Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Multitude Monday (now regularly appearing on Tuesday?)...#51-60

Thankful for:

51.  A pediatrician who always listens, who never thinks we're crazy for asking a million questions or having "minor" concerns, and who has a terrific sense of humor.  We love you, Dr. Estes.
52.  A husband who stays up late to watch Project Runway with me.  Even though he'd probably rather watch a hundred other things, he loves me enough to watch *and* participate:  "I don't know anything about fashion but surely that's ugly?!?"  He is rarely a fish out of water in any context, so when he is, it's just...endearing.
53.  When Will says "hug" and squeezes my neck super-tight with his little arms.  I love being special to him.  It makes me feel like I'm doing something right!
54.  Our next-door neighbors Lynn and Samantha and their daughter Marlee.  They are the *perfect* neighbors.  Celebrating our kids' birthdays, watching fireworks, having play dates together -- they have added so much to our (pretty lonely) lives here in east Tennessee.  Sam and I are having our first ever post-bedtime-for-the-babies movie date night on Thursday and I'm so excited!  Sam, we're getting out of the house!!!
55.  The fact that Lucy resembles both of her grandmothers.  I love looking at her and seeing my mom's eyes, and it blesses Marty so much to see a version of his mama's face and smile again.
56.  Pizza night!
57.  A general cooling-off temperature-wise in our town.  A harbinger of autumn?  (I have a feeling summer isn't quite through with us, though...)
58.  A long weekend coming up with no plans as of yet.  It feels delicious knowing we can fill it up however we want!
59.  A new arrangement of furniture in the house that makes my sweet little condo even cozier than before (didn't think it was possible).  Even though we want to be elsewhere geographically, I will weep buckets when I have to leave this place.
60.  My best friend.  For over 13(?) years, we have rarely been out of daily email contact.  Even if it's just "so busy today, talk tomorrow!" kind of messages, I know I'm always on her radar, and she knows she's always on mine. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Mommy Challenge #2: Just say "No"

To drugs?  No, but close.  To toxic blogs. 

Lately I've been working out who I am and who I want to be as a mom.  I've also been trying to figure out who I want to be as a blogger.  Interestingly, I've also lately been reading books on how to become a (better) writer, and in these books, the authors suggest that to know what you like to write, you have to know what you like to read.  I think it's no different for bloggers.  So, in addition to assessing those "voices of motherhood" I've been talking about, I've been assessing blogland voices for the same purpose:  to find what resonates with me so I have good examples, ideas to incorporate and wisdom to learn.  And in doing so, to refocus my attention on these things and cut everything else.

Well, let me tell you, it's been nothing but cut-cut-cut.  For several years, I've been following a certain type of blog, the "perfect mommy blogs" I've called them, and I've always had a love-hate relationship with them.  I've loved them because, gosh-by-golly, some people really seem to have pretty lives.  And isn't it nice to look at pretty things?  But I've also hated them because, for crying out loud, does it have to be *all* pretty, *all* the time?  It's funny because even the most perfect of the perfect mommy bloggers always seem to have the token "my life isn't perfect" disclaimer slapped on somewhere, but then they never reveal anything imperfect or non-pretty (dare I say "ugly"?).  And that's just frustrating.

Why?  Here's why.  I've been divorced.  I've been infertile.  I've been broke.  These are not things that I proudly proclaim or wear on a t-shirt, but they are part of me and my history, and close friends can attest that even when I was going through those things, I tried my hardest to learn from them, to find deeper meaning in life beyond a happy marriage, beautiful children, and piles of cash.  And even if I've been blessed with some happy resolutions, I could never, ever pretend as though those things didn't happen or that lots and lots of other people are going through similar things, and that even more people have struggles that I could never imagine.  And I can't pretend as though I'm not dealing with a new set of problems, either.

Have you ever heard of the phrase, "embarrassment of riches?"  I think this is what I'm talking about.  Riches meaning not just money or material things (although that's certainly a huge element), but an abundance of blessings.  And instead of having some embarrassment of riches, or as I would state it, a modesty about blessings, some bloggers choose to brag and flaunt, or complain about trivialities, or make their readers dizzy with dollar signs.  There is no search for depth or meaning to blessing or lack thereof, and there is no acknowledgement of struggle that might happen outside their front doors.  And I have found that this is a state of things that I find to be toxic, to put it bluntly.  Just plain poisonous.  Because I know people who can't pay their bills.  Whose children suffer from morning to night with heinous illnesses.  Who are in counseling to work through years of sickening abuse at the hand of a loved one.  I know people who go through the daily grind of life, utterly miserable in their marriages, in their jobs, in their homes, and they can't do a darned thing about it but pray for relief, restoration, peace, or deliverance.

This is not to say that blogs can't be positive, happy places, venues where we can (and should) rejoice with those who rejoice, even if that means ourselves.  Or that we can't talk about pretty things that we've bought, or nice places we've been to.  Of course I don't mean that -- I'm happily married to a wonderful man and we have two beautiful children together and I delight in talking about them!  It's just that nature abhors a vacuum, and so does blogland, at least for me.  Balance seems to demand itself, even if only a conscious inspection reveals as much.  And after being frustrated without exactly knowing why, I've done the conscious inspection, and I've found the vacuums, the toxicities, the too-pretty-to-be-true.  And I've cut them!

So here's the challenge.  Do you find yourself falling into the "it's so pretty and I want it and I'll read about it even though it makes me crazy" trap?  Do you follow blogs (or a friend or neighbor, for that matter) too closely, because you are fascinated, but you have felt the ugly side of the fascination, which is frustration?  I've actually thought to myself, perhaps I'm the only one who has struggled with this.  But I don't think so.  Because I've read comments sections on blogs where a negative voice gets dismissed as a "hater," when really, I think it's a person who just can't swallow all that pretty because she has so much ugly going on in her own life.  If you struggle with this, then I challenge you to cut-cut-cut.  Just don't listen or pay attention or tune in.  If what you're reading doesn't seem to ring true or feel balanced, then it's probably not good for you, and may even be toxic.  Wish the perfect mommy bloggers well and say Adieu.  And find blog(ger)s -- and people -- that are real, through good times and bad. 

My best friend challenged me to do this last week as I shared with her (for the umpteenth time) my frustration with a blog(ger).  She finally just said, "Stop reading it already!"  So I'm passing the challenge along.  Stop reading it already -- just say "no."

*My Link list is undergoing a massive overhaul due to this challenge.  I'm seeking out real mommies, real ladies who are going through real things and what?  Being *real* about them.  Be sure to visit my Link list in the coming days and weeks to find some new friends!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Daybook

Outside:  is Tennessee.  After 3 years, I'm still struggling with this.  Earnestly seeking new peace about this, or a change if that's what God has in mind!

Thinking: About too many things.  None of which I can share, really, and I hate this because I truly enjoy being an open-book-type person. 
Thankful:  That today is Friday, that Marty is home, that I can share some of the child-watching so I can get to some of the chores that have piled up since the contents of our car exploded in our foyer and kitchen when we arrived home on Monday night.  Hopefully tomorrow I can say "I'm thankful for a clean house."  Fingers crossed.

From the kitchen:  I made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies this week and while they were good, they weren't great.  They're just missing...something!  Don't know what.  I would welcome a good recipe!

Going:  Outside at some point this weekend.  Lucy is teething and Will is acting under the weather, and I'm pretty tired, too, so we haven't ventured out.  And I'm going a bit stir-crazy.

Reading: Elizabeth Berg's Escaping into the Open, her book on writing.  The more I read about the craft of writing, the more I wonder if I'm cut out for it?  Seems to be more punishing than rewarding, and that has been my personal experience with it thus far, to be sure.

Shopping: Still compiling a list of Christmas gift ideas from online shopping.  To stay in-budget, I need to spread out the purchasing over the next few months and I want to be done well before time, too!
Hoping:  Against hope.

Hearing:  "Blessings" by Laura Story on my Christian radio station.  This song moves me to tears, even when (especially when?) I don't feel like having a cry!

A favorite thing:  The smiles on my babies' faces when I go to retrieve them in the mornings.  Just priceless.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A follow-up to my Unpopular Parenting post

Wouldn't it be fun to have a blog named "Unpopular Mommy"?  You know, I was never really popular in school -- too much of a nerd and too snobbish(?) to want to compete for my spot in the sun -- and it seems I'm going to hold steady on this course throughout life.  Oh well!

I received lots of comments, both public and private, about this post and I knew I would; discussions about parenting never fail to hit nerves or strike chords, and it seems I did both.  That's okay -- it was something I had to get off my chest and I don't mind that others know where I'm coming from as a mom, even if it lands me in the minority (or the mud, so to speak).  However, it seems I may have miscommunicated something and I do want to clarify that:  When I talked about choosing to mother by instinct, I never meant to imply that I choose to mother by instinct *alone*.  I didn't mean to say that we should all eschew parenting advice in written form -- I'm an English major for crying out loud, I live "by the book!"  What I meant to say was a couple of things:  a) I want my instincts to win out, when confronted with competing/conflicting information, and b) that I wanted my initial days and weeks as a mother to be free from all voices other than my own, as I took those first faltering steps into motherhood.  I should probably add that I'm fortunate enough to have identified a particular weakness in myself early on in life, and that is this:  being inundated with too much information about how to do something only serves to paralyze me with fear of failure.  Going into birthing and mothering my son, I especially wanted to be able to trust my abilities and instincts and listen to my own voice.  And that meant drowning out and shutting out all other voices -- and their expectations.  And that meant I didn't read a library of books, or look around to everyone else to see what they were doing.

I recently read an anecdote that really illustrates where I'm coming from on this...  A young mother shared how she had been awake the night before, listening to her newborn son cry it out in his crib while she sat in another room, feeling a bit tortured by his cries and fighting her instincts to retrieve him, but also wanting a particular method to work on him, so he would adapt to a schedule and sleep through the night, just like she'd read about and watched her friends do with their babies.  With no offense to her, this is *exactly* what I don't want to do as a mom.  I don't want to read about a parenting method, or see a method that seemingly works for other people, and then try it on my family and work and stretch to make it fit us, even if it doesn't feel right to me in implementation, even if my instincts are on red alert while I do so, even if it's undoubtedly a square peg and round hole-type situation.  I don't want to be a slave to a book or method or piece of advice, just to fit in with my friends or the loudest crowd, or just to measure up to some arbitrary expectation. 

And I knew all this going in.  So I protected myself accordingly, and I'm so glad I did.  I had confidence in my choices (as much as a first-time mom *can* have) and looking back, I'm still just as proud of those choices and decisions.  Now, this doesn't mean I haven't sought advice -- I'll get my pediatrician to write a guest post on mothers of patients who come to appointments with written-out lists of questions if you don't believe me, ha! -- or haven't bought or read a parenting book.  It just means that with me, instinct rules the day.

However, as I talked about in this post, I have recently let that barrier of self-protection slip a bit.  I've had a particular private issue going on that has prevented me from seeing things as clearly as I have in the past, and it really compounded the sense of anger that I talked about in my post.  And while I processed that anger and felt it fade, I have been left with a bit of residual -- I guess "floundering" would be the right word -- as I completed my second year of parenting and stepped back to assess where I've been and where I want to go as a mom.  And in reading various blogs, I not only disagreed with certain approaches to mothering toddlers, I also saw that my approach to mothering my infants was (quite) unpopular and even a bit frowned upon by certain bloggers.  And oh, the frustration! 

So in the last few days and weeks, I've been asking questions of my girlfriends and mothers who I deeply respect.  And one of the main questions has been, I need some information and advice and want to seek it in books and on the Web, but how do I filter all that I encounter?  How do I get away from the blogs that frustrate me and find voices that echo or add to my own?  How do I continue to work out who I want to be as a mom and glean from the world what works for me and discard the rest?

I've been told by a couple of wise women that first and foremost, it's a process and there's a learning curve, figuring out what type of mother you want to be.  For example, I have found that I'm neither "granola" nor "modern" (thanks Elisabeth, for the terminology!).  And hey, that's a step, right?  And secondly, I've been pointed in new directions for information and advice -- new blogs and books and voices that encourage more "me"-, more "in the doing"-type parenting.  I spent a couple hours yesterday just drinking these in, and it was a refreshing draft, let me tell you!

Right now I'm still busy researching these blogs and books (and enjoying the process) but I hope to soon share a collection of resources compiled from friends and my own wanderings.  Let me please ask and encourage you to share your own, too!  Please pipe up in the comments.  One note, though:  I am not interested in "method" parenting whatsoever.  I'm seeking wisdom, humor, and honesty above all else (and a little bit of humility never hurts) from these resources, not a magical formula or a step-by-step system.  Also, the resources don't have to be "perfect" per se; you can still suggest them even if you've only found some of the information to be useful, or only partially in line with these criteria.  Sometimes we have to dig a bit for those nuggets of gold!

I just want to reiterate that I'm on this particular journey for my own sake, but I am all too aware that there are other moms like me, who find popular methods to be jarring and distressing and incompatible with their family's lifestyle and worldview.  I'm aware of this because some of you sweet moms have shared as much with me, and I'm hoping that, along with me, you'll find some new voices that are actually in harmony with your own and encourage you to be the mom that you want to be!

At the Zoo

Last Friday, my sister Katie and I took the babies to the Indianapolis Zoo.  The morning was overcast and not overwhelmingly hot, so we were in high hopes that we wouldn't melt.  Unfortunately, by early afternoon the sun was out and blazing and the air was just plain sticky, but by then we'd packed in plenty of fun so we were ready to call it a day.  And what a day it was!  Will absolutely loved every second, though I don't think I can say as much for Lucy, who finally gave in to the nap that had been calling her name the whole time.  She did catch the dolphin show, so I know she had a great first experience, too!
Will and Mama at the dolphin show!  This is a free activity with admission and so worth the trouble of wrangling kids inside and up ramps without strollers (you have to leave them outside for some reason?).  We had great seats and the dolphins performed so well!

Lucy with my sister, "Aunt Modey" (don't ask, it's a family thing).  Lucy was a bit bug-eyed because the music was loud and people were clapping and I think that's her first experience with something like that(?).

It's difficult to get good pictures of an aquarium (and in a dark building) but I think you can see that the trainers were showing us how they work with the dolphins.  (The dolphins all have fabulous names and of course I can't remember a single one...)  Anyway, this dolphin performed lots of stunts for us; she was so much fun to watch!

Another shot of her; what a beauty!

At the Oceans exhibit, showing Will a manta ray!  He was utterly fascinated.

Now showing us a thing or two!

I love this picture -- Will wanted to grab ahold of these underwater friends so badly!

This is the view of Will that I see most often in a public place (where I feel safe for him to walk independently).  I end up chasing him and running myself ragged, but it's worth it for him to feel free to run and play for a little while at least!

Will acted like an old museum/exhibit pro, going to each display and even seemingly reading the information!  He was cracking me up.

My favorite picture of the day.  Will was waiting for the sea lion to circle back around.  He was just in awe.

Yup, that's awe on his face!

We finally made it out of Oceans and went to Plains, where they have a carousel.  First ride on one!

A zebra!  I would hold Will and tell him what the animal was (he knew "giraffe" but wasn't so familiar with zebras) and he would look at me like, Really Mom?  Are you putting me on???

Again, he didn't quite seem to believe it was a real lion!

Meanwhile, Lucy saw the inside of her eyelids...poor baby zonked after Oceans!

Another favorite picture -- I always wanted to be a mom and this shot says "Dream come true" to me, all the way to my mom shoes!

I saw this and started cracking up.  Katie thought I must have been losing my mind until I said, "Giraffes don't let their babies cry it out!" 

Not happy to be back in the stroller but fading fast...

...and officially faded!  He had the greatest time.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Multitude Monday (again on Tuesday!)...#41-50

Thankful for:

41.  Seeing the Blue Ridge Mountains begin to appear in the distance as we traveled south yesterday, and feeling my heart skip a little, knowing that at least for now, they are home, and what a lovely home they are.
42.  Our portable DVD player with two screens.  I asked Marty yesterday how we would travel without it, and he said, "Well, we wouldn't."  And it's so true.  I hate that our littles are couch potatoes for several hours at a time, but at least they are happy to sit still long enough to make our interstate journey!
43.  Long talks with my beloved on road trips.  Planning out our fall and Christmas seasons with things we'd like to do and people we'd love to see.
44.  Coming home to a house that smelled of detergent, coffee, and eucalyptus.  The combination of fragrances was like the warmest of hugs last night.  (I'm beginning to think I have an unhealthy affection for my little condo.)
45.  The possibility of another weekend getaway in September for me and Marty; it's not for sure yet but the hope is frankly tantalizing!
46.  Watching Lucy take some pretty confident steps while pushing her little ride-on toy.  I think we're going to have another walker within a matter of days now.
47.  Friends who guide and encourage and take the time to do so, even though they're extremely busy.  It doesn't go unnoticed or unappreciated by me!
48.  My two new paint-on-burlap prints from Kirkland's clearance rack ($11 each!), one of a fork and one of a spoon, that I'm going to gleefully hang in my kitchen tonight with Marty's help.  (I will post a picture of them once they're hung!)
49.  Episodes of Project Runway to catch up on.
50.  The fact that half of my readers are English majors, yet no one is going to criticize me for ending that last point on a preposition.  ;)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lucy's 1st Birthday!

In this post, I talked about our goals for celebrating birthdays with our kids, and as planned, we wanted to make a big deal for Lucy's first birthday.  However, leading up to our departure date for Indy, we were really beginning to doubt the wisdom of spending the money we were slating for expenses.  At first we wanted to cancel altogether, but we decided (through some strong grand-parental coercion!) to go ahead and make the trip but to also majorly cut back the party.  Like we told Lucy, she'll just have to get her first pony for her second birthday, ha!

Throwing a birthday party, even a small one, in a town where you don't live has its share of challenges, but so many people helped in so many ways.  My sister offered up her home as the venue, and with a hard-working hubby, 4 kids, and an extremely busy schedule, this was no small offering for her to make, and I can't express how much I appreciate her generosity.  My mom made all the food (in addition to a zillion other things), my dad painted the cake topper (quite meticulously), my sister and brother-in-law helped hang decorations -- even my sister's best friend and my grandpa's CNA pitched in!  For a (recovering) perfectionist like me -- i.e., as someone who prefers to do all the work and present a picture-perfect party -- I could have let all of the above wound my silly pride, but I made a conscious decision to just be grateful and roll with things, no matter how they turned out.  And they turned out great!

My grandpa's CNA Carrie on the left, Malissa (sister's BFF), and my sister Katie, a.k.a., very proud auntie!  (Of course I didn't get a picture of my grandparents or my sister Sarah or even halfway decent ones of my parents...big fat photo FAIL!)  This picture shows the girls assembling streamers that I thought were the fold-open kind, and ended up being the carefully-open-and-don't-tear-the-tissue kind -- never again!

Daddy feeding his girl some birthday dinner (I did *not* choose that bib for her -- that was Will's!).

Sweet potatoes, anyone?

The incredibly high-maintenance streamers were at least incredibly pretty!

And Lucy loved 'em!

If you can't tell, Lucy had a "Paris Princess" party and I decorated with black, white, and pink.  I found this amazing gift wrap at Hobby Lobby!

Lucy approves!  (This was her second outfit, owing to a sweet potato mishap befalling the first one and well, a birthday girl is entitled to a couple of wardrobe changes!)

I *loved* the final product with the cake.  I found a little cheap wooden Eiffel Tower at a craft store and my dad sanded it and painted it for me so it would be cake-topper-cute.  The black-and-white damask plates and pink napkins made me so happy!

Don't you love baby's first cake pictures?

She didn't eat much but she really enjoyed taking little tastes of icing...

Can't you just see "YUM!" written on her face?

Birthday girl with her Daddy...

...and with her Mama.

And with her cousin Abby, who is going to be my go-to babysitter one day!

Finally, presents!  Yes, I know, I look more excited than Lucy.  I'm a girl and I was surrounded by pink prettiness, what can I say?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Multitude Monday...#31-40

Thankful for:

31.  Planning a 24-hour getaway this weekend with my beloved; we are as giddy as would-be honeymooners.
32.  The perfection of "Away in a Manger" as a lullaby -- the theme, the tune, the lyrics ("Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care").  Will sleepily smiled up at me as I sang through it a couple times and I just melted inside.
33.  My mama's homemade ice cream.
34.  The humble, earthy experience of picking grape tomatoes from my Mom's garden for her, how each little tomato just tumbles off the vine and the plunk sound they make as they hit the bucket.  (I feel gardening might be in my non-condo future.)
35.  Small successes in life...I recently fell in love with couponing and a major part of the system is the idea of stockpiling.  I've been couponing and stockpiling (in an empty diaper box) since arriving in Indiana and last night, I reviewed my receipts; in a box filled with $91 worth of (needed) items (laundry detergent, cereal, toothpaste, hand soap), I'd paid only $43 for them -- a savings of 52%.  I'm just so grateful I've found a small way in which to shave off some of our expenses.
36.  Two girlfriend dates to Cheesecake Factory -- the dates as different as the girls themselves but oh, how I needed both those dates (and how I need both those girls).  (Do I have to call all of us "women?"  Why do I hesitate to do that?)
37.  Dunkin' Donuts' "buy 4, get the 5th coffee free" promotion.  I'm on my second card since arriving in Indy. (I can throw a rock from my parents' porch to the nearest DD.)
38.  Random, walk-in hair appointments that do not end in tears.  Brittany at Robert's?  Well done, friend, well done.
39.  $20 dresses at Target, especially when I've earned a $20 gift card just for buying diapers.
40.  Perusing online and walking aisles in stores, musing over possibilities for Christmas gifts, imagining how my babies would react to various items and already feeling the gleeful delight in their future. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Will's 2nd Birthday Party

A few months prior to Will's second birthday, Marty and I started discussing what kinds of birthdays and birthday parties we want our children to experience and enjoy as they grow up. (You might be surprised at the wealth of discussion material this actually incites!) After making a trip to Indiana (when I was 9 months pregnant with Lucy) and inviting a bunch of people and spending *way* too much money on Will's first birthday party, we decided that we'd like to make every "odd" year more of a big deal with family and/or friends and "even" years we would spend as a family, or just Mom and Dad with the birthday boy or girl, doing something very special and intimate and memorable. We love this plan. However, since Will was only going to be turning 2 and there isn't much that he could actually request or we could actually do to give him good memories (when does memory start?), we decided to just stay at home and scale it back costwise.

And we *loved* it. Marty and my dad grilled some hamburgers and hot dogs while my mom and I made salads in the kitchen. We put up a few simple decorations and invited our neighbors and Marty's coworkers (really the only folks we know in the town where we currently live). But these sweet people came with such enthusiasm and love for our child (and us) and well, we just felt so blessed. Will had a great time and got more loot than a kid really needs, and this from a mom who has to stop herself from spoiling her babies! The party only lasted for a couple of hours and then Will spent the rest of the day and weekend playing with his new toys and his balloons and his cousin Elijah (who'd come down for the occasion with my parents). If he could, I think he'd remember his second birthday!

Here are some pictures and details from the day:
The best venue -- our living room!  Will had a "Matchbox cars"-themed party and I used bright green and orange in the party supplies and decorations.

We bought the cake from Kroger and asked the bakery to make frosting to look like roads, then added the Matchbox cars ourselves.  I called it "Traffic Jam on the Way to Will's Party."

Lovely friends and neighbors who really made our day.

My parents -- Nana and Pa-Pa to our kids.

Can you tell they're all rather sweet on each other?

"Where's my cake?  I know where you can put it!"

Icing is really just a great excuse to go off-roading.

This one refused to nap but could barely stay awake, either!
Kisses for Mama.

Love at first sight!

This is the face that you want to see on your child on his birthday.  Success!

The t-shirt.  I don't know how my mom does it, but she manages to find a tee (or outfit) to fit any theme that I or my sister can concoct for our kids' birthdays.  This time was no exception and I was thrilled with it!

Happily playing with the loot.

The next morning, playing with his Cozy Coupe from Nana and Pa-Pa. 

And that's what I call a Happy 2nd Birthday!