That First Year

on the occasion of our 8th anniversary

Rachael.Joe 

I remember the overwhelming satisfaction of moving into an apartment that was only for us. We firmly believed it was a perfect apartment. Each guest that came to visit, we waited for them to observe the perfection aloud (many of them instead noted the petite bathroom). The curtains we bought for the bedroom were the wrong color, the shelves Joe built in the kitchen were exactly right. The insanity of the wedding gifts, how amazing all those things were! We were given a beautiful, enormous wooden salad bowl that June. I found it bizarrely large, couldn’t seem to fit in anywhere in our apartment, couldn’t imagine making a salad that large, and I returned it.

Now, age-old-like-cheese me, longs for an enormous wooden salad bowl.

I don’t remember the quarrels, but I remember we had them and that they seemed Very Serious. Perhaps it is age (again) but based on how rarely they happen now, I feel sure they were nothing but the mumbo-jumbo of believing all of your emotions deserved to be said aloud.

It must have taken a year, maybe two, to discover was how to motivate each other. There’s a theory that you give the type of love you hope to receive (debatable), but certainly you encourage in the way that encourages…you. For me that is soft phrases implying the work has already been finished, I need only to do a bit more to dust it off. Even better if it is implied that the work doesn’t need to be done at all, but if I cared to, well then, it would be nice. For Joe, what wakes him up in the morning are stark roadmaps that give way to how much still needs to be accomplished. The sight of a nearly-burned-out building, for him, is just the thing to set to work on.

The metaphor carries easily to housework—I keep up with tasks like clean countertops, a full fridge, and the constant reincarnation of dirty dishes. Joe prefers overhauling the bathroom or vacuuming the entire apartment after five wool blankets were dragged over the carpet.

But mostly I bring up encouragement in the meaningful adult sense—ideas you want to pursue, important shifts in your habits, projects at work, projects for yourself. Encouraging each other in these areas is one of the best elements of marriage.

My parents asked us to take a financial course within our first year of marriage. The sessions ironed out most wrinkles in our mental wardrobe of crumpled habits. (We had revealed a few subliminal expectations already through reading the book Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts which suggested asking about things like do you always order dessert? and, when you stop for gas, do you buy a snack? The book is not amazing, but it did have its moments.) The course encouraged a joint bank account, something that we would have done anyway. It required that we document, on paper, all spending for three months. First month: document. Second month: document, set a goal, but go easy on the slip-ups. Third month: document, set a goal, do your very best to reach it.

We tracked ours on a small library card tacked to the fridge, his and her handwriting marking small deductions by turn. When you do that you encounter the thrill of marking down something you were excited to buy together, but also the sapping drag of a purchase already you wished you’d skipped. Three digit bills seem enormous, but endless tiny ones add up as well. Without noticing, you began to value the days you didn’t have to write anything down.

I remember grocery shopping and not knowing what to buy; me in the aisle with my hand hovering before a box of crackers wondering do we both like these?

I wanted to be impressive in my capacity to cook well, but spend little. But I believed true couples’ cooking was Cook’s Illustrated recipes—expensive meals, perfectly executed, preferably heavy on the carbs. I wanted to make only new things. It took us a year, at least, to pin down that we usually wanted to eat different things. Joe wanted chicken breast and a vegetable. I wanted four cheese pasta. We both wanted tomato egg sandwiches, caramels from the shop around the corner now and then, and in the summer–peaches and cottage cheese for dinner.

(Though I remember cooking a garlicky shrimp pasta from the tomes of Cook’s Illustrated for a classmate of Joe’s. And as he ate, he sighed and quietly said, like a restaurant.)

apartment tour

Emily just did the loveliest post about our apartment on Apartment Therapy. There’s nothing quite like seeing your space through someone else’s eyes—I just love it! Lux joyfully followed Emily and her husband Max around when they were here, and managed to get into about half the photos. : )

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It’s a pertinent post for these days because it feels like everyone has been asking since I got pregnant: are you moving? We are not, or at least not for a year or two. The baby will be in our room for six months or so, and then might move into the closet like Joan did, and then into the girls’ room. Joan can move under the new bunk bed and baby can take over Joan’s crib. It feels so distant to remember our old place, when Lux was in our room for her first year and a half.

With even just a little bit of nesting that I’ve done, I’m already finding corners we can rework and make more livable and comfortable, and storage that can be done better.

The girls’ clothing storage, as seen below, is probably not going anywhere though and is in fact, accumulating with time!

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I’ve been wanting to post a photo of Lux’s bunk bed that she conveniently asked for for her 4th birthday. Joe found it on craigslist. It’s vintage IKEA and took him about four uninterrupted hours to put together…it’s so vintage that none of the screws were streamlined or matched at all.

Our main goal was to find a bunkbed design that let in as much light as possible–which was surprisingly hard to find. We’re so happy with this one. Joe made the romantic roof from the old detachable side of Lux’s crib! (Her IKEA sniglar crib bed, same model as Joan’s, had really taken a beating and had to be retired completely.)

toys

Minor, but I’m very into the results that come from the magna-tiles and duplos being the only accessible toys outside of their room. They are constantly playing with them and building-chaos is one of the few types of chaos that makes my heart happy. If you decide to order magna-tiles, I recommend splurging for a lot, like the 100 piece set. We’re planning on ordering more soon, just to keep up with the range of structures they both like to build.

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The pinboard wall has solved all our art storage needs. I love it so much. You can find some of the construction details on the apartment therapy post. At the time, it seemed crazy to me to splurge for custom-milled wood, but it was totally worth it because it’s so pretty and it’s the biggest thing in the room! (I was initially pinboard-inspired by this home tour on Cup of Jo.)

I find that as long as I clean off their art table every evening (and yes, ruthlessly throw away the ten sheets of paper they filled that day), it’s one of the first places they head to every morning.

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I tried not to fuss and perfect too much before Emily came over to photograph–I hope this comes across as a realistic tour, with our “lived-in minimalism” as Joe sagely put it.

Anyway, head over to the post to see the whole thing! Thank you Emily!

all photos by Emily Billings for apartment therapy. 

on owning a polaroid camera

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Life with a polaroid camera is not exactly all it’s cracked up to be. You’d like to think one’s existence would suddenly be composed of pool parties with striped beach balls and lots of ice cream cones. You’d like think it would be a day-to-day of snap-crackle-pop dispensing, candid shots of joy and birthday cake sprinkling throughout your month.

In fact, it takes a little more. It takes guts, actually. And lots of failure. Countless snapshots have turned out crummy. Out of focus, misjudged lighting, baby leg darting away at the last second. Each of these efforts, lost to the serendipity known as ugh this one turned out crappy, is mourned for a minute or two and then quickly thrown away. You can’t keep the bad ones around, they’ll weigh you down. I worry that I’ll think of them next time, right before I click the trigger, and hesitate. Hesitation is probably a polaroid’s #1 enemy. But many have turned out transcendent: square glossy peeks into a past moment, turning the moment into something more significantly representative for the future, in a how we spend our days is how we spend our lives sorta way.

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And then there’s that moment when you’ve run out of film and you have to invest in the next black box of slides, a few of them, God knows, are potential failures. Like buying new ink for a printer, or, if you’re like me, getting cash out of an ATM, you know it will get whittled away somehow, and probably in many meaningful and important ways and you’re not sure on what exactly, but the future looks promising and you want to be prepared.

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And of course: there is that gratifying clink-mrrumph that sounds like a vacuum working backwards and then a shiny blank slate pops out, to the delight of adults and children alike. The pleasure of an instant artifact: my old old friend Katie just came for the weekend, and before she left I snapped a photo of her and Lux together, for Katie to jam between the pages of her Bible (Katie is Lux’s godmother after all). We take photos of the girls and slip them into thank you notes. They seem stronger when they’re sent out in the world that way. A pretty bottle tossed into the sea that says you knew me once and it was lovely. 

 

 

Laundry Day

laundry

Sundays are laundry days around here. Since we’ve been married we’ve done our laundry at a mat. We use one enormous front loading machine for $4.25 a load. Then we spend $2.50 on one big super hot dryer. We keep a small plastic tupperware of Charlie’s Powdered Soap in the bottom of the dirty clothes bag at all times. It’s scentless (Joe likes this) and biodegradable (I like this) and cheap (we both like this). After it’s done we like to dump all the laundry out on our bed and fold it together. Joe prefers that I do not fold his tshirts. I help him flatten them out and pile them all up on top of each other and then he takes over. When we first got married, I barely folded my clothes at all, typically just tumbling them into my drawer in a pile. We iron strictly on a novelty basis, once every two months or so. My clothes always seem to compose 30% of the laundry compared to his 70%. Plus mine are tinier. I feel like I blinked, and suddenly we’re doing FOUR people’s laundry every weekend. Now Joan claims the smallest percentage, but not for long, I promise you.

In our new apartment the laundry mat is about five blocks away and down a big hill. Our dirty clothes bag is basically the size of me and I can barely carry it when full. After my third trimester of pregnancy with Joan began, Joe started making it an outing and often takes Lux along with him to do it. I realize this makes me very lucky as homemaking wives go.

Occasionally we fantasize about opening a laundry mat. I’m not kidding. We’re attracted to this idea because the laundry mats in our neighborhoods are dumps. There is nothing that flags my eye quicker than something that could be SO much better. I mean, people spend time in these places all day long, and they barely vacuum it. They punish you for having to be there. And they punish their employees, who seem to work seven days a week, all day every day.

It would have a wall of magazines for you to read while you waited. There would be shelves of board games to borrow and play with your friends. A small espresso bar with just enough counter space for you to stand and finish your espresso. Maybe an old fashioned Internet cafe desk, with two computers to be rented by the minute (big throwback to studying abroad, hey oh). A juke box. A nice collection of vintage postcards to purchase and mail. You know, the good things. You get could your laundry done…and oh, enjoy yourself too.
laundry_day

Booked!

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I mentioned that we were using the addictively clickable airbnb to find a spot in Rome. Well, I quickly became overwhelmed by the options and let Joe take over. After a couple of late nights, he found this spot and we booked it! It’s the location we wanted, Campo di Fiori, a one bedroom (4th floor walk up, gulp) with a crib, and the perfect patio. It was important to us that we’d be comfortable just staying in most nights since Lux will probably go to bed early.

This patio + salami + extra candles = best restaurant in town.

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I appreciate that things like a full kitchen and free wifi are assumed with apartment rentals. It’s amazing how hotels sound so lovely when it’s just the two of you, but with a rambunctious kiddo the space of an apartment seems so much more relaxing.

The only sad part for me with a rental v. hotel, and this is just silly, is that you have to go hunting for your breakfast. I’ve been using Elizabeth Minchilli’s Eat Rome app to scout out relaxed bars nearby for breakfast.

 

Design! Surveys! No more ampersand!

A month ago I set up a reader survey through Google Forms. My readers are not commenters. They are emailers. They tweet well. They text me in the night. They write sweet facebook messages and tell their friends. They nudge me on the street and tell me what they thought. That’s very nice, but it can make a girl confused about what’s working and what’s not.

Google forms was lovely to use. I liked a couple of the theme options and I loved how all the responses were immediately put into a spreadsheet for me. 

The survey itself was a delightfully successful project for me. It affirmed things that some part of me knew, but a large part of me had never quite accepted. Things I like about ED (writing longer pieces, dallying over tiny aspects of life that preoccupy me, keeping the design simple, updating here and there when I have something to say) the respondents also liked!

While this may be obvious to you,”oh your readers like what you write?” It’s not. If there’s one thing the blog professionals are always encouraging new bloggers to realize, it’s that their unique voice is the most important thing about them. As I know personally, writers have a tough time accepting that and imitation and emulation dangerously abound. (Hence the remarkable habit of great writers to avoid their peer’s work altogether.)

This one was really helpful: majority of my readers use an rss reader to follow ED! Using an rss reader (like googlereader, which will tell you when a blog has updated) is perfect for ED because I update so randomly. I hate the idea of readers checking every day and being disappointed. I have developed (totally unfair) click-disappointment vendettas against bloggers who I love and check obsessively even though I know they probably haven’t posted.

Here’s the fun one:

talking about design! As you can see, majority liked the simple design, which is great. I like the simple design too. However, we aren’t total purists: people want larger photos and a bio on the side. I think of the side-column bio and photo as a back-of-the-book necessity. When I’m reading a book, I flip to the back to examine the author’s photo at least 10 times. It’s how I relate to them, listen to their voice, interpret my ideas. There are formal critical approaches to reading that are deeply against this type of thing. I don’t care. It’s human nature, why fight our natural urge to relate? Of course it’s the same with blogs. Why are blogs so successful? Because we love love love to learn about each other. And we feel welcomed when the author introduces themselves right away.

And larger photos, well, welcome to 2012, right? Photos are getting larger and better all the time. I’m all for it. I love to see photos on the blogs I read, so of course I would want the same for things at ED.

Joe is guiding changes around here and I’ve got a mental love-list that I hope we can execute; but I was ready to get things officially switched. So…welcome to my redesign! And thanks for your help.

 

The email invitation

Soon there will be a new pervasive standard for web coding in which elegance and clarity is prized beyond all else. Dancing web ads, auto-play videos, and tiny text will be severely frowned upon.

I forgot to tell you the one thing I actually wanted to share about Lux’s party: our invitation. Joe designed it so that when you opened the email your eyes alighted upon this:

We were inspired by this wedding invitation, which we saw on the wall at a friend’s cottage two years ago:

 

our weekend / birthday location hunting

There have been at least twenty discussions about birthday parties around here lately.

Here’s a few of the themes we circle around:

Is it weird to call it a birthday party if Lux will have no awareness that the party is for her?

How much alcohol can you have at a party that’s technically for children?

How do we emphasize that we are actually celebrating the crazy year we just had?

Obviously we can’t not memorialize this enormous life change we just went through, right?

Finally, bored out of our minds with this all this adult talk, we decided we wanted it to be on the Esplanade, the lovely park that coils along the Charles River and is full of playgrounds, benches, clean sidewalks, and beautiful trees. So Saturday morning we went location scouting and visited our favorite nooks, to see how they would do under party scrutiny.

The bridge over to the Esplanade is just up the street from us. You cross over four lanes of traffic, and can smirk with pedestrian swagger as you cross. Or you can focus on how the bridge is climbing up into the trees before it swoops you back down to earth among the sailboats.

Lux particularly liked this spot for duck watching and practicing her sideways bench walk:

We settled on this little triangle of grass:

a small pond on one side:

and shady trees all around!

Now that I’ve started thinking about children’s parties, I’m remembering all fantastic things kids get to count on: cake! scoops of ice cream! goody bags! random streamers everywhere, bringing a gift for your friend that you hope they love, musical chairs, and eating too much candy. This is one of those scenarios where kids really get the good stuff, right?

My Skillshare workshop!

Have you heard of Skillshare.com? It’s a super website operating with the goal of encouraging everyone to teach anyone about anything. It’s well designed, in all sorts of cities, and is connecting passionate folks to curious topics all the time.

I love this idea. I frequently find myself hunting for people’s secret passions and expertise in conversation, but it can take forever to discover, even from your good friends! However when skillshare finally came to Boston, I was a little disappointed that none of the classes interested me. What could I teach and be excited about?, I asked myself.

and I realized: all the little lists of things I’d wished I known before Lux came, the discoveries I made in the first few months, the many tips I’ve learned from my fellow moms, the useless baby stuff I gave away, the I-wished-I-woulda’s….that could be a class!

And so:

A one night workshop for expecting moms in Boston! Obviously I’m a little nervous about it, but I’m also excited! I would have loved something like this when I was pregnant, it will be a good way for expecting moms to meet each other (which is so important!), and (inspired by the methodology of the fabulous blogshop) I will have yummy snacks and delicious mocktails to make the class even more festive. If it’s as fun as I hope it will be, I’ll do another!

Can I ask you a Twitter favor, dear readers? Would you minding tweeting about it (link: http://skl.sh/JP6pUr) even if you’re not in Boston? I have my postcards to pin around the neighborhood, the strangers I will ask to retweet, and other news-spreading ideas, but I’m firm believer in the serendipitous power of Twitter. I’d be so grateful!

And what about you? What topic do you love to talk about with interested listeners? What would you like to talk a class in? If Skillshare isn’t in your city, you can still sign up and suggest your city next!

The Little Nursery That Could

Dear readers! Before the baby gets here and trashes the place, I would love to show a few photos of where she’ll stay.

The nursery wall, as we call it.

The rocker was my modernist-loving grandmother’s, and the crib (former laundry basket) is a makeover story done by Joe (he posted a few before photos). I love the mobile, it was the first nursery item we were given, and for most of the winter it hung in our living room as a promise that we would someday have a place for it. We’re planning to hook up an ipod to the radio with white noise tracks so it can double as a sound machine, along with playing NPR for me.

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen when I posted a photo of Joe finding the globe in the trash near our apartment. It works perfectly as a soft ocean-and-continent-glow nightlight. It’s a still mystery why it was in the trash as no deadly spider babies have yet emerged from it.

In our apartment storage is an enormous challenge, so we definitely needed a new place to put her clothes. We bought the two pieces of furniture at an antique warehouse in southern MA. Joe repainted the cabinet when we were in Maine, and the knobs on the changing table are from Anthropologie. Those orange bins will be all cloth diapers, since I finally found someone in Boston who does diaper deliveries.

This Kurt Vonnegut quote (from A Man Without a Country) is a good one for us. We’re always noticing after the fact how nice something was, and never quite settling down in the moment. We used this sign and the “crib” in the market last year, so it feels like we brought a little bit of our past adventures along with us.

We changed up the artwork in the rest of the bedroom as well, and I love this old schoolhouse map for its pinks, oranges and blues. It’s so cheerful (and historically educational, since most of the facts are wrong now).

Looking over at this wall, for me, is like sitting before a grotto of flickering candles. The fact that we finally appear to be physically ready to welcome her, and she will have place to fall asleep, and a place to put her clothes, is incredibly soothing. Possibly the most soothing thought I have ever encountered. I try to fall asleep facing that wall.