Right after I finished college, armed with a degree in Cultural Anthropology and a lingering travel bug, I got a job teaching English in Singapore. It was a great opportunity to try out teaching and a fabulous launching pad from which to explore Southeast Asia (not to mention four national religions translates to a lot of holidays!) And hands down, it was the best place to eat.
The one thing I didn’t love, though, was the humidity. When I arrived, I naively thought it would feel cooler/less humid in the evenings, and I could run then. Hah! That lasted for about a month until this West Coast girl realized she wasn’t built to live on the equator and reluctantly joined a gym.
Squeezed in the middle of bustling, cement high rises of Singapore, LA Fitness represented everything I wasn’t seeking — blaring music, blasting air conditioning, clingy spandex, a well-used elevator (yes, at the gym!) — yet I was grateful for a cool place to exercise. And it was there that I met a yoga teacher who taught me a lesson I’m still learning.
I don’t even remember his name now, but I distinctly remember his presence. He was calm, centered, soft spoken. In this sea of tank tops and lycra, he stood out in loose, cotton pants and a long beard. He moved and spoke slowly, with intention. He created a sense of quiet, calm and peace in his class, despite the blaring music and muffled voices that emanated from outside the yoga room walls.
“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”
– Maya Angelou
One of my last images of him is slowly peddling off on his bike after class, between the tall buildings, car horns and throngs of people, he went at his own pace. He brought his own weather with him.
Living in Silicon Valley (and with energetic, noisy little ones), where life often feels too busy and loud for me, I often think of that yoga teacher and how he brought peace and calmness wherever he went. So I’ve been thinking about the weather I bring. How can I create more calm and peace not just for myself, but for those around me?
What weather do you bring?
The other day, an acquaintance asked me how I was doing. I found myself unloading (no pun intended) about the trials and tribulations of potty training for several minutes. I could hear myself rattle on and on about potty training…like I was floating above myself watching this unfold but couldn’t. manage. to. stop.
This poor woman.
The backstory: My daughter recently started a new preschool that requires that kids be potty trained. When I signed her up for the school earlier this year, September seemed like an eternity away — of course she’ll be trained by then, I rationalized. Of course, as life would have it, the more Nice Tall Guy and I “encouraged” our daughter to use the toilet, the more she clung to her diapered ways.
But why oh why is this potty training stuff taking up so much headspace? Sure, work is a corner of my life these days and not a cornerstone, and you could argue I was busy caring for a newborn and returning to work while my son was potty training, so I had bigger fish to fry. But I realize this potty training experience with my daughter is about more than actually getting her to keep her Hello Kitty undies dry. There’s deeper learning buried in this struggle and I’ve been ruminating on it these past few weeks (and inadvertently subjecting innocent friends, family and strangers through my explorations). In the process of cleaning up puddles of pee and nuggets of poop, I’ve discovered some nuggets of wisdom to apply to parenting that can perhaps be extended to life, particularly to my own current career development:
- There’s a lot we can’t control. Sure, there are things we can influence in life through preparation and planning, but there’s a limit. (As someone very wise once told me, potty training is one of the very few things kids can control at this age. So they will! Just wanted to stick that in there in case any readers were expecting to find actual potty training tips.)
- Transitions take time. They are a process. Be patient.
- At the same time, transitions spur amazing moments of growth. (As any parent or teacher knows, development in kids doesn’t happen incrementally. It happens in steps, or sometimes even leaps. And perhaps that doesn’t change as we grow up.)
- Never underestimate the power of a new environment to stimulate learning and change. (For those who are curious, about a day or two after my daughter started her new preschool, she was potty trained – minus a few accidents, most still at home!) It’s true, right? When we feel stuck or uninspired, there’s a lot that changing our view can do to stimulate our brains or change our perspectives.
So whatever version of a potty training challenge you may be facing in your life, I raise my glass to you in solidarity and understanding.
And I hope yours doesn’t involve cleaning up actual human poop. But if it does, I would advise you to fill your glass up with wine. And take a deep breath.
We’ve been traveling the last few weeks – spending time with family, exploring lakes and trails, barbecuing fish and corn, playing tag at sunset, roasting marshmallows. Enjoying the beauty of summer and the embrace of family. It’s been absolutely lovely.
All except for all the packing and unpacking of our STUFF.
And yes. I realize this is one of many ridiculous first-world problems that I’m incredibly lucky to have.
I never used to mind this process when it was just me – in fact, the planner in me kind of enjoyed it. But traveling with two small kids, things have changed. Even though we try to keep it simple, the schlepping of clothes, diapers, toiletries, books, toys, camping gear and endless sundry items (i.e. a musical training potty) feels like a chore these days. Moving houses with kids in the past year has no doubt compounded my allergy to stuff.
But I’m trying to remake my relationship with packing and to take more joy in the stuff of our lives.
A few weeks before my sister and brother-in-law were married years ago, my sister broke her arm in a bike accident. Although she was cast/sling-free by her wedding day, the backpacking honeymoon in the Sierra Mountains they had planned didn’t seem possible. Undeterred, my resourceful brother-in-law researched the ins and outs of ultralight backpacking. After much reading and several trips to outdoor equipment places, he outfitted them with ultralight packs and equipment. They took only the bare essentials. No tent. Super light, nutritious food. Everything had an essential purpose or provided multiple uses.
The end result: what could have been a cancelled trip turned into a memorable adventure. In fact, learnings from that trip carried into other parts of their live. I think they even continued to voluntarily eat those super-nutritious lightweight breakfast grains for quite awhile after their sojourn.
There’s often discovery in the process of paring down and editing.
I’m trying to instill that sense of resourcefulness and discovery not only in our family travels, but in life. I had an epiphany with a recent work-related situation along these lines. I realized I was unconsciously carrying around some anxiety and judgement about a situation that wasn’t really serving me (or, the work project/relationship, for that matter). Once I “took inventory” of what I was carrying around, I did my best to unload those feelings. And it felt really good to lighten my load.
So, here are my new, guiding questions for life and travel:
What do I REALLY need?
What do I love? What brings happiness and joy?
What can I chuck off my wagon to lighten my load?
The other day, my son told me if he had Puppy (his raggedy, loved-to-pieces, on-the-verge-of-rotting lovey), he was set to travel the whole world. That’s all he needed. My grandma used to say it was her toothbrush.
For me, it’s my family. Plus running shoes and an ipod. And a really good book or two. (This vacation I devoured Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.
Maybe it’s heading to Oregon in a few days that’s got me thinking about berries. Or maybe it was the amazing berry and nectarine dessert my sister made for a family birthday from her new Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book. It could be because it’s the umpteenth time in a week I’ve read Blueberries for Sal, one of my daughter’s current favorite bedtime stories. Whatever it is, I’ve got berries on the brain. Sweet, sun-ripened berries.
Summer means berries for me. My childhood summers are studded with memories of picking strawberries at the u-pick place by my grandparent’s farm, then returning home sweaty and berry-stained and “helping” my mom make jam (and by helping I mean mostly eating strawberries.) Or my sisters and I often picked blueberries in my aunt and uncle’s yard using the nifty, handmade “hands-free” wooden berry picking device my uncle cleverly designed and built. And lots of hot afternoons were spent meandering in the woods behind our house, searching for ripe blackberries on our way to the neighborhood pool.
Kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk.
While the bulk of my berry consumption involves just eating them plain or with yogurt and granola in the morning, I have a special place in my heart for berry desserts.
Here’s the cobbler recipe my mom made regularly (and which I just found out was passed down from my grandma):
1 cup sugar (I use less)
1 cup flour
1 heaping T. shortening (I use butter for better taste!)
pinch of salt
(The above ingredients are for the crumbly topping. Can use any kind of berry or fruit – however much would fill up your baking dish.)
Mix all together until crumbly. Don’t use mixer, as you don’t want it to be a dough, just a crumbly mixture. Heat fruit to boiling (use blueberries, peaches, etc.). Add sugar to taste. Put cooked fruit (with its own syrup) into a baking plate. I use a corningware glass baking plate, or you could use a pie plate.
Then sprinkle your crumbly mixture over the top of the fruit.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.
Serve with vanilla ice cream for a treat.
I realize now these memories from my childhood are so special and so strong because they are the heart of what summer meant to me as a kid – being outside, being with friends and family, having loads of unstructured time to explore, to play, to think, to be.
Along with my mom’s blueberry cobbler, that’s what I want to share with my kids.
A lovely, unexpected consequence of marrying my husband was that I gained another grandma. In fact, I used to joke with him that I married him for his grandma. I felt an instant connection with Lucile the moment we met, early on in my dating history with my husband. I was captivated by her Southern charm, her warmth, her keen intellect, curiosity and wit.
Soon after my husband and I got engaged, we asked Lucile to marry us. At our wedding, she charmed everyone. It’s fair to say she stole the show.
She passed away at the tail end of 2010. And in 2011, we welcomed our daughter, Lucile, into the world.
I often reflect on the wisdom Lucile imparted that day, exactly eight years ago. In that spirit, I wanted to share an excerpt from the ceremony:
Two weeks ago, June 30th was the 67th anniversary of the day I married my husband. We had a long and happy life together. In many ways, we led a charmed life. Of course there were trials and tribulations. That’s part of the human condition. You lose people who are dear to you. You have setbacks and disappointments. But there are so many joys and delights. And when you share them all with the one person you love most in the world, what else can you call it but a charmed life ?
If I have one bit of advice for you both, it is this: each of you should always do more than your share. Always go more than halfway. I’ve known people who divided their married lives into, “this half mine, that half yours”. But marriage is a sharing; not a loss of independence, not a total merging, but a sharing.
Let your love brim over the edges. Let it flow and melt into each other’s life. Don’t hold it back, don’t stick to your side. Always go more than halfway, and love will meet you on the other side.
Recently, I got pulled over for driving while using my cell phone. To be clear, I was completely stopped at a stop light. Going 0 miles an hour. Glancing at my phone to double-check the address for my kid’s dentist. And yes, both kids were in the car. But yes, I was looking at my phone. While in the driver’s seat of the car.
Yep. Mommy got a time out.
Incidentally, it is a very unique experience to be pulled over (by a cop on motorcyle, no less!) while your four-almost-five year old is peppering you with questions: “Mommy, why is the policeman flashing his lights at you? What is he doing? Are you getting a ticket? What’s going on? Are you going to JAIL?” (For the record, my son seemed a little disappointed I wasn’t going to jail. He was pretty excited to see that the policeman was carrying a gun.)
At any rate, after getting over the fact that the cop wasn’t going to take pity on a harried mom in a cracker-infested Prius, I took my medicine, patiently waited for my traffic violation write-up and then we were once again on our way to the dentist.
I’m trying to figure out what the universe was trying to teach me through this experience (beyond the obvious lesson of not touching my cell phone in the car without an earpiece). One of the things I’ve been thinking about is managing my own screen time. Nice Tall Guy and I have spent a considerable amount of time discussing and devising strategies for sensibly managing our kid’s screen time and making sure we’re role modeling good behavior, too (often, more difficult than it sounds.)
But beyond managing our family’s digital life, I’ve been thinking more about my relationship to screens, electronic devices, and in fact, anything that seems to demand my attention. It’s so easy to react to things, to go on auto-pilot.
I recently did a weekend fast (limited to mineral broth, water and a morning smoothie), both for health reasons and in effort to find mental clarity. It felt really nice to have NOTHING scheduled for the weekend beyond hanging out with each other. And one of my big learnings was noticing the feelings that were coming up. And not reacting to them, but just noticing them. Almost meditating on them. Observing when feelings of hunger came up, what it felt like, and when it went away (for example, on day #1 I was ravenous and exhausted. On day #2, I was surprisingly not that hungry. I was, however, very happy to be done with the fast and CHEW food.)
How do I hold onto that learning and apply it to my everyday life? How do I respond to electronic do-dads, my kids, demands in life, instead of reacting to them? I’ll be the first to admit that some days I do better than others. Some days it just feels like life is happening to me.
But today, when I got in the car, I thought of this lovely little poem by the Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, I read years ago:
Before starting the car
I know where I am going.
The car and I are one.
If the car goes fast, I go fast.
If the car goes slowly, I go slowly.
And tomorrow, when I wake up (or one of my kids does that for me!), I’ll try to remember this one:
Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment
and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.
I’ve been doing some form of yoga or pilates to varying levels of intensity and regularity for the past 20 years, but one thing has remained constant: I’ve never been able to do the splits. I’ve never been close. In fact, it makes me laugh to even imagine myself doing the splits. Sometime I catch a glance of someone in a class who seems to effortlessly slide down into the splits and I’m both in awe and mystified. Are they made of rubber?? I just can’t quite imagine my body… er, flexing that way. I’m a runner. I have tight hamstrings. I’m just not built that way, etc. etc. All the reasons I’ve given myself over the years to explain why I’ll never be able to do the splits.
But these days, I’m trying to change that story. For in my current splits practice at The Dailey Method, I’ve discovered that a big part of this practice extends beyond the physical act of lengthening my hamstrings and inching my way closer to the floor. It’s about trying to change the chatter inside my head. I try to let go of all the reasons and stories I’ve told myself about why I’ll never be able to do the splits.
My inspiration for this came from my kids. I realize I ask my kids to do this all the time: I ask them to try new things again, to try new foods, even if they didn’t like them last week. Our tastes change. We change. You may not like cauliflower today, I say, but you might next time. “Say, I like green eggs and ham! I do! I like them, Sam-I-am”
And then there’s the art and persistence of practice. I’ve watched up-close the frustration of my kids learning new things. And the utter joy of watching them master them. But between these points is a vast sea of practice, of time, of frustration, sweat and tears. As a parent, I’m trying to teach them the importance and even the joy in practice. And I’m trying to live that myself.
That’s one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed exploring Give it 100, inspired by one woman’s experience documenting herself learning to dance in a year. I love this crowd-sourced project because it celebrates the beauty of practice and the process of learning. We live in a world that’s programmed to expect change instantly — through glossy before and after stories in fashion magazines, home makeovers perfectly executed in a 30-minute show. Not shown is the planning, hard work, the mishaps, the practice.
I may never be able to do the splits. And that’s ok. But I’m going to go to my next Dailey Method class with an open mind and heart (and hopefully that will translate to open hamstrings!) And I’m going to imagine myself doing the splits.
Being a mom had caught up with me. My kids and a demanding job were consuming every ounce of energy I had. And while weaning my daughter, I had developed what I thought was a sensitivity to gluten (but I didn’t actually have time to figure out.) I knew I was consuming more refined sugar and caffeine than I should be and I wasn’t feeling great about our family “meals”. I wanted to feel more energized, inspired by food and like I was role modeling good eating habits for our kids.
So, after leaving my job last year, I’ve been on a quest to improve my health and well-being, which includes cleaning up our family’s diet. It’s not like we were eating chicken nuggets and chips every meal, but I knew there was lots of room to improve how and what we were all eating.
And I realized through this process that in the space of a few years, we had gone from shopping/cooking/meal planning for two adults who ate a handful of meals at home every week to four people (two of whom were rapidly growing) who ate the majority of their meals at home. And as the current Director of Operations for our family’s food planning and execution, I needed some reinforcement and a strategy.
For my birthday this year (at my request), my husband gave me a bundle of meetings with nutritionist Gennis Lafayette. I recently finished my last session with Gennis and feel like I’m in a much better place food-wise. More to come on that journey in future posts! (Side note: gluten-sensitivity symptoms seem to be gone. Chalk it up to either the daily probiotic I’ve added, cutting out refined sugars largely or more “rotational eating”.)
Below are the meal planning strategies and tips I’ve gathered from working with Gennis combined with feeding a family over the past few years:
-With our schedules these days, I don’t plan what we’re having every night, but I plan/shop for 3-4 meals week. I also figure one night of leftovers. And I always have a couple of “back pocket” meals (frozen salmon burgers, scrambles, etc.) I can make on the fly.
-Recipe organization: I recently started using Pinterest to organize recipes I find online. You can check out my Pinterest recipe board to check out some new and old favorites.
-Stock the freezer. I’ll often make a big meal on Sunday night and freeze leftovers (or double the recipe)
-Still on my to do: join a CSA and use my crock pot more!
And here are a few rules/tips we’ve come up with in our house around food/mealtime:
–House rule: You don’t have to eat everything but you have to try everything.
–Tastes change over time. (Case in point: me in stir-up pants in 80s.) Maybe they don’t like tomatoes tonight, but they might next month. Keep trying.
–Involve kids in the meal process. I know this isn’t always possible and involves extra time and messes, but eventually it pays off. My son now sets the table (sort of) and my daughter is learning her vegetables (when she’s not spilling things.) Other ideas include looking at cookbooks or food magazines together and helping with grocery shopping.
–Be realistic. I loved Dinner:A Love Story. I think it’s the only cookbook I’ve ever read from start to finish. One of the pieces of advice Jenny Rosenstrach shares is not to expect everyone to really sit down at the table for more than a few minutes until your youngest is about three. That was really helpful for me to hear. Also, take-out pizza once in awhile is ok. Sometimes that’s the best we can do.
–Get their feedback. I’m by no means saying you should cater to your kids every whim, but talking to them about what they like a to eat helps involve them more (and also is a good segue into discussing nutrition and food choices.) There was a fascinating piece in Wired this week on how San Francisco Unified School District brought in IDEO to re-design their school lunch. One of the things they did was get feedback from students on their experiences and what they’d like to see.
A few happy meal ideas on rotation in our house these days:
–Chicken enchiladas, beans & salad
-Sushi, edamame, miso soup (I’ll grab some california rolls, inari and other veggie sushi from our local Japanese market)
–Slow cooker chicken curry & fruit
-Salmon burgers, roasted broccoli and cous cous
The other morning, my husband and I looked outside our kitchen window and noticed fruit growing on one of the trees. We moved into this house over 6 months ago and just realized we have a fig tree!
Life feels like that for me recently. If I give myself the space to watch and listen to the world around me, I notice the blooms in life. I notice it in my relationships, in my career, in my eating and exercise.
And there’s nothing like a four-year-old to emphasize this phenomenon. I recently described the major, often-congested 101 freeway near our house as “ugly” and my son, Robot, chastised me for using a “bad” word. (There’s a lot of policing around potty /bad/mean words these days!) I tried to argue my point that it was simply a fact that 101 was ugly, it wasn’t a mean thing to say, and that no one would dispute me on this. I mean what elements of beauty could a clogged, urban slab of cement possess?
“No, Mom. 101 is NOT ugly!” he insisted. And then he went on to tell me about the beautiful flowering plants he often saw from his back seat window, the trails of puddles he liked looking at after the recent rains. He imagined blasting through them with his bike like he did the other day on a trail. And later on during the ride, he got excited about the R2-D2 statue he spotted atop one of the buildings.
Once again, the poetic mind and eyes of a four-year-old show me that there is beauty everywhere if you take time to look for it.