To reach a goal, you need to know why you want to reach it. You need to dive in and start taking steps in along the path. Setting a mantra can help you stay focused and motivated. Here’s help with all of that.Read More
Today, for Mother's Day, my husband bought me a card with a cool illustration of a succulent and copy that appeared to be custom-crafted: "You don't suck." It was super-sweet, not passive-aggressive at all, the perfect mama mantra for me: a goal-oriented, multitasking lady with a strong self-critical streak.
That last (self-shaming) part was not something I learned from my mom, an all-around accepting and seemingly selfless Buddha of a person. KMom as we call her around here, has taught me a lot about parenting, including these seven lessons, which I strive to put into practice every single day. To varying degrees of success.
Work hard but don't complain.
My mom didn't earn her college degree until I was in 8th grade, which meant that in the years she was studying biochemistry (until this past January, she worked as a respiratory therapist), she also was juggling the challenges of raising three kids (one of whom was two years old at one point) and working part-time. Yes, we spent hours at my grandparents' houses and my dad would sweep us out to the bowling alley for afternoons during finals times but Mom never made us feel we were in the way of her getting done what she needed to do. Sometimes we'd quiz her with notecards; once I got to go to class with her at the university. I listened to the lecture and ate M&Ms. Years later, I went to college and studied biochemistry on note cards while eating M&Ms. I guess it looked fun. I continue to work hard and eat candy while doing so. Still working on not seeming "busy" around my kids.
Embrace their passions with gusto.
When I was a kid I liked doing backflips and pirouettes, reading and writing, and leading people in creative projects. (Mostly the same things I like doing today.) I'm pretty sure my mother would rank these very things high on her least favorite things to do. Still, she wholly supported me in these activities, spending hours at the library when she would have rather been at the beach, sewing costumes for my performances, encouraging me to follow my dreams even when they might seem out of reach for my family's financial situation. Following her lead, I've try to push myself beyond the boundaries of my interests (and comfort zone). I have learned how to snowboard, forced myself to read about wizards (and quite liked it), pretended to love Pokemon, and learned an awful lot about baseball. Now, in the Venn diagram of my what my family loves, there's an expanding shared center of activities we can enjoy together. I owe much of this to my mom's influence.
Share your gifts.
Despite having common core values, Kmom and I are more different than the same in the way we interact with the world, and in the gifts we've received to share. I'm an ideas generator who often has little patience for the small details; she's quite shy and enviably excellent at executing. I'm a little tightly wound (or a lot depending upon whom you ask); she's like Jimmy Buffet without the booze or the music. Super laid back. In that way, we make a pretty awesome team and great lifelong teachers for each other.
Celebrate all the things.
My mom made big deals of holidays and birthdays when I was a kid. As a grandma, she goes all out, shipping boxes of thoughtful little gifts to my kids for every holiday. She shows up in Vermont each October to design and fit handmade Halloween costumes and in May to source balloons and bake big batches of cupcakes for Birthday Week, which always includes four to six separate celebrations for two brothers with birthdays separated by three days.
Be ready to listen.
At the breakfast table after her midnight shifts at the hospital; in the car carting us to dance, sports or sleepovers; on the couch after we rolled in from a night out with friends (even in college and beyond), my mom was always available to offer her undivided attention to any issue we might bring up. With my kids heading into emotional years of middle school and beyond, I now recognize the intentionality—and importance—of this casual parental presence.
Rest when you can.
"I'm just resting my eyes," is a frequent refrain of KMom. It immediately precedes a micro nap that readies her to participate in whatever adventure one of her kids, or grandkids, might invite her on next. Like jumping off the Jaw's Bridge at age 64.
My mama has honed her gift of noticing, prioritizing and savoring the simple things that bring her happiness and joy: family and friends; bubble baths and chocolate; minutes or hours in the sun. Where as my default setting is to notice what's wrong or still to be done, her focus always settles one what's good, right, and sweet. In life and in those around her. My all-accepting and wise, mama.
Happy Mother's Day, KMom!
I'm a planner, a jotter, a (very unskilled) doodler, a notetaker and a list maker. I'm a junkie for old-school paper planners, and sometimes I have trouble committing to just one for an entire year. After some weeks of writing, I realize there's no space for the things I have to say—or there's too much space. Or the saccharin-y quotes added for inspiration turn me off every time I turn to a new day's page. Or maybe the problem isn't the planner at all but the 24-ounce kale smoothie that sat next to it, in my work bag, contained in a seemingly solid Mason jar that actually wasn't solid at all. That really happened. In July of 2016.
This year, I committed to one book: a navy Leuchtturm1917 that, like everyone else on the planet, I would make into a bullet journal—a BuJo, for those in the know. (Note: I definitely do not call my book a BuJo.) Right on time, midway through January, I had an overwhelming urge to purchase a Panda Planner, and then, a week later, the Passion Planner. But padding my life with my stuff I didn't need was exactly what I didn't want to do. I resisted. I reminded myself that the beauty of the "bullet" (sometimes I do call my book this) is that it's incredibly flexible. If one week you decide that one way of organizing your life and your thoughts doesn't suit you, you can just switch it up the next.
So I stuck with it. Seven weeks into 2018 (or so my bullet says), I'm noting patterns: I'm writing more, and getting done personal-life tasks have taken a backseat for a long time. I feel more focused and my commitment to being (or attempting to be) a thoughtful person seems stronger. Except today I acted like a total asshole much of the time. Proving there's no perfect system.
At the end of each week, I review all the things I've done and notes I've jotted down and come to, and write out, a few cliche conclusions. Trite as they may be, they're working working for me. Here's my life-lessons list so far:
- Always say yes to the run.
- Ask for what you want. Often, you get it.
- When someone offers you honest insights, listen.
- Quit buying shit you don't need. (In my case, another red lipstick.)
- Go to the show. Being around creative people is exhilarating. (Side note: I didn't follow my own advice last night and I'm sad about it.)
- It feels better to find where you align and focus there, than to nitpick the differences.
- Trust that you know what you need, and what your kids need.
- If you don't have anything nice to say, shut up. (A not-so-nicely put variation of my mom's mantra.)
- Don't get the pixie cut unless you're keeping it forever—it looks horrendous growing out. (I just reviewed seven years' worth of photos for a project.)
- If you feel ready, you are. Don't overprepare.
- Know when to rest.
- If you keep your-in-the-moment freak-outs on the inside, you have less explaining/apologizing to do later.
- Yes, you do have time for yoga.
- Trust you're on the right path.
"Oh...I assumed it was locked." The boys volleyed back and forth repeating this line again and again, giggling harder each time. On Friday, we watched Tintin (who, by the way, is a boy and not a dog). In one funny scene, the boy-reporter (actually maybe he's a man... unclear)—desperately trying to escape a bunch of people who are trying to kill him—meets Captain Haddock in a cramped captain's cabin.
"I've been locked in this room for days, with only whiskey to sustain my mortal soul," Haddock explains. Tintin easily opens to the door, prompting Haddock to deliver the line that cracked up my kids for a solid seven minutes. "Oh...I assumed it was locked."
This presentation of the idea that it's often our own stories trap us in small, limited lives—even miserable harmful situations—isn't new to me. There's that oft-shared allegory of the monkey who holds himself captive in a cage because he won't let go of a banana. To free himself, all he has to do is drop the fruit and slide his hand through the bars. But he can't let go.
It's pretty easy for me to name loads of times when I've locked myself in a cabinet with whisky—metaphorically (literally, the times are far fewer):
For instance, I assumed that I could never work in the publishing industry if I left New York City. But, in 2002, I accepted a fellowship to study nutrition at the University of Vermont anyway—and my freelance career took off. Editors assigned me feature-length stories, which I'd never had a chance to write when I was on a magazine staff. Within a couple of years, I landed a retainer contract that more than paid my bills and allowed me to pitch other publications too. For a few years, I freelanced full-time—until a publisher in Vermont (EatingWell) offered me a job and, tired of sitting in my garage in my pajamas all day, I accepted. Happily. When I was living in the city, I'd never contemplated that a situation so suited to my needs at the time (moving) was even an option.
I often opt out of physical activities with my friends, assuming that I can't keep up. But I'm pretty sure I could make my way down a black diamond slope on a snowboard without killing myself—and likely would enjoy it. I don't swim well, likely because, well, I never swim. When I was a kid, my mom took me to the quarries every day; I was a proficient paddler. I've passed a tread-water test more than a once.
My prison-bar beliefs impact even the tiniest decisions of my days. I've skipped runs before work before reasoning that I'd get into the office seven minutes past the time I felt I should be there and I can't stay late because I have to pick up the kids. But I have the luxurious flexibility of typing on my laptop after the boys are in bed. I always get it done. And jogging the clutter from my brain before I sit down at my desk actually makes me more far more productive.
In lots of ways, I'm still an inadvertent inmate of my own making—but I've gotten better at challenging myself when I recognize that I'm languishing inside a cage. And now I have a beautifully motivating mental movie to keep pushing me: two sweet boys giggling uncontrollably at how ridiculous it is for someone so free to stay stuck just because he thinks it's so. May my guys always find this scene laughable.
As a parent who works all day, every work day, I feel that I need to be there, with my kids, all the rest of the time. Lately, though, it seems to be a self-defeating philosophy, as 42 to 67 percent of the time (who's fact-checking?) I'm with my guys, my mind is elsewhere. I'm turning toward the dishes instead of toward the kid—with the sweet face that has only half of the expected teeth—when he's telling me at about the kickball game at recess. And even as I'm listening to one brother explain to me why the other one sucks, my thoughts are wandering to the camps I need to schedule, the work files I need to find, the conversation in the car I could have handled better.
The cognitive load of everything that needs to happen—combined with the general chaos of a house with two kids and three pets—overwhelms my ability to focus on what matters most. I end up homing in on tiny, inconsequential details, barking out cliche orders: Put your bowl in the dishwasher. Pick up your socks. Stop playing with the dice. Just be a robot. (That's what I might as well say.) I'm all for instilling a sense of communal responsibility but hearing zombie compliance demands escape my lips just makes me hate myself.
This morning, I saw it all unfolding in this way. We were scurrying around, getting ready to leave for the mountain. It'd been a long week and I didn't have the hustle to get out of the house. I was happy to make mango smoothies and wrangle small people into first-layers, but every cell of my being was resisting putting on my own. The dog had already chewed a shoe and needed some love. I made the choice to stay home. I'd have some moments to unwind from a particularly stressful week. I'd take care of the dog and the laundry, the piles of papers and drawers full of expired eyedrops and cosmetics older than my kids—things I'm sad to admit were consuming far more brain space than was appropriate.
As soon as I said no to snowboarding (and changing out of my pajamas), I opted into a card game with Julian while Jon helped Kai finish getting ready. When the guys left, I took the dog out. We jogged on ice-spackled dirt roads framed by fields and trees, past sweet cows and wind-stirred waves, on a majestic property set up by a generous family long gone. Dragged by a dog who outpaces me by minutes on a mile, my steps kept the beat of a tune by David Bowie, now deceased. Each fresh inhale diluted the bolus of mundane concerns blocking my brain; four miles later, I'd exhaled most of the bullshit.
I came home and cleaned out the bathroom drawers. Did two loads of laundry. Ate a healthy salad sitting in a chair. Made a to-do list for the week and planned out meals. Recycled a bunch of papers. Left for an event—and when I got home, I listened with 97 percent attention to the boys' daily events, helped them brush their teeth without glancing at my phone and performed head rubs and back scratches worthy of a some sort of meditation medal.
Today's takeaways: Partial participation is not quality presence. Energy management is integral to positive parenting. Go for the run.
A few years ago, I stopped making resolutions at the start of the calendar new year. Instead, on my birthday—in December—I starting making lists of the things I wanted to do in the 12 months ahead. Design and teach a yoga workshop. Snowboard down M1 without crying. Spend quality one-on-one time with each of my guys every single week. Publish four essays. Go on a road trip with my sister and kids.
I realized there was a common reason for aiming to accomplish all these things. I wanted to feel brave, creative, alive, connected. I wanted to mop up all the moments with the people I love most. Through my yoga studies, I realized that I'd switched from making resolutions to creating sankalpas. In Sanskrit, sankalpa means "will, purpose or determination." It's is sort of a resolution, wrapped in your best intentions, written by your highest self. Last year, my sankalpa was this: "I manage my energy in ways that allow me to stay present for, and to enjoy, the people and things that matter most."
This year, I've boiled my aim down to its essence, a single word: LEAP. I'm turning intentions into actions and ideas into reality, summoning up the courage to have the hard conversations, pushing past discomfort to expand my limits—as a parent, a partner, a person. And generally just getting shit done, like going to the police station to be fingerprinted (after four years of vowing to do it) so I can chaperone a school field trip without having to have a chaperone myself. I did that today. Took 10 minutes.
When it comes to aligning actions with intentions, I've discovered some things that help keep me focused (which is no small feat). Maybe they'll help you too:
Design your mission.
Turn your mission or your mantra or your word into something you can display front-and-center in your home, office, on your phone. (Or skin. I have a tattoo of a swallow on my wrist to remind me to keep writing. It's inspired by Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird). If you don’t feel particularly artistic, curate others' words and images to make a vision board. Mine has Joe Biden on it. And lots of ladies leaping.
Wear a reminder.
It can be as simple as a string—or a hairband—around your wrist. I wear mala bracelets made by my friend Shannon, who donates a portion of every sale to help rescue dogs.
Set out a statue.
On my desk at work sits a little brass Ganesh—the elephant-headed Hindu diety associated with removing obstacles. (He's gone on many field trips with friends when they've most needed his power.) I also have a "egg" rock my kid found on a the beach, which reminds me to see the world more like a child, and a framed little card that says "Stop Talking." (It's for my own good. Thanks, HT!)
Stay in touch.
Read about inspiring leaders who align with your values and aims, get outside and connect with your thoughts, hang with people who expand your perspectives.
Write about your victories (offer gratitude) and your challenges (and what you learned!). Notice patterns. Refine to align.
I love thinking about shapes as a container for my energy. Yoga poses may stimulate or symbolize certain ways of feeling. Here are my go-to poses:
To feel energized: Sun salutations and heat-building poses like utkatasana (chair), planks, core work
To feel confident: Tadasana (mountain pose), Virabhadrasana I and II (Warrior 1 and 2)
To find focus: Balancing poses - Vriksasana (tree), Garudasana (Gagle), Virabhadrasana III (Warrior 3)
To tune in (and tune out the world): Forward folds
To let go: Hip openers like pigeon, Baddha Konasana, Anjaneyasana (low lunge) Flowing sequences
On a related note, I'm leading an Intention-Setting + Yoga Workshop this Sunday, January 22 at Yoga Roots in Shelburne, VT. You can learn more and register here.
This weekend, I retreated. To a quaint little cabin in Maine—to write, to plan, to focus, all of which I did, and quite effectively, if not exactly in that order. I was there with two other creative friends, but, all told, we spent only a couple of hours together. I was alone for hours and hours, and what I discovered was this: I still am very am much who I am, and who I always have been. It actually was sort of a surprising discovery, given that I never consider that I might have "lost myself" along the way. I have plenty of what some call "me" time, really: I have a full-time career in content, which I love. I teach yoga, which I also love. I spend a good amount of time with friends, at least for a working mom of two.
But this weekend truly was all about me, going my own way. Meandering—physically, intellectually, emotionally. I read and wrote. I drove into town for takeout at a Thai restaurant that looked amazing and, while I waited the 45 minutes it would take for them to prepare my garlicky greens and tofu, hoofed it to a Hannaford a mile away. Along a very busy two lane-highway. Passers-by looked at me skeptically: did they think I was a murderer, or about to be murdered? My goal was to get toothpaste (which, as it turned out, I hadn't actually forgotten) and some exercise. Seems ridiculous now as I write it. After procuring the goods, I picked up my dinner and contemplated ditching my plans to write for some sort of performance at the opera house next to the restaurant, mostly because the space and the show reminded me of the market house in Meadville, Pennsylvania, where I'd gone to college. But the play was more than an hour away and the aromatic box of food I'd just picked up seemed worthy of eating back at my cabin versus on the sidewalk.
During the rest of the weekend, I ate lots of hummus on a rotation of items: snap peas, carrots, rice cakes; I snacked on LARA bars and almonds and dark chocolate. Every few hours, I'd walk to the common area to refill my coffee mug or make a cup of ginger tea but often opted to stay in the room and just drink seltzer, straight from the big bottle, so as not to interrupt my flow. I did yoga in my pajamas. I fell asleep with piles of books in my bed. I did not wash my hair. I chewed lots of gum.
I spent time with Jessi Klein, Seth Godin and Debbie Millman. Their words made me feel happy and whole, excited and inspired. I organized files and made to-do lists. Imported old blogs and read entries about my kids as babies, toddlers, preschoolers, realizing that they too still are very much who they are and pretty much who they always have been. Jotted down ideas for a few pieces of writing and started in on one. Plotted out a plan for a conceptual art project to which I'm pretty sure I can actually commit. Realized that, indeed, given the space to compose a complete thought before someone else interrupts, my brain is very, very good at systems thinking. Truth.
Also truth: my brain is not very good at following directions—even when guided by multiple GPS systems, as my drive home reminded me. But after a few U-turns, I figured it out, choosing the roads less efficiently traveled—the ones leading me to apple-pickers filling baskets right along side the street and tall, Seussical grasses; a sweaty man mowing his lawn wearing bright orange ear muffs and golden-yellow gloves and a young mom playing frisbee on a hill with her two young boys; deep-blue ponds with sparkly surfaces and big tall logs stacked high in a lot. All these little moments and majestic landmarks filled my heart. I kept going.
Eventually, my path led right to Dog Mountain, Home of Stephan Huneck Gallery in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. I'd been wanting to visit since Dempsey passed away in April of 2015, and there, right on the side of Route 2, was the entrance. Right there. I steered up the dusty hill, found my way to Dog Mountain's now-famous chapel and wrote a short remembrance on the back of a scrap of paper with pink pen. Then I sat in a carved-dog chair and sobbed. For the beauty and the pain. For Diggity, who'd been the most loyal and loving friend to me for nearly a dozen years—and for Stephen, who'd built this beautiful space to honor and hold so much love—and then who, years later, took his own life.
I got back in the car and continued home. I stopped for a coffee. I ate a quinoa-almond-butter blondie that I'd gotten at a bookstore hours earlier—without guilt. Feeling lucky and happy and very me. And in that moment, I promised I'd work really hard to keep feeling this way tomorrow.
It’s Jon’s and my anniversary. Typically, I’d repost the our story of coming together, with all its twists and turns. But thirteen years in, seems it’s less about how we met and more how we’re keeping it together.
It really comes down to this: We see each other as equals. (Equals who disagree and fight and don’t always connect. But equals, no doubt.)
The other day, in the car, I was describing the brilliant infographic that Reebok released in response to Donald Trump’s latest (or probably not, by now) gaffe. The boys, listening from the back seat, asked what I was talking about. I told them that our president, upon meeting a woman (leaving out details of who she was) for the first time, said “You’re in such good shape … Beautiful.”
My kids were appalled.
"That’s just rude,” the older one blurted. “People shouldn’t talk about other people’s bodies,” his little brother agreed. “But if you know them, you can talk about what you’re both interested in.” Or you can start talking to discover what you’re both interested in, the conversation continued. Maybe soccer or baseball. Farm camp. Art. Music. The weather. World affairs. Whatever. So many options. No need for creepy harassment. These boys are nine and seven years old.
I share this anecdote not to brag. Last weekend, one of my boys was picking fights with friends half his age; yesterday, the other one threw his bike into the woods, kicked it, then screamed at his grandmother—because he was feeling frustrated. Despite lots of yoga practice, I am emotional and reactive. I yell at my kids a little every day. Not awesome, but true. Sometimes, I yell at their dad. I most certainly am not doing everything right. Perhaps, I’m doing most things wrong.
But conversations like these (and this New York Times piece on raising a feminist son) give me hope that we’re raising young men who will treat women and men and children—all women and men and children—with respect. (Even if they will sometimes yell at people they love.)
And for that, on the 13th anniversary of the day Jon and I married, I am grateful.
PS: For inspiration on equal partnerships, listen to this awesome interview with my friends Amanda and Eric, who comprise one half of the band Swale.
It's summer, and summer is a time to go CAMPING—at least four times, according to my husband. As a kid who mostly preferred reading on the glider to any other outdoor activity and an adult whose idea of a good time is trolling garage sales and making lists in coffeeshops, spending a quarter of my summer (or something like that) in the woods has taken some getting used to. I do it because Jon has brainwashed our kids into loving camping, and if they're going to be tenting it up all of those weekends, I will tag along. I also do it because Jon mostly plans camping excursions with a giant posse of people I REALLY like, which sort of spins the whole situation into a party I don't want to miss.
So now I camp. Four times a summer. Which makes me an an expert camper of a sort—the sort who doesn't really do any of the set-up but comes along and has a good time. I've learned a lot along the way. And I like to share. Here are my secrets:
1. Stick to the packing list.
The one you saved on your iPhone—the little "I've got your back" post from the past. The one that looks super personal because it mentions your favorite hat (which you bought for $38 four years ago to bribe yourself into happy camping) but can't really be because it mentions RAIN PANTS. Which you most definitely do not own. Or maybe you do. What are they? "Booties"... ??? Anyway, you probably will be OK if you stick to this list, or any list, and you do not unpack half the things when the Doppler radar and your dad-in-law who's visiting result in your leaving a day later than planned.
Upshot: that "shoes suited to the terrain" bit on your legacy list: SUPER important. But if you're going to forget all terrain-suited shoes, make sure your posse includes a friend who literally gives you the flip-flops off her feet and a 10-year-old who lends you his hikers so you can hoof it to the cool beach with his mom. PPS: As it turns out, you actually probably don't need that beanie or those mittens in late June. Or the leg warmers, really.
2. Know what you're getting into.
Are you staying for two days? Three? Are there things to keep your kids and your brain busy? Where will you get your coffee? Will you be driving in (and can escape at any moment)—or do you need to boat to an island where you'll stay until morning even if it there's a lightning storm? Maybe you'll be canoeing to that island with two bikes, a cot, a tent, a cooler (but not terrain-suited shoes), your two children paddling alongside in kayaks. Just know. And go. KNOW. AND GO.
3. Find your happy place.
When you find yourself in an uncomfortable place, find a positive perspective. Literally. Look at a pretty flower. Or a cloud. If maybe you're in a canoe with allll the things, ask for the seat that faces the gentle waves and your strong, brave children, not the one behind the pile of bikes and things that, at any moment, might topple out of the boat and tip everything else.
4. Don't forget sunscreen.
And by don't forget, I mean to APPLY. Vitamin D, shmitamin me. And I have olive skin too. Outdoor adventures require adequate protection. Even if you're just chasing two kids on kayaks who paddled away. You may decide you want to circle the whole island. If you do that with naked thighs, believe you me, you're going to be sorry.
5. Eat good food, drink good coffee.
If you're a reluctant camper, a propane grill and a coffee press will change your life. If you're feeding kids—or impatient adults—heating up ready-to-go foods is a fine idea. If camping isn't camping without your cooking famous smoky meat sauce from scratch and boiling pasta over the fire, you're not a reluctant camper. For those friends who are, bring snacks.
6. Soak up the scenery.
Basking in the beauty of nature is the reason you go camping. So watch every minute of that sunset. Wake up early and gaze out over the water. Take pictures, too, so next time, when you feel that anxiety rising, you can look at the pictures, get super psyched, grab your fancy Happy Camper hat—and your Tevas or hikers or at least flip-flops—and head for the woods, happily. (Or willingly—and be be super happy you did.)
Everybody has their own way of a cleaning a kitchen. Sometimes, it's one so imperceptible you don't even realize it's happening. Sometimes, it follows a strategy that is in stark contrast to your own. Always—I would argue because I like to argue (not in a mean way) and because I'm obsessed with Myers-Briggs typing—it's got something to do with your personality. If you don't know what I mean by Myers-Briggs, and those letters below make no sense to you, please do yourself a favor and take this fun little interactive quiz. Then read on to realize that however you clean a kitchen is A-OK. It just is.
Clear the table, send a text, load some dishes in the dishwasher, play with the dog, make an espresso, pick at leftovers, load the other half of the dishes, fill the pans to "soak." Indefinitely.
Quickly, competently, running through a list of mental checks. Before "closing the kitchen" for the night, pack up lunches for ALLLL the people and chop vegetables for tomorrow's dinner.
Slow to start until you remind yourself—firmly—that you have a job to do. Then you get that shit done and go out for drinks.
Fast and furiously, with lots of loud clanking and HAACP-approved disinfecting tactics.
Saunter from dining table to dishwasher balancing dishes stacked far higher, and more precariously, than is prudent. Sure, the result may be more smashed plates than seen at Greek wedding but life's not worth living without taking risks.
Delegate, delegate, delegate and see that every player satisfactorily completes their task. Then, tackle the greasiest pans yourself. With gusto.
Belt out "you put the lime in the coconut"—in an outdoor voice because wooden spoon isn't actually a mic—while clearing food scraps. Continue dancing until the job is done. Likely by someone else. Who wants you to stop singing.
Clear, clean, and, when that's all done—sometimes while people are still eating—make a pot of coffee and and put out chocolate for all of the people who didn't help.
Consider a variety of approaches to getting the job done. Settle on none. Retreat to the next room to work on something more interesting.
Draw a sink full of sudsy warm water. Submerge your hands and mindfully cleanse the dishes for approximately 15 to 20 minutes.
While rinsing dishes, imagine sink set-ups that will make kitchen-cleaning efficient; immediately start drafting plans, oblivious to the running water spilling onto the floor.
Clean as you go. Leave no trace. Not even for a minute. Contemplate systems that will enable the room to reset itself.
Dive in. Get it done. No fuss. And should it happen that all of those veggie peels some ENFP shoved down the garbage disposal f*ck up all the pipes and cause a big messy scene, you deal with that too. Done.
Get right to it. Demand (politely) that others retire to the next room to relax—and get the hell out of the way so as not to mess up your dishwasher-loading protocol.
Critically assess the dish collection and storage space. Rearrange the cabinets, taking a time-out to head out to the Home Depot, for the "right" shelf liner should the job require it.
Kindly wave everyone else off to do what they need to do—or what they want to do: homework, work work, relaxing with a glass of wine and a book. Embrace the quiet moments of creating calm from chaos.
SHOUT! OUT! (Can you guess my type?) I'd like to thank the subjects of the study that produced the data from which I was able to extrapolate, reimagine and, ultimately, produce this statistically insignificant, highly non-scientific publication: the Facebook friends who proudly shared their hot tips for, or hot-mess tendencies toward, kitchen care taking.
I've been lucky in life to be surrounded by people who—in my milestone moments of needing help—have surrounded me with support, intuited what I needed, and stepped in make it all happen.
When my son burst onto the scene nearly six weeks early, our friend Amy rallied the entire neighborhood to finish painting our first floor—while Jon and I spent nights in the NICU. After we brought baby home, Maria—who worked from home—stopped by every day at lunch to walk with us. With baby number two, she served me wine at her apartment, bouncing my colicky kid while I watched The Bachelor. My mom and sister have spent countless of their vacation days taking care of my kids. Lucky. So lucky.
Given all that, it pains me that I'm not the friend who can pinch-hit—grab kids, run errands, hold hands— midday when a sticky situation strikes. I still feel guilty that—working full-time in an office two towns away—I wasn't around for Maria every day when her son was born.
But I try to do what I can. And what I can do is cook. Or cut fruit. It doesn't matter that I work full-time because you can make a nourishing meal for a friend at any time of the day. Quite often, supporting someone else by erasing the need for them to deal with dinner requires nothing more double-batching your own meal: one for us, one for you. And that's why I love me the Meal Train, an online service that allows you to organize meals drop-offs easily for someone else who could use a stretch without thinking about sourcing supper. (As it turns out, the service was started by a friend of the Amy who pulled together the army of people who painted my living room when I went into early labor. Good people.)
As the recipient of post-partum gift-meals twice over, and the maker of meals for trains taking off after a bunches of babies, illnesses and other tough stuff, I have some helpful insights to share for those wondering "what should I make?"
Lasagnas, Enchiladas, Mac 'n Cheese
These are a traditional, obvious choice—comfort-food in a container, typically a foil one that the recipient can simply toss. You can't go wrong. Unless your peeps don't do dairy. And if that's the case, man, did you do wrong. Luckily, Meal Train lets the organizer specify dietary restrictions and preferences.
Most anyone in my world who had a baby in the fall or winter of 2010 or 2011 will tell you that I made them Beet & Barley Soup with Pumpernickel Croutons. Because I was on a kick. Or a jag. Call it what you will. I was obsessed with this stuff, and I thought everyone should be eating it. Now I'm more likely to pick a soup that I think the recipients will like. Sometimes it's Curried Carrot, sometimes it's Chicken Noodle. (If it's Chicken Noodle, it's likely that Jon made it—because I'm not much for dealing with carcasses and broth bubbling for hours.) Always, it's in a Mason jar—that the receiver can use for pay-it-forward soup, or to hold flowers or a bunch of pens.
Salads of All Sorts
I, for one, can eat only so much buttery, cheesy noodle-y things before I start to feel to feel anxious, so I always appreciate the friends who pack prepared salads—or greens plus chopped veggies (peppers, carrots, cherry tomatoes) presented separately, to eat however we liked. When our second son was born, my friend Lisa sent over a simple fruit salad—strawberries, blueberries and grapes. We've since worked it into our weekly repertoire and many of our Meal Train drop-offs. If I'm sending over a supper for you in summer, it's likely to be tabbouleh—with City Market Salad Bar Tofu on the side.
"Happy Hour" Provisions
Hummus, good bread, cheese, olives, fruit, and drinks—alcoholic or non: pull together a delicious buffet, pack it up and call it Picnic Dinner. Or French Dinner. Or order and pick up a pizza. Mmm...
A Little Something Sweet
I never much thought about rounding out a meal made for loved ones with dessert—until, post-my-baby, Eliza popped some chocolate-covered almonds in her drop-off bag and Michelle stopped by with homemade chocolate-dipped macaroons. Now, if I have it, I'll include some dark chocolate or make some muffins for the next morning's breakfast (or the freezer). Today, I had nothing good to add, so I mixed together some chocolate chips, raisins, cashews and almonds in a jar. Just in case my friends needed a little something sweet. And salty.
Flowers, a trashy magazine, a card, something fun for a kid. These are some things people gave to me, and I loved them. I don't always add the accoutrements but I always aspire to.
Your turn: What do you make when make a meal for a friend or family member who could use a little help?
Adopting our pup Yo Biden has meant adapting a bunch of things, including our dinner routine. Typically, I plan and prep all of our meals, employing a survey-the-fridge-and-compile-something-creative, sans recipe. But since I've been coming home at lunch (I work close), Jon has been heading home a tad bit early, perfectly positioning himself as dinner-prep person. He's one who feels more comfortable rocking a recipe, so, today, he sat down with a cookbook—a great cookbook called Dinner: The Playbook by Jenny Rosenstrach—and plotted out a bunch of meals for the week.
Here's what we're eating (recipes from the book + simple sides and family favorites):
Monday: Birthday party + leftovers
Tuesday: Sloppy Joes and sweet potato fries
Wednesday: Chicken + roasted beets + quinoa and peas
Thursday: Sweet & spicy tofu + green beans with toasted almonds
Friday: Asian BBQ Chicken + cilantro lime rice, sesame kale salad (family favorite!)
And here's what I purchased for breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and sanity (flowers!):
In the produce section: Avocados (for toast, rice bowls, everything!), carrots (for soup - lunch - and snacks), kale and spinach (for sides and smoothies), onions (for Jon's fancy recipes), garlic (because we're Italian), strawberries (for snacks and yogurt parfaits), cilantro, dill, rosemary and thyme (for Jon's fancy recipes), sweet potatoes (for fries and more), beets (for roasting, because: yum), bananas (for snacking and smoothies and, once-brown-and-slimey, baking), limes and lemons (for everything, including my recent turmeric toddy obsession)
In the dairy (+ more section): Vanilla yogurt (snacks and parfaits), milk (for growing boys and coffee), almond milk (smoothies, overnight oats), eggs (for everything)
Meats and more: chicken breasts, ground turkey, extra firm tofu
Baking situations: flour (for pancakes and cookies), chocolate chips (ditto)
Staples and snacks: sprouted grain bread for toast and sandwiches, pretzels, peanuts, cashews, slivered almonds (again, Jon with his recipes), juice (because kids can't have coffee but still need a jumpstart), two kinds of ginger tea (because I consume like a grandma and go through boxes of this stuff every week).
Next up: Teaching the dog to cook.
What are you eating this week? How do you plan your meals?
It's Thursday, and if you're anything like me on most weeks, you've run out of all of the food you bought last weekend. You've run out of dinner ideas—if you had any in the first place. You've run out of time. Generally speaking. Don't worry. Don't succumb to spending $40 to $100 on takeout (my kids eat like men). What to do is this: Survey your freezer and your fridge and your cabinets and make a kick-ass buffet. Use those convenience items. Don't be shy. Have no shame. What's that they say? Try to be perfect and you end up a shitshow? Kidding, kidding: I know: it's perfect is the enemy of good. It's true.
Anyway, if you don't know what to have for dinner, do what I did on Tuesday and embrace the easy. Here are some ideas that will work for a variety of have-on-hand scenarios (and/or my unsolicited advice about what to buy next time).
First, fancy up a totally pre-made frozen entree.
These here are tamales from Trader Joe's (thanks for the tip, Elisa!), cut in half and topped with a slice of avocado to make them look all appetizer-y. Purchasing pre-made tamales from TJ's is a no-brainer because: 1) they're relatively healthy 2) they contain meat, which my family loves and I never make, and 3) I WILL NEVER MADE TAMALES FROM SCRATCH. But there's no reason you shouldn't buy and serve healthy entrees that you actually would make because YOU'RE BUSY and food should not be stressful. So also try using—or next time stocking up on—these things: pizza (healthier and way cheaper than the ones you order), veggie burgers. Remember: halving or quartering standard servings makes things look cute. You could also go the route (which I often do), of buying frozen salmon or turkey/veggie meatballs and rounding out the meal with grains and veggies (see more soon)—but I consider that legit cooking.
Grab those prehistoric bags of frozen veggies.
And cook 'em up. Now's a good a day as any. Above is a bowl of grilled cauliflower, again from Trader Joe's. It legit has two ingredients: grilled cauliflower and salt. For all intents and purposes, it's just as good for you as regular roasted cauliflower: delivering detoxifying isothiocyanates, fiber and all that jazz. I know this because I have a master's degree in nutrition. Not to brag. Just to let you know that my opinion is informed by facts and my opinion is this: there is no shame in frozen veggies. (Note: I agree that they sometimes feel limp and soggy-ish. But frozen veggies are better than no veggies and if that really bothers you can go for things like peas and corn.) Or you can just eat things like snap peas and green beans and cherry tomatoes from the fridge. (See two blurbs down.)
Make something starchy you have stashed in a cabinet—real quick.
And by "real quick" I mean approximately 20 minutes, start to finish. This here is one giant (mutant?) sweet potato turned into baked fries (375 to 400 degrees for 20ish minutes) that one of my kids will eat until he turns orange. Ketchup is totally okay. Sweet potatoes, or potatoes of any kind, are also a great base for a bowl. Like rice (quick-cooking brown), quinoa and other grains. In the case of a bowl, you just pull ALLLLL the things out (beans, veggies, avocado, cheese) and put them on the table. Let the people decide what to pile on top.
Raid the refrigerator.
Peel the oranges. Slice up some cheese. Put out some hummus. And olives. And pickles. It's a picnic! Toast up old pita or just regular bread. Slice it in triangles to impress the people. Use all the stuff. Dinner is SERVED.
Almost two years ago, we lost Dempsey, The Greatest Dog Who Ever Lived. It took approximately 700 days to even consider opening our hearts and our home to another diggity. Last November (after the election!), we started talking with Brigitte at VT Dog Rescue about the possibility of rescuing a puppy, post-snowboarding season. Late last month we received an email that 17 pups—including a fluffy shepherd-y mix (or so he appeared from his "headshot")—would be arriving in Vermont, from Mobile, Alabama. The fluffy shepherd-y mix was Yoda, and he had kind eyes, like Dempsey. He was young enough (12 weeks), it seemed, that he probably wouldn't want to eat our cats. So three weeks ago, Jon and I drove to the police station in Hinesburg to meet Yoda, to bring him home.
Two days later, we paid off our children (10 bucks each) to rename him Biden—actually, Yo Biden. (You see what we did there?) We had no illusions that Yo Biden would the only canine Biden pup; we expected that, like us, others—perhaps many others—might attempt to replace the joy and kindness and smarts and charm that vacated the White House with the VEEP by adopting a dog and naming him after The Greatest United States Vice President Who Ever Lived. What I didn't expect was that another Biden dog would get to meet Joe, and this run-in would allegedly break the Internet.
I'm not bitter. I'm happy for this dog. Plus, I firmly believe that we all need to open our hearts to the love and joy and kindness and smarts and charm that these diggity Bidens represent. I'm just saying that I think Joe Biden has more in common with Yo Biden than he does with this namesake Golden Retriever puppy he hugged this week.
Yo Biden rocks aviators.
This guy's future's so bright, he's gotta wear shades. In the house. At night.
He's a fervent supporter of Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Look at him holding on tight to this rad Electric City shirt (designed by Scranton artist Valerie Kiser). He won't let go. And for what it's worth, that smiley lady holding him (i.e., me) is from another blue-collar Pennsylvania town on the Western side of the state. It's called Bessemer.
He drinks from this cup.
He loves me, and you, and you, like Joe loves Barack. He also loves Joe. And Barack. And his Aunt Katie, who bought this cup.
He roots for the Delaware Blue Hens!
Like this guy holding him, he's a big fan of the Blue Hens. (Note: I requested that this University of Delaware alum go find his college track singlet and put it on for an epic picture but he refused, saying it is in a box in the basement and Logan just primed the basement stairs so he can't. #excuses #heslying.)
He's a rescue. And a shepherd. Of a sort. We think.
Or maybe not. But he looks like a shepherd and he's definitely a rescue. Joe Biden and his family rescued a German Shepherd named Champ. Dudes are tight. One day they played so hard that Joe Biden got a bruise, and the media went wild.
Let's let's get Yoey B., and Joey B. together. I think they'd both really dig it.
When life gives you rotten bananas—or it feels like it—you make muffins. Banana ones, of course. With chocolate chips.
This past Saturday, I had big plans. My husband and eight-year-old were going to the mountain for a black-diamond-in-the-woods-riders-only snowboarding date; my six-year-old wanted to stay with me. YES! A mom date with my boy. And our baby puppy. It'd be PERFECT. We'd go for a long walk in the woods with the dog and sweetly tire him out while romping through the forest, taking in all sorts of wildlife and having meaningful conversations—the kind only a mom and her six-year-old son can have. Then, we'd go out for lunch and go to a rock concert for kids. Because one was happening. And our friends were playing it. And how perfect was all of this?
But my boy had different plans. He wanted to have a day-long playdate with two of his best buds. He wasn't really into a concert—or going outside for more than 20 minutes at a time. I convinced him to walk with me to the park (awesome!) and arranged said playdate (good times for all three kids!) After the friends left, and Yo Biden (said sweet pup) made it clear that he needed to get out or he'd destroy our house with this puppy teeth and his pee, I asked K to go outside to play with me and Yoey B. Denied. So I went to the backyard with Biden myself, tossed around a ball and, approximately nine times, ran the circle-track of snow we'd shoveled out, Biden at my heels. Then I went back inside to try to cajole K out. I found him sitting in a chair, staring sadly out the front window. "When is Dad going to be home? I want Dad."
Like a four-year-old, I burst into tears. It had been a bad week at work. I had a lot of not-so-great energy—plus all of those super-Saturday expectations*—bottled up. It came all pouring out. (Not proud of this, but it's true.) "That really hurts my feelings. Can we do something together that's fun? What would you like to do?" He just wanted Dad. And he wanted a sweet. As it turns out, K was angry—really angry—that his big brother go to spend the whole day with this dad and get a waffle from the shack at the bottom of the slope.
"Can we make chocolate-chip muffins?" He asked sweetly and sincerely and, when I nodded gratefully, sidled up to the counter with a chair, happy not to be competing with this brother to do all of the good measuring and dumping. And then we made these muffins (inspired by a recipe by Isa Chandra Moskowitz), which saved the day:
Banana Chocolate-Chip Muffins
- 3 ripe bananas
- 1/2 cup almond milk
- 1/4 cup applesauce
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 tablespoon ground flax
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1+ cup dark chocolate chips
Make 'em, bake 'em, and enjoy:
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Mash the bananas with a fork. Mix in almond milk, applesauce, oil, flax, vanilla and sugar—with a fork is fine! Mix dry ingredients—flour, baking powder and baking soda, cinnamon—together in a separate bowl... or don't... I often just add them into the same one and stir it all up. Blend in chocolate chips.
- Bake for ~20 minutes (start checking doneness with a toothpick at 18 minutes). Let cool for a minute. Enjoy together with milk or coffee or coffee with milk.
- Promise yourself to let go off expectations next time. (In yoga practice, this is called aparigraha, or non-grasping, letting go of attachment.)
Today, my life felt like a Zen Short of sorts.
When I left work, I was cranky and annoyed and frazzled. It hadn't been a feel-good day. And I was jetting out early to take Kai to the pediatrician—for shots. I needed to take the Escape, typically Jon's vehicle—a shift in plans that had prompted a hissy fit (mine) over mud-caked cupholders, fast food wrappers and abandoned softball snacks (which, this morning, I angrily referred to as "old nuts"). The car also contained toys, preschool papers, a college diploma (not mine) and two sets of skis that someone who was a small child in the 1960s must have worn. I have no idea of their origin.
Before work, I had removed all of these things from the car and tossed them onto the mudroom floor. I rinsed out the cup holder. So as I was pulling out of the parking lot of my employer, the Escape was uncluttered if not clean. It was all good. Turns out, not so much.
About halfway to Kai's school, the radio stopped working. And then started working again. The dash went blank and then flickered back on before all "computer" displays disappeared for good. I started feeling anxious, wondering if I should bail on the kid pickup, feeling lucky that Kai wasn't in the car already. I kept going, pulling into the Hannaford-plaza turning lane to get off the busy road. I glided to a stop. For good. The car was dead.
My first response: gratitude. The old Escape had chosen this relatively safe place to throw in the towel; I was by myself, no kids. I called the pediatrician and cancelled the appointment. Then I started flipping out. I called Jon and told him I had no idea what to do next (really?) and that I was SO hot (what?) He told me to calm the f*ck down (in much nicer words), call the car insurance and get the hell out of the hot car. So I did. From a nearby curb, I watched frustrated motorists lined up behind this unoccupied vehicle—mine—that did not turn left, COULD NOT turn left, curse and toss their hands wildly into the air. I tried to wave them past. I realized they could not understand me, that there was nothing I could do to solve the problem. I'd made the requisite calls. Now all I could do was wait.
And that's when the magic started happening.
- The Progressive man dispatched a tow truck.
- Someone called the police and two officers came out to investigate the the mysteriously abandoned car/direct traffic/get the car the hell out of the middle of turning lane. They directed me to get back behind the wheel and put the car in neutral and then they pushed me into the Burger King parking lot.
- Since my car was still sort of blocking a driveway, Officer Jamie stuck by and told me amusing stories about his day, then invited me to sit in his air-conditioned car. He offered to clear off his front seat so I wouldn't look like a criminal in the back. I declined and offered to get him an iced coffee at Burger King. He declined.
- I got my own iced coffee—with real cream because didn't I deserve that?—and parked myself on the curb with the beverage. I posted pictures of my broken-down car and my calmed-down face on Instagram.
- Seeing my post, recognizing my location as one near her home, KIMBERLY FREAKING DROVE OVER WITH A LEMONADE POPSICLE. FOR ME.
- Blown away by her kindness, I babbled a bunch of nonsense, gave her a hug, snapped her photo (for Instagram!) and vowed to be the kind of incredibly thoughtful person that does things like this much more often.
- Dave from Handy's arrived. He instructed me to get into his air-conditioned cab. He loaded up my car. He asked me what happened and, when he heard, he diagnosed a bad alternator.
- Then he drove me and the Escape with the bad alternator to Darren's shop WHERE OUR VAN WAS READY, after having gone in for a routine service this morning. (Which is why I was driving the Escape in the first place.) What? How lucky is that?
- I switched Jon's softball gear into the Escape—his after-work game was close enough to walk and now he had an awesome excuse to go out after the game and grab a ride home with someone else.
- I was too late—obviously—to get to Kai's appointment but just in time to get him from school. And with plenty of time to drive out to Jules too.
All of this kindness and serendipity had me feeling downright giddy. Lucky. Happy. The only one who was bummed was Kai. "I wanted to go to the doctor to get shots!" he said, crossing his arms and turning away to process his disappointment.
"I'm sorry, Kai. Sometimes these things just happen. It's disappointing, I know."
He turned back to face me. "Mama, can we go to the doctor tomorrow morning?" he asked with a trembling lip.
"We can try," I said. "Maybe we'll get lucky."
I'm in the airport cleaning up my notes from a most amazing work conference. A baby is crying. I glance up to see a shock of dense dark hair. With a barrette. It's a girl - and she's strapped to her Mom's chest in an Ergo, brown, just like mine was. The mom bounces and sways, to quiet the kid. Neither looks particularly upset. I feel a pang. Nostalgia? For traveling with a baby? WTF?
Yesterday, I saw a different young mom setting down a breast pump on a shelf, in a public bathroom, at a hotel hosting a largish conference. "Ah... That brings back such memories for me." Umm... Not great ones... I'm not sure anyone enjoys milking herself in an unsanitary space and making inconvenient arrangements to cart a cooler full of breast milk across state lines. Still, a pang.
That baby phase is gone, and the toddler one too. Now, the struggles are how to handle reports of tussles on the playground, how to stay present when a little big boy is asserting his independence, how to go with the flow when life feels packed beyond my comfort zone. I can leave for a few days and no one REALLY misses me. I get to sleep all night long. I won't have to race to nurse a hungry baby at the finish line of my 1/2 marathon in two weeks. There's lots more freedom in my life, which I like. And there's still a lot of chaos - more, actually. The "cats" I am herding now can talk. They have things to say. And they run faster.
And, in 4 years from now, I will look at the mom in the airport with two loud, rowdy little men, running in two directions - perhaps punching or elbowing each other - I will long for these days too. You can quote me on that.
But for now, I'm just gonna try to soak them all in.
I call myself a writer. Jon is an engineer. Our children—like all children—love stories. And in this family, one of us parents is constantly creating fantastical stories: full of magic and forests, dragons and fairies; the other tells tales of two little brothers who get lost in the woods or boring "mini-shorts" about animals who learn that it's awesome to be different, and it's important to be nice to people.
I am "the other." I suck at telling stories. (Jon rocks but who's comparing.) Sure, my brain churns out fiction but it tends toward character development. I've never really gotten very far with plot. That's why I've only dabbled in short stories and why writing a novel, even a really bad one, feels way harder than running a marathon. But even if I were able to draft a novel with a solid plot, it'd be fraught with family secrets... or it'd circle around one moment, one event, or one meeting that unraveled relationships, or saved a life. I don't know what exactly—but drama kids definitely don't care about.
Nevermind the topic or tone, anyway. Telling anything on demand, isn't something at which I excel. Particularly at the end of the day. I try. Tonight, I told Julian about a monkey who loves oranges and all the other monkeys make fun of him but his mom tells him that he is so special for loving what he loves and, because she and his dad and his brother collect bananas, the oranges make their dinners more colorful and delicious. This 30-second story was lame-ass and Jules told me so, nicely. And because he was super sleepy and because I actually am a good back rubber, I got off easy.
Not so with Kai. I started with a story of many dinosaurs. His request. This story was about a carnivorous dinosaur who'd decided to become a vegetarian. Kai demanded that I include a pterodactyl, an allosaurus and a "long neck." So I made the allosaurus, a carnivore, the star. Basically, he walked around looking for plants. I named all sorts of plants. I asked Kai to contribute. He added onions. Brilliant. So the plot became that the dinosaur had bad breath and his friends taught him to eat mint. Kai thought this plot lame. He was right.
"Tell me about the long necks."
"What should I tell you about the long necks?" This is what I do. I turn the tables, looking for interaction, or a team-effort exquisite corpse sort of story approach. It never works.
"Long necks are brachiosauruses, Mom," he says, exasperated.
I try my best to think of something, talking about the long-necked brachiosauruses looking for food in trees. It does not suffice. I offer a back rub.
"I want a stooooorrrrry!!!" Kai begins kicking me. For real. Kicking. And punching.
I literally am incapable of producing an acceptable story. I tell him this. He keeps kicking and yelling. I leave, walking downstairs, telling him I won't listen until he can be nice. Moments later, he appears at the bottom of the steps.
"I'm angry at you, Mom." He snarls and growls. Literally. I laugh. He is not joking. This is serious—and I am fucking up. I get serious.
"Why are you angry?"
He runs up stairs, screaming—and sobbing, like his feelings are hurt. I follow. He reiterates that he is "angry at [me]" and turns away from me to face into a large plant in the corner of the hallway. I tell him he needs to talk with me about why he's angry, or to go into his room for some alone time (after he sits on the potty because he forgot to do that earlier and I'm sick of washing sheets... I didn't say that last part). After a bit more snarling and pouting he reveals that he's "very angry at me" because "he wanted more story and a snuggle."
We go back to his bed and I cobble together a tale about a beautiful girl with long green curls and purple basketball shorts. Her name is Sack (Kai's choice). She's sad because her brother is at school and so she has no one to play basketball with. She rounds up a bunch of insect teammates (reminiscent of those in James and the Giant Peach - I have no imagination). They walk to the court and... to be continued. Tomorrow, I'll tell the story of who they encounter there...
This story was incredibly lame. But Kai snuggled it all up with his "favorite blankie" and, with heavy eyes, started nodded off, satisfied.
I feel only defeated, a storytime failure. I'm sure there's a some sort of solution out there for unimaginative parents like me and I'm going to find it. And get more sleep, so that my brain isn't too tired to tell tales. Perhaps I should start reading books about fairies and dragons instead of ones about mothers dying of cancer. I could use a little more magical thinking, across the board. How 'bout you?
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, the official end date of my first my "Vegan Till Thanksgiving" experiment, which has been a totally enlightening and fun challenge.
Before I list what I learned in the process, a couple of confessions (my Catholic upbringing has raised me to reveal these sorts of transgressions):
- I splashed real milk into my coffee on three occasions.
- I ate many, many bittersweet chocolate chips (which I assumed were vegan and then learned that the brand I bought were not).
Now, what I learned:
- I can live without ice cream and cheese pretty easily. This came as a major shock to me.
- I'm not a huge fan of non-dairy "milk" products, particularly in my coffee. The coconut milk creamer was acceptable; soy lattes (purchased only out - I only bought almond milk and coconut milk creamer at home) were good.
- I drink less coffee and more green tea when I'm not doing dairy.
- I eat more and less healthfully when I'm following a vegan diet: more vegetables and beans and far fewer saturated fats (and fatty "junk") but probably more carb-y snacks, like tortilla chips and Triscuits.
- Homemade vegan cookies taste as least as good as non-vegan ones.
- For me a vegan diet is not a way to shed pounds. I didn't weigh in (weight loss wasn't a goal) but suspect I stayed the same or gained, as I ate loads of avocados and nuts - which are staples in my diet typically anyway - and extra servings of higher-cal carbs (wild rice, say) in place of fish.
- Speaking of fish, I missed it a lot - particularly when we went out for sushi. (I ordered a sweet potato tempura roll - again, not as healthy as my typical yellowtail scallion... but perhaps comparable to a spicy tuna).
- Eating out wasn't as hard as I thought it'd be. At even the "super-meatiest" of restaurants, I had the most amazing meal... just requested that my roasted beet salad come without the cheese and the dressing and that they leave the smoked bacon butter off the pickled tomatoes on toast. Which were AMAZING.
- I should have been better about taking a multivitamin. (I did OK with the calcium supplement and somewhat OK with the omega-3s but didn't pick up a multi till last week). And when my arm broke out in hives the other night after prolonged content with a wet sweatshirt sleeve (incurred during bath-time duty) I was convinced I had a vitamin B12 deficiency and would soon start seeing signs of irreversible nerve damage. Ridiculous given that I'd had my fair share of fortified veggie products.
- I have such respect for the commitment it takes to follow a 100% vegan diet, 24/7/365.
- I thought even more about where my food comes than I normally do. The other night, when the boys didn't want to finish their milk at dinner, I found myself saying, "it's fine if you don't want to finish but next time let's not take so much. The cows work really hard to make that milk."
Tomorrow, I will eat on turkey and likely lots of buttery sides. Yum! After that, I will live on a little more vegan than I was in October - "veganish," a la Mark Bittman, as a friend pointed out. (Here's what's definitely coming back: milk in my coffee, fish, non-vegan foods served by friends, probably yogurt, definitely "good" cheeses.)