Linking up with Leigh Kramer!

Now that I’m back to blogging again, I thought I’d take some time each month to share and reflect on what we’re up to. It’s easy for me to look back on the last few weeks totally unable to remember any details. But my life is made up of details, so I don’t want to forget them.

Books:

To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee): Perfect, of course, and I wish I’d reread it sooner.

The Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion): It was interesting. I’d never read anything by Didion before and her take on the grief experience was painfully honest. It wasn’t uplifting, which I actually kind of appreciate, because suffering so often seems (and is) utterly pointless. I appreciated that. I think I prefer Lewis’s A Grief Observed, but I haven’t read it in several years.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (E.L. Konigsberg): A childhood favorite that I hadn’t picked up since childhood. I read it in a night and it was so fun. What does it say about me that I really love Claudia as a protagonist? I wouldn’t want to be her mom, but I love imagining her as an adult.

Quiet (Susan Cain): I want to talk more about this book in a separate post, but the long and short of it is that this book was deeply gratifying to read. Everyone should read it, especially managers and teachers. I bought the kindle copy but I may actually shell out for the paperback for future reference.

Bits and pieces from Teach Your Own (John Holt), You Are Your Child’s First Teacher (Rahima Baldwin Dancy), and The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise, none of which I want to return to the library. We’re thinking about homeschooling when our kids are old enough, and I have been reading everything about it I can get my hands on since December.

Coming up in March: GileadLizzy and Jane (I’ve started it — I got it for $.99 on a Kindle sale; it’s OK), and Jane Eyre (!!!!) among others. My friend Maggie and I are reading our way through the Brontes this year and I can’t wait.

On my mind

I’ve been thinking a lot (a lot) about writing, and working on incorporating it back into my daily life. It feels so good, like slipping into a favorite outfit — the one that makes you feel like you. This makes me feel like me again.

I wrote out my testimony this month. I was supposed to read it today at MOPS, but it was cancelled because of snow. I’m hoping I will still have an opportunity to share it, but at any rate I think I’ll post it here as well when I’ve edited it to my liking. I’m happy with it.

I’ve also been working on simplifying decision-making through the way I meal plan (I hold to certain parameters every week), how I dress, and what we do with our days. Reading up on Waldorf philosophy has also impressed on me the importance of rhythm in our days, so having that in mind has been helpful too. Spending my days with an almost-three-year-old who doesn’t nap is tiring, and anything I can do to simplify helps me preserve much-needed energy. And mental energy is every bit as important as physical energy these days.

Other stuff

We’ve spent a lot of winter afternoons with all the couch cushions on the floor, coming up with creative ways for Will to jump around and be active. This winter has been really good and this afternoon routine is a big reason why. Our life is so wonderfully simple right now.

We had two snowstorms last week after an entire winter without a single flake! Will had to miss preschool, but other than that we had a lovely time at home. We had family visiting, too, which made for a full house and lots of much-loved company.

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Listening to Story Pirates 

I have also been really loving the winter light in our house. I was a little apprehensive moving away from a house that was flooded with sunshine every afternoon into a midcentury ranch on a wooded lot, but happily I adore the light here. Natural light is essential, and good light cheers me up and makes me happy every morning. (File under: the little things.)

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Anna continues to be the perfect baby. She’s a dream.

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Five months old on Monday. This seems impossible.

I’ve also really been enjoying season 5 of Downton Abbey, and as usual end every episode embittered to have been born into a time when people don’t dress for dinner in fabulous, glittering dresses. I’ve been watching it while knitting and eating chocolate, and I can’t really think of a better way to spend a winter evening.

Onward to March! One more week until daylight savings, and three more weeks until spring.

I rarely buy books. I am a big fan of our public library, and I hate to think of the clutter I’d leave behind if I owned every book I wanted to read. I make an exception for kindle books (for all I love about our library, its Overdrive e-book selection is pitiful) but for the most part almost all of my reading selections are in our home only temporarily. (Even Anna Karenina, which took me months to read last year. I think I renewed it four or five times.)

We moved last year and our new house has a huge living room. It’s big enough to divide it into two separate areas, and in one area I’d like to put in some built-in shelving for storage and books. Despite several thorough purges of our collections Steve and I have a ton of books, and they’re still all in storage up in my dad’s basement. Once we get them back, I can’t wait to organize them. But I’ve been thinking — we may have a lot of books, but our collection is still lacking.

One thing that matters a lot to me as a parent is to instill a love of reading in my children. I want to make sure they grow up surrounded not just by books, but by good books. I am creating a list of books I want to own in our family library, both for us and for them. I have actual paper books in my Amazon shopping cart right now. Here are some of the ones I’m thinking of first:

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Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. We’re reading this for our book club next and I’m so looking forward to rereading it. I honestly think Gilead is the best book I’ve ever read. I found it so overwhelming, in fact, that I still haven’t read Home or Lila, both of which (along with Housekeeping) are also on my to-own list. I will never write as well as Robinson, but I’ll accept that gladly just to bask in the beauty of her prose.

More classics:

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Speaking of my book club, I just read this for the first time in 20 years. (I checked it out of the library right before the news of Lee’s next book hit!) It was wonderful. I wish I hadn’t waited since high school to read it again. Along with Mockingbird, I’m planning to add several high school reading list classics: Catcher in the Rye, The Bell Jar, some Dickens, Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf. Of course, the fun part in choosing which books to include is rereading them all!

As far as poetry and nonfiction goes, I am still thinking. I love Mary Oliver*, and I don’t want to forget my college women’s studies days reading Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich, nor my Academy days with Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein, and (especially) William Carlos Williams.

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(I love this book.)

I don’t own enough bookshelves yet, sadly, so it’s not time to start building my collection just yet. So until we can get to Ikea, my Amazon wish list will just get longer and longer.

What am I missing? (And to think I haven’t even thought about children’s classics! I need to teach the babies to read first. I’ll give that a few years still.)

*As I was adding Oliver to my wish list, I noticed Amazon has a “poetry by women” category. I’m pretty confident they don’t also have a “poetry by men” category. Just, you know, an observation.

I skipped yoga today.

I skipped yoga today for the second week in a row. I’m bummed about it. Last week was because we were all recovering from varying levels of illness, but this week? I was just too tired. I’ve been sitting here wanting to write, but unable to pin the thoughts down because I’m too tired to reach up and grab at them.

Being really tired messes with the way I think, I’m finding. It’s messing with a lot of things, not just my energy levels. I’m starting to forget what it’s like to not be tired. I (really) love the baby stage, but now I’m remembering why I didn’t miss it when it was over last time. This isn’t lack-of-energy tiredness — it’s just plain old I-need-more-sleep.

Here are some ways I’m trying to combat my fatigue:

  • tea, not wine. This isn’t always easy for me, since I love both cabernet and indulgence, but drinking a cup of hot tea at night is better for my sleep than a glass of wine.
  • lavender oil. On the same note, I find that a few drops of lavender essential oil on my temples in the evening relaxes me and helps me fall asleep easier. It could be a placebo effect, but who cares? It’s the ritual of applying it that matters. It allows for a mental shift from day to evening to night.
  • water, water, water. When I’m forced out of my bed by an energetic toddler every morning, I reach for a giant glass of water to get me going. (Then I reach for coffee.) The exhaustion makes me crave sugar, too, and reaching for a glass of water first helps to blunt those edges. I still eat more chocolate than I really should, but life is short, so I don’t mind.
  • screen time curfew. Okay, this is new to me. I read a lot of books on my iPad’s kindle app, but it’s backlit, so reading at night can actually often have the opposite effect on me than I want it to. I’m cutting myself off from the iPad and computer after 9 p.m. I get a second wind of energy most nights, and I’m hoping that without screens in front of me, I can avoid that and talk myself into going to bed a little earlier. (This is why I also always have a physical book to read, too.)
  • accepting it. It’s a season. I’m tired right now. It’s all right. This is the yogi in me, breathing through the discomfort. This isn’t a permanent state, and accepting it instead of fighting it is the best way for me to keep my sanity. I’m letting things go (like organizing my closet), I’m being really slow about others (like folding laundry), and I’m accepting that some things just need to wait a while (like reading — and implementing — the Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up). And in the meantime, the yoga studio isn’t going anywhere.

I’m pretty confident that I won’t always be so tired, so really my aim here is to just make it through these months with as much sleep as possible and as many coping mechanisms as I can get. If you have any more suggestions, send them my way!

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This was my view today. Not bad for a sleepy stay-at-home Saturday!

1. Duplos.

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(Bonus: he’s learned how to smile for the camera. I LOVE IT.)

Will has finally reached the age where he can really play with duplos, and I love it. I was never a lego girl growing up, but I played with duplos for years. One of the really fun things about being the mom of an almost-preschooler is the play! I am not so much a get-on-the-floor-and-play kind of mom, but I am really enjoying Will’s imagination these days. Duplos especially. There’s something very soothing about stacking duplos and often when I’m putting them away at the end of the day I have to stop myself from building more duplo houses, towers, robots, and dumbbells.

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(You know, as one does.)

2. The above picture is indicative of another thing I’m totally into: getting up early. (Or, to be more honest, attempting to.) For a long time now I’ve been in the habit of sleeping until Will gets up, but I really prefer to be up, dressed, and somewhat caffeinated before jumping into the fray. This morning I put Anna back to bed in her own room after her 5:30 feeding so I could get some writing done before Will woke up. I didn’t get to much, but it’s a start. I am trying to make this a permanent habit.

3. Story Pirates. I just learned about Story Pirates and Will is hooked. This is a group that takes stories written by children and acts them out. My niece, Adeline, had one of her stories performed a few years ago. They have a podcast where they perform radio plays, and we’ve had it on for the last few days instead of music. It’s really fun to listen to and, although Will is not even three, I feel like it’s never too young to encourage writing and imagination in a young child.

4. This book I’m reading:

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I think I will write more about this book when I’m done with it, but so far it’s been … validating. I have always (always, always) felt a bit like a square peg in a world of round holes, but reading this book has helped me to feel like that’s not a character flaw.

In other news, the weather is like this outside:

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This is as cold as I can remember it being in 10 years of Virginia winters. Yikes.

… has been taken down by the stomach flu this week.

Will

Indulging in lots of popsicles and screen time.

Coupled with Anna’s four-month shots, this was kind of a long week. Not a bad one, necessarily, but tough. But I am starting to think most weeks these days are going to be just … tough. I told Steve tonight that despite the fact that Will is almost three, I still don’t think I’ve gotten the hang of this whole toddler thing.

Am I the only one who oftentimes finds herself engulfed in a tsunami of toddler emotion? I have to take an objective step back a lot of the time and remind myself that I don’t have to get sucked in to the toddler drama. It’s hard. I am also getting to know more and more of who Will is as a little person, not just as A Toddler. Of course, this is great, but like everything else it requires me to up my parenting game more and more to match his strengths and weaknesses. And I’m finding it’s hard to always be the role model I want to be. (For instance, screen time: I like to put limits on Will’s TV time. But it’s hard for me to model that when I’m always checking my phone!)

In other news, I’m still thinking a lot about writing. I am going to try to build in time every day to write, and it’ll have to be first thing in the morning before the kids are up, because 1. I can’t write while they’re awake, and 2. I’m generally too tired at night to write regularly. I’m not sure I’ll actually get much writing done every day, but I am going to at least start trying to prioritize it and see if I can get a regular writing practice off the ground again — one I can keep up indefinitely and weave back in to the fabric of my life. I’d reread Bird by Bird and On Writing, but I feel like they might just make me feel paralyzed by guilt. So I’ll just dive in and read them later this year once I’m actually, you know, really writing again.

And in other other news: I can tell I haven’t been to the gym in two months. My back is starting to hurt at the end of the day, what with all the baby-lugging and toddler-wrangling. My core is so weak! I go to a yoga class once a week, but obviously that’s not going to build my strength back. Thankfully flu season is on its way out (and we have already been visited by the stomach flu) so I’ll be able to drag the babies there more often going forward, and maybe do something about this mom pooch I’m sporting around my midsection. My reward will be a pair or two of Madewell jeans. I’m currently pining for these:

Yes, high rise flares. Be still my heart. These might be the jeans to break my new year’s resolution.

I’ve been thinking about writing a lot these days. Writing is something that comes so naturally to me that I don’t remember a time when I didn’t do it; of course, I often go through long periods of time when I don’t write at all. And I think I suffer for it. I go through my days with essays half-formed in my mind, lines of dialogue with no one to speak them, and long, tangled strings of thought that can’t be unraveled without grammar, so they stay tangled up for far too long. I started writing as soon as I could hold a crayon and I sometimes cringe thinking of what Stephen King (not to mention my seventeen-year-old self!) would think if they knew how I squander my gift.

I’ve realized what the problem is, what it has been for a very long time. It’s this: writing is a very time-consuming hobby and I don’t prioritize it. I don’t prioritize it because it is time-consuming, and I also don’t prioritize it because deep down I wonder if it’s worth the time I need to spend on it.

So let’s unpack that some:

1. Writing is time-consuming. It is for me, anyway. When I was in high school my grades suffered because all I wanted to do was write novels. When I was in college I spent an entire semester barely scraping by in my classes and seeing friends only when I really needed to, because all I wanted to do was write. (It was my happiest semester, by the way.) When I write, especially when I write fiction, it is all-consuming. It was okay for me to eschew “real life” when I was 22; it’s less okay for me to do it at 35, now that I have a job, a home, two children, and a marriage. I truly don’t know how to balance writing with the rest of my life, and it’s why I haven’t taken my writing seriously in the last five or ten years. I don’t know how to write like a grown-up.

2. I feel like I can’t justify it. Isn’t that weird? I just realized this. The reason I don’t actually sit down and make writing a priority in my life is that I feel like I can’t justify doing so, spending so much time and effort on a hobby that … what, isn’t lucrative? Is pointless? What? I highly doubt I will ever publish (if statistics are to be believed), so … what’s the point of writing a novel, then? That’s the heart of the matter: is the joy of writing enough?

When I had that realization I thought of that Eric Liddell quote: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

Well, I believe that God also made me for a purpose, but he also made me a good writer. And when I write I feel his pleasure. (she said a little indignantly.)

It’s true. When I write I get into a flow state that I can’t achieve anywhere else in my life. Believe me, I’ve tried. Yoga and baking are the only other things that even come close to competing with how much I love to write, and they are a distant, distant second and third. Time falls away in great chunks and I am utterly transported and transfixed.

But I have this mental roadblock of feeling like because it will never get me anywhere, so to speak, the time I spend on writing is ultimately pointless. How awful that is! But I can’t disregard how hard it is for me to achieve balance in my life when I write. When I’m working on something that I really love, it is my whole world. My whole, happy world. It feels weird and irresponsible to prioritize something that takes me away from the world to the extent that writing does, but at the same time, not writing makes me feel like I am missing a limb, or more accurately, one of my senses.

I have been walking around missing my sense of writing for a really long time. So long that I can almost convince myself that it was never really there to begin with.

I want to arrange my life so that I can prioritize writing again, but to organize my whole life around a hobby feels so self-indulgent. That is where I keep getting stuck. But I know I don’t want to live without my sense of writing for the rest of my life. What a waste.

An ongoing goal of mine over the last few years has been the hoary old cliche of getting organized. I am not by nature a particularly organized person, but I’ve come to learn that I value (and really, need) order and structure in order to feel relaxed. It’s kind of a tough combination to need organization but to actually be clueless about (and, to be honest, pretty bad at) real organization. But anyway, one inadvertent side effect of these ongoing efforts has been to reduce my decision fatigue.

Decision fatigue is basically the stress one feels at having too many choices. (As an aside, I try to reduce the amount decision fatigue Will experiences by … not always giving him choices. I know that is antithetical to a lot of modern parenting advice, but I think it helps. More on that another time.) Where I used to stress about what to make for dinner, I now can relax, because I meal plan. Where I used to feel paralysis shopping for makeup and personal care products, I can now just go in and out of the store with what I need, because I buy (or make!) the same things every time. I’m trying to automate things. Now it’s happening to my wardrobe.

Every day I wear one of two outfits. They consist of “home clothes” and “people clothes”.

Home clothes: Old Navy yoga pants, a nursing tank, and a Lululemon scuba hoodie. (Yes, I spent like $100 on a hoodie, and I felt kind of ridiculous doing it, but it was worth every single penny. It’s in the wash right now and I miss it.) I put this on when I get up in the morning and I am dressed for the day. Stacy London might be a little horrified, but I wear this grocery shopping, to the library, or to take Will to preschool. I actually am a little horrified by that myself, but look, they’re not pajamas.

People clothes: leggings, a nursing tank, a long flowy cardigan, a circle scarf, and boots. I wear this 90% of the time when I’m out in public or at church. Next time you see me, make note. I will be wearing some version of this outfit.

My personal uniform didn’t come about because I was tired of choosing something to wear every day, per se; it started out of necessity. After having Anna, I became so discouraged and frustrated not being able to wear “real clothes” that it really started to get me down. I found I was a lot more comfortable (physically and mentally) when I wore leggings and flowy cardigans instead of trying to force myself into the biggest pair of jeans I own. So one day I decided to just wear the same thing every day, more or less. It was a decision borne out of desperation, but it made me feel kind of empowered.

Empowered how? Well, I feel good in what I wear. So that’s a plus. I don’t have to spend a lot of time deciding what to put on every day. The biggest decision is which scarf to wear. Plus, I feel like myself. I actually really like clothes and fashion, but there’s something to be said for knowing what works for you and having a signature look.

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The ultimate sweater. You can’t see my surroundings here, but this is also the ultimate bathroom.

Another bonus is that when I can fit back into my real clothes again, I can toss all of the things that don’t fit into this paradigm. When I go shopping I can do the same thing. It’s made life so much easier, and frees me up to be able to focus on and think about other things. I facetiously said that my new year’s resolution was to wear leggings or yoga pants every day, but I was only half facetious. Now my only problem is to figure out a warm weather equivalent! Bring on the maxi dresses!

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