I'm freaking out because August is over. August is over and I'm not going back to school and the tomatoes are done and it's cool enough to sleep without the air conditioner or fans running. It's getting dark earlier. Summer is waning and it will be another year before I can watch Laurel devour a perfectly ripe peach in a big grassy field. All summer long, I've been playing like this isn't real, like I am still a teacher and I didn't just take the plunge to completely overhaul my life. But now, a new page on the calendar and lack of steady of paychecks and it's Real. Yesterday, when my teacher friends were texting me from long and boring faculty meetings on their first day back, I had a twinge of panic, like I forgot to set my alarm and I was late and now I would rush in and find a place in the back and everything would go back to the way that it was.

I don't want it to go back to the way that it was. It wasn't good. But unpacking all the reasons that it wasn't good has been hard to look at. Because I wanted the reasons to be things like my district refused to give modest 2.5% raises to its teachers and they have now been working over a year without a contract, but gave 8-10% raises to district administrators. I want it to be about them.

And it turned out it's stuff like my personality.

Breaking up with school is hard to do, even when you know you are not right for each other.


Hurdles and Discipline

Oh dear. I never thought I would start writing about housework. But here we are. What has become of M & K indeed.

I've been thinking about housework lately because it's something that I want to get better at. I've had a tendency towards minimalism because when I don't have a lot of things, I can sort of regain control over the mess and chaos that quickly ensues. I really liked living out of a backpack because even though it turned into a performance fabric explosion every time I unpacked for the night, it was easily remedied in the morning. And everything I owned was very useful every single day. Now we have lots of things. A 1,500 square foot house fills up faster than you can imagine and we've been here for almost 4 years.

I have a weird infatuation with Flylady. I have very little in common with overweight, southern, Christian housewives, which seems to be her main demographic. Nonetheless I appreciate the unapologetic tone she has for her own imperfection.

Of course, it's the doing that holds most of us up. Discipline to change often looks like an impassable hurdle. Even when we are not satisfied with our health or body or marriage or job, we can come up with infinite excuses about why it is too difficult or scary or inconvenient to change. There's no magic to it. You just have to decide and then follow through.

I've been easily following a gluten free diet for the last five months. I miss pie and pasta (gluten free pasta is simply not the same) and I hate inconveniencing my hosts when we go somewhere for dinner. But it apparently seems to be an important way for me to heal my gut. I got to the point where the old way of life was intolerable, and so I changed it. Getting over that first step was the hard part. Doing the elimination diet for a month was really hard, but now that eating this way has become a habit and I'm reinforced by improved health? It's not hard at all.

With the housework, it's the same thing. I'm tired of sucking at it, and I want to learn how to do it better. In the spirit of Flylady, I'll be following her Baby Steps. Don't try to tackle everything at once and form new habits one at a time.

Flylady's habit for the month is laundry. I'm pretty good at staying on top of the laundry, especially since I started following her "A Load A Day Keeps C.H.A.O.S. away." (CHAOS stands for Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome - how can you not giggle at that? Especially if it is true about you.) But when I read the rest of her description of the habit, I saw that laying out clothes the night before is part of it too. We tried this today and our daycare drop off time improved by 1/2 an hour! I was up and dressed and eating breakfast before the rest of the family today.

Discipline is a crucial element when running your own business. And as a former school teacher, I'm used to thick binders of school board policy to govern what I teach, and bells ringing all day long to tell me when to teach it.

So, maybe it's a little bit about laundry, and maybe it's a little bit about me facing the hurdle of self-employment.


As a Mama

When I wake up at sunrise, the first thing I see is your handprint, on the glass of the window.
Evidence of you is everywhere. Not just in the colorful paintings hung haphazardly with scotch tape on the dining room walls, but in the crumbs left under your chair after breakfast. And when I am cooking and reach for a spice that was stored on the lower shelves and can't find it, I know you were cooking too, and borrowed it, and it will be tucked under the couch or in some other cupboard.

It is impossible to forget your presence. Even when you are not with me, I can flex my fingers and imagine what it would feel like with your small hand pressed in mine. I can picture what you must be doing without me, and the bounce of your long hair, which never stays in a ponytail for very long.

You changed me in ways I could never have anticipated. My body, yes, stretched and contracted mostly back to its original state, except the belly button, which has never been the same. But my spirit was equally stretched and never went back to the place before someone called me Mama. Moments I would have previously cursed become opportunities for gratitude. Messes are unavoidable. Control is an illusion. Quiet is more valuable than ever before.

I am walking with billions of women who make this same journey. There is really nothing extraordinary about cuddling an infant or wiping the nose of a toddler. Answering endless questions, and teaching them whatever you know to keep them alive for the next generation. It has always been done and will always be done, until there is nothing of the world left.

But as each generation grows and repeats the process, we are surprised at how much it means to us, until the surprise of it fades and it becomes too much of the way we are to remember how it used to be.  


Porch Swings and Read Alouds

I try to hang out on my porch every day. We have a terrific front porch. It's one of the things that sold me on the house in the first place. It has brick walls with ledges wide enough to sit on. I have a collection of potted herbs that my delightful neighbor Marlene plants for me every year. A window box full of cheerful yellow marigolds and full ferns hanging from the ceiling and waving back and forth in the breeze. Most of the houseplants take up residence outside in the summer months. We have a porch swing, gifted to me for my 30th birthday from my in-laws, and that's Laurel's current favorite place to listen to stories. We read many chapters of Frog and Toad the other day, in between looking at motorcycles and waving to neighbors walking by.

I can't believe she requests chapter books. I can't believe it is our third summer together; fourth if you count the one she spent in my belly, twisting and turning around, introducing her wild personality before I ever saw her face. She never stops talking, except the other day, when I geared up for another lengthy go-to-sleep-Laurel routine, when she stopped me and said, "Go away. I need some chill out time." And she chilled out and I tried to chill out in the other room, trying to resist the urge to peek because I was convinced she was going to jimmy open the bedroom window and escape. (She did not. She just took a nap.) We were out walking the other day and I asked her if she could find her way home, if she got lost. She said that she could, and I believe her.

She knows the number 2 and considers it a label of herself. One is her cousin Alexis. Two is also Daddy, because he is 32. Mama is not 2 because she is 33. P for Pittsburgh Pirates! O for Olivia, her friend from down the street. M and K and L are well known by now. H and B and S are becoming familiar. Maryland is her favorite state and she can find it on a map. She likes to wash dishes and asks for carrots in her lunch every day, but never eats them. She loves dogs and pretends to be a doctor and her favorite game is to set up a picnic or a food stand and invite us to it. What I will remember most about this time is the contrast between her need for independence and her need for "snuggles."



I'm a teeny, tiny bit obsessed with Brene Brown's work right now. My journey as a mother thus far is so perfectly summed up in her work on shame, perfectionism and discovering my vulnerability. (That probably sounds more dismal than it really is. But it's mostly because we have a visceral negative response to the word shame, says Brown.)

I generally despise parenting books and prescriptive ways to raise children. (See archives, winter and spring 2010, in which K reads a million books on infant and toddler sleep and then ceremoniously throws them all away, while slipping into exhaustion-induced insanity.) And Brown's books fall somewhere loosely between the self-help and parenting categories. Prescriptive they are not, but she does talk about how you think about your actions and feelings and what impact that has on the people around you. Like the very impressionable little people running around your house.

Becoming a mother made me want to be a better person in a way that no other event in my life has. Having a kid is like having a mirror that reflects your flaws and mistakes. What you do, what you say, your opinions, and your mannerisms are repeated and interpreted a million times a day, and suddenly, it's like seeing yourself as others must see you, except without the general filters of politeness and etiquette that masks most people's judgments and reactions.

I'm digressing a bit here. The part of this talk that struck me is when she discusses the idea of "joy becoming foreboding" . . . because I've noticed with a lot of women, that we have this fear that bad things are going to happen to those we love. This keeps us up at night. It interferes with our ability to enjoy simple pleasures. It makes us strive for safety and security and perfection to try to control it. And it puts a lot of pressure on our partners. Here's a clip from a talk at the Kansas City TedX.



What would you do if your husband came home from work with two flats of tomatoes? (Again) I mean seriously, we figured we would dry some in the dehydrator, and got through maybe a half of the small ones before it was full. Tomorrow....sauce! The new rule in our house is that every meal must contain a tomato and more points if it has significant tomato presence...like tomato salad, or tomato soup.

Last week we had a porch party and invited the neighbors for ice cream. I significantly overestimated the amount of ice cream we needed, so now we have an abundance of that as well. Ice cream sundaes every day in order to clear out room for the tomatoes we must freeze. This makes for interesting bedtime scenarios. Timing the ice cream perfectly allows for wild dancing and gymnastics in the living room and then a sugar crash which can be capitalized on. I'm just kidding, we don't really time bedtime like that.

We actually have a very systematic bedtime routine. I hold up five fingers and we count off the tasks we do. Take a bath. Put on pajamas. Comb hair. Brush teeth. Read stories. I never thought I would be the kind of mother who bathed her kid every night, but she's pretty nasty at the end of most days. I aim for lights out to coincide with it getting dark outside. She only falls asleep when it's dark. If I put her to bed before she is going to fall asleep I just spend all the minutes until darkness falls putting her back in her room or pulling her down from tall things she's climbed up.

So, it happens a little bit earlier every night this time of year. It can be very annoying to have a bedtime routine that is dependent on the sun, because you can't just trick your illiterate two year old into going to bed early because they can't tell time. It is mostly only annoying when you have two trays of tomatoes that need to be processed somehow and you would rather get started sooner rather than later.


Eavesdropping on Bedtime Babbling and Other Simple Pleasures

We got ready for bed too fast tonight and even though we read about 10 stories, when it was all winding down, I glanced at the clock and saw the sun still high in the sky and thought, uh oh. But Laurel was all set to get tucked in, so I did it, and then excused myself after a few minutes of laying in bed with her while she wiggled and hopped about. She's a very wiggly kid.

Now, she's in there alone singing nursery rhymes. Her favorite seems to be Sing a Song of Sixpence, which is very old fashioned and not in any of the books anymore. Maybe because the maid's nose gets pecked off. Speaking of stories with gory surprises, I should know this as a teacher but never read a book out loud to kiddos before you preview it. We were reading this book about clues in the woods and one of the clues was a bunch of feathers. Guess what the answer was? Yep, a hawk and a dead blue jay. Eek! Laurel was all, hey what happened to that bird? He was killed and eaten by a goshawk, honey, sweet dreams!

Speaking of birds, have you seen this website? Best source I've found for quick information on identifying birds by shape, color, habitat, sound, etc.

Love Front Porch got a nice write up in the PG lately and my understanding is that the fundraising campaigning is close to its goal.

There are still a ton of Bikefest events left. The Underwear ride sounds like fun.

Speaking of underwear, Laurel poops on the potty. We had a couple of rough weeks of potty training regression but it seems to have settled down the last few days. This is probably like sleeping through the night, where I'm jinxing myself by writing it, but it just seems like she gets it now. I'm declaring the end of diaper purchasing and if there are accidents from here on out, so be it.

And finally, a recipe. I have pounds and pounds of Margaret's amazing carrots and we roasted some tonight as a side dish. Here's M's maple glaze.

Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 t salt
1 medium shallot
1/4 c maple syrup
1/2 c canola oil
1/4 t black pepper
1/4 t thyme
1 t yellow mustard (powder)
1/2 t liquid smoke

Mix it all up, pour over carrots in a roasting pan. Cook at 375 for 45 minutes or until carrots are tender.


Urban Planning and Urbanized

I've been thinking a lot about where and how we live lately. (M&K, as well as humans in general.) Today I watched one of the best documentaries I've seen in a while, Urbanized, about the design of cities. It was fascinating to see a diverse selection of cities....Beijing, Detroit, Cape Town, among them...and to see how architecture and zoning and transportation and human behavior interact in the planning, building, destruction and retrofitting of urban areas. The film is very accessible to someone without a background in urban planning, and there are some very interesting ideas presented, such as an approach to housing for the poor in Brasilia's slums, where they consulted with the people when designing the houses. Urbanized is available for streaming on Netflix, and you can also buy it from Gary Hustwit's website. (He also did Helvetica, if you are the kind of person who watches design documentaries.)

Pittsburgh is currently engaged in a comprehensive planning project, and I recently went to one of the community workshops. It's an interesting process to imagine what your city could be like. Some of us will always be more inclined to walk, regardless of the distance or how pedestrian friendly the terrain is. But I've often felt lonely as a pedestrian on certain streets. I wonder why more people don't walk. It's good exercise, you don't have to worry about traffic or parking, and there are three public libraries, 50 restaurants, a half a dozen yoga studios, coffee houses and art galleries within 2 miles of my house (a half an hour walk). Well, now I am developing an eye for the poor street lighting, littered sidewalks, or cars whizzing by at 50 mph within 2 feet of the sidewalk that make my walk unpleasant, and are enough to scare most folks away. Urbanized really showed a nice variety of plans, and also the conflicts that arise when you are trying to balance the various needs of a city.

Today Laurel and I took a walk. We had a purpose (hers was to find an acorn, a maple leaf, and a pebble...mine was to tire her out so she would take a nap), and it took 2 hours. I believe we walked about a mile. Sometimes I think I'm crazy to venture out without a stroller. Neighbors, you got a kick out of the last quarter mile. Laurel insisted on pretending that I was the dog and she was the owner. She even diligently picked up pretend dog poop along the way. At least she's a good pretend dog owner.


Deep Summer

In the last week, I made two gluten-free squash lasagnas, a pot of carrot soup, gads of roasted beets, a zucchini rice casserole, and ate tomatoes by the bowlful. Deep into CSA season.

Lots of exciting things going on. We're leading a little bike ride tonight as part of BikeFest. Tomorrow is our big ice cream social on our porch as part of National Night Out. August is ticking away, but instead of waiting for the school year to start, I'm counting the dwindling days until I launch my new website and business! Exciting and utterly terrifying.

At my new site, I will be blogging a lot more about linguistics, literacy and early childhood development. There will be give-aways! (Who likes free books?) And I will have some terrific and affordable services and products to help parents tackle reading problems with their kids. (Or just learn about the process of acquiring literacy. Empower themselves to make better decisions about school placement. Ask the right questions about literacy programs at school board meetings and parent-teacher conferences. Access high quality reading materials for their kids. And so much more!)

Unfortunately, the launch will come after the summer sale at Barefoot ends. Books, puzzles, and puppets up to 70% off! Books make great back to school gifts for your kids' teachers. You can buy a couple of your favorite titles while they have the discounted price and then save them for the holidays or fall birthdays. Or if you are like me, you just cannot resist giving your kid a book for no special reason at all. Just because it's a book, and it's awesome and you can cuddle up together and read it at bedtime.  Anyway, here's the link to the summer sale.

As part of my new business, I'm a Barefoot ambassador, meaning I earn a commission from any books I sell in person or through my Barefoot link.