In an effort to get back into the practice of expressing gratitude, here are a few things I’m feeling thankful for this week.

Preschool. My daughter just started 2-year-old preschool last week, and it seems to be going well. It feels so good to have a few hours a week free to focus on housecleaning, errands, writing, etc. while she’s in school. Also I’m excited for us to get to know some other families since we still don’t know many people in town.

The trampoline gym. Cheap entertainment and exercise for the little one! A nice variation from visiting a park.

A whirlwind of motion at Bounce Trampoline Gym.

A whirlwind of motion at Bounce Trampoline Gym.

Fall. I love the change of seasons, the anticipation of fall holidays, and the general business of this season. I really enjoy being involved in lots of activities and many activities start up again in the fall.

Old friends. There’s something so wonderful and comforting about friendships that you’ve had for years. I’ve had the chance to connect with several long-term friends this week. That always makes me happy.

What are you grateful for today?

Ducks don't worry about the ideal time to start a family.

Ducks don’t worry about the ideal time to start a family. They just have lots of cute babies.

Having a child is, ahem, a major life change. Some times of life are obviously less-than-ideal for becoming a parent — like when you’re still in high school. But is there a best time to have a baby? And how do you know when that is?

My daughter was born when I was 28 and my husband was 29. We were among the first of our friends to become parents. Now that I’m approaching 31, parenting is becoming the new normal among our circle of acquaintances. That biological clock just becomes harder to resist, I guess.

We had several reasons for choosing to start our family when we did. We had already been married for 5 years when I became pregnant, so we felt like we’d had plenty of childless years together to develop our relationship. I also had finished my master’s degree and had several years of professional work experience, so I figured it would be possible to rebound from taking time off. I wanted to have my first child before age 30, because that reduces a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. We thought we might want 3 children, and I wanted 3 years between each child, so that would allow me to finish having babies before age 35 (at 35 you become an “elderly” pregnant woman — ability to conceive and sustain a pregnancy drops significantly). In many ways, 28 seemed like the perfect age to become a mom.

On the other hand, we hadn’t reached the financial goals I had expected to reach by 28. We didn’t own a house or have disposable income. In fact, we lived in a small 2-bedroom apartment with no dishwasher and one bedroom functionally unusable due to severe mold problems. So, that was not ideal. But we told ourselves: Our financial situation could change on a dime! God will provide! We’ll find a way!

So how did things turn out? Our finances have not improved. It’s been challenging. Still, we’ve managed to get by, remain debt-free, and even move to a new apartment with a dishwasher and 2 functional bedrooms.

In some ways, it definitely would have been easier to wait to have a child until we were older and (theoretically!) had more money. Or it might have been easier to have a child when I was 23 and had more energy. Don’t underestimate the enormous amount of energy required to care for a young child.

Really, there is no perfect time to have a child, and the best time will vary from couple to couple. If you’re considering whether now is a good time to start a family, you may want to ask yourself the following questions to help you evaluate the situation:

– Am I in a stable monogamous relationship? Would my partner make a good parent?

– Do I need more time to get to know my significant other before adding a baby to the mix?

– Do my partner or I have any addictions or serious emotional problems we should work on before becoming parents?

– Am I willing to sacrifice my waistline, sleep, personal life, career goals? (Yes, you can continue to have a successful career and be a parent, but often one parent’s career does go on the backburner for awhile…)

I asked my husband what he thought about this, and he said, “Don’t ask questions. If you want to have a baby you should. Nothing’s ever going to be perfect.” So there’s a perspective from someone who’s not a Type A personality.

If you’re a parent, how old were you when you had your first child? Would you have rather been older or younger if you could have done things differently?

Though camping is a popular summer activity in the lovely state of Oregon, it had been three years since my last camping trip. Why? Because I became a mother. For the last two summers, camping wasn’t on my radar, even though I admired the adventurous spirit of the woman in my postpartum yoga class who took her newborn camping in Yellowstone. My parents have always been adventurous as well, and they took me camping the first summer after I was born (end result: a trip to the ER after I toddled over to the campfire grate and gashed my forehead).

I still thought it might be a few years before we took MJ camping, but my husband thought we needed a cheap weekend getaway and suggested we give it a try for one night. Which is how we found ourselves camping on Labor Day weekend at Honeyman State Park on the Oregon Coast. Honeyman is a massive campground, so we spent the evening in close proximity to several hundred other families and their (exceptionally well-behaved) dogs.

We prepared MJ for this trip by watching an episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood where he goes camping in his backyard. She was very excited to play in the tent.

Climbing into our tent.

Climbing into our tent.

Tent silly times.

Tent silly times.

The tent kept her entertained for quite awhile. We grabbed some pizza for dinner in Florence, followed by blackberry ice cream in Old Town. Then back to our tent for more play time and a campfire. I was fairly terrified of open flames around a 2-year-old, but she sat in my lap and watched the fire for about 5 minutes before heading back to the tent.

Overall, camping with MJ was an astounding success! She had fun and there were no trips to the emergency room. Hurray! She did get scared when I turned off the flashlight at bedtime and she realized it was not a game and we were actually going to sleep in the tent. And then there was the moment when she woke up in the still silence of 3 am and started screaming at the top of her lungs. Spencer had left to use the bathroom and I began to panic as I thought of the several hundred other families nearby. “Please stop, please stop,” I whispered. After about 5 minutes Spencer came back and had the presence of mind to hold her and soothe her, and she fell back asleep. Sorry camping neighbors! She doesn’t normally do that.

The next day she would tell the story this way: “I was screaming and Mama said ‘Stop! Stop!’ And then Dada feel me better.”

Aside from the tent, I think MJ’s favorite part of our trip was playing at the beach. This was her third trip to the beach this year, and she loves the ocean. I have to hold her hand so she doesn’t jump in and get completely soaked.

My future marine biologist explores the surf.

My future marine biologist explores the surf.

Have you gone camping with a toddler or infant? How was your experience?

I’ve quit Facebook before. After I graduated college in 2006, I got married, decided I didn’t need to stay superficially connected to such a large number of acquaintances, and canceled my Facebook account. But over the next few years, Facebook transformed from a college social network to a worldwide phenomenon. In grad school, I realized I was missing out on social invites that were happening via Facebook (or then again…maybe people just didn’t want to invite me). So, in 2009 I rejoined the world of online social networking.

Have there been positives to having a Facebook account? Sure. I started getting invited to a lot more events and attending many of them. (And then I became a mom). One former close friend who I’d lost touch with did contact me on Facebook and we ended up getting together once when she was in town. Sometimes I’ve enjoyed sharing photos and updates from my life and getting responses. And it can be a convenient online scrapbook.

But mostly I try to avoid looking at Facebook. Because, keeping in line with some psychological studies, looking at Facebook does not tend to improve my mood. Rather, my reaction to other people’s status updates usually falls into one of the following categories:

1) Jealousy. Admit it, you know what I’m talking about. People post about highlights from their weeks, their summers, their years. And Facebook posts the highlights of their highlights at the top of your News Feed. It makes me think, why is everyone else’s life so much fun than mine? Or hey, why wasn’t I invited to that party? Or, Wow, that’s great that your 6-week-old sleeps through the night. Congrats.

On this topic, one of my writing buddies wisely said, “Don’t compare your inner world to someone else’s outer world.” Meaning, someone’s life might look great on social media but you don’t know what that person is thinking and feeling. And if I just posted all the highlights of my summer online, my life might seem more than fun than it really is on a day-to-day basis. Weekend trips to Portland, the beach, a toddler-free hike at Tamolitch Falls, a visit to the Wildlife Safari. Or I could go back in time and throw in some of my life highlights if I really wanted to skew reality and make others jealous.

Look at that! A giraffe right outside our car window! My life is exciting!

Look at that! A giraffe right outside our car window! My life is exciting!

2) Annoyance. Sometimes status updates are just annoying. Thankfully, I rarely see annoying political posts, because I’ve hid the few people who are obnoxious about politics. My annoyance is more along the lines of: Glad I could find out about your important life event via your FB status update! (This is reserved for former close friends, members of my wedding party, etc., not random co-workers or people I used to go to church with).

Though, undoubtedly to me the most annoying person on Facebook is The Narcissist. Need I elaborate? I’m sure you have at least one, if not many, Narcissists within your social media circle. The friend who posts just a few too many selfies, always in a bit too perfect lighting, always with a bit too perfect of a pose. The Narcissist would not, as I have done, post of photo of herself holding her newborn baby after staying up all night in labor — wearing no makeup and not having showered for several days. The Narcissist would however post several shirtless photos of himself that nicely highlighted his washboard abs. If you are The Narcissist, I doubt that you recognize yourself in these words. But if you do recognize yourself here then I would say to you a) Maybe there’s more to life than being really really ridiculously good-looking but also b) Congrats! Recognizing you have a problem is the first step to getting better. Then again, maybe I’m just jealous that I don’t photograph well.

3) Who is that person? Most of my Facebook friends are people I only vaguely know. Malcolm Gladwell wrote that the human brain is only designed to handle a community of about 150 people, and only about a dozen close relationships. So even if I have more than 300 Facebook friends, my brain cannot really keep track of more than 150 of those relationships. And is it healthy to keep so many random acquaintances in our online community? Like, do I need to read updates about someone I met once 5 years ago?

Am I just a cranky, anti-social depressive? Perhaps. But I do enjoy talking to people about the interesting things happening in their lives. I’ll even look at your vacation photos if we hang out in person. It’s all just a bit overwhelming, impersonal, and out-of-context when I look at my Facebook News Feed. I have a hope that if I get rid of Facebook, I may put more effort into connecting with friends directly via phone, e-mail and hanging out.

What do you think about Facebook? Do you enjoy using it? Did you cancel your account years ago and feel that your life is better without it? Or is it a necessary evil?

 

 

Well I’m having a bit of a rough day, so I figure a good way to lift my spirits is to do something nice for someone else and send out some virtual hugs. I’m thankful to Teresa from Motherhood: The Journey of a New Mom for nominating me for a Liebster Award. This came at the exact moment I was lamenting to my husband that my blog was not as successful as I would like it to be and maybe wasn’t worth the time commitment. So thanks Teresa for giving me a little bit of encouragement when I was needing it! It’s always nice to hear that someone has read and appreciated my blog.

I would like to go through the official steps of accepting the award (writing 11 facts about myself, answering 11 questions, thinking of 11 questions for other bloggers to answer, nominating 11 blogs with less than 200 followers), but realistically I don’t think I’ll get around to it. But I will take a moment to answer 3 of Teresa’s questions and send out virtual hugs to 3 bloggers whose work I enjoy.

3 Questions:

1. What made you start a blog? I started this blog because I have always loved to write and had some extra time since becoming a stay-at-home mom. I also wanted to document my experiences as a mommy.

2. Coffee or tea? Tea for sure. If you’re ever in Portland, be sure to visit my favorite tea shop, Tea Chai Te.

3. How did you choose your child’s name? I think names are very important! knew that I wanted Joy to be part of her name, because I want her to be a joyful person, and we agreed on that as her middle name. I chose Marie for her first name because Marie is my middle name as well as my mom’s, also for the biblical name Mary.

Virtual Hugs:

So in lieu of passing on the Liebster Award, I’m giving virtual hugs to several bloggers whose work I enjoy! You guys are fabulous!  Be sure to check out these great blogs.

1. Lemon and Mayonaise (lemonandmayonaise.com): This is an excellent blog for discovering eclectic music. Also this blog has a nice aesthetic.

2. Two Oregonians (twooregonians.com): An around-the-world travel blog with amazing photos. I was happy to have the opportunity to live vicariously through Ted and Bethany’s travels. Start with Peru and work your way back around to Oregon.

3. The Ten Thousand Hour Mama (tenthousandhourmama.com): Another great Oregon-based mama blog about the ups and downs of parenting an infant.

What’s a blog that you’ve enjoyed and would recommend to others?

 

 

 

The official start of summer is just around the corner. The fleeting season for eating freshly picked berries, riding bikes along the river trail, and hiking behind waterfalls. Undoubtedly, my richest memories are from summers.

 

At Tunnel Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.

At Tunnel Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.

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When I was a kid, summer was the season for our annual family vacations. Thanks to my parents’ adventurous spirit, I had many memorable experiences during those vacations. I won’t easily forget the time an orca swam underneath our zodiac raft on a whale-watching expedition in British Columbia. Or seeing the ancient marble formations inside the Oregon Caves. I’ll always remember the talent competitions at our Evans family reunions in the tiny Ozark town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and the time my mom was serenaded by an Elvis impersonator at the country music show.

I’ll remember the glorious summer my parents and I toured Europe — dodging cars on narrow medieval cobblestone streets, standing in centuries-old Gothic cathedrals as light beams down through stained glass, discovering my love for Impressionist painters at the Musee d’Orsay. And I’d be negligent if I didn’t mention the hot and humid September afternoon my husband proposed to me on a glacial rock in Central Park after a picnic lunch of deli sandwiches and potato chips, and our tiramisu wedding cake the following June.

Our wedding day, eight summers ago. (Photo credit TJ Cameron).

Our wedding day, eight summers ago. (Photo credit TJ Cameron).

Even the summertime flops make for good stories — running down the side of South Sister in the midst of a lightning storm, sleeping in our car in Utah when our campsite was being sprayed with insecticide for its mosquito infestation, flying on a sketchy third-world airline that used hand-me-down Hawaiian airlines jets.

I want my daughter to grow up rich in memories too. A family vacation isn’t in the cards for us this summer due to a lack of money and vacation days as well as my daughter’s young age. But we can still have fun while staying here in Oregon. At two-years-old, my daughter probably won’t remember this summer anyway, so I suppose the memory-making this year is more for the benefit of my husband and I.

To help encourage ourselves to make the most of summer, we’ve created our family summer bucket list. I’ll be checking back at the end of the summer to report on our progress. My husband and I agreed on the late deadline of October 15 to complete the activities, since nice weather tends to last through mid-October in Oregon and we’re not particularly tied to the school schedule. The point is to have fun rather than give myself more things I feel obligated to do. WIthout further ado, here’s my list:

1.  Parent-child swim lessons
2.  Canoeing (without our daughter)
3. Lots of bike riding
4. Visit local farm
5. Get off the beaten hiking path (try some hikes outside of the immediate Eugene area — perhaps Blue Pool, Obsidian Falls…)
6. Portland road trip
7.  join CSA (Okay we’ve already done this. I confess the secret to success for to-do lists is to include an item you’ve already completed)
8. Visit Wildlife Safari
9. Watch fireworks (We never do this, because my husband always has to work at 5:30 am on July 5).
10. Attend a concert in the park
11.  Run in Butte-to-Butte race
12. Host 2 dinners (We love to cook and have friends over for dinner, but haven’t been doing a good job of this since moving to Eugene.)
13. Visit Crater Lake

Do you have a favorite summer memory you’d like to share? Or, do you have items on your personal summer bucket list?

Books: Yesterday I finished reading To Heaven and Back by Mary Neal, about a near death experience she had when she drowned in a kayaking accident. I’ve read several books about near death experiences, and am always fascinated by them. I especially enjoyed this book because she writes about miracles that she’s experienced throughout her life, not just the near death experience. As I wrote about in my last post, I’m also reading Power of a Praying Wife. Also this week finished reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. So intelligent, poignant, hilarious and possibly life-changing. I couldn’t stop highlighting and underlining my favorite passages. Here’s one of them:

“If you are looking for Bible verses with which to support slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to abolish slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to oppress women, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to liberate and honor women, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to wage war, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to promote peace, you will find them. If you are looking for an outdated and irrelevant ancient text, you will find it. If you are looking for truth, believe me, you will find it.”

Movies: We’ve recently discovered Lilo & Stitch. A Disney cartoon that takes place in Kauai and includes an Elvis-impersonating extraterrestrial? Enough said. And have I mentioned that I’ve only been to the movies twice since my daughter’s birth in April 2012? It’s interesting how a former favorite activity no longer seems worthwhile since becoming a mom.

Television: Marie and I have been enjoying The Magic School Bus. I also started watching the new season of Orange is the New Black, but had to stop, because apparently (despite NPR’s love affair with this show) I can’t handle watching shows that are rated M. I do recommend the book of the same name however. Piper Kerman’s memoir of her time in prison for a minor involvement in an international drug ring was an interesting read and gives important insight into the prison system.

Music: Same old nursery rhyme remixes and classical.

Work: School’s out for summer! I was lucky to have the opportunity to sub for an elementary school speech pathologist several times in the last few weeks of school. I found that I really enjoy working with kids one-on-one and in small groups. But I’m unlikely to make a career switch to speech pathology, as it would involve a year of prerequisite classes before starting a two year master’s program. I’m also currently in between paid writing projects.

Recipe: We’ve been getting lots of kale in our CSA, but Marie won’t eat it, so I tried making kale chips for the first time yesterday. Success! She ate them and they were super easy to make.

Gratitude: We went on our first family bike ride with Marie this morning in a pull-behind trailer. My parents were able to join us as well. Saw three great blue herons. Looking forward to many more bike rides this summer!

On the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe Slide on our first visit to the Enchanted Forest.

On the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe Slide on our first visit to the Enchanted Forest.                                 

 

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