minimalism and motherhood: a fight I'm always going to lose

I've read the books: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, The Nesting Place.

I read the minimalist blogs, read about the capsule wardrobe projects, 10 pieces of clothing for 10 days, more and more and more. People seem to write a lot about minimalism (myself currently included, I guess, ha).

I pin the pins of white pristine bathrooms, of stark white living room walls adorned with nothing more than two black Ikea frames holding abstract art, with a charming fiddle leaf fig plant (or whatever they're called) sitting serenely in the corner.

I read it because it's all so clean. So beautiful. So dreamy. So simple.

And unattainable. For me. Right now.

My motherhood is incompatible with minimalism.

I cannot be a wardrobe minimalist. I have maternity clothes for a VAST array of seasons, climates and belly bigness, then post-partum clothes for the same. I've got the nursing clothes and the non-nursing clothes. And since I'm soooooo open to life (hi NFP!), I've got to keep 'em all. Till I die. (I kid! Kind of!!)

I cannot be paper-clutter minimalist. My 6-year-old produces no less than 8 pages' worth of illustrated maps to imaginary countries, engine diagrams and Autobot renderings, DAILY. And he expects every page of his creation to be available for about... oh, eight weeks, give or take.

I cannot be a toy minimalist. My 4-year-old competes with his older brother's imagination by creating an army of Lego structures each day, and asks me to "keep them safe" on the kitchen counter.

I cannot be a mess minimalist. Gussie's favorite pastime currently is taking anything that's in a basket out of a basket. And then walking away.

I cannot be a baby-gear minimalist. This baby's new phase is "supported sitting"--code word for "not actually sitting but REFUSING to merely lay down anymore"--which means the Bumbo chair, high chair and exersaucer are always in use. And always in the way.

Maybe taken on their own, I could integrate each kid's mess into a minimalistic-looking house. But taken all together, they're train cars on a stopped track, each crashing into the one ahead of them, and I'm the brakemaster who can't hold the lever back against the impact.

But. I am a stay at home mom. I didn't pick this profession so I could have unmarred Benjamin Moore Gray Owl walls and perpetually clean faux-fur white rugs, heh heh.

There's a simple reason why minimalism is popular: white space. To the eye, a design with ample space devoid of content lets the eye focus on one beautiful subject. It's why fashion bloggers pose against white brick walls. It's why they take photos on white sheets. It's the entire reason why a "flat lay" became the MO of so many IG accounts. All these design strategies hinge on white space.

But my children? 

Happy little anti-white space flurries.

They take a freshly wiped table and cheerfully smudge it with fingerprints and ketchup.

They take a freshly vacuumed floor and delight in dumping out the Legos on it.

They dodge into a clean, tidy bathroom and emerge only after leaving the towel on the counter and the soap dispenser sitting in a little pool of suds.

And it's all good. My kids live in a house, not a photography studio.

I want them to come home from school and know they can find their stuff, more or less where they left it.

I want them to know that their mother likes the house to be be clean and tidy, but that she also likes them to be themselves--to the maximum. And that's just as good as the prettiest minimalism, any day.


3 ways I look at my phone less (and my kids more)

The sweetest friend emailed me and asked how to be more present to her two little kids during the day. She feels terrible seeking the social media distractions that plague us all and wanted some practical tips for severing the iphone-in-hand addiction.

For me, the unholy trinity of facebook, instagram and bloglovin frequently distract me from my kids, sucking me down the online hole. And climbing out of that hole isn't as simple as just putting down my phone. I have to pick something up. 

Depending on the time of day, I try and do one of these alternatives:

1. With the baby

I pick him up, put him in a sling and start two-hands-required household work. It's hard to read blog posts while folding laundry. Or doing dishes. Or drying tangled hair.

Saving my household work for when the baby is up means that I can zone out, guilt-free, during naptime or before everyone's up in the morning. Once the boots are on the ground, though, it's all hands on deck, quite literally.

2. With the toddler

I turn on music on my phone--and set it down.

Amazon Prime has a bunch of Sesame Street albums and playlists that we listen to all through the day. Or I'll turn on a YouTube playlist of Raffi songs. Preferably the Bananaphone playlist. Because it's a phone with a-peel. AHAHAHAHHHAHHHAA.

Every time I get the impulse to pick up my phone, the music reminds me that it's off limits.

3. With the preschoolers

Once the babies are down for naps and I have one-on-one time with my 4-year-old boy, I pick up a deck of cards. Seriously, one deck of Star Wars playing cards that I found for .69 cents at at Goodwill has revolutionized our afternoons here. I taught both boys to play 7-Up. Sean wants to teach them poker next. Pretty soon they'll be running the baccarat table on the school black top at recess. Guard your lunch money, kids.

Amby's also great at playing Memory with me. He tries to help me win. Even so, he usually beats me. :)

Do you have other strategies for engaging with your kids instead of mindlessly staring at your phone? Love to hear 'em.


my #1 tip for surviving solo parenting when my husband travels

Is it just the plight of the modern mom that she often finds herself alone at home with the kids as her husband travels for work? I feel like more and more of my friends and friends online say that they're in the survival mode that comes with no one walking in the door at 5pm, ready with a full tank of Parenting Fuel to get everyone through til bedtime.

I've survived some pretty long stints of solo parenting (longest was 3 months with 3 kids) and lots and lots of business-week-length trips. I've done it well sometimes, and I've done it poorly lots of times. None of it's easy, though it's better when I have the right attitude.

But though the right attitude counts for a lot, it's not everything.

My top tip for surviving solo parenting is this: KEEP MOVING.

Keep cleaning.

Keep washing the dishes in the sink.

Keep doing a few push-ups each day.

Keep doing the laundry--but do it during the day light, for Pete's sake! Don't do it at night when there are at least 12 axe murderers hiding in your garage.

Keep the playroom tidy. Don't let the kids go to bed until they've picked up.

My mood and my mind feel INFINITELY better when I'm not staring at a mess in every room.

So many times I've cried to Sean on the phone while he's away, sobbing that "it's a mess! Everything is a damn mess! and I can't clean it all up!" I hate that feeling of losing control of my house.

Even if it means letting the baby fuss for 10 minutes while I wash the sippy cups and throw everything else in the dishwasher... even if it means the kids watch an extra Rescue Bots while I bring in the clothes from the dryer and put them away... I do it. Because I've learned that I need it.

Now, all of that is null and void should someone get sick. Last year we weathered two bouts of stomach flu in 30 days--and BOTH happened while Sean was away. And BOTH times, I caught it. And both times, I did zero cleaning for five days, save for the obvious cleaning up of that involves Lysol wipes, paper towels and carpet cleaner. #gross #neveragain #saveyourpeopleohLord

But if I'm not in the midst of sickness, then I make myself move.

Secondary tip for surviving? A bag of Mini Reese's cups in the freezer. Mama needs a reward for all that scrubbin'.

If you've got a way to survive when your dude's away, I'd love to hear it!


7qt / what I'm loving right now from walmart

I know. Everyone's so glad I began blogging again so I could write these kinds of inspiring posts. : /

I took a leap in December and rounded up every fashion blog to which I was subscribed--all of which engaged in significant wailing and written tantruming after the presidential election--and clicked "unfollow." Quite liberating.

In the wake of that decision, I no longer read about ladies who spend $180 on jeans, $200 on purses and $300 on shoes without batting a mascara-ed eye. Bully for them, but that kind of spending isn't me now, nor do I think it ever will be. It's not a judgement on their spending. It's a reflection of the reality of mine.

What is my reality? Walmart. I love the Savings Catcher feature on their app and have gotten $20-something back to date. I shop there for groceries, household goods and occasionally... clothes. Gasp. Here's what I'm loving right now from the big blue box store:

1 / french terry dress

I bought this one (for $14.88) and have worn it a million times already. Love the length and neckline. Thinking about getting the blue.

2 / colored chambray popover shirt

Current momiform: button down shirt, sweater, jeans. Daily. I want this one in peach stripe.

3 / woven cami

Love this $5 cami. The cut is, shall we say, forgiving, especially for when I was 8 weeks post-partum. This black cami + lightweight cardigan + long necklace was my casual rehearsal dinner outfit for a wedding last October.

4 / pioneer woman vintage bloom kitchen towels 2-pack

Drool. I'll take one of everything she made for this line. All so cute.

5 / pioneer woman country garden rug

As I was saying. One of everything.

6 / Novogratz vintage tufted sofa sleeper

We're in the market for a loveseat. We're also in the market for a new roof, hence the idea of saving our $$$ and buying an inexpensive sleeper sofa sight unseen (say THAT five times fast). But the reviews are great, and that blue color is wooing me! Abbie at M is for Mama is eyeing the pink one.

7 / boys color block rainboot

Amby is my boot lover and woe to the mommy who fails to have his boots ready on a rainy day. I bought him these for $12 but now I see they're down to $9.98!

Happy shopping!

Linking up with Miss Kelly, the hostess.


what my fourth positive pregnancy test taught me (+ a giveaway)

It was the day after Thanksgiving, a year ago. I remember making an extra stop at the closest dollar store that day to pick up a pregnancy test, thinking "it's got to be negative, no way it's positive, but just to be sure..."

Ha! One thing to be sure about in life: When you're definitely sure the pregnancy test is going to be negative, but you're taking it just-in-case--that's a pretty good sign to go ahead and order the newborn diapers and wipes.

Photo: the day before the big news hit.
Sean came home and I immediately departed to pick up the best home pregnancy test I could find (which is definitely not found at a dollar store). Back at home, this one came out positive, too. Surprise, surprise.

My mind immediately began spinning with questions that had no good answers: Where would we put this new baby? Do we find out the gender this time? What makes me think I'm ready for another baby? If it's a boy, do I giveaway all the girl baby clothes? How will I handle four little kids? How will we pay for college four times over? College? Heck, how about parochial grade school tuition? AND HOW DID THIS HAPPEN??!!!? (well, that question did have an obvious answer.) : /

In all this pending uncertainty, I wondered how different life would look after this fourth baby's arrival.

My third baby taught me definitively that I'm the mom--I'm the authority on my kids. And now, this fourth baby has taught me a most important lesson: I can choose my attitude. And the attitude I should always chose, no matter the circumstance, is gratitude.

I saw this Ann Voskamp quote forever ago, but it has stuck with me:


"Everyone gets to decide how happy they want to be. Because everyone gets to decide how grateful they are willing to be."

I can choose to be an irritated mess each morning because I've been up all night with the baby. Or I can slurp some coffee and chose to be grateful that my baby is home with me and not in the hospital.

I can choose to be depressed that labor + delivery ate a good-sized chunk out of our savings and delayed our house projects. Or I can snuggle my kids on the sofa we bought years ago as newlyweds and chose to be grateful we have a perfectly wonderful home, dated kitchen cupboards and all.

I can choose to envy the families that are out of babyhood and survival mode. Or I can stop and smell the top of my baby's head.

Get used to church bathroom selfies with your mom, kiddo.

I can choose to be frustrated that going to the grocery store takes a double stroller, 6 reusable bags, a baby sling AND a bribery stop at the bakery counter--and that's all before I go grab one gallon of milk. Or, I can choose to be grateful for never having to wonder if there's enough money in the account to cover milk, eggs and diapers.

I'm much more aware now, too, that at a minimum, I have two bigger sets of eyes observing me--and my boys' observations are likely to stick with them. Children watch. And they learn. Modeling gratitude for them now is essential.

So. Thank you for making it through this little post :) Now on to the fun part!

1. Comment below and tell me one thing you are grateful for today, and you'll be entered to win a $50 gift certificate to Diapers.com!

2. Sharing the Facebook post for this contest will earn you 1 extra entry.

3. Winner to be picked in one week

 This giveaway is a partnership with Nakturnal, with a prize of a gift certificate.

Update! This giveaway is closed. The winner was Rachel! Thank you to all who commented and shared on facebook. 


an ode to my Ikea jute rug

How do I love thee, thee of low pile, strong fiber, Swedish origins and light dirt-like color?

Oh, I love thee. Let me count the ways.

I'd been scouring Rugs USA and E-Sale Rugs since October, looking at jute area rugs. And even though they have sales, and yes, even though the shipping is free, I couldn't easily pull the trigger on a $299-$399 rug. And then. On a whim we took a family trip to Ikea during Christmas vacation, looking for a bathroom vanity and a loveseat.

Naturally, we emerged with a trash can and an area rug.

But this rug, this glorious 6'7"x 9'10" area rug cost all of $139.

I repeat: $139. Hold me.

Ikea says of their Lohals rug: "Jute is a durable and recyclable material with natural color variations."

Translation: When your small children drop cereal, granola bars, the infernal mini chocolate chips from said granola bars, and tortilla chips onto this lovely rug with its natural color variations, you can't tell. And when they grind these small pieces of food into this rug before you can vacuum them up, you still can't tell. Glory.

It's alternately the color of straw, dirt and sand--which is basically what little kids are made of.

Yes, a little. But I got it because our family room needed a rug that could endure heavy foot traffic. A few strands of jute have rubbed off onto the boys' pants when they've sat on it building Legos, but that was once in a week, and it's not a frequent activity in that room. It's not a playroom rug, and it's definitely not a soft bedroom rug. We're mostly walking on it (and eating on it), not sitting or directing the kids to wrestle on it, so it hasn't bothered me.

It needed 3 hours to air out, once we brought it home and unrolled it. Since then, nada.

Must you ask? Yes. Yes I'd buy it again, and once we take out the carpet in our dining room, I might put one in there too. Jute forever.


what I read in 2016

I began the year by blazing through my library list, reading 2-3 books a month for the first half of 2016 (and for me, 2-3 books a month is a heckuva lotta books). Then Stevie arrived in August and I found myself holding him more often than I was holding a book. The nerve, right? Ha. Without further ado, my literary summation from last year:

Elin Hilderbrand
Sure. Read it in 24 hrs. Beaches, romance, affairs, gossip, expensive deck chairs, ladies who lunch. That's kind of her formula, right?

2. Ready Player One
Ernest Cline
Never thought I'd read it in 3 days, let alone read it at all. Fast moving, mostly absurdly charming, but loses points for nihilistic worldview.

3. The Battle of the Villa Fiorita
Rumer Godden
I wanted to read a second Godden novel after loving In This House of Brede. Can't remember why I picked this little novella over something else, but man, she sure can write women. This tale of how and why an English wife and mother abandons her family for a Hollywood-esque producer has stuck with me.

4. The Hobbit
J.R.R. Tolkein
How I missed escaped reading The Hobbit in either grade school, high school or college, I know not. But! Quite glad I finally read it; wasn't at all like I anticipated! Would be happy to re-read the trilogy now. Surprised at how much I loved Bilbo.

5. The Time Traveler's Wife
Audrey Niffenegger
Le sigh. So much angst. All rather trippy and downright gloomy by the end.

6. The Royal We
Heather Cocks
Twenty-something romantic fluff. I'm amazed at the casual treatment of years upon years of commitment-free shacking up.

The Age of Innocence
Edith Wharton
I'll admit: painful to get through in many parts, owing to the cultural and art references 100 years past. But glad I made it. Critique of hypocritical ruling social class, and maybe of unfulfilled love due to marital obligations. I didn't enjoy it, but am glad I finished it.

8. Crossing to Safety (reread)
Wallace Stegner
Heartbreaking beauty, and one of my very favorites. Stegner's classic novel about the friendship between two couples forged in academia and weathered by life's trials feels as poignant and nostalgic as ever. I feel some distance from characters who have no ties to the middle class (Charity is "so glad we're all rich now"), and no understanding of how hard it is to raise many small children without live-in help (she has a nanny, and a hired girl in summers, etc.) But these couples lay deep layers of friendship, built upon decades of life lived in close proximity to each other. And the reflections on marriage! Ah! "I rather like my cane... But no one is making me carry it."

9. Big Little Lies
Liane Moriarty
Reminded me why I don't read suspense novels--I cannot stand the wait to see "whodoneit." Satisfying to see the villain done in, but... Didn't find the female characters very deep.

10. My Cooking Year
Ruth Reichel
Wealthy empty nester finds herself out of a job but with an obnoxiously robust food budget. I cackled at her description of taking over an hour to make some kind of browned butter oatmeal for breakfast. WHO LIVES LIKE THAT?!?!?!? Answer: Ruth Reichel does. If nothing else, it inspired me to make a gluten free pound cake.

11. Bread and Wine
Shauna Niequist
Sappy food memoirs are evidently not my thing. She says to make from-scratch risotto "when you have an empty house and a rainy night." I rarely have either. Probably shouldn't have picked it up (purely based on my own tolerance for authors waxing poetic about scratch-made salad dressings), but wanted to see what the fuss was about. (But seriously. It's just oil, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. Come on.)

12. The Nesting Place
Myquillen Smith
Not bad! Enjoyed it. I liked her list of things you should/can spend on: lamps. Rugs. Sofas. The rest you can thrift or find in your house. I like her approach to contentment and not perfection.

13. 7: an experimental mutiny against excess
Jen Hatmaker
Best line: "There is something liberating about unplugging the machine to discover the heartbeat of life still thumping." I appreciated her approach to paring down her consumption, her family waste, her spending. What jigs me is how authors (Niequist and Hatmaker) teeter on the edge of Catholicism without knowing it (or without acknowledging it, perhaps). She spent a month praying the Divine Office, for heaven's sake! She quotes Church Fathers and has a Sabbath meal with her family. I'd be curious to learn if she has considered crossing the Tiber.

14. Landline
Rainbow Rowell
Read in two days. She writes an excellent romance. But not as sweet a read as Attachments, nor as funny. At times even I wasn't sure that the two main characters were fighting about. I wouldn't recommend it to family, but I enjoyed how quickly and intelligently it pulled me in.

15. Morningside Heights
Cheryl Mendelson
Intelligent and affluent New Yorkers in the early 2000 debate their relationship psychosis, neighborhood snobbery and the merits of early abortion. It did however have two great lines on the right to life (for the elderly, though--not those pesky ill-conceived children in utero). Failed to enjoy one character; irritated by them all. At least finishing it made me put The Nest down before getting past the acknowledgements. Life's too short to read tomes about New Yorkers who think the rent is too damn high.

16. A Gentleman in Moscow
Amor Towles
His second best seller. I found the first 200 pages charming yet a bit of a mire to get through--where is this going, why does it matter, does it have a plot or climax? The second 200 passed much more quickly as the plot circles. Towles' writing could not be smoother or more delightful. Laughed out loud in places. Enjoyed learning about pre and post Stalin Russia.

17. Where'd You Go, Bernadette?
Maria Semple
Hmm! These modern books, fast-paced with emails as dialogue. Much like rainbow Rowell. Characters created through bold action and statements, very little visual description. I see why it was popular.

And, that's a wrap! Currently I'm eight pages into Orthodoxy for a book club selection. Need to finish it in a couple weeks. Considering I pick it up once a day and read about 1.5 pages, the prognosis is grim, and I feel like that makes me a horrible person. It's Chesterton! Come on girl!

Other books on the list for this year: A Hundred Summers, The Collapse of Parenting, Talking As Fast As I Can, Commonwealth. Any I should add? Or subtract?