Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thank Full

Black Friday here, weather at a pleasant 60 degrees Fahrenheit and credit cards holding much hotter. Though we don't "do" Black Friday by visiting big box stores at odd hours of day and night, Rob and I get online pretty early to score the deals. This morning I was at Sports Authority and Swim Labs sites over breakfast while upstairs Rob was shopping at Best Buy and Home Depot. Cannot wait to get the credit card statement for our overlapping hour of productive clicking.

The annual hype over Black Friday deals was matched by the higher-than-normal hype over starting shopping ON Thanksgiving. Editorials slammed the idea of making employees work on the holiday and criticized shoppers who lined up en masse to make their minimum-wage hours filled and busy. Since my thoughts turned to shopping early this morning I can't stop to criticize, but I will comment just a bit.  If the whole point of Thanksgiving is to stop and be filled with thanks for our blessings, how healthy can it be to immediately turn to our wishlists and focus on what we are lacking, missing, wanting?  It seems that the window for feeling full (of turkey, friends, family and pie) is closing and the doorway to feeling a consumerish angsty want opens earlier and earlier. It would be better if we flipped the holidays, if we spent one day on shopping and buying what we thought we needed, and the next thirty on giving thanks for what we already have.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Paleo Cooking

After a month or so of "cheating" by eating gluten free cookies, brownies and muffins made with grains, sugar, and more sugar, I'm returning to clean paleo in time for Thanksgiving. I pulled out my Mama's Coconut Blend Flour, a whole bunch of eggs and my favorite canned pumpkin. So far today I've made Pumpkin Pancakes and Cranberry - Pumpkin muffins from my Practical paleo Cookbook. The kids gave the muffins four stars but were less thrilled by the pancakes (I burned them).  I've also made a wonderful Spiced Orange Cranberry sauce (see below) with  no added sugar. The last thing on my list today is to make Paleo Pumpkin Bars with Vanilla Frosting My friend, Heather, made these for a school bake sale and they were amazing. Actually, everything that Heather makes is amazing so I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that my bars come out looking something like hers.It's fun to see how many creations can come out of a kitchen sweetened only with honey or maple syrup or dates, but those handy-dandy mixes just sneak up on me in the grocery store and jump into my cart when I'm over looking at the kale. I'll try to keep myself honest by posting some paleo adventures here. Enjoy your cooking and eating!

Spiced Orange Cranberry Sauce (Yoga Journal, November 2013) 
1 organic orange
1 c water
12 oz fresh cranberries
5 Medjool dates, pitted and diced
2 tsp fresh minced ginger

1. Zest about half the orange and reserve the zest. Cut the ends off the orange, then cut away the peel and outer membrane of fruit in wide strips. Holding the orange over a bowl to catch the juice, cut between the inner membranes and fruit to release the segments into the bowl.

2. In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the orange segments (including any juice), cranberries, dates, and ginger. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until sauce is thick. Stir in the orange zest and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Today's Day

Thanksgiving Day approaches and even though I do not pride myself on my cooking, I am thrilled to fill the kitchen with cans of pumpkin, sweet potatoes, apples and cranberries. The week feels festive due to the fresh chill in the air, the scuddy grey clouds, and the three days of vacation starting tomorrow. Folks are getting ready to see friends and family and turkey trots, football games, and ice skating dates have been organized. Life feels more fun and more full of potential.

But we could, theoretically, live like this much of the time. We don't need a "Mother's Day" to celebrate our mothers, a "Father's Day" to remember our fathers, or a Thanksgiving Day to remind us to give thanks. These are things we can do all of the time, though we might not have a Hallmark card or special menu attached. Thich Nhat Hanh mentions the idea of "Today's Day" in your true home, where he writes, "Why not celebrate a day when we can live happily in the present moment all day long?"

Right now, in this moment, we live and breathe, we love and are loved. Though we would go broke and pass out from exhaustion if we tried to have the trappings of the holidays on every day, we can bring the sense of happiness and fullness to each moment Today. I am so happy that the sun is back out, that my washing machine works, that I'm well enough to shop and cook, that my kids are young and still like me. Enjoy Today's Day - there are plenty more to come!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Gratitude for a New Outlook

We heard a good sermon yesterday, and Pastor Gary included in his text an anecdote from a visit that he and his wife paid to the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. They had a kind porter named Jack, who engaged Gary in conversation about life as a pastor and author focusing on the work of the Spirit in the world. Jack, holding the view of many of us, I'm afraid, said "Isn't it hard to write about faith when so many bad things happen in the world? They're on TV all the time, in the newspapers - everywhere!" Gary replied, "I actually think that people are mostly good, kind and loving - all over the world. The reason negative events make news is partly because we are always shocked that people could commit such acts - and we're always shocked  because our 'normal' state is to be good, kind and loving."

Apparently Jack really liked that perspective and they talked several more times over Gary and Kim's stay. I also like Gary's perspective and I am grateful for Gary's story. In this Thanksgiving week I am also thankful for the good, kind, and loving people in my own life and the daily acts of kindness that they "commit".

Friday, November 22, 2013

Liberty Lost

I had eight ladies attend my class at the detention center yesterday and three of them will get certificates for attending all of the classes and doing their homework. We covered a fable called "The Horse, The Deer and the Hunter" - in Spanish "El Caballo, El Ciervo y el Cazador." The plot goes like this: a horse and a deer coexisted peacefully in a beautiful forest for a long time. One day, the deer made fun of the horse and stuck his tongue out at the other animal. The horse was infuriated, and chased the deer through the forest, but the deer was faster and more agile and got away. Each time they bumped into each other thereafter, the horse would chase the deer to no avail.

One day, the horse met up with a hunter in the forest and asked the hunter to ride him to find the deer, and take a shot at the deer with his arrows. The hunter did so, and missed the deer when he shot. The deer ran off and left the forest for good. The horse was satisfied with this outcome and told the hunter his services were no longer required, so he could get off and take the saddle and reins with him.  Well, of course the hunter was thrilled with riding the horse and had no intentions of giving the horse back his freedom; instead, he took the horse back to his farm and kept him in servitude forevermore.

The moral of the fable is that vengeance only leads to more trouble, but I missed the other main point of the story which was more relevant to the detainees - that the horse's punishment was the loss of his liberty. The ladies in class yesterday all picked up on the idea that vengeance is bad, but the horse's loss of his freedom had a much greater impact. I was entirely blind not to anticipate that; thoughtless until one of the ladies said "at least the deer got to go to another forest - the horse was locked up for good - just like me." She drooped as she said this, and could not lift her eyes to meet mine. She wore the blue uniform that signified her offense as lack of documentation alone, and I could not help but wonder, "what are we doing here?"

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Certificate Day

Three inches of crisp white snow cover the slick streets and sidewalks this morning, but we were not awakened by a robo-call from the school district, so schedules proceed as normal. I'm glad about this, because I am headed back to the GEO / ICE Detention Center in Aurora today to teach the third of three classes in fables and writing. The female detainees that have attended my class (thirteen each of the first two days) have been a fun and enthusiastic audience. I conduct the class in English and Spanish, as I have more native Spanish speakers than English speakers. I don't ask their stories, but my imagination runs wild.

Consider the young woman who came to the first class and didn't say a word. When we passed out the fables on a handout she didn't take one, and when I asked about her language skills - in Spanish - another young woman leaned over and said, "she can't read or write in any language." Later I learned that the young woman was Mayan, that she had been in the detention center for a while struggling to communicate with anyone there. She had learned a few words of Spanish, but not enough to feel comfortable. Can you imagine living in a Mayan village in the highlands of Guatemala or southern Mexico, braving a dangerous journey to the U.S., and then finding yourself in jail with a crowd of other women who speak foreign languages? How isolating, uncertain, and scary that must be.

That's just one of the partial stories I've gathered. I hope the four ladies who attended both classes so far come to class today to achieve their certificate. It will supposedly help them to make a good impression with the judge when the case goes to court; a sign that they have worked hard to better themselves. If anything stops the ladies from coming today it will be a meeting with legal pro bono services, work duty, court itself, or deportation. Quite different from my experience, driving free and clear on a snowy day.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Let's Jam?

Time to make a switch in tone from urgent confessional to self- deprecation. What more perfect venue to make fun of myself than my guitar lesson?  To begin with, I had a haircut right before my lesson yesterday and went in to the lesson with tiny hairs scattered across the cheekbones on both sides of my face (which I only discovered after leaving, when I encountered my scary countenance in the bathroom mirror). I looked like I was growing facial hair in support of Movember!

In class, I had to make my way through the two new songs I learned with such concentration that the fingers on my left hand turned white from pressing down the strings and the tension in my left arm made my trick elbow swell. Relaxed and happy, I was not!

For though I love guitar, it brings out all of my perfectionist, rigid qualities. \While those qualities help me practice and focus and move forward, they are also restrictive. When my teacher says, "Let's jam,"  I hear "let's get crazt and make s$#! up!"  That's scary because the creative, plastic connections in my brain seem to have frozen over the last four decades. I have to ask him to show me how, and it feels like asking a child to teach you how to play in the sandbox.

So I need to relax and practice "jamming" which hopefully will help my poetry, and quite possibly will up my smile quotient for the day. Sometimes it feels like I'm going back to the beginning, that I'm aiming to be 8 or 10 years old again, with most of what I've learned since then just excess baggage.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Weight of the World

Yesterday's post on my addiction to exercise was prompted by my annual visit to the ob/gyn. As part of the assessment I got my height and weight checked, and while the good news was that I 'grew' to 5'8 1/2 " due to yoga, I also gained another few pounds. I'm now at the weight that I kept more or less study for 6 years after being diagnosed with celiac and before I started marathon training. Though I am in a normal raange for my height and my personal experience, the weight gain threw me for a mental loop. I've gained almost 20 pounds since January, and though I desperately needed at least 15 of those, the extra five hit the 'calculate' button on my "American woman weight calculator."

I don't usually diet when I need to lose weight, though sometimes I cut out dessert and sugary snacks (never a bad idea). My bad habit, which started in college when I swam for an anorexic and weight-fixated coach, is to exercise like crazy to justify any calories I take in during the day.That is not safe or healthy for me to do anymore, so I'm left with trying on a new mode of thinking, which is that a few extra pounds + good health and energy to be a good wife and mother = a much better equation than being skinny, sick, anxious and temperamental. Though that comparison seems obvious, it's actually difficult to maintain after decades of brainwashing by the culture and after the bizarre amount of compliments I received on my appearance when I was underweight and running myself to death. Well-meaning friends and relatives told me frequently that I looked great, in an almost inverse proportion to how I felt. I am struggling to shake that off and to make sure I am clear in my own mind that feeling good is the most important measure of all.

Monday, November 18, 2013

My Addiction

No joking around or relevant quotes here; I am an exercise junkie and I am learning how to manage it. Call it recovery, or maturing, or just taking a new direction, but I have to be able to do some exercise to stay healthy and sane, while keeping an eye out for red flags. It's such a struggle when you have a "process addiction" like one with gambling or shopping or sex. These activities are nearly impossible to rule out entirely (like you can with alcohol or drugs) so the recovering person needs to reincorporate some "safe" level of the activity while making sure that s/he doesn't start to slide back into unhealthy habits. Take me, for example, I can safely exercise for about an hour each day, possibly for 90 minutes if there are breaks or if my heart rate doesn't get too high, but if I go over the 6 - 9 hours per week margin, I'll know I am sliding down a slippery road.

I've also decided not to ever sign up for a race or competition again, and I've posted that resolution on the blog before to keep myself honest. While racing I was so invested in beating my previous times and beating the other competitors, that I could become quite selfish by spending huge amounts of time and energy on these goals. My racing came at the expense of time with my family, and obviously at the expense of my health. It also enabled me to attach my worth as a human being to external things like places, times, and my physical appearance.  Now I am learning to attach worth to the place I share in loving relationships, and in developing my skills of writing and teaching (hopefully to the benefit of others as well as myself).

So if you ever see me training, feel free to stick out a leg and trip me up. I'll thank you the next day, I can almost promise....

Friday, November 15, 2013

Jhumpa Lahiri

I just finished the namesake by jhumpa Lahiri and I am in awe of her writing prowess. We read her book of short stories (interpreter of maladies) for book club and I was so impressed I vowed to read everything that she writes. Lahiri tackles the subject of acculturation, primarily from India to the US. She tackles much more than that, of course, but it is a solid thread in her writing and she helps readers to truly understand the dilemma of losing one's home country and setting down roots in a place without family or anything familiar.

I'll stop there with the explication and let you discover Lahiri's work on your own, but I do want to share this one line that struck home with me; the jolt of recognition and truth was so strong that I sat bolt upright from my slouch. In this paragraph, the main character (Gogol) reflects on his life after the failure of a relationship:

"They were things for which it was impossible to prepare but which one spent a lifetime looking back at, trying to accept, interpret, comprehend.Things that should never have happened, that seemed out of place and wrong, these were what prevailed, what endured, in the end."

Yes, yes, and yes.  Our missteps shape us. Events that make no sense are the things that endure, and somehow we need to be at peace with the fact that our journeys through life are not smooth, do not 'make sense' in the traditional linear way, and contain events that we can not prepare to survive.

PS - I told my daughter about the decline in smiles from youth to old age and she replied, with a straight face, "Well, old men still smile more than guinea pigs."  (!) Made me smile . . .

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Smile as Salvation

"A creative tension in the second half of life, knowing what you know and knowing what you don’t know, is a necessary one. All you know is that it is foundationally all right, despite the seeming contradictions and conflict. That’s why the holy old man can laugh and the holy old woman can smile. I heard recently that a typical small child smiles three hundred times a day and typical old men smile three times a day in our culture. What has happened between six and sixty? Whatever it is, it tells me that religion is not doing its job very well."
- Fr. Richard Rohr, Adapted from Adult Christianity and How to Get There

Rohr's email appeared in my inbox this morning with a welcome message; smiling is a form of salvation. He posits that only people comfortable with not knowing, who can laugh at themselves and accept the space between what they do know and what they don't know, can smile. I'm a bit stunned at the deterioration in the number of smiles: Rohr says we go from 300 down to 3 because religion isn't doing its job but I would also say that our communities and our overall society don't do a good job of encouraging the open space, the not knowing.  It reminds me of a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, "Knowledge is a barrier to understanding."  The more we think we know, the less we seek to understand. In the second half of life it seems that our job is to let it all go, all the constructs, definitions, goals and thought processes that we created in the first half, all set out in the driveway with a big "FREE" sign attached.

Smiling also changes the type and quantity of the neurotransmitters firing in our brain; it's been essential to my recovery from illness. That, and laughter. It's also an amazing way to approach people. When I smile at folks headed my way they light up in return, and the response is night and day from a situation that I approach serious and non-smiling. Maybe we need kind of a pedometer for smiles so that instead of counting steps we count the number of smiles toward salvation. I'm going to start now by sending my kids and husband off to their days with a smile.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Truth in Tea . . .

"A woman is like a Tea Bag . . . You can never tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water."
- Eleanor Roosevelt

Today I had time between appointments to have lunch at a wonderful place called In Tea. Over a delightful snack of gluten free cinnamon roll and iced pomegranate - cranberry tea with boba balls, I had a chance to write and reflect on the amazing strong women I know. Friends who have faced down cancer, who have suffered through the loss of parents, family members who generously give their heart and their time to those who are suffering, even dying; these women are my heroes and support. There is nothing that can beat their strength in hot water and tough times.

I crafted this poem with the ladies in mind:

What's in A Minute

What's in it, a minute?
A tearful good-bye when lovers part,
a racer's nervous dance ahead of the start,
an eclipse of the sun, the report of a gun,
a midnight phone call carries news to stun.
A whispered prayer delivered on your knees,
a cry for help, a passionate please,
a hug or a kiss, a sweet embrace,
many trials mere minutes can never erase.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Don't Water the Seeds of Suffering

"When we are irritated and we say something unkind to our child, we water the seeds of suffering in him. When he reacts, he waters the seeds of suffering in us. Living this way escalates and strengthens the suffering."  - Thich Nhat Hanh, Your True Home

I think Hanh did his research for this passage in my kitchen. This morning, as with many mornings, Daniel came downstairs loaded for bear. He sings and yells loudly, making an entrance and proceeding to shout, holler and stomp until all one or all of us, who were quietly reading or eating in the early morning calm, loses our temper and says something out of frustration and anger. How do we avoid getting irritated, or if we are irritated, how to avoid saying something unkind?  I'll have to think about my choices and get back to you. Certainly the image of me watering the seeds of suffering in any of my children makes me freeze in my tracks. I want to grow helpful things in their psyche, not hurtful ones. (And I don't need any help from them in watering the seeds of my own suffering!)  Just a thought on a slightly rough Monday morning when Daniel's excitement over the Veteran's Day assembly may have put him over the edge.  Both he and I - and our whole family - are extremely grateful for all of the veterans and men and women still in uniform. Thank you for your service.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Ability Imperative

"The ability imperative - If you can, you must."

Last week we visited the Kennedy Space Center, adjacent to Cape Canaveral, Florida. It was an amazing day; one of my favorite vacation days ever. We watched a video of the 1960's era race to the moon, and watched a video of the launch in a room with the actual equipment (monitors, phones, etc) used at the time of the Apollo launch. How antiquated and cumbersome it all looked! I probably have more technology on my phone than they did in a mainframe, yet they managed to reach the moon. I was overcome by the sense of imperative and drive, the energy and the dreaminess of that time. After the video we got to see the actual rocket, which is retired in a museum of its own.

We also watched an inspiring video of the shuttle program, featuring the shuttle Atlantis. At the end of the wonderful movie, which detailed 12 years of research and engineering work required to build and launch the shuttle. the movie curtains opened to show the actual Atlantis, on its side in another massive museum. I didn't expect it, and embarrassingly, I burst into tears. I felt transported by this sense of the ability imperative: if you can do it, you must, and I wondered where this imperative has gone to ground in this day and age.

The end of every presentation, especially the bus ride around the Vehicle Assembly Building and the launch pad (we got to stand in the fire / blast zone!) ended with the words, "this program is over." The kids were sad at the thought of the space programs ending, and for the first time, I was too. I told Aden and William that the efforts of their time would be toward renewable energy and technologies to protect our future, and I hope I'm right. We need the dream to motivate us, not the fear, and dreams are beautiful.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Turnaround

Yesterday, my guitar teacher gave me a new song, and after we went through the chords for the verses and the chorus, he told me the chords for a "turnaround" which he wrote on the music for me. Such is my beginner state that I am unfamiliar with the "turnaround" and he explained that it is a short bridge between the chorus and the verse, a place for the guitar player to get the singer or listener safely back to the verse after the chorus. I liked the phrase and it stuck in my head today, particularly after I ran into a terrible traffic jam on my way to Boulder, and I had to get off 36 at Sheridan and turn around to come back home.

I called my spiritual director to let her know I would not make it and she wished me luck in finding a place to turn around. Isn't that just the trick in life - to figure out a way to turn around, or go over, under or through a difficult situation? I was reflecting on something I have been telling the kids in their difficulties: life is made up of challenges and obstacles. Any smooth sailing is just a brief interlude between the normalcy of having issue after issue. I used to think it was the other way around . . . but I was wrong. Now the "turnaround" has a whole new meaning for me. It's not just a sweet spot for the guitar to work its magic, but it's also the art of making the best of a bad situation, and going in a new direction.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

For What Did I Take This Life?

I wrote this in response to a prompt from my spiritual director. Just another way of asking the existential question, "why are we / am I here?"  but the phrasing seemed to open me up to a different way of thinking.

A Domine

For what did I take this life?
To love God
Wherever I find God in me, in you,
In that which is hardest and heaviest and
In that which is light and joy-filled.

To express delight
When joy bubbles up in recognition of
Truth or beauty, in relationships or in
The outrageous pageant of the natural world.

To create things of enduring
Truth and beauty: my family, poetry,
Music and dancing, or opportunities to access these
For all who lack.

To share God, joy, creativity
In all the breadth of my activities,
In teaching, caring and enduring,

This day and every day that remains to me. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Mama Love

"You can take no credit for beauty at sixteen.  But if you are beautiful at sixty, it will be your soul's own doing.  ~Marie Stopes"

Some people, no matter how old they get, never lose their beauty - they merely move it from their faces into their hearts.  ~Martin Buxbaum

Everywhere we went on vacation we were surrounded by families. Families from England, for the most part; it seemed as if all of England primary was on fall break in Florida. Also families from Spain, South America, and other states; young children teased their cousins, teenagers flirted with boyfriends or girlfriends, grandparents pushed strollers and held hands. All ages and stages of life were represented, and I noticed something. First, I am definitely getting older. Rob and I are now middle-aged and there is no getting around the wrinkles, gray hairs, and slightly more rounded profiles that go with it. Second, I can't possibly foresee the day I will bring a boyfriend or girlfriend on a family vacation. Third, that connection and love between families and friends that makes a mama or a papa beautiful.

The paunchy Englishman with a receding hairline who held his daughter in the dolphin pool? He simply glowed with good looks as he gave up his dolphin ride to stay with the little girl, who seemed petrified of the whole dolphin experience. The rounded English lady with pink lipstick who stood in line next to her excited girls and listened patiently and happily to their endless questions? A true beauty. The grandfather patiently holding a screaming baby (one of twins) in the airport as new parents got all of their paraphernalia together? He looked like Clark Gable.

People always say that personality makes one attractive, or not, but it's a truism that can be hard to really believe. Just like the expression that "days take forever (with young children) but the years fly by."  I absolutely did not believe that the years would get up off the ground and fly anywhere . . . until suddenly my guitar teacher is playing "Shady Grove" at my last lesson and I started to cry because Aden and William had that song on their "Music Together" CD, which was tedious at the time but in hindsight so precious and fleeting. I see that my elders were right about years flying, and they are right about affection and love creating beauty. I should worry less about my sun spots and thin hair than about my demeanor with Daniel, less about maintaining a certain size and more about expanding the size of my heart and the scope of my patience. I could always spout that statement at you, but I'm finally believing it.

Friday, November 1, 2013

One More Checked off the Bucket List

Visiting the world of Harry Potter was a fairly recent addition to my bucket list, but swimming with dolphins has been on the list for a long time. I even have a dolphin tattooed on my right hip, a mark I got after Aden was born to show myself how determined I was to have some independent existence and still do things that I loved. Yesterday I finally got to swim with a dolphin. Her name is Thelma and she is 22 years old. She's the mother of four and the grandmother of one, and she was magnificent. We had a short swim together, also a hug and a kiss, and I got to feed her a fish. I wish the ride could have been longer, but in all other ways the day was perfect.

Rob and I and the kids spent the day at Discovery Cove, an "all-inclusive" park themed on getting to swim with fish (and dolphins) and lounge in a Fiji-like atmosphere in the middle of Orlando. It was pricey, of course, but worth it. The whole family wetsuited up and lounged through the lazy river three or four times, drifting by otters in their glassed off enclave and emerging from the warm water to feed parrots and guinea fowl by hand in the aviary. We stepped over to the cold water pool to swim with rays and parrotfish, blue-black sailfish and sardines. William and I shivered our way past eels and sharks (in their glassed off pool) and delighted in the cavortings of a "special" turquoise parrotfish named Cher, who didn't know she was supposed to dislike humans.

But the most fun of all was the dolphin swim. We only paid for me to do it, so I felt a bit amiss among the two British families in my group who came with two children apiece. But as I got close to Thelma and then waved to Aden, watching faithfully across the lagoon, I felt pretty great. Thelma and the other girl dolphins were supposed to switch out midway through the interaction, but one of the younger girls, Dot, decided she didn't want to go back into the larger lagoon, and so the trainers kept all the girls out and Dot winged around the groups, picking and choosing which activities she wanted to do. The reliable Thelma was in great demand as the trainers calmly communicated which dolphin they had and which they needed. Our trainer, Chelsea, said that was always the most interesting part of their day. They can't force the dolphins to do anything, so they just work with their charges as best they can. When a little English girl named Caitlyn asked Chelsea how to become a trainer, she said "study psychology."  I thought, hey - I'm a mother, I know all about this stuff - perhaps this could yet become my fifth career?  Add that one to the bucket list.