August 28, 2013

At the Farm.


This past weekend we got to visit our friends Johnny and Tara's family farm, about an hour outside of Nashville near Bucksnort, Tennessee.

We'd been before and loved it, but this time we stayed the night, and I'm so glad we did because the night sky--out there in the middle of nowhere--was just insane to behold, punctured with a bazillion glittering stars. We stayed with Johnny and Tara and their boys in the barn, which except for the fact that four horses live there, too, is less like a barn and more like a rustic shangri-la. 

The next day Tessa got to ride a horse, a John Deere tractor, and a four-wheeler--the country living transportation trifecta. There were pancakes fried in coconut oil and smothered with almonds and bananas, and there were bloody marys. Tessa's longtime boyfriend Sawyer was there, with his impeccable mop of yellow hair, and they chased each other around almost the entire time we were there--a blur of afro and blond. 

And there was a swimming pool. When Tessa got into it, her waist encircled by a pink floaty, she threw her hands into the air and declared, "This feels absolutely amazing!"

It really did, y'all.

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August 26, 2013

Lou, 9 Months Old.


Livvy Lara Barnes (widely known in her narrow circle as "Lou") is nine months old today. She is very frowny in the above photo because she was, at the time, up an hour past her bedtime. It is a highly kissable frown, though, no? I mean.

She weighs 19 lbs. and 8 oz. as of today. That puts her in the 73rd percentile for weight! I put the exclamation point even though I am generally against exclamation points because, well, here I have been thinking she was a petite baby. I think that there's just something so gentle about her spirit that it makes her seem more diminutive than she is. She's also in the 89th percentile for her height.

livvy on deck

What's continuing to touch me in a big, big way is the way Livvy and Tessa relate to one another. Tessa sings her made-up songs with lyrics like, "I love you every day" and "You are the best girl in the wooooorld," and I couldn't be more happy about the way these two get on. They're both in Tessa's room right now, playing Barbies. Well, to be exact, Livvy is chewing on the Barbies while Tessa plays with them.

ellen and livvy

Livvy is still nursing most of the time, but she takes a couple of bottles of formula a day, too. She is crawling at lightening speed and cruising around like a boss. Her breath continues to smell like vanilla pudding, and her laugh is literally the best and purest thing I have ever heard in my life. My love for her grows a little bigger each day.


p.s. Here was Tessa at nine months. How is it possible that Tessa's hair was a bazillion times longer at this age?

August 22, 2013

Livvy's Birth Story

Livvy turns nine months old in just a few days. She was nine months in my tummy; she's been nine months out. This felt like a good time to finish writing the story of her birth. 

Dearest Livvy,

The night before you were born, we got a flat tire. It was inky black outside and very cold, and we’d just dropped Tessa off at your Yaya’s house. That's where she'd stay for a few days while we were getting acquainted with you in the hospital. On our way home we got off the interstate suddenly to avoid a traffic jam we spied ahead. That spit us out onto McCrory Lane, which we weren't on long before we nearly jumped out of our skin at the sound of our tire getting chewed up and spit out over and over again by the wheel of our Nissan Cube. We pulled off on a side street that seemed somehow even darker and colder. We didn’t have a flashlight so your dad changed the tire in the dark with the light of my cell phone as our fingers grew numb. After we finally got our janky spare tire fastened on and were back on our way, we talked about how we knew this would be part of the story we’d tell you one day about the day you were born. And so it is.

Before we went home we stopped to eat at P.F. Chang’s. I don’t know why we chose that particular place because we never usually go there. But I was craving Chinese, and it was my last chance to heed a pregnancy craving. As we walked up to the restaurant, I saw my belly reflected in the darkened windows and grinned at how it literally looked like I’d stuffed a watermelon down my shirt. I’d gained a little over 30 lbs., and I felt huge. But beautiful, too. Ripe. And also nervous.

Your dad and I really couldn’t fathom what it would be like to have two children or to love another child as much as we loved Tessa. We also couldn’t believe that we’d knowingly signed up to do everything all over again; we’d just potty-trained Tessa, but now we’d be doing diapers for at least another two years, thanks to you. Ahead of us we had all of your snotty colds and doctor’s appointments and terrible bedtimes and criminally early mornings. We also thought perhaps that life as we knew it was about to end, after having developed a rhythm and a routine with Tessa and feeling relief that we’d retained our social life, our personal hobbies, and our relationship. So, okay, we were scared.

We had to be up at 4:30 a.m. so we went to bed early that night after packing our bags for the hospital. I slept decently and woke up excited. It was November 26, 2012, and it felt like Christmas morning plus all the birthdays I'd ever had all rolled into one. I took a hot bath and blow-dried my hair. I put on eyeliner and mascara, some powder and blush. As it would turn out, that level of preparation was extremely optimistic and extremely unnecessary.

I took one last picture of my belly in the mirror. It was about to be empty of you, and I wanted to remember exactly how I looked the very last time that you and I shared the same space.

Dad and I ate bagels and cream cheese and drank coffee in our dark kitchen. We didn’t have much to say to one another. So we just grinned. We arrived at Baptist Hospital at 5:30 a.m., checked in with the front desk, signed a whole ream of paperwork, and were put into a waiting room with some other mamas who were also to be induced.

We had to wait there an hour. An hour!!!! (This felt vastly unfair since we had already waited nine months for you and since we’d had to get there so early.) Your dad made fun of me for being so impatient and grouchy about having to wait. I flipped listlessly through a magazine and paced the halls while he caught up on the news on his iPad. Finally my name was called, and we were taken to a birthing room, where I was given a hospital gown to put on. This all felt almost unbearably exciting.

The next step was to get an IV put in my hand. Sounds simple enough, right? Nope. Nopers. Big time nope. Baby, I’m terrible about blood, so I warned our nurse that I might get faint. A few minutes after we got the IV into place, I didn't just get faint, I passed out. Straight-up lost consciousness. While lying flat in the hospital bed. As I came to, I puked pretty generously into my hair. The hair that I had washed and blow-dried so hopefully just two hours earlier. At first the nurse thought I was having a seizure. Your dad was really worried, and there was a flurry of activity as the nurse tried to figure out why I’d passed out. The determination: I’d stopped breathing because of nerves.

I passed out because I was scared. Giving birth is major. Meeting my new baby is major. I wonder now if I had some sort of performance anxiety, too. Speaking in public is my very worst fear; job interviews fall into that category. I have to be well-dosed with anti-anxiety meds to survive any of that. Perhaps showing my stuff to a whole room of people--and pushing a baby out of my stuff--struck me as a little intimidating.

This wasn't my first rodeo, though, so you'd think I would have had my shit together. But I didn't. I so didn't. I had given birth to your sister two years and eight months earlier and had gotten off to a rocky start with her. The main problem was that I stopped sleeping as soon as she was born. That probably sounds pretty normal to you since newborns are notorious for being crap sleepers, but this went way beyond that, and it was terrifying. Even when baby Tessa was sound asleep for long stretches of time, I couldn't fall asleep, not even for a few minutes. This went on for nearly a week, and it all started in the hospital, and it ended up leading to postpartum depression. So I was nervous that would happen with you, too. But I was also prepared. I'd read several books about postpartum depression, I'd gone to some talk therapy while I was pregnant with you, and I'd found a sleep aid that my doctor agreed was safe to take while breastfeeding.

Anyhow, back to your story: After the pass-out-and-puke-in-the-hair incident, I moved to the rocking chair by the hospital bed, so your dad could wash and comb my hair as best he could using a little bucket and some shampoo and a few washcloths. Then I got back into bed, feeling freaked out by what had happened and already defeated. Let me reiterate here that I was not even yet in labor with you. I hadn't had an epidural put in. The Pitocin drip had not been started. Basically nothing had happened at all other than me getting my IV.

Within a few minutes I passed out again. And puked in my hair ... again. At this point I started to get annoyed with myself and embarrassed. The nurse, who was monitoring your heart rate through a strap across my belly, said that you were unaffected by my fainting, but she seemed kind of annoyed with me, too.

Not long afterwards the nurse got my Pitocin drip going to get labor started; then my doctor came in to break my water and check to see how dilated I was. (About 2 centimeters.) Over the next two hours, contractions began and progressed quickly. Your dad played the “birth mix” music he’d put together on the iPod dock we’d brought; I read a little bit of an Anna Quindlen book and tried to stay calm. This time I succeeded pretty well. Eventually though it came time to ask for my epidural.

I wasn't nervous about this part at all because it had gone really smoothly before Tessa's birth. But this time was different. This time it literally felt like the nurse was jabbing a needle over and over again directly into my back bone. The pain was so intense that it almost felt audible--it felt like squealing tires sound. It felt like crunching metal sounds. The lady who was giving me the epidural got annoyed with me, too, because I kept screaming out in pain and--finally when I couldn't take the pain anymore--lurching away from her long needle. She acted like I was making the whole thing up. Finally, finally, she found the sweet spot--wherever that is--and sank her needle into it, and then it didn't hurt anymore.

I continued to dilate really quickly, and my nurse told me she was going to dial down my epidural so I would "feel the urge to push" when it came time. This seemed kind of strange to me, because I had felt the need to push with Tessa just fine--even with my fabulous, cushy epidural in place. After all, it's not like you can ignore that uncontrollable urge to push your baby out--even if your lower half is half-dead to the world. By 1:30, my contractions totally sucked: I was feeling them way more than any woman who has an epidural should and I felt the urge to push--a very urgent urge to push. The nurse checked me one more time, found me fully dilated, and told me not to push even if I felt like it because the doctor needed to be here and she didn't want to deliver you on her own. Come again, lady?

The doctor showed up after a while of me trying not to push, which is basically the definition of hell in case you were wondering. And then all of a sudden about six nurses were there--all staring at my stuff, which I'm sure was a terrifying sight, but at that point I didn't care, not even a little. Because that evil nurse had dialed back my epidural, I felt every push and contraction just exactly the way she wanted me to. It basically felt like someone was burning me over and over again with a branding iron, while simultaneously hacking me in half with a machete.

All that--every bit of it and then some--was worth it the second you slipped out of me, and I heard you cry out. That was at 2:25 p.m. You weighed 7 lbs, 11 oz., and you were placed immediately into my arms, and I started to cry. Your dad cut your cord and then came to stand over us, beaming. You were beautiful and perfect and very startled. I pressed your naked body against my naked chest and held you there for a long time.

After that lots of exciting things happened. You met your Yaya and your big sister, who was completely bewildered by you, as you were not at all what she had expected. You had a sponge bath, and you nursed for the first time.

We did a whole lot of staring at you, especially after everyone had left and we had you to ourselves in our hospital room, which grew dark and quiet as night set in. I was beyond exhausted and so was your dad. I took my sleeping pill and put you in your bassinet beside my hospital bed. You were swaddled tight and too perfect and tiny for comprehension. Blessedly, I fell asleep quickly and woke in the middle of the night to your mewling. Your dad was snoring softly on the couch beside us, and I gathered you up out of your bassinet and brought you to me. After you nursed, we lay there together--with the moonlight splashed across the white sheets we shared and the hospital beeps so unfamiliar and this new chapter of my life still feeling so very new--and I loved you.

And that is what I remember most about the day you were born: That moment in the dark when I first had you to myself, and I loved you. I didn't put you back in your bassinet.

Together we slept.

August 21, 2013

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup + Blueberry Muffins

Because this blog is all over the place: whining about parenthood, waxing poetic about paint colors, now I'm all, "Soup's on, everybody!"

I pretty much only like to cook if everything can go into one pot. When I have three or four dishes going at one time, I get super flustered and sometimes angry and end up asking Nekos to take over. (He cooks our dinners way more often than not, and unlike me, cooking calms him.) But casseroles and soup I can do. And I adore baking, so muffins and rolls and breads and things I can do, too. I want to pitch in more often with the dinner-making, so my goal is to make a pot of soup a week, especially since fall is almost here. The best soups I'll share here. Lots of times there will be baked goods on the side. 

So, this soup was just incredible. We had some fresh tomatoes from our garden that we needed to use up, so that's why I chose this one. We ate it for dinner Monday night, and I've had it for lunch the past two days, too. It's so flavorful and filling, and the flavors are complex.

Did you know the secret to good tomato soup is to add cloves? Not garlic cloves--although there are definitely some of those in there, too--but the kind of clove that smells like Christmas time. I had no idea.

I think what also took this over the edge was the addition of balsamic vinegar and cayenne pepper in addition to a very generous portion of cream and all the other things you'd expect to find in a pot of tomato basil soup. 

I found the recipe on but adapted it a bunch, according to advice from commenters who'd already cooked up a pot for themselves.

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup 

Makes about six big bowls of soup 

8 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (diced canned tomatoes are fine, too)
1 onion sliced
6 cloves of garlic minced
1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 cups chicken broth 4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons sugar, or to taste
Pepper to taste
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup of chopped basil
1 cup of heavy cream (I used whipping cream)


In a stockpot, over medium heat, combine the tomatoes, onion, garlic, cloves, cayenne pepper, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, and gently boil for about 20 minutes to blend all of the flavors. Remove from heat and use an immersion blender (or regular blender) to blend to desired consistency.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour to make a roux, cooking until the roux is a medium brown. Gradually whisk in a bit of the tomato mixture, so that no lumps form, then stir the roux into the big pot of tomatoes.

Add balsamic vinegar, basil, and one cup of heavy cream, and cook for another 10 minutes. Season with sugar, pepper and salt, and adjust to taste.

The Double Blueberry Muffins with Citrus Topping were from a recipe I found in Better Homes & Gardens. They were plenty good--especially because they had a pocket of blueberry jam in the center--but not transcendent like the tomato soup.

P.s. Another time I made corn chowder + muffins. So predictable.

August 20, 2013

Motherhood Is Total Hell Sometimes.

My mom says my last blog post made me sound OCD. Yeah, well, if that's true, then this one reveals how unruly my life truly is. (Maybe it's just that obsessing over paint colors is one of the only things I have any iota of control over. But I think really what it is is: I like paint colors. I think that's pretty much it.)

Anyway, Nekos was in Louisiana last week on business from very early Monday morning until Saturday evening. I had been kind of dreading it for a week ahead of time. It was to be the longest time I had ever cared for the girls on my own, but I knew I would have some relief from the single-parenting workload because my mom would be able to keep Livvy one night. And I could use the YMCA childcare and a drop-in daycare a couple of other times when I needed to get some work done or just have some personal space and peace and quiet. After all, my workload last week was larger than normal; I had gotten a couple of extra freelance assignments (thankfully!), and the deadlines were bearing down on me.

Both kids got snotty noses immediately after Nekos left town. My mom, who catches every bug that comes her way now that she's in her sixties, said she couldn't keep Livvy because she didn't want to get sick. Plus, she was headed out of town herself on Friday. And my normally always-smiley baby who naps like clockwork and sleeps through the night suddenly turned into a needy nightmare. She would hardly let me put her down and wouldn't let anyone else hold her for even a second. When I tried to go over to a friend's house one night, I couldn't even put her down to go pee without her face getting all contorted with crazy cries. When I tried taking her to drop-in daycare, they called me to come get her because she wouldn't stop crying. And twice when I took her to the YMCA childcare I had to leave shortly thereafter because she was so hysterical. After that last failed attempt at getting a moment to myself, I sat in my car with my head against the steering wheel and just cried, feeling so trapped and smothered, old and alone. But then I had to get myself together. After all, I had to go buy some diapers.

The next day I took Livvy to the doctor to see what was up. She had an ear infection. So she's now in the process of killing her first--but certainly not last--bottle of bright pink bubble gum-flavored amoxicillin. (It's done wonders; she's back to normal now.)

Usually I can always find a way to get a break from my girls when I need one. And boy do I need breaks. That is especially apparent to me now. Even very short intervals away from them--an hour or two--can ground me and return my sanity, make me miss them and crave their sweet, silky, snotty faces again. But as the week went by and all my efforts at eeking out even a little bit of me time failed, I felt myself losing my mind. I spent the last few days of the single-parenting stint essentially miserable. At a Panera on Friday--the day before Nekos came home--I probably appeared to have completely and utterly lost my shit. Tessa started to pitch a fit in front of the order counter and, totally over it, I told her we were just going to leave, which caused her to pitch an even more savage fit. Since I had Livvy in one arm, I couldn't pick Tessa up to carry her out. I told her she would either have to walk out or be dragged, and she opted to be dragged. Picture me dragging a kicking and screaming Tessa out of Panera, up a few stairs, and across a parking lot by one arm. It was traumatic for both of us. After I got both girls into their carseats, I stood outside against my car and wept. I cried the whole way driving home, and I cried at the kitchen table as Tessa and I sat there eating our peanut butter sandwiches. She looked up at me, completely bewildered, "Why are you so sad, mommy?"

Motherhood is just total hell sometimes, right?

Some weeks you just have to do the best you can. Sometimes the best you can is pretty damn heroic, and sometimes you're dragging your kid out of Panera and up some steps by one arm. Sometimes it's your girlfriends and not your husband who are around to keep you afloat. Last week one girlfriend brought flowers and a latte, and another came by with dinner and helped me hold Livvy down and sweet talk her into gulping down her pink goo. There were texts and phone calls and some beers on my back porch with friends that sustained me, too.

I only cried one other time last week: When I picked Nekos up at the airport. Now I know--really, really know--that it's because of him that I get to be a great mother most of the time. When he's gone, I feel haggard and lonesome, totally unglued. When he's here with us, we are a family. I love this family. And I love that bad weeks make the good weeks that much more epic.

August 13, 2013

A Whole-House Color Palette

When Nekos and I moved to Nashville (for me, it was moving back to Nashville since this is where I was born and raised), we rented out one side of a duplex in the 12 South neighborhood. Among other decor choices, we hung three shelves in our living room. One I painted electric yellow, one teal blue, and one sherbet orange. In that same room there were red, Asian-inspired curtains. All of this I shudder to think about now. I still love color, but I'm pretty astounded by how much my taste has changed over the years. Equally as offensive: When we bought our house it was in the final stages of being flipped, and the guy we bought it from let us pick out the paint colors for every room. We literally went to Home Depot and picked out every single color within 15 minutes, and they were all insane colors. I remember we thought we were so cute when we told friends that we chose "spring colors" for downstairs and "fall colors" for upstairs. What that meant was that every room in our house was a deep, saturated, sometimes headache-inducing hue, and none of them went together at all. Over the past six years, I've slowly been undoing some of the bad paint color choices we made that day at Home Depot while in our early twenties. Now, one of my favorite things to do is research paint colors. Yep, I just wrote that. Man, my life is apparently incredibly exciting. I can happily squander hours online Googling different paint colors and seeing how they look in different rooms on different surfaces in different lights.

Prior to last year, I didn't even know there was such a thing as a paint color palette that one should abide by in their home, and I never gave one iota of thought to color flow. But blogs like The Decorologist have really schooled me, and as I've steadily repainted most of the rooms in our house--and plenty of the furniture--I've felt what a tremendous difference just the right color can make in the way our house feels. For instance, taking our guest bedroom from a caribbean blue to a more muted yellow (this room has since become Tessa's bedroom) and our kitchen from an overwhelming butternut to a minty blue-green made our whole downstairs feel less intense and lighter. And taking the nursery from dark brown to deep purple to greige? Equally as soothing. And, see? I still adore color, but my taste has changed big time. It's sort of scary to think what I might think about my current choices five years from now.

In the meantime, I'm still working--with every new project I take on around here--on reconciling and blending the colors of our home from room to room. For instance, now the blue of our front door can also be found on the bench in our upstairs hallway and on the mantle in the master bathroom. The mint in the kitchen can be found on the two pendant lights hanging in our living room, and the yellow on Tessa's bedroom walls will soon grace our front porch swing.

Here's a look at our house's still-pretty-much-all-over-the-map but much more toned down color palette:

1. Benjamin Moore's "Wyeth Blue" - On front door, on mantle in master bath, on bench in upstairs hallway
2. Sherwin Williams's "Antique White" - On front porch and on stair risers
3. Sherwin Williams's "Perfect Greige" - On front porch
4. Behr's "Salty Tear" - On living room walls
5. Sherwin Williams's "Plum Blossom" - On dining room walls
6. Benjamin Moore's Cool Mint - On walls in kitchen, on pendant lights in living room
7. Behr's "Pismo Dunes" - On walls in Tessa's room
8. Annie Sloan's "Antoinette" - On furniture in Tessa's room
9. Behr's "Sled" - On walls in guest bath
10. Behr's "Porcelain Skin" - In hallways
11. Sherwin Williams's "Studio Blue Green" - In office
12. Benjamin Moore's "Cromwell Gray" - On stair treads and railings
13. Benjamin Moore's "Revere Pewter" - On walls in nursery
14. Annie Sloan's "Paris Grey" - On corner hutch in kitchendresser in master bedroom, bench and chair in dining room

I plan on painting all the wrecked hardwood floors upstairs (under the equally-as-wrecked carpet) the "Antique White" color. Then I look forward to picking a new paint color for our bedroom. A year and a half ago I painted it white. Like, straight-up white--right out of the can with no tint. It's turned out to be way too antiseptic for me. I have a feeling I'm never going to get the paint colors "just right" around here. And thank God for that. What will I do then?

August 9, 2013

Before & After: Carpeted Stairs to Painted Stairs

Two weeks ago I yanked all the carpet off my stairs. It felt damn good. I started the process in June when I ripped the carpet off my first three stairs, installed new risers with the help of a friend, and then painted them. But I needed to do the whole shebang. To anyone who's considering ripping the carpet off their stairs and then dealing with whatever you find underneath, I say, Do it! One of the best things I've ever done for my house, hands down. (It took a lotta, lotta time though, and if you don't like to paint and play with nail guns and caulk guns, then maybe you wouldn't want to undertake this after all.)

Looking at these before photos literally makes me feel a little ill. I hated having this dirty old carpet on our stairs. But we definitely didn't have the money to have the stairs professionally redone, so I had to figure out how to get these stairs looking up to snuff on my own.

I am so lucky that I work part-time for a home remodeling company here in Nashville (Stratton Exteriors) and could enlist the help of my boss Shane when it came to selecting materials, measuring, and sawing boards the correct length. No way I could have done it without him. (Speaking of Stratton Exteriors, my obsession with painted stairs goes back a ways; I blogged about it on the Stratton Exteriors blog in February.)

While I've read online that some people have been able to rip the carpet off their stairs and find perfectly paintable/stainable steps underneath, what I found was kind of a nightmare. The existing treads had big gaps on either side--too big to caulk or fill with wood putty. So we ended up putting down new treads on most of the steps, and every step needed a new riser. The wood cost $100. Paint, primer, and assorted materials cost me another $125. So the whole project give or take cost under $250.

Here's what the steps looked like bare. I think I had already pulled up all the nails and staples at this point:

Here's what the stairs looked like once we got the new treads and risers on and they were all caulked, patched, and sanded:

Here's what the stairs looked like once they were all primed:

With regards to the paint color, I exercised a lot of restraint. I was tempted to go blue, something like this:

In the end, I kind of regret not going for it.

Instead, I used this photo as my inspiration and tried to match the color as best I could:

I found Benjamin Moore's "Cromwell Gray," which I love because it's gray/green/brown depending on the light. I painted the risers with Sherwin Williams's porch paint in "Antique White." It's what I had on hand from when I painted my porch

So here are our new stairs:

The improvement is pretty major, right? 

Don't look too closely. They're not perfect, but then I knew they wouldn't be. But I am really, really happy with them. 

Here's the view from up top:

We hauled an old handrail out of our shed and reinstalled it. I painted the hand rail and the banister rail "Cromwell Gray," too. Really tied things together, if I do say so myself.

Next up: All the carpet upstairs is getting uprooted and kicked out of my house forever. More adventures ahead.

Clearly, I won't rest until my paint brush touches every square inch of our house.