Halloween in the summer, so I have plenty of time to think about Thanksgiving and Christmas before they sneak up on me. 

Halloween seems pretty under control. I talked to the two other families I have met in the neighborhood, and they were excited about the idea of a block party Halloween bash. They are going to invite some folks, and I found two other families off the neighborhood list-serv to invite. We'll just set up a folding table in the cul-de-sac for pizza. I purchased these glow stick bracelets to pass out; I figured they would increase our visibility while trick-or-treating and be super-fun!   

What else makes a fun cul-de-sac party for a bunch of toddlers? Sidewalk chalk? Bubbles? Done and done. 

We still need to make Tate's strongman costume and finish painting Matt's popcorn costume. I need to borrow a couple things for my clown costume. 

Now onto Thanksgiving...

We usually travel to our friends' house in Houston, but with two young ones in tow, that idea is less appetizing. Plus, I think we're excited to host at our house now that we have a big table and a deck. I think a day of cooking with friends and then dinner outside sounds positively delightful. I wonder what's the best way to organize an invitation since we'll want to collect quite a bit of information (such as whether they want to come early and cook at our house or just show up for dinner)? Perhaps just an Evite with a link to a Google doc Excel sheet that lists what we need? That way, everyone can see everyone else's responses and respond accordingly. 

It seems like we'll want to set food out throughout the day--but easy food so we don't get overwhelmed with preparing food while we prepare food. Maybe just monkey bread for the morning time and crockpot chili for lunch? With hummus and pita chips + fruit for a snack? 

Ooh, I think I want to make these clay wishbones for an after dinner surprise! 

As far as Christmas goes, I already booked our tickets to Florida to see my family for part of the holiday, and then Matt's family is coming to Austin for the other part. We'll just need to figure out presents for everyone. We'll need to get those ordered and wrapped ASAP to reduce the stress. 

Oh, and there's Matt's birthday in there! I think he already has an idea about what he wants to do for his party, so I'll just work with him to plan it. I already ordered and received his present. 

Phew! I feel so much better spending a few minutes to get some ideas out. Thanks for listening! 

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How to Revive Trick-or-Treating in a Neighborhood

I've been trying to decide what to do for Halloween. I posted on our neighborhood list-serv to get a sense of what our neighborhood is like, and it sounds like it's a lot of dark houses and not a lot of trick-or-treaters. 

My first inclination was to schlep our family to the Mueller development. It's a high-density, primarily affluent neighborhood in East Austin. Apparently families from all over our side of town flock there for the bountiful candy. I thought the close proximity of houses would be easier on a toddler.

But then I thought about one of the comments on the list-serv a little more:

We had one caller [in 2000], a young girl who lived catty-cornered to us. That was it. We tried again the following year. No one came. We haven't left our porch light on during Halloween since then...This year might be the right time to turn on the lights again. I see many more young people (I'm 68) out walking, many with children...Maybe this is the year. Perhaps those of us subscribing to this string might declare our intentions and influence others? 

Maybe this is the year. Maybe this is the year we turn the lights back on.  

I'm trying to figure out how to do this. Does anyone have any ideas? I tried to do a quick Google search for inspiration about how to revive trick-or-treating in a neighborhood but didn't see anything. Maybe we pick one street to start with? We could pass out flyers in the weeks leading up to Halloween to let people know we're coming? 

The more I think about something like this, the more excited I get. This is the first time we have ever moved somewhere and thought, "We are going to be here for a long time." So when I think about what to do for Halloween, there's so much possibility for establishing yearly rituals.

What if we host a block party every year? It could be a potluck so it wouldn't require too much work on a school night. Or even just a pizza party. That might be even better. Then we could all walk from our house to go trick-or-treating. If we go that route, it makes sense to try and target the nearby streets. 

I think I'm going to start by talking with two friends with young children that I've met in the neighborhood and see what they think. I'm excited!

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Inch by Inch, Row by Row: Front-Yard Garden

I've written this post so many different ways in my mind over the past week as I've debated whether or not to move forward with a front-yard garden. 

In one version of the post, I was going to write all about how we have to be honest with ourselves about who we are and what our preferences are--no matter what other people say/think and no matter what we tell ourselves in our own romantic stories about who we want to be. 

Ever since I started this blog in 2006(?) I've wanted to garden at home. We went to great efforts to make this dream a reality when we lived in Denver, but it was an epic fail. It required constant watering, and the Colorado sun scorched it and produced only one tomato (which Hoss promptly ate). It was a both a time- and money-suck. 

But I haven't given up on the dream of creating a productive rather than just a consumptive household. Especially now that I have children, I want them to see where food comes from and play a role in bringing it from seed to table. 

But I'm busy, busy, busy. And Matt informed me that he has no interest in taking over garden care (like he did in Denver). He already does most of our yard, dog, and chicken work. 

And I'm only going to get busier as a school leader. So am I kidding myself when I think that I'll make time for gardening on a weekly basis? Am I just pushing something on myself that no longer fits my reality? Would I rather spend an hour in the garden or going to the farmer's market instead? 

But I really do want to create the kind of home where we grow things. I want to work with Henry and Tate to plan the garden each season and then bring our plan to fruition. I want to minimize the work as much as possible (hooray for drip irrigation!), but I think it's still something I want to move forward with (and if it fails we can fill the planters with something like wildflowers, right?).

When I was talking to my friend about the amount of work that she puts into her garden each week, I was inspired by the idea of partnering with my neighbor to make our front-yard garden come to life. My neighbor was thrilled by the idea of our front-yard garden when she first heard about it. She explained that she always wanted one, but her husband at the time wasn't very supportive. I'm wondering if she has any interest in working together to bring a garden to life. She's not working right now, so she has more time to devote to it. I'm going to see what she thinks about us contributing the land, soil, and plants, while she contributes more of the time. Then we can share the harvest. The thing I love most about this idea is creating even more opportunities to interact with our neighbor and work alongside each other. Henry already talks about her a ton. Maybe if all of us worked together, we could give our little patch of earth the tending it deserves. 

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Halloween Countdown

Halloween preparations are in full swing at our house. I love the month-long preparation/anticipation process--it makes the holiday that much more fun for me. And I LOVE how excited Henry is about Halloween. 

As a side note, Halloween probably isn't a very Montessori holiday for young children (between dressing young children up in imaginary things when they are trying to understand the concrete world and stuffing them with unhealthy candy), but it's an important ritual in our family, which is more important to us than implementing strict Montessori.

Henry is already practicing how to say, "Trick or treat--may I have some candy please?" 

As I mentioned in my last post on the topic, Henry decided that he wanted to be an elephant. I found an amazing elephant costume that was made from a stuffed IKEA elephant, but IKEA no longer sells them. I was instead going to make him an elephant head from another IKEA thing, but then I found a $15 elephant costume at Carter' I thought about taking the easy way out and ordering the inexpensive costume but decided that it would be more worthwhile and satisfying (although not as attractive) to DIY a costume with Henry. 

We trekked to IKEA to purchase what we needed, and I was celebrating the decision I made to go the DIY route. It was much more satisfying to engage with Henry in the process. However, we arrived at 9am and realized it didn't open until 10am. Ugh. We came home and promptly ordered the $15 costume. At least we did it together, right?

The costume only went up to size 24 months, so my plan was to cut off the head and alter it to fit Henry. Imagine my complete surprise when the costume arrived and actually fit my 4T-wearing toddler! 

So Henry's costume was done and done. I then moved onto Matt's costume. We decided the most affordable route would be to dress him like a bag of popcorn. Henry and I started making the cardboard shape together, with ample inspiration from Pinterest. 

Tate is going to be a little strongman. I purchased a red-white-striped shirt and will turned it into a sleeveless, scooped-neck unitard. We will make a little barbell for him to hold and draw a mustache on his face (again, treating a child like an object is very non-Montessori). 

I'm still going as a clown because I can repurpose several parts of my homemade Rainbow Brite costume from many years ago. 

To help Henry wrap his brain around time, we sat down to make a countdown chain. I cut strips of origami paper and Henry and I worked to glue them together. I made a label for the top and laminated it  so we can use it for many years to come. Now he can rip one off every day and visually see the amount of time left until Halloween. 


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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Montessori Home Tour

I had the great fortune of taking a Montessori parenting class with Sarah Moudry (the mom featured within my all-time favorite Montessori video, Edison's Day). We started when Henry was five weeks-old, and it was amazing to have her as a resource to answer my questions and provide guidance. Although I haven't read it yet, I bet there's some useful information in her book about toilet learning.

She's presenting at an upcoming conference and she asked me to make a video about how her class impacted how we do Montessori in our home. In case you're interested, here's a little tour of what some of our Montessori spaces look like in our new home. 

You'll basically see everything you've already seen in Henry's one-year-old Montessori room and his Montessori nursery. We honestly haven't updated his toys very much because he prefers to make his own fun with various things he finds around the house. 

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Light-Blocking Shades

One of the difficult aspects of our new house is figuring out what to do for window treatments. Honestly, the house is not designed to sport window treatments well. The windows in Henry's room, for example, push right up to the wall making it impossible to hang a curtain without closing off some of the window or they are insanely wide, making it cost-prohibitive to purchase some type of roller-shade or blinds. We knew all of this when we purchased the designs for the house (and even made some of the existing windows bigger!), but we didn't make the house more window treatement-friendly because we generally don't use many window treatments anyway. In our Houston bungalow, we left the shades open nearly all the time.

But my toddler and nap times don't get along well without a darkened room. Even if we had blinds or a rollershade on Henry's windows, we would still probably want something to close around the edges (especially when he goes to bed when it's still light out in the summer months). In our rental house, we closed the blinds and then hung a blanket on some hooks that were designed to hold a valence. 

In our new house--while we figure out the window treatment situation (which is one item on a list of about 5,008)--we decided to concoct a temporary solution (that will still be useful in the long-run). We purchased light-blocking fabric from JoAnn's (which was amazingly 50% off!) and sewed magnets into the edges. The edges around our windows are magnetic, so our big strips of fabric stick right to the edge. It's easy to put them up and take them down for naps and bedtimes. When we take them down, we fold them and hang them on hangers in the closet. The rest of the day we can enjoy the natural light. 

VoilĂ ! 

In the future, we might paint them to look a little prettier (maybe with stripes or clouds), but for now I'm just cutting myself some slack and being thankful when we can keep the dishes from our frozen-pizza dinner clean. 

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Three Months: Happiest Birthday, Tate!

Oh, Tate. We are all so in love with you.
Henry continues to adore you. He wants to hold you, kiss you, and rub your head. The three of us spend quality time together every day after we pick up Henry from school. You love watching what Henry is doing.
You have been all about talking to us this month! You smile and make all sorts of gurgling, cooing, and baby screaming noises. You would much rather talk to one of us than watch your mobiles.
I've been lazy about letting you nap in the Moby wrap every day. You are such the perfect little napper when you're nestled up against my chest. I take you to all sorts of meetings with me and you sleep through nearly everything.
But you still hate the car with a passion! You get yourself all worked up (beads of sweat and everything!) when we have to go pick up Henry every day.
You are just the sweetest little thing. Thank you for making our lives more fun, hilarious, sweet, and full.

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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Dwelling in Possibility.

It feels like dreaming big is in the air. I've had many conversations with friends lately about their plans and dreams. One friend wants to stop working outside of the home and instead pursue a creative endeavor that will allow her to stay home with her son. Another friend is pushing herself to pursue her real passions, even though they are very different from her current day job and even though those passions are challenging and make her feel like quitting sometimes (Meghan, I love reading about your adventures, and I'm rooting for you!).
Another friend and I talked about the importance of being honest with yourself--really honest with yourself--about what makes you happy. She's realizing that the career she has pursued since college might no longer be how she wants to spend her days. She talked about how difficult it can be to admit that to oneself. Her career is such an integral part of her identity--both how she sees herself and how others see her. It makes it even more difficult to step aside and pursue authentic happiness.
Another friend seems to have the ideal job from an outsider's perspective and yet she's ready to brainstorm new paths to take. She's at that scary intersection where roads lead in all sorts of different directions.
Matt and I have also been having these conversations. He was recently offered a new job with another non-profit organization doing amazing work in the education sector. When he was contemplating the benefits and drawbacks of making the change, I asked, "What do you really, really want?" His answer was simple. He explained that he wanted to be able to run every day. Running is such an important part of his life, and yet it's been squished to the side with the expansion of our family. He still runs approximately five times a week and plays soccer on the sixth day, but his running has been relegated to extremely late in the evening (which means he has to run on a nearly full stomach from dinner and we can't relax together in the evenings) or extremely early in the morning (which mean he is even more sleep-deprived than the average new parent).
When we realized that such a simple thing--time to run during the day--would have such a profound impact on his quality of life, he decided to propose an alternate schedule to the awesome folks at his new job. We decided that it would be worth any pay-cut that it entailed because we are in a place where happiness is more important than more money (I'm so glad we've finally reached that place!). He will now be able to drop off Henry at school in the morning and then go for a run before settling in to start his work for the day. Although it was a scary thing to ask ("What if they think I'm not committed to the work? What if they say 'no'?"), it will undoubtedly make all the difference in his quality of life. I think it's absurd that we tend to push ourselves to work ourselves to the bone before retirement. I would much rather have time to enjoy myself when I'm younger and healthier. I'm so proud of Matt for going out on a limb to ask for what he wanted, and I am ecstatic that it's actually going to work out.  
I know every single one of us that I talked about in this post is coming from a place of privilege. Self-actualization can only be pursued when all of your other basic needs are being met. The fact that I have the privilege to pursue my dreams while there are others who have to struggle to get food on the table is unjust. That's precisely why my chosen path is creating educational opportunities that promote social justice. I believe all people should be able to live the kind of life discussed in the video above, and education is one way to help make that vision a reality.

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Monday, October 7, 2013

Amidst the Craziness

Our strategy for creating as much normal as possible amidst the craziness of moving has been to unpack everything and assign it to a general spot. We are getting very close to assigning everything to a general spot. For example, all extra towels, sheets, and pillows have been placed in our bathroom closet. 

It's slightly overwhelming to think about going back to organize all of the "spots" around our house (e.g., we don't have any shelving in our bathroom closets yet, so stuff is literally just piled/thrown in there). But at least our house is in a quasi-comfortable place in the meantime. 

Here are some of the things that are making us happy about our new house these days:

Our giant sectional couch from IKEA: We had friends over one evening, and it literally fit four of us and our giant bloodhound (with one person lying down). 

Our giant dining room table: It's so fun to invite people over to eat! 

The view of trees out our windows: They make me happy.

A giant kitchen island: Our kitchen is relatively small, but the island provides plenty of workspace. It's also been so fun to have guests sit at the barstools and chat with me while I finish up something in the kitchen. 

Hidden storage: Our house is a very simple design--entryway, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and one large room for kitchen/dining/living for a total of 1,779 square feet. It doesn't have a garage or an attic. Fortunately, we added some extra storage above the closets. The access doors don't look great, but we don't mind because having extra storage for momentos, holiday decorations, etc. is so necessary.

Our neighbors: Two different sets of neighbors brought over welcome gifts (note to self: I need to get in the habit of doing that for new neighbors!). Plus, Henry, Tate, and I have randomly gone over to our neighbor's house just to say hello and visit. 

The sponge drawer: It's a little thing that makes a huge difference. I love being able to completely clear off the countertops and store the wet sponge in a convenient location. 

Someone in the comments section asked for a post about moving tips. I don't have much to offer on that front; I feel like we kind of threw everything in the truck and moved it. I guess that's to be expected when you move right after the birth of your child. My one recommendation is to pack a suitcase just like you're going on a two-week trip. If you put all the most important stuff in one or two suitcases, then you buy yourself a little more time in the unpacking department. 

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Toddler Board Game Recommendation

Henry received a cooperative board game for his birthday last year, called Seeds for the Birds. We tried to play it once several months ago, but he wasn't ready for it. We pulled it out again the other day, and we had a blast. We played it two times through (and then he wanted to play it again!). 

He doesn't completely get it yet, but it still feels like a fun and productive use of time. He gets to practice following directions, sequencing, facing frustration (when the squirrel gets the nuts!), and delaying gratification ("It's my turn right now, Henry."). It also gives him an authentic opportunity to practice counting and develop real number sense (as opposed to just memorizing and reciting numbers). 

It's a "cooperative" game rather than a "competitive" game because all the players work together to help the bird get the seeds (instead of the squirrel). It's interesting that a game that promotes cooperation actually reinforces a scarcity mindset about nature (it feels kind of wrong to root for one animal to get all the seeds instead of sharing them with all the animals), but it's still fun. And we're not opposed to competitive games either. I think it's good for all of us to practice losing with grace and centering ourselves when we start to get frustrated and sad. I'm wondering what other games would be good for a 2.5 year-old? Some of the games I remember loving during my early childhood include Candy Land, Shoots and Ladders, and Hungry, Hungry Hippo. 

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

National Night Out

In an attempt to "put down roots" this year, Matt and I have attended monthly church potlucks, invited new friends over for dinner, and gone out of our way to meet neighbors. However, I'm eager to do more. 

Enter National Night Out. In Texas, we have National Night Out on October 1st because the thought is that it's too hot to have block parties in the summer. Our neighborhood is having an event at the local park later in the evening, so Matt and I are planning to host a potluck earlier in the evening. We invited all the neighbors on our cul-de-sac, as well as a couple neighbors we've met while walking in the neighborhood. We also went to a couple houses of people that we had only heard about from other neighbors. 

I made a simple handwritten invitation and used our copier to replicate it. Henry and I also made cookies and delivered them along with the invitations. 

I'm eager to get to know as many neighbors as possible. A couple years ago, we hosted a National Night Out at our house in Houston, and I ended up meeting a woman who later became an amazing friend (we got pregnant at the same time, carpooled to prenatal yoga together, and later collaborated with Kylie on Kids in the Kitchen). 

On one of our walks the other evening, we met a woman who has lived in her house since 1970. It's amazing to come across such deep roots just down the block! It's surreal to think about our family potentially being in this spot for Henry and Tate's entire childhoods. It makes the process of reaching out and connecting with those around us feel even more necessary and promising. 

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