Assorted Reading

We’re nearing the end of January and I have yet to write about Belgium, or December, or my 40th birthday, or probably other things that merit time in this space. In the interest of ever getting to any of it, here’s a year-end link dump for your mid-week perusal.

Reading

Parenting, kids, motherhood

Relationships, self care

Food, cooking

Work, working

2019 in meme

1. What did you do in 2019 that you’d never done before?
Hired a babysitter; served on a conference planning committee; traveled internationally with two children; saw a world record being broken; wore a stick-on heart rate monitor for multiple weeks; successfully made falafel and a trifle and fish and a bunch of other semi-ambitious dishes; lost a kid in a crowded public place; got mastitis (twice!).

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I made a 40×40 list, but finished less than half of it, so I’m extending the deadline until my 41st birthday.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Several friends, but no one in my inner circle.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
My last grandparent died in August.

5. What countries (or new places) did you visit?
No new places this year. We spent 3 weeks in Belgium, including a day trip to Holland to visit family. I went to Champaign 3 times for work, and Iowa 3 times for sad reasons.

6. What would you like to have in 2020 that you lacked in 2019?
Financial independence (or at least a path there)

7. What date from 2019 will remain etched up on your memory, and why?
A lot of stuff happened this year, and as a result, many of the dates are fuzzy. I remember very clearly where I was when I learned that my grandma died, but I couldn’t tell you the date – it was the first week of August, and the funeral was a few days before the baby’s birthday, but that’s all I’ve got.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Mostly keeping my shit together from August through mid-November. Graduating from therapy. These things are related.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Patience. With myself, my partner, my big kid.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I’m very grateful that 2019 was medically very boring.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Weleda Skin Food. My Get to Workbook. The no frills men’s jeans I bought at C&A after yet another pair of pants failed me.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My kids are amazing, even if they drive me bananas at times. The big kid, age 5, is an avid letter writer and is doing 4th grade math and can play chess and poker and piano (if he pays attention to what he’s doing) and ran 5K on his birthday and has been drawing all of these involved pictures depicting all of the important things from our trip to Belgium. He plans to move to Belgium when he is 18, but he also plans to open a coffee shop near Boston called CoffeeFish. The small kid, age 16 months, is clever and naughty and irrepressibly joyful. He has a head of curls and adores his big brother and runs to the door and yells MA! when I come home.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Most elected officials’, same as in previous years.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Food and rent and debt and travel.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Wasbar. Beni Falafel. The Vogeltjesmarkt. NYT Cooking. Getting out of debt. Sesame noodles.

16. What song will always remind you of 2019?
I really didn’t listen to much music this year beyond random Spotify playlists. This track came up often:

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder?
Happier

ii. richer or poorer?
Poorer.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Sleep, running, time with friends, lying on the couch doing nothing – same as it ever was.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Worrying about money, dealing with moving and apartment disasters.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
We were in Belgium for Sinterklaas, so the big kid enjoyed all manner of chocolate and surprises, while the small kid was delighted to get to eat little cookies off the floor.

We shifted our family’s celebration to December 23, when we celebrate our dating anniversary. We opened stockings and exchanged books:
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates for me
The Landmark Thucydides for N
P is for Pterodactyl by Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter for the big kid
Never Touch a Dragon for the small kid

I worked Christmas Eve before watching the big kid perform in his choir at the Christmas Eve Tableau at Rockefeller Chapel. He was a donkey in the pageant.

We spent Christmas day in Rockford with my family – snacks and presents at my sister’s, more gifts and brunch at my parents’, then a mostly leisurely afternoon with the family.

21. Did you fall in love in 2019?
With the view from our Belgian apartment and the convenience of having actual appliances in our new Chicago apartment.

22. (Adding a new question in place of one that no longer applies!) What was the best thing you ate?
Rijsttafel. Kale sauce pastaMushroom “shawerma”. BENI FALAFEL.

23. What was your favorite TV program?
The Expanse

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Hate is a strong word.

25. What was the best book you read?
Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I can’t think of anything ground-shattering. I mostly listened to a bajillion podcasts.

27. What did you want and get?
3 weeks completely checked out from work

28. What did you want and not get?
Entry into the 2020 Chicago Marathon

29. What was your favorite film of the year?
I watched two movies in 2019: The Post (on the flight home from Belgium) and The Secret of Kells (on the big kid’s birthday). I would like to watch more movies, with and without my kids.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Brunch at The Gundis, coffee at Intelligentsia (where we took surveys in exchange for future free coffees), cupcakes at Molly’s, emergency water shut off at home, baby in a bear suit napping on my chest.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Sleep

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2018?
Whatever fits.

33. What kept you sane?
Nicolas, my sister, Eva, Karen, Kim and Angie, Anne and KZ, long walks

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Who has time for that?

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
Another terrible, terrible year.

36. Who did you miss?
Everyone

Previous years: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011

 

September Around Here

The month starts with a spontaneous trip to the Arboretum on a gray day. We’re members, but have barely visited this year because the baby couldn’t (wouldn’t) tolerate the car. Weather and naps mean that we can’t stay as long as we’d like, but it’s a lovely excursion while it lasts.

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At work, we shut down the intranet that I somehow came to manage nearly seven years ago. The shut-down was supposed to happen in mid-2016. We have a party to celebrate, and I bring a glazed vanilla cake from Simple Cake baked in my grandma’s Bundt pan.

My work isn’t typically tied to the cycles of the academic year, but this year I’ve volunteered for a number of things that keep me busy as the academic year arrives with a roar. I make exhaustive lists in my planner and on my whiteboard. Both are completely filled with text. No wonder I feel like I’m drowning. Deep breaths, and one foot in front of another until the end of October.

We implement Falafel Fridays. The falafel can be accompanied by an exciting veggie side, or by homemade hummus, or by anything we need to use up, or by whatever looks good at the grocery store. We can eat in or get take out or meet at one of several falafely restaurants near us (though regrettably not Beni Falafel – see you in November!). Anything to put at least one meal per week on autopilot.

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We work on making room in our budget, in part because we need to, and in part because we want to, and in part because we’re going to Belgium in two months and travel is always more expensive than anticipated. One week into this new focus on belt-tightening, we notice that our AC is making a strange noise. It stops working completely just in time for a brief but miserable heat wave. Fall is almost in sight, but not soon enough to postpone the repairs, particularly since we still can’t open most of our windows and the new windows, expected in August, still have no ETA. Sorry, landlord. Sorry, eating out budget, but we just can’t cook when it’s 95 degrees inside.

Another month with too much time spent on the road. At the beginning of the month, we drive out to Rockford to celebrate the a number of birthdays (my mom, two siblings, and the big kid) and take family photos with all of the siblings and their kids. A week later, I drive to Iowa to meet my mom and aunt at my grandparents’ house – one last visit to pick up furniture and odds and ends before the house goes on the market. It’s an exhausting out-and-back with an excessive amount of ice cream in the middle.

And then the following weekend, another trip to Rockford to celebrate the big kid’s birthday. His actual birthday is spent doing low-key fun things: pancakes and a special birthday balloon, a farmers’ market walk in the morning, then a run: five whole kilometers, one for every year. Pizza lunch at Jolly Pumpkin, his pick, then meeting his friend at the playground for cake (chocolate, with marshmallow frosting, both from Simple Cake – he requested chocolate with blueberries which I failed to deliver due to frosting miscalculations). A movie on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn. More pizza and cake the next day with his cousins, and many hours of solo time with his grandparents. We can’t deliver much on the present front, but hopefully the happy memories will make up for it.

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September Reads

Also somehow I forgot to tell you that I read the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy this summer, which I LOVED. Also The Egypt Game, for my book club, and Big Little Lies, just because.

September Eats

From the NYTimes:

July Around Here

Work unexpectedly extends the gift of a long holiday weekend. In Belgium, this is called “making the bridge”.

We spend the 4th at my parents’, in part to get out of the city, and in part to celebrate my dad’s retirement. We bring a spumoni cake – not the brilliant ice cream thing making the rounds in the NYTimes, unfortunately, though this is equally spectacular – and veggie kabobs and our swimsuits. The baby loves the pool as much as anticipated, though he gets overwhelmed quickly, retreating to the safety of a snuggly towel on Papa’s lap. The big kid can finally touch the bottom of the shallow end with his tippy-toes, which is exciting for all involved.

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More early morning walks with the kids, sometimes with coffee, often with foraged fruit. One morning we hear chirping and look over to spot two juvenile raccoons snuggled up together on a porch rail, calling for their mama. The big kid and I imagine what they might be saying, or what he and his brother would say if they couldn’t find me.

The baby masters hands-and-knees crawling over the July 4th weekend. He’s been scooting along on his belly for what feels like months, and all of a sudden, he’s off! It’s so fun to see him exploring, though it feels like we’re constantly pulling things out of his mouth. I suppose that’s all part of being a tiny scientist.

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These curls! I’m dead.

I pass a blissful morning in personal and professional conversation on the patio at Spoke and Bird. We used to go here all the time when we lived in Pilsen and it was around the corner from the Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens and on the way to the Lakefront Path. I grumble about work, but I’m deeply grateful for the many opportunities for professional connection it affords me, and particularly for the flexibility to have mornings like this.

We find a little push-cart for the baby on the neighborhood Buy Nothing group. He discovers it with glee the next morning, crawling over in his sleep sack to start playing. In what feels like no time, he’s doing laps in the kitchen, pausing to inspect the washing machine with every pass.

I spend what feels like weeks agonizing about how we’re going to make a second work trip to Champaign work for our family. All of us in a hotel room for 2.5 days sounds miserable. The baby moves around too much at night to safely sleep in a hotel bed BUT ALSO nurses too much at night to expect that nights away will be anything but difficult for everyone. The big kid would love a night or two with his grandparents, but that means extra time in the car, which is the thing the baby hates more than anything in the world. Ultimately, we decide that the best way to make it work without messing with nursing is for me to miss the first evening of activities. I feel terribly guilty asking for this, even though I know that it’s the best possible compromise for my family.

Once I’m there, I feel like it’s important to make it clear the sacrifices involved, and to make visible the struggle of balancing the personal and the professional. In the parking lot after the last session, another participant approaches me to thank me for saying what I did. These sessions were her first time away from her kids as well, though hers are quite a bit older than mine. I feel deep gratitude that she shared her experience with me.

And being away isn’t as difficult as any of anticipated – as always, the anticipation is worse than the actuality. I soak up the solo time – back to back runs in dear and familiar places, meals and drinks with good good friends, painting my nails, loads of coffee – but after one night am ready to be home.

The big kid asks for a bow and arrows for his birthday. Their birthdays are coming up soon, one in August, the other in September. How quickly the time is passing. The big kid looks so small in photos from last year. It hurts my heart sometimes to think how abruptly his world changed, and I’m grateful for the extent to which he’s been able to take it in stride.

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We weather a dangerously hot weekend, deeply grateful for central air conditioning, particularly after the misery of last summer’s heat. Our experience of the heat wave pales in comparison to that of our family in decidedly un-air conditioned Belgium. And then it’s over nearly as quickly as it started, the temperatures dropping by 30 degrees overnight. We go out for a walk and are unexpectedly caught in a severe thunderstorm, hiding out with lunch and then cupcakes rather than getting soaked to the bone.

I finally get the bike trailer hooked up – only to blow the rim off of one of the wheels the first time we tried to take it out. I’m grateful that we weren’t actually on the road and that we were more scared than hurt. Another week of waiting before we’re able to ride, but then we make it happen, the big kid endlessly chattering as we run errands. His big idea for a summer outing involves a family bike ride to the “dinosaur museum”. He offered to pack a picnic since we will be hungry. Smart guy.

Long runs happen again, finally. I miss this part of marathon training – the hours of podcasts and meditative steps by the lake, the early mornings and the clothes drenched in sweat. Maybe next year. For now, I’m deeply grateful for any miles I can sneak in.

I spend an afternoon playing tourist with friends from grade school. Our conversations are wide ranging, hilarious, and restorative as we wander around downtown, taking in hot dogs and cocktails and architecture and broken shoes. It is a good, good thing to connect with people who understand where you’re from, even if the intermediate steps in your lives haven’t been the same.

We go to member night at the science museum. It’s too hot for outdoor activities, so we enjoy our scoops of ice cream and as many exhibits as we can manage before the kids melt into tired puddles. We decide to do just one more thing, and then happen into a whole hallway full of magnetic shapes which keep both kids enthralled. These sorts of things always risk throwing the entire evening off – we are an early bedtime household – but they’re almost always worth it.

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At the end of the month, the baby stands up on his own for the first time. Steps can’t be far behind.

July Reads

 

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July Eats

June Around Here

We moved.

We moved, and it was awful.

We moved, and it was awful, and nearly everything that could go wrong did.

We moved, and it was awful, and nearly everything that could go wrong did, but in the middle of it, I took a break to take the big kid to a bubble run, $5 each to run a mile around the track in perfect weather with bystanders blowing bubbles, plus our own bubble wands, snacks, and small cups of boba, a first for him. He tired quickly, but found extra steam when we were done running and all he had to do was joyfully chase the bubbles.

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We moved, and it was awful, and nearly everything that could go wrong did, and every part of my body was bruised for weeks, which is about how long it took to sort out all of the money and repairs and losses.

We moved, and it was awful, and nearly everything that could go wrong did, but at some point, it was finally over and we went on with our lives.

The big kid moved into his own room. We thought this would be harder than it turned out to be. He shared our bed until a week before the baby was born, and then shared our room after that. Now he is on his own in the room he will eventually share with his brother, and we have returned to the enormous floor bed that we referred to as our nest. It’s not the best for our backs, but it is the best for the baby, and so we make it work, much as we made the previous arrangements work.

We gave up our couch in the move – sold, along with many other things, to our remarkably accommodating subletter when it became apparent that the couch was not coming out of the apartment. This would have been a much more painful decision had the whole situation not been so absurdly stressful. Instead, we gave it a moment, and then let it go.

In the new place, we have appliances. It’s a mid-century housewife’s dream: a dishwasher AND a washer/dryer. Months ago, I told my therapist that if there was a single thing that could improve my day-to-day happiness, it would be a dishwasher. I wasn’t wrong.

But we also have repairs: windows that don’t close, water damage from previous roof leaks, a closet door that won’t stay on its track. If there is one thing we appreciated about our previous place, it was the responsive maintenance folks. We miss them already.

With the new place, new routines, some intended to save money, like eliminating the Saturday morning grocery store breakfast, and others to capitalize on the disruptive nature of moving, like establishing new cleaning routines, and still others to address the incursion of a horde of milipedes, like mopping the floors with essential oils and hoping for the best.

For Father’s Day, a trip to the north side for lunch, pie, and a walk. We stop at the fancy olive oil store and pick up a bottle. The baby naps in the car. Salmon and potatoes for dinner, just what was requested. We are deeply grateful for our calm and consistent Papa.

The baby’s sleep is broken, temporarily, and I spend a week or more up at 5, walking to Starbucks in order to keep the house quiet and myself going. I choose to focus on the spectacular morning night and the delicious baby snuggles and not the fact that I’m hanging on by a thread.

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A colleague organizes a team for the city’s bike to work challenge, and that’s all the nudge that I need to fall back in love with my bike after a few years away. Now I’m frustrated when the weather or other circumstances prevent me from riding, especially since my commute is a total of 5 minutes door-to-door. (I don’t contribute much to my team’s mileage, but I do my best.)

Standing! The baby is standing! And playing with balls! Every ball he can find! At the same time!

I use my last morsel of vacation to take the kids to the beach (we intended to go to the pool, but couldn’t). The last time I was at the beach was my due date, big as a house and so uncomfortable, unbelievably still pregnant after weeks of false alarms. The baby, now on the outside, kicks his feet happily at the edge of the water while big brother runs around. We return home tired and coated in sand.

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And then, at the end of the month, my dad retires. It’s the end of an era, and I look forward to whatever comes next for my parents.

June Reading

June Eating

 

 

May Around Here

Where did May go? Lost in the flurry of moving preparations, and then blacked out by the incredibly challenging move itself.

On the first day of the month, I chop my hair off, all of it, as short as it’s ever been. Of course on haircut day, my hair looks as good as it ever has.

Two trips to Rockford, both celebratory, though the baby cries most of the drive. A Frozen birthday party for a five year old. So many little girls in princess dresses. Bubbles and sidewalk chalk and the baby rolling around. And then my sister’s graduation from nursing school at the university – then a college – where I graduated 18 years ago. I just about burst with pride for her, colored with a shade of nostalgia for my own college experience. The arts center where the ceremony is held smells familiar, even after all of these years.

In the same week, the baby sits up on his own, pulls up to standing, and figures out crawling. All of a sudden, he’s into everything, making our small space feel even smaller, especially as the boxes pile up.

I am working on learning Dutch, albeit slowly. I do a few modules every day, often while pumping, and send Nicolas screenshots of the silly phrases Duolingo has me say. For example: “Pardon, ik ben een appel.”

We spend an evening at the Field Museum at their member night, well worth the ruined bedtime. The big kid gets a coooooooooool airbrushed seahorse tattoo that we’re sure will end in heartbreak with swimming lessons a few days later, but it hangs on much longer than we expect.

The baby starts playing peekaboo at the dinner table. It is excessively cute.

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Mother’s Day is delightful, despite a very early morning with the kids. I’m gifted solo time – a run, coffee and letters, solo grocery shopping – beautiful tulips, and a funny plant picked out by the big kid. We go to the zoo and have an early dinner and ice cream after the kids are in bed.

The baby is sick for a week, rashy and sleeping poorly. I alternate between trying not to worry and obsessively reading about measles.

The guys finally make it to chess club at the library. The big kid wins several of his games against kids twice his age. He’s gotten SO GOOD so quickly, handily defeating me and occasionally defeating his papa.

The baby is finally old enough – nine months, I can’t believe it – and the weather finally OK enough to go for a stroller run or two. He generally isn’t inclined to fall asleep, but he falls asleep at the point when I turn around to head home. This gives me hope for summer weekend runs – if summer ever arrives. I take both kids out one morning, and a tiny baby squirrel takes refuge under the stroller!

For yet another year, we do not do Bike the Drive, despite it being on my 40×40 list. (Perhaps I’ll give myself through my 40th year to finish?)

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But mostly, mostly, mostly we spend the month packing, trying to strike a balance between getting ready and staying sane in our small space. The move itself is challenging and awful and takes about four times as long as it should, but the kids hold up tremendously well under pressure, dramatically better than I do, and it does (or it will) eventually end.

May Reading

May Eating

  • Two impromptu meals at Le Pain Quotidien using the gift card we were given after our disastrous anniversary lunch:
    • A Mother’s Day late lunch/early dinner with wiggly kids and lots of bread
    • A lovely sidewalk patio dinner on a rare date night out without kids
  • Dinner with dear, dear friends at Habana Libre on the eve of our move

April Around Here

We book a babysitter and finally go out for that milestone birthday – fish and chips and a cocktail at a spot in our old neighborhood that, it turns out, is full of young families on a Friday night. We (I) ogle other people’s babies while missing ours, then take a walk past our old garden plot and our old apartment. I miss the life that we had there, and the golden light of early evening. We don’t often see that light these days.

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The big kid takes swimming lessons at the University pool. It’s well organized chaos, and I’m grateful that he’s hanging on someone else for a change.

I mark seven years on the job with a coconut donut. This is the longest I have worked anywhere.

We plan to visit my ancient grandmother for Easter, then change those plans at the last minute. Instead, we stay home, dye Easter eggs, and make a disastrous batch of matzo ball soup on a rainy weekend.

We find outrageously cheap flights to Belgium, a trip we were certain we couldn’t afford this year. Instead, we will spend 3 weeks there in the late fall, our flights entirely covered by travel points, with our housing nearly free as well. It’s all happening!

The baby still hasn’t figured out crawling; instead, he hops on his butt like a frog. It’s surprisingly effective.

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A bike trailer shows up on a neighborhood listserv for cheap, so at the end of my intentional spending Lent, I make an impulse buy. The same day, a strap on my bike helmet breaks. This is how it goes – one spontaneous purchase results in others, necessary or no. That was weeks ago, but weekend weather and plans have yet to allow us to go for a ride.

The big kid wins a prize at an Easter egg hunt – a basket full of candy on top of the candy he collected in the hunt. I hate feeling like the food police, but this candy is just awful, and I’m grateful that we already had a wonderful box of treats at home from the Zurenborg Paashaas, as it means the big kid is absolutely fine with sharing.

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I present at a conference that is pretty far outside my wheelhouse. The opening plenaries are engaging and challenging, and I feel grateful to be there. There will be no conference travel for me this year – or perhaps next – and while that’s fine, it’s also a little sad.

Mom comes in for a quick visit, arriving after work on a beautiful Friday night and leaving in an incoming snowstorm Saturday morning. Will this winter ever end? We just do the normal things – dinner at our favorite Thai place in the neighborhood, breakfast errands at the grocery store – but decide to scramble the routine a bit in order to try to win free pie for a year. The first 50 in line win – we are #53-57 due to folks cutting in line. Ah well, we still had pie.

There’s that saying about not crying over spilled milk – I have the most epic spill of my pumping career, but thankfully, I realllllly needed to pump, so I am more concerned about the carpet underneath the spill than the spill itself.

A few weeks after we made a list of all of the things that we want in a new place – a place pops up on the University marketplace site that checks all the boxes. It is as good in person as it seemed in the ad, so we throw caution to the wind and put in an application despite having 6 months left on our lease.

And so the rest of April is consumed with housing worries – will we get the place? Can we afford the place if we get it? Our application is approved – now, can we find a subletter? Will one of the many people who comes through to see our apartment decide to take it? Again, can we afford it? One thing after another, which will likely continue until we are settled in with a subletter secured.

But! In a month or so, we will move to the northwest corner of our neighborhood into a condo rented from an owner. We will have a dishwasher and laundry in unit. We will have windows that look out into trees. We will have central AC. It will be stressful until we get there, but we will get there.

April Reading

April Eating