Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Resets and Thanks

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

And now I can breathe better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

Friday, September 22, 2017


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

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

maeve magnolia

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

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

Sweet Maeve,

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

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

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

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

Annemarie Mott Ewing

Wednesday, September 06, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 26, 2017

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

An August of so many words:

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

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

Instead I want the pictures
of right now:

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

girls in the pool in constant chatter

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

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

cold fingers typing

boys in the mountains
girls at the bay

an empty summer day ahead

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

Monday, July 03, 2017


For almost three months, I have been 40.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 02, 2017

The Week After Whole30 -- The Deep Stuff

Gloriously it is now June and Whole30 is over.

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

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

It, of course, has got me thinking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such deprival to leave those forever!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 06, 2017

HalfAss30: the real work

Whole30 is part of the May reset.  I'm putting this out there because I'm sure it will come up over the next three weeks (as the testing turns to fire).

My friend Lindsay and I are doing this together.  Our original plan was to launch HalfAss30, which was going to take the world by storm.  It was a slight variation: we'd follow whole30 but eat rice, quinoa, corn (but not chips, my week staple), beans and honey -- keep it real with grits, tortillas, corn on the cob, hummus, and other small joys.  Losing D A G S (dairy, alcohol, gluten and sugar) seemed more than a gargantuan demand.

As we've gotten into it, though, we've become a little less half -- we axed beans and honey (except those coco dusted almonds from Trader Joe's...), corn, rice, and I may even drop quinoa...

So, the HalfAss30 has morphed into Near-Whole30 (I make chocolately smoothies -- illegal but made from all legal ingredients).  Week one texts reflect the texts of all the people who've ever done Whole30:

day 4 like a boss!

eating bacon

I'm hungry...

We can do this!

photo sauteed vegetables in skillet (emoji of muscle arm)

are french fries allowed?


how about sweet potato french fries?


photo sauteed vegetables in skillet (emoji of muscle arm)

still hungry...

Let's move to France and eat cheese and butter

fried eggs are stupid without toast

coffee without cream and sugar (emoji of sobbing face)

keep on! photo sauteed vegetables in skillet (emoji of muscle arm)

so much almond butter

stomach not happy

eating bacon with these photo sauteed vegetables in skillet (emoji of muscle arm)

still hungry 

what would I do without Netflix?

kids making brownies !(#$^#&@*

I didn't eat them! (emoji of 5 trophies)

photo sauteed vegetables in skilled  hate everyone

But we are doing it.  And six days in I have a few observations:
(they get deeper as they go)

1. Family problem: Maeve eats no vegetables.  Zero.  Not a carrot stick.  Not a friendly slice of cucumber.  Zero vegetables.  *Occassionally* I can make her a smoothie with kale, but it's a rare day she drinks a whole smoothie, so it comes out to probably a quarter of a leaf.  Maeve also eats no meat.  Zero.  Not a piece of bacon.  Not a hotdog.  Not a chicken nugget.  Zero meat.
I am eating meat and vegetables.  All day long.  Today as we were making tuna, Ben pointed out that there is no bread in the house.  And no cheese.  And no yogurt or corn chips or tortillas.  Apparently, I now only shop for myself.  He and Maeve are at the store .

2. I have apparently been dehydrated for months and months.  Welcome, water.

3.  Tea and I have gotten back together, and suddenly I drink it all day long like I used to -- morning into night.  (It's also chilly and grey here -- all the more reason).  Can one have too much tea?

3.  I am low-grade hungry All.  The.  Time.  (this is the important one).
I'm sure there's something about learning to eat without staples (and learning to like it -- turns out I only love eggs if they're on buttered toast or scrambled with Parmesan...), but there's more.

The first few days I felt hungry all the time, even after I'd just eaten a full meal.  What was that?  I actually wasn't hungry but my mouth really wanted me to put  a piece of buttered toast, some chocolate, or a bowl of cereal in it.  That made enough sense --  the deprived, craving, told-"no" parts of me were all rebelling.

But as the days have gone by and this background hunger's continued, I've had to ask the next layer of questions --> what's that hunger about?  If my body is sated, but my mouth is still asking for  a cappuccino with frothy whole milk/almond cake/avocado on toast, what in me is asking to be fed? Something.

When Lindsay and I were planning the HalfAss30, we were talking with friends about poor self care, and the word escape came up.  Were we trying to escape throughout our weeks?  We figured we'd check it out.  (And of course the answer was, yes).  That, apparently, is the real work of Whole30: trying to figure out what's happening at the gut level (not literally, though that may come up, too - ha).  What beasts in us are trying to be fed; what are the actual cravings?

SO, that's what I'm doing these days, tuning into the growling want of comfort, connection, and reward, and the impulse to eject from stress, boredom, expectations -- and I'm feeling hungry at the same time.

Hoping this is the learning curve...

Buying Deodorant with the Firstborn

A little over a year ago, Silas's cousin got her first stick of deodorant.

It was a family affair.  Everyone smelled it.  She seemed always to have it in her hand as she walked around the house.  Every child checked his and her armpits regularly to make sure they didn't, too, didn't need deodorant.  It was exciting.

The months passed.  The sweaty summer ended.  The move happened.  And no one thought about deodorant anymore.

Until a week ago.

Silas, freshly 11, walked into my room with his arms hanging at his sides but held awkwardly away from his body.
Mom.  It's so weird.  My sweat didn't smell but now it does.
No way!  Come here!  I sniffed, and lordy! he smelled.  Real deal BO.

The natural first step was a pilgrimage to the Ralph's deodorant aisle, just the two of us.

For those of you who haven't done this yet, beware of the dangers of over-smelling.  It's what happens when you smell them all trying to find a child-appropriate scent and end up no longer being able to distinguish among them and lose all perspective.  It's what happens when you come home with your childly proudly toting Old Spice because it "smells like laundry" and has  a picture of an octopus on the label and is called "krakengard" -- what is cooler?  So much better than the white Arm & Hammer...

It took all of one second standing in our own kitchen and watching my friend Amy look at the stick to know I'd gone wrong.  After all the smelling, I'd bought high-school-boyfriend!

No offense to anyone who wears Old Spice (Ben is often among you), and there is a place for high-school-boyfriend scent, I actually like it, but this, this tender time of first deodorant, was not the place.  #nogoingbackonceyouwearfakemanscent  -- This was a fail.

You may be able to imagine how instantly attached Silas had become to said stick and how much pride swelled in him when he looked at the octopus and unpronounceable name.  And you may be able to imagine how deep the disappointment ran when I told him we immediately had to go back to Ralphs to try again...

But, I held strong, and we did it.  Came home with Speed Stick in hand and the Kragengard in Ben's medicine cabinet instead.  On this road of inching toward puberty with the first born: Rite of Passage #1, check.

40: a Shift Toward Nourishment

For two weeks, it was Monday and then it was Sunday -- just like that.  Fast.
Sunday morning, I paused and sat for an hour.  What had I been doing during those days that had blown by?  Where was the creating? the writing? the movement? the stretching? the focused quiet? the vegetables? the water?  the board games with Maeve?  the swim lessons?

Kitchen happy hour had started early pretty much every night and lingered.  I'd fed my brain shows and stayed up late doing nothing.  I'd made lists and run errands and felt busy, even productive.  But by Sunday, I was starving.  The next week, too.

In the middle of this, Phil Wood, our preaching guy, talked about (this is worth listening to) the place deep inside us that can get off balance and start us spinning in that lopsided, momentum-driven, wobble-spin that's hard to even out, especially because it's deep.

This had happened.  And instead of quieting and doing the work of straightening myself out, I'd gone faster, crowded my days, planned things, made lists.  Yes, there were hormones involved.  Yes, my whole family had just come for birthday and Easter and left, but for the most part, the week was normal, and I was lost in it.  And again in the next.

When I hit raw imbalance, I'm always amazed by how little we really know about each other.  We people present well.  I presented so well that even I didn't know (the most alarming part) that somewhere deep, I was starving myself.

Why is it so hard to be kind to ourselves?  Gentle?

April was funny -- the best of times in so many ways: I turned 40 (more about that later!) and celebrated all the way through the last day of the month, deeply nourished by people I adore.  And also in there, between the celebrations, a slippery sense of self-neglect was growing.

Early in the morning when I wake up (or Maeve wakes me), I really have no choice but to get out of bed.  I can lie there and pretend round two of deep sleep will come, but it won't; I'm awake; the day's begun.  And so it is with my 40 year old self.  I'm awake and there's nothing to do but get out of bed, so May is my month of reset.  I'm not going to list lofty resolutions, because who wants to read that (or be held accountable!), but it's real.  In my first month of 40, I am awake.  I'm watching how I treat myself, way down deep, watching what I chase after and what I neglect.  At 40, it is time to step into the day and nourish myself, be well-fed, way down deep.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

From Resisting to Love-Hating Emojis

When I was a kid, through my 20's, even through most of my 30's, psychologists used "emotions charts" to help people, especially kids, name their feelings.  The charts looked something like this:

Instead of 'mad,' might you feel ashamed or overwhelmed, jealous or guilty?  Instead of  'happy,' do you feel hopeful or confident?  There is power in naming an emotion specifically.  To admit that we are jealous instead of "mad," opens us.  It deepens us.  Suddenly, with the word "confident," we are known and seen, even if just to ourselves.

Throughout the 90's and early 2000's, I had a firm policy about not using smiley faces in my emais or instant messages (as the case was) -- and later in my texting.  None of this business: :)  :0   :/   8)  and especially not the winking  ;)

I was a writer.  I was not going to substitute cutesy faces for my words; I'd write what I meant.  And I did, for many years.

Then the iphones came with their dozens of tiny horses, flowers, and hearts.  For a good while they'd show up on my old phone as black squares.  I didn't know what people were so happy about.  Then I bought my first iphone and learned the word "emoji."  Even then I resisted.  No smiling, winking, blushing, frowning yellow faces for me.

But a yellow heart?  Ok.  A tiny camel?  Yes.  A wine glass or coffee cup?  Sure.  Those were not expressive, they were illustrative.  Nothing was lost.

But as we all know, those little foods and animals are the entry drug.  I got roped in by the face that was only eyes.  By the face that had smiling eyes and showed all of its teeth in a sheepish grin (this was my favorite).  Despite myself, I was charmed by my friends who used emojis hilariously, and, without quite meaning to, I started to use them back.  My 10 year old niece insisted that we each pick one as our "symbol" that would start all of our texts (cue the circus tent and sunset square emoji) so we'd know our messages were to each other on her mom's phone.

And then, before I'd meant to, I was fully speaking emoji -- a blushing face, an x'ed out eye face, a bowl of salad, a monkey, a blue heart, on and on.

The worst part is that once I began, it was almost impossible to stop.  I haven't stopped!  Especially as the amorphous-emoji-makers continue to unveil new ones: the avocado!  the cucumber slices!  the little green face!  champagne glasses! bacon!  These people are, of course, speaking my language (all of our languages?  A creepy cultural language where we're reduced to bacon, trendy owls, and clown phobias?  It's worth taking pause...).

What language am *I* speaking?

There have been all sorts of conversations around the emojis: should grown men use them?  are they becoming their own language?  have they reduced us all to infantile communication? will they evolve into logograms, like Chinese characters?  Are they simply the body language of our texts?

The most pressing question of all for me is what will happen -- is happening -- to our words as we continue to speak and respond with emojis?

I sat down yesterday to write a letter (yes, I still have a love affair with the postal service), and found myself wanting to draw the laughing-til-crying face.  Draw it?  Really?!  Why not, what words could say the same thing so quickly and succinctly?

It freaked me out a little.

Don't misunderstand, I love succinct language.  Poetry is about succinct language.  But it's also about precise language, language that is meticulously chosen, textural and multi-dimensional.

Emojis aren't that.

I wish I'd thought to give up emojis for Lent.  What would I have had to articulate without those little pictures commentating my moods and social interactions?

What fascinates me most is that in the 80's, 90's, early 2000's, the worry was that people didn't have the emotional vocabulary or awareness to identify how they were feeling.  The elementary SAD, HAPPY, MAD, blocked the true and deeper experiences.

Today we have no such problem; within a second and a half we can locate exactly how we feel on our phones, and even construct a sequence that says it all (nose-blow, sobbing face, x'ed out eyes, eye roll).  But without a phone in our hands, can, or do, we still say it all?
Last spring I took a parenting class and when the facilitator asked questions like "how did you feel when that happened?" I was amazed by how we parents struggled to name a *feeling*.  Instead we said things like "I wanted to leave" or "I felt like she shouldn't have done that."  The leader kept gently redirecting, "those aren't actually feelings.  Try again."  I bet if she'd handed us her phone, we could have chosen the emoji in an instant, and she would have known what we meant.

But where are our words?

Is it that our words have vanished and been replaced by those little yellow faces?  Or is it that we never really had the words -- or courage to say them -- in the first place, and emojis have actually given us permission to say what we wouldn't have: "I feel sheepish" "I'm so pleased"  "I'm beaming"  "I'm crushed" "I want to sob my eyes out."

I'm not ready to argue that emojis are ruining and degrading our language (though they might be-- seem to be, even).  But I am interested in the conversations linguists and sociologists are having over our rabid and sudden use of emoji's.  It has to be affecting us, our personal interactions, self-expression, and even how we think.  Let's use them as much as we want, but notice as we do.

Friday, March 31, 2017

All the Rising and What Needs to be Raised

We are in resurrection season, can we call it that?  The trees that have stood silently bare all winter have sprouted buds and are leafing out.  Even here in California, the apple tree has it's first blossom and the bony tree out front is covered with a rustling new green.  Daffodils come by the bunches.  Birds make wild arcs through the air in mating dances, and I can hear them chatter at the sun before it's fully risen.  Easter sits two weeks away.  Once again, the landscape of living shifts.

In the last couple of months, I have been privy to four cancer scares, from very mild to very serious.  From a large mass to possible skin cells that need to be lasered off, from a deadly hereditary brain tumor to an alarming mammogram.

This didn't used to be regular news among friends.  These scares didn't used to touch me.
Is this 40?
Is this being an adult?
Is this the rent we pay for using these bodies for 3-odd decades?

Miraculously -- and I do mean that word here -- ALL four of the scares passed -- masses disappeared, scans came back normal, biopsies were benign.  And each of those good news appointments or phone calls has felt like a resurrection -- you have held your breath for days or weeks now fighting not to imagine the worst, the deadly, and here, HERE is life, full and healthy back in your hands!

Spring usually begs for some reflection.  The very ground under our feet is greening, blooms rising everywhere around us.  Everything that seemed undeniably dead is now breathing, budding, and the air smells good.  What's been dry and brown in me for the last several months (or longer)?  What's waiting to be cracked open again to the sun?

I'm doing some work in my life right now about the daily stuff, about what is "resourcing" and what is simply living up to expectation.  What leaves me depleted at the end of the day and what's energizing me?

I realized, after a heavenly weekend away with Ben, that Vacation Bronwen, who incidentally gets along with Ben swimmingly, is fully "resourced" and energetic (she naps, too).  We both really liked being with her.  When we got home Sunday night, though, come Monday morning, she'd vanished and Business Bronwen was in full effect, all logistics and practicality, all about staying afloat.

What I'm wondering is how to knit Vacation Bronwen into regular life, especially regular marriage.  Where does she fit?  What sparks her interest during the day (cocktails by the pool, a stack of books, hours of talking with Ben?) when she's not on vacation?

Discovery: I'm pretty much burned out by 6PM every day (even 5).  I've been all energy, even fun, stayed on top of the activities, the people, the needs, tried (usually unsuccessfully) to carve out some creative time for myself, and as soon as Ben's shadow fills the door, the fatigue of the whole thing floods me (because it can -- back up's arrived), so I can hardly get through the next couple hours without snapping.

This is not a great set up.  And Vacation Bronwen certainly wouldn't like it.

I have no answers yet, but I'm pretty sure the depletion has to do with not filling the right ways during the day -- in big or tiny ways, not getting my inner world in order before I launch into the outer world.

So on this last day of March (10 days away from turning 40!!) I'm wondering what needs to be drawn into the sun, and what actually needs to be cut back or dug up all together.  I'm marking the resurrections and hoping for one of my own.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Almond Cake

(upside down rabbit on the plate if you can't make out what's happening there)

Perhaps because a cup of tea and some cake is grounding and pure comfort, and my mind's been a bit slurry, I've been wanting cake all week.  Good cake.

Good cake, in the gluten-free world, is hard to come by, especially because I think most of the people who post gf cake recipes have actually forgotten what *real* cake tastes like and actually believe this "amazing" "best ever cake" they write about IS the best ever.  And it's nothing like cake.  And it's sadly neither amazing nor even good.  (If you ask Maeve about her "best every gluten free birthday cake" she'll tell you she had a really pretty cake that was bad.  Sorry, 4 year old...)

This cake is not a moist, spongy birthday cake type-cake; it's denser and crumbly, perfect with tea or coffee, even dipped for a second.  It's the right amount of almond and manages to taste like a pastry and cake at once.  Like all good cake, it's great for breakfast, too.  It would enjoy berries on the side, and I'm sure the orange creme fraiche whose recipe follows it in the book.  (meyer lemon creme fraiche would so good, too).

So here's a cake that delivers (I know, everyone says that).  It's from America's Test Kitchen GF book, which I like for baking.  It can be a bit fussy, but just cut corners and do what makes sense to you.  I've been making their flour mixture for a while and keeping it in the fridge.  Once I sprang for the initial stock of ingredients, it's been easy (and every refill seems free -ha)

The recipe calls for 2 T of sugar on top. I used one and thought it was perfect (of course the more you use, the thicker the sugary-almond slice crust on top).  I used meyer lemons instead of regular lemons because I had them and the lemon flavor was subtle, just a brightness.

Almond Cake 

1 1/2 c plus 1/3 c blanched sliced almonds, toasted
1 c GF flour blend 
3/4 t salt
1/4 t baking powder
1/8 t baking soda (I know, 1/8 seems hardly worth it -- must do something)
4 eggs
1 c plus 2 T sugar 
1 T plus 1/2 t grated lemon zest (I used meyer lemon)
1 t almond extract
4 T unsalted butter, melted
4 T vegetable oil (I used grapeseed)

Preheat to 300
Grease a 9" round cake pan and line bottom with parchment

1.  Pulse 1 1/2 c almonds, flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda in food processor until almonds are finely ground -- 10-15 pulses.  Transfer to bowl.

2. Place eggs, 1 c sugar, 1 T zest and almond extract in food processor and process for 2 minutes.  
With processor still running, add melted butter and oil in steady stream until incorporated.  Add almond-flour mixture and pulse until combined -- 4-5 pulses.

3. Scrape batter into pan and sprinkle with remaining 1/3 c almonds.
Using fingers combine remaining 2 T sugar (I only used 1) and 1/2 t lemon zest until fragrant.  Sprinkle over cake.

4.  Bake until center is set and toothpick comes out clean, 55-65 minutes (rotate pan after 40 min).
Let cook in pan for 15 minutes.
Then let cool completely on rack.  


The six to nine month window after people move to another culture (or place, let's say) tends to be a swampy period.  The new isn't new anymore, but it isn't familiar either.  There's a certain fatigue to the adjustments, the discomfort, the meeting people, the waiting for life to settle.  Grief can rise, restlessness, unease.

My brother said one word for this is "disorientation."

In the last month, I've had two dreams that we were suddenly moving back to DC, each layered with confusion, and each ending with the sinking fear that we were going to have to live with tics again (in case I wondered if I were utterly traumatized by my kid getting Lyme's disease...).

Recently, on a cloudy cool day, I made a grocery list like always, organizing it by the departments of the store.  When I walked into Trader Joe's I stood there for a second looking from list to produce department, realizing I'd been picturing the layout of our east coast store instead.


This morning it took waking kids, eating breakfast, drinking coffee, dropping off at school, and through yoga class for my brain finally to shake off the dream and reorder back in this reality.

So I think as I go to bed now, I am going to pray for God to orient me -- a big fat anchor for conscious and subconscious to ground me here and now.

Thursday, March 23, 2017


Today Silas is 11, a "tween" as he called himself yesterday.

I have all kinds of angst thinking about a boy, my boy, moving into adolescent and teenage years, so much grief that I cannot protect him from SO. MANY. THINGS., and pangs that I have to let him go out there and grow up.

Recently I was talking to someone about praying for healing.  He said stuff like this:
you never know when God will break through and heal, so it's always worth asking.  No doubt God can heal, though a lot of times God doesn't.  We, especially in the West, tend to think the best thing for everyone all the time is to be healed, to have the problem or pain or grief removed.  
(of course we do)
But a lot of times that actually isn't what's best.  I never knew God so closely as after I lost my mom.  I would be heaving sobs and then in the middle of it, God's peace would come, and I'd be able, at least, to breathe.  God had never been so palpable.

I know this in my head.  I know we grow in the pain and come out changed.  Stronger.  With sturdier character.  A zillion illustrations in nature remind us of just that: the necessity of forest fires to keep the forest healthy, how gold has to be refined in extreme heat to be valuable, the deadness of winter, the new moon, bulbs that can sit in paper bags for months and then grow -- the list could be ages long.

But my heart protests all of it.  I don't want any pain.  I don't want any loss.  I don't want my kids to get hurt, to have to struggle through poor teachers, mean kids, bad choices, regret, hurting themselves, hurting other people, physical pain, even a cough!

Yesterday a friend told me that in a conversation with an older parent, she realized all of her parenting questions were about how to help her kid avoid bad situations in the future.  The older parent said, that's the wrong question; there are going to be bad choices and painful situations, the question is how are you going to be the parent who is safe enough to talk to during those times. 

And that's it.

That is the question.

So Silas boy, as you move into 11, the end of elementary school, know that we love you just as much in trampoline parties as in quiet pain, in strong choices as in choices that unravel order.

In one hour and 7 minutes, 11 years ago, I watched you born into a sunny room, ocean horizon out the window, a ring of beautiful people waiting to receive you.  Out you came -- Sunshine in my arms.  You changed me from that moment and teach me constantly.  I love you.  Couldn't me more glad to be your mom.


Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Second Semester

A weird week.

One of my kids' teacher's disappeared this week in a hurricane of rumors and an article in the paper yesterday speaking of a just-after-school-arrest for a DUI.  She is a champion long-term teacher, and the whole thing is sad, badly played, and full of whispers.  So that's happening, and a long term sub (who seems lovely).

Then there are the backpack capers: SOMEone is digging through all the backpacks (because remember this is Southern California and all the backpacks hang outside on hooks because pretty much the whole school is outside, including the cafeteria -i.e. picnic tables), and taking library books, wallets, phones, gum, poofy keychains etc.  And five of the packs of gum and one of the wallets somehow surfaced in the bottom of my kid's backpack.  The innocence seems clear, but still, that's happening, and sounds like the middle reader books I'm spending a lot of time with these days.

And the rain storms that now have flooded two of my camping (glamping) trips have blown over; the hills are greener than they'll ever be and bursting with California sunflowers; the air smells like sweet sage; and today the sun's heat felt like summer, which makes me restless and excited and want to buck routine.  So there's that, too.

I'm not a second semester senior (though this weather still stirs that), but I am in a second semester -- second semester of the move.  First semester was so many big feelings -- other people's -- that I held and hauled because I had to or just did, and it was exhausting.  There was so much *action* to help the kids, all of us, connect and settle.  And they did -- somehow post-Christmas, they came "home" and settled.  Now, it seems, the second semester is mine.

It's funny how when you're stripped of who you were and what you knew, even if you return to a familiar and beloved place, the ground shifts.

First it was all a balancing act on that shaky ground.  But now the movement's settled and it's looking at what's been unearthed -- a kind of treasure hunt.  There are all these tiny green sprouts, maybe an internal reflection of the spring breaking through back east.  You know when you buy a new house and spend your first spring there, you have no idea what's about to poke through the earth and surround you with blooms?  I feel like that -- walking the yard, bending down to see the green nosing up.  What will come? I keep watching.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Flying Without an ID

Last Thursday I lost my wallet in another city, in a generic taxi for which I paid untraceable cash. Sunday I came to the airport empty-handed to fly home. 

The TSA website sounds promising: In the event you arrive at the airport without valid identification, because it is lost or at home, you may still be allowed to fly. The TSA officer may ask you to complete a form to include your name and current address, and may ask additional questions to confirm your identity.  

So I walked up to the TSA officer breezily: I'd done nothing wrong, was who I claimed to be, and had a purchased plane ticket; it was his job to get me through.

Do you have anything with your name on it?


A credit card?

No, it was in the wallet.

A bill or doctor's form?


A medical bottle?


Nothing printed with your name on it?

Hold on. 

I had this conversation with three difference officers, each round becoming slightly more jocular. Then the hard ass head officer arrived. She came only up to my chin and explained with an aggressive air, how it would all work: she'd call IVCC, they'd ask questions that she'd relay to me, and I'd need to answer them precisely.  Answer with one word only.  Don't say anything extra.  If you fail this you won't fly.  I stopped joking around.

I'd arrived at the airport 2 1/2 hours early with no doubt that I'd board my plane; yes I'd lost my wallet, but flying home was a given, a right.  

Standing there I was keenly aware of how many people at airports were not sharing this "given."  
The questions began, relayed through the phone by the officer.  The faceless source on the phone knew where I live, what my email address was, who the members of my family were, all of the addresses I've ever had.  Despite my confidence that I'd momentarily walk through the gate, my palms started sweating and my chest got tight.  

Someone was tracking us.  Someone big.  And without any eye contact, any voice, any face, that Someone had the power to let me fly or not.  Let any of us fly or not.

What was the IVCC, that held all of this information?  (The officer didn't know).  What else did their database know and track -- emails, phone calls, whereabouts?  Who could access this information -- and why?  

In a few minutes, the questions ended, and I was approved.  I got a full pat down and sat in a chair for 15-20 minutes while a man unpacked and scanned every single item in my meticulously overloaded suitcase.  Then he apologized for the wait and helped me pack up. 

None of this would be particularly noteworthy except that it happened in February of 2017, in Washington DC, during the weeks when so many people have not been waved through and have certainly not been apologized to for any inconvenience.    

What would the process have been if my clothes had included a hijab, my accent had been stronger, or my skin darker -- or if I'd been a dark-skinned man with or without a beard?  Would I have been ushered through with the same relative ease?  Would my sweaty palms have reflected the eeriness of centrally amassed information, or the sheer fear that "They" might, indeed, bar me from going home? I'm not sure I would have made it to this Chipotle in terminal B, this basket of foil-wrapped tacos that will tide me over until I land.

Funny -- this same weekend, SNL said the same (as only Melissa could):

Friday, January 20, 2017

Post-inauguration Quiet

It is late, and instead of sleeping, I'm sitting at the table with buttery toast and tea too hot to sip.
My brain is full.

No doubt over the next days, weeks, years, there will be heroes who rise up, who speak and inspire, as there always have been.  There will be those who in the face of hatred usher us further into justice, bind us together in our humanity, remind of us grace.

But tonight is a darker night.

I am letting myself feel the darker before I stand again to fight for the light.

Best of any song
is bird song
in the quiet, but first
you must have the quiet.
             -Wendell Berry

Thursday, January 12, 2017

To Miss a Plane (a Note to Women in Anticipation of The Women's March on Washington)

The other morning I rode to LAX with an Uber driver who talked incessantly and obnoxiously about politics, his weed farming and drug dealing in Santa Cruz, who swerved across lanes of highway twice because he was blowing by our exits, who forgot to start his Uber app to charge us, had his maps set wrong, and spent more time adjusting the air vents and radio volume than steering. It was 4:30 in the morning, and if I’d been alone, I know it would've been right to ask him to pull over so I could get a different driver.  I should have asked him anyway.  Why would I choose to stay in a dark car with a manic strange man whose hands weren’t on the wheel for 55 minutes and drove like he hadn’t passed drivers’ ed?  The decision seems beyond obvious.  But, I stayed in the car because if we’d pulled over, I’d have missed my plane.  (and, if I'm honest, the conversation would have been awkward and felt bitchy and embarrassing for both of us).

Sometimes our concessions, even when they put us at risk, feel like necessities.

For many people, electing Trump felt just like that: policies and supreme court judges trumped a toxic personality and disrespect for many of our citizens; voting for him felt like a necessary concession. 

As a woman, I am struggling to understand the implications.  “We the people” just elected a man who believes women are less worthy leaders, managers, and politicians than men, a man who’s gloated about his inability to control his body around beautiful women, who’s confessed that women are fine eye candy (and hand candy…) and that it’s a damn shame when they aren’t worth looking at. 

What does his winning the White House mean for me as a woman, for my daughters as pre-adolescent girls, for my nieces as teenagers?

The transcript of Trump’s Access Hollywood hot mic sparked all sorts of intelligent discussion and protest about assault (like Michelle Obama's response).  What surfaced -- again -- is that most women are familiar with sexual assault, that it can be verbal as well as physical, that it can be “playful” rather than classically violent, that it’s often kept quiet because women are too embarrassed to blow the whistle or be criticized for overreacting. 

We all know that cultural double standards still thrive: an outspoken decisive man is strong, and an outspoken decisive woman is pushy.  An angry man is angry, and an angry woman is a bitch.  A man who redirects inappropriate conversation has impressive character, and a woman who does the same is over reactive or touchy.  An aging man looks debonair and an aging woman, old.  A man without make up looks normal and a woman without make up looks tired and hasn’t “put her face on” yet.  An unattractive male presidential candidate is an SNL joke and an unattractive female presidential candidate is a deal breaker.

These standards breed shame and silence.  Of course, they, like Trump’s attitude, are not new or unprecedented, but our having freshly elected yet another man who brushes off/normalizes harassment as “locker room talk,” has pushed me to consider my own concessions. Sometimes what feels “necessary” is actually just easier. 

Growing up, many of us were indirectly taught to concede out of "necessity" – we can't pull over, or I’ll miss my plane; out of embarrassment – what will they think of me if I speak up?; out of sacrifice – he could lose his job; out of fear that we’ll be shamed and play the fool -- what if he says that didn't happen? what if I misinterpreted? 

And so we downplay:   It wasn’t a big deal.  Nothing really happened.  He was just joking around. 

But sometimes – a lot of the time -- it’s worth missing the plane. 
There are always other flights out.

We have a long way to go in our country and many habits to break.

Beauty and sex have always been currency and power, and we, women, are still learning how to wield them without letting them reduce us. (I'm on a plane right now and the slit in my flight attendant’s short, tight skirt is so high that I literally can see her butt cheeks as she delivers snacks and drinks.  √† Not using it well).

As women today and over the next four years, let’s notice when we’re conceding.  Let’s challenge ourselves about what seems “necessary,” and let’s start missing planes because we’re taking care of our selves.