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Sunday’s episode of Mad Men (“The Better Half,” a title that belies the dual motifs of doubling and division that ran throughout the hour performance) created its meaning through repeated “twinning” of characters, actions, and words. From the antimetabole of Bobby’s camp song (“Father Abraham had seven sons/Seven sons had Father Abraham”) to Megan’s portrayal of her soap opera character’s twin character, to the two doors shutting on Peggy at the end of the episode, a constant doubling seemed to me to be the primary rhetorical device, suggesting themes of dual-natured characters, and how meaning itself depends upon not just a single signifier but two or more signifiers in relationship to each other. Without relationships between or among objects, actions, and people, perhaps there is no meaning. I thought this was the best episode all season.

And it was a fitting episode with which to begin my week of intentional layering and practiced doubling.

How do we create meaning and purpose in a life that may be filled with so many elements out of our control? Fate and free will—I am not sure they matter, though I spent a good portion of my 20s giving them both their due thought. Perhaps what matters most with respect to a contented life is the narrative we write after events have occurred. If people like to say “Everything happens for a reason,” then I would suggest that reasons reveal themselves in the narrative process we apply to memories. We make reasons. It is an art.

We have choices to an extent about what memories, events, characters, and signifiers we set up for ourselves. Sure, there will always be the moments (both triumph and trial) that we cannot foresee, and then we must work especially artfully to integrate those moments into our life story. Despite this axiom, however, we do have daily choices about setting up purposeful storylines and memories. We set up the scenes and characters as we write portions of our lives everyday. We are writers, I believe, all the time. We are artists in how we move about our lives and in our scenes. To be aware of life’s performance is not, I think, to indulge in the modern connotation of “artifice”: fakery and inauthenticity are not requisite to art. We can be authentic performers—I strive to be. We’ve all heard Shakespeare’s quote about this from As You Like It (“All the world’s a stage…). The spaces we occupy make our composite stage, and before we die we need to leave all our energy here. This is the performance of a lifetime.

Or in the words of rapper Eminem in his song Lose Yourself as he remembers the intensity of a rap competiton:

“You better lose yourself in the music, the moment

You own it, better never let it go

You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow

This opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo…”

Leave it all on the stage. Make the performance count here in this life.

Lindsey Buckingham, whose intensity is like magic to me, joked at least twice about dying on stage at the Fleetwood Mac concert Bill and I attended on Tuesday night. Fleetwood Mac is my favorite band, and I have been fortunate now to see them twice. Seeing them twice is an intentional move, not just because I love their music, but because it is the juxtaposition of those two experiences that gives me purposeful points of comparison for my narrative. I often read books twice, or more. I found joy in comparing their current set list to their set list in 2004, the year Bill and I last saw them and before we married. Changes to songs, their obvious rhetorical awareness of how to use their history as a band as part of their performance (one of the only bands of which I know who so consciously do this), and my own evolution as a listener and reactor to their songs have given my mind fodder for enjoyable thought for days. And of course there was dancing, the moving experience of the whole theater singing along to “Landslide,” and the poignant knowledge that, for any number of reasons, this may have been the last chance Bill and I will get to see them in our joined lives.

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Off to see Fleetwood Mac!

Also this week I was fortunate to reunite in person with a lady who was very much my 6th grade counterpart:

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Here we are, Sarah L. and Sarah M., from Mr. Kressin’s 6th grade class at TMS. Both serious students, both in the same friend group, both in love with writing, and both in many of the same classes. We even share part of a name! It is to our delight that our two children now share a similar coloring (fair and reddish-haired) and that we are both teachers by profession. I cherished our time catching up, and I hope to see Sarah again when she is next in the state.

I am reminded of a passage from the “Introduction” to A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh:

So when Christopher Robin goes to the Zoo, he goes to where the Polar Bears are…and we wander through dark passages and up steep stairs, until at last we come to the special cage, and the cage is opened, and out trots something brown and furry, and with a happy cry of “Oh, Bear!” Christopher Robin rushes into its arms. Now this bear’s name is Winnie, which shows what a good name for a bear it is, but the funny thing is that we can’t remember whether Winnie is called after Pooh, or Pooh after Winnie. We did know once, but we have forgotten…

I can longer recall just who I was as a thinker, reader, and perceiver before I met a professor in college whose course and academic work absolutely opened the world—not just literature, but the whole of experience—to me as a reader and participant  and creator/author/maker in that world.  Although I had many professors in college who gave me something I carry with me to this day and although I hesitate to play favorites, I will say that the combination of Professor Seth Lerer (an English and Comp. Lit professor) in my sophomore year and Dr. Robert Sapolsky (a neuroscientist) in the last quarter of my senior year was a remarkably powerful combination. I credit those two professors (and the way their seemingly different work—although I am not convinced it is all that different philosophically—managed to come together in my mind) with giving me the pieces I needed to become who I am today.

Not only was Seth Lerer an amazing teacher (for which talent he has been widely acknowledged numerous times), but also he was necessary. Those necessary people—those who came along at just the most crucial moment—are such gifts in this life. There are others for me, some of whom I see quite frequently or am in written contact with, and some of whom I am almost certain I shall never see again. I’ve managed to keep track of Professor Lerer mainly through his scholarly work these past many years. He stayed at Stanford for awhile, though he is now down in San Diego rockin’ UCSD as its Dean of Arts and Humanities.

So when his most recent book, a memoir entitled Prospero’s Son: Life, Books, Love, and Theater, came out in April, he naturally began a series of book readings in the area. I re-read parts of The Tempest, read his book twice, and decided it was time to honor his influence in my life and pay my respects at his reading and signing in Riverside on Tuesday night.

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Concurrent to Seth’s reading—I have to tell this part of the evening—my own little people were in the vicinity with their Uncle Chet and Aunt Irma. Bill came with me to the reading, and this is the first time that our kiddos have been watched by anyone other than Amie and Boppa. They have not stopped talking about what a fun time they had with Uncle Chet and Aunt Irma, who live right next to UCR and very near to the bookstore we were visiting. After having dinner, my kiddos took a walk with Uncle Chet and Aunt Irma, and periodically I would see Eric in his Peter Pan hat passing by the bookstore window playing follow-the-leader with Katie, and Uncle Chet and Aunt Irma right behind. It was the most surreal thing to see that little red feather bobbing along, to think about who I had been as a 20-year-old in Seth’s History of Rhetoric class, to think about how old his son (who is an important character in his memoir) must have been at the time, to ponder my professor’s scholarly work on children’s literature, to hear him reading passages that came in an era before I was born and then passages that occurred around the time I was beginning to teach and then beginning to have my own children… Time seemed both expanded and compressed.

Of course that night, Katie and Eric wanted to hear another episode of “The Grand Adventures of Katie and Eric” (our nightly oral tradition after we read). I had my storyline for the evening, but they wanted to hear theirs. So I began the Grand Adventures and they accompanied me on the telling. I heard all about the events that came before and after my seeing the little red feather in the bookstore window, and those parallel storylines and their intersection became another doubling and layering in and of themselves.

The next morning we headed toward the coast to spend time with my youngest cousin Kd:

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She took us to The Yellow Deli in Vista, a favorite place of hers. I have read about her time there with her best friend on her blog, and so to be there with her yesterday was to enter her story. When we consider what gives life its meaning, surely we must think about the ways in which we enter the stories of those we love. Before Kd started at her new college this year, I took the kiddos down for a visit and asked her to take me on the Kd tour of her world. Before her world changed in college (as it always must), I thought, let me know it now. Let me know her story at every point, so that I can intuit and understand its layers. I think there can be no greater expression of love for someone than to ask her, “Please show me who you are and let me be part of your story with you. Let me see what your story looks and feels like, and please know I want a role in it, however major or minor.” I adore my Kd and my time with her. She is so easy to be with. I cherish that about her.

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We also frolicked at the beach. Beautiful day.

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After the beach, we visited my other cousin and her husband and daughter. Nothing on Earth could be better than the narrative we make as a family and watching how the next generation thrives. I am so thankful for these cousins-like-siblings in my life. Where our stories are shared stories I find the most joy.

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I love you so much, my sweet William. You are my great love story in this life, and I am so content to be yours. We were meant to be…

Seven years and two children later, thank you for creating such joy in my heart and for fulfilling all of your beautiful vows you wrote all those years ago.

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You are my Oneness, forever.

I’m a 5th generation Californian, so I tend to stay mellow about most things. Okay, that is not exactly accurate: I experience my fair share of frustrations, but I am inclined to compartmentalize and let them go. It takes an awful mess of traffic, for example, to move me from pressing my fingers to my forehead to fantasizing about cuss words and spike strips for cars that don’t play by the rules. When people send bad vibes my way, I take it personally at first…until I don’t. Most of the time I am slow to anger. In fact, I’ve been asked a few times by close friends what makes me angry, since I seem so darn chipper all the time. The truth is that yes, I am one of those annoyingly optimistic people who is genuinely grateful for her life; the only trait that saves me is that I have a wry sense of humor about it.

Readers of this blog know that I usually choose to deploy my words only in celebration of what is good. Words have power to tear down or to build up, and for those of us in a deeply intimate relationship with language (without writing I cannot breathe; without books I would cease to be myself) there is at every second a choice to be made about how to arrange those words and to what effect and purpose. One word can mean tears; another can create hope. With rhetoric our narratives are made; with language our lives leave liminal space and become more material. Words make our history. Putting an event into words is an act of choosing which memories to keep. In fact, I hesitate to tell the following story because it was, by far, not the important part of the day. So many other positive events happened that I do question the value of sharing this story.

Yet here we go.

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Here we are enjoying our Jamba Juice smoothies at the Aquarium of the Pacific today for Katie’s field trip. A delicious 250 calorie lunch. We’re smiling; we’re ready for the next part of our adventure.

Now rewind ten minutes.

As I approach the outdoor smoothie bar, I see about ten children (I am guessing 4th graders) in a row along the wall and by the service window. Looks like a line to me, or at least a darn good impression of a line. Some of them are clearly getting smoothies: their money is out, and it is near lunch time. I do admit to some difficulty ascertaining the line order, but it is no big deal. The day is beautiful, I’m having fun with my children as I watch their faces light up repeatedly at the beauty we’re seeing, the beach air is peaceful, no worries.

The children and the line will sort itself out…anyone can see that. We’re here for a children’s field trip, and it is a day for learning. I walk up with Eric in the stroller and hover just a small way back from the children, but facing the counter. I want to give them their due space. When it seems like the children are done, when it seems like it is my turn, I will go forward. There is absolutely no hurry.

It’s not like a smoothie is a life and death kind of situation.

Except apparently it is, to the woman who comes up behind me.

Out of my peripheral vision, I see her head at a jaunty tilt surveying the scene. The tension in her body pings me right in the gut. Oh great.

“Are you in LINE?” she interrogates.

“Oh. Yes.”

A pregnant pause if ever there was one. “Well, if I were you, I would move up.”

There must have been a quizzical look on my face. Oh, who appointed you Line Master? (No, I didn’t say it).

She gestures toward the kids. “You’re next, so you should move up.”

I actually try to reason with this woman, “Well, those girls were here first. They were ahead of me.”

The woman gives a little exasperated sigh as if to say, “They are just kids.”

The boys in front of me finish paying and start—START—moving to the side with their smoothies.

“Go! It’s your turn!”

(What does she want me to do? Squish them? Run them out of town? Get all up in their personal space? Cut in line in front of the little girls?)

“Actually, those girls were here first,” I repeated. To the girls, I asked, “Girls, are you planning to order a smoothie?”

The woman shot them a peeved look, and they scampered away.

Now, here’s where, if I could revise this story, I would have said or done any number of more heroic things than I actually did. The extent of my powers was to roll my eyes, bristle all along my back, and pretend the woman no longer had any existence in my universe. Oh, and to plan to avenge the wrong by writing this blog later.

My mom, infinitely more classy and better at directing people toward self-reflection, later suggested that I could have said, “Please go ahead of me. It seems that you are in a hurry to order a smoothie.” Or something like that.

Or possibly— “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”—would have worked, too. I have that one memorized at least.

Even I was surprised by how angry I was at this…interlude. As mellow as I can be about most things, I have an overdeveloped justice/injustice mechanism. This is probably why I also prize mercy. (I have to balance myself out somehow). I was livid that that woman was so willing to discount those children. Imagine, being a fourth grader on your field trip figuring out how to spend your lunch money, working on your independence. I’ve been there. We all have. Does anyone remember what it felt like to have an adult discount them?

I felt like that woman wanted me to pretend they weren’t even there, to give those girls no chance. No time for thinking about what they wanted to do or not to do. No time for pondering and working through an independent decision. The woman’s idea was, clearly, “We’re adults, so we can go first. We’re bigger, so we can bully and cut.” An injustice.

That’s just not how I play in my schoolyard. I hate it when I run into adults who treat children as sub-human. Those girls had just as much right to be there pondering a smoothie as any adult.

Here is where, if it weren’t 11:03 PM, I would re-read this post, tighten it up, and offer a walloping conclusion. A call to action. A little bit of hope. Some value with which to snuggle up. But this is all I’ve got right now, friends. Injustice makes me angrier than anything else possibly could.

And I am the Jamba Juice Avenger.

Since posting a small blurb the other day about claiming my physical and mental freedom from my overeating habits, I have received a few private messages about how I have done it and what I eat. I have been hesitant to write about what I eat (and what I do not eat) because: 1) I am not a nutritionist and 2) food habits in our current foodist culture tend to be on the order of religion. Questioning what we put into our mouths and why we do it turns out to be, in some ways, even more of a hot-button issue than religious faith, despite the fact that food consumption is (or can be) so much more of science. Why? For many, food is pleasure. Or it might be the ultimate pleasure. In a country currently inundated by food programs on TV, billboards and print ads advertising thousands of calories at one go, and promotion of the idea of overeating as a form of social status (court of Henry VIII?), it is easy to become sucked in. 

I was part of that culture, once. Then I stepped away from it and really thought about it. I’ve been fortunate that, from a young age, I have a tendency to question absolutely everything as well as the ability to reject pressure to conform when it doesn’t serve my best interests or health. I remember all of my Facebook posts about, or even pictures of, the food I was making and I am stunned at how much a part of that culture I was. From the moment I got up until I fell asleep, I would plan what to make, what to eat, what ingredients I needed. I had unsalted butter stocked a few deep in my fridge and sugars like sentinels at the ready in case I ran out. A few months ago I went to make something that had a bit of brown sugar in it and actually laughed out loud to discover that I had exactly none in my pantry. How long ago had I run out? How amazing that I did not even notice or care! 

Some history: 

My mom cooked healthily for us when I was growing up. Mostly everything was from scratch, filled with vegetables, baked at home. When I was really young we were allowed soda and chips, but when I started wearing the “husky” pants in elementary school, my mom cleaned that right up. I did not have any problems with food again until my junior year in high school (an awkward year with a bad haircut and dermatological issues as well), a stressful year with a bunch of AP classes and extra-curriculars and the first year of many that I stopped playing soccer and stopped running with Mom in the morning. I’ve got to focus on my schoolwork, I thought, there’s no time for anything else. A pattern of thinking that would later haunt me… 

But by senior year I had lost the extra weight and weighed close to 120 pounds at this height (5’3″), maybe 121 or even 122. I still don’t know exactly how that happened, but it was kickstarted by a trip to Istanbul, Greece, and Italy—where we walked all day, every day and were served reasonable meals. From there, I got so busy in 12th grade (AP classes, Academic Decathlon, Mock Trial, Assisteens, tutoring elementary school students, a bunch of other clubs) that I hardly had time to eat, literally. Added to this was immense pressure to keep my GPA the way it had always been, and I was getting anxious before school—so anxious I couldn’t eat breakfast.  I’ve never been very hungry in the mornings, anyway, but in 12th grade all I could think about before getting to school was not messing up, especially in my AP Calculus class. My mom started giving me power bars to pack, and I would nibble at one in the morning until it was gone. I wasn’t setting out to lose weight or even thinking about it. It magically seemed to disappear. This was a blessing at the time, but a curse later in my life because it contributed to fourteen years of my thinking, “If I just watch it a little, I’ll lose weight without really trying. I shouldn’t stress about it. Just try to be “better.” It will come off on its own.” 

After one semester at college, my relationship with food was a complete disaster. I had a meal plan that allowed for as much food as I wanted at every meal. Dinnertime was a prime social time in the dorm. I have a tendency to be a social eater, which I have had to change completely this past year. There were snacks in the room. There was “Late Night” service in the dining hall around midnight. More food than anyone could know what to do with!

Several years later, I was getting ready to be married. My weight had stabilized: I was on my feet teaching all day, logging miles around my classroom and my campus. I exercised, a little. I would get nervous before teaching my classes for the day, so I wasn’t eating much in the morning: a banana, coffee. As I grew more confident, I would stop once in awhile for a donut or, my favorite, a ham and cheese croissant. Yet with all the activity, I was stable at about 145 pounds. I taught myself to cook in the French style, despite my husband’s assurances that he was not a foodie and preferred the basics. Cream sauces, pate a choux, custards…I honed my baking skills: mascarpone and honey buns, all manner of bread, cakes for no reason, cookies for fun, cupcakes with butter icing, homemade ice cream with real cream. 

And I was good at it, too. Cooking and baking became, for me, an art form. A hobby. A passion. So relaxing. 

Then I had two pregnancies. I had read somewhere that full fats were good for a developing baby—no trouble there, I was on top of that! I ate not just for two, but for three or four. It was a social, happy time. I am a social, happy eater. The kiddos came out, and I wanted to make social, happy times for them. We made up holidays to celebrate with homemade confections. Every day turned into an event, much of it centered around food. I was convinced that I was passing along family culture, old recipes, good memories, love.

I never took off all of my weight (or got back to 145) after Katie. When I got pregnant again, I kept adding on. Within the first year of Eric’s birth, I did lose some. By January of 2012, after we got back from Hawaii, the OB congratulated me on losing 10 pounds from the previous year. “Oh yeah! Not even trying!” I thought. That old curse had come to haunt me. 

So from the middle of January 2012 to May of 2012, I ate whatever and whenever I wanted. I can do this if I just go with my gut, I thought. I do not have to deprive myself. My body will do this on its own. I shouldn’t stress myself by thinking about it. I don’t have time anyway, with two kiddos to raise. I have to put my family first: when would I have time to exercise?” Yes, over the past year I have discovered my martyrdom complex and part of my journey has been to stomp it out forever. The thing about martyrdom is that it victimizes the very people we think we’re protecting. How dare I put my failures to control my habits on my family, my hardworking husband and my sweet kiddos? That takes a heck of a big ego… And part of my weight loss journey has been dealing with this ego and putting it in its correct place.

When I am in the trenches dealing with what to eat, there is nothing for me except to be humble. I have to deal every day—every second—with the very substance over which I could lose total control. I am reminded continually of how weak I could be and have been, without a system of checks and gateways in my mind. I am reminded of how I used food as a means of complacency. Of how I gave my spark to that god. Of how little I trusted myself to build an identity as a mother without it. I have to look my fears and weaknesses in the eyes every time I make a meal.

I eat very differently now. I do not follow any known diet, and I count calories just on my own. This has been a lifestyle change, and I have had to learn to operate within real calorie counts. It has become second nature now, but in the beginning it took time and measurement. I kept tallies on pieces of paper. I ate mostly only what I could absolutely quantify (70 calories of Texas caviar from Costco—it’s a bean thing, 150 calories of sushi, a spinach and tofu wrap for 290) based on nutritional labels. Breakfast and lunch were easy: I could make different items for myself and serve my children something healthy that they would like (PB & J, etc). Dinners were much more trying. I need to make dinner for my children. So I would calculate based on fractions. I’d list all the ingredients, figure out how many calories there were of each in the recipe/meal and calculate my fraction to get at least a ballpark figure. It’s just all math. That’s all it is for me. On days when I feel insecure or if I am having a hard time with hunger, I remember: trust in the mathematics of it. Math does not lie. Following the numbers has brought me to my current weight. 

So what do I eat?  Here is an excerpt of an e-mail I sent to a friend: 

I tend to eat light in the morning (about 200 to 250 calories, plus tea with a dash of 2% milk and no sugar). I rely heavily on Ezekiel bread (80 cals, toast it twice to bring out the nuttiness) and a tablespoon of almond butter. That’s a protein packed breakfast. If I am having a super hungry morning, I might add a bit of fruit an hour later, maybe a banana. My husband likes more calories in the morning and consumes less as the day goes on. I am usually not very hungry in the morning (never have been) but get REALLY hungry from noon to dinner…so I tend to save calories to deploy later in the day. Another go-to for breakfast for me is Go Lean cereal. Lots of protein, and not many calories. I eat mine with 1/2 to 1 cup of almond milk.

About plant-based milks: everyone has an opinion. I’ve done soy… Some use coconut. I personally really like the unsweetened almond milk.

Lunches for me are sometimes 400 to 500 calories, depending. I love (fake) sushi. Hummus. Pickles. Texas caviar (a bean and corn salad from Costco). I seriously live on variations of garbanzo beans. I love quinoa with some toasted pine nuts and golden raisins and a bit of romano cheese. Spinach and tofu burritos from the store (I think they are Amy’s? I should check). I love sliced tomatoes on low-fat cottage cheese, with a sprinkling of salt and a squeeze or two of lemon. If you want to pack more protein in that dish, sub out the cottage cheese for 0% Greek yogurt (another ingredient on which I live). It is tart, especially with tomatoes, salt, and lemon…but my palate likes it. I use the 0% Greek yogurt in smoothies (along with banana, ice, almond milk, flax, and fruit and/or greens like spinach). I love black bean burgers (store bought) and sometimes I have them without the bun. Anything with lentils (lentil soup, a Lebanese dish called imm jaddara, for which there is a great recipe online, dahl balls…etc).

I eat lots of beans and veggies and increasingly little meat, although I do periodically serve fish or chicken. I discovered that I could eat so much more if I ate mostly veggies! This helped especially in the early days of changing my diet.

Tea. Tea, tea, tea. I would be lost without my tea. Black tea for me in the morning… followed by green tea (either mint moroccan or just plain green tea or jasmine tea) until about noon to 1:00. From there, it’s herbals. I love lemon ginger, peppermint, chamomile, rooibos… I drink tea almost constantly. It helps to fill me up and allows me to satiate my need for flavors.

I love the Forks Over Knives cookbook.

Hmm… trying to think of what else… We don’t allow soda (except for ginger ale during illness) or chips in the house on a normal basis (although we never did). I will also have to send along at some point some go-to recipes to satisfy sweet cravings.

To my knowledge, I have not exceeded 2000 calories on any day this year, even “special occasions.” (I personally don’t observe the “cheat day” rule because I know it can break down some of my gateways, but I know it works wonders for others—I think everyone has to find his or her own rhythm). It’s possible, but I’ve tried to be vigilant. For those occasions when I have had to go out to eat, I preview menus online beforehand and calculate calories for the dish I want. I never go blind into a restaurant. Even at Starbucks, I am careful. I used to consume several thousand calories there a week without paying attention. That said: 2000 calories for me is gaining. As I work to find my maintenance calories, I am finding that they have to be somewhere between 1500 and 1800. 

Food is in its proper place for me. It is fuel for the machine. Can it be pleasurable? Oh yes. I have tasted some of the yummiest food this year in its pure form (fruits, vegetables just as they are without adornment). Honey is amazingly sweet on the tongue. I love the way my body feels when it gets what it needs without being stuffed and leaden. The sensuality that comes from the right food being transformed into energy and passion is something I had been missing out on for years. I feel more alert. As interested as I have always been in every part of life, my curiosity and engagement with the world around me has only increased. My children have a more patient version of me. Much of my anxiety burns off in my runs and has no sugar or coffee to feed it; I am more calm. There is less time in the kitchen and more time painting, writing, thinking, playing, and reading. I wake up excited, not for what we’re going to be baking that day, but just because life itself is truly exciting and vibrant. 

So here is a picture that is more difficult to share than I would have thought. Yes, I see a version of myself that is overweight, but that’s not why it’s difficult. The hard part of looking at this and sharing this picture is that I know what that person was thinking and feeling about herself. I know that version of myself was not all the way in touch with that spark that burns deep down inside, which I have found and recovered this year. That version of me was not striving or wanting. The taste of wanting something, the hunger for it, and then going out to conquer it…that tastes better than any food I’ve ever put into my mouth. Last year at this time: 

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Bill asked to take this picture this morning. I was going to wait another couple of weeks, but I think this works to show the overall change of losing 45.6 pounds: 

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I look a bit sleepy-eyed, because I got up super early to run 4.7 miles before the kiddos needed breakfast and cuddles! 

 

Today my husband gave me the gift, as a Mother’s Day present, of shopping for my new body: it’s been almost a year (in two weeks) since I changed my lifestyle. Last year at this time I went to the mall to buy new jeans because I had just jumped to a size 12 and was continuing to climb. Today at the same store, I bought sizes 0 and 2. Counting calories every day and exercise makes a difference. I started at 162.5 pounds on a 5 foot 3 inch body. Today after my run I weighed in at 118.9. (Yes, I plan to stop…I have been experimenting with maintenance calories and have been bouncing around 120 for the past week and a half).

I actually cried tears of joy and relief in the dressing room because it finally hit me that I have set my burden all the way down. Changing my lifestyle, mourning the loss of  food-centric hobbies that were once my comfort and partly my identity, and recalculating my mindset has not been easy, but even I was not fully aware of how much work this has represented—until this afternoon, when it hit me right in the gut. For so many years among my first thoughts waking up were how bothered I felt in my own skin and guilt that I was not in control of my health.

Today I feel all the way free from my own oppression. Nothing tastes as good as this freedom feels. People used to say that, and I never quite believed them. After all, I thought, what could be better than the French sauces and yeasty honey and mascarpone buns that I loved to make? What could feel better than baking with my kiddos? What could be a better expression of love than several thousands of calories spread out on a table for family and friends? But today I believe them. Food is a transient experience—it is in the mouth, and then gone, and possibly doing good or harm to our bodies, depending; taste buds can be reprogrammed; we can take pleasure in giving our bodies nutritious fuel and sparing fuel. The art of eating 1200 calories or so a day is in itself an aesthetic experience.

Yes, part of my journey has been about vanity, but moreso this has represented gaining control over my life, my health, my sense of self. I will take a final accounting of the process when I hit my first year anniversary of my quest for freedom (June 1st). But for now I feel: free. If I can do it, then anyone can. I remember being at this spot last year and feeling absolutely overwhelmed. I decided to trust in the math of it, in the process of exercise, and in myself. Counting calories without excuse and exercising daily truly works. It’s so simple and so hard all at the same time.

Today I celebrate my freedom but am also humbled by it. I know how many years I was tormented by having no sense of power over my weight. Freedom, finally.

 

With just three more weeks left in Katie’s Kindergarten year, we’re in the midst of finishing our Joyful Spring unit as well as the last of our Five in a Row (FIAR) books this year. I’ve ordered curriculum for next year, and we’re already looking ahead to more informal ways of keeping Katie’s momentum going through the summer and preparing for next August when she will be a big FIRST GRADER! Homeschooling our children is one of the best decisions we’ve ever made; although there have been ups and downs this year and although schooling at home can present unique challenges, the rewards and satisfaction we reap as a family outweigh those rockier moments by far. I cannot believe we’ve almost completed her first year!

Here is what Katie and Eric have been up to this last week or so:

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Last week Katie’s choir group had their spring showcase. Regina has done an awesome job with these kiddos. What a gift of time and love she gave to them, and to us. I actually teared up at the performance because Katie, as the youngest, was trying her best to keep up with the bigger girls. I would see her look at them and follow along with their body motions, and it was the sweetest little desire in her that I ever saw. I love watching her in groups to see what she does. So much of the fun of being a parent is observing our children, isn’t it?

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Regina’s Homeschool Choir

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A few days after the performance, Katie wanted to take Regina a gift of thanks. She picked out tulips (which we had been studying) at the store and made her a card.

 

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Our bean sprouts are still going (Eric’s finally came on board and started growing). Katie’s reached the final stage of her bean sprout book. What will it do next?

 

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Katie also discovered an enthusiasm for weaving this week. Her Amie and I have to help at points, and there are potholders abounding in my kitchen. I’ve been using them, especially when I pour my tea, and Katie beams.

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Katie’s other passionate pursuit right now is cooking. She asks to cook every day. A couple of weeks ago, she came up with a tomato sauce (with some input from me) that is lighter and more summery (and comes together more quickly) than our usual sauce. This is the third time she has made it, and she can do most of the steps on her own. Of course I am there offering constant supervision, since her work involves knives. Here she is, chopping the garlic.

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Her recipe, written in her handwriting, is to the left of the cutting board. She has rolled up our garden basil in this picture and is getting ready to “chiffonade.” She cracks me up!

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Setting a few materials out the night before… I’ve started setting out work for Eric, too. He has been doing a longer study of chickens this week. We also work on the basics.

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We finished Very Last First Time about Inuit mussel gathering on the sea floor under the ice in Ungava Bay. That has been one of my favorite books in FIAR Vol. 1 so far, and there are many in that set that I love. One rainy day, Katie decided that she and her brother would pretend to gather mussels outside, like Eva.

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This little bird project for our Joyful Spring unit was something I found on Pinterest and pinned to my Home and Slate board. The bird’s body is made of a footprint. Easy and fun.

pointillism

 

We also continued our Friday art studies and worked on the technique of Pointillism. This worked well with Very Last First Time, also, because some of the illustrations use a pointillist technique. The kiddos are familiar with Seurat (A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte is in one of their Touch-the-Art series books) and I’ve pointed (ha ha) this technique out as often as I see it. So, we dove in without too much of a formal intro. This was one of Katie’s favorite projects so far. She was humming along and in her own world as she filled up her canvas.

 

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Katie’s finished piece

 

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Eric’s finished piece (he said he wanted to make a Christmas tree, so I penciled in the triangle and trunk shape for him).

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As we watch our chickens grow in our backyard, we have been studying oviparous animals, watching hatching chicks on YouTube, and talking about life cycles. Katie and Eric completed this life cycle of a chicken project. Full credit for instructions goes to this lady here. I actually used air play on the Apple TV to put her blog on the big screen and as we did the steps, we scrolled through her instructions for them to see. A great little project!

To celebrate springtime and beauty, we took a picnic to the Rose Haven:

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Last Saturday our dear friends the Bergons came to Katie’s soccer game:

 

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It was so very hot, and they still showed support. Thank you, Bergons! We enjoyed visiting with you!

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Boppa brought his power sprayer to cool the kiddos down during the hot game.

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Katie has been studying literary devices and their effect…

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Beautiful language and literature… A great morning of schoolwork.

soccer cupcakes

 

We made soccer ball cupcakes for Katie’s soccer party this evening. (Thanks again, Pinterest)!

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Soccer party! Coach Joe actually coached two teams at the same time this season, the Blue Dolphins (Katie’s team) and the Superheroes. Joe is one of the leaders in the Hawks organization here in Temecula and he stepped up when the Superheroes’ coach fell through. Raechele (the team mom for the Superheroes) and I got together and thought we would do one big dessert party for both teams after practice tonight. Lots of kiddos! Lots of cupcakes and happiness!

 

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We made enough cupcakes that siblings could partake, also. A couple of other moms also brought little treats and drinks. It came together quite well!

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When Coach Joe was talking about his team and wrapping up the season, he teared up, which made my heart well up, too. He really connected with those little ones. He’s been coaching and on the board of directors for years; his own soccer-playing children are grown up. What a calling in life! He’s been an excellent coach, too.

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My sweet man at practice tonight. Those lips…I want to eat them!

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I (and another dad, not pictured) got to help Coach Joe for part of practice tonight—fun!

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Practice

 

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Katie and her coach

As we head into next week, we are starting our The Night of the Moonjellies activities (FIAR). I immediately fell head over heels with this book when we read through all of our FIAR books at the start of the year (as a previewing measure), so much so that I bought our own copy. (Although we owned four to begin with, I ended up buying copies of most of the other FIAR Vol. 1 books, with the exception of a couple that did not grab us. We will need them for Eric eventually, and I can get better prices buying used than through official vendors with my $800 from the charter. Anything that is not consumable I have to give back at the end of the year, and parting with books we adore and have studied at length is painful. They become a part of a person. We will want to revisit them. For example, we read The Rag Coat this year; for next year’s FIAR Vol. 2, we will read A New Coat for Anna, a favorite of ours that we’ve savored many times. We will want The Rag Coat still on hand so that we can remember this year’s work and compare the development of both stories and themes). How did I get on this tangent? Anyway, we have our own copy of Moonjellies, and have read it now dozens of times. (Why do we love it? It is about a grandmother in a New England town who makes an intentional memory with her grandson in the most beautiful way. I love intentional memory-making, the art of capturing a moment just for the sake of capturing it and knowing we’re alive).

So…Moonjellies. I saved it for these last weeks because Katie has a field trip next week to the Long Beach Aquarium, where, I have read, you can actually touch moonjellies! I hope we find them…

 

 

Happy Mother’s Day to my mom, who is one of the most conscientious and kindest people I know. She has been an example always of family loyalty and love and when I think about how we create family narratives, I think of how essential she has been in giving me the heartstrings that bind me to my aunts and uncles and cousins.

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My mom and me at our Yorba Linda house, somewhere in the first half of 1980. (I was born on one of the last few days of 1979).

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So blessed to have a daughter who worked hard to make a memorable and loving Mother’s Day for me. While I was out for my run this morning and then while giving myself a pedicure, Katie planned and made my breakfast for me. She needed just a bit of an assist from her daddy  but not much. She had heard me talking about needing potassium from a banana for my legs, and so she cut up a banana for me. Sweet baby. She also made a card and set out my current favorite morning tea (black Irish tea).

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We enjoyed Mother’s Day at Nana’s house with our cousins and aunt and uncle and grandparents. My aunt put it best tonight: we are so lucky to have so much love in our family. Bill pondered it, too, on the way home as he expressed how fortunate our children are to spend Mother’s Day with three other generations of mothers. These are precious years, to be sure.

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Pinwheels and Peter Pan: with my little ones on Mother’s Day 2013

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My family is my treasure

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We brought a tea party to Nana’s today! It has been our tradition to go out to tea, but we thought we would make memories at home this year and let our four kiddos have some space to play. Aunt Debbie, Mom, and I brought fruit, scones, tea sandwiches (chicken tarragon; cucumber and cream cheese; goat cheese, toasted walnut, honey, and apple; ham raspberry; and egg salad), and lemon bars and brownies for dessert. Delicious!

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Nana opens our gift

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Four generations

 

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I was honored beyond words to wear this gift from my sister-friend Lauren today. It is a bird’s nest with three eggs in it to represent Katie, Eric, and the little bird that flew away too soon before Katie was conceived. Wonderfully thoughtful and deeply symbolic. Such a perfect, perfect present. Thank you, Lauren!

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I love you, my firstborn girl

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Nana gave us all beautiful hanging plants for our gardens.

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I love you, my son

These people—my whole family—are the reasons why I go to bed thankful every night. Happy Mother’s Day!

California skys of blue, palm trees, chilled mint green tea, projects with my babies, filling up on sun and dirt and everything robust and healthful: how I do love Spring! As April has passed into May, we finished our Renaissance unit and transitioned into our last big unit of the year: Joyful Spring. I’ve been planning this for awhile, and it so happened that our charter school (through whom we conduct our homeschooling) linked to several resources (videos, worksheets) through its Moodle interface. Lucky timing! We have benefitted so much this year from the online resources (especially video) to which River Springs offers a group subscription. I’ve broken our Joyful Spring unit into several sections, starting with flowers (anatomy, etc)/plants and birds. We’ll also cover ladybugs and butterflies before school ends in early June. I’ve been looking forward to our Joyful Spring unit, because it is such a natural fit with season, our garden, and our chickens. We’ve also got a couple of FIAR books to finish, which puts us right on pace. What a fun (and fast!!!) Kindergarten year for Katie!

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Painting birdhouses as part of our bird lessons

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Taking a cue from our friend Emma (a fellow homeschooler), I had the kiddos make their own recycling box.

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Plant facts scavenger hunt in the yard

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Hunting for plant facts

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A FIAR activity for Katy and the Big Snow: designing a city. There were various suggestions with respect to how to do this (i.e. marker on a big sheet), but we were able to find some building printouts online, laminate them, and tape them to blocks. The kiddos had to answer questions such as: Where is the best place for the post office? Would it make sense to put the live theater by the airport? Why or why not?

We finished up Katy and the Big Snow and have now begun one of our favorite books in this set: Very Last First Time, a book about Inuit mussel gathering underneath the ice caves that form when the ocean tides recede. Following a tip from our homeschooling friend Connie, we found a great BBC video that shows a real expedition. We’ve been studying Ungava Bay and upper Canada as well as Inuit culture. I’m in love with this book—one of the richer selections, in my opinion, as there is so much to discuss on a personal level, too. It also ties in slightly with our other leisure time reading: the Caroline series from American Girl, which takes place in parts of Canada and the U.S. in 1812.

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Eric has been pretending to be a blacksmith (his idea) in his shop underneath the play structure. He pulls on the swing chain to work his bellows.

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We don’t bake very often anymore, but when we do: challah!

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Changing the pine chips in our chicken coop

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Saw this multiple times on Pinterest and gave it a whirl: baggies filled with paint for mixing and finger play for little ones while older students work. Eric had the idea to get his toy cars and use them to drive around and mix the paint. Good color mix review for the little guy…

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A Montessori tray that popped into my head one evening: use the Legos to copy the shape in the middle exactly. Good spatial practice.

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Kumon penmanship cards. Two-year-old Eric is now getting in the game… He has been showing increasing interest in his letters. Thanks to a brilliant strategy concocted by my dad, Eric got over the hump of “1-2-3-1-2” in his counting, and he has been heard counting to 12. Most of the time, he stops at about 5, but he did make it to 12 a couple of times. My dad is now using his strategy to start spelling three letter words with Eric. Those two are definitely on the same wavelength. I am hoping to work with intense focus on Eric’s letter identification this summer…

 

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We worked on flower pressing several days ago, as part of our flower lessons. We happen to have this frame of pressed flowers that my great-grandmother (the kiddos’ great-great-grandmother) made decades ago. I talked about her and showed them pictures of her again, and then we made our own pressed flowers…

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Arranging them in the book (Critical Theory Since Plato)…

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Flowers being pressed by some favorite books and textbooks… We will check them tomorrow…

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First watermelon of the season

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Zorro and Peter Pan work on language arts…

 

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I took the kiddos to Disneyland by myself (no second chaperone) on Thursday. So easy! They were completely well behaved, sticking close and agreeing about how best to spend our time there. We arrived close to opening and stayed until 3:00 PM, when we called Nana and asked if we could drop by to visit. On our way out, we stopped in a bakery and picked out a Matterhorn Macaroon to take to Nana. Yummy! The first thing the kiddos wanted to do when we got to Disneyland was to see one of the plays in the new theater. How much do I love that? The Fantasy Faire theater is excellent, actually, very aware of itself as a theater. For example, Rapunzel explains that a long yellow ribbon is a “theatrical representation” of her hair in one scene. The plays are also teeming with allusions (both musical and vocal) to other works across literature and culture. Love it. After Rapunzel we rode Peter Pan, Eric’s favorite. He dressed as Peter Pan all day (actually, he dresses as Peter Pan every day, lately).

 

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Zorro’s wife and Peter Pan on the way to music class Friday morning

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Our bean sprout, planted in April. Every day we check it against a bean sprout book (from EnchantedLearning.com) that Katie made. So fun!

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Torn paper flower garden art

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Eric is able to pedal the trike on his own now!

 

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Thanks to my mom and dad, my husband and I had a date night to see Iron Man 3 in Imax 3-D tonight! So many layers in that film… theatricality, nature of memory, obsessive genius, performance and narrative, how we create symbols, etc. We are such comic book and science fiction nerds! We’re the couple who saw X-Men 3: The Last Stand on our honeymoon because it had just come out the day before we got married. Tony Stark/Iron Man is our favorite Avenger. Ben Kingsley was superior in his role as The Mandarin. And now I have to stop talking about this film, because I am tempted to spill the beans in every way. So, so, so much to analyze in it…

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And there have also been afternoons filled with backyard play in the wading pool, with homemade popsicles and sunshine and mirth. Eric pretends to be Peter Pan, and Katie and I are mermaids in Mermaid Lagoon.

Health-wise, I hit some milestones this week.  Last week I completed a personal best distance of 6.3 miles on one of my runs. Today I logged a 5.8 mile run and hope to go beyond 4 miles again tomorrow. During the week, I run 2-3 miles at a time, primarily because I have to fit it in before Bill goes to work. I weighed in today at 121.4 pounds, so I am maintaining. I weigh daily and experienced some fluctuation a few days ago (which was strange because I count every calorie I put in my mouth), but thankfully whatever it was straightened itself out. On June 1st, I will take a final accounting of a full year of my lifestyle change (running, weight loss) and set goals for the upcoming year.

May is truly one of my favorite months, and we have our seven year anniversary coming up in a few weeks…along with Fleetwood Mac in Anaheim! Can’t wait! Katie also has a River Springs field trip to the Long Beach Aquarium scheduled this month, the rest of soccer season, and the showcase with her choir group. My cousin and his wife just found out that they are expecting a girl (their first child), and one of my dearest friends Marguerite is also expecting a girl (her third child). So much goodness!