Thursday, December 31, 2015

Party On, Dudes!

Well, it's been too long a break between posts again, but let me tell you something. 'Tis the season for a whole lot of celebrating!

  • First, Lilly kicked off the month by turning eight. Eight! (Where does the time go???) We celebrated as a family on her actual birthday: chocolate chip waffles for breakfast, going to see the Peanuts movie, and then in the afternoon, Jayna took us sailing.

    It was so amazingly beautiful, and pretty much the perfect temperature with just the right amount of wind. It was a great way to celebrate.  
  • That night we got Thai food, and Lilly asked for her "very own order of noodles because Wyatt takes all the noodles and just leaves the broccoli and egg." (Pad see ew).  Now, I know this sounds really sad, and it kind of is.  You could say this is what happens when you have a bunch of kids or when you're the very middle of five.  But no, trust me.  This is just what happens when you want the same thing as Wyatt.  Anyway, I'm happy to report that she got exactly what she wanted, plus spring rolls.  

  • The next day, we had her party.  After some crazy big extravaganzas when Jayna was little, we've learned to keep things small.  We tried to keep the number of guests to the same as her age, but I fudged it a little since some of the guests were sisters, and we invited eleven kids.  But only eight were able to come, so it worked out!  She had a "not-quite-slumber-party" where everyone wore pajamas, had pillowcase races, and then, because it got dark by six, played some fun games with glow-in-the-dark rings and balloons and glow sticks, and everyone when home at eight, so we still got a good night's sleep.  Win-win, right?
  • A couple weeks later, I threw a Christmas party for Jayna, Skyler, and some of their friends.  We played some games and decorated cookies, turned up the air conditioning, and made a giant pot of hot chocolate.  It was really fun.  I think that sometimes, when I remember my own teenage years, I get freaked out by the thought of having .  But that night was a reminder that they are (usually) good people just going through some of the craziest years of their lives, and they need safe places to have fun and be themselves.   

  • Also worth celebrating, I finally got a picture of all five of my babies' faces in one frame.  The reason I didn't have one yet is complicated and so crazy that if I told you, you probably wouldn't believe me.  All I can say is that it makes me really sad, and getting this felt like a step in the right direction.  Even though we just set up the tripod out front and took it with the timer, and I'd barely even brushed my hair because I only about 15 minutes in which to try for this. It's not really everything I'd hoped for, but it has all my babies in it, and I am so very thankful.
           This is probably more of an accurate portrayal of us, though.

  • Speaking of photos, while I was using my "fancy" camera, I also took these.  I kind of love them.

  • Christmas was wonderful!  

    It was just a nice, quiet family day.  

    I'm also happy to report that I got some of what I'd asked Santa for in this post. ;-)  We took a little drive on the Kalananiole Highway, and stopped at a beach right at sunset.

     It was so beautiful!

  • Unfortunately, that night started a giant puke party.  Wyatt had been sick a week before.  Since he's so generous with germs, we were almost positive we'd get sick then, too.  But nope.  It wasn't until Christmas night Annalee started throwing up.  We've had a few stomach bugs, but I don't think I've ever seen one of my babies throw up that often.  It was nightmarish.  In the morning I started texting my mom and mother-in-law (a nurse), asking what they thought I should do.  She'd gotten to where she was completely limp and listless in my arms, and I couldn't even get her to breastfeed.  Her lips were yellow from bile.  I called the nurse advice line for our insurance because I knew the doctor's office was closed, and was told to go to an urgent care clinic about half an hour away.  Of course, everyone and their best friends were there, so it was two hours of waiting before we were seen.  And just before the doctor walked in, Annalee started nursing again.  So the doctor said to just let her nurse a couple minutes, then wait in the exam room to see if she held it down.  He said they weren't great at peds' IV's  there, and the best thing would be for her to hydrate orally.  She kept it down for thirty minutes, so the doctor let us go, and we were all hopeful.  But I got home... and it all came up.  I called the doctor back, and he said to go straight to the ER.  

    He even called the admitting doctor there, so I only had to wait ten minutes.  It took about seven hours to get her hydrated and keeping fluids down,

    but we were finally released late that night.  And then... Sunday afternoon, Lilly, Skyler, and Matt got sick... and Sunday night, Jayna and I came down with it too.  So.  Not.  Fun.  The good news is, we are all healthy again -- just in time for the new year!  And for the first time ever, I'm wishing I'd eaten more Christmas cookies!
So here we are, just hours from ringing in the new year!!  It's been a wild month -- and a pretty amazing year.  There were definitely some lows, but also plenty of really wonderful moments -- some of the best in my life!

I have more posts planned soon (I know almost no one will be reading this tonight, but I thought I'd still post it now), but I hope you have all had a wonderful December, and that 2016 brings all the best things! :-)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

What I Learned in November: Still

So did everyone have a great Thanksgiving weekend?  I hope it was a wonderful day for all of you.  I also hope you checked out the links in my last post and got some good deals on Small Business Saturday.

Our Thanksgiving was simple, sweet and lovely, starting with the neighborhood turkey trot

(which I didn't do, I've got my workout jam and running isn't part of it.  I did workout, but not that.)  Wyatt's was the "tot trot" -- only about 100 yards. Maybe not even that far.  Anyway, he was  his usual people person self, and didn't realize the race was happening till the last ten yards or so because he was so busy talking and waving as he jogged along.  As soon as it was over, he started crying, saying he wanted to do it again.  

Lilly ran really fast.  She and her sweet friend had promised each other they'd be a team.  They practiced together for the past week or so, and ran really fast, coming in 4th and 5th for the girls in the mile run.  I think we might have started something, because she promptly announced she wants to do more races.  Like, soon.  As in, now.

Anyway, the rest of the day was nice and low-key.  We made all our favorite Thanksgiving dishes, and used used our nice plates, and Matt washed them without being asked because he is just awesome like that,

 I had time to play the piano, and Annalee joined in.

 We stuffed ourselves on apple and pumpkin pies and banana pudding, then some of us watched Planes, Trains, and Automobiles while the younger ones watched Arthur Christmas. 

It's been a while since I did a "What I Learned This Month" post.  And I don't know if I officially "learned" these things last month, but I realized them all over again, and the feelings were so strong it felt like a whole new lesson.  Does that make sense?  Anyway, here goes.

-- It still hurts to say good-bye.  Or, "See you later."  One of my really close friends on the island left in November.  Another left in July.  And even with FaceTime/ Skype and texting and all that, I still felt so very sad to see her off.

In college, I took a couple child development classes from this one professor.  On the one hand, I really loved her classes.  She would often start the class by reading a children's book, and I was introduced to some wonderful stories and authors because of her.  I learned so much, too.  The problem is, her tests and project grading was just awful.  Everything was completely arbitrary, even the questions on the test.  I will never forget the question that made me most angry: "True or False.  It is easier for the child who moves away than for the child who is left behind."

Okay, is that not the dumbest test question EVER?!  How could anyone know the answer?  Does pain have a metric?  When I was growing up, I was usually the one leaving, and I could write a book (in fact, I tried to) about how hard that was.  There are no simple words for it.

But when someone -- someone you love, someone you can talk to so easily because it feels like you've known them forever, someone you can laugh and cry with, someone you can leave your kids with to go have a baby -- leaves, it feels like a big hole has been punched out of your heart.

So I still don't know the right answer to that ridiculous question, but I know I miss my friends who leave.  And sometimes it feels like I'm just missing an awful lot of people all the time.

-- It still pays off to make the effort of making friends.  It sounds really cliched, or paraphrased from the old song we sang in Girl Scouts about making new friends but keeping the old.  But really?  I think we forget easily how important it is to have a good friend, even when it means stepping waaaaayyy outside your comfort zone to talk to people.  We get "too busy" with life to take the time for friendships.  But again and again, I'm learning how much better I feel when I've reached out and at least tried to connect and make friends.  Yes, a lot of friendships turn out to be surface level, but the ones that don't are life changing.  The past few weeks since my dear friend left, I've pushed myself to go out and talk to people in those moments when I think, I'll just stay inside and cook dinner/ browse the internet/ read.  And I still miss my friend so much, but it feels good to stretch my friend-making muscles.

Very related: I love this post by author Kristen Strong!! (It's not new, but go read it now!) I wish every woman/ girl over age 10 would read it!

--  It's still so amazing.  I remember a year ago, thinking about a new baby being part of our family, and how that baby would be crawling around.  And now we know and adore Annalee, and she's doing that.  She turned six months old on  Thanksgiving Day.  I'm so grateful that I have another baby, plus her four siblings.  I used to assume that motherhood would become more mundane or something with more children.  But if anything, it seems all the more miraculous with each one.  Sometimes I think that if you could hear Matt and I talking or playing with her, you'd assume she was our first -- or at least, not our fifth.  It's as if looking at our sixteen-year-old (and all the others in between) and remembering how she was once this small has makes the process of parenting that much more amazing.

We were also very grateful to have Matt with us this year.  It hasn't always been that way, and when he's gone, those are the toughest holiday seasons.  This year felt a little bittersweet, because while it's Annalee's first Thanksgiving, it could be the only one where we are all together, at least for a while.  We don't know for sure that he'll be home next Thanksgiving.  Jayna will be probably at college in two years, and since we don't know where we'll be, much less where she'll be, being together just isn't a given.

I'm trying hard to savor every moment, and if we are all together next year and the year after, well, all the better.  For now, though, I know that my cup runs over.

Still, always.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

It's Your Business!

Wyatt and I were practicing our selfie game the other night.  I was trying to teach him the art of making silly face for a selfie, but he went for the serious-handsome pose.  But I decided it was a good one for this post because you guys!  Christmas is in less than four weeks!!!  How is this possible?!  

We didn't do any Black Friday shopping.  Matt went out yesterday morning to get decor with the kids, but came home empty-handed.  But you know what?  I'm glad.  I'm trying to buy less this year, and to be very deliberate about what I do purchase and keep.  Small Business Saturday is definitely more of my jam; I'm trying to support smaller business whenever possible.  

So with that in mind, I've put together a list of some of the places I'll be shopping, and where I'm hoping Santa does some shopping for me.  There are too many links here to post all the images, but please do click on them to check them out.

-- All the Pretty Letters. This is my friend Jamie's calligraphy business.  She is one of those insanely talented people.  She sings and plays the piano beautifully, writes poignant and funny blog posts, AND she has pretty handwriting.  Not only that, I got her Christmas card yesterday, with beautiful writing even on the address.  (Okay, Jamie, enough with the overachieving).  But seriously, check out her Etsy shop.  I love it all, but some of my faves are this anchor piece, and this Christmasy one.

-- Amber's Whimsy is my friend Amber's handmade jewelry shop.  She made some gorgeous pieces that Matt designed with her.  She's just brilliant at taking something you suggest and turning it into a work of wearable art.  Plus, she is just another awesome person.  She suffers from chronic illness and pain, but if you saw her sweet, smiling face, you'd never know it.  The more I know her, the more I love her.  And her jewelry... well, I love it all, but some pieces you must check out here are this necklace, these earrings, and this bracelet... or this one!  UPDATE! She's offering 20% off with code SMALLBUSINESS20.

-- Happy Hives Creations is the shop where my sister-in-law Erica sells her super fun, whimsical art.  Inspiring, fun, eclectic -- all words I would use to describe her pieces.  And also her.  Another "to know her is to love her" person, even if you're not related.  You've got to check it out!  My favorites are this one (of course - ha!) and this.  Skyler has a a Paris theme in her room, and she pilfered this one from downstairs to put up. 

--The Wild Hare is my friend Katie's children clothes' store.  Such cute stuff -- this hat, dress, etc.

-- I don't know her personally except through our Instagram friendship (and I think that counts!), but I love the work of Heart Comma Jenna, like her personalized family tree. *heart eyes*. She is offering 15% off with the code SMALLBIZSATURDAY.  The same is true for Kate Lewis.  Her art is just gorgeous.  

On less personal notes, because I don't know the business owners:

-- Cinnamon Sticks is an Etsy shop where my husband got me one of my favorite necklaces.  I don't see it here any more, but I love this bracelet and this gorgeous ring or in gold, or  these stackable rings.  Also, this starfish necklace is calling to me.

-- Island Betty sells some Hawaii-inspired jewelry I love, like this puka shell and heart bracelet. She is offering 20% off with the code MAHALO. 

I'm not sure what the cut-off is between you "small business" and "not small", but these aren't what I'd call "big business" either.  Rather, they are a few companies that are definitely worth mentioning here because they support ethical/ fair trade manufacturing, which is really important to me and my husband. 

-- First, I have two Karina dresses, and I love them both.  (This "Audrey" and a "Megan" that has maybe been discontinued because I don't see it any more.)  What a cool idea, to make dresses to suit every body.  They are pricey, at least in my opinion, but worth it.  Mine were both gifts (birthday and anniversary), but bought when I knew they had a discount going and told someone -- okay Matt -- about the discount code.  Today the entire site is 30% off with the code BLACKFRIDAY. I don't buy a lot of new clothes now, so saving up for one of these made in America beauties seems doable, at least when they're on sale.  Plus, you get points with every purchase that help make future purchases cost less. 

--And Better Life Bags.  Such a cool idea, to give jobs to women in Detroit who otherwise wouldn't be able to work.  They are not cheap, but I want one of these.  

-- Also, The Shine Project, that employs inner-city youth and puts them through college.  I love this necklace and these bracelets

-- Wildly Co is a children's clothing company that is ethically made in America.  Love their stuff. It's not just cute, it's smart -- clothing that grows with your kid and isn't (necessarily) for just one gender, so hand-me-downs, which I'm also a huge fan of, can go from brother to sister, or vice-versa.  They are offering 25% off this weekend plus free shipping.

Anyway, there are so many more places I want to and should put on here.  But if I'm going to post this, it needs to happen now.  If you have a small business, please feel free to share in the comments!  Happy Christmas shopping at stores you can feel really good about! :-)  

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

In With the Blue

It was a lovely spring morning in Florida that day.  Even in the midst of my early pregnancy nausea, I felt happy.  A gentle breeze was blowing through the tall pines around the playground where my three girls were playing, and their laughter and quiet chatter floated towards me.  I closed my eyes and breathed deeply and happily.  Everything was lovely, good, serene.

And then... over the sound of the breeze... came a roar.  Yes, an honest-to-goodness roar.  My eyes popped open.  A hundred yards away, there was a small band of boys -- maybe a half-dozen of them -- thundering toward the playground.  Each of them carried a stick, and for each, it was a different weapon.  They crashed onto the play equipment as my girls stood blinking in shock and wonder.

And at that moment, I had these words from the deepest part of my soul, "This is about to happen to you." I just knew I was going to have a boy.

Still, when the sonogram tech said, "It's a boy!" I almost fell off the table.  I mean, I'd been a girl mom for almost 12 years!  Pink and purple and sequins and glitter had infiltrated every corner of my life.  Don't get me wrong: I'd tried to be sensible about it. Even though I knew Jayna was a girl, I'd registered for gifts with primary colors, and asked for "not too much pink."  I wasn't going to make everything overtly girly; my own style leanings were toward classic, not ruffly.  

Fortunately, the people who love me knew better and bought all the ruffles and lace and pink they could.  And I started to love it.  I do love being a girl, and I think I get (for the most) how to parent girls.  I had only sisters.  I know what motivates us, and also what is terrifying.  I wasn't surprised that Jayna wore a tiara for a year straight, Skyler wore princess dresses with her hot pink cowboy boots, and Lilly wanted to be just like both of them.  

And then along came Wyatt, so different from the start.  All my girls (until then) were eight pounds or less.  Wyatt's birth, a week before his due date, was my scariest.  He wouldn't budge even with all my hardest pushing, I had to have oxygen, and his heartrate dropped to 28 before the nurse switched off the monitor and the doctor pulled him out.  Turns out it was because he was 9 lbs 5 ozs.
 Did I mention he was a week early?

His little cry was deeper, and he was just a tough guy from the beginning.  When Matt dropped to the floor and said, "Let's wrestle!", Wyatt, at five months,would belly crawl as fast as he possibly could toward him.  He beamed when, at nine months, I put him in the Cozy Coupe for the first time
and bawled when I took him out.  As soon as he could walk, we had to stop in parking lots to admire things like... wheels.  He loved staring at construction equipment and tractors.  When he could say "Wow!" it was for things like loud motorcycles.  Did Matt and I teach him this?  Had I ever touched a bumpy Jeep tire and marveled at its ruggedness?  No and definitely no.  It was completely ingrained in him like a river at the bottom of a deep canyon.  

And then he started talking -- really talking -- telling me things like, "I like dirt, Mom."  Since he was covered from head to toe in it as he said it, I was not the slightest bit surprised.  We passed a construction site the other day, and he said, "There's the daddy excavator and the little boy excavator."  Because, while I know he loves me bunches, and I'm the one who turns to when he needs things, Daddy is the coolest.  

He is so different from his sisters.  The girls weren't perfect, (I'll tell you another time about certain people throwing tantrums), but Jayna and Skyler went to public school for a while before homeschool, and both can tell you about the one time they got an official "first warning."  And both can tell you exactly why it was unfair and completely undeserved.  Not so with Wyatt.  He does a gym/ tumbling class an hour a week, and I call it The Hour of No.  When I get home, I need a nap.  People-pleasing just isn't as much an inherent part of his being as it is with the girls.

He has a knack for the gross.  For instance, right now he's a bit obsessed with potty words/ alternate names for certain body parts, and can work them naturally into any song or sentence without blushing or flinching, no matter where we are.  If you're friends with me on Facebook, you know that on Sunday, I saw him licking from puddles three times because he was "being a puppy."

And then there's the Great Cheese Horror... I almost think I shouldn't write this because it's so disgusting I'm still traumatized, but maybe there will be healing in my telling it.  If you know me well, you know I love cheese.  I'm vegetarian and could almost be vegan -- except for this devotion.  I vaguely recall the day a few months ago when I caught Wyatt with a bag of shredded Mexican cheese, trying to make himself a quesadilla.  Or so I thought.

But days later, I began to catch a whiff of a strange odor in my kitchen.  Then a week or two past... And it wasn't getting any better.  Then another week... I searched desperately for whatever dead animal was apparently rotting, and when I didn't find anything, I decided it had to be a problem with the sink or disposal.  I had Matt check things out, but he couldn't find anything.  Finally one night as I was in the kitchen, I said, "Do we just stink or something?!"  

Jayna walked toward me, and said, "No, there has to be something here..." And then she spotted it.  I had a large ceramic drink dispenser on the counter.  I typically just used it for parties, but I liked the blue-and-white pattern on the ceramic, so I kept it out instead of putting it in the cupboard.   Jayna lifted the lid and peeked in.  "Oh yeah.  There it is."

It turned out that my dear son had not, in fact, been making a quesadilla but had put few cups of the shredded cheese in there all those weeks before.  It was like a science experiment gone horrifically wrong.  Since I've been a mom to multiple kids (and dogs) for sixteen years, I've dealt with a lot of nasty stuff, usually the effects of a stomach virus.  And I can usually it.

But the "cheese" if it could still be called that, smelled so bad by that point, it could have been weaponized.  At first I tried to salvage the dispenser by dumping its contents into the toilet.  The smell was so terrible, though, I started heaving, so I put it in a garbage bag, sealed it, and threw it away.  My bathroom stank from that flushed "cheese" for a week -- I'm not even kidding.

And further along the lines of gross, there is something else I've learned that boys think that never crossed my mind, and it is this: "I could pee on that."  Don't get me wrong, I've had to do some desperate find-a-good-bush moves in my day, but only when there were no better options around.  But that's not what I'm talking about.  What I mean is, boys seem to look at the world as a target for their urine.  I remember witnessing this as a child and thinking boys were kind of savages, and as an adult -- a girl mom -- thinking that the parents weren't trying hard enough to civilize their young males.  

But I can't tell you the number of times I've watched my son walk off the patio and start peeing.  Or had his sisters tell me they caught him peeing out in front of our house.  On the one hand, it's fantastic when I don't have to hunt down a bathroom or use some nasty toilet somewhere -- boys can take care of business much more discreetly, and they don't look at you with the same mortification your daughter would if you suggested that tree over there.  Then again, a couple months ago, I heard the door to the garage slam shut.  I looked around and realized the only one of my kids that was absent was my little man.  I hurried out to tell him to come back inside (he was holding one of his daddy's tools by then -- big no-no) and noticed a puddle over by our paddleboard.

"What's that?" I asked suspiciously.

"Oh... Well..."  He was sheepish -- for half a second.  Then he looked me square in the eye and said as if it were so obvious, "Well, I had to go to the bathroom!"

He had walked past a perfectly good toilet on his way out!

But if it sounds like I'm complaining, please know this.  I'm not.  I love that I have a son, even with all the gray hairs he's adding to my head.  If I had never had him, I wouldn't have known the difference.  Not only was I a girl mom for twelve years, I had two sisters -- no brothers.  Sure I had guy friends and a small handful of boyfriends prior to Matt, but... If I didn't have my son, I wouldn't have known how much I didn't know.  I might have gone on thinking I was pretty darn good at motherhood (but only till I had a teenager).  I love all that he's teaching me about how the other half lives, so to speak.  I don't have to wonder so much what Matt is thinking, because his mini-me is showing me.  

And let me tell you this, too.  He loves big.  It might be a rough, knock-me-over hug, or a big tickle-and-wrestle-fest. But he's tender, too, and protective.  Just about his favorite thing in the world is when his daddy pulls out the toolbox and tells him it's time to fix things, and he recently dragged his play kitchen into our kitchen to cook alongside me.  

And he notices things -- things I didn't pay attention to.  Like the different sounds of different planes that he can mimic, or the soundtrack to Cars 2 which he hums all the time.  I've watched Spider-Man, but I never really thought about how he holds his hand until I saw Wyatt put on his costume and spend ten minutes trying to perfectly replicate the move.  We hadn't watched all of the movie with him -- just, I think, the last half-hour.  He climbed the couch and the old trunk my granddad had refurbished as a wedding present, jumping to the floor while trying to cast his webs with that perfect hand motion.

But that wasn't all he had noticed.  What else happens in those last thirty minutes?  Oh yeah, Spidey drops down and kisses MJ. So after all that climbing, leaping and casting, he walked up to me and said, "Okay, Mommy, now smooch me."  And he kissed me -- no, not exactly like Tobey Maguire kisses Kirsten Dunst in that scene (thank goodness), but very sweetly.  Then he repeated it three more times.

And my heart?  It melted into a big puddle of Mommy Goo.

So he's far from perfect, but he's my little guy.  He takes up a certain special place in our family.   I'm trying to be a good mom to him, to discipline but to love big like him.  Some days I feel like I've only used my Angry Mommy voice with him, and I pray like crazy, because I know we need a lot of grace and hyperactive guardian angels.  

But I'm so glad I've got him.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

My Two Cents: Babywearing

Almost thirteen years ago, I was walking in the small Spanish town we lived in with newborn Skyler in a sling-style infant carrier that I'd bought when I had Jayna.  Two elderly women approached me suspiciously, muttering to each other.  One of them finally worked up the courage to come close enough to see for sure, and I proudly smiled as I showed her my little baby girl. The woman's jaw dropped, and I was afraid that her eyes would pop out of her head.  I heard her exclaim, "She's carrying a baby!  In her purse!"

Once again, I was the crazy American.  At that time, almost no one I saw in Spain "wore" their babies.  The baby was always riding around in a giant, very plush stroller.  But by the time I left, ten years ago, that was changing.  I even saw Spanish fathers wearing their babies when I was out.  

I think it's becoming so popular because babywearing has so many benefits.  It helps with colic and calms cranky little ones and increases attachment and bonding.  It gives your tired arms a break, even when your baby refuses to be put down.  Most of all, though, it gives moms and dads free hands, which becomes increasingly important the more kids you have.  

I've been wearing my babies since Jayna was born sixteen years ago,

when my aunt passed down some baby carriers.  I think I've tried just about every kind there is.  Some are fantastic... Others less so.  As I sat down to write this post, I realized Annalee, now over four months old, has yet to ride in a stroller.  It's not that I have anything against strollers -- in fact, I have two -- it's just that babywearing works great for me, especially while she is so young.

I didn't know before, but apparently last week was International Baby wearing Week.  It's one of those things I somehow didn't know was a thing... But hey, if I can in any promote babywearing, I will.  It's something so valuable to me.  And since I'm always wearing my babies, so many people -- friends and random strangers -- ask about what I use and how I feel about it, so I thought I would put it all in one post, for your reference.

There are slings, ring slings, wraps, and soft-structure carriers.  (I'm not going to get into baby backpacks because I have much less experience there, and so far it hasn't been great.  Sorry.)

-- Slings are just that -- fabric stitched up to wear close against the body, like a pocket.

 The ones I have were purchased after Lilly's birth and are a fixed size based on, if I remember correctly, bust and waist measurements.  Lilly rode around in one for much of her first year.  She loved it.  She was healthy and average size.  But when I had ginormous Wyatt, who has always been at the upper end of the growth curve, they got far less use.    

What I love about these slings is that if you get the right size, they are super easy to use.  You fold them in half lengthwise, put one side over your shoulder with the seam at your belly button, and pop the baby in like you're putting him/ her into a pocket.  Couldn't be easier!  They are great for when you're shopping at more than one place but don't want to hassle with anything.  

However, the fixed size means that only you can wear it.  Okay, if you're close in size to your spouse or someone else who might wear your baby, but it's not (usually) (definitely not in my case) like Mommy and Daddy can both carry Baby around.  Also, the bigger baby, the less comfortable you will be, and also, the less safe it feels to carry the baby this way.  And I'd forgotten this until I started writing, but the fabric didn't stay on my shoulder as well when it was winter in Washington.  It kept sliding down my shoulder when I tried it over a jacket and altered the fit and comfort (probably another reason I didn't use it long with Wyatt).  I still use them occasionally with Annalee.  I keep one in my car for emergencies, and I have another made of stretchy, mesh-like material with a built-in SPF 50 that I've used at the beach

or when I know I will be in the sun because it breathes and protects her skin from the sun.  It also dries very quickly.  But now I have the Sakura Bloom.

-- The Sakura Bloom is a ring sling. (see rings below)

 It is not the only kind of ring sling out there, but I love it and hands down recommend it to everyone.  I had another ring sling with Jayna and Skyler, (picture at top of post) but I didn't like it nearly as much.  It had a padded shoulder and just felt very bulky.  The Sakura Bloom feels natural, and there are so many beautiful fabrics and colors, I wish I could buy more.    It is one of the very few items I've bought brand new since I had Annalee.  Mine is linen in Maple, in case you are wondering.  I wasn't going to buy it, even though I wanted it very much, but Matt said he wanted to carry her in a sling, too.  I couldn't share my other slings with him, so this seemed like a good idea, and I'm SO glad I bought it.  Annalee definitely prefers facing out kangaroo-style, but she's learning to enjoy facing in.  I like that I can nurse her in it, and the "tail" provides extra coverage.

-- Then there are the wrap carriers.  Two popular brands are the Moby and Solly Baby.

 I'd never had one before Annalee, but I really wanted to try it, and I was trying to decide if buying one new for a fifth baby was a good idea since she might well be the only one of mine that uses it.  Lucky for me, before I purchased one, I got a text from a friend on the island saying, "Hey, I have a Moby I'm not using. Do you want it?" Uh, yeah! 

When she was a "tiny" newborn, I loved this for Annalee.  There is a definite learning curve, and I think I did it wrong a few times.  It's also not the fastest to put on.  But I loved feeling like she was so snug and secure against me.  It places the baby's head right above the heart, too, which just feels good and so precious.

The cons to a wrap are the afore-mentioned complicated process, and also, the Moby in particular is pretty thick/ warm, which is not the most fun when it's melt-your-face-off hot -- like when we went to see the Solar Impulse 2.

 I'm not sure this is true for all brands, though.  And in some climates, the Moby's weight would feel just right.  I don't love putting it on in parking lots because the fabric inevitably drops on the ground.  Usually if I'm wearing it outside our home or neighborhood, I do the wrapping before I leave the house.  I think my biggest complaint about it, though, is that I haven't figured out nursing with it.  I have seen a couple tutorials, but it is definitely simpler with other baby carriers.

But if you love wearing your baby, this is a good one to have because you can use it for several months, not just for newborns.  They can be used by both moms and dads, even if there's a big size difference, and they're very good for distributing the baby's weight comfortably while keeping the little one snug against your chest.  

-- Between this and the one I will discuss last is the mei tai carrier, such as the Babyhawk.  It's sort of a cross between a wrap and a soft-structure carrier, meaning that you tie it on, but it has a definite carrying part to it -- it isn't just one long fabric a with a wrap.  This is the only kind of carrier that I have purchased and returned.  I just didn't love it for myself, and I guess you could say it's because it's sort of a hybrid.  The straps felt too thick to tie comfortably, and they didn't lie as well as with a wrap.  But I do think there are some really beautiful ones, and maybe if I tried one now (the one I bought was for Lilly) I would feel different.

-- For now, though, my favorite type of baby carrier is the soft structure carrier.  There are straps that buckle and snaps, etc. -- no tying involved!  Two popular brands are the Ergo and the Beco (I have both), though there are others.  The Beco is my personal favorite

because the Ergo I own requires a special insert for newborns that never felt particularly secure to me, plus I'm afraid it would just about roast a baby in a warm climate like here.  The Beco can be used for newborns just as it is from the get-go.  It is also adjustable at the legs to have the baby facing out front (although I just noticed when I was putting in the links that the newest Ergos do too).  Both of them offer adequate coverage for nursing and can be worn on the front or back,
and I think the side, but that never appealed to me.  I remember thinking they felt bulky at first, but I've gotten over that.  The Baby Bjorn and similar that I had after Jayna and Skyler's births killed my back because they didn't distribute the weight evenly.  But these brands I mention here, and any with a waist belt, are so comfortable because they distribute baby's weight evenly and onto your hips, so that you can wear baby for literally hours (trust me: been there, done that!) without feeling pain.  Win, win, win!

So there you have  it, my two cents' worth on babywearing  recommendations.  I'm not sure there is exactly a be all and end all carrier, because each one has unique advantages and those advantages change as the baby grows.  And what works for one person, might not work as well for another.  My favorites are the Sakura Bloom, and the Beco and Ergo.  If you can, try different carriers before purchasing and see how you feel about them.

But whatever you choose, I can almost guarantee you'll be glad you wore your baby!

{If you're a parent or caregiver with experience in this, what would you add?  If you're expecting a little one, did I leave anything out that you want to know?   I'd love to hear in the comments section below!}

Friday, October 9, 2015

My Memo, Manifesto, Mission Statement

Draw a crazy picture
Write a nutty poem, 
Sing a mumble-gumble song,
Whistle through your comb.
Do a loony-goony dance
'Cross the kitchen floor,
Put something silly in the world
That ain't been there before.
-- Shel Silverstein

"Frankly," a close friend told me the other day, "I think blogging is for self-centered and prideful people.  I don't see a point to it."

I sat listening and -- well, not to be melodramatic, but -- I was thunderstruck.  To be fair, we had been talking about writing and blogging, and in all honesty, I'd been whining a little.  I think if I gave you the full context of the conversation, we could all agree that protection and my well-being was the intent.  

I wish I were a bigger, stronger person who could, as the song says, "shake it off."  But this isn't just anyone -- it's someone who means enough to me that an opinion isn't just an opinion, especially when it's about something like writing, an activity that means so much to me.  I felt stung, and also a little paralyzed.  Also, this isn't the first time I've heard this kind of sentiment; another person said something similar last summer. George Orwell even said, "All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery." If this is what people are actually thinking, I wondered, why am I doing it?  More importantly, should I stop?

Well, obviously, I'm still writing and blogging.  At least one more time!  And though I don't think this person or the other critics I've heard are going to read this, I thought I'd write what I've been thinking, maybe for no one other than myself.  Call it a memo, manifesto, or mission statement -- here it is.

I've always loved writing, ever since I could do it.  I wrote plays performed mostly by Mom and my sister for my dad.  I wrote bad poetry.  I wrote sappy love stories and unmysterious mysteries.  I just wrote and wrote.

And, I've always really loved stories.  My favorite memories are sitting around dinner tables all over the world, listening to tales from people who had traveled more than me, who had been through wars and the Depression.  I've always loved asking people how they met their true loves, or about times they struggled with adversity. 

Stories are everything, whether written or told.

Before Facebook and Twitter existed, before I had even heard the "blog" (because I'm not the most hip and happening person, I will be the first to admit that), I lived in Spain.  I was part of a large club for spouses associated with my husband's work, and after my first year, I ended up as the newsletter writer.  I was going to do it with someone else, but then she quickly backed out.  So I had two young daughters, a husband who was often gone doing stressful work, family far away, figuring out life in a foreign country.  I was stressed about getting this newsletter printed every month until one day, I had a lightbulb moment: why not make it fun?  

So I started to write a column -- sometimes silly anecdotes about being a stranger in a strange country, other times hopefully inspirational words because all of us were kind of in the same boat.  It terrified me, but it also just felt good and so right.  Undoubtedly, there were people tossed the whole thing in the garbage, but several others came up to me, saying things like, "I laughed so hard!  I've just gone through that!" or "That thing you wrote last month?  It was just what I needed.  Thanks."  These were the words that kept me going on hard days.  In the tough times, I could step back from the situation and look at it through a different lens by writing about it.  Funny experiences seemed even more hilarious when I thought about how I would write them.  

Is that selfish?  

On the one hand, I get it.  I understand why writing and blogging seems like a self-centered pursuit.  Why would anyone care a whit what I'm thinking or what I've been doing lately?  Why should they?  I'm afraid I can't give you a good reason.  I'm a fantastically ordinary person.  

But on the other hand... If someone enjoys making jewelry or sewing clothes, would it be selfish for her to wear her creations?  Is that vain and conceited?  Or if someone likes to sing, should he only sing into a pillow lest someone hear his "pridefulness"?  

What I mean is, it's easy to pick on writers/ bloggers for being selfish in thinking anyone would want to read their thoughts or observations.  I just don't think it's fair.  

Maybe, as ordinary as I am, I can offer something lots of people can relate to.  Maybe I can make a few people feel less alone.  Maybe if I accomplish anything, I can give someone else the courage to try because if I did it, trust me, anyone can!  Maybe I can just make you laugh at something foolish I did, and that will be the bright spot in your day.  Yes, even that would make me happy.

This friend, as I've said, really was concerned about my protection, and I know and appreciate that.  The Internet is a dark and terrible place in so many ways.  Joy Cho of the extremely popular blog Oh Joy! wrote in her book Blog, Inc.: Blogging for Passion, Profit, and Community compares the blogosphere to the Wild West.  I can't lie, it scares me to put anything on the Internet, and I do question all the time how much I should say about myself or my family.

But... The "real" world is pretty scary, too.  And yet, I don't keep us locked up in the house all the time.  In fact, I try to smile and say "hi" to people, to be friendly.  Sometimes I even start random conversations with people.  Is it for selfish reasons?  I mean, I like having friends, I gain good things from relationships, so that could be argued.  Do some people wish I would go away and leave them alone?  Without a doubt!  But I'm not going to stop being me.  

Now that several weeks have passed for me to think about it, I'm very grateful for my friend's words now because they've made me hone in on just what I want to do with this blog -- or, if I stop blogging, with my life.  I've thought harder about how much the words I say to others around me matter and last, and I need to be darn careful with them.

Before I close, let me tell you this story about Facebook.  I like Facebook -- for the most part. I can be in touch with friends in Australia that I haven't seen in over a twenty years.  I can keep up with my fourth grade teacher and my favorite French professor from college who is a truly lovely person.  I know the names of the babies my friends are having on the opposite side of the country -- or even the world.  

Facebook turns into something ugly, though, when I use it to play the comparison game.  I've fallen into that trap way too easily, far too many times.  We're also very familiar with those political rants that are just exhausting and get us nowhere, and rumors that adults should really know better than to spread.

But then... there's my piano teacher (who, coincidentally, is also named Joy).  She is one of those truly beautiful people, amazingly talented at both piano and organ.  She gardens and cooks delicious meals.  Most of all, she is genuinely nice.  So it's no surprise that the space she takes up on Facebook is full of the best things.  Almost every day, she posts pictures of her garden, or her grandkids, or a sunset from the night before, and accompanies it with a verse or lines from a hymn or poem.  On your birthday, she writes words that water the dried-up places in your soul.  If you post a picture or say anything, she builds you with her kindness till you feel like the most special person in the world.  

Basically, I want to be just like her.  

1 Corinthians 10:31 says, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."  Whether or not I keep blogging or writing (because honestly, having five kids keeps me plenty busy with little time to write as much as I'd like), I think my mission in life is the same: to be real and authentic and relatable, to be kind, to build others up and encourage.  If I can make someone laugh or smile, even better.  

The Shel Silverstein poem at the beginning of this post is one of my favorites that I've loved for years.  "Put something silly in the world that ain't been there before."  Yes please!  Put something silly in!  Put something good in!  Put something beautiful in!  Smile and be relatable!  Yes, the world is a dark and ugly place.  So let's start shining some light!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Shrinking My Wardrobe While Growing a Baby

Okay, so here's a post I've been meaning to write for a few months now (oops) as some people have asked about my maternity wardrobe.  I had this grandiose idea that I would get some great pictures while I was pregnant (courtesy of my aspiring photographer/ children) to illustrate the post, you know, like those lovely fashion blogs.  But for better or worse, this is not a fashion blog. After we were done with our marathon school days trying to finish off the year, we were zooming out the door.  And if was wearing something after noon that I had put on that morning, there was about a 98% chance I had spilled something on it.  Pregnancy problems.

Finally, I started taking some pictures myself... And for that I do apologize.  I tried the mirror selfies (same awkward pose)

and setting the timer on my phone camera.

You guys.  It's hard to do this.  It got to where I was just being silly and laughing at myself, but still,  I think that my fear of how bad I am at pictures stopped me from posting for a long time.  In light of facing my fears, though, I've resigned myself to the fact now: This isn't one of those blogs with a dozen gorgeous pics of each outfit. This is just me.


So I'm (mostly) using photos I had from the moments I have pictures that were just taken while I was pregnant. *sigh again*

BUT, maybe it's best that I'm doing this post now, since it's been a year since I got pregnant, and I'm more or less back to where I was size-wise pre-pregnancy.  I can give you the full 360-degree report of what worked and what didn't.

As discussed before, I've been pursuing a minimalist mindset lifestyle, getting rid of excess to enjoy more of what I truly love.  And this applies to my wardrobe, too.  After we moved here to Hawaii (when we lived in a small house with a tiny closet whose doors didn't work right) I started experimenting with The Daily Connoisseur's  Ten-Item Wardrobe.   Then I found the No-Brainer Wardrobe and Un-fancy and Project 333.  (I also like In Honor of Design's term "conscious closet".) By last summer, I was figuring out a smaller, "capsule" wardrobe that worked for me.

And then... I got pregnant again.  Just as I was getting my smaller wardrobe groove, I had to figure it out again.  But can I just say?  Pregnancy is a great time to try a reduced wardrobe, since the bigger your tummy gets with le bebe, the less you can wear.  And then you can discover just what clothes make you happy without the unnecessary.  You might well be surprised by what you learn. 

For me, my maternity wardrobe can be summed with just a few words: non-maternity for the win.  I did have a few maternity pieces, but the items I purchased and enjoyed the most during my pregnancy were mostly non-maternity, and clothes I already had.  

Here's the way I see it.  Even if you have maternity clothes that you can wear the whole nine months, that's such a short time.  But for me, maternity clothes don't generally look right until about halfway through.  And I'm a cheapskate.  I don't want to spend money for something I know is extremely temporary.  I would rather buy something that works well for the big belly months, but I'll still be able to enjoy it beyond that time.

The maternity clothes I already had were mostly for winter births, since my last three babies have been born October through January in pretty cold places.  So I bought a few maternity items: three tank tops, two t-shirts, and a pair of jeans. I can tell you that none of them were my favorite.  I wore my jeans during the "winter" months here, but they stopped fitting in February.  And by that I mean they were straight-up painful.  The t's didn't fit right for a long time, and the tanks made me itch and were not covering my belly by the time I gave birth. 

BUT! There were a few items I bought that aren't maternity, per se, but were absolutely great: an oversized white t-shirt, an elastic-waist maxi skirt, and a pair of drawstring shorts.  So you see what I mean?  Non-maternity for the win.

There was some negotiating my clothing in the beginning of my pregnancy as I got bigger and realized things weren't working so well.  But here's the details of my "maternity" wardrobe, or what I had when I was noticeably pregnant:

Four tank tops. (Photographed in all their wrinkled glory)

The only one I would buy again would be the Old Navy one I had from my pregnancy with Wyatt, the dark gray all the way on the right.  They changed the fit and fabric just enough in the new ones that I wasn't happy at all.

Two "tamis", one black and one gray.  I had these layering pieces from before I was pregnant.  Normally, I wouldn't wear them by themselves, and I had them stored because you don't layer here unless you are trying to roast yourself.  But they were long enough, soft enough, and stretchy enough to be some of the only tops that worked to the very end.

Five t-shirts.  I think you can see all of them somewhere on this post, except the white oversized tee. The only ones I would definitely buy again would be this white, non-maternity one from Modcloth and this black one from Gap.  The oatmeal one I'm wearing here

was itchy, and it didn't look right till month six.  But, on the flip side, it fit until the day I delivered (photo was taken in front of the hospital) and covered everything which is really saying a lot, especially considering that Annalee wasn't small! The black one from Gap is the only one I wore postpartum, though.

Two pairs of shorts.  Neither pair was maternity, but both had stretchy drawstring waists. The brown ones were from at least four years ago, I think from when I was pregnant with Wyatt, and the other pair I bought this spring, right about the time my jeans retired.

This picture is one I snapped before going to bed the night before I had Annalee because I just had a feeling...

The jeans I mentioned above.  No pictures, but I think they were these (from Old Navy).  I can't even find what I did with them once they started cutting off circulation to my lower half. Which is too bad because I'd planned to make them my "Thanksgiving pants."

Three skirts.  Two had a roll waist -- one black knee-length (see hospital picture and photo at the top of the post) and one gray maxi, and also the navy blue version of this maxi, the one skirt I bought while pregnant.  None of these were maternity, and the roll-waist skirts were from Gap before I was pregnant.  You can find similar ones all over the place.

Eight knit dresses.  Two were these real maternity dresses that my friend gave me.

 I wore the print maxi at least once a week,

but the red one I just wore a few times because it felt a little more dressy to me.  

This friend also gave me these non maternity "Fit and Flare" dresses from Lands End that I wore all the time.

I took the blue one to the hospital as my going-home outfit. (you can find similar here)

 They were so comfortable and easy to care for.  I wore them a lot postpartum, because I could easily breastfeed in them, but now they are just a bit too big on me again.  (sad face)

This floral dress is from Target four years ago.

 I should probably count it as maternity because I only wear it when pregnant or just after giving birth (it's easy to nurse in and flows over the tummy area), but it wasn't sold as such. (similar here)

Then I had these three Gilli dresses from Modcloth from before I was pregnant.

Love. Them.  You do have to hand wash this fabric, so they aren't the easiest to care for, but then again hand washing isn't so bad. Plus they are made in America, which is something I look for whenever possible.  I only wore the navy one a few times pregnant, I guess because it feels dressier, but I did wear it on Mothers' Day, which was just a couple weeks before I gave birth.  I've worn it since as well.  This picture was taken when Annalee was two-and-a-half weeks old.

 And I haven't been able to wear the green one since giving birth because I can't breastfeed in it, but I'm keeping it because I know I will wear it again!  (exact dresses here and here. I don't think the black one is available at the moment, but you can buy similar ones from many different places.)

I wouldn't normally talk about workout gear and swimsuits when discussing a reduced wardrobe, but I do wish I had bought some maternity (or just larger/ longer) exercise tops.  I work out at least five days a week.  I didn't have a problem with the shorts and pants because of the elastic waists, but the tops just didn't fit.  I ended up wearing an old and very unattractive, unused t-shirt of Matt's whenever I worked out outside

the house.  It was hotter, too, than a sports shirt.  Inside, I just wore a sports bra.  

I have a maternity swimsuit top, (regular non-maternity bottoms worked fine) but again, that only worked till about 7 months.  Here I am at 27 weeks.

 I still wore it, but my belly totally poked out the bottom of it by the end.  What worked better?  You guessed it.  This non-maternity swimsuit with adjustable cinching at the sides from Gap (I think from four years ago).  It fit great at 25 weeks...

...and was still going strong at 38 weeks.  I don't have a picture, but I wore it to the pool the day before I gave birth.  A bikini would have worked too, but I didn't have one and couldn't find one I liked before I had the baby.

This list, minus the swim and workout gear, totals twenty-six items for about five months.  Honestly, it seems like plenty.  But of those, only the dresses, the skirts, and a few shirts worked as well as I wanted them to.  (The shorts worked; I just don't love wearing them.)  If anything, being pregnant so soon after starting a reduced wardrobe experiment made me realize I could keep my wardrobe smaller.  It opened my eyes to what I actually need and truly enjoy, versus what I've filled my closet with until now.  

So what do you think?  If you have been or currently are pregnant, what are the clothing items you couldn't live without?  

But the real question is, pregnant or not, are you ready to give a smaller wardrobe a try?