Sunday, May 29, 2011

Beloved Blackberry Pie

One of my objectives when I first moved from New York City to a small home in New Jersey more than twenty years ago was to have a backyard in which my three children could play. My other goal was to plant tomatoes. While living in a Manhattan apartment I really missed getting my hands in the soil, so when we bought our modest home, space to plant was one of my requirements.
            We had purchased the house in a snowy January, and by late March, when we were fully settled (more or less), I began to scout the grounds to see what might pop up. There were some adorable blue flowers on the front lawn and a vine that looked like it might be wisteria (alas, it was not). But in the back, there was something truly unsettling. Once the snow melted I discovered a huge bramble patch. The thorny, unattractive thicket looked like it had stepped out of a fairy tale; I almost expected a young prince to show up and hack his way through to a lovely maiden.
            My first impulse was to dig that sucker up. But then, I thought, “What in the world could it be?” Surely the people who had lived in the house prior to us would not have left such an eyesore in the middle of the property.
            So I waited and waited and then I sort of forgot about the bramble patch until one day in mid-May when I decided to plant my tomatoes and stepped outside to find a gorgeous green thicket topped with beautiful white flowers. The bramble patch had come into bloom! Still, I didn’t know what the heck it was.
            So I waited some more, and soon enough it appeared that berries were growing where the flowers had been, and by July 4th I had a bumper crop of ripe, beautiful blackberries, the most delicious berries I’d ever tasted. That very first year, after we had gorged on the fresh berries, I made my first blackberry pie; this has been my tradition ever since,
            Obviously, there’s a moral to this story, and it’s not just “don’t dig everything up if you buy a new house” (though that is wise). The larger concept involves patience and letting go of expectations. Had I not waited, and had I not let go of my negative thoughts, I would have missed out on an incredible gift.
            This is true in so many situations. We may indeed think, upon first glance, that someone or something is virtually worthless, an eyesore, a nuisance. But in time, we may be pleasantly surprised.  Sometimes, folks, we must wait for the gifts to manifest, trusting that one day the bramble patch will indeed burst into glorious flower.
*Last year, as a little addendum to this tale, our town’s property inspector issued me a ticket for having “weeds” in my backyard. I called the good fellow, and dragged him up to my house on the hill, took him out back and informed him that those “weeds” would soon become beautiful blackberries. He looked surprised, but he cancelled the fine. Needless to say, however, I was ready to go to the Supreme Court if necessary to defend my beloved blackberry patch. Imagine telling my kids, "And you shall have no pie!"?!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ode to Feet

Remember that Donovan song from the Sixties, “I love my jeans, I love my jeans, my jeans are so comfortably lovely…”? Well, even if you don’t, that’s how I feel about my feet. And it’s not because my feet are especially beautiful (as you can see, above). It’s because they serve me so well.
            I’ve been thinking about feet lately (perhaps because it’s finally getting warmer), and what I’ve been thinking is how important these underrated appendages are.  But they really are amazing. In yoga class, we make a big deal about feet. We plant our feet firmly on the ground in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), spreading our toes. Our feet are our foundation. We rely on our feet as we stand in Tree Pose, or settle into Triangle. Even when we’re standing on our heads or our hands, the feet are part of the pose.
            Toes are worth recognition, too. One of my yoga colleagues broke his little toe a month or so ago, and I’ve not seen him since. Without that toe, he’s not able to practice yoga. He can’t run, either—his favorite pastime. Another friend was in a car accident yesterday, and oddly, broke her foot. Nothing else was damaged (except her car), but now she’s home on crutches. Feet and toes are nothing to scoff at.
            Feet can appear to be happy, sad, or angry. I’ve come to this conclusion in yoga class, where we are required to be barefoot. Some practitioners have lovely feet, but many more have feet that—you can just tell—have been through a lot of ups and downs.
            I’ve always been a shoe person, as my friends will attest, but I’ve never actually been a foot person, until recently. I took my feet to the beach a few weeks ago and wiggled my toes in the ocean (seen above). And though I used to disdain pedicures, lately I’ve been indulging. Why not treat our feet well, after all? Look at how much they do for us.
            Maybe it is a little odd to be writing about feet, but in my humble opinion, the topic is far more fascinating than the sex life of say, certain politicians. As a footnote, I’ll end with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt: “Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.” Sounds like good advice to me--unless, of course--it's inversion time at yoga class.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Army of Women Study on Night Shift and Breast Cancer

An important new study on the relationship between working at night and breast cancer is being conducted by Dr. Susan Love's Army of Women. Please pass on to friends who may work the night shift. Thanks!

Dr. Love explains the study:

"In an age where everything is open 24/7, there's a growing number of women and men who now work the graveyard shift accommodating the night owls.  It's no longer limited to nurses and flight attendants! The clerks at Walmart, the 24-hour drive-thru windows and the customer service telephone operators that we call when our computer breaks or our WiFi goes down are working overnight hours as well. What these night workers may not know is that epidemiological research suggests that working the graveyard shift increases their risk for breast cancer. But the big question remains: Why?

Unfortunately, much of the research on breast cancer has been done in rats and mice! There are certainly some important findings that can come from this type of investigation; however, we have yet to hear of a mouse working the night shift. For this we need to study women!  And if we want to understand the connection between working the night shift and breast cancer we need to study women who work the night shift and compare them to women who work days.

The  Army of Women, a program of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, is currently recruiting for the Shift Work and Breast Cancer Risk Study led by researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.  The research team is studying breast tissue samples from women who have not had breast cancer, who have worked either day or night shifts (stay-at-home mothers qualify as day-shift-workers; nurses, police women, firefighters, hotel workers, factory workers qualify as night-shift-workers) for at least five consecutive years to better understand how wake/sleep cycle disruptions may increase breast cancer risk. Later, the researchers will compare the samples collected from women who have not had breast cancer to breast tissue samples collected from women with breast cancer."

If you would like to be involved in the study or know someone who might be interested, please pass on the links below:

Learn more and sign up for the Shift Work and Breast Cancer Risk Study: <>

 To learn more about the Shiftwork and Breast Cancer Risk Study, click here: <>

Saturday, May 14, 2011

One Proud Mama


 Proud Mama and Sam
Here I am at my middle son’s graduation from Carnegie Mellon University, with a major in architecture. It’s been five challenging years for him—all-nighters, exams, designing and building incredible models. It’s been five challenging years for me, too—worrying (especially when he spent a semester in Qatar), wondering where the money was coming from (especially since we have another son in college), fretting about whether he was taking good care of himself. Suffice it to say that I am relieved and  proud. He made it!
           But is pride really such a good thing?  The real question, I realize, is would I be proud if it hadn’t turned out this way? Would I be proud of my son if he had flunked out of school, or if his grades hadn’t been as stellar as they are, or if he had messed up in any number of ways?
         And beyond that the question is, are we capable of loving without expectation? Are we, as parents, ready to give our love unconditionally, even when our kids make mistakes or disappoint us?  Are we ready to say to our kids, “We love you no matter what?” Not, I love you if you graduate from college, or if you get a high-paying job, or if you score really well on the GRE’s?   
         I know I'm fortunate to have three sons who have all done well at college. And yes, I am filled with pride (whether this is a positive thing or not) for their wonderful achievements, particularly today, as my middle son receives  his degree.
        But I’m also aware that even as we celebrate our children’s achievements, we must also celebrate the mistakes they make, the failures they meet, and the missteps they take, because with these experiences come the real learning. 
          Perhaps the true test of our love is whether we can be there for them, no matter what, on great days like graduation from college, and on every other day to come.


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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Make Your Day

Happy Mother’s Day to all! I remember when I used to depend on others to make my holidays special. Invariably, this led to some disappointments, sometimes large, sometimes small. There were birthdays when kids forgot to call me from college, anniversaries when my husband worked, Christmases when I didn’t get the present I really wanted. (When, if ever, is someone in my family going to take me seriously about that sweetly chiming Zen alarm clock?) But I’ve moved on, those days are over.
            A friend of mine not long ago told me about a friend of hers who was celebrating her birthday all week. She went out to lunch with her favorite pals, pampered herself, even threw herself a small birthday bash. I decided to try this approach on a modest scale on my own birthday. I bought myself a new aromatic soy candle and some special treats at Whole Foods, and spent the day reading. I was delighted when others remembered my birthday, but to tell you the truth, it wouldn’t have mattered too much if they’d forgotten. I was having such a good time by myself.
            This brings me around to Mother’s Day, another holiday when we expect others—especially our children—to honor us. My kids (perhaps with some prompting from my husband) have always been good about this. They’ve made me countless breakfasts in bed, painted me pictures, drawn cards, even brought me jewelry and flowers.  But to be honest, on occasion they’ve... er... stumbled. (Even on Mother's Day, it's sometimes hard for three young boys to stop teasing each other and hurling footballs through windows. And teens, who live in an alternate universe, can be rather forgetful.)
            But why put it all on the kids? I’ve decided that we, as mothers, are perfectly capable of creating our own glorious day. After all, we created and planned our kids’ days for many a year, hauling them to the park to play, taking them on fun vacations, making sure that they ate healthy foods and got plenty of rest.
            So I propose that we treat ourselves like royalty this Mother’s Day. Do, eat, think, read, be whatever you want, whether your kids are home with you or not.  I’ve already booked an early morning yoga class, and invited my eldest son (the other two are at college) over for take-out (unless he wants to cook). A lovely afternoon of gardening would be nice, too, but if it rains I’ll simply finish a novel.
            Long ago, my first yoga teacher told me that we create our days, that through our thoughts, words, and deeds we design our own reality. At the time, I thought she was a little "out there." But I’ve come to believe that she was right. We are in charge of our own happiness, and barring tornadoes, wars and the like, I believe that it’s up to us to make or break our day.
            This Mother’s Day I plan to honor myself and my children….and even if one forgets to call, or another burns dinner—I intend to have fun!  Moms, I hope you’ll join me. Hug your kids and enjoy the extraordinary gift of their existence, but to tweak a line from Clint Eastwood, “Go ahead, make your own day! “

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Mother Knows Best

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This is the last entry from my book, "All About Motherhood, A Mom for All Seasons and Other Essays" (  Next week, back to blogging. Above, Grandma Virginia and Ben, circa 1991. Even though you're no longer "with" us,  I still hear you, Mom. 

Everything I ever needed to know about child-rearing, I probably could have learned from my mother.  Neither scientists nor childcare experts taught me about the healing power of a mother's touch, and before I ever read a baby manual my mother alerted me to the value of patience.  I didn't need a pediatrician or the Surgeon General to convince me that breast was best; my mother's encouragement said it all.
          Even though times change and practical advice is updated, certain maternal truths seem only to ripen: they dangle but never really fall from our tree of knowledge.  What contemporary law of nature decrees that a new mother  has to pave her own way without the aid of older, outmoded moms?  How often must we hear the phrase, "Listen to your mother!" before we pay attention?
          My mother, who doesn't travel well or often, made the three-hour trip to Manhattan to visit me in the hospital when I had my first baby. Naturally, she wanted to see her grandson, but I believe it was her loyalty to me that made her fight traffic and her own fear of the unfamiliar.  When I heard her voice outside my hospital room I wept with sheer relief; nothing could have brought more comfort and solace than my mother's reassurance in those early days with my newborn.
          When I had my second child, my father was very ill.  My mother, who cared for him, couldn't make it to my home until the baby was more than a week old.  Then one morning she simply appeared on my doorstep. "It's just something she had to do," my father explained when I called to tell him she'd arrived safely, "She just wouldn't rest until she'd seen that baby."  When I gave birth again, five years after my father's death, my mother, of course, came to be with us.
          Whenever I wasn't holding or nursing my newborn babies, my mother rocked them.  If a visitor put my baby into the crib, my mother swiftly gathered her grandson up in her arms.  I never needed to ask my mother, "Do you think I should pick him up?"  She was already reaching for the baby, holding him out to me, reinforcing my instinctual desire to nurture him.  The concept of spoiling a baby? Unheard of by my mother.
          At times, my mother offers practical advice, but her words float gently, like harmless bits of goose down.  She's given me useful nuggets for rainy days and summers: "Let them eat on the picnic table outside" or "Pack them a lunch as if you're going to the woods."  Prepare a schedule for the day, she advises, plan activities in writing and enlist the children's help. Take a paper bag and go for a walk, collecting leaves, rocks, feathers.  These are the same tactics she used with her own three children years ago; time hasn't altered their value one bit.
          When one of my children is sick, my mother never hesitates to say, "Call the doctor!" and though I haven't always followed her suggestion immediately, nine out of ten times a doctor, indeed, was required.  But most important is my mother's example: she never spanked or struck any of her children, and her words of discipline were always measured with a gentle tone. Throughout her life, my mother has believed that children deserve respect, care, and patience; her larder of harsh words and penalties has always been empty.  To calm a crying child, to punish a naughty one, to assuage a child's anger, my mother uses the same method: scoop the child into your arms, hold him, sing to him, and love him.
          The world is full of new ways, uncharted paths, new techniques and discoveries, but that doesn't mean our mothers' advice is stale or unworthy.  Some find it fashionable to criticize their mothers.  Others must reject the past in order to forge the future, and sometimes, when I'm tired or feeling fiercely independent, I'd very well like to tell my mother to keep her thoughts to herself.  She had her chance to raise children; now it's my turn.
          But deep down, I know that our mothers' advice isn't an obstacle to our progress; rather, it's a stepping-stone we all need to get to where we're going.  Whenever I really listen to my heart, I hear my mother's voice, and I know that despite the passage of time, her words will always ring right and true.