Friday, January 30, 2015

Less. Step 1.

I can get easily overwhelmed with all the things I'm not doing. I am a lazy person with a strong sense of guilt. Nowhere in my life is this more evident than where it comes to my environmental impact. Sometimes I will read something, and it will become so very obvious that I'm wasteful and irresponsible and so utterly consumed by consuming. Earlier this week I fell into one such funk. I had stumbled upon Zero Waste Home, and it put me in the worst mood.

So often I read about these really inspiring projects, but instead of being inspired, I am overcome with paralyzing guilt. I know this sounds dramatic, but I swear I could barely sleep Wednesday night because I felt so stuck in my ways.  I felt stubborn and resentful of even being forced to consider my choices. I can't be that woman. I can't (or rather don't want to) devote my life to this very honorable cause.  It made me feel awful.

But yesterday, as I drove to work I realized that I didn't have to be perfect. I don't have to be zero waste. I just need to be less waste.

I decided that the easiest way to start was pick three ways to reduce my waste.  So here they are:
  1. Olive oil. The Whole Foods near me sells it in bulk. My bottle is empty, so I'm going to refill it this weekend rather than just buying a new bottle. Also, I know every meat eating homesteader already does this, but I've been saving my bacon grease and using that instead of olive oil a lot of the time anyway.
  2. Toothbrushes and toothpaste. I made myself natural toothpaste. The recipe might need tweeking.  I'm not forcing it on the kids and Tom until we run out of the rest of the toothpaste we have and I've figured out something a little more palatable. And from now on, I'm going to buy compostable toothbrushes instead of plastic ones. (Added bonus: they look prettier too.)
  3. Coffee. I am no coffee snob. I drink cheap stuff from a plastic tub, but I'm going to up my coffee game and buy better beans sold in bulk. I'm going to bet it tastes better too.
It feels so much better to have a plan in place. It removed some guilt and got me excited about the whole concept.  It actually is becoming fun to think about all the places I can remove waste, but I'm not pressuring myself to implement every idea RIGHT. NOW.  I am also giving myself credit for the things I improved this past month. I have not used a single use bag. I haven't had a soda. And I curbed my Amazon book buying habit in lieu of ordering things from the library, all of which are saving me money, making it a little easier to afford the more expespensive coffee.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Not Terrible

Oh sure, they can be dramatic and include an overabundance of temper tantrums.  They are trying, and they will keep you on your toes, but the two's have a beauty to them. I listen as my little monster learns to string words together, witness him saying "please" and "thank you" without prompting. Watch as he develops his own ideas, as he appears to demonstrate a sense of humor. There are days he wants me all day long, and other times he politely tells me good bye and let's me know he's staying at his Oma's house, even when he hasn't been invited. He follows after his brother whenever he can, chanting "play, Gus, play," and he insists on wearing a hat anytime he goes outside. If you ask him what animal he is, he will answer cow or cat depending on his mood.

He climbs on to my lap to steal Brussels sprouts or half of the Ruben I get when we go out for sandwiches after church. I can't eat an apple around him without him claiming it for his own, but mostly he just wants to eat bowls and bowls of yogurt. He turns on the record player and fills the room with the sound of static. He doesn't sleep through the night.

And yes, he will crash to the ground in anger and frustration, bury his head under his hands, forget how to use the words that usually come so easily to him, crying real tears. But I am not willing to call any of it terrible because even those tantrums are sort of wonderful. 

I worry what this will all look like in a few short weeks, how he will adjust to a new little sister. But quite frankly, Arlo was never meant to be a youngest child. We all knew it from that start.

Monday, January 26, 2015

While the Sun Shines

I don't have many nice things to say about Maryland winters. They aren't particularly pretty. They are cold enough to want to keep you indoors, but not long enough to teach you to properly prepare for them. If they were colder and longer, you might buy the right clothing. You might get excited about winter activities, get involved with winter sports. You might be forced to engage with the elements. However, Maryland winters are short enough that you know you can get away with waiting them out, but the waiting has the affect of making them feel longer and colder than they really are. It's a vicious cycle.

One of the few things I do appreciate about the season is the constant hope of a snow storm. Almost any snow in Maryland cripples us because we aren't prepared the way states who actually get substantial amounts of snow are. So whenever an inch or two falls, schools are canceled and roads become almost undriveable. Everyone stops and rests for a few hours while winter has her way. Almost any examination of a 10 day forecast throughout January and February will show at least one day with a 40 or 50 percent chance of snow. This tiny bit of hope keeps me constantly refreshing NOAA's web page, seeing if they have increased or decreased the likelihood of perception. I remain optimistic, always eager to believe we will have a day off. This winter I have rarely gotten my wish. 

All weekend, I was convinced we would have an extra long weekend: no school on Monday or Tuesday. In that spirit, I decided we should make the most of the sun shining while we could, and so we explored and picnicked. The park is perfectly eerie- a primeval bald Cyprus swamps at its northern most limits.  It feels ripe with mysticism and something ancient, the knobby knees of trees peeking out of the swampy shallows, hawks circling above, though my shadowed fantasies were interrupted by children excited about arching trees and the sound of birds and the clementines they snuck in their pockets.

The wintry mix didn't come, not yet at least. But that doesn't mean you won't find me frantically checking the weather, hoping that maybe tomorrow will bring snow and quiet moments indoors, a chance to catch up on sleep and laundry. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Making Home

I grew up in a pristine home, kept by a mother who never seemed to tire of cleaning, and who never required any of her six kids to do chores aside from setting the table and unloading the dishwasher.

My mother never seemed to resent Saturday morning cleaning sessions. In fact, I never even remember seeing her clean, although I also never saw her sit. Our house being in a constant state of near perfection was just a given. I only remember one time ever being fussed at your making a mess. My sisters and I happened to discover that you could squeeze pomegranate seeds at each other and wage beautiful, pink warfare. As it happened, my mom's newly hung antique lace curtains became the most tragic casualty.

My own house and attitude towards housecleaning are almost 180 degrees from my mother's. My house always needs a minimum of four solid hours of deep cleaning, even after I've spent four hours deep cleaning. I force my children and husband to help me vacuum and wipe off baseboards and deposit things into the appropriate location. And I resent almost every minute I'm doing it. I just want to be reading a book, watching a movie, taking a walk, or engaged in pretty much any other activity that isn't cleaning.

I try to remind myself that my house doesn't need to be perfect. I read books that assure me in their very titles that "A perfectly kept house is the sign of a misspent life. " I start a blog series on the beauty of other people's messes, but despite my best efforts, I just can't come to peace with the dusty corners or the act of dusting.

I have a "source" who told me that after having been invited in to several old money, New England houses, that she discovered that these people, the paragons of class and culture, had boarder line dirty houses.  I think it's like the house keeping equivalent of French women's hair; when things are incredibly beautiful and tasteful, grooming is superfluous.

I don't think that I am supposed to admit this, but I have always sort of wanted to pass myself off as some sort of bourgeois bohemian, although I'm pretty certain that the fact that Tom and I both work actual jobs and receive actual paychecks forever precludes us from being such. Regardless, in my bobo fantasies, my untidy house is charming and whimsical, not simply a testament to lackadaisical nature.

I'm not certain that I will ever come to accept my mediocre house cleaning skills. I hope to one day feel confident enough in my home making skills that I no longer care. Meanwhile, I will blame my mother for this problem because I'm pretty certain that is how to deal with most problems in life.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

This Weekend We / Took It Outside

This weekend I did something pretty out of the ordinary for myself: I scheduled my time. I knew that there were lots of things that I wanted to do, a few things that I needed to do, and some other things that I should do.

Generally, I am not much of a list maker or a scheduler. I usually have a rough idea of what I want to happen, but  it is never put pen to paper.  I am easily distracted, and sometimes, the time just gets away from me, or my energy gives out, or the lure of doing nothing overcomes me.

But not this weekend. I wanted to keep my resolve to get outside, and I made sure it happened, and then I packed in everything else around those hours I carved out for fresh air and dirt.

Some families seem to have figured it out, the whole living life out of doors thing. I admire them but sometimes feel a little inadequate, like I'm failing, afraid we might spend too much time within four walls. But the truth is, I really like these four walls. And I like the time spent within them. But I know that it's better for our moods and our health and our overall wellbeing to get the heck out. So that's just what we did. 

Friday afternoon was spent at the beach that feels a little like an extension of our backyard. Saturday we spent time wandering my sister's farm before a birthday party that impressively featured lots of great outdoor fun for kids, no small feat when it comes to January in Maryland. Sunday we snuck in an evening marsh walk after the rain cleared.

The beauty of this resolution is that it gets easier as the year marches forward. Come spring, we end up outside without much thought or effort, but for now, I'll do my best to schedule it in, to make the effort to be one of those families.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Ode to Saturday Mornings

The mornings when you don't have anywhere you have to be.

The mornings when nothing needs to be done.

The mornings when your bed is invaded by smiling faces, ready to wrestle or curl up in your arms or hide under the blankets.

All week long you look forward to them, try to plan your upcoming weekend to accommodate them, knowing that in a few short years some of the cast would rather sleep until noon or will be too embarrassed to barge into their parents' room before everyone is in a state of full dress.

Mornings you have trained yourself to be rid of thoughts of dirty dishes or floors that need to be swept.

You stay until they are ready for milk or other distractions. You stay until they leave you in a crumple of blankets with the morning light shining in.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Optimism Isn't Fading

Everything feels possible right now. It feels like I can make any change I want. I'm remembering the reusable bags every time I go to the store. I'm eating healthy and drinking water. I'm organizing closets and dressers and drawers. Projects are getting finished. Plans are being made. Contentment abounds. I have moments of feeling almost manic.

I read other people's goals and resolutions, and I am eager to take those on too. A clothing/ purchasing challenge? Sure, I'll do that. Efforts to get outside despite bad weather?  I'm on it. A push to organize and declutter? Definitely happening.

I am full of hope and excitement, inspired to do all the little things that I love. This weekend I might make another batch of elderberry syrup or try mixing up a batch of fireside cider. I'll keep sippin' on apple cider vinegar drinks and playing around with essential oils. I'm looking up new recipes and trying to rehash old ones. Life feels full and wonderful. I'm amazed how once you get started on making good decisions, it breeds more good decisions.  When I stop paying attention, I find myself sucked into a iPhone hole in the midst of messy house ordering pizza for dinner.

I'm quite certain my borderline euphoria is a pregnancy hormone induced, but given the fact that usually the pregnancy hormones seem to swing the other way, I'm going to ride this mood swing out for as long as I can.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

No Budget Nursery

My kids have never had particularly wonderful nurseries. Sena's was the most put together, but back then I wasn't all that interested in home decorating / design, and I didn't really know what to do other than the things found at department stores. I ordered something uninspired and relatively neutral for her room and hung a bunch of artwork my mom gave me. Gus used the same things, but somehow it seemed even less his space. I never loved any of it.

When Arlo was born, we were living in a smaller house than we are now, and we had to find space where we could. His crib was tucked into Sena's bedroom (although he never slept in it), and his dresser was in the living room, which I promise was less pathetic than it sounds. However, even after we moved when he was six months old, I never really decked out his room because I always figured we would have a fourth childand Arlo wouldn't be in the teeny, tiny little bedroom long.

Now here we are, standing on the edge of a fourth baby, and this time I actually want to design some sort of baby space. And despite the fact that the room is very small, chances are the baby girl will be in there for a very long time to come since I don't plan on moving, and our house only has four bedrooms. The room needed to be able to easily transition from a baby space into a child space, and it needed to be done on almost no budgetSo I found myself robbing Peter to pay Paul. I stole the plants from my classroom at school. I hung one of the mirrors my sisters bought me for my bedroom in the baby room instead. I moved a wall hanging that had been in my room to the baby's room since it matched the quilt that had been on the guest bed for the past year. I inherited some Nabsco bird plates from my mom, and shuffled dressers around. I moved a wooden crate from the living room to fill with books. My mom made the curtains and bought the curtain rod (thanks, mom). The only thing I actually bought was a bamboo shade.

I'm not quite sure how I became so dependent on my mom. I am certain that I would get about 1/3 of all house projects done without her help or inspiration. Not only did she make the curtains, as I mentioned, but she also came over and gave the walls and trim a fresh coat of paint and helped me hang everything that requires skill beyond a simple wall hanger.  I guess I'm going to have to learn how to do some of these things because some day I might need to help my own children with these sorts of tasks, but for now, I just lean on my mom.

I'm pretty happy about how the new baby's little space turned out,   I'll be even happier once she's in it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

This Is

This is me, 34 weeks pregnant, completely uncomfortable in front of the camera, trying to appease my mother's request for to actually capture myself in a photograph every now and then.

I look at the picture and feel those pangs: the things you want to change about the image, about yourself. And I force myself to remember that this is who I am, flaws and all. I will never be younger or more beautiful than this moment. This is the photograph of a thirty year old woman carrying her fourth child. A woman who is quite happy with the way her life is being lived, despite the fact that she appears to be so very serious. This is a woman loved by her husband and her family and her friends and her children.  A woman who loves her husband and her family and her friends and her children.

Monday, January 12, 2015

This Weekend We

This weekend was an embarrassment of riches, all the more embarrassing because I was not very eager for it to begin. I felt like we had packed our schedule a little too tightly, and in my current state, I like there to be lots of white space in the mental schedule. 

On Friday we went and saw Ricky Skaggs play. Generous friends who bought us the tickets months ago, and it was great to hear some honest to goodness bluegrass while eating chicken fried steak. Before leaving, my sister, the evening's babysitter, thanked me for letting me babysit the kids. When your free babysitter is thanking you, you can rest assured that things are pretty damn good in your life, especially when you come home at 10:30 and your kids are wide awake and having the time of their lives. 

My plan was to wake up early and clean the house on Saturday morning before our friends showed up from out of town. But then my sisters and their menfolk all piled into my living room, and I quickly decided that keeping a pot of coffee going and blending up smoothies was far more important than laundry and a clean kitchen sink. I take a certain amount of pride in being a good hostess: I would like to believe that I am able to do all the hostessy things without getting too stressed out. But this weekend I was reminded that sometimes you don't need to be a hostess at all. Sometimes you just need to hang out with your friends and order pizza. It's okay that you didn't run to the store beforehand: make a beer run with your "guest" in tow if you have to, and maybe stop thinking of them as guests anyway.

We walked to the icy, frozen beach. Arlo and Felix were as adorable as ever, imitating one another and appearing to have heartfelt conversations. Meanwhile their fathers pretty much did the same, although their activities were a little more destructive in nature. We warmed up at home, and I showed Carrie how to use a makeshift loom. Within a few hours, she had already far exceeded my weaving abilities and figured out way more complicated techniques. It was the mellowest variety of hanging out, and it was nothing short of perfect.

Sunday left of plenty of time to do get some chores done around the house, though there is still a lot to be done. This nesting instinct is pretty intense. I don't think we have ever "prepared" so much for a baby. This new one is shaking things up.

Happy Monday. Stay warm and dry.