listing and listening: how to boost creativity, productivity, and sanity (i hope)

As much as I don't like Facebook, sometimes it can be good for something. A post by Stephanie St. Claire about starting and growing your small business recently went viral, and as a result of someone posting it on Facebook, I saw it. The post was great, with the kind of encouragement I needed at the time and a vibe that I really liked. So I read more.

As I tumbled down the blissbombed.com rabbit hole, I came across this post about daily list-making for creativity and problem solving. Daily lists? I could totally do that! I love lists! And I can still count to ten!

I've been trying it for a few days now. Most of my lists have been pretty lame so far, but there are a couple that I like. One is titled "what would make my life work better, right now?" and I see things that I really probably need to pay attention to -- and things that are within reach. One is called "ways I can keep my toddler occupied without involving a screen." The effectiveness of these ideas will surely be determined more by his whims than by the creativity of the ideas, BUT, at the very least I have some ideas to burn through next time I plan to shower without an assistant. (I'm beginning to think I should have made numbers 1-7 "give him an empty laundry hamper," because homeboy is really digging the mesh foldy/bendy laundry hampers right now.)

Steph first got the idea from James Altucher, another blogger I read. I recently bought his book (it's at $1.99 on Amazon) but I haven't had the chance to read it yet.

All in all, I like this list idea so far. I haven't seen a whole lot of actual fruit from it yet, but the problem solving feels good, regardless of whether any actual problems have been solved just yet.

What do you think about this idea? Are you a list maker?


confessions of a christmas music purist

I have been listening to Christmas music for a week now.

There. I said it.

I used to be one of those hardcore "no Christmas music until Thanksgiving is over" people. MAYBE Christmas music could be playing while we cleaned up the meal. MAYBE. But Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and it bugged me that it would get "overlooked" by Christmas hype.

Also, I can be kind of rigid.

I was sort of lacking in the Christmas cheer last year. It all kind of snuck up on me and all of a sudden it was like December 5 and I hadn't even thought about Christmas. It's fine -- I was a little busy last year. But this year, I am really getting in the mood. I am eagerly awaiting Advent at church, and all the crunchy leaves and chilly weather have me ready to celebrate something. I feel, dare I say it, festive. As festive as a humbugger can get, anyway.

So that's why I've been listening to Christmas music for a week. Thanksgiving is still my favorite holiday, but I think it's ok to have it share some space with Christmas this year. It's not like I am NOT going to celebrate Thanksgiving and it's not like it means any less to me just because I am hearing Christmas tunes beforehand.


how to work at home with a toddler (or a baby!) (or a preeschooler!)

I've been a work-at-home mom since the day my self-proclaimed maternity leave ended, around the time Gabriel was 3 months old or so. I really began working for myself in earnest in June of that year, when he was about 6 months old. It's been a year and a half of solid work-at-home-mamaness.

I have done a lot of things wrong and a lot of things bootlegged, but I finally feel like I am actually getting a handle on this home-all-day-with-him situation. And what it really boils down to, for me, as a single mom who must work, who has a toddler, who has no regular childcare, is awareness. Well, awareness and priorities.

The single most effective thing I have found for working at home with my toddler (thus far) is to divide my tasks into "awake tasks" and "asleep tasks." And when I talk about "work" or "tasks," I am talking about everything that must be done. Editing jobs. Dishes. Writing. Packing and shipping for the family business. Laundry-folding. Showering. Even TV-watching. Anything that is done at home and is not "reading a book for pleasure" (as if that ever happens) or "doing whatever Gabriel wants to do" is considered work.

I have learned, the hard way, what kinds of work I can do when he's awake and what I can only do when he's asleep. These days, I get a two-hour nap and a post-bedtime block of time and that's about it, so I've really got to make the most of the time that he's asleep -- it's too limited to waste on things I can do at other times.

Examples of sleep work include most of the writing and editing jobs that I have, especially those that pay by the hour rather than the project. Jobs that don't pay by the hour are easier to fit into the 5- and 10-minute chunks of time I sometimes get throughout the day, but it's nearly impossible to keep track of my time while doing that, which is why I'm such a fan of project-based fees rather than hourly fees. Other sleep work? Folding and putting away the laundry. I have a helper who likes to remind me that laundry needs to be shaken and tossed on the floor, especially if it is stacked too neatly.

The difficult thing for me has been resigning myself to not doing the awake work that need to be done, if he's already gone to bed. That 9pm-1am (or whenever I get too tired to do quality work) stretch is my best shot at real productivity in any given day, and I just can't justify sacrificing it to unloading the dishwasher and wiping down the bathroom mirror, no matter how much I want that other stuff to get done.

Some days -- lots of days -- there's just too much to get done. There's almost never time left over to do the things that are really gratifying but not "necessary" -- like knitting, and blogging, and having my friends over as frequently as I'd like. But having this basic guideline has helped me feel like I am at least making good choices about the things I manage to do when given the opportunity.

What's one of your best productivity tips?


insoles and beyond giveaway

Insolesandbeyond.com is sponsoring a great giveaway over at Messy Wife, Blessed Life.

Mandi, who writes the Messy Wife blog, is one of my favorite voices on the internet and I for one am super stoked to partner with her on this venture.

The prizes are pretty substantial and there are two winners. One winner gets a $50 store credit, and the other gets $25. Head on over to the giveaway page to enter, and you can keep entering every day for more chances to win!

If you are so inclined, I'd also love it if you liked our Facebook page (despite my feelings toward Facebook) and if you followed us on Twitter. (No hard feelings toward Twitter yet, but there's still plenty of time.) We're also taking signups on the homepage for our Insoles and Beyond Newsletter, which yours truly will be speerheading so I wouldn't be sad if you signed up for that, too.

I've been wearing insoles since I was about 16, and I really believe in the product. If you have any questions about what we sell, please feel free to ask me!


bah humbug! or, all these daily thanks on facebook are getting on my nerves

I am maybe a cynic or maybe a scrooge or maybe a bitter old woman or maybe I just really need a nap. No matter what it is, I am going to come right out and say that all of these daily thanks posts all over my Facebook feed are really super annoying.*

If it's not rhapsodies about wonderful husbands and perfect kids, it's hooray minivans and yay takeout. Seriously? I don't know. Some people -- lots of people -- really get a kick out of everybody being overtly thankful for all the wonderful things in their lives. You have a perfectly behaved dog? Hey, me too! And your $70-a-cut hair stylist is the best? I SO love my cut-and-colors with highlights and lowlights every six weeks on the nose, afforded to me by my previously mentioned perfect husband the huge paychecks! Hey, while we're celebrating our collective awesomeness, which Chinese restaurant delivery service are you most grateful for?

Me, I am exceedingly grateful for the days that I'm able to finish washing my week-old dishes in a rush before my sick, cranky, runny-nosed toddler starts throwing rocks at the dog again.

But because it's the season for gratitude and I am all about lists, I thought I'd mention a few of the things I'm grateful for right here, instead of clogging up everyone's rainbows-and-sparkles-athon.

- I'm thankful that all my lipsticks were recently deemed old enough to throw out without hesitation, before the aforementioned toddler found them and decided to make permanent art on the walls.
- I'm thankful that there's no room in my budget for Starbucks, which means I never have to deal with lines of caffeine-addicted people and baristas who either won't look you in the eye or won't stop singing (or both).
- I'm thankful that two of my closest friends are non-dairy and vegetarian, respectively, because that means I don't have to be careful about how much cheese I pile on when one comes over and I get all the taco meat when the other one does.
- I'm thankful that my Ikea couch slipcover is washable, because when everything is covered in pee, I at least have the amusement of seeing a naked toddler atop a naked sofa.
- I'm thankful that you and I are still friends, despite the fact that I am a terrible person who is complaining about people being happy.

What's on your list, besides the obvious?

*I want to be really super clear right up front that I am not actually talking about any specific friend or collection of friends here. There are so many of these posts flooding my news feed that my eyes glaze over and I don't even pay attention to the content or the post-er. So really, none of this is about you, person-I-probably-just-offended. 


all saints, sick babies, and finding a thin place in your own home

This past Sunday, my church celebrated All Saints Day. To be more specific, we held a Solemn Holy Eucharist for the Feast of All Saints. It was a very "high church" service -- possibly the most I've ever experienced. There was incense, pretty much the whole service was chanted, and it was really, really beautiful all the way around. Of course, I'm into that stuff -- worship that feels like worship of the God of the universe.

On my way home, I got a call saying that a certain 6-month-old loved one was being taken to the pediatric ER at UNC Hospitals. The baby was diagnosed with an easily treated pneumonia and (a long wait later) she was admitted to the hospital for an anticipated couple of overnights for observation. As we talked through logistics, it became obvious that I needed to stay the first night with the mom and baby. We settled in, another family member brought some provisions, and we proceeded to do the best we could to take care of ourselves and the miserable but still feisty little one.

After a long night came a bright morning with good news, and I came back home to my own little one. I was exhausted, and he is still recovering from the time change, meaning nap time wasn't too far away. We piled onto my bed and had a transcendent time of giggling, tickling, dancing, and generally enjoying each other's company to the likes of Abba, Boston, and other music I'd loaded on my recently rediscovered college ipod. After having a tough, very full day of trying not to ask myself what I would do if it were Gabriel being hospitalized, it was restorative to have that kind of connection time with my boy. As we goofed off, I kept getting whiffs of something musky and sweet.

It took a while for me to figure out what was going on. But it turns out that in my haste to get to the hospital, I had just tossed my church clothes onto the (unmade) bed, and these clothes still smelled of the church incense. Every time we moved the covers, a new bit of fragrance rose up.

The sermon yesterday talked about thin places, and how sometimes people can be thin places for each other: when we do something that brings someone face to face with God, we can become a thin place. I'm not really on board with this concept -- I think a thin place is a place, after all, and one that offers a consistent and repeated experience of closeness to the divine (as opposed to a one-time event). But there are very real moments when God, maybe through the Holy Spirit, finds us. Maybe it's in a place. Maybe it's through a memory. Maybe it's a conversation with or an act by someone else. And in those moments, we are within arm's reach of God, being touched and ministered to and reached, maybe even healed.

I don't know the theological reasons for having incense at church when there's something death-related to be reminded of, but it seems to be a theme. But there's something about a solemn remembrance of those who have gone before that, of course, reminds me of my own mortality. And thanks to a full year at this church with its reverence its tradition and its deeply moving prayers, my sensory links between and among remembrance and incense and worship are now well-formed.

So as I sat there on my bed with my happy toddler, after a long hospital night caring for a sick baby and her very tired mama, getting lost in my own fight against some very vivid "what if" fears of my own, I kept catching this fragrance -- of hope, of death, of worship, maybe even of God. And in those moments, God found me.


pope francis on ideology and faith

In a recent homily, Pope Francis said a few things that kind of spoke to me. The whole sermon is really interesting, but this quote grabbed me. 

“The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought…"

You can read the rest here.


app i love: ibotta

In my never-ending money-saving endeavors, I've tried a few different things. I never really got into the whole app thing when it comes to grocery shopping (or anything else), but a friend turned me on to this new app called Ibotta. (If I've got the pronunciation right, it should sound like "I bought a")

I like the Ibotta app because it deals in actual money that I can earn really easily and then redeem REALLY easily and quickly. It's all done on my smartphone. To date, I've picked up almost $25 extra toward my food budget buying things that I either would be buying anyway or would be really interested in trying.

If you get super excited about it, the way I did, you can earn a cool $15 or more in your first two weeks of playing along. That right there was worth the approximately 10 minutes it took to load the app, load the coupons, and submit my receipts. It's not a high maintenance process, but there are guidelines to follow. Bottom line is, it's really easy to use. And have I mentioned that it pays out real money?

In the beginning, I was a total skeptic because I don't have time to deal with most things like this. BUT, I've continued to use the app -- for about a month now -- and I am really happy with it. I don't have time for fussy apps and weird coupons and odd rules, and I don't get any of that with Ibotta. So I figured it was time to spread the word.

Ibotta is not the next big thing to make you rich or anything like that, but if you're willing to put a tiny bit of effort into it for just a couple of trips to the grocery store in back-to-back weeks, the first payout (a minimum of 10 actual dollars transferred to your Paypal account, with no fees removed) would probably make it worth your while. It is probably my second-favorite "online money thing," behind my beloved Swagbucks.

Note: The links above are my affiliate link. I didn't get compensated to write this post, but I do get compensated if a few of you sign up using my affiliate link.


fortification and the mom struggling to feed a toddler

When I first had my baby, I planned to nurse him exclusively for at least six months and to start "baby-led weaning" at that point. That meant I was going to start offering him regular foods to see what he took to and what he didn't like. None of this baby food nonsense for me, and the baby foods I WOULD give him would be hand-made by me, from whole, organic ingredients! And then my plan was to do a clean, all-organic, mostly whole foods diet. His grains would be whole grains. His sweeteners would be natural sweeteners, not the white refined stuff that we're all addicted to. So what if the vast majority of my budget was going toward housing and grocery bills. It's his health! Health is the foundation of life! This is critical stuff!

Enter: reality

My plan worked for a while. Sort of. My kid was one of those kids who is reluctant to give up the boob and start with the real food, so it wasn't until he was about 11 months old that he would get any significant amount of nutrition from food rather than milk. We did well combining eating and nursing, though I did end up getting organic baby food as a concession.

It took me more than a year to come to terms with the fact that my plan just wouldn't work. Not with this kid, and not in this situation. I was hitting up against severe constrictions that made it impossible to feed Gabriel the way I wanted. I simply didn't have the spare time to make his food. I didn't have the funds to buy everything organic. I constantly had to make choices between making his food and earning his money. Eventually I just resolved to make extra food whenever I did have the time, and otherwise to feed him my version of "convenience" foods, like pre-made applesauce pouches, cut up fruit and vegetables, and frozen peas. I'd also give him the organic crackers and puffs when I could get them. (So much for no refined grains!)

There was the complicating factor of him being allergic to dairy, which is a major source of fats, calcium, and protein for most kids. One thing led to another, and it became clear that he needed to be getting more calories. I went through an arduous phase of "trying harder," wherein I overdosed on reading materials and lost a lot of income -- and therefore food-buying power. Eventually I had to accept the fact that this was not going to happen the way I wanted it to happen. It became more important that he get enough to eat, no matter what, than that he never have fried foods, never have white sugars, never drink juice unless I juice it myself from fresh organic produce. It just was. not. happening.

So I let go of my expectations of the perfect diet. I stopped comparing myself to the mommy bloggers who have been foodies their entire lives, have nutrition degrees, have their own organic gardens and access to organic farmers and blogs that give them food budgets that were bigger than my rent, not to mention supportive husbands who bring in most of the family's income and put the kids to bed so that mama can have five freaking minutes to herself. Because I didn't have any of that.

Things are different, now. I am feeding him all kinds of things I swore would never be welcome in my home. He eats hot dogs. He eats tater tots. Everything gets drenched in ketchup. I buy nutrient-fortified things as often as I can -- calcium-fortified orange juice, protein-fortified almond milk, DHA-fortified eggs. Enriched, fortified, value-added stuff is everywhere. A far cry from the whole foods I theoretically hold as ideal.

I still feed him mostly organic produce when it's on the dirty dozen, and most of our meats and dairy (for me) are hormone-free and antibiotic-free -- these are two things I follow the 80/20 rule on. But a popular snack around here is (natural) peanut butter on (Aldi brand) graham crackers. He gets a tablespoon or two of Nutella once a day (he calls it "ice cream," which is completely adorable). He gets juice at breakfast and lunch. I spend way too much money on those pouches. Some days the only vegetables he gets are in a pouch and in the three bites of spaghetti sauce he'll tolerate before realizing I've loaded it with carrots and peas.

It's unbelievably hard to let go of expectations, especially when it comes to our parenting. In a lot of ways, I am the mom I always wanted to be. But when it comes to food, changes had to be made by necessity. What's more, I had to stop telling myself I should be able to do this really great thing of elevating and protecting my baby's diet at all costs. I simply lacked the capacity to pull it off. And I had to accept that, or die trying.

What is something you always thought you'd do as a parent (or as a grown-up), that you later realized simply wasn't possible?


the hardest thing i'll ever do

Being a single mom to an infant is the hardest thing I've ever done. That's not necessarily saying a whole lot, because I am not really one to "stretch myself" or anything like that. Nevertheless, it is by far the hardest thing I've ever done, and I'm hoping it will be the hardest thing I ever do. Lying awake at night, wondering how on Earth I will ever pull off a successful attempt at parenting this tiny person who needs everything and whose needs are my sole responsibility to meet...facing the prospect of the next 18 years rearing this child...possibly all by myself for the duration.... That's really hard.

But the good news is that I am doing it anyway. I am scratching out a life for my son and me. It's not always on my terms and it's definitely not the life I ever wanted or planned, but I'm doing it. He is healthy and he is very happy and bright and secure, and I still have most of my hair. The inability to cope has been more about the circumstance of parenting solo while battling crippling fear than the actual child being parented. I knew it the minute I knew he was coming along that this baby is special, and he really is. He is my gift.

But motherhood has been really, really tough. Through no fault of Gabriel's -- he is the easiest toddler I have ever met and I am not just saying that because he is my child and I am blinded -- it's been almost too tough. I am too hard on myself. I second-guess too much. I am sensitive to anything remotely less than perfect and I am quick to assign blame and failure to myself. Compounded by a chronic lack of sleep and an ongoing health concern lately, my resolve and capacity have been faltering. I've stalled out, emotionally. On the outside, I'm moving along; on the inside, my thought life is a wreck.

I went through a period this summer during which I doubted everything, most off all my ability to do this parenting thing. Everything looked like failure to me, from my inability to provide enough for myself and my son to be fully independent and autonomous, to inability to get laundry folded and put away within three days of being washed. I just didn't think I could do it. I set a high bar for "success," whatever that is, and then I vilified myself for not meeting that standard. No matter that the standard is tough for a fully functioning family led by two adults in a healthy marriage and I am doing it on my own. Nevermind that my kid is a great kid. Nevermind that I am doing a good job as a mom and anyone who knows anything about kids has made it obvious that they think so. I couldn't -- still can't -- escape the constant feeling that I am not good enough, that I most assuredly will fail, and that whichever decision I make in this moment will ultimately set the trap that will break my leg down the road. I expect to fail. I anticipate it. And I try to move forward despite "knowing" that, sooner or later, something will turn into disaster.

I'm starting to come out of that dark hole of despair. I caught myself falling, and I started asking for help. It's ok to accept help, sure, and I am getting better about that, but more importantly I am coming around to the truth that it's ok to need help in the first place. We all need help at some point. These days I might be on the receiving end, but then I'll get a leg up and I'll be able to turn around and help the next person. And as one sweet friend recently reminded me, there are people who want to be able to give their help, and I should let them have the opportunity to do so. Helping is a two-way exchange, not one-way.

Through deliberate effort, I am examining my negative scripts and imposing changes. People are rallying for me, giving me new lines, challenging my expectations, putting candles in the dark corners. I am hearing that I can do this, that I am doing it, and that I am smart enough and capable enough to keep doing it, no matter what. They are telling me this over and over and over, across the board, from every direction.

One day, maybe, I will believe them.

In the meantime, my task is to keep moving forward. One hour, one clean-up, one whispered prayer, one menu plan, one Pat the Bunny, one desperate plea to God at a time.


air plants: growing the family

Last winter, I picked up a few air plants and a burro's tail succulent at the Southern Christmas Show in Charlotte, NC. Most of the plants have survived (miraculously), but our journey together has been spotty at best and one of the air plants did bite the dust before I figured out whatever the heck I was doing with the things. Air plants, for all their claims of being low maintenance, have not exactly been low maintenance for me. It turns out they do need some care. But once I figured out a good spot for them (the kitchen counter where there's some shade, as opposed to hanging in the window where it was constant sunlight), we made our peace. We made peace like whoa. We are a veritable pack of peace-loving hippies, there's so much peace between the air plants and me.

One of the air plants decided to bloom a while back. I had no idea this was a Thing Of Significance on account of never having had air plants in my care before, so I didn't really take any pictures. But it was white with some yellow in it, if I remember correctly. So there was bloomage. Which I guess is kind of a big deal in the life of an air plant, or something like that. 

And NOW...there is puppage. When certain kinds of plants spawn, the new baby plants are called pups. Baby aloes are called pups, and baby air plants are, too. Word on the street is that when an air plant blooms, it means a pup is on the way. I knew that at one point, but the bloom was so long ago (maybe like 4 months?) that I completely forgot. Until recently, when I was watering my air plant and noticed a pup. Whoa! And THEN...I was watering the OTHER air plant, and I noticed ANOTHER pup! Double whoa! The other one hadn't bloomed (at least not since it was in my care) so I don't know if I am dealing with difference species here, or if pups and blooms aren't necessarily related occurrences. 

Either way, we are expecting. It's an exciting time to be a single mom of a toddler with two baby air plants on the way. 


insoles and beyond

One of the things I've been up to behind the scenes is my family's new venture, an online retailer of shoe insoles. It's called Insoles and Beyond, and I'd love it if you took a look.

I have been wearing arch support insoles and supportive footwear in various forms since I was maybe 16. My feet tend to hurt a lot, and I can really tell a difference when I have arch supports vs. when I don't. When my feet are hurting, pretty much the only shoes I want to wear are my Birkenstock sandals and clogs -- they are a wardrobe staple for me, and have been for years. Only maybe a year ago did I realize that I can buy replacement insoles to go into sneakers, dress shoes, etc. Birkenstock even sells some (and we carry them)!

If you have pain in your feet, you're uncomfortable or feel jammed up, or your ankle is really unstable, you could probably benefit from arch supports, too. You can visit our site to learn more, or ask me questions here if you'd like.

/end spammy self promotion



nouwen on alarmist tendencies

I needed to read this. Maybe you do, too. From Henri Nouwen, here:

Standing Under the Cross
Standing erect, holding our heads high, is the attitude of spiritually mature people in face of the calamities of our world.   The facts of everyday life are a rich source for doomsday thinking and feeling.   But it is possible for us to resist this temptation and to stand with self-confidence in this world, never losing our spiritual ground, always aware that "sky and earth will pass away" but the words of Jesus will never pass away (see Luke 21:33).
Let us be like Mary, the mother of Jesus, who stood under the cross, trusting in God's faithfulness notwithstanding the death of his beloved Child.


[almost] finished object report: crazy metallic quilt

I don't have a new quilt to show you just yet, but I am pretty close and I am super excited about it. In true Ashley-the-quilter fashion, this is a project that I started back in 2009. This quilt is really special to me, for a few reasons. Pardon me while I ramble.

I generally say I "inherited" this project from a friend who abandoned it shortly after prepping all the fabrics. She chose the pattern and the fabrics and the general idea for the whole thing, but she set it aside for a few reasons having to do with the pain of loving someone with ALS (which, at the time, we did a lot of [though she did a lot more of it than I did]).

When I took up an interest in quilting, she had me over to her house, at which point she filled up nearly 2 paper grocery bags full of fabric for me to have. She had a beautiful, impressive stash, and as every quilter knows, it's easy to build a stash and not always easy to figure out what to do with it. So she was happy to clear some space off her fabric shelves and I was happy thrilled to start a lovely stash of my own. (This project was the first to come from that happy outing.)

I started working on the quilt back in 2009 because it was already in progress and I was afraid of cutting into something else. I got stymied by something...intimidation, probably, and I put the thing away for a long time. I think I was pregnant again when I pulled it back out. In a burst of restlessness, I started sewing on it again. I decided on a fabric to do the sashing and borders (that dark purple one) and made it as far as piecing all of the blocks together with the sashing. Then, back into the pile it went until a couple of weeks ago, when once again I felt the urge to do some sewing, and the tug of finishing up this top and getting the project out of the pile and onto my bed. It is a twin-size quilt and I, conveniently, sleep a twin mattress. Gabriel is also a fan of this project, although it would be accurate to say that he is a fan of any blanket or blanket-like thing that is spread out on a flat or semi-flat surface. (Seriously. When it's cranky-hour around here, all I have to do is fluff up a blanket and set it on the floor, and it becomes happy-times.)

In the past, I was not so sure about this quilt. It seemed a lot more bold and fancy than I tend to be. (There's gold all over it!) I also was a little hesitant about how to use it, because not everyone in my household at the time was a fan of this particular project, and what's the point of having a quilt you made if you can't display it or sleep under it? But now, it's just perfect. I love it. I did a really sorry job of sewing it and quilting it, but I don't care. It was one great big learning experience, it was the most complicated thing I've ever made, and I love it.

I decided to quilt it with a loopy meandering quilting stitch. The backing is a lime green sheet I got out of an Ikea clearance back when I lived in Denver. The binding is going to be one of the fabrics in the quilt itself -- a sort of "seafoam" green batik with gold splashed all over it. This is very much a use-what-you-have-because-you-dont-have-a-fabric-budget project. If I could choose, I probably would have made the backing and the binding out of the same dark purple, but c'est la vie. 

The quilting, which you can see up close in the photos above, was a lot of fun to do, but it was killer on my hands. I can see why people who do this a lot are yearning for a long-arm quilting machine. I may have to take a class on one of those, someday. Yes...I have joined the ranks of people yearning for quilting equipment. And the other thing about the quilting is that it really found a way to emphasize some of the flaws in my block piecing. But nevermind! It is mine and I love it!

Now I just have to figure out where that green fabric ended up, and then press it and cut it and make 50 billion miles of binding and bind the whole thing and then I will be done! I think I might do a cheater bind, too, by binding it on the machine instead of by hand. Because I am eager to have it done, and I don't have a lot of time. 


an update! potty training at 20 months

Gabriel is a solid 20 months old, and I am going out on a limb and saying he's now pretty much potty trained

When we are at home, he has a phenomenal track record. I think there's been one accident in the past 2 or 3 days, here at the apartment. Accidents tend to happen when he is both fully clothed AND distracted (by playing or eating).

There's room for improvement in the pottying department, and I don't mean to suggest that I expect him to be 100% perfect all the time, either. The first thing is getting him to be reliably trained while fully clothed. I am working on desensitizing him to the whole concept of peeing when there's more than one layer of fabric between his legs -- up until recently, that was a diaper and diapers were for peeing in. And as much as I am all about simple clothing (and optional clothing at home), I'm not quite brave enough to tool around town with a pantsless toddler.

The other task is to get him used to asking for the potty when we are in places other than the apartment. This means while we're outside, in the car, and at other places (like church or the store). To this end, I have begun taking him, sans diaper, to a few "safe" places, like the big house, the church (where playgroup is in the nursery), and the pediatrician. Once he's reliable in pee-friendly places like that, I will get brave and start taking him places like the store and the library. My goal is to have him fully transitioned to the potty by the time his second birthday rolls around.

It's TOTALLY doable.

This son of mine...he's pretty amazing.


making super soft, iron-fortified bread at home

So it turns out that, despite a meat-loving pedigree, my boy does not yet like meat. He'll eat some salmon or some real fried chicken maybe, but meatballs, burgers, steaks, chicken breast, or any breaded nuggets, fingers, or sticks are not of interest to this boy. I am not too concerned about him picking and choosing what he eats right now, but I do get concerned about his protein and iron intake. I've taken to hiding meat purees in other things and finding other ways to get some of the good stuff into the boy while he comes around to this whole meat thing. 

One of the things I'm poking around with is finding ways to add some iron-fortified "infant cereal" to things. It's easy to sneak a good amount into oatmeal and sauces, for example. I've mixed some in with peanut butter that I spread onto graham crackers. But the latest thing I tried was adding it to bread. 

I bake bread in the bread machine -- that is definitely the easiest and requires the least amount of time, and the little loaves work well for my little family, too. I have goofed around with a few different recipes, but nothing works quite as well for me as the regular white bread recipe on the side of the machine, so for now that's the one I use. 

In a late-night experiment the other day, I tampered with my bread recipe by replacing some of the flour with toasted wheat germ (zinc!) and replacing the powdered milk with fortified oatmeal cereal (iron!). The result was a super soft loaf of sandwich bread that Gabriel now requests. The taste is pretty much the same, maybe with a little more depth from the wheat germ. Overall, I'm really happy with the results and I am going to keep tinkering with it to see just how much of the cereal I can add in. A slice of bread is not going to replace the iron content of an ounce of beef, but still...the more iron, the better! 


sick babies

There's a slew of sick babies on my facebook news feed. This is one of the reasons I tend to avoid facebook. I prefer to remain ignorant of sick babies.

These generally are sick babies who are born to families that love and adore and very much want them. Often they're born to parents whose marriages are intact, and maybe there are older siblings. These are stories that were supposed to be good and are ending in tragedy. It's heartbreaking.

But for me, it's also terrifying. Because I don't have an adoring husband right now. There's only one pitter-patter on my floors. And as much as I'd like that situation to change, the fact remains that for now, it's just the two of us. So if my baby were to become a sick baby, I would be the only one left. I can't look at the photos without seeing my son. I can't read the stories without playing the scenario out in my personal situation. I can't breathe for all of the "what if that happened to us" crowding my lungs. So I look away, scroll down, close the browser window.

Maybe this shows just how self-centered I am. And I do struggle with my own selfishness, every single day. I think that's what being a parent is -- a daily confrontation with your own selfishness. If you're a parent and you give a rat's behind, then you know exactly what I mean.

When I read about sick babies, dying babies, babies that didn't make it, I cry. I say a prayer for the child, for the caregivers, for the families left in the wake. I pray for the parents and their marriages, sending them strength in the face of unspeakable, potentially destructive pain. I pray for any older and younger siblings, that their heritage not be one of shadows, loss, and shoes that are impossible to fill. And I find my little boy, catch his eye, and try for a smile....ever grateful that he is there and smiling.

The truth is, though, that I very rarely read about these tiny children fighting their enormous battles. But their stories are never far from my mind -- the ones I know and the ones I don't. The heartbreak, the fear, and the gratitude, always braided together in the background.

Kyrie, eleison.


potty training a boy before 2

About a month ago, I was kicking a bag of dirty diapers around the bathroom when I realized that I just don't want to be doing diaper laundry any more. It had started to feel like it was never-ending because dipes have to be washed every 3-ish days, and between the washing and the air-drying and the re-stuffing, diaper laundry almost never ended.

These days, most folks don't even think about trying to potty train until the child is at least 2. Well...surprise surprise, I decided to buck convention in this regard, too. For about three weeks now, Gabriel has been diaper-free at home, with mixed-but-increasingly-more-successful results. He's made consistent progress, just not what I would call super-duper rapidly. That said, we went from peeing all the time everywhere, to peeing occasionally in corners, within a couple of days.

I am more or less following the advice of John Rosemond in his book, Toilet Training without Tantrums*. The very basic idea is what Rosemond calls N75, short for "naked and $75." N75 basically says that when it's time to train (and the sooner, the better), let your child go naked (or wear briefs if a boy) around the house and then when training is over, spend $75 on getting your carpets cleaned. I think it might be more like N100 these days, but since I have all hardwoods I just rolled up my carpets and we're good to go.

I started him off naked during all waking hours, partly because I am cheap and didn't want to buy underwear, and partly because I thought it would be easier logistically since G doesn't know how to take his pants on and off yet. But when I realized that he was having tremendous fun watching the "arc" if you know what I mean, I put him in teeny, tiny tighty-whities. These things are really freaking cute, to the extent that underwear can be cute. No more arc. So that seemed to help a lot with the progress.

He's also been staying dry during naps since we began this little experiment in parenting and socialization, which is admittedly very exciting but only to a small audience, namely ME.

We aren't quite there yet, but he's come a long way and has built up what seems to be a pretty good awareness of his body at this point. Now it's just a matter of getting him to remember to get to the potty, and not just be happy about identifying "go-time." We're about 75% there.

I'm not sure what will come next, but at some point I'll have to get him used to the deal while dressed, and while not at home. All in due time. In the meantime, I think I'm gonna go do the dance of joy.

*Not an affiliate link.


singing the praises of zaycon

In my kitchen, there are conflicting needs. One side of the conflict is the budget. There isn't a whole lot in the coffers here at Chez Freelancing Single Mama With A Toddler At Home. The other side of the conflict is my deep, deep desire to feed my son the best I can. And for me, "the best" is defined as clean, organic, whole foods to the extent of my ability. I prioritize organic meats and "the dirty dozen" in produce -- and if he were able to have dairy, I'd make organic milk a staple, too.

Organic stuff, as you know, is not so cheap. I buy in bulk whenever I can, but the meat gets me every time. Enter: Zaycon. They offer basically organic ground beef (93/7) and boneless chicken breasts approximately every quarter.

I am a HUGE fan.

There are a couple of catches to using Zaycon. First, their deliveries are what I would call "sporadic" -- I am a pretty new member so I don't have a really good sense yet, but I think chicken comes twice a year and beef comes quarterly to where I am. It may be that chicken also comes quarterly. The second catch is that these meats are not technically organic, because the farmers keep antibiotics on site to treat sick animals (which are kept apart from the health animals until they're off the drugs); to be certified organic, there can't be any antibiotics on site. So they are basically organic, and it's close enough for me. The third catch is that you are ordering in bulk. In 40lb boxes, to be exact. Too much meat? Split a box with a friend. If you're in the Triangle and you want to share a box, let me know! The fourth catch is that you're getting 40lbs (or more) of fresh meat, packaged in 10-lb things, which means you need to take your box home and process it yourself pretty much immediately because you probably do not want to stick ten pounds of ground beef straight into your freezer. You don't get to pick your pick-up date, but you'll know it a couple of months in advance so it can be easy to plan around. For me, "processing" four 10lb logs of ground beef involved a food scale and a bunch of ziploc bags, basically. Also: lots of time. It's fun with a friend, though.

That sounds like a ton of effort, right? Well...maybe it is. But I'm generally willing to do a little work if it means I can save a lot of money. So when I found out that the ground beef was $3.49/lb and the next chicken is priced at $1.84/lb, I was completely sold. I might have even uttered a four-letter word that starts with H and ends in hockey sticks as part of a verbal affirmation.

You want in on the deal? Check them out and see if there's a drop in your area.

Zaycon also offers other great stuff like strawberries and honey and milk, but only in specific parts of the country (NOT including my part, sadface). If I remember correctly, it's because part of their business model is to keep things as close to local as possible, though "local" is probably loosely defined as "within a state or two" if I'm guessing. Either way, no PNW wildflower honey for me.

I recently picked up my first box of their ground beef. I found out about the drop right before it happened and everything had sold out; fortunately, I was walking past my computer at the exact moment that I got an email saying that they had a few extra boxes for people on the wait list. By the time I got to the site (which was within 20 seconds of getting this email!) it was down to one box, which I handily nabbed. It was really exciting. (I guess you just had to be there.)

Zaycon's fall chicken sale is now open -- I would highly recommend you take a look and see if they're coming to your area. It's in October, so there's lots of time to find a freezer solution if you need one.

Note: the Zaycon links above are my affiliate links. I get a $1 credit for every purchase made by someone who registers using that link. 


nouwen on broader vocation

I'm reading a Nouwen book on discernment and what the process looks like. It's rich stuff, but this is no surprise.

Lately I have felt inexplicably overwhelmed. Certainly being overly tired, having a toddler at home 24/7, and running a little low on funds has something to do with it. But it's felt almost like there's some sort of block against me being able to get as much done as I'd like. It's been frustrating to feel so easily incapacitated. Mama needs a nap.

It's felt a little tough lately. I didn't work for most of June because of some health concerns, and July has been very low-paying as a result. Things will pick back up in August, but if I'm not able to find a way to get more sleep, I will just be burning the candle at both ends. We're in the throes of potty training and it is not going "well" if "well" is defined as "learned quickly," so I spend a LOT more time cleaning than I would prefer (but the alternative of going back to diapers makes the trade-off worth it, in my opinion). Tell any single mama who is at home all day with a toddler that she "shouldn't be this stressed" and just see if she doesn't go ballistic on you; that said, on paper there doesn't seem to be much of a good reason for me to feel as close to the edge as I do. The question "how could this possibly be the right thing to be doing?" keeps me up at night. Something isn't working right.

Turns out, it was me all along.

The other day, surrounded by three dogs and one naked toddler, I snatched a few minutes to lie on the couch and read a couple of pages in the Nouwen book. And what I found was exactly what I needed to hear:

What I learned from testing a call in Latin America is that my broader vocation is simply to enjoy God's presence, do God's will, and be grateful wherever I am. The question of where to live and what to do is really insignificant compared to the question of how to keep the eyes of my heart focused on the Lord. I can be teaching at Yale, working in the bakery at the Genesee Abbey, walking with poor children in Peru, or writing a book, and still feel totally useless. Or I can do these same things and know that I am fulfilling my call. There is no such thing as the right place or the right job. I can be miserable or joyful, restless or at peace, in all situations. 

I've been getting too caught up in the notion of "the right place" or "the right thing to do" and measuring myself according to some standard that not only is not realistic, but is entirely self-directed. I've got to cut myself some slack and be realistic about my situation -- the good, the bad, and the temporary. I've also got to start getting to bed at a decent hour. And it's time to get back into morning prayer for sure.

I'm no less tired than I was, but I feel more calmed. The panic and perpetual frustration are starting to subside as my heart gets refocused. Yes, with God's help, I can do this.

Let this be a reminder. Kyrie eleison.


the long hug goodnight

Last night as I was coaxing my son to sleep, there was a moment that had a deep impact on me. It was about 30 minutes past his bedtime, and he was having some trouble getting to sleep. I'd gone in to respond to the latest wails, prepared to instruct him, firmly but lovingly, to lie down. Instead, I met him at the rail of his crib and asked him if he wanted a hug. He nodded yes, and I picked him up.

In that instant between placing my hands on his waist and lifting him to my shoulder, I felt a profoundly deep sense of being...


The word grasped my throat with an iron fist and shook me to my core. You know that instantaneous, panic-induced ice-cold burst you get in the front of your chest that sends your head throbbing and your heart racing? It was like that, except instead of adrenaline it was just a sense.

I am alone.

As I stood with my child, his head on my shoulder and his body draped across mine, I thought about how I am the only one. I'm the only one who could tell by his little face that he needed a hug, not an authoritarian. I'm the only one who knows the full range of his vocabulary, or when he wants a graham cracker not an animal cracker, or whether he wants to "share" my food because he's bored or because he's hungry. It's my job, day in and day out, to teach him that he is worthy of respect, that we do not hurt the ones we love, that God is here.

Certainly there are others who know him and love him. And there are those who have stayed or come alongside me. So we aren't really alone, not really. But at 9 o'clock at night, I'm the only one who hears him sneezing on the baby monitor. No one else reads the parenting books, places a hand on his head to recite the evening's prayer, understands which insert goes with which cloth diaper. My thumb is the only one that marks the sign of the cross his little forehead every night.

So I stood there, hugging my son in the center of his room, well past bedtime and deep into my final reserves of energy for the day. Because he needed a long hug to end his day. And because I was the only one who was there to hug him.


the what-is-it humidifier

Last week I found myself packing up what is quite possibly the funniest thing I own. And that's saying something, because I have a toddler and therefore my home is full of odd toys, whimsical what-nots, some choice Sandra Boynton books, and a gem of a story called "Swim, little wombat, swim."

I'd found this humidifier several months ago at a discount grocer. I'd been looking for a humidifier that wasn't enormous and loud and smelly -- in other words, one that didn't scare the baby, who was the whole reason for having one to begin with. So it was really swell that I stumbled into this particular store in that particular week. Seriously, though, this is the oddest little thing I've ever seen. It is green and it has a face with a snout that kind of looks like a pig snout, and of course the steam comes pouring out of the animal's nostrils. The top half -- the water resevoir/animal's head -- is clear, so it's not too easy to see the features, other than the eyeball stickers, the plastic molded ears, and the nose of course. But when I look closely, I think I can see what is supposed to be horns etched down the sides of his head like a ram...

Aaaaaaaand after months of wondering, it has JUST occurred to me RIGHT THIS SECOND that this is a bull. I'd planned this whole ridiculous post to posit all the different animals it could be (looks like a cow but has the horns of a ram but it's green) and now, of course, I realize it's a little green bull. With the steam pouring out of its nose. Because I watched Looney Toones as a child, so I know that all bulls snort giant clouds out of their noses.

Well. I am enlightened. I'll be back with a photo or maybe a video of this thing in action.


friday links: right in the gut edition

Here are some things I've read recently that spoke directly to something I needed to hear:

Why your kids don't need a super mama - a gentle, breathtaking reminder to pull up out of "trying to be a good mom" and relying on God to meet you with grace instead.

On being approached by three young black men - I've long been an admirer of Shawn Smucker. The last line of this essay from him really got me thinking about my own reactions and perceptions. I might be forever changed.

All will be well - Micha's One Good Phrase series is supurb. This entry was so powerful that it stunned my mind into crystal-clear silence when I had been caught in a web of anxiety and worry.

Five reasons toddlers don't need diversion, and what to do instead - This is just a helpful parenting thing that has been really useful to add to my framework for parenting this toddler of mine.


how i crunch (and how i don't)

While I wouldn't classify myself as a "hippie" by any stretch, there are some pretty "crunchy" things I do, and that's no secret. I tend to be unconventional, if not counter-cultural. Part of it is a frugal/savings thing, part of it is an "it's just better this way" thing, and part of it is borne out of an appreciation for simplicity and tradition. In the crunchy/frugal/simple/traditional circles, there are lots of sacred cows of things you ABSOLUTELY MUST do if you're going to have a legit club membership. Some of these things, I do. Some of them, I don't. For me, it all boils down to whether the savings/value is worth the effort of doing it the unconventional way.

Here are a few things I do that might qualify me for a granola card:

1. Cloth diapers. Gabriel wears cloth diapers, it's true. For how much longer, we'll see! Potty training is on the horizon!

2. Taco seasoning from scratch. This is one of those things that may or may not be "cheaper" (I never priced it) but is definitely, in my opinion, tastier. It takes hardly any time and I know exactly what's in there. Most of the store-bought taco seasoning I've looked at has a huge amount of filler. No, thanks.

3. Soap. Yes, I make my own soap. Yes, it is awesome.

4. Laundry detergent. Yes, I still make my own laundry detergent. Using the aforementioned soap. And yes, it is still awesome.

5. Oil cleansing method. I wash my face with a mixture of olive oil and castor oil. Say what???

6. Coconut oil as moisturizer/lotion. My primary facial moisturizer actually comes from the aforementioned face washing method, but on those days when I need a little extra help, a touch of coconut oil does the trick. Additionally, I gave away most of my bottles of store-bought lotion. I've got two more remnant bottles I'm working my way through, and then it'll be 100% coconut oil for me! (A bonus: I rub coconut oil on my neck and shoulders when I dress up -- it gives this really nice shimmer.)

7. Raw honey. I have just started buying raw honey. Y'all, this stuff is good. In other news: I no longer use honey for baking (very often) because geesh, this stuff is expensive!

8. Chicken stock (though currently cheating). Usually, I make my own chicken stock. And that stuff is mad tasty and so good for you. These days, I've been cheating a lot with some store-bought organic stuff. But whenever I do cook chicken, I will make some stock. I keep telling myself that once I get a leeeetle more traction in my days, I will be back in the kitchen with gusto, and one of the first things I'll do is crank the chicken stock machine.

And just for fun, here are some crunchy things I don't do, but probably "should." The ones with asterisks are ones that I'd really, really, really like to do someday (or start doing again).

1. Grow food*
2. Preserve food*
3. No 'poo (tried and rejected)
4. Backyard chickens*
5. Raw milk (tried and rejected)
6. Bread, tortillas, naan, other breads*
7. Deodorant (tried and rejected)
8. Hummus*



Closure is something we humans like to think we can achieve at the end of something significant, whether it's a relationship with another person (romantic or otherwise) or a job or project or hobby or something else -- anything that takes up a lot of our attention and energy. Having that great cathartic moment when you hear the other person's admission, or you turn off the lights and shut the door, or you burn the letters and abandon the ashes, is something we crave.

And yet, so often the catharsis never happens. You will never know why he fell in love with her when he was married to you, or which falling domino led to you losing your job, or whether your loved one knew that you had finally come around even though you'd never made time to tell her before she suddenly fell ill and died. At those times, and they are the majority of times, you just have to find a way to cope with your lack of information or understanding. There is no closure and no hope of ever having it.

Most of us learn to cope with this, some way or another. It can be tricky, and we tend to maybe go a little bit crazy for a while sometimes, but ultimately, eventually, we move on. Some people find self-help books to be helpful. Others will smash something in an effort to release the anger or frustration. I've also heard that pawning significant jewelry or items can be great catharsis, compounded by spending the money on something that replaces the bad memory with a good one, like a nice family dinner or a new pair of diamond earrings.

Lately I've been thinking about another way that people can sort of "manufacture" their own closure, by way of a physical release of some sort or other. I've been invited to a releasing ceremony, and I'm considering whether or not it would be something helpful.

One of the guiding voices through my divorce was Elisabeth Corcoran, who was going through hers around the same time. She and the other women in an online support group she founded encouraged me, among many other things, to keep my eyes on God and to do my best to be above reproach through the whole process. Good advice. Now, she's gently coordinating a releasing ceremony for those of us in her support networks to consider. We can choose to release whatever we want, in whatever way we want, whether it's throwing stones into the lake or burning old letters or something else. Or we can just skip it.

I think for many people, something like this could be an act of closure. A lot of the women in these groups are hurting, but I'm wondering if it'd be something useful for me. Astonishing as it is, I feel like I've healed from my divorce. It was a process that began back in November of 2011, so there's been a lot of time for me to get through it. I also recently realized that I brought myself real closure in June as I relived the final days of the charade of my marriage and marked, a year later, the very real, very big steps I took out of that marriage and into a new life. I had a bunch of dear friends over for Independence Day. The cookout was ostensibly to celebrate the holiday, but in my mind it was also a big celebration of this new life.

What I'm getting at with all of this, is that I have already found closure. I began to process some of it earlier, but more and more I'm learning just how far I've come. My divorce is no longer a living, breathing, active part of my life. I don't think of my ex anymore unless something specific comes up. I don't remember the last time I collapsed in angry, overwhelmed tears, fuming "how could he do this to me?" over and over. It barely even occurs to me to refer to myself as "divorced," rather than "single." There's peace and assuredness. I can do this on my own -- I'm doing it on my own -- and I am healed and ready for what's next, whatever that may be.

So as I consider this releasing ceremony, I'm wondering what exactly I need to release. There's still time, and I may participate after all, because I do want to join with my sisters around the world who are letting go of their pain. Maybe solidarity is a good enough reason to go through with it. What do you think? Have you ever done some great physical gesture to manifest closure for yourself? Was it helpful?

If you'd like information on the release, you can learn more here. And if you'd like to be a part of the support groups, leave me a comment or send me an email and I will get you plugged in.


friday links: old stuff edition

Here are a few things I've been wanting to share, but they never quite fit my mood when it came time to update my facebook status. You know how it is.

- If I Forget You, from Shalom Sweet Home. Jessa's blog is a fascinating glimpse into living as an expat, devoutly practicing her religion (Catholicism, in this case), in perhaps the most central location of that religion. This blog reawakens my long-ago dream of living in Galilee and/or Jerusalem.

- Sanctifying Motherhood, from Small Town Simplicity. I recently found Lydia's blog, and I loooooove it. This post popped up on my reader at just the right time. Maybe it will benefit you, too.

- Aradhna. Ever listened to them? Do it. Now.


puddle water

It's storm season here in North Carolina. It's good to be in storms again. And it's also hitting me pretty forcefully, in the thinky kind of way.

In Colorado, we didn't get too many thunderstorms. That was one of my very few "complaints" about living there - I missed the thunder. I missed the puddles and the stretches of days full of rain.

Other complaints included the threat of tornadoes and the constant news coverage about the humidity during the 10-ish days it was humid each year. Humidity isn't news, people.

Maybe it's a girl thing, or a southern thing, or a gloomy-weather-lover thing, but I like to go walking in the rain. I've been on the lookout for some toddler rain boots to take Gabriel with me, but for now his crocs are getting the job done. 

And my boy, he is his mother's son. He can't get enough of splashing in puddles. I look at him and all I can think of is the many, many hours I would play in the puddles that collected on the back patio at the house I grew up in -- the first home I remember. It would rain and we'd have to come inside, and then we would go back out when the rain had passed and there'd be all this warm water to poke at and observe (and maybe slurp every now and then...)

Do you have any idea how patio puddle water tastes? I do. It tastes like concrete and parasites secrets. 

We've had a TON of rain in the past month. More than usual, and the result has been weather that hasn't felt as much like Hades as it usually does by this time of the year. With the unseasonably cool spring and the summer full of storms, it's been a gentle welcome back to my home state. 


single parenting autonomy

When coming out of a difficult marriage, a lot of women relish the thought of having a home to themselves, living peacefully in whatever ways they want. They don't have to hide from anyone, walk on eggshells, avoid being themselves, or share parenting decisions with someone whose primary concern seem to be "find the way to be the most combative."

(This is where I point out that I had a difficult marriage but that my circumstances weren't as scary as those in the link above.)

Being able to establish my home the best way I see fit is a heavy blessing. I do relish the freedom I have in this apartment and this new life. As I explained to a friend the other day, being a single mom isn't as hard (yet) as I thought it was going to be. I thought it would crush me. I thought I would be a basket-case most days, perpetually two seconds away from a meltdown. And the truth is, I'm not. The truth is, the challenges and responsibilities of caring for this child on my own are huge and unavoidable, but I find myself being grateful constantly that I have so much autonomy as a parent. I have the opportunity to create exactly the kind of home life, spiritual and otherwise, that I have always wanted for my children, and I have more freedom in doing so now than I ever would have while I was married. That is a gift, and it will be a blessing for my son.

I don't know that I will ever say I'm glad to be divorced, but there's redemption in this situation. My parenting is done on my terms, and my terms are good terms. I am a good mom, and my son is a good boy. The life we'll have -- that we're already having -- is hardly what I had ever imagined or hoped, but it's a good one. There is good here...bountiful good. Thanks be to God.


line-a-day journals

I had a great phone call with a dear (long-time but not old) friend earlier this week who was curious about the journal I mentioned here. So in true fashion, I figured I would share my goofy five-year journal with everyone.

The line-a-day that I use is this one. I like its nice green color and it small/fat size. Fortunately, there are quite a few designs out there. Here are all the ones you can find on Amazon. Another intriguing idea: a sketch-a-day journal. Can you imagine looking back over all those sketches and seeing how your skills have grown? It reminds me of the 365 photography projects I see people doing. And for you Happiness Project fans out there, you may be most interested in the one from Gretchen Rubin, here. There are journals for moms, kids, readers, etc. Whatever floats your boat!

I recommend this little exercise in record-keeping.

Note: none of these links are affiliate links. I don't get anything for mentioning these and I don't get anything if you buy them. 


the turning point

In my line-a-day journal, I usually record the key points of the day. As I was reading through the day's entry from last year, I found the turning point in my stance on my marriage. I'd forgotten this moment -- something I could hardly believe after I read about it and then remembered. There was something inexplicable that my ex had done -- it was shocking and seemingly came out of nowhere and flew in complete contrast to the man he'd been before (and likely was also inconsistent with the man he presented himself as being).

Something in me broke, that moment. I knew he was different, and not in a good way, and I knew I needed to get away from him. I was stuck in a bog, sinking in quicksand, and I needed to escape the internal chaos and find some semblance of peace. Not long after, I asked my mom for a plane ticket to get me (and the baby) out of Denver for a few weeks, to clear my head and figure out exactly how to proceed. And by the time that month away was over, our marriage was over and I had two weeks to collect my things and find a new home.

That one little moment was hugely significant. I don't know how I ever forgot about it, but now that I've been reminded, it's not far from my consciousness. Maybe this isn't terribly uncommon, to block out the one thing that tips the scales and never think of it again. Or maybe most people actively remember the last straw, the specific moment when everything shifted.


how and why i abandoned attachment parenting at night

The sleeping situation here in Casa Moi has been a near-continuous struggle, with shifts and turns and endless hours of agonizing and fretting (on my part) and a good amount of fussing and demanding "a certain way of doing things" (on his part). 

 When Gabriel was a baby and we were still living in Denver, he slept a lot in his crib and seemed ok with it. When we moved, I didn't have his crib for about 6 months, and during that time, he became fully acclimated to sleeping in my queen-size bed with me. We were in that arrangement until he was about a year old, at which point I had just figured it was going to be a battle to get him back to sleeping on his own, and I had neither the time nor the inclination to fight. So when we moved again, into our own apartment this time, it was just him and me on a twin mattress on the floor. Cramped quarters. 

Eventually I hauled his crib mattress into my room and set it between my bed and the wall, making him a little "sidecar" arrangement in the corner. It took a while (...quite a while) to get him ok with sleeping there, and it required significant amounts of nursing and about three weeks of reassuring him as he screamed for an hour or two each night to get him sleeping through the night. Once he accepted the transition, though, I felt a new sense of freedom. No more babies draping themselves across my neck at night! No more being kicked and prodded. It was glorious. 

Until it wasn't. Not long into our newly accepted sleeping arrangement, Gabriel got sick. Like sickie sickie sick. And he was sick for well over a week. Poor baby would wake up in the middle of the night feeling super yucky, and of course I'd be right there to help him out. Well, that was fine, until he was all better but still waking up constantly at night, climbing all over me, and fusser-fusser-fussing to nurse (and screaming, up to hours at a time, when I would not acquiesce). 

I was exhausted. 

I was also beginning to resent him. He was always touching me...I never had a break. And nursing was starting to hurt. I thought about quitting -- he was 15 months old, for goodness' sake. I thought about some sort of schedule of weaning (only nurse at these times or whatever). I mostly just thought "maybe tonight he'll sleep through and we can get on with this. It's been a couple of weeks...surely he'll adjust soon...I'm too tired to figure it out." 

Well, he never adjusted. And late into the evening one Friday, after he nursed himself to sleep at 9:30 and then woke himself up five seconds later, I snapped. Mama couldn't handle one more second of bedtime hell, of not knowing if or when he would finally pass out, of having a toddler who stayed up until 10 or 11 and left zero margin for grown-up not-mommy time, of having my hopes for a normal bedtime and decent evening and hope of sleep dashed. Nope, I snapped. Pretty sure I even said "I can't do this anymore" out loud. 

I held my son up, looked him in the eye, and told him that it was time for him to start sleeping in his crib. 

And just like that, I abandoned my long-held practice of co-sleeping or bed-sharing or whatever you want to call it, and I plopped him in, sang him songs until he cried himself to sleep, and had the rest of the night all to myself. The next morning, I woke up happy to see my son. It's been fairly smooth sailing ever since. 

I feel like a new woman. 


adventures in undergarments

This is maybe TMI, but it's been a long time since I've had undergarments that I could feel good about. I used to wear really cute things underneath my clothes, but then I worked a string of jobs that barely paid anything, and one of the things I let go of was the "silky bits." Fast forward several years, a 40lb weight gain, a pregnancy, and then a 40lb weight loss (in addition to the pregnancy weight), and the contents of the silky bits drawer were looking a little bit ... uninspiring. And you could read the lack of "inspiration" under everything I wore, though I barely noticed. Who has the time for that?

The weekend after I turned 30, I decided it was time to address this situation. Quite frankly, I was tired of all the cotton sportswear and the odd shape of my upper body. A trip to the outlet malls and a coupon to the Hanes store later, I had the situation all under control. It's amazing what a difference it makes! Having spent the past several months with a very limited wardrobe on account of everything being 2-4 sizes too big and 2-4 years too old, I feel like I have a new lease on life.

So let that be a lesson to all you ladies who haven't had a "fitting" in a while....do it! Now! And paint your toes while you're at it. You'll start seeing the world a little differently.


lessons learned from a line a day

In January of last year, I started keeping a 5-year journal. Each date of the year gets a page with five entry slots. Over the course of the year, you write your little entry in the current year's section. Eventually, you're writing on the same pages year after year.

I'd wanted to start the journal when my son was born, to serve as a little daily record where I could note our lives without feeling the "pressure" of recording everything or having to do long journal entries. There's only room for a couple of sentences in each entry -- just enough to capture the essence of each day. Most days I mention Gabriel and something he did, but this journal has been the repository for a lot more than mama memories.

Sometimes, it's really neat to read about what was going on last year at this same time. Right now, though, it's a little tough. I'm reading through, and to an extent reliving, a lot of the marital anguish that marred the spring of 2012. My journal notes involve things like anger, fear, and confusion. We were "going to counseling" (a sham, the purpose of which I may never know). We were coexisting, barely peacefully. He was working (or "working") long hours every single day, and/or not speaking to me for days on end, inviting his new social cohort of single college girls to hang out with us and being mean to me the whole time. I ask a lot of painful questions in this journal -- why is he still pretending he's not leaving me? is he trying to torture me? is it worth my sanity to keep trying to save this marriage when he is so clearly planning a future without me?

Now, a year later, I can look around and know that everything will work out. I can tell that scared, exhausted woman with a new baby that there is grace for her, that her worst fears won't come true. I can even go for strings of full days without thinking about my ex or feeling the "scarlet D" burning on my forehead. But when I sit down each evening to write in my journal, I am taken right back to that miserable place, full of rage and hurt and fear. It's hard, so hard to walk myself through that experience again. Even if it's just a line a day.


nouwen on solitude

Several times in the past few weeks, I've had the opportunity to reflect on this brief passage from Nouwen. (Remember how dreamy he is?) There were times, when I first started going to my new church, that my priest was a real friend to me in the sense that Nouwen describes. There have been other times when I've been able to offer this type of friendship to someone else, as well. I do think there's something special about sitting in silence with someone. It speaks to me of total acceptance.

Sharing Our Solitude

A friend is more than a therapist or a confessor, even though a friend can sometimes heal us and offer us God's forgiveness.

A friend is that other person with whom we can share our solitude, our silence, and our prayer.  A friend is that other person with whom we can look at a tree and say, "Isn't that beautiful," or sit on the beach and silently watch the sun disappear under the horizon.  With a friend we don't have to say or do something special.  With a friend we can be still and know that God is there with both of us.



It's been quiet around here, and it may continue to be for a little while longer as we fend off a pair of sinus infections. All the best to you and yours during this beautiful Holy Week.


bruises by train

Not long ago, I was tooling around in my car and a Train song came on the radio. I really liked the song, and as Amazon would have it, the album was on super-sale just that day. So I plinked down my two dollars and have been enjoying it ever since. Today, I thought I'd share a different song from that album with you.

If I hear it correctly, it's two friends from high school who haven't seen each other in ages -- 10 years or more. They're catching up on each other's lives, careers, relationship statuses, etc. It's kind of a cute conversation, and they each have some big ups and downs to share. It's the chorus that I like, though. It refers to the "downs" as bruises, and it says that everybody's got 'em and they are what make for good conversation.

That idea -- that our willingness to show our "bruises" contributes to good conversation -- has been rattling around in the back of my mind as I get to know my new friends here a little better. As I share more of my history with people who haven't been around to witness most of it, I feel the weight of there being too much...too much drama, too much pain, too many seemingly bad choices (even too many babies!). I worry that my story is too much, and that I bring too much to the table, and therefore I am not enough. My friends have not once given this impression, but the insecurity persists.

This song has been a nice reminder, popping up in my memory here and there and speaking a sort of peace into the occasional storm of thoughts. It's ok, it's really ok; people will still love me, and I am not inferior...I'm even possibly more interesting! Pat Monahan is maybe not the calibre of spiritual advisor I'd seek out, but I do think he'd be a good friend (and, in my case, a celebrity crush that has lasted 13 years and counting). And with that thought, I'll leave you with this:


breaking the habit of "us"

As I get further out from being part of an "us" and I spend more time talking to new friends, I find myself not knowing what to do when there's a relevant reason for mentioning something from my past life, whether it's a story or what. I hate feeling like I am bringing up my dead marriage and all of that, but at the same time I don't want to NOT share aspects of myself just because they are, in my memory, inextricably linked with my ex.

For example, if I am talking about dog breeds with someone (which is something I do!) it might be relevant to mention the fact that I had a border collie when I was married. I don't have her now, and my ex doesn't either (she now lives with a family that has three young kids she can herd). Sometimes just saying I used to have a border collie is enough, but sometimes there are follow-up questions that would require me to mention my ex in some way or another. Is that weird? I can't decide; regardless, though, I don't like talking about him. But I haven't figured out a workaround.

There are some times when I can just say "when I lived in Denver" or "when I was going to the Presbyterian church" or whatever, but that doesn't always work. Talking about being a single-car family, for example. These days, it makes sense that I would be a "single car family" because I'm the only adult; there was a time, however, when I was part of a pair of adults sharing one car, and I don't know how to refer to that. It's weird if I say "when I lived in Richmond, we only had one car" because the pronouns don't match up and not everyone I talk to knows I'm divorced. Gah! This kind of thing doesn't happen often, but it happened a couple of times recently so it's niggling me.

I think the biggest issue is that I still feel compelled, at some level, to tell "the whole truth" all the time. It doesn't matter that I went to a firing range because it was something my husband and I did together; all that is significant is that I've been to one. There's a shift that needs to happen, somewhere in my mind and in my habits, but identifying exactly what needs to shift and how to make it happen has proven tricky.

Maybe it's just something that comes with time. Thank goodness there's plenty of that left.


friday link, baptism edition

Just one link today. Here's something a friend posted on Facebook recently on ways to celebrate your baptism. Just thought I'd share! It's got some great ideas for remembering your baptism and/or that of your child(ren). Maybe I'll get to do some of these with my own boy!

Do you celebrate your baptism anniversary? Would you?


i vote for the andorpersand

Here's a little example of something my editorial colleagues and I find humorous:

What strikes me as salient about these punctuation marks is that quite a few of them would offer signals about intent that would otherwise be missed due to the nature of the writing - presumably text messaging, where things are often written in haste and there isn't much opportunity to craft and nuance your words in a way that conveys your mood (for example, the "I'm not angry" and sarcasm-related punctuation). I wonder if the coming years will see the development of new punctuation (or repurposed punctuation) to meet that need.

Which one is your favorite?


some thoughts on baptism

This school year I've been going through the adult inquirer's class at the church where I've sort of planted myself. Inquiring means I am learning about pertinent topics in Christianity and how we as Christians and as Episcopalians can begin to think about these topics.

Most recently the class talked about baptism. I have never really understood baptism, and whenever I've tried to understand baptism, I get stuck in the "infant baptism doesn't make sense" trap. In short, here's the deal: baptism is a one-time thing (at least for mainline denominations). Once you're baptized, you're baptized. You can't undo it and you can't re-do it, either. The purpose of baptism is to set yourself apart with a public declaration of your acceptance of God, Jesus, the gospel, etc. There's a covenant involved, where you answer questions and make a commitment out loud in front of the congregation (who also makes commitments to you). It's an act of intent, and most people are required to go through some sort of education process beforehand, because it's kind of a big deal.

So because it's kind of a big deal, it's a one-time-only thing, and it's a personal commitment, the question is, why do we baptize babies? They aren't capable of making this commitment and shouldn't we let them choose for themselves? I was generally of this persuasion until this last inquirers class. That's when one of the other parents in my discussion group said something about how meaningful the line in the Episcopal baptismal covenant says "you are marked as a Child of God" (or something like that), and I started to rethink my stance.

It probably goes without saying at this point that Gabriel isn't baptized. This is in part because I wasn't sure I "agreed" with infant baptism, and it's also in part due to the fact that his dad is a minister and there is some inherent conflict there that I am not quite ready to face. If I had him baptized, I would want it to be at our church, where the people know and love him and he'll presumably grow up. I imagine Brian pictures himself as the one to baptize Gabriel, but I for personal reasons have a lot of reservations about that, because among other things I think it would be painful, awkward, or both, especially if he's still a baby. We could do it at my church, and the priests there have offered to have Brian involved if we did that, but it would be strange for me to see Brian in that context. We could do it at whatever church he'll be serving next, but that would be really weird for me, and I'm not sure what the point is if it's a congregation where no one knows him and he has no real connections. Someone suggested doing it at Brian's home church, where people know and care about all of us, but I don't plan on darkening their threshold any time soon, so that's out for me, too. There aren't any other churches in the area where we have any ties, too. So if I want to pursue this baptism thing, I am left with doing it somewhere not-at-a-church, which is fine except it kind of goes in contrast to one of my biggest draws to baptism -- the congregational witness. So I'm back to thinking maybe I shouldn't impose baptism on him and let him decide for himself when he's older, so we can follow his lead.

Hearing that line about him being marked as a child of Christ, though -- that's something this mama very much wants for her little boy.


for all you overly curious out there

Just a little heads up: I've added a new Goodreads widget to the blog layout.

Don't you just love that word? Widget. Hilarious.


a deeper lent

Lent has always been a part of my spiritual life, but I don't think I ever got a very good understanding of it. For the longest time, Lent was when we draped stuff in purple (yay Lutherans!) and talked about "giving up" things. Chocolate, sodas, and TV were popular choices. Note: I think my lack of understanding probably had more to do with my not paying attention than it did an improper or inadequate theological upbringing.

Turns out there's more to lent than just swearing off candy for a while and then giving up three days in. The Anglicans (and the Catholics, which, duh) talk about focusing on three spiritual practices during lent: fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. These are three areas of spiritual growth that I think are pretty important for any devout Christian (of any traditional persuasion). We should pray, that's a given. Fasting is something that we maybe don't think about very often but in general is seen as something that "is done" from time to time. And almsgiving -- giving your money to causes -- is certainly not an unfamiliar topic to the churched.

This lent, as I start to take on some of the spiritual practices of the liturgical year, I am thinking about how to incorporate these three lenten teachings into my day. I do a lot of conversational praying as I go about my regular business (generally of the "help, thanks wow" variety, and most frequently of a "helphelphelphelphelp me please!!!" or "thankyouthankyouthankyou" bent) but sitting down and praying is not really something that is a part of my life right now. Prayer, for what it is, is maybe not too difficult of a practice to incorporate, at least in theory.

Almsgiving is similarly pretty easy to figure out. We live with such abundance in this society, and how many of us never even realize it? My income technically puts me below the poverty line, but I am still astounded every day by the ease of my life, the abundance I have, the good fortune I so easily take for granted. Alms is kind of a funny word, not one that we hear or use all too often outside of Ash Wednesday services, but the concept of giving to those less fortunate is not unfamiliar and it's not too tough to figure out. I regularly donate my excess stuff to Goodwill and I tithe to my church and another ministry, but I'm sure there's more I can do. The tzedakah box my mom brought back from Israel for Gabriel is currently sitting on my kitchen table with my bible, lent book, and candle, and I'm pondering how I might be able to combine the tzedakah tradition of Judaism with the lenten practice of almsgiving in a way that makes sense for my situation and will be teachable in the coming years.

Fasting...yikes. Nobody wants to talk about fasting, right? We used to refer to giving up chocolate (or whatever) for lent as a fast, but I don't really think that's what the church founders had in mind. Any significant fasting in the not-eating-anything-all-day sense is probably not feasible for this nursing mama, but I am poking around for thoughts on fasting a meal here and there, or maybe doing the no-meat-Fridays thing or something like that.

So. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving. These are what's been on my mind lately. They're adding up for a new, rich, deeper take on lent this year, and it's been really cool to move into this season.

Do you do anything different to mark the days of lent? Do you think there's merit to participating in these old traditions?