Nesting


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In facts, the story of last week is this: a baby bird was outside our doorstep, seemingly separated from his mother. We could not find a nest, but brought him inside the fence to keep the dog from grabbing him. His mother found and fed him, but two days later he drowned. Those are the facts.

The facts do not tell about the empathy in my little boy’s heart, as he insists on bringing baby bird water, and giving baby bird flowers because he is sad without his mama.

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The facts don’t tell of his three year old hand reaching into the dog’s mouth to take the baby out, and safely nestle him between the plants. When it becomes clear that the dog would not let it be, he ever so gently picks up the bird and requests a nest. He helps me to carry the bird out to the fenced yard. There he insists on watching for over an hour, sitting on his knees, while baby bird’s new feathers, interrupted by fluffs of down not yet lost, wave with the rhythm of his tiny beating heart.

blog-6798The facts don’t tell how we all cheer from the living room window when his mother finds him, and feeds him over the next two days. We watch, breath held, as she teaches him to fly, and he takes small fluttery leaps, from branch to branch, in the shrubs by the pool.

The facts cannot tell how we all run to check on him every time we return home. The facts cannot explain my heavy heart beating loudly as I fish his little body from the pool, now tiny, yellow and still, without the fluff of his frightened heartbeat giving him shape.

Baby bird flew away, my boy declares. I don’t correct him.

Loss is part of life, and yet, I sometimes wonder whether we expect too much maturity from these little expats of ours. Say goodbye to your home, say goodbye to your friends, say goodbye to the family you just visited for the first time in a year.

Maybe adding the life lessons of a little bird that didn’t make it outside his nest, is too much for my mama heart. I have been second-guessing my decision to move that little bird, just as I second-guess my decisions for my little expats with every move.

My husband assured me that the likelihood of the little bird’s survival was pretty slim outside the nest. I know he is probably right – I found a sibling just a day later, still alive, but covered in ants.

In facts, we know that children with routine and ritual are more resilient. But that’s not the whole story.

The story is that I nest constantly, making sure our home reflects us, makes us feel loved, even as the institutional furniture is the same everywhere.  I nest – building routines and rituals out of the smallest events of our family life, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. Without this nest, our ability to thrive is so reduced.

Two Reasons Why I’m Sleeping More

Let me tell you the two most important reason why I aim for 8 hours of sleep these days, and you should too.

1. It makes me a better mom.

One Tuesday, few weeks ago, my son asked for ice cream repeatedly when he knew it was not treat night (we eat dessert on Wednesdays and Sundays around here.)

“Not only is there no ice cream tonight, but you will never ever get any ice cream ever again!” I burst out.

Before they both started sobbing, I saw the look in my boys’ eyes. I completely lost my cool, and they were afraid. I walked away feeling terrible and tried desperately to understand what went so horribly wrong.

The night before, I stayed up much too late reading a great book. I was just plain exhausted, and nagging I would usually try to defuse with a joke or distraction sent me over the edge.

I apologized to them, and put myself to bed early that night. And then, I gave them ice cream on Wednesday.

2. It allows me to pay attention

I got Mommy brain pretty seriously when I had my first son. It manifests itself in an inability to concentrate well and an inability to remember. I would walk into a room to get something.  While I was in there, I would see something else I needed to do, and not only forget what I came to get originally, but forget that I was there to get something at all.

Most of my friends gave half-embarrassed laughs when I talked about it. “Me too,” they’d say. Turns out that Mommy brain is common, and the culprit? The constant sleep deprivation moms experience during the early years. When I saw this TED talk, it made even more sense – without sleep, your brain is literally full of junk.

The way to a more productive, more inspired, more joyful life is getting enough sleep.  Arianna Huffington 

In her book, Thrive, (an excellent compilation of all sorts of lifestyle wisdom,) Arianna Huffington talks about how she was so sleep deprived that she hit her head on her desk, broke her cheek bone, and needed five stitches above her eye. To me, that seems like a pretty painful wake-up call.

When I have a day when I can’t seem to get much done, and wander aimlessly around my house and to-do list, I put myself to bed early. I will more than compensate for the few work hours I lose that night by my improved efficiency the next morning. How about you?

The 4 Rules That will Make 2015 Different

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It is the last day in January, and if statistics are to be believed, most of us have blown our new year’s resolutions already. Many of us make these same resolutions year after year. I have done that plenty of times too. (Get organized. Lose weight.)

The last few years I’ve shown myself more grace. Instead of grand resolutions, I have chosen small habits that I thought would make a difference to my bigger goals (similar to The Happiness Project.) Get up early in the month of January. Get more sleep in February.

I have become such a huge fan of simplicity, that I am cutting back even on my small cumulative habits this year.

What I find most compelling these days are these rules I follow:

  1. Show up. Keep showing up.
  2. Do the next right thing.
  3. Be grateful
  4. Choose joy and beauty

I still have goals. After all, I used to be am the quintessential type A MBA. (This year, I used Michael Hyatt’s “Best Year Ever” workshop to set those.)

I see those goals as the shining start at the top of the hill – they light my way, and show me direction. However, I didn’t spend hours making elaborate plans for achieving my goals. I’m following my rules: show up every day, do the next right action, be grateful for the opportunity, do it with joy and beauty.

So I took the month of January off and played with my boys. We traveled; we visited family. My only exercise was chasing them up and down slides and in and out of the pool. That’s where I needed to show up this month – that was where the joy and beauty was to be found. Now I’m ready to show up to February with the energy to do the next right thing.

How would it feel if we gave ourselves a little grace period.  Let’s start a revolution. Let’s be kind to ourselves. Just for today, show up.  Be grateful.  Smile.

Here’s a picture for you to save or print somewhere as a reminder:

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Christmas at the airport

blog-5101The textbook scenes of Christmas are all over our house, even though there will be no snow here in Peruvian summer. The boys look forward to a new piece of lego every morning as they build these little scenes. The stories they tell are pretty entertaining for Mom and Dad too.

The Christmas tree is filled with the ornaments we picked up on our travels – India, Bali, Peru, Egypt, Germany, various places in the United States. My favorite this year are the glass ornaments I picked out at Khan el Khalili – a favorite Cairo spot.  Decorating our home is an adventure into the nostalgic yesterday and the geographic schizophrenia that is part of our family identity.

blog-5074Around this time of year I watch one of my favorite movies – Love Actually. The opening scene is especially poignant for expat families. We know airports, and that precious airport scene, well. In the movie, it is Heathrow airport, where families and friends are meeting. Here’s a quote from the scene:

It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.

In the next week, all over the world, parents and children will walk into departure gates. Children depart with visions of sugarplums and outrageous santa lists. Parents depart with too much luggage, the expectation of the perfect Christmas heavier than the luggage, and the worries heaviest of all. Will the children behave? Will the family get along? Families are the best and the worst of places – the one place where we are loved despite ourselves, and the one place where we can’t fake it because they have known us too long.

Then that family will meet at the arrival gate.  It will (mostly) be like that movie scene. Yes, we’ll still try to make the kids behave, we’ll hope none of the gifts were stolen out of our luggage, we’ll wonder what the bills will look like in January, and by this time, the indent in our shoulders from the heavy backpacks will seem to leave permanent scars.

Arrival is what Christmas is all about. If you believe in the arrival of that most perfect Baby, Christmas is about grace.  And even if you don’t believe, who can argue with “on earth, peace and good will to men.”

Wishing you joy in your world, wherever your travels take you this Christmas.

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Right now

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Right now, I am…

… buzzing with energy from the wonderful coaching session I had with a client this morning.  I love my job!

…listening to Silk Road Journeys by Yo Yo Ma.  Beautiful stuff.

…smelling the last of the pumpkin bread baking.  It was good while it lasted, even if it is technically spring, not fall.

… enjoying the last week of silence before the boys are done with their school year.

… looking forward to having them with me as we prepare for Christmas.

…hoping that more bubbles can entertain them for a while this afternoon.  Bubbles are always a hit around here.

…frantically preparing teacher gifts, santa lists, bits and pieces of costumes for the play (oh, that last week of school is always a challenge, isn’t it?)

… elfing together just a few more home-made gifts.  Stockings for new family members, a few baby gifts from Handmade Beginnings, and a few stocking stuffers.  Ambition always exceeds available time

… grateful to be done with gifts for my boys.  We are working hard to keep it simple, clean, and open in their spaces.  If you are still looking for kid gift ideas, I would suggest an art basket – great ideas from the fabulous Meri Cherry.

… writing shopping and packing lists for our upcoming trip… oh Trader Joe’s, I can’t wait to see you.

…choosing colors, design elements, and lots and lots of details for the new Vital Mommy website (to be revealed soon) and cooking up a few surprises to share with you next year.

It’s the little things

Pecan barsWhen we were all sick earlier this year with what seemed like a four month long cold/flu bout, I thought I would be so grateful to breath without coughing or sneezing, to sleep through the night without getting up to help the little guy with his inhaler and many pillows, not to use four boxes of tissues a day (no exaggeration!)

And yet, I forget.  I breath freely, I go to bed without worrying about the boys being able to breath through the night.  I don’t wash pillow cases multiple times I day.  And I take it all for granted.

I took a shower in excellent water pressure today.  What a luxury that would have been in Egypt!  I have not been harassed or groped since leaving Cairo.  How we excepted that as true norm, shrugged our shoulders and went on with our days.  I have forgotten that I wore a warm puffy vest every day, despite the temperature, just to hide myself.

Two years ago, I made pecan bars with pecans that cost $90 a pound!  My mom sent pecans in every care package after I told her that story!  Today’s pecan bars?  About $13 a pound.

I washed my children’s laundry at home this morning – something I longed to do less than a year ago.  This weekend, we will decorate our house for Christmas, with a big tree and lots of decorations.  A far cry from the sad ten inch tree and lonely christmas we spent in a hotel last year.

I have seen incredible wonders – the pyramids in Egypt, Borobudur in Indonesia, Cusco, the herds of elephants in Kruger Park, the Okavango, the Grand Canyon.  The smiles on my little boys’ faces.  Beauty everywhere.

How quickly I forget.  How quickly I take these things for granted.  Today, I am thankful for the things, little and big, that I usually take for granted.  Grateful for breathing easily, taking hot showers, choosing my outfit based on what’s suitable for the day, grateful for the laundry, a kitchen where I can cook a meal to share with family and friends tomorrow.

Won’t you join me?  What are you taking for granted today?

A dog’s life

365-1784When we first got married, I moved to Washington to be where my husband’s job was. In the midst of a recession, it took me five months to find a job, and I was home alone in a city where I knew no-one. I was terrified to go anywhere or do anything since I did not want to spend any money, and probably cleaned our little one bedroom apartment a bit obsessively, if not very well. My new husband was at work all day, and probably got an earful when he came home at night. As stressful as those first months of getting used to living with someone can be, being without any other resources probably didn’t help.

73220552905_0_ALBMy husband, smart man that he is, got me a dog. This dog. I was in love with her from the start, and training, walking, and playing with her, improved those lonely months tremendously.  Not to mention that German Shorthair Pointers are known as clowns.  She is funny! (But not nearly as funny as I looked when she dragged my through the snow and ice for about 10 feet that first winter!)

Research has shown that having a pet can boost your mood, lower your blood pressure, fight depression, and improve you physical fitness. From personal experience I can tell you that this pup can entertain a two year old, chase monsters from under the bed and in closets (and keep them out!), and make all of us laugh at her antics. What’s not to love?

We are so grateful that you are still with us Uti, despite bumpy world travels and 11 long and happy dog years.

Imagination (and toys)

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Oh, going to space from the back yard.

Every parent knows the lure of the cardboard box right?  My sons prove again and again that the box is always more valuable than the content when it comes to toys.  I am such a huge fan of Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne.  Kids really thrive when I am intentional in giving then more simplicity, less choices, and more unstructured play time.

I try to enforce some simple toy rules.

1.  We edit constantly.  Toys are rotated so that there is never more in the toy cabinet than they can clean up easily at the end of the day.  We keep toys in canvas bins, and when one bin comes down to the accessible part of the toy closet, another goes up and out of reach.

2.  We try to be intentional with the toys we buy.  I like toys that are durable, don’t require batteries, and can be used in many different ways.  We have not gone plastic free by any means, although I do love wooden toys.

blog-46673.  Open ended toys rule.  We have always loved Lego around here – my son got his first box of duplo when he was nine months, and has no graduated to “big kid lego.”  Of course, his younger brother is still firmly in the duplo age, but refuses to be left behind.  In the last week, there has been lego fish (and sharks and whales, and a hermit crab).  Before that it was museums (with restaurants) – pictures above.

4.  Dress up is not for girls only.  We have a pretty large collection of halloween costumes (a few picked up after halloween on sale) and several mama made costumes, along with scarves, hats, swords and shields, and many of the other bits and pieces that make pretend play so much fun.

The last load of cloth diapers

lastdiapersThat was my last load of cloth diapers.  While we’re not diaper free yet, his preschool asked for pull-ups, and at home we are using underwear.

It’s a little bittersweet.  My boys are getting so big, and I can’t help but realize that everything they learn to do for themselves brings them that much closer to leaving the nest.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves shall we?

For now, I’m very grateful not to have to scrape and scrub dirty diapers.  ‘Nough said.

What are you grateful for today?  Please share in the comments.

Our art collection

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Doesn’t that sound fancy?  But once you hear my definition, I bet you will realize you have an art collection too!

My husband has collected antique prints and maps for a long time, and also had several art pieces when we got married.  His mom curates an art museum after all!

Since then, we have been acquiring more at a steady clip.  We asked for a piece of art from our families as a wedding gift – a gorgeous pastel that reminds me of my family and native South Africa.  Some of my favorite things are cheap little pieces I collected during my travels – a carved mirror from Bali, colorful cityscapes from Rio De Janeiro, and some miniatures from Rajasthan.

I’m lucky too –  my father is a spectacular photographer and we have several of his magnificent landscapes around our house.

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We have been “surprising” each other with paintings for birthdays and anniversaries, and have vowed to acquire a nice painting from each country where we live.  (Our souvenir from Egypt is at the top.)  The one directly above was purchased recently from Noche de Arte, a charity art show put on by the U.S. Embassy Association here in Lima.

Our collection certainly won’t rival the Louvre, or my beloved National Gallery in Washington, but it brings beauty and joy to my life daily.  I’m grateful to have a home filled with lovely things that remind us of people and places we have known.