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What a difference a year makes!  A few days ago, I turned 34.  The past year flew by even though some days I felt like I watched the clock tick away each excruciating second until bedtime.  I suppose that is life with young children, especially two of them.  The year was a whirlwind of firsts: first foods, first steps, first birthdays, first words.  It has been exhausting and exhilarating, sometimes switching between the two in a span of minutes.  And I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

As a birthday gift, my mother offered to babysit and my husband and I went out to dinner to celebrate.  We hadn’t been out in a long time because I have an extreme case of  new-mom babysitter phobia.  (I attribute this in part to a wild imagination and in part to my prior life as a prosecutor in the child abuse/sex crimes division. NOT a good combination, I assure you.)  On a friend’s recommendation, I made reservations at a new restaurant in Austin, Lenoir.  It turned out to be a fantastic evening.

Date Night

Lenior is a small restaurant opened by husband and wife team Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher.  It touts itself as a neighborhood restaurant, encouraging  a base of loyal local patrons and sourcing fresh ingredients locally.  The menu is a prix fixe three or four course dinner which changes weekly and is extremely reasonably priced ($38 for a three-course meal, $10 more for the four-course meal).  The wine list is on the expensive side (this coming from someone who balks at paying more than $10 for a bottle of wine at the store) but the bottle of Malbec we ordered was well worth it.

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A few of the highlights were my first course—a roasted tomato filled with Indian spiced beans and thinly sliced pieces of okra, sitting in an herb-yogurt broth—and my husband’s second course—soft-shelled crawfish sitting on a bed of thai herb salad with a vinaigrette.  Yum, just yum.

 

My first course

My first course

 

 

Brian's second course

My husband’s second course

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But the most amazing course was my husband’s dessert.  He ordered the pistachio cake served with poached pears and a scoop of ginger ice cream.  Oh my God. It was delicious.  The cake had an almost crunchy outer crust but was perfectly moist inside and the ginger ice cream actually sent a spicy heat down your throat.  I regret to say I did not get a picture of it, most likely because by that point a) the bottle of wine was finished and b) who can wait to take a picture before digging into dessert?

 

If you live in or ever find yourself in Austin, Lenoir is a must.

“Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed…We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in.”  – Wallace Stegner, The Sound of Mountain Water

This past week, I got to drive to the edge of the wilderness and look in.  My husband, the boys and I flew to Estes Park, Colorado to visit my in-laws.  After the craziness of traveling with 17-month-old twins, being in that awe-inspiring setting was a blessing and we had so much fun showing the boys some of the wonders of Rocky Mountain National Park.  Additionally, I immensely enjoyed the break from the 100+ degree weather we were having in Austin and are apparently going to have until the end of time.

View from the house

View from the house

view from the house

view from the house

Aidan contemplating the view

Aidan contemplating the view

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We took the boys to the Alluvial Fan, a series of waterfalls that come down the mountain and spread out into a “fan” as they near the bottom. The water was crystal clear and extremely cold and the boys enjoyed splashing and saying “cold.” They also were quite entertained by throwing rocks as far out into the water as they could.

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Me trying to get Cam to notice the chipmunk that was holding my hand!

 

We also drove and walked up further into the park for a look at Bear Lake, one of a series of lakes created by glacial melt and water coming down the mountains.  I know this because we had a great tour-guide, my father-in-law, who is a certified hike-master!  The lake was beautiful, like something out of a movie, and we were even fortunate enough to see an elk just a few feet away who was grazing by the path.  The boys enjoyed running up and down the paths and Aidan greeted every passerby by waving and saying “hello!”

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Bear Lake

 

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Overall, a wonderful experience.  I loved showing the boys things they had never seen before and watching their reactions.  We can’t wait to return in the winter and  see everything covered in snow!

 

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IMG_0319I’m 33, a mother of two, and officially back on the market.  No, I’m not looking for a man (I have a husband who cleans the kitchen nightly- who in their right mind would get rid of that?).  I’m talking about the play dating scene.  The meat market that is music class, Gymboree, a park, or wherever you take your kids as a stay-at-home parent to keep from losing your sanity.  These places are chock full of moms (I say moms here because that is mostly what I run into- although I do have a stay-at-home dad friend in the boys “gym class”) who, in between hovering over their kiddos, are also surveying the room, looking for a possible play date partner.   Play date partners are essential to help you through the monotonous days that sometimes comprise raising children under five.

You see someone who looks relatively normal across the way.  By normal I mean to say that she isn’t sporting prison tattoos or breastfeeding her five-year-old.  The two of you strike up a conversation.  Here is where kids really come in handy.  You ALWAYS have an ice-breaker, something to make small-talk about.  “Oh wow, he’s really mobile – how old is he?” or usually in my case “Wow, are both of them yours? I don’t know how you do it!” (uh, I have no choice, and that is also the reason that you have jeans and make-up on and appear to have washed your hair in the last two days while I am barely managing to sport this t-shirt which I may or may not have slept in last night- I honestly can’t remember).

My point is, there is always something to talk about, and contrary to the actual dating scene, its refreshingly never about yourself.  This somehow makes it easier for an introvert such as myself to talk to complete strangers with relative ease.   Although at least with the regular dating scene, you did have adult beverages which really made everyone so much more interesting and deep.  Maybe they should have a cocktail hour at the Little Gym.  I’ll drop it into the suggestion box.  Anonymously,  of course.

This small-talk sometimes leads to an exchanged number or email address and a promise to “get the kids together.”  Of course, all of your kids are under two and could care less about “getting together.”  Their main concern is whether there is an appropriate amount of Bunny Grahams in your purse for the ride home.  Everyone knows that the play dates are for the parents at this age.  So it doesn’t matter how cute or smart that little kid is, if his mom is a total psycho, the play date ain’t happening.

So you leave with the hope and promise of a new number or email stored away in your iPhone.  But how long should you wait before you text or email?  You don’t want the other mom to think you are desperate, that you can’t handle a day or two alone with your kids with nothing but you and a website of “Montessori- inspired” activities to keep them from a total breakdown.  Because of course you would never just put on the television at 3 in the afternoon and beg your children to watch Baby Einstein videos while you lay on the couch with a pillow over your head….

After the first play date comes the inevitable post-date analysis.  Was she totally offended that my boys smeared peanut butter and banana on her rather expensive looking carpet and drank her baby’s breast-milk?  Can I stomach the fact that she actually makes her kids gluten-free, whole-wheat, vanilla wafers from scratch and barely managed to contain her disgust when I whipped out very non-organic fig newtons to prevent a break-down on the ride home?  What about that I know waaay too much about her breastfeeding habits after one date?  Or maybe she’s just not that into me.

I have met some great moms through this process.  A couple of us have been dating for over three months! I also have one that I am reserving judgment on.  She may have swept her crazy under the rug just enough at the first introduction, but some of those dust bunnies were peeking out from under the rug on our first date.  Just peeking, though, so I think she deserves another chance.  That, and I’m pretty sure that by next Thursday at 3 p.m. I’ll meet Ted Kaczynski for a play date just to get out of my house.

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Well, maybe not Neverland.  The boys and I did, however, make a trip to the Zilker Botanical Garden to look at all of the spring flowers and to see an exhibit of “Faerie Houses” designed by local Austinites.  They absolutely love being outside and so I struggle to come up with places that we can go where I can keep a handle on them by myself!  The garden was perfect.  It was a muggy and overcast day, so the scent of all of the blooming trees and flowers was thick in the air and I wondered if Aidan and Cameron noticed it.  They were quiet, eyes wide open and watching EVERYTHING.  I finally maneuvered my giant stroller to the “Faerie Trial” and was not disappointed.

Faeries, come take me out of this dull world, For I would ride with you upon the wind,     
 Run on the top of the disheveled tide,
 And dance upon the mountains like a flame.”
– William Butler Yeats, The Land of Heart’s Desire

These were some of my favorites.

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Later on the trail, a very pleasant woman offered to take my picture with the boys in front of a waterfall which had completely mesmerized them.  I realized lately that I have very few pictures of myself with the boys, being as I am usually the one taking the photos.  So I was happy with the picture, even if I was wearing my husband’s t-shirt and yoga crop pants in public (Hey, at least I managed a shower).

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We also walked through the Japanese Garden, which I loved.  I remember going to the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park as a child when my family lived in California. It was always my favorite place.  And not only because my brother and I got to have tea and as many sesame cookies as we could eat when we got to the end!  These gardens are so peaceful and beautiful in their simplicity.  Zilker’s  was no exception.

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Overall, the boys and I had a beautiful morning.  Of course, the park hike ended when I thought it would be a good idea to sit on a bench in a grassy area and let the boys out of their stroller.  Cameron immediately started sampling the foliage, Aidan found the patch of mud, and then they both began playing with a plant that I am 85% sure was poison ivy.  After scrubbing their poor hands raw with wipes, we ended the excursion and went home for veggie burgers, peaches and peas.

It’s nap time here. A truly blessed time of day in the life of any mother- and I don’t care how much you adore your child(ren).  My boys have recently started napping TOGETHER and CONSISTENTLY in the afternoon for between one and a half to two hours.  And it only took 11 months.  Sometimes, after I have finally wrangled them into bed, there are so many things racing through my head that I need to do, should do, and CAN do that I end up sitting on the couch with my dog and staring outside because I have no idea where to begin!

I’ve decided that on some days I should leave all of the bottle cleaning, laundry, cooking and bill paying until after my husband gets home and after the boys are in bed and use this time for me.  Which means I am working on blog posts again.  But until I finish the post I am currently working on, I ran across this quote which I loved and wanted to share.  I actually ran across it twice, the first time when I was watching a special on the History Channel over President’s Day weekend, and the second just today as I was reading another woman’s blog.  Enjoy.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt

A post for the new year, five days late, but better than never!  I had such great intentions for drafting a Thanksgiving post, which then turned into a Christmas post, and has now inevitably turned into a late New Year’s post.  2012 was a momentous year, with several huge milestones.  We settled into a new life in the suburbs, transitioning from our urban rental right outside of downtown Austin to a single-family home south of the city.  I left my job and transitioned into the role of stay-at-home- mom.  But most notably, of course, was that March of 2012 gave me my two precious miracle babies. (I’d like to point out here that I still refer to them as “precious” even as I sit here watching Cameron on the baby monitor sitting in his crib and screaming at the camera with indignant fury at being told it is nap-time).  We spent the rest of 2012 transitioning from the DINK (double-income-no-kids) lifestyle to the new-parents-single-income lifestyle.  A shock to the system to say the least!  I am convinced this transition will last until our boys are grown and gone and the next transition begins.

Last night we had dinner with a couple we just met who moved to Austin a month or so ago and is expecting twin boys in February.  Talking with them and hearing their questions made me reflect on this past year.  All of a sudden, I realized that WE are now the experienced ones, as crazy as that sounds.  Because on a daily basis, my husband and I are pretty darn sure we have no clue what we are doing.  But after a little more than nine months, I have given up the obsessive book and internet research that was making me crazy and we have adopted a system of child-raising (at least in this early stage) that can be summed up by asking, “Is anyone choking? sick? covered in poop? pee? vomit? no? OK, we’re good.”

Our conversation with this couple allowed me to reflect back on the last nine months of our lives.  I remember the day Aidan and Cameron were born, how nervous, excited and overwhelmed I was.  After over a year of tests, surgeries, fertility treatments and repeated disappointments, the moment hadn’t seemed possible.  I remember seeing them for the first time, so very little, and not believing that they were both actually inside me just moments before!  That week in the hospital, I felt so protective of these tiny beings that were entirely dependent on me for survival and I didn’t see how I could possibly love anything any more than I loved them.  But nine months later, I think that, if possible, I love them even more than I did during that first week.  And it feels like that love grows every day.  If it keeps up on this exponential scale, I worry that my heart might possibly burst at the seams.

Me and the boys

Then

Me and the boys xmas

Now

I am so excited about 2013.  I look forward to spending time with my new little family and my wonderful friends, the boy’s first birthday, beginning several projects and working on several in progress.  I know that 2013 will have rocky parts, just like 2012 did, but we made it through, survived and thrived.  So bring it on 2013!

Fall, Me, and 33

33!There was a cold front here in Austin this weekend.  The high was 91 on Saturday.  If you are not from Texas you are most likely rolling your eyes at this, but if you are you know that in August in Texas you are a prisoner to the heat. Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was hormones, but I was feeling down in August.  Yesterday was my 33rd birthday, and last week, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to celebrate it.  I was fatigued from dealing with the boys by myself everyday, being hard on myself about my post-baby body, and tired of existing in yoga pants and t-shirts that usually had day-old spit-up stains on them because I had time to do everyone’s laundry but my own.  (Yes, feel free to insert the sound of a violin playing here…).

One evening, after collapsing into bed, I picked up my copy of Simple Abundance by Sara Ban Breathnach and flipped to the corresponding day.  In that day’s essay, she was discussing the idea that there is an inner artist in every woman and the art we create is living an authentic life day to day.  She wrote, “women are artists of the everyday.  The world does not acknowledge or applaud everyday art, as we must.  We are the keepers of a sacred truth.  We must cherish this wisdom and pass it on to those we love.”  Amazing.  And just what I needed after a day of exhausting minutia.

I am trying to appreciate the art in everything I do. From singing songs to my boys, to cooking a meal, and yes, even folding laundry.  I am also trying to appreciate the everyday art and beauty in the world around me.  Today, I had a thrill of excitement because on my trip to the grocery store, I discovered that the pumpkins were on display!  I love all things Fall, and I think it is surely no accident that my birthday falls on the cusp of autumn.

Pumpkins!

This weekend, I also came to appreciate how blessed I am to have wonderful friends in my life.  They celebrate with me, drag me out of my shell and into the world when I need it, and listen to me when life is sometimes too much to bear alone.  They are amazing women and everyday artists who are striving to live authentic lives each in their own very different way.  I am looking forward to an autumn (and a 34th year!) full of friendship and family, with beauty and possibility around every corner.

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