Interview on Reading My Tea Leaves


Somehow in the hubbub of last days of pregnancy, I forgot to post the interview I typed up for Erin Boyle’s blog Reading My Tea Leaves. Here it is! In preparation for the publication of her book Simple Matters she interviewed several small-space livers. I found the other interviews fascinating! And by golly I really tried my best to keep mine candid and helpful.

Living in a small space with children who love paper found on the street, admission bracelets given to them at museums, stacks of old artwork…I promise it’s a constant project. But when it’s working, it’s working so well.


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Lux: she’s very sensitive about being sensitive. If she gets hurt, she doesn’t like sympathy and she doesn’t want to talk about it. It was soothing to all three of us to get her into the tub to clean up, then some ointment, then two bandaids. Phew. 

Alma: smiling mysteriously this week. It passes over her face and her eye’s register just a flicker of smile-momentum. 

Joan: got a bang trim so this is the last week of those wispy, omnipresent locks in her eyes. The hair stylist asked me if I was sentimental about hair since I waited so long to trim it–“no, just absent minded.”

So much pale winter skin in these!

This week I googled news of zika nearly every morning. In December I thought about pregnant women every time I saw a naivety scene or read The Legend of the Poinsettia to the girls. I thought of pregnant woman as strong, brave visions for the future. Now in February, I think about all the countries where they might be feeling fragile and vulnerable instead. What a horrible plague to pray over.




None of my clothes quite fit in a way I like, so I got bangs instead. I need a little high self-maintenance in my life.

The girls love to have their nails painted. Joan manages to stay at the table and let them dry for fifteen minutes after I paint them. Later she comes back with three of them completely rubbed off from activity. “You forgot to paint these,” she says.

I’m reading The Magician’s Assistant. The main characters names are Sabine and Parsifal. So pretty. I think Ann Patchett might be my favorite light fiction. It’s still beautifully and carefully written, but the stories are fast and the relationships are so engaging. This title was briefly $2 for kindle edition, a fact I found out from this lovely list.

The girls have started retelling stories of good and bad things. “Remember that silly guy?” “Oh yeah the one with the hat?” “Yeah.” <laughs, giggles>  But also, “Remember at the playground, that mean boy who said ‘I’ll push you if you don’t get out of here?'” <solemn faces> Again and again. Until playground = mean kid. Who was there but once, who at the time they simply shrugged at, but now he has managed to sweep all other memories aside. It frustrates me. After the twentieth retelling “Ok,” I say, “We’re not telling that story anymore. Lots of other nice things happened at the playground. We’ve met so many other friends there.” I’m not sure what else to say–ideas?



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Joan: at the contemporary art museum she said right away when she found an exhibit “too scary for me.” I would say “oh ok” and we’d march away. 

Lux: deliberating a move in one of the brief games of chess she plays with Joe. Face so old, hands so young. 

Alma: still taking photos of her sleeping, but I’m spending much more time trying to get her there these days. 

This week Alma has blossoming teenage acne all over her face. It’s the strangest thing (that happens to all babies everywhere, I know). For this week at least, if I soothe her to sleep and then set her down, she wakes up after ten minutes. So now I tuck her in and then soothe. I’ve noticed Lux has become a bit of a surrogate mom to Joan. I used to suggest “Maybe Lux can help?” Now Joan just asks Lux to do it from the first. The things she wants me to do: listen to her side of an argument, give a hug when she’s crying, sit really close and read her books, prepare/present her food the way she feels is extremely important.

People say the thing about three is that there’s always a need. That’s true. But I’ve been surprised to find myself happy to switch from need to need. When Alma’s all set I fairly sprint to one of the other girls to talk to them, ask them if they want to read a book, tell them they look beautiful in their eclectic outfit for the day with bed mussed hair. .

digital grannies

digital grannies and organizing photos

Two weeks before Alma was born I was at dinner with a tableful of moms. At my corner of the table conversation turned to photos and organization. I found the three other moms overwhelmed and dismissive. One didn’t have access to the photos she wanted of her newborn–they were all on her husband’s computer because their nice camera was his. One couldn’t seem to delete a particularly unflattering photo of herself that was appearing on her synced television screen at unpredictable intervals. One wearily said she really wanted to understand Apple’s iCloud photo service but found it (understandably) mysteriously complex. All three seemed deeply frustrated.

I was frustrated by the conversation as well. The apathy and the confusion, the fluttering of hands and “oh wells” that followed. How had these moms been told it wasn’t worth their time to figure this out? Why wasn’t it worth it get their digital shit together and know where their favorite photos were?

Most of us feel that though we have not quite figured out how to handle our digital shoeboxes bursting with photos, everyone else has. But I think at least in the case of young moms, we are not figuring it out. We are studiously documenting with fingers crossed that the dusty hard drive in the cupboard will be pulled out one day, and all with be uploaded. We are snapping away with ever-better cameras, adding extra zeros on to our collection with every passing month, and yet at a standstill about what to do next.

At this point we’ve all got an attic full of wonderful photos, but the attic is really an illusion: everything could be erased if we haven’t taken the time to embrace them.

It would be nice to take advantage of the businesses offering solutions to this problem but it’s also impossible to believe any of the businesses will exist in the same way in 10 years. It’s hard to keep up with their updates and subscriptions. Thus we sit on our files like old mattress money stuffers, believing a house fire is too horrible to imagine.

But house fires of this type happen all the time. Not just ye old hard drive crash of yore, but also the inadvertent house fire in which you’ve simply lost access to that photo because it is loaded onto a hard drive buried in the closet and you’ve lost the cord.

Is a photo backed-up, yet inaccessible, still a photo in your life?

Part of the trouble is that our digital lives are still often dismissed as self-indulging and ephemeral. Instagram accounts are mentioned with an eye roll. Collecting photos annually and having them printed and bound into books takes hours, truly hours to put together, and feels hard to justify when we’ve already posted it and relished the photo elsewhere. While we’d love our children to someday say “she kept a tidy lovely home” about us, it feels less important to imagine them saying “she did such a great job of documenting our family’s life together over the years.”

Sometimes I think about blogs as this century’s cross-stitch sampler. I’ve encountered criticism of them as aggrandizing digital wastes of time. A trend. People still say things like “I don’t read blogs,” as if they were a category of acquired taste. But they are the next in a long historic line of homemaking habits, small lovely tributes to our abilities and hopes. Even if the writers gloss things over, even if they make life appear too clean and breezy. Though in theory written and created for others, they will always bring the most pleasure to their creator.

Like meandering the over-loaded toothpaste aisle wishing the one satisfactory product would reach out and shake our hand, there are more options for dealing with this than seem necessary–Flickr? Google Photos? iCloud Photo? Given that almost everyone has a iPhone, Apple has an almost moral imperative to offer the best service for our attic-less granny selves. And I think they do. But they’ve buried this knowledge under so much poor product branding. I kid you not: there are actually three separate products and these are their names: iCloud Drive, iCloud Photo, iCloud Photo Library. Yup. They must be enabled in different ways and they offer different things. Is this solvable and still incredibly functional? Yes. (how to turn on iCloud Photo Library) Google Photos, for those using their phones as their only-camera is an incredibly easy option. They compress very large photo sizes, so they are not a good fit for your wonderful DSLR shots.

Why not do both! Take one minute, one actual minute, to download the Google Photos app, and one minute to enable it to backup your photos. When you open your app again it will have built fun videos from your trip to Texas last summer and compiled every single shot you managed to get of Grandma in 2015 into one handy folder. It’s eminently browsable and wildly searchable.

Then sign up for another option, like the iCloud. I know, it costs money! But it costs a fraction of one month’s internet bill. Upload all your photos again, and the big ones too this time. Dig your old hard drive in the closet, find a plug, and upload all those too.

Let’s celebrate that we’re not dashing to the grocery store to be handed a small envelope packed with four fantastic photos and twenty crummy ones. Celebrate that there are no shoeboxes full of crumpled negatives under the bed. That we don’t need to buy pink hole punches at Creative Memories shops anymore.

But, take that freed-up time to go all in with one of these products. Whichever one you pick, use it, read the emails they send you regarding product developments or changes, set as many auto uploads as you can. Or use two, if you got the time, and play around with them! Curate and print multiples of what you discover. After the work of curating thousands of photos down to 100 of your baby’s first ten days, redouble the effects of this labor by printing a book not just for yourself but a copy for grandparents.

Take that code that keeps popping up on facebook and give chatbooks’ automatic book printing a try. Print a big colorful newspaper print from Parabo Press. Print 25 photos from that Maine college friends trip on Artifact Uprising’s gloriously thick square prints and mail them to your friends.

The point is: it’s worth it. This bit of housekeeping, the annual fee, a few hours work on the front end, perhaps an hour every week, it’s worth it.  If the old romantic adage was throw away the bank statements and keep love letters, the new one is upload the photos, all of them. Relish the photos and the opportunity to back them up, not because you finally got around to deleting all the bad ones and perfectly edited the rest for light and color, but because you love them.

these daze

afternoonAlma is asleep on the bed. We’re moving forward with the assumption she loves to sleep with noise! The girls tell me those chess pieces are watching a movie. 

I have fallen down a rabbit hole of obsession with Jenny Gordy of Wiksten. She makes incredibly beautiful perfectly lovely things for her daughter. And she writes brief and candid captions. Do follow.

I’m re-reading Momma ZenIt’s so good and soothing, I want to quote the whole darn thing here. The thing that always strikes me about this book is that Karen Maezen Miller only had one child. And yet she just caught it all, all the difficulties and transitions and wisdom to be gained, the first time around. Impressive.

When you have a baby, the boundaries of a day are not boundaries at all. What you thought was a day–daylight followed by an evening meal and assorted frivolities–is only one half of the day. A true day goes on much longer! A true day is a night and a day and a night again. A true day never ends.

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Lux: I needed to order new ballet shoes and tights for her–the old ones had gotten so little! She convinced me to throw in the components of a white swan costume. She asked me every day when I thought the package would arrive. She’s so proud of the elegant long tutu. 

Alma: mid-yawn! Caught it at last. 

Joan: Delighting in a crazy confetti colored Italian cookie from the North End.

This week I’ve been thinking about the basketwork of nursing. If nursing for nine months, or a year, or whatever you manage, is a finished basket you can place on your shelf and smile fondly at later, now is the rough work of pulling it together. Binding reeds and callousing soft fingers. Weaving in and out exactly the same way over and over, picking it up again and again before you’re through. Dropping your soft body into the mold of new habits with gusto: drinking so much water all day, yet gasping for still more as soon as you begin nursing again. Shifting time from twenty-four to three hour cycles (or much, much less, early on). Stretching achy shoulders, massaging small hot pockets of pain here and there, losing half your wardrobe, adjusting to the milky smell that surrounds you when you wake up each morning.

With Lux and Joan I always thought I’d stop nursing at nine months. But then I reached nine months and everything mentioned above had become so normal, that settled in and did it for three more months!

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Alma: last days of napping willy nilly. Now she must be swaddled to stay asleep. 

Lux: during her quiet time. Listening to Boxcar Children, probably. 

Joan: loves to go outside. She is still the first one dressed every morning.

We’ve been completely inundated with food from friends in a wonderful way. I’ve started eating entrees for breakfast: spicy chicken lasagne, tikki masala with rice and chopped kale, wedges of roasted sweet potato peppered all over. It’s my hungriest meal of the day, I start thinking about food at 5am when Alma wakes up, so why not?

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Lux & Joan: They both like to hold her for about 60 seconds and then they get a vaguely repulsed and overwhelmed look, and sigh with relief when I take her.

Alma: Those tiny, absentminded, infant face scratches! It’s impossible to keep the nails trimmed short enough. 1.5 weeks old here. 

I’m in the everything-is-an-experiment stage of newborn-parent relationship development. Will she wake up if I set her down. How long will this nap last. Swaddle, or no. Pacifier, or no. On me, or on the bed. Needs to burp obsessively. Doesn’t need to burp this time.
It’s fun as long as you don’t worry too much about it.

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Lux & Joan: I don’t think I’ll be getting many shots with them individually this year. Gosh I’m so proud of them. 

Alma: the only thing I can type when I see this photo is “coo.”

Every year Jodi inspires me with her talk of a folder full of weekly photos at the end of the year. Why not start anew with a new babe? I just finished The Wright Brothers and am feeling rather optimistic about everything as a result. So inspiring, those boys.

And Joe gave me a new lens for Christmas; my second Canon pancake (= slim, light). I love it.