Sunday Supper Lessons (or, guest post at Joel + Kitty)

4fbf7167761509079eba85df0b133d84

Hello, friends!

Today it’s my privilege to send you over to Kitty Hurdle’s blog, where I spill all of my feelings and thoughts about my growth in the area of hospitality. It’s a fitting place, since she’s rather like my online hospitality sansei.

Kitty married a friend of mine from high school, and though I think we’ve seen each other in person two times—my wedding, and a serendipitous run-in at a Chick-fil-A in Nashville—I feel I know her well through her writing, which at times is raw, hilarious, encouraging, practical, and full of the on fleek (??) things that kids say these days.

Something tells me that Kitty’s always been a natural, gracious hostess. But also she’s had years of hosting college students and organizing events; and so her blog is full of ideas to make cooking and planning for all sizes of gatherings easier and better.

My guest post will take you through the ins and outs of our year hosting Sunday Suppers, including a few recipe links and practical tips I picked up.

I hope you’ll find a useful tidbit, whether you’re wanting to have people over more, or maybe you feel kids have thrown a kink in your style, or maybe you find yourself in what I’m beginning to suspect is a near-universal dilemma: you’re an adult and you want to get some friends.

Read it here, and then do me a favor. Today is Sunday: pour a glass of wine, turn on Otis Redding, enjoy some chili (or whatever; it’s still cold here) and raise a toast to friendship, family, to the security and freedom we have to take risks and feel foolish.

Carry Me Back to Virginia

 photo 339BB83E-6938-4BEB-A56A-0C26993A9457_zpsz4vepsju.jpg
 photo 4895289A-F7D6-4875-B2C3-E9740EF8E209_zpsr9ja2tpr.jpg
It’s blog-official: we moved again.

I’m over at Latin Business Today, talking about strategies to survive moving with young children: Four Ways to Make Moving with Little Kids (Relatively) Stress-Free.

Even before kids, I needed strategies to survive moving because it’s truly one of my most hated activities. (See here and here, and of course the famous Beer on the Head Story.) But as you see, we’ve moved a lot and I think maybe I’ve gotten a little better at it. I basically used the Latin Business Today post to armchair-psychologist myself, and the advice boils down to, Get on board, you’re moving, deal with it.

It’s a little bit funny to read now, since I know how badly I handled things after packing, driving from Nashville to Alexandria with three kids, and arriving to a house I’d never seen in person. I was in a dark mood as we waited in an empty house for our furniture to arrive. But it all falls under tip #4: Anticipate bumps in the road.

So what are your moving tips (and/or tragedies)? I start way in advance with grand intentions of packing two boxes per day, and I very intentionally go through items as I pack, organizing, purging, and cleaning. At the beginning. In theory. But of course it doesn’t really happen, and by the end we’re piling everything haphazardly into boxes labeled Miscellaneous.

I didn’t include that in the LBT piece, nor did I recount my breakdown when, at the height of the chaos—the morning before movers were coming, boxes and kids’ toys everywhere—we spotted our moving truck driving down the street, a day early. I lost it, and pulled Israel out of the shower. He ran down the street in his pajamas, waving our contract to prove the agree-upon date.

It all worked out in the end.

P.S. Great song, linking Nash to VA:

Bring us a meal.

"Cranberry Pie Eating Champ"

1948 — Six-year-old Richard Baranski caresses a full belly after being crowned Cranberry Pie Eating Champion, upon eating a 10-inch cranberry pie in 15 seconds flat.. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

It may seem a bit old-fashioned, and in the past I haven’t been great at it, but from this day forward I resolve to be ready. When a friend or acquaintance experiences a major life event or a time of stress, I will take that family a meal.

Having dinners delivered has been muy, mucho helpful to us during the last several weeks. We set up a calendar on mealtrain.com (takethemameal.com is a similar option) so that when friends expressed interest in helping out, Israel could easily send the link, where they could claim a date and find our address and other pertinent information.

Meal planning remains one of my . . . areas for improvement, shall we say. When faced with the upcoming week’s menu and shopping list, I inevitably develop mental paralysis. So not thinking about dinner has been a special, sweet gift enhancing the flavor of all the food we’ve received.

Based on our experience in the past month or so, I’ll try to remember a few things when I make dinner for someone in the future:

  • Breakfast items instead of or in addition to dinner are wonderful. One friend brought quiche. Nice touch.
  • Skip the salad greens. After the first couple days, we had several bags languishing in the fridge. I’ll have to think of an easy alternative side dish.
  • YES to disposable plates, napkins, utensils; which are also useful as props and costumes.
  • Related: use disposable pans or tupperware you don’t want back. Unless you’re a pretty close friend and willing to swing by to pick up your dishes. And possibly clean them yourself.
  • Take-out is more than FINE, and likely delicious. I won’t feel guilty if I don’t have time to whip up something homemade. When our friend brought Peruvian chicken with all the sides, it was one of the best meals we got. (Even if it wasn’t, bottom line, I didn’t have to think about dinner!)
  • Tell the recipient: No thank you note. Though I love thank you notes, friends, I’ve made peace with texting a heartfelt thank you that includes a picture of Jack. Note writing somewhat defeats the purpose of taking something off the mama’s plate. (Taking something off her plate by putting something on her plate! Get it? Nice.)
  • Several weeks after the event? Never too late. We are still in receive-every-form-and-offer-of-help mode. (Sarah brought us dinner tonight, which allows me to finish this post. The internet groans a hearty thank you, I’m sure!)
  • Bottle of wine? Absolutely.

What else would you add?

Really, the above are side issues. To state the main problem, I need a go-to dinner I can pull out of my back pocket that’s relatively easy and universally yummy.

And we may have a winner. My friend Katherine brought a crock pot dish using a recipe she got from our friend Megan. I might’ve been especially hungry that night, but it hit the spot, like whoa. Here’s the recipe, direct from Megan’s email:

Cilantro Lime Chicken

Just throw some boneless chx breasts, a jar of salsa, a package of taco seasoning, lime juice and cilantro into a slow cooker for 6 hours. It’s amazing. You can shred and put on tortillas or serve over rice.

Ease McCheese. Katherine served this over a mixture of rice and black beans, along with a yummy salad (that she’d premixed instead of leaving in the bag, which made a difference). Ugh. So good. And so were the chocolate chip cookies that we—literally—devoured.

What’s your best dinner to deliver? I’d love to know.

Easy Kindergarten Prep. AKA, scissors!

 photo C30B0645-FD35-40A7-B5A0-E9429B5DB015_zpszbv79ksp.jpg photo E7E91FB0-D522-4779-847A-0BCEE62FE83F_zpsaxwg00jp.jpg

File this one under: scared, weak, hovering, helicopter modern parenting.

Here’s a practical early childhood idea, courtesy of my great aunt Jeaneine, who taught first grade for, well, longer than I’ve lived, probably.

She told me one of the best things to do to help Mary Tobin get ready for writing is to give her scissors.

[Aunt Jeaneine laughs at danger!]

Working with scissors strengthens those small hand muscles she’ll need to form the letters. At first just let her cut cut cut. Then the next thing will be following a line, previewing the eye-hand coordination needed to copy or trace letters.

I’m ashamed to admit that I hadn’t really let Mary Tobin play work with scissors yet, mainly because I didn’t want to deal with keeping them away from little sister. I’d seen Montessori materials lists and stuff about art for kids, etc. But lazy parenting is the name of my game.

In fact, though, the scissors have encouraged lazy parenting by keeping MT incredibly focused and entertained in the couple of weeks since we saw Aunt Jeaneine in Chattanooga. Mary Tobin has been happily cut, cutting away, shredding my old health insurance statements and creating her own little projects. (Usually this happens during their room time when Inez is not around to interfere. And on the two hour drive home from Chattanooga—forget about it. Best car ride we’ve ever had.) She’s following lines—proof that I waited way too long to let her do this.

Danger? So far, no. Cleanup? Yes. (I imagine that Maria Montessori and Aunt Jeaneine have plenty to say on that subject too.)

 photo 7E1C96CC-0E19-4725-BD14-D94308D00298_zpsiw2ysima.jpg photo 930EAA23-0802-426D-B36E-9D9D9C6EB668_zpsx2dgeqxk.jpg

P.S. Pics at the top from the girls’ first day of “school” earlier this week! They’re both going two days a week to a little Spanish immersion Mother’s Day Out!

P.P.S. Pics from Mary Tobin’s first day last year!

Mama Camp in Charlottesville (+ packing lists)

 photo 65B5C4AB-786B-4191-B502-3C45BC07FDC3_zpsz7cg0did.jpg photo 673D12FC-9C11-4730-9E96-00629D3357E1_zps6k4j92ca.jpg photo BAA43F63-1F8F-4533-A4D6-360947972A4D_zpsbgerduog.jpg  photo C838B2AB-C302-44C3-AAD6-00702C072B68_zpsajjg9xkb.jpgAt the start of the month, I joined three of my best friends from college in our college town, Charlottesville—AKA the best city in America—because we hadn’t seen one another in way too long. The most effective way that I explained it to Mary Tobin was that it would be camp for mamas.

And I highly recommend Mama Camp! Should you find yourself packing for something similar, here are some ideas for what you might need:

    • Your cutest shirts and dresses to show off for your fashionable friends (i.e. the only two cute tops you like right now, and in my case: muumuus).
    • A selection from the huge basket of beanie babies at your mom’s house, to send home with your friends for their kids. (Side note: the new beanie babies with huge eyes are terrifying.)
    • Comfy jammies for lounging and chatting.
    • The most outrageous rental car you can find, to embarrass your friends.
    • Some ideas about what you’d like to accomplish. Our to-do list included:
      • Coffee
      • Bodo’s (the bagel place)
      • The Lawn
      • Take It Away (the sandwich place)
      • Wine
      • Chatting
      • Basil gimlet from Mas Tapas

As you see, the three essential factors we considered were food, drink, and shady, lovely spots to sit and chat. The weather was glorious. We ate two delectable dinners at Zocalo (on Charlottesville’s downtown mall) and Tavola (in Belmont), and spent a beautiful afternoon at King Family Vineyards.

We discussed:

  • Marriage
  • Parenting
  • How disgusting our dorm rooms were and how we’ve grown in the area of cleanliness.
  • Using regular clothes as maternity clothes and maternity clothes as regular clothes.
  • Birkenstocks
  • Flare jeans
  • Shows on Netflix and Amazon. My pick is Catastrophe. So so funny.
  • Beauty products
  • Schools, work, career paths, health, and many items and details that will remain in the circle of trust.

We always find our friend Anna Kate, though she often doesn’t realize it, to be a source of great recommendations: cute clothes, pajamas, Madewell jeans, dry shampoo, chic diaper bags, something to put in the carseat or stroller to keep it cool in the deathly heat (AK or SB, give us the deets on that, please!).

Our friend Ansley gets the trooper award, since she had some kind of stomach bug and was not feeling 100% all weekend. You could hardly tell since she remained her bright cheerful self, but we gave her a hard time for drinking less wine than the pregnant lady (if you lost track: that’s me).

Our friend Elizabeth is the encouraging one who will always tell you how great and cute and smart you are, and that you should write a book. She’s the one who told me to share on the blog my quick tip for packing up the family, which is simply this: I typed up our master Packing List on Evernote (but it could just be in Word on your computer) that I print out for every trip and modify for the occasion.
 photo C098993B-5792-44F5-A628-BEFD8CC22215_zpsvrdtxgmi.jpg photo 09632844-3B58-479B-A2B1-8711F1714327_zpsy3eo1f80.jpgI’m not yet a professional packer, but this way I don’t have to think through all the randomness every time we go somewhere. Some of our essentials, for example, are the girls’ special pillow cases, the noise phone, and cuddle guys. (What’s on your list?)

I think that’s all. I am a professional mama and this was an excellent professional development trip. Write it off!

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!
_________________________________________

What worked for Mary Tobin this year: cuddle guys (i.e. stuffed animals), pens and notebooks, hopping like a rabbit.
 photo A531894D-6DED-4592-B1E6-0E1B9F90228D_zpsjkuqupco.jpg
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


 photo 587B0767-F53F-484D-8C34-4A60BD859596_zpsniak0nl8.jpg

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.

 photo DFF7705E-A3E7-49A8-99FB-ABE144C42D80_zpsyzhmtlyk.jpg

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.
 photo 06D54A87-0216-4A41-8DB9-FD66E64F1CCB_zpslsgnh0lu.jpg

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.]

_____________________________________________

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!

Doctor’s Orders, or, Another Note for a New Mom

 photo 2DA073A4-A441-4BBD-B9F0-CF3F19349351_zpsowwdd9fc.jpg

Fresh out the kitchen. In her going home outfit. No post birth pics of me.

Talking about Christmas cards— last year I took one of our birth announcement Christmas cards to give the nurse practitioner who was conducting our follow up appointment, three weeks or so after Inez was born. She was delighted to receive it, but chastised me for having done birth announcements already, when I should’ve been resting.

The truth is that I was resting; I had plenty of family around helping, and I was excited about the cards! It’s out of character for me to be that organized and on top of things, but it’s not out of character to ditch housework in favor of a couple hours surfing the web and looking at card designs, then placing an order. Addressing is more work, but I passionately love mail.

Anyway, the result of all this was that Amy, the NP, wrote me a doctor’s note excusing me from household responsibilities for SIX MONTHS!

 photo 5C849A1E-6C1D-44CC-BFF4-9A706B38F030_zpsg38otwje.jpg

Another aside: Amy actually witnessed Inez’ birth and was the one who kept encouraging Mama Rote to take pictures. Mom was kind of like, um, well, I don’t know if she wants pictures. The Pollyanna nurse persisted. (All this out of range of my hearing.) So finally Mom spoke up: “Jos, do you want pictures of this?”

“I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT.” I barked.

(I’m not anti-birth pictures, but you know, it’s just not me. Also, at that point in labor—probably at its most intense—the pictures from Mom’s vantage point would have been my butt in the air, so. No thanks.

NONETHELESS, this nurse was the sweetest and the best, and made me feel the beauty and gravity of birth just by her enthusiastic presence and communicating that she was honored to be part of it. Come to think of it, that was a consistent phenomenon. Everybody around—the girls at the front desk, nurses, midwives, family—everybody was so pumped and excited, which one should be about a baby being born; while I felt like I would die. Oh dear. Back to the postpartum checkup.

Obviously I put that doctor’s note on the fridge, for Israel’s benefit. Amy’s point was that it’s plenty of work to keep two kids alive, particularly if one of them is depending entirely on me and my body for nourishment (i.e. breastfeeding, i.e. nursing). As with pregnancy, your body is doing hard work with or without your conscious consent.  It’s so easy to forget, so easy to feel guilty, and so difficult to ask for the support you need.

Even if I wasn’t nursing, birth is a heck of a thing for one’s body to recover from. Read this article about postpartum care and practices in other cultures and how the American version, or lack thereof, sucks. We no longer have the “lying in” period that many other countries maintain. What would help? I’m not sure if the policy prescriptions the author recommends at the end would be as helpful as a cultural shift—but how do you achieve that? Maybe policy changes, maybe business owners giving more generous parental leave to both parents, maybe a dramatic restructuring of our healthcare system (I find healthcare so confusing, blergh.). For a start, and something that feels more achievable, we can try to help each other out, try to build community even when it feels daunting.

If you know any new moms, you can tell them about this article, and feel free to pass along my doctor’s note from Amy. She did not succeed with the birthing photography, but her admonition to rest was right on.

A note for a new mom.

 photo 3D577B5C-1378-47FE-9537-19DC5B299857_zpspptzfghu.jpg You know it by now: the days are long, the years are short.

Sometimes I’ll write about parenting tips and things that I find helpful. I love reading about that stuff, and I figure a lot of you do, too. At the same time, probably nothing in my life has evoked feelings of insecurity as much as becoming a mother. (It’s also brought a new sense of empowerment and unparalleled joy—I guess they’re all mixed in.) So. It’s obvious, we’ll all make different decisions as parents and in life, but the truth is, that can make me nervous. I’m faced with the reality of how highly I value what other people think, when I realize that I’m doing things differently than other mothers.

I have enjoyed reading the baby books, the child development material, parenting articles, websites, blogs. (Again, following Uncle Steve’s advice: get a lot of advice, then do what you want!) It’s an important task—raising kids—so it’s important to make considered decisions about how to go about it. I want to do my best . . . but ultimately it becomes a big lesson in trust and giving up control.

This morning I wrote a quick note on a slip of paper to send my friend Ashley who’ll be bringing home a newborn in a couple days. (Eeeeps!!) Ash and I have discussed parenting styles and decisions (in theory), and as with other friends, I’ve said, hey, don’t worry if we do things differently. Before our family moved, I passed along to her a stack of baby books with the disclaimer that several of them contradict one another, so she’ll just have to decide what she wants to do.

But the note I wrote this morning contained my most practical, best advice. So I decided to copy it here:

“He . . . set my feet upon a rock making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.”
Psalm 40:2-3

Ash, I’d written this verse out for myself as a reminder that God makes my steps secure in motherhood—of course we won’t be perfect, but we know God’s taking care of us. I pray that you will feel utterly confident (in yourself, but more in God’s provision) as you get to know Towns!

And, my fave parenting strategy: ask God for wisdom every day. He promises to give it (James 1:5).

I love you!

If you want to know what I think, that’s it. Thanks for letting me keep it real, dear reader. Maybe next time I’ll be back with some snarky judgmental thoughts on kids’ television habits. [wink.] Love y’all.

 photo F47B6A30-49FD-4A2A-BFB8-5183A0C28C2D_zpszu7pwcpt.jpg

 photo ADC04C05-DF47-4F3B-AB6A-A09DA7D31A20_zps5870bbpd.jpg

 photo 5B951820-0F77-40BE-AD25-C2F360AD2623_zpso4bugmyx.jpg