Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Windows and paint are my love language

You know those stories about husbands failing miserably at life and romance by gifting their wife an appliance or a boring house item? Agree to disagree, because way back on Valentine's Day, T gifted me something I've been ogling for ages: plantation shutters.

LET THERE BE LIGHT.


We loved them from the start, but they were really a jumping-off point for all things windows. Classic, right? Pricey item leads only to pricier items. There's this house with new windows in between ours and Eastern Market that we walk by multiple times a week. Oh, those windows. I'd comment on them every time we walked by. Our neighborhood is filled with old homes with very old windows. I love the charm of our old house (1906!), but being unable to fully shut or open windows, having to prop things inside them, and needing to wrap up in blankets when sitting on the couch in the winter? Not cool. So when you notice new windows on an old house, they stick with you.

[Let's just agree at this point that fantasizing about windows makes me super-old and boring and move on, okay?]

We decided it couldn't hurt to learn more... just information-gathering, right? The window guy came over last spring and was pretty much the best window salesman in the history of window salesmen. We ooh'd. We aah'd. But with the backyard renovation coming up, we put it off. Then on Mother's Day, guess what T tell casually tells me as we're waking up?

"Oh hey, the window guy is coming over for final measurements at noon." So casual, but followed by a big grin. He knew. He'd decided without me to bite the bullet and do the front of the house now, with the rest to come later, after our backyard project. Installation happened last week.

Oh, did it happen.


Now back to that "jumping-off point" concept... Besides new windows, the other thing I've really, really wanted for the exterior of our house was new trim. I detest the cream color of our house trim - it's always looked dirty to me. The photo above is probably the best shot I've seen of the cream, and I'm sure that's because of the sunshine, shadows, and the new white windows. A couple of years ago I called around for trim paint quotes and received the craziest numbers - well over the cost to paint an entire exterior anywhere else. I put the idea to bed until our neighbor had a random guy out doing their trim. Random dude could do it for a fifth of the price and half the time - SOLD. Now we're bright, clean, and white. (Hi Eleanor!)


The white trim actually makes me like the color of our house now. We have more ideas to implement in the coming months and years - some paint detail and a new door, which might stay this color or might go glossy black. But it's been a big month for la casa, and I couldn't be happier.

Finally, because any good makeover has to include a before-and-after:

This is me, fully endorsing the idea of "boring house items" as gifts.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Cucumbers of days past

One of my toes is covered with dried blood today, swelled twice its size. It isn't pretty. The reason for my disfigurement? Half classic klutz, half defective product, but all embarrassment: the handle of a 40-lb box of cat litter ripped off as I was carrying it this morning. At 6 a.m. While unloading it from our car on the street, wearing pajamas. (Of course.)

So I'm limping around today, kind of a straight-legged shuffle, which I am not very good at doing with any measure of grace. I'm normally a fast walker, weaving in and out of people to get where I'm trying to go as efficiently as possible. Not today. On my way back from lunch this afternoon (as I'm being passed by people in wheelchairs and tourists dragging suitcases), I had a vision that made me burst out laughing right on the sidewalk. (Ailing and crazy? That's me.) Suddenly I saw my late grandmother, smiling away and bringing up the rear with her cane or walker. "Here I come, Maggie," she liked to say. "Grandma Hippety-Hop."

Granddaughter Hippety-Hop was thinking of home a lot this weekend. We had pork tenderloin on the grill - a hometown fave - and a big pile of squash and zucchini from the market to cook. With North Carolina on the brain, I instinctively reached for the cast iron pan instead of my All-Clad, used butter instead of olive oil. It's the details that matter with hometown cooking.

I asked my mom for the family "recipe" for classic apple cider cucumbers, which are so simple that you can barely use the word recipe at all. Crisp and acidic and eaten hundreds of times with family, these cukes. My grandma and my mom would peel their cucumbers, but I left mine unskinned. I have so many memories featuring a bowl of these on the table, often ridged with a fork (as kids we thought the resulting "designs" were so cool) and usually kept cool with ice cubes. Cucumbers like these have heard all sorts of tales around tables over the years, don't you think?


Southern-Style Apple Cider Cucumbers

 
- Keep the skin on or take it off - your choice. Slice your cucumbers thin. 
- Fill with ice water and salt and let them soak.
- Just before eating, empty our your cukes, rinse with fresh water and pour in apple cider vinegar until they're just covered.
- Grind in some pepper and throw in some ice cubes, and you're done!

 
If you're not eating this for nostalgic family purposes, I'd mix up your vinegars and add in fresh herbs. Rice wine vinegar + dill! White wine vinegar + oregano! And so on. Heck, throw in feta, onion, and tomato while you're at it and make it a meal. I think my grandma might even like that dish.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday I'm in Love

Hello Friday! I'm looking forward to a weekend of neighborhood relaxation, catching up with friends, and pumping like a madwoman. First, though, a day full of meetings... and some fun links! Stuff I'm loving this Friday includes:

Beyoncé Voters

What can I say, I love a trendy political tumblr. I think it was Texts with Hillary that set the bar for the genre so high (for me, anyway). And now Beyoncé Voters is on the scene, gallantly serving that important life role of "procrastination rabbit hole." Nicely done, Beyoncé Voters, nicely done. (Side note: can anyone explain why "Beyoncé" has an accent on the last 'e'? No really, this bugs the crap out of me.)


Vigilante Cold Brew

 This summer I've become completely obsessed with Vigilante Coffee's cold brew. I love the Red Stripe-meets-JFK bottles. I love the ease of refills, every weekend at Eastern market. But mostly, I love how smooth and strong this stuff is. Locals, go get some - seriously.


Fantasy Hideaway Wallpaper

This wallpaper is so dreamy to me. I picture a renovated attic study, totally girly, books everywhere, a great desk, and a comfy broken-in velvet sofa. My kind of room.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The perfect summer work dress, on sale

The title says it all. I have this dress in two patterns (Blues Garden Flowers and Dark Turquoise Stamp Geo) and every single time I wear it I get kudos. So cute and flattering! So practical (pockets)! So easy (won't wrinkle)! So cool (breathable fabric)! So "did she or did she not have a baby eight months ago." (In my daydreams, at least.)


It's called the "Casual Weekend Dress," which is a misnomer. Perhaps in Boden-land, ladies are frolicking at the dog park in this number, but to me this is an office dress. Fair warning: I do have to be conscious of cleavage wearing it (no leaning over the conference table during meetings), but I think as long as you're average-sized and/or not lactating, you won't have that issue.

Anyway, it's on sale - and I actually bought my second with a (since expired) additional percentage off coupon, so google away! These dresses are all I'm packing for my upcoming work trip to hothothot Tucson (one week from today - gulp).

That concludes today's PSA. Although on second thought, I might need some solid colors, too...

Monday, July 14, 2014

Makeover!

Well look who got a makeover... my little blog!

I've had the same design since I began Freckled Citizen, and while I still liked the old look and feel, I felt like change would be good for my little corner of the Internet. I'm especially enamored with my new header. Fun flowers + DC's iconic landmarks... what's not to love?



I'm still tinkering here and there, so let me know if you see something funny somewhere. Three cheers for happy blogging ahead... and a big thanks to Smitten Blog Designs for my new "face"!

Transitions

Friday was my last day at home with Miss H. I'm going to miss our lazy mornings each Friday, but the truth is, it was time.


You'll remember that I used to work entirely from a home office. Then we finally opened a DC office, but I stayed home on Fridays as a way to have some quiet time to myself, work without interruption, and often, get a lot more done than I could in my real office. I love the freedom of telecommuting - not having to get ready in the morning, being able to cook real food and prep dinner, taking the dog out for a walk when it's slow, etc. The pace of my professional life didn't allow for five days a week at home anymore, so I made sure to savor that one day each week that I had all to myself.

When I returned back to work from maternity leave (those eight weeks at home honestly feel like a century ago), I kept up my Friday at home schedule. For the first few months, it worked like a charm. Like all newborns, H slept a lot, and when she was awake she was amenable to my multi-tasking.

Flashback alert: Hi tiny girl, peacefully hanging on my lap during conference calls!

Now, though, just shy of eight months old, my girl cannot be contained by her mom's work calendar. Over time my Fridays transitioned from my most peaceful day of the week to my most stressful, juggling two full-time jobs at once - managing an active kiddo and my paying job. No one wins with that kind of pressure.


For our last workday together, I took off a half-day so I wouldn't feel as pressured by my phone and inbox. We ran lots of walking errands around the neighborhood, got dinner ready for a high school friend coming over that night, and then... H crawled for the first time! I love that she made the day special for me.


This gal is going places. Time for me to make some new Friday traditions.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The requisite BLW post

Like almost every baby I know born in the last couple of years, H is on the BLW train. Since the concept of baby-led weaning has been written about pretty exhaustively, I thought I'd skip over the explanations and simply report how BLW has been for us. (I also feel the need to go ahead and write this up now so that it doesn't turn into so many other accidentally-unwritten-about topics, like H being breech and you know, being born.)

So. BLW for us: we absolutely love it. The concept of BLW is completely appealing to me in the most logical way, as someone who loves real food and is suspicious of most processed stuff in jars. Letting H explore food in her own way, on her own time, while still relying on breastmilk as her primary form of nutrition? A thousand times yes.

Slightly out of focus, but totally summing up her OMGexcitement at her first real bites. (She already looks so much younger here - girl is growing fast!)

I can't overstate how appealing the ease of BLW is compared with making my own pureed foods (which let's face it, is what was going to happen in lieu of buying babyfood). I feel like I have so little extra time in the day; I'd rather spend it playing with H, going on neighborhood walks, or snuggling with her dad - not doing extra meal preparation. Cutting food we already have on hand into sticks and ensuring we have her favorites around is as much preparation as we need to do. There's definitely extra mess with BLW, but we roll straight from dinner into bathtime, so it's manageable. (Also: hilarious.)


H's opinions? Around five months she began to take a major interest as we put food into our own mouths, smiling and laughing as we chewed and she saw food disappear. By six months, the suggested starting age, she was chomping at the bit quite literally for a chance of her own. She knew exactly where to put food from the start and has enjoyed a pretty big variety of flavors.


We read the BLW bible (here are the Cliff Notes) before introducing solids, so were well-versed in the placement of babies' gag reflexes versus adults' and the differences between gagging and choking. Reading up prior to starting out helped, especially for T, who is generally more cautious and more of a preparer than I am. It goes without saying, though, you need to pay attention to every "bite" (and we do) and be ready to fish something out if she's not expelling it when she needs to.


Almost two months in, H is super-confident at mealtimes, and I love that about her. BLW really feels like a way to nurture that confidence. She began swallowing almost from the start - she really does put away more food than I ever suspected she would at this age. The proof is, shall we say, in the diapers. Her current faves include chicken, fish, broccoli, cauliflower, watermelon, blueberries, avocado, and hummus. Will BLW lead to a lifetime of confident, adventurous (read: unpicky) eating, as suggested? I'm not sure. I hope so, but time will tell. Even if our only advantages with BLW are those we're already experiencing, though, it's been worth it for us. Our little gal couldn't be happier, either.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Business trippin'

In two weeks, I'm headed out of town on my first working mom business trip. Cue all the angst.

I'll be out west for three nights, no doubt worrying about baby meltdowns and the milk stash throughout my heavy schedule of meetings and events. If it wasn't important for me to be there, I wouldn't go. And so the quandary of being thrilled to have my presence deemed a professional necessity while also being stressed about the working mom juggle continues.

My mother-in-law is coming to help T while I'm gone, which I'm so grateful for. In the meantime, I'm trying in vain to store away the freezer stash necessary for that amount of time. It's tough going, given that I've been on cold meds, H is going through a feeding frenzy growth spurt, and my hormones seem to be all out of whack (preemptive TMI detail stoppage). Our travel schedule to hang with family hasn't really helped matters, but my next two weekends at home should help. Here's hoping I can bear down - with H, my sinuses, and my hormones in full cooperation - and get this right before I skip town. Gulp.

So there's the frantic prepping of the homefront to ready everyone for my absence. The other side, though, is something I haven't spent much time worrying about - probably for the sake of my sanity. How, exactly, am I going to find the time and space to pump and somehow discreetly carry three days' worth of milk around Arizona? Also: going through airport security with colleagues, while carrying breastmilk? Oy.

But this kid. Oh, she is worth it. Ten days' out from turning eight months, here's a look back at her last two official photos:


Such a chubby, tall, happy bunny, this one. So close to crawling now, eating her solids like a champ (all hail BLW!), and generally charming everyone around her. Except for nighttime, of course, when she wakes to discover she's in her crib and shrieks like she's on fire. This girl is happiest sleeping with her parents. Are her parents happiest sleeping with her? Not exactly. But these days, we're too tired to put up much of a fight. I look forward to the magical night when we have the power to shush her back to sleep in her own room at 3 a.m. instead of just bringing her into ours. One day, one day. Ever the optimist over here.

My fellow working mamas who've pulled off the pumping business trip - tips! tricks! anything you have! I'm all ears.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Time for some pretty

Work is stressful. Flowers are pretty. Enough said. Here's what's been growing for me lately in my front yard:

If you are a female who logs into any social media account in April or May, you know that spring is all about the peonies. They're so fickle and fleeting, but absolutely worth obsessing over. My first peony bush popped before we left for vacation - this color is ridiculous in person. Can I get a gown made out of this, stat? (And also an excuse to wear one?)

 
I knew a bunch of our bushes were going to pop while we were away on vacation, and sure enough, I missed the peak bloom for our most unusual variety. Here's what was left of these ladies upon our return.


Our white peonies were in bloom when we returned, too. Pretty pretty. And huge!


The showstoppers - and longest-lasting blooms - this year were definitely the light pink pretties.


Next up, heading into June - roses! I didn't used to be a rose person, to be honest. Valentine's Day red roses never did it for me, and I lumped them all together in my head. But discovering garden roses and double-bloom varieties that look more like peonies than lame holiday bouquets changed my opinion. These roses are o-l-d - who knows how long they've lived at our house. Even though they're not my favorite kind of rose, I feel loyal to them because of their history. It felt wrong to get rid of them, so instead we split them and moved them last year. Blooming against the house now, they do look nice - even if I wouldn't pick them out of a catalog.


I bought a new yellow rose at the beginning of the season with my mom - I've been wanting more yellow and these beauties did wonderfully until the scorching hot temps came. I'm hoping for even more blooms next year. LOVE these gals!


My biggest garden acquisition this year was a David Austin rose (two of them, in fact). Meet the Crown Princess Margareta. Her color completely stopped me in my tracks. I'm getting new blossoms even this week in July heat, so I think they're happy in their new home so far, although the plants themselves are still small. I planted them near our front fence, with hopes that they'd eventually hang over the sidewalk and greet pedestrians. Here's hoping next year these lovelies go wild. The color and tissue centers totally do it for me.


My hydrangeas, which line the side yard path start to finish (11 bushes total!), aren't doing as well this year - I think the long, bitter cold winter did a number on them. Hopefully I'm wrong and we'll come home after the 4th to find them going gangbusters - they're already really late, though. We shall see!

What's growing in your yard right now?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Bag lady with a breast pump

In not-breaking news that you've heard a million times before: being a pumping, working mom is not easy.

Exhibit A: The bag that follows me around everywhere I go. (LL Bean, natch.)


Exhibit B: What I look like from afar - a bag lady. A bag lady in J.Crew, but still.


Exhibit C: The mess I haul across our office and into the "pump room" twice a day, every day (this photo taken while attached to the pump, of course).


Exhibit D: The amount of water I need to drink daily in order to pump effectively. (My pump room is also the water room, conveniently.)


And then there's the noise. This article puts it perfectly: Shouldn't the breast pump be as elegant as an iPhone and as quiet as a Prius by now? Why, yes it should. I feel like I will hear this thing echoing in my brain for the rest of my days. So, perhaps, will my coworkers.

I continue to feel grateful that I'm even able to pump at all, I do - breastfeeding has been fairly simple for me and I have a supportive office. I know that many women would love the chance to do what I am currently complaining about. The crux is that as a career woman, I've fought for the chance to be at important meetings, to be on-call, to be a decision-maker. And I am... except for when I can't be due to pumping. And that conflict is difficult for me.

Some days, I literally have to schedule my entire workday around being able to pump. Today I was supposed to have three off-site meetings, scattered throughout the day. At first glance, there was no time to go back to my office at all in between meetings. Could I pump on-site? Drive and park somewhere, then try to pump in the car? I'd have to carry my pump bag to a fairly important local government building - how annoying and weird would that be in the meeting? Not to mention, I can't drink my 50-gallon water requirement on the go like that. I ended up doing something I don't like to do, but will when I have to: I rearranged my schedule, moving my first two meetings to alternate days. I also made transportation decisions based solely on not having to carry the pump bug to the afternoon biggie with the suits. And so it goes. This isn't just me, either - every pumping working mom makes these decisions every single day.

On the home front, Hazel's eating more food every day and has lessened up ever so slightly, occasionally, on the milk she needs while I'm gone. Not enough to really change my pump schedule, but it makes me wonder where we might be headed. Some days my pumping goal is nine months - nine months in, nine months out, nice and clean. Most other days it's a year. Some days I think I can go longer. Bag lady or bust.

The bottom line here, for all of us juggling work responsibilities and hungry breastfed babies, is that there's no single right answer. We're all doing our best and making the choices that are right for us. My battle isn't really between the reality of my days and a common consensus, it's between the reality of my days and what my heart wants. I don't know what my end date will be - I think I'll know when I'm ready, though, and I've promised myself to be kind to my heart no matter how long I last.
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