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A Simple Cleaning Routine for Spring (and a free guide).

March 13, 2017

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Keeping a home clean and tidy with two toddlers (or any amount of children of any age!) is not for the faint of heart. I have become frustrated on numerous occasions when I start to feel like a hamster on a wheel – moving from one room to the next cleaning just in time for new messes to spring up. I don’t think housekeeping is less challenging when one parent is home full-time, but my work-from-home schedule means that I have to be very thoughtful about what I am doing when, which has helped me to be disciplined about establishing a cleaning routine.

Our current routine seems to be working for now and has give me a lot of peace of mind. I have certain tasks defined for certain days, but a flow that makes it easy to move chores around if something unexpected arises. Also, if something falls completely through the cracks, I know it will get taken care of soon anyway. 

Spring seems like just the right time to start re-thinking through home systems that may not be working or may need a refresh, so I’ve outlined our home’s systems below to inspire you. I’ve also created a customizable guide for you to use – click here to access it (if you’re already subscribed, it will magically appear in your inbox tomorrow!).

Right now, I have a weekly schedule pinned in my kitchen that includes 3 lists:

  • Daily tasks (basic room maintenance, things like dishes and sweeping that should happen almost every day)
  • Days of the week with cleaning tasks for those days.
  • Monthly (or less frequent) tasks that need to be occasionally tackled, but don’t merit weekly attention.

Daily Tasks

Daily tasks include things like making the beds, doing a quick clean of the main sink/toilet area, cleaning the kitchen after meals, sweeping after dinner, etc. Every day I also make sure that I full wash, dry, and fold at least one load of laundry. Having a list of daily chores helps prevent total chaos from setting in and frees me from constantly wondering whether I should keep cleaningor if things can wait. If there are a couple of loads of laundry to be done, but I’ve already done one and things are busy, I can just mentally check that chore off until the next day, knowing that today and tomorrow I’ll keep working through the dirty.

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Weekly Tasks

I’ve done this system differently through the years. When we first got married, all of our cleaning would happen on one day. When we first moved into this house, I tried to “batch”, by vaccuuming one day, mopping another, tidying another – this system outlined below is the best one I’ve found for right now. I don’t feel like I’m constantly trying to keep up or catch up and if something gets missed, I just take care of it the next day and roll everything forward by one day. In general, following this little schedule has kept our house at my “happy level”* of clean without too much stress. It also takes into account our busy days, days I run certain errands, Mark’s schedule for certain days, etc. 

I separated our main, primarily used areas into Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday cleaning sessions and do all of the cleaning for each area on the designated day. On Monday for instance, I dust, vacuum, and steam** the living room. 

On Tuesdays, I meal-plan and order groceries (if I’m ordering that week) or I go to Costco with the kids in the afternoon.

I designated Wednesday as my paperwork/receipt/bills/whatever day and I pick up groceries if I’ve ordered.

Thursday is our biggest laundry day. I start early and no matter how much laundry is in there, I make sure that the room is empty by the end of the day with everything folded, dry, etc. I also take some time on Thursday to clean the washer and dryer bodies, dump out the trash can, and sweep and steam the laundry room.

On Friday, I change all of our sheets and knock out a few big occasional chores. I also take an opportunity to sweep up any rooms that may be collecting dirt or dust.

Over the weekend, I deep-clean our main bathroom and maybe do an extra sweep of major areas or an additional big monthly chore if there is time.

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Room Cleaning Routine

When I say I “clean” a room, I generally do the following:

  • Pick up and put away clutter
  • Use a cleaning cloth and damp water (or this oil soap on wood furniture) to quickly dust major open surfaces. 
  • I use this feather duster to dust shelves, nooks that have more “stuff” on them, lamps, gallery walls, etc. 
  • I use this duster to dust both sides of blinds, high corners, and floorboards as well as to quickly sweep beneath any furniture. 
  • I use my steamer to clean the floors (sweeping first if there are a lot of dust or dirt partcles).

This sounds like a lot, but all of the steps outlined above except the steaming take me no longer for any given room than 2 or 3 minutes. Steaming takes maybe 5 minutes for our largest room. 

Also, knowing exactly how I clean has allowed me to slim down the cleaning supplies I keep around to just a few basics, which the clutter-buster in me LOVES.

Ready for a guide? Here is  a free customizable planner to help you refresh your home’s cleaning routine.

So now I’d love to know – what is the most challenging part of keeping your home tidy for you? Or do you have a schedule that just magically works? Tell me below!

*This is different for every one and every stage. Some would probably be shocked at things I’ve left off or the infrequency of certain chores, others by how often I do certain things. This is just some encouragement to try systems until you find the one that works for you and your home. 

** For some, this would be mopping and not all rooms necessarily need to be mopped every week. But I absolutely swear by my Bissell Symphony steamer. The heat ensures that the floors are really deep-cleaned and it’s as quick as vacuuming. If a room is particularly dirty, I might sweep before running it. I used to get really frustrated by how long it took me to truly deep clean floors and how dirty they immediately got, but the steamer has changed this completely. It’s paid for itself so many times over – it’s honestly saved me dozens of hours by this point!

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Parenting

How We Play.

October 14, 2016

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Rich playtime is something that, I think, is unfairly taken for granted with very small children. A Google search of “Playtime with [pick an age, any age]” churns out a neat and tidy list of age-and-developmentally-appropriate activities such as “Blow bubbles! Build a tunnel! Sing songs!”, instantly gratifying and frustrating me at the same time.

I have a problem with this sort of definition of playtime.

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First, these lists are only particularly helpful if your child is on an average developmental track. Mine rarely are (where IS that elusive average child?), which means that I spend half an hour searching the activity sheets for the month prior to and following the one dedicated to the current age of my child, at which point said child wakes up from their nap of un-average length and it’s time to play again.

Secondly, these lists are sometimes ridiculous. One suggested that my 13-month-old would enjoy a blanket fort. I once spent 15 minutes constructing a blanket fort while he watched me in amusement. I convinced him to crawl through the “tunnel” portion of it maybe twice, at which point he became utterly bored.

My instinctual need for a parenting play check-list has been somewhat abated by pieces lauding “slow parenting” and the theories of child development like that promoted by Waldorf educators that place an emphasis on self-directed play.

I am not wired to provide non-stop entertainment to my babies and I would argue that parents, stay-at-home or otherwise, aren’t contractually obligated to provide non-stop entertainment to the little humans entrusted to their care.

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Playtime with my kids is honestly not something that always comes easily to me. I feel as if I am constantly battling the urge to SET A GOAL AND TEACH THEM SOMETHING or the lure of multi-tasking (“I’ll just check my email while we do this puzzle”). This is, I think, the symptom of a bigger problem that has more to do with my own inability to just appreciate stillness and presence.

But rich play-time (as opposed to “entertainment time”) and intentional presence is probably the single greatest gift a parent can give to their child and is certainly something that should be prioritized, if imperfectly.

Even as a stay-at-home mom, however, this is not something that just happens. There is always another errand, another chore, another play-date or activity, so intentional time together is something I have found I must purposefully make space for everyday.

In the hopes of providing you with a bit of encouragement, some practical help, and a shorter path to some hard-won lessons, here are a few steps that have helped encourage our family to have regular and rich play time.

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a dedicated space // The number and size of toys in our house has increased exponentially since Miles was tiny and we lived in 800 square feet. This is another post in an of itself, but when we first moved into our house, the lack of a comfortable, usable play space became quickly apparent. I dedicated a corner of the living room to toys baskets, but the flow of the room meant that the toys were never naturally played with in that corner or, for that matter, in that room at all. This lent itself to a constant clutter battle.

I’ve since turned our dining room into a dedicated playroom. The center is left free for play and baskets with toys and books are along the walls, which makes playtime in that space a logical step. The room is also right next to our kitchen, which means that my little ones can spend time there and practice independent play without actually being too far away from me and Mark; important both for their comfort and our peace of mind.

This option wouldn’t be available to us if we were in a smaller house or apartment, I realize, and I’m grateful for the option. For those of you in small living quarters, I would encourage you to make children’s bedrooms or another logical space as play-friendly as possible. (Often, this means leaving a space free of furniture so that the children can actually have space to, you know, play and so that the adults have space to sit.)

limited toys // Limiting the visible toys helps in two ways: it limits distracting options during a child’s playtime and minimizes the toy clutter (read: keeps parents sane and the space attractive). I cycle toys between Miles’ bedroom closet and the playroom. This will work itself out differently for different families and is a constant process, but the key here is that toys should be visible and reachable.

If toys or books are piled up and require untangling and sorting constantly, there are probably too many in a given space. A clean, visually open space makes it more appealing for parents and children and makes it more tempting to settle into the space for some quality time. Bonus: It’s easier for children to learn to clean up after themselves if toys, even small ones, have an obvious home.

toys that encourage creativity // When choosing toys for a play-space, focus on toys that are sturdy, don’t require a lot of adult supervision or assistance, and that can be used in many different ways by different age groups. These might include small wheeled vehicles, blocks, animal figurines, beads, textured items, and musical instruments. Some of our family favorites are these:

* Small colored wooden blocks.

* A basic train set.

* A basic large wooden bead lacing set.

Vehicles. So many vehicles (these aren’t wooden, I know, but they are SO LOVED).

* Random items with unusual textures, like these rubber potholders.

* This multi-use pound-and-tap musical bench.

routine // An example of this is: “After we get dressed in the morning, we sing these three favorite songs, and then we read two stories and then we play with blocks and then we take a walk.” Circle Time models may not be your gig (although studying examples like this one and this one have been vastly useful as I’ve worked to structure our circle time), but having some kind of routine that signals to your child that playtime and intentional quality time has commenced and that he can count on some focused time with his parent will help both of you maximize this time. I normally try to leave my phone or other devices in a separate room during our playtime routine since I am more prone to be distracted than my little ones.  Your routine may change weekly or monthly and will certainly change and shift, but having a routine of some kind will ground your playtime.

Our ideal playtime normally begins with a few (familiar!) songs, followed by some fingerplay activities, followed by a few books, followed by free play with toys. Remember, kids LOVE repetition. They will thrive as they recognize the same songs and fingerplays day after day, so don’t pressure yourself to constantly interject new material into their playtime.

A quick note – I am continually working towards letting my child lead the play-time rather than trying to force Miles (and now Violet) into a structure that isn’t working. So if they are just not into storytime or singing that day, we move on. If they just really need to get outside and we need to scrap the indoor reading, we do. Don’t stress. Rich playtime is about quality time with your little ones and about them learning about their world, not checking off boxes so you can give yourself a gold “parent of the week” sticker.

light // We are so blessed with tons of natural light in our home and I’m realizing what an enormous difference this makes on my mood and our family’s interactions with each other. When we lived in a small apartment with limited windows (three, to be exact), I tried to maximize the light by opening the blinds (and sometimes the door) and using lots of mirrors and lamps to enhance the light. Most of us are drawn more towards spaces that are well-lit, so if your play area is the best lit area in the home, your children and you will naturally want to spend more time there!

I would love to hear about your playtime routines and tips for encouraging healthy playtime! Comment below or send me an email!

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Friday Links

Weekend Links // 19.

September 4, 2016

Labor Day weekend – officially the end of summer. I can’t even believe it. It’s still quite hot here, so I’m not really ready to think about hot drinks and cold days (although we did have soup for dinner a few evenings ago) and the thought of a sweater makes me want to shriek. But I AM looking forward to cooler days and evenings that will make spending time outside more pleasant.

I have a little patio garden planted for the late summer/fall months and it has been so cooperative, as has this piece about harvesting basil and this article on cilantro. (via Food Renegade & Gardening Know-How)

50 of America’s most famous homes. (via Country Living Magazine)

An interesting piece on co-sleeping. Miles shared our room until he was about 6 months old and Violet sleeps (mostly?) in her crib in our room now. Sleeping arrangements for babies are so baby/parent/schedule/personality dependent and can be such a tricky topic to discuss, yes? But I love reading about what other families choose to do and the reasoning behind it. (via NYT)

This is a blog you will love for so many reasons, but her piece on her cleaning rhythm is especially so lovely.

From Pinterest

Planning a fall wedding? Check out these DIY wedding invitations.

Have you ever tried to capture a silhouette shot?

From Instagram

My bar cabinet. Just kidding! We don’t have a bar cabinet. BUT IF WE DID. (via @organized_simplicity)

I wonder if I could get away with only feeding Mark and Miles Greek yogurt, watermelon, and grapefruit juice? (via @sluser)

From a Better Writer

“Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.” 

-Wendell Berry

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Life

Making the most of every day: 5 strategies.

July 13, 2016

I considered entitling this blog post “Why I don’t write emails and nurse my baby at the same time,” but apparently Google doesn’t like blog titles of such length and depth. I digress.

Getting anything done while living with small children – even ONE small child – is no joke. Laundry, dishes, basic cleaning, opening the mail, watching a movie – these things that used to happen with almost no thought, now require the strategy energies of a moon-launch to successfully execute, whether you are a mom or a dad of just one tiny two-week old baby or several children under 5.

When Miles was very young, we were barely moved into our apartment in College station, and Mark was in the trenches of the first (pretty terrible) semester of business school, I remember just staring at our piles of possessions completely paralyzed. How was I supposed to turn the chaos into the cozy 810-square-foot-Pinterest-modeled apartment of my dreams while continuing to work my part-time remote job with a baby that required a feeding session every two hours?

But you know what? It got better. Life has a funny way of doing that – more demands on your time come in the by the front door and you think that your sanity is leaving by the back door, but it’s not. Eventually, I figured out what was, and most importantly, was not important for that hour or that day or that week.

So here are my “get it done” hacks. They are not a road-map to 100 extra hours in a week or the answer to why you are not yet successful and happy in your dream job of Instagramming white sandy beaches. They are simply tools that I’ve found useful in stewarding my time and that work for now. I don’t rely them all of the time – but when I do, I’m more well-rested, more productive, more pleasant, and more present.

Whether you are a mom who stays with her baby all day, or a mom who works away from her kids 40 hours a week, or a mom who is at home most of the time and responsible for the laundry while maintaining a career in the cracks of time from your laptop in the dining room – I hope these help you. And give you just a few more hours in your day. Or at least a chance to finish that project and have a few minutes left for a cup of coffee.

Do not do things while your children are asleep that you can do while they are awake.

This is common wisdom passed around leisurely to young mothers at baby showers. But here’s the secret to really leveraging this rule. You can do more things while your children are awake than you think you can.

Laundry? Dishes? Making beds? Opening the mail? Avoid doing these things while your children nap. Instead, talk and sing and play with your children in the room where these things need to be done while you’re doing them.

Will the laundry take longer? Most assuredly. My 2-year-old “helped” me while I cleaned the floors the other day and it took at least twice as long. But it will still get done and then when your baby is asleep you can do something more exciting than the laundry. Like reading a magazine uninterrupted.

Added bonus: your children will not grow up thinking that magical fairies do the laundry and the dishes while they sleep. (And if you are frustrated by this idea or have no idea how to encourage your children to play alongside of you rather than depend on you for 100% of their entertainment, read this book. In fact, read it anyway.)

Have a clearly defined list of things to do while the child or children are asleep.

This way, when that squirmy four-month-old that is in the middle of dropping a nap and won’t sleep at the expected time for all of the efforts you can pour forth and you finally get her down, then you know exactly what to do next to make the 12 minutes of sleep-time productive.

Otherwise, you will spend her 12-minute nap figuring out what to do and will be frustrated because you make any progress on anything but Facebook Awareness when you hear her precious cry at Minute 13.

It doesn’t matter what this list says. If it’s yoga, then get your 12 minutes of yoga in. If it’s editing for a client, then bill 12 minutes of editing. BUT DO SOMETHING that will keep you from falling over the Cliff of Time Despair.

Know and cage black holes.

This is slightly different than the generally accepted mantra: “We are all wasting all of the time with social media” (true as that may be). I have my time black holes and you have yours. Whether the black hole consists of magazines or Instagram or Netflix or counting the clouds that sail by: we all have them. I’m sure even Sheryl Sandberg has something on which she wastes time. The way to leverage this? Know what those things are. Then limit them by determining when you will waste time.

For instance: social media, namely, Instagram, is so addicting to me. I love it. Not always necessarily a good use of time. But when I’m nursing and only have one hand free and can’t really move around very effectively and am generally being left alone by my toddler – I scroll Instagram. When I’m not nursing? I try to leave it alone. See? It’s self-limiting. Wins all around – I get my mental zone-out break, my baby is fed, and I don’t feel as if I wasted precious time by falling down the interwebs.

Have a clear sense of what can be done when.

This is related to all of the other suggestions and this looks different for everyone. Some women can type entire books while they nurse. I can do….basically nothing that requires two hands while nursing. And I’m not very good at typing anything other than a two-line email with one hand. So extensive typing or editing or really at all anything requiring two hands doesn’t happen while I nurse. But my children have both loved our Ergo. So sometimes when they are awake and just want to be close to Mama, I *can* do things like cleaning or laundry or typing while I wear them. But some children hate their Ergos but love their playpens.

If I try to type an email longer than two sentences while I’m nursing, I get frustrated and normally my baby gets frustrated and the email generally doesn’t get finished anyway. So I quit trying to write emails longer than two lines while nursing.

Just know what you need to do and then figure out the best time and situation for doing that. Then, when babies don’t nap and the weather changes and someone needs to be held during their nap instead of sleeping in their crib – you have a backup option and can still be productive at something.

Give yourself grace to be productive in different ways.

Pregnancy and caring for newborns has been a huge reality check (at least for me), in part because being productive suddenly means something very different than it used to mean. During pregnancy, you are growing a human. So even thoughI was exhausted and nauseous and flaky and couldn’t remember why I walked from one end of the house to the other, I was still being massively productive. This took me forever to really accept, but once I did, I became a much less stressed-out human being.

Nursing has been such a soul-check for me. I want to be up and moving and doing things, even if those things don’t necessarily accomplish much, because I feel better if there’s movement and energy being expended. But when I’m nursing my babies, I have to sit for hours. And do seemingly nothing. Sometimes my babies even know when I’m looking at the screen of my phone and get annoyed, so I’m really not doing anything. Except that I am keeping a human alive. So that’s pretty important.

Spending time with my baby and simply cooing back at her is, in fact, quite productive. I’m helping her to become a little human. We don’t always have to be *doing* something remarkable together – sometimes my kids need me to just be present with them. Reminding myself of this helps keep me from being frustrated at the slow moments and helps me appreciate and savor those times more.

This book was also completely life-altering for me. It gave me a new perspective on time and focus and presence with my kids and convicted me enough to really sit down and think about what kind of parent I want to be and how to make that happen.

What are your secret weapons for getting things done with little people?

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Friday Links

Weekend Reading List // 14.

July 2, 2016

It’s the weekend! Summer is here in full force. The Fourth is one of my favorite holidays – America’s birthday AND my baby boy’s birthday. We’ll be having a big barbecue to celebrate both momentous events and I’m especially excited that Miles gets to enjoy the Fourth’s fireworks for the first time (last year he was in bed before sunset!). What are you up to this weekend?

Whatever you’re doing, these ice-cream flavors look to good to miss – find a way to incorporate homemade ice cream into your weekend!

I love this cute toy camera for a kiddo.

Speaking of toys, I’m struggling to figure out how to minimize the toys in our home in a healthy way.  This piece on minimalism helped. Tell me . . . how do you minimize useless (and seemingly inevitable!) toy clutter and focus on quality?

Why your defiant child may be your favorite (later). (via Kids Activities Blog)

This piece on Celine Dion’s concert will have you gasping for air. (via Jezebel)

Family-sleep traditions from around the world. (via Fatherly)

How do you know when you’re “done” having kids? (via Clementine Daily)

Did you see this sweet love story? (via the New York Times)

An interesting piece on unfollowing. (via NYT)

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Parenting

On rhythms and geraniums and parenting two.

July 1, 2016

  

Parenting Round Two has been so vastly different than Parenting Round One. Becoming a mom for the first time was amazing in so many ways. But also, during Round One, I remember a distinct feeling of panic underlying almost all of my activities. Everything seemed HARD. Nursing was hard for a long time, sleeping was non-existent (for any of us), and I’m pretty sure I didn’t cook a meal that didn’t involve a tortilla for the first four months of Miles’ life.

I looked frantically for solutions at every turn and, even amidst the vast array of crowd-sourced-Internet-and-Amazon baby wisdom, there were very rarely any solutions to my newborn who slept at least three hours less each day than every book promised me he would (try Googling THAT schedule) and who needed to eat twice as often as that elusive “average” baby.

This time around has been different and wonderful in its own way. Baby 2’s birth and the ensuing days and weeks have been covered in so much peace. This probably has something to do with the fact that I am not unpacking boxes, that I actually took maternity leave, that Mark works for an organization forward-thinking enough to offer fathers paternity leave, allowing him to be home for those first couple of new weeks as a family of four. Maybe it has to do with my baby, who just seems to have a more effectively charged internal clock, who seems more mellow, or maybe I just know a little more about what to expect – and what to not expect.

There is a lot more laundry this time around and my house may never actually be completely clean again, thanks especially to my curious and busy toddler. I wash my hair not nearly as often as I used to and dry and style it less frequently than that. But even now, after the first haze of the brand-new baby days has worn off, even on the busiest of mornings when our house contains the work-days of two adults, a babysitter, an infant, a toddler, and an oddly ballooning population of tractors and trains, our days have a steady confidence, an expectant rhythm to them.

Waldorf education philosophy, with which I am almost as mildly obsessed as I am with extra-sharp cheese, talks about how a day is built out of alternating periods of contracting and expansion, much like breathing. We come together, we pull apart. Days, especially for children, should have a pulsing steadiness. Like kneading bread.

I love this picture of pulling outward and settling in. I think it’s almost as important for adults as it is for children. Maybe our rhythms are different; but I go a little crazy when I don’t know what pieces of my day I can depend on. (This is probably THE HARDEST part of parenting young infants for me – this always-not-knowing.) And it is amazing to me how this sense of rhythm changes even the way I handle my infant’s sleep schedule. 

Schedules are hard for babies – not scheduling at all is hard for families. But rhythms? Rhythm is something I can watch for and listen for and encourage. Rhythm is something I can fall back on when our day starts to feel messy and hectic and scattered. Rhythm is something I know will return, even if an evening or a morning or a day feels unpredictable and chaotic.

I try to set landmarks in the day for myself, just as I do for my children. Mine are slightly different – my few minutes alone with the coffee carafe and my cup, a few stolen minutes with a book or a magazine (like this one or this one), a window of time during which I get to water my two pet pots of geraniums. And these landmarks – naps and meals for my children, these little moments for myself – help to guide our day, to reassure us that chaos is not in fact winning – that the days are being redeemed, slowly, steadily, one by one.

And even when the laundry piles up and the tractors and trains line the halls and the crackers need to be vacuumed from the floor for the nineteenth time, I can breathe more easily, knowing that we’re finding our rhythm. And we’ll find it again tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that.

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Friday Links

Weekend Reading List // 11.

May 6, 2016

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Happy weekend! This feels in some ways like the first weekend of summer – our pool is opening and we have been pulling out our summer clothes and sunscreen.

It’s also Mother’s Day weekend! What do you have planned? I have several dear friends that are due almost anytime, so I’m excited to see if one of them has a Mother’s Day baby!

Sometimes I think we talk a lot about how hard it is to be a mom, but not as much about how much fun it is, so one of my plans for this weekend is to remind myself what a privilege it is to be a mom to my sweet bundles. I’ll be celebrating by grilling, cuddling my baby girl, and splashing with my little guy.

Some amazing iPhone photography and a few great photography tips. (via iPhone Photography School)

The effects of wine on mood and expressions, through a camera lens. (via Mental Floss)

If the full Project Life system overwhelms you, try starting out with this simple system. (Thanks, Rachel, for leading me to this!) (via Valerie Kiensley)

The New York Times as curriculum. (via NYT)

Such a sweet photo essay. (via Twenty Two Words)

Some dining etiquette tips. (via Classy Career Girl)

Patios to get you excited about summer. (via Pottery Barn)

One of my very favorite Instagram feeds. (via Modern Farmer)

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Friday Links

Weekend Links.

January 8, 2016

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The first full week of 2016 has come and gone – how was yours? We wrapped up the most relaxing, lovely Christmas break in snowy Northern Michigan with my family and are now trying to slap ourselves back into reality.

House-hunting is #1 on our priority list right now – wish us luck!

I mentioned earlier that my word for the year is FLOURISHING. I’ve been trying to reassess everything that I do through the lens of that word over the past few days – does this help me to flourish? Does it encourage my family, my work, my creativity to flourish? Does this make my life or our lives better, richer, happier, more peaceful? It’s amazing what *doesn’t* make the cut…but more on this later.

One post that I have loved sharing consistently over the years is the weekend links post. Confession: I’m a little addicted to my browsing; it’s especially nice to have an excuse for it! I can’t imagine ever letting these posts evaporate into the Great Internet Void, but I am going to make a special effort this year to make sure that I read and share pieces that encourage us all to flourish. Deal?

Why we would should stop trying to declutter our bookshelves or “KonMari no more”. (via NYT)

Need a New Year’s resolution still? Try forgiveness. (via Becoming Minimalist)

A fascinating and tragic story about one writer/illustrator. (via Brain Pickings)

A great reminder about identity as we all set performance goals for the coming year. Aim high and give grace, eh? (via Jon Acuff)

Do new moms actually lose their minds? (Hint: YES, WE DO.) (via The Atlantic)

For you if you don’t know what a King Cake is or why it exists. I didn’t! (via Food52)

Have a wonderful weekend!

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Photography

Miles’ Birth Story.

January 5, 2016

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It’s 4:15 a.m. and I am wide awake with only the crackling ashes in the wood stove for company, because that is what happens when your 18-month-old conveniently forgets everything he learned about sleep-training during family Christmas vacation.

We played the yell-at-Mom-from-across-the-room game for about 30 minutes at which point Mom threw in the towel on the sleeping battle. Miles happily nestled up against me in the warm bed and fell into a deep toddler-snoring sleep within seconds, while I stared into the darkness.

And now I am up typing because this is obviously the ideal time to chronicle Miles’ birth story along with the other 19.4 million other birth stories on the Internet. I’ve tried to write this down so many times and each time, I have been paralyzed. I think this is mostly because the story of a baby, and especially a first-born, is never just a birth story. It’s a parenting story, a marriage story, a what-the-heck-happened story. It’s a story about sleeping and not sleeping and long nights and nursing and laundry and laughing uncontrollably and hysterically crying.

But now I’m 22 weeks into the story of our next baby and Miles’ story needs to be captured – less for him, probably, and more for me, because what 18-year-old boy really cares about his birth story? But stories explain how we got to where we are, and I never want to forget how this little boy utterly unmade and remade me and Mark and our world.

My pregnancy was blessedly, boring-ly normal. Nothing of any merit or interest really happened at all. Except for the first really earth-shattering preliminary appointment at 10 weeks (“You mean that’s a baby in there???” “You think it’s a boy????)  the majority of my appointments were 2.3 minutes long. Whatever random fears I had concocted since the last appointment would be soothed by the gentle swish of the baby’s heartbeat and the cheery outlook of whatever nurse practitioner happened to be on the schedule at Walter Reed that day.

At 8 months pregnant, Mark officially separated from active duty and, in the blank space in our calendar between employment and business school in Texas, we moved to my parents’ vacation home in Northern Michigan to wait out Miles’ arrival.

He was due on July 11. On Thursday, July 3, after Mark played an early-morning round of golf, Mark and I went in for a second-to-last checkup. I was sent home with a warning – first babies inevitably come late, don’t stress, be patient, walk a lot. My dad’s medically informed and optimistic outlook predicted that the baby would arrive around July 20. I sighed in resignation and met my family at the beach, letting the July colors of Grand Traverse bay soothe my irritation.

One piece of advice that is generously passed around during pregnancy is this: sleep as much as you possibly can in the few weeks leading up to the baby’s birth, since you’ll be awake forever afterwards. We absorbed this advice into our normal stride, staying up until nearly midnight on July 3, soaking up every second of another one of Michigan’s gorgeous summer days.

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And then, about 14 minutes after my 39-weeks pregnant self rolled wearily into bed around midnight, I became totally convinced that my water had broken. Nothing cool and dramatic happened like it does in all of the baby movies, but I was suspicious enough to call the OBGYN. She was calm and consoling and told me to wait it out for a couple of hours to be sure before making the long trek to the hospital, since we were 50 minutes away.

Mark and the rest of the house slept peacefully and I waited. The waves hitting my back quickly became painful enough to render sleep impossible, so I wander into the living room to try everything that they had taught me in the birthing class. I kneeled by the couch. I bent over. I stretched. I resented Mark’s peaceful sleep. I gritted my teeth.

I called the OBGYN back at around 2:00 a.m., still convinced that I was in labor. She told me to check myself in. I dashed into the bedroom to rouse Mark, whom I could only imagine would leap out of bed in glorious enthusiasm (like they do in the movies). He rolled over groggily with an encouraging “Are you sure? Can I sleep a few more minutes?”.

I woke up my mom and sister and ate a handful of grapes (“because the birthing instructor said they won’t let me eat when I get there!!!!”). I gritted my teeth and breathed deeply some more in between applying makeup (#priorities) and strategizing with Mark and Mom. By 3:00 a.m., four of us were driving the dark backroads to the hospital.

By the time we pulled into the L&D parking lot, the pain during each wave was  lot worse. By the time the night nurses ushered me into a room to check me, I was entering panic mode. “Are you going to send me back home?” I practically cried, as a whooooosh of fluid (much more movie-like, thank you very much) suddenly made itself known. Um, no, their faces told me. Get into a wheelchair.

The next three hours were both torturously boring and blurringly dramatic. I did everything the book and class said to do. I yelled at Mark, who was diligently paging through his book on birth and fatherhood in the corner. We paced the halls. He rubbed my back. I cried. I vomited. I remembered vaguely something the birthing instructor had mentioned about back labor.

My sister, an ICU nurse, hovered over every move my nurses made. My mom sat in the corner, as straight and quietly as a steel beam, with that “I might need to fly this plane any second” expression. I curled up into a fetal position on the hospital bed and despaired of every feeling comfortable again.

And then at 7:30 a.m. the nurse warned me that if I wanted an epidural, I needed to order it an hour ahead of time. By this time, I was completely exhausted and totally convinced that I was at 8 centimeters and almost ready to push. “I want one! Find the anesthesiologist! Put me on the waiting list! I’m done with this breathing nonsense!”

The anesthesiologist showed up around 8:30 a.m.. He let Mark stay in the room and hold my hand. I felt a bee sting in my back and the next contraction that made itself known two minutes later felt immeasurably more manageable. I wanted to weep. When the nurse checked me, she reported a whopping 3 centimeters. I wanted to weep again, or swear, or both. All of that work for 3 CENTIMETERS?!

The epidural worked like a dream and my contractions became mere lights on the screen. The nurse reported 4, then 5, then 6 centimeters. I vomited some more. My sister left for her shift. Mark and I finally were both able to fall asleep. Mom texted reports to Dad and siblings and inlaws and relatives.

At lunchtime, I woke up. Mark and Mom went out in search of lunch. We played the Name Voting Game with each new nurse that appeared. My brother showed up bearing cookies made by my younger sister for the nurses. My centimeters crept along.

And suddenly, around 2:00 p.m., two things happened. Two nurses appeared and started moving rails on the bed around and starting giving me pushing instructions. And my epidural started feeling suspiciously absent. Suddenly, there was nothing between me and crashing waves of pain – not aching pain like the kind I’d felt in the darkness. OH NO.

This was sharp, awful, get-it-away-from-me-I’m-being-ripped-apart kind of pain. Mark and Mom coached and held my legs and made up soothing lies about my progress. The nurses were both comfortingly confident and annoyingly bossy.

The nurses began to play irritating games of Bad Cop, Good Cop at this point. The doctor at one point assured me that “the first one is the worst” while one of the nurses seemed almost personally offended at my refusal to “lean into” my pushing.

I pushed for two hours. It HURT. My epidural had covered my contractions up high, but once the pain moved down, it was missing the mark. Completely. Honestly, I don’t think I ever really got on top of my pain or my pushing. I felt panicky and breathless and completely out of control for the entire two hours.

But suddenly, Mark could see the baby’s hair. And the coaching of the nurses and Mom became more intense. And I STILL HURT. And then his head appeared. “Do you want to pull him the rest of the way out?” Dr. Enthusiastic brightly asked. “NO!” I screamed responded. “GET IT OUT.”

And then a few minutes later everything was quiet and Mark was helping to cut the umbilical cord and I was staring into the calm, quiet eyes of my little boy.

Miles Freedom was born at 4:23 p.m. on July 4, 2014. He was 6 lbs., 6 oz..

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I tend to be an immensely practical person. True magical Disney-and-fireworks moments in my life are rare – my admission that such moments exist rarer still. And I know that births and deliveries and post-birth bonding can vary radically. But those first few moments, while Miles stared intensely into my eyes, was some of the purest, most intense magic I’ve ever known.

And then Mark held him. My husband is a youngest and has never spent much time around small children and so I’d always wondered what kind of parent he would be at first. Would he know what to do? Would he be nervous?

All of my wondering washed away immediately as I watched Mark hold our baby for the first time. In the pictures we have from those first few moments, the tenderness and confidence with which Mark cuddled Miles in those first couple of minutes is still palpable.

Sometimes that people that work the hardest go unnoticed, but really, this story would be incomplete without a word about the amazing doctors and nurses that we had during birth. In a world where so many people lack basic access to healthcare or where a lot of suspicion and cynicism about medicine exists, it was such an amazing blessing to be able to have Miles in such a warm, caring, knowledgeable environment.

The difficult parts of birth were made easier by doctors and nurses who were genuinely concerned about Miles’ and my safety, comfort, and peace of mind and the really good things that I remember about that day are closely tied to the sweet spirits, good attitudes, and skill of the medical professionals on duty.

So that first night, we rested and stared at Miles and worked on nursing (more to come on that…). Outside our window, the Blue Angels flew by over Grand Traverse Bay. After the sun set and everyone had left Mark and Miles and me to our own quiet devices, we watched the fireworks exploding through the window off in the distance, marking Miles’ first Fourth.

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Photography

Our 2015 Christmas Photos.

December 26, 2015

Christmas 2015

By now, I’ve mailed out more than half of our Christmas cards to friends and loved ones, because I’m on top of schedules like that.

But I wanted to be sure to share our family’s Christmas wishes with those of you readers who share in our life through this blog.

So from our little family to you and yours, many many Christmas blessings and wishes for a wonderful New Year. And thank you for reading!

These are the snapshots we sent out this year:

2015 Family Christmas Picture.

Baby #2 Announcement.

The first shot was taken back in April on the A&M campus when the bluebonnets were exploding. It’s not formal or fancy or model-ish but I love it because it captures our family at a precious and fleeting stage.

And no, that’s not a very large weird typo in the second shot. We are elated about our little girl joining us in April 2016 or thereabouts!

For those of you who enjoy math, I am 23 weeks along. True to rumor, this second pregnancy has FLOWN by. I am so grateful to be through the first trimester, which was every bit as nauseating and miserable as it was the first time around, except with the added challenge of a very active toddler. I am also so so so grateful that, unlike the last time around, we’ll be (hopefully! Please??) well-settled into Mark’s new job and a house and our new-permanent routine by the time the little lady arrives.

Meanwhile, any mocktail suggestions for New Year’s Eve?

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