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!


Oh, Man.

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Hey there, internet! I hardly know what to tell you since last I wrote. It’s safe to say that if I haven’t posted in awhile, my life has either been so wonderful, or so awful, that I haven’t found energy to give the ol’ blog. Which is it this time? I’d like to maintain an aura of mystery . . . but probably some of both.

Since last we met, beautiful Inez (aka Bebe Dos) came to join us! She was born two days before Christmas, and what a lovely holiday we had. Her full name is Sara Inez: Sara is Israel’s mom, and Inez is for his great aunt Inés. Name background: Inés/Inez is the Spanish/Italian/Portuguese variant of Agnes, and it means pure. We are pronouncing it in the more Spanish/Mexican way—ee ness or ee nez—rather than the Southern way—eye nez. :) I hope to write more about the name, the birth, etc. at a later date TBD.

As I’d hoped, figuring out a newborn this time around is not so scary since we’ve already been through it . . . not that it’s easy or not exhausting, but at least we can know some of those difficult things are normal and temporary. The new territory is how on earth to handle two little girls—logistically and emotionally! Mary Tobin is doing well with baby sister, but understandably is working to get more of our attention in both positive and negative ways. (Please do help a mama out with any free advice!) MT’s verbal ability is climbing and climbing, which is fun to watch. One cute example: after we’ve been laughing together, she releases a sigh and says, “oh, man.” Evidently I say that.

Oh, man. What a packed month six weeks (is it possible?). Overall things are fine, but life with a newborn is a bit of rollercoaster, isn’t it? There are ups and downs, of course, and nice smooth sections where you can gaze at the scenery, and then once in a while a free fall where you scream “I’m going to die!” Once you’re through it, you think, “I guess I didn’t die. But I don’t know if I can do that again.”

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Oh, man. Serenity now!

Naming the Princess

Not to be outdone, Israel was on an exotic trip to Colombia while the Ortega girls went to Memphis. Last time something like this happened, I synthesized our surprisingly similar experiences in this post. Now, I’ll just give you one image:

Pigs, llamas—all the same!

Note his friend’s t-shirt, a harbinger of things to come. [It says, “Guns don’t kill people. Dads with daughters do!”] This is a clumsy way of revealing: Bebe Dos is a girl!

Your days to offer name suggestions are numbered, since the Name Summit is coming soon.

Some items we thought about during the epic summit that resulted in Mary Tobin’s name:

  • Family names: I’m a history person, so I just love family names. You’ve got meaning, roots, background, something bigger than yourself, already built in.
  • Playground test: Are you comfortable shouting the kid’s name out in public, in front of God and everybody?
  • Blind date test: If you were set up on a blind date with someone of this name, what sort of idea would you have about the person before the meeting?
  • Popularity: I didn’t want a name that’s incredibly hot right now. We love the name Zoe, but I vetoed it due to this factor.
  • Meaning: [Does this need explanation?]
  • Spanish/English: We were looking for names that could translate well in English or Spanish (or actually, not translate!). For example, something like Sophia or Lydia is lovely for native speakers of either. I didn’t want something that’s awkward to say (like my own name!) for Spanish speakers, and I didn’t want to choose a name so Spanish and en fuego that I’d have to change my own accent when saying it. “This is my daughter, Beatriz.” I would just feel dumb.

So we kept these criteria in mind. (And I’m sure there’s much more to consider: initials—monograms, of course!, how names sound with your last name, etc.) But in the end, you’ve got to go with whatever you want to do. If a name is popular, so what? Maybe because it’s awesome!

Mary Tobin, as you may know, is a family name. Mama Rote’s first name is Mary, and mi suegra‘s middle name is Maria. Tobin is a last name from my dad’s side of the family, and it means “believing God is good.” I’ve always loved double names and considered naming a daughter Mary something, which is more common in the South. It doesn’t perfectly meet the Spanish/English consideration—Tobin is kind of weird and unnatural to say for hispanics, but Mary is easy and universal.

We knew that not everyone would love it or get it immediately (Y’all, we’re like, so diverse. I mean, we know people from the north.), but we love it, and of course we love our girl and think it fits perfectly!


This time around, we’re also taking this great GQ article into counsel, which essentially explains how to not name your child so he or she will grow up to be a meth addict. It’s worth your time.

Do you have the names of all your offspring chosen? How will you, or did you, decide?

Bebe Dos FAQs (i.e., I’m pregnant)

Audubon wood stork

Hey, friendly friends! I’ve been trying to think of a nice, creative way to announce that we’re expecting—however, my brain doesn’t work properly. So I’ll go with the easiest format I can think of, and tackle some FAQs.

Q. Are you pregnant?

A. Yes!

Q. Are you excited?!

A. Yes, now that I’m in the second trimester. Honestly, earlier on, I knew, in my brain, that this new life is an exciting thing, but I didn’t feel the excitement yet. I felt like booting, then killing Israel (my husband, not the country—I dread the google searches that yield this post as a result).

Q. Does Mary Tobin know?

A. Not yet. She’ll be a little over two when Bebe Dos is born. (If you have any advice, holler at me please!) As an adult I find the concept of time difficult, so (though she’s clearly a prodigy!) if Mary Tobin understood that we’re having a baby, I think she’d expect him or her to come tomorrow. We’re waiting a little bit to begin talking about it.

Q. Will you find out if Bebe Dos is a boy or girl?

A. Yes! This is my husband’s concession to me, and I’m so grateful. We found out with la princesa, so he thought it would be fun to have a surprise this time. My best arguments: I want to tell MT about her little brother or sister. And it’s my body.

So I’ll let you know, I hope, in a few more weeks after the ultrasound.

Q. Any cravings?


Swedish Fish and Better Cheddars earlier. What can I say? The kid needs nutrients. Lately, nothing very funny or exciting.

Q. Do you really want to kill Israel?

A. Not 24/7. My friend told me that her husband slept on the couch for the duration of her pregnancy. So, all things considered, I think we’re doing alright.

Q. When are you due?

A. After Christmas.

Q. Names??

A. Yes. For a boy, if he’s born on Christmas Day, Uncle Steve suggests Felix. Felix Navidad Ortega. [Groan!] Or Scooter. Please tell me you have suggestions that will trump Uncle Steve!

Q. Are you showing yet?
A. If you thought I’d post some baby bump pics, you were sorely mistaken, my friend!

More to come!

Advice for new parents: Use baby’s name.

MT Neely

Babies are more important than dogs. Sorry, Neely!

A couple of my gals have had sweet new babies recently. So exciting! Like just about everybody, I love finding out the names parents have chosen for their children. What a profound privilege.

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Celebrating the arrival of our newest neighbor Hudson.

Lots of tips for baby’s first year, I realized, are just as much about helping the parent adjust as they are about the baby’s wellbeing, and this is one:

Use the baby’s name. I read that simple piece of advice somewhere, and it became quite profound for me. Don’t call her The Baby. It’s too easy then, to think of her the same way you’d think about your dog, or some other obligation or chore. “We’ve got to get home so the baby can nap.” (Sounds like: “We’ve got to get home to walk the dog.”) Instead of I’ve got to feed the baby, try I’m going to feed Mary Tobin.

Surely the child learns his own name and develops a sense of security as he hears it lovingly spoken. But I’d argue it’s more for Mom and Dad. New parents are going to be significantly inconvenienced by this new baby. (I hope you knew that already. You did sign up for it.) I knew it, of course, but it’s one thing to know, and another to adjust and to bring your heart, and body, alongside your mind to accept and embrace the responsibility. Calling Mary Tobin Mary Tobin, the name we chose with so much love, was a subtle reminder that she is a person! Just like me and you! She has needs and she’s real. She’s not a doll, a pet, or a project, but a life and a dear girl.

Names. So much could be written about their significance. For me using Mary Tobin’s name was a weapon against bitterness and discouragement in the early days of motherhood. You’ll still feel bitter and discouraged at times, but you’ll have an advantage from daily reminding yourself that your baby is a person who should not be dehumanized or objectified.

baby Bear

Elizabeth’s son John Bernard IV, AKA Bear. Bernard means “brave as a bear.” How awesome is that name?

My friend Elizabeth built up my ego during her pregnancy by asking my advice on various matters. We agreed that in some ways it’s easier to learn from the experiences of our peers than from the advice of seasoned mamas and grandmothers (not to mention mothers-in-law!). Perhaps because of the distance of years, the veteran moms can make it sound so easy. There’s less pressure with advice from friends your own age: you can take it or leave it, since we’re just rookies trying stuff out. (Example: Elizabeth took my suggestion to rub one’s belly with olive oil to avoid stretch marks, but one-upped me by buying something actually made for the purpose.) Above all I think you can feel the sympathy factor in a very real way with other new moms; it feels like we’re in it together. And by sympathy, perhaps I mean a palpable sense of shared desperation!

All that to say! While helpful for her, I hope, Elizabeth’s openness to my thoughts about what I did during pregnancy and Mary Tobin’s first year was really encouraging to me. I got to think about what helped me most and what I’d like to hold on to for the future. Once I began brainstorming, she was so patient and kind as I called and emailed with all sorts of tips, and did not cut me off when I sent random text messages that began “unsolicited advice #8 million” and ended “sorry I’m so annoying!!!”

Besides using the name, my other favorite tip (from Mama Rote, of course) was to put up my feet whenever I could when pregnant. Also, drink lots of water. And stock the fridge with cut pineapple, watermelon, or something else that will make you feel good. What baby advice has been helpful to you—profound or otherwise?

Guest Post: A Southerner in New England

My husband wants to tell you in his own words about our adventures up north. Take it away, Israel!

As most loyal readers know, Josie is a Southerner from Memphis, Tennessee and I am a Northerner from the most Yankee place in the union—New York City. A curiosity that led to some witty back and forth banter the night we met in Nick’s Nightclub, line dancing capital of Alexandria, VA. Of course, Josie couldn’t resist calling me out for “trying too hard” by wearing a plaid shirt and jeans to go line dancing. Perhaps she was right, which is why I’d been looking forward to taking Josie to Cape Cod (or The Cape to the locals)—more comfortable surroundings for me and a chance to play tour guide at a place Josie had never been to before.

In addition to the rude demeanor (of some) New Englanders, Josie found the Massachusetts accent: “grating.” Her words, not mine.

But before Josie’s large and loyal New England readers write her off completely, I must tell you that The Cape was the setting to one very memorable Ortega family vacation that won’t soon be forgotten. Besides taking part in the usual Cape Cod activities that all vacationers are expected to cross off on the list, like hitting the beach, eating ice cream, taking a trip out to Nantucket, we also made time for two summits! The Budget Summit and the Baby Name Summit.

Why a summit? Because we have clearly been in Washington, D.C. for too long, where we have been led to believe that a summit can bring together seemingly intractable and irreconcilable differences to hash out an agreement. Think last summer’s “Beer Summit.”

It really is too bad that C-SPAN was too busy covering the debt ceiling negotiations on Capitol Hill, because this certainly would have made for some good day time television. Like the drama unfolding in D.C., the Budget Summit turned into an argument over spending. What’s particularly ironic is that I found myself calling for more spending, seeing that I work for The Heritage Foundation (a small non-profit that also happens to be conservative think tank). In a sheer sign of desperation, I was resorting to name-calling, labeling Josie a “tea party Republican.”

It got ugly, yes. But in the end, we made a tremendous amount of progress and if the Wall Street Journal had been there providing coverage, their post-summit headline would have probably read: “With Baby Ortega on the way, Ortegas Agree to Major Cuts in Favor of More Savings.”

While far more amicable in comparison to the Budget Summit, the Name Summit was nonetheless a very passionate affair. There was a lot of back and forth on why we had come up with our list of top name choices for our lovely daughter, including my insistence on going with a really preppy name like “Bootsie”—only to be reminded that it probably wouldn’t go well with our very Spanish last name.

Unfortunately, the outcome of the Baby Name Summit did not end like the Budget Summit. We hate to leave you in suspense but we don’t have a name to announce to the world quite yet. Stay tuned!

But in all seriousness, going to Cape Cod and getting a chance to spend an entire week with Josie was a great reminder of how truly blessed I am to have a sweet, thoughtful, intelligent, responsible and beautiful wife. God has a way of prodding you to reevaluate what you are doing in all aspects of your life from time to time, and as we embark on this new chapter together as parents, it is obvious to anyone who knows Josie that she will make a wonderful mother.

Awww shucks. He’s a good egg.