Tuesday, December 15, 2015

December: Cold Remedies and Cocktails

It's December -- and already so far into December.  The kids have school through the 23rd!  Everything in me wants to pull them out early on principle, but we don't have a compelling reason and I'm pretty sure I regularly communicate that school is important unless it conflicts with your vacation plans or fun outings, so I will send them.

Today I am in sweats drinking cup after cup of everything warm, battling a cold that has made my body feel like a ton of bricks for two days now.

Since it's food season, I'm writing today about foods and drinks:

A couple of cold remedies and comforts:

-LOTS of vitamin C (I am taking 6,000 a day right now)

-Tea (organic chamomile or just hot water) with lemon, raw ginger, and raw honey (add honey after your boiled water cools a bit so you don't kill all the goodness of the raw honey).  Steep as long as possible

-Broth:  if you can make your own bone broth, do.  I've been using drumsticks (more economical) -- the most important thing is that your bones start out raw.  And if it's not that kind of week, use a box. Once you have 4 cups of broth, dice half an onion, 2-3 crushed cloves of garlic, and about an inch of peeled diced ginger.  Boil for 30 minutes, strain and drink throughout the day like tea. (perhaps it's good for me that Ben is out of town today with all that garlic and onion...)

-A Hot Toddy, which is like hot lemon and honey with some dark liquor (bourbon, whisky, or rum) thrown in.  Try these proportions:
1 oz booze, 1 T honey, 1/2 oz lemon, 1/4-1/2 c boiling water -- adjust to taste
You could put fresh ginger in here, too

A few other winter food notes to share:

-An easy winter salad I can't eat enough of is spinach or kale, toasted almond slivers, and orange slices.  Especially good dressed with white balsamic and olive oil.

-It is Meyer Lemon season, which for those of us on the east coast is *very* short.  I instantly horde them when I see them, even just to hold them in my hands and smell them.  Their zest and juice (less sour than a regular lemon) is great all sorts of places: on string beans, in pancake batter with blueberries, in salad dressing.  I just wrote down several recipes for amazing-sounding dipping sauce for shrimp that i haven't tried yet.  Were I not sick, I'd be making French 75's tonight with Meyer Lemon for friends (sob!)

-Cranberry Margaritas
I've been making these, adapted from Sunset Magazine
makes ~4

1 c cranberry juice cocktail, divided
1/2 c + 1 T sugar (original recipe calls for more so play with amount if you like sweeter)
1 1/2 cups (6 oz) fresh cranberries (could use frozen)
3/4 c fresh lime juice
3/4 c tequila
1/2 c triple sec
3 c ice

Pour a splash of juice on one plate and a few Tablespoons of sugar on another plate.
Dip the rims of glasses into juice and then sugar (makes the sugar slightly pink).
Whirl all ingredients until smooth and slushy, then divide among the glasses and enjoy!
(can put a few cranberries on a toothpick and roll in juice and sugar for garnish)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Urgent, Important, and Bailing our Ships

I am sitting in a big red chair drinking a beer in North Carolina.  We've been here for a long weekend and will leave in the morning.

The girls are tumbling around the rug; ribs are in the oven; my mom is beginning to pack up.  

I almost called off the trip because before we left I realized we were going to miss ten things -- ten!  We were only going away for a long weekend!  They were things like the final soccer game and pizza party, a nursery school open house, BINGO night for 2nd grade, my Miriam's Kitchen writing group -- all things we would have done if we'd been home.

But then, I realized if I left, I wouldn't have to go to TEN things!!!

And that thought hit like a relief and felt worth driving 8-9 hours for.

Being away has been worth it -- brilliant red maple leaves spotting the floor of brown birch, hikes with Eden, the pond high and creek rushing, clouds settled between the mountains in the distance, the sound of rain on the roof, a house full of my mom and girls.  Yesterday I sat on the couch for hours (literally hours!!) and read a whole book while the girls played school in the basement.  I never ever do that.

During Maeve and Eden's school game, Eden, "Ms New," kept sending notes "home for the parents" to invite us to different activities: an open house, a learning hour, a book fair, an art show, a conference, a nature hike.  Each event had a precise start time (9:58AM...) and "came home" on a different color construction paper.  Finally, sitting on the couch, shuffling the stack of notices dictating all the activities about to begin, I had a rush of overwhelm -- it felt like life (she makes a convincing adult).  And then, looking at her 2nd grade teacher writing, I walked to the basement for my organized, in-depth parent-teacher conference where she presented me with a rainbow picture about my wonderful daughter. 

Being here has made me wonder about how to marry the ease of the mountains with the rush of the city. There must be a way...

Many years ago I read an essay called The Tyranny of the Urgent, which talked about how urgent things in life easily trump important things; for example, racing around doing errands and ticking them off the to-do list feels pressing whereas sitting on the floor and having a tea party with Maeve I can push off forever.

Recently, so many things have seemed urgent that I've felt unable to weigh what's important.  I haven't had a sustained conversation -- on phone or in person -- with my best friends for weeks.  I've found myself more often sitting in front of an open notebook page or calendar wondering how to structure my days, what needs to give, what I need to clear space for.  At least once a week I find myself longing to pause the world and spend a few days catching up, even just to do (or fold or put away) laundry (how utterly boring).  

Part of this fullness is having three young kids and no help.  I understand that reality.  Where is our village of co-family living, bonfire meals we all pitch in for, and lots of grandmothers and grandfathers who live in our huts?  That would help a lot.


It has taken me two days to write this, and now I am home.  I walked in to the house, with full road trip unload: bags of books and markers, full suitcase, dirty laundry, cooler, bag of groceries -- and dumped it all on the floor.  The table still held the stack of mail/papers/books I had to go through, and the pile of days and days laundry in the basement was unbearable. 

I woke up this morning early to a mad rush to make lunches, look presentable, and get to school for an early morning (not quite as interesting at Ms. New's) parent-teacher conference. 

Welcome home.

It was surprising how overwhelmed I instantly became.  Or more accurately, I felt a small frown settle between my eyes and stay there.  Every task felt a bit too much (and to be fair, I am on the brink of a sinus infection and energy is low, so overwhelm comes easily).  

I felt dazed and at 9:30 in the morning bought myself a Diet Dr. Pepper -- not my usual routine.

This morning, I made plans to go over to my sister's house to hang out with her, her three week old and toddler.  Looking around my house last night and the loads (six? seven?) of laundry that needed to be sorted, washed, folded, taken upstairs, I almost called her to cancel so I could "catch up" (an imaginary term in laundry).  

But then I remembered last winter when my brother was working endless hours and my sister-in-law (I call her my sister, but I see how that makes it look like my brother and sister are married) was in utter overwhelm.  How could I possibly go over and help or keep her company when I am hardly afloat myself?  I kept asking myself.  

But what I realized is that if our ships are sinking -- or foundering, really -- it's better to be up to our knees in water together than separately.  And today, I thankfully could see the important over the urgent, and went over to bail.  And Ben (the magical cleaning fairy that he is) made all the laundry go away.  

Monday, October 26, 2015

Pumpkin Cakies

As soon as pumpkins appear on the scene, my kids start talking about Pumpkin Cakies; they've come to optimize the taste of fall in our house and usually mark Ben's October birthday.

They aren't quite a cookie nor a cake, palm-sized and soft, glazed with maple.  I seem, somehow, never to have shared the recipe here.  Carrie Paschall, a friend from California who just visited DC last week and walked through fall wind with me and ate pumpkin cakies in my brother's kitchen, bridging my worlds, is the one who introduced me to this magic (these, in fact, began our friendship -- they are that good).

Pumpkin Cakies

In one bowl combine: 

1 C brown sugar
14 oz canned pumpkin
1/2 C oil
2 tsp. vanilla

Separately mix together:

1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cloves
2 1/4 C flour

Stir dry and wet ingredients together and drop spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets.  

The dough will be thick and sticky -- that's ok.  Also, they won't spread at all so feel free to put them close together.

Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes.  Top with icing below.

Maple icing:
2 C powdered sugar (it will have a better consistency if sifted)
2 Tbs. soft butter
3/4 tsp. vanilla
5 Tbs. heavy cream or milk  (cream makes this more frosting-like and milk more of a glaze)
1 tsp. maple extract (do not use syrup, it will be too runny)

Mix well and scoop on top of cooled cookies.

(you can also glaze them when they're hot if you want the icing to sink in and become part of the cookie)

ENJOY (you will)

these don't keep very well for multiple days, especially once glazed -- they still taste delicious but become sticky.  Best to eat them all the day you make them (though it's possible I just haven't found the best way to store them yet)

Thursday, October 15, 2015


When my brother was visiting in August he talked about "the weather of the soul" and how sometimes instead of trying to figure out what's causing our internal "bad weather," we can just watch it and wait it out, because weather always changes.

I'm not very good at watching soul-weather; I'm more of an untrained meteorologist... and I like to control things, especially things inside of me.

At the beach this summer, the ocean was sloppy and crashing.  Ben would have a full vocabulary for the waves -- crumbly or soft, mushy or peaky -- but what they looked like to me was messy.  Even when the sea was glassy in the sunrise, promising, the red flags flapped incessantly, and the lifeguards leaned down to tell us "riptides."  It was is if the tides and wind couldn't quite coordinate; waves drove at each other from opposite directions and spray flew.  Then at some point the sandbar would emerge, and the whitecaps would quiet a bit.  And the next day, they'd kick back up.

I've had some of that red-flag weather, driving along and suddenly seeing that all four tires are flashing on the dashboard near-flat -- the waves start kicking every which way, and the wind is so loud.  And though the gas station is not half a mile away, the thought of stopping, even the thought, feels like too much.

And then some hours later, air and gas refilled, I am playing music and loading girls into the back of the car, handing cheese sticks over my shoulder and balancing their wet canvases on the dashboard, reveling in the leaves that keep raining from the trees.

It's like that: weather.

I have found myself saying "no" to more things than ever -- no to happy hour or dinner, to a speaker I want to hear, a Costco run, coffee, people.

Yesterday a friend reminded me to be gentle with myself.  Why do we need this reminder?  The yoga teacher echoed that fall is tricky, that we need to move slowly into weeks, drink warm things, create routine.  That all sounds pretty right.

So I've been saying "yes" to some other things -- sitting alone in the coffee shop with my computer, making a cup of tea (and another), going to bed.  Pulling into the gas station when I feel like I can't, because it helps hold the day together.

Right now I'm having my own secret happy hour in the corner of the kitchen -- a glass of wine and some cheetos I "bought for Silas."

In comfort-seeking I'm trying to remember which things actually nourish and which just comfort for a second (wine and cheese puffs) -- but they are ok sometimes too.  I'm practicing giving myself permission.

A friend just wrote to me about her "alternate rebellion."  She said she's waking up to how much pressure and guilt she heaps on herself about every little thing (putting something back in the grocery store in the wrong place), so she's striking out against the urge "do everything right": she's spitting gum in the bushes, leaving the hall light on all day and night.  If the store is out of organic milk (which mine is ALL the time), buy regular and keep on.  It sounds minimal, but I think we have no idea how many twigs of guilt we pile on -- and you know what they say about the camel...

This summer I bought my niece a pair of black and white leggings with big pandas all over them, kind of like photographs printed on.  And then I had a crappy day, and they were still on the floor of my room, so I put them on and claimed them.  They're now the pants I wear in the face of gloom.  There aren't a lot of other women my age at the grocery store wearing such pants, but it's like that, it's part of the permission as I weather the weather.

How do you weather the weather these days?  I'd love to know.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

September Greys

September.  Usually I dive into the newness and change, the fresh beginning, energized by clean sheets of paper and new pens.  But this year, for the first time, the month settled like fog.  The kids bounded right in -- a first! -- and I settled into a gloom that looked darker each day.

One morning a friend in her 50's, the kind who sweeps you into conversation and treats you like the only person in the room -- looked me in the eye and said, "what's lost for you this fall?"

I felt the question smack even as I blew it off -- nothing's really lost, nothing big, it's just transition, normal adjustment.  And I kept moving.

The gloom moved from my head and lodged itself in my body --  my back ached, my stomach hurt, and still I had no words for it.  After three days of sleeplessness, tossing and turning, achiness, I prayed that God would help me name the block and move it out of my body.

Later that morning, I sat down and made my list.  I know that every change, even the best ones, bring loss.  But what was lost?  I listed all sorts of things about summer, even the little things that sounded stupid.  Write it all.  I kept the pen moving.  There were the long days and loose bedtimes, the freedom, the togetherness.  I wrote and wrote.  Looking at the list, I saw that what underlay almost everything was protection and control.

Dammit.  I was again grieving the impossibility of protection.

In summer, I was with my kids all the time.  Even during camp weeks, the days were shorter than school days and no work came home.  I knew whom they were with, what social interactions were like; I could even pick and choose those interactions.  There was time to make goals and hit them, to provide the kids with small successes.  I watched one of them in particular bloom into a new identity and confidence that had been lacking.  It was a time of controlled experiments, adventure, of my little birds back up in the nest.

And then school started.  Parents weren't allowed to come to campus the first day to take pictures (which we've done every year) because we're in a holding school and there wasn't enough parking.  We weren't -- and still aren't -- allowed to pick our kids up from school afterwards for the same reason.  Straight off the bat, I felt shoved away from my kids without control.

 After months that felt healing, especially for one of my kids, I suddenly couldn't trot alongside anymore and help the processing.  I had to kiss noses at the bus stop and say things like, you've got this, and then sit at the dinner table and listen to how there's no one to play with at recess, listen to loneliness.

One of my mom's many mantras is children must struggle.  Of course she's right -- a fair bit of life involves struggling, and we've got to have the chutzpa to tackle our way through it and find North again.   But in practice, to standby as our kids try to wiggle their feet into the wrong shoe for three minutes or cry their way through writing a sentence or wander around the playground alone -- it's harder.

So what was lost?  What did I believe in these waves of loss?  Ironically as I was making my list (sitting in church), I was listening to a sermon on whole-hearted living, about how God fills us,  makes us whole, is abundant.  Looking at my list I could see my heart clutching those three kids, desperately wanting to keep them safe, protected from too much exposure, astronomically bad decisions, friends who hurt them, kids who are cruel.  I wanted to keep them "safe" right here with me, summer to fall to winter and on.  I wanted them to stay little.  Because the fact was that I wasn't just sad about their growing up and out, I was scared, too.

You know how there is thinking and then there is background thinking -- the kind of thinking we do semi-consciously, underneath the rest.  Lots of times the background thinking springs from a hunch or feeling, and we don't know it's a bogus foundation until the whole tower topples, and it's exposed.
Well somewhere in the background I was building on scarcity (read this by Brene Brown).  I was believing that things were ok here, but out there, my kids didn't have enough -- not enough of God, of Love, of resilience to tackle what might come. I was moving around on a set where there was no abundance.

It's amazing how afraid we can be without knowing it.

The fact is, it's hard to release our kids, and to keep releasing them.  For me it's been hard at each turn, even the ones I was dying for (please for the love, stop sucking your finger!  start using a fork!  stop clinging to me when I leave!) and then one day they get on the bus and don't even wave.  It's good, but it's loss.  It's hard to release these people we love.

I was talking to a woman the other day who has two daughters in high school (a really cool woman I like to stand near), and I started talking about my pockets of fall grief.  Her whole face fell.  Her oldest leaves for college next fall.  I almost can't breathe when I think about it, she said.  This doesn't stop.

It's hard to let God comfort us when we don't know we hurt.

These days, I'm feeling the hurt, which mostly means I walk around a little more tender and vulnerable than usual, which isn't my favorite.  I've cried in front of more people this month than in a long time because I'm just kind of leaky -- so much for composure.  And when I feel the slip of time moving, hear Maeve's lisp (thith ith delithith), I'm asking God to help me love those times, those little faces and thoughts, instead of grip them, and to remind me that this is not a life of scarcity, even as it changes.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Poem for September

Saint Francis and the Sow
     by Galway Kinnell

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

After the first week of school

Today, Sunday of Labor Day weekend, I heard a neighbor at our front door and suddenly looked at what I was doing: it was 1:26PM and standing still in my pajamas, I was making school lunches for TUESDAY.  I hid.

Let's just say the first week took me by storm.

I was prepared for most things: both school supplies and classroom supplies from the lists; kid angsty-ness that might rise up, daily lunches (sort of prepared for this), the new bus times, back to school zucchini bread (best zucchini bread ever), mimosas with the neighborhood parents etc.

As it turned out, there's been no child angst: both kids have left each morning with a spring in their steps, early to the bus each day.

What I must not have been ready for was myself or the rest of the week and moving parts.  I'm still not sure what happened but I fell out of the week on Friday with my head spinning and in a toxic state.  There were some hormones involved, yes, and this is a time of mass transition which historically I feel to the bones, yes.  I also went to Maeve's first preschool opened house (she is a little person who can say things like "I felt a widdle nuh-vuss" and not a baby, it turns out), and fevers systematically flattened each of us for a day or two throughout the week.  Though backpacks were organized, there were still several mornings of being able to find only one shoe, and the lunches seemed to take all morning for me to pack.  My sister was in town just this week which meant swallowing a lot of first-week-of-school-mother-guilt and leaving for a Redskins game and dinners and a day trip to the bay.  And then she left, which, as usual, left has left me aimless and wallowing, at least for today.

So today I stayed in pajamas.  My excuse was Silas, who has the fever now.  We stayed home from church and sat on the couch for hours reading an E. Nesbit story in our pajamas (parts of which I am still wearing here at 9:05PM and will likely sleep in again) until lunch.  Eventually Maeve took a nap and in a moment of calm, I found myself making lunches -- like readying armor -- to stay ahead of the week.  It felt pretty normal until the guy across the street knocked on the front door suddenly exposing my two-day-ahead-lunch-making neurosis with his very presence. Fortunately, Ben fielded the visit, I stayed in the kitchen (and the lunches are done and in the fridge).

Friday, August 14, 2015

On the Road

Earlier in the day, I would have written this:

As soon as Ben arrived (night of the third day), this road trip took a sharp turn for the worse.  It's not his fault, but it's happened.  There's a kind of power-focus that kicks in when traveling solo with kids on a trip of one's invention because the only option, really, is to be fun-survivor-road-warrior or why bother; the leader alone sets the tone.  So it was.  We pounded up 95 to New York and saw family, through Connecticut and Rhode Island, to Cape Cod with the best oysters and friends (and a great white shark attack that closed the beach where Silas swam exactly four hours after we left!), and on to Boston.

Then the partner arrives.  Suddenly the two year old's whining and clinging to my leg is unbearable because she's done that for there days already and standing right next to me is a strong and refreshed other strapping parent who could hold her.  Alone, yes my eyes felt heavy while driving narrow tree-lined highways, so I chewed gum, crunched ice and made phone calls, but now that the partner is here and takes the wheel, I sit as passenger vaguely irritated and feeling my exhaustion.  

So that happened.  Then, simultaneously, the kids went batty at bedtime, breaking the we-are-a-team-of-adventurers tone into much snapping and threatening; Maeve woke on the wrong side of the bed and never righted, throwing herself on the pavement all over Boston in protest of life and breath; tiredness caught up with all of us and shot daggers through our tones; we ran a toll because I messed up the EZ Pass (all I've been doing this trip is properly paying tolls up the arm of New England); and we got a parking ticket.  

And then we left Boston, where perhaps all the kids learned is that the Boston Tea Party involved violence and wasting tea (Eden thinks this is hilarious); Bunker Hill was actually the hill one over from the battle; Mary Goose, buried in Boston in 1690, may have written the Mother Goose fairy tales, or not; and during his time at BU, Ben had a skunk living under his front steps and dropped an organic chemistry class in that building -- gesturing as we drove -- "you can drop classes? what even does that mean??" -- interest in college began.  

But now it is 9:15PM.  I have been exiled from my room at the Fairfield Inn with strict instructions to sit in the 80's carpeted lobby and have a cup of tea until the kids are asleep (the wildness continues because somewhere in this place there's a pool!)

The afternoon mellowed: Maeve fell asleep as soon as we pulled out of the city, and Silas and Eden, chums these days, listened to books on tape (do we still call them that? -- on CD, not the same ring).  We wound through New Hampshire and Vermont, skirting traffic -- one of Ben's talents -- and even ended up having a little front seat conversation.  We ended our drive in Burlington eating flat bread and wandering among street performers until it was nearly dark.

If I were in my dark room right now shushing people, this whole page would be italics.  But instead I'm in the business center (an indent in the lobby wall that has a computer) drinking Cozy Chammomile, which wouldn't be possible if Ben weren't here.  Good thing he came.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Loss of Privileges (being LOPPED)

When I was in high school, discipline worked on a points system: one point for being late to class, three points for missing a class (only three? why didn't I do that more?), a point for talking during assembly etc.  When you got to nine points you got LOPped -- Loss of Privilege-ed.

I seem to remember being LOPped quite a few times, and I loved it.  LOPped meant study hall instead of free period and what I saw as a semi-rebellious status symbol of a creased green piece of paper sticking out of my pocket that I had to get a teacher to sign in each class.  Ther were loopholes: librarians that would sign off on your "working" during a free period, lengthy trips to "the bathroom," but I didn't use those much because I loved being forced to sit still.  Often, I finished homework.  Sometimes I finished novel-length notes to friends; both felt exceedingly productive and luxurious to have space for during school.

Right now I am watching my niece along with Maeve and Silas -- ""watching them" -- they are running somewhere above my head and all I hear are doors opening and closing.  Tomorrow I leave for a ten day road trip, and this, right now, is like being LOPped.

I've been carrying around a bag today packed with a book, a journal (my morning pages from The Artist's Way -- it's time to read back through them for insights and action items), a couple of cards to write, and my calendar.  And even though the car needs to be emptied and packed, a road trip play list made, and videos checked out from the library, here I am drinking chamomile tea and nibbling chocolate at the dining room table because I can't go home.

The summer has felt like an expanse of time -- wide and long with the end too far off to see.  We've had weeks of wonderful freedom, lounging together reading, and weeks when I've felt harried and busy and cursed myself for registering for too many camps.  Conversations have been good with kids -- we've had time to have them and think at the same time -- and they are older and emerging in bright relief.

But now it is August.  School begins three weeks from today.  Every year, for most of the summer, I wonder how I will ever, EVER be ready to relinquish the easy days, the fluid freedom, and having my kids to myself.  And every summer, always unexpectedly, August breathes change, and change feels surprisingly possibly.  In the woods, little clusters of leaves here and there hang in red bunches, and when the wind blows, an exhale of leaves drifts lazily to the ground.  The world readies us with its previews.  In every store window, of course, hang backpacks and composition books, huge signs in crayon font and freshly sharpened pencils.  This morning we bought school supplies, tissues, ziplock and erasers for the classrooms.  We are stepping into change slowly, and tomorrow we will step into the car for a final adventure (and hopefully not all kill Maeve who may or may not be a good team player for hours on end, day after day in the car...almost certainly won't be).  In the meantime, I will enjoy this brief moment with three arguing in a tub of bubbles wearing bathing suits and a stormy sky that holds us in, and remember how being LOPped really is one of my favorite privileges.

Saturday, July 25, 2015


Last winter I went on a silent retreat and spent a good hour or two pouring out an angry letter to God.  The gist of it was this:

I grew up with the story that my dad cried the first time he held me because one day I was going to leave for college.  Well, the apple doesn't fall far.  Since the day Silas was born, I've wondered about, and at times dreaded, feared and grieved, the fact that these kids will leave.  It's not just that I think I'll be sad, but it's that they'll go out there, where I, their protector, am not, and so many possibly-damaging things are.  I'm a worst case scenario thinker; my brain flashes instant movies of Silas hitting his head on the diving board, or an intruder creeping up the steps at night, or any disaster overwhelming the people I love.  It's always been so.   So naturally, my gut is to protect from these assaults/accidents/injuries as best as I can.

This protection is what I was thinking about as I sat knotted in the corner of a couch pouring into my notebook.  God promises a lot of things, but physical protection isn't one of them.   The famous shepherd psalm says when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I am with you, not if you walk in a dark valley or when I'm with you we'll bypass the dark valley, but when you're in that valley -- you are going to the valley! -- I am too.

The fact of the matter is I don't want my kids in a dark valley, much less a valley of the shadow of death.  What seemed pretty clear as I sat there writing is that God wasn't going to pull his weight in protecting my kids from that valley's corners -- toxic friendships, undertows, sexual predators, low self-worth, pornography -- so I was going to have a hell of a job.

This is what I railed about as I wrote, furious that since He wasn't going to take care of protecting them, I had to, and frankly, it was too big a job to catch every pop fly and fend of every potential wolf -- what if I missed one, looked down for a minute, squinted in the brightness of the sun?  More to the point, I continued, why would You bring these small, fresh people into the world, birth them into adorable round bodies to let them fall from the nest onto concrete over and over before their wings are strong (or prefrontal cortexes are fully developed)?  What is the point of injuring the small ones?

I know this view is unbalanced.  I knew it when I wrote it down, too.  I wasn't thinking about the goodness, about all the silliness children splatter around a house, about their being adults one day who love, make striking art, ask good questions, feed hungry people.  But that's what fear does; it bores something singular into us until that's all we see.

After the retreat was over, I articulated all of this to a couple of friends, who listened well and gave no answers, and then left my loaded notebook closed and the ache deep down.

Months passed.  School ended.  The kids grew inches between January and July.  Maeve started talking.  I wrestled God in other questions.  I started to sit and be quiet in the mornings.  The tomato plant grew taller than Ben and still gave only three rotten tomatoes.  I read through The Artist's Way again.  I started to play more.  And yesterday, I realized something had shifted.

I'm not sure whether it's Silas's sudden height, his lanky body and the textured hair he pushes ("styles") every-which-way.  Maybe it's how he blasts pop music around the house and sings every word now.  But I think the shift started the spring night I sat on his bed in the semi-dark and talked about the f-word.  Yeah, he knew it already.  He'd seen it written on the mirror in the boys' bathroom, and a friend had told him what it meant (how did that conversation go??).  I asked who had told him, and the moment the question left my mouth, I knew I had to retract it.  He hesitated as I said, you don't have to tell me.  Thanks, he said, and rolled toward the wall with a contented sigh.  In that moment of separateness, I suddenly could see him as a teenage boy lying in his bed wrapped in his own thoughts.  And for the first time, I didn't feel scared.  Funny how we're prepared for things as they come rather than as we worry about them.

This week I started reading a heart-wrenching book called Rare Bird.  It's the story of how a 12 year old boy died in a freak flash flood on a balmy September day.  It's written by his mother.  I'm only a quarter of the way into it, but after reading last night, I went and touched each child's face, climbed in bed with Eden and pulled her against me.  We can't protect these people.

Anna, the mother and author, was as intentional as one can be about protecting her kids.  And then one was gone.  Somehow in the fierce horror, survival looks possible.  As she articulates my most dreaded reality, there is beauty.  And her God still loves.

I woke hours earlier than I wanted to this morning, body stiff and mind racing, and sat outside in the cool morning as it gathered humidity.  The point of all of this -- of raising small people, living without armor, sending our kids into the world wearing only skin, living that way ourselves -- is not protection.  It can't be.  They have to go into the world and get knocked around -- it's the only way they'll have substance.  And they have to walk in death's valley, because that's where they'll learn God actually is with them.

My job isn't to protect them -- it is right now, but protection's not the end goal; that's exhausting and terrifying work.  My job, really, is to pack well for them before they go, to teach them to communicate, to love them, to apologize often, to be affectionate and honest.  And then release them.  That's my job.

I've known this always, but fear is loud; it tends to kick up a drumbeat that drowns out a lot of other voices.  When you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, fear no evil, for I am with you.   I didn't realize until right this minute that I'd left out the middle part of that line -- fearing evil.  Evil is scary and none of us gets to live untouched by it.  But it isn't the strongest, and we aren't traveling alone.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Face Down (in a good way)

Last Sunday standing in church singing, tears rose in my eyes and burned as I refused to blink.   I started to think about lunch, about what we'd pick up -- a rotisserie chicken?  Moby Dick's kabobs? and they resolved.

It happened again.
And then a third time before I realized I was choosing to concentrate on the shirts of the people in front of me, their hair, the background to the song lyrics, the tops of the trees through the high windows rather than let myself feel.

Crying involuntarily, in nice clothes, wearing mascara, in a crowd is different than crying in my house or car with a chosen person over a chosen thing, sure.  But what struck me wasn't that it felt inconvenient to cry without tissues in a big room where other people weren't crying.  The thing that struck me is that I was feeling a sudden release from the worries ticking through my mind -- summer's halfway through, have to pick up a prescription, two year old won't stop writing on walls, must be my fault, when will I find time to work on the story I'm writing  -- and I was dodging it because thinking of burritos felt tidier.


I think of myself as pretty willing to process/emote even when it's ugly.   I have no interest in being a person who can't let go of her composure and sense of control, yet there I was in a sanctuary (def: place of refuge or safety) choosing to avoid.

At this stage of life, mid-life we'll call it now that I know four men who've bought porsches and two who've bought jeep wranglers -- the childhood dreams realized -- I'm finding it pretty easy just to pay attention to what's in front of me.

There's a lot in front of us.

And it takes time to stop and take our own pulse (60 seconds of silence, really).  It takes time to write through a gnawing sense of angst til we hit the root.  It takes time to expose a tender part -- the need we're suddenly struck by, the loneliness of the day, the thankfulness for all the green and smell of sweet grass that saturates us in the rain, the questions about if these rolling days of monotony are enough.  And then it takes more time to reckon and wrestle with the realities.

The other day I walked in from the car and lay face down on the rug.  Even though it is summer, even though this week we've had lazy afternoons lounging on couches reading, that day, in that moment, there were too many needs to meet --
Mom, come on, come get me some cereal.  
I can't,  voice muffled in the rug
You CAN.  
No, literally I cannot.  
But Mom!
You guys will have to take care of yourselves.  
Mom! We need you to COME.
Someone can make the cereal.  
Mom, come ON.
I can only lie here.

Someone pulled on my leg.  Someone put a grubby little finger in my eyes to lift my eyelid opened.  Someone tugged my arms, and eventually they wandered away because there really isn't much to do with someone who won't move.  They ate cereal.  They argued and yelled and played nicely and yelled and played nicely and threw a toy down the stairs.  Maeve probably picked that moment to go draw little people in crayon on the wall of her room (I only discovered them last night).  And I kept lying on the floor in peaceful protest.

It takes time even to lie on the floor.  And even on the floor, there's some urgency (or many) still nagging -- the deadline looming, the fact that I've been mixing half and half and skim milk for days for the kids and just need to buy whole milk.

I've been thinking about rest, not just sleep but rest from doing stuff, meeting deadlines, ticking items off a list, incessant running, talking, keeping up.  We need some rest here at mid-life (and quarter-life and three-quarter life) while we watch our face break into creases we didn't expect to see until our 50's (why didn't anyone tell us about the 30's?) and slide into our new cars (porsches, or as the case may be, new minivans).  I need some rest, the playful, real kind.  And when my eyes burn, I need to let them burn and listen, even if that leaves my face smeared and nose red, which it will, because even that -- any sort of admission -- opens a kind of rest.

Today I am resting.   I'm on my way to the bay to visit friends.  A sweet friend is playing with my kids, and even in the humidity there's a breeze and cloudy sky.  Sitting at an outside Starbucks table (I'd imagined a picturesque coffee shop on the water for my writing pitstop, but instead I'm in a strip mall...) I'm tempted to lie down right here and now on the pavement in my new posture of refusal to *go*, and rest for a few.  Maybe I'll wait for the bay...

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Camp Thor IV: The Shadow Weeked

Thursday afternoon I dropped Silas off with my brother Max (Ben would meet them there) so they could drive to North Carolina for Camp Thor IV with three other fathers and sons.  As I was leaving, I heard Max tell Silas to put on his pants so they could go tend to the bees, and fifteen minutes later, I got a call saying there had been a little accident.  My first thought was Silas swarmed with bees, but no, he'd sliced his finger with his pocket knife.  Is it bad?  Well, you should probably come.  And I knew Max telling me that, meant I should pull a u-turn right there on the highway.

I walked in to find a slumped, red-cheeked boy with a frown to his knees sitting at the table, finger wrapped in gauze and duct taped held above his head.  We drove to a surgeon's office, and I sat holding Silas's cheeks, holding hand-blinders up to his eyes, and whispering to him while the doctor put several numbing shots into his finger, scrubbed it (was the knife clean, by chance? ... I mean, it was backyard stick clean; he was whittling with it yesterday), and put four stitches into the skin of his knuckle.  Just as she was finishing, I felt a wave of nausea, a little lightheaded, and in less than a minute, I'd turned green, eyes rolling, and passed out cold.  Apparently they yanked Silas off the table and hoisted me up, where I lay for longer than the whole procedure had taken, waiting to be able to sit up. Unprecedented.

Friday was easy.

Today is Saturday and while the boys are away, we girls (cousins and aunts) are making yarn wall hangings, banana bread, and having a sleepover while the rain drives against the house.  At least that is what we were peacefully doing until Eden walked in from the deck with wide-eyes: I think one of the chickens is dead.  No, it's probably just sleeping in the grass -- they do sit in the grass.  But her eyes were big and she shook her head.  We all walked outside.  It turned out not one chicken was dead, but three, sprawled on the grass and partially deafeathered.  Somehow, a fox had dug under the fencing and attacked mid-day during the rain and left the bodies.  The fourth and last chicken pecked happily around the yard, apparently oblivious to the massacre that had just happened.

We stood in the kitchen wondering what to do -- scoop up the chickens' bodies that looked plastered to the ground with trash bags and throw them out?  As Sara went out to survey the scene, I picked up the drumsticks and chicken thighs for the hot grill.  Ella, 10, at my elbow, groaned, I'm not eating THAT!!  Riiiiiiiiight. 

But I had to grill the chicken anyway or it would go bad.  As I squeezed out the door, Toulouse, the dog, shot out past my leg rampant with urgency, and within a minute, the fourth chicken was cornered and attacked.  The house spun into chaos -- I was screaming after the dog and to the heavens, Ella and Eden hysterical laughing-screaming in the kitchen, Sara down NEXT to the chicken coop shrieking at the scene, and the two little girls still in the house watching Daniel Tiger arguing with each other like cartoon babies: yes!  no! YES!  NO! YES!!!  NO!!!  YESSSSS!  NOOOOOOO!

Sara has since gathered the dead chickens, and the wounded one is still making broken warbles from under the deck -- we don't know what to do with her but shoot her, so she's still there.

The chicken legs are cooked and plated on the table where no one will touch them.  Sara is showering off the trauma.  The big girls and I are settled on the couch processing, and the little girls continue to argue. 

Go Camp Thor Shadow Weekend.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

a poem

This poem from poem-a-day (poets.org) popped into my inbox the other day.
The tone hooks me -- late June extravagance.


Tess Taylor
How again today our patron star
whose ancient vista is the long view

turns its wide brightness now and here:
Below, we loll outdoors, sing & make fire.

We build no henge
but after our swim, linger

by the pond. Dapples flicker
pine trunks by the water.

Buzz & hum & wing & song combine.
Light builds a monument to its passing.

Frogs content themselves in bullish chirps,
hoopskirt blossoms

on thimbleberries fall, peeper toads
hop, lazy—

             Apex. The throaty world sings ripen.
Our grove slips past the sun’s long kiss.

We dress.
We head home in other starlight. 

Our earthly time is sweetening from this.

Filled and Full

I'm sitting at the kitchen table, and it's 9:30PM.  I've been tuning out the jet lagged tumult upstairs for quite sometime in hopes that, dazed by their own fatigue, each child will finally collapse.  Two now have.  But Maeve, whose chattered and called for the last hour, just started yelling full voice.  I responded several times with go to sleep!  no more!  But she kept on.  At what point will freshly-asleep Silas and Eden wake up to this?   Maeve, it is time for sleep!  I whisper-yelled, always a sign impatience has started to crawl on my skin.    And then, WIPE MY BOTTON!! (bottom)  She'd been sitting on the toilet that whole time.  So sorry, Maeve.

This afternoon we pulled into the driveway after eleven days away: Santa Barbara to celebrate my beautiful sister, the big family all in a house, her 30th and graduation, tacos at sunset; Costa Mesa for hands in sand, more tacos, looking full-faced at women I love; the Virgina countryside for retreat with a church I love, fireflies and frog catching, such good words. 

I am brimming.  Not even brimming, sloshing with overflow.  



Tuesday, June 09, 2015


There were a few things I'd forgotten about May.  In fact, I'd forgotten entirely about May, the lost month between my birthday/Easter and the end of school/Eden's birthday.  

Well, May is wild! -- wild with growth, the month of true spring, each week a new series of blooms erupting from ground or tree; and wild with movement as school kicks up all the fun its withheld all year -- field days and field trips, popsicle parties, presentations, projects.  Suddenly there are more papers to have signed and shoved in folders, more hours to appear at school, to stand places and cheer for kids, to list words they have to spell or check stories that are to be finished and illustrated.  The pace was head-spinning and what I heard myself exhale all month as we coasted into parking places two minutes before was we made it, because by the skin of our teeth we did, over and over.  In May every entrance and exit was a feat of organization -- bags locked and loaded by the door for pool or field or class, uniforms washed or at least shin guards found, and matching socks to cover them.  And all the while, mounting anticipation of June, summer.


The warblers arrived, the trees turned summer green, and June burst over the mountain.  It smelled good, tasted good, and was gentle to the eyes. 
                                -my side of the mountain

The smell of late May into early June is intoxicating, deep pockets of honeysuckle hanging low, mowed grass, rain-stirred earth.  All of May it has felt like this, like June was crouching just on the other side of the mountain waiting to burst.  

It has come! 
The heat is rising from the pavement and mugginess settling into the air. 
Thunderheads pile up in the afternoons.
We all exhale.

Tomorrow is the last day of school for the kids.  We are remembering whom we want to thank, the people who have carried them through this year, sometimes at a wrestle, sometimes with ease.  Silas will bake his pound cake-for-teachers this afternoon, the one he claimed as his own in 1st grade and  always loves to give.  And Eden will draw pictures of girls wearing necklaces winking, and use all sorts of adjectives like humorous and encouraging.  And then, just like that, another school year will end.  

Pound Cake for Teachers (Cream Cheese Pound Cake, from Orangette.blogspot.com)
      makes 2 loaves

3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temp
8 oz cream cheese, at room temp
3 c sugar
6 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 325.
Grease two loaf pans (can also line with parchment, easier to remove)

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt.  Set aside

In a stand mixer, combine butter and cream cheese; beat til soft and fluffy.
Add sugar and beat 2 more min.
Add eggs one at a time, beating well, and add vanilla.
Reduce to low and add flour mixture in three doses, beating just to combine. 

Bake ~55-60 min, or until golden and knife comes out clean.
Let cool in pan before removing.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Be at Peace with Spring (even though homelessness sucks)

Class at Miriam's today was not the usual reading and analyzing, jockeying for witticisms, reading our work aloud.  Today we sifted through a stack of poetry books to find poems to write on index cards and share (poem in your pocket day). There was lots of chatting and conversation, and I ended up locked in conversation with someone I've loved sitting next to for a year and a half. Today I watched him spin out -- a narrative of grief and injustice and he contorted into someone I'd never seen.

Driving home I wrestled with despair, with the deeper-than-grief I'd seen on his face and felt in my chest, with my utter helplessness, with how complicated we humans are.  We can face nothing without our interpretation -- so many realities layered like films in any given moment as we all watch from our own set of eyes.

My head spun with questions, all the same questions I'd pelted God with when I went to the park week after week and day after day -- What is the point?  I have nothing to offer!  I'm just as thirsty as everyone here!  What good is it for any of us?  What difference does it make?  What can I do to help?  I can't do ANYthing to help.  These wounds are too deep.  The system is too broken.  I don't know what to do!  What did YOU do??

And as always, almost obnoxiously, happens when I shout these questions, the answer quietly sifted in through my outrage:  I went to people, and I loved them. And though that does not resolve the heinous stories that pour out of the shelters on 2nd and D, nor fix the fact that there's no ready housing for a 75 year old homeless man who can't quite care for himself and has psychological needs, nor so many other bleeding problems, it was enough to quiet me down because it was true.

As I climbed Massachusetts Avenue, I passed a billboard that said be at peace with spring. It was a Claritin ad, but it struck like a good word.  Be at peace.  Be at peace as the huge towering trees wait, still bare to the bone.  Be at peace with buds that show no sign of petal. Be at peace with the wet slick concrete, the puddles, the dripping gutters, tiny crocuses in the old grass.  Be at peace.  

There is so much landscape-wrenching change in spring. The rain pounds.  The air is still cold, shivery and uncomfortable. The mud tracks our steps. Bulbs pierce the ground. Branches are punctuated by buds.  Buds bloom wide enough that every one of their petals fall.  Leaves push in, tiny and tender, waving and exposed. 

Spring.  It is a battle to fend off winter. It is a battle to live life on the other side of barrenness.

Be at peace with spring.
Be at peace with the battle for life, with the hope of another round.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Disappointment: the story of a run

I am signed up to run the Cherry Blossom 10 miler a week from today.

In November I ran my first 10K (6 miles), which was the farthest I'd ever run.

There are moments when we exceed what we think is our capacity, and for me that was one.

I have never been an athlete.  I am not very competitive.  I don't love hard work.  I like nice weather and really only exercising in nice weather (I should have stayed in California).  I never pursued -- or became good at -- any sports, and from an early age, the narrative I created for myself was that I just wasn't an athlete.

There are always complexities in play when we create identities for ourselves -- some protective, some defensive, some image-driven, some hopeful, some fearful -- and for me, this one was no different.  Not being an athlete meant I could never be bad, never fail, and never lose.  It meant I didn't want something I didn't have.

When I got to college, I decided to row my first semester to be like my friend Ben (whom, incidentally, I married several years later).  I'd never run more than one mile in PE class, and suddenly found myself running 5 miles a day, waking up in the dark for starry morning practices, and living the life of a college athlete, complete with a spring break training camp and rock solid biceps.

Still, it felt more like a game I was playing, driven by my friend Ali, who made anything seem possible.  And my rowing years, like all of my college years, were riddled with such a complicated body image and toxic relationship with food that the confidence I could have gained, washed right off.  After a couple of semesters, I chose other things.

Through my 20's and 30's I thought of myself vaguely as a "runner," meaning I sometimes jogged for 30 minutes and usually ran about two and a half miles.  But this fall when I trained for the 10K, something began to shift, and one night this winter when my friend Erin mentioned a 10 miler, I registered.

For the next months, I watched myself layer wicking fabrics, put on ear warmers and gloves, and run into 20 degree weather.  I watched myself climb on a treadmill, turn on a podcast, and run while the kids clamored around me with snow-day-restlessness.  I watched myself lean into hard work and train for something I'd never done.

I held my breath.
I hardly dared say out loud that I was going to do it, that I was going to run 10 miles, that I had already started to do it.

No one was watching, really.  And no one really cared.  To many, this was a small feat, not even half of a marathon.  I had no audience but myself, and something was quietly breaking open.

Yesterday as I was listening to a talk about rejection, about how the root word suggests vacancy, I realized that during those messy years, that's what I'd created in myself: a vacancy.  I'd pulled out a handful of my earthy self with its value and worth, and shoved a limited story about who I am, what I do and can do in its place.

As I ran this winter, that's what was breaking open, the vacant place I'd guarded so well.

The snow fell, and snow days persisted.  The flu rolled through my house in every form.  Sinus infections hit over and over.  My calendar where run was scribbled in pen and circled, four times a week, kept getting rearranged.  My miles were dropping.

Two weeks ago I realized that with all the sickness, I was a few weeks behind where I wished I were in my training.  I knew if I pushed hard, I could still make it, but I'd have to work, so I mapped out the next week of runs.  Then --BAM!-- another round: Silas sick, Maeve up for nights, and a sapping sinus infection again.  I lost a solid week of running again.

As this reality settled, I met it differently each day: I am just going to DO It.  The next day: I'm NOT doing it -- I'm too far behind, it doesn't make sense.  The next day: I'll just run-walk the whole thing to be a part of it.  I cycled through the voices incessantly and woke up thinking them. Finally, last week, I decided not to run.

It was a matter of fact, a logical choice -- and I held it in my head.  So it was, the reality.

Yesterday, walking with Eden, I realized she was the only one in the family who didn't yet know, so I told her I wasn't going to run.  Immediately, almost violently, she burst into tears.
I was flummoxed.
Are you crying for you or for me?
For you.  You were going to run 10 miles.  And I was excited to cheer for you.
I fumbled through my words about how there would be another time, how I'd still do it but later.

She was probably the only person I'd been honest with as I trained -- I'd come in from my runs and tell her glowingly that I'd just run four miles, or three, or five.  And she'd smile and not say much, but apparently stash away my sense of success.

When we got home from our walk, I realized she was the only one wearing my heart: I am sad, as sad as she was.

Today I went for my first run in ten days and prayed through my sadness, through the old achy vacancy, and the want for healing.  As I ran I realized that this race, the one I can't run the full distance of, the one I paid an arm and a leg to register for, the one that will take place without me next weekend, the one that would have marked my 38th birthday, may not just be proof of failure, though there are voices in my head that say so.  Instead, it may be my invitation to reach into that pulpy place and pull out the old wadded up piece of paper, the story I've stuck to for years.   It may be my invitation to empty out and heal.

Friday, April 03, 2015

I Can't Stop Eating These: Sauteed Dates

When I first saw this recipe, I didn't even click on it.  But one afternoon my mom, who had savored every word of the recipe, whipped up a few while I sat at her kitchen counter.

They are amazing.

I have eaten them hot on a plate with my fingers.  I've stabbed them with toothpicks.  I've served them over plain Greek yogurt, drizzled with the olive oil they were cooked in, naan along side.  All great.  This month I've made them for everyone I've eaten with, and I have another box of dates in my kitchen right now to make tomorrow night.

Hurry to your kitchen and make these!

Sauteed Dates
   adapted slightly from Renee Erickson's recipe on Food52
   (read all about them here with serving suggestions)

Olive oil
Dates, pitted and cut in half length-wise
Maldon (or other flaky sea salt)

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a pan over medium/med-high heat.  Sauteed dates, turning frequently until warmed through and just beginning to caramelize (watch them!  they burn quickly!) Sprinkle generously with flaky salt while still hot and eat warm!

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Silas Turns Nine

Silas, nine years ago you came, neatly at 11:00 in the morning weighing 8 even pounds.  For months we called you Uncle Silas, and marveled at this new little stranger who'd come to live at our house, all of his tininess, the little boy-self we somehow got to care for.  How we've loved you from that first minute! and the journey of continually discovering you.  I love how tender and silly you are, how curious and loving, how adventurous, adorable, fun and brave you are.  I love leaning against you on the couch and listening to stories unfold.  I love learning from and alongside you.  I love your surprises and your wide-mouthed laugh.  I'm grateful -- overflowingly -- that you are here.   
Happy Birthday!!

(right before this said he wanted to "take a selfie to be like the Mars Rover")