Monthly Archives: January 2014

Let them cry

I walked across the crowded playground on a recent sunny winter afternoon to spot Miles while he climbed a structure. A tiny tot, younger than three, tripped and fell as I passed. I stopped to comfort him while he was crying and waiting for a caregiver. The adult walked over, didn’t offer any physical touch, and stated, “You’re ok! Look, you’re ok. Wipe it off. Good. You’re fine.”

This is a common scenario at playgrounds. If there are children and parents present (or any form of caregiver, for that matter), stick around long enough and these words will inevitably be heard. “It’s ok. You’re fine.”

Each time I observe this, it makes my heart sink. The child is in pain. The child wants comfort. A hug, words that remind them they are treasured. “Ouch. That looked like it hurt. Are you okay?”

I understand some roots of the response. I don’t believe it’s sparked from a mean spirited heart or place of cruelty. I believe it reflects a desire for all to be well, all of the time. A desire to foster a kid that looks and feels good most of the time. Maybe to save face? Maybe to maintain a reputation? Maybe a subconscious reflection of gender stereotypes? Maybe. I don’t know what it is for any given parent on any given day. I’m sure the reasons are diverse.

I clearly remember a time with my then five-year-old son on my lap while he bawled- wailed, really- for at least five minutes after a fall that didn’t leave nary a scrape. As I held him, I realized I didn’t see many five-year-old boys crying anymore. A little embarrassment crept into my heart. All of a sudden, his wails felt excessive, dramatic, maybe even a little attention seeking. I had the urge to quiet him, to squelch his emotional surge so that I would feel more comfortable.

Were his tears about that fall? Maybe not. He was tired, he was hungry. He might’ve had something else disappoint him earlier in the day that he hadn’t processed. But none of that matters. I want him to be able to freely express his emotions, positive or negative. I want him to know I am a walking warm owie pack, frequently-used-as-a-tissue mom, who will hold him as long as he needs. Even if the tears aren’t about the fall. Even if I feel embarrassed. Even if I think he’s faking it. I want to error on the side of compassion.

I sympathize with the desire to have painful moments quickly roll past me and my children. I want my children to not feel extended moments of pain. I want my children to feel empowered and strong, resilient and able to take a fall.

But the problem is, their lives will be filled with countless moments of pain. The scraped knees of today will be broken hearts tomorrow. The tears because a peer won’t share today will be tears because a peer gossiped tomorrow. Resilience isn’t built without challenge.

If I communicate that I don’t care about the little owies today, I fear they won’t know I care about the wounds of tomorrow. The bulldozer losing a wheel matters to him. Missing the class party is painful. The stakes only get higher, so today I set the tone that I care. I care about their owies. I care about their sadness.

Let them cry. Please, let them cry. Hold them as long as they need. Reflect their emotions. Our children will be so much stronger for it. The child who cries is also the child who is shows compassion. The child who expresses frustration is also the child who celebrates victory. The child who grieves is also the child who heals.

Blueberry bars for breakfast? Yes, please!

New Year’s Eve was the fourth anniversary of our return to Seattle. In most ways it feels like we never left. We hang out with old friends, attend our previous church, frequent our favorite coffee shops and pub of the past thirteen years, and regularly run into neighbors, colleagues, clients and acquaintances from years past. 

As heartwrenching of a decision as the return was, it was right. Harry and I remain head over heels in love with our city and relish our community, which evolves in surprising ways. There has been grief with aspects of that, but mostly the changes have been welcome. Public school has opened the door to new friends, some of whom are neighbors. I can’t quite express how much I love that we now have spontaneous after school play times. I invited a neighbor and her boys over this week, possibly luring them in with the promise of cooling muffins.

Pear hazelnut muffins

Another aspect of Seattle that continually amazes me is the quality and variety of food being produced on surrounding farms, at restaurants and by entrepreneurs finding niche markets for their products. Opportunities for a vibrant, delicious experience abound, whether you cook at home or let someone else cook for you. Visiting one of Seattle’s farmers markets is like walking through an aisle of Heaven. (Please?!) I never have enough money. Purchases always exceed my list. Even in the dead of winter, there is abundance. Freshly caught fish, freshly foraged mushrooms, apples, pears, squash, bread, pastured meat, clothing, wooden bowls, skillets, cheese, wine. We have it good, people.

A new addition to my favorite year-round market is Marge granola. The name might ring a bell because it’s been written up a lot, and the owner also just recently published a breakfast cookbook. I have followed Megan’s blog for years, so I noticed when she posted about a giveaway shortly after publication. I won! I was incredibly surprised, completely thrilled.

Knowing Megan would be at the market the next morning for her first time as a merchant, I headed there excitedly, both to meet her, sample her granola, and potentially get my copy. It was a freezing cold, sunny morning. Everyone seemed happy to be outside, soaking in the beautiful sights without getting soaked. After strolling slowly, booth by booth, filling bags with cabbage (to make this), squash (to make this, for the second time this season), bread and eggs, I came upon Megan. I wanted to hug her. That’s what giveaways do to me. She was funny and friendly, handling the market hustle and bustle like she’d been there for years.

Market bounty

Her book, Whole-Grain Mornings, feels like it was written for me. I am slightly in love. It’s organized by season, which is mostly how I cook these days, and within each season there’s a range from quicker, everyday type recipes to a set of more difficult brunch recipes. Granolas, oatmeals, porridges, egg dishes, greens & grains, muffins. Everything I want in a breakfast book, including the highly desirable whole-grain and lightly sweetened touch. I browsed through the entire book after the market and was immediately drawn to the kitchen. It’s a book that makes you want to bake.

The timing was perfect. Our morning routine of simple oatmeal- boiling thick rolled oats, adding cinnamon, maple syrup and raisins, and topping with milk-has become boring to me. The males in the family are still satisfied, but I’m ready for a broader repertoire. I’m finding myself making eggs or eating granola, even when they’re having (our lame version of) oatmeal. We really don’t need to be making more than one breakfast in the morning.

Her Pear Hazelnut Muffins (pictured above, also shared beautifully here by Sprouted Kitchen), made for a warm, fragrant afternoon snack and significant improvement in breakfast the next morning. These are very moist, fluffy, crunchy from the topped hazelnuts, and provide a gentle nod to nutmeg and cardamom along with the hint of pear. A definite keeper, particularly if you’re over the age of three and therefore not apt to completely lose your shit when there are nuts on your muffin.

I’ve also made the blueberry bars, which I am so pleased to share with you here. I let Charlie pick a recipe for me to make and the minute he saw the picture for these, he loudly proclaimed, “Those!” The bars are reminiscent of a classic crumble bar cookie, though not as sweet. The blueberry depth is brightened by the lemon. The almonds and rye make a warm, nutty base. I imagine they taste equally nice alongside coffee as they do vanilla ice cream. I have yet to try the latter, but I just might tonight.

While these would be lovely as a sweet aspect of a bigger brunch affair, we had them as a special breakfast all by themselves this morning. We also had a little square of them for dessert last night. They work well that way. Like donuts, I suppose.

Blueberry breakfast bar

Megan’s Blueberry Breakfast Bars

Makes 12-16, depending on how you slice ’em

Blueberry Filling

3 cups / 720 ml fresh blueberries or 12-oz / 350 g unthawed frozen blueberries

1/4 cup / 45 g natural cane sugar (I used turbinado)

3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon water

Whole-Grain Crust

1/2 cup / 50 g rolled oats

1 cup / 100 g rye flakes

1/4 cup / 60 g sliced raw almonds

1/4 cup / 30 g raw sesame seeds

1 cup / 120 g whole wheat flour

1/2 cup / 75 g packed light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 large egg, beaten

8 tablespoons / 115 g cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes, plus more for greasing pan

3 to 4 tablespoons ice water

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Preheat the oven to 350℉. Butter an 8-inch square pan.

Prepare the filling by combining berries, sugar, flour, lemon juice, lemon zest and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir over medium heat until it simmers. Continue stirring until the berries start to break down and the sauce thickens, 3 to 4 minutes, and remove from heat.

Prepare the crust by fitting a food processor with the metal blade. Pulse the rolled oats, rye flakes, almonds and sesame seeds about 30 seconds, just until they form a chunky, mealy texture. Add the flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt and baking powder. Pulse a second or two to combine. Add the egg and butter and pulse, adding ice water tablespoon by tablespoon until the mixture forms a large crumb-like consistency.

Press at least half of the crust mixture evenly into the bottom of the greased pan. (I found that using slightly more than half of it worked well for my desired crust thickness. Maybe as much as 75%.) Pour the berry filling onto the crust, spread it evenly. Sprinkle the remaining crust mixture across the top so that it’s scattered somewhat evenly. Don’t press it down. It will bake into the bars.

Bake until the crumble is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let them cool completely in the pan before slicing them into bars. They will keep for 3 days at room temperature if tightly wrapped. (But only if you are crazy. These are not going to last that long.)

Back to the core

I entered the new year on my back. Not in an exciting sort of way. Quite the opposite, in fact. For a few days I regularly had an ice pack under my lumbar spine, popped pain medication and read The Signature of All Things (the nicest part of this debacle). The simple act of standing up from the floor, while holding a book and twisting a bit, led to an unexpected fireworks show in my back. Searing pain shot up my spine. I got dizzy and blacked out. I didn’t lose consciousness, but I couldn’t see for a second. If labor pains had shot through my system with the same intensity, I would’ve had an epidural within 20-minutes.

I immediately knew what had happened. I have attended countless “Take Care of Your Back” seminars while working in hospitals. Visions of vertebrae on Power Point slides haunted me for a few minutes while I iced and longed for Aleve to kick in.

I was mad, extremely disappointed, a little scared. I had just “graduated” from physical therapy after dedicating four months to consistent resistance exercises, icing and stretching. I was finally experiencing days without pain in my hip. My PT even cleared me to run short intervals with the promise I bought new shoes. I was so excited that I bought them right after that session and ran the next day. I reveled in every stride around Green Lake and remained pain-free as long as I held correct posture. Dreams of more time to write, cook, and garden emerged, since most of my free time this fall has been dedicated to healing my body. (I’m incredibly grateful to have this time.)

Anyways, after resting in bed for a few days thinking it was best (it’s not) and waddling around like a 42-week pregnant woman because any uncalculated movement would make me cringe, I scheduled a session with my physical therapist. I kid you not, I walked out of the office pain free. Between her massage and this crazy exercise that I’ve grown to love, my back found relief. I now visit daily to be tightly strapped into a traction machine via a horse-like saddle, also known as the least discreet corset ever. (It’s leather. I have slightly bruised ribs from it.) Anyways, after many reps of these weighted squat/pull-up combos, I unhook feeling normal. Well, that’s actually not true. My hands ache like hell from grabbing the bar, but my back. Oh, it feels good.

Now, the pain still ebbs and flows but it’s isolated and manageable with meds, icing and exercises. The primary way to eliminate and prevent lumbar pain long-term is to improve my posture, practice safe body mechanics, strengthen my core, and stretch. It will take time and dedication, but my body certainly grabbed my attention. Preventing chronic pain is self-care 101. (Making my heart sink a little bit for those who have little control over physical pain. I have thought of you, collectively, a lot these past months.)

I wanted to share this part of my journey with you for a few reasons. First, I highly recommend that you avoid doing what I did. Don’t twist and lift. Strengthen your core. Stretch. Fire your glutes. (I’m looking at you, runners.) Second, If you happen to hurt your back, waddle your way into a PT office stat! I can’t imagine how much harder these past weeks would’ve been without proper guidance and treatment.

Lastly, a lesson being seared onto my brain with equal intensity as the acute pain, ASK FOR HELP. We don’t have family around to fill in, so we have to call on friends. Asking can feel daunting, especially when most of our friends have family available or young children under foot. When reciprocity isn’t the norm, it’s harder for me make the request. But, I reminded myself that I am always happy to assist my friends. I don’t feel put out- I feel honored they asked and thankful I can lend a hand. (I can also say no if I’m unable, but that’s a separate lesson, obviously.) So, I asked. The encouragement and help I received, including a friend whisking away my boys with hers to the zoo (can we say energy explosion?!), reminded me of how awesome my local tribe is.

Pondering what entering the new year on my back taught me just might be my best motivation for moving forward with greater purpose and grace this year. I will be dedicated to building strength, flexibility and stability. I will remember that this requires repetition, often pushes me out of my comfort zone, is frequently monotonous and always makes me sweat. I will pursue balance, not to avoid uneven ground, but so that it doesn’t make me tumble. I will remember that this requires focused eyes and grounding. I will include others on my journey, whether it’s pretty and picked-up or painful and dirty. I will remember that this requires trust. My friends love me for who I am, not how clean my house is or how I look. I will be quick to lend a hand, especially when my life has abundance. I will remember that this is often best done tangibly, but even a thoughtful phone call or text lighten the load. Finally, of tremendous importance, I will avoid wearing corsets at all costs after therapy concludes.

Happy New Year, friends. I am thankful you stop by here, grateful for your support.

PS- I’m ringing in 2014 with a facebook page for my blog. (Yes, I have done this before. It could vanish again, but I don’t think it will this time.) There will be further explanation as to why in a post soon to come, but if you prefer to follow my posts via facebook, just “like” it to be subscribed. I only plan on posting when I write. If you’ve been following awhile, you know my pattern. You can rest assured I won’t clog your feed.

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