imperfect light

the studio in January light

The day after we returned from New York, I spent all day in bed, feverish, rising only to run to the bathroom. Thirty-six hours later, I patted Lucy’s back as she hunched over the toilet in the middle of the night. There’s a pernicious stomach flu that turns into days of terrible aches and malaise racing around our island. Entire families are getting sick, then infecting the other members of their families. From the stories we’re hearing from our friends, we had a mild case, which feels impossible. Just when Lu and I were finally recovered, Danny spent an entire day in bed, mostly incoherent. The next day, he rose up feeling better, then fell to the bed again. The man who never rests, who sits still only for 20 minutes at a time, tweaked a muscle in his back by lying down all day. He’s been hobbling ever since then, in spite of massages and water aerobics classes and yoga-like exercises. Desmond has blessedly been mostly free of being sick. But he’s in a big-time sleep regression, being just on the edge of walking and making all kinds of cognitive connections that a 10-month-old suddenly makes. He’s awake and standing in his crib, reaching out his arms to me when I walk in at 3 am. And it’s me waking up every night, since Danny can’t pick up the kiddo with his back acting the way it is.

There isn’t enough coffee in the world right now.

However, these past couple of weeks, there has been plenty of time for reflection. Life has slowed us down, against our will. But slowing down gives me time to think more deeply than a day full of knocking things off a to-do list can ever give me.

Basically, I find the light in everything. It’s in my nature.

We’re just about to launch our gluten-free flour blends into the world. I’ll share more of this process with you on Wednesday. Before we get into the daily mechanics of shipping flours to you directly, Danny and I have been doing a lot of thinking about what we do here. With the help of our wonderful and wise friend Tricia, who has a deep background in marketing and cares about us both, we’ve been thinking about what we’ve been writing and creating here for nearly a decade. What are we really offering you?

I don’t want to write about it too much yet, because it’s new. And I’m pretty weary tired when I’m not writing. I’ll say this, before I share some of the pieces that have been dancing around my head these last couple of weeks. It’s about the power of story. It’s about accepting imperfections. And it’s about joy.

Sometimes, it’s even about food.

If you don’t follow Humans of New York on Facebook or Instagram, I’m pointing your way there now. Brandon Stanton is changing the world, one kind and wide-open photograph at a time. I check in every day, just to see the faces I have never met and hear the stories that are not my own. Recently, Brandon found a young boy who sang the praises of his school principal. His story struck so many people that Brandon found the principal, found the school in Brooklyn, and began a fundraiser to send these young kids on a trip out of their difficult neighborhood. So far, people have donated more than $700,000. Go back and see all those photos and read those stories. I imagine you’ll cry, the way I did, for these connections and the chance we all have to spread more joy in the world.

Speaking of education, this piece in the Atlantic mirrors the problem I see in the system now. There’s so little time for joy. “Building on a child’s ability to feel joy, rather than pushing it aside, wouldn’t be that hard. It would just require a shift in the education world’s mindset. Instead of trying to get children to buckle down, why not focus on getting them to take pleasure in meaningful, productive activity, like making things, working with others, exploring ideas, and solving problems? These focuses are not so different from the things to which they already gravitate and in which they delight.” Teaching kids to sit still for hours, stay quiet unless asked to talk, and fill in worksheets instead of follow their own creative delight leads them to believe that being perfect is more important than feeling alive.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the terrible effects of perfectionism, all the ways we steel ourselves against the moment of vulnerability, and how much it can damage us. I don’t drink much anymore, but this piece on alcohol as an escape from perfectionism for mothers really resonated for me. “Lean in, lean back: I’ve done both, sequentially. I’ve sat at home, in tears, believing I would never enter the workforce again. And I have sat at the office, exhausted, knowing I was missing a precious evening at home. Both positions have their downsides and their sweet rewards. One thing is for certain: Straddling both roles can turn you into human Silly Putty. I remember when my son was born, receiving a card from the writer Marni Jackson—author of The Mother Zone—who wrote, perceptively: ‘Welcome to permanent ambivalence.'”I know that fathers have a tough job too, but being a working mother in this culture amidst the expectations of perfection on every level can be devastating.

I really love this piece from Molly Watson, a food writer in San Francisco, about the arrogance of telling people they should embrace cooking and the family dinner. Like her and so many other food writers, I used to exhort everyone to cook. It took me years of working as a food writer and having two children to realize what a burden cooking can be on working moms and dads. Cooking seems like a joyful ease to me because I already love food and the process of cooking. For me, cooking is meditation and a chance to drop the rest of the day, as well as a creative act and a full sensory experience. However, I know cooking doesn’t feel that way to everyone. (And there are still plenty of days when I don’t know what’s for dinner an hour before we’re supposed to eat.) 

If you don’t love to cook — or if you feel intimidated or scared of the process — being told you should love it only creates anger or guilt. I love this line: “There would be a whole lot [fewer] labor abuses in the garment industry if we all sewed our own clothes, but can anyone imagine suggesting more home sewing as a first step towards changing that system, much less present it as a key component of a long-term workable solution? ” Cooking can be a joy but it’s not a joy for everyone. Those of us who love it shouldn’t think less of those who do not.

After reading this piece about how bad the modern world can be for our brains, I’ve been acting on something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I’ve put down my phone. Technology can create such a false sense of urgency in our lives. We used to write letters and wait days for them to arrive.

“There are also important differences between snail mail and email on the receiving end. In the old days, the only mail we got came once a day, which effectively created a cordoned-off section of your day to collect it from the mailbox and sort it. Most importantly, because it took a few days to arrive, there was no expectation that you would act on it immediately. If you were engaged in another activity, you’d simply let the mail sit in the box outside or on your desk until you were ready to deal with it. Now email arrives continuously, and most emails demand some sort of action: Click on this link to see a video of a baby panda, or answer this query from a co-worker, or make plans for lunch with a friend, or delete this email as spam. All this activity gives us a sense that we’re getting things done – and in some cases we are. But we are sacrificing efficiency and deep concentration when we interrupt our priority activities with email.” I don’t want to measure out my life in text messages and likes on Facebook. That’s not what I want to teach my kids.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Since I first got a smartphone — one that can access the internet and go on Twitter and Facebook, allow me to look up anything instantly — I have more and more been measuring the success of my days by how much I have accomplished. It used to be — and I want it to be again — that I measured the success of a day by how much of it I truly lived.

We’ve put limits on technology in our home now. And from now on, I’m keeping office hours, a clear and firm work schedule. If you send me an email or message or request, you should know that I will only be dealing with work on the computer on the weekdays, from 9:30 to 3:30 (Pacific Standard Time) from now on.

Without the computer and the phone and the made-up sense of panic that can come from the way that work bleeds into every part of our days, what are we trying to do instead? Pay attention.

“Attention without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report. An openness — an empathy — was necessary if the attention was to matter..” Do read this piece about Mary Oliver, who is like heartbeat to me, and like everyone I love, almost entirely unknowable.

Finally, even though I am sometimes queen of to-do lists, getting things done, putting new structures into place, and learning ALL THE TIME, I’m going to be going back to read this piece on radical self-acceptance from Zen Habits again and again.  “What if instead, you loved yourself, fat body and all? What if you loved yourself, laziness and all? What if you loved yourself, all that is ugly and incompetent and mean, along with the beauty and brilliance and kindness?”

I did promise you a little food, didn’t I? I highly recommend popping popcorn in coconut oil, then drizzling it with a bit of butter, lemon zest, and fresh thyme. You’re welcome.

Finally, an image that stays with me lately. On one of the first days Lucy was finally feeling better, I blasted music from the Aretha Franklin Pandora station. “Proud Mary” came on and I told her, “Lu, you hear how this song is slow? We can dance to it, but just wait. Wait for it. You’ll hear something different in a moment.” She looked at me, confused. When the pace changed, her eyes opened wide and she started to move, unable to stop. “Mama! Mama! This song makes me dance my butt off!” she shouted. And then we played it again.

I love introducing her to Tina Turner, one of the fiercest women alive. And then we started listening to Stevie Wonder and Otis Redding. Desmond isn’t getting any kid music. And I’m fine with that.

Every day since, Lucy has been asking for That Song That Makes Me Dance My Butt Off. When Desmond hears it, he starts clapping and moving his butt too. We’ve been doing this every night before dinner.

January has hit us hard but we’re dancing, together.

40 comments on “imperfect light

  1. Cristina

    Please tell me your secret to productivity. How can you get a flour business off the ground while only working from 9:30-3:30, weekdays? Do you have other employees? Do you work late at night? I thought it was just you and Danny working on the business.

    1. shauna

      Work never stops around here. I just said I will only be answering email between those hours. I find that putting limits on email and social media allows me to go into deeper focus on the other tasks that need doing, such as getting a flour business off the ground.

      1. Cristina

        It would be great to read an account of what it takes to get a flour business up and running, like a real, detailed look behind the scenes. I mean, businesses have a public face, but so much goes on unknown in the background. I am sure there would be many many readers keen to peek into your company specifically, since so many regular people have donated money to get the business started. Would you consider writing such a thing?

        1. shauna

          Well, we’ve been writing updates about this from the start. Of course, people who have donated to the Kickstarter have been getting updates and will for the next year. And I have another peek into the process in tomorrow’s post. So yes. That look inside the process and allowing people into our lives is a big part of what we do.

        2. Cristina

          Yes, the KS updates are great, but those emails and the blog posts are just allusions to the work that goes into the business. I myself am fascinated by the detail of the process. Are you shipping the boxes from home? Fulfilling all orders (even individual ones) yourself or will your co-packer do that? Do you have a web designer or are you using a DIY ecommerce site? If someone were to look in on you at 11am, what would you be doing? Looking forward to the next post to find out!

        3. Cristina

          I think I must have misunderstood… I expected a peek into the flour business in the Jan 28th post… but the post is about cooking classes. Did I miss something?

        4. shauna

          Life’s imperfect and plans change. We sure didn’t want to miss giving people a chance to book that class before the last moment. While we like your ideas of giving everyone a glimpse into what it’s like to start a business like this, we’ll unfold the details when we can, when they seem right.

        5. Cristina

          Oh dear, my earlier comment must have gotten eaten!
          Thank you very much for the KS update, very interesting, especially about the almond situation. I hope I haven’t hurt your feelings. Embrace yourself as you are, Shauna, be your authentic self, not the self you think you should be.

  2. Jane

    I don’t think I’ve ever commented before, but I wanted to say I love the image of Lu dancing her butt off. A ray of sunshine on a day (I’m in Massachusetts) surrounded by snow.

  3. Dana

    The need to put down our phones and “false sense of urgency” hit home hard. Such a welcome reminder in the daily mix of glowing screens, buzzing notifications and “likes” from “friends”. It feels good to unplug. Thank you for shedding some light on the good stuff.

  4. jeanne

    We all need limits. I am glad you are realizing and setting yours. Now if I could just do that!
    I appreciate that you are learning and telling us that we can’t have the same expectations of everyone. Yes, Susie Homemaker I never was. Always did what I had to do to get by. I only cook because I am hungry and my husband needs fed. It may sound goofy, but my favorite time in the past many years was when I had surgery 2 weeks ago and had people bring meals. Eating someone else’s cooking for 2 weeks was delightful! Too bad it has to end!

    I love reading your posts and even cooking some of your recipes. Believe it or not, your gravy recipe is the best!!! Tastes just like mom’s no matter if I use it for turkey, chicken, beef, pork. I use your flour recipes to manipulate my own favorite things (when I actually get an urge to cook!). Oh, I know there are more, but these are the things I know I go back to over and over. Don’t stop with the 101 ways to cook veggies. I love veggies, but hubby not so much. More for me!

    I love to read of your metamorphoses.

  5. Anne

    Glad you are all feeling better.

    Set times for set jobs make a lot of sense. You can concentrate that way… we’ve lost a lot of the habit of concentration. I freelance, and I’ve been working in retail stores for years, which itself focuses my attention. I joke that I am very loyal to whoever is paying me at the moment – and I’ve found that this is a useful mindset. OTOH, I worked part time once, briefly, for someone who thought she owned all my time… she’d call me at home at midnight to ask where something was. No. Just – no.

    I’ve also had to teach some friends *not* to call me on my cell phone (unless it really is urgent.) If I’m at home, I can pick up your call… (or sometimes not, but…) But if I have only the cell – if I’m on a gig, I can’t talk. If I’m walking down the street, or on a bus, I really don’t find that a comfortable place for a chat… And that also helps focus – this is time to do *this* – I’ll do That later, when it is That time.

    Now that I work more from home, I’m learning to turn off email and social media – don’t interrupt when I’m writing, when I’m researching, when I need to focus. The more different things you do, I’ve found, the more firmly you need to divide them.

    Good luck with it!

    1. shauna

      Oh yes! And this line in particular: “The more different things you do, I’ve found, the more firmly you need to divide them.” I’m writing that on the wall above my computer.

  6. Kelly

    Thank you for your lovely words. I have been procrastinating getting a smart phone for a long time for exactly those reasons. I am scared of losing my ability to just be in the moment without getting sucked into the overload of information and the beeps and vibrations of a device that seems to demand constant attention. I watch those around me become so dependent on this thing that it is scary for me, a recovering addict , to see. I never want anything to take over my life again and I wonder how much longer I can hold out against technology. I hope that if I do give in I am strong with setting strict guidelines for usage. For example, I do not take my phone with me on walks with my dog or runs through the woods. I hope that will never change because it brings me such joy.

    Sorry for the long comment- your words resonated with me so much.

    1. shauna

      I’m so glad. And I have to say, if I had the choice, knowing what I do now? I’d never get a smartphone. You have the right attitude.

  7. ellen

    hope you all feel better soon. over here in berkeley is a gal i adore who works at the greater good science center where they study the science of happiness and other emotions. christine carter is my hero. she just published her newest book this week the ggsc has a website and email newsletters from christine that are always spot-on. i am always fascinated to learn the science behind what makes us tick.

    1. shauna

      Thank you for sharing, Ellen. I don’t know her work at all! I’ll be eager to read some of her insights.

  8. Deborah O'Hare

    I love reading your blog and agree 100% with your thoughts on slowing the mind, body and heart in order to live in the moment. An example, I have a basic phone, don’t text and try hard to stay centered. However, as an elementary school teacher it is hard. I do want to say that whereas I agree with your observations of how children sometimes feel in school, it is not the Educators’ mindsets that need to change. What needs to change is the state and federal policy makers’ mindsets and the belief that the more we push and test our kids the better they will be. Children, too, need time to take in the world, try and fail and try again, etc. just like we want to do in our lives. Everyone needs to speak out about what we are doing to our children so we don’t lose them as they disengage in school. Thanks for everything you do and helping to spread the word about healthy eating and living.

    1. shauna

      Oh I absolutely agree with you! I was a high school teacher for a decade, and my heart always lies with the teachers. It’s the testing and the public policies and the decrees from on high that give me pause. It’s never the teacher in the classroom.

  9. Nicole

    i just wanted to say how much I love your writing and these words that you share. Honestly I come to your website for your writing and the food is a bonus(not gluten free but love your food inspiration!). Enjoy dancing with your kids and loving life!

  10. Debbie Reisetter

    Thank you so much for sharing your life with us. Your thoughts and feelings on so many of life’s issues resonate with me so much. I truly appreciate you. And the imagery of your words is always stunning. Thank you!

  11. Elizabeth

    Shauna, I think you are just an amazing mom – there’s something about the quality of your presence – your kids are so so lucky. I am of two minds on the cooking thing – I guess I do think we should all be in the business of preparing at home most of what we eat, and that we should not be outsourcing the preparation of our food the way we do the planting of our food (or the sewing of our garments). I think there are just too many downsides to the outsourcing – in particular for poorer folks, because to get the same quality of prepared food vs. ingredients, you have to pay so much more. $20 goes a lot further in the produce section than in the prepared food section. Even further in dried goods. I say this as someone who is not a cook, who takes no great pleasure in cooking, much less baking, or developing recipes, etc. But not everything we eat has to come from a recipe – I’d venture that 90% of what I eat is prepared ingredients (rice vs. risotto) and that’s just not hard, or time consuming. In fact, it takes less time/effort than stopping for take out and the end result is often tastier (because it’s better quality) and healthier (just try and find prepared hummus, which takes about 5 minutes to prepare at home with canned chickpeas, with OLIVE OIL and not industrial seed oil, even at Whole Foods). I agree with you that we should not be making mothers who don’t cook, who don’t breastfeed, etc., feel guilty for making the right choices for themselves and their families, but that doesn’t mean we can’t encourage home cooking, etc. And one way to do it – as I think you already do in your focus on ingredients – is to remove the intimidation factor (the beautiful photos, etc.). Not every meal has to be posted to instagram! We don’t have to be good at everything we do – we just have to be competent. My attitude towards cookign (best quality ingredients I can afford, simplest recipes) extends to other areas of my life as well. I knit, with the best wool I can buy, but simple patterns. I have no desire to learn how to seam, etc. Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is that I agree with your sentiment, but I’d prefer to see people outsourcing only when there’s a real payoff, and I’m just not sure for most people there’s a payoff in oursourcing food prep (as there is in hiring a housecleaner, buying clothes sewn by others, etc.).

    1. shauna

      Oh I agree! Clearly, we cook. And by offering some of what we cook here, we clearly hope that others will too. As you alluded to, so much of this is a class issue, which makes me infuriated. But I think what the author of that piece was getting at was the kind of elitist talk that happens with some food writers (and most of us are simply naive, as was I when I did this too). We’re so in love with the process, and this is such an important issue, that the tone sometimes becomes one of finger wagging instead of understanding. Not everyone loves to cook. Most of them still cook! But I don’t think it’s right to make people feel bad if they are not enjoying cooking the way some of us do.

  12. Tonya Herman

    Oh Shauna — that picture of you and Lucy dancing, with a list of such amazing musicians accompanying it — reading it was like catching a few moments of a delightful, endearing movie. So full of connection, and light, and life. I am so thankful for the gifts God has given you, that you share so generously with the world! I am also thankful that you are fighting to guard and savor the most precious gifts of your time and your beautiful family. There will always be endless lines of us folks — ready to sit at your feet, since we have to much to learn and you have so much to teach. (At least once a week, I find myself daydreaming of a conversation where I call you up and you answer all my baking questions! lol) But for you, there is only one Danny, one Lucy, one Desmond — one Shauna. Good job on working hard to take great care of those 4!

    1. shauna

      Tonya, this comment really moved me. Thank you. And please do come to Vashon some day so we can have that conversation about baking, okay?

  13. Aebell

    Nice, juicy, thoughtful post – and good discussion in the comments. I recently was laid off from my job and at first felt completely rootless; I had had jobs continuously for 30-plus years (since early high school) and didn’t know what to do with myself. I felt guilty taking time for myself, and yet the idea of pounding the pavement for a new job (of which there are not tons at my level) was depressing to me. Since the turn of the year, I have been trying to find balance, between seeking work and connecting with friends and my hobbies. I’m still struggling with it, but I’m getting there.

  14. Aebell

    Whoops, I forgot to add that trying to find limits to my internet/email/social media time is critical. I haven’t done well on that front yet.

  15. Carol

    Dear Shauna,
    I have been reading your blog for several years. I have been on the gf journey for 8 years. I like to cook and love to bake. Having nothing to do with food, something you wrote on this entry struck a chord with me. I am a former teacher (although once a teacher, always a teacher!) and a friend of mine is a teacher in the Philadelphia public schools. I know her to be a stellar, award winning teacher. Here is a copy of a letter she wrote to our new governor. It might strike a chord with you. I have removed her last name for her protection.

    Dear Governor Wolf,
    Congratulations! As a Philadelphia teacher, I worked hard to get you elected. I couldn’t be happier and I am looking forward to seeing what you are going to do to help our students. I wish you all the luck in the world. You have the backing of many teachers in our district.
    I am writing to you, because I wrote to Governor Corbett last year to give him insight about what teaching in Philadelphia is like. I never heard back from him. Today I am writing to you, so that you can learn about what teachers are going through. Governor Wolf, my students are wonderful! Most of them live in poverty and have experienced things that you and I will never experience in our lifetimes. Even with difficult home lives, the majority of them come to school every day eager to learn. The problem is I can’t teach them the way that they deserve to be taught. This year we started the school year with few new supplies, no workbooks, and no copy paper. We have a guidance counselor that comes only on Wednesdays. Over winter break I had a student whose father was murdered. Therefore, this young boy can only get help on Wednesdays; that is if our guidance counselor has time for him. After all, she has paperwork to do for almost 400 students, and other children to see with severe issues. Our nurse is in once or twice a week, depending on the week. My children know not to ever ask to go to the nurse.
    Another major problem is the way we are now required to teach. I spend my days making sure I am following my SLO. Am I updating RTII enough? Will they be ready for the PSSA test? Do they know the Common Core standard of the week and the correct vocabulary words? For example I have to put the objective on the board every day and if the principal or a stranger from the district walks in, they MUST be able to tell them the objective and explain all the big words in it. This week on my board is: Standard – CC.1.2.3.I, with its explanation. So, they must be able to explain SWBAT and IOT and words like bias, citation and explicitly. Forget the fact that we are reading a wonderful folk tale this week and that they need to know the vocabulary words in that story to enjoy it and comprehend it. How do I have time to teach both sets of vocabulary words? Am I asking enough essential questions? Are they doing enough reading assessments to prepare them for all of the standardized tests?
    I worry that I am not teaching the way that Danielson would approve. Am I driving instruction? Am I teaching to rigor? What does my data show? Is my data wall up to date? Is my data binder in the correct order? Do the students understand their poor scores on our last Benchmark tests? With all these changes in education, which are supposed to make things better, please tell me why more than 50% of our kids are not graduating high school? Please tell me why behavior problems are on the rise and children are more difficult to teach than ever?
    Mr. Wolf, when your children and my children were growing up, teachers were creative. Teachers did awesome projects to engage their students. We didn’t have to worry about tests. We could teach! This is my 36th year of teaching and I still love it. I love helping these students. I love seeing their little brains work. I love seeing their growth. Most of all, I love watching them turn into good readers. I love learning and for 36 years I have shared my joy with my students. Those days are gone. I have become the teacher that the district and the state want me to become – I have become the teacher that only teaches for the purpose of taking a test and performing well on it. Gone are the days of reading and writing for the pleasure of it. Gone are the days of huge, creative, multidisciplinary projects, celebrating holidays and learning about other cultures, pajama days, writing their own books, inventing things and just reading on the rug with a friend because it’s fun. Gone are the days of children loving school and looking forward to see what awesome things they are going to do next. Gone are the days of having them use their imagination to create something incredible!
    Over the years, I have entertained two mayors in my class and Senator Hardy Williams. My students have raised money for widows of firefighters and were given a “Citation” at City Hall. My students have made hundreds of heart pillows for patients in local hospitals. My students have run flea markets and raised thousands of dollars. They have written and published cookbooks, newspapers and class books. They have used the money earned to go on class trips and learn how businesses are run. They have learned about other cultures, been pen pals with suburban children and have learned to accept people of all races and religions. I have won awards for my teaching and I am very proud of everything that I have accomplished in my career. I am no longer allowed to do any of these awesome things with my students and my heart is broken for them. I am looking forward to the day that I can retire. However, that day is still four long years away. In the meantime, I will continue to give my students 100% of me and try to make their education as joyful as I can.
    As you can see, my students and I have accomplished quite a lot – but we have never entertained a Governor. The students would love to meet you, as would I! If you have any time in your busy schedule, I’d love for you to come and meet the wonderful, fantastic, incredible 210 kids! Maybe, I could figure out a way to have your visit align with the “Common Core.” I know; you could read us a story and I could have them listen for “main idea, key details, main character and author’s purpose.” Then you would follow up with “essential questions” listed in the Common Core. We wouldn’t want them to listen just for the hell of it, now would we?
    Again, I wish you lots and lots of luck!
    With appreciation,

  16. Suzanne

    What a beautiful post! Neither boy, who are both now young men, listened much to kiddie music…they listened to what we listened to. Proud Mary was one of our favorites and I made everyone in the car rock out whenever it came on the radio. Enjoy these precious moments with your family!

  17. clare

    I am totally in agreement with the sentiment that technology can create unnecessary urgency in our lives. However, if I don’t check out humans of New York on instagram and Spotify ‘Proud Mary’ to see if my daughter will dance immediately, the day will take over and I’ll forget. However, I’ve been meaning to write a letter to my Mum for a while… Thank you for some inspiration for the day. It’s my first time here. I’ll be back.

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