Spring mindfulness

This past weekend marked my first weekend-long mindfulness retreat!  My mom and I spent Friday evening, all day Saturday, and most of Sunday at a non-residential retreat hosted by Mid America Dharma.

I went into it thinking that the weekend’s beautiful weather would be lost on us, but that was not the case.  The retreat alternated sitting meditation with walking meditation, so we were able to get quite a bit of fresh air while enjoying the just-opening daffodils, the sounds of tree frogs and birds, and the view overlooking the Mississippi River.

The retreat was both rewarding and challenging.  Friday night and the first 2/3 or so of Saturday went down quite easily; it felt like a port in a storm after a rather challenging week.  A period of mindful movement followed Saturday’s lunch hour (mindful eating), and after that, I hit a wall.  Both my body and mind wanted to curl up in a ball and take a nap, but that was not on the schedule.

The next sitting meditation was agony, both mentally and physically (my neck hurt a lot); it wasn’t pretty, but I kept returning to the breath, and I made it through.  I regrouped during the walking meditation that followed, and then, for the final sitting of the day, I was kind to myself, and used a side-lying meditation posture.

Sunday was a little challenging, but it helped knowing that I only had to make it to 3pm.  While there were times I struggled throughout the weekend, on the whole I’m thankful that I was able to make the time to deepen my mindfulness practice in this way.

I’m not sure whether or not it will happen this year, but I would like to experience a similar-length (not yet ready for a week-long!) residential retreat, which will be a very different experience than going home to “normal” life in the evening and morning.  While a residential retreat is, in some ways, my top priority, I may first have the opportunity to take part in another non-residential retreat.  There is one coming up in June which focuses on “Awakening Joy” — that might be too good to miss!

While I was engaged in formal mindfulness meditation practice, Matthew spent the weekend engaging in his form of meditation — gardening!

The cold and wet of the past few weeks meant this was his first opportunity to get his hands dirty.  He took full advantage of the cooperative weather, spending all day Saturday AND Sunday at the garden . . . IMG_7124

. . . with a helper, of course!

Along with my MIL, my garden boys planted all of our onion & leek starts, lots of seedlings (cruciferous and fennel), and potatoes.  New in the garden this year is the Earthway Seeder — Matthew estimated that this saved him four hours of work, just this weekend!

They returned with a lovely harvest of kale and arugula from under the low tunnel, plus some more goodies from last year’s harvest — the last of the potatoes (we still have quite a few to eat!), plus frozen green beans, broccoli, and sweet peppers.  Time to eat up!

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Foodie Friday: One week, three restaurants!

On average, we eat out once a month or less, so going out to dinner three times in one week is a pretty big deal.  There was no particular reason for this restaurant extravaganza — not a crazy-busy week, no guests in town, nothing!

Kitchen Kulture
We kicked this spurt off with a Tuesday date night at Kitchen Kulture’s pop-up dinner series (at Local Harvest Café).  The menu is small, especially once you rule out the meat and fish options, but sometimes it’s nice to have decisions made for you.  On this particular night, the veg options were a green tea soba noodle dish and okonomiyaki (a savory Japanese pancake), so we ordered one of each.

The soba noodle dish came out first, and it was delicious.  I make some pretty good soba noodle dishes (toasted sesame oil is the key ingredient), but I particularly enjoyed the crunchy freshness of the bean sprouts and shredded red cabbage in Kitchen Kulture’s version.

The okonomiyaki was . . . interesting.  The menu listed “bonito” and “nori” as ingredients in the dish.  I know that nori is a type of seaweed, and, at a quick glance at the menu, I categorized bonito as a type of seaweed, also.  The dish arrived smelling very fishy, but I rationalized that seaweed can smell and taste fishy.  After I few bites, something clicked, and I realized that, no, bonito is a kind of fish, and our okonomiyaki was topped with dried fish flakes.

Anyhow, maybe this dish is an acquired taste, but neither Matthew nor I were big fans.  At that point, we were pretty full from the soba dish anyway, so we ate about half of the pancake and brought the rest home, not entirely sure we’d eat it, but hating to waste food.  (Once home, I scraped off most of the bonito flakes.)  The next day I offered some to G and was rather surprised when he was totally into it!  Kids — weird!

Unless you were under a rock somewhere, you probably heard that last Saturday (3/14/15) was Pi Day, and not just any Pi Day, but SUPER Pi Day (3.1415…).  To celebrate the eponymous holiday, local pizza chain Pi had specials all week last week.

Thursday’s special was buy one large pizza, get the second large for just $3.14, so we met up with some friends for a pizza party!  One Shenandoah (which I wrote about here) and one half-Berkeley, half-Western Addition.

Gabriel joined us for this meal, and, once the pizza arrived (he didn’t know why it took sooooo long), was quite content.  Afterward, we enjoyed a bike ride home on a lovely evening.

Sen Thai
On Monday night, we wrapped up our restaurant whirlwind at Sen Thai.  This was our New Year’s Eve date destination, and after a very yummy meal and good dining experience, we wanted to return and share the goodness with Gabriel.

Gabriel was on spring break this week, and our dinner was preceded by a special father-son outing.


View from the top


And from outside

Gabriel has been asking to visit The Arch for quite awhile now, and Matthew finally made it happen (at what was apparently the most inconvenient time to visit The Arch, EVER, given current construction work).  I happily sat out for this portion of the day (claustrophobic much?) and just joined them for the food.

We tried one repeat dish (Cashew Nut Noodles) and one new dish (Pad Eggplant).  Both were delicious (and came out very quickly, which is great when dining with kids) — it’s always nice when you try something new and it works out well!  I particularly enjoyed the flavors of the eggplant dish, and, early in the meal, I commented, “The eggplant is a winner” (referring to the dish as a whole).

Gabriel grabbed on to the phrase and spent the rest of the meal chowing down on Thai food and proclaiming, “This broccoli is a winner!”  “This tofu is a winner!”  Sometimes at a restaurant appropriate volume and sometimes not, but pretty darn cute!


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Burning the beans

Yesterday morning Matthew and I embarked on the “picking an elementary school” quest  (more on this crazy business in a future post).  Yes, G is not yet four, but we’ll be applying this fall for Fall 2016 kindergarten, so it’s time we stepped up our game.

Anyhow, Matthew arranged to go into work late so we could make this school’s tour time.  It was already a slightly unusual morning, and I added quick soaking beans for dinner (bring to a boil, boil 2-3 minutes, remove from heat and let sit at least 2 hours) to my usual “getting people out of the house” tasks.  Finally, with G in his grandfather’s company, Matthew and I hopped on our bikes and headed to the school.  After the hour-long tour, we debated a bakery stop, but decided to skip it (a great decision, in retrospect!).

Shortly after our routes parted (Matthew to work, me back home), I remembered the beans.  You know how sometimes you wonder if you remembered to do something, e.g., TURNING OFF THE STOVE, but you’re really pretty sure you that you did it?  Yes?

This was not like that.  As soon as I thought of the beans, I was rather certain that I had NOT turned them off.  This meant one of two things — 1) my FIL was still at the house with Gabriel (they often, but not always, do out and about) and had discovered my mistake, or 2) all of our earthly possessions, and the place we call home, were going up in flames right that second (clearly the only two options).

I was about a mile from home, and I decided against calling my FIL.  If he was at the house, everything was fine.  If he was gone, there was nothing he could do, and I might be wasting precious seconds on the phone.

I booked it home on the bike.  As I passed our street on my way to the alley, I noticed that my FIL’s car was not there, and my stomach sank lower.  In the garage, I forced myself to take the time to secure Big Blue as usual, not wanting to add the insult of bike theft to the morning’s fun.

My route from the garage took me alongside the building, where our kitchen is located, and I could definitely smell something burning.  Assuming the worst, and not wanting to waste more time, I grabbed my phone and called 911.

After confirming that a fire crew was on the way, I headed to our building’s side door.  I had no intention of walking into a burning building, but other than the smell, there was no visible smoke or flame.  We keep a fire extinguisher in the hall closet just outside our kitchen (and right by the back/basement door), and I thought if I could grab that, I might be able to minimize the damage.

Before going up the stairs to our second floor apartment, I went to the basement, grabbed a hand towel off the clothesline, and soaked it with water to cover my face.  Then I cautiously headed upstairs, continuing as I saw no smoke.

Once inside our apartment, I discovered that we got lucky.  The beans and pan were scorched, but no flames.  I quickly turned off the burner, threw open some windows, and turned our HVAC system’s fan to “On” (I made one mistake here — any guesses?).  Then I grabbed a bunch of potholders, and, with the lid still in place, carried the offending pan outside.

By that time, I could hear and see the firetrucks, so there was not much point in calling dispatch back to say never mind.  The firefighters came in, looked around the kitchen, and confirmed that everything was okay.

While I think I did a pretty good job keeping my cool and acting logically, it took one of the firefighters to think to turn on our over-the-stove exhaust fan — duh!

It seemed odd to me that our smoke alarm hadn’t triggered in any of this.  The firefighters didn’t seem surprised or concerned by this — since there was no visible smoke, they wouldn’t have necessarily expected it to trigger (we pushed the test button to confirm that it was, in fact, working).

It turned out that my FIL had taken G to the zoo, and they missed all of the excitement here.  (If you have to have a firetruck visit your house, it may as well be when your 3-year-old is there to enjoy it, right?)

Unfortunately, despite there being no visible smoke, there was plenty of nastiness in the air.  I took advantage of the gorgeous weather to air things out at much as possible, but ugh!


I assumed the pan would be a complete loss (and counted us lucky that losing a pan was the only consequence), but once I finally dumped the beans in the compost and looked at the pan, I realized that it can probably be salvaged with some elbow grease.


These DID start out as black beans, they just got a whole lot blacker.  After this, I had ZERO desire to try again — we had tempeh for dinner instead.

My mistake (other than, you know, leaving the stove on in the first place), that I referred to above, was turning on the HVAC system.  I was thinking it would dilute the smell and accelerate getting rid of it.  Instead, it took something that was largely (though certainly not 100%) contained to the kitchen (a hidden advantage of a not-open kitchen), and spread it throughout the rest of our apartment.  I had just replaced our furnace filter last week (we buy a fairly high quality air filter, but it is clearly NOT one that filters out smoke particles), and that’s shot.

I can’t help but think we could have enjoyed candles for an entire year with the amount of junk I put into the air in one hour yesterday!  When I was about Gabriel’s age, my mom had a similar incident with a very burned pot of sloppy joe’s.  I asked her about the smell, and she said it just took time.  In our case, there was enough burny, smelly stuff in the air, for long enough, to seep into the kitchen cabinets, at least those nearest the stove.  Guess the stench will help me remember to make sure the stove’s off before leaving the house!



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The bicycle reveal

With the weekend’s lovely weather, we finally pulled out G’s new bike.  Our original plan was to try the initial [non-training wheel] ride on grass, so there would be a soft surface to cushion falls, but the thawing ground was too mucky for that.  After a bit of brainstorming, we realized a rubber playground surface would be a good option (better than our original idea, really, due to less resistance and a more even surface).

When G woke from his nap on Saturday, we asked if he wanted to go to the park.  Matthew aired up the bicycle tires and propped the bike up in the yard (no kickstand), then stood by with the camera, ready for the big moment.

I led G to the backyard (Peter Pan sword in hand).  The sun was really bright, and for a few moments, G didn’t see the bike at all.  When he saw it, it took a few moments to sink in . . . .

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“A new bicycle?”

“For me?”

We helped him climb on (which worked better after suggesting that he first put down the sword), then back off, so we could adjust the seat height.  He wanted to get back on, so we went to the park like this.  With no prompting, he was singing, “Biker boy, biker boy,” as he pedaled.


He took a few spins around the playground (with one of us assisting, as above) before deciding to ditch the bike in favor of playing Peter Pan and Captain Hook.

We went out again on Sunday afternoon, this time for some sidewalk riding, still sans training wheels.  In general, we’re giving him quite a bit of support, but he did do half a lap at the playground, and all of the riding on Sunday, with just one of my hands on the back of the seat, providing fairly minimal, though not insignificant, assistance.  (I don’t recommend this method if you have a bad back!)

On Sunday, I let him tip over into the grass a few times, and we laughed it off.  We did have some tears from a non-moving fall (a dismount issue), that led to a handlebar jab to the neck — ouch!


We’re torn, knowing that we could put on the training wheels and let him zip around independently right now, instead of this rather parent-intensive model.  On the other hand, once the training wheels go on, convincing him to lose them could be a little tricky.  I think we’ll give the non-training wheel, parent-assist model a little bit more time.

On the way home on Saturday, G commented, “This bike isn’t very colorful.”  I agreed, and asked him what color handlebar grips he would like (the original grips need to be replaced anyway — I almost bought a new set before we gave him the bike but was overwhelmed by the color choices).  He decisively responded, “Red,” and then said that he would like some “decorations” for the bike.

Adding some fun decals had already crossed my mind.  I’m a bit hesitant, wondering if that would make it look junky, or less appealing to a future rider, but realistically, this bike is starting out well-loved, so I’m not really expecting to get much for resale.  It’s probably worth making it more fun for him now.

I like the Outer Space kid’s decals at RydeSafe (or maybe just their Modular Kit), though I wish there were a bright green color option (though I guess G might prefer red anyway), and I like a few of the decals here.  Anyone know of other sources for fun, colorful bicycle decals?

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March Mindfulness

I’m overdue on a mindfulness practice update, and March is shaping up to be a big month for mindfulness: goals met, an anniversary, and TWO retreats!

Achieving goals and next steps
In this post, I wrote about the short- and long-term goals I set during the final class of the MBSR program.  By the end of January, I had more or less achieved the first part of my long-term goal (engaging in formal mindfulness practice for 25 minutes/day, 5 days/week).  There were a few hiccups in the second half of January, what with taking care of a sick kiddo and being a bit under the weather myself.

My general rule of thumb is, if I feel tired, but have to choose between mindfulness practice or a nap, I go with mindfulness.  Most times, a 25-minute meditation leaves me feeling as rested and re-energized as napping, if not more so!  The only exception is when I am really and truly sick — then, sometimes, the nap is better.

Despite the January hiccups, I’ve continued my practice, though I’ve gotten a bit more flexible.  Some days, I break my formal practice into two 10- or 15-minute chunks.  I like to make sure I’m getting a continuous 25-30 minutes a few times a week, but flexibility is good, especially for making this work long-term.

I’m not sure whether I actually wrote it down or not, but my second long-term goal was to build on my half-day mindfulness retreat experience by attending a 2-day mindfulness retreat sometime in 2015.  I started checking out the retreat options available through Mid-America Dharma back in November, and I penciled in a local, non-residential, weekend-long retreat in March as a good option.

I’m especially excited to share this retreat experience with my mom, who got me into mindfulness practice in the first place.  I’m also a little nervous, but I think it will fine.  My check is in the mail, so no going back now!

In case one retreat is not enough, tomorrow I’ll be repeating my half-day mindfulness retreat experience with Masterpeace Studio.  All previous students in their MBSR program are invited to attend future half-day retreats at no cost, and I’ve had this on my [tentative] calendar since the fall.

Six-month mindfulness anniversary
On Monday, March 9, I will celebrate six months of my mindfulness practice.  It’s just a drop in the bucket, but I feel like I have a great foundation, and the results help me stay committed to continuing both a formal practice and to integrating mindfulness more and more into my daily life.

Three days ago, I received a letter addressed to me, in my handwriting. My first thought was that there was some mistake.  I’d forgotten that at our last MBSR class, we wrote letters to ourselves, to be mailed by our instructor at some time in the future, letters to encourage and inspire our growing practice.  The letter arrived just in time for the half-year anniversary and this month of retreats, which seems appropriate.  Happy Mindful March!

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My vaccine journey

Despite her intense fear of needles (which I do not share), my mom made sure that my sisters and I were fully vaccinated.  As a child of the 80s, this meant I received vaccines for polio; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus (DTP); and measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR).  I was not vaccinated against chickenpox (varicella) or rotavirus.

My [two] younger sisters and I all had chickenpox (at the same time), when I was about seven or eight.  It wasn’t pleasant, but, fortunately, none of us had serious complications.  We were all out of school for the standard week.

As a toddler, my youngest sister had rotavirus.  My main memory of her illness is of watching Indiana Jones movies in our den.  However, her vomiting and diarrhea were severe enough and prolonged enough that she was hospitalized for dehydration.

Prior to starting college, I received the Hep B and meningococcal vaccines, and I took advantage of the free, on-campus flu shots throughout college.

Soon enough, I was faced with choices about vaccinating my own child, and as many intelligent, well-meaning parents do, I started asking questions.  I’m not sure exactly what fueled my inquiry, but the views of some in the local home-birth community may have been a factor.

I also had a friend who had followed an “alternate” or “delayed” vaccine schedule, and, after reading some of the Dr. Sears books, I rather liked that plan.  As someone who had never seen measles, polio, pertussis, etc. (except in those scary videos, which don’t really work, though the pertussis one is pretty gross), it didn’t seem like a big deal.  Matthew wanted to learn more before going that route, but I went about finding a supportive pediatrician.

At the time, I was working for a local county health department, and the epidemiologist, who was also a good friend, was aghast at hearing my plans to deviate from the standard vaccination schedule.  She was both vehemently opposed to my plan and shocked that I, who worked in public health, was even considering it.

Interestingly enough, her reaction did little-to-nothing to sway me.  I did not feel like discussing it further with her, and, if anything, it made me more entrenched in my position (because it’s natural to be defensive, right?).

For better or worse, I had easy access to one of the few medical doctors in our area who is considered “anti-vaccine” friendly.  While I was planning to vaccinate, working with this office seemed the easiest route to getting my alternate schedule.

And then we took G to see this doctor for his 2-week check-up.  And I don’t really remember how it came up, but sometime during the course of that office visit, the doctor recommended that, to avoid disease exposure, we not take G out in public for three months.  Granted, never leaving one’s house would be a way to avoid most disease exposures, but this suggestion struck me as completely absurd.

“Really?”  I thought.  “Not taking a baby out of the house for the first three months somehow makes delaying [or skipping] vaccination okay?  That’s absurd!”  First, with the standard immunization schedule, infants don’t receive vaccines (except for Hep B) until they’re two months old anyway.  Second, what happens after three months?  Everything is magically okay?

I left the office feeling more than a little uncertain.  After some discussion, Matthew and I decided we preferred having a dedicated pediatrician for G’s care, and we made G’s four-week appointment with a different practice.

I went into that visit still planning on using an alternate vaccine schedule.  I liked our pediatrician, who also has a Masters in Public Health, right away.  After I asked about an alternate vaccine schedule, he basically said, “I’m not going to make you vaccinate, but every time you come in for a well-child visit, we’ll talk about the vaccines that G should be getting.”

In response to a friend’s recent post on pediatric offices mandating vaccines, I wrote,

While I can totally understand pediatric practices refusing to see patients who don’t vaccinate (especially now, in light of the recent measles outbreaks), I, too, considered a delayed / alternate schedule for G, and may have gone that route if it weren’t for my pediatrician’s gentler approach.  At that point, if he had issued an ultimatum, we may have ended up at a different practice that was VERY lax re. vaccination. Instead, we went with that pediatrician, and ended up following the standard vaccination schedule.

At the time, there were multiple reasons.  The idea of extra trips to the doctor’s office for an alternate vaccine schedule (on top of the every 3-month well-baby visits, plus any sick visits) was not appealing.  And I knew that once we hit kindergarten, if not earlier, he’d have to be caught up anyway (he did need them earlier, for First Steps services), as I had no intention of home-schooling and I was not comfortable with the idea of lying on an exemption form.

I am now pretty firmly in the vaccinate, and vaccinate as-recommended and on-time camp (though I still have some reservations/questions about vaccinating young children against STDs).  Vaccinating is not only for your child, but it’s also a public good, helping prevent outbreaks that would affect the most vulnerable — babies too young to be vaccinated, pediatric cancer patients, etc., but my journey here makes me cautious in how I express my position. 

My reaction to the conversation with my friend/colleague, along with recent research on the ineffectiveness of delivering pro-vaccine information to parents who have reservations about vaccinating (articles here, here, and here — this is quite the conundrum, and certainly a challenge for health communication research, a field in which I used to work), has certainly influenced the way that I approach others.

I’ll conclude by saying that, despite the recent measles outbreaks, and the revelations that some communities have very low vaccination rates, overall, in the U.S., we have very high vaccination rates.  The vast majority of parents ARE vaccinating their children.  Those who are choosing to not vaccinate their children (without a medical reason) would be wise to not encourage others to follow their lead, as they are relying on almost everyone else being vaccinated to keep their children safe.

In addition to the links above on why current vaccine messaging isn’t effective (at changing the minds of those few who choose not to vaccinate), here are some other good vaccine-related reads:




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Family stomach weirding

On several occasions, I’ve thought about writing a blog post on our eating habits and how they contribute to good gastrointestinal health (I haven’t done a study, but I feel like we contract GI bugs at a lower than average rate, and I imagine that our high-fiber, high-prebiotic, low processed food diet has a good bit to do with that).  Anyhow, I’m not superstitious, per se, but writing such a post seemed like tempting fate a bit too much — you know, write post, get slammed with stomach bug from hell — so I never wrote it.

Of course, generally good health or no, we all get sick once in awhile.  Many stomach bugs hit fast and hard, but then they’re over.  Or not . . . .

Our timeline:

  • January 28: G has some kind of 24-hour-ish stomach bug.  It hits fast and hard, with three hours of vomiting starting in the early morning hours.  By the next morning, he’s almost back to normal (but we kept him home from school).
  • January 28-29: Matthew and I both felt a bit off; Matthew enough so that he stayed home from work on the day G was sick, thinking that he might decline quickly, but that never happened.  In general, we had mild nausea, lack of appetite, fatigue, and feelings of being overfull when we did eat.
  • January 30-31: We think we’re out of the woods.
  • February 3: Matthew wakes up feeling not so great.  Stays home from work, continues feeling bad, and finally vomits late in the afternoon, after which point he feels much better.
  • February 3-4: I have similar, low-level GI symptoms as in the previous week.  I’m not sure if I actually have a mild case of something, or if it’s simply the power of suggestion.
  • Several days of feeling pretty normal.
  • February 11: I start feeling pretty yucky after lunch; after a few hours on the couch, I feel better.

Since then, we’ve all had intermittent “weirdness.”  I had a 36-hour period where I was burping almost constantly, and I felt overfull anytime I ate anything.  My burping subsided, but it seems to have infected Gabriel (it’s clearly not something he’s doing on purpose or to be funny, but something he can’t control — he calls it “hiccuping,” but it’s not).

G has also had several instances of low appetite, enough episodes clustered close enough together to be odd, and not just normal preschooler appetite fluctuations.  Matthew and I both continue to have intermittent instances of low appetite, feeling overfull, very mild nausea, and/or mild stomach cramping.

We’re not sick exactly, but it also seems that we’re not 100% well.  I think our GI flora (i.e., the normal population of “friendly” gut bacteria) got thrown out of whack back in late January and never got back on track.  The high-fiber foods that are good for GI health in healthy guts are currently not our friends.  We’ve been intentionally upping our yogurt intake, trying to reintroduce some good bacteria, but I’ve been at it for two weeks with little effect.

I found this study talking about cases of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) that start after a gastrointestinal infection, and that kind-of sounds like what we’re dealing with.  I’m also looking at information on small intestine bacterial overgrowth.

I’m ready to go ahead and try a probiotic supplement (pill form, instead of just the yogurt) to get things back on track, because I’m really ready [for all three of us] to get off this grumpy stomach roller coaster.

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