Seven years of Articles Club

28 October 2022

Friends, I feel like I left you hanging! Though I knew it would take me a bit to get part two ready for you (here’s part one – don’t miss the comments, they’re so wonderful!), I didn’t expect it to take quite this long – but alas, the flu struck our house last week and took me down with it. I tested positive on Monday and was completely down for the count as I haven’t been for YEARS for two days, and have been struggling back since then. Please take it from this gal who gets a flu shot every year but just hadn’t found time to make an appointment yet – get yours this weekend!! It’s nasty out there, friends. (June’s class had ELEVEN kids home sick one day this week! Out of 17!!)

So though I haven’t had the upright hours and presence of mind to finish the next part of our conversation on working part-time, I do have a round-up of the past year of Articles Club to share with you today! If you’re newer here, Articles Club is a great love of my life. A dear friend and I started it seven years ago (think: a book club, but with three themed articles, discussed over a potluck dinner each month) and it has been meeting and snowballing in delight ever since. Here is a bit more about how the group has grown closer over time, and here is a bit more about why it’s so special.

I know you are all kindred spirits who also enjoy reading interesting thoughts and having thoughtful discussions, so each year I post several of our monthly article groupings so you can enjoy them yourselves or take them back to your people! I’ve done that below.

The Cost of Beauty
The Art of Botox (NYT)
The Best Skincare Trick is Being Rich

The Memories We Keep
Your Memories Make You Who You Are
The First Baby Blogs, Over 100 Years Ago

How Instagram Saved Poetry
Does Poetry Matter?
Understanding Trauma: the Healing Process of Poetry
Kate Baer is Speaking Truth. From her Minivan. (NYT)

Going Green
What is the Difference Between Going Green and Sustainability?
How I Deal with the Unbearable Hypocrisy of Being an Environmentalist
Is Recycling Really Worth It?
You’ll Never Truly Get Organized Until You Buy Less Stuff

Hormones and Things
The Female Problem: How Male Bias in Medical Trials Ruined Women’s Health
Get to Know Your Infradian Rhythm to Optimize Your Body’s Cycles
Changing the Concept of “Woman” Will Cause Unintended Harms
Favorite Products and Tips for Hormone Health

Duty and Happiness in Light of the Queen’s Jubilee
Meghan and Harry Overplayed Their Hand
There are Two Kinds of Happy People

What Travel Can, and Cannot, Teach Us
Air Travel is a Disaster Right Now. Here’s Why.
Every Day is a Saturday for the Bucket List Family

Martha Stewart
Martha Stewart is the Original Influencer
The Promises Martha Stewart Made, and Why We Wanted to Believe Them (by Joan Didion!)
Martha Stewart, Blissed Out on CBD, is Doing Just Fine (NYT)
Also highly recommend this You’re Wrong About episode!

Quiet Quitting
Quiet Quitting Isn’t Really About Quitting. Here Are the Signs.
The Backlash Against Quiet Quitting is Getting Loud
Arianna Huffington’s Joyfully Joining response

In honor of our anniversary and in lieu of articles, this month we each prepared “pro tips” to share around the table a la this Cup of Jo post with a truly epic comment section. What’s a pro tip, you ask? It’s a fuzzy combination of life hack, life motto, insider knowledge, and received wisdom. The ones shared by our group ranged from the mundane and practical to the emotional and hard-won, and I thought it might be fun to share a few of mine to finish out this post:

— Organize your grocery list by the layout of the store. This might save you years over a lifetime of shopping.
— Lower your expectations, all the time, in all things (okay, most things). It leaves more room to be delighted.
— Reflect, celebrate, and look ahead at the end of each year with someone you love.
— If you’re going to take one sip of water, take five.
— Use the Oxford comma. Weirdly controversial, but it shouldn’t be.
— Everything seems worse at night. Do not try to solve problems at 11pm, just go to bed. Also, walks solve most problems.
— A common trade-off is time for money. If you want to be a parent, as far as possible, save the money and spend the time before you have your children so you have the money to use after they arrive and time is more precious.
— Chick-fil-a cookies are always handed over warm and are absolute magic. Chocolatey, oaty, chewy, crispy, soft, how do they do it?! Related: if someone you love is having a bad day and needs a cookie, you can send them money in the app to facilitate a purchase.

Of course I would love to hear: what are a few of your pro tips? Silly, serious, prosaic, or inspired, please share below!

Articles Club through the years:
Year One
Year Two
Year Three
Year Four
Year Five

Year Six

Working part-time as a mom, part one

17 October 2022

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ended a post on Em for Marvelous with “well, I’m not sure if this will be helpful for anyone, but here you go…?” …and then it has turned out to be one of my most popular posts. In fact, in a survey a few years ago, a reader specifically called out that exact line, saying, “If you say ‘I’m not sure if this will be helpful,’ I know it’s going to be one of my favorite posts!”

Reader, I am tempted to write that disclaimer on this post, because it feels deeply personal and highly specific to my unique circumstances. However, having written here for some time now, I know there’s a kind of inverse relationship going on, and it tracks with what I learned as a poet: that the more specific detail you can bring to a piece of writing, the more universally it will resonate. The details that seem so idiosyncratic are actually what make writing come alive for others, because in those details they can see the nuance of their own life.

I hope that holds true here. I want to write about working as a mom because it matters deeply to me, and I want to share this conversation with you smart, wonderful ladies, and I also want to capture it in the moment for my children to read one day.

And there’s one more reason: it’s important to me to be truthful about what I share here. That doesn’t mean sharing everything, but it does mean (so far as it’s possible) not misleading you – even unintentionally, even by omission. Many of you know me as a working parent. I would hate for one of you to look at me, having classified me as such, and wonder why you can’t fit all that I do into a week. I hope shedding a little more light into what working looks like for me right now can help with that.

As always – however similar, or not, our situations might be – I hope watching me wade through my decisions empowers you to make your own thoughtfully and confidently.

This is a long post (with more parts to follow!); I thought it might be helpful to break it up with headings. Settle in, friends!

Though not accurate to my day-to-day, it’s still the ultimate photo of me as a working mom :)

Some background on my work history:

I have worked for the same company my entire adult life – 13 years and counting. When I began, I worked a standard 9-5, Monday through Friday. When June was born, in 2016, I reduced my hours to 9-4. I was so grateful to be able to do this – it gave me the space to pick her up from daycare, come home and spend time together, and still get dinner on the table without our days feeling rushed. This schedule worked well for several years.

Annie’s birth and June’s entry into kindergarten lined up neatly, and when I returned from maternity leave in fall 2021, I reduced my hours again (to 9-3) to match June’s school hours. This was a specific goal I had been working toward for basically my entire career: once a child was in elementary school, I wanted my work to fit into their school hours, and to be there for pick-up and drop-off. (John and I share pick-up and drop-off duties, but it was still the goal!) This schedule, too, worked very well.

As you know, as of August 1, I kept my 9-3 hours and shortened my work week for the first time. I now work Monday through Thursday. As of January 1, I’m scheduled to drop one more work day, for a total of three each week. I anticipate that shift being more challenging than the five-to-four shift, but perhaps I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The reason for shortening my work week:

There are two main reasons and a number of smaller reasons.

First, we now have three children. That’s three people who have scheduled and unscheduled days off from school, who need to go to the doctor and the dentist, and who occasionally get sick and need to come home in the middle of the day. We wanted a parent who was more readily available for all of those things, so that each teacher workday or call from the school didn’t throw us into a resentful panic. Opening up a “free” day in the week goes a long way toward this.

Second, we now have three children :) After Annie was born and as our kids got older (and went to bed later), it became increasingly clear that much of the work I was doing for the household was being squeezed into hours that we (John and I) considered unideal: for example, grocery shopping at 9:30 at night. The addition of a third child and all the logistics that came with her (school paperwork, a wardrobe to maintain, food to prepare… you don’t need me to list it all) seemed to be a tipping point for our life. Things that we used to easily fit into our days, like evening walks and stretching, were getting squeezed out entirely. So together, John and I made the choice to essentially give me daytime “work hours” to do the increasing work of our household I’d already been doing, so we could both have more equal time to relax in the evenings and on weekends.

Some secondary reasons:

  • Travel logistics are complicated with three young kids, and we travel a good bit (even if just across the state for the weekend). We wanted someone who could manage our exits and entries more smoothly.
  • I hoped to feel less defensive over what felt like the little time I had to spend as I pleased in the evenings. Hoarding my time, as I think of it, is one of my least favorite tendencies of myself, and something I actively work to improve. But if there were structural things that could change so that John and I were more equally free to enjoy our unscheduled time, that felt like something we should pursue.
  • Finally – and this, for me, was one of the harder ones to admit – I wanted to be more free to enjoy this unique season of my life. I wanted to meet up with a friend with our strollers and take a morning walk. I wanted to help a friend with a pop-up shop just for fun. I wanted to have more time to share my thoughts and the story of our life through my writing. I wanted to volunteer in our kids’ schools. I wanted to enjoy the fun (for me) work of household management that often felt rushed or got skipped.

Some things that were not reasons for shortening my work week:

As I approached this decision, it was important to me to be equally clear about some things that were NOT reasons for shortening my work week.

First, and most importantly, I was not shortening my working hours to spend more time with my children because I thought they were suffering in my absence. This is admittedly a sore spot for me, because over the years, I have listened to many women resign and give as the reason for doing so that their children needed them. Or that them being home would be better for their children. And while those are valid reasons for resigning, and they surely were not thinking at all about how saying so would affect their teammates, it was hard to hear that and not resent the implied judgment on the working parents who remained on the team. Again: objectively, I know this is not rational (repeat after me: we all have different situations!!), but it’s important here (even if just for myself!) to state this clearly. Our children, praise the Lord, are thriving, and with this switch their school schedules will remain the same.

Second, in this reduction I did not want to add more tasks to my plate. Though I did have a backlog of things to tackle (that I’m still working through!), this change was largely about shifting the timing of tasks (from evenings/weekends to the workweek) versus adding new tasks or responsibilities.

Third, I did not want my children to stop seeing me doing the work of life. This was not about hiding all of the work away during the day so that we could play non-stop once they got home. This was not about making everything look or feel perfect or effortless. Working alongside each other is a great gift of families, and such an important way of passing on skills and values. I’d never want to take that away completely. Accordingly, I’ve prioritized shifting the tasks that are primarily digital or particularly complicated with the ages of our kids in this transition.

Let’s pause there for part one! In part two, I’ll tackle why we chose me over John to shorten a work week, why we chose shortening a work week over other solutions to the pain points we were experiencing, and the financial impact. And then in part three, I’ll give you many examples (I’ve been taking notes!) of what my Fridays have actually looked like.

If you have other questions, I’d love to include them in future segments – feel free to leave them here! I can’t wait to hear your thoughts! :)

Part Two: Why we chose me over my husband, why we chose going part-time over other solutions, and the financial impact
Part Three: My role, negotiation, and how I structure my time at work
Part Four: What my days off have actually looked like (so far)

Summer in New England

11 October 2022

It was so, so, so good to be back at the Island this summer. It always is, but after missing a visit in 2021 (my first ever, due to Annie’s summer birthday), our time up north was even sweeter than usual. Just like a childhood best friend, we picked up right where we left off. Even better? We followed our week in Maine with a week in Connecticut, staying with John’s parents!

Readers who have been around for awhile know that the pattern of these visits doesn’t change much from year to year — we take lots of walks, play lots of games, read lots of books, spend time with some of our favorite people — but the beauty and goodness of our surroundings is fresh every year. Here are a few snaps from this trip, if you’d like to see!

That first lungful of salty breeze and that first morning wake up on-island… nothing like it.

One of my favorite moments of the trip came early on: I delivered my Sunday service the day after we arrived. A little background: each week during the summer season, a volunteer Islander leads the Sunday evening service. Though rooted in Christianity and still with many of the trappings of the faith (church bell, hymnals, etc.), each leader chooses the content of their service, and right now, most choose a secular message. While I love every iteration of these services (they are one of my favorite parts of Island life!) I knew I wanted to deliver a Gospel message that served as the aroma of Christ to those I got to address, and I spent much time preparing my service in the month leading up to our trip.

Surprising absolutely no one who reads this blog, my message was about the power of narratives – which ones we believe, why they matter, how they shape our lives. It seemed like it was well received by Christians and non-Christians alike, for which I am very grateful. This was the third service I’ve led here, and I hope it will not be my last.

Above: the flowers I picked from a neighbor’s garden, the arrangement I made for the service, the sweet yellow meeting house (used for church and other community events!), and the birthday boy blowing out his candles after church. Love him so!

The older kids had (very informal) tennis lessons a few afternoons, and since the courts are a short walk up the hill from one of our cottages, Kim busted out some margaritas for the spectators. I can assure you our island is decidedly on the non-bougie end of the Maine fanciness scale, but we enjoyed playing the part for a day :)

What we lack in status we certainly make up for in natural beauty. For a two-mile-long island, she has more than her fair share of beautiful corners. It’s no wonder June declared “playing in the woods with cousins at the Island” one of her favorite memories from the summer at our back-to-school dinner, though it still made my heart swell to hear it.

One more highlight: every few years we take the kids to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. It is an absolute gem, always, but this year, they had the coolest exhibit of gigantic wooden troll sculptures. Just stunning and so fun for the kids to interact with. Highly recommend a visit if you’re ever in the midcoast Maine area!

One of the most poignant parts of our visit was being with my grandmother. She is 95 years old, and though vital in many ways, has also had some health setbacks in the last few years. Watching her get to be in a beloved place with the people she loves was so wonderful. Watching the tender care and attention (mostly on the part of my parents and aunts) to facilitate her being there was also wonderful, and sobering and thought-provoking. It made me want to reread this stunning and loving book (which, if you have not already read it, please drop everything and do so right now).

I’ll end with this. One of my favorite newer experiences on the Island is taking the kids down to a particular rocky point to watch the sunset. We’ve done this a few nights each visit for the last few years. The changing colors over the water, the moon rising, the adults perching on the rocks warmed by a day of sun while the kids throw pebbles into the water… it is magic. It’s also not something I grew up doing, and I like knowing there are still new ways to enjoy our special place waiting to be revealed. We are lucky, indeed.

Then it was on to Connecticut! I have far fewer photos from our second week in New England, because John and I both worked remotely for most of the week while his parents pal-ed around with our kids. While we worked, they went in the pool multiple times a day; rode bikes and scooted on their long, shaded driveway; took walks; read books; and played a lot of Wii Sports, ha. And like an absolute angel, John’s Mom had breakfast, lunch, and dinner in front of us each time we emerged. It was more than we deserved!

A few highlights:

A date night at Shipwright’s Daughter, a new-to-us restaurant in downtown Mystic. Aside from the novelty of being able to have grandparents babysit (something we very rarely get to enjoy, living far from our families), we agreed that there was something particularly magical about having this new experience (new restaurant, going on a date as grown-ups with three small children) layered over so many other memories in this place. We went on many Mystic dates in high school and college, it’s where I had my first job, we’ve celebrated bachelor and bachelorettes here with friends. As in Maine, what a gift to still have the old things and to get to make them new. And the restaurant was amazing, if you ever find yourself in the area!

Breakfast at Sift Bake Shop. Speaking of new(er) things: Sift may not have been around when we lived in Connecticut, but it has become an absolute must for every return trip. Chocolate walnut sea salt cookies and everything bagel croissants as big as your face, the lardon and caramelized onion quiche, absolutely exquisite cakes and entremets that are now a staple at our holiday dinners… do not miss it!

A visit to the farm. This is the 400-year-old farm my Dad grew up on, and where I spent much time as a child. It looms large in my family story and my own psyche, and every chance I get to share it with my children feels very precious.

Thank you, as always, for indulging these memories, friends! Grateful to share them!

P.S. Our last summer trip to Connecticut.

October 2022 goals

3 October 2022

Happy October, friends! The most exciting news around here is our kitchen project, which is well underway – I had to include a photo of some of the progress for this month’s update. The backsplash is complete (love!), the microwave has been removed and hood added, lots of little painting details were taken care of, the light fixture was switched out, and perhaps most excitingly, our fireplace has had a MAJOR glow-up. It all already looks so different!

And today, as you read this, a crew is back at our house hammering away, building out around the fridge before refacing and painting the cabinets later this week. It’s a bit stressful (I’m so nervous to see the paint color go on!), but I am very grateful.

Aside from a completed kitchen and cleaned-up dust, let’s see what else is on tap for October…

On my calendar this month:
— Our annual fall trip to the mountains. We absolutely loved our trip to Black Mountain in 2021 but are returning to Highlands this year!
— The 6th anniversary of Articles Club! Recap of what we read this year coming to a blog near you soon.
— Lots of hikes. Fall, with its changing leaves and cooler temps, is my very favorite time to get out in the woods as a family!

What I’m loving right now:
— Ever since Father of the Bride at age 7, it’s been Steve Martin for me. Loved this recent profile of him.
— It’s hard to classify this as something I’m “loving,” since it was certainly a sobering episode, but this conversation with Jenny Black on the RB&G podcast has stuck with me weeks after I listened to it. I consume a lot of content around kids, parents, and the effect of technology on both, and there were still points she raised that were totally new for me.
— Random, but we have found these waterproof pads to be so helpful when kids are transitioning out of pull-ups overnight. We lay it over the sheet and if there’s an accident in the middle of the night, we can just whisk it off without remaking the whole bed. And they go in the washing machine, too!

As a reminder, you can find alllll the things I’ve loved over the last few years neatly organized right here!

What I read in September:
It’s been a strange month of reading for me!

I finished Take Back Your Family, and though I liked it, it mostly felt like ideas I already knew – and the writing was a bit clumsy. This epic piece by David Brooks was basically a more sophisticated version of the first half of the book.

I started The Common Rule and am LOVING it. However, I’m only one chapter in because I committed to trying each of the habits he lays out before moving on to reading about the next one.

I started Great Circle and quit it about 75 pages in. The plot plodded, I didn’t care for the characters, and I found some of the content disturbing. Not for me.

I started Crossing to Safety and am enjoying it so far! It was published in 1987 and feels like it was published a century ago, in some ways. Very different reading experience than a modern novel.

Finally, I just started Majesty last night and am a quarter through it, ha. My Mom took it out of the library when she visited and I figured I’d zip through it before returning it!

My reading list for 2022, if you’d like to follow along!

Revisiting my September goals:
All hands on deck for the kitchen project!
Order mirror and hand towel for powder room (Done! We decided on this mirror – I think it looks far more high-end than its price – and a hand towel from the JB x PB collection. Love!)
Edit June in June Volume 7
Film Sheptember, Volume 4

Complete June’s baby book
Prepare well for and enjoy our anniversary trip (Yes, although due to Hurricane Fiona it took a COMPLETELY unexpected turn. More about that soon…)
Clear the backlog on my “Friday list.” (I completed about 1/3 instead of the half I was aiming for, but good progress!)

October goals:
— Organize our garage. It is the stuff of (my) nightmares right now.
— Sew the Christmas tree for my Advent calendar (back at it!)
— Join Ben’s October challenge for a little Peloton pick-me-up
— Send care packages to our college babysitters
— Finish final kitchen details once work is complete (organizing stuff in cabinets, order rug, artwork for bathroom, etc.)
— Edit Sheptember, Volume 4
— Create our family Halloween costumes (Nothing, and I repeat nothing will (ever?) beat last year’s, but we’re still going to have fun!)

Last quarter of 2022, here we go! Grateful for you all!

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