Thursday, July 24, 2014

The livin’ is easy

PoolSisters

You know what they say (or sing?) about summertime…the livin’ is easy. I think that’s what’s happening here. There’s a certain lethargy to our motion and intentions when the temperatures soar. I find my go-getter ambition quickly vaporizes like water on a scalding July sidewalk. The homebodies that are my girls are perfectly fine with it, as we spend our days lounging/playing/bickering inside our house until the evening, when the only thing that would lure them outside is the pool.

And perhaps that’s how Little Miss, who could already swim confidently on her own last summer, is now mastering tricks like cannonballs and handstands in the water as well as diving into the depths to retrieve items from the bottom of the pool for her little sitter. Sometimes I marvel at my 5.5-year-old, who approaches the things she enjoys with such gusto.

Like reading. She devours books, finishing one, sometimes two, at each sitting while Pickle naps. Even though she hasn’t started kindergarten, she is already easily reading Roald Dahl’s books – “Witches”, “James & the Giant Peach”, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” – on her own, and is now working through the “How to Train your Dragon” and “Nancy Drew” series. Sometimes, at naptime, we’ll sit together to read, and often times, while we’re shopping, she’ll disappear into a corner at the store, perfectly content with a book she unearths from one of the aisles, oblivious to the world around her. It’s a wonderful thing.

TargetReading 

 

Pickle, on the other hand, continues to make us laugh every day. If we had a family yearbook, I would write, “Most likely to be class clown” for her, but the thing about trying to live in the moment is that I don’t pause to record everything she says, and consequently, with my aging brain, the details disintegrate with time. My three-year-old is funny and when she’s around, I find myself laughing a lot, that much I remember. I may even have told her that because now, when our friends laugh at her antics, she tells them, “I’m silly sometimes; I’m like a clown.” But maybe she really is that self-aware, because on our way home in the car the other day, I asked, “how did you know the answer to this?” and she answered, without skipping a beat, “Because I’m special.”

Well, then. I couldn’t argue with that.

* * *


As hot as it has been, we are still miraculously enjoying a mild Austin summer. We were warned by several people that we’re going to hate it here when the temperatures climb to the triple digits and stay there for days, weeks, even months (gasp!), and I braced myself for it. Since June, we’ve been waiting for that infamous hot summer, except we’re still waiting. I’m beginning to think that Austinites are fabricating scary stories to keep transplants like us out. And who can blame them? With an average of 120 people moving into this city everyday, making this the fastest growing city in America, Austin’s infrastructure hasn’t quite caught up to the rapid changes that come with population explosion. People are complaining that the traffic congestion at rush hour is horrific because of the mass exodus here, but to that, I can only say, hey, don’t look at us; we work from home. Besides, we’re from Chicago, where it sometimes took us 30 minutes to go three miles; I don’t know what this city is grumbling about.

Because there’s so much to love about Austin so far, we’re also weirdly curious to experience its uglier side. We need to know if once we’re exposed to the unappealing part of this city, would we still be singing its praises? And that explains how we maaaaay have cheered when we saw in the forecast that it would reach 100 in the near future – that’s how ridiculous we are sometimes – but as with most weather forecasts, accuracy isn’t really their thing. Sadly(??!) we never got to 100. We’ve lingered in the high 90’s, going as far as 99, but it never went beyond that. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still pretty hot, but you can’t fry an egg on our heads. In fact, the heat actually feels nice after a record-cold Chicago winter.

Speaking of Chicago, My Guy was there for work for four days last week, and I think I’ve had enough solo-parenting practice to go at it alone with relative ease, which is to say that I only yelled at my kids a handful of times, rather than half the time My Guy’s away. I learned that planning meals in advance so I can depend on leftovers does make a remarkable difference between ending my days with the girls in a soul-depleting blur or just your run-of-the-mill exhaustion.

This time, to challenge myself (because who doesn’t love a challenge?), I decided to tackle a small house project on my own as a surprise for My Guy. We had both previously agreed that the particular red at the bottom half of the dining room and the ornate molding were just not doing it for us, but to overhaul the room would be too elaborate a task for this time. I’m crazy, but not that crazy. So I decided to only paint over the red as an interim solution, thanks to My Guy’s mom, who suggested that it would help subdue the colors and the molding, and she was right!

BEFORE

 RedRoom

 

 

RedRoomWide

 

 

AFTER


WhiteRoom


WhiteRoomWide

 

It took me about four hours while the girls were away in preschool, and when they walked in that evening, they immediately noted that, “something is different about this room.” Pickle was the one who finally pointed out that “it’s the walls!” They were asked to keep this from their daddy, and they did. Miraculously.

When he walked in the next day, he noticed instantly, which didn’t surprise me since he is usually the more observant one, and, luckily, he was happy with it, even if my girls weren’t — “But I like the red!” They also think we should live in castles and wear bright pink ball gowns, so forgive me if I don’t take their personal preferences too seriously.

Despite the mixed reviews, it was an immensely rewarding accomplishment, even if it’s just a mini project. It’s so satisfying to cross items off the checklist, no matter how small. Next on the list of house projects is probably our master bedroom, which has the similar football team colors like our dining room did. Except they’re on the trayed ceiling (Ugh!), and I am just not that ambitious right now.

It’s glorious summertime, after all, and I’m going to go with livin’ easy. Wouldn’t you?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Magic

I read a post today from the talented Lindsey Mead that struck a chord with me, specifically at the end, where she admits: “It isn’t that I’m paying attention because my life is magic. It’s that my life is magic because I’m paying attention.” Yes! Yes! I thought. Exactly that. I’ve not been writing much lately, mostly because summer has taken over our days, but I was also feeling a little self-conscious about my posts. What do I even write about? Things are pretty much the same ole, same ole around here. We continue to explore this new-to-us city, we occasionally host friends from Chicago and experience Austin through their eyes, and we march, no, saunter to the lackadaisical beat of the drum.

Yet, here I am, happy, content. And somehow it makes sense. Being a transplant makes me acutely aware of our surroundings; I am constantly looking for things to resonate with us, desperately seeking validation that yes, Austin is it. Because of that, my eyes are wide open, noticing the big and small, the details that confirm what we’d hoped, that Austin is good for us.

Things are still so new that this city and our discovery of it is all-encompassing. Every new friend made, new route home becomes a significant mark on this blank slate. And noticing these things creates the extra in my ordinary. Like how the fawn gallops gracefully and quietly behind her mother to hide from me on my morning run, how the merest sight of rain after its absence for over three weeks has me dancing a euphoric jig, and how the playground feels pleasantly cool under the shade of live oak trees despite the blazing sun.  


swinging


Of course, just as Lindsey says about her kids, a lot of this has to do with noticing how my children experience this world, seeing how everything unfolds before their fresh, curious eyes. Summer is already a magical time, but with kids it’s even more so. I’m often moved by their infectious delight with ice cream to indulge in a scoop of my own, to listen to the chorus of cicadas in our backyard as they play the season’s anthem, to jump in the pool with my girls even when I dread the work that comes before (swimsuits, hair, sunscreen) and after (shower, hair, lotion, hang suits and towels to dry).

Lindsey’s post also mentions how she loves watching her kids sleep, and I have to say, there’s not much that tops that for me either. I think it’s funny that on a day that I read this, our evening was all about sleep—too much and too little rolled into one. A busy morning led to a delayed naptime, and while waiting for them to rise, I also crawled in beside my 5.5-year-old, who took a rare nap, and might have dozed off for a few minutes myself. But when I sent My Guy in to rouse the little one, he never came back. Something told me I’d lost him to the sweet folds of slumber too, although who can blame him? Laying beside sleeping children is pretty magical, after all.

 A family that naps together…

photo 1 (80)

 

SleepingPickle

 

 

photo 2 (76) 

The thing about summer is that even if the kids nap late, there’s plenty more daylight with which to entertain them when they’re wired from too much sleep. Naturally, on a 95-degree day, the pool was on the agenda, but seeing that fatigue was nowhere in sight even after a prolonged stint in the water, we decided on a pajama walk around the neighborhood, where we stopped and talked to a neighbor and waved at a man who waved back while paragliding above us. What we also didn’t expect to see, because the girls were often in bed an hour before this time everyday, was the sunset.

We turned onto a street we seldom used, and My Guy gasped. Lo and behold, just above the hills beyond the pristine lawns and Texas-sized homes was the brilliantly round, orange sun. It took less than three minutes from the time the sun hit the horizon to the time it disappeared completely into it, but there we stood, holding each other, mesmerized by the evening’s final act right before our eyes. 

Had we not noticed, it would have been any other ordinary evening. But we did, and that made all the difference.

 

SunsetWalk

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Tourists

IMG_20140706_164332
There’s never a dull moment around here…


This week, we’re playing hosts to friends from Chicago. They’re our second guests; the first arrived from Chicago two weeks ago, and we’ll be hosting another in a couple of weeks. In between all of that, we also had a little Fourth of July pool party with our local friends, and we’re planning an ice cream social to get to know our neighbors in the next week or so.

All that to say, things are a little summer-hectic in the Landed household, which means we’re busy in a really good way, with friends old and new bridging the gap between our previous and current lives. It’s been wonderful to see familiar faces on this side of the world, and while we’ve been showing them some parts of Austin that we know, we’ve also ventured into unknown territory with them. Tourists, all of us.

It’s both exciting and affirming for us, because the more we see of this city, the more settled and happy we are with our decision to be here. Sure, we miss Chicago like crazy sometimes, but that’s a given. You can’t be someplace for 16 years without it having a hold on you in some way.

Thankfully, we have plenty with which to distract ourselves, and here are the highlights:

The weather
 photo 4


After years of weather that fluctuates quite a bit from day to day, it’s nice to see that, even if it’s a bit warmer than I like, it’s consistent here and that summer is summer—hot and sunny. When it’s this predictable, it’s easier to establish a routine, like explore the outside in the mornings, stay in for the afternoon to avoid the peak heat, and swim in the evenings. Not a bad way to enjoy the season, if you ask me.

 

 

Fourth of July

 

photo 2 (71) 
I asked My Guy to get some kind of 4th of July decoration, and he came home with a flag. I suppose that works. Together with the trifle that the girls and I made, we were all set with the festive making. Yes, we’re all about subtlety here, folks.

 

photo 3 (48)

  Good times



 IMG_20140704_193237

Sparklers now, fireworks later in the evening, although Little Miss and I were the only ones who drove to see it; the other two passed out in bed.


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First time for everything


 

Touristing


   
photo 1 (77)

A toast to our long-distance friendship


photo 2 (73)

Summer, the ATX way – water and more water


photo 1 (76)

My brave little explorer

 

 

photo 2 (72)

Drinks at sunset (while My Guy puts three kids to bed at home – he’s sweet like that)



 
photo 4 (46)

The girls’ first time at the Texas State Capitol. They wanted to see the inside of the big domed building; I wanted the air-conditioning. Everyone wins.




photo 5 (24) 

The House Chamber and Gallery



photo 3 (49)

The Lone Star


 



photo 3 (50) 

Outdoor BBQ and live music – can’t get any more Austin than this



photo 4 (47)

Friends since high school, and now business partners



photo 5 (25)

This is accompanied by fancy cocktails; it’s our kind of double-date night




photo 5 (23)

Yes, the meat was as good as it looks. I like that the restaurant, Freedmen’s, is housed in a historic building, built by freed slaves. Hence its name.

 

Tonight, there will be some sunset drinks again, and we hope to hit a different nature trail or two with our friends before they leave this Friday. I love that, despite the hot season, we can still always find something to do here. Everyone eventually learns to adapt to their environment, after all. Burning sun? Find shade and water. And BBQ, apparently. Clearly, we’re adapting well.

A flurry of activities in the heat also means the girls and I are now a deeper shade of brown and My Guy is, well, a little less white. Growing up in Malaysia, having fair skin was prized above all features –“Look! She’s so fair, so pretty,” and sometimes I catch myself cringing at my darkened arms until I remember where I am and snap out of it: Wait a minute, who cares? Now, I look at our skin that is turning a deeper, richer shade with each day, and what I see is the evidence of a summer well spent.

And that is a beautiful thing.


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Thursday, June 26, 2014

This is a harsh place

TexasBigSky

“Texas is a pretty harsh place,” said a native Texan – My Guy’s friend – when he stopped by our house for dinner one evening this week. There’s brutally hot weather, craggy limestone, humid gulf stream, wild animals (deer and bunnies don’t count, apparently), and drought. I also added quietly to myself, and too many Republicans.

While what he was saying wasn’t news, he also said it with a lot of pride, as most Texans do. I looked at My Guy and gave him the I can’t believe you brought me to Texas look, followed by the I’m going to kill you glare when his friend went into the particulars of critters we may have to watch out for when innocently traipsing along a nature trail. GAH!

I’m trying. I really am. After I wrote the post about pushing myself to confront my own irrational fears to model a healthy relationship with nature for my girls, I have gone out of my way to step out of my own comfort zone to do the things from which I would normally shrink away. And so I say yes to treks in forest-y greenbelts, wade in natural bodies of water, and continue to cultivate our yard, digging into the soil with my bare hands, holding my breath with each event, wondering what I might find.

So far, I have only discovered beauty. Harsh, yes, but in a beautiful way. In a way that says, yes, we get it, we’re kinda screwed, but we’re going to use the hand that nature dealt us and we’re going to make something of it. And that it did. Maybe that’s why Texans are so damned proud of their country state – despite the odds, they don’t just survive this place; they own it.

We’re not quite there yet, but, like I said, at least I’m trying. My girls, on the other hand, may love the trails and anything to do with water, but that’s about it for them. When it comes to our own yard, I think they forget it’s even there. Perhaps having the first part of their lives confined to the walls of our Chicago apartment without an outdoor space to call our own had shaped them to believe that their play zone belongs indoors. The only reason they’re outside now is for the pool, so for four days a week, you might spy them outside in their swim gear. The other three days, including the days I’m home all day with them? They’re inside. Underfoot.


photo 2 (69)

I make dinner; they play Chutes and Ladders.

 

I remind them to go outside to play, and they say, “no thank you.” I coax them, and they respond with “I don’t want to.” Even the shiny quarter with which I bribe them if they helped me weed has lost its luster for them. And now I’m running out of ideas.

Even though I didn’t have a yard growing up in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, my parents expected me to play outside, and boy, did I. In fact, I remember my mom having to search our neighborhood to find me and threatening to spank me in front of my friends because I almost never went home on time. I was too busy playing with four of the eight girls who lived next door, a Chinese family who we suspected was trying really hard to have a boy but never succeeded, but hey, more playmates for this only child. We played catch in football (ahem, soccer) fields, looked for tadpoles in puddles after a thunderstorm, played pretend games in alleys, mastered hopscotch and jumped over ropes made with rubber bands on sidewalks, and hurled ourselves off concrete stairs and down to the ground to see who could jump off from the most steps without hurting ourselves. If you’re wondering, no one ever got hurt, but I can’t imagine allowing my girls to do the same now—isn’t that funny?

There wasn’t much nature in that concrete jungle, but, as you can tell, we made it work. From age 7, I roamed the urban landscape as freely as one would in the country, but here we are, with our fenced in yards and manicured lawns, and rarely do I see elementary aged kids walking by themselves in our neighborhood. Or anywhere for that matter. But my challenge is worse: my girls won’t even leave the house!

These days, they’re perfectly content to color in their little creative corner that I’ve carved out in the living room just for them, and lately, they’ve been obsessed with this magnet game that they’ve had since Little Miss was three. They’ve showed little interest in this game for over two years, and now they collaborate to create different things, based on cards that show them where the pieces go to create a ladybug, a giraffe, a crane, a house, a person on bike, etc. A couple of days ago, Little Miss decided to come up with her own design and showed us this: “This is me and Pickle with a hat on our head; we’re sitting on a high stool at a restaurant, eating together.”



photo 4 (44)

 

I have to say, I was impressed.

I suppose there is an advantage to playing indoors. They finally play with their own toys now, especially ones that have been neglected for ages. Because there’s strength in numbers, they both choose to decline my invitation to go outside, they choose to play inside together, and more often than not, it results in a couple of hours of harmonious existence in our family. Last weekend, when My Guy and I were outside with our yard work, they stayed inside and entertained themselves for OVER. TWO. HOURS.

You don’t understand. They usually orbit around me when I’m home, which means they’re rarely further than a few feet away. They also crave attention, throwing pleas to “look at me, look at me” every five minutes so I can see them do the most ordinary things, like stand on one foot (yaaaaaaay) or jump off the bed onto their bean bag (I guess that’s better than jumping off concrete stairs). Instead, they spent that particular afternoon crafting together, which means plenty of tiny, colorful pieces of paper glued to a larger piece because three-year-old Pickle is now fascinated with experimenting with scissors and glue, then later Little Miss moved on to reading while her sister played pretend with her army of fuzzy buddies, and towards the end, they immersed themselves in the magnet game.

It was a miracle.

photo 5 (21) surrounded by books is this girl’s favorite state




So here I am, encroaching on the edge of my own discomfort for their sake, and there they are, retreating to their own comfortable, air-conditioned micro universe, oblivious to the world that’s happening outside. But as much as I want to push them, I have to respect this world they’re unconsciously building right now, away from the harsh Texas sun and away from an ecosystem that easily scares these once urban kids (“Look mommy, ants! Aaaaargh!!!” – I’m sadly not exaggerating).

They’re looking to each other for support, they’re finding that what they have is enough. That they will be okay as long as they’re together.

I suppose, before they’re ushered out to explore a harsh world, this too is an important part of their discovery.

 

 

photo 1 (73) Why picnic outside when you can picnic inside?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Making new friends; finding my village

The house is quiet. My Guy is back in Chicago for work, and the girls are at school. I check Facebook – nothing too terribly interesting. I try to concentrate on my work, but without hard deadlines this week, I find my interest waning. Powerpoint, as it turns out, is even less exciting than Facebook.

Back to Facebook again. Still nothing. I “like” several pictures and go back to my own reality. I feel restless. Maybe I should make the bed. Oh, I already did. Dishes are also done. I look outside and ponder working on the patio, but I’m deterred by the 90-degree heat. I fiddle with the things on my desk. I check Facebook again. What am I looking for? Why the restlessness?

I know the answer, of course. For the first time since we moved to Austin, I feel alone. I’m missing my village - the friends and life we left behind in Chicago. When we first moved here, I knew a total of one person. And I have never even met her. Stacia, a fellow blogger, and I became virtual friends over four years ago, when we both had infants and toddlers and we both wrote to process the struggles (and wonders!) of early motherhood. Though we’ve never met, I’ve always felt a certain kinship with her.

She was one of the three bloggers with whom I’d confided when I was going through a hard time with My Guy over three years ago. She had been there for me, through email, and I could never forget her kindness. Here we are now, in what seems like a different lifetime, watching our now preschool and elementary school kids playing together and our guys talking tech like they’ve known each other forever.

Our families met our second week here, and later, she had graciously invited us over for Easter. It was our first holiday away from our village in Chicago, but her family had made us feel at home. It was wonderful, in fact. We’ve since hung out on several other occasions, and I’m grateful that our initial virtual exchanges have transformed into a genuine friendship in real life.
Then there is my ex-Chicagoan friend, who was introduced to me via email before we moved here. She moved here with her family six months before we did. A friend from my Chicago neighborhood had thoughtfully, sweetly decided to make the introductions so this other ex-Chicagoan and I would both have someone we knew once I arrived in Austin. I loved her gesture, and upon meeting the ex-Chicagoan, it made perfect sense to me. Having someone “from back home” here with me means I don’t have to provide context each time I’m homesick for a particular Chicago thing. She gets it, of course. Her older daughter and mine also get along famously together. Both dramatic, both girlish -- another jackpot.

I also met another transplant. This time, it was through a mother runners’ Facebook group. We had agreed to meet for a trail run near us, and we’d hit it off. A mother of two from Boston who also works from home for herself, we trade stories about metropolitan living compared to our life here in a smaller city, we share motherhood and house-hunting pangs, we talk about healthy activities, and we get excited about electing Wendy Davis as the next Governor of Texas. I find myself looking forward to my weekly runs with her.

So there you have it. That’s all the friends I have here in Austin, which puts me at a grand total of THREE. As an introvert who often craves silence, I’m not looking for 8 BFF’s and 125 acquaintances to fill up my time. A few solid, dependable (preferably non-judgmental, because who has time for this shit?) friends are all I need, but the older I get, the harder it feels in acquiring new friends. Everyone has so many different priorities – work, kids, hobbies – that finding the time and energy to cultivate friendships become a struggle. Not only that, we have to make sure our personalities mesh, and that our kids and partners also enjoy one another’s company. SO. MANY. FACTORS to consider.

While I don’t have any issues with striking up a conversation with strangers (because all friendships have to begin somewhere), working from home doesn’t help. On days when My Guy isn’t also working out of the same home office that I am, I find myself going an entire day without a single word with anyone. Except to yell at the cat for flopping himself on my typing hands or hacking a hairball at my feet. I’m not the only one craving company, apparently.

However, I’m not Ms. Social Butterfly looking for endless entertainment and meaningless engagement. Most nights, I’m perfectly content with a good book and some ice cream. Or whiskey and TV if it’s the weekend. But when this solitude that I once craved no longer brings me serenity, but rather, isolation, it can start to feel somewhat claustrophobic.

I remember starting a Meetup group four months after giving birth to Little Miss to meet new moms like myself. I made the effort to organize playdates and events to meet women who could understand this particular brand of isolation that comes with new motherhood. There, I met one of my favorite friends, and she’d become a part of my village back in Chicago. But forming a Meetup group now feels so arduous. After all, when you have to make small talk with a bunch of people you don’t know, it can be downright draining. At least it feels that way to me. Hello? Introvert, remember?

In my last neighborhood in Chicago, I could walk down my street and easily bump into neighbors who feel like family to me, but it took many years of finding just the right mix of people to create this wonderful village.  Now that I no longer get to walk anywhere, not even a convenient store, and I have to get into a car to drive for miles to reach any destination, the isolation feels even more oppressive.

Yet, I’m not completely disheartened. I am fully aware that this is part of the process. The old friends I had were once my new friends too, and look where that took us? I know it will take time for my village here to form. It’s just that patience is so not my thing.

Maybe that’s why gardening is not so easy for me. I look at the landscape in my yard and recognize that some of these plants that appear to be bushes now will eventually become tall, beautiful, Pink Velour Crepe Myrtle trees.



CrepeMyrtle now



The people who planned this knew that it would take years for their vision to take place. But to get there, we have to water them diligently and spend our time weeding and shaping them now. I spent three hours this past weekend in my yard doing just that - weeding and shaping.

Cultivating.

Because that’s how the garden grows. And with the same patience and diligence, perhaps my village will too. 



CrepeMyrtle


maybe someday


*    *    *


When was the last time you made a new friend? If you’re a parent like me, how do you make new friends? Do you have a village? If so, how did you find/form yours?

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