Adventing.

Fall2017-186Fall2017-187This is our first Christmas season since 2013 that hasn’t been overshadowed with vehicle woes. In 2014, James had just moved back from living across the country for 6 months and we had to scramble to sell my car from high school before the insurance expired. In 2015, that new car became a pile of scrap metal on the drive home from Thanksgiving, so December was a blur of weary, and hurried, car shopping. Last year, a terrible oil change (thanks Walmart) resulted in total engine failure on the way back from Thanksgiving and our car was abandoned in Pennsylvania, marking the beginning of 5 months of trying to get it repaired.

Fall2017-188But this year, this year we stayed put for Thanksgiving, and it was so glorious that I didn’t even take any pictures to show you. We didn’t tempt our car fate again, and we rolled into December with a working vehicle, and souls not already weary from one 12-hour-one way trip, while staring another one in the face in a matter of weeks. This December has brought its own trials, but we are so thankful to have started it with the contented feeling of being tucked away in our own home, with no car shopping, car borrowing, calls with insurance, or haggling with mechanics to maneuver.

Fall2017-189Since we always travel between our two families over Christmas, James and I have carved out our own traditions throughout the month of December, instead of Christmas day itself. This way, no matter where we are traveling between families on Christmas day, we can revel in the traditions we grew up with, without missing the new ones we have made as a family. Last Sunday we spent the evening doing our annual Christmas decorating celebration: walking with our tree from Eastern Market, decorating it with all the best music, and then eating gingerbread cookies while we watch Elf. I love these simple rituals. Henry was ecstatic to “help” decorate the tree, which quickly resulted in us moving all breakable ornaments out of his grasp. He spends every day removing everything from the bottom half of the tree, only to find it restored the next morning for more destruction. We loved our annual Messiah service at church last week, and tonight we checked out the trains and music at the Botanic Gardens. I love these celebrations of Christmas around the city.Fall2017-190

But this year James and I have also been more aware of the weighty responsibility of teaching Henry what Christmas is, what Advent is, not just how the world celebrates in December. My parents did a phenomenal job structuring our entire Christmas season around Advent, and James and I were suddenly aware that we have, not a baby, but a toddler who wants to participate and loves ritual, repeats everything we say, and is paying attention. To us, to the world we lay out for him, to the things we set up as valuable.Fall2017-191

And so we are stumbling towards Christmas, bumbling our way through Advent, trying to establish rituals that will soak into our family culture and direct our children towards the meaning of Christmas. Evenings can be tricky to plan on quality family time with James’ hours, so we have been carving out some peace at breakfast, lighting our Advent wreath, and working our way through this book. To be honest, it has not been our favorite. But a friend just sent me this one (that she found on Mary’s great list of Advent resources!), and I ordered this one after seeing my friend Fran share about it. I know Henry can’t do crafts or any of those things yet, but I was excited to download some Advent printables that go with the Jesus Storybook Bible. After we read, we are picking a different Christmas hymn each day (and yes, I realize that technically you aren’t supposed to sing them during Advent- I object), and singing it as a family, letting those true words soak in. It’s not glamorous or creative, but I like to think that this year is about the discipline of doing something, and next year we can try to make the thing more impressive. Yesterday we sang “Away in a Manger,” and I was so excited when Henry kept on singing “Away, Away!” all day…. until I realized he was actually just singing this song from Moana. Fall2017-192 But it’s ok, that we don’t have it all together in perfect Advent commemoration. Advent reminds us that it isn’t about having it all together. It’s about the waiting and the darkness and the uncertainty ended on Christmas morning.

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Tis the season…

… to eat all the things.

It’s almost unfair how clustered the next six weeks are with delicious eating, followed by the guilty wasteland of January. But I’m just not going to think about that part yet. Instead, here is an entire[ly pointless] post of some of the tastes of the season. Go ahead and put on your fat pants.

Fall2017-124Fall2017-126We really start our seasonal culinary reveling early November with our annual donut making extravaganzayear 7! As times get crazier, families get bigger, and there are evermore toddlers running around, we decided to simplify things even more and we just made a double batch of these, topped with a variety of Trader Joe’s sauces. And I know I said it last year, but I am really going to stick with donut holes next year, as they just seem better homemade. We also changed things up this year by encouraging people to bring a couple donuts from their favorite local donut shop, of which there are so many in this area. It meant we had a massive selection of donuts… and only 5 left at the end of the evening. Our community is nothing if not an impressive group of donut eaters. Fall2017-128This is what I want to take (and eat and serve) at every holiday party.

These are the best Thanksgiving/Christmas brownies there are- just to add some variety to the pie spread.

Should you find you need some kale to balance out your gluttony, I’m a big fan of this festive kale salad and this one.

Last Saturday morning. Henry was in an extra whiny mood, and I decided it was time for our first baking adventure. He constantly begs to help “stir it!” (which he pronounces “$hit!”) whenever I am cooking and I knew he would love baking, but just couldn’t mentally get past the disaster assuredly awaiting such an endeavor. It was as messy as I had feared, but also so fun, as he was beside himself with excitement to be baking. We made this banana bread (decreased sugar and subbed half of the flour for coconut flour) and it was so tasty. A departure from my standard banana bread, but still delicious and jussttttt healthy enough for me to not feel bad serving it toasted for snacktime- the perfect gift to present when you show up at people’s houses over the holidays. Fall2017-129Fall2017-130Should you find yourself somewhere where pie is being served, and should you be like me and categorically think cobbler is the vastly superior dessert, you should just bring this tasty cobbler-disguised-as-pie. I let the pie crust go all up the sides and used frozen mixed berries (thawed) instead of fresh blackberries and it was the best thing ever. The almond crumble really takes it to the next pie level, aka, cobbler.

Deb has a similar recipe I would like to try, as her recipes are usually some of my favorite versions of anything. I made her old-school baked ziti last week and it was the perfect cold night comfort food.

My parents get in tonight, as we are staying home for Thanksgiving for the first time since this epic feast. I have much higher hopes for this year, as our cooking conditions are vastly improved. Looking forward to a cozy couple days with family and delicious food!

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What he says.

He’s 18 months old and this is what he says.Fall2017-70Fall2017-72He hangs off the counter and asks for “cwackers,” tries to pry the fridge open and get access to “stwa-berries” and “cheeeeeez!” He loves “apples” and “passssssta” and “nanas” and “eggs,” and has learned to get excited and yell “taco!” because I maybe have an addiction. He constantly calls for “water” but especially loves “iiiiiice” and requests a “bottle” full of “milk” at bedtime. He yells “Amen!” at the end of prayers… and now has started yelling it as soon as we put him in his high chair, hoping to speed things along and get to the food part.

He can hear a “bus!” from any part of the apartment and races to the window, eyes big as saucers, to tell us about it and any “car” or “cuck” (he means truck, and yes, it funny and awkward) or “dawg” or “Puppee!” that he sees. He yells “CARRRRRRR!” as soon as we leave the house, hoping that he will be allowed to sit on the driver seat and honk the horn for awhile before we leave. Fall2017-73Fall2017-76He loves being told to get his shoes and socks, which usually results in him excitedly repeating “shoe! sock!” and fetching his red rain boots and then trying to get the door open as he calls for “keys!,” announces “stroller!” and anticipates getting to the park. He starts asking for “bubbles!” and “baff!” as soon as dinner is over, and loves informing us that the water is “hot.” As he plays in the tub, we often hear someone in the stairwell and he enthusiastically questions if that is “Da-DEE!” coming home. At bedtime, we tell him to go get specific books, and he races off, coming back with the requested story and repeating “book!”The best part of any book is when he gets to point to “FEET!” which is convenient, as many beings have feet, but confusing, when an animal gets on all fours and his brain short circuits a little. After books he begs to brush his teeth by sprinting to the bathroom and yelling “BEEF!”

He announces “oh boy!” and “uh-oh”  at all the best times… and “NO” at many of the not best times. He drawls out a “yeahhhh” complete with a slow tilted head shake. He does not know any traditional animal sounds, but he gives a hearty “Rawwwrrrr” when asked what a dinosaur says. He learned “All done!,” the words and the sign, from another toddler at childcare, and he gleefully declares them when he is OVER whatever is happening, whether or not is is actually done. He yells “WHOA” when I hit speed bumps too fast and “HOORAY” when set free to charge into open spaces. He desperately wants us to pass off our “shones” (phones), so he can play is beloved “Mwana” (Moana), often combing it into a wail of “SHONE MWANA!” As this request is rarely granted, he settles for the baby “monitor” that he broke months ago and has since been relegated to a toy. He declares when a “POOP” has happened, but also labels other people as “POOP” if, for example, they maybe should have changed out of their yoga pants post run but instead went in for a cuddle and he decided that they smell. Fall2017-113Fall2017-114Fall2017-116Whenever he needs help, he reaches up and announces “hand” and continues to take on the world. If he falls his looks to me and tells me he is “hurt” before snuggling close. He starts happily calling for “Mommy!” as soon as he wakes up and nothing on this earth sounds better than his chirpy voice yelling that word.

I say I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you a million times a day and he smiles and I know that he will eventually say it back, and then there will be no better sound.Fall2017-81Fall2017-79

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Little Lion Man.

If you thought that my sparse-as-of-late blogging would skip a full post of Henry as a member of the animal kingdom-Fall2017-87-think again.

When contemplating his Halloween costume, James had many ideas that were instantly rejected because they were, though witty, not adorable, and this might be my last year to have full sartorial control of his costume. There was no other option than a precious furry creature, which led me down a rabbit hole of animal googling, as some fauna just lend themselves better to costumes than others. Why, for example, are so many penguin costumes inclusive of a tophat and bowtie? Why has no one designed a squirrel costume as adorable as the tree rat itself? Why must all the lamb costumes be so feminine?  These burning questions, coupled with Henry’s ability to produce one animal noise of “RAWR!,” and a failure to find a good dinosaur costume, led us to this little lion:Fall2017-88Fall2017-93Fall2017-96I want to just eat him up.

The costume was on the tad small side, and he was initially not a fan of the hat, but the masses at last Friday night’s Hilloween distracted him until he forgot.Fall2017-99Fall2017-102James’ brother Thomas was in town, and truly a good sport about tagging along for Hilloween, which is really just a giant mob of parents taking too many pictures of their adorable offspring, most of whom this year were dressed like the cast of Moana, which a strong showing of animals, superheroes, and at least 6 Maxes from Where the Wild Things Are.Fall2017-107Very concerned about the escaped balloons floating away, and very, VERY enthusiastic when given his own balloon. Fall2017-109Fall2017-110On Tuesday night we headed out for trick-or-treating, though Henry’s highlight was probably playing in the car while we waited for our group to meet up. This is far and away his favorite pastime at the moment, as he yells “CAR!!!” and runs over to it whenever we go outside. He also tries to walk up to any car we pass, get the door open, and get inside, but we are trying to quietly discourage that. Endearing at age 1, less so age 18.
Fall2017-117Fall2017-121The Pretzel Bakery gives out free pretzels to kids in costume, and unlike last year, I actually had to let Henry eat his instead of snagging it for myself. I did exact a 50% tax any Reese’s he got, biting it in half before handing him a nibble, so the evening was still good to me. Plus, the people on Capitol Hill, especially East Capitol Street go ALL OUT for Halloween. One house had turned their whole courtyard into Wonderland, complete with a full cast of characters in costume and a lavish Mad Hatter’s tea party spread. I was impressed.

We have Reformation Day party this weekend, but while it isn’t technically a costume affair… I can’t promise that I will be able to resist trotting out that tiny lion suit one last time. Fall2017-123

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May your weekend be as good as donuts and play dates.

Fall2017-82Fall2017-83Fall2017-84Fall2017-85Our weeks have a really good rhythm. I work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and Tuesday and Thursdays, while I work while Henry naps, I try to be 100% in mom mode in the morning and after he wakes up. I try to minimize the housework and errands I need to do then, so that I can be really there as we explore the city and meet with friends. Sometimes it works, sometimes life creeps in, but I love the rhythm of work and play that fills my weeks. They are busy weeks, as I am racing towards dissertation deadlines, job applications due dates, and teaching responsibilities, but they are good weeks. I’ve been pulling back a little from blogging and social media to make more space for life, to feel like I can work well and rest well in laid back playtime. I’ve made space for sitting it at the window and endlessly yelling “BUS!” with Henry every time one passes, or analyzing the leaves on the sidewalk in excruciating detail.

It’s really, really nice, this season of toddlerhood. Sometimes hard, but mostly, I like it. We get with friends often, usually some deeply exciting activity like picking up (insert treat) and taking it to (insert park). No planning, no hassle, just kids content to run around and moms content to sit and talk. The past two weeks we have hit Sugar Shack and carried donuts to the playground. The kids crowd around to grab a handful and then run off, coming back with sticky fingers every so often. It’s the best of fall and motherhood and city living all wrapped into one. I race home afterwards, tossing [healthier than donut] snacks into the backseat to serve as lunch and then carry a sleepy boy into his room and he naps the afternoon away, still smeared with park dirt and donut glaze.

It’s really, really nice, this season.

Some things for your weekend…

If you are in the DC/VA area, you should track down a Sugar Shack and get some of their butterbear donuts topped with golden snitches. Heads up- we found you have to preorder them to make sure you can snag one!

Last night we did our annual it-finally-feels-like-fall viewing of The Village, and y’all, it just gets better every year. It turned 13 this year and has people coming around to its total perfection. Before bed I told James that i love it as much as when I saw it in high school and I think it may always be one of my favorites, to which he sighed and conceded that, “You will always love The Village longer than you have loved me.” Sorry Husband, old loves die hard. Or never.

I know we just moved past swimsuit season, but I may troll this one to see if it goes on sale this fall. Never to early to countdown to next summer!

This hits really close to home as I am in the throes of applying to jobs for next fall, all while worried about how I actually feel about taking one.

The most profound difference these days, it seems, is not between the women who spend the early years of their children’s lives in playrooms and those who spend them in boardrooms. It is between those of us who start the journey of motherhood clinging to the idea that we can have it all and those of us who start it with the less glamorous, but more realistic, expectation that we won’t.

I am kind of morally and practically opposed to buying expensive clothes that kids will grow out of soon… but even I am tempted by these Smallbirds!

This is the dreamiest fall dinner party.

Recently I remembered how much I love this green bean recipe and I can’t stop making it.

Going to have to hit this exhibit sometime soon! I took Henry to an exhibit there a couple weeks ago, and he very quickly realized that he could do amazing echo things in the [otherwise silent] gallery spaces… so maybe I will leave him home.

I know that 99.9% of the people reading this will not care, but I stumbled across this  in my research the other day and I really want to find a way to see it. Almost as good as if someone would turn all my favorite French books into miniseries.

Happy weekend friends! I highly recommend picking up some donuts and eating them at the park to make the most of it. Fall2017-86

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From the trenches: Park Politics.

Let me break it down for you by the numbers: Our apartment is 980 square feet of narrow space that has a healthy amount of furniture, walls, and other obstructions. We possess 0 feet of unfinished basement or attic space that could serve as a play area, or act as storage so there was more space in our main living area. We also have 0 feet of yard as we are on the second floor, though there is a smidgen of uneven and unfenced grass in front lining a busy intersection that allows for limited play in the form of Henry trying to charge headlong into traffic and me hauling him back. Henry sleeps 11-2 hours at night, naps 3ish hours in the afternoon, and is almost 17 months old. There are around 9,786 unavoidable safety hazards in our tiny space and Henry has one box of toys. We have around 10 hours of wild toddler explorations to fill.

When you do all the calculations involved in the paragraph above, there is only one possible sum: every possible waking moment must be spent at the park.

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Henry does not want to play inside. Henry wants to CONQUER and DESTROY and MAKE ALL THE NOISE IN ALL THE OUTDOOR SPACES. Also sit under slides like a troll and visit parks that match his wardrobe.

We get out of the house as soon as we can, trying to only make it back right before his nap and then we often head back out afterwards until dinner. We roam the city, hopping from park to park, green space to green space, embracing the sidewalks and steps in between. I love this aspect of urban parenthood, love getting to explore the city and its network of children’s spaces, love feeling like the whole of Capitol Hill is our yard. I love being a park mom, and I love that my house can remain somewhat calm on the days we spend at parks, at least, calm contrasted to the rainy days where there are no words strong enough to describe the destruction a toddler can bring to a small space when in it all day.

But along with park life comes park politics, not because parks are full of kids, but because parks are full of parents. Behold, the 5 parents you meet at the park:

The parent who keeps their kids clean. I wish I was this parent, truly I do, but I am not. My kid searches out dirt and revels in it, rolls in it, dumps his crackers in it and then eats them right back up. And I do absolutely nothing to stop it. I want my city boy to get country dirty and the only place we can do it is the park.

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I heard that more exposure to dirt and germs in childhood can maybe prevent your body from developing autoimmune diseases. If this is true, Henry is invincible.

The parent who is overly concerned with preserving their property rights. Ok, here’s the deal: parks are communist spaces. All resources are to be pooled the second you pass those gates. Sippy cups left within toddler grasp? A free for all. Scooters that are left inside the fence? Anyone can have a ride. Our favorite park actually has a bunch of partially broken pushable toys sitting around, which means every kid falls in love with one and thinks it theirs… only to have their heart ripped out when they come back another day and it is in the sticky clutches of another child. While I too encourage sharing if violent altercations are breaking out among the youngsters, I try to let kids work out their own things. But sometimes, sometimes a parent rolls up, their stroller laden with toys, and they are determined that their toys will not join the common haul. This inevitably leads to anarchy. What the Property Rights Parent needs to understand is that at the park, possession is not just 9 tenths of the law, it is the law. Your toddler cannot lay claim to anything he cannot keep in his hands. I will exert some effort to prevent my kid from ripping a beloved piece of broken plastic from your kid’s hands, but if you bring a Stroller Of Temptation into the communal space and walk away, I just might not stop my kid from pulling your toys out of it.

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My kid knows how the park works, and you better believe he will maintain a DEATH GRIP on that toy as long as he can.

The nanny. Yes, not a parent. But if you hit the park during the day, you aren’t going to see many actual parents. Which makes the park sooooooooo much more chill. Nannies have just enough disinterest to let kids play without micromanaging.

The fun parent. They bring bubbles and balls and good snacks and play so energetically that sometimes I stare at them over my coffee and wonder things like how? and why?

The professional parent. I have heard major business mergers, interviews, and political intrigue go down from someone on a see-saw or sitting under a slide. One of the beautiful things about technology and a place like DC is that many people have options to telework sometimes and be with their kids. That is awesome. It also means that work and play intersect and merge in a weird sort of way. It’s tempting to judge the parent on the phone while their kid plays (though to be fair, being on a phone for nonprofessional reasons is every bit as common and not a smidge more “respectable”), and I did when I passed through parks before having Henry. But now I just see a parent, trying to figure out how to do everything well, probably beating themselves up about how they think they are falling short.

Because the nice thing about park parenting, is that we get to see each other doing it, get to see each other in all stages and states of this messy adventure of parenting.

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Given our family’s track record with having to take cover in parks from many rainstorms, I have already decided that this would make a great shelter in a clutch.

 

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Taking stock.

Takingstock3Making : This bread for the first time in a long time, because fall days need simple bread.
Cooking : This for dinner on a regular basis, because it is easy! Cheap (especially if you use thighs, which I always do because dark meat forever and ever amen)! One pan! Paleo! Tasty!
Drinking : All the coffee, and really wanting one of those salted caramel mochas because they are my absolute favorite, but I’m trying to stay easy on the sugar, even after we finished last month’s whole30.
Reading: Anne’s House of Dreams – finishing off the series and it is full of such gems. Also, The Little Blue Truck about a thousand times a day because it’s Henry’s favorite.
Wanting: To get an amazing job next year after I finally finish (!) graduate school and graduate (!!) but also to just stay home, because gosh if Henry isn’t just more and more fun every day and I hate missing it.
Looking: For a new couch that is aesthetically pleasing, comfortable, and small enough for Capitol Hill sized spaces that have recently been rendered more crowded by my amazing, though large, farmhouse style table.
Playing: Lots of games of “throw the ball and let Henry chase it and then collapse laughing so hard he can barely through it back.”
Watching: This is Us, because I love to cry; Poldark, because half the characters infuriate me, but I love the other half (AUNT AGATHA!) so much I keep on going; Scrubs, because it is maybe the best show ever to watch in little spurts.
Wasting: Wipes, as Henry loves to help wipe down any and all surfaces.taking stock2
Wishing: That we lived closer to our parents, because being in Kentucky for a couple days last week made me want to move him asap so Henry could have more grandparent and farm time.
Enjoying: Henry’s current obsession with sitting down on chairs/boxes/steps/totally unsittable surfaces that are at the right level. He slowly backs up and then settles his little booty in a way that just kills me dead every time.
Waiting: For endless library books that I have requested… I’m on the last chapter of my dissertation and just can’t stop requesting books.
Liking: Images of Sweden, because some of my favorite people moved there and I want to visit.
Wondering: How I can get Hamilton tickets when it comes to DC next year. I knew they would be pricey… but I just looked, and pricey doesn’t even begin to cover it. Trying to find a way to be in the room where it happens without losing all my dollars.
Loving: How much Henry loved being at my parent’s house, how much he loved space to run and explore.
Hoping: That someday we can have some semblance of a yard. Any yard, of any size.
Marveling: At how many really awesome places have popped up in Lexington since I lived there, like Kentucky Native Café – paradise for foodies with toddlers.taking stock
Needing: To really deep clean my baseboards. Toddler who likes to hurl food + small city space equals baseboards in desperate need of some TLC.
Wearing: This shirt, partially because it is the softest t-shirt ever, but mostly because I just love my home state.
Noticing: The way Henry seems to understand things now, like instructions and explanations, even if he can’t respond.
Knowing: That there is so much in me, in things I say and do, frustrations I let overwhelm me, that I do not want him to understand and emulate.
Thinking: That this is how children make us better.
Feeling: Like I’m finally ready for fall, and all its beautiful changes.takingstock4

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