read * hear * say * see * eat

read * hear * say * see * eat - heirloom mothering
Part of this article, “10 Simple Words Every Girl Should Learn”

My days of moving and cleaning involve little reading but much listening, so I hope you’ll enjoy some links to interesting podcasts I’ve been into lately.

Read

Hear

  • Snap Judgment has shot to the top of my excitement chart when I log in to download new podcast episodes; I’ve been pondering this short story, Miniature Wife, for weeks
  • On Being is an excellent podcast; recently Krista Tippett interviewed Maria Popova, the creative genius behind Brain Pickings
  • The Longest Shortest Time, a podcast about parenting, is growing on me; try their recent episode, 65 Women and a Baby
  • Design Matters with Debbie Millman is another long-running show I’ve only recently learned about; her interview last year with Dani Shapiro left me jotting many notes on my pad
  • Dear Sugar Episode 12: The Wounded Child Within was one of my favorites so far
  • Two difficult but important interviews with the same writer, Barry Estabrook, who just published a book called Pig Tales about how pigs are treated in America. I recommend listening to both interviews: Fresh Air and Splendid Table
  • Another reason to look forward to moving to Atlanta is to sign up for a paper (yes, paper) newsletter featuring worthy restaurants; it is created by a French woman, who was interviewed for an episode of Gravy, the Southern Foodways Alliance podcast
  • The One You Feed podcast featured an interview with Carol Dweck, a psychologist whose work I’ve been following since I read NurtureShock, about the growth versus fixed mindset.

See

Eat

cutting teeth

When life gets busy, I decide to do things that are unimportant. I’m sure my behavior proves something that Gretchen Rubin would love to analyze, but let’s get back to that later (and I still want to talk to you eventually about her new book!).

Last week’s unimportant thing was actually quite delicious—read: smitten kitchen’s key lime pie—which I happily discovered was extra delicious when atop yogurt and granola for breakfast. My discovery got me thinking—when we open our bed and breakfast some day, we should definitely serve key lime pie with yogurt and granola. So in this case, I suppose you could say my unimportant project turned out to be more important than I originally thought. Redeemed! Plus, pie.

But this week, oh, this week. Let me tell you the very unimportant things I elected to do with my time. First, I organized all the Twitter accounts I follow into lists. In case you don’t use Twitter, you should know that no one is ever going to note or appreciate I did this, nor will I probably ever use the lists I made. But then, THEN, I decided to go back to my old blog and delete some posts that were boring or otherwise not worthy of saving for posterity. I don’t know what to tell you about these activities except getting ready to move brings out odd parts of my personality.

What I can tell you is that while I was on my old blog, I came across a photo of myself that made my eyes go cartoon-buggy. It was of Nate and me, taken in Sweden in 2006, and what I could not stop looking at was my face. It was so different! Now, I would have told you I knew I had aged in the past ten years, but damn. I suppose what future me would probably say to present me about past me to make me feel better is that over the last decade, I have learned useful life skills, am more at peace with myself than I was then, am more productive as a human being, and have stronger relationships and all that. Which is true. But still, my face!

DSC00406
Not that it will mean as much to you to see it, but if I were you, I would probably want to see the picture. We were babies!

Pondering my face changing over time reminds me of something else that’s been on my mind lately. Right before Vivi turned five, she lost her first tooth. Granted, it was a long time coming and happened earlier than usual because of an injury to it, but that experience must have burned in my brain that turning five equals teeth falling out. Charlie will turn five this summer, and of all the changes that have happened lately or I am anticipating will happen soon (the haircuts, kindergarten, gigantic puppy-sized feet, etc.), the change I’m looking forward to least in Charlie is the arrival of big teeth. Perhaps it’s because she’s had these cute little teeth since she was a baby, but losing teeth is the most literal shedding of babyhood I can imagine.

Putting aside my truly awful childhood haircuts for a second (but really, let’s also get back to those at a later date), have a look at the two photos below so you can get an idea of what I’m talking about.

Me_1984
c. 1984. Dimple!
Me_1987
c. 1987. I look like I am wearing chiclets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know, I know. We don’t have to say any more on this topic. But if you see me posting more pictures than a sane human should of their daughter’s mouth, now you’ll at least know why.

IMG_2557

It was after I typed the above title for this post that I recalled a few friends recommending a book with the same title, which I must have stowed away for safe keeping in my brain until now. Here’s part of the synopsis from Amazon:

Cutting Teeth is about the complex dilemmas of early midlife—the vicissitudes of friendship, of romantic and familial love, and of sex. It’s about class tension, status hunger, and the unease of being in possession of life’s greatest bounty while still wondering, is this as good as it gets?

Oh boy. I plan to buy that book soon because that just about says it all, and so much better than I could if I continued rambling on. I don’t wonder if this is as good as it gets because I know it is, and it’s always been enough for me, but I do think moving to a new city sparks a sense of unease. Or maybe unease sparks a move to a new city. Hmm. I wish I had a way to wrap this post up with a tidy ending, but the best I can do for you is say that if you’re going through complex dilemmas of early midlife, why don’t you come sit over here by me and soothe your gums with a glass of whiskey? Cutting teeth is a bitch.

there is still love “After This”: a book review

A note to local Boston readers: Claire Bidwell Smith will be at Brookline Booksmith to talk about her book tonight at 7pm. According to the website, the event is free and open to the public.

It is easier for me to discuss Monty Python than suffering. I know this because when I am suffering and a friend asks me how I am doing, I respond, “I’m not dead yet!”, in my best fake British accent. I often relieve unwanted tension this way, matching a situation with a corresponding Monty Python skit, like a strange tic.

In After This: When Life is Over, Where Do We Go?, Claire Bidwell Smith holds up a mirror to our awkward responses to suffering and death, “…marveling at how much effort we, as a culture, put forth into welcoming a person into the world, and how much we shrink from helping them leave.” I am a birth doula focused on welcoming new life into this world. But the longer I work in this field, the more connected I feel to helping the living depart, and it was this desire that brought me to Smith’s book.

Smith’s lyrical prose is breathtaking and bittersweet, demonstrating a rare Monty Python-esque capacity for bringing to light the truth behind the seemingly absurd, and vice versa. Having lost both her parents by the age of 25, and two of her close friends to illness, her struggles—and her expertise as a grief therapist—lend credibility to her insights about grief and the afterlife.

I read an advanced review copy of After This a few months ago. In the days since, I have spent more time staring off in space than I can recall since adolescence. Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote in his introduction to Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, “If a book has one passage with the power to change a person’s life, it should be read and reread.” As my many highlighted passages can attest, After This deserves some quality rereading time.

“There’s a pathway to life enhancement that comes with thinking about death,” Smith tells us. Her permission to ponder death and to dwell on it—even consider it a positive thing—has been a revelatory gift to me. The sublime truth, after all, is that death is a part of life; perhaps Viktor Frankl was right that it is how we handle our response to this fact that dictates the meaning we derive and our capacity to cope with suffering. The topic of the afterlife tends to lean on sentimentality, but Smith pulls off a tone of hope without cliché, neither promising answers nor assuring us that everything happens for a reason. Instead, she offers a gentle, persistent reminder that ignoring the inevitability of loss doesn’t make it any less inevitable.

Smith visits psychic mediums as part of her attempt to grasp the concept of an afterlife. An avid follower of hers on Instagram since I read her excellent memoir, The Rules of Inheritance, I’ve been excited to read about her experiences with mediums ever since I first saw her photos of days spent in Cassadaga, Florida—a community of psychics and Spanish moss. In the book, I find some of the passages about mediums difficult to swallow. But Smith is a clever writer, encouraging thinking from all angles on the subject and offering up her own hesitation early on: “In my mind, [visiting a medium] seems to be a choice that must be born out of desperation.” (I wrote in the margin: Are psychic mediums just the latest magician fad?). She allows the reader to accompany her on an emotional, spiritual journey in which she puts her own social mores aside and approaches the subject of the afterlife with an open mind. I appreciate the candor it must have taken to bring readers along on such a leap of—dare I say—faith?

After attending one particularly enlightening session with a medium, Smith writes, “Maybe she was reading my mind, I think then. But even so, that’s kind of phenomenal, right?” Phenomenal, maybe, but the skeptical part of me is still concerned about the potential to take advantage of such a vulnerable audience. In an article that debunks one of the mediums she visited in her book as a hustler, I read this quote by Harold Houdini: “It is not for us to prove the mediums are dishonest, it is for them to prove that they are honest.”

Putting mediums aside, there are many interviews to love in this book, such as with Dr. BJ Miller, director of the progressive Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco, who asks the profound question, “Why wait to be dying to have palliative care?” I agree with Smith’s assertion that, however it is accomplished, “there is something therapeutic in… shared grief, in the desperate desire to connect.” Ultimately, perhaps the why and how of a person’s reconciliation of grief doesn’t matter as long as it is managed in a way that promotes acceptance.

As my own beloved grandmother continues down a treacherous path of Parkinson’s-induced dementia, and I face the possibility that I may not be able to mark the exact moment I have lost her, I am comforted by the notion that I can continue talking to her after she is gone. Whether she is able to receive my communication or not is no longer the point; it is, instead, that our “love never dies.” What a beautiful idea that is.

a good woman is easy to find

I forgot what day it was again today, not once but about seventeen times. Selling your house is like that period of time when you’ve just arrived home with your newborn. Stuff is happening all around you, and you’re still getting just as many loving calls and emails as usual, if not more, but suddenly you can’t remember when and how you used to interact with the outside world—or fold laundry or take a shower, for that matter. Oh, and also, a lot of shit is involved.

Last night I took a long bath, and it was the best decision of my life. Really, I think a long bath will solve most of my problems, if only because I realize in the taking of the bath that I have none. Not any REAL problems, anyway. I lay there in the scalding water until my fingers were way past prunes, and I poked at my scars and softening belly, and eventually I sort of forgot that I am a human with worries and relished in the luxury of the present.

This time, I even cut my toenails in the tub—now you know it all! as my family says—and then went rummaging in my pedicure bag and discovered an unopened sample of Burt’s Bees foot cream with coconut oil. I squirted half the tube onto my palm and slathered that goo all over my feet, then stuffed them into cotton socks. Afterward, I announced to Nate that I will take a bath each night this entire week. “Like an old lady,” he quipped. Damn straight.

But truly, there are some things women over 50 have figured out, and baths are probably on the list. Let’s add foot cream while we’re at it. I am friends with several older women, and I have benefitted from their wisdom countless times, particularly in moments like these when the contents of all my drawers are literally and figuratively being dumped out on the floor.

One of my friends is a professional home stager whom I befriended when she led our church’s auction and I was a volunteer. She was the first person I called when we decided to sell our house, and next to that bath last night, it was my best decision in a long while. She introduced us to our realtor, a gem of a gal, and now these two ladies are doing the heavy lifting of helping us prepare our house for sale. They know all about things I shy away from, like buying things and painting things and moving things from one room to another. You just would not believe the work that can be done with two extra women around. I have WIVES, y’all!

And if that weren’t enough, I got four phone calls and two emails today from friends and family offering support and encouragement to get through what lies ahead. So what I came here to tell you is that just as a good rug really ties a room together, a couple of good women tie your life together. I used to be one of those girls who claimed to find it easier to be friends with men; now that I’m in my mid-thirties, many of those fun but shallow male relationships have faded away to reveal an ocean of female love and support. Women friends are where it’s at. I wish you all the riches their endearment offers. Amen and happy Mother’s Day. xoxo

a good woman is easy to find - heirloom mothering
I love this picture of my grandmother with her eighth baby. Eight children and yet she still managed a fur collar and lipstick and lovely hair. At almost 90, she is still a class act who is full of fantastic advice.

read * hear * say * see * eat

read * hear * say * see * eat - heirloom mothering
Mom: The Designated Worrier, via NYT SundayReview

 

I am getting our house ready to sell, but I’m here anyway because there was some stuff I was excited to share—particularly the link to recipes at the end—and I didn’t want to leave you hanging another week. Happy Mother’s Day!

Read

  • Ann Patchett holds a place on my metaphorical “Who would you ask to dinner?” table. I have many reasons for my choice, not the least of which is that she would give me a good book recommendation, and I’m always in search of those.
  • My friend Anjali wrote an introspective piece for Bloom last year about becoming a writer after having a life; they republished it as part of a “Best Of” series.
  • Ellie Kemper writes for McSweeney’s! How did I not know this? I love her new show (see “See”), and it turns out she’s a great writer too.
  • Robin Abrahams broke down the latest episode of Mad Men and its tense workplace politics for The Boston Globe.

Hear

  • I’m digging the Southern Foodways Alliance podcast called Gravy. Even if you’re not from the South or don’t particularly care for Southern food (though I’m sure I can remedy that misunderstanding with an invitation to supper at our home), there are many other reasons to love this podcast, especially if you’re into topics like social justice and environmental stewardship, to list but a few.

Say

  • Have you heard of The Drum? I learned about it at the Muse conference (more about that soon!). It’s a “literary magazine for your ears.” They are currently accepting submissions for poetry, essays, and short fiction that you submit by reading aloud on the site.

See

  • We’ve been trying out the new Netflix show, Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt, starring Ellie Kemper (see above) and written by Tina Fey. I’ve heard it takes a few episodes to find its rhythm, which is true of many shows we loved (notably, Parks & Rec, 30 Rock, and The Office) so we’re hanging in there. I’ll warn you that it’s weird, but I also burst out laughing at least once an episode, so there’s that. I loved the “You can do anything for 10 seconds” episode. Even if it was meant just as a joke, I took that advice to heart! I think the word I’m looking for is sincerity, and even when overdone, it’s so refreshing to see instead of cynics and zombies.

Eat

  • One of my absolute favorite cookbooks is from our local farmstand, and I just learned their recipes are online. These are family recipes, y’all, and they are delicious. If you’re vegetarian (and even if you’re not!), this list’ll just about change your life. Now I know it is overwhelming, so I recommend starting seasonally with spring vegetable strata (which I’m about to bring to a new mom as a welcome home dish) and anything strawberry or rhubarb.