Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sick Days Aren't So Bad...

The last two nights we have had Purslane in bed with us for longer than usual. Normally she comes into our bed we think around 3 or 4 so we let her finish out the night with us. She can put herself to sleep in her own bed which we think is the most important skill for her to learn at this age, so we don't worry about it too much. It is pretty sweet to wake up with a two year old's breath in your face anyway...

But Tuesday and Wednesday night, we heard her footsteps coming down the hall before 11p and we spent the next 4 hours taking her back to her bed, tucking her in, wiping her nose, finding her Pooh Bear, and just generally trying to convince her that night time is for sleeping. She was coughing and warmer then usual but not febrile so we had a little more tolerance but by 3am, Grant retreated to the guest room and the extra space in the bed kept Pursy from kicking me in any major organs.

After two nights of this, I declared today a sick day for all. I got up for my morning run but walked more than usual and added an extra scoop of coffee beans in my french press. I also decided to make blueberry pancakes for breakfast and linger a little longer around the breakfast table before getting everyone out of their pajamas. I have a bottle of gorgeous extra virgin olive oil that I use only in dishes where the flavor shines, and after looking in a few of my cookbooks for a good recipe and coming up empty, I did a quick Google search and found this:

Olive Oil Blueberry Pancakes

Syrup

Um, yes please. I love love love this blog, called A Cozy Kitchen and this fantastic recipe can be found right here. Every creative recipe I have made from this blog has come out delicious. Most of the dishes she has created herself and there is usually a story behind it. Her food designing is also fantastic. She either has the best set of dishes I have ever seen or her friends let her peruse their cupboards to put together beautiful canvases for her yummy food.

It was a fantastic start to our sick day. It is also snowing outside, so we could call it a snow day. Or maybe I can just enjoy the fact that I have one more full year with both babes at home and we can choose to stay home and do nothing but be cozy and eat pancakes if we want to without having to call anyone and let them know.

I need a food designer to take pictures for me.


"Take a picture of my bite!"



Thumbs up, Mama.

 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Top Five for Myself

Yesterday was a bad day.

Not just a "oh, you kids, you are really trying Mama's patience today..." but a "dear God in Heaven Purslane, if you push Knox down the stairs one more time I cannot promise that my reaction will be legal".  Yesterday was a parade of sassy talk, disobedience, boundary pushing, teething, crying for a solid hour instead of taking a nap, whining and general brouhaha. And that was just me on the phone with Grant after 8 hours of being alone with my children.

I failed in every way possible for a parent. I yelled, I disciplined while angry, I set unreasonable boundaries, I was reactionary, I did not model anything good or decent about humanity.

There was a point where I felt like I had already sprinted past the point of losing it completely, so I figured I might as well just go all the way and win the Worst Mother of the Day t-shirt. After 3 time outs and 2 stern talking to's, I told Pursy she was losing her trip to see the dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural History. And instead of sitting her down and talking about decisions and consequences, I think I hollered over my shoulder that we weren't going to the museum which of course resulted in an epic crying protest. I felt the sting of failure in my parenting and the loss of a chance to teach her something important about life.

When Grant walked in the door, I threw the babes at him (literally, I think) and ran upstairs to have a good cry in the bathroom. I felt like the biggest failure. I did some google searches on Pittsburgh day care facilities and looked at full time job openings at my hospital. I convinced myself that this stay at home Mom thing was a terrible decision. I emailed three of my friends and told them I had made a horrible mistake by having children and why couldn't they just leave me alone for one bloody minute while I opened the OVEN DOOR TO PUT A LOAF OF BREAD IN THE FREAGGIN OVEN??? Does everything in life have to be about them? I just wanted to do ONE thing for myself today- bake a loaf of bead. To which my sweet friend Jenna replied, "Yep, for a little while you just have to change your expectations of what you can do in a day."

So today I took her advice. I have two chapters in a book I need to read for Sunday's catechesis time, but am not even picking it up until the babes are in bed tonight. I want to clean out the craft drawers but that chore will wait until nap time. I will not do any activities that will be difficult or frustrating with P and K around to "help".  Today we went to the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library with our friends Allie and Ian, it is raining outside which means after nap time is cozy on the couch movie time, Grant is working late tonight and will be sad if I make pork tacos so the babes and I will heat up the leftover chicken orzo stew I made yesterday, and it is only 1 in the afternoon but so far today has been a raging success. There has been no need for discipline, no reactionary snappy parenting, and I feel like we are back on track.

But to put some salve on my wounded self confidence, I am giving myself a Top Five List.

Five Ways in Which I am Awesome.

1. I am running again. My lungs burn, my legs ache and if I were driving past me running I might follow me slowly to make sure I didn't need an ambulance called but I am running. I bought an awesome pair of New Balance lightweight road runners and love the bright neon blue and purple colors. I am running in the Pittsburgh Marathon in May as part of a relay team and am well on my way to running the miles I need for my heat. This is a big deal for someone who hasn't run since babe #1, and she turns three in April.

2. I made bread. I have wanted to make handmade bread for years and finally did it. I made a rosemary olive oil bread that looks prettier than anything I have seen in a bakery.

3. Pursy is potty trained. She has an occasional accident when she gets stressed or pissed off, but for the most part she is very proudly and very independently using the potty and picking out her own big girl undies. I came up with the method that worked for her and take a lot of the credit for the fact that she is potty trained. Grant had the harder part of reinforcing my method with her when I was at work or not around, but because of his support and her stubbornness being used for good and not evil, the girl is officially out of diapers.

4. I gave up television for Lent and have not cheated once. It sounds really 1990's to give up television and it sounds like a cop-out since we don't have cable, but I love watching shows in the evening on Hulu, cuddling with Grant and drinking a cocktail. Instead we have been going up to the 3rd floor guest room and reading books together. I have come to love that quiet evening activity and we might continue it after Lent is over. Not every night of course... Nashville and Breaking Bad are too awesome. And I LOVED my Sunday rest day sitting for 3.5 hours in front of the Oscars eating Kettle Corn and caramel apples with Allie. I love eating with pregnant people.

5. I looked over our calendar for the past two months and realized that at least once a week we have had people over for dinner. Sometimes twice in a week, if one of the dinner dates was a good friend who would be fine eating a big plate of simple carby pasta with us. We love having people in our home and it makes me really proud that we have not given up that part of our family life even though it can be extremely difficult to prepare a meal and clean the house with two children running around thwarting my every attempt at reducing chaos. Purslane and Knox love having dinner guests, and it was super cute watching our friend Wes help Pursy divide her pile of mashed potatoes so she knew how much "half" was.

So there you go, Christy. Yesterday was a bust and will not be repeated today. Today you are awesome and are succeeding in life. Isn't that what Joel Osteen would say if he were here??




Monday, February 25, 2013

Just be Patient! How Hard is That??

As I was saying this brilliant statement and question to my daughter, I watched her almost 3 year old head cock to the side and just look at me like I had no clue what was really going on. And she was right.

The impetus for my frustrated sentiment was for the fourth time I had just barely rescued my bowl of flowering yeast from her little fingers as she DESPERATELY tried to prove me wrong that it wouldn't taste good. I had told her she could try the bread dough when it was all put together and she just couldn't stand the wait.

Being patient is, in reality, pretty freakin' hard.

The biggest irony about my ridiculous question to her was that if there is one virtue she very rarely gets modeled for her in our household, it is patience. Grant and I are doers. We see something good and move on it, sometimes realizing once the consequences start rolling in that our idea was only half baked. We didn't think of how our actions would affect someone else. Or we assumed we had all the information and didn't realize we had the picture on the front of the puzzle box upside down.

The silver lining to this impulsivity is that very rarely have we been asked to do MORE. We aren't often on the receiving end of communication where it is politely suggested that we aren't pulling our weight. Usually the group or individual has to pull us back down to what is reasonable. Grant just started a new job a few months ago, and before his first day at work told me that he was very aware of his tendency to take on more than he could handle and wanted to be judicious in what projects to take on and what to commit to right out of the gate. Not surprisingly, within a month he was completely swamped with work and still being pulled into more projects with individuals who had seen what he could do and wanted to work with him.

I respect this. I understand that he would rather be told to slow down then face a co-worker standing awkwardly in his doorway painfully suggesting that maybe he could, possibly, maybe at this point do more? I try to remember that I respect this when he is sitting across the room from me at 10p with his face a soft blue reflected from his computer screen. I try to remember that I respect this when it is the third night in a row that I am putting the babes to bed by myself and he is taking the late bus home. I try to be patient. But it is hard.

I try to remember this when Knox's teeth STILL haven't come in and he is just sitting in the middle of the room chewing on his hand, drooling and doing that sad panda cry that after 2 weeks sets MY teeth on edge. I try to remember this when Pursy is in time out for the third time before breakfast because she just can't connect that every time she climbs on the counter she will be reprimanded and plunked down on the steps to sit by herself. I try to remember that parenting children is a marathon and not a sprint and I need to be patient with myself and them. But it is hard.

I try to remember this when I pull on my jeans and make the daily decision if it looks better to wear them OVER or UNDER my post-baby(s) belly. I try to remember this when I look at friends of mine trying to keep weight on after pregnancy and breastfeeding, lamenting that they are smaller then they were in high school. Please forgive me if I just take another swig of my beer instead of sympathetically shaking my head. I have no patience for the belly that won't go flat, the lungs that won't let me run 5 miles anymore, and the muscles that after doing such amazingly hard work during pregnancy are tight and inflexible. I try to be patient. But it is hard.

I know patient people. I love being around them because they are like a necklace of fresh lilacs on a spring day. I breathe in their calm approach to life, their systematic way of thinking and their appreciation of the process rather than the result. I wish patience was offered as a short statement, like a class description on free courses from the local library. You could choose from Tai Chi, German for Beginners or Patience. In 8 weeks you could be proficient and ready to teach your own class. Look at me, I am your Patience Instructor. Learn from me.

The ironic thing is, that kind of IS my job description. It is my job to teach patience to Purslane and Knox- both by example and verbal instruction. A friend of mine gave me the brilliant idea to have Pursy count to 10 if she came over and interrupted me doing something and wanted attention. It worked so well for about a week. She would stand beside me and dutifully count to 10 before again tugging on my leg or requesting juicewater. I even convinced her that counting to 20 was the next step for big girls, which bought me another 7 seconds of conversation or herb chopping. But after a week or so she got bored with that and the counting turned into shout counting or speed counting, defeating the purpose. She tried to be patient. But it is hard.

The bread is peacefully rising in the dutch oven now- a beautiful rosemary olive oil artisan bread that I'm sure will be delicious and is a notch in my belt of expanding my homemade food repertoire. But it could have been a fun mother-daughter activity where I wasn't the only one proud of what she made. Pursy could have taken some ownership of making this bread as well, if I would have been patient enough with my almost 3 year old daughter and let her help.

Siggghhh. Tomorrow is another day. And if I am a teenie bit more patient with Pursy tomorrow, I will be content with that. And if I run a little bit further tomorrow then I did today, I will be happy with that too. And if I can greet Grant at the door when he comes home late tonight with a hug instead of a diatribe about all the slack I picked up today because he wasn't around, I will be a raging success.

That shouldn't be hard at all.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Songs We Don't Sing

One thing Grant and I do very well is lay our shit on the table. We are open about our struggles- as a couple, as parents, as friends, as children, as siblings, etc. You don't have to know us very long before we will invite you into our world, and sometimes people don't really like what they see. We have been labeled as "too much" by some. Too honest, too depressed, too needy, too happy, too candid, too... too... too. We don't believe in hiding much, unless it would do more obvious harm than good, and there have been more than a few apologies made to people who were the recipient of the Martsolf "no holds barred" thought process.

Once we have been in a place for so long, our friends get used to us. They don't get uncomfortable when I talk about our sex life at the dinner table or they sit patiently on the other end of the phone and listen to me yell because I don't want to yell at Grant and need to yell at someone about him. Our best and truest friends have listened to their fair share of things that most couples don't make the outside world privy to. We believe that the only way to bring light is to acknowledge the darkness. We don't shy away from getting into the deep, heavy bits of life and tend to gravitate more towards people who admit that life isn't always a bed of roses. This makes us an acquired taste.

On Friday, Grant and I attended a conference together. We left the babes at home with a sitter and enjoyed the rare beauty of sitting next to each other for 5 hours listening to different speakers. One of the presenters was an artist named Scott who spoke about a woman in his church who was recently diagnosed with cancer. He showed pictures of Sarah and her fiancé before she knew she was sick, pictures of her wedding day stunning in a white head scarf, and then, after we had all fallen in love with her smile and her life work with refugees, Scott told us that she died. He talked about what his community did with her death. He talked about the deep sorrow and darkness they all fell into, trying to make sense of why something like cancer would happen to someone who was obviously giving so much light and goodness to the world. He spoke about a trip to Israel that he took with Sarah's widow one week after she passed away and how they just walked the streets where Jesus had walked carrying his cross to the hill where he was going to die.

Instead of spiritualizing the significance of Jesus dying and Sarah dying, Scott talked about how  horrible it felt that she died. How lonely and how dark and how unanswerable the questions were. He talked about how Christians rarely sing the song of pain and sorrow that non-Christians sing when really bad things happen. The terrifying fear that struck the heart of every parent after the shootings in CT. The unimaginable grief of the mother who returned to her apartment in NY and found the nanny had murdered her two young children. The hopeless and vacant stare in the eyes of women who have been raped and the bodies floating down Canal Street after Hurricane Katrina. The high school students in Chicago who drop to the ground when shots are fired at them from neighborhood gangs because if you run, you get shot in the back. Starvation, suicide, war, homelessness, natural disasters, terrorism, kids with cancer- the list of things that keep those who don't believe in God from changing their mind.

Scott talked about the words that Jesus said while He was hanging on the cross, dying for the sins of the world. He quoted song lyrics. Lyrics from the Psalms- "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?". In his dying moments, Jesus sang the song of pain and experienced the dark and lonely reality of being without God.

If the Son of God can pound on the casket and say that death is not right, why can't we? We who know or at least have been presented with the idea that life was supposed to be beautiful and safe and peaceful, why aren't we the ones screaming the loudest that this is unfair? That kids shouldn't die, that humans shouldn't be abused and raped and murdered and left alone, that the world shouldn't be chaotic and scary. This is not how it was supposed to be.

But it is only when we sing the song of pain and sorrow that the second song makes sense. The song that God sings back to us as the answer to our rage and confusion. The answer to our screaming into the darkness. God answering back that we can bring our anger and our sadness and our pain and our confusion to Him. He is not afraid of them. He isn't surprised by them. We don't know what to do with them other than feel them so intensely it would crush us. He is calling us, summoning us, asking us to come closer. To be human. And to be loved. To remind us that one day, all things will be made new. Omnia Nova. The return of life as it was created to be. No more pain, sorrow or death. No more tears or loneliness. God will be with His people again.

Grant and I might be really good at singing the first song. Pounding on the casket and saying that life isn't fair. Showing our guts to the universe. Living our own Jonny Cash song. But I have asked myself many times how good we are at echoing the truth we believe about the second song. That Jesus Christ is calling us to Himself. That the reason we aren't devastated by the troubles we face is because we believe one day God will return to earth and everything will be according to its original design. Do our friends know that we believe in God and what that means?

The calling of St Matthew. Michelangelo Caravaggio, 16th century

Emily VanSant



When I asked my sweet friend Emily if she would be willing to write the first guest artist feature for my blog, she agreed without hesitation and then hemmed and hawed for almost 3 months before telling me that she was trying to work up something perfect. I proceeded to give her an arbitrary deadline for turning in her feature post, reminding her that I didn't want perfection- I wanted whatever she wanted to throw out to the world. This tough love works in my favor because whatever Emily touches seems to be beautiful. Emily is a talented photographer, graphic designer and fashionista who should have been born in the 1950's. Her style is whimsical and classic, and she loves a good record on the turntable. She is loyal and hardworking and leaves her world open to inspiration from anywhere. Her photographs capture more then the pure image- somehow she finds the question you didn't know you were asking until you saw her picture. Her photography exhibit is finally open to the public at vantography.com.
 
Without further ado, meet my friend Emily VanSant.
Emily and Jake, circa Mad Men 1960's.
 
My Dad has to be the champion of all things homemade. Sometimes they take him a few more years than planned to complete, but for as long as I can remember, my Dad has relished the giving and receiving of gifts made by hand - especially those including woodworking. He has made everything from wooden calendar holders for various ladies in my family, to a beautifully dark-stained bureau for my Mom that sits proudly in our living room. He picked out the speckled glass in the windows, the best wood he could find - he did everything. Every time I look at it I am so proud of him.
Nearly every corner of our home is hand made by my Dad. He'll deny this but he puts Bob Vila to shame. No questions asked. This Old House, meet the VanSant House. In fact many homes from Iowa to West Virginia to Mississippi have the Calvin VanSant builder's stamp on them as he has used his gift on countless missions trips to help rebuilt homes and lives in broken communities and in the process reaffirm to his family the importance of giving.
 This Christmas he made two wooden 6-pack holders for my brother-in-law, Adam, who has become quite the home brewer and has been carrying his beer creations around in old cardboard carriers recycled from store-bought 6-packs but now has beautiful carriers with his own name beautifully printed on the sides. I love that my Dad made a gift that is not only functional and well-crafted but also created a platform for Adam to showcase his passion to others.
He encouraged us as children to make things by hand--and not just gifts. The idea of a store-bought Halloween costume was a sort of blasphemy in my family. To this day I've still never purchased a costume and you can mark my words that my own children will continue this tradition to the best of my creative ability. My Dad has spray painted nylons stretched on wire for my sisters and I's butterfly wings, helped my brother turn a large box into spongebob, slice a foam baseball in half, paint eye slits and fix the halves to my brother's head when he was Kermit the frog and expertly used face paint to transform our little kid faces into anything we could dream up. One of my favorite pictures of my parents is from Halloween of 1991, less than a month before my brother was born. My Dad was tall and convincing Cat in the Hat and my mom was a beautifully plump Pillsbury Dough Boy (girl). It's perfect. And when Mother's Day came, we made things for my mom like a hand-decorated kitchen apron and, my proudest, a napkin holder with my own small hands cut from wood holding in the napkins.
 
 And with the mention of my mother, I have to say that she is just as involved in my love for the 'handmade,' though her laboratory is not in the woodshop but the kitchen. My mom has made and jarred her own strawberry jelly (which is addictive if you ask the right people), tomato sauce, salsa, pepper jelly, apple butter and apple sauce. She freezes fresh corn to eat in the bitter winter and bakes incredible from-scratch desserts that I blame for my incessant sweet-tooth to this day. Her infamous 'throw together' meals are made from whatever she finds in our cupboards and are dependably delicious and homey.

My mom was never a pioneer woman type and never gloated about making things from scratch. That was just how it was done. You bought ingredients at the store or dug them from the garden and you made food at home (though I can fondly remember Entenmann's donuts on Sunday mornings as a child and do not hold this against anyone - I love the chocolate covered ones!). She recently even ventured into wreath making and fashioned me an amazing succulent-covered wreath that proudly hangs on my apartment door as you read these words.
So parents, thank you for grinding the coffee beans fresh before brewing them. Thank you for teaching me how to hang drywall at a young age. Thank you for the constant stream of strawberry jelly and for the halloween costumes that were always better than the neighbors. Thank you for the lesson that things in this life are best experienced when we make them with our hands and appreciate them slowly. I owe my love of cooking, art and design to your love of these things.
  
My Brother and I enjoying the Art of the Homemade

 







Thursday, February 14, 2013

Morning Glory

The mornings after I work are usually Grant's to do the early morning things- get Knox out of his crib and change his diaper, pour Pursy her first cup of juicewater and help her on the potty. This morning I am so glad I pretended I was asleep when Pursy whispered in my face "Mommy I have to go potty. Could you help me go potty?" because I got to lay in bed and listen to this magnificent father/daughter conversation go down in the bathroom.

Grant: Pursy, Mama is still sleeping because she worked until late. Can Daddy help you?

Pursy: Sure!

Grant: Okay, let's go sit on the potty. Do you have to poop?

Pursy: Yes I do.

Grant: Good job. If you poop on the potty this morning you get to pick out your big girl undies.
Which ones do you want to pick?

Pursy: Oh, I love the rainbow ones. Do you know where they are?

Grant: I think they are in a laundry basket that I folded last night.

Pursy: Oh, that is great. Those undies are my FAVORITE.

Grant: I know.

Pursy: Can I brush your hair?

Grant: No.

Pursy: Oh, well, are you going to put gel in your hair?

Grant: Probably after my shower.

Pursy: Why after your shower?

Grant: Because I want to wash my hair first.

Pursy: Oh, that sounds great.

Grant: Thanks.

Pursy: Can I see your tattoos?

Grant: Sure. They are right here.

Pursy: Can you show them to me?

Grant: Sure. This is the Rose of No Mans Land. This is a bird with Pursy and Mommy's names on it, this is a boat for Knox and this is John Calvin. This one is a skeleton playing a guitar, that is a lady singing and the last one is a record player.

Pursy: I don't like that guy.

Grant: Which guy?

Pursy: That guy playing the guitar. He has a scary face.

Grant: You don't like his face?

Pursy: No, his mouth is too scary. I don't like him.

Grant: That's okay. You don't have to look at him. Did you poop?

Pursy: Weeellll. I did. But I don't like that scary guy. Can you wipe me?

Grant: Yep. There you go. Now go get your big girl undies.

Pursy: I like the rainbow ones. They're my FAVORITE.

Grant: I know sweetie. Go get them.

Pursy: I am going to wake up Mama and tell her I pooped and peed on the potty.

Grant: Don't wake her up Pursy. Mama is sleeping.

Pursy: MAMA GUESS WHAT I DID?? I POOPED AND PEED ON THE POTTY AND NOW I GET TO WEAR MY RAINBOW UNDIES!!!

Good morning glory.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lundi Gras

Today is the Monday before Ash Wednesday, traditionally known as Lundi Gras. We are more familiar and much more excited about Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday or the Tuesday before the beginning of Lent which is on Wednesday. We have had a Mardi Gras party almost every year since leaving New Orleans and tomorrow I am making a triple batch of Emeril's chicken and Andouille sausage gumbo, have my king cake ordered from Prantl's bakery and my red feathered mask is out and ready to go. Grant lovingly put together a Mardi Gras playlist and together with friends and loved ones we will cheers Abita bottles and second line around the dining room to the sweet notes of Rebirth Brass Band.

I am not Catholic, but have been getting to know more and more Anglican folks and thus am becoming more familiar with traditional church feast and fasting days, the sacraments and classical liturgical practices. All of these things seem to have significant impact on the observation of Lent, a 40 day period on the church calendar of which I know very little about. A quick Wikipedia search (my husband is choking on his Diet Coke right now) and I found out that "During Lent, many of the faithful commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penitence." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lent).

* here is a blog about the five most common food vices given up for Lent, which the author respectfully calls the "spring deprivation ritual".

I grew up Baptist, spent my late teens and early 20's as a non-denominational, and the last decade as a Presbyterian. In other words, my spiritual life has run the gamut in terms of discipline of practice. In no church I have ever attended have we observed Lent. So I find myself at the tricky intersection of desire to properly observe this church discipline of the Lenten season and not knowing what Lent is. And it begins on Wednesday.

This might be a theme in my life... I accepted Grant's marriage proposal before I thought about whether or not I ever wanted to get married, but trusted the fact that when he asked me, all I wanted to say was Yes. I thought about the enormity of my commitment about halfway through our honeymoon when we were fighting about something and it hit me that I couldn't drive away and call this a Mulligan. 9 years later, I thank my naïve 23 year old self that she was courageous enough to say yes.

Is this how the great and defining things in life happen? The moment when there is a commitment being presented to you, and all you really know is that you want to say yes and jump in? Maybe if we had all the information we would step back from the edge and stay safe. Kurt Vonnegut said "I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center."

For those of you who observe Lent every year, this level of angst might seem silly. It's only 40 days after all, and there are no rules from what I can tell about what you choose to give up. It is a personal observation and spiritual discipline. But I don't do things like this half way. It took me 5 years to come to the conclusion that we should baptize our children, and the number of individuals from whom I sought advice was staggering. I just wanted to be sure because spiritual commitments like this should be taken seriously. They mean something.

So in the next 2 days I will think and pray and make a decision about Lent for me this year. Any personal experiences, wisdom and advice would be valuable if you would choose to share.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

To Capture the Moment or Live in It

Last weekend as we were enjoying some sweet time with our friends, I found myself unconsciously reaching for my camera to catch a photo of Knox and Peyton playing with blocks together or Purslane and Cole playing in their pajamas under the crib. I took a series of the exact same picture because the light coming in the window behind them made some gorgeous shadows across Grant and Peyton's face while they sat on the couch and she played with his beard. I wanted to make sure I had the perfect one.

Grant joked with me at one point that there is no situation so cute or enjoyable that it can't be ruined with a camera. What he meant was "stop taking my damn picture and sit down and watch life happen through your eyeballs rather than a camera lens". In all fairness, he bought me the camera but I doubt even he could have anticipated the anxiety it would create in me to document our life so we wouldn't forget anything. If you don't have a picture, it didn't happen right??

Initially the Canon T2i was a medium for my new art form- photography. I promised myself I would never change the setting from "manual" and always take the time to mess with the aperture, shutter speed, etc so that it wasn't just a point and shoot, but a holistic process of looking at light, color, focus, subject. The things that make photos remarkable. Then I realized that two little babes do not hold still while you are messing with the shutter speed, and by the time I lined everything up they were in the next room. So I changed the setting to "auto" and began clicking away. I just tell myself that because I don't use the flash I am still doing some of the artistic work...

Enter Monday evening. I am part of a facebook group of Mamas in Pittsburgh who take advantage of social media to ask questions, give advice, share interesting books and blogs and in general just give support to one another around the topic of motherhood. We have started a babysitting co-op to watch one another's children after someone realized that they weren't getting out on dates because finding a babysitter is hard work, plus a downer to a fun evening when you walk in the door and have to shell out $50 for the privilege of going out without your children. It is a nice group of women and I enjoy reading the thoughts of other Mamas. Most of the time opinions are offered with grace and friendly helpfulness and I appreciate that. So many Mamas in one place and you realize quickly the broad spectrum of parenting that goes on- even in a small place like urban Pittsburgh .

Monday evening one woman posted a blog called Hands Free Mama. The obvious message of the blog was to put down your phones and tablets and just pay attention to your life- particularly your children- as it is happening in front of you. And it got me thinking- is it time to put down my camera? So many times I take pictures and am already composing the blog post to go with them in my head. Am I stealing Pursy's joy of doing simple things by putting a camera in her face and asking her to do it "one more time so Mama can take a picture!". Am I modeling doing things for the sake of taking a picture, and even worse- thinking more about sharing it with people who aren't even in the room??

Grant and I had a huge fight/discussion about facebook last week as well.. he was giving me a hard time about checking my page while we were driving, instead of talking with him. And I protested initially, but as he voiced his feelings about not feeling as important to me as my friends on facebook I felt like he finally got through to me. It isn't the social media that is wrong, it's the way it casually intrudes on moments that it shouldn't show up for. As much as I would love to share my morning french press with Ariel or Liz or Julia or Margo or Becki or Sarah- they aren't there.

But Knox and Pursy are. Every morning they join me for breakfast. And are happy to be there.

So two nights ago when I was cleaning the kitchen after dinner, I moved the computer to the third floor guest room. And yesterday morning instead of checking blogs or reading facebook feeds, I sat down at the table and had my coffee with my babes. And we talked about Yo Gabba Gabba and green juice and snowballs and what sounds elephants make.

And I don't have a picture of it, but I know it happened. And it was marvelous.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

No Accounting for Taste

One of Grant and I's favorite sayings is "There is no accounting for taste". (we also like "There is no bottom" but that is a different blog post) We say this to each other when we are watching people do or wear or eat things that we would never in a million years dream of doing, wearing or consuming. It is our way of staying classy whilst we judge others.

He says this to me when I am giving him the sideways stink eye while he is eating a Sausage McMuffin with Egg on a road trip. "There is no accounting for taste. Don't judge me just because you don't want one".

I say this to him while I am perusing a celebrity smut rag standing in line at Target. "There is no accounting for taste. Just because you read the Economist doesn't mean you can judge me for caring that Angelina is pregnant again and wondering in my head what she looks like naked after birthing and raising 27 children".

You really cannot explain why things turn you on. Why certain people choose to put themselves in less then desirable situations because they just really dig what is happening and wouldn't choose the easier path if it meant they couldn't do what they are doing. Grant truly cannot understand why we are cloth diapering our children, particularly when he watches me (literally) up to my wrists in baby poop rinsing off diapers in the toilet. I just like cloth diapers and don't even think about not doing it. The fecal matter that occasionally splashes out onto my jeans is just what happens when you use cloth diapers, so I go change my clothes without annoyance. It just is what it is. I can give you the economic and ecologic reasons why I like cloth diapering, but the bottom line is that I just like it. There is no accounting for taste.

Other things I like. Local food and farmer's markets. Burts Bees. Knee high socks with boots. Food magazines. Kurt Vonnegut. Babywearing. Small confined spaces. Beer. Watching Pursy eat a pancake. My old slide keyboard dumb phone. Red toenails. Coffee in mugs. Parallel parking. Shelf bra tank tops. Knox's breath in the morning. Hemmingway.Trail running. Grant's beard. I could go on, but these were the first things that come to mind.

Things I wish I liked or that would make sense if I liked them. Whole Foods. Starbucks. Pilates. Juicing. Not having a TV. Rachel Ray. Kindles. The Walking Dead. Olives. Mommy and Me yoga classes. Flossing. Reusable water bottles.Valentines Day. Downton Abbey. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Politics. Herbal tea.

Who can explain why they like what they do? The people I have met in my life that I enjoy the most are those completely unconcerned with whether or not their taste preferences make sense with who they are and spend their time just liking what they like. The only space I really feel comfortable doing this in is music. Grant will follow me around the house asking repeatedly what I didn't like about The Dirty Projectors and all I can say is "I like what I like.". Then I will stand in the grain aisle of Trader Joes for 4 minutes wondering whether it will look cooler if someone opens up my pantry and sees white rice or brown rice.

I prefer local, slow, natural foods without GMOs, hormones and fake additives. I just want to eat food in as close to it's organic state as possible. I care about whole grains and prefer minimal processing, so long as it doesn't take me 4 hours to cook dinner because I was in the back yard hulling and milling. It would make sense for me to choose brown rice. But I love white rice. There is no accounting for taste. And if you open my pantry you will see brown and white rice. But the brown rice is in the front. And I move it every time to get to the white.

January in the Steel City

Pursy eating breakfast with her Papa
December was job changes for both Grant and I, travel to TN and OH and the blessed holidays. Oh the holidays... looking back on it, I can say I thankfully survived and even sometimes embraced the chaos. I go way overboard with Christmas cheer and presents, and this year the babes were just young enough to think pulling ornaments off the tree was more fun then sitting quietly on the couch snuggled up next to their dear Mama basking in the glow of her Christmas decorations that I spent HOURS PUTTING IN JUST THE RIGHT SPOT SO YOU WOULD ENJOY IT, YA UNGRATEFUL LITTLE KID. And even though my favorite ornament met an unfortunate demise (Becki, could you paint me another red ball ornament with Martsolf Family 2011 on it??)  no children or husbands were harmed over the course of the holidays. It wasn't Norman Rockwell rosy cheeks and twinkly lights perfection, but it was ours. And we had fun.

8 Years of Wedded Bliss
January is my least favorite month. Other then our wedding anniversary (which happens on the 4th, leaving the rest of the month to drag on foooorever) I always look forward to the last day of January. It takes me a little while to get over the crazy happiness of Christmas and by the time I emerge from that and realize there is all this now- pointless snow on the ground, I am in a bourbon-only fixing funk. Fortunately for me, Grant plans and executes our anniversary trip every year and for our 9th (!) he took me away for a night to the Mansions on Fifth where we ate dinner at Legume in Oakland, saw a midnight movie in Squirrel Hill, had a sazerac or two in the bar, spent the night in a gorgeous room on the 3rd floor and had coffee delivered to me in bed in the morning.

 In January we realized that the sounds Knox has been making repeatedly had become actual English words- he turned 15 months on January 19th and his vocabulary includes: Mama, Dada, bubbles, book, cat, mooo, banana, gabba, cheese and roaaar. He tears around the house with his belly leading the way, running into furniture and tripping over the play food Pursy leaves scattered all over the floor. We taught him to get back up after a trip, put his hands over his head and say "TaDa!" which he does all the time, much to the amusement of strangers and grandparents.
Roosta Head!


Purslane is now in her second session of tots gymnastics at the Sarah Heinz house and loves performing all her floor exercises for any and all audiences. (including her androgynous baby doll she named "Teri". We are not sure if Teri is a boy or a girl or how she even learned the name Teri, but Pursy is adamant. Grant keeps trying to convince her that her other favorite baby doll should be named Pat but so far, that doll remains affectionately named "Blue Baby") She has a playdate every Wednesday morning at the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library with her friend Ian, while I have a grown up playdate with Ian's Mama, Allie. I am not sure who looks forward to Wednesday mornings more...

The Infamous Parsley Plant... alive!!

January also included weeks of traveling for Grant. He spent 5 days in California and 3 in Boston while the babes and I cried in our soup at home. We entertained the idea of us joining him during one of the trips for about 2.3 seconds before both of us shook our heads and waved goodbye. Traveling is not near as fun when half the travelers are pooping in their pants.

Speaking of pooping in their pants, January is also the month that we did round 2 of potty training with Pursy. The first foray into this maddening parenting sport included pounds of Trader Joe's gummy bears, Hello Kitty stickers and anything else we could possibly think of to reward Pursy for taking care of business on the toilet. This time we decided to motivate her with the deepest desires of her heart- to be in charge. Every time she has dry underwear, she gets to make a Big Girl Decision. That could be where she sits at the dinner table, what color cup she uses for her juicewater, what pajamas she wears to bed, etc. Any decision we can think of that puts her in charge of her own destiny she gets to make- if she poops and pees on the potty. Sometimes we regret our first offer of motivational decision making... her outfit to church last Sunday may or may not have included a polka dot dress, chevron purple tights, a turquoise flower in her hair and orange mary jane shoes. She looked CRAZY but so proud.

For my January, I can sum it up in two words- Dutch Oven. (Grant is laughing, I can hear him now...)But a literal dutch oven- a Kelly green beauty that my Mama gave me for Christmas which has become my favorite kitchen tool. I make everything in it- corn chowder, pork loin with tomato ragu, onion saffron lentils, bacon and leek linguini, mushroom and fontina frittata... it literally makes every dish amazing and so easy. It sounds dramatic to claim that I don't know what I did before I had it, but I do feel like I have Dutch Oven amnesia. (Grant is chuckling again)


This is what I feel like when I create amazing things in the Dutch Oven

The last few days of January ran into the first few days of February while we spent time with some dear friends of ours who moved to West Chester in June. Mark and Kim were in community with us in State College and have two fantastic babes, Cole and Peyton. It was so good to be together again, and to watch the next generation of good friends get to know each other.


Love the Chaos in this Photo
Watching Finding Nemo


Teaching Cole how to play "Tawa" (her made up game)






Guys and Doll(s)