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Friday, March 27, 2015

On Half and Whole Assing

Yesterday was a hard day for me at work.
I'm teaching more than usual and it has me worn thin.
I'm also sick, which is extra unpleasant when your job involves speaking aloud in front of people for a few hours a day.
Midterms just came and went, so I have students in my office. I have known one of these students for a long time, and this semester has proven to be especially challenging.  In spite of great effort, this student is not getting the kinds of grades we all want to see when we look down at that glaring white piece of paper in our laps.  This student sits in class every day and is often overwhelmed.  I am still humbled by this profession because I didn't recognize it.  I saw that look and thought it was boredom, disengagement.
We had a meeting yesterday about the grade, and there was sweat and tears, the words "I am just so upset" were said in a voice that I will never ever forget.  And I sat here and thought, "I can't fix this.". 
I saw it all unfolding and saw myself trying to be here for this student in the best way I could, while still feeling like I'd failed.  I tried to radiate compassion and understanding, and be clear that I will do whatever I can to help.
I just tried to hold the space between us in that moment.
Would you believe that I had this very article on holding space open as this conversation unfolded? One of the many tabs I open and breeze past in my short bursts of inattention at the computer screen between tasks.  It was sitting there all along, quietly waiting for me to notice.
If you have a moment, read it.  Try to hold space for yourself, and for me.
See, this meeting and this student, that feeling, it hasn't left. I can't get it to go away, or even really soften.
Because in that moment, I felt like I was half-assing my job.  If I had just had more time, more mental energy, I could have been there for this person the way that I should.
And the lovely flip-side of this work guilt is mom guilt.  The extra teaching I have been doing has required me to work at home sometimes, which is something I never do if I can avoid it, including during my break and on weekends. Including some of the time that I would normally spend soaking up moments with my two favorite people.  So, of course, I feel like I'm half-assing motherhood and wifehood.

Why can't I whole-ass anything? Everything?  Does anyone?

I'd love to hear your thoughts. I'm always thinking about you.

 Some recent photos, for your time.  Sorry for repeats, instagram people. (I'm xoaliciarose, come say hi!)

Dough thief.
"This is Elsa's cowl."
 
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A sunny living room is my happy place.
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Just us.
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Monday, February 23, 2015

Lately

Lately I have been

missing

this. will there ever be grass again?
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all my people! 
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but especially cousins
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seriously.  The light of her life.
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and honestly, running. I hate the treadmill and haven't been making winter running work. It has been rough. I need to figure out a routine that isn't weather dependent.  I'm trying morning workouts. Pray for me, and maybe send coffee. 

cooking

brunch for these wonderful people on New Year's.  
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a ton of school lunches.  Soon I will write a post about the supplies we bought. So far we've carved out a good routine and are happy with the containers we have.  
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pancakes.  We have made a thousand recipes over the years and it turns out that she loves the one I winged and will likely never recreate.  Kids.  
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these cookies for book club. They're a simple shortbread with frosting and strawberry jam layered in between.  They were shared at one of the the nicest gatherings we've had to date in which we read a book of poetry (about motherhood! and life! by a mom with a daughter named Ellie!) and the author came a did a puppet show about her rabbit named Chess Piece Face and then agreed to (possibly) join our book club. So, it was sort of the best. 
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making

Her most beautiful binocular.  Her drawing has taken a huge leap recently and I'm trying to keep up with her motivation. I can't wait for warmer weather and more time spent noticing and drawing nature.  Her interest in butterflies and birds has been through the roof lately.
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So many knitted things. Some for a sweet baby that I just can't WAIT to meet (not mine. not pregnant.) so I can't share.  I am working on this seed stitch hat for myself in Madelinetosh yarn in holifestival. I'm such a neutrals girl, but this yarn makes me happy. 
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She wanted a pink pom pom, of course.  
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gifts for her teachers with homemade olive oil soap. I got the soap decks on Etsy. They're made in the US and reasonably priced.  
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some naturally dyed yarns.  This fall we cut down our walnut tree. It was not an easy decision to cut down a tree, but it was poisoning our garden. It broke my heart to cut down a tree, one so old and so special, but I'm confident that the extra hours of daylight and a ton of compost will make our back garden plot productive.  
I had a hard time seeing the tree go, and I have been listening to the Woolful podcast, so I was inspired to use the last harvest of walnut hulls and bark to dye some yarn.
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Merino on the right.  
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The middle skein is also merino but was dyed in the exhaust bath.  
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This experiment in solar dyeing resulted in a light vanilla yarn. 
I love them all.  
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I am so inspired by natural dyes. I can't wait to experiment with growing plants and dyeing from them. This summer will certainly bring some yarn dyed with poke weed and goldenrod, and I'm searching high and low for a supplier of woad, and some knowledge about it. There is a ton of information out there about natural dyes, but I'm especially interested in the ones I can grow at home.

tending

one of my favorite Christmas gifts.  
My mother insists that this plant was grown from the original plant in this Grant Wood painting. She's had her own for years and I've always said that I was going to steal it, but this is the next best thing.
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thinking

I'm trying to write more often and more openly about what's going through my mind.  I got such an amazing response from my post about depression and that has fueled me.  I want to start sharing the story of what I'm experiencing more clearly, positive and negative, beautiful and ugly, because I think that there's intense value in it.  There are so many stories of women, of people, and hopefully hearing what I'm going through can make even just one person feel less alone.  I've started opening up blogger and putting up the beginnings of a post, even if I can't see the end of it.  Here's an idea I've had rolling around recently:  

When we're sitting in meditation (i.e. when we're being in the world), sometimes we experience negative emotions related to something in our lives.  The practice is to observe these feelings as reactions, and kindly and non-judgmentally witness and try to understand them.
I frequently feel sad that I'm not able to make my living doing something with food or farming.  I wish that I could dedicate my working hours to a job that makes a direct impact on my local food system, especially as a producer, and I'd prefer to do most of my child's schooling at home in this environment.  I enjoy making and tending and see great value in a rural life, and it would be such a pleasure to make this my living.  But financially I don't see how to make it a reality right now.
Tonight I found myself with this feeling again, which has been pervasive lately.  So many thoughts of leaving, developing a different pace of living, retreating from the hustle and bustle.
When sitting in meditation, if we feel something painful or difficult, we don't try to reject what's happening to us.  We become receptive to what's actually happening, and then explore easing ourselves around this difficulty, with affectionate attention.  Even if we can't make the back pain go away, we can try to soften around it and relax the muscles that we can control like our jaw and neck.   This eases tension about pain, which makes the actual pain more bearable, in my experience.
I'm trying to soften around my life right now.
I have a temptation to tense up about it all, my shoulders pinched to my ears.  It's freezing, so I'm constantly twisted up into a curl just to survive.
But I am trying to wrap myself in cashmere and wool and relax a little.
I may not be able to become a an alpaca farmer or have my own CSA.
But I will buy locally sourced ethical foods and help those farmers stay in business.
I can afford this because of my job.
I will knit with yarn made from American sheep and hand dyed in small batches by an artisan. All of the included workers will be well paid.
I can afford to do this because of my job.

I am thankful to have the chance to do my job every day.  It affords me great luxuries, which do help improve the causes that are important to me.
Sometimes we need a small shift in perspective.

What can you soften around today?  How can you find some ease and forgiveness for yourself in even the most challenging times?
Tell me all your secrets :)
All my love to you, as always.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

as if for the first time

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Have you ever found yourself scratching an itch but not remembering feeling the itch itself in the first place? Or suddenly recognized that you're intensely hungry? Or noticed that you've got some food in your mouth that you don't recall choosing to eat?

When we sit in meditation, we ask ourselves to become more aware of our automaticity. When things occur, rather than reacting, we try to take a moment to understand the event itself and recognize our reaction. From there, any action we take is a conscious and volitional one, rather than a thoughtless reflex. ]

When we are aware of an unpleasant event, we have two choices: the first is to react mindfully to resolve the issue by making a conscious choice, rather than reacting without control. The second choice is to sit with the challenge, to direct all our energy and attention into that difficulty. Over time, it will change. Frequently it will resolve itself without any action on our part.

By cultivating this awareness in our formal sitting practice, we hope to make use of this skill of observing and choosing in our daily life.

It may be the case that the holiday season is not a particularly happy one for you. Maybe you have a relationship that causes you difficulty, or you feel frustrated and insecure about the amount of money and time that seems to flow so freely at this time of year. And certainly we all feel some pressure for things to be just perfect for everyone.

I want to encourage you to take a few moments to step back and be observant in the coming days. Try to see things as they are, rather than how you think they should be or how they've been before. And rather than reacting, give yourself some space to make more skillful choices. Are there stressors that you can limit your exposure to? (For me, this means simplifying my social schedule. I love my friends so much, but I feel drained after too many hours out of the house.) Maybe you have held some traditions that no longer serve you. Maybe it's time to let them go. Look at this season and try to see it as if you've never seen it before.

I hope that you find the kindness and love that your community has to offer. I wish you peace and fulfillment, and implore you to make time and space for self care and compassion. (I can't recommend highly enough these meditations on self compassion. If you are feeling a difficult emotion that's very intense for you, please give yourself 15 minutes and try this one. *warning: you may cry.)

A few photos of our season:
Traditions old
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and new
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Making
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and eating
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As always, thinking of you and yours. 
all my love.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Lately

My dad keeps bugging me to write, so here I am.  
I have a lot of little posts that I want to put up, but this one is the one I’ve been meaning to put here for a while.
This August, I experienced a significant transition.
I returned to work full time for the first time in over two years and Eleanor went to preschool. 
Being home part time with her was my great luxury.  I couldn't treat myself to nice new clothes when I wanted them, or splurge on gifts for the people I loved. Heck, there were times when just meeting our day-to-day bills was a challenge. But as soon as she was in my arms, I knew that I didn't want Eleanor's early years to be spent with someone else. I wanted the majority of her hours, not just for ideological reasons, but because being separated from her was, for me, physically and emotionally painful.
I should be clear that my mind about this topic has not changed. While I've come to a point of acceptance, and can see that there are immense benefits to me nourishing my career and her thriving in an excellent preschool, I still deeply believe that the best place for her to be is at home with her mother. As I march firmly down the path we've chosen of Working Mom and Preschooler, I still hold a very clear ideal in my mind of a homestead and homeschooling.  (My fantasy is complete with a hefty retirement fund and a book deal or two, naturally.) 
I remember the phone call that started the transition.  I was offered a full time position with a significant raise plus generous benefits to teach one more course in addition to the two I was already teaching.  I was walking the aisles of the grocery store pushing Ellie in a cart and as soon as I hung up the phone, I burst into tears, overwhelmed by all the things that were about to change, even though the contract wouldn’t start for months.   
The first three weeks back were perhaps the hardest of my life. I have never experienced anything like it before, but I think it should be called simply depression.  I have never experienced real depression before, so it’s still strange to me to label this thing that happened to me. (I recently started getting migraines and it took me a long time to recognize what was actually happening to me. It’s funny how things change when you have a name for them, isn’t it?)
I had anticipated that the return would be difficult, so I dedicated a significant amount of time to self-care. I took baths and ran as much as I could. I cut my hair, losing a full 10", in an attempt to shed my old self and mark the big change, and bought a few new things to wear to work.  I kept the house tidy because it makes me feel better, and spent as much time as I could taking care of myself in all the ways I know how.  I let myself play with Eleanor without worrying about chores, but I also went out by myself, for no good reason, so that I could just be alone.  These things usually fill up my cup and I can draw on them when I feel stretched thin, but nothing helped.  I don't need to add to the sea of writers who have talked about depression, but for me, it was like being lost at sea.  I watched myself struggle with the new schedule, ticking off all the requirements of packed lunches and morning coffee and fresh sheets, but I barely felt like I was keeping my head above water. I’d come up long enough to get air to survive, but most of the time I struggled.  
I cried. I cried so often. I cried at my desk at 12:30, the time when I'd normally leave to get her. I cried at 4:00 when I left, feeling all the hours in between.  I cried when I heard the tiny voices of toddlers around town and when I watched a new mother open the door to the pumping room.   I cried after she went to bed because I felt so guilty for snapping at her and my partner because I was feeling so frustrated, helpless, and lost. 
When I wasn't crying or angry, I felt sort of numb.  It was this insipid underlying nothingness that pervaded everything, and I’d never experienced anything like it. I had moments where I felt happy, but that numbness never left. I would recognize that something good was happening to me or that I was enjoying something, but I only felt my face smiling from the outside. 
I could sit at this keyboard forever and never adequately describe what it was like. (And to all my friends, loved ones, and fellow humans who continue to struggle with this every day, I am here, sitting next to you quietly and supporting you, humbled.)
I threw everything I had at this thing and it wasn’t getting better. 
Then a few things changed. The first few weeks of each semester are testing, when I have to enforce a lot of rules and meet an endless stream of students whom I will never work with.  But eventually my classes started.  I had real names and faces to take in and see again each morning.  
My period came. (I’m sorry if that’s too much information for you, but its significance cannot be understated.)
Things were still very difficult, but I no longer felt unmoored.  
In early September, I had the opportunity to take an intensive class on mindfulness meditation and I jumped at it.  For eight weeks, I meditated daily for 30-45 minutes and attended a weekly class.  I practiced a variety of types of meditation, all completely secular, and experimented with giving my awareness to different aspects of my emotional life, from how I recognized positive emotions to how I responded to stress.  I spoke with a group of thoughtful and hard working people every week about what it’s like to live in a world where everything (and everyone) moves so fast, and sitting, just being, doesn’t seem to have a place.  The course is called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. If you want to read more about it, you can look here  If you’re interested in taking the course but it isn’t offered where you live or you can’t afford it, a free online option is available here.
Meditation is sort of a strange concept for some people, and it can evoke a lot of negativity.  To be clear, mindfulness meditation is simply the practice of intentionally becoming aware. 
I still meditate daily. I may miss a day here or there, but for the most part I’ve been consistent since I started the program, thanks to my supportive family.  
Mindfulness has taught me about four simple things:
1)  Seeing things for what they are.  Like most people, I spend most of my time thinking about the past or worrying about the future Mindfulness has helped train me to recognize when I’m seeing things as they actually are and when I’m caught up in the story I’m telling myself.  
2) Recognizing my reactions to things as they are.  All events elicit some reaction: positive, negative, or neutral. We want good things to stay, bad things to go, and boring things to be over.  Meditation has helped me recognize that I have automatic reactions and that these reactions, in themselves, are a sort of story. Everything changes with time. My depression passed. My back pain, which can be incredibly intense on some days, is often completely gone. Migraines end. Job situations change. Children grow and move on to new phases of life.  Everything moves along, with or without me, and my reactions to these events do nothing to change them. 
3)  Being with my emotions. Having these emotional responses is natural, and meditation has made it easier for me to sit with my emotions as I have them, that is, to see them as passing objects, rather than getting caught up in them.  (Please understand, I’m not able to do this all of the time. I still struggle with letting my emotions dictate my behavior, and wanting negative emotions to go away.)  
4)  Being accepting and playful with my life, even when things are difficult.  Being a careful parent has taught me a greater understanding of empathy, but it has always been difficult for me to direct empathy and compassion to myself. I didn't realize it growing up, but i have perfectionistic tendencies and get frustrated with myself when things don't go the way I want them to.  Mindfulness has helped me be more accepting to the things that happen to me and to my reactions to them, and it has given me tools to be more playful with the difficult parts of life.  Being playful and kind to myself takes so much of the sting from things that otherwise could cut deep into me.  There are some excellent free guided meditations on self-compassion available here.

I have no authority to teach meditation or mindfulness, but I have a little tool that you might find helpful.

When something challenging happens to you, use the acronym RAIN.
R: recognize Take a moment to see what is actually happening to you and label your reaction. Sometimes emotions can sneak up on us and we need to take a moment to step outside our reactionary selves and see what’s really going on.
A: accept Instead of spending time wishing you weren’t angry, or getting frustrated that you’re wasting time by being sad, accept your emotions as they are.  
I: investigate Be curious about your emotions, especially how they are in the body.  If you’re sad, where in your body do you feel it? What does it feel like?  Don't get caught up in thinking about why you're sad, or what you should do to make it stop.  Focus on the feeling of sadness in the body in the present moment.
Nnon-identify  Your emotions aren’t you. The things that are happening aren’t you.  Negative emotions aren’t as powerful when we refuse to let them threaten our sense of self.

I don't mean to sound like sitting in meditation has made all my problems go away, but it has made me feel like I can truly handle anything that happens. It has dulled the sense of helpless urgency that used to populate my everyday thoughts, and has freed me to enjoy the good things in my life more fully.  I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to take the course and couldn't have done it without the support of my family.

Other things that have been going on here recently:
I've been using instagram a lot.  It is so easy to share quick snaps of our days. If you want to follow me, you can here. (You can look at that link even if you don't have instagram!)
Here we are on the Culinary Walk. It's funny to look back and think about years past, before her existence and during my pregnancy, going on this walk.  This year I'm on the executive board of Field to Family, the organization that runs the Culinary Walk, and it has been a pleasure to watch it all come together so beautifully.
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We raised some tadpoles! It was so much fun to watch them go from tiny little eggs into bright green frogs. 

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We've also been making a lot of things. 
I made my first quilt for E's nap time at preschool.  
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We made a leaf mobile by dipping the leaves in beeswax and hanging them from a painted stick.
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Knits.
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Biscuits.
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The nephew turned 10 and wanted a minecraft cake.
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And this one turned THREE!
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I'll be back with more updates soon. Thank you as always for sticking with me. xo


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

10 Simple Products to Foster Independence in Toddlers and Some Updates

HI! HOW ARE YOU?!
I'm sorry I have been gone for so long. Every time I sat down to write, I didn't know what to say. I looked at this blank white space and didn't know what to fill it with. 
I have been mulling over the idea for this post for a while and it just came together, so here I am. I don't know what blogging will look like for me in the future, but I hope you'll stick around. 
I'm going to share 10 products that I think will actually improve your toddler's life and share just a few recent photos.  As always, you can keep up with me on instagram, too. 

New parents are bombarded with messages from the media and even well-meaning family and friends that children are very expensive and require a lot of stuff. We've made a conscious effort to limit the stuff we acquire for a variety of reasons. I expected that having a child would make this more difficult, but surprisingly it has made it easier. Having a growing little person encourages me to constantly reevaluate my possessions and eliminate/rotate as necessary.  I want her to be satisfied with simplicity, so I have to model it myself.

I'd like to share 10 simple products that will help your home become more accessible for your toddler and thus foster their independence.  (please note that I've included some affiliate links in this post. If you click and then buy, I get the teeniest of commissions.  Most of what I've shown here was purchased used locally, but I do deeply appreciate your support!)


1) Low Cube Shelf
Low shelves allow kiddos to easily access their toys, and a cube shelf reinforces the idea that every item has a place. It also naturally allows parents to easily limit the number of toys a child has out at a time. This cube shelf isn't perfect (you can see that longer items like our knobbed cylinders don't fit) but it works for a surprising number of toys.
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2)Hooks
We love hooks around here, especially Command hooks which are completely removable. They make it easy for kids to return their items to a proper place and reach them whenever they need them. It's so much easier for me to ask Eleanor to get her apron or put it away than to do both of these things myself.
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3) Small Play Kitchen
Eleanor's kitchen is filled with her dishes, cleaning supplies, and her fruit bowl.  Kitchen areas give toddlers the chance to practice mealtime routines at their own level and pace, and reinforces ownership of their things. Look for something with lots of storage space and a simple design.
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4) Shower Mirror
These mirrors are made of plastic, making them safe for little ones, and affix just about anywhere. They make it easy to reinforce daily routines like brushing teeth and hair, and general self care like wiping faces/noses. It's empowering for children to be able to see themselves and much easier to use a small mirror than to try to reach the adult-level one.
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5)Collapsible Step Stool
I don't know what we'd do without this thing. We have a small home and can't keep a full-sized footstool out all the time. This makes it easy for E to grab things that would otherwise be out of her reach, like the sink for washing hands or brushing teeth, and she can set it up and tear it down herself.
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6) Baskets
We have tons of little baskets and bins that we use to collect small items, especially toys. They keep things out of the way and organized, and make it easy to move toys around the house without losing any pieces.
Here are a few in her bedroom:
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and in the living room:
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7)Mats
This is a basic carpet sample, but it does the job. Mats are an easy way to control mess and limit space. When she selects something from her shelf, Eleanor is supposed to use a mat, though I don't always enforce this habit.  The mat limits the work space and keeps items from being lost. Here I use the mat to organize her shoes and socks. This mat, combined with her two hooks, is her landing space for coming in and out of the house. Her lunch bag hangs here, as do any sweaters or coats that she's using for the season. It has been essential for us to limit the number of items here and the mat makes it easy.
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Kids need to learn to use shampoo and bubble bath and mini-sized bottles are an easy way to give them some independent practice without waste.  We use this shampooand this bubble bath.
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9)KidSwitch
This simple tool extends light switches so kids can reach them, and it glows in the dark. We only have one, in her bedroom, and she loves to use it.  We've been encouraging her to play in her room independently when she decides to wake up earlier than usual and this switch helps make that happen.
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I used to set out two outfits for Eleanor to choose from (as you can see at the bottom of this post) but now she picks out all her own clothes. I try to only set out weather appropriate options and keep the number down. This rod hangs from the normal closet rod and is perfectly at her level. More bins in use for underwear and pants/shorts/skirts.
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Speaking of picking out her own clothes, a few recent favorites:
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Other recent things:

I've been trying to get her outside every day and observe nature. I've started a very informal nature journal by fumbling with watercolors. It's fun for me and she is already asking to join in.

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We saw Ladysmith Black Mombazo!!! It was wonderful, especially since my parents surprised us with tickets and an evening of babysitting. I am the luckiest. 
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The incredible Courtney organized a busy bag swap and we got a ton of wonderful activities for Eleanor to try. She loves this shape-matching work. I'm still holding on to a few activities for a rainy day. 
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I took a trip to Portland!! Boy that city gets me.
Beautiful plants were everywhere. Raspberries along the highway
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and I don't know what these are but I don't think that they are roses. Iowa was still very cold and dreary when I left and Oregon was buzzing with spring.
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I ate at Pok Pok and it was so good.
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My beautiful friend Phillip taught me about whiskey (seriously, he teaches a whiskey class. GO!)
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and I had a few too many of these:
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Being away was difficult but coming home to this buddy was so sweet. She's still my kitchen helper. Here we're making meatballs. That cheese is jack with morels and leeks. 
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I've been knitting a lot, including these baby gifts 
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AND A SOCK! Obviously sock #2 is still in the works. 
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And finally, we've been shopping for one of these, but nothing yet:
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Thank you, thank you again for coming back here and sticking with me. 
I hope all is well where you are. Are your plants starting to come up? Or is it still too cool? We have had tons of chilly rain which keeps it from feeling too much like spring, but I know warmer weather will be here soon enough.  
xo
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