I wrestled a bear this weekend.
It wasn’t black or brown and it wasn’t covered in fur. But it was in the wilderness. And it was scary and intimidating. And it had been chasing me down for a while now.
And I wrestled that bear.
I went to my very first creative retreat in Ojai; a writer’s retreat for women called Spark that is hosted regularly by Kelle Hampton and Claire Bidwell Smith. I went in with a lot of hesitation. My passion for writing had gotten stale and I wasn’t even sure if I enjoyed writing any more. I was investing time and energy and money into three days of the unknown which is particularly difficult for a planner like me. And I was going it alone which ended up being one of my favorite parts of the weekend, but was incredibly intimidating at first.
So what happened at Spark? I met some beautiful women. Women from all over the country, each with their own story to tell. Their own words to write. Their own bears to wrestle. All of us were mothers, which was a common thread, and writers. But beyond that, we were coming together without any perceptions or expectations. And we left with so much more.
I engaged my senses and finally realized just how important the sensory experience is to me. The trees felt so tall, the sky looked so blue, every bite of food felt nourishing and fulfilling and the full moon looked extra bright that night and every sip of rosé tasted like my first. I took it all in – sometimes with new friends, sometimes in silence – and it filled me up.
And I wrote. A lot. A lot more than I have in a long time. Some of it was light, some of it was heavy. Some of it was inspiring and some of it was kind of shitty. Some of it made me cry and little bits of it made me laugh. I shared it with the group, which was a first for me. My voice shook here and there, uncertain and nervous. I shed my tears and fears and dove in headfirst because that’s what our resident Buddhist chef Goyo told us all to do. And I kept on writing. I am writing today. I will write tomorrow. And I will write the day after that.
During one of our last “share” sessions of the trip, I wrote a piece about body image. Mine, yours, all of ours, really. It wasn’t what I set out to write when I put my pen to my paper that morning. I wasn’t looking to go there, to feel that, to say those words. But they came spilling out of me and I had to share. I refused to look up while I read. I didn’t want to meet the eyes of the women around the room, to know they were likely looking at me and my figure in a different light. I just kept reading and finished it with a small, silent exhale.
When I looked up, tears and warm smiles surrounded me. And I knew it was mine for the sharing. They were my words but they belonged to all of us, in some way, big or small.
A woman from Chicago who I had just met two days prior was the last to leave the room, moving onto our next activity. I really liked this woman from the start. She had left her four children behind to step way outside of her box and come to Ojai and write and read and create for three days. And you could see in her eyes how much she needed it.
“That was really great,” she told me, pausing in the doorway. “That was really, really great. You wrestled a bear, girl. You wrestled a bear.”
I thanked her and we moved on with our day.
But that bear – and that weekend – will always stay with me.
Oh my god, today you are nine.
Nine feels so momentous to me. Nine feels like it’s almost ten. Nine feels like it’s so many more than two or three or even six. Nine feels like everything right now.
Today you are nine.
Today you are in third grade. You took on a new school this year with such uninhibited courage. You didn’t let the bad days get you down. You didn’t let the not-so-nice girls stand in your way. You walked in there with a smile on your face for everyone who crossed your path. A determination in your eye. A heart that was wide open. May it always stay that way.
Today you are very into Harry Potter. You are on book six right now and every time you finish one, I race you to the store to get the next. I can’t imagine putting your love of reading on pause, even for a second. It is so glorious.
Today you are a dog owner. It might be the best thing that has ever happened to you. You are stern with her. You want her (and us) to know that you’re a responsible, mature dog owner and that all those books you’ve read on them have gone to good use. You are a great dog owner.
Today you are starting to dip your toe into the tween years that linger ahead of you. You get “embarrassed” sometimes. You “worry” about things. I always thought I would dread the teenage years with my kids but I’m not. I am so interested to see what you become, how you navigate them, how we work through them together. You are a thinker and a feeler but you’re also confident and brave. I have to believe that all those things are going to work in your – our – favor. But for now, for nine, you’re also still a kid. A glorious, goofy, watch cartoons in her pj’s with her little brother, kid.
Today you are open to trying new foods again. It goes in cycles with kids, every few years. You are a little more open-minded lately. Some things work out, some don’t. But at least you’re trying. Favorites still remain pasta of any kind, cheese pizza and bagels. But you’ve also tried lamb and liked it. So let’s call that a win.
Today you weigh 64.5 pounds. You asked me if you looked skinny once a few weeks ago. It stopped me in my tracks. We talked about it briefly and moved on. I hope you don’t ever come back to it. I know you will probably will.
Today you are still a t-shirt and jeans kind of girl but you’ve branched out into plain long sleeved tees instead of character-clad ones. It makes you look like such a big girl. Hair is still firmly in its ponytail most days.
Today you are in this in-between phase where half of you still wants cuddles and hand-holding and the other half wants to close her bedroom door when her friends are over. I feel like this whole year will be an in-between kind of year. Not quite a kid, not quite a teenager. But still all mine.
Today you still sleep with ten stuffed animals every night. You went for a sleepover at your grandmother’s the other night and your grandfather had to drive the five miles back to our house at 10pm because you had forgotten your stuffed animals at home. I answered the door in my pajamas and looked at his tired eyes and apologized for you. He just chuckled. It was simply history repeating itself, he said. You are your mother’s daughter. By the time he got back home with the stuffies, you were already fast asleep.
Today you are taking tennis (for me) and art classes (for you). You are showing a lot of progress in the former and a lot of natural talent in the latter. You like to lose yourself in the art studio, getting your hands dirty, soaking up the coolness of the teachers, having a place that is yours and yours alone, without the distraction of your usual friends or even your family. It’s your thing.
Today you are still super close with your brother but the relationship is shifting a bit. Your patience wears thin some days and you show it. Nine and five can feel like two very different planets sometimes. But somehow, you always manage to come back to what matters. You bend, you give, you let him win. You are the big sister that we hoped you would be.
Today your favorite color is turquoise. You like bootcut jeans, even though I buy you skinny all the time.
Today you are nine. I can remember what it was like to be nine. It strikes me every day. You will remember this so well. You will remember the ice cream cake we’re going to have and the Harry Potter gifts you’re going to get. You’re going to remember what nine glowing candles look like. And how the balloons filled your room when you woke up this morning. You’re going to remember your friends coming over to celebrate you and your dog going crazy with excitement. And the best part is, we will always get to remember it too. Because it will be the day you turned nine. And it will be everything.
Happy birthday, D.
If you follow me on Instagram, I have shared a few snippets of our new home. It is everything we wanted it to be: light, neutral, airy, sparse. It leaves lots of room for running kids and sleeping puppies and natural light to flow in without distraction. Many friends have remarked on how tidy it is, how neat, how uncluttered…and it’s exactly the vibe we were going for. A space made up of space and not a whole lot more, where we could all feel a little bit lighter.
But, naturally, because I am one who favors extremes, I am now fixated on making our cozy home office into the exact opposite. Warmer, darker, filled to the brim (in a stylish way, not a hoarder way)…I want it to feel like the home’s hearth. A den-like library with books everywhere and soft lighting and dark curtains. A place where my kids can curl up with their favorite characters and a blanket and enjoy a cocoon-like sense of comfort and love. A place where I can escape from the bright, airy vibe of our central great room and retreat a little. A place where I can begin to store memories and treasured finds and books – real books with pages and all! – again. Where I can write and daydream and collect.
A place where I can add a little clutter to my simple life.
Because maybe sometimes that’s actually what we need. Not less, but more. More inspiration, more ideas, more creativity. Not all the time, but maybe sometimes?
We spend a lot of time and energy simplifying in this life and I am a big advocate for living an uncluttered life – physically and mentally. But maybe if we all gave ourselves one little pocket, one little space, one little area where we could clutter it up and make a mess and fill ourselves up – physically and mentally – then maybe simplifying the rest would be even easier.
More of everything.
*image above – major inspiration for my space! – via Vogue.com, photographed by Francois Halard.
As a working mom – or a working woman or a non-working mom, for that matter – we are all really good at investing in other people. Investing our time, our emotions, our talents, our money. Giving to others in our life so they can be stronger, better, healthier, happier.
But I realized over the past few weeks that I haven’t been investing anything in myself. I was feeling super low-energy in my body and my mind. Unmotivated, uninspired. I was mentally beating myself up for goals left unattended, for words that I wasn’t writing, for the exercise I kept conveniently dropping from my schedule. I was going through the motions of the every day and keeping a lot of things to the high standards I subscribe to in all areas of life…except for my own well-being.
And I know I have no one to blame but myself. Somehow, it was ok for me to focus on everything else – again – without giving a second thought to how I was feeling. Until it wasn’t ok. Until I knew that if I didn’t wake up – physically and mentally – and take some time to invest in myself, the mental beatdown was going to get worse. And I also realized that maybe, just maybe, it was ok to do it for myself and no one else. We’re so good at the whole “I can’t take care of everyone else if I don’t care of myself thing” and that’s honorable and lovely but what if you just want to take care of you. Not for them? Not for anyone else? Just for you. I think that’s ok, too.
So I started with the frivolous: beauty. I made a hair appointment and invested in something I have been wanting to do for a long time: eye lashes. Simple, natural-looking lash extensions that make my face instantly pop with a new brightness. I love them. I invested in them. In the money and the time commitment and the upkeep. I invested in myself. Because they make me feel pretty. And confident. And less rushed in the morning.
Then I made a mental investment in the physical: exercise. I have been a longtime lazy girl. I don’t like exercise, I don’t crave exercise, I don’t feel compelled to exercise. Until I do it. Then I feel the instant benefits and wonder why I just can’t commit to investing the time and the energy into my health. Well this is me, getting back on the horse, and trying to make it a priority again. I am challenging myself to invest in myself for the next 21 days. And hopefully beyond, but let’s start with baby steps. 21 days doing some sort of physical exercise every day. It’s really half mental and half physical for me but it’s an investment I need to make. You can follow my Instagram (and now @wwgwynethdo on Snapchat – on the days when I can figure it out!) to see how I’m doing. And feel free to call me out while you’re there.
I took a bath. Last night, at the height of bedtime happy hour in our house, when the kids were running around asking me to find the pajamas and crayons and stuffed animals that were sitting right under their noses, when the dog was chasing them with my slipper in her mouth, when the dinner plates were piled high and the emails were still coming in, I looked to my (amazing) husband and told him I needed to go and take a bath. I invested in my own well-being, my own voice and used it to put myself first. He encouraged me to go for it so I said good night to my half-naked kids, patted the dog on the head, walked into our bedroom and shut the door behind me. I took a bath and I lit a candle and I put on a face mask and I just sat there, embracing every moment. The noise still rumbled away right outside my door, and I knew it wasn’t going anywhere for long, but investing in just those few moments of solitude and quiet, right in the middle of the hurricane…it was the best move I had made all day.
Finally, I invested in my writing. I have been so lazy about writing lately (as you’ve noticed as you had to dust off this URL just to find this post). I haven’t been reading, I haven’t been writing, and I haven’t been nourishing my creative outlets beyond Pinterest for far too long now. So I am signing up for a writer’s retreat in May where I am investing time and money in my craft. It’s an indulgence. It’s money that could easily be put elsewhere right now. It’s a weekend away from my kids and with a whole room of complete strangers. It’s taking a chance on the unknown. But it’s also taking a chance on me. And that’s what matters.
Giving back to myself so I can be stronger, better, healthier, happier.
Taking a chance on me.
Investing in myself.
I hope you take some time – and some initiative – to do the same.
*image via Death to the Stock Photo
I made these muffins on Sunday morning.
It had been a while since I had baked for my kids on a Sunday. Life has been busy, life has been hectic. Days have been long and nights have been short and we’ve been relying on a lot of cereal and take out around here the past few weeks.
So on Sunday, I wanted to bake for them. I dug up a recipe on my laptop and got to work. I pulled out the whole wheat flour and measured out the oats. I let them break the eggs and sneak a few chocolate chips. I used leftover muffin liners from Halloween and warmed up the oven (note to self: never get an electric oven again, miss my gas one so much…). We covered the kitchen counters with flour-covered handprints, we snuck in a little extra vanilla as we always do, some of us got bored and went back to their cartoons halfway through the job…
And when the muffins came out of the oven minutes later, they were…ok.
They were a little ugly because I had scooped a little too generously. They were kind of crumbly in a weird, annoying way. They were a little dry. You could taste the whole wheat flour more than usual and they probably could have used a little more coconut oil or a little less oats or something along those lines.
They were just ok to me.
But to them, they were perfect. They were extra vanilla and lots of chocolate chips and the muffin liners that had the skeletons on them that make them laugh.
They were warm and they were too big and they were piled high on their Sunday morning plates.
To them, they were perfect.
So much of what we give and do and want for our kids is perfect. Even when it doesn’t seem that way in our eyes. It’s perfect.
And sometimes we just need a little extra time – and a little extra vanilla – on a Sunday morning to see it.
*here is the recipe we adapted for these muffins – they aren’t perfect, but i say make them anyways:
- 1 1/2 cups oats (old fashioned or quick oats)
- 2 and 2/3 cups flour (we used whole wheat flour, white might be a better option)
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 4 teaspoons baking powder (this seems like a lot to me…may have been another issue)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1/2 cup coconut oil
- 6 ounces chocolate chips (I used mini chocolate chips, but I think it might be even better with regular-sized chocolate chips.)
Combine the oats, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, milk, and oil.
Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture until moistened. Mix the chocolate chips in.
Fix greased or paper-lined muffin cups 2/3 full with the batter. Bake at 400 degrees for 16-18 minutes, or until tops are light golden.
I went to bootcamp for the first time this morning.
As anyone who has ever gone to bootcamp for the first time can attest, it was terrible in the best possible way. I didn’t make it through the whole hour but what I did manage to finish I finished with a sense of determination and drive and kick ass-ness I haven’t felt in a long time.
And it wasn’t because of my body or my mind or my aching muscles.
It was because of the other women who were huffing and puffing alongside me.
They were moms like me, they were tired like me, they were probably thinking of all the things on their to-do list for the rest of the day like me. But they were there. And they were there 100% for themselves. Not just finding the time and the effort, but making the time and the effort, to take care of themselves physically and mentally and emotionally. Leaving the cozy confines of their Sunday morning home to sweat and burn and push themselves in the blazing sun. They’ve been doing it longer and harder and better than me but didn’t have anything but smiles and encouraging words (and even one of their extra water bottles!) to offer me the entire time…while I walked during their jog, while I cursed out loud out of sheer frustration, even during the last 20 minutes of the class, while I sat there and simply watched them in awe, nursing my water, my aching abs and my pride.
I am going to go back to bootcamp.
I am sure it’s going to be terrible again the second time. And the third. And the one after that. But I am going to make the time and the effort. I am going to show those women how far their encouragement carried me. I am going to curse and sweat and burn alongside them for as long as I can.
I don’t think I have it in me to ever become a fitness enthusiast. One of those women that loves to work out and does it with a smile on her face and a spring in her step. But I have it in me to be a woman and a mom and a person who takes care of herself. Who takes on a challenge no matter how tough it may be. Who is ok with coming in last sometimes if it means coming in at all. And most importantly, a woman who is most driven to do these things alongside other women who feel the same.
*image above via here (and it’s a free iPhone wallpaper!)
My son woke up in the middle of the night the other night and went to the bathroom all by himself.
Mundane to many, I am sure, but he just turned five and this was the first time he did it by himself, without calling out to us from bed to come and help him.
As parents we often mark the passage of time and the growth of our kids by milestones like birthdays and anniversaries and the beginning of the school year but in that middle of the night minute, when I was bleary-eyed and heard the toilet flush without the usual “mama” cry that precedes it…I realized it’s the every day moments that mark so much more.
The first time my daughter said she didn’t need to hold my hand crossing the street. The first time they order off the adult menu. The first time they don’t look back for you at school drop off…or don’t rush to you at pick up, opting to chit chat with friends instead. The first sleepover. The first time they fill their own water glass without spilling a drop. Toast their own bagel. Cut with a knife.
The every day moments that remind us they are growing and maturing and changing and evolving. That the role we have fulfilled in the early years as parents will also evolve and change along with those moments…that we are still needed, but in a different way.
Those are the moments that are milestones. And I am going to soak them all up as they pass me by. The birthdays and the calendar years mean one thing…but those little moments. Those little moments mean so much more.
My husband and I were both raised in Montreal where trips to the nearby mountains are one of the only ways to survive the endlessly long and frigid winters. As much as we love living in the sun by the beach, this time of year we always crave the cold, crisp mountain air, walks in the snow and evergreen forests that seem to reach for the sky.
So this weekend we found some.
We went up to Mammoth with some friends for three days of skiing, apres skiing, tubing and more. I had a lot of anxiety going into it (have to say, so far my anxiety level in 2016 has not been impressive and I am working on changing that asap) because it was our first trip with Luna (who is now four months old!) and even though we were staying at the very pet-friendly Westin Monache, it felt like the weekend would mean lots of stress and little relaxation.
Thankfully little Luna proved me wrong. She did great on the drive both ways and happily hung out in her crate in the room while we explored the town (this was our favorite meal in Mammoth — and I haven’t had that many memorable meals in Mammoth…), did some runs and marveled at our kids marveling at the piles of powdery snow everywhere.
My daughter took some lessons and amazed me at her progress. There is something so incredible about watching your kids naturally take to something – especially something that you love so much. Skiing behind her and watching her fearlessly make her way down the face of the mountain with a huge grin on her face is one of my favorite joys in life.
My son, on the other hand, is taking a little more time warming up to the sport part of our snow trips. He would happily just wander through waist-deep snow, narrating his way under his breath with tales of the ninjas and snowy monsters that lay ahead, just waiting for him to take them down. He is also quite good at apres ski, like his mama, until he spills his hot chocolate all over himself and decides he is done.
My husband is most at home in the mountains, I think. He is an avid and long-time snowboarder and while he loves to surf, nothing makes him happier than finding himself back on the mountain. We left him on his own to get lost a few times and when he found his way back, he was definitely happier than when he left.
And I guess that’s why we take all these little getaways, isn’t it? It’s always a lot of work to pack up a family and to make your way from point A to point B. It’s always a little too expensive and it’s always kind of stressful. You always end up yelling at your kids at some point or having someone get sick on the drive (it was our daughter this time) or missing a flight. But when you make your way back home, back to the comfort of your own bed and your kitchen and your routine…you are happier than when you left.
A few years ago, when my daughter was six or so, I set up an email address for her. I shared the address with family and a few very close family friends and asked them to send tidbits her way so that some day, when she was old enough, she could log in and enjoy a time capsule of her young life through the eyes of those that love her the most.
This is my first email to her.
You’ve got mail (you won’t understand that reference, but that’s ok; we won’t understand a lot of each other’s references as time goes on).
Today, you are officially logging on. This is your email address. Your little piece of Gmail. Your passport to the virtual world, in many ways.
I don’t know how old you are going to be when you read this. I haven’t decided what the right age is for email. For your own screen time. For any of this.
I don’t know a lot of things about parenting in the digital world. But I hope we can figure it out together.
I want you to know that email – and everything else that comes as an extension of this little innocuous address – is a wonderful tool for communication. It is efficient and helpful and knows no boundaries. It will serve you both personally and professionally. It will keep close ties tighter and it will forge new paths. It will enlighten and amuse and help you pass endless hours with distraction. It will be your calling card for years to come. Your personal address that has no limitations, no zip code, no restrictions at all.
It may also disappoint you every once in a while. It may be the bearer of bad news, sad news, frustrating news. It may go unanswered when you don’t want it to. It may spam you and bombard you and call your name even when you are nowhere near it. It may make you want to log off sometimes. Even though I know that proposition seems crazy right now as you log on for the first time, it will happen. And it should. You should.
Whatever it delivers, whatever impact it has on your life, I hope you treat it as a gift. I hope you understand that today’s technology (and tomorrow’s for that matter, because that’s what you will be living) is a gift. It is there to enlighten your life and to allow you to explore a world far beyond the one you know right now. But only if it’s treated properly. Only if it’s treated with respect and dignity and self-awareness. Only if you hold on very tight to the real world every single time you log onto the digital one. The two must live hand in hand.
I don’t know who you will write your very first email to. I hope it’s to me. I hope you will let me know that you understand a little bit about the journey you are about to embark on. I hope you will let me know that you will be ok with it. That you are excited but mindful at the same time. That you will listen to our advice about all of this tech stuff and heed our warnings about safety. I hope you don’t share too much or take in too much. I hope that you will write me on days when you feel like you can’t talk to me. I hope you will send me messages when I least expect them. I hope that you will share bits and pieces of your life with me…a time capsule that I can keep forever. I hope that you know that behind this email – behind every email and social media account and virtual handle – there is a person. A person just like you, with feelings and dreams and emotions. I hope you remember that every time you log on.
But most of all, I hope you open this email with a smile. I hope you look through all the pictures and notes and stories we’ve shared with you through these early years and know they will always be sitting right here, waiting for you. Always here to bring a memory to life. Always here to remind you of the people, places and things that bring you the most comfort and love. Just waiting for you to log on. Because as amazing as this whole new world you are about to explore may be…I hope the one you’ve known before it will always be in your heart.
All my love,