so much

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It is an oft-bemoaned thing among city mamas to be overscheduled. There are so many great things to do with your kids both in Boston, and especially this time of year, outside of Boston. As a stay at home mom, I look at a calendar with a line of empty days with trepidation. Too much alone time, is what those little blanks say to me. A friend of mine is transitioning out of her job into staying at home. She told me she wasn’t planning on doing anything with her daughters for six months. “We are definitely just going to hang out,” she said. This sounded nice to me, but the first thing that popped into my head was I’m usually tired of sitting around our apartment by 10am. Thus–activities.

If summer was a light bright picnic plate of glimmering beach afternoons and ice cream cone treats, autumn in New England is a hardy gift basket of tempting treats. The pleasant drop in temperature, paired with the hazy memory of the bitter cold that is only a couple weeks away, is very energizing.

But last week I managed to plan four things–country fair, leaf gathering, midwife appointment, Bible study–we needed to drive to, in addition to three classes for Lux, all three of which I chose to drive to. It was just silly and altogether too much. Each activity itself was delightful, but we were all three weary of car seat buckles, glancing at watches, and as we walked to the car, wondering why we weren’t sitting on the grass somewhere, watching the clouds go by. The girls are at amazing stage of entertaining themselves (maybe it’s not a stage! maybe it’s the future from here on!) and I often have to connive them to walk away from their games, get dressed, and get outside in time for our dates.

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This act, the conniving wheedling c’mon let’s goo!, is making me feel slightly less anxious about the inevitable lock-down that I know is coming in January and February. Instagram accounts can work as a wonderful datebook, and I took a moment to look back through the photos after Joan was born (which feels quite firmly like it was ten years ago) and the photos from last winter’s snowy January/February/March. I don’t see those worlds colliding smoothly. The girls will be bored and house-trapped this winter, there’s no denying it.

It’s a little like farming I guess. Frantically harvest the fields, the trees, the garden. Abound in beauty and production. Then stay inside for months and shuffle around your root cellar looking for a squash dinner.

October snaps

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I have not had one daytime sitter for several weeks, thus no posts lately. (Tempted to delete that, because who cares, but it’s important to keep it real for those of you who never get breaks and wonder how you feel so brain dead!) Half of me thinks find a new sitter immediately! And half of me just doesn’t mind. I mind in context of “other things I want to get done” but I don’t mind when I look back on my day with them.

September finished up summer for us–a few more beach days, last ice cream adventures and outdoor picnics–and now October: “the golden hour of the clock of the year,” as I heard it beautifully described in this poem the other day.

We have begun a few school-like activities. I still hesitate to use “homeschool” as she’s only 4, but sometimes it is just easier to label things, isn’t it?

We have a math-games class, her same ballet class (with *all* 4-year-olds now–apparently a game changer for the attention span of the group), and a wood shop class, which I look forward to finding out if it works at all. She may reject it. It’s a big deal to me that Lux likes the classes and looks forward to them. I’m pretty wimpy about pushing things she doesn’t like and I would drop out if she wasn’t enthusiastic. Fortunately she loves everything so far.

These classes are funny because they are drop off, so you only get the review you get. It’s like ordering take-out and instead of eating it, reading a yelp review of it. Last year, the only review Lux solemnly gave me after her first ballet class was, “We didn’t do any twirling at all.”

Something we do labeled distinctly with homeschool is the Friday program at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. The kids troop around to see few pieces of art and then make a wonderful craft loosely based on what they discussed. The architecture of that building makes my mood soar, and I get to stare at the paintings for as long as they do, which is lovely.

I took a drive to the cheap area grocery store to stock up on pantry supplies and came upon a tub of non-hydrogenated shortening. It was complete news to me that this product exists! Aside from allowing some of us to dive back into recipes of our grandmother’s that have shortening in them, after reading Amazon reviews, I’ve learned it allows people with dairy allergies to bake well again. Pie crusts which I make with butter, for example, can be very successfully made with shortening.

So anyway I bought it and made several batches of chewy fragrant ginger snaps over the last week. I only had blackstrap molasses in the house (bought in a brave nutritional attempt to fix my constant iron anemia. Found in my pantry unopened, of course.) Using the unsulphered blackstrap instead of “baking” molasses definitely makes it taste more molassas-y, but all batches have been eaten with gusto by Joe and the girls nonetheless.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but in the final step before the oven, kids love to be the ones to roll the balls of dough in the granulated sugar.

Grandma Agnes’ Ginger Snaps

3/4 cup shortening

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup molasses

1 egg

2 t baking soda

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix ingredients in order given and chill. I mixed with a spoon, and then my hands, with great results. I wrapped mine up in saran wrap and chilled for about 40 minutes. Shape into 1 inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar and place on a greased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.

 

Many Kids Club

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It seems I am the chosen jurist for everyone deliberating another child. Friendly moms I do not know sidle up to me. They’ve noted the two children, and now, the belly. They make small talk, then get to it: “yeah, so, how did you decide to go for that?” “What?” I ask innocently, “three?”

“I mean, we’re debating. We’ve been talking about it, over and over again. But you know—more kids means bigger car, bigger house, right? And the plane tickets! And what about hotel rooms? Do they let you bring three kids into a hotel room?”

I am truly the worst consultant they could resource this pro bono work to. I genuinely haven’t given thought to half the concerns they’re studiously mulling over. It wasn’t until I was 4 months into this pregnancy that my friend pointed out, to my surprise, that we wouldn’t all fit into a taxi anymore. “You think you can, and then you can’t,” she firmly said of families of five.

But instead of bringing their debate to a reasonable well-researched person of able body and mind, they’ve unwittingly stumbled on an aging Irish Catholic grandmother in the body of a petite Midwestern thirty-year-old. “Well, it’s so much better for later in life.” I state with authority. “You know—more in-laws. More phone calls. More grandchildren.” Their eyes mist a bit and they’re tracking along with the pretty picture of a quiet cozy living room inundated with telephone calls.

Then I pull out one of my darker rationals: “Just think of the burden you’ll be on them if there’s only two.” They frown, with an absent look in their eyes. Perhaps my maniacal glint of hormone-fueled-procreation goes too far on that one. Though, I’ve found I am not the only one who leans towards the darker side of these discussions. “The way they’re dying these days, you should just keep going. I mean–those motorcycles!” remarked a retired nurse to me the other day (somewhat surreally, as the girls and I licked our ice cream cones in the sun).

Clearly these are two sides of the same trippy mental coin: to me, they seem overwrought with controlling their current circumstances in a way that won’t pay off: is life with two kids actually going to be magically easier? Didn’t they already exchange so much of “normal life” just by having those two? If their lives are better with two personalities, why wouldn’t they be exponentially better with three? I guess at root I doubt the accuracy of meticulously measuring out elements of their life.

And on the other side of the coin, I have built my daily outlook on a prediction for thirty years from now. I would be wise to remember that I might not even be around then, and zen to recall that it is THIS moment, the chaotic, daily, non-stop child-rearing one, is the one that matters most anyway.

The trouble for these folks is that they walked up to me in a state of uncertainty. I have many friends firmly in the only one camp or only two camp. I’ve listened carefully to their reasoning and admire their vision. I would never attempt to argue them out of their position, nor would I think my position offered them anything. Often I think of the Bible stories involving women begging God for just one child–take sweet, elderly Elizabeth and Zachariah for example. The gift of one life-changing child is not to be lightly brushed over. As kids, my sister and I relished joining in the relative peace of our neighbor’s home–a family of four. Things seemed calm and full of possibility over there, with lots of extra craft supplies and snacks to boot.

Where’s this all going? A medley makes the world go round. Just don’t ask the old Irish lady at the playground for advice.

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. 

Books and Lunch

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My favorite day this weekend was when it was a breezy 70 degrees instead of our lately-so-typical-90 and we drove to Concord. Since we decided not to travel for the holiday weekend, I announced that we could all treat ourselves to new books. Last time we were at the Concord Bookshop we were buying books as a gift for a young friend of ours, and I had rushed them out murmuring “maybe next time.” So now was next time.

If you go, you can always get a very nice drink at the lovely Haute Coffee next door. If it had been just a touch more Autumn-feeling we would have wandered the graveyard across the street as well; the faded type and nearly toppled slate markers always make for great conversation with the girls.

Or you can hop back in your car and drive the odd ten minutes over to West Concord to Nashoba Bakery. You may have seen their breads around Boston, they sell to over 200 wholesale accounts. They have a cafe attached to this, their original bakery location, tucked back in an odd, barely-marked parking lot. Delicious sandwiches and cookies, fill your-own-coffee, and on weekends before 1pm: slow rise waffles with toppings. Perhaps the real attraction is the picnic tables that line the back porch and yard, overlooking merry Nashoba Creek. A lovely bridge spans the dwindling water, leading to a parking lot, safe and enclosed so the girls could run back and forth across.

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.

It’s a…

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I keep forgetting to mention! It’s a girl. We found out two weeks ago (at 20 weeks, the day before this photo was taken). Good thing I’ve saved everything. And you know what? This makes me really happy that I bought nicer things for the girls here and there, like Hunter rain boots and good winter jackets. Cause I loved them once, loved em twice, and now I get to love them a third time. So you should go push BUY on whatever you have sitting in your zappos cart right now.

I DID want them to say it was a boy, I admit. Because: sons. They seem like a good thing. They contain within themselves less feral mother-daughter drama; like say a dog compared to a cat. They seem blindly loyal, like a hometown sports fan. And also: brothers. They don’t seem like a good thing for a bit of your life, and then: they’re the best. And you realize how much you learned from them all along….obviously there’s many things I could say in favor of the gender that makes up half our human race. Anyway.

But now that I know it’s a girl, in the sense that the girl already exists and it’s no longer anyone’s guess, I’m very happy.

We’re pretty into our spider-catching duplo architects. Our bunny lovers who usually prefer to “roar like a t-rex.” Our dance-adoring pink appreciators who could pick a good twirly dress out of a deep six rack of boxy shirts. Our rain-walk loving, silly screaming, someday-dreaming, fresh white paper hogs who have scribbled every last crayon down to its tattered stub and spend afternoons “just painting with black today.” We can’t wait.

food and family photo from happy Maine by our friend Jared.

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.

 

Orzo pasta salad

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Here’s a pasta salad I just love. I make it for moms with new babies (to go with a bag of marinated steak, and cake), and I always make two batches so we can have some at home. Something about using turmeric to dye the orzo makes it taste more exotic, and the triple salty punch of feta, olives, and capers is divine. You can eat bowls of this, by yourself, for several days.

It doesn’t exactly double well, better to have two separate bowls going as you chop things up.

Orzo and Feta with Lemon-Caper Dressing and Kalamata Olives from The Whole Foods Market Cookbook

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 pound orzo

 

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup finely minced fresh parsley (this part takes forever but it’s worth it)

1/8 cup fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon capers, drained

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 cup julienned sun-dried tomatoes

1/2 cup pitted, roughly chopped Kalamata olives

1 cup crumble feta cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the turmeric, and then add the orzo. Cook according to directions for al dente. Drain the orzo, rinse it in cold water. Set aside.

In a bowl large enough to hold the orzo, make a dressing by blending the olive oil, pepper, salt, parsley, lemon juice, capers, and sugar. Add the cooked orzo to the dressing, and combine. Stir in the sun-dried tomatoes and olives. Carefully toss in the feta cheese, mixing lightly, so the feta stays in nice pieces.

 

 

 

Third pregnancy is

third

Third pregnancy, first trimester is: I wake up feeling nauseous and it stays with me. I’m feeling so tired and overwhelmed by the girls. I feel like Lux must be bored with me all day, and has nothing to look forward to every day. I hate making food. The smells in the kitchen gross me out. The trash and the fridge both smell awful from a distance. I feel so tired at night that I’m sad. I’m so tired that I feel darkly about how the day has gone. Joan wakes up so grouchy that it immediately discourages me when I encounter her. I feel surrounded by women who are making things and creating; and I’m just making a baby. And feeling sick the whole time of it. And that’s how the sentence rings in my head: just making a baby.

but then, finally, second trimester:

Third pregnancy is your midwife telling you to just skip the next appointment.

is feeling a little dismal about the lack of attention you’ve given your body in between babies. Like it’s the closet that didn’t get sprucing last spring. Like it’s the shoes that are cracking when you really need them. They’re still yours, but you think maybe you could have treated them better.

is your friends who “are done” joyfully trying to give you everything and anything baby-themed in their homes.

is not thinking about being pregnant once all day, and then thrilling at a tiny kick.

is being happier about how your oldest reacts to the news than anyone or anything else.

is knowing more women who are fighting infertility than you’ve ever known. Feeling like the one with a sandwich in a room of hunger. Wishing you could share. Wishing you could fix it. Wishing pregnancy was infectious via hugs.

is wondering how soon I should ask our beloved sitter how she feels about three.

is grinning when you get an email from your doula because it’s the only thing you’ve done for this one of your kids in weeks.

is your four-year-old, at a dinner party, loudly whispering “your belly looks really big” at 16 weeks.

Third pregnancy is laughing at how clueless you feel about how much your life will change soon. And how it doesn’t matter.

photo by Lux
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