A Shocking Development: Sunday Morning French Toast

I don’t want to brag, but yesterday morning I made French toast. On a whim. From scratch, using a recipe I spontaneously found on weelicious. While my husband—fearless cook and all-around unflappable father—was out of town. P. sat on the counter in her pajamas and helped me crack two eggs into the bowl and whisk them together with cinnamon, honey, milk, and almond milk. I didn't panic when I had to pluck eggshell bits out of the batter (my fault, not hers) but simply carried on, improvising cheerfully, channeling Steve. Kids are uncanny conduits of our emotions, as I'm starting to figure out, but P. didn't bat on eye. She just chewed on a chunk of semi-stale Ciabatta and watched studiously as I dunked half a dozen pieces in the batter and lay them casually in the pan, as though I did this every Sunday morning, as though it wasn’t some supreme feat to make a hot breakfast out of thin air. Meanwhile, M wheeled around in her little activity go-cart, banging into cabinets and dogs like a drunken underage driver, squeaking her giraffe and drooling with amazement. (Either that, or else she was teething.) For the first time since I started trying to learn to cook, I was actually relaxed in the kitchen. A shocking development! Everything about the scene felt freakishly sane and normal and, dare I say, easy. The French toast was crispy on the outside and soft but not soggy on the inside, just the way I like it, and as the three of us sat down to eat our breakfast, everything felt just about right. As they say, fake it 'til you make it. 


At your suggestion I dove into Poser. And, while I am only on the second chapter, I can already see how it mirrors my own life, living back at home amongst concentric circles of complicated family and friend relationships. Rallying against the liberal, know what’s best for your child by ingesting organic only foods child-rearing, following a code of mommy ethics that cloaked in freedom harbor restrictions. And I feel myself wonder, how did you know not to move back east once you and Steve began having babies? What innate wisdom did you acquire that I lack(ed)? Deep breath. It feels too surreal like an echo of my current life, and I am only on Chapter Two, do I brave the rest?

Peter is traveling again amongst the mountain ranges of Utah verses in the back country of Canada showing clients the wind farms that are already built and that will be built. And I find I am struggling with my old friend, anger. She seems to come out in the morning and at night when my resources or time is limited. She comes in the form of having to ask my kids repeatedly to do something. “Please get your pajamas on. Please get your pajamas on. Please get your pajamas on. Please don’t make me ask again. I am getting angry. Please will you get your pajamas on???” Boiling point hit, voice rises. Boys respond. I feel horrible. Outcome achieved but at a price.

So I ask how can I break this pattern and create a healthier one…as I write this the only thing that pops into my mind is trying to take the rush out of things and add humor—ok so that is two things. But come on, what else do you implore when you are well, imploring? When the echo of your requests rings so loud you can almost transport yourself to a canyon you're hiking and the sound of your voice reverberates off the walls.
Picture from our New Year's Day Hike 2011 with our families just outside of Santa Fe, NM

So my plea tonight? Resources please…how do you request something when the first request goes unnoticed by your child and your exhaustion at the situation is hitting a boiling point? Resources please!


Mix & Blend

I’m crossing tasks off my nesting check list. Or as my father-in-law calls it my “honey-do-list, honey do that, honey do this”…and to Peter’s credit he has responded with grace knowing that this is part of the process when a baby is nearing arrival. So last night after K.’s 2nd birthday celebration, aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins departed, kitchen cleaned, kids bedded, I asked him to paint the fireplace; he did. I asked him to hang pictures on our bare walls, again check. And while I would have pushed my luck during past nesting phases, and asked him to do more no matter the hour, I recognized when enough was enough. And we stopped and sat on the couch and enjoyed the dwindling fire that was burning as I sat next to my husband feeling hormonal overload, weight overload (I’m feeling larger than I have with any other baby—and my brother asked if I was positive I was not having twins this go around, not helpful), and an overall lacking of beauty. Yes, my hormones trumped me last night! They ruled reason, reality, and my immediate future.

With my nesting urge has come urgency for healthier foods. So I have traded in my caffeine craves for smoothies! Katie said I had to share after emailing the recipes to her. I agree! These energy boost recipes are just too good to keep to myself. And if it weren’t for my friend, Marty, who said she has swapped her afternoon latte for the green machine, I never would have tasted the deliciousness that follows, and kudos to my girlfriend, Catherine, who says that the secret ingredient to any smoothie is a banana for taste and texture—she is right!

Green Machine Smoothie•    half an avocado
•    1 granny smith apple
•    1 cup packed spinach
•    1 cup ice
•    1 1/4 cup pear juice or white grape juice I did pear
•    I added 1 banana per Catherine’s sage advice mentioned above.

Super tasty and energizing!!! My boys and Peter loved this one and we ate it with popcorn and watching our Friday night movie in our bed. Movie is a loose term for a half hour on demand show they get to watch before bedtime only on Friday nights…we all snuggle, watch, and laugh before tuck-ins. As a family we anticipate Friday night Family Night, but I digress. 

Yesterday morning I tried another smoothie recipe and both Peter and the boys declared this one even tastier. Personally, I find I feel a larger energy boost from the Green Machine recipe above, but this is a pretty darn good boost!

Pom-berry Banana Smoothie

•    1 orange peeled
•    1 cup berries frozen or fresh. I used blueberries and strawberries
•    1 banana
•    1 cup pomegranate juice
•    1 cup ice

So whether you are nesting and expecting another chick and need to get through the late afternoon hours without a second latte, or are just trying to keep yourself going with good food I invite you to mix & blend the above and send us your smoothie favorites!


All Over the Map

sorta wish he'd remembered to bring this along
Steve left yesterday at 3:30 A.M. for British Columbia. His journey took him to Denver, then Calgary, then Golden. As I write this, he’s on a helicopter bound for Fairy Meadows, a backcountry ski hut in the Adamant Mountains that’s run by the Alpine Club of Canada.  

And while I’m thinking of him, in the high northern Rockies, surrounded by snow fields and open bowls and mountains that shoot up to the sky, I’m also thinking about me—about where I might have been today: on a plane to St. Paul, the girls in tow, to see my friend Elizabeth. When I pictured staying here in Santa Fe, on my own for a 10-day solo parenting marathon, I began to panic and immediately thought about getting out of town, taking our gong show on the road and inflicting our chaos on a dear friend. 

But as much as I wanted to go, something about leaving didn’t feel right. I just couldn’t bring myself to buy the plane tickets. After decades of chronic waffling, I’m finally beginning to figure out that when I feel so indecisive, it’s a signal I need to look deeper into what’s making me hesitate. Turns out, when I really peeled away the layers, that going to Minnesota felt sort of like running away: shirking some kind of epic test of maternal skill and unflappability and dragging my girls into my own panicky drama when all signs suggest that after so many months of travel, they really just need to stay put right now.

So here we are in Santa Fe at the end of day two, the night house quiet, the dog snoring, a storm moving in from the west. I’m thinking also about my father, and about Mexico—where we’re meeting my step mom and my dad’s closest friends in a few weeks—and how strange it will be to arrive at the airport and not find him there waiting for us, hiding behind some pillar with a silly grin on his face, ready to jump out and surprise us. My father is still so three-dimensional in my mind. He has not yet faded into a picture of my father, a wavy old snapshot of someone you used to know and love but can’t quite bring to mind anymore. He is still my father—with height and girth and green-flecked eyes and those crazy ragg wool socks he wore everyday, winter or summer—as though at any moment, he will walk out of my memory and back into my regular life. As though I haven’t lost him for my whole life, just for a little while, and once the novelty of him dying has worn off, he’ll come waltzing back to us, camera bag slung over one shoulder and that same old grin, always. 

So I am all over the map tonight, trying to stay positive and open in my heart. That’s what I try to remember when I feel anxious and reactive: to act out of love, not fear. My husband is holed up in a hut with no electricity or cell phone service for the next week, skiing big bowls of unfathomably deep, untracked snow. It does not take a great leap of the imagination to worry. Fear could paralyze me, but I am going to choose love instead. Skiing the backcountry is what Steve loves, and I love Steve, so that’s that. Where is the love? In the Adamant Mountains, skiing his brains out. And right here in Santa Fe, surrounded by friends, with so much to be grateful for. Right where we girls belong.  

cheat sheet taped to my bedpost in case for when I forget

Awake in the Nest

It's official...nesting instincts have kicked in, and the early morning rise has begun. It's 4 am and I can't fall back asleep again. I have tossed and turned and meditated, and finally I relinquish to the fact that even though it is dusk outside and the streetlamps are still lit, all indicators that sleeping hours are still upon me, I am wide awake!

My boys are asleep, my husband is snoring, my dogs are snoozing, and one car has driven down my street, which is curious. In Santa Fe no car would be coming down those red earthen roads except perhaps my husband’s in route to catch a flight in Albuquerque with the moon still out. This time two years ago on this day, the 26th of February I awoke in labor in Beverly, MA with our delightful third son. I was looking at his birth pictures last night and that rush of relief when he was placed on my chest after a few hours of pushing came over me all over again. I am getting excited for that feeling again. It's the birthday of Johnny Cash too, who I think is a creative genius and whom I hope shares some of his spirit with my son born on this day. Goofy thought maybe, but...
Sweet relief, moments after birth, two years ago today.
 L., our second son, just coughed in the other room and it sounds like the croup. He used to get that all the time as a babe.  I hope it is not.

As part of my nesting I feel this urgency to decorate our home, to really make it ours. I don't want to run out and buy the things I want to create one of a kind originals like this. Don't fret I will not start making felted creations as promised. But I do feel the need to create and inspire my space. Perhaps this is what I will begin doing when the rooster crows at 4 am and sleep is nowhere to be found for me.


Recipe of the Week: Clueless Cook's Roast Chicken

A couple months ago I decided to teach myself how to cook. I gave myself a reasonable goal: one recipe a week, any recipe. This week I made roast chicken. When we were kids, my mother roasted a chicken every Sunday night: sizzly brown and crisp on the outside, juicy inside. My sister Amy and I would gnaw on the legs. This was in the early 80s, before supermarket rotisserie chickens were invented, which are good in theory but are usually cold and dried out by the time you eat them. I missed my mother’s chickens: plump and smelling up the whole house like homemade love.
not too shabby
I imagined roasting a chicken to be a fraught, complicated endeavor, one involving lifting up flaps of rubbery, puckery poultry skin to remove certain tiny organs and stuff other things inside. Raw chicken makes me queasy and fiddling with an entire dead bird seemed unsavory to say the least. 

I spent weeks trolling for a recipe, boycotting anything that used verbs like “basting” or “trussing” or required me to tie twine around knobby chicken ankles. No thanks—I know my limits. But I did want to cook rosemary potatoes around the roast—this was the way my mom did it, and it was the one dish I knew how to make before I started trying to cook. The recipe I found, in Parents’ magazine, sounded simple enough, with a jolly little emblem promising “It’s a snap!” 

  • 1  4- to 5-lb.  whole chicken
  • 4  cloves  garlic, cut into slivers
  • 3  to 4 sprigs  fresh rosemary
  • 1  tsp.  olive oil
  • 1/4  tsp. each  kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8    tiny new red or gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
  •   Salt
1. Heat oven to 400°F. Pat the chicken dry inside and out with paper towels. Remove giblet package, if present. Using a paring knife, make a few small cuts in the thickest part of the chicken legs and insert a garlic sliver into each. Being careful not to tear it, use your fingers to gently separate the skin from the breast meat; slide a few slivers of garlic under the skin. Place the remaining garlic and the rosemary sprigs in the chicken cavity. Rub olive oil all over the chicken and sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. Place chicken in a roasting pan or heatproof baking dish.
2. Roast, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Add the potatoes to the pan or dish; sprinkle lightly with salt and toss to coat. Continue roasting for 15 minutes more. Stir potatoes. If chicken is browning to fast, cover loosely with foil. Roast another 30 to 40 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer registers 170°F. in the breast or 180°F. in the thigh and potatoes are tender, stirring potatoes once more during cooking.
3. Remove pan or dish from oven and let stand 10 minutes.

The first lesson I learned is not to go shopping at Whole Foods at 5:30 on a Sunday evening if you are planning to roast the chicken that very same night. You will not be dining until at least 8:30 P.M. And novices, don’t try to season a raw chicken while simultaneously fixing two small, hungry children their supper. 

While I put P. to bed, Steve beat me to the dirty work, patting the bird with paper towels and fishing out the tidy little bag of giblets. “Here’s the heart. Here’s the liver!” he announced as he tossed them into the snapping jaws of dogs. I got up my nerve and shoved some garlic into the cavity—slippery and a little ominous, like feeling around the garbage disposal to pluck out a spoon. But I was too lazy and squeamish to slice into the leg, so I scattered the remaining garlic slivers, along with the rosemary Steve picked from our winter herb garden, across the top of the bird instead.

Into the oven went the bird. Soon the whole house began to smell of herbs and chickeny goodness. When the buzzer rang, Steve jabbed his meat thermometer into one leg: 175—definitely done. "The juices are clear!" I practically shouted. I’d read somewhere that that was a good sign. Steve arched his eyebrows, like that was the strangest things he'd ever heard come from my mouth. 

The potatoes were soft but only just beginning to brown, whereas the chicken skin was sizzling and toasty cashew in color, just like Mom’s. I was so excited I forgot to let it rest, whatever that means, and Steve went after it with the carving knife before I could bask in my own glory.

But if the chicken looked pretty, it tasted even better: so juicy and moist, it was almost a caricature of itself. And hot—positively piping. No question, this bird was in a different league than rotisseries. I wished the potatoes were crispier, but I’m not sure how to get around that without overcooking the roast. Maybe next time, while the chicken is “resting,” I’ll crank up the oven to broil. 

We served it with a simple spinach salad—a staple at our house—and even after we both went back for seconds, we still had an entire Tupperware of leftovers to last all week. Yum.


My Confidant

"She believed she could so she did."

This was the quote painted on canvas on the window ledge in front of me at prenatal yoga this morning. I was back at Blooma, where I went when I was pregnant with K., our third. This small sign struck me then. However, it sunk in differently now, pregnant with our fourth-- as I contemplate home or hospital birth, as I believe in my powers as a birthing mama more and more with my doula work, as I grow as a writer with larger dreams and deep rooted stories to share, I realize it comes down to a core word: Confidence. Confidence and belief that what I set my intention upon can and will manifest. An internal confidence that radiates out, that informs my decisions, how I use my energy, and what I tend to daily. So today I offered up my yoga practice to confidence. And let that confidence soar off my mat to those in my life that need it—so, I offer to you the gift of confidence that you have all it takes to get through these days of solo parenting and whatever else may come your way.


Breaking Through

So, a funny thing happened. One day we were in the thick of the tangle, lying on the train tracks getting run over by runaway trains, and the next day we broke through. 

The past three weeks haven’t been pretty. I’ve been avoiding my magazine work, feeling guilty, berating myself for being a slacker—the usual cycle of procrastination and self-loathing, with a lot of subliminal grieving thrown in for bad measure. Two-year-old P., meanwhile, has been hitting and smacking, refusing to nap at school, testing her limits, and pretty much driving me up a wall. Resistance is contagious. 

I finally got so tired of being so gripped, I knew I had to do something. I announced to Steve and this blog that I would submit three queries before the month is out—a paltry goal, but a goal nonetheless. I’d no sooner fired off my first pitch than I got an email from a different editor asking if I had time for a short assignment. Voila, the power of intention! 

The next morning I woke up and knew what I had to do for P. Put the parenting books away, let go of my fears for a few hours, and simply hang out with her. At school—in her environment. It wasn’t a dramatic lightning bolt, but more like a steady thrum of intuition. In the 30 minutes I was there, I watched her slap blobs of paint onto an easel—“the Moon,” she announced; to me they looked like giant yellow slugs—and mold gobs of slimy pink substance called Gak. I also saw one boy hit another boy and a boy stick his hand in my face and point it like a gun, and I helped P. go to the bathroom on a miniature toilet and said hi to all her friends. She seemed happy and well adjusted—thrilled, really, that I was there—but I was despondent. How could I have dropped her off in this classroom twice a week for the last year without so much as a backward glance? Certainly I was a terrible mother, perhaps one of the world’s very worst. I went home and had a good long cry. Separation anxiety was finally catching up to me.

At some point during my pathetic wallowing, I got an email from my editor at a glossy New York travel magazine. The story I’d reported last spring while 7 months pregnant had been killed. “What can I say,” my editor wrote with what struck me as cavalier cruelty, “it’s subjective.”

But here’s the good news about bad news. Some days motherhood can be so crushing to your ego that when your editor writes to tell you the story you labored on for months and had a panic attack while on assignment in a tent in the wilderness with your big, fat pregnant belly and rewrote twice will never see the light of day, you’re already so pulverized you almost don’t care. What’s one more blow? Parenthood is great for perspective. 

That afternoon when I picked up her at school, P greeted me with a joyous screech: “I napped!” To celebrate, we scrapped plans to run a boring errand and went out for frozen yogurt instead. Back at home, she stopped hitting her sister and started listening more. Our agreeable girl was back. And by week’s end, two more editors had emailed with two more writing assignments. 

Sometimes you have to take things back to zero before you can break through. I used to have huge expectations for writing important stories and raking in good money. Now I’ll settle for smaller assignments and a fraction of what I used to make if it means being in the flow of creativity, and staying present to my girls and my life. I used to think I had to be a great mother all the time. Now I’m just happy that I’m not the worst mother most of the time. What can I say? We broke through. At least for now.


The Things We Threw Away

Yesterday at lunch I went for a trail run up Picacho Peak. It was breezy and surprisingly mild and the trails were mostly clear of snow, but the run felt harder than usual. I had my iPod on and halfway up, the Tarkio song “Keeping Me Awake” came on. The song's chorus, “the things we threw away,” made me remember the weekend in November when my sister and I flew back to my dad’s Virginia farm to help him clean out his barn.

Meg, Dad, and me
My dad designed and built his barn alone, by hand, in the early 80’s. It seemed to take an eternity, but Dad just kept plugging away, board by board, a master of patience and meticulous craftsmanship—all while commuting three hours a day to his day job at National Geographic. I can’t remember when he finished the barn, just that there it stood all those years, a fixture on the farm, tall and proud, solid as a drum, wood weathering to grey. It was a repository for all things that mattered to Dad: his woodshop and scrillions of tools, each hanging it its place outlined in felt tip magic marker; bicycles; sea kayak; old cars and new; and dozens of signs he’d found, bought, or otherwise procured over the years.

After my dad got sick, the upstairs hay loft—once the ultimate storage bin for Christmas decorations, countless back issues of National Geographic, my grandparents’ china, our model towns we’d made—became the bane of his existence. Talking to him about it by phone, I could practically hear him wringing his hands in despair. The very idea of clutter was a mental weight dragging him down, cannibalizing the energy he needed to fight his cancer. The tumor was the size of a fist; the disease was, in Dad’s words, “game-ending.” But here was something we could do to help. We could clean out his barn.

Dad got a jump on the barnstorming. A couple days before we arrived, somebody came to cart off his 1970 green Volkswagen microbus that he’d decided to donate to his local public radio station. Back in its prime, my sister and I had rattled around that bus on long summer road trips to see our grandparents in Maine. Whoever rode in front with Dad was the co-pilot, and her official duties included pushing the big, fat square radio buttons to unknown, but dramatic, effect. (The radio never worked.) We liked to pretend the bus could fly, and my dad, with his steady hands on the gigantic, puckered steering wheel, was captain of our magical flight.
the rope 'n chuck method

The day of the Great Barn Clean Up, we were joined by Dad’s best friend, Philip, and his daughter, as well as my stepmother’s sister and brother-in-law, who were in from England. Philip rented the dumpster and showed up with a box of gloves and face masks; the place was coated in dust and dead stink bugs. We’d imagined flinging everything out of the hay door and right into the dumpster below with reckless abandon, but the dumpster man had refused to park it on grass, so we had to lower the junk on a jerry-rigged rope instead.

Dad climbed up the ladder, wearing two coats and a scarf, settled into a chaise lounge, and watched us paw through boxes. He had the final say: chuck or save. He was efficient, good-humored, and unattached: Most everything we chucked. Here are some of the things we threw away: contents of my Nana’s medicine cabinet (including mouthwash) inexplicably saved after her death in 1997; plastic model town; old scuba regulator and vest; stuffed animals, cracked vinyl suitcases and lawn chairs; warped and waterlogged framed needlepoint rendering of one of my dad’s National Geographic cover photos; a book about the benefits of exercise; Cat Stevens albums; a ceramic chicken with a sombrero.

ancient scuba vest
Here are some of the things we couldn’t bear to trash: Dad’s model sailboat, instruction manual for his TRS-80 home computer (Radio Shack, circa 1980), pronghorn antelope trophy shot by my grandfather, tiny wooden wolf in sheep’s clothing; decades of email correspondence. Several boxes of my great-grandparents dishes would be auctioned off at a local fundraiser.

The day was imbued with a peculiar mix of melancholy and relief. It was pretty satisfying to purge the place of junk and stink bugs, especially knowing how much it had been weighing on Dad. But we all knew what it meant: Saying goodbye to Dad’s stuff was merely a precursor to the much harder goodbye to come.

Organizational experts love to tout the mental and emotional benefits of clearing your personal space of unwanted or unused detritus. A few years ago, I got into the habit of trying to throw away or give away five things a week. Even heaving a bent paperclip from the bottom of my junk drawer left me feeling lighter and clearer about what was important, and how I might go about doing it, or creating it.

That day, after we’d finished, Dad rested his elbows on the edge of the dumpster and peered in, surveying the small mountain of stuff. He did not seem energized, only exhausted, but his face radiated gratitude. We had relieved him of the burden of his possessions. Now he was free and clear for whatever was going to happen next. 
Dad with stuffed moose


In the Tangle

Life is crazy at our house right now. Steve’s getting ready to go backcountry skiing in British Columbia for 10 days, and P. is in her third week of a hitting craze—by far the longest one she’s had since M. was born seven months ago. It seems she’s smacking, jabbing, scratching, or pinching her baby sister every chance she gets. We’re on the defensive, unable to sit still for more than a few seconds, trying to anticipate the unpredictable, block her blows, and maintain some semblance of normalcy. But what’s normal when your terrible two-and-half-year old has turned into a snarling little wolverine? 

I’m the younger sister, so P’s aggression—however “developmentally normal” it might be—hits a nerve like a clumsy dentist with a drill. In my effort to protect tiny, unfailingly cheerful M., I lose my cool more often than I should. If P is hitting to get our attention, then I’m playing right into her game. 

parenthood: just trying to go with the flow
We’ve tried time-outs and apologies, distraction and one-on-one time and positive reinforcement for her good behavior. But it all feels a bit desperate and scattershot. We don’t have a strategy or a system. So I’ve been inhaling books from the library, pawing through Zen self-help bibles on my shelf, and polling my friends for ideas. 

I’m cribbing to find the best advice, solutions, and words of wisdom. I know there’s no magic bullet—Zen teachers would say that I already have the answers inside of me; if so, you can come out now!—but I need to create a cheat sheet for discipline in our house, a personal philosophy that I can stick on the fridge to cool me down when the moment gets hot. 

Got anything to add to this list?

15 Mantras for Compassionate Discipline *

1. This too shall pass. 
2. Discipline is love. Discipline is teaching. 
3. Model the behavior you want. 
4. Stay calm and carry on. Use a calm voice and a clear response.
5. Trust your intuition: “You will always know what you need to know when you need to know it.” —Karen Maezen Miller
6. Praise more than you criticize. Ask for what you want, not want you don’t want. 
7. Talk. We can’t read each other’s minds or feelings. 
8. Accept each other without judgment. Don’t label. Children aren’t bad; their behavior is.
9. Let them know you believe in their inherent goodness and their ability to get control and act kindly. 
10. Help them feel capable and proud. 
11. Model empathy: “It’s awfully difficult sometimes not to get what you want/to make decisions/it feels terrible to get so upset”. We are all human and make mistakes. 
12. Time outs lose impact if used too often. Try a mommy quiet chair instead; tell them you're so upset, you need to catch your breath and think about what to do.
13. Look at what’s motivating misbehavior: hungry, tired, sick, frustrated?
14. Discipline --- self discipline. 
15. Compassionate limits -- self-control

(With thanks to the indispensable Discipline: The Brazelton Way and Momma Zen for some of the smarts above.)  


Morning News

How can a morning that holds such promise go so wrong Katie? The sun was shining in, birds were chirping, promise of more snow melt forth coming. Yet the darkness of last night crept in. I had gotten no sleep until 6:30 am this morning and I have yet to have this baby, it was my third baby, K., that was sick and was awake all night long! With Peter out of town, I was solo sick parenting it, and I hit my max. To awake at 7:30 instead of 7, when F. needs to be at school at 8:10 held dread! And the kicker of it all my kids were whiney and tired and lagging like me. So instead of going to a Zen attitude about it I went to frustration, fear, and the ultimate Mother Tantrum. I yelled and hurried my chicks from the bathroom to the kitchen to the front door, all the while hating my approach and their reactions to it. To the point where I finally broke and sat down on the stairs and cried after throwing a boot that I could not get on my foot. Yep, it's official there is still a five year old child in me. Maybe that is too generous maybe she is only 2. But wow she came out, and my boys looked on in horror.

Then they did the most compassionate thing and offered me hugs and consoling. Talk about Zen response. What a role reversal as I offered them apologies and this is how not to handle your frustration explanations. But wow was I weepy after that.

And then Katie to receive your email about your dad and the final details of his estate and his death and the finality of it all, oh how my heart aches for you too. You’re living something so much bigger than the smallness of my morning. I wish I were there to drive down and then up those earthen red roads, pick you up for a cleansing hike, and hit Yoberri post trail to soften and quench our palettes. So thank you for diving into the dark moment of my morning with me when you held so much more, and for the Brazelton parenting tip: "To confide to the boys when you are upset with them, or the situation: I'm so upset (with you/with this situation) that I need to take a quiet minute and calm myself down and figure out what to do.). This will get their attention and model problem solving and self-discipline." Such sane wisdom--so practical!

As I enter into the early afternoon with my boys I let this morning go resolved for a fresh beginning, and forgive myself for my mother tantrum.  Motherhood when unchecked can create such a messy mind. I recommit to breathing and cleansing my morning mind of the trauma, the disappointment, the tiredness, and set my intentions on loftier goals of love and compassion for myself, my children, and my dear friend like you whose heart is ruffled rightly so.


Sit On It

A few months ago I attended a daylong meditation retreat at the Zen center a few blocks from my house. The schedule consisted of sitting meditation (zazen), alternated with walking meditation (kinhin), chores (samu), and meals. I showed up with marginal experience in meditation but maximum ambition: I wanted to develop a sitting practice to help me be more present to motherhood, to help me become less judgmental of my wonderfully spirited, sometimes maddening two-year-old daughter, P, and to cultivate a sense of calm and acceptance in my everyday life. 

At the start of the first zazen period, the Buddhist teacher, or sensei, suggested we ponder how we became who we are and what shaped us in our life. I was so shocked I practically fell off my beanbag: She’d just given us permission to think! How radical! And here I’d thought zazen was all about emptying your brain of thoughts, or at the very least, watching them drift by like clouds in the sky without giving them the time of day. I spent the entire 40 minutes in a kind of lazy contemplation, my brain flashing on random images from my life—blowing up giant red weather balloons at 5, going barefoot to my own wedding, my father, who was now sick and failing fast. Before I knew it, the gong had rung and it was time to get up. I was amazed at how effortless it had felt to sit cross-legged, staring at a blank wall for 40 minutes without being attached to my thoughts. This definitely qualified a major personal breakthrough. 

I was so jazzed I couldn’t wait for next zazen. Except it was nothing like the first. This time, the sensei said nothing. Within a minute, my butt went numb and I began fidgeting relentlessly, uncrossing and re-crossing my legs. I thought about my four-month old baby, and how I was going to have to race home afterwards to nurse her. I decided that I hated the sensei for not giving us an assignment, something to work on, Important Things to Mull Over. Then, just as my resentment was reaching fever pitch, I fell asleep. My head was a 1,000-pound pumpkin propped by a piece of dental floss. It lolled this way and that, and each time I jerked awake, limbs flailing, simultaneously startled and mortified. Where was I, and who had seen me? Was I drooling? It was just like being back at the 8 A.M. History 101 lecture in college. Sleep had me by its claws. 

Throughout the day, I kept falling asleep during zazen—once so soundly I nearly toppled head first onto the floor. There is nothing quite so demoralizing and uncomfortable as trying to stay awake in a dimly-lit room surrounded by virtuous people with perfect posture. The harder I tried, the more determined I was to stay awake, the faster and harder I’d nod off. 

Later I talked to my friend Natalie, who has meditated a lot in her day and has what you’d call a “Zen practice.” That’s what I wanted. She told me that falling asleep was my body’s way of resisting the meditation, of what it knows is good for me, of making a leap into an unknown land. I liked the sound of that. I liked that it gave something so mundane a grander purpose, loftier intentions. I liked it so much I forgot to ask her what I was supposed to do about falling asleep during zazen. I suspect she would say something appropriately Zen-like and deep, like “keep practicing, that is your practice.” Which of course I haven’t done. I’m so terrified of conking out in front of total strangers that I haven’t been back since. 

Now I’m in the throes of another resistance. This time it’s to writing. I know I need to pitch stories, to reach out to my editors, and wrangle some magazine assignments, but I am procrastinating like mad. I already have a writing practice—I’m just avoiding it right now. I’m resisting pitching stories so that I can guilt-trip myself for writing this blog, for taking a leap that I know will lead me into the thrilling, wide-open unknown. It feels a little like falling asleep during zazen. 

So what to do? Keep writing this blog. Keep writing, period. Be gentle with myself and sit with the resistance. Examine it, make friends with it. Then set an intention and push through: three pitches this month; three pitches of any kind in 13 days. That’s my practice. Please hold me to it. 


Pace Yourself

So this morning I ran sprints. I actually Googled “interval training” and went out in the lightly falling snow and sprinted. Earlier in the week, I went to Body Pump at my local gym and spent an hour bicep-curling, lunging, and dead-lifting to cheesy, outdated songs. I hadn’t lifted a single weight—unless you count a 27-pound toddler and a 14-pound baby?—since 2009, and I woke up the next day with wobbly quads and a sense of accomplishment that did not match the accomplishment.

relaxing while riding—the perfect balance?!
Twice this week I put my climbing skins on my skis and hiked up to the towers at the Ski Basin, even though we’d been having a mini Ice Age and temperatures had barely topped zero for days. Because temperatures had barely topped zero. I’m not bragging. I’m just saying: These days I’m craving risk, adventure, anything new and exciting. Not drama—I’m done with drama for now—but something that might, in some farfetched way, be considered “extreme.” I know, the whole undertaking smacks a little of desperation. Am I having a mid-life crisis?
The sprints felt good: four 30-second intervals, with two minutes of moderate running between each. I felt like I could have done more, but I held myself back. Like motherhood, fighting your way back to something resembling peak fitness is a marathon, requiring endurance and mental stamina and Pollyanna-ish reserves of patience you never thought you had. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a stress fracture in your foot, sweet potato in your hair, and a hissy-fitting toddler flinging fistfuls of applesauce around the room, and you will be quite sure you’re losing your mind, or have already lost it.

I’m not exactly sure where this is all headed, only that I am trying as always to find the slippery tipping point between pushing hard and letting what’s supposed to emerge emerge: in adventure, writing, and motherhood. When does ambition become a handicap? When does following the flow become too passive? When I figure out the magic formula, I’ll let you know. Meantime, it’s a long haul and I’ve got to pace myself. Or burn out trying. 

How we met...

I have had writer's block. Much I want to say but not knowing how to start. So, I do what I do when this occurs. Try to just write whatever comes. When that does not work. I try it again. Text you for a writing exercise and try to meditate. Tonight, I finally turned to finding a good book to read and I discovered Dear Exile, the book you lent me that I forgot I had, sorry. I read it with fervor. Gratefully it got my mind going and the impulse to write soared back into me. And while you are not in Kenya nor I in NYC, we are split into two different worlds with different but similar realities and a deep abiding love for one another. For this I feel blessed.

It also got me thinking about how meeting you even came to be, such a long and winding road. I left the safety of St. Paul for the adventure of rediscovering Boston as a young married person with two kids and days after landing there found I was pregnant with our third child. Peter and I landed in Annisquam, a quaint portion of Gloucester where the fishing industry and many people who thrive on it are depressed, but Annisquam holds it charm. There we birthed our third son, on the coast of the Atlantic during a harsh, gray February, with snow drifts waist high. There we also lived over a year without many of our personal belongings, all of what we owned minus 10 boxes was stashed in storage. We watched the housing market tank and the prices from the west coast drop finally beginning to dip in Boston and it's surrounding towns. If it was not for that tenuous stay there and another invitation to move west I might still be there and never know the beauty nor the arid dryness of Santa Fe. If we hadn't taken the leap to be there, I never would have met you that sunny winter day when I loaded my three boys in the car to go to Fort Marcy. At my wits end that morning with them bugging one another I demanded that they get their coats on. My boys still in their pajama feet with boots over them, protested into the car until I placed them on the swings at the park. You strolled up pregnant with M. and encouraging P. to climb and slide. Us the only two insane mothers out in the brisk winter morning.

I remember getting off my cell as you approached and thinking I could be friends with her. I also remember for a brief moment that morning my boys each in a swing next to one another were harmoniously swinging in unison. It was like an answer to my unspoken longing of finding a friend that day at the park. A friend I could relate to and who would lovingly encourage and challenge me into feeling human again after my third child and two major moves in two short years. All the things we stored for over a year began to find their home and having a dear friend in you brought me home again when I felt in such foreign territory. So on Valentine's Day I write to say thank you for braving the cold winter winds of Santa Fe and being at Fort Marcy on that winter morning, much love my dear friend.


A Purple Heart

I’ve heard people say having kids is like wearing your heart on your sleeve. And today for me, that was the case. I was doing pretty well with P. out of town and the days before me of solo parenting stretching out. In fact I have gotten it down to a system. I work babysitter breaks in for myself and try and make sure I get some writing time in and yoga and pray for some time with a good girlfriend or two—the last not always working out because of the family demands we all seem to be under with the littles.

I was doing well until I picked my oldest, F., up at kindergarten. He got in the car not his cheerful self, and asked when he was going to have a playdate. (Playdates—what a construction of safety parenting! I balk a bit at them because when I grew up we played with the neighborhood kids and occasionally had a friend from school over, now it is all about the playdates; parents orchestrating friendships. And the reason I balk? Well, I have seen the long term outcome when I worked at a few universities in my previous life. I witnessed kids not being able to work out their problems with their roommates without a parent intervening or another adult they were so use to this friendship management that they lacked the confidence, tools and resolve to do it themselves.) Needless to say, I participate in these social norms of today, and F. has not had a playdate in a few weeks, which feels like forever to him. I told him maybe Friday as a mother had inquired about having F. over to play with her Boy x. F. perked up at this.

We arrived home and F.’s cheeriness dissolved again when we walked in the door and our golden retrievers greeted him and accidentally knocked papers out of his pack. Immediate tears sprung. I chided him a bit, “F. this is not something to throw a tantrum about,” as he cried and yelled at the dogs: “No one is being nice to me!” He took off his coat and ran up the stairs to his bed. I followed him and he broke down in wholehearted sobs. I held him. He finally confessed, “Boy x is not nice to me at school. I tried talking to him a few times at school today and he kept a serious face and did not respond except for once.”

Now, Boy x F. has regular playdates with… and has had some problems with him in the past at school. It seems Boy x is one way in the solo company of my son, and another at school. Mama bear in me comes out when I think about it. We’ve talked about friends and how a true blue friend is consistent not one way in one situation and another way in a different place. Put in kindergarten terms not hot and cold…and then discussed who is hot and cold and who is consistently nice to him—and he to them. We also have talked about how a person makes you feel when you are around them, that friends bring out the best in one another optimally; a fine balance. F. named some kids who do this for him and Boy x was not on that list, Boy x he said, “He used to be nice to me. He even said ‘Sorry,’ to me, but sorry means you won’t do it again and he has.”

By now my heart is fully patched outside of myself as F.’s tears resolve, and he changes into play clothes. After a phone call to his teacher to better understand what the school dynamic is that is occurring between the two, I agree to let him go to Boy x’s on Friday because he really wants to under one condition: we talk about some strategy beforehand and he agrees to discuss how it went afterward. With that pact in place, we walked downstairs to make Valentine’s Day cards for school. I watch as he moves so gracefully from protecting his heart for the day to giving of it again as he crafts his cards for his classmates. I know that some of those feelings he feels now I had as a child and while I want to protect him from the yo-yo friendships, I know I can’t so much protect him as prepare him for how to handle them. It took me nearly 36 years to come to the conclusion that I don’t have to be friends nor remain friends with people who are not consistent, or kind, or who drain my energy. I spent a lot of wasted energy trying to nurture relationships that I should have let go of gracefully. No one said to me as a child that I didn’t have to like everyone and that if everyone didn’t like me it didn’t mean that it was because of me per se. Since I have learned this, I feel much freer and more like I have the energy for the people I cherish. And I want to help F. set a healthy boundary that he does not have to try so hard with Boy x, because I will not let Boy x erode his confident self by his inconsistent actions toward my son. 
One of F.'s Valentine's.
So tonight my heart is raw and outside of my body a bit as I contemplate how letting my little boy move into the world where I can’t help orchestrate his friendships moment by moment takes courage. I know he will be better for navigating some of these seas himself, but it is not easy to watch and know when to intervene and when to let him test the waters. F.’s teacher is going to begin a lesson on friendship and caring for our hearts and others hearts. Her hope is that the kids understand that when we are mean with our words, our facial expressions, our body language that it creates a wrinkle in another person’s heart. And ultimately for them to learn at a deeper level, that hearts are soft and tender and we need to be careful with our hearts and others. Whew, you can say that again! My heart is wrinkled tonight and try as I might the iron is not hot enough to press them out. Perhaps, this is part of how we earn our purple heart as parents--that as our kids' hearts get wounded in action, our hearts ache too. And even though we'd do anything to take away their pain they are better served if we do our best to help them heal.

So what do you do when your heart is outside yourself as you navigate parenthood? How do you find the delicate balance of helping your youngins learn the social intricacy of school? And what do you do for yourself when your partner is out of town and you are with your littles to keep sane?

Give a Little Love

I always know when I’m just about to come out of period of hibernation: I buy a lot of books and start working out harder. It must be part of some deep, subliminal urge to push my mental and physical edge and bust out, literally, of a rut. This week, as I begin to claw my way out of the fog of having a new baby and losing a father, I started a new book, Quantum Wellness. In the first chapter, author Kathy Freston outlines the “eight pillars of wellness.” You will not be shocked to learn that exercise and meditation make the list, but she puts a refreshing spin on the other usual suspects. Instead of commanding readers to diet or eat well, she urges you to “eat consciously.” This means paying attention to not only where the food was produced, but how—with peace and healthful intentions. (Skip the veal and factory-farmed pork, please.) She’s also a big proponent of visualization and having fun. What’s not to love about that?

Most of the eight are already on my personal Sanity List, with one big exception: service. Plenty of studies have shown that giving to others boosts our immune systems and triggers the release of the feel-good hormone serotonin. In other words, when you help others, you help yourself. This isn’t a new concept, but it’s new to me: For the past year, I’ve been plagued by a nagging desire to make a difference beyond my own front door, but I haven’t yet figured out how to carve out the time or where to put my energy. There are too many worthy causes!

But recently I heard from an old friend, Amanda, founder of an organization called Shine that empowers women and girls around the world through service, art, yoga, and travel. Amanda went to Uganda last year with Off the Mat, Into the World, a non-profit that uses yoga to inspire grass-roots activism, to help build a solar-powered birthing center in Nsaasi Village. When I read that the first baby was born at the Shanti Birth House and Learning Centre, in late January, a little spark went off in my brain, connecting all the stories I’ve been reading about sub-par birthing conditions in developing countries with my love for Africa and my own two births. After hatching two tiny squirrelly newborns, I’ve come to understand that birthing is probably the most powerful and unifying of all human experience. It should also be the most hopeful: There’s no good reason why half a million women should die in childbirth each year.

under african skies, 2006
Amanda’s going back to Uganda this spring, and I’m itching to go. I’m not sure it’s in the cards for me this year, but I do know that this year is going to be the year in which I finally figure out how I can best help others. It may be women’s health or it might be the environment—don’t even get me started on the ways in which we’re completely trashing the climate for our children (reading about Mark Hertsgaard’s new book Hot scared the pants off me). Either way, I’m going to follow my inspiration and trust what emerges—shadowy and, with any luck, promising—out of the fog. Wellness for all, I hope.


What's Your Number?

On Sunday, during a sunny afternoon hike up Atalaya with my friends Carol and Mary, we got to talking about the ways in which we take care of ourselves. For a person who deals in words, I like numbers a lot. Numbers get right to the point: As in, on a scale of 1 to 10, how well are you taking care of yourself right now? I think about this often in an abstract way, but I’ve never stopped to quantify it, or take inventory. So while I was surprised when Carol asked the question, I was even more surprised when I heard my answer. “Eight,” I said, right off the bat. The number sounded high as soon as it left my lips, but it was easy to rattle off the things I need to find optimal balance, to hit the sweet spot of being both grounded and energized, present in my life and continuing to grow:

1. Fresh air and exercise on the trails at least 6 times a week
            2. Writing
3. Time with friends; often most efficiently combined with #1.

These are the three essentials I can’t live without, the non-negotiables in my daily and weekly schedule that help me stay sane and feel like myself. But I also need:

4. Quiet, alone time—that's why I'm trying to learn to meditate
5. 8 hours of sleep
6. Adventures & travel
7. Yoga once a week
8. Good books to read
9. More whole foods, less sugar

As we talked, though, I began to have second thoughts. Maybe it’s more like 7.5? I wondered aloud, thinking of all the things I wish I could do more, or do better: like jet off on assignment to remote places, alone, like I used to do before I had two small daughters. Or really push myself physically, remembering wistfully those four-hour bike rides and high-mountain endurance runs from my old life. I wish I had time to run and ride and hike the trails AND go to a strength training class. (Especially since I read that lifting weights supposedly makes you smarter.) I wish I could do yoga more than once a week. I wish I could go to New Zealand or Norway, plan a climbing expedition, and have more adventure in my everyday life.

But then I realized that although the results aren’t always what I hope, most of the necessary pieces are in place. I know what I need, and for the most part, I do an OK job carving out time to take good care of myself so that I can take better care of my family. I know that when I wake up feeling blue from my missing my dad or listless about trying to drum up writing assignments, there are specific things I can do to feel better right away. I have strategies and a system, a tick-list of to-dos (and, thankfully, a very patient husband). And I almost always come home reenergized, sunnier, and much nicer to have around.

Carol’s question was a good exercise. I realized that even when my life feels nuts and out of whack, I’m happier than I think. And that makes me happy.

Everybody has their own sanity list. What’s on yours? (My dad liked to lie on the carpet and daydream for half an hour every day to recharge his brain.) On a scale of 1 to 10, how well are you taking care of yourself right now? What’s your number?