Favorite new artist: Erin Gregory

8 February 2016

My birthday is coming up at the end of the month, and though I have a full wish list, one item has moved to the very top — and I’d be thrilled if it was all I received! That item? A painting from my new favorite artist, Erin Gregory.

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After much debate, I settled on “Birthday Party II,” above, but it was a tough call between it and my second favorite, “Efflorescence 8,” below.

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And here’s a look at my painting of choice in a gorgeous room (that wallpaper!):

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Photo by Kate Osborne via Style Me Pretty

I can’t believe how well it fits with our house’s colors. If I’m lucky enough to land this beauty, I’m planning to hang it above our fireplace. For a long time I wanted Michelle Armas’ famous canvas for that spot, and while I still love it, I think Erin’s flowers make me even happier (and are less expensive, to boot!).

Here are a few of my other favorites from her:

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Finally, I have to give credit where credit is due – I discovered Erin via Morgan Trinker’s home tour on A Beautiful Mess. Here’s an Erin painting in Morgan’s gorgeous home!

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The full tour is worth a look – super inspiring!

P.S. More of my favorite artists.

Marvelous Mama Kate

4 February 2016

In many ways, my older sister Kate and I could not be more different. She is numbers and logic; I am words and instinct. She would always prefer to be in the company of others; I love my alone time. She’ll make peace to a fault; I’ll dig in my heels to a fault. In the classic tradition of opposites attract, however, we’ve been close our whole lives, from playing tigers on our backyard swing set to now swapping recipes and parenting stories. I’ve gotten the privilege of seeing her raise my niece up close (though not as close as I would like – we live many miles apart!), and am proud of the wonderful job she’s doing. As a mama, she is calm, practical, affectionate, resourceful, and thoughtful. I’m so happy to have her going before me through parenthood!

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Photo by Nancy Ray

Name: Kate Seely
Occupation: Hospital-based physical therapist
With whom do you live? My husband Cormac (we met in college) and my two-year-old daughter Tegan; also one normal dog, one dog who thinks he’s a person, one normal cat, and one cat who thinks he’s a dog
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What does a day in the life look like for you? I work four days a week, so on those days I wake up at 6:30 am and get dressed, then wake up Tegan and get her dressed. She eats breakfast while I pack a lunch and/or put dinner in the crockpot. Cormac is often already up and working in the home office, so we poke our heads in to say goodbye and then head out around 7:15. I drop Tegan off at daycare (a center close to my work) and I’m at work at 8. I work with hospital patients all day, which is mostly great, and leave around 4:15. I pick up Tegan and we head home. We often try to squeeze in a walk with the dogs or a run before dinner, and then we try to eat dinner all together – it doesn’t always happen, and sometimes Cormac or I just sit with Tegan while she eats and then we eat together later. Then we play for a little while, or sometimes make a trip to the park if it’s nice and there’s time. Every other night is bath night, and we generally start to get Tegan ready for bed around 7pm.  She’s usually in bed by 7:30, and then Cormac and I eat (if we haven’t already), take care of some chores, and try to have a little time to hang out together, watch TV, or do some Sporcles.

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What do you eat for lunch? Dinner? I usually bring leftovers or a Lean Cuisine for lunch, and I get a salad from the salad bar at work. I like to cook and I usually make dinner – some tried-and-true recipes, but I love to try new things, too, usually found on Pinterest. But sometimes we just have leftovers, and we probably go out or get takeout once a week. Tegan eats whatever we do. It did take about 9-12 months after she was born for me to start cooking dinner again on a regular basis!
Netflix obsession: I haven’t watched much TV since having Tegan, but we did just watch the first two seasons of The Americans on Amazon Prime – I liked it a lot, but we’re too cheap to pay for the third season :) I did watch all five seasons of Friday Night Lights while I was on maternity leave!
Do you listen to podcasts? If so, which ones, and when? I love Pop Culture Happy Hour from NPR, and my new one (as result of a recommendation from PCHH) is Switched on Pop, which looks at the musicality behind pop songs. I usually listen to them in the car, but only when Tegan’s not in it – she’s not a fan of podcasts yet, and it’s kind of hard to follow along with a yelling toddler in the backseat.
Why did you decide to have children? I don’t remember ever wondering whether I wanted kids; the only question was when, so for me, it wasn’t a monumental decision. I think it’s mostly because I want to be able to give someone what my parents gave me: a childhood full of adventures, learning, and love; the courage and skills to go out in the world on my own; and a continued support system even though we live 1,500 miles apart.

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What is something related to kids you were not at all prepared for? How long it is before you get regular sleep. I try to tell all my pregnant friends this (in a nice way!). I don’t want to be a downer, but I was NOT prepared. Everyone knows that you don’t get much sleep with a newborn, but I kind of thought that lasted maybe a few weeks? (I probably should have known better). Tegan is a pretty good sleeper now (Ferber all the way!) but it was months before we got to sleep though the night, and I know we’re not alone. You do adjust and you can get by with less sleep than you thought, but it’s hard, and it’s often hard for a while.
What is your parenting philosophy? I don’t have a strict philosophy; I mentioned Ferber above (for sleeping) and I really like Ellyn Satter’s book about eating. Otherwise, I try to stay calm, give Tegan a choice when there is one, and explain why (at least briefly) when there’s not.  
Tell us about a lesson you’ve learned since having kids. Rubbing alcohol works really well to take the ink stains off a microfiber couch!

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One thing you are doing the same as your parents and one thing you are doing differently: Tegan’s not quite old enough yet, and doesn’t have any siblings yet, but I definitely plan to implement the “my day” system my parents used: my sisters and I rotated days, and when it was your day, you had to set the table and do a few other chores, but you also got to sit in the front seat of the car and got a few other privileges. This eliminated a LOT of fights. (As a bonus, it also helped us learn simple division! Since there were three of us, the “day” was determined by dividing the date by three — if it divided evenly, it was our youngest sister’s day; if it divided with a remainder of one, it was the first born’s day; and if it divided with a remainder of two, it was the second born’s day.)

One thing I’m trying to do differently is follow through on promises/threats. I love my mom dearly (I know she’s reading, so hi, Mom!) but she wasn’t always the most consistent about following through with “you can’t go to the party if you don’t do x.” I try hard not to give Tegan an ultimatum unless I’m prepared to carry it out – the other day I caught myself saying “we’re going to leave without you if you don’t get in your car seat now,” which, obviously, I would not do, so I had to think of another tactic.

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Favorite book(s) to read with/to your little. Tegan has her own favorites, including a “book of words” and no plot line that is infamous with my family, but my favorites to read are Little Blue Truck, Nancy Shaw’s Sheep series, and Madeline.
What is your favorite part about having children? Right now it’s her running to me when I pick her up at daycare or when I get home from work on the weekends and she’s just so excited to see me. She’s starting to talk more now, so it’s also really neat to start getting some insight into what she’s thinking, and to hear how somebody’s view of the world develops.

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We love you, Kate!!

February 2016 goals

1 February 2016

When June arrived more than a week before her due date, I thought all of my chances for accomplishing any of my January goals were gone. However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I’ve been able to get done over the last few weeks! I do expect for the next few months it will get harder, not easier, to be productive, as John and then I go back to work and June stays awake for longer stretches. However, I always surprise myself by how much I can get done when I just put my head down and do it; it’s easy to be ambitious about the things that matter most to me and our family!

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On our first neighborhood walk, when June was one week old! We’ve used the Ergo almost every day since then!

Revisiting my goals for January:
Organize coat closet and install hook for Ergo (closet organized and found another solution for Ergo!)
Read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” for NR book club
Research landscaping companies for our backyard project
Pack our hospital bag
Re-read first chapters of Babywise and The Nursing Mother’s Companion (didn’t re-read them, but we’ve referenced each several times, which is all I’ve needed)
Order favorite Instagram prints from 2015
Prep several EFM posts for after our girl’s arrival (didn’t get as many prepped as I would have liked, but so far I’ve had enough time to keep a good rhythm!)

February goals:
— Take two classes on Skillshare
— Find a new rhythm once John returns to work (So sad about this, but I am grateful for all of the time we had together to get settled!)
— Begin our will
— Resume our monthly tennis dates with Sam + Graham
— Go to Ash Wednesday service
— Read “His Needs Her Needs” for NR book club
— Hang art in June’s nursery
— Invite friends to dinner to celebrate my birthday!

As a reminder, here are my 2016 guideposts. If you’ve posted your goals somewhere, I’d love to see – or just drop them in the comments!

Marry the kind one

29 January 2016

I’m working on June’s birth story, and it seems all other posts have gotten backed up while I work on that one. However, I couldn’t let the eleventh anniversary of my and John’s first date pass without a bit of notice. There’s just one thought I want to share at this juncture, and that is: for a happy life and marriage, marry the kind one.

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The one who has never met a cat he doesn’t love, or a cat who doesn’t love him back. The one who will spend hours with your sister helping her set up a budget and cheering her on in her savings goals – and let her tag along on dates in high school. The one who records “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad” on the guitar and sends it to his niece for her birthday. The one who walks through his day whistling, who hauls brush at your family’s cottage while on vacation without complaint. The one your parents love. The one who will be off like a rocket at your request for more water, apple juice, jello, popsicles while in the hospital. And the one who, as my friend Rhiannon said, will smile at you like you’re the most beautiful person in the world while you’re wearing mesh underwear and holding a crying baby at 4am a few hours after you give birth.

Yep, that’s the best advice I’ve got :)

Marvelous Mama Amanda

22 January 2016

Today’s mama is very, very special to me. I met Amanda – back then she was Miss Olsen – my first day of high school. She was my ninth grade English teacher, and I was immediately captivated by her. Invariably, I would come home and report some insight she had shared or hilarious thing she had done every night at the dinner table. I had her as a teacher several more times over my high school career (and even “took” English 9 at least twice more as her intern) and am so grateful to now call her a treasured friend. Amanda is without a doubt my most important mentor – there is no one aside from my parents who has shaped my character or personality more than she has. She is funny, fun, extremely smart, a gifted writer, principled, tough, thoughtful, creative, eloquent, and many other wonderful things. I am so grateful for her, and so excited to share her thoughts on motherhood!

P.S. Her “day in the life” is a bit long, but I think one of the most fascinating parts of these interviews is the mundane details about jobs and days – I hope they’re interesting to y’all, too!

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From my high school graduation, with Amanda and another dear friend (circa 2005!)

Name: Amanda Fagan
Occupation: High School Principal
With whom do you live? I live with my husband of nine years, Tim, our three kids Boden (7), Declan (5), and Hope (3), plus our big, dumb dog Levi and two beta fish named Rainbow and Bluock. (I know. Bluock??)
What does a day in the life look like for you? My alarm goes off at 5:30am on a typical day. Sometimes that’s when I get up… and sometimes that’s when I begin the process of hitting snooze repeatedly, even though the seven additional minutes associated with each snooze are not really worth it. Shower, get dressed, do make-up, and then bask in the sweet, sleepy kid process of ‘good-byes’ to my babies, all three of whom are still in bed when I leave each day.

They have their own little routines they like to do with me, most notably being Declan, who, as I kiss him and whisper, “Bye, buddy. Have a great day. I love you,” bursts passionately out of sleep and exclaims, “I have to say my things!” His “things” are the following, recited largely without expression but in the same order lest there be a catastrophic meltdown at having forgotten something: “Bye, Mommy. I love you. Drive safely. Don’t let the car bugs bite. Have fun driving. Sweet driving. Have fun working. Sweet working. And can I wave to you from your window?” I back out of the garage, careful to scan all of the windows to look for last minute waving, and if little faces are there, I roll down the window to hear all the “bye! I love you!” exclamations again. I stop by Dunkin for a large tea (two teabags, one equal, and skim milk) and get to school around 7:00am.

My workday is different every single day. In the hallways to greet kids, observing classes, attending or facilitating meetings, answering or composing tons of emails (I spend far more time that I ever expected to, sitting at my desk, typing away madly at my computer), working with guidance or our school psychologists around a student in crisis, working with the Assistant Principals on a disciplinary issue, interviewing students to find out more information about some disruption to the learning environment, planning programs (faculty meetings, leadership team meetings, school-wide assemblies, advisory lessons, etc.), speaking to parents on the phone or in person, signing checks, answering questions from teachers, guidance counselors and secretaries who regularly pop in to my office, and just generally bouncing from project to project to project.

I leave school at 4:00pm and drive to day care (about 25-30 minutes away) to pick up Hope and hear from her and her “daytime Mommy,” Miss Alison, the recap of her day. Sometimes she is delighted to see me and runs, smiling, to leap into my arms. Other times she wants nothing to do with me and must be gently coerced to leave Miss Alison. Together, Hope and I drive to the boys’ school to pick them up from after care. They are typically immersed in some grand Lego construction activity or craft project, so we help them clean up and head for home. It takes me about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes to get from school to home each day with the pick-ups.

Most days, we have an activity to get to after pick-ups are complete. For example, in the fall it was swimming for Declan and Hope on Monday, swimming for Boden on Tuesday, soccer for Declan (and me, his coach) on Wednesday, and soccer for Boden on Thursday. Tim rolls in just after we get home (or we meet at the parking lot of the pool), and we divide and conquer. Usually I do the activity because Tim cooks dinner and packs lunches for the next day.

We eat as a family every night. It’s a priority we hold really dear and hope to be able to maintain even as our children get older and more heavily scheduled. At 7:00, everyone heads upstairs for pajamas and toothbrushing. In the winter, we shower the crew on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights. In the summer, it’s almost every day because they are sweaty, dirty, and covered in sunscreen. We read bedtime books together… and now we are in a place where Boden, who is in second grade, will read the bedtime story to Hope, snuggled into her bed with her. Everyone is in bed with lights out at 7:30.

Once the kids are in bed, Tim and I clean up the kitchen from dinner, finish up lunches, and pack the kids’ backpacks and school folders for the next day. Usually by 8:00pm I can sit down to start whatever work I brought home, and I usually work through until about 11:00. Some nights, I have an event at school, so I don’t come home in between… or I come home to do the pick-ups, get the kids settled with Tim, and then head back to school. Other nights, I don’t work at 8:00, and instead Tim and I watch mindless HGTV until bedtime. Those nights are rare once the school year is really up in full swing.

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Amanda is now the principal of the high school from which we both graduated. It has an extensive agricultural program, leading, on occasion, to some unexpected activities for her during the day!

What do you eat for lunch? Dinner? My packed lunch every day is the same thing: Progresso light chicken corn chowder, carrots, grapes, a Dannon Greek yogurt (vanilla or lime), and a kiddie Clif bar. I rarely have time to get to all of that, and certainly not in one sitting. I often eat the little things first because they are quick and transportable. Tim cooks dinner every night (I know; he’s amazing.). We use a lot of Weight Watchers recipes that seem to be heavy on vegetables: chicken stir fry. Beef and broccoli. Garden vegetables in pasta. Grilled chicken or steak with green beans and brown rice.
Netflix obsession: Truly, we are not much into television and go to the movies maybe once a year. This is life with three small kids. I did binge watch the entire first season of Madame Secretary recently. It’s the only show I watch religiously, on time, when it’s aired. While I realize being a high school principal is not exactly the equivalent to being Secretary of State, I really identify with her struggles to balance work and home, to be seen as a strong woman in a man’s world/job, to work through frustration when others who don’t/can’t see the bigger picture criticize decisions, to dare to be vulnerable when she is supposed to be strong, and to solve countless crises (big and small) on any given day.

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Words you live by: I’m not sure I have a true life motto. I have different quotes I go to for different contexts. One of my favorites has always been, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” (Emerson) Another one I’ve adopted recently came from a man named John Driscoll, who is one of Tim’s dearest friends. He was a school administrator and was working as a principal when he was diagnosed about two years ago with glioblastoma multiforme. It’s a terminal form of brain cancer. He is fighting hard and is anchored by faith and gratitude. I don’t know him well, but I admire him tremendously. He was honored by his own high school, St. John’s Prep, where he was later an administrator. They noted that each morning on the announcements, he would always end his remarks with, “Try hard. Have fun. Be nice.” It’s so simple but genuinely distills everything we each need to do every day. I’ve been using it at work and have it posted on the slides that circulate through our TVs in the cafeteria and the main lobby.
Why did you decide to have children? I don’t know. I don’t feel like it was ever a question for me. I was one of four children, and Tim was one of five. I think both of us just associated being a grown up with getting married and having a family. My entire life was shaped by having had older brothers, and I believe many of my best characteristics were refined through my interactions with my family. Resilience. A sense of humor. Silliness. Love. Gratitude. Giving. I appreciate my family even more now that I am a grown up… it’s so neat to spend time with my siblings and their wives and kids now. As much as I mourn the thought of not having my little kids once their grown, I do look forward to interacting with them as adults.

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What was one of the best things you did to prepare for having kids? I think the best thing for me was just talking with Tim. We talked about what we were looking forward to and what we were nervous about. That good communication before Boden was born helped us to support one another when we brought him home.
What is something related to kids you were not at all prepared for? Honestly? How mean I can be. How quickly I can be frustrated and lose my temper with the tiny people I care most about in the world. I work really hard to remind myself that they are only 7/5/3, and they are doing their very best. I wish every memory of theirs that is related to me would be positive and perfect and loving, but I fear that they will have semi-comical (in the future) memories of me being nuts.
What is your parenting philosophy? The catchphrase we use with the boys, who are school aged, is, “You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to try your best.” We try to apply that to just about everything: school work, sports, interactions with one another, chores at home.

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Tell us about a lesson you’ve learned since having kids. I’ve got two lessons. First, you will become the reflection of your own parents. It’s just a given. All of the things that drove you crazy about them when you were little, you will come to understand now that you are parents yourselves. Second, kids will do as you do, not always as you say. I see that truth reflected in the behaviors—both the sweet and the cringeworthy—of my kids every day. They learn by watching us, which is magical and terrifying at once.
Tell us about a few of your favorite family traditions. My favorite family traditions are continuations of traditions my mother began with me… reading together at bedtime, carving pumpkins, dying (and hunting for) Easter eggs. One that I particularly love is that we burn our letters to Santa after we write them. We always did this with my mom, and I never questioned it. Of course the smoke carries your wishes to the North Pole, and of course the magic of the place reassembles the letters once they get there. In our first house, we didn’t have a fireplace, so we would bundle the kids up and take them outside to our little fire pit, all of us sheltering the letters from the winter wind as Tim lit them to the sky.

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Favorite book(s) to read with or to your kids: The Otis books by Loren Long. They are about the cutest little tractor and the things he gets up to with his pals on the farm. The Bear books by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman. The illustrations are darling, and the stories are really cute. The Elephant and Piggy books by Mo Willem. At first I thought they were annoying and didn’t quite understand the hype, but now that I’ve read them a zillion times and listened to my kids shriek in laughter, I see the draw. Others we’ve been stuck on at times include The Penny, Blueberries for Sal, Corduroy, Harry the Dirty Dog (probably my favorite… I remember it from my own childhood), and Mike Mulligan and his Steamshovel (that’s another one I love from my own childhood). I could go on and on. We have a staggering number of books.
One thing you are doing the same as your parents and one thing you are doing differently: There is much that is the same: sitting for dinner as a family; insisting upon good manners (please, may I, thank you) and good table manners; enforcing an early-ish bedtime; encouraging them to be involved in sports and activities; sharing holiday traditions… As for what’s different, it’s less philosophical than practical. I think Tim and I both are parenting much like our parents did, but there are things that are different because of the changed times, such as our reluctance to just having them go outside and play unattended and out of sight for hours on end, or letting them ride bikes without helmets.

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What is your favorite part about having children? Parenting is a tsunami of emotions. I’ve never known such worry, such frustration, such exhaustion or, above all, such love. I think my favorite part, daft though it may sound, is the love. The physical manifestations of it—snuggling them at bedtime or in the morning, feelings their hands in mine, holding their sleeping weight as I carry them to bed, washing them, tickling them, doing Hope’s hair, feeling their feet tucked under my legs as we watch a movie together on the couch, hugging away their hurt feelings or scraped knees—take my breath away. Every night of their lives, I have gone into each of their rooms before I go to bed each night. I listen to their breathing, put my hand on their chests to feel their tiny beating hearts, and kiss their foreheads, thankful each time for the miracle of their lives while whispering my love into their ears. I love hearing them say, “Mommy, I love you so much.” I love it when they run to me at the end of an absence. I love it when I meet their eyes across a room, and they smile. Having children has filled my life with love and gratitude, and that’s a really nice way to live.

One of my favorite lines: “I believe many of my best characteristics were refined through my interactions with my family.” I know exactly what she means, and think the same is true for me!

Thank you, my dear AMOF!!