Monday, February 28, 2011

Breathe. And Wait.

The hardest part of sobriety for me, now, is sitting with unpleasant emotions.

My triggers now are mostly emotional:  irritation, boredom and monotony top the list.

This past week has been all about irritation, boredom and monotony.

It was school vacation week, and we had no plans.   Most of our friends - the kids' regular play dates - were away, having hightailed it to warmer climates.   The weather is abysmal - alternating between snow and rain; the world has been reduced to a black and white photograph.    I ache for splashes of color, birdsong and the sun on my face.

There was only one day this past week where we could go outside.   The rest of the days were spent pinging around in the house, tripping over our own feet and trying to stay out of our own way.

By Saturday, I was done.  My moods alternated between excruciating boredom and profound irritation.   I did my best to interact with the kids - play games, read books, color, do crafts.   These activities don't come naturally to me, and this is a source of existential angst.  Playing Legos with Finn and drawing endless pictures with Greta are amusing to me for about twenty minutes.   Then the guilt (what's wrong with me?  Aren't I supposed to want to do this with my kids?) and itchiness (oh MAN I'm bored) sets in, and I feel trapped in my own skin.  

I longed to escape into the computer, the television or a good book.   None of these things were possible, not really, until the kids were in bed.    Every evening I would lie on my couch and soak in the silence, too edgy to watch television, write or read.   Then I would go to bed and start the cycle all over again the next day.  

By Saturday evening my mind drifted to thoughts of a drink.  Just one freaking glass of wine to loosen my shoulders, wrap a warm glow around the tedium.   

Food is another challenge when the days are long and boring.  Rewarding myself with food was a big part of eating for me, before.   My mind scrambles for relief and eating and drinking were my trap doors, my ripcord out of my own head.

Now I don't drink, and I don't eat to excess, so at the end of that long day I felt bereft, lost, and more than a little edgy.

There are tools I can use to get through difficult times, and they work. Sometimes.   I made gratitude lists, I thought about how much worse this week would have been if I were drinking.   I remember the self-hatred I felt after a bout of mindless eating.   I know I don't want to go back there.   But it doesn't stop me from thinking, on the really bad days, is this seriously all there is?     Just an endless stretch of road with no relief? 

My mind is programmed to find the nearest exit away from unpleasant emotions.   When the days are full and I'm rushing from one thing to another, I don't have time for existential crises.   Too much time is not easy for me.   The hyperactive squirrel in my brain wakes up and starts foraging for self-pity, negativity and angst.

Saturday evening, as the kids watched a movie, I lay curled on my bed, longing for escape.   Steve was away on a business trip and wouldn't be home until the next morning.    The thought of giving the kids a bath, cooking dinner, getting them into their pajamas and reading a story seemed insurmountably hard.  

I can't do it, I thought.   I want to drop away from my life, just for a little while.

Finn yelled from downstairs that he wanted popcorn, and my shoulders hunched in irritation.   I can't even escape for five minutes, I thought.  I'm so done.

Everything passes, and Saturday night did, too.     

Recovery, for me, is about learning to feel everything.    I can no longer adjust my moods with food or alcohol like some mad scientist. 

Sunday morning I woke up with a peaceful mind.    If the hardest part of recovery is learning to sit with the tough emotions, the reward is the self-love and pride I feel when I make it through. 

In the rested, sane light of day, I wondered what was so difficult about the night before, anyway?   I realized that so much of my trouble is born out of my own thoughts.    I can't think my way out of unpleasantness.  

But I can breathe.   And wait.  

And so that's what I do.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Raise Your Voice. Please.

Please read this.  I need your help and support.

I read a statistic that 42% of American adults are affected by addiction, either directly or indirectly.   Whether you have struggled yourself (or continue to struggle) or have ever loved someone who has, nearly half of American adults have felt the sting of addiction in some form.

And yet it remains one of those topics that isn't talked about openly very often outside of recovery meetings or therapist's offices.   

When I finally dragged myself into a recovery meeting and heard another woman, someone I had never met. share my story, my feelings, I was floored.   Up until that point, and despite the staggering statistics of how many people struggle with addiction, I honestly thought I was the only one who did the things I did, who felt the way I felt.    I believed with all my heart I was morally corrupt, weak-willed, broken beyond repair.  

For the first time in a long time, I felt a stirring of hope.   If she can get sober, maybe I can, too. 

I started Crying Out Now almost one year ago to bring the same feeling of relief and comfort I experienced by hearing other people's struggles and triumphs to other women who may feel the same way I felt - totally alone, isolated and scared.

I'm only half joking when I say I want to change the world one story at a time.

The response to Crying Out Now has amazed me.   I wasn't sure that anyone would ever have the guts to submit their story - anonymously or not - but I figured it was worth a try.

Since last March nearly 125 women have stepped forward and shared their truths.   Hundreds of people have commented to show their empathy and support.    Every time I get an email from someone who says they are reading the posts at Crying Out Now and feeling less alone, my heart soars.

I had been struggling to find a way to honor Crying Out Now's first birthday.    And then I saw this video at Violence Unsilenced.     VU was founded by one of my most favorite people in the world, Maggie.   The idea for Crying Out Now came about because I was so inspired by the bravery, grace and truth in the voices of the women who post there.   I wanted to do for addiction and recovery what Violence Unsilenced is doing for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and sexual abuse.

And so, with continued admiration and respect for Maggie and Violence Unsilenced (and with Maggie's permission), I want to create a video honoring the voices of Crying Out Now.  

I'm asking for your help.

To all the people out there reading who have ever struggled with addiction or recovery, who love someone who has (or is), or who admire and support women raising their voices to overcome shame and addiction, please go here to read about how to contribute one simple photograph (and it can be done anonymously) to Crying Out Now's one year anniversary video (submissions due by March 2nd).     

You don't have to be sober, in recovery or even have any direct experience with addiction to show your support.   

Together we are raising our hearts and voices, and together we are healing.

Here is another link to the post about how to submit a photo:



Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Mother Like Me

There she is, I think.  And she's had another baby. 

I'm standing in the church pew, mouthing the words to a hymn and watching a woman across the aisle from me.   Her family is always sitting in the same place, her five boys lined up next to her like Matryoshka stacking dolls, one right after the other, hair brushed and shoes shining.   Her husband is belting out the words to the hymn; he looks over at her and gives her a loving wink.

Her baby looks to be about two months old.  We haven't been to church in a while, and I hadn't noticed that she was pregnant the last time we were here.   Six kids, I think, feeling horror and awe simultaneously.

She rubs her baby's downy head, slowly rocking him back and forth as she sings.   Something twists in my gut:  jealousy?  admiration?   Somehow, it feels more like rage.

The hymn ends and her family all sits down in the pew, politely folding their hands in their laps. 

I go to sit down and land on Finn, who is sprawled out in the pew, kicking his feet in the air.   He lets out a squeal as I wrestle him upright.

How does she do it, I ponder, pretending to pray and peeking at her out of the corner of my eye.   Her own eyes are closed, a beatific smile on her face.

I'm feeling snarly and scribbly, like a caricature of a middle aged mother, eyes wild, hair pointing out in all directions.   Finn is picking his nose and asking for a donut.

I bet she doesn't close herself in the bathroom and sob while her baby cries in the next room and her boys fight over the Wii, I think uncharitably.  There's probably no Wii in her house, just shelves and shelves of educational toys. 

It's time for communion, and her husband plants a kiss on her cheek before he steps up to the altar.   I mentally add Christian books to their perfect sun-splashed and Wii-free playroom.

Finn won't stop wiggling, whining every five minutes about whether he's being good enough to get a donut after church.   I lean down and hiss a threat into his ear, my fingers roughly clutching his arm.

Her baby begins to fuss, and she gently hush-hushes him as she rocks him back and forth.   One of her sons rummages in her diaper bag and pops a pacifier into the baby's mouth.

Six kids, I think again.   As people shuffle up for communion I kneel in the pew and ponder having three times as many kids as I have now.    Quiet rage rumbles in my belly; what is it about her that is making me so angry, I wonder.   I watch them file back into the pew and all simultaneously kneel down to pray. 

She looks so happy, I think.   How can she be happy with that many kids?    I can't even handle two.

And then I know.  I know where the rage is coming from.   She seems to wallow in motherhood.

I am not someone who wallows in motherhood.    This truth hits me out of the blue, and I feel tears prick at the corners of my eyes.

I fold my hands and close my eyes, pretending to pray to keep tears from streaming down my cheeks.    Images of the past week float through my head:   angrily shushing Finn over and over as I try to participate in a conference call for a project I'm working on.  Plying my children with bowls of ice cream and endless amounts of television and video games so I can finish work, talk on the phone to a friend who needs my help, answer emails.

Finn leans his head onto my shoulder and distractedly strokes my arm.    Momma?  he whispers tentatively, I love you. 

I lean back in the pew and gather him into my lap, inhaling his salty-sweet boy smell.   

I look over at the woman with six kids, and catch her watching me out of the corner of her eye.   I bet she thinks I have a sun-splashed playroom full of educational toys.   I bet she thinks I'm a wallow-er.

And then I catch myself.   I don't know what she's thinking - perhaps she's remembering how she used to have two kids and more of a life?  Perhaps she's picturing me getting into a car and escaping to a real job every day?

I give her a smile, and she smiles back.

I hope she's thinking what I'm thinking, finally:   there is another mother, like me.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Little Gems - It's All About the Awesome

There are little gems in my life - places I go on the internet to recharge my spirit, have a good laugh or marvel at someone's unique brand of creativity.     These are places of innovation, humor, grace and beauty.    Please take a moment to check them out; you won't be disappointed.

Hyperbole and A Half is the blog of an amazing woman named Allie.  I go here when I want a belly laugh - you know the kind that makes tears stream down your face and call to someone in the next room to say "You HAVE to come see this!!"    Yeah, that kind.   

I don't know how to describe Allie's blog, other than to say she uses Paintbrush to create cartoon images that boggle my mind, she is one of the funniest women on the internet, and I think she's a genius.   My favorite post of hers is this one, so if you're not going to go to her blog and check it out, at least click on that link.   If you don't start reading her, though, you're simply not laughing enough.


Storybleed is an online magazine (it is also printed quarterly) that combines images and words in a way I've never seen before.   It shouldn't surprise me that Storybleed is all sorts of awesome, because many of my favorite women in all the land are editors and writers.   Founded and published by the amazing Megan Jordan, this is how Storybleed describes itself:  
"Find yourself where stories blur the lines.   Story Bleed aches for you to discover yourself where the lines between our stories bleed together, unexpectedly resonating. Lines smeared by the eager hand. A literary magazine celebrating essays and art that move and enlighten."
Do yourself a favor:  find a few quiet moments, a steaming cup of hot coffee and lose yourself to the beauty that is Storybleed.  

EllisLynnStudio is the shiny brand new Etsy shop of my friend, Catherine.   While I love doing nice things for friends and promoting their businesses and stuff, I'm here posting about Catherine's shop because I love her creativity.    Where the rest of us see an ordinary household object, Catherine sees art.   She even makes her own handmade paper, creating stunning colors and textures that display her own unique style.

My new favorite pieces of Catherine's are her Let Go/God Boxes.      When I'm struggling with something in my life that I just can't seem to let go of, I write it on a piece of paper and put it into my Let Go Box, close the lid, and walk away.  I have a little ritual around how I do this - you can discover your own - and all I can say is it really helps me stop ruminating cycles, negative or corrosive thinking and reminds me that I don't have as much control as I'd like to think I do.

I also use it to store my recovery medallions - each box has a heart inside, as well as an inspirational message:

Each box comes with a beautifully crafted message, too:

These boxes are the perfect gift for any friend or loved one, someone going through a difficult time, or someone in recovery.  


I was recently introduced to another wonderful Etsy shop, LadyBird Land.     I love her folk art, with its vibrant colors and powerful, oftentimes funny, messages.   She sells magnets, prints and pendants and I love how she arranges her shop not by the type of piece, but by categories like:  For the FUR LOVING Girl, For the CREATIVE Girl, for the FAITHFUL, etc.   My favorite?   For the SASSY Girl.    I have this magnet on my fridge:

And this Print is a favorite, too:

"She's Sassy, Classy and a Little Bad-Assey" 

If you follow Brene Brown's blog, Ordinary Courage (and if you're not, shame on you) she's hosting a giveaway RIGHT NOW for LadyBird Land.   Run, don't walk, to check out her amazing store.


So, that's my list for today.   Please tell me about the awesome places you go, too.   

FULL DISCLOSURE:   I wasn't compensated or even prompted to talk about anything in this post.  I did this all on my own because I'm all about spreading the AWESOME around.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Food Relapse

I had a little food relapse.

For those of you who are new to the story, last April I launched Operation Get Healthy, and over the course of six months I lost 67 lbs.   I went to Jenny Craig for help with the eating, and I talked about it with friends, and here, for help with the mental part of losing weight.

I hit my goal weight last October.   I kept going to Jenny Craig for weekly weigh-ins and consultations, for help with maintenance and to keep me on track.    By early December I was totally weaned off their food and on my own.    Starting right after Christmas, I began cancelling or postponing my weekly appointments - I was busy, I was doing fine on my own, blah blah blah.

When I finally slunk in to see my Jenny Craig consultant two weeks ago, I didn't know what the scale would say.  I felt good, I felt on track, but my head has been known to tell me a lot of things that aren't exactly true.

I weighed the exact same amount - to the ounce - that I weighed back in November.

"You've mastered maintenance!" my consultant raved.    "You're doing great!"

I skipped out of the appointment feeling on top of the world.   I made it through the holidays, two months of snowstorms and sick kids, and one blogging conference and I didn't gain an ounce.  

I'll admit it - the words I'm cured came to mind.

I don't remember the me that weighed almost seventy pounds more than I do now.  I forget how getting dressed felt in the morning when I was down to two clothing options:  stretchy pants or sweatpants.     I don't think about how much I hated evenings out because nothing ever fit well.   I dreaded spring, because that meant I had to wear - gulp - shorts.   And after spring came summer and swimsuits.   I started Operation Get Healthy last April because I just couldn't face one more summer as a heavy person.   Clothes were something I wore to cover up my body, and I was so tired of buying outfits simply because they fit, not because I liked the style.      

Just like with recovery from alcoholism, I'm in recovery from food, too.   It is dangerous for me to forget this fact, to think that I'm the size I am now due to anything but vigilance, hard work and more than a little self love.

My consultant's proclamation - well meaning though it was - had the unintended side effect of making me think food wasn't a problem for me anymore.  I've mastered it, I thought.   I'm cured. 

I felt finished.    I forgot that there is no finish line.   Just like with sobriety, I am someone who will need to be vigilant about food for the rest of my life.

It started with a trip to Target to get Valentine's for the kids' classrooms.   Next to the little paper valentines were bins and bins of chocolates.  Oh, I should get some for the kids, I thought.  I threw two bags of Dove Bliss chocolates (my favorite, not the kids' favorite) into the shopping cart.   That should have been clue number one.

When I got home, I didn't package the chocolates into cute little Valentine's bags for the kids.   I stuffed them into an overlooked porcelain jar in our kitchen, in a place nobody but me would ever look.   That should have been clue number two.  

On Valentine's Day, I gave each kid a card.   I didn't say a word to anyone about the chocolate.

The day after Valentine's Day I went to give myself a little after-dinner treat.     There were only six chocolates left from the original two bags.  I thought:  Oh, Steve must be eating these, too.  

As I unwrapped a chocolate to pop into my mouth, the truth finally broke through.    Nobody is eating these but you, Ellie.    You bought them in secret, hid them so nobody else would eat them, and now you're lying to yourself.   

Stunned, I threw all the rest of the chocolate away, and vowed not to mention this to anyone. 

The next morning, I fearfully stepped on the scale.   I don't generally weigh myself at home.   I don't want to get obsessive about the number (in either direction).    I want to be motivated by a healthy lifestyle rather than a number on a scale.   But I had to know what my chocolate relapse had done to my weight.    I didn't know how I'd feel if I had gained weight, but I had to know.

I hadn't gained any weight, thankfully, but I was still good and scared.   I wasn't scared that I ate some chocolate.   What scared me was how easily I slipped into old behaviors of sneaking and lying about it.   Not lying to anyone else, but lying to myself.   That is what denial is:  lying to yourself.

The only path away from denial that I have ever found to work is to open my mouth and speak my truth.  So instead of sweeping The Chocolate Incident under the rug, I'm talking about it.   Even typing these words, I feel better.   I can put the whole thing into perspective, honor the things I do well and forgive myself for my mistakes.  

Left to my own resources, here's what my head would tell me:   you've already blown it, so have another chocolate.   Start again on Monday.    And I know from past experience that Monday would come and go and I wouldn't start over, because I would be so deeply into that cycle of lying to myself that I wouldn't see it.   

There is no Starting Over.   There is no Finish Line.     It's just the way I am now:   I am someone who will always need to be conscious of what I eat.      Aware.    Not owned by it, or consumed by it, but simply AWARE.

Operation Get Healthy has now officially become Operation Awareness. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


I lean my face closer to his sleeping form and listen to his breathing.

Even through a mound of blankets I can feel the heat radiating off his back, warming my cheek.

His chest sounds clear, and I sigh in relief.

Finn is sick, and it came on suddenly.   He looked pale and disoriented when I picked him up from school yesterday, and by 4pm he was complaining of a headache and felt warm to the touch.    By 7pm he was passed out on the couch, one little fist clutching his careworn blanket, the other clutching Mr. Pricklepants, his favorite stuffed animal.

I carried him up to bed, his body limp in my arms.    Panic fluttered in my chest, even though we've been through this drill several times over the past couple of months.   

No more, I thought.    I can't do this anymore.

This morning he managed to drink a little Gatorade, and ate one cracker before zonking out on the couch again.

I tick through all I thought I was going to do today.     Figuring out a way to get to everything that needs to be done is like trying to do a puzzle with most of the pieces missing. 

Frustrated, pent-up and anxious, I pace back and forth in my kitchen. 

I'm tired of feeling behind on everything, tired of scraping together meals from the meager offerings in our pantry, tired of sending messages to customers that their orders will be later than I had hoped, tired of cancelling or begging off playdates, appointments, school, activities.  

But most of all, I'm tired of worry.

Just yesterday I was boasting to a friend that we had gone one full week with nobody sick in our house.  

I spoke too soon.

We've battled strep throat, stomach bugs, and now whatever this new illness is - the flu?  Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease?   Strep again?

I perch on the side of the couch and place my hand on Finn's warm head; beads of sweat dot his upper lip even though before he fell asleep he complained that he was freezing.   His lips are bright red, his eyes look sunken into their sockets.

Where is the line?   I wonder.   How do I know how much to worry? 

Finn opens his eyes, and it takes him a moment to focus on my face.   He gives me a half-hearted smile, blinks slowly and whispers, "Thank you for taking care of me, Momma."

I smile and kiss him on the top of his head.   "Don't worry, Bud.  I'm here."

And I am.  I am here.   I think back to days long past, thankfully, when the simple act of being present for a sick child would have sent me into a tailspin.   I'll take the worry, inconvenience, anxiety and frustration.    Even at its worst, it is so much better than hiding from myself, and my family, inside a bottle.

I stroke his hair as he drifts off to sleep, safe in the knowledge that his mother will take care of him as best she can. 

On days like today that doesn't seem like much, but it is everything.

Monday, February 14, 2011


I'm rushing around the kitchen, swiping a paper towel over spilled juice, picking up errant socks and shoes, and hustling Finn to get dressed for school.

Greta, always impatient to get outside well before the bus is scheduled to arrive, is already at the end of the driveway, looking expectantly through the door, waiting for me.

I bustle over to the fridge and start throwing items into Finn's lunchbox:  a slightly bruised apple, the last cheese stick, pepperoni.   Gotta get to the supermarket today, I think.

I'm distractedly gathering up Finn's snow pants and boots when I remember:   Valentine's Day.  Crap.  I sit Finn down at the kitchen table, root around for a marker, and instruct him to sign his name on the nine little cards he needs for his class.   A quick glance at the clock reminds me that the bus will be here any minute and Greta is probably wondering where I am.  She doesn't like to wait for the bus alone.

As I'm slipping my arm into the sleeve of my jacket I look outside, expecting to see Greta's distraught face. 

Instead I see Steve bent over her, giving her a kiss on the top of her head.   I forgot he was still here.  Usually he has left for work by now.

Opening the door a crack, I hear Greta giggle as Steve says, "Bonus kisses, today.   Valentine's kisses," and gives her a peck on both cheeks.    He wraps her in a bear hug, and says, "I love you so much."

I stop, frozen in place.   For the first time in a long time, I look at my husband.  I really see him.   I see his strong, capable arms wrap around our daughter, how the lines around his eyes crinkle up as he laughs.   

Man, he looks good, I think.  


My mind pings back to twenty years ago, when I was working at my very first real job.   We were having a staff meeting; the fledgling company only had forty or so employees, mostly young, all ambitious.    That morning the President was giving a little speech, and we all stood in a circle, listening.     As my eyes swung around the circle, looking at all of us gathered in one place, my gaze froze on a tall, good-looking man.   Hmmmm, he's new, I mused.  I've never noticed him before.   I know I would have remembered.    I surreptitiously examined him out of the corner of my eye:  dark hair, flashing green eyes, broad shouldered.  Handsome.    Man, he looks good, I thought.


The bus rumbles to the end of the driveway, and Greta squirms out of Steve's embrace.   As she jogs away, her backpack bouncing up and down, I call out to her:  I love you!  Have a good day!    She settles into a window seat, wipes away the fog on the glass with her palm and gives us a little wave as the bus pulls away.

Steve ambles up to where I'm standing on the porch, my jacket still only half on.   Bonus kisses for you, too, he says with an impish grin, placing one strong hand under my chin and tilting my face up for a kiss.

And I feel it, that little flip-flop in my stomach I felt all those years ago, when I first saw him from across the room.  That little flutter in my gut that goes missing so much of the time these days, as we get tangled in the wires of day-to-day life.

He walks to his car, and I break from my reverie long enough to say, "I love you!   Have a good day!"    He smiles at me through the windshield, then puts the car in reverse and backs out of the driveway.

I watch him pull away, and whisper out loud the words that are resting on my heart:  I more than love you.   You're my everything.

Finn calls to me from inside:  "I all done, Momma!"  

I place my hand on my fluttering stomach, smile to myself, and head back inside.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Finding Center

My throat feels raw from yelling. 

I'm outside in the night air, leaning against the side of the house, my breath puffing white in the cold.

I count backwards, trying to calm myself down. 

I get to 2 and the image of Finn's red crying face surfaces.   Guilt crushes me in its unforgiving embrace. 

It's only 6:15pm on a regular old Wednesday, and I'm spent.   My insides feel like cracked glass; I'm one shout away from crumbling.   

There was nothing usual about today.  No great victories or traumas.   It was a series of swells - up, down, up, down.   I tried to ride them out - I did try, didn't I? - but finally my reserves ran dry.   I was already running on fumes when Finn spit at his sister, and it was like a match to gasoline soaked rags.

I stuff my hands deeper into my jacket pockets; I'm shivering, but I'm not ready to go back inside.   I just can't.   I can hear them bickering; Greta's high pitched whine screeches now look what you did!  and something crashes to the floor. 

My Gentle Observer, the one who shows up when I can't get a grip on myself, starts whispering to me:

They feed off your energy, Ellie.   When you go south, it all goes south.   You can't lose it like that.  

But I can't NOT lose it!  I whimper in protest.   The constant push-pull, the endless requests to hurry up, slow down, stop that, come here, do this, don't do that, get in the car, get out of the car, listen to me......     I'm just a nagging shrew.  Nobody listens to me, anyway.  I feel invisible.  Oh, God.   It's always so TEDIOUS.   And IRRITATING. 

It's tedious and irritating right now, the Gentle Observer corrects me, kindly.    It will pass.  Just like all the joyful moments, the surges of love you feel from out of the blue.   It all passes.   Breathe and wait.  

But I yelled at him, I sigh.   I mean I REALLY yelled at him.

So go apologize for over-reacting, but don't let your guilt make you over-apologize.   Not every molehill is a mountain.

I think about this morning - was it only eight hours ago? - when Finn sat bravely in the dentist's chair, one leg crossed demurely over the other, craning his neck as much as he could to keep his eyes on me while the hygienist pecked away at his teeth.

"I am worried, Momma," he had said as he clambered out of the car.   "But if I can see you, I'll be okay."

I think about Greta's eerie silence at breakfast, how I coaxed her to cough up what was bothering her as she pushed pancakes around on her plate.    "Two people want to sit with me on the bus, and yesterday Lisa said if I sit with Janet today she won't be my friend anymore.  Then Janet made me tell her what I was talking to Lisa about, and said she wouldn't be friends with me if I sat with Lisa."   Tears started streaming down her face.  "I don't know what to do," she said through hiccuping sobs, "I like them both and now they are both going to hate me." 

I think about how I held her close and spoke soothing words of encouragement and advice into her ear.   We came up with a plan of action, and then I wiped her tears and flashed her a thumbs up as the bus pulled up at the end of the driveway.   She gave me a confident smile, and squared her shoulders as the bus doors closed shut behind her.

See? says the Gentle Observer.   You're not invisible.  You're the center; the heartbeat of the whole operation.  You can wallow so easily in your mistakes, let them grow like a cancer, and yet you overlook all the goodness.   

Breathing deeply, I start walking back inside, my footsteps crunching in the snow.   I get to the sliding glass door, reach out my hand to open it, and stop dead in my tracks.   Through the glass, I see Greta and Finn lying on their stomachs on the floor, knees bent and crossed ankles swinging back and forth.   Greta is rubbing Finn's back, and he is drawing a picture.   Their heads are bent together, temple to temple.

I slide open the door and step inside.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Swept Away

I woke up Sunday in an inky black mood.

There was no specific reason for my edginess.   I didn't want to be anywhere.    I glared at the dishes piled in the sink, the dog hair matted to the rugs and the toys strewn about the house and I felt downright homicidal.

The sound of my husband chewing his cereal nearly made me apoplectic.  

I knew the problem was me, but I couldn't stop it.  I couldn't find any lightness, gratitude or peace.     The kids were just being, well, kids - full of demands, and "Momma LOOKs" and plaintive pleas to go do something.  

I wanted out of my skin, out of my house, out of my life.

I dropped an open gallon of milk on the floor, and I just stood and watched it glug-glugging out onto the floor, thinking:  well, THAT figures.   I was on a hunt for misery.   I found it everywhere I looked.

Every few minutes one of the kids would say "Momma!" for one reason or another, and my shoulders hunched in irritation.    I wanted to press the button for some magic trap door and drop right through. 

It was a sparkling clear winter day.  After weeks of horrible weather we finally had the perfect snow day.   Steve offered to take the kids sledding, to give me a break.   I grumbled and mumbled about what a giant pain in the you-know-what it is to get the kids all bundled up, they probably would only want to stay a few minutes, what was the point, anyway. 

He gave me a hard look and said, "You need fresh air.  Come with us.   It will be fun."

I stuffed the kids into their snow gear, snapping at them to hurry up, pay attention, hold still, find gloves.    Snap.  Snap.  Snap.    

On the drive to the sledding hill I crossed my arms in silent protest and stared stubbornly out the window.  Steve and the kids pretended they didn't notice, and chatted animatedly the whole way there.   I despised them for their cheeriness.

When we got to the hill the kids tumbled out of the car, squealing in delight.  Steve unloaded the sleds and they ran to the top of the hill.  I sighed, unfolded myself out of the car and slumped after them.

I tipped my face towards the sun, and thought about how long it had been since I felt warm rays on my skin.   Finn whooped as he went over a jump, and Greta laughed.   I opened my eyes, and saw Finn trudging up the hill, pulling his sled and smiling from ear to ear.  "I went ovah da jump, Momma!" he cried.  

The tight coil deep in my gut loosened, just a little.

Greta zoomed down the slope, went over the jump and sailed through the air.   Laughter bubbled up from deep inside me, pushing the misery and irritation up and away.  

I found myself helping them load into the sleds, giggling as I gave them a push.   Finn ditched his sled, deciding he wanted to run down the hill, arms and legs pinwheeling as he raced to the bottom.    I stood in awe at the the lanky, loose-limbed little man he has become.  

Greta flicked her hair over her shoulder as she pulled her sled back up the hill, then gave me a sideways glance and smiled.   "Having fun, Momma?"  she asked.

"Oh, yes."  I replied.  "Yes I am."

I fell into the moment, swept up by the kids' delight of a sunshiney winter day. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Put Your Hands Up

I have learned that when Heather asks me to do something that I should say yes. 

When we went to the BlogHer blogging conference in New York she had me participating in a 5k through Central Park in a tutu.  I was skeptical at first, but it turned out to be an amazing experience.  I've learned to jump in with both feet and ask questions later

So when I got an email from her about six weeks ago asking me to be in a Flashmob with her at the Blissdom blogging conference in Nashville, I replied yes immediately.   Then I went and googled "flashmob" to find out what I had gotten myself into. 

For those of you not in the know (like me) a Flashmob is a choreographed dance that is performed in front of a crowd of unsuspecting spectators.   If you're a fan of the TV show Modern Family, there is a great bit about a flashmob on that show here.  

The Blissdom flashmob was the idea of a blogger named Jana (who is an actual dancer); she and some friends choreographed a dance routine to Miley Cyrus' "Party in the USA", set up a secret facebook page with dance tutorials and assigned all the participants in a "wave" of dancers - the idea is that when the song starts, some people start dancing right away, and then waves of dancers join in at pre-determined times.. so only 15 or so people start the dance, but by the end we had almost 100 people dancing.   

We chose the end of the closing keynote for our time to dance.  The conference organizers didn't know what was going on, nor did about 600 people sitting in the conference hall.   We managed to keep the whole thing a surprise.   

Jana posted her dance tutorials on the secret Facebook page so we could all practice our part of the routine beforehand.    We were all told to wear fingerless gloves (easy to slip on under the table as we waited for our time to jump up and dance) as our 'costume'.   

So for three or four weeks before the conference, I watched this woman I had never met before dance her little heart out and practiced along with her.   In my living room.

Greta thought this was awesome, of course.   She learned the dance right along with me.   Here's a little video of one of our practice sessions:

Below is a video of the actual flashmob.   My friends Heather, Kristin and  Ann are in it (at the :42 mark you can see them get up to dance - Heather is the adorable blond pregnant lady, Ann has the most fabulous grey and black striped fingerless gloves/arm warmers on and Kristin is the pretty blond in the white sweater).    I'm barely visible near the very end of the dancing part (at the 1:24 mark), in the middle of the crowd (my hair is up and I have a black sweater and white shirt on ... don't blink - you'll miss it).

Before I left, I talked a lot about mother guilt, how hard it is to justify going away for five days, and struggling with whether or not it's okay to indulge in myself like that.

But you know what I love?   I love that my kids see me out living life, dancing in flashmobs, speaking on panels, connecting with my friends.    Greta talks a lot about the "Tutu run", and while I was in Nashville she had show-and-tell in her classroom, and she brought a picture of me speaking on the panel to her class and talked about how I was going to dance in a "Flash Mom" (I'm sure that must have raised some eyebrows).

I want my kids to jump in with both feet, push through fear and live their life out loud.   But I can't show them something I don't live myself.

And now I'm home, back in the daily grind.   We're on our umpteenth snow day, cooped up in the house.   I carry Nashville inside me like a little light.  It's an experience I'll never forget.   

And even if I start to forget, now I've got two kids wandering around the house, each wearing one of my sparkly fingerless gloves, dancing, and saying, "Put your hands UP, Momma!"

Monthly Giveaway - New Item!

Congratulations to Angela Rae, who won the Bermuda Blue Necklace!   Thanks to everyone who entered!

I'm so excited about the new hand stamped jewelry I'm making, and to celebrate I'm giving away a Little Love Necklace this month!    Made from sterling silver discs and a swarovski birthstone crystal, you can choose up to three names in this style.   If you win the giveaway and need a necklace with more than three names, I will contact you to talk about other styles that are available and work better with more than three names. 

If you are the winner I will customize this piece with the names and birthstones you provide.
Click here to see this necklace in my Etsy shop.

The winner will be chosen at random March 1st (my daughter picks a name from a hat).    To enter, please leave a comment below saying you would like to enter the giveaway, and please provide an email where you can be reached if you win.   If you're more comfortable sending me an email directly, you can do so at:

This giveaway is open internationally.

Thank you so much!