Life Story


For the last two weeks I’ve been wrestling with a failure. Not such a big thing, just a thing that wasn’t going well and I was privately humiliated over how it was going. More: my involvement with it was as a volunteer, so it didn’t matter either way how it was going, which further frustrated me because why was I bothering with something I was only doing to be helpful, and evidently not doing all that well!

Puzzling over this and the frustration dead-end it represented, I came upon the most recent On Being episode. It’s an interview with a psychologist about what the last year has done to our psyches (battered em, you may mutter to yourself.) Hostility is mentioned. Lack of empathy is mentioned.

Toward the end she makes some suggestions about how to essentially make ourselves feel better and settle down. She admits the suggestions sound way too simple. But that’s the point: reach gently and slowly toward the shivering little rabbit in fight-or-flight, resting just below our active conscience. Connecting with yourself: placing your hand on your heart. Placing both feet on the floor, grounding them. Imagining biting into a lemon slice, savoring. And: curiosity.

This one caught my attention. I realized I could look at my problem with curiosity. Ask, instead of with resentment tinged with failure, ask with curiosity why wasn’t it going well?  What about it could be changed? Was it actually sort of interesting that it wasn’t working?

Instantly the whole scene lighted up for me. The puzzle felt almost playful, something to be solved. And it went better. More, I stopped worrying about it.

So, I recommend that episode, with Christine Runyan, to you. Perhaps you too will find in it a method to smooth whatever’s bothering you at the moment.


It’s raining here, most of the snow is gone except the really gravelly grey bits; they are small mounds of the saddest icebergs. Lawn icebergs. I made French onion soup, which the kids complained tasted of onions and wine, and I agreed. But I also made broccoli and sausage pasta from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat which was startlingly simple and delicious, and pleased everyone. Joe gathered enough sap from the trees to boil one enormous pot of sap into the darkest syrup we’ve ever made (see Instagram for details). I planted six tomato seeds inside, Joe planted the acorns that he gathered last fall. On the warm days we did an hour, maybe two, of school, then rushed outside. Time seemed to fly by until it was past dinner when I looked up again.

I avoided putting the youngest down for a nap several days, not wanting to face the disruption and initial tears (that do always subside into snores within minutes), and deeply regretted it by 5pm when she was often clinging to me, half asleep or actually fully asleep. After these sad half naps I pulled what I consider a veteran-mom move of covertly giving her two pieces of Hershey chocolate to hurdle over the awful late-nap-blues. She was back to the races shortly, and the older sisters didn’t guess her secret. Rite of passage when one is debating whether the two yr old is dropping their nap and learn: no, they are not dropping it.

This morning, most of the kids were chatting up in their room far past breakfast time, so I watched a documentary about the Dutch gardener Piet Oudolf. He is a landscape gardener who crafts stunning wild-form field plantings. You watch him wandering through nature, appreciating, mixed with watching him draw sheets of landscapes with lovely, different colored, pens. You have to pay $15 to rent it for just one showing, $5 for extra footage on specific topics if you like, but I think it’s worth it.




  • Jennifer McLellan

    An anitdote to failture:
    The only thing that leaders have in common is that they are leaders. The only thing that charismatic people have in common is that people think they have charisma.” But there isn’t a given set of checklist items that you have to have to be creative or to be a leader or to have charisma. Instead, we can look for what rhymes and what the patterns are. In the case of a creative, it involves somebody who has made the decision that they want to change things.
    – Paraphrased from a pod cast with Seth Goodin

  • Nikaela

    I would choose to read your words everyday. These days, I come back to check regularly to see if you’ve written more. There is something so calming for me, in your pacing and vocabulary and view. Hope this doesn’t feel weirdly intimate to comment.

    I have, for example, thought of the word “squabbles” many times since you used it in an Instagram caption. My kids arent fighting, they’re squabbling! How much better that is. 🙂 (That particular photo felt so relatable too, as these boys also move between squabbles and books read pressed together on the couch.)

    • Elizabeth Hope Whalen

      Everything your reader Nikaela says above! I would choose to read your words everyday too!

      Also, thank you for pointing me back towards On Being. I haven’t listened lately and you remind me how valuable the resource is.

      Also, my third is about the age of your fourth and I am having a good chuckle about the note about vertan-mom move of sneaking hersheys to get over the end of day finish line when naps didn’t land for whatever reason.

      Also, I don’t have a garden but I am peacefully devouring Braiding Sweetgrass on your old IG recommendation and finding it soothing to my soul in many, many ways. I just may find myself watching the Piet documentary as well!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *