Monday, November 25, 2013

Snapshots of Joy & Gratitude

When I used to teach 3rd grade, I read Cam Jansen with my students. Cam had a photographic memory, so she would go around taking snapshots in her mind. She would later use these snapshots to help solve mysteries. 

Lately, I've found myself doing the same thing (well, the mental snapshot thing, not the solving mysteries part). I find myself taking a mental photograph of a situation as a way to pause and soak up the joy. The intentional pause also gives me a moment to acknowledge the gratitude I feel. 

It happens in simple moments, like when Matt, Henry, Tate, and I are "making a tent" on the bed by going under the covers or like the time Tate grabbed at Henry's breakfast taco and Henry said, "I guess we need to make him some guacamole to eat." Or it happens when Henry, Tate, and I are driving in the car, listening to Henry's favorite song on repeat and rocking out with clapping, singing, and fist-pumping. 

I am overwhelmed by my luck sometimes. I feel like it's all too good to be true. I don't know how I managed to give birth to two healthy boys and marry a man who is pure light. 

I don't talk about the contentment I feel regarding my life in blog posts very often because it feels like bragging. It also doesn't feel useful to me as an exercise. I gravitate toward blogging when I need to puzzle through something, think out loud, hold myself accountable to accomplishing something. I try to make other space in my life for expressing gratitude and celebrating the joy of living. Every night as I fall asleep, I try to reflect on the things I am grateful for. That practice--instituted as part of my New Year's intention process--has helped me focus on gratitude more throughout the day, too. Hence these new "Snapshots of Joy & Gratitude" that are popping up in my life. 

This weekend one of my friends posted on Facebook a request for wedding venues in Colorado. I recommended Sunshine Mountain Lodge and included a link to the story of our wedding there. Rereading the story, I was reminded of how much insecurity I felt as Matt and I forged our own path. I was reminded of how much hustling it took. We had to have a vision of what we wanted and we had to make it happen for ourselves, despite the resistance we experienced. 

And I don't mean to harp on this fact, but only spending $2,000 on our wedding put us on the trajectory that has led us to where we are now. We closed on our house in Houston just days after our wedding, which cleaned out our entire bank account. If we had spent any more on our wedding, we wouldn't have been able to afford the downpayment. 

Three years later, we were able to sell the house for a significant profit (we saved 3% on realtor fees by selling it ourselves), which allowed me to stay home with Henry and pursue my passion to open Austin's first public Montessori school (which was a volunteer effort for the past two years). 

We committed to living frugally for a year, so that we could save up to build a family home together.

And all the fights (caused by the restrictions of living on a tight budget), the insecurity ("Will we be able to save enough money for the downpayment on our permanent loan?"), the judgment (people write mean things about me on the internet every day because of the choices I make for myself) and the hustling (working part-time while volunteering for my school part-time while taking care of Henry after school and being pregnant with Tate--all while facing obstacles head-on and persisting) were all worth it. Life was still enjoyable while all of that was happening, but now we get to watch it grow and blossom. 

We hosted Matt's birthday party this past weekend. He wanted to throw a 1980s movie party--pizza, soda, candy, popcorn, and Goonies on the big screen. Our friends crowded into our home and congregated around the island. I used to daydream about that kitchen island while we were building our house. It wasn't the object itself that excited me; it was the potential of the object to help cultivate what I want more of in life--connection and community. 

Several months ago, our friends told us about a giant movie screen that was deeply discounted on We decided to purchase it because we had visions of hosting movie parties (mainly outside). In preparation for Matt's birthday party, we decided to research the possibility of purchasing a projector. We were able to snag an awesome one off Amazon for $322. 

As all of our friends crowded onto our giant sectional couch with blankets and popcorn, I was once again overcome with gratitude that we have been able to create the kind of life we want for ourselves. It was so great to spend quality time reconnecting with old friends and connecting with new ones. One of our friends stayed the night, and we all enjoyed waffles together in the morning. 

I'm so tempted to delete this entire post because--again--it sounds like I'm just trying to brag about myself. I promise that is not my intention. My intention is to say, "We did it! And you can, too!" Whatever vision you have for your life, it is within you to make it happen for yourself. That's such an incredibly empowering place to start. It's not easy to visualize the path and then follow it, but it's completely possible. 

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Introducing Baby Foods

It's been fascinating to compare Henry and Tate's developmental trajectories. Henry was four months -old when we took a trip to New Mexico and Colorado. Matt and I distinctly remember eating at a restaurant when Henry started reaching for our water glasses. He wanted to bring everything to his mouth. 

Tate has entered that same phase (exact same behavior with water glasses!), which is why we want to get him started on solid food. The Montessori approach to food introduction actually begins even earlier, but I'm too nervous to start any earlier than four months. 

I think we'll start with rice cereal, sweet potato, banana, avocado, and apple. We never waited several days between foods with Henry, so I don't think we'll do it with Tate either. We will also introduce a small water glass from the very beginning. It worked so well with Henry. He's only broken glasses or dishes a handful of times in the past three years, and I think he has learned to be more careful because of it. He never throws things off the table, etc.

So far, Henry is a fantastic eater. We never have to worry about whether he's eating enough, and he has a varied palate. He eats edamame, sushi, Thai food, broccoli, quinoa, roasted vegetables, chickpeas, etc. Here are the things we implemented with him that we will likely replicate with Tate:
  • Introduce foods as soon as he shows an interest of bringing things to his mouth (~4 months)
  • Introduce a variety of foods quickly--all sorts of fruits and vegetables
  • Make interesting foods as soon as possible, such as green beans with mint
  • Make baby food from scratch because it tends to be chunkier and better preparation for eating
  • Avoid relying on convenience baby foods, like pouches
  • Accelerate to foods with more texture earlier than the average American book recommends
  • Graduate to real foods as quickly as possible
  • Never make a separate "kids meal" 
  • Share our food at restaurants rather than ordering off the kids' menu
  • Never force him to eat anything and be okay if he chooses not to eat (and don't offer him something else beyond what's on the table)
  • Introduce sugary food around the year mark but use it to teach moderation
  • Serve his food on ceramic plates with real forks and spoons from the very beginning
  • Limit snacks to mid-morning and mid-afternoon--try to avoid snacks while driving, walking in the stroller, etc.
  • Push the high-chair right up to the table during family meals
  • Serve snacks at a child-sized weaning table
I'm not expecting Tate to be the same phenomenal eater that Henry is, but we'll see how these strategies go! 

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Healthy Kid Lunches

Henry graduated from the Youngest Children's Community at his Montessori school. He's been there since he was 18 months-old, so it was a bittersweet transition. The teachers and I cried as we said goodbye, and we exchanged gifts. The nice part is that we were able to transfer him to a different campus (of the same school), so our commute is cut in half. 

When he was in the Youngest Children's Community, the children worked together to make lunch for themselves every day: tacos, pizza, sandwiches, hummus, etc. It was the sweetest, most amazing thing. Now that he's in primary (ages 3-6), we have to send him with a lunch every day. What a huge transition! 

I wasn't particularly eager to add one more item to our to-do list every day, but so far packing a lunch hasn't been bad. I ordered this dragonfly lunch box from L.L.Bean because it received high ratings for keeping food cold. Then I ordered this Bento box style lunch container and this water bottle. After learning more about how they do lunch at his school (the children transfer their food onto real plates), I realized it probably wasn't the best option. It would have been easier for him to transfer food from tiny containers. Oh well. I like that the compartments are labeled with the food groups, which helps Henry learn how to balance his meals. It also makes packing and cleaning even easier. 

I tried to figure out how to make it easier to pack his lunches, not waste food, and offer Henry a variety of things to eat. I decided that I would send him the same thing for five days in a row and then switch to new things the following week. I was able to add the items to our meal plan (as Henry Lunch #1, Henry Lunch #2, etc.). Here are some of the things we intend to send:

  • Black beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Edamame

  • Pepper jack cheese
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Colby jack cheese

  • Crackers
  • Popcorn
  • Rice cakes
  • Pita bread

  • Grapes
  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Oranges

  • Snap peas
  • Cucumbers
  • Broccoli 
  • Cauliflower

  • Almonds
  • Pistachios
  • Cashews
I'm tempted to buy four more of these so we can pack them all at the same time for the entire week. It seals tightly, so it would be similar to storing everything in Tupperware. 

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Making a Change

For me, when it comes to making a change in my life, my first step is usually to be clear about what I want to change. I did that a couple weeks ago in this post when I wrote about wanting to eat healthier foods and get more exercise. 

Sadly, it hasn't led to any change in my life! I've still been indulging in unhealthy foods and not making any time for exercise. Identifying that I have been stress-eating didn't do anything to help abate said stress-eating.

So now it's time for step two. For me, step two--when it comes to making a change in my life--is getting really specific about what the change will look like and when. For diet and exercise, I literally need to map out for myself what I'm going to eat for the majority of the time, what exercise I'm going to do, and when I'm going to do it. Essentially, I have to put myself into auto-pilot mode so I'm more likely to implement the change. 

First thing to figure out: breakfast. I had gotten on track by making green smoothies every morning. I love them! Protein, calcium, fruit, and vegetables all in one meal? Amazingness! Sadly, Tate doesn't respond well to that much dairy in my diet, so I'm back to the drawing board. 

I thought about peanut butter oatmeal (I love adding apples, pumpkin seeds, and dried cherries to my oatmeal), but I didn't want to give up the greens. A quick search uncovered this green smoothie made with almond milk (which is usually fortified with calcium), a frozen banana, flax seed meal, spinach, mixed berries, and peanut butter. Apparently it has 11 grams of protein. I'm excited to try it! 

Next up: morning snack. Depending on how filling breakfast is, I may not need a morning snack because I eat lunch pretty early. If I do need a snack, I'm going to go with a handful of almonds and fruit. I also need to make sure I've drunk enough water. Sometimes I'm actually just thirsty instead of hungry. Another thing I need to do is pre-wash as much fruit as possible on Sunday, so it can be grab-and-go throughout the week. If I have to stop what I'm doing to prepare food, I'm more likely to just eat more almonds and less fruit. I know it sounds pathetic to say I'm too lazy to wash an apple, but when Tate's sleeping and I get to work, I am desperate to fit in as much work as possible. 

We usually eat dinner leftovers for lunch, but I need to have a back-up. I've been eating egg sandwiches on bagels, but I am way too tempted by a bag of bagels in the house. Maybe I should go for a salad? I could make it a hearty one with lettuce, beans, cheese cubes, and an additional vegetable (I already have all of those things in containers for Henry's lunch). 

And an afternoon snack? I'll go for a cheese stick and more fruit. 

We've been using our meal planning process and doing fine with making our meals most night. I'm not a big snacker after dinner, but it's hard to resist a dessert if Matt volunteers to go out and get something. I thought about pushing him towards McDonald's (gross, I know!) because their vanilla ice-cream cones are so inexpensive and low-fat, but when I actually look at the ingredients I am completely repulsed. Maybe I'll just have to muster up some willpower in these situations and say no thank you while he gets something for himself. 

As for exercise, it's going to be a little trickier. I feel so stretched thin as it is; I know it's going to be difficult to give up some of my free time for exercise. I'd like to fit in two--maybe three--runs a week. It's been nice going on Saturday mornings. If we leave soon after our 7am wake-up, then I get a run in while the boys hang out at the dog park. It's hard to get out of bed when we're having so much fun just relaxing as a family, but I like to get back in time for Tate's nap so I can have some time to myself for blogging while Tate and Henry go for a run. I wonder if we should repeat the same thing on Sunday, so I'm guaranteed to have two runs a week? 

As for the third run, I'm thinking about joining the YMCA. I love the concept of a community recreational center that brings neighbors together for health and wellness stuff, but I have a hard time stomaching the $80 monthly fee for a family membership. It may start to make more sense as the boys get older and can take advantage of more amenities. For now, I think I'll just stick to two runs a week and try to attend one yoga class. It looks like there's a good one just 10 minutes away from my house from 8-9pm. Although I hate to concentrate all my exercise on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, I think it would be better for me to get it over with at the beginning of the week so I'm less likely to make excuses as the week goes on. I'm also going to e-mail a neighbor to see if she wants to sign up with me. It would be great to have a carpool buddy and some increased accountability! 

If we do need to eat out during the week, I should try and suggest only healthy options:
  • How Do You Roll for edamame, miso soup, and sushi
  • Chipotle for a salad bowl
  • Mother's Cafe for a veggie burger and salad
  • Greek food
  • Lavaca Teppon for grilled tofu, vegetables, and rice

When it comes to health and wellness, I aim for good choices about 80% of the time. I'm feeling really good about this plan!

Bananas prepared by Henry for freezing

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Gifts for a Three Year-Old

I don't really like thinking about Christmas before Thanksgiving, but it's often a necessary part of gift-giving! First we came up with a list of things to get our friends and family. Next, we began the process of generating the list of things that we would want (per the request of our family). Here's what I came up with for Henry:

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book Recommendation: I'm a Big Brother

We're four months in to this whole sibling thing, and so far it's going well. Henry absolutely adores Tate (and vice versa). We did a lot (and continue to do a lot) to make the transition as smooth as possible. I know it's going to get a whole lot rockier when Tate is mobile enough to take Henry's stuff and knock down his block towers, but for now we're soaking up the sweetness. 

One of the things that helped was the book I'm a Big Brother by Joanna Cole. Our neighbor gave it to us, and it's awesome (aside from the fact that it's heteronormative). It talks about all the things babies can't do (like play or eat pizza) and reiterates important things (like asking before holding the baby). It's a great read over and over in the months before birth. 

It would make a great gift for a little boy or girl who's expecting a new sibling!  

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Monday, November 11, 2013

2013 Organizational Challenge

It's funny how you can move into a brand-new house and still have a ton of projects to do. Although we aren't ripping up floors and painting like the folks over at Young House Love, we still have a whole host of projects to undertake. Some of these projects fall into Phase 1, which means they need to get done quickly so we can feel more settled, while others fall into Phase 2 (and 3, 4, and beyond!), which require that we save up more money. 

When I last talked about our house, I mentioned that we had put everything in a spot (for example, everything was assigned a closet), but within all of those spots, there is little to no organization. That means whenever we open any closet or drawer we are bombarded with chaos. For those of you who are sensitive to order (or lack thereof) like I am, you can imagine how unsettling this situation is! 

When I'm experiencing stress in my external orbits (e.g., with work), then I especially appreciate calm and serenity within my internal orbits (e.g., home). That's why I want to commit to completing some of these projects before January 1. 

Here are my priorities: 
  1. Get stairs built off the deck (right now it's completely enclosed, which means we can only access the backyard by going out the front and around--very annoying when trying to let the bloodhound out!)
  2. Landscape the front yard (right now it's just a big mud pit, which means we are constantly bringing in large amounts of dirt)
  3. Add iron railings to the front deck (this was part of the original plan but we ran out of money so it had to be postponed)
  4. Purchase a door mat
  5. Purchase pillows for the couch
  6. Install curtains
  7. Hang something above the couch
  8. Install spice racks
  9. Organize junk drawer
  10. Organize utensil drawer
  11. Install Tate's closet
  12. Install outdoor closet
  13. Plan bathroom closets
  14. Fix window
  15. Fix dry wall
  16. Replace dead plants
I'm not gonna lie--it's a little overwhelming to look at these 16 major things and imagine how to get them finished alongside Matt's birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, but I know I will feel so, so much better going into the new year if we can get these done.

To kick off this list of projects, I decided to tackle one of the easier items: I organized our cooking utensil drawer. Here's how I did it: 
  1. Took out everything and organized it into groups of like items. During that process, I purged a couple of things that were repeats.
  2. I laid everything out on the counter in groups to create a draft arrangement.
  3. I used these drawer dividers from The Container Store to create different compartments. 
  4. I used my label maker to label each section in order to make maintaining the system easier. 
Is there anything you want to get organized before the end of the year? Feel free to declare your intentions here for a little accountability! 

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Sleep Training

"Sleep training" is such a polarizing topic, but I think those are the ones we need to talk about most. If we share our rationale, thoughts, feelings, and experiences with each other, then we create more opportunities for conversation, agreement, and disagreement, which ultimately leads to more purposeful parenting. Someone may read this and think, "That's definitely not the route I want to go," which is completely understandable. At the end of the day, we are left alone with our thoughts and we have to feel good about the choices we make as parents. 

Matt and I started sleep training Henry around five months because our pediatrician recommended that we do it (if we were going to do it) between 4 and 6 months. He said it got much, much harder after 6 months. The three of us had been traveling around the Southwest, and it really threw off Henry's sleep. He was waking up all night long (even more than when he was a baby, baby!). We were exhausted by the time we got home (both from traveling and from months and months of fitful sleep) and were ready for a change. We decided to start sleep training. 

Our pediatrician also told us that 4 month-olds can go 8-10 hours at night without milk (6-8 hours at two months and 10-12 hours at six months). So if Henry woke up earlier than the recommended length, we let him cry for five minutes before going into his room and soothing him. If he was still crying, we went in ten minutes later. If he was still crying, we went in 15 minutes later. 

The first night, he woke up three times. The second night he woke up twice. And the third night he woke up once. After that, he basically slept from 8pm to 7am (barring new teeth or sickness). As his naps changed over the months, his bedtime gradually moved earlier and earlier. He still sleeps until 7am. 

We've been really happy with the way Henry sleeps, so we knew that we wanted to try sleep training with Tate when he hit the four-month mark. The decision was a lot easier the second time around because we've seen the benefits for both us as a couple and Henry. The first time around, I was really worried about interrupting Henry's attachment to us. I very much believe that infants absorb everything. Part of why we tried to have a homebirth was because we wanted Henry to have the gentlest, kindest welcome into the world. The primary reason we decided not to circumcise is because it felt unnecessarily cruel to subject a baby to the pain that comes from severed skin. 

So deciding to let Henry cry for 5-minute, 10-minute, and 15-minute increments was not something we took lightly. In the end, though, we ended up feeling fine with it. We felt like a full nights sleep was definitely good for Henry. He has always grown really well, and he seems well-attached and adjusted. We also felt like we were better parents because of it. We have more patience when we sleep for the recommended period, and we benefitted from having time alone or with each other in the evenings. Sleep and time to ourselves help meet our needs so we are more available to meet our children's needs. 

With Tate, we were eager to start sleep training right away. Where we are in our lives right now (two full-time jobs and a toddler) makes us even more exhausted. In the weeks leading up to Tate's four-month birthday (November 1st), his sleep got worse and worse. He was waking up every couple hours (and sometimes in 30-minute increments!). He would only go back to sleep if I fed him or we put him in the Moby and carried him around. Since he was fine going back to sleep in the Moby without eating, I felt like he wasn't waking up out of hunger. 

The first night, we left his Montessori floor bed (i.e., a crib mattress) next to our bed. When he woke up, we tried not to respond for five minutes. However, he rolls so much that he would roll himself into the wall and we would need to intervene to help him. Still, he was able to put himself back to sleep and significantly reduced the frequency of wakings. 

The next night, we moved his mattress into his room and put it in the center of the room on a plush carpet. The first time he woke up he fussed himself back to sleep. The second time, I fed him. Then he slept until 7am. 

The third night, he woke up once and I fed him. Then he slept until 7am. 

We'll see how tonight goes! Matt and I are both feeling a huge sense of relief that our sleep deprivation days might be coming to an end. 

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Four Months: Happiest Birthday, Tate!


We cannot get enough of you. Seriously, you are the softest, sweetest little thing.

What a month! You started by rolling over, back to front. We were having a play date one day, and you suddenly just rolled over. No struggle, no practice--you just rolled over. Now when I try to put you under one of your hanging toys, it captures your attention for about two minutes before you are already flipping over! I had to start putting out the bell and ball cylinder because you are eager to scoot toward things, grab them, and put them in your mouth.

Toward the end of the month, you mastered rolling from stomach to back. You lead with your head and then look startled when you flip over.

We continue to have so much fun with you. You love listening to the books we read, and you laugh when you are tickled. You were such a good sport when we dressed you up in a strongman costume for Halloween and painted a mustache and big eyebrows on your face. Henry loves going under tents with you (we get on his bed and pull his comforter over our heads). You try to eat the tent.

Your dad and I remembered the meaning of your name this month: cheerful. Yes, that is exactly right. You are cheerful and sweet and just generally fun to be around.

I thank the Universe nearly every day for the opportunity to be your mother.

With gratitude,


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Monday, November 4, 2013


And with that, the year is almost to a close. I haven't done my monthly goal posts since Tate's arrival. I think my overarching goal has been to put my head down and get through it! It's been a year of big things: Baby Tate! The House! The School! I wish I had time to just sit back and let it sink in. But there's been so much to do since July. I was back at work meetings just two weeks after Tate's arrival (my mom was in town and able to watch Tate and Matt was still on paternity leave). 

And even though I've been full-speed ahead with getting the school up and running, I've also been prioritizing time with Tate. I've been next to him for a feeding every two to four hours for the past four months of his life. I've snuggled up to him during his nighttime feedings and essentially held him in the Moby or Ergo for a nap nearly every three hours all day long (Matt takes over when he gets home). 

I get exhausted when I see it written out like that. 

On top of all the Tate-induced responsibilities in our lives, there's still a lot to do with Henry. Even more than when he was an only child because we're trying to give him extra attention and love to help him weather the arrival of his new brother. I pick him up every afternoon and we typically play on the front lawn of the schools. He asks, "Do you want to chase me, Mom?" and I try to say yes as often as I can. 

The funny thing is, I haven't even had time to stop and realize how stressed and busy I've been. I've just noticed the symptoms: I see myself craving unhealthy foods (and indulging, even when I know it has the potential to induce a gall bladder attack that cripples me from midnight to 4am). I watch myself have zero motivation or inclination for exercise. I see our house getting messier and messier as I take things out in a rush and leave a disaster trail behind me. 

When I get to this place, I first have to take control of something tangible and immediate. This time, I started with our laundry. I washed every piece of clothing, sheet, comforter, towel, napkin, burp cloth, and hand towel in our house. While the cycles were going, I put away everything that had been displaced during our frenetic Halloween preparations: paint, embroidery thread, spray foam, twine, the box cutter, etc. for Matt's costume; balloons, puffy paint, tape, etc. for Tate's costume. The massive glass drink dispenser for our block party (there were about 30 of us in all!).

And then I took it one step further and transferred our files from their temporary plastic home to our permanent filing cabinet/bedside table. 

But these are all the surface symptoms. I'm merely plucking off leaves instead of getting to the trunk or the root of the issue. 

One: it's just hard parenting an infant. They are completely dependent upon other people to meet nearly all of their needs. And the sleep deprivation! Seriously, my brain is working at about 36% capacity. I struggle and grasp for words to express my thoughts (when I can remember my thoughts). Sometimes I stop and remember, "Oh, yeah, you have an infant! No wonder you are tired/stressed/overwhelmed. Duh!" 

Two: I realized that it's getting too hard to be Tate's primary caregiver all day long while trying to start a school. He naps very consistently and pretty much adheres to a schedule, which allows me plenty of work time, but he's getting older and his awake time is getting longer and longer. It also feels like my schedule is too fragmented. I need more sustained periods of work time to focus, concentrate, and accomplish things. 

My solution to problem number two has created even more stress: I've been working to establish a nanny share. I should talk about it in a whole other post! 

Writing all of this out helps me feel better already. There are very concrete things I can do to reduce my current stress levels. Thanks for listening! 

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