Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It must be Monday

If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.
-Woody Allen

Yesterday I had all kinds of plans. I thought about the upcoming week, what I wanted to get accomplished, broke the large tasks down into manageable daily tasks, and renewed my commitment to eating moderately; not emotionally, in spite of a brewing hormonal storm.

I began my day as planned, by running. Something was off though, I could feel it. Something in the air felt against me. My normal run was sluggish and forced. I made it, but barely. No runners high to be had, I felt like a neglected lover.

Still I pushed on. The next plan was to return the jacket I had gotten for my husband's birthday--wrong size. I could not find the receipt anywhere, which reminded me I needed to clean and organize more, but figured I could use my credit card as proof of purchase.

I decided to check my voicemail before I headed out the door. There was a message from my bank that let me know that I had left my credit card at a restaurant we ate at on out way home from Christmas. I had two options: drive 3 hours to get it in person with my ID or they could shred it for me. New detour added to list to go to bank and order new credit card.

So I couldn't return the jacket and couldn't get through to the bank so I decided to move on and start working in the yard as I had planned. I want to start a compost bin but have to move two years worth of pruning and gardening debris just to see the ground.

I pulled the unwieldily green waste bin across the driveway into our back yard. I started filling it slowly with the half rotting leaves, vines and twigs. I had to cut the larger pieces as I put them in the bin with my large pruning shears. The huge container filled as I added copious amounts of leaves and other slimy matter. Babou stood by pinching her nose and saying "Stinky," her new word for anything unpleasant!

Finally I had most of the pile in and was going to add one last large branch to top it off. I looked around for my lopers and could not see them anywhere. After a quick search, I realized that they had disappeared. I turned to look at the brimming yard waste container and realized that they were most likely buried in the bottom of the container!

I decided to H with it and pulled it around to the front of the house. I had little time left to get to the post office and grocery store before Mr. Jo got home from work. So I got everything together to go, loaded up the jogger stroller, and put the collar on our loco dog because he needs a walk at this point also.

By the way, I am in the midst of full pms and hate all my clothes, hair, face, really everything about me. Could I have gained 15lbs over Christmas? That's how I feel. So I put on a larger pair of black pants for the walkabout which decide to start falling off as we go along. You know how irritating this is even though it might mean that the 15 lbs are all in my mind.

So anyway, I make it to the PO and then to the store, stragelingy pants, jerking dog and all. I go through the aisles making up dinner as I go, going in circles, trying to remember my list which I had forgotten at home, of course.

On one of my circles back, I notice a monkey sock on the floor of the store. "That's weird," I think. "That looks just like Babou's sock." A quick glance at her feet informs me that they are, indeed, her socks as she is both shoeless AND sock-less. I spend the next 15 minutes re-circling the store in reverse, trying to find her shoes and socks. I finally find the last shoe and have put them away as it is useless to put them back on her once she gets it in her mind that she wants to go barefoot.

It is at the moment that I get the shoes and socks tucked away that I hear the howling. It must have been going on for a quite a while from the look of the other shoppers faces; I had just been preoccupied to notice. Or perhaps I had become somewhat deaf to it as it was all too familiar. The sound was unmistakeable and a quick glance out the front of the door proved it was indeed, my dog. There he was, head thrown back, in full howl!

I tried to remember the rest of my list and get in line as fast as I could. The line was long. The howling continuous. Finally I made it outside, collected my loco ultra needy dog, and took off for home.

As I crossed the parking lot an older woman caught my eye. You know one of those older grandmother types that know EVERYTHING about children and their proper care? She gives me a terrible, scornful look as she passes. The look said "what kind of mother lets her child ride around in the cold evening with NO SHOES or SOCKS on!" She actually sniffed at me!

Anyway, after that, I pretty much gave up. I hurried home and made dinner, the only thing in my day that was truly successful. No wonder I eat too much!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Lazy Days

To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.
-Henry David Thoreau

We got back home late Friday night and have been utterly, deliciously idle the entire weekend! It felt so good to loll about after all the excitement of the holidays.

And to be silent after all the talking! I have realized as I have gotten older and more aware of myself that, while I am social, I can be social only in stints. I definitely need my alone time as well.

We spent most of the weekend housebound except yesterday when we managed to make an expedition to the park before our dog came completely unglued (he is decidedly social AND energetic)!

But today is Monday, and we are back in the swing of things. I am going to try to work in the garden today, maybe actually get some winter vegetables in the ground (got inspired watching a gardening show from the comfort of the couch), figure out how to get my digital camera to communicate with my computer better so that I can actually start putting more photos up on my blog, work on my resume and writing, and the other usual suspects such as errands, exercise, cleaning, etc.

I think I just made myself tired! How does two days go by so fast!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve Tidings

As light is born out of darkness, may hope, love and compassion be kindled this season.

I have always loved Christmas eve much more than Christmas day. There is something so magical about the evening, about a mythic birth, the mysteries that can only occur in the darkest blue of night.

I have been reading about the winter solstice and how many of its cultural undercurrents is one of rebirth. This is what Christmas is about for me. It is about rebirth, hope, newness of life, looking forward into the gathering light and dreaming of the coming days within the comfort of winter lull.

As I wrote before, there is also the frenzy that is Christmas. Especially in our family--we have no less than seven birthdays in December besides the Christmas holiday itself. Lots to do. Both my husband and baby's birthday falls in December. Our family takes December as rebirth quite literally!

We are heading out of town today to celebrate with my husband's family. We are celebrating with a traditional tamales dinner. I am so excited to learn to make them and spend time in the foothills of California. Of course, there is the trouble of getting out of our house and on the road, last minute presents and worrying that I've forgotten something. The usual rush and hustle. The frenzy that is also Christmas.

In any case, I hope that we all get to take a few moments amidst all the food, gifts, and socializing, to remember the sacredness of this season. Maybe even in the quiet of the mystical midnight hour.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Winter Solstice Gift

Marianna, Kahlil's Sister. Painting by Kahlil Gibran

My dear sister, Practical Sis, gave birth to her second child last night. I awoke yesterday morning a bit shaken. I had had a dream in which she had been in labor and, after calling her that morning, found out that she was indeed feeling the beginning signs. That is where my intuition ended, however, as I was pretty sure she would have a girl and her child is most definitely of the male persuasion.

I spent most of the day yesterday a nervous wreck. I was truly in a state. See, the thing I hate worse than pain is to know someone I love is in it. I had such a hard time calming myself. Right around the time she was to give birth, I tried to pull myself together for her sake as I prayed for her comfort and security. I found myself reading this poem. I hope you enjoy it and find it freeing as well.

On Children

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let our bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

-Kahlil Gibran

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Mother of a Job

Housework, if you do it right, will kill you.
-Erma Bombeck

I know the gripe is not new. I know that I am one of many. But tonight I feel like the only one. Tonight I am feeling tired and small and sorry for myself. I am so tired of doing the same things every day.

Tonight my husband was complaining about how nonstop his work has been lately. And it's true, he has been working fairly steadily for almost a month now. He works on a job by job basis that comes in stints of intense work followed by a week or two, or sometimes longer, without having to work at all.

I sympathized with him and told him that it would be over soon, that he only to wait until Monday, and he could enjoy a good week or two of relaxation. And then I started feeling sorry for myself. It's just that I cannot look forward to that in my life,

My work haunts me day in and day out. I am going on about 730 days straight now. This is how it goes with few exceptions: Wake up at the bleeding crack of dawn, nurse baby, change baby, try to exercise, feed self and baby healthy breakfast, shower and dress self, dress baby, clean house, take baby and dog to park to run and frolic, run errands, make and eat healthy lunch for self and baby, change diaper again, nurse baby, put baby down for nap, do all the jobs you can't do with you baby as fast as you can, baby up, run more errands, plan dinner make dinner do dishes, clean up kitchen, baby bath and teeth brushing (fun!), baby reading time, nurse the baby, baby goes to sleep, Mama already asleep.

And repeat!

The thing about motherhood is its constancy. There are no days off, and, if you're a stay-at-home mom like me, you never leave your work. I suppose this would be the same for anyone who works from home. The work never seems to end, you don't see any ending point and consequently don't feel the satisfaction of completion very often. Your work is always a work in progress.

I know this can be the same at work. When I worked in publishing, it felt the work would never end. But I did get the satisfaction of completion as there were deadlines, and there was always the satisfaction that I could go home and leave the work behind.

When I was younger and I felt truly overwhelmed by the demands I was under, I would call a personal time out. I would not go to class or work. I would call in sick to all of it. I would stay in bed most of the day, re-inspiring myself with writing and reading, or I would go on a day trip adventure. Even I knew this frivolousness could not last long and as my responsibilities grew heavier, those "mental health" days disappeared as well.

But I think those days of getting away, of taking the time to renew yourself are so important. You have to remember what you like to do and do it. It is hard when you have responsibilities woven into your day, however. But I would like to try to weave more fun into my daily round. To have more fun now, not later when I have forgotten what fun is.

So, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I am going to try to come up with a tangible way to give myself some "mental health" time. I simply can no longer deal with monotony and need to salvage what is left of the free spirit inside of me. I need to nurse Her back to health and vitality. Even if that means nursing a martini while creating a F.I.L.(http://fromthefrontlines.blogspot.com, December 17 post)! A woman has to do what a woman has to do!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Winter's Gifts

Live in each season as it passes; breath air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each. Let them be your only diet drink and botanical medicines.
-Henry David Thoreau

Finally the rains have come to northern California. It seemed forever for winter to come and now it has with such intensity that I even had to pull some plants off my front porch in fear of frost. It has been cold, rainy, and...well...wintry.

It seems so ironic that just as winter begins, so does one of the busiest of holiday seasons. It seems every day is frenzied with things to do, deadlines, and expectations. While all this is happening, you cannot help but feel that undertow-like pull of winter. Winter does not care if you have things to do, it still  beckons in a primordial way. It is calling upon us to rest, to sit still, to renew ourselves for yet another busy spring, and summer.

I feel a great comfort in my physical response to the seasons. It is a tangible way to experience ourselves as part of a whole, as part of the natural world. We are really not so far removed from nature as we may want to believe. It might wise to listen to the wisdom of our natural urges rather than try to push our way through them. Try to find a way to incorporate more rest into our days, more time for reflection, more time to do nothing.

I know this is hard, with so much to do. But perhaps we have more time than we think. Maybe it is more about priorities. It's funny how your perception of time can actually affect its seeming lack or abundance. At least that's what I've decided to tell myself! And it does seem to have its truth. 

There is a time and a season to everything and it all works together so well, if we let it. Tonight I am rededicating myself to honoring this season as best I can so that I may receive the quiet gifts winter has to offer. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Smells like Christmas Spirit

"We can't all, and some of us don't."
-Eeyore, Winne the Pooh

Christmas time is here and, with it, the requisite shopping expeditions. As I mentioned, my daughter just turned two and is so cute and so much fun...until it comes to shopping.

Shopping with Babou seriously takes its toll on me.

Today I planned my shopping expedition down to the detail. I was ready. I had my lists and I planned on getting it all accomplished within a specific frame of time, all within one shopping center. Done, done, and done.

Babou, of course, had other ideas.

She made it through Costco in fairly good humor mostly because of the samples around every corner. Whoever came up with this idea should be considered for a Nobel prize because of the peace it affords parents, at least 2-3 solid minutes of it as the child smears the procured treat all over itself, while some manages to be consumed.

Next on the list was Target, located in the same shopping center. I had a coupon so I planned on combining several expeditions to finish up my Christmas list.

Target no longer had any carts, that's how busy they were. I made do and figured Babou would hold my hand as she did through the parking lot, or at least stay close since it a place she is not used to being.

Of course not.

I spent the next half an hour not checking items off my list, as planned, but getting a speed course workout as I lunged through clothes racks, dodged customers, and ran down the aisles.

It is amazing just has fast a two year old can be. I had definitely met my match. And she had no fear whatsoever. She was not keeping me within her sights at all, I had to keep her in my sights. I wondered if that was at all possible. After 45 minutes of this, I gave up my well laid plan. I admitted defeat, loaded up my olympic grade dasher, and drove home.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Breathing Space

The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be only the beginning.
-Ivy Baker Priest

This month marks the anniversary of my daughter's second birthday, and my second year of being a mother. As I did last year, I commemorated the moment by waking at the time of her birth, and reliving the experience.

I relived the pain of my prolonged labor, the torment of those last moments. I thought I would surely die. I could not see how I could go on. I have never felt so close to my own ending, to the end of my strength and spirit.

I remember praying to God. I remember looking at the clock, watching the moments pass, and wondering when it would be over. The pain washed over me again and again and I held onto my husband as he helped me through one moment to meet the next.

I remember pushing with all my strength, thinking I had no more strength and, again, praying. I remember the disbelief as she was placed on my chest. I remember how she turned her eyes to meet mine. I remember the surprise that I barely registered her sex, after wondering for all those long months. I was so enchanted with her being that sex seemed an afterthought.

I remember the euphoria of getting to our room, of being taken care of, and having done it. Holding this amazingly perfect being in my arms, my heart breaking at the beauty of our blessing. It was over. She was here.

My life had changed forever in an instant and I was at once the same and at once reborn. I was now a mother, the heady gravity of those words becoming more and more real as the moments passed. I had become a mother. I was a mother. The feeling and meaning of those words slowly dawned on me just as that morning dawned, just as my daughter was born.

Life has a way of helping you even when you think it is hurting you. I look back at Babou's birth with a new perspective, one less shaped by pain than function. Those days of labor, of pain, of waiting, held an important purpose in preparing me for motherhood. Those thought clearing moments of pain were preparing me for change. The extreme fatigue, the relentlessness of it, created a near dream like state in which new pathways were allowed to open in my spirit. It was as though I became a vehicle, I was taken over by something much larger than myself. I was on the sidelines, my ego was out the door. I didn't realize until later that all of this was in preparation for my initiation into motherhood.

After I had given birth, when I had reentered a more normal state of consciousness, I realized I had changed. I realized that everything had changed. I was no longer the woman who had walked into that hospital. I was no longer the center of my own universe. There is something so liberating in that, in that act of becoming a part of something larger than yourself. I had glimpsed a larger picture and was beginning a new chapter of my life. As I look at my daughter today, I am still in awe of the raw beauty of life. I am in awe of the strength of love. And I am in awe of how much a child can teach you, even in one night, and in one moment.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Civilized Tradition

Work is not always required...there is such a thing as sacred stillness, the cultivation of which is now fearfully neglected.
-George MacDonald

Every day my daughter takes a nap between 12 and 2, or roundabout that time, letting go of the day for a moment, to replenish her VERY energetic spirit! Every day, as I put her down and enjoy a couple hour-long slices of freedom, I am met with the same dilemma: to use the time to work, or to relax? I had been spending  the  time in a very responsible manner, catching up with work during her naps, but a change has come over me this summer; now I take the opportunity for some downtime of my own.

I just realized that trying too hard is often counterproductive. When you're trying too hard you often don't see what's right in front of you. And life takes on a rushed, unfulfilled feeling. Surely not the note I want to characterize my days; my goal is to ENJOY this life as much as possible, in all its variations.

And, with the heat of summer upon us, I realize the very natural way siestas evolved; it's just too damned hot to do anything else!

So many other cultures uphold this seemingly indulgent tradition, but truly it is the best use of time! To relax, take your mind off your troubles and work, and simply be for a moment, is the perfect anecdote to a long, productive day. Although not a tradition in America, we do have the independence and creative spirit to weave this practice into our days in whatever capacity is practical. That is one thing that I love about America, I love its freedom and "can do" attitude, that anyone can create anything they put their minds to. Even if it's napping! 

Friday, August 15, 2008

I'm Pregnant, Part II

My turn! In my usual style I have waited for the last possible moment to guest blog for Mary Alice AKA Mean Face AKA Dearest Sissy. It’s not that I had nothing to say but rather too much to say and couldn’t decide where to start. I mean there is just so much to Mean Face. But, my idea began the moment I read the title of Practical Sis’s blog and has been formulating all week. So…here goes.

Most of you readers know that quite a bit of our growing up was accomplished in a sort of haphazard way in a very small town in the nether regions of California. We were also homeschooled in a rather haphazardly manner and together A LOT. Lets just say there was not a lot of privacy as we careened through adolescence. Plus, our father did not believe in doors, which did not help. At all.

So, you may not be surprised when, at the tender age of thirteen, I was intrigued by an air of secretness that had invaded our home. I noticed heavy talks between my mother and older sis surrounded by an aura of hushed, nervous secrecy. I was obviously annoyed at them having a secret--especially when there was no hope in hell anything exciting was going to happen to me; surely nothing so exciting as to warrant secrecy. How did my sister get so lucky, I wanted to know, and beyond that, and most importantly, WHAT was the secret? Plus Mean Face was being meaner and weirder lately. I couldn’t handle much more.

Finally I confronted them when they were found AGAIN in one of those weird, hushed conversations we could all hear because there were no doors. Faced with my annoying demands to be let in on the secret, Mean Face finally caved, “well, I guess you’ll find out soon enough anyway, I’m preeegnnnaaant!”


Now that set me back. I had not considered this. Hmmm. Again, as when Practical Sis told me she was pregnant, I went into complete shock. Gradually, as the months went by and my sister’s stomach filled with promise, I got very excited. I love babies. And my littlest sis, Katrina, was certainly not a baby anymore.
She was already ahead of me in home school, I am sure, by that time!

I read all the books about what was going on in my sister’s belly, I read about what would happen when she went into labor, what to expect afterward. Everything.

Then the day came.My sister had a home birth. We were all there. In the house with no doors. I do not think I can adequately describe my emotions completely for that day except that I have never before wanted to take someone’s pain away from them so much EVER. I remember thinking if I could just switch places with her to give her a break I would, or if somehow God could just give me half her pain so that I could help. It was the most helpless feeling I have ever had. But Mean Face did it, and there arrived a handsome, healthy baby boy we now call Rescue Ranger whom I have ADORED from the moment I layed eyes on him.

But it really looked like it hurt.

Needless to say, it took me a really long time before I had kids. I was traumatized for many years thinking back on that day. But life and hormones have a way of changing your mind and one day I found myself delightedly pregnant. I thought about the day I would give birth but just sort of glossed over it. I mean if Mean Face could do it in a mountain town far away from nice helping drugs of any kind, in a home with no doors, surely it wasn’t as bad as my memory of her experience. I’d been through a lot, I was tough, I was athletic. I’d be fine.

Finally the day arrived that Babou decided would be the perfect day for her to begin her journey into this world via my nether regions. As those of you who have had kids know, the pain cannot adequately be described. To those of you who have not had kids, I say the same: the pain cannot adequately be described. I labored long and hard and somewhere in transition, as I screamed for an epidural and C-section RIGHT NOW $$%%^^&&***(((*(*!, I thought of my sister, of how she had gone through this too. That not only had she been through it but she had been through it with no drugs, no doctors, no nice nurses with more nice drugs, in a house with no doors, with her sisters huddles wide eyed in a corner WATCHING her. But thinking that made the pain worse (like when you think about how you slammed your finger in that door after you slammed your finger in the door and it makes it hurt worse?) so I stopped and tried to focus on the fact that it was too late to change my mind about having a baby and that I’d better get to pushing.

But I did not forget that one clear thought that formulated as I gave birth to Babou. Mary Alice is one of the bravest, toughest, most focused women I know. She can HANDLE her business. It may have taken me 30 years to fully understand, but it’s amazing what you can learn in one night.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A True Legacy

I seem to wish to have some importance in the play of time…What is deep, as love is deep, I’ll have Deeply. What is good, as love is good, I’ll have well. Then if time and space have any purpose, I shall belong to it.
-Jennet Jourdemayne
(Christopher Fry)

Every morning I wake up to paintings of my great-grandmother. Their images are imprinted into my eyelids, centering me before I go to sleep and before I get out of bed. Sometimes I stare at them for a long time, looking at her brushstrokes, wondering about her and how she was. Up close the paintings show the minutiae, I can almost feel her painting, see what she saw and, from afar, you can almost smell the day they were painted. Her subject was always nature and landscapes, equally imprinted in my mind and senses…grassy fields of the California foothills, piney mountains, bald hillsides seen for their bare lines and beauty.

My great grandmother was a great lover of nature. She collected rocks (a passion I am haunted with), painted avidly, created everything from her own jewelry to her own rock and concrete BBQ. She loved plants. She seemed like the kind of woman who could get things done, who knew what she loved and was prolific. Interested and interesting.

It is noteworthy that those who inspire and interest us the most are often admired not for what they were but for rather who they were. My great grandmother had no profession as far as I know, maybe rancher; she was rather who she was, perfectly expressed. None of her paintings were professional, she was not going for greatness, she was going for the moment. She was inspired and obeying the command innate in all of us: create! And she did, prolifically, create.

Now those paintings hang on my walls, as well as my sister’s walls. Her paintings often lift me, giving me the perspective I need. As I stare at her brushstrokes for the ten thousandth time, I am again reminded that life is like this: that the sometimes irreverent or painful or mundane or joyful details all work together to create the picture of your life. It gives me faith that there is coherence and beauty and order. They inspire me every day to heed my passion; that it’s not about perfection, or a career path, that it’s just about being me. Prolifically.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Eco-Coaches: Paving the way to Eco-Ease?

“Eco-Coach offers sustainability consulting solutions for individuals and businesses interested in making a positive environmental and social impact.”

What a whirlwind past few days! We had visitors all weekend and really had a great time visiting and entertaining. But I have to say I was so glad to finally put my feet up last night. I had been waiting all weekend for the chance to crack open the newest issue Food & Wine magazine. It is one of my favorite magazines because much of its focus is on the ecological aspects of wine and food. I always seem to learn something new and interesting in each new issue (so important for me as I don’t get out much anymore), and this issue was no exception!

As I curled my toes contentedly, thumbing through the magazine backwards, as I have a tendency to do, an article on green living, by Henry Alford, caught my eye. The title contained a term, “eco-coach,” that I had never encountered before.

I hate when I don’t know a word, so I had to interrupt my toe curling and go to my own personal oracle of wisdom, google! A short bit of research, I discovered that Eco-Coach, founded by a woman named Anca Novacovici, facilitates individuals and business to live more ecological lives and run more ecological businesses. Brilliant, I thought, and read on…

This particular eco-coach went through the writer’s apartment, giving helpful eco advice rather than embarrassing critiques. One piece of advice that interested me most was that the eco-coach strongly suggested discontinued use of canned goods because they are lined with a plastic that contains Bisphenol-A.

Bisphenol-A, the article continues, has been not only linked to obesity but also to both breast and prostate cancer. In fact, according to Wikipedia, this chemical has been suspected of being hazardous to humans since the 1930’s(!) and has only recently been gaining press regarding its hazardous nature (perhaps only now scientists can see its long-term effects?). It is profoundly prevalent in food and drink containers, from drinking water bottles to baby bottle to...canned foods.

This gave me a weird feeling. It gave me pause for thought. Do you ever think about how packaged everything we eat and drink is? And how hard it is to buy things not encased in plastic in some way, shape, or form? Or how few alternatives there are (although more and more companies are doing their part to stop over packaging) to plastics? Even if you buy in bulk, what do you use to house it? The plastic bag you were so conveniently provided with—that’s what you use, nine times out of ten.

But there are alternatives; they just aren’t all that convenient. You can use your cleaned glass bottles as containers for bulk items, stainless steel or glass containers can replace your plastic water bottle, there are ways to escape plastics use but it requires a lot of time, energy, and forethought.

I think that eco-coaching is a wonderful new innovation and sincerely hope that this will help individuals and businesses easily transition to more environmentally friendly practices. I also hope that they can make being an environmentalist and conscious consumer a little easier. I am tired of going through mental gymnastics every time I go to the grocery store trying to make the most eco-friendly choices I can while maintaining my sanity. I hope that future environmental alternatives are mainstream and that living in an eco-friendly manner will no longer be a decision but rather a way of life.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Tomato Story

Heirloom Plant:
An heirloom plant, heirloom variety, or (especially in the UK) heirloom vegetable is a cultivar that was commonly grown during the earlier periods in human history, but which is not used in modern large scale agriculture. Many heirloom vegetables have kept their traits through open pollination, while fruit varieties such as apples have been propagated over the centuries through grafts and cuttings. The trend of growing heirloom plants in gardens has been growing on popularity in the United States and Europe over the last decade.
-From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Last night we harvested our first homegrown heirloom tomato! Although this is only our second year of having a vegetable garden, my husband and I have really gotten into the whole experience and have been trying different varieties of vegetables testing to see what works, what doesn’t, and what starts better from seed or by plant.

Last year, we planted half of our vegetables by seed and the other half by plants from the nursery. The plants produced much faster than the seedlings, so we decided to plant entirely by nursery plants this year. I realized, at bit too late, that heirlooms are difficult to find in nurseries but are much easier to obtain by seed.

Needless to say, I planted seven varieties of tomatoes this year; one Roma, one Cherry, one called “Forest Fire,” two called “Oregon Spring,” and the only heirloom variety I could find, “Mr. Stripey.”

Since June we have been feasting off the Cherry tomatoes, the Oregon Springs and Forest Fire. The Roma took a bit longer but we finally got some in the beginning of July. All of these were quite good, although the Roma was a bit mealy, but perhaps that’s why it is a cooking tomato!

The heirloom variety took the longest to ripen, although it starting fruiting at the same time as the others. Finally, one looked like it was about ready. My husband would give me daily reports on its progress. We both had tasted heirlooms before but had never had one of our own. And, as far as we could tell, our homegrown hybrids tasted better than the heirlooms we had had.

Finally it looked ready! I decided a simple salad caprese would work best. I used the one heirloom along with a variety of our hybrids Dressed in a simple white wine vinaigrette and fresh mozzarella, the tomatoes even looked eager to be eaten!

We realized after only a few bites that there really wasn’t any competition at all! The heirloom won us over with a decidedly more delicate, sweet taste. I was also struck by undertones of a mineral quality. It was as though the tomato itself was vaguely translating the earth it had come from, making it its own. In contrast, it made the other tomatoes taste much more acidic and sharp, much less nuanced.

After dinner last night, we are converts. I am going to plan early, order seeds and plant as many heirloom varieties as I can find and have room for. It is amazing to me how just a little plot of ground can yield so much: so much food, so much knowledge, and so much happiness. I look at Babou as she picks her favorite (Cherry tomatoes) and am completely fulfilled; she too will have amongst her earliest memories the indescribable scent of tomatoes.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ode to August

In summer, the song sings itself.
-William Carlos Williams

It is amazing, these days. So long and beautiful are mid-summer days. August is one of my most favorite months of summer. All of them have their own particular ambiance but August seems the month summer becomes quintessentially summer.

June feels so green and is still perfumed by the urgency of spring, “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” Dylan Thomas would say. Furious growth, plants mean business in June, growing so quickly you would swear you could hear them crashing upwards.

July the frenzy mellows and you see the first signs of what the buzz has been about. The heat slows the growth deepening the moments. July is almost holding its breath.

But it is August that is nature’s exhale, translated as a contented sigh. August is a banquet, easy and effortless. Time slows and yet everything is happening. In August, to paraphrase William Carlos Williams, summer is the song itself.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Ten steps forward

Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.
-Edmund Burke

Last night I was reading the current issue of Body and Soul Magazine, a great syndication that has lots of useful information. One of my girlfriends has a subscription and passes the issues on to me after she is finished with them. I was exhausted from the day, glad Babou was finally asleep, and enjoying the evening quiet. As I paged through the magazine looking at pictures and titles more than reading, I found myself getting stressed out about how I measured up to these standards of health and environmentalism. Overwhelmed with information, advice, and healthiness. It made me feel as though I would never reach this pinnacle of enviro-health warrior this mag seemed to strive towards. It got me to thinking about simple changes I have made that were incorporated fairly easily into my life and that work for me and perhaps might be useful to some of you. Some of these ideas may not work for you and your life and lifestyle, but I think the point is more to do what you can do with what you’ve got. That’s really all any of us can do. I thought I would share what I do and hope you find it useful.

1. Go beyond the grocery store with your canvas bag.
Many are already hip to taking the canvas bag to the grocery store. I love it, I carry mine like a purse with my wallet inside and then just add my groceries after I pay. But I also like to take mine to other stores I go to. They work wherever you are going to buy things, from the bookstore to the clothes stores, to the drugstore, to the baby store…anywhere you can buy, you can use your tote. It’s easy and saves so many bags.
2. Recycle your paper bags as wrapping paper.
When you do forget your bag at the grocery store, as you will every so often, ask for paper and the next time you need to wrap a gift, cut open the paper bag and use the blank side to wrap with. Tie it up with some raffia and you have a beautiful, natural, recycled wrapping paper. I often add fresh flowers and herbs to enhance its naturalness and beauty. Remember, conventional bows and wrapping paper are not recyclable.
3. Keep your fruits and veggies loose.
So there you are in the veggie and produce area of your local grocery store. You reach for the plastic bag to put each type of produce you are getting. WHY? Keep it loose. Don’t waste those bags. You’re going to have to wash those veggies anyway and, as my friend “T” states; you are also paying for that bag when you get your produce weighed. I never use those baggies except for when I have to get lots of loose things like sun dried cranberries or couscous or something like that. And when you so have to get those little baggies, reuse them as saran wrap or sandwich bags, etc.
4. Use Castile or Dr. Bonners soap for everything.
Did you know that you can use this soap for everything from washing dishes to your clothes to your face? I use the Lavender kind for all my cleaning needs that include soap (except laundry—it’s too expensive, I get the Eos detergent from Costco). I use it to wash Babou, myself, my husband, the dog, the floors, the bathroom, just everything. I refill my container at Whole Foods (weigh your container empty first at customer service so that you pay only for the soap; not the container and soap). Without having to purchase different cleaners for different purposes (and nontoxic/environmentally friendly cleaners are not cheap) I am saving time, money, space, and doing my part to not put toxins down my drains.
5. Unplug everything you can every night and whenever you leave your home.
This is something that you don’t often think of but it really helps to conserve energy. Turning everything off at night, unplugging everything really does help keep energy costs down. It is an extra thing to think about, but worth it in the long run. Even if you have a hard time remembering on a day-to-day basis, when you leave for a trip it will make a huge difference.
6. Air-dry your clothes as much as possible.
I know that many do not have the space to dry their clothes outside but you can also amaze yourself sometimes with just how creative you can be. I don’t have a clothesline, but I hang my laundry off my back porch, on the picnic table, and over the chairs in the backyard. You can’t maybe do it all year round, but when you can it makes a huge difference and there is simply nothing nicer than going to sleep in a bed made in air dried sheets and comforter. It smells so much fresher than drier dried.
7. Buy recycled.
Thrift store and second hand shopping is environmentally friendly and economically friendly. I buy as many of my clothes as I can from second hand stores as well for Babou. I also buy many of her toys from the second hand children’s store in my town.
8. Walk as much as possible.
I am very lucky to live in a very central location in my town and since I am taking care of Isabella and my time is loosely my own, I walk almost everywhere I need to go. It helps me to feel independent of gas and gas prices and is fun to get out of the house and stroll around.
9. Don’t limit your organic purchases to produce, eggs, and dairy products; buy meats that have been raised humanely and sustainably.
It is expensive, but cutting down on meat consumption would probably do more good than harm. Fish and shellfish need to be thoughtfully purchased as well. Find a manual to see what is being sustainable caught and grown (seafoodwatch.org) and be aware of fishing practices in other countries.
10. Plant some flowers.
I have been hearing so much about the bees disappearing and the need to study this decline and reverse it. It seems to me that logically there are now pockets of the US where there is really not much for a bee to live off of. I am not sure how far bees travel, but it seems to me there are less and less places for bees to have their hives and less and less plants for them to pollinate. For instance, the street I live on is a very busy one and most of the homes and businesses don’t have much for plants. My front yard was like this also until I had my husband build a large planter box to line the driveway and I put my pots of flowers on our deck. Now I see the next door neighbor has planted some roses and the owner of the Deli across the street has asked for seeds from my flowers to grace their bare parking lot. I am sure there will be a lot of bees happy about these additions to their diet.

There are just so many ways to make our presence less heavy on the earth. We are so much more than stewards of nature, we are nurturers of nature. Every person counts in this effort and there is no room for complacency. There is only room for everyone to do the best that you can every day, to the best of your ability and means. Every one of us has more of an impact than we can imagine and more ability to inspire than we can ever imagine. To quote one of my most inspirational influences, Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Choose your own adventure

The Road Not Taken

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

-Robert Frost

Life has been so busy going by that I have again neglected my one piece of sanity—my writing. Isn’t it funny (not very) how when life gets busy, you neglect the things that keep you together the most? It seems that way with me, at least. I always think, “if I can just get this and that and the other thing done THEN I can write and do the things I really enjoy. But life goes by and you realize that it is going by either way and you must take time to fulfill yourself. So simple a thought, yet so easily forgotten.

So what has been doing? I have a lot of catching up to do—lots of reading blogs and lots of my own writing to do. Well…let’s see…May was a month of visitors, parties, and general entertaining and busy-ness. Toe healed early in terrifying manner—while flipping mattress making the bed, my toenail got caught on a seam and the rest is history—it took the whole thing off. After the essential screaming had died down and I had time to think it over, I realized that it was really a blessing in disguise. My toe healed quickly and I started running again the next day. It still makes me shudder thinking about it though.

June was spent traveling and visiting. I got to go visit my sis Mary Alice and Rescue Ranger graduate high school. He is such a cool guy, no one can make me laugh like he can. He has this goofy sense of humor that I can totally relate to and he just cracks me up. It was just amazing to spend time with my sister and her family and see her life and children’s lives. It made me think a lot about the paths we take and where they lead and if they really don’t just all end in the same place that destiny has already chosen our destinations and perhaps we are only in charge of the route. I am excited to see the roads Rescue Ranger will explore, as well as the destinations life has planned for him.

It felt great to travel again, but it definitely left me depleted. Traveling with Babou was tiring both physically and mentally. My husband had to work so he couldn’t join me and it sure is a lot more luggage when you are traveling with a baby rather than alone. I remember going on trips for almost a month with nothing but a carry-on. Those days are over!

I finally got back home only to take a family vacation with the dog, husband, and baby. Wonderful but, again, logistically a lot to contend with. We camped on the middle fork of the Eel River, snorkeling, swimming, and napping. I love being outside for blocks of time, and I hope that love of nature and watching the day turn to night, the excitement of the first star, are instilled in Babou. I hope she appreciates those moments.

And July, finally home, we have been busy with work and gardening and the travails of potty training. Settling back into a more rhythmic domestic life, one whose epicenter is a home, not a car or airplane.

Sometimes I wonder why my life is so busy and random and changing—so different from many lives. Sometimes it bothers me but deep down I know I chose this road, that life is most fulfilling to me when every day is filled with adventure and possibility.


Friday, May 2, 2008

My Very Bad Week

Let’s just say this has not been my week. It’s funny because I have been feeling like life is moving too fast, that I have no time to slow down, and that there is never time to read or day dream because I am never sitting still. Well, I should have knocked on wood. Sunday I broke three fingernails, one down to the quick, trying open a stuck window. It hurt, I was mad. I hate trying to do things with bandages on your fingers, it’s just hard but also the bandages come off so easily. Just a pain, but not that painful. The next day, however, turned out to be painful.

I was getting breakfast Monday morning when one of my heavy ceramic plates slipped out of my hand and landed squarely on my big toenail. The pain was magnificent. Omnipresent. Excruciating. Beyond words. Comfort from my dear husband? His help was to suggest he drill, yes I did just write DRILL, a hole IN my throbbing big toenail to release the pressure. You know how when you’re hurt and there is talk of hurting more the hurt you feel increases like tenfold or something? I could not believe.

In any case, I realized that it does not actually allow me to slow down as much frustrate me because I still have to do all this stuff to do (in-laws visiting this weekend) but I am now moving at a slower rate of speed. It has actually made it worse. I know, I sound bitter and complaining and deep inside myself I know this is not that big a deal COMPARTIVELY but….my toe HURTS! If you have ever seen “Mr. Deeds” with Adam Sandler, you will appreciate that every time my husband looks at my toe he says “The hideousness of your foot will haunt my dreams forever.” No drill marks though, thank you very much.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Mother Time

We sleep and wake at odd times: our tiredness, we discover, has many layers.
-Tony Cohan, On Mexican Time.

Lately I have been feeling like every day is at least two days long. And in that space of time, I am not quite sure what happens. I don’t even know how it happens. It’s as though time is actually dissolving before my grasping hands. I wish I could momentarily step out of the earth’s gravitational pull and somehow slip through the gap of a day: An entire 24 hours devoted to my renewal and to the tying up of loose ends. Unfortunately, life does not give time outs, and I am deep in the midst of a space I like to call *“Mother Time.”

The idea of “Mother Time” came to me when I started reading the virtual book club’s pick of the month: On Mexican Time, by Tony Cohan. I was immediately struck by the title and, as I delved deeper into the story, I could sense the peace and calm Cohan was trying to convey in his “sufficiency of days.” Having spent time in Mexico, and other like-minded places, I do understand this way of experiencing time on a superficial level: I enjoy it, I strive to be that groovy, but still I am a westerner…with a puritan work ethic…steeped in an ideology of production…set in the “having it all” mindset.

I have to say, however, I am beginning to cave. I hate to admit this, even to myself, but I am really tired. And besides that, I am very NERVOUS because compared with a lot of other women; I don’t think my plate is even that full. I am not a single mom and I’m not a working mother.

But still I feel like the work never ends. All the gardening, house cleaning, dog walking, baby swinging, cooking, dishes, entertaining, trying to exercise, maybe look nice, buy some new glasses because your baby broke your very last one and now your drinking coffee out of a shot glass from your college days oh OH and then try to find time to write because it clears your mind but there is no time by the time you try and then sleep beckons and oh yeah maybe I should try to seduce or be seduced but my mind is so cluttered because I haven’t had time to write and sort my thoughts and by now I have a serious writers cramp and my swirling thoughts collide in the air above my head creating such a cacophony I wonder if I might be making less sense than Babou’s first attempts at communication which makes me wonder if it was only coffee I put in that shot glass or maybe I should be using something stronger.

And that’s when I realized I am in “Mother Time.” That it is ok. The rules I once applied to myself no longer work or even really make sense. The rhythm of my day is not an agenda as much as a tango between loosely held goals and the needs of my family. The one goal and agenda I am holding firmly onto is that I will not lose myself in the fray. This is what I have come to call “Mother Time.”

My name is Jo, I am in Mother Time. Please don’t break my shot glass.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Weekend Wishes

After a long week of both myself and Babou being sick with colds, I am more than ready for a little rest and relaxation. I am heading south, down to visit my love and enjoy the incredible weather. I am so excited just to be in a hotel and not have to worry about dishes or laundry or watering or weeding...just to be for a bit. I am especially excited about starting "On Mexican Time: A new life in San Miguel," by Tony Cohan, the Virtual Book Club's book for this month (check it out at http://the-virtual-bookclub.blogspot.com/).

Surviving this week has made me think there should be a book called "Mother Time." I am surprised there isn't one yet. I can't speak, of course, for all mothers, but my sense of time has changed drastically since the birth of my daughter. I like this way of time much better than the goal-oriented sense of time I had before, but it can be...errr...challenging. My sense of time is more cyclical now, more malleable, more flexible. Much more natural. Sometimes hard though; it is a balancing act trying to get stuff accomplished with a baby. Mostly I feel its a challenge that keeps me fluid and flexible. At least that's what I say to myself to keep myself going on days that are too much, but it is mostly how I truly feel.

But, back to the weekend, here is some inspiration. Listen to the words of this song or, better yet, play it if you have it, and imagine dancing barefoot with someone you love. On a summer evening. In that perfect moment between light and dark, when things are fuzzy, but just clear enough (just like the perfect amount of wine!). Feel the fragrant, still warm grass under your feet. Even if its snowing, it still can be summer in your mind!

"Into the Mystic"

We were born before the wind
Also younger than the sun
Ere the bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic
Hark, now hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic
And when that fog horn blows I will be coming home
And when that fog horn blows I want to hear it
I dont have to fear it
I want to rock your gypsy soul
Just like way back in the days of old
Then magnificently we will float into the mystic
And when that fog horn blows you know I will be coming home
And when that fog horn whistle blows I got to hear it
I dont have to fear itI want to rock your gypsy soul
Just like way back in the days of old
And together we will float into the mystic
Come on girl...

-Van Morrison

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of (her) dreams, and endeavors to live the life which (she) has imagined, (she) will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
-Henry David Thoreau

Thank you all so much for all the birthday well wishing! I am indeed such a lucky lady! Yes, I turned 32 this Friday and had a wonderful day filled with lots of good friends and wonderful food and yummy cocktails, litchi martinis being the cocktail of choice (mix half litchi juice and half vodka, add a couple of litchis themselves to the bath and viola)!

And I got a gift that will be of great interest to the virtual book club ladies! “T” presented me with a hardbound, SIGNED, copy of “Eat Pray Love!” Am I THE luckiest or WHAT? It actually says…”To Jo with blessing…Elizabeth Gilbert! Anyway, I thought you guys would get a kick out of that! You can imagine how excited I was!

I was also pampered with beautiful flowers, jewelry, and a massage and facial! I think I may have started snoring in the massage--it was all just too delicious and my Babou has been running me RAGGED lately. Literally, DC I think I have you beat as I am just over thirty and QUITE frayed!

Actually, I am very happy to be in my thirties. I am quite enjoying them. It seems to me that the twenties, at least for me, was all about fitting myself into what I thought I should be—they were all about achievement no matter the expense. It seems for me that now the thirties are all about consistency and discovering what fits me instead of the me trying so hard to fit into whatever mold the world thinks I should fit into. I have to say this is a lot thanks to my little ones…baby and dog. They are teaching me so much about rhythms and being yourself and being happy. They are truly blessings although needy little buggers!

Yes, I’d better close as they are both letting me know without a shadow of a doubt that we are LATE for out daily walkabout!

Thanks again for all the lovely Birthday wishes—I could not ask for more!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Moveable Feast

Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music - the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.
- Henry Miller

Driving up and down the state as much as I have the past month, I realize that I live in a most wondrous place, a place so unique and beautiful and inspiring in its many faces. I know that I am biased, I am a complete California girl, I mean COMPLETE. And I have not traveled all the states of America, I know that many are just as beautiful, unique, and inspiring. But California is home to me and I cannot separate myself any more than I could separate from my body; the hills have hardened my bones and strengthened my muscles, the air has perfumed my thoughts, and its beauty has lit my soul.

And there is still so much to explore! I still need to travel to the northern easternmost parts. I long to swim in the Salmon river and hike the John Muir Trail. I still have not been to Yosemite. And the desert. What can I say of the desert except that my sisterfriend and I zipped through it too quickly one road trip. But I will never forget our one stop, in the middle of the night, we stopped. We drove off the moonlit road and turned off the car. We lay on the hood of her car and stared at the stars and listened to the sound of silence until it didn't sound like silence anymore...just the night. In the desert.

Cultures for many years, many years ago, worshiped nature and I can't help but join them. If there were ever a hymn or prayer or whispered liturgy I would hear it in the center of a canyon, on the top of a mountain, in the bubbling of a stream, the caress of a wave.

"But my heart cried out for you, california! Oh california! I'm coming home...I'm your biggest fan California, I'm coming home!" The lyrics to Joni Mitchell's "California" rang in my ears as I drove and drove...feasting on the landscape unfolding before me, a litany of beauty I read with my eyes.

Yes, I am a California girl.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

On the Road Again

"I've always been crazy, but its kept me from going insane."
-Unknown song lyric.

No, dear reader, I have not disappeared into the ethers, and I apologize for my absence from the blogging world. I have actually been busy running up and down the beautiful state of California--literally from end to end most of the month, unable to get to a computer let alone much else. My husband's work as a diver is erratic and often he can be on one job in southern California one day and then be on another in Northern California the next. We travel as a family when the jobs are short, as they have been lately. I am tired and ready to be in one place for awhile!

I am returning home tomorrow and will enjoy catching up on everyone's blogs and get some serious reading in for the virtual book club. I will also be happy to how my little garden is growing, if the plum and fig are now in full leaf. If my lettuces have choked each other out yet as I have not had time to thin them. Back to the rhythmns of home life. Funny, I was getting tired of the daily round before my husband got called on all these jobs! I should watch what I ask for! But it was oddly what I needed for my sometimes gypsy-ish nature!

For all the travel, we did manage to make it fun. We stopped in Malibu for requisite fish and chips at Neptunes Nest, and watched the surfers catch gentle waves while the sun set slowly into an impossibly calm ocean. I am lucky enough to have visited sisters I havn't gotten to see in too long, had some amazing hikes, got to see that I definitly am not a city girl thanks to our time in LA. Lots of insights and fun mixed in with hours of driving till I thought I might scream! Babou was amazingly good. She is a trooper. I am so lucky. But most of all I will be happy to finally be home tomorrow and catch up on gardening, friends, writing, and my friends in the blogging world!

Ciao Bellas!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A journey to devotion

Earth laughs in flowers.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I have said before, I am a spring child and I am passionate about my flowers. I have been this way all my life, just crazy-in-love with flowers of all kinds. All my life I have collected them, coveted them, and demanded them from unyielding lovers. I have bouquets in almost every room of my house, little gifts to the household gods—“please, please help me keep my home harmonious” I say as I set them in their spots.

Changing flowers and their water is a little devotional part of my housework, an inner cleansing and harmonizing of my space. I have always loved this idea of devotional service to the home. It has been in the background of my imagination for over ten years now. It is an attitude towards life that I strive to cultivate.

I remember reading a passage in one of my favorite books, ¡Yo! By Julia Alvarez, and feeling so happy that another has my odd habits: ”The minute they are in the house all the spirit waters have to be changed before she can relax or even unpack her suitcase. Don’t ask her why. At certain windows there are saucers filled with water, again don’t ask her why…She is not a wannabe witch and she is not a leftover hippy…These superstitions—he mustn’t call them that—are part of her island background.” Reading those lines for the first time felt so perfect to me because my rituals were also inspired by an island culture.

At the tender age of 21, I traveled to Indonesia with my best friend. We stayed in Bali for most of the month, devoting ourselves to exploring that beautifully exotic place. They say that Bali is the true Garden of Eden, and it truly is one of the most sensual, redolent places I have ever been lucky enough to experience.

Every morning that I awoke on that island, I was greeted by the strong scent of burning incense and…garbage! It was an admittedly odd juxtaposition of scents but, in an indescribable way, hauntingly pleasant! Every morning the Balinese women could be seen sweeping the front of their homes. After this duty was performed, they would carefully place a tray on their impeccably clean front porch. The tray, filled with a most beautiful assortment of colorful fruits and neat squares of rice, was always set against a backdrop of burning incense. I was struck by this simple ritual offering, of floating prayers of gratitude and renewal on wafts of smoke and anchoring them in the substance of the fruit and the rice and the rising of the sun.

I always thought, in my perfect life, I would make a similar offering to begin my day. In my perfect life, I would quietly entice the gods to pave my future hours with joy. I would inspire them with offerings of beauty to perfume their thoughts and make them smile.

After I returned home, however, my life quickly gained momentum and the idea went dormant somewhere in the back of my mind. I ended one relationship and began a new one (with my future husband) and we moved to Santa Barbara together. In the first couple of months that we lived there, we stayed at a sort of halfway house until we found our good spot on the outskirts of the city. The in-between-house was run as a collective. We all worked for an hour and, in return, we had a maid and our meals cooked. The food was all organic and vegetarian. The woman who ran the home had studied with a guru in India and that had inspired her to create this place for like-minded individuals to coexist.

I usually cleaned for my daily hour of service. They had a particular way of cleaning and whenever a room had been completed, it was the custom of the home to leave a stick of burning incense as the final touch. Suddenly that dormant idea in the back of my head began growing again! I was amazed to re-encounter this beautiful idea a half a world away from its birthplace!

Again, my life gained momentum and I moved, this time into an apartment with two male friends along with now-husband/then-boyfriend. That was an adventure all it’s own and needless to say the idea of enticing any gods went dormant until one day in one of my Religious Studies classes I was inspired by the topic of “Puja.”

Puja is the devotional practices one performs for whoever they are devoted to and is mainly a Hindu/Buddhist idea. The concept was so beautiful to me and was so obviously the underbelly of my experiences lighting incense to end a cleaning in the communal home, and in the witnessing of the morning Balinese practices.

The concept of puja ignited all the dormant ideas and excited their possibilities. I added, to my perfect view of my perfect day, beginning it with puja to my body, mind, and home. That I would face the rising sun with exercise, a cleaning of the body with breath, followed by a cleaning of my home, leaving each room sweetly smelling of incense. I would leave a gift of flowers in each room to inspire my gods to smile on me.

Of course, I do not do this every day. But, after ten years of cultivation, the idea is no longer dormant; it has steadily grown and solidified and now occupies permanent space in my consciousness. It is a framework that continually defines my mornings; I can see where I stand in my life against this background of devotion. Every day I work towards balance and beauty in all things. Every day I celebrate it in flowers and scent. Maybe it’s a bit too romantic an idea that my practices affect the gods attitudes, but I do believe Emerson’s idea that flowers are the earth laughing. And that makes me smile. And isn’t that what it's all about anyway?


Friday, February 22, 2008

Exodus to pantry freedom

First we eat, then we do everything else.
-MFK Fisher

Today is "cleaning out the refrigerator and restocking it" day. This day never fails to truly boggle my mind. You would think that after all these years of having to shop for food, stock my refrigerator and pantry, and eat that I would be accomplished at this feat by now, maybe even proficient at it, but I am not. My struggle is no longer in actually stocking the refrigerator but is now how to do it economically, and in an environmentally sustainable manner, which is a whole other blog.

There were, of course, the years when I did not worry too much about what I had to eat. This is a thing of great hilarity for my sisters who have all been just a little more practical and on top of this whole "life" thing than I. I am...just not that way...but I do provide lots of comic relief. One way my sisters have to amuse themselves is with this little game they created in which they call one another up, guess what is in my refrigerator, make appropriate bets, and then call me to confirm who will win. I think it could be actually defined as a sport in their collective minds.

This is how it would go: My phone rings on a weekend afternoon and I unsuspectingly answer, it is one of my sisters calling for our usual weekend roundup. I am met, however, by the sounds of gasping for air as one of my sisters tries to compose herself for actual speech. After much giggling, one of my sisters would finally speak: “Jo, we were just wondering if you could do us a favor and look in your refrigerator, Practical Sis and I were just kind of…err…wondering if you might have like maybe a package of blue cheese, some limp broccoli, and maybe half a bottle of wine in there?” I would dutifully go to my refrigerator and, by God! How in the hell did they know what was in my refrigerator! I would then, just to prove them wrong (although I am sure it just caused the other sis to win whatever bet they had going), I would finish the bottle of wine while eating last of the blue cheese. “Nope, just some limp broccoli” I would reply only to be drowned out again by wild giggling!

Yes, it was bad for a while. My few attempts at cooking consisted of reading a recipe, going to the store after work, painstakingly compiling the list of appropriate ingredients, coming home, and making the meal. Needless to say, on the nights I cooked, we usually ate dinner around 10 or 10:30pm. I did this for years. I had never thought of stocking my kitchen with food to make when I needed to cook. Are you speaking domestic or something?

At work, my very practical friend “T,” who knew how to stock her kitchen like nobodies business, and I started hanging out at each other’s homes more and more. She began to see that my empty cupboards and refrigerator were not just a passing phase, that it was actually...gasp!...the way I lived! She decided to fix me up post haste! For my 29th birthday she enlisted our close mututal friends and hatched a plan to get my kitchen stocked.

And when I say stocked, I mean STOCKED, like all-in-capitals-yodeling-from-mountaintops stocked! They supplied me with not only staples and spices but also with dishes and glassware! I had been relying on the three plates my mother-in-law had given us along with an assortment of glasses collected from various work-related wine tastings. I sat overwhelmed trying to keep my mouth from gaping open in wonder as I opened package after package of carefully wrapped…beans and rice and pasta and dried oregano and curry…and the list went on and on in quite amazing detail! After I had opened the last carefully wrapped package of foodstuffs, they kindly and slowly explained what to DO with all these new exotic items now lining my surprised and no longer bare cupboards.

And that is how I was finally turned around. Having a stocked kitchen for the first time in my life created the fertile ground needed to sprout an epiphany: that this stocking thing was not half bad, that although it pained me to do the shopping, it was much nicer to come home and have things with which to make dinner. Most importantly, it taught me how to be a better and more inventive cook, that creating a meal could be more of an improvisational art than a mundane following of directions. I became a culinary artist! I was inspired! I was in control! Now I was cooking!

So that is how I came to have a real, functioning kitchen. Now when my phone rings and all I can hear is wild giggling trying to control itself on the other line, I can say with authority, “This may take some time, I have quite a bit more around than half a package of blue cheese and some limp broccoli. You might want to pour yourself a glass of wine, or make a nice cup of Constant Comment with honey AND milk, or perhaps brew some coffee, or make yourself a G&T, or maybe a hot chocolate, if you have some, because I know I do!”

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The creation of Malentine's Day

Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale.
-Elsa Schiaparelli, Italian Designer.

Thank God I started running because I have been eating like a QUEEN lately, the descent into hedonism began on Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s day is a day I adore because it honors love and I am so unabashedly and proudly ROMANTICAL that I cannot help it if it doesn’t make me a little giddy. This Valentine’s Day, however, my lover was feeling particularly loving and gave me one of the best Valentine’s Days EVER.

I awoke on the day of the love-fest feeling particularly groovy and, having finished my blog AND morning stoutness exercises (Winne-the-Pooh anyone??? I still read and love Mr. Winnie Ther Pooh), I was about to go off to get some champagne and bon bons as an early gift for myself, only to be met at the door by my loving husband returning home with a box of See’s Candy and the most lovely 13 (he even made it a bakers dozen!) lavender roses. And, if you can believe, the day only got better!

Later in the afternoon, after I had eaten all the See’s candy, my love said he was planning our dinner and I was to be in no way, shape, or form part of its conception, labor, or birth. That said, he exiled me to the living room where I sat cozily couch-bound watching the food network to my heart’s content. I was glad because I felt rather ill from eating the entire box of Sees Candy and needed to recover! I could smell delicious things emanating from the kitchen and could hear my husband talking to himself as he always does when he is either thinking deeply about something really good or really bad. From what I could hear, things like: “now we’re talking!” and “look at this little gem, this little jewel is just about ready!” and so on, I thought that it must be quite good whatever was transpiring.

Moments later, he arrived at my couch-like throne carrying a beautiful plate and glass of sparkling wine, my first course, my amuse-bouche, so to speak (I have always loved this French term—a little mouth amusement before the main course, those French! Maybe all the formality and Cartesian order they adore merely creates the boundaries with which they cherishingly protect their overly sensuous natures)! The amuse-bouche was a plate filled with perfectly ripe, succulent mango slices, roses of proscuitto, and little sticks of pecorino romano cheese. It was just the most interesting and sublime combination of flavors! Luscious!

Needless to say, I ate all of this and by the time I was finished, was allowed into the kitchen to eat the next course and help with the salad dressing. My husband and I have very specific jobs in the kitchen: he usually fries, sautés and grills while I chop, make dressings, sauces and side dishes. We work very well together. Synergy is what I believe it is called. I happily munched on bacon wrapped shrimp dipped in his homemade bbq sauce and whipped together a balsamic vinaigrette for his spinach salad with bacon and red onion.

And then it was time to eat, REALLY eat! He whisked me out of the kitchen and brought me a glass of wine (Bogle’s Petite Syrah—one of my favorites). I was then presented with the most beautiful plate of the most scrumptious food…bacon-wrapped filet mignon topped with melted pecorino cheese, perfectly seared buttery scallops, and fresh green spinach salad studded with bits of bacon and thin rounds of purple-y onion. It was one of the most memorable and delicious meals I have ever been lucky enough to enjoy. The pecorino was amazing with the steak; it gave it this salty, sweet kick. The scallops were succulent and perfectly seared. And the freshness of the salad was a perfect counterpoint to the richness of the meal.

I have to say that I am blessed and very lucky to be so loved by my husband and to have one so thoughtful of my romanticism. I feel so lucky, in fact, that I have created a man’s Valentines Day, just for him. I am going to celebrate it exactly half a year from Valentines Day, on August 14, and it will be a day just for him, just as he had a day just for me, filled with all the things that he loves. I am naming it Malentine’s Day!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Love is a many splendor thing...

Where there is great love there are always miracles.
-Willa Cather

I just wanted to wish everyone a happy valentines day! I hope that you are all spoiled rotten…but if for some reason you are not, or if you don’t have a significant other, or significant other is OTHERwise inclined, or even if you do and are spoiled…remember to spoil YOURSELF! This is a woman’s holiday and you can celebrate love as much as you want, however you want, and it should start with you!

Celebrate love in its fullness! There are so many different kinds of love and they are all kaleidoscope-y and beautiful! There is lover love, friendship love, family love, pet love, all kinds of love! I could go on and on! Celebrate it all and start with yourself!

Anyways, go get some bon bons and champagne and your favorite flowers and enjoy the day! You’ll be in good company as I am about to do just that!


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Running Thoughts

If you want to find the answers to the Big Questions about your soul, you’d best begin with the Little Answers about your body.
-George Sheehan

Devo farmi le ossa is how they say it in Italian. "I need to make my bones."
-Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love

I have started running again. It is so satisfying to get into the groove and run, run, run. There is something so relaxing about the rhythm of my breath against the dance of my feet. My thoughts slowly quieting as my breath takes over, the incessant mind-chatter bowing out gracefully. Finally sweating, I am free. It is a finite goal that hooks you; it is the one thing I know I can accomplish from start to finish!

It has taken me a long time to get here. I have been slowly working back up to running since giving birth. The first efforts were agonizing--EVERYTHING jiggled, even my face! My back went out in short order and that was it for running for a good long time. So I did what I could. I took long walks with Babou and my excitable dog. I took longer and longer walks and started adding hills. Now I take a long walk and run most days of the week. A year later!

It is a weird thing to say, I know, but I think all the weight I put on during my pregnancy was actually a blessing in disguise. Having so much weight to lose is teaching me consistency—how to consistently take care of myself. I have never exercised so regularly in my life and I have never been in better cardiovascular shape (even though I am still overweight). It is teaching me how to eat healthfully for the long run, to eat in a way I can maintain and set a good example for my daughter. I am trying to eat reasonably, which is an oddly and refreshingly simple concept, yet so abstract!

I work on these new habits every day and am trying to be gentle with myself. The other night I was mentally going through my day while waiting to fall asleep. In an objective moment of clarity, I realized I was picking out everything I had not done or accomplished, all the failings of the day. I was berating myself! I was making myself feel like a failure. In that moment I realized that that was not me and I would no longer allow myself to be treated that way. Since then I have not only made a conscious effort to befriend myself and notice all the positive things that I have accomplished, but also to blow off the rest as aberrations that will soon right themselves naturally. Every day is a new challenge and I try I think of it as another opportunity to practice.

This new practice is truly making a difference in my life. I find myself making healthier choices more easily. I have found that by allowing myself to make mistakes, that I don’t make as many of them. And that is making all the difference.


Monday, February 11, 2008


Perhaps loving something is the only starting place there is for making your life your own.
-Alice Koller

Spring is here, I can feel it like sap rising through my veins. On my morning walks with Babou, and my excitable dog, I can smell it in the air, the smell of green, the smell of spring. I can see the buds pushing their way into leaves, the grass becoming lush. The wind is softer now and it caresses the trees in a way that reminds me of a mother tousling her child’s hair. I am in love with spring.

I am a bit of a fickle lover because I always yearn for, and celebrate, each changing of the season. But spring has always been my favorite. Perhaps it’s because I was born in spring and its essence was knit into my lungs upon my first breath. There is something contagious about it, about its enthusiastic celebration of renewal, of its thrusting green energy, of its lush display of beauty. I can almost feel the momentum, the great lifting of spring and it is so welcome after the rest and quiet of winter.

I am continually amazed of how each season affects me. And yet, isn’t it the most natural of all things to affect you? Life understands there is a season to everything, just as there is in life. It makes me glad to know that nature also has moods, and that each mood is dependent on the last and next; each growing in and out of one another, intrinsically meshed and interdependent. I am amazed at this wisdom unfolding just outside my door, teaching me in its quiet way all the joy I need to know to begin falling in love with life again.


Thursday, February 7, 2008

A Catalyst for Change

We are the ones we have been waiting for.
-Hopi Prayer.

Mary Alice, again, has roused me to reply to her blog with a blog myself. I have also used the quote that she used on her blog because this perfectly, I feel, pertains to the issue. This is, obviously, a topic close to my heart.

Yes, identity is difficult as you change through life. One’s roles are always in flux and those Saturn returns (which also happen every seven years or so) are very difficult to go through no matter how diligently we have given ourselves what we needed to grow and stay connected. Change is no respecter of self-awareness; it throws it out the window to start fresh, to change. With motherhood this change is dramatic. The center of the universe shifts from ourselves to our children and it’s difficult to maintain a strong center during this shift and not lose yourself completely. The rhythms that make up a mother’s day can feel like imploding, it is such a closed and constant and personal rhythm.

That is why I started blogging, so that I could connect with others, not just my friends and family, to make friends with a larger world to keep mine open and me open in the only way I knew how within the constraints of being a stay-at-home mom. I think that this is one of the main keys to maintaining equilibrium through the changes of motherhood: doing what you need to do to maintain YOU. And that is the tricky part, making sure that you honor and respect your needs and give yourself what you need to make it through the changes intact.

Your identity will change; you are changed. I think that this is what is particularly brilliant about life: growing. Everything on earth grows and changes and so do we—we are continually called upon to grow as we define ourselves against an ever-changing backdrop that is our life--identity changes because we juxtapose our identity with life, and life is always changing.

You have to know yourself to make it through these changes. Our landscape changes and we are called to ask, what does this new backdrop accentuate in me? How does this change the way I think, feel, and act? How does this new circumstance define me? If you don’t know yourself, you will, you will have to; life necessitates it. Those shifting times when I feel like I am driving in neutral are necessary and uncomfortable. Someone once said that you have to lose yourself to find yourself and it is so true.

These defining identity issues are not unique to parenthood. Becoming a mother is just one set of circumstances that allow you to evolve and change. Evolution of self is not unique to motherhood; identity is unique to selfhood. Motherhood is just one way, one set of circumstances, in which it occurs.

My final thought on the topic is that it is much easier (I find) to get through change if you don’t take it all too seriously--least of all yourself. If life up to this point has taught me anything, it is to not take myself so seriously; to laugh at life and myself and try to go with it as much as possible and enjoy it as much as possible. I try to do this every day as much as I can. Sometimes I fail miserably, and sometimes I am wildly successful, but through it all I am myself and the more I honor that, the easier it gets. I think that there is an inner knowing, a voice inside you that helps—especially when you honor it. And I think that if we listened to it and acted on its wisdom that we would realize that we are, indeed, the one we have been waiting for…that we have been all along. That life has been slowly washing away excess ego to allow our real self to shine through and inspire others to be themselves, too. That it is not only okay, but meant to be.


Saturday, February 2, 2008

Beauty is as beauty does

Always be a first-rate version of yourself, not a second rate-version of somebody else.
-Judy Garland

Beauty is such an important discussion because of its ubiquitous and often negative nature. The messages that women receive from our culture about beauty are mixed, to say the least. And difficult to attain, to say the least. We do live in a society that glorifies youth, thinness and a certain cup size (perky too, please). Most women cannot attain these standards. I personally used to think it was a conspiracy to hold us down—if they (whoever “they” are) can keep us occupied with trying to meet these abnormal standards, then perhaps we might not be so focused say, on the glass ceiling, for instance.

We live in this culture, immersed like tea bags in steaming water, and we can’t help but absorb cultural standards of beauty. In my twenties,
and before, as much as I hated it, it ruled me. I was constantly on some diet, exercising like mad, trying to be as beautiful as I could be basically to enjoy the power and social blessing that it provides. It was hard. I smoked instead of eat…trying to fill the spaces missing, or the moments I was procrastinating. I would go in and out of balance, but, for the most, part I was inconsistent and erratic. My beauty was mostly superficial and only worked because I was young. (I am generalizing here because I did achieve some times of good balance and was extremely healthy, but this was less of the time.)

Now that I am in my thirties and have a daughter, my perspective has changed. Just watching my body go through the process of pregnancy and birth gives me a newfound respect for its function. I now realize my body is my ally, a friend to be respected and honored, not just drug along the road of life serving ME. We are partners. I also realize that life is long and consistent habits are what are important. What I do most of the time is what counts. And, most importantly, setting a good example for my daughter is paramount. Being married and loved unconditionally helps so much in all of this because the pressure of dating and other women can be fierce and you have to be stronger than those sometimes self-esteem beating times.

I think that beauty is being healthy and feeling comfortable in your skin, doing the best you can with what you’ve got at ANY AGE. I think that it is a personal issue, too. Everyone has a different idea of what is beautiful and everyone has a different idea of doing the best with what you’ve got. As long as you are doing your best to be your best, I think that is beautiful.

This is my personal take on what makes me feel beautiful. I feel beautiful when I have been active in my self-care, when I have been loving myself consistently and giving myself what I need to shine. Usually, if I am heavier, it is because I am avoiding something and nervously eating or drinking as a form of avoidance. If I am passionately involved in my life, I usually don’t these problems, I am too busy living. If I am taking diligent care of myself I am exercising every day. I am one of those very high-energy people who need to run HARD every day. It’s actually more for my mental peace than physical, really. It’s like rewinding my body and brain. And if I can’t run (like I hadn’t until lately because I was too heavy), I hike. I need to be outside, every day. And some yoga helps to soften and center me. I also need time alone daily, to reflect. Writing helps with this--a rewinding of my brain as well.

These things I try to do regularly, and they make me feel beautiful when I do. Practicing regular self-care, whatever that is to you, creates a lifetime of beauty, a lifetime of radiance. I think that when you practice regular self-care, you are essentially creating a space for your spirit to reside; you are inviting your spirit to participate in your life. Spirit, I am convinced, is a great lover of beauty, of the FEELING of beauty consistent self-care engenders, that joy being the best you can be provides. Soulless beauty is empty, I know there have been times in my life when I was not taking care of myself and, as a result, my spirit left until I could provide a home for it again. Beauty has so much more to do with than just beauty.

I think that it is our duty to be the best we can and support one another in our goals and in our acceptance of ourselves. To seek role models like ourselves. My personal role model is Kate Hudson. Perhaps it is not that strong of me, but she really helped me finally see that you can be small chested and still very sexy. She reminds me of me and inspires me to be more me.

In the end, beauty is a very personal issue; one that we must all formulate our thoughts on. Its pervasive and negative nature make it dangerous not to have an opinion. For me, it is most important as I now have a daughter. And having a daughter makes me realize that I was once a girl too and to treat myself kindly consistently. In a way, Babou is teaching me so that I can teach her.


Friday, February 1, 2008

A Beautiful Topic

My dear sister Mary Alice, From the Frontlines, has written on a very interesting topic today. My comment to her got rather long. I have A LOT to say on the topic of beauty, but have busy morning so can't post full thoughts till this evening (read: baby in bed)...like I said, have lots to say. In the meantime, I have always felt this poem perfectly portrays a beautiful woman and perfectly inspires me to be one. (Mrs. G readers: Note: I am not selling this poem! I state again, if Mrs. G is going to copyright pergatory, I will be right there with her, hopefully will serve cocktails there, the damned have a tendency to get edgy without them).

by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies
I'm not cute or built to suit a model's fashion size
But when I start to tell them
They think I'm telling lies.
I say
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips
The stride of my steps
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman
That's me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please
And to a man
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees
Then they swarm around me
A hive of honey bees.
I say
It's the fire in my eyes
And the flash of my teeth
The swing of my waist
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman
That's me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
I say
It's in the arch of my back
The sun of my smile
The ride of my breasts
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman
That's me.

Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say
It's in the click of my heels
The bend of my hair
The palm of my hand
The need for my care.
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman
That's me.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Stemming a red tide, Part II

This is the book I never read
These are the words I never said
This is the path I'll never tread
These are the dreams I'll dream instead
This is the joy that's seldom spread
These are the tears...
The tears we shed
This is the fear
This is the dread
These are the contents of my head…
-Annie Lennox

I should have known that I could not change a tide as strong as a red one. Really, I think I made it mad. So I have just decided to go with it after a tearful telephone conversation with my dear sister Mary Alice. There are so many things that are on my mind and bothering me lately all at once I truly feel overwhelmed by it all. In the past year I had a baby and stopped working and this has created a space in which I am not who I was but yet not who I am…yet. I am in this very uncomfortable, fertile place that is very difficult. It is a changing place. I know it because I have been here before, that is one thing that’s nice about getting old, you begin to have perspective. When I have been in these spaces before, the best way I can describe them as going down a road and changing gears: you are still moving, the engine is still on, but the clutch is in and there is not connection until the new gear locks into place. A sort of foggy place.

In addition to starting my own family, my own parents are not getting any younger and I feel the extra need to be as much help as I can be to them. They live four hours away from me so it has been rather exhausting. Since I stopped working it is not as exhausting as it was, having to rush down and back in a weekend, and I am lucky enough that my husband’s work is on a job by job basis (he is a construction diver) so we often can spend chunks of time with them or I can while he is away. I feel the extra need to help because out of all my siblings, I live the freest life. I feel overwhelmed though.

These are the things that have been coming up for me as I have been trying to make sense of all my amplified emotions. I was thinking about it all today, just how silly the things I was upset about were and how once I get past this week all will be normal again and I will be embarrassed about how I felt and shrug it off again until next month. I kept thinking how do I validate my feelings when they are so clearly over the top and I only feel this way a few days out of the month? My conclusion, so far, is that perhaps that the symptoms are pointing to imbalances in my life that need to be addressed or at least come to peace with. A lot of it cannot be helped, this is just the time of my life and there is nothing I can say, do, or read to change it. But I think that if I just allow myself to feel as I do and validate the deeper issues my seemingly superficial annoyances stem from, I will somehow find my way.