Thursday, December 30, 2010


This is a test of automatic e-mail posting...

An Update: Dominic's Room

In Dominic's room I use the following method of keeping clean and keeping his interest:
  • keep it simple
  • keep it functional
  • follow the child
  • make sure it is clean every night before bed (at a minimum)
Anyone who has known me longer than a day knows that I'm a laid back type (read not too concerned with scheduling and order). My house is regularly messy, we're working on getting it regularly tidy. I clean in crazy bursts - one week I might be motivated from the time my feet hit the floor to the time my eyes force themselves shut, the next you will find my fruit snack packages littered on the nightstand, dining room table, and kitchen counters (inches from the garbage can, no less!). That simply isn't the case with Dominic's room.

When it comes to his room I am absolutely compulsive about keeping it clean. Montessori describes early childhood as a time of sensitivity to order. The "sensitive periods" she observed in children are periods of great ease of learning and magnetism toward certain aspects (be it language, refinement of the senses, or order). She acknowledges that these things can be learned at other times, but the learning that occurs in a sensitive period is effortless and tireless, whereas learning to clean at the ripe age of 25 requires much work and much coffee! Ryan and I agreed before Dominic was born that we want to provide an environment that is tailored to Dominic's developmental stages; Ryan is quite tidy (opposites attract, I suppose), so getting him on board with keeping Dominic's room clean was simple.

When Dominic was born his room still had the tack boards around the perimeter from when we pulled up the carpet. The floors were unfinished, he had zero furniture apart from his bassinet and a hand-me-down dresser and rocking chair. We slowly got some semblance of order in his room as the floors were finished and as he moved out of our room. As he's gotten older and his interests have evolved, the task of keeping his space engaging and orderly has actually become... I know it will be hard to believe... FUN!

What was once this:
Dusty, filthy "white" carpet (can you see where the previous owner's furniture used to sit?), smoke-soaked walls, hideous window treatments.

Evolved like this:
A little space to read with daddy and do some initial exploring. A place to rock in the rocking chair with mommy.
Then there was mobility! The items for exploration became more interesting and provided new motives for activity: to crawl, to pull up, to walk, to increase concentration!
The floor bed allowed him to crawl into his bed when he was tired or crawl out when he was awake. You can read more about that adventure in a previous post!

Now it looks something like this:

His shelf offers a few toys and has artwork at his level. Everything has a clear space, and the room is orderly enough for him to restore its order without the help of an adult (though he does still need reminders sometimes). He has a small chair, a curbside find that I reupholstered, with a couple stuffed elephants behind it to protect the wall until we come up with a better solution! His nightstand has books on its shelf with one or two ever-changing favorites on top. His floor bed now has a couple of his favorite stuffed animals on it and the line-up changes frequently.

The closet is home to toys that have currently lost interest, additional stuffed animals, and his changing mat propped up against the wall. We also keep the majority of his clothes and extra diapering supplies in the chest of drawers. the tall shelf outside of the closet has a few baskets and boxes that hold a couple options of clothing to choose from each day. The highest shelf holds his cloth diapers and grooming supplies. The little blue stool is a spot for him to sit and get dressed. We move it out of the way every now and then to measure him on the growth chart that Ryan was measured on as a child! He always puts his clothes into his own laundry basket as he takes them off. Rugs add warmth and character to an otherwise cold floor.

The artwork is hung at his level so he can develop his appreciation for artwork; ideally I would rotate art cards from my travels and visits to museums, but I haven't gotten to that yet. Recently we struggled with him removing the art from the walls and pulling out the brads/nails that were holding them in. This is often the reason that parents rebut the idea of hanging artwork down low... "they'll break the frames, or aren't you worried about the nails?", We handled that problem in this way: "You are taking the art off of your walls, that shows us that you do not want it in your room," we then took all of the art out of his room (and the nails that he could reach). A couple days later I started reintroducing it to the room, first asking if he would like to have one of his paintings back, to which he replied, "yeah!" He has been more delicate with the artwork and left it on the walls ever since. We use the same system when he misuses toys and it works like a charm; we've only done it a few times but it always seems to rekindle his sense of appreciation for his things and reinforce the household rules (mommy and daddy mean business).

He can turn on the lamp by himself, and the shelf is home to a simple collection of the toys that he is most interested in using currently. We just changed the shelf to accommodate some of his Christmas and birthday gifts, leaving a couple of his favorites from before the holiday on the shelf. Up top he has some cool pattern blocks and boards, his tape measure and a wind-up penguin. The second shelf is home to his train set, which has already led him to the discovery that magnets have polarity and he can now turn the trains around to ensure that they connect (cool!), and we just added his new car transporter and cars to that shelf (his current favorite, I think). The bottom shelf has a soft soccer ball (because there has to be something to direct hands that want to throw and feet that want to kick without a power struggle), a jingle bell stick, and a puzzle with true-to-life images of animals. We also have his new horse stable set up next to the shelf and a little potty next to the stable (just in case). Toys that are still age-appropriate, but have lost interest are stored in the high shelves in the closet. He has many puzzles, a shape sorter, a lot of percussion instruments, picture "classified" cards, and a few other wooden and spatial toys. We also keep his nice hard-bound books up high so they don't get accidentally ripped; we read them nightly, though, be not afraid!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Dreaming of a White Christmas...

I tackled two kitchen projects this afternoon, and
promise to embed pictures later.

So I saw this awesome tip on the blog iHeartOrganizing a while back and decided to try it out. Then I got a little carried away, and I applied this tip to ALL of my kitchen appliances (which includes a washing machine, and even showed the sink some love).

Step 1: get magic eraser wet
Step 2: scrub the heck out of the "ivory" colored areas of your white appliances
Step 3: wipe with a damp cloth
Step 4: Oooooh and ahhhhhh. (here's the comparison... sideways)

I saw this awesome tip over at The Borrowed Abode blog a while back and used that same damp cloth from step 3 on my first project to show our microwave a little extra love.

Step 1: wet a cloth, not damp, not drippy, just wet
Step 2: microwave the damp cloth on high for 2 minutes
Step 3: open microwave and using an oven mitt or rubber gloves to protect from heat wipe the inside of the microwave with the cloth
Step 4: pick jaw up from the floor and enjoy a sparkly microwave.

Friday, November 12, 2010

On the Last Week... and Signing Up for Silly Contests...

Earlier this week I got an e-mail notification that I had registered for the Phil&Teds Procreation Challenge last spring. "Give her the gift she REALLY wants for Valentine's Day," was the tag line, and all you have to do is have your baby on November 14th. Well, they didn't specify the prize until last night at 3am; the company is based in Australia, so I'm at their timing mercy! You can win an Explorer stroller from their line of inline strollers. It looks like you only win the single, but the doubles kit costs much less than any of the double strollers I've seen on the market, and this one weights 26.5 lbs... that is LIGHT for a double! I could not even lift the double options they had in stock at Babies R Us when we went to test them out about a month ago, and we had resigned to the fact that we would be buying the plastic connectors that link two umbrella strollers to create a double (I can definitely lift two umbrella strollers separately!). I think my body has been sabotaging me to win this dang stroller!

This week has been exceedingly more uncomfortable as well. I never thought I'd see 38 weeks... much less 39.5 weeks! I kicked off the week with a Monday morning labor-induction massage from the doula. It felt awesome. I felt had contractions all day on Monday... no baby, though. Tuesday I had less contractions, and they have completely petered out throughout the week! On Wednesday I found out that I was at least making progress; I had dilated another cm (3 now), I was still 70% effaced, and the baby had descended another cm (-2) into my pelvis. This was good news. I also met the final midwife in the practice, Theodora... who is my favorite! The Catholic Hippy of the bunch! We had a wonderful conversation about what our expectations are, how Dominic's birth had gone, why we had switched to the midwife practice, and she was right on the same page with us! I LOVE that I do not have to argue or defend myself with these midwives; I was so tired of being questioned to the third degree, and made to feel like I was neglecting my children by choosing not to have a heplock (one TINY request out of the ordinary!). "You wouldn't ride in the car without a seatbelt, would you?" was the line I got from not one, but TWO doctors! Theodora had NO CONCERNS about letting me labor without the heplock... if I had heart disease, or a history of stroke, or a complicated pregnancy, or weighed over 300 lbs, she may have felt differently, but I have a totally normal and uncomplicated pregnancy, I don't even weigh 150 lbs! I do not have bad veins! Thank you for being reasonable! She even said that Ryan can catch the baby if he'd like - he may not want to, but what an awesome option! Oh, and I get to wear whatever I want while I'm in labor! No hospital gown with open back for me!!

So I am still pregnant, still miserable; this morning I woke up with a sore rear end, no doubt from squatting to pick up Dominic all day yesterday while Ryan was at work, but I look like a duck when I walk, and it is insufferable to lift him today. Ryan is also working a 24 hour shift tonight, so I'm flying solo again. I am SO READY to have this baby! I also sewed 11 receiving blankets this week, and I am currently working on two topponcinos for the new baby. Those are security cushions the baby lays on and can be passed along from person to person on top of, so he has the same sense of security no matter who is holding him. I need to check with the toddler teacher this morning to see if I have it the right thickness, or if I need to cut it in half (in which case I think I might sew a couple extras and try to sell them? They are kind of expensive from Michael Olaf). I need to put the carseat into the car, pack a little bag for the hospital... maybe I'll labor in my maternity swimsuit, since I plan to labor in the tub! I think I'll also make a Munari Mobile in the next couple days if I don't go into labor... oye vey. Oh, and we have a family reunion this weekend! I better win that stroller.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Living Close to Where I Live

Something that has long irked and confused me is the cultural move toward the suburbs. That looming question mark comes from a lifetime of living IN the city limits in a moderately sized one-story house, within about 15 minutes of anything I could possibly need or want. I did live outside of the outer loop for about 9 months of my life right after I got married, and I tried my hardest to convince Ryan that we should find an apartment closer to our families and workplaces before he signed the lease (which he did a few months before we got married... sneaky bugger). He was unconvinced until he saw our monthly toll-way bill and our monthly gas expenses! At that point we were locked into a 1-year lease, though, and committed to look closer in for the next place.

What shocked us was how much more the apartment ended up costing us out on the beltway than an apartment inside of the inner loop! Factoring in the travel expenses for work and visiting our families, we could have lived somewhere pretty ritzy in the city or paid a whole mortgage payment each month from the start! I had to commute daily on the toll-way and the commute took between 20 and 35 minutes each way... longer than I had ever driven to get to work or school in my entire life. It may be hard to believe, but we were spending between $150 and $250 each month on the toll-way and the same amount on gas money as well! EVERY MONTH! It was uncanny how much money we watched leave our account unceremoniously on a monthly basis!

The second crazy side-effect of living way out there (shockingly, still in the "city limits") was that I was wasting 5 hours a week on the freeway. Ryan would spend 2 hours a week commuting (since he works 24-hour shifts). 7 hours of time wasted away from the love of my life a week! Over the course of 9 months on that schedule we spent 10.5 whole 24-hour days on the road. TEN POINT FIVE WHOLE 24-HOUR DAYS ON THE ROAD!!!! Shout it with me!!!! No wait, I have to run to vomit! WHAT THE HECK?!?!

I could have spent those 10.5 days doing any of the following activities: catching up on my DVRed TV because we used to watch TV back then, going on dates with my husband, taking a long vacation to ITALY with the money we could have saved in travel-to-work-expenses, sleeping, learning how to sew, coming up with ways to be thrifty, cleaning our apartment that was always a mess (probably because we never had time to clean it because we spent so much time sitting on our hineys in the car!)... etc... etc... etc...

We started house hunting. The hunt started in the heights... still a 20+ minute commute from where we were both working, and 20-45 minutes away from our families. We quickly got real and started looking in SouthWest Houston, where we work. We found a house that is 7 minutes from my work with no freeway time, and Ryan works about 12 minutes away from our house with no freeway time. My family is about 8 minutes away and Ryan's family is about 25 minutes away. The days of the longest commutes are the days that Ryan works because I have to pick up Dominic from his favorite nanny in the afternoons: his NaNa. So now we spend 1.5 hours a week in the car to and from work and none of that time is spent on the freeway. SO over a 9-month period... for comparison's sake, we spend 2.25 days in the car. LESS THAN A QUARTER OF THE COMMUTE WE USED TO DISDAIN!!!!! Oh, and the money? Well, we don't pay for the toll-way any more, and the gas bill is probably a quarter what we were paying in gas expenses when we drove 4 times as much! So that is about $400 a month that goes toward our mortgage payment (which we will eventually get back in equity when we are ready to move). The time and money savings alone are enough to encourage me to sell my soul!

Then there is the ever-popular rebuttal: "but the houses in the city are old and gross" or "but you can get twice the house if you buy in the suburbs." Twice the house, four times the commute?! What?! Pass. I will definitely agree that it is easier to move into a house that is new, but the trade off seems ridiculous. It definitely took some sweat and tears to get our 65 year-old house up to our standards, but we gained the luxury of 8.25 additional hours every week to work on the house or spend time as a family!! Knowing my taste, we would still need to make a TON of modifications to a "move in ready" house in the burbs in order to meet my standards... and we'd have to make those modifications without that extra 8.25 hours a week!

Additionally, the size of our house works beautifully for us. We can work in the kitchen with Dominic playing in the back yard or take a little nap with Dominic playing in his room. In the mornings we can set him up with some breakfast and run back to our bedroom to get dressed to take him to school without needing a monitor or without undue worry that he might endanger himself while we are down the hall. Our JBL speakers can pump tunes to our whole house without difficulty, and there are no unused nooks that get dusty and need lots of cleaning attention despite their lack of use. BRILLIANT. This is a pretty sweet deal. We have less cleaning to do AND more time with our family?!? File that under "awesome."

Maybe this is related to the American sense of independence, but we seem to have a cultural attachment to having loads of personal space. There isn't any time to spend with the family because the time is spent on the road, and then when the family gets home the goal is to get to the most secluded personal spot in the house to spend time decompressing and watching a personal TV with my own TV shows or time updating my facebook status and checking in on people that live across the country (even though I haven't seen the people down the hall all day). I am SO GUILTY of this. It is so simple to hop onto the electronics and isolate myself from my husband and my son. It is also simple to admit that we have WAY more fun when we choose to do something as a family: step out to the back yard to listen to the High School band playing in the distance, turn on Pandora and listen to the funk station, go for a walk through the neighborhood, drive a couple miles to a fun family activity, etc.

Oh, and that is without even mentioning the benefits of living really close to everything we like! With the zoo only 15 minutes away from the house, we can pop over with our zoo membership (that costs less than one month of driving on the toll-way) and spend 30 minutes bumming around. Maybe we'll see a few animals while we're there or maybe not, but we definitely won't be sticking around in a bunch of crowds. This is TOTALLY guilt-free and hassle-free, zoo-tripping! Since it is so close to our home we can easily pop over to the zoo and change our mind about staying without any worry that we've wasted a trip or wasted money on the visit. We also enjoy loads of parks, museums, and nature areas within the city that do not strain our budget and that keep us entertained without having to make a big production out of a trip. It is easy to just say "hop in the car, we're going to the art museum," and head out. No diaper bag, no problem... it is only 15 minutes away... huzzah!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Change is in the Air!

I posted a while back about my observations of the film "Eddison's Day," and the daily activities of a child who was just barely older than my own. There were MANY suggestions for how to make a home more appealing to a toddler, and our house was falling short in MOST of the areas I offered suggestions. The biggest goal of a toddler's house has to be safe independence, and accessibility is a HUGE componentof that goal.

Over the weekend I was hit by a nesting urge (never before experienced... my first child entered the world with the tack-board from disgusting carpet remaining along the perimeter of his room and still does not have a room color that is satisfactory for the space of a little boy). Dominic went down for his nap and Ryan and I got to work in the kitchen.

We had a bistro table at the far corner that barely fit Ryan and I and left Dominic floating in the middle in a high-chair... not my image of a family meal, but the flavor of family meal we've been having for a year or so! The table and chairs relocated to the third bedroom as a make-shift wrapping and sewing table next to the day bed. To add function to the nook in our kitchen, we brought in a low shelf that was salvaged from St. Catherine's when Katherine got new posh natural wood shelves. The shelf sits right under the window. The top shelf has a space for a small water source (I want to get a glass or ceramic water crock with a simple spigot) and a space for Dominic's drinking glasses, bowls, plates, and silverware. I am still trying to figure out my feelings about the dishes with characters/animals/etc. on them. It seems like Dominic is pretty distracted by the little cartoony super hero plates... he removed his toast from his plate this morning and tickled the little figure for the greater part of his breakfast. Hrumph... I put a lot of effort into that dry toast!

The second shelf has a little apron, his sketch-pad and crayons, and some sets of classified cards with pictures of amphibians, fish, and reptiles. The bottom shelf has the hand wipes (for coming in from picking up yucky stuff outside), a couple sweaters to choose from, and a hat for going outside. I am going to be adding a window washing setup, some kind of polishing, and possibly a bird-feeding activity. Any suggestions for how to do window washing with a toddler? I will also be hanging a picture above the shelf and creating a window treatment or mistreatment f
or the small window.
The next step for that nook is to bring in a wooden hutch from the garage onto that blue wall (the pictures have relocated since the photo was taken long ago) to display our white everyday dishes and store some of our larger serving pieces and appliances that do not have a home right now. That will also give us a little bit more counter space under the shelving to do kitchen stuff or just make a mess. With the dishes out of the overhead cabinets, we'll move all of the food pantry items to the overhead cabinets and convert the pantry into the cleaning and laundry closet, thus freeing up the space next to the washer as well... Maybe a low table or the kitchen tower will go there! Does anyone have experience with making snacks accessible for toddlers? How does one go about that? I was thinking of making one of the drawers in the hutch Dominic's snack drawer with pre-portioned snacks that he can get when he is hungry (goldfish crackers, pretzels, raisins...); before I do something crazy like that, I will have to have some pretty solid feedback from an expert, though!

The photo is dated, so picture the tree gone and the giant picture in that blank back wall space. For more accessibility, we've also put a shelf under the interior window where the tree is in the picture (you know, that window from our living room to our dining room... our house has so much CHARACTER!). We still need to work out exactly what the function of that shelf is (and paint it a more attractive color than almond). Since the guitars are all hanging in the living room, I am leaning toward a music and art shelf. We could bring some of Dominic's rhythm instruments out from his room, set up another coloring work, put out the shape-scapes sculpture puzzles, put art books and art cards (postcards from museums and photos from my stay in Italy), and set out some poetry books. We will also keep some other toys on the shelf for general play in the living room and possibly a diaper changing setup for when the new baby arrives?

Our third bedroom also experienced a facelift recently as a result of the new shelves in Katherine's classroom at St. Catherine's. I already mentioned the table and chairs that have made a makeshift wrapping table and sewing spot (although I will have to re-acquire my mom's sewing machine for that to REALLY be possible). I also have a lot of fabric that I've accumulated over the past year or two... the IKEA "as is" department is the BEST place for cheap and cool fabrics; there are always mis-matched and incomplete sofa covers and duvets priced at under a few bucks to come out to a real steal per yard! I'm probably going to have to steal some boxes from the living room or find some cheap baskets at goodwill to store all of the fabric scraps on the shelves. I'll also be able to bring in some of my boxed books from the garage. I think we will also set up the little play mat in this room for when the next little Smith makes his debut. I am sure the other two shelves will quickly fill with diaper supplies, blankets, and newborn toys. I am thinking that this will become more of a reading and craft room. This one also needs a paint job and a proper window treatment, rug, and day-bedding (keep me posted if you see anything awesome at a garage sale or thrift shop).

So hopefully those changes will be completely activated in the next couple days. I'm realizing as I post that the next post should probably be an update on the progress we've made on our house, although there are way more cracks in the walls now because we had the foundation repaired last year around this time.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Budding Artists

"How do you encourage a creative, artistic spirit in your baby, toddler or young child?"

This question is posed by the Cotton Babies staff as part of a contest to win a whole set of their new "artist series" of bumgenius cloth diapers, and as a Montessori mama with a passion for the arts, I couldn't resist the question. In fact, I'm totally tickled that the question is one that I probably would have considered posting about anyway!

Encouraging a creative spirit in your child is as simple as creating a beautiful space for your child from the earliest stages of infancy. Maria Montessori often mentioned that we need to offer "the best for the smallest among us." I could not agree more with this sentiment, and this begins even in the first hours and days of life. While the popular mama culture is all about the crib and flashy/cartoony nursery "themes," the parent that hopes for a child with an appreciation for true beauty and an interest in the beauty of nature will forego these conventions of popular parenting culture. Beginning with a floor bed (as simple as a low mattress on the floor) gives your child freedom of vision into his world, unobscured by the lines of the crib bars. A developer of the Montessori infancy philosophy, Dr. Silvana Montanaro, comments in her book Understanding the Human Being: The Importance of the First Three Years of Life, that the perceptions of the child that are taken in through the bars of the crib will have to be wholly reformed later in life.

Vision is a fundamental element of an artistic spirit - to see and love the beauty around you. In the newborn's unobscured visual field on a play mat, parents can place a beautiful mobile constructed of simple geometric solids (spheres, cubes, plane geometric figures), starting with a black and white design, moving into a mobile that represents an element of color theory (the rainbow, primary colors, the gradation of a single color from light to dark). These very early introductions to color and form will leave a lasting impression in the absorbent mind of the newborn. In addition to mobiles, parents should hang carefully selected works of art at child level. While your eyebrows may initially raise at the idea of hanging a Monet print at ankle height, we have to consider as parents what we want our child to perceive as beauty. Certainly I would never design my home with all plastic decorations, or with neon flashing lights, or with loud garish noises playing at the touch of buttons covering every surface.

Despite our sensibilities as adults to beautiful colors, art, and music, the children's toy and decoration industry is dominated by jarring and garish colors, patterns, and music. We would never dream of designing our bedrooms as adults with Michael Scott's face plastered across every chair, blanket, pillowcase, curtain, and hanging picture, yet there is little hesitation to create for our daughter's a Barbie dream-land room or a Hot-Wheels mega-scape of a room for our sons. This criticism comes from the woman with a bright red couch, black and white striped rug, and bold modern art and guitars on her living room walls, and in no way am I saying that a child's room needs to be designed in all neutrals or without any toys in sight. I certainly have a love of boldness, but any designer will agree that in using bold or unexpected colors or forms it is imperative to be even more discerning about selection, groupings, and layout and extremely sensitive to moderation. So back to the ankle-height Monet: I read in a publication about early childhood art exposure, that a young adult discovered a photograph of himself in his nursery, and noticed on the wall a framed Indian batik print (or perhaps a moorish geometric design? I cannot remember exactly the style of the art). When he saw the art in the photo, he blurted out how much he has always loved that particular style of art, but that he never knew why because he didn't recall ever studying it or seeing it while growing up. That fleeting art print from his infant nursery left a lasting impression of beauty in his subconscious. I was also amazed early on in observing my son that he would concentrate for up to 20 minutes at a time looking at a black and white photograph of an animal, or he would study the patterns on a decorative cushion or furniture intently for prolonged periods of time (as a very young infant!). I always thought that concentration was something for students in law school, but it amazed me to discover that children can develop concentration from a shockingly young age. If there is a particular space that you spend extended periods of time with your child - maybe a chair where you always nurse, or a play-mat in the corner of your sewing room - this is an ideal space to enrich with a beautiful photograph or throw blanket. Give the child something beautiful to occupy her attention.

Though I've only hinted at it so far, the toys and materials we fill our child's world with leave a huge impression on the child's mentality about the world around him. The child who is offered ceramic dishes will have a sense of care and delicacy about the world, as opposed to the child who only uses spill-proof plastic dishes. The child who only plays with toys that serve to entertain will have a sense of needing entertainment from the world around him, whereas a child who plays with imaginative toys (blocks, puzzles, art supplies, etc) will approach the world with a sense of initiative and creativity. Returning to the concept of vision as a foundational element of developing creativity, if the child's visual field is cluttered (for instance, by a heap of toys in a bin or basket, or by a playroom lined wall-to-wall with toys), the impressions she takes in will be cluttered. The child with a limitless number of toys available or a pattern and decoration on every inch of nursery space will have a difficult time seeing the things around him: the visual "noise" of the space will distract him from focusing on any individual element, and create in his mind a framework of a chaotic world. Alternatively, offering a limited selection of toys neatly and individually displayed on shelves and a small number of carefully selected decorations, the child is given the opportunity to form an orderly and beautiful mental framework for the external world. This is not to say that a child should look at the same three pictures exclusively throughout her childhood, but rather that the parent's job is one of vigilance and constant attention to the child's interest. As such, the parent works to enrich the environment of the child by rotating artwork as interest wanes, or swapping out toys as the child demonstrates readiness for a new skill. As a chronically untidy person, I can say with confidence that keeping it simple in this way has made it astoundingly easy to maintain a clean room for my son who is 21 months old. When we first embarked on the parenting journey, I was certain that this would be my greatest challenge and greatest shortcoming as a parent... I can hardly keep my own clothes off of the bedroom floor, much less the astonishing amount of gear that comes with a baby! Surprisingly, this system of rotating toys and art makes the task of keeping Dominic's room clean one of the easiest tasks in our household! The "place for everything and everything in its place" mentality has helped us to keep Dominic's space beautiful (even though the rest of the house can get quite messy! I am no domestic goddess!!), and I am confident in Montessori's understanding that the child absorbs his surroundings and applies his impressions from early childhood (birth-6 years) to his experience throughout the rest of his life. He is a surprisingly orderly child and even helps us in maintaining the order in his space (puts his clothes away, returns his toys to their shelves, etc.).

In our family musical creativity is also hugely important, as my husband is a guitarist and we both LOVE music. I noticed pretty early on that "children's music" tends to be far from what I would consider appealing or beautiful. I tried out some CDs that take "real music" and recreate it in a "nursery appropriate" way, but found myself disappointed that all of the instrumental intricacy of the music was lost in the translation (even if it was AC/DC or Bob Marley). The music was turned into a series of electronic beepy sounds... as though it was being played on one of those fisher-price pianos or on a xylophone that was not quite in tune. Disappointed, we opted to just play the "real music," and I have to admit that while Dominic enjoys the classical music stations on our Pandora radio, he really gets a surge out of funk music and the beat of some of the more technical techno and metal is visible in his tiny body when it comes on those radio stations. We definitely want him to have an appreciation for the "classics," but it is so satisfying to see his taste emerging as we listen to our favorites at random on our internet radio. Already he can hear and identify some musical instruments, and his sense of rhythm sometimes amazes me as he spontaneously bursts into dance when we hear music over the loudspeakers at the zoo or in a restaurant. We also offer him an assortment of percussion instruments and let him strum Ryan's guitars when he seems interested. It has been challenging, but we are very cautious to remove batteries from any toys that play "music" that is not musically accurate or beautiful; even if "the Muffin Man" is a childhood staple, it is difficult for me to agree that he is learning anything about the beauty of music from a toy that squawks the "song" in a robotic voice to the sound of jingly beeps (eww.).

Developing a creative spirit is most dependent on the environment the child is absorbing on a daily basis. Looking at beautiful art, listening to beautiful music, experiencing rich and independent play with creative toys all deeply influence the child's interest in creating and his "eye" for beauty. I am sure it is clear that I have a pretty strong opinion on the matter, and I can attribute the strength of my opinion to the value I have in art and creativity. Without the arts we would live in a dull world, and I am hopeful that I might win a set of these cute "artist series" diapers to brighten the dull white cloth diaper wardrobe of my little budding artist/musician.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Welcome to LIFE!

Our family has more fun than I can begin to tell you. We (usually) opperate on an organic schedule, spend lots of time together, and genuinely enjoy each others' company.

When Ryan and I got married, we got the uber cable and dvr package and we were "living the life." We never missed our shows because they were recorded and waiting for us. We never had to choose between Rachel Ray and Ninja Warrior because we could watch one and record the other. We enjoyed marathon after marathon of our favorite shows! We spent our weekends catching up on hours of television, and our weekday evenings on the couch getting up to date on the latest home colors for fall (even though we lived in an apartment) or trying to guess which house that family was going to pick of the three options. Actually, the television was running our lives. We still spent time with friends, we still went on dates, but the MAJORITY of our time off of work together was spent looking at a lighted screen. There were some weekends that we "HAD TO STAY IN" because our dvr had 20 backed up episodes of shows that were about to be deleted. We didn't have time to read books for leisure. We were slaves to the TV.

We moved into our house and decided to try living without cable for a while, but the TV company could only set up our internet if we ordered a cable package for at least a month. So we ordered the cable and kept it for the required month. When we got rid of the cable we hooked up the television to the behemouth antenna the previous homeowner had left attached to our chimney. After "putting up with" the local channels we did something really crazy. We swapped our living and dining rooms to have a larger living space. We disconnected the massive antenna and moved the televison to a wall with no antenna jack. We freed ourselves from the television.

At first we still spent a lot of time watching movies or playing the Playstation 3. We gradually started spending more time at our parents' houses. Soon we started wondering what we had been wasting all of our time doing! We started picking up little house projects here and there. Our house started to settle into a liveable space. Our floors were refinished, the nursery was set up, the broken oven was replaced, the yellow 1972 toilets were replaced, the bathroom floors were tiled, the remaining rooms of our house were painted, the garage slowly emptied enough to fit one car, the living room got fresh and inviting furniture, the china was moved out of my in-laws upstairs closet and into our china cabinet, window treatments started going up, our son's room became orderly (and stayed orderly!), my Montessori work started coming together. Life was getting GOOD!

Life was getting so good, that we had forgotten about our previously life-consuming enterprise of television watching. I had shed a television addiction that I've carried since my childhood. Family gatherings became less about the golf tournament or football game and more about time with our family! We started to feel a little weirded out when we'd go places with a television just running in the background. We were noticing how much we had been missing! Suddenly there were a few more hours in every day or a few more hours of sleep to get every night. We started taking Dominic out to the park as he became more confident with walking. We bought a zoo membership and started taking regular family outtings to the zoo (sometimes only for a quick 30 minute trip before nap time, but with a membership... no fret... we'll see the okapi next time if we don't see it today!). I actually completed my Montessori training, without a very serious mental break-down that I had procrastinated beyond recovery... astonishing!

A noteworthy realization was that we didn't need constant entertainment anymore. We weren't missing all that television at all, and in fact, we really enjoyed getting netflix so we could watch a series of a television show here-and-there or to have a movie night every once in a while. Ryan and I started having more spontaneous "dates" and started having deeper conversations. Sometimes the drive home from the zoo would get us into such a rivetting conversation that we would stop off at Fioza (our favorite local coffe/tea/sandwich shop) and spend a few more hours laughing and debating and whirling off into other conversations (with Dominic asleep in his stroller or engrossed in observing his surroundings, or reading a book from the diaper bag). We played trivial persuit! We stopped using the board for the game because we had so much dang fun answering the questions and getting lost in conversation about the questions.

Our life became rich because of the time we spent with our families, because of the time we spent with our son, because of the time we spent together in silence reading, because of the time we had to be a family! Often we will sit at home and each of us (Dominic included) will be doing our own activities. He doesn't demand that we be with him all the time, and we are not locking him into a playroom full of stuff or putting him in front of a television to "keep him busy" so we can check the latest facebook debate or finish the laundry. He will bring us a book to read him every now and then and we'll end up reading four books a couple times each. Or we'll play some music, and end up having a family dance party for an hour. Sometimes we just take a nap in the afternoon.

When television left our list of "needs," we quickly forgot about it and quickly realized how much we had been missing. We have not felt bored for a moment. We haven't had to spend a ton of money on other activities or items in order to fill a void. We've carefully selected a few activities that work well for our family for days that we just need something to do (the zoo, library, and park), but those activities are free or nearly free. The change was a big one when we first made it, but in retrospect, it is one that I cannot imagine living without. We save tons of money that used to go to the cable company, we have freed up hours and hours a week, and we are genuinely enjoying the precious moments we have as a family. It is a change that I would encourage anyone to try for a couple months (Ryan dares you to try it for a year!). It is a change that has improved our lives a hundred fold!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

One Week Down, No Looking Back!

It has been a great week with the changes we made to our eating habits. Ryan has already commented more than once that he is enjoying his trimmer shape from eating less meat (after only ONE WEEK!). We definitely spent a little bit more on food this week, but we'll get that down to a science in no time. I am looking forward to taking a trip to Whole Foods alone, so I can spend some time price-shopping and perusing their inventory.

We bought way less at the market this week because we had plenty left over from last week to make it through this week. What needs stocking is the pantry with non-perishable organic foods (canned soups, beans, grains, etc.). I have not forgotten about the baking mixes, either! I plan to work that in during the next couple weeks, so any good baked good recipes that are simple when it comes to adding liquids (1 egg, 3/4 c water, etc) would be greatly appreciated.

Last week's amazing breakthrough recipe was Portobello Mushroom Marsala (I made it just for me on the side of my mom's chicken marsala).

Portobello Mushroom Marsala
1 large portobello mushroom, sliced
1 tablespoon butter
1 drizzle of olive oil
Shallow dish of flour, salt, pepper, and oregano for dredging
Handful of white mushrooms, sliced
2 parts Marsala
1 part Sherry

Melt the butter together with the olive oil in a pan. Dredge the slices of mushroom in the flour mixture and saute in the butter mixture. When brown on both sides, add the button mushrooms, marsala, and sherry. Simmer until the gravy reaches the right consistency.

Serve with steamed potatoes and green beans. Delicious!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Changes at the Casa Kitchen

After reluctantly watching the documentary films "Killer at Large" and "Food, Inc.," I've taken a radical plunge in my thinking about the food I put into my body and the bodies of my family members. I highly recommend the films, and I will be taking the book The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan from the library today to read it for more info.

The changes will include the following:

1. Only eating organic, free-range, grass-fed meat. This means we will be eating much less meat because I am sure it is not cheap to eat the new standard.

2. Eating fresh, organic, locally grown vegetables. We will be shopping weekly at the farmer's market for produce, and supplementing with produce from Whole Foods or Central Market.

3. Decreasing our intake of processed foods. Instead of packaged mixes, I'm going to be packaging my own convenient mixes to keep in the pantry (so long "blueberry muffin" mix that doesn't have blueberries on the ingredient list). Maybe I will post these "recipes" here if I get it worked out to a well-oiled homegrown machine.

4. We will be gardening. I have put this off since we bought our house. I have a few bags of soil in the garage and enough seeds to feed a village. I'm thinking that perfect is a lower priority than I've been making it, so I might just be going into the backyard, pouring the bags of soil on top of our "garden" space that is currently grassy and weed-riddled. Then I will plant the seeds... at this point I think our only crop will be Okra, but I will be looking into a timetable for planting a fall garden as well.

5. This one probably goes without saying, but we will be eating at home. The only person I can trust to care about the food that goes into our mouths is me, so I am going to be cooking more.

So there it is in writing. I will be posting updates, and I will probably not follow through on this stuff 100%. I know it is going to be more expensive, but I'm also confident that it is the right thing to do for my family. If you have some suggestions for "follow-through" on these items, please let me know. If you are in Houston and want to start a veggie co-op so we can buy in bulk and get better prices at the farmer's market, let me know that, too! Happy and healthy eating to you and yours!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Day in the Life of a Busy and Independent Toddler

Yesterday, I watched the film “Eddison’s Day,” and I was absolutely shocked by the capabilities of the 20-month-old “star” of the film, Eddison. The film was made in one day following his activities from waking up to reading a book for bedtime; his mom is an AMI-trained Montessorian for the 0-3 age range. His environment is impeccable. He is happy, confident, independent, and very connected to his family and world. I was so shocked by the film that I watched it 2 more times and furiously scribbled notes (the third viewing I realized I could press the “pause” button). I’d like to share my notes from the film to offer some guidance about appropriate activities for toddlers that may shock you into finding this film at a local Montessori school parent library, so you can “see it to believe it!” I've broken the activities down into a "time of day" format, and within each section I list the activities first and then the considerations a parent should make to facilitate the activities.

Early Morning Activities

· Activities

o Going outside to retrieve the newspaper (with parental supervision).

o Setting the family table for breakfast and eating breakfast independently, even spreading jam or peanut butter on his own toast with a real child-sized knife and pouring a pre-portioned amount of milk out of a small pitcher into a drinking glass.

o Clearing breakfast dishes from table independently.

o Feeding the cat a pre-portioned amount of food, and giving the cat water from an accessible (low) water source.

· Accessibility Considerations

o Dishes should be low enough for the child to reach without adult help, and open shelving is best for young children to see everything they need;

o The child should be allowed to use real dishes and flatware (breakable, beautiful, stainless steel, child-sized);

o The child needs a chair that he can climb into on his own that pulls up to the family (adult-sized) table;

o The parent will have to pre-portion drinks and spreads into small containers that are manageable for the child: a small “sauce bowl” for jam, or a coffee creamer sized pitcher for drinks. There will be slightly more dirty dishes.

o A low, accessible place to put dirty dishes, like a small cart or bin; later the child can help rinse them at the sink. If this seems superfluous, allow the child to wash dishes after each meal in the sink and load dishes into the dishwasher by himself.

o For animal care, the child needs manageable containers with the correct amount already measured out or a built-in control for the correct amount (one cup full, or one small pitcher of water). The child needs access to a low water source, like a glass crock of water on a low shelf. The animal care tray should be as simple as a tray with a cup or pre-portioned container for with an easy-open lid for dry food and a small pitcher for water.

Getting Ready for the Day

· Activities

o Brush teeth, looking into a low accessible mirror, mom squeezes toothpaste.

o Use a small potty independently (managing pulling down and pulling up his own pants)

o Choose own outfit from a limited selection of clothing.

o Undress from PJs and get dressed with some, but very little, adult help. Admire himself in a mirror.

o Carry his own backpack with a change of clothes if leaving for school (toddler community in the film) or going for an outing.

o Walk outside independently, even down steps, and to the car.

· Accessibility Considerations

o Low mirror in the bathroom.

o Small potty-chair with spare/dry changes of underpants and books close at hand in a basket or small cubby.

o An easy-open closet or wardrobe with a low clothing rail with two tops and two bottoms hanging (for a girl maybe a dress and a separates option?). A couple bins or baskets below the rail with staples like socks, accessories, and underwear (yes, they can be potty trained this young, with minimal accidents).

o A hamper in the dressing/undressing area. A simple and small basket is sufficient… they have little clothes!

o Hooks near the door with hats and coats (that can be offered upon leaving) and a backpack with spare clothes or diapering essentials… toss the diaper bag and let the kid carry his own stuff!

o Step-stool to get outside if the drop is too steep.

At School

· Activities

o Enter the school walking with or even ahead of Mom.

o Open the door to his class, and separate from mom without tears or trauma.

o Simplified table-top hand-washing

o Do activities independently and with concentration and repetition.

o Do activities in the company of a small community

· Accessibility Considerations

o Security that parent will be picking him up on time, a cheerful and trusting parents who separate in a matter-of-fact, “see you later, I love you” kind of way.

o Handwashing setup: Terrycloth apron, small bowl (that can fit both toddler hands), small pitcher that can fill the bowl in one go, and a smaller bowl with a small bar of soap. A hand towel for drying. This activity can be set up on a low table at home as well; children LOVE this.

On a “Play Date”

· Activities

o Share outdoor toys and tricycles with a friend (of the same age)

o Harvest fruit from the yard (or veggies from the home garden, or herbs with some help).

o Eat lunch with a friend at a low table; they pass each other the small pitcher with water to pour their own drinks, and have simple (toddler) conversation “you want some?” “thank you” “mmm… pears”

o Attempting a low balance beam (2x4 plank on the ground secured with small supports along the board)

o Share toys indoors with a friend.

o Return toys and musical instruments to their places on the low shelf in the family room.

o Dig in the sand at a beach and use a pail and shovel.

· Accessibility Considerations

o Freedom to play independently with adult supervision (no hovering! They can do it!).

o Accessible dishes (as with breakfast), and a low picnic table outside is a nice variation to eating lunch.

o Clear and orderly toy layout (see below “At Home” for more details)

o Freedom to get dirty (play in sand, pick up insects, and explore).

Out and About

· Activities

o Help pick out flowers, fruits, and vegetables at a farmers market. Place the veggies into bags, smell the fruits and vegetables, use basic language for the items in the market.

o Wash the car in the driveway with dad. Spray water with the hose, wash the car with a soapy sponge, apply wax or polish with a cloth.

· Accessibility Considerations

o Let the child walk as much as possible, holding hands, and let the child take a little detour every now and then to check something out.

o Give language for EVERYTHING and allow the child to have a sensory experience of the things in his world.

o Provide child-sized (real, not toy) activities that are part of home life. Small sponge and cloth for washing the car, for instance. Live with the child, not around him.

At Home

· Activities

o Read books with mom, selecting books from a limited supply on a low shelf.

o Work with modeling clay (or play doh), using simple clay tools and cleaning up independently.

o “washing” windows and play equipment (tricycle, wheelbarrow) outside with a wet sponge.

o Name items in nature and in the home.

o Handling and returning items in nature: snails, leaves, flowers, pears (from the tree in the backyard… sweet!).

o Simplified flower arranging: placing flowers cut by parents into a pre-filled vase.

· Accessibility Considerations

o Low bookshelf with a few books displayed clearly on it; rotate books as interest wanes, but keep the selection to a few books at a time.

o Activities should be self-contained and clear in their setup/use: A tray with a small board for rolling the clay, a small (child fist) sized ball of clay, a couple simple rolling and cutting tools. A tray with a few crayons at a time in a small dish and a fresh piece of paper. A tray with a sponge and a drying cloth for wiping the table. A tray with a watering can and small cloth for watering plants and drying small drips of water.

o The activities should be displayed on low open shelving, within the child’s reach. Each activity, toy, or instrument should have its own clear space on the shelf; “catch-all” bins or baskets are great for “easy” clean-up, but they do not provide the same clear and orderly presentation that the shelf provides. With an orderly and consistent layout, the child is able to choose activities and put things away himself. It would probably be surprising to see that a child this young is EXTREMELY orderly in a well-prepared environment. It is rare a child pulling many things out at a time when things are set up as above, and it is amazing to see the level of concentration and engagement a child can exhibit in working with one carefully selected item at a time.

o Access to the outdoors with purposeful activities such as a balance beam, tricycle, sponge for cleaning, a broom for sweeping.

Cooking Dinner

· Activities

o Pouring pre-portioned ingredients into a mixing bowl, dry and wet ingredients.

o Mixing ingredients with a child-sized spatula, with limited instruction from mom “let’s try to keep it in the bowl.”

o Kneading dough.

o Brushing pizza dough with olive oil.

o Assembling pre-sliced ingredients on a pizza: mozzarella, tomatoes, basil

o Preparing dessert batter as above, and spooning dessert batter over a cobbler, with limited direction from mom, “can you add some over here?” Taking turns and accepting help.

o Washing dishes at the sink using a soapy sponge with dad. Wiping dirty or wet counter tops.

o Distinguishing trash and recyclables and putting them in the appropriate containers.

o Setting the table for the whole family and eating at the family table.

· Accesibility Considerations

o Child-sized aprons (made of two large hand towels sewn together with space for the head are great for absorbency!).

o A kitchen tower that elevates the child to counter height to work with the parents (learning tower, or kitchen helper… I’ve heard there are some platforms available at home depot that may work just as well).

o Small versions of cooking utensils.

o Constant supervision; this is a “doing with” type of situation.

o Child-sized brooms on low hooks for clean-up.

o Small sponge at the sink.

o Low trash and recycling bins, if the child will help take out trash and recyclables, the indoor bins should be small enough for the child to carry (even with some strong effort it is ok, but not so huge that he cannot manage).

Before Bedtime

· Activities

o Take out a small bin of recyclables to the large bin. Climb up on a step stool to put the recyclables into the bin. Walk with dad to help take the garbage bin to the curb.

o Add bubbles to bathwater with a little direction “let’s save some for next time.”

o Choose two bath toys from a low cabinet.

o Undress with a little bit of help from mom.

o Put clothes into hamper.

o Wet his own body with a cup and a washcloth.

o Bathe with a washcloth and some parental help to get the hard to reach places (behind ears, back, etc).

o Asked for help to wash hair, but closed his own eyes to have his hair rinsed.

o Put on robe with some help from mom (after mom dries him off and gives some snuggles). Hang towel on a low hook.

o Remove robe and hang on low hook in his room.

o Dress in PJs with minimal help from mom.

· Accessibility Considerations

o A step stool to reach the outdoor recycling bin, adult help to open and close the large bin.

o Small manageable container with bubbles for the child.

o Expectation of a limit to the number of toys that can be taken into the tub (one per hand makes a lot of sense). The child is then able to return the toys to the shelf without having an overwhelming mess or large number of toys to clean up.

o Freedom to do for himself.

o Low hooks that the child can reach to hang up towels, robes, re-wearable pjs, etc.

Friday, June 25, 2010

How to Pick a Good One

After 18 months of parenthood, nearly three years of marriage, six years of partnership, nine years of friendship, and 11 years since our first (extremely awkward) meeting, I am pretty amazed by the way things have worked out! Based on our experience and a lifetime of Fr. Bill homilies, I have some thoughts about marriage:
Marry your best friend... and stay best friends!

Know that the person you love is a person, who will only change because of a conscious personal choice, not because you want him to change (Ryan, I wouldn't change a thing about you, and I am trying to make that choice to put my clothes in the hamper).

Put your dirty clothes in the hamper when you take them off. It is simple, and it will make Ryan... er, your husband or wife... very happy. And also clear your own dishes from the table.

Remember 1 Corinthians 13, and remember the parts that aren't quite as easy as "Love is patient, kind," etc. "We see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully as I am fully known." This rocked my world when I heard it at a wedding after I got married (it was not a reading at our wedding, but I have grown up with this passage, and will never forget Aunt Char reading it at that wedding). How clear does this passage get in reflecting back upon the wedding day and the entrance into the sacrament?! This is one of my favorite lines about marriage and one that is challenging if you are imperfect like I am.

Marry the person that will die for you. Marry the person that you would die for.

See humor in each other and in yourselves... and laugh about it together. Embrace the wrinkles you will have later in life because of the laughter!

Marry a good father or a good mother; see how the person treats his family and how his family treats each other. That family is going to be your family, and I could not be happier to have my family grow in such a wonderful way by marrying Ryan. He is also an amazing dad, and I saw that in him a long time ago!

Date each other after you get married.

Serve each other.

Turn off the damned television and talk to each other! And then maybe enjoy some tv time together.... or just leave it off.

Prepare for marriage with a sponsor couple. Skip the engaged encounter retreat, and find a sponsor couple. (Ok, I haven't been on the engaged encounter retreat, so maybe it is pretty cool.) I have worked with a sponsor couple in marriage preparation, and it was my favorite part of the weeks leading up to the wedding (more than trying on the dress, more than luncheons and parties, more than meeting with the caterer). Our sponsor couple meetings were a set date to talk about the rest of our lives with a couple who is living their life. We had a workbook (chuckle away) that raised interesting questions, we had amazing discussions, and we shared wonderful stories with people who know how it all works. It was intimate and refreshing, and it wasn't at all hokey or fluffy... it was real and it was about keeping it real.

Get a life... your own life... and let your spouse have his own life as well. We often go out together, but it is equally important to have a guys night or ladies night.

You have got to get one (or a few) of these! I cannot believe how my love increased when this guy came along.

I often reflect on the homily Father Bill offered at our wedding, and the readings we chose for our wedding mass. We chose Ephesians 5: 20-33; the one relating marriage to Christ and the Church. I am so glad to have a husband who makes that passage easy to live by; I remember thinking "you have got to be kidding me" when I heard the verse that says women should be subordinate to their husbands, but now it is a pretty simple task. He has to love me enough to die for me, and we have to live in mutual admiration and respect for each other. Check, double check! It is so easy to live that challenge with someone who loves you as much as you love him. Father Bill gave a beautiful reflection on Humility, saying "If you really want to love your husband, ask him, 'how can I be a better wife to you;' if you really want to love your wife ask her, 'how can I be a better husband to you,' chances are she will run to print a Word document." I could not feel stronger that this would solve so much of the marital strife we have in our society; it is so easy to focus on being wronged or being the winner, but it takes resolve to be humble... especially in those moments that I feel like I've been wronged.

And now a bit about the wedding: If you want someone phenomenal to say your wedding mass, may I recommend Father Bill? I had heard all kinds of stories that he "won't let the father of the bride escort the bride into the mass" or "he'll embarrass you in the homily," and all I can say to those claims is "HOGWASH!" He prepared us in the most amazing way I can imagine: he met with us, asked us challenging questions, set us up with a phenomenal sponsor couple, and gave us wonderful suggestions. The myth about not letting you walk down the aisle with your dad goes something like this, in Father Bill's words: "The gold standard is to walk into the wedding together, as a couple, because you are the ministers of the sacrament. (I had never thought of this before in my life) The silver standard is to walk into the wedding with both of your parents; they have shown you everything you know about marriage and we don't want to stuff mom into the pew to be lonely through the processions. (awesome, I love this!) The bronze standard is for the bride to walk in as the center of attention. It isn't a 'look at me' event; it is an us event." I'm pretty convinced by the gold standard, but because we both come from traditional families, we opted for the silver standard to honor our parents. There were never any negative feelings that we made that choice. As for the homily, I have never felt more edified and challenged in my life; it was personal, it was far-reaching, it was moving. The number one comment at the reception was, "AMAZING SERMON. And this risotto is delicious." THAT'S what I'm talkin' about! A healthy dose of truth at my wedding and about three quick bites of that tasty risotto

What makes marriage tick for you guys? Favorite date night ideas? Favorite date night ideas that do not involve leaving the sleeping toddler home alone? Any amazing pearls of wisdom from your own weddings or experiences together? Post it as a comment... on the blog... not on facebook...