New Art!

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. -Thomas Merton

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I intended to share some new paintings from Uncle Steve this past Saturday, on his birthday. But, not unusually, things got away from me. I was telling Israel that my life this weekend reminded me too much of this immortal SNL skit and Chris Farley’s brilliant use of air quotes.

In my pregnant mom version: so maybe my house is not what you would call “clean.” I haven’t “taken a shower.” My family has no “fresh underwear.” And, sadly, as I just re-watched that video, two of Chris Farley’s also apply to me right now: I don’t “wear clothes that fit me.” I can’t “reach all the parts of my body.”

Too much information?

So . . . Uncle Steve, happy belated birthday! We love your art! Thank you!

If you know Uncle Steve, you know he’s a jack of all trades. Aside from his day job, he landscapes a “meadow-like back yard . . . full of simple pleasures” that gets featured in local magazines. Plus he’s funny and charming, friendly and approachable, making you so comfortable that you may just ask if you can use his back yard for your wedding. Or ask him to be your partner on The Amazing Race. He’s so thoughtful; he regularly calls me, or my husband, just to check in and say hello or that they’re thinking about us. Plus, he’s as handsome as Jamie Foxx.

If that weren’t enough, he’s a fantastic artist. After I saw two of his gorgeous tobacco leaf paintings last year, I had to ask him for something for our place!

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This one, called “Appalachian Memories,” I love. I don’t think his tobacco plants grew this year, so I’m not sure what type of leaves these are that create the rolling mountain landscape. Mary Tobin and I have been picking up leaves on our walks; they are just amazing to stare at. I love that in this painting, the part becomes the whole. I automatically relax when I look at it. I feel connected to the place my mom and uncle grew up, to my aunt and uncle’s house, to the land that produced these leaves, to my uncle who picked them up and created something with them, to my family.

Next, Mary Tobin received new art for her room walk-in closet nursery! I can tell you nothing about the technique used, but it adds the perfect touch of magic/fantasy/whimsy/delight to the space. Usually when hanging things in her room I offer two acceptable spots and let Mary Tobin choose where something will go. But for this one, forget about “good parenting.” (Chris Farley’s living in my mind.)

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It’s in a place of honor right above the Señorita Mexicana, whose colors complement the new painting beautifully.

 photo photo22_zps14e5bae7.jpgPlease excuse my poor photography, which does no justice to any of these!

The Mexican lady, by the way, is a Carlos Merida print that was tracked down on e-bay by Uncle Steve’s better half, Aunt Kace, after I had pinned the image on my Pinterest nursery inspiration board. I cried when they unveiled it at Mary Tobin’s baby shower. (To be fair I cry about a lot of things when pregnant; it’s official.)

Aunt Kace and Uncle Steve, what a pair you make! Thank you for decorating our house!


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.

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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?

If you’re into this sort of thing . . .

During my Capitol Hill days, one of my former interns, maybe a junior in college, sent me a sweet Facebook message when she saw that Israel and I had gotten engaged. The gist was: Congratulations; So exciting; Could you send me more details of the proposal and everything? Sorry if that’s weird; “I’m just really interested in that sort of thing.”

She is charming and hilarious, so it was not creepy, and I still love the line “I’m just really interested in that sort of thing.”

I bring it up to say– sorry if you’re not interested in this sort of thing. It’s highly likely that posts are going to be about baby/pregnancy stuff for awhile. It’s boring, but it’s part of my life.

Tina Fey: Icon of Motherhood

You like panels? Click for video.

I’m taking in a lot of advice and information on motherhood.  So far the best is from Uncle Steve: Ask a lot of people for advice, then do what you want.

Tina Fey’s mother’s prayer from Bossypants is another real winner.

Anna Kate (among many others) recommended Fey’s hilarious autobiography and loaned it to me. I ate it up in about two days, staying up late the first night, laughing out loud and poking Israel in the ribs so he could appreciate the part about Fey at UVa. He didn’t appreciate it like I did, since he didn’t go there, and he was asleep just a moment earlier. I finished the book the next night, while Izzy was being a productive human being spending some QT with his mentee Felix.

Sidebar: Felix is the best. He’s so curious about things, like why do we have seasons?, and he loves lizards and science. Also, whenever he’s eaten dinner that I made, he says it’s the best chicken (or, insert specific food name here) he’s ever had. I love hanging out with him when they let me tag along, and it gives me a nice preview of Israel as a dad. Felix is 12, though, and truth be told, Izzy would rather have a kid fully formed and given to him, so they can talk and throw the baseball . . . so we’ll see how the newborn situation goes.

Though I don’t identify with a whole lot of her life story, I adore Tina Fey and her fearless honesty. As when she discusses being a working mom dealing with the babysitter, then confesses that though she refers to this person as a babysitter, she’s a full-time child care provider and the more apt word is nanny. But nanny gives Tina race anxiety and class anxiety.

The book was an excellent break from What to Expect and The pregnancy reading can be rawwwther dry. I actually prefer the book for expectant dads Aunt Kace sent Israel, which admirably tries to engage the men and put things in a way they’ll understand.

On the second month of pregnancy: “It probably won’t be obvious that your partner is pregnant at this time, but if she was a celebrity in People or US Weekly, there might be a photo pointing to a possible baby bump.”

That’s not a direct quote, but it’s the gist, and it really made me laugh.

On that note, here are some pics from the past few months when I was too miserable to share (or “miz” as my friend Kacks–not her full name–likes to say!):

Easter morning breakfast–I was so proud I took a picture.

Easter 2011. Izzy passes along many life lessons to Felix, including his mantra:

“When in doubt, prep out.”

June 2011. Dudes kicking back at UVa Reunions weekend in Cville.

Please just ask if you ever want me to do some photoshop work for you.

This last one is from Mom’s visit, close to the nadir of my misery, and I’ll share a little more about that next time.

Mom, in many ways you’re far superior to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.