Spring Cleaning

"Mom. We have cleaned out all of the kitchen. So what will we clean out today?"

"The dining room is next."

"Maybe we should first have a cup of tea."

This conversation happened about a week into our 40 days of cleaning out our house. Was Wyatt starting to feel like it might never end? Or is that just how I feel about it? Either way, this is the third year of our annual clearing out, or as some people call it, purging. We started this practice in 2014 after I read a friend's Facebook post about the "40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge." The idea is that for the 40 days of lent, you get rid of one large lawn and leaf-sized garbage bag of stuff. I interpreted "get rid of" as meaning you throw it out, recycle, donate or sell the stuff, but the stuff doesn't actually have to leave your house every day. It can sit in the bags until you're ready to take it wherever it needs to go, but all of it has to be gone by Easter. That first year, we cleared out over four hundred of pounds of stuff, including lots of old books and magazines (I promise, we aren't hoarders—that stuff is just heavy), furniture we never used, old clothes, as well as standard clutter. I was so impressed/horrified by what we discarded that I kept a photo of a receipt for what we brought to Recology. When Easter came, I felt ridiculously virtuous for all we had accomplished, and I gleeflully shredded our progress chart detailing the areas we had cleared. I thought to myself, "Well! We won't have to do THAT again for a long time."

I was wrong, wrong, wrong. We are not Marie Kondo, and as hard as we try to keep things to a minimum, clutter happens and stuff finds its way into our house. Also, after that first massive clear out in 2014, I noticed the following spring that we hadn't touched some of the things we had decided to keep. So, when Ash Wednesday rolled around again, we started again. I let go of the one-giant-bag-per-day requirement, though, and just addressed one area of the house every day. If there was more time, I handled a bigger area. If there was hardly any time, I dealt with a drawer. And we got rid of probably about half as much stuff as we did the year before. Because two years amounts to a tradition, we're at it again this year, in the same way we approached the process in 2015.

We are not a religious family. But the period of lent really is perfect for taking stock of what we have versus what we need or want, and engaging in the giant, unenviable task of clearing things out. As a child, I was taught that lent was a time for reflection, and a time to give up something (like sweets), take on a charitable responsibility, or maybe be just a bit nicer to my little brother. Because "never" is not a reasonable option, I can't think of a better time than lent for clearing out stuff. With lent, you get a definitive start date, end date, and a good, long 40 days to complete the project.

But it's not an easy project. Marc and I have had more than a few grumbly words with each other about the whole process. We did the easy stuff two years ago. This year, we are moving through the entire house, area by area, looking at every item critically. If the stuff is mine, I ask myself a smattering of questions that help me to decide whether to keep an item: "Do I need it?" "Do I want it?" "Does it spark joy?" If the answer is yes to any of those, I keep the item. If the answer is no to all of those, it's out. If the answer is "no" to only one or two of the questions, sometimes I'll keep the item, and sometimes I'll toss it. And if the stuff is Marc's, he gets to decide what to do with it. The best part, though, is when I cross-examine Marc or he cross-examines me about a decision to keep an item. Like I said, this project isn't easy.

One of the reasons I hate this annual clear out is because it makes me face how my life has changed and how little progress I have made in reconciling myself to those changes. For example, I have innumerable pairs of fun and fancy shoes that I never, ever wear anymore, as well as lots of blank canvases and tubes of paint I haven't touched since 2011. And then there are well-crafted items I can't use but feel a bizarre responsibility to somehow repurpose, like ill-fitting hand knits and outdated cashmere sweaters from my grandmothers. I think it may be finally time to move on from some of this stuff.

A heartening aspect of this clearing out, though, is how Wyatt is taking to the process. For his stuff, he and I walk through his toys and books, one by one, and sometimes, he finds things he doesn't need or want anymore, which is great. He's also there as I clear out my own stuff. He loves discovering items he has never seen, and he's delighted that Marc and I are having to make decisions about what to keep. Lately, Wyatt has been going into my closet (which I have yet to address this year) to pull something out, like a handbag he has never seen me use. He'll ask, "Is this on your list to go out?" Sometimes, he asks because he hopes I'll keep it, and sometimes he asks because he sees no reason for me to have it.  Either way, it's wonderful to see that he has enthusiasm for a task I loathe so much, and that he's thinking critically about what we have, what we need, and what we don't.

Small Kindnesses

Sitting among hundreds of little humans at the Davies Symphony Hall Concert for Kids this morning, waiting for the concert to begin, I started to think about climate change, refugees, mass shootings, and what being an American may mean today. I thought about how we all need to do so much better, in so many big ways. And I realized that my sphere of influence had never felt smaller.

As we left the concert, Marc (who was still in Cincinnati) called to say that our elderly neighbor, Ed,* fell in the bathtub today, and his wife, Helen, couldn't help him up. I immediately called Helen. She explained that in addition to calling Marc, she had gone across the street to a neighbor she saw was home, but who didn't answer the door. Helen said she continued down the street to another neighbor who fortunately came right over, with his tiny daughter in tow. He helped a shaken and exhausted, but seemingly unhurt, Ed out of the tub and into bed to rest. As Helen said, "It was really scary. It has been an awful morning."

Wyatt overheard my end of the conversation, and he became visibly concerned about Ed. I explained what had happened, and that Ed seemed okay now, just tired. Wyatt supposed, based on his own experience, that Ed had been standing up and playing around in a wet bathtub with the water running when he fell. I put on my best serious face and opined that it was probably just an accident.

On our Muni ride home this afternoon, Wyatt and I talked about Ed and how we hoped he was feeling better. Somehow during this discussion, we decided to bake Helen and Ed an apple pie. Maybe it would improve their day. Or maybe they would just have pie. Either way, we figured it was worth doing. The pie turned out beautifully. We carried it over while it was still hot. Helen beamed at us when she opened the door, and she said the pie would really brighten up the instant chicken soup she was having for dinner. Ed was still resting and didn't feel like eating. She mentioned how lonely she had felt during the day, so we promised to stop by tomorrow, too.

Wyatt and I walked back home and after dinner, as Wyatt dug into his own slice of pie (yes, we made two pies), I noticed a missed call and voicemail on my phone. It was Helen, calling to say how much she and Ed had enjoyed the pie and had eaten the whole thing. Just kidding! They only ate some of it, and "Kelly and Wyatt, you did a great job!" Wyatt grinned, made me play the message three times and asked me to save it so he could listen again. We talked about how it feels when you do something kind for someone and then hear a message like Helen's, and the answer is "REALLY GOOD."

I think the kid's heart grew at least one size today. And while our neighborly pie baking and delivery is a very small thing, especially in light of all the big things that need doing in the world, it's something.

I can't be the only one who feels like she affects so little. But it doesn't mean I shouldn't try. Perhaps all of our small kindnesses in all of our communities could add up to something big. In the worst case, there will be more kindness. Or more pie. Either way, we win.

*Neighbors' names have been changed, because if I fell in the bathtub, I might not be thrilled about someone writing about my mishap on her blog.

It's Not About the Pancakes

This morning we had our first school day breakfast meltdown: "No, Dad. I don't want yogurt or Bircher muësli. I want pancakes! Why can't I have pancakes? We have some in the freezer."

I was getting dressed as I listened to all of this begin to go down. Why no pancakes? Good question, I thought to myself. Pancakes are delicious. We had them for breakfast on Sunday, and there are indeed some in the freezer. But that's the thing. They are in the freezer and not ready to eat. And more than that, we don't have pancakes for breakfast on weekdays. 

I cheered silently for Marc as I listened to him stay firm and steady. He said to Wyatt, "I hear you. You want pancakes. You really want pancakes. And I totally get that they would taste really good. But it is a school day, and we are not having them. You may have yogurt or Bircher muësli. I'll put both in your bowl so you can choose." 

As Marc returned from carrying breakfast to the table, I joined him and Wyatt in the kitchen. Wyatt was wailing on the floor, and it looked like there was a decent chance that he wasn't going to touch his breakfast before we had to leave for school. But Marc and I stayed calm, relatively unruffled, and pretty empathetic (for 7:00 am on a school day) because we were prepared for this flare-up. We consciously do things the same way every day with Wyatt. Keeping a strong rhythm (or routine) makes it very easy for us to spot when something is off-balance, and it gives us the confidence to stay firm and on track when big emotions overwhelm our little kid. This morning, we didn't know what Wyatt's "sads" were about, but we could tell they definitely weren't about the pancakes. 

Our family would be lost without a daily rhythm, and this morning, I was so unbelievably thankful for Christina Perez, Wyatt's teacher and our parent coach, for helping us to establish ours. I remember, when Wyatt was much younger, how we struggled with the feeling of losing our autonomy and independence once we tied ourselves to a "schedule." But immersing ourselves in a daily rhythm was one of the smartest things we ever did as parents because we all know what's coming next and roughly when it will happen. It just makes everything so much easier. On a Sunday, for example, Wyatt (with less and less assistance) gets up, gets dressed, makes his bed, and brushes his teeth. There's a little time for him to play while Marc or I prepare breakfast. After breakfast, we clean up, and then there's time to play or have an adventure, and a midmorning snack. Lunch happens around 12-12:30 pm. After lunch, if we eat at home, there's a short period of quiet time, and then there is more free time until snack around 3:00 pm. Dinner happens around 5-5:30 pm, and then we slide into Wyatt's bedtime routine.

By now, we are so used to this routine, that when we deviate from it occasionally, we all recognize the change as something special, and it's very easy to get right back on track.

Wyatt eventually ate his yogurt and Bircher muësli for breakfast, and we confirmed it wasn't about the pancakes when we learned that he wasn't excited to go to school this morning. We were 7 minutes late leaving the house, but that's a pretty good recovery considering our original 20-minute delay to the start of breakfast. 

Finding freedom through routine sounds crazy, but that's where we are right now. And thank goodness for all of that.






Just Plane Fun

"Mom. Why does everyone keep asking me if my clownfish wheelie bag is called 'Nemo?'"

Wyatt has a terrific little wheelie bag that is shaped like a clownfish, and it always draws remarks at the airport. This year, the first to comment on the bag was a TSA Security Guard, who asked, "Is that Nemo?" Had he instead said, "Hey, buddy! That's a great bag. Is that a clownfish?" Wyatt would probably enthusiastically responded that yes, it was, and he would have shown him the zipper and the retractable handle. Instead, Wyatt looked at him like he was insane. 

Two more people asked "Hey! Is that Nemo?" as we waited for our plane. Wyatt gave them both the same quizzical look, as I explained, "No, it's just a clownfish." They followed-up with an incredulous, "Really?" So I assured them, "Yes, really. It's just a clownfish,"

These are the kind of exchanges that happen to us regularly, because Wyatt doesn't watch television or movies, and he doesn't play video games. Connecting with Wyatt over pop-culture doesn't work at this point in his life.

Our decision to wait to expose Wyatt to media has been a very conscious decision, and it has proven challenging at times. Our decision is based on many of the reasons discussed in this great post and thought-provoking podcast episode, and we're incredibly glad we have taken this approach. But when people find out that we're "those no-media people," we usually get one of three reactions. The first is, "You're crazy!" The second is, "So what are you saying? I'm ruining my kids by letting them watch their favorite programs?" And the third is a sort of sheepish, "Oh. We don't let ours watch THAT much..."

We are not crazy. This approach is working for us, and we feel that we're reaping the benefits of having a child with a rich imagination who enjoys independent play. And our choice has nothing to do with what anyone else is doing with their own kids. The statement, "Wyatt doesn't watch TV or videos," when offered to explain his blank stare at a pop-culture reference, is not a judgment of anyone. But it's no wonder that people sometimes take it negatively. Media in childhood is a hot button issue. At least a few times a year, there's another article telling parents that children should have less media exposure. And infuriatingly, those reports usually offer exactly zero suggestions on how to cut back. (If you're interested in cutting back on media for young children, there is a helpful post from Janet Lansbury that you can check out here.)

Anyway. Long flights are challenging for everyone, but especially young children and the parents traveling with them. And it's easy to assume that entertainment in a confined space like an airplane requires screens. But it didn't for us. The low-tech stuff still works. 

This year, Wyatt was old enough to help decide what to put in his wheelie bag to pass the time on the plane. Here's how we amused ourselves on our flights:


Aside from the mandatory safety video, the only thing we watched on a screen was the map showing the plane's progress across the country. On our flight to Boston, a child was seated in front of Wyatt and the poor kid kept dropping his toys. So Wyatt spent a lot of time retrieving the toys for him, trading toys through the crack between the seats, or playing on his own with his cars or other things on the tray table. He also listened to some music on his headphones plugged into my 12-year old iPod, until the device finally died, giving us a terribly sad face on its big grey screen. I built him into a fort with an old swaddle blanket we always travel with. And I tried doing a couple of string figure games with him, but they weren't that fun--maybe in a few more years. On the flight back from Boston, Wyatt did some drawing, reading, resting, and listened to a couple of audio stories from Sparkle Stories (which I managed from my phone, since the old iPod was dead). I didn't get to read a book (or watch anything myself, obviously), but I did end up getting a short nap and I made a lot of progress on a knitting project. I also had some pretty fun conversations with my kid.

We brought and ate healthy, delicious snacks we rarely get at home. Plane snacks!

And we spent lots of time looking out the window, especially on take-off and landing.






Sending Love

"Can you believe that your baby girl is nearly eleven weeks old? Congratulations! Enclosed are Goodfood Chocolate Ginger Date cookies to help celebrate." 

I like to think I'm a good friend, but if I'm honest, I'm a lot more unreliable and inconsistent than I was before I became a parent. Fortunately, people seem understanding about these shortcomings (or at least they pretend to be). But the fact remains that I see a lot fewer people a lot less often than I used to, and getting together with dear friends seems unbelievably and unacceptably challenging most of the time.

With one good and very likable post, however, social media can help soothe that "I never see anyone!" feeling and give me the impression that I'm maintaining many relationships. It's a good illusion. And even though I know that status updates and photos of my dinner are no substitute for actual communication with people I care about, I will probably continue to rely on the shortcuts that social media offers because they are so easy and fun.

But what about people who aren't on social media? Two of my best friends aren't. Until they had a baby three months ago, I was terrible about keeping up with them because, as I mentioned, they don't exist on social media (and I have become a less-attentive friend). But sometime over the last 15 years of our friendship, these people became family, and I was so overjoyed when they texted to say their baby had been born. I was also frustrated that most of the length of California separates me from them. I couldn't just show up and bring them food on a whim. And I found myself wondering when I'd see the next photo of that adorable baby.

Obviously, these two issues aren't problems. Lucky for me, I pretty quickly snapped out of that way of thinking and recognized these "problems" as opportunities to become a better friend. By making a giant pest of myself by text and email, I get almost all the photos and funny baby anecdotes I could wish for. And by sending care packages, I have managed to supply my friends with snacks over many weeks. 

When I started sending packages, I had no plan for how long I would continue. I just needed to send them love. And snacks. After all, sometimes snacks are love.

For the first package, I baked and sent granola bars that would arrive for the baby's second week birthday. The text I received from my friend when the box arrived was all the encouragement I needed to send another package: "Thank you so much for the granola bars! I just ate 2. Our biggest miscalculation has been how difficult it is to feed us. These literally came in the nick of time...."

Over the next couple of months, I kept sending one package per week. Some snacks were healthier than others. I chose what to send based on what I felt like baking, what we had in the house (like zucchini, or the ingredients for granola), and what I thought my friends would enjoy. I baked all of the recipes gluten-free, because that's how we bake at our house. 

I can hardly express the expansive joy I've gotten from baking (and waiting in line so I can send the boxes)--activities I normally tolerate or even loathe. I'm not quitting social media anytime soon, but all this real life making, sending and connecting has been a refreshing reminder of what friendship can be.

Here are the snacks I sent, including links and my personal recipe notes or substitutions.

Smitten Kitchen Thick, Chewy Granola Bars -- I use hemp seeds, chocolate chips, dried cherries, and pumpkin seeds. These bars are even better with coconut oil substituted for the butter. I skip the corn syrup and add a bit more maple syrup or honey instead.

Elana's Pantry Blueberry Mini-Muffins -- I use 2 tablespoons of honey instead of 1/4 cup of honey or agave, and 1/4 cup melted butter or coconut oil instead of grapeseed oil.


Anytime Cookies -- So good just they way they are.


Cacao Nib Cookies -- I add one egg and 2 tablespoons of coconut flour, and I use plain cacao nibs instead of chocolate chips. As Wyatt says, cacao nibs don't taste very yummy on their own, but they are delicious as an ingredient IN something.


Chocolate Zucchini Mini-Muffins -- I baked this bread recipe in mini-muffin pans. I use vanilla extract, not vanilla stevia.

Everyday Granola -- I use coconut oil instead of vegetable oil.


Real Chocolate Chip Cookies -- I use sweet rice flour instead of oat flour, melted butter, and added 2 tablespoons of milk to the batter. I let the batter rest in the fridge for about 45 minutes to give the gluten-free flour an opportunity to hydrate and lose its graininess.

Bulk Bin Snacks from Rainbow Coop -- I was short on time. Wyatt scooped them some of his faves: cashews, pistachios, and dried organic California apricots

Week 11: Goodfood Chocolate Ginger Date Cookies/Biscuits Get out your cooking scale because this recipe is written mostly in grams, and it's fantastic. I substituted an equal amount of my gluten-free flour blend for the all-purpose flour, added 2 tablespoons of milk, and before baking, I let the dough rest for 45 minutes in the refrigerator to give the gluten-free flours an opportunity to hydrate and lose their graininess.