wild pomeranians

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." ~Henry David Thoreau

Category: Daily Life

February

Wow, it’s been a full month since I’ve written last, but it doesn’t feel that long.

The past four weeks have been difficult, to say the least. My poor, sweet Papaya somehow managed to get pneumonia, and let me tell you, I’ve experienced few things scarier than watching her gasping for air in the dead of night, wrapped up in my down comforter but still freezing cold, her pale skin pulled tightly in between each rib as she struggled to breathe.

And all of this happened after a course of antibiotics given to her a week prior for pneumonia.

I had taken her in to see the pediatrician about four days into a particularly severe chest cold because I had a feeling something just wasn’t okay. She was breathing a little faster than usual and had no appetite at all. She was even sick to her stomach a couple of times, and it didn’t add up. Sure enough, the doctor was able to diagnose pneumonia simply by listening to her lungs and checking her (rather low) oxygen levels with a finger monitor. But, because she wasn’t struggling to breathe and seemed alright, he sent us home with a course of antibiotics, as opposed to sending her to the hospital.

I have no idea why that didn’t work, but several nights later it became clear she was regressing, quickly. I stayed awake all night watching her and waiting for the moment when I should just pick her up and take her to Children’s Hospital. We made it through the night and the next morning, after an x-ray that oddly enough came back normal, she was given intravenous shots of a broad spectrum, very strong antibiotic, in the pediatrician’s office, along with albuterol to use at home. Thankfully, this did end up working and fairly quickly.

She got better for a handful of days after the medicine was finished, but again, started to get sick. Pumpy had brought a new virus home from school just days earlier, but I was of course concerned that it was still the pneumonia, coming back again. Another chest x-ray reassured us that it was, in fact, a new virus, which she weathered fine.

But I have truly had enough. Someone in my family has been sick since mid-December.  My mother, ever the alarmist, was concerned that something in our house was making us sick. It just seemed excessive for the season. So, I, ever the worrier, took it to heart and decided to take every measure possible to make sure the house was clean and safe, which included flushing out the ductwork, replacing the furnace filter, cleaning everything top to bottom, and even pulling up the 30 year old carpet in the living room from the prior owners of the house. We were planning on replacing it with hardwood soon anyway, so I figured it couldn’t hurt.

And that is why I haven’t written in a month.

I hope your month has been much better than mine, but I am grateful for the relatively minor cold that I now have, and for the bright green shoots emerging from my neighbors’ flower bed.

Daffodils!

That can only mean one thing 🙂

 

The Utility of Winter

For as long as I can remember, I’ve hated winter.

There are moments of love…early January…the first good snowfall that obscures the boundaries of our neighbors’ yards and the walking trail behind our home, creating a vast and pristine field of white…crystalline trees glistening in the soft light of the winter sun.

December, too, is more than bearable, with the anticipation of Christmas and all that extra time with family.

I even look forward to winter in late fall: the wrapping up, folding in, cozy warmth that the idea of winter inspires in me.

But that’s the problem. I love the idea of winter, but in actual practice, I feel empty, cold, too tired, and engulfed in a saddish haze.  I am seized by a deep desire to escape, somehow, everything

It’s as though the preceding three seasons erase my memory of what winter truly is. By mid-February, I feel the walls closing in and am genuinely bewildered as to how I still live in western Pennsylvania, after all these winters of my life. I should know by now.

I’m on Craigslist at 2 am, browsing apartments that I could never afford in Key West. Crazy, yes. I’m cursing the paltry, gray light that only brightens a quarter of my bedroom.  I’m craving (and eating) entirely too many carbs, all the while indignantly reminding myself that if I lived somewhere warmer I would be a healthier person.

A cold nose, while wrapped snuggly in my bed with the furnace running, shouldn’t make me this angry.   

But for me, winter feels like one, long, personal insult. It’s not very attractive, me in winter, and more than one person has suggested I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, which, of course, I’m sure I do.

But today, something new happened.  

I was driving back down the winding country road that takes me to the nearest Starbucks, when I passed an historic house I often admire and noticed new wire fencing covering a freshly dug strip of earth. The man who lives there is very old.  If he has a wife, I’ve never seen her. What he does have is an incredible garden in the summer that he is forever tending, alone. It seems much too big for one old man, but he does it.  

I have no idea what he was doing with that long, narrow strip, as I’m sure nothing could possibly be planted in January, and yet, there was very clearly the beginning of that marvelous garden getting underway. It’s so easy to miss what he’s doing when it’s warm out and there are people everywhere, freely taking what the sunshine affords, but this man has been out in his yard, digging in the dirt, in the dead of winter, and I find this nothing short of stunning, because it feels so far beyond what I could manage.

I suddenly felt privy to a secret I couldn’t fully appreciate or understand.

Maybe winter is useful, somehow? Or at the least, able to be engaged?

Maybe it isn’t necessary that I simply lay down and die around the end of January.

Maybe, winter isn’t the problem at all.

Here is an eighty-year-old man fully engaged with the season, and clearly with his life, in a way that I haven’t been able to muster, honestly, in all my thirty-four years. Perhaps if I opened my eyes a bit, made more of an effort to see things that are more elusive than the warm embrace of springtime, I could find happiness in spite of the weather.

In spite of myself.

I might stop living as though I’m subject to everything, as if my life is happening to me, around me, but never because of me.

I need to make a concerted effort to find beauty in winter.

Or, if necessary, winter in something beautiful.

I want to feel the continuity of life and the seasons. I want to be fearless like the gardener, digging into earth and beginning something against all odds.

It’s a start for someone who is always half-frozen, regardless of the season, but who, until now, was unable to own it.

“Winter then in its early and clear stages, was a purifying engine that ran unhindered over city and country, alerting the stars to sparkle violently and shower their silver light into the arms of bare upreaching trees. It was a mad and beautiful thing that scoured raw the souls of animals and man, driving them before it until they loved to run. And what it did to Northern forests can hardly be described, considering that it iced the branches of the sycamores on Chrystie Street and swept them back and forth until they rang like ranks of bells.”

~Mark Helprin, Winter’s Tale

Where does the time go?

This past Sunday we had a big party for Pumpy and Thunder Thighs. Pumpy turned 6 and Thunder Thighs turned 1.

I just can’t believe all these years have gone by, with this last year, in particular, really flying past. It seems to me that with each child time passes faster and faster. I find myself, on many occasions, watching the children do little things that could easily be overlooked or go unnoticed, like when Papaya is talking to her dolls, or Thunder Thighs’ chubby feet are padding around the wood floors, and I’m struck by the realization that these moments are so fleeting. It almost brings me to tears. I’m overwhelmed by the desire to somehow freeze time. It’s so difficult to imagine that these beautiful children will someday grow up, fully. 

But that is another post. 

Usually, when it comes to the kids’ birthdays, I bake special cakes for them…

like these two for Papaya’s 3rd birthday this past August…

Max's Disgusting Worm Cake and Ruby's Raspberry Fluff cake

and this one for Pumpy’s 5th birthday last year…

The Robot Cake!

 but this year I decided to leave all the baking and cooking to the wonderful people at Market District!

Pumpy chose a camouflage cake with a tank on top and for Thunder Thighs I went with a simple white round cake that I decorated myself with simple dots of icing in all the primary colors. I also ordered roasted chicken breast and a mozzarella and tomato penne pasta. The only things I cooked were roasted red skin potatoes, roasted asparagus with rosemary, and a big crock of Velveeta mac and cheese (for the kids and certain, picky in-laws :0)

From what I was told, everything was really good!

Sadly, the morning of the party I came down with the stomach flu. Papaya, too. I was well enough to enjoy the party, with the every-growing rumblings in my stomach, but I knew that eating wasn’t an option. Poor Papaya spent most of the day cuddled up in my sister’s lap, and in fact, my brother-in-law couldn’t even make the party because he had a stomach flu also.

Tis the season!

But the kids had a wonderful day and I captured most of it on film, including Thunder Thighs digging into his own little smash cake. It was precious.

I’m finally beginning to feel better and hopefully we didn’t infect any of our guests!

I hope you had a lovely weekend, too.

 

 

 

 

 

My Journey to Minimalism…

I’ve been thinking a lot about minimalism lately and what it means to me. I’m always fascinated to hear how other people became minimalists, and after a recent string of interesting conversations, I’ve come to a deeper  understanding of my own inclinations and I thought I’d share it with you.

For me, minimalism has mostly been a tool that I’ve used to escape the excess stress in my daily life. I can’t say that I’ve been very moderate in my approach. But it’s more than just that. It evolved, at one point, into something closer to a purification ritual- the getting rid of and stripping bare.

It didn’t started that way, though. 

A little over a year ago, when I was still pregnant with Thunder Thighs, I wasn’t feeling particularly overwhelmed by my possessions. I’ve always been interested in interior design and to some extent architecture, so my surroundings were important, but any dissatisfaction I felt had more to do with not feeling like I had enough art, furniture, etc in my home. However, I was aware that due to all the kid clutter, as well as my own, I spent two-thirds of my day cleaning up messes. At least. So even before all of this minimalism business, I had faint ideas beginning to form around how I spent my time. It was depressing, of course, to realize that most of my daily life centered around the picking up and moving of objects. 

Objects.

Could that be any more meaningless? I tried not to think about it for a while, but increasingly I felt my life lacked purpose. There were days when I struggled to stay in the present moment with my children. I had too much to do and not enough hours in the day to do it. But none of the things I had to do were significant in any way.

Then, I stumbled upon Leo Babauta‘s blog.  I’ll never forget that moment. His words were like a beacon of truth ringing out loudly over the dull drone of my life. Everything about the idea of minimalism appealed to me. I’m an extremist by nature. Living with few possessions is an extreme challenge for most people, and I wanted to know if I could do it. It didn’t take long for me to discover that I could do it, but what I didn’t anticipate was the high I felt everytime I got rid of something. I felt almost like an addict, constantly scanning the house for objects to donate. 

The more stressful my daily life became with three children, the more I felt I needed to clear space in my mind and in my house. And in fact, the more physical space I cleared, the easier it became for me to manage the daily stresses. It just makes sense that if I only have 4 plates, 4 bowls, and 4 cups, I will never have a sink filled with dirty dishes. If I don’t have knick-knacks covering every surface, then the kids won’t constantly be playing with, breaking, and generally disrupting the decor. The obvious sense that it all made was irresistible.

Furthermore, I’ve come to feel that it’s the right way for me to live, given my understanding of how most of the rest of the world lives. My minimalism is an outward recognition that most people on this planet don’t have much, and I’m not going to have a ton of stuff just because I can. I’d rather use extra money for charity and life experiences with other human beings.   

So, that is how I came to minimalism.   

I love the austerity of it. The cleanliness of it all. The idea that I have stripped away needless layers of my Self, and am left only with the bare necessities and some loved treasures. For me, this kind of simplicity is exquisitely beautiful.

That being said, I have had moments when I’ve felt genuinely fearful. It’s such an odd thing how not owning things could produce anxiety and fear, especially not owning things I don’t actually need. I’ve felt confronted by an unknown future; one that won’t center around performing meaningless tasks and buying things constantly.

What will that life look like?

To be honest, I still don’t know. And yes, that can be terrifying. But I’ll save that for another day.

How did you become a minimalist? I would love to hear your story.

Order

Today was the second day that Pumpy went to school all day. Only one word can truly capture the result.

Order.

Everything has fallen into place. Suddenly, there is time for everything. There is room for everything. It’s as though I’ve been trying to shove a square peg into a round hole for the past year or so. Nobody was happy with our homeschooling situation, least of all me, and now I can see why. This is just so much better.

Needless to say, Pumpy is loving school and riding the school bus. When he bounded off the bus yesterday afternoon, this is what he proclaimed:

“I loved it, Mama! It’s the best day ever. I’m going back for twenty-hundred days!”

Papaya loves preschool. And this mama is loving my quiet mornings with Thunder Thighs, my lovely and girly afternoons with Papaya, and then the usual mash up of us all spending our evening together.

I only wish I hadn’t forced myself to homeschool when deep in my heart it never felt right. I don’t necessarily regret it though, as I’m the kind of woman who needs to try something out in order to know how I feel sometimes. But I do need to trust my gut instincts more.

I hope you’ve had a lovely day, too!

 

 

A Girl Can Dream…

Tomorrow, two of my three children will be in school for part of the day. This is going to be my new normal and honestly my mind is spinning at the prospect. What will I do? Housework? Grocery shopping? Laundry, while happily lugging Thunder Thighs on my hip? Probably.

But do you want to know what I’d really love to do? Shh, don’t tell my husband, okay? He’s had enough of this already and the man is just tired of listening to his silly wife talk about impossibilities. I can’t blame him, either.

Nonetheless…

First, I’d like to find the drill and take apart our gigantic King-size bed and just put the mattress right on the floor. (I’ve always wanted to do this, often for practical reasons like not having to worry about babies falling out of bed in the middle of the night, but also for impractical, just-because reasons like wanting to have as simple a room as possible.)

Considering how expensive the bed was, I could probably sell it on Craigslist for a couple thousand dollars and then I would send the money to an incredible woman and her family who have recently adopted another special-needs baby from Africa and who could use the money right now.

Then, I’d like to take all of my husband’s clothes that are currently piled on the floor of the walk-in closet, and stuff them in some garbage bags and take them to Goodwill. Honestly, I don’t think he’d even miss them given that they’ve sat there untouched for months now. What’s the point of that?!  

Moving on to the kids’ rooms, at least two-thirds of the toys would be on their merry way to Goodwill, as well, leaving only their favorites…the ones they play with endlessly, like the dollhouse, Lego’s, blocks, and crafts.  

Later on in the afternoon, after a café mocha at Starbucks, I’d call our old realtor and inform her that we’d like to put the house on the market. I know we’ve only been here for a bit over a year, I’d explain, but we’re beginning a new adventure and we just can’t be tied down to a mortgage. We’re not looking to make a gigantic profit, just to get it sold quickly and painlessly.

With that taken care of, it would be time to hop back on Craigslist and search for an apartment in San Francisco. Somewhere cozy in the heart of a lovely neighborhood where we could get to most places just walking, or if needed, on the Muni. The move would be a breeze, as anything non-essential would not be making the trip.

The kids are so young, I’d love for them to share a bedroom while they still can. A tiny kitchen, a snug living room, lots of natural light and since I’m dreaming, a small space outside for our little garden. No more snow boots, mittens, bulky coats and enough clothing for four separate seasons. Everything would feel lighter. 

Ahhh.  

Now that sure does beat doing housework all morning, doesn’t it?

🙂

 I hope your coming week finds you ever closer to your dreams, too.

 

 

 

 

Epiphany…

A lot has weighed on my mind in the past year or so…namely, why my entire outward life feels contrary to my deepest, innermost desires and inclinations. I’ve been talking with a very wise man regarding it all and tonight I had nothing short of an epiphany that I now feel compelled to write about.

Perhaps a brief rundown of some background information would be helpful first.

Like many people, I didn’t grow up in the happiest of homes. My father was an abusive alcoholic and my mom had her fair share of emotional problems. My sisters and I were dealt a difficult hand, and fortunately, we’ve been able to rise above these harsh beginnings (for the most part) and make decent lives for ourselves. For my sister, this has included a Ph.D and for myself it has been my beautiful children and the ongoing dance of motherhood.

But this is not to say that I haven’t made mistakes. I’ve failed at too many things to count. In fact, apart from my role as  a mother, I can’t honestly say that I’ve done many things right or well. I have an almost pathological tendency to excel in different areas, but in the end, at the moment of commitment, I quit. Jobs, school…other things. And I’ve never known why I do this, except that (apart from my commitment to being the best mother I can be), I can count on this about myself; that I will inevitably quit, in good standing, before I ever have a chance to succeed at something.

So my epiphany, with the help of a truly exceptional psychotherapist, is that much of what I do and have done in my life is a protest. It’s a ‘fuck you’ to the world. And of course, it stems from the anger that I came away with from my difficult childhood, when I was vulnerable and mistreated by the people I should have been able to trust and rely on.

Here are some examples of my ‘protests…’

  • Quitting college after being accepted (based on a manuscript of my poetry) into an elite class that would have allowed me to mentor beneath a celebrated poet.
  • Quitting too many jobs to keep track of, and in every instance to my employer’s shock and dismay.
  • Quitting esthetician school in San Francisco with less than two months to go.
  • Cutting my hair into the shortest, most gamine style possible, despite the fact that my husband dislikes it, as most men would.
  • Getting a fairly conspicuous tattoo on my right arm.
  • Having three children back to back, nursing for six years and attempting to homeschool my kindergartener and preschooler.
  • Perhaps even my recent embrace of a rather extreme form of minimalism?

So there it is. Many little protests. Many ‘fuck you’s.’ And in the case of my children and even minimalism, perhaps a little bit of ‘I will do this…and I’ll do it in spite of the incredible difficulty and self-denial that such a lifestyle requires.

Clearly, I need to spend some time thinking about all of this. I need to somehow transform that energy into something new and better. I’ve played that card, and now that I realize it, it is time to move on. But how? 

I’m curious, how many things in your life are little protests?

To Wean or not to Wean…

I’m finally beginning to feel better after being sick since last Tuesday. I went to Med Express a couple of days ago and judging by the roomful of people with the same horrible cough that I have, it’s safe to say it’s going around. Even the doctors and nurses were coughing. Surprisingly, C and the kids haven’t caught it yet.

I am feeling like I want to wean Thunder Thighs soon. He will be 1 on January 21st. After nursing for the past six years (yes, you read that right), I just want to be finished. It doesn’t help that he’s a biter either! But I know I’ll miss it when it’s over; the closeness and the reliable cozied-up-together comfort that can’t really be replaced for him. I also know I’ll miss the security of knowing that he is living in a heightened state of immunity. I nursed Papaya and Pumpy for about 2 1/2 years each, so if I do wean him soon it will be the soonest I’ve ever stopped. Still, I think it’s almost time. I’m exhausted.

If you’re wondering how it is that I’ve nursed for so long, I’ll explain…I began nursing Pumpy in January 2006. He was still nursing when I became pregnant with Papaya, so I nursed him through her pregnancy and for about four months after. Obviously, I was then nursing her and continued nursing through my third pregnancy, weaning her a few months after I had Thunder Thighs in 2011, whom I’m still nursing.

So there you have it. Six years! Crazy.

 

 

A Sad Day…

Today was Ernie’s viewing. It’s been a really hard day.  

When I was leaving to drive the kids down, I accidentally pulled into an intersection in town (on a green light) but got stuck there when the traffic ahead of me didn’t move. So there I sat in my Subaru, with the kids three across the backseat in their carseats, while a line of cars honked at me. A woman in a minivan made gestures at me through her windshield indicating that I am an idiot and then gave me a sarcastic thumbs up over and over again. Then a man in a sedan, with his own family, rolled down his window and shouted obscenities at me while giving me the finger. Honestly, the sudden onslaught of hostility was scary and demoralizing. Yes, I held up traffic. People had to wait through another light. But these people were really hateful. And in the end, I felt hateful too. I felt disturbed by it the entire hour-long drive.

At the funeral home, I cried repeatedly. I can’t even say for sure if I was crying for the loss of Ernie, or for the obvious pain his sons and wife were going through, or if I was crying for myself. I honestly don’t know. I’ve had a nasty virus since Tuesday morning and I feel like shit, so I know that’s not helping. 

Later, when I spoke to my mom on the phone, she told me that she and G were coming down the next morning for the actual funeral. I explained again that I wouldn’t be able to go to the funeral myself because no one was available to watch the kids and that I just planned to wait at the in-law’s house until after the service and then join everyone after. She didn’t offer to watch them, despite the fact that she didn’t even know Ernie, so finally I just asked her if she could keep the kids overnight and watch them in the morning while I went to the funeral, since I would really like to not miss it. She agreed, with the stipulation that I get them by a certain time as she and G had dinner/ New Year’s plans.

I could go on, but there’s no point. Today was just a day when I felt disappointed by nearly everyone.

The realization that C’s grandfather is gone forever is beginning to sink in. It may sound cliche, but it’s true: watching someone die and losing them forever makes it crystal clear that life is short…even when you live to be eighty…and shouting the F-word at someone in traffic, or putting your own desires ahead of someone else’s needs, or spending almost an entire day feeling sorry for oneself, is an incredibly unwise way to spend the moments that make up our lives.

I don’t think I’m the only person who has trouble reconciling the gravity of that sentiment with the reality of daily life. Sometimes I feel like I’m walking around with my head bent to the ground and I simply need to look up more often. Why is that so hard?