life I want

Lu's birthday- pasta_

Our Lucy turned seven last week.

For months, she has been planning and scheming, talking about menu items and activities she wanted to share. She decided she wanted to throw a dinner party.

Her menu? Macaroni and cheese. Pasta with red sauce. Pizza. Mashed potatoes. Corn on the cob. Hot dogs. Popcorn.

What, is she 7?

She certainly knew her target audience. The food that Danny and I spent most of the afternoon cooking disappeared fast. (Of course, Danny still makes restaurant portions, so there were plenty of leftovers.) Danny also made barbecued pork, baba ganoush and roasted vegetables, and a peach-tomato salad with basil lemon-tahini dressing for the parents. And that was before I brought out the chocolate cupcakes. There was no shortage of food at this party.

Lu's birthday- Dena at the table

Originally, Lucy wanted to have 7 friends for her 7th birthday, the people closest to her, those she has known the longest. However, Lu knows many sets of siblings and never wants anyone to feel left out. We settled on 14 friends, 2 friends for every year of her life.

Thankfully, we have the 23-foot table from our former cooking studio in our yard now. No problem seating 14 squirmy happy children and their parents at our house.

I say former cooking studio because it has been a summer of change around here. After two years of making a work space on someone else’s farm, we decided to let it go. We created our next cookbook in that space. We brought Desmond there every weekday for the first 9 months of his life. For awhile, it was the right place for us. And then it wasn’t. Holding onto something you know isn’t right for you because it once was? That’s a certain kind of suffering. Someday, we’ll build the place we want. For this summer, we let go of the old space. And it feels like relief now.

It has been a tough summer, in some ways. I haven’t written about it here yet. Six weeks ago, I was feeling mighty strange at a meeting with the two friends who help run our business. The left side of my face was tingling. My entire left side felt weak. I had to practice every sentence three times before I could allow myself to say it, because I knew that it would come out slurred and sideways otherwise. Finally, I asked my friend Ken, who is a volunteer firefighter on the side, if I should be concerned. He calmly said yes, did some tests, and then urged Danny to drive me to the fire station. That’s how I ended up in an ambulance, waiting at the dock for the ferry they diverted, while the medics did EKGs and noted my blood pressure rising higher and higher. On the ride to the hospital, I felt 25 feet underwater, looking at the surface, knowing I should probably go up there, but not having the strength to swim. It felt calm. Strangely present. There was no pain.

Turns out I had a stroke, a minor stroke called a TIA. The very expensive medical tests show that I’m healthy as a horse. (Hey, I know my cardiogram is great now. And the MRI shows my brain is strong.) TIAs follow the same mechanism as a stroke, but for whatever reason, the clot dissolves on its own. By the end of the day in the hospital, I could talk normally again. By the next morning, I could lift my left leg again. I was released.

I’d like to say I’m completely fine but I’m not yet. When people ask, I say, “I’m on the mend.” I’m exhausted, mostly. It wallops me hard in unexpected places. Any stress seems to strike me down. As my doctor said, if the brain loses oxygen for nine hours, the work to recover will take months, not weeks. Mostly, it’s invisible. It’s not the time for me to need naps, with a new cookbook coming out and a business to run. But I listen to my body now.

That may be one of the gifts of this. I’m looking hard to find the rest.

Lu's birthday- blackberries

And then there’s Lu, our sweet girl with the indomitable spirit. Twelve hours after she was born, she stopped breathing. We spent a week in the ICU, fearing the worst, listening to every beep of the machines in that infernal, blessed place. People all over the world sent out good wishes and prayers for her. We felt held. When she was 9 months old, the good surgeons at Seattle Children’s did a 9-hour surgery and rebuilt her skull. They put in artifical bones to strengthen her eye sockets. They made her new and saved her life.

Last week, we met with them again and confirmed what we already suspected: one part of her skull has not entirely fused. There’s a small hole in her head. We can’t have that, not with this active dancing tumbling life-attacking girl. Sometime soon, they will have to shave her head and do another skull surgery.

This year, we also found out that Lu has a pretty significant hearing loss. Again, we suspected for years. The standard school tests in kindergarten put numbers to it. We went to Children’s in April, where the audiologist confirmed that Lu really can’t hear anything below 40 decibels. Lu is social and joyous but she has always hated big crowds and noise. Now I know that’s because it all becomes a giant burble burble bustle bumble to her. She’s been compensating for years, translating what people say to her in her head before she responds. She can’t hear me if I am walking down the stairs behind her, talking. Oh Lu. It broke our hearts to find out what we had not known. She has been alone in this. The other day, the ENT told us there is no surgical intervention. She will have to wear hearing aids all her life.

Danny and I have been walking around with our chests feeling heavy for days. We’re holding hands while we walk.

We’ll get through. We always do. Lu’s fine with it because we talk through everything with her (and now her brother). She’s excited about ice cream and movies in the hospitals. We’ve told her we’ll get her fabulous scarves for her head while her hair grows in. This is the girl who pulled her own breathing tube out when she was 2 days old. The kid will be fine.

Given time, so will we.

Still, the blackberries taste a little sour this summer.


Still, it’s summer. We spend most of our time together outdoors, eating on the porch or at the giant table. There are blackberries, kiddie pools, a trampoline, and things that go.

This is the summer that Desmond has become entirely focused on things that go. He would push this bulldozer around all afternoon, if you let him. “CAR!” he shouts first thing in the morning, after smiling at us from his crib and reaching for a hug. Two or three times a day, the fever overtakes him. He stands on the back porch and makes the sign for PLEASE! over and over again, until Danny takes him for a sweep around the yard on the riding lawnmower.

He is such a sweet boy: inquisitive, joyful, determined to move. And he now loves books, after months of seeming indifference. Every night that I rock him before bed, he makes the sign for more and looks up at me, pleading. So I read him Goodnight Moon three more times, while he points out the kittens, the comb and the bowl full of mush. These moments with him, the snuggles with Lu before she climbs the stairs to bed? They make all the stresses and loud voices of the day go quiet.

Lu's birthday- fire pit

I struggle sometimes — and right now, every day — with summer. I used to love summer, the way I watch my children open their arms and laugh through the warm air. I’m pulled by the opposing forces of wanting to spend days hiking with my kids, going to the beach, roasting marshmallows over the fire, and lavishing all my attention on them. But I also love my work. I love this work and I want to do the work I love. I have to earn enough money for us. And we have no childcare during the summer. So every day is the push and pull of wanting to live the moments slowly — as we did sitting by our neighbor’s fire pit during Lucy’s birthday party — and sit in front of this computer, writing. Every parent I know, especially the mamas, feels this way. When you are self-employed with children, summer stinks.

But then again, maybe not.

at Sara's house

I think often lately of a scene from a movie I love, Truly Madly Deeply. (If you haven’t seen it yet, please do.) The character Juliet Stevenson plays attends the birth of a baby of a woman she has been helping to get citizenship. She holds the newborn baby in her arms, and crying, says, “Que linda que linda que linda.” When she arrives home to Alan Rickman, who is the ghost of her dead partner, the most wonderful man not alive, she tells him, as she lets go, “It’s life I want.”

This might be the summer I have let go of thinking the toddler-roaming house needs to be less cluttered. Or the dishes in our food photographs could be more composed and calm. Or wishing my life to be any different than it is, in spite of the mammoth medical bills, the unexpected exhaustion, the soon-to-be-scheduled skull surgery. Messy and imperfect is life.

One of my sane points each day comes early in the morning. I wake up at 6, turn on the coffee pot, and sit by the big windows in our living room and read in silence. Mary Oliver poems first. A little of one of my Buddhist books, and then whatever novel I’m working on. A full chapter, all to myself. After coffee and an hour of reading, I put on my sweat pants, grab the headphones and head out the door. Every morning that I walk, I listen to another episode of On Being. Krista Tippet is one of my favorite people I’ve never met. These are thoughtful conversations about the nature of being alive.

Yesterday, I listened to Elizabeth Alexander, a poet. At one point, Krista asked Elizabeth how becoming a mother has changed her writing. She laughed. “Becoming a mother grew me right up.” We imagine serious writers with clean oak desks, a beautiful bouquet of flowers placed in just the right space, handwritten papers strewn out carefully, and hours to write. The real version is different. According to Elizabeth Alexander, Lucille Clifton, one of my favorite poets, said that her best time to write poems is at the kitchen table. One of the kids has measles. Two others are smacking each other. You have two minutes to yourself before you have to go deal with it again. Go. That’s the real writing. Because that’s real life.

These days, I’m making sure the kitchen table is clean, pen and paper nearby.

There are too many things to do. Not enough energy to do them all. Not enough money. Too many emails. And I love it all, in my better moments of the day. This is being alive. If I choose yes, I choose this too.

After all, it’s life I want. And the life I have — messy, sometimes scary, never pithy no matter how I try — is the life I have. In spite of all the doubts and complications, there are kids piled in a row boat on dry land, plotting their own adventures. There’s a boy in his father’s lap, smiling in the sunshine. There is — for a moment — stillness in the taste of peach-tomato salad at the end of July.

This is the life I want.

Que linda que linda que linda.

Lu's birthday- peach and tomato salad

peach-tomato salad with basil-lemon-tahini dressing

I hesitate this to call this a recipe, almost, since it’s “throw together some good fruit and drizzle it with dressing and feta.” Still, if you have never combined peaches, tomatoes, jicama, and watermelon together? This will be a revelation. 

We’ve been eating plenty of salads around here this summer and this one might be my favorite. 

3 ripe peaches, cored and thinly sliced
3 large ripe tomatoes, cut into equal chunks
2 cups watermelon, cubed
1 half medium jicama, peeled and cut into matchsticks
2 ounces feta (or more if you love feta), cut into small cubes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

lemon tahini dressing
1/2 cup fresh basil


Make the salad. Combine the peaches, tomatoes, watermelon, and jicama. Season with salt.

Finish the dressing. Combine the lemon-tahini dressing with the fresh basil in a blender. Blend until the dressing is bright green.

Drizzle the dressing over the salad. Toss. Add the feta. Serve.

Feeds 4.

38 comments on “life I want

  1. Liz French

    Shauna, first, when I read your posts I feel like I do when I read Mary Oliver, or Anne Lamott, or David Whyte, or Barbara Kingsolver; I am transported, and feel very much what I believe you might be feeling when you write the words. That is to say, you have a beautiful gift, in my humble opinion. Thank you for sharing your heart.
    Second, you have a beautiful, sticky, lovely, rocky, joy-filled, messy, amazing life. There is proverbial glue for what gets broken and gifts to be discovered. Perhaps the speed bumps are simply that: some mystical magical message from 25 feet underwater urging you to take time for you. Simplify and prioritize and breathe. If I recall, you have a tattoo to remind you, yes?
    I don’t know you, I’ve never met you, I only “know” you through this goofy Facebook Internet thingy. But I feel your anguish in trying to strike the 3-way: working-mommy-wife balance. But what I found when I too was struggling with that is there wasn’t an even 4th in that list: me. My tank got empty, and I got pretty bad at all 3 because there wasn’t the even 4th.
    Please take care of you, for Danny’s sake, for Desmond’s sake, for Lucy’s sake, but mostly, mostly, mostly, for your sake.
    Thank you for your heart, thank you for your beautiful, kind, loving soul, and lastly, thank you for your lovely words and incredible recipes.
    P.S. I probably haven’t told you a thing you didn’t already know, but this was therapeutic for me to share my experience and let you know that you are being cheered on, prayed for, supported and applauded from afar.
    Great love to you, Danny and your beautiful kids.

  2. Kay

    I don’t even know what to say except I’m so sorry you’re dealing with medical issues. I, too, have health problems and I try not to think about them every day or let them take over my life, but it’s hard. Your sweet family must be a very comforting presence for you. My prayers will be with you as you recover, with Lu as she has her surgery, and with your whole family as you appreciate the time you have together.

  3. Dianne Taylor

    Dear Shauna,

    Dear Shauna, My heart goes out to you and your family at such a time in your lives. I love reading your posts and am eager to meet you this weekend, however, I want you to know that if you wanted to postpone the class until later when life is a little easier it is certainly fine with me. I had sent you an email yesterday wondering about time, etc. but now completely understand why I haven’t heard back from you. Sending love and support.

  4. Lauren

    I’m so sorry y’all have had to go through such major stressors recently. I hope you are doing well! Lucy too! I have had 2 students (piano) who have had serious hearing loss, their ability to compensate amazes me.
    Desmond is cutest and that pic of him and Danny is perfection. I wish you all health and sending love.

  5. Melissa

    I am a teacher as well, and I must say, you are so lucky to work in the school districts you did! My summers are typically filled with tutoring, summer school, and preparing for the following year so it doesn’t feel like a break at all. It must have been so nice to work in a school districts that could afford you a genuine summer break.

    All of that aside, I can’t wait to try this salad. Thinking of Lucy and sending her positive vibes towards a swift recovery.

  6. Jan

    My goodness, what a beautiful smile Desmond has!!
    I will be praying for your full recovery, and for Lucy.

  7. Mary

    Hi Shauna,
    I cried a lot reading your words. You’ve described that exquisite pain of love and of life so beautifully. Thank you. I can only imagine how heart-breaking it would have been to find out about your sweet girl’s hearing. You two are amazing for hosting Lu’s well-dreamed celebration amidst all of the challenges this summer. Hopefully you are feeling held by your community now, as you recover and plan for Lu’s surgery. You are in our hearts. Much love from Vancouver. xoxo

  8. Laura

    My ten year old boy also DX with bi-lateral hearing loss at age 4. He has worn hearing aids since and has had speech services through Tacomas public school. Your Lucy will be fine~ you will see! But yes, heart wrenching to see and know your child was suffering. All my best to your family.
    Your writing is a great comfort to many! Keep it up:) and do what you love!

    1. Laura

      Quick addition- not to add one more thing to your mind already full of dizzying thoughts- but you will want hearing aid insurance. About $250 per year but worth it cuz those suckers will go missing at least once? Wish out audiologist had mentioned this at the start!

  9. Duffi McDermott

    with your permission, I will put y’all on my Buddhist prayer list, and light a candle on my altar for you.

    Thank you for loving your life, for eating so well, for being present to your children. I love you all.

  10. Judy

    Hi Shauna, I love getting your updates and getting to know you through your food; this is one of those shocking surprises which life throws at you and you just have to pick up the ball and go with it. To have two major health issues in your family is a huge thing and I am sure that all of us who read your blog feel for you. If only we could dissipate your pain by taking a little piece of it each but all we can do is thank you for sharing the bad times and good ones with us, and send love and prayers for you all as you work your way through this. Love from the UK

  11. Eileen

    Bless your heart….I’m so sorry to hear of all that you are going thru this summer. That’s a lot to have on your plate, along with just the day to day family challenges. It sounds like you have a great foundation there with your morning reading and walking to help nurture yourself. Your Lucy is such an amazing being I love watching she and Desmond grow and seeing you and Danny become the amazing parents that you are. I know you know that you are in that ‘sweet spot’ that Pema Chodron talks about in When Things Fall Apart….keep surrendering every day, every moment. And as my mother in law used to say ‘This too shall pass’. Hugs to you all.

  12. Camille

    What a beautiful post! You are causing me tear up at work (reading over my lunch hour). It sounds like a hard time for all of you but you will get through it and have happier days soon.

  13. Marcy

    Thank you for sharing your life through the struggles. Love reading your posts. Loving thoughts and prayerful thoughts to all of you.

  14. Kacie

    Shauna, you and your family are adored beyond measure, from near and afar. Just as life holds you safely, so do we. Thank you for letting us in and for deepening all of our experiences through your words. sending only the best thoughts for all of you in this next phase.

  15. Margaret@KitchenFrau

    You are an absolute inspiration, Shauna, for the positive thoughts you can share, in the midst of all the worries you are going through. Thank you for that. Much, much love to you and your family. Your writing always makes me think more deeply about the joys and blessings we have.

  16. Kathy M

    I appreciate your thoughtful contemplation on the struggles of life and your ability to continue to find joy and time for yourself through all the challenges. Such a strong woman you are. Thank you for sharing your story.

  17. Tekla Bach

    All the best wishes for your family from Denmark.
    I find so much inspiration on this page,not just the amazing food but also on a personal level.

  18. Diane Leach

    I read your description of numbness and speech difficulty with mounting horror….and then, Lucy! My spouse and I know a lot of families in bad spaces right now…all wonderful people who don’t deserve this. Like your family. We keep sending love and flowers and canned organic broth. Consider this note all of those things to your family–may this pass. Thank you for sharing. It means a lot.

  19. Holly

    You are a marvelous writer. Thinking of you and your family. I had a 40 year career as a psychologist – complete with hearing loss from birth and hearing aids – because being deaf taught me how to really listen.

  20. Stephanie

    Is that Lucy at her party table? That is an absolutely stunning picture of a beautiful girl! And that smile will get even bigger when she suddenly hears everything going on around her, with clarity.

    Consider getting the book El Deafo, by Cece Bell. A graphic novel that she might not be quite ready for, but will be in a couple of years. And it’s worth a pre-read by the parents to see some of what she might experience. My husband, who is Deaf (92 decibels in the “good ear”), found so much of it to mirror his experience.

    I want to write something about every single think you posted. But I’ll let others take care of the rest. Know that you still have well-wishers from around the world.

  21. Marlena

    I am so sorry you are going through this – it ain’t easy. We’ve been through strokes, adopted kids, now Alzheimer’s and Crohn’s disease. But we have learned that every bit of life is precious and we will survive, that friends and family are the best “things” in the world, that good food brightens the day and that we are stronger than we know. You will learn and grow from this and someday you will look back on it and maybe be almost glad. in the meantime, it can be awful, but keep on keepin’ on and rely on all the good people around you – their love will keep you. Look for joy in everything you can. I remember finding the way a cat climbed stairs or the north star being in it’s place every night some of what kept me going. best of luck

  22. Lynn D.

    This has been such a long, hard, hot, bitter summer for so many people I know and don’t know. Let us hope that things will be better soon for people and creatures throughout the world. Take care of yourself.

  23. Victoria

    If you and Chef have not been tested… go to an audiologist and see how bad your hearing is, I am finding more and more examples of us non-senior folks that already have a significant hearing loss (I am 39 and pretty much deaf in one ear with no medical reason – trust me, I’ve had 2 MRIs and CAT scans, and a big hearing loss in other ear) and hearing aids are NOT a bad thing, they improve life so much. Everyone who mumbled before? You can understand them. Just the clarity of what people are saying is better.

  24. Georgianna

    I am relieved to hear you are recovering well, and trying to make the best out of the summer. I’ve found recently that life’s beauty is enhanced by the insanity that surrounds us. Sending you lots of energy for speedy recovery for you and Lu. <3

    1. shauna

      Oh I agree. I think this will all seem like a gift someday. I can almost see it now. Thank you.

      1. Georgianna

        It is a hard thing to realize sometimes, so don’t rush it. Just take care of you and yours and take your time.

  25. MelissaVW

    Krista Tippett is your favorite person you’ve never met, and I’m sure you’re one of mine. Life is so messy and perfect and awful and lovely, and I’m always sorry when one of my favorites is in the throes of a particularly messy or awful phase. I hope you guys manage alright over the coming months, that you regain your strength and center, that Lu’s surgery goes smoothly, that you keep writing, that that that….. all the good things, to sustain you through the crap.

    Also, totally unrelated to that vein of thought but totally related to your recipe – is there a particular brand of lemon-tahini dressing you used/like? I assume any will do, but just curious. Be well.

  26. Eva

    Just wanted to pass along good wishes for your health, and for Lu’s (and Danny’s, and Desmond’s, too).

  27. Autumn Hoverter

    I’m sorry you’re having such a difficult summer and I’m happy you’re finding hope and love in the little things. Thank you so much for sharing your story, it really struck a cord with me. I’m self-employed mama with a little boy just one month older than your Desmond our journey has also been fraught with medical challenges. Just last night I was wailing to my husband that I make a terrible self-employed mother but this morning, in the quiet hours, I stumbled on your post and I have hope again. So, thank you.

  28. Gigi

    The TIAs – I had 15 in six months before my celiac diagnosis (among many, many other horrible health issues that so many of us experience prior to the diagnosis). Later, as a neuroscience researcher, I learned TIAs can be triggered by celiac disease. More pieces of the puzzle fit together. And yes, those of us with children, as you point out, have been through it all, but life is wonderful and busy and beautiful, even through the gray of some of those days. The Universe intended to provide us exactly what we need and that which our true heart desires. Hold tight, and remember, this too shall pass. 🙂

    1. shauna

      Thank you so much, Gigi. With the time passing, I’m already starting to feel what you wrote. What we need.

  29. Cheryl Arkison

    Sometimes there are posts where you just want to scream Yes! But it is a quieter agreement, but agreement all the same. So glad to hear you are on the mend. And hopefully enjoying your time in AZ!

Comments are closed