Monday, February 9, 2015

Instagrammies 02/15

Welcome to round two of the Instagrammies (good timing, amiright?!), in which I share a few of my favorite accounts that I follow on my personal IG @weird_eyes. Did you follow any of the accounts from my first set? Which were your favorites?

1. DapperLou. It's funny - I was going to share this as "my favorite style account", but as I looked through the feed as a whole, there aren't as many style posts as I expected! Either way, the photography is great and the vibe is spot on. I love it.

2. BambooYang. I originally found this guy under #copicmarkers when I was posting some of Jonas' work before Jonas had his own account. His copic marker skills are out of this world, but he's also a talented tagger, though most of his work looks commissioned. It doesn't hurt that he posts pictures of the food in Taiwan (?) where he's from (?) and lives. Most of his captions are in Mandarin, and I'm bummed I can't read them, so I'm piecing together what I "know" about him. He has some buddies who he works with (as far as I can tell) and they seem to have a lot of fun goofing off/working together.

3. JenGotch. I'm crazy about this gals' cynical-glitter lifestyle. By that I mean the feed is full of pink hair, glitter pills, amazing donuts, neon "girls girls girls" signs, foster kittens (eeeee!) and disco-ball filled bathtubs (Jen runs a business of girls' accessories called, but she has a hilarious, self-deprecating sense of humor which make for some of the very best captions in my feed. She makes being in your 40s look way better than your 20s.

4. NatGeo. Sometimes IG accounts for household names like National Geographic are impersonal and clearly just for PR, but every one of the photos on this account (and they post a LOT) is fascinating, not to mention absolutely top-notch, visually. Duh. Doesn't this baby and baby joey just make your eyes bug out from the cuteness?

5. EmilyBlincoe. I'm a sucker for well organized, color coded things, and the subject matter for Blincoe's photos found object collages (pickles, mexican candy!) are right up my alley. Hearts for eyes.

6. SliceOfPai. Even if I love an account, sometimes I have to search through a lot of shots to find my favorite or a particularly strong one to share here. Not so with this account - ANY image could be plucked from her stream and win an award. Eye candy to the max. I always like a clever play on words, so her handle just tickles me every time I see it. This account is a combination of incredible food and travel photos, mostly with moody and rich colors, my favorite! I seriously want to show you every photo on this account, so just go follow it already.

7. TeenBug. This account features a really cute baby, but really, it's all about the captions. Every one just makes me nod my head for a long time. Here's an example (though it doesn't go with the photo I chose):
TEARS BECAUSE... My baby boy is turning 5 weeks old tomorrow and his newborn onesies don't fit him anymore.. Tears because said baby "could-not-would-not" fall asleep. Tears because I feel like I'm getting worse at this motherhood gig. Tears because I'm definitely worse at this wifedom gig. Tears because my super-gifted Xmen baby lifted his head up during tummy time today. I MEAN. Really. Lifted. It. Up. (Watch out Harvard.) Tears because I miss the little things like driving, drinking a hot beverage and chillin' in a dry bra. Tears because I caught husband dancing to John Mayer rocking our babe to sleep. FOR THE LOVE. Tears because I don't feel like myself anymore. More tears because I couldn't tell who I was before or who I want to be in the future. Tears because I should be sleeping instead of writing this. Tears because deep-deep down, I know I'm the luckiest girl in the world. TEARS BECAUSE. Just because. xoxo #welp

8. NYPL (New York Public Library). Librarians are my heroes. F'realz. NYPL has several great series, like old questions people asked of librarians before the internet, and using book covers to alter real faces (go see for yourself what I mean). I'm pretty new to following this account, but they seem very engaged with their audience, which is fun.

9. PaleyPhoto. This is a photographer I found via they Nat Geo account (they're great about tagging individual photographers!), and he caught my attention because he has a lot of images of people who live in the Pamir mountain range, which is where I grew up. His photos are of those living on the Afghanistan side, and we were on the China side. This little girl looks so lovely to me, though her cold-chapped cheeks break my heart!

10. WeNeverMet. If you like Humans of New York, you might like this account! It's all photos of strangers backs, captioned with made up details about them. Charming, and often funny and/or poignant. This guy's caption wasn't particularly great, but I'm obsessed with his sweatshirt.

That's all for this installment! Which is your favorite? Who have you been following lately that is worth sharing about? 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Darkest Hour

I keep thinking I'm going to write THE POST where I solve parenthood. And the problem of sin. It's like how I used to start every new journal as neatly and epicly as possible, because I was sure that upon my untimely young and tragic death, every word I put to paper would be collected, hoarded, and turned into a best-seller. Humility is one of my stronger suits.

But lucky for you (I know, I flatter myself), I'm back to the drawing board.

Parenting (ah yes, this again. Shocking. All my posts are the same these days) is a lesson (beating?) in extremes, and I am not a fan of the extremes, at least the difficult ones and how frequent they've become. It reminds me of that carnival ride with the ship that goes back and forth, like a swing, you know the one. One of my friends was proposed to on something like that, except more of an actual swing. Her now-husband refused to release their swing to fall back down until she answered the proposal. With parenting, I feel like I can't even resolve one extreme before being released, screaming and occasionally throwing up, to the other extreme. I don't get the chance to agree to any of it.

One day can encompass productivity, excitement, joy, contentment, wonder... but also intense frustration, anger, disappointment, exhaustion, bafflement, hunger, depression, guilt, inadequacy, resentment, and despair. The ride makes me sick. Legitimately sick, like sores breaking out in my mouth from lack of control. Sometimes I go to bed feeling totally whooped, other times I'm able to work myself back to the middle somewhere so that I have a better place to start in the next morning.

I only like the boat to rock if I'm the one rocking it, and I'm not even sure I'm in a boat anymore at this point. I don't do so well with emotions, let alone extreme ones. Parenting manages to encompasses both the best (some truly movie-like moments that I would otherwise think myself incapable of feeling or experiencing) and the worst moments of my life. The in between parts feel boring and hard and I feel guilty for just wanting to get past this stage, because what if the next stage is like this too, and I just go through life wishing for something else and never experience life?

Guilt is another theme I'm working on in my life - not guilt over what I've done or am not doing, but guilt over how I'm not living up to what I think other people expect of me. I've come to see recently that I might have a slight "thing" about control. I seriously wish I was a drinker sometimes, but I can't bring myself to get drunk or smoke or take [even prescription] drugs or throw things or scream because "I don't want to lose control of myself." I've always thought of being in control of myself as a virtue, but it's a very tiny step from trying to control everything, and I definitely don't see that as a virtue in other people. In fact, I have an arsenal of names for people like that. Being in control of my life is beginning to feel nothing more than hard-headed, though. Maybe I'm just not that good at taking it all on by myself. Actually, I am kind of good at it, but there's just no off switch, and that's where the issue arises, I suppose. (here's a picture for you, in case you're getting bored of me trying to self-soothe at the end of every single paragraph)

I've also been thinking (jeez, where am I getting all this time to think from?!) about parenting as an introvert. I've become a little less extremely introverted as I've grown older, but I think I'm reverting. Lately, I just want to BE. ALONE. For like a few hours. Or maybe a whole day (attainable goals only, here, people). I think the last time that happened was like 8 years ago. For real. I'm becoming a compulsive showerer (totally against my nature) because the bathroom door has a lock on it and people generally respect that they can't barge in on an occupied bathroom.

I'm about to get PG-13 here, so consider yourself warned.
This whole being-alone obsession is a little rough on the ol' marriage. I was crying in bed about my total lack of romantic or sexual interest recently (recently being since getting pregnant with my second a year+ ago), and really no light at the end of the tunnel. I've been holding out hope for the LST's (Longest Shortest Time) parents-and-sex podcast series, and installment 1, which came out the very next day after my little sniffle fest, did not disappoint. I always get in to trouble when I compare myself, and I'm especially vulnerable to comparisons when it comes to my love life (aren't we all? Please say yes.).

I've had this impression that healthy couples can't even wait the doctor's recommended 6 weeks to have sex post-baby. Seriously, I congratulate you if you're in that camp (I'm not being sarcastic, though maybe a bit bitter). I was so relieved and validated to hear that complaining about your sex life isn't even allowed for the first YEAR after a baby, according to the LST. I still feel kind of sad about the state of things, but it at least takes a weight off my shoulders to know that my complete lack of interest is normal and not shameful. Seriously, listen to the podcast (very, very NSFW) if you've had a kiddo in the past few years. There are some gold nuggets in there, such as: "sex" should not be defined as vaginal intercourse or mutual orgasm. Childbirth leaves you with physical (and sometimes other kinds, too) wounds. That's kind of a huge topic on its own, but I include it because it's a very real part of the overall struggle I'm engaged in with my life right now, and as usual, I think we all benefit when we're able to talk about real things that we have in common, but too seldom have the invitation to commiserate on or the encouragement of knowing we're not alone. (Just call me super-run-on-sentence girl!)

Anyway, another point he (guest Dan Savage, that is) makes is that some parents are being clung to and sniveled on ALL.DAY.LONG, and when you get to the end of the day and have even the opportunity for some private time with your significant other, the last thing you want is to be touched in any way any more (see also, correlation between breastfeeding and lack of libido). I find myself exhausted of being needed so much. Yet how can I say no to little arms reaching out, and my husband needing a hug? I don't really want to say no, but I do slide into patches of burn out. I feel stretched too thin at just about all times. I disappoint myself by finding affection so very undesirable.

I find motherhood to be a relatively thankless job (except on Mother's Day, which I freakin' love), and to be honest, I like to be recognized for things. I'm really working on training myself to care for my sons with no feelings of being put out or like I'm not getting paid enough (hahaaaaa) OR (and this is a mega biggie) resentment over division of labor between Jonas and I. I'm joking about this because I know you guys know that I truly love all my guys, but somehow the soft, cuddly, selfless me makes herself pretty scarce.

I beat myself up for being a "stone cold fox" as my sister Annelise says. Out of desperation, I googled "INTJ parenting" tonight. I know that Meyers-Briggs isn't the end-all-be-all by any means, but sometimes I just need to hear someone else describe exactly what I'm feeling to make me feel less like a floundering failure, and this google search provided it for me. I won't bore you with the whole assessment (I know you're just going to look up your own type, anyway), but it includes phrases like, "will likely never be able to deliver the sort of warmth and coddling that stereotypes say they should", "will take a clear and conscious effort on their part to curb and adapt these qualities to their children's needs, especially in the younger years", "heavily invested in rational thought, logic, and analyzing cause and effect...often unprepared for dealing with someone who hasn't developed these same abilities who they can't simply walk away from" (I said almost those exact words in a previous post!), "struggle to manage their own emotions in a healthy way, let alone others'", "tend to avoid 'unproductive' emotional support, instead taking a solutions-based approach to resolving issues".

There's a good side to this too, but I quake at the image of myself as this dictator, and my boys unable to feel warmth or approval from me, especially since I'm the stay-at-home-parent at this point. It's an encouraging assessment in that there's not something wrong with me for how I see the world or how difficult it is for me to connect with children, but I worry that I'm seriously handicapped when it comes to classic motherliness and I don't want to crush their spirits with my inability to communicate raw emotion and my frustration for childishness, even in children. I'm very much still learning what parenting is going to look like for me, but I can already tell that it's pretty different than what a lot of people think parenting should look like, and the weight of that criticism is no small thing for me. (here's another visual reward/representation of my psyche for you. Cheery, isn't it?)

One of our dear friends is a social worker. His main job is to teach parents how to play with their kids. Everyone who hears him say this thinks that's the saddest thing in the world, but I find myself really in need of that because it certainly doesn't come naturally to me. I watched my sister playing with Ira when she was home from school and she stood him on her knees and used his hands to mimic dancing to some music that was playing. He LOVED it, and I've since done it with him myself, and he continues to love it. This thrills me, and although so simple, it is something I probably never would have come to on my own.

In the last few years, I've been really proud of myself for becoming a happy person, which I really would never have guessed I would be - not because I've had a dreadful life, but because I fixate on heavy things. I've been spending a lot of time being miserable lately, and I'm determined not to lose happiness because I'm in a stage of life that is extremely challenging for me. I am trying to deal with the fact that the next few years might be consistently challenging for me as I try and shape myself into a woman who is not only less self-focused, but one who is focused on something (children, parenting, etc.) that is so irrational. I think this is an excellent goal, but it is really beating the tar out of me.

In the name of trying to preserve happiness (or grow into new kinds of happiness), I'm getting better at playing with my kids and seeking after endeavors that help me move forward in some direction, though I'm not sure what that direction is. It's taken 3 years, but I've finally succumbed to listening to children's music, despite the questionable theology of some children's praise songs and gender stereotypes in regular children rhymes, or downright bad advice. "Miss Lucy put the baby in the bathtub to see if he could swim?" Really? Miss Lucy is fired.

There's this one tape (yes, cassette tapes, people) that I have on heavy rotation (because it's the most tolerable and interesting) called Wee Sing Around the World. You can listen to a sampling here. I remember most of these songs word for word from when I was growing up, although somehow over the past 20 years, "mi burro, mi burro has a headache" became "mi burro, mi burro, mi rockin' rockin' burro." I'm finally realizing that listening to children's music is not about me liking or not liking it, but for the sake of doing something that my sons like. I really didn't believe that they would enjoy it so much more than regular music, but somehow they do, and an added bonus is that they enjoy our new morning playtime so much that I can almost accomplish half-a-thing while they play. Unless I get sucked in to creating the tower of Babel out of duplos (admittedly entertaining) or keeping Ishmael from pushing Ira over for fun or poking his cheeks or sitting on his lap. Ai, mi burros!

Childhood is so foreign to me, as children are little blizzards of being, encompassing contradictions, continuously changing, enjoying or hating things for no rational reason, saying and doing things I have absolutely no way of interpreting. I was never very good at being a child, even when I was one. Beyond the human-to-human aspect, I am the equivalent of a luddite for children's... things. I find myself at other people's houses or around other children and thinking, "if only I had gotten one of those baby round play walkers, if only I had known about hands-free pumping bras, if only....".

Before having Ishmael, I just thought, "what more do you need beside food and clothing and mud to play in?", and while I still hold that to be fundamentally true, it turns out that I am not a great playmate or storyteller or any of that, and so it could behoove me to take advantage of all the inventions for making children happy. It's pretty much out there if you can imagine it, you just have to ask Google where to find it (hellooooo, bra extensions!). Even proofreading this paragraph though, I realize that it's not about finding the right set of children's toys or activities that will make my relationship with my boys - or parenting in general - wrapped up in a box. This business does not fit into any boxes, and I have to come to terms with that.

I think I seriously am burnt out on my life. I just ignore phone calls and bills and stuff because I #canteven. I dread everything because I can't accomplish anything satisfactorily. I do pay the bills eventually, but I work several small jobs from home and sometimes I just let those go for a few days while I get a grip on things and have some more energy or even a shred of will to devote to them. I can't give up, but I also can't win. I will never have less to do in my life, I will never become organized enough that everything is accomplished satisfactorily. I will never find every answer, and I will never survive if I make that my aim. 

I was recently reading this excellent blog, Not Without Salt, whose writer published a cookbook of date-night-in recipes. You should watch the short book trailer (oh 21st century, you!), because her reasons for the book are SPOT ON and will resonate with so many of you who are parents, as it did for me. In a recent post on her blog, she talked about being exhausted from all the work with the book and having to let herself be the one coming to the table and needing to be fed, rather than the one always doing the feeding. Yes. Yes. Yes, on every level. Yes to needing to be filled back up again while things are constantly being asked of you. Yes to the love of cooking being the love of bringing others simple joy. Yes to the fear of losing that joy or that special time creating in the kitchen (ahem, past tense - lost) because it's all I can do to shovel microwaved hot dogs into their mouths. Yes to feeling like my husband is more of a room mate than a lover, thanks to life with little children, and just, life. Yes to that needing to change. Yes to that process feeling overwhelming and like one more thing that I won't be able to accomplish properly.

I have built part of my identity around the love of good food - making is, sharing it, searching for it - and I've had to abandon that to a degree since going from 1 to 2 children. Everyone says that going from 1 to 2 is the hardest jump of all (even more than from 2 to 3, and on up), and I don't know why, but I think everyone might be right. Dan Savage mentioned on the podcast that having two kids is not twice as hard as having one, it's 10 times as hard. The fact that both of my children are napping at the same time right now makes me an jedi master. You parents know what I'm talking about.

Maybe I'm just alarmed at how many bad days there are now. In between the extreme highs of parenting, which do happen occasionally, there's a lot of, "this is the worst day" and the next day,"no, THIS is the worst day!" My friend Heather assures me there will come a time again when things are less extreme, and I have the opportunity to do anything, and am not just be running around, crazy eyed, pj bottoms inside out, yanking drum sticks out of kids throats. I will again be able to wear headphones without taking them off every 10 seconds because I'm worried that one of the boys is suffocating in bed and I can't hear their squeaks for help. Someday, I might go somewhere by myself again (although this seems cosmically unlikely). Someday I might open the door to the JW ladies and not look like this. All the JW ladies want to tell me is about how the end of the world is eminent, and I think they're pretty sure the state of my life is the cause of this. Someday, I will get back in the kitchen and create again, perhaps even with two little sous chefs along side of me.

Heather assures me of these things, but I think she might be lying so keep me alive. 

I hear myself saying over and over as I write this, "I can't do this!". And the truth is, I can not do this. As a person of faith in Jesus Christ, I believe that I need his help, but I don't know how to accept it most of the time. I treat this relationship as a transaction: If I surrender, everything will turn out like I want it to. Even I know that that's not what surrendering control truly means. I'm not quite sure how things will get done if I can't do them and God isn't going to literally accomplish my daily to-do list either. There have got to be some in between options, but I have difficultly thinking in those terms.

One of my favorite songs we sing at Element from time to time has this line, "where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Chains are broken, eyes are opened." Last time I heard it, I kept repeating, "where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom," all week to myself, because I feel so very confined. Aaron (our pastor) recently did a few sermons on the prodigal son, and put the story in a completely different light for me. The older I get, the more I realize that I don't have everything worked out as well as I thought I did, which is both a sign of growth (I hope), and somewhat discouraging. I realize that although I know what grace is, I do not know how to receive it, and I think I can not have a meaningful relationship with Christ if I can not grow past trying to work my way to him.

I don't question my salvation, but I question whether I know at all what it means to truly follow Christ. Aaron used an analogy for grace that really struck me - he told the story of having had someone pay his bill at a restaurant once (which has happened to me before too), and how helpless it made him feel. It is useless to try and argue with the waitress that your debt is not paid or to try and pay it again a second time, and you have no way to thank or repay the person who paid for you.

I am well aware that trying to be good enough (aka "works") as a person to achieve what I want is a task that I can never do well enough. My natural desire is to try and pay my own way and rely on my own strength, but I am more and more sure that I can never be good enough. What is both amazing and frustrating is learning that trying to live in grace is even harder than trying to be good enough through works. The urge to take control of my own destiny is so powerful that I constantly fail to truly grasp the grace that is given to me. Never, before this past week, had it occurred to me that I might owe my God an apology for even trying to repay him for salvation. The concept of repaying is not only futile, but a slap in the face for someone who is simply giving you something out of love.

I love free stuff, but even when it's a transaction between me and another human, I don't consider anything to be truly free. If its a friend who has given me something for free, I remember it and want to return the favor at some point. If I get something for free from a stranger or a business, or even if I find money on the sidewalk, I feel [happily] like I got the longer end of the stick than someone else did. Being an INTJ is totally exhausting.

This is going to sound silly, but just as I had this post mostly written, I watched an episode (season 3, episode 2, in case you're wondering ;)) of Call the Midwife with my mom and sister Julia, and the in one scene, Jenny runs through the symptoms of postpartum depression and mentions that it can last for a year after having a baby. I have battled depression at various times in my life, which leads me to think that depression is not out of the question as a component of why I'm struggling so much, but I'm so wary of calling myself depressed because I feel it could be an excuse to wallow in a situation that every parent faces. Maybe we just need a cat?

They say the darkest hour is always right before the dawn. That's all well and good, as long as you believe the dawn will come. Sometimes I fear it won't. For my own sake, I can't help but try and rend on a faintly hopeful note, and all I can muster sometimes is the remembrance of one of my favorite promises, "His mercies are new every morning". I need em all, every one. every day.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

That Thing You Do

With the whole two-small-children thing, our anniversary wasn't a big deal this year, but just so ya'll know, we just had our 3rd. Anniversary, not child. Lord help me. (Incidentally, today is also my parents' 25th anniversary, holla!!!) 

In light of that little milestone, I was chuckling about the timing of this post on pet peeves. I like to ask couples what habits they have that drive one another crazy - not to be divisive, but just because the answers are so funny. As I looked back at the little list I'd been keeping of my own pet peeves (particularly about things that Jonas does), I was happy to see that some of them aren't even an issue any more. 

Don't get me wrong, I still hate seeing the toilet seat up, but I've finally decided to be the bigger man and let him have it his way (I can say stuff like this because he doesn't read the blog). ;) Did you hear that Jonas??? I STILL NOTICE, and I'm just not saying anything anymore because I'm that awesome. Although honestly, I have noticed that now that I'm not making a point of chastising him for always leaving the seat up (and absolutely refusing to concede why I find it rude or gross), it doesn't needle me so much. I think I've more or less let it go. I'm patting myself on the back right now, for reals.

(I know the hate-the-same-stuff sentiment is a little cynical, but it's so nice to be on the same team as your husband or wife, isn't it?!)

Of course, I've moved on to being irritated by other habits. I promise this will be interesting, because not all my pet peeves are generic. The other day, my pastor talked about what it would be like if we tried to live a whole day without complaining about anything. BORING, I say! ;) I would have almost nothing to talk about. 

I'll start out with the generic spouse stuff - leaving drawers and cabinets open, leaving the shower curtain open and towels on the floor, not unbunching his socks before they go in the wash, etc. Then there's leaving pot and pan handles facing into the kitchen (as opposed to the side or back of the stove), which I find so dangerous, not to mention difficult to move around. That's pretty much the worst of it that I can think of when it comes to Jonas, so that's really not all that bad. Except when he finishes some special food in the fridge without consulting me. That really makes me sulk for a while. 

He used to leave the butter dish in the microwave and I would lose my mind because I could not find it ANYWHERE. As it turns out, he does that because his mom did that growing up, and she did it because they had a cat who always wanted to eat the butter. Strange as all get out, but made sense once I figured it out. 

To be fair, he goes crazy over some of my habits too, including leaving 20+ tabs open on our laptop, and in our old apartment, I never put the toaster away in the morning because I knew I would just have to take it out again the next day. My brother Bradley has a cow whenever I burp loudly, and growing up, my sister Annelise hated nothing more than listening to me clear my throat in the morning (I blame it all on Chinese polution). 

I asked an engaged (now married) friend what she and her fiancee found strange about one another's routines. She said that her husband always wants to rip the foil all the way off the yogurt container, and she leaves it on. For my parents, it's my mom leaving the microwave door ajar after she's used it. That is exactly the kind of thing that makes marriage so interesting, and sometimes challenging. A few months in to living with someone or seriously combining your lives, you start noticing little things and thinking, "who does that?!" It's weird how we assume that the way we do things is how everyone must do them. The little weirdnesses add up and then we have to put aside ourselves and learn to love someone for who they are, right? I know, I know, I'm getting a little Kumbaya here.  

I heard or read somewhere once (and I feel like I've blogged this before, so, sorry!) that in a good marriage, you fight about the same things over and over, and in a bad one, you find new things to fight about. Of course that's not true on every level, but I like that it acknowledges that we all have petty struggles. It makes sense that there are some issues that remain bothersome because simply by virtue of us not being clones, there will be deep-seated differences that butt heads in any relationship. On the especially deep seated issues, that same argument may come up forever. I think the secret must be to find middle ground or simply not let that issue eat away at all the good things we may have going for us in the larger picture. 

Ok, now here are my very particular pet peeves. 

1. Maybe my very biggest one is when people use the phrase, "great minds think alike." To me, nothing is further from the truth! What makes an idea great is that it stands out from the rest. A bunch of people have the same thought at the same time makes that idea obvious or a necessity, not some meeting of great minds. But I digress... (this one is particularly irksome because it's usually said as a compliment, but it only makes lava bubble up in my heart and almost out of my eyeballs). 

2. Salad forks (and tea spoons). I hate them. They feel so miserably inadequate for real food in terms of both length and weight, and I hate them. 

3. The way the radio ques some supposedly regionally appropriate ethnic music after any story that is well, regional. For example, tribal drums or chanting for Africa, twangy stuff for the American south, etc. It just seems so patronizing to me. Like I need a little melody to help me place my thoughts in a certain part of the world or something? I think it feeds into stereotypes in an unnecessary way. Individuals are more than where they are from. 

4. Oooh, this is another really good (and self-righteous on my part) one. People making their social media profile pictures photos of their kids or pets!!! This is both confusing and silly. Unless the account is all about said other creature and simply run by you, it's okay for your picture to have you in it. We're not all thinking you're vain for showing your own picture, and simultaneously, we also know you're proud of your kids without changing your photo to theirs whenever they do something especially great. I hate to say this (not really), but the cool-parent code strictly prohibits this practice (although it is acceptable to have your child in a photo with you as your profile picture). 

5. While on the topic of children, why does anyone with a faint interest in art and design and a not-terrible (but then again, sometimes terrible) idea think, "I should make this idea into a children's book, it will be easy!". That's why there are so very many abysmal children's books in the world. Please, spare us all and stop that thought process right now. Children's books are not easier to write - in fact, they're probably harder because you have to try and get across a solid idea that a child will understand in so many fewer and clearer words than you could get away with talking to an adult. Kids aren't stupid, but they are easily bored. And also, stop asking my husband to illustrate your children's book. He won't even illustrate stuff for me.... 

(one of my all-time favorite children's illustrations, from an unknown vintage book) 

6. I haven't looked this up, but I'm pretty darn sure that you use "a" before a noun beginning with a consonant (A kite) and "an" before a noun beginning with a vowel (AN airplane). That is all. 

7. Similarly, the word "especially" does not have an X in it. One need only read this word in print ONE TIME to realize it is not pronounced "exspecially". And yet, sadly, the english-speaking human race seems to have much better things to do than notice this small fact. 

8. And last but not least, please do not pick your skin or nails while sitting on the couch with other people. It doesn't matter how small the movement is, other people on the couch can feel the incessant quivers throughout the entire piece of furniture. Do not ask me how this is possible, it is simply true.   

All joking aside, I do prefer to spend my time being grateful for things. But don't we all love the occasional bug-eyed revulsion-fest we get to indulge in when we discover a shared pet peeve with someone (like our friend Greg sharing my belief that Iron and Wine is the WORST musical act). When you have a very particular stance on something, it's always kind of nice when someone else agrees with you. 

What crazy things get under your skin? What habit of your significant other surprised you when you started living in the same place? I'd love to hear, truly, I would... 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

December 2014

I try not to take this blog too seriously. I've been blogging for about 8 years now, and I've certainly hoped at times that it would make me wildly popular and famous (it's ok, I'm laughing too), but ain't nobody got time for the amount of effort that takes. I find I get the most out of blogging when it's an available platform for me to play with or share through, but it becomes stressful and stiff when I try and force it to advance my "career" or otherwise glorify myself. I would love to hone my professional writing skills further by practicing here, but I'm also really trying to focus on my real life. Taking care of real people, working hard in real life so that I don't just have to dream about a dream job falling in my lap because of my bloggy-hobby. I'm not going to make any official statements about how much I'm going to be blogging in the future (it seems to go in seasonal waves), but I haven't felt a big need to inhabit this space recently, thus the relative radio silence. Anyway, I greatly appreciate all of you that encourage me when I write, and keep coming back. With the exception of #7, I've found this list of reasons to blog to be pretty accurate, and as I learn to give blogging the proper amount of weight in my life, I'm even more excited about it. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, it will become something even more exciting somewhere down the road. :)

Now, on to a December recap...

Heard: This song, all the way. "Georgia" is definitely on my girl-name list, for many reasons, but this song is only helping its place.

Watched: Apparently my family likes to watch movies during the holidays. I saw so many that I'm just going to rate them rather than review each. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zussou (2.5 - too disjointed, but at least there was Cate Blanchett), ABC's Hannibal (5 - Obsessed. So beautiful, and I can't figure it out, which is a huge plus to me), American Horror Story: Coven (3.5 - Better than the other seasons, but over the top in the last few episodes), Netflix's Marco Polo (2.5 for lack of energy and awful accents, but 5+ for the opening sequence!!!) , How to Train Your Dragon 2 (3 - "Meh" compared to the first, but not your average sequel storyline), Guardians of the Galaxy (4 - Rockit forever! But the nemesis part of the story was weak, IMO), Joyride (4 - awesome if you don't know anything about it going in!), Labyrinth (2 - maybe you had to have grown up on this?!). // Also, Ayn Rand reviews children's movies. My favorite.

Tasted: I bought some sunflower sprouts at the SB farmer's market and really enjoyed them on sandwiches and in salads. I'd like to try and grow some! The best recipe I made was this cranberry cream cheese pound cake. Hearts for eyes!! Although I'm not a huge fan of drinking eggnog straight, I really like to put it in pancakes and coffee during the holidays. 

My eyes glaze over (in happiness) at things like this underwater Victorian ballroom

If you didn't already see these, check out junk food wastelands

Migrations creating patterns takes my breath away. 

Several of these cleverly staged photos are pretty impressive. 

This book looks very sweet - I still have some much loved (if ragged) items from childhood. I have a beanie-baby (but before that was a brand) turtle whose eyes are flat and scratched because I used to suck on its head. 

A fascinating article about how pronunciation changes. Did you realize that we all pronounce "skiing" incorrectly? I just eat this stuff up... 

Experienced: I was very, very busy in December, making gifts to sell and give away. I think I saved a lot of money, but it was pretty stressful. Jonas and I took the boys down to LA to spend the weekend with our sister-in-law and nephew while their husband/dad was away in Ukraine picking up their second adopted son. It was a fun little trip, and we especially enjoyed getting to know our nephew a little bit better. Christmas was pretty low-key, but spent with loved ones. My favorite part was seeing Ishmael so excited by gifts and enjoying having everyone home. We spent NYE with friends watching 80s and 90s movies in sweat pants (which I'm still grumpy about because I wanted to dress up ;)) and drinking some pretty darn good gin. 

Boys: Ishmael's leg hair is bristly now. I didn't expect this kind of thing to happen so early. He also swears like a sailor, though unintentionally. F-bombs right and left, which is both hilarious and embarrassing because we can not figure out what it is that he is actually trying to say or if he just came up with that sound on his own?! I love how uninhibited he is, he claps and dances in church (even if it's not a clapping song), claps wildly for everyone at Pampered Chef meetings, waves at Julia even if she doesn't wave back (because she didn't see him). He has quite the fake laugh, accompanied by exaggerated knee slapping, head thrown back, and the whole nine yards. He's also big into saying "n-n-n-n-nooooo!" and "stop!" if you do something he doesn't like. // Ira is growing in to some unique nicknames, including "cherub" (Annelise's name for him), "bean dip" and "virgil" (my mom's names for him), and "weebsie", which is what I call him (after weeble wobbles!). He's very drooly (pre-teething?) and grabbing at food. He flaps his arms wildly (but in unison, which I kind of remember Ishmael doing too), screeches loudly to let us all know that he exists, and stares intently at the stuffed pig I put in his seat with him. He has a deep "voice", which I like. // I tried to pick just a sentence to quote from this excellent article about why it's so hard to make mom friends, but the whole paragraph is just a big "yep..." from me. 
"Most of these women are cool individually. One woman at story time had these great sparkly shoes. Another is a midwife. One woman started her own company and is really funny. Another writes for the Times. Collectively, though, they are mothers. They park their goddamn strollers everywhere and they are alternately dressed like shit or way overdressed for someone who has nowhere to be at all. They’re either miserable or fake happy or smug. They’re lost, too, scrambling for affirmation that they’re doing things the right way, that their kid is going to be okay. Okay or a genius. They’re knee-jerk judgmental, compensating for their own lack of conviction, a little defensive, hiding their deep fear just below the surface. They’re tired. Their clothes don’t fit. They miss work, miss people, miss drinking. They have no idea what they’re doing and have spent way too much time reading about it on the internet. They are, I’m sorry to say, just like me."
Loved: Cranberries in everything, Christmas shopping. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Reflections and Resolutions, 20014-2015 Ed.

The years are starting to fly by me... 

New Year's is probably my favorite major holiday other than Christmas, though it's not one that I usually celebrate with much fanfare. I just really like reflecting on the past and imaging what the next year might have in store. I'm forever enticed by the promise of a new start, but as I was thinking about it recently, I don't know why we can't make a fresh start on any day of the year! Even so, there's something about the official new year, and I'm working on trying not to set my expectations so high that regular life "ruins" things. 

Here are some of my favorite Instagram moments from the year (at least, what looked nice in sets of 9!). 

This year, we celebrated New Year's Eve with our friends the Gees and the Heucharts, eating finger foods and watching 80s and 90s movies in our sweats. I drank an entire bottle of martinellis by myself (oops) and we watched the ball drop in NYC, except we watched the 1999 into 2000 edition. Oh, and lots of kissing our significant others, of course!

I did a pretty lame job fulfilling my 2014 resolutions, but I also ended up accomplishing some pretty cool stuff that I hasn't resolved to do.

2014 goals:
  • Complete 2013's painting. (made more progress...)
  • Hang art and hardware in our home. (I never did do that, but we moved....). 
  • Learn how to buy and prepare different kinds of fish in at least 3 ways, including raw. 
  • Learn to be (or be intentional about being) open, obvious, and proud about/of Jesus as a pillar of my life. 
  • Visit the V.S.R. (that's a private one at this point, but I have to write it down to keep myself accountable. As you may recall, Toad - from Frog and Toad - can not even chase after his lost to-do list if that was not on his list of things to do). (lost the conviction for this, wondering if it will return)
  • Make my blog pretty. (ha.... anyone want to do it for free? -.- ) 
2015 goals:
  • Earn the Pampered Chef incentive trip to the Bahamas. 
  • Complete at least 3 more classes at APUS. 
  • Make progress with Jonas's school/our future situation. 
  • Build up a nest egg - have more in the bank at this time next year than we do now. 
  • Not let other's opinions be my standard - not that I don't care about other people's opinion at all, but not let my goals be molded to their goals for me. 
  • Focus on being a good listener.
  • Yoga 1x/week.
  • Visit a museum I've never been to before.
  • Have friends over for dinner once a month.
  • Cook something I've never cooked before from a hard-copy cookbook, once a month. 
And in very brief, non-exclusive form...

Best of 2014:
  • Tasted: Green Minestrone 
  • Watched: Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown
  • Read: The Cleaver Quarterly (I was published in print for the first time this year! :))
  • Heard [will remind me of 2014]: Jessie Ware's "Say You Love Me", King Cresote and Jon Hopkins, TV on the Radio's "Seeds" album, Beck's "Morning Phase" album, Lily Allen's bonus tracks on the album "Sheezus", Pharrell William's "Happy", MAGIC!'s "Rude", Jetta's "Take it Easy", Ana Carolina
  • Browsed: The Longest Shortest Time podcast/pages/community. 
  • Favorite instagram account: @justinablakeney 
  • Experienced: Ira's birth, 8/4/14/ 

May 2015 grow and stretch you, and be full of many joys, great and small. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Dreadful Parenting

I am struggling as a parent. Perhaps just struggling as a person.

Sleep training Ira is failing, potty training Ishmael is failing, my general composure as an adult is failing. We might all just poop our pants into adulthood around here.

Although I've come a long way, and I'm proud of my progress, I do not feel particularly well cut out to parent young children. I expect them to be able to reason like adults, and they don't. I stay home with my kids because I believe that it is my role as their parent to coach them into functioning little humans, particularly in such formative years, but I find myself filling my stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) life with other things than my children because 24/7 childcare is mind numbing. Obviously, avoiding my children while at home really wasn't the point of quitting my other jobs to be with them. I thrash around against the fact that I can't do anything without being interrupted. Sometimes I just let my kids sit in their poop or cry uncontrollably while I do my own thing for a few minutes, and sometimes I think that's fine, but other times I feel guilty about it (God forbid someone else see me doing it!) and it makes me stressed out or try to rush through whatever I'm trying to get done because I can't handle the crying or the poop. I also feel guilty when I think that if I were doing a better job of training them, maybe they would be able to listen better or entertain themselves for a little bit while I make a phone call or try and do some other task that doesn't involve them. In the end, nothing is accomplished effectively, and something needs to change.

I know that most parents struggle with their role - it is a huge responsibility, and probably the most difficult job any of us will ever undertake, particularly because the subtle moments can be the most important ones. There is something very comforting about knowing that countless others understand the feeling of both the lowest lows and the highest highs in this business. Yet, in days or weeks when I can't shift my focus from the avalanche of "downs" I'm dealing with, I can't fathom how it came to be that so many people do this day in and day out. I see my friends who don't have children having more fun then me - there's no nicer way to spin that, they definitely do have more fun than I am having. My mom noted that the difficulty of parenting is probably a large factor in why people have far fewer children (or no children at all) in modern times than they used to.

A lot of people are disparaging about comments like, "I just want to feel like I'm putting my time to good use" from SAHMs, because raising children is a good use of time. I do believe that, but it's not always enjoyable and the reward is far off, which makes it feel less impactful than some other things I could be doing. Furthermore, the weight we are expected to bare as modern parents will so quickly result in burnout that it makes us into desperate and miserable people, and desperate, miserable people aren't the best parents. If we have no way to collect ourselves and instead feel constantly at the end of our rope, of course we can think of nothing else but how to get out of this job as soon as possible.

I know this is exceptionally Freudian, but sometimes I get so overwhelmed with frustration that I bite binkies. If I pick up Ira, I usually need both hands, but want to bring his binky along too, so I put the rim in my mouth to carry it. I find myself chomping down so hard on that rubber to relieve some tension. This is motherhood, people.

Parenting small children doesn't generally stimulate my mind, and that makes me feel like I'm missing out on adulthood. While I think it's good to realize that raising children truly is worthwhile, SAHMs don't need additional guilt over wanting to feel more a part of "real life". I think the fact that so many SAH parents can speak of little else but how defeated they feel says something legitimate about the state of parenting we're faced with. Personally, it gives me dreadlocks. I'm not kidding, I have two dreadlocks. I have been so frazzled and miserable trying to adjust to my new normal, so much that I've neglected my hair majorly. Large tangles got coached into dreadlocks, making me an officially a dreadful parent.

I have asked myself, "am I - and my peers - so pathetic that we can't handle what people have been handling for centuries before us"? I've been thinking about this for two weeks (rewriting this post over and over during nap times), and I've concluded that there are two main societal blockades today that make good parenting exceptionally difficult. I know this sounds so hippy-dippy, but the first thing that I think we've lost that majorly complicates raising small children is communal living. Most of you know that my husband and boys and I are currently living with my parents. This doesn't solve all my problems, but it's worlds better than when I was alone before, because I really was alone so often when we had our own place. My husband - like many husbands and wives - works 40, sometimes 50+ hours a week to take care of us, and on top of that, he goes to school three nights a week. The reality of this situation is that I am effectively a single parent most days. The pressure of being the sole care-giver and instructor of 2 small humans is crushing, and I don't think it was meant to be that way. When we're expected to go it alone and love it (or be good at it), it's a tall order. Looking at history, as well as many other cultures around the world, young parents have immediate access to large extended families as well as their larger community, in a way that many Americans don't.

I found myself so depressed when all my siblings went back to school after the holiday, because when they are here (along with other friends and family), my boys can bounce from one person to the next, not exhausting any one person, and yet still happy as clams and stimulated and loved to their hearts content. All that help allows me to accomplish a few things that I need to get done, as well as be calm and energized when the occasions do arise that I need to step in and discipline them. This segways nicely into the second component that I feel is missing from modern parenting - instruction.

I've really been wracking my brain with the question "how do we learn to parent?" In a healthy communal situation (which I realize is not available to everyone), you have the opportunity to learn from your elders who have experience parenting. So much of what I'm working through in this post is a result of my mom helping to train me as a parent (thanks mom!). Of course, the goal is not for grandparents or anyone else to actually raise your children for you, but their advice and knowledge is a resource that we have forgotten to tap in to in this day and age.

A side note on communal living before I continue: it is looked down upon in Western cultures because it's so often connected to grown people mooching off of others, but that's a broken communal situation. In a healthy community, people are responsible, but help share one another's burdens and get to share in one another's triumphs. Downright Biblical, if you ask me.

Back to learning to parent - is it overwhelming, or is it overwhelming?! No matter what information you absorb before having children, you can not truly understand its meaning until you actually have children, and then much of the time, you change your mind about what you heard before anyway. That, and have no brain cells left from hormones and lack of sleep, so you can't remember what you read.

The "simple" answer to learning to parent is to read about how to do it, right? That is hilarious to me on two levels - first of all, I am a person who loves to read, but have read approximately 2 and a half books since having children because I have at least 12 other exceptionally pressing things I have to get done every day before I could sit down with any kind of book. Secondly, do you have any idea how many parenting books are out there? Possibly a billion, not kidding. Along with the internet, there are so many options that I end up reeling back and closing my eyes instead. I can Google a question as well as the next person (but is what some stranger posted on a message board at 3am really what I want to use as parenting advice?), but then I also end up being bombarded by 10 mini parenting dilemmas a week (should I let my child refuse kisses during the holidays?!?) that I would not have been worried about at all had I not been presented with the question in the first place. Thank you, internet. For the record, I think that article is probably good advice, but I am up to my eyeballs in good advice these days, and sometimes it conflicts with itself.

(this is me right now) 

I have never read a "how-to" parenting book on any subject in its entirety. I'm wary of self help books because I don't believe life can be boiled down to a set of 3 things to remember or the number one thing to avoid. Multiple methods can be found to do just about anything when it comes to parenting, and my general strategy has been to avoid seeking written advice because every source seems to contradict the last, and if you look even one generation back, so many aspects of parenting turn out to be fads. Knowing all the possibilities before I'm faced with a dilemma only makes me more anxious about all the things that could go wrong. How am I supposed to be confident about what the right course of action is when I'm confronted with 10 options, many of which sound reasonable? I end up having to make a judgement call about whether I think what I read makes sense or not, but I don't feel like I have a good enough foundation as a parent to be able to gauge what good sense even is! I try and look at things critically and ask myself, "do I agree just because it's logical or counter-cultural or well written, or is this something I truly think is a good idea"? Ultimately though, I have become unsatisfied with doing nothing because I don't know what to do. Not whole-heartedly pursuing how to be a good parent ends up making my life more difficult because, for instance, sometimes I don't even realize that whatever behavior or situation I'm dealing with is a THING, with a name, that happens with other people's kids too, and therefore I'm not aware that there are tools out there to help me deal with said behavior.

There seems to be no 1 (or even 2 or 3) main schools of thought on parenting today (I feel that there was, when my parents were young). Well, actually, what I've gathered is that there is attachment parenting, and then there's everyone else. I fall somewhere in the "everyone else" category, because I believe that letting your child believe they are the center of the universe doesn't do anyone any favors. It makes me feel like I'm dying when I structure every moment around my children.
I do need to make training them my utmost priority, but not let them control me through my responsibility to them. I realize that's a pretty pointed statement (many, many of my friends do attachment parenting), which leads me to the overall parenting philosophy I hear, which is "do what works for you". I think this is a nice sentiment, but let's face it - not everyone's kids are really that great, so "whatever works" probably isn't true or just isn't actually working. I often hear that "whatever you decide to do, stick with it", and I do believe that children crave consistency. However, I also used to think that that basically meant that all (well, many) parenting roads lead to relatively healthy adults, and it only takes about 5 seconds in the real world to realize that that is a filthy lie. Some people make it, and some get really messed up, you know? It's not like you can just cross your fingers and hope for the best with kids.

A further note on attachment parenting - I'm not saying that I think attachment parenting necessarily leads to entitled or otherwise messed up adults, but I do think giving your child everything they want when they want it will leave with you with no self left, only a slave to your offspring in the body that once was you. Of course that makes people miserable. I also think that attachment parenting has the potential to rob marriages because when everything is child-centered, there is no room to invest in your spouse. Similarly, I think that living in hatred of your role as a stay at home parent can chop your marriage off at the knees (who wants to come home to a constantly miserable, exhausted and spent zombie?), and that's one of the many reasons I'm trying hard to turn this ship around.

Back to parenting philosophies. When people say, "do whatever is right for you", isn't that a thinly veiled "what you're doing sounds wrong to me"? I hate millenial bashing, but seriously, oh millennals, why must we all be so offended by... everything? (This trend actually got a name, it's called outrage porn). I got home from a play date with a friend and her two kids the other day and found myself wondering, "when I was saying how hard it must be to feed her daughter several times a night, did she think I was judging her"? I'm constantly trying to tip toe around every parent or would-be-parent or non-parent that I know, trying not to offend or impose my ideas. Similarly, I find myself getting all bent out of shape when people try and tell me what I should be doing differently. Here's the thing: sometimes we need to be able to hear good advice and consider changing aspects of our parenting, other times, people are crazy and we need to let their crazy roll off our backs. Give me a call if you figure out a no-tears system of telling those two apart.

When it comes down to it, I can be quite confident in some of my parenting choices, but inevitably, someone else thinks it's the most heinous choice I could have made, and then I either question myself or live in fear that other people will think I'm ruining my children. I think the line between "it's none of your damn business" and accepting constructive criticism is made out of spider web silk. I want to be someone who doesn't isn't swayed by every passing breeze, but I also think people who never listen are so arrogant.

Sometimes I crave a situation in which someone would just tell me exactly what to do. But, only stuff I like and agree with. Basically, do all the leg work for me and make me think it was my idea. Wouldn't it be great if there was a step by step, foolproof guide? But I know that if I had that, I'd challenge it and balk at formulas.

What I've come up with so far in parenting 101 is that first of all, you have to come to the conclusion that you have no idea what you're doing and that you need change/help. I have been parenting one situation at a time (which was my intentional parenting philosophy at one point!), but that becomes a problem once your child is a toddler, because they start getting a bit smarter and you have to preempt their behavior rather than run around putting out fires all day. I feel like trial and error is so dangerous when parenting, but even when I do have a plan, I can not dictate my child's every move, and so there remains an aspect of trial and error.  I'm becoming much less of a fan of going in completely blind, though, because you only get one chance sometimes. I can think back to some words that were said or things that were done in my childhood that may have been no more than a passing thought spoken aloud on behalf of the adult speaking to me, but their words or actions shaped me and have stuck with me into adulthood. When I think about that, I'm often terrified that my boys are picking up everything I say and do, and some things that I may do without thinking are sinking in very deeply. Nothing feels more "ready or not, here we go" than parenting.

I'm beginning to see that not having a strategy to follow or a specific goal to reach results in meandering parenting, where everything takes me by surprise, and then the moment is gone and I've lost the chance to teach my sons how to be a responsible, loving, pleasant human beings. Instead, they learn that if I haven't made up my mind about what to do, it's up to them to make the rules. I'm trying to learn to think more long-term and address the myriad issues of each day in such a way that I'm instilling character ("we need to be good stewards of our property and not be wasteful") rather than making ten thousand small rules ("do not stand on that book. or that one. or that one.") to try and corral them into obedience.

Small fixes are at best temporary, because children never agree to stay the same once you've figured them out. I find that when I'm wrestling mightily with my boys' behavior, it reveals my own inner ugliness and my own shortcomings as a parent. I become so lost and frustrated that I want nothing more than to escape my role as a parent, when the real remedy is to lay down my own adulthood where need be, and pour myself in to raising them to be less selfish than I am. My adulthood will resurface eventually, but we can't get their formative childhood years back later. As they are molded into more disciplined beings, I predict that I will feel less compelled to escape them.

I've already realized the truth in this when it comes to disciplining Ishmael. When I am trying to deal with every little situation instead of the behavioral heart of the matter, it is impossible to tell him "no" about everything, so he gets away with a lot, which reinforces to him that anything goes. Eventually though, I become frustrated enough to discipline him after he's disobeyed multiple times in a row. Not only is it unfair to him to discipline on some occasions and not others, it also leads me to discipline out of frustration, and he experiences me losing my temper. Not that I use excessive force or anything, but I've always held that disciplining out of anger is wrong, yet I couldn't see a way around it until understanding that I need to focus on the bigger picture and remain calm and firm when he tests me, rather than letting things slide (because seriously, most of it really isn't a big deal) and then swooping in and laying down the law every 10th incident.

Another major tenant of mine in learning how to parent is to seek the advice of parents with children you admire. My friend Cara told me that we feel like our own situation is the most challenging because we aren't dealing with other people's situations. My friend Jessa assured me that I don't have to find playmates that are exactly Ishmael's age in order for him to be benefited by the company of others. My friend Heather suggested I take Ishmael to the library to help him learn to sit in a group quietly. She also taught me the HALT acronym to run through during a child's meltdown - is he Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired? She even suggested a book to me that I might just read. ;) Many people have commiserated that going from 1 to 2 children is the most difficult jump there is.

My husband kindly reminded me that it is okay not to enjoy parenting all the time - the point is that I do it anyway, and that's what makes a good (and perhaps 1% less selfish?) parent. Similarly, a wise woman at my church told me that I do not have to feel like a good parent, only strive to be one. I do not have to live under the burden of trying to feel happy or accomplished as a parent all the time. How I feel doesn't change the fact that my boys are loved and cared for at the end of the day.

While there is a grain of truth in this, I can be haunted by the notion that if my child does something wrong, it's my fault for not teaching him otherwise. In reality, it is my responsibility to equip my children to know right from wrong, and then it is their responsibility to make the right choice.

Lately, the concept of grace has been presenting itself to me everywhere I look. Simply the idea that I can never be good enough - or even good. But I don't know how to stop trying. I don't know how to divorce the doing the best I can from relying on my own strength, and frankly, the struggle gives me dreadlocks. Although I think I understand the concept of God's grace, I don't understand how it's free to me, because free stuff always feels stolen to me, in some sense (yet so good...). You know what I mean? I always feel like I got the best of someone when I get something for free, and it seems wrong to do that to Jesus, even though I know he's powerful enough not to be robbed by me.

For today, I combed out the dreadlocks and only bit a binky a little bit. That's a good start, right? And I keep trying to remember this: Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. {image credit}

Monday, December 1, 2014

November 2014

I take notes throughout the month so that I don't forget anything important when I look back on my month, and November had so much packed in to it! Some of it feels like it already happened a long time ago. Parenting has had some rough patches this month, and it can be hard to get even the simplest tasks completed, thus the lull in general blogging. I always make sure to do these end-of-the-month posts though, because if nothing else, this blog is my journal.

[winter sketchbook image, even though it's been in the 70s here]

Heard: I am crazy about TV on the Radio's new album, but pretty much everyone is. Here's one of my favorite songs.

Watched: I managed to watch a lot of things this month! Before I forget, the documentary Fruit Hunters is now available on Netflix, and you should go watch it. I watched it in parts on Youtube last year, that's how much I love it. // We got "A Million Ways to Die in the West" from Redbox because the trailer looked hilarious, but it was a total dud. The humor was so low-brow, that is just wasn't funny enough - we didn't even make it half way though the movie. // I watched The Rabbi's Cat, which I quite enjoyed! It's based on some comic books, which helps explain some plot jumps in the movie that were a little abrupt. One of my favorite parts was when one of the characters, a painter, explains to the cat that "painting nature feels like eating a bird: the original was better, but you can't help yourself". This movie has a lot of cultural, relational, and spiritual (as well as cat-ty :)) topics that is incorporates. I liked how it showed friendship between people of so many different backgrounds in a tumultuous part of the world (at least, we in the west think of it as tumultuous, rather than realizing that most days are normal there, most likely). The cat itself cracked me up. // Similar to Chicago, and adapted from Broadway, I bought the movie Nine because I love parts of the soundtrack, but the story was a little bit slow. Marion Cotillard was as stunning as ever, Kate Hudson can't sing, and Sophia Loren looks quite elderly. // Edge of Tomorrow: Live, Die, Repeat almost lost me in the first 10 minutes, but then it suddenly got remarkably entertaining, and stayed unpredictable enough throughout the entire film. In the last minute or so, they wrap everything up in a way that makes absolutely no sense, but the majority of the film was good enough to merit a watch if you haven't seen it before.

Tasted: For Thanksgiving, we cooked an Indian feast! Instead of mashed potatoes, we had samosa. Instead of stuffing, we had biryani, etc. It was a fun twist on things. I made a cranberry pavlova for dessert, which was a little tricky, but I'm hooked on the idea of pavlovas in general! The best new recipe of the month was this creamy ham and rice soup, all the better for being very easy to make. I'm also helping my sister Annelise plan her wedding menu, which I love. I went to a Pampered Chef dinner and had an amazing fall risotto as well as a pepper-pecan brie dip.


  • On the 9th, we celebrated Ira being 100 days old (a Chinese tradition) with friends, family, food, and a pinata. It was lovely. 
  • A friend from church commissioned me to make some Christmas decorations in Hebrew and Arabic for her, and I ended up selling some more to help raise money for my classes as well. 
  • I almost got scammed on Craigslist by someone trying to buy my parent's pool table, but figured it out in time! Beware of cashier's checks, that's the take away. 
  • I voted for the second time in my life, though I didn't have particularly strong opinions about anything this time around. 
  • I started a second-hand shop on Instagram called Retro Riot. Follow me to see all the cool stuff I'm selling. It's also my favorite way to buy awesome clothes for my boys. 
Boys: Ishmael loves bugs to death, quite literally. He calls them "cuuuuute!" when he finds them, but they end up squished from all the love. He's starting to say his own name sometimes, but it can sounds more like "acho" than anything else, at times. He calls Ira's binky the "pink", and when you play hide and seek with him and he pops out of the blanket, he says, "I found me!". I realized that I often ask him to do things rather than tell him to, because he now says "no" (so I have to rephrase it as a non-negotiable). Potty training has basically failed. // Ira now imitates people when they blow bubbles or make some other shapes with their mouths. He's very ticklish, enjoys playing with over-hanging toys in his play pen and the singing mobile, and likes peek-a-boo. He's fascinated by anything flavored that you put on your hand to let him suck on. 

Loved: Having multiple occasions on which to guzzle Martinelli's, having my siblings home from school, and being able to eat dairy again (especially since we're in to the holidays now!). 
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