Friday, November 1, 2013

Love, Kindness: A Thank You Note

When I was in seventh grade, there was a girl bully who purposely stood behind me in line between classes so she could step on the back of my shoes and sneer at me when I looked back. She knew I would be silent and she found power in my shame. Here's the thing with bullies: they make you feel inferior from the sheer force of their hold over you and your inability to break free.

In the coat closet, when we were alone, she made fun of my Snoopy raincoat. She called me a baby. She belittled me. I was powerless and broken.

One day, we were in line on our way to lunch and she was doing her thing, when a friend came to my rescue. She waved me over and invited me to cut in front of her. She had seen what was going on. She  had intervened. I was so thankful I may have fallen in love with her.

It's these moments of kindness that shaped me.

That same year, our class had planned a bike field trip. Every student had confirmed that 1. we had a bike. 2. we could bring it to school on a particular day to participate. I loved my bike. It was a red Peugeot handed down from my brother.

I lived four or five blocks from the school. I asked my mom if I could PLEASE ride my bike to school on this one day and she said no.

No. It wasn't safe. (I am my mother. I understand her overprotective nature.)

The day of the field trip, my classmates and I were all outside and the teacher asked if we were ready to go. I didn't say a word because that's how I am/was. Invisible. Mostly, I remember feeling small. Silent. I was the only one without a bike.

The girl who had saved me from the bully had a 10-speed bike and offered me a ride. She was an Indigo Girls song waiting to happen.

I climbed on and she carried me for a while and then got too tired to continue.

A boy offered to carry me the rest of the way. I agreed. He was nice and I had no other choice. He was riding a dirt bike and my shins got shredded as he pedaled us back to the school.

He was an angel, sweating and panting to get us back. Rumor has it that he had a crush on me.

My twelve-year-old soul was tired and bruised that day. I was a burden. A weight to be carried. But love had been my savior. Love and kindness had carried me through that day and that difficult seventh-grade year. To paraphrase the Girls, love was stronger than the monster beneath my bed, smarter than the tricks played on my heart.

Thank you. Both of you have altered my life.

And to the bully who tried to destroy me that year: I hope you've finally learned how to love. I hope you've slayed your own monsters.


Monday, October 14, 2013

A Short Post to Get You in the Spirit of Autumn

It's been a while since I've posted a recipe and I'm sure you've been starving ever since.

Here's a great vegetarian soup you'll love. I mean it. There's cream and cheese in it.

Creamy Vegetable Soup

3 carrots
1 green pepper
1 yellow onion
4 potatoes
1 head of cabbage
2-3 tbsp of thyme
1 bay leaf
3 tbsp of butter
3 tbsp of flour
1 1/2 cups of half and half (or, if you're feeling decadent, heavy cream)
2 cups of shredded cheese (any kind you like. A mix of cheddar and mozzarella works well)

1. Chop carrots, green pepper and onion and sautee in olive oil for 5 minutes
2. Add peeled and chopped potatoes and cook for 5-10 minutes
3. Add bay leaf and season with thyme, salt and pepper
4. Pour in 8 cups of vegetable broth and cook for half an hour
5. Add chopped cabbage
6. Cook for another half hour.

7. Make a roux by melting 3 tbsp of butter in a small saucepan. Add 3 tbsp of flour and cook for 4 to 5 minutes. Add a cup of hot broth to the roux and blend together. Add roux mixture back into the soup.
8. Add the half and half and cheese.

You could make it vegan by leaving out the cheese and half and half but it would then most likely be half as tasty.

Once the cheese is melted, you have a delicious and healthful soup.

Cyd wanted to sit in the tiny fairy chair and kept falling off.

On Sunday, we went on our annual pumpkin picking trip. We've been visiting our "pumpkin lady" since Fiona was two-years-old. Back then, there was a field of pumpkins and it was the perfect setting for the quintessential fall photo. Here are a few I've taken over the years:

If this doesn't scream "FALL IS HERE", nothing does.

Over the years, the field was reduced to a small corner next to the barn. 
But, against all odds, I persevered in my attempt to capture the moment of the season. Because if you don't take a photo of it, how do you know if it really happened? You don't.

 This year, it was a small corner INSIDE the dark barn. My photo opp was in jeopardy. 
So we carted the pumpkins outside and I got my damn photos after all. 

I'm sure there are bigger, better pumpkin patches in the area, but we've grown attached to this place and its people. Who else grows white gourds in the shape of graceful swans? Who else will round down when weighing your gigantic pumpkins? We have our traditions and our loyalties and we'll be there again next year, even if I have to Photoshop a few pumpkins in my photos to enhance the memory.

Peace, love, and autumnal goodness. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

There is a Reason for Fear

Cyd is seldom afraid. She is the four-year-old free spirit who rides roller coasters and jumps off bridges. She is Firestar.

But she's been taking swimming lessons with her fellow preschoolers and she is "hesitant", per the note from her teacher. Last week, she refused to participate in swim class and ended up freezing on the sidelines. Her teacher believes she is being recalcitrant, but in reality, she is afraid.

So we decided to go swimming at the Y to practice. She dabbled in the shallow end and then I carried her over to the three foot deep part of the pool so she could hold on to the side of the wall and practice kicking. 

She wouldn't let go of me. I promised her that I would hold her as she held on to the wall but she clung so tightly I felt the fear seeping from her tiny body and sink deep into my heart. 

I will never be the person who lets go. It's tempting, wanting to show her that she is safe, floating on her own with her life jacket on. But I can't lose her trust in me just to prove to her that I'm right. 

A few minutes later, safe and sound in the shallow end, she was splashing around, experimenting with laying on her back, floating in 10 inches of water. Her face went under for one millisecond and she started choking. 

She was drowning.

Water got in her lungs, her lips turned blue, her face turned white and her eyes were bulging as she tried to catch her breath. 

My heart shattered in a few million pieces as I stood there, right in front of her, helpless, as she let her lungs clear. The fear in her eyes was tangible.

When she got her breath back, she looked me straight in the eye and said, "Maman, I will never do that again." I don't know if she was referring to the swimming or the choking, but she was adamant.

What I know for certain is that I will never question her fears ever again.


Monday, September 30, 2013

The Hardest to Learn is the Least Complicated

I've never thought of myself as even remotely athletic. I am the quiet nerd with the weird clothes who never gets picked first in gym class. Although I was a tomboy as a kid and played basketball and soccer with the neighborhood boys, I was never part of a school sports team. It just wasn't me.

But I've learned that I should never define myself, because it is incredibly limiting. Why label yourself when you are everything?

When I started running earlier this year, it was about getting healthy, losing a few pounds, feeling better. I started with the Couch to 5K training app with no goal in mind. I ran around the YMCA track in miserable one minute intervals and learned to hate the voice in my earphones telling me what to do. I dropped the training app shortly thereafter and just started running until I couldn't run anymore. It was then that I really began to push myself farther than my mind/body thought possible. Once I was able to run one solid mile without cursing the very ground upon which I tread, I moved on to two miles and then three. I was counting laps, comforted by the fact that one lap around was one lap closer to another mile. I was mildly psychotic about the whole thing.

It took me several months before I stopped saying "running is hard" whenever the topic came up. I gave myself goals and ran to achieve them, no matter what. This may seem unhealthy, but it gave me an inner power that I had never before allowed myself to feel. 

I had a vacation day a few weeks ago, which was the perfect time to will myself to run eight miles. I hit the Towpath Trail and it was glorious. There was no guilt about spending time away from the kids. The house was clean. I had all day to plan and make dinner. I had two hours to do with what I wanted. And I wanted to run. It happened all of a sudden. I was a runner. 

Last year, I wrote this blog post, wherein I vouched to start making more of a difference. To run the Fort4Fitness, to become a true vegetarian, to be better. These promises have been on my mind and I'm at peace knowing that I have a least made some strides in that direction.

A few words about the Fort4Fitness race:

I have to admit, I was cranky as hell about the whole thing when I woke up early this Saturday. It was dark, it was cold, and it was Saturday morning, which typically includes pancakes and cartoons with the kids. But I had made a commitment. 

I headed downtown way too early, hung out in the freezing cold without a single drop of coffee and waited for an hour and a half for the race to start. Frankly, I was nervous and alone. 

I was all inside my mind, thinking about my motives, thinking about Dostoevsky. Why am I here? What forces of the universe got together to bring me to this weird place where I'm choosing to be among a group of strangers, in the cold, dark morning, to run in the streets of Fort Wayne, Indiana?

Who the hell am I? I am whoever I want to be.

The race finally started and I tentatively started jogging, self-conscious with a touch of claustrophobia. I didn't think I was cut out for public running. I wanted to be out on the trail, with the hawks and butterflies. I'm not a person who enjoys groups of strangers. Antisocial, party of moi. 

But as I started running, I felt an uncommon sense of solidarity with these runners. I felt their energy. I felt a sense of community. And I know it's cheesy and too easy, but it's true: I felt like I was a part of something good. There were people cheering us on from their front porch. Complete strangers had gotten up early on a Saturday to celebrate us. It was touching.

I followed a guy early on because he was slightly faster than my usual pace. I lost him around mile two and then found another runner, a tall female. I immediately liked her because she didn't just throw her water cup on the ground, but ran ahead to the trash to dispose of it. Also, she was genuinely friendly, and waved enthusiastically to the many groups of people who cheered us on. 

During the final mile of this four-mile race, I wanted to step it up. My goal was to finish in under 40 minutes. Anything under a 10 minute mile is a success in my book. Also, I wanted to CRUSH IT. (I learned this expression from Nike+ and it makes me happy, mainly because I'm not one to typically crush anything.) 

I was in the F40-44 division, so whenever I spotted a woman who looked to be in her early forties I sprinted ahead to pass her. I'm a bad seed, I know. 

Here's the thing, I passed a woman right near the end of the race, who looked to be about my age. As soon as I ran by, she slowed down to a walk. I thought to myself, OK, one down, *evil laugh*. 

The finish line was within view and before I realized what had happened, that woman who was walking in my dust just minutes ago, sprinted right past me and finished in all her f$%king glory. There I was, just enjoying my final few steps in my first timed race like I was on the damn trail with not a care in the world and I was just brought down a notch by a trickster.

Anyhoo, I finished 11th in my division, with a pace of 9:26. I was happy with my pace, but dammit, I should have been 10th. 

Next year: half marathon. Mark my words.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Home, Sweat, and Tears

I knew I had found our home the moment I drove up the driveway almost 15 years ago. It was during the month of May and the backyard was lush and green, dotted with a few colorful perennials. When we walked in and saw the hardwood floors and original woodwork throughout the house, we were sold. We may also have been drunk.

It is a small house, and it is a wrinkled, old house, yet it has been our home ever since. We've made some improvements (God, you should have seen the flower wallpaper everywhere and the kitchen equipped with a rusted sink, a ten inch counter, and peeling, brown linoleum) and we have planted our favorite trees and shrubs and native plants throughout the property. We've buried three cats here, and have raised two daughters and a few butterflies. We've grown vegetables, herbs, and have recently added a couple of fruit trees because we just can't stop planting stuff. We have cared for this house and have tended special care to its land. But in real life, it has become way too small for this family of six (including our two cats).

We have been looking around for a new place to plant our roots and found the most magical, heavenly house across town. A 100-year-old farmhouse that has been completely renovated in a hip, artfarmish kind of way. Complete with a massive kitchen and finished basement, a mud room and the most beautiful bathroom sink you could even imagine, if you had the imagination of the most imaginative person who ever lived. I'm not even exaggerating. We walked into that house and felt like we were home. The house sits on an acre and a half and already has a vegetable garden, including grape vines. I KNOW!  It's the veritable wine country of Maplecrest.

We were ready to move on with our lives, leave our tiny house, and move into this new world, which consisted of more than one bathroom and ample closet space. But after a few days of sobriety, we decided we didn't want to move up north. We have grown so close to everything around us in the southwest part of town, including, most of all, Eagle Marsh and the Towpath trail. Can we sacrifice location for a mud room? Can we give up our eagles, our monarch butterflies, our salamanders, for perfect hardwood floors and an extra bathroom and a half? Who will take care of Fiona's owl? Who will keep an eye on the baby swallowtails we grew from tiny eggs?

I was thinking about this conundrum on my run this morning when a million birds suddenly appeared and darkened the sky above me, swooping and dancing in perfect unison as they miraculously do.  When I stopped to watch them, a red-tailed hawk soared close above and dove down into the yellow field of helianthus and I swear to you that I started to tear up, struck by the beauty and perfection of that moment on the trail, on our trail. It felt purposeful. Epiphanic.

And it's OK to run and cry because my tears got mixed in with the sweat pouring from my face so the biker I met along the way didn't even notice.

 A few photos from the Monarch Festival at Eagle Marsh:

How do we say goodbye to that? We can't.

A few more photos from the weekend:
This girl.

I had some powder leftover from Color Me Rad
She is the personification of rad.
Cyd likes to pick flowers from our pots of annuals and line them up on the deck. The house we almost bought didn't even have a deck. What the hell were we even THINKING? 

This one has major attitude, but I love her still.

Sammie is the perfect cat.

Triple Downward Dog


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I Will Write Again

But until then, here are some photos from our recent getaway to Traverse City, Michigan. 

Can you believe how cute these two are? 

Beignets from Patisserie Amie

Vive la France! Vive Patisserie Amie!

Peace out.