The Slog

Finding Balance

James and I have settled into the non-routine of parenting a toddler.

We wake up during the night. We wake up early in the morning. We sit on the big potty and read books to our inquisitive little one sitting across from us on her little potty. (repeat several times over). We dress ourselves. We dress our child. We try to pack her up for day care without rushing her along through those activities that unfold very slowly when one is a toddler and interested in things like how that lotion that goes on her face squeezes out of little tube and how that lid to the pot still fits the second and third and fourth times she puts it on.

We go to work.

We rush home with high expectations to spend two hours with our child. We feed her. We read to her. We play with her. We bathe her. And we try to remind ourselves that too much of a good thing means she’s late to bed and then a meltdown will happen. So we try to keep to a schedule.

And once we get through that ever-lengthening nighttime circus called bedtime, we clean up the kitchen. We prepare for the next day. Inevitably, we have The Conversation. It mostly sounds the same, packaged in a different form, depending on the day. I’m usually the initiator.

Is this all there is? I ask. I mean people can’t live entire lives like this, can they? Only seeing their child two hours per day. Spending their evenings scrubbing dishes.

The Conversation then normally shifts to our budget, which is already at the bare bones of spending. We are frugal people.

Could we live on one income? That way I can spend more time with her. Prepare dinner before James gets home so that we aren’t scrambling to get something on the table for her or spending our only time together in the kitchen once she goes to bed.

It inevitably meanders to We are paying way too much for a city we aren’t even taking advantage of. Where else can we live that’s cheaper? Should we move further out? I don’t think I could be happy living outside of the Beltway. If we are that far away, shouldn’t we just move to a new city?

What city would we go to?

Should we just order more take out so we spend less time cooking? Hire a cleaning person? That still doesn’t solve the problem of seeing our daughter for only those precious 120 minutes before bedtime.

I ran into a former colleague of mine at a party a few months ago. When I asked how work is going, she told me she’s consulting now and sometimes its busy, but sometimes its slow. She said it works well because it allows for more time with her adolescent daughters than a regular 9-5. When I told her I’m struggling with all the time I’m missing seeing my own daughter, the advice she offered was to work now and save money. Then work toward a more flexible job in the future. She said in 10 years my daughter will need me so much more than she does now, as she navigates social development, changes in her body, needing help with homework and a host of other challenges.

I’ve been digesting that ever since, and thinking about what we can do as a family that makes sense for everyone. Leaving my job is not a move I consider lightly, nor missing my daughter’s tiny, beautiful changes each day right now.

What’a a responsible, loving parent to do?

As we get into bed for the evening, we remind ourselves these are first world problems. We have solid jobs, health insurance, a home, a healthy, thriving child. We shrug our shoulders and onward we slog.

Until tomorrow. When The Conversation arises again and we know its time to make some decisions.

And Then the Furnace Went Out


I was riding high on the wave of excitement of buying a rental property– the pride of my contribution to making this happen, the prospect of earning passive income, the possibility of one day living right smack in the middle of DC again, the chance of selling it one day for a profit.

And then the heater broke. Only it didn’t actually break. The pilot light went out. And then it went out again. And again. And again.

A Tale of Two Cities


I have a bit of a love affair with DC. I don’t know why. The city has beaten me down time and again. Parking is a problem. Driving is a problem. Renting is expensive. Buying is expensive. Crowds make my skin crawl in the summer. The summer humidity makes me dream of winter. Grocery store lines make me want to spring for delivery service. Stuffy government jobs make me want to escape to a hippie commune. Yet, DC still feels like my home, even after a year in Virginia. Indeed, it’s the city where I’ve spent the majority of my adult years.

I was drawn to Washington, DC when I first heard an older classmate from my high school heading off to American University. It sounded cosmopolitan and I wanted to be a part of it. After forgoing a work opportunity in Zambia, I landed here as a summer intern at 25, bright eyed and dreaming of saving the world. That dream faded over the years, but my desire to stay in DC never did. I often wondered if I had landed in New York City, would I have developed the same love? What about Mineappolis? Or Denver?

DC is the place where my life happened; the place where I fell in love, had my heart broken, lost my home, lost my livelihood, lost a dear friend, and then somehow found strength to rebuild again. There was a time when I wanted to escape this place and start over. But I wasn’t sure of where I would start over. So I hunkered down and found my way in DC.

When James and I were ready to move in together, I sidestepped the obvious path of moving into his house in Virginia. It felt too suburban and it seemed like everyone had a baby and a dog. I wasn’t ready for that. Or I didn’t think so. However, it soon became clear in Southwest DC, we didn’t love our neighborhood and parking 3 blocks away from our apartment with a baby didn’t make sense.

Del Ray did.

So, after a year together in DC, James and I moved back into his house in early 2014. However, a year later, I’ve still been longing for the movement of the city. I can’t really say if the longing is really for the excitement that came with my younger life, zipping around on bike, time for yoga class, or simply more freedom, but I couldn’t shake the feeling. James and I talked about moving back to DC, but our work is here in Virginia, and Isla is thriving at her third day care, after a year of looking for the right place for her to learn and grow.

Despite knowing it didn’t make sense to move, I couldn’t stop looking at real estate.

While other people were browsing Black Friday deals, I was browsing real estate deals. I found a little house at a great price that I was sure we needed to buy, right in the middle of the city, just blocks from the Magic Mike house where I lived a few years prior. Maybe I needed to claim my corner of DC, even if I wasn’t going to live there right away. We ended up putting an offer on the house, and were surprised to be chosen over 6 other offers. It was kind of a disaster making that decision right before holiday travel to two different states. We closed around New Year’s Eve and our renters will moved in last month.

We are business owners!

Maybe one day I’ll get to live in our DC house. Maybe we’ll end up in Coeur d’Alene or Cleveland or Portland or Seattle and I’ll never actually live there. But having the house, my little dream investment that I’ve scrimped and saved for under the worst of circumstances, makes me feel a little more connected to the city while I find my roots here in Virginia and try to settle in.

There is no issue with our quiet Virginia neighborhood. Most people love it here because, above all, it’s safe. And for some reason, I seem to avoid safety like the plague. If it’s comfortable, easy, or straightforward, I tend to run the other way. There was nothing safe about leaving home and taking on a mountain of debt for grad school. Or taking off for work in South Africa, without knowing a soul in the country. Or signing a lease on my very own apartment while piecing together employment. Or starting a family with a man I had been dating for a year. I tend to find the less traveled path, make big decisions, and figure out the rest later, as no amount of preparation or pro and con list has ever adequately prepared me for life. In fact, in most big decisions I’ve ever made, those scenarios that I’ve reached to the furthest corners of my mind to anticipate have never played out, and were replaced by situations I could not have possibly dreamed up, both to my benefit and detriment. Perhaps we can’t explain why we feel pulled in certain directions. All we can do is listen to those nudges and entertain the risk of following them.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -attributed to Mark Twain.

Best Gift Ever

simple living

Have you ever asked a parent what you can get them for a holiday or birthday when you are planning to visit home? And has your parent ever responded ‘Nothing. You being here is a gift.” Perhaps you were dismayed that the answer didn’t help to steer your holiday shopping or you rejoiced that you would have a little extra change in your pocket. Perhaps those words didn’t ring true until you became a parent yourself or spent quality time with someone dear to you.

In all of this holiday hustle bustle, I can’t help but feel like its the simple things that shine brightest this time of year. As a parent and a partner, I value down time with my little family. There is nothing more valuable than the gift of one’s presence, and no sale or sparkly shiny object can make me think otherwise.
Today, James pointed out to me a little note that came through electronically from our day care provider. It mentioned how Isla, not yet 15 months old, went over to comfort a crying friend at day care. The caregiver mentioned that Isla hugged and gently touched the upset classmate. Reading this note and seeing the accompanying photos made me just burst with joy. What a wonderful reminder of the gifts we can share, not with the money we spend, but with the time that we give.

Chore wheels- they aren’t just for group houses

alexandria, del ray, organization

Remember when you were broke and you lived with 5 other people in a run down group house and squabbled over whose turn it was to clean the bathroom? You had a little wheel that was tacked up onto a cork board in the kitchen, alongside take out menus and posters for the latest save-the-world fundraiser you planned to attend.

Unfortunately, until you get a cleaning person, the problem of daily and weekly chores may follow you well beyond your group house days.  James and I are 7 months into living in our house and nearly 10 months into parenthood and we still can’t figure how on earth to manage our lives.

About a month after my return to work, we got the bottle prep routine somewhat down, which means we normally get our dishes washed in a timely way. However, I feel like I’m standing in front of that dishwasher half of the time I’m home, whether its loading or unloading the dishes. Plus, at any given time, there seem to be stray toys, dog fur, mail items, and mason jars strewn around the house, not to mention a rack of diapers drying, a bag of pump parts to be shuttled to and from work, and towels, bibs, and burp rags hanging from anything loosely resembling a hook. Getting everything back into its home by the end of each day always proves to be problematic. We didn’t want to resort to schedules but each and every Sunday night, we ask ourselves where the weekend went and why we are still trying to get the house in order.

play kitchen

Isla made this mess, but our kitchen looks pretty much the same.

After weeks of rationalizing that full time working parents without cleaning help all have messy houses, we decided we needed an intervention. However, when I time how long it takes to do the dishes or wipe down the bathroom sink, I’m shocked at how few minutes each task takes.  As much as I want to hire a cleaning person and sit on the couch and eat bon bons while someone else cleans up after me, I’m trying to believe that with a little bit of self-imposed organization, we can actually keep the house looking decent.

Enter the chore wheel.

Ok, its a list. James would prefer it look like a wheel but I’ll work on the aesthetics of it another time. Right now, we have a house to clean! Our list is based on the one found here on The Little Green Notebook. A quick online search of chore wheels revealed at least a handful of them are made by parents of very large families and all the children pitch in, just as I did in my youth. Since Isla isn’t too great at cleaning yet, we didn’t assign her any duties on this round.

Our rendition looks like this:


  • Make bed
  • Wipe down bathroom counters and put away loose items
  • Unload dishwasher and prep bottles


  • Load dishwasher and clean and put away pots and pans
  • Wipe kitchen counters
  • Take out trash as needed
  • Quick sweep or vacuum and spot clean floor
  • Pick up living room; all stray items on kitchen table and counter put away
  • Check diaper stash; wash as needed
  • Chore of the day (see below)

Monday: Swing day (see below)

Tuesday: Clean mirrors and windows

Wednesday: Vacuum

Thursday: Mop floors

Friday: Toilets and tub

Saturday: Vacuum (again!)


Swing day:

1st: Wipe furniture and cabinets as needed and laundry (clothes)

2nd: Clean oven, microwave and fridge and laundry (sheets and towels)

3rd: Wipe down all moldings, walls, doors and laundry (clothes)

4th: Spot clean upholstery and rugs and laundry (sheets and towels)


Surely we’ll have to make some modifications if we realize we forgot chores or don’t need to do some of them so frequently. And unlike our failed zero waste adventure, I’m really committed this time. Starting last Sunday, we are giving ourselves a month to see if we can maintain a clean house before we give in and hire a cleaning person.

I don’t really like bon bons anyway.


How about you? Do you work full time and manage to keep your house clean? How do you do it? Or do you prefer to enjoy your time and hire out the help?