Friday, March 27, 2015

Why Don't We Do What We Should?


As a former educator I have been thinking about persistence and motivation for twenty years. As a human, I suppose in some form or another I have been beating myself up with this topic my entire life.

Why don't we do what we should?

Take this blog, for instance. I haven't written a single entry in three weeks. It's not that I have nothing to say; what's in my head could fill an editorial calendar with daily blogs for months. So why don't I write?

And yoga. As I twist myself into pretzel-y shapes at yoga this morning, a class that I love but still had to drag myself to, I was even considering why it is so hard to push ourselves to do even the most basic of things we know we should do. Some of them, like folding laundry and putting away the clean dishes, are just mundane tasks that are no fun, but even those simple things take no time and yield small pleasures like clean clothes and eating utensils. In our house, we will sometimes nearly empty out the clean dishwasher by using the cups, plates, and spoons (always spoons), piling dishes in the sink until we can't take it anymore (which is a long time if you are a teenager, less long if you are her parent).

I don't think I will ever fully embrace folding laundry or emptying the dishwasher, but there are important things I am not doing. Knowing that yoga makes me feel better and writing is deeply satisfying, why is it still so hard to do it?

For me at least, this goes way beyond laziness or lack of motivation.

Reflecting on myself, The Teenager, other people around me, and the literally thousands of students I have taught, I have come to believe that it is a complicated mixture of fear and insecurity that keeps us from doing the things we love.


There has long been a theory that human behavior is motivated by two things: fear and love. Fear is a powerful block to pretty much anything in the world, just as love is a powerful motivator. When I don't write, or I don't throw myself fully into yoga teacher training, it's not love that is holding me back. It's fear. What if it doesn't work? Or *gasp* what if it actually does? What if all of my wildest dreams come true? Then what?

I can't turn this blog into a motivational speech. All I can do is speak for myself. If I actually do all of the things I say I want to do, the world will open up in ways both frightening and powerful. There are days when I am just not ready for that; I am not ready for the responsibility of living up to the life I say I want. Then there are days when I look around at the routine I have built for myself and shudder to think of me doing the same thing, 20 years from now. Both imaginings are rooted in fear, one of not living up to my own expectations and the other of  living up to my own expectations.

See how I did that?


Fear's bastard cousin is insecurity. This is the anti-cheerleader in my head, that bitch who follows me around chanting about how I can't possibly think that my writing is good enough and who do I think I am? It's the one that looks in the mirror and judges things others miss. It makes commentary on my walk, my voice, my face, my writing, my progress in yoga. It's judgmental and loud.

Insecurity is rooted in instability, in the idea that at any moment the world could change and things could be different. It's why we have bedtime routines for kids and take our dogs for walks at the same time every day; the routine is reassuring. But what happens when the routine is suddenly, violently changed and everything you knew to be true and planned for is swept away?

Get over it, right? It has been two years since Dane died. Move on, yeah?

Unless you have experienced a similar death, it is hard to understand what it feels like to have everything you planned for change in an instant. As to the stages of grief, I am still struggling with acceptance in that it is still very difficult to reconcile the life we had planned and the life we have now, especially as we are still not 100% settled and are still moving around a bit. Even becoming a mother was easier to adapt to; yes, I became a different person in many ways with different priorities, but at least there was planning and time to adapt. Even two years After The Crash the idea that everything could be gone is still ever-present.

Insecurity is also deeply tied to fear. As I get ready to send The Teenager to Paris for a week, I have had to work hard to not give in to every awful fear I have about what could happen.

So insecurity makes me clinging and grasping in some ways, holding on to what stability I have. It's like all of the balancing poses in yoga. First you have to hug into the center of yourself, and then when you feel stable you can expand outward. Like a turtle, I am not sure how stable I feel yet, and because of this it is very difficult to expand outward.

It has taken me three weeks to write this, which speaks to how hard it is to admit and to also put into words. Hello, everyone: I am a raging ball of fear and insecurity. Not necessarily a confident introduction.

But the first step is to admit you have a problem. Hi, my name is Suzannah, and I am deathly afraid of both success and failure and deeply worried about losing the tenuous grasp on reality that I have worked really hard to cultivate in the last two years, one month and 11 days.

Hi, Suzannah. Keep coming back.

I guess the plan is to keep coming back. The key is to feel the fear and insecurity and do it anyway (like sending The Teenager to Paris or writing this down). I spent the first year after Dane's death saying "yes," and that has changed; these days I have to force myself to go out of the house, to explore, to engage, to say "yes" when I just want to go home and take a nap. I am getting bogged down in the minutiae of daily living and find myself thinking if this is really it for the next ____ years until I am dead.

That, as they say in the parlance of the 12 Steps, is stinkin' thinkin'.

Still working on steps two through 12 on this path. Thoughts and suggestions? What works for you to move past whatever holds you back?


Friday, March 6, 2015

Cream Cheese Tarts With Lemon Marmalade

It's winter. Not the depths of winter, technically, but we got seven inches of snow yesterday, so here in Baltimore, we are IN IT.

I love winter. It's annoyingly true. While others grumble about snow days and kids staying home, I like nothing better than to have The Teenager all to myself for the day. Yesterday at the height of the storm we hiked down to Golden West for the Lisa Marie (a pancake with a strip of bacon fried in it, topped with peanut butter butter - not a typo, a real thing -and served with maple syrup), plus hashbrowns for good measure. We let the dogs run up and down the alley, off leash, until they found a kitty and chased it, then we made snow angels in the middle of the road.

So snow days are my thing.

Especially when you have this just lying around in your cabinet:


This is a jar of epic, three-day organic lemon marmalade that I made last week. It is tart and sweet and faintly bitter from the pith that gives it the pectin to set up all by itself.

I have five of these. That's a lot for two people to eat, one of whom doesn't actually like lemon marmalade. Logical choice, for me, is a lemon cream cheese tart. Individual tarts because a whole tart is too much but maybe individual ones will be more manageable.

An easy, gluten-free pie crust, a luscious, creamy, whipped cream and cream cheese filling, and a thin layer of juicy lemon marmalade. Drizzling it with chocolate may be overkill, but I am going there.

Come with me.

Cream Cheese Tarts With Lemon Marmalade


5 tablespoons butter (softened)

1/4 cup sugar

1 room temperature egg

1 cup AP flour (I used gluten-free)

1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions: Cream butter and sugar with a hand mixer until smooth. Add egg and incorporate thoroughly. Combine flour and salt in a small bowl and then add into the wet mixture a little at a time until it is just mixed. Shape dough into a ball, then wrap in plastic and flatten. Pop in the 'fridge and chill for an hour.

When it's chilled, remove from 'fridge and flour your work surface. Turn out dough and roll until it is between 1/8" and 1/4" thick (I use a wine bottle to roll, but I suppose a regular old rolling pin would work as well). For individual tarts, you could rush out and spend lots of cash on individual tart pans, or you could grab some wide-mouthed Mason jar lids and flip the lid so the metal faces up in the center of the ring (instead the white underside).


Place your tart dough in the lid, pressing lightly into and up the sides of the ring. Make sure you make your dough circles just a bit wider than the ring so that there is enough dough to go all the way up to the top of the metal ring.


This recipe made eight of the wide-mouthed lids and three of the regular lids. Perfect if you have small children who need an even smaller tart. Chill in the freezer for half an hour (wrap lightly in plastic wrap).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake mini crusts until lightly browned and dry, about 15 minutes (about 30 minutes for a full-sized tart). Keep an eye on them. If they start to bubble up, you can prick them lightly with a fork, or you can line each crust with aluminum foil and use pie weights to prevent bubbling (or just use rice. I use the same rice over and over. I let the rice cool after each use then store it in a jar for the next time. This lasts indefinitely, or until you move and decide to throw it out.). Your crust should be a lovely golden brown color. If you are using pie weights or rice, remove them in the last few minutes so the whole crust can brown.

Let crusts cool completely while you make the filling.


1 8-ounce bar of cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup of sugar

1 cup of whipping cream, whipped until it forms peaks

optional: 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and one tablespoon of sugar to add to whipping cream

Directions: Cream the cream cheese and the sugar together until fully mixed. Whip the whipping cream (and optional sugar and vanilla extract) in a separate bowl until the cream forms stiff peaks. Beat the cream cheese and the whipped cream together. Spoon into cooled crusts and chill for at least an hour.

Tarts in waiting

Top with your topping of choice and chill for another 30 minutes. I am using lemon marmalade, about a tablespoon per tart, but guess what? Jam of any sort would be delicious, or slather the tops with hot fudge sauce. If you do that, be sure and finish with a bit of fleur de sels.


To serve, unmold from the Mason jar rings. You should be able to slide the tart off the lid, but if not, serve it with a dollop of whipped cream, a smile, and a strong cup of black coffee.

Spring is just around the corner.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Birth Month And Looking Forward


I love birthdays. I am a whole-hearted supporter of the Gala Birthday Week, at a minimum, and even support extending it to a Birth Month celebration. This does not mean I will necessarily treat you like a princess for the whole month, but if that's what floats your boat and you choose that vision, I am not going to stand in your way during your birthday month (maybe the others, but that's a whole other story).

I don't work on my birthday, and I don't do anything I don't want to do. Yes, this extends to cleaning up after myself, bathing, etc. For 24 hours I don't allow myself to feel obligation to anyone but my own frivolous whim. In past years, this has looked as mundane as cleaning horse shit out of a pasture and then sitting in the sun while my sweet horse laid her head on my shoulder and napped. It has also looked like swimming with whale sharks and spending all day in bed, utterly naked and drenched in sex (and crumbs from all meals eaten between the sheets, delivered to me by my beloved, of course).

It's like a mini break from reality. For 8,640 seconds, once a year, I just let myself be.

It seems pretty simple, no?

Unless, of course, you are me. Then you put a ton of pressure on yourself, thinking about so many things you could choose to do with your 8,640 seconds that it is exceptionally difficult to make a choice about any one of them. It isn't paralyzing, not yet anyway, but it does add a certain amount of stress to really identify what it is I want on that particular day. And it is hard to make plans because what if I make plans with people and then I wake up and don't want to do it and then feel bad for cancelling? I can't expect people to be at my beck-and-call on that day (although I have to say that I have an EXCEPTIONAL group of people in my life, and for many years, this has actually happened. While no one turns down something amazing if they are invited on my birthday in favor of sitting around, waiting in case I may or may not call to do something, for the most part, the people I have chosen to surround myself with have been very accommodating and have sort of stayed on standby for me. And I love them for that, more than they could ever know. Makes me feel like way less of a freak. But I digress).

So. This birthday, which is right around the corner (Pi Day, so I feel a special kinship with my man Albert Einstein who shares my birthday), I am going to shake things up a bit and actually make plans. Not so many plans that there isn't space in between for awesome non-plan things to arise, but enough so I have something to look forward to. I do believe that sometimes, in the absence of a steady stream of predictable joy, one must grab a bovine by the calcium deposits on the head and go ahead and schedule that shit. This is why people buy season tickets to sports teams or schedule a summer vacation in February. Having something to look forward to is the thing that helps when the joy evaporates and you are staring down the barrel of a crappy week or fighting with your spouse or hating your job or whatever. It allows you to look ahead to something better. Manufacture a little pre-paid joy.

This looking-forward-to-things is not particularly yogic. Yoga philosophy pushes mindfulness and being in the moment no matter what the moment is. There is some serious benefit to that. First, all of the emotions you have you get to really, truly feel. Love is lovier, joy is more joyful. Grief is griefier, but feeling it and letting it wash over you is better than shoving it in the Closet of Suppressed Emotions to burst forth at a later (and seriously inconvenient) time. And being mindful also cultivates gratitude and peace. You are neither reliving the past (depressing) or worrying about the future (anxiety-causing).

But MAN. Looking forward to something is plain old fun. And I am down for some plain old fun with a side of cocktail and food. Maybe some new duds. Definitely a pedicure for my seriously basic feet. Time to plan ahead and manufacture a little bit of joy.

What do you do for your birthday?