Midway through the season of Lent

Growing up as a Presbyterian in a predominantly Catholic town, I generally felt left out during the observance of Lent. I grew up in the kind of Presbyterian congregation that the minister of my current church jokingly refers to as “the frozen chosen” – we never clapped after guest musicians performed, we rarely decorated the church and our passing of the peace didn’t go beyond the lightest hand shake we could get away with. Frankly, I had little understanding of Lent as a season unto itself because nothing really changed noticeably until Palm Sunday, when the kids in the congregation were given palm leaves and reenacted Jesus’ return to Jerusalem. Things grew a little more lively during Holy Week and Easter – I recall releasing multi-colored balloons into the air in recognition of the resurrection, at least. But it definitely felt like the Catholics had most of Lent to themselves. On Fridays, all of my friends feasted on fried fish dinners from Lud’s, the local fast-food restaurant, and during the week the school halls were full of chatter about what everyone was “giving up” in observance of Lent. Pop, chocolate, candy or sugar altogether, swearing, lying, not-studying – whatever, it never seemed entirely bad to have a goal of some sort during the dark cold of late winter. I remember asking my mom at some point if I should give something up for lent and she vehemently opposed the idea, stating that was a Catholic thing, probably while she sat a juicy prime rib roast in front of us on a Friday while my dad muttered something about giving up chocolate, equivocating, and forty days in the desert.

Not huge fans of the Catholic religion, my parents.

When I moved to Pittsburgh I began thinking of Lent as its own season, partially because the ministers of my church guide us through it patiently and worshipfully but also because of my city’s willingness to embrace and then build upon any opportunity to create community. Catholics can’t eat meat on Fridays? No problem. Every Catholic church and fire hall within three counties will host a fish fry! And people, we aren’t just talking, as you might think, about the ubiquitous fried fish advertised by McDonald’s or Wendy’s – meals that are punishing in and of themselves. We are talking about homemade macaroni and cheese and spaghetti with olive oil, roasted fried shrimp and sauteed scallops – heaping, steaming platefuls of delicousness cooked up by nuns and women who regularly man large church kitchens. These fish fries are generally bring-your-own-beverage and they can be found in every Pittsburgh neighborhood, borough and suburb during Lent. To accompany these fish fries, many organizations host small carnivals, game nights and fundraisers, and so people who have remained at home on Friday nights since Christmas, at first as a welcome respite from the holiday bustle and then as a less-welcome avoidance of the cold, break out of their hermit shells and go out.

Everything begins to feel a little less dark as the Lenten season begins – the days begin to lengthen, allowing light, metaphorical and literal, to pour in.

Since the start of 2015, we’ve had a difficult time making it to church on Sundays. Every Sunday so far at least one of us has been sick except for one, where we managed to stay until the middle of the first hymn when I realized the stomach bug I so smugly thought I avoided receiving from the rest of the family struck – no child has ever been ripped so quickly from Sunday school as Evangeline was that morning. So Sam and I focused on Lent. By the time Lent begins, we reasoned, the children will be healthy. By the time Lent begins, we told ourselves, our plumbing woes will be over. We will return to regular church going with the start of the Lenten season and it shall be glorious, a small-scale resurrection of our own sort.

And on the first Sunday of Lent we did – we made it to church. We made it through the announcements and the first hymn and passing the peace and almostto the children’s sermon when Duncan – who made it very clearly known that he would NOT be left in the nursery – let out a tortured wail in response to the organ and did.not.stop. Sam took him in the hallway to go for a walk when, just as the children’s sermon was about to begin, Evangeline leaned in and whispered to me “momma, I have to use the potty. It can’t wait.” And so she and I walked to the women’s room and as my daughter was about to get down to business she slipped on some PEE on the floor – someone before us obviously hadn’t been able to make it to the actually bathroom on time – and she fell and soaked her pants, and lo – the crying. The crying. “It’s not very fun,” she gasped, “to be covered in someone else’s pee.”

of course it isn’t.

I carried her out into the hallway where Sam was managing a fussy Duncan and through marital ESP finely tuned over the last fifteen years we decided, without speaking, to head for the door.

Since that last service, we haven’t been back to church yet. Minor illnesses and major weather inconveniences have kept us away, and while initially I’ve felt guilty about it, I knew I had to look at our circumstances in a different light. Because of weather or runny noses, I’ve been able to stay home and experience long Sunday mornings. I’m a lucky mom with kids who like to sleep and on Sundays they often don’t rise until 7:30 or 8:00 a.m., allowing for two breakfasts (the first fed to the kids immediately while Sam and I drink coffee, the second mid-morning when the grownups are ready to eat) – and so, during these first snow-bound Sundays of lent, I shut out the voices of my mother and grandmother, who for some reason always seemed to believe that God is mostly found in the formal spaces set aside for prayer (church, dinner table, bedroom) and instead found grace every time Duncan brought me a book, climbed into my lap and began sucking his thumb, waiting expectantly for a story; I breathed in the warmth of my daughter as she emerged from her bed, I exhaled a prayer of peace. I said thanks for runny yellow egg yolks on fresh sourdough toast and sunlight glinting through dust-smeared dining room windows, for half finished cups of coffee left abandoned in order to keep the baby from his latest death wish.

At one point, I emailed our minister to explain our predicament. He’s a compassionate, understanding man and I believe in the work of our church and, I don’t know, I didn’t want him to think we’d just abandoned church. He of course wrote back something gracious and understanding, ending on a note stating he hoped the rest of the Lenten season was less eventful and more worshipful for us. And, in its own way, it has been.

“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”

― G.K. Chesterton

the piece of career advice I’ll never give my children, or anyone else

I’m a particularly sensitive person, and for many years I had a tendency to internalize advice I received, taking it quite literally. In addition to being innately sensitive, for a long time I didn’t have a strong enough sense of self to question the advice I received – I truly believed if people older than I was were sharing their proverbial pearls of wisdom, then these pearls equaled the truth. One of the bitchin’ things about growing older is developing a stronger sense of self and now I hear certain pieces of advice and roll my eyes, or scoff, or point out to my children all the ways the advice is wrong.

As it happened, I received the same piece of advice for the three areas of interest I was most passionate about growing up (writing, acting, studying English Literature). If I wanted to be a writer, or an actor, or get a Ph.D. in British Literature, I heard time and time again that I shouldn’t be able to imagine doing anything else with my life, at all. All three endeavors, I was told, were inherently selfish acts, not conducive to earning a living, let alone raising a family.

I was reminded of this bit of advice recently when I was listening to the Diane Rhem show on NPR on my way to the gym. She had a British actor on her program whose name I didn’t catch, and he was sharing this particular bit of wisdom with the mother of a daughter in a theater conservatory. Something along the lines of “just make sure it’s the only thing – truly the only thing – she wants to do – because she will sacrifice everything else for it.”

I just rolled my eyes. I mean, nobody saw me because I was alone in the car but if someone HAD been there? It was a pretty impressive eyeroll.

Because, yes. Acting and writing and dancing and playing musical instruments and studying English or history or the history of stage direction? Not terribly profitable careers, of course. We live in a pro-STEM world and the value we place on the arts seems to be dropping disturbingly quickly. Chances of succeeding as an actual working actor, or supporting yourself by your published novels alone, or even landing a tenure-track teaching position, are slim. But ultimately I’m just not sure how helpful this particular bit of advice is. For someone like me, who grew up in a house where the grown ups were constantly worried about money, the need to earn a living trumped my less practical dreams. I felt tremendous pressure, not so much from my parents but from society, generally, to succeed in areas I didn’t naturally excel in (calculus and chemistry leap to mind), that my failure in those areas constantly seemed to overshadow the fact that teachers thought I was a good writer and members of the community found me a talented actress.

I think the word “imagine” was the word that tripped me up time and time again. Not able to imagine myself doing anything else? Are you kidding me? I could imagine myself doing EVERYTHING else – law school with a dramatic career on capitol hill! Practicing pediatric oncology! Environmental studies and saving forests and rivers! Yes, I could imagine myself in all sorts of careers.

Admittedly I haven’t seen things play out well – financially speaking- for the writers, actors and Ph.Ds I know. They struggle mightily, some finally accepting the need for a day job, others allowing spouses to carry the weight of financial matters for the family. Many have limited the number of children they have not because they want to but because their financial situation has forced them to – others continue to work in hospitality industry to support their art. Still, there is a part of me that admires their commitment to their craft – not to what I consider a lack of imagination so much as fierceness, creative dedication and core beliefs held dear.

In writing this I can see how maybe I come across as unsatisfied or disillusioned with my own life – that couldn’t be further from the truth. I have a beautiful, messy, creative life with a job that could support my kids and me if anything ever happened to Sam – all of those things hold importance for me.

As Evangeline, Duncan and their friends grow up, at least some of them are bound to be less STEM-oriented and more involved in the arts. I know I won’t be the grown up to say “you should only pursue X dream if you can’t imagine doing anything else” but I hope I have the wherewithal and judgment to say “that sounds amazing! What do you need to do to achieve that?” or “becoming a prima ballerina sounds like an amazing goal – I once worked for a doctor who did so until she was 32 and then went to med school – she works at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill today!” Or “acting and writing can be tough but if you combine them you’ll have astounding success.” Or “I’m in complete agreement – very little is as fascinating at Restoration literature. And the study of history is a great way to learn to think critically, which is useful in all sorts of fields.”

I will not, as God and this blog as my witness, ever tell someone they’d better not be able to imagine themselves doing anything else. Because life is short, but it is wide, with room for so many reinventions.

This morning as I was dressing the kids for school, Evangeline asked me, since Duncan is turning more into a little boy and less of a baby, if I could give her another baby brother.

“Just a brother. Maybe a lot of baby brothers. NO SISTERS,” she emphasized. Since Sam and I have taken measures to control our family planning and will not be having anymore children, I focused the conversation on how much fun Duncan is becoming – how this spring she’ll be able to teach him to run and slide and swing at the park, how they’ll be able to watch movies together, build forts together and play games together. Evangeline agreed that this would probably be more fun than having another baby around because last year, our park trips and exploring were somewhat limited while we focused on Duncan’s newborn needs.

When she asked the question, I felt the predictable conflicting emotions I always experience when this subject comes up. On the one hand, I am so, so glad our family is complete. Celebrating Duncan’s first birthday felt like a true milestone for us – moving toward raising a toddler and an older child and away from babies. My body is changing and improving and I feel great about that, and frankly I don’t think we can afford more than two children – our budget is stretched, with little room for error, while we pay for the cost of two daycares.

There is very little that is rational about wanting another baby, though, so I spend a lot of time rubbing my cheeks against Duncan’s chubby ones, smelling his hair, letting him run trains up and down my arms just to keep him on my lap longer. The truth of the matter is if I was younger and richer I would probably have aimed to have four children, I enjoy mine so much, and since they don’t have any cousins there would have been something great about a nice big family under my roof. When I was younger I don’t think I understood how one person could house such contradictory emotions at the same time but the desire to have and not have one last baby sit next to one another within me, taking up equal space.

I actually spend several of my working days each week at the hospital where I delivered Duncan and Evangeline and it is there I feel the strongest pull to have another child. Even with each child’s attendant (minor) complications when they were born, and how taken to task my own body felt, the birth and subsequent early days of bringing each baby home are gold-shimmering memories for me, a time when our house became reverent – as close to holy as my home as ever felt. It’s so easy to forget, as I walk the halls of the hospital, the smell of antiseptic mingling with the wood-fired pizza from the cafeteria, the difficulties – the long late walks trying to soothe a baby who couldn’t tell day from night, the seemingly endless nursing in the early months, the sleep-deprived toddler who had to learn how to sleep with a baby in the house, waking up with me in the early morning hours to join us while I nursed – I swear, the only thing I ate for three months was toaster waffles with nutella and rasberries.

The whole business of making babies – who can and who can’t – who wants to, who doesn’t – is such a weird crapshoot, really. Those of you who followed me here from my old blog might recall the time a physician’s assistant in Detroit told me I would probably never have children, and the toll it took on me. As it turned out I was simply in the hands of a particularly poor PA at the time, but I remember how suddenly it seemed as though babies were turning up everywhere, and how painful it was.

I find it endlessly interesting, I admit, to watch the faces of the women who are about to be mothers come in and out of the hospital. Some seem so hopelessly young, others, with greying hair and lined faces, oddly old. Some have four or even five kids in tow behind them while others – I know – are desperately trying to hold on to the one they are carrying. I find it weird, I guess, to still technically be able to have children and make the choice not to, after so much of my life was defined first by trying to avoid getting pregnant and then by trying to have babies.

I’m not sure when or how you ever know, barring biology, if your family is complete. For me, the decision is a combination of finances, my age (carrying a baby at 36 was more difficult than it was at 33), and the understanding that having a third child would be more about me than it would be about my family. A friend of mine has written eloquently in the past about how her children’s birthdays are a time of meditation for her, and I understand what she means: both of my kids have February birthdays and I’m watching Evangeline fall down the beautiful worm holes of youth, obsessed with everything from ballet to basketball, while Duncan runs away from me as often as he does to me, and I can feel myself emerging, just the tiniest bit, and wondering what’s next – not in any kind of greedy, desperate way – but quietly, curiously – what comes next for the momma who has birthed and nursed and literally gotten these children to their feet? My babes are young and there is no hurry – most of what comes next is continued time with them, guiding their interests, keeping them safe, making sure they know they are loved – but still, the question is out there. I’m not having any more children, and so many of my friends and colleagues are moving on professionally and creatively, and I’m feeling the need to do the same.

I have friends and acquaintances who seem oddly relegated, in a way, to the idea that early middle age is a time for sticking with what they know, a time to pay down the mortgage, save for their kids’ college tuitions and dream of retirement, and I am doing all of those things as well. But since having children, I feel more creative, more ready for the next creative and professional move – more prepared than I’ve ever felt before. Also, I still feel an innate restlessness – a sense that what I am doing is not ALL I am supposed to be doing – and possibility shimmers ahead of me, not quite close enough to grasp just yet.

Saying goodbye to Parenthood

Prior to the series finale of NBC’s drama “Parenthood,” a couple of my friends and I spent quite a bit of time anticipating the ending. Would Zeke actually die? Would Amber have her baby? What the hell was happening with Hattie? I was (and still am!) sad to lose one of my favorite television shows, especially when I feet like there is so much more to tell. At one point during this text chain (which frankly warrants it’s very own post), my friend AW mentioned the possibility that one of the brothers could die in lieu of the expected death of the father.

I grew very upset and texted something back along the lines of “if that happens I will quit tv forever” which of course was absolute nonsense because as we’ve established I quite like a good television show. AW, who is something of an expert when it comes to television, did a lot of referencing and told me that the creative behind “Parenthood” was also some of the creative behind “Thirty-something” (which I am too young to have watched pleaseandthankyou and really she should be too) and “Thirty-something” had a shocking ending so the possibility existed that “Parenthood” could kill of the really only minorly troubled Crosby instead of the the heart-disease riddled Zeke.

I felt shaken by this possibility. In my defense, the finale came during a ten day span where at most I slept two hours a night – first Evangeline, and then Duncan, came down with the kind of chest-rattling colds that keep mommas up at night even if the children eventually fall asleep. Knowing there was no way I would manage to stay up until 10 p.m. to begin watching the finale, I begged AW to text me who died before I watched the episode the following day. She did, but from a cursory glance at social media channels the following morning I knew everything would be okay – there was wide-range internet agreement that the ending was lovely, and by the time I was lucid enough to agree with the general consensus.

This behavior was pretty unlike me – I have never, not once – read the ending of a book before reading the rest of it, or skipped to the ending of a movie, and while I do really enjoy television I don’t tend to take it terribly personally. I wasn’t, like some people I know, in mourning because of the way “The Sopranos” ended.

The idea I kept returning to was that, in its way, “Parenthood” had a contract with its viewers. From its inception, and even with the original movie so long ago, “Parenthood” has been about redemption and overcoming odds as much as it has anything else. From Sarah’s early, precarious return home to Adam overcoming the burden of responsibility to find a job he truly loved, the television show has been about struggling and overcoming. “Parenthood” is not “Lost” or “Breaking Bad” – death isn’t inherent to most of the plots. It would have been really hard for me to handle the loss of Crosby.

Of course, I took psychology 101 in college like every theater major did, and I know that part of the reason I’ve attached so particularly to this program is probably because I live so far away from my own family, and the life I live is pretty different than I how I grew up. I grew up close to almost my entire family, both physically and geographically. I really never thought, except in my more grandiose daydreams, that I would end up far away from my aunts, uncles and cousins and parents. In some ways, week after week, “Parenthood” echoed my visions of what I think family life should be like.

When I started to parse this out with my friends, I realized it was just that – a make-you-laugh, make-you-ugly-cry, somewhat sanitized version of real life. My own version of the movie would look terribly different – with Sam’s and my parents aging in tremendously draining and difficult ways, and siblings thrown to far-flung corners of the universe, not to mention the trauma potty-training Evangeline imposed on our house or Duncan’s determined death wish, the baby constantly doing his best to fling himself down the stairs or swallow Draino.

It was a great show. It brought Lauren Graham back into my life after losing the beloved “Gilmore Girls” (and can I just say I really really hope she has another show in the works right now?) and it grew Dax Shepherd’s range enormously. I’m going to miss it, but I’m glad it went out on a high note instead of spoiling. Well done, NBC.

to my dad and that girl sitting behind me at the basketball game

For the second year in a row, Sam and I have season college basketball tickets. Last year I didn’t attend any of the games because I was ginormously pregnant, uncomfortable and pretty sure Duncan was going to fall out of me at any second. This year, we’ve donated some tickets but I’ve attended several of the games with Sam while the kids stayed home with one of the handful of amazing graduate school students we interviewed to babysit (living in a town with so many universities and colleges certainly has its perks!) Yesterday we witnessed a rather dismal loss to Louisville, made all the worst by the couple sitting behind us who kept up a constant stream of loud-talking conversation that mainly went something like this:

The girl: I’m hungry. I am SO hungry. I am dying. Those nachos look amazing. That pretzel looks delicious.
Her fiance: So go get something to eat.
The girl: I can’t. We’re getting married. I have to fit into my dress. But God, I’m so hungry.
Her fiance: Well, then, think about dinner. Where do you want go to dinner?
The girl: I don’t know. Maybe(INSERTS PLACE NAME HERE)? I’m obsessed with it. OBSESSED. It’s not healthy.
Her fiance: Sure, that’s fine. We’ll go there.

It took a majority of my self-control to keep from turning around to this young woman and saying for the love of God, if you are hungry, EAT. Feed yourself! Have a pretzel, for Pete’s sake. It will be okay, I promise.

Segue.

At seventy-two years old, my father has started the paleo diet after reading exactly one magazine article about it. He is claiming to change his eating lifestyle because this particular magazine article claimed the paleo diet can stave off Alzheimer’s, but we know him and have no doubt this is ultimately about weight loss, which begs the question – is there ever a point in your life where you are allowed to stop worrying in some fashion about your weight? According to my mother this is the fifth or sixth time he has made a major lifestyle shift like this, and ultimately she is the one who suffers, firstly because even in her late sixties she has the metabolism of a souped-up sports car so decreasing her calories in any way causes people to ask her if she has cancer, and secondly because my dad is the type of guy who starts a low-carb diet by deep frying bologna at six in the morning.

Segue.

All of which brings me to an update on my progress on the South Beach Diet from last year, which I started with a bang and stuck to for three months or so, until it became obvious that the different food I was eating was very confusing for my daughter, who couldn’t understand why I wasn’t taking a bite of spaghetti and meatballs or sharing a piece of chocolate with her, and who started asking all the questions no four year old should have to ask. I saw in myself my father, regularly unhappy with my body, always trying to find a new way to achieve the unachievable, and I very clearly saw the possibility of going down this road in full view of my gorgeous, healthy, not-yet weight conscious children and I told myself stop it – just – stop it.

Eat, I told myself, like a grown up. Like a reasonable grown up, and be done with all the nonsense.

Currently, I have no idea what I weigh. I do know my clothes are all fitting well and I feel great. I’ve made sure to make time on a near-daily basis for exercise, including hot yoga, dance classes and swimming laps. I still do, and probably always will, evaluate what I eat on a daily basis, asking myself at the end of each day if I consider what I ate to be reasonable, and if it trends toward too much fat or too many simple carbohydrates, I try and address that the next day.

It’s hard – it’s hard to think this way, and admittedly I have some perhaps unnecessary ideas about what it means to eat like a grown up. Mostly these ideas center around avoiding too much sugar and too many white products and eating salads, but they aren’t terribly developed.

I love my father unconditionally, but there is a part of me that believes I wouldn’t have yo-yo dieted, and my weight wouldn’t have yo-yoed either, if our family hadn’t been subject to his dramatic swing in diets over the years – vegetarianism when I was eight, quickly followed by extreme low-fat (all the sherbet and pretzels we could eat, but never a hamburger), to South Beach and Atkins later on. I don’t think anything he was doing was so terribly unusual for the eighties and nineties – a lot of people started to diet in a really committed way around that time – but it’s time to stop the madness. I don’t want to be beginning a paleo lifestyle at 72 – I want to be eating pasta and gelato and exploring Italy because that is maybe when I’ll be able to afford to do so.

So, yep. 2015 can be considered the year I stopped dieting. I think everyone in my family is better for it.

The Goldfinch

It took me six weeks – six weeks, people – to read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, and along the way I heard all manner of stories from people who began, but could not complete, this book. The first person who started off with good intentions gone quickly south was my father, who for all intents and purposes didn’t even start the book. He ordered it from his local bookstore because it was selected by his book club but because of, I don’t know, backlog and slow delivery and the fact he lives in small-town northern Michigan, he didn’t receive it in time for his book club. He went to the meeting anyway, and all the people that annoy him loved it while one of the men he most respects slammed the book down and said “I do not understand why we are expected to care for or in any way be interested in this self-indulgent, whiny narrator.” That was enough for my dad, who I regularly accuse of having a terrible prejudice against women authors to begin with, to pass up the book entirely and guiltlessly return to, I don’t know, more Cormac McCarthy, probably.

Then one of my co-workers saw it in my computer bag. I have since learned from her that she is the type of person who generally prefers happy television and happy books, so her comment that she stopped reading The Goldfinch once the main character became “sort of a bad kid” didn’t hold too much weight with me – I’ve indulged in way too much Stephen King and Peter Straub to stop reading because of a flawed character.

Yet another co-worker told me he stopped reading it because “of all the art history” and, after finishing the book, I can see how at least a fleeting interest in art and art history would be necessary in order to be engaged by the story. It’s no secret that Suri Hustvedt is one of my favorite authors – it might be more of a surprise that I fell in love with art history in one of my college humanities courses and have indulged my passion for it here and there ever since.

All of which is to say, I brought a lot of other people’s baggage to this book, but am I ever glad I kept on reading. This is one of the most remarkable, beautiful books I’ve ever read, so much so that as I neared the end I made sure to complete the book when I wasn’t too tired so I could absorb every word. This is a book that makes an argument – and argument for art and artists and acceptance of the differences between each and every one of us. This is a book where you meet terribly, terribly flawed people who have all managed to survive – terror attacks, horrifying families, lost loves, and a deeply cruel world. They’ve managed to survive through various coping mechanisms (the only way I can think to describe it although “coping mechanism” feels too light-hearted) – drugs, alcohol, sex – art, antiques, unrequited love – and while they don’t necessarily do so easily or gracefully, they make it – they make it through.

There are so many ways to talk about this book – through its carefully constructed plot, through its characters, through the city of New York, through the art – and it’s been out for a while so I’m not terribly concerned with spoiling the plot for anyone, but given the way I entered this particular reading experience I have decided, instead, to talk about what you need to bring to the reading of this book. So, first of all, like most great reading experiences, you need to bring a healthy dose of what if to this book. What if a boy and his mother were one day wandering through the museum of modern art and a bomb exploded and then that boy through an incredible series of events survived and inadvertently – yes, truly – stole a world famous painting. What if? This needs to be plausible for you, otherwise you’ll never complete the book (for it is long, yo).

A boy goes on an adventure. What if.

I also think you need to bring at least a glancing compassion for, if not direct knowledge of, addiction. Almost every character in the book either battles with or welcomes at least one (but most often multiple) addictions – and I think it’s the spiraling out of controlledness that these addictions lend to the story that turned off readers like my colleague and my father’s book club member.

Finally, if you aren’t an art history buff, I do think you have to have a love of literature or film or theater or ballet or even baseball – something that stands the test of time. For me, the most powerful argument the book made was about the conversations that happen over the course of centuries, how art communicates with its audience through the passage of time. I’m not an art expert, but literature and the theater have always spoken to me in this way, and there have been times in my life where returning to Pride and Prejudice or a production of “The Cherry Tree” has felt lifesaving. It might sound like hyperbole, but that is how it feels.

This is a stunning book – read it.

Happy New Year

I’ve tried to write drafts of this post twice now and both times I haven’t successfully saved them in wordpress but hey, third time’s a charm! Admittedly, it’s sort of difficult to rally the same spirit for this post the third time around but I am going to give it a try. So, yes, 2015 had some ups and downs for us but it is hard to dislike a year that brought us this guy:

Duncan1

Having a second child is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Watching Evangeline and Duncan’s relationship develop has given me more joy than I ever thought possible. Our finances are certainly strained and without any family nearby Sam and I sometimes feel overwhelmed but I wouldn’t trade these two for wealth or relaxation, not even for a second:

parkbreak

We are deep into early January – close enough that any resolutions we made can still seem shiny with promise – but far enough away that talking much about 2014 seems trite to me. I didn’t read or write nearly enough but I hadn’t planned on it – a baby’s first year can be terribly consuming and I made the conscious choice to simply focus on Duncan’s first year and work on everything else in 2015. One nice thing about my thirties – I’m growing out of making resolutions, but I did sit down on New Year’s Eve and write some guiding words for the year. (Okay, here is the point where I realize that I forgot to bring my journal with me and so don’t have the words immediately in front of me. I was going to explain a little about each word but instead I’ll just write about a few of my intentions.)

One of the concepts I am embracing wholeheartedly – indeed, that I started incorporating into my daily life before the new year – is the concept of minimalism. So often I feel overwhelmed by paperwork, my kids’ toys, by all of our things despite owning a large home. In the fall I started following Rachel Jonat at the Minimalist Mom and even downloaded her book, Do Less. Both her blog and the book are loaded with great information to steamline your home, your life and your mind. One of the first tasks I tackled was throwing away all of our old, ratty towels and buying one towel set for each family member, as well as a guest set. As they show signs of wear and tear I will replace them, but otherwise they get laundered on Saturdays and used the rest of the week – my linen closet is already greatly improved! She also had some really great tips for applying minimalism to our on-line lives. I really thought about the outlets that bring me joy (my blog, facebook on occasion, twitter almost never, instagram when I remember it) and relentlessly began defriending people on facebook who bring negativity to my space (the anti-vaccine crusader who I hung out with in high school, the racist Obama-haters), unsubscribed to a million newsletters and online catalogues (another concept she tackles is reducing the want in your life by reducing the number of catalogues and online advertising you subscribe to) and trimming my twitter lists.

I know most people probably don’t need a how to book to purge and improve their lives but I’m the kind of person who needs a bit of guidance so I’m grateful for Jonat, her book and her blog.

Another one of my guiding words – Art – is pretty broad, but basically by improving my home I am hoping to make more room for my writing and reading, and whatever creative pursuits my children set their minds to do. Evangeline really loves crafts and Duncan responds in a very visceral way to music so I am hoping to make lots of room for this kind of exploration for them.

In terms of the blog, I would like to make this a more visual space without it becoming all about the pictures. My favorite blogs to read are still the long text heavy ones that tackle subjects, ideas, passions and wormholes – but one or two good photos slays me every time. I also hope to keep up its overall theme by discussing “sandwich day” issues, but I also hope to use this space to talk about my current passions and interests. Thanks so much for sticking with me in 2014 – here is to a fascinating, complex 2015!