A Hundred Thousand Pieces

I smile as I sit down at the table with a cup of tea and scattered, half-assembled Lego limbs. Our latest Netflix obsession is playing, the boys are asleep, and I’m about to play with some toys.

I think back to my husband’s original, somewhat desperate, promise to Harley. “If you poop on the potty, we’ll get you a toy. What kind do you want? Bionicle? Do you want a Bionicle toy?”

“YES!” cried Harley, with all the enthusiasm an almost-3-year-old kid can muster. A lot. They can muster a lot. “BIONICLE! BIONICLE!”

Bionicle is a Netflix show for older kids. I had attempted to curb his watching of this show, with as much success as any other kid show I tried to limit. Which is to say, no success at all. I’d also tried to avoid bribery in our quest to get our firstborn out of diapers, and it had worked fairly well – to a point. We’d passed that point by a few days. I’ve learned that sticking to my guns on every single issue is an exercise in futility when it comes to toddlers. Try everything, and find the thing that works. That’s my new motto.

It worked – the very next day. Clearly, he was very motivated by the toy. When I picked him up after work, I wanted to do anything but go to the toy section of Target in 5pm rush hour traffic with a three month old and a two year old. But I couldn’t renegotiate now. We had bribed him, he had held up his end, and now I was bound to hold up ours. (And there was NO WAY he was about to forget our promise.)

I was laser-focused once we finally reached the store after sitting in stopped traffic with a screaming baby and whining two year old for twenty minutes. “OK, buddy,” I said as I held Harley’s face in my hands. “In and out. We’re going to grab the toy and check out.”

“Check out what?”

“Pay for it, I mean. We have to pay for it.”

“OK,” said Harley. The baby looked up innocently, as if a moment before he hadn’t been screaming bloody murder in the exact same seat.

When we reached the Bionicle toys, they were all Legos. All the boxes indicated Ages 8-14, or Ages 6-12. I gave Harley a sidelong glance to see if I might be able to distract him with something more age-appropriate, but I knew from his eyes that this would end badly for everyone. It was very important to keep this positive – it was his reward, and he had earned it. He zeroed in on the $50-100 packs, of course. I found a nice cheap one on clearance and showed it to him. “It’s the jungle guy,” I said. “You like him, right?”

“Yes, the jungle hunter!”

“OK, we’ll get that one.”

In my defense, I never received Legos as a kid, so I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into.

We checked out and sat in traffic to get home. Once we finally parked, I swooped in and rescued the baby, for whom sitting in a car seat in an air-conditioned car with dangly toys was clearly torture, helped Harley out of the car, and schlepped inside. Once we were all settled and the baby asleep, Harley asked me – for the 400th time since choosing the toy – to open the box. And so it came to pass that, finally, I did.

I sucked in air. There were three bags of pieces. Tiny, tiny pieces. A hundred thousand pieces, it seemed. I looked up at Harley. He looked confused. “Oh,” I said, in a fake-calm voice. I felt panic rising in my throat.


“We have to…put him together.” This just seems unnecessarily cruel.

“Oh, OK,” he replied.

“Huh,” I said. “Hmmmmm.” I took some deep breaths. “Oh boy.”

“Why oh boy?”

“It’s just…it’s a lot of pieces. A real puzzle. It’s a big boy toy.”

“I’m a big boy!”

“Yes, a big boy toy for my big boy.” I looked in his eyes. I sighed again and braced myself. “Mommy will put it together for you. You can help.”

I was all nerves as I carefully opened each bag onto the table and began sorting delicately through the minuscule pieces. I breathed out slowly as little green circles stuck to my sweaty fingertips. Harley started reaching for pieces immediately, as I knew he would – do you know toddlers? They grab indiscriminately. I gave him strict instructions to keep all the pieces on the table and kept breathing as I flipped open the instruction booklet. “OK, OK,” I muttered, as I began searching for the first piece.

I was surprised at my outer calm, and I was surprised at Harley’s ability to follow my instructions. He started echoing my mutters, and it eventually cut through my fugue of careful focus. “Looks like we need this guy,” I heard him say thoughtfully as he picked up the mask piece. “It’s his mask! It goes on his face!”

I smiled. “We have to build the face.”

“Can we build it?”

“We will.”

So I began to make slow progress, alternating between assembling pieces and rearranging the pieces that Harley picked up and moved. Harley found the head piece and put the mask on it. He picked up the part that I had built – I wasn’t sure what it was yet – and started trying to put the head onto it. “I don’t think that -” I looked up at him in surprise. “You’re right! That’s the neck!”

“Yeah, can you help me put it on?”

I have never seen him so focused and happy for so long. He watched me build and picked up various pieces to study closely, occasionally fitting them together with varying levels of success.

An hour later, we had built a leg, the body, and Harley had disassembled and reassembled the head and neck several times. Most importantly, my nerves had subsided. Somehow, despite my initial doubts, we had kept our hundred thousand pieces straight. One piece was missing, which I circled and marked to order later. This impossible project – assembling a complicated Lego set accompanied by a very enthusiastic two year old – it had turned out to be manageable, and I found myself enjoying the process of putting the pieces together and watching the toy begin to take form.

The baby awoke with a fussy squeak. Harley darted over. “Don’t be scared!” he chirped. “It’s OK!” He looked up at me. “He is so cute!” Somehow, despite all the possible points of failure, he was still happy.

Even though there were just too many pieces. Even though it looked too hard.


We survived (even if my hair did not).


Somehow I fooled myself into thinking that coconut milk is an acceptable addition to coffee.

It’s not.

I apologize, friends to whom I’ve sworn up and down that coconut milk is pretty much the same as cream. I apologize most abjectly.

It’s been quite some time since my last super-strict elimination diet – probably upwards of a year? Closer to two, maybe? In these protocols, dairy of any kind is typically anathema. The goal is to identify sensitivities, and even a tiny bit of off-plan food can ruin your chance of achieving that goal. After all, how will you know if adding dairy back into your diet causes problems if you’ve been consuming it all along?

So I’m assuming that is why I fooled myself into thinking that coconut milk can be mixed into coffee with anything less than catastrophic results.

Yesterday I purchased, off the shelf, an unsweetened creamer, a mix of coconut and almond milk sans carageenan (a thickening additive banned by the Whole30, although the Slow Carb Diet seems agnostic on its presence). To its credit, it did not glom together and curdle the way that canned coconut milk does. To my everlasting shame, I have recommended canned coconut milk to many friends. (Even worse, with canned coconut milk, you can see the oils and curdles floating on the surface of your hot drink. It’s truly an abomination.)

But even this creamer, created for the sole purpose of adding to a beverage, straight-up wrecked my coffee. I was forced to drink this bizarre and distasteful concoction in order to get my caffeine this morning.

I’m sleeping in three hour stretches, people. This is not tolerable on any level without heavy morning doses of caffeine.

Now, the Slow Carb Diet has no problem with caffeine, and even half-and-half in your coffee is accepted as long as it’s no more than two tablespoons. But I’m an overachiever, apparently, and I’m regretting it now as I chug a fresh mug of coffee to wash the wretched taste of – well, what I would imagine most closely resembles the flavor of moisturizer – out of my mouth.

One last time, I offer my apologies. Let us never speak of this again.


Well, I keep trying to write a blog post and failing. I guess for the same reason that I keep trying to go take a walk and failing – today, only my arms or the swing will do for the baby. No baby wrap, no stroller, no car seat, no bouncer or bassinet – not without screams, anyway. Some days are easier than others.

But while the swing is still acceptable, let me get this out. Continue reading

Aaaand we’re back.

Six weeks later…

For real, though. Having a baby is no joke, guys. I am now halfway through maternity leave and through the portion I consider “baby boot camp.” This has been the thick of the newborn stage – lots of crying (primarily, but not exclusively, by the baby), hormone swings, breastfeeding pain, two-hour stretches of sleep, and toddler adjustments (whining, sleep regressions, etc). In short, I did not have the wherewithal for writing. I didn’t remember it from last time – hell, I barely remember it this time. The past 6 weeks have been a total blur.

We made it, though, and both of us are healthy, and I’m officially able to exercise. I’m still not sleeping longer than two and a half or three hours at a time, so I will need to keep the exercise moderate until I can either start outsourcing night feedings more consistently or the baby decides to skip one of his wake-ups. Until then, my primary focus is on diet, with a secondary goal of reestablishing a base level of strength and aerobic fitness. No CrossFit style workouts until I’m getting a consistent minimum of 6-7 hours of sleep, in other words.

Will it be next week? Next month? Next winter? It’s an adventure we’re going to take together, people. At least, I’m going to take you with me. While you’re hopefully taking advantage of not having a newborn to interrupt your sleep every couple of hours. Except those of you who also have newborns. I see you, sisters.

Anyway, next post I’ll establish my baseline. I’m not thrilled about the numbers, because they mean I have a minimum of thirty pounds to lose. Ugh. But I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again, dammit. Here we go.

Friday Fun

Brushing up for Tuesday.

“Friday Fun” isn’t a very compelling title for these posts…I’ll have to come up with something better. Unless someone else can, which would be even better…ideas?

Quote of the Week

“It’s a fantastic and terrifying liberation. The reason it is terrifying is because it makes you once and for all responsible to no one but yourself. Not to God the Father, not to Satan, not to anybody. Just you. If you think it’s right, then you’ve got to do it. If you think it’s wrong, then you mustn’t do it.” -James Baldwin

OK, maybe not a “fun” quote, but it’s one that everyone should consider – what it means to trust your own inner moral compass. What if no one is responsible for your decisions but you? No one to blame but yourself? It burns off a lot of the smoke we tend to generate around the decisions we make. I think sometimes we do that to shield ourselves from our own flawed logic. I should rephrase that – I think sometimes that’s why I do it. I don’t take this quote to necessarily only apply to atheists; it really is about taking radical responsibility for one’s own actions.

Fave links from around the interwebs

I hope this piece, entitled Dirtbag Winston Churchill, sucks you into the same Mallory Ortberg comedy vortex I’ve been in for the past two days (she has a book that just came out, Texts from Jane Eyre, which may be why the internet is flooded with Ortberg – and I couldn’t be more pleased, personally). You’ll be the better for it, I say. Here are a few of my favorites to get you started: Two Monks Invent Denominations, Dirtbag Athena, Women Listening to Men in Western Art HistoryThe Toast’s Mallory Ortberg on Death, Faith, and Why It’s So Easy to Make Fun of Christians.

I love her honesty about her doubt/faith and spiritual journey in that last interview and can identify a lot with it – we have weirdly similar backgrounds, actually. I love how she says, “Prayer was not something that made a lot of sense to me. Because it seems really clear to me that outcomes in the world are fairly inconsistent … But [another] sort of prayer is, ‘Given that anything can happen to me, given that life is sometimes cruel and sometimes beautiful and I don’t know what’s coming next, how can I handle what happens next best? How can I ask God to be with me in whatever shit goes down?’ And that is the kind of prayer makes a lot of sense to me.”

I also read this older essay of hers this week. I could have written a lot of that essay myself after college. This is still relevant today for me: “I had a copy of the Old Testament that was illustrated like a graphic novel, and I also had every novel published under the Star Wars Expanded Universe imprint published before the year 2000. I learned that every moment of my life, however trivial it seemed at the time, carried in it a potential charge that could draw me either closer to God or further away. I learned that God loved me, much as Mara Jade came to love Luke Skywalker after she was able to shake off the training she had received from Palpatine during her tenure as the Emperor’s Hand. I had at least three friends at any given time.”

OT: Mara Jade had a very important influence on my life, guys. And most people will never know her, now that the Expanded Universe has been unceremoniously chucked out the window by our dear friends at Disney (more OT: at the link, I disagree with the AV Club mourning the Yuuzhan Vong. I hated them and I never read another EU book after R.A. Salvatore introduced them and had them kill off Chewbacca). Anyway, it’s lovely to see that the Emperor’s Hand will not be forgotten. Let’s take a moment to grieve together.

Moving on.

Biking lanes! Maybe you wish you had them as much as I do. Wired recommends cities take an affordable approach, testing best practices before making more expensive, permanent changes. This could be the best way to get quick traction and momentum behind the idea in most cities, AND it’s been successfully implemented elsewhere! Could be a win-win for most city managers and cyclists.

Warning: if you’ve ever made an effort to support local farms, this article on the deceptive practices of some farm-to-table restaurants may infuriate you.

After last year’s demonstrations and student activism on the subject, my alma mater, Georgetown University, is sorting through the best way to make amends for the sale of 272 slaves in 1838. This could be important precedent among private institutions who owe their existence to the slave trade.

An interesting take on a possible cause that may explain the correlation between well-adjusted kids and regular family dinners.

Listened to this great podcast this week: Danielle LaPorte and Linda Sivertsen interview Brené Brown for their Beautiful Writers podcast. There are a ton of gems in this interview! I know a lot of my friends love Brené as much as I do, and you guys will probably enjoy this interview a lot.

Game plan

OK, we’re coming up on the day here very shortly – I’m scheduled for next Tuesday! I think I ought to do a bit of planning. I promise not to throw any Excel documents at you, even if I use them for myself. (Ooooh, I’m going to make so many charts at the end of this! Maybe I’ll even find a way to work a pie chart in there. I love charts and graphs.)

Image credit: Chris Gladis

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I’ve been fascinated for some time with morning rituals – how early do people get up? Do they have kids? What do they do? Do they exercise? It’s really interesting to see the variety (Here are three of my favorite links about this, if you’re interested: here, here, and here). A lot of really productive and creative people get up super early and advise everyone else to do the same, but just as many do not and insist on doing their most creative work in the middle of the night. I am selfishly most interested in parents’ routines, because there are some realities of being a working parent that you just have to take into consideration when you’re choosing a wake up time. You can’t sleep later than your kids, as a rule. And once they’re up, well – let’s just say if you wanted to meditate or hit the gym, you’ve already missed the boat. So if you want to do anything “for yourself” (lol), you’ve got to wake up before them, like Toni Morrison talks about here (tons of good interviews in that archive, too). She is quite inspiring for me, personally, not just because she’s one of the best writers of our day, but because she also started writing when she had small children. It feels quite rare, especially among the accomplished writers you hear about, mostly because most people who put themselves through that may be disturbed. I’m not saying Toni Morrison is disturbed. Little kids really take a lot out of you, is all I’m saying.

I woke up this one time for sunrise, above, because baby. Ouch. Great #nofilter for Insta, though.

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Know Thyself

Image credit: Jan Lakota

I wrote a bit on Wednesday about shifting my perspective from employing willpower to setting myself up for success by reducing the number of decisions I have to make substantially. Doing this required a change in thinking – beyond a simple shift, it required a change in how I think about myself. Like many, if not most, people, I like to think of myself as disciplined and in control of my behavior; this whole paradigm sort of changes the script. With this approach, I’m kind of creating fences around my behavior, like I might for a toddler or untrained dog. I’m taking away my own choices. This is not an easy thing for me to accept! It feels a bit undignified.

The key skill that I’m using here is self-monitoring – another executive function, by the way. I’m becoming aware of my own self-talk and the unique type of resistance that my mind puts up against change. Everyone is slightly different in how they resist change, but I do think that the fact that we resist it is universal.

The Strategy of Distinctions

Ultimately, I think that to change a behavior or habit, you have to know yourself. One of my favorite books about habit change is Better Than Beforeby Gretchen Rubin (she also wrote The Happiness Project, which you might be familiar with). In it, she shares 21 strategies for habit change – I highly recommend the book. But the one I’m going to focus on today is one that I know she happens to be writing another book on currently – the strategy of distinctions, and particularly, her “Four Tendencies” framework. She presents a lot of good questions to ask about yourself when trying to figure out the best strategy for changing a habit in the book. Her Four Tendencies framework is the first and perhaps most helpful in understanding our psychology as it relates to habit change: namely, how do you respond to inner and outer expectations? Continue reading

Friday Fun

Food for thought: “Different ways of presenting the same information often evoke different emotions…cold cuts described as ‘90% fat-free’ are more attractive than when they are described as ‘10% fat.’ The equivalence of the alternative formulations is transparent, but an individual normally sees only one formulation, and what she sees is all there is.” -Daniel Kahneman, from Thinking, Fast and Slow

Weight loss-related study I found interesting:

Lower home temperature in winter is associated with lower waist measurement. Cold exposure is a really interesting area of study with lots of applications in fat loss and mental health. Will explore in greater detail in the future.

Top 5 favorite links of the week:

Adam Grant’s Ted Talk on Originals: “It’s about being the kind of person who takes the initiative to doubt the default and look for a better option.” 

How to tell if your friend would make a good traveling companion, via Gretchen Rubin – #3: “Do you have the same sense of ‘time urgency’? In other words, does one person want to make a plan and stick to it, while another person wants to keep things loose?” Ahem.

How to calm an angry child, from Janet Lansbury. Basically, don’t.

Podcast: “The Man Who Studied 1,000 Deaths to Learn How to Live,” on The Tim Ferriss Show podcast. Ferriss interviews BJ Miller, a palliative care physician who advocates making empathetic end-of-life care available for all.

The politics of land management may not be interesting to everyone, but if we want to preserve outdoor spaces, this is really important precedent, as the Access Fund points out. For a more entertaining take, here’s Brendan Leonard of Semi-Rad with some “Fun Federal Land Transfer ideas.”

Seneca Rocks, in the Monongahela National Forest, WV. Image credit: me and my cell phone