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  1. I am so heavily intro quatrefoil right now, it’s obscene. But it’s so pleasing, so orderly, so elegant…how can I resist?
  2. If you name your child something phonetically challenging -in the context of its mother tongue- you should be required to provide a pronunciation key at every opportunity. Is it Lee-ton Meester? Lay-ton? (And really, that’s only the beginning.) I don’t expect to know how to pronounce most Irish names. I would like to know about flipping Leighton.
  3. It is my heartiest belief that you should always wash your feet before bedtime. It is so nice to tuck clean pups under the covers. Try it! You’ll be a convert if you’re not already a believer.
  4. Lavender-colored hair is a no. Plain and simple. There is no gray area here (hah).
  5. It is the rare couple that meets and gets married by 22 and stays together. I’m just saying, oh, 80% of Hollywood. Chill.
  6. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Mary-Kate Olson: can each of you please, for the love of anything and everything remotely holy in this world, PLEASE make a different expression with your mouth?
  7. Candles that cost in the tens of dollars are an outrage. Do you know that Bond No. 9 sells one for $110? Unbelievably, despicably precious. Also, the thing -bottle? jar?- it comes in looks like a Play-Do canister.
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I just went in to each boy’s room, quietly got into bed beside him and snuggled to beat sixty. I was trying mightily to not bother but also wake him up. Neither budged, and I’ve got yet another evening of cuddles unknown -except to me- for my memory bank.

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Oh my gosh, y’all, I am beside myself about once again being able to eat from my yard. Look at this beautiful array of greens; they are literally a’glow! I plucked them from my garden (seriously local, eh?!), rinsed and spun them and then dressed them with that wonderfully spicy new olive oil I bought at Union Market last week, some salt and lemon juice. A bit of avocado here, some tomatoes there, a side of Meadowcreek Grayson cheese and crackers… Couldn’t have been fresher, healthier or tastier! Happy Earth Day!

www.em-i-lis.com

lettuces from my garden

I had a lovely, productive day: fully cleaned the fridge, like scrubbed every bit of it until each gleamed; made four tart crusts and did most of the shopping for the baby shower I’m catering on Saturday; made some double ginger-mango jam (my newest creation!); got a haircut; got the lowdown on school from the boys; admired J’s math homework and helped Ol with his research project on the robin; just called it a day and ordered Cafe of India take-out and poured a glass of wine.

What’d you do today? Whatcha eatin’ right now? Thanks to everyone who wrote in such supportive, “me too!” response to my post on Flow as well as all ye who so enthusiastically commented on my Earth Day thoughts. Yes, I still love and appreciate you even when you comment not on this site but in private emails, texts and so forth. Outstanding!

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Today marks the 44th annual Earth Day. The first, April 22, 1970, came eight years after the publication of Rachel Carson’s epic work, Silent Spring, and just 14 months after the horrific oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel; at that time, it was the largest oil spill ever in America and today ranks third behind the Exxon Valdez (1989) and Deepwater Horizon (2010) disasters.

On the first Earth Day, nearly 20 million Americans protested on behalf of a cleaner world. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency was founded and the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts were passed. It’s hard to imagine such bipartisan support for our world today.

In fact, many in the Republican camp -including, of course, the Tea Party- continue to espouse the ridiculous and erroneous notion that climate change is a hoax, that there is insufficient scientific evidence to suggest that human involvement, in the forms of harmful emissions, industrial/factory farming, misuse/overuse of pesticides, and so forth, is in any way culpable. This is rubbish.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released its most dire report to date, stating that unless we take the threat of climate change seriously and act NOW, our climate may be irreversibly damaged. Cannot.be.fixed. Why more people aren’t taking this more seriously is beyond me. It’s depressing beyond belief, shortsighted in such a hideous way.

If people were told that eating apples increased their risk of dying young by even 5%, I bet most people would hedge their bets and swear off apples. The likelihood of climate change decisively damning our world if we do not act right now is well above 5%, so why aren’t we doing anything? Really, I don’t understand.

Our oceans are becoming more acidic at speed-of-light rates: marine life can’t stomach the change in pH; coral reefs are dying; the waters can’t absorb as much CO2 as they once could. Our glaciers and ice caps are melting at equally terrifying rates. It goes on and on.

We are more than 7 billion people asking too much of our Earth. We pillage the land, overfish the seas, pollute our water sources and soil with chemicals and waste, throw trash everywhere, ship our e-shit around the world to less fortunate countries. We recoil at the visibly horrid air quality in cities like Beijing, we gasp when Americans whose land has been fracked show us that they can light the water pouring from their kitchen faucets on fire. We watch animals suffer unnecessary, painful deaths because they drown in oil slicks or suffocate on our haphazardly discarded plastics. We bitch and moan and worry and still, too many do nothing.

So today, as another Earth Day opens before us and many of us hope for the best, though the chances of successful, internationally-supported policy changes being passed and acted upon are starting to seem awfully dim, I ask you to consider the ways in which you interact with the world around you. Could you recycle more? Could you compost? Could you drive less? Could you eat less meat? When you eat meat, can you make sure that it comes from a real farm? Can you shut your car engine off when you’re waiting in line somewhere? Idling fumes are nasty polluters.

If that all feels overwhelming and big, I get it. When I visit my hometown in Louisiana, I always leave depressed by the almost complete lack of recycling that goes on, by the chemicals sprayed with such abandon over yards and throughout the air (the mosquitoes are a serious plague, so I do get it but still). I think of how scary it is that so many people, on my parents’ block alone, have died of cancer. That part of the state has a grim nickname- Cancer Alley. It feels like no one person could possibly make a difference, but that’s not true.

You can also make change by thinking small. Think of your health, of your family’s health. Go putter in your yard, sit in the grass, study the millions of tiny organisms that inhabit the space with you. Acknowledge and appreciate them. Read from the work of the wonderful E.O. Wilson; if you’ve never loved ants, you will after reading his stuff. Pick up Silent Spring if you’ve never read it. If you’re more a fiction reader, check out Landscape by Donna Cousins (she also wrote the absorbing Waiting for Bones). It’s a tremendously engaging read, and I have NEVER gardened in the same way since. And, there’s always Barbara Kingsolver!

As you probably know, I am not a religious woman but I do stand in awe of the very real magic in the natural world, in the enormous, diverse panoply of non-human life that we too often ignore or undervalue. I truly don’t think of our Earth as anything more than a luxurious place we are lucky to inhabit, temporarily and as borrowers only, for a short while each. As with anything of such value and impermanence, we must respect and tend it to the best of our ability.

“In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation… even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.”

― —Great Law of the Iroquois

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As you may know, I’ve been enthusiastically reading Jennifer Senior’s recent book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood. It explores the effects of having and raising children on their parents, the only or one of the very few works in that genre. I’ve long thought Senior is an exceptional journalist -her pieces for New York Magazine over the years are usually my favorites- and when she came to DC last month to present All Joy, I went to hear her. I’m nearly done with the book and have enjoyed it tremendously, not least because so much of it resonates deeply with me; at times I’ve felt like Senior is a hyper-articulate mouthpiece directly from my brain. I tweeted her to let her know this. She very kindly wrote back and said she’d worked SO hard on the book. I can tell!

In any case, I’ve been thinking much and often about many of the points she drives home via her own conclusions gleaned from hours and days spent with parents around the country and from the skeins of data she analyzed in order to provide both an historic and current state of the parental union, so to speak. It’s all quite fascinating really. For example, she demonstrates compellingly that the way we parent today -modern parenthood- is vastly different, oceans, gulfs, worlds apart from the ways in which children used to be considered, valued and raised.

In the 80 years or so since this evolution began in earnest, there have also been important changes and shifts: the way many parents today really can’t tell their kids to “go out and play and don’t come home until dinnertime” like they once could and did; and, the impacts on our -kids’ and parents’- ways of life in light of the hurtling advance of technology.

What has stuck with me most, made the most sense to me and helped me better understand my own experience as a mother have been the following two points that arise, repeatedly, throughout the book:

  1. The lack of flow in most parents’ lives; and
  2. The number of daily aversive interactions we experience due to repeated compliance requests.

What’s flow? Senior defines it as “a state of being in which we are so engrossed in the task at hand -so fortified by our own sense of agency, of mastery- that we lose all sense of our surroundings, as though time has stopped.” (p. 30) Most of us know how marvelous that feels. How zen, how therapeutic, a sort of high really. Consider a book in which you’re so enrapt that you completely forget the time. Or a project at work or home that is so utterly enjoyable and fulfilling that you neglect to eat lunch or that you miss when you step away from it. Or, personally, the way I lose myself in my garden when I’m working hard in it alone during the day. That feeling is flow.

Senior found, and what I feel acutely most days, that a large majority of parents feel a regular lack of flow. Sometimes a full absence of flow. Childrearing’s basic logistics require logical thinking and time-management to the nth degree but, by and large, that’s manageable. Perhaps you even knew that ahead of time and expected to work around naptimes, differing school drop-offs, sleepless nights and tag-teaming. I did and those things have felt par for the course.

What has been infinitely more challenging than those organizational efforts are the frequent, sometimes frantic, surprising, nonsensical, unexpected needs and demands of children in daily life. And that cadre of urgency is the baseline, the norm, before an illness or developmental snafu or intrasocial ado comes into play. These fits and starts, ebbs and flows, ons and offs of most parents’ now-quotidian existence act as constant inhibitions to flow. It’s why you can meet another parent for the first time and immediately commiserate about never finishing a complete sentence with another adult unless you’re alone with them or your kids are zombies in front of the tube. It’s why so many projects remain half-finished efforts, why many of us feel so mentally enervated so regularly.

Especially those of us who, prior to parenthood, took great pride in and derived a sense of identity from all that we could and did accomplish. Even in the happiest moments of raising children, I have found -personally and in conversations with many friends and other parents- that there is a definite sense of loss associated with the loss of flow. It takes getting used, these changed norms, expectations and understanding of self. You have to cut yourself some slack which is not always easy. You have to let some of the old ways go which can be wonderful but also awfully bittersweet. Add to this the constant finger-poking that is technology -social media, the sense that anyone is never more than an email away- and flow can really slow.

As we try to blend semblances of our pre-parent selves with our parental realities, many of us feel stretched taut; multitasking becomes an ever-greater need and an ever more flow-inhibiting manacle. “We don’t process information as thoroughly when we task-switch…that information doesn’t sink into our long-term memories as deeply…We also lose time whenever we switch tasks, because it takes a while to intellectually relax into a project and build a head of steam.”

Mom-brain anyone? Feelings of guilt? And how about the sensation that you’ve only just settled down when you realize the time and that you’d better hurry to pick-up.

Senior’s second big theme and one that makes lack of flow even more difficult and pronounced constellates around child compliance. Basically, the research* shows that American parents spend huge amounts of time every day trying to get their young children (toddlers/preschoolers) to do something and that their kids spend about as much time resisting those efforts. Because, generally speaking, American mothers spend more time with their children than fathers, they experience more of these “aversive interactions (69);” up to twenty-four times an hour, according to one study.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that stat alone and think: EXHAUSTING. Talk about mental enervation. Just managing the process of eating breakfast and getting ready for school is deeply taxing, emotionally, for me some days. The sheer amount of questions (“what do you want for breakfast?”), pleas (“please sit down to eat,” “please brush your teeth,” “no really, brush your teeth”), demands (“if you don’t brush your teeth you’re going to lose a privilege”), and mediatory efforts (“do not throw cereal at your brother,” “do not use your mean voice; I’ve asked you to brush your teeth 85 times so far”) is unbelievable. “I do so much for them” ergo “they’ll honor my basic requests” feels like it should be basic and true but often just isn’t actuality. You end up arguing about the stupidest stuff and it can be both mind-numbingly dull and profoundly upsetting. And that’s just breakfast and chores!

~~~~~~

For those of us who enjoy setting goals and reaching them, parenting can make us feel stunted at times because it’s a long-form marathon in which the “end” is an unknown. When I mix flour, butter, eggs and vanilla, I’m going to get something delicious in a half hour or so. Raising a person is completely the opposite; in addition to there being no recipe, you don’t really know all the ingredients with which you’re working and the final product is decades in the making.

Senior’s discussions of flow/lack of flow as well as the effects of repeated requests for compliance (geared towards teaching and urging positive or right behaviors) being denied or needing to be reissued helped me better understand just what is so very hard about the constant job that is parenting. And because the parenting landscape appears to have changed so dramatically over the last century, we don’t have many of the norms we once had that help people orient. Where once children were had to serve as economic assets for the family, the aims of many parents today are much more nebulous: when we prepare to have children, what is the why? Is it for our own fulfillment? Is it to raise and turn out productive and beneficial members of our larger society? What do we want from and for them? Happiness? Success? And how do we “make” those things happen? How do we square what that might take with what we feel we can and want to give?

Interesting, huh?!

*I’m assuming most studies so far have focused on heterosexual couples because Senior’s language is very mother/father-oriented versus that more encompassing of various family structures.

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I am not going to lie. Today was overall good but it was also real long; I believe it was 2pm when I averred that when the clock struck 5, a cocktail would be mine. Mon dieu! T suggested I hit the gym which was sage advice and so I did. Though I don’t run much anymore, doing so is, on occasion, profoundly therapeutic. I just pounded that treadmill and pounded it some more. Then I bought more mulch because mulching my yard is as curative as was the run.

Here’s the finished product of the lunchtime pizza, by the way… Good, but would have benefited from some additional, non-Asiago cheese, like smoked mozzarella.

www.em-i-lis.com

ramp, tasso, artichoke pizza

In and around various iPad battles, Pentago wins and losses, bike rides and so forth, I stewed down a strawberry-rhubarb puree with the grand plan of a French yogurt cake with a straw-rhu swirl + leftovers for yogurt and general snacking. Additionally, I made plans for dinner: smoked chicken with kale pesto; and my Blue Duck-inspired Crispy Brussels sprouts. Scrumptious! Perfectly satisfying! Happifying! A wonderfully fresh and lovely end to this Easter day.

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Em’s Blue Duck Crispy Brussels Sprouts with Lemon, Capers and Pecorino

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cherry wood smoked chicken with kale pesto

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French Yogurt Cake with Strawberry-Rhubarb Swirl

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cross-section of the fabulous yogurt cake

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