Monthly Archives: May 2013

Balancing Act

At this time of year my garden goes bonkers. It takes on a life of its own.IMG_4935

Just enough warmth and rain has tripped the switch on new growth, and before my eyes the landscape is transformed into an acid-hued world, dripping with fecundity (love that word). When I step out the door on a mild and misty morning it feels as though, overnight, this green beast has slithered closer to the house, threatening to wraps its tentacles around it.

I find myself waging a battle between cultivating nature, and keeping it at bay. If I don’t get out to weed the vegetable patch at least once a week, virulent native weeds soon overrun the seedlings of spring greens.IMG_4910

And yet, how many times have I knowingly allowed pop ups from my compost heap—serendipity seedlings, I call them—take root and been thrilled by the bonus mini pumpkins or wild garlic. On my morning walks I even carry a plastic bag and spoon so that I can transplant common native wildflowers into my woodland garden. My perennial beds are full of poppy seedlings and daisies that have found their niche. I tell myself I must be doing something right when they start merrily throwing the next generation around.

IMG_4892 Everywhere I turn the concept of balance screams at me. In kick boxing class the instructor dreams up challenging balance poses to strengthen our core muscles and improve our overall physical wellbeing. The latest dietary studies exhort us to eat a balanced diet. And I swear, I strive to balance the carbs and the chocolate.

Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference between good and evil. I just read Michael Pollan’s fascinating article in the New York Times magazine: Germs, What we can Learn from our Microbiome,  about the community of microbes that colonize our bodies, keeping our bodies functioning optimally. Contrary to what our mother’s said, sometimes it’s beneficial to get down and dirty.IMG_0332

Our lives are one big balancing act: pain versus pleasure, task versus reward, reality versus fantasy. It’s a daily struggle to maintain a middle path, not to become engulfed in one thing over another, to strike the balance.DSC_0347

How true this is in the world of the writer. You have to fall in love with your characters and plot so that you can write from the heart, yet remain detached enough so that you can cut them to ribbons if that’s what it takes. Yes, you need to make time to connect with your reading audience and interact with the writing community. But when chasing the tweet dragon gets in the way of writing, you know things are out of whack. As I tug weeds in the garden, I often think how similar the process is to editing. You want to clear away enough detritus so you can see your story grow and bloom, but you don’t want to remove all those serendipity seedlings.

How to strike that balancing? For me, the key to standing on one leg and not collapsing in a sweaty heap of giggles is to be mindful, but not obsessive. I have to focus on gentle breathing (not the shooting pain in my hip), while staying tuned in to the big picture (the pain is worth it if it makes my butt look awesome in my new shorts). Hey, no one said it was easy!

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How to painlessly get your kids ready for school (and college) in half an hour a day.

My husband and I had just brought our first newborn home from the hospital. Honestly, I couldn’t believe they’d let us walk out of the place with her—didn’t they know we were completely clueless? The first diaper change was a fiasco that reduced us to helpless laughter. We were woefully unprepared. The fact that our daughter had DSC_0095showed up a couple of weeks early didn’t help. In those first few days, we walked around in a zombie-like state. One afternoon, while I was napping with the baby, my husband slipped out for a breather. When I woke up, he was back with the first gift he would ever give her—a collection of children’s books that he had loved as a child.

That very day, he propped her warm, saggy little body into the crook of his arm and read her The Lorax. And so began our favorite childhood routine. We read morning, afternoon, and night. Basically, anytime there was a bed involved, and frequently when there wasn’t. In the beginning it was all about indulging our own memories of books. But soon we discovered wonderful new classics of children’s literature. And it didn’t take long before the Ikea bookshelf in her shoebox-sized room was overflowing. When her brother arrived eighteen months later, our days revolved around the park, the bookstore, and the library. He even took his first steps, staggering, giggling, through the stacks in the children’s section of the Brooklyn Public Library.

Shortly after that, our book collection—children’s and adult’s—forced us to beat a retreat from city life. Our drafty old Saltbox was soon insulated with a solid six inches of books.IMG_0083

Toward the end of our second summer living in the county, an event loomed that left me full of dread. Our daughter was off to kindergarten, and the prospect of upsetting our leisurely morning routine—lounging in bed, gasping at the grossness of a Roald Dahl story, or laughing aloud at Shel Silverstein poems—was dismal. I knew that trying to get a cranky, uncooperative kid dressed, fed, and ready for the 8:15 bus was going to put us all in a major snot. Add to that, my determination not to give up our precious morning reading session. Like all good drill sergeants, I came up with a plan. Surprisingly, it worked so well, it became our new morning routine.

The night before I would pull out the next day’s gear (thankfully my kids were never fussy about what they wore). Then, half an hour before I knew the kids needed to be dressed and shoveling food into their faces, I woke them up. This sometimes involved picking them up, semi-conscious, and depositing them in our bed, along with an armful of clothing, various must-have soft toys, and a stack of books. As they snuggled back under the covers, I began to read to them. After about five minutes of a rollicking picture book, guaranteed to capture their attention, they’d be wide-awake. I’d read the next installment of whatever chapter book we happened to be reading—Little House in the Big Woods, The BFG, Harry Potter. Just when I reached a particularly juicy part, I’d pause and say, “Time to get dressed.” Rather than eliciting groans of despair, the kids knew, that was the signal to quietly drag on their clothes, while I finished the last few tantalizing paragraphs. Violá! I had a fully awake, fully dressed, happy crew, ready to face the day with their heads already bulging with stories, and their imaginations firing on all cylinders. An added bonus to all this was that my kids learned to read relatively painlessly, acquired a vocabulary that stopped adults in their tracks, and best of all, a love of books.

I would be fretting about what to do with the Alexandria-sized stacks of children’s book we’ve accumulated over the years when my daughter heads off to college this fall. But lucky for me, my six-year old has allowed us to indulge our morning reading routine just a little bit longer.

Three cheers for children’s books! IMG_0593