We're in the middle of Kaspar's two-week summer break right now. (His Montessori school has a summer camp through most of the season.) I was hoping to be finished with all of my work at this point (sooooo ready, omg), and while I've stopped massaging -- it just became impossible to go on, physically speaking -- I still have some work for my university job that I need to wrap up. I don't want to be doing it; I've worked a TON this summer and I want to call it good, but I'm staying focused and keeping my eye on the prize. It's a pretty sweet prize, too: I'm going to take six months to stay home with baby boy numero dos. SIX MONTHS. I got a new professional blogging gig (to be announced SOON) that I'll be rocking three times a week beginning in September, so I'll be doing that during my baby leave, but otherwise I have lots of flexibility around massage, and my UT job will basically be in its slow season until February, when things pick up again. While this summer has been hot, and in many ways -- honestly -- kind of hard, the timing of new baby's arrival couldn't be better. Assuming he arrives on schedule, that is. Anything could happen. My belly is HUGE. And I'm having lots of contractions, which had me panicked at first, but my midwife says this is normal for second pregnancies. I suspect the little beansprout might show up sooner than we all think. Of course there's really no telling about that, and I'll be actually done with my work in a couple of weeks, so whatever happens will be just fine. Do your thing, little one; we're ready when you are. (Almost.)

In the meantime, I've been relegating all work stuff to nap times during Kaspar's break; it may be hotter than hell outside and I may be enormously pregnant, but I've approached this short spurt of 24/7 parenting as our little 'last hurrah'. As in, it's kind of our last unstructured time for just the two of us. Of course, I'll make alone time with Kaspar a regular priority when babyman arrives, but there's no question it'll be harder to come by, and our daily routine is about to change. Significantly. Forever. So we've been kickin' it "Mama-Kaspar Camp" style and soaking in the summer fun, sans baby brother just yet. 
So what does Mama-Kaspar Camp entail? I had to go to campus to get some stuff updated on my laptop early in the week. I brought Kaspar along, and after the boring computer part, we met up with Aaron -- who's settling into his new job there (I am so proud of him!) -- and fed berries and bananas to turtles in the turtle pond. It was sweet to the max. It also took up most of a morning and yielded a nice long nap later on... after we swung by a baby/maternity consignment shop on the way home and picked up a co-sleeper, too. (Kaspar's still at that age where he actually enjoys running errands.) It's the kind that goes right in bed with us, mostly to prevent us from rolling over on the baby... Rather than to prevent the baby from going anywhere. (I know the knowledgeable people say that animals -- including humans -- have been sleeping with their babies forever, and that instinct prevents a parent from rolling over on a newborn, but I don't totally trust myself under the influence of sleep deprivation.) We also have one of these, for naps, backup night options, or whatever. Kas has been sleeping in the 'big bed' with us a lot lately, so we had a little conversation during our drive about, well, some of the upcoming changes. Namely, there's going to be a baby in the bed, and Kas may want to graduate back to his own bed in the name of actually sleeping. He's slept in his own bed for months at a time in the recent past; I'm not sure how we fell out of that habit, and I may kick myself for my lenience right now, but I'm frankly loving co-sleeping with him again, too. (See above re: last hurrah.) So whatever. We know (well) from experience that family sleep configurations with babies and small kids require some flexibility and often present unexpected challenges -- and unexpected solutions. I'm not stressing it. We'll figure it out. 
Day Two: Kaspar and I joined forces with some good friends, a mom and daughter duo, and got our art appreciation on at the Blanton Museum. My New York museum snobbery didn't stand a chance in that place; the collection was super impressive, and it was a pretty kid-friendly place, as these things go. (We were only reprimanded twice, for touching sculptures and running through the galleries. What can you do.) It was the kids' first art museum experience -- Kaspar's been to the Museum of Natural History in NYC, which was all about the dinosaurs -- and they soaked it in. I want to go back so I can linger in a few places we, well, didn't linger in, but the quick trip worked well for the kiddos this time around. 
Kaspar had a fever on Wednesday. Bummer dudes. He'd been quite congested for about a week, and suffered a few bloody noses; I'd suspected he was developing a sinus infection. I broke out the saline nasal spray and the Nose Frieda, but I was too late on that train. His fever went up to 102.5 and stayed there longer than I liked. I took him to the pediatrician and he was given antibiotics. They helped almost immediately. I've been giving him tons of probiotics, too, and so far his eczema hasn't flared. It always, always has in the past when we've had to turn to antibiotics, so I'm pretty encouraged that I got on that train in the nick of time. I have a friend who's quite skilled with essential oils, and -- next month (waiting on a paycheck) -- I plan to purchase a diffuser and some oils for Kaspar's room. The fall is always a bad season for him, allergy wise, which is especially unfortunate because the weather is finally hospitable to sustained outdoor play, beginning in about mid-September. Kaspar has asthma attacks, though, a few times a week during the autumn months -- then none throughout the rest of the year. I've got an arsenal of homeopathic allergy remedies at the ready, and am hoping that between those, and the essential oils, we can combat the onslaught of ragweed (etc.) that knocks most of Austin on its ass each Autumn. I'll let you know how it goes. For now, though, my boy is feeling much better, and we were back in business by Thursday morning, bright and early. Thank you, modern Western medicine. Yes, I did just say that. There's a time and a place for everything, y'all.
Did I mention how HOT it is outside right now? It's actually too hot to be outside for any semi-serious length of time. It makes me nervous about the future of our species on this planet, cuz, guess what: the earth is heating up, and this is gonna be more and more normal in more places than just Texas. In any case, I try to put that out of my mind (since denial seems to be working so well for most of us on this subject) and come up with ways to cope with cabin fever instead. We did have to cope a bit this week, to be sure. But we coped well! We played a lot of Candyland, colored, read books, built things with Legos, and, when we couldn't take being indoors anymore, filled up the kiddie pool and got naked. Both of us. Ahhhhh! Splashing around naked in a plastic pool with his mom is definitely one of those things Kaspar will no longer be into when he gets just a bit older than he is now; I feel this poignant sense of time's passage with this pregnancy, I guess, because I found this activity extra sweet this year. As soon as Kaspar got into the water he was ecstatically happy, and he burst into hysterical laughter when I splashed him (and when he splashed me). There is so much joy in simple things, and that is, in itself, a reason for daily celebration. 
On Friday, we hit up the library, and, once home again, painted our nails. (Kaspar's sporting a charming sky blue hue, above.) I don't get to do that very often these days, since I usually cut my nails daily to keep them short enough for massaging. And I definitely don't get to paint my nails unless Kaspar gets his painted, too, which is why it's a group activity. But this mama's on baby-leave, y'all, and I'm fine with sharing the fun, so my nails are now glossy and coral-colored (as is one of Kaspar's Thomas toys, which happened to get painted, too...), and I've been admiring them, well, plenty. 

Next week is Mama-Kaspar Camp week two. Which means I'd better get on my game and find some fun outings and activities happening here in town, and also brainstorm some new indoor-play ideas so we can finish this thing strong! Any suggestions? What are you and your kids up to this summer? What kind of fun activities do you do to make the most of your time together?
One of Kaspar's favorite houses along the trail.
Kaspar's been on spring break this week, so aside from a major work meeting on Tuesday and some email-businessy-things that just couldn't wait, my regular weekly to-do list has been forwarded to next week's calendar in favor of fresh air, time with close friends (we love it when our coastal peeps all land in town for South-by!) and all-around Kaspar-oriented action. We've ridden the train at Zilker park, seen a few bands, attended a birthday party, knocked out some doctor's appointments and made frequent stops at the library. Next year, we plan to rent our house out for SXSW week, and to skip town entirely for somewhere exotic and fun, but for now we've enjoyed just hanging close to home, switching up our pace a little bit and taking in some of what Austin has to offer. 

One of my dates with Kaspar this week took place at the Zilker Botanical Garden; we've been many times before, but we went yesterday for the garden center's 1st Annual Faerie Architecture Show. (I'm just going to put it out there right now that I feel really awkward and nerdy spelling fairy that way, but since it's the official approach taken by the gardens, I'm rolling with it when referring to the event itself.) Our family's been busily welcoming spring for the past couple of weeks, and I planned to do some fairy-house building with Kaspar (as a perfect, age-appropriate, seasonal outdoor activity) sometime soon. I knew he'd be into it -- which surely won't be the case in a few short years from now -- and when I saw the botanical garden's announcement of their own Faerie (wince) House event, I knew immediately that Kaspar would get a kick out of it, and that it'd give him some context for our own house-building project, later, at home. 

We arrived about an hour and a half before Kaspar's usual nap time. The parking lot was pretty packed, as swarms of families, playgroups, kids of all ages and countless little girls wearing frilly dresses and fairy wings arrived at the gardens, clearly headed for the fairy houses, too. Despite the crowds, it didn't feel crowded. After paying a mere three dollar entry fee (the gardens used to be free, but there are few valuable things in this world that can be had for $3, and I'm happy to support this beautiful local fixture at this level), we easily found a parking spot and made our way into the visitor's center/gift shop to get our bearings. A (sweet, senior citizen) volunteer immediately highlighted, on a map, the path we'd want to take for the houses, and then led us -- along with another family who'd just arrived -- to a bright room in the back of the building with a few fairy houses on display. She clearly took genuine pleasure in watching the kids' eyes widen as they took in the tiny details, and then wished us a good time exploring the gardens, and the houses that were to be found there.

We headed outside, around the parking lot, and then down a small slope to the beginning of the looped path where the fairy house 'hood began. A large group of moms and kiddos arrived just before us, and the kids all started running down the slope; Kaspar got caught up in the excitement and ran down with them (then stopped abruptly to re-locate his mama). There were other families already making their way around the (large, wooded) loop, as well, but everyone quickly spaced out as kids and parents moved at different paces. It was fun to overlap with others, actually, as the kids would point the houses' unique features out excitedly, and then naturally sort of talk with each other and show each other things, while parents exchanged smiles, took photos and said friendly hellos. Kaspar really got into looking at the houses (some of them were pretty amazing), and then running to find the next one -- he found a few I'd have otherwise missed: little squat ones tucked under low-lying ferns. And he even started pointing to natural formations -- large rocks, knots in trees -- and announcing them as fairy houses, too. He definitely got the idea. 

The gardens themselves extend much farther than the fairy house loop, but we've explored the extended grounds before and will do so again. Kaspar set our pace on our house tour, and completing the small loop took exactly as much time as I'd thought we should probably spend there before he petered out and would be ready for some lunch and a good doze. We sat in a shaded gazebo and sipped water, to mark our transition, and then made our way back to the car. On the way home, we talked about our favorite fairy houses we'd seen (he liked one with a giant pet turtle in a little fenced-in pen beside the main residence), and about building one of our own later that day. After his nap, we spent a couple of hours collecting materials like moss, rocks, and sticks from the woods behind our house -- in itself a throughly absorbing job for a small child -- and then Aaron assisted with the actual fairy house construction while I fielded a few of those aforementioned work-email-things. They'd (meaning Kaspar) deconstructed whatever they ended up building by the time I went out to admire it, but Kaspar stashed the materials back in the paper bag we collected them in, with the expressed intent of building another house at a later time. Since this sequence of adventures, he's continued identifying fairy houses in everything from extra-elaborate arrangements of tree branches to the most basic of bird feeders. His imagination is running wild.

The fairy houses will be set up at Zilker Botanical Garden through May, with a Starlight Faerie Trail Walk going down on March 15 (that's tomorrow!), a Faerie Tea Party on April 20th, and a Faerie Landscaping Workshop on May 11th. Whether you attend one of the organized events, or just go check out the houses freestyle, like we did, you -- and your littles -- will enjoy yourselves. Highly recommend. 
I'd totally live here.

Happy Election Day Everyone!

Sunday morning, 6:15 AM = Hot Wheels races
Aaron and I finally got iPhones last week. I also recently lost patience with my Dell laptop -- it was wasting endless amounts of my limited work time "thinking" about stopped scripts (whatever those are) -- and bought myself a new MacBook Pro. So I guess I'm a full-fledged Apple person now. Aaron -- and some of my nerd friends -- are far more excited about this than I am, but I'm definitely pleased with both upgrades. I certainly appreciate having an awesome computer, given how much I use one. And I'm getting the hang of the phone. There are a few things that are different about it (I'm actually almost confused by how user-friendly it is) but what's most different, and has been most helpful thus far, isn't an app or another fancy feature. It's a simple setting that can ostensibly be changed, although I don't ever plan to change it. 

My old phone constantly updated me when I received emails; my iPhone, on the other hand, waits for me to ask, and then takes a moment before telling me what's new in my inbox. I guess this setting preserves battery power or some-such because the phone isn't continually refreshing its signal and updating this information on its own. It turns out that it also preserves my relationship with the present moment. This sounds a little cliche already, and we've all heard (and espoused) the value of 'unplugging', but actually doing so (even in tiny increments) can be revealing in showing us just how plugged-in -- and potentially checked out -- we really are. 

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I took Kaspar to Austin's very own weekly Sunday morning Ecstatic Dance event today. It was exactly what you might imagine. I made this video about five minutes into the get-down; every time I watch it, I notice something different in the background that completely cracks me up. Only in Austin, y'all. (Kaspar's take? "When in Rome...") We had fun! Enjoy. 
What I wore.
Aaron and I celebrated our THIRD anniversary last night. That may not sound like much, but it's felt like a lifetime (in a good way!); as I told him, the past three years have, hands down, been the most eventful -- and wonderful -- of my life. I think I said the same thing last year. Both times, it's saying a lot. Aaron's succinct summary of our time together? "Three years, two states, one Kaspar." Any way you slice it, we have a great deal to celebrate. It's been a wild ride: we've been blindsided by challenges we never saw coming (and overcome them together), we've seen the best and the worst of each other, and this past year has been a good one for us. As Kaspar becomes a bit more independent, as we both continue to develop our careers, and our lives, in Austin, and as we grow in the natural ways people grow in three years, we've both -- I think -- recognized the value of our relationship and actively invested in prioritizing and nourishing it. When we met (a little over four years ago?), we were both single New Yorkers. I was working in the corporate business world and Aaron was an art handler. I lived in Washington Heights, and he lived in Brooklyn (we found a place of our own in Brooklyn shortly thereafter). I don't think there's any way either one of us could have imagined all of the pieces of our lives transforming into what they collectively create now. Growing and changing (and moving and procreating) together is an art form, really. People don't talk about that much. Yeah, yeah, we've all heard relationships take 'work', but that sounds so damning and heavy. They also just take listening and loving (loving a person, not a set of circumstances), flexibility, and the decision to smile and feel good and be the person you want to be, the person you'd want to be with. We all have that person inside of us; it's very real. But we also have negative, potentially very shitty people within (maybe I should just speak for myself, haha?), and I think, you know, letting this little light of mine shine (or whatever) is a decidedly conscious process. My marriage is one of the major forces in my life that helps me to do that. Not necessarily because Aaron "brings out the best in me," but because I bring it out, for him (and now Kaspar, too.). And for myself,  obviously, because who wants to be or feel shitty? No one. I'm also deeply appreciative of Aaron making the same kinds of choices, day in and day out. (Be the light, y'all!)

Okay, so: our date. As I mentioned, I'm slammed with work at the moment, but we planned to go out, and that meant getting to kind of play hookie from my responsibilities for a night. Sweet deal. My friend Jenn and I do babysitting trades (allowing for date nights in both of our relationships, both in terms of time and affordability. Highly recommend!), so she arrived promptly at six to hold the fort down while we were out. I'd just, in the spirit of dates and playing hookie, returned about half an hour before from getting a pedi (also highly recommend, and on the regular) with another good friend, and then had made Kaspar's dinner, showered, and applied mascara in a flourish so we'd be ready to bounce out the door. (Meanwhile, Aaron and Kaspar played. Watching my man in his role as a father is, I should mention, one of my life's great delights... I didn't know just how incredible he'd be at his daddy job when I married him either! Bring on the pleasant surprises.)

When Jenn arrived, Kaspar was eating happily and had no problem seeing us leave (he loves her). We went straight to Uchi -- THE sushi joint of Austin (if also the least sustainable food genre to be found in the city... they fly the day's specials in fresh from Japan!) It was only about 6:30, but the parking lot was packed, and we were told there'd be a forty-five minute wait. No matter. Uchi, I must say, has earned its reputation, which is of mythical proportions; the place is a well-oiled, masterful fine dining machine. We were casually ushered onto some shaded outdoor chairs, where we got into the sushi mood with some awesome sake, toasted our three years, and breathed happy, we-have-arrived sighs.
Let the evening begin!
In what felt like a lot less than forty-five minutes, we were led to the sushi bar, which is WAY better than table seating in a great sushi place, fyi. Now, I love me some sushi and have partaken many, many times, but I still don't really know my way around a sushi menu. Neither does Aaron. They're a little complicated, you know? Cold, hot, raw, sashimi, and how many pieces per this one again? But Uchi didn't for a minute let us feel naive or inexpert. Nope, we were walked through the menu by our drinks server, given recommendations based on our preferences. We then placed our order -- asking more questions and getting excited -- with our "very own" sushi chef, who worked his magic before us throughout our meal. What ensued was a perfectly timed, seemingly-endless stream of amazing, distinct, mind-blowlngly delectable dishes, each with it's personal introduction and description, and each perfectly complimenting what had come before, and was to follow. Sushi is sexy food, people. We ate that raw fish (and drank that sake) like we meant it... and then we ordered dessert. We are officially drinkin' the Uchi Kool-Aid; I don't think I'll be able to settle for so-so sushi again. Honestly, their cold dishes made the regular sashimi (my usual jam) -- although perfect, in sashimi terms -- seem boring. Incredible sauces, I tell you-- citrus and spice and art on many plates. And the service was spot on. Louis, our chef, even made us something special, on the house, that he thought we'd enjoy. By the time we were through, we were pleasantly drunk (well, I was... I don't actually drink very often, and I indulged last night more than Aaron, who was totally fine to drive... don't worry, Mom), and in a dizzyingly, uh, romantic mood.

My chopstick 'stache. Btw, that gash on my forehead is not a wrinkle, it's a ceiling-fan-induced scar. Another story for another day! (But I told you it says a lot that my years with Aaron have been the most eventful yet!)
We'd tentatively planned to go, after dinner, to a comedy show that a friend of mine was hosting, but it was far later than we'd anticipated (we had also planned not to worry about the time at all while at dinner), and we'd missed it by miles. We went instead to a local grill where another friend's husband was playing with his band; we stayed for a little while, socializing and sobering up (again, all me) a bit before heading back home to relieve Jenn and get to 'reminiscing' about our wedding night. ;-)

I realized later that I'd had way too much to eat (and a little too much to drink), but I was able to simply sleep it off... I.e. not throw up. (Kaspar did join us in our bed around 3 a.m... Yes, we're still working on that... but thankfully was pretty low-maintenance and passed out without much fanfare.) All in all, it was a super fun time, start to finish. If this is what growing old with someone is all about, I'm totally sold. Still. Three years, baby! Feels good.

Kaspar gets his Folk Uke groove on (and breakfast sizzles in the background)

We received a bag of green, unripened tomatoes in our CSA box this week (our membership truly is the gift that keeps on giving), and I knew immediately that I’d soon expand my Southern cooking repertoire to include the famed classic, Fried Green Tomatoes. I thumbed through a few cookbooks and dove in this morning -- mixing, dredging and cookin’ up a sizzling batch. They were... awesome (Kaspar can't eat them yet, though, so... shhh). Served alongside eggs -- also from our CSA -- and sprouted corn tortillas, the fried tomatoes were the meal’s indisputable front-runner. Surprisingly sweet and tender, with a light, crisped coating, they disappeared almost as quickly as I'd made them.

 I can’t wait to show off my new signature breakfast showstopper for guests from farther North. Not to mention work these little wonders into other meals; they’ll be right at home on a bed of greens, complemented by crumbled goat cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette. I have no doubt I’ll be eating them solo all summer, too, as a satisfying snack. I’m in love – love, I tell you – with fried green tomatoes, every which way.

Wanna know what love tastes like? Have at it. Recipe follows.

Click "Read More" below for the recipe.

First Adam Yauch, and now Maurice Sendak. We've lost some brilliant stars in the past week (and I'm not referring to their celebrity). May we, and our children, grow big, open hearts and always follow the sparkling trails.