Leaf Turn

The leaves are turning, so suddenly, red leaves flowing over the neighbor’s fence and the yellowing of grape leaves in our own backyard. The air is redolent with the smell of roasting chiles, that perfectly New Mexican sensory experience that I’ve carried in my nostrils to the shores of the east coast and back again. Any day now, I hope to be picking apples and stewing them down to sauce.

Last night, yoga class was jammed like so many beach blankets. Often, my wandering mind will drift to New York when I am in a Friday evening yoga class. In my Brooklyn Teacher phase, that was where I landed after a week of work and striving, to begin a weekend of camaraderie and rejuvenation. Filing out from this recent one, I was transported to a crowded yoga studio in Manhattan, where people are accustomed to dodging others’ bodies with some combination of instinct and peripheral vision, hopefully a tad more mindfully post-yoga.

Hey now, hey world, this is what my post partum body looks like. It is work for me not to envy mothers whose bodies have retained waistlines and slim profiles. My Mad Men obsession and Betty Draper are not helping, either. In my yoga practice, I am accessing deep core belly with great intention alongside of promptings to relax the pelvic floor in strong poses. I am noticing that I can have a strong and capable core and continue to have loose skin on the top. I am able to do more with my body the more effort I make. This is the body imaging work that I am joyful about conducting.

It’s possible, I may have found my core on my own, without having born children, but as it stands, busting wide open with the weight of the world was my path; a direct link to knowing and engaging those muscles, drawing them back to my midline, supporting the weight of baby, toddler, stew pot. The world as it is each day, always needs a bit more holding, tending, stewarding and I have shown up in this noble lineage of foremothers.

So, the work: enlivening through the deep primal core belly rather than doctoring the outer, social belly. Practicing forgiveness and laughter, when one’s gaze wanders down my lines and a mouth opens to wonder if I am expecting. I am learning, slowly, to dress myself in a way that de-emphasizes my pooch and to stand up tall, of course. It is really too much for me to ask of myself to say no to things that taste good and rich for more than a little while. Sometimes, I fondly hold my belly and call it my beer and ice cream baby. When my husband has been away for a spell, he approaches me with his love and his hand always lands upon my center.

Last night, before the hallway traffic jam, we rested in Svasana, or corpse pose, the final piece of an asana sequence. My head touched the floor and the thoughts spread out-“here we go, mind wandering time!” Rarely, do I put such a quick, firm brake to that. I had time to unwind, a real gift. The contours of my life and body are so hemmed in by others needs and hands these days, I recognized that I was safe from being stepped on, drooled upon, requested, needed, desired by anyone or anything for those precious moments on my mat. I guided myself to release one area of knotted energy at a time: new gifts like cues to allow each vertebrae to relax and spread all the way up my spinal column, the hemispheres of the brain letting go of one another and old favorites, allowing the gums to release their grip on the teeth, eyes softening in their sockets, follicles relaxing their grip of hair. Having worked my way up body from my toes, I let the crown of my head release for a few beats and then moved into the organs as time continued to unfold. To touch internally, these spaces, my ovaries, my heart, my liver-like so many old friends that I regularly neglect to notice.

The social female body, it truly is one part of my puzzle. I thought this form was my own, but the shape of culture infects my perceptions. There are pulses of critique that are not my own, but live in me nonetheless. Self-awareness, being a wife and a mother has shown me that my physical being provides many gifts to those I love. My body becomes my own, again, on my mat, on my bike, on a mountain trail, in water and too, when I loosen the thoughts to appreciate this moment. When I can carry and dance and laugh all at once. As a fifth grader from Bedford-Stuyvesant once told me, “Don’t hate, appreciate!”. Indeed.

Crushing It With Grapes

Right now, my hands smell like chives and parsley and it has been awhile since that’s been true.

Gardening can look like a poor metaphor when my glazed eyes are surveying this year’s small attempt at growing food; three years in New Mexico has taught me that it is a true endeavor to eek sustenance out of the red soil. Locally, I am captivated and appalled by this sad ending of Gaia Gardens; an amazing exemplar of how to do just that.

My time in fertile parts of the country and my penchant for staring at homesteading blogs in my early years of parenting has kept me trying, but this year I have scaled way back on my ambitions. Lazily, I have flat out refused to water for stretches of time, trusting in rains that only fall by whim and chance to provide for my plants.

So, rather than expecting groceries to emerge from my patch of earth when for three years I have been witness to withering and dying by sun, drought, insect, cat and benign neglect, I tried to keep it way simple. Carrots and basil planted alongside my boy, greens in the hoop house, experimental melons and squashes, sunflowers for fun, oh, and potatoes, because I never have.

My ability to tend is all used up most days before the plants make the list, but one of the sweetest times of day is just past bedtime, just past sunset, standing in the yard. This year, as a gardener and landscaper cum woman of the earth, I have most relished trimming back plants, ripping out weeds, digging and yanking out roots and food plants gone to flower to soon. This is why I smell of parsley, and chives, right now.

All I really want these days is for my children and myself to have the opportunity to eat directly from plants rooted in the earth. I don’t need to be the one to sow and tend them directly, but simply to recognize and honor them while they are enjoyed. I want to be part of the village, rather than trying to be the village.

Most of what I planted this season is now suffering along the spectrum of Failure to Thrive and I fall back into gratefulness for those who do the planting and tending for me. The real metaphor in my gardening life is to do what I can and do it well, in time.

The other evening, I was able to reach up from my lazy, midnight hammock ride and pluck a grape right into my mouth, late summer sweetness is all around.

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The Systems that Sustain Us

Some friends in the midst of raising similarly aged children have asked me to reflect on the rules, or systems and expectations, we create in our family.

I have been neglecting this request for many months; it feels challenging and a bit tedious to articulate the rules and boundaries of our home life, but maybe there is something about that resistance in myself that needs to loosen up a bit.

For the last two years, we have been able to choose a Waldorf Kindergarden program for Liam to attend. Within that, there is a lovely structure that is rhythmic throughout each day, week and seasonal year. It has given me some support on which to build our home rhythms, I think the best wisdom that I received was to let each day have alternating times of expansion and big play, followed by going inward and quiet play or rest. But, I think a lot of what KC and I bring to our shared parenting approach is our time spent working in elementary schools.

Recently, I had a moment of synthesis: Waldorf=rhythms, Family Rules=systems, Rhythms, Systems, RhythmSystems! They became one, two names for a similar lens (or perspectacle) of structuring a life bearable to live within. As I get deeper into this life, the more I find permission and space for joy and play when things are flowing inside and around these carefully constructed sluices of expectation.

Not least of all is this just for the kids, when I notice a big gap between how I am living and how I am asking my kids to live, it is clear I am not taking the best care of myself. Last month we took a break from added sugar in our diet and I gained a lot of insight into my food habits. This month, we are taking a break from alcohol and our evenings are automatically restructured, by a closing of one gate, others may swing open.

I do not consider myself an expert, nor atypically skilled at parenting, but I do read a lot and reflect as much as I can and as a twosome we have combined training and experience in preschool and elementary education, transpersonal psychology, yoga instruction from prenatal to seniors, basketball coaching, data collection from the natural world, restorative justice, wildfire management, school counseling and administration, dance party djing…

Hey, that’s my marriage’s resumé! Hire us to teach your baby to swim, or organize your closets, or dj your next party with yoga inspired dance moves…I am really not sure why we are not yet fabulously wealthy by way of all my inspired ideas.

So, what is there to say about all of this in terms of raising kids, keeping sanity, growing viable future adults, etc.? I have become increasingly aware within myself of the desire for routine and rhythms first as an early childhood educator and then as a parent in the home. My husband shares the same tendencies and our oldest responds very positively to structure that he can understand and then choose to succeed within. He has clearly shown us that he wants to feel successful each day. Who doesn’t, right?

One of our foundational parenting practices is to cultivate independence in our kiddos both for their own long-term wellbeing and our short-term sanity. As much of the work that can be shifted from us and to them, bearing in mind their zone of proximal development and all that, we do. (Check out this great chart from the world of Montessori for inspiration.)

Last year at this time, Liam took some months to land in his five year old self and fully embrace his new bigness: big brother, kindergardener, big kid. He needed support in stepping into himself and being his best self (or his golden knight self as we term it, currently). Being the schoolteachers that we are, Liam was enlisted to draw out each of his rules as we discussed them and we believe this gave him greater ownership and understanding of what we were expecting from him.

It looks like this:

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Recently, we instituted an additional system following the same game plan: a child and parent generated chart of five jobs. It consists of helpful jobs around the house and he is practicing completing them each week. In turn on payday, he receives four quarters. I am whole-heartedly embracing his greater participation in keeping the household running and the decrease in times I am personally responsible for sweeping under the table from 30 odd times per week to 28 or so. And, it does feel a fine line, between sharing family responsibilities and an expectation of pay for effort, but so far I feel like we are comfortably navigating that line.

In the end, all I can say is that when our kids regress tremendously as they do at times (or when we the adults do), it rings our bell of awareness and brings us back to observation, pattern seeking and then adjusting expectations so that all of our needs are being met as well as possible. Over here, these days, that’s the way love goes.

This week school resumed for Liam. I have been trying to keep a few steps ahead of myself in terms of food preparation so that my mornings and evenings can be as calm as possible. I found a great camp out breakfast idea that my kids have been gobbling up out of the fridge and I thought that I’d share it here: into a pint sized jar scoop a 1/4 cup greek yogurt, 1/4 rolled oats, 1 tbsp jam, 1 1/2 tsp chia seeds, 1/4 tsp vanilla extract and 1/3 cup of whole milk, then shake. Add a bunch of chopped berries if you are lucky enough to have them on hand and stir. Let sit overnight and in the morning-voilà! (Thanks to Edible Santa Fe for that one.)

For fun:

Backfire Lighting at Archbold Biological Station
That’s me and my boss back in the heydey of my wildfire management career. We weren’t actually sideways, though that would have been really, really wild.

 

One of my many class photos from my time at P.S. 93.
One of my many class photos from my time at P.S. 93.

Notes from Siesta

(or the day I did not choose my hammock for the entire rest period)

It has become apparent that I have less dark chocolate squirreled away than I ought. Perhaps, you would like to come here and hide some for me and thereby increase the stash while decreasing my likelihood of finding it with my eyes closed?

(Sidenote: This summer I read Barbara Brown Taylor’s recent book, Learning to Walk in the Dark. It dealt with many facets of darkness. Anyhow, just the other day, a fragment bubbled up and I closed my eyes to fold cloth diapers by touch. It was a lovely, simple challenge and departure from my normal way of being in the world.)

I am crushing on my boys, now that there is some respite from them crushing me. Summer’s almost gone, next week brings on full time kindergarden for the almost 6 year old and a whole new landscape of time for me and the boy on the verge of toddlerhood. New rhythms will be emerging, I feel ready to discern them and hopefully not be swept too far under as they give shape to our new normal.

I would like to show you so much that is here; the way the grape vines arc towards new anchor points, gravity be damned. And, the sunflower volunteer which is growing in leaps and bounds, much as Liam seems to be, in nearly the same spot as last year. Or, send you the delight of an unexpected mid day thunderous soaking that found us choosing a popcorn and peaches fueled dance party-my song choices at last-rather than wondering if we should go out and do..something.

But this is what I have settled on for our little moment together, today.

This morning, it looked like this in our backyard space…

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I am letting go of this tried and true workhorse. Did you know new ones of twice the size cost less than we spend on beer some weeks? Good bye first world problem, hello first world solution! (Er, thank you developing world for providing the workforce and materials.)

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I am entering a stir fry phase. Somebody buy me a wok (please)!

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This boy has been blissfully entertaining himself for the last few weeks. He loves amending toys, particularly with the colors of metal. Here, he has been detailing their Snack Truck with his trusty silver Sharpie marker:

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I gave him a bottle of bronze paint and he stayed busy for hours…

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Post rainfall:

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“I spend a lot of time looking at my mom like this recently, wondering how she dare put me down again when I really can’t walk, talk or see what she is doing on the counter top.”

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Don’t worry, he still looks like this a lot, too…

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Why is this post so difficult to make aesthetically pleasing? I am not sure, but  My hammock is beckoning me like a siren and I can no longer resist.

ps I need a novel to drop into. Can anyone suggest a good read?

 

The Grocery Thing or Kitchen as Playground

How do we feed ourselves and by extension our families?

There are deep underlying questions and approaches to this fundamental daily practice, but today I am going to keep it to the nuts and bolts as I am experiencing them.

I am lately aware of the sheer quantity of mental space and physical energy I devote to our nourishment. It is a nearly constant background hum to my thoughts when home. There is something about doubling the children in our family that has shifted our family dynamic substantially (and our grocery bill as well).

There is an obviousness in this list if you are currently, or have in your life been the prime food provider, but for me it is still a bit of a revelation: weekly meal planning, grocery shopping, daily dinner item double checking, three meals, two snacks, lots of wiping up, chopping, dishwashing and sweeping. Though, I want to very much, I need to save the practice of growing our own food in quantity for another day.

Fortunately, I love food and I can embrace that. For these days, at least, my hands and heart get to play creatively when I am in the kitchen working for our family. It’s an easy merge with my needs to imagine and implement fun ideas and to see myself as an artist, as a provider.

Bearing in mind that I fashion myself as a bit of a nutritionist; I have been devouring (ha!), for many years, the thoughts and research of others about food, foodways and food production. Indulge me while I attempt to list some of the more influential ones I have read…The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Salt, Cod, Food Inc., Supersize Me, Feeding the Whole Family, A Homemade Life and, most recently, Nourishing Traditions and Full Moon Feast. (There are countless more, but I tend to forget the titles I have read if I don’t write them down, hence the goodreads list you might see on the side of my page.) I eagerly seek out the current edition of Edible Such and Such when visiting new towns and I will listen to radio broadcasts and read blogs about food for both the deeper marrow of the issue, as well as new recipe ideas.

We are not unique in this, but the challenge I find in this is working within a budget that is stretched too far in every direction these days. We are a family of four attempting to do way too much on one salary, one of which is paying for food that is fresh, local, organic and tasty. We (or I) choose these purchases again and again and yet I keep thinking there must be a less expensive way.

Shopping from farmers directly, cooking from whole foods, touring the world at the behest of my tongue  are all things I esteem, they are in line both with my values and what I have learned from study and practice. Food (and drink) are two of the places where I exercise my power in the world (where I put my money down) and at home (when and what and how I present our nourishment) and in my body (being playful, open and creative in the kitchen and garden).

I do aim to grow more food and find affordable, cooperative shares and I know every time we move and reestablish our community, natural and human, that it cuts those plans back down to the ground.

Many of you know that the question of where is home pulses steadily in the heartbeat of my marriage. If we stay here in the high dry desert for the long term, there is a way to move into sustainable food habits.  I visit the homes and gardens of people who have lived here long enough to establish good soil, appropriate irrigation, loveliness to behold and baskets full of nourishment. There is a lovely kitchen garden tour each summer, which I attended as one of my first acts of arrival two summers ago and will tour around again to see new homes later this month. So, there is inspiration all around in case we stay, if we choose stay.

At any rate, this is home right now. In the meantime, help me think this through: we could move somewhere with better food growing conditions and put our shoulders into that work (appealing), I can give up the game and shop in bulk from low wage paying, pesticide spraying corporations (which I do in moderation already), we could find another family or two to either cohouse with or at least co-eat with (we would embrace it if the conditions felt right). Am I missing something easy here?

I believe strongly that I am paying forward our health costs by feeding us in this way with love, attention, cooperation and commitment to the joy and health of eating. For the short term though (while I am not drawing a salary, nor successfully producing much food from the earth), it feels hard to stomach the grocery bill each week.

We are taking a baby step cleanse here: ten days without consuming any added sugar in our diet, as per the Fed Up challenge. I miss my mid day chocolate, but other than that I am pleased with my discovery: each time I crave sweetness it is simply a time to make a conscious choice. I am looking forward to seeing the film when it comes out, though I am sure it will appall me.

Wondering… if anyone wants to watch it with me or play with co-nourishing this year? And, what’s on your dinner table and in your snack basket that makes your heart and tongue sing while not breaking the bank?

practically brilliant

Some rules I have derived for living the Zen and the Heart of Housekeeping lifestyle (copyright pending)

Sustainable Laundry Practice: maximum threshold, 3 unfolded baskets. If your living room is littered with three piles, er baskets, of clean as of yet unfolded laundry, it is not beneficial at this point to load more soiled linens into the washing machine. Wait until after the children’s bedtime, pour a drink, turn on good music, an insightful podcast or catch a friend on the phone and begin folding. The dirty stuff will keep ’til morning.

Sustainable Foodstuffs Practice: Make one giant pot of beans per week. Typically best achieved on a Friday, this allows meal planning for the weekend to fall back on breakfast burritos, quesadillas with beans and dinner burritos. Add various hot sauces to your liking. Do this and you’ll be sitting pretty, barely making dinner, and enjoying your afternoons and evenings to the utmost.

Sustainable Pest Control or Shoo Fly: When you leave doors open in the springtime, flies will feel invited in. Best to ignore their entry and later on you will find them waiting on another, closed door. From a calm and grateful place, open that door.

When all else fails, go outside, look for beautiful colors, sit under a shady tree, roll around on the grass, run and leap, call five best friends and leave messages, do some weeding, run up a mountain trail, get on your mat, get off your mat, watch Ants closely, count the stars as they come out, open your heart space, eat some good chocolate, make a new cocktail, plan a party, write a letter, lock yourself in with a good book, get on your mat again, go back outside, drink some water, have some tea, climb a tree, swing in a hammock and I can not see an end to this list, but it is cheering me to create it.

Dialogue me! Do you have a practical zen practice that you’d care to share?