Marvelous Mama Rachael

22 September 2016

First, Rachael was my elementary school piano teacher. I wasn’t particularly devoted to my studies, but I was pretty taken with my teacher and loved the half hour we spent together each week! Next, Rachael was my high school choral director, a warm, lovely, smart woman who made being an adult look cool. Now, she’s an awe-inspiring mama who seems to have more hours in her day than the average person, and fills them with baking, experimenting, fun projects, outdoor adventures, and lots of music. I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her boys, but from all accounts they are curious, intelligent, kind, and talented — just like their mama. I especially loved her parenting philosophies and the lesson she’s learned since becoming a parent, below. Friends, please say hello to Rachael!

P.S. No surprise that Rachael just so happens to be best friends with Amanda – they are a dynamic duo if I’ve ever seen one!

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Name: Rachael Allen
Occupation: Choral director/teacher
Who do you live with? Introduce us! I live with my significant other, Billy (I’m too old to use the word “boyfriend”), his three cats Mouse-Face, Jennifer, and Sinka, and some of the time, my 8 and 11 year old sons, Oliver and Ethan.
What does a day in the life look like for you? On the weekdays when the boys are with their dad, I attempt to shower and get out the door by 7:20am with coffee in my hand, breakfast in my belly, and hopefully clothes that match. On really good days, I even make my bed and blow dry my hair (I don’t like mornings…).

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If I don’t have meetings or rehearsals after school and get to come straight home, I try to work out right away. Then I have some time to do household stuff, work stuff, or other projects before Billy comes home. Many days one of the boys will have a sports game in the afternoon/evening that I will go to, but if not I call/FaceTime them at 7:30 and we share the events of our respective days. Around 8pm Billy and I cook and eat dinner together at the dining room table and then sit and talk until 11 or 12. Once or twice a week we will watch a movie or have company over for a casual hang, but most often we just enjoy each other’s company.

When I have the boys everything is at the mercy of their athletic schedules, so there is no “typical” day! In between weekend practices and games, we make time for homework and trombone practicing. We don’t have TV, but the boys get limited time to use their iPods for games/listening to music. Oliver likes to build with Legos and improvise on the piano. There is always lots of reading going on. As a family we like to play board games or card games, sometimes bake or do other projects, watch movies, and we make a point to eat meals together at the table.

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What do you eat for lunch? Dinner? Our lunches are usually leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. Standbys are taco dinner/taco salad lunch, noodles and chicken sausage, and most often, cubed chicken over salad greens with balsamic dressing. When I have time and energy, I like to make homemade soups, curries, and anything else I can think of, but that doesn’t happen nightly. The boys love chicken Caesar salad, so when they are over I’ll sometimes grill up chicken for that (this weekend I made homemade croutons too – so good!). They also love tacos, and I always keep apples, bananas, and nutella in the house for snacks.
A book you’ve read more than once: The Little Prince.
Netflix obsession: 30 Rock. I have watched every episode of every season at least five times – it is my go-to for background noise, because it makes me laugh but doesn’t require my attention (as I basically have every line memorized).

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Words you live by: It’s tough to choose just one, but here are a few: “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye” (Antoine de St. Exupery); “…re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul…” (Walt Whitman); “Live every week like it’s shark week” (Tracy Jordan).
Why did you decide to have children? I got married at 23 – at that point in my life, I perceived having children as just… what you do after getting married (and getting your master’s degree). I never questioned it. So as coarse and unromantic as this may sound, it was less like I decided to have children and more like I didn’t decide not to. But of course I’m incredibly glad I did.

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What was one of the best things you did to prepare for having kids? I don’t think there is a way to prepare for having kids, aside from making sure you have the support and the means. But then again I tend to be in the moment and take things as they come – because as much energy and time you spend preparing for one scenario, the reality will likely be something entirely different than what you imagined.
What is something related to kids you were not at all prepared for? Well, I guess because I’m always unprepared for everything, I never really felt unprepared. See above :)

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What is your parenting philosophy? Oh boy… I have many. Where to begin…

Overprotection is disempowering, and empty praise breeds entitlement and arrogance. As painful as it may be, I must allow my children opportunities to fail, to be disappointed, to be hurt – if I want them to grow up strong, resilient, and empathetic.

The reason for a child’s behavior is not an excuse. “Kids will be kids,” true, but my job as parent is to teach them what is appropriate. For example: it is developmentally appropriate for a two-year-old to throw a fit. You can’t get angry at the child – he is two – but you still have to teach the appropriate behavior. That is how a two year old who throws tantrums becomes a three-year-old who does not. Knowing the reason for a behavior is to understand it, not to excuse it.

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Doing what is best for your child does NOT mean everything should be about them. Giving up all of your personal interests and passions to focus entirely on the needs of your child is such a selfless and beautiful gesture of love. I truly believe, however, that a parent’s emotional health and sense of identity are important to raising a child with balance. We have a responsibility to show them that their parents are real people with their own identities and interests, and to provide a healthy model of adult life to which they can aspire. If a child grows up seeing his parents doing nothing but catering to his needs, how is he to know what adults do? When he grows up and there are no more cub scouts, no more sports practices, no more music lessons – what do adults do? Much better for a child to have his/her own activities, but also to see that dad is passionate about classic cars and mom enjoys going for trail runs. Give of yourself, but don’t lose yourself.

Share what you love with your children. Photography is your hobby? Give them a camera and let them play. Like cooking? Give them a spoon. Play music? Bring them to your concerts or rehearsals. Expose them to what you love. Talk to them about why you love it and what it’s all about. Ask for their opinions and observations (but respect it – don’t expect them to like what you like!). Not only does this add to their life experience and knowledge of the world, but they get to know their parents more for who they really are as people (besides their chef and chauffeur!).

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Where do you go for parenting advice? I don’t. I’m kind of arrogant in that way. The boys’ dad and I are pretty aligned as far as parenting, so – right or wrong – we just do our thing and try to stay as consistent as possible. That being said, we are pretty blessed with two amazing boys (who usually make the job easier than most).
Best tip for a new parent: Make yourself get out of the house without the baby as soon as you are able, just for a little while, and continue to do it on a regular basis. Don’t use guilt as an excuse not to. Your relationship with your partner is very important to the health of your child, and you need time away from the baby for that to stay fed, so do it. And seriously… the baby does NOT know you were gone. I would also say take lots of short video footage to preserve the everyday moments… but everybody does that with iPhones now :)

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Tell us about a lesson you’ve learned since having kids. I’ve learned that the song from Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Into the Woods” really gets it right: “Children may not obey, but children will listen.” When you repeat yourself ad nauseum and get no response, stick with it. When you think they don’t hear you or are choosing to ignore you, don’t give up. THEY HEAR YOU. It might take years to manifest itself, but if they know you really mean it, it will stick. Whether it’s an ignored “put the toilet seat down” or a rejected “I love you” – they are listening.
Tell us about a few of your favorite family traditions. As a part-time mom working as a musician and teacher, I feel like I miss out on a lot of everyday stuff with the boys. In a way I try to compensate by making the activities we do together as memorable as possible – by making most everything into a tradition! For birthdays, I make them a special cake, invitation, and video. On Easter, an egg hunt. In summer we get Turk’s knot bracelets from a shop in Essex (and ceremoniously cut them off at the end of vacation). In June we pick strawberries. In July we visit a sunflower maze. Memorial and Labor Days we go to Lime Rock Park. Every September we go apple picking, buy apple cider donuts, and bake. In October we do a corn maze and pick pumpkins. November we go see the colored turkeys at Gozzi’s Farm and make a paper chain to count down to Christmas. We see the Nutcracker every December and make cookies for Santa. On Christmas Eve at dad’s house we read “The Night Before Christmas,” put out Santa’s cookies, and throw carrots out for the reindeer. So far, they haven’t outgrown anything… I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

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What is your favorite part about having children? I am so grateful for the opportunity to teach them things. Listening to the radio in the car means playing “who’s that artist” or “name that musical style.” Hearing about a volcanic eruption on the news turns into looking up videos of volcanoes and making one out of papier mache. Watching a stop-motion animated movie leads to an attempt to make one of our own. My favorite part of having children is showing them how much amazing stuff is right in front of us every day, if only we make an effort to pursue it!
One thing you are doing the same as your parents and one thing you are doing differently: I think what I have in common with my parents, although it is not popular in modern parenting, is standing by the dreaded “because I said so.” It’s a little old fashioned and maybe a bit militaristic, but I believe it’s important for children to submit to parental authority both for safety and trust reasons. That being said, I also talk to them about the fact that I believe this, and my reason for insisting that they listen. One thing I do differently: I was never made to eat anything I didn’t want, so I pretty much never had a vegetable or most fruits until I was practically an adult – I thought I “didn’t like them.” The boys know if there is something on their plate they have never had, they don’t have to eat it all but they do have to have a bite before deciding they don’t like it.

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Favorite book(s) to read with or to your kids: Anything and everything. When they were little, every Dr. Seuss book (except for Go, Dog, Go! which we all hate :)), the Frog and Toad series, Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, I can’t even remember all of the great ones. A couple years ago I read them Gulliver’s Travels over the course of several weeks (I would skip the boring parts and paraphrase/explain the confusing parts… they loved it). They’ve been reading big books like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson since they were in 2nd grade, so I don’t get to read to them much anymore… but sometimes I’ll read aloud to Oliver from whatever book he’s currently on, or have him read to me. Their shelves are stocked with Roald Dahl, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, Jules Verne – they love love love to read.

Thank you, lovely Rachael!!

Four years of marriage

15 September 2016

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It’s become somewhat of a tradition for me to offer a few thoughts on our wedding anniversary. Year one I shared two things that had changed in our first year of marriage. Year two I shared a few pieces of marriage advice. Year three I shared about serving each other. And on our last dativersary, we talked about marrying the kind one.

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This year, I wanted to share some advice from the priest who officiated Lisa and Dave’s wedding.

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(Sidenote: Isn’t being invited to a wedding the greatest?! Not only do you get to celebrate with dear ones on one of the most momentous days of their life, possibly see far-flung friends and family members, twist and shout on a dance floor, and get dressed up, but, if you’re already married, you get to be reminded of the beauty and sacredness of your own commitment. And sometimes, apparently, you even get marriage advice!)

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Anyway, I took several notes on my iPhone throughout their priest’s homily (which is pretty impressive in and of itself), but over the last year and a half I’ve continually returned to one. I’m paraphrasing, but this was the gist: “Human love runs dry, but divine love never does. Every day, ask for a portion of Jesus’ love for your spouse, and do you think he will give it to you? Of course!” There are several things I love about this advice:

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I love that it reminds me of the great love the Father and Son have for John, and for me. Seeing him through their eyes instead of my own is always a fresh view.
I love that I have access to a well much deeper than my own. Even if I am predisposed to be grumpy or tired or stubborn or snippety, I need only to ask — and truly want — just a piece of Jesus’ patience, kindness, gentleness, and generous spirit, and it will be given to me.
I love that it reminds me of the goodness of Jesus, how good his love is, and what a perfect example he is for all of my interactions every day. Just the smallest portion of his love is better than mine could ever be.

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Tonight we are heading out for Italian at a newish restaurant in Durham, just the two of us. I can’t wait to get dressed up and spend time with my favorite person, reminiscing over the last four years and dreaming about the next four!

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P.S. Should you want to read more about our wedding – you are in luck! It is one of my most favorite topics :) Most posts can be found here, and our (biased, but) amazing wedding film is here.

P.P.S. All of these photos are by Tanja Lippert, from our ceremony. Again, I’m biased, but she actually is the most talented wedding photographer of all time – or at least close to it :)

How to host an articles club

12 September 2016

About a year ago, I posted here about the articles club my friend Stephanie and I were starting. I’m happy to say that our experiment has been a success! We’ve met almost every month since, and the discussion (and snacks, and company) has been great. I thought I’d share a few tips we’ve learned since October, as well as a few of the articles we’ve read! They’re worth looking into whether or not you’re part of a club.

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Find a co-host. It’s nice to share the responsibility of finding articles, sending out details, and starting discussion!

Have snacks. We meet at 7:30, so we ask everyone to bring a savory snack, a dessert, or a drink. Since we usually meet at my house, I try to make a warm and more substantial offering, like a hot dip, pigs in a blanket (my favorite!), or samosas. It’s the perfect excuse to try out new Pinterest recipes :)

Gather a group. We’ve met with as few as four ladies and as many as fifteen, but I’d say the ideal number is between six and eight.

Choose your articles. Stephanie and I have each picked the articles a few times, and a number of other gals have shared favorites, too. We choose 2-3 articles on a particular subject for each meeting, and the leader usually comes prepared with a few questions or thought-provoking lines from the articles to start us off. Here are a few of the topics we’ve covered:

Family
The Myth of Quality Time
The Family Stories That Bind Us
Motherhood, Screened Off

Friendship
Friends of a Certain Age
Why It’s Smart to Court Your Friends
How Friendships Change in Adulthood

Food
A High Price for Healthy Food
What Food Says About Class in America
Why are Millenials so Obsessed with Food?

Relationships
The Questions that Will Save Your Relationships
Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear
Love Languages

Kids and Tech
Don’t Post About Me on Social Media, Kids Say
How I Protect My Family on Instagram

Stuff
Downsizing the American Dream
Stuffocation
How Far Can Amazon Go?

Etiquette
A Last Bastion of Civility, the South, Sees Manners Decline
27 Etiquette Rules for Our Times
How to Be Polite

Sound like fun? We’re always happy to welcome new gals, so if you’re into snacking, chatting, and reading and live in the Triangle, we’d love to meet you! Just send me an email :)

Eight month baby favorites

8 September 2016

It seems like the milestones are coming fast and furious these days, from eating solids to crawling to pulling up! With all that action has come some new gear, so I thought I’d share a few things that June, John, and I are loving these days…

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— Like any good baby with New England heritage, June has an oh-so-classic L.L. Bean boat & tote embroidered with her name. We use it mainly to pack her gear on road trips.

— Until seven months, June slept in our room. After she graduated from the Rock & Play at five months, she transitioned to the Lotus bassinet. It is fantastic for travel (it folds up into a backpack!), and we also have the crib attachment, so we’ll be using it for years to come.

— Did you hear about the landmark peanut allergy study released last year? You can order the snack from the study, Bamba, on Amazon. We’ve fed June a bite almost every day once she started solids because mama’s not having a peanut ban in her house if she can help it.

— We’ve been making June’s purees since she started solids, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how easy it is! Steamed or roasted veggies (either fresh or frozen) go in our food processor (we got this one as a wedding gift), then are portioned into ice cube trays and frozen.

— For smaller portions, like if we’re just blending a single plum, our immersion blender/mini chopper has been invaluable. (And regardless if you have a baby, you should have an immersion blender! They are the best for making soup!)

— My priorities for a high chair: not ugly, small visual profile, and easy to clean. The Ikea Antilop is a big winner in all categories, and it’s inexpensive to boot ($20!!).

Weck jars have been great for reheating and mixing frozen food as well as storing refrigerated portions.

These baby spoons are gentle on gums, easy to hold, and come in pretty colors!

— My Mom does NOT like these bibs (I think because they’re too “industrial” for her grandbaby), but the convenience can’t be beat — especially now that June is learning to drink from a cup and her bib pocket looks like a swimming pool at the end of a meal :)

— This little high chair pal was not something I would have thought to buy on my own, but I’m very grateful someone gave it to us as a gift! June loves to play with it while we’re getting her food ready, cleaning up after a meal, or cooking, and it saves us from picking a toy up off the floor every three seconds.

— Our rechargable stroller fan has made walks in the summer heat feasible with a baby. (Side note: between when I made this graphic and when I’m writing this post, the exact fan we bought seems to have disappeared from Amazon, but this is a fan from the company who made ours, and this is a fan that looks exactly like ours. Weird!)

Mamas, would love to hear a few of your favorites for this age!

P.S. Favorites from the first six weeks, and favorites at five months.

June in June: Volume 1

6 September 2016

This post falls under the category of “I’m not sure if anyone besides our family and dearest friends will find this entertaining,” but it’s my blog so I’m going for it :) To mark June’s first June, we filmed a short clip of her every day, all month. It’s not the highest quality (everything was filmed on our phones, and some of the clips are blurry!), but I can already tell this little video will be a Thomas family treasure for years to come. She’s already grown so much in just two months! Here’s a peek at our life together, if you’d like to see…

June in June: 2016 from Emily Thomas on Vimeo.

The password is JUNE.

Love love love that little muffin :) Hoping this will be volume one of many!