Bread-making for the soul

Rain is pouring down as I write this, as it has threatened to do all day long. The sun has emerged and then hidden itself multiple times, much in the way my mind has been bobbing from pleasant thoughts to dark, hard memories of this day one year ago—a day in which the weather was eerily similar.

Last year, the Friday before Labor Day, my son and I were violently attacked by 3 dogs, as we walked home from his school bus. The images, sounds, and pain of that day are not far from my thoughts.

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If I’m honest, not a day goes by when I don’t think of that time—a pang of remembrance, residual fear when I see or hear a dog, a moment of gratitude,  a realization that we are OK and we have been blessed in so many ways. While external and internal scars remain, we’ve come so far in the past year.

Today, I just couldn’t summon the energy for all of the errands and projects I’d intended. Instead, I spent the afternoon baking a challah, the traditional braided bread for Shabbat (the Jewish sabbath). I have only made challah a few times in my life and I had forgotten how time-consuming the process can be.

Making Bread

The recipe requires considerable patience after mixing the ingredients:  letting the dough rise, kneading it, putting it aside to rest and rise, kneading…  again and again, braiding it and then gently turning up the temperature as it bakes. The recipe is a variation on a tradition that has existed for centuries.

This afternoon, it was just what I needed: pounding the dough, stretching it, transforming it, making something nourishing for my family.

As the sweet aroma of the baking challah fills our kitchen, I think about the ways in which healing resembles the bread making process. It takes time, patience, warmth, attention, pounding through hard moments, stretching oneself, resting, working through it, and repeating. The good and the bad of the last year are braided together, inseparable.

We are different than we were one year ago but I hope as we eat this bread tonight, we will focus on the sweetness of being together, with gratitude, and with a renewed commitment to showing kindness and empathy toward others who go though challenging times.

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Mother’s Day Uncensored (or Stepping In It with Style)

FB_IMG_1494796346870Mother’s Day is bouquets of fresh flowers, the pitter-patter of little feet running through the house while Mama half-dozes, giggling outside the bedroom door, handmade cards, a mocha coffee delivered bedside, and a bagel brunch on the back deck with thoughtful gifts and sweet words. It’s lovely and divine.

But this year, I discovered the night before could also dish up its own spot-on, hilarious tribute to motherhood:

We were sitting around the table picking at the last bits of Chinese takeout, when my husband and I heard a small but persistent voice from the bathroom.

“I’m duh-uhn!”

“Just a sec, honey…” I said, as we continued chatting about our plans for the week ahead.

“A little help here?” the voice called out again.

And then, “Mama?

Finally, taking the hint, I joined my 4-year old throne-side.

“Um, I had a little accident, Mama… sorry.”

I looked down and saw his Super Mario briefs lying on the floor—looking remarkably accident-free.

“No problem, Sweetie,” I said, scrunching a handful of toilet paper into my palm so I could help him.

“You know what, Mama? I saved Lego bag number 3 so you could help me tonight since Papa already got to help me… and tomorrow, you can give me a bath because it’s gonna be Mother’s Day and usually Papa does that…  so tomorrow will be special.”

I smiled at his concept of Mother’s Day. As I wiped him, he continued to chirp away, using a tone most women reserve for the nail salon. “And I’m working on a secret art project but I can’t tell you about it,” he said, “because it’s a surprise and…”

I thought back to earlier in the day and my older son’s sad eyes when he heard that Mama wouldn’t be at his baseball game. My husband explained that I was going to take the afternoon off and go shopping, as an early Mother’s Day present. But one look at that face and I changed my plans.

“I’ll join you at the park,” I’d told him.

As it turned out, I never had to leave. En route to the park, his tummy started hurting. With vomit an imminent possibility, my husband quickly drove him home to be under the watchful eye of Mama.

20170514_123542“Mateo!” my husband called from the kitchen, rousing me from my reverie. “Don’t tell Mama everything.”

“I’m not, Papa,” he shouted back.

“I have a special, surprise Lego project,” he flashed his little imp smile. “That’s what I mean,” and continued his beauty shop banter.

“Ok, that’s it,” I said. “Time to flush and wash your hands, mon cheri,” and I stepped away to wash my own.

But as my foot came down, it suddenly slid in the opposite direction.

A delicate stripe of brown “mud” streaked across the floor.

Except. It. Wasn’t. Mud.

I managed to keep it together while reaching for the Lysol wipes.

“Sorry, Mama.”

“It’s OK honey, I’ll just clean that up.”

As I wiped the floor and cleaned out the grooves in the treads of my slipper, I heard the water running in the background.

“Here, Mama! I’ll help you, ” he said, holding a sopping wet hand towel—my favorite—in his little hands.

I couldn’t help laughing as I looked around. And that night as I snuggled on the couch with my boys and we watched the opening scenes of E.T. together, a favorite movie from my own childhood, I thought how lucky I am to have them.

When Mateo climbed out of bed long after he should have already been asleep because he was scared and wanted a hug, I thought how wonderful it is to be needed and loved and entertained by these little boys every day of the year.

This is motherhood. And though it can be exhausting and frustrating, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

 

After trauma, I am grateful for everyday heroes

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A few months ago, something terrible happened.

In early September, my son and I were suddenly and violently attacked by three dogs, about a minute after my 7-year-old Noah stepped off his school bus. With his forehead ripped open, Noah had to undergo emergency plastic surgery. He spent two days at Levine Children’s Hospital, where he began the long road to physical and psychological healing. I was also injured while trying to protect him— my arm and leg punctured by the powerful jaws of the attacking dogs—but my heart is what hurt the most.

Despite the range of feelings we experienced, from fear and anger to sadness and anxiety, this traumatic incident also reminded me of humankind’s profound ability to do good.

So many people—friends, family, and strangers —have reached out to us to help.

There are good people out there, everyday heroes who make a huge difference. Sometimes it’s a professional calling, people who have made rescue and healing part of their daily lives. But just as often it is someone who makes an extra effort to do something kind, generous, and restorative.

Fred Rogers, the beloved children’s TV host, summed up these types of heroes well: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

Thinking back on this challenging autumn, there are an extraordinary number of helpers to whom I want to express my gratitude. They have given me hope for a better world—people of all backgrounds, differing politics, from preschool aged kids to 95 year olds. Their instinct to do good reassures and reminds me that each of us has within us the capacity to help, heal, and improve the world.

We will never forget what people have done for us during this difficult time and I intend to pay it forward for the rest of my life: in daily actions, in choosing to do and help rather than shake my head in frustration; in reaching out when there is a need.

Do not believe anyone who says your actions don’t matter or can’t make a difference. They do. They can change the world—starting with the very first person you reach out to help.

I am grateful for…

  • 14368658_10157321205435417_3831717987397763119_nThe man who appeared on our doorstep, offering his tickets so Noah could see his first Carolina Panthers game
  • The custodial worker who loaned her cell phone charger to my husband in the ER  
  • The Child Life Specialists who eased Noah’s worry before each new step—sewing stitches on the forehead of a stuffed toy alligator to cuddle, showing Noah how to spray Mama and Papa with syringes filled with water, giving him a certificate of bravery when he had to return to the ER for rabies immunizations 14225556_10157268366100417_7244498196059035147_n
  • The bus driver who gave Noah a heartfelt card and gift, sharing her own worry and sorrow over what had happened, and who ensures his safe arrival home with such love each day 
  • The hospital chaplains who held my hand and listened 
  • The dear friends who saw a need and jumped into action organizing meals and funds to help with medical expenses 
  • The firemen who came by a week later to check on Noah and invited him to tour the firehouse when he felt better  
  • Friends, family, and strangers who sent cards, emails, texts, and messages of encouragement 
  • Those who sent Legos, puzzles, magic tricks, books and more to help Noah recover 
  • 14237743_10157282649700417_8798556737170770263_nThe paramedics who showed such calm and reassured Noah at the height of his pain and panic 
  • The Missouri school teacher and her students at the French immersion school who heard about what happened and sent Noah a care package full of well wishes and gifts 
  • Folks who appeared on our doorstep with cookies, gifts for the kids, and soup 
  • Friends and strangers who thoughtfully sent notes and gifts for Noah’s 4-year-old brother Matéo too 14355792_10157302199265417_4270704502750235806_n
  • Our caring pediatrician and her staff who supported us immeasurably and even made a house call
  • Friends who told us how important self-care would be and offered support in multiple ways
  • My sister and brother who dropped everything to come help
  • An elderly woman who saw Noah’s story on the news and sent him a care package filled with superhero mementos
  • A school counselor and school psychologist who went above and beyond, visiting Noah at home and ensuring his positive readjustment to school 
  • Handmade cards from Noah’s schoolmates as well as from other local kids 
  • 14269753_10155171614135410_1676238903_nThe Animal Control Officer who stayed with us at the hospital, long after his shift ended, to ensure our safety and the police officers we never met who scoured the surrounding neighborhoods for the attacking dogs 
  • Friends who sat with us in the hospital and made sure we ate something
  • Neighbors who sprang into action—on the scene and in the days that followed
  • Reporters who showed compassion
  • Friends who helped with childcare in our most challenging hours
  • A principal who called Noah at the hospital
  • Nurses who eased Noah’s worry (as well as our own) and made him comfortable during his hospital stay 
  • 20160912_165043Teachers who came to visit, called Noah, read to him, and checked on our family repeatedly
  • A surgeon whose superior technical skill was matched by his ability to relate and empathize with his patient and parents 
  • Cousins, aunts, uncles, and dear friends who reached out from across the US and around the globe
  • Mental health professionals who have helped us stay afloat and progress
  • Those who lovingly prepared meals and sent gift cards, cleaned our house, or did our laundry 
  • Our parents who ran errands, sent thoughtful gifts, entertained the children, gave hugs from near or far, and provided shoulders for us to lean upon

We are forever grateful for your acts of kindness.

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The view from Stars Hallow

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The baristas are wearing plaid and the place is filled with giddy, over-caffeinated fans looking for Luke, Lorelai, and Rory. They’re also scanning the place for any piece of memorabilia to prove they were here — at one of the 200 “Luke’s Diners” — that have popped up in Charlotte and across the nation today in a creative nod to Gilmore Girls, the beloved TV series from the early 2000s. (The promotional push comes from Netflix who will be airing new reunion episodes later this month.)

Mugs Coffee, my regular neighborhood coffee joint, has been transformed overnight by a sign, the promise of free coffee, and a crowd of nostalgic, bubbly fans. (Poor Luke would be out of his mind trying to stifle all that unbridled enthusiasm…)

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One woman just dug through the trashcan to find a limited edition Gilmore Girls paper coffee cup sleeve as a memento. Others are going table to table to see if they can swipe one from an unsentimental coffee drinker who may not be a fan of the show. It’s hard to find one here.

What fun to imagine just for a few moments that we’ve walked into Stars Hollow, that idyllic little town full of quirky personalities, where parents and kids are hard to tell apart, and life is about as unpredictable as the super-charged non-sequiturs flying back and forth over a cup of coffee.

I’ll drink to that.

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You can catch all 7 seasons of Gilmore Girls on Netflix as well as the 4-episode reunion, which launches on Netflix on Nov. 25.

 

 

Super Bowl Conundrum

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I’ve always been a Super Bowl fan — the food, the commercials, the game (roughly in that order). What’s not to like?

But this year’s different: 1.) I took a killer Super Bowl cooking class at Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen to enhance my game day repertoire and 2.) I’ve actually been paying attention to what’s been happening on the field. (It’s been a heck of a season!) But it gets even better… 3.) This weekend my home team is playing!

Both of them.

Therein lies my dilemma: who should I root for? Carolina—the place I’ve called home for nearly 10 years, where I own a house, gave birth, and am raising two boys with my sports fanatic hubby? Or Colorado—my home on the range, where I spent summer days watching the Broncos training camp, about a mile from my parents’ house.

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Cam Newton — what a player, what a smile!

It has been amazing to witness the Panthers’ historic, virtually undefeated season. Cam Newton’s smile and confidence are contagious. Underestimated week after week, he and his team keep slogging away and spreading their joy (sometimes with a “controversial” dance in the end zone).

 

People are dabbin’ all over town. Flags are waving. Skyscrapers are lit up in Panthers’ blue. And I was even charged with spearheading efforts at work for swagger rights in a friendly bet between Charlotte- and Denver-area arts institutions. Professionally, I’m 100% a Panthers girl.

Personally—it’s more complex. I think about my dad and my brother leaning into the TV, transfixed by the Broncos games all those autumn Sundays, when I was growing up. (They still are…) I think of the crazy Denver fans, like the guy who used to wear a barrel—that’s it—to every game for about 30 years. I think of the stunned look on my friend Staci’s face when rounding a corner, she ran smack into the massive chest of John Elway at a local burger joint. And I think about Broncos barefoot Kicker Rich Karlis, #3, coming to visit my brother when he was a patient at the Denver Children’s Hospital.

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The Barrel Man in his signature hat, barrel, and boots (not pictured).

These things stick with you. Fanhood runs deep. And they still bring tears to my eyes. I can’t deny I will always be a Colorado girl.

But now I’m a Carolina girl, too.

It’s nice to have a definitive view on the world, like my nieces and nephew, who are pulling 100% for Peyton Manning, indoctrinated in the Broncos-way by their Colorado elders.

For my Charlotte family, it’s not so clear cut. My oldest son plans to wear his Panthers’ jersey with an orange shirt underneath. And my youngest switches his allegiance minute by minute.

Luckily, there is a bright side to this whole situation: on Sunday, my team is gonna win.

Parenting: It’s a Dirty Job… so why do we do it?

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“Sounds like you have been knee deep in actual puke lately!!” was the way my friend delicately summed up my last few weeks in a text message. And it’s hardly an exaggeration. This winter, we’ve been bombarded with more than our seasonal share of colds, allergies and stomach bugs.

It got me thinking, as I sprayed down my son’s sheets yet another time in a pre-wash ritual that’s become a little too familiar: How do we do it? How do we parents and caregivers deal with all the puke, all the poop, all the pee-pee?

Before I had kids, these were the things that I dreaded most when I imagined parenthood. How could anyone, I wondered, deal with all of that… YUCK?

Let’s start with the basics. Picture it: six years ago this month, our new baby arrives and the nurse helps us put on a diaper…once. After that, it’s up to us. I’m so desperately afraid I’ll break the baby, that he’ll squirm right off the changing table, that I don’t even know where to begin.

I look back now and wonder when did it start to become natural?

How did I go from freaking out about soiled baby clothes – choosing rapid disposal over the repulsive prospect of washing them – to the mama who can play it cool in even the most challenging of situations? Like the time I sprinted from the breakfast buffet to a casino bathroom with a child whose four-day potty strike had abruptly ended, only to discover a baseball sized wad of caca had already emerged at the bottom of his pant leg.

Nothing prepares you for that!

This is simply life with kids, my friends, and probably why that catch phrase “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” sounds a lot different to me now.

There must be something that transforms us, allowing us to rise to the occasion and face the utterly disgusting. Could it be instinct?

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No different from the cat that meticulously licks her kittens clean or the bird that teaches her young to aim carefully for the large grey Mazda below, we find ourselves trying to sweet talk a 2-year-old into peeing in a cup at the doctor’s office when he still hasn’t made up his mind about this whole potty training business. It’s a tall order but we do our best to make it happen, as doubtful as the outcome may be.

Attempting the impossible: that’s part of the job description whether or not we knew it when we signed up for this parenting gig.

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But then I think about the other moments – those that are much cleaner – and easier to delight in:

– that huge smile from my preschooler when he leaps into my arms for a hug

– the touch of those soft, little palms when one of my boys holds my hand

– the way my kindergartener runs into school with his backpack bopping up and down

– how they stretch on their tip toes to see themselves in the bathroom mirror while brushing their teeth

– their efforts to one-up each other with absurd knock-knock jokes

– their total lack of self-consciousness, one wearing a Spiderman costume to go shopping and the other coming home from school with his shoes on the wrong feet

– their ingenuity when they “skateboard” into the room on a toy cutting board

– the pride I feel when they share willingly or say thank you without a prompt

These things may seem insignificant to others but they are exactly the kind of everyday moments that remind me why I can now handle all the other stuff.* Is it love? Is it maturity? Is it because if we don’t, who will?

I think the truth is that day by day, we grow into our roles as parents. For my kids, I can be brave. I can try to find a solution and I can deal with the poop.

*Insert scatological word of your choice. [Ok,I admit it. I was dying to use the word “scatological” somewhere…]

The Key to the City

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Sometimes the things you look forward to the most don’t turn out exactly as planned…  That was today’s lesson, as we stood shoulder to shoulder with a crowd outside of Charlotte’s Regal Park Terrace cinema, waiting for a fifty year old time capsule to be cracked open.

To my surprise, I felt more like a Charlottean than ever before as sixties music filled the air and people browsed through a display of artifacts from the era — a local phone book from the ’50s, a vintage Battleship game, an air raid protocol poster, old records, a retro TV, a viewmaster, and more.

We all wondered what would be inside this box buried in front of the theater the same year The Beatles came to America, during the height of the Civil Rights movement and as the Vietnam War raged on.

Some people around us reminisced about when the movie theater first opened or spending Saturday mornings there as kids in the ’60s and ’70s. Others remembered an even earlier time when this land had simply been an empty lot, before the Park Road Shopping Center’s arrival in the late ’50s — when it became the first outdoor shopping center of its kind in Charlotte and the largest in the region spanning from DC to Atlanta.

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It didn’t matter that we are not orignally from Charlotte. My husband and I, like so many residents, are transplants from other places far away. Having lived in Charlotte for almost eight years now, we have our local memories too: celebrating a belated St. Patrick’s Day over a pint of Guiness at Sir Ed’s days after the birth of our first son; family dinners at The Flying Biscuit; watching the kids test the goods at Toys & Co.; hearing my young sons squeal “cookie, cookie” as we dash into Harris Teeter for some groceries; listening to community members read Dr. Seuss books at Park Road Books; and of course seeing great independent movies on those too rare date nights at the Regal Park Terrace.

Suddenly, today, I realized that we really have become Charlotteans. Just by going about our everyday lives we’ve set down roots in this place. We are a part of this city and just like everyone around us — the young and the not-so-young —  we hoped that we would discover some missing piece, some clue from our collective past when the time capsule would be opened.

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And what did they find inside the sludgy, muddy interior? Pieces of decayed newspaper, a mysterious reel of film, the binding from a now disintegrated notebook, and a key to the city.

Some people were disappointed. They called the event a “bust.” But I don’t see it that way.

The half hour before the ceremony was magic for me: chatting with the people around us, sharing stories about the past and the present. We hugged our kids, admired the vintage car parked next to us, and mouthed the words to classic songs.

The joy for me was in participating in this scene — experiencing a strong sense of community, even though we were mostly surrounded by strangers. The anticipation before the opening and the chance to revisit the past collectively were a unique gift. I realize now that it really didn’t matter what was in the box.

Ultimately, it’s a shared vision — imagining possibilities and commemorating our past — that binds us together. It gives us a sense of belonging. It’s the true key to the city.