Why did I read the Mueller Report?

As a daughter to two Berkeley hippies, I have always been fascinated by politics. 2016 brought an addiction I hadn’t yet fully succumbed to, only to be compounded by the move to D.C. in 2017.

Most days are peppered with hits of governmental news, starting with my morning launch of The Daily Podcast. The NYT Upshot is plucked out of my Inbox once I hit the computer.  At lunch, conversations with my Mom often veer to yesterday’s WaPo headline, and by 4 pm, I make dinner with Nicole Wallace in the background.  PBS Newshour after dinner leads to a break for Jeopardy, but as I’m heading upstairs for bed, Mom flips to MSNBC to watch Rachel twirl through ironic quips and dramatic pauses.

Shane has suggested that I am too focused on politics (as he scrolls through Twitter), so why did I spend my precious afternoon reading time underlining the 728 pages published by WaPo reporters who added dozens of documents and articles to enhance the raw text of the Mueller report?

Because I need to know that heroism in government lives still. For two years, a team of more than 40 brilliant, workaholics unscrambled computer code, interviewed 500+ witnesses and translated Russian emails. Every day for two years, Trump was ‘Breaking News,’ while a silent team of experts was working in an unidentified office building with a loading dock. Like a duck coasting on the water, Mueller was mute, while his minions were toiling. Trump is our daily nightmare. I needed to balance the equation of my attention and honor the behind-the-scenes investigation, even if I knew the final ‘verdict’ didn’t satisfy my need to see the SOB de-throned.

We all see the lies and deception. But what was powerful about reading the report was that I, a mildly bored mom in the Virginia suburbs, could read the work of an army of people who worked for months to systematically document facts for public consumption. Trump communicates by tweet. Mueller communicates with a tome, and despite what Barr might think, Mueller wrote it for us.

Mueller and his team wrote this legal treatise as a story. He absolutely intended it to be read not by pundits but by the masses.  In 448 pages, I found ONE typo (thanks Mom for all those grammar lessons). [On page 147 of Volume 2, when describing Cohen’s state of mind as he begins to turn on Trump and Trump threatens him and his family, Mueller added an erroneous possessive.] Can you imagine if we were given access to the daily output of any department within the White House? Mom’s red pen would be bone dry.

If you take the long-view, and as an optimist and formally-trained historian, I must, the American system is working. Yes we might have a constitutional crisis, Trump might squat in the White House until there is a coup and Kava-nope might give us 5.5 more years of this nightmare.  But 10 years from now, 50 years from now, our democracy will be stronger for it. We will have persevered through shadowy times, just as we did through the Civil War, and World War II. We will endure Voldemort dressed as an orange-haired clown with a long tie and a MAGA hat, just as we endured savagery and cruelty before.

For all the complexities of legal codes, the intrigue of Russian spies and oligarchs, the texts messages exchanged between wealthy sycophants in the Seychelles and wealthy sycophants at Mar-a-lago, I am buoyed by the mere existence of the report. As Americans, we live in a society where I can read the texts of spys while sitting in my rocking chair, waiting for the oven to pre-heat.  That’s a society most people can only dream of living in.

It is argued that Putin’s main purpose in waging election warfare was to prove to his own people that Western democracies are just as untrustworthy as Russia and not enviable. Just as the Berlin wall collapsed 30 years ago this summer, that false idea will collapse again. The ways to bring about that collapse and persevere include paying attention. Trusting the government will get it right over the long haul. Trusting an open and free society to work through struggles.

Reading the report is one way to prove to both Putin and Trump that Americans aren’t suckers. We are watching and we will vote November 3rd 2020. Tick tock mother fuckers.

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Permission to run away

I never had the deep impulse others do to have a baby.  Somewhere around 30, my husband and I grew bored filling our Sundays with lingering brunches, newspapers and trips to Target.  Our contemporaries were becoming parents, we had a 3-bedroom, 2.5 bath home and heck, why not?

Instead of hopping in the sack, we judiciously laid out a plan to adopt. Two years later, we were blessed with an infant boy who embraced us as dearly as we treasured him. As captivating as he was, on the plane ride home from Korea, this new mom died a little inside.

Our son is truly a marvel. I love him more than I have ever loved anyone. But in over a decade as his mom, I have never felt 100% whole. Captain Obvious will tell you parenting is a blessing, and also very hard. But Captain Obvious is not a mom.

It’s not just me.  As a personal coach to a myriad of moms, I can say unequivocally, motherhood is not always blissful. Motherhood is enduring relentless guilt, trying to meet mythical expectations and always turning the other cheek. We feel inadequate if we don’t spend consuming amounts of time teaching, feeding, grooming, entertaining, chauffeuring, or playing with our kids. We feel compelled to fill every hanging chad of downtime with enrichment.

Even when our kids aren’t physically present, we strain to perfect our parenting skills. We tape phrases from parenting books to our bathroom mirrors. We download podcasts, forward each other articles and pin inspiring memes on Pinterest. We are hungry for hacks on how we can find joy, exhibit calm in the face of a tantrum, let kids find their creativity in boredom all while ALSO chilling the f*ck out because our kids are anxious, over-booked and stressed out themselves.  It’s exhausting and depressing when we invariably fall short.

These never-ending duties lead most moms to never, ever take a break. We don’t carve out time to be alone, when we can dream without interruption. We stop listening to our inner voices. Over time, the voices become whispers, and eventually mute. Instead, we feel trapped but the prison of our own making, so we just white knuckle it through each day, week and year, optimistic that eventually, we will reclaim ourselves at some future date. But here’s the rub: if we squelch our inner selves so completely, we can never be reborn.

Moms, smell the roses (and not just those we get on that one day a year in May) – we are driving ourselves crazy. I have yet to meet an un-anxious mother who isn’t swallowing anti-depressants, CBD-laced gummy bears or Rose’ every day at wine-o’clock.

With my magic wand, I am giving all mothers permission to leave home. No, not permanently, but frequently and with intention. You have my permission to find a place and time every single day, every single week, AND every single year to pay attention to yourself. Not just permission, but a prescription to treat your chronic guilt, pressure and angst.

Begin wherever you are. If a pedicure once every two weeks is where you need to start, start there. But, hopefully, you’ll build a muscle to go big and not go home. To ensure your souls don’t die while you are caring for others’ lives, conjure the courage and be brave. As Brene Brown says, “Dare greatly.”

Bravery is walking in the footsteps of Cheryl Strayed or Grandma Gatewood, the first women (at the age of 67!) to hike the Appalachian trail in the 1950s. Convert a closet into your personal reading nook complete with Christmas lights and a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign. Or do as Charles Lindbergh’s wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh did and abandon to a deserted beach and write. Anne gave birth to 6 kids, was a pilot in her own right and left home a few weeks every year to be by herself. This at a time when the idea of women’s liberation suggested pantyhose instead of girdles. (Side note, Anne’s memoirs are worth the audible subscription if you’re bringing your ear pods on your solo walk in the woods.)

When you do create ways to retreat, your goal isn’t just to recover from the relentlessness of mommy-hood. Your goal is to grow. Eavesdrop on your fantasies. Fight the excuses. Be creative. What’s a superpower you didn’t know you had?  If you suck at something, did it still bring you joy in the endeavor?  Great! Who cares if it sucks. The job within the job is the practice of attending to yourself. That’s a low bar and yet far too few of us even try.

I have heard excuses from friends and clients on why they are uniquely incapable of leaving. “My kids are too little.” “I need the PTO for family obligations.” “My husband will only eat a candy bar for dinner if I’m gone.” “I can’t afford it.”  I understand that there are certain situations in our lives that require us to grit through tough periods – terminal illnesses, abusive situations, extreme work scenarios.  Be honest with yourself, though.  Is it really one of the 2 or 3 times in your life when these exceptional exemptions keep you from abandoning the monotony of motherhood regularly?

Don’t hide your newfound commitment to yourself. Don’t apologize for running away. Publicize the boundaries you are setting.  By sharing your plans with your tribe, you hold yourself accountable and you proliferate permission to others who need a model of chutzpah.

In other parenting guides, experts suggest that doing this self-work will actually help you to be a better mom. Maybe. But I hope not. That misses the whole point. You are not doing this for them.  You are doing this for you alone.

I have yet to crack open a child rearing manual with one line: tend to them enough so they can grow into adulthood and habitually walk away. That permission would be a blessing.

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Part 3: The Inner Circle

I just finished Michelle Obama’s Becoming. Michelle writes lovingly about lasting friends from childhood, college and her early jobs. (For example, Valerie Jarrett became a confidant when Michelle was working at Chicago City Hall.) Once Michelle was on the world’s stage, friends who knew her before she was FLOTUS grew to be even more valuable as the White House bubble limited her circle.

What Michelle describes, essentially the difficulty in developing new, intimate friendships in mid-life is common. Most of us in the middle of life are consumed by work, family and household obligations. We rely on past connections, if we spare any time at all for maintaining friendships. We give lip-service to the significance of friends, but for me, it wasn’t until major life events hit that I realized how continually I need a sisterhood.

Moving was a test for me on how to cultivate new relationships and add to my inner circle. In leaving home, I was giving up the proximity of loyal intimates at a time when I also knew that I would need even more people around me to hug. It’s been over a year and there are a growing number of women who I’m thrilled to get to know. Within this widening tribe, there are a special few who I feel particularly devoted to, friends I’ve been waiting my whole life for.  

The sign that drew me to the neighborhood and a new kindred spirit

When our realtor first turned the corner into our neighborhood, before we even saw the house, I spotted a woman wearing a progressive T-shirt outside her house. Next to her porch was a ‘Hate Has No Home Here’ sign. I literally said, out loud, “I don’t know what the house is like, but I already love the neighbors.” It turned out both the house and the neighborhood were a perfect fit.

A few weeks after the move, I ran up to this new neighbor as she was piling into her car with her son, work bags and carrying a can of diet soda. “You don’t know me yet, but you’re the reason we moved here!” I sounded deranged, I am sure, but she hugged me without a word. The time we’ve spent together doesn’t justify how much I cherish her. With texts, gulps of shared time sprinkled between life’s demands, and little acts of kindness for each other, we pretty much adore each other. Shane joked recently that this friend and I were going to open a B&B in Vermont together. She and I decided we’d prefer Santa Barbara.

Two other friends came to me through Jack and I met both on the same day: August 4th. With both ladies, our friendships started out sharing parenting conundrums. But what draws me to these lovely souls is not solely our similar contexts as moms. They are each super supportive, candid in a way I need true friends to be, and welcoming to solicitations of time together. I know which snacks they hide from their kids. I am learning how they navigate marriage, work and meals. I’ve come to know them by walking, taking our kids on local adventures and asking if there are errands I can run for them. They usually say no, but I’ll keep asking. Accepting help is like a trust fall: can I admit to you when I need help,or accept yours when you offer? We all can do more of that: gifting to others that chance to help. The irony is when we accept little things, big things bloom and we turn new friends into family.

Midsummer, I got a text from a woman who was a ‘friend of a friend of a friend’ who had read my blog piece, ‘A Nice Place to Visit.’ Similarly forced to leave her beloved California because of her husband’s career, someone  had sent her my contact info. At the time of our first chat, we cracked up as it was discovered NEITHER OF US knew the people who had supposedly connected us. I don’t believe in coincidences; I think that’s how God works.

What began as phone chats about moving anxiety (essentially my overbearing relocation advice) has grown into a true sisterhood. Of course we walk, but we’ve also grocery shopped and protested together. We are very different in some endearing ways and I think she’d agree that we are also similar in our mutual affection for each other.

There are other new-found confidants I could describe, but my message on nurturing relationships that can be as meaningful as those from our past is simple: make intimate friendships a priority. Find ways to spend time together, even if it’s just running errands or exercising together.  Offer help when they don’t ask. Ask for help when you would have shied away from it before. Those of us who are managing to just barely endure life’s busiest era can appreciate what Michelle Obama herself had to learn: our sense of belonging in the world is secured by our inner circle.

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Part 2: Friends, where are you?

In 1995, I moved to England to attend the University of Durham. I arrived a week before classes to find 3 huge boxes of crap I had shipped off months before, torn open and abandoned at the bottom of an empty stairwell.  The dorm was vacant, but I was so tired I fell onto an unmade mattress and woke up after the sun had set and risen again.

When I finally woke up, I was probably the hungriest I have ever been. I had eaten all of the chalky protein bars I had packed for my Pan Am flight from SFO to Heathrow, so I had no choice but to stagger my way through town in search of food. (I have not travelled so ill-prepared since!) As I walked along the cobblestones, inhaling smells of diesel, wet pavement and the stale beer/stale urine fumes of pubs, I passed librarians on the way to work, uniformed kids hustling towards school, arms and bags flailing and lorry drivers idling on the side of the road. To every single  pedestrian, I said, ‘hello.’

I was met with stares, and even snickers by the kids.

Again and again, as I made my way to Durham’s city centre, I looked people in the eye and tried to engage. By the time I made it to Safeway, I had been ignored by at least a dozen people. As I sat devouring a soggy tuna salad sandwich (with corn in the tuna salad!), I remember thinking how hard-hearted the world seemed. I was embarrassed by my foreignness and my naivete. It was the loneliest I have ever felt.

That experience seems like it happened to another person, in another era. Clearly, in 1995, I was used to people saying hello in my hometown in California. It must have been the custom to always greet another walker back then, if only in eye contact. But it is only through the memory of how shocking Durham was, that I remember how it once was in the U.S. Now, over 20 years later when I walk those same hometown streets, very few people say ‘hi.’ Most have white cords dangling from their ears, exempting them from any personal contact.

The English inaccessibility of 1995 has spread, but I am determined to change it. The demise of greeting strangers scares me. For years after returning from England I didn’t have the fortitude to lock eyes with a passerby or dare to say ‘hi.’ At some point in the last 10 years, though, I have come back to exuberant greetings. I am now the obnoxious one who habitually smiles and greets strangers, wherever we meet. Jack does too.

We all sense that human connection is fundamental to our well-being. I’ve discussed how friendships, a fulcrum of human connection, is vital to my own sense of peace. But friends start as strangers.

Finding strangers to connect requires commitment. You have to brave possible rejections. I understand that for those who tend toward shyness, this sounds super scary. But at the very least, introverts can smile, open their hearts metaphorically, and walk through a door when the invitation is given. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, you must intentionally go out of your way to meet a fair number of people in order to find the special few worthy of meaningful bonds.

The easiest way to meet people as an adult is from work, or through your kids’ schools or activities. That’s fine for most, but it’s a little like cheating to me. For starters, you don’t get the broadest swath of humanity when you stick to those who are already in arms’ reach of your circle. With all the talk of resurgent tribalism in America, surrounding yourself with a homogenous posse doesn’t change that.

A lovely couple from Spokane. We chatted after I remarked on his Gonzaga hat.

So how do I meet strangers who may become friends? For starters, I walk up to people I don’t know and start a conversation. I met an agreeable couple on the Mall a week ago because the man was wearing a Gonzaga baseball hat.

When I first started training at the Cathedral, I sat next to a fellow California transplant. We decided within minutes we were both ‘cool chicks worth knowing.’ Jennifer and I have celebrated birthdays together, brought our families and dogs together, and discussed everything from nut allergies to pre-HIV San Francisco.

A cool chick from the Cathedral, Jennifer

Before we moved to VA, I joined a book group. In a few hours, I will be sharing leafy greens and diet soda with one of those book club friends, a bibliophilic Texan who has been a bartender, a realtor and an expert on the middle east.

As we become adults, we forget the thrill of ‘new relationship energy;’ a term my cousin Steve taught me about. I suspect when we forget about the excitement that can come from ‘flirting’ with new people we are susceptible to mid-life crises and marital affairs. But those new relationships can be friendships, you don’t have to destroy your other bonds. In fact, I’d argue that what people are seeking when they cheat on their partners is deep human connection they feel is lacking. As they say, ‘the sex appeal wears off.’

So, as adults charged with expanding our human connections, how else can you meet people outside of work/school/soccer practices?

Here are some ideas that have worked for me, both in landing in new cities and in entering new stages of my life:

  • Choose Uber/Lyft pool. Chances are you’ll add a few minutes to your ride, but you’ll have more time to chat with the driver and other passengers not normally in your sphere. (They might not become lifelong friends, but who’s to say!)
  • Travel. We don’t all have to be Rick Steves (did you know he got divorced?) but hitting the road opens you up to people in ways staying home doesn’t.
  • Become a regular at a restaurant. Two of my closest friends are those who know how much I love free refills, even at 6:30 am. (Tom and Becky, I am talking to you!)
  • Walk more. In our cars, we can ignore people. When you are waiting at a bus stop, hiking a trail or taking your kid to school, you meet people. Dogs are an easy foray into striking up conversations with people you don’t know. Borrow a neighbor’s if you don’t have one. (If you don’t know your neighbor, you know where to start this existential exercise! Teresa and Jocelyn, thank you for our new-found walking routine!)
  • Trader Joe’s. The cashiers are abnormally friendly and even the lines can spawn friendships. I had a walking buddy I knew tangentially before we started seeing one another weekly picking up cheerfully-branded staples. (Have you heard the insider Trader Joes podcast?)
  • Social media is having a crisis of identity, but my mother’s forum is made up of hundreds of women I couldn’t pick out of a lineup, but who share a listserv that is a virtual community. I have sought parenting advice, donated to causes I wouldn’t have known about and found camps for Jack when school is closed for election day. (Yes, the second Tuesday in November is a Holiday in VA. Vote November 6th even if you have to take PTO!)

My point is that meeting people, going out of your way to lock eyes with someone, is a prescription for whole-ness. Like the Grinch, your heart can grow three-times each time you turn a Who into a friend.

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Part 1: Friendships, why bother?

The move to Arlington VA from CA brought fears and anxiety, but my biggest heartache was leaving my friends.  I knew I could replicate most other aspects of my life, but I worried my long-developed friendships were irreplaceable.

In a short series, I am compelled to write on why friendships are key, how to nurture them, who to cultivate (and who to release) and where to find them.

A compilation of 40 well-known studies on friendships gets to the heart of why developing deep connections with people outside family is so important for a good life. Longevity, intellectual stimulation, professional success and mental health are all found to be enhanced by friendships. I couldn’t find a single study that said friendships weren’t worthwhile, except for a few that centered on teenagers and how bad seeds can influence peers. It’s a pretty universal belief that friendships are good for you.

In my own life, I know that when I was the saddest, feeling the most crazed, I had few friends. As a kid, I remember feeling like a looser. I envied my younger brother Alex who always had lots of friends and didn’t exude the insecurity I felt about being liked. My first true friendships came in high school, where I joined others who felt similarly marginalized; our bonds were strengthened by feeling like outsiders. It’s so common, right?  Packs of friends define themselves by the brands they wear, the playlists they create, the veganism they adopt. You begin to identify with a tribe of your own making in your teens and that tribe helps you to build up your own sense of self.

Phyra and I can go weeks without talking and yet I sometimes wake up and absolutely *know* we’ve just been together.

In college, you basically ONLY have your friends to depend on.  I think most people sense it is in this phase of life where we intentionally build up a base of friends meant to last.

My first few weeks of college, I was sick and hospitalized.  By the time I returned to the dorm, everyone seemed to have paired off.  I remember feeling totally alone. In the first weeks back, I was destroyed by my preordained roommate’s wish that I move all my stuff to another dorm so her new bestie could move in. We got over it and that freshman roommate, Jen, birthed my godchildren.

My freshman roommate Jen who birthed 2 of my godchildren. Actually, I think I am technically only the godmother to one of her twins, but I don’t remember which one. I adore them both!

Ultimately, it was my college friends who carried me through my 20s. I lived far from home throughout and it was my friend Anna who held my hand when I dislocated my knee. It was my friend Phyra who took an 8-hour train to bolster me so I could stick out my first week of school abroad. It was my friend Liz who flew across the world to read at my wedding. I naively chose a tired, cliche biblical quote about marriage, but Liz still brought tears to my eyes. It was Charly who moved in with Shane and I when our couple-hood was in its infancy.  Shane and I have often said that if Charly hadn’t lived with us that first year and balanced our teeter-totter, we might not have outlasted the stress of our new adult life (it was the first year of my low-carbing and HANGRY didn’t do justice to my pre-dinner psychosis.)

When I felt the lowest in that period, I was terribly lonely. I had no real way to build friends when we moved to Chicago in 2005. I worked as a solopreneur and had no way to make friends like I did when I met Julie in Ann Arbor. It was the first time I sought therapy.

I remember walking away from a session, having paid $150 and realized that I just paid for friendship. I called my friend Jenn and felt more heard in that free call than I did with the therapist. Very quickly, I did the cost-benefit analysis for my newly minted M.B.A. husband and we agreed we could move to costly California,  where I had friends without the hefty payout.

My dear friend Jenn of 25 years who has come to DC twice this year!

My spirits soared immediately after the move ‘home.’ I had pre-built bonds: Jenn to walk the reservoir with, Steve, to cry with while eating Chinese, another Jen to write a reference letter to Jack’s adoption agency.

By my 30s, the bulk of my time was spent entrenched with my work besties, my work husband Travis, my second sister and colleague Kelsey. Despite the relentlessness and guilt of new parenthood and stressful career challenges, I was cheerful. I had authentic, strong friendships. But having built up my community around work, I was crushed when I left that career.

A gaggle of former coworkers who to a person I care for deeply.

Having attached my sense of belonging to a family of co-workers, I had inadvertently neglected my other friendships.  A few weeks into my ‘early’ retirement, I recognized the familiar depression I had experienced as an isolate before. I dove head-first into cultivating new companions. Acquaintances became confidantes, yoga partners became buddies who texted at night to remind each other of our proscribed bedtimes. I developed loving unions with other stay at home moms, moms who I had never had the opportunity to know deeply when I was in conference rooms.

The last 4 years I have felt more peace, wisdom and calm than in any other sustained period in my life. Don’t misunderstand: I have lost my fucking mind with Jack too many times to mention. I held my dad’s hand waiting for his death. I swabbed out mucus from a wound so deep in my mom’s boob that I almost lost a tweezer in the cavity. These haven’t been easy times. But the day my dad died, my friends Samantha and Tiffany left flowers on my doorstep. Colleen held my hand when I told her about my mom’s cancer.  “Oh HONEY,” she said over and over until I wept in her long, curly hair. Those days when my voice was hoarse from yelling at Jack, I called up friend and friend and confessed my sins.

Colleen gave birth literally just a few hours before this picture was taken. She is one of the strongest women I know and helps calm me down when I have felt the shakiest as a Mom.

The periods in our lives which are painful or tough are common and unavoidable. But if we turn the pain into suffering it’s because we haven’t tapped the vital friendship well.  A circle of friends is too easy to dismiss, forget or put on the back burner.  But I am telling you people, real connections with friends are essential for a well-lived, fulfilling and  meaningful life.

There was a parable I heard a few years ago. Two friends are walking on a beach and are facing an army of threats coming after them. One friend trips into a sand hole. A good friend reaches out her hand to help that friend up out of the trap.  A GREAT friend turns to her dear one and says, “Stay here babe, I got this.” Life is so much sweeter with those spirits by our sides.

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What One Normal Mom Packs For Lunch

Since I helped to run a healthy kids lunch company in CA for 7 years, a few of my friends have asked me this week about what I pack for my 10-year-old son’s school lunch. I know Back To School pantry shopping is on our minds, so I thought I’d share in case it was helpful to others.  There is a backstory involving shame, a 100-pound weight loss and a parenting epiphany to all of this, which I will include below:

In short, I pack 4-5 items that are as convenient as possible, taking me no more than 3-4 minutes to throw together but still offering my M.O. of ‘Protein and produce.’

  • String cheese (always since this is easy to eat, and a well-liked source of protein)
  • Pre-packaged nuts (more contentious since so many schools are nut-free, but you can also do packed de-seeded sunflower and pumpkin seeds, roasted chickpeas, or dry-roasted edamame)
  • Beef jerky when I am feeling flush
  • 2 fruits or veggies (Jack likes strawberries, baby carrots, grape tomatoes, grapes, bananas, easy-to-peel cuties/tangerines and apples (when he was little, I’d slice them vertically and then re-form the apple and wrap a rubber band around it like an equator. The idea is easy-to-eat fruits.)
  • Snack crackers/pretzels (sometimes I buy whole grain, sometimes not)
  • Granola bars that won’t melt or get crushed
  • Baked chips
  • Popcorn
  • Trail mix with raisins or non-melting ‘treats’

Now here is the back story and my EVOLUTION:

Starting in 2008, when my son was an infant, I was obnoxious and self-righteous about his food. I never had time to carve panda bears out of a slice of bread, but I prided myself on his ‘unpackaged’ preschool lunches. I am sure there were days when he just threw away the salmon and kale I presented carefully in his eco-friendly lunch box. I felt his lunches reflected me, especially since I was the poster mom of healthy kid food in our affluent area, having helped run that healthy lunch company.

 I never bought into the ‘all organic/non-GMO’ movement (I have toured enough organic farms to know they aren’t necessarily what we do-gooders hope they are) but I was super strict about healthy choices and what Jack had access to. This was largely born out of my own complicated issues with food. About 20 years ago I lost 100 pounds and fear has kept it off all this time… My own eating plan is ‘Protein and Produce.’ That’s it. And that’s how I was feeding my kid.

When Jack was about 7, though, he caught onto how different his lunch was compared to some of his peers who had ‘real snacks.’ There was a particularly awful moment involving tears, shame and a melting popsicle at his summer school that had me re-think my approach. It happened to coincide with a revelation about how my son felt LOVE (at that age though junk food) and me leaving my company.  News flash: I WAS MAKING HIS FOOD ALL ABOUT ME!

So, for the past few years, I have really reversed course. Jack is NOT me. Now that Jack is 10, I realize the best I can do is model healthy eating, somewhat limit the junk that comes into the house, but mostly let him figure out how to satiate his hunger. There are times when he makes great choices and with righteous indignation judges other kids on what they choose (like at a birthday party, ‘Look Mom, I picked carrots instead of cake!’) but most of the time, he picks some combination of what I think of as healthy and ‘carnival’ food (French fries at restaurants, ice cream sandwiches at the swimming pool snack shack, convenience store candy on our summer road trips.)

 For my overall approach to all meals and snacks, I still focus on protein and produce. There is always at least a little of both on offer. But I rely HEAVILY on packaged foods and convenience, off-the-shelf stuff I can throw into his lunchbox (or lunch bag as this summer’s bevy of camps required) in between clearing the table after dinner and before I ‘clock out’ every night at 7 pm. (The division of labor in our house is a whole other topic;)

 I have come to learn that at a certain point, I have to let go. One way for me to not take everything my son chooses about me, I do things as easily as possible to reduce the resentment I am prone to. If this means a lunch is a string cheese, planters pre-portioned nuts, an apple, a banana and a Quaker s’mores granola bar, so be it!


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A rare rant: Might As Well Buy a Tabloid

A recent NYT article explored how social media exacerbates already-existing prejudices and feeds our basest instincts. Tribalism, prejudice, violence… essentially Facebook and it’s doppelgangers are drugging the world and encouraging us to be more hateful.

Facebook is on trial, Sheryl and Mark are apologizing and blame is spreading like wildfire. IMHO, this is not their fault! It’s our fault!

It used to be that grocery store tabloids were ridiculed for encouraging naive housewives to believe that aliens lurked everywhere. If she believed it, she wasn’t thinking critically.  Ha ha, she was stupid! To those who understood the reference, Social Darwinsim gave hope that this poor soul wouldn’t procreate.  Yes, the tabloids were blamed to some extent, but really, they were just a joke that profited from stupidity. Good for them for finding a capitalistic opportunity.

How is that different from Facebook? Just because social media is more complicated and less overt in its mission, at the end of the day, Facebook and YouTube are selling stories, regardless of their truth. If you don’t think about your news feed critically, you might as well buy a daily subscription to the National Enquirer.

We have a natural instinct to assume the worst in people and be suspicious of outsiders. Algorithms which spread fake-news makes this worse. I totally get that.

What I don’t get is why our natural instincts to be suspicious don’t extend to our Facebook news feed? If we are being duped, it’s our own fault. The best we can do is to be rigorous in our thinking and reading, ask questions and assume that others are just trying to do their best also.

If that’s too much, just be kinder.

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A nice place to visit

A nice place to visit

It has been six months since I circumnavigated the Lafayette Reservoir. Six months since I enjoyed a ‘South of the Border’ breakfast at Sunrise Bistro. Six months since I impatiently drove around Broadway plaza, desperate for a parking spot.

As a Bay Area native, I have moved away 3 times, only to return a year or two later, grateful for sunshine, professional prospects and a sense of belonging nurtured over many years. The last time my husband and I moved back in 2006, we trusted we would never leave again. We took on an obligatory jumbo mortgage, a dog, a kid and mounted ‘fast passes’ in both our cars. We understood that the traffic and the taxes were both draining but that the benefits outweighed the sacrifices. Yes, we worked long hours, but weekends offered Mount Diablo hikes, wine country lunches and farmers’ market bounties.

Last year, though, it was announced my husband’s job would be transferring to Arlington, Virginia, just across the Potomac river from Washington D.C. I was adamant about staying in Walnut Creek. I could not move away from my aging parents in Rossmoor. Leaving my son’s elementary school was out of the question; he had an IEP honed after years of securing limited public-school resources which nurtured our quirky kid who can tell you the date of the last Beatles concert but not the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

After half-heartedly interviewing for other positions, however, the move required serious consideration. Last summer, my husband and I went to D.C. on an exploratory tour. We fell under its spell. Yes, the winter cold and summer humidity would demand more tolerance than this California native was used to, but the proximity to the Capital was intoxicating for two former history majors. Additionally, people in Virginia seemed kinder. Surprised by a mid-August thunder storm, a stranger handed me his umbrella as he carried his food truck lunch into an office building. At Safeway, a teenage employee escorted me through the aisles, looking for my favorite seaweed snacks. He may have thought my obsession unjustified, but he seemed pleased to help. The houses in the quaintest neighborhoods in Northern Virginia looked like gingerbread houses with brick chimneys, flag poles and progressive signs with Human Rights declarations on many lawns.  Sure, houses were also over a million dollars, but at least they had basements!

Flying back to the Bay Area after the week-long visit, it took us over almost 2 hours of sitting in traffic to get home along Highway 24. The hills were dry and thirsty-looking after the fertile greenery of the South. Houses in our charming Walnut Heights neighborhood were going for hundreds of thousands over asking price, though we had toured an idyllic cape cod house that had sat on the market for 3 months in Arlington because of some unfortunate paint choices. I was convinced we could buy the house for $100,000 less than the original asking price, unheard of in the Bay Area housing market.

But beyond all of that, there was something else that was playing out in my head. I woke up the morning after our return, in the stupor of a middle-aged mom who feels condemned to monotony. I loved my easy, comfortable life, but the repetition made it hard to appreciate. An adventure on the East Coast seemed full of possibility. Who could I meet? Where could I walk? Who could I become?

We signed the closing papers on that cape cod in Arlington 45 later.

This past month, I came back to Walnut Creek for a visit. I soaked it up!  It was a treasure to talk with friends who have known me since I wore Doc Martens and drank espressos at 11 pm. It was soul-filling to lap the reservoir and wave at people who I passed daily for years. They acknowledged my return and I hugged these recognizable strangers, grateful to feel I belonged. I devoured my beloved diner breakfasts, not yet having found comparable replacements in our new town. But with each resurrected memory, I recognized something else too: a feeling of dis-ease.

Everyone here looked anxious. Standing in cafe lines, people were desperate to pound their pour-overs and race to their next appointment. On the roads, Teslas pursued Porsche Cayennes, only to be stopped at the light 100 yards farther down Ygnacio Valley. My friends talked about how they no longer went into the city because the stress wasn’t worth the hassle and they had to signup days in advance for their Orange Theory classes for fear of not getting a workout scheduled.

I realized I was witnessing a scarcity mindset, the idea that money, housing, movie seats, Starbucks points… there is never enough. I suspect this sense of competition must be tied in some ways to the costs of living. The idea that a 6-figure salary is inadequate, forces families to work multiple jobs, endure soul-sucking commutes and fill each waking hour with errands or duties, even supposedly relaxing ones, without regard to well-being.

I don’t think that this is new or unique to the area. The Bay Area has always been full of ‘boom towns’ attracting the most ambitious, successful people in the world. Certainly, D.C. is no bastion of calm or composure…  ‘cut throat’ comes to mind. I suspect my impressions are amplified, born out of being away from the Bay Area bubble for six months and still in the honeymoon faze of living in an exciting new place. But things do seem unsustainable here and at some point, we have to ask ourselves if it’s all worth it.

My friends and I have a pact that when we are 55 (the age of entry for Rossmoor,) we will buy up a co-op. It’s over a decade away and who knows what my life might look like then, but that unknown future is exciting and one of the reasons I moved away in the first place. For now, the Bay Area is a wonderful place to visit.

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12 Diet Cokes a day

A few weeks ago, one of my dear friends came to D.C. for a visit. Jenn and I traipsed the town, savored some unseasonably lovely weather and marked each day with an ‘event.’ The women’s march, the Hirshhorn museum, miles walked along the Washington Mall…  We spent a lot of our time talking about everything from mutual high school memories, marriage quirks, grocery shopping patterns and a shared taste for diet Dr. Pepper. Jenn isn’t a soda fiend, like me, but we bonded over the sharp effervescence of a freshly-cracked can.

The genesis of the trip was a forum with Brene Brown at the Washington National Cathedral (where I will soon be a verified docent!) Both Jenn and I have read Brene Brown’s many bestsellers and were eager to see her speak. Her themes are human connection through vulnerability and ruthless self-awareness. She ‘speaks truth to bull-shit,’ with a louder bullhorn than almost any other woman and I admire her greatly.

One of Brene Brown’s messages was about the dangers of tribalism. We faction ourselves off from each other politically, professionally and personally. We define ourselves by who we are and who we are not, with the TV shows we watch, the Facebook pages we follow and the neighborhoods we live in.

Jenn and I became friends as teenagers, when these markers of identity were exactly what we needed as we broke out of our childhood uniforms and tested our own brands of adulthood. Our group of friends was defined by our love of lamenting alternative music, Doc Martens and midnight coffee in a Lyon’s diner complete with faux rock walls and Trident gum sold from a glass case below the cash register (though even then I preferred diet soda to bitter brew).

In adulthood, our tastes had changed (only one of our group of friends still struts purple hair;) but both Jenn and I recognized how we had closed our worlds to ‘others.’ Brene Brown’s point was that we ALL do that, and the narrative on cable news these days is that we are doing that more than ever.  I don’t necessarily agree ( I can’t think of any prolonged period when nations/cultures/religions didn’t largely define themselves by their enemy), but I recognize that on November 9th 2016, I wanted to brand myself with progressive T-shirts, buttons and unity safety pins to make it clear I belonged to the Left-y tribe.

Brene Brown’s message to us, though, was to recognize differences as they are, but intentionally seek the similarities, too. Open our arms, our hearts, our ears to each other, no matter the clan they identify with. We don’t have to agree, but we make matters worse when we don’t even acknowledge the other’s rights to an opinion. Brene brought up Trump- we don’t have to like Jared Kushner, but we can honor his humanity as we would Chelsea Clinton’s.

In that vein, I have spent the past few weeks, intentionally seeking similarities in people. Most of these people I am opening my eyes to are strangers, since I am still cultivating friends here, but last weekend I passed a homeless person and honed in on the Michigan sweatshirt he was wearing–it was just like Shane’s. I smiled and in his eyes I saw kinship. The  college sweatshirt was a gateway for me to witness his personhood.

The guy with the man bun who almost ran me over in the crosswalk- he was clearly in a rush. I’ve felt that way too and behaved similarly. I felt empathy for him, instead of my default anger.

Lately, Trump  has been made fun of for drinking 12 diet cokes a day. It’s a behavior I share and I felt a twinge of compassion for him.  A twinge. It’s a start.


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Letting go

When I walk in the mornings, I love to chat with friends. Even if we live many miles apart, it’s a blessing to have friends in my ear. This week, I had two disparate conversations, and although the topics of conversation varied widely, there was a universal theme: letting go.

Early in the week, I talked with one of my best friends, my cousin Pam (pictured above with her sister, Dinah and I.) Pam used some of her time over the holidays to clear out the garage.  In the last few years ‘The Happiness Project’ and ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,’ have described clearing out our physical closets to release the mental clutter that can clog our minds. Clearing out stuff really is cathartic, but it’s hard to do. Pam rallied the troops, including my equally beloved cousin Dinah who collects wine, magazines to be read and fancy bottles of shampoo from her many world-wide travels. They got a dumpster and attacked small stacks and piles each day. Pam described the relief that comes from getting rid of shit, even if it was expensive, a cherished memento or hypothetically usable for some future need. Pam and Dinah let go and felt better for the effort.

It’s hard to do. In moving my mom into our house, mom and I have had to confront our different approaches to ‘simplifying.’ Like everyone else, I keep stuff, especially photos, books, and some clothes. (Much of my closet is taken up by ‘work clothes,’ even though it’s been exactly three years since I had to go into an office with any regularity and I’m more prone to wear yoga pants from Target and T-shirts with grey deodorant stains everyday–so why do I keep the khakis?)

In general, though, I’m pretty disciplined in clearing stuff out. My relative minimalism has led to small kerfuffles with my mom. She somehow thinks the walls of her two rooms will accommodate 100+ years of family photos, many of whom are of my dad’s family in Greece, who died decades ago and who she never met. When we (and by that I mean me, my sister Kathy and a hired helper–one of Jack’s old babysitters) cleaned out her condo in California, I found many, many rolls of wax paper (used for her microwave meals.) Mom had post-it-notes in all shapes, sizes and degrees of stickiness. There were boxes of unopened neosporin tubes, clothes I’ve never seen her wear and newspaper clippings from 2007. We are still adrift in much of her detritus, but mom is slowly allowing that not everything she insisted on bringing will find a new home here in Virginia. She’s letting some of it go, slowly.

After chatting with Pam, another friend and I were talking about our pedometers. Sam needs a new phone, but because her daily step counts are recorded on her phone, she is hesitant to upgrade without the assurance the history will carry over. I totally get that–if you don’t have a record of it, it’s almost like it didn’t happen. I suspect Sam will have a new phone soon; she’ll let her record go, knowing she did still log many miles, and her strong muscles are the proof.

This theme of letting go has actually been bubbling in my consciousness for some time. About a month ago, my phone died. I lost voice memos of my dad’s last days. Pictures of Jack as an infant and toddler which were never saved in the cloud, evaporated. Notes, contacts, podcast episodes… everything washed away. I was devastated, but there was something that ultimately lifted for me, too. I didn’t have to feel guilty about saving my dad’s voice, but not listening to the recordings for fear of triggering a meltdown. I forgot some of the podcasts I had habitually listened to, but which were no longer euphoria-generating for me. I saved new pictures of Jack to my wallpaper and updated my screensaver of the almost 10-year old who smiles back at me from the screen.

Back in October, I read a fictionalized account of Hemingway’s’ first marriage. At one point before Hemingway published his first major work, a suitcase of all of his hand-written drafts was stolen from a train in Paris when his wife was trying to help him impress an important American publisher. This in a time before  copies were easily made or early editions were magically saved in a computer. Hemingway returned to writing, a bit dejected, but later, many fans have said his innovative, sparse style was born out of that loss. Hemingway didn’t choose to let those hundreds of hours of work go; the universe chose it for him.

Letting go of things, especially precious relics, is difficult, but there is something more heart-breaking going on for me right now in life. I find myself having to let go of people. It’s not by choice, but circumstance. Some of my beloved friends and I have lost touch since the move to the East Coast; the time change and the distance insurmountable. I can feel them drifting away. Last night I dreamt about my college roomate, Jen. I was waving to her fondly from a shore. We’ve lived apart before and the consolation is that when our lives even out, we will reconnect, like an infinity sign. Still I miss her right now and have her Christmas card saved on my desk. I am working though accepting this hiatus of relationships. It’s happened before and then there’s a  resurrection… a phone call, a visit, a move. I suspect my work right now is to let go of expectations, but maintain the love until circumstance weaves us back together.

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