Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blessings


Just when I thought we might have missed it, we're sick-- all of us. We've had a few of those nights where the boundary between day and night seems to blend-- both kids in bed with us, all of us sniffly and tired. We've had a few of those days when there seems to be little to make it all better except for cooking shows and Popsicles, a fire in the fire place and some chicken soup.

It's definitely yucky, but nice to be close to one another. And nice to count our blessings. Like that we have each other, we have nothing more than some icky colds, and we have a warm cozy house to hunker down in. That Ben has been taking care of us, and now that he's down with it, I have enough energy to take care of him. And that the mood feels just perfect for finally finishing up that scarf I started years ago.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Starting Plants from Cuttings Update


Remember when I tried to start my own ornamental plants from cuttings as yet another attempt to live on the cheap? I promised an update, whether good or bad, so here it is.

I'm happy to report that several weeks later, there are actually several survivors! Specifically, my sweet potato vines (which I like to put in my window box from spring through fall) have developed roots (evident by the fact that when I tug on them, they give resistance). Now they're ready to get taken out of their ziplock bag, placed in a sunny place, and watered periodically through the winter.

However, in the interest of full disclosure, some other varieties of plants did not take. The impatiens simply died, while the petunias are still alive, but have not developed a root structure.

I'm still pleased with the results. The root hormone I bought only cost 5 bucks, and that's about what one sweet potato vine would have cost from the nursery. Plus, I still have plenty of root hormone left for future experimentation.

Did anyone else out there try this? Any luck?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rose Flavored Candies


We had dashed back from our first date alone since Lily was born-- a fancy French restaurant where the waiters actually have accents, appetizers and deserts and glasses of wine-- to a sobbing baby, two anxious grandparents, and a hyper two-year old. We gave the babies baths, hardly noticing the chaos because we were still joyful from our time together. An hour later, both babies asleep, the house that odd silence that comes at the end of a full day. We decided to pay Scrabble, I insisted that I start first since he always gets the better letter.

He started looking for a mint, and I remembered the tin of candies on the mantle. From a box that my mom had packed up with old change, dusty pictures, highschool notebooks. Rose flavored candies in a tin of William Shakespeare. Zosia had eagerly accepted them as treats, and while most of those boxed items went into a huge trash bag, I set them aside.

We each took one, Ben said they tasted like soap. Asked where they came from, and just as I opened my mouth to tell him about the box, I remembered in that sudden way that smell or taste can sometimes trigger. The night of my sixteenth birthday party-- a big surprise that Ben and my sister had spent weeks planning, had almost succeeded in pulling off except for my unusually keen sense of something being slightly off. I acted surprised, and was touched- a sweet memory in a span of years that was difficult, sad.

It was a warm night on the cusp of spring, and after almost everyone had left, I was sitting on the wisteria-blanketed porch, the warm air carrying their sweet smell. I felt some hands on my shoulder, and without looking, knew whose they were. It wasn't love yet... not quite yet, but in that small moment, his clammy hands on my shoulders, all I can say is that I knew. It was so inconspicuous, so comfortable. Just the way that he might put his hands on my shoulder today, or twenty years from now. There would be conversations, shaky hand-holds, nervous kisses later. But in that moment on the night of my sixteenth birthday, I could see it-- us growing up, changing cities, babies growing up.

And those rose candies-- a gift from a friend at that party-- with their subtle flowery taste embedding itself in my memory. I had never been able to pinpoint the beginning, but sitting on the floor around a Scrabble board with those candies in our mouths, the silence like a sweet song, I did.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Reading Aloud


Ben was recently reading something about reading aloud to children (ironically, silently to himself, not aloud to Zosia). Apparently, many parents stop reading aloud once children can read on their own. And according to the educator whose book Ben was reading, there are huge benefits in continuing to read aloud to your older children-- they get a sense of the way that a longer, more complicated story can come together; they learn to process stories that are read aloud; and it's a special time between parent and child.

It's funny, because I feel like I've made this discovery on my own, but not through reading to an older child but reading aloud with Ben. One special thing that we've done throughout our marriage has been periodically reading a book aloud. Since, as a general rule, we don't watch tv in the evening (this is modified during football season ;-), we have lots of time to spend together. And reading good books aloud together is interesting, funny, entertaining.

There are a lot of benefits I've found for myself in processing books in this slower, more intentional way. When we read aloud, I catch all sorts of details that I miss when I speed-read on my own. Saying each word aloud, allowing it to fill the space that a silent house creates, gives it an intentionality and fullness that silent reading never provides. When I'm reading with Ben, one added bonus is that since the two of us posses incredibly varied knowledge bases, I can often ask him questions about things that I don't understand, words that I haven't heard before. And I can share special insights that I have, too.

One of my fondest memories is reading Miss Marple books aloud with friends in a summer cabin while on vacation. We all fell in love with Miss Marple, and to this day posses a special fierce loyalty to her. There has been no better Halloween costume than when one friend dressed up as Miss Marple the following year. It gave us this beautiful shared experience, jointly captured our imaginations, and was much more bonding than watching a movie together (even though we did continue our bond by watching Miss Marple on PBS).

Some of the books that I've loved reading aloud, either with friends or with Ben, have been Agatha Christie books, Little Children, Little House on the Prairie books, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, Atonement, and The Shipping News (which is what we're reading right now).

What have you enjoyed reading aloud?

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Laundry Challenge


One of the mysteries of parenthood has been how going from one to two children results in more than twice as much laundry. Much more. And we were doing cloth diapers with Zosia (and are not with lily), but even including those, we currently have much more laundry.

I never seem to be able to dig myself out from all of my laundry obligations-- and one of the few chores that I truly do not enjoy is putting away clean laundry (washing, folding, I can do. Putting clothes away not so much).

So Ben has given me a brilliant idea, which is to complete one load of laundry each day. Just one load from start to finish-- including putting it away in our drawers. So far it has worked wonderfully. There are days that it just doesn't happen, which means that in the end I do about five loads a week, which is about right. And hopefully I will be able to make doing a load of laundry a day a simple part of my daily routine.

Let's see if this idea sticks around. I'm hoping it does!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

One Simple Joy...


of cleaning out the basement is discovering things you never knew/had forgotten that you had. I am officially the luckiest woman in Virginia. Not only did we discover a waffle iron, but my husband discovered an unknown love of making waffles. What could possibly be tastier for lunch on a weekend? Yum.

Now I am on the hunt to find some tasty seasonal variations. Any suggestions?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Indoor Days



It is the third day of consecutive cold rain. It's been weeks-- possibly months-- since we've been inside for this duration of time, and it has resulted in a rediscovery of indoor time.

Some of my favorite activities these past few days have been building a lot of things from blocks, pretending to go to the grocery store, pretending to drive around in some chairs, reading a lot of books under a warm quilt, and taking baths. There's nothing quite like a warm bath to make you feel cozy on a cold rainy day.

We've been making soups, yummy baked goods (black bean brownies last night... yum ) and finishing our seasonal movement of clothes from the basement into our shelves.

And I've been devouring Gone With the Wind. I think Ben is relieved that I only have a chapter left-- he finally gets his wife back after two weeks of my mind being elsewhere.

It's been a lovely change of pace, although I must admit, I am itching for some good outdoor play time. Maybe a trip to the library is in order today.

How do you spend your indoor days?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

How to Raise Strong Women


My family has some crazy strong women. There's my great-grandmother, the race car driver. My grandmother the artist who created beauty and wonder through the darkest years of Poland's communism. My mother, who, with a little elbow grease, can get anything done. My sister, the backpacker, who seems to become more and more like Macgyver with every passing year. And so I'm not surprised that my own sweet daughters both posses some strength.

With Zosia, her strength was immediately evident-- as in, even before she was born. I think that few more active in-utero babies have ever existed. She has lived up to her reputation, possessing strength of body, strength of will, strength of emotions. Some parents might groan at such a child. They might struggle with such a child. But I know that there is something amazing in strong children, because they produce strong adults. Adults that can stand up to difficult circumstances, that can remain strong in the face of adversity. Strength is an asset.

Lily's strength is more subtle-- she is calm, steady, collected. And while she appears to be a gentle little munchkin, I know that all of her characteristics require a great deal of strength. She holds steady when life is topsy turvy. She is an anchor. Even in her tiny 5-month body, there are times when she has been able to transform the mood of this house from upset to joyful, or from chaotic to focused. She is strong, oh so strong, but in a beautifully different way.

So here we are in a family of strong women. There have been many times that I have thrown my hands up and wondered, "How do I do this?" Raising strong women is a difficult task, a responsibility that 18 plus years of schooling never prepared me for.

Over the past several years I have been watchfully observing mothers around me, my own mother, older mothers, trying to glean some wisdom about how to go about this. And I am still struggling, wondering, looking for ways to help shape two strong women. I can see that it has something to do with nurturing their natural abilities and interests, giving them control over their surroundings, teaching them about empathy and concern for others. But where do I go from there? How do I lovingly parent two women who have the power to accomplish, love, experience so much?

(Above: three generations of strong women at Zosia's baptism: I'll probably be posting some older pictures while my camera is on sick leave)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fireside


We had the first fire of the year this past weekend. There's nothing quite like pulling all of the pillows and blankets onto the floor, cuddling up next to the fire, and spending the evening together. It never gets old.

And then we were lucky enough to have a second fireside evening-- with good friends, a board game, and hot chocolate.

Both mornings, Zosia was quite surprised to see that the fire was not still there in the morning, asking something like, "Where's mine fire? Fire go bye-bye?" And I had to explain that, just like little children, the fire goes to sleep at night.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Lily's Head


Because, apparently, I never post pictures of Lily without a hat, here it is. She really does have an adorable head... just too many cute hats around the house.

And she's sporting some woolens made by her great grandmother (for Ben and his siblings).

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Sibling Relationship



On Friday, I pulled Lily onto the couch after her afternoon nap to snuggle and play. When Zosia woke up a few minutes later I brought her out, too. The moment that Zosia saw that Lily was awake and playing, she smiled. Lily looked up, and she smiled back. Zosia climbed up right next to Lily, smiling, snuggling, and laughing. Lily loved Zosia's newly painted bright red toenails and tried to grab them. Zosia laughed and made a game of it, pulling her toes away, and then enticing Lily to grab them again. Lily squealed in delight.

Somehow, over this span of days of babyhood, the day-to-day work of caring for babies, these two daughters of mine have developed an actual relationship. They are no longer just roommates-- they are sisters. My heart swells with joy just to think of it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Delectable Gift Idea


I picked up this basket of herbs at our local garden shop, and I have been using it non-stop! Mine has sage, thyme, parsley, rosemary, and oregano, and there's nothing like some simple autumnal fare with a few fresh herbs. Not to mention that it provides a lovely splash of color in our kitchen.

I think this is my new favorite gift idea, and doesn't it seem like it would be easy to put together? All you need is a basket, some herb seedlings, and a plastic container for the inside.

The one tip that the gardener who sold them to me gave is to water sparingly-- these guys like to get nice and dry (which you can tell because the container gets light) in between waterings. And when you do water, don't over-do it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Fearful Land

We are working through some fears around here. As in, specifically, a fear of trucks. And sometimes rocks.

Let's face it, we all have some fears. For years I was terrified of being at home alone. For some women it's childbirth. And for children, there's just so much to be afraid of-- they're little, the world is big, and at times, scary. You all remember when Zosia was sacred of water because she thought she might pee in it. Well, thank goodness, that phase of childhood has come and gone. Baths are now a much beloved activity.

Well, this current bout of fear all started when Zosia, on a playdate at a playground, witnessed a big old truck dumping some rocks. Yes, there are children who would think this was the coolest thing in the world. But my little sweetpea was shocked, scared, and left wondering, "What happened?" Which she continued asking for several days after the incident. And now anything that resembles a truck has become very scary. And rocks too.

My own experience with fear has taught me that something beautiful, amazing, freeing happens when we let go of our fears. Our lives are transformed, our spirits lifted, our reality re-imagined. It's as if our mind is given permission to stop carrying the burden of worrying and is allowed to be more present in the moment. I think few words are more powerful than the simple three, "Be not afraid."

So how do I teach my little shadow to feel safe? How do I protect her while giving her independence? How do I do it with love and compassion and grace?

Whew, today's one of those days that I'm thumbing through the parenting books. Thank you, Penelope Leach. Any suggestions, stories, anecdotes?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Taking a Break


One wonderful gift of being close to our families is that our kids get lots of time with their beloved grandparents, aunts/uncles and cousins. And one benefit for me and Ben is that this enables us to take a break. Zosia has standing weekly outings with my Aunt and my mom, which means that during the week I get one morning "off" (while Lily naps), and Ben and I get one weekend morning "off." This has been so great for all of us-- for Zosia, it has helped foster a sense of independence, something that is so important since she is with me for the vast majority of her waking hours. For me, it provides some time to recoup, work on little projects, or spend some one-on-one time with Lily. For me and Ben, it gives us some built-in couple time that does not occur at the end of the day when we are fried.

During the week, I generally feel compelled to get something accomplished. I often use up my free time baking bread, tidying the house, or cleaning the kitchen. My sweet aunt always comes home and asks, "Adele, did you rest?" and I always have to answer honestly, "No, but I did do a. b. and c."

So today I am actually going to rest-- read a novel, paint my toenails, and make some grilled cheese for lunch. Because if there's something that truly needs to get done, I will find a way to get it done, and all the other stuff can wait.

(above: Zosia and her "Baba," my mom)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Nature Shelf


I received this little shelf for free from my Aunt, who was getting rid of it from her bathroom. We've been wanting to designate a special place in our home to collect little things from nature-- Zosia is quite the naturalist, and rarely comes home from a walk without a set of treasures in her pocket or basket.

I used some scraps of fabric to re-line the bottom, and have placed our nature shelf right by our front door, so Zosia can place her treasures there as soon as she comes in!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Frugal Friday: Growing Your Own Ornamental Plants

I have a horribly un-green thumb (my houseplants, may they rest in peace, would agree) but I do like to keep some pretty annuals in our windowboxes and planters-- and generally, they stay alive with a minimum of effort. Nothing fancy, just some petunias and sweet potato vine in the spring and summer, and pansies and vinca vine in the wintertime. Well, after many seasonal trips to the garden center, I have decided to try my hand at propagating my own plants from cuttings. I first heard of this from a farmer who was selling beautiful hanging baskets of mixed flowers in the Berkshires. We asked how he grows such beautiful flowers, and he told us, straight up, that he uses some root hormone on cuttings. That's how everyone does it, he told us. It's fast and easy-- you should try it. Well, two years later, I'm finally giving it a try. It should save a good bit of money (a bottle of root hormone is around 5 bucks, which is close to what I would pay for a single plant).

Here's how it's done.

Take some cuttings from your favorite ornamental plants (you shouldn't do this in edible plants). Just snip right below a leaf, and then take off any leaves close to the bottom:



Dip in a cup of water followed by the root hormone:



Place in a container with potting soil (I just planted my pansies, so I still had these handy 6-pack planters on hand) and water lightly:



Place the whole thing in an unzipped ziplock bag:



Now, you're supposed to leave the plants out of direct sunlight for a week or two (until they give you some resistance when you tug, meaning that the roots have developed), and then place them on a windowsill that gets some good light (we don't have a great candidate, so I think we're going to try to find a fluorescent light on craigslist). Come springtime, I'm hoping that we have an array of plants ready for planting-- and for a total cost of just 5 bucks! I have a bunch of petunias, some sweet potato vine, and impatiens growing so far.

If you give this a try, let me know how it goes. If you've done it before, do you have any tips? I need all the help I can get.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Nothing Extraordinary

It's so easy for me to get totally overwhelmed by the extraordinariness that seems to surround me. I am amazed and inspired by mothers who seem to find time do to it all-- go on beautiful trips, make amazing handmade things for their children, make yummy things from scratch, keep their homes beautiful and clean, teach their children, and cultivate personal hobbies and interests (all of this, it seems, on a daily basis). How do they do it? I feel like I am constantly working just to keep things moving around here. And after a full day of keeping the children happy and fed, trying to spend as much time possible outside, and keeping the house just shy of total chaos, I am toasted-- having energy to do little beyond curling up with a good book or my husband.

I have to constantly remind myself that there is nothing I am called to do that is impossible. There is nothing I am called to do that is outside of my own realm of abilities. I am just one woman, with my own special gifts, and one of my gifts happens not to be spinning my own yarn, as much as I would love to be able to do that. I've missed the point of all of this amazingness around me-- the point is not to do it all, but to do what gives you joy, life, energy. For me, that might be little more than being present to my family. Or being thankful for what is in my life right now.

So I'm taking a deep breath, surveying the less than perfect landscape around me, and looking forward to reading a good book to Zosia.

What gives you joy, life, energy?