Commensurate to our capacity for wonder

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I’m still processing all the marvelous experiences that we had in the Galapagos last week.  It is going to take me more than one post to capture everything about the trip, what we saw, what we learned, what we remember.  The thing that struck me most of all, however, is clear already: the sky.  The sunsets and sunrises, both of which I watched each day, were outrageously glorious.  We had a full moon while we were at sea.  At night, because we were so close to the Equator, we could see the Southern Cross and the big dipper in the sky at the same time (something Matt and I last did while on Kilimanjaro).

Galapsblog2Related to how much I loved the sky was the emptiness.  Over and over again we could not see anyone in any direction from the boat.  We felt like the only people in the world.  One morning, after traveling overnight to Genovesa Island, we walked along the ridge of an island formed by a volcano.  As we walked carefully over black lava rocks, the view was breathtaking.  I could not stop thinking of the last lines of Gatsby:

… face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder. 

Oh, yes.  This was commensurate to my capacity for wonder.  This island, so far from home, out in the Pacific Ocean, no land visible in any direction, was nothing short of magical.  I exhaled slowly, trying to capture everything about the moment and preserve it, remember the fullness of time, the glory of the physical place we were, the bigness of the emotion swelling in my chest.

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I looked up to watch the birds wheeling in the sublimely blue sky.  I saw my children in front of me, tall, lanky, growing before my eyes, shedding the skins of early childhood and moving towards adolescence.  I watched the ocean lapping at this former volcano, traced the various shades of heartbreaking blue out toward the horizon.  There is no way to capture it all, this life: I can only grope around the edges of experience, fumbling clumsily as I try to express what it is to be in this world.  To watch.  To witness.

There’s no question that in the Galapagos all four of us felt wonder.

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None of us will ever forget this trip.  The animals, the sky, the time together, the reminder that this world is enormous and can still take our breath away.


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How She Does It: Samantha Ettus

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Today it’s my honor to bring you Samantha Ettus as my second featured interview in my How She Does It series.  Samantha, an expert on lifestyle and parenting, has written four best-selling books and hosts a radio show called Working Moms Lifestyle.  She and her husband have three children.  I have long been a fan of Samantha’s work, and just wish we’d met when we overlapped for a year at business school.

Tell me about the first hour of your day?  (I often describe mine as being “fired out of a cannon”)

I think of it as a two and a half hour stretch of non-stop mission and movement. My three year old is my alarm clock. If I am lucky, he comes in post-6am. My husband and I have an upstairs/downstairs division of labor. I wake the girls, get them ready for school and send them downstairs where he has prepared breakfasts and is busy doing lunchboxes. Then I get showered and dressed and walk the girls three blocks to the bus stop, return to get my three year old dressed and drive him to his school. By the time I am done with that drop off, I feel like I have earned my Starbucks.

Do you have a work uniform that you rely on for getting dressed?  What is it?

I moved to LA a little over two years ago so my uniform has been west coastified. It is now jeans and Isabel Marant boots and a yummy sweater. If I have meetings or a TV appearance it is a shift dress and heels.

How do you and your spouse resolve conflicts about scheduling?  

We have rules that we have created together and do our best to follow. No traveling at the same time is a big one. We do our best to map out business travel in advance. I am in charge of the social calendar so that all goes through me. As for unexpected daily issues like a home from school sick child, it all depends on where our careers are at the moment. Right now he is in start up launch mode so much of that will fall on me. If I am traveling it will fall on him.

Do you second-guess yourself?  What do you do when that happens?

I am definitive sometimes to a fault. My life has too little wiggle room to accommodate second guessing.

What time do you go to bed? 

Between 10:30 and 11.

Do you exercise?  If so, when?

Never. It is the one thing that has fallen by the wayside. But I have big exercise plans for the future!

Do you cook dinner for your kids?  Do you have go-to dishes you can recommend?

When I became a mom I had no experience in the kitchen except in watching my dad ,who is a great cook, make dinner for us each night during my childhood. When I had my first child eight years ago, I aimed to have five dishes that I could make easily. At this point I have only two – maple soy salmon with rice and a great spinach and cheese lasagna. I have kind of stalled at two and need to add those other three. I fill in the other nights with take out or pasta or fish sticks or those quick prep kind of things.

Do you have any sense of how your children feel about your working?

They are very proud of my work. I intentionally talk about my career in front of them because I think it is important that they see how much I love it so that one day they will find careers they love and are proud of. Last year I brought my then seven year old to see me interviewing gold medalist Kerri Walsh and she was quoting Kerri the next day. She had really absorbed her message. Another time I was discussing logo designs for my company. My daughter disappeared for a half hour and returned with three logos, one of which I sent to my designer and became the inspiration for my logo.

What is the single piece of advice you would give another working mother?

Stop striving for balance, having it all or juggling. All of those are impractical and unachievable measurements. Instead of beating yourself up about how you spend your time, focus on what you do with the time you have. Your time allocation probably can’t change too much but the way you spend and enjoy your time with your kids and your time away from them can.

And, inspired by Vanity Fair, a few quick glimpses into your life:

Favorite Artist? Too many to name. I am proud of my friend Stephanie Hirsch (http://www.stephanie-hirsch.com) and her inspirational art. She is becoming huge.

Favorite jeans? Hudson, Mother, and Current Elliott

Shampoo you use? I get a lot of blow outs. When I shampoo at home it is Biolage or Fekkai.

Favorite book? The Fountainhead. Anna Karenina. Open by Agassi. I just read Mindy Kaling’s book and loved it.

Favorite quote? No is just a slower path to yes.

Favorite musician? I am an unabashadly top 40 girl. I love Justin Timberlake, Ellie Goulding, Madonna. And right now I am super into Kaskade.

Favorite item (toy, clothing, or other) for your children? I don’t believe in decorating children. Clothing has to be comfortable enough to muck around in and not too precious to play in the mud. They live in Mini Boden.

This series is inspired by so many working mothers I have read about and personally witnessed.  One of the most influential is a series on working motherhood called I Don’t Know How She Does It on the blog What Would Gwyneth Do.


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The Big Apple Circus – discount and giveaway!

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Grace loves animals.  Worships.  This was a big reason that we chose the destination for our spring break adventure, which I’ll talk about this week.  It’s also why she – and we – love the circus.

Over the years we’ve had a wonderful experiences at the Big Apple Circus.  There is an intimacy to the Big Apple Circus that I just love; you feel like you are so close to the action, no matter where you sit.  I also love that the tent goes up right in City Hall Plaza in Boston.  There’s something so magical about being at the circus right in the heart of our city that I am moved by every single time.

I am absolutely thrilled to offer a discount and giveaway today for their Boston-area show (3/28-5/11).  If you enter the code BIGAPPLE when checking out online you will save $10 per ticket (Per ticket – not per order!  Offer good on specific shows and seats, and limited availability).

Also, I am giving away a pair of tickets to the 6:30pm show this Friday, March 28th.  All you have to do is answer this simple question: what is the height of the big top?  (hint: their website contains lots of great information …)  If you simply enter a comment with your answer I will pick a winner on Tuesday night, March 25th.

We’ll definitely be going to this year’s Big Apple Circus, and we can’t wait.  I hope you enjoy it too!!

Full disclosure: the Big Apple Circus provided my family with tickets to a show. 


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back soon!

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These pictures were taken exactly 9 years ago (3/19 and 3/13 respectively).  Since it feels like only an hour or so has passed since then, I am feeling pretty panicky about how fast it’s all going.  This week is Grace and Whit’s spring break and I’m going to try to spend it entirely immersed in our messy and wonderful life.  This is the first week I have taken off from this blog since starting it in September 2006 – I hope you’ll come back, when I do, next Monday!

 


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A faith of verbs

This is my living faith, an active faith, a faith of verbs: to question, explore, experiment, experience, walk, run, dance, play, eat, love, learn, dare, taste, touch, smell, listen, argue, speak, write, read, draw, provoke, emote, scream, sin, repent, cry, kneel, pray, bow, rise, stand, look, laugh, cajole, create, confront, confound, walk back, walk forward, circle, hide, and seek. To seek: to embrace the questions, be wary of answers.

~ Terry Tempest Williams

I love Terry Tempest Williams but read this beautiful passage for the first time on the beautiful blog First Sip.


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Children of the 21st century

I have often discussed the dissonance that comes from staring 40 in the face while still feeling like I’m 18.  Or maybe 21.

But now and then I am reminded that I can’t be that young anymore, mostly when I realize that Grace and Whit really are growing up in a hugely different world than the one in which I did.  I love those lists of things that children of the 70s can relate to, and they always make me laugh.

Grace and Whit, though, are children of the 21st century.  Herewith, eleven ways my children are growing up in a world different than that in which I was a child:

1. They love – in fact, prefer – to talk on the phone on speaker.  This segues nicely into being very comfortable with FaceTiming.  I had a conversation recently with the ear of someone in their 60s over FaceTime because they assumed that you hold a phone to your ear.  I’m somewhere in between these two poles.  We’ve come a long way from the phone on the kitchen wall with the long twisty cord.

2. They don’t think a device needs charging until it is actually dead.  I start looking around frantically for a plug when I’m at about 70%.

3. Their passion for YouTube knows no bounds.  It is almost always the first stop in trying to find anything – music OR video – online.

4. They love scented things.  This may not be generational, but in our house it is.  Grace walks around billowing clouds of Wonderstruck by Taylor Swift.  Me?  Unscented.  Less glamour, sure, but also less choking.

5. Carseats are so integral a part of life in America that cars come with built-in tethers for them.  In our day?  Floating around the “way back” (untethered to anything) was my favorite way to travel.

6. They have never known a world when TV shows were on certain times, on certain days.  Friday night was when Dallas was on, and you had better be there at 8:00 to watch it, or else you were taking a big risk if you tried to program your VCR.  They want to watch something?  They just click to it.  Incredible.  And VCR?  They have no idea what that is.  They don’t even know what “to Tivo something” means.

7. They wouldn’t know what a mimeograph machine is if it hit them in the head.  The smell of those purply-blue print pages, however, takes me back to grade school faster than almost anything else.  Grace and Whit log onto the class Google Drive to check their homework assignment.  I flipped through the mimeographed pages in my Trapper Keeper.

8. Their ability to suspend disbelief is pretty weak.  I see this when we watch old movies – notably, lately, The Princess Bride.  “Those are not real,” Grace scoffed when the rodents of unusual size scurried across the screen.  I blame the extremely lifelike special effects in movies today.

9. Photography is an unlimited exercise for them: we were recently discussing buying a disposable underwater camera, and Whit asked whether we bought memory cards for it.  No, I explained, you had 27 exposures, and that was it.  Both Grace and Whit were frankly aghast at the idea of paying per photograph, of pictures only in hard copy, of having to wait overnight to have your film developed.  In fact, at the word “film” at all.  Totally foreign.  I like digital photography myself, an awful lot, but I do think that we have lost some discernment and care now that a camera roll is unlimited.

10. They don’t know a single phone number.  For that matter, neither do I.  Whereas I can still remember the (home) numbers of my childhood home as well as a few close friends.  Those were the numbers I punched into that kitchen phone with the twisty cord.  Grace and Whit don’t have to remember anything since it’s all programmed.

11. They don’t know how to read a map.  My father always told me that one of the most essential life skills was ability to read a map while traveling.  Now, my aforementioned carsickness often got in the way here, but I do know how to read a map and often joke that I’m one of the last remaining people who prints out maps before going somewhere.  Grace and Whit just assume a destination will be punched into a GPS and we’ll be guided there.

Are you a child of the 70s?  Are you parenting a child of the 21st century?  What differences do you note in growing up now vs. growing up then?

 

 


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Poetry and blue sky

Yesterday, we went to Walden.  As you know if you’ve been reading for any length of time, this is a very special place for Grace, Whit, and me, and we like to go year-round.  Every summer we have a morning swim there, and we also like to go in the fall, winter or spring, to walk around the often-deserted pond.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that for us (and, I know, for millions of others), Walden is holy.

We woke up to an empty Sunday.  What a divine privilege these wide-open days are.  I know that now that I can sense their running through the hourglass of years.  We had a quick breakfast, Whit was whining, Grace was annoyed at something, Matt was reluctant, but I kept us moving and all four of us headed west.

IMG_5123The path was iced-over and slippery when we took off around the pond.  Grace and Whit scampered ahead, knowing their way around now, exploring up and down the snowy hillsides that arc away from the pond.  IMG_5091

The beach was snowy and the pond was frozen completely solid.  We arrived at the site of Thoreau’s house, where the pile of rocks, usually studded with cairns, was covered with snow.  I read the famous lines that I know by heart under my breath, watching my children climbing on the pile of snow marking where the writer had lived, feeling the familiar sense of tightness in my chest and hot tears in my eyes.  Yes, this: to live deliberately.  This: to learn what life has to teach.

So many of those lessons are to be found in the achingly blue sky, the brilliant white snow, the tangible peace in the air, the evocative lines of poetry.  There are so many lessons about life right here in nature, and I recalled again how powerful it is to simply be in the world, to look and listen and breathe, a lesson I keep learning over and over again.

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By the time we’d circled the pond and come back to where we started we all had pink cheeks and calmer hearts.  As it always does, Walden had worked its particular, mysterious magic on all four of us.  The poetry and the blue sky had soaked through our pores, through our spirits, and we were reminded of what it is to live this life.

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And I lagged behind my family, watching them walk away, standing on the frozen beach and gazing at that unbelievable, outrageous blue.  This beautiful world.

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The wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life

Make the Ordinary Come Alive

Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is a way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples, and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.

- William Martin

(thank you to my friend Katie for introducing me to this beautiful passage!)


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Little wonders all around

This blog began, and continues to be, a catalog of my life’s most ordinary moments.  Over the course of years, as I memorialized fragments of my everyday experiences, I realized that they were actually the most lambently beautiful of my life.  I used to regularly write posts about these small moments, when I glimpsed the glitter of divinity, when I remembered, and powerfully, that life is beautiful.

I don’t know why I stopped, but it feels like time for another benediction of the little wonders that are all around me.

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A Wrinkle in Time was my favorite childhood book.  Grace read it last year and Whit just finished it.  Watching my children fall in love with a story that I adored is among the most wonderful experiences of parenting.  Whit in particular loved it and is working his way through the series now.  I think he relates to Charles Wallace in a strong way.

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A glorious sunrise from the sky en route to Chicago for the day.

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A couple of weeks ago I played hooky for an hour to walk to school to get the kids in a blizzard.  We walked home slowly, stopping to play in the rapidly accumulating snow.  Both Grace and Whit were relaxed and joyful.  I defiantly ignored my blinking blackberry and sank into their delight.  There is so much magic here: we just have to let ourselves see it.

IMG_4676I love so many things about the organic geometry of bare branches against winter’s steel-gray sky, but most of all I love the way I can see birds’ nests that are hidden in other seasons.  I am constantly struck by this metaphor: when things are stripped down to their most essential architecture the trust safe spots are revealed, these nests whose existence in a New England winter belies their apparent fragility.  There is sturdy comfort in the most barren places.
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We didn’t go away for President’s Day weekend as I had to work a lot, but we did do a Saturday day trip to our favorite mountain and skiied with some of our dearest friends. I took this picture at the top of a narrow, deserted glade as I watched my children, my husband, and two of the adults I love most ski down. I felt a powerful awareness of how incredibly fortunate I am.

In those moments, like at the top of the mountain or in the air watching the sun rise, I feel a soul-stirring sense of awe which I can express best with the inarticulate and inelegant “wow.”

In the last few months I’ve found this in the skyfire of sunset and in the glow of the moon rising, in the nests in bare trees, in the sudden, noisy song of dozens of sparrows even though I can’t see them, in the long shadows of my daughter’s eyelashes against her sleeping cheeks, in the words of poets and writers too numerous to mention.

Does this constant wow contradict the low note of lamentation that plays constantly in my life?  I don’t actually think so.  Maybe remaining open to the wow necessitates a permeability of spirit that means I’m also open to a certain sorrow.  These are the two edges of the world’s beauty that Virginia Woolf described, anguish and laughter springing from the same single truth.  I suspect I’m just joining my voice to an ancient chorus here, kneeling in supplication among a swirling sea of humanity.  And we all whisper the same thing under our breath:

wow.

(I wrote parts of this in in April 2012, and every word is still true)


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All you ever have

photo 3Sunday morning.

Much of the time, our family of four functions fairly smoothly.  Sometimes, though, we don’t.  Some days everybody’s edges feel especially jagged and as we rub up against each other emotions protrude and tempers flare.  Yesterday morning was one of those times.  All was not well at the homestead.  Matt and Grace left to do an errand.  Whit busied himself building something with Legos and blocks.  I put in a load of laundry, emptied the trash cans, finally sorted through the holiday cards (March 2nd seems like time).  I felt a familiar restlessness running under my skin.

Finally I went upstairs to our family room, lay down on the couch, and watched Whit.  He was building a luge track using blocks, legos, clipboards, and small rubber tires.  It was elaborate, and he kept testing and adjusting, testing and adjusting.  I glanced out the window at the tree that has accompanied me through the last 13 years, remembering sitting in this very room nursing a colicky baby Grace and watching dawn spread across the sky through the tree’s familiar branches.

As often happens, I felt the years between then and now collapse in on each other, telescoping into a tunnel of memory and loss.  My eyes filled with tears as I watched Whit play, overcome suddenly with emotions more complicated than I can fully parse or name.  I felt gratitude for this life, this boy, these bright Legos, this warm room, the years I’ve been able to be Grace and Whit’s mother.  I felt guilt for all the hours and days and weeks I have failed to appreciate, all the times I was distracted and short and not present enough.  I felt awareness of all that was over so keenly it felt like a physical pain in my chest.  I felt the frantic and dizzying sensation of time slipping through my fingers even as I try to grasp on.

What I didn’t feel, though, as I swam in that tearful wave of thankfulness and sorrow, was any of the frustration and aggravation that had marked the first hours of my day.  By sinking into the now of my life, by watching Whit carefully, by breathing and just being, I had touched again the hem of heaven, reminded myself of what matters, of all the divinity that glints through our daily lives like mica glittering in the concrete pavement.

My phone, which I’d forgotten was on the table next to the couch, beeped.  I glanced over.  My best friend from high school, a woman I see not nearly enough but still love fiercely, had texted me this quote.

The tears that had threatened to fall did so now, slipping down my cheeks. Thank you, universe.  Thank you friends and children and love and trees and everything about this daily life.  Thank you.

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