This weekend I attended a women’s retreat in the woods of northern Arizona. (I have several posts in mind after participating in the intensely emotional getaway.) One of the greatest gems I took away from the weekend was hearing a woman describe her struggle to daily pour love unconditionally into her family — and how she knew she was called to do so anyway.
This has been my unexpected struggle. Let’s have a real, honest talk about being a parent. Whether you birthed, adopted — or in my case, inherited your kid(s) through a relationship — being a parent is every stupid Hallmark cliche. It is the most rewarding job. It is the most thankless job. It is hard. It is sweet. It is agonizing. And you really do feel like your heart is living outside of your body when you watch a 16 year old drive away for the first time and you can’t catch your breath.
(Or I was just having a panic attack. Either way, I still say countless prayers that kid is safe, and everyone else around him is safe, and they are all wearing seat belts and no one is texting or distracting the driver and on, and on, and on.)
Being a “step” parent has not come naturally. Actually, it has been a really difficult. I came into these kids’ lives in their early teens, when our brains return to the selfishness of toddlers, only now demanding spending money and independence, not bedtime stories and candy.
We’re all in this for the long ride of being a modern family — where at events we sit with their mom, her husband, their step-brother and collectively work to entertain his two-year-old adorable daughter. I love these two kids, and yet I’m hesitant to call them mine. This weekend, I was asked 100 times by other women, “Do you have kids?” Sometimes I said, “Yep. Two teenage step-kids.” And other times I stumbled along with “Uh, I’m helping my boyfriend raise his teenagers.” Or “My boyfriend has kids.” I want to claim them. I want to tell everyone who asks that yes, these kids are mine. I do their laundry and pack their lunches and cheer for them at soccer. I tutor in Spanish and bake their birthday cakes and know their favorite bands and how to make small talk about Nickelodeon programs and Disney stars. I know they love Bernie Sanders, so I pay attention to his speeches.
What I don’t want to do is have their mom somehow overhear me calling these kids my kids. That’s what stops me. She birthed them. She is co-parenting them. She is a good mom and I don’t want to step on her toes. I feel like an interloper claiming territory that isn’t rightfully mine.
And when they are in the throws of being teenagers — it is “stupid” to make a bed, and “stupid” to be on time and “stupid” to practice piano — I want to put on my running shoes, grab my dog and walk away as quickly as possible before muttering how they aren’t mine. They are both wholly lovable and entirely annoying on any given day — which I’m fairly certain is the definition of “teenager.”
In those moments of sheer frustration when I know they would be listening to me if I was their mom, anger takes over my control panel and my emotions boil over in hurry. And in those sweet times when they give me a hug unexpectedly or want to spend time together, joy rules. I beam and nearly fall over from patting myself on the back and how well I got this.
It is a parenting roller coaster. It can be scary and make me scream and my stomach hurt, and I just want to be let off the ride. And it can also be the most thrilling, awe-inducing, joyous ticket in town — which, I am now fairly certain is the definition of “parenting.”
Our friend Sagar came over last weekend for dinner. He is quite the foodie, and is intimidating to cook for. (The type of foodie who spent six months working on a croissant recipe until it was perfected.)
So… I over thought this. We ended up grilling steaks, with carmelized onions and mushrooms. We roasted sprouts and asparagus, made some pesto with basil from the garden and made bread. The bread was a multi-day process, but it was well worth it.
Also, there was chocolate whiskey cake. And it was a bit dry, but I loved it.
Add the rest of that whiskey to the party, and it became a partaaaay. It was fun to spend time with Sagar and his pup, Voo.
This project required using both a staple gun and a glue gun. It was fun, and I’m happy with this fabric.
Next up: updating the murphy valences. These should really be called dust holders. I am so thankful Jason is okay with me taking this house apart room by room and adding my sense of style.
My church is leading a series on money—namely how we have fears associated with money, which lead to careless behaviors. (I first typed that as “carless behaviors,” which could either be a poor financial decision, or the result of some seriously fabulous environmental frugality.) This series has me thinking about budgets and how to save more to help those in need. Homelessness, hunger and refugees are always on my heart. If I spend less on say, the Old Navy clearance rack—on things that aren’t made well, I’m not going to wear often, and I will sooner than later take to Goodwill—I can instead give more.
I want to consume less and be more thoughtful about what I can do with the money I earn.
Fashion is art. I struggle a bit spiritually with the balance between fashion and vanity. And, fashion inherently feeds consumerism. So, I am challenging myself to not buying anything new to wear for six months. Instead, I’m going to be creative with the ample closet I own, and mix and match with some creativity.
This challenge is set to turn that on its head. Instead, I’m going to wear what I have and celebrate it. And in this, I hope to be more mindful about what I purchase in the future. I’m also looking forward to being a bit more polished and inventive—which I will do when I know I’m posting a photo of what I’m wearing.
Join, if you are interested. I’ll be posting photos to Instagram (@africankelli) and a few here and on Facebook. Let frugal fashion reign!
Jason finished up the addition to the garden bed this weekend, including a new irrigation system — which will come in handy as soon as temps climb over 100 and hauling buckets of water gets old. I am thrilled! Three weeks ago, I planted cucumbers and zucchini by seed, and with the addition, I was able to thin the starts by replanting them in the new bed. Additionally, we planted more tomatoes, onions, and I’m trying melons for the first time.
I am thrilled with this crazily (perhaps suggestively) shaped garden. It was my Christmas gift and I am so happy Santa heard me! And really happy we are all heirloom and organic. I mixed egg shells into the soil this morning and sprinkled everything with a heavy dose of bone meal. We are going to have a bounty of vegetables in a couple months. I’m dreaming of an early-summer tomato party, and trying pickles again with all those cukes.
A house feels like a home to me when I can get a garden going, especially one where I’ve had the time and resources to work the soil. I know with time, this will be my best garden yet.
I went to the gym once this week and promptly remembered why I hated going to a gym. If I am left to create my own adventure, I’d rather sit down and read a book. Put me in a Zumba class, and I’ll sashaaaaay my way across the floor like a maniac with no rhythm like all the others. Yoga, spin, a master swim team — I’m your girl.
I am, I now remember, no longer the girl who can put in headphones and happily run along for 60 minutes on a machine.
Treadmills make me feel like a human rat trying to beat some caloric experiment. “If I go another 10 minutes, that’s another 100 calories. If I stay on this thing another 30 minutes, that’s a glass of wine. God, I should be drinking less. Or walking more. Probably both…”
As such, I spent considerable time putting together a tutorial on how I pack a gym bag (which I did five days a week for nearly 10 years, without complaint). This week, I did it once and I spent more time putting together these photos than I did at the gym. I’m not going back. Instead, I am begging my yoga studio to add more early morning classes and making an effort to bike to work in April (with heavy help from an express bus.) And walking Nelson 10 miles or so a week. This is enough. My glory days as a spandexed runner are lost, if they ever existed.
Anyway — here is what was in my gym bag, which is now my new yoga bag. At least the yoga studio has hot water. How do you build such a huge corporate gym and not have hot water in the showers? I suppose it was the same genius who decided to let new people in the gym to give themselves a tour. What a mess.
Bright side? I got a cute new workout bag with an REI dividend and a renewed sense of who I am (yogi, one who likes to sleep in) and who I am not (bone skinny, perpetually sore, runner.)
As I’ve told other girlfriends this week elsewhere, I’m leaning in to sleeping in.
During the last year, the department I work for has been reduced by more than 30%. The work we are doing has been transferred to a different state agency. The transition, all the same, has been an odd experience. I am the only person left on one side of a large floor of offices and cubicles. When I come in, I have to wave my arms above my head to get the lights to click on. I can hear when anyone on the other side of the floor exits. The elevator dings on occasion, getting my attention.
It’s zombie movie strange.
I miss the voice of friends and colleagues who filled the sea of gray cubicles. I’ll be joining them soon in a different building, under a different agency, a few miles away. I’m one of the lucky ones.
With this transition has come a need for deep flexibility. As colleagues were let go, others found new positions. Still others took retirement. Their responsibilities in many cases have been divided among those remaining. And so, we juggle.
There is an express bus that leaves not far from my house, depositing me one mile from my new office. For now, that mile is a nice morning walk. Soon, it will be a hot slog and I’ll need to keep wet wipes at my desk — but I am going to try to do this as many days as possible. Commuting by bus is new to me; I was pleasantly surprised by how quick the bus gets you to and from. It is comfortable, and full of other professionals headed downtown. The price is great too because as a state employee, the fair is subsidized. It is of course the green option, and as the summer approaches, I won’t be sitting in traffic on the asphalt in 110 degree heat.
The flip side to taking the bus is I have to plan my entire day within walking distance of my office. I can’t go out to lunch unless someone else drives or we are hoofing it. And, going to the gym means hauling an extra set of clothing downtown and on that mile walk each way. I’m trying to make getting to the gym as easy as possible, and carting even the necessaries back and forth each day will hamper my motivation.
Tomorrow, I get back on the gym workout wagon that I rode for so many years in my 20s: up by 5, at the gym by 5:15, in the showers by 6:30, and on the bus by 7. I can leave my gym bag and car at the bus stop — which is within half a mile of the gym. So, I’m only carting my purse and lunch to my desk.
I like having a plan and a routine. And I know having my workout done before I get to work will start my day off on a happier foot. I have more work than ever to accomplish, so getting up earlier as it gets warmer makes sense.
Onward, we march into this new professional life.
The people who previously owned our home loved LOVED wallpaper. (And white carpet.) Come to find out, 1980s wallpaper makes a small bathroom seem much smaller. We planned to strip the wallpaper, add a fresh coat of paint and update a few of the fixtures.
And as house projects go, this took way longer than expected and required more repairs than anticipated. However, the new yellow bathroom looks so, so much cleaner and bigger.
Welcome to 1989. Bangs are big, Molly Ringwald is always sad, and Michael Jackson is blaring on the boombox. Why yes, that is two types of border wallpaper glued on top of a base layer of wallpaper. It took a lot longer to get off the walls than we anticipated. (Also, this is the kids’ bathroom, so it is inherently a bit messy.)
Week 2. Yellow paint! Leak fixed. Wall fixed. Kids annoyed to still be taking showers in our bathroom.
Done. The changes other than the paint:
I can’t tell you how much bigger this tiny bathroom feels. The kids are happy, and we are happy to have that much less wallpaper. Win!
I promised my friend Sue two years ago when she visited that I’d sew her an Amy Butler Sun and Surf halter.
And, two years later — it is done. (This project was so easy. I just dragged my feet getting started and I am so happy it is done because it was easy! And now I’ll make more.)
Do you have tips and tricks to keep yourself from procrastinating? I’d love to hear them.
The citrus are blooming, covered in bees and making the yard smell like perfume.
We’ve got two types of basil and some lavender going. I’m hoping they’ll all perk up with the increasing heat.
Especially you, lavender. You’re on notice.
The geraniums are going strong. These are some of my favorite flowers to have around because they last so long, and they are such a great pop of color.
A few succulent cuttings for a friend.
These small palm trees are having some sort of weird sexual awakening.
The rest of the yard is screaming in color. All I can hear in my head when looking at this is, “FABULOUS! WORK IT, GIRL!” (Because you know, sometimes the plants talk back.)
And the ‘maters are in and doing well. I tried growing from seed again this year, but they are just too small to produce. So, I bit the bullet and bought some heirloom plants at the local mom and pop nursery. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep these going year-round, like I did the last year in Tempe. A new garden bed is being added soon too. The irrigation is already in. Woo!
And that, folks, is how the garden grows.