Tuesday, January 26, 2010


I was a single mom last week. Brian was in Memphis for the International Blues Competition. The mornings were the hardest - I got up at 5 both days but still barely made it to work by 8:30. Getting us both ready - with lunches packed - was nothing less than a miracle. In two days the house was an utter disaster. Work was - is - unusually stressful. By Friday night I was just exhausted, and found myself so thankful that my friend Linnea, mother of Dora's boyfriend Asher from school, offered to meet Dora and I for pizza. She'd had a day about like mine - a ruined dinner and a husband out of town all week. It was chaotic and loud with three kids, but very, very fun, and a well-timed reminder that life is messy and difficult but good.

Saturday was "girl's day". We got up early and went to yard sales, stopped by the bakery for a treat, and ran other errands. In the afternoon I cleaned the house - even the hard to reach spot behind the toilet - which felt very satisfying for some reason. We went grocery shopping. We made dinner together. We watched a movie. It was a very nice girl's day. Brian got home as we were reading stories before bed and Dora ran to him calling "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy".

On Sunday, Dora and I went to church and then baked cookies, since we'd gotten the grocery shopping done on Saturday. It was a rainy, cold day. After Dora's nap, we took her bowling, which was very cute and funny. After just one game (with the two worst bowling scores either of us have ever had), the serious league bowlers came in and we left, back out into the pouring rain. We took Dora to Dancing Bear Toys, mostly just to pass some time before dinner. After much contemplation she settled on a little tiny giraffe. She's very into zoo animals lately.

We braved the rain for dinner at Doc Chey's, the first time we've taken Dora there since she's started doing well in restaurants (especially ones that serve edamame). The giraffe sat with us and ate some edamame, too. Dora is in the midst of potty training - and doing really well with it, I might add - so when she asks to go potty we take it seriously. Brian took her to the men's room to try. I sat at the table alone, looking out into the street at the rain, at the lights of the Fine Arts Theater shining against the wet pavement on Biltmore Avenue. My family was together and all felt right with the world. I thought, "we are going to be ok". Sometimes, with our crazy schedules and all the stress we're both under, it doesn't feel like we're going to be ok. But there are moments - when the rain is falling but we're warm and dry - that it does feel like we're going to be ok.

Life goes on, though. Yesterday I learned of yet another thoughtful, kind, lovely person who is facing a cancer diagnosis. The disease certainly likes to pick on our best and brightest, doesn't it? This morning, the furnace broke. January is a slim month for musicians - not a good time to get hit with a $300 unexpected repair. Tomorrow, I leave for Raleigh - on the road again, as our friend Willie Nelson would say. Once again, my family will not be together.

About a year and a half ago, when I was dealing with intense post-partum anxiety, worrying about everything - worrying even about worrying - my friend Susie gave me a quote she had written down. It was about optimism - about how we, as parents, have a responsibility to be optimistic for our children. They need us as that positive force in their lives.

I'm not necessarily a natural optimist - nor is my lovely, sweet husband - but it is true that children bring out optimism in us. Who else can bring us out of the house on a rainy cold day to go bowling? Who else would get two adults to pretend to feed edamame and rice to a plastic giraffe? Who else can run through the house with arms outstretched, with a welcome home like no other? You do things for your children you wouldn't - even couldn't - do for anyone else. For her - for us - I'll believe that all is right with the world. I'll remember that life is messy and difficult but also very good. For her, I'll believe that we are going to be ok.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Last night I came home from work, snuggled with Dora, and got her set up with a snack and a Muppet show episode so I could make dinner. I made pasta with roasted vegetables and spinach, from my latest Food magazine. It took about a half an hour to make - about the length of one Muppet show episode - and we sat down to a nice meal together. As I cleared our dinner dishes and prepared to get Dora to bed, I surveyed my kitchen - dirty pots and dishes, a cutting board covered in shallot skins and thyme sprigs, a baking pan covered in the remnants of roasted cherry tomatoes. I could've had a similar meal in a fraction of the time, with almost no clean-up, if I'd just opened a jar of tomato sauce. I wonder sometimes if it is worth it, doing all this work in the kitchen, and most of the time I think it is.

Recently I had dinner with a group of mom friends - all women I met in my post-partum group - and we were all laughing about how much our standards have relaxed since our babies were tiny. I know we all set out to give them 100% organic wonderfulness all the time, but in reality it is very, very difficult to do that. We've done our best - we all do our best - but Dora has definitely eaten some foods I swore she would never have, watched more TV than I ever wanted her to, persuaded me into buying some piece of trash at Target just to get her to behave. Before I had a child, I would watch with disdain the moms in the grocery store who let their kids ride in the grocery cart with their little paws in a torn open box of Cheerios. Now, I'm the one in the grocery store not only allowing my child to open the box of Cheerios, I'm encouraging her to do so. If I can keep her busy for 10 minutes, I can get down a few aisles without my attention being completely divided. Now, I'm the one in the grocery store yelling my kid's name when she darts out of sight. I'm the one standing by the peanut butter, waiting for my kid to stop throwing a tantrum about chocolate chip bunnies.

Although my rules have relaxed a lot for Dora, we do still try to make sure that most of what she eats is organic, that most of her meals are homemade, that the foods she eats are minimally processed. And though the scene described above might make it hard to believe, when Dora was born, I was very focused on giving Dora as much purity as possible. I remember, the night she was born, the nurse asked if I wanted Dora to have a bath. I knew she needed a bath, but I didn't really want her to have one. Her pure, innocent, unadulterated little body had been exposed to nothing unnatural. I conceded to the bath - with Burt's Bees natural baby soap, of course - but that was just the beginning. Unbleached, recycled diapers, natural baby wipes, organic sheets, glass baby bottles (never used, since Dora refused to take one). Later, I made all of her baby food. Many of my other mom friends here in Asheville did the same, so we did a lot of comparing notes on what worked and what didn't. A few of us even had a baby food swap, trading bags of colorful little frozen cubes.

We made our own food for a few reasons - to control the ingredients, to be sure the foods were fresh and organic, and to save money. It really is so much less expensive to make your own baby food, and it was also, usually, very easy. Dora ate foods that we made from the age of 6 months until she was old enough to begin eating whatever we were having for our meals. Dora's diet now is nowhere near perfect, but I remain hopeful that the good introduction she had to eating will help her get through the picky stage quickly and easily. Hopefully I'm not here in several years eating my words!

Homemade Baby Food

Here are some basic guidelines for making your own baby food. This is what worked for me and my family - and everyone is different, of course. Consult with your pediatrician, read your baby book or visit this useful website for guidelines on introducing new foods to baby.


Vegetable peeler
Steamer basket
Large saucepan with tight fitting lid
Immersion blender - my personal favorite for baby food prep, but you can also use a food processor or regular blender
Fine mesh sieve
Plastic ice cube trays
Large and small canning jars and lids

Basic Guidelines:

For fresh, hard fruits and vegetables with skins, such as pears, apples, mango, plums, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, beets, turnips, carrots, regular potatoes, squash, zucchini:

Scrub and peel fruits/vegetables, seed if necessary, and cut into uniform 1-inch cubes. Bring an inch of water to boil in the saucepan, add steamer basket filled with cubes, and cover with lid. Watch water level carefully and add more as needed. Steam for 5 - 15 minutes, until fork tender. Reserve remaining cooking water. Let fruit/vegetable cool slightly, then puree with an immersion blender, adding cooking water to reach desired consistency. For a very smooth puree, pass through a fine mesh sieve.

You can follow the same method for other fruits and vegetables that do not need peeling, such as peas (frozen work well), corn, broccoli, green beans, spinach, other leafy greens.

Legumes mixed with cooked grains are a good, substantial baby food for older babies. Lentils cook up quickly in gently boiling water. Canned beans (rinsed well) can be pureed with a bit of fresh water. Add brown rice, millet, barley, etc. You can also mix in mashed silken tofu for some extra protein for older babies.

Bananas and avocado are the two easiest baby foods in the world. Just peel and mash with a fork - add some water and pass through a fine mesh sieve if for a very young baby who needs a smooth consistency.

All of these, except for bananas, freeze very well in ice cube trays. One frozen cube is about an ounce of baby food, the same amount as the smallest baby food jars. When I was making baby food, I'd freeze the cubes overnight, then pop them into a large canning jar for storage in our freezer. Then, we used the smallest available canning jars to send frozen cubes with Dora to daycare. I felt safer using the little glass jars, knowing the food was not being stored or reheated in plastic, and they can be used over and over again.
I would usually make baby food on Sunday afternoon and would make enough to last us a week. I remember being surprised by how many servings of baby food I'd get out of one large sweet potato or a bag of frozen peas.

Dora's favorite food was always sweet potatoes, and we had a major abundance of them from our CSA share from Flying Cloud Farm. Participating in the CSA was one of the main reasons that making our own baby food was so easy. If your town has a Community Supported Agriculture program, its a great way to support your local farmers while ensuring that your family is eating the freshest, healthiest food available.

If you're the parent of a newborn, or are about to become a parent, rest assured that, no matter what you think now, you will one day be standing in the grocery store waiting out the chocolate bunny demanding temper tantrum, too. In the meantime, have fun making food for your baby and tell them I said Bon Appetit!

Special thanks to Brandy for suggesting I write about this topic!

Monday, January 18, 2010

a walk in the woods

We went for a long walk in the woods today with the dogs. It has been so cold for a long time - much colder than it ever is here - and being outside today in the warmth of the sun, with the earth thawing beneath our feet, felt like a small miracle. It is always so refreshing to feel a warm day again after so much cold, such a relief to discover that the sun will, in fact, shine again. It's surprising, but also familiar, like some slumbering part of you stirring again.

We hiked at Bent Creek, following muddy single-track mountain bike trails over roots and rocks, with the snow-melt swollen creek rushing by us. Out at Bent Creek, we have been so many different kinds of people. We've been the young, nearly newlywed couple, tossing our bikes in the back of the truck, bouncing over dusty gravel roads to our favorite trail-head, smiling and laughing as the sun beamed through the green leaves framing our path. We've been the expectant parents, hiking around the lake, pausing for a photo of me and my belly in a field with the mountains rising up all around us. We've been parents of a newborn, venturing on our first post-baby hike, a sweet sleeping Dora tucked safely into the front-pack. We've been the overly optimistic parents of a one-year-old, trying with varied levels of success to ride around the lake with a baby trailer attached to one of our bikes, taking turns pulling the trailer, arguing about the best strategy for getting over the big roots or through the narrow spots.
Today, we were the parents of an almost two-and-a-half year old, a walking, talking, independent, strong-willed little individual. Dora took her own hike today, walking "Furphy" and keeping her own pace, calling for the dogs to catch up with us just like we do. There was still snow on the north side of the slopes, still ice in some heavily shaded spots, but the sun was warm and, by the end of the hike, we were all unzipping our coats. Walking back up the hill towards our car, Dora said, "I'm done", so I carried her the rest of the way. Back home, with muddy jeans and shoes removed, she climbed into bed and fell instantly asleep, worn out from the exercise and fresh air and blue sky.

While she slept, Brian and I talked about her birth. I'm not even sure how we got on the subject, but for the past few days we've been talking about it. I said something about how amazing it is that it goes so quickly, that even though everyone warns you about it, you have no idea that in the blink of an eye, your child will be two. I'm sure it will only be a few more blinks till she's grown completely.

We didn't know if Dora was a boy or a girl before she was born. Both of us were hoping for a girl, though we certainly would have loved a boy just as much. I was looking to rekindle that mother-daughter connection I have been missing, and Brian has always had close friendships with women, and wanted to have that special father-daughter relationship. At the moment that Dora was delivered, the doctor held her up to Brian and said, "what do we have here, Dad?" I held my head up to try to see but I couldn't focus on anything, even though I'd had a natural delivery and actually had my contacts in. It seemed like an eternity waiting for the answer to a question we'd been asking for 9 months. "I don't know" he said. Later, Brian told me he thought it was a girl - knew it was, even - but was just afraid of announcing the wrong thing to a room full of people. Dr. Hunt laughed. "It's a girl" she said, and everyone cheered - or at least, I think they did.

Things happened quickly in the moments following Dora's arrival, and much of it is a blur, but right away the nurses put little, naked Dora against my bare chest, letting her rest right against me as they dried her off. All three of us were crying, Brian leaning over me, holding my hand, both of us staring at our new baby in disbelief and love. I remember feeling my heart swell with love and joy that we had a baby girl - that I had delivered to Brian the daughter he was hoping for. I knew right away that her name would be Isadora - which was Brian's idea - although we had a list of about 12 names that we pondered for 24 hours at the hospital.

Our lovely Doula Jo took pictures of the birth. I had no idea she was doing it. But a few weeks later receiving the photographs was another joyful gift, one I continue to cherish. That moment was, by far, the most incredible moment of my life. Amazingly, though, it is difficult to really remember everything about it. I remember the parts that I wrote in my original birth story, and the parts I have told again in childbirth classes and to friends and family. I remember what I can see in the photographs. I remember the moment, hours after Dora's birth, settled in our room, when I looked at Dora's sweet sleeping face and thought, "wow, I think I really, really like her!" What I wish I could remember that I cannot now is the sound. I wish I could hear what we said, I wish I could hear Brian say he didn't know the gender of the baby, I wish I could hear her very first cries.

We've already decided that, if we are blessed to have another baby, we definitely want to have a video camera with us. We're not out to make a graphic documentary, just to capture the sound of those incredible first moments to that the memories don't fade quite so much. The overwhelming intensity that comes with welcoming a child into your lives is difficult to grasp. The moment is filled with so much emotion and love and fear and awe - it is a lifetime of feeling compressed into one day, one hour, one minute. It feels almost impossible for the brain to process what has happened, so much so that even two and a half years later we are still puzzling over just what did occur. Both of us have said that, knowing Dora as we do now, we wish we could go back to see her again on that first day.

I hope that the second time around, we can have a greater understanding of what we're experiencing at that moment. That's why I want every available technology there to help us record the day. I hope we will be blessed with that experience again, and have the chance to share it with our sweet Dora, who opened our eyes to this possibility in the first place. I imagine it will be like that first warm day after winter: a small miracle, a familiar surprise, an awakening that will stir us and change us and bring us great joy.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

hold them up to the light

I have been counting my blessings today, and thinking about the world, and wondering how we are all going to be ok. I have a little girl with her first ear infection, her eardrum ruptured by pressure, who is already on the mend because I can get her the medical care she needs, she has a warm safe place to sleep, she has food and water and clothing. My heart today goes out to the people of Haiti, especially to the mothers, whose own hearts are breaking under the weight of crumbled buildings and lost loved ones and despair.

I have spent a lot of time today thinking about, reading about, hearing about, and looking at pictures of the people of Haiti. I have this belief that, when I am fortunate enough to not be directly affected by a disaster, I have a responsibility to think about those who are, to empathize with them, to pray for them, to imagine what it is like for them. I did this with 9/11, too - watching newscasts, looking at photographs, obsessively following NPR's endless coverage. Perhaps I do this to the detriment of my own mental health, but I see it as a small penance for being lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

I suppose this habit is some form of survivor's guilt - that feeling you get when you wonder why it is that you are spared, why you are lucky enough to be born in a place where our buildings are, usually, built to standards that withstand natural disasters. It's the kind of the guilt that rises up inside as you sit at your desk, eating your afternoon apple, drinking your fresh glass of water, knowing that all of your needs will always be accounted for, your children safe. As my husband and daughter danced in the dining room while I made dinner, I thought of how fortunate I am to have this warmth in my home and my life. It is times like these that make me wonder why I am safe while others are in such turmoil. As we sat down together to eat, we prayed for those in harm's way, those impacted by the earthquake directly and those going to their aid.

Bono - one of my personal heroes - once said that his children will never have to worry about anything. They won't have to worry about where to go to school or who pays their medical bills. The result of that is that he has a responsibility to try to make sure that other people's children have what they need as well. What a refreshing statement from an incredible pop culture icon, one whose ranks are usually more concerned with fashion and drugs and celebrity. But I think he's right - and even those of us who don't have the fame and fortune of one of the world's most incredible rock bands have the responsibility to try to make the world better for other people's children. It's a small contribution, but I am proud to say I am part of the Red Cross effort that has now raised over $5 Million for relief for our brothers and sisters in Haiti. If all of us give just ten dollars, the impact is incredible.

Today at work, overwhelmed by the thought of so much suffering in the world, I found myself staring at a photo of my daughter at about 6 months, crawling around her daycare class in a white long sleeved onesie, her features still concentrated in the center of her face like a kitten, her blond hair thin and straight and wispy. I spent that moment cherishing the fact that she is whole and well and only a few miles away, watched over and cared for and safe and dry.

As I sat at the red light on Patton Avenue this evening, waiting to turn left and pick Dora up from school, NPR reporter Jason Bobian was being interviewed from Port-au-Prince. He began to cry as he tried to describe the scene around him, including an injured little girl lying in the street waiting for help. I began to cry, too, overwhelmed at the thought of the pain and suffering of others, unable to imagine how I could survive if my own little girl was ever in such a situation, or worse.

All we can do from this distance is send our prayers, our positive energy, our resources - whatever we can spare - to those families in Haiti in such desperate need. All we can do is hold our own children closer, thank God for their safety and health, pause over our bounty and pray that the relief reaches those who need it most. All we can do is find a way to help, and believe that the power of our collective, unified humanity is stronger than any force, any disaster. I hope our brothers and sisters in Haiti feel that power, feel us standing beside them and praying for them. I hope that, somehow, they know that our hearts are with them, that our prayers are being sent up to God for them, that, together, we hold them up to the light.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Today I was in a meeting with a beautiful pregnant woman - tall, very pregnant, very happy, full of hope and love and life. When I was pregnant, a friend of mine told me that there is something very special about an expectant mother. He was definitely right. There you stand on the cusp of such a life-changing event, focusing inward even as everyone around you focuses on the outward signs of your experience. Standing on the other side of the river, it's easy to look back and remember those waning days of my pregnancy with fondness. Being pregnant is no easy thing, and neither is being a mother. Once you're on the other side, the innocent joy of pregnancy becomes a distant memory - a time you sometimes wish you could return to.

My very good friend and fellow hip Mama, Kim, has just started a blog called The Fickle Perennial. Her latest post is a wonderful essay about the transformative power of motherhood, in all its bittersweet glory. Her words got me thinking about my own journey, about how much I've changed from those final days of my pregnancy to now. I found myself happy, overall, with where I am as a mother. I'm imperfect, in every way - I work too much, I have too many irons in the fire all the time, the house is a mess, I raise my voice when I shouldn't, I let Dora watch TV. But one thing I do well is love - I really do - and that's something I've honed over the past two years. I know that Dora will always know she is loved, so very much, by both her father and I, even when we're angry with her for being up past her bedtime - again.

During today's meeting, I got a phone call, and although I didn't recognize the number I had this sense that I should step out of the meeting to retrieve my voice mail, something I rarely do. It was daycare, calling to let us know that Dora had a fever and needed to go home. This is the first time they've ever called us, and although all was very calm, I felt a real need to get home, to get to my sweet girl and give her my love and comfort.

I had to stay and finish the meeting, while Brian picked Dora up. I left work as soon as my part of the meeting was over, driving home feeling actually quite happy, in spite of Dora being sick, cheered by the thought of having a chance, for once, to focus all of my energy on her. I work so much, have all these little side projects - there never seems to be time when I can just be there for Dora and not worry about anything else. She seemed really quite fine when I got home though - playing while Brian got ready to teach, building block towers and wearing her new tu-tu over her jeans. We had some cuddle time and she got right back to business.

In my musings on the motherhood journey today I was reminded that one of the greatest lessons of becoming a parent is learning that nothing is under our control. We can pull out the calendar and decide when and how we want things to happen, but rarely does it go that way. Learning the patience to accept our limited control over life, learning to trust that it will be alright even when things don't appear that way - that is what becoming a mother has begun to teach me. We aren't really in control of anything - this morning I had a meeting to attend and this afternoon I instead had a meeting to get out of so I could get home to a sick baby. I had to rush home to be the saving grace for said sick baby who, it turns out, was happily playing without me.

It's hard not to want to be in control when that which we find most precious is at stake - but all we can do is make the best choices we can, do the best we can, be imperfect, and hope for the best. In that way, pregnancy and parenting aren't all that different. I can stand on one side of the river as the mother of a two-year-old and look at myself during pregnancy and see that perhaps we have more in common than not. We're both full of love, both full of hope, both not in control and wishing we were. We're imperfect and human and doing our best. What more is there, really?

Monday, January 11, 2010

cast iron cookware

I am a huge fan of cast iron cookware. I love the fact that it is so resilient. You can bring a rusted cast iron pan back from the brink of death with one afternoon of work. I love their chemical free non-stick properties. And the fact that cast iron pans can last a lifetime means their environmental impact is even lower.

My brother got me a Number 8 Griswold cast iron frying pan a few years ago and that pan is the workhorse of my kitchen. I use it pretty much every time I cook. I also have a smaller Lodge pan, which is not as nice as the Griswold but still good. About 8 or 10 years ago, I bought a large cast iron Dutch oven and lid at an antique store while visiting my brother in Gettysburg, PA. It was heavy, rusty, and I could easily imagine it hanging from a branch over a fire on one of those Civil War battlefields, back when the battles were actually going on and not just being reenacted by a bunch of guys with too much time on their hands. I bought it with the intention of scrubbing it up, reseasoning it, and putting it back into service, but over the years it ended up serving as my repository for a bag of votive candles, stuck in my bricked-in fireplace.

Last weekend, I decided to finally give this old pan a try, so I spent an afternoon scrubbing it, washing away decades of grime, rust, and neglect. I slathered the entire thing in shortening and baked it at 250 for 2 hours. The lid is covered in a thick layer of rust, but the lid to my stainless steel soup pot fits it perfectly, so that's what I'm using for now. The Dutch oven is as good as new, and performed wonderfully in its first test-drive this weekend.

Much to my chagrin, I've been craving beef stew lately. I haven't made beef stew in at least 8 or 9 years, and of course went through a long period where I ate no meat at all. I guess I've been craving beef stew because I've seen "Julie and Julia" recently, and the Boeuf Bourguignon looked really delicious. It's probably also the weather, and the fact that at this time of year I get really sentimental for my mom's cooking. She always made beef stew in her cast iron Dutch oven, starting it on the stove top and finishing it in the oven, filling up the house with a wonderfully homey aroma. So, sorry world - I ate red meat this week (all natural, hormone free and humanely raised, of course).

Though I do want to try to make Julia's
Boeuf Bourguignon someday, I opted for a simpler looking Martha Stewart Food recipe that I adapted to my mother's beef stew method, beginning on the stove top and finishing in the oven. Bon Appetit!

Beef Stew in a cast iron Dutch oven, preferably Civil War era

1.5 pounds stew meat
3 Tablespoons flour
salt and pepper
vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 small can tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
1 14.5 ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 dried bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 in pieces
1/2 pound carrots, peeled and cut into chunks

Preheat oven to 350. Toss beef with flour, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Heat oil in cast iron Dutch oven over medium-high heat until hot. Sear beef until browned on all sides, remove from pot, and set aside. Add more oil if needed, then add onion, celery, and garlic to pot, and saute over medium high heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook for one minute more. Add wine and cook, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot, until reduced by half. Return beef to pot and add tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil on the stove top, then partially cover and put in the oven. Lower heat to 325 and bake for about 2 hours. Check now and then to see that the stew is simmering, not boiling too hard, and stir occasionally. Remove beef from pot, and strain remaining contents of pot into another bowl, discarding solids. Returned strained liquid to pot, along with beef, carrots, and potatoes. Add a bit more water if needed to cover vegetables, bring to a boil on the stove top again, then return to oven and back for another 1 and a half hours, or until potatoes, carrots, and beef are fork tender.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

in my heart

The snow is falling again outside. Other than the humming of the furnace, my house is quiet. Brian is working, Dora is finally in bed, the pets are settling in for the night. I should be heading to bed as well, but I really must write tonight, must mark this day. You see, it's January 7th, and my mother died 5 years ago today.

As I sat in Dora's room tonight, trying to put her to bed, I thought about writing this entry and what I wanted to say. There is so much to say, I don't even know where to start. I realize that trying to bring all that I feel and think about this into one place and express it in words is next to impossible. I have the same feelings about trying to write about all that Dora's birth means to me, which makes sense, given that these two great passages are so spiritual, transformative, other-worldly.

I miss my mom, and I always will. When she died I remember wondering how I could possibly survive without talking to her every day. Amazingly, I have survived, but the loss of that friendship with my mom, of that confidant that she always was for me - that has left a hole in my life that can never be filled. I wish, so much that it hurts, that she could be here to enjoy my sweet girl. I wish I could ask her what to do - how to be a good mom and a good wife, how to balance what you love with what you have to do, how to hang on to humor through all of life's ups and downs like she did.

Although I have cried about my mom today, several times, and although it will always be a sad day for me, I also enjoy it on some level. I enjoy having a day that can be focused on her memory, in which I can acknowledge the heartache that today represents while also remembering the happiness that my mom's life brought to me and to others. I like that this can be a day when my family reflects on who my mom was and what she meant to all of us. That is not to say that I'm not thinking of her on other days, because I am, but it's just that today will always be about her, for me, and that makes it feel like the distance between my mom and I might not be quite so infinite.

On the first anniversary of my mother's death, we had moved to Asheville. It was our first winter here, we were living in our little rental house on Martin Avenue. We had fewer pets, simpler jobs. Dora was only a glimmer in our eyes. That first year, January 7th fell on a weekend. It was a milder winter here, and Brian and I drove out to Lake Lure to look around. I took my camera. We parked by the lake and got out of the car. Along the edge of the lake was a line of young trees, bare branches against the January sky. I looked closer and saw they were cherry trees, and our mild winter had brought forth early pink buds - a reminder of the warmth of spring, a burst of color against an otherwise gray landscape. I will always remember that moment, how it felt like something special and important had happened.

January 7th is like that little pink cherry bud for me - a little burst of color in the grayness, a little reminder of something warm, a little solitary space where my mother's memory can be my focus, my strength, my promise of transformation and life. I will hold that moment in my heart forever, right where it belongs, with my mom.

Carol Mae Brady Runser
June 19, 1936 - January 7, 2005
May light perpetual shine upon her.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Dora and I went to the Epiphany service at our church tonight. We got there a few minutes late, sat in the back row, and Dora colored while I sang the last few Christmas hymns of the season and heard the children of All Soul's tell the story of the Adoration of the Magi. Then we all bundled up and headed outside to gather around the Christmas tree for the burning of the greens. It smoldered and sputtered, finally igniting dramatically, flames shooting up through the branches, sending sparks raining down around us. As we walked away Dora said, "I liked that!"

There was a reception afterwards, with lovely food and the most beautiful vase of white Calla Lilies. I chatted with the other parents about unruly toddlers at bedtime. Dora ran back and forth between our seat and the buffet, grabbing pieces of fruit and cheese. It is so nice to be in a place where you can let your child run free and know they are safe even if the aren't right next to you, to know that all the other parents standing around are keeping an eye on all the children. I met an older woman I've not spoken with before, who said Dora reminded her of her granddaughter.

I have always loved going to Epiphany services, holding out on taking down my tree until the Christmas season officially ends. I love the chance to savor this magical time once more, to stand around in the cold watching the tree burst into flames - or smolder, as it did tonight before it finally ignited. I tried to find the origins of the burning of the greens after coming home tonight, but I couldn't find anything informative. One site said it represents the changing of the seasons. I'd like to know where and how this tradition started - I suppose my brother can tell me. Tonight, as the priest struggled for a few moments to get the tree to ignite, I thought that, whatever its origins, this tradition opens up the possibility of the most ancient kind of technical difficulty - a fire that won't start. It did start, though, sending glowing orange embers up into the frigid North Carolina sky.

The woman I met, the one who said Dora reminded her of her granddaughter, offered to babysit. I don't think she was kidding. She said she could be like a surrogate grandmother to Dora. She said, "you probably have family in the area anyway." I told her we did not, that we'd moved here from Ohio. She told me again that she was serious, that her husband works in the evenings and she's retired, that she'd do a good job. It was sweet of her to offer, and I just might take her up on it someday. Dora gave her a huge hug goodbye.

As we drove home, taking the detour around bridge construction on Biltmore Avenue, I had an epiphany of my own. While its true that we don't have family here, in the biological sense, in the four years since we've moved here we have created a family of sorts for ourselves - our loving and wonderful friends, our neighbors, our church family. Its easy for me to let life get in the way of going to the extra things at our church - I'm doing well if I make it there on Sunday consistently. But tonight I was reminded of another reason why its so important to me to be there. Beyond being a safe place where Dora can run free, its a place where she can be around other kids, adults, older folks, people of all ages who are friendly and open and united around something we all believe in. I love that we have a place like this for her - where she can sing in the choir in a few years, wearing a little white cassock and black robe, a cross on a ribbon around her neck. I love that we have a place where a grandmother offers to babysit and I feel the genuineness and love of her offer. I love that I can have my own epiphany - that I can remember that we do have a family here, that we are surrounded by a supportive community, whose love warms and protects us like a fire sending embers up into the night.

Monday, January 4, 2010

fact or coincidence?

There is something magical about the sky when the temperatures are really frigid. I don't know if this is an actual meteorological fact or just a coincidence, or if you're just more cognizant of the beautiful light overhead when everything else is so stark and icy and dark. But over the past few days we, like most of the rest of the central and eastern US, have had some pretty amazingly cold days and nights. And over these past several days I have seen some utterly beautiful skies.

On Saturday we were driving down to Etowah to see Orange Krush play a little concert at Brian's church. We were running late and it was freezing out, and I knew the place we were going was too dark for much in the way of photographs, so I left my camera at home. On I-26 near the airport, with the cold blue French Broad River ambling along beside us, I saw a huge flock of tiny little black birds swooping and flying around. There must have been 1,000 birds, all moving together in big swaths of black lines against the brilliant orange sky. I leaned forward in my seat to watch as we drove under them, wishing I had brought my camera.

Later, on the way home, a huge full moon hung low in the sky. Dora kept exclaiming, "moon mommy!". We passed the last few houses with Christmas lights on. It made me a little sad to think of how, next year, when Dora chatters to us about the Christmas lights, she probably will no longer have her unique little pronunciation of "lights", with extra emphasis on the "l". As we drove past stands of bare trees surrounded by glittery snow, the moon slipped in between the branches, casting long shadows and illuminating the icy ground. I thought about how each stage of Dora's growth is so fleeting - like little glimpses of the moon between the trees. Maybe this is why I always wish for my camera when I leave it behind - to help me grab and hold onto what I know will pass us by so quickly.

Sunday morning, Dora stayed in the nursery while I went to church. I went to get her at communion, braving the chilly breeze to cross the churchyard to where she was playing. She was coloring quietly with one of the nursery attendants, not really ready to leave with me. I told her she could bring her coloring page with her, and she reluctantly agreed. As we ran back towards the church, bundled in coats and loaded down with the blanket, diaper bag, and Kermit, a gust of wind snatched the coloring page from Dora's grasp. It spun and swirled, higher and higher, up above the church's high steeple. It floated above us, dancing crazily in the wind, teasing us by floating down, then shooting up in the air again. It looped and turned, then nearly stood still in midair, caught in some cross current powerful enough to stop time. Finally it crashed to the ground about 5 feet away, and we dashed over to grab it. After musing about how beautiful the sheet of paper had looked dancing against the blazing blue sky, I found myself wondering for a moment if Dora's coloring sheet had blown high up in the air because my mom, the artist, was looking down on us and wanted a closer look at her granddaughter's work.

There was a time shortly following my mother's death, nearly 5 years ago, when I tried to comfort myself by finding odd meteorological coincidences and believing that she played some part in them. Everyone likes to say how a lost loved one is with you, or watching over you, but in my experience I haven't really felt that very often. Instead, I found it comforting that the sun had chosen to break through those bleak, Ohio winter days five years ago at the most interesting times: moments after my mother died surrounded by her family, days later as we sat in Pastor Lynn's office discussing the funeral, a week later as we arrived at the cemetery at McDougal Methodist church for the graveside service.

I find my mother's presence in unexpected places - in myself, in Dora, even in the weather. Perhaps all those years studying the barometer in the hallway have landed my mother some eternal presence in the atmospheric conditions. Perhaps its just a coincidence. Or perhaps its that we try to find those we have loved and lost in what we find most beautiful - in those who remain with us, in the laughter of our children, in the flock of tiny birds framed against an orange winter sky. Either way, it is certainly worth noting, and worth taking my camera along, no matter what.

Friday, January 1, 2010


I just watched the movie Julie and Julia with my good friend Mandy. She and David and Isaac came over to share New Year's dinner with Dora and I - Brian is working - and she stayed late to watch with me. What a wonderful movie - for so many reasons. It left me feeling inspired - and a bit jealous, too.

Just before I started my blog, I found my mother's extremely dog-eared copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It caught my eye on a bookshelf at my dad's house, although the movie had not yet been released and the recent upsurge in interest in Julia Child hadn't yet happened. I love cookbooks, and was on a quest for some of the recipes I remember my mom making during my childhood, so it jumped out at me. I brought it home in fascination, although many of the recipes have intimidated me too much to try them thus far.

Shortly after inheriting my mom's copy of Julia's cookbook, I saw a commercial for Julie and Julia. I had literally just started my blog, and seeing the preview sort of made me feel like giving up, even though I absolutely love Meryl Streep. She is one of my favorite actresses, ever, period, and I'm not just saying that because I spent two hours with her tonight. Seeing the preview I thought, "what's the point? This has already been done, better, by someone else."
The movie is very charming. Julia is lovely. She and her husband Paul are sweet, in love, funny, endearing. These are people you want to have over for dinner. You want to be invited to their house for a Valentine's Day party, wearing a big red construction paper heart on your lapel. Julie's story is charming, too. The similarities to my own life, though few, are striking - at least to me. She's working in a government job, trying to feel good about her work and not always feeling convinced that she's doing something productive. She's a bureaucrat who comes home and pours her heart into her kitchen, into making spectacular food and serving it on - yes - Fiestaware. She's a regular person, trying to figure out who she is, failing and flailing and eventually arriving at some new unimagined place where she's what she always wanted to be. Just like Julia. I guess that's the point.

Lately this blog has been a challenge - my words have felt stifled, my vignettes haven't been cute little circular threads that tie up in a bow, the comments from my readers have dwindled. I know you're out there - and I appreciate you so very much - but I miss hearing from you, too. We are all so busy - I know. This blog has been a casualty of busy-ness as well. I've even cringed at the very thought of my blog lately, of how it's not quite what I want it to be these past few weeks.

The other day I downloaded photos from my camera. I hadn't done it in a while for some reason. I added 537 new photos to iPhoto, and my best estimate is that about half of them were of food. It's like all of December's food-related experiences were chronicled in those 200 or so frames. Maybe lately, this blog hasn't been exactly perfect. Maybe I've been flailing around a bit as a writer - and a person. I may not have a book deal, or 50 comments on one post, or 64 messages from editors on my answering machine, or a movie about me in which I am charming and flawed and cute in a pixie-ish kind of way. I may not have these things, but I have 200 images of beautiful food made with love, shared with joy and celebration with the people I love. That is something to be proud of, that is something to remember, that is something that means something to someone, somewhere - I just know it. It means something to me, at least.

It's 2010 now, the year of...who knows what. Possibility, I guess. I have never been a huge fan of New Year's, but tonight my friend Mandy said she loves it, she loves the start of a new year, and I have to admit there is some small part of me that agrees with her. Starting fresh, I guess. Beginning again. There are new and exciting things on the horizon - meals to be made, dreams to summon to reality, blogs to write. I promise to share it all here - and promise myself that it will mean something, a lot actually, no matter how many editors are calling, no matter how many comments I get. Perhaps, in 2010, I, too, will arrive at some new, unimagined place, where I've always wanted to be. It's going to mean something to me, and to Brian and Dora, and to all of you, I hope, and its going to be delicious.

Bon Appetit!