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(It's not on.)
 
 
It’s officially hotter than hell here in Texas, and although we’d already been deep in the thick of it for months at this time last year, the heat has come on strong, and all-of-a-sudden; we’ve hit 105 degrees this week, I believe—maybe higher. Aside from serious brow-furrowing concern about our planet slowly melting and our species not actually being designed to survive very well in raging hot places (like, say, future-Earth), I actually haven’t been too bothered by our recent wave. Air conditioning is SOP in these parts, and I’ve had a bunch of work projects lately, so have been holed away in my cool home office most days. I well remember the cabin fever that last year brought on, though; it started to feel weirdly like a New England winter, when we realized sometime in early August we’d been constantly indoors for months on end. In order to keep that at bay for as long as possible this summer, I’ve been heading outside with Kaspar in the early evenings for brief, but regular, fresh-air escapes. Running around for too long, even at that time of day, is not a great idea, but water play is most welcome with the littles at any time, and especially when it’s steamy.

We’re white-trashing it up with the garden hoses and naked kiddos out on the driveway on the regular, and we’re also finding ways to incorporate water into typically-non-water-related activities, just for fun. One recent accidental discovery occurred when Kaspar and his friend J (of previous Alt-Mama appearance fame) were playing with sidewalk chalk on our front porch; we all went inside to fetch glasses of water (for hydration), and Kaspar (of course) spilled his as soon as we made it outside. The kids started drawing with the chalk in the puddle—which was also basically steaming – and we all marveled at the unique effect the water had on the chalk; its colors were ultra-bold and its application went on thick and paint-like.

So what did we do? We 1) poured our drinking water all over the porch in puddle after puddle, calling each puddle a canvas and creating art that would have made Jackson Pollack proud. Then, 2) the masterpieces changed before our very eyes as the water evaporated and the colors went light again. (There, instructions!) Although it looked, when they were done, like the Muppets had been murdered on our doorstep, the kids had a blast making footprints (both watery and chalky) and handprints, and kept at it for at least an hour before it was bath time (they were both utterly covered in chalk); because there was plenty of water involved – without being outright wasteful, as per the hose – they also stayed cool throughout the endeavor. 

I’m on the lookout for more fun, heat-resistant activities for the summer’s duration; I’ll keep you posted as we create and/or discover them. Now tell me— what are your favorite ways to play and keep cool?

 
 
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Kaspar mixes (brown rice flour) pancake batter.
A friend of mine, who’s in her fifties, confessed to me the other day that she’s “domestically challenged.” (I’ll call her Sally.) What she said is true, too—her house is a mess of piles, clutter, pet hair and unfinished projects – and, despite seeking help in any number of forms (talk therapy, hypnosis, organizational consultants), she’s continues to struggle to keep her home environment tidy and clean. What caught my attention about her commenting on this, other than feeling a little surprised that she’s consciously aware of it, was her own perspective on why keeping her home clean and organized is such a challenge for her (she lives alone, except for the pets). She vividly recalls her mother discouraging her, as a child, from helping with any household tasks. Her mother wanted things done a certain way, and with four kids to juggle, she refused to allow her littles to thwart the progress she made as she undertook the (surely endless stream of) household chores. “I wasn’t allowed to help, so I just never learned to keep house,” Sally says, now decades later. Sally remembers her mother fondly,  as well, and although she doesn’t have children herself, she can now appreciate the level of stress her mother must have managed with a household full of small children. But I’m guessing her explanation of the source of her own domestic limitations is likely accurate, and it struck me as an important one that I need to bear in mind as I go about parenting Kaspar.
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The all-important job of taste-testing.
Juggling work and parenting is a constant dance in our house; both are high-touch activities for us, and household tasks get done in fits and bursts as we go through our days—we throw laundry into the washer between work calls, tackle the dishes before running out the door, sweep the floor when something gets stuck to the bottom of our feet. We’ll occasionally clear an entire weekend day for deep cleaning, or hire a green cleaning service to do it for us, but our usual cleaning routine is ongoing and not ‘routine’ at all. Piles do pile up, but we don’t let things get out of hand. We're not OCD about it – because with a two-year-old in the house, we’d be unable to cope -- but both Aaron and I value a clean, uncluttered home as most conducive to calm minds and overall happiness. (I’d feel instantly depressed arriving home to a house like Sally’s.) So while neither of us particularly gets off on cleaning (how I wish), we try to stay on top of it, prizing efficiency above all. Until recently, anyway.

Enter: Kaspar. He can undo twenty minutes’ work in two, all in the name of ‘helping.’ And let’s be honest: this can be frustrating when folding laundry is not a top ‘priority’, (deadlines and bedtime loom) yet still needs to be done.  As Sally recalled her mother stopping her from participating in household tasks in the name of their more efficient, or effective, accomplishment, though, I could see and hear myself in her description. “Kaspar, please stop! I just folded all of that,” – I’ve said this many times. I’m not a jerk about it, but I definitely don’t always incorporate Kaspar into the chores I’m trying to do.  If he’s clearly making a mess of them, and if I catch myself feeling exasperated, I’ll usually leave the job half-done and move our little operation into a  more play-friendly setting outdoors, or amidst toys in another room. But as Sally told me her story, it dawned on me that Kaspar really wants to help, with lots of tasks, and that I’ve been going about it all wrong. I should encourage his “help”, whether it’s really helpful or not.


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Kaspar’s still going strong on his nightly coconut oil massages, and his system is still reaping the rewards. I’ve been making an effort to give myself a good warm-oil self-massage several times a week, as well; in Ayurvedic medicine, this is known as Abhyanga, and it’s prescribed for a whole host of conditions. The Sanskrit word for oil, sneha, also means ‘love,’ and self-massage does indeed do a body good, as an impactful form of self-love and care. It’s particularly useful in treating anxiety and nervousness, cracking joints, lack of focus, mental and physical stress, restlessness, dry skin and any kind of digestive issue. The skin is the body’s largest organ, and one that’s largely associated with digestion (this is why Kaspar’s gut issues manifested as terrible eczema); using a high quality oil to massage the skin not only imparts calming effects on the nervous system, but it also helps to cleanse and nourish the skin, helping it to better do its jobs (including detoxification). Whether or not you’re treating a specific condition, Abhyanga stimulates the inner organs, promotes digestion and restores our innate sense of well-being and optimism. In a nutshell, it cures what ails ya.*

Here’s how it’s done: before bathing, spread some towels (not your favorites… they’re gonna get messy) onto your bathroom floor, and pour some organic food-quality oil into a plastic squeeze bottle (or other container) – I use coconut oil, but you can also use sesame or almond oil for a warming, grounding effect, or corn or flaxseed oil if your constitution is generally sluggish or heavy. Place the bottle of oil in a bowl of warm water to heat it slightly as you undress (make sure the room isn’t drafty, too). Next, pour a small amount of oil into your hands and apply it to your face, including your ears and nose, but avoiding the eyes. Massage your limbs in long strokes, applying pressure as you move toward the heart, and then follow with circular strokes over your joints. Massage your abdomen in a clockwise direction, then your hands, your shoulders, your feet—give yourself a good rub-down. About once a week, massage some oil into your scalp using circular motions, as well. Chill out for a few minutes – ideally you’d wait for fifteen to thirty minutes, but… I don’t have that kind of time – and then carefully (your feet may be super slippery) climb into the tub or shower. Wash yourself, but go easy on the soap so as not to remove all of the oil. Pat yourself dry with a towel.

Look around. Do things look brighter somehow? Thanks, Abhyanga!

Now, this type of massage is a bit different from Swedish or Deep Tissue (which I can also rock!), so you don’t need to chug water all day afterward -- although that’s not a bad idea, regardless – and you shouldn’t focus too much on working knots out while you’re doing this. (Hire someone else to do that kind of work…). Instead, try to rest your attention during Abhyanga on gratitude for your amazing body and how much it does for you, how many functions it performs. Feel happy. Let your stress go. And go ahead and make a habit of this, from a few times a week to every day, if you can swing it.

*Note that Abhyanga is not indicated (i.e. safe/recommended) for anyone in the acute stage of an illness, pregnant or menstruating women, people with insulin-dependent diabetes, blood clots, edema, hangovers, infected wounds, or who are in chemotherapy. Safety first, folks!

 
 
What an incredible job you're doing, in this job of a lifetime: raising a man. 
Every day, you teach our son patience, presence, kindness, humor, love. How to follow his dreams, how to fly. 
I hope you can hear, beneath the chaos, the requests and especially the laughter, "Thank you, thank you." 
The beating of our hearts. Kaspar's and mine. 

We love you. 

Happy Father's Day. 2012.

Click "Read More" below for scenes from our day!


 
 
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Seriously. Look at that face.
Remember my ambivalence on the subject of baby #2, to have or not to have? Well, the subject is still on my mind, consciously and otherwise.

Starting with otherwise, I’ve recently become fixated on the idea of adopting a baby… duck. It’s clearly a misdirected function of my biological clock, but it’s very real, regardless. Our neighbor across the street invited us to a small-animal petting zoo in her backyard a few weeks ago (she had some sort of work function at her house for an entire Saturday, and hired the zoo to entertain her colleagues’ kids); Kaspar and I trotted over when he woke from  his afternoon nap. He was fairly interested in the bunnies, guinea pigs, chicks and – yep – ducklings as they toppled over each other within the enclosed zoo area, but I was downright enthralled. Kaspar sat on a little bench and held a few critters, and soon lost interest (he wanted to play on our neighbor’s slide). Me? I didn’t stray from MY little bench, which was clearly meant for toddler butts, until the zoo was practically packed up and rolling away in the van it arrived in. When it—and  I—finally left, I had ducklings on my mind.

I’ve done a little research, and ducklings are, as it turns out, quite easy to care for. They’re social, so they should be raised at least in pairs. They also need a solid enclosure, fresh hay on the daily, and proper amounts of food and water. Eventually, they appreciate a kiddie-pool for swimming in (this should be supervised when they’re very small, lest they accidentally drown). That’s about it. Our fenced, medium-sized backyard would (will) be perfect for this. As to where our ducklings will come from, the petting zoo lady informed me they can be purchased, here in Austin, at a local feed and farm-stuff store, Callahan’s.  I kind of feel badly buying an animal that’s been taken from its mother, though; I’ve always adopted my pets. So I did some additional research and discovered there was a stray duckling at an animal shelter in Dallas in 2009, but other than that, homeless ducks are hard to come by; all of the Texas duck rescue websites I found are now defunct.

To make matters (by which I mean, my longing for a duckling to call my own) worse, there’s now a family of ducks in our neighborhood. They live in the fountain-pond by its entrance. I’ll admit I’ve daydreamed of duck-napping one of the flock, but, all told, I don’t have it in me. So, it’ll either be Callahan’s or an unlikely stray that ends up joining our family. I’ve put the word out among friends (and now you readers), so I’m hoping a motherless duckling appears, right on cue, at our door. If you build it, they will come, right? In the meantime, Aaron still needs some convincing. (He just keeps looking at me funny and saying, “What you want, Taylor, is a baby.”)

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My friend Brooke feeds her sweet baby V (2 Months)

Click "Read More" below for the rest of the post! (Plus, delicious baby pics).


 
 
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Watching Thomas, after playing outdoors. (Why NOT be naked?)
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CSA carrots.
 
 
I got a new camera this past week and, as I figure out how to wield it, thought this a good time to show you around Kaspar’s room. I’ve been meaning to give you the grand house tour, now that —eight months after moving in—we’re finally beginning to feel settled in our new home. We’ve been slowly chipping away – as we do with everything, now that we’re rolling family style – hanging artwork, purchasing furniture, and figuring out what goes where. We place a high priority on creating a home environment that facilitates the way we live, which is very much in the midst of each other; thus, creating spaces that are adult and child-friendly has been the name of the game. Kaspar’s room, however, is Kaspar’s very own environment. It’s pretty much complete, at this point, though it’ll surely change as he grows; I took some tips from the Montessori philosophy and kept it streamlined, bright, and conducive to both independent and cooperative play. So come on in. Let’s break it down.

This (above) is the view from Kaspar’s doorway—it’s the wall (and ceiling things) above his bed. I considered hanging photos but instead went with an instructional origami crane wall decal by husband-and-wife design team NouWall. The ceilings in our home are luxuriously high, which makes the rooms feel more open; in the interest of capitalizing on that vertical space, I also hung a pendant paper lamp and some colorful Tibetan prayer flags. These draw the eye upward, deliver a little dharma influence and also, I think, evoke a touch of festive birthday-party-esque décor.

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The shelving (above) in Kaspar’s room is directly inspired by shelving in Montessori classrooms (open, eye-level, made of wood). I scored some empty wine crates from a local vino shop and affixed their bases to the walls. Actually, Aaron did the affixing— this room’s been a team effort; I should give the dadman some cred! Kaspar’s toy vehicles live on one shelf, and his wooden play-food on another. A small display shelf from Maple Shade Kids helps keep small toys from getting lost (and does a bit of displaying—we rotate family photos in the little monkey photo stand).

Kaspar LOVES to read. He always has, and I’m grateful for it, since he’ll sit still for long stetches under the influence of books. He has tons of them – and knows many by heart. We keep them in the bookshelf shown above, which was custom-made by this Etsy dad.

Here’s a little bit of wall art, both functional and decorative. The giraffe and man-eating-shark hooks came from World Market, and hang discreetly behind Kaspar’s door. They’re within reach for him, too, so he can hang his own hoodies (or necklaces, as the case may be) – also a Montessori thing. The painting is my attempt at making art… Bear in mind that I’m married to an accomplished painter and illustrator, with words being more my thing, so I stuck with what I know (I’ll leave the real painting to the pro) and stenciled an Albert Einstein quote onto a canvas I’d painted blue (and white… artistic, right?). The full quote is actually, “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” Einstein was awesome.

Kaspar’s rug is from Ikea. We bought it for his baby-room, which he spent little time in, but now the rug’s getting plenty of use (here, it’s an ocean, and the book’s an island). Kaspar's also peed on it countless times, so I’m glad we stuck with what we had, which was a low-impact (wallet-wise) purchase to begin with. It does the job, is easy to clean, and feels cozy under foot. I also really love the color and design. Here’s to Ikea. If their stuff were a little more eco-friendly -- I’m not such a fan of pressure-treated wood and particle-board -- I’d be a die-hard fan. Ikea, take note!

At last, we have Kaspar’s bed, which is a full twin, but low to the ground so he can climb in and out of it himself. He’s slept in this since he was about fourteen months old, when we tried to find a good co-sleeping setup that actually allowed us to, you know, sleep. We stuck this bed beside our own, back in our apartment, but decided it should stay a full room, and two full doors (both of which Kas can open, but whatever), away from our bed here in our house. Kaspar still sleeps in our bed a lot, and Aaron and I spend many nights beside him in his, and – for the most part – this works for us, for now. I think it’s important that Kaspar does have ‘his’ bed, however, as a step toward delineating sleeping spaces. We're getting there; he’s continuing to sleep through the night, alone, more than he used to (we’re clocking a couple of nights a week), which is super exciting for all of us, and it’s the separate bed that makes it possible. 
Thanks for visiting! Whatcha think? What’s in your kids’ rooms? And, I'm looking for treatment ideas for Kaspar's bedroom window... Got any?