Holidays – 38 of 100

James is napping and the house is quiet.

On Tuesday, we lugged 190 pounds of luggage from Minnesota to Calgary. That is not an exaggeration.

As always, I meant to write and do so many things while I was in Minnesota, but the time just disappeared, as it tends to do over the holidays.

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Every year, we sit on the stairs to wait and see if Santa came.

These are the moments I remember most:

  • My parents had a cocktail party and James and my dad wore matching German outfits. It was very busy, but at the end, it whittled down to my cousin Meghan, her husband Peter, Diana, Nick, Betsy, Maddy, Laurent, me and Dan. I looked over at my parents and they were sitting closely on the couch in a very sweet way. I poured last glasses of wine for the people who weren’t driving and we talked. I guess there’s not much to say about it, except that there were so many years of knowing each other and I think we all felt good to be there with each other – us in from Canada, Betsy from Chile – with all the history but just  kind of shooting the shit, you know?

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    Sally and Jim after the crowds have wound down.

  • One night, we drank wine with my mom and dad and watched home videos. Many of the people who were there that night were in them: Meghan, Peter, Diana. There was the video of Charlie getting his Jeep power wheels and us driving it around and around in circles, endlessly. Mom smearing sunscreen on our backs in Florida and our squeals of excitement over finding shells on the beach. My sister and I saying prayers in bed. Us, in our late teens/early twenties failing at assembling a wheelbarrow and my dad giggling in the background, lamenting all the dollars wasted on our educations.
  • We saw James’s great-grandmothers a couple of times. My mom’s mom, Monnie, came over with the family on Christmas dinner and James and her other great-grandson Eddie were both there. Minnie’s memory is going and she often repeats herself over and over again. But she seemed very present that night. She kept talking about how hard it was to get old – and how, knowing she didn’t have much time left, it was wonderful to see the next generation beginning. Another cousin announced they were pregnant that night. We also lost my aunt earlier this year. Monnie smiled a lot that night and spoke fondly of my grandfather but I could tell she was sad. Sad to be at the other end of life.

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    Uncle David, my Mom, cousin Benner with his son Eddie, Monnie, Me and James

  • On Christmas Eve, we went over to one of my best friend’s house and helped them prepare for an annual carolling bonfire. Our boys looked so silly cute in their puffy snowsuits. Then we sang carols around the biggest bonfire you’ve ever seen.IMG_3863
  • I had mid-afternoon drinks with Meghan and we talked about life and relationships and our kids. And then we popped over and her son Gunnar ran around the house with enthusiasm showing us all of his toys and instruments, her youngest Harriet and James sort of watching him with wonder.

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    James, Harriet and Gunnar

  • In the past, I thought about travel exclusively in terms of new experiences. But this year has been all about spending time and energy with the people and places that already exist and have meaning in our life. I love visiting new places – of course- but there’s something beautiful about the people and places that stick – the ones we return to. The ones we have known.

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    Great grandma Ernie

  • On our last night, my brother drove all the way in from Minneapolis and Maddy and Laurent came over and we sat on the floor among all the boxes – my parents to move out the next day. We all watched James waddle around like a goof ball in his white onesie, pull toys out and make his silly sounds. The first time they all met James, he was a fussy 9-week old who never stopped crying. I think they were scared of him. But now we all laugh and make silly faces at him. It’s so awesome to see a person become a person – to see your family expand.

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    Dan, me, James, Charlie, Maddy, Laurent – and an empty house

  • Then the movers came and we piled into the Yuker (a 12-year-old lumbering Yukon) and headed the airport and now here we are and another year has come and gone. We came home with way too much stuff and I’m completely overwhelmed by how none of it fits in the house. I’m tired and cranky and I have no idea how I’m going to get James back on Calgary time.DSCF4661
  • This time last year, I had a big round belly and was looking forward to this little person I knew nothing about. And now he is 10 months old. 1o measly months. A blip on the scale a life…in time. And yet these 10 months feel enormous. Ten months with my first child. James. My son. I still think it with such wonder when I look at him and hold him: Are you my son? I ask him. Am I your momma? He looks at me like: Duh. Yes, I agree out loud. I’m your Mom.

Christmas Cards – 37 of 100

Today I want to talk about Christmas cards.

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When I first started corresponding with Dan (three years after we met in Costa Rica), he told me that he made Christmas cards every year.

“What do you mean “make”?” I asked (probably in one of our hours-long g-chat conversations). In my world, Christmas cards are pretty pictures printed on cards en masse.

That year, Dan sent me two of his handmade Christmas cards. One of them, he admitted to me, was his favorite of all the cards he had made that year.

When we got married, I insisted that we start a photograph component, knowing we simply couldn’t hand make the number of cards we would want to send out to our combined list.

Dan agreed, but he insisted on designing them himself.

Designing the card is always pretty funny. When we sit down to do it, we sort of have to agree that we’re probably going to fight a little bit and that we have listen to each other (it’s actually just that I get uncharacteristically stubborn about getting my way and Dan has take deep breaths to deal with me).

But it’s gotten better over the years. We comb through our year of pictures. We think about all the places we’ve been.

Like this year, there’s James’s first hike in Kananaskis country, Alberta, Lake Superior, Minnesota, Hidden Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana and Paget Lookout in Yoho National Park, B.C. (I don’t want to paste the actual thing here because we’re so far behind and haven’t even mailed them out yet…)

And the hand made card tradition has endured with an annual trip to Michael’s which I look forward to with stupid anticipation. Then hours of Christmas movies with wine, cutting and pasting to the point of exhaustion (No more! I can’t do it anymore! we moan by the end).

The whole thing takes months, but we look forward to it nonetheless.

Then we tape the cards that arrive above the arch between the kitchen and the dining room. I’m looking at them right now – and even though I’m all alone while James naps, I feel close to everyone, you know?

I have to say: I love this tradition. I love watching the faces of our friends and family gather in our home. I love sending out a greeting of cheer.

Every year, I entertain the idea of skipping some piece of it. Designing the card. Hand making and writing the others. But the truth is the hours could not be better spent. How often do I engage in a months-long hands-on project? One that is targeted to arrive in 130+ mailboxes of the people I care most about?

Anyway. Happy holidays sweet readers.

Christmas Baking and Time – 36 of 100

Last week, my friend Cindy came over to bake Christmas cookies. Cindy is one of those people who makes you think more deeply about yourself and how you live your life – in the best way possible.*

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She asked me what my biggest takeaway from this year was. Ahem- That is a big question! This is what popped out of my mouth:

  • I don’t want to miss anything because I’m waiting for something else to happen. When my brother in law visited, he told us about a conversation he had with a cab driver who had just become a grandfather. He talked about how he just wanted to BE THERE for for his grandchildren’s life. He said that while his children were growing up he was always worried: worried about work, about buying a house, what they needed that they didn’t yet have. And then suddenly they were grown. “Being present” is such a cliche these days, but I think about it all the time with James. Ever since I have entered the public with James, a steady stream of parents of all ages have approached me to say: “It goes so fast. Enjoy it.” And I can already see myself sidling up to a young mother with a baby, cooing the same words: “It goes so fast. So very fast.”
  • What matters. James brings everything into sharper focus. What matters? Because there’s no time to waste on anything else.
  • I feel more confident. Do I still doubt myself all the time? Yes. But I also realize what a waste of time it is for all of us: for me, for Dan, and especially for James. He doesn’t need a mom who is worried all the time about what she’s worth – he needs a mom with a clear vision for what she wants for her family and for her life. (It’s sort of interesting – many of the things I couldn’t get myself to do for myself (like take vitamins), I can get myself to do for James.)…(And with all that said, I run into all the same shit with myself every day. Even as I write this it feels like on long string of cliches that nobody wants to hear. I told Cindy that I’m always fighting against my default mode – which is to be a little bit lazy. Let me clarify: if someone is asking me to do something, I’m probably going to bust my ass to do it awesomely. If it’s just me holding myself accountable, eh. I give myself a B-. But no one is going to be accountable for my life but me, right? So for now, I swallow the doubt, publish this string of cliches on the internet.)

What it boils down to is Time. It’s racing by and it’s not going to slow down. So I am always thinking: Clear the noise, focus in. This is your life. Now.

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I’m not going to look like this forever guys.

*Not long ago, she asked me to send her 10 words that are important to our family – words we love and live by. I encourage you to try it! (Ours: Love, People, Adventure and the wonder of the world, Responsibility, Gratitude, Empathy, Perspective, Work we care about and believe in, Being good, Life/living like we mean it).

Baby Gift Ideas – 35 of 100

A few people have asked me for baby gift ideas this year and since it’s a season of gift giving, I figured I’d write em all down. I’m not one of those trend experts or anything-this is just a list of what we’ve loved (and, it turns out, an excuse for me to unabashedly indulge in posting cute pictures of James.)

First, I’d like to tell you about this little site called Etsy. It’s a goldmine for meaningful baby gifts. A simple search of key words can turn up things you never ever realized you would desire with all of your heart. For example, I was thinking about an ‘enchanted forest’ nursery theme and a quick search turned up this mystical crib mobile. More expensive than your average mobile, but better quality and hand-made by a real artist (not in China!). There are more Etsy examples below, but if you know mom-to-be well enough to have a few clutch key words, you might come up with something unexpected and unique.

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Food: Cooking is a herculean (and sometimes impossible) effort for parents with a newborn. Every time someone brought me food, I thought I would fall over with gratitude. (Note to parents to be, freezing a few meals ahead of time is a VERY GOOD idea.) My sister-in-law told me someone got her a frozen meal service for a month. That would be incredible, but popping by with one delicious dish for parents to pop in their oven will make their day and then some.

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Padraig Cottage baby booties. These are THE gift among Canadian moms. For good reason: they are adorable, warm and actually stay on baby feet (a big deal, believe me!) The three month size have fit James from 2-9 months and are still going strong. I don’t know what I would do without these booties.

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Slaying the ladies in my booties and hand-knit sweater by my friend Lana.

Bandana bibs. Babies drool. A lot. These bibs jazz up any outfit and help your baby’s getup last more than 10 minutes before getting totally soaked. (An easy sewing project for any sewers out there!)

Baby bear suit. If Mom and Baby live in even mildly cold places, you just can’t go wrong with a baby bear suit. If it brings you joy to see a baby in a bear suit, you should try snuggling them in one. Heart melter.

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Unbearable cuteness.

About baby but is actually for Mom: Baby is going to get lots and lots of things. It was always a pleasant surprise to get something that was actually for me but still about the baby.

Initial Necklace: A quick search on Easy turns up a lot, but something like this is so sweet. I wear my J necklace every day and my heart swoons when he tugs on it – I think, yeah that’s you baby.

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Little J snuggled into the Moby Wrap, reaching for my J necklace. My sister also gave us this adorable elf hat – another great gift idea!

Artwork: We called James “bear cub” in-utero and I was really into the idea of the little dipper (the little bear in the sky) representing him. Dan did an Etsy search and stumbled on this sweet print. Here’s another site devoted to modern nursery art. I also adore the “I love you” state prints a couple of friends got me from Three Fish Studios.

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Three Fish Studio prints + stuffed animal head – excellent nursery gifts.

Massage gift certificates: An hour alone in a dark room with someone tending to her exhausted aching body is every new mom’s dream.

Dinner gift certificate with offer to babysit: Adult couple time is a precious commodity for new parents.

Classics

Aden and Anais swaddle blankets. They are the best. They just are.

Sophie the giraffe. Wait $25 for a rubber giraffe? I know. But there’s not a baby in this wide world who has not loved Sophie. I call her James’ girlfriend because he is always making out with her.

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Lounging with my girl Sophie and rocking my Acorn and Leaf bandana bib.

Board books. Sending your most beloved children’s book is a great idea. Our library is completely composed of the books people sent to us.

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Footie PJ’s. All parents need a steady stream in all sizes!

Practical gifts from experienced parents – I really appreciated gifts from moms who knew what I would need because I had no idea. Amazing to have these things around when I suddenly needed them. Desperately. My boss even gave me his favorite diaper rash cream- which is so appreciated- How am I to know which ones really work? If you’re a parent, think about the things you relied on.

Svaan Signet Complete high chair: My in-laws went in on this together. It’s beautiful (yes, a beautiful high chair!) and will last James through toddler hood.

Hands-free breast pumping bra (or should I say ‘Easy Expression Bustier’?): There are few promotional photos I love more than the ones for this. This lady makes me want pump all day long – so well-coiffed, serene and productive! If only! My reality was more of an unwashed hair-frumpy robe-bloodshot eyes kind of situation. But it sure was nice to not have to hold those damn suction cups on my boobs.

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Baby au-lait apron: A must for breastfeeding moms.

Handmade. If you have a talent and time, handmade gifts are the absolute best. I love seeing James play, snuggle and wear some of the things that our friends made with love.

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Tummy time quilt from Betsy

 

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A sweet stuffed fox from Melissa.

Other things I loved (for moms thinking about their baby registry). My mom pushed me to put together a baby registry for her out of town friends. It was a bit of a shot in the dark for me- I really didn’t know what I would need. Of course, everyone is different, these are just the things I found awesome and sometimes life changing.

EXERCISE BALL: I had a near-romantic relationship with our exercise ball when James was a newborn. Often, it was the ONLY thing that would soothe him (I’ve heard many many moms say the same). Dan and I bounced on that damn thing for hours.

Baby carriers: Turns out I’m a bit of a baby carrier nut. You certainly do not need all of these carriers, but they all served a purpose for us.

The Ring Sling (tons of companies make them) saved my life in the beginning. James slept so well in it, and I would pop him in while I was around the house or on short walks. Not the best support for longer walks, but super easy to put on/take off.

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Before he napped in the crib, the ring sling was a surefire snuggle snooze.

Moby Wrap:  Snuggly and comfortable, especially for the early months. Kind of a headache to get on, but you get used to it and James and I loved loved loved it. Warm too.

Ergo Baby: If I were to do it again, I would get the Ergo 360, because babies like to face forward sometimes. But I adore my Ergo Baby. Someone gave me their Ergo Baby Performance, which is great if you like to hike or take really long walks (the cotton ones can get very hot and sweaty). Importantly, James sleeps like a dream in this carrier. Now that J is bigger, I put him the backpack position and he loves it.

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The ErgoBaby allows James to nap while I do impressive things like reel in lake trout.

Bouncy chair and swing. I agonized over these: Do I need both?! “It depends on your baby” people told me. How am I ever to know which my baby will love?! Gah! Well I ended up with both and used both. The swing is great for naps when they are newborns and the bouncy chair becomes necessary for a place to put them down and play with them before they can sit on their own. Basically, both are excellent for newborns – moms need somewhere to put baby down where they won’t burst into screams. There are plenty of these out there, but we had the Snugga Bunny and the MamaRoo.

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Lounging in my MamaRoo.

Play mat/gym. If I had a nickel for the hours logged under this thing.

Sleeping bags. When it’s time to stop swaddling, sleeping bags are perfect. When I zip James into his sleeping bag, he knows it’s naptime. The 6-18 month size makes a lot of sense. Particularly love the GroBag (warm for cold weather) and the Aden and Anais (lightweight for warmer weather).

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Bliss in my GroBag. The Aden + Anais snuggle blankey has also become clutch for sleeping.

Tranquil Turtle. Noise machine and magical light show. Lately, we’ve loved to watch the turtle with James just after he wakes up. He’s totally mesmerized. (My only beef with this product is that it turns off after 20 minutes or so. In retrospect, I may have gotten a plug in noise machine that stays on. White noise really does help them sleep!)

Monte Como Glider and ottoman. Ok this one is a little more spendy- but it might be the kind of thing a group of people could go in on. And boy do I love this chair. It looks good AND is the most comfortable thing I have ever sat in. Also: it’s a Toronto company and the chairs are actually built in Canada. New moms: do not underestimate the amount of time you will spend in a chair/glider in those early weeks and months. Make sure you love it in every way. (Although it’s expensive, I highly recommend getting an ottoman. You won’t regret it!)

Bassinet. Someone handed down their Babyhome and we used it all the time for the first six months. It’s light and travels well. Proved especially useful for camping! We could fit it in a  three man tent with us and was safe and comfortable for all. Other moms I know have loved co-sleeper style bassinets like this and this (way easier to reach for your baby for nursing at night – the Babyhome is pretty deep, which makes it harder).

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Once upon a time, I slept in to 8 a.m. in my Babyhome bassinet in a tent.

We’re home. And reflections on love. 34 of 100

A couple of days ago, I cashed in on one of my fantasies: to spend some uninterrupted hours alone while James is awake. It sounds kind of simple, but believe me, it’s a big deal.

First, I took a very very long walk on the beach. Then I ate lunch and read my book. I packed up my laptop, my book, a towel and wrote these words at this deserted tourquoise pool, ringed with palm trees, overlooking a fishing pier and the bright blue harbour. A little green lizard strolled out of a bush in front of me and I could hear the waves.

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Later, I took a long walk with an old friend, also a new momma. Every year, we take this walk and catch up. It’s crazy to think about how many years it covers now – boyfriends and jobs have come and gone. Our wedding days. And now we have two little boys – just three months apart.

Now we are back. It felt so good to wake up next to Dan today.

Though I’m going to miss my mom and dad’s faces popping out of their bedroom in the morning and James’s big hello smile to them. I’ll miss being able to take a shower whenever I want, brush my teeth before 11 a.m. and other hands to help with laundry and cooking. (Ok, I’ve been living in a bit of a dreamworld.)

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But it was time to come home. We missed Dan terribly. And I have to say the frosty nip in the air this morning felt welcome (remind me that I said this when it’s snowing in April) – as much as I complain about the cold, I actually sort of love it. There’s something so familiar and cozy about snuggling in.

These weeks I’ve been thinking about how seeing my parents with James and mothering James are the closest I’ll ever come to experiencing my own babyhood. Their songs, their faces, their pure bliss in being with James.

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Our morning pilgrimage to the baby swing

I guess you realize how lucky you are if you were loved. If you are loved.

Because you see that love is the real food. Of course James needs to eat and sleep and poop, but what he really needs is love. It nourishes him in the most vital way.

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Love is truest life blood.

At dinner the other night, my dad said, “The time you are in right now – there is nothing better.”

All day I had been thinking about that – how I am acutely aware that I’m inhabiting and living a time that I will long for. It has the magic sparkle of a beginning.