Sleepless in Saratoga

Ok, this is nuts. It’s been going on for a couple of years now, and I’ve had it.

I live a full and busy life. For the most part I’m pretty happy, daily I’m grateful, and never am I idle. My chores start before sunrise and end late at night. I cook two mealtimes a day plus make my child’s lunch. I work a few hours, I practice an hour, I do laundry and dishes daily and keep up on correspondence. I prepare for students, I teach students. I have a great relationship with my son, I love my home, my family is all alive and well… I don’t smoke, I don’t drink alcohol and the coffee I drink is decaffeinated. All in all I’m healthy, and things are goin pretty well. So why in hell can’t I sleep? Oh I can get to sleep initially – but if I get up at night to pee – it’s all over. Likely I’ll be up for the duration, catching half hour naps here and there on a good night. Some nights I just wake up for no good reason at all. Either way, there I am again, watching that stupid clock. I’ll turn the clock to face the other way, but that won’t help. And yes, I know the other tricks – get all your wandering and pressing thoughts down on paper. Concentrate on your breath. Don’t drink lots of fluids close to bedtime… check, check and check. 

I can’t be the only one! I see the commercials for sleep medications – that lovely, luminescent butterfly gliding in and out of suburban bedroom windows, gently coaxing pretty women to sleep… And I myself have taken such medication. Many times over the last five years I’ve depended on em for a true night’s sleep. But I’d very much like to sleep on my own now, only it just aint workin. It’s driving me nuts. Ok, there are two things I know I haven’t tried – exercise and yoga. Those two disciplines, worked routinely into my life might tip the scales. They might be just what I need to find sleep a naturally occurring phenomenon again. Ok. On the list…

Oh, yeah, and speaking of lists, there’s that ‘other’ list too. The ‘low-grade worry’ list that continues, like a ticker at the bottom of your screen on the nightly news…. not enough money so the electric might shut off soon, not enough money but the fuel oil’s nearly out, not enough money so now the phone’s been cutoff, not enough money but sure hope the the kid’s violin rental won’t be cancelled , not enough money, hope the car insurance won’t lapse….did the bank charge me two or thee overdrafts? How much was that total?  I need more students, I need more egg customers… where will I find them? Even then, will it be enough? This is all old news by now, but it’s there, nonetheless, and perhaps it contributes to the problem. Shouldn’t think so, but then again…

My mother insists that this is simply what happens to all women in or nearing menopause. Many other women say that’s baloney. Who’s right? What’s the cause? What the hell is going on here and why can’t I sleep???

Years ago – as in maybe more than 20 – I was an extra in a Sandra Bullock movie, shot in Chicago. Folks were all abuzz in the costume room, but all I was was tired. My husband had long told me I was making too big a deal over sleep. We humans didn’t need much, he would say confidently, we could function on so much less than we got every night. Alright, so I decided to live ‘like him’ for 24 hours to see how true this was. We had a gig the night before, stayed way up, retired way late. Drove him the O’Hare for his next gig somewhere, then I went back downtown to the set. I was shown the cloakroom, told the extras were already on the street but I had a good twenty minutes yet to find a coat and get down to the set (we were given coats to wear, not much different from our own). There was a pile of coats on the floor left by the extras – and it looked so inviting. Maybe, just for a couple minutes. A power nap. Yeah, that’s just what I need. And there’s no one here – I’m all by myself. Perfect. I laid down and slept. When I awoke, it seemed to be lunchtime. I’d missed the morning’s scene, but I’d at least make the afternoon scene. Got in line and put some very good looking food on my plate. I was just about to taste the tip of a perfectly prepared asparagus spear when a very stern woman came up and informed me that this was dinner for the crew, and that the extras were outside, on set. ?? It took me a minute to realize what had happened. I’d been deeply asleep for at least eight hours – through the commotion of lunch break too – and it had only felt like fifteen minutes! Woah. Very Rip Van Winklesque. Kinda disorienting. The woman made me dump my plate into the garbage and leave the building. Ok. I’m going. I wasn’t bummed about not being in the movie, but I was instead feeling quite smug inside. Turns out this girl does need her sleep. Body don’t lie.  

And the name of that movie? “While You Were Sleeping”. Ha! I certainly know that I need my sleep – more to the point I want my sleep – but these days the challenge is actually getting it. Here I go, back to the task at hand… rested or not, see you in the morning.

Atkins Two Weeks In

Well, it’s working. If by no other reason I can tell by the funky taste in my mouth. The score? Lost two pounds this week. Not exactly what I’d expected. “Don’t lose hope” Elihu tells me, “you’ve lost one guinea fowl!”. Dear boy. There are so many stories of people losing gobs of weight during the ‘induction phase’, which are the first two weeks of the diet (during which you eat no more than 20 grams of carbs in a day). I experienced some pretty dramatic weight loss myself during induction, some eleven years ago. Although I’d hoped for similar results, I have a couple of ideas as to why things didn’t turn out the same this time…

First is portion size. I remember all this chatter about how ‘you can eat as much meat and cheese as you want on Atkins!’ – so I’ve pretty much done that. But hey, this is a diet, and the idea is still to use more fuel than you take in – so why push it? But I know I did – having three eggs when the diet recommends two, upping the steak size just a skich… Maybe that’s why I was never hungry! So this next week I’ll be a bit better regarding portions. Then there’s the bourbon chicken from the mall’s Famous Cajun joint. One bite in and I knew it was not what I should be ingesting. Both the chicken and the green beans were kinda sweet and glazed. I had a feeling they’d be out, but in that it was my big meal for the day and we weren’t due to be home for hours, I ate it. So that mighta stopped or slowed my induction process. Atkins folks say that just one bite of a sugary food – even a taste – can switch your body back into a carb-burning machine just like that. Sounds a bit much, but I can’t know for sure. Then there’s exercise. The folks at Atkins also say that exercise is a non-negotiable. Yeeps. 

Not that it’s had anything to do with my diet, but I’ve been sick for the past few days too. Fever and the usual suspects made sleeping difficult. Usually I’d have taken some Nyquil, but this time it was out, too much sugar and alcohol. Last night was long, but thankfully it’s over. Elihu and I are both taking a day off from school today. I just wish I could make myself some tea and toast. Man, who knew cutting out carbs would be such a bummer? Ah, but instead of thinking about what I don’t have, I need to concentrate instead on what I do have: heavy cream in my tea… This is one of the handful of tiny incentives that keep me going. That, and the idea of losing twenty pounds – or four guinea fowl, whichever. !

Lovely Morning

In spite of both of us waking to find we have a bit of laryngitis and mildly sore throats, we are nonetheless in very good spirits today. I awoke with enough alone time to read a bit and make a pot of coffee. Elihu joined me on the couch after he awoke, cozied up to me, told me he loved me, and we sat together in happy silence. He whispered to me that he’d been thinking of the Kakapo parrot lately, the flightless species that lives only in New Zealand. He also had Zambia on the brain, he wondered if elephants lived there… so we grabbed our globe and located the spots, making notes to look things up on the computer after we ate. (He’s wanted to go to New Zealand since he was five, and I guess it’s still very much in his heart. I do hope he gets there one day – and I hope I’m there with him too!) I checked in on the chickens then made breakfast. I tried a new way of making french toast – with cream and nutmeg – and although he very much liked the flavor, he told me he “Didn’t enjoy the texture. Too rich for me.” I smiled to hear his observation. This kid certainly knows what he likes. And why. !

After breakfast I could not bear to clean up, nor to put away the mound of dishes I’d finally tackled the night before. I swear, every friggin dish, pot, bowl and piece of silverware we have is on the counter waiting to be put back. But this morning I’m putting it off. And not with a heavy heart – I’m simply letting it go for now. Elihu pulled an old favorite bird encyclopedia off of his shelf and looked up the Kakapo. I went to the piano and looked up Deep Purple. Never could ‘ear’ my way thru those changes. Was satisfying to play it all the way through with the harmony. Poked around and played a few other old tunes, I Cover the Waterfront, April Showers… and it was fun to use my brain in a way I hadn’t for a long time. Even made me kinda jones for some more. Wish I had the time and oomph to re-visit piano, harmony and improvising. I’ve always been kind of a wimp when it came to pushing beyond my comfort zone. My ability has always been just enough for my work and projects, but not what it could be. Reminds me of an old musician’s joke: How many musicians does it take to change a lightbulb? One hundred. One to do it, and ninety-nine to say ‘I could have done that’. I’d like to think I’m not one of those 99, but sometimes I’m not really sure. Ah, hell with it. This morning it feels good just to play, and I’m enjoying myself. And right now, that’s what’s important.

Kid’s now downstairs on the PC looking up ornithologists in New Zealand (I told him we’d need personal contacts there first) while I finish up this post. Soon we’ll go to the Waldorf School; today I’m greeting visitors and helping to show them around a bit, answering questions as I’m able, and introducing them to the philosophy behind it. I readily admit I’m probably not the best person for the job as I’m not very familiar with the world of Anthroposophy (the guiding context of the school), but I can say that I am most enthusiastic. I absolutely love this school, and so does my son. I can honestly say that he is joyful every day. Yesterday, when it seemed he might be feeling a bit under the weather, I asked if he might want to stay home from school. He did not. He wanted to go to school. ! Of course, Elihu’s coming with me today. I’ll be glad to have him along; he’ll make a fine ambassador for the school and I’m sure he’ll freely offer his opinion from the perspective of a happy student.

Our lives might be a bit tame these days – certainly if I hold them against my life of years past – but for me it’s about living a life as stress-free as possible. And as joyful too. And this morning, we are realizing both of those goals, which is a lovely thing indeed.

Out Cold

Well, now I can understand a little better how my poor chickens feel. Somewhere around four this morning my nose woke me up. My nose was cold. The room was cold. The kind of cold that tells me something’s up. I knew that kind of cold. It got me out of bed to inspect the thermostat, which was now dipping below 50. Crap. I’d done the math – I’d allotted two gallons a day, and I’d kept the house at 50 when we were out, and near 60 when we were home – we weren’t due to need fuel oil til middle of next week. I’d planned it all out; a couple of students’ pay plus my next paycheck from Waldorf and I could afford a small delivery. While I’m pissed at myself for once again needing help, instead of wallowing in it I need to learn the lesson. Otherwise it’s a wasted experience. The lesson? Apparently it takes a tad more fuel just to keep the house at those modest temperatures when it’s super cold out. (Note to self: if it’s lower than 20 degrees out, you’re burning another half gallon a day easy. Check.)

I didn’t want to ask my mom for help, but today I did. The state has already given us our $600 ration of fuel assistance for the year (try heating a house on that for eight months!), so until next week I have no options. If it weren’t for the very real risk of a burst pipe I’d tough it out. Year before last Elihu and I went for nearly two weeks without heat. We just hunkered down in my bedroom and camped out with a small electric heater. Wasn’t the worst experience – in fact we ended up having fun, making up games and reading entire books cover to cover. But in that it’s in the single digits outside right now, I can’t afford to wait.

I was a little preoccupied at school this morning as I hadn’t yet heard back from the fuel guy. As soon as I finished my classes I zipped home, where I thankfully found a receipt from him stuck in my door. They fronted me the oil! Wow. Sometimes it’s good to live in a small town where people know who you are. I ran downstairs and restarted the furnace right away.  So thanks to my mom, and Charlie and Steve, the oil guys, our house will be comfortable again soon. Warm hearts and fuel oil have saved us from being out in the cold.

Post Script: Now I’m doubly inspired to help out those poor hens. I’ll put up a curtain over the drafty door and get another heat bulb hung before tonight.

Deep Freeze

Tonight is not a very good night to be a hen, here at the Hillhouse Coop. It’s mean cold outside, and although it might look as if our girls had it good… tonight, they just plain don’t. As I get up and look out the window toward the coop, I feel for em. Many aren’t even choosing to roost tonight, as they’re finding more warmth with their bellies against the ground (which itself has to be freezing too!) Alas, one door is full of holes, and now is losing a pane of glass too – by now it lets in as much outside air as a screen. A 250 watt heat bulb has been on non stop for over a month now, but little good it does on a night like tonight. When it’s below zero. When the water freezes less than a half hour after I’ve refilled it. When the birds are covered in tiny ice crystals, and half a dozen gals can’t stop sneezing. (Yeah, chickens sneeze. It means the same thing as when you and I do.)

The structure itself looks impressive; it’s well-built, sturdy, and has been built on a human scale. Painted a nice barn red, it looks a tidy addition to our property. But on a night like this, those things don’t matter so much as they serve to make me feel a good deal of guilt. I had this small structure built so that my many hens might enjoy a comfortable hen house, one with enough room for all, yet cozy enough, well insulated enough to keep in the shared warmth of so many feathered bodies. That was the idea, but I didn’t know enough yet to execute the plan as well as I should. First off, the damn ceiling’s too high. The room is too narrow, and the doors at either end prevent us from making better use of the wall space. Roosting bars are too steeply stacked, meaning that birds are always pooping on the backs of those one rung below. If I’d been thinking less about how I wanted the henhouse to match my garage and more about the comfort of the birds who were actually going to live there, I mighta done it differently. But then again, live and learn. I’ve lived with it, and now I’ve learned what I’d do differently. But for now, it’s so bloody cold we’ll all just have to make it through as best we can. Can’t make any big changes now.

Oh, may God bless and keep my chickens safe and as warm as possible tonight. They have continued to give us eggs when so many other flocks are down. They do so well by us, I only wish I could keep them more comfortable in return. Especially right now, as I’m about to snuggle deep down into my winter bed, which is so many, many degrees warmer then theirs is on this night of the deep freeze.

Atkins One Week In

While modesty prevents me from disclosing how much I weighed when I started my new diet campaign one week ago, I can happily report that I have lost three pounds since then. I do realize that when a woman appears to lose weight, she may in reality have lost nothing at all. We women retain a lot of water, and with our cycles our weight can easily vary by three pounds from one day to the next. Having said that, I’ll add to the mix that I no longer have a period, that my weight no longer does that ‘younger woman’ flux, and that I weighed myself at exactly the same time in my schedule one week later as a means to reflect the change in my weight as accurately as possible. So, in fewer words, the gist is this: Atkins works.

There are two things I want to report about my first week’s experience with this seemingly crazy, unnatural diet. First, is that I am very seldom hungry. Honestly. Even during the course of a regular, non-dieting day I am often uncomfortably so – and during a good old-fashioned low calorie, low fat diet I become absolutely ravenous. The only thing that would keep me going during a Weight Watchers diet was the reward of my weekly visit to Mr. Lee’s Evanston Grill for his locally famous and much beloved Bi Bim Bop. (That, plus the burning image in my mind of zipping up my beloved size 8 vintage cocktail dresses once again.) I had my oasis in each week – that glorious relief, that reward, those beloved flavors, that sexy, fatty, perfectly marinated beef. It kept me going. Then after my respite, it was back to a long week of hungry hours, of my being constantly preoccupied with my next bite, of watching my daily ration of points disappear quicker than I’d expected.

The second thing to report is not as encouraging as the first. It is this: salt and fat become tedious, and sweet snacks are virtually nonexistent on the diet. For me that’s generally ok – cuz I don’t really find sweet foods all that compelling. Sure, I love a great dessert, but I’m happy 90% of the time if my meal doesn’t end that way. And if given the choice between chocolate and salami, well… nuff said. But when you’re eating meat, eggs, fat and cheese – and the salty flavors that go with that territory – you find yourself really wanting the contrast. Plus on Atkins you can get a funky taste in your mouth in the beginning – as well as headaches (things I’d forgotten about) and you really want some relief. Even sugar free gum has carbohydrates, so the options that you might have thought were abundant are really not so. The solution? Ah, the Atkins staple; sugar free jello and artificially sweetened whipped cream. Now I really dislike artificial sweeteners. So much so that I cannot stand more than one sip of diet Coke – no exaggeration. However, in the context of some over-the-top, full-on fatty, heavy cream, a pinch of sweetener (gotta watch out there too – not all artificial sweeteners are low-carb!) can do the trick. So my relief comes in the form of jello – and changing up the flavors helps to reduce the monotony just a bit. (A very tiny bit, but a bit nonetheless.) Another tip: a shot of breath spray gives a little temporary relief too.

The fact that I awake each morning knowing that I won’t have to be distracted by hunger throughout my day is such a plus – I’d even go so far as to say that I see it as a kind of upgrade in my overall quality of life. I certainly can’t imagine living so strictly low-carb all of my life, but I can see the obvious advantage of exercising a little self-control and avoiding the gratuitous starchy foods that are all too easy to eat in large quantities. I don’t need heaping platefuls of rice or endless pieces of fresh-baked italian bread. If I set out to have a taste of rice, pasta or bread and am not starving at the outset of my meal, I think I’d be apt to eat less. Frankly, I piled on the mindless carbs mostly cuz I was hungry. (This does however require some planning; protein needs to be on board and in your system before you’re faced with some tempting carbs.) Not feeling such a terrible gnawing in my gut gives me much more power to say no. I’m not saying binges are off the map – I believe every experience has its time and place. But in abstaining totally, it’s given me a bit more perspective on how many carbs I used to eat, and how thoughtlessly I did so.

Sure hope I don’t appear to be standing on a soap box here, just want to pass on some of my observations from this first week of re-acquainting myself with the Atkins diet. Not sure if I’ll be as chipper and upbeat about it in the future as I am today. I’ll check in each week to report on the process – I myself am curious about how my feelings will change, and if my progress will be steady or stall out after just a few more pounds. I think I can increase the likelihood of my success if I step it up a bit too; if I add routine workouts and watch my carbs a bit more diligently I think it’ll help. Many was the time I ate more than I’d thought by making an assumption about something before checking first. (Pickled okra are not carb-free, who knew?) 

Although three pounds isn’t going to register on my frame, and my pants likely won’t begin to fit differently until I’ve lost a good ten pounds, I absolutely know that something in my body has changed. Also, I’m thinking it’s a good time of year to try out a new diet – no parties on the horizon, no food-related holidays to pose undue challenges and stress… and a still a couple months yet til my half century birthday. So I’m feeling ok, hopeful. A subtle feeling of dread is lightening as I assert a bit more control over my life. I do realize that total control over our lives is never fully within our power – but with that in mind, I am enjoying the result of my current, tiny success.

What I really miss most is a glass of wine. When I’ve seen ten pounds gone, I’ll treat myself to a glass. That first sip will no doubt be more enjoyable than so many that have come before… Til then, however, it’s one week at a time….

Instant Karma

What a magical day we had yesterday. A day of gifts that astonished us both. Had us with our mouths hanging open, with Elihu smiling uncontrollably in the back seat as we drove home. More than a day of tiny successes, and more than a day of instant rewards, it was a day full of serendipitous surprises that just kept coming as we encouraged ourselves to expect them. I’ve been teaching my son since he was tiny that we create things first in our thoughts and intentions before they appear in our physical world. Yet often, as I share concepts with him that I myself believe to be true, I find that as a flawed, ego-driven adult I am hard-pressed to live as if I believed the very things that I’m teaching. Yesterday, I found that Elihu was my teacher; I let him guide me and encourage me to let go and follow along as he made his way through his day wishing, intending, believing… and manifesting.

In the morning, we considered the day before us. Elihu had a birthday party for twins later in the day. As my son is fond of doing, he’d just given his twin classmates each a toy of his over the past week. While Santa had given him two identical toys and asked him to give one away, it was my son who delighted in the idea of twin gifts going to twin boys. Why not? he’d asked me – he had plenty, and these tiny gifts gave his friends so much happiness. Absolutely. I agreed. And when their mother told me to consider these as sufficient for the boys’ birthday gifts, secretly I was relieved. I felt a little anxious about spending more money when Elihu had already given them some forty dollars worth of toys this week. I suggested we pass on getting them gifts. But Elihu protested bitterly. He wanted to get them something for today. I suggested instead that we just give each a $10 gift card. He was distraught – he told me that the toys he gave them before were unrelated, beside the point. He wanted to treat them as he himself would want to be treated on his birthday – with a very special, exciting gift, and not a silly gift card. “I’m going to busk” he told me, “and I’m going to make $40. Then I can buy each of them a helicopter.” His voice was firm. In the sweetest, most loving tone I could find, I cautioned him that that was a lot to expect on a cold winter’s day. I tried to remind him that even on a nice warm day with tourists on the street, that he sometimes didn’t even make that amount in an afternoon. He began to cry. “Don’t do that! I believe it, why can’t you? I know I will make $40! I will!”. I began to apologize for discouraging him, but he cut me off, “I’ve already made it!” he said, still crying. That stopped me. I took a moment to collect myself, and to think. I had nothing to lose in expecting the same, and I knew that energetically it would help in some way. If we were disappointed, so be it. That was a possibility, but so was the other outcome; so why not choose to expect success instead? In that moment I decided to support my son as best I could.

After a morning of housekeeping and chores we finally made it to downtown Saratoga. I sat on a blanket I’d brought to keep warm, opened a book, and hoped for the best as Elihu began to play his djembe. First, I would like to say that he played better than he has ever played before, and second I would add that it was cold – his hands had to have hurt, but he kept going and going. He played for a good half an hour. I kept my nose down, leaving him to his own and trying not to look like the hovering mother. Although I wanted him to be successful (in playing so well he already was successful in my book), I admit that I was preparing my tender “I’m so very sorry” speech already. After a while, I heard a final woomp on the drum and looked up to see him walking back to me – a very full tip jar in hand. We ducked into the diner for a cup of hot chocolate while I counted up the loot. He’d made $26. Wow. “You know I’m going out again, don’t you?” he asked. I kinda did. And now, I was all on board. We packed up and headed out. Within minutes he had a small crowd of teenagers pulling out phones to take pictures and videos of him, and yelling out “kid, you’re awesome”. He kept at it for another half hour or so, til I called to him we needed to get going.

As we drove to Target, I counted his money. A five, even a ten… impressive. And the final tally? Forty-one dollars. Bingo. He’d made his goal – and even exceeded it by a dollar! He sat in the back seat, trying to contain his joy. I watched him in the rear view mirror as he beamed and giggled to himself. A few minutes later we were in the toy aisle, considering our options. It was beginning to look kinda bleak, and we were just resolving to settle on some less-than-ideal options, when something caught my eye. It was a helicopter with bold red and white stripes – and two sets of props. Twin engines – for twin boys! We moved in to check it out. Elihu had said he wouldn’t settle for a crappy 2 channel toy, but instead had his heart set on a 3 channel heli – a much better quality, more maneuverable toy. This was 3.5 channels. Even better. Plus it had a button on the outside of the box which let you spin the props on the heli inside. It was a Chinook, and it was impressive looking. We then found a cheerful gift bag and headed on our way. At the checkout there was a small hitch; the toy was not in the computer, and in spite of my going back to retrieve the exact price, the system wouldn’t accept it. A manager was called in, the line stopped. While we waited, Elihu grabbed some batteries – because there’s nothing more frustrating than getting a gift that needs batteries and not having any. Another $7. No problem, I can cover the extra. Then the cashier told us some unexpected good news – the toy was actually ten dollars less than we’d thought – and our extra money covered the batteries and the gift bag too! Elihu and I laughed and thanked the guys for helping us out. Then I found a twenty in my pocket – I’d been paid in cash the day before for a lesson – so we even stopped for a snack at the cafe. !

As we drove to the party Elihu remarked that he really thought we’d be rushed today. We were actually five minutes ahead of schedule, and I myself agreed that I could hardly believe it. When we got to the party the reality of a busy Saturday downtown hit me as we began to look for a parking spot. Then we started to tell each other that our spot was waiting for us, we just had to get to it. And sure enough, in a full-up garage, just by the exit, was one vacant space just waiting for us. We pulled in, then enjoyed a leisurely walk through the park to the party, where we arrived just in time to find the first of the afternoon’s entertainments just commencing; mentos and diet coke explosions. Awesome.

He was settled in, and now I had two hours to myself. I often stay with him at parties, but this time parents were sent on their way – so I found myself suddenly surprised with having nothing to do. Hm. This was unusual. What should I do? I considered walking the strip, taking in the windows, the sights, maybe heading to the library to check my email. Naw. Didn’t inspire me. So I asked myself “What would I like to do? What thing would I not usually do, and more specifically, what can I do that I wouldn’t usually do with Elihu?” I knew. I knew, but I felt some guilt. I told myself to ignore the guilt, to let myself off the hook and go. So, I did. I pulled out of my choice downtown parking spot and headed out of town.

Three months ago, while waiting for a prescription down the street, I’d gone into Pier 1 to kill some time and happened to come upon a stunning, deep red pillow. It’s color attracted me first, and the hand of its fine wool was so satisfying. But I didn’t have the money, and furthermore I couldn’t justify such a purchase even if I’d had it. So I filed it away in my brain. We have a rule in our house to prevent against impulse buying: if it’s still on your mind in two weeks, you may reconsider it. I thought back… it was Thanksgiving when I’d seen it, and it was nearly Valentine’s Day now… Dare I reconsider it? Within minutes of entering the store I found the pillow – one of them at least. But I wanted two. I searched for awhile and didn’t find it. Guilt finally overtook me and I put it down, told myself to forget it, and instead just enjoy walking the store and looking at all the beautiful objects. On my way out, I casually asked the clerk about the pillow. She looked it up on the computer and discovered that it was not an item that would be restocked, and also that there did appear to be one more somewhere in the store. My heart lifted. Then the clerk simply looked down and said, “Oh, look, here it is!” and held up the second pillow. It could have been anywhere in that store – but it was right there, within arm’s reach. Needless to say, I was sold. I’d waited more than two months and it was still on my mind. ! My heart was bursting at the beauty of these pillows, at the excitement of bringing them home to live on my couch. 

When I returned to pickup Elihu the boys were in full swing, jumping on each other, hugging each other and ooing and ahhing over the presents… I sat there drinking in that lovely, innocent energy, marveling over how sweet and sincere they all were. Savoring the moment entirely. They told me that they’d just come back from laster tag; the lasers were blue so Elihu could see them (Elihu can’t see the red lasers at all), Elihu did really well (even won a round), plus he had a blast. As we drove home, Elihu remarked that he hadn’t had any cake, because it just looked too sweet and he thought it might make his tummy feel icky. But now he was feeling some regret. We quickly pulled into the grocery store before we left town, and found a perfect single frosted brownie. We took it to the register, and for some reason, the young man decided to ring it up at a lower price. Elihu and I looked at each other. ? We thanked the clerk and headed out. Elihu ate half his brownie on the ride home, and ended up saving half for later.

When I awoke this morning and walked out into the living room, my spirit positively lifted at seeing those gorgeous, deep red pillows on my couch. And now, mid-day as Elihu was looking for a sweet little snack, he was happily surprised to remember his brownie. One magical day has spilled over into the next. I made a promise to my son that I’ll renew my efforts to keep up an expectant and positive attitude. I admit I was due for a little proof of my theories. And thankfully, I got it – almost instantly.


Night before last, as I lay in bed with Elihu and we chatted, recounting the events of the day, he asked if he could recite a new poem he’d just learned that day in school. It told the story of a frog and a bird who posed challenges to each other based on what they knew of the world from their own experiences. In the end, each was surprised by the other – because his opponent possessed qualities that he himself had never before imagined possible. A moment passed in silence, as we both considered the ramifications of the story.

“I think I know what the moral is,” Elihu said. Then, without missing a beat, he continued:

“Never assert yourself as the best until you know your contenders.”

We parents are continually amazed by the things our children say, and so often we think we’ll remember them, but in spite of our best intentions, we just don’t. I know myself well. I knew that I wouldn’t remember it – as beautiful as it was – unless I wrote it down. So I pulled myself in a groggy daze out of bed, found my dry erase marker and wrote it on our kitchen board. Glad I did, because it was a lovely little surprise this morning. Makes me happy to know that I’ve replaced myself here on this earth with such a thoughtful human being.

Larder in Order

Don’t like to think of it as a New Year’s resolution, but rather a project that I’ve been putting off for a while now, one which just so happens to be starting in January. I am finally embarking on a diet. One that is well planned, one I have read about and researched, a diet that I in fact did myself years ago and lost 20+ pounds in a relatively short amount of time. (Then I had a baby and kinda undid all that.) This is a diet that just looks wrong at every turn. It is the most counter intuitive way in which one could possible approach food. Healthy inclinations must be ditched, quelled, ignored. This is the diet of protein and fat, the diet that hardly allows the meagerest ration of carbs in order for success: the Atkins diet. Can’t refresh myself with a peach, nor an apple, nor a fistful of blueberries on my cereal. And cereal – with milk, heaven forbid – that’s entirely out of the picture. Really, just what the hell is this diet about? Some may know well, others may have a faint idea. In a nutshell? Turn your body from a machine that burns carbs for fuel into a body that burns fats and proteins. Simple. And yes, it does work. But like I said, it sure don’t feel natural… there’s a tiny voice in my head the whole time saying ‘your cholesterol will skyrocket… what if it backfires and I end up gaining fifteen instead? Sigh. Only thing keeps me going is knowing I’ve done it before, and successfully.

So yeah, you simply deprive your body of ALL carbs (ok, maybe not ALL carbs, but maybe like 99% of the carbs you’ve been accustomed to eating for your entire life) and you honestly do force your body to shift it’s source of energy. Seems kinda sneaky to me. Kinda not right. But hell, it works – and although it’s certainly not a way in which I intend to live years down the line, for now, it’s just what I need. See, I’m turning 50 on May 7th, and by then, I’d at least like to feel good in a dress again. It’s been years since I’ve worn the dress of a real, grown-up woman. And that aint right. (Oh, does anyone remember my dresses? I remember gowns upon gowns in my closet – and yes, I most certainly enjoyed and wore them all!) So, enough pussy-footing around here. I quit the cigarettes in earnest, now it’s time to get back to the body I feel represents me. I’m still kinda dragging my feet on the working out thing. I just can’t seem to find the time… and I know that sounds like a huge excuse… but I’m working on it. Created an enormous to do list (which I add to moment by moment) so that I may know what I face and plan my life better. So goddam much to do! But I’m gittin there… If it kills me…

It began in earnest with a tidying up of my pantry. I realized that I knew where just about everything else in my house was, but my pantry was an unknown to me. If I was going to organize the way I ate, I’d have to organize my food first. Cans from the year we moved here still hid in the back, there were empty storage containers way, way in the back on tippy-top shelf… So I did it. Had a Sunday of domestic tasks (venting the birds was one) and so it was time. Pulled everything out, relabeled tins and tubs, and most importantly, got rid of the crap we’ve kept ‘just in case’. Plus got rid of things we had only the teensiest bit left of. I had two goals, the second of which didn’t even become clear until the first was met: feed the chickens. I didn’t have enough money to buy feed, nor gas to get there and back, and so had to become clever about how I was to keep the galls alive (and laying) for another day or two. Everything I found was boiled or just dumped into a couple of huge pots. Warmed and softened to a pleasing (it’s relative) gruel-like consistency, it was the perfect answer for our gals. They even seemed to be having fun, picking out favorite bits and running all around the hen house with large, choice pieces hanging from their bills. And lots of variety – and flavor. Mama added some salt, cuz it may as well taste good, right?

With all this purging of the ancient foodstuffs and all the identifying of containers going on, I began to get clarity. About food. What I had, and what I tended to use most…. I stood back and could see my pantry well-labeled, easy to see all shelves, all contents. A good, solid start. Every container was boldy and neatly labeled in sharpie so that even Elihu, with his limited eyesight, could find things for himself (thereby reducing my temptation when making him snacks.) Only problem is that 99% of my pantry was off my list. I needed protein. I needed fat. And here before me was a closet mostly full of white foods – rice, flour, pasta, sugar; all carbohydrates. The big no. My larder had no lard!

My new go-to food source will have to be the fridge. Lots of vegetables, meat, cheese, and – how fortunate for me – eggs. These little miracles of nature will really end up helping me out the next couple of months. Thankfully, I love em, and I enjoy savory things more than sweet. A variety of hot sauces and I should be good. It’s just the cost of the rest that worries me a bit. The main reason I chose the Atkins diet was because I could simply not afford the $150 fee for Weight Watchers (with which by the way, I have experienced the most weight loss – 55 pounds – and had kept it off the longest…that is, until Fareed made his big announcement a few years back). Atkins seemed doable, after all, we get food stamps, so that removes some of the burden. But only one week of shopping into the new plan, and I’m beginning to worry. Meat is expensive. So is produce. It’s gone faster than I’d thought, in spite of my conservative approach and waste-not consumption. (My second reason for Atkins, btw, other than cost, was that I knew I had a pretty good chance of knocking fat off quicker – and there’s just not a lot of time before my 50th to go slow and steady like WW does.)

In spite of my concerns about cost, I do feel pretty good about my prospects for staying the course. I have now a small paycheck from the Waldorf school which will help me cover the extra food costs, and I also have a new student starting next week. We’ll butcher a few of our chickens, and that will help a little too. And eggs, got those for sure. ! Having money helps, yet having hope is really what’s key here – I feel like I’ve lived with so very little of that these past few years. I have up moments, and I am grateful every single day for the amazing little homestead we have, yet being socially isolated and having nothing much on the horizon to look forward to has kept my overall mood since living in New York a bit down. So this is good. I now have a picture of myself effortlessly slipping on one of my old dresses. I have a goal. I’m beginning to get brave enough to dare to remember how good it can feel…  How good it feels not to be winded, to actually tuck in a shirt, to wear knit fabric…

Folks often say that you have to go through emotional pain, not around it, to arrive on the other side. Ok, I’ve done some of that. I’m doing a lot better than a couple of years ago. So onto the physical part of the equation… Ironically, it looks like I may have to consume the fat in order to ultimately lose it. Still seems all wrong, but I’m committed for now, and thankfully I finally have the resolve to push ahead. Onward and upward…

Venting Day

Here’s a peek into our very enjoyable Sunday so far…

venting day 1 018

The view outside our door

venting day 1 034

We toss a fresh egg out to lure in the girls…

venting day 1 024

then Elihu brings em inside for inspection

venting day 1 004

Getting positioned..

venting day 1 006

then finding those pelvic bones…

venting day 1 012

and finally wiggling the fingers around to assess the vent size

venting day 1 028

Some gals are certainly laying…

venting day 1 014

from dark browns to pale green

venting day 2 001

What’s this? This isn’t even a chicken! Surprise! Elihu caught Austin, our resident male guinea fowl. This is NOT an easy thing to do, hence the smile…

venting day 2 010

Elihu really loves Austin

venting day 3 008

and wants to show you his gorgeous markings

venting day 3 007


venting day 3 006

and closer still!

venting day 3 005

How about those goofy hairs on the back of his neck?? Crazy, huh?

venting day 4 004

His amazing wingspan…

venting day 3 010

He’s goofy and elegant at the same time. Much wilder than the rest of the chickens, constantly chattering all day long, eating and producing nothing at all – and truthfully, not all that smart to boot – we don’t really have good reason, but all the same, we just love our little guinea.

Ok. Back to the task at hand. An update on our progress: we had planned on giving the non-layers (butcher bound) a spray painted X on their backs, but have discovered that the paint doesn’t stick to the wet birds. Duh, I guess. We’ve tried putting twist ties on their legs in the past, but in one day they can peck em off. Not sure how we’ll do this. May have to wait til the day of butchering and just box em up as we find em. Argh. Things always take a little more finessing than you’d think. Updates on our progress to follow…