This weekend, at last, it's my time to hunker down in the kitchen preparing my favorite items for holiday time. Today I will teach my 10-year-old sous chef how to make sugar-friend pecans. I've also got cat-sitting (no more overdoing that after the last round), the Christmas Card, the wrapping, and checking everything twice so that Christmas Eve doesn't become the night before madness.

No matter how I kvetch, I do love Christmas. I just love it! I find that Christmas surprises reach me in small and large ways each year, even in the midst of the chaos. Perhaps it is because of the chaos that I am surprised when it happens.

Take yesterday. I had a conversation with my coach. She and I usually connect with ease, and yesterday seemed no different except that she was especially focused on framing our discussion so that I produced some label I could use to describe myself, my essence, in a very simple way. We were focused on "naming" that which I held most near and dear to my soul and that which I might diminish over time if I didn't get conscious about it. She was helping me name my way in the world.

We shared an uplifting conversation to say the least, "workshopping" the idea from all angles. In the end, I felt she had given me wings that were neither too large nor too small for my humble soul. Plus -- and this is a good test -- there was an immediate rightness about this new label, as if I had just received prescription glasses and felt opened up to a new clarity. "What now, then?" my soul seemed to clamor excitedly . . .

My wonderful coach gave me wings and tuned-up my voice. She was clear and confident on the phone. That's why, when she mentioned that she would begin treatment for cancer early next month, I was so surprised.

She wasn't sick, though, I thought. She may have a tumor but she isn't sick.

She had made room for this cancer in her life, so the cancer was not a struggle. There was no charge to it at all. Gracefully, her healing energy remained flowing. Wow. That is impressive. While I paused to check in with her about the details and her doctors, I never had a doubt about this friend's wellness. She may need a toxic mass removed, but her energy is free of disease. Still, I will hold her rightly in my thoughts.

The encounter reminded me that the circle of wellness and of disease, of giving and receiving, of asking and being asked is the focus of our lives whether we notice it or not.

We may call these things by different names and wrap them up in other phrases, believing that someday we'll arrive at "in balance" or "out of balance" for good. I don't think that is part of the plan. It seems more vast than that to me.


Ms. Grinch pays a visit

Mr. Grinch's friend, Ms. Grinch, appeared at my house last night looking to cut corners and curb every one's enthusiasm, especially the children's.

She was insisting that patience was a virtue and that waiting and waiting and waiting for the big day to come builds character.

She was obsessed with tidying up, getting organized and crossing items off her Christmas TO-DO list.

She had no time to laugh with Alvin and the Chipmunks.

When she glanced at the adorable
Christmas card that she and her husband made, she immediately got hives thinking of the stack she needed to personalize and mail out in the days to come.

She was frustrated that her soon-to-be-eight-year-old son was digging his heels in about opening up the Star Wars costume that arrived for his birthday party in January.

As the evening went on and the fire roared, Ms. Grinch got very close to roaring herself. She was dangerously close to making a Christmas memory no one would ever forget . . .

She had the distinct calling to eat Candy Cane Joe-Joe's as a way to soothe herself, but realized that a new assignment at
work had her so closely allied to calorie counting that she was suddenly aware of her emotional eating.

She was tired, a Monday night tired.
So she brewed up some Chamomile tea and sipped it quietly.

She longed in that moment for a change of heart, a small adjustment to her Grinchiness and wondered how to find the way out.

She sat down on the sofa to watch the evening news with her husband. But, instead of listening to what was announced, Ms. Grinch fell asleep.

She drifted into a deep slumber.
In fact, she slept and slept and slept, like a young princess atop a feather bed.

Her husband tucked her in upstairs where she slept for seven more hours.

When she awoke, she brewed up her single cup of coffee, skipped the heavy cream due to the job assignment, and realized that she - Ms. Grinch herself -
was worthy of Christmas joy too!

She promised to loosen the tight string around her heart and make room for the love of the season. She wasn't sure how it would go, but something about it felt very familiar to her.

As if she had felt that way once before, perhaps as a young girl . . . And all was new again.


Writing a birthday letter for your child

Before I became a parent, I didn't realize the energy that went into a child's birthday celebration. First, there is the work of intention, of consciously creating a meaningful experience for your child. Then, there is scheduling, making and buying, planning and inviting. Lastly, there is allowing the awareness that another year has passed into your psyche. That's sometimes a bittersweet notion when you feel ambivalent about your baby growing up.

All of these details require energy. So, if you happen to have a child's birthday to plan amidst the holiday buzz (like I do), you may find yourself needing a little extra TLC to get by. How to get some good TLC? Here's my plan:

Hydrate with simple clear drinks, including warm herbal teas
Get outdoors
Laught and let go
Write your child a birthday letter

A birthday letter is just a conversation letter to your child, about your child. I started doing them when my daughter was young and struggling with a variety of issues. It helped me make sense of all the new information we were managing, and gave me a way to make a snapshot of her progress that was truly worth celebrating. Birthday letters also recount the key milestones of the year, the friendships, and the adventures enjoyed.

Try writing a birthday letter anytime of the year.


Whatever you give, she will make greater

My neighorhood friend -- wife, mother to two great kids, and a doctor on top of that -- sent me a wonderful quote this morning:

Whatever you give a woman, she will make greater. If you give her sperm, she'll give you a baby. If you give her a house, she'll give you a home. If you give her groceries, she'll give you a meal. If you give her a smile, she'll give you her heart. She multiplies and enlarges what is given to her.

So . . . if you give her any crap, be ready to receive a ton of _ _ _ _ !



Simple holiday flowers

Each year in time for Christmas we grow simple amaryllis and paper whites on a table in a south-facing window behind one of the living room sofas. Observing the flowers unfold in a bloom of color and fragrance is a holiday tradition that prepares me and the house for Christmas. I enjoy this tradition as much as I enjoy my advent wreath.

What's no fun to celebrate is the cost of Amaryllis bulbs. In Washington/Bethesda, I have seen the loose bulbs selling for as much as $25 at one of our nursery/garden shops! I've never bought the flower bulbs at that high price. Instead, I've had good luck with the Holland Bulb kits that sell between $8-12 at the supermarket. (They are also available online.)

The downside with the kits is that they come shipped with a plastic planting pot and bag of peat moss which we don't use. Cheaper price, but excessive waste in my opinion . . .

I don't know how or when the tradition of forcing amaryllis during the holidays evolved. Part of the Lily family, the flower is "symbolic of pride and at times timidity." It may also be a symbol of "pastoral poetry and of satisfactory outcomes" according to one vendor. I like the sound of a little "pastoral poetry" around the house.


Killing the page rank

Seth Godin's recent post, The Making Chasm, includes the following spot-on quote: "Doing appears risky, because it exposes you to criticism and perhaps failure."

How many of us can relate to that?

Here's my question, how can we figure out a way to network our failures and have more fun learning from one another's mistakes when the idea of "rank" itself inspires business as usual and covering up?

How can we open our hearts and minds up to playful inventiveness at work if the measure of productivity requires the long view?

The kids want a puppy

Our fluffy, bright-white, spirited American Eskimo dog, Blanco (with his terrible yapping bark) died a year and a half ago. We really miss playing fetch with him, having him greet us at the door, and hearing the pitter-patter of his feet around the house.

What we don't miss are the huge vet bills, the boarding fees incurred when we travel, the pooper-scooping of the yard, and worrying about him daily as his health deteriorated in the end. Ever since we buried Blanco, the hamster and the fish - in short sequence - the kids have been rallying around the cry:
We don't want to be a family with no pets!
I agree with them, and yet I am on the fence about bringing another puppy or a rescue pet home to care for. I feel a lot of pressure to make a loving, conscious choice about adopting or buying a dog and am concerned that now isn't the time to make it happen. The Humane Society of the United States blurb describes my feelings precisely:
The key to creating a true "family pet"—one who is gentle, loyal, and loving to both animals and people—is to treat the animal as a beloved family member and to provide the training and care he deserves. It's not enough to get a pet "for the kids." A pet is not a temporary playmate for children, but a lifelong family member who depends on the entire family, especially adults.
It is the word "depends" that gets me. So many things depend on me now that adding another makes me cringe! I ask myself:

Is there room enough to love another soul in your life?
  • Yes, there is always room to love another soul.
Can I tolerate a bit more chaos in my life?
  • Umm. In the past I'd say, sure, but these days I want less and less chaos.
Can I handle the poop?
  • Not sure about that, might be my husband's job.
Can I handle training my children to help?
  • Yes, absolutely. And they're great with pet responsibilities.Link
You know, as I write out this Q + A, I am reminded that loving a living creature, even when it is chaotic, imperfect, expensive, and scary, is still love. And wise people say that the best time for love is the moment before you. It's all got me thinking . . .

. . .

Today it was a total shoe meltdown


Peppermint Joe-Joe's

Forget about my good intentions in the last post. It's a new day and I am here to spread the weight inducing word that:

Peppermint Joe-Joe's are back at Trader's


Bettina from Loulies.com tipped me off to these festive little cookies -- think Oreos with fine peppermint candy shavings laced into the creme -- last year and we loved them.

These cookies are super rich!

And that's what makes them perfect for holiday mudslides (vanilla ice cream, milk, and Oreos blended together) and other artery-clogging delights . . .

I'll be munching on a few of these in the weeks to come. In fact, we're hosting a bonfire this weekend so perhaps one of these boxes will make its way onto a goodies plate. My kids like them but if yours aren't fans of true peppermint flavor, skip 'em altogether.


Gaining weight is expensive

And ... Fresh air is cheaper than a gym. Buying new clothes is more fun when it is optional (not a result of outgrowing your wardrobe). Adding bulk hides your beauty from the world. Low self esteem demands a high payment. Sedentary days turn into sedentary weeks.

photo snapped along the Blue Ridge parkway, NC

Nothing gets done when you do not do it. Food guilt is a dead end. Aches and pains are often reminders that we need to change. No two bodies are created alike, so stop giving your power to someone else. Gaining weight is an energy drain.


Putting the me in media
Signal-to-noise ratio


Pictures from a Thanksgiving kitchen

Up too late, chatting with Claude and stirring cranberry conserve. When I look around the counter I feel like giving thanks for being mom.


Coco's Easy Corn Pudding for Thanksgiving

I've been making this easy Corn Pudding for the Thanksgiving table for at least 100 years. (Sometimes it feels that long, doesn't it?)

The Corn Pudding's simple, familiar flavors (think buttered corn-on-the-cob) mix well with the best of the season and help bring along both the younger, reluctant crowd while creating a bit of nostalgia for the older guard:


1/ 4 c. unsalted butter
2 medium onions, minced
1/4 c. plus 2 tbsp. flour
4 eggs
6 c. frozen corn
2 c. milk
1 1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350 F
  • Butter 2 6-cup souffles or an equivalent dish. (If you are using a shallow pan -- like a Pyrex 9 x 13" you will need to shorten the cooking time. I've used both styles of pan with no problem.) Put dish aside.
  • Melt 1/4 c. butter in large skillet. Add onions, saute until clear and very soft. Mix in flour (make a roux) and cook until fragrant and beginning to turn a golden color (+/- 3-5 minutes). Transfer to a large bowl and let cool until lukewarm. (Tip: spread the roux out so that it cools faster).
  • Once the corn mixture has cooled enough to not cook a raw egg, add the eggs. Whisk to blend. Mix in corn, milk and salt. Season with black pepper too.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the dishes. Bake until a knife inserted comes out clean (+/- 1 hour). Spoon onto plates.
LEFTOVERS TIP: Warm this up and spread it onto leftover sandwiches! Or, reheat in the pan to serve on a plate with the works. But, you'll probably want to moisten it up a bit. Use water, milk or a pat of butter mixed in. Correct the seasoning with generous salt and pepper.

Not about the holidays:

Need a laundry lady
3 tips for your job search


Encore, gratitude!

Welcome Loulie's readers. I love Loulie's style and look forward to shopping at their online market this holiday season. The green Carrie bike basket is particularly chic, but I am always a fan of Scandinavian inspiration!

There is so much to be grateful for this year, including the simplest of foods on the table.

The tasty salt and the creamy butter, for starters;

The growers and distributors;

Those kitchen masters we visit at restaurants;

And the ones we call friends;

Our devoted sous chefs -- who do everything from shopping to prep to clean-up.

Finally, it is friendship at the table that I am grateful for. I feel so nourished when I pull up for a cup of tea with a friend. Did you ever notice how time expands under the influence of aromatic Chamomile tea and a friend?

Bitchy or assertive?

From 2007

Yesterday my friend Lauren asked me to blog about the difference between assertiveness and bitchiness. Ouch, Lauren, can you give me a trickier question next time, please? I’ll do my best to put out my personal approach to this question and leave it up to you whether I have said anything worthwhile. (But let me first reveal my bias toward slightly more assertive behavior only because in my forty years I have seen, repeatedly, how those who speak out, ask questions, and tell the truth, stay in touch with themselves and ultimately have a more satisfying journey toward their dreams.) It is never easy to be assertive, but it offers a real kick for your health...

Remember, assertiveness or bitchiness is always in the eye of the beholder, not the speaker. That means that depending on what someone’s got at stake in any given matter, a comment heard simultaneously by two people may be seem bitchy by one and fabulously assertive by the other. For instance, if your boss needs someone to message up about problems at work, he may appreciate an outspoken approach that combines preparedness and knowledge of business issues. If a colleague in the same meeting, however, feels threatened by you and your sharp mind and/or ability to speak up, you will have a hard time convincing her that you
aren’t a bitch no matter what you say at the meeting.

Bottom line: in any given scenario, some will find you bitchy and some will find you effective. And that is why the issue at hand is not whether you are bitchy or assertive, but how you feel about your behavior, moment to moment. The woman in the example above is feeling self-assured, and prepared, so she speaks up. As long as she
isn’t tromping on others’ rights and condemning her peers, she will, over time, become a valued team player. If, on the other hand, she is often working in an isolated manner, and appears repeatedly as a self-serving person, her peers and ultimately management will tell her fate.

At a very young age we women are conditioned into receiving (and asking) for cues from others in order to behave appropriately. Do you like me? Am I pretty? Am I
lovable? These are the common questions of young girls … young ladies … and, unfortunately, older women as well.

But if we are on a satisfactory path, a key shift in our development may come sometime between thirty and fifty. This shift will land the authority for our behavior within us, not outside of us, so that when we act or speak, we are more fully in charge of the intentions we carry.

A quick glance around any office may reveal a key difference between women who are powerful and women who are bitches. What is the difference? Assertive, effective women are generally fair, consistent, and knowledgeable, and they exhibit compassion for others even when the other is an adversary.

Effective women have authority over themselves and try to keep the focus on business or personal goals. They conduct their affairs transparently, saving certain topics for appropriate settings. Women who are assertive do not talk about others maliciously, and usually hold themselves to a very high standard of conduct. That said, somehow the most effective women I know are also: fun, creative, and terrific mentors.

In closing, assertive women
aren’t perfect; but they do know themselves well enough to know when they have behaved like a bitch. And then they do what is most effective: apologize and commit to doing better next time.


November, softly


I feel timid lately
In between and vague
Perhaps it is that change in weather
Or daylight's slower tempo.
November brings a change in heart
Reminding me that this season
Always lasts through winter.



Forgiveness feels better

Pack up the Halloween costume and before the candy is eaten, we are organizing pies and borrowing chairs from neighbors to accommodate extra guests crashing the Thanksgiving party.

That's if you're lucky!

In the unwritten American family story -- the story that started with the Mayflower -- Thanksgiving kicks off the eye-rolling season. The grudge parade gets going, and before you know it, assorted old roles and disappointments end up featured in the weekend celebration as prominently as a decorative cornucopia centerpiece.

Whatever the rub (and I don't mean the rosemary and sage herb rub on the turkey's back) I mean the pain on your plate, you need a plan. This season I won't be stuffing the pain, or passing it on a serving platter to others. This season I am going to try something else: Forgiveness.

But what is forgiveness? According to Psych Central,

Forgiveness is letting go of the need for revenge and releasing negative thoughts of bitterness and resentment. ... Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves.

What forgiveness is not:
  • Forgiveness is not forgetting or pretending it didn’t happen.
  • Forgiveness is not excusing. (We excuse a person who is not to blame. We forgive because a wrong was committed.)
  • Forgiveness is not reconciliation. (We have to make a separate decision about whether to reconcile with the person we are forgiving or whether to maintain our distance.)
While forgiveness can be difficult, holding onto grudges allows more stress to take root in your body. But let's be real: Anyone who's ever held a grudge knows that grudges come in pretty handy.

In fact, I notice that grudges allow me to hide from the strong feelings of fear and uncertainty that true forgiveness brings. Sort of like ... If I really let this (her/him/it) go, then what? What does that really mean? Who will I blame? How will this redefine me?

I know forgiveness feels better but ... sometimes it is harder ;-)


Wii love to play together

Last night we joined the ranks of 2-TV families. This was a big step for me as I am pretty stingy with screen time and feel that TVs, like bathrooms, should be shared during one's early years.

There were two forces behind the big acquisition:
  • The au pair doesn't like the same TV shows as her host parents
  • The kids are dying to play the Wii at home, instead of at their friends' houses all the time
Home should be fun, no doubt. My challenge is determining exactly how much fun home should be. I expect I'll be writing more about this in the future. ...


When the spirit moves you

I haven't gone to church in a while. That's unusual for me. I like church, even while I dislike some of the politics, the crowd, or the sense of righteousness that often accompanies churchgoing in general.

I grew up going to Catholic mass. (Now, when I attend, it is an Episcopal service I attend.) As a child, we usually hit folk mass. I loved singing along. I also loved spotting Mr.Jr.Crush with his family in a nearby row. I had a terrible crush on him and folk mass was my special occasion to feel closer to him. Dad would stop and pick up donuts after church, so a sweet sugar high was the perfect ending to the morning.

I couldn't tell you much about my spiritual education as a child, just that I was taught that there was "right" and "wrong," that I should resist evil, and that I loved wearing white for my First Holy Communion. My mother made my beautiful dress for that day. My father bought my corsage. My Godmother chose the cross I wore. I felt holy and lovely and part of things greater than my small, awkward life.

Never superior or chosen, just part of things greater than myself.

Church these days feels a bit more complicated, of course. Still, I am drawn to sermons, to music and to light. While at times I am cynical, I still have faith that we are part of something greater than our small lives. The majesty of it all.


When a woman sets her mind to something ...

I'm impressed when I meet a women who has put her mind to building a professional life that suits her mothering style and is starting to see some benefit to that effort. Usually, I am impressed because before she sees any upside, she's had to wrestle with self doubt, change, and uncertainty for a good long while long enough to cause her to wonder whether she is on the right path.

There are so many angles to consider on this topic — financial concerns, childcare concerns, parenting preferences, spousal support, field of interest — that it is difficult even to showcase a few success stories in this blog without realizing that you've over simplified the issue and need to
give space to at-home moms that inspire too.

So, why not together get a link list of women who have set their minds to something. It could be a business or a personal goal. It could be anything that inspires! How about you? Are you wanting to put your mind to something? Use the comments to send it in ... I'll get us started:

There is a women at work who is mother to three adult children. One of these children, a daughter, has serious special needs that demand a lot from her. She has a son in Iraq, her second daughter moving home with an infant, and a full time job in accounts payable. She inspires me because she is full of life and laughter in spite (or because) of the complexity of her life. She is also a wonderful cook and shares delicious baked goods with our office frequently.
Click on comments form to contribute your "When a woman sets her mind to something ..." inspiration:



A poem for sunrise after America elects a new President

Promises, promises
The hope arrives
Turning again
Our American eyes ...

Rising up
Our cycle anew
Waking the people
Along with you

Peace and patience
Stay at our side
The incline is steep
The water so wide

Let us pause for this moment
While the day breaks on
Acknowledging that in nature
Power lives beyond

This single moment
In pursuit of tomorrow
Enduring bad weather
Transforming great sorrow

- Coco


Now, to act: Cast your vote

Historic day. Much has been said ...

For anyone nostalgic about the years leading up to Election Day, take a quick spin through Brooks' selects from Campaign 2008. You''ll recognize Elizabeth, Hillary, Huckabee, Michelle, Barack, John, Joe, Sarah, Mitt and more!


The trouble with sugar and carbs

This always happens: A day or two after Halloween I want my family off sugar. It's not that we are gorging on Halloween candy, or that we have lots of cakes around the house. It is that our energy is too high for the activity levels we keep this time of year, with the cooler temperatures and the shorter days curbing our enthusiasm for the outdoors.

You know it is the truth when I say that sugar lives to turn up the volume — to amp up the energy level in the body. So, if I am giving my kids sugar but not giving them ample opportunity to dash around and burn that energy off, I am subjecting myself to drama in the house.

Both of my kids are reactive to food. Minutes after eating French Toast or Pancakes (with true maple syrup), they will become highly aroused, impulsive, jumpy. (We've stopped preparing these foods for breakfast because the fistacuffs and noise levels became unbearable.) When I served milk and bacon along with the pancakes I noticed the problem was slightly less pronounced. The protein slowed the reactions down but the meal still wasn't creating a true balance in the body.

A better solution (and I'll be putting it into play this week) is to organize a few more whole foods for the morning. A wonderful hot morning food without sugar is popovers. My friend Eliza turned me onto them a long time ago and we just love them fresh out of the oven.

Other good ideas are homemade granola, nuts, Smart Bars. I might even get the Irish oatmeal going on the stovetop. Oh, and I can't forget that Kefir drinks also help create a soothing balance.

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Fun at the farm

Fresh air, the mysterious night ...
Pumpkins aglow ... everything
Just right!


Halloween hangover

A glam "Pumpkin Spice"

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Kids to mom: You don't get it!

Yesterday my children sent me a message that I am not "getting" it.

When I told them that I e-mailed a couple of friends from our neighborhood to trick-or-treat with us today, they both became visibly frustrated. "You didn't ask us who we wanted to go with," and "I don't want to go with anyone else, just us!" were their remarks. There were tears too.

I did a little of the, "Oh, c'mon, we're all friends. This will be fine," but it didn't work. They were adamant that I should have consulted them before arranging a plan. It was a tense moment.

I have learned that the only response in these moments (oh, and we were in the car) is to back off and listen. The problem for me was that while I understood their points, I was dreading making any change to the plan because that meant I would have to go back to the friends and share the story or some mock version of the story with them. Fallout unpleasant.

But that's what I had to do. Here's the message I wrote:

Hi everyone - Sorry, but my kids were really mad at me this afternoon and they really want to trick or treat alone. I hope you'll all gather and that we'll "run into" you. But, I have to back out. It's more complicated than I knew. Sorry.

We'll see what I learn today. I imagine this lesson will come up again.


Feeling uncertain is better than feeling afraid

The economy is very tight. There is no doubt about it: We're in a recession and have been for a while. Here come more layoffs ... a decision in an election that has lasted more than 2 years (and cost obscene amounts of time and money) ... the crowded schools ... the cuts to social services. The list multiplies.

For what it is worth, my response is to bow down and face the reckoning. Spending up may have been "entertaining" but most agree that living simply and within one's means is the better plan for individuals and the country.

So, instead of getting scared about what's to come, I try to remind myself, "Where have I been excessive?" and "Where have I remained in balance?" Usually there is equity in that inquiry.

And feeling uncertain is healthier than feeling afraid.


Mom is the superhero this Halloween

I was surfing the Internet for Halloween tips and tricks this morning. I was sort of bored, I admit. Ho-hum, "safe pumpkin carving tips" and "homemade costume patterns" read the search results page. Then I found something so moving that it gave me the shivers. I have to share it here with you!

Please read it and pass it around to any mother or father fighting a superhero's battle on behalf of a child. Pass it on to anyone who needs a fresh take on Halloween:

Boo! Hoo! [Halloween for Kids With Special Needs] by Lori Miller Fox

Every year as Halloween approaches, I battle mixed feelings. For my “typically developing” daughter, it’s a day second only to her birthday. It’s a day when she can be a princess both inside and out, gather all the candy she and her dad can carry, and eat until she can’t fit one more Skittle or piece of Reese's into her tiny mouth. For me, it’s a day when I too want to fit every piece of Reese's into my mouth but only to swallow the pain.

Halloween, has always been a symbol of childhood. It’s a day when children can be children and live out their costume and candy fantasies. But for kids with special needs and their families, it can be a day of segregation, isolation and frustration.

Since many children with special needs can’t or have to limit their intake of candy, my son’s only enjoyment on Halloween was ringing the doorbells--a task, which in a wheelchair, was made very difficult by steps and stoops and shrubs and stares. So many unfamiliar “neighbors” tried to relieve their shock and saddness by dumping handfuls of candy my son would never eat into a bag that he couldn’t hold. But then again, more for the grieving parents.

Now that my son is 14, I thankfully no longer have to worry about what kind of costume goes with a wheelchair, and I can avoid the painful “elementary school parade” for which upright posture was the only thing to be grateful. And I can mindlessly answer the door and force a smile on my face as I pass out the Hershey bars.

Today as I look back on my Annual Autumn anxiety, I realize that as parents of children with special needs, we’re often the ones having to wear the costumes. And not only on Halloween, but every day. From the smiles we paint on our faces to the stiff upper lips we rubber cement onto our chins. As our children grow, we become the people they need us to be, to enable them to be who they are.

We become superheroes...fighting for our children’s rights.
Lions and lionesses...protecting our defenseless cubs.
And cartoon characters...getting the proverbial anvil dropped on our heads only to rise the next day and start all over again.

We morph into oak trees...solid, not budging from our positions.
Wizards...looking for the universal magic wand to manifest the impossible.
And knights in armor...battling the unjust judgments and criticisms of those around us.

We can appear to be aliens...with families unlike most of our neighbors.
Great explorers...yearning to find answers to questions ony parents would ask.
And founding fathers...striving to create something better for our children.

We are athletes...still reaching when nothing is within reach.
Builders...laying down strong foundations for our children’s lives.
And circus clowns...trying desperately to find the humor in it all.

We are survivors...we are innovators...we are the champions for our children who are the greatest champions of all. Have a happy Halloween. Eat some candy!

Read this post on the Special Ed Law Blog


Coco's weekly meal plan: Kid tested

When I returned to work a year ago I quickly realized that "creating" dinner the way I used to was unsustainable. My kids were tired, I was tired, homework and showers needed to happen, evening activities were calling. I couldn't just dash out for a few ingredients. It was too much. That's when I started to research meal plans and had a "come-to-Jesus" moment with myself about overdoing simple weekday meals to my detriment.

It wasn't a surprise that I was called to reckon my love for interesting, spontaneous cooking with fresh market ingredients, and my need to be an effective family manager and plan in advance. I had had years of training as a cook. First, at various catering companies in the Hamptons, where Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa was the standard, then later at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, in Cambridge, Massachusetts where the repertoire was a bit more corporate. I also had plenty of "free" time (although it never felt that way at the time, I see it now).

I wouldn't be telling you the whole truth if I told you that adapting and sticking with a meal plan was simple for me and my family. We're seriously unconventional in many ways and the meal plan felt like another suburbanization of my life. I didn't want to let go of my first love! But through trial and error, I was able to put together a routine in the family kitchen that continues to support us. It feels balanced, healthy and simple, with enough room for accommodation for independent likes and dislikes to satisfy most of us, most of the time. Here's my boiled-down version:

Monday - Hot Potato night
Hot locally grown baked potatoes
Toppings (some of the favorites include shredded cheese, unsalted butter, scallions, chili, green veggies, salt & pepper, sour cream, etc.)
Something fresh like salad or a veggie plate
Dessert is optional (usually fruit)

Tuesday - "Taco" night
Hot jasmine or brown rice
Browned turkey breast seasoned w/ Taco spices
Served in a bowl, burrito or taco
Toppings: lettuce, avocado or guacamole, salsa
Big salad or fresh fruit plate
Dessert is optional

Wednesday - Pasta night!
Hot pasta - fresh or dry
Bottled or homemade sauce, or garlic/butter/oil
Garlic bread (homemade or store bought)
Salad with a cheesy dressing
Dessert is optional

Thursday - Take a break!
Take-out night
Budget healthy take-out
(This is the night that is the least nutritious, BTW)
Dessert is optional

Friday - Turn up the spice for the weekend!
Hot roasted Bell & Evans chicken or fish seasoned w/ curry or other spices
Cooked veggie medley
Something for dessert!
Eat in the dining room. Light a candle or two!

Weekends are more freestyle and usually include lunch:
Inventive and spontaneous (with or w/out the kids)
Eat in the dining room

Sunday - Whiffle ball night
SIMPLE Picnic or pizza for whiffle ball in the park
(This will change soon, when the season is over)

At each meal, the kids have a choice of:
2% milk, water, cider, sparkling
Adults might have:
sparkling, wine, beer, water

Kefir drinks or yogurt
Graham crackers in milk, eaten with a spoon
Chocolate pudding from KoziShack
A homemade dessert


Underwater explorer wins TED prize

“We’ve got to somehow stabilize our connection to nature so that in 50 years from now, 500 years, 5,000 years from now there will still be a wild system and respect for what it takes to sustain us.”

Sylvia Earle, called “Her Deepness” by the New Yorker and the New York Times, “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress, and “Hero for the Planet” by Time, is an oceanographer, explorer, author, and lecturer with a deep commitment to research through personal exploration.

Earle’s work has been at the frontier of deep ocean exploration for four decades. Earle has led more than 50 expeditions worldwide involving more than 6,000 hours underwater. As captain of the first all-female team to live underwater, she and her fellow scientists received a ticker-tape parade and White House reception upon their return to the surface. In 1979, Sylvia Earle walked untethered on the sea floor at a lower depth than any other woman before or since. ... At present she is explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society.

Read more about Sylvia and the other TED Prize winners

Contemplating the depths of the ocean early on a Sunday morning:

Ocean Area (square miles) Average Depth (ft) Deepest depth (ft)
Pacific Ocean 64,186,000 15,215
Mariana Trench, 36,200

Atlantic Ocean 33,420,000 12,881
Puerto Rico Trench, 28,231

Indian Ocean 28,350,000 13,002
Java Trench, 25,344

Southern Ocean 7,848,300 13,100 - 16,400

Southern South Sandwich Trench, 23,736

Arctic Ocean 5,106,000 3,953
Eurasia Basin, 17,881 ft deep

Source for chart: Enchanted learning


Road trip: New York

After work on Thursday I packed up the kids and Au Pair 2.0 (she's lovely, btw) for a much-needed road trip north to The Big Apple.

New York wakes me up. I could hardly sleep the first night. I was thinking about new colleagues, family and friends that still live in and around the city, and all the terrific food and music to be enjoyed.

Photo: Brooklyn Bridge (The view near offices of company 2.0)


Child care meets 19-year-old heartache

This post was written for Jeff Shattuck who noticed just how quiet I had been about the au pair and pinged me several times to spill it. Here's the update:

We said goodbye to the au pair yesterday. I know, big shocker. She's home in Germany by now, reunited with her first true love, a soon-to-be-19-year-old German boy who wants to become a police officer.

I was onto her broken heart immediately. I was concerned and not quite sure how to play it with her since we had little trust established between us and these conversations require great delicacy. We had a couple of "talks" and a couple of, "let's make this work" conversations but I could tell in her bones that she needed to get home, and fast.

Which turned out to be a bit of an inconvenience since it is campaign season and the whole reason I sought live in help was so that I had another set of hands around here ... Instead, I had another project.

I was naive. I held out hope that we could work this out. In fact, I wondered more than once about her motivation in coming to America in the first place. I had a theory that the reason she travelled so far away in the first place was because she wanted to grow, to spread her wings a bit. Not settle down at 19. But now I'll never know for sure.

The kids were really sad about what happened with the au pair. It confused them and they felt responsible for her grief. There wasn't any laughter or arts and crafts. No smiles. In the end she wept at breakfast, avoided us at night, and slept for hours and hours. She had a bad, bad case of the blues, which, I imagine, will take a long time to reconcile once she is home.

In an odd way, this experience has helped me gain some insight into young love: 19-year-old-heartache can literally claim your soul.
I'm glad she'll be home with her mom and boyfriend soon. Love needs room -- and its own language -- when it is so young and tender. We wish her the best as we hold a piece of her heart here.


Heading to the farm

We grew up picking our own berries, pumpkins, peaches and apples at a farm about twenty minutes from home. It would be dishonest to say that as a child I enjoyed picking fruit. I really didn't. But an orchard under the hot summer sun was a wide open invitation to explore my mischievous side.

Out at the orchard my brother and I quietly gathered our stores of mushy fruit, usually peaches or apples. Then we'd wander off to an area of the orchard where we could take turns lobbing the fruit over the trees at each other and laugh hysterically. Inevitably, the game ended with some kind of injury -- emotional or otherwise -- at which point we would wander back to the fold and help pick the fruit.

Back at home mom turned the bounty into jam most years. Sometimes it turned out a bit runny so we poured it over vanilla ice cream. Other years it was just right. There were always pies too. Delicious peach pie for the family and all the neighbors (even if they didn't want one).

A lot has changed on small farms in just one generation. The simple dirt roads of childhood are now grand parking lots with "attractions" mounted by season. Strawberry shortcake in June, buttered corn-on-the-cob in July, apple cobbler in the autumn. Often there is a petting zoo and a snack bar ... so no one ever needs to be without.

Cow sculpture on farm in NY, 2007 / C. Kraft photo

It's alright, all these changes. Getting people out from the city to the farm is the name of the game. The more children connect to the fun of the farm the greater our chances of creating a child who understands where food comes from and why it is important to health, to prosperity, to America.

A trip to the farm is always a good investment in a child, even if it brings out a mischievous side.


Coco's yoga pose

I have been so full of bull lately ... Between managing the daily machine, going through transitions at work, training the au pair, intervening with the school principal and "accepting" the financial crisis while we hustle my husband through his busiest time (election season), I feel like my life is one big compromise. One giant yoga pose.

I feel the urge for a major "Me First" pose coming. Something like horizontal, face down in a pillow ... hold for 700,000,000,000 dollars, I mean seconds.

But that's just not me. I can't do it. I keep believing that we'll get through these tough times and that balance will be restored. What is the difference between denial and maturity anyway?


Random musings on social media

Social media blurs the conventions many of us grew up with. Who are all these folks we connect with daily? Are they friends? Or just followers? Are they teaching us? Helping us get jobs? Inspiring good works? Or just scaling our lives upwards? After months on Twitter, I'm wondering:

When someone in my blood family is hurting, will blogging or Twittering or e-mailing my pain convey my concern adequately? Will it actually generate compassion for me and the ailing relative?

Me thinks no . . .

So, should my response to a family member's pain be conveyed differently from my response to a blogger in Idaho's pain?

Me thinks yes.

But, what if the only medium I know how to use is the 140 character text string? Is that adequate? Will the format truly allow me to convey the broadness of empathy? Or the fragility of uncertainty?

Or does the compression of the message demand that I convey certainty and authority regardless of the context?

Will snarky comments and Tiny URLS take over the crafting of an elegant personal note or the grace of bearing an awkward silence for a friend enduring a terrible loss, a sick child, or a frightening diagnosis?

Who knows what the future of personal expression will look like. My hope is that it will be adequate to express the complete poetry of our souls.


Old friends rock

I so love my old friends. I just wish we could live a bit closer in proximity.

I am old fashioned, so I always believed we would pop into each others' houses/apartments for a cup of coffee, and have an easier time checking out our kids' Halloween costumes, piano recitals, and other big developmental leaps ...

That's someone else's movie as it turns out.

But my movie isn't so bad. I am always comforted to rediscover every year how with just one visit and 2-3 phone calls a year, my oldest friends help me become my best self. They ask me to let go of the stuff that's outdated - the energy drains that just don't serve me anymore (even when I haven't noticed that yet). They also notice what I have (and have not) made of myself. They are patient and encourage me to stay on my path.

In the years when I feel like my life is a bit stalled or that I am losing something I held dear, upon reconnecting with a treasured friend, I sense that I've been touched - no, nourished. My soul is a bit more complete.


Weather delays mom, not her son

While I got turned around with a cancelled flight, my son brushed up his skimboard skills. Wonder if he'll get the 360 this summer . . . Last year two kids (10 and 14) from SF shared their tips and tricks with him . . . Bet he's hoping they show up soon!


Friend me, follow me, humble me

Can a friendship originate with a click of the mouse? A decision to "Follow?" Yesterday, I received a Tweet from someone I follow on Twitter exclaiming:
Just cracked 4,000 followers! On my way to the Top 100 Twitter list...
My reaction: Unfollow . . . Immediately.
But a few days earlier, someone I follow Tweeted:

Golf is done. A little rough but had fun. Heading back home to fire up the gumbo chill the stella
My reaction: Follow with interest


Getting things done (GTD)

I found this post on Arif & Ali's blog while exploring Guy Kawasaki's, Getting things done index on Alltop. Even though I don't think these guys are talking about issues we deal with as parents, or as mothers, specifically, check it out for some practical solutions that could be very useful for Back-to-school season:

Why Some People Always are so Efficient, Yet Relaxed at the Same time . It’s because of Rules. We had them as School kids, there are Rules at office, then then there are traffic Rules. Rules Rules Rules everywhere. Who needs ‘em, Wouldn’t it be better if we just got rid of them? No, you know that it wouldn’t be. And that’s because, it’s these Rules that are in place to provide us with the freedom to do what we can, within limits . . . Read post


Small town toy store

I stopped in Portsmouth, New Hampshire last weekend, on our way up north to Damariscotta, Maine to collect our daughter from camp. Not only is there a great set of coffee shops and galleries in downtown Portsmouth, there are no fewer than 3 FABULOUS toy stores within walking distance. That's a sign of a healthy town . . .

What's more is that we could stroll and browse in and out of these great toy stores with our son, while catching pretty glimpses of the seacoast, historic architecture, and a working tug boat yard.

Let's just say that
I fell back in love with the notion of the small, livable village on the seaside.

Romantic? Yes, most definitely. But smaller scale, walkable villages are also modern, sustainable, and perhaps even better for your health.

P.S. Tugboats are cool


Edit yourself: Use this cheap writing coach

Need a clue about how you sound? Wanna know what kind of impression you make on the meta level? Try Wordle. When you put your URL into its processor, it spits back a visual of the topics you cover . . . Handy, no? Tells me I need to cut down on "cancer" and "news." Thanks to Craig Stolz for tipping me off to Wordle.


Fat Summer - another look

Obesity was in the news a lot last summer. This post takes a fresh look at obesity ... it is one of my personal favorites:

Fat Summer


One of the world's best elders turns 90 soon

Nelson Mandela is one of the most inspiring individuals my generation has had the privilege of encountering. Although he retired from public life nearly a decade ago, and experiences some trouble getting around now, his message to a London crowd gathered to celebrate his upcoming 90th birthday is as fresh and relevant as ever:

"Where human beings are being oppressed, there is more work to be done. Our work is for freedom for all."

"It is time for new hands to lift the burdens. It is in your hands now. I thank you," added Mandela.

If you are a fan of leadership study, you won't want to miss Rick Stengel's piece in the July 21, 2008 issue of Time Magazine. He has written a wonderful short profile, Mandela: His 8 Lessons of Leadership in honor of Mandela's birthday.

While many of the "leadership lessons" will sound familiar, such as, Keep your friends close - and your enemies even closer, each one is, like Mandela himself, a timeless reminder to continue "the struggle."


Communicating with doctors: Practice when you're healthy!

This morning's news feeds brought my attention to 2 important stories:

Men not told of severity of wife's cancer

Breast-conserving surgery leaves many cancer patients disappointed

Both of these stories reflect the same core issue: that we (men and women) are not empowered to seek ample information from care providers. So, what to do?

First, practice how to communicate with your care provider when it isn't urgent. That way, when you are in an urgent situation, you are prepared to seek the information you need.

After that, keep practicing until you have established trustworthy communication with a doctor or nurse. Why is that so hard for so many of us?

If you are a woman with breast cancer, or you love someone with breast cancer, do your best to educate yourself about breast-conserving surgery vs. mastectomy (with or without reconstruction). Find pictures of options online. It is important to get help understanding surgical outcomes, asymmetry, scar tissue, etc., and finding your own comfort within the necessary trade-offs. (Easier said than done when staring down a cancer diagnosis, I realize . . .)

Likewise, before a husband can readily "hear" a loved one's terminal cancer diagnosis, he has to practice "hearing" about menopause and other basic women's issues.

Guys, consider it good practice to contemplate your wife's vulnerability while she is healthy. Remember: practice, not perfection, is the name of the game.

And, just in case anyone needs this helpful piece from Y-me?, here are 10 ways of being there for your wife when she cancer. . .


ROLL with it - I promise, you can!

Tonight's post is just a short little ditty on the power of perseverance and will:

... Not the old-fashioned pushing that looks like repression and forcing, but the new kind of gentle touch that truly seems to express, "Hey, let's play, let the chips fall as they may; I am doing the best I can and I will thrive through this challenge."

Sound like B.S. to you?

I'm too young to convince you that it isn't total B.S. But what I can do is let you know that I try to practice this approach daily, especially through the REALLY TOUGH STUFF - like when you feel like you are literally growing brain cells to cope with the complexity of the things you never expected would land on your plate.

Try it. Roll with it like those boys in the picture above. Give yourself the words, "Even though __________ is happening, I continue to work toward ____________ with a joyful heart. You'll contact the self-awareness and power that are available to all ...


Sailboat celebration

Rare SS class sailboat celebration this weekend:

The 1924 SS class sailboat plies the waters in the East Passage.
The SS class sloop from the east end of Long Island, New York will be commemorated this weekend in honor of its 100th anniversary. Designed in 1908 and built over the course of many years, the SS class is the oldest continually active racing class in North America.

The photo and description below comes from the Jamestown Press.

There are eight different kinds of wood in the boat including a white oak duck's head tiller that was hand carved by Ansel Tuthill in 1938, when he was 20 years old. The frames or ribs are made of hackmatac - a deciduous conifer similar to larch. In order to have the grain run straight through a curve, stumps were dug up and laboriously hand sawn into slices. The pattern was then traced onto a spot where the root was turning, and carved to shape.

SS59 is planked with Atlantic white cedar, and decked with western red cedar- the centerboard trunk, centerboard, and rudder are cypress, while the spars are all made of old growth Douglas fir.


Postcard from Maine

My friend from Loulies.com sent me a postcard:

Hey Coco,
Just returned from wall-e with Emmett and Chris. Very good. Spent yesterday getting Gus up to Maine. A mini-vacation. Left at 7 am. Drove through Brunswick for a Lobster Roll from the Brunswick Diner. Arrived in Belgrade Lakes. Made Gus' bed. Toured the island for
posterity sake and to refresh my own soul of where I was leaving my boy for the whole summer. Got caught in a thunderstorm. Drove down to Georgetown
Maine to sit at the end of the wharf looking out at the five islands that surround our favorite lobster pound. Enjoyed steamers, corn on the cob and a two-and-a-half pounder. Headed for Portland, then Scarborough Beach to get my feet wet. Took the 9:45 flight home. All in a day. An emotional one (but not really). He will be so happy not to be nagged and told to brush his teeth and eat with his mouth closed. I will miss him but he is so LUCKY.

XO - B


Camp for girls

Yesterday we received photos of our daughter at camp. In one picture she held a bow and arrow extended gracefully and with good beginner's form. I thought to myself, "Lucky! She is so lucky to have this opportunity!"

But then I wondered what SHE was thinking.

In another picture I saw a smile on her sweet face ... but she wasn't completely relaxed; there was a restricted line across the brow. I felt like she was putting the "I am doing camp" look out.

That made me wonder whether she would ever say "Lucky!" if asked how she felt about sleeping away from home for 3 weeks ...

Isn't that the trick about parenting: so called "good experiences" and things that feel good to your child are not always in sync.

The house is quiet. My son is talking so much more with his sister gone, but still it's quiet. I wonder what they are having for breakfast this morning ...


It was beautiful ... now to say farewell

Today I have good reason to type out what's on my mind: two wonderful friends are moving forward into new adventures.

I thought I'd say farewell to them in pictures, with images I shot last weekend on Long Island:



It was a rare beauty we explored together ...

Edges of inlet, Southold


Thanks for bringing life to the dry patches ...

Succulents, Montauk


And more thanks for those daily "ding" repairs you provided ...

"Ding Repair" sign in Ditch Plains, Montauk


Some things just won't be the same without you ...

East Hampton


But, since you must go, take the broad and clear view with you ...

Cliffs, Southold

... Remember to keep your focus adjusting

Wildflowers, Montauk


As your beautiful new day dawns ....

Sunrise, Peconic


So long, farewell. We will miss you ...

Two daisies, Montauk Point