Saturday, October 31, 2009

beach house

I've decided that I would really like to have a beach house some day. After nearly a week in Savannah for a work conference - a hard, stressful week, with late nights of work and tears about being separated from Dora - we've come to Folly Beach, South Carolina for a quick weekend visit.

Stepping onto the sand last night, as the sun was setting and the beach was taking on my favorite evening glow, I felt whole and relaxed and complete, watching Dora squeal in delight and play with her Daddy in the sand. It's like coming home - all of us together in a place where the only thing that matters is each other.

I have always loved the ocean, having grown up vacationing there as a child. To me it has always brought a sense of solace and joy that I feel in very few other places in the world. In fact, it gives me a feeling that is indescribable - all I can say to explain it is that I know it when I feel it, and I can't get enough of it. Now that we live closer to the beach, it has become easier to find our way here more regularly. This time we're here because Brian's band has a gig. We've been to the beach for my work, too, and just for vacation. This means that, usually, we've been blessed with more than one beach trip per year, and for that I know we are very fortunate.

Visiting the beach has taken on a new level of importance, though, now that we have Dora. This is not the first situation in which I have experienced the world again through her eyes, but it may be my favorite. The first time we took her to the beach, Dora was 4 weeks old. Aside from obsessing over the potential for sunburn nearly the entire time, I was overjoyed that we could begin our own memories (and hers, by extension) of family beach vacations right away. I cherish the photos of tiny Dora on the beach, crying when we stuck her little baby toes into the edge of the waves. Every time we go to the beach, Dora is at a different stage and enjoys different things. Last year it was sand, this summer it was tidal pools, this weekend it was the waves. She was so enthused about the waves today, she squealed with delight as they splashed into her, even though the water was chilly. It appears that my girl is going to love the beach as much as I do, and to me that is just fine.

Truth be told, our becoming parents has a lot to do with the ocean, too. I have always known I wanted to have a baby - for as long as I can remember that is what I have wanted. I knew I wanted to marry someone who wanted kids, too - and I made it clear from the beginning with Brian that having a family was important to me. After a couple of years of marriage, we had been talking a lot about getting pregnant - my job was going well, we liked Asheville, Brian's piano studio was doing well and he had a steady band gig with Orange Krush. There was never any doubt that having children was something we would try to do, but three years ago when we went to the Isle of Palms with friends and watched little Isaac run around on the beach, we decided we wanted to have that, too. As Isaac ran by, Brian said to me, "I want that". And I agreed.

Now that I have my own little sand flea, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Dora's enjoyment of the beach evolve. I'm not sure there is anything cuter than a toddler in a bathing suit, wearing a sunhat and carrying a bucket and shovel. I cherish seeing her play in the sand, hearing her delighted squeals in the surf. I think back to my own childhood beach trips, and I think of my mom watching me in my little solid-color Dove tank suits, laughing and getting blonder and tanner by the minute. I know she loved going to the beach- we did it every single year no matter how hard my parents had to work to make it happen. I always thought she loved it for the same reasons I do - the walks in the morning, the sand against your skin, the air and the breeze, that indescribable feeling that all of that brings to you. I'm sure it was all those things, but now I know it was more than that. It was the squeals and the sandcastles and the sunhats, the memories and the photographs and seeing all of it through her kids' eyes. It was being in a place where the focus could be completely on the family, without distraction or worry, all of us stepping on to the sand together in a place where the only thing that mattered was each other.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


It's been nearly a week since I've posted something here, and it's not because I haven't wanted to do so. I was just telling someone recently that it's important to me to try to post a few times a week. It's good for the creative process, and you can't expect people to keep coming back to read your blog if you never put anything new on there. It's not that I haven't been wanting to write, or that I haven't had anything to say - I've just been elsewhere.

First, I was in Nashville, TN for the weekend to visit one of my closest friends in the entire world, to watch our kids play, to take pictures, to take in the beautiful peak fall colors, to see her childhood home in Kentucky. I have an entire post already written in my mind about this beautiful trip, and more broadly about our enduring friendship and all that it means to me. It was a lovely weekend, and worthy of its own space in this blog.

Now I am in a hotel room in Savannah, Georgia, at a conference. Aside from attending to conference activities, I have a mound of work that has to be done in the evenings and during every break. I have so much work to do that I have no idea how I am ever going to get it done. I have so much work to do and have had so many technical problems with it that today I seriously considered how wonderful it would feel to throw my laptop out the window of my room on the 5th floor, to see it spiraling down to the lovely historic brick street below, crashing to its demise below the live oaks and Spanish moss.

Mostly, though, I am in a hotel room in Savannah, Georgia, about to lay my head down for the second night ever in which I have not been within a few steps of my baby girl. Last night was the first time in her two plus years that I did not kiss her goodnight, did not nurse her to sleep, did not gently close her door and nestle in to bed beside my husband just a few feet away from her. I woke up last night at 4 in the morning with a start, my heart pounding, wondering about her. She is still nursing, and I did not leave on this trip without her to wean her cold turkey. I just have gotten to the point that the logistics of traveling with a baby for work have become more than I can handle, and she doesn't need to nurse for food, so Brian and I decided we'd just try it. We talked to Dora repeatedly about mommy going away and she seemed to understand.

From what I can tell, things are generally ok at home. There have been a few tearful calls home - with tears on both ends - and it was especially difficult to say goodbye earlier this evening when Dora was crying and saying "my mommy" over and over again. Everyone said this would be harder on me than Dora and I think that may be true. I feel exhausted, lonely, guilty, and very, very sore. My friends who have or are breastfeeding will know that, even when you're down to nursing only once or twice a day, if you go 48 hours without nursing, there's some serious hurtin' going on. The beer I had at this evening's reception helped, but I still feel like I'm about to burst. A friend of mine said there is a physical withdrawal when you can't nurse - you want to do it so bad you ache for it, literally and figuratively. She is absolutely right, and the feeling is intense when you're hundreds of miles away, listening to your baby cry for you over the phone, knowing 5 minutes in the black and white chair at home would fix us both right up.

Brian and Dora will get here late tomorrow night, and it won't be a moment too soon. I know there is much to be learned by all of this through this experience. I know that financially, logistically, professionally - it's time for me to start traveling for work solo again. I know that a little bit of pain now will make us all stronger. But I also know that I am very blessed to have not been separated from Dora until now, and I promise myself and my family that I'll do all that I can to prevent us from being separated unnecessarily in the future. And I can't wait for the moment, in about 24 hours from now, that I get to see Brian and Dora again. I can't wait to snuggle into bed together, Dora between us, cozy and nursing and happy. There will still be mounds of work to do and logistics to tackle and projects to complete but all of that, at least for a little while, can be elsewhere.

Friday, October 23, 2009

short(er) and sweet(er)

I've been looking at some other blogs that have these short, sweet little posts and wondering if my posts are too long. When I have a post that starts in one place and goes all around and evolves and leads me to a perfect endpoint, I don't think they're too long. In fact, it's ok with me if it takes a while to get things all wrapped up and tied neatly with a bow. But sometimes my posts feel too long and I think if I had more time for editing, they'd be shorter. But, I guess that's not really the point of blogging.

Anyway, I have about a thousand and one things to do. I'm very behind on a huge project for work that is due one week from today. Tomorrow morning Dora and I leave to go to Nashville for the weekend, where we are meeting one of my closest friends, Kendra, and her kids and her mom. I am really looking forward to the trip, but there is a lot still to be done before I leave. Then, next week, I travel to Savannah for work and then on to Charleston with Brian and Dora for the weekend. And the week following I'll be in Raleigh.

There is a lot to do, so instead of writing something long and meaningful, I'm trying for short(er) and sweet(er).

I went to work early this morning and I had to stand in the parking lot for a while looking up at the sky. It was pink and blue and cloudy and glowing - ominous and beautiful all at once.

After a very long, long day at work, and even though I have a big, overwhelming to-do list, I decided to make savory sweet potato souffle and roasted broccoli for dinner. For some reason when I read the recipe I thought it wouldn't take too long. I was wrong.

Dora and I played peekaboo with the towel after her bath tonight. Her new game is covering up our endlessly tolerant cat Simone with the night-night, shrugging her shoulders and saying "where did Mone go?" She's also saying "ok" to everything, and asking questions in complete sentences. Tonight, Dora did not want to go to bed, either. She finally went to sleep after our third attempt, at 10 pm.

I had hoped to go to bed early, or have a productive evening even if it meant staying up a bit later than I should. The evening didn't go much like that at all. I guess that's the way it goes sometimes. I watched a preview for a new movie today, and in it someone says that motherhood is about accepting things that you cannot control. You better believe it, baby.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I was thinking today about how important it can be to draw a firm line between work and home. It can be so easy to let the stresses of our jobs bleed over into our personal lives. I often find myself staring into space while playing with Dora, thinking about tomorrow's meeting or all of the email I need to read or my messy desk. One year I made a New Year's resolution to try to avoid thinking about work when I'm at home. I wrote it down with all of my other resolutions, kept on a card by my bedside table for a while. I may have held to it for a while, but it didn't last - I check my work email from home and compose emails in my mind while cooking dinner or getting ready for bed.

My job is especially stressful right now - meetings, deadlines, multiple reports to write, presentations to prepare, work-related travel coming up next week, and more. Even if I worked 80 hours a week I don't see how I'd get it all done. I left work today, shocked by the warm, summer-like sun, and wondered how I would find a way to focus on Dora tonight instead of thinking about my office.

I got to Dora's school earlier than usual so we could go to a doctor's appointment. Dora was out on the playground with her friends, throwing a ball around. I picked her up and told her that we had a doctor's appointment, and then we'd be going over to our friend Mandy's house. She smiled wide, naming off all the members of Mandy's family (including the dog) over and over again. I love hearing her say the names of our friends - how she mispronounces some of them, and says them like questions, raising the pitch of her voice at the end.

On the way to the doctor's office, she pointed out all kinds of things to me. My friend Maria just gave her Richard Scarry's "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go", so she is now officially obsessed with trucks. "Trucks, mommy!" she called from the backseat. "Water, mommy!" as we drove past the French Broad River. "Birds, mommy!" to the flock of birds flying overhead. I absolutely love seeing her recognize things, hearing her try out new words and show me words she has learned. As we walked into the doctor's office, she said, "doctor". I didn't even know she could say that. She's saying "lalybugs" now and I just adore the way she mispronounces it.

Later, at dinner, I asked Dora about Kindermusik today. Brian takes her every Wednesday and she loves it. She launched into some story, most of which I could not understand, about her and Daddy singing songs. She went on and on, here and there a word I could understand, but most of it her own little sweet language. She even said, "guess what, mommy?", as if she was about to reveal some big secret. Right then, I felt like I was experiencing the present and the future at the same time, instantly transported to a dinner table conversation in 3 years, or 5 years, or 10 years, talking about the day. I don't want the days to go by any faster than they already do, even though sometimes at work I think "I can't wait for this to be over", but I think about knowing Dora at 5 and 7 and 12, and my heart just feels like its going to burst with love. Even though she was talking her own little baby language tonight, it was like seeing her at all those future ages, too.

We had a sweet snuggle before bed - a long nursing session, books, and just some sitting in the chair with the night-night, Dora leaning back against me while I rested my chin on her head, breathing in her sweet after-bath smell. I closed my eyes and thought - this is it. This is how you keep work out for a few hours. This is how you wash that away. This is how you refuel to get up tomorrow and face it all again.

Someone asked me recently if parenting is stressful. I suppose at times it is. There are no simple or easy decisions any more. You learn what it means to love a child and there is some fear in that, too. You worry about money and college and illness and vaccines and peanuts-up-the-nose. But my immediate answer was to chuckle and say no, that parenting was wonderful, it was work that was stressing me out. What I neglected to mention is that, in spite of all of its challenges and heartache and uncertainty, being a parent can even take away your stress. It can turn the spotlight back to what's important, to what makes the world a beautiful place, to wonder and curiosity. There is no sound sweeter than the sound of your child's voice, and one word from those sweet lips drowns out all the echoes of self-doubt, anxiety, or confusion that come as a penance for every paycheck received. Being a parent has changed my life, not always in ways that are good, but it has also opened up inside of me a new ability to let go - at least for a while - and let the love inside of me override everything else. The line between work and home becomes irrelevant, the focus shifts, and instead of a stressful day my attention turns to my girl, my family, our sweet little space. It makes for a beautiful image, and one I look forward to looking at over and over again.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I've heard that toddlers like to stick things up their noses, but I always assumed that was kind of a cliche, or the kind of thing that only happens to toddlers whose parents plant them in front of the television all the time. I found out, however, that objects in the nose happen to all toddlers, even if they're not watching reruns of I Love Lucy all day. Yesterday, on the way home from school, Dora stuck a peanut up her nose while we sat at a red light. It was stuck so far into Dora's tiny nose that I could just barely see the bottom of it when she tipped her head back.

Dora was snacking in the car because I give her a snack in the car on the way home from school every single day. It's basically a necessity - at that time of day, she's hungry and tired and just wants to nurse. Though I know she is well old enough to be weaned, at two years old, she's showing no signs of losing interest in breastfeeding. I want it to end naturally - not because I pick some arbitrary date and say she's cut off from then on. Instead, we are working on limiting the times when she can nurse to a few times per day, and one way I can convince her to just get in the car with me at school rather than insisting on sitting down together in the rocking chair is by offering her a snack.

It's no surprise, really, that Dora is so committed to nursing. Many people have told me that she will lose interest eventually, but I have been skeptical. You see, my girl Isadora never took a bottle. As a working mother, the fact that she consistently refused a bottle became a huge issue. In over two years, I have not traveled out of town for work without taking Dora with me. This has included arranging for daycare in numerous other towns, dragging along with me all the supplies needed for a baby, along with a laptop and a suit and a pair of high heels. I have gotten up in the middle of the night and climbed down 8 flights of stairs with my car seat, diaper bag, and a screaming infant during a fire drill at a hotel. I have taken Dora to conferences and trainings all across the state of North Carolina.

Mind you, we tried a lot of tricks to get her take a bottle. A lot. We tried leaving the milk on the counter at room temperature. We tried a cup. We tried a spoon. Brian put on one of my sweatshirts so he would smell more like me. Brian walked around the house with Dora in the baby front-pack, trying to stick the bottle in her mouth from the front instead of cradling her like an infant. We tried and tried and tried, but she just refused, even if it meant going 4 or 5 hours without eating (which isn't easy for a tiny baby to do).

When Dora did start eating solid food, we were extremely careful about what we fed her. I made nearly all all of her baby food - peeling and steaming and pureeing organic vegetables every Sunday, freezing ice cube trays of sweet potato and pear and pea. I loved making the food, and we video-taped every new food she tried. Our digital video camera failed some months later, losing all of that early footage, which just broke my heart. Her first birthday was one of the first times she had refined sugar. Since then, I have relaxed a lot about what she eats. We do our best, but there are days when she survives on cheerios and milk. I want her to have an adventurous palate - but I'm also human. So, I do things like give her whole nuts in the car - she has teeth and she chews and she seems to do just fine with them. I didn't think about the fact that peanuts are the perfect size and shape for nostril exploration.

When we got home yesterday, I brought Dora inside and sat her on the counter in the bathroom, trying to see up her nose. We tried blowing. I tried pushing on the nut from the outside of her nostril. I got out the tweezers, but one look at their pointy metal ends and both of us got scared. I called my friend Mandy for advice. I read the Dr. Sears baby book, which included explicit instructions not to let the child go to sleep with the "foreign object" in the nose, lest it be aspirated into her lungs.

By this point, Dora was frustrated and upset. She was crying and uncomfortable, and I didn't know what to do. We sat down together and I let her nurse while we waited for the pediatrician to call back. I was reminded of a story told to me when Dora was just a few weeks old, about the mother of a toddler who had found herself very thankful that she was still nursing when the child broke her arm. In the harried moments following the injury, with a scared and crying child and a series of decisions to make, quietly sitting down together to nurse had been just what they needed to get the situation under control, call the doctor, ease the pain. A peanut in the nose isn't a broken arm, but I was glad to have a moment to sit down and figure out what do to next. My pediatrician encouraged us to keep trying the blowing. My dad and Mary Kay called, and with some encouragement from Papa, Dora blew her nose really hard. Out popped a peanut half. A few minutes later, she blew her nose again and another peanut half popped out. I have no idea how she fit two peanuts in that tiny nose of hers.

I've been feeling a lot of pressure lately to wean, in part due to the way that society seems to react to a walking, talking toddler who is still nursing, and in part because the logistics with travel for work have become too challenging. I worry about her being 5 years old and tackling me in the living room, like the big kittens who gang up on their mom and knock her down to nurse. I worry about her teeth. Sometimes, but not always, I worry about what other people think about it. But, then again, I think about the fact that, like almost everything else in parenting, this is probably very short-lived indeed. So, what if she nurses for another 6 months? Is that going to hurt anyone? Is it going to make a huge difference?

Breastfeeding Dora has been one of the most positive, beautiful, meaningful experiences of my life. I am so unbelievably happy that it worked out well for us, and even though there are times when it seems like an inconvenience, I feel so lucky that I still get a few moments of quiet, intimate, loving snuggliness with my active toddler. It won't be too long before I can't get that kind of closeness with her. I might as well enjoy this stage for what it is - I know it's fleeting, and I know that when our little nursing relationship is over, I'm going to miss it so, so much. Everyone says that kids grow up fast, and they do - the stages just seem to fly by. Before I know it, Dora will be asking for my keys instead of a bag of peanuts. So, today, right now, I'm going to stop worrying about what everyone thinks about the fact that my toddler is still nursing. I'm going to stop worrying about her being 5 years old and tackling me in the living room. I'm just gonna go with it - enjoy this sweet time, hold on to my baby girl, and remember to only buy slivered almonds from now on.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

the only girl in the room

I got to sit at the front of a room full of people a few nights ago and hear my husband talk about how, when we were first married and living in an apartment that was essentially a converted garage, he wrote a song about me. I guess I've always known the song was about me, but somehow in the midst of everything else that was happening in our lives at the time, I don't really remember Brian writing it. He talked tonight about being down in our basement, in this little side room that was his music room, writing the song on his keyboard. He said he sat down and the song came really quickly. I had to fight back tears a little bit, because of what he said, because of the music, because I thought back to that first year of marriage and how hard it had been for so many reasons.

Being married to a musician - or probably any person whose primary career is in a creative field - has its ups and downs. The first time I met Brian, he told me he played piano. He was still in college at the time, and told me he was a music major. I was pretty skeptical. It sounded a bit like a pick-up line. A week or two later, I saw him perform. He was playing with Greenleaf at Casa Nueva in Athens, Ohio, back when the bar was just one long skinny room. I stood around a little round high-top table with some friends - the same friends I'd been with the night we met - while Brian played keyboards with the rock band, looking out at me and smiling a little bit. I felt like the only girl in the room, and discovered that it was quite intriguing to be with a performer. I found myself enjoying the fact that some of the other girls in the room might be thinking he was cute - he was (and still is) - but he was going home with me.

After that first night seeing Brian perform, I was pretty hooked. It's very thrilling to see the person you love up on stage. Even if they are just playing a bit of solo piano at a retirement center, you kind of feel like you're with someone famous. There's always been a tiny part of me that wonders what it would be like if Brian really did get famous - or even if one of his songs got picked up for a movie or something. Would I stop worrying about the bill while standing in the grocery store line? Would it change us completely or would we still be the same? Would I get jealous of him or his fans or his being away? I completely believe he's got the talent to do it - his music just needs to get in the right hands. I know it's a dream of Brian's, so I want him to succeed with this career, I really do - but there is a little part of me that still gets apprehensive when he starts talking about touring or being out on the road. I like our stable little life, our little routine every night, our little messy house with our little messy girl in it, and all of that requires both of us to be here.

I say our life is stable - and it is - but in truth there is very little stability when half of your family income is made from performing. Gigs get canceled, students don't show up, venues don't always pay a fair rate. There are times when I am truly overwhelmed by it all - trying to help support Brian's dream while not being able to really plan anything because we can't know exactly what he'll bring in each month. The other really difficult thing is that no one else will champion your creativity - you really have to do it yourself, unless you want to pay someone else to do it. I wish we could afford for me to only work part-time, or even be home full-time, and help Brian manage the business. I could manage all of the communications and publicity, do the books and the invoices and the bills. Maybe we could rent that cool little storefront down on Haywood Road, operate the piano studio and a photo studio out of it. Here
I am, going back to my dreams of walking down Haywood Road every morning with my cup of coffee, turning around the "Open" sign in the doorway of our shop.

It's fun to dream about these things - and we do talk about them a lot. But, aside from feeling even more unstable financially, we'd probably end up driving each other crazy. And with one of us pursuing a creative career that doesn't fit into a steady, 9 to 5 job, the other one - me - has to be in a stable job that can be relied upon. One of us has to have the real retirement account, so we don't end up living in this house for the rest of our lives.

My girl is going to grow up in a very different way than I did, and sometimes that's a little hard for me. We live in the city instead of in the country, I work full-time and Dora is either cared for by her Dad or is in daycare, we live in a tiny little house on a tiny little lot, without much space for running around and exploring. My father was the managing editor of our local newspaper. He was only ever out late if something important was happening - an election, an emergency, a mechanical problem with one of the printing presses. There are times when I worry about what it will mean for Dora to have a father who comes home from work at 3 in the morning. Our time together as a family is very limited because of these scheduling issues.

I don't know how all of this will affect her. What I do know is that music is in her blood. She's already a dancer and singer and little musician. Later today we're going to a fundraiser where she'll get to see her daddy perform. Because he plays so many private events and concerts where I can't take a two-year-old, I'm really excited to see how she reacts to seeing him on stage. I think she's going to think it's really fantastic, even if sometimes Daddy isn't home when she goes to bed. I bet she's going to feel like the only girl in the room.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

what do you hope for

At work yesterday, I was standing by the printer, waiting for something to print for a meeting I was getting ready for. There is a basket next to the printer where people put extra documents that have printed out but haven't yet been claimed. On the top was a sheet of paper that said "what do you hope for". I looked closer and realized the bottom half of the paper was covered up by another blank sheet - it was an announcement for a public meeting, not some divine message left there for me. It kind of made me laugh, because just a moment before I had been thinking "I just want this day to be over", which then prompted me to think, like Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets, "shouldn't it be better than that?". What am I doing wishing my days away like that? What is it I'm hoping for, really?

I had to work late Tuesday night, so Dora went to play with her friend Clara for a little while. It used to be that I would drop Dora off at a friend's house and she would cry when I left. She still does, a little bit, but she cries a lot more when I pick her up and we leave her friends. She was in the back, crying and saying "I want out" over and over again. I thought, as I often do when driving, about how worried I am about the world. Earlier I had listened to "Living on Earth" on Public Radio, listening to stories about fisheries collapsing, acidic oceans, global warming impacts on sea life, on and on. I truly believe it is important to be informed, to listen to and learn about these things so that we can do something about them. But sometimes it is just too much. Sometimes I just have to turn off the news and listen to music on the drive home from work. Or I just listen to Dora saying "I want out" about 800 times.

I was worried about the world before I had a baby. I was angry at people who seemed to have absolutely no regard for the environment, who used resources like they were the last ones who would ever need them, who littered or didn't recycle or who drove giant SUVs. I would get so angry at greedy people making unfathomable amounts of money by destroying the earth, or other people, or themselves. If nothing else, I could not understand how those people could sleep at night knowing their greed was destroying the inheritance of their grandchildren. Even greedy, selfish people want to see their DNA perpetuated, don't they?

When Dora was first born, my fears about the world became very exaggerated. I have always been a "worrier", but I entered a whole new level of worrying during Dora's first 9 months. It got pretty intense for a while - enough so that I had to get some help to overcome it. I was intensely afraid of everything, afraid of what might happen to Dora, afraid of myself, afraid of being afraid. It was kind of like having a baby had turned up the volume on the fear frequency in my brain. Gradually I have been able to turn it back down, to get things back in perspective - but now and then there is still a finger on the volume knob, bumping it up just a bit to make sure I'm paying attention.

For the most part, I've sort of settled back into my usual level of worry - sort of a general malaise kind of worry. I worry about little things, like whether the rain will knock all the leaves off the trees before I feel like I got to enjoy them enough, or whether or not I'll get Dora to bed early and smoothly enough to do a few things before Brian gets home from work. I worry about the black widow spider we found in our kitchen on Saturday, that ran under the stove before we could get it. I worry about money - I wonder if everyone, even the extremely wealthy, worries about money.

I do often drive around worrying about the world, though, thinking of all the things that are wrong, how many of them seem irreversible, unfair, catastrophic. I wonder what things will be like when Dora and her friends are older. How much more difficult will it be to have teenagers in 15 years, when iPhones and Blackberries are totally obsolete and wireless electronic technology has reached heights we can't even imagine now? What will happen to the ecosystem if things continue in the direction they're going now? When will we decide that we have to drastically change what we're doing, and will it be too late?

When I get overwhelmed about all of this I try to be comforted by the hopes I have for Dora and her friends. I look at them and I think they may be able to help us. I'm not thinking of this like we're passing the buck to her generation, but instead thinking of it as if my responsibility now is to work towards a solution, thereby teaching my daughter that she has to work towards a solution, too. I know my other friends who are parents or who are involved in children's lives are doing this, too. I have to believe that is making a difference. When I think about all the kids I know now because I'm a parent, I am amazed by all of their intelligence, wonder, and beauty. I don't want them to grow up any faster than they already are, but I can't help but imagine what they'll be like as adults, sharing all their gifts with the world. Perhaps I am being overly optimistic. Perhaps every generation has assumed that the next will solve the problems, thereby relieving themselves of the responsibility.

I have a lot of hopes - from inconsequential to monumental. I hope the black widow spider finds its way outside. I hope we continue to be able to pay our bills. I hope the flea medicine kicks in and the dogs stop itching. More than that, though, I hope Dora has a beautiful, wonderful, exciting life filled with adventures (only safe ones!), great food and friends, music, art, literature, nature, pets, children, a career that has meaning, love. I hope I can teach Dora about who she is and where she comes from, that I can teach her about who her Grandma Carol was in a way that does justice to all that my mom means to me. I hope I can teach Dora to be a good, honest, thoughtful person. I hope I can teach her to cook and take pictures while Brian teaches her to play piano. I hope that Dora and her friends can meet this challenge, solve these problems, raise us up to a new level of humanity that respects everything and everyone. I hope that in 30 years when Dora is driving around in some carbon-neutral, emissions-free vehicle with her baby in the backseat, she can listen to Living on Earth and it will be an hour of stories about how the human race has reversed climate change, the oceans are flourishing, species are re-established, and the ecosystem is in harmony. I hope she never has to think about how much she is worried about the world. Maybe that's overly optimistic, but as a "worrier", I could use a little optimism. So, for whoever asked, that is what I hope for.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

curried squash and apple soup

It's soup weather. Actually, today in Asheville it wasn't really soup weather at all - but today was our only anticipated nice day this week. It's supposed to get cold and rainy tonight and we even have a chance of snow this weekend - insert here the collective sigh - so soup weather is here even if today was warm and sunny.

We are having soup for dinner every night this week, actually. Aside from its comfort-foodiness, I love soup because its usually easy and fast, the stove does nearly all of the work, and there are leftovers. If you want to hear more about how much I love leftovers, you can read about it here. Suffice it to say that, as a full-time working mom, leftovers are my friend.

This recipe is loosely based on one of the many great vegetarian soups found in Molly Katzen's Enchanted Broccoli Forest, one of my all-time favorite cookbooks. It's vegan and makes great leftovers. When I made it this week, I used two tablespoons of curry powder, which was quite hot. I think one tablespoon would be more to my liking - but that's the beauty of soup - it is very flexible. So, make it as mild or spicy as you like!

Curried Squash and Apple Soup

1 Tbs vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbs fresh ginger, minced
1 - 2 Tbs curry powder (use 1 Tbs if you like it mild, and 2 Tbs if you like it hot)
1 medium or two small winter squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
4 - 5 tart apples, peeled, cored, and cubed
4 cups water
brown sugar

optional toppings:

plain yogurt
toasted, chopped pecans

Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium until hot. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger. Season with salt and saute over medium heat until the onion is translucent and fragrant, 3 - 5 minutes. Add the curry powder and continue cooking for another minute or two, until fragrant. Add water and squash, bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium-low and let simmer for about 5 - 10 minutes. While the squash is simmering, peel, core, and chop the apples. As soon as they are ready, add them to the pot, stir, and partially cover. Let simmer another 10 minutes, or until squash and apples are tender. Puree with an immersion blender, or puree in batches in a regular blender. Taste to adjust the seasonings, adding a Tablespoon or two of brown sugar or a bit more salt if desired. Delicious and warming with optional toppings or plain.

Stay warm!

Monday, October 12, 2009

knit and purl

Nothing says love quite like a hand-knit item. A few of the most beautiful and meaningful items in my life, right now, are hand-knits. I once read that the best recipients of hand-knit items are other knitters. While I have made knitted items for many other people, not all of them knitters, I will say that after I became a knitter myself, my own appreciation for hand-knit items grew exponentially. I suppose this has something to do with what knitting means to me, but it also has to do with knowing what it feels like to cast on and purl and knit and bind off, and make something useful and loving out of a ball of yarn.

I began knitting with my mom when she was battling cancer. My mother was an artist, and had experimented with many art forms throughout her life. Her sister, my aunt Joanne, is a master knitter. But my mother had only dabbled in knitting and crocheting, so when I learned to knit it was like my mother was learning to knit all over again. One day, sitting in the middle bedroom with her at my parent's house, a drizzly Ohio fall day outside, my mom sent me to her closet to find yarn and some needles, and my own love of knitting was born. I didn't know it at the time, but learning to knit with my mom was one of the last things she got to teach me. I bought us a knitting book, and as we leafed through the projects together, I imagined us journeying through the patterns and clicking our needles while chatting. We'd make mistakes and master the art together, like novice kayakers trying out a tandem for the first time. Instead, it turned out, my mom was more like the kayak guide who stays behind, helping me into the boat alone, standing on the shore and pushing me off into the water, smiling and waving as I figured out the strokes. She only had the chance to knit a few rows before she was too weak or too uncomfortable to go further, but I kept going.

My first project was a garter stitch scarf in gray wool. I knit it on small needles - maybe fives - and it was only about 15 or 20 stitches across. I took it with me for mom's doctor's appointments, knitting in the waiting room while she got radiation treatments, quietly clicking my needles while the nurses gave her a bag of fluids to combat dehydration. I knitted in the car while my exhausted father drove us back and forth from OSU, hoping for good news and never really getting any. The scarf had holes from dropped stitches and was bound off too tightly. It was decidedly imperfect, but it was mine. I finished in time to give the scarf to my mom for Christmas, just shy of two weeks before she died. She was distant and tired at Christmas, trying to be part of the celebration but only really mentally present now and then. But we exchanged glances and a smile when she opened my gift, and I know she knew that even though the scarf had a lot of errors in it, it had been made with a lot of love.

I have the gray scarf now, and its just about the only thing I've ever knitted that I've actually kept for myself. I love to wear it, even though it's got holes in it, because I know why I made it and who I made it for. I wore it today, and when I picked Dora up from school, she said, "I want mommy's scarf". I let her wear it home in the car, and she sat in the back, sucking her fingers and quietly pulling little pieces of fuzz from the yarn.

Dora is blessed to have many hand knit items. My aunt Joanne, the master knitter, has made her a beautiful sweater with matching mittens and booties, as well as a hat and scarf set that match a hat and scarf set that she made for me. Aunt Joanne also makes the most amazing hand knit socks. Hand knit socks are like pure luxury - they make you feel wonderful even on the dreariest of days. I wear her hand knit socks all winter long, and now Dora has a pair, too. My friend Mandy is becoming a prolific knitter, and made Dora a sweet little kerchief for her birthday. It looks so sweet over Dora's blond hair.

Dora's night-night is a hand knit, too, made for her by my friend Maria. She sleeps with that blanket every night and loves it so much I have to sneak it away to wash it. She loves to hold it in her arms, sucking the fingers of one hand while pulling at the blanket with her other hand. If I need her to calm down, the night-night brings instant calmness.

Today was a cold, rainy day just like the day when my mom asked me to find yarn and some needles. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't miss my mom, but some days are harder than others. As soon as I got in my car today to drive home, the theme song to All Things Considered and the drizzly cold rain and the scarf around my neck made me think about my mom, wishing so intensely that I could just drive up the driveway at my house to her warm kitchen and her wry humor and her absolute, total love. Dora and I came home, and I made dinner while she watched the Muppet Show. After dinner we sat on the floor playing with the teddy bear puzzle. I thought about my mom, and wished more than anything that she could be here to see my baby girl, to see how absolutely beautiful and brilliant she is, to help me figure out how to do this right. I would give anything to see her sitting on the floor with Dora playing with the bear puzzle, to hear what she would have to say about her, to watch what she would teach her.

I know that my mom gets to be with Dora through me, that I get to learn how to be a good mom by remembering what my mom did, that I have to teach Dora things my mom would have taught her because she doesn't get the chance. I know that my mom is here inside of me, and inside of Dora, too, and I know what a gift that is. But it doesn't really make the tangible absence any easier and it doesn't make me miss my mom any less.

The thing I love most about knitting, more than its meditative quality or its beauty or its warmth, is the way it connects us. I knit the same way my mom knitted and the same way my aunt knits and the same way women throughout history have knitted. We're all connected, one long yarn extending from cast on to bind off throughout history. I love that now I can wear my mom's scarf, knowing that it was once around her neck, and Dora can wear it, too. To me, it's my mommy's scarf, and that's just what it is to Dora, too. So even though we aren't together right now in the way that I'd like us to be, we are all together in another way, all three of us enveloped and embraced by the same warmth and love.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

get on your boots

Tall, high-heeled black boots really start to hurt when you wear them all day and into the evening. This shall come as no surprise to all you fashionistas who already own a pair, but I just got my first pair of tall black boots and I have learned this lesson the hard way. My good friend Maria was in town the other day, and we went to my favorite used clothing store - Rags Reborn - where we got some really sweet deals, including my new pair of boots.

I wore the boots all day because, in addition to my usual 8-hour work day, I had a function this evening and I wanted to sport my new boots (as well as a new coral-colored wool skirt and black cashmere sweater, also from Rags Reborn) to the event. The event I went to was the Mix 96.5 2009 Women's Expo. A few days ago I wasn't planning on going to this - didn't even really know it was happening - but then I got a phone call, and that is how I ended up buying a new outfit at my favorite shop and standing in front of a crowd of women holding a bouquet of flowers.

A few days ago I got a call from Tammy at WOXL. She called me at work, and I took the call assuming it was work-related. I talk to the press pretty regularly in my job, and thought it had to do with some upcoming meeting or a document we have out for public comment. Turns out Tammy was calling because Brian Turner, my husband, had nominated me as one of "10 Women You Should Know in Western North Carolina". She said he had said some really great things about me, and they had decided he was right. I smiled, took down the information for tonight's event, and silently figured that everyone who was nominated won. Brian and I joked that it was "a major award", like the leg lamp in A Christmas Story.

After a long day at work, a rushed dinner of black bean and corn quesadillas, and a quick glance in the mirror to freshen up, I headed downtown, with Brian and Dora following a few minutes behind me. The reception was held in the ballroom of the Haywood Park Hotel, a downtown hotel I've never been in. The ballroom was full of vendors, and full of women wandering around with black gift bags and red roses. I actually saw someone I knew - a friend from my postpartum group - but I was otherwise just wandering around waiting for Brian, too hot in my black coat and handknit scarf, wondering why I had grabbed the diaper bag, my purse, and both of our phones.

Soon there was an announcement asking that the top 10 women come to the front of the room. Brian and Dora walked in just in time, and Dora ran over to me right away. I saw that the Mayor of Asheville, Terry Bellamy, was amongst the group of 10 women. I said hello to the Mayor, who I have the pleasure of knowing through my job, and introduced Dora to her. We were told what order to stand in at the side of the stage, and the recognition ceremony began.

I was second-to-last in line, and as I listened to the nomination forms for the other ladies read, I began to wonder how on earth I had ended up being chosen to be part of this group. Here I stood with a woman who is Asheville's second female mayor, the first African-American Mayor of Asheville, the youngest Mayor in the state of North Carolina
. There were two nurses, a doula, a crisis hotline counselor, a breast cancer survivor. Dora proceeded to jump down from my arms and run around, just the kind of wild-toddler behavior you always think your kid will never do, until you actually have a kid. I cringed as she ripped apart a rose, scattering petals across the black carpet.

Soon it was my turn to stand at the front as my nomination form was read, Brian snapping pictures, Dora rolling around on the floor in front of me, everyone smiling at us. I am not the best at being in the spotlight, but I did my best to smile and listen as Brian's words about me were read aloud. He talked about my work, my cooking, my recycling, my biodiesel car. The address of my blog was announced. The pets, the little house in West Asheville, Dora. All those facts about my little life, read to a room full of people. It was very humbling to stand there amongst all of those women doing incredible things, being recognized for just being me.

As the ceremony ended, Tammy from the radio station shook my hand, hugged me, and congratulated me. I apologized for my wild toddler and she smiled and said, "she's a part of who you are, so I think it was perfect". Strangers congratulated me as I made my way back to Brian, a woman hugged Dora and said she was just precious. It was all a little surreal, and also really fun and exciting, too. Brian dashed off to rehearsal and I walked back to my car with Dora holding my hand, enjoying the glow of a cool Asheville downtown evening and my 15 minutes of fame.

I came home, took off my boots, and settled my girl into bed - hugging her close and telling her I love her, making her say it back to me again and again. I thought about the other women tonight, wondering again how I ended up in that group of life-savers and survivors. I guess maybe I ended up there because I had a little something different, because I represented working mothers in their 30s, because something about my story caught someone's eye. Maybe I ended up there because they only got 9 other nominations so they had to pick me. It was wonderful to be recognized publicly, to have strangers appreciate what I do, to hold my bouquet of flowers at the front of the room. But what was even more wonderful was to know that all of that really started right here - in my home, my heart, my marriage, my family. It was wonderful to hear, in an ever-so-public way, that my husband loves and appreciates and admires what I do, enough to tell other people about it. That is more lovely than the bouquet of flowers or the flashing lights or the 15 minutes of fame. To know that what I do and who I am has meaning for my family - that is a true gift, a major award, an absolute honor, and more than worth the pain of a day in black high heel boots.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

apple almond crisp

Today we received the last of our regular season CSA boxes from Flying Cloud Farm. We've joined for the extended season - which runs up to Thanksgiving - but its a sure sign of fall when the "official" CSA boxes run out. At the farmer's market this morning I bought what could be the last of the cherry tomatoes - so sweet and delicious, and a favorite snack of Dora's. Our CSA box included some beautiful apples, another sure sign of fall. This morning's cool fog, the maples burning orange along our street, and the crisp blue sky all put me in the mood for a delicious apple crisp. Here's the recipe for one I threw together today for dinner at my friend Mandy's house this evening - it tasted absolutely heavenly with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It's enough to make me feel a little better about relinquishing summer.

Apple Almond Crisp

1/2 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup whole rolled oats
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/8 tsp salt
6 crisp apples (not overly ripe and not too sweet)
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbs granulated sugar (or more if your apples are really tart, or less if they are really sweet)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375. In a medium bowl, stir together the oats, almonds, flour, brown sugar, and salt until well blended. Cut the butter into the oat mixture until large crumbs form. Put the bowl in the refrigerator while you prepare the apples. Lightly butter a 8 x 8 inch square baking pan (the wrapper from the stick of butter you just used works great). Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples and toss them into the prepared pan. Add the lemon zest and juice, vanilla, sugar, and cinnamon and mix gently. Taste an apple slice to see if the mixture is sweet enough for you, and add more sugar if needed. Sprinkle the oat mixture evenly over the apples. Bake for 30 - 35 minutes, or until top is golden brown and fruit is bubbling.

This recipe can easily be made vegan by substituting vegetable oil for the butter. It can be made gluten and wheat free by substituting 1/2 cup of finely ground oats for the flour. You can easily grind whole rolled oats yourself in a spice mill, food processor, or even using an immersion blender (that's how I do it).

Happy fall!

Friday, October 2, 2009


I have written about this before, so it should come as no surprise to all of you - we have been thinking about having another baby. We have always wanted two children, so this is really nothing new or unusual for us. It's just that, now that I know what it's actually like to have a child, it's not such a simple decision anymore.

I think it is probably part of the grand design that we do not really know what it's like to be a parent until we have children. In a way, it's like marriage - if there were a way to really know what it would feel like after 5 years when your husband neglects, for the 5 millionth time, to refill the water jug in the fridge - how many of us would actually get married? In many ways, I am happy I didn't know more about what it would be like to be a mom, because I may not have given it a try.

When I was pregnant, my chiropractor said to me that she would love to give birth again, but wasn't too sure about raising the second child. During my pregnancy I was very focused on and apprehensive about labor, so I was pretty puzzled by what she said. But I understand it now. Labor and delivery were quite spectacular for me, and, in my opinion, raising Dora has been much harder than bringing her into the world was.

After Dora was born, one of the priests from the Episcopal church I attend came to visit us. Dora was tiny - maybe 4 weeks old at most. He asked us what was most surprising about becoming parents. I said that I had not had any idea how much I would love her. He smiled in understanding. He has two children, and admitted that when his wife was pregnant with their second baby, he was afraid that he would not - perhaps could not - love the second child as much as the first. When she was born, though, he found that his capacity for love was limitless.

I admit that I share this fear. Not only have I been surprised by the depth of my love for Dora, I've been surprised by the fact that it continues to grow and grow. I've said this before, but it's true - every day, I think I cannot possibly love her more than I already do, and the next day comes, and I find that I love her even more. We are in a stage now where she can readily show us love in return - with hugs, kisses, smiles, and "I luh lou, mommy". I think this has brought an even greater intensity to my love for Dora. We're taking our relationship to a whole new level, so to speak.

I know that a second baby is going to bring with it so many new challenges - back to sleepless nights, crying that can't be eased, teething. On our walk tonight, I saw two kids fighting over what appeared to be a set of wrenches - screaming at each other about something they shouldn't have been playing with anyway. There will be jealousy, arguments, hair pulling, and other tribulations. We will no longer be playing zone defense - now it will be man to man. When I am alone with the kids, I will be outnumbered. A second baby will undoubtedly put a new strain on our marriage, which even 2 years after Dora's birth still feels at times like an injured animal licking its wounds, not yet ready for another confrontation.

All of these are very valid, practical reasons to fear a second baby. But, deeper inside of me, there is another set of fears and apprehensions. Do I want to let go of the luxury of focusing all of my parental love and energy on Isadora? Do I really want to have to divide myself like that? How will it feel to no longer just be Isadora's mom? Can I ever love another child as much as I love her? Can my heart bear the burden of that intense love twice as much as it does now? Loving like that - it is beautiful, but it is painful and frightening, too. Letting yourself go to that is such a colossal act of faith. I didn't know how colossal it was the first time around - I jumped off the cliff without even realizing I had been at the ledge. This time, my eyes are wide open and I've seen the canyon floor, I've felt the wind rushing past my face as I've fallen. It's just not so easy to step off into the darkness when you've seen it once before.

When I picked Dora up from school today, she was standing by the window into one of the infant rooms, watching the babies. She ran over to me, excitedly telling me about the babies, then ran back to look again. One of the teachers said, "she's been watching those babies and talking about them SO much. She just loves them!" Dora has a little baby doll she carries around, sleeps with, nurses. When I ask her, "do you want a little brother or sister?" or "do you want mommy to have a baby?", she smiles and says yes.

I can say all I want to about my fears, but in my heart I know there is room for this. I have always wanted two children - Brian and I agree we want to experience this again. I want Dora to have a sibling, to feel like she is part of something bigger than just Brian and I, to have family even when we are gone. I don't know when - none of us do, of course - but someday, there will be two kids in this house - crying, singing, dancing, tantruming, loving - and there will be plenty of room in my heart for both of them.