Drawing

[What I had for breakfast today: jasmine rice, an egg, lots of kale, and Adam's kimchi.]

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"Mama," said Kamal the other day, "you draw a picture, and I'll color it in."

"Okay," I agreed. "But, honey, you know, I'm not very good at drawing."

Kamal laughed as though I'd said the funniest thing ever. "That's exactly what Daddy said! But then he drew a really good picture! Quick, come look, I hung it on my bedroom wall." 

He took my hand and pulled me into his room, where he beamed at the drawing he'd proudly taped to the wall.  "See?" he said, pointing at stick-figure animals and ambiguous clouds. "Daddy's SO good at drawing! Look how good it is!" 

And so I produced an equally ambiguous drawing, and Kamal commended it just as expansively as he'd commended Adam's. "Mama, I love it, it's beautiful," he glowed. 

So I thought I was bad at drawing. I've always thought I was bad at drawing. But Kamal thinks I'm so artistically gifted that my self-criticisms are absurd enough to be hilarious. I'm not good enough for me, but I'm good enough for him. And--well, I'm not trying to land a job in animation or as a police composite sketch artist or as a graphic designer. I am trying to be an involved mother, though, and apparently I draw well enough to do that. 

What are you good enough at that you always thought you were terrible at? What are you hiding under layers of self-criticism? Do you not dance at weddings because you're not the fantastic dancer you wish you were, even though your friends would love dancing with you no matter what your moves are? Do you skip the shivery pleasure of diving into a lake at the end of a hike because you just don't feel skinny enough, even though none of your hiking buddies would judge you and some of them probably envy your strong legs and curvy hips? Could you be singing louder? Could you be submitting to more publications? Could you be happier, more realized, more present in your life if you let yourself decide that you are enough, just the way you are? Could you look at yourself and see how you're so much more than adequate, how truly you nourish the people who love you, how you don't have to be Miss America or Martha Stewart or Monet to deserve accolades and affection and joy? 

Thanks to Kamal, I could. I could quiet all the critical voices, pick up a pen, and draw a rainbow with my little boy. I am not Monet; I am Mama, and I am really, really good at being that. 

Weekend round-up

Truth: I can be really greedy about weekends.  

Taking a bit of refreshment  

Taking a bit of refreshment  

Weekends at our house are kind of magical right now. We are outdoors, mostly, working on the garden, playing, dancing around. I can get a little hermit-ty, hoarding these golden hours,  because it's hard to beat how happy I am at home, getting dirty and silly with my favorite people. 

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Everything is blooming right now, aloes and borage and the rose hedge in front of our house.  

 

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This neighbor kitty stopped by to compliment us on our roses, and stayed to snuggle with Kamal, who was only too happy to put off our bike ride to play with his new friend.  

 

  This was Sunday breakfast. It had six kinds of vegetables in it, not counting aromatics like ginger and onion: chard from my friend Rachel; spring garlic greens and horseradish greens that volunteered from a corner of the garden; and Nappa cabbage, carrots and daikon in the kimchi and the matchstick fresh pickle Adam made late last week. I don't believe at all in counting calories as a measure of one's health, but I could maybe get behind counting the number of vegetables in your breakfast.   

 

This was Sunday breakfast. It had six kinds of vegetables in it, not counting aromatics like ginger and onion: chard from my friend Rachel; spring garlic greens and horseradish greens that volunteered from a corner of the garden; and Nappa cabbage, carrots and daikon in the kimchi and the matchstick fresh pickle Adam made late last week. I don't believe at all in counting calories as a measure of one's health, but I could maybe get behind counting the number of vegetables in your breakfast. 

 

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See the ladybug in his palm? Kamal and I found a ladybug chrysalis, and Google told us that ladybugs are at their most vulnerable when in chrysalis form, so we tucked the chrysalis into a jar with plenty of leaves. The jar sat on Kamal's dresser for a few days. Then this ladybug, whom Kamal named "Black Spots," emerged. We released him into the front yard.  

 

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Ladybugs are everywhere right now. I found this one perched just beside Kamal's ladybug rain jacket. I wonder if the bug thought she'd found the biggest ladybug ever?   

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Kamal got nice and comfortable to watch Adam tilling up the garden. Belly stayed nearby and hoped he'd drop some mango.  

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This is Kamal and Belly playing with a giant overgrown kale stalk that I pulled out of the garden weeks ago. Here in northern California, we make all our children's toys out of kale. 

(Seriously, though? Kamal and Belly have had more fun with that kale stalk than anything I've ever bought for either of them. The only thing I think they've mutually enjoyed more were empty paper towel tubes.)

 

Let it be easy

[What I had for breakfast today: Jasmine rice with curried green split peas, some leftover roast chicken, freshly-picked kale, the yogurt that Adam made last night, and a beautiful egg from Yellow Chicken, who has the distinction of being our only hen that goes broody and who is therefore the erstwhile mama of New Black Chicken, Grey Chicken and Brown Chicken.]

Kamal had to go to the dentist yesterday to get cavities filled. It was not fun. 

The dentist had let us know that he should only drink clear fluids and eat Jell-O for a few hours after the procedure. Kamal had never had Jell-O, but he was excited about it. I know that Kamal gets cranky and fatigued whenever he's eaten something with artificial colors in it, and so Adam and I decided we'd make Kamal some relatively healthful "Jell-O" from scratch. And then while I was getting Kamal ready for bed the night before his appointment, thinking I'd be up late boiling juice and making space in the freezer, Adam went right ahead and made Kamal four different flavors of jiggly, fruity, jewel-like treats, all using juices he'd pressed himself. 

The clear orange is apple cider, the more opaque orange is pear cider, the lovely burgundy is grape juice, and the bright bright yellow is orange juice with honey and vanilla. 

The clear orange is apple cider, the more opaque orange is pear cider, the lovely burgundy is grape juice, and the bright bright yellow is orange juice with honey and vanilla. 

The thing about making gelatin treats from scratch is that--are you ready?--it's not any harder than making Jell-O out of a box. In both cases, you bring stuff to a boil, mix in other stuff, and then pour it in a tray that you chill for a few hours. (Also: did you know that consuming gelatin, especially gelatin from grass-fed cows, has remarkable benefits to your health? It makes your skin, hair and nails prettier, for sure, but there is also evidence that it may help with joint health and digestive challenges.)

Firming up overnight in the fridge  

Firming up overnight in the fridge  

And that's often the case when you make things from scratch. It's not necessarily easier, but it's usually not much more difficult. Cake mix from a box is not much easier to put together than cake from scratch. Same goes for cookies, soup, rice pilaf, mashed potatoes. And the stuff you make from real food always, always tastes a million times better than the boxed reconstructions of food do. It's maybe a bit more effort making things from scratch, but a huge improvement in flavor, texture, health, and environmental impact (all those cardboard boxes have to end up somewhere, right?). 

I had a terrific yoga teacher (Anna McLawhorn at three dog yoga, thank you!) say to the class I was taking one day several years ago, about a pose we were all struggling a little with: "Let it be easy." And that's always stayed with me--that you can just decide to allow ease into whatever you're doing. 

Sometimes we look at a project--whether it's cooking from scratch, or getting rid of our back pain, or giving up coffee, or going back to school--and we just decide it's too hard for us. Even if it's going to help us achieve goals that are important to us. Even if it's really harder to stay the way we are. Changing, learning that we can accomplish things we thought we couldn't, can feel like a scary and weighty responsibility. 

So what would happen if we just decided to let those things be easy? What if we just went to the grocery store and came back with flour and eggs and good butter and lots of vegetables and just said, I'm going to make a quiche, and then did it? Or what if we took ten minutes to send out a few emails to practitioners we thought might be able to help us with our back pain? Or friends who would support us as we decaffeinate ourselves? What if we called in whatever help and support we needed when we needed it? What if we really did let it all be easy? 

I tell you what: these gelatin treats are a great place to start. Cooking from scratch does more than make healthier food that tastes better--it limits our dependency on big corporations with whose ethics we may or may not agree. It decreases the amount of packaging that ends up in our landfills. It gives us a deeper, truer connection to our food, and a pretty incomparable sense of accomplishment. 

We just followed the directions on the gelatin packet, but there are lots of almost-identical recipes online. Click here for a really good one!

Thwack thwack thwack

[What I had for breakfast this morning: The usual--an egg, jasmine rice, freshly-picked kale out of the garden and Adam's homemade sriracha.]

A few weeks ago, I moved my private practice, The Saxena Clinic, out of the office that Adam and I lovingly and painstakingly put together eight years ago and into a vibrant collaborative wellness center anchored by a terrific yoga studio. I'm sharing a floor with a variety of incredible holistic practitioners, and I couldn't be happier. 

 

See? So happy. My plants also could not be happier, especially about that great big window!

See? So happy. My plants also could not be happier, especially about that great big window!

I was scheduled to open my doors here at the new space on March 1, but everything got in the way: all the things that one has to do when moving a business were going all haywire all over the place. And then Adam, who is my painter and handyman and general executor of all things, got the flu. And then I got the flu and Kamal did, too, days before I was supposed to start seeing patients here. We were all sick, and I was still desperately trying to make this move happen. I texted my friend Anne, who is very sensible, about how stressed and overwhelmed I felt, and she called me on the phone (which, like, nobody ever does anymore, which makes me think my texts sounded really desperate) and offered this piece of priceless counsel: Why don't you just push your move out a week? 

And as soon as she made that suggestion, I felt such profound relief. I was sick, and practitioners shouldn't be treating patients when they're sick, anyway. Moreover, I didn't have an office in which to receive patients. I was trying to make an impossible situation work, and that is never healthy or productive. 

You know when you're on a hiking path, and sometimes a branch comes out of nowhere and hits you in the face? That's annoying. But you keep following the path, and you know it's a path because it's cleared enough that you can walk on it and because most of the time branches are not hitting you in the face. 

But if you turn and suddenly branches are hitting you in the face over and over again--thwack thwack thwack--then it behooves you to notice that. It behooves you to consider: maybe this is not my path. 

The most fundamental tenet of acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, the most basic goal of every treatment, is not to fix your tendonitis or address your depression or stoke your metabolism. The goal is, always, to put you on your right path. You know when you're in that place, where everything feels good and supported and strong, where great opportunities are just flying your way, and where it's easy to tell the difference between challenges that you're meant to learn from and obstacles you're meant to avoid? That's being on your right path. Good health is just a happy side effect of being there. 

In all of my eagerness and excitement to move in to my new space, I'd stepped off my right path. And all those branches thwacking me in the face I ignored, stubbornly and blindly trudging ahead, until one big branch, named The Flu That Will Sideline Your Entire Family, knocked me soundly onto my ass and made me reach out to a friend who, lucky for me, is awfully smart. 

I cancelled all my patients for the week, and they were all, of course, very understanding. I moved in, but more slowly, in a more realistic way. I focused on starting right in this new place and gave up on the idea of starting right away.  Adam painted a beautiful ombré effect all over the walls, I meticulously lined plants along the south-facing window, wonderful friends came to help me move and gauge space and brainstorm decor. Like my plants, I'm here now, settled and safe, basking, thriving, and growing a little bit more every day.  I've found my way back to walking my right path, whole, healed, and ready to help others find their right path, too. 

All that was needed was a little space, just a little room to breathe and look around before my next step. What about you? What branches thwack you in the face? What's steered you away from your right path? What brings you back? 

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Broccoli that is too delicious to photograph

Seriously, try to stop eating this broccoli.

I have been meaning to post this recipe for months now--months during which we've eaten this dish at least twice every week.  The reason I haven't posted it? I keep meaning to take a picture of it to post with this recipe.  And every time, every single time Adam's made this, we eat it all before I remember I was going to take a picture. We have to insist Kamal also eat his spaghetti or chicken or anything, anything else for dinner besides just this broccoli. Sometimes on my way to get the after-dinner piece of dark chocolate I am kind of religious about, I will be waylaid by the bowl of this broccoli yet to be put away and stand at the counter eating it, completely forgetting my chocolate. If you already like broccoli, you will understand how rhapsodic I am about this recipe I am when you make it. For people who like broccoli, it's basically like French fries. For people who don't like broccoli, this one might convert them. 

 Also? So. Easy. 

 That Broccoli Adam Makes

One head of broccoli, chopped

Two to four tablespoons of coconut oil, olive oil, or if you are really trying to convert a broccoliphile, bacon fat

Toss them together on a baking pan with a little salt and pepper.  ("You could do it in a bowl," opines Adam, "but why make another dish?") Use your hands, if you are really going to do it like Adam, which you should. 

Put that pan in a 500 degree oven for half an hour or so, till it looks really brown and what you could optimistically call" caramelized" but what is actually borderline burned. Trust.   

Put your broccoli in a bowl, maybe sprinkle it with more salt and pepper, and eat. 

 

 

 Am I right? 

 

Grandma's hat

A couple of years ago, after meeting Adam's mom, my friend Anne texted me "FYI, you totally hit the mother-in-law jackpot."

And she's right, of course. Leslie is one of those people that everyone describes as the nicest person they've ever met. She both sends and recommends great books to me on the regular. She has knitted all of us hats and other beautiful things. She is instantly beloved by every baby that lays its new eyes upon her. She is that kind of person. 

I hit the mother-in-law jackpot, true, and along with it got a wonderful and inspiring friend in Leslie. But Kamal? Kamal hit the grandma jackpot. Those two, Kamal and his grandma, are a match made in heaven.  

 A few years ago Leslie knitted Kamal a Christmas stocking, and every year she sends along fun little presents for Kamal to fish out of what he calls his "magic sock." This year, Kamal pulled a hat hand-knitted by Grandma out of his stocking, exclaimed "It's a Santa hat!" and proceeded to never take it off again.  

 

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It has a pompom! And it stayed on for rocket launching, 

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hot-cocoa drinking (from another special stocking stuffer: this cup that used to belong to Kamal's great-grandpa, Harry), 

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tidying up, 

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thoughtful chats in the garden, 

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neighborhood puddle-jumping, 

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playing the game I call "only-child catch," 

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and solving the world's economic challenges. 

 

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There are a lot of reasons I don't like Christmas. For years, Adam and I would more or less ignore the holiday, spending the day quietly and blissfully together. But now we have Kamal, and he loves it. Of all the wonderful gifts that we've received from Leslie and Steve, Adam's dad, one of the most precious is the way they've modeled for our own little family a way to experience this holiday in a way that allows Kamal to be joyful and engaged without getting wrapped up in hyperconsumerism or culturally projected expectations. 

Kamal doesn't understand yet how lucky he is to have such a terrific set of grandparents. But I do, and I  am grateful, deeply, on his behalf and on mine, too. 

Vanilla-coconut jellies

Yesterday, Kamal and I made this kyauk kyaw recipe from Girl Cooks World. I'd been promising to share with him the joys of agar-agar for some time, and yesterday, a lazy around-the-house kind of day, was just right. 

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Agar-agar, also called Kanten, is a thickening and gelling agent obtained from algae. It's used in a similar way to gelatin, and it produces a texture I think most people would be hard-pressed to tell apart from Jell-O. 

You can buy agar-agar in strand form, too, but the powder is easier to measure. Finding it at an Asian market instead of a Western grocery is a smart move, budget-wise. 

You can buy agar-agar in strand form, too, but the powder is easier to measure. Finding it at an Asian market instead of a Western grocery is a smart move, budget-wise. 

Here are all the ingredients you need: Two and a quarter tablespoons of agar-agar powder, two and a half cups of water, a cup of coconut milk, a little more than a quarter cup of sugar,  a pinch of salt, and your favorite flavoring extract. We used vanilla extract, which Adam makes from fragrant vanilla beans and booze, instead of the rosewater extract recommended in the original recipe. 

Bring all the ingredients except the extract to a boil, simmer the mixture for a bit, then add in your flavorings and pour it all into a pan to let cool and set. 

Since Kamal's favorite color is pink, and also since I try really hard not to give Kamal artificial food colorings, I picked a couple of beet stalks, washed them, and then sort of wrung them out over the pan as the coconut mixture cooled in it. Result: beautiful fuschia swirls! 

Be prepared for super-pink fingertips, though. 

Be prepared for super-pink fingertips, though. 

We waited impatiently for the mixture to set (it took about 40 minutes) and then Kamal got to work with his ever-growing collection of cookie cutters.

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Ta-da! 

Ta-da! 

My co-chef tastes and approves. I think you will, too! 

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On keeping the balance

[What I had for breakfast today: jasmine rice, a little bit of roast chicken, an egg, some sauteed baby kale, and Adam's kimchi.]

We had a nice, quiet long weekend, during which Adam, Kamal and I all spent a lot of time resting, playing, cooking, eating, gardening and housekeeping. We left the house once, to drive to Jenner and  go for a mellow walk on Toby's favorite beach. 
 

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It's been my goal, since this most recent presidential election, to change my approach to work, play and parenting in order to be generally more effective. I've felt both chagrined and challenged by the revealed status of civil rights in this country, and both inspired and indebted to the work of generations of civil-rights activists. There is a lot of progress still to be made, and it's easy to feel overwhelmed by how much work has been laid before us.

And here's what I'm learning, as I try to step up and carry on the work of creating progress: there's a real balance--one I haven't at all figured out yet--to staying informed and active without being knocked sideways and losing your joy.

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Joan Baez says, and I remind myself of this all the time: "Action is the antidote to despair." It's true. But knowing the right action to take requires open-mindedness and awareness, and those by themselves can feel too much sometimes.

This is just a reminder to all of us, with our strong intentions to shoulder our share of this long fight for true equality, that it's important to take time to care for ourselves, too. It's not just "okay" or "forgivable" to go to bed early, or take an hour to go for a run, or spend extra time cooking your dinner, or laugh over a glass of wine with your partner. It's imperative. You are needed, strong and healthy and grounded and energized.

So care for yourself like a warrior. Let every act of self-care be an act of revolution. When it is the right time for the right action, you'll be ready to step forward and act in the most effective way possible.

Can you be THIS ready? 

Can you be THIS ready? 

Starting over (and over and over and over)

Okay. These last few weeks have been bad. 

In no particular order of badness, these are some of the things that have felt bad: The results of the presidential election left me frankly heartbroken. Kamal had this stomach bug that made him poop explosively for days. Our dog, sweet old Toby, finally died after a long, loving life, and we miss him so much. 

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What I feel like doing, today, is staying in bed with the covers over my head, watching dumb sitcoms on my smartphone, numb and forgetful. What I feel like doing is indulging in denial, cushioning myself against grief and disappointment.

But the world doesn't need us to hide. The world needs us, more than ever every day, to be bright and brave. And in my little world of home and family, I am watching Kamal try to process this first great loss, this absence where his true and constant friend used to be.  

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And I know it is my work to model for him the way we move through grief and back to productive engagement with the world. I'll break it into steps for him, and as always, showing Kamal how to find his right path puts me right back on mine.  

So, sweet Kamal, good friends, everyone carrying heavy sadness or incapacitating anger or blinding disappointment today: here is what we will do. We'll feel our feelings, honestly and bravely. And then we'll focus on our breathing. We'll stretch, go outside, do good work, and give where there is a need.  Those are the steps; those are what will bring us back into the world that right now is requiring us all to be strong and resourceful. And if ever it feels too hard--and, let's be real, there will be times it feels too hard--we'll start over. 

Again, we'll sit with our feelings. We'll breathe, just one breath at a time, in and out, until we're ready to do more. Then we'll stretch and feel our bodies, our only and best vehicles for every kind of change. We'll get outdoors, remind ourselves of how connected we are to other humans, to animals and to plants; we'll remember the importance of protecting our intricately interconnected planet. We'll work hard at the work we do--whether it's helping people,  or earning money so we can donate it to help people, or building our influence to help people-- because a lot of people need our help. And then we will give what we can when we can, whether it's a cup of coffee for the guy camped out on a bench in the park or many monthly donations to causes in which we believe. 

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Just like meditation, every bit of life is a practice in starting over. I know this month has been hard on a lot of people. I hope you start over with me, because there is a lot of work to do. 

 




Weekend at home

Kamal wept this morning because he didn't want to go to preschool. "It's not that I don't like my preschool. I love my preschool," he explained, between sniffles. "But I love home MORE."

Well. That's an awfully nice thing for this mama to hear, and an affirmation of the way we tend to live our life as a family: centered tightly around our kitchen and garden, celebrating the small and the mundane for the beauty they bring.

Here are some of the ways Kamal enjoyed his time at home this weekend. I hope they inspire you to enjoy the place that feels like home to you, and to make every small event a celebration of the loveliness of your whole life. 

 

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In our drought-afflicted region, it's  always a long wait for a proper puddle in which to splash. Kamal didn't waste any time.  

 

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Kamal started these sunflowers from seeds and then helped me transplant the seedlings into the front yard. They are awfully pretty, but didn't make for excellent hide-and-seek territory, despite best efforts.  

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I love this photo of Kamal and Daddy Bear looking out together from the "hello/goodbye" window in front of our house, exactly as they did almost two years ago, in this photo:

   

 

 

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Adam brought home a new shop vac and Kamal tested it out right away. It was very exciting. Because of this vacuum Kamal learned the word "powerful" and has been using it correctly and with gravitas. 

 

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And of course, it's always important to make time to hang with your best friend in all the world. If you can share with her the chore of feeding the chickens, even better. If you can do it in a ladybug costume, well.  I can't imagine a better way to weekend. 

On feeling okay about feeling bad

This is something I wrote about a year ago, after a bombardment of really upsetting stories in the news cycle, when I felt like a lot of us were struggling to feel okay. 

Since the news cycle hasn't gotten more cheerful, and since, in fact, I've been hearing from a lot of people that they feel overwhelmed and hopeless about the general state of things, I thought I would put it out there again. I hope it's helpful to you and yours. 


(October 16, 2015)

So Kamal has been asking me where his “other” grandparents are: along with learning the sounds letters make and the concept of gender, preschool has taught him that some kids have two sets of grandparents. He knows he has grandparents in Pennsylvania, but where are the other ones?

My father met Kamal when Kamal was 7 weeks old, and again when he was just over a year and beginning to walk. He sent him a teddy bear Kamal named Daddy Bear and a talking stuffed dog Kamal dubbed Puppy. When Kamal was about a year and a half old, my father died in a hospice in Florida. My mother died 18 years ago, when I was 19, of a swiftly-moving cancer. So Kamal’s questions are hard to answer straightforwardly, but I’m trying my best.

I tell him that I don’t know for sure where they are, but they have died, which means they don’t live anywhere right now. I tell them that different people believe different things about what happens to people after they die, and then I try and tell him a little about some of those things. Then he tells me his theories, and asks more questions. We’ve had some really wonderful conversations.

But of course I am sad, thinking about the way my mother would have adored her sweet, smart little grandson; the way my father would have swelled with pride over every one of Kamal’s accomplishments. And when Kamal sighs, “I miss them,” I can only believe him, and say, “I know, baby. Me too.”

And so these last few days, I’ve been moving along through a rusty cloud of old, achy grief, remembering things, regretting things, wishing futile wishes. It doesn’t fall anywhere under the #healthyhedonism tag. It does not feel good.

And yet–and yet. And yet I think always about a quote I found years ago, when I’d lost my first pregnancy and could not even believe how sad I was.  The American poet and philosopher George Santayana wrote: “To be interested in the changing of the seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with the spring.”

This isn’t about looking for the silver lining in a shitty situation. It’s not about being an optimist, or having a positive attitude. It’s about being present in every single moment that you possibly can, about living your whole life with your whole self when you are able and forgiving yourself when you’re not. It’s about learning from your pain as willingly as you learn from your joy. It’s about recognizing the tremendous privilege of knowing a wide spectrum of emotion.

Seeking joy in every moment isn’t healthful. It’s not the human condition. Avoiding sorrow isn’t possible; it comes for each of us. Days like these last few, days when sorrow finds me, I do my best to be interested in it. I try to breathe it in and taste it. I try not to hide it from Kamal, because no matter how much I want this not to be true, sorrow will come for him sometimes, as well. I want to model for him ways to move forward with sorrow, to avoid getting stuck in it, to show him it’s possible to live with sorrow and still have a joyful life.

There is gratitude for this sorrow: it’s deepened my empathy and helped me reach others who are feeling stuck. In many ways, it’s defined the path of my life, and my life is good. It’s taught me, most importantly, that I can feel completely broken, completely beyond repair, and still, given time and patience, I can heal–and because of that, I know sorrow is not something to fear.

We talk about sorrow like its trajectory is relentlessly downward: we talk about “feeling down” and how we wish we could “cheer up.” But sorrow doesn’t bring us down. It elevates us. It gives us the kind of perspective you get from climbing to a high place. It makes our world bigger, it casts the net of our awareness wider, it expands us in every way, if we let it.

What I’m saying is, and what I want Kamal to know, is: Don’t be afraid of heartbreak. It sucks, it’s hard, it’s lonesome. But don’t be afraid of it, because it is the thread that connects your human heart to every single other one. 

 

Refrigerator bread-and-butter pickles

[What I had for breakfast today: the last of the lamb curry congee with sautéed collards, fermented sriracha, and a fried egg.]

It still feels like late summer here, which means there are cucumbers everywhere. Cucumbers are currently Kamal's favorite food; he eats them sliced and plain, eschewing any salt or spice or dip. He's a cucumber purist. These sweet, mildly spicy bread-and-butter pickles, though, are one of the few ways he'll gladly accept adulterated cucumbers.

We love this recipe for the same reasons you will: it's easy, it's fast, it doesn't require major processing or any canning or even heat. All you need for tools are a good knife, a big jar, and your refrigerator--although a food processor certainly speeds things up.

Adam's mom emailed me this recipe in 2011, and we've made it every year since. It was created by family friend Dave, who came and visited us this past April and got along swimmingly with Kamal.

Sliced cucumber mixture just before pouring brine into jars

Sliced cucumber mixture just before pouring brine into jars

You can certainly scale the recipe up or down depending on how many cucumbers you've got.

Dave's Refrigerator B & B Pickles

Place in a large jar:

6 cups thinly sliced cucumbers (for these and the onions, Adam used the slicing mechanism on the food processor, set to a 2mm slice) 

1 cup thinly sliced onions 


1 pepper, sliced (optional; Adam put a couple of cayennes in our most recent batch)  

For the brine, in a separate container, mix together:

1 1/2 cups sugar

1  cup white vinegar (Adam used our homemade apple scrap vinegar here, but we've used white vinegar too. Either works deliciously.)

1 tablespoon salt

1/4 teaspoon celery seed

1 teaspoon mustard seed

1/8 teaspoon turmeric

Pour this brine over cucumbers, onions and pepper(s) in jar. Tightly shut lid and put jar in refrigerator. Pickles will be ready to eat in a week, maybe a little less, and in the fridge will keep for a month or two or three--or possibly longer; we just always eat them before that. 

Are they ready yet? 

Are they ready yet? 

What's doing in the garden today

[What I had for breakfast today: lamb curry congee with sautéed collards, fermented sriracha and a scrambled egg.] 

 Back in June, Kamal planted the seeds for the pumpkin patch he wanted. 

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Here's that pumpkin patch (along with some melon and squash plants) today. 

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Adam built these neat house-shaped trellises for the happy tomato plants to climb. They make nice shady seating areas (and awesome hide-and-seek territory) . 

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These sunflowers! 

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The pomegranate tree working overtime and ahead of schedule:

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Purple tree collards (same ones I ate for breakfast!) and bright borage:

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The nasturtiums are recovered enough from Toby napping on them to resume growing up through this ladder. 

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Two kinds of very orderly beets in the foreground; monster boysenberry bramble and giant chartreuse mustard greens in the background. 

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Oh, and yeah. So many tomatoes. 

 

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And peppers! So many peppers.

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Oh, and holler at us if you need a little rosemary. 

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Or bay leaves. 

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There's cucumbers and bittermelon and kale and basil and a whole bunch of other stuff I didn't get photos of today. This is a great time of year in the garden!

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Lamb curry congee

[What I had for breakfast today: THIS. Read on for the recipe!]

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So, you guys, Adam is pretty ridiculous. I mean, we both have our flaws, of course, and we fight and make up and hold grudges and let things go like normal married people. But just the quantity of urban homesteading he's able to accomplish while working and parenting--I live with the guy, and I don't understand how he does it. 

(Here's a link to an article about Adam and all the great cooking he does!)

This morning when I woke up, the Instant Pot was simmering away and smelling delicious. Adam dished me up a bowl of this incredible curried lamb congee, rich with his homemade chicken stock, and then garnished it with a fresh tomato (which he grew), fermented mustard greens (also homegrown, and which he pickled), and homemade yogurt (yup). As I eat it, and write this, he's mixing up some sandwich bread dough. While it cooked, he was kneading bagel dough. This guy.

I asked Adam if I could share the recipe here, and he said, "Sure, but I just threw a bunch of stuff into the Instant Pot." Here's what further inquiry revealed; do keep in mind all quantities are very approximate.

 

Lamb Curry Congee

Lamb necks, about a pound

One and a half cups of jasmine rice, washed

8 cups of chicken stock, ideally homemade, plus about 2 cups of water

About three inches of ginger, unpeeled, scrubbed and sliced*
 
About 3 tablespoons of the tikka masala from Savory Spice 

One small onion, sliced

Four cloves of garlic, sliced

One cayenne pepper, sliced 


*If you aren't sure that your ginger is organic, peel it!


Put everything in your Instant Pot or pressure cooker, and cook for 45 minutes at high pressure. If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can do this in a heavy pot on the stovetop or in the oven, too--but you'll want to let it simmer for a few hours. 

Garnish with fresh tomatoes and pickled mustard greens and yogurt. (Honestly, I think any greens would be delicious here, as would cucumbers, hard-boiled eggs, minced herbs, toasted fennel seeds...)

Hair

[What I had for breakfast today: egg and rice and fermented greens, again. What I had for breakfast yesterday: nothing, because regret. Read on for an explanation.]

In the winter of 2007, while I was in my third year of graduate school, still living in New York and had just started dating Adam, I was both in need of a haircut and low on funds for holiday gifts. I saw an ad on Craigslist offering sixty dollars in exchange for six inches of hair, and I thought, Perfect! I'll get a haircut AND money to buy presents!

Me and a very youthful Toby, a month or two before the Big Cut. 

Me and a very youthful Toby, a month or two before the Big Cut. 

This is a thing normal people do, right? I mean, go to the apartment of a random Craigslist poster and let him do things to your head with sharp pointy things. You've done that, right? 

No. You have not, because you are smarter than I was then. To keep the story short, I left the random Craigslist guy's apartment with three twenties in my coat pocket, thoroughly creeped out, and with about a full foot length's less hair than I went in with. I'd needed the haircut because my hair was down to my waist, but I walked out with hair above my shoulders. And I wept, walking along the cold, crowded Garment District streets. I called my sister, and I called Adam, and I called a bunch of friends, and everyone was very nice and said great things like "it'll grow back so fast!" and "you look great no matter what!" and "I know a stylist that'll make you happy to have short hair!" and all the kind things that people should say when you have a terrible haircut. 

But none of it soothed me. For weeks, I cringed every time I looked in the mirror. I woke up and went to sleep soaked in remorse. The cut was on my mind at work, in class, out with friends. I talked about my hair endlessly, obnoxiously. I can't believe the people that were my friends back that are still my friends today. I mean I was the worst. 

And through it all, I kept asking myself (and the extraordinarily tolerant people all around me) why I was so bothered. I was an assistant intern at my school clinic by this point, which means I'd cared for people who'd been in horrible car accidents, were struggling through cancer treatments, had been abused by the people they trusted most. There was no reason a botched haircut should rate so highly on my list of troubles. 

And meanwhile, why was I so vain? Didn't I believe people shouldn't be judged on their appearances? Couldn't I make myself feel okay about this one part of my body not looking the way I thought it should look? 

I thought a lot about why my hair mattered so much to me. I wondered if it was about cultural identity. About sexual freedom. About claiming my own appearance as a way to feel more control over my life. I still don't have a good answer, other than maybe I am just really vain.

So then two nights ago, I cut Kamal's hair. I just wanted to trim his bangs a little, get them out of his eyes, so that he didn't have to keep looking up at me from underneath them. 

Here's where we ended up. 

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I don't know how I managed to take a good two inches of hair off when I'd meant to cut only a quarter of an inch. I don't know what happened. I do know that the minute I realized what I'd done, my stomach dropped and my palms sweated, just like they did after random Craigslist guy finally handed me a mirror. 

I smiled at Kamal and told him how nice it was to see his lovely face. Meanwhile, my body was having a full-blown freakout. No matter how many times I told myself "it's just hair, it'll grow back, he's cute no matter what, don't teach him that appearance is important," I felt--and I'm embarrassed to tell you that this is not hyperbole--devastated. I felt panicked, bereft, and regretful to the point of pain. My heart raced, my guts roiled, my skin grew clammy. 

And I knew, intellectually, that a lot of kids have had and survived a dreadful Mom-haircut. But I couldn't stop myself from spinning out about it, to the point I had trouble both sleeping and eating--which is beyond silly, I realize. My reaction was more appropriate to something like having accidentally harmed Kamal, in a real and serious way. I know families all over the world, and in my own neighborhood, are facing actual problems, life-threatening problems. I know a haircut on a four-year-old is not an actual problem and doesn't even deserve comparison to the kinds of things children are called to confront in our time. And yet, my emotions were doing their own thing, wreaking havoc all over my body. 

So what is it about hair? Why does it incite such strong feelings? I know I'm not alone here--I know other parents have wept over their children's hair too, and I know other grownups have had haircuts they grievously regretted. But it's a regenerating tissue. It grows back, relatively quickly, compared to the way the rest of our body grows. 

I have so many things to be grateful for. So many! That Kamal is healthy and happy (and could not care less what his hair looks like, because he's FOUR), that Adam is everything Adam is, that the garden is full to bursting of food and flowers. All those things, and a million more. And Kamal's funny bangs do not change any of those things. But I still feel something stronger than chagrin when I look at photos of his long bangs, and then I feel silly for feeling it, and, well, hopefully I'll be able to start feeling more logically in the weeks before his bangs grow back out.

Guest post on Thrive Center's blog!

[What I had for breakfast today: an egg and rice, topped with Adam's pickled mustard greens, fresh cucumber kimchi.]

Here in Santa Rosa, we're incredibly lucky to have Thrive Center for Birth and Family Wellness as a resource for expectant mamas and their families. Thrive opened after Kamal's birth, but I know that the kind of care I received from our wonderful midwife, Colette Mercier, shaped our whole parenting experience--indeed, our whole family--for the better. I wish every birth were as embraced and supported as Kamal's. Thrive, and organizations like it, empower a greater number of families to receive the kind of care and support our family was so lucky to have. I love being able to refer patients to such a warm, welcoming, safe and balanced environment for such an important moment. 
 

Colette took this photo of us, and I'm so glad she did. 

Colette took this photo of us, and I'm so glad she did. 

Thrive was kind enough to invite me to write a guest post on their blog. Here it is--read up, check out Thrive's wonderful services, and send grateful thoughts to midwives everywhere today. 

On turning an unethical garment into an ethical one

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[What I had for breakfast today: an egg fried in coconut oil, jasmine rice, and Adam's pickled mustard greens. Also, Kamal fed me a couple of his grapes, only the ones he thought were "too squishy."]

The tank top I'm wearing here is kind of a model ethical purchase. I bought it recently from Rambler's Way, a company with a robust statement on ethics easily accessed on their website. It's a basic, highly usable piece manufactured with ethical labor methods from sustainable materials harvested from well-treated animals. I wear it all the time. (I would wear the grey one I bought along with it almost as much, except I tragically put it in the dryer and it shrank.)

The red skirt, on the other hand? I don't know where it was made. I don't know who made it, or how they were treated, but based on the price of the skirt--six dollars--I imagine it wasn't produced in the kindest or most sustainable way.  

I bought the red skirt maybe twelve or so years ago, before I thought about the impact my purchases could have on other human beings. It hung on a pegboard at a tiny, crowded shop, more of a street stall, in the Garment District in Manhattan, and I passed it on my way to and from work for a week or so. 

At the time six dollars wasn't an insignificant amount for me to spend on a skirt, so I gave it a lot of thought before making the purchase. But I wasn't thinking about the people who made the skirt, or the circumstances under which they worked, or the way the materials were sourced. I was thinking about covering my rent and electricity bill and still being able to buy groceries. But I was also looking for a new job, and I needed something I could interview in. 

So now, twelve years later, a whole different life later, I am still wearing the skirt. Because I like it, but also because it means I'm not buying another red skirt. Whatever resources went into making this garment, I imagine its creation cost the world more than six dollars, in environmental damage and possibly in human suffering. I know wearing this one skirt forever isn't going to save the world, or make up for the piles of fast fashion I've purchased in my lifetime. But holding on to a garment, instead of treating it like it's disposable, is my way today of showing that I value the resources and the labor that went into it. More importantly, it is my way of manifesting my respect for the people that made this skirt, for their time and effort, and my hopes that their lives are good ones despite the carelessness and thoughtlessness I and so many others have shown them by buying and discarding hundreds, thousands, millions of cheap garments. 

As I've written about here before, there are a lot of ways to make sure the clothes you wear are manifestations of the kindness and empathy you want to put into the world. Buy things secondhand, buy things made by companies who make ethics a priority, and buy things that you will wear for a long time and that will thereby help you buy fewer things. If you identify something in your closet that you suspect was not produced ethically, just don't buy another like it. Instead, wear the beejesus out of it, or give it to somebody who will. Don't continue the cycle of consumption and overt waste in the name of profit, of taking for granted all the human lives that are out of your sight, of failing to share equally the resources that belong to everyone on this planet. Sometimes you can make even more of a difference by doing even less. 

(Oh, and the lipstick--actually all the makeup!--in the photo is by Honeybee Gardens, which is a makeup company I'm newly devoted to. In addition to their products being cruelty-free, organic and reviewed favorably by the Environmental Working Group, they do this great thing I wish all cosmetic companies did: they sell tiny little samples of their lipsticks, mineral foundation and eyeshadows, enough for a few uses, so you can try a bunch of colors before buying full-size.

For someone like me, who has trouble finding makeup that works with my skin--in general, the cosmetic industry is still working on recognizing the fact that people of color exist--this saves so much money, waste, and angst. I tried six different shades of Honeybee Gardens foundation before finding one I liked. With any other cosmetics company, that would have been I-don't-know-how-many-dollars and at least five bulky plastic compacts and their corresponding powder puffs in the landfill. With Honeybee Gardens, I just picked the one I liked best, threw away some tiny plastic baggies, and was happy. I also tried eight lipsticks and four eyeshadows, saving, again, tons of money and a lot of non-renewable trash. All this cost me like nine dollars, because each sample is FIFTY CENTS. Such a good idea. And their compacts are refillable, and they use recycled materials where possible, and the stuff in their formulas is actually healthy for your skin, so--win win win, all over the place.)  

Here's a closeup of the Honeybee Gardens makeup, taken last night at around 7 pm. I put it on for a meeting that started at 7 am. Then I went to the dentist, saw patients, rode my bike home, played with Kamal, and took this selfie.  Other than lipstick, there were no touch-ups. You can see things are a little smudgy, but I mean, that's better than I generally expect from all-natural makeup after 12 hours! 

Here's a closeup of the Honeybee Gardens makeup, taken last night at around 7 pm. I put it on for a meeting that started at 7 am. Then I went to the dentist, saw patients, rode my bike home, played with Kamal, and took this selfie.  Other than lipstick, there were no touch-ups. You can see things are a little smudgy, but I mean, that's better than I generally expect from all-natural makeup after 12 hours!