Sunday, January 31, 2010

More Information

I've slowed down posting the last few days because some information is flowing into my life from all sorts of areas and I'm just trying to soak it up and stay open, open, open. I was praying last week for help with my health, and imagined it coming from all corners. I even thought about sending an email out to friends and family asking for help--send any advice you have, books you've read, exercises you've tried, doctors you trust...but I didn't send it. I just sent out the prayer.

Maybe emails don't work as well as prayers, anyway. Because a flood of help is arriving. Friends offering up spiritual counseling and career advice and the name and number of a good rolfer. Books and relaxation techniques and insights and artist's group. Phone calls and hugs and meaningful conversations. Loads of love.

I'm at a bit of a crossroads at work, too. Having just wrapped up some projects and about to embark on some new ones, I can make new choices. Do things differently. Imagine different futures. Which is scary and completely necessary, and my body isn't letting me ignore what my brain has been ignoring for a while, about what I get to do for a living and how I do it. So that is an interesting place to be.

And then there's the fact that E tore down a staircase and a wall and built a floor in our former guest bedroom and now I have an honest-to-goodness studio! I can see all the things I use to create. I have room to move, and lots of light. It don't have electricity or runnin water yet, ma, but it's home! With some burly friends' help (thank you J and J), E conquered it in a weekend. Before and after pictures will come eventually, when the floor's done and we've painted. But everything's put away for now and it looks and feels amazing.

Which is more information.

Now. For what to do with it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Purple Gold

I've just decided that is 100% okay to have a huge slice of vegan cake at 10:04 in the morning.

Yes, my cakes continue to look like dog-doo, mostly because I make them at night and then have to frost them while they're still hot so the girls can have a piece before bed, and the frosting mudslides off onto the plate. This makes it look bad, but also creates an opportunity for fully-sanctioned frosting-stuffed-in-the-cakehole action later.

E. didn't like the cake. He kept asking if I had used apple sauce in it. "Nope! Vinegar!" I said cheerily. But you can't taste the vinegar. I think it's just the active ingredient, since I can't use egg. Either way, he was unimpressed, and didn't finish his slice. But this particular cake took five minutes to whip up and 30 minutes to bake. Can't beat that. Thank you Vegan Kitchen.
E. can't be much trusted with "health" foods, anyway. My theory is that anything that isn't meat and potatoes smacks of times in his childhood when carob chips were offered up as "chocolate." He still hasn't recovered. What's most important is that both girls really dug this cake (and Nolie doesn't do cake--only icing), so that's a sign that we're on to something.
I also want to report that I had a very successful encounter with the Spicy Indian Potatoes dish in the Working Parents Cookbook, and I also like cauliflower steamed with lemon, capers, parsley, olive oil, and salt.
While we're talking about food, though, it seems most important that I pay homage to this little dish:

To most of you, this looks like the makings of a humble peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
You would be wrong.
This is homemade bread. Soon to be toasted and smothered in organic peanut butter (thank you Costco). But, most importantly, said peanut butter will then be topped with--wait for it--huckleberry jam. From Idaho. Which is most certainly proof that all is well with the universe and that God loves us.
As usual, Gloria and my dad sent down a boatload of treasures for us to unpack for Christmas. We loved everything they sent, but the last package to be opened was Eric's, and it was the jam. He took the paper off and, I kid you not, my nose twitched and I pointed. I knew instantly what it was--G's homemade jam from McCall huckleberries--and I snatched it out of his hands. It was like Lord of the Rings, but with condiments instead of jewelry. "Mine, mine!" I shrieked, and ran into the kitchen, petting it and muttering about how pretty it was.
Luckily, E doesn't know much about purple gold, and he let me have it. I can't say what I would have done had he resisted. He's lucky to still have all his digits.
Oh, and head over to N.'s place, if you have a minute. She has a very good post up today that captures exactly what's been going on in my head recently.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

All the Latest

I don't write enough on this blog about how great my kids and my husband are, and how they bring so much light and love into my life. It's more fun to kvetch. Plus, who needs therapy when things are going great? And this blog is nothing if it ain't therapeutic.

For me. It probably drives all of you into a therapist's office.

Here are some pictures of Addie, living in Addie-land. She is a delightful, strange, sweet, amazing individual. The nurse called me from school yesterday and said Addie had fallen on the pavement outside the school and had these. She handed the phone to Addie and when I told her the nurse was going to give her some tylenol she said, "Mom! I'm not sick! I just want to go back to class!"

Ain't nothing stopping this girl.

I know this isn't the best picture of E., but that's what he gets for leaving it on the camera. Actually, I think it is a great picture of him. Because you all might think he's a bit quiet or shy or whatever, but in fact, he is a total, class A goofball. And the man is a rock. I can't tell you how many times in the last few months I've been sick or my back has been out and he has just rocked the goofiness with the kids so I could rest. Blessings be.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

It Aint' Over

Is it too late to be sending out Christmas cards, on this 23rd day of January? Is it?

Santa Nolie says no.
So, look for one in your mailbox soon.

Friday, January 22, 2010

I Guess...

what I needed was to cry throughout the hour-long yoga session, and then slowly release my sciatica by laying with a Miracle Ball underneath my right ass-cheek for thirty minutes.

I feel much better.

Waking Up

I teach Wednesday nights again this semester. This is mostly good, because it's my only class and teaching at night leaves me a lot of time during the day to write or have meetings or stare out the window. But I'm noticing it is getting harder every semester to teach late Wednesday night and then get up Thursday morning to work. It takes much longer to wake up and get going. It takes longer to regain my enthusiasm for work. And all this is made doubly hard by the challenges I'm facing with my back and body.

Last night (Thursday) I had agreed to give a lecture in a colleague's class. By the time I got home from that I felt like I could barely move my neck. I crawled into bed next to E. and whole parts of my body just throbbed--my mid-back, especially, and all along the sciatic nerve, going pretty much from shoulder to ankle. It felt impossible to get comfortable. I finally fell asleep frustrated and angry. Frustrated that my body couldn't withstand two nights of teaching--it's not like it's back-breaking work, for chrissakes. Frustrated that all of my efforts to strengthen my body--yoga, pilates, strength-training, cardio--don't protect me more from these moments. Frustrated that I'm 34 and have to be so careful with my health.

Once I did fall asleep, my dreams were unsettling. There was the recurrent dream I have where I've done something to make E. mad, something unforgiveable (I never remember what this thing is, and it's not really the point). He refuses to talk to me he's so angry, and I get more and more hysterical trying to get him to listen to me, to talk to me. I become a monster, screaming for attention. In the other dream, I'm on a trip and have lost something or it's been stolen, and I can't get home no matter how hard I try.

E. took both girls to school this morning and I rested in bed an extra half-hour, and then did some house chores and have been reading. I'm heading into a yoga session, and I know I will feel better after that. Maybe it'll soften me up for some gratitude, too, or some awareness. I'm pretty sure there's something for me to learn in all of this. I just wish, in these moments, it wasn't so hard to see.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thoughts While Staring

I took a few minutes to sit on a beanbag and stare out the window this morning (which is quickly becoming one of my favorite pasttimes). Next to me on the bookshelf was the excellent Wayne Dyer book Being in Balance. I opened it to a random page, and here is what I read, from the chapter titled "There's More to Life than Making It Go Faster":

"Take your time. Your work isn't terribly important...your worldly duties aren't terribly important.... Make your first and primary priority in your life being in balance with the Source of Creation. Become thoughtful in your slowed-down time, and invite the Divine to be known in your life. Being the peace you desider means becoming a relaxed person whose balance point doesn't attract anxiety and stress symptoms.

"Make deliberate, conscious efforts to slow yourself down by relaxing your mind. Take a little more time to enjoy your life here on this planet: Be more contemplative by noticing the stars, the clouds, the rivers, the animals, the rainstorms, and all of the natural world. And then extend the same slowed-down loving energy to all people. Begin with your family--take a few extra hours to romp with your children, to listen to their ideas, to read them a story. Go for a walk with your most cherished loved one and say how much you treasure him or her in your life.

"Extend this slowed-down perspective outward at work, in your community, and even to strangers. Make a deliberate effort to give someone your place in line rather than hurrying to be first. Become conscious of your efforts to become the peace you desire and to live in balance, even while you're driving. As you slow your thoughts down and decide to enjoy your life more, bring your car to a stop at a yellow caution light rather than speeding on through. Consciously drive at a relaxed pace rather than in a frenzy to get somewhere two minutes sooner. Let other people into the stream of traffic by being courteous rather than right."

Courteous rather than right. What an interesting synchronicity that led me to this passage today, huh? It's like it was written for me (except the driving part. That part was written for E.).

"One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important..." --Bertrand Russell

"The more you advance toward God, the less He will give you worldly duties to perform..." --Ramakrishna

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


I'm about to settle in for the extra hour of work I do most evenings now (amazing how that keeps me sane, balanced. No more than an hour at night, no less, but matters all the world). Before I do, I was thinking about the process of putting together the 3rd-year review at work.

At my school, you are reviewed for tenure in your sixth year. The halfway point to that review is the preliminary, or 3rd-year, review. You compile all of your performance reviews, your student evaluations, your publications, your grants, your awards, etc., and you write a letter explaining how it all fits together, how the committee is to make sense of you. I've heard varying versions of its importance: some of my colleagues have said it's no big deal, don't spend any time on it, hold things back. Others have said I should treat it like I would the tenure review: with respect and attention. I'm not sure which advice I followed, but either way, mine is due tomorrow.

It's done, but as I was putting it together, and writing the letter, I was thinking about all of the things that don't go into that notebook. All the things that have defined me over the past few years and that have affected my work, my ability to work, my desire to work. Things like the following (in no particular order):

the sleepless nights with sick children;
moving to a new house;
countless flus and strep throats and colds;
having children (add after this the million decisions, the absolute joy, the anguish of it all);
commitments to personal and spiritual growth;
the manifestations of an aging, imperfect, and willful health;
financial windfalls and shortages;
parents, family members, and friends who encounter their own mental and physical health crises;
spouses losing jobs, and getting jobs;
failures of belief, or confidence;
starting businesses, and closing them;
moments of freedom, and delight, that have nothing to do with getting paid;
and so on.

Now that would be a doozy of a dossier.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Kumbayah Kamp

I had me some unchurch this weekend. Nanny and I had tickets to go to what pretty much amounted to a new age tent revival, which was three hours of spirit-love Friday night and four hours Saturday morning. N, who had to get up early, early to take her sweet-pea to the airport at 5am Saturday morning, stumbled in to the morning service--where everyone was paired up and crooning a love-chant to one another--and muttered, "I should have reminded myself I was coming to Kumbayah Camp."

Indeed. I won't bore you with the details, but the whole thing would have made an excellent scene in a very cynical movie about positive thinking. I was self-conscious a lot during it, and also I soaked it up with every fiber of my being. Because who doesn't need some real love like that? And who couldn't stand to let go of a little cynicism and self-consciousness? I'll take a healthy dose of the love, and would be happy to ship out a cargo-load of the other.

And THEN I went to church this morning with M., and got me some more love.

What came out of the weekend was this: my intention for the year is--drum roll, please--more quiet contemplation (I know, I know. Anti-climactic). Seriously. I think what I would like to have in my life is more sitting and staring out the window. More sitting with my kids in my lap, or crawling all over me. More breaks at work where I just lay on my office floor and hang out.

That's it. That's what I'd like. I did it all day today, just to try it out. It was great.

Here's what I'd like to let go of: my all-too-strong sense of righteousness. Oooh, does it flare up, and I think I'm right, and I get all judge-y and defensive. So, I think someone has wronged me, or thought badly of me, or is attacking me? Out comes the righteousness, and it manifests outwardly as sarcasm and meanness and defensiveness. Mostly, my routine has been to go over and over in my head why I'm right until I get it just right. Have you ever done that? Relived a conversation, or looped a response you wish you had made?

What I'm discovering is that as soon as I feel those little pinpricks of righteousness, that's a pretty good signal that I've just screwed up or am about to screw up in a big-ass way. Like, either I'm feeling righteous about being right but I'm actually wrong (or wrong-headed) and just don't know it yet. Or, I might be right, yes, but what's about to come out of my mouth will be something I regret later.

The righteousness-response is so in-grained in my being I didn't even realize that was what was going on until recently. I figured it was just me being brash, or too much, or unwise. I hated that part about me, and tried to hide or suppress it in a lot of different ways. But I think now I can see the righteousness-response as a tool, as an indicator that I'm about to do or say something that will be a bummer to me or someone else. And I can hurry up and be quiet for a little while. Or think on it.

Not that I won't screw up big still. Those old patterns are hard to change. But I felt a big awareness hit this weekend, and so maybe those old patterns are going to get shook up a bit now.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Haiti: Partners in Health

As with other timely affairs, I'm quite late in blogging about this. You all have probably already made donations for aid in Haiti. But if you haven't, I just want to put a plug in for Partners in Health. You can check out their website, and it's very easy to donate.

Two colleagues and I have spent the last few years studying engineers' responses to humanitarian crises and development projects. Our book, Engineering and Sustainable Community Development, should hopefully be out by the beginning of March. Anyway, one of the things we've looked at is how--though incredibly well-intentioned--a lot of aid and development projects fail. The reasons for this are many and varied, but one of the most important ones is that people/aid agencies/experts swoop in with plans and ideas for the poor people they're trying to "help." In the very best cases, they do provide some immediate aid; in most cases, there is not much change; and in some cases, they do more harm than good.

One book I've found particularly inspiring as we've done this research is Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains. It's an incredible story, and if you're looking for some good, fast-moving reading, I urge you to check it out. It tells the story of Harvard-trained nutball doctor Paul Farmer, who has established a medical clinic in Haiti called Zanmi Lasante (Partners in Health). The trick with Farmer is that, in addition to being over-the-top dedicated to his work (the guy is barely human, I tell you), he set up Zanmi Lasante in partnership with Haitians. According to him, they mostly run the place (though Kidder shows us that Farmer's alien-like ability to operate on no sleep or food and his willingness to steal medical supplies from Harvard is also key).

Zanmi Lasante is outside Port-au-Prince and so is still standing and is one of the few operating hospitals/medical centers that is able to offer aid. I also trust that they are doing so in a way that will bring the most help to the most people because they've just been there for so long. And they're Haitians.

So, that's my plug. I've never been to Haiti, I'm not an aid expert, and make no claim to this being the right story. But it's a story that eases my heart a bit, knowing that there is that oasis, Zanmi Lasante, and its people, working in the destruction.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

No Impact: Days 3 and 4

So, the focus of Day 3 of No Impact is on changing your food choices. Y'all know that I'm (mostly) vegan, and you know I'm making an effort to learn to cook. We eat a lot of whole foods at our house and not much processed stuff (except for E. I'm outing him as being processed-food-reliant). But really, we all do it a bit. I like these little nut bars for snacks; the girls like string cheese and yogurt sticks. And the convenience of those things is pretty nice. But, again, small steps will help us to reduce our interest in and reliance on these. I just know that, for us, those steps take time to implement and stick to. Else we'll bag.

For example, I'm thinking of learning to make yogurt. What do you think? The girls consume an astonishing amount of yogurt. Will it take forever to make? Will they eat it if tastes too chunky or different from what they're used to? Will it reduce the amount of trash we produce? All things to think about.

Anyway, that's little stuff. Switching away from a huge reliance on red meat in our house? That was bigger stuff.

Day 4 is about energy usage. This is going to be a very tough one. It's a cold time of year, and I like to do things that require energy, like watch t.v. while I knit, or use my sewing machine while listening to This American Life. Those things make my life better. But something I have been thinking about changing is trying to turn off all those "vampire" appliances that suck energy while you're not using them, you know? I'll talk to E about this. He usually has good solutions.

So, far the No Impact project as been not so exciting for me. The low-hanging fruit has already been plucked, while the huge energy users in our life (like driving) are sort of non-negotiable at the moment. Hmmm.

Haven't even begun to think about political action, tho that's in the plan. More on that soon.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

No Impact: Days 1 and 2

This week is my week to follow along with the No Impact Project. Remember how I collected my bag of trash last week? My main take-away from that was to try to reduce food packaging. This will be tough for us because of our need for convenience, but I think we can start to make small changes.

The No Impact Project guidelines for yesterday encouraged reducing waste by doing things like packing your own cutlery and coffee mug (do that); choosing to use a Diva cup instead of tampons (sorry for the extra details, but do that); reducing use of paper good like kleenex and paper towels (do that). I've followed the No Impact Man blog for a while, so I'm realizing a lot of these changes we've already institutionalized in the house.

Our Costco days are big days of waste, of course--we're able to recycle a lot of the cardboard but a lot of the other stuff can't be recycle. But buying in bulk is probably less waste over time, so it's a tough call. Other than that, I think a lot of our stuff ends up in recycling or compost. From now on out it's either making very small changes (like making our own granola instead of buying it? Making mascara out of charcoal from the garbage? Using old newspaper instead of toilet paper? Puh-lease).

Day 2 is about transportation. I had to drive to Addie's school this morning (a lot of good that did me) and also drive to the doctor's office. I might have tried biking to the second appt. but had sick Addie with me, so what can you do? But I'm thinking a lot about the transportation thing. One thing E and I have talked about is getting a used scooter for local trips; another possibility is to start doing some biking to work, maybe once a week. But there are major disincentives for doing both. This continues to be our biggest problem, living in the suburbs, but look for some changes on this coming in the next few months, especially once it warms up.

Hey! On the cooking front: I tried an excellent braised tofu recipe tonight. Add that to the list. 2 recipes down; 50 to go.

When in Rome

Well, if you're at home for a sick day, you might as well make the most of it. I'll work tonight when E gets home, but between doctor appointments today, I finished up this little project--my first knitting project without dropped stitches!
This little thing took forever to make, but it was good to lose myself in something difficult. It's from a pattern in Knitting Little Luxuries. The stitch is herringbone. I knit the bulk of it when we were in San Diego, just after finding out my dad had a stroke on Christmas morning. So, the last purse was worked while my grandfather was dying, and this one while fretting over my father. Sometimes I think both things would have been a lot worse had my hands not been busy. You know?

Opposite of Chillaxing

I hate crying in the morning, don't you? It makes me so sleepy for the rest of the day, plus there is a sadness residual that hangs around even when the sadness itself is gone. It's a haunting.

Addie's home with strep throat again today. She's on the mend, but had a rough night last night so we're keeping her home for one extra day just to be on the safe side. We sent her to school yesterday morning but the school nurse called us right back to come get her. Lesson learned.

Anyway, we found out last week that Addie was accepted to the gifted and talented program for first grade, which is great, right? We were told in the acceptance letter to register her at her new school by March 1st or she would lose her place. Being the eager beaver that I am, I called right away to find out how to register, and was told there would be a GT parents' tour and registration this morning. Great! I thought. But also, weird, that I had to call and wasn't really contacted about it by them. Good for me for being proactive, right?

So, Eric agreed to stay home with sick Addie this morning, and I took Nolie to school and then headed to the new school for Addie. Which is about a million miles out of the way, you should know, and will require another huge shift in schedule and routine and add a bunch of driving to my life every day starting next fall. But it's a great school and a great program, so we're strongly considering it, because that's what you do as a parent, right? You try to make good things happen for your kids.

But I get to the school's office this morning (after going to the wrong school first, mind you, which made me late, and I'm always a little stressed when I'm late) and tell the secretary why I'm there and she goes, "Oh! You didn't get the memo! That's been canceled."

Right. I didn't get the memo. Beeeee-yoooootch.

I cried the whole way home, banging on my steering wheel occasionally for emphasis. I can't do this, I can't do this, I can't do this. How am I supposed to finish everything I need to finish at work AND deal with signing my kids up at different schools, with their different closure days and different spring breaks and different drop-offs and pick-ups and meetings that get canceled? How am I supposed to have sick kids and finish a book? How am I supposed to prepare for a major career review and also make good home-cooked meals? How am I supposed to finish the journal and also make sure my kids flush their poops down the toilet? How? How? How?

Well. There you go. Total meltdown. Tears in the morning. They're the worst.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I had to post this, because Nolie is so completely scrumptious right now (that belly! that booty!) and is just such a big girl and also my baby all at once. A fleeting moment, I know.
And check out those tie-dyed socks, courtesy of the groovy Auntie Teeny.


Remember when I blogged about making a felted purse from scratch, way back when? Well, I finished it when I had to fly back to my grandpa's deathbed in October and never got around to posting it. E and I went out to dinner with some old friends Friday night and it seemed a good night to give the little wool purse a try, what with it being freezing-ass cold (still), so I had E shoot a quick picture. I don't know whose veiny, bony hands those are in the picture, though. Maybe a raptor's?
I knit it first, following the instructions in the beautiful book Alterknits Felt, using yarn sent to me by E's mom. Then I felted it in the washer and cut out the holes for the handles (the design is asymmetrical, in case you're wondering. Sometimes my stuff is asymmetrical because I screw up, but not in this case). Cute, huh? The colors are really beautiful, and remind me of a summer river.
I also recently ordered the Pioneer Woman's Cookbook, on Dandelion Bones's recommendation (whose taste I trust implicitly) and because, as I stated earlier, I am on a mission to learn how to cook better. Of course, every recipe in the book is chock-full of meat. But my goal is to figure out how to adapt great recipes with meat into vegan recipes (the vegan cookbook is also on its way). So, I'm pleased to announce that Pioneer Woman's chili recipe can easily be made vegetarian by substituting Morning Star's ground fakey-fake "beef" for the real thing. The chili's good. I told Eric that if I could learn one good recipe every week for a year (which gives me lots of margin for error if I try a few every week), then by the end of the year I'll be able to make 52 new things.

We'll see. And yes, I realize Chili's not exactly the most challenging thing in the world to make. But you gotta start somewhere.
So, I got to make chili and my monthly batch of homemade bread while E watched the playoffs and played Candy Land with the girls. Addie has a little fever today, poor thing, so we're all just hunkering down and waiting for the snow to melt. What a perfect Sunday.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The List of Happiness

Just when you thought this blog couldn't get any more inane, I feel compelled to pronounce that a few simple things are making me very happy these days.

First, the new NBC sitcom Community, starring The Soup's Joel McHale (snarky hotness) and set on a community college campus. It fills me with glee, unlike Glee, which sucks donkeys.

Second, charcoal gray wool pants. When it's 5 degrees below zero outside and you have to go to work in something other than your flannel jammies, nothing beats a pair of Banana Republic wool trousers. Especially if you have a big ass and a prominent lumbar lordosis, like yours truly. Ba-DONK!

Third, I've almost finished my knitting project (and a sewing one, too) and I really will post pictures this time. I swear. Cuz they look good, for once. Noooo dropped stitches.

Fourth, I have almost finished the three major projects that have been chomping my ass for the past few months: the book, the journal, and my 3rd year review. Those will be done just in time to get chomped at by a chapter, some encyclopedia entries, and a new grant project, all due soon. But who's thinking about that? This is a list of happiness!

Fifth, the new PBS series The Emotional Life. It's so good. Especially when you're wickedly neurotic and prone to all sorts of self-diagnoses, like moi. You should check it out and diagnose yourself, too. It's fun.

Hells yeah!

Pretend I'm Your Puppy

As I'm sitting in bed on this below-zero morning, drinking a cup of the glorious elixir of life, I'm reflecting on two things:

1) Ways to loosen up things at work so that I experience more joy and more flow. I have some ideas that aren't suitable for sharing here, but I'm excited about them.

2) What a typical play period with Nolie is like right now. It goes something like this, with her delivering a monologue along these lines:

Pretend that I'm your puppy.

Pretend that I'm your sad puppy.

Pretend that I'm your sad puppy who knows how to do cartwheels.

Pretend that you're the puppy's mommy.

Pretend that I'm the kitty.

Pretend that I'm the kitty who has jumped into a pan of bluing [Editor's note: we don't use "bluing" in our house, nor does anyone in this country anymore, I'm sure. This is a detail from an old book from my childhood called Peppermint. So it's hilarious to hear Nolie say this].

Pretend that I'm your kitty-baby and you're my mommy.

Pretend that you're the mommy and you save me from the coyote.

Pretend that there's a bear.

Pretend that there's a shark.

Pretend that I'm a kitty that loves to dance but there's a coyote who's coming to eat me and you're the mommy who has to save me and rock me to sleep.

Pretend that I'm your puppy [aaaaand...repeat!].

Time with Addie is different. Though she still likes the pretend games, she's much more interested in putting on dance performances, or in playing board games, or reading, or making art. Not much has changed there. But she has changed. A lot. She's very much a kid now, and her feelings are easily hurt. She wants to be treated with kindness and respect, like an adult. She hates being interrupted. She wants things carefully explained to her. Being misunderstood drives her absolutely ape-shit. She has very strong convictions.

I don't know. I don't mean to imply that all children shouldn't be treated with kindness and respect--they should. But the tenor of my interactions with Nolie--which is still very much about modeling behaviors and setting boundaries--is very different from that with Addie, which is more about patience and reciprocity.

The problem is, I mess these up sometimes, and forget, and treat Addie like a preschooler, or expect Nolie to act like a kindergartner, which is very upsetting for us all, or I get control-freaky and just throw my will around, which is good for nobody.

The busier pace of everyone being back at work and school only increases the likelihood of this happening, so it pays to be extra mindful. But I miss target a lot.
It's an interesting time to be a parent.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

NIM: The Trash List

Okay, so here's the list of trash collected from yesterday. Things went well until the end of the day, when two huge boxes of Christmas presents arrived from Southern California (they had to be shipped because all the stuff couldn't fit in our suitcases!). Anyway, that was a lot of packaging. Bummer.

The List

q-tip (you already knew about that one. And yes, it was for my ears)
tea bag and wrapper
tissue (this is a weird one, because I usually use hankies. Hmmm).
2 Lindt chocolate wrappers (yum!)
gum wrapper and gum
cough drop wrapper
yogurt stick wrapper
string cheese wrapper
chicken nuggets bag rip-top
ore-ida fries package
a shit-ton of Christmas packaging

So, a couple of things: this really isn't that much (other than the anomalous xmas stuff). But if I was going to make some long-term changes, it would probably be along the lines of...


Which is something I've been thinking about anyway. Here are the two current obstacles:

1. I'm not a good cook. I'm trying, and there are a few things I make well, but I'm not good. I botch things regularly (and, to be honest, I don't like handling raw meat. So we might have the wean the girls from nugs). I've ordered a few (vegan) cookbooks and will keep practicing. I would say about 30% of our dinners come from packages (like the fries and nuggets); if I could cut that down, that would be great for our budget, our health, and the amount of trash in the can.

2. Convenience rocks. Yesterday, I got both girls home and, while the fries and nugs cooked in the oven, we had a dance party. On nights when I make a more time-intensive meal, there is no time for a dancy party before dinner. Especially on stressful work-days, the convenience meals are handy.

Summary: Find some easy recipes that can be made quickly from scratch, and begin to think about buying some stuff in bulk, with less (or no) packaging.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Coming Up: No Impact Man Project

If you've read this blog for a while, you probably know that I'm keenly interested in the alternative hedonism approach to environmental behavior change promoted by Colin Beavan, who calls himself No Impact Man. You might also know that Beavan has launched the No Impact Project, a social experiment of sorts that is an effort to scale up his experiment to others and perhaps, in the process, spread positive social change. And I'm presenting a few papers on NIM at the Western States Communication Association conference in Anchorage in March (and yes, I realize that flying to Alaska to present papers is not a positive ecological behavior. I'm working on it).

In any case, in preparation for finalizing those papers and thinking more about the NIM franchise, I'm going to be participating in the No Impact Man Project next week, and I'll be blogging about it a bit here. I'll be collecting my trash today in preparation for the experiment. Collected so far: a q-tip.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does your husband know you're about to do this?

How will he react?
With eye-rolling.

How will you teach your children about what you're doing?
Self-righteous lecturing.

Is it a good idea to try to do this during the first week of classes?
No. But I'm doing it anyway.

Keep an eye out for those posts, folks, or--better yet--join me and we can commiserate!

Balance. Beam.

I think every house has a "sweet spot," a place where the light and the space and the feel is just right. it draws you in. For me, our house's sweet spot is our bedroom, where I wake up every morning, the soft light from the skylights filtering in as the sun rises, and the color of the day is breaking through the trees. The light moves around the room in these incredible rectangles throughout the day, and sometimes I follow it, like a cat, moving my laptop around to catch its warmth as I work. Sweet. Spot.

Anyway, the real thing driving me to write this morning is that I had a full-on taste of that elusive thing called balance last night, and it filled me with joy and wonder and I wanted to catalog it and reflect on it in hopes of getting more of it.

See, yesterday was the first full day back at work, and you could probably tell I was dreading it a little. Last semester just felt so unsatisfying, and I was having all sorts of doubts about my abilities and whether this career was really what I wanted and even wondering if I (and my colleagues and students) wouldn't be better off if I figured all this out and stayed home (or something). I felt torn up over it.

But then, this: I worked a good day yesterday, got some good things done (even with Addie around) and felt reasonably pleased with the whole thing. Addie and I picked Nolie up, Eric made it home in time for dinner (taco night--yum) and then, I worked.

For an hour.

It didn't feel stressful. I didn't feel like I took time away from anyone (myself or my family). I didn't loathe doing it. I got to put my girls to bed, do yoga, and knit. And I got a lot done in that hour. Work shifted from being in the unmanageable failure category to the I-think-I-can-do-this category.

The thing now is to figure out if I can do this, if not every night, most nights, and if it will continue to make the same difference. Will it be the difference between me feeling behind at work and able to cope? Will the work time start to bleed into the family time and I'll feel off-kilter again?

Whatever. I'll figure it out. But it felt good, let me tell you, to have such a significant part of my life not feel so, I don't know, in limbo. Such a drain. It was a weight lifted, that's for sure.

Monday, January 4, 2010

On the Inside

Today is all about easing back into full-time work--the last round of reviews on manuscripts for the journal are all in, and I need to pen an introduction this week, among other things. But, a quick break to say:

My little one just went with her papa back to school, and oh, did I feel so sad at seeing her go. My big girl is still here at home with me today and tomorrow, thanks to some in-service days at her school, and she is reading quietly next to me in bed while I type. In the past, I've been ready to shoo these girls out the door at the end of vacation, so I could get back to my "real" work. Of course, I see now that there are multiple "real" works, and I have loved these last few weeks immersed in the mommy kind. I'm glad to be getting back to the paid kind, too, but will miss the long days with these kids.

I don't think I'm the only one feeling this way, over this particular winter break, but join a bunch of others who are wishing for a few more days, or a change in the overall rhthym and requirements of things that allow for more space, peace, quiet, family, all the time.

The frost is still on our balcony railing, the snow still on some branches, and geese are honking loudly overhead. It's only inside that things are changing.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

News on the Noles

We're having a bit of a slow start on the morning around here--Eric brought me coffee and the Times in bed this morning, which is my idea of heaven, and I put in another few rows on my current knitting project, then straightened things up, took a shower, and am about to head to an uber-long luxury massage (one of my favorite Christmas presents, hallelujah and amen!).

But before I head down for 10am bowl of granola and raisin bran, I wanted to give a quick update on the Nolie sleeping situation. She is sleeping in her very own big-girl bed, same as Addie's, in Addie's room. Which is now the girls' room. I would say that 5 out of 7 days a week both girls are sleeping through the night, which feels like a major accomplishment. Once or twice a week Nolie is still waking up, inconsolable, at about 3:30 in the morning, and though we try to put her back to bed, we quickly give up and bring her into our bed because we just plain need the sleep.

Still, this feels like a very good record.

It's been a winning proposition for the girls, too. We converted Nolie's bedroom into a playroom, which they seem to like a lot, and we've also noticed a considerable improvement in their relationship. Maybe this is coincidence, maybe they're just tired of fighting all the time. But there have been much longer and more frequent periods of playing together well, better communication, and more fun. An unexpected and welcome side effect, I'd say.

I'm not sucker enough to say this will last for any period of time. Nolie changes sleep patterns like I change hobbies. But for now, a gentle detente.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Lush at Home

During our San Diego visit, I was complaining to Eric's stepmom that she's always introducing me to these great new foods and things that I can't easily get in Denver. The teas, the nut spreads, the crackers...all delicious! But I haven't been able to find them here in the Rocky Mountains. "Well," she said, "you know, I order most of my food online!"

I wasn't really bothered by this--the woman eats about 3oz per meal, so her ordering stuff online in bulk is probably not such a bad deal for the environment, compared to others (like us). At my house, for example, we go through some serious food, and ordering online would be prohibitively expensive. But it got me to thinking about some other things, and how I order things online without much thought or worry. I wonder how I can begin to change this?

One mantra that I've really liked this last year, but haven't followed as often as I should, is Do I have to buy that? Can I make it instead? This has worked amazingly well for my clothing addiction--I almost never go to a mall or retail store anymore, preferring instead thrift store browsing, upcycling, or making my clothes. This has been liberating for my spirit and my wallet!

But other retail addictions linger. For example, the awesome facial scrub, pictured above, is from Lush. They use organic ingredients, handmake all their stuff--it's luxurious and effective toiletries. And we all know I'm a sucker for the toiletries. But the rub is, the closest Lush store is in Boulder, and it's hard to justify driving a half-hour to buy face wash, right? Otherwise, I have to order online, which adds $7 in shipping and is probably a little ridiculous from an environmental and practical perspective as well.

So I got to looking on the ingredients list for this little puppy and, lo and behold, it contained mostly stuff we had around the house: a bunch of salts, lime, vodka, lanolin, essential oils.... So I figured, what the heck? I had a little mixing session in the kitchen, through in some olive oil (most of the online recipes for face scrubs contain it, so why not?) and, voila! A perfectly serviceable facial scrub that helps keep those pesky little milia all over my face at bay, smells good, and leaves my skin feeling moisturized.

This post is a bit obnoxious, I realize. Making your own facial scrub is very small potatoes (or small salt crystals, really), but for me it's about figuring out ways I can make my purchasing and lifestyle choices just a tad less expensive and absurd, environmentally and practically.

Here's the thing: I have to balance practicality with change. E and I work full time, we raise kids, we like convenience. So change has to happen slowly and incrementally. For us, having to make an extra trip to a different grocery store (say, Whole Foods) every week is just enough of a disincentive to keep us from buying things in bulk. But maybe we can begin making enough small changes that we'll eventually be able to make that transition cheaply and easily without making ourselves crazy and stressed and bagging on the whole thing.

So, what are the little things you do to try to live more locally, or sustainably, or economically, or self-sustainingly (whichever justification works for you)? I'm open to ideas for our next small change.

If you have ideas, in particular, for how I can love ordering books from Amazon's used marketplace a bit less, I'd be ever so grateful :). More library maybe...

Friday, January 1, 2010

Wishes for the New Year

As you may remember, we have a New Year's ritual, given to us many years ago by our friends Kim and Anondo (who, by the way, are moving from NYC back to Colorado! Yay!). The ritual is to make twelve wishes on New Year's eve, eating a grape (or, in our case, blueberries) for each one. Eric and I alternate writing each one, and when the kids get older, I imagine they'll pitch in, too.

I keep the wishes posted on our bulletin board year round and check them over occasionally. They're not always wishes, but it's interesting to track them from year to year. Here are last year's, most of which came true!:

12 Wishes for 2009

1. A happy healthy family.
2. Consume less, give more.
3. Explore more.
4. Spend more time together (less TV!) [Editor's note: we watched more TV this year, I think, but at least we watched it together! And it often made us talk and laugh as we watched Jon Stewart while I did my pilates :)].
5. More music.
6. Foster inner peace.
7. Spend more time with friends and family.
8. More fulfilling work [Editor's note: This came especially true for Eric, eh?].
9. Get outside!
10. Patience with kids. Gentleness!
11. Make gifts for others [Errr...]
12. Eat good food and drink more water.

And for this year...

12 Wishes for 2010

1. Happy, healthy family.
2. Find joy at work.
3. Enjoy kids' enthusiasm.
4. Show compassion to kids.
5. Make time for things we enjoy.
6. Feel fit and strong.
7. Play!
8. More sincerity, less sarcasm.
9. Enjoy libations w/out excess.
10. Make AND be!
11. Relax.
12. More family fun and travel.

Sense a theme here? Maybe that old balance thing coming up a time or two?

The other cool thing about doing these is that I write them down on these really old postcards that were my great-grandmother's. Most are sort of Art Nouveau in style, and I think they're beautiful. I think I'll make a book out of the wishes some time soon.

The colors don't look right in this picture--it really is much prettier in person. I chose this one this year because we got a new car (whose name, by the way, is Shakira. Eric refuses to call it this, preferring "Paco Cinco," but the girls and I think that is utter nonsense. Long live Shakira!