Monday, January 08, 2018

We Need Words in 2018

Thursday I am going to a metal stamping workshop to make a key chain with my "word of the year" on it.  So, I've been thinking about a word for 2018.  As my friends and I've brainstormed, we've made lots of jokes about how the f-word wouldn't be appropriate (or would it?).  Finally, I've landed on "Word."

Words are power.  They've always been, and in this climate I'm reminded more than ever of the weight they carry.  Words of the American president are arguably some of the most noted and weighty words in the world, and for the first time in my life, they've been wildly reckless and unexamined.  They continue to taunt nuclear powers, to refuse to condemn white supremacy, and to to blur together people of whole nations and religions.

Our words matter.

I've been dazzled by the women's voices rising one after another, speaking into long-held silence.  It's terrifying to tell vulnerable stories, laced with shame, to crowds who may or may not want to hear them.  It takes guts to break silence and to demand justice.  It takes guts to demand change

Our words matter.

This last year, our collective words have been loose and reckless.  We've flooded ourselves with fake news and others' opinions.  We've thrown words at other nations and erased words that marked protection, equality, freedom.  We've spoken instead of listened.

This last year, our collective words have been united and strong.  We've questioned unspoken beliefs and national identity.  We've apologized and fought for protection, equality, freedom.  We've listened and taken time to think.

Our words matter.

Maya Angelou talked about words as physical objects; the words we speak, or read, or hear, actually fill the spaces around us: they obstruct or construct; they pollute or clarify.

Our words within and without us matter.

May this be a year of true words: may we be brave enough to think beyond labels.  May we be brave enough to speak our own stories.  May we be brave enough to keep asking and listening to others' stories.  May we construct fortresses of good words -- mortar to door frame -- and bring others in.  May we keep speaking.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Resets and Thanks

Sometimes small things can reset order.  Today I finally picked up potato starch and finished the batch of gluten free flour I've had half-made for a week.  I bought groceries (this morning, the only fruit or vegetable choices for lunches were applesauce, an onion, and celery that Silas has been soaking in dark blue food coloring).  I filled the car with gas.  I changed my post-class pastel-smeared shirt.

And now I can breathe better.

There is something profound to the small resets.  This fall with all the new and the busy -- opening an art studio/learning to run a business and work with a partner/living in a new house/ sending my youngest to school -- I've noticed lots of stress twined through my body.  All the sudden, I'll notice I'm not breathing deeper than my chest and can't push the breaths deeper.  Or feel the demands are overwhelming and I just want to burrow somewhere dark.  Over and over I've stared at my calendar wondering if I'm doing something wrong -- what should I cut?

As changes usually do, my latest ones have highlighted bothy my strengths and my deep inner ugliness.  So despite the full days, I've been doing some inner work:  the Examen, the Enneagram. 

It turns out that much of the time, my the problem isn't doing too many things; it's doing too many things at once.  I don't drive some place, I drive dictating texts and emails, checking responses at the red lights, messing with Waze, and posting on Instagram (which doesn't really have to be instant). 

For ages I've prided myself in being a masterful multi-tasker, as most mothers of young children do.  (It's called necessity -- otherwise I probably would have died of overwhelm-paralysis).  But as most of us have heard by now from an onslaught of research, there's no such things as multi-tasking.  An article about Dan Harris explains it this way:

What we think of as multitasking is really..."doing many things poorly." The reason for this lies partly in semantics and partly in neurology:
"Multitasking is a computer derived term. Computers have many processors. We have only one processor. We literally neurologically cannot do more than one thing at a time."
Because "doing many things poorly" feels bad, I've been thinking about this and trying to smooth out some habits.  I've begun pulling over (at least some of the time) if I need to use my phone in the car (which I always do).  I've been trying to set down my phone, close my computer, and turn my body toward the kid who's talking, to plan today rather than two months from now.  And what's been shocking is that rather than feeling like there's even less time, the days have felt wider.  Even the days when I start out hyperventilating about what's on my plate, doing things one at a time sifts it out. 

Practicing doing one thing at a time also usually means I'm paying attention (hard not to pay attention to the one thing you are doing...).  It feels gross to be searching google and saying, 'mmhmmm" "yeah" with exactly 6% of my attention while my kids are talking.  It feels gross not to stop and look at someone who's helping me at the register because I'm texting.  And yet, I do both daily. 

I think that's why I started thinking about the daily resets.  How often in a day do I wish for a do-over?

The fact is, we have them: we wash our hands, refill a mug, start an email, pull out a blank piece of paper, open a blank document spreadsheet.  We say sorry.  We pull on clean socks.  We peel a perfect banana.  We walk outside and see the sky.  We open the office door.  We take a breath that reaches all the way to our diaphragm.  We begin a phone call.  The light turns green.  We start the car.  We wake up in the morning.

The fresh beginnings are right there, waiting for me to notice and accept them. 

Yes, thank you, I will start again with clean hands.  Yes, thank you, I will collect my thoughts before I dial.  Yes, thank you, I will breathe before I speak.  Yes, thank you, I will wash my windshield and see more clearly.  All day long, the invitation to thank. 

Thank you.

Friday, September 22, 2017


Five years ago today, Maeve, the third child I'd grieved and given up hope of having, was born, flashing her Ben-dimple and sucking at her tiny thumb.  For a full year, I could hardly absorb that fact of her.  Never had I basked in a baby's presence like that, with such perspective and gratefulness.  Because we lived in DC for this baby, my mom and Annemarie, Maeve's soon-to-be-godmother, met us at the hospital and stood at my side for her entire birth (while my dad held down the fort with Eden and Silas).

Right after Maeve was born, Annemarie pointed out that she came into the world during the exact hour when summer became fall; she taught me the word liminal, and later wrote this beautiful piece.

maeve magnolia

It seems impossible to say that I had never witnessed a birth before Maeve's on Saturday, but I hadn't.
Birthing is not the same as witnessing. Birthing is work, pain, love, desperation, and focus.  Birthing
is breathing, squeezing a hand, yelling, riding the wave of the contraction, pacing, showering, walking,
balancing on the balance ball, sinking into Greg's chest, swearing never to do this again, hoping, waiting,
enduring. Birthing is becoming- it's both becoming someone and allowing someone to become.

Witnessing is different. Witnessing is standing on sacred ground. It's making the coffee run, grabbing the
camera,  emailing the list, standing still, waiting.  Witnessing is standing in a space so holy that it feels
strange to ask or do anything mundane. Witnessing is silently praying, filling the space of the room that
is about to be full of new life, with blessings, thanksgiving, praise. Witnessing is to be overcome, undone,
by the power of it all.

Sweet Maeve,

I am so honored to have witnessed your arrival into this world.  I'm sure they've already told you, but you
were born in the hour between summer and fall. As that morning dawned, while your Mama was working
so hard, loving you here, birthing you, the word that came to my mind was "liminal."

liminal: 1. relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process 
2. occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or a threshold.

It means to be in between: and what an in between space that day was! What a lot of waiting and
wondering there have been these past months!  Your family has been in a lot of in between spaces this
year (coasts, houses, friends, seasons.) But now, it is fall and you are HERE! - in all your delicious, perfect, 
teensy glory. I'm so glad you're not in between anymore, but here: to love and be loved.

Welcome dear one! I love you so,
Your fairy Godmama

Annemarie Mott Ewing

Wednesday, September 06, 2017


I am lying on my old neighbors' front porch across the street from soccer practice. They are not home, and Maeve is playing on their swing, while I fully recline.

Today is the first day of school, the first time I've had all kids at school, for a full day, in 11 years.  So far I have no *feelings* about that; I'm opening an art studio in a week and a half and unpacking a house we just moved into.  There's plenty clamoring for my attention, a bells and whistles parade.  I have no doubt, though, the feelings will come eventually (they always do...).

This afternoon, I had plans to go to the grocery store to restock the house, the drugstore for school binders, and the library with Maeve, while the other two had activities. Instead, I am here lying on this porch couch.

Saturday night running over to the pool, my legs flew out from under me, and I crashed to the concrete, hard.  Hard enough, it turns out, that I fractured my tailbone.

Soooooooooooo, life is running at a different pace than I'd anticipated.

Before I left DC, my mom and I talked over the word "unhurried."  That's her word for the semester. We talked about what it feels like to be unhurried, how it opens us to the present, and what a gift it can be when we can encounter other people without hurry.  Sitting on her couch in summer's sun, I could see it -- living days unhurried.  And then I pictured going home in two days: a house of boxes, a curriculum to write, the start of school, new routines, making lunches, coordinating activities, launching a business -- and I laughed, half out of the panic rising in my chest.   Unhurried readjusted to a shining ideal, and I steeled myself to tackle real life September.

And yet, here I am, slowed down to an almost literal crawl.

I have no idea what we will eat for dinner. We are low on milk and out of butter. We have no meat in the house except for a pack of lil smokies the kids begged for, and little to no produce.  Silas has neither binder nor dividers. And yet, I'm just sitting here, no, to be precise, lying here, at a house that isn't even mine.  I'm achy and uncomfortable, trying to prop myself up on skinned elbows, and angry that it hurts to drive (the reason we pulled over here).  It's beyond frustrating to slam into my own limitations.  But lying here, I'm watching the sun lower. I'm having intermittent conversation with Maeve, who's slowly unraveling the details of her first day at school, and I'm aware of the breeze.  Maybe, somehow, this forced slowing will be an unexpected gift...

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Some images for the end of August, end of Summer, end of a month away

An August of so many words:

Packing words  Moving words  Opening an art studio
words  Thinking words  Un-sleeping words
Teaching words  Fixing words  Breaking words
Aching words  Family words  Playing words
Beach and then road-tripping words  Mountains
and many-visits words  And now

I am tired of words
and the too-much they've held

Instead I want the pictures
of right now:

bushes of black eyed susans,
their skirts of petals rusting
and shriveling

girls in the pool in constant chatter

sun warming the unexpectedly-cool
August leaves, pavement, morning

sweet green smell as thick as
the cicada-sounds buzzing heavy
everywhere, loud enough
to turn down

cold fingers typing

boys in the mountains
girls at the bay

an empty summer day ahead

brown leaves blown down,
interrupting the grass' green,
remind us it's almost time

Monday, July 03, 2017


For almost three months, I have been 40.

I'm not going into my whole life story, but I will say that I've been a late bloomer; it's taken me longer than many to grow into my body, my mind, my strengths, my self.  And though the wrinkles and so many other physical changes -- creakiness (ha) and grey hairs, and all the rest that no one said would start in my 30's -- keep on coming, each age mile-marker feels like an invitation onto more solid ground.

I wasn't sure how to mark my 40th, but being back in California, it made sense to integrate my old California friends and DC sisters.  Initially it was going to be a camping adventure with Trail Mavens in Big Sur with hikes and hot springs at Esalen, jade hunting in Jade Cove, long nights around the fire talking.  But California rained this year.  And rained.  And parts of it flooded, and roads, including Highway 1 through Big Sur -- and our campsite -- closed a month before my birthday.

I scrambled and fretted and second-guessed myself, and finally, after realizing what I most wanted was all of us in one beautiful space, rented a beach house with winding stairs up to a roof deck, and living room windows full of ocean.  Amazing what you can do when you divide it by 12.

One reason I haven't written about the weekend is that it was too full, my gratitude so swollen, it's felt tender.  But I realized today what I learned there.

I tend to be a doer.  Though I'm pretty good at asking for help when I've smacked into my own limitations (often), I feel much less comfortable receiving when I'm not desperate.  I'd rather just get 'er done.

Most years, I throw my own birthday parties.  I love bringing the people I adore together over good food to celebrate and thank them; it's only fitting since they're the reasons I survive the all the days between my birthdays.

Thinking about it now, nothing here is surprising, but I was surprised the days leading up to the weekend by how hard it was for me to shake off the impulse to pick up the reins -- to over-ask questions, to run to Costco, to coordinate.  I knew there'd been planning meetings, spreadsheets even!, menus, coordinated food shopping, and a house decorated for celebration -- all without me.  I was just going to show up (and I didn't like it).

The night before we left, I lay in bed feeling naked and anxious that I hadn't made cards or gifts for my friends. I hadn't planned toasts or words or anything that I usually would do -- I hadn't done anything at all.  I'd picked a date and found a house to rent.  That was it.  Ben kept saying, don't worry -- go and receive.

But that's not what I do on my birthday.  And I was surprised that the feeling I had, even just thinking about it, was near shame.

When I got to the house, it was already full -- a kitchen unpacked, a mantle redecorated, roses from friends' gardens as if it were a wedding, our names taped to bedroom doors, a dogwood branch (that my CA friends didn't associated with April, but struck me with DC spring), bowls of candy, magazines out -- a zillion details.  And that was only the start.  All weekend long, people read poems they'd picked and told us why they'd chosen each.  Everyone rallied for a djembe lesson.  I heart butter shirts appeared.  Friends stood over a hot stove stirring huge pans of paella (which I didn't know I loved).  There were bottles of Lambrusco at lunch, a breakfast Toast Bar with ricotta, figs, honey, jam, avocado, prosciutto -- make your own.  There were hot afternoon cornmeal cookies and tissue paper flamingos perched on our margarita glasses.  We took walks through the neighborhood, down the cliffs, on the sand.  A friend led yoga, another gave us good words in the morning that lasted all day.  We rotated through an art table gluing, painting and pasting poems into the book they were giving me.  We played raucous games and a friend took beautiful pictures.  We stood all together in golden light, friends' faces golden too in the late afternoon, and much to my surprise, I cried.

Usually, in a group like that, I speak.  I don't really cry.  But that weekend, for so many straight hours, I'd received -- which really means I'd been loved and known and spoken aloud.  And all the sense of strength and doing, being and presenting, cracked, and I just got to be with.  That, it turns out, is a powerful gift.    

What I discovered -- besides the wild fun and deep love of these people (not really a new discovery) -- was this:  my 20's were all about cracking -- the end of rosy childhood and nuclear family scaffolding, the discoveries of carrying my own weight, of partnering with someone, working a job, doing my own taxes, finding boundaries, lacking boundaries, starting the work of untangling and examining self,  -- a lot of fun and fumbling and finding my sea legs.

Then, my 30's: a decade of babies and building a family, of moving across the country with them twice, of finding my edges, of building communities, of getting-my-hands-dirty marital work and healing, of taking responsibility -- the years, in short, of becoming an adult.  What also happened during those full 30's was a lot of spackling and caulking.  I'd done the cracking already, and now, in the years of infants, toddlers, and small kids, the years of immediacy -- sloshy and incredibly bonding, exhausting and delicious -- I was cleaning it up.

(and I said I wasn't going to tell my whole life story...)

I didn't really know I'd done that until my birthday weekend, when showing up without any caulk felt so vulnerable.  I was bare, and still we celebrated more than I'd imagined.

What I hope is that my 40's are a decade of walking around without the caulk, of trusting people a little bit more, of stepping out the door when I'm unraveling, even if it means embarrassingly trailing knotty yarn through the neighborhood, of daring not to sink on the couch and close the blinds.

Thanks, friends, at this weekend and not, for walking outside with me, no matter.

Friday, June 02, 2017

The Week After Whole30 -- The Deep Stuff

Gloriously it is now June and Whole30 is over.

But it doesn't actually feel glorious, not the sky's-the-limit-freedom I'd dreamt of the whole month, because, now, I have to face the question of "what next?"

Unlike my sister's boyfriend who dropped 15 pounds and powered his days with "tiger's blood" energy, I pretty much felt like me during whole30, including low energy bouts every afternoon.  But thinking back, there were some definite (and significant) perks:
-I slept like a log
-I didn't wake up with lower back pain for the entire month (haven't solved that riddle yet-?)
-I felt sated after and between meals
-I exercised mad self-control and could (not just the victim of the cheetos bag...)
-and (the biggest one) after figuring out how to prep and cook all this stuff, I lived emotionally at peace with food
(except when I asked all the questions about what on earth I'd eat after the 30 days were up)

It, of course, has got me thinking.

The reason I did the Whole30 was to reset my crazy habits; I'd started both to eat like a 14 year old and have cocktails every night.  It wasn't really going so well, especially in the deep caves where self-love lives.

So I committed to reset (and a commitment it is).  What it ended up feeling like for 30 days, which I had not expected, was a spiritual exercise, a fast.  As I kept not choosing my comforts day after day, all my stuff came to the surface, from the 5PM escape-reflex to the deep restlessness I feel around vocation and life stage, my propensity for control (w30 feeds this because you have to control your food and environment so much), on and on; the stuff kept coming.  In fact, it's still here.

I also felt pretty vulnerable moving through the world.  It's one thing to be 100% high maintenance in your own house where you orchestrate every parcel of food, and quite another to be adrift "out there," (road trip with kids to Arizona) trying to do it right.  A lot of the month I felt protective, defensive?  like a sea anemone gathered in.

And now I'm unfolding into the world again and wondering how to feed myself.

It makes sense that feeding ourselves whole and healthy foods is good, best.  It makes sense that avoiding sugar and alcohol, addictive toxins, is great.  It makes sense that when I ate solid good choices for 30 days, I woke up with no regrets -- for 30 days!  It makes sense -- and is a no brainer -- to carry on in this way and feel good forever!

But I can't imagine that I will!  Because of toast, popcorn, champagne, corn chips, corn on the cob, rice, tequilla, cakes, cheese and crackers, PARIS. (mmm, nutrition)

Such deprival to leave those forever!

This is the weird and wild power of food -- how the pleasure of it fights against the simplicity of our needs (remember the "real food" in the Matrix?  I think about that all the time).  And as if those two forces weren't enough, they wrestle with our bodies, our builds, and how we affect our looks.

I've been thinking about diets.  Over the decades, I remember my mom doing the Cabbage Soup Diet, the 90's no fat diet, the Mediterranean Diet, the Atkins Diet, Weight Watchers.  These days we don't use the word "diet," especially not in front of our kids.  We say, "cleanses," "resets," "lifestyles."  But it's all the same; it's all work to make peace between our bodies and food.

I've never before thought of the two at odds (at war, even), but look how much social, personal, public space "how we eat" takes up.  We are all (most?  I'd love to meet the person who doesn't fall into this) finding our best ways to settle down with food.  And live in the skins of our bodies.  The work is not easy, and many days we're at least a little unhappy.

Benjamin Franklin talked a lot about moderation.  And that probably is the answer here.  But it sure doesn't come naturally to me around some of my favorite things.  So.... The journey (or war? or conversation? we can frame it however we'd like) continues as I inch my foot out of the whole30 safe haven and back into the world (where I've already eaten a lot of corn chips -- my one added food so far).

Because it's one of my favorite desserts/appetizers/treats to eat and is W30 compliant (a bridge food), here's a recipe for Sauteed Dates from Food52.  Nothing like them.

Sauteed Dates
I usually serve the dates on a plate of plain greek yogurt with the warmed olive oil drizzled on top.  Eating them with naan is the very best.  These days, though, I've just been eating them plain, and they're still something special.

Olive Oil
Dates (4-5 per person)
Flaky sea salt

I pit the dates and usually cut them in half, but if they're really soft, I just pinch them flat between my fingers before cooking.
Heat 1/4 inch olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Fill the pan with dates and cook, turning them a few times, just until they've warmed through and are a bit carmelized. (but they burn easily, so don't overdo it!) Serve them on a plate with flaky sea salt.