Family, Food, Meditation, Parenting, running, Yoga

What if we all tried hibernation?

It is almost the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year.  More and more I find I have to make deals with myself to get out of bed in the morning, to get out the door to exercise. I’m feeling tremendously lazy, and am unusually interested in carbs.

Thinking of my summer self bounding up into the hills and coming home for a farmers market salad is like listening to a story of someone I knew in grade school.  I can hardly remember who the girl was who had run, and meditated and done yoga all before 10 am.

My first instinct as the days have become shorter and darker, after the farmers market closed for the season, was to ignore those changes and continue on with my routines.  Getting out of bed in the pitch dark, sitting for meditation and a short yoga practice when every ounce of me longed for bed.  Forcing myself out the door and up the hill for a run, despite the grey sky and my heavy legs.  I have been buying expensive out of season produce; I will never forget how scandalized my mother was the first time she saw tangerines and cherries next to each other at the grocery store.  The literal definition of too much of a good thing.  After a few weeks of denying both the clear messages my body was sending and those outside I had a radical idea: what if I slowed down a bit? What if I actually stayed in bed? What if I did everything less…

For the last few weeks I have been doing less, much less.  I have been running barely at all, my yoga practice has been very slow and quiet.  I have extended my meditation practice because sitting feels good right now.  I am eating all the starchy foods that appear this time of year, the squashes, potatoes, and apples.  When it first dawned on me that my body was really telling me it wanted a bit of a break, I thought back on the last few winters when I have not adjusted my program at all.  I have gone at 110% regardless of what the weather suggested or my internal clock required.  Both this spring and last, I started the season nursing injuries of overuse…..It’s stunning to think I needed to learn this lesson twice. Actually more like 39 times.

None of the things that I fear about letting up on my routines have happened.  My jeans all fit. My sleep is just as deep if not deeper.  I am calmer.  I have focused my yoga practice on forward bends and hip-openers. No jumping, nothing fancy. It is more a practice of hibernation than acceleration.  I am hoping that when spring comes that I will feel refreshed and renewed by this period of slowing down.  By actually paying attention to what my body wants, by curling up with a book in front of the fire, and sleeping in, I feel like I am taking care of myself. It’s easy to get confused, to think that going full speed all the time is actually what we need.  It isn’t. It is what we become used to, but that doesn’t mean it’s what we always need. Sometimes we need to pull back, to go inward and slow down. The world will continue to turn.  In fact we may find it turns with fewer creaks and compaints right into spring……

Family, Food, Parenting

Do not try this at home…..

gross hand cakeI promised myself when we moved that I wouldn’t work for six months. I would focus on getting the kids settled and on the renovations we wanted to do in the new house.  I was a little burned out by the time we made the move and thought that a break from teaching was probably a good thing.  Besides, moving to the Bay Area as a yoga teacher is like bringing sand to the beach.

Ever since I have had kids I have always worked. Sometimes it was only one day a week and other years as many as thirty-five hours per week.  We have never had any of the conflicts about chores that many of my friends who have families with two working parents have had.  Colin and I have managed to split up the various tasks that govern family life in such a way that we have avoided that kind of resentment.

Last year I had a teaching schedule that several days a week had me starting my work day at 6 am and finishing at 9 pm.  I was always home when the kids came home from school, a hectic time of day filled with homework, playdates, dinner and my least favorite task: making their lunches for the next day.  When this school year first began I really enjoyed putting the kids on the bus, walking back home, chatting with the dog, heading out for a run.  Things like showering with no sense of urgency were new sensations.  Not thinking of my days in 15 minute increments was a welcome change.

In the last few weeks I have made forty cupcakes for the fall festival and spent hours making a spooky cake that looked like it hand a reaching out of it, I have taught myself how to upholster, reading books on fabrics as if they were New York Times bestsellers. I like doing these things. In fact I love doing them; I am just not sure it’s enough.

The hardest hours of our day are from 3:30-6:00 pm.  In the rest of the world they are rush hour, or happy hour.  In our house they drag at half speed.  During these long afternoons I toggle between intense boredom, irritable restlessness and pleasure at the sweetness of my kids. It’s a strange combination, like vinegar covered marshmallows or something.   I was helping Ben with long division, a process so arduous I think the people who built the Great Wall had it easier.  When faced with numbers my intelligent, resourceful child becomes whiney and seemingly cursed with amnesia.  When ask if 59 was an even number today he said no with great authority, “But 57 is”.  We were already on minute thirty of homework.  I had to separate myself from him before I hit him with the zucchini I was slicing.  In the meantime, I had put the chicken on the grill and checked on Mae. I was letting Pete practice riding his skateboard in the family room because we just took the rug up in there and he could practice on the plywood floor.  I would have sent him to the park but he doesn’t like to go unless Ben can come, and at the rate we were going the chances of Ben making it to the park were slim.

Finally Mae emerged from her room after a post school chill and wanted to eat something.  She likes it if someone sits next to her for snack, and I was happy to sit with her.  I will admit to having the thought as I sat next to her that sometimes having a child who doesn’t speak isn’t all bad.  At that moment, Pete announced that there was “the poop of a dog” on the floor in the family room.  Because Mae had just sat down to eat, there was not going to be any poop picking up until she was done, so I got to sit there knowing that at some point in the next ten minutes I was going to have the great pleasure of picking up dog poop inside my own home.


If you drive by our house in the afternoon it looks like nothing is happening.  In truth, not that much is happening, but when you are the eye of that particular storm and every sentence starts with the word “Mom,” you can start to wish you were anywhere else.  I am lucky that I have options, and that staying home with my children is a choice I can make.  It is insanely hard and I miss working and will go back to it eventually.   If I don’t, I will eventually drive Colin crazy with questions like, “Will you teach me how to use the table saw so I can cut this piece of siding for the porch?”  Being a Mom is hard no matter what choices you make.  I find it equal parts wonderful, terrifying and tedious.  It is the craziest adrenaline sport and the longest lecture all rolled into one…..the prize is getting to do it all again the next day. And besides, I would be pissed if anyone else let Pete ride his skateboard in the house.

Family, Food, Parenting

Remember Olestra……

kale salad 2Last night I watched the documentary Fed Up which was produced and narrated by Kate Couric.  It is a fairly detailed account of how we have found ourselves in a situation where obesity is now a bigger health crisis than starvation. The whole low fat craze started in 1977, and as food companies removed fat from food they added sugar — lots and lots of it.  Since we were all trying to avoid getting fat, it seemed to make sense to remove the fat from our diets.  However, once you remove the fat from a food it is really no longer recognizable to your system; and when you add a bunch of sugar it actually sends your system into overdrive, raising your insulin levels and ultimately turning all that excess sugar into fat.

Say the words “Olestra” or “Snackwells” to anyone my age and they will laugh.  Almost everyone I know remembers those cookies that all at once appeared in the pantry.  Who can forget the thin outer layer of chocolate that in a not unpleasant sensation would give way to a vaguely dry and cardboard middle.  I even remember peeling the outer chocolate off and leaving a stack of the icky middles on the coffee table as I watched The People’s Court after school.  As Judge Wapner handed down faux justice I ate faux cookies although at the time I believed in both.  Only a few years later Olestra appeared, this new chemical was going to mean that you could eat bags of Doritos and potato chips and not gain weight.  The only catch was that each package came with the warning “May cause anal leakage.”  These two products disappeared off the shelves after a few years.  I guess that even the thought of guilt free Doritos wasn’t enough to make people overlook the anti-social consequences.

What becomes clear in Fed Up, and what we all are realizing, is that a lot of the things sold in the grocery store are not food.  In fact most things that have been processed are not food.  That doesn’t mean they don’t taste good, or that we don’t want them, but it does mean that our bodies don’t benefit from them at all.  Coincidentally, I am reading a book called Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson.  It is an easy read all about how to get maximum nutrients from our food. For example, if you crush fresh garlic put it aside for ten minutes before you heat it.  Only after a little rest does it release all its powerful anti-inflammatory chemicals.  She also points out that given the sad state of what passes for a tomato in most grocery stores we are better off with the canned variety.

Ultimately, we all want to feel good about what we eat.  I am a believer in moderation in all things. Except for dessert…I am an all or nothing girl when it comes to whipped cream! The point made in both the film and the book is that real nourishing food is rarely available in a package. I knew it wasn’t all healthy but some of it bears a closer relationship to the lego on my playroom floor than what we should be eating. For those of us who grew up thinking that fat was bad and low-fat was good, it’s time to reprogram ourselves.  As food journalist and author Mark Bittman says “If your grandmother wouldn’t recognize it you probably shouldn’t eat it.”

Family, Food, Parenting

A light summer meal, and a confession

Gnocchi and Grilled VeggiesRecently, my very dear friend Ruth Nemzoff pointed out to me that my recipes were pretty complicated, and had a lot of steps. Which seemed impractical given how busy I am and how many children I have.  She is absolutely right of course.  I realized that part of why I love cooking and experimenting in the kitchen is that I feel like I am doing something for my family but I don’t actually have to be with them.  The kids can be running through the kitchen, and I can absolutely guiltlessly suggest that they play other places because I am. after all cooking for them.  This recipe is actually not that time consuming if you use store bought gnocchi.  Gnocchi is kind of fun to make especially if complicated cooking projects are an escape of sorts which clearly they are for me.

Gnocchi

4 Russet potatoes

1 ½ cups Gluten Free flour (you can use regular, I like Pamela’s GF)

1 Tbsp Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

Start by baking the potatoes until they are soft to the touch.  About an hour at 400 should do the job, slice them to cool and set them aside.  Boil a large pot of water, about as much water as you would use to make any other kind of pasta (about 6 cups). Peel the potatoes while they are still warm, if they cool down too much they are harder to manipulate. I use the hand mixer to mash them after I have taken off the skins.  Once they are mashed add the olive oil,salt and pepper and  flour in ¼ cup intervals.  I like to do this with my hands.  When the mixture starts to get really doughy roll it out on a floured surface.  Make 1 or 2 long snakes of dough and cut them every inch.  The pieces should be bite sized, and will expand a bit when cooked.  Lay out parchment paper, you will place the gnocchi on the parchment paper to cool after you have cooked it.  Don’t let them touch or they will stick together.  Throw your gnocchi into the boiling water, they are done when they float to the top.  Gnocchi freezes well, so when I make it I make a few batches. Let them cool and then add whatever sauce you want.

Pete’s grilled pepper red sauce

My son Pete loves pasta, and this sauce is his creation.

6 grilled tomatoes (depending on size, Heirloom or even Roma)

2 grilled red peppers

2 Tbsp Olive Oil

1-2 cloves garlic

Salt and Pepper to taste

¼-½ cup water

I love the grilled vegetables of summer, we have even grilled peaches!  I served this with asparagus that I just threw straight on the grill and drizzled olive oil and lemon pepper on after they had cooked.  To make the sauce, just throw the tomatoes and the peppers straight on the grill.  When they start to soften and blacken very slightly, pull them off.  Throw them into a bowl with the olive oil, and crushed garlic, add a ¼ cup of water.  You can add more as needed. Again I used the hand mixer to blend it all together, adding salt and pepper to taste at the end.  Garnish with fresh basil.  The sauce is rich but if you prefer it thinner add more water, this sauce also freezes very well.

Family, Food, Meditation

This time I won’t read, smile, and delete…

raceI have written before about how Colin believes that I am a superhero.  His stubborn  insistence that I am the very best version of myself allows me to do crazy things like raise humans.  For years he has been encouraging me to enter writing contests, emailing me links to submit articles, or forwarding me profiles of writers on a trajectory he thinks I should follow.  I always open the link, email or article, smile to myself about how sweet it is that he thinks I am capable of such things and delete them.

This past week, he sent me a link to submit something and I was just about to read, smile, and delete, when I decided that maybe I would just let it sit in my inbox for a change.  Now it sits in my inbox like the email equivalent of a giant pile of laundry, demanding that I eventually deal with it, but is easily ignored in the short term.

I have been trying to figure out why read, smile and delete has become the fallback position for these emails, and I think it’s because on some level I think that entering these contests is an exercise in futility.  I won’t win.  It dawned on me yesterday as I trudged along for a morning run where my efforts to appreciate the triumph of spring were interrupted by the peanut gallery of aches and pains in my hips.  I realized that I have entered many marathons and half marathons with no intention of winning.  Never once when I have shown up to the starting line of a race has winning crossed my mind.

The Hartford Marathon is a favorite.  It is close to home and is a big enough race to have good snacks and a great shirt, but not so big that you have to walk an extra mile at the end to find your family.  It also has a switchback so that when I am at mile 17 I see the people who will win at mile 23.  Mile 17 is a horrendous part of the race for me.  I have run far enough that I know I will finish but I still have nine miles to go, and everything hurts.  It is the part of the run when I promise myself that I will never, ever, ever be seduced by the notion of a foot race ever again. Meanwhile, coming the other direction are runners who are only a few miles from the finish line; as my feet pound the road, theirs seem to glide, as my hips curse at me with each step, theirs seem to be well oiled joints in a high performance machine.  It’s all in my head of course.   They too are working incredibly hard.  They will finish this race much more quickly than I will, but we both will finish. I would never enter a race to win, I enter it to finish.  I enter them so that I can remind myself that if I can get past the internal voices at mile seventeen I can run another nine, not to win but to finish.

Today, I will re-open that email from Colin, and I will write something to submit to this contest.  I will ignore the voice in my head that tells me it will be received by a room of people who will laugh at it.  They will think it’s so awful that they will quote it to friends as the worst thing they ever read.  Or when I am feeling optimistic about it I think it will end up in the “close but only because she has good hair pile.” Either way, I am going to enter because I am old enough to know that I don’t enter a race to win.  We create our own obstacles, if I decide that success is a condition of embarking on every venture I might as well never leave the house.  Everything has it’s mile seventeen moment where you can look over and see someone who probably is having more fun than you are.  The thing is, that we all end up at the same place. My obstacles, and fears are actually just as loud sitting comfortably in my living room as they are at mile seventeen, so I might as well at least enter the race.

Family, Food, Marriage

How do I know if I am good at this?

Benny_10_1_04 019My first pancake is about to turn ten, which means that I have been someone’s mother for a decade.  When I was pregnant with Ben, I went to Greenwich Hospital to fill out all the pre-delivery forms.  On his form there was the section that said “Relationship to Patient.” I pointed to my stomach and said to the nurse, “We haven’t met yet.”  She looked at me with a mix of laughter and pity and said, “You are the patient’s mother”.

A few days after he was born, we headed back to the hospital for a post-delivery check-in.  When I explained to the nurse that he would only sleep at night if he could sleep on me, and that I was worried that I was starting him off in life with bad habits, she smiled with that same mix of laughter and pity, and said, “He is a baby animal and you are his mother.” Clearly, I was not a quick study, because I kept having to be reminded that this very small human around whom the entire world now seemed to revolve was depending on me.

I am by nature a confident person, or at least very good at faking it.  To the outside world I think it looked like I took to motherhood quickly and easily, but in fact I was obsessed with not screwing it up.  I hated not knowing whether or not I was good at it. I wanted evaluations, feedback of some kind, but of course the one person entitled to evaluate my performance slept eighteen hours a day and couldn’t keep his socks on.  I realized that what was hard for me about motherhood was not the exhaustion, or the changes in my body, or even the loss of my beloved routines.  It was the insecurity.  I wanted to get an A….

The joke was on me of course.  The one time in my life when I wanted to be the perfect student it simply wasn’t possible.  My sweet first pancake, who broke me into motherhood also taught me that I had to let myself off the hook.  I was not going to be able to be the perfect mother because there is no such thing. When I feel like torturing myself,  I look at other women I know who seem to enjoy standing on sidelines, or whose houses are always clean, and I think that they are better at this than I am.  Comparing myself to other women is poisonous but especially when it comes to parenting.

He is a baby animal, even as he is about to turn ten, and I am his mother.  He doesn’t know that I have never felt fully qualified for the job, and that the whole thing is held together with duct tape and love.  I am the only mother he has ever known and the best thing I can do for him is to stop chasing perfection and just be kind and patient with us both.  He is my first pancake.  I have learned more from him than he has from me, and I will be forever grateful to him for his patience and faith that I am up to the task of motherhood.

 

Family, Food, Meditation

Can’t I always lie in the sun in Paris?

sun in parisIt is almost always the simple things that matter most.  Recently, we took our children on a trip where they were able to see and experience some of the greatest art and architecture in the world.  We had a wonderful time, but everyone agreed that one of our most fun afternoons was spent in a park while we lay in the sun and the boys shot cans with a small homemade bow and arrow.  We could have been anywhere, we happened to be in France.  Sometimes, I think we lose sight of the fact that our situation is as much shaped by our attitude as by circumstance.

Obviously, it is easier to have a good attitude lying in the grass, under a warm sun with a full belly than it is doing deep knee bends on an airplane trying to calm a tantrumming child and ignore the stares of other passengers. Neither experience lasts forever, even when you wish it would or it feels like it might.  One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from having a special needs child is to let things go, both good and bad.  When our children were babies and sleep was an enormous issue, I remember thinking there was a perfect sleep recipe.  The pajamas they had worn for their first long good sleep, became the “magic pajamas” or the sheets on the bed, or the meal I had, had before nursing. Certainly, you can do things that support good sleep for your baby, routine being one of them.  But, every parent soon figures out that some nights they will sleep even with a marching band going through their bedrooms and other nights they won’t no matter what.

It is the same with everything in life, you can plan elaborate and exciting adventures for your family, and they can be great.  Or you can all snuggle up onto the same couch and watch Fetch and sometimes that is better and was a happy accident. Being able to maintain equanimity in the face of anything, is what allows us to truly be at ease.  We cannot control the outcome of any situation especially when children are involved.  What we can control is our response.  Some days will be awful, you will receive bad news, your bank account will be empty, loved ones will be in pain, other days you will find yourself lying in the sun in Paris.  Life is like that.  I am trying to greet both the good and bad with the same joyful attitude, the way one would meet an old friend.  Inconvenience, sadness, joy, and ease, all familiar, all fleeting, all guests at the same table.