Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Year Our Family Exploded


I love, love, love the New Year season.  I love the reflection on the last year, the resolutions, the goals, the projects, and the plans.  I've reflected a ton of different ways in the past, but looking back on the day-to-day is why I blog (and Instagram).  To see what my family was to from January to July, check out Simple Girl.  To follow us from July to December, check the archives here.  

For my own personal wrap-up to the year, I used these questions from The Art of Simple.  I highly suggest this exercise; it took me a little over an our, but it was completely worth my time.  Even though I live in a constant state of recording the important and mundane facts of my life, there were plenty of things I would have completely forgot about without the prompting.  Even if you don't get to it until a week into the new year, take the time to answer these questions.  Or pick one and answer it in the comments! 

20 questions for a New Year’s Eve reflection

1. What was the single best thing that happened this past year?
Elliott was born, strong and healthy


2. What was the single most challenging thing that happened?
Elliott was born, strong and healthy

3. What was an unexpected joy this past year?
When Milo began communicating, using words and adding to his vocabulary

4. What was an unexpected obstacle?
Milo's speech delay

5. Pick three words to describe this past year.
Crowded, routined, home

6. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe your year—don’t ask them; guess based on how you think your spouse sees you.
Home, strong, busy 

7. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe their year—again, without asking.
Tired, busy, double-love

8. What were the best books you read this year?
I really wanted to take more time to track my reading, but I was terrible at it this year.  
I know I read Anna Dressed in Blood and the sequel, Girl of Nightmares at some point.  I mostly read blogs and magazines and unexciting parenting books.  I was rereading Goblet of Fire right up until I pushed in labor with Elliott.  At the end of the year I finished Game of Thrones, which I really loved, and binged on The Fault in our Stars and Divergent on my Kindle.  I did not read enough fiction.


9. With whom were your most valuable relationships?
Ben and Laurel

10. What was your biggest personal change from January to December of this past year?
The obvious is going from a mother of kid to a mother of two.  I've written before that the difference is more complicated than one more mouth to feed, one more sleep schedule to work out.

11. In what way(s) did you grow emotionally?
I went from loving one to two.  I started working on letting go of some of the "mommy guilt" that creeps in around staying home, going to work, using daycare, letting my kids watch TV, etc.

12. In what way(s) did you grow spiritually?
I started getting interested in religion in general, as opposed to RELIGION in a right/wrong/obligitory format.  I taught myself a tiny bit about the different meanings of Buddha statues and got into collecting little icons and meaningful trinkets.  By meaningful I mean meaningful to me.  I am beginning to trust myself to believe in big and beautiful things while letting go of the guilt and judgement that I relate to most organized religion.

13. In what way(s) did you grow physically?
I began toying with the idea of good foods vs. calorie counting.  I tried very hard to "snap back into shape," with Weight Watchers and Wii exercise games and rules and meal plans.  Only when I stopped trying very hard did I lose a little weight, but I'm definitely taking a different approach with year.


14. In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others?
Being a stay at home mom for eight months of the year let me see a different side of day-to-day life.  It was extremely hard, and I got to meet other moms who were home during the day, which opened me up to new friendships.

15. What was the most enjoyable part of your work (both professionally and at home)?
Going back in September was exciting because teaching is so incredibly routined and I love routines.  I'm also on an excellent teaching team and working with them for the past four months has taught me so much about best practices, planning, and relying on each other.

16. What was the most challenging part of your work (both professionally and at home)?
Fitting everything in is harder now that I'm not at home during the day.  When everything is going right, work/daycare/grad school/family time are perfectly proportioned, but when anything is off (someone is sick, a project is due, there is bad weather, I fall behind in any way) then I struggle with guilt and become quickly overwhelmed.  The choice about
whether the boys are sick enough for me to stay home with them is easily the hardest thing about being a working mom.

17. What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year?
Social media.  I love participating, posting and discussing things, and that's not the problem.  It's the obsessive CHECKING, mostly on Facebook, which is fine to be checked twice a day.  When I'm home, I can easily spend up to an hour checking and clicking on things before becoming devestated that I've wasted so much time.

18. What was the best way you used your time this past year?
Taking pictures and taking the boys places.  Our house is small and I'm antsy, so whenever we're home (with and without Ben), I'm usually scheming an adventure.  This year alone we went to five different playgrounds, Davis Farmland (season pass, we went a ton), the Acton Discovery Museum, the Boston Children's Museum, the Holyoke Children's Museum,
 two different indoor playspaces, three different beaches, Florida twice, Vermont once, and the library a ton of screamy crazy times.  I also take 5-15 pictures a day, more if we're
adventuring, and try to limit myself to only posting 4 per day on Instagram.  Sometimes I go over.  I adore every over-gram, because it's the coolest way to go back and relive all the things I almost instantly forget because I am fried.


19. What was biggest thing you learned this past year?
Being a parent is a hugely flawed process.  Having just one kid didn't kill my holier-than-thou parenting stance.  I knew how to be a good parent, obviously, because I had read all the books and blogs and hasd a perfect schedule/routine/feeding pattern worked out.  Adding another life into the mix threw light on the fact that parenting is informed SURVIVAL, and 
kids do not CARE about your studies or best practices.  Yeah, there's stuff I swear by that worked for us, but the key words are WORKED FOR US.  The ebb and flow of our crazy little family is exhausting and amazing and I know for sure that I want more children before we're complete.  That's what I learned this year.


20. Create a phrase or statement that describes this past year for you.
This was the year that our family exploded. We have more people and are more exhausted than ever before.  Our adoration is deeper than we thought it could go, we're more committed than ever, and we're more supported than we could have hoped.  None of our feelings can be measured, and even if they could be, we're too worn out to do anything but smile and watch the kids crawl all over each other.  

The Art of Simple has these questions available as a PDF, as well as similar goal setting exercise.  If you answer the questions and feel comfortable sharing, leave a link to your answers, or, like I said, find a question that speaks to you and leave the answer in the comments.  I'd love to see what you come up with.  Happiest of new years.

(Image credit here, quote added by me)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

at the moment I'm // no. 2


...home.  We went to Florida for Christmas.  We DROVE to Florida for Christmas.  Call it temporary insanity, call it compromise for my travel-weary husband, but we did it.  There were entire days of the journey where it went better than expected, and other chunks of time where it felt like a literal spilled-sippy-cup-poopy-diaper hell.  I'm putting together a post of details and things that made driving 1200 miles in two days with a one-year-old and a two-year-old possible.  And things not to do.  Spoiler alert: don't feed them nothing but pouches of apple sauce for snacks.  Just don't.

...up.  We got home last night at 11:30.  The kids needed fresh clothes and milk.  I needed a shower (consequences of the applesauce-only diet in the car).  We didn't get to sleep until close to 1am.  And yet I set my alarm for 5:20.  This is my commitment to my early-morning me time, and after a week of vacation,  I was desperate for it.  Elliott woke up and I put him in his seat with some toys and PBS cartoons.  Nothing was keeping me from coffee and reading/writing time today.

...antsy.  I want to take down the ornaments from our dead and wilted tree.  I want to put everything Christmasy out of sight.  I want to sort through the mountain of toys and set up the system (plastic box with a lid for each category: cars, food/dishes, balls, etc) I've been dreaming of.   I want to wipe down our mostly-empty fridge and stock it with healthy food.  I want to tackle our smelly, trash-filled car and scrub the poor car seats that took so much abuse.  I want to get a pedicure and go to the gym and see all my friends for breakfast every morning.  I need to pump the brakes so I don't overwhelm for disappoint myself.

...ready.  Ben and I spent some time in the car talking about our plans for 2014.  I'm going to write a  post about the word we choose a guide for our family.  This morning I will pick new wallpaper for phone home and lock screens, and my laptop background.  I need to hang our new, yet-to-be-purchased family calendar. This week we'll pick out a movie theme for New Year's Eve and we're going to decide on one year-round-up tradition that we can do while we wait for midnight (I'm torn between making a family year book for 2013 or a mason jar family time capsule that we can display).  Bloggers go crazy for goals, resolutions, and fresh starts, so there are tons of great articles to read about getting ready for the new year.  I live for this shit.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

at the moment, I'm // no. 1


At the moment, I'm...

...glad I've instituted an extra-early wake up time.  I wake up between 5 and 5:15, either by alarm or a small wave of children shifting into my bed.  I make a pot of coffee and have breakfast.  This morning I've read some blogs, bought Ben a Christmas present, and dreamed on Pinterest a little.  I feel human. 

...thinking about Jesus, religion, children, and parenting.  A lot.  I thought I had made my mind up about the role religion would play in my family (minimal and kid-directed) but as Milo gets older I find myself surprised that I want him to know about baby Jesus, and how praying can make you feel safer when you're scared.  There's so much to think about, though, because religion can be confusing and stifling if you get into big questions of RIGHT and WRONG and which gods listen and which gods are false and you override your natural judgement of morals with a fire and brimstone view.  I'm starting slow by playing with a fisher price nativity scene and taking the family to church on Christmas eve.  There's more to be said here.

...pleased with our Christmas DVD collection, which we've been building slowly for 5 or so years.  In December we watch a Christmas movie every night, and Saturday nights are double features with a big pillow fort, a kid movie, and then an adult one.  Last night I stayed awake for an entire viewing of Scrooged, which Ben introduced me to and has become a favorite.  It felt like a date night.

...settling into the feeling on an "imperfect" Christmas.  The top half of the lights on our Christmas tree went out.  The wire is connected to all the other working lights and woven under tons of ornaments that I'm simply not taking down.  Three ornaments have already been broken.  The kids are terrified of my singing Herbie the Elf- he had to be put away.  I don't think we can afford to print Christmas cards this year, and Ben and I had to majorly scale back our gift exchanges to be able to pay for everything else.  I thought these things would bother me more, but I either don't have time or I'm actually growing out of some of my selfishness.  My favorite things this year have been dancing with the boys to Pandora Christmas songs, teaching Milo to say "Santa" and "Christmas Tree," and our plans for a drive to look at lights in our PJs.

...studiously ignoring the fact that my tiny squish butt baby Elliott is going to be one in only a month.  When Milo was a month out from one, I had his entire huge party planned and was designing invitations.  I know Elliott's party is going to be more low key- poor second baby.

...craving a tattoo on my wrist so badly.  I found my grandfather's business card that has the logo for tree farm he owned with my dad.  My favorite part is the awesome font for "quality trees" across the bottom.  I definitely want this for my next tattoo, and I'm the last daughter who does NOT have a memorial tree tattoo. There's no money for it right now, but I'll save up.

...dreaming about another blog overhaul.  Sorry, it's true. Sometimes I want to write about being a mom in Massachusetts, but other times I so don't.  I've been thinking of keeping this address, design, etc., and making some tweaks to the name and about page.  No matter what happens, I'm keeping my little corner to talk and talk and talk and talk my brains out.

(this post inspired by Kerri at Your Wishcake, who writes so beautifully about life in such a gentle way)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Self Care for the Most Hassled Time of the Year

(credit for my favorite picture ever, found via pinterest)

I remember the moment I realized self-care was needed in hectic seasons.  It was my first year teaching kindergarten, and I was throwing a pumpkin carving party for my students and their parents.  It involved a skit, roasted pumpkin seeds, cutting and cleaning pumpkins, pouring cider, and ushering in/out an astonishing number of family members who showed up.  The day of, I was too busy getting party supplies to prep for the school day.  Instead of my bottled water and packed lunch, I picked up a huge iced coffee full of pumpkin syrup and ordered food from a nearby Chinese restaurant as a treat.  Running to get my order meant that I missed my time to eat AS WELL AS my time to organize myself before the parents came.  I ended up being more rushed than I wanted, gulping coffee on an empty stomach.  The party was fine, but I recall a moment after everyone had gone home, standing over a trash can and eating a terriakyi skewer that I didn't even want anymore, thinking, "This is the one day I  needed healthy snacks and extra water.  I feel gross."

Usually, when situations are really stressful or busy, I justify a trillion cups of coffee or an avalanche of fun sized candies by telling myself that I deserve it, when honestly the only way to make myself feel better is to reach for water and almonds more often than not.  I've gotten more deliberate about my choices during holidays and other busy times, but I can always use reminders; here are some steps we're taking right now to stay sane.

1. Routine rules

When friends visit, when special movies are on TV, when I'm exhausted and want to walk around Target for an extended period of time...these are all examples of when our school night routine gets thrown out the window.  During our Thanksgiving break, we had my sister with us, which meant an enormous help with dishes, babysitting, extra tickle fights and silliness.  It also meant late bedtimes and tons of sweets and having company over meant pie for breakfast....over and over again.  Monday was our first day back into the rhythms of our normal home life, and it was boring.  Boring felt good.  We do a little play time, a little cleaning, a few shows, then dinner, baths, books, and bed.  It's a lot of work to keep that flow going, and typically either Ben or I is doing it by ourselves, but it pays off when everyone is in bed by 7:30, dinner in their bellies, teeth brushed and their heads full of bedtime stories.   If I follow all the steps, I also end up with lunches packed, clothes picked out, and a wiped down kitchen. That is money in the bank.  I've heard that a good morning/evening routine has 3-5 repeatable steps; sketch one out for yourself or your family and rely on that autopilot when things inevitably get insane.

2. Water, water, water, water

I've been drinking more water.  I'm aware that this isn't breaking news, but, once again, it makes me feel good.  I've been reading about creating simple morning and evening routines for ourselves as adults, and one of the suggested things to add to your routine was "drink a glass of water."  Simple is beautiful; I jumped on that one right away.  I have a glass before breakfast and a glass before bed, as well as at least one 24 ounce bottle during the day.  I started making a cup of herbal tea when my students go to their specials at 1pm.  I'm trying to resist the urge to pick up a coffee EVERY time I'm out doing errands- I rarely finish them if I'm out with the boys, and I'd like them to feel special again. I get the boys into it by being obsessive about having water cups and teaching them how to "cheers" each other.  Even in the midst of the grossest tantrum, I can get a sip out of Milo if we clink water bottles dramatically first. Basically- we're made of water, and winter is a dry season, so drink up, my friends.

3. Do You

This is a bit of a revelation for me, but I'm not going to feel very good unless I'm making the effort to do things I enjoy.  For instance, I really love to read- blogs, novels, magazines, on the Kindle, in the bathtub, on the elliptical machine, in bed- but I can get away from it and go months without picking up a book.  If I fall asleep on the couch every night, I miss my chance to get in a chapter before I sleep.  If I get a spare 15 minutes and waste it rereading Facebook statuses, I've lost the opportunity to check in with some of my favorite pretend friends who live in my blog reader.  I've had to work to get reading back into my every day life.  Yes, I'm busy, working full time and taking care of very young children and going to grad school, but the truth is, I have time for lots of movies on the couch and Vine binges, so reading can fit back into my life, too.  Right now I'm reading Clash of Kings (from the Game of Thrones series) when I go to the gym, Insurgent (from the Divergent series) before bed or in the bathtub, and I'm waking up at 5 am to read blogs and write for myself.  This takes work, and a commitment to occasionally go to the gym, but, keeping with my theme, IT IS WORTH IT.  Pick one thing that is defining of you, and let it feed you when things are really busy.  Whether it's running, taking cool photographs, cooking special meals, or holding themed movie marathons, there's no need to reinvent the wheel if something already exists that makes you feel even more like yourself.

The ironic thing about self-care is that none of it is really a mystery.  We know that water and healthy food and a good bedtime are important, but sometimes most times it's easier to stay on the couch for one more rerun of the Simpsons than to do the right thing.  These tips are also chronically boring; picking water over a holiday sugar-bomb coffee is never very thrilling, and sometimes almost feels un-American (I mean, it IS Christmas, right?).  Still, this is the prime time of year to go completely overboard while everyone around you cheers you for it, so being deliberate about at least one of these tips might save you from having to start COMPLETELY over in January.  I'm far from perfect- I still over sleep or get too lazy to wash the kids bottles before they dry all crusty or fall down a rabbit hole into high-school friends' Instagram feeds. But I'm trying.  Here's to a slightly calmer, slightly more hydrated December.  Cheers!