The honeymoon phase


All of this balance is going to my head.

The boys bound off to school each morning, barely pausing to acknowledge my long line of postscripts.  Are you sure you have your sweatshirt?  Don’t forget the extra snack I put in your backpack!  One last kiss? Have a great day at school!

I marvel at the fact that that they are both so well adjusted.  And it makes me squirm a little to acknowledge that they are so much better off without me, at least for a significant part of the day.  I see in myself the plight of the wavering partner who, once rejected, discovers a passion that has never burned so hot.  And so I  smother them with my sloppy sentiments every chance I get.

And then there are all of those hours.  Glorious, wide-open hours full of promise and the intimidating challenge of learning to build with a precious material that I’ve never been able to afford.

Things will change soon.  They always do.  But for now, I’m delirious.

Copy of IMG_5232

L’isola che non c’è*

This article was an inspiration to me.  It’s subject is the Greek island of Ikaria, a designated Blue Zone where the inhabitants are surprisingly long-lived.  The narrative is constructed around the sensational tale of a Greek man who, living in the United States, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  The story goes that instead of pursuing traditional treatment in the US, he chose to go back to his home on the island of Ikaria to die in peace.  Except that he didn’t die. And at the time of publication 3 years ago, was a cancer-free 97 year-old.

The article describes Ikaria as an isolated place where people live a spartan life focused on family and community, eating simple food, much of which they grow or forage themselves, getting around on foot, and routinely drinking, talking and dancing the night away.  In the subtext lies the pressing question of exactly which practice provides the magical elixir for longevity.

But the article’s impact on me was not a testament to my burning desire to live to be a healthy 100, though that would be nice.  In it’s description of Ikaria I found a clear image of the picture that I had been fumbling to illustrate.  There it was – the lifestyle that I was trying to convey with my silly blog moniker.  And not only did it exist, but it also offered what I consider to be superb proof of it’s own validity: long, healthy lives.

I realized that while so many people around me are admirably following their ambitions toward career success and economic advancement, I am aspiring to Ikaria.

I have never been to the island of Ikaria and yet I think that I know her.  Many of the images that I have of her come from our trips to other Greek islands.  But there are so many details about the Ikarian lifestyle that I think I’ve witnessed much closer to home.  Images that remind me of my paternal grandfather’s village in the Italian region of Ciocaria. Or G’s family town in Sicily.  And even, strange though it may sound, of my maternal grandparents enclave of Little Italy in Cleveland, a culture whose remnants filtered down to me growing up in the city.

It is, I suspect, what much of the Mediterranean looked like before the Industrial North conquered the globe, a cultural victory so sweeping and complete that it is impossible to imagine the world any other way.  Though Ikarians were heavily impacted by the war and the German occupation,  it’s likely that its notoriously rough waters played a decisive part in preserving it’s culture in the years that followed.

I think of her now as the Germans and Greeks skirmish over Greece’s place in the Eurozone, both justly questioning whether Greece can ever really learn to play the game nearly perfected by Europe’s economic engine.  And I sympathize deeply with her as hungry migrants, escaping the brutal chaos to the east, land on her rough shores.

And I think that I understand her as I make a batch of cheese in my tiny Bay Area kitchen, knowing that my own aspirations carry all the appeal that she engenders in her worn housecoat and woolly upper lip in the eyes of my own neighbors, bedecked in their sleek new portables and trendy messenger bags.

I know that this notion that maybe all those nonagenarians on Ikaria prove that cultivating health and social ties is the best way to move towards old-age is tinged with nostalgia.  And I can’t close my eyes to the countless ways that we all benefit from the success and prosperity of our technologically savvy neighbors every day.

Intelligent people know that sound investments and access to the latest technologies are the road to the good life.  And, if you play it right, you can vacation in Ikaria – as long as the wifi is reliable.  I understand the rules of the game.  But as I listen to the deafening sounds of the Dow going up and down in the background, I’m not entirely convinced that it’s worth playing.

*Translated from Italian.  Words and music by Edoardo Bennato

The island that isn’t

Second star to the right,
Points the way
And then head straight until morning
It’s a road that you must find for yourself
It takes you to the island that isn’t

This may sound strange to you
But perhaps reason has led you astray
And now you’re almost convinced that
there can’t really be an island that isn’t

And to think about it, what madness,
It’s a fairytale, a mere fantasy
And he who is wise, who is mature knows:
It couldn’t possibly exist in reality!

And I agree,
There can not be a place
Where there are neither heroes nor saints.
And if there are no thieves,
If there is no war,
It can only be an island that isn’t

But it’s not an invention,
Not a play on words,
To believe is enough
Then you’ll find the road yourself.

And I agree,
No thieves or police,
Then what kind of island is it?
No hate or violence
soldiers nor weapons,
Then it can only be the island
That’s isn’t.

Second star to the right,
Points the way
And then head straight until morning
You can’t make a mistake because
It takes you to the island that isn’t

And they will mock you
If you continue to look for it,
But don’t surrender
Because it’s possible that those who have already given in
And are laughing behind your back,
Are even crazier than you

The values of education

I remember listening to heated debates over public school curriculum when I was younger and failing to understand what the ruckus was all about.  Who were these people who thought that they could control what kids believe? Did anybody really think that lectures on the power of abstinence or sterile explanations of sperm meets egg forms zygote were going to have any effect on the adolescent urge to get into his classmate’s pants?  And didn’t those parent’s fighting for high quality sex ed know that the best place to learn about sex is, cough, outside the classroom? 

But now that I’ve moved from the ranks of smug teenager to concerned parent, I understand.  There is no better reflection of a person’s true values than the need to pass them on to the next generation.  Talk to anybody who is seriously searching for solutions to a human problem and they will tell you that their best hope lies in education. No less is at stake than our dreams for the future, the better world that we envision.  And this is determined entirely by how we happen to see the world in the present.

And it’s complicated.

I was a runny mess this time last year.  As g prepared to enter Kindergarten, I nourished all the usual fears.  Will he adapt?  Will he make friends?  Will they take care of him?  But there was more to it.  The memories that I have of my own education, though faded, tell conflicting stories of the joy of learning and the tyranny of institution. And yet I knew that unless I was ready to take over the job of schooling my children, I needed to support their schools.  I hoped I was up to the task.

In the end, g did just fine.  And I learned a lot about education from the perspective of the parent.  I learned that, as I had suspected, it is the community that drives the culture of the school.  And, for all it’s quirks, I have a lot of faith in my community.  When we moved into our current apartment, g was just barely crawling and yet I was immensely proud to be just down the street from this amazing place.  Last year as g’s teacher put tremendous work into introducing the kids to tough issues like race and non-conforming sexual identity, I understood what is meant by “it takes a village”.  I felt the deep comfort of knowing that I am not in this alone.

But this year, as g glides into his new first grade classroom, I feel uneasy.  I felt it just after the first drop-off, walking to my car with another mom, a recent transplant to the area.  She was talking openly about her hopes for the school year and, though she was as friendly as she was put together, her words stirred my concern.   As she pulled away in her new Mercedes SUV, I began to identify the source of my fears.

My community is changing fast.  The SF tech boom has exploded to surrounding areas. Homes only rarely sell for under 1 million dollars in my neighborhood. While discussions about these changes almost always focus on the economic aspects, I think that they are more symptom than cause.  This has truly been a place with the spirit and drive to “change the world”.   But the world, it appears, is changing it.

Values are shifting. If we are even still here in a few years, I doubt that I will have the influence to counter the shiny appeal of the new messages: technology, money, power.  I wonder who would actually listen to statements on the importance of simple living and soil stewardship  from a woman whose house is so small that she can’t even entertain playdates.  I imagine my wimpy arms giving their all in a cultural tug-of-war in the schoolyard.

And I see her, smug adolescent that she is, laughing her ass off.

Looking forward

I am not good at balance.

If I take the long view I can divide my life into many phases, each with a different primary focus – work, play, athletics, friendship, romance – that together make-up something of a meta-balance. But I have rarely managed to successfully combine many layers at once.  And the latest phase has been blindingly monotone.

When g was born I lost the ability to locate my own boundaries, becoming completely submerged in the briny deep of parenting.  For several years my ambitions could be summed up in a single word: sleep.

I received counsel. You’ve got to take time for yourself. But knowledge and action don’t always play well together.  I had stellar examples. I knew many women who juggled like masters, at times tirelessly clawing their way toward their own desires.  But I just didn’t have it in me.  It was a failure that I accepted matter of factly, in the same way that I accept my imperfect proportions or my poor sense of direction.

And I’ve come to understand that there are cultural implications to my shortcomings.  I was born in the US but am, for better and worse, a Mediterranean whose values lean closer to interdependence than autonomy.  Growing up in a large Italian family I learned the skills of twisting and stretching when living as part of a unit. I can even embrace the good in this way of life as long as I continue to look forward – a simple glance downward sheds light on that dizzying labyrinth that is gender politics.

But exactly a year ago my perspective began to shift.  It sneaked up on me. g was about to enter Kindergarten and Mr D was beginning a toddler program 3 mornings a week.  12 childfree hours a week! All of a sudden I was performing a mental sprint toward those interred dreams. I began to fantasize about work possibilities, self-care, intellectual pursuits, hobbies.

Reality, it turns out, is a honey badger.  Mr D struggled for months to adapt to his “school” and g spent the bulk of winter in recovery. My grand ambitions were grossly downsized. But they weren’t forgotten.  Looking back I realize that my life changed dramatically.  I formulated my dream job and then took very concrete steps toward making it a reality.  I began reading again.  I expanded my gardening space.  I even started blogging again!

These final weeks of summer have been lovely.  I have been enjoying unstructured time with the boys- trips to the park and library, lots of play with friends and neighbors, bushels of tomatoes. But in just 10 days I will again have precious time for myself as g enters first grade a Mr D takes on preschool. I now know that even this intense phase of parenting comes to an end. And I am really looking forward to the next one.


We took a wonderful vacation this year. 2 weeks on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Sweet towns, beautiful beaches and surroundings, incredible food and lovely people.  Despite the fact that I don’t like traveling at this stage of my life, I supported this adventure because it is something that G needs desperately. It is precisely this subsistence on heat and saltwater that he turns to to define summer. And I understand his need to pass this definition on to his children.

The kids loved every minute. And I love the simple messages that can be conveyed by just existing in an environment so different from our own.  The richness of landscape, the fuzzy distinctions between rich and poor, the fluidity of culture and language.  I adored watching them take it all in stride.

But now that we are back it feels like I passed through a geomagnetic storm that wiped out all of my navigational equipment.  I can remember clearly marveling over the realization that all of my precious routines and schedules became irrelevant after just a few days away but like a toddler I’ve been scrambling to regain the comfort of their structure since the moment we returned.

I feel a bit ridiculous.  Like most of us, I have a simple awareness of the privilege of my condition on an everyday basis but leaving it behind for a few weeks disrupted my capacity for comfortable acceptance, further complicating my already difficult relationship with this home town of mine- one of the wealthiest places on the planet.

In reality I’m grateful for the renewed perspective.  I think that awareness is a good thing.  It’s the inability to do anything about it that upsets me.  I know that there are numbers of people who work tirelessly to synch the lyrics of their livelihood to the soundtrack of their values.  And there are many more who exist naturally among the contradictions and compromises that are necessary to get by.  It just so happens that right now, I can’t seem to manage either.  And I hate it.

You can find me in the garden

2009 was the year that I broke down.

Back to back pregnancies and losses had defeated me.  Fatigue from caring for a new infant had weakened me further. But I suspect that it was something specific that finally did me in. Initiation into the sometimes tragic nature of life is a one-way street. The terrible endings no longer belong to “other people”. And now you know, KNOW, that the 1 person in X,000 could actually be you.

Because it has.

My demon was anxiety, the overachieving cousin of the fear and worry that are such an integral part of parenthood. So ill-prepared was I to confront the adversity of mental illness that I failed to even recognize it until I had finally begun to emerge from it’s grip. But I haven’t forgotten the way that fears, both everyday and oversize, seize control of your body, forcing it into a sustained, exhausting, fight for survival against an enemy that never shows. Or the absurd way that your mind fails to regain control, even during those times when it can see the risk for what it truly is. I very nearly became a shut-in, in my illogical attempt to insulate myself and baby g from the dangers surrounding us.

But something changed one rainy day while g was taking one of his rare, long naps.  I remember staring out the window of our new apartment and noticing a small tangle of bermuda grass at the edge of our driveway.  It occurred to me then that I could dig it out. I thought about planting some herbs to the south and lettuce to the north.

That moment was a revelation.  At the time, my modest gardening aspirations were overshadowed by the victory represented in my intention to actually DO SOMETHING.  And several months later, after I did sprinkle those lettuce seeds onto a newly prepared patch of soil, I couldn’t bring myself to actually harvest them because I saw something in that dense mat of green and red that I had nearly lost sight of: hope.

As g began to assemble steps and sentences, I accumulated strawberries and salvia.  Eventually I got a plot in the community garden just around the corner. And I began to heal. Gardening has a way of restoring a healthy relationship to power.  It is, almost by necessity, a labor of mutual respect. You work to impose your will upon a space, provide me with peppers, and succeed only by allowing the space to impose it’s will on you, it isn’t warm enough here but I can give you kale.

Gardening can also teach you to appreciate dangers that are real.  There is no tiger at the gate after all, but global warming and drought are here.  Even better, gardening gives you something concrete to DO about them.  Though the actions may be small, you can decrease your waste stream and add carbon back to your soil.  You can provide food for pollinators and habitat for salamanders. Anxiety about the health consequences of high-fructose, partially hydrogenated glyphosate* disappears when eating from an organically-grown garden.

A little less than 2 years ago, as g was bravely conquering pre-school and Mr D was tugging at my pant legs, I convinced my then neighbors to park on the street and began to fill our parking spaces with pots and seedlings. Over time, what started as a patch of mixed lettuces has become a garden to me and our little apartment has become a lego and laughter-filled home.

I find myself returning over and over to a vision of these past 6 years as a time of rebuilding. Although neither my life nor any of my little gardens is anything exceptional, I am wholly convinced that we are all headed in the right direction.

patiobeforedriveway2015    *Glyphosate is the herbicide Round-up that is sprayed heavily on GMO corn and soybeans that make up a large share of the calories we in the US obtain from processed food.

It’s just laundry

I did the laundry today.  There is always laundry in some stage of it’s life cycle.  But today as I dropped the dinosaur underwear and moldy dish rags into the soapy water, my spirits followed.

It has everything to do with the new protocol.  My landlord recently blocked off the door that gave me direct access to our tiny laundry room, forcing me to lug our threads out the front door, down a few flights of stairs, into the garage with it’s master lock and hefty door and through an overflowing storage room, leaving a trail of smelly toddler socks along the way.

He apologized for the inconvenience, politely explaining that he had concluded that this was the best way to improve his living space, formerly an equal half of the 1950’s duplex that we share.  He is taking over a portion of our still unfinished first floor and wanted the stairs to himself.

I took the news in stride.  It’s just laundry, I told him.  And it is.  Prior to this apartment, I had yet to ever have onsite laundry during my decade+ living in California.  No more hoarding quarters or planning entire days around this chore.

But as I cruised the new route a seemingly endless number of times, I was forced to acknowledge something more.  I had no say in this change.  And I have no idea what changes may be coming or when.  Typically, my renter’s lament is centered around not being able to make modifications that appeal to me. I rarely stop to acknowledge just how far my lack of control stretches.  I would have no recourse if he decided that the rag tag collection of pots and planter boxes scattered across the driveway, a humble space that I affectionately refer to as my “garden”, has to go.  And we would be in real trouble if he were to decide to sell.

The truth is that while we get along perfectly fine with my landlord, he would like nothing more than to see us leave.  Since we moved in, rents in our area have nearly doubled and continue to climb.  A dizzying influx of cash is conspiring to paint fences and faces a brighter shade of white. And I feel like a passenger with no say in where we are going or how quickly we get there.  Gentrification is a reckless driver and the most meaningful decision we have is whether or not to get out of the car.

For now, we are lucky to have rent control legislation on our side.  For now, we still love our neighborhood, with a special fondness for the old hippies and odd characters that hang on for dear life. For now, we are lucky to have access to all the amazing benefits that prosperity brings, from wonderful trash to delightful little stores where you can buy a cargo bike or a kombucha scoby.

For now, it’s just laundry.

Minimalism – slowmamma style. Part 2

After writing this, I began to read more about minimalism.  And I’ve discovered that it is BIG. There are books and talks and capital B Blogs and lowercase b blogs on the subject. Lives have been changed and homes have been tidied.  It’s apparent that many people are fed up with consumerism and its discontents and looking to change and all of this is very very good.

It also occurred to me that I’m not a very good minimalist after all.  I have no idea how many things I own, my closet is a mess and, while I do value the goal of owning less, there are many things that I value more.  In short, I’ve discovered that I don’t want minimalism itself to occupy space in my life. I don’t want to count objects or develop a capsule wardrobe.  All I want to do is focus my energy on those things that bring meaning to my life, at the expense of everything else. And while stuff doesn’t bring meaning to me on it’s own, a lack of stuff doesn’t do much for me either.

The message, focus on what’s really important, is so simple and universal that it may be a little silly to be writing it down at all.  But the question that follows is so important and potentially complex that it merits a thousand blog posts.  So just what then is it that brings meaning to your life and how do you find it?  While the obvious answer is that everyone has to figure this out for his/herself, I’ve learned enough about what is important to me to want to share.

Being something of a minimalist on the word front, there is no way that I can tackle this in a single post but I do want to say that pretty much everything that I value most falls into one (or, preferably several) of three categories:




It also stands that nearly all of the traps that I fall into occur while searching for something that can be found in one of those categories. I find that by beginning to see how and where I satisfy my needs in relation to these things, I am better able filter the rest. My intention is to write about each one and how it relates to my life.  But, to anyone in an introspective mood, I suggest picking one of those categories and asking yourself: how do I best satisfy my need for this? 


When I was one,
I had just begun.
When I was two,
I was nearly new.
When I was three,
I was hardly me.
When I was four,
I was not much more.
When I was five,
I was just alive.
But now I am six,
I’m as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be six
now and forever.

A.A. Milne

My dearest g,

After 6 years together, I finally feel like I’m getting to know you.  I say this mostly to celebrate the fact that I’ve been paying attention.  Like an anthropologist, I find myself carefully observing, trying in earnest (and so often in vain) to paddle upstream of my assumptions about who you should be.

5 was a splendid and terrifying adventure. But 6 is uncharted territory.  It turns out, you’ve taught me, that people do change.  All the time, in fact, but never in ways that can be easily predicted or influenced. Just look at your mother.

We returned briefly this past year to that unspeakable place where I can no longer pretend that I have any say in how long you will be mine.  But , like Tigger, or your beloved Caracal cat, you bounced, showing me once again that you’re so much stronger than my fears.

This little journey is my greatest adventure.  And so to 6 I say this: bring it on!



It was just a line on a fairly unimportant formal document but seeing it in print made me wince.  Occupation: homemaker.  I remembered the conversation – address? phone number? employment?  I had answered honestly. I’m not working right now.  Somehow in my head that couldn’t possibly translate into the archaic term printed before me.  Surely I had little in common with a relic from a time before the feminist revolution, a role that, like the word itself, belonged to my grandmother’s generation.  I think the term is stay-at-home-mom, I remember thinking.

g was not yet a year old at the time and I was awkward in my new identity.  I can laugh now at the memory of preferring to tell people that I was “unemployed”, rather than tackle the subject of how I had utterly failed to combine career and motherhood.  Surrounded by high-achieving parents on the playground, I was withdrawn and uneasy.

But mostly, I was busy.  Despite having only one child, I was working constantly to learn the new skills that I needed for the job.  I was, quite possibly, in over my head.  I learned. A lot. And over time I began to forget about old expectations and stop caring what people might think of my choices.  I took ownership of the decision to stay home and I began to see it as the right thing for us. I let go.

Even more, I began to see the value in my new life.  Beyond the dedication to my tiny son and his giant needs, I began to see how I could relieve pressure on my spouse who needed to work, sometimes long hours, to make rent and secure health insurance. I began to notice the importance of the food choices that I controlled and their impact not just on the health of my family but on our entire political and economic system. I began to recognize how more time at home translated into gradual improvements to our environment, mostly in ways that involved time and thought rather than money.  And I began to appreciate how getting to know our neighbors could have a genuine impact on both our lives and theirs. I discovered that self-reliance and community begin at home.

But I haven’t forgotten my beloved grandmother.  I will always remember her telling of how badly she wanted to work outside the home.  When a job opportunity came up, she brought the idea before my grandfather who agreed, hesitatingly, but warned that she could keep the job only as long as it didn’t interfere with her duties at home.  She kept the job and recounted that story with pride.  Across the distance of generations, I listened in absolute horror.

Power dynamics and gender politics still play an unfortunately large part in the discussion of domestic work. But, I honestly believe, they don’t have to.  There are so many benefits to taking back some portion of caring for our own needs.   Over reliance on convenience leads to a form of corporate paternalism that has enormous social and environmental costs. There is much to be gained at home.

It is ironic that I am compelled to write this now, just as I begin to take my first encouraging steps back into the world of paid work.  I can’t deny that the need for greater participation and a more tangible contribution to our household economy are important driving forces for me.  But I sincerely hope that I can avoid ever returning to 40+ hr work weeks.  Because these years have taught me something that I can never unlearn.  Despite the inherent injustice in my grandfather’s approach to household division of labor, it turns out that we fundamentally agree on one thing about the work that goes on inside the home: it’s truly important.