The year of broken bodies.

IMG_00962018 was such a full year. When I did that Instagram most-liked post generator thing, it was clear that 2018 could be summed up as the year of the Daughter and the Degree. Every picture either focused on Etta’s arrival and presence, or the completion of my doctorate. A really, really good year of endings and beginnings that marked a shift for our family. But as I look forward to 2019 and start thinking of the things that I want to aspire to, one thing is very clear: 2018 is the year that I destroyed my body.

It is easy to trace the destruction. I can think back to the brutal days of pregnancy, a far cry from Henry’s where I did barre classes and ran until days before given birth. When I was finally cleared to exercise following our miscarriage scare, I was then stricken with crippling sciatica, not to mention the nausea that persisted my entire pregnancy, the nausea that only subsided under a steady stream of carbs. I gained the same amount of weight as I did with Henry, only I never lost all of his, and I carried this extreme weight so low that I was in constant pain all through my legs, hips, veins and feet. I would wake up at night and cry because everything hurt. It was aggravated, I’m sure, by the sedentary requirements of dissertation completion, the hours spent sitting and typing and editing and reading. I would unfold myself at the end of the day and feel a scholarly pain race through my limbs. My body felt like it was breaking, cracking, coming apart.

And then- she came. Some relief was instant. I could roll over and stretch. The weight didn’t budge, as my body clings to every last pound as long as I nurse, justttttt in case a famine strikes the land. But at least I could walk. And then the surge of post-partum emotions came, and I cried angry tears every night, struggling to understand how I could feel so happy and so sad all at once. The darkness subsided as long as we were out doing things wandering the city, searching for tasty treats and tiny indulgences. So I indulged and tried to heal. It swept back over me at night, and I wept much and slept little and my body felt like it was breaking, cracking, coming apart.

Emotions and hormones eventually evened out, but the adjustment to two leaves less space than I could have imagined, space for me. For the first time in years, 2018 marked a total cessation of exercise, a deep lapse in daily personal devotions, a rupture in the things I know I need for wholeness of body and soul. The exhaustion, sleep schedules, routine shifting, nursing, pumping – it takes a toll.  Don’t misunderstand me- 2018 was perhaps the best year yet in so many ways. But best years can still wreak the worst havoc, and sometimes my physical body felt like the sacrifice for the joy of this past year.

Simply put, there is a bodily destruction inherent in motherhood. Our physical selves and our ordered lives are broken, cracked, worked apart to make room for new souls to grow, be born, and thrive. In many ways, this is beautiful. In many ways, this is painful. In all ways, it is necessary. I see that. I accept that.

But I don’t want to live permanently in the brokenness. I want to make 2019 a year of gently rebuilding my body. Sometimes there exists pressure to rebuild too quickly, to erase the marks of childbirth and “bounce back,” a phrase laden with implications of failure and lowness in childbearing. But there is an opposing pressure to just accept the broken state of our post-children bodies. Perhaps that puts some people at peace, but being told to love a state where my knees hurt, my clothes don’t fit, and I feel generally uncomfortable in my own skin seems wrong.

So in 2019, I want to work on allowing my body to rebuild, mend, and come together. James and I stayed up last night, planning and dreaming for 2019 in front of a fire. We both made lists of goals that included lofty aspirations (“Buy a house.”), easily accomplished changes (“Wear better pajamas so it doesn’t look like a homeless bum wanders our home.”), and then of course, lifestyle changes, but ones with concrete applications attached. We established phone free windows in our days, weeks, and year. We set a minimum monthly date limit and brainstormed on what our ideal mornings would look like and how to bring them about. And I made a list of ways to help heal the broken state of my body. Not just so my pants fit and I recognize the person in the mirror (though I really do want that), but so that my body and soul feel healed and equipped to do the good work of living.

Happy New Year!

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Festive.

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Somehow we are already here- the weekend before Christmas! Friday’s are the day that I have childcare all day and my semester ended last week so it means that today was Hannah’s Christmas Spectacular. The goal was to wrap all the gifts, stuff, label, and stamp all the cards, clean the house, and pack to head to Kentucky tomorrow morning. Much of that got down. As always, there is the chance that our holiday plans could get derailed tonight if the government shuts down and James can’t travel, but I am hopeful. In the meantime, here are some festive things to close out your week.

We have been baking an insane amount of Christmas cookies this month thanks to this game-changing technique. No setting out ingredients until room temperature and then having to chill the dough for a year! No flour all over the workplace! Clean enough that a toddler can do it without destroying every last nerve! We made these gingerbread cookies last week and they have finally satisfied my desire for perfectly spiced soft gingerbread cookies. These butter cookies were another hit, especially if you want to bake cookies with only ingredients you already have on hand.

In the non-shaped cookie department, these were so easy and impossibly tasty. GINGER IN ALL THE THINGS is my December motto. I kind of wish it was my year-round motto, and there is this amazing dish that my college roommate and I used to make all the time involving lots of ginger in a cream sauce alongside rigatoni and spicy sausage – so good. Someday I’ll pay attention when I make it and share.

As I did all my Christmas prep today, I was pumped to watch some festive films far from the judging eyes of James. This list has great suggestions for all the best worst holiday flicks. Of course, this is my favorite awful Christmas movie of all time. And some info, in case you are new to these quality films.

We tossed around lots of Advent ideas this year as we tried to think of what to do to involve Henry. We ultimately settled on James and I reading this book individually, and then doing readings from this one together as a family. Yes, they are over his head. But they impart good truths that I need to hear and give us starting points to discuss. We then focus on a different carol, and we have stuck to singing the same 4-5 in rotation so Henry actually learns fragments. We also have a couple different nativity books (like this one!) we are reading so he sorts out the story. It’s a little bit of a hodgepodge, but it works.

This month has had a lot fewer formal festivities than usual, or as planned. Sickness, kid schedules, exhaustion, bedtimes – so many things got in the way of formal Christmas ceremonies. But there were lots of tiny festive moments, slow and steady Christmas anticipations throughout the month. Carols sung-shouted in the mornings. Cookies consumed by the light of the tree. Books read in Christmas pjs beside the fire. Every holiday train in town viewed and praised. Christmas explained and anticipated and celebrated in a hundred tiny ways.

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The Christmas letter draft that didn’t make the cut…

…. accompanied by the out-takes that didn’t make the cut for the official card. Because you know I am always down for sharing the outtakes. Familyphotos2018-13

Dear family, friends, and distant friends who receive a card late after I guiltily receive their own Yuletide cheer, as well as total strangers living at outdated addresses because I put off updating my list too long: Merry Christmas.Familyphotos2018-40Familyphotos2018-42

We still live in our 980 square foot apartment and, thanks to Amazon announcing this area as its new HQ2, we will probably never be able to move. Come visit! But please don’t stay too long unless you are prepared to fold yourself and all your luggage up into a very tiny ball which Henry will then hurl around the apartment while Etta cheers.Familyphotos2018-38Familyphotos2018-39

Hannah defended her dissertation last spring and is proud for her first job as a full fledged Dr. to be doing the identical thing she was doing the last years of graduate school (teaching/administrating stuff), only she now boasts the distinction of being paid less somehow. She promptly turns over her entire paycheck and a little extra to pay childcare, which causes her to think of employment as a special spa membership that includes grading and student disputes. Henry uses her dissertation drafts as coloring pages, otherwise known as academic upcycling.Familyphotos2018-54Familyphotos2018-59Familyphotos2018-70

Henry has mostly stopped biting other children, a positive note to end 2018 on. Etta might someday get a tooth to bite something, but in the meantime, she is developing a very thick skin for all of the times Henry’s love endangers her person. Familyphotos2018-74Familyphotos2018-76Familyphotos2018-100

James continues to work in the ever-encouraging, uplifting, and harmonious realm of politics. Familyphotos2018-104Familyphotos2018-105

By the end of the week (the day?), our home is a disaster, it is hard to always remember when Etta was last bathed or if Henry ate enough vegetables to insure that he doesn’t get scurvy and grows up to prefer Mozart and Shakespeare and Hannah’s hair is 78% dry shampoo. Things are loud and chaotic and busy and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Familyphotos2018-117Familyphotos2018-120Familyphotos2018-121In the pursuit of The Photo to grace our annual missive, Etta was kicked in the head, Henry escaped no fewer than a thousand times, lots of tight lipped commands were issued mid pose, and chaos ensued. Maybe the outtakes tell the real truth of things as they are right now.

Life is full and it is good.  There are some tears, but a whole lot more laughter.

Merry Christmas. Familyphotos2018-109Familyphotos2018-111

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Highs and Lows since last we spoke.

highlow1High: November in DC is the absolute best and this year might have been the prettiest it has ever looked.

Low: Amazon announced this area as their new HQ2 so I have been utterly despondent that we will now officially never be able to buy a home and live here long-term.

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High: We hosted our 8th annual Donut Extravaganza and it was delicious! So was Thanksgiving! And all the fall treats! And Christmas cookies!

Low: Whyyyyy is the baby weight not budging at all? Insert confused face emoji.

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High: Etta started sleeping through the night in the beginning of November at 5.5 months, just like Henry.

Low: For a couple weeks, she went back and forth almost every other day between sleeping 11-12 hours without a peep… and waking up at 5 am with NO INTEREST IN SLEEPING. Not so great.

High: We are now officially in the blissful sleep land of scheduled and long naps, and lengthy and quiet nights. HOORAY.

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High: I love our apartment at the holidays. Fires! Mantle for garlands! Picture window for trees! Our little place is so cozy and we loved getting everything set up before December even rolled around.

Low: I have struggled a lot with parenting in our space lately. The days are dark, and Etta wakes from her nap at 4, so by the time I have nursed and we are ready to head out- it is dark and cold. Thus, we’ve been inside a lot more and it just doesn’t bring out the best in my son or myself. The space, the lack of storage, the fact that every cabinet has to be packed just so due to space or things fall on me and they never are so things are always falling, the feeling that Christmas will bring more things to suffocate me — there have been some days of parenting from a place of space-focused frustration and I hate that.

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High: My kids delight me daily, minute by minute and hour by hour.

Low: My kids try my patience, daily, minute by minute and hour by hour. The emotions of a two year old are not for the faint of heart and parenting at this age of “I can do everything MYSELF” is maybe more tiring than when I have to actually do everything myself.

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Low: We have been slammed with one kid sickness after another this fall as the kids are in childcare, and both Henry and Etta came down with miserable awful colds last week.

High: I woke up to hear Henry coughing and crying a couple nights ago and I went in to offer some more water and cough syrup, only to be informed that he just needed “mommy snuggles in the chair.” Sick kids are the worst, but having my increasingly big and independent boy want to sleep on my chest for an hour? the best.

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High: The semester is over! Christmas break is here! The academic calendar never stops being awesome!

Low: I had a lot of professional and publishing goals that just didn’t get met this fall. The adjustment to two kids was  tougher than I anticipated and there just were as many hours of work time as I needed.

High: But all the same, I don’t regret how we spent our days as I look back on this fall. I worked during naptimes and my days at the office, but when I was home and my kids were awake? I focused on them. We played and explored and cooked and laughed and read and about that- I have no regrets. Articles didn’t get submitted, this blog was largely neglected, and my home was frequently less clean than I would like. But my family was loved well, and that is the best thing I can say.

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Final fall things.

Fall2018-121Maybe it is because Thanksgiving fell as early as possible this year, or maybe it is because summer held on extra long, but fall has felt so short this year. While it’s always sad to see those pretty leaves go and think of the very cold days to come, I am loving this bonus extra full week of November before Advent starts. I appreciate having time to get ready to celebrate Christmas so that December can feel a little less hectic.

And some things!

What did you all eat for Thanksgiving? We hosted James’ side of the family and a couple friends, and I used it as an excuse to try out some new recipes from my favorite culinary corner of the internet. Thanksgiving breakfast included these festive buns, I made this kale and caramelized onion stuffing (divine!) and these slow roasted sweet potatoes, which a certain recently-started-solids-baby-girl especially enjoyed. I tried these roasted garlic and slow cooker mashed potatoes and I am sold, if for the aroma alone. These are a favorite festive non-pie alternative…

… and the turkey. THE TURKEY. I had never made one, which led to several mishaps, like when I melted the meat timer and had to stuff my turkey twice because I forgot to take all the innards out first. But it ended up being so good. At the recommendation of a colleague, I slathered it in mayo (making sure that no one in my home saw that part or they wouldn’t eat it!), shoved a stick of butter, 2 apples, and two onions inside, and then did the foil wrapping method. So easy! No brining or prep! So fast! So IMPOSSIBLY MOIST! Which was good, because all energy saved was used in the end of the evening, when our dishwasher started gushing across the floor and we had to hand-wash all Thanksgiving dishes. (And yes, it did give me flashbacks to this year!)

This had me in tears because CHRISTMAS COMMERCIALS and emotions and music. If you’ve been around here awhile, you know I love crying at Christmas commercials (vol 2 here)… any other winners this year?

This had me in tears/goosebumps because animal power struggles in the Serengeti with a side of Beyoncé just get me like that.

I’ve been cyber friends with RA for a couple years now, and she is doing a Dressember to speak out against human trafficking that some of you may want to be a part of… those of you not so postpartum that you pretty much only 2 dresses that fit.

I am loving this podcast lately, partially because I find people talking about things like meal planning very soothing, and partially because Kendra’s tips are helpful, and her perspective so so good. Dare I even use the overused term “life-giving”? Maybe.

Just finished this book and it was really beautiful. If you loved All the Light We Cannot See, you will really love it. By the way, I got that book for free with the Amazon First Reads program and whyyyyyy did it take me so long to realize you can get a free Kindle book each month?

I stopped doing much photography for other people after Henry was born, but I did do family photos for a number of our friends over the past couple weeks. I was able to wrangle pretty much everyone rather calmly and efficiently into some smiling card-worthy photos… yet my own family was another story. Henry tried to flee the scene no fewer than a million times when I had a friend snap some for us last weekend. Don’t worry- all those bloopers will be coming your way. But in the meantime- a happy pic to end this random late-fall list. Familyphotos2018-28Familyphotos2018-90

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The Planner Round-Up

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetWith Henry, I remember the moment really well. He was about 5 months old and I was standing in the kitchen pouring a glass of water from the filter pitcher. My legs were getting wetter and wetter and it took me a solid several seconds to realize that I was holding the glass upside down and the water was just sloshing off the bottom and all over me.

With Etta the moment came earlier, the past summer when we visited my family in Kentucky. I was about to leave the pool and I looked down and couldn’t figure out how the tee shirt I had worn over my swimsuit to drive to the pool had gotten so wet. I puzzled aloud about this and my sister-in-law looked at me quizzically before saying, “Hannah- you’ve been wearing that shirt the whole time you swam,” and I realized that I had been swimming in my clothes without realizing they were still on.

It’s the moment after having children when you realize that your brain is irrevocably altered and you are never regaining that vast reserve of brainpower that you had pre-kid. You think at first it is just sleep deprivation, but now, it is the sheer brain power that it takes to keep a human being alive and thriving in the universe.

In short, you lose your mind.

I have never been a forgetful person. I get things done, make lists, and count myself among the insane type-A productive people of the world. But then I had kids, and I found myself recently staring at the coffee grinder lamenting that it was broken before realizing that I had just forgotten that you have to hit a button to turn it on. Facts come and go, dates are committed and then forgotten, and I realized that the organizational system that I have used since college– the one that got me through three degrees, two pregnancies, and all sorts of daily accomplishments- just wasn’t working. Index cards- I love you, your my first love, and I will never forget you. But I need more. I will be sitting at my desk and suddenly it HITS me: in 3 weeks I have a dentist appointment. Or I will bolt upright in my chair at work and realize that I have textbook orders for spring courses due in a couple weeks. I needed something beyond the index cards so I could note commitments to come as I remembered them, and I needed it to be tangible and at my fingertips so it wasn’t forgotten, hence my phone’s insufficiency.

In short, I needed a planner.

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetBut the list of planners is anything but short. I asked on Instagram what planners everyone used and quickly learned that my Instragram people are PLANNER ADDICTS WITH PASSIONATE VIEWS. Here are their 5 top pics:

And after researching all of those, I chose… none of them. I know, I’m the worst. First of all, I wanted to be sure I liked a traditional planner before shelling out for one (they are so pricey!), but also, I just want a planner, not in inanimate motivational coach. I don’t want to have to think out three goals every night for the next day, and I don’t want to have to journal my process of self actualization. I just want to like, remember when Etta has a doctors appointment and stay on top of grading and maybe, maybe, be reminded what I’m cooking for dinner. Plus, I worry that the industry of planners communicates a dangerous message that everyone must be extraordinary, must be striving for more. I want to do my small life really well and be organized enough to have time for the people around me and the things that are mine to do, that’s all.

With that in mind, I went simple and bought one on sale that was pretty. It had a two page weekly spread with no time slots, which works best for my weekly commitments. I put out my to-do list, and put our dinner plan in red ink on the last page. Things get crossed off, and at the end of the day, I use a highlighter to mark what didn’t get accomplished, but still needs to (versus something like “Work Out” which if it didn’t happen, just didn’t happen). On the weekend, I go back and knock out those things, or at least move them to the following week.

And it’s working. I really look forward to Sunday evenings when I sit down and plan out my week. I feel less likely to swim fully clothed (literally and figuratively) because I have a place to store the random commitments that come to mind. Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

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The wolf and the elephant.

Fall2018-103I always have grand ambitions for Halloween, thoughts of family costumes and DIY extremism, or witty costumes that make every adult that we pass chuckle. But that never ends up happening, and mid-October rolls around and I find myself scrambling for something to throw on mu kids so I can parade them round until they melt down and then come home and eat their candy. If I can’t be proud of our family coordination or creativity, I can at least be proud that this year I managed to not spend a single penny on Halloween. Etta wore Henry’s old costume (remember this tiny elephant?) and Henry borrowed a Big Bad Wolf costume from a friend. It’s probably good I didn’t shell out money, as the above blurry and unsmiling photo is about the best I could get of them both together. Fall2018-92Fall2018-94Fall2018-101We headed out to start trick or treating long before any houses were open for business. I have learned in years past that after dark, Capitol Hill turns into a congested and overwhelming mash up of scary-clad teens and toddlers melting down. Starting at 4:30 gave Henry lots of time to ride his scooter around and scope out the houses, stopping every two minutes to take stock of his tale. Fall2018-104ETTAPHANT. Fall2018-106Fall2018-107Fall2018-109Fall2018-110Capitol Hill as a whole, and East Capitol in particular, is super intense about Halloween. So much good candy! Henry brought home a full sized Snickers – FULL SIZED. One house builds an entire Wonderland universe, complete with characters walking around in costume. All the adults on the street grill out or set up finger food spreads to enjoy together as kids go around to get candy.Fall2018-111Fall2018-112Fall2018-113Fall2018-115Fall2018-116Fall2018-117It took him a house or two to figure out what he was doing and then he was ALL IN. He made us wait outside of every yard and excitedly went to yell, “TRICK OR TREAT HAPPY HALLOWEEN THANK YOU!” before bounding back to us. I love when I can give him slivers of independence to help him grow.Fall2018-118This was the first year that Henry was really aware of all the decorations and festivities, and it  had James and I talking seriously about how we present fear to him. Kids this age are so funny about what they fear. It can be the strangest irrational thing (a friend of mine told me recently that her toddler was scared of canned whipped cream!) or a dangerous thing, like tall slides or loud dogs. But Henry does not yet have any fear of dark things, of the evil that exists in this world. He will figure it out eventually, but James and I were very careful to not teach him fear as we discussed Halloween. We didn’t use the adjective “scary” to discuss web-draped houses, and we avoided houses or groups of people focused on the macabre aspects. I want him to fear some things, to develop an intuitive sense of wrong, but I do not want to burden him with unnecessary fear, nor do I want to teach him to delight in it. Both are easy traps to fall into on Halloween.

For now, I’m glad it was just a fun family evening of walking through our town with a wolf and an elephant. Fall2018-120(PS: Is it really a family outing if it doesn’t end with tears and one parent carrying everyone? Nope.)

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