I left my heart on Bourbon Street.

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A few years ago, we had fun with this post, brainstorming ways to fill in the blank: “I left my heart in ____.”

I was reminded of this after Mom did such a great job gathering, and executing, beautiful and meaningful ideas for John’s rehearsal dinner, which was held at the SweetWater Brewery in Atlanta at the end of January.

All the table names were street signs from places in John’s life, or Maltby’s life, or their life together: the streets they grew up on, South Africa, a ranch in Wyoming, Palo Alto, Athens, NYC, and of course New Orleans where they met. It was a super fun conversation starter, and a small glimpse into their lives which was appropriate for a gathering of family and friends from all over and from all stages of life, who may have only known the bride or the groom before then.

Mom also gathered pictures of the lovely couple as they grew up (we could do a photoessay on the evolution of John’s hair), and she did a phenomenal job with the centerpieces, along with her team of florists and designers (AKA Beth and Aunt Kace). Cotton, magnolia, pine greenery in silver julep cups, stacked on a couple old books for the height they needed.

The actual wedding reception was a gorgeous winter wonderland, and the style Mom and John chose for the rehearsal dinner was much more casual but complemented it nicely. Someone at my table (from Colorado) actually reached out and picked the cotton to see what it was like. Hard work. That’s why the cotton gin was such a big deal, I said.

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photo credits: the fantastic Vue Photography

So we know that John left his heart and his SweetWater beer in Athens with a brown-eyed UGA girl . . .

What about you? Where have you left a piece of your heart? And isn’t funny how it takes leaving to realize how much you completely adore someone or something or somewhere? Let’s see . . .

I left my heart in Del Ray (our old neighborhood in Alexandria, VA).

I left my heart at Little Lights.

I left my heart in Paraguay, at Pabla’s storefront home.

I left my heart in Cholula.

I left my heart, or maybe found it, no—my heart was stolen! that’s better—at Nick’s Nightclub, Alexandria’s premiere line dancing institution.

(And, always and forever, I left my heart in Cville, specifically at Take It Away. It’ll probably be right where they stack those little containers of house dressing.)

Your turn! But be careful. My heart is literally hurting right now. Nostalgia, you kill me.

Winter Survival Items.

Survival may be a bit of an overstatement. Here’s a list of a few random things I like:

1. Handkerchiefs. As Kathleen Kelly educates us in You’ve Got Mail, in case you didn’t know, “A handkerchief is a Kleenex you don’t throw away.”

I came across two vintage handkerchiefs, I think my grandmother’s, that I’d put in the material-for-potential-future-craft-projects department. I’m mature enough now to accept the fact that I won’t be making pillow cases out of them any time in the next ten to twenty years (or doing this, which is really cute). But then I had a minor epiphany: Why not use them for their intended purpose? That sounds really dumb, but it was a revelation. I felt vindicated upon learning that handkerchiefs are in again. (Read that one for answers to your pressing handkerchief etiquette problems, like, “If you have offered your handkerchief to someone else, don’t ask for it back, no matter how nice or expensive it is.”)

They’ve really brightened up this sniffly winter time. (Please, wash often.)

2. Fabric shaver/sweater de-piller. I didn’t know this existed until Design Mom mentioned it. You can get one here or probably at your drug store. I’ve semi-restored two of my favorite sweaters that were looking dingy, as well as a coat that (I thought) was bound for the land where coats go to die. Maybe these sweater de-pillers are really obvious (or maybe you use some other method: razor? something else?), but again, I hadn’t thought of it. It feels great to be able to maintain my lazy dressing limited wardrobe philosophy by continuing to wear those sweaters over and over, without feeling too much like a bag lady.

3. Durham’s Bee Farm Wonder Salve. I had a jar of this stuff for several years, but ran out before this winter. Should’ve ordered more immediately; now I’ve learned my lesson. You can use it for anything on your skin—it heals and moisturizes—but in the absence of other skin needs, I’d just use it as lip balm. I cannot remember my lips ever being chapped, until this winter. Blergh. Bring back the bee salve!

What’s brightened up your winter?

Valentine’s Changes (or, Colin Firth forever and ever, amen.)

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Looking through the archives, I see that Valentine’s Day has been one of my consistent occasions for posting something here, for some reason. The feast day to remember a saint who loved God and loved others, enough to die for that love, now serves as the calendar notch on which we hang our ever-changing notions and expectations about love.

In past years I’ve posted about:

This year, my love for MT, and her little friends at school, has manifested itself through Pinterest-inspired activities: heart braid, heart crayons, the best oatmeal coconut chocolate chip cookies.

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So the holiday has evolved quite a bit. In six words,

2007: Went line dancing, found latin lover.
2015: Heidi braids. Heart, please don’t explode.

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This week Kitty’s post (How To Host a Simple Gal-entine’s Party) reminded me of a couple instances when Captain Papa came through in grand style for his baby girl (i.e. me) before marriage and kids. In particular, one year in high school he joined me down in our basement playroom as I watched the six-hour BBC Pride and Prejudice on Valentine’s Day. (FYI, he’s not necessarily a big Austen fan.)

Funnier was the year when he sent me flowers in college. I put the two sweet planters of mini-roses on the window ledge in our sorority house kitchen. The note with the delivery read something like “Love Forever” and it sparked a srat house mystery. Because, although it wasn’t surprising that Dad would send flowers, he didn’t put his name on the note, and when I talked with Mom that day she hadn’t received her flowers yet and told me Dad didn’t send them. The romantic mystery bloomed like the delicate pink roses . . . my friends and I spent many minutes (at least) wondering who my secret admirer was. We even called the flower company to see if they could release the sender’s information. They could not! [Drama!] I can only imagine how pathetic that operator thought we were, especially since she could see that the sender and recipient shared a last name.

Whatever Valentine’s Day looks like on a given year, the bottom line question we want answered is . . . Am I loved? Am I worth it? Is there someone willing to sacrifice for me, willing to watch six-hour Pride and Prejudice with me—whether it’s my dad, my boyfriend, my girlfriends, my cat (not to mention my infant who has no choice). Watching Pride and Prejudice may or may not be a big sacrifice depending on the person who makes it, but it points to sacrifices even greater. Is there someone willing to give up everything, for me? I think the answer is Yes. And when those affectionate husbands, or cats, fail us—maybe you saw it coming—we can go back to the Love who inspired the original Valentine.

Whatever’s going on with you, I wish you much Colin Firth (or maybe Stanley Tucci) this Valentine’s Day.

P.S. To be fair, it’s also about considering whether I’ll give up my sense of taste to watch something I consider ridiculous. What’s the male equivalent of P&P?

P.P.S. I do like the new Keira Knightley P&P, but I officially endorse the 1995 BBC version. My only contention with the BBC P&P is that Lizzy is prettier than Jane, which is inaccurate.

P.P.P.S. Who wore it better?

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Ode to John

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Maltby and John eating imaginary fish.

He’s a goofball, my brother, and the email with his New Year’s resolutions for the year 2000 was possibly the funniest document I’ve ever read. I wish I could find it in the archives of my defunct hotmail account, but I’ve tried before with no success. The only resolution I remember was that John would change his name to include an exclamation point at the end, after our last name. As far as I know, he signed documents that way at least until he got to college. He’s still in my phone as John Rote!.

John is a performer. He’s loud. In truth, the word I’ve used most to describe him is obnoxious. He did make my life as the younger sister a lot more colorful—grabbing Mom to tango in the kitchen, for example; blasting “Ice Ice Baby” with windows down on the two-minute drive to our high school; hanging a detached computer mouse out the tailgate of his car so that other drivers would wave frantically at him, pointing to the back of the vehicle.

But he irked, aggravated, distracted, annoyed me like no one else.

I’m quieter, not quite as funny, many times was not in the mood for his antics. Also, if he chose to pick me up and throw me over his shoulder, I was powerless to stop him.

When the time came, we went off to college in opposite directions, John to the free spirited west coast, me to the traditional east coast the following year. Whenever we were back at home in Memphis, I’d tire quickly of his loudness, exasperated: “Can’t you just have a normal conversation? Everything doesn’t need to be a joke!”

When I brought my future husband Israel home with me to meet the family for Thanksgiving (I’d warned him about the loudness), we were sitting on the couch watching the Macy’s parade when John walked in from the airport and said (loudly), “Why are we watching the parade?! Who watches this parade?!”

I do. And this is my boyfriend, visiting for the first time, trying to survive in this bizarre house where people needlessly yell about Thanksgiving festivities.

John’s gregarious personality came in handy at my wedding the next November. He picked up out-of-town guests from the airport (and actually got out to the parking lot with visitors in town for a different wedding before asking, So how do you guys know Josie and Israel?). He provided local dining and late night recommendations. He led the troops to Beale Street after the reception, and he asked my girlfriends from college about their love lives and whether they’d been open-mouth kissing anyone lately. Everybody had a great time.

Speaking of love lives, I was curious to meet John’s girlfriend—he’d pined after her from afar, they’d broken up after her graduation, and they reunited when they both found themselves living in New York City. Now John and Maltby seemed pretty serious. I wondered, and worried a bit, about what kind of girl would put up with John’s manic behavior. Would she match his volume? Would she be mute? How could anything seriously real, an actual relationship, work out?

I met her. She loves art, loves horses. She’s fun. Certainly not as loud as John. I asked her how she puts up with him. . . and it seemed like she didn’t really know what I was talking about. She told me a story about John traveling with his college rugby team. He was a senior, and the team had a free night in Los Angeles. Instead of heading off with the upperclassmen, John found a night spot that admitted his teammates who were under 21. I think it was karaoke. Maybe bowling.

I started to consider my brother from Maltby’s point of view, or anyone’s point of view other than mine. . .

Maybe, when John and I see each other, we revert to our childhood roles. Maybe he’s not so obnoxious to everyone else. Maybe everyone else isn’t so easily offended.

He’s loud, yes. But also kind, unselfish, and thoughtful.

John and Maltby will be married this winter. The night they met, he was on another rugby trip, post college, this time in New Orleans. He told his ride to go ahead back to Memphis, he’d figure something out. He’d met a pretty girl from Georgia.

Along with my husband (who, evidently, survived and thrived after that first Thanksgiving weekend), I recently visited my brother and his fiancee, who now live in San Francisco. They took us on a hike by the Golden Gate bridge, loaned us John’s car to drive out to wine country, showed us their favorite neighborhood spots (not to mention the neighborhood naked guy). John told inappropriate jokes, shared an outrageously hilarious southern lawyer impression, and Maltby patted his leg when the volume got too high. We had a great time.

I guess we’ve both mellowed with a little growing up. I have two brothers besides John, though he and I are closest in age. When I told Will and Ben that poignant story about the time John stayed to do karaoke with the freshmen rugby players, they listened, paused, and confirmed that it was Maltby who related that event from John’s college days—before she had actually met him. My oldest brother voiced what all three of us were thinking. “Knowing John, he probably just made that up to impress her.”

Well. Even if he did, I don’t mind so much anymore.

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Happy wedding week, Maltby and John!

What worked for me in 2014, part deux.

Here’s part one of what worked for me in 2014 (Nashville, Sunday supper, barre class). My friend Anna Kate is also weighing in with what worked for her in 2014, as well as her friend Katherine from Ye Old College Try—I don’t know her personally but love reading her blog. And we’d love to hear about what worked for you!
 photo 20140824_191241_zpsdf542aa6.jpgDestin, FL in August. Picture unrelated to anything else in this post, except that I’m wearing one of my favorite tee shirts!

4. Room time.
When people ask me how I like being a stay at home mom, I usually say something like, “Weeeellll, it’s been an adjustment.” I’ve always wanted to stay home with my kids, and I really love it and am grateful that it’s an option for us. One big adjustment has been simply that for the first time I get to set my own schedule (working with my two little dictators, obviously). No school or office requirements to plan around, just the commitments I decide to make. It’s been three years, and I’m still grappling with this freedom to create an ideal routine (though until Inez was born I was still working a tiny bit for Little Lights).

I know, of course, it’s a work in progress and will change as all of us grow. I’ve become a big fan of a structured routine/schedule for the girls, with regular times for meals, naps, etc. It’s healthy, predictable, stable for them and all that, but really I think it helps me just as much. I’m firmly in the “if mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy” camp of parenting, and so ROOM TIME is one part of our routine that I’ve thanked high heaven for many many times in 2014 . . .

I’m sure you can google room time, crib time, independent play time, solo play time and find a boatload of step by step instructions. It’s just a set time where the kid plays by him- or herself in a safe, limited space. Here’s what it means for us.

  • Mary Tobin started this quiet time as a baby in her crib (or you can use a playpen if you’ve got that kind of space) with a few books and developmentally appropriate toys . . . for child number two developmentally appropriate toys may mean plastic sorority cups (sorry Inez). As MT got older we switched to her [toddler-proofed] room.
  • I’d put on music and say with a smile, “Have fun in your room time!” And leave. I think we started with 10 or 15 minutes, and lengthened a little as she got used to it and grew. It was helpful to set a timer to go off after the designated time, or ring a bell at the end, for her to learn that room time’s over when it’s over, not when she yells loud enough. When time’s up, return—still with a smile—and say “I hope you had good room time!” Then sing the clean up song while putting away toys and books.
  • Try to be consistent with time of day. I though it was good to institute room time as naps were dropped, so instead of sleeping the girls still get to rest, if they so choose. These days, Mary Tobin has room time (actually in the living room) for about 45 minutes when Inez takes her morning nap, except on her two little school days. (And Mama has room time also!)
  • I hadn’t started Inez doing anything until this autumn when I realized everyone was going crazy in the evenings and I wasn’t able to get dinner ready. I thought wistfully about the days when Inez took a third little catnap in the evenings, when it hit me: shoulda replaced that nap with room time! She got used to it after a couple days, and I think it’s actually kind of a relief to her now. Instead of fussing she gets to play with old sorority cups, and Mary Tobin and I have a peaceful dinner prep time. This is where the prayers of gratitude come in. I highly recommend it!

5. Reduced wardrobe.
Like Anna Kate, I’m working toward a capsule wardrobe philosophy. I became a little addicted in 2014 to the green polka dot bags from ThredUp. For no charge, they sent me a bag, I filled it with clothes, shoes, and purses and put it back in the mail. They paid me upfront for the pieces that were in good enough condition for them to re-sell. (And I repeated the process a few more times.) It kind of blew my mind.

We constantly have a give away bag or box going, but the possibility of a payout coupled with our move kicked my motivation into high gear and I got rid of a ton of clothes. From now on: only clothes I love and fit well! (Remind me I said that!) I’m still waiting for that moment when I’ll miss something that I got rid off. Hasn’t happened.

Of course I did do some shopping. My favorite sources for my reduced wardrobe staples:

  • V-neck tee shirts from Everlane.
  • Fun tops and sweaters from Stitch Fix. One of my favorites seen here. I wore that same aztec blanket sweater over pajama pants and Israel’s orange Netherlands soccer t-shirt when Inez was born. So it’s versatile.
  • Le breton shirt and dress from PopBasic. (They release collections at different times, but if you use this link to sign up, you’ll get a $15 credit should you order something eventually). Dress seen here, a little bit, along with a Stitch Fix scarf.

6. Email.
Earlier this year I did an experiment in which I cleared out my email. Every evening I cleared 100 emails, by either archiving appropriately or deleting, until they were all gone. Of course, you could also just archive everything and start fresh. But more than the satisfaction of a clear inbox, I proved to myself that I could do something if I committed to it.

Often with my vague personal goals, I never get to them because I feel like other things are more pressing. But, there will always be more dishes to do, someone to call back, or other obligations like thank you notes and really good TV shows. In my email experiment, I saw that if I make something a priority, I can accomplish it—but I have to be willing to let other things go, or at least push them aside for awhile.

For the record, I currently have 23 emails in my inbox, 2 unread, and 17 starred. I want to get back to regularly dealing with my inbox this year. A helpful tip I heard was not to “check” email, but to “process” email— meaning, only read your email if you’re prepared to put it in its proper place (respond, delete, move to to-do list), rather than reading, then letting it sit there and take up your mental space. (Mama Rote! Please comment with how many emails are in your inbox right now! Some of y’all are gonna die when you hear this.)

7. Bedtime.
I think perhaps sleep is one of my love languages, in addition to food obviously. When I was in New York last Thanksgiving, after walking all day 8 months pregnant, I desperately looked up these stretches before bed. I kept doing some version of them for much of 2014, and I’d like to get back in that habit. More recently, I put an alarm on my phone that reads “time to settle down!” at 10pm, reminding me to start the bedtime process, and giving me plenty of time to read before going to sleep!
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What worked for Mary Tobin this year: cuddle guys (i.e. stuffed animals), pens and notebooks, hopping like a rabbit.
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What worked for Inez this year: the ergo carrier, dogs and cats, dancing.
 photo 7ED6E989-9F24-4283-8C8D-B94D0EECAEF5_zps6n3nvepg.jpg What worked for Israel this year: having a smokin’ hot wife. (JK but seriously.)

What worked for you in 2014?

Christmas by the numbers


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Merry Christmas from Graceland!

On this, the twelfth day of Christmas, I’m totally on board with keeping Christmas going all through Epiphany. Not only does it appeal to my natural slacker, but the longer celebration provides an antidote to the inevitable disappointment when events don’t follow your vision for the perfect, beautiful Christmas morning. We’re not perfect; that’s fine. I wrote a reflection for my friend Elizabeth’s blog about the angels and the shepherds and what it meant to me to rejoice not because things are perfect, but because God has come near. You can wrap up this last day of Christmas by reading it here.

We had a wonderful—not perfect—fun, old-fashioned family Christmas (name that movie!) in Memphis, with Israel’s and my families combining forces for an epic Christmas Palooza 2K14. Mama Rote compiled the stats:

16 people
12 adults
4 girls 3 and under
6 Ortegas
5 Rotes (+  1 soon to be Rote)
4 Slakases
7 days
1 birthday party for a 1 year old
4 gallons of milk
10 pounds of corn tortillas
7 dozen eggs
3 gallons of pozole
3 high chairs (+ 1 booster seat)
3 cribs
3 strollers
countless diapers
50+ loads of laundry
30+ plus dishwasher loads
1 Grizzlies game, complete with overtime
14 rolls of paper towels
5 dozen tamales
1 1/2 gallon of vegetable beef soup
1 ping-pong tournament
1 Chinese checkers tournament
2 aerobeds
2 dogs 
1 cat
and…..
FOURTEEN, yes, FOURTEEN cases of a nasty tummy bug.**
*Some numbers estimated
**Will says that a positive thing is that, in the aggregate, we gained less weight as family due to ‘the circumstances.’

It was so fun to be together, despite the tummy bug. Now we’re back at home, watching Downton Abbey and maybe White Christmas one last time! In Mexico, children receive gifts from the Tres Reyes Magos on Epiphany, so last night Mary Tobin and I put shoes out in the hall, with pine needles instead of hay for the camels as the wise men came through, and this morning we found one last Christmas treat. Today we’re packing away the decorations, and I hope I can convince Israel to burn our tree in the fire pit in the back yard tonight . . . wouldn’t it be beautiful and symbolic, like the light in darkness, the star leading to the Christ Child?? OK, I love fire. I’m a pyromaniac.

If you’re packing up today, too, here’s some free advice I picked up from my Aunt Kace. She has pretty Christmas frames with photos from family Christmases in years past that she stores with her decorations (but too many embarrassing middle school ones, Aunt Kace!!). So now I’m keeping an eye out for Christmas frames at post-holiday sales and trying to tuck away any good photos with the ornaments. I haven’t found many frames that I like, but we brought out pictures and subbed them into our usual frames for the month, and I love the nostalgic effect!

 photo 8759CC53-AD8D-458D-8785-D1D36FC356BE_zpslzyzsgs3.jpgIn looking through this year’s pictures, I spotted a bit of a theme:
 photo B1011067-3F3A-484B-8E4D-6C3C6F0F0153_zps8dnbgm9l.jpg  photo 37E2C393-8BF9-4352-9558-B3B0AE079C2F_zpsnnevrhnu.jpg Just offering Baby Jesus what we can. (Food is our love language. I would probably take the chocolate, but the tamales are also really good.)

Merry Christmas!

What worked for me in 2014.

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I’m ripping the title of this post, and the idea, straight from Modern Mrs. Darcy, since I love her posts with ideas for for figuring out systems that work well in daily life, and because it’s helpful to reflect and remember before heading full-throttle into a new year with all its goals and expectations.

Also, this gives me a tidy vehicle to talk about several different topics that could’ve been their own blog series, were I more conscientious. (Maybe in 2015!? 2015: the Year of Conscientiousness. Yikes.)

Here we go. What worked for me in 2014:

1. Nashville.
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We’re loving Nashville, and to be honest we don’t know what the future holds (do you?); it’s possible we could be here forever, could move back to DC, could boogie on down to Mexico City, Timbuktu, Duluth. I hope not Duluth. What we can say is that in 2014, Nashville worked for us.

Being closer to my family in Memphis (and closer to ATL, Chattanooga, etc.) has meant we’ve actually been able to say yes to events ranging from the significant—my brother’s engagement party, my great aunt’s 80th birthday—to the more-random-but-still-significant-in-their-way—like Israel joining my dad and his brothers for their semi-annual grudge match golf tournament. Mom and Dad have visited a lot and helped us with the girls so generously. I even tagged along on a work trip with Israel and we visited my brother in San Francisco: flew out from Memphis after dropping the girls off at Lolly and Grandpa’s. Easy cheesy, relatively speaking.

On the August weekend we attended my great aunt’s birthday party in Chattanooga, a good friend was getting married in Nashville, so we left the girls with the family, drove back for the wedding Saturday night, and zipped back Sunday morning (pic at the top from our return drive the morning after the wedding). Worth it. All this to say: even without being in the same city, the proximity to my family makes a big difference and opens a lot of opportunities that we didn’t have living 14 hours away. Especially before the girls are school age, I appreciate all the help and the difference it makes to my mental health!

 photo 928D23B8-6CB2-40F8-AB1B-491F19D8462D_zps0zuuegyr.jpgAnd the fam gets to witness MT growing into her bow. Aunt Reba’s lake house, 2013 and 2014.

2. Sunday suppers.

 photo IMG_7243_zpsbd372a75.jpgA special edition of Sunday supper for Israel’s birthday

Nashville’s, like, the hottest city in the world right now, and there’s a lot going on; we’ve barely scratched the surface. Such a magnet of a city draws a lot of great people. Two of my cousins live here, as well as a lot of friends and acquaintances from college in Virginia, from Memphis, from other random connections . . . so it’s been fun and challenging to connect and re-connect with people. It’s kind of nice, actually, to be new to a city and have to say to yourself, Well, let’s try to make new friends. No shame in it. However, it’s hard work; it requires patience; and it’s logistically tricky, especially with kids.

After reading this article, “Friday Night Meatballs: How to Change Your Life With Pasta,” about a family’s weekly spaghetti and meatballs tradition, we thought about how to make it work for us. We started having my cousins over on Sundays and then invited other friends. I love it for a lot of reasons:

  • People come to us. Sometimes it’s a quick, casual dinner; and sometimes people want to hang out longer. In that case, we put the girls to bed, keep the party (or the quiet conversation) going. Now that I’m thinking about it, the girls, in theory, are learning that Sundays are special and are getting used to welcoming different people into our house.
  • Establishing that Sunday supper is a regular event, internally within our family, but especially externally, by issuing an open invitation to friends, forces us to do it and get better at it. Though I’ve loved the idea of hospitality and having an open, lively home, historically I’d get really stressed out when people came to dinner. Since it’s a weekly event now, hosting is less elevated and more friendly. We’ve gotten better (I think) on both ends: letting go of an ideal and not flipping out when the house isn’t clean, but also improving in efficiency with practice so that the house is actually cleaner and the meal is less of a hassle.
  • For the meal, we settled on some kind of soup each week: flexible depending on numbers, freezable if there’s a lot left over, requires only bowls and spoons, friends may bring drinks, cornbread, dessert, etc. In the article I referenced above, they do a family meatball recipe every time, which is great because it’s yummy, has cultural/family history meaning, can be made ahead of time, and it’s the same every week, so it doesn’t require extra thinking and planning. I’d love to narrow the menu down further, but I don’t have the mastery or the drive to make mi suegra’s pozole every week!
  • Though the menu still takes more mental bandwidth than I’d like, one of my favorite things about Sunday suppers is the way it streamlines our hosting and social life. For all the times that I’d normally say, “Hey, we should get together” to someone, and likely fail to follow up (which is a lot, especially being new in town, having fledgling friendships, or running into an old friend or acquaintance), I can instead offer something concrete: “Hey, my cousins always come over for dinner Sunday. Do you want to join us this week?” (Thank you, Nate and Zach, for being our tools.) I feel like I’ve wiped clean my mental to do list of people I should be reaching out to or trying to get together with, or at least moved it all under the heading of Sunday supper. And if I really can’t be bothered to think or be social, Israel can invite people, and I’ll just make sure something’s on the stove in the blue Le Creuset.

If you’re reading this and you live in Nashville, ask me about the next one!

3. Barre class at McCabe Community Center.

Going to a weekly exercise class has been surprisingly effective in helping me feel like I really live here. The community center close to us has $3 group classes (yes, THREE BUCKS), and I’m now dedicated to Wednesdays at 12:30 with Sue. (Huge props to Israel who eats lunch with the girls and starts nap time. Love you, Boo!) It’s not, shall we say, as serious as the barre classes I’ve taken in the past. But Sue is hilarious. She makes us talk to each other, which normally I’d hate, but it works; she makes obvious jokes with the barre/bar play on words (Don’t lean into the bar! Remember that Friday night!); and she routinely plays “Black Velvet” for warm up or cool down. She also has great bumper stickers. Nashville people, seriously, rearrange your life to join me on Wednesdays. A scheduled class creates a nice hinge in the middle of the week, and it has revived my fitness routine. (Now I’m into these free pilates videos. I feel like an adolescent valley girl!)

[I don’t have a picture of exercise class; but you can see above where I’m feeling especially fit in a Christmas sweater and stirrup leggings at Israel’s birthday party! And here, again in Mama Rote’s old clothes, since she was/is a fox.]

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I’ll have to return with part two of “What worked for me in 2014,” since I’ve surprised myself with my passion for my barre instructor. Stay tuned. What worked for you in 2014?

In the meantime—here on the blog, wordpress has reported to me, these were the most-read posts of the year:

  1. New City East Lake (or, How to Decorate for Interracial Couples!)
  2. ‘Round Here 
  3. To Love At All
  4. Doctor’s Orders, or, Another Note for a New Mom
  5. World Cup Update + Links, or, How not to find a good Mexican restaurant

 Thanks for reading!

Reading List: for your 3-year-old in NYC

Two books that were big winners on our trip to New York last week:
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Thanks, Mama Rote! I love the retro pics in this one, and MT was obsessed. I also had to attempt explaining what getting on board means. 

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Thanks, Tia Raquel! This one is charming and a pleasure to read aloud. More books should rhyme. Pictures are excellent.

It’s awesome how transportation is so entertaining for kids. Our week was full of planes, trains, and automobiles, and Mary Tobin’s new favorite . . . buses! In addition to riding on the real deal, Abuela took us to the children’s museum where MT drove their play bus for what felt like forever. We had several transfers and ended up in Boston. I don’t know how she knows Boston is even a thing.

This and that.

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A couple weekends ago with the bruddas. We almost asked an old man to jump in to substitute for Ben, but no one’s hair was white enough. 

We’re gearing up to take the fam to NYC for Thanksgiving, not packing yet, just thinking about it. Let me know if you have great New York City suggestions, especially for little ones! We do have traditions (e.g. taking our rings to Tiffany’s to be cleaned. “I think you’ll find that Tiffany’s is very understanding.” Name that movie. It’s easy.)—but they necessarily evolve with little chickadees, plus there’s always more to see. This year we’re looking forward to the Botanical Gardens with the cousins.

If you don’t have to pack up yourself and two kids—it’s like when grandaddy told Mama Rote, after unloading all the gear for baby Will, that he loved her, but they didn’t take that much stuff when they were storming the beaches at Normandy—maybe you’ll have time to peruse some links:

  • Great news for those of us who aren’t used to maintaining a yard: don’t rake your leaves. Or, “If you’re too persnickety to have a leave-strewn lawn all winter, rake them off the lawn but into your plant and flower beds.”
  • Even easier Thanksgiving tradition. Instead of the gratitude jar that I’ve posted about in years past, follow this advice and write a notecard at the table with everyone. No forethought, except for the person making notecards, and no anger at yourself or a family member who may have forgotten to add anything to the gratitude jar all year. Ahem.
  • Also via MMD, this gem, by folks at Nashville Public Library . . . all the right books in all the right places.

  • From Pinterest, I was fascinated by this list of overnight hairstyles—ways to get great hair by doing something to it at bedtime (tiny braids for crinkly waves, weekly coconut oil conditioner, dry shampoo . . .). Do you have any tricky hair tricks like that?
  • To end on a triumphant note, here’s an idea from Pinterest that I actually executed and enjoyed (you can tell somewhat in the pic at the top).

    Thanks to a Virginia friend with a China connection :) I have a few strands of pearls, but I think my neck is too big for them to look quite right, unless I’m wearing exactly the right thing. Using ribbon provides a longer more flattering length on me, and perhaps takes the seriousness of the pearls down a notch. Try it if you need a festive, unstuffy look for Thanksgiving!

Have a fun, cozy week. May your turkey be yummy and your packing be light!

P.S. Jane Eyre pulp covers, and Jane Eyre for tots.

P.P.S. What a difference a year makes!

Princesses eat mac and cheese.

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This weekend we celebrated Mary Tobin’s third birthday with all the pomp and circumstance befitting a firstborn princesa. Up until now, I’d hardly given her gifts for birthdays and Christmas since she didn’t really care either way (well, we gave small gifts mainly to keep up appearances—so that we wouldn’t look like terrible parents), plus the grandparents and tias always have gifts covered more than adequately. However, by this birthday, the developmental threshold has been crossed at which a kid knows that it’s all about her. Mary Tobin was preening and asking, “Is that a surprise for my birthday?” about any bag or package in the house. So obnoxious, yet so winsome. Fellas, watch out for those eyelashes.

Still, her needs are simple: her only specific requests were cupcakes and balloons. (Thank you, Angelina Ballerina. Seriously.) Done and done. After a day of fun activities on Saturday— ballet, bounce place (a big indoor overpriced trampoline place), nap, bunny house, baking; all buh buh B words! (school is going to kill me)—we had a little birthday party at our house Sunday afternoon.

 photo 1652CD71-A352-4649-AAC6-260CAA2E8827_zpsb8g0rjk5.jpgFootball game on in the background, to teach her that it’s not all about her. It’s not all about me either. At her first birthday party, I refused to let Israel and my dad turn the game on. I’m totally mellow now. 
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Again this year the gathering was more about the grown-ups, with plenty of beverages to accompany the decadent MAC AND CHEESE BAR. I totally recommend this option as a fail-safe adult- and kid-pleaser. I also totally recommend hiring Mama Rote as your scullery maid to prepare the scrumptious macaroni and all the toppings. Here’s the recipe from my family cookbook (h/t Aunt Reba!):

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Our toppings included: bacon bits, smoked sausage (small slices, coated in BBQ sauce, broiled), peas, tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, hot sauce, salsa, salt and pepper.

Of course, the birthday girl took hers plain. Happy birthday, MT!