Friday, June 24, 2016

Currently



It's finally our favorite season around here, and with 4th of July just around the corner (how, so soon, I can't really wrap my brain around ... ) I wanted to share a few of my summer favorites. Unfortunately I've been cooped up in the house all week long glued to my laptop, juggling the babe with a fever who wants to be held as I type. Which certainly makes things more complicated. But my eye is on the prize. Three days, with great food, our dearest friends and that beloved old faded flag swinging from a palm frond in the sunlight all weekend long.

It's the holiday we look forward to most every year, so it's what's been keeping me focused during these dreadful days locked inside.



Here, a few things I'm digging this season:

Reading: The Girls, by Emma Cline  which I bought because of an article I became engrossed in one lazy Sunday morning about the brief friendship between Denis Wilson and Charles Mason and "The Family." It's what ignited a whole new intrigue in the gruesome history I had priorly known only in fragmented detail. The book is already an instant hit and with good reason. I made the mistake of reading it when I knew there was no time to loose myself in it and it too some major will power to set it aside. Cline's prose sweeps you away and lands you right in the hazy glow of a "honey suckled" hippy nightmare.

Wearing: Cutoff thrifted Levis daily, this Black dress for evenings, and alternating white button downs because they're the only airy alternative I can find to the sundresses I usually stick to.

Loving: The Plum and Sparrow Kenyan storage tote that seems to be the only bag I have that can hold the bulk of my beach goods. And looks great doing it. (Discount details below)

Watching: Blood Line. It's tropical, dramatic, and staring Coach Taylor. What else need I say.

Hearing: my summer staples - exotic Elvis. Paul Simon, Sam the Sham and Dick Dale. Mike revived his love for the Standales (he played in a 60's surf band when I first met him) and so all of these are reflected in the playlist I made HERE. A mix of swanky, sweaty 60's classics. Think Don Draper, tanned and woozy in Palm Springs. At least I did while I was curating most of it. . .

Looking Forward to: A couple days in Topanga Canyon, bunking in an old Japanese tea house with a rope swing on 13 acres. Listing compares it to "rugged camping" and hints that the house squeaks with every foot fall and yet it only made me love it more.

Preparing: A menu for next weekend. Which is always fancier in mind than proves in reality. But that's ok. Should I ever learn that hot dogs wrapped in heated tortillas is the cheapest, easiest solution, my life might be too easy, and then what would I do?

Searching: For yet another sunhat to replace the one I ruined last month. And while I still hold out faith that I'll stumble across a suitable one at the Good Will, time is of the essence, and I'm getting desperate. Any suggestions welcomed.



*Plum and Sparrow are offering readers here 15 percent off using the code: HouseINhabit15 - offer good until Wednesday.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

On the Books

Occasionally I come across something so confounding I can't believe I've never heard, or seen it before. It happened this morning while casually browsing the web looking for suitable photos to restock for the Ma Books folder I keep to lend images to the pieces that are submitted. When I came across the work of Nick Hedges, I was bewildered by the fact of having no former knowledge of him. His story, and images working the hinges of my heart as I scrolled. Eventually forsaking laundry and emails as I fell down the rabbit hole of his imagery. But the more I read about him the more I learned how obscure he somehow remains. In light of such talent. Another mystery I'm left wondering about this afternoon. And likely the course of my hunt, should I gain another hour at some point today, to scour and browse where I left of.

In the meantime, I've posted an interview on The Ma Books today. For those of you who are clueless as me.

Warning, they are not the kind of images that every leave you.
At least they haven't me.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

On Sleep Training



I don't typically offer much parental advice here because of my fear of coming off like an authority on something I feel, to certain degrees anyway, I'm still figuring out (and questioning) sometimes daily. And while I certainly never claim to have all the "answers" in regards to child rearing - with four kids now to count as "proof" over "fluke" - in way of "good sleepers," you could say it's an area that I'm passionate about it. And I realize anything that involves the term "training" these days is not so popular. I'm just here to say what's worked for us. And how taking control of the quality of our sleep, as well as children's, has been a positive impact in so many ways. Establishing an early pattern that your family can routinely depend on means existing in a household anchored by well rested moods and happily adjusted children serving as the dividing force between sanity and self defeat. I mean, we all know how hard it is to call on our better selves in the face of such ragged exhaustion, right? And boy how a couple kids will do that to you real quick.

Sleep training is something I've been meaning to expand on here for awhile now but found perfect reason in pairing up with Bleep Bleeps this month to help spread word of their latest invention: Suzy Snooze, a brilliant little contraption who's Kickstarter campaign debuted today in hopes of pushing it into regular production to serve as a warm glowing sleep trainer and night light to kids, and baby monitor for parents. It's a sweet and practical concept behind this product which I'll be reviewing here in greater detail again once it arrives and we get to test it out ourselves, in our own home. In the meantime, you can learn more about how it works by visiting their website here. Because if luck has it, it will be readily available to us all soon here after.


A Nightly Reconnection

First off, there are three reasons I don't want my kids in bed with me. And yes, I realize how jarring that is for some to hear. But it's the honest truth.

One, I like the idea of a nightly reconnection. That comes at the end of a long day and belongs to just us. I love putting the boys to bed, turning out the lights and heading to my bed where the time is ours to indulge in adult conversations. Share things about our day or simply read in silence side by side if that's what we need on certain nights instead. I like the quiet that's kept there. By 8:00 most nights my patience is worn thin and I'm desperate to be "off the clock." I need that hour after to unwind, relax and recharge. So it's important to me that we keep that space, slim as it is, sacred that way. Two, I don't sleep well with them next to me. I have one kid who sleeps straight as a solider beside me when he sneaks in, but all the rest are like machines of jerking limps and shin kicks, which I really can't stand. Three, I like that each of them come to appreciate their sleep space the same way I do. To trust it as their own, and find self soothing means to aid in slumber, however it might come. Alone. Where I believe they build confidence in autonomy in doing so.


Starting Early

First off let me just say that as much as I know some people enjoy the perks of Attachment Parenting, it just was never right for us. After Leon was born I was feeling worn out and painfully tired most of the time. Actually, I was miserable. Arlo was still climbing into bed with us at that point and breaking up our nights, and Leon still waking sporadically in the middle of the night long after I knew he really needed to be. At a certain point I decided I couldn't take it anymore and dedicated myself to finding a new way to keep Arlo in his own room, and getting Leon to sleep through the night.

With Arlo we found a night light really helped. As well as being stern (and consistent) in denying him our bed space, even when it was more convenient in the moment to simply let him sink in. When I found out I was pregnant again, I was too tired to consider many more options for Leon so one night, out of sheer surrender, I shut booth his door and mine, and simply failed to hear him crying through the night like he was prone to, and found two days later, under the same circumstances, he was sleeping soundly through the night. All it took was me breaking the routine of answering his cries when I knew good and well he wasn't wet or hungry. Again, some will argue this method but all I know is that a full night's rest makes me, altogether, a better person in general so harsh as it might come off the results I know are evidence in their own right.

Third time around I was much more adamant about instilling early sleep training methods with Rex. He slept beside my bed for the first two months at night but I was good about laying him down for naps in the morning and afternoon when we were home at the same time every day in his crib to secure a sense of familiarity, and show him how to soothing the space could be. I didn't always nurse or rock or read him to sleep, because I wanted him to learn you can fall asleep on your own without them. And before long he was sleeping easily on his own within a matter of weeks. By the time Hayes came along we had it down so he was quick to respond to the routines we set up. So camping with a newborn, then a baby, and now a toddler, has always been pretty manageable because our focus has always been directed at creating flexible sleepers who can nap in situations where all the routines we know at home aren't available. Without that, our lifestyle would be seriously hindered. There would be no road trips, or beach days, sleep overs and hotel stays. And with four kids, one thing I've learned is that we are the ones in control. And sometimes decisions are better made from a place of intuitive choices, rather than suggested rules and guidelines.

Napping Without Options

I know a lot of my friends curse the fact of their children refusing or outgrowing naps prematurely, and maybe I've just been "lucky" but all of my boys napped routinely until they were 4 or five without option or choice. The thing is, even now, when I see they are considerably exhausted or in dire need of a little down time, I'll still make them need to lay down in their room for any given amount of time with the only instruction being "to rest" and nine times out of ten they will still fall asleep even at this age, under much looser orders.

As toddlers though I was a stickler. Nap time was the only time in my day I was able to get things done so there was never an option. Getting out of bed or refusing naps at that age wasn't something I entertained so eventually they stopped protesting. Children enjoy sleep just as much as us, they just hate admitting to it. And I would even argue that creating confident sleepers, who find relief and comfort in their own sleep space, is one of the greatest gifts I've given myself as a mother.


Napping With Noise

Another major aspect of sleep training is the inclusion of noise. This, is one thing I utterly swear by. Not getting your baby accustomed to silent sleep conditions means they are more apt to snooze in real life settings. Through vaccum cleaners, music, quarrels, visitors and traffic. What I learned to do in the beginning, when they are new and easy to sleep regardless of what's going on around them, is leave the door of their room wide open to the regular sounds of the house so it becomes common white noise as opposed to startling reasons for waking. The more noise they know early on, the better. My boys have been known to sleep through anything from a neighbors jack hammer, to a movie in the theater, to a concert in the park. If you don't teach them that sleep is only connected to quiet, they'll be much more flexible nappers. And that allows for much more freedom as a family.


Sleep on The Go

One major issue we have as an active unit who's constantly on the go, is implementing naps even when we're not at home. One thing I've learned is being consistent with the hour helps. As well as using the same bed space they come to associate with rest, when you can. Which is not to say we haven't been inventive at times when we needed to. I know Hayes, being fourth born, was trained to sleep anywhere we placed him. Given it fell in the range of his regular nap. Sleep space that has seen anything from a folded quilt in a bath tub, to a low sided card board box, to a walk in closet, and rubber flea market cart with the only key lesson being, regularity. Enforcing naps even in places or situations where maybe it's not as convenient for us to implement, but detrimental to how the rest of your day plays out, is a game changer.

When we were more prepared though we always stocked a lightweight fold away cradle in our car for newborns while we camped or visited friends that we could stick in a dark corner, or somewhere semi quiet, then graduated to a $30 pack and play we've always used up until they're old enough to climb out. At the beach we stick it in a big teepee, tent, or even under a shady palm where we are just out of sight and sound. All of which have proved successful means to alternative napping confines when we're out. Basically because they associate whatever space we've acquainted them with, with naps. And therefore learn - for better or worse - to eventually embrace it.


Sticking With the Crib

Lastly, the crib phase makes this all much easier. Once you make the jump - and we did way too soon with Arlo because we were excited to see him in his "big boy" bed - it gets a lot tricker. I say keep them in there as long as they are not climbing out. For me I always think of it, for lack of a better comparison, to a dog's crate. A space where they are confined, safe, and content. Aside from Arlo, all three of my boys were in a crib until they were three or over because it was so easy to keep them where they aren't able to up and roam because once they figure out the power of their will, everything changes. And then it's all new tricks attached to the next phase of the good ol' "sleep game."



In other sleep related topics, you can read my views on shared rooms here


Scenes From a Weekend

Father's Day at San Onofre

Where we waited for close to an hour to get in. But made the most of it testing out a new summer playlist I started and failed to finish on my way to Palm Springs - who's inclusion of Harry Belefonte's stomping Jump Down, Spin Around (Hayes' Favorite) had a handful of kids and Gray haired grandmothers dancing together in line. Shep and Wilder came down for a few hours too, and were immediately inducted into the wolf pack having gained Rex's early affection based simply on their willingness to listen to his long, drawn out lectures on "surf rules." And their shared interest in making sticks into swords.

All in all, a long full afternoon celebrating our favorite guy the best way we know how, in his favorite place, with new friends, bonded by a common love of sand and sea.


Monday, June 13, 2016

Summer in El Cajon

It's not the way I envisioned - seeing my first long awaited first sneak peek at my friend's new amazing mid century dream house by way of an online magazine feature. But hey, I'll take what I can get until I can actually "get" there, to see it myself in person. 

Because man, what a space right?


Full interview and photo feature here
The summer stretched out the daylight as if on a rack. Each moment was drawn out until its anatomy collapsed. Time broke down. The day progressed in an endless sequence of dead moments.”   ― China MiĆ©ville, Perdido Street Station


Santa Monica, 1977 

At the Ace



There are a few things I can count on during our time in Palm Springs at the Ace Hotel. Currently the only place I can sleep these days that doesn't openly resent the fact of checking in with an army of four boys wielding skateboards, floaties, swords, suckers and squirt guns. In fact, anytime we're there I feel almost at home. In familiar quarters where we are all easily entertained. Welcomed even. The Staff, quick to stop and chat with any one of the boys whenever they pass. Treating Leon like he's part of the team, watching his dutiful role as unpaid water boy filling paper cups of water for strangers who look dreadfully thirsty. And Rex blazing around barefoot on his brother's borrowed skateboard. Making friends by pulling old school stunts borrowed from the Dogtown doc he watched last summer.



Scenes from a weekend:
In the lobby Hayes is sloppily feeding Oliver, the resident puppy on site. Receptionist laughing overhead as he spills food and water all around their feet in sweet attempt to feed (and hug) the dog at the same time. Arlo, doing backflips (until I wholeheartedly forbid them anyway) in the water to the applause of three very impressed (freshly tanned) dads on vacation from their families for a short "summer regroup" with the guys. As is their long standing start of summer tradition. Who appear genuinely fond of the ten year old with so much poolside gusto. And even the 2 yr old, who's piercing cries for juice and cars, and crackers and balls don't bother them as much as it should because, well, they miss their own kids who are "about the same age" at home waiting anxiously for their return. So we talk about two year olds, and the importance of time away, about kids being kids and and the crazy way people judge each other's parenting. We are all in agreeance. And it feels nice to find that. Even in strangers you know you'll never see again.

At the photo booth I complain (to no one in particular really) about the new polka dotted curtain backdrop in the booth, and then have my card shut off (like it does every time I'm there) because my bank still hasn't figured out my love affair with photo booth is real, and wrongly assumes swipe 4 is a red flag for theft when really I wasn't even through the last string of kids in line for their own strip. I curse the fact of it and head outside to put the baby to bed and find the closest thing I can to a "nap." Which is really just me splayed out in the shade with a magazine while Denise cries about the laptop she dropped in the spa when she went to collect the litter of paper cups left behind by our kids. We google tips and keep our hopes high. But she makes the mistake of trying to fix it with a blow dryer that ultimately melts two keys and doesn't do much in way of wired resurrection either. The end all fate of it, we still await.

The photo shoot we are hired for to shoot a lovely kiddie linen line comes together in a few short spurts spread out over the course of three days. As best as we can manage with 6 hyped up kids in bathing suits always headed for the pool. Impossible to wrangle with any plausible direction or order. So we bribe them with candy and the promise of another cold lemonade. Then eventually loose our patience because none of it's working and I resort to yelling and begging, landing somehow on an ill decided lecture about the horrific work conditions plauging the poor kids in China. Which is maybe not the best move but grabbed their attention enough to tie up the shoot which I figured at least informed them of the triteness of such complaints.  I mean, having to jump around a cool hotel with their friends for a few photos isn't necessarily what modern hardships are made of.

After lunch we all watch with steady intrigue as a Japanese TV personality star is photographed by six stylish sidekicks by the lounge. The kids all wonder (aloud) if it's a "he" or a "she"and we hush them partly because neither one of us are actually sure yet, so we all sit in silence watching them take 100 photos of a flamingo shaped bag and then later find the shots under the hotel hashtag and see that this individual has close to a million followers, and is apparently a big deal over seas. We get lost in the feeds we find that night and regret the hour we spend eyeing weird selfies and kids on fancy boats throwing money like rain, instead of trying to find real cures for broken, burned, and wet electronics.

At the end of it we drag an exceptionally heavy couch to the art wall for a shot and laugh hysterically as the kids dance and somehow slip out of the former sulk they were stuck in and become giddy, like the remake of the Friend's sitcom intro. Which, when the added soundtrack of the show is attached to, essentially becomes a fantastic snapchat video we both replay (for our own amusement) too many times to even count. Even Mike, who's dropped by for the night, praises it with serious complement.

In other hours Denise is wedged inside of cutely fruit shaped floats, usually debating a salad but most times settling on fries, sipping a speedy gonzales and craving a nap before the night's end where we both wind up watching karaoke in that black dim lit bar with sun burns and bathrobes because some traditions, they just write themselves.


In the end we are all back home together, exhausted but refreshed. Her with a water logged laptop and me with an untimely (mid job) broken camera (hence the stock photos inserted above) But the job is done and the kids are rested and everyone's now aware of the instant praise a backflip into the pool can warrant, and the hard cold truth about kids in factories who would donate a limb to be forced to "work" for slurpees and gummy worm rewards. And that vacationing with animal shaped accessories and waist length blonde weaves can in fact be career for some. 


Thank you, Palm Springs.  
Till next time. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Overheard



"You're mama so old her first Christmas WAS the first Christmas"
- Arlo's introduction into "Your Mama" jokes. Which somehow I didn't see coming.

"I told her you forgot we had school"
- Rex, on what he told his teacher about why he missed a day of school recently.

"She was nice about it. She just said she doesn't really want a boyfriend right now."
- Arlo, explaining the unfortunate response to him finally being brave enough to ask the girl out that he's been crushing on all year.

"He wants it. He gots it."
- Rex, thug like in response to us inquiring about how Hayes keeps mysteriously escaping his crib during naps lately. In addition to sporting purple markered tattoos of mean looking robots on his right hand. Which no one is claiming responsibility for either.

"Technically I'll be done after this but technically I still have two pages left. "
- Leon, technically fond of a newly gleaned third grade vocabulary word he learned last week.

"You guys are acting like I want to join a war or something."
- Arlo, regarding our notably underwhelming response to him announcing that he wanted to join flag football. Flashback to our less than stellar role as "sports parents" two years ago when he played little league. Remembering how we were late a lot, and under the silly impression that it was all about having "a good time" out there. And had a generally tough time fitting in with the hard core baseball loving folks sitting beside us every weekend.

"Look. I built a wall so the other kids can't come in."
- Rex, taking the Trump route in securing the confines of his playhouse against unwanted play guests that come constantly seeking a next turn on the attached zipline by stringing a complex rope contraction "wall" around it's small gleaming entrance.

"I told her we don't have any books."
- Rex, on what he told his teacher when she asked if we were keeping up on nightly reading.

"Who's going to catch me though?"
- Leon, wondering about the scenario I told him for a video he was to take part in that called for a center shot of him cannonballing into a pool. After much debate he agreed he would try it. But only if it took place in a spa. And someone in the spa was there, ready to catch.

"Nah, black kids don't play those games, bro."
- Jamal, Arlo's best friend quick to back out of an air soft gun war waged on the culdesac using slightly realistic looking warfare. Arlo, solving it the best way he knew how, traded him a bright orange nerf firearm that screamed "I'm Just a Toy. Please Don't Shoot" to avoid any harmful confusion. Hashtags: #depressingdayinparenthood #depressingtimeinsociety

"Donald Trump RULES!"
- Rex, young, rebellious and mistaken.

"Who cares Arlo, cause her is, SO ugly."
- Rex, in abrasive attempt to comfort his older brother who's mood appeared noticeably deflated after being turned down by his crush Fiona. Sadly, it didn't work.

"I told her you never teach me them."
- Rex, on what he told his teacher during the weekly site word quiz that he inevitably fails every time.

"Ok, but who' going to light the fireworks?"
- Leon, inquiring about the role of the firework guy in the punk bad his brothers are forever trying to ignite in conversations that usually include more talk than actual music.

"He's a tough baby. I pushed him on the floor, picked him up, pushed him down again and flipped him  but he just kept laughing."
- Rex, showing pride in Hayes who seems to willing and ready to participate in a daily hazing of sorts to stay on the inns of the fraternity style recklessness his brother is constantly unrolling.

"Your Mama so fat she walked past the T.V and we missed the whole episode."
- Rex, trying it out. Because if yo Mama is old, then she must be fat too. According to the rules of fourth grade recess humor.

"Did you know that my name means "KING?" And King wants to ride his bike to school today."
- King Rex, in creative attempt to win the battle about driving vs. biking to school on a Friday.

"Superman's dad!!!"
- Leon, claiming a most unique superhero role after all the other boys on the block snatched up Batman, Flash, Green Latern, Arrow and Superman on the count of 1, 2, 3. Because who better than to cook Superman pancakes and enforce curfews than Papa Leon?

"I have seven but one day I will have 45."
Leon, on smencil goals *pencils that come smelling like various sweets, that are a dollar a piece and all the rage since their PTA debut last week.

"You guys are acting like I want a tattoo!"
- Arlo, regarding our lack luster response to him requesting a pair of Nikes to ensure better sports mobility and potential.

"I told her you lost it."
- Rex, on the explanation he gave his teacher when she asked where his ever disappearing backpack was.

"Every time Leon walks into the cafeteria all the lunch ladies smile and give him cookies. Then when I come in they only ask if I'm in trouble again."
- Arlo, bitter over the reputation his wild parkour antics have afforded him.

"I told her you only give Arlo money to eat."
- Rex, on what he told the lunch lady when she politely asked if he had money for the slice of pizza he was walking away with.

"I'll sing like him if I wanna SING LIKE HIM!"
- Rex, answering back accusations that he's now ripping off Axel Rose in his singing voice these days.

"My bed is a cloud. A big, white, fluffy, cloud. " 
- Leon, to himself at night. In the dark, top bunk, in a dream like whisper sounding like his very own self help sleeptime narrator.

"It's a good thing he's too young to know that what she really means is that she just doesn't want HIM as her boyfriend. "
 - Mike, on Fiona's polite refusal. And Arlo's innocence being a short blessing now.

"Stop singing that ugly song, please mom. PLEASE?"
- Rex, on my Tracy Chapman sing a long on the way home from piano.

"If you wanna be in my man cave you bring some pretzels or something from your house, ok?"
- Rex instructing his friend Justin on how to enter the confines of his gentlemen's club under the stairs, where the pantry is, now lined with blinking Christmas lights, hidden fruit snack stockpiles, legos, a small American flag, and strobe light.

"Technically, that's not my tooth brush."
-Leon, speaking truth. Refusing to use his brothers.

"I'm not trying to be mean Arlo, but her really IS ugly."
-Rex, on Fiona. Second attempt, to no avail.

"Say goodbye to this place you guys. You'll never see it again."
- Mike, leaving our favorite Mexican restuarant after a parcicularly unpleasant family dining expereince.

"Do you have your own Instagram?"
- Arlo, small talk with a new girl / new crush at the bbq this past weekend. Hashtag: #movingon



Sunday, June 5, 2016

Last Day



And just as I've come to count on the last two weeks of school coming at me with the momentum of a barreling freight train of festivities, I've also come to count on the regular celebrations I know linger on the other side of it. So that after we've made it through a month's worth of end of school chaos that keep me second guessing my every morning's drop off, certain I've overlooked something, for someone, I know after it's all said and done the pay proves tenfold the stresses. The parties, water days, themed dress up days, award ceremonies, end of the year open houses, kinder graduate events, and Memorial day performances, field trips and everything else that flood my mind with scattered notes to "keep in mind" and my house and car with littered certificates, permission slips, awards, lists and artwork, it all eventually wraps. And then, pure and simple freedom. 

Thursday, when the last of the teacher's gifts have been wrapped and delivered and the home work turned in and the back packs busting from all the wear and tear they've suffered over the course of a year tossed, we all piled in that big white van, stop and collect whatever kids (or neighbor stragglers) we find en route and head on over to the Dogwood culdesac where a handful of houses have so kindly carved out this special day. Designed to kick off summer in the best possible way I can imagine with the kind of "last day of school" tradition that feels straight out of an 80's movie. Complete with soaking wet boys in Hawaiian shirts, girls in pigtails and roller-skates, and kindergartners armed with oversized nerf gun water warfare that comes exploding with laughter from crowded plastic pools  atop sun blenched, drought tired lawns. 

It's the promise of this party every year that keeps them abuzz with anticipation that whole last month. In addition to the balloon fight (which, I decided this year is possibly more fun to watch, as a bystander able to fully soak up the unbridled joy so apparent in all of these children's faces) there is also a makeshift ire cream buffet set up in one of the parent's driveway, complete with an gross assortment of gummy candy toppers you find in beloved yogurt lands, as well as endless cans of whip cream lined in front of them. It's the kind of thing I know for certain they'll retail with even grander vision to their own children one day. Reliving the glory that erupted on the 1:00 hour every year on the day school got out. Where you busted through the reigns of school and structure, and ran barefoot and wild eyed to answer the start of summer by chucking a few slick ones hard as you could at your best friend's head. Or taking it a little easier on the girls you'd been crushing on all year, who pretended to be as angry as you were sorry. 




Anyway, summer is here. 
Give us these six weeks then onward first, second, and fifth grade. 


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Clearing Out / Creating a Capsule Wardrobe, Part. 1



I've been hearing the phrase "wardrobe capsule" tossed around for the past year or so but I was quick to dismiss it as a new tag line trend. Or trite gimmick meant to engage those seeking further direction from the minimalist movement. In which I know I am never likely to be paired with, because I'm too sentimental. I save stuff I shouldn't and have a really hard time editing things I know I need to. But that doesn't mean I don't applaud the clarity it entails. In fact, as much as I adore my routine ways of #thriftlyfe and feel intrinsically prone to clutter, I have reached a point in life where it certainly feels like it's all pretty much weighing me down. Especially my wardrobe. Which really isn't excessive by any means but stocked, like most of us, with a few beloved key pieces, and then a whole lot of everything else I'm either not wearing, not loving, or not fitting into. Yet stuck with the notion of skewed personal attachment to a bunch of clothes that (as the golden "new minimalist" edit rule warns) doesn't give me any joy. Around the house I have a fair share of knick knacks and trinkets I keep out simply because I've had them for so many years. Not because I love the way they look. Or find a special something in the way they make me feel. I hang on to them because, well, they've just always been there. 

Stumbling across the Unfancy blog recently proved a much needed awakening for me. Like all the things I knew I needed to be tending to, but was avoiding, laid out there in that cleanly white little webspace. With all of the rules and inspiration to help guide one through the daunting task of pairing down a wardrobe. 

I'm just getting started here on my end, so I don't have any personal notes of advice just yet. All I know is that I want to try this out. I need to try it out because on some days it feels like I'm drowning in a sea of meaningless "Stuff." And I want to break that cycle. To some degree anyway. I want a little less. Actually I want a lot less. And I want it soon. 

As far as wardrobe specifics / staples go, I'm still figuring out what mine are. And when I do, I'll get be sharing elements of it on them here in a short series. Sharing the selections I've made as well whatever cuts I've managed. I'm starting the feat this coming Friday, our first official day out of school, so I can enjoy the ease of this brief season without feeling tied to the current state of cluttery discontent. Plus we are determined to get our home on the market this summer and what better reason to start getting rid of things than a lighter load to pack, stripped of all the clothing and whatever else I keep around for the stupid sake of aged sentiments keeping it around. But it's going to take some serious focus. And a whole lot of coffee. 




Here, a sample taste of the Unfancy credo. In which capsule creator extraordinaire, Caroline explains her delve into the capsule way of life where in 20014 she decided she was feeling desperatly ready for a big change:

"I’d been out shopping … again. I got home with a mess of clothes that contributed nothing to my style or my needs – and immediately knew this was part of a bigger problem.
See, recently, I’d noticed that I had a bad habit of going shopping when I needed to jolt myself out of a bad mood.
Hard day at work? Shopping! Not feeling very pretty today? Shopping! Frustrated with my family? Shopping!
No wonder my closet didn’t make any sense. It reflected my emotional stress, not my style.
I wanted a change. I wanted to stop spending money on emotional purchases. I wanted to stop filling my closet with cheap clothes. I wanted to stop believing more stuff would bring me happiness.
So … I googled around. I searched all sorts of things like “how to find your style” and “how to curb a shopping problem” until I stumbled upon the term “capsule wardrobe.”
Coined in the 70’s by London boutique owner, Susie Faux, it’s all about dressing with a small collection of seasonally appropriate, mix-and-match clothes.
It was the change I’d been looking for.
With the help of two blogs, Be More With Less and Into Mind, I settled on a structure that worked for my lifestyle: dress with only 37 pieces of clothing for 3 months. And no shopping during those 3 months. Yikes!
But as I started living with a small, intentional wardrobe, I noticed that I felt joyful again. I saw, with fresh eyes, that happiness, contentment, and joy come from within — not from stuff or external circumstances.
I lived with a capsule for a year and blogged about it every day, sharing my struggles, my breakthrough moments, and everything in between. By 2016, my heart and habits were healthy again.
It was time to let my “capsule diet” melt into my real life. I let go of some of the structure, like filling out my capsule planner every three months and limiting my closet to a specific number of pieces.
But I carry the heart of it with me — smaller closet, intentional purchases, less shopping, and more joy."

So stay tuned. Part two will show my cuts. 
In which I'm counting heavily on the promise they make that it it'll get easier as I go. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Kids Are Alright / A Defense for Public Schooling

It's always funny to me when I think of how much of energy we put towards pushing along the seeds of early independence. Guiding tiny spoons from plate to mouth, holding hands to steady wobbling feet, songs sung and resung in the dim glow of an evening nursery. Pages turned and letters learned in the extended hours of those young unconstructed afternoons when they still belong to us. Then when the day comes for them to finally unhook from our handholds and find their place in line at the start of their first school year, we fall to pieces.

I experienced this once again for the third time this year. A departure I suppose by now I should be somewhat prepared for. The swell of sentiment that tides in your heart at seeing them suddenly so grown up. So ready, so wiling, and able to go out and get on without you.

No one warned me with the first, so naturally I came fully unarmed for the emotions wrapped up in sending my first born baby off to kindergarten. In fact I think I cried for a good half hour. Parked in front of an unfamiliar school under an old oak tree long after his crop of brown hair had disappeared into the shadows of that big long school hallway. Surviving without me. Sights set on collecting hours all his own, to sing and shift and laugh and grow in.

But what really gets me is what I came know a little later. Realizing how painfully fast time starts to speed up once they do come to cross that kinder threshold. How swiftly a week, a month, a year flashes by so that every time you turn around you have a first grader smiling up at you with a few missing teeth, a third grader reading alone in bed after dinner, a sixth grader with a crush, and soon enough, a sophomore or a senior headed to a dance, armed with new attitude and a license. For me, it's the hardest part about it all. Letting go and accepting just how brief their time as "ours" truly is. And these school years, more than anything else seek to prove it to you. Season after season, school photo after school photo, they all go by in a blink of an eye. Forever, ruthlessly, in a big stupid hurry to grow up.



Having to severe ourselves from the cushioned boundaries we keep to help guard their confidence and strengthen spirit in those early years, is tough. For me, it was Leon that I felt particularly protective of that first year. Second born, sensitive, painfully sweet, and altogether good in every sense of the word. Even somehow separate from the standard notions of generally good kindergartens. Different. In all the best of ways. Blessed with an innate desire to do right, follow rules, and make people feel good. The kind of trait at risk for being just as easily squashed as it is embraced by "real world" public school antics. Which is why I was there for the first few days of school last year hiding out in the bushes, stalking his first week to ensure that he sat at the right table and ventured out to meet friends out on the playground. I monitored his every move from a brush of lavender on the side gates to see that he wasn't sad, or lost, or scared, or lonely. On the third day when I spotted him asking a kid with a broken arm dangling from a sling around his shoulder at the lunch benches to help him open his yogurt, it took everything in me not to shout out that I could do it for him. Because clearly the kid he had chosen could not. But instead I watched him figure it out himself and day by day, become more and more a part of the pack. Within week my own routine regained and I stopped worrying about him there without me. And before long I saw kids calling out his name and waving hello every time he passed them by. Suddenly, he was a kid. With a lot of friends. Who all seemed genuinely fond of him. In spite of all of my fears and concerns dreading the opposite.

Some of these initial fears though were in part linked to the bad rap public school seems to get these days. Particularly on social media. Where through the years on Facebook I'd seen endless links professing the harms involved with "too much" homework, articles exposing the evils of standardized testing, or the unfortunate effects of a sleepy brain having to work so hard early in the morning. Critiques that seek to examine or buck a tired system. One that is apparently subjecting our kids to a stale, outdated learning experience. Stifled by the enforcement of rules, the monitoring of grades, the threats of bullying (or worse: violence) headlining the reputation of an institution I myself am a grown, thriving product of. The result of a middle to low income 12 year public school education. Filled with various races. Attached to various religions. Where sometimes it was rough and sometimes it was incredible. And sometimes I made mistakes, and sometimes I flourished.

What does remain is the life long friends I made there. Most of whom I would guess might share the same sentiments for our school experience as me. A school that at that time might not have cleared an 8, or 9, or 10 score on Yelp, and could easily have been cause for concern for parents worried about the exposure such a mixed variety on a playground setting could possibly present. But for me it was very fact of this diversity that I think proved most enriching. On a lasting, social level, anyway.

On Instagram now I see consistent praise surrounding the glorification of the home schooling route, private schools, the Wardolph or Montessori based schooling, or "unschooling," charter schools, and any other method that exists on the outer fringe of mainstream education, but rarely ever do I read people giving props to Public schools. Which has been hard for me to understand considering the utter admiration I keep for ours.




A Public School Decision:

There was a point, just before Arlo was Kindergarten ready, where I briefly entertained the idea of home schooling. I had a few friends who were doing it at the time with plenty of encouragement on their end to lean on. I mulled it over for a good long month or so before I was forced to face the reality of what a feat like that might actually entail with me serving as sole educator from home. A reality that saw me lazing around in oversized pajamas. Skipping math and dodging the tougher questions about science with "wait until your dad gets home" type retorts. What I saw was a flimsy education I might very well deliver. One built on a one sided love affair with literature where memorizing Dylan's lyrics kicked long division to the curb. Where Emily Dickinson served as head mascot, and walking down the street to visit the neighbor's freshly groomed puppies counted as a field trip. Where daily history lessons involved updates by Anderson Cooper, and focus lingered probably far too long on a handful of our more handsome presidents (And we all know you can only do so many reports on Bill Clinton before things start to get tricky. . .)  Basically, after much consideration, I gathered my senses and decided just before the registration date, that for me. Home schooling wasn't what I wanted.

So I enrolled him down the street with relief carved in my every registering signature. Having accepted that as much as it inspired me to see others around me flourishing in the freedom and fulfillment that at home education can offer, that kind of arrangement wasn't cut out for my family. Plus, if we're being totally honest here I also really liked the idea of a regaining a little freedom as a mother sending them away for part of the day. And when I stopped to reflect on the lasting impression my own public school experience, I realized how grateful I was for what it provided me. A playground full of multi colored faces from all kinds of religious backgrounds. Middle class, upper class, and everything there in between. Where I tried the roles of both the bully, and the martyr, and realized which one felt worse. Where I once called a girl a hurtful name and got pushed so hard on my ass that I was sure to second guess ever doing it again. Where I stood up for the quiet Indian girl when the other kids teased her about her hygiene and then inspired a few others to do the same. Where I took sides and fought with friends. Worshiped and befriended peers and teachers (especially Mrs. Old's. With all the pretty turquoise jewelry, the cheating ex husband, and the poster of Bruce Springsteen's backside in all it's taunt glory of his Born in The USA hey day, tacked up our walls next to the American flag) and came to loath and protest couple others.

I learned a slightly skewed version of what "sex" meant at the tender ago of seven in second grade and then came to inform all of my fellow fourth grader peers about the meaning behind some controversial terms like "transexual" and "gay" (thanks in part to my long lasting obsession with day time TV talk shows - namely Sally Jesse Rapheal - and countless other crass tabloid fodder left for me by my grandmother who shared the same pechant for cheap hollywood gossip) Which is to say that there were indeed some questionable, seedy aspects plaguing the convos on the playground. Sometimes I suppose I was part of them. But then I wonder how, especially now in an age of modern media, are some of these situations to be entirely avoided. Even when we do our best the shields up.

And I wonder too, what lessons might be left out when certain situations are fully voided. Like when Arlo was in third grade he got sent to the office for a verbal fight he engaged in with another boy who ultimately flipped him off to which he responded by returning the gesture and was given a long lecture at home after it. As far as what this kind of action says about him. How such actions shape the way people judge him, and how in turn it might have been handled differently. Opening up discussion for those situations when they stumble, and we try to make their mistakes count as valuable lessons they can (hopefully) hang onto.

All of this to say that in spite of the perils we hear plaguing public schooling, I still believe the path is generally paved with love. Where we are introduced to some of life's hardest lessons in the futile stages of youth, becoming newly acquainted with the notion of what it means to lose and to win, to struggle, strive and want. Learnt like I did alongside the Muslim boy, the white girl with the half black brothers and wildly dressed father from Jamaica. The Christians kids, and the Jews. The little boy who's brother died of Leukemia the year we all turned 8. The Hispanic girl with the worn shoes and fraying dresses. And George Padilla who every girl who went to Garrettson Elementry will forever remember as the slick haired boy with the pretty blue eyes who arrived every morning in a shiny red corvette driven by his perfectly coiffed blonde mother. And Nissa from Nova Scotia, with the unfamiliar accent and waist length braids. All of us. From all kinds of backgrounds, getting through it together. A junior microcosm of real world society I see now reflected in my own boy's experiences.

On the very first field trip I went on with Arlo's class I introduced me to a boy with two moms, a girl raised by her grandparents, and another by her aunt who stood in at every school function where her recently deceased mother should have been. The same year showed me festive class parties and a caring office staff. Teachers who devout every last ounce of their energy making sure every one of their students is learning the love of reading. Janitors who tend to all the day's lost goods, principles dedicated to keeping them safe and lunch aids who treat my children like their own for those 3o minutes they are out there sweating it out on that blacktop every lunch hour.

So sure. I have my qualms with standardized testing, and common core trends, but for the most part my focus stays attached to the social aspects public school offers them above the cycles trending educational tools and state wide standards that always falling in and out of public popularity. I know I drop my boys off every day knowing they are in a good place. Under the guide of teachers I respect. With a campus run by incredible people who are all invested in their personal evolution and well being. Every day they leaning something about life outside of alphabet and arithmetic. Where we anticipate plenty more bumps and bruises along the way. Because just like life, man there always is.

In the meantime I can only hope that the tools they're gaining along the way will teach them how to pick themselves up when they need it. And lend a helping hand to others, no matter what they look like or where they come from, when they happen to need it too. Because no matter the educational route we take to adulthood, be it private, charter, home or public, we're all basically just hoping for the same thing: to raise kind, caring, smart and confident people. Who seek to give this world something back. In whatever shape or form that might entail.

And from what I've seen so far, I'd say these kids (and the future) are alright.


* Images from the annual fourth grade Gold Rush celebration last week. Where the kids stake sections in the field to mine for gold and then turn them in at the "bank" to wander the little town created by parents and faculty that provides them everything from a fresh shave at the local barber, to a saloon serving ice cold root beer, to a laundry wash station, a pie eating corner, a general store and lasso stale. Where 100 10 year olds swept the field donning mining clothes - the girls in hand sewn gowns and bonnets courtesy of over 100 hours of sewing by one fourth grader's very skilled mother. Who stayed up countless nights, and went through two sewing machines to see it through. A day filled with bright smiles and endless laughter. A shining lesson in the wild ways of California's early days. One I'm sure none of them (or I) are quick to ever forget. 


gold rush from Mrs. Habit on Vimeo.