Minted holiday cards


This is a sponsored post: in exchange for writing it, I am receiving a credit towards my holiday card order.

I love holiday cards. Love sending them, love getting them. (Side note: I love kids, of course, but I also really love my adult friends. Cards that feature the whole family stay up allll year on our bulletin board. Yay for parents in the picture!) Picking our holiday cards is one of my favorite parts of gearing up for the holidays. Last year, after hearing many good things about the company (and without any sponsor relationship whatsoever) I ordered our holiday cards from Minted:

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I may be biased, but I think they turned out great, and I was thinking I would order from Minted again this year- so when I got the chance to receive a credit towards my holiday card order by writing about them, I jumped at it.

Minted has hundreds of holiday cards, including many, many choices in my preferred format: flat card with one main picture on front and a couple bonus pictures on back. I particularly like that many of the designs allow you to choose your preferred greeting (“Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays,” or “Happy New Year.”) They also have a cool option where you can preview all the cards at once using your chosen photo- saving time by allowing you to eliminate right off the bat those designs that just won’t work with your picture.

I found at least a half dozen designs that I liked, but I think I have narrowed it down to one. Since we have exactly one (1) decent photo with all four of us in it, I’m saving that for the actual card and won’t spoil it here (though I will say that we were not planning on taking our holiday card picture that day, and as a result Poppy is wearing a truly spectacular mismatched outfit.) As a consolation prize, I offer you instead an outtake from the impromptu photo shoot I did this afternoon with the kids wearing the fancy outfits my godmother bought them:

outtake

Come on. Baby in a tiny sweater teetering precariously into the lap of toddler in a ridiculous floppy bow. Is there anything cuter? I think not.


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Sound memory


A few weeks before Poppy was born, a very good friend had her first child at the same hospital where I would be delivering. When announcing his arrival, along with the key details – weight, length, etc – she noted the song that was playing when he was born. Apparently our hospital had CD players installed in the room for families to use, and her husband had made a bunch of playlists so they would have good music to listen to while she was in labor.

Suddenly, I was on a mission. I needed to burn some CDs so we could have tunes while I labored. Screw cleaning the baseboards, man, my form of nesting was all about atmosphere. I assembled some favorites, started paying attention to some music blogs, let Pandora lead me to new stuff, and I put it on a cd I optimistically named  “sleepy playlist.”

Even as I was doing it, I recognized that I was being a little ridiculous. Interestingly, though, having a playlist of some of my own low-key music was one of my favorite parts of the whole birth experience. It made the hospital room, where John and I hung out for so many hours, feel a little more like ours. I laughed at my own optimism when “Just Breathe” came on during the height of my pre-epidural labor. I still get a little teary when I remember John dancing with Poppy in his arms to “One Crowded Hour” when she was about an hour old. He still sings her the song when he puts her to bed at night. We listened to the same cd at home a lot in the early days, trying to get through the witching hours, encouraging her to treat songs of lost love as adequate substitutes for more traditional lullabies.

Scent memory is known to be a powerful thing. Highly distinctive scents can bring us back to our previous selves: flowery perfume to grandma’s closet, baking pumpkin pie to Thanksgiving at mom’s, the smell of a fresh pencil eraser to the first day of school. For me, sound memory is similar – the first Sleigh Bells album reminds me of gritting my teeth through nausea-inducing train rides to work in the first trimester of my pregnancy with P, “Closer to Fine” brings me back to sitting under my lofted bed in my freshman dorm room at 2am, trying to learn the harmony; I hear the theme from Schindler’s List and I’m right backstage at my high school’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank; “Vineyard” by Jackopearce and I’m on a beach in Michigan drinking illicit wine coolers … I could go on.

And now, much like the smell of blueberry Lip Smackers brings me straight back to my sophomore year of high school, hearing the introductory notes of many of those songs from the Sleepy playlist brings me right back to the terrifying wonderfulness of Poppy’s early days. They’re her songs, in a way. And I love that.

So needless to say, I am taking the task of assembling the new baby’s playlist very seriously. It will doubtless include some repeats from the first playlist, but I also want to find some new stuff to include – stuff that will always be linked in our minds to the early days of our second (and likely last) child. This is where you come in. I’m attaching Poppy’s playlist here, as well as what’s on the new one so far, for style reference (with some links, in case you want to check them out, but not links for everything because, well, I’m lazy.) We tend to like folk, singer-songwriter, alt-country stuff, and for this purpose in particular I’m probably going to take a pass on aggressive dubstep drops, but I’m otherwise open to anything.

Poppy’s Sleepy Playlist:

New List in progress:

So: any suggestions? Anything new (or old) that you’ve been really loving recently? Or any cool sound memory stories you’d like to share? I find this topic endlessly fun.


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How I Spent My Mother’s Day Vacation


Last weekend, John and I went to Mexico for a quick “let’s take naps on the beach” break. We didn’t realize until after we’d booked the trip (non-refundable, of course,) that we’d be gone on Mother’s Day, ensuring that I did not spend any time with my kid and that instead she would be in the care of her grandparents. Oops. (My mother: “you don’t want to be with your own daughter on Mother’s Day? REALLY?” Me: “Mom, consider it my Mother’s Day gift to you that you get several uninterrupted days with Poppy.” My mother: “Huh. Good point. Have fun!”)

May is not really prime Mexico vacation time – the weather here is finally starting to be nice, while in Mexico it’s the shoulder season, a little hot and muggy, a little bug-infested. But sitting on my breezy (windy) beach in a cabana chair, reading spy novels on the kindle, it seemed just about right. And we couldn’t really wait until prime fall/winter travel season anyway:

22weeks

…yeah. So. That’s a thing that is happening. A boy, due in September. (I feel almost silly bringing it up – I feel good, life continues, it feels almost self-congratulatory to make a whole POST about it, since it’s a fairly ordinary thing we’re doing -  but I have learned that the only thing people like less than pregnancy announcements is feeling they’ve been left out of the loop so eh, call it lesser of evils?) In sum: Mexico! Good times! Last hurrah on the kid-free travel for the foreseeable future!

So in a way, I guess, it was sort of a mother-themed trip. Just probably not what the Hallmark people had in mind.


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Language Quirks


Watching the penultimate episode of this season’s Downton Abbey (note: this is not a spoiler unless perhaps you are a deep period language nerd, in which case let’s be friends,) I noticed that various characters used the word “stuff” at least half a dozen times, each time with a sort of pause before it and real emphasis behind it, as if to highlight that The Times, They Are A Changing and The Slang, It Is Entering the Noble Classes. (It was always the younger characters saying it- no “stuff” for “What is a week-end?” Dowager Violet, safe to say.)

And while I found this a little annoying while watching (me: “why is everybody saying ‘stuff’ all the time in this episode? It’s super distracting.” John: “You notice weird things.”) I am totally guilty of doing the same thing: enjoying a particular expression or turn of phrase so much that I end up unintentionally overusing it like some sort of SAT-word-dropping smugface.

You want examples? Well, for one, I use “exercised” as a synonym for “worked up,” which is something my parents have always said but which I recently discovered other people find weird. (Used in a sentence: “I am not usually one to get exercised about minor delays, but when I’ve made a reservation and have to wait for a table anyway I cross over from ‘polite customer’ into ‘total b*tch.’”)

Others: I am fond of “articulated“ used as an adjective to describe something that has joints (Articulated bus! Articulated fence! Articulated arm on a doll! ); I often simply declare “false!” when I disagree with a proposition or sweeping declaration; I say “esoteric” and “dilettante” and “idiosyncratic” more than is strictly necessary.

And that’s not even getting into the ridiculous verbal shortcuts/strange inside joke phrases that pepper our family vernacular. “Okey dokey artichokey” is one of Poppy’s favorite things to say. Whenever we’re having trouble carrying/are about to drop something, we complain that we’re “losing gription” (mercilessly mocking a friend who used this non-word, repeatedly, during a harrowing day spent helping friends move their very large furniture out of the very tiny stairwell in their apartment building.) We routinely refer to shady characters as being “shifty like penguin.” (Origin: another friend, asked incredulously why he didn’t like penguins, said with a completely straight face and without irony: “I don’t trust them. They’re shifty.”)

I love this about language: the ever-changing nature of it, the nuance, how the same idea can be expressed in dozens of different ways. So humor a language dork: what are some of your most beloved/overused words? Strange phrases you and your family use as shorthand? I live for this stuff!


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Can a total novice buy art?


From www.123rf.com- one of the millions of hits you get from a google image search for “art”

My sister and her husband are condo-shopping, and she’s been sending me listings of places they’re interested in. One place, an absolutely gorgeous, HUGE condo, was made all the more gorgeous by the really amazing art collection the current owners had all over the walls. My mom, who went to see it with my sister and who knows some things about art, said she was “shocked” by the breadth and quality of the collection, given the owners’ relative youth. (This perhaps explained the seller’s total unwillingness to negotiate on price of the condo at all- seems they perhaps are people of substantial means and can afford to sit an unsold condo for a while. Bummer for my sister, she really liked it.)

While we are unlikely to be shocking anyone with our art collection any time soon (framed print of a beer poster, anyone?) this conversation did get me thinking that I’d like to be a person who has art. I feel like a fraud even using the term – I certainly harbor no delusions that I know anything about “art,” and what makes good art, and which artists I should “collect” or anything high-flying like that. But I’d like to own one or two things that are pretty and interesting and not mass-produced. I’d like to start by buying a painting (probably) to go over the mantel in our bedroom. We have this huge, HUGE blank wall in our bedroom where the previous owners clearly had a painting hanging, and 2.5 years after moving in it’s still as empty as the day we arrived. I’d like to change that.

Trouble is, I don’t know where to begin. My parents have art that they bought when they were young- stuff from then-young artists, bought to decorate their first apartments as young adults, then their first home together. It’s not necessarily fancy stuff- while some of the pieces have appreciated (they have a super cool Jud Fine pencil drawing from 1971 that now hangs in our entryway, for example, bought by my dad for a song in the early 70s,) mostly it’s just stuff they really liked, that they’ve kept for all these years. Most of the pieces will never be hugely valuable, but is now a cool and important part of our family home.

It seems like a concept from a foreign time- people in their 20s and early 30s buying original art to decorate their places? Huh? Was that a normal thing in the late 60s/early 70s, or were my parents just the sort of people committed to the arts who prioritized that over other purchases? (That *seems* unlikely, knowing them now, but I could be wrong…) Are behind, having never bought any kind of art-thing? I suspect our hastily-framed concert posters will not have similar staying power. (Though I do still have my dad’s original Monterey Pop Festival poster hanging in our basement. It’s pretty rad.)

I’d like to start filling our empty wall spaces with some stuff that we could pass on to our kids some day- not because its valuable, necessarily, but because it’s part of our family history. But my question is…how? I am willing to save up a little to invest in something we really love- but I’m not interested in (or in a position to) drop several grand on a traditional oil landscape, you know? I would love to find something a little more modern, or by a younger artist…but I frankly don’t even know where to begin. Go check out galleries in the edgy hipster part of town, where I’m sure to feel like a poser but maybe I’ll find something fun? Look online somewhere?

Guidance welcome- artists you love, galleries in Chicago to check out, online resources- I’ll take it. Otherwise we’ll probably just end up framing another beer poster.


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Office Spaces


Satisfy my curiosity: which, if any, of the following seem weird/gross/an inappropriate use of shared office resources to you?

a) Brushing one’s teeth in the bathroom sinks
b) Washing one’s hands in the shared kitchenette sink
c) Bringing one’s own highly-scented air freshener with a very particular and recognizable scent to spray after you do…business, thus alerting everyone to who it was who just…businessed

A, the brushing of teeth in the bathroom sinks, is huge in my office. HUGE. Dozens of people do it. We are, as a group, apparently very committed to dental hygiene. We’re not just talking a quick brush, either- we have full-on flossing and mouthwash. While I can’t exactly find anything wrong with it, I will admit that it weirds me out a little. When I enter the bathroom and see a colleague brushing her teeth while I’m washing my hands, it feels strangely intimate, or something.  I know, I know, tooth care is essential and whatnot, but as a strict morning-and-evening brusher, it always throws me for a loop a little.

But I’m probably wrong.

B, the washing of one’s hands in the shared kitchenette sink, is something *I* do that seems to garner weird looks from my coworkers. Look, I like to wash my hands before I eat. The sink is right there, next to the refrigerator*, where I am storing my lunch. Am I really supposed to walk all the way across to the other side of the building to wash my hands in the bathroom sink? Is this really that gross?

C, with the vanilla musk air freshener, is just a puzzling anecdote I thought you might enjoy.

* Refrigerator side note: there are two refrigerators in our office, to meet the food-storage needs of the approximately 150 people who work here. About 2 months ago, one of the fridges up and died. In the process of evaluating the dead refrigerator, the service technician noted that the other fridge is actually also dying, limping along at a barely-cool, not-technically-food-safe 44 degrees. Splendid. The best part? Because the state is broke as a joke, it is impossible to find a vendor willing to sell us two replacement refrigerators, because they know they won’t get paid for months. So we have had to take up a collection, where employees are all chipping in, to try to purchase a functioning refrigerator, with the promise that we will be paid back by the state….eventually. Government work: glamorous!


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GMMA Day 5: DonorsChoose.org


So here we are, at our final day of this year’s Giving My Money Away. Thank you for all your comments, and the support you have given to these great organizations.

Today, I am featuring one last organization that I love: DonorsChoose.org. Donors Choose is itself not a small organization, but it allows you, the giver, to make a serious impact on a small project. Public school teachers write in to Donors Choose to describe things they need for their classrooms — things like art supplies, technology, and science equipment — and donors can give directly to those projects. Donors Choose staff members vet each project and confirm the costs submitted by the teachers are accurate.

The site is well-designed and easy to navigate. You can search by subject matter, or grade level, or zip code, and you can sort by projects that are close to completion so you can help a project cross the finish line. It’s really fun to explore, but it’s also so, so hard to pick projects to donate to because there are just so many classrooms, and so many teachers, that have to seek this kind of outside funding for things we would consider basic stuff; things like crayons in Kindergarten and class sets of chapter books in intermediate grades and microscopes in high school science classrooms.

I realize it was a total pain in the neck to ask you to seek out projects and then nominate them, so I did not get a ton of nominations.  I am THRILLED to see that many of the projects that did get nominated have since been completed and no longer need donations! So! I went off script and chose a project at a school that is dear to my heart.

I have decided to help Ms. Cintas’ classroom, so she can purchase subscriptions to Time for Kids for her class. She teaches 4th grade, a time when students are expected to transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” including state standards that instruct that students should be learning to process nonfiction text. I have some personal knowledge of this school, and know that most of the students are English Language Learners, for whom regular exposure to small, digestible texts is an important way to build literacy skills in English. Time for Kids provides a fun way for students to access that kind of nonfiction material. It’s precisely the kind of “extra” thing that often gets lost in money-crunched schools, and I’m happy to help them get a little closer to their goal.

Thank you again for your comments, today and all week. And if you’re looking for a way to do some charitable giving this season, but feel like your $10 or $20 won’t make a difference, I strongly urge you to check out Donors Choose. Yours could be the donation that pushes a project to its goal!


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GMMA Day 4: The Night Ministry


For an overview of what’s going on here, see this post from Monday.

Today, our penultimate day of Pseudostoops’ Giving My Money Away 2012, I’m bringing back an old favorite from GMMAs past: the Night Ministry.

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The Night Ministry is an incredible organization. In its own words:

The Night Ministry is a Chicago-based organization that works to provide housing, health care and human connection to members of our community struggling with poverty or homelessness. With an open heart and an open mind, we accept people as they are and work to address their immediate physical, emotional and social needs while affirming their sense of humanity.

 

The Night Ministry offers services “at the moment of need on the street.” The Health Outreach Bus travels to Chicago neighborhoods from 7-11:30 pm Monday through Saturday on a regular schedule.  This model, with a predictable schedule and traveling to areas of great need, allows the bus to provide essential health care services to people who very often find it difficult or impossible to access health care services elsewhere.  Volunteers also provide meal service alongside the bus so that clients can get a meal, too.

The Night Ministry also provides a continuum of care to homeless and LGBT youth. It reaches out to them where they are — on the street — providing non-judgmental support, guidance, food, and self-care supplies. This is a particularly vulnerable population, and particularly at this time of year, when I am warm and snug with my family, it hurts my heart to think of anyone, particularly youth, living on the street. I’m grateful that the Night Ministry is working hard to help these kids.

They’re an incredible organization, and I’m happy to support them. So get to commenting! (And remember, tomorrow I’ll be choosing a project from one of the amazing classrooms featured at DonorsChoose.org to receive a $50 donation- if you’d like to nominate a classroom, let me know in the comments!)

As always, thank you.


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GMMA Day 3: Back On My Feet Chicago


New here? This post explains what is going on.

Today, I’m featuring an organization that is new to me, but which I’m excited about nonetheless.

In its own words, “Back on My Feet is a nonprofit organization that promotes the self-sufficiency of homeless populations by engaging them in running as a means to build confidence, strength, and self-esteem.” They have chapters all over the country. In Chicago, running groups that meet four times a week for early morning runs that start and finish at supportive housing residences throughout the city. Volunteers (“non-resident” team members) and residents run together, and residents set goals for running-related milestones that are celebrated by the group. Non-resident volunteers commit to running at least once a week, so that people really get to know each other and form community.

Like many of us, I suspect, I have been thinking a lot recently about community, and connection, and how important those things are for all of us. While it would be easy to say “running? self-esteem? Aren’t there bigger issues afoot here?” I found myself really drawn to this statement on the Back On My Feet website:

We use running as a vehicle to show individuals they are capable of accomplishing anything… but it’s not going to happen overnight – it takes hard work, dedication and perseverance. BoMF focuses heavily on teamwork – when we run, we run as a family and we support, encourage and motivate each other every step of the way. No one ever runs by themselves because life is a lot harder when you go through it alone.

A little cheesy? Maybe. But the idea of taking something simple like running and using it to forge actual connections between homeless men and women and volunteers who make a long-term commitment to a running group? That’s kind of great. And a program that gives  men and women a means to build skills like perserverence and commitment and showing up on time – those are the kinds of “soft skills” that the research suggests can make a real difference for folks struggling to climb out of terribly difficult circumstances. So I’m going to give Back On My Feet some money, and in the new year, I’m going to join a running group. I’ll tell you how it goes.

As always, thanks for your comments and support.


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GMMA Day 2: The Women’s Treatment Center


For a quick review of what’s going on here, see yesterday’s post.

By now, my featuring of this organization is truly a part of the tradition:

 

The Women’s Treatment Center provides concrete, essential services to help women address the incredible challenge of drug addiction. For women with children, beating addiction is not just about getting clean- it’s about figuring out who is going to care for your children while you do, and repairing your relationship with them as you get better.

The mission of The Women’s Treatment Center is “to provide women with a continuum of care, recovery tools, and parenting skills to maintain a sober lifestyle as they rebuild their lives and mend the bonds with their families.”

TWTC provides essential medical, mental health, and social services in a setting that can accommodate children in residential treatment.  That means that while they are receiving treatment, mothers receive parenting classes and guidance, and are able to continue to build and repair relationships with their children, rather than being separated from them for weeks or months at a time.  TWTC is also one of the few facilities in the  country that has a crisis nursery, which can provide 24-hour care for a woman’s children when she is unable to care for them herself.  This reduces one of the major barriers to treatment, as a woman can enter detox knowing that her children are safe, well cared for, and close.

In short, The Women’s Treatment Center is committed to helping women conquer substance abuse while honoring, protecting, and building essential family relationships.  Its programs address the parallel issues of treating substance abuse and taking proactive steps to prevent child abuse and neglect.  It’s an important place, and I’m happy to support them every year.  Thank you all for helping, too.


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