Acupuncture and bipolar disorder

(What I had for breakfast today: jasmine rice, mustard greens, kale, and an egg sauteed with a little bit of ham and topped with Adam’s kimchi.)

While acupuncture is a useful therapy for musculoskeletal pain—sciatica, a pulled hamstring, tennis elbow—what’s often overlooked is its remarkable ability to treat psychiatric challenges.

Singer-songwriter Kristin Hersh (Throwing Muses, 50 Foot Wave) has said “…now, I don’t really consider myself bipolar, because of acupuncture.” Read this beautiful meditation she wrote on how acupuncture addressed her mental health struggles, deepened her connection to her work, and changed her life for the better.

Kristin Hersh performing in London with Throwing Muses. Photo published in Rolling Stone. Photo Credit: C Brandon/Redferns

Kristin Hersh performing in London with Throwing Muses. Photo published in Rolling Stone. Photo Credit: C Brandon/Redferns

Why you should grow scarlet runner beans, and also another gardening metaphor

You all know how much I love my gardening metaphors, right? You've heard me talk about how my ongoing battle against Bermuda grass parallels the important work of social justice advocacy--constant, slow work marked by small steps and the absolute guarantee of no end or victory in sight. Maybe you've seen my photos of hard-pruned plants sprouting delicate new growth, reminding all of us that starting over is always possible. Whenever I see a seed set just above the ground cracking open to release a pale shoot uncurling above it, I think about how finding my way to the life I wanted meant breaking open the self I thought I was, exploding completely out of old structures so that the parts of me that know how to look for the sun could find it. 

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This weekend I spent time tending to our driveway-long bed of scarlet runner beans. Have you seen these beans? They are a really good reason to have a garden. 

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First the vines put out bright red trumpet-shaped flowers, beloved by hummingbirds and bees.

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Then there are delicate filet green beans, crisp-tender and sweet. If those don't get picked, they become thicker beans, that can be sliced finely and sauteed or opened and cooked like lima beans. 

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Finally the pods dry and split to reveal speckled pink and red beans that cook up in a rich broth and, I'm told, make a better cassoulet than the traditional Tarbais bean. 

Last year's beans, tucked under their safe cover of rich compost, gave up their forms and became graceful vines, twisting around the trellis Adam put up last year, climbing up and up and up according to the unwavering religion of all pole bean vines. Some of the vines reach out into the road, ready to catch whatever might be passing by--a rolling tire, the edge of my skirt. So the work, then, of the observant gardener, is to encourage those wayward vines back onto the trellis. 

Here’s a photo from last year, in which Kamal, in heroic gardening garb, carefully watered the newly-emerged baby bean vines.

Here’s a photo from last year, in which Kamal, in heroic gardening garb, carefully watered the newly-emerged baby bean vines.

This is tricky work. Some vines aren't long enough yet to be tucked safely into the trellis. Some of them want to go left even though the open spot on the trellis is to the right. If you try to force a vine, you might break it. If you leave a vine stretching out onto the road, it might get run over. For the vines' safety and their well-being, for the blossoms and beans I want, I can't have them broken. I can't have them smushed, either. 

This is the work of the observant parent, too, isn't it? We do our best to steer our children away from harm, but we have to do it gently, lest we become the harm. We coax them towards the path we think makes it easiest for them to grow. Sometimes they want to go a different way, and then it's on us to adjust, to grow gentler instead of more forceful. 

And really, it's the work of the growing and forgiving self. Because we haven't stopped growing, ever; because we are always reaching for light; because sometimes even when we're on what feels like the right path, we have to move to another one. We make mistakes. We disappoint ourselves. We lose our connection to our roots or we lose sight of the sunlight. 

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And all we need to do, then, is adjust. Just a tiny shift is enough to begin; trying to force big changes all at once might end up actually slowing down our growth. When we find ourselves in a place of overwhelm, of exhaustion, of stasis; when the same challenges and frustrations pile higher and higher all around us--we start making small steps. For instance: waking up a few minutes earlier so there's time to meditate; getting a bigger glass so we drink enough water; stepping into a yoga class and committing to stay till the end even if we're in child's pose the whole damn time. Forgiving our worst crimes against ourselves and committing to repairing them, however many there are, however long it takes.

When we see ourselves winding wide of our right path, there's no way back to it except the way back to it. There's no faster way than one foot in front of the other. It's not always clear; it's rarely as straightforward as we'd like. But if we can be as gentle with ourselves as we know the tender vines of early summer require, the way starts to show itself. If we can grant ourselves patience, and love, and forgiveness--one day at a time, one breath at a time--then maybe we look up one day and there's the sun, big and bright and right there over our heads. 

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The Perfect Heart

Recently I found out that a medical practice where I am a patient has been incorrectly treating me for about four years.* This is a pretty upsetting thing, as you can imagine. Fortunately, it's not serious or life-threatening, but it did impact my quality of life in a really significant way for all those years. Learning about the error cleared up a lot of confusion around why I wasn't feeling well for so long. I've visited a different practice, gotten a more appropriate treatment, and am feeling so, so much better. Better in that way where you suddenly realize how bad you've been feeling, and for how long.

I feel a lot of things--grief over all those years of not feeling 100%, regret over the amount of time I've already spent getting the wrong treatment, disappointment around having decided to be proactive about a symptom I was having and then having no results from all that effort. I even, quite honestly, feel some empathy and forgiveness for the medical practice itself--I understand something of what it takes to run a healthcare practice, and I know human beings make mistakes sometimes.

However, the predominant feeling I'm having is anger--not about the error itself, but about the fact that no one from that practice has reached out with even a semblance of an apology. When, weeks after discovering the error, I wrote to the owner of the practice about the issue, he wrote back a message dismissing my concerns, absolving his practice of any error, and blaming the previous practice owner.

I am not a litigious person. I'm not someone who seeks out conflict. But I'm angry, here. And the kicker is that if one person at that practice had just said, "I'm sorry," I would have just let all of this go. Instead, I'm grinding my teeth in my sleep and writing this rant and venting to my kind and generously-listening husband and friends. And all it would take to change it would be: "A mistake was made. That's on us. I'm sorry about how it impacted you. I acknowledge that this mistake put you in a sucky situation."

As a healthcare provider, my responsibility to my patients is grounded in the fact that they are trusting me with their bodies and with their emotions, making themselves vulnerable. If I make an error, I always apologize as soon as I realize it--not because it's a good management strategy, but because it's the right thing for an adult human to do.  Because the work of a healthcare provider is not just to treat symptoms; rather, our most important work is to really see our patients, to really hear them, to hold space for them and acknowledge everything true about them. It is our work to see the perfect heart within every single person, to celebrate its valor and to cradle its fragility. Apologizing when we're wrong is a part of that responsibility, a way of seeing that the patient's comfort and peace of mind is more of a priority than our egos and malpractice insurance rates.

So I'll take this experience, as I try to take every challenging experience, and turn it into a way to deepen my empathy in my own practice. And I'll remember how bad it feels when someone discounts your experience, because damn, it feels really bad.

Actually, let's all remember to never discount anyone else's experience. Let's remember, too, that when we say things like "We live in a post-racial society" or "Don't go pulling the race card," or "You only see racism because you're looking for it everywhere," that we're discounting someone else's experience. When we say "I don't care what gay people do as long as they don't do it around me," or "Why can't they just live their lives and not get legally married?" or "But marriage is for procreation!" we are discounting someone else's experience. Ditto for: "Learn to speak English, you're in America," or "Government handouts make people lazy," or "If you can't get here legally, get out," or "If you can't afford healthcare, then you don't get healthcare," or "Not in my backyard," or "Drug users should be in jail."

Discounting an experience is hurtful, potentially to the point of being annihilating. Having my experience at this unnamed medical practice discounted hurt me, but not as much as it's hurt me when my experiences as a person of color and/or as a woman have been discounted, and not as much as it's hurt people all over the world to have their experiences of love and hardship and joy and crisis discounted, invalidated, perverted, unheard.

Everyone has a story and a heart brimming with emotions around that story. Witness for them; hold space for them. Tell everyone who shares their vulnerability with you in any way: I see you. I hear you. Your feelings are important. You matter.

This is the first step in someone else's shoes. This is the first step on our path to healing.

Kamal never hides his perfect heart  

*note: I'm not identifying the practice here, but I want to be really clear that it is NOT West County Health Centers, which is where Kamal, Adam, and I all receive primary care.  WCHC is great, and always makes me feel seen and cared for. I've been with them for about a decade now, I regularly and wholeheartedly refer my own patients to them, and I will be a patient there FOREVER.)

Drawing

[What I had for breakfast today: jasmine rice, an egg, lots of kale, and Adam's kimchi.]

"Mama," said Kamal the other day, "you draw a picture, and I'll color it in."

"Okay," I agreed. "But, honey, you know, I'm not very good at drawing."

Kamal laughed as though I'd said the funniest thing ever. "That's exactly what Daddy said! But then he drew a really good picture! Quick, come look, I hung it on my bedroom wall." 

He took my hand and pulled me into his room, where he beamed at the drawing he'd proudly taped to the wall.  "See?" he said, pointing at stick-figure animals and ambiguous clouds. "Daddy's SO good at drawing! Look how good it is!" 

And so I produced an equally ambiguous drawing, and Kamal commended it just as expansively as he'd commended Adam's. "Mama, I love it, it's beautiful," he glowed. 

So I thought I was bad at drawing. I've always thought I was bad at drawing. But Kamal thinks I'm so artistically gifted that my self-criticisms are absurd enough to be hilarious. I'm not good enough for me, but I'm good enough for him. And--well, I'm not trying to land a job in animation or as a police composite sketch artist or as a graphic designer. I am trying to be an involved mother, though, and apparently I draw well enough to do that. 

What are you good enough at that you always thought you were terrible at? What are you hiding under layers of self-criticism? Do you not dance at weddings because you're not the fantastic dancer you wish you were, even though your friends would love dancing with you no matter what your moves are? Do you skip the shivery pleasure of diving into a lake at the end of a hike because you just don't feel skinny enough, even though none of your hiking buddies would judge you and some of them probably envy your strong legs and curvy hips? Could you be singing louder? Could you be submitting to more publications? Could you be happier, more realized, more present in your life if you let yourself decide that you are enough, just the way you are? Could you look at yourself and see how you're so much more than adequate, how truly you nourish the people who love you, how you don't have to be Miss America or Martha Stewart or Monet to deserve accolades and affection and joy? 

Thanks to Kamal, I could. I could quiet all the critical voices, pick up a pen, and draw a rainbow with my little boy. I am not Monet; I am Mama, and I am really, really good at being that. 

Let it be easy

[What I had for breakfast today: Jasmine rice with curried green split peas, some leftover roast chicken, freshly-picked kale, the yogurt that Adam made last night, and a beautiful egg from Yellow Chicken, who has the distinction of being our only hen that goes broody and who is therefore the erstwhile mama of New Black Chicken, Grey Chicken and Brown Chicken.]

Kamal had to go to the dentist yesterday to get cavities filled. It was not fun. 

The dentist had let us know that he should only drink clear fluids and eat Jell-O for a few hours after the procedure. Kamal had never had Jell-O, but he was excited about it. I know that Kamal gets cranky and fatigued whenever he's eaten something with artificial colors in it, and so Adam and I decided we'd make Kamal some relatively healthful "Jell-O" from scratch. And then while I was getting Kamal ready for bed the night before his appointment, thinking I'd be up late boiling juice and making space in the freezer, Adam went right ahead and made Kamal four different flavors of jiggly, fruity, jewel-like treats, all using juices he'd pressed himself. 

The clear orange is apple cider, the more opaque orange is pear cider, the lovely burgundy is grape juice, and the bright bright yellow is orange juice with honey and vanilla. 

The thing about making gelatin treats from scratch is that--are you ready?--it's not any harder than making Jell-O out of a box. In both cases, you bring stuff to a boil, mix in other stuff, and then pour it in a tray that you chill for a few hours. (Also: did you know that consuming gelatin, especially gelatin from grass-fed cows, has remarkable benefits to your health? It makes your skin, hair and nails prettier, for sure, but there is also evidence that it may help with joint health and digestive challenges.)

Firming up overnight in the fridge  

And that's often the case when you make things from scratch. It's not necessarily easier, but it's usually not much more difficult. Cake mix from a box is not much easier to put together than cake from scratch. Same goes for cookies, soup, rice pilaf, mashed potatoes. And the stuff you make from real food always, always tastes a million times better than the boxed reconstructions of food do. It's maybe a bit more effort making things from scratch, but a huge improvement in flavor, texture, health, and environmental impact (all those cardboard boxes have to end up somewhere, right?). 

I had a terrific yoga teacher (Anna McLawhorn at three dog yoga, thank you!) say to the class I was taking one day several years ago, about a pose we were all struggling a little with: "Let it be easy." And that's always stayed with me--that you can just decide to allow ease into whatever you're doing. 

Sometimes we look at a project--whether it's cooking from scratch, or getting rid of our back pain, or giving up coffee, or going back to school--and we just decide it's too hard for us. Even if it's going to help us achieve goals that are important to us. Even if it's really harder to stay the way we are. Changing, learning that we can accomplish things we thought we couldn't, can feel like a scary and weighty responsibility. 

So what would happen if we just decided to let those things be easy? What if we just went to the grocery store and came back with flour and eggs and good butter and lots of vegetables and just said, I'm going to make a quiche, and then did it? Or what if we took ten minutes to send out a few emails to practitioners we thought might be able to help us with our back pain? Or friends who would support us as we decaffeinate ourselves? What if we called in whatever help and support we needed when we needed it? What if we really did let it all be easy? 

I tell you what: these gelatin treats are a great place to start. Cooking from scratch does more than make healthier food that tastes better--it limits our dependency on big corporations with whose ethics we may or may not agree. It decreases the amount of packaging that ends up in our landfills. It gives us a deeper, truer connection to our food, and a pretty incomparable sense of accomplishment. 

We just followed the directions on the gelatin packet, but there are lots of almost-identical recipes online. Click here for a really good one!

Thwack thwack thwack

[What I had for breakfast this morning: The usual--an egg, jasmine rice, freshly-picked kale out of the garden and Adam's homemade sriracha.]

A few weeks ago, I moved my private practice, The Saxena Clinic, out of the office that Adam and I lovingly and painstakingly put together eight years ago and into a vibrant collaborative wellness center anchored by a terrific yoga studio. I'm sharing a floor with a variety of incredible holistic practitioners, and I couldn't be happier. 

 

See? So happy. My plants also could not be happier, especially about that great big window!

I was scheduled to open my doors here at the new space on March 1, but everything got in the way: all the things that one has to do when moving a business were going all haywire all over the place. And then Adam, who is my painter and handyman and general executor of all things, got the flu. And then I got the flu and Kamal did, too, days before I was supposed to start seeing patients here. We were all sick, and I was still desperately trying to make this move happen. I texted my friend Anne, who is very sensible, about how stressed and overwhelmed I felt, and she called me on the phone (which, like, nobody ever does anymore, which makes me think my texts sounded really desperate) and offered this piece of priceless counsel: Why don't you just push your move out a week? 

And as soon as she made that suggestion, I felt such profound relief. I was sick, and practitioners shouldn't be treating patients when they're sick, anyway. Moreover, I didn't have an office in which to receive patients. I was trying to make an impossible situation work, and that is never healthy or productive. 

You know when you're on a hiking path, and sometimes a branch comes out of nowhere and hits you in the face? That's annoying. But you keep following the path, and you know it's a path because it's cleared enough that you can walk on it and because most of the time branches are not hitting you in the face. 

But if you turn and suddenly branches are hitting you in the face over and over again--thwack thwack thwack--then it behooves you to notice that. It behooves you to consider: maybe this is not my path. 

The most fundamental tenet of acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, the most basic goal of every treatment, is not to fix your tendonitis or address your depression or stoke your metabolism. The goal is, always, to put you on your right path. You know when you're in that place, where everything feels good and supported and strong, where great opportunities are just flying your way, and where it's easy to tell the difference between challenges that you're meant to learn from and obstacles you're meant to avoid? That's being on your right path. Good health is just a happy side effect of being there. 

In all of my eagerness and excitement to move in to my new space, I'd stepped off my right path. And all those branches thwacking me in the face I ignored, stubbornly and blindly trudging ahead, until one big branch, named The Flu That Will Sideline Your Entire Family, knocked me soundly onto my ass and made me reach out to a friend who, lucky for me, is awfully smart. 

I cancelled all my patients for the week, and they were all, of course, very understanding. I moved in, but more slowly, in a more realistic way. I focused on starting right in this new place and gave up on the idea of starting right away.  Adam painted a beautiful ombré effect all over the walls, I meticulously lined plants along the south-facing window, wonderful friends came to help me move and gauge space and brainstorm decor. Like my plants, I'm here now, settled and safe, basking, thriving, and growing a little bit more every day.  I've found my way back to walking my right path, whole, healed, and ready to help others find their right path, too. 

All that was needed was a little space, just a little room to breathe and look around before my next step. What about you? What branches thwack you in the face? What's steered you away from your right path? What brings you back? 

Broccoli that is too delicious to photograph

Seriously, try to stop eating this broccoli.

I have been meaning to post this recipe for months now--months during which we've eaten this dish at least twice every week.  The reason I haven't posted it? I keep meaning to take a picture of it to post with this recipe.  And every time, every single time Adam's made this, we eat it all before I remember I was going to take a picture. We have to insist Kamal also eat his spaghetti or chicken or anything, anything else for dinner besides just this broccoli. Sometimes on my way to get the after-dinner piece of dark chocolate I am kind of religious about, I will be waylaid by the bowl of this broccoli yet to be put away and stand at the counter eating it, completely forgetting my chocolate. If you already like broccoli, you will understand how rhapsodic I am about this recipe I am when you make it. For people who like broccoli, it's basically like French fries. For people who don't like broccoli, this one might convert them. 

 Also? So. Easy. 

 That Broccoli Adam Makes

One head of broccoli, chopped

Two to four tablespoons of coconut oil, olive oil, or if you are really trying to convert a broccoliphile, bacon fat

Toss them together on a baking pan with a little salt and pepper.  ("You could do it in a bowl," opines Adam, "but why make another dish?") Use your hands, if you are really going to do it like Adam, which you should. 

Put that pan in a 500 degree oven for half an hour or so, till it looks really brown and what you could optimistically call" caramelized" but what is actually borderline burned. Trust.   

Put your broccoli in a bowl, maybe sprinkle it with more salt and pepper, and eat. 

 

 

 Am I right? 

 

Grandma's hat

A couple of years ago, after meeting Adam's mom, my friend Anne texted me "FYI, you totally hit the mother-in-law jackpot."

And she's right, of course. Leslie is one of those people that everyone describes as the nicest person they've ever met. She both sends and recommends great books to me on the regular. She has knitted all of us hats and other beautiful things. She is instantly beloved by every baby that lays its new eyes upon her. She is that kind of person. 

I hit the mother-in-law jackpot, true, and along with it got a wonderful and inspiring friend in Leslie. But Kamal? Kamal hit the grandma jackpot. Those two, Kamal and his grandma, are a match made in heaven.  

 A few years ago Leslie knitted Kamal a Christmas stocking, and every year she sends along fun little presents for Kamal to fish out of what he calls his "magic sock." This year, Kamal pulled a hat hand-knitted by Grandma out of his stocking, exclaimed "It's a Santa hat!" and proceeded to never take it off again.  

 

It has a pompom! And it stayed on for rocket launching, 

hot-cocoa drinking (from another special stocking stuffer: this cup that used to belong to Kamal's great-grandpa, Harry), 

tidying up, 

thoughtful chats in the garden, 

neighborhood puddle-jumping, 

playing the game I call "only-child catch," 

and solving the world's economic challenges. 

 

There are a lot of reasons I don't like Christmas. For years, Adam and I would more or less ignore the holiday, spending the day quietly and blissfully together. But now we have Kamal, and he loves it. Of all the wonderful gifts that we've received from Leslie and Steve, Adam's dad, one of the most precious is the way they've modeled for our own little family a way to experience this holiday in a way that allows Kamal to be joyful and engaged without getting wrapped up in hyperconsumerism or culturally projected expectations. 

Kamal doesn't understand yet how lucky he is to have such a terrific set of grandparents. But I do, and I  am grateful, deeply, on his behalf and on mine, too. 

Vanilla-coconut jellies

Yesterday, Kamal and I made this kyauk kyaw recipe from Girl Cooks World. I'd been promising to share with him the joys of agar-agar for some time, and yesterday, a lazy around-the-house kind of day, was just right. 

Agar-agar, also called Kanten, is a thickening and gelling agent obtained from algae. It's used in a similar way to gelatin, and it produces a texture I think most people would be hard-pressed to tell apart from Jell-O. 

You can buy agar-agar in strand form, too, but the powder is easier to measure. Finding it at an Asian market instead of a Western grocery is a smart move, budget-wise. 

Here are all the ingredients you need: Two and a quarter tablespoons of agar-agar powder, two and a half cups of water, a cup of coconut milk, a little more than a quarter cup of sugar,  a pinch of salt, and your favorite flavoring extract. We used vanilla extract, which Adam makes from fragrant vanilla beans and booze, instead of the rosewater extract recommended in the original recipe. 

Bring all the ingredients except the extract to a boil, simmer the mixture for a bit, then add in your flavorings and pour it all into a pan to let cool and set. 

Since Kamal's favorite color is pink, and also since I try really hard not to give Kamal artificial food colorings, I picked a couple of beet stalks, washed them, and then sort of wrung them out over the pan as the coconut mixture cooled in it. Result: beautiful fuschia swirls! 

Be prepared for super-pink fingertips, though. 

We waited impatiently for the mixture to set (it took about 40 minutes) and then Kamal got to work with his ever-growing collection of cookie cutters.

Ta-da! 

My co-chef tastes and approves. I think you will, too! 

On keeping the balance

[What I had for breakfast today: jasmine rice, a little bit of roast chicken, an egg, some sauteed baby kale, and Adam's kimchi.]

We had a nice, quiet long weekend, during which Adam, Kamal and I all spent a lot of time resting, playing, cooking, eating, gardening and housekeeping. We left the house once, to drive to Jenner and  go for a mellow walk on Toby's favorite beach. 
 

It's been my goal, since this most recent presidential election, to change my approach to work, play and parenting in order to be generally more effective. I've felt both chagrined and challenged by the revealed status of civil rights in this country, and both inspired and indebted to the work of generations of civil-rights activists. There is a lot of progress still to be made, and it's easy to feel overwhelmed by how much work has been laid before us.

And here's what I'm learning, as I try to step up and carry on the work of creating progress: there's a real balance--one I haven't at all figured out yet--to staying informed and active without being knocked sideways and losing your joy.

 

Joan Baez says, and I remind myself of this all the time: "Action is the antidote to despair." It's true. But knowing the right action to take requires open-mindedness and awareness, and those by themselves can feel too much sometimes.

This is just a reminder to all of us, with our strong intentions to shoulder our share of this long fight for true equality, that it's important to take time to care for ourselves, too. It's not just "okay" or "forgivable" to go to bed early, or take an hour to go for a run, or spend extra time cooking your dinner, or laugh over a glass of wine with your partner. It's imperative. You are needed, strong and healthy and grounded and energized.

So care for yourself like a warrior. Let every act of self-care be an act of revolution. When it is the right time for the right action, you'll be ready to step forward and act in the most effective way possible.

Can you be THIS ready? 

Starting over (and over and over and over)

Okay. These last few weeks have been bad. 

In no particular order of badness, these are some of the things that have felt bad: The results of the presidential election left me frankly heartbroken. Kamal had this stomach bug that made him poop explosively for days. Our dog, sweet old Toby, finally died after a long, loving life, and we miss him so much. 

What I feel like doing, today, is staying in bed with the covers over my head, watching dumb sitcoms on my smartphone, numb and forgetful. What I feel like doing is indulging in denial, cushioning myself against grief and disappointment.

But the world doesn't need us to hide. The world needs us, more than ever every day, to be bright and brave. And in my little world of home and family, I am watching Kamal try to process this first great loss, this absence where his true and constant friend used to be.  

And I know it is my work to model for him the way we move through grief and back to productive engagement with the world. I'll break it into steps for him, and as always, showing Kamal how to find his right path puts me right back on mine.  

So, sweet Kamal, good friends, everyone carrying heavy sadness or incapacitating anger or blinding disappointment today: here is what we will do. We'll feel our feelings, honestly and bravely. And then we'll focus on our breathing. We'll stretch, go outside, do good work, and give where there is a need.  Those are the steps; those are what will bring us back into the world that right now is requiring us all to be strong and resourceful. And if ever it feels too hard--and, let's be real, there will be times it feels too hard--we'll start over. 

Again, we'll sit with our feelings. We'll breathe, just one breath at a time, in and out, until we're ready to do more. Then we'll stretch and feel our bodies, our only and best vehicles for every kind of change. We'll get outdoors, remind ourselves of how connected we are to other humans, to animals and to plants; we'll remember the importance of protecting our intricately interconnected planet. We'll work hard at the work we do--whether it's helping people,  or earning money so we can donate it to help people, or building our influence to help people-- because a lot of people need our help. And then we will give what we can when we can, whether it's a cup of coffee for the guy camped out on a bench in the park or many monthly donations to causes in which we believe. 

Just like meditation, every bit of life is a practice in starting over. I know this month has been hard on a lot of people. I hope you start over with me, because there is a lot of work to do. 

 




Weekend at home

Kamal wept this morning because he didn't want to go to preschool. "It's not that I don't like my preschool. I love my preschool," he explained, between sniffles. "But I love home MORE."

Well. That's an awfully nice thing for this mama to hear, and an affirmation of the way we tend to live our life as a family: centered tightly around our kitchen and garden, celebrating the small and the mundane for the beauty they bring.

Here are some of the ways Kamal enjoyed his time at home this weekend. I hope they inspire you to enjoy the place that feels like home to you, and to make every small event a celebration of the loveliness of your whole life. 

 

In our drought-afflicted region, it's  always a long wait for a proper puddle in which to splash. Kamal didn't waste any time.  

 

Kamal started these sunflowers from seeds and then helped me transplant the seedlings into the front yard. They are awfully pretty, but didn't make for excellent hide-and-seek territory, despite best efforts.  

I love this photo of Kamal and Daddy Bear looking out together from the "hello/goodbye" window in front of our house, exactly as they did almost two years ago, in this photo:

   

Adam brought home a new shop vac and Kamal tested it out right away. It was very exciting. Because of this vacuum Kamal learned the word "powerful" and has been using it correctly and with gravitas. 

 

And of course, it's always important to make time to hang with your best friend in all the world. If you can share with her the chore of feeding the chickens, even better. If you can do it in a ladybug costume, well.  I can't imagine a better way to weekend. 

Ridiculously fun beans

Kamal bringing the beans he picked to Daddy to cook

Red noodle beans, also called yard-long beans, are seen in many Asian cuisines, but they're pretty unusual in the United States. 

Healthy and happy bean plant

They're beautiful, though, and as easy to grow as any other bean. More importantly, they're delicious. 

Even more importantly, they're ridiculously fun. You can kind of make a lasso out of them! 

They have an impressive nutritional profile--primarily in their vitamin C and magnesium content--but, I mean, can't you tell just by looking at them that they're full of good-for-you stuff?

They are actually this color, like, in real life. 

My favorite way to cook them is to cut them into 1-inch lengths and sauté them quickly in a very hot pan with a little bit of garlic. 

They lose some of their pretty color when cooked, but they're still tasty: earthy, a little sweet, with a crisp-tender texture. 

Adam served these over rice, alongside some hanger steak and his fantastic kimchi. 

If you're interested in growing these beautiful legumes, you can buy seeds at the Kitazawa Seed Company or at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

On feeling okay about feeling bad

This is something I wrote about a year ago, after a bombardment of really upsetting stories in the news cycle, when I felt like a lot of us were struggling to feel okay. 

Since the news cycle hasn't gotten more cheerful, and since, in fact, I've been hearing from a lot of people that they feel overwhelmed and hopeless about the general state of things, I thought I would put it out there again. I hope it's helpful to you and yours. 

(October 16, 2015)

So Kamal has been asking me where his “other” grandparents are: along with learning the sounds letters make and the concept of gender, preschool has taught him that some kids have two sets of grandparents. He knows he has grandparents in Pennsylvania, but where are the other ones?

My father met Kamal when Kamal was 7 weeks old, and again when he was just over a year and beginning to walk. He sent him a teddy bear Kamal named Daddy Bear and a talking stuffed dog Kamal dubbed Puppy. When Kamal was about a year and a half old, my father died in a hospice in Florida. My mother died 18 years ago, when I was 19, of a swiftly-moving cancer. So Kamal’s questions are hard to answer straightforwardly, but I’m trying my best.

I tell him that I don’t know for sure where they are, but they have died, which means they don’t live anywhere right now. I tell them that different people believe different things about what happens to people after they die, and then I try and tell him a little about some of those things. Then he tells me his theories, and asks more questions. We’ve had some really wonderful conversations.

But of course I am sad, thinking about the way my mother would have adored her sweet, smart little grandson; the way my father would have swelled with pride over every one of Kamal’s accomplishments. And when Kamal sighs, “I miss them,” I can only believe him, and say, “I know, baby. Me too.”

And so these last few days, I’ve been moving along through a rusty cloud of old, achy grief, remembering things, regretting things, wishing futile wishes. It doesn’t fall anywhere under the #healthyhedonism tag. It does not feel good.

And yet–and yet. And yet I think always about a quote I found years ago, when I’d lost my first pregnancy and could not even believe how sad I was.  The American poet and philosopher George Santayana wrote: “To be interested in the changing of the seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with the spring.”

This isn’t about looking for the silver lining in a shitty situation. It’s not about being an optimist, or having a positive attitude. It’s about being present in every single moment that you possibly can, about living your whole life with your whole self when you are able and forgiving yourself when you’re not. It’s about learning from your pain as willingly as you learn from your joy. It’s about recognizing the tremendous privilege of knowing a wide spectrum of emotion.

Seeking joy in every moment isn’t healthful. It’s not the human condition. Avoiding sorrow isn’t possible; it comes for each of us. Days like these last few, days when sorrow finds me, I do my best to be interested in it. I try to breathe it in and taste it. I try not to hide it from Kamal, because no matter how much I want this not to be true, sorrow will come for him sometimes, as well. I want to model for him ways to move forward with sorrow, to avoid getting stuck in it, to show him it’s possible to live with sorrow and still have a joyful life.

There is gratitude for this sorrow: it’s deepened my empathy and helped me reach others who are feeling stuck. In many ways, it’s defined the path of my life, and my life is good. It’s taught me, most importantly, that I can feel completely broken, completely beyond repair, and still, given time and patience, I can heal–and because of that, I know sorrow is not something to fear.

We talk about sorrow like its trajectory is relentlessly downward: we talk about “feeling down” and how we wish we could “cheer up.” But sorrow doesn’t bring us down. It elevates us. It gives us the kind of perspective you get from climbing to a high place. It makes our world bigger, it casts the net of our awareness wider, it expands us in every way, if we let it.

What I’m saying is, and what I want Kamal to know, is: Don’t be afraid of heartbreak. It sucks, it’s hard, it’s lonesome. But don’t be afraid of it, because it is the thread that connects your human heart to every single other one. 

 

Peculiar ratio

My mom and I in, I think, 1995, at a wedding in Honolulu. We liked to coordinate our outfits. 

Today is the 19th anniversary of my mother's death. I was 19 when she died, and so this day for me marks a peculiar ratio: I have lived as long without my mother as I lived with her. Half of my life I've been someone with a mother, and half of my life without. 

Of course, it doesn't feel like two even halves: the last nineteen years have gone by much more quickly than my first nineteen years. As much as I feel permanently marked by that loss, it feels recent, too. I mean, it still sucks. I still feel a sharp tug of envy when I see other people, especially other women, with their mothers. 

Here's the thing: nobody is like your mother. Nobody replaces her. There is nobody you can cry in front of with the same abandon, nobody you can fight as hard with, nobody who comforts you in the same straightforward and simple way. Nobody who can call you mean things in Chinese with so much love. Nobody who knows exactly the right things to say and do when everyone in seventh grade except for you is invited to that one party. Nobody who gets how much you will treasure that hardbound anthology of Anne of Green Gables and how you are going to need some time curled up alone with it after you've carefully peeled away the wrapping paper.

And here are the things I wish my mother had lived to see: the garden in our backyard, especially our pomegranate tree. The food we eat, dishes so often inspired by her heritage, and the way Adam cooks it, with so much love and commitment that it can't be anything but delicious to the point of magic. The Internet as it stands today, oh my goodness, she would have hated it and then loved it, embraced its infinite possibility. Today's Pope. A woman candidate for president. 

Kamal, more than anything. Kamal, who told me once that he had talked to his grandma who died, but that what they discussed was a secret between the two of them. Kamal, who cries out in joy when I wear bright colors, just like she did. Kamal, who gives the songs of birds meanings like she did, whose big eyes I know she would have gladly drowned in. More than anything I wish she could see Kamal. More than anything I wish she could meet him, babysit him, scold me about feeding him cold things for breakfast sometimes, worry with me over his sniffles and bowels and drive me crazy correcting my parenting. 

I make collages like this not so much to show the family resemblance--although it's there, isn't it?--but out of wistfulness, out of a wish to see the two of them together.

I wish she had taken the RV trip across the country she always talked about. I wish she had traveled across Europe, seen the houses on Cape Cod, tried out yoga. I wish she'd seen how incredibly, improbably, ridiculously beautiful she was, instead of worrying about her weight. I wish she'd been able to hear how many times the word "radiant" was spoken as people remembered her after her death. 

She was radiant. Even when she was gaunt and yellow with illness, bent over the kitchen island in pain, she would look up when I walked in and smile at me, full of love, wanting to reassure me. That smile lit everything: our hushed house, the humid valley in which it sat, my path forward after she was gone. That smile! It was like all the light in the world, all the goodness that can exist, was coming through her. Remembering it now--thinking of what it must have taken, to muster that much good in the middle of the agony of failing to resign herself to the end of her life--I don't believe it will ever stop aching, right in the middle of my chest. I don't believe it should. 

Because what she did for me, my mother, by dying when I was nineteen years old, was show me how I should live the rest of my life. I was an asshole, like every nineteen-year-old. I was self-absorbed, obsessed with my stupid boyfriend, taking everything for granted. In the midst of watching my mother say a grindingly reluctant good-bye to her life, I drove way too fast all the time, like life wasn't a crazy precious beautiful gift that no one should squander. I argued with her, passionately, about everything, like we were just any teenage girl and her mother and not also a primary caregiver and a dying woman who weighed maybe eighty pounds. 

But also, I loved her. After a lifetime of dieting together, I learned to cook things rich with cream and butter and eggs, anything that might tempt her appetite and help her to gain a little weight. I stroked her hair when she threw up, woke up at night to walk her to the bathroom, sat in the doctor's offices with her and got angry on her behalf when she needed me to. I stayed calm for her until I thought I couldn't, and then I found even more calm somewhere, and more and more as the weeks wore on, drawing from a well far deeper than I'd realized existed. I learned what I was capable of, and what I could grow into, if I let myself, if I could work continuously to be honest with myself about my own ego and my own failings. 

She asked me--she made me promise--to remember her before her illness, not during it. She said her own mother had asked for the same promise. And I promised. And I think I'm keeping the promise, because I remember, with love and laughter, more about her before her illness than during it. 

I remember her following homeless people in order to give them food. I remember her telling me she'd seen a mother cat and kittens in the parking lot down the street, and taking me with her to leave an odorous mixture of milk and tuna fish under the hedges there. I remember how hard she laughed with her sisters, how much she loved Oprah, how she never ever went anywhere without lipstick on. I remember shopping with her--to this day, I've never had more fun shopping with anyone. She and I could spend ten hours in a row at a mall, stopping for lunch, then for coffee and pastries, before heading home with our purchases and throwing a "fashion show" for my bemused dad. (Honestly, if my mother were still alive, I'm not sure I would have become the champion of ethical fashion that I try to be--because it was just too much fun, buying off-the-rack stuff with her.) I remember having my heart broken by mean girls at school and thinking--if I can just wait to cry until I get home to Mom, it will be okay. It will be okay once I'm crying with Mom. 

I have other people I cry with now. I am lucky in love, in every avenue of my life--my partner, my sister, my friends, my parents-in-law, my precious and spectacular son. I love them and they love me, and I am grateful for all the tears of mine they've absorbed. I don't mean to diminish that gratitude at all by saying this: it's not the same. I miss my mother. I miss her every day. I want her back. I want to be two grown-up women together, reminiscing, laughing. I want to have learned to fight with her in a smart and productive way, or at least to fight and then make up over coffee and pastries. I want to call her the next time I'm sad and have her help me feel better. I want her to come visit me, to celebrate with me the beautiful life I've landed in, and I want to take her shopping. 

If the beliefs my mother held sacred are true, then I will see her again one day. If they are not true, then there is this: I was the daughter of a woman who loved me. I was a daughter who loved my mother, who was gifted the ultimate opportunity to show her that love: to care for her in her last days. There is the love we had for each other, which, no matter how fiercely we could disagree, endures still. There is my sunshine of a child, whose smile is the first I've seen as bright as hers. There is my absolute commitment to living as fully as possible, to tasting every sweetness and exclaiming over every beauty, to taking the roadtrips and singing along to the radio, to dancing in the kitchen and wearing the pretty dresses, because it's the best possible way I can think to celebrate her memory. 

As a very young woman, with every path open to her and eyes full of secrets

Refrigerator bread-and-butter pickles

[What I had for breakfast today: the last of the lamb curry congee with sautéed collards, fermented sriracha, and a fried egg.]

It still feels like late summer here, which means there are cucumbers everywhere. Cucumbers are currently Kamal's favorite food; he eats them sliced and plain, eschewing any salt or spice or dip. He's a cucumber purist. These sweet, mildly spicy bread-and-butter pickles, though, are one of the few ways he'll gladly accept adulterated cucumbers.

We love this recipe for the same reasons you will: it's easy, it's fast, it doesn't require major processing or any canning or even heat. All you need for tools are a good knife, a big jar, and your refrigerator--although a food processor certainly speeds things up.

Adam's mom emailed me this recipe in 2011, and we've made it every year since. It was created by family friend Dave, who came and visited us this past April and got along swimmingly with Kamal.

Sliced cucumber mixture just before pouring brine into jars

You can certainly scale the recipe up or down depending on how many cucumbers you've got.

Dave's Refrigerator B & B Pickles

Place in a large jar:

6 cups thinly sliced cucumbers (for these and the onions, Adam used the slicing mechanism on the food processor, set to a 2mm slice) 

1 cup thinly sliced onions 


1 pepper, sliced (optional; Adam put a couple of cayennes in our most recent batch)  

For the brine, in a separate container, mix together:

1 1/2 cups sugar

1  cup white vinegar (Adam used our homemade apple scrap vinegar here, but we've used white vinegar too. Either works deliciously.)

1 tablespoon salt

1/4 teaspoon celery seed

1 teaspoon mustard seed

1/8 teaspoon turmeric

Pour this brine over cucumbers, onions and pepper(s) in jar. Tightly shut lid and put jar in refrigerator. Pickles will be ready to eat in a week, maybe a little less, and in the fridge will keep for a month or two or three--or possibly longer; we just always eat them before that. 

Are they ready yet? 

What's doing in the garden today

[What I had for breakfast today: lamb curry congee with sautéed collards, fermented sriracha and a scrambled egg.] 

 Back in June, Kamal planted the seeds for the pumpkin patch he wanted. 

Here's that pumpkin patch (along with some melon and squash plants) today. 

Adam built these neat house-shaped trellises for the happy tomato plants to climb. They make nice shady seating areas (and awesome hide-and-seek territory) . 

These sunflowers! 

The pomegranate tree working overtime and ahead of schedule:

Purple tree collards (same ones I ate for breakfast!) and bright borage:

The nasturtiums are recovered enough from Toby napping on them to resume growing up through this ladder. 

Two kinds of very orderly beets in the foreground; monster boysenberry bramble and giant chartreuse mustard greens in the background. 

Oh, and yeah. So many tomatoes. 

 

And peppers! So many peppers.

Oh, and holler at us if you need a little rosemary. 

Or bay leaves. 

There's cucumbers and bittermelon and kale and basil and a whole bunch of other stuff I didn't get photos of today. This is a great time of year in the garden!

Lamb curry congee

[What I had for breakfast today: THIS. Read on for the recipe!]

So, you guys, Adam is pretty ridiculous. I mean, we both have our flaws, of course, and we fight and make up and hold grudges and let things go like normal married people. But just the quantity of urban homesteading he's able to accomplish while working and parenting--I live with the guy, and I don't understand how he does it. 

(Here's a link to an article about Adam and all the great cooking he does!)

This morning when I woke up, the Instant Pot was simmering away and smelling delicious. Adam dished me up a bowl of this incredible curried lamb congee, rich with his homemade chicken stock, and then garnished it with a fresh tomato (which he grew), fermented mustard greens (also homegrown, and which he pickled), and homemade yogurt (yup). As I eat it, and write this, he's mixing up some sandwich bread dough. While it cooked, he was kneading bagel dough. This guy.

I asked Adam if I could share the recipe here, and he said, "Sure, but I just threw a bunch of stuff into the Instant Pot." Here's what further inquiry revealed; do keep in mind all quantities are very approximate.
 

Lamb Curry Congee

Lamb necks, about a pound

One and a half cups of jasmine rice, washed

8 cups of chicken stock, ideally homemade, plus about 2 cups of water

About three inches of ginger, unpeeled, scrubbed and sliced*
 
About 3 tablespoons of the tikka masala from Savory Spice 

One small onion, sliced

Four cloves of garlic, sliced

One cayenne pepper, sliced 

*If you aren't sure that your ginger is organic, peel it!

Put everything in your Instant Pot or pressure cooker, and cook for 45 minutes at high pressure. If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can do this in a heavy pot on the stovetop or in the oven, too--but you'll want to let it simmer for a few hours. 

Garnish with fresh tomatoes and pickled mustard greens and yogurt. (Honestly, I think any greens would be delicious here, as would cucumbers, hard-boiled eggs, minced herbs, toasted fennel seeds...)