As a young teen, I learned to make chocolate chip cookies–Tollhouse of course–in the kitchen with my mother. We measured the ingredients into a plastic bowl and used a wooden spoon to mix them together, followed by (at least on my part) several quick and secretive finger swipes to taste. My mother always said baking cookies was her therapy, and as I grew older, I adopted the same coping strategy. I’m certain that had nothing to do with an expanding waistline as life became more complicated.

One of my wedding presents was a KitchenAid mixer, and I joyfully began using it to make my beloved cookies. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to whip up a batch when the mechanical arm was doing the heavy stirring–no more tired biceps or aching fingers! And it was so much faster, albeit a little noisy. Such an efficient way to get through that therapy and on to the reward! So for the past 18 years, the mixer has sped me through the process, requiring me to do nothing but add the ingredients. Until today.

Today I decided to do it the “old fashioned” way, with a bowl and a trusty wooden spoon. And I had my first real cookie therapy in almost two decades. There was just something about putting forth the physical effort to cream the butter and sugar, to whip in the eggs and vanilla, and really mix up the flour, baking soda, and salt as the batter became thicker and more resistant. I was participating in this, being present in the moment, paying full attention to what I was doing. If it took longer, I didn’t notice. And it was so quiet without the noisy whirring of the machine!

While I was licking the dough from fingers that had just filled a baking sheet, I had a moment of self awareness: the feelings of angst that had spurred the need for cookies were gone. I was no longer replaying my son’s tantrum from last night, or my daughter’s attitude this morning. My mind felt more focused (after all, I had just been carefully checking for brown sugar lumps), and my irritability was gone. A couple of finished cookies later, and I’m sitting at the computer, happily sharing my joy at rediscovering cookie therapy the way it was meant to be.

These cookies, mixed with a wooden spoon, taste better than any I’ve made lately with the mixer.


busy signals

The other day, I answered the phone.  “Hello?”

“Hey, I think there’s something wrong with your phone. I tried to call you a little while ago, and all I got was a beeping noise.”

“Um, that was a busy signal,” I said.  “I was on the phone.”

“What? You don’t have call waiting?!”

No, I don’t have call waiting. Call me old fashioned, but when I’m talking to you on the phone, I’m talking to you. If someone else needs me, they can wait a few minutes. The same is true when I’m on my cell. If I get another call, I let it go to voicemail. Not that the second caller isn’t important, it’s just courtesy. I mean, if two people are talking face to face and someone else comes up and has something to say, most likely the newcomer knows (unless they’re 2) that they’ll have to wait a minute, right?

I think we live in such a culture of immediate gratification that we feel we have to respond to every interruption immediately, and that we are entitled to be responded to immediately.  But I’d argue that that approach isn’t working too well for us, given how we feel like we’re “on” all the time, that we have to multitask to get everything done, and that half of our conversations with our kids are conducted while we’re surfing for a recipe, reading an online magazine, blogging, bidding on ebay, texting our spouses and friends (simultaneously), or answering email.

So I’m thinking that what we need is more busy signals. And since technology doesn’t exactly support the idea of focusing on one project or person at a time, we’re going to have to develop our own inner signals, create our own boundaries. Here are a few ideas:

  • Turn off your email notification. It’s amazing how long you can hold a thought without that little ding vying for your attention.
  • Silence your phone when you’re out with a friend, or more importantly, on a date (you can’t hear it in Costco anyway).
  • Pick specific times to check your email. The other day I realized that I instinctively check email every few minutes. Not even sure what I’m looking for! I guess it’s just habit, or boredom, or that innate need to multitask. When I tried checking only once an hour, I was surprised (and maybe a little disappointed) to find that I didn’t miss anything. I think I might have actually had a few complete, uninterrupted thoughts, too.
  • Choose to focus on the kids or your spouse. Move away from the computer, the iPad, the phone, whatever, and look at them. If you need to, just turn it off. Lightening will not strike, our friends will not desert us, the world will go on. Sometimes, especially when I really don’t feel like hearing how Sally isn’t talking to Sue anymore because Julie sat at a different lunch table, I have to just force myself to shut the computer and look interested. The torture usually only lasts for a few minutes, and sometimes even presents a good teachable parenting moment. 🙂

Here’s to re-establishing an attention span and the rise of uni-tasking!


who are you?

Well, I’m not a cobbler, and you probably aren’t either, but this storefront in historic Williamsburg, VA, inspired me to think about how I define myself, and how I present that to the world.

Most people wear a lot of hats (and shoes), so it’s not as easy to define ourselves as the photo above suggests: I make shoes, in this shop, and here they are. In his day, I’m guessing this cobbler was also a husband, father, son, juror on a witch trial. But “cobbler” is the persona that went down in history, and for which he was probably most well-known.

I tried to come up with one identity, but I can’t. I’m a mother and I’m a wife, and I can’t place a higher value on one or the other at this point in life. So I’ll address them separately.

I’m a mother. If you saw me driving, the minivan might give it away. If you followed me, you’d see me go to Costco a lot to replenish all the food the kids eat. And to the wine shop (see previous post). But I hope that you might think I’m a mother if you see me making silly faces at the baby ahead of me in line, smiling at the dad whose adorable 3-year-old is screaming his head off in the middle of Target, or holding the door for the frazzled mom with the double stroller. Or that maybe I send letters to a little boy in Ecuador, give money to the guy on the corner in Baltimore, and make eye contact with waiters and salespeople because mothers know that actions speak louder than words.

I’m a wife. You can tell by my wedding ring, and the fact that he and I have dates at Costco and Target. Also, I often leave the house without makeup and I don’t care if I run into a male friend. Or a stranger. And I stopped flirting–not with my husband, but with other men–because that was wrong. It’s not being a good wife, or friend, or stranger. If you’re married and a flirt, I highly recommend you stop (flirting, that is). I used to be on Facebook, but one day I realized I was having more interactions through my Wall with people I hadn’t seen in 15 years than I was with my husband. So I closed my FB account and called or emailed him instead.

I’m tempted to say that I’m also a writer, photographer, and bird watcher, but in taking time to think about this, I’ve decided those are interests that contribute to my being a wife and mother. Those activities enrich my relationships and keep me sane, but I know I value motherhood and marriage more–and I hope I’m living my life in a way that shows where my priorities are:  under this tin roof.

How about you?

to be or not to be–a wino…

Not to–for one week. Why? Well, I realized that my evening glass was becoming two or three. That I began pouring it earlier and earlier. That when the stress started building (fighting kids, deadlines, obligations…), the wine bottle started calling.

So on a recent Monday morning, I committed to drinking no wine until the following Sunday evening. I put pen to paper to make it official, and watched myself write “Lord, help me drink less this week,” instead of “…not drink this week.” Ugh, I’m so sneaky! I rewrote it and got on with the day. But as the sibling bickering intensified, I felt that familiar pull and decided I needed a physical reminder of my commitment. Since it was something positive I was doing for myself, I made a promise bracelet to act as both reminder and encourager. (I looked at it a lot during the first couple of days!)

                    my promise bracelet









Later, at about wine o’clock, I poured San Pelligrino mineral water in a wine glass, added a slice of lemon, and started sipping. That seemed to satisfy the habit part of the evening ritual. I repeated it each evening, but after Tuesday, the yearning for wine in particular had gone. So what I think this comes down to is not that I’m an alcoholic, but that I have a habit of seeking comfort, and my comfort is wine. For others it might be shopping, eating, smoking, exercising… I’ve read that when breaking a habit, it’s good to replace it with something else. Using the mineral water in place of the wine really helped–I still felt like I was getting a treat since it was in the wine glass and all fancy with the lemon. I’m sure I need to delve into why I feel the need for comfort as well as many other issues, but I won’t subject you to that.

Anyway, I made it to Sunday, and yes, I did have a glass that evening. It was about 4 oz. and I nursed it for an hour, concentrating on actually tasting it, not just chugging it down. So here’s my new and improved M.O.: I’ll have a glass, but not every night, and only if I’m not feeling stressed. And I’ll keep my bracelet handy.

That’s for the birds

The black oil sunflower seeds, that is. I buy a 50 pound bag every 4 to 6 weeks, and consider it money well spent for the hours of entertainment the bird watching provides the family. We have a 9-ft wide window looking out on the “bird garden” which consists of five feeders, an assortment of weeds I mean flowers, and a bird bath. On one recent afternoon we counted 13 different types of birds at the feeders in the space of two minutes. Cardinal, titmouse, chickadee, bluejay, bluebird, downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, goldfinch, house finch, sparrow, grackle, hummingbird… Yesterday a bluebird was bathing with abandon–it made the kids and I smile to see him splashing around like a kid at the pool.

The bluebirds are new this year. We saw a few flying around in the spring, so we put up a house and hoped for the best. Within 3 days, Mr. and Mrs. moved in and started laying eggs. Their third brood, babies 8, 9, 10, and 11, left the nest the other day. Throughout the summer we checked on the hatchlings, took their photos, gently petted them, and put out meal worms for the parents to feed them. We’re all in awe of how busy Mr. and Mrs. are from sunrise to sunset bringing food to the demanding little peepers and cleaning up after them. We love watching their teamwork–Mr. definitely pulls his weight around the house!

Mrs. caring for her new babies

But our favorite summer visitors are the hummingbirds. They usually show up in May and zoom around to all the windows to announce their arrival and let me know it’s time to put out the sugar water. (I make my own using one part sugar to four parts water.) We can hardly have a conversation at the table without someone excitedly pointing out their antics as they swoop and chase and hover and chirp. I commented the other day that it’s about the time when they stop fighting so much and begin to get along, and sure enough, yesterday two females actually tolerated each others’ presence at the feeder–on opposite sides of course.

We named this handsome guy Romeo

Not one of us can resist pausing at the window to see who’s in the garden. And that is so great. It helps us to just stop for a moment. To just look outside. Without being conscious of it, we calm our busyness–we stop reading email, playing the DS, doing chores, talking on the phone or texting, fighting with a sibling–and we just watch the birds.

Speaking of which, a goldfinch and a bluebird are sharing a shepherd’s hook…