cookie cakes with the girls

“just a fun thing” is my new mantra for kitchen adventures. Just a fun thing to attempt dried grapefruit slices for ornaments (so far, so failed). Just a fun thing to want to make popcorn garlands but realize that involves needles, and end up just eating the popcorn instead.

But Molly Yeh is one of my internet heroes–her posts, her very approach to baking gives me so much JOY to follow. I was delighted when I realized I had the ingredients and circle cutters on hand for her sugar cookie mini cakes. And MAN is that a good sugar cookie recipe she’s got there.

Because I wanted to bring one cake to a neighbor gal turning two-years-old, and another cake to a friend-floral-party, I let the girls cut out all their own circles and decorate them with their own approach. I did not show them photos of what we were going for, woah no. Then I did mine. I typically give them all our supplies and booty and let them take over entirely, but it worked to split up the kitchen by party lines this time (minimalism v. Never Enough Sugar Pearls).

“You’re just doing white frosting mom?” Lux asked with genuine concern for my outcome. But then when I was done, she loved them and complimented me by running for her camera and taking twenty photos of the cake from the exact same angle. I returned the courtesy to her pink extravaganza.

And Joe made us all matchstick flags, hooray.

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a few supplies: round cutter set, Wilton sugar pearls in gold, Wilton pearlized sugar in gold.

 

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.)

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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. 

photos from lately

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1. Moon postcard from our hotel in Marfa, TX.

2. 1pm nap is still so important for this two year old.

3. My friend Johanna gave me some lovely washi tapes. It’s such a fun supply.

4. After I took this photo I noticed the clever thumbprint placement of FRANCE.

5. Portrait of a coldbrew popsicle at naptime.

6. Giant silver UX balloons brought home after a Wistia party, to the girls’ daylong delight.

7. Whole Foods dough with plenty of food-processor-shredded mozzarella.

8. Sorted supplies.

9. Dress-up bin, in a new spot, getting lots of attention.

10. Pastels are a special treat reserved for supervised time. Love their bright blending possibility.

teaching gratefulness

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In between forgetting to slather on sunscreen and forgetting to comb anyone’s hair, I can’t get this thought out of my head—how do you teach gratefulness?

I’m not expecting them to grab the spray bottle every morning and clean the floors but the four year old also doesn’t have any specific daily tasks assigned to her. More often it is a request to “run and grab your water bottle for me” or “help Joan move the chair over here” which she does very willingly.

I also ask Joan, the two-year old, to pick up things or put something back after she drags it out. Usually she frowns at me and says, “nocan’t.” “Why can’t you?” “Still reading,” said while she stares vacantly off at a wall. “Mama do it.” 

Her young knack of disregard, the blithe ease with which she shrugs off my request makes me half-smile for a second and then feel overwhelmed with annoyance.

Sample day of the girls’ last week: wake up, eat breakfast, and a friend comes over. Pull out all the dress-up stuff, play dress-up changing clothes every 15 minutes for a couple hours. Share mini-ice cream cones. Have lunch, share another mini-ice cream cone. Make art in the art room with washi tape and pastels. Have a quiet time where Joan naps and Lux gets to watch her favorite 25 minutes of Octonauts. Wake up, help mom make chocolate covered strawberries for a friend, snacking all the while. Play in the living room alternating their fighting/sharing/loving/complaining song-and-dance while mom makes more food and does all the dishes. Mom packs a picnic and head outside for the last couple hours of the day, armed with food, balls, and a picnic blanket. Come home, read stories, go to bed.

Are things getting too idyllic? Am I a flourishing event planner with a preschool speciality–a flare for the lighthearted and festive? This is not an exceptional day in the life of the Ringenberg girls. I could pull from any other day of that week and list the pleasures—activity, food, activity, game.

As a stay-at-home mom in the city equipped with modern conveniences in my home, I am free to do this stuff with them. If we do laundry on the weekends, I clean for roughly thirty minutes of every day, and I cook for maybe an hour (but that’s by-myself-time in a good way). Are there so few demands on my schedule that I’m turning their daily lives into some kind of bucolic Disneyland? (Bucolic is the very word doesn’t apply though. They are not running in the fields picking wildflowers and chasing cow tails. They are gently fingering flowers grown in window boxes hanging over the sidewalk, reminded to touch, but not pick.)

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But no matter how idyllic, I still have a four-year old who complains to me about her day. She asks “But mom, why can’t we go on the merry go round again?” “Why no lemonade/candy/ice cream today?” It must seem to her that we could do anything, if only I would just set my mind to it. And largely my explanations aren’t logical, they must seem almost whimsical to her—we aren’t having ice cream because we’re having dessert tonight. We don’t buy lemonade every day, only some days.

Isn’t her approach a little of what we encourage in Americans, especially American consumers? Ask for more, see what else you can get, fight for what you deserve–a refund in full, receipt be damned. I wonder how many times a day I model those values to the girls instead of Christian ones: love all, the last shall be first, put others before yourself, come humbly before God.

A few days ago, while washing dishes, I examined the contents of the sink and realized I could probably teach Lux to wash the morning load with a few tries. Later, when Joan was napping, I heralded it with trumpets as a new project and Lux took it on cheerfully. The floor was doused with soapy water and it took twenty more minutes than it would have taken me, but it was entirely successful.

But then I haven’t remembered to follow up and ask her to do it agin in the days since.

I dug out the letters my mom wrote to me on my birthday each year (I know! another post for another time), and found the one from when I turned four. She writes that my older brother and I were talking turns emptying the dishwasher and setting the table at that point. I was the second born so she had more time to figure it out, just as Joan has more expected of her than Lux did. (Mostly socially though—she’s expected to apologize, to share, to take turns. Things I didn’t ask of Lux at two.)

But gratefulness is such an undercurrent in a personal ocean. Its presence is so easily overpowered by the waves of needs and wants that lap steadily. It’s hard to feel its tug, even harder to distill it, and show it to another.

 

night detective

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It feels as if every night our household is given a measured sand sack  of sleep, and one never knows how it’s been divvied up until the sun rises. Lux is murmuring to herself late into the night, then sleeping late into the morning, complaining if someone wakes her up before 9am. Joan is a wreck at 7pm, weeping with fatigue as we tuck her in, and waking like a clock at 5am. She gets out of bed, walks into our room, creeps up close up to our bed and whispers “cereal” in the direction of my pillow.  

Occasionally Joan wakes at 2am or 4am and takes up the blanket that I tucked her in with, after she was asleep, that is NOT her usual blanket. She walks into our room and throws it at me and walks back to her bed. 

It’s just a suspicion but I think I’m getting the lightest dwindle of sand, just a sweep over my eyelids every evening. It fascinates me that I wake up to Joan’s vindictive blanket walk no matter what time of night. The soft swish of her diaper and the pad of her feet on the carpet in our room. I appreciate that motherhood has cracked the vise grip sleep-adoration once had on me. It doesn’t hold the same promises it once did, a cure-all soother that could go on forever. But just how lightly am I sleeping that I can wake up to those soft footfalls, I wonder to myself. Does lightly even mean poorly to me anymore? 

I used to aspire to family dinner, like people putting food in their mouths at the same time at the same table, and I think I used to aspire to family sleep. Or couple’s sleep. It was on my fairy tale list of demands that Joe at least pretend to fall asleep with me. But now he basically tucks me in and gets back to his life of productivity, and I’m used to it. I wake up with Joan and it takes him hours to join us. Lux wanders out even later. 

Recently, I’ve been forced to disregard all personal thoughts that occur after 8pm. I’m so tired. Did I do anything right today, I wonder to myself. Was anything easy? Did the girls have a good day?

Naturally these thoughts are occurring at a time of day when all is murky, I’m not even sure if I remember what we did that day anymore, much less can offer an analysis of it. I am a once-nimble detective examining my evidence with bleary eyes, rifling through my nonsense notes to self, scribbling down clues to malfeasance. No, I finally conclude with a sigh, better simply to fall asleep and examine the postmortem where I find it in the morning. 

Naturally in the morning all evidence of misbehavior has disappeared from the scene. “Cereal” and a vague plan of action that sounds fun for our day is forming in my mind. Both girls are grinning at me with an odd infusion of cheer. The fridge does appear relatively full after all, and it looks a bit like the sun might be coming out. 

Finish every day and be done with it. 

You have done what you could.

Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in;

forget them as soon as you can.

Tomorrow is a new day: you shall begin it serenely

and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

-Emerson

Photo: I made a volcano because Lux digs them these days, using Oh Happy Day’s printable photoreal mountain box.

self directed

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Greetings from the planet In Transition. At last I’ve sketched out a map for this murky land, after all we seem to find ourselves here every six months. First comes palpable and nearly omnipresent frustration from your scholar. What worked in the past does not work for them any more, what they used to say yes to, they say no to, how easy they used to be pleased, and now for awhile, they are not pleased at all.

Then comes the actual change: maybe the physical dexterity, maybe the abilities that seem to arrive out of nowhere. Joan had been fighting her diaper for weeks, constantly taking it off, crying when I put it on. I began to dread anytime I had to change her diaper. Finally I pulled out the kid’s potty and started giving her jelly beans if she went pee on it. The allure of the treat and the physical ability fell into place like Mars sighting from the moon. Now I see she’s on some sort of self-directed potty training tract. Simultaneously, she learned to climb out her crib. “I practiced her and showed her how,” was what Lux told me. If I return to the room after putting Joan down for a nap, I find her wandering around instead of sleeping, quietly rearranging toys. The girls have been staying up until 10pm with this new thrill, giggling in each other’s beds, sneaking over to each other whenever we leave the room for more than five minutes. They both use the kid’s potty we keep in their room, trooping out to proudly tell us when they’ve used it. Joe’s and my uninterrupted evenings together seem distant and forgotten.

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And then, after the child has finally settled into their new state and acts as if days have always been such as this and they’re both sleeping and smiling again, then comes your exhaustion. A fresh wave hits right after you’ve bravely mastered the storm, after you’ve wisely let everything fly out the window, let all your habit doors bang open, the bits where you held on and simply tried to steer forward….and now: you’re tired.  But it’s over. And though your normal appears from the fog a bit more slowly than theirs, it will return again soon.

just pecking

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Oh we are winter souls. Tramp tramp. Stomp stomp. Scan skies for giant falling icicles. Dairy consumption in the apartment must be up by 50% because of all the hot chocolate (not hot, not all that chocolatey). I had my first ice fall. Naturally it was when I was all by myself, charging around like the young adult that I am not. I was walking to a movie…slip, smash on the bricks. It really hurt. And then I went to watch a movie about early-onset-alzheimer’s. Still Alice. Julianne Moore had the best clothes!

I’m not going to a movie again until this ballet documentary comes to town (check here to see your local listings). It looks so good. Justin Peck, a 27-year-old choreographer for the New York City Ballet. Man, is life good or what when you can go see a documentary about a ballet choreographer that just follows him around and lets you see what he sees? I love living in the future.

We have a fridge of bountiful groceries after going without for several days following my trip. The girls really didn’t give me a hard time about my leaving for two days, probably because they had such a nice time with Joe and our friend David, who came to help. Joan was so sweet the whole first day I was back. Then, that night, she woke up at least eight times, crying and screaming for me. It was a dark harkening back to the infant days.

It’s totally fair and appropriate for them to act out after I’ve been away, but I always forget that it might come when I’m least suspecting it.

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The girls are good. They seem louder than usual. I’m hearing this from other moms too. Is it just us, or is the weather finally setting in and turning them up a notch?

I am so sleepy today! We already went out for a walk/snow tramp early this morning, now I’m curled up with a blanket and tea on the couch and it feels so good. Ballet begins in an hour. Hmmmm I don’t know if I can get us there.

When you sign up for kiddo classes, naturally you do an equation wherein you divide the cost by the number of classes (rare is the brochure that does this simple arithmetic for you). This due diligence quickly goes to pot when you encounter freezing weather or blizzards or simple human fatigue. Note to self: do not sign-up for classes in late winter. It’s just too absurd getting there and back.

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I feel that it would be nice to tell you that now, at age 3.5+, Lux’s quiet time begins with a timed 35-minute session of ipad time. It always feels right to be upfront about any screen time with one’s audience. Her app options on there are good. She primarily plays Leo’s Pad. I set the timer on the ipad, it goes off, she closes it and puts it away (I’m not sure if she knows she could just press “ok” and keep playing, or if she’s just a very honest gal).

And, you know, even though this is roughly 30x more screen time than we used to allow, I think it’s working. I always evaluate these things on how she acts afterwards and she seems refreshed. She takes a longer quiet time overall, plays, and talks to herself afterward. She feels independent because she can pick which game she wants to play and puts it away herself. Afterwards she likes to tell me what she played and how it went. Usually there are a couple things on the game she didn’t solve that time.

Parenting in the future is complicated; but once again: I’m glad to be here.

 

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Two girls to a room

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I get a kick out of the girls sharing a room. We moved Joan into Lux’s room when she was 8 months old, I wrote a little bit about that here. Even when they are keeping each other up at night, even when one of them wakes the other up pre-maturely in the morning. Sometimes the night ends with both of them grousing in their beds, egging each other on, louder and louder. I like it. Remember in grade school, what was the great uniting power ? A common enemy. Nothing to build sisterhood among two humans of disparate age and interest like grousing about the same thing.

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There’s power waiting to be taken in having a small space. Anyone can do it. You begin to take joy in every bag of things you decide to give away or throw away. The good stuff shines through. The girls have a small cabinet of additional toys, but their chief choice items, the ones they point at and ask for, are on this shelf. Having this stuff be out of their reach is as un-Montessori as you can get. Maria would shiver at the sight. I wish it wasn’t the case, but I also find that the act of requesting something causes them to value it a little bit more.

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Note above my system for the girls’ clothes, on the top shelves. It’s one tub to every six months, with an extra tub for shoes and winter gear. Be sure to label them, and give yourself a month or two after they grow out of things before you pack them away. The time helps you truly evaluate the stuff and what kind of shape it is in.

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Of the things on the wall, the maps get the most attention. Though when Lux was younger, she adored that Rifle Paper Co. alphabet poster (I just checked to see if it is still available, it’s not, but my goodness does Anna Bond have some good ones these days!). My older brother, who works in South Sudan, visited recently and pointed out that we need a map of Africa. He’s right! Both of our current maps came from Joe hounding etsy for vintage school room maps (they are not cheap. they are so worth it.) The New Yorker cover is a recent resurrection of a Saul Steinberg drawing combining several of Lux’s favorite things: skeletons, ballerinas, and mice. We are happy to change things out as the girls have new interests. Joe often places nice wrapping paper behind a print as an easy and cheap mat job, and we frequently use Ikea frames.

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I’m happy to have these photos to document this tiny phase in my family’s life! I’m sure the place will transform in the next year, perhaps even in the next six months. The room I shared with my sister as a kid is so etched into my visual memory, I treasure those images. I want to remember Lux looking out her window for the moon each night, I want to remember finding Joan with a pile of toys in her crib in the morning, donated by her benevolent sister, I want to remember Lux telling me that bunny lives in Mexico and her hunting for all the “x” letters on the map, I want to remember their matching cribs and orange-striped sheets and how content they were with them.

 

How it’s going with the help

An update on how it’s going, since I began hiring a babysitter for three hours a week. It sounds so minor as I type that. Seriously, three. hours. But as you might have read, it was a process to even get there. I found (using a one month subscription to sitter city), hired, and had a great girl for about six weeks, and then she had to quit for another job with more hours. As one often does. However she found a replacement for herself, one who is just as sweet natured and kind and they transitioned so smoothly that we barely hiccuped. Both of them are former music majors, devoted musicians, and they have the sweetest spirits.

After I remind Lux on Tuesday mornings about what’s coming up, she looks forward to the afternoon with the babysitter and is always pleased when she arrives. Joan is never pleased but supposedly she does not cry for longer than five minutes, though she absolutely screams when I leave. That would have ended the whole deal with the first child, but with the second there is a sense that all with be well. Plus there is that glow of reminisce and affection with which the three of us greet each other when I return.

Very quickly I realized it was just as some of you predicted to me: the babysitter formed her own relationship with the girls. Certainly she is polite to me, but it’s clear she is here to see the girls. I am the facilitator of the relationship, but part of it is about me not being there. And that’s nice.

It did take me a few times to learn that I should not do morning trips with the girls on the day that we have the sitter. A couple of times we arrived home at the same time the sitter arrived. You can imagine—frazzled mom dashes out the door to get her hours, goodbye to abruptly-abandoned children just taking off their shoes. Not good. Far better to have a relaxed morning at home, and then Joan still deep in her nap when Hannah arrives, and Lux coming out of quiet time to have one-on-one attention with this young lady.

The babysitters have proved to me that they can totally handle getting the girls outside for trips to the park (this, even when our elevator was broken for all of August and we live on the 5th floor). And this, even despite the fact that I didn’t thoroughly brief her on the stroller’s peculiar buttons and it collapsed on her when she was simply trying to extend the handlebar. Nice one, Rachael.

And for me! It’s been really, really nice. I have a ban on doing errands during that time. I go straight to a little private library up the street from us (the athenaeum for you locals, the best annual membership you’ll ever do) which has one floor of dead silence and big sunny windows. Actually, I first go directly to a coffee shop and order something, anything really, to boot up my writing spirits, and then I go to the library. I tip-tap furiously in the silent room for two hours (given walking time back and forth, it’s about that) and then head home. I arrive at 5pm, having hopefully prepped dinner in some way earlier in the day, and settle on the floor with the girls, relaxed and reminded how cuddly and curious they are. The day is almost over and we can enjoy the fact that Joe is to arrive in just an hour and half or so.

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I also experimented with early morning care this summer. I signed Lux up for two weeks of “summer camp” which began at 8:30am and let out around noon. It was not that relaxing. Getting her dressed and out the door was such a stress on my morning. Joan still took a morning nap at that point, so I did get two uninterrupted hours, in addition to quiet time later that day. But, as those of you who do this regularly know, they are still on your mind that entire time (I mean, obviously right? Should have seen that coming). Did I put enough sunscreen on? Did she get enough sleep last night? Were those shoes comfortable? Did that girl next to her have a hacking cough? And on and on. One time I called in to say Lux wasn’t up to coming in that day and was asked “Oh does she have hand foot and mouth?” Um no, is that going around? “Yes.” Oh great.

Then I would get her home, and she’s worn out from all the socialization, the going-with-the-flowing that one does when traveling in groups, and she was totally tuckered. Again, another obvious thing, but not something I had factored into the rest of our day. It was like she just got home from work and didn’t know how to decompress. Out of nowhere she would say stuff like “I don’t like her” about Joan, something she had never said in her life. Or like, start kicking her. I felt out of control with the forces that were influencing her. I was also surprised to find that the things she was doing at school were the same as at home: play with toys and books, have a snack, play outside, have lunch, make a craft, get glitter glue everywhere. It’s not rocket science after all. I guess I was caught off guard by that realization but I was also buoyed by it: we do those things too! This is a regular preschool right here, albeit a disorganized and unreliable one that is fresh out of unbroken crayons.

MY GOODNESS I am not typing all this out to make those of you who have something that is working for you begin to doubt it. Please NO. Just a follow up to that drama and a reflection for myself, the grass is greener over at that preschool, they are still the loves of your life and worm their way into every spare tunnel in your head no matter where they are physically, and so on.

To sum: working with a limited budget, I learned that having a sitter who could come to my house and play with both girls and develop a relationship with them together, and come over even when they were sick, is the best fit for my situation. And I learned that three hours a week, though tiny, has a quite an effect.

to commenters: I apologize that comments were broken for a couple weeks! I did SEE your comments, but they did not appear here. All is well again and we are back up and running with Disqus. Thanks for your patience.