Both kids are napping!

At the same time. This is awesome.


8 Weeks and Counting

We've had 2 kids for 8 weeks now. It feels like much longer. Mark O's personality is starting to come out. He squeals and smiles at us, cries a bit in the evenings and loves to look at the ceiling fan. So far, he's spent most of his time with me, and when M or Laurel come home in the evening, he cannot stop staring at them. He recognizes our voices. And you might not believe this, but M taught him how to touch his nose.

There are enough diapers and pacifiers stashed around the house that you would know immediately that we're the parents of young children. It can be loud. The entire house falls into a state of chaos in a very short period of time. Mark O spits up everywhere and Laurel somehow gets yogurt on the undersides of all the chairs and tables. And the diapers! So many diapers.

We have an awesome hairdresser who cuts M's and Laurel's hair. I was watching her comb Laurel's hair one day when I took Laurel in for a bang trim. I knew it was knotty and probably had yogurt smeared in it, but Laurel was not protesting at all. I watched as the hairdresser gently flicked her wrist above each knot, effortlessly gliding the comb through Laurel's hair, while she chatted with us. Soon Laurel's hair was silky and smooth, with no tears.

The next time I fixed Laurel's hair at home, I tried to replicate what the hairdresser did, and lo and behold, it worked. The little flick of the wrist untangled the knots without pulling on her scalp. This is what parenting a second child feels like to me. There's no magic involved, but you have figured out these little tricks that just make everything work better.

Today we divided and will hopefully conquer. M took Laurel out to breakfast and a haircut and I got Mark O and the grocery run. (It's not as unfair as it seems. I got the kid who sleeps all the time, and he got the one who can run.)

We're trying to think creatively about our schedules and making sure that everyone gets enough sleep, enough exercise and enough alone time. I'm finding that the less multi-tasking I do, the better off I am. As necessary as it is to sometimes nurse the baby while I'm answering emails, it leaves me feeling kind of jittery by the end of the day.

I got back in the habit of picking up Laurel from daycare on foot this week. Despite the cold weather (it is still snowing in Pittsburgh!), it has been good for everyone - to get some fresh air and a little time at the playground before dinner makes the evenings a lot better. I've been working hard to finish a curriculum rewriting project and put together a workshop for my neighbors, both of which are now over and went really well. Today I feel blissfully free from my To Do list. I'm looking forward to a visit from my friend and her son this week, and starting Laurel's new daycare schedule.

It's been an interesting 8 weeks, juggling all of this. Figuring out our roles. Getting used to being a family of four. Watching Mark O come out of his newborn shell and Laurel becoming a big sister. Carrying on my work and volunteer commitments in whatever way possible.


Control Issues

This is how I feel when my mom will not let me play My Little Ponies anymore and says it is time for bed. And when I am not allowed to have chocolate for dinner, or eat my milk with a spoon.  Or when we only get to read 3 stories and not 30 stories like I suggested. My parents are always telling me to stop opening the refrigerator and we never have cheddar bunnies and I really, really, really, really, really, really, really want chocolate for dinner. It makes me really mad when my ballerina tutus are in the washing machine because I have to wear a tutu to daycare and I really cannot even think about walking into that building if I am not wearing a tutu. Did I mention I want some chocolate? I know there is chocolate in the house and my mom and dad eat it secretly after I go to bed at night. And don't you dare tell me to use the potty before we go because even though I actually do have to go, I will refuse. On principle.

Your Three Year Old


Fifty Dollar Cake: A Review

I watch a little daytime tv now. Mark O likes the background noise. One day, I happened to catch Dr. Oz, and he made Never Get Sick Chocolate Cake. That guy is kind of a nut, but I liked the idea of a sugar-less cake filled with nuts and vegetables. I've got a crazy sweet tooth and wanted to keep some sweets on hand. Remember what I said on Facebook about the gummy vitamins? Yup, I get desperate sometimes. Anyway, I failed to note that there are like fifty dollars worth of dried fruit and nuts in this cake. Not to mention beets and zucchini, which are not in season. Also, M and I happen to enjoy vegetables just on their own, so there is no reason to hide them in a cake. Laurel maybe could benefit from some sneaky servings of vegetables, though.

This cake was very complicated to make. As many gluten-free, vegan recipes are, lots of chopping is involved. My kitchen was totally clean when I started, and I used all the mixing bowls and measuring cups and two different blades on the food processor. The cake takes at least an hour to cook because it's so dense and wet. Mark O became bored with the whole process and decided he was no longer content to sit in his little chair. He made 3 wet diapers in a row, refused to nurse, and spit out his pacifier. He only stopped fussing when I held him. It was very hard to chop all those nuts and dates and currants and beets while holding a baby.

It was a very poor use of my Sunday morning time. Laurel was staying with my parents so I could have been doing any number of things that are very difficult to do when she's home. Sleeping. Writing. Cleaning. Finishing the taxes. Reading the newspaper. By the time the cake was in the oven, I was thinking that the next time I wanted to eat something sweet, I would just eat a date, instead of chopping them up and putting them in a cake.

Lesson learned.

Nonetheless the cake was pretty tasty. I especially liked the icing and will probably be making that again.

Here's the recipe by Dr. Joel Furhman, as posted on Dr. Oz's website. Note, I subbed out the wheat flour and used Trader Joe's all-purpose GF flour mix. I also used golden raisins instead of currants.

Serves 12

1 2/3 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 tsp baking soda
3 1/2 cups pitted dates, divided
1 cup pineapple chunks in own juice, drained
1 banana
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup raw beets, shredded
3/4 cup raw carrots, shredded
1/2 cup raw zucchini, shredded
3 tbsp natural, nonalkalized cocoa powder
1/2 cup currants
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cups water
2 tsp vanilla extract

Chocolate Nut Icing
1 cup raw macademia nuts and/or raw cashews
1 cup vanilla soy, hemp or almond milk
2/3 cup pitted dates
1/3 cup brazil nuts or hazelnuts
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix flour, baking powder and baking soda in a small bowl. Set aside.

In blender or food processor, purée 3 cups of the dates, pineapple, banana and applesauce. Slice remaining 1/2 cup dates into 1/4-inch pieces.

In large bowl, mix sliced dates, beets, carrots, zucchini, cocoa powder, currants, walnuts, water, vanilla and flour mixture. Add the blended mixture and mix well.
Spread in a 9 x 13-inch nonstick baking pan.

Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

For the icing, use a high-powered blender and combine all icing ingredients until smooth and creamy. Spread on cooled cake.


Stolen Moments of Calm

Dinner is ready and waiting to be served. The baby is fed. My mom is at my house playing with Laurel.  We're waiting for my dad and M to get here. Everyone seems happy; there is a calm vibe flowing through the whole house.

I sneak upstairs with a half glass of the bottle of wine that Sarah left at my house last night and enjoy the last rays of the afternoon sunshine streaming into my bedroom window. I read a letter from a friend who lives in San Diego. I breathe deeply and slowly. I do not think about tomorrow or next week or next year. I don't think about much of anything at all.

If you are a mom and you do not steal moments like this for yourself, then you may never get them. I try to plan nights out and yoga classes and time for writing poetry and origami, but sometimes life has other plans and someone is late or a kid is sick. Nobody's to blame, it just doesn't happen.

So I have this moment in the sun.


I will never get everything done

We stayed up too late.

Fight the power, Mark O!
When I got home from the neighborhood association meeting, Mark O wanted lots of cuddles from me. He's very tolerant when I leave him, and will happily take a bottle. (Best baby, ever!!) After a few hours, though, he's looking around for me and when I get back he wants me to hold him. He was watching M brew up some lotion in the kitchen (because you definitely do not want to pull out essential oils while the 3 year old is awake). After that was done, we had to get our tax papers in order, because I had scheduled an appointment for today. By the time we finished, it was 12:30. Turns out, I had to cancel the appointment anyway because Laurel is sick. Now she's watching "100 my little ponies shows!" as she put it, and I am spraying lysol on everything. Mark O is not sick, but I did wait too long to change his diaper this morning and we had one of those famous newborn blow outs. On my bed. He also spit up all over my bed. Not cool, Mark O.

Anyway. Today was supposed to be a day of great productivity, but we woke up late (parents do not adjust well to daylight savings time), and I have both kids at home. Even though both are being really mellow and I probably could work, I am distracting myself by cooking a pot of beans and doing laundry and cleaning the bathroom and writing this blog post. Some of which is pretty important work in itself, just not paid work. However, I did just make $20 by doing a phone survey for this dental study Mark O and I are in, so I feel ok about the day so far.

Why do I not feel like I'm doing anything important unless I am making money? And why is everything in the world on my to do list?


Inspiration, Social Entrepreneurship and Garbage

First Fridays kind of make my head explode with ideas. I get all ramble-y and dreamy. All thanks to Creative Mornings.

One of my personal goals for 2013 was to reduce our garbage output. Or at least take a look at what we put on the curb, why we do it, and examine if there are other better places to put that stuff. Since buying a house and having some kids in the last 4 years, our lives have gotten a lot more complicated. Five years ago, M and I lived out of backpacks and were acutely aware of our trash production because of the "pack it in-pack it out" practice on the AT. But even then, we rarely carried more than a week's worth of garbage, and once we dumped it, we never thought about it again. It's so easy to throw things away in our country. Four years ago, we lived in a one bedroom apartment, paid about $20 a month on electricity and rode our bikes everywhere. Now we drive a lot more, and I noticed that the pile of trash bags that we lugged out to the curb was getting awfully big.

The first thing I did was examine the guide I got from the city of Pittsburgh about what to recycle. Turns out I was pitching a lot of stuff that ought to be recycled including plastic #6 and #7 and junk mail. That immediately reduced our trash by a bag or two. Then I started putting our food waste in the compost again. We need to educate ourselves about properly composting, because we have one of these, which is good for small spaces, but doesn't seem to be efficiently breaking down the food. What do you add to your compost to balance the food scraps?

We started using our cloth diaper stash again, which is a little bit of a pain, but definitely reduces waste.  We labeled some mason jars so we would remember to take them to the bulk section and fill them up instead of using those plastic bags they have there. I'm diverting some of the paper bags and cardboard into our craft closet so we can use them with art projects. Painting sessions with a three year old can use up a LOT of paper, and we never end up keeping very many of them. I think if I use nontoxic water colors it would be fine to still put these paintings in recycling after we are done with them.

Ok, so I diverted a lot of stuff out of our garbage bags and into our recycling bin, but was still horrified at the sheer amount of stuff that we end up bringing into the house and then sending out again.  I'm a busy lady though, and I went back to writing curriculum and feeding babies and organizing community workshops and stopped thinking about my trash for a while. Until today.

And then, because Pittsburgh is filled with awesome, innovative people these days, I attended a Creative Mornings lecture given by Ian Rosenberger of Thread International. He has a business model that takes trash, namely plastic bottles that are everywhere in Haiti, and employs Haitians to help turn this plastic in fabric. This video gives a brief overview of what they do.

Ian said something that really resonated with me, especially based on my experience working on low-income communities in the US for the past ten years, as well as what I saw in Uganda in 2008. He talked about digging in and really examining the impact that your actions have on the community you are trying to serve. He cited the example of Tom's Shoes, which everyone thinks is a good idea at first (you buy a pair, they donate a pair), but one of the effects is that these donated shoes put cobblers out of of business in the places where these shoes go. Oops. But a common mistake in NGO practice. Give a man a fish, and all that.

I've been mulling over this problem as it relates to education. I think I have the beginnings of an idea to engage parents. But I need a profit motive to make it all work. How do I turn family-centered tutoring and mentorship in low-income areas into a profit-driven business?


Why am I pumping in my car?! And other working mom thoughts....

  1. There should be more public places to breastfeed and pump. And by public, I mean places I can access in public that are not visible to you. Can someone make an app for that?
  2. Dropbox and google video have allowed me to do practically all of my work from home and I am so, so happy about this technology.
  3. Yes, it is ok to type emails one-handed on your iPhone while you are feeding the baby at 3am.
  4. I like the fact that Laurel and Mark O can see M and I working and volunteering. They know that our existence is dependent on more than just what happens in our home.
  5. Breastfeeding moms need to drink a gallon of water a day. That is a lot of water.
  6. I have been cleared to exercise by my midwife, but have no idea when or how to fit that into my life. 
  7. As long as I prioritize sleep, everything else is doable.
  8. Story time before bed remains my favorite part of the day. Laurel is still really into Norse and Greek myths. She also picks a book for us to read to the baby.
  9. Clear communication remains the key to marital happiness, and also continues to elude me on a regular basis. (Who's picking up Laurel from daycare? Where is the car? Will somebody please file the business taxes!!)
  10. We could really use an extra day in between Wednesday and Thursday. Or a time machine that would stop all the rest of you while I catch up.



The hours between 8 and 11 are rich with possibility. I think, "I will finish this laundry. I will do another hour or two of writing. I will take a lovely, hot bath using these lavender bath salts somebody gave me."

Instead I sit. It is very quiet in the house. I can hear the ice machine in the freezer rumbling as it tries to turn on. I watch the minutes tick past on the kitchen clock. They seem to be ticking away very fast. I think, "I should get up now." And eventually, I tip-toe into darkened bedrooms to check on the kids. They both sleep with arms stretched up above their heads, which are tilted at the same angle. Laurel's breath is barely audible and she has a half smile on her face. Mark Oliver has the raspy breath of a newborn, and he smacks his lips and grunts in his sleep.

Half the time I say screw it and climb into bed anyway, waiting for the inevitable moment when one or both of them will need something from me. Tonight, I decide to take a shower and do some work.

Mark Oliver is exactly 6 weeks old today. That's not such a very long time, but it feels like evenings have been this way forever. Two hours of exhausting dinner/clean up/bath/stories and then sudden quiet.


Why does the baby always fall asleep at the wrong time?

I'm baking potatoes so M can make gnocchi. This is the time when I would like Mark O to be awake, but we're listening to Talk of the Nation, and I think it lulled him to sleep. So, now I would like to either a) Take a shower or b) do a little work, but if I pick him up to take him upstairs where all of my work crap is, then he will wake up. Also, I will probably forget about the potatoes then. So, instead, I'm writing some emails for this home renovation workshop I (for some ridiculously foolish reason) volunteered to chair, washing dishes, folding diapers and other 5 minute tasks. When you have young kids, it is actually a pretty dumb idea to try and do anything that takes longer than 5 minutes. Yesterday we put the kids to bed quite early. Lights were out at 7:30, which just doesn't happen around here. It was not on purpose (I tried that the other day and it backfired.) This was due in part to Laurel not taking a nap over the weekend, as well as running her around Phipps Conservatory (their pretend farmer's market area is the best place to play!).

And no, they didn't sleep through the night. Don't ask us that. Don't ask any parent that. Mark O took the biggest crap I've ever seen come out of an almost six week old and Laurel woke me up to tell me that she loves me, even when she breaks things. I know it's a terrible habit, but sometimes I read email or the news while I'm nursing in the middle of the night. My friend sent me a link to this guy's blog and I laughed so hard I cried.  My Three Year Old's Stand-up Comedy Set is so my life right now. I should keep a notebook next to the bed and write down the random thoughts Laurel wakes me up with every single night. Then I could save them until she's a teenager and then wake her up and read them to her in the middle of the night.

I just bought some flat diapers. A lot of people cloth diaper because of the cute factor. You can spend a lot of money on cute diapers. Like, $25 a diaper. We do it because of the cheap factor, and also, as long as your washing machine is working, you never run out of diapers. We had some prefolds, but not quite enough to make it 2 days between washing, so I bought a dozen of the cheapest diapers I could find. I have to admit, though, that I'm a little in love with the flats, especially the origami fold. They are pretty trim and I can see them fitting at any size. It's taking me a while to figure out how to fold them (Loren and Sarah F. - you know how I struggle at origami), but now I have to try this one. And this one. Plus, they can be handwashed when absolutely necessary and they dry quickly on a close line. They do, however, have to be changed more frequently. I kind of miss the box of pampers we just finished up. Those suckers can hold a lot of pee and if you don't mind them ballooning up in your kids pants, you can get away with 4 or 5 hours in between diaper changes. Not that I do that on purpose. I'm just sayin'...

It's 3pm and I haven't gotten dressed yet. Actually, I am kind of dressed. I have a supremely limited wardrobe that mainly consists of black pants and t-shirts in "post-partum" size, so I don't really have "night" or "day" clothes. This is extremely useful in the mornings if I have to drop Laurel or M off. I accessorize with the Moby Wrap. My neighbor knits our kids incredibly cute hats, so mostly people just comment on Mark O's hats, and I hope they don't notice the spit up on my mom/ninja/yoga uniform.

Ding! Potatoes are done. Mark O sleeps on. Time for shower!


Double the Kids, Double the Fun

It takes a really long time to leave the house. If I had one more kid, I would probably never go anywhere. Part of it is winter and trying to bundle everybody up. Laurel always takes some convincing that it's cold outside and she needs to wear a coat. Then we have a long discussion about whether she should wear snow boots or sneakers. Then she has to decide what stuffed animal will be joining us. It's a very long process. Mark O continues to be very portable. Provided I remember to feed him before we leave the house he is good for 2 or 3 hours. That's about as long as I can chase Laurel anyway.

Today we went to the Art House. This awesome artist has a whole house that she opens up to neighborhood kids in Homewood and they paint and sculpt and create all kinds of amazing art. Today was their open house and some of the kid artists gave us a tour of the house, proudly showing off all of their work. Then Vanessa, the artist who runs the whole thing, threw a smock on Laurel and gave her a piece of plywood to paint. I would say it was a nice free way to spend a Saturday morning, except I know I'm going to be compelled to donate more money to her. I have a soft spot in my heart for grass-roots projects that exude joy. Laurel was literally jumping for joy by the time we left. She loved to paint and was given a lot of freedom and encouragement while she worked. Also there were donuts. With sprinkles.

I still am trying to figure out a few things...coordinating bedtime with the two kids, especially when I am alone. Streamlining breakfast preparation so it goes a little faster. When to try and squeeze in my work hours. How many loads of laundry I need to do in a day in order to stay ahead of it.