Her blog Marginamia has become a serious habit of mine, despite my no longer being in the baby naming phase. A mother of two girls with perfect monikers, Kristen, a freelance writer, is interested in names, their meanings and their connections by way of culture, literature and lifestyle.
Tell us about yourself:
I live with my husband, Chris,and our two daughters, Nona (4) and Valo June (20 mo), in the D.C. area. I’m a full-time mother, a blogger and freelance writer. Beyond that I’m house hunting and finally starting to work on some children’s books!
Chris and I met studying philosophy and then moved around a lot together, living out of boxes and suitcases. The closest we came to settling down was in Honolulu, Hawaii for five years, where we started our young family. I worked with my friends in music promotions, putting on fun concerts and helping musicians vacation a bit while they toured. Island life was an absolute dream for a girl in her twenties. I awoke to wild chickens, swam with turtles, climbed mountains and walked volcanoes. Nona’s first two years were filled with Pacific waves, tropical forests, and some seriously naked living. At the time, I underestimated just how much it would all become part of who we are as a family.
Now I dream of going back to Tennessee, where I grew up, to find some perfectly tucked away home in the hills of Nashville, where we’ll busy ourselves playing banjos (of course!), tending snail races in the garden, and eating sticky bowls of homemade peach and ginger ice cream.
Other than Sunday morning breakfast, I usually do. My culinary efforts don’t always appeal to my family, so I plan to use this over the coming months, though, as not to totally alienate my favorite people.
What’s a typical weeknight?
It depends on the season. For now, after dinner (which is pretty early) I turn on peppy music to let the girls engage the last of their wildness for the day while I clean up, and then I join them for dancing. After that we groom and do pajamas; Chris usually gets home shortly thereafter. We talk in hushed tones, walk softer, put on soft music and light candles as it gets dark, rather than turning on lights. I might enjoy a quiet half hour or so to myself during this time. Sometimes we do lotion rubs and smell “special sleep potion” (essential oil) before having our family snuggle and books in the big bed. Then Chris snuggles Nona a bit more in her room, while Valo June and I have songs and nursing in our room (she’s still in with us.) After this I stretch and either write or chat with Chris.
Do you have a go-to dinner that appears weekly? What’s in the breakfast
rotation? Any food-based family rituals?
A few times a week we do some form of eggs & avocados or eggs & potatoes. Fried egg on broiled tomato and arugula toast with avocado slices; soft boiled eggs with mashed rosemary and shallot sweet potatoes, and a green veggie; or fried egg over a ginger, avocado, crushed nori and rice bowl are some of the forms the meal takes.
For breakfast we almost always do oatmeal with peanut butter mixed in, and carrot juice & fruit smoothies.
Our rituals really come down to two things: Pancake Sunday, brought to us by Chris (and only Chris—I was banished from the griddle after sneaking lemon into the batter), and at dinner time we ring an old bell. Other than that, it’s crazy time. I trust we’ll have calmer rituals when people are no longer sitting on laps, hiding under tables and enjoying avocado hair masks; god knows they’re given an ample supply of product.
How do you feel about screen-time?
Moderate? We’re very cautious in keeping away programing and advertising, so we don’t have any tv channels, and we try not to do any media at all for most of the week (try, mind you). Then we religiously observe “Movie Friday” — we watch a couple of movies, and maybe some music videos on Vimeo. We really appreciate (and think kids do, too) movies for children that aren’t blind to the arts of beauty and subtlety. Our favorite movies for Fridays are My Neighbor Totoro; Peter and the Wolf, by Suzie Templeton; and The Fox and the Child, by Luc Jaquet. For shorts, we love Joanna Lurie’s, especially this one. If our tv is on any other day of the week, it’s lit up with music and a slideshow of either our flickr favorites or our own family photos, which I really love; I don’t think I’d end up actually enjoying our photo albums very often without it.
Tell us about how you celebrate birthdays in your house. Give us some examples. Do you like or resent the goody bag phenomenon?
So far, birthdays have been low-key, intimate, and casual, with just one or two special friends. I bake a cake (which Nona likes to help decorate), blow up a bag or two of balloons, and the birthday girl gets to pick what we do all day. We open some gifts, tell the story of their births, and talk about all the unique ways they’ve enriched the world (I can’t wait to see how this one evolves as they age!)
My resentment or love for goodie bags depends totally on the spirit with which they’re given. I think I resent obligatory giving; it misses the point and usually results in unneeded stress and bags o’ crap. We’d love to make little gifts for our friends, but if it doesn’t work out, I don’t want us to feel any shame in saving it for another occasion. My dad dressed up like a clown and made up these fantastic on-the-spot stories at our parties; I’d prefer this to a bag of zipymadoodles and suckers any day!
What websites inspire you and for which parts of your life?
I just discovered ARH, and I’m pretty excited by the food Ashley features! She cooks eggs as much as I do, so I’m going try all of her dishes, and I love the clothes, interiors, and art there, too. Izakoo is fueling my wanderlust lately. For parenting support, Jennifer Lehr’s Good Job! helps me connect to my ideals. And to inspire my approach to creative projects, I love Keri Smith’s blog.
Tell us about a typical weekend.
One day is a day of rest, which might include a walk, but nothing too taxing or overstimulating. The other will be either a light activity day (picnics, hikes, etc) or those seasonal errands and needs that come and go. Chris and Nona usually have a date of some sort, be it a trip to the market or the park. We try to keep it totally relaxed.
Any family rituals you carry on, or that you have created?
Every Sunday my parents took us for a drive in the country. We’d roll down our windows and listen to my mother tell us the history of the land over soft music. I’d stare into the clouds and trees with that all-is-right-with-the-world feeling. We had our problems like every other family, but those drives were always pretty perfect, and I never outgrew them. We’ve continued it, though much less regularly, for our young family.
One new thing I like to do is save particular smells for certain seasons, occasions and trips. This began on our last trip to the mountains, somewhat accidentally, and stuck when I realized I could bring the vacation back to us through that old bottle of oil. When the time comes, I’d love to send our girls off to all their new adventures with a smelly box of memories — something they can pull out when they need to connect to our traditions or have a quick breath of winter on a hot day.
How long have you been interested in names?
Though I’d named a business, songs, workshops/events and pets with great enthusiasm, it was during and after Valo June’s naming process, when I discovered websites dedicated entirely to names, that I realized just how crazy into anthroponymy I actually am. I suppose I’m like most other name enthusiasts in that I can get jazzed about a name in itself, but the truth is I’m most interested in how names connect to the people who wear them — the stories and meaning to be found in those relationships. I think names get a bad rap for being a superficial aspect of personhood, but they’re really about the social aspect our beings; we only have them so that we may be referred to by other people, often those who most love us. I think that’s pretty neat.
How did you come up with the names for your daughters?
We like short and simple names that are celebratory of nature and reflective of our values.
More specifically, we picked Nona for it’s particular associations to Roman mythology. We also loved the fact that it’s used as a name for ‘grandmother’ in some languages, which is fitting for her; she’s wise beyond her four years. Plum, her middle name, is from a special memory from my childhood, my first time picking and eating plums!
Valo is a Finnish word for ‘light’. In addition to her being a burst of brightness just after the loss of my father, my labor began with the rising sun and intensified along with it. The sun coaxed her out into the world three hours later, in our bedroom, where our home gets the most morning light. June is tied to Roman mythology (and her birth month). Reverie, her third name and a favorite word of ours, is a state my husband and I both found ourselves in a lot throughout my pregnancy; we liked to imagine this was due to something specific about her nature. She walks around all day on her tip toes, light as the air, so it’s a good fit.
Favorite activities for when you’re stuck indoors, or do you not let the elements get in the way?
We try to get outdoors most days, but indoor activities we like best are painting, beading, baking, reading, music making and dancing. Nona is just starting to develop an interest in both Yoga (which I love to see. I used to teach Yoga) and tea making/drinking. I also really love to see how resourceful they become with the simplest of things when I’m busied with something else.
If you are a music person, tell us what you listen to…
Music is on more often than not, or we’re making our own songs. We’re usually going for calm-happy, so Lullatone is on for every type of occasion, and I love that they’re a music makin’ family! We listen to quite a lot from our parents’ generation, from pop to folk to early punk, and anything put out by Stax (I’m a third generation Booker T fan, so I’ve bopped with Dad and Granddad.) In terms of more current stuff, we listen to a lot of modern folk; the latest Fleet Foxes album has been on a lot lately. I frequently reach for Ólöf Arnalds, Inara George, Linda Perhacs, and Juice Newton (the first record I remember loving as a child). We’re pretty egalitarian in our selections, but we all seem to genuinely enjoy the same stuff, so no one is suffering. It’s great for the kids that we love Julie Andrews and Elisabeth Mitchell. And it works out for us that the girls are partial to our college/post college music; they go completely ape for Of Montreal and Devendra Banheart, and we often calm down for sleep with Stars of the Lid. I imagine there will be less convergence of tastes in our family as the girls age, so I’m enjoying the total harmony for now!
Top 3 favorite books—for your kids, top 3 for yourself? Last book you read?
There are three that stand out for appearing when I most needed them, in each of the last three decades of my life: Walden lit a very influential spark, The Unbearable Lightness of Being brought me a timely peace, And The Little Prince became a lamppost and tuner for me, at age 33! I just finished Handcrafted Modern by Leslie Williamson (loved it). I’m currently reading Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort and The New Traditional Woodworker by Jim Tolpin.
Picking favorite childrens’ books is even harder. On our rotating shelf right now: Emily’s Balloon by Komako Sakai, A Winter’s Tale by Robert Sabuda, Wonder Bear by Tao Nyeu, The Cat at Night by Dahlov Ipcar, and All Kinds of Families by Mary Ann Hoberman and Marc Boutavant. I’ve already cheated, but may I still give honorable mentions to The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton, The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren, and Owl Moon by Jane Yolen?
What’s the thing that always stays on your to-do list and never gets crossed off and nags at you?
Such a long list, but we don’t have even one photograph of all four of us together! I desperately need to schedule a family portrait, but at this point I’d almost settle for having a neighbor come snap a quick shot when all four of us are clean at the same time and my husband doesn’t have any wires or apple products dangling from his body.
Your favorite family trip ever?
After just moving back to the mainland from Hawaii, between homes and jobs, the ceiling of our temporary home collapsed over the dining area from a sewage bust. I was twenty weeks pregnant, had a two year old, and suddenly the place was uninhabitable, so we very quickly threw some things in a bag and took to the Smokey Mountains. We spent a week in a beautiful mountain cabin, mostly lounging in the room with the giant whirlpool tub, which practically blended into the forest. Our mornings were made of warm tea, cozy blankets, and fog covered mountain tops. I enjoyed an in-cabin massage and hours of prenatal yoga. Nona’s had her first snow play and first cup of hot coco. Chris baked batches and batches of cookies from scratch. We often opened our windows to the smells of pines and snow, and kept the fireplace going non stop. We drove through the mountains, nibbling on chocolate and listening to the rushing river while Nona napped in the car. She still asks if we can go back to the snowy place with all the stars and the giant bath tub!
Do you have any personal a-ha tip that you want to tell us about.
So, I lost my mom last April (one year after my father), very suddenly. She was young, only fifty three, which has really put the uncertainty and fragility of life into perspective for me. While I am going through (and playing twister with) all the stages of grief, I feel a very real urgency to make my days count — to do the things I most want to do, love the people I most want to love, and just not get bogged down by the rest. I feel the same urgency for my kids. I think we’ve all had someone say to us, “oh, she won’t even remember that when she’s grown. How much do you remember from being three?”, as if only that which is remembered or otherwise put toward the future counts. But a child’s experience matters today, not just for the future adult (or memory) it will produce, but in and of itself. Finding fulfillment today is just as urgent for my girls as it is for me, so we spend less time preparing for life and more time simply enjoying it than we did before.
You feel your best when?
When I laugh daily and keep my muscles stretched, I stay best maintained. What I enjoy the most is feeling inspired and excited by something completely new to me or finding new dimensions in something old and comforting, realizing it’s growing with me.
Favorite clothing item and why?
A pair of vintage Cole Haan ankle boots. They go with absolutely everything, and I can walk for miles with a baby on my back. I’m also pretty excited about the tank top I’m beginning to sew this week from a Wiksten pattern! It will be the first garment I’ve made for myself.
Proudest moment in parenting?
I’m proudest of my kids in all those little moments where they reveal what total individuals they are — those parts of them that come from their own insights, passions, and preferences. And I feel proudest of myself when I remember that over half of this parenting thing is relaxing enough to enjoy these little surprises of theirs! Ideals and great efforts are wonderful and totally necessary, but sometimes I get a little too wrapped up in them.
What do you feel you could be better at?
Making better attempts at “socialization” is the first that comes to mind. While we do stay involved with the bigger social/political goings on, we live a very quiet, slow-paced, and detached-from-the-world type of lifestyle. This is obviously intentional, but I worry that I don’t make enough efforts to find a community of people, old and young, like I so fondly remember having as a child. It just didn’t happen as naturally for us after our last move; with kids and new priorities, it’s a whole new scene that I’ve not really figured out how to navigate in a way that’s fulfilling for all of us. I really need to make it a priority for this year, though, for all our sakes!
What makes you feel guilty?
I feel guiltiest when I’m not as nice as I should be, when my girls hear undeserved frustration in my voice or see it my face and think it’s meant for them. Thank goodness for apologies.