A few good gems

Hello, friends! I'd like to congratulate you all for making it through the month of January. High fives all around! We are getting ready to do some bathroom renovations in the coming weeks/months so this weekend our assignment is to pick out tile and finalize a couple of other choices, which could land anywhere on the spectrum between exhilarating and anxiety inducing for me. Wish me luck! 

Here are a few gems to see you into the weekend:

  • Wouldn't it be nice to just get a quick glimpse in a crystal ball, just to put some of those everyday worries to rest? Sometimes I just need a good reminder to just remember this:
print available at  Telegramme Paper Co. 

print available at Telegramme Paper Co. 

il_570xN.1200358960_gf1f.jpg
  • I was intrigued by this new research suggesting that doing 3 "Active 10"s might be healthier than 10,000 steps. Thoughts? (Confession: I kind of want it to be true.)
     
  • Have you found the Accidentally Wes Anderson instagram account yet? Oh my GOODNESS--it's fabulous. Visually, it's spot-on and then on top of that they also give a quick + interesting write-up of the history of the building or scene. It makes me want to take a Wes-Anderson-themed world tour!  Check them out here. (Thanks, Jenny F.B.)
  • Finally, I sent Maddy this hang-in-there commiseration video clip earlier this week since she was having a string of days full of deadlines. Maybe you know someone who could identify with the sentiment, too?

Have a lovely first weekend of February! See you back here on Monday.

Branching off: my new parenting metaphor

When we arrived at the cabin early last summer, Sam and I, I noticed a nest in the tree out back. In it were two little birds--mostly bopping mouths--peep-peep-peeping for maternal attention. They weren't baby birds, really; they looked awkward and crowded in the not-spacious twig nest. They didn't look like they'd be there much longer; their need for the nest was clearly waning.  I was charmed, sure, but my heart dropped a little with the irony. I was in the last few weeks of nest tending myself.

A few months earlier Sam had put in his papers to apply to serve a two-year mission for our church;  his call letter arrived a few weeks later with his given assignment: Luanda Angola! Luanda Angola?! I was thrilled for and proud of him, of course, but my heart dropped a little with the unknowns. Later, when Sam went in to be immunized in preparation for his departure, our public health doctor in DC gave us both a scare with her sober, urgent warnings about disease and safety and other dangers. She warned Sam to do everything in his power to avoid Angolan hospitals. "That's definitely one of my goals," he deadpanned. Did you ask to go there? she asked, incredulous. (Is this okay with you? her eyes silently asked me.)  

So we're there at the cabin and suddenly I'm wholly invested in these fledgling birds. I check on them several times a day, watch them out the window, talk about their progress, and reassure the nervous mama bird who's not too thrilled with my interest. Sam generously pretends he doesn't see through this transparent case of transference--I have now equated this little aging nest with my own future. A little too on the nose, definitely, but undeniably relevant. 

Within the week the first fledgling is teetering on the edge of the nest, exercising his wings and practicing his adulthood. Then he's gone. The other one follows a day or two later: first standing, then inching along the branch and flapping, and then she vanishes, too. 

It's an old trope, that nest story and the final fledgling flights. It's a metaphor that concentrates on the loss imbedded in change: the vanished but still vulnerable babies, the hollow and empty nest. The emptiness was literal, in this case--they never came back to that nest, not the mama or her babies.

But here's what I noticed next: across the river, there they were, the mama and her newly independent and competent offspring. They were swooping through the air, delighting in their new abilities, calling to each other, gathering on a branch together for a time, taking off and soaring and returning again. Watching this bird saga I realized that for them the nest is like a cocoon, just an instrument for transformation toward something even more wonderful. 

Watanabe Seitei - Birds on a Branch.

Watanabe Seitei - Birds on a Branch.

A few weeks later Sam left for Africa, the last of my three fledglings. Now he's exploring and stretching and finding out new things about himself and the world, as did my daughters when they launched.

When my mom was nearing the empty nest stage, her wise and wise-cracking friend told her "oh, honey. Cry for 15 minutes and then be happy for the rest of your life." Ultimately, that's our choice, really--how long we cry, how soon we decide to be happy.  Sure enough, I was sad for a time--sad mostly for me and the end of that stage of my own development. My bird saga/obsession last summer gave me a new metaphor to embrace, or at least consider:  join my kids in the joyful swooping. Why mourn at the shrine of the discarded remnants of their early stages--those paper-thin shedded cocoon skins and nest twigs--when we've got our very own tribe of vital, developing, interesting people to join us in the wide world?

Kids, I'll meet you at the branch across the river.

For your listening pleasure

pexels-photo-139261.jpeg

When I started commuting to work almost two years ago I began looking for a way to soothe myself during Houston's epic rush hour. One sure-fire way? A super interesting book on Audible.

I'll admit that it's a bit harder for me to get into a recorded novel. But a good story? I could pick that out of a noisy subway terminal with a baby screaming in my right ear. And once I'm locked in? Well, I've been known to sit in the garage for a bit when I arrive home from work.

The Audible offerings are numerous and well, overwhelming. Here are some of my very favorites from the past two years (in no particular order). 

Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory: This novel is a bit out of my wheelhouse, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It centers around an unusual (they have powers!) but tightly knit family and features a bit of mobster flair. The narrator, Ari Fliakos, is a genius.

Heft by Liz Moore: I wanted this book to go on and on. The main character is fabulous, and the fact that he's a bit of recluse in Manhattan only heightened my interest. If you love careful, emotionally-wrought characterization, then this novel is for you.

Sourdough by Robin Sloane: This novel is responsible for my current obsession with my sourdough starter. I dare you to listen to this book and not want to bake sourdough (or eat spicy soup). Much like Sloane's previous novel, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (which I also love), there is the slightest element of the supernatural which keeps you guessing. Also, this book had me smiling the entire time I listened. It's a feel-good book for sure.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate: This is a piece of historical fiction examining the Tennessee Children's Home Society in the 1940s and 50s. The children will break your heart, but the story keeps you on the edge of your (driver's) seat.

Amy Snow by Tracy Rees: I just might have to give this book my number one, all-time favorite award. But that might just be because I have a penchant for Victorian-era stories. Or because I love to root for the underdog. Read or listen to this one for sure.

The Book of Polly by Kathy Hepinstall: Polly will keep you laughing all the way to work. I do love to hear about mothers who are more crazy than me -- it gives me something to aim for. And I love to listen to spunk. It reminds me to exercise my own.

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife and The Book of Etta by Meg Elison: I first listened to The Book of the Unnamed Midwife and loved the post-apocalyptic look at a world with almost no women. Plus, it's a survival story, which is strangely appealing to this city-slicker. Then I received a notification about it's sequel, The Book of Etta, and I could barely wait to get to the car to start listening. It's a little graphic in some parts, so beware if you are sensitive. An interesting side note: The author obviously has a good working knowledge of Mormons. You'll encounter a group in the the story and the terminology is spot-on.

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy: For me, this is the one book that is as beautiful to listen to -- as it is to read. The subject matter is dark at times, but the language is all-redemptive and the characters are complicated and real. I might just listen to this one again.

Do you have any Audible favorites? I'm starting an entirely new and equally brutal commute, so I need reinforcements! Leave your suggestions in the comments!

A few good gems

Generally, making it to Friday has me feeling giddy (and a little slap happy), but since I start a brand new job on Monday, I'm just the tiniest bit apprehensive about crossing the weekend finish line. Also, I'm wondering if I can clean out the attic, Parker's closet and the silverware drawer in two days.

How could I possibly start work with disorderly silverware? 

That just doesn't seem possible.

In the meantime, let's procrastinate with a bit of web surfing, shall we?

My daughter, Rebecca, got some awesome laptop stickers from Redbubble. Seriously, my love for stickers has not subsided one bit since childhood. (Remember Mrs. Grossman's?) I'm definitely getting this one.

Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 8.14.10 AM.png

I may have mentioned before that stores like Ulta are especially trying for me as I HAVE NO EARTHLY IDEA what any of that stuff does. The cool kids, however, highly recommend this instant self-tanning mousse by St. Moriz. Rebecca was raving about it to me last night, and so I instantly thought of you, dear reader.

In today's political climate, this is a must-read. It's about treating others with generosity and kindness. Viet Than Nguyen calls for civility and thoughtfulness, even with oneself: "To call someone else stupid is to release anger, bitterness and vitriol into my own bloodstream, poisoning me. I need only to read the Twitter feed of Donald Trump to see this happening."

Japanese snowmen are literally THE BEST.

I'm on a mission to perfect the Rice Krispie Treat (a noble endeavor, indeed). Joy the Baker seems the perfect place to start. These look incredible.

joyricekrispie.jpg

What if your aunt was Jane Austen? And she sent you a letter in code

A poetic tribute to Ursula Le Guin.

It's still cold and blustery here, so this weekend I'm going to make this Red Kidney Bean Curry from Smitten Kitchen. My sister-in-law swears by the recipe!

smitten red bean curry.jpg

And that's a wrap for this week. We've now completed almost three full weeks of posting -- which has made me so very happy. I'm feeling inspired and creative and hopeful that I won't fall down the dark winter rabbit hole. But if I do, there will at least be Red Kidney Bean Curry.

See you on Monday!

Try this: Family team chores

It's a truth universally acknowledged that big kids (as in pre-teens, teens, and young adults) don't love to be cross examined, eyeball to eyeball. But get them in a car or sitting shoulder-to-shoulder and they're more likely to open up. A good road trip--or even a long errand together--will likely yield way more information and connection than 100 face-to-face sitdowns.

With that in mind, here's an idea: make a few chores family ones where you all pitch in together on the same task as a group. Make a plan--a pact, even--to all show up in the yard at the same time and put in 30 minutes of work. Or have a night where you all make dinner together and all clean up rather than divvying up the chores individually. Sure, individual assignments are efficient and teach responsibility and accountability, which is great, but collaborative chores have their strengths, too--including that shoulder-to-shoulder dynamic that invites conversation and (dare I say it?) maybe even teamwork.

And there's another benefit: In his recent book, When, Daniel Pink makes the point that there's a particular magic to doing something together and syncing as a group. As I read his book, it occurred to me that group chores cultivate a sense of belonging and provide the opportunity to synch on all three of the levels Pink describes: boss syncing (where we benefit from picking up cues about expectations), tribe syncing (where we learn to coordinate alongside others), and heart syncing (where a common purpose brings meaning and connection).

As Daniel James Brown wrote in The Boys in the Boat the book about the rowing team from Washington that won the gold medal at the 1936 Olympics:

"...he came to understand that those almost mystical bonds of trust and affection, if nurtured correctly, might lift a crew above the ordinary sphere, transport it to a place where nine boys somehow became one thing--a thing that could not quite be defined, a thing that was so in tune with the water and the earth and the sky above that, as they rowed, effort was replaced by ecstasy."

I'm not promising ecstasy, mind you! I'd settle for a response somewhere between reluctant, foot-dragging presence and somewhat cheerful achievement, ha!  Let us know if you give this a try--we'd love to hear where your experience lands on that spectrum.

p.s. By the way, the same goes for doing things as a couple. PItching in on household tasks together can turn chores into practically-dates. (Cue charming video montage of playful dinner making and splashy collaborative car washing etcetera.)

A pilgrimage to Pawhuska

When my new job and I settled on a start date, I realized I had a little over two weeks of freedom -- all kinds of empty calendar squares just staring at me. At the same time, my oldest, Jordan, had recently GRADUATED FROM COLLEGE, and also had some flexibility in her schedule. We found a cheap flight (she only brought a backpack), booked it, and then I set about planning how we would spend our precious, non-working, rarely-together time. I searched for plays, cooking classes, grand adventures -- and kept coming up with nothing. Then it dawned on me -- the perfect idea -- THE PIONEER WOMAN MERCANTILE.

Jordan loves the Pioneer Woman.

I love the Pioneer Woman.

And a quick Apple Maps search told me Pawhuska, Oklahoma was a mere 8 hours and 31 minutes away. For Pioneer Women devotees such as ourselves? That's a hop, skip and a jump. 

It ended up being a fabulous road trip. For those interested, here's the itinerary:

Monday, 6:30 AM: Leave Cypress
9:30 AM: Arrive at the Magnolia Silos in Waco
9:35 AM: Taste-test cupcakes from the Magnolia Bakery
9:50 AM: Roam the fine, decorative offerings of Chip and Jojo.
10:30 AM: Back in the car
12:00 PM: Shake Shack in Dallas (because the trip is 98% about food)
12:45 PM: Back in the car. Here's where the situation became a little sticky. We were determined to get dinner at the Merc. But the Merc closes at 7, and we were uncertain if there would be a line to contend with. Plus, we somehow ended up on a trajectory out of Dallas that drove us through EVERY SMALL TOWN between Dallas and Pawhuska (don't take that path!). The small towns were lovely, but we had a deadline! 
5:45 PM We screeched into a parking place near the Merc, sprinted into the building, and were greeted with PLENTY OF OPEN TABLES. #blessed
6:30 PM Chicken Fried Steak with mashed potatoes + fried pork chops with potatoes (potatoes are our spirit animal)
7:15 PM Creme Brulee + Tres Leches
7:40 Stagger out the door to our Airbnb. We stayed at an ADORABLE Airbnb in an old building across the street from the Merc. We watched Parenthood, played with our digital cross stitch app, and stayed up way too late.

Tuesday, 9 AM: Breakfast at the Merc, We ordered the breakfast sandwiches, and I felt the earth shift a bit under my chair as I ate. They were incredibly good and incredibly filling. We didn't eat again until dinner around 5:30 pm. I'm including below a quick video I took for Instagram Stories AND a pic of my breakfast, which seriously changed my life (and my pant size).

IMG_5578.JPG

10:00 AM: Head upstairs to check out the bakery. It's beautiful and the pastries and desserts looked divine. We were so stuffed that we could barely think about food, but we mustered up the presence of mind to buy some Bourbon Pecan Sticky Buns to bring home to the men.
10:15 AM: Shopped the Merc. Jordan bought some beautiful ramekins for Creme Brulee -- the same ones Ree uses in her restaurant. So, basically, Jordan's life is complete.
11:00 AM: Check out of the Airbnb and start the trek home.
8:00 PM: Arrive home dead set on NEVER EATING AGAIN.

Wednesday, 7:00 AM: Sticky Buns!!

If you read this far down, you are a true friend. The trip was fun and fattening, but mostly it was about spending time with my girl. I can't underscore enough how good it is to travel with your kids, especially one-on-one. It's fairly unusual to get days of uninterrupted conversation with your adult child -- so this was a boon to be sure. 

P.S. -- A quick look at the upstairs bakery. It blew my mind.

The impeded stream is the one that sings

brisbane fog.png

Back when we left for Australia in 2012, I was preparing my dissertation proposal but in all honesty not entirely sure how realistic it was to expect to finish.  I had started a PhD at Tufts several years earlier and had incrementally finished the coursework and the internship and the qualifying review, studying at the table alongside my kids and at times putting school on the back burner for a season or two when my family needed more of my time or when I served in more demanding church callings.  Pursuing this degree was important to me but it was HARD, there were many bids for my time, and often I wasn’t entirely sure why I was putting myself through all of it. 

After the move to Australia, it was particularly difficult to coordinate with my committee from so far away (and, oh, that killer time zone difference!) while working with a set of data on the other side of the world.  I came very close to quitting but as I considered it I felt a quiet but unmistakably insistent nudge to continue.  Even with that reassuring nudge, it was still arduous--in absence of any in-person colleagues or mentors to talk through ideas with me, I had a particularly difficult time articulating my thoughts and formulating my theories into written words, let alone feeling confident about their value once they were there on the page. 

Finally the time came and I headed from Australia to Boston to defend my dissertation. It was a crazy trip--I ended up getting delayed 24 hours in Brisbane due to some flukey, rare fog, which made it a 56-hour journey, my longest ever. Right on the cusp of presenting my research I had an experience that weekend that really felt like a bit of a personal blessing--a small thing, really, but something that felt holy to me. 

The dissertation defense with my committee was scheduled for 10 a.m. on a Monday in June.  I flew out on Friday and attended an inspiring Saturday evening session of stake conference (like a diocese regional meeting of several congregations) with friends in the area where I used to live. The next day I wasn’t entirely sure if I would go back up to stake conference again. I was fully in the throes of jet lag and I reasoned that I had kind of prepaid my church observance the night before. I thought maybe the time would be better spent going over my notes and fine-tuning my presentation for the next morning. Ultimately, on kind of a whim, I decided to go. 

So there I was, fresh off a long journey from Australia, in a congregation that was no longer my own, on the threshold of defending my dissertation. I felt worried and inadequate and unsure but so very relieved and grateful--almost there.  And then. The new presiding stake president (whom I had never met before; he moved in after we left) stood up and began his talk by sharing a personal, tender experience about his own dissertation process, the vulnerabilities he felt, and the poignant questions he asked and answers he received as he tried to complete that challenging goal.

What are the chances of that? I have never heard a dissertation story in church before. Sitting in that congregation, I felt known and comforted and buoyed. I was reminded (as my tear-splashed notes from the talk read) “that when we present our best efforts and include God in our struggles, He can bring light to dark things, brilliance to dull things, divinity to earthly things.” It felt like a benediction.

. . .

Recently I was thinking of this experience and how we serve as blessings in each others' lives. So many people aided my efforts to finish this undertaking. They gently guided me out of the weeds or opened doors when I was pacing anxiously at the threshold. These included big things like G's confidence and go-for-it-ness and my kids' immense enthusiasm for my goals. And small things like drive-by moments of thumbs up and encouragement and check-ins and, yes, these words in a talk given on a not-so-random Sunday.  

If you're spinning your wheels or wandering in the weeds or despairing at creating something you have your heart invested in--a book, a painting, a feeling, a study, a degree, a family, an assignment--I just want to say: dead ends sometimes turn into launching pads. Bewilderment sometimes opens us up just enough to the right questions that we begin to live the answers. Words and glances and snippets sometimes become leaps. The reward is sometimes found, oddly, in the impediments.

It may be that when we no longer know what to do,

we have come to our real work

and when we no longer know which way to go,

we have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

~Wendell Berry