Letters from the road

The Mindful Life

Feminists Don’t Do This.

Originally featured on elephant journal August 21, 2017

When I run into former colleagues, I dread the inevitable question, “So where are you working these days?”

I take a deep breath, lengthen my spine, and with defiance and a touch of embarrassment, I respond that I’m currently staying at home with our little one—and that I unabashedly love it.

Their eyes always widen and I imagine the internal judgment. The same judgement that I used to give, unsolicited, to those I knew who gave up their jobs when a little one came along.

To begin, let me apologize to all the women I judged for not being working moms. And the ones I judged for working too hard. Being a parent is a radical choice. We try to make decisions that benefit not only our children, but ourselves.

We’re all just trying to get along in this messy, imperfect life. 

People who know me well are unsurprised to hear how judgmental I can be. Until recently, my Myers-Briggs personality rated incredibly high on the judge-y scale. I grew up with a very clear sense of right and wrong, and little tolerance for what I perceived as wrong.

This translated into my personal expectation of feminism.

Of course I’ll be a working mom. Of course I’ll juggle all the things and be all the people. Of course. Of course. Of course.

Parenthood kicks ass—both in the “yay I totally dig being a parent” and the “my ass is being kicked” varieties.

Becoming a parent not only reaffirmed my commitment to reproductive justice, equality, and access for all, it forced me to re-evaluate my assumptions about what it means to be a feminist.

And the conclusion I came to?

Choice.

Feminism is choice. It’s the choice to be the best that we can be in the circumstances we find ourselves. It’s the choice to determine our own destiny. To be, to do, to create a life that is authentic and true. When we are able to make the decisions that are best for us, everyone wins.

How often do we judge those walking through our lives? Be honest. I’m completely guilty. Assumptions tear our relationships apart—what keeps them from tearing apart our communities, and the very fabric of our society?

I spent a month sleeping on the floor of our son’s nursery. A month. My hips hurt every morning until my less sleep-deprived husband blew up a camp mat for me to sleep on.

Sleep has been our biggest parenting challenge. No one sees that when I post smiley happy photos of my family on Facebook. No one witnessed the moment I cried myself to sleep after discovering my little one had gnawed his way across his crib railing at 3 a.m. 

Judgement. It’s a silent killer of souls.

I’m a stay-at-home mom and a feminist. These aren’t mutually exclusive. They aren’t anachronistic. They are the truth. I can say these words because I am privileged. Because I had choices.

I was scared to lose my identity when I became a mother. We don’t prepare each other for navigating the outside world’s expectations of what motherhood should look like. We take classes for childbirth, for gardening, for accountancy. But being both a parent and an involved citizen? A feminist who chooses to stay home? There are no classes for those.

About five months into my pregnancy, I told my manager that being pregnant was like being on a moving sidewalk. Sometimes I just wanted a moment to pause and take it all in. To realize that a great change was about to happen, that it already was happening. To absorb that my body would change and grow and create life without any input from me.

This was the first time I felt that loss of control. The second was definitely not when I could no longer see my feet—that moment is a terrible cliché. Who cares if we can see our feet while pregnant? Bend a little forward, lift your feet, and there they are, past the bump. Not being able to see our vulvas past that mountain of belly is another matter altogether—that really is a valid reason to panic.

Everyone—well-meaning loved ones and every mommy blog—says that when we become mothers, we are no longer the same. We miraculously transform into these new and alien people, so different that we hardly recognize our former selves.

We become a mother: a radical, self-sacrificing person with no independent identity, resentful of the metamorphosis.

I’m happy to report that this didn’t happen. I’m still me. Maybe—definitely—a more exhausted version, but still, irrevocably, me.

Not long after my son was born, I hesitantly looked around and took stock of my life.

Do I still have the same desires? Yes. Do I still have the same hopes? Yes. Do I still want to curl up with a good book and cup of tea? Yes. Do I love my little one beyond all reason and measure? Absolutely.

When I left my position as a fierce reproductive justice activist—I was a political field organizer with Planned Parenthood—to stay at home with our son, I moped around for weeks. I felt like I intentionally and painfully torched my identity, my sense of self, my idea of feminism.

Feminists don’t stay home.

I feared the outside world’s judgement. The judgement of the working women I admired. My mom. My grandmothers. The feminists in my Facebook feed doing the hard, backbreaking work of making this country a better place for everyone.

But what I feared the most was the judgement of my young self. The girl who knew she could be whoever she wanted to be and would not back down in the face of an unjust world. I feared her disappointed eyes.

What I didn’t expect was to not love being mother, but to fall madly in love with being our little one’smother.

I still don’t know what to think of motherhood. It’s not a sacrosanct state of being. We harm ourselves and society by perpetuating the belief that mothers should be martyrs with no sense of self.

I love our son. I love being his momma. And I love working toward my own dreams. I like to think that I radiate through the cloak of motherhood. With the limited time that I have of my own, it has forced me to reflect and focus on what really matters. Only do what really feeds my soul.

Motherhood should amplify our beings. Rather than an ominous thou shalt not do list, it should be the flint that hones us into finer, sharper, more precise versions of ourselves.

Staying at home isn’t forever for me. I am relishing the time I have with our son. I am able to do this because I am privileged. I have a supportive partner. I’m not a single mother without the choice to stay home. Not everyone has the privilege to stay home. Not everyone wants to. For those who do, we have an obligation as society to support the needs of mothers as they support their families.

Paid maternity leave, anyone?

Our family is in that catch-22 space where, when I do go back to work, it will essentially be for health insurance and my salary will mostly pay for childcare. Should that be a reason to be employed? Why do we value the work of those we pay to watch our children, but not the mothers who do so without financial compensation?

Feminism is equity. Feminism is inclusive. Feminism is choice. And there is still so much work to do.

I’m a feminist and a stay-at-home mom. Hear me roar.


I Stopped Praying & Saying Happy Birthday for the same Reason.

Originally featured on elephant journal June 10, 2017

I am a heathen—but that’s not why I stopped praying or posting Facebook birthday messages. 

We live in a time when there’s just so much to do, especially online. Most of us have a Facebook account—it’s almost criminal not to have one. It’s handy for staying connected to people who live far away, and let’s be honest, we use it to stalk each other.

We’ve passed that time, about seven years ago, when it was still awkward to pretend we didn’t know everything about someone’s engagement, divorce, weekend plans, or last night’s dinner when we bumped into them in person. That silly dance where we both feigned surprise when we heard the newsworthy details of each other’s lives.

“You’re in a relationship? That’s great!” What about the juicy details of your last messy breakup? I thought you were such a cute couple!

“I had no idea you were just in Hawaii!” It’s your third trip this year. How do you get all the vacation time?

I, for one, am happy to be past this juvenile denial. I often start sentences when I see friends in real life with, “Oh, I saw your post. Your new puppy is adorable!”

A few months ago, I made a new rule for myself: I wouldn’t post birthday greetings to friends on Facebook, unless I planned to call or spend the day with them. If they fell into that category, I usually called, texted, or visited them. Sometimes I still posted a birthday message—but not always.

Why would I make such an arbitrary distinction?

Guilt. The same guilt that convinced me to stop praying.

My parents chose to forgo any kind of Christian baptism for myself and my brothers. We didn’t attend church or adhere to any religious precepts, except the universal: Be kind and treat others with compassion.

My immediate family was not religious, but a few members of my extended family were. That meant our souls were ripe for saving, and I became the designated child to save.

I’m not sure how my brothers escaped the occasional awkward Sunday morning “sitting on a pew in stiff clothing amongst strangers.” Maybe they were better at evading the weekly phone call asking about our Sunday plans. I’m a terrible liar. There are only so many excuses a child can think of before they relent to the inevitable.

Throughout my early teen years, I would occasionally try on Christian beliefs to see if they fit, kind of like I used to do with my mom’s wedding dress. Maybe I’ve grown into it now? And each time I would realize, nope, not my size.

This would usually coincide with the summer basketball camp that I attended. I would spend a week with my team, surrounded by Christian iconography, including evening Bible study and a public abstinence pledge. I’m still unsure of the connection between sex and basketball, but it was around this time one of my favorite movies Love and Basketball came out. So, peer pressure and all that.

When I came back from basketball camp, or after I failed to finagle my way out of a Sunday service, I would again try on religion—mostly in the form of praying.

Each night, I would lie in bed and start the same silent prayer. Beginning with a slightly hesitant, “Dear God?” I would methodically include every single member of my family. All of them. I couldn’t leave anyone out—even the extended family that I had never met, but could name. I drew the line at the extended family of my extended family. This was my prayer baseline. Then I would add anyone I knew who was having a hard time and thought needed my personal prayers.

Prayer itself wasn’t the problem. It was the fact that I couldn’t leave anyone out. Once I started praying for them, I had to include them every night.

In the same way, my bed as a child had a place half my size carved out for me to sleep. Every single one of my stuffed animals occupied the rest of the bed. I couldn’t leave any of them out. How do you tell a forlorn teddy bear that they didn’t make the cut to sleep on your bed? Exactly. I never figured out the answer to that one.

My experience of prayer became one of guilt. When I stopped praying for the last time, my silent recitation lasted well over an hour. It made me anxious. During the day, I worried that I might hear about yet another person who needed help, and I would feel personally responsible for praying for them. And if I didn’t, it meant that I had let them down.

That’s a lot of anxiety and guilt for young shoulders to bear.

Fifteen years later, I was doing the same thing with Facebook birthday messages. I started feeling anxious about remembering each person’s birthday. It didn’t matter if I’d never met the friend in person, or that I hadn’t spoken to that childhood friend in 20 years—it was their birthday! 

I can’t juggle my own calendar, let alone the birthdays of 900 virtual friends. Who can? This anxiety was directly related to guilt. And guilt shouldn’t determine who gets birthday wishes.

I know I’m not alone. Instead of feeling personally responsible for the birthday happiness of everyone on our Facebook accounts, or praying for everyone we’ve ever met, let’s try to approach connections to our loved ones mindfully.

We could all use a little time to slow down and create meaningful relationships. This includes the loved ones we spend our time with, as well as our digital interactions.

When I hear of a friend or loved one, or even a stranger I’ve read about in the news who may need a bit of hope, I take a moment and practice a condensed version of the Buddhist meditation practice tonglen.

I first close my eyes and imagine the person, or group of people, or situation. Then I inhale and draw in a small taste of their difficulty or struggles, and then I exhale and send them gratitude and compassion. Simple. It comes with the added benefit of forcing us to slow down and empathize with those in our lives.

We can do the same thing with our Facebook birthday wishes conundrum. Rather than trying to remember and post birthday wishes to everyone every day—let go.

Remember that we can’t be everything for everyone. If we really care about this person, interact with them outside of social media. Grab coffee. Make a phone date. Be a real person doing real things away from the screen.

For those we don’t have a close relationship with, send them a silent burst of love on their birthday. Remember, it’s the thought that counts.

And, just for good measure, I hereby absolve my Facebook friends from wishing me a happy birthday.

Consider this a benediction from your friendly neighborhood heathen.


One Simple Thing to Get Rid of Stress (& It’s Definitely Not Baking a Unicorn Sparkle Cake).

Originally featured on elephant journal June 10, 2017

Every yoga and meditation teacher worth their salt will remind us to breathe.

The good ones will also give specific body cues. The really astute ones will gently remind us to release our jaws.

Why?

Like most of us, I spend a lot of my day convinced that I’m busy. All day, every day, it’s something—and it’s exhausting.

We’ve convinced ourselves that we need to constantly be:

productive

successful

making something

buying something

learning something

doing something

busy

busy

busy…

I can’t be the only one who gets stressed seeing all of the short video clips of recipes, DIY projects, hairstyles, and children’s activities constantly cropping up in my social media news feed. Like angrily stressed.

Of course I should have the time to make a unicorn sparkle cake with five different colors and confetti that rains down over everything and is impossible to clean up, while teaching my baby to sing the ABCs in seven different languages after I put avocado on all the things.

Geesh. I’m exhausted just writing that all out.

I’m also guilty of losing sight of the present moment. While nursing my little one, I think about making breakfast. While in the shower, I wonder if I really want to go to law school. While getting dressed, I remember that I need to take out the recycling. While taking my little one for a walk, I try to avoid imagining the mountains of laundry spilling out of the dryer. While eating dinner, I calculate how much time I’ll need to attend my upcoming board meeting. While falling asleep, I worry about all the people I forgot to text back.

We’re all guilty of it. While it may look like multi-tasking, what we’re actually doing is deflecting and feeding the monkey mind—that little voice that distracts us from experiencing the present fully. We’re not doing any one of these things well or mindfully.

When I get caught up in these moments with my mind running away down the rabbit hole, I’ve found one simple thing can reset my entire outlook and bring me back into the present moment.

I unclench my jaw.

It’s really pretty simple. When we’re stuck on the virtual hamster wheel, our jaws inevitably become involved. For me, it feels like my jaw tries to hold on to all of the things in my mind by brute force.

But it’s not just our jaws. My shoulders also start to creep up to my ears in silent moral support, creating tension in my neck and upper back. Ever get tension headaches? I do, and I know the root cause can usually be traced back to my neck, shoulders, and voilà—my jaw.

Why is the jaw so important to mitigating stress and anchoring us in the present moment?

As a yoga and meditation teacher, I’ve found the most helpful cues are the most specific. Not open your third eye or feel the prana move up your spine. Those cues have their time and place—but for most of us, small tangible cues like release your jaw can be the most radical.

The jaw can serve as our gateway into the rest of our bodies. Releasing my jaw creates a cascade of tension release. Once I’ve pried my jaw open, I notice my shoulders let go. My face lightens, and my breath no longer feels like I’ve been pulling it in through a straw. This is followed by my belly, and surprisingly, it goes all the way down to my hips.

During labor, my midwife gently reminded me to release my jaw. A tight jaw equates to a tight cervix. And she was right. Every time I clenched my jaw, my contractions were more intense.

But it’s not only our physical bodies. When my jaw is soft, so are my thoughts. I’ve noticed that when I start getting anxious, I can intervene and stop thoughts of worry, fear, and negativity from taking over my body simply by checking in with my jaw.

When I’m irritated with the person in front of me in line for taking too long to make a decision, guess what? My jaw tightens. I’m not going to lie, I don’t always become magnanimous in every situation, but when I check in with my jaw, compassion inevitably follows. 

It’s simple, free, and instant. 

Just remember, we can release our jaws while in our coat or on a boat. We can release them while driving our car or at the bar. We can release our jaws while reading a book or when we cook. We can release them here, and there, and everywhere!

With one silent jaw release at a time, we can change the quality of our lives. And we just may become better people in the process. No unicorn sparkle cake required.


Want to Protect the Environment? Prepare to be Shot.

Originally featured on elephant journal May 6, 2017

I grew up thinking “green” was a dirty word.

No one in my family would identify as an environmental activist, let alone an eco-warrior—but they do care about the environment.

My dad and I are often—almost always—on opposite sides of local resource arguments. We debate, we raise our voices, we disagree, then we sit down and have a nice family dinner together.

We’re privileged to debate civilly. For many, arguments about the environment are a matter of life and death. Reasoned discourse is giving way to deadly violence around the world.

Caring about and advocating for our environment shouldn’t be a death sentence. I was horrified to learn recently that this past year will top 2015 as the deadliest year on record for environmental activists according to Global Witness.

Environmentalists around the world are defending forests from big mining corporations, the last mountain gorillas from poachers, indigenous land use rights from unscrupulous government officials, and urban communities from pollution.

They are also dying by the hundreds.

Just last Saturday, April 22, 2017 activist and author of I Dreamed of Africa, Kuki Gallmann, was shot in the abdomen by men at her conservation ranch at in northern Kenya. Dozens of others have been killed or wounded in the past few weeks.

Each year, in recognition of the courage and sacrifices of incredible grassroots activists, the Goldman Environmental Prize honors the efforts of six individuals working for environmental sustainability and justice.

On April 23, 2017 this year’s recipients were announced. They include a Congolese park ranger and former child soldier reporting on bribery by oil companies, a Slovenian organic farmer fighting air pollution, a third generation activist from California fighting industrial contamination, an Indian social justice leader, an Australian farmer fighting against coal development, and a Q’eqchi Guatemalan indigenous land rights activist.

The prize recognizes individuals whose lives are often endangered by their work. Indigenous land activist and 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize recipient, Berta Cáceres, was shot and killed at her home in her native country of Honduras in March, 2016. She was targeted simply because she spoke out about ancestral land rights.

What can we do to support these eco-warriors?

1. Speak truth to power.

In this age of “alternative facts” and dismantling of the United State’s Environmental Protection Agency, it’s more important than ever that we stand in solidarity with facts. Especially ones that are unpopular with those in power.

We can follow the lead of people like Michael Cox, who wrote a scathing letter to the new head of the EPA when he recently chose to retire.

2. Teach our kids to care.

There were some great signs at this past weekend’s March for Science. Especially the ones made by young people. My little one and I marched around our living room since our local march was unfortunately scheduled during nap time.

When our children see our communities standing up for science, they learn that environmental protection is important and integral to our society. Let’s remember our childhood curiosity and celebrate what we don’t already know.

And, good news! Bill Nye the Science Guy is back! Although his new Netflix show is intended for adults, the original series is still great. I hear “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” is also making a come back. Let’s make science cool again.

3. Pay attention.

Did you know more than 140 Virunga park rangers have been killed on duty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? I didn’t either.

I know baby goats doing yoga in sweaters are much more enjoyable to watch than the depressing news, but we need to pay attention.

“What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” ~ Henry David Thoreau

4. Give.

Sometimes it’s money, sometimes it’s time. Support organizations that are doing good work. It’s especially imperative to look for organizations working in our own local communities. For those working internationally, check out these three to start:

>> Global Witness, which investigates and reports on environmental and human rights abuses.

>> Grassroots International, which advocates for environmental and social justice by tackling climate justice, human rights, food sovereignty, movement building, resource rights, and sustainable livelihoods.

>> The Nature Conservancy, which focuses on ecological conservation of land and marine ecosystems in partnership with local communities.

5. Share.

Tell a friend about the six incredible environmental activists the Goldman Environmental Prize honored this year. I recently bought a set of Women in Science postcards from my favorite local book store. I’m going to write notes and send them to friends who inspire me.

We can’t do this work alone. Let’s encourage and educate each other. Burdens are easier shared and accomplishments are best enjoyed together.


Are Houseplants as Green as We Think?

Originally featured on elephant journal April 27, 2017

Our Fetishism with House Plants.

While searching online for baby-proofing tips, I came across an article about common toxic indoor plants. In a flash of embarrassment, I realized I knew nothing about the plants gracing my home.

I expected the baby-proofing basics—hiding cords, finding cap thingys for electrical sockets, elevating curtain drawstrings, and picking up all the appetizing detritus perfectly sized for little hands and curious mouths. But—toxic house plants? That’s a thing?

Besides being told that we need specific plants for Feng Shui and better air quality, how much do we really know about the plants sharing our homes? We may know how to keep them alive, but do we know much more?

I’m not exactly a green-thumb, but I didn’t even know what types of plants we have. Some were passed on from the previous owners of our house and some I bought from our local grocery store. Most I’ve managed to keep alive.

Hanging in my living room I have one vibrant vine varietal that I can now name—devil’s ivy—also known as the golden pothos or money plant. It sprawls across the ceiling and drapes around our big south-facing windows.

When I recently visited Dubai, I noticed my mother-in-law has the same plant in her desert home. A couple of weeks ago, on a trip to Hawaii, I saw the same plant while out on a hike. Did I mention I live in Alaska?

At first I thought this was a great example of how globalization has brought us closer together. But once I was past my ‘Kumbaya’ moment, it dawned on me that this might not be the sweet fairytale it seemed.

I belatedly asked: Is this plant toxic if ingested? The unfortunate answer was easy to find—yes.

So, house plants. Where do they come from? Why do we have them? Are they sustainable?

Although we have been living in tandem with house plants for millennia, it wasn’t until the height of European colonialism did house plants really take over our lives.

Think the Palace of Versailles, or the great houses of England. King Louis XIV had a thing for orange trees and exotic animals. In addition to ‘discovering’ new places, explorers/imperialists were sending exotic plants back to their patrons. Heard of cocoa? Coffee? These plants didn’t land on European soil by accident.
Growing exotic plant varieties was an indication of wealth and privilege—and became big business. Think sugar plantations. The transatlantic slave trade was built upon Western European—and later white American obsession with plants native to warm locales. Tobacco, cotton, rice, indigo, rum, and sugarcane.
Then came the ability to grow hot weather plants closer to home. With the invention of the greenhouse, tropical and subtropical plants could now be grown in non-indigenous colder climes.

So—what about the Devil’s Ivy that has climbed its way into many of our homes?

Devil’s Ivy is a quintessential house plant. Its long trailing vines and spade-shaped emerald leaves often grow from a hanging basket. Think jungle—because unsurprisingly, that’s where it comes from.

The plant itself is originally native to the South Central Pacific Ocean. More specifically, the island of Mo’orea in French Polynesia—which is still an overseas country of France.

The devil’s ivy in my own home was one we inherited with our house. I’m unsure where it originated, but I suspect it came from a clipping—kind of like friendship bread or a SCOBY. Most likely, it was shipped up to Alaska from an out-of-state nursery.
Most likely it was shipped up to Alaska from an out-of-state nursery. Maybe it was even smuggled. I’ve seen French Kiss. Although I doubt most smugglers sound like a sexy French-speaking Kevin Kline.

The unfortunate truth is, by breeding and transporting plants like devil’s ivy around the United States and around the world, we’re seeing the propagation of monocultures. In Hawaii, devil’s ivy is considered an invasive species. While many of us are privileged to house this plant indoors, it is threatening the biodiversity of delicate ecosystems.

I’m unsure of the import policies for Devil’s Ivy in Dubai, but exotic faun —cheetah, tigers, and lions—were only recently banned as pets. Pets.

Are house plants as green as we think?

There is an estimated $18 billion in the American floral industry. It’s also consolidating at an astonishing rate: “Since 1992 the number of florist shops in America has fallen from 27,000 to 15,000.”

This means fewer local nurseries and greenhouses. Most cut flowers—about 65 percent in 2013—were imported from Colombia alone.

I have an incredibly talented friend who owns a flower shop near my home. I was delighted to learn that she sources almost all of her florals locally. She grows some plants herself and others she buys from local greenhouses. But she is in the minority.

The way we grow house plants is also deviating further from nature: “Micropropagation has enabled plants to be produced in huge numbers, with small sections of leaf grown on in Petri dishes in a laboratory. The resulting plants are genetically identical, and bulk production means they are now affordable—a third or even a quarter of the retail price of 15 years ago.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love my house plants. Especially during our cold dark winters. I love having a bit of fresh green that reminds us that the snow will eventually disappear and the sun will return.

I’m not suggesting that we give our house plants up, but what if instead of buying mono-cultured house plants, we commit to supporting our local greenhouses and learning the origins of local indigenous plants?

Perhaps we grow sustainable, eco-friendly plants instead. We can find local programs that get us outside to learn about the plants in our own back yards.

Next time we’re debating buying a fully grown house plant, let’s look at the label to see where it came from. There’s a deep-rooted story sitting in that humble pot.


How a Dress with Pockets Can Cure Everything.

Originally featured on elephant journal April 26, 2017

I love my dresses with pockets.

I have at least four. One in cream linen with fuchsia and lavender wildflower print, one in white muslin with burnt orange embroidery, one in slippery man-made fabric with hot pink ornate vases, and one in studious black cotton with white lace.

Most importantly, they all have functional pockets.

 Any time I was sick growing up, my mom’s advice always included putting something nice on (after drinking a glass of water, of course). As a teenager, I humored her. I didn’t believe there was any way that getting out of my comfy pajamas would actually get rid of my headache. Until, of course, I got out of my comfy pajamas and my headache went away.

My mom was unwittingly channeling Chögyam Trungpa and his teachings on inner drala. Psychologically, it’s similar to “fake it until you make it,” and I can attest that it works.

When we look good, surprisingly we feel better.

Dressing is a way of communicating with the world around us. For better or worse, we dress according to gender norms, wealth, religious beliefs, activities, culture, age, body shape, and the weather. We most often dress for others before we dress for ourselves. We meet work dress codes, uniforms, and society’s relentless expectations.

Getting dressed each day can quickly become a chore.

But we have a choice. We can choose instead to dress joyfully.

My teenage self would be loath to admit it, but my mom was onto something. In the same way that clearing and cleaning the space around me instantly improves my mood, I always feel better after putting on an outfit and jewelry that I love. It’s like magic. When I lived alone and insomnia kept me up in the middle of the night, I’d try on my fanciest clothes just because it felt good to do so.

A dress with pockets is the epitome of a simple, joyful outfit.

When I put on one of my dresses with pockets, I instantly feel like I’m invoking the elemental energy of the universe that Trungpa speaks about. I imagine that I exude sophistication with my lovely dress, but in reality I’m just being practical, with pockets filled with ChapStick and tissues.

I’m not exactly a fussy dresser. I’m a new mom who considers pants a luxury, let alone a swipe of mascara. I wasn’t always this way. There was at least a solid year or two in middle school when I wore blue eyeshadow. Every day.

Now when I’m exhausted and can’t possibly drag myself off of the couch and out of my pajamas, I put on a cute dress that I hope I can breastfeed in (or else I’ll flash whoever else is nearby) and earrings that I hope my baby won’t rip out of my ears. Sometimes, I can only wear said outfit until the next hungry cry or watery burp, but even those few minutes are enough to shift my mood for the better.

Wearing a dress with pockets is like carrying around a secret.

Every time I wear one of my dresses with pockets and some kind soul compliments the style or color, I immediately beam, stick my hands in the pockets, and declare, “And it has pockets!” I can’t seem to help it. It’s as if I’m sharing my secret with others so that they too can marvel at how a pretty dress can be more than it initially seems.

I think this is why I love a dress with pockets. It’s a metaphor for how we all want to be appreciated for more than just how we look on the outside. We crave somebody to recognize our depths and the things about ourselves that may not seem exciting, but which make us unique, clever individuals.

A dress with pockets is something special.

When I step into one of my dresses with pockets, my mood immediately improves. This one small act brings me joy.

“A great deal of the chaos in the world occurs because people don’t appreciate themselves.” ~ Chögyam Trungpa, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior

So let’s defy the chaos and appreciate ourselves. Wearing a dress with pockets may not cure all ails, but taking the time to intentionally invoke joy in our lives will.


Decadent, Raw Vegan Truffles even the Carnivores in your Life will Love. {Recipe}

Originally featured on elephant journal April 16, 2017

Many moons ago, I was vegan.

I never adopted a raw-food-only diet, but I surrounded myself with plenty of people who did. Now, not so much.

 My husband proudly tells my family that he “cured” me of my hippie-food ways. He likes to think so. Deep down—actually not so deep—I’m still a pure food foodie. I just camouflage these tendencies by eating almost everything now.

But there are a few holdovers from my vegan-dominated diet that will never disappear from my life. This raw, vegan truffle recipe is one of them.

It was inspired by a friend from college. She made a variation of these and I devoured them, even though they weren’t meant for me. I kind of felt terrible, but not enough to actually stop eating them.

I’m not always good at following recipes. When I cook, I make most dishes based on the ingredients on hand. This drives my husband nuts. He’s an engineer, so when he cooks, measurable numbers rule the kitchen. He will often make a dish without ever tasting it before serving. I find this sacrilegious, but it works for him.

Me? I cook with approximations. I cook based on what I’m hungry for, or what happens to appeal to me. Sometimes, dill makes it into every dish I prepare during the week. Sometimes I crave fresh mozzarella and it sneaks into my shakshuka recipe.

I use a lot of loose guesstimates when measuring too. I make a Moroccan carrot soup, and it’s different every single time I make it. Sometimes, I vary the ratios based on my mood. Because of this, I’ve never actually written down one of my recipes—until now.

This means that I had to whip up a new batch of these truffles—oh no! And sample a few—or a lot. They’re practically vitamins, so feel free to splurge a bit. I won’t tell.

The recipe makes approximately 20 truffles—not including the two I ate while making them.

*Note: I think music in the kitchen is a must, so I always have something playing. I like my food to be imbued with the essence of what I’m listening to. When I think of truffles, I think of France. For this recipe, I suggest the Rupa & The April Fishes Pandora station.* 

Ingredients: 

1 cup pitted dates coarsely chopped (Medjool dates are divine, but don’t despair if all you can find are Deglet Noor dates. I live in Alaska—I know the struggle.)
1/2 cup raw, plain cashews
1/3 cup unsweetened, desiccated coconut
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Approx. 1 tablespoon liquid coconut oil for sealing the truffles
Approx. 1/4 cup cocoa powder in a bowl

Five easy-peasy steps:

1. Combine all ingredients in a blender—except for the coconut oil and cocoa powder—and blend. The mixture will be sticky and crumbly.
2. Scoop a spoonful of the blended ingredients into coconut oil-greased palms and roll into a bite-sized truffle—my husband defines this as about 1 inch in diameter.
3. Roll the truffle through the cocoa powder generously and place on a plate—or your mouth. No judgment.
4. Repeat with the remaining truffle mixture.
5. Voila! The most decadent raw, vegan truffles. Place in freezer for at least five minutes for best results.

They’re delicious directly out of the freezer, but you can also allow them to warm for a few minutes before inhaling/eating responsibly. I’m not actually sure how long these will keep. They’ve never lasted more than a couple of days in an airtight container in our freezer. Enjoy!


Why I’m Writing my own Obituary.

Originally featured on elephant journal April 1, 2017

I once read that big publications ask journalists to keep obituary drafts on celebrities so that they can quickly publish in the event that one of them meets their ultimate demise.

Although this seems morbid, it’s also practical. I was recently reading a 3,500 plus word obituary published within hours of the death of a public figure in Ireland, and I was struck by how deep and thorough it was. In comparison, the obituaries of beloved local members of my community—oft written by loved ones—were rather shallow and fleeting.

This bothered me.

We’re all a bit voyeuristic. I can’t be the only one who reads obituaries of people I don’t know and have never met. The obituaries that I find most touching are the ones that reveal the humanity and uniqueness of a person.

How did they live in ways like no one before them? What can I learn from their lives? What stories did they embody in flesh and bone that will live on in the memories and hearts of those still here?

I started considering my own life and what I want to be remembered by. There are the basic facts: name, date of birth, age, eventual death details. But aren’t we all more than just dates and numbers?

My brother and I have had a long-standing pact that we will write each other’s obituaries. He has the same infatuation with language that I have, and a keen ability to reveal truths.

But instead of leaving it all up to my brother (and to chance), I decided to draft my own obituary.

Let me be clear: I’m not doing this because I think we should live in a state of fear that death is around every corner; rather, we should live in the knowledge that life is full and we carry it with us always.

And yet, thinking about death freaks people out. It’s unpleasant at best and nihilistic at worst. I tend to be incredibly superstitious—which goes against all of my agnostic, science-based beliefs—but what are we if not a jumble of contradictions? I don’t necessarily think I’m tempting fate. I’m a healthy, late-twenties, married new mother. Statistically, I should have a long and happy life ahead of me.

But.

But life and death happen. I think in the West we have an unhealthy fear of death which leads to a lot of the neuroses that infringe upon living. I’m guilty of it too. Who wants to think about death? Not many of us. Regardless, whether we like it or not, death happens. Approaching death mindfully can alleviate some of our existential fears.

Crafting my own obituary started out as a writing exercise, but I think I’ve stumbled onto a beautiful life lesson.

Writing my own obituary has taught me to live. 

By distilling my experiences down into the essentials, I’ve discovered the places in my life that are full and the spaces yet to be filled. I am family and relationship rich. I am travel rich. I am embodied life rich. I am chosen-career rich.

It has helped me decide where to go. What part of my life have I not yet lived that I want to show up in my obituary?

It’s helped me realize what I’m proud of and what I shy away from. What experiences from my life do I want to share with others? What do I want to keep secret? What do I want others to know that they don’t already?

I’m using my obituary as a compass guided by the loves in my life, my passions, my accomplishments, and my quirks. I’ll regularly ask myself not only, “How do I want to be remembered?” but more importantly, “How do I want to live?”

What mark do I want to leave on the world? What contribution have I yet to make? Where do I want to go, and what have I been too scared to do?

I’m incredibly happy, and I love my life. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to grow, to adventure, to live on the edge of something new and raw. Writing my own obituary has taught me the essential components of life. Where I come from. Where I’ve been. My relationships to others. My education. My travels. My service. What I hope to give to the world.

My obituary has taught me not just to look back, but to look forward. To lose no time creating my life here in the present, and to intentionally chart my way through the unknown waters to come.

In my current obituary draft, I am most proud of my relationships. But that’s not all that I am. We crave being seen and understood. I’m no different.

When the time comes that my obituary is no longer a draft, I hope it reveals a taste of the essential truths I’ve spent a lifetime uncovering. I also hope that my brother shares that I lived and laughed with a full heart.

I’ve learned more about how to live while writing my own obituary than I ever expected.

I’ll leave you with the first phrase that jumped to mind when I started crafting my obituary:

She loved words. She loved to read them and write them. She didn’t love to spell them.

Here’s to living a life full of obituary-worthy stories.

 


How the Deepest Massage of my Life Brought me Back to my Body.

Originally featured on elephant journal March 28, 2017

A month ago in Dubai, I had the deepest massage of my life.

As the massage therapist stretched, pulled, and pressed on my sore exhausted flesh, I immediately knew this massage was different.

Like so many of us, I often walk around somewhere up in my head and barely notice my feet meeting the earth. This tendency to live in my mind is what compelled me to play competitive sports as a child, then find yoga and dance as an adult.

Although my habit is to live up in my comfy cerebral space, my body craves being lived in. Sometimes vigorously, but mostly just actively, even if it happens in fits and spurts. I’ll spend days not doing much intentional movement and then I’ll get the itch and dream of running—sprinting down my street. Or I’ll get the taste of cobwebs on my skin and I need to move. Now. Jump. Stretch. Shimmy. Climb something until my chest heaves and sweat makes dusty rivulets down my legs.

I love massage and I’ve had my fair share of them—in seven different countries. I adore the ritual. I crave the therapeutic benefits. I need the relaxation. I cherish the self-care.

My mother introduced me to the magic of massage when I was a teenager. After getting professional massages together as a birthday treat, my mom decided on a whim to buy a massage table. Her intention was to give me and my brothers all the benefits of massage from the comforts and ease of home.

I can remember one sunny summer day she set the table up in the grass of our backyard and gave each of us a sugar scrub rub that ended with a run through the sprinkler. Unfortunately her dream was short lived. She had no real idea how to give massage and no intention to learn, but her passion for giving us positive loving touch was the most important gift.

While cocooned in the plush sheets on the heated massage table in Dubai, I realized the difference between this massage and every other massage I’ve ever had. This time, I was being physically crammed back into my body. In the midst of creaking ribs and touch that felt like it could reach my spleen, my mind finally migrated down into my neglected skin.

And it was glorious.

We often take our bodies for granted. Especially with the advent of digital everything. They’re good at getting us from A to B, sitting at desks, sitting in cars, and sitting in front of the television. It’s easy to forget what wellness and wholeness actually feel like.

Five months ago I gave birth to a happy, healthy, beautiful baby. My labor and birth were natural, quick, and I hate to say it—easy. It was the most embodying moment of my life.

And then parenting set in.

Exhaustion. The kind that steals names of life-long friends and days of the week.

In the midst of breastfeeding around the clock and slowly easing into my postpartum body, I retreated back up into my familiar head space. The sleepless nights—and days—led to blurry cuddle-filled weeks where the most active thing I did was walk up and down the stairs with baskets filled with baby laundry.

It wasn’t until the massage therapist was successfully chasing down each knot and achy muscle in my tender back did I realize I had been on body autopilot for months.

We can all benefit from positive loving touch as a way to bring ourselves back into our bodies. Sometimes we need a gentle reminder and sometimes like me, we need deep pressure to reboot and wake up the parasympathetic nervous system.

Deep pressure massage has been used beneficially for those on the Autism spectrum with sensory needs and is important in early childhood development.

Learning the physical boundaries and limitations of our bodies through physical pressure helps us define who we are and create our sense of self. Practices of embodying bodily process like Authentic Movement  and Contact Improvisation are great ways to step out of the mind and into the body and experience self through physical movement with others.

After my massage in Dubai, I can feel my feet more firmly underneath me, and I find myself breathing deeper. I feel like I once again inhabit my body—I’m not just hitching a ride anymore.

I know I’ll inevitably retreat back up into my head again, but when I do—I’ll happily be making a massage appointment with one of my favorite therapists to help ease me back into my body.

The universal joke that we all eventually become our parents is eerily true sometimes. Although I’m not going to go out and buy a massage table anytime soon, I do give my little one baby massages after each bath time. My hope is that he’ll learn and grow with the benefits of positive loving touch and will love the myriad benefits of massage as much as I do.


Do we need another Reason to Adore Prime Minister Justin Trudeau?

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38960035

Originally featured on elephant journal March 15, 2017

About a month ago, while crossing from the United States into Canada, two men lost almost all fingers to frostbite in their desperation to seek refugee status.

“Asylum seekers are illegally crossing from the US into Canada in growing numbers hoping to receive refugee status. One small prairie town in southern Manitoba has become the nexus point for migrants who have lost hope in the US.

Mohammed says he once viewed the US as a beacon for human rights and a place that welcomed newcomers but ‘when we came, we didn’t see that.’”

Where is our outrage?

Like most Americans, I am ashamed to admit that I’ve become jaded to the plight of refugees. We read about climate refugees fleeing water shortages and famines. We hear about Syrian refugees fleeing bombs and desolation. We see boats filled with children drowning on a weekly basis. Rarely does the latest tragedy pierce our comfortable bubbles and actually force us to stop and think about what is happening outside our families and our homes.

I was horrified—stomach in my mouth, tears streaming down my face—while watching the interview with these two men. Being from Alaska, I grew up with a healthy appreciation of the seriousness of frostbite. But that’s not why. This isn’t happening in Europe or the Mediterranean—this is happening here at home.

Instead of finding the “Land of the Free,” and rather than waiting to see what policy changes come next from the new administration, desperate immigrants are leaving the U.S. and walking across the sometimes frigid, snow-covered border into Canada.

Sound familiar?

Many of the undocumented immigrants entering the U.S. from Mexico are Central Americans fleeing from violence in their home countries. It’s an ongoing American delusion to think that we have a monopoly on freedom and democracy.

Although Canada has its share of immigration and refugee challenges, instead of fueling a climate hostile to immigrants like we are seeing in the U.S. today, Canada is stepping up and putting compassionate kindness into action. Not only is Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a self-proclaimed feminist, he is personally and actively welcoming immigrants into our great, northern neighbor:

“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada,” he tweeted.

What can we do?

First, donate to a worthy organization. There are a lot of good people out there doing a lot of good work. Find a group that calls to you and consider a monthly contribution, even if it’s only a few dollars. One time donations are great, but sustainers keep the lights on from month-to-month.

Second, volunteer. Don’t have the cash to give? Donate your time. The best volunteers reach out and ask what an organization needs. Many need volunteers to help out in less sexy ways—like filing or stuffing envelopes or making phone calls. Set egos aside and get ready to be of service.

Third, walk your talk. Take a leaf out of Prime Minister Trudeau’s book and cultivate basic goodness. We can’t all house refugees or immigrants in our homes, but we all can treat others with respect. Holding U.S. citizenship shouldn’t be a litmus test to kindness. Let’s lift each other up and ensure no one else loses a finger to frostbite fleeing from the world’s richest country.

I think Chögyam Trungpa says it best:

“Helping others is a question of being genuine and projecting that genuineness to others. This way of being doesn’t have to have a title or a name particularly. It is just being ultimately decent.”


Mindfulness in the Pediatric Ward.

Originally featured on elephant journal Feb. 2, 2017

Being in the hospital gives me PTSD.

Like actual PTSD. My breathing is shallow and fast, I start feeling trapped and claustrophobic. I sweat. The really smelly kind of sweat. My mind fills with a torrent of fear that drowns out all other thoughts.

And to my horror, when I get angry at not being heard, I cry. When the tears burn down my face, I become even angrier that I’m crying and less able to speak up. 

This is why when I told my husband a year ago that we were going to have a baby, I also told him I’d like to have our baby at home. He was already familiar with most of my hospital traumas, including the discovery that I’m allergic to two common medications—after they were pumped into my IV. Twice.

I’ve been rushed into emergency surgery 3,000 miles away from home and I’ve spent a week as a medical test subject. I also have the type of veins phlebotomists dread. It takes three sticks on average for a needle to find a suitable spot. I once sprayed a two foot stream of blood across a wide-eyed nurse. 

After a month or so of petitioning for a home birth, he finally agreed and we found the most extraordinary midwife. We had a healthy pregnancy and a dream birth at home. Six hours of calm in a safe space with no medical intervention and full-on mindful breathing resulted in a healthy, happy, eight pound, 15 ounce bundle of joy.

All of our intentional avoidance of hospitals has now flown right out the window. 

Today is my second day in the pediatric ward hovering over my three month old son as he struggles to breathe. It’s taken me two days, two long exhausting days to wake up. Entering the hospital through the Emergency Room is like being placed on a moving sidewalk. I’m whisked away before I even realized that I was no longer standing still. 

Two days ago when my husband and I first noticed our son seemed to be having a hard time catching his breath, I immediately worried his bad cold had migrated down into his chest. I’ve had pneumonia and both my husband and I have asthma. It seemed remote, and my new mom instincts were a little overreactive as of late.

A month-and-a-half ago we drove to the Emergency Room on a Saturday evening because I was worried our little one had a cold/pneumonia/croup/meningitis/the black lung. With the car parked outside the brightly lit snowy entrance, my husband folded into the backseat next to the carseat while I asked him to check our little one to see if he had any sunken soft spots on his head denoting dehydration. He didn’t. After a tense few moments while I silently debated the pros and cons of going inside, I finally relented and agreed to drive home and play wait and see.

Sometime after we got home I remembered that I may have accidentally sprayed the little one up the nose with breast milk when he unlatched during an exhaustive feeding session during the previous night. Breast feeding can be challenging. The sniffle went away in about a day. 

So when two days ago I said, “We’re going to Urgent Care, now,” my husband somewhat rightly looked a little hesitant. Instead of arguing or rolling his eyes, he acknowledged what I thought were chest retractions while we were bathing our baby, and helped me bundle him up and into the car.

After an RSV diagnosis and being told to immediately go to the ER by the physician assistant at Urgent Care, we found ourselves whisked into glaring fluorescent lights and a cold sterile room. My meditation training, my yogic training, my physical performance training all seemed to go into hibernation the moment I walked through the germ splattered doors of the hospital. Alternating between interminable waits and frenetic activity quickly brought on the PTSD. 

My husband ushered me out of the room the first two times the nurses and phlebotomist tried to put an IV line into our little one. I stood outside the room near the nurses’ station and cried heaving sobs into my hands as I listened to my sweet, normally serene little boy scream in fear and pain. One of the nurses asked if it was my baby and when I nodded without looking up, she sighed sympathetically and said, “It must be your first.” As if it gets easier with subsequent children. 

Although I couldn’t seem to think mindfully myself, each time I gathered my little one into my arms to comfort and calm him, I started with a deep breath. “Let it out sweet boy. Deep breath,” as I inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly. 

After the fifth IV placement, with an oxygen cannula attached to his face, and vital monitor hanging from his foot, there was hardly a place on our little one’s body that didn’t ache or have a bandage. For the next 48 hours we obsessively checked his oxygen levels in between nebulizer treatments and tried to make him as comfortable as possible in his vast hospital bed. My husband brought a few blankets and stuffed animals from home to lessen the impersonal feel of the room as we watched and waited. 

I’m embarrassed to say for those first two days I hadn’t even thought about my contemplative practice. Neither sitting meditation, movement, nor breathing exercises outside of deep breathing to calm my son even occurred to me. Watching and counting breaths should have triggered 13 years of training. I let the PTSD overwhelm my senses in the blur between hourly nurse rounds, respiratory specialist treatments, and occasional pediatrician visits. The nurse down in the ER was right. I recoiled from my little one’s cries each time he was held down to have his nose suctioned, before preparing to pick him up afterwards and comfort him while swallowing my own tears. 

It took me two days of watching my son wrestling with each breath before I remembered to take a breath of my own. With my husband’s firm encouragement, I ventured out of our room for the first time. Armed with a medical mask to protect our son from the germs of the hospital and the other pediatric patients from his RSV, I shuffled along the linoleum floors in my slippers. I hadn’t realized how stiff I had become. I was hunched over and exhausted from the past two days. I finally breathed. Deep breaths that sucked my yellow mask into my mouth. I watched my slow steps and tried to remember the cues from my walking meditation training. 

When I came back into the room after dousing myself in hand sanitizer, my chest was lighter. My body had unfurled finally and I could stand up straight. My son greeted me with his big smile. The silent giggle one that crinkles his eyes and shows the pink gums where teeth soon will be.

While walking down the hospital hallways, I realized that being here for my son’s sake has alleviated some of my own fears and allowed me to work through my PTSD triggers. He can’t speak up for himself, but I can. When the stress of meeting so many strangers and having so many treatments overwhelms him, I’m here to ground him. To hold him. To love him. To let him know he isn’t alone. 

The pediatrician just stopped by and told us that we get to go home tomorrow.

While I hold my sleeping little one with the whirring and beeping monotonously droning on, I’m thinking about venturing back out into the world. I hope to continue remembering to breathe. It’s easy to try to become a martyr for our little ones. It’s hard to remember the importance of creating the space for our own breaths. Parenting is full of fearful moments, but breathing carries us through.

I’m also starting to wake up and notice that my mindfulness practice isn’t for the easy days. I practice so that when the world is spiraling out of control, I can find refuge. A soft spot to land. My practice might not always look like it had before. For me, becoming a mother has been the most revolutionary way of practicing contemplativeness and beginner’s mind. When I feel exhausted and wrung out, our little one is teaching me to slow down. He currently likes to look at inanimate objects that I’ve never noticed before. I recently followed his gaze and spent a whole minute contemplating our bedroom light fixture. It really does refract the light beautifully.

When we go home tomorrow, I’ll try to remember to breathe. To know that mindfulness will creep in when I need it most. It may not look the way I think it should, but it will remind me to slow down. To sit with my fears. It took long enough, but while counting my son’s breaths in the pediatric ward, I finally found my own again.