On New Year’s Resolutions

Over the past few months I have been noticing my need to be more organized, and also feeling that ache for community that is so easy to lose in our constant state of busy-ness. The last few years have been a wonderful adventure, a wonderful state of controlled chaos. But as my children grow older and head off to school, I have become more and more aware of how I need to be more intentional with my time in order to maximize the (now shortened) time I spend with them.

When setting out my goals for the year, there were two ideas that were very important to me. The first is that I wanted to organize and plan my life better so I could spend more time with my loved ones in a conscious and present way. This means not being distracted or split between tasks when I’m with my kids and it also means calling people up to make plans to spend time together, like we keep promising we will. (Isn’t it crazy how quickly a year goes by? How many opportunities are missed?)

The second goal I had was to expand my repertoire of recipes. I felt like we were on a five-meal rotation and even if I wanted to try something new, I didn’t plan ahead to get the ingredients at the grocery store and the extra trip to the store didn’t seem worth it so we had something I already had on hand.

So, now that January is almost over, I wanted to take stock and see how my resolutions are going. I have been inspired by some other families out there sharing how they put their lives and schedules together and the philosophies behind how they run their households, so I thought maybe I’d share mine as well.

In our culture there is so much prized on individual accomplishment, so much focus on self-improvement and empowerment. And I don’t think those things are wrong. But I also think that great joy comes from the things we do together. The nights we stay up too late chatting with a friend. The meals we linger over together. The time we invited strangers into our home, and they left as sisters. Our families and the communities we build around them are the things that will last so much longer than anything we accomplish on our own.

So with that in mind, I set out to organize my time better to focus on our family’s togetherness, and the joy we share in just being present with each other, eating together, talking together, adventuring together, sharing trials and triumphs together. Family dinner every night has always been very important to me, but through the years of young babies, the preparation that went in to it had started to feel daunting. So I wanted to come up with a plan to make it more of an excitement and less of a drudgery.

Enter: Sweet Peas Meals. Last year a few of my favorite food bloggers teamed up to create a meal plan that sends you a weekly email with a menu and grocery list. It’s like Blue Apron, only you shop yourself to save money and to make the adjustments necessary to feed a family of any size.

I check the menu with our calendar and decide what we’re going to make, then I get all my grocery shopping for the week done on Friday. Thursdays are our crazy nights when I need dinner done quickly, so I like to plan either left-overs or a crock pot meal for that day. And if I know we’re having guests, I know to just double the ingredients for that meal and then we’re ready to go! I love heading into the weekend with a stocked fridge and a kitchen ready to host. It’s all my #goals working together at once!

So, if you’re interested, here are seven of our favorite new recipes. All of these are so easy to double or triple, which is great for inviting friends over or having leftovers and not having to cook for a whole day! Yay!

Our absolute favorite meal so far is the Honey Chipotle Chicken Bowls with Coconut Lime Quinoa. Actually way easier than it sounds, and if our friends are to be believed, liked by pretty much everyone. Oh my yumm.

Easy Chickpea Vegetable Stir Fry – healthy and delish. Who knew chickpeas were a good idea for a stir fry?

If you or anyone you know is on a special diet, this Slow Cooker Enchilada Quinoa is a great way to fill everyone up with goodness and flavor. We made it without the enchilada sauce once and replaced that with some green salsa and it was really good.

Slow Cooker Black Bean Tortilla Soup – so good, so easy to make ahead of time. Save yourself the trouble of making tortilla strips and just crumble up some tortilla chips if you’re not trying to impress anybody.

Winter Citrus Butter Salmon – sounds super fancy, can actually be made in less than 30 minutes. Looks fancy, too, so you know, amazing. We served it with some quinoa because quinoa is my new favorite.

BLT Lettuce Wraps with Avocado Ranch – we actually ended up making this into sort of a brunchy thing with friends. We made a bacon, egg and cherry tomato scramble and served the avocado ranch to go with it. It was really good. The kids chose to opt out of the dressing, but that just meant more for us.

Thai Chicken Zoodle Soup – we made this sans chicken and sans a zoodle maker. We just cut up the zucchini into strips and it worked fine. It’s easy to keep the items for this soup stocked and then use whatever veggies you need to eat up soon, so I think this one will be a staple. Also, ready in less than 30 minutes!

(One of the things I’ve loved about this particular foray into cooking is that these recipes are so flavorful and delicious in themselves that it’s easy to skip the meat. So if you’re looking for a non-boring way to go vegetarian more often, I would totally recommend a meal plan like this.)

And one more, because you can’t forget dessert: I tried these cookies that are apparently taking over the internet: Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies. They are a fun twist on the classic, and excellent with tea. Which makes them extra cozy and appropriate for January, when tea and candlelight are what gets me through these dreary days.

Have you tried any new recipes lately? I’d love it if you’d pass some along! Also, tell me all your household-running secrets. How do you make the dream work?

Things I Love About Henry (4 Years Old)

Hello, dear and long-neglected blog.

It’s been a while, huh? I think this is the one that stumped me, this note to Henry for his fourth year. And not because I have nothing to say. It’s just that Henry, at this age, is so much more than I can put into words. Daily he astounds me with cleverness, his tenderness, his reasoning beyond his years, his kindness, his eagerness, his adventurous spirit, just… everything. He catches me by surprise at almost every turn, and makes me laugh and ponder and delight so often.

He’s so witty and thoughtful. Deeply thoughtful. His questions make me look at the world in a whole new way. They remind me to be filled more with curiosity and wonder and less with reasonable explanations. He has a big heart that wants to care for others. And he always loves the best things about other people. He is patient and optimistic and determined.

Let me give you some examples of the wonder that is Henry.

We went to Disneyland and at the end of our time there he used the money he had earned to buy a special toy. His chose to get a remote-control Cruz he had seen in California Adventure. Well, CA was closed and there was only one place in Disneyland we could get it. He and I ran all over the park trying to find it, being misdirected by staff who didn’t quite know where it was and trying to race against time and return to Main Street before the fireworks started. I was a bit panicked, but he ran eagerly “quick as lightning” without complaining and when we finally found the last two remote-control Cruzes in all of Disneyland, he felt very lucky indeed. And then, when he brought it home, after all of that, Archer saw it and immediately wanted it. And Henry let him have it. Because he’s just that sweet of a big brother. He waited patiently for Archer to get bored so he could snatch it back up.

I mean, he’s not perfect all of the time, but when it comes to Archer, he is kind and giving and generous beyond what I think 4-year-olds are normally capable of. And I so appreciate that about him.

More things to love about Henry at this age:

  1. He loves school. I was hoping he would be sad to leave me, but he isn’t at all. He just runs right into his classroom, so eager for the day to start. I think it comes from wanting to be so much like his big sisters. Being just like them is so important to him that he even assigned himself homework to do while they work on theirs. Every night he has himself draw a circle, a square and a triangle and then count how many sides each one has. Afterwards he shows me his homework with such pride and matter-of-factness, because it’s homework after all, and you have to do your homework.
  2. And all he wants to do is play with the girls when they get home. They are not always the nicest to him in this regard, and so I’ll hear him sobbing from the next room, begging to be included, “I’ll be anything you want me to be!” The three of them generally play so nicely together, but it is mostly thanks to Henry doing whatever they want him to just to be included.
  3. He is so down to adventure at any time. Before school started I took him on a last little date of his choice. We went to Powell’s for a book and then we got some lunch. I was suggesting nearby restaurants he might like and he said, “I just want to try anything that is new.” So we had a kimchi burger.
  4. He is so good to his brother in so many ways. It all started when Archer was just 2 months old and started sleeping in his room with him. In the middle of the night when Archer woke up for a feeding, Steve would bring him to me to eat and a few minutes later Henry would burst into the room, slightly panicked, “Do you guys have Archer?” When we assured him we did, he just sleepily climbed into bed with all of us until Archer was done and they both went back to their room. They can’t stand to sleep apart. And now that they’re older, they stay up until all hours of the night signing or laughing at each other. I don’t even know what they could be laughing at, but it’s pretty cute.
  5. Oh and how could I forget how his love for Archer leads to an over concern for his well-being. His candle wish for his fourth birthday was for “Archer to feel better”, even though Archer was perfectly fine. And it was a constant prayer request of his, that Archer not be sick anymore. (Archer hasn’t really been very sick.)
  6. He loves to help in the kitchen. He likes to roll and cut and bake. I’ve started spacing the kids out so that only one helps with dinner or kitchen prep each day of the week, and it works so well because then we get that special time to catch up and work on new skills as well. He is one of my favorite kitchen helpers. He peels carrots down to nubs and opens all the cans and measures the quinoa. He can cut celery and he’s great at stirring. But his special skills are taste-testing and sneaking extra chocolate chips and licking spatulas.
  7. Oh and how could I forget about his thoughts on miracles. At the lake house this summer my grandmother found that the exact number of hot dogs and buns was remaining. She remarked that it was a miracle like one we’d never seen before! We giggled about “the miracle” and how we it will never happen again in our lifetimes. Well, months pass, and one day as we’re driving home from school Henry pipes up from the back seat, “I wish I had seen the miracle.” “What miracle?” “The miracle of the hot dog buns. You know, before that I didn’t think that miracles were a real thing.” And so it goes, that every so often Henry will be sitting at breakfast and start talking about “the miracle” again. “Do you think grandma remembers the miracle?” “Do you think the miracle will ever happen again?” He’s on the constant look out for other miracles now.
  8. He always has these obsessions which are the best. Currently he loves space and rockets. So he is always asking questions about that. He told me that the Earth is one of his favorite planets! But also Pluto because it is blue. (I didn’t have the heart to tell him that Pluto isn’t a planet anymore.)
    But after pondering space for several months, he declared, “I don’t think I’m going to be an astronaut anymore because I like going outside. And when you’re an astronaut you only get a teeeeeeny, tiiiiiiiiiiiny, little bit of air, so you can’t go outside very much.” And then a few days later he asked me about black holes and afterward exclaimed, “See! That’s why I can’t be an astronaut! What if I didn’t see a black hole because it was just blending into the darkness and I got too close to it and got sucked into it?!” So he still loves space, but he’ll just let it stay right where it is, thank you very much.


  9. He has a very tender heart, that I feel like I have accidentally broken a time or two. Because he just wants so badly to make you happy and for you to think he’s done a good job. He’s a bit of a perfectionist as well, so when I’ve unfairly scolded him or thought he should know something he didn’t, it’s very hard for him. I have to remember to hold his little soul ever so gently, not because he’ll break, but because he is trying so hard and I don’t want to overlook that. It can be hard for me to let go of my expectations of what the kids can be capable of, but he reminds me to just take it all in stride, to remember that they’re still little and still learning and that’s exactly as it should be.
  10. He has the best laugh in the history of laughs. I don’t know what it is that makes it so perfect. But it is an infectious one. And he loves to talk in silly voices and make funny faces. He can lighten any mood by talking in a funny accent about nonsense.
  11. He loves his aunties, especially Mallory and Georgia. He has always had a special connection with Mallory and he loves to have her sing him a million bedtime songs and play with her rings. And since Georgia lived with us, he’s had his special place in her heart, too. They especially like to chat while she’s getting ready for the day. And snuggle after school. And listen to music.
  12. He is always planning for his future careers. It started out as “Someday, I’m going to be the best pony.” And then he was going to be an “Outer Space Man,” which would be his career before being a farmer and then a mom. Me: “Why do you want to be a mom?” Henry: “So I can drink coffee with daddy.” (Although once when I asked him this question he said it was because he wanted to take care of everyone, and that pretty much made my heart explode.) But now, he’s always talking about when he walks on the sky. He’s going to be a super hero called the Iron Spider, who is part Spiderman part Iron Man.  He’ll be able to fly across the ocean and sling webs. I sometimes get confused thinking that he is just pretending because he will talk about flying and I’ll ask, “Are you going to go flying now?” “No, silly! I can’t fly yet! I have to wait until I’m a-dult.”
  13. He is so generous with his love. He often pauses throughout the day to say, “Mama! I have something to tell you! I love you.”
  14. He’s always making keen observations. “Mama, heads help eyes stay on your body.” (Thank goodness, because eyeballs everywhere would be gross.) And, whispering, “Daddy, we have drumming music in our hearts.”
  15. He has such a special connection with Olivia. She is the perfect bridge between Ellie and Henry. She told me once, “I said Henry had a cute voice and he said that I have a beautiful voice. And that’s why I want to marry him.” Those two are thick as thieves and will certainly be up to plenty of shenanigans in the days ahead.
  16. He loves to tell jokes. The other day, Henry was the only one who knew that his grandparents were coming and bringing something special for dinner. So he told Ellie, “We’re gonna have some oxygen for dinner. All we’re gonna do is go outside and catch some air into our mouths.”
  17. He seeks out people with gentle souls and kind hearts, older kids who pay special attention to children and really listen when they talk. For months he told us his best friend was Andi, a fourth-grade girl at school who said “Hi” to him everyday at school pick up. Andi really is a lovely girl who is takes an interest in Henry and other kids who are younger than her. I find this to be kind of a rare attribute of 4th graders, and appreciate that she spends her time making him feel special. And Henry loves her and picks her flowers on the side of the road and waits until he sees her every day to give them to her.
  18. He is fearless. He will try anything. Well, except putting his face in the water. But other than that, he will try just about anything. And he always takes new experiences in stride. If you ask him about them immediately after they’ve happened he’ll say they were “good.” Everything is “good” at first. Then, after a while, he will start to tell how excited he was or how cool he thought this or that was. It takes him a little bit to come up with his words, but then he loves reliving his adventures for whoever will listen.

There are hundreds of other stories I could tell, but the truth is that I have such a hard time putting him into words. He’s something special, that kid. And I feel so privileged to be a witness to it. I sometimes think that as far as I go and as much as I do, nothing will compare to mornings spent making chocolate chip cookies with Henry Bear or taking walks through the forest and stopping to see every snail and pretty leaf and colorful rock.

We bonded through the most difficult year of my life. It was hard and miserable and I was weak and broken. But, this little being came into that darkness. At first he wasn’t a great help, he was a crabby baby and I was short on patience, but somehow, we both made it through that first year and ever since, he has been a source of joy and light for me. His tender heart is full of such compassion and wonder. He never ceases to amaze me. And if I could somehow keep him this age forever, I totally would.

To My Children on Mother’s Day

What a privilege it is to hold you in my arms, to have you sleeping on my chest, to already feel nostalgic for these days when I am everything you need.

What a privilege it is to be the recipient of your first love notes, the receiver of your brightest dandelions and your sparkliest rocks. How I cherish them.

What a privilege to feel your breath in my ear, for you to beg me to sing you one last song, that you learn to speak just so you can call my name.

What a privilege it is that you come to snuggle me in the night, bleary eyed and stumbling in the dark, so we can recount our adventures together.

What a privilege to trip over legos and step in squished bananas, to never see the bottom of the laundry bin. Someday you will be big and gone and I will miss these things so. Yes, even the bananas.

What a privilege to have a constant companion wherever I go. Even if that companion does require extra snacks and bathroom breaks and needs to be carried before too long.

What a privilege it is that I get to stay up way past bedtime, baking birthday cakes, wrapping Christmas presents and writing Tooth Fairy notes. To make your world as magical as you make mine.

What a privilege to be your first friend, your first teacher and your first true love.

It is my greatest challenge and my greatest joy, being your mother. There are days when it is hard. Really hard. When you ask me what’s for dinner and I could have sworn I just made you some yesterday. When I lose my temper and fear that is all you will remember about our early days together. When your heart is breaking and so mine is breaking, too, because I can’t stop the pain.

Sometimes I think that this life is not my own anymore. Because it’s not. It’s yours. And it is my greatest privilege to give it to you.

Photo by Becca of Lady and Gent Photography

Dear First House…

We sold our little bungalow in Portland and moved to a little town in Washington, right along the Columbia river.

I am both excited about this new adventure, and absolutely heartbroken to be leaving Portland. I have lived here for ten years, and it was the first place that I have come to truly feel is “home.”

We have lived in many different places in this city: dorms, tiny one-bedroom apartments, a townhouse, a house on the east side, and a couple of other houses in North Portland. But this house is the first one we owned and I really felt like I put roots down here. It was the first place where I could paint everything whatever color I wanted, and every purchase seemed like a long-term investment.

And so, an ode of farewell to our first house.

Dear Little First House,

So many memories here. First steps, first DIY projects, first books read.

Your living room is legitimately one of my favorite places on earth. Somehow always cozy, relaxing and inviting. The host of game nights and book clubs and coffee dates. You’ve provided beds for many guests, held countless movie and pizza nights and been the site of staying up way past bedtime far too often. Even as I write this, you are empty, except for me, and yet I can hear the echoes of all the good things that have happened here. Laughter, games, so much music. There’s no where else I’d rather be discussing life and what it means with the people I love.

Your dining room looks so pretty, with the table all set for Sunday brunch. High tea is just as fun here as anywhere. I hope the smell of blueberry scones lingers for a long time. It was here that I looked up and realized that our cherished antique table was surrounded by four happy, giggly children. I looked at Steve and we knew – our dream of a table surrounded by laughing children had come true. Also, you had the best lighting for my cakes and dessert creations, and for that, I thank you.

You didn’t have much storage, and I’m okay with that. You helped me realize it was okay to let go of things to make more room for people. You also had a double oven, and that made up for basically every other flaw.

You started out an old house and let us infuse you with new life and personality. And I think we did a pretty good job. I will always remember this place to fondly, as if you were always bright and sunshiny. And you had so much great lighting. On and this was the best place to wait out a winter storm. I loved the sound of the rain pounding on the rooftop and the wind howling outside, while I was tucked inside a warm blanket.

You were the perfect canvas for gallery walls of children’s art and vintage travel posters. You looked beautiful all dolled up for Christmas, with the snowflake wall and the mantle of glittery trees and nativities.

This was the place our children were happy. Where they were happy to be themselves. Where we played so many records, and even danced so hard to Adele that now she is all kinds of scratched up. Here we have crowned queens of Arendelle and made baby cribs into ships on the high sea. Here we have heard so many ukulele concerts and performed so many musicals.

We have eaten too many Heavenly Donuts and Little Big Burger and not enough Louis’ Pizza or Tienda Santa Cruz.

Leaving the house and seeing the view from the Bluff everyday – it never got old. I loved it especially in the spring, when the sky was still grey, but everything was alight with pink cherry blossoms and overflowing greenery. And you were just so close to Sauvie Island and the magic of summer days spent picking berries and picnicking in peach groves.

And let’s not forget the hydrangeas in summer. I wasn’t very good at keeping them alive in the heat, but they sure were beautiful.

I’m so glad I was here for this winter, when we were buried in snow. You sure looked darling in Christmas lights and snowflakes. And that beautiful mint door of yours really popped in all that white.

Goodbye little house. May you be as good to your new family as you were to us. <3

Things I Love About Olivia (6 Years Old)

This little lady of mine. This six-year old. I love her so much. I love her laugh and her sparkling grey-green eyes. I love her funny jokes that don’t make any sense. I love her light step and the way she bounds through life with an unmatched energy and charisma. There are so many more things to love about her at this age. Here are just a few of them:

  1. She lights up a room. There’s a word for this kind of girl: bubbly. Whenever I take her anywhere she tends to meet every stranger, tell them everything about herself, exude confidence and camaraderie, and leave everyone around her smiling. Just the other day I took her to Starbucks for her birthday outing (Starbucks is her favorite place because of the pink cake pops, obviously.) Within minutes, half the restaurant was engaged in talking to her about her plans to see Swan Lake with mom and how it was almost her birthday and someday she is going to be a ballerina, too. Her laughter fills voids in a way that continues to echo even after she has gone home or gone to bed.
  2. She loves to be a big sister. This past year I have seen her ooh and ahh in a special way over Archer in all his newness. From the beginning, she seemed to have a special connection with him. He was the most calm when he was in her arms. She loved to sing to him. And now she loves to play with him and chase him and he lights up at the sound of her voice.
    And she and Henry have a special friendship. They are always inventing games together. She loves to show him things. I am often surprised by things Henry knows how to do, and he always tells me, “Livvy taught me.” Today we stopped by Olivia’s classroom and she took great pride in getting him some breakfast, showing him how to make a journal entry and letting him do all the other morning check-in activities that cool Kindergarteners like to do.
    And she and Ellie stay up way past bedtime every night. Talking and reading and giggling. We had to make a rule that they could only sleep in the same bed on weekend nights because they just like each other too much. I hope that’s always the problem they face. I often see them together, in ballet class, at recess, silently reaching for the other’s hand and holding tight. I think some of her confidence comes from knowing she has Ellie in her corner.

  3. She loves to twirl. She loves to dance. Every moment of every day. If her feet aren’t dancing, her heart is. Her ballet teacher often asks her to demonstrate the jetes (leaps) because somehow she just instinctually knows how to do them. When we went to Swan Lake, she spent every intermission jete-ing to and fro in her white dress, pretending to be the swan princess. “What’s her name again, mom?” “Odette.” “Yeah! I’m Odette!” She is also very into arabesques. The other day she said, “It’s good that we have two hands! Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to give hugs! Or do arabesques! Or hold the dustpan!” All important things, I think.
  4. She is blossoming so much in school. Her reading has taken off, and she takes so much pride in being able to express herself through writing. Reading her journal entries at school makes me laugh, and I love seeing what she thought was important enough to write down. Ellie is also a big fan of writing, and when she got a new notebook and Olivia got something else, she made it clear that she also wanted a notebook because she has lots of important things to write. Her teachers adore her. And who can blame them.
  5. She is eager and enthusiastic and always willing to try new things, as long as they don’t involve a lot of walking. We’re going to have to work on her stamina a bit.
  6. She is so delighted by simple things. A good dancing song. A great spinny dress. Sparkly shoes. New markers. A great snuggle with a special stuffy. She is easily contented and quickly at home wherever she goes.
  7. She has such a kind and gentle soul. She comforts friends who are having a hard day. She is the first to offer her favorite remedy – band-aids – to anyone who is hurt. She always wants to show people what she’s doing, write special notes on any scrap of paper she can find, and lavish love on those around her.
  8. She has big plans. A couple of months ago she wanted to be a baby doctor, as long as she could have a baby of her own, as well. Now she’s thinking more along the lines of water ballerina (synchronized swimmer). She also has plans for us to travel the world together and will often refer to,”When mom and I go on a trip all around the world…”
  9. I love being “glasses girls” with her. I know it’s not trendy anymore to match with your kids, but everyone knows I will match with her just as long as she lets me. The glasses are our bond. I always felt out of place as a child, being the only one in my family who wore glasses. I’m glad she and I are in it together.
    Since the moment she was born, I’ve always known there was something very familiar about her. It has always seemed like I’ve known her for a very long time. More than anyone, she looks like me and my family and I love to see our past and future in her eyes, in her still-small frame, in her hopes and dreams.
  10. She still loves to snuggle. She will still crawl into my lap even as she is getting so big and long. She loves to give hugs. She loves to love. When asked what she wants to do, her response is usually something like, “Never un-snuggle with mama.”

It is a beautiful and terrible thing to see her growing up. Beautiful because she is truly a wonderful human being. Terrible because it is all happening too fast. She lost her first two teeth this year. She started Kindergarten. She learned to read. She grew like a weed. Six. Six? Can it really be six years? I don’t know why it is that with her especially it never seems like there is quite enough time. That before I’ve caught my breath there she is, reading a whole book by herself. There she is, another year older. There she goes out into the world.

My prayer for her is that she will always feel this confident, this delighted with life. That she will always love her family the way she does now. That she will always snuggle under the covers, telling her sister secrets. That she will always love dark parties and spinny dresses. I pray that she will always have a heart of compassion for those around her who are hurting. That she will always offer a smile and a helping hand. May she always be kind and generous with her love. May she always write love notes and jete her way through life.

Oh Livvy, my love. I’ll keep you forever and ever.

 

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel with my sisters to Italy to meet our brother, Chad, who is studying architecture in Rome. Getting there was more of an adventure than I would have liked, which leads me to the following PSA:

Your passport has to be valid for 3-6 months after your intended return date or they will not let you on the plane to a foreign country. You may be asking “Why then do they have expiration dates if the passport isn’t valid for 3-6 months prior to that?” I don’t know. But now you know: get your passport renewed.

And so we had to leave one sister stateside to get her passport renewed and meet us later in the week in Rome, and after a canceled flight and a huge delay that led to us missing our first night in the Cinque Terre, we finally made it to Italy.

Throughout our trip, we were very grateful for the kindness of strangers, friends and friend of friends who helped us navigate, kept the baby entertained on long train rides, let us cut in line, offered us free hot chocolate and showed us where to get the best pizza and gelato. Even though parts of it were much rougher going then we anticipated, any time you get to spend in Italy is pretty magical.

So first up, some reflections on our time in the Cinque Terre. Oh how I wished we hadn’t missed our first night here. It was so beautiful and peaceful. Although it seems kind of silly to fly half way across the world to visit the coast, I don’t think there’s a coast nearby that is quite as picturesque. See for yourself:

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A view of Corniglia from the sea.

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I’m so glad our Airbnb host recommended we take the ferry to visit the other villages of the Cinque Terre. We stayed in Riomaggiore, which is wonderful because it is nice and quiet. But getting to see the others from the sea and visit each of them for a couple of hours was a great way to maximize our time there. If we had had another day, we would have spent some time walking the trails between the villages or laying on the beach. 
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Monterosso al Mare
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A view from Monterosso, the only place from which you can see all five villages
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Sunset on the harbor in Riomaggiore, as seen from our balcony.

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I used the Solly Baby Wrap to carry Archer around with me everywhere we went. I loved that it was pretty and comfortable. You know, everything you need for traveling with your baby!

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A striped church in Monterosso. Basically, the best church ever.

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What else can I say about Cinque Terre? It’s great. You should go sometime. The food is all good. The views are incredible. It’s wonderful. Oh, and I really liked that we made the most of our week-long trip by having some quiet downtime here and some fast-paced exploration in Rome. It was the perfect combination.

Oh baby.

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Archer has grown and changed so much and so quickly. He is already definitely out of his newborn phase and so I find myself pouring over these pictures taken by Becca from his first days home with us. (He was five days old when we took these pictures, and now he’s four months old and I’m just getting them posted now because #newbaby #summer #noschool and #busybusybusy).

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I already miss his little balled fists and fishing baby lint out of them every morning. Maybe it’s weird, but I just adore baby lint. Now his hands are wide open and reaching for puppy noses and they don’t get so linty anymore. His toes are still linty, though, so I’ll be content with that for now.

I already miss when you could just wrap him up in a ball and set him anywhere – the bench of a coffee shop, the sofa, the church pew, and he’d just stay there, fast asleep. He is still a great sleeper and we’re so lucky, but now he’s too big and sprawling to be perched just anywhere. Now he sleeps in his own bed in his own room all through the night and for most naps, too. Which is of course good in its own way, but still.

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(^^^ These pictures of Steve and Archer? I die. So lucky to have them both.)

And he is just so, so sweet. He loves to giggle and I swear that when I say, “I love you” he says it back, or at least mimics the sounds so well. He loves to chat before bed and gaze up at with me with his big hazel eyes. He seems to know that talking before bed is a tradition in our house and he’s not missing out. He loves to be kissed and sung, too. And really only gets upset if he thinks that maybe you’ve forgotten him. Or if he’s hungry or tired, you know, the usual.

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And speaking of the usual, Steve likes to say that he thinks Archer is the most perfectly average baby alive. He loves all the typical baby stuff – swaddling and bouncing and shushing and pacifiers. Not all of our other children have been so easily soothed.

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For our last baby, his infancy is going by just too quickly. I’m in no rush for him to be independent just yet. So I’m soaking up the middle-of-the-night feedings when we lie curled up together, his tiny feet kicking my stomach and his hand reaching out for mine, unsatisfied until he is grasping my fingers. I’m reveling in his bedtime routine and our little cooing sessions. He’s going to be so big so soon, so I’m trying to just hold him a little extra tight these days.

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P.S. All photos in this post are by Becca of Lady and Gent Photography. Becca and her husband, Kevin, specialize in taking amazing wedding pictures, so if you’re in the market, be sure to check them out. You won’t be disappointed.

Archer at One Month Old

One month in and we’re determined to keep him.

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Archer has been pretty great, and has seemed fairly content to join the craziness around here. When his siblings pester him too much he just falls asleep out of annoyance – which is a great coping skill, if you ask me.

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The big kids have lots of things to say about him. For one, they think he cries a lot. (He doesn’t, really). And when he does cry, they’re quick to problem solve. “He made a bird face! That means he’s hungry!” // “He’s crying because he wants his pacifier/blanket/toys/etc.” And my favorite, from Henry, “Maybe he’s crying because his umbilical cord is out.”

And they really like to think that he is talking to them. Ellie today said, “Archer said his first word! He said “Oh”. For real. I didn’t even make him do it!” And when Olivia heard that “Oh” she said, “He is trying to say “Oh – Oh – Olivia! He is trying to say my name!” Again, we clearly have a very advanced baby.

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I mean, doesn’t he look so smart and sophisticated?

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He’s still a little yellow, but he has the greatest smile when we can coax it out of him. It takes over his whole face. I hope he’ll be a very smiley baby. And thankfully he’s already gotten his nights in order. He usually sleeps from about 8pm-2am or so, eats and then goes back to sleep. Even if he does wake back up a time or two before the morning, he is happy to just eat and snuggle back to sleep. Which is good, because, well, he’s the fourth kid.

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Dear Archer,

We love you so much and we’re so glad you’re here with us.

I hope you’ll always love adventure, and also be content to enjoy the simple pleasures of the every day.

I hope you’ll always be snuggly, and you’ll love to learn, and that you’ll tell us all kinds of funny stories.

I hope that you’ll live up to your name. An Archer is a defender – a champion of those who are in need. An Archer protects, is valiant and courageous and stands up for what is right. May you always be a protector of the weak, a friend to the forgotten, a lighthouse of hope and a safe harbor. May you be a guardian of the sacred, and advocate for those who have no voice.

Holding your tiny self in my arms is overwhelming sometimes. I have so many hopes and dreams for you. I have fears and plans and so many things I want to be sure you know. I feel so responsible for teaching you those things, and worry I won’t be everything you need me to be. But baby, I’m going to try my hardest.

This world you were born into – it’s a terrible world, and a beautiful one. May you be someone who adds to its beautiful. Who encourages and loves. Who lights up the room with a smile. May you be strong, yet gentle. May you be brave and compassionate and fearless.

You’re one of a kind. Thank God you’re mine.

I’ll love you forever and ever.

Love, Mama

The Best Time of Day to Have a Baby

… is 5:45 pm.

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Archer James Waters was born at 5:45 pm on May 7, 2016.

Since Henry was also born at 5:45 pm, I think it must be a great time to be born because you are all excited and awake for a few hours, everyone meets you, you eat and look around and wonder about things for a while, and then when nighttime comes, you are ready to sleep. A nice, long sleep. And you get your days and nights right from the beginning.

Ha! As if anyone has any control over what time of day their baby comes! But if you did, I would suggest 5:45. Two babies in a row, and it’s worked out quite nicely.

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Anyway. It’s already been four weeks since our baby came out! We sure like him a whole lot, even if his arrival has meant a crazy month of new baby and visitors, etc. etc. Sometimes those visitors make us delicious food, though. And the food is so good and it is so nice to not have to cook that you start thinking, “I’ll just keep having babies so these people will keep feeding me.” Seems like a great long-term plan.

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Monkey feet!

Archer is the sweetest. He is (so far) a pretty contented baby. He hiccups all the time, just like he did in utero. Which is fun. He also doesn’t like having his feet messed with, another carryover from his time in the womb. And he has the sweetest little bottom lip quiver. I don’t really know what it’s about, but it is cute.

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His brother and sisters adore him. Olivia said, “We are just the luckiest kids in the whole world to get a baby baby baby brother like Archer Bear.” And when he was just brand new she said to him, “Oh Archer, one day you’re gonna grow up and you’re gonna laugh and you’re gonna say funny things that are gonna make your sisters laugh.” And on that note, whenever he does make any little noises they like to say things like, “He said Mama!” or “He said hi to me!” He must be a very intelligent, very advanced baby. But I guess we already knew that.

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When he starts to whine a little bit they rush over and start singing to him. Ellie likes to sing, “Oh stop you’re crying it will be alright. Just take my hand, hold it tight…” She also likes to say that he is just like baby Tarzan because for one so small, he seems so strong. And also, Tarzan is the long-lost brother of Anna and Elsa, and she and Olivia are just like Anna and Elsa! (Do my kids watch too much TV? Or is Disney just that good? We may never know.)

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Olivia likes to sing, “If you ever awake in the mirror of a bad dream…” She is probably the one who wants to hold him the most, and is the most content to just sit with him for a while. He usually gets antsy before she does.

And Henry wakes up early every morning to come climb into bed with us saying, “I want to snuggle wis the baby.”

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He is such a sweet and snuggly little guy. We sure love having him around.

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And I love those moments where everything is quiet and calm and it’s just his short breaths on my neck and the lingering smell of his hair. His sweet little voice when he coos at me and his bobbly head trying so hard to look up and around. The fuzzy lint I find clenched in his tiny fists. His little bowed legs that fit perfectly against his belly so he can be all tucked up. His sleepy, content hints at a smile.

Everything is right in the world when a new baby is here.

Kids’ Capsule Wardrobes

I’ve talked a little bit about capsule wardrobes in my posts about renewing and simplifying our home. There are all kinds of formulas out there for how to create the perfect capsule, but I think these are kind of silly, unless you specifically love the exact style of the person creating those formulas. There are many different versions and methods for the capsule wardrobe, but essentially they all come down to these ideas that have been big game changers for our whole family:

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  1. You wear your favorite clothes all the time! Yay! If you think about it, you probably already do this a lot. Or you only wear your sub-par clothes out of guilt. It’s so great to have a closet full of clothes you love, instead of a bunch of clothes you only kind of like or want to wear. I could give tips on cleaning out your closet, but there are lots of those around. Try here and here. Mostly, it’s important to give yourself permission to let go of clothes you really don’t like. And then you won’t feel compelled to wear them.
  2. You keep your clothes very minimal, around 35-40 pieces, not including things like underwear, socks, and jewelry, although these should be minimal, too.
  3. You dress for your body type and personality, and not based on the latest trends. I read this article on Audrey Hepburn, my personal style goddess. She had iconic style because she dressed for her taste and her body type and not for the constantly changing trends.
    You probably already know what looks best on you – it’s the clothes you reach for time and again. And, if you’re like me, you’ve felt compelled to try trends that just don’t quite work. Let them go and be content with what you do know makes you look and feel your best.
  4. You curate a wardrobe where everything works together, all pieces essentially interact with each other and if you do buy something new it is based on a hole in your wardrobe – something that would really fill it out and is not an impulse buy.
  5. You choose your weapon: meaning that, of course, we all want to have fun. I definitely don’t want to be stuck wearing all neutrals for the rest of my life. Nobody does. Except maybe French people. But even they throw some color in there every once in a while. Anyway, the idea is to go bold with just a few things. Have just a few statement pieces that are really impressive and then keep the rest more-or-less basic – at least in it’s ability to be versatile with the other things in your wardrobe.

I have really loved having a capsule wardrobe for about a year.I think my favorite thing about a capsule wardrobe has been really finding what makes me feel confident. I have discarded the clothes that don’t fit me, so when I do pick an outfit, I feel more like it’s me, and less like it’s something I’m wearing just because it’s currently trendy. It feels good to look at my closet with excitement instead of guilt every morning. And I love wearing my favorite pieces again and again.

I’m not super strict about it, but I follow the basic guidelines listed above. I’ve made some mistakes, but I’m learning. And having a capsule means that every day I am wearing something comfortable, that I feel great in and was easy to assemble because there aren’t infinite choices (although there are still plenty!). For my husband, he had a wardrobe full of clothes that didn’t really fit but that he felt obligated to wear. We donated probably half of his closet and now for work he has three pairs of pants and 7 shirts, all of which fit very nicely. It never seems like he isn’t well dressed because he is simply wearing things that fit him well. So I doubt anyone notices that its not hugely varied. In fact, he has received more compliments on how he is dressed lately. Choosing our clothes has become a lot more about fit, durability and long-term usage, as opposed to sales or trends. Realizing you have enough with a limited amount of clothes makes it easier to wait for the perfect shirt to come along, instead of buying several throughout time that don’t quite work.

Because I love the capsule wardrobe so much, I have made sure my kids have one, too. And it works really well for us. For one thing, packing for trips is insanely easy, because I just pack whatever is clean. And it all works together, so I don’t have to be worried about this shirt goes with this bottom and these shoes only go with this outfit. Ugh. No. I don’t have time in my life for that. Packing lightly is easy, too, because of the versatility. You don’t have to pack so many separates to create all these different outfits. In fact, on our four-day trip to Canada a few weekends ago, the kids each carried their own clothes in a backpack. We rode a ferry to Victoria and then had a several-hour block on each end of the trip where we would need to carry around all our things because we didn’t have access to the condo we rented through AirBnB. A capsule allowed us all to pack lightly, so that carrying a backpack of everything we needed for 4 days, was totally doable – even for the two-year-old.

Laundry is also way less daunting. I do it about as often as I did before, usually once a week, or with 3-4 loads spread over a few days. The number of loads is the same because I wash by fabrics: whites, lightweight fabrics, and heavy fabrics (jeans/the boys’ clothes mostly) and towels and linens for the house. The amount of laundry is, however, significantly less. Getting it folded and put away is a no brainer. And I wash the clothes when we are out of clean ones, not because all that remains is plaid shorts and striped tees or a closet full of odds and ends that don’t work together.

Feb-4229I’ve thought about how to share this information, and thought of photographing and formulating their wardrobes, but the thing is, our capsule wardrobe doesn’t matter. You don’t have to copy it at all. It’s just the idea that has been really freeing for us. But our capsules won’t look the same as yours, and they shouldn’t!

For our girls, their dresses are their statement pieces that offer the most variety. Dresses are great because I feel like we get a lot of use out of them – the girls wear them with undershorts in the summer, or with leggings and sweaters in the winter. (Dresses also last longer through sizes. As the girls get taller, their dresses get shorter, but with leggings we can still get 1.5-2 years of wearing them before they get passed down.) They have lots of fun prints and colors in their dresses. And then all the leggings, sweaters and undershorts stay in basic, neutral colors so that they mix and match with everything. Essentially, it means there is no wrong way to make an outfit, which is nice for our mornings. I don’t think anyone in our family is really a “morning person”, so removing one more stress-inducing decision from the lineup has helped us streamline without feeling rushed.

Henry’s capsule wardrobe follows a similar idea, but obviously involves jeans and tops. For simplicity’s sake, the pants or shorts are all without pattern – although I do pick fun colors for his summer shorts. They are just colors that coordinate with all the tops he has. And his jackets and vests are also in simple colors that coordinate with all his tees and shirts. I used to feel like dressing a boy was harder than dressing a girl because they seem to end up with more odds and ends somehow, but having chosen to stay away from patterned bottoms has made it a lot easier. So far, the way we’ve paired down is to have 4-5 weather appropriate bottoms (shorts for summer, pants for winter) and 7-10 weather appropriate shirts, plus a few pullover sweaters and jackets in the winter. Because let’s face it, he doesn’t care about variety. He’d wear his Captain America shirt every single day if it wasn’t in the wash.

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If you want to build a capsule wardrobe for kids, here are my tips:

  1. Keep it simple. It’s okay to have patterns and colors, but do so in a thoughtful way. For instance, patterned leggings, while super cute, may not be practical. Opt for bottoms that are in solid, basic colors and stick to patterns and prints in your tops (or be creative and do it the other way around with patterned bottoms and solid tops- but picking just one makes it easy).
  2. Shop only on occasion, and with intent and purpose.
    One of the things I have loved so much about the capsule wardrobe, for myself and my kids, is that it requires less shopping. I spend some time picking out everything they’ll need when they need a new size or maybe around the beginning of the school year. If it’s carefully thought out, it’s essentially complete and I don’t have to worry about it until they need another size. Of course they might get something new for a special occasion, and leggings might need to be replaced, but for the most part, what they have works for the entire year. And having a complete wardrobe makes it easier to pass up all the impulse buys waiting for me in the Target kids’ section. I also have a more concrete idea of what I’m looking for when I do shop sales or consignment, which eliminates buyer’s remorse when I get home and realize I don’t really like what I just spent money on.
  3. Keep shoes to a minimum, too. With all the shoes I’ve tripped over in the last few years, this one speaks right to me. Think about what your child really needs. And then get only one of each kind of shoe: athletic, dress, waterproof, sandal. (Although I will say we usually break this rule with waterproof because we live in Portland and even I can’t subject my children to only wearing the same boots every single day for 9 months out of the year – they usually have two-three pairs of boots, one neutral, one statement and one in-between.) In the summer they have one pair of play shoes. These are the shoes that can get dirty and trashed to the maximum and I don’t care. These aren’t the same as their church shoes. With only one pair of shoes to trash, we end up with fewer ruined shoes – and therefore more pairs that can be passed down to the next sibling or consigned, or, at very least, I don’t feel bad having to toss multiple pairs of gross shoes.
  4. Rotate seasonally. I like to make sure the winter coats are put away and the sweaters and rain boots get a little breather in summer. This might not be important to everyone, but I do enjoy looking into a closet full of just the things that are appropriate to wear right then. Plus, when fall comes again, it’s exciting to pull those things out and feel all excited about something “new” without having to actually buy anything.
  5. Just say “no!” Say no to buying clothes mid-season just because they’re cute. If you receive a gift of handed down items from a friend, keep only what you want and need. Hand the rest down to someone else or donate. Don’t buy clothes on sale that you wouldn’t consider paying full price for. Unsubscribe from sales alert emails. It’s just temptation you don’t need in your life!
  6. Finally, take back the internet. This goes for kid and adult wardrobes. What I mean is, use your Pinterest boards and search engines to your advantage. If you’ve ever had a “Style” or “Fashion” or any other kind of board on Pinterest, for you or your kids, look through it again. Delete everything that no longer appeals to you. In all likelihood, you’ll be left with a certain overarching style. Think of the words that come to mind as you’re scrolling through. “Classic.” “Simple.” “Statement.” “Athletic.” “Colorful.” Whatever words jump out at you are indicators of a good place to start when creating a capsule wardrobe. These are the kinds of things you are consistently drawn to. So keep that in mind as you plan and maintain a capsule wardrobe. You’ll end up with far fewer, “This isn’t really me” purchases. (P.S. If you’ve unsubscribed from all your deal emails, and are ready to make a thoughtful purchase, you can always Google “_______ coupon” as in “Gymboree coupon” or “Target coupon”. There are several sights that keep coupon codes up to date, so you can still get a deal on your purchase, without being bombarded with hundreds of sales alerts. Win/Win.)

The important thing is to be thoughtful about what you bring in to your home. You don’t have to dress your kids any certain way, but simply the way you and they feel most comfortable. When we choose to be thoughtful in our consumption, and to help our children be thoughtful, too, it is teaching them to be conscientious about the world around them and the space they are maintaining. My hope is that by teaching them these things now, this practice of thoughtful consumption will carry on into their teenage years when they will certainly have a lot more to say about what they wear. (Oh the horror that awaits.)