Worth It



My friend Nicole interviewed me recently for a piece she's writing for LiveMom Austin on parenthood-prompted career changes. I thought you might enjoy our raw Q&A, candid and unedited. Give it a read and then share with the class in the comments below: Did you change your work/life arrangements when you became a mom or pop? How so? Was it worth it?

Nicole: How old was Kaspar when you decided to do something different, work-wise? Was the decision a long time in coming, or was it precipitated by some event?

Taylor: Kaspar was six months old when I left my position in corporate media – I worked on the web side of magazines – in New York and moved to Texas. Titles were folding right and left and the industry was changing; although my position was secure, I’d never felt completely comfortable placing all of my eggs in one basket. I watched productive, hard-working people get laid off through annual several rounds of  4th quarter “restructuring” while others who were clearly incompetent were promoted. I liked the people I worked for, and among, at the point I left, but I knew that ultimately my job could end at any time for any reason, and since I didn’t have time to cultivate anything else – or much in the way of savings, as NYC is crazy expensive and I shacked up with an artist instead of a finance man – I wouldn’t have anything to fall back on if I were to lose my job. I’d felt unfulfilled by the corporate game for a while, although I played it well. But when I suddenly had a child in the mix, time took on an entirely new meaning for me; I didn’t want a nanny raising my kid. I wanted control of my days, and my destiny.

I’d always been a good writer, but worked with freelancers (from the inside – we often hired them to write our content) and didn’t envy their pitch-for-peanuts way of life (without any corporate perks… which, by the way, are not 'worth it'). I didn’t even attempt writing in the city. On the day before my wedding, at three months knocked up, I’d gotten a massage, in New Hampshire. The woman who gave it to me wasn't much older than I was. She had a community trade school certificate on the wall. She'd just bought a house in the neighboring town. She made her own schedule, she took long walks and ran errands during her lunches. And she didn't have to report back to anyone upon her return. She was smart and at ease, pretense-free. I thought of my fancy college education, the daily subway commute, the senseless layoffs, tallied sick days, professional titles. I thought of the many salesmen (or whomever) who’d confessed to me in taxi cabs on the way to off-site meetings that they dreamed of quitting, becoming teachers “or something… I could move my family into a smaller house, right?” Even my first boss in New York – a six foot, perfectly polished power-playing blonde who never cracked – once told me in a tipsy frenzy that she feared no one loved her, even her kids, and that she in fact despised herself. When I got that massage, and reflected on all of these things, I thought, "What the fuck am I doing? This chick has it all figured out."

I’d followed a certain path (by day, anyway) that sounded impressive when anyone asked, “So what do you do?” but it wasn’t the path for me. In that respect, the decision was a long time coming, but I didn’t know how I was going to go about pursuing something else until Kaspar was born. I spent my maternity leave scoping out other cities (my husband’s work is portable and had been actually unsustainably slow anyway for about six months by then), and I began writing for some of the parenting-related titles I worked for, for free, to accrue some clips. I interviewed at a massage school in the city, but it would have cost 26 grand (plus 1,000 hours) to attend, which didn't make any sense for me, as a new mom working full time. I went back to work – after negotiating my Fridays off – when my mat leave was up, but I already had one foot out the door. We were just barely getting our sea legs as parents, and Kaspar was having severe skin and digestive issues (it took us about another year to really figure out what was going on with him – he has food allergies – and that year was not an easy one), and he needed me. I think all of these things culminated at a certain point and I knew it was just time to jump. 

Did you feel that work was part of your identity? If so, did you struggle with your decision to make a career change or the transition which happened afterwards? What helped you manage the transition?

I did feel that work was a part of my identity. I secured a job in Austin before moving, an administrative position at UT. It was more than a few steps down, in terms of title and responsibilities, than the rung to which I’d quickly risen (mostly by faking it) on the corporate ladder. I’d enjoyed playing the corporate part in that I was competitive and good at it; I didn’t have much regard for rank and could speak confidently to just about anyone (even if I was totally full of shit... looking back I'm sure many people could see this and simply humored me because I was so gung ho) and I liked that I took people by surprise – from my colleagues in New York to my parents, back home. I hadn’t landed in the corporate world in the way most people do. I hadn’t aimed there all my life or anything. I’m heavily tattooed, studied Buddhism in college, worked as a stripper for a few years towards the end college – I am fiercely independent and wanted real money so I could travel and, essentially, have options (I finished school early, too, as I thought I might otherwise not finish at all) – and I had friends in all sorts of interesting places... but I was clearly not following a prescribed course, and I think many people wondered where I’d ‘end up’. Then there I was rocking it in the big city, running with the big dogs. There’s a lot of ambition in New York, which I love, but there’s also a lot of ego wrapped up in that. There certainly was for me at that time, for sure.

At the same time, falling in love and starting a family brought my more authentic desires and dreams forward; I couldn’t ignore them. They’d never remained far below the surface, anyway. And by the time I took that admin job in Austin (which I still have, and which allows me to mostly work from home, allowed me to go to massage school while still collecting a monthly salary, and allowed me the flexibility to help my sick baby when he needed me most, and now, still, to spend every afternoon with him) I had different priorities. I didn’t care about titles anymore, or what people thought; I cared about my lifestyle and my freedom. People I knew couldn’t necessarily understand why I’d ‘throw away’ what I’d accomplished in my early career, but I knew what I was doing. I didn’t throw it all away, either; having worked on the inside gave me the freelance connections to actually work as a writer from the moment I arrived in Austin. (Which has helped enormously in terms of paying the bills and being my own boss over the last two years.)

As far as managing the transition goes, laying the groundwork by getting a part time job in advance of the move, and setting up some regular freelance jobs (contracts jobs that paid me monthly) helped, but it was hard. We’d just barely gotten married and had a baby, we weren’t getting any sleep, we left our friends and our support system and moved thousands of miles away, and we cleaned out our bank accounts doing so, without much of a sense for how we’d really get by once here. It felt like a huge risk in some respects, and I questioned whether I’d done something truly destructive to my family by following through with this crazy idea in the first place.

When  you were "growing up", did you factor kids into the equation when you decided what lines of work you would pursue? 

Not at all. I was a babysitter for years and years and was often asked if I wanted to eventually become a teacher, but I never considered it. I did dream of having a partner, and kids, of my own though. Education and career labels were really prized in my family and the culture I was raised in, however, and relationships were something of an afterthought, at least in terms of ‘planning’ what one wanted to ‘be.’ I’m actually so glad I got pregnant at the relatively young age of 25, because I wasn’t so immersed in an inflexibly successful career (or the expensive lifestyle that accompanies it) that I couldn’t imagine another way to go about living. But there weren’t a lot of models in my world for truly balancing motherhood with a fulfilling way of working. I knew women who worked all the time, and other women who stopped working entirely, when they had kids. It seemed like an either/or decision. But stopping working wasn’t an option for me, so I invented a new way instead.

What was harder than you thought and easier than you thought about the transition to leaving the 9-5 world and entering the world o' freelancing? Any advice to others who are contemplating a change? 

I had a comparatively easy time of it getting clients and having enough (often more than enough) work. I told myself I’d write for as long as the work was forthcoming, but I wasn’t going to write for free – or pitch – once I got to Austin, and I haven't had to. I can attribute this to an innate ability to identify opportunities before they’re obvious to everyone else, to hustle so that those opportunities become mine, and to perform under inhospitable circumstances. (I spent many nights working for hour-long chunks of time in between attending to my eczema-covered, barely-sleeping baby, in the beginning. Not a lot of fun.) I also would not have been able to do any of these things as well as I do had I not worked on the ‘inside’ – I know how websites and companies work, what editors need and want, and even how to use back-end systems so as to publish my own work (or produce other content, which I’ve done for extra freelance dollars) online. And I know a lot of people who’ve also gone freelance since working for titles that later folded, laid these friends off, or what have you. Like any industry, the kind of freelance writing I do puts me in good company with a small community of people who move around, switch roles, and hook each other up with work as they go. I pay it forward as much as possible, too. Writers and editors are a lovable bunch. 

Juggling everything has been harder than I imagined. I have a part time job that I only do sometimes, I do freelance writing, I went to massage school (on the part-time clock) and now have a massage job, and I’m a mom to a three year old, with a baby on the way. I keep a lot of balls in the air. This is logistically challenging, at times, but the biggest challenge has been learning to stay focused and, more importantly, present. I did all of this so I could love my life, right? If I’m checking my email on my phone, or thinking about a project, or worrying about a paycheck, while also playing with my kid, I’m not doing what I set out to, and the whole thing was pointless to begin with. So I bring myself back to the present moment again and again, enjoying it for all it’s worth.

What sacrifices do you feel you have made, if any? 

We don’t ever know for sure how much money is coming in. That can be challenging, especially with kid-related costs in the mix. Last year was juicy – I had several easy, high-paying freelance jobs come through, and so did my hubs. But he lost his one really reliable gig last month, and my juicy client cut their budgets this year, by two-thirds. Of course we also just paid taxes, which cleaned out the savings our boom year helped us build. Freelancing requires a stomach for the unpredictable, and an ability to evolve. My husband’s had a harder time of it, actually, and is looking into learning computer programming as a reliable way to pay the bills that will still allow him time to do freelance illustration. Likewise, I pursued massage as a way to make money by showing up and working hard (and then, an important point, physically leaving), and I love my massage job; it provides me with a sense of balance, and, yes, some security.

Honestly, though, the 9 to 5 world’s ‘security’ is unpredictable, too; the main title I’ve been writing for (which was housed among the titles I worked with, full time, while in New York) was bought this week by a competitor, everyone was laid off, and publication is being ceased almost immediately. The entire team of people who’ve been working there -- people I've worked with for several years, and who I respect immensely -- are now out of work. It’s awful, and it happens all the time. This isn’t just a magazine industry thing, either. I think the world of gainful employment has changed since the recent economic crash. Everyone is a free agent now; full time, company-signed employment works well for some people and is perfect for certain times in life, but it’s not fail safe, and even the people playing the game know that’s true. Or they should.

What lies ahead for you, career-wise?

I’m going to have this baby and spend this mat leave focusing on being a mom, instead of launching a new career and plotting a move across the country! My part time job is on a yearly cycle, and its annual lull will come at the perfect time to allow me to take this time off for mothering, without a pay cut. Then I’ll go back to massaging a few days a week, doing the part time work mostly from home, and writing (which I might continue to do throughout new-baby days; we'll see). I think, given the general freelance climate and my own recent urge for expansion, I'm even game for a round of networking and pitching; I'd like to write for some new titles and expand my repertoire. 

The other day, someone at my massage job saw me checking online on some comments on an article I wrote. She didn’t know I write, and that I used to run web departments or whatever. She did know that my husband’s been looking for work – i.e. our finances are not always awesome -- and she asked me, upon getting the quick gist that I left one thing to start another, “Was it worth it?” (Climbing down off the ladder…) And, “Will you eventually go back, when your kids are bigger?” I told her it was worth it, and I’ll never go back. Then she paused and said, “I could see you maybe doing this,” gesturing toward the walls around us. “Maybe starting a spa, or a business.” And yeah, I could see myself doing something like that, too, but for now I’m really content to grow what I do by way of natural next steps, rather than another massive overhaul. That had to happen, but hopefully just the one time.

How does your experience in changing careers influence how you talk to kids about what they want to be when they "grow up"?

I try not to talk to kids about that, and instead to talk about who they are now, what brings them joy and makes them laugh and live most fully. I meet a lot of different people and one thing I know for sure is that we never ‘arrive’ in the way we think we might. We are all in progress, always, until the end. I don’t want to trick kids into thinking life is to be lived later. Dreams and goals are hugely important; they allow us to see ourselves in places we haven’t yet explored. They allow us to take steps in those directions. But taking steps at all and staying open to new possibilities is what counts. The world opens up in unfathomably perfect ways when we can do that all the time.
I wrote on Parenting.com today about my approach to diet during pregnancy; in a nutshell, so to speak, I'd thought, before becoming pregnant, I'd avoid all of the foods Kaspar's allergic to while baking baby #2. Not only did my first trimester cravings blow that plan out of the water (hello, junk food), but -- now that I'm in my second trimester, or will be tomorrow -- I'm not only feeling far more energetic, and 'normal' in general, including in terms of the foods I'm craving (hello, wholesome healthy stuff), but I've got a game plan for *hopefully* setting new-baby up for an allergy/eczema/reflux-free start. That game plan is the full GAPS diet. Sans the nuts and wheat, the former of which is allowed on the full diet and the latter of which is allowed (in sourdough form) if no digestive problems are present... but since neither digests super easily for anyone and since both are major allergens in general, I'm just avoiding them. Easy enough. I've read the GAPS book, which is densely packed with nutritional information; it corroborates with what I've learned over the past three years, and what's been working, overall, for Kaspar. And since we already eat nutrient-rich, real-food fare up in here, I'm only having to tweak a few things to transition into GAPS-ville. The diet basically heals and seals the gut, thus healing immune system-related health woes (of which Americans suffer many, food allergies among them). I'm planning to take Kaspar, and our family, through all of its stages once baby's here and the timing is right, but for now we're starting at the least restrictive, most nutritionally broad place -- the "full" GAPS diet -- as per the recommendation for pregnant women. Anyway, go ahead and read up via my post on Parenting, and on other blogs, like this one. Then get to your farmer's market and into your kitchen, cuz the best part of this approach to gut-love is that you get to fill your belly with good, nourishing food. 

I should mention that there's quite a bit of meat involved in the GAPS diet. I was grooving on a mostly vegan spurt a while back, which felt light and clean in my body at the time. I think I needed to detox in a major way and sort of reset once our two years of sleep deprivation resolved to some degree, and eating tons of plant matter helped get that work done. (As did an Ayruvedic cleanse I did a short while later. I felt like a whole new person after that. Still do.) But I then found myself drawn toward meat again -- high quality, locally-sourced meat that hasn't suffered, that is -- and whenever I get acupuncture I'm told I should be eating it regularly. (Something about building my blood.) Pregnancy only increased my desire for it. So, while it may feel like I'm somewhat all over the place on the subject, good meats remain a part of my, and our family's, diet. As far as GAPS is concerned, that's a healthful thing, especially for expecting mamas.

With that in mind, I made a recipe from the GAPS book (linked above) last night, tweaking it a little to my liking. Aaron and I have each made stuffed peppers before, but only vegetarian versions (they make for an attractive, and generally popular, veg dish). Thus, last night's version -- which were definitely not vegetarian -- were quite different than our previous renditions. They meat is flavorful, but dense. I definitely suggest eating these in a bowl with a good amount of the stock they cooked in surrounding them. I chopped mine up a bit in the stock so as to create a kind of soup, and that was delicious. I also suggest adding whatever vegetables you'd like to the meat mixture before stuffing the peppers, and some cumin. If you're eating dairy, throwing some shredded, raw cheddar cheese in with the meat mixture before cooking would also be kind of amazing... In short, these stuffed peppers are filling and tasty, but I could tell -- even at first glance -- the original recipe was written by a doctor, rather than a chef. I'm eagerly awaiting the Nourishing Traditions cookbook, which is due to arrive at my door any day now; it's recommended by the GAPS people and boasts an index full of mouth-watering recipes. (I peeked at its back pages on Amazon.) Anyway, I've gone ahead and written out my improved (and yummy) stuffed peppers recipe below -- feel free to tweak it further. If you do, let me know what works well!

Click "Read More" below for the recipe!

I was recently interviewed by YourBabyBooty.com, an amazing website full of empowering information for parents! Check out the video (click here, or on the image above or below) and share with anyone you know who's hitting up against a wall but knows, deep down, there must be a way through. 
I've been a little MIA on the blogging scene, both over at Parenting.com and here on Alt-Mama, since the New Year; you may have guessed from my not-so-subtle hints that hormonal things are happening which can explain my relative quiet. As in, I'm a little bit pregnant... about seven weeks. Yay! I'm excited, crazy-hungry, a bit nauseated, and tired; between massage brain and baby brain, there hasn't been a lot of writing going on. That being said, good writing (and reading, for y'all) awaits, as I'm going to be back on Parenting's Project Pregnancy blog -- where I documented all things pregnancy #1 back in 2009/2010 -- shortly. And I have fun things planned for Alt-Mama, too. So strap in. It's about to be bump-watch (plus nesting plus all-around prenatal par-tay) time. 
Houston, we have a (cute!) heartbeat.
I know I'm letting the secret out 'early,' but I'm okay with this. I actually didn't even know about the twelve week safety zone when I was pregnant with Kaspar; consequently, all of our friends and family knew we were knocked up by, like, four weeks. (As with this pregnancy, I got a positive test very early on.) Only then did someone at work gasp in alarm (pregnancy news spreads quickly) and tell me I could very well miscarry -- she said it just like that -- which sent me into a fit of nail-biting until the end of my first trimester, which, coincidentally, coincided exactly with my wedding day. Now, I know miscarriage is indeed common (20% of pregnancies... that's a lot), and in fact that woman at work who brought me up to speed had experienced a few more than a few miscarriages herself (she has since, through the wonders of modern medicine, delivered a healthy baby boy). But if my Kaspar-fetus survived wedding-planning stress -- which he obviously did -- I know for sure that the experts aren't lying when they say there's nothing one can or can't do to prevent a miscarriage from happening. Either the baby's gonna stick, or it's not. And while I of course feel deeply for mamas who've miscarried or had pregnancy-related difficulties (my own mom struggled with some of this), and I'm well aware it happens to perfectly healthy women all the time, I also try to bear in mind that the stories of multiple-miscarriages others have told me are not my story. I want to be excited, enjoy this first trimester, and -- above all else -- keep fear and 'what if's' at bay.

I believe every woman should handle early pregnancy, miscarriage, pregnancy-at-large and birth in whatever ways feel right to her. Each mama's stories are different, and our stories are deeply personal. So personally, while I feel a sense of community and empathy with all mamas everywhere, living our different lives and our different stories, I'm choosing to focus on positive stories for the purposes of pregnancy #2. I well remember the excitement of pregnancy, but also a certain tendency toward fearful pregnancy that pervades our culture, and is also often, if inadvertently, shared and spread among women ourselves. Whether we're scheduling our next 'screening' for some (barely) potential problem, or hearing other mamas tell of days-long, painful labors and emergency C-sections, it's easy to get caught up in an expectation that, at any moment, something might go wrong. Well you know what? It's not my first rodeo. And I know that, of course, something could go wrong. At any moment. It probably won't, but if it does, I can handle it, and I know I'll have the support and love of our family, our friends, and you good readers out there. In the meantime, tell me positive stories. I promise to tell positive stories, too.

I have a few things I could be afraid of during this pregnancy. I have a blood clot history, and therefore am classified as high-risk; I'd like to have a pretty hands-free pregnancy and a home birth -- a safe and wonderful option for low-risk pregnant women -- but instead I'm working with a wonderful doctor and a doula (TBA), and injecting myself with blood thinners every day. I did that last time, too. Unlike last time, I know what questions to ask and I know what I do and don't want in delivering my baby. As it turns out, I probably won't have to be induced, and I can probably have a natural birth in a hospital setting. So that's cool. The other thing that's nagging at the back of my mind is, obviously, a food allergy and eczema remix. What we went through with Kaspar was really hard for all of us. It took me a while to even consider the possibility of pregnancy again, knowing that a food-allergic baby #2 is indeed slightly more probable for us than for a family without allergies in the mix. But statistics, (positive) stories from other allergy mamas, and my doctor, have assured me that it's far from guaranteed our second baby will have any allergies at all. Doctors have no idea why, but many families have one kid with countless allergies, and other kids with none. And some studies show that eating nuts during pregnancy prevents food allergies, while other studies show the opposite. There's not a lot of rhyme or reason around this topic yet, and not a lot of knowledge. Even so, I'm going to avoid eating the major allergens during my second and third trimester, and I have an appointment scheduled with Kaspar's TCM doctor to see if there are some herbs I can take to help prevent any allergic issues in my baby. And if this baby does show symptoms similar to baby-Kaspar's, we'll know what we're dealing with, and we will be fine. 

Blood thinner injections. Yeehaw.
I am declaring this a Fear-Free Pregnancy, no matter what happens, and knowing full well that this is life, and sometimes -- in life -- shit goes down. I'm focusing on feeling awesome, and visualizing a happy, healthy me, and a happy, healthy baby. I'm drinking a lot of juice. And eating a lot of carnitas tacos. I'm dreaming up names. I'm bracing myself for two small kiddos, as my one small kiddo creeps up on turning three. Age two was far from terrible -- we had one week of difficulty, which was about the extent of it -- and was a piece of cake, I suspect, compared to what's in store. Kaspar is as joyful and animated as ever, but this age is, um, something. Everything that already took twice as long as it did now takes twice as long as that ("Kaspar, please climb into the car... Kaspar, please get into your car seat... Kaspar, please get in the car... Kaspar, please stop pressing the buttons on the door and climb into the car.... Kaspar-get-into-the-car..."), and Kaspar's constant questions reflect new layers of comprehension that often catch me unaware (yesterday: "If you like what than you should have put a ring on what?"). He hears everything, feels deeply, and talks and moves continuously. This is a fun stage -- this boy of mine is so loving and funny and sweet, it's amazing -- but I'm pretty much exhausted all the time, and it takes a lot to make me tired. I am excited, though, for the months to come, for baby time, and to watch my baby #1 grow into his role as big brother. 
What do you think about the twelve week safety zone, early pregnancy, and first trimester changes? How have your second (or third, etc.) pregnancies differed from your first? Suggestions on great pregnancy books for positive stories? What's essential in a good doula? (We'll be interviewing next week.) Thanks for joining our family on this journey!
Even Peter Pan drives everywhere in Texas.
Think wonderful thoughts.
Kaspar dressed as Peter Pan for Halloween -- his idea. We have a version of the classic book, and he requests it nighty. He didn't really understand Halloween last year; he rang exactly one doorbell, called it a night, and -- back home -- happily let us trade out his treat for some blueberries. This year, he took notice of decorations around the neighborhood, weeks before the big day arrived, and we've spent many walks since admiring ghosts, giant spiders, and jack-o-lanterns as they appeared on our neighbors porches and lawns. 

I'm really into holidays now that I'm a mom. (Also now that there's Pinterest -- follow me!) And although I was surprised Kaspar had such a definitive answer at the ready when asked what he wanted to dress as for Halloween, I shouldn't have been. He knows what's up. Which is why instead of planning to trade him something for his loot this year -- because even a cool toy doesn't make up for having your trick-or-teating stash confiscated, when you're two -- I pre-distributed Kaspar-friendly treats among our neighbors so he could have his cake (so to speak) and eat it, too. It worked like a charm. He just thinks everyone's really into applesauce. I'm not sure this plan will work as well in coming years, but I'll take it a step at a time. Last year he couldn't even eat applesauce, so who knows what lies ahead... (I'm optimistic!)

Trick or treat!
So much cuteness.
Happy (and emergency-free) Halloweening complete, I put Kaspar to bed on Wednesday night and settled down on the couch to watch a scary movie with Aaron. Almost as soon as we sat down, however, we heard Kaspar cough a few times, so I went to his room to check on him. It's been a tough pollen season around here -- tougher than usual, even, and Austin's always bad -- and we've had to give Kaspar nebulizer treatments every other week or so this fall, in addition to utilizing Ayurvedic and TCM prevention methods. (They've worked, too, but when the asthma's really under way, we have no choice but to rock the alburteral. Aaron's been taking his inhaler, too... and I think he only needed it once when we lived in New York.) 

Kaspar's breathing sounded fine, but he had a fever of 101.4. Over the next five or six hours, he had two extreme coughing episodes, two nebulizer treatments, two vomiting episodes and, needless to say, got very little sleep. We debated whether to bring him to the ER, and were pretty confused by his symptoms (some of which were side effects from the nebulizer itself...), but we made it through the night without having to go. I brought him in to the pediatrician the next day and confirmed my budding suspicion that Kaspar had a bad case of croup. He's had it once before, but it previously only featured one coughing episode, and we didn't have asthma on our minds at the time, so we hadn't hopped him up on other meds and complicated things. I also brought him to our local, amazing TCM doctor on Thursday afternoon, and she checked him out and modified his herbal prescription to address his asthma. (As for the croup, she administered some gentle acupressure and advised us to lay low and ride it out.)
Feeling better already at Texas College for Traditional Chinese Medicine
It's been a few days, and while Kas is still a little sick, he's feeling MUCH better. Phew. And he keeps asking to have Halloween again. So cute. 

In other news, I'm five days in to a ten day Ayruvedic cleanse, led by an amazing practitioner here in Austin, Ivy Ingram. (If you're local, go see her. She's great.) In addition to certain dietary restrictions, breathing exercises and other, um, cleansing protocol (there's an enema coming up that I'm not exactly thrilled for... but hey, if the sages say jump...), I'm supposed to be laying low, too, and getting lots of rest. I've realized, one the one hand, that when I can go to bed by 10 pm, I don't. As in never. Even when strongly encouraged to do so as part of a structured cleanse, and even when I'm following all of the other protocol to a T, I don't go to bed at 10 pm. I know it would benefit me enormously. I know that two and a half years of hardcore sleep deprivation took it's toll, and that I signed up for this cleanse as a way to mark the wonderful shift Kaspar's made in recent months (Wednesday night notwithstanding) -- wherein he sleeps soundly, through the night, every night -- and to re-boot my own system in the wake of the sleep dep marathon. But still, I can't bring myself to go to bed at 10 pm, even a few nights a week. I'm working on it. 

The other thing I'm realizing is that sometimes life stuff -- like kiddos with croup, and sleepless nights -- simply comes up, and our intentions for self-care get back-burnered. Rest wasn't in the cards on Wednesday night, or on Thursday, really, but I did scale things back a bit on Friday -- when Kaspar returned to school -- to give myself a chance to catch my breath. And I stuck with the other cleanse protocol throughout. I initially signed up for this cleanse on an impulse. I'd planned to take a long weekend away, alone, sometime this fall, to sleep and to process and to disengage for a bit. But I signed up for this cleanse instead, when I received an email about it. Already sold on Ayurveda as a profoundly powerful system of medicine, I sensed that the cleanse will ultimately be more grounding, and more beneficial, than checking out of my life for a few days would have been. (I might still go ahead and do that, though.) Remaining engaged with the many things I have going and, meanwhile, going through the cleansing process is more challenging, but it's also more relevant to my life right now, and it's exactly what I needed. 

Anyway, here's to Halloween, to healthy kids, to clean starts and to November. My birthday month. (The big 2-8 is just a few weeks away, y'all. I'm ready!)

I'll finish with some additional, gratuitous cuteness:
How was your Halloween? If you have kids with special dietary needs or food allergies, how do you handle the candy sitch? 
Sunday morning, 6:15 AM = Hot Wheels races
Aaron and I finally got iPhones last week. I also recently lost patience with my Dell laptop -- it was wasting endless amounts of my limited work time "thinking" about stopped scripts (whatever those are) -- and bought myself a new MacBook Pro. So I guess I'm a full-fledged Apple person now. Aaron -- and some of my nerd friends -- are far more excited about this than I am, but I'm definitely pleased with both upgrades. I certainly appreciate having an awesome computer, given how much I use one. And I'm getting the hang of the phone. There are a few things that are different about it (I'm actually almost confused by how user-friendly it is) but what's most different, and has been most helpful thus far, isn't an app or another fancy feature. It's a simple setting that can ostensibly be changed, although I don't ever plan to change it. 

My old phone constantly updated me when I received emails; my iPhone, on the other hand, waits for me to ask, and then takes a moment before telling me what's new in my inbox. I guess this setting preserves battery power or some-such because the phone isn't continually refreshing its signal and updating this information on its own. It turns out that it also preserves my relationship with the present moment. This sounds a little cliche already, and we've all heard (and espoused) the value of 'unplugging', but actually doing so (even in tiny increments) can be revealing in showing us just how plugged-in -- and potentially checked out -- we really are. 

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Image credit: Kevin Sherry
As I’ve written before, I don’t have a problem with meat-eating in principle. (Animal suffering, however, is another story.) Kaspar, for his part, wouldn’t be half the healthy kiddo he is today were it not for his happy-meat habit.  But I noticed, a couple of months ago, that our family was eating a lot of meat. Like, more dinners than not featured animals (or their eggs), front and center, and Aaron and I  -- or maybe it was just me, but I’m the primary cook around these parts, so my vote counts for more -- weren’t feeling the meat consumption at quite the level we were living it. 

It wasn’t that we were eating meat in lieu of fruits and vegetables; our family eats (and drinks) lots of produce on the daily. And it wasn’t that we were getting fat or anything like that – Aaron and I are both naturally slender people who probably couldn't get fat if we tried. It wasn’t even that I think eating meat is unhealthy; Aaron and I both qualify, in Ayurvedic terms anyway, as people who can eat some meat here and there (though Ayruveda doesn’t recommend really regular meat-eating for any constitution), and Traditional Chinese Medicine similarly recommends small amounts of meat in one's diet, for keeping the blood balanced and strong.  I’m not sure what it was, actually, that caused me to initially re-adjust our meat habits, but whatever it was, it led to my arriving home from a library trip one day with a bag full of vegan cookbooks slung over my shoulder.

Aaron laughed semi-uproariously when he saw this; I was a strict, bumper-sticker-sportin’ vegan in high school and college. Although Aaron hadn’t met me yet, he knows this about me because I sometimes refer back to that time with a touch of self-directed snark and condescension in my tone. “I know so much more about nutrition and food politics now. Eating meat is not the problem. And soy is not the solution.” But I’ve also spoken fondly of those early forays into conscious food choices; I learned to cook when I was a vegan. I became attuned to what food feels like in my body. And I developed an appetite for food as a source of health, happiness, world peace and prosperity. Nothing less.

I still think it can get us there. And I still believe in my somewhat-later discovery of the local food movement – encompassing meat and produce alike –as paving (or, you know, tilling or some such) the way. (That organic ground beef you bought that was shipped in from the former-rainforest in Uruguay? Not so much.) But I also know now that our oceans are over-fished, our planet is getting warmer way too quickly and the resources that are fundamental to human survival  -- like fresh water -- are in short supply. These problems are all interrelated, too; beef production, for example, plays a major role in methane and nitrous oxide emissions planet-wide, and climate change – which is very real – is definitely worsened by this kind of pollution. Climate change, in turn, affects crop and cattle production; the local Texas cattle industry suffered pretty seriously as a result of last summer’s draught, and it hasn't rained down here, this summer, in well over a month. I'm really, actually troubled by, and worried about, this global warming thing, and feeling like there's nothing I can do about it puts me in an immobilized, inner panic. I certainly can't single-handedly stop the planet-destruction bus, but I can choose, three times a day, to do something about its momentum. So although my son must, for now, eat meat almost daily – and I will continue to source his meat from Earth and animal-friendly local purveyors – I’ve felt a recent desire to reduce our family’s collective footprint on the food front. How to go about doing so was not a mystery to me. It takes a lot more grain (or grass or whatever) to feed a cow than it does to feed a person. And two out of the three people in this family really don’t need to eat the cow to stay alive. 

Also, cows are cute. There, I said it. 

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I took Kaspar to the doctor's office to get some blood drawn yesterday; we're seeing a leading TCM specialist in New York (at the hospital he was born in, actually-- interesting full-circle moment) in August and she requested some additional blood work in advance of our visit. As I've written before, Kaspar endured many a stick when we first caught on to his allergy stuff, and we've  approached blood testing sparingly since then; it's extremely helpful for making comparisons, and marking progress, but it also sucks to get stuck with needles (I hate it, myself, despite my tattoos... In fact, I cry when faced with syringes). 

Kaspar asked where we were headed when he climbed into the car after school; he had swimming lessons (which he loves) later, but I told him up-front that we first had to make a trip to the doc. I told him we'd first pick up his lab form in one building, and then walk over to the hospital next door so they could do a blood draw in the lab. Kaspar has a toy doctor's kit at home and we mimic blood draws when we play with it, so I braced myself for a screech in protest, even in the car. He didn't elicit one. He continued smiling and singing and kicking his feet to the beat in his head, and I wondered if he missed what I'd said. He repeated the bit about getting the form and then jumped to swimming lessons... But, I figured I'd said my piece and wasn't going to freak him out, unduly. (I felt it was important to be forthcoming with the plan, however, because I vividly remember shots being sprung on me when I was young, and being told they wouldn't hurt. It's no fun to get a needle in your arm; it's even worse to get a spoonful of BS along with it). 

We arrived, form in hand, at the lab, and hung out at the desk, signing the necessary paperwork. Kaspar sat on the counter and asked the receptionist about her office supplies. The phlebotomist came out at one point and said hi; all of us adults were smiling-smiling-smiling, somewhat tense in anticipation of what was coming, knowing that genuinely-happy Kaspar would, shortly, be quite unhappy. When they were finally ready for us, he chirped "My turn!", and strolled into the lab room like he was ready to party. They had Sponge Bob going on a flat-screen TV, bubbles, happy hellos from two nurses, ready to teamwork it. Kaspar sat on my lap and one of the nurses looked at each of his arms, then tied the big rubber tournequet around one of his small biceps. 

In the past, he's always cried at this point. But he sat pretty calmly yesterday, watching what was happening. The other nurse asked, "What's your name, mister?" and the nurse with the tournequet (who was sweet, but had a booming voice), said "Kaaaaspaaar." I kissed his head and hummed, "Yep, you're my brave Kaspar," and he looked up and declared himself "Kaspar PEACE." (His middle name is actually Quincy.)

"That's a nice name!" the nurse who'd asked told him. "Kaspar Peace. I like that."

"Me too," I said. Kaspar grinned.

He cried when they drew his blood, but they were fast, and he got over it pretty quickly. We blew more bubbles and he chose a small toy from a bin. He said "That hurt, my blood draw," as we were leaving, and when the nurses asked for high five's he said "I don't feel like it, no." Which was fine. They waved, "Goodbye, Kaspar Peace! I hope these tests come back good and you get to try some new foods!" and he smiled and waved at them, walked confidently out of the building, holding my hand.
Kaspar’s still going strong on his nightly coconut oil massages, and his system is still reaping the rewards. I’ve been making an effort to give myself a good warm-oil self-massage several times a week, as well; in Ayurvedic medicine, this is known as Abhyanga, and it’s prescribed for a whole host of conditions. The Sanskrit word for oil, sneha, also means ‘love,’ and self-massage does indeed do a body good, as an impactful form of self-love and care. It’s particularly useful in treating anxiety and nervousness, cracking joints, lack of focus, mental and physical stress, restlessness, dry skin and any kind of digestive issue. The skin is the body’s largest organ, and one that’s largely associated with digestion (this is why Kaspar’s gut issues manifested as terrible eczema); using a high quality oil to massage the skin not only imparts calming effects on the nervous system, but it also helps to cleanse and nourish the skin, helping it to better do its jobs (including detoxification). Whether or not you’re treating a specific condition, Abhyanga stimulates the inner organs, promotes digestion and restores our innate sense of well-being and optimism. In a nutshell, it cures what ails ya.*

Here’s how it’s done: before bathing, spread some towels (not your favorites… they’re gonna get messy) onto your bathroom floor, and pour some organic food-quality oil into a plastic squeeze bottle (or other container) – I use coconut oil, but you can also use sesame or almond oil for a warming, grounding effect, or corn or flaxseed oil if your constitution is generally sluggish or heavy. Place the bottle of oil in a bowl of warm water to heat it slightly as you undress (make sure the room isn’t drafty, too). Next, pour a small amount of oil into your hands and apply it to your face, including your ears and nose, but avoiding the eyes. Massage your limbs in long strokes, applying pressure as you move toward the heart, and then follow with circular strokes over your joints. Massage your abdomen in a clockwise direction, then your hands, your shoulders, your feet—give yourself a good rub-down. About once a week, massage some oil into your scalp using circular motions, as well. Chill out for a few minutes – ideally you’d wait for fifteen to thirty minutes, but… I don’t have that kind of time – and then carefully (your feet may be super slippery) climb into the tub or shower. Wash yourself, but go easy on the soap so as not to remove all of the oil. Pat yourself dry with a towel.

Look around. Do things look brighter somehow? Thanks, Abhyanga!

Now, this type of massage is a bit different from Swedish or Deep Tissue (which I can also rock!), so you don’t need to chug water all day afterward -- although that’s not a bad idea, regardless – and you shouldn’t focus too much on working knots out while you’re doing this. (Hire someone else to do that kind of work…). Instead, try to rest your attention during Abhyanga on gratitude for your amazing body and how much it does for you, how many functions it performs. Feel happy. Let your stress go. And go ahead and make a habit of this, from a few times a week to every day, if you can swing it.

*Note that Abhyanga is not indicated (i.e. safe/recommended) for anyone in the acute stage of an illness, pregnant or menstruating women, people with insulin-dependent diabetes, blood clots, edema, hangovers, infected wounds, or who are in chemotherapy. Safety first, folks!

Juggling multiple, and mostly unrelated, forms of employment is a constant balancing act, but its primary perk is that I run my own daily routine. Sure, I attend meetings and speak at events here and there, I meet competing deadlines, and I massage people in person (I've finished my internship, and am taking the state licensing exam in a few short weeks... One step away, baby, then this sh*t is for real); all of this requires a high level of scheduling. But when it comes to my morning coffee, I'm not carrying it on any kind of commuter train. In fact, I've recently begun to embrace my internal work rhythms in a way I haven't before; working at night blows, and while it's sometimes necessary, it's also not a very productive practice for me (the work gets done, but through blood, sweat and proverbial tears), so I've lately been shutting it down. Trusting I'll get the work done on time without making myself miserable has been liberating in this respect, quite literally. 

I noticed, too, that I'd been procrastinating before digging into my daily task lists in the mornings; we'd get Kaspar off to school and then I'd sit at my computer, coffee in hand, ostensibly 'starting my day', but in fact catching my breath and switching gears via some down-time on Facebook (or the NYTimes, or your blogs, or whatever). But I'd be feeling like I should be working, and thus end up stewing in low-level internal conflict before finally jumping in. When I realized, however, that I was consistently getting productive (and when I'm productive, I'm a powerhouse), in earnest, around 10:30 or 11 a.m., I began giving myself the chunk of time leading up to that point for doing non-work things I also value and enjoy: Buddhist practice, yoga, the gym, making stuff with my hands. On one morning I cleaned both of our bathrooms. This may seem like a blatant example of work avoidance, but it wasn't; I was at it right on schedule, 11 a.m. And instead of having little or nothing to show for having merely behaved as if I was working up until then, we had really clean bathrooms, and I felt focused when I finally sat down at my desk. 

I've worked in enough office settings to know how much time is wasted by employees staring into cyberspace (or, running their mouths in pointless, endless meetings...) under a pretense of getting stuff done; I think this down-time is necessary to the productive time, though. It's the other side of the getting-stuff-done coin. Ultimately, everyone's self-scheduling, whether in a cubicle or in their own homes. I just decided to let myself have what I set out to have in setting my life up in the way it is, though; I wanted a high quality of life (instead of a cubicle) in that work-life equation. For me, this means letting the two (work, and life) flow alongside each other as they do, and jumping back and forth between them without bringing any baggage along. Freelancers frequently lament that their enjoyment of their freedom is inhibited by an ever-nagging sense that they should be getting something work-related done whenever they're not; it's harder to leave your work behind when you don't leave its physical proximity, and when your paycheck depends on your product, point-blank. But truly enjoying the freedom is what makes this deal so very sweet, and it's well worth the mental leap. (Today, I did my work outside, a breeze blowing through my hair, the wildflowers, and the trees). 

This week, in my morning hours, I kissed Kaspar off (Aaron brings him to school; I pick him up at three and am then in Mama mode 'til after bedtime, unless I'm particularly swamped, in which case Aaron will pinch-hit on afternoon watch), went for quick runs around the neighborhood, and then sipped my coffee while sewing a picnic/play quilt for the little man. It was meditative, boring at times, but mostly really fun. It's a work of imperfection, as with the last one, and it isn't quite finished (I plan to stitch across the entire thing in several places; is this the proper 'quilting' part? I'm still a novice...), but -- as you can see (above) -- it's already in use. Hooray for making stuff, instead of excuses.

Kaspar made something this week, too. Today was his final day of school for the year ("summer camp" begins in a week: same place, same time... Thank god), and his teacher, knowing how much Kaspar loves his juice, asked if we'd like to make popsicles for him to share with the class to mark the occasion. Now, his classroom's had a snack-rotation going all year, for which one kid brings snack for the class each day for a week at a time. Kaspar, of course, brings his own separate snacks due to his food allergies, and while everyone's made an awesome effort to ensure he never feels either excluded or unhappy about his allergy sitch, his teacher and I both thought this would be a fun opportunity for him participate in eating a treat alongside his peers. Plus, he'd get a sense of satisfaction and stardom for having made and brought the treat himself. 

Kaspar totally rocked it. We made his favorite juice (apple, strawberry, carrot, beet) last night and poured it, together, into ice-pop molds. They did their thing in the freezer over night, and Aaron dropped them off (in a cooler) with Kaspar this morning. This afternoon, before everyone dispersed for the break, his teacher busted the popsicles out of the school's freezer. (She was smart to strip the kids down in advance of doing so... beet juice stains). She reported back later that Kaspar was as proud as could be, and his popsicles were a full-on, messy success. I'm so happy for Kaspar and his project, and I'm looking forward to making real-juice popsicles with him all summer long.

What are you making lately? Where do you find the time?