September 2014

Intent vs. Impact

September 30, 2014

Photo by Ludovic Bertron. Savoy, Rhone-Alpes, France 2011
A friend posted an article on Facebook recently that caught my eye: “Intent vs. Impact: Why Your Intentions Don’t Really Matter.” The writer makes the argument that it’s the impact of what you say and do that matters, not the intent. There’s a lot of truth in that: Too often words are thrown around carelessly because we assume that our intentions are all we need to take responsibility for, but we also need to be willing to take responsibility for the impact our words and actions have on others.

Take, for example, something we say that unintentionally hurts a friend’s feelings. If kindness, respect, and our relationship with the other person are important, we need to apologize. We need to think more carefully in general about what the potential impact of our words may be before we open our mouths — or hit the publish button. (Heaven knows, in this age of angry comboxes, many people could stand to take this to heart.)

At the same time, our intent isn’t negligible, because we can’t always control the impact we make on someone else. Impact is not simply about what we say and do, but about the other person’s reaction to it. People these days seem easily offended by statements and positions they don’t agree with, and sometimes just sharing an opinion or speaking up isn’t well-received, no matter how gently you frame it. We can be sad that something we said or did hurt someone’s feelings, but that doesn’t mean we should always be sorry we said or did it in the first place.

So for me, it’s not an either/or: We need to be aware of our intent, which should come from the heart, as well as the impact we make — and be willing to apologize and change our ways to become better human beings.

What do you think? In disagreements with others, do you find yourself focused more on your intent or your impact? How do you balance them?

Image: Ludovic Bertron. Savoy, Rhone-Alpes, France 2011. Original in color.  Found via Pinterest.


MommyCon — and Another First

September 29, 2014

MommyCon Philly
This Sunday, I’m heading to Philadelphia to speak at MommyCon. I’ve been hearing about these conferences for the past year, so I’m looking forward to checking one out and meeting lots of fun moms (and a few dads, too, I presume). It’s been a while since I’ve given a talk, so I feel a bit rusty — but also excited.

Although I’m worried I won’t be ready by Sunday (and, of course, there’s the perennial question of what to wear…), I’m most anxious about leaving my daughters for an entire day. I’ve never been away from them starting before they wake up until after they’ve gone to bed. If I’m honest about my anxiety, it’s rooted in my fear of something happening to me and my girls losing a mother twice — and I just can’t handle the thought.

Of course, something could happen to me anywhere, so the fear isn’t completely rational, but still. All these firsts as a parent are big deals! But I’m going to do my best to approach the day with the right attitude and try to enjoy it.

My talk this weekend is on “Eight Things the Slow Movement Can Teach You,” and I’m still working on it. I’ll sort of be preaching to the choir — moms who are drawn to attachment parenting, who wear their babies, are big supporters of breastfeeding… These kinds of women tend to be tuned into “slow” principles already. Still, I think most busy, modern women — even of the “crunchy” variety — can benefit from stepping back and taking a look at their lives. Slow living has a lot to teach all of us these days.

If you have any ideas that you think I should include in my talk, or if there is something you’d want to hear about if you attended my talk, please leave let me know in the comments!

And, of course, if you live in the Philadelphia area and are a mom of little ones who’s interested in meeting other parents (with babies attached to them, naturally), as well as hearing some interesting talks and checking out great baby and parenting products, please come. You can buy tickets and get more info here. (Oh, and please come to my talk, clap enthusiastically, and introduce yourself!)

Image: MommyCon


Friday Inspiration

September 26, 2014

Don't waste words... quote
We’ve all been there: Someone says something that’s out of line and we blurt out a few words in response that barely make sense, and then five minutes later — after it’s all over — the perfect thing we wished we’d said say pops into our heads. In a lot of these cases, it probably would have been best to simply look purposefully at the offending party and give them a whole lot of nothing. Some people and their comments really don’t deserve a verbal response.

Silence works in all kinds of ways. In the counseling I used to do, and now in my coaching, I often use silence to facilitate a session. Sounds counterintuitive, maybe, but silence allows a person to really hear herself — what she is saying and not saying. Most of us aren’t comfortable with silence and we rush to fill the void, but that quiet can help us be more authentic and let our relationships become more intimate.

I’m a talker, to be sure, but I’ve discovered that silence can be powerful — and empowering. It requires judgment to know when it’s best to speak and when it’s best to be quiet, but those quiet moments, if chosen well, can say more than any words can. And when your silence is pregnant with meaning, it can make you feel strong and in control.

Have you ever used silence to make a point, defuse a situation, or grow closer to someone?

Friends, hope it’s a great weekend. I’ll see you back here on Monday!

Image: via Pinterest

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by Margaret Cabaniss

Born to Run
If you are at all interested and running — and probably even if you’re not — you’ve likely had someone recommend that you read Born to Run, Christopher McDougall’s book about the hidden Tarahumara tribe, their virtually inhuman running prowess, and the journey of a ragtag bunch of American ultramarathoners to the wilds of Mexico’s Copper Canyon to learn their secrets. It’s part adventure travelogue, part extreme athlete profile, part history of sports medicine, and way more interesting than I just made it sound.

People have been gushing about this book to me for ages, but the more they gushed, the more I resisted — mostly thanks to the whole barefoot running trend it helped inspire. If there’s been a dramatic surge in web-footed runners in your neighborhood over the last few years, you can likely thank this book: While the author himself isn’t a barefoot runner, he makes a pretty strong case that our high-tech modern running shoes are destroying our natural (he would say evolutionarily evolved) capacity to run long distances, pain-free. The stars of his book, the Tarahumara tribesmen, make a pretty convincing argument themselves: They’ll often run 40, 60, 100 miles in a go with nothing but thin pieces of rubber tire lashed to their feet.

The book inspired waves of people to buy those wretched “barefoot shoes” in droves — after which they’d turn around and press the book on me with all the missionary zeal of the newly converted. As someone suspicious of movements in general, it really did not interest me.

It took the recommendation of a (formerly non-running) friend for me to finally pick the book up — and I devoured it in almost one sitting. Turns out that nearly lost tribes of superhuman athletes, and the kinds of characters who are attracted to the idea of running 100 miles in the desert in the height of summer, make for pretty gripping reading.

And then there are passages like this:

That was the real secret of the Tarahumara: they’d never forgotten what it felt like to love running. They remembered that running was mankind’s first fine art, our original act of inspired creation. Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees, we were perfecting the art of combining our breath and mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain. And when our ancestors finally did make their first cave paintings, what were the first designs? A downward slash, lightning bolts through the bottom and middle—behold, the Running Man.

Distance running was revered because it was indispensable; it was the way we survived and thrived and spread across the planet. You ran to eat and to avoid being eaten; you ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together. You had to love running, or you wouldn’t live to love anything else. And like everything else we love—everything we sentimentally call our ‘passions’ and ‘desires’—it’s really an encoded ancestral necessity. We were born to run; we were born because we run. We’re all Running People, as the Tarahumara have always known.

I mean, if you don’t want to get up right this second and run around the house whooping we are all Running People!, well, there’s probably no hope for you.

Yes, fine, I may have drunk the Kool-Aid a bit. I refuse to buy those cursed shoes, but suddenly I’m very interested in the Pose running method, and going barefoot more at home, and chia seeds and trail races and YIKES I really don’t know who I am anymore. But hey, it’s like they say in the book: “You don’t stop running because you get old, you get old because you stop running.”

So has anyone else read it — and if so, did it inspire new heights of running madness in your home, too? I’m still not quite on board the whole barefoot running train, but I am open to suggestions… Read anything else lately that you were dead-set against at first but found yourself embracing by the end?

Image: unknown, via Pinterest


Mekelle, Ethiopia
When B and I were in Ethiopia, I found myself thinking a lot about head coverings on women. I was used to seeing women with veils or scarves occasionally in religious settings, and on Muslim women in public, but in Ethiopia, women of all kinds wears scarves on their heads all the time, and they look beautiful. It’s part of the culture there, and I soon discovered that, if I wanted less harassment on the streets of Addis Ababa, covering my head helped — so on my second trip, I donned a scarf whenever I went out in public. Although I certainly didn’t look Ethiopian, I drew far less attention to myself, as I was no longer immediately identified as a Westerner.

Head coverings of some kind or another are common in many parts of the world, and this interesting piece in the Seattle Times is a good reminder that many women in the U.S. wear them, too. Most do it for cultural or religious reasons; for others, it’s simply part of traditional garb for a special ceremony, liturgy, or event. It makes me think of the veils that many of us wear at our weddings: head coverings with a traditional meaning, to be sure. I’m fascinated by the different styles and ways women and girls wear head coverings around the world.

I draw my lines, though — perhaps unfairly. I find a lot of head scarves to be lovely, and I respect many of the cultural traditions behind them, but the niqab always takes me aback. (The niqab is the veil covering the face that some Muslim women wear with the hijab, or head covering.) There’s something about covering most of the face that I find jarring, even frightening. We encounter people in public through their faces; it’s how we read them. When you can’t see someone’s face, you can’t connect, which then makes it difficult to feel safe with them, or to communicate. When I encounter a woman wearing the niqab (which I do occasionally where I live), it’s like there’s a wall between us. And while that’s perhaps the point, I don’t see it as a positive.

My reaction is certainly based in my cultural biases, as well as my beliefs about women, so I think it’s important to hear from women whose beliefs and practices are different from my own. I read with interest the story about Choclit’ Angel Handley, 27, in the article mentioned above. A convert to Islam, she’s a single, professional woman who says the niqab helps her find worth and self-esteem from within. I can understand that, and it offers me a different perspective, though I personally don’t believe that greater dignity and freedom as women comes from covering ourselves head to toe.

The topic of head coverings can be a loaded one, with so many different facets to it, but I’m interested in what your immediate reaction is to seeing a woman with a head scarf or covering. Have you ever worn one yourself, or do you have loved ones who do?

Image: B


Party Planning as a Mom

September 22, 2014

R's Bridal Shower
I used to run black tie galas in Washington, D.C., managing staff and volunteers and all the details from start to finish, but for some reason I still haven’t figured out how to throw a party of my own as efficiently now that I have kids. Makes sense, I guess: When I used to plan an event, there were a few days beforehand when nothing else got done — meals, laundry, grocery shopping. But now it’s a different story.

R's Bridal Shower
This past Saturday, I hosted a bridal shower for my dear friend, and as it seems to happen whenever I’m planning a party at home, I was still wondering the day before how I was going to pull it off. The courtyard needed to be cleaned and set up, the house needed to be tidied and at least partially cleaned, gluten-free desserts had to be baked, cocktails had to be mixed, food prepped, cards written, glasses and cutlery washed, tablecloths ironed, flowers put in vases, decorations made and put up, a last-minute grocery run made — and, of course, the usual dilemma of what to wear. And then there was the regular Friday stuff that already takes up my whole day: homeschooling, meals, snacks, six-year-old needs, bedtime routines, etc.

Bridal Shower Cocktail
Luckily, I have a husband who can take over for a while and leave me to entertain my guests, which he did, and a couple friends came over early to help with last-minute details. It all came together, and everyone had fun; even I enjoyed myself, which isn’t always possible when you host an event.

My best advice when your mama brain is overwhelmed and you’re not sure how things are going to go: Serve a strong cocktail when everyone arrives — then no one cares what happens after that! (Kidding.) (Sort of.)

Hopefully in time I’ll get better at juggling party planning and family life, but at least for now I think it appears that I can manage it all. I’d love to hear your tips for how you plan and host parties with kids underfoot!

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul


Friday Inspiration

September 19, 2014

Be Kind Quote
This quote has been attributed to Plato, Socrates, Philo of Alexandria, Diane Von Furstenburg, and Ian MacLaren, to name just a handful. My husband assures me it was not Plato or Socrates, but no matter who said it first, the words have stuck with me over the years — and the older I get, the more it rings true.

If I think about the wide range of people I know and love, each of them struggles with something in life. It might be related to work or a relationship; it might be pain from the past or worry about the future. It may be an illness or grief or a personal flaw they’re trying to change. But there’s always some kind battle they’re fighting, something they’re struggling against.

Sometimes we might be tempted to compare our battles with someone else’s, thinking others’ problems small or insignificant — but we’re all different; something that’s trying for me may not be for you, and vice versa. And many of our greatest battles are hidden from others, which means that even the people who seem to have it all together may be suffering something we’d never imagine.

What would the world be like if we gave each other the benefit of the doubt, making kindness our default response? Life is beautiful, but it can also be hard; this quote reminds me that we’re all in it together.

Have a slow weekend, friends, and I’ll see you back here on Monday!

Image found here via Pinterest


Kids and Internet
This article about a professor’s decision to minimize his kids’ internet time is worth a read. The author, Martin Kutnowski, describes the screams from his 10-year-old after she discovers her iPod can’t connect to the internet. She and her 9-year-old brother were used to four or five hours of screen time, and it was causing some zombie-like behaviors:

American children need 60 minutes of moderate to intense activity a day, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control. One could only hope to meet that standard. Returning from work every evening, I would find two zombies—the cliché never gets old, because it is accurate—in front of the computer. In a catatonic state, the children would respond to my greeting with an unintelligible mumble. After turning the computer off, I would try to talk them into riding the bicycle or going to the park.

Failing that, I’d make them to do chores or homework, often musing how much easier it would be to haul an elephant up a mountain. At dinner, if asked what they had learned at school—the kind of conversation I used to have with my parents—my annoyed children would respond “nothing,” absently looking into the distance, longing to tether themselves online as soon as I turned my back.

No surprise here; the internet and our tech devices can be pretty addictive. Do you check your email repeatedly when you don’t really need to? Your phone? Facebook or Twitter? Many of us have habits that border on addiction, although we don’t like to think of it that way. Since most of us never had the internet, smart phones, or iPads as kids, I think it’s hard for us to know where to draw lines for our children.

In our home, we’re trying to strike a balance. I have definite luddite tendencies, but my husband is a tech geek, so we try and meet in the middle — though he agrees that 6-year-olds need less time in front of screens and more time outside and playing. Our daughters are allowed to use some educational apps on the iPad, and that’s about it (besides being allowed to watch occasional favorite programs and movies that we download).

I certainly want to avoid raising kids that fit the description of Kutnowski’s students:

As a professor in a four-year undergraduate university, I meet young people just as they emerge from the public-school pipeline, and from years of excessive electronic stimulation. Differences among these entering students are profound, in physical health, in skill level, in social and academic engagement, and ultimately in their chances for success. Many of these students have urgent needs: Some don’t understand their own nutrition, how to form a coherent and complete sentence, how to focus long enough to read one chapter of a book, or how to talk and collaborate with one another or with the teacher.

I help as much as I can, and often my students become engaged with their academic and social environment. An earlier intervention—fewer videogames, more activities outdoors and more guided reading, for instance—could have saved those who give up. And no, l don’t buy the fantasy that failing students will be “successful” dropouts like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Statistics predict that most people without a postsecondary education will be low-wage earners.

Speaking of Steve Jobs, it’s worth nothing that his kids weren’t allowed to spend much time on the internet or with electronic devices.

How do you strike a balance for yourself and/or your kids when it comes to the internet and electronic devices?

Image: Rage Against the Minivan


What Do You Pair with Rose?

September 16, 2014

Portrait of Rose
I’m throwing a bridal shower this weekend and planned a simple wine tasting for the main event. I’ve chosen rosé, which may sound strange, since it’s sometimes thought of as the ugly stepsister in the wine cupboard, but it’s more interesting than people realize. There are many varieties, it can be very versatile, and it’s just so pretty — perfect for a group of women celebrating a bride-to-be on a warm September afternoon.

I prefer trying wine with food, since it can make all the difference in the way a wine tastes. I want to have a few different food pairings to sample with each wine, but I’m still undecided. With Spanish rosés, anything seems to go, but I’ve also got two French rosés, so I’m not sure what the ideal pairings would be. Cheese seems a no-brainer, and charcuterie, too. Maybe shrimp? I’ve got to go gluten-free, too, so I need to keep that in mind.

Are you a fan of rosé? What do you love to pair it with? If you’ve got any favorite go-to sites I should check out to help me make some decisions, I’m all ears!

Image: Ana-Rosa Tumblr


B and Girls
So many things in my life have changed since I became a mother, but one thing I really notice is the difference in my adult conversations.

It’s not so much the content, but the way a conversation goes. Before I had kids, I remember feeling impatient with my parent-friends’ inability to sustain a conversation when their children were around: It was often impossible to finish sentences or stories, because there were so many interruptions. I’m a pretty patient person, and I was used to kids, but it became a secret pet peeve of mine. It wasn’t that the children were being rude — manners and respect are taught in all my friends’ households — they were just being normal kids. But I was used to adult conversations where both parties are able to focus on each other.

Since I remember what this felt like, I try to be particularly aware of it in my adult conversations now, but it’s simply not always possible. If my daughters are around, my attention is inevitably divided. Parents seem to get this: There’s a kind of  built-in permission to interrupt and be interrupted around one another, an acceptance that most conversations will happen in fits and starts.

With some of my childless friends, however, it’s a little different: They talk to me the way I used to talk to my friends — with the unconscious assumption that I’m able to prioritize what they’re saying and that my children’s interruptions or needs are secondary to what we’re talking about as adults.

I don’t judge this one bit, because that used to be me: I simply didn’t appreciate what it’s like for a parent to try to have adult conversation when their children are underfoot. I teach my daughters to say “excuse me,” to be patient, and to respect adults, but they’re still six year-olds who spill their drinks, skin their knees, have fights with their sister, need dolly’s hair braided for the millionth time, and generally want mom’s attention when they see — or even sense — that it’s elsewhere.

If you’re a parent, have you noticed this phenomenon? How do you keep quality conversations going with other adults? If you don’t have children, do you find it annoying to be interrupted by them when you’re trying to speak to your parent friends?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul