Gone Writin’ … kind of

As the summer draws to a close I’ve been counting up my home to-do list wins, like getting back to school supplies early enough before the ravages of parents crazed by complicated lists, or having checked off nearly all of the “Summer Wishes” activities board our family created in June. I’ve also been considering the near-wins and losses, like my yet still half full tub of kid art projects waiting to be photographed for a memory book and recycled, or this poor little blog still languishing with no fresh content. My one consolation was realizing I had posted once since my original Gone Writin’ piece about an epic battle with a stomach flu. (I promise more than infirmity has happened in the following months)

Here’s to all of us who take this season’s change as an opportunity to celebrate our successes, confront our misses, and update our goals.

Field Notes From the Front Lines of the Stomach Flu

[below is the original post from January this year]

It’s ironic that the last post on Niche Envy was about being committed to practicing one’s craft (for me writing) with consistency, and then 11 months pass with nary a keystroke uploaded. The imaginary sign I’ve hung on this humble little blog’s front door reads Gone Writin’, as opposed to Fishin’ or whatever other activity one departs to engage in for any given set of time. It’s also ironic that the absence of words here has meant the sprinkling of words elsewhere. Given the limitations of my time, had I posted on Niche Envy I wouldn’t have been able to submit other pieces.

Perhaps to prove to myself that I’m keeping to Ira Glass’ encouragement, I wanted to round up the various stories I’ve told in the past year or so. I hope you enjoy them!

Finding Our Eye of the Parenting Storm

My thoughts on how having four children in four years has shaped my husband and I as parents and a couple. I hope other parents of young children find encouragement from our experience.

3 Starting Points for Raising Do-Good Kids

Some ideas on how to leverage our kids’ world, talent, and interests to encourage a lifestyle of giving.

How Being a Mountain Guide Prepared Me to Be a Parent

I spend the better part of three summers as a mountain guide. I learned so much more than I was able to teach – and much of it applies to my perspective on how I parent my children.

How We Survived Survival Mode

A small list of not so obvious ways that helped us survive the early days of parenting.

Gratitude in Our Brief Visit to the Pediatric ICU

A look back to when we almost lost our then toddler to a killer virus.

3 Ways to Give Back During the Holidays For and With Our Kids

Exploring how we can make the giving season mean even more for the children in our lives.

My (too) Close Encounter with Virtual Reality and How it Sparked Imagining VR for Good

Putting on a cardboard VR viewer changed the way I think about doing good forever.

Amplified Accountability

Encouragement can be one of the most powerful forces we can experience. When encouragement comes at just the right time, there can be an amplifier effect. Such was the case when I happened upon a short video of the inimitable Ira Glass talking about how to endure and thrive in creative growth.

I had been a bit preoccupied about my own growth (I blame the tyranny of LinkedIn endorsements), and in the midst of my worry came a clear message from Mr. Glass: keep at it – whatever the ‘it’ may be – and you’ll see progress. Just the sort of accountability I needed as I muddle along writing here, and writing in my head as I shower in the mornings (I’m sure other normal people do that too).

Not only do the words themselves offer hefty inspiration, but the kinetic typography and the font types are so winsome they burnish this already uplifting message with an aesthetic oomph. I hope the handful of people – hello to Niche Envy readers in Brazil and Spain!! – who happen upon this page are as encouraged as I was.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle your Closet

We’ve slowly been picking up some old habits that were collateral damage from the dearth of time and energy in the early days of the twins’ arrival: baking, organizing school papers (bless you Container Store), dying my almost completely white hair on a more consistent schedule. Our next installment of normalcy is getting back to composting. Waste has always bothered me so we really try to reduce, reuse, and recycle in feasible ways.

I’ve desperately wanted to keep this ethos when it came to the sartorial side of our family. Thankfully there are several awesome kids’ clothes consignment sales around us, friends that are committed to handing down (and taking our hand me downs), and I’ve fiddled with several consignment apps including thredUP. Even if the clothes are ‘fast’ or disposable fashion, it’s being used more than once. Even if it’s non organic cotton, less water is used if the garment has a couple owners.

But I’ve been unable to reuse or recycle in my closet. By closet I mean the rolling coat-rack in our utility room given that our bedroom is smaller than my freshman year dorm.

I’ve tried going to upscale and downscale consignment shops, but they were either too hip or frankly smelled too odd. Then it occurred to me, thredUP might be worth looking at for me. With slight trepidation, I hunted down brands that my impossibly well dressed colleagues wear (they are my life-line to anything current), and was thrilled to see gorgeous pieces. At great prices. And when I ordered them, I found the clothes to be odor free.

thredUP has a slick and mercifully spare UI, great search parameters, and offers Amazon Prime-eqsue free shipping with a small fee. Not only has my continual hunt for clothes been streamlined (how many sizes can kids go through?!), but I can access the responsive site (mobile is just as great as monitor) at midnight when I take care of the non-laundry or housekeeping tasks. Most importantly, I have been able to lessen our family’s environmental impact just a little bit more, with flair.

thredUP

Participatory Eating

This evening we had our Sunday dinner family friends over to enjoy baked macaroni and cheese (I included my recipe below). I had made a double batch of cheesy buttery goodness – one to serve and one to drop with new friends we had met through a craigslist purchase who are also expecting twins. Aside: if you know someone expecting multiples, and want to help – please make them a dinner before the babies come. Being pregnant with more than one baby at a time is extraordinarily difficult. And you get peckish. And you can’t stand upright long enough to make something like baked macaroni and cheese.

Anyway … To balance out this heavy dish I wanted to add something bright. I found just the thing as I was lusting my way through the green grocer section: two-for-one artichokes. After tossing the best looking ones into my cart, I snagged a lemon to make a simple citrus butter. And then of course ended up in a checkout line conversation with another customer about this beautiful vegetable about how much fun it is to eat.

And it was so much fun to eat. We crowded around the steaming olive-toned globes plucking leaves, assiduously inspecting each one for artichoke meat, working our way to the over sized hearts (these were definitely not organic veggies), carefully removing the hairy choke on each one and divvying up the prizes. It was a delightful and delicious experience.

photo

What is it about food that requires some level of participation? Why is it so much more satisfying to be involved with what we eat?

Like navigating through a good drumstick, thigh, or wing.

Or preparing a grapefruit half using those clever albeit threateningly-designed knives.

Or salting a bowlful of edemame ahead of the splitting and popping into your mouth that our family loves to do.

Or I guess at it’s core why it’s more fun eating tapas style, or out of a bento box?

What foods do you like to play with?


 Storm Family Favorite: Baked Macaroni and Cheese

  • 6 tablespoons butter – use all the butter, it’s worth it
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 medium onion, chopped  – this is essential to get the right flavor (if I’m making for another family I chop in large pieces to be removed easily)
  • 3 cups milk – we use whole milk, it’s also worth it
  • 5 cups uncooked macaroni
  • 1 cup shredded Monterrey Jack – about half a block 
  • 4 cups shredded sharp cheddar – about 2 blocks
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar – this is for the top, keep aside, about 1 block
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese – we use the real stuff, it’s worth it

Cook pasta according to directions on packet. Shock with cold water until completely cold. Drain, set aside. Pour your 3 cups of milk and set aside (this allows it to lose a little of its refrigerator chill to avoid hampering the melting process later on).

In a large saucepan melt the butter on medium heat. While it melts, chop your onion and set aside. Add flour to melted butter, whisking often, cooking until roux turns light yellow. Add onion and continue to whisk. At this point, while the onions are doing their thing (a.k.a. sauteing in the roux) I just chop the cheese. I don’t bother with shredding anymore, after all who ever complained about getting a wodge of melty cheese on your fork? Keep a cautious eye out for a burning pan, you might need to reduce your heat.

When the cheese is piled up on a separate dish, the onions and roux should be ready. Now is a good time to turn the oven to 375 and pull out your glass 9×13 pan.

Slowly pour the milk into the roux/onion mix in your pan. Whisk constantly and carefully. You’ll see the gluten bind up and thicken the milk. Turn your heat to low and stir occasionally. Slide your pile of cheese in and let it sit and warm and melt. I found that too much stirring can separate the cheese ending with a soupy disaster.

Pour in your cooked elbows, stir, then pour into your pan (really no point in greasing ahead of time – melted cheese will stick regardless). Cover with your remaining cheese (I do shred this last bit) and pop into the oven. Bake for about 20 minutes, then crank up the broiler and watch to get the right amount of brown that your family likes.

Is Writing Cathartic?

This morning as I slowly drove through traffic on 17th Street gently jostled by the manhole covers and pot holes, my heart was awakened by a response given during a Morning Edition interview.

“I still feel that poetry is not medicine — it’s an X-ray.
It helps you see the wound and understand it.”

The interviewee, a poet who had endured great trauma during her final weeks in Iraq before leaving her homeland, was saying that her life’s work had in fact not healed her but that it was still needful and beneficial.

Merriam-Webster defines catharsis as both a purification bringing about renewal as well as elimination of a complex through the process of expression. Do you find writing to be cathartic? In only considering this question very briefly, I find myself in agreement with our brave poet – that it is part of the journey of renewal. At least for me.

As World Poetry Day enjoys its final hour (at least here in the Eastern Standard time zone), I send you my best wishes that your writing, your word collecting and shuffling, brings you joy, peace, release, clarity on your journey.

Excuse Note: our Rorschach test

Have you ever experienced something that served as a Rorschach test for people around you? Where some folks high-five you, and others shake their heads depending on their paradigm? Here’s ours:

For the uninitiated, this image was made when sound waves bounced off two babies in utero creating a negative image launching our sonographer into giggles, forcing my husband to his feet and my side, and sending me into the first of 7-10 panic attacks that day.

I’ve already mentioned that I’m a twin myself (my sister and I are fraternal, for the curious among you) and due to our family history both of my previous pregnancies (we have two girls under 4, for the interested among you), enjoyed early and frequent checks to make sure they were swimming alone comfy and cozy. This summer when my husband and I thought about moving forward with our amazing family of four, an unplaced hesitation made us reconsider our commitment to not regret anything. So we were open, as they say, for a short time which we assumed was fruitless. Until one night I woke in a cold sweat from a very bizarre dream, where positive pregnancy tests flew back and forth before me in Fantasia style, and ran for the medicine cabinet at 4:30 am. My intent was to shake away those crazy images still in my mind’s eye so I could sleep again, but I only succeeded in learning the pink dream-doodles were prescient, and ensuring that neither my husband nor I would get any further rest that night.

The emotional pivot I made was pretty jarring but once I cleared it, I started to get excited but began to hyperfocus on determining the count. It would be just too, too … obvious, ironic, classic that a hesitant 3 would be actually 4. An early blood test indicated just one baby, but since I’m more a fan of hard evidence over inference we waited. What we didn’t know was that my twin had been dreaming for weeks that someone she knew would have twins, that two years prior my grandmother for weeks before her death repeated frequently that I – not her other 4 grandchildren – would have twins, that my aunt knew before my mother told her, or that my Mum had an inkling that we would find out that cozy and comfy would also include cuddly with two tiny babies inside me.

HOLY. MOLY.

I was telling my Dad the other day that our fecundity, it seems, is serving as a cautionary tale for friends in their mid-thirties with children. And for some it’s an inspiration to keep trying. For us our little Rorschach test has elicited a veritable spectrum of emotional responses. I’m catching up with my husband who’s already on his way towards elation.

So, this is my excuse note for not posting these past few weeks. And perhaps my excuse going forward for any future posts that may tilt towards the maternal.

Enjoy some FAQs I shared with friends:

  • Yes, I’m freaking out. Colin however, has been amazing.
  • No this was not planned. The OB, sonographer and everyone was very surprised.
  • Yes it’s pretty early to be telling people (I’m only 8 weeks along, due date in June) but our perspective has always been, and was with both of our girls, that the first trimester is the hardest and if God forbid something happens (miscarriage is more common than we think) I’d want all the support I can get.
  • The babies are fraternal, the size they should be and everything looks good so far. I have the same 24 hrs nausea I did with the girls which stinks, but is expected.
  • Yes, I anticipate I will resemble a barn in the very near future.

One last note. We would love for you to pray for us – this whole journey before us will be one led by the Lord’s grace alone. Thanks! And don’t be shy to let me know how I can pray for you.

Open Source Paper Alphabet

I’ve already noted how much I delight in online sharing and learning and shared learning. Here is another truly lovely example I came across on Pinterest via Jodi McKee (a #mustfollow). Markus of Digitprop has curated, among many other incredible things, a library of three dimensional papercraft letters he designed complete with free downloads and tutorials. Take a look at his work … it’s truly amazing, an inspiring marriage of whimsy and precision. Bravo – for your skill and your willingness to freely share your talent!

Next stop, the craft store for the correct weight paper and an X-ACTO knife … #pumped.

I *heart* Infographics and Motion Graphics

When we moved back to the UK after the first of two stints in the NYC suburbs during the middle of elementary school (yes it’s confusing), our new house had an extra bedroom that our parents “gave” to my twin sister and I as our playroom. It was a fair sized space with a tiny wash basin in the left corner as you walked in which we thought was fancy. Facing you were thick maroon floor to ceiling velvet curtains to keep out the damp English chill that can creep in through hundred year old windows. The surrounding floral wallpaper was chosen to compliment the curtains but you could never really see it from behind the National Geographic map inserts and art class projects hanging on the walls.

One of my most fond memories of the playroom and that time in my life was when we turned it into a museum. My sister and I took on the roles of archeologist, archivist, curator, and thanks to some crafty ticket-making, docent (our patient Mum was the most frequent patron of our museum). We scoured the house for artifacts, created some of our own to round out the collection and after some research jazzed up with a dash of creative license, we composed thoughtful note cards explaining each piece, highlighting its importance and likely date of origin. It was the best. game. ever. Coming in close second was any occasion when I was reading through World Book Encyclopedia. So deep is my genuine enjoyment for information, trivia, random things.

Infographics and motion graphics rest in one of the highest echelons of my nerd heart – not only do they convey information which I adore, they do so with deft use of aesthetics. Just delightful! Below is a sampling:

Do you have any you love, made you laugh, found compelling enough to change your thoughts/behavior?

The [doll] House that Crowdsourcing Built

To say “I love social media” on a WordPress blog that will be shared via Twitter and Pinterest – is stating the obvious to the point of blushing. Chances are if you’re reading this, you love social media too (though I wonder if your time would be better spent elsewhere online with much better content). In particular I love the “social” part of social media; the collective sharing, learning, working, meeting. I think it’s phenomenal and it’s what I suppose is one of the altruistic aims. When this aim is in symbiosis with a fabulous product, a fail whale gets its wings. Or at the very least, you have a game changing idea.

I really wish I could remember where I first stumbled upon this genius of an idea, but I do know it was through social media. A dollhouse with simple elegant design that didn’t just leave its walls blank for imagination to run free but comes with an online point of creative departure with crowdsourced ideas to personalize and make it your own. They even crowdsourced their funding through Kickstarter.

Alyson Beaton and her Grow Studio team have designed locally made, eco friendly modular houses using baltic birch and easily replaced recycled paperboard (I’ve already mentioned my affinity for cardboard). They pack flat which is welcome news for those of us whose square footage or patience can’t afford clutter (both apply to me).

I love every aspect of this toy, and what it can become as it’s shared within a online community and IRL. It engages kids to be inspired by the designers’ ideas, share their own ideas and see other kids’ featured work, and learn from how-to tutorials by Esty artisans crowdsourced by Grow Studio.

Having spent untold hours hunting online for a dollhouse that didn’t start its life in an injection mold or display a glaring gender bias, I can tell you that wooden dolly domiciles don’t come cheap. I was thrilled to see that Grow Studio starts their pricing at $12 for adorable mini houses and tops out at $60 for their biggest houses not to mention all sorts of fun add ins and replacement parts to prolong the life of this clever house.

Now that my Christmas list for the girls is locked, I can spend more time fiddling about with the downloads and trolling thrift shops for jazzy fabric the girls can use to make soon-enough-to-be-their Lille Houses theirs. It’s going to be a happy crowd happily crowdsourcing *wah wah* this December!

NOTE: Fab added some of these houses to its list of incredible things to buy – discount is 30%. Sale ends in just under 7 days on Oct 9th 2012. Woot!