Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Scenes from Falcon Ridge '09

Dave Chalfant, Katryna and Natalya Zuckerman who played guitar with us on our mainstage set.

Tom, Elle and Jay

Sierra Sumpf, Big Yellow writer holding her excellent new CD

Nerissa and Dan Navarro

Evidence of the weather on my boot.

Our kids were big fans of the henna tattoo tent.

My mother and Jay.

Jim Henry and Tracy Grammer at the Heart and Soul workshop.

Kris McCue, who took most of the above photos. I love her.

"Crazy Love Vol 2" is on the system in this internet cafe in the Adirondacks where I'm typing right now. Did I mention that the high point of Falcon Ridge was the Paul Simon workshop? And in particular dancing with Susan Werner to "That Was Your Mother."

On my drive in to town, on my iPod came that Cat Stevens song "On the Road To Find Out," which sounds like the beginning of his spiritual quest which culminated with his conversion to Islam. Then, when I walked in to buy my coffee, "Hard Headed Woman" was playing. How weird is that? So I suppose I might say a few words about musicians who are compelled to be seekers.

I'm on vacation with my family. When I get around my family I wish I weren't a spiritual seeker. It's not fun. I resent the fact that I want to go deep all the time. I want to be an easy person and I don't feel easy all the time, especially when I have to deal with all the annoying mind-tangles that crop up when one is wrestling with one's essential sense of self as often happens when one gets around one's family of origin. Then I get into this, "I'm on vacation, why can't I relax" thing.

The only thing I have found to help with this is a rigorous gratitude practice and and equally rigorous practice of laughing at myself.

Jay is learning to walk. He took 18 steps in a row on Sunday night, and since then he's gotten more conservative. 18 steps forward, 3 steps back, or something like that. We are all learning to some extent.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Music, Part One

[Note: the writers of this blog are on vacation with no high speed. Can you believe it? we are writing and taking phtographs, so check back as this entry and subsequent ones evolve.]

We arrived at Falcon Ridge on Friday morning, Katryna and Jay and Katryna's daughter and I in one car. Tom, Dave and Katryna's son and Elle drove out later in the afternoon. Katryna and I were still bleary from a whirlwind packing of our respective houses, complete with kids’ blow up beds, favorite stuffed animals, ukuleles, our own guitars and paintings and books and CDs to sell, bags and bags of organic produce from our farms, kites flying from the back of our car, the full catastrophe of two families in full swing. One moment I was frantically swabbing my filthy kitchen counter with a dirty sponge, trying to make our house habitable for our kind George Harrison sitters, and the next we were on stage with Dan Navarro, Tracy Grammer, Jim Henry, Jon Veznor and the Falcon Ridge House Band. The day was cool, slightly damp as days at FR have been lately, but the fullness of spirit we have come to know and love was replete in the faces of the colorfully clad friends on the field. I had handed Jay to my friend Kris McCue who was making him giggle and encouraging him to walk, when my parents appeared off the side of the stage. My father grabbed his namesake and beamed into his grandson’s face. I started to cry and didn’t stop for the whole workshop, which was entitled Heart and Soul. What better, I though, for the heart and for the soul than a dose of music?

This is the question I’ve been holding in my mind all week; it bobs up and down like a buoy on the tide. Why does music cut through the detritus of life––all the small stuff we sweat–– better than any other medium (for me), or any other spiritual practice? We all know music is a language, but why is it so universal, so true? And is it universal? When one is at a place like Falcon Ridge, it certainly seems that way; but then again, festival-goers are self-selecting. I do have a friend who proclaims that she is lacking in “music buds” as some pitiable individuals are missing their taste buds, or sense of smell (though there were moments yesterday when I was trudging through the manure-soaked mud near the Port-o-Potties when I thought it might be a good thing to be missing one’s nose buds). Anyway, my friend doesn’t get music. She doesn’t hate it, or go out of her way to avoid it, but she doesn’t see what the fuss is all about. She wouldn’t be the one to hand you a mix CD that she’d labored over, carefully deciding the sequence and exactly which songs you, as her dear friend, just HAD to hear.

I’ve had many friends who have made me such mix tapes, and some of them (the tapes as well as the friends) have saved my life. I have been such a friend. During one period in my early thirties when I was living alone, I made it an exercise to try to cycle through my entire CD collection on an ongoing basis. I had one of those tall CD shelves that holds about five hundred CDs: ten shelves which each held fifty. I would put the first CD on the top five shelves into my CD player which held five CDs and press shuffle. That would be the morning’s soundtrack, and some day’s you’d get Beethoven, Dylan, The Indigo Girls, Moxy Fruvous and Smashing Pumpkins. The next day, the Breeders, Golden Smog, Sonny and Cher and Wilco. Sometimes I’d get the soundtrack to Guys and Dolls. I felt like God was my DJ.

But my life has changed, and I don’t have the time nor the freedom to listen to music like this. For one thing, once I got into a relationship with another person, I found that I preferred talking to him with no soundtrack to distract us. I found the company of a real person was more rewarding than the virtual relationship of my old and new friends the CDs. And then I had a child who had very strong opintions about what she wanted to listen to, and we now use our CD player mostly for Dan Zanes and our HooteNanny disks.

Falcon Ridge is an opportunity for me to have soul-feeding, heart embiggening music in my life, and these days it sometimes does take a gargantuan packing of the car, reorganizing of my family’s life and moving us from one part of the state to another in order to get this.

(to be continued...)

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Couch We Can't Get Rid Of

My parents bought it in the 80s. It was our first and last foray into the world of sectionals. It had two sections! One was a three-seater, with respectable arm rests on both sides, and the other was a kind of love seat with a missing arm rest so that you could make an L shape between it and the larger piece. The only thing wrong with it in our teen-age minds was that it was white. Because given my entire family's proclivity towards spilling beverages (or really, anything) it wasn't white for long.

My parents spent certainly more than the couch was worth to recover it in forest green. And we moved the smaller section so that it faced vertically toward the TV. What a revelation! You could sit and watch TV with your legs out in front of you! The problem was, only one of the five of us could sit that way, so we three girls fought constantly about who got the love seat. I usually won because I had a boyfriend and argued that love seats were for LUUUUV.

When my parents developed some better taste, I inherited both pieces sometime in the late 90s, and this couch moved up to Massachusetts where it sat in my music room and on which I wrote all the songs from Play, If You Lived Here You'd Be Home Now, Love and China and This Town Is Wrong. My good luck songwriting couch. It's the couch where I've taken countless naps, eaten many years worth of meals, made out for the first time with my husband. It lived in the writer's room of my current house and many other writers graced it with their fine muses.

Did I mention it kind of smells?

Here is the couch in 2004, a few days after Kerry lost the presidential election. We were having a party to cheer ourselves up and agree to work for peace and love our Republican friends and relations despite our deep grief and frustration. Katryna is about 20 days away from giving birth to William. The dog is the late great Cody, Tom's Australian Shepherd.

Speaking of Tom, he has never liked the couch. "Please please please get rid of it!" he begged me. We were given a fancy Pottery Barn couch when we got married, and at this point the larger sectional moved to the music room where it once again functions as the TV watching nap-taking couch. Also, Elle's favorite thing to do in the entire world is to take its eight pillows off of it, build a fort with them and generally toss them all about the room, jump on them and rip the stuffing out of them. (More on that anon.) The smaller sectional has migrated all over the house we now live in; at one point it was on the third floor in our impossible-to-access attic office space. For several years I used it as my primary life coaching couch (say that 5 times fast.) (This is the main reason Tom hates it. I make him move it every few years.)Up until last week, it had been relegated to the front porch where one of the writers who comes to my weekly groups favored it as a spot to write poetry. When I begged Tom to let me bring it back indoors so that I could have a spot in the kitchen to recline for breastfeeding Jay, Tom said, "That's like asking, 'can I bring tangible depression into the house?'"

A few weeks ago we noticed the wasps. Tom was washing the windows when he got stung. We monitored him carefully to see if he had developed the allergy that makes one stop breathing, and kept our eye on the hospital across the street to make sure it was still there just in case we needed to rush him over. He was fine, but we decided we couldn't live with a wasps' nest right next to our front door. But how does one destroy a nest that is inside of a couch?

Answer: spray it with a ton of toxic chemicals.

Actually, we still don't even know if this is accurate, as there still seem to be some wasps hovering around the couch, which Tom dragged in several stages to the side of our house where it rests as of this writing. So what should we do? We can't take it to the dump; even if you ignore the tremendous environmental irresponsibility of throwing away a gigantic piece of furniture, how mean to the good disposers of garbage to leave them with a possibly active wasps' nest?

We can't freecycle it for the same reasons. Our friend Alice said she'd come by with her truck and take it, but really. How?

Meanwhile, both of us inexplicably developed a tenacious fondness for the remaining sectional, even though, as I said previously, our children have ripped open the fine workmanship on the upholstery and Jay is now pulling pincer-grip sized fingersful of asbestos-like filling and attempting to eat them.

So we have rejected the option of buying a new couch. Instead, I had grand visions of re-upholstering the couch myself, rending it thus:

But because I have a book which I should be writing now instead of blogging about the couch we can't get rid of, I opted to take the strange extra pieces of material that inexplicably cover the armrests and make a patch which I sewed by hand onto the cushion like so:

Viva le divan!

Pillowface Dog

Here is Elle's new Pillowface Dog which I made so she could have a pillowface at school naptime. Reports come back daily that she is among the non-napping crowd, but no one seems to mind. I tried in vain to felt the ears. Apparently this kind of yarn (worsted weight? It's from a sheep farm called Christopher's in Maine and I bought it in 1991) doesn't felt. Alas.

Monday, July 13, 2009

"Wanna Be a Star Then Suffer"

I made my song a coat
Covered with embroideries
Out of old mythologies
From heel to throat;
But the fools caught it,
Wore it in the world's eyes
As though they'd wrought it.
Song, let them take it,
For there's more enterprise
In walking naked.
-William Butler Yeats

I can't stop thinking about Michael Jackson. I know I'm not alone in this, though I have so far avoided most of the pipelines of infotainment that hurl tidbits, stories, photos at us about the now deceased King of Pop. My main sources of media are NPR, the New Yorker and the New York Times, so I know that Jackson had to pay royalties to the African pop singer Manu Dibango for "borrowing" his phrase "mama se mama sa ma ma coo sa" for "Wanna Be Starting Something."

Other than that, those three sources of media aren't giving me what I really want to know, which is why that perfection of a child turned into a perfectionist who turned his razor sharp powers onto his own body and mutilated himself, and (perhaps) harmed other young people along the way. Also, like the rest of the world, I am fascinated with his three kids, and I want to know all the stuff enquiring minds want to know, like what was he thinking when he dangled his baby off a balcony (this clip was shown about fourteen times on CNN and MSNBC last Sunday when I was trying to enjoy some cable TV in my hotel in Durham while I was on the road and away from my own children for the Eno Festival. I can't believe how exciting the promise of cable TV always seems and how unsatisfying it always ends up being.)

Michael Jackson's seems to be a cautionary tale to parents everywhere: do not exploit the talents of your child! Do not tell them they are ugly! Do not wince when the boys' voices start to change, ushering in the end of those pristine golden soprano notes and your own golden nest egg! ("Just look over your shoulder, baby! Ooooooo!") And would that he could have turned his overly critical eye onto his music and come to the same conclusion WB Yeats did in 1912: that it would be better to walk naked than to tarry with those who had turned his songs and himself into mythologies. Would that he could have loved himself––his true self.

Speaking of mythologies, today, I felt like I'd stumbled into one of the early fables about the Buddha. On our walk home from school (yes, she started school!), we came through the park and paused to enjoy the beautiful day. I let Jay out of his stroller and he climbed up my leg, took my hand in his left hand, and with his right, reached for Elle's hand. The three of us walked a good fifteen feet––by far the farthest he has traveled on his own little pristine soles. Elle pointed to a tree she wanted us to hang out under, and we sauntered over. I smelled a strong odor and hunted around until I found the carcass of a squirrel. Elle ran right over and said, "Mama, what's that?"

"That's a dead squirrel," I said. I resisted the urge to grab her away from it and instead let her come close and examine it from about three feet away.

"How did it die?" she asked.

"I don't know," I said, though it looked as though it had been mauled. There were flies buzzing around it, and as I said, it stank.

A few moments later we passed by an extremely old woman sitting on a park bench with her daughter, who was also quite old. The two of them admired our children and it turned out the old woman's son (the other woman's brother) had the same name as Jay. "So this little one will be a world famous neurosurgeon and all-around wonderful guy too!" the younger of the old woman squealed. I smiled and agreed, though I don't care so much about the neurosurgeon part.

And then we saw an old friend of mine whose arm was in a splint. She'd broken her collar bone, she told us, as we stopped to chat, but Elle couldn't get it out of her head that she'd broken her arm, and I didn't bother to correct her. We didn't see a beggar, but other than that, we pretty much got the tour of the "four passing sights" the young Siddhartha Gautama witnessed on the outing his father had famously tried (and failed) to choreograph into being free of the suffering of humanity. Like the Buddha's father, Jackson's dad, for perhaps different reasons, wanted his son to stay a boy. Don't all of us parents have a little part of us that wants to keep our children innocent children forever?

I didn't think too much of this coincidence until tonight, when, while putting Elle into her crib, she interrupted her nightly "Story About My Day" right around the part where we'd eaten breakfast to ask, "Mama, why do people die? When are we going to die? I don't want to die. I don't want you to die."

"Oh, sweetie," I said, hugging her and stroking her hair. "Everybody dies."

"Does this crib die?"

"Ye-es," I said.

She was silent for a moment and the sound of an ambulance siren punctuated the evening. "No," she finally said, shaking her head as if to say, "silly." "Cribs don't die. But do amimals?"

"Yes, they do," I said as gently as I could. "It's too bad, but they do. Everything dies eventually."

"I don't want them to!" she said.

"I know. I don't want them to either. But here's the thing: there are a couple of ways we don't die. One is that when we die, like that squirrel that we saw? We kind of melt into the earth, little bit by little bit and become part of all that is. And the other thing I believe is that we all have a soul, which is the part of us that is aware and the part of us that loves. It's the part of me that loves you no matter what. And that will never ever ever die, sweetie. That part is part of God, and God doesn't die, so that part of you won't die either."

She liked this. "The part of me that loves you won't ever die!" she shouted. "And Jay, and Daddy, and George Harrison, and my stuffed amimals and my blankies!"

We cuddled some more and she said, "Mama, how do you break your bones?"

"Huh? Oh, like Maria?" [Our friend with the broken collar bone].

"Yeah. How do you break your arm?"

"Well, sometimes by not being careful enough, or having an accident or something. We try to be careful, but we can't always help it. And if you break a bone, it's okay. It usually heals pretty well. But it's good to be careful."

"I'll be careful, but sometimes I'm not careful, like when I fall on the ground."

"I'd say you're pretty careful. But we still have to watch Jay, because he's just a baby and he might fall and hurt himself if we're not watching him."

"He won't fall!"

"You're probably right. But still. That's why we close off the stairs for him."

I kissed her goodnight and we made a date to have breakfast together the next morning. And then I came down and wrote some more about Michael Jackson. I think the reason I'm so consumed with thoughts of him (besides the fact that I can't get "Beat It" and "Rock With You" out of my head) is that he represents the ultimate in fame and stardom, a path I once thought I wanted to pursue. Then again, when I was fifteen, I thought "Wanna Be Starting Something" was "Wanna Be a Star Then Suffer," which as it turns out was prophetic, if not for Jackson, certainly for myself.(Calling Dr. Freud...)

The Buddha taught that life is suffering; that the cause of suffering is the constant wanting and grasping state of mind; that there is a way out of suffering and it involves the Eightfold path which is a middle way between excessive consumption and complete self-denial and asceticism. I'm no Jackson expert, but just from passing by the tabloids in the supermarket I can see that he seemed to vacillate between both extremes: the Neverland Ranch on the one hand and anorexia on the other. To see him, even still images of him, in later life was to see a haunted person. His face, in my mind, is the quintessential face of suffering.

And yet, the world did take his coat and has worn it and will continue to wear it. I downloaded “ABC” and “I’ll Be There” and played them last week for Elle as we drove up to church. She didn’t like “ABC”––she prefers the several versions of alphabet songs she already knows––but as the first notes of “I’ll Be There" sounded in our car, I said, “This one’s sort of a lullaby.” She listened for a few bars and said, “Mama, I want you to sing this song to me before I go to sleep.”

And right afterward, “Rock With You” came on. She sang along with every single lyric of the chorus, right on tune.
I wanna rock with you all night/Dance you into day
I wanna rock with you all night/Dance the night away.
-M. Jackson

There’s something preternatural about the clarity of a child’s voice singing adult lyrics, something eerie about hearing my own daughter singing along with the post-adolescent Jackson juxtaposed with the school-aged Jackson whose vocal talents pretty much define the term “preternatural” (and who was singing pretty mature lyrics, too, I might add.)

I closed my eyes and said a prayer right there: “God, please bless these children––all the children–– and keep them safe from the evils of the world. But may their protection rest inside of their own sweet little selves. May they find that inner strength, because there are not walls high enough to keep it all out: the tabloids, the carcasses, the concepts of mutilation and––yes––the sex offenders. Just be there with these children. Let them know You are present. Let them know they are not alone.”

If you should ever find someone
new, I know he'd better be good to you
cause if he doesn't, I'll be there.
-Berry Gordy, Bob West, Hal Davis, and Willie Hutch

Maybe “I’ll Be There” is an appropriate sentiment after all.It's a pretty generous description of unconditional love. I just wish Michael had felt it for himself.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

United Breaks Guitars

I heard this story on NPR yesterday. Here's the video which has gone viral. I consider myself infected.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Felting Update

In 1992, I was working as the Assistant Dean of Students at the Madeira School in McLean, VA. That's a really fancy title for "Glorified Secretary And Well-Paid Babysitter of 40 Teenage Girls." To give you some perspective, the women the Dean of Students hired to be our shared secretary became the Dean of Students herself the following year when both the former dean and I left for greener pastures. She--the secretary turned dean--also taught me how to knit, which was pretty much all I did in the dean's office, other than sign girls on and off campus, call the taxi company to get rides for girls, organize trips to the mall and occasionally hire indie rock bands (that the girls hated) to play at the spring formal. But I digress. The point is: I learned how to knit once, and now, thanks to my efforts at blogging daily last March and Amanda Soule's wonderful book The Creative Family, I am a knitter again.

Here is a sweater I knit circa 1991:

Here's another:

This last one, the cardigan, was knit for Katryna, but it was too huge for her so she gave it back to me. OK, truly, the problem with the pink sweater was that it was just a gigantic, unshapely mess of a thing. It looked kind of like what it was: a novice knitter's sweater that only a doting grandparent would wear, or one that one's attractive sister would politely received and then stick in a drawer, never to be worn. So I decided it would be perfect as a felting project.

Felting is easy. This is what you do:
-throw the garment in the washing machine. Make sure the washing machine is clean! (Make sure there have been several washes since your last load of diapers, for instance.)
-set your levels to run both a hot and cold rinse, and set your level at small, or low, to save water. (And don't take up felting if you live in Arizona or California or anywhere there's a water shortage.)
-add some earth-friendly delicate soap, or Woolite.
-repeat three times, or until the garment looks felty.
-shape the garment when wet: this is your first and last chance to make it look the way you want!

I was hoping the pink sweater would shrink so that it hugged me nice and tight to the body, but instead it just turned into a small version of its former self: baggy with sleeves that now wouldn't cover my wrists.

Oh, well. It's cozy.

Next up: Elle's lunch bag! Her first day of school is Thursday!


and after!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Grandmummy's 102nd Birthday

Photo by Katryna Nields

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean--
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down--
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver

I am breaking my "no faces of my kids on the blog" rule today for a couple of reasons. First, because this is a picture of Elle two years ago, and she just seems like a totally different person. Second, and more importantly, because today is my grandmother's 102nd birthday, and I just love this picture of four generations of oldest daughters, oldest children.

My grandmother is a phenomenon. We always knew she would live past 100. In the 70's when Willard Scott celebrated centenarians on the Today Show, we'd all nod smugly and say, "I can't wait till Grandmummy gets to be on." She discovered yoga in her 60s and spent the second half of her life traveling the world: Russia (USSR then), South America, India, China on several occasions, including in 1972 post-Nixon's visit when she discovered acupuncture and began seeing an acupuncturist once home in her native New York. She took me to Greece when I was ten. She took Katryna to Kenya when she was ten, and she took all of us to Paris and London at various times. She spoke many languages; in fact French was her first. She was a dancer and actress and continued performing until the beginnings of Alzheimer's slowed her down in her mid 90's. She loved modern art, theatre, the color of tomatoes, strangers––she was famous for regaling New York cabbies–– and often befriended single gay men, inviting them to live rent-free in her apartment's spare room in exchange for household chores and company.

She is complicated. And wonderful. And we are every bit her descendants. In Elle, I see all sorts of her complicated, wonderful, adorable traits. We just sang happy birthday to her, Elle in the tub, while my grandmother was shown a picture of us as we sang. I was told to say who I was several times.

My grandmother went to Smith for her Freshman year and then spent a year at the Sorbonne. Smith wouldn't accept the Sorbonne's credits, so my grandmother dropped out. One of my relatives will have to correct me here, but I think she then opened a hat shop and hung out in Greenwich Village to support her acting and dancing, but that might be my fantasy version of her life. At any rate, she lived with her parents until she married at 35, which was of course shockingly old in the early 40's. She had my mother at age 36 and my aunt Sarah at age 40. This turned out to be a hopeful omen for me while I was starting my own family in my late thirties and early 40s.

So as a tribute to my grandmother, I spent the day reading my Anusara yoga teacher training manual and fretting about my gadgets. Here is a litany of my woes:
-My iPhone has a scratch in the top of the screen and needs to be either fixed, which will involve me living without a cell phone for several days or weeks, or replaced; either way I will have to drive to Holyoke Mall, which I hate.
-My classic iPod which I sent away to thinking it needed a battery replacement turns out to need a whole new logic board. This will cost me upwards of $140, not counting shipping. A new machine is $250.
-Also, I'd sent my antiquated iPod Mini which I'd tossed in the kitchen table drawer in 2004 when its battery died, in the hopes that it too could be replaced (I had been told at the time that they were discontinuing the thing and thus weren't making replacement batteries. Turns out they do make a few, but KingiPod doesn't service minis.)
-My digital camera's lens broke
-My MacBook's hard disk is completely full, so full that Microsoft Word stopped working just as I was trying to send our book proposal to our agent, so I had to send him the doc on Google docs and then I had to buy a hard drive, which I still haven't figured out how to work.
-My ancient and beloved Beatles watch broke when I absentmindedly took a shower with it on.

Though my woes are somewhat less severe than oh, 99.98% of the population's, I still feel frustrated by all this. I get this awful sinking feeling in my stomach, tightness in my jaw and an angry tingling in my chest every time some element of my kingdom of technology fails me. And I hate that when I have so many delightful events, work, projects, people in my life that I have to spend time addressing the broken iPods. Do I have to? No. I can live without all this stuff. But I hate the waste. I hate that I bought it to begin with. I get mad at myself and tell myself I am a stupid consumer. The stupid consumer in me shrieks, "Things shouldn't break! Things cost too much! They always break one month after the warranty is up! It's an evil conspiracy!" This does not bring me inner peace or allow me to be helpful and loving toward others.

So I've been trying to work with the malfunctioning of my gadgets as a spiritual practice. Questioning the thoughts, I find that maybe iPods are supposed to break as soon as their warranty is up, and that maybe that's okay. Maybe it's not the worst thing in the world that my little pieces of metal and lithium and God knows what else predictably turn into litter. After all, a tiny device that contains my entire library of CDs plus podcasts, photos and audiobooks––which at one time filled 8feet by eight feet worth of shelf space in my house and now fits in the palm of my hand is a miracle! Once, we were all amazed by it. Now, we all have at least two and toss them in the bottom of our knapsacks. (This was why my digital camera's lens broke. I have since bought a little sack for it, made from recycled plastic bottles.)

Maybe the real cost of an iPod is not $250 but more like $600 over the course of its lifetime. Certainly anyone who is awake to the food activist movement knows that the real cost of $2.50/lb chicken that lived for a mere 49 days before it was slaughtered is far more when you factor in the environmental and social costs. Things should break. Things should cost so much. Things DO cost so much; more than we pay up front.

This is my habitual dilemma: wondering to what extent I should be accepting life on life's terms (that iPods break and that if I want one I am going to have to devote way more money and time and attention than I might like, but it's worth it to me to enjoy the gifts of music and wisdom it can give) or try to change the injustices of the world (in which case, I'd probably come to the conclusion that iPods are just a part of the corrupted system and refuse to buy one; or I might instead lobby Apple to make longer-lasting, more easily fixable machines). Along these lines, when do I accept that my daughter's tantrum is just a phase in a normal three-year-old's development, and when do I move in to lend a hand? If I move in too often, I have been told, she might equate "have tantrum" with "get mom's love" and that might be BAD. But how can I just leave her alone with her painful feelings? That doesn't feel right either.

Once again, it probably comes down to "the wisdom to know the difference." And interestingly, I am usually able to accept her tantrums as developmentally appropriate and also be with her while she's having one, without shaming her or losing my own temper. Today, I have little wisdom for iPods, the crumbling infrastructure that is my gaggle of gadgets, but I do have this: When I sit with my breath and calm my own system, clarity eventually returns and some direction comes to me, either to act or to wait a little longer.

We mothers these days are so hard on ourselves. In the course of three days, five different important people in my life said something to the equivalent of, "Nerissa, you have got to stop beating yourself up!" Tom says I was always hard on myself, but I feel like it's more pronounced since motherhood, particularly being the mother of two, and why should this be surprising? If a person has some tiny unresolved perfectionist tendencies to begin with, motherhood is a flagrant opportunity to completely bash oneself with recrimination. Because isn't motherhood (or fatherhood) the ultimate testing grounds for the nature versus nurture debate? (And of course parents represent the bulk of the "nurture" part of the equation.) Isn't this where we have the most difficulty setting our boundaries? In the case of mothers who carried their kids in utero, this separation from one to two is literal. A helpful mantra for me in all this is, "Well, the story's not over yet." Maybe the kids will turn out all right, but we'll be putting some pennies in the therapy jar just in case they don't.

And the great thing about Inquiry is that when I take some parental action and then immediately worry about its eventual ramifications, like for instance, how I've just bribed Elle with the promise that I will get her a Krazy straw if she does what I want all day, including take a nap, and then have some self-critical thoughts about my behavior, I get to ask, "Really? Is it really true that because you bribed her she will never do anything from her own volition? Have I really corrupted her in some damning way?"

And doesn't love count for anything? My grandmother was a five-foot tall fire cracker. She had a temper that flattened people twice her weight. She and my mother could argue for years about the same issue (often, which was better, New York City or the Washington suburbs.) In the early years of our career, she would arrive in a taxi to our gigs in the seediest clubs in Soho and then call one of us to tell us how terrible we were. She wanted us to be cabaret singers, I think. Or maybe tap dancers. Once she said to me, "Well, at least you're pretty, because you haven't got any talent."

And we love her so so so much. In a way, I love her more for her struggles with her daughters, with Smith College, with her triangle pose, with the artistic path her granddaughters chose. And when I breath myself to calmness, when I unite with my inner divinity, when I follow Mary Oliver's gorgeous advice to be "idle and blessed," all of life is as easily lovable as that girl who was an older sister in 1909 and a frail, tired, intrepid yogini looking out of her seventh floor window in New York City tonight.