Category Archives: Life

Writing and motherhood, eleven months out

As the mother of a baby, I spend a lot of time — I mean, a LOT of time — thinking about the balance between motherhood and my would-be career as a writer. Unlike women who work outside of the home or women who embrace the Stay At Home Mom designation, I feel as if I’m caught in a murky limbo wherein I do stay at home with my child, but I also work at home — or, at least, I try to work at home. I’ve heard women in my situation referred to as Work At Home Moms, but that doesn’t quite capture what it is to be a mother as well as a struggling writer or other creative professional whose job is largely unstructured. The problem with having an unstructured — or, rather, self-structured — work life when you have a baby is that the demands of your work — which are often self-imposed — are quickly crowded out by the demands of your child. Eleven months into this motherhood thing, I am still trying to figure out how I can succeed and feel satisfied both as a professional writer and as a mother. Here are some thoughts I’ve been turning over lately.

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Life as a writer, before and after baby

Before I had Lucia, my work life was blissfully predictable. I rarely worried about whether I’d have enough time each day to get everything done. I’d set high word-count or revision goals for myself every day and I’d almost always meet them. Every morning, I would get up, make coffee and breakfast, sit down at my computer, and write for several hours. If I were working on a manuscript, I’d bang out 1500-2000 words, minimum. Then I’d go to the gym, eat lunch, run errands, and finish up any loose ends in the afternoon (freelancing work, short fiction, blogging, etc.) before calling it quits for the day. It was awesome.

But now, my work schedule, such as it is, must bend to Lucia’s schedule. This makes sense; the baby thrives on a predictable routine of feedings, changings, play, and naps. In the morning, my first priorities are getting Lucia changed and fed, and pumping milk for the bottle that she will have before bedtime. After L has had breakfast and the pumping is done, I play with her until it’s time for her nap, two hours after she gets up. When she goes down for her morning nap around 9 am, I have my first sliver of free time. Hooray! But, as it turns out, by 9 am, there’s always a bunch of crap around the house that needs doing: laundry, dishes, picking bits of discarded food off the floor and walls, stashing toys, answering emails, paying bills, returning phone calls, etc. And now that L is almost a year old, her morning nap is rarely longer than an hour, which means by the time I’ve done all of my annoying chores, I’m looking at maybe a half-hour window in which to get work done. I’m a fast writer, and a half hour is sometimes a feasible timeframe for me to crank out a freelancing piece, but for my fiction work, I need longer stretches of time to get any quality work done. It’s a real dilemma. At the moment, my freelancing work is chugging along (yay for deadlines), but my manuscript is languishing. Those halcyon days of cranking out 2000 words in a sitting are behind me, and I constantly struggle to feel productive or like I’m making any progress on my fiction work at all.

Breastfeeding and babysitting

The obvious solution to the problems I’ve just laid out would be reliable childcare, right? Well, yes, except there’s a wrinkle: breastfeeding. It’s true that things on the work-life balance front have gotten much better since I’ve hired a babysitter, who comes three days a week and watches L for three to four hours at a time. Having the babysitter come allows me to leave the house to work (and go to the gym and grocery store and do other adult human activities, sans baby), and it’s great! I’ve gotten more writing done on my manuscript in the past five months of having a babysitter than I did in the preceding six months of no babysitter. But this is complicated by the constraints of breastfeeding. The thing is, I can’t leave for much longer than three or four hours or I will miss several feedings and have to pump to make up for them. I already pump twice a day as it is (in the morning and at night), and the idea of adding a third or even fourth pumping session into the day strikes dread into my heart. When I set the goal for myself to breastfeed L until she was a year old, I didn’t anticipate the crimp it would put on my work life. And now I’m wondering how anyone makes breastfeeding and working work.

I don’t really see this precise issue written or talked about much online or in my group of mom friends. I think this is because most moms who work outside the home stop breastfeeding and/or pumping soon after going back to work because it’s such a giant pain in the ass to try to pump at work, clean and wash all the bottles and pump parts, and then transport the milk home every day. Moms who stay at home (and who don’t need uninterrupted stretches of the day for work) and want to breastfeed can continue to breastfeed (and maybe don’t need to pump much at all) because they’re always near their babies. But what about those of us who want to keep breastfeeding but also need to be out of the house to get work done? The options aren’t great.

For those who have never breastfed or used a breast pump, you might be thinking, “What’s the big deal? Just pump the milk and quit your whining.” The thing is, pumping suuuucccckkkks, literally and figuratively. I’ve been doing it for six months now (since L started taking a bottle at 5 months old) and it’s still the most annoying part of my day. You have to get out your pump, put on a special pumping bra, wash and assemble your pump parts and bottles, hook up the parts and bottles to the machine and your bra, and sit down with a giant bottle of water for ten uncomfortable minutes wherein you can’t move more than a foot away from the pump. Then, once you’ve pumped the milk, you have to pour it into a new bottle, store it, wash and disassemble the pump parts, take off the pumping bra and get re-dressed, and put away the pump. The entire process takes a good 20-30 minutes and it’s just the worst. I really don’t know how any woman does this at an office, since even doing it at home is such a time-suck. (Moms who pump at work: I salute you.). As Hanna Rosin said in her piece in The Atlantic, “The Case Against Breastfeeding,” “[Breastfeeding is] only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing.”

Weaning and writing

The other option, of course, is to just stop breastfeeding and pumping altogether and put L on formula. The thing is, she’s only three weeks away from being a year old (i.e., weaning age), and dammit, I’ve come this far, and I’m not going to quit now! I guess I’m hoping things will get easier once she’s weaned, because I can leave her for longer stretches (say, five to six hours) without having to worry about pumping. In my fantasies about my post-weaning work life, I return to getting real work done on my manuscript every day. I have enjoyed breastfeeding my child and I will certainly miss the sweet, bonding moments I’ve shared with her, but damn, I can’t wait to be free of that damned pump and its terrible accoutrements.

All of this makes me wonder how I’ll handle breastfeeding with my next baby. Right now, at the peak of my frustration with pumping, I’m thinking I won’t breastfeed for as long, or I will do a combo of formula and breastmilk to allow myself some more freedom. Who knows what my writing career will look like by then, anyway. Only time will tell.

Do you have any thoughts about balancing work and baby? I’d love to hear them.

(The day after) Thanksgiving

Happy Day After Thanksgiving! I just scarfed down a plate of cold turkey and stuffing and then sat in a hot tub for half an hour, so I’m pretty much living the American Dream right now.

As is my custom, I’d like to share a few of the things I’m thankful for this year. As always, I have a long list, but this year, the list is topped by my baby, Lucia, who, in my completely unbiased opinion, is one of the best, if not THE BEST, baby in the world. Also: Al, my family, my friends. My health. The uzh! But the baby — oh, man, that baby. Boy, am I thankful for her. This is one of those things I don’t think I was able to fully appreciate before Lucia was actually outside my body. I didn’t know how much I’d love her and be grateful for her four-toothed little smile every day. What a gift she is. I am so, so lucky to be her mother. And I know this is all very sappy and saccharine and stomach-turning, but having a kid has made me way cheesier than I ever thought possible, and I’m just living my (sappy, gross) truth!

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This year, Al’s mom and stepdad are in town visiting from Canada, and they’re staying with my parents, who recently moved here from San Francisco. Finally having my parents local for the last few months has been wonderful, and it’s great having another set of Lulu’s grandparents in town, too. We had a really delicious Thanksgiving meal yesterday, with fabulous, sunny weather, and good conversation, so what else, really, can you ask for? Nothing, that’s what!

I’ll leave you with a short list of some of the littler, sillier things I’m thankful for this year.

  1. Ingenious baby products that make my life easier. Special shout-outs to this thing, which is a baby butt-paste spatula, and this thing, which has allowed me to do stuff around the house while Lucia entertains herself for minutes on end!
  2. Sleep training. Glorious, liberating sleep training. (Actually, this is not a little or silly thing. This is life-changing stuff right here).
  3. Amazon Prime and all its attendant glories (looking at you, Amazon Video).
  4. My Swimp3, for making swimming way less boring.
  5. Our local coffee shop, Misha’s, where Lulu and Al are now regulars.
  6. My Kindle Paperwhite, for letting me plow through books while feeding my kid (since it only requires one hand to operate, and has its own backlight).
  7. Ravelry, the source of much inspiration and relaxation.

There’s more, of course. But there’s another plate of stuffing calling my name, so I’ll leave it at this. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, wherever you are!

Thirty-three

Today is my birthday. Hooray! I guess.

I have mixed feelings about the significance of birthdays. I don’t have conflicted feelings about birthdays themselves; that is, I’m not someone who bemoans getting older (at least, not yet). I’m in my early thirties, for crying out loud, and I detest when people my age complain about being “old.” Puh-leeze. No, it’s more that I have mixed feelings about how big of a deal should be made of one’s birthday as an adult. I mean, I’m not going to go all Jehovah’s Witness on everyone and eschew celebrating birthdays altogether, but do I really need to mark the passage of each year or my life with some big hullabaloo? Probably not, right?

This debate is theoretical, really, since I rarely do much for my birthday, anyway. This year my birthday is especially anticlimactic since I’ll be spending it with a baby (my baby, as a matter of fact) and pretty much no one else. Al is traveling for business, my parents are moving into their new house, and everyone else is just going about their Tuesday morning, so it’s just me and Miss Lucia today. (This is not to say that my birthday has passed by unnoticed: Al took me out to a great dinner this past weekend and I think I can probably wrangle another birthday dinner out of him this weekend, too). I’m fine with the fact that I’ll be spending today putting soiled diapers out for collection, doing laundry, taking Lucia to baby music class, working during her naps, and all of the other things I normally do on a Tuesday. This is my life, and it’s a good one.

Last night, I was looking through the journal that I kept while I was pregnant to see what I was up to at this time last year, when I was turning thirty-two. Back then, I was three months away from giving birth. I was going to yoga classes and writing 2000 words a day in a manuscript and practicing Hypnobabies techniques and taking naps (NAPS!!). I had no idea what my life would look like today, but I knew it would involve poopy diapers. Yep. Also, fewer naps, more coffee. But also, way more baby laughter, which kind of outweighs everything else. All in all, I’d say thirty-three year old Steph has the better end of the deal than thirty-two year old Steph, despite all the naps that younger lady got to take. After all, I get to spend my birthday with this hilarious little person:

Anyway. It’s time for me to wake up Lulu so we can make it on time to her baby music class, which might end up being the cutest way possible I could celebrate my thirty-third birthday. Enjoy your Tuesday, everyone.

The fog of motherhood

My baby will be three weeks old tomorrow. In some ways, it feels like I gave birth yesterday (that whole otherworldly experience is still vivid in my mind and even in my muscle memory), and in other ways, it feels like I’ve had Lucia in my life for years. It’s like she’s always been there; she’s always been my child. It’s hard to remember what it was like not knowing her. It seems bizarre that three weeks ago, she was still inside me, and all I knew about her was how hard she was capable of kicking me in the bladder.

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Since she’s arrived, I’ve muddled through each day in a haze of exhaustion and wonder. The hours blend together and the days and weeks turn into a blurry stream of nursing, burping, diaper changes, and, yes, blissful snatches of sleep. My days and nights revolve entirely around the baby. This is not a complaint; it is just a statement of fact. I have accepted this as my new reality and I’m rolling with it. I think if you had asked me before I had Lucia if I would enjoy having my life entirely dictated by a tiny, hungry person with a preternaturally large capacity for pooping, I would have said, and I’m just guessing here, “Oh, hell no.” But, funnily enough, I am enjoying this. It’s not easy — dear God, no! [insert maniacal laughter here] — and some days, I cry just as much as the baby, but despite that, it’s wonderful.

Logically, it’s difficult to understand how caring for an infant, which is a largely thankless job filled with uncertainty and stress and frustration, is actually fun, but I think it comes down to how utterly fascinated I am by this baby and how much, and how purely, I love her. Even when she’s being a pest — fussing and batting me away and peeing in my bed — I think she’s adorable. I mean, this face, for one thing, right?

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I’m meant to understand that his crazy newborn period (you know, the one in which the baby eats every one to two hours and poops and fusses and pees and spits up constantly) does not last. “This too shall pass” is a reassuring mantra for me at the moment. Even though I’m enjoying this experience immensely, sleeping in one to two hour bursts is not something I want to be doing for the rest of my life. So, I’m hanging in there and not trying to worry about the fact that I haven’t done any real exercise or writing in three weeks, or that I wake up each morning covered in various bodily fluids, or that I’ve had to let obligations that I thought I could handle drop, or that I can’t even finish the simple knitting projects I had going before I gave birth, or that I haven’t called half the friends I want to talk to on the phone, or that I’m completely reliant on my parents (who are staying with us) to do my laundry and cook for me and take out the trash and buy toilet paper. Because this period won’t last, and then I’ll be faced with other challenges, and I’ll have to roll with those, too.

In the meantime, I am loving staring into this face. And if this period never passes, that’s okay, too.

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Lucia Wren

Last time I wrote, I was super pregnant and counting down the days until our baby — who, while being very real, still felt a bit, um, theoretical — made her appearance. I had a feeling — just a feeling — that she was going to come a bit early, and this feeling was bolstered by a premonition from Al’s stepmom (and she has crazy strong intuition) that the baby would show up at around 39 weeks. Incidentally, my chiropractor also predicted that the baby would show up around January 27 or 28. These predictions proved to be quite accurate, because six days before her due date, on January 28, Lucia (pronounced “Loo-CHEE-uh”) Wren made her debut.

Me and my baby

Me and my baby

Without getting into the nitty-gritty of the labor and delivery process, I’ll say that giving birth was the most intense, crazy experience of my life. I know those two words (“intense,” “crazy”) don’t do much to impart how mind-bending it is to experience a fully formed human emerging from one’s body, but it’s the best I can do. It. Was. Crazy. Also: awesome, wonderful, empowering, and overwhelming, but mostly just CRAZY. Anyone who’s given birth (especially without the aid of painkillers) knows what I’m talking about right now. Dude.

The VERY abridged story: The contractions show got on the road at around 10:00 am on the 28th and Lucia was out at 7:22 pm. I was on another dimension (an astral plane? who knows) for much of the labor process, but the whole thing was pretty peaceful, all things considered, and fast, especially for a first baby! So, lucky me, and lucky Lucia.

Chillin', baby style.

Chillin’, baby style.

She was born at George Washington University Hospital under the care of a fantastic team of midwives and nurses. We also had a doula, who happened to be tied up with another birth when I went into labor, so she sent a replacement doula, a very nice lady named Laurie, who showed up at my bedside while I was still laboring at home (and was not entirely in the same universe as anyone else) and gave me fantastic support and encouragement. Everyone at GW, from the midwives and nurses who helped deliver the baby, to the postpartum nurses, pediatricians, and lactation consultants, were really, really great. We feel really lucky to have given birth there. To quote Travis Birckenstock, “a very enthusiastic two thumbs up.”

We named the baby Lucia because, first of all, it’s a gorgeous name, but also because it’s a family name. My dad’s mom was born in Italy and her maiden name was Santa Lucia. I always loved the sound of the name and the fact that Lucia means “light.” And let me tell you, this baby is the light of our lives so far. I’m a bit biased, but I think it’s fair to say that she is one of the cutest babies in the world, if not THE cutest. Also, she’s a bit of a mini-me, based on photos I’ve seen of myself as a baby. We have the same chin. And kind of the same mouth. And the same hands. Did I just asexually reproduce and not know it? Because, if so, sorry, Al.

Baby Steph

Baby Steph

Baby Lucia

Baby Lucia

She’s also super chill. Her hobbies include sleeping, pooping, eating, and mewling. She doesn’t cry very much and occasionally gives us big smiles, although I suspect this is probably related to gas. I’ll take it! Even though Al and I are both super sleep-deprived and a bit overwhelmed, we are overjoyed, and are having so much fun taking care of her and just staring at her.

Daddy reading baby a story... about Bruce Jenner's transition to becoming a woman.

Daddy reading baby a story… about Bruce Jenner’s transition to becoming a woman.

I’m tempted to flood the internet with a million photos of her, but I am holding back since I’m not sure she’ll appreciate that when she’s old enough to make her own decisions about what she shares online. So, for now, this will have to do. In the meantime, blogging might slow down a bit since I spend large portions of the day with my hands full. But expect more tales of Lucia down the road, and more normal posts once I figure out this parenting thing!

Pregnancy: the finish line

I am 38 weeks pregnant. This makes me, I realized today, the most pregnant person I know.

38 weeks of baby growing, completed.

38 weeks of baby growing, completed.

It’s weird, because occasionally, I feel like I just got pregnant, like, yesterday, but most days I feel like I’ve been pregnant since Jesus was a baby. Some days I really like being pregnant, and other days I am ready to eject this baby from my body and get on with the next step, already. I’ve been having more and more of the latter type of days over the past several weeks as being in my body has gotten less and less comfortable. Please allow me to complain about the many aches and pains of pregnancy for a moment. Putting on and taking off pants, in particular, has become one of my least favorite things to do. Oh, the groin pain! Bending over to put on shoes? Horrible. Waking up in the middle of the night with the whole side of my head throbbing from being compressed on the pillow? ALSO NOT FUN. I guess this is why everyone says the last few weeks of pregnancy are the worst, physically. They weren’t kidding!

But up until just a few weeks ago, I could still put on my pants without making grunting noises. I could still bend over without getting winded. So, like a chump, I thought I was going to escape the worst of the fabled pregnancy aches and pains since I’d had such an easy time of things, for the most part, up to that point. But the last weeks of pregnancy come for us all, eventually, and none of us escape unscathed. I guess what I’m saying is that I won’t miss the physical complications that come along with hauling around a fully cooked baby inside one’s body. It ain’t easy.

But there are things about pregnancy that I think I will miss. For one thing, people have been SO NICE to me since I’ve become visibly pregnant. People offer to carry things for me and let me go ahead of them in line. Strangers smile at me. Strangers COMPLIMENT me. Just today, I was blow-drying my hair at the YMCA in my bra and underwear (that locker room’s a sweatbox, but I’m not about to go full old lady and let it all hang out — yet), and a woman smiled at me and told me my belly was “beautiful.” Another woman in the elevator the other day told me how cute I looked. Listen, never in my life has a stranger told me I looked cute without an ulterior motive. But people genuinely love a pregnant woman, I’ve found, especially ladies who have been through it themselves. Something about seeing a round belly seems to inspire warm, fuzzy feelings in people and they want to share them. At least, this has been my experience. I have heard horror stories about people saying all sorts of outrageously insulting things to pregnant women. But I’ve been lucky in that people have been nice to me, with nary an insult thrown my way. And I have to be honest, I’ll miss the special treatment when this baby is on the outside.

Speaking of which, I still haven’t totally wrapped my mind around the fact that I’m going to be a parent in approximately two weeks. Most of the time, I float through my day in a cloud of denial. That sounds bad, but I don’t know what else to call it. It’s not that I’m not insanely excited about having a baby, it’s just that thinking about the fact that I’m going to be responsible for another human’s ENTIRE LIFE in a fortnight is a little overwhelming. I mean, just typing that sentence is giving me a mild panic attack.

Is this really happening?!

Is this really happening?!

But I hear that feeling overwhelmed at this stage of pregnancy is normal. After all, it’s easy to pretend the kid’s never going to come out when you still have months and months stretching ahead of you on the baby countdown. But when you start counting down to your due date in weeks instead of months, and then days instead of weeks, things start looking pretty real — and kind of scary. Scary wonderful! I think! …Eh, I don’t know. I’m basically a walking bag of hormones these days, so take everything I’m saying with a grain of estrogen.

Anyway, since I don’t think I’ll be writing about this topic again over the next two weeks, this will be my final word on the matter. And that final word is: EEK!

On New Year’s resolutions

I used to be a big New Year’s resolutions person. At the start of each new year, I’d come up with an ambitious list of things I wanted to better about myself. My mother recently sent me a whole box of my old journals (I was a prodigious journal keeper from age nine to age nineteen, when I finally evaluated the wisdom of writing my innermost thoughts and feelings down on paper, where they might become discoverable by other people). I was paging through a journal that I kept in 1996/1997 (so, when I was fourteen — eesh), and I found this amusing snippet from January 1, 1997:

“A resolution… hmm… to wash my face more fervently. Maybe that’s not the right word. Just to be more committed to doing my face. Another resolution: to become my new self and be so cool (not “cool” like kids think, but cool, like my kind of cool), that people will be inspired by me. When I say cool, I mean … artistic, etc. And really nice to everyone, and indifferent to those who are less mature. I think those are reasonable, don’t you? I mean, I’m not going to resolve to cure cancer or solve world hunger. People who do that are unrealistic! Well, the first one might be feasible for a team of brilliant scientists.”

I like how I thought inspiring people with my “coolness” and maturity was realistic, but curing cancer wasn’t. Sure, fourteen year-old Stephanie. Dream big.

This was the girl resolving to inspire people with her coolness.

Resolutions are bunk. Case in point: this was the girl resolving to inspire people with her coolness. 

I made New Year’s resolutions well into adulthood, but a few years ago, I kind of stopped. I think this is because as an adult, the things I need to work on about myself have become so immutable that to resolve to chip away at them afresh year after year feels pointless, or worse, discouraging. If every single January I resolve anew to be less neurotic, worry less, stress less, etcetera, I have to begin to wonder if I’ve made any progress at all over the last year on those exact same resolutions. Because for adult me, my resolutions always boil down the same thing: don’t be such a stress case. Be more Zen. Stop worrying so much.

Another problem with my particular perennial resolution is that it’s hard to measure whether or not one is worrying less than the year before. How would one ever track such a thing? A year-long spreadsheet in which one tallies the time and energy one has spent worrying? That seems, to put it mildly, to defeat the point. And resolving to not worry at all feels, if I may borrow a word from my fourteen year-old self, unrealistic. My solution to this conundrum has been to simply stop resolving to worry less — or resolving to do anything else differently, for that matter.

Part of this failure to make resolutions is informed by my understanding of what a resolution actually is. To me, a resolution is a promise you make to yourself (and others, if you declare it publicly) to do something better or different: quit smoking, eat healthier, spend more time with family, make the bed every morning, etc. And, as I said, the principal thing I want to do differently each year usually comes down to going easier on myself and not stressing over things that ultimately don’t matter. Unfortunately, I suspect that this is something I’m going to have to work on until the day I shuffle off this mortal coil, because I’m sort of a tightly wound lady, and that’s just how it is. So what’s the point of restating the same resolution every year? Better to just keep it in the back of my mind and remind myself not to blow a gasket when things go wrong. That’s seemed to work for me so far. Yoga helps, too.

Making a list of yearly goals, though — that I can get behind. Goals, to me, are far more satisfying than resolutions. Goals are things you can check off a list, or at least work toward checking off a list. They’re fun to think about and to imagine. And, best of all, they don’t require making an inventory of one’s weaknesses and failings, as resolutions do. I have so many goals for the new year, including getting a novel published (or on the way to being published), publishing another short story in a reputable literary magazine, expanding my freelancing work, and keeping a new human alive and healthy. (That last one’s kind of a big one.)

If I had to pick my number one goal for this coming year, it would be to keep another human being alive, and not go crazy in the process. Now this is something I can measure, come New Year’s 2016. If I’m institutionalized next year, we’ll know I failed. As for New Year’s resolutions, who needs ’em?

Happy New Year, by the way.

Book review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo

I love a good house-cleaning binge. Every year or so, Al and I go through our stuff and do a giant purge, tossing out things with wild abandon, and we always feel SO GOOD afterwards. It’s like a workout for the spirit, getting rid of unnecessary stuff. There’s something deeply satisfying about putting things you no longer need in trash-bags and hauling them to the curb, or, even better, loading them into boxes and dropping them off at the Salvation Army. Yet, despite our periodic purges, over time, stuff — different stuff, but stuff nonetheless — always manages to creep into our house again. Thus, a yearly purge remains necessary for our household. I think this is a typical problem — too much stuff, and negotiating how to get rid of it — but it still bugs me, and I spent a not insignificant amount of time pondering it.

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This preoccupation with purging superfluous stuff and preventing clutter rebounds is why I was so intrigued when I got a copy of Marie Kondo’s slim, attractive little book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Kondo is a Japanese organization expert — don’t you just instinctively trust someone with those credentials? — and she’s devised her own method, the KonMari Method — for tidying up and, here’s the catch, having your house stay tidy. The basic message of Kondo’s method is that you should surround yourself only with things you love, and in her book, she provides step-by-step guidance on how to achieve that.

Kondo’s basic method is different from many other organization experts’ in that she rejects the idea that one should tidy a little each day to make a dent in your clutter. Instead, she supports the idea of one, giant purge, treated as a “special event,” and done methodically, by category. That is, instead of tidying room by room, Kondo recommends tidying by category of thing: first clothes, then books, papers, miscellany, and finally, mementos. The single selection criteria for each item, Kondo stresses, is whether or not it brings you joy. She provides actual guidance about how to determine whether an item — say, a book — brings you joy, which often involves placing all items on the floor and picking them up one by one and waiting for a spark.

There’s a ton of solid, practical advice in Kondo’s book about how to effectively tidy and organize, including tips on efficiently folding clothes and socks, but what I found most useful were the lists in the book of various types of komono (miscellany) that people tend to hold onto “just because.” These include cosmetic samples saved for trips, electronics packages, spare buttons, and unidentified cords. I found Kondo’s observation that “Mysterious cords will always remain that — a mystery,” and that it’s easier and faster to just buy a new one than to dig through a giant tangle of cords, to be particularly liberating. I kept it in mind as I tossed out a huge box of cords and plugs Al and I had been holding onto for a rainy day.

I’m a huge fan of this book and I do plan on using Kondo’s method to tidy my own house from top to bottom — just not right now. We’re having a baby in a month and I know that means we’re going to have a huge influx of new stuff into our house, like it or not. Undoubtedly, some of that stuff will be less useful/joy-provoking than other stuff, and that’s okay. We can make decisions about what to purge later, once we figure out what we need to be parents. Instead, pre-baby, Al and I opted for a stop-gap purge  of our basement, getting rid of tons of cardboard boxes, wires, old papers, books, and household gadgets we’ll never use. I kept Kondo’s advice about interrogating whether an object sparks joy in mind, especially as I cleared out my books. I tend to cling to books (and given the content of this blog, that probably shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone), so in the past, it’s been hard for me to part with them. This time, though, I found myself easily tossing books away because they didn’t bring me joy. I guess the method works! Recommended for those who are ready to get their stuff organized — for the last time.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh

Happy belated Thanksgiving! To think: only a few, short days ago, we were still basking in the golden glow of everyone’s favorite gluttony-and-gratitude-based holiday, and now we’re deep in the throes of Cyber Monday (which lately has been extended to Cyber Week)-style cut-throat consumerism. Sunrise, sunset. I don’t know, wouldn’t Thanksgiving be even better if it weren’t immediately followed each year by events in which people get trampled to death in parking lots? Of course, I say all of this as I contemplate buying a severely marked-down food processor online. At least I’m not trampling anyone. Yet.

This year, for the first time since 2011, Al and I were in the U.S. for Thanksgiving (last year we were in London and the year before that, Cape Town). The day before the holiday, we drove out to Pittsburgh to visit Al’s friends Hakan and Meredith, who recently moved there from Louisiana. The drive to Pittsburgh from Alexandria was supposed to take four hours, but between the unrelenting snow and my compressed bladder, it took us six-and-a-half. Frequent (and annoying) pee breaks are the new normal for preggo me, and there’s nothing to be done about it. Despite all the stops, though, we got to Pittsburgh before it got dark.

Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving dinner

Pittsburgh, as it turns out, is a pretty cool town! I had never been there before, but I’d heard good things, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s an old industrial town filled with red-brick buildings and steel bridges and funicular railways running up steep hills. Since it has that aging steel town vibe, it lends itself well to hipster enclaves, and there are lots of fun, young neighborhoods packed with cool bars and shops and restaurants. Plus, since there are a ton of universities and colleges in town, there are plenty of museums and cultural events. Of course, the only “cultural event” in which we participated while there was a showing of Disney’s Newsies (the musical), but hey, you do what you can.

Our Thanksgiving day was nice and low-key. Meredith and Hakan did most of the cooking (turkey, stuffing, carrots, cranberries), but I contributed mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie (using the same recipe as I used two years ago, except minus the hand-roasted and pureed pumpkin, now that I’m back in a country where canned pumpkin is a thing), and a gallon-sized bag of Chex cookies ‘n cream Muddy Buddies. We sat down to eat dinner around four and then went downtown to see the evening show of Newsies, which was pretty faithful to the delightfully cheesy 1992 movie of the same name, except with more pirouettes and high kicks!

The next night, we went to dinner in Shadyside, a hip neighborhood in the East End of Pittsburgh. We ate at the astonishingly unfashionable hour of 5:30 (in fact, when the restaurant called to confirm our reservation, they asked whether anyone in our party had “trouble going up and down stairs”), and it was great. Now that I’m in my thirties (and seven months pregnant), I really enjoy eating early and then being able to digest for a few hours before going to bed early. I figure this lifestyle will make my transition to the nursing home that much easier when the time comes!

We bid our friends adieu on Saturday morning and drove back to Virginia. The snow had melted and we made quick time on the way back, even with all of my many pee stops. We were sad to say goodbye to our pals, but now that they live much closer, I’m sure we’ll see them again soon. As we drove back, I reflected on all of the things I’m thankful for this year. There are a lot, but most of them can be boiled down to the following: the baby, Al, my family, and living in a country in which canned pumpkin is abundant.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Thirty-two

Today is my birthday. I’m 32. There’s nothing particularly exciting about 32, or any birthday, really, after 30 and before 40. They’re all kind of ‘meh’ birthdays, aren’t they? But I suppose this birthday feels more significant to me than it otherwise would because I’m 26 weeks pregnant, and there’s something about having a little person kicking around inside you that imbues everything with a sense of importance. After all, I’ll be 32 when I have this baby, so 32 suddenly has become an important age. This is the last birthday I’ll celebrate as a pre-parent. It’s the first birthday I’ve had in a while where I didn’t drink too much (sigh). It’s the first birthday I celebrated in our new house. So, really, it feels like quite an adult birthday — maybe my first really grown-up birthday.

Spending my birthday in maternity jeans.

Spending my birthday in maternity jeans.

It’s strange to think that this is the third birthday I’ve recorded since starting this blog two years ago. When I started this thing, I was just turning 30, quitting my lawyer job, and moving to South Africa, and at the time, those life changes felt so momentous. And they were, of course. But now, at 32, the changes I’m facing are even MORE momentous. I mean, for crying out loud, I’m going to have a KID in three months! There’s going to be another person living with me and Al — permanently (well, at least for the next 18 years or so). It’s CRAZY. And I know logically that life can’t continue to shift and evolve at the rate that it has for me over these past few years (and I think that’s a good thing), but it is exciting to have something big happening at the turn of every single year. I’m not one of those people who hates getting older, because every year, life gets better. It’s not always easier, but it is better.

In this, my thirty-third year, I know some stuff is going to get harder (see, e.g., poopy diapers), but I am pretty sure that things are going to get even more awesome than they already are. Here we go!