waking up

My kids are home with me after a week away.  For once, the time without them did not drag by slowly last week.  I took dance class two nights in a row (sore muscles to say the least), finished up an editing project I’d taken on for extra income, and did a little reading and writing of my own choosing as well. I got some incredibly encouraging news on the freelance writing front with a submission that was accepted quickly, and I hope to expand on the details for that when it is published.  It’s been a goal of mine to submit some personal essays to a few publications for quite some time, so this gives me the motivation to keep writing and keep submitting.  On the whole, it was a really great week.

I’ve heard of Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart for years, and a good friend of mine mentioned it yet again recently, so I decided to pick it up this weekend.  It’s a quick read, and I settled in one afternoon to read most of it in one sitting and then finished it up Sunday morning.  I’m getting better at enjoying the perks of solitude.  A quiet house, cooking a solo dinner of my own choosing, reading for pleasure more than I have in ages, or even small gems like having a house relatively clean and listening to music at my own whim.  These things don’t make up for the kids being gone, and I am happiest for certain when we are together, but I’m finding that recognizing the positives of my situation is helping me to ease into it a little deeper and not long for this season to be over.  This summer is also affording me so much time to think and reflect on the past decade of my life, and I can’t begin to describe the difference that is making in my ability to process things positively and move forward to make things better.

This recent change of perspective relates to Chodron’s book as well.  It’s hard – especially now with social networking to let us know what others are up to – to rest in your own imperfections and your own transitions and not feel lame or worthless.  People are in performance mode almost always, and I know that.  But I fall for it everyday and have to shield its impact a bit from myself if I can.  I see it with friends and acquaintances – and yes even strangers – on the internet.  I see it with my children’s father who is excitedly planning a wedding that is only three months away and relishing in a lot of happiness right now. I see it everywhere.  But the point Chodron makes so well in this book is that change is the only constant in life and that suffering serves a purpose in the grand scheme of things.  When you rest in your discomfort and use stillness to do that, you truly evolve from your pain or experience.

She explains near the beginning of the book that “Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy” (8).  Allowing space is the hard part for sure. I’m working hard in my current life to include fun experiences that take my mind off things for a while. Dinner with girlfriends, fun outings with the kids, trips to the bookstore, late night Netflix, weekends away, and lots of other things.  But these past few weeks, I’m also letting myself sink into the loneliness and the feeling of being completely not in control, completely clueless about what lies ahead for me. Before I read this book and could give a name to it, I could feel what Pema Chodron is talking about already – the healing that only comes from allowing space for it all to be felt in the truest sense.

This idea of admitting and feeling suffering without fighting it is contrary to our nature. Chodron speaks at length about our culture’s tendency to avoid pain and suffering by covering it up with a multitude of things – alcohol, excessive spending and a desire for worldly attention, new romantic relationships – and more specifically, she explains how ineffective those distractions are if we really want to grow from our pain and become fuller and richer as a result; “We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering we are being kind to ourselves. The truth is, we only become more fearful, more hardened, and more alienated … When we protect ourselves so we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes like armor, like armor that imprisons the softness of the heart.  We do everything we can not to feel anything threatening … When we breathe in pain, somehow it penetrates that armor. The way we guard ourselves is getting softened up” (89).  I’ve seen this firsthand with friends of mine who have suffered unimaginable losses or pain or disappointment. They have emerged as completely different people than they were before. Life softens and deepens you if you let it, but only when you allow yourself the time to sink into your suffering a little and learn your way around what it all means.  And though it is really inconvenient, I’m seeing more and more that you really can’t do that at all when you try to fill up the pain with something else.

I’ve let go of so many things this past few months.  Material things – my car and house and leisure space in our family budget.  But also I’ve lost so many assumptions about people and about life and about myself.  It’s crazy to look back at the first post I wrote six months ago when I finally explained what had been happening for me, and even then I alluded to this act of letting go and the things I was still clinging to. And though that was only about six months ago, I feel like I’ve changed so much at my core. It’s like being completely emptied of everything you had and everything you assumed only to start filling yourself up again in a totally new way.

I wish there were other ways in life to experience this groundlessness as Pema Chodron calls it, but it usually only comes in these painful experiences of loss or profound disappointment. As she says, “We are killing the moment by controlling our experience. Doing this is setting ourselves up for failure because sooner or later, we are going to have an experience we can’t control. … We can give up on being perfect and experience each moment to its fullest. Trying to run away is never the answer to being a full human being. Running away from the immediacy of our experience is like preferring death to life (72).  There are so many ways we “run away from the immediacy of our experience,” and they seldom look like running. They often look like distractions or like “moving on,” “staying busy,” or “having it all together” as I hear people say from time to time.

The biggest change that has happened for me is that I’m done with that. I don’t have it all together. I am not starting some brand new life that will align perfectly by my expectations and look just like my old life but with a different person. The perfection veil was pulled away for me. I didn’t choose the actions that began that avalanche.  But in the aftermath of all of that, it feels so liberating to have it removed and simply be in a moment in my life when I have no master plan and no grand storyline I’m trying to write. All there is in front of me is the here and now.  I worried so much in these past few months that I was missing life with my kids because I was so overwhelmed and busy with life tasks and cleaning the mess in front of me.  But now, in a weird way, I feel like I am missing less than ever because I have no idea what is ahead and I have nobody to answer to but my own calling and these two little people. That’s it. I woke up to that new lens as I finally reached the other side of all that has happened.  I’m here, right now. I don’t know about the rest, but the rest doesn’t matter.

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And I feel as though it has taken a lot of internal work to get to this statement, but I am finally beginning to feel genuinely grateful for it all – every moment and where I am now. I’m starting to look less at my current situation as a stepping stone to something else and see it as simply life and what I am. Yes, it is all part of who I will be and where I will go and forever changes the way I see the world, but really it’s just the path I’m on to learn what I am meant to learn in the only way I could learn it. I am exactly what I feared when I made decisions seven months ago – alone and completely unsure where I am headed next. But ironically, now I don’t fear where I am at all.  I’m almost beginning to fear the other end because I don’t want to lose this lens if I move forward to something else.

Everything is at its most essential and distilled moment.  Everything is immediate right now.  It’s like waking up, and I want to remember these lessons and these moments – even the hard ones – in my years ahead. In hindsight, I had years and years of ease and happiness, and I was asleep for so much of it. As Chodron says, “When we feel lonely, when we feel hopeless, what we want to do is move to the right or the left. We don’t want to sit and feel what we feel. We don’t want to go through the detox. Yet the middle way encourages us to do just that. It encourages us to awaken the bravery that exists in everyone without exception, even you and me” (54).  I’m awake to all of it now, it seems.  Awake to the bravery and the kindness and the softness and all of it. I’m seeing it all in a way I haven’t witnessed when things were easy. I’m becoming grateful for the hard part, and I guess what I am trying to say – if this makes any sense at all – is that I’m enjoying the middle way as Chodron calls it.  There’s so much good I’m uncovering, and even more waiting down the road if I can keep these eyes to see it.

transitions

The kids have been away at the beach with their dad and his family, and I have been on my own for fewer than four days, yet I’ve managed to paint two rooms in my house, freeze five quarts of homemade marinara and four family portions of baked ziti, and finish my first read of the summer.  I also began putting my office and bookshelves back together after painting, and I’ve got my books organized once again as they were in pre-child days: by genre and then alphabetically. It’s so crazy how much time expands before you when you’re used to having kids underfoot.  I miss them like crazy, but at least my productivity is making up for the weirdness in our summer schedule.

Today I intended to squeeze in a Pure Barre class with a good friend, but traffic held her up, and we decided to go for a quick hike nearby instead.  I usually do this walk with Jude and go a little slower, so I couldn’t believe it when we reached the top pretty quickly, even in the sweaty, burning sun.  We talked the whole way up, enjoyed a perfect view with the tiniest breeze, and then talked again as we walked back down.  It was good for my soul in every way.  I was gross and sweaty and spent when I got home, but it was worth it for sure.

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I finished Cheryl Strayed’s Wild early this morning with my coffee, and I think I’ll be turning this one over and over in my head for quite some time. I feel like the last person on earth to read it, but I’m so glad I read it right now at this time of transition for me.

Most likely anyone who is reading this post already knows the premise of the memoir, but in case you don’t…. Strayed is grief-stricken from the sudden loss of her mother and the collapse of her marriage and sets out on a journey of walking over eleven hundred miles on the Pacific Crest Trail.  It’s a metaphorical journey as she wants to mark this passage in her life and put so many things behind her, but it is a literal one too – of scary and grueling physical challenges on the trail.  The thought of a woman hiking for 100 days alone from southern California to Oregon is incredible to me.  I couldn’t put the book down, and the details of long distance hiking were fascinating.

But more than that, it is Strayed’s perspective on her life and the transitions that occur for her that had me riveted and underlining so many special passages I want to etch in my memory.  I’m not doing anything at all like walking 1100 miles on foot, but some days it can feel that way.  The thing that was so perfect about the timing of this book for me is her focus on the value of solitude and the importance of transitions in our lives.  The significance of recognizing those moments of change and passage should not be underestimated.  As one of her friends on the trail explains to her about moments of feeling low or confused as your life changes in ways out of your control, “It’s a good thing… It’s the place where things are born, where they begin. Think about how a black hole absorbs energy and then releases it as something new and alive” (127).  But as Strayed demonstrates so well, we cannot use the black hole to create anything new at all if we don’t take time alone to reflect on the experience and examine our own behaviors and motivation and where we intend to go next.

This was timely for me as I’m experiencing being alone for the first time in pretty much fifteen years – the entirety of my adult life.  And solitude felt so strange at first, but I am sinking into it and realizing I need it so badly and need to honor this time and space before I move forward.  Sometimes I wish I could fast forward a year or two or three down the road, but then again, I don’t know. This is such a sweet time of change for me. An itchy and painful one, yes. But also a moment when I am feeling all of it, so to speak. I’m in it deeply and boiling everything down to essentials with my kids and me alone.  And in a weird way, I feel like I am seeing things more crisp and clear than I have in the last decade.  I’m seeing and feeling everything for what it really is because I have no one else to lean on or consult as a co-pilot or partner, no one else to diffuse or cloud my perceptions.

As Strayed says when she camps a night or two next to friends she met on the trail, “Being near [them] at night kept me from having to say to myself I am not afraid whenever I heard a branch snap in the dark… But I wasn’t out here to keep myself from having to say I am not afraid.  I’d come, I realized, to stare that fear down, to stare everything down, really – all that I’d done to myself and all that had been done to me. I couldn’t do that while tagging along with someone else” (122).  I mean really, friends. Could there be a truer statement given to me at my current moment?

I felt like Strayed was talking straight to me through so much of her memoir – which is my very favorite thing about literature. It’s why I teach and write. Those shared moments of real reflection on the human experience fuel my fire so much.  At one point, she refers to what Pacific Crest Trail hikers call “trail magic” which is simply “the unexpected and sweet happenings that stand out in stark relief to the challenges of the trail” (232). And I’m certain you don’t have to be hiking the PCT for 1100 miles to experience “trail magic.”  It’s happening to me all the time – when I read something that pierces me all the way through, when I discover new music that moves me, when I catch my kids in just the right light to be overwhelmed with their sweet little features and the idea that they came from my body and call me mama, when I have shared moments or laughter with friends that fill me up in the best way.  There are so many little joys in life, even on a tough trail and among the tangled mess.

mid June phone dump and a little rambling

The kids head out to the beach early tomorrow morning, and I’m on my own for 8 days.  Such a long time – longer than I’ve ever been without them before actually.  I’m soothing that sting a little bit this afternoon by looking back at photos of our week together.  We had so much fun doing things close to home, and it makes me feel grateful for their ages as they are now.  All the magic is still here, but much of the difficulty of a diaper bag or sleep struggles or broken toddler vocabulary is gone.  It’s easy to have fun with them, and they are so much easier to handle on my own than they were a year or two ago.  I mentioned on my Instagram feed recently that it feels unnatural when they are gone, and I can’t imagine how I will do this for a total of 4 weeks this summer.  A friend commented that it would make my time with the kids even better, and though I hate the separation in many ways, that is true. I miss them like crazy, and we make up for it with a lot of quality time – just the three of us – when they are around.

So last week they got to pet baby chickens with my grandad.

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It never once passes me by how lucky I am that they get to maintain close connections with my family and especially my grandparents. Not many kids can say they know their great-grandparents well and see them often, but mine can. They are leaving such a mark on my own kids the same way they did for me as I grew up. In a world where everything changes, it feels immeasurably good to see something stay the same.

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We also spent an afternoon at the lake with a close friend of mine who is always such a comfort to me. It’s surreal and beyond beautiful to see our kids playing together when our own paths first crossed about 16 years ago.

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We caught a puppet show at a nearby theater yesterday, and I got to listen to little kid cackles for the hour-long production which was a treat. There’s a special energy when you’re in a room with dozens of little kids like that – all fidgety and full of energy and feeding off each other’s laughter.

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Kids are so unguarded. It amazes me. They will hug someone they met on the playground only ten minutes ago. They will laugh without any regard for how loud they are or who hears them. They will cry without shame or apology. We shed that innocence along the way as we learn about what behavior is appropriate or acceptable. Life will be easier when I can count on them to filter their actions a bit, but the payoff now is that I get to watch this wide open enthusiasm.

While the kids attended a birthday dinner with their father’s family, I got to top off my week with a quick meet-up with some college friends to celebrate one of them returning to Atlanta for the weekend. Conversation with this group always meanders from little things to weightier topics, and it feels so good to have a friend or two who are true thinkers and see into the life of things, so to speak. We talked a lot about the events that shape our lives and how some of them feel so tragic and heavy in their immediacy, but they change our perspective in the very best way.

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There is no doubt that has happened to me this year, but I’m finding that I’m ready to move forward. Ready to discern what the next chapter will hold for me. One very good thing about so much alone time this summer is time to think clearly and deeply about what is next. Experience makes you no wiser without self-reflection. Not at all. My path took an abrupt turn, but I feel certain my destination is not shaping up to look much at all like where I came from.

I’m reading a lot, and I hope to finish some half-written creative non-fiction while the kids are away this week. I’m deep in memoir and non-fiction lately and fascinated by how people’s stories shape their own lives and then touch the lives around them through the written page. There was a time when I ran away from non-fiction, but I think teaching it so much in my composition courses these past couple years has given me a better appreciation.

Summer Reading

It’s all we can hope for really – that our own pain and experiences are not wasted on us because our lives become fuller and richer, and then the reward is multiplied when you can shed light on someone else’s path a little bit.

summer discoveries

We’re enjoying our last few days of summer here, but I always feel a little guilty about the things that didn’t get done.  As a teacher, I tend to make a big long list of goals and projects when I see those weeks stretched before me and it seems like we have so much time off.  But then the days fly by, and though I’ve managed to get a lot done, there are inevitably things that didn’t happen.

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I’m focusing on what my friend calls the “ta-da list” instead of the to-do list though.  In hindsight, I managed to accomplish a lot – especially with two little kids underfoot.  I did some fun things with the family — we picked strawberries, spent a day at the science museum, explored the farmer’s market a few times, and of course ventured to Mexico for a little trip.  I read a good bit – for my current season of life at least.   An unlikely favorite was this non-fiction work I read.  I also loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things as a stand-out read of the summer.  I had a great anniversary date with Scott and a few just-because dates.  I hung out with girlfriends and nurtured friendships with a few outings and dinner clubs.

 

I’ve also been reading a lot about health and nutrition a lot these days as a new interest of mine.  I always hated science in school, biology included.  But sometimes I wish I could go back and see those classes with a different perspective now that I’ve gained an interest in childbirth and pediatrics and nutrition and food.  I heard a fascinating interview on NPR last weekend that made me want to buy the book and read more about the value of particular foods, so I downloaded it on my Kindle last night and have just begun reading it.  It’s interesting for me to consider how my eating habits have changed over the last few years and how it all happens in little steps.  But now that we are past the purge of processed food and such, I am reading and exploring about the more specific aspects of nutrition and especially those foods that fight cancer, inflammation, and chronic diseases.

 

On that note, I’ve been learning a lot more about gut health and it’s role in our immune systems, and at the encouragement of a friend, I started brewing my own water kefir which is not nearly as gross or complicated as it probably sounds.  One shot-sized portion is equal to something like 30 probiotic pills, and my kids are starting to request it by name.  Anything I can do to combat the germs of the school year is a must for me.  We spent so much time last winter sick, and I am really hoping for better results this year as it’s their second year in full-time school and I’ve added a few immune-boosting routines for us.

 

My other big discovery this summer has been playing around with essential oils.  I ordered a kit and became addicted to a lavender-cedarwood mix at night to enhance sleep.  There are also some pretty convincing studies out there connecting Thieves oil with immunity, so I’m willing to give that one a try during this school year as well.  It’s been a fun endeavor to experiment with different scents and combinations.

 

We head back to school on Monday, and I’m feeling rested and ready.  It’s been such a good summer, and like every other occasion lately, it slipped through my fingers so quickly.  I’m working hard to savor the months ahead in the fall and remember that even the bumpy transition of August can have its fun excitement.  I’m hoping to get in an evening swim, a donut date, and some back porch sippin’ this weekend as we count down to a new year.  Cheers, summer 2014.  You were a good one.

a few quick words

I’ve poured a cup of apple cider, and I’m rallying to write a quick post.  Such a sad thought that a few paragraphs at 8:30pm require so much determination, but that’s where I am lately.  On the whole, my nausea is completely gone, my belly is expanding, and I can’t complain.  But the fatigue is just hanging on a little later than last time.  Week fourteen shouldn’t feel like this it seems, but maybe that’s just part of being pregnant with a toddler.  Whatever the reason, I do miss the time I spent here.  I love looking back at old entries and seeing this as a space that really reflects my life at various moments and stages, and that just doesn’t really happen when I’m only updating twice a month or so.  I’ll get better soon though, I hope.

First of all, I am really grateful for the comments, emails, and shares on my last post.  It’s a subject that really shouldn’t be that sensitive, but it feels that way at times, so it took some extra pushing on my part to put it out there.  A number of doula and childbirth education agencies shared it on Facebook, and I’m honored to think that maybe someone read it and learned something new and now has a choice she didn’t realize she had.  I know I’ll be writing more about the VBAC issue as the months fly by and I get closer to the end of this chapter, so thanks so much for the support and reassurance that this is a safe place to share that.

On to other unrelated news with no real transition, I have begun this book after it’s been suggested to me more than once in the past few months, and it is leaving me encouraged to make so many changes around here.

I am only a couple chapters in, and I feel both inspired and convicted by so much of it. It’s not so much a “how-to” parenting book as it is a read on one’s philosophy of parenting.  For years, I saw first-hand in the classroom how kids are so driven by the busy world around them that they cannot focus and comprehend simple concepts and tasks.  The writers don’t tell you to remove the television from your home or trash all battery-operated toys, but they do make you think about the world we live in today and the ways that childhood has become abbreviated and somewhat invaded by our own seemingly uncontrollable modern world.  I’ve started to notice things about my own home: how much I rely on my smartphone, how much I have in my closet that I truly don’t need, how much junk has made its way into Jude’s toychest somehow, etc. etc.  It’s a great read, and it’s inspiring me to make some much-needed changes around here.

And I can’t help but notice that Jude just affirms the message of the book when I find him most attentive and best behaved in his own world doing his own things without some screen or organized agenda interfering.  And sometimes without pants on.

Despite all their clumsy messes and tantrums, toddlers are inspiring in their own way.  If I could focus for only one day the way he does, completely absorbed in the moment and fulfilling my task at hand, I’m pretty sure I’d finish feeling fulfilled and complete and ready for the next challenge.

Lucky Winner

I’m happy to say that the lucky winner of the giveaway is comment number 11.  Congrats, Tally! I know you’ll rock the beautiful handcrafted set.  I really enjoyed reading all of your answers on this one, and I have another interested Etsy shop, so I think I’ll do additional gratitude giveaway in a few months.

And a funny side note: I finally dove in to One Thousand Gifts that everyone has been raving about, and it is absolutely not a typical read for me at all, but I started it yesterday and cannot put it down.  (Bleary -eyed this morning because of it!)  It’s Ann Voskamp’s story of challenging herself to write down 1,000 things she is thankful for and how that changes her life.  This woman is a seriously beautiful writer, and I love her way of describing things.  I’ve been reading on my Kindle a lot lately, but I ordered the “real” book because I knew I’d want to underline and come back to it again and again on my shelf.  She describes how transforming it can be to write down your list of things you are thankful for, “I mean, they are just common things and maybe I don’t even know they are gifts really until I write them down and that is really what they look like.  Gifts He bestows.  This writing it down – it is sort of like …. unwrapping love” (45)  Such an apt description of the value of gratitude.

So basically this book is all about recognizing the beauty in the everyday, and look at the cover.

And again, look at Tally’s new jewelry that she won by practicing some gratitude herself.

Funny, huh? So, I don’t know….. it’s just a weird little cosmic connection with this whole bird’s nest, gratitude, life-is-full-of-possibilities-when-you-look-around kind of thing. Now I have an association with bird’s nests and am reminded to say thanks when I see them.  And I might have already searched Etsy and found a million bird’s nest things I want now.

Enjoy your new bling, Tally. And enjoy your weekend, readers. Be full and happy.

Book Love

Did you know it’s Book Blogger Appreciation Week?  Yep, it is.  Once upon a time, I considered myself a book blogger, but these days my content is far too varied and random to allow myself to claim that title anymore.   I’m always reading something, but it’s only fiction every now and then, so I never end up posting reviews anymore. There are some great book blogs out there, though.  Check out Estella’s Revenge for lots of fun things to celebrate this week.  Andi’s always got something good cookin’ over there.  She’s also got a million links to other book blogs if you want to start reading.  Or just see what everyone else is reading.

I’ve always been a book girl.  Always.  I remember my mother having to tell me to turn off the light and threaten to take away the book so that I’d stop reading and sleep.  I pushed through the years when it was uncool to be smart and stayed smart anyway, continuing to read.  I went to college as an English major with absolutely no plan except to read books for a few years and write about them.  I love to talk books, especially with friends and occasionally with strangers.  For years, I lived and slept books 24/7 in order to be a damn good teacher and maybe ignite some of that same excitement in my students.  I get excited when I walk in a bookstore, and I read anywhere…. in waiting rooms, on my couch, on my porch, on the beach, in my bed.  It’s a way to pass the time, yes.  But books are often far, far more than that to me. A home has no heart without its books, and I love my stuffed bookshelves.  I’ve learned a lot from books along the way as they have not only entertained me but maybe stretched my mind that little bit (or that big jump) that it needed to see the world a little differently than it did before.

So in honor of Book Bloggers’ Week and the book blogger I once was, I figured it was a good time to talk books.  Back in my teaching days, kids would always ask what my “favorite book” is, and we all know it’s not that simple.  There are some books that changed me for the better though, and I know everyone has a list – long or short – of those works that really affected you and maybe changed your worldview in some small way.  Not to be overdramatic and all this-book-changed-my-life, but sometimes that little tweak in your perspective is all you need to alter your view and become something better than you were yesterday. So here are mine, and I’m including a passage if I have the book handy to look it up.

  1. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth –   Yep.  You probably want to stop reading right here because that sounds like the most boring book on the planet, but hold on a minute.  It’s the only nonfiction/informational book on this list, and I can’t not include it.   I read this book in the first trimester of my pregnancy, and it is no exaggeration that it changed my life. It allowed me to stop looking at childbirth as a problem and instead as something natural and even beautiful.  Without Ina May’s words and her included powerful narratives, I would never have pursued unmedicated childbirth, and I feel like that one decision put me on a road to other significant things as well – from breastfeeding to natural living and better health overall.  This is essentially the BIBLE for all midwives and doulas.  Some background: Ina May is the head midwife at a place called The Farm in rural Tennessee, and in an oversimplified nutshell, it’s a hippie commune that settled there in the 70’s and (duh – free love and youth) 9 months later, there were babies being born.  Ina May became the resident midwife, and she still is.  Her record is impeccable, and she looks at childbirth as a beautiful rite of passage, not just a means to an end.  Acknowledging that complications arise, she deals with the subject matter realistically but empowers women to see their role differently.  She tells the reader, “Remember this, for it is as true as true gets: Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic. Human female bodies have the same potential to give birth well as aardvarks, lions, rhinoceri, elephants, moose, and water buffalo. Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body.” This was my mantra for my previous pregnancy when I would get nervous.  We all know how that turned out, and yet I know that when the next time rolls around, I’ll repeat her words again and again to remind myself of the power and beauty of the female body and the task before us.  Even aside from the subject of childbirth, her message continues to guide me.  So many women beat up on their own bodies because we aren’t skinny enough or tall enough or curvy enough or whatever.  Remembering our perfection and capabilities in spite of perceived imperfections is so important.
  2. Fair and Tender Ladies –  Oh, where do I begin?  This novel follows one amazing woman throughout her life, and it has all my favorite ingredients – a southern setting, epistolary form, surprising character twists, beautiful description, and a feisty, admirable female lead.  I’ve memorized passages from this book and reread it so many times that my copy is battered and bruised and marked. Ivy sucks the marrow from life in a way that inspires anyone.  She shares my love for carpe diem-isms and warns you, “The days seem to go faster and faster…the days whirl along like the leaves blowing off the mountain right now. I want to hold up its flight like you would hold up a train and steal what I can from each day…” How many times I’ve thought the same thing in those happiest moments or stages of my life.   When you depart from Ivy at the end of the book, it’s like turning the page on a friend, but she continues to inspire; “We spend our lives like a tale that is told, I have spent my years so. I have loved, and loved, and loved.” What better way to reflect on a life well-lived? Might be on my tombstone one day; I’m only half kidding.
  3. Wise Children – This work of magical realism focuses on twins Dora and Nora Chance, and it begins on their 75th birthday.  They spend much of the novel reflecting on their life which has been deemed marginal or illegitimate in so many ways.  Despite their challenges, they continually remind readers, “What a joy it is to dance and sing!” and this book reads like a carnival. It’s so inspiring and I finish it wanting to consume every last morsel of Life with no regrets.  There’s so much more I can say, but I’ll babble.  I love this novel.  I love Angela Carter.
  4. Eat, Pray, Love – Umm, yeah, this memoir is overdone.  It’s a movie and women flock to see it.  Oprah-lovers read it in their book clubs, and it is ubiquitous right now, but I can’t deny the power of one woman’s firsthand account of literally traveling the world to find herself and finally claim her happiness after years of living what felt like someone else’s life.  There are passages in this book that are pure magic and really, really worth something. I love that this work reminds me that you have to chase after the life you were meant to live, not fall lazily in to someone else’s. Every passage is quotable, so I couldn’t choose only one.  Plus my copy is upstairs at the moment and I’m lazy.
  5. The Bluest Eye – I read this in high school and then reread it years later.  I am white, middle class, and admittedly come from pretty sheltered beginnings.  It is only through literature like Morrison’s that I could experience the life of someone so different from myself.  Pecola obsesses about her eye color, but we all know that wouldn’t fix everything about her troubled, sad existence.  Morrison is such a master.  “It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights-if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different.” This book is heavy, but I realize we are not all that different from Pecola….if only I had more money, if only I lived somewhere more exciting, if only I had a different career, if only I was beautiful, if only, if only…..All of us could benefit from the reminder that life does not hinge on one fact alone.  We are all beautiful. We are all meaningful.  Life your life as such.
  6. The Time Traveler’s Wife –  This is another one that might be overdone with a blockbuster movie and a prominent place at Barnes and Noble, but I can’t praise this novel enough. I am usually ashamed to read love stories, but this is an honest, unabashed, bold, and beautiful story that, at the heart of things, is really about the incredible love between two people.  I read it during a 3 week break from graduate school courses when I was planning my wedding, moving, and beginning my career; I relished this novel and did not want to turn that last page.  I love that it makes time irrelevant while also reminding the reader that time is tickin’ and you’d better be bold with your life and your love. “Time is priceless, but it’s Free. You can’t own it, you can use it. You can spend it. But you can’t keep it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.” Such a sentiment we all need to hear.  And at the end of my journey, I hope I too can say, “There is only one page left to write on. I will fill it with words of only one syllable. I love. I have loved. I will love.” Oh, Henry and Claire.
  7. Billy Collins [Poetry]  –  I adore Billy Collins and have seen him read twice.  I even got his autograph – my claim to fame. I love that he makes poetry accessible for all of us. Do you love poetry?  Pick up a Collins book.  Do you hate poetry?  Pick up a Collins book, and he will change your mind.  The second time I heard him read, he stated that all literature “is about the same thing: Life is beautiful.  Then you die.”  I love this man.
  8. Keats [Poetry]  – Oh, my crush Keats.  Only a man who dies at 25 and knew he was dying for much of his life could affect us the way he does.  Go LIVE, now. he seems to say to me.  His work is nothing short of beautiful, and I could waste so much time just reading and rereading his poetry. I love that he values love and beauty, art and sincerity, knowing that in the end, not much else matters. “A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.” The irony is that he proves that more than anything else.  Centuries later, we are reading his work when he only lived for a brief moment.

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So that’s my list, books that shape my life in many ways.  What are yours?  Is there a work that changed you?  A passage that changed you?  I’d love to hear.

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Table for One, Please

One of the things on my long list of summer self-improvement is to eat better when my husband is gone on business.  In efforts to do this, I ordered The Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones who, if you don’t know, worked with Julia Child for many years and has now written a cookbook full of recipes she has learned as a result of her new life as a widow.  While that, of course, is not my situation, I do eat alone about 4-7 times a month, and Trader Joe’s stir-fry is good but gets old.  This book has so many promising ideas from a single, stuffed Portobello mushroom to beef bourguingnon for one. I find myself looking at solitary dinnertime with excitement rather than lonely maybe-I-should-just-have-cereal-tonight desperation.

A couple of weeks ago, I ventured to make a steak for myself and use the leftovers 2 nights later in a gratin which was yummy.  My latest try from Jones’s book, however, blew that away.  This was so incredibly good that I think I’ll want to double it and make it when Scott is around as well.  A bonus that makes the dish even better is that it is nourishing, fun to make, and composed of real, wholesome ingredients.  I’ve never thought to eat eggs for dinner before, but she has a whole chapter on the usefulness of eggs for the single cook, and I think I just opened a whole new door that I never knew existed.  The final result of this particular recipe is so decadent and so French.  I seriously felt like I was back in Paris, sitting in a street-side table along the Seine.  Sigh.

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Baked Egg with Vegetables

First grate a single, small zucchini.  Place the shreds in a colander and salt them.  Wait about 30 minutes for the zucchini to drain.  (You’ll be surprised at how much water comes out, and you don’t want your final result soupy.)  Next melt a tablespoon of butter in a saute pan, add diced onions (she specifies shallots) and sliced mushrooms.  Cook for about 3 minutes.  Now squeeze the grated zucchini so that most of the excess water comes out.  Throw the zucchini in the pan and saute with the onions and mushrooms for about 3 minutes.  Next add 2 tablespoons of heavy cream. (DIVINE.  Makes everything better.)  Stir and cook for one minute.  Judith Jones also says you can throw in any other leafy green vegetables you have.  I threw in Swiss Chard from earlier this week, and it was delicious.

Now spoon the vegetables in to a small gratin dish and make a small well in the middle.  Crack one egg on top.  Add a dash of salt and pepper.  Pour 2 more tablespoons of heavy cream on top and sprinkle some parmesan cheese if you have it and want it.  Cook in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until the egg is set.  It comes out looking like this and smelling incredible.

There’s something about sitting down to eat a perfectly proportioned one-person meal in a little individual dish.  Heaven.

Ultimate Blog Party 2010

For those of you who don’t know, the folks at 5 Minutes for Mom have put together an Ultimate Blog Party as a way for us to meet and greet fellow bloggers and even win prizes!  If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should.  If you found me from the links on the UBP site, here’s a little about me and my blog.

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I am a 29-year-old high school English teacher and mother to an adorable, laid-back, sweet little 6-month old boy named Jude.

Soon I can erase the first half of that sentence because I am turning the page to life as a SAHM in something like 43 42 days.  Not that I’m counting.  As I’ve said before, my days are certainly never boring and, for the most part, I’ve actually loved my job for the last 5 years, but I’m incredibly excited to give more of myself to Baby Jude in the coming months.  I find it really really difficult to balance 150 of other people’s children with just one of my own, and I think anyone who maintains sanity as both a teacher and a mother deserves serious praise.

I’m fascinated with natural living, and we do our best around here to be less wasteful, healthier, and more frugal whenever possible.  I’m not perfect on that one. (Where did all those Girl Scout cookies go?)  But I’m learning and enjoying the journey as I find new tips and ideas to better living.  We grow a little here and there, and I love using my own herbs and such in the kitchen

Let’s see, what else?  I love books (hence the title), but I won’t be posting reviews as often as I once did on my former book blog because I usually get, oh I don’t know, 14 pages in and someone decides to wake up from a nap or need a snuggle.  I’m working on making time for reading in my new life though, and he’s worth the interruption in my reading schedule for sure.

I began this blog as a way to chronicle my life with my son as I watch him grow and as I attempt to embrace the many challenges of motherhood.  I love that mommy blogs give us a sense of community to read anecdotes and hear experiences from a day in the life of what is, to me, both the hardest and most satisfying thing I’ve ever attempted.

Leave me a comment to let me know you stopped by and give me another place to visit!  I love “seeing” you from afar and learning about your families, challenges, tips, and ideas. I’ve only been at this for a few weeks, so there’s not much, but feel free to stay awhile and have a look around!

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There are some great prizes over at 5 Minutes for Mom, but if I were to win any of them, I’d love:

  1. A Guy and Eva Jewelry Necklace
  2. 2 year-long magazine subscriptions…one to Taste of Home and one to Simple & Delicious.
  3. New Momma Prize Package from the Pampered Chef including the Must Have Quick-Stir Pitcher and Twixit! Clips

If my top three prizes were taken, I’d prefer prizes number 12, 27, 31, 32, 38, 42, 44, or 51.