I've been so focused, these past several months, on getting through the daily grind that I haven't been feeling particularly creative. It's happened before -- there are certain rhythms to these things, and sometimes life itself just demands a lot of immediate attention -- so I wasn't worried about it; I knew I'd hit an inspired spell (slash hormonal surge?) sooner or later. I always have a running list of projects I plan to tackle, and Operation New Baby is a fun one: I'm coming up on my third trimester now, too, so nesting to the tune of setting up the baby's space -- hanging his hammock, framing wall art and perhaps even purchasing some kind of rocking chair -- will not be entirely pre-emptive. In fact, setting up shop in this way will be helpful and necessary, and now, at five and a half (thereabouts) months pregnant, I've finally, as of sometime last week, felt newly energized to do so. Or at least to begin... If not with something necessary, exactly, then with something really personal and fun: A blanket for Baby O! (Yep, we've chosen a name, and will tell you the rest of its letters when little man arrives.) 
I've made a bunch of baby quilts over the past year. I still don't really know how to do much with my sewing machine beyond sewing forwards and backwards, though. Quilts are actually doable within these limited parameters, so I think they're kind of my baby gift 'thing,' even if I swear future renditions off whenever I finish my latest one. (I'm not a patient person, so sewing is a weird hobby to have picked up.) But I'm always drawn back to the fun of fabric-pairing and the satisfaction of seeing a little quilt through to its final, finished stage, not to mention gifting it upon a little person who'll surely keep it for longer than, say, a wipe-warmer. 

It was fun to embark on this quilt knowing I'd be gifting it to my own little bundle, who's been kicking up a storm on the daily, thereby making his presence very much known indeed. (Omigosh, I can't wait to meet him.) I had some shiny-ish gingham fabric left over from my last project, and went rifling through the free-box outside of Austin's hippest fabric store/sewing school, Stitch Lab, in search of other great finds to include in my creation, earlier this week. The box can be a goldmine, but is ultimately hit or miss, and I didn't see anything that spoke to me, so I wandered inside... something I usually refrain from doing, knowing I'll likely spend a small fortune before leaving. As it happened, the store currently has upwards of ten bins filled with (generously sized and neatly cut) Quilt Con leftovers up for grabs, on the cheap-cheap, and I went a little hog wild... without breaking the bank. It was meant to be. 
I love the fabrics I walked out with. I chose the contrasting patters shown above on the left for the back of the quilt, which I sewed into two large panels. The mod guitar print, and green and blue stripes, compliment the gingham for the main front section, with a fun gray/white/red wavy number as a border on opposite ends. (I'd have rocked the border all around, but my quilt was looking more rectangular at that stage than I liked, so I squared it off instead.) I chose the layout as a change of pace from patchwork -- all of my previous quilts have been of the latter variety -- and this ended up working in my innately-impatient favor; sewing together larger rectangles, rather than countless, smaller squares, was WAY faster when it came to assembly, my least favorite part. (Not only because actually sewing is time consuming, but also because so many things can go wrong... it's more stressful than playing with color.) And I don't think the finished product smacks of slackerdom, either. I'm really happy with the results. 
Everything came together without a hitch in the sewing process, too; I didn't have to undo any work, and I didn't sew anything face down or anything like that. My bobbin did run out of thread near the end, at which point I called my friend Jenn -- who'd sold me the machine when she upgraded -- and she walked we through the re-load over the phone. (She's awesome like that.) Then she came over with her two littles later in the day, to hang out and play; I busted out my masterpiece and her new baby, Big T, modeled it for me, as per the above pic. He approves.
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Kaspar and Lil' J make Big T smile. Cute explosion.
So I'm back in the groove, ready to start making our place really truly baby-ready. (Jenn and I even set up a new bouncer I've kept in its box since purchasing, for Big T to break in. Now there's a bouncer in our living room and Baby O's impending arrival is feeling very real.) I should probably get some work done in the remainder of this week -- cuz, yeah, I pretty much spent an entire workday creating this quilt -- but my list is calling to me, and I have big plans in store. Stay tuned!

How do you like Baby O's blanket? What are some fun projects you did/are doing while in nesting mode? Was five months a magically re-energized point in pregnancy for any of you, too? What are your favorite things to make for new babies?
 

Overhead

02/20/2013

2 Comments

 
I've been taking it easy on the blogging over the past several weeks due to general first-trimester sea-sickness, plus some winter-sickness action, but both appear to have mostly passed. (FINALLY.) I've been feeling a bit better for a little while, actually, but things have been so busy around here -- we've had grandparents in town, birthdays, workdays and, um, a string of late-night Downton Abbey marathons (Aaron and I are catching up to the current season, thanks to Hulu Plus) -- that I just let this here little website sit pretty for a minute while tending to life at large. Anyway, thanks for your patience. I knew you'd understand. ;-)

Despite the nausea and the head cold and all of the busy, I'm still feeling pretty nesty as of late. My home-improvement passions at present seems to revolve those things at eye-level and above, perhaps because our house is desperately lacking in that department, except in Kaspar's room. My list of projects for 2013 includes hanging house plants, window treatments and our art. (Also, this in the hallway outside our bedrooms.) And because -- and I truly believe this -- intending something strongly enough to actually write it down often spurs the universe into collaborative action, we received a mysterious, large package in the mail just days after I made a note of these items that'll soon grace our vertical space. Inside were six paintings Aaron had sent to San Francisco for an art show two years ago, but which disappeared before arriving at their Mission district destination, never to be seen again. We've even moved in the meantime, and yet there they were, at our (relocated) door, out of nowhere, several weeks ago. They're gorgeous and I love them, and I'm so glad they made their way back to us, because now we have a stash of art to hang on the walls, as intended. Aaron played the whole thing really cool, but I could see in his eyes that the reunion with his work was a joyful one for him, too. Now he gets to bust out his art handler skills and get these babies up (I'm not being lazy -- he won't let me hang the art), along with the painting he made for me, for Christmas, and two or three of our favorite posters (framed -- this isn't college) we've been staring at, at ground level, for over a year. Yay, art. 

As for house plants and window treatments, I'm going to need to educate myself on each item before diving in. I'm excited for both, though, the former for their aesthetic lushness and air-purifying powers, and the latter for color and character which will no doubt surpass our current stock of venetian blinds. 

In the meantime, I've made a couple of first-trimester-friendly (read: nausea and exhaustion-proof) projects and hung them above our kitchen table. They were suuuuper easy, and they give our space a fun, festive vibe. First, I created some scrap fabric bunting, shown in the photo at top, using -- you guessed it -- scrap fabric and a hot glue gun. This took all of half an hour, and felt as satisfying as a sewing project without the grueling... how-do-you-say... sewing. I chose the fabrics and their arrangement pretty randomly, but I love the way the colors work with the one painting of Aaron's we already have hung on the far kitchen wall. Aaron says it looks like a birthday party in the kitchen now, to which I say "exactly." 
The other project I hung I created from the star-shaped cinnamon ornaments we made for our tree this past holiday season. (We followed this recipe, at the time-- a great family activity, but make sure the littles don't taste the dough, as the spices are intensely concentrated, and will burn baby lips. Youch.) They still smelled so good when we finally undressed our tree, late in January, that I didn't want to throw them away. So I strung and hung them up, as a garland, across from -- and providing balance for -- the bunting, with the hanging lamp above our table serving as an anchor for each, in between. I love the stars' natural, earthy appearance, and although their cinnamon-clove scent is subtle, it's still there. In fact, because both the bunting and the stars are high enough to clear our heads when they walk underneath, both are subtle, in a way, and a little surprising. I think they give the room and its inhabitants an unconscious lift.
Stick around for posts on hanging house plants and window dressings. (And even baby beds that extend from above.) Let me know if you have tips, ideas or inspirations for eye-level-and-up nestiness, too! 
 
 
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The holidays are upon us! We’ve been reading The Grinch and gearing up for a fun celebration, though we approach that, in our family, in a decidedly low-key way. We try to limit holiday travel, and even (erm, especially?) extended family shenanigans; we clear our schedules and cozy up together, at home, instead. This tradition of small-scale winter holidays was born the Christmas before we had Kaspar, when Aaron and I turned down all in-law advances and stayed in Brooklyn, just us, together. We slept in, bought ourselves a Wii, ordered pizza and spent Christmas day ‘bowling’ in our tiny living room. It was the best. Stress free. Since then, Christmas has been more about the kiddo, and less about sleeping in, but still – because it’s a (newish) family tradition – we’re all about lazy, home-style Christmas breaks. (Don’t worry: we make sure to visit with all of the grandparents before and after the holidays happen. We’re selfish about Christmas morning proper, but the season is all about sharing good times with the fams.)

Streamlined, small-scale gifting is a part of that tradition, too. Back in Brooklyn, where space was limited and ‘stuff’ just got in the way, we thought carefully about anything new that came into our home. And while everything may be bigger in Texas, we still do our best to stave off the endless stuff-pile that is American life (especially American life with kids!). We focus on just one or two main presents, per person, choosing items we think will inspire lots of fun throughout the year to come, instead of just ending up in a pile, forgotten. This year, Kaspar is getting a talking, plastic Spiderman action figure (it begins), which Aaron bought for him… and is very excited about. I’m sure Kas will be, too. But his main present is one Aaron and I made together, which was inspired by a photo his teacher sent to us from school one afternoon. In it, Kaspar sat at a small table, wielding child-proof scissors and carefully cutting a piece of paper into a million little bits. Beneath the pic, his teacher typed: “He focused on this work for a full twenty minutes!”

Kaspar is super proud of his new scissors-skills – he’s apparently been showing them off for the rest of the school’s staff, when anyone happens to stop by the classroom – and I’m impressed  and pleased with his recent capacity for focus. He loves to draw, cut, and make stuff; if markers, paper, paint or glue are involved, he’s all-in. But what struck me the most about that photo wasn’t Kaspar’s focus, or his craft. It was his work station – the table and chair. 

I regularly set up activities for Kaspar at our kitchen table, at home, and he’s always excited when I do. But if he had a little space to call his own, with creative materials to choose from, I know he’d dive in and get his paper-cutting (etc.) groove on independently. (Independence is his thing these days. Like whoa.) So I hit up Craigslist and found a wooden table and chairs another mom was selling for $25. Two hours later – after running the idea by Aaron and showing him the listing – I had the table and chairs in the trunk of our car, and big plans for their renovation in the front of my mind.

As you may have noticed, I am somewhat impulsive when it comes to projects; Aaron, on the other hand, is a planner. I’m big on concept; Aaron’s thorough with details. I cut corners, and am content with “good enough”; Aaron likes to do a job right when he decides it’s worth doing. But, he can sometimes take forever to even make up his mind to embark on something. (For my part, I often embark on said somethings without adequately preparing, then quit half-way through when the somethings go South.) Surprisingly, our very different project-making styles support each other (and cancel their respective pitfalls out) when we go in on things together. Our recent activity table makeover was a perfect example of this unique alchemy.

Aaron actually didn’t feel, at first, that the table and chairs needed to be painted at all. He viewed them with a purely utilitarian eye, and said they’d be fine for a work space for Kaspar just as they were. I, however, felt that of course they’d need a full DIY makeover. The previous owners (aged 8 and 5) had drawn on them with crayons, and their mom had painted over their surfaces with one coat of white paint. Not only could you see through the paint, but it wasn’t glossy. And I hate the feel of rough paint. Ugh. Besides that, the whole point was to make something amazing out of something that was verging on junk. Concept, remember? (And yo, we were talking about Christmas… we may be low-key, but we’re not total slackers.)

I think Aaron pretty much heard all of this as ‘more to do’ in our long list of lots to do, so I told him not to worry about it; I’d take care of everything. I intended to get the job done right. As in, I intended to do some actual planning and get the proper materials before beginning. (I am so much wiser now that I’m 28!) I headed over to a nearby store, Treehouse, which is essentially an environmentally-conscious (and independent, local biz) version of Home Depot, bringing one of the chairs with me. I told the head paint guy what I wanted to do, and he deftly interpreted my descriptive words (“shiny, smooth paint” = polyurethane layer, apparently) and hooked me up with a pint of VOC-free bright green paint, and one of low-VOC (no-VOC once dried) polyurethane. (I had some acrylics at home for detailing… And Aaron had agreed, before I left, to rock out his art skills per my conceptual requests once the project advanced to that stage.)

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Getting there...
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Almost done...
By the time I’d painted the table and chairs green, and added a red border on the table-top (I did this by taping it off, then painting… a good way to work with limited artistic talent), Aaron could see where the project was headed. Which is to say, he saw the conceptual light. I imagined fox and raccoon faces painted, respectively, on each of the chairs, but he suggested we go with stylized silhouettes instead. He also added some deer to the table top. The result is current, yet classic. I love it! (My man's a genius.) Aaron does, too.  And so will Kaspar. We’re going to stuff his stocking with art supplies, and we still need to figure out a kid-accessible shelving/storage setup to house them in (ideas?). But we’re 90% of the way there. Christmas, here we come.
This activity table and chairs cost under $100 total (and we have tons of paint and poly left over), is made with recycled and non-toxic materials, and is completely unique/one-of-a-kind. It also made for a fun bonding activity for the hubs and me (cuz, truth is, that Wii has pretty much collected dust since the little man arrived). Best of all, I know Kaspar will use it all the time. I can’t wait to see his face when he first sees his very own workspace. And I look forward to admiring all of the masterpieces (and shredded-paper messes) he creates there. 
Do you like it? What are your kids or loved ones getting for Christmas/Hanukkah/end of Mayan time? Do you have any new-ish traditions? Do you embrace, or stave off, gifty 'stuff'?
 
 
Hooray, it's officially Fall -- my favorite season! We received some long-awaited rain a couple of weeks ago, which turned Texan grasses green again and ushered in some properly autumnal temperatures... for a few days, anyway. Although the thermometer's climbed slightly since, the scorching summer heat appears to have abated, and we've been enjoying these pleasantly warm afternoons outdoors, observing nature's subtle signs that the season is, indeed, changing. 
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Kaspar wants to wear his water shoes year-round.
We've been sending up some signals ourselves, as well, to encourage the weather gods along: purchasing pumpkins for our front porch, steeping chai all day in order to fill our home with spice-smells, hanging a fall wreath on our door, and creating a seasonal centerpiece for our table (the centerpiece was all Kaspar -- an entire afternoon's search and assembly went into this activity, by the way; totally recommend). 
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Thanks for the lovely wreath, Erin M!
Maybe it's my New Hampshire upbringing talking, but, for my part, I'm all about the leaves at this time of year. In the absence of sweeping hillsides drenched in oranges and reds, my new fall philosophy is 'put a leaf on it' (pretty much just like this Portlandia skit, but with leaves). I impulse-bought leaf-shaped soaps for our bathrooms, enthusiastically encouraged Kaspar's votive-holder choice for our table, and, today, busted out a bottle of bleach for a Put A Leaf On It Pillowcase Project.

Scroll to the bottom of this post for the Before. Observe, Kaspar's perfectly fine pillowcase, already improved upon from its white-with-blue-stripes beginnings during a day of hand-dyeing action way back when. But what better way to further improve upon a job well done than to put a leaf on it, right? (Exactly.) So I gathered my materials. 
Materials: An old towel, an old rag or washcloth, bleach, a sheet of sticky-back vinyl (available at any craft store) and said pillowcase. (You can use anything made of cotton -- t-shirts, kitchen hand towels, backpacks... go crazy... Put a Leaf On It!)

Next, I drew, and cut out, some oversized leaf shapes from the vinyl. You could certainly collect leaves with your kids and trace them onto the vinyl for a more true-to-life Put a Leaf On It project, but bear in mind that super-precise shapes (lots of little points and indents) won't necessarily translate through the bleaching process. (This is why I supersized... but experiment! See what works.)

I then removed the paper backing from the vinyl shapes and stuck them where I wanted them on the pillowcase. I also put the towel, folded, inside the pillowcase, so as to prevent soaking-through when it came time to bleach. You'll notice some stars among my leaves. Because Put a Star on It needs no season, or reason... hence my various star tattoos, general bias toward anything sporting stars and perhaps even our current state of residence. (Stars are EVERYWHERE in Texas. Woot! ... Then again, so are republicans. Whoops.)

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The vinyl cutouts on the pillowcase.
(Be sure to press your vinyl shapes down pretty thoroughly. They won't stick as stubbornly as, say, duct tape, but you at least want to give any pointy areas some extra love so the bleach can't creep underneath.) Finally, I wet a corner of my washcloth/rag with bleach and dabbed around each shape. The color started lifting pretty quickly, so I could easily see what I was doing. I also worked efficiently to keep the color from lifting more than I wanted it to, or from getting under the vinyl and blurring my lines.
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The bleaching begins.
After a good (immediate) rinse -- during which the vinyl shapes fell off of their own accord -- and a few minutes in the dryer, the pillowcase was finished! I'll wash it before he actually sleeps on it, but here it is (below) on Kaspar's bed. He loves it! 
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The After!
How do you spruce things up for the season? What are some fun projects you recommend? Let the Put a Leaf On It rampages commence!
 
 
Oh, hi! How long have you been standing there? Forgive me if I'm a little distracted; I'm deep in the heart of busy season down here. Without getting into too much detail, I have four big projects to complete this week and next, and am also studying for the MBLEX in order to finally get my massage license. (I finished massage school, and a fifty-hour internship, back in the spring. Since I can take the test -- my final hurdle -- at any time, I thought I'd wait for a slow month in order to give myself a window for review before taking the exam and updating all of you. Then I realized I don't have slow months, and signed up anyway, for August 7. Wish me luck.) Kaspar's school is also on a brief hiatus at present. It's been a little nuts, but I'm thankfully not driving this bus alone this time. Aaron's doing morning/early-afternoon kiddo care while I work it. From home. Specifically, my home office. So come in! (Can I get you something? Coffee?)

Since multitasking is my workday M.O., my work space is deliberately minimalist. I prefer for my surroundings to be relatively clean-lined and uncluttered. That way, when I have three email exchanges going rapid-fire, and 20 documents open on my computer, I can look away, take a breath, and get my zen calm on. It works for me. 

Aaron and I share the office, actually, and while his desk is big and black, and his monitor super-sized (he's an illustrator, so his gear is extra fancy), my space is largely neutral, with soft lighting, a few bolts of color or contrast, and a laptop that closes shut. 

I started with the desk, of course (remember this vintage score?); I love it now as much as ever. It's perfect for writing, but has a few big drawers that can handle files (or clutter, in a pinch), and fits well against our wall. Although there's a window several feet to my right when I'm working, I like facing the wall in this way; it provides a certain sense of enclosure and focus that's really helpful in the midst of multiple professional and environmental distractions. (Facebook-al distractions, however, can't be helped).

Click "Read More" below for the rest of the post!


 
 
Remember how, despite my thumb of doom, I decided to take some baby steps toward gardening this year? Well, I'm proud to report that baby steps have been taken! And while I'd love to report that the results look something like this, I'm going to opt for honesty instead, show you where things really stand, and sharing one or two takeaways that will ideally lead us right into next year's hearty harvest.

First of all, I held off on actually planting anything for quite some time; on the one hand, I thought our compost would turn into magnificent, fertile soil and, when it did, that this would be my cue it was planting time. On the other hand, I'm very busy and have a tendency to start projects without finishing them (one of this blog's purposes, and one it accomplishes well, is to motivate me to finish the projects I start... Because finishing things, of course, is highly satisfying). It became pretty clear, however, that compost takes some time to break down, and -- meanwhile -- Texas heats up more quickly than most of America's other states, so, sometime back in May, I realized real gardeners had already been at it for several months (a few friends were already picking veggies), and I couldn't keep putting it off. I needed to get on with gardening, if I planned to plant things at all. 

I'd been planning, of course -- albeit vaguely -- to plant things for some time, and had primed Kaspar for the shared endeavor; we'd been reading books about gardens, and talking extensively about where food comes from. In fact, I found a children's gardening book for myself, as well, which broke the process down nicely and made it more approachable than books for adults on the subject seemed to; soil temperatures and crop cycles remain a bit out of reach for me at present. We spent our Mother's Day at the local organic gardening store, and while I was almost talked in to creating a square foot in-ground garden, while there, Aaron reminded me that I'm a novice with a lot of my plate already, and encouraged me to stick with my vague container-gardening plan. I was advised, by a staffer, on some easy-to-grow beginner veggie options, purchased a few packets of seeds and some soil, and set about planting -- with Kaspar's assistance -- shortly thereafter. Then, we waited.

Seeing sprouts emerge was quite exciting. Although I had high hopes -- and showed off our pots of dirt to friends when they dropped by for lunch, or whatever -- I, deep down, half expected nothing to happen. I watered the dirt diligently, and Kaspar sang songs to the pots, and we waited some more; then, lo and behold, little sprouts pushed through the soil in one pot after the next. Some of our seeds had clearly moved, with their waterings, from where I'd dropped them into the soil -- rather than appearing in neat little rows, they came up in clusters -- and not all of those I'd planted turned into little plants, but we did see green things, and that was super cool. I was fairly certain, at that point, that we were off and running, and would be picking our mini-cukes and pickling peppers by now.

So are we picking and pickling? Well, no. Worst news first: the spinach plants died as the little sprouts they sprouted as (they grew most sparsely out of all of the plants in our small collection in the first place. I have no idea what I did wrong). All four cucumber seeds turned into little plants, which I pruned down to one, as instructed. That plant is still alive, and it's even flowered a bit, but it seems... stunted; it's remained the same size for weeks on end. If it has created any cucumbers, they're too small to be perceived by the naked eye. Same story for the pepper plant, as per the photo at top. It's alive, but doesn't seem to want to grow taller. I'm not sure what the deal is. But I do have one hunch. Read on.
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See these Butterfly Zinnias, at left and right? Yeah, I know, they don't look like Zinnias (where are the flowers?), but they are. Anyway, on the left here, you can see the Zinnias in a pot. And on the right? That's one Zinnia seed-turned-plant that I stuck, on a whim and on the same day I planted the others, into the soil abutting our back-stoop steps. I haven't 'cared' for it at all since, and it's grown eight inches tall, head and shoulders above its potted siblings. Its leaves are broad and thick. I bet it'll even make a flower. (Eventually.)

... Which got me thinking (here comes the hunch) that maybe an in-ground garden is the way to go. Maybe these plants need root-space to roam in, underground, and perhaps they'll grow taller with it. Next year, our compost will be ready for action, and I plan to make an actual in-ground garden, perhaps several square-feet large, to sow some seeds in. This has definitely not been a failed experiment, but I've learned (or have a hunch) that when it comes to growing stuff, one should ideally let the earth do her thing in the way she knows best. (Although I'm also very intrigued by innovative, resource-efficient ideas like this one). 

This season certainly ain't over. Who knows? I might report back, come October, that we're picking hoards of produce from our pots. I'll certainly keep caring for the plants, and watching what happens. Kaspar enjoys taking care of our garden, too -- gardening really is an awesome activity for kids of every size -- and he hasn't expressed any disappointment around my big sell ("Let's grow vegetables!") not panning out. Maybe he's too busy being impressed with his my-size tree, which is growing along merrily in the middle of our lawn. 

I didn't plant that. It was a gift from his grandmother.

Do any of you expert gardeners have another hunch about why my plants are alive, but not really growing? Am I on the right track? And for those of you who were hoping to see bushels of beautiful, home-grown organic goods, I'll refer you out to this super-gardener mama and this one. (Our family, luckily, will continue to get our goods in our weekly CSA box until I get the hang of this home-grown thing). 

Update! (The very next day...)






<----- (Check it). Our little potted Zinnias have produced a flower! We've named it "Patience, Grasshopper."

              
 
 
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The Before/Step 1: Inventory
It sounds counter-intuitive, but one of the most effective ways we keep our house clean and organized is by entertaining. If we have friends coming for dinner, we give the living room and kitchen a good sorting and tidying-up, we wipe down all major surfaces, and we definitely clean the guest/Kaspar bathroom. When we have guests coming for a Sunday dinner, as we did last night, and last week (new tradition? I'm all for it!), we can chip away at the cleaning-up over the weekend, too, so it's not a rush job, or stressful. In fact, yesterday was a little dark and drizzly -- my very favorite weather, and a rare treat in Texas -- and, after running around in the wet grass, Kaspar settled down to sing himself a book (yes, that's right), and Aaron and I kind of got into the domestic puttering, Radiohead on the iPod and our minds free from work commitments and other concerns. 

Now, using entertaining as housecleaning motivation can backfire; without proper down-time in advance -- and with a toddler at home, a two-day weekend is just about right -- the whole thing heads South. In the event of mid-week guests or working weekends (even just fun-busy weekends), the mess tends to simply move, rush-job style, to our closed-door office, walk-in bedroom closet or kitchen pantry. And once a mess moves in to a new space, it rarely moves back out in a timely fashion. 

Over the last few weeks, our pantry's general state of mess has started to get... a little out of hand. Most of what we eat is fresh, so bulk items and non-perishables -- many of which exist in only small amounts, left over from recipes-past -- languish for long periods in the pantry without our really noticing. And, after several rush-job kitchen cleanings, the space had also accumulated a few stacks of randoms lacking proper, obvious homes (New Yorkers, quarter-full bubbles containers, a plastic-handled trick-or-treat pumpkin). A few of our regular, daily dry items (sugar, coffee, tortilla chips) also live in the pantry, however, so while we weren't exactly missing the half-cup baggy of barley that lay buried under bay leaves in its dark recesses, we were experiencing its mess with some element of deliberate denial. Because honestly, we have bigger fish to fry, pretty much every minute of the day (and night), than cleaning our pantry. I mean, aren't organized pantries the stuff of 1952, Real Simple magazines, and/or distraction for the deeply unfulfilled? 

Maybe. Or maybe not. Something came over me in the midst of yesterday's cozy cleaning circumstances. I removed everything from our pantry, did a bit of consolidating, some throwing-out, and a general inventory. Then I put everything back in. I re-organized. Bulk grains and legumes in one corner, pastas in another, snacks within easy reach. Cookbooks, coconut milk cans-- everything seemed to have its place before I even put it down, and it all felt very right from beginning to end. Especially end... Aaron and I both stood back and marveled at the minor miracle for several minutes before agreeing it was much better than before. Whatever this says about us, admiring our organized pantry was vaguely fulfilling. It definitely felt less chaotic. Calming, even. So I'm hereby adding, as a fiishing tip for the Alt-Mama crash course in Kitchen Ayurveda 101: Organize Your Shit. It's worth it. (Especially for those who seldom sleep; pulling Kaspar's cereal from its newly re-orged shelf, at 5:30 this morning, made me smile... and I was not in a good-morning kind of mood just yet). 

Aaron and I felt such a sense of accomplishment and progress that, just under a month shy of our third anniversary, we finally busted out our wedding china for our little evening fete; it had been living on the pantry's top shelf, still in its boxes and bubble wrap. Eating off of it, later, even in a casual setting (and while using flatware from Ikea), reminded me of the directives we'd received along with the china, from our elders: "Use these plates -- and not just for special occasions." Beautiful things, and spaces, have their most meaningful place in our everyday lives. As do (and as per) organized pantries. 

And with that, the After:

 
 
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Kaspar's sockless summer style.
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This swing-bed. Officially on the dream-home to-do list.
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Kaspar's shirtless summer style.
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This haircut. The lady version of what Kaspar has. (I think Aaron probably would not be willing to cut it for me.)
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Planting Seeds, by Thich Nhat Hanh, for keeping me peaceful, and reminding me what's most important as a person and a parent.
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Sweaty late-night yoga at Black Swan Yoga, here in Austin. Yes, please.
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Joyful dinner guests we adore. (Come back soon, Adrain and Heather!)

What are you loving this week?

 
 
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?
 
 
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I made Korma powder this week. Yum.
I’ve been completely geeking out on all things Ayurveda over the past few weeks, mostly because I’ve always loved to make a mess in the kitchen; Ayruveda’s reverence for food as a central pillar of overall health resonates with me.  Regarding food as (delicious, pleasurable) medicine— as sustenance that nourishes and restores our bodies and souls—is something my experience and instincts around cooking support. Hand me a 5,000-years-strong ‘science of life’ prizing food, above all, for its harmonizing, health-promoting properties, and y’all have one excited Taylor on your hands. Also a tired Taylor, though, as work and life are going full throttle at present (in a good way, but still). Of course, what better time than this kind of hectic present to implement some balancing measures? Staying up extra late (after doing the dishes and freelance work) reading about food combining is probably more counterproductive than helpful—in fact, Ayurveda definitely recommends against this habit— but I’ve been having fun following some basic Ayruvedic dietary guidelines, and incorporating a few new techniques, into my usual meal-prep routine. And that, actually, is one of the primary recommendations Ayurveda makes in terms of starting off on its path; food is an accessible and impactful piece of the puzzle; since balance begets balance, other aspects of overall health and well-being (including necessary lifestyle changes… like earlier bedtimes) reportedly begin to fall naturally into place from there... I'll keep you posted on the bedtime thing. But I definitely recommend diving into an Ayurvedic foodie fascination of your own.

There’s a LOT to say about Ayurveda’s dietary recommendations, which are intended to address each individual’s unique constitutional make-up, and right any imbalances that might be at play. I’m sure I’ll probably touch on some of this in future posts, but for now I’ll leave it to the experts, and recommend this book as a (gorgeous! Glossy!) gateway primer. As much as I’ve been having my own little nerd-fest filling my fridge with Vata-pacifying foods-- I'm a textbook imbalanced Vata case-- I’ve also been inspired by Ayurveda’s suggestions for how one can enhance the actual experiences of eating and cooking so as to derive the maximum benefit from these activities. Ayurveda is a whole-life system of health; it encompasses everything that’s going on for a person and contends that all of it— environment, work, stress, seasonal change — exerts some influence on the person, whether balancing or imbalancing. And just as what one eats can restore health and balance in the individual, the Ayurvedic approach to diet also accounts for how one prepares and consumes that food—and asserts that this how actually affects the food’s healing properties. Does the cook feel relaxed? Is the cook having fun? Is she using appropriate tools? Ayurveda offers up some ideas on making our kitchens into pleasant places for preparing health-promoting foods. And in the case of food preparation, both place and mindset matter.

On that note, let’s dive in to Kitchen Ayurveda 101: some basic recommendations regarding one’s environment, tools and approach to cooking to establish balance, health and—simply put—happiness in the cook and her dining companions alike. I've listed some ways that I've incorporated these ideas into our modern (and yes, hectic) life, and will be curious to hear if you're rockin' any of these strategies, 21st century-style, too.

Click "Read More" below for the rest of the post!