cleaning up the mess

I still feel like being in time out, so I've decided to phone it in today and attempt to distract you with some changes I made to the site a little while ago. It's nothing fancy, but it's maybe a little less ugly. Have you seen the new pages? What do you think? Let me know if the ads are totally annoying.

Please take note, any budding designers looking to offer pro bono redesigns to build their portfolios. ha!


a time-out

Dear friends, 

I am taking a moment to do a little bit of pre-festivities wallowing...I mean, self-care. If all goes according to plan, I'll be back up and running by Friday.

Until then, here's Emily!

-- Ashley

After great pain a formal feeling comes--
The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs;
The stiff Heart questions--was it He that bore?
And yesterday--or centuries before? The feet, mechanical, go round
A wooden way
Of ground, or air, or ought,
Regardless grown,
A quartz contentment, like a stone.
This is the hour of lead
Remembered if outlived,
As freezing persons recollect the snow--
First chill, then stupor, then the letting go.

Emily Dickinson


the night i saved a baby and met my son

There's a story I don't think I've ever shared here, and it's a good one.

Last summer, I traveled to Israel with some dear friends from my (then) church. It was a hugely significant trip for me, and I am still learning from it, a full year and a half later.

To get to Israel, we flew from Denver to JFK and then took a looooooong flight on a huuuuuge jet to Tel Aviv. I was 14 or maybe 15 weeks pregnant at the time - barely into the second trimester and eager for the "glory days" when the morning (all day) sickness supposedly ended. My seat on the airplane was in a prime location - an aisle seat on the side bank of seats, in the front row of a major section on the plane in the middle-ish toward the front. All the teenagers were in the back. Being at the front of this plane section, I was near the "kitchen" where the food and water were, there was a TV screen pretty close by, and just a couple rows up was a standing area, which was particularly useful given my orders to get up and move every hour.

In the row of seats across the aisle and about 8 inches behind me was a couple traveling with their baby. Their row was the front of that section, and they had a wall in front of them instead of a row of seats. There was one of those bassinet things attached to the wall, and that's where the baby spent some time. He was an older baby and ridiculously cute, with curly blond hair. This couple appeared to be conservative Jews, but I don't think they were the ultra-orthodox - and there were quite a few of those on our flight. She wore a long skirt and he had on a yarmulke. I never heard them talking well enough to hear whether they spoke English or Hebrew.

This loooong flight was overnight. Great for people who are able to sleep on planes. Maybe not so great for pregnant ladies who had to get up and move every hour. At one point I thought I was the only person awake on this plane full of hundreds of people. Shortly after thinking that, I heard a little stir. The baby, who was not very far from me, had been asleep in the bassinet. He wiggled his feet, turned his head, and then threw off the blankets with a little baby grunt. (Remind you of anyone?) He then rustled around for a little bit and decided to sit up. That was when I first saw that adorable, infuriating thing older babies do: they bob their heads around trying to wake up when they are so sleepy they can't keep their eyes open. I kept thinking he would go back to sleep, silly me, but he didn't. Then I thought surely one of his parents would take care of him, but I turned and saw they were both asleep. The baby started to pull up on the side of the basket like he wanted to climb out, and that signaled bad news. I tapped the dad on the knee - he was the parent closest to me - and when he looked at me all startled and disgruntled, I pointed at the baby and he understood. He snagged the little boy and then smiled thanks at me.

When my travel group assembled at the airport in Tel Aviv, I told the story of how I "saved a baby" on my flight while everyone else just slept. There's something I didn't tell, though.

Several hours into the overnight portion of the flight, I started to get pretty uncomfortable. I contorted myself into yet another odd position - this time with one foot up on the seat somehow. I got comfortable and relaxed for a moment. Then I felt it. Him.

Three tiny bumps in rapid succession, as though someone were tapping me on the shoulder, but this was from the inside and somewhere near my belly button.

At first, I told myself it was gas because that's what everyone says they think their first baby kick is. Just 14 weeks into my first pregnancy, I knew it was too soon to feel the baby move. But as I sat there and thought about that weird feeling some more, it became clear that I'd just felt my baby. It was a distinct tapping feeling, unlike anything I'd ever felt before. I was so completely happy at that moment - how exciting! I wanted to tell everyone, and at the same time I didn't want to share my little secret with anybody. (The fact that every other person on this plane was asleep made it easy to go with not sharing.)

And that, my friends, is what happened the night I saved a baby and met my son.


Thanksgiving Week: what are your plans?

Maybe you're hosting relatives.

Or maybe you're the one traveling somewhere.

Maybe you don't have plans to visit family - you're an "orphan" for the holiday. Have you found an invitation somewhere? If not, and you're local, you're welcome at my table.

Or maybe you have to work tomorrow. If so, I am inclined to offer you my condolences, but maybe working on Thanksgiving isn't such a bad thing for you. Better tips or overtime pay?

Tomorrow is Gabriel's first Thanksgiving. Now that he's starting to be interested in grown-up foods, he's in for a real treat. And hey, he's sporting two new teeth for the event!

For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly grateful. 


Thanksgiving Week: My Favorite Hallmark Movie of the Holidays So Far

Confession: I've been watching Christmas movies since some point in late October.

In my past life, this behavior would have been shunned. In this current life, however, I need all the cheer I can get, and Hallmark is doing its part!

I have a few staple goofy movies to try to watch every year. My all-time favorite is an odd Mimi Rogers flick called the Christmas List. It is...awesome...in that bizarrely bad Christmas movie sort of way.

Christmas movies, as it turns out, have experienced a boom in recent years unlike anything I have ever seen, and I managed to miss out on it because we didn't have cable for the longest time. But one of the perks of my current living situation is that I have access to cable again! Not only does this mean I can watch all the SportsCenter I want, but I have Christmas movies out the wazoo.

In an interesting turn of events, the Hallmark Channel has made a Thanksgiving movie. I'm sure there are Thanksgiving movies out there, but I hadn't really seen any other than the cartoon ones from childhood. Garfield and Charlie Brown and all that.

This movie is called Love at the Thanksgiving Day Parade. And oh my stars, this movie is so stinkin' cute. Predictable as any Hallmark love story, but so sweet. I loved the characters, it was CLEAN and LIGHT-HEARTED and FAMILY-FRIENDLY, and the acting was even pretty decent. It's about a woman who leads the planning for Chicago's Thanksgiving parade. I don't know if it's still running, but if it is, and you have a spare evening to spend cuddled up under a quilt with the fam, I'd recommend it.

So. Stinkin. Cute.


a new thanksgiving tradition

Around this time last year, I spent a few weeks poking around to find a cornucopia. I found this awesome one (that I still love and am trying to figure out how to rip off) on Etsy, but with a baby on the way I figured it made more sense to find something a little more economical. I ended up finding one at a craft store, probably Michael's, on sale.

Cornucopias are one of the traditional images of Thanksgiving, representing overflowing bounty and, therefore, the many blessings we've received. Lots of families have their own Thanksgiving traditions, but I wanted to start one of my own.

My idea: at some point between its placement on the table and sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner, each family member would put something in the basket that represents one thing they are particularly grateful for from the past year. Last year, I put baby socks in the basket. It would be pretty easy as a mom to put something Gabriel-related in there every year, so this year I'm branching out.

If you had a tradition like this in your family, what might you put in it this year?


on spouses and getting needs met

One of the ongoing conversations I had with my husband in our final months "together" was a discussion of needs, whether and how they were being met, and what role they should play in his decisions about our future. It probably goes without saying that we brought different opinions to that discussion, and it also goes without saying that we never got on the same page.

I've recommended the Assume Love blog here before, and I couldn't recommend it more highly to anyone who is interested in doing the hard work of creating, or maintaining, a healthy and loving marriage relationship. The author of the blog, Patty Newbold, has helped me continue understanding my own needs and the role that they play in my relationships, marital and otherwise, even after my own marriage ended. In short, she maintains that a person's needs are that person's responsibility to meet, and a spouse could and maybe should do what he or she can to help out, but ultimately it is not that spouse's responsibility; I couldn't agree more.

Something Patty wrote recently about needs and marriages resonated with me. It probably would have struck me any time, but I ended up reading this particular post on a "low" day when I was too busy and depressed to get anything accomplished but still managed to find the time to wallow and cry a little bit. I thought I'd share it with you (emphasis mine).

Getting unmarried does not get your needs met. Your needs are your own, whether you are married or not, and you deal with them or not. Getting unmarried does not make things more fair. It just takes away the source of help that deludes you into thinking you deserve less of a burden than an unmarried parent. Getting unmarried does not make you feel any less unloved or unappreciated. It only accentuates these feelings.

There is some context in the rest of the post that is worth reading, if you're inclined. I would recommend doing so.

Personal growth is hard, especially when it means accepting things about yourself that are maybe not so acceptable. It's easier to abdicate your personal responsibility to get your own needs met and convince yourself that you'll be better off without this person you used to love. But that selfish thought process is nothing but destructive. A marriage can't survive supreme selfishness; mine is one of millions to tell that story.

Ultimately, there's a better way. Patty is one of those beacons who is helping people find it.

What do you think? Should spouses be accountable for meeting the needs of each other? If so, is divorce an appropriate response? 


progress report: grey cabled cardigan

I just downloaded the blogger app for my iPhone and I thought this would be a good opportunity to test it out.

Here's a picture of the little gray cardigan that I'm in the process of knitting for Gabriel. It's knitted from the top down with raglan sleeves. Once I finish knitting the body, I'll add long sleeves. I'll probably do about three more inches on the body before adding a little hem.

I carry this little project with me in my purse to pull out when I have a few minutes here and there. I also worked on it during Adult Education at church the other day and I only got a couple of hairy eyeballs. I'd really like to have it done by Thanksgiving, which would be easy for a normal knitter but for a single mom of a baby may be a little ambitious. We'll see!

Gabriel's Sunnyside Cardigan


rosemond on toys

I do a lot of reading books about parenting, education, lifestyle, discipline, etc. (The term "a lot" is relative, of course; last year I read more than 70 books and this year I might read as many as 10.)

I'm looking for parenting and lifestyle methods that make sense for my little family and resonate with my personal values. I tend not to do things conventionally anyway, so a lot of what I'm considering and incorporating may be considered "alternative" to some, including some folks in my family. And what's a blog for if not to expound on one's inner thought life?

With that, I bring you one piece of my ongoing development as a parent. The advice-giver whose advice I'll share today is John Rosemond. Rosemond is no-nonsense and old-school. The book I just finished is the original 6 Point Plan, first published in like 1990 or something. The cover is really hilarious. There are more recent editions that are maybe helpful, but I kind of like the style of self-help from the late 80s and early 90s. It's so...convinced of itself. Anyway.

Here's an excerpt on toys that does a good summation of my own inclinations toward Gabriel's toy horde:

All truly creative toys have one characteristic in common: They encourage and enable children to perform what are called "transformations." A child performs a transformation whenever he uses something, anything, to represent something else. For instance, when a child takes a pinecone and sets it upright on the ground and calls it a tree, that's a transformation. Transformations are the essence of fantasy, which is, in turn, the essence of play. In a child's hands, an empty box becomes a boat, a car, a table, or anything else he wills it to be. A child can also transform himself into anyone he wants to be - Tarzan, Jane, or the neighborhood grocer. If a toy aids a child in making transformations, then it is well-worth the money spent on it, not to mention the time the child spends playing with it.

Toys which encourage transformations include creative materials such as clay, fingerpaints, and crayons. inside, there's the everyday household stuff of empty oatmeal cartons, Popsicle sticks, spoons, shoeboxes, empty spools of thread, straws, paper bags, buttons, pots and pans, and empty toilet paper rolls.
In addition to being safe, a good toy embodies four qualities: 
- First, it presents a wide range of creative possibilities. It is capable of being many things, as defined by the child's imagination, rather than one thing, as defined by the manufacturer. In other words, it enables transformations.
- Second, it encourages manipulation. It can be taken apart and put together in various ways. Toys of this kind hold a child's interest because they stimulate creative behavior. 
- Third, it's age-appropriate. You don't give a rubber duck to a ten-year-old any more than you give an electric train to a two-year-old....
- Fourth, it's durable. It will withstand a lot of abuse. 

Rosemond includes things like LEGO, Lincoln Logs, and Erector as good toys. Also things like plain old dolls (not ones that cry and poop and whatever), wooden blocks, and musical instruments are good. Most anything you'll find in a "natural toys catalogue" these days would constitute a "good" toy by my definition, though there are certainly some things I prefer over others.

It's nice to have this framework to consider when looking for toys for Gabriel, and the specific "rule" about transformations. I get really taken by cool things like toy wooden push-reel mowers (instead of the plastic bubble mower) - it's wooden and natural and it even emulates a reel mower like the one I have, so it reflects reality. But it's a mower and there isn't much room for it to become something else, whereas the wooden baby walker wagon I have my eyes on could play loads of different roles for playing (a car, a wagon, a cart, a lawn mower, who knows what else). So I took the wooden reel toy off the wish list.

Rosemond also advocates having not-too-many toys, saying that clearing out the clutter and the visual noise makes play more possible. This sits well with both my desires for simplicity and my small budget. I don't want Gabriel growing up with a ton of stuff. I want him to have a "make it do" kind of childhood, where anything can become anything else and his imagination runs wild.

As I make my way through more books, I will share some thoughts. Up next is probably going to be a book on infant Montessori stuff. Did I just give you parenting whiplash? Oops...

Have you heard of John Rosemond? Whose parenting advice has meant the most to you? What was your favorite toy?


halloween recap

Gabriel got a lot of opportunities to practice being a turtle over the past few days.

First up, the Saturday before Halloween we went to the farmers market in Chapel Hill for their harvest festival. I somehow managed to miss the costume parade (which occurred in the corner of a parking lot) but we didn't miss the Raging Grannies singing such gems as "Food Not Bombs" and "Go Vote," the farmer potluck where we tasted all sorts of yummies put together by the vendors, and the alpaca farmers who I hadn't met yet and who I knew would appreciate his costume.

The next day, Gabriel and I went to a newcomers reception at the church. It was a lot of fun - there was a good crowd, and Gabriel was a little angel as usual (see what I did there?). He's getting quite the reputation around there. It's so cool to see people say "Gabriel's here!" and smile when we walk into a room. Nevermind the fact that nobody says "Ashley's here!"

After the reception we went downstairs and checked out the "Carnifall" being put on by the youth group. It looked like a lot of fun...for kids maybe 4 and up. No biggie - we played with miniature pumpkins and watched the bigger kids go crazy on sugar and cookies for a few minutes.

The next festivities didn't occur until the day of Halloween. That morning was the bible study for young mothers. (Despite the fact that I am nearly 30, I count myself as a young mother. I dare you to challenge me.) By the time 5pm rolled around, Gabriel basically had not napped all day. I took him outside for some photos and then made a Hail Mary-esque attempt at getting him to nap and wake up in time to make the costume contest at the local mall.

Finally, we had BooFest, the neighborhood Halloween party of sorts. BooFest was originally scheduled to take place the Saturday before Halloween, but then-hurricane Sandy had other ideas and the event was postponed. It was pretty fun, though probably a little more interesting for bigger kids who could participate in the activities - corn hole, relay races, cupcake walks, etc. There was a pumpkin decorating contest, which folks entered by bringing their pumpkins from home. The kid winner was a regular pumpkin that had carved-out windows and was painted white to look like Cinderella's carriage. It was complete with some Barbie horses and glitter everywhere. Totally legit. We had hotdogs, too - there's just something about this time of year that makes me need a hotdog. Gabriel had a little bite of chocolate cupcake, but he seemed more interested in smearing it all over his face than in actually eating it.

All in all, it was a great end to the month of October and introduction to fall. Up next, turkey!


inventing our way through sleep training, part 3

Part 1

My boy is a champion fighter when it comes to combating the Sandman. Some days I am reduced to tears by his ability to avoid sleeping. Those are not my best days. So I started making up my own way to sleep train him. 

If it is clearly time for baby to nap, or it is bedtime, I lay him down and encourage him to sleep. Usually I try to get away with not nursing him, but usually he wants to nurse. I say "it's time for sleeping" and I lie down next to him, demonstrating sleepiness (because everyone knows I'm exhausted and ready for a nap 24/7). He usually humors me and plays along, unless I break The Rules.

He will then begin a series of fake-outs. There is no way to predict how many fake-outs he is planning. A fake-out is when he is, by all appearances, about to pass the heck out. His eyes roll back, his cheeks get chubby, and he lays his head down on the mattress and gets still. Then, FAKE OUT! He rolls over and pushes himself into sitting, usually with eyes so heavy they won't open at first. He bobs his head while he "comes to" and gets his bearing (this is simultaneously the most adorable and most exasperating thing I see all day) and then takes off toward nearest interesting thing.

After fake-out #1, I say "it's time for sleeping" again and lay him back down. Sometimes he plays along again ("oh, right, I guess I'm a little sleepy, maybe I'll have a nap") and sometimes he immediately pushes up. Most of the time, I will then say "Gabriel, if you're going to play right now, you may play in your playpen" and I plunk him in the playpen, which is loaded with his favorite toys. Sometimes he is thrilled by this, and sometimes not. I then go about my business - picking up the room, checking email, whatever.

He plays contentedly (or not) and then, when he's tired again, he starts fussing. I usually wait until he's single-mindedly, determinedly fussing (release some of that energy, boy!!), and then I pick him up and start the whole "it's time for sleep" thing again. 

Eventually, I end up winning. 

I am planning to read the No Cry Sleep Solution once I get my hands on a library copy, to see some other suggestions. In the meantime, this is what we're doing. 

I don't really know if it's making any difference in his sleep associations or the amount of sleep he's getting or the time it takes to get him there, but I feel much less helpless in the the not-sleeping situation, and I'm able to start getting some things done. That said, I worry a lot that I'm "doing it wrong." I fear I'm training him to see the playpen as somewhere we DON'T sleep, and I'm a little worried about how that will translate if and when I move him to a crib. I also haven't come up with a solution for getting him to sleep past my alarm, but my hope is that maybe, as he gets more and better sleep, he will start to sleep longer in the mornings- one of those "the more he sleeps, the more he sleeps" notions. I'm also hoping that the later sunrises might work in my favor.