my village


We’re in the middle of yet another snowstorm, and the only reason we have food today is because our nanny, E, offered to go grocery shopping for us before the storm hit.

Let that sink in for a moment–our nanny volunteered to take our two-year-old to the grocery store to do our shopping for us. She even made a special trip to Wal-Mart because the valentines I asked her to get for Ellie’s class were too expensive at the grocery store. And then she took Gwen to the candy store to pick out a few treats, just because.

Never mind all those trips to the library, the park, and the quality playtime she’s spent with both kids since we moved here.

It really got me thinking about how lucky we’ve been, not just with E (who is amazing) but with all the people who’ve treated our kids like family instead of charges. We may pay for the care, but you can’t buy the kind of relationship my girls have had with their various caregivers over the years, and for that, we’re incredibly fortunate.

Beyond that, we’re lucky to live with family who do things like mow the lawn and watch the dogs and act as back-up care for the kids (and just being here–sometimes it’s nice to know there’s another adult in the house!) We have a family friend who cleans for us once a week. And I’m personally grateful to have a husband who is an equal parent and does his fair share of juggling All The Things.

Then there’s my job, where I’m lucky enough to have the autonomy to work when I need to, the flexibility to work with my family’s schedule rather than around it, and to have the freedom to stay creative and genuinely love what I do.

A question I keep coming back to, specifically as it relates to work and life and having time for myself, is “How do I do it?”

It came up at dinner with some teammates in Charleston a few weeks ago. I was rambling on about my newly-acquired fanfic writing habit, and a co-worker asked the question.

I said something to the effect of, “My kids watch a lot of TV.” I was joking, of course (though my kids do watch too much TV, sigh), but I keep coming back to this question because people keep asking me–how do I do it? And I would like to be able to give a concrete answer.

So yesterday, when E was standing there with my kid on her hip, saying, “Hey, do you guys need anything at the store before the storm hits? I’m happy to do it, and it would keep Gwen occupied for a bit,” I realized a big part of the answer to that question is, “I have help!”

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and we’re lucky to have a village plus some.

But this got me thinking about a tangentially related issue, which is about recognizing my strengths and admitting my weaknesses and accepting them for what they are. For me, “how do I do it” means giving up unrealistic ideas about the kind of person I “should” be, and not pitting her against the person I actually am. I am not a full-time, stay-at-home mom–why would I expect myself to act like one? Likewise, I can’t stay up ’til the wee hours writing and theming, because: kids!

It’s a constant struggle for balance that no amount of hired help can fix. If nothing else, I’ve learned that I can survive on a little less sleep and a little more coffee.

Maybe a lot more coffee…

2013 in review

2013 was rough–stressful in both good and bad ways, and looking back I’m floored at the amount of stuff our family has been through. There’s been travel, moving, new additions, injuries, and work–we’ve run the gamut, and I’m proud of all of us for making it through with relative good humor and patience. Hopefully 2014 will go a little easier on us.

A rough timeline of events:

  • A work trip to Hawaii in January made for a picture perfect start to the year
  • In April, we adopted Atticus. I had no idea one puppy could be so much work! But he is a sweetheart, and he’s calmed down quite a bit since we first brought him home. He likes to lay on my feet on the couch at night while I write or work.
  • In May, I traveled to Italy for work. Our team stayed in a rustic countryside villa in the hills outside of Florence, which was as amazing as it sounds.
  • We sold our condo in central Maine and moved north (the nearest Starbucks is in Canada, if that tells you how far north we are), back to my childhood home, to be closer to family. Easily one of the best decisions we could have made. The girls are thriving, and we’re loving all this space.
  • Gwen turned two in September, and boy, did she ever turn two. She owns her two-ness. She climbs, she runs, she’s maniacally happy and sad in one breath, she’s persistent and driven, and she wants to do everything by herself. Yep, definitely two.
  • Speaking of Gwen, we had that burn accident in September, which landed her in the hospital for three days and scared us all pretty badly. Thankfully everything turned out OK, we held it together, and she came out mostly unscathed. Though now she likes to tell everyone, “Mama spill hot coffee on my monkey shirt! Hurt. I cry.”
  • Another trip, this time to San Francisco and Santa Cruz for the Automattic company meetup.
  • We were without regular internet access until November, which made things difficult for working at home, but we managed. Got pretty familiar with the very few free wi-fi spots in town, and drank a lot of Tim Horton’s coffee.
  • I wrote not one but two novel-length pieces of X-Files fanfic, completing my first NaNoWriMo! Woohoo! I’m in the process of publishing the first novel here.
  • November also marked my second European trip of the year, this time to London, and I really want to go back; I feel like I could have spent weeks there.
  • I worked a lot. I may have spent more time in pajamas than is considered socially acceptable. I continue to marvel at how lucky I am to work with the people I do, and to get paid to do the stuff I do. From home. In my pajamas with the Ninja Turtles on them. Yeah. I love my job.
  • I struggled with depression, and it took a lot of time and convincing for me to acknowledge it, but with help from an SSRI and therapy, I’m ending the year from a happier, more balanced place.
  • Ellie turned five in December, which feels like a personal milestone for me. When she was a newborn, I remember thinking of five as some magical, mystical age in the distant future, and now it’s here, and I am so proud of my smart, funny, beautiful little girl. She drives me crazy, but I love her to pieces and I can’t wait to see what the next five years bring.

Upcoming in 2014? More travel. Potty training (redux). More fanfic writing. Working. Family. And hopefully a happier, more positive outlook on the whole.

lunch at chez ellie

Ellie: “Mama! Do you want to play restaurant?”

Me: “Sure!”

Ellie: “OK. I’ll take your order. Umm… we have pancakes, sausage, eggs, coleslaw… and beef.”

Me: “Ooh, can I get some pancakes? With beef on top?”

Ellie: “Sure! But the sausage won’t be ready for a few minutes.”

Me: “Oh, I wanted beef, not sausage.”

Ellie: “Well, there’s not a lot of beef left, and I’m going to give it to the next people who come into the restaurant. But you can have sausage!”

Me: … “But I don’t want sausage! I wanted beef.”

Ellie: “OK! What’s your name?”

Me: “Caroline.”

Ellie: “And your middle initial?”

Me: “Why do you need my middle initial?”

Ellie: “It’s for your order!”

Me: “Uhh, it’s ‘E’.”

Ellie: “OK, and what’s your telephone number?”

Me: “555-5555… why do you need my telephone number?”

Ellie: “And your address?”

Me: “Uh. 555 Some Road.”

Ellie: “Annnd… how many monies do you have?”

Me: “Huh?”

Ellie: *sigh* “Mama, I need to know if you have enough money for your food. If not, you have to leave the restaurant. Only people who have enough money can eat at this restaurant.”

Me: “Well jeez. I have thirty dollars, is that enough?”

Ellie: “Perfect! I’ll put your order in.”

(Ellie doesn’t move.)

Me: “Great!”

Ellie: “You’re a really good customer, Mama! But some people over there aren’t good customers. They’re throwing food. I had to kick them out of my restaurant.”

Me: “Oh, that’s not good, huh?”

Ellie: “Yeah. They didn’t have enough monies, and they were throwing food, so I had to Duct Tape the door so they can’t get in.”

Me: “… you mean I’m Duct Taped into your restaurant?”

Ellie: “Yeah! Cause you’re one of the good customers!”

Me: “… lucky me. So, when will my food be ready?”

Ellie: “After it’s cooked.”

Me: “Of course.”

(At this point, I can’t stop laughing.)

Ellie: “MAMA! There’s NO laughing in my restaurant!”

Me: “Oh! Sorry.”

Ellie: “We don’t laugh in restaurants, Mama, that’s not nice.”

Me: “Y’know, I’m starving; do you think my pancakes are ready?”

Ellie: “Mmm, not yet. Hey! Can I watch a show?”

Me: “… sure.”

This little game of pretend turned decidedly Misery-like. I never did get my food.

who says you can’t go home?

This month we put our condo on the market, and so begins the tedious and stress-inducing process of sorting through our junk and packing up our junk and hauling our junk to our new home.

If you’ve listed a property in the last five years, you probably know what we’re experiencing right now. The gut-wrenching reality that we have no hope of making up what we originally spent on what is otherwise a conveniently located, affordable home. And we have exceptional timing in that we bought just before the bubble popped. Of course.

We could rent the property and wait to sell, but given the collective amount of stuff we’re trying to juggle right now, neither of us is excited about the prospect of becoming landlords in a college town. And so, onto the market it goes, and we cross our fingers.

It could be so much worse, and I’m doing my best to count our gains, which are many, rather than our losses, which are manageable.

But moving? Moving, no matter the market, will always suck. In times like this, I’m tempted to say “burn it all” and start fresh, but… I also like my stuff. So much so that I’m willing to cover it in bubble wrap and put it in boxes and transport it from point A to point B, all the while feeling uprooted and overly anxious. That’s just how I roll.

So instead of focusing on the seemingly endless black hole that is packing up this house, I’ll instead talk about our new home! Which is actually my parents’ home, gifted to us for a number of reasons–they’re retired and don’t need a large property to maintain, we need more space for two very active young kids (and a puppy) to run, it makes good financial sense, and one thing we’ve learned over the last four years is it’s harder to raise kids when you live apart from family.

It’s a little strange to be moving “back home” after so many years, but I’m excited for the change, and we’re grateful for the opportunity. I think it will help the kids feel more secure, especially where Tim and I travel semi-regularly now.

The property itself is pretty awesome, too. The main part is an old farm house, rustic post-and-beam construction. My parents built an addition with an office, two bedrooms, and a second bathroom in the early 90’s, and last summer they added a second addition with an apartment for themselves and a new bedroom for us. It’s a bit of a Franken-house in that regard, but the slightly odd layout and exterior is not a concern, since we’re easily doubling the amount of square-footage.

Over the next few months and years we’ll be repairing and updating the place. We have a laundry list of things to work on:

  • Upgrade kitchen counters from laminate to soapstone
  • Insulate and re-shingle front wall of the house
  • Geothermal heating system, to replace the oil furnace
  • Replace front and side decks
  • Remodel the second floor of the old house as a home office for Tim and I
  • Open the wall between two smaller bedrooms to make a shared bedroom/playroom for Ellie and Gwen
  • Replace worn linoleum in the girls’ rooms
  • Upgrade from linoleum to oak hardwood in the hallways
  • Figure out if we’ll need a separate laundry area (right now the only one is in my parents’ apartment) — I suspect we will, especially as the kids get older

There’s probably more I’m forgetting. We’re hiring out most of this to local contractors and talented neighbors who are, thankfully, way more adept with a hammer than me. And my parents have already had a lot of work done to the house in the last six months — the hardwood floors have been refinished, the 20-something-years-old “temporary” staircase has finally been finished, and there’s fresh paint all around.

No longer will we be confined to a bathroom that could barely pass for a closet; we’ll finally have a big ol’ clawfoot tub to soak in:

… and hardwood floors that will actually stand up to my kids’ abuse:

… and a wall-o’-closet in our future bedroom that gives me chills:

All on an acre or two, surrounded by forest and fields:

Very quiet and peaceful, exactly what we need as we move into the otherwise chaotic family-rearing phase of our lives.

Yes, we have a lot of good coming up, we just have to trudge through the next few weeks of packing and sorting to get to it. Lots of work, lots of stress, but in the end I know it will be totally worth it. Onward!

2012 in review

More of this deliciousness in 2013
More of this deliciousness in 2013

This year started out a bit rough, but ultimately turned into one of the best yet.

Some of my favorite things:

  • Watching my kids grow. Gwen is running away from babyhood so fast we can barely keep up, and Ellie has grown six inches in the two days it took me to write this. Even more exciting is watching their relationship unfold. Two kids definitely present more challenges, but seeing them play and laugh together makes it all worthwhile.
  • My new job. I felt a little weird leaving the university after so many years, but it was definitely time for a change, and I’ve found a second home at Automattic. It’s humbling, exciting, and some days I even think I kick ass a little (others, not so much, but you can’t win ’em all).
  • I’ve visited more new places in the last six months than I have in my entire life. Las Vegas, San Francisco, San Diego, Winnipeg, plus our family trip to New York… and there will be more in the coming months. As hard as it is to leave my family, travel is one of my favorite things.
  • Creatively, I’ve felt inspired and happy with the work I’ve produced, both in quantity and quality. Most of it was WordPress themes, but there’s been some illustration, too. I always feel happiest when I’m making things, no matter the medium. More of that in 2013, please!
  • It probably qualifies as one of my healthiest years to date, with particular focus on improving on and creating good habits. I floss daily, exercise frequently, and take my vitamins!
  • Celebrating five years of marriage, twelve years of general together-ness, and four years of parenthood with this fella.
  • I discovered the wonder and light that is coffee! This tweet pretty much sums it up.


Some challenges:

  • With a lot of new changes (even good ones!) comes stress, which for me translates to anxiety and minor dysphoria. Some of this is seasonal, though, and will probably pass by spring.
  • I’m still not where I want to be, health-wise, despite my progress. Not sure where to go from here, but I’m learning that the result is the process. More doing, less thinking about the doing. I’m starting up Health Month again in January, we’ll see where it leads.
  • Balancing work life and family life is more difficult without clear boundaries between office and home. We’ve made a few changes to cope with that — hiring someone to help clean the house every couple weeks (she’s a lifesaver!), instituting a no-work policy in the evening hours so we can focus on the kids — but I still feel like my attention is in a constant tug-of-war, which creates feelings of guilt on both sides. I can’t be everything to everyone, and I have to learn to accept good enough.

Park with papa

Some favorite photos:

[slickr-flickr set=”72157628996657277″ search=”sets” items=”49″]

So, what’s next in 2013? I’ve never been much for setting big goals — I don’t fare well under that pressure. But the new year has a number of things in store for us, and given last year’s challenges, I have a general idea of what I’d like to do differently.

  • We’re moving back to northern Maine, in an effort to stay closer to family, save money for travel, and get away from the “city.” This is a biggie, and I’ve been meaning to write about it more, but you know, *insert excuse here*
  • I’d like to take more time for books. I miss reading, and the kids are getting better at entertaining themselves (!) so I think I might be able to pick up the occasional book this year. I have a stack of stuff from Swaptree on the shelf of my bed’s headboard, plus a bunch of ebooks on my iPhone.
  • In an effort to balance myself and my life, I need to be better about living in the present, not trying to live in the future.
  • I’d love to start taking photos again, maybe?
  • In less than a month I’ll celebrate my 30th birthday. I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about the big three-oh, but I think it’s going to be positive.

Happy new year, all!

the good life… with a little more nothing

Gwen!It’s still hard for me to believe, but a few weeks ago this little monkey turned one. She also started walking, and now she’s in college, working on an ambitious Furniture Climbing degree with a minor in Bumping One’s Head On Things. It is ridiculous how fast kids grow up these days, no? If this one doesn’t land us in the ER at least once before she’s two, we’ll be very lucky. Her favorite things are shoes, a toy bus, and a dancing stuffed bunny. She will eat almost anything, although she’s not as fond of fruits (except avocados, those are a big A+). She is as jolly and giggly as she is hot-tempered and stubborn — I did not know babies could have mood swings, but Gwen makes sure to have several each day. She can say “kitty” and “Ella” and “ny-ny” and “kick kick”, and when she grins, her dimples are magnificent.

Ellie!And what about this little girl? Well, she’s very precocious and full of thoughts — so many thoughts! She tells us she’s getting a computer for her birthday (I have no idea who put this idea in her head) and that she’s going to marry her little sister someday (hey, works for us — we’ll only have to pay for one wedding, and we already approve of her future spouse!) Her favorite Halloween costumes, in no particular order: Rapunzel (from Tangled), a zombie (her sister would accompany her as a sunflower, a la Plants vs. Zombies), a bird. She has the facial expressions and vocabulary of a thirteen-year-old, but with all the sweetness of a three-year-old. She is afraid of trains (but only the sound they make — she loves riding them) and thinks having a little sister is awesome, except for the part where she has to share her toys, but only sometimes. She is my cuddlebug, and I think four is going to suit her well.

The much dorkier monkey in the photos above has had a busy couple of months. Tim and I had the pleasure of spending a week in San Diego with our co-workers at the beginning of September, which was awesome and worthy of its own post, if I could ever find the time to write it. I’ve never been in a situation where I loved my job so much that I had to remind myself to stop working… and that’s where having children keeps me grounded, since they have this thing where they need to be regularly fed and bathed and snuggled.

AutumnFor the last few weeks we’ve tried to get out and about as much as possible. There’s a certain sense of urgency that sets in about this time — winter is coming, enjoy this while it lasts. Normally I find autumn inspiring and invigorating, but I’ve had a difficult time getting into it this year. S.A.D. may be the culprit; I have to soothe that panicky little bird in the back of my mind that tells me the cold will never end, that we’ll all be sick and miserable and stuck in the house FOREVER!

In an effort to pick myself up a bit, I got back on the exercise bandwagon. Well, I didn’t quite fall off the bandwagon this summer, but I was definitely dragged behind it for a while. I’ve been taking 2-3 mile walks in the evenings, and I’ve just recently discovered Just Dance 4, which will keep me company when it gets too cold to go outside.

So, that’s my life in a nutshell. I work, I enjoy our family, and I carve out time for myself when I can. What I struggle with is finding peace in the chaos. There’s always one more CSS bug, one more runny nose to be wiped, one more load of laundry, one more trip to plan and pack for, one more project to start. “Just one more thing” turns into “ALL THE THINGS” and at the end of the day I am exhausted and yet, full of experiences and life. But I wish I knew how to live in the moment, just… being. I’ve never been good at that — I get impatient in the time it takes to pour myself a glass of water, for pete’s sake (because there are SO MANY THINGS I COULD BE DOING in those ten precious seconds, right? Who has time to pour water?!?). I take long walks because I have a destination in mind, with no focus on the journey. In the interests of keeping my sanity, I think I need to spend some more time on… nothing. Yeah, that’s exactly what I need. A little more nothing.

i’m not crazy, i’m just a little unwell

I started composing a post about two months ago and never finished it. I kept coming back to update it, tacking on bits and pieces here and there, until I realized I’d built a schizophrenic Franken-post. So in an effort to condense this summer into something someone might actually read, I put Frankie out of his misery, and here’s an only-slightly-incoherent bulleted list:

  • I joined the ranks of Automattic in May.
  • Las Vegas trip was Las Vegasy!
  • Work. Work, work, work work worky work work.
  • “Vacation” to New York to visit extended family. (I put “vacation” in quotes because a twelve-hour road trip with two young children hardly qualifies, but it was a surprisingly good time nonetheless.)
  • Germany, Tim was in you! I was home with a sick baby and a three-year-old. Guess who had the better time.
  • Winnipeg, I was in you! You were fun and only slightly haunted. Also, my co-workers are brilliant.
  • The baby is finally sleeping through the night! In other fantastical news, unicorns are real, and if that wasn’t awesome enough, they poop Skittles! Life is AMAZING!
  • The baby is going to be 1 (ONE) next month. Life is horribly continuous, what with time and the going forward-ish-ness of it all! Make it stop!
  • Overuse of exclamation points? Don’t mind if I do!
  • Ellie graduated from pre-pre-school today. She’s going to pre-school. I am feeling pre-nostalgic and pre-grumpy about this whole babies-growing-up business.
  • Tim and I were married five years ago today. We’re celebrating in true parents-to-two fashion — he fell asleep on the couch at quarter to ten, I am writing this disjointed post. Oh yeah, it’s business time.
  • Themes. Themes, themes, and more themes.
  • We’re moving in the next year, but that’s a whole post in and of itself. Construction! Renovations! Secret mystery destination! Stay tuned!