Finding Solitude When You Don’t Live Alone

The inimitable Cathy Hay posted her Costume College vlog/recap last week and it was, of course, unique and brilliant. In it, she talks about attending large conventions as an introvert, someone who finds large groups of people exhausting and needs time alone to recharge. One of the things that stood out to me was when she referenced that fact that she lives alone in the country. I remember my own days living alone with some fondness, particularly when I was in college in a small upstate-NY city, but of course, I no longer live alone.

Anyone who knows me personally probably knows that I am an introvert. This may come as a surprise to people who only know me when I’m “on” — in stage shows or at work in my networking-heavy job — but I thrive on alone time. Of course, I’ve been married twice now and even have a child (plus I had to live with housemates most of the time I spent before moving in with Dan after my divorce), so I no longer live alone and have to find ways to get the solitude I crave. This has been particularly challenging since having Elliot, but it is still possible.

That said, I do think that any commentary on my solitary tendencies would not be complete without my waxing rhapsodic about the solo apartment of my later two years of college. I lived in a town where I could get a large one-bedroom apartment for less than a studio in the area where I currently live, so when my friend was trying to get out of his lease, I jumped at it. I had a large bedroom, living room, bathroom, and kitchen all to myself, along with a giant arched window to let in glorious amounts of natural light. And it was far enough away from campus to avoid much of the weekend partier traffic, while being close enough that walking to class wasn’t onerous. Of course, when finals weeks made my solitude even more profound (I would often go days without speaking), I would occasionally make a point to get breakfast in a cafe to have some interaction, but I was largely happy to exist alone.

Moving for graduate school made living alone financially impossible, and then I eventually moved in with my first husband. Then, the divorce again made living alone impossible, and the apartment I was finally able to rent on my own after that ended up being a poor fit for me. And then, I moved in with Dan, and eventually, we married and had our son.

So over the last more than 10 years since college, I’ve learned how to live with people and still maintain a sense of solitude. I now live in a suburb of a major city and work in the city, so I am almost never alone. Couple that with the fact that a new baby means lots of visitors, and I’ve had to hone my skills at finding alone time.

I think the cornerstone of my solitude practice is rising early. When I went back to work, I started rising between 5:30 and 6 a.m. to shower before Dan woke up, and try to make a cup of tea (or chocolate) and have some time to read before anyone else woke up. This time in the early morning is the only time that I feel truly alone sometimes. And it is especially nice on the weekends, when Dan sleeps in rather late (sometimes until 8am!) and I have a longer time to myself. Those who met me in the last ten years may be surprised to learn that I have not always been a morning person. I forced myself to start rising earlier when I started running in grad school so that I could take advantage of my time before classes started (and cooler weather in the summer). And I will say that training my body to rise earlier has been one of the single best ways for me to retain a sense of solitude, even while growing our family.

This weekend, for example, I woke up naturally around 5:30 a.m., and decided that, rather than trying to go back to sleep, I’d rather make myself some tea and have a quiet morning to myself while Dan slept in with Elliot. I wrote some letters, sipped my tea, and walked to the post box just before Dan and Elliot woke up. It was lovely and calm and let me reconnect with myself and my own interests before jumping into a day of family togetherness.

My Historically-Inspired Morning Routine

I’ve written before about my vintage-inspired routines, but lately, I’ve been finding myself going even further back in history for inspiration. Because the summer always makes me yearn for airy muslin dresses, I’ve been stuck in the Regency period lately. And because I never just limit myself to fashion or beauty, I’ve found the practices of the Regency period bleeding into my morning routine.

Since having a baby, the early morning is often the only time I get entirely to myself, and adding childcare to my morning routine has meant that I have to rise particularly early. While my hours may be more akin to that of a Regency servant, I’ve taken some inspiration from Regency middle and upper classes to carve out a few quiet moments to myself in the morning.

I rise between 5:30 and 6 a.m., and wash up. I shower every morning, although it is often a very quick shower to wash my body and face, while I keep my hair protected in a cap or turban. I spritz my clean skin with rosewater and apply a few drops of facial oil, put on a robe, and go into the kitchen.

One thing I’ve learned is that I no longer wake ravenous, so I don’t need to make a full breakfast immediately upon rising. In true historical fashion, I’ve started eating my breakfast around 10 a.m. in my office. But I need something to get me through my commute, so I’ve been making a cup of drinking chocolate. I’ll share more about my particular recipe a little further on, but while my chocolate boils, I usually have enough time to prepare the few things I need to bring to work for my breakfast and lunch: some sliced bread and cheese, a couple boiled eggs, some fruit, and a salad.

To make my chocolate, I bring water to a boil, add chopped chocolate, spices ground in my mortar and pestle, and sugar. I stir until the chocolate melts, and then bring it to a simmer. Then I remove it from the heat, add cream, and whip it to a froth. This is poured into a cup or mug and enjoyed with a chapter or two of a book. I’ve lately tried to keep myself from opening up my devices too early in the morning (although I often fail to resist temptation), and instead have been reading classic books. I recently finished Jane Eyre and enjoyed it immensely.

By the time I finish my chocolate, Elliot and Dan have usually woken up, so I sit and nurse Elliot while Dan takes his shower. Once both have finished, I can make the final touches to my skin care by applying sunscreen, and then dress my hair, dress my body, and put on a little makeup. Then, I can gather my things and leave for the train station, my little oasis of calm having thoroughly prepared me for the day.

Regency-Inspired Drinking Chocolate
(inspired by this post)

1 oz. unsweetened chocolate
2 cardamom pods
3 allspice berries
1 Tbsp. of sucanat (unrefined sugar)
1 cup of water
2-3 Tbsp. heavy cream

Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Break open the cardamom pods and empty the seeds into a mortar. Add the allspice. Grind the spices to a powder with the pestle. Chop the chocolate. Add the chocolate, spices, and sucanat to the boiling water. Stir until the chocolate has melted and blended with the water, then bring back to a simmer. Remove from the heat and add cream. Whip to a froth and serve. Makes one generous cup.

Hand Sewing the Lila + June Wrap Skirt

I finished my first proper sewing project from a pattern this weekend! I’ve been sharing some little updates along the way as I work on this lovely skirt, but I thought I ought to write a longer post detailing my process, how I deviated from the original pattern, and lessons I’ve learned along the way. Perhaps others who might be interested in sewing this pattern, but who don’t have a sewing machine, might be interested in my thoughts.

So first of all, I chose this skirt because 1.) the pattern is free, 2.) it’s a wrap skirt so sizing is very forgiving, and 3.) I know Kirsten, who owns L+J. Also, I’ve been spending a lot of my time exploring sewing YouTube videos and it’s inspiring me to sew, plus I enjoyed the embroidery project I picked up recently. I find the physical act of stitching to be very relaxing. But my one experience with a sewing machine, when I tried to “help” my mother with my Halloween costume one year, went poorly and I don’t really have a good place to put a machine right now anyway. So I decided to see if I could hand-sew the entire thing. Yes, I’m a little mad. But we’re all mad here, so here we go.

Fabric Choice:

I chose a medium-weight, quilting cotton from Fabric.com because it was inexpensive, solid colored, and machine washable. I didn’t want to break the bank with my first project because there was always a chance I’d fail utterly and have to scrap it, but I wanted something in a color I would wear, and solid so I could pair it with more tops. I also chose some all-cotton green thread.

Of course, when the fabric and thread arrived, I discovered the pitfalls of shopping online, namely that the colors don’t match as well as I’d have liked. But they match well enough and the very little stitching that is visible on the outside of the garment isn’t too jarring. When my fabric arrived, I washed and dried it, and then got ready to go!

Time Commitment:

So from the day I cut out the pattern until the day I tied off the last stitch, it was exactly a month to make this skirt. I did sit on the fabric for a little while because it arrived while we were in the process of moving house, and for a while I didn’t really have any space to lay out fabric. But after the initial move finished, I found myself with the time. But I will say that I only worked on the skirt maybe two days per week because I have a full-time job, a baby, and family and friends who insist on claiming some of my time on the weekend. If I had worked on it for a few hours every day, I might have been able to finish in a week or two. One day, perhaps I will take off a week from work to test this theory.

The biggest time sink was the hem. It’s a circle and then some, so that’s understandable. And I chose not to do the topstitching on the waistband and ties to save some time. Surprisingly, I found the side seams to be relatively quick. I actually cut the back panel of the skirt on a fold to save myself a seam, but in retrospect, one more seam wouldn’t have been that much work, and it would have been nice to have that center back seam to line up the waistband.

Stitches:

When I first started out, I was inordinately grateful for this video from Bernadette Banner on the basic stitches for historical hand-sewing. I found that going to historical practice blogs and YouTube channels was really helpful because they’re the ones using hand sewing to construct garments, rather than just for finishing or decorative work. I also appreciated this page on hand-finishing stitches. I used her Frenched seam finish on my side seams, rather than sewing each seam twice like you would on a machine.

I did my side seams in backstitch, finished the seams with a whip stitch, and felled the hem. I backstitched on the waistband, twice (my pride and joy is the inside waistband seam, which I backstitched without pricking through to the front), and used a slip stitch to close up the rest of the waist ties. As mentioned before, I skipped topstitching the waist band and ties. Those are the only deviations from the printed pattern.

So that’s my skirt process. It’s delightfully twirly and I’m thoroughly enjoying wearing it. Of course I welcome any questions you might have for me! Let me know if you have any sewing projects you’re working on, as I’m definitely planning my next project.

Treating Myself: A Brightening and Hydrating Facial from Silver Mirror Facial Bar

NB: I was given a 20% discount on this service when I offered to review it. All opinions are my own.

When I was in my last few months of pregnancy, walking from the gym to work in the mornings, I noticed a new facial bar along the way. It opened recently, and I finally remembered to jot down the name of it when I was walking from my favorite pastry shop, and emailed them for information. Silver Mirror Facial Bar was originally opened in New York City by co-owners Cindy Kim and Matt Maroone with the mission of making regular facials more available to US women. Kim was also a co-founder of Korean Beauty retailer Peach and Lily and was inspired by the skin clinic culture in Korea.

The bar offers just facials, with 30-minute and 50-minute offerings, as well as extras and add-ons. I received a 50-minute Brightening/Dryness Facial, in part because of some rough dryness I’d had around my jawline, and just a general desire to look a little more awake after months of an uncertain sleep schedule. Walking into the facial bar reminds me a bit of a mix between a fancy salon and a minimalist doctor’s office, with a white reception desk, a minimalist shelf displaying the products they sell, and a small waiting area. I checked in on an iPad and the receptionist offered me a drink (it was one of the hottest days this year), which I accepted gladly. I spent just long enough in the waiting area to finish my cup of watermelon water before my aesthetician Olga met me and showed me back to the treatment area.

True to their minimalist, clinical aesthetic, the treatment area is just one large room with curtains to separate different clients’ beds during facials, somewhat like a chic emergency room. There was a bin for my purse, a charger for my devices, a mirror, and a bed. I did not have to remove anything (although I did remove my shoes), but simply lay on the bed in my clothes. Olga covered my legs and feet with a blanket, my neckline with a towel, and wrapped my hair out of the way, and then began.

The facial began with the typical steam and cleansing. She did a double-cleanse using a brightening facial cleanser with vitamin C and lactic acid. This was followed with an enzyme mask, a delicious-smelling lavender toner, and then extractions. After extractions, she used some high frequency to zap bacteria. I’d had this done before years ago, but somehow it was less zappy than I remembered.

Up until this point, the facial was like virtually every other facial I’d had and I wondered if I would be disappointed. Then, she brought out the derma roller.

Derma rolling uses a wheel of tiny needles to make micro punctures in the skin to increase product absorption and improve collagen production. It feels a bit like someone is rolling a miniature version of those “bed of nails” mats all over your face. Not painful, but not what I’m into. She applied a hydrating serum over most of my face, skipping over the more sensitive areas, and then applied a hydrating sheet mask under a warm towel for a few minutes to hydrate my skin deeply.

After that, she used the bar’s signature vitamin-and-oxygen mist, which felt incredibly soothing after my derma rolling experience, and then set me up with eye protection so I could rest under LED to help with anti-aging and brightening (red light). An application of SPF finished off the facial. I looked in the mirror and found myself pink-cheeked and fresh looking, and then went back to the office. The whole experience was exactly 50 minutes, though it packed more in than many 1-hour facials I’ve had in the past.

Of course, as with any facial at a salon that sells product, there was a bit of a sales pitch at the end. Olga brought a package of the lavender toner, the delicious scent of which I’d commented on during the facial, and offered it, though without any pressure. When I said “not today,” the subject was dropped.

Over the course of the day, I noticed that my skin felt the ambient heat a little more, and I had a bit of sensitivity on my walk home. But when I woke up the next morning and washed my face, I was amazed at how smooth my skin looked. While I have pretty good skin to begin with, the facial brought it to the next level. And my normal forehead wrinkle has remained much softer in appearance. I’m rather impressed the results of this facial, and I’ve already made an appointment to return for a 30-minute facial entirely on my own dime so that I can see if the shorter facial is similarly impressive. Perhaps I will become one of those women who gets a monthly facial.

On Self-Care, Skin Care, and the Changes of Motherhood

I like to keep up with Stephen Alain Ko’s Beauty Recap each week (especially now that he has made it easier by posting swipe-up links in his Instagram Stories). And the other day, he linked a great article in Verily Magazine about the distinction between self-care and skin care. I’ve already been thinking a lot about beauty standards, skin care, and how capitalist colonial ideals inform our standards of beauty, but this was a fresh look at the fine line between encouragement and marketing when discussing self/skin care. Of course, skin care can be immensely powerful, as evidenced by my introduction to Korean beauty, Jude Chao’s seminal work on skin care and depression, so I thought a little about how skin care has fit into my ideas of self care and how that is distinct from buying product.

I happen to be undergoing a period of rapid change and, often, stress in my life. I had my first child and have been working to rebuild the shaken foundations of my self image while also existing on not much sleep and even less free time. Oh, and I’m now back at work full-time, too. So it’s been difficult sometimes to find time just for myself. I always have my tea and I’ve been making time for crafts, but both of those things are often things I do while I’m with Elliot and Dan, so beauty has become my true private time during the day.

When we met with our doula, her most important postpartum recovery tip was to have a morning routine and an evening routine that is simple enough that you can do it every day. She wasn’t talking about skin care; she literally meant that you should have something to separate day from night during those first few weeks when you’re awake basically around the clock. Because I’d had a c-section, I was supposed to limit my time walking up and down the stairs, so my main morning and evening routines were transitioning from upstairs to downstairs, and vice versa, but my skin care routine added an important element of reconnecting with myself. Each morning, Dan would give me at least five minutes to wash my face and put on moisturizer, and then in the evening, he would take Elliot for an hour or so, which gave me time to do a full skin care routine and take a nap before he brought Elliot up.

In the early days, when I could barely stand long enough to shower, this often involved a lot of shortcuts, like cleansing water and toner pads, and has evolved nearly back to my full, complicated routine. Contrary to the consumerist ideal of shelfie skin care, I’ve discovered a profound comfort in stripping my skin care routine to its core and using the same products over and over again. It does not make for good Instagram photos, but when I never know what my life will look like on a given day, it’s nice to know that my cleanser is an old standby. I haven’t felt nearly as much need to experiment with products, despite the importance of my skin care routine in maintaining my sense of normalcy postpartum.

But the one thing I have added to my routine is a nightly facial massage with my stone gua sha. I use this video tutorial from Sandra Lanshin Chiu to inform my routine. Each night, after I’ve fed Elliot and put him in his crib, I sit at my vanity and perform this nightly ritual. With most of the lights in the bedroom off to allow Elliot to sleep, I often do my massage by the light of a lavender-scented candle. I start with a few sprays of pure rosewater for some hydration, and then press in a generous amount of rose hip oil, but it’s not about product. You can use whatever you fancy and have on hand. I don’t use anything particularly expensive for this because I use a lot and apply it to my face, neck, and shoulders. Then, I begin smoothing my gua sha tool over my skin, feeling the coolness of the stone, and the pressure when it encounters a knot in my muscles. I can feel it help relax my neck, shoulder, and face muscles, relieve mild headaches, relax stress and worry that I’m holding in my face and neck, and stimulate blood flow.

Usually, Elliot is sleeping while I do this, but every once in a while, he doesn’t fall asleep during his feeding, and he will stay awake in his crib, watching me from across the room. I like the idea that he will grow up with memories of his mother caring for herself, although at this point it must be pretty boring because he is usually asleep by the time I finish. Other than an occasional silent observer, I am alone for this ritual while Dan finishes the washing up. There are no demands on my attention other than what I am paying to myself. And when I finish my massage, I apply my moisturizing lotion and get into bed.

I have other forms of self care, but so much has changed since becoming a mother. I can no longer make as much time to go to the gym or do theater. But my skin care routine is still there, even without any shiny new products, and it has helped me maintain a connection to my sense of self, as well as take time to center as I enter motherhood.

In my Cupboard: Investigating the Gaiwan

As my Instagram followers may know, I have a varied collection of teaware from around the world, in many different styles. I’ve decided to start a series where I talk a little bit about the different styles of teaware I use, their history, and how I use them.

When I wrote my tea primer, the third “level” was the use of the gaiwan to brew tea using a technique called “gong fu cha,” or “tea with great skill.” In modern times, the use of the gaiwan of a brewing vessel, from which the tea is decanted into serving vessels, is taken largely for granted, but offhand comments of people on Reddit, as well as what I’ve seen on historical dramas, suggested to me that the gaiwan was originally used as a brewing and drinking vessel. Intrigued, I decided to do some digging and explore how the use of the gaiwan has changed over its history.

One of the seminal works on Chinese tea preparation is Lu Yu’s Classic of Tea (or Tea Classic), and yet this work makes no mention of the gaiwan, instead describing a method of preparing tea by whisking powdered tea in a tea bowl. It is believed that the gaiwan was developed during the Ming Dynasty. It’s not known exactly when the gaiwan began to be used, but it was a regular part of teaware in the early 18th century. Sadly, this means that the depictions of gaiwan that delighted me in the Yuan dynasty courts of Empress Ki were probably an anachronism.

The blog Tea Guardian offers this pictorial history of the gaiwan, which shows a vessel that is recognizable as our modern gaiwan, which dates to the early 18th century, though predecessor lidded bowls also exist. In a post on using the gaiwan as a cup, the article states that the Manchurians began using the gaiwan as a brewing and drinking vessel. They favored green and jasmine-scented green teas, which are brewed at a lower temperature, and can be easily drunk from the gaiwan before the tea steeps long enough to become unpleasant. Other sources suggest that this would have been an early form of tea cupping, where the tea is sipped throughout the steeping process in order to determine at what point the tea is to the drinker’s taste.

Armed with some research, I resolved to try drinking from the gaiwan. I chose a gaiwan with a deep saucer, and the tallest one I own, in order to  adhere to the suggestions in the post above. And I chose a Longjing tea, which was a favorite of the Qing Dynasty, when the gaiwan arose for certain. Drinking from a gaiwan is similar to drinking grandpa-style, though the smaller quantity of tea makes it easier to finish a cup of tea before it overbrews. There is a unique sense of both informality and ceremony in it, as the tea is not carefully timed, but the ritual of tilting and holding the lid, and carefully holding the cup by the saucer rather than touching any part of the bowl itself feels special. It is oddly one of my favorite ways to drink tea at my desk now.

And if the depiction in my favorite drama is anachronistic, I do still feel a bit like a fancy court lady.

Meditations on Matcha and Father’s Day

NB: Those of you who don’t know, my father died in late 2012, so this is not an entirely happy post, especially since we had a rather tumultuous relationship before that.

It was Father’s Day yesterday in the States, and a friend’s post on Instagram got me reminiscing about how my father indirectly introduced me to matcha. The following story may shock and horrify you, particularly if you’re something of a tea purist, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot from this time in my life, and I’ve tried to bring it to my current understanding of tea.

Since I was a teenager, I had a somewhat strained relationship with my father, which fractured entirely when he divorced my mother. In college, I made the decision to stop speaking to him entirely, a decision that led to seven years of estrangement. Eventually, we reconnected and started rebuilding a tenuous sort of relationship. A couple of years later, I would lose him, so I suppose it was fortunate that we were able to mostly reconcile before his death.

When my father was diagnosed with cancer in late 2011, he embarked on a rather aggressive treatment regimen, and my stepmother, likely in an attempt to bring some sense of control to a terrifying time, threw herself into researching complementary therapies. She particularly looked into diet and supplements that could support an anti-cancer lifestyle. This led to the purchase of a great deal of “health food” and various forms of green tea, including a tin of matcha powder. Now, my father decided he liked the matcha-dusted green tea bags they got, which he dubbed his “macho tea,” but no one much liked the plain matcha powder because it was such a strong green tea flavor.

At the time, I was living with them because I had separated from my first husband, and as both a green-tea-drinker and one who hated waste, I started drinking the matcha. Of course, I also started baking with the spelt flour and flaxseeds and cooking with some of the healthier food (I was going through a pseudo-vegan phase at that point), and at one point I had a rather large master list of the vegan muffin recipes I had developed.

In the spring of 2012, my father finished his treatment and was deemed cancer-free, but in fall of 2012, it returned, more aggressively, and it was likely not going to go as well this time. So even though I had since moved out of their house and into a shared house in the same neighborhood, I spent much of my time at my stepmother’s house. By December 2012, it was obvious that it was the end, possibly any day, so I spent my days sitting next to his bed while he slept whenever anyone else from his large family wasn’t there to be with him. I would occasionally sing to him, and occasionally read a book while he slept, but I always had my mug of tea.

As a raw newcomer to the world of matcha, my preferred cuppa was a large mug with a teaspoon of matcha in the bottom, filled with hot water from the insta-hot water tap and stirred with a spoon. No sifting, whisking, or controlled water temperature. No fancy teaware, or even particularly good matcha. Just a mug filled with a somewhat-sludgy, swamp-water concoction that tasted like green tea, kept me feeling alert but calm throughout trying days, and could be refilled occasionally as the powder settled out.

It’s not a sophisticated way to drink matcha, and that’s okay. I came to tea slowly, in increments, starting with a love of tea parties with bagged Twinings, and then on to loose leaf from Teavana, so beginning with matcha by unceremoniously dumping a spoonful of low-ish quality powder in a large mug seems almost fitting. And no matter how intricate my own personal tea rituals may become, sometimes I like to remember their humble beginnings.

So to commemorate this Father’s Day, I made myself a spoonful of matcha in a mug and sipped it slowly while I remember the lessons of tea my father probably never knew he’d taught me.

Adventures in Crafting

My longer-term followers might remember that I have been a crafter for a few years, and even crocheted my own wedding shawl, which I have saved for a future generation. But, as my life has become more hectic, I’m finding myself with less time for crochet and other crafts. So in recent weeks, I’ve been endeavoring to find more time to myself, and since we have not yet fully unpacked, our television is largely useless, and I’ve turned to crafts to fill some of the time with contemplative leisure.

Of course, I’ve come to realize in recent years that large crochet projects are not something that I enjoy. While I appreciate ultimately finishing a project, more often than not, I get bored and abandon the project before I can finish. So when we moved house, I decided to get rid of almost all of my yarn, save a few special pieces for smaller projects. I kept my wool from the Knockando wool mill in Scotland, for example. I also found a new craft kit that I’d bought a while ago, when I was trying to find ways to distract myself while we were trying to conceive: an embroidery kit.

Like many, perhaps, I watched my mother and other female relatives do cross-stitch when I was a girl. I even wanted to try my hand at it, but perhaps from my natural inclination for abandoning past-times, I never got very far. But when I saw these floral initial kits on the Instagram page for a local fabric and craft store, I was smitten. So I bought one. And then I put it in a box and forgot about it.

The first day we sent Elliot to daycare, I was lost. I had the entire day completely to myself for the first time in months. So I picked up this embroidery kit and started it. It’s relatively simple and has everything you might need, save perhaps a small pair of embroider scissors, which really do make a difference when snipping tiny threads. I enjoyed sitting on my sofa and making my tiny stitches like a genteel lady of the past. And it reminded me that I love stitchery. So not only am I eager to finish this project and start a new one, possibly of my own designing, but I’ve also started looking into trying my hand at sewing. And when I say “trying my hand,” I mean literally, as I have neither the equipment or expertise to operate a sewing machine. So after I finish my embroidery project, I’ll be starting on my first proper sewing project, with a pattern and everything.

I have of course, been warned about the tedium of hand-sewing, particularly on a garment with a rather large hemline, but I do find the simplicity almost meditative. I enjoy the moments I have to sit and stitch and focus my mind on that task, feeling how such crafts connect us not only with our own minds and hands, but also with the centuries of people who did the same for their own garments. And who knows? Perhaps I shall hone my sewing skills enough to be able to mend my own clothes more readily, which seems an admirable goal in this age of sustainability and an avoidance of waste.

And so I’ve found myself returning to the quiet, old-fashioned pastimes that I’ve done before. Of course, such hobbies go beautifully with a cup of tea to fortify oneself. What are your favorite crafts, readers?

On “Mom Hair”

A couple months ago, someone on Instagram suggested I post a tutorial for my standard daily bun, and when I was thinking about filming that, I realized that I haven’t done a hair update in a while. Not a whole lot has changed since my last update, in terms of technique, though the products have changed, but I’ve definitely spent a lot more time thinking about how hair care fits into my identity as a mother.

The “mom haircut” is almost a Western cultural archetype, a symbol of a woman’s changing identity upon becoming a mother. Kind of like mom jeans for your head. Apparently the modern idea of “mom hair” hearkens back to the mid-90s, when politicians were desperate to win the “soccer mom” vote, but the idea that a woman should change her appearance when she becomes a mother has deep roots, at least as far back as the “separate spheres” philosophy that situated women at the center of the moral compass for a family. Interestingly, the bob haircut has gone from a statement of protest against cultural norms of a woman’s place (see Joan of Arc or flappers in the 1920s) to a sign that a woman is fitting into her designated role as a mom.

There is also the undeniable convenience factor. Many women find short hair much easier to care for, and of course, the reality of postpartum shedding means that long hair is a lot more visible when it falls out in clumps on the bathroom (and bedroom, and living room, and kitchen…) floor. And I’ve definitely experienced that in the last few months.

But I have personally chosen not to get a “mom” haircut. While the hair loss is striking, my hair is still thick enough that it’s difficult to style into a contained style if it’s shorter than my mid-back. So as far as keeping my hair out of tiny hands, my best options are long enough to put in a bun, or a pixie. And since I can trim my super long hair myself, rather than visiting a salon every 6-8 weeks to maintain a pixie, long hair wins out for me. So I’ve decided to keep my long hair. It’s currently down nearly to my waist, and while I’ve noticed a decrease in thickness as it sheds, it’s still pretty thick.

Elliot loves to grab at my hair, so I generally keep it up and away from him. My go-to style is a bun called the Nautilus Bun, which I originally learned from The Long Hair Community. It’s a simple, well-balanced bun that sits close to my head and doesn’t get uncomfortable or heavy after a whole day. It’s a set-it-and-forget-it kind of bun. I can anchor it with a fork, stick, or a clip, and the construction makes it easier to fasten securely without being too tight. And it has a rather nice look to it. So that’s how I handle having very long hair around a baby. I do sometimes wear it in a braid during the day, and I always braid my hair at night, but I have to be careful to keep it away from curious hands. I posted a video of me putting my hair up in this bun on Instagram, but my favorite tutorial can be found here.

But how do I keep such long hair clean? Well, the most important thing to note is that most of my hair care takes place outside of the shower. I wash my hair 2-3 times a week, and I only condition in the shower once a week. This works for my hair, which is relatively sturdy, and that almost never experiences damage from dye or heat styling. I also condition my hair outside the shower, with leave-in conditioner and oil, so I can watch the baby and take care of my hair. Luckily, Elliot likes to watch me do my hair.

So that’s it. That’s how I care for my very long hair, even with a baby. I’ve kept up this routine throughout my maternity leave, including during my husband’s three out-of-town trips since Elliot was born. I really only need five minutes or less in the shower most of the time, unless I’m doing my once weekly deep conditioning, so it fits really well into my life. At this point, I think I might be seeing my hair loss start to taper off, too. I’m curious how others have handled the idea of “mom hair” in their lives.

Notes from Moving House

Last week, we packed up and moved to a new house. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I arrived at the new house to find the yard an absolute riot of roses in full bloom, which I took as a sign that this was the right place for us. We’ve spent the last week settling in and learning how to feel at home in this new place. And also unpacking. It’s the first time I’ve moved in nearly 5 years, and the first time Dan and I have moved together, so I had forgotten what it’s like to be thrown into a new environment. Add to that the unique challenge of sorting out two houses while caring for an infant, and suffice to say, it’s been an interesting week.

Getting out of the Dirty Work

Because we have Elliot, one of us always has to be around to watch him when he’s not at daycare. We wisely scheduled our packers and movers to come on Thursday and Friday so we could take him to daycare, and then return to help with that. It was very smart. Unfortunately, there was enough left to be done over the weekend that we had to decide which one of us had to stay at the new house with Elliot and which went to the old house to scrub five years’ worth of grime out of the crevices that had been hidden by furniture. Because I have the milk, I got to stay at the new house and got out of all the cleaning. In case anyone thinks this was unfair, Dan decided on this arrangement before I had even thought about it.

Luckily, our former landlady was immensely understanding of the fact that we were moving out of a house that had been continually rented without totally turning over for years before we even moved in, and Dan didn’t need to spend too much time cleaning. Unfortunately, our mulberry tree decided to fruit and drop berries right on our front walk the week we moved, so the movers tracked mulberries everywhere, so he did have to clean that up. But he easily finished by Sunday evening, which left us most of Monday to decompress (before he left for a trip!).

You Live Among Boxes Now

Our new place is quite a bit smaller than our old place. Now, we didn’t have as much stuff as would normally fill a three-bedroom house, so moving to a two-bedroom wasn’t too difficult, and we were able to get rid of a lot of old things that we didn’t need, but it’s still a bit cramped since we haven’t fully unpacked. I’ve given us the reasonable goal of being unpacked before the end of June. The first room I unpacked was the office/tea room so that we have a nice place to sit in the mornings, with a relatively clear floor space for Elliot to play. Which is nice because our living room is currently the repository of empty boxes. Sophie has eked out a spot on the back of the sofa that isn’t covered in packing materials so she can rest and look out one of the many beautiful windows.

But for the most part, we are still living out of boxes and with boxes as our primary decor. We’ve cleared a sort of pathway through the boxes in the living room so we can walk from one end of the house to the other. And I still haven’t found the box that has my dirty laundry in it so I can have the clothes I wear most often. I was able to find one last work-appropriate dress this morning, hidden under a sweater in my drawer, but this weekend, finding and washing laundry will be necessary.

New Things and Old Things

I think the most exciting thing (for me) about the new house is that I have a more-or-less dedicated tea room. Yes, Dan’s desk is in the same room, but for the most part, our second bedroom is a space for me to enjoy tea, meditate, and do my yoga. Because we had to purge all the clutter that littered our old spare room, it’s going to be clear (as soon as we get rid of empty boxes!). We decided that it was best to put my tea things in a separate room so that we can close the door and keep Elliot out once he starts pulling himself up on the furniture. It also has an east-facing window, so it gets beautiful morning sun.

We also have a beautiful new kitchen, with more counter and cabinet space, a gas stove, and a dishwasher for the first time in years. Dan is particularly excited about that one, since he’s been on dish duty for the last five years. But I’m excited to start using my new kitchen. We’ve been eating takeout for the last week or so, so the first thing we’re going to do this weekend is sort out the kitchen so I can start cooking again.

But of course, the more things change, the more they remain the same. One of the things that saddened me a little was leaving all the neighborhood cats that I’d gotten to know over the years. So what do I see the day we get to the new house? A cat lounging behind our house! There are two cats that I’ve seen who like to lounge in our yard or sun themselves on the fence. I believe they live at the house behind us, since they look much too well-fed to be strays.

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So that’s where we’re at moving. It’s been an exciting and terrifying week, but the new place is starting to feel like home. I can’t wait to see what it looks like when we get everything unpacked and decorated!