Doing Things

Trio

Sometimes life gets in the way of things you intend to do. In this case, I intended to write blog posts a lot more frequently than has happened lately. Happily, life only got in the way in the best ways, so I let it.

Snuggling with Mama's mama

Some of the things have been social. After my sister’s lovely visit a few weeks ago, my mom came to stay for a few days. My family is so geographically scattered that M (let alone Little Bear) hasn’t even met them all yet, so these two occasions were unusual and precious.

We also recently took a quick road trip to Maine for M’s cousin’s graduation. That was eventful, as everything seemed to be scheduled for Bear’s nap times, but it was so nice to see family. (And to hear bagpipes. Oh, Scotland.)

Graduation party

Pond and a wisp of cloud

Some of the things have been experiential. We have, at the ides of May, finally emerged from the dull weight of endless winter to remember that spring still happens. M in particular has taken to outdoor excursions with a vengeance. He walks with LB every day, and I join them on weekends for trips to the beach or the woods. The Japanese term shinrin-yoku (“forest bathing”) has become a mantra for us, though we do need an equivalent for time spent with sand and salty air.

Moon over dunes

Ham and mushroom quiche

Finally, some of the things have been actions.

I’ve always been more of a dreamer than a doer. I mean, I want to do all the things, but first I want to read all about the history and procedure of each thing, figure out the best tools for doing the thing, and get inspiration on different approaches. It’s unfortunately rare for me to progress to the actual doing of said thing, but it has become easier to follow through the last few years as I’ve settled into a few certain areas of interest.

Baby lettuces

One of those is cooking and baking. One is writing, both the intellectual creation of works and the physical act involving paper and ink and pen or brush. One is gardening, or maybe just attempting to keep plants alive. And one is needlework.

Specifically, I like to sew (including embroidery, if we’re getting specific). I love needles, thread, and fabric. I do not love my sewing machine. I bought one an embarrassingly long time ago and remained terrified of and baffled by it until my mom’s visit brought a chance to move past the fear stage. So I hauled out the machine, set it up per the manual (this was more complicated than it should have been; do manual-writers not sit in front of the machines about which they are writing?), and let my mom guide me.

This episode was an important turnabout in our educational relationship. When my mother has a tech problem, she calls me. Trying to get my brain to step back to the point of pure computer basics is difficult and often frustrating. But I had to sympathize when she was trying to teach me how to sew with a machine. I finally had to remind her: “Mom, you know how I sometimes have to explain the difference between a file and folder? Take this back to a similar level.” We got there in the end, and I got a new handmade napkin out of the process.

Trying my hand at machine sewing

After the flush of that first triumph, I set aside the other three napkins to finish on my own. Several weeks later, I finally picked them up again, and it didn’t start all that well. I recognized one issue, called my mom regarding another, and had a minor frustration fit when it still stuttered. In my younger years, I would’ve flown into a full temper at this point, blamed my sewing machine, and left it alone to rot. But I am older now and (somewhat) wiser and recognize that tantrum-ing is not going to accomplish my goal. Also, it will feel so good when I work over the hurdles and achieve what I want through effort.

Though age 32 is kinda late to be learning these lessons, it’s better late than never. And when I eventually finished those napkins? It really did feel great, and I still grin when I see them on the kitchen table.

This one's for you, Mom

Chaos Theory

Day 342

We have a near-toddler in the house, and I cannot understand why everyone says the newborn phase is the tiring part.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t out of the blue. Things began ramping up the moment Little Bear started to crawl. Once he learned how to pull himself up, sitting down for a moment became a luxury. He’s just so tall and apparently fearless. But this? He has leveled up, and our response has had to scale accordingly.

Day 327

I mentioned before that I was surprised by how well I adjusted to the dirtier aspects of parenting. I really am. In fact, I have to say that the hardest part for me turned out to be the chaos. Children have a rationality all their own, and we adults are not a part of it. That is unfortunate for me, as I have never, ever liked not knowing.

Parenting advice columns and blogs will tell you to give in and embrace the chaos. While I have considered that, even as an exercise in mindfulness, I know that I cannot go further than halfway. I am not a person who thrives on entropy. Giving in to the crazy throws me off balance.

When I was pregnant with LB, I used to lament the need to return to work. My mother stayed at home to raise my sister and me, leaving a career in kitchen and bath design and, I now suspect, some independence behind. She was always there when we got home from school. She shuttled us to our dance classes and piano lessons and tennis camps. She kept house and baked and balanced the checkbook, and I dreamed of having what I believed she had. How could I just ship my tiny baby off to daycare? How would I have the time to cook fresh, nutritious meals if I was working full time? How could I ensure clean, neatly folded laundry and dishes always washed?

In the end, the decision was made for me. Daycare, incredibly expensive in Massachusetts and a big reason women leave work, turned out to cost barely less money than I would earn working. So I returned, and boy, am I glad I did. Even a few recent days home sick with Little Bear had me climbing the walls, especially now that he is so mobile. He doesn’t even walk unaided yet! But he crawls and cruises and climbs, and we’d have to baby-proof down to no furniture to completely keep up. We spend a lot of time having to say no. I think even he finds daycare to be a welcome place of permission.

Undergrowth

The point of this story, finally, is that despite the chaos, we had a practically perfect summer weekend. The sort of weekend that reminds you of the carefree summers of childhood. There was a balance achieved between Little Bear’s “jerk” moments (did I mention that he’s discovered hitting?) and the bright, sweet curiosity that shines when he encounters new things. The balance was as close to absolute equilibrium as I think is possible for us right now.

We ran errands in New Hampshire, then, on a whim, took lunch to a wildlife refuge that had a lovely little half-mile trail to a pond. We saw no wildlife but the two-legged kind, but the woods were beautiful and reminded me sharply of my desire to visit the Pacific Northwest again.

Out of the woods

After our picnic, we spent a few lazy hours at home. Then we went out for sushi. I must say, I am really starting to see the point of raw fish. Fresh salmon has such a luxurious texture. Bear actually woke up to partake this time, enjoying miso soup (though confounded by the spoon) and even a miniscule taste of wasabi. To work off the abundance of seafood, we headed to the beach. Our usual beach is in New Hampshire, but this time we decided to try Plum Island.

Beach study

It was not what I expected. I knew that it was inhabited (houses are routinely reported to have fallen into the ocean during hurricanes), but I didn’t realize how many people must at least summer there. We did a circuit of the peninsula before finding parking, but what we found was amazing. It is relatively rare to get a good beach sunset view on the East Coast, for obvious geographical reasons. To our surprise, there was a near-deserted beach facing west, with a gorgeous red-orange sun descending over the opposite shore. For whatever baby reason, LB took an immediate aversion to the sand and had to be coaxed to keeping his toes in it. We’ll keep working on that.

Outrage

After a gorgeously lazy Saturday, we got a surprising amount done on Sunday. I attacked my fledgling garden with a ferocity borne of too many recent sick days. Though we actually have a small patio at our current place, it’s still difficult to maintain outdoor harmony when renting in a multi-unit building. We’ve had enough rain to make the weeds go crazy, and I finally got fed up. I swept away old leaves, repotted some herbs, moved some plants into the ground, and harvested some successful vegetables.

Cherry tomato

After a couple hours outside, I even managed an experiment. Little Bear is increasingly ambivalent about jarred baby food, and I decided to try a possible way to use up the surplus. I love banana and pumpkin breads and I figured that baby purées of fruit could be swapped in easily. I was too cautious about proportions and my product was a bit dry and dense. I’m not sure I’m willing to buy more baby food just to refine the recipe, but never say never. No matter the result, baking was a nice way to end the weekend.

Baby food bread

Sick again

The weekend’s lovely glow didn’t last long, I’m afraid. In a callback to the terrible long sicknesses of late winter, the Bear succumbed to a virus just a week after finishing a round of antibiotics for his ears. He’s on the mend, but not 100%, so I am really exercising my chaos tolerance muscles. This is much easier, unfortunately, because the baby is so clearly miserable. Poor little guy. If anyone has any tips on forcing a willful one-year-old to take in liquids even though his throat hurts, I welcome them!

Miscellany: Sick Days

January has not been particularly kind to our little family. It seems like the baby and I have spent more time at home than at daycare/work. I have worked just a single full week since early November! A month or so ago, I found the part-time thing relaxing. Now I am nearly crawling the walls with impatience and a slight anxiety about how far behind I am at work.

Well, I’m mentally impatient, anyway. Physically, I’m struggling through a horrifying cold to which I succumbed as the baby went through pneumonia. Thankfully, a hospital stay and plenty of TLC have him on the mend. It was not easy to see such a little lad hooked up to an IV and getting chest x-rays. But he was a trooper and it was all for the best. Now I just hope the recovery days I’ve had helped me. I badly want us all to be well for awhile.

The various illnesses and ailments of the last few weeks have subdued my usual monkey mind somewhat. I would characterize my recent desires as almost pathetic longings for spring that isn’t here and athletic pursuits I cannot manage just now and fresh produce I don’t have the energy to fix up for meals. The things on my mind are a little less ambitious, a bit more dreamy than usual.

Understandably, I’ve been thinking about wellness. One of the first things I miss when I’m ill is physical activity. Before the latest bout of illness, I’d been trying to reconcile my desire to finally resume workouts with my desire for sleep. (I truly do not know how to squeeze them in without getting up even earlier.) Now, however, I’m thinking of restorative activities. I used to do yoga every day. The associated inversions, however, conflict with my current congested state. How about tai chi? It’s been a long time since I did that regularly, and I’d love to advance to sword style

I also want to get a massage. I’ve never had one before, and I always figured I’d go for acupuncture. I do want to try that sometime, but I’ve been craving something more physical to work out the winter and baby-carrying kinks. I need to do some research, though; there are so many types.

Having spent a lot of time in sweats this week, it occurs to me that I need to freshen that part of my wardrobe. So, skinny sweats? Classic fleece? Super wide leg? Or go big with cashmere leggings?

Since all the sickness started, I’ve been sleeping on the futon in Little Bear’s room, both to watch him and to try to keep M from falling ill. Consequently, I am starting to fantasize about our bed (in a safe-for-work way, I promise). We need a new comforter, lighter because M gets warm. And why not some new sheets? Next time I get sick (and I’m sure there will be a next time sooner than I’d like), I want to have a better nest.

On a more spiritual plane, I have wanted to get a jizō figure for my child since before I had a child to whom to give it. I wasn’t raised in a saint-focused religion, but I like the idea. In Western traditions, I suppose it’s a continuation of pagan patron gods. I like correspondences. I like the way Jizō is typically represented in Japanese statuary. It projects a more earthly calm than a typical Buddha figure. I chose this one to watch over LB.

My reading of choice for the recent run of days home has been the blog Manger by Mimi Thorisson. Sometimes her life seems impossibly lush and beautiful. The style is more colorful and rich than I usually gravitate toward. Yet somehow, I have devoured the entire run in a matter of days, noting recipes to try, immersing myself in the stories of French life and food memories. It reminds me of Béatrice Peltre’s La Tartine Gourmande in the lyrical descriptions of growing up French and foodie. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t had the energy to cook much lately that I want to hear so much about others doing so. On a more materialistic note, the gorgeous photos of her gorgeous kids make me wish American children’s clothing designers took it as seriously as those in France. I get tired of the cartoon pictures and silly sayings. I don’t need my baby to wear a suit, but there must be middle ground between that and a onesie that says “I only cry when ugly people hold me”.

Finally, I’ve started to allow myself to think about spring. Right now, this means gardening. I’m thinking very ambitiously, but I know I will be hard-pressed to manage more than a couple of pots on the patio. I have rosemary and parsley over-wintering in a sunny kitchen window. I’d like to add a few more potential staples. I have a thing for atypical varieties. So French breakfast or daikon radishes. A French variety of squash. Yellow or purple carrots. And plenty of leafy greens. I love salad, but I dislike dealing with the store-bought produce.

Okay. I’m feeling a bit better. The light is certainly visible at the end of the sickly tunnel, anyway. Little Bear is chipper and giggly, and I think I’ll be that way soon. Well, maybe not the giggly part. That’s not really my style.