Welcome Back, Mother

The reasons for which it has been almost a year since I last wrote are mostly irrelevant. Except for these: I’m pregnant, I’ve started doing some consulting work, and my daughter – seemingly overnight – turned into a toddler (this happened on the day she turned 2, and now she is almost 3).

Here’s a statement for the Book of Obvious: Raising a toddler is not like raising a baby. Suddenly you go from providing basic survival needs and general world awareness, to engaging in delicate discussions and laying the foundation for complicated social interactions. I found that it took a lot of energy and time to recalibrate and learn the new parenting skills required to face this new phase of childhood, so I turned my attention away from certain things for a while, and focused almost solely on mothering.

This is the first lesson you learn as a mother: that since nothing matters more to you than your child, things that took priority in the past are quickly put aside if they are preventing you from being the parent you want to be. So you sacrifice things off your own list of needs in order to provide the time and attention needed for your child. But just when you have this part figured out you realize that there’s a catch: if you sacrifice too much of your Self, you’re not going to be a good parent. So parenting is really all about the balance between ourselves and our children, and the family unit which is one whole. This could be true for anything in life. You can never sacrifice what makes you you, for the sake of something you care deeply about. Just when you think you are doing the right thing by devoting time to that project, person, or cause, you realize that what you are losing in your self is actually detracting from the passion and energy you need to give your best.

This has been my favorite Mother’s Day so far, perhaps because it has taken me three years to figure out what I really want. Today I got lots of extra sleep (there is never enough if you’re a mother, but especially a pregnant one), received homemade cards from my family, went on a brisk walk (alone), played with my daughter, went out to dinner, and wrote. Today felt like my own personal New Year’s Day. I spent a lot of time reflecting on what kind of mother I’ve wanted to be, have been, and want to be. I resolve to be better at taking care of myself, so that I can do my best at taking care of my children. I thought a good way to start was to write again. My posts might be shorter in the future (that might be a good thing), but I will try to make them more frequent. Thank you to the friends who have asked about my blog and asked me to start writing again. Blogging makes me feel good because it gives me clarity, but also because of the positive feedback I’ve received in helping others find clarity as well. Here’s to all the mothers who know what it means to sacrifice your all, and to everyone who seeks to find balance between dedication and self-preservation.

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Do These Things Now!

My friend is pregnant with her first baby, which is spurring ideas for all sorts of practical first parent advice. On the less practical side, I’m also thinking about how different life becomes after that first child is born. So for non-parents and soon-to-be parents here’s a list of five things you should do a lot and really savor while you don’t have kids:

1. Go to the movie theater! Go again and again. Although if your baby has a certain temperament this is something you should also try to do during the baby’s first two months. Also don’t forget to watch lots of movies at home during those first two months (this is a fun activity to do while nursing) because soon it will be really hard to find 2 consistent hours to watch a movie from start to finish (without wanting to use that time to sleep).

2. Rearrange your closet. Especially if you’re pregnant right now: Pick the household design or cleaning project that is most important to you and do it right now. You’ll never be able to do it again.

3. Take a shower, and launder your bed sheets and pajamas, all in one day. You know that crisp, clean, good-smelling feeling you get when this all comes together? There’s no way your laundry will ever be that coordinated again.

4. Go out to dinner with your partner and hear every word they say. After Baby arrives your conversations will go more like this: “So I said to my boss-honey don’t chew on that-and then I wrote a memo outlining-I’m sorry what did you say?”

5. Be in your house alone. I know right now you feel like you have plenty of alone time and you wish that when you got home from work your partner was already there so you could go out or make dinner together or talk, but really you should just be enjoying the silence; and enjoying the fact that you can walk freely about your home without someone crying for leaving them alone in the other room, that you can run down to the basement just to switch the laundry, and that you can read an entire blog post without having to get up to help the baby get back to sleep.

Of course, after your baby is here you’ll remember these nice things you used to do, but they’ll be replaced with other nice things instead. If you’ve decided to not have kids then read this and be thankful every time you do one of the above!

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There’s a Place for Decadence

IMG_7297These sandwiches look good, and that’s what matters most.

This morning my friend hosted a tea party to celebrate our friend Hannah’s birthday. One of the reasons I love Hannah is because she would like nothing more than to spend her birthday morning with two friends and their toddlers. She’s also an inspiration because she makes stuff: bags, baby blankets, she even made me a nursing apron.

I was inspired to make cucumber sandwiches for the first time. I’m not sure what the purpose of the cucumber sandwich is, but I think it is supposed to be decadent. Now that I’ve made them I know why this might be true. It’s a ridiculous amount of effort for a simple tea snack. But there is definitely something satisfying about the salty crunch of cucumber against the soft chewiness of bread. For guidance on an authentic recipe, I relied on this one from The PauperedChef, and this article from The Guardian. I used wheat bread because it’s the softest bread they have at the Co-op, and I did not use a mandolin to slice the cucumbers: I used a knife. It took more time but it wasn’t hard.

IMG_7284Some of the slices were thinner than others.

Does decadence always equate to waste? I flinched a little as I cut off the crusts, but then didn’t feel so bad because they made a good snack to munch on while I prepared the other sandwiches. Even transporting these little gems was decadent: I hate to use cling wrap, but then I realized that loading the sandwiches into a storage container would defeat the whole purpose. So I carefully arranged them on a plate and covered the whole thing in plastic. Did I just call cling wrap decadent? Yes I did. I’ve been thinking more and more about the decadence of the things we use: the resources that go into a plastic spoon that we use once and then throw away, for example. Sometimes saving resources is really hard – we’re so busy and we can’t feel guilty about every piece of waste we produce. But there are times when we’re wasteful only because we’re used to doing something a certain way so we use more resources than we need to. For instance if we put reusable plates in the picnic basket instead of paper. It takes the same effort but we forget that we have options.

IMG_7285The crust is really just a mini-sandwich!

The cucumber sandwiches were a success. It helps that no one I know (including myself) ever eats cucumber sandwiches. So we had nothing to compare them to.

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In the Moment

To commemorate Alzette’s upcoming second birthday, we recently had a photo shoot with photographer and friend Jon Hain. Jon’s photos are bold and vibrant, personal and genuine all at the same time. This authenticity comes through during his shoots so it’s no wonder it’s reflected in his photography. Alzette warmed up to Jon right away (he wore a Humpty Dumpty shirt so that they had something to giggle about), and she had a blast running around the yard smelling flowers and playing while the camera clicked away.

alzette-14f0880A beautiful moment captured by Jon Hain.

Photographing a toddler isn’t easy, especially if you’re not a professional. Scott and I used to try to memorialize special “moments” (like, she’s doing something really cute or funny) a lot more than we do now. Usually once we pull out the camera or camcorder it completely distracts her from what she is doing and we’re not able to get the shot. It’s disappointing that we don’t document some of these events, but we also know that what really matters is sharing the experience with her.

I often say that Alzette teaches me how to live, and this is another example of why. Alzette seems to know that we’re not engaged with her in the same way when we’re trying to “capture” something, versus when we’re simply hanging out with her and appreciating whatever awesome thing she’s doing, learning, or discovering. If you get too busy setting up certain moments as you put together the history of your life, you’re left with time to only observe your life happening instead of actually living it.

Of course, it’s still nice to document and create keepsakes of what matters to us most, which is why I appreciate people like Jon who can come over to play documentarian while Scott and I just enjoy the beauty and wonder of Alzette growing up.

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Going to Shorter Lengths

Easter EggsNo one dyed in the making of these eggs.

Our family has always tried to keep things uncomplicated, but lately I’ve been mindful of even more activities (and products) I can cut out to replace with more meaningful time and resourcefulness. (I like to eliminate as many consumer products as possible because things you need just turn into more errands to buy them!) Sometimes the fun activities we plan don’t necessarily help reach our goal of happiness in the long run. The holidays are a good example of this, because it’s easy to get caught up in all the things we “need” to buy and do to celebrate, often missing the true goal of spending quality time with family and focusing on spiritual gratitude.

I wanted this Easter to be special for Alzette. Our friend Carrie was in town for the weekend, and I thought on Saturday we could go out and look for a little basket and some treats to fill it with. I planned to hit the University Book Store to find a new book, and the toy store to find a little toy to put in the basket. Carrie brought Alzette a beautiful chocolate bunny from Seroogy’s so we could put that in with a couple of eggs.

My friend Carrie has a way of bringing clarity to a situation without saying a word (perhaps because by now I know what she’s thinking). When I brought up the Easter basket, I looked at her and realized I had planned too much. It may not sound like a lot, but really we were about to drag Alzette on a 2-hour long errand in the car to buy something she didn’t even need when all she really wanted to do was play outside and be with those she loved most. Finding stuff for the basket would be fun, but not as fun as just hanging out. We said forget it to errand running and had a much better time on Saturday because of it.

Here’s what we did Easter Sunday: We had a bowl of beautiful eggs. We get our eggs from a friend who raises heritage chickens, so the eggs are never white anyway. So instead of spending time dying the eggs (even though Alzette would find this fun the adults would be doing most of the work and I’ve always found dying eggs to be kind of tedious) I decided we could just boil our “pre-dyed” eggs and be grateful for the beauty nature provides. I dressed Alzette in a pinafore with a bunny design while Scott hid 6 eggs around the living room. Alzette caught onto the game quickly and had a blast. Afterwards we enjoyed a delicious brunch at home while we told stories and played games with Alzette. After her nap she ate half her chocolate bunny. It was a gorgeous day, so in the late afternoon our family walked to the park where Alzette played on the jungle gym, talked to the ducks, and ran in the grass.

My husband once came up with the idea for a diet plan that would be called “You can halve it all!” The basic idea was that you would eat as you normally did but just cut every meal and snack you usually ate in half. I think this might apply to a lot of things in life. If we cut our internet time, time running around to scheduled activities, and time shopping for those perfect party decorations in half, we would have a lot more time to simply relax and do more meaningful activities with our family and friends.

It’s hard not to feel constant pressure that we’re not doing enough. As a home-centered parent, it’s especially easy to feel like you should be taking your child to swimming lessons, the gym, the museum, library readings, and play dates all the time. But I like to think that it is because I’m a parent at home that I have the luxury of not needing too many activities for my child. When we’re at home she is constantly learning by exploring the world around her with my guidance, and she has a healthy balance between getting out and doing stuff and feeling centered in the security of her own home. At this age, she doesn’t need a lot to have fun. I’m convinced more each day that if you live a certain way, this remains true for the rest of your life.

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Eggcakes

When talking with other parents, the topic that comes up most frequently (other than sleep) is food. Once your child reaches a certain age, a number of issues start to develop: how to keep them well-fed (sometimes it seems like there is no end to their hunger), how to keep the kitchen stocked with healthy food, how to avoid sugar, how to make meals for the whole family every day without becoming a full-time chef, and how to make a variety of foods to keep your child interested in fruits and vegetables.

Enter my friend Lisa, who has been making delicious homemade snacks and meals for her son since the day he started eating solid foods. She has always had great advice and ideas about food for the whole family (even before we had kids we would bond over our love of cooking, our only quarrels being over names of dishes: her background is Armenian and mine is Syrian so Dolma to her is Yabra to me!).

This weekend Lisa gave me a great recipe that I prepared the very next day. Here it is:

1 banana
1 egg (or 2, depending on the size of the banana)
Blend the two into a pancake-like batter.
Prepare as you would pancakes.

These cakes are delicious, low-carb, full of protein, and have no added sugar. They are ridiculously easy to make. I made 2 cups of batter using 2 bananas and 4 eggs (I added a touch of vanilla) and made breakfast for the whole family. I used a wand blender and just mixed the batter in a 4 cup measuring cup. Alzette absolutely loved them (she started humming to herself with delight after the first bite). Scott and I ate them with strawberries and a bit of blackberry jam. Alzette had a couple bites of strawberry but since she had strawberries yesterday, she wasn’t interested today. This is the type of feeding-your-child challenge I’m talking about! ImageI decided to call these eggcakes. Call them what you like, you will feel good eating them.

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Fair Share

Fair Share

This grilled cheese morsel is the perfect portion for Lamb. (I turned around from doing dishes and saw this setup created by Alzette)

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5 Things I Wish I Did Every Week But Don’t

During the last year I’ve compiled a list of things that would make my life a lot better if I did them on a weekly basis. Somehow though I have yet to commit to making them a regular achievement. Here’s what I would do if I stopped procrastinating:

1. Bake something. It seems like whenever I bake a batch of cookies or a pie it eases the cooking duties for the whole week because we have access to an awesome snack.

2. Clean the bathroom and floors. During phases when I do clean weekly, it takes me about half the time to do so compared to when I keep postponing.

3. Ignore the To Do list. I’m becoming a lot better at this. If just once a week I designate a day where I don’t try to get anything done, but instead pay full attention to Alzette and simply relax, I feel rejuvenated for the rest of the week and not as worn out on Friday.

4. Do 1 thing alone. Whether it’s going for a walk, visiting a friend, or going to a yoga class, I need to leave the house just once without Alzette and have some self-time. This is something I’ve been more attentive to lately and it has made a big difference.

5. Write. I’m so glad I started this blog. As I’ve been better at writing more regularly this year, I’ve noticed that it’s a good release and my mind feels more at peace when I do. It’s no wonder that my generation is re-embracing being a mom at home when we have access to sharing our feelings and experiences through resources like blogging.

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Love in the Neighborhood

IMG_6486

I’ve come to appreciate the value of good neighbors more than ever as a parent. Now that my neighborhood is not just a place that I live but the community where Alzette will grow up, being surrounded by good people has become all the more important.

Baking with Sarah

Alzette enjoys baking in our neighbor Sarah’s kitchen.

I think most people anticipate what their neighbors will be like when they move into a new place. Neighbors are that one factor that you really have no control over. You can try to meet people before you make a decision, but there’s no way to know whether that smiling face will turn into a fence-disputing-grass-measuring rival in a few weeks. When we found our new home during my early pregnancy, Scott and I had heard enough horror stories from others that we felt we could do nothing but hope for the best.

And that’s what we got! Seriously, our neighbors are the best. Don’t ask me why we are so lucky, but we’re simply surrounded by friendly and thoughtful people: adults we feel akin to, and kids who play with and also serve as good role models for Alzette. Some have even become stewards of our home through their professions: pruning the trees in our yard and completing electrical projects in our home.

Playing with Eva

Eva and Alzette are the same age and like to get together for play time.

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12-year-old Olivia stopped by one day to build Alzette this “ice throne” made out of snow!

I try to celebrate Love every day, and St. Valentine’s Day presents an opportunity to do something special. This year I’m particularly grateful to live in a community of individuals who value the importance of a life built on Love and friendship.

Ice Sculptures1 Ice Sculptures2

Alzette has fun playing around the ice sculptures our neighbor created in his yard.

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These Are Not S’mores

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I Love my mom for many reasons. Most recently, I love her for teaching me that if you zap a date in the microwave, it turns all soft and syrupy. Dates are pretty magical already, so adding the warmth factor has brought a whole new dimension to one of my favorite treats. And then Mom told me that she puts them in between two graham crackers to make “S’mores.”

“Oh, so you add chocolate?” I ask. Nope. “Marshmallow?” No. I also love my Mom for her inventiveness.

The warm dates between two graham crackers were awesome, but I couldn’t resist adding ice cream for this super easy and super delicious recipe:

1. Place two graham cracker halves on a plate. Place two dates on each half (find the largest dates in the box of course!).
2. Microwave on high for 20 seconds.
3. Add a small scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of the dates.
4. Top with the other half of the graham cracker and enjoy! (You’ll need a napkin)

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