Monday, December 29, 2014

A Hair Wash

For Christmas, Silas gave Eden a bag of travel conditioners and a hair wash (by him) in the sink.
So today while Maeve napped, and I sat beside a pile of calico critters on my bed, Silas and Eden stood in the bathroom.

I heard the sink go on.

Eden: I can just was my hair.
Silas: No Eden, I am supposed to do it FOR you.
Eden: ok.
Silas:Eden, your hair is a rat's nest!
Eden: I know.
Eden: My head's going to go down the drain!
Silas: Your head is not going down the drain.
Eden: No, but my hair!!
Silas: Put your head back in the sink
Eden: But it will go down the drain!
Silas: No, it won't... I need you to make your head flimsy.
Eden: Owww, my neck
Silas: you have to tell me if your neck hurts!
Silas: Eden, do you want a towel?
Eden: Umm... my dress is soaking, but no.
Eden: Silas, do you want to know why my dress is soaking?
Silas: yeah
Eden: because you've been pouring water down my back every time you poured it on my head.

They are probably 20 minutes in to the process now and the conditioner is just starting to go on.

Friday, December 26, 2014

On Christmas Gifts (out of order post)

Ben and I have been reading a book called The Advent Conspiracy, which challenges the perfunctory/last-minute/gifts-for-sake-of-gifts giving we often do at Christmas, and the low tenor we've culturally developed that more is more and more shows love.  

Instead, because Christmas is such a personal gift with God's presence at it's very center, the authors challenge us to give gifts that are personal, that offer our own presence and spending time together, that may even be costly in time or creativity or thoughtfulness. 

So we started brainstorming.  Even the kids have been thinking. Eden was trying to think of something for her grandparents who live near the beach and decided to sweep their patio next time she comes in case it's sandy (which it never is).  Silas, who watches me tug a brush through Eden's hair as she winces every morning, decided to buy her some nice-smelling conditioner (!)  And along with a couple of other little things, we're giving each of the kids a present that involve spending time with us.

Eden and I went to New York a few weeks ago to throw Ben's sister a baby shower and have an retreat just the two of us.  At the shower, I was talking to a lovely woman who owns a store in LIC whose philosophy is to sell only things that are fair trade or manufactured responsibly and humanely -- sickening to think about how many things are not manufacture that way. She said that it is definitely expensive to shop responsibly, especially for clothing, but that where she's landed is that it's our responsibility to do that, or if we can't afford it, then to buy consignment and thrift -- don't add to the landfills or fuel the fires of indecent labor around the world. 

I was instantly convicted (especially about all my H&M purchases) because, of course, she is exactly right. I'd like to live and shop like that, also. 

Then that afternoon I bought earmuffs and a hat for $12 combined from a street vendor… OH to live by our own convictions!!  Maybe we get to start by baby steps. I sure hope those count for something. 

Merry Christmas and enjoy each other's presences.

The End of December and Expectations

I'm sitting in bed with a swollen cheek and bag of frozen corn against my face.  Instead of leading writing group this morning at Miriam's, I sat in an endodontist's chair looking up at patterned wallpaper as he leaned full-weight against the tool in my mouth.  Since I'd forgotten headphones to drown out the sounds of drill and scraping, I had him give me a play-by-play narration of what he was doing, and I still can't picture it.

There's no pain quite like a toothache -- dull aching deep in the face.  One morning when I woke up, it hurt into my eye.  It's a helpless feeling, a tooth ache.

In Costa Mesa, our friends who were homeless had toothaches from time to time and several teeth missing all together. Here in DC there are some amazing dental services, but there there really weren't, and as the doctor tugged stitches into my gum, I couldn't help being grateful that the infection was out of my mouth.

Today, my throbbing jaw is trumping the rest of what I've nearly sat down to write about day after day: our house filled to the brim with visiting family (13 kids!), the lice left behind, the combing and sheet-washing that ensued, the saran-wrapped slabs of Christmas cookie dough in the fridge, my sister and Ben playing guitar and piano together belting out Christmas carols and "Radioactive," gifts of presence more than presents, and the sun that soaked everything pure gold this morning as I drove empty roads to the endodontist with my mom.

Christmas, with all of its planning and countdown, often ends somehow differently than we'd expected -- whether it's someone's reaction to a gift, or an expectation of something we'd receive, or hopes we didn't know we were sitting on, or the general deflation of the season's sudden end.

This year, I didn't expect to need my sister to come over and systematically comb through every piece of my possibly lice-infested hair, dry winter-scalp and all, several days in a row as we watched a bad movie or talked hoping the comb would come out clean.  I didn't expect Silas's glassy-eyed fevers nor our having to miss Christmas Eve Chinese food dinner, didn't expect time for just the two of us to snuggle in my bed reading Harry Potter nor for Ben to face time us so we could watch the cousins open their cousin presents.  I didn't expect a day in bed all day today nor my jaw throbbing enough to make left over dumplings hard to chew.  Nor did I expect my mom to walk in with a vanilla milkshake nor Silas to grab my hand and pray for my surgery this morning before I left the house.

What I keep thinking is how all of this embodies the whole point of Christmas, and all of our need -- Christmas: a steadiness come to Earth to sustain us as our circumstances change and buck our expectations.  It's a celebration of Immanuel, literally translated "with us is God."

As we live steeped in our own expectations, may we all learn more and more about this.

Friday, November 28, 2014


I hit a low point yesterday, as happens sometimes on holidays and many other days, and sat on my bed ranting into my journal.

After I pelted a page with words, I took a deep breath and wondered what I missed.
It was Thanksgiving, after all, and despite my grievances, I was with people I deeply love.

So I turned the page and in my mind walked back over the last few hours looking for a different way to see.

And you know what, I saw.

Though I still felt enflamed (I drew flames all around the edge of my page) and angry, I could also see, and inside the frame of flames, a list from the day grew:

*catching perfect snowflakes on the sleeve of my coat

*watching the coffee in my mug jump in star patterns to the vibration of the old mixer as I whipped cream

*listening to my nephew pick out chariots of fire on the piano over and over, victory in his fingers

*Silas, after playing outside, sitting on the hearth in his underwear and t-shirt, curled toward the heat like a cat

*the mountain ridge layered in clouds like scarves

*patches of blue sky even as snow fell

*the way, through the day, sunlight light played on the mountains in swatches of light we could watch even as we sat in grey

*my mom flipping over the entire turkey with dishtowels, mid-cooking

*hot chocolate in a tiny spouted pot on the stove

*body-sledding down the steep drive on black ice

*damp leggings and shirt after

*pumpkin chiffon pie

*the tiny cousins holding hands playing ring around the rosy with bigger cousins

*kids clustered at the table drawing.

So much is about seeing; so much is about thanks.

Bearing with

A few weeks ago I went to the mountains with a rare group of friends.  In all of the fun, the great eating, the cooking, hiking and being, in all the talking and probing and catching up, one thing that struck me most is how in our upper 30's, we tend to bear our loads with a new simplicity.

We know our limits, now, the choices we've made or are making.  We know our spots of deep disappointment, and what is worth our fight so much better than we did in our 20's.  We've wrestled in marital tension, over our individual body types or disease diagnoses for years now.  Our outlines are clearer, and we navigate within them with a greater gravitational center.  Even among intimate friends, each of us individually bears his or her own load these days -- some more vocally, some more deeply and quietly -- because each of us must.

There was a time when loads shocked us with their injustice and their challenge.  They outraged us so that all we could do was bitch and moan and wrestle against them with ourselves and everyone else. To hold these things, to carry them near -- this is new.  I think it might be maturity, even when the carrying is layered with resignation or sorrow.  Disappointment is a part integral to human life, a part of compromise and growth.  The grace with which each of these friends carries her own load left me inspired, left me wondering at the mystery of how complex loving another is, how deeply veined our decisions are.  These friends left me thankful that though solitary, we don't travel alone.

**note to anyone who read the first draft of this post and now finds it altered: when Ben first read, he thought it sounded like the first list of scenarios -- my own musings -- was directly connected to the following group of friends, which, of course, it wasn't (would never air sacred confessions on blog).  To ensure that no one else makes this mistake, and to be clear, I've edited the first paragraph to jump straight  to the heart of what I was saying**

Tuesday, November 04, 2014


When I was little, my mom used to get laryngitis; it was her one weakness, my mother suddenly reduced to whispers.  I was always kind of fascinated, watching her whisper away a winter week, and her quietness quieted us, too.

It was those weeks when we'd talk about how we both loved raspy voices, the girls who seemed so tough with their 8-year-old smoker's voices.  She'd tell me about how at boarding school, she and her friends would sneak into the gym and scream into their pillows until they were hoarse.  I tried it at sleepovers a few times but was met with threats of being sent home.

We'd also talk about the beautiful girls with the upturned noses, how my kindergarten best buddy Mary Bonner and I would pushed our noses up and watch our mouths in the mirror while we talked, top lip raised higher on our teeth, and think of Hailey Mills and the Parent Trap.  And I'd tell her how when we did it long enough, our mouths would still feel that way for a few seconds after we stopped, and we'd have creases under the bridges of our noses. She said she'd done the same, and then the two of us talked to each other with our noses pressed up for a while.

Two nights ago I went to dinner for my brother's birthday.  At some point late in the meal, I became so animated about something, I looked up to see the five of them suddenly staring at me -- you are practically yelling (the restaurant was about 12x12).  And then, within the next 10 minutes, as if to make a point, my voice left entirely.

It's a rite of passage, this laryngitis, a week of remembering.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Black Bean Tostadas and Lemongrass Ginger Chicken Lettuce Wraps -- two easy dinners

I haven't posted any recipes for a long time because I haven't been very excited about food recently.  Or more accurately, I haven't been very excited about cooking recently.  Last Sunday night I sat down to plan meals for the week and could not think of a single thing to make.  So I shuffled through a stack of torn-out recipes in hopes that something would inspire.  And it did.  Here are two easy dinners that were hit over here and quick to make:

This is a recipe you could easily alter and use whatever you have -- I made tacos because I had tortillas instead, add chicken, roast any other vegetables and add, put an egg on top.

Black Bean Tostadas
    from Aug 2014 Sunset magazine -- image from Sunset, too (though yours will be this pretty, too)

1 Tbs olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped (I used green because I had it)
1/2 tsp each ground dried chipotle chile (I didn't have this) and cumin
2 cans black beans (could make your own here adding above)
8 tostada shells/doubled-up corn tortillas
1 avocado, sliced
1 c crumbled queso fresco, shredded jack or cotija cheese crumbled
lime wedges
salsa and/or sour cream

-warm oil in frying pan over med heat
-add garlic, onion and bell pepper, stirring occasionally, until onion softened (8-10 min)
-add ground chile and cumin, cook until fragrant (~1 min)

-drain beans reserving liquid
-add beans and about 1/2 c liquid (give or take) to pan.  Stir and mash until beans are form a slightly chunky puree and are heated through (~3-5 min)

-to assemble: top each shell with 1/2 c bean mixture, few sliced radishes, avocado slices and cheese.  Serve with lime wedges and salsa.


Lemongrass Ginger Chicken in Lettuce Cups
    from April 2014, Sunset magazine (image from Sunset, too)

1 lb ground chicken (I used turkey)
1 Tbs plus 1 tsp Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
3 Tbs minced ginger, divided
1/4 cup good-quality hoisin sauce (like Koon Chun or Lee Kum Kee)
1 Tbs lime juice
2 tsp peanut butter
3 Tbs vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves
1 medium carrot, diced
8 canned water chestnuts, chopped (I added more)
2 green onions, chopped
2 Tbs, minced lemon grass
1-2 jalapeno chiles, chopped (didn't use because of kids)
3/4 c finely diced cucumber (didn't have)
1/2 c salted roasted peanuts, chopped
12 lettuce-leaf cups, iceberg or butter (used butter -- great texture)

-Mix chicken with 1 Tbs fish sauce, sugar, and 2 Tbs ginger and set aside
-In a small bowl combine hoisin with lime, peanut butter and remaining 1 tsp fish sauce, and stir until smooth; set aside (this will be the sauce you serve chicken with).
-Heat large frying pan (not nonstick) over med-high heat.  Swirl in oil and add garlic and remaining tsp ginger.  Cook til fragrant
-Add chicken and cook until no longer pink, breaking up chunks
-Add carrot, water chestnuts, green onions, lemon grass and chiles -- cook until chicken cooked through (about a minute more)
-Add cucumber and peanuts -- stir to combine.  Salt to taste and serve.
-To eat, spread hoisin sauce mixture on a lettuce cup and top with chicken mixture.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


I just wrote my 600th blog entry.  Thank you for reading -- whether you're here for the first time or have read for years; it's nice to journey together, either way.

I'd love to do a little drawing and send a thank you package to two of you.  It will be a surprise package of some of my favorite things and should be good.  If you want to be in the running (please be in the running!) jot a little comment below anytime between now and Thanksgiving!  I will pick names on Thanksgiving day.

Thanks, again.  XXO


November 28


thank you!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Shaken Baby Syndrome

When you first have a baby, some of the literature thrust into your hands – from the hospital, the pediatrician, fliers in the mail, books – warns you about "shaken baby syndrome": when a mother loses her mind because of an inconsolable screaming baby and shakes that baby out of pure desperation, damaging her.  Why this has the privilege of being called "a syndrome" rather then "an incident," I do not know.  In any event, the advice offered in said literature is to put the baby down some place safe and leave the room. 

This morning our house was in danger of shaken toddler syndrome, shaken mother syndrome, the whole house shaking syndrome.  

I've decided that though Maeve looks like a sweet dimpled little girl, she is in fact one of those cartoon babies with evil eyebrows, plotting her next move as we go.  She eyes the folded laundry, eyebrows raise, and just as I stand up, she unfolds the entire pile in one fell swoop.  Yesterday, I noticed she was no longer sitting at the table with a bowl of yogurt. After looking around for a minute or two (no answers to my calls), I found her silently sitting on the closed toilet seat in her underpants, hands coated with yogurt like gloves, smearing fingers all over the face of my phone, she'd stolen.

This morning the impulses of the evil eyebrows were more subtle: she woke me up at 5 AM crying but fell back to sleep.  After tossing and turning, I finally slipped downstairs at 5:25, closed myself into the kitchen, and settled on the floor with my laptop, kettle boiling, to work on a poem. At 5:44 who should scream awake again but Maeve, evil eyebrows arching, some sixth sense radar-ing my movement in the house.  Down she came, and my silence, naturally, abruptly ended.  It wasn't just that intrusion, though, it was the screaming and complaining, the constant clinging to the leg, the constant refusal of anyone else's comfort or hands or help, that ensued for the following THREE hours that pushed me back to those early days, to the edge where every fiber of the body is bent toward wanting to shake the baby.

I did put her in her bed and leave the room.

Now, at 9:47, the small eyebrowed one has sabotaged the 9:30 yoga class with little-boy-who-cries-wolf potty hollers, a skinned knee, and a terrible attitude.  We sit in the car in tense silence, where perhaps this small wonder is wondering whether she over did it this time, and her mother offers no answer, just grips the steering wheel in an effort to keep her hands to herself. 

Monday, October 06, 2014

Fall Love

Today is chilly and damp.  A woman I just met at the library called it "daydream weather."  I would have called it something more like "dreary," so I am trying on her perspective, daydream weather...

I've spent much of many days sitting on the bathroom floor reading books to Maeve, who's learning to use the potty.  Try as I might to get out the door to Trader Joe's, the potty trumps, and we, again, settle into the bathroom while I force myself to read Maisy goes on Vacation five more times.  When we finally enter Trader Joe's, she asks for the bathroom  -- in the very back of the store --  so we go, navigating the disgustingness of the public bathroom, and she goes a tiny drop.  Then we schlep back up front to the dairy aisle where I begin to stack yogurts in the cart when she urgently announces she has to go again, so back we go, to the far corner of the store, and wait in the blue bathroom, 15 minutes down, the list still pretty much untouched, while she sits and sits and never goes.  This is potty training --  lots of wet undies, much inefficiency.

But I like it.  I like it because underlying all the laundry and toilet seats are days of rare undividedness: I stare at her; I stay with her; I talk to her as she plucks the illustrated cats and bunnies from the pages of books we're reading and lays them down to sleep on the footstool.  I'm taken with her smallness, her little legs and feet that hang off the seat, her dainty shoulders and arms, the way she looks at me out of the corner of her eyes and blooms into smile when she hears her own success.

Today she's napping early, knocked out by her own efforts.  So I am here, bundled in a sweater, drinking tea, and watching the oak leaves fidget in the breeze.  We are all cartwheeling into a new season together.  The dogwood's reddened leaves sway.

Right at the edge of October, the sting of our morning separations quieted, too.  Eden's found that it's easier to leave than be left, so she kisses me in the living room and runs up to the bus stop just with Silas.  There are still a few mornings when I see one of them through the dark bus window pressed up against the glass, forehead and palms, looking like some Disney animal being dragged off to the pound, but thankfully these are fewer and farther between.

I was listening to a friend yesterday talk about how she can just look at her kids and ache through to the bone, cry even, because love is that devastating, that deep.

Sometimes I try to protect myself from being conscious of that kind of love, from feeling it, because it punctures clean through.  It hurts.  It's easier to talk about pee on the rug than how she stands at the marker board coloring dots and wiggling her hips to the music.  It's easier to tell the story of running through the house with an almost-peeing child hanging on to my body than to tell how I found "I love you love Eden" scrawled in 1st grade handwriting on a blank page of my journal.

But in fall, there's no hiding.  The leaves changing before the eyes to fire shades, the wind blowing clean but tinged with earth and decay, the "daydream weather" and golden sun edging each leaf, pouring over us all; the searing beauty makes us raw-aware: it makes us love.

The notion's kind of romantic, I know, and smacked into a day littered with a pushy morning trying to get out the door, collisions with wills and too-short shoe laces, tears and sharp two-year-old shrieks.  I even locked myself in a closet earlier to escape from the yelling.  But nonetheless, it's here, fall, exposing how deeply we love that which quickly changes.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Maeve: 2

When Silas turned four we had his birthday party at "train park" -- a sprawling park where some old-men engineers ran a jumbo model train on weekends -- not commercial but just for the serious trainmanship of it.  I remember standing in the grass, jumbo gum drops on bright cupcakes (candy land party), a handful of friends scattered around, the tangled strings of dollar kites kids were feeding into the sky, feet racing; it was a best day.  

Today Maeve turned two.  I've never known a two year old so aware of her birthday.  This morning, she came into the kitchen and held up both hands, concentrating until all of the fingers on both hands were about half bent, and then said "uh-huh, boo," which meant, I'm holding up two fingers and am two.  She blew out a pink candle in her yogurt this morning over and over, the two of us at the kitchen table, and danced a birthday dance for the lady giving samples at Trader Joe's, for shoppers nearby, for Annemarie, and everyone else who asked.  Whenever anyone mentioned a present, she started humming a tuneless song, which was happy birthday to herself, and told people "mine dot," which was her way of telling them she'd had a polka dot birthday party in the park.  

At age two, Maeve still speaks mostly in single syllables and more sounds than words.  We rejoice at new consonants, like a T sound at the end of "hat," and congratulate ourselves on how much more she's talking, though Eden told lengthy stories at this age and Silas asked all sorts of questions while he sat on the potty.  She moves at her own pace.  She tries to frown a lot, even scowl, but often ends up smiling under her breath, and then laughing a little dimpled laugh just to herself.  She knows when she is funny.    

Tonight we celebrated her birthday at our house with grandparents, an aunt and uncle and two little nephews who live far off, and again I found my child's birthday to be a best day.  Maeve born on the line between summer and fall, a both/and baby, a shock and delight, a nay screamer and charmer, she fits this line.  Sunday sagged with summer heat and this morning woke to fall.  The air still smells of sweet grass, but in the evenings there is smoke on the breeze and a nip of cold.  We sat around the table tonight eating barbecue and cake with drippy chocolate frosting.  The kids played blocks and trains and led us outside.  The sun pitched gold.  At one moment I stood at Ben's shoulder looking: Eden flinging herself through cartwheels in the grass, Silas gliding wild arcs through the air on the swing, Maeve on the ground busily stuffing rubber food into a toy blender, a baby nephew plopped in the grass watching and the other scooting down the slide, my parents there, Ben's dad, a brother sister, a breeze.  No one was entertaining anyone else; everyone just was.  Remember every part of this, Ben said next to me.  And he was right, that was exactly what I was trying to do.  These birthdays, these best days, these ways we mark time.  

Monday, September 01, 2014

Eat Drink and Be Merry

Now that it's September, two quick recipes I loved this summer:

Tonight my Family (big family, capital F) all piled on the porch and ate together in celebration of the end of summer -- corn on the cob (still sweet) and this Watermelon Rosemary Lemonade from Food52:  It tastes like summer.  Drink it with lost of ice.

Boozy Watermelon Rosemary Lemonade: 

  • 3/4cups sugar
  • 2cups water
  • 4sprigs rosemary
  • 1cup fresh lemon juice 
  • 7cups watermelon diced
  • 8ounces gin
  • 1lemon - thinly sliced
  1. Add sugar and 1 cup of water to a small saucepan with rosemary sprigs. Cook over medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Once dissolved remove from heat, and cover the saucepan.  Let sit for at least an hour to infuse.
  2. In a blender combine the lemon juice and watermelon. (Add the watermelon in batches, blending after each).
  3. Add in the rosemary simple syrup 1/4 cup at a time until the mixture is at your desired sweetness (about a cup).
  4. Pour the mixture into a large pitcher, add 1 cup of cold water, and the gin.  Stir and serve over ice.  Garnish with lemon and rosemary sprig if you like.  

A nearly symptomless fever cut Eden's first week of school short by two days, so she stayed home coaxing Maeve from room to room with games and books and empty ice cream cones (that I later found crushed in the couch pillows AND in my bed...).  We ate a lot of yogurt and granola together at the table.  My favorite granola is Michele's Granola, made locally in Maryland -- perfect light crunch, flavor.  Everything.  I've tried to recreated it, and have never come close until this recipe.  As usual, Orangette delivers!  When I made this, I used slivered almonds and pecans.  The second time I used sunflower seeds, pepitas, and walnuts.  Michele uses sliced almonds and sunflower seeds.  I'm waiting to have the right ingredients in my pantry to try her combination.  One note: I used 1 1/2 t kosher salt when I made this, and it was pretty salty.  Amazing on ice cream and vanilla yogurt.  For cereal, I'd cut the salt down even more.  Find the orangette recipe here, or here:

Molly Wizenberg's Granola No. 5

This is a recipe by weight (though I used cups the first time and a postage scale the second).  Use any nuts or seeds as long as it's roughly 400 grams in all.  You can add dried fruit at the end, if you like, or just eat it as is.  The essential ingredient here is the unsweetened coconut chips (I tried it with unsweetened shredded coconut and it was still good, but not the same texture).  

Molly's note about kosher salt: I use Diamond Crystal brand, which is less salty than Morton. If you use the latter, you’ll probably only want to use about 1 ½ teaspoons.

600 grams (6 cups) old-fashioned rolled oats  (I used gluten free oats and it was great)
100 to 150 grams (about 2 to 3 loose cups) unsweetened coconut chips
400 grams nuts (maybe 3 to 4 cups? see headnote), chopped if you like
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup (240 ml) maple syrup, preferably Grade B
2/3 cup (160 ml) olive oil

Preheat oven to 300.

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.
Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment (I ended up using more like 2 1/2 sheets).

Measure the dry ingredients into a large bowl, and stir well. 

Add the maple syrup and olive oil, and stir to coat. 
Divide the mixture between the two prepared sheet pans, spread it out, and bake, 
stirring the granola and flipping the pans once or twice, until golden brown, about 40 minutes.
Look for the whole mixture to toast and brown evenly.
Allow to cool completely, then transfer the granola to airtight containers. 

September 2nd brings week two.  Off we go again*

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

sneak attack

The second day of school, and it is the confident daughter with the did-it-myself-side-ponytail who crumbles as the bus pulls up.  The son I've ached for over the summer climbed aboard with a skip in his step -- funny, the role reversals.

She wanted to be close all morning, standing near me in the kitchen, sitting beside me over cereal, brushing her hair with a smile, holding my hand up to the bus stop.  But when the rumbling bus slowed to a stop, I heard a sharp "no" under her breath, and she threw herself against me, tears.  This girl likes to be strong, and I could tell by her frantic face-wiping and face-burying how much she wanted to hide from the full bus of kids.

I walked almost up the steps with her, whispering to both of us that she could do it, but her face was flushed and she kept wiping her eyes and shaking her head.  Then the doors closed, and I could just make out her slouched form through the darkened windows as the bus drove away.  I walked home with wet cheeks whispering prayers after her.  We'll see what day three brings...

Sunday, August 24, 2014

That One

We just got home from California last night and tomorrow will sweep our kids off to school.  I've gone through all iterations: have driven down the 55 blasting the radio to drown out the chorus of complaints, skin crawling, ready for nothing more than structure; and have sat on the yellow couch, long after the house was asleep, and written down doubts, fears about placing them in the wrong hands, about how I will miss them, and how my heart crushes when they grip my arm and don't want to say goodbye. 

Perhaps as mothers we always have "that one" that tugs our hearts right out of our chests.  I would guess that "that one" changes with seasons and stages, friendships, teachers, struggles.  This fall, my one is the tender-hearted son.  

All summer I've been hoping he will have a different year this year, one of ease and encouragement, sweet friendships, a teacher who engages him.  But as we've moved into this week, I've had to admit fears and pray the truer stuff -- that the struggles he has sitting at the table with pencil in hand will eventually build his confidence, that the unkindnesses slung his way won't bowl him over or even touch his true sense of worth and worthiness, that he'll be buoyant, that he'll have courage and know when to speak, that the words spoken and unspoken to him this year will serve to build his character, that I'll be patient and unhurried, that somehow God will give me grace to hold the big picture as I navigate the minutes. 

Backpacks are by the door, packed with lunches, shoes laid next to them (we can at least start strong), First Day of School zucchini bread is in the oven for the parents who will gather after drop-off in a mix of elation and devastation and each rung in between.  

And like every year, we will be the enthusiasts for the morning, for breakfast and the bus, for the mismatched under armor outfit Silas has laid out on his floor.  And like every year, we will act like kissing them on the blacktop and walking away is breezy, because what we want to tell them they can do it.  

As I sit here with a cup of chamomile tea, hoping jet lag wont' sink everyone first thing, I'm reminding myself that yes, these little resilient beautiful creatures, can do it.  They are made to do it, to navigate this world that some days is cruel (and many days is breathlessly fun).  I am reminding myself that this year will be part of their story that none of us knows yet, a part of what makes them, a part we haven't gotten to read yet.  Tomorrow's simply the current that will pull of from summer's eddy, push us the only way we go in this life -- on ahead.  

So my sweet Silas, as you lie in your bed, what I pray is that when you open your eyes, your heart will be assured that you, my boy, can do it; you are made to go ahead.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

from California

I am sitting in the bathtub fully clothed holding a computer.  Silas and Eden are whisper-fighting about being on each other's side of the sleep sofa bed, and Maeve is asleep at the foot of our bed.  There is no where else to be in this hotel room but here.

We are in Costa Mesa for our last week of summer.  School starts in 6 days, and I can't believe how ready I am.  I bought Silas green pencils, fat pink erasers, and a pencil bag with a mouth in hopes they would rocket him into excitement. I wouldn't say my efforts have worked, exactly, but hopefully they've helped.  Eden tries out Silas's phrases of protest, but really is ready to go.

Tonight I sat on our teeny hotel balcony and almost missed  the sunset on the bay because of conversation, while the kids swam in the pool below us and Maeve slept in the room behind.  I'm trying to front load our days, pitch them toward the jet lag with full mornings and second breakfasts.  This is week two (last week was family beach week) of doughnuts regularly before dawn.

My brain is shutting down, now that it is 8:15 in the west, and I am going to stumble through the dark to bed.  The kids have quieted, and early morning pancakes call.

Friday, August 01, 2014

A poem for today

A poem by Audre Lorde

As I Grow Up Again

A little boy wears my mistakes
like a favorite pair of shorts
outgrown   at six
my favorite excuse was morning
and I remember that I hated
spring's change.

At play within my childhood
my son works hard   learning
which doors do not open easily
and which clocks will not work
he toys with anger like a young cat
testing its edges
slashing through the discarded box
where I laid my childish dreams to rest
and brought him brown and wriggling
to his own house.

He learns there through my error
winning with secrets
I do not need to know.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Regression all around -- it's hard to be the mom

This week, week two of day camp, I cannot leave my house without all three children crying.  Maeve hits hysteria.  Eden becomes weepy and clings to me.  Silas broods with angry tears pinned to being unable to read together (we are reading Percy Jackson, which is hard to put down).

Last night Ben and I left for a date to see Magic in the Moonlight.  It took me 20 minutes of fury at Ben for blaming me for badly handling everyone's tears as I squeezed out the door (which he wasn't exactly doing, more what I was doing) and the pungent smell of popcorn finally to calm and settle into being together.

Today all I tried was to go to yoga.  Maeve and I talked about it all the way there.  Last week she reluctantly leaned into the woman's arms and I left without a scene.  Today, as we walked in with her giant book and tiny doll, she screamed a beet-faced cry as if I'd just left her for life.

After Eden's dance camp --she is carrying herself with a whole new posture, head right up in the stars readying some internal posture for her performance tomorrow -- she spoke baby talk for an hour -- "me ga ga want ga"  Really?

At bedtime, Ben  becomes almost invisible, though his kind voice walks through books and he lies next to kids asking about their day.  Where's mom?  Is she coming?  I need her to tuck me in?  Can you read me a book?  Dad already read to you.  I want YOU to read to me!!!!!! And then the crying and clinging.  At 5am, after a trip to the bathroom, Eden appeared at my bedside with alligator tears, but I want to get in bed with YOU.  The three of us squeezed like sardines under the covers.

And so we hit mid-summer.

This is the note I found next to Eden's face on her pillow last night:
Mom, I am 
terribly missing you
today and all
month and all 
year can we 
have some 
special time

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

the sauce (spicy cilantro sauce for everything)

  • A few weeks ago my sister-in-law and I sat on the basement floor among piles of laundry and flipped through recipes.  It was a rare moment, our kids in camp together, when our our daily overlapped.  We both pulled out Sunset magazine's Chicken Steamed Over Ginger-Garlic Rice.  The rice was great (recommend).  Steamed chicken left a little something to be desired, would grill it next time, but what was amazing was the sauce.  I used only one green jalapeno (no red) and seeded it almost completely.  I've made the sauce for steak, too, and it would be great on grilled chicken,kabobs, fish.  

  •      Sunset, July 2014 (photo from Sunset)
  • ~2 in. piece ginger, peeled and thickly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove
  • green onions, chopped
  • 1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves and tender stems
  • tbsp. lime juice
  • green jalapeño chile, sliced and stemmed
  • (1 red jalapeño chile, sliced and stemmed)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

  • Purée all ingredients plus 2 tbsp. water in a blender. 
  • Transfer to a bowl and serve with most everything.

on the porch swing

Is everyone in their 30's tired?  With one child, five children?  Are people with no children exhausted, too?  Is it this decade of building life that is just tiring for all?  Or is it more the repeated impossibly-pounding footsteps of a child down the hallway at 5:43 in the morning each day that does it?

I don't know.  What I know is that every day around 1pm, I could easily crawl into my bed and stay there for a few hours, which, unfortunately, is also nap time when I could most do something creative or productive.

Do the creative and productive hit in the next life stage?

Tonight I am sitting on a porch swing while my one year old niece, who is trying to pull an all-nighter, chatters and chomps a cracker, wearing a diaper and blond curls.  We are all spending the night tonight together at my parents' house.

Maybe it is the combination of camp "carnival," of wild face painting that actually made our kids look like different people, of giant plates of pie for dessert, or the pure intoxication of being with each other, but the cousins are w-i-l-d tonight, which is why I am on the porch.

Mosquitoes are biting my bare legs and arms as the woods chirp and buzz with evening.  The crepe myrtle is perfectly still, as are all of the leaves on the trees towering above.  It was another California day -- weather breaking records for DC July with this perfection (or the polar vortex...).

Today Silas busily devoured a Hardy Boys graphic novels.  Eden suddenly looks two years older as she leans over Maeve giggling.  And Maeve spent most of the day, as many days, pushing markers and shoes, sunglasses, keys she shouldn't have, tiny teacups or bears into bags and carrying them over her shoulder.

The sky is shadowed with clouds again, but there is no sign of rain tonight.  The deer poke along the edge of the woods, unhurried.  The chain of the porch swing creaks, and somewhere inside, kids scamper into pajamas and loose sheets for bed.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

June and July in Pictures

In early June, Eden turned 6 with a spa science party
and an ihop breakfast in Philly
where we rode the Philly Ducks...

Then school ended
and it was summer:


Camp Thor hair

Saturday Mornings

Saturday mornings started with Smurfs, Snorks, and Gummy Bears.  Then the Top 40 Countdown with Casey Kasem.  Eventually they were married mornings with newspaper, coffee filled and refilled, hawaiian bread french toast.  Baby Silas breakfasts were at any place opened by 7, and with Eden in tow, we met families on chilly patios where the up-and-down-spilled-water-syrup-hands was permitted.

DC brunches instead of breakfasts, so our Saturdays often land on Breakfast at BB's, with my brother's family, always coffee and bacon.

Maeve has not coordinated with the rest of the family on Saturdays -- no plotting to watch Phineas and Ferb, or to sleep until someone makes her wake, or to read alone with tea. She just wants breakfast.  So on Saturdays, like every day really, we sit at the table together.

Today we've been up for what feels like ages.  I've poured bowls and bowls of Spoonfuls, waved to her through the window while filling the bird feeder, drank tea, watched milk drip down her elbows as she insists on eating cereal with her hands...

One day I probably will sit here for hours alone while the rest of the house sleeps, busy with growing and dreaming.  Hard to imagine such things.  In the meantime, I will sit listening to Maeve name the house asleep in a forced whisper:
Dada sssssssss (sleeping)
Hiya (Silas) ssssssss
Doda (Eden) ssssssss,
again and again as the morning brightens.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


I am standing on the front porch, bare feet on the tiny square of pavement that isn't being bombarded by rain. It's another afternoon downpour that began with low mumbling thunder that suddenly turned to rain so hard it's blurring the woods like fog.  It's something to be living beneath hundred year old trees that bend and stretch their massive bodies in the wind.

Some days the DC heat stagnates, presses in so close it makes the city hum with impatience.  Last night when I went to bed, the humidity was at 97%.  Even the air was ripe for this downpour.  Today what I love about storms is how they interrupt, they break in, even if it's just for the minute when water hits the skin, when thunder roars louder than a stadium of our voices and leaves us standing quiet.  

A fawn darts from the woods, bucking, prancing and stops.  I can't tell if it was a game or he was startled, but now, with his nose to the grass, he doesn't even seem to register the rain pelting his back as he slowly walks back into the trees.

So far Maeve has stayed asleep. She is the first child I have had who is terrified of thunder. She makes her sound for truck and points her little finger to the sky, then clings to my leg and begs to be held.

Maybe she is the only one of us who really gets it – power so much stronger than we are.

The wind is splattering the street with leaves and sticks.  It makes a mess of the city -- power outs, lines down, branches cracked -- and cleans us, too, rushing in new air, a new weather system, the smell of grass, steaming concrete, dirt.  

We are midsummer now, breathing easily outside of school's rush, lounging on my bed reading books.  We are gorging on cantaloupes and peaches, filling and refilling the bird feeder, shuttling to and fro for a week of camp. There isn't a lot else -- some baseball and art, iced tea, a couple cousin sleepovers, Maeve's constant hitting, exhaustion by dinner.  

I can feel my first waves of regret that this will end and school will start again, that our time together will be clamped by homework and activity.  I want to stay here, in the wind, watching the rain blow and the leaves wave like wild flags of surrender.  

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

when grace smells like fire

Last night after two chapters of The Phantom Tollbooth, tickling backs, kissing faces, tucking blankets to chins, turning fans on and lights off, fishing pacifiers out from behind the crib, I sat down at the table.  Maeve has burned with fevers since Saturday and wakes the moment tylenol wears off, skin hot to the touch.  My nights have been interrupted and full of strange dreaming.

But last night, before the the wakeful sleep began, I got to sit alone at the computer and catch up on emails.  I'd been sitting for 30 or 40 minutes when I suddenly smelled something I couldn't place -- sweet and smoky at once -- was something burning?  a neighbor's outdoor fire?  electrical wires in a wall?  an oven?  something grilled?  

A few birthdays ago, Ben gave me a kettle I love.  It's unlike any kettle I've seen, made maybe in the 60's, sleek lines, a wooden handle, a round enough body to welcome.  I use it every day.  The problem, though, is that it makes no sound.  Countless times, I've wanted to kiss our obnoxiously loud over-sensitive smoke alarm that's screamed into the house-noise when I've left the kettle on, boiling away until it's dry.  The wooden handle has a distinct scent when it gets too hot and has come dangerously close to burning before, the wood now darkened at it's lowest point.  I've had a couple of scares -- of holy sh-*#!  I could burn this place down, and once was so scared I vowed never to use it again.

But I did use it again (and again and again and again and again--).

Last night, as soon as I realized I smelled the kettle and slowly remembered turning it on so long ago to make a cup of tea,  I knew terror.  I walked to the kitchen like a slow robot picturing the flames from the burner and wondering what I'd do when I saw them, if I could put them out, how, the old fire extinguisher behind the kitchen door empty and useless left by old owners.

As I walked in, I almost didn't believe what I saw -- the kettle smoking and no fire.  I felt sick.  It had to have been close to flames.  I carried it outside with potholders and left it on the slate, as if the pot needed punishing.  

Then I just about fell on my face, pierced to the gut with gratitude and shame at my own insane thoughtlessness.  What IF...., my three asleep upstairs.

When I woke up this morning, I could still smell it through the house -- the almost fire that had not charred us.  The scent of not quite burned wood hanging in the hall.  Grace is not just politeness, not just favor nor ease, it is undeserved assistance (I just looked it up in Merriam-Webster), or more specifically, "unmerited divine assistance given to humans."  Was this ever grace, the smoke alarm down and the smell of fire, just in time.

**just bought fire extinguishers**

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Dessekfast Crumble

As I brought home a huge box of strawberries for this crumble, I realized it's also time for early summer pie (a recipe that always turns into mid-summer pie and late summer pie, too, and is easy enough to make with your eyes closed -- and so good).  

Like Early Summer Pie, this recipe is a backbone that's easy to adjust -- sub butter for coconut oil, add more honey or sugar to sweeten it up (it's not terribly sweet but great with vanilla ice cream or vanilla greek yogurt), play with the topping.  The original recipe (paleo from called for 1 1/2 c almond flour for the topping and no oats or pecans. I've eaten this for dessert and breakfast every time I've made it (hence the name).  

Dessekfast Crumble

  • 4 c of berries -- whatever you like, mix or keep solo (fresh blueberries may end up watery)
  • 1/2 c of almond flour
  • 1/2 c oats
  • 1/2 c chopped pecans
  • 2 tbs of coconut oil (melted)
  • 2 tbs of honey or sugar or coconut sugar if berries are sweet, if they are tart, add extra
  • cinnamon 

  • Diretions:
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  • Grease a pie plate or 8x8 baking dish with coconut oil and spread out berries  
  • In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients until crumbly   
  • Spread the crumb evenly over the berries.  Top with cinnamon and a sprinkle of sugar
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes or until top is golden brown

Joy (Safety)

I have a knack for instantly imagining worst-case scenarios, like when Ben launches Silas all the way to the sky to plummet down into the shallow end of the pool (where necks break) or shoves his little body onto a giant surf board in huge waves (where confidence is smashed and necks break).  It's been a slow learning curve, but rather than speaking, I'm learning to leave the scene or stop watching.  And when I hear myself say, no, no, they will never be on a diving team/join boy scouts/do flips/rock climb, and I know the real reasons are because I'm terrified they'll hit their head/be sexually abused/break their necks/be dropped by a moron who can't tie knots, I know I have to take a breath and probably go sign them up for one of those things.

I have a secret pact with myself not to avoid activities just because I am afraid of them (within reason).  Risk and growth, they breathe together.

A few weeks ago, I played tennis for the first time in two decades and then skied in crappy conditions wearing boots too big for me.  In both situations, I felt flat out bad at something.

Most days I urge the kids to do what they are bad at and to shake off the self-judgement that comes with it, but it's empty advice when I've forgotten what it feels like to be a beginner, to feel clumsy and like I'm making a fool of myself in front of an audience (even an audience of one).

I've structured my life so I'm not a beginner very often, and when I am, I'm a controlled beginner: "oh, I haven't written on this topic before" or "I haven't gone running in a year, I'll try it" or "Ina Garten says I can make that?  Ok, I'll get the ingredients."  These "beginner" experiences are night and day from, "oh, a lacrosse stick in my hand that I don't even know how to hold and a ball that, try as I might, I can only slap onto the ground a few feet from me?  Ok, let's do that."

Trying new things is not safe.

About a month ago, I walked past this mudflap, right around the time I wrote about pain.  Feeling pain, like playing tennis for the first time in decades, does not feel safe.  I love safety.  I love knowing where the people I love are, I love lap bars on fair rides, I love reassurance and firm plans.  But safety, I continue to learn, is not joy.  Or, I should say, joy is not safety. It can't be, or we're screwed.

I've been wondering about joy.  Joy, rather than in happiness or kindness, seems to be in all this stuff I'm learning about sitting in pain, uncertainty, or unmet hope, and still hoping; seems in the moments when we're unsure of whether a single safe thing will happen, but know that our core, somehow, is and will be ok.

Today it's June, summer, which makes me think especially of reading with Silas and the summer when we read all of the Narnia books together.  In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, just before Susan, Peter, and Lucy meet Aslan they, too, reckon with safety:

     "Ooh!" said Susan, "I'd thought he was a man.  Is he -- quite safe?  I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."
    "That you will, dearie, and no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver; "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."
     "Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.
     "Safe? said Mr. Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe?  'Course he isn't safe.  But he's good.  He's the King, I tell you."
     "I'm longing to see him," said Peter, "even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point." 

Maybe it's like Mr. Beaver said, and I've been longing for the wrong thing all along, and Peter's the one about to taste joy.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Hello, Gluten

This shelf perfectly describes the last four months (and whoever arranged this grocery store shelves doesn't quite understand the issue).  In short summary, I'm back on gluten for a year.

Building a Fire

Some days there is nothing more cleansing than sitting down and pouring words onto a page.
Other days, we simply need to be dragged out of our selves to breathe.

It poured a gushing rain two nights before I went camping alone on the grounds of a retreat center a few weeks ago.  Even with a couple sticks of fat wood, my first fire, which promised to be a rager, coughed and hissed until it was shockingly just smoke.  

By morning, the fat wood was gone, but determined not to drink cold tea, I gathered the driest leaves, grasses, twigs I could find.  Finally, a flame caught, I added bigger sticks, and sat down with my journal and book.  Right as I picked up my pen, the fire turned to smoke.  So up I stood, snapping dry twigs, blowing into the embers, and starting the fire again.  Then I sat down with my journal and book.  Right when I picked up my pen, smoke.  So up I stood to comb the woods again.  Right when I sat down, smoke.  By the time I held hot tea (victory!), it had been an hour.

What I'd most wanted to do was sink into my thoughts, dig around in the restlessness, read words for grounding, and sit outside of the life of constant interruptions.  Instead, interrupted constantly, I made a fire with my hands.  I fed kindling to hot ash, watched for a flame to catch, and layered logs until it did.

Sometimes the saving comes through our hands.

The other night, I was reminded of camping.  It was a dark, not outside with the nearly-full moon, but inside with churning and doubting.  I lay in bed with open tired eyes for hours.  Around midnight Eden unexpectedly cried out.  Her head hurt with sharp pain that made her whimper even after she dozed off.  So I sat stroking her hair for an hour, then lay on the floor with a quilt, waiting for her to wake.  Eventually I peeled myself up and fell back into bed asleep.

The headache hasn't come back, and I wonder if it wasn't just there to shake me out of myself, to give me a way to care with my hands, to leave my thoughts, and finally to sleep.