Man’s Best Friend

October 8, 2014

Po
New research shows that dogs are even smarter than we thought. Probably not a big secret to all the dog lovers out there. My husband, who grew up with dogs, has always said his little friends could comprehend a lot and feel emotion.

I didn’t grow up with dogs myself, and I’ve never owned one as an adult, though I lived with a few here and there who belonged to housemates of mine. Which didn’t bother me, since I never wanted one anyway. But then I found myself house-sitting for a month for some good friends who had two dogs, a weimaraner and a dachshund. (The little one was the boss.) I assumed I’d just take care of their needs and that would be that. But one thing led to another: They insisted on sleeping on my bed; they got into lots of trouble that had me in stitches; I discovered their unique personalities; and, eventually, I bonded with them in spite of myself. When my friends returned, I really missed those two little canines! Proof that even a disinterested non–dog person can be wooed.

H and S routinely ask for a dog now (and two cats whom they’ve already named Snowball and Lila). Even though they’re still very fearful of dogs, they’ve decided they can handle a small, cute one like our friend Napoleon above. As long as we’re in our tiny row house, the answer is no — but between B and the girls, I sense there’s one is in our future at some point. And I’d be fine with that, so long as I don’t get stuck with all the care-taking.

Are you a dog person? What’s your favorite breed?

Oh, and for a heart-warming story, be sure to check out this article I wrote for TruthAtlas about a dog-rescuing postal worker in Maine. It’s a great story.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Deathbed Regrets

October 7, 2014

Ice Fishing Cabin
If you were lying on your deathbed right now, would you have any regrets? (Other than the fact that you’re dying, of course.) This article about the biggest regrets people have on their deathbeds was interesting, but not all that surprising: People wish they’d spent more time with loved ones, lived more authentically, not cared what others thought, followed their dreams. We all struggle with these things in one way or another, at one time or another — so how can we make sure we get to the end without regrets?

There’s no magic bullet, but I think one of the best things we can do is to think about death more. Our own deaths, to be specific. That may sound morbid, but if there’s one thing we can all be sure of, it’s that we’re going to die someday. Reflecting on that from time to time helps us cherish the present, be more grateful, and focus on what’s most important.

I actually think about death pretty often. I’m not sure why; I’m not a gloomy person. It’s probably a combination of my philosophical nature, my fears, and my faith, which draw me to ponder the heavier questions a lot – death being the biggie. When I look at how short even a long life is, and how I want to live the years I’m given, it puts things into perspective for me — and perspective is everything.

I’m hoping any deathbed thoughts are still a long way off, but it makes me think about whether I have any regrets so far in my life. I’ve lived a lot of years, and I’ve made mistakes; if I could go back in time knowing what I know now, there are some things I might do differently. Then again, I know I was doing my best at the time, so I can’t quite bring myself to call anything I did then a regret. After all, everything that’s happened (or didn’t happen) in my life has led me to where I am right now — and it’s hard to imagine being anywhere else.

Years ago, a professor had my class write our own obituaries. We were encouraged to think about what we wanted to be remembered for, what our legacy would be, what kind of person we wanted to have become by the end of our lives. It ended up being a very fruitful exercise: It cemented in my mind the idea that life often takes on greater meaning and purpose once you look at it from its endpoint.

Do you ever fear you’ll have regrets at the end of your life? Do you have any so far? And do you think about death a lot, or is that just weird and you want to forget we ever had this conversation?

Image found via Pinterest 

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Friday Inspiration

October 3, 2014

Gratitude quote
I remind myself of this whenever I’m having a bad day. Even Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist who survived a concentration camp, found meaning and gratitude in the midst his horrific circumstances.

I also use a version of this quote when I feel afraid. When I’m really anxious about something, I tell myself, “At least you’re not on a plane flying to Ethiopia right now.” And then, when I do find myself on a plane flying to Ethiopia (or wherever),  I tell myself, “At least you’re not starving right now, or battling a terrible disease, or being run out of your home.” Or some version of that. Might sound dramatic, but it helps me to think of how much worse it could be. Even when tragedy does strike, there are still things to be thankful for.

Where do you find comfort when life gets difficult or stressful?

Happy weekend, friends! Don’t forget: If you’re in Philly this Sunday, come on by to MommyCon and say hello! I’ll see you back here on Monday (or maybe Tuesday, depending on how crazy I get at MommyCon…).

Image via Pinterest 

 

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Internet Menagerie

October 2, 2014

Baltimore Harbor
We’re overdue for a trip around the web! Here are some links I’ve been wanting to share with you. Please share any of your own finds in the comments!

  • Letting a six year old play outside: What do you think of this mom’s story? (Haiku of the Day)

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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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.

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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

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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: businessinsider.com 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

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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

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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

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