Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Seven Thoughts on the Seventh Day of Quarantine

1) There is something luxurious about it. Time has always been more valuable to me than money. But now! Time unfurls before me in almost unimaginable stretches. How to make the most of it? How to find the opportunities? The gifts?

2) Fear, panic and worry are lurking beneath every moment like the dark shapes of sharks in water. Many friends have mentioned these waves of emotion that can catch and hurtle you so unexpectedly. My mind has run every possible worst case scenario on high speed fast forward hundreds of times. Hospitals lined with trenches of bodies. Or never again leaving the house without a mask and hand sanitizer in my purse. Or worse, never leaving the house again. Not to mention the visions of harm to my children or grandparents, which I can't even bear to write out.

3) We are so lucky. To have this ten acres to roam. To have food falling from the trees. To have a routine that was relatively undisturbed by this- our children are not yet in school and my husband and I work alternate days so one of us can always be with them. What about people who live paycheck to paycheck, or are undocumented or sick, or were all alone to begin with? How can I reach and care for them?

4) My digital life is so important right now. These virtual connections are suddenly precious. I've never video called so much in my life. And it feels good to see another face looking back at you, even when it is tense or frightened or a little giddy from all this down time.

5) I am witnessing the Fall of Rome. Any illusions or hopes we had about America being the only world superpower are crumbling before our eyes. Watching Trump so painfully out of his depth has actually kindled a little of my compassion for him. I can only look at this on the macro/global level or the micro/local level. The national news frenzy lights up my anxiety like a hissing bomb fuse.

6) Limiting news exposure feels essential. Right now I am limiting my news consumption to 15 minutes while my children are taking their naps. (Or aiming for that anyway). My digital diet feels as important as my actual food intake right now. I can only ingest so much additional worry and fear without being poisoned.

7) Father Richard Rohr and the Center for Action and Contemplation are doing so much to help me make this crisis meaningful. Because it is an opportunity for a profound transformation. A chance to confront our deepest fears and watch them lose their hold on us as we move through them. Whether the fears become realized or pass us over, simply repressing them will not work.

Something in me finds this challenge immensely satisfying. How can I look my fear in the face? How can I summon all my courage and human compassion and rise to this moment? Because all of us find ourselves here, now, for a reason.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Letting Go of Natural Birth When Baby is Breech.

Remember the scene in Cool Hand Luke where the bossman makes him dig a ditch and then fill it again- over, and over, and over again?

I've been having that feeling lately- I feel surrounded by work and tasks and unsettled business when the person growing inside of me needs quiet and calm and simplicity.

How to balance all of this? It feels like a heroic effort is required, like I need to find a part of myself I didn't know about. Isn't that what Luke does in the film? He gives his whole self to the task of being free.

My pregnancy has been positively blissful. I've not had any nausea, swelling or pre-term labor. In fact, I've relished every moment of feeling this little life stirring inside me. On a recent visit to our midwife, we discovered that our sweet baby is positioned head up. There is still a little time for baby to flip to a more optimal birthing position, but in the meantime, we are doing everthing we can to encourage our little person to put that head down and roll like hell.

Eric bought an inversion table on craigslist, so I'm spending nearly 20 minutes every day hanging upside down, as prescribed on Spinning Babies. He also bought some moxibustion sticks. These little herb sticks are mugwort (doesn't that sound like it's from Harry Potter?) burned into charcoal form. He lights the ends like a cigar and holds the heated ends just above my pinky toes. In Chinese medicine, the pinky toe is linked to the uterus, and I imagine this makes it relax and open. Either way, it feels rather nice. I'm also continuing to see a chiropractor who came highly recommended from one of my Waldorf colleagues. Her job is to help align the pelvis and release the sacrum so that baby has the space to move freely.

So far, all of these interventions have amounted to nothing.

I've tried to avoid getting attached to a birth plan. In fact, I've rather resisted writing one since we were so delighted with the practices at Minnesota Birth Center. I felt that imagining the order I wanted things to go didn't really make sense- that I would be better able to trust my body to do what it needs to do in labor if I didn't have a plan in my mind going in. I felt I could be more instinctive this way.

There is still time for things to shift, but a scheduled c-section is no longer just hypothetical. I have to confess there is so much I dislike about the idea of a hospital birth. The bright lights. The strangers. The smell of strong disinfectants covering the faint, acrid smell of sick people.

I believe a natural birth is better for both baby and for me- in the release of hormones that happens, in the powerful contractions that wring the baby and let both of us know that something tremendous is happening.

There is irony in that I was a breech birth, too. My sweet mum labored with me for 28 hours before finally submitting to a surgical birth. It was definitely not the birth they planned, and my dad still talks about how it felt like a failure.

I have done a lot of crying in the past few weeks, trying to come to terms with this bump in the road. In a way, it's a marvelous lesson about parenthood- a reminder that my plans are no longer mine alone to execute. This little person inside of me has their own will and will come in their own time and in their own way.

A midwife of thirty years teared up as she heard my story. "Becky," she said, looking right into my heart. "I have never seen a birth that wasn't beautiful."

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Simple Pleasures: Going Up North

Wildflowers picked from the ditches beside the dirt road leading to the cabin. 

Minnesotans may love summer but they love their cabins even more. Eric and I joke that we really messed up when we married one another since neither one of us has a cabin in the family. Luckily, some good friends invited us to join them up north recently.

It was an idyllic weekend on a lake with only seven homes on it. It was so quiet that when a car pulled up across the way, you could hear the gravel crunching beneath the tires. There were two loons nesting on the lake, and they had a tiny baby just a week old. Stasha and I stole across the glassy water in a canoe and got close enough to see the mother's ox blood red eyes.

On the drive up, we stopped at Lavaliers farm and picked hundreds of strawberries that were shiny jewels of perfect juice. Our fingers and mouths were stained pink all weekend. We cooked some incredible meals- is there anything more summery than grilled sweet corn, burgers and watermelon?

We slept underneath taxidermy dear heads in a genuine log cabin that has been in her family for three generations. In fact, her grandfather told us that he first visited when he was just a few weeks old. There were no passable roads to the lake, so the only way in was by canoe, and that very canoe served as his crib that first summer.

Besides the complete stillness, the lovely company, and jumping off the dock into the icy cold water, I loved picking wildflowers with my friend. The boys joined us and we all picked tiny, delicious wild raspberries. We had fun turning the flowers into arrangements in whatever containers we could find in her grandmother's cupboards, jelly jars, bowls and an old tin camp cup.

After two days of slow and quiet, it felt so good to get back to my life in the city. I can see the magic of a going up north- it's just far enough that your mind can get quiet and not long enough to set your expectations impossibly high like you would with a vacation in the Carribean. And going up north isn't necessarily about packing in a million adrenaline packed highs- it's more about slowing down and appreciating what's already there; people you love, the beauty of the natural world and the way even mundane tasks can be pleasurable when you aren't rushing.

What has rejuvenated you this summer? Have you taken time for a vacation?

I filled an old tin camp cup with odds and ends found in the woods. 

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Sugar Rush

Four Pack Donut Painting by DoubleStarRanch 
A few weeks back my Dad asked Eric and I to see Fed Up, a documentary about processed food in the American diet. It was a compilation of the usual litany of offences.

There was a critique of the food pyramid, suggesting that it supports America's corporate bread basket instead of nourishing the American public. Did you know the FDA was created to sell more food to the American public? But that it is also entrusted with caring for public health? This documentary argues that there is a basic and impossible contradiction inherent in these two agendas. Fed Up also touched on the interesting correlation between a marketplace saturated with low fat, lite and low calorie options and our nation's expanding waistlines. Since removing fat also removes flavor and in manufactured food, this means that sugar or salt, or both, in large quantities are added to make up the difference. Bottom line- don't eat low fat foods. (Michael Pollan and many others have been telling us this for years.)

But information that was new to me, or that at least sunk in more deeply this time, was that sugar in nature is almost always accompanied by fiber, which slows the body's digestion, allowing it to absorb more nutrients and release insulin more slowly. In processed foods, the fiber is removed, meaning that sugar is dumped directly into your bloodstream as insulin, which is eventually converted to fat. So a calorie from an almond is not the same as a calorie from a bottle of Coke.

Donut Conversation by Mgenomgenom

This all reminded me of a recent article in National Geographic magazine, Sugar, A Not So Sweet Story, charting the Western obsession with sugar, it's ugly association with slavery and our exponentially increasing consumption of it.

"In 1700 the average Englishman consumed 4 pounds a year. In 1800 the common man ate 18 pounds of sugar. In 1870 that same sweet-toothed bloke was eating 47 pounds annually. Was he satisfied? Of course not! By 1900 he was up to 100 pounds a year. "
I eat a staggering amount of sugar every day. We don't eat much processed food in our house, preferring to cook for ourselves whenever possible. But I let my sweet tooth run the show, often having as many as three sweet treats in a single day. (Take yesterday for instance- I had a slice of rhubarb pie, a bowl of ice cream with chocolate sauce and cookies and not one, but two slices of strawberry cake iced with cream cheese frosting!)

Half a Dozen Donuts by ShopAnnShen

That's in addition to all the hidden sugars I'm likely eating, in foods like peanut butter or bread. Shameful, really. I'd like to curb this terrible habit, especially with my baby on the way. If I want my little one to have a  healthy relationship with sugar, I need to cultivate my own moderation.

Cutting sugar out completely has proven extremely difficult. Limiting it to weekends via the common sense saying "No sweets, seconds or snacks except on days that start with S" hasn't worked either. Even limiting it to one treat a day has tested my willpower. What to do? Have you battled a sugar habit? What did you do to help curb your appetite?

For now, I'm keeping the fridge stocked with gorgeous fruit so it's the first thing I see when I open the door and I bought a little supply of chewing gum to pop when the craving hits. I also brewed a big batch of mint iced tea to sip on with ice and lemon- a perfect summer treat. From what I've read, cravings lessen after a week and can dissipate completely after 8 weeks. The trick is making it that long!

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Water the Flowers, Not the Weeds.

Quillebeuf, at the Mouth of Seine by William Turner
Moving back to Minnesota has inspired me to put down roots, metaphorically and physically. Having an investment in a place means a lot to me after our nomadic lifestyle. I've planted a garden for the first time this year, and I enjoyed including perennials that will take years to become truly established. My grandmother and aunt gave me transplants from their gardens, including a peony bush, a rhubarb plant that came from my great grandmother's farm in Austin Minnesota, and a pretty wisp of a white bleeding heart for the shade garden out front.

We've been here for about two years now, and I've enjoyed creating a life in Minneapolis far more than I expected. The satisfaction I feel has many sources, but one of the most enduring was a decision to focus on the positive and avoid complaints. It's that old saying- water the flowers, not the weeds.

I first learned to direct my thinking in Bikram class, where Mark, my teacher urged me to smile when I felt discomfort or frustration. He suggested breathing deeply and avoiding making grunting or groaning noises, which send the message from your mind to your body that you can't handle what you are experiencing. "Your mind gives up WAY before your body does," he said. I was amazed that I could stop grunting easily and that smiling really did make the postures more bearable- even fun. I became curious about other ways to create endurance and resilience in my mind and body.

Laughter Yoga embodies much of the same philosophy, but without the physical demands. Instead, you just need to a willingness to fake it, whether you feel like laughing or not. Mary, my teacher, says the idea is to practice making laughter your first response to frustration and discomfort to see how that shifts things.

When we moved back to Minnesota from Hawaii, I made a conscious choice to avoid complaining about the weather. Since griping about the weather is Minnesota's official state sport, it isn't always easy. But for me, complaining is not as innocuous as it might appear. It actually puts my brain in a groove where I'm actually seeking out other things to be grumpy about. And believe me, there is never a shortage of things to be grumpy about.

The weather is one area where I most definitely have no control at all. So I chose not to complain about it, doing my best to accept whatever comes and be prepared for it. I have begun to extend this no complaining philosophy to other, far more important, things in my life too. I'm prone to ruminating on people and situations in my life, forming judgments about their choices and how they affect me and expressing mystification at their motivations.

I'm making an effort to change the stories I tell myself about other people, and especially what I saw out loud about others. It's way harder than not complaining about the weather, because it feels far more personal. But in the relationships where I have been able to change my story about what is going on, I've seen huge shifts. A relationship that felt tense and uncomfortable has become relaxed and friendly in the course of a year. I suspect the major change was my effort to suspend judgement and be kind in my thoughts and words. If only I could do that in every relationship!

Yesterday, a storm rolled across the sky. I could have felt discouraged at a rainy day in our precariously short summer, but instead I was transfixed by the sky. It was a breathtaking study of light and shadow, roiling blue black clouds mixing with brilliant sunlight and shimmering white wisps of fog. William Turner would have had a field day painting the scene. What beauty.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Learning from The Peony.

These beauties came from Sevald Nursery at Mill City Farmer's Market in Minneapolis.
Peonies are my favorite flower, and have been since I was twelve years old. In Minnesota, peonies bloom for two to three weeks from early to mid June, in a glorious explosion of color ranging from satiny ballet slipper pink to the deep fuschia of a fine Cabernet. As June deepens, the blossoms swell, burst and begin to hang heavily from their skinny green stems. After a rainstorm, their ruffly layers of petals fill with condensation and their massive heads sink deeply into the damp lawns.

Cut a few to bring inside while the heads are still the size of a kumquat, and they will open. At first, it's slow and lazy, but suddenly the blossom unfurls into a glorious dish of velvety petals almost five inches wide, revealing a fringe of feathery yellow stamens. It feels almost indecent to look deeply into their centers, as though one is considering the depths of the finely ruffled tulle petticoats of the Moulin Rouge dancers in the days of Toulouse-Lautrec.

And then, spent from the effort of this decadent display, the petals will begin to slip off, in a dramatic pile of plumage, like a tropical bird molting. The pile of soft, perfect petals in a spectacular mound of color and texture is so beautiful, I hesitate to discard them right away, instead, leaving them scattered on the tabletop like precious confetti.

What is it that makes a peony so delightful? You will rarely find them in supermarket bouquets, since they are so delicate and short lived, but here in Minnesota, people plant them in their yards with abandon. They are plants that offer little in the way of daily or immediate reward. The flowering season is perilously short- two to three weeks in early to mid June is the longest one can expect. The rest of the year, they aren't particularly lovely as a shrub- just a lot of scraggly green leaves. A sturdy perennial, peonies take several years to get established, sending thick, strong roots, deep, deep into the earth. A peony bush may take as long as five years to begin producing flowers prodigiously, but once they get going, they can be exceptionally long lived plants, lasting forty to fifty years.

For me, each of these details is worth considering. The peony's enduring appeal lies particularly with it's fleeting but unfettered flowering. You must wait, and wait and wait. The buds are tight and compact, with the diligence and dignity of internal work being done. The anticipation and enchantment only grows as you watch the bud slowly begin to swell and ripen. And then, in an instant, they give every last ounce of beauty they can muster, withholding nothing of their full, rich and complete abandon. There is nothing shy about a peony in full bloom.

It's a short season, but it comes back every year, without fail. I'd like to live my life that way. I'd like to prepare with a deep inner concentration and focus. Slowly, I will build momentum. Then, when the moment arrives, I'll let all the beauty I've known flood through me in a display so ostentatious and un-self conscious that even the denouement is beautiful.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

What to Wear When You're Expecting

I've loved watching my belly grow and managed to make it through the first five months of my pregnancy without buying a stitch of maternity clothing. In fact, my strategy so far has been to avoid maternity clothing as much as possible. I have only four more months to go, I have lots of flowy summer options to enjoy, and the majority of maternity clothing is dumpy and expensive.

I'd been wearing my regular pants by simply using a rubber band to extend the waistband- looping it through the buttonhole and attaching the two ends to the button. The trick to hide your exposed fly is a very long top. (I'd heard mixed reviews about the bellaband, have any of you tried it?)  But in the last few weeks, even that extra 3 to 5 inches has started to feel constrictive, so I finally caved and bought some new clothes for my changing shape. Here's what's getting the most play in my closet right now.

1. Maternity Jeans

White jeans are a summertime staple, and these are comfortable and inexpensive.
There is something quite humiliating about the elastic top that reaches just beneath my breasts like an enormous gertle, but I'm choosing to relish the humor of the situation because it's a lot more comfortable than my rubber band hack! I was glad to find an inexpensive pair of maternity jeans in white at Target.

I love white jeans because they have a way of perking up everything you pair with them. They look crisp, cheerful and a little tropical.

2. Anything Striped

Stripes accentuate the new curves of a baby bump. 
Perhaps because this is my first pregnancy, I've wanted to play up my growing bump. I'll probably only look like this twice in my entire life, so I'd better enjoy it!  To this end, my closet is steadily filling up with stripes. I love the way they make my belly look larger- exaggerating it like a Dr. Seuss illustration. So far, I've rounded out my collection of striped shirts at the thrift shop, going a size up from my usual and looking for soft cotton fabrics with a bit of stretch. I also find that I want a bit of extra length in the torso to cover that extra curve of skin. These tops from Boden continue to be in regular rotation.

3. A Breezy Tunic

Tunics are easy and chic for summer, and they have plenty of room for baby!

I became partial to tunics while we lived in Hawaii. They are the perfect beach cover up and in natural materials like silk, linen and cotton, they are loose and breathable. Luckily, they are also great for pregnancy, often hanging almost to mid thigh for a nice amount of coverage with a free waist. I love styles with pretty embroidery, tassel ties or a delicate print like this silk style from Joie. I have a few that were a splurge even at the discount retailer Century 21 on my trip to New York a few summers back. Mine is covered in the sweetest little bunny print, and I always feel extra pretty when I slip it on. I love that it's something I enjoyed wearing before I was pregnant too.

4. A Great Dress

A flattering maternity dress in stretch jersey is a smart buy.

I'm feeling quite lucky to be at the height of my pregnancy in summertime, with our baby due in mid October, because summer clothing is so light, breezy and inexpensive. I've been wearing lots of dresses, especially in fabrics with a bit of stretch, like jersey and cotton. I normally don't do maxi dresses, as I am on the short side and they tend to make one look even smaller. However, I'm enjoying the ease of wearing more body conscious styles- in stripes of course!

Another thing I'm feeling conscious of is not wanting to show as much skin as usual. My breasts seem to have practically quadrupled in size, and I'm not eager to work 5 inches of cleavage. My mum bought me this pretty maternity dress and it is super flattering without feeling bare. I love making it look fresh by pairing it with different accessories.

I once read that on the set of "Funny Face", Audrey Hepburn packed nothing more than a pair of black cigarette pants, a crisp white shirt, ballet flats and an Hermes scarf. Depending on the day, the scarf served as belt, shawl, headband, skirt or top, but she always looked fresh and chic. If only I could be as doggedly minimalist!

5. Amulet Jewelry

Jewelry to remind you only to accept love
and kindness for yourself and baby.
Pregnancy seems almost to make your body a symbolic object. People touch your belly or suddenly start sharing intimate details of their birth stories or parenting experiences. I find that most people have been more warm and open with me, but occasionally their fear and anxieties come tumbling out too. I am doing my best to only accept kind, loving attention for myself and our baby, but sometimes it would be nice to ward off weird energy from other people.

A friend recently told me that in many eastern cultures, women wear the nazar to protect them from the evil eye during pregnancy. Wearing a protective amulet as a reminder to only welcome the positive makes sense to me and I immediately began hunting for something similar.

There are hundreds of options online, but I rather like the delicacy of this bracelet, with a chain that wraps around the wrist twice. (And of course, I love the shimmer and shine of rhinestones too!)

What did you wear during pregnancy? Did you have one or two go to pieces or did you have fun experimenting with different looks throughout?

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