That Time We Moved to San Diego

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Nearly three months later:  Settled enough to start adventuring again.

In late July, we packed up our home and sent a truckload of boxes and furniture off with movers. That same week, Liz piled the remaining most-treasured items (especially Reese, our family dog,) into her Subaru and started the week-long drive from Connecticut to California. I followed a week later, flying solo across the country with our two kids in tow.

We spent the first month in San Diego holed up at a Best Western Hotel. We enjoyed a “two room” suite, which turned out to be one large room half-heartedly divided by an archway. This meant that every member of the family could be easily awoken by any other member of the family at any point during the night. Anytime Reese shook his collar, my son cried at 5:00 AM, or an adult took a 2:00 AM bathroom run, there was a good chance that others would rouse. A typical day at the Best Western included waking up groggy, taking conference calls from the bathroom due to lack of space, and discretely microwaving frozen meals for dinner after the kids had (hopefully) fallen asleep.

Yet, hotel living wasn’t entirely unpleasant. We enjoyed breakfast every morning (we learned that cheese omelet/sausage day and scrambled egg/bacon day were both delightful). There was a well-heated pool (often just to ourselves). And, the housekeeping staff got to know and appreciate both of our kids.

Physically moving ourselves and our stuff across the country has taken the better portion of three months. And, as you might guess, the psychic disruption has been even more pronounced.

At first, I coped with the change by attempting to consciously and quickly put down roots. My intention was to “root ourselves in San Diego”, and I set to it with typical fervor. Sitting on the balcony of the Best Western, I researched and reached out to the service providers who would help us make a home here – the pediatricians, babysitters, dentists, hairdressers, lawyers, and car mechanics whom would take care of us. I fired off emails to reignite our network of friends in the area. I even found ritual ways of honoring our relocation, ordering a new return address stamp and change-of-address announcements for friends and family. I journaled about what our best life in San Diego might look like and what was needed to manifest that.

Wasn’t this putting down roots? Wasn’t this what I needed for us to self-actualize our best lives in this new city? To feel completely at home in this place?

And yet, none of my efforts helped me feel settled.

No, it wasn’t until the truck arrived with all our stuff, six weeks after moving, that I got a hint of what I was missing. I shared my three-year-old daughter’s unrestrained joy when she exclaimed, “It looks just like our house in Connecticut!” after the moving trucks left. I felt just as giddy – and just as inclined to jump up and down on the newly-delivered bed.

Why did all these things – our familiar sofa, a loved coffee maker, and even the boxes of old college books – bring such succor? I found it disturbing to think that I was so materialistic that these items could significantly impact my happiness. And yet, as I sat at the dining room table, eating Chinese food off a real plate and drinking from a real wine glass, I couldn’t deny the feeling of home.

The answer came to me in a conversation with a friend: “It makes sense that you weren’t settled; it’s like someone kicked the bottom out of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.”

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is an all-too-familiar and yet oft-applicable psychological model. It holds that the more basic human needs – beginning with physiological needs for food, water, warmth, and rest – must be satisfied before more complex human needs – like achieving one’s full potential – can be addressed. Between these extremes there is an entire pyramid of needs, building one layer upon the other. The original version, presented in Abraham Maslow’s original 1943 paper on the topic, is illustrated below. For the academically-inclined looking for the source materials, you can find the whole paper here.
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Now, as an executive coach, a leadership development professional, and a writer, I am accustomed to live and move in the realm of self-actualization. I sit in the realm of the emotional, the conceptual, and the reflective. And, frankly, when I arrived to California, that’s the natural level at which I engaged. I automatically went to manipulations of meaning, purpose, community, and ritual to make us feel at home. My efforts started at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy and extended down.

But these top-heavy efforts were doomed without the foundation. While I had the few creature comforts that fit in my luggage, I fundamentally lacked my own bed to sleep in as well as my own clothes to wear. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was getting the pyramid of needs upside-down.

Now that my feet are underneath me, I can get back to focusing on the things I do best.  And next time I’m inexplicably disoriented, I’ll know where to look: to the bed underneath my head and the things around me.

With love,
Meredith

Postscript: Frankly, my experience was temporary and – even while in transition – quite comfortable. I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like for those who struggle without the fundamentals on a day-to-day basis. For refugees, for detainees at the border, and for those without a home the question of self-actualization is far from fundamental; it’s a luxury. It’s important and grounding for me to remember that shifting one’s focusing at the top of the pyramid is, in itself, a privilege. While I continue to work at the top of the pyramid, I am recommitting to make a positive impact for those struggling to address the bottom.

When Parenting Meets Travelling

When we told friends and family that we would be travelling through Costa Rica for the last two months of my maternity leave, we got a lot of interesting reactions. Some were in disbelief, thinking us either crazy or stupid for taking a two-month newborn and a two-year toddler anywhere. Others were jealous of the idea and seemed almost annoyed that they didn’t organize something similar with their own children. Still others couldn’t wrap their minds around the complexity of it all (logistical and otherwise) and surmised that we must be superhuman (fact: my wife is).

Now, two weeks into the trip, we get a lot of curious questions from people on the home front who want to know how it’s going. The tone is often tentative, almost as if people are wishing us well but expecting a train wreck. “So…how is it?”

When I began to answer that question, I measured my answer against two things: our ideal of travelling and our ideal of parenting.

The Travel Ideal  When my wife and I travel, we optimize for having authentic experiences and challenging adventures. We eschew tourist infrastructure and instead seek out interesting experiences off the beaten path. We put ourselves in new situations that require us to rise to the challenge – whether rappelling waterfalls in Vietnam, navigating the public bus system across Croatia and Bosnia, or hitchhiking in Norway. We make every meal count by finding restaurants frequented by locals or touted by reviewers; it’s like we can smell a menu printed in multiple languages.

The Parenting Ideal  When with our kids, we optimize for parenting in a way that balances respect for them and their independence with providing safe and loving boundaries. We adjust the space to be as focused on “yes” as possible, taking away dangers and distractions that require a constant barrage of “no”. We optimize the schedule for their rhythms. We focus on child-led activities rather than dictating what we do. When possible, we let their choices lead the way.

When looking at our previous ideals, what emerges is this: it is impossible to travel the way we’d like to travel while parenting. And, it’s impossible to parent the way we’d like to parent while travelling.

So, back to the question at hand: how is it on the road with two little ones?

I find that I am grateful for the beautiful travel moments which I can steal while taking care of these two. That brief moment sitting under the pounding of the hot springs waterfall. The tropical fruits and sips of Costa Rican coffee before a long mealtime implodes. The massage in an open-air bungalow and speedy zipline tour while my wife takes care of the little ones.

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A moment away: zip-lining through the forests of Arenal

At the same time, I am grateful for the beautiful parenting moments which I can steal while travelling. Playing ‘telemarketer’ on the unplugged hotel room phone with my toddler. Making finger puppet shapes on the ceiling to entertain my newborn. Long talks around where things goes when you flush the toilet and unexpected potty training wins.

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A momemt together: hats on while on a “ride to school”

Yet, what I have been completely caught off-guard and delighted by are the new moments of integration in which travelling and parenting transform each other.  The best parts of this trip – and undoubtedly the most memorable – are the rare moments when it all happens together in a new and different way. The conversations with my toddler about how mud is made as I carry her through ankle-deep gunk in the jungle. The quiet moments breastfeeding my newborn son while looking out into the tropical rain. The kids’ reaction to a handful of white-nosed coatis wandering up to our hotel room window.

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A moment when it all comes together: white-nosed coati encounter

By combining the two, the nature of both parenting and traveling changes completely.  On the road, I become a different parent. I let go of optimizing their world for respectful, independent learning; I am more flexible and fluid. And with kids in tow, I become a different traveler. I don’t need everything to be perfectly authentic and perpetually challenging; I slow down, judge less, and see this place through their eyes.

So, am I eating more hotel hamburgers than I would like? Absolutely. And am I also delaying nap time to fit in one more store, one more museum, or one more dip in the pool? Yep. But, increasingly, instead of feeling like I am compromising on both sides, I feel like I am finding the beautiful integration of both.

Meredith

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To the next adventure

Parenting Hack: Thing It/Unthing It

I was sitting around chatting with a group of moms the other day. One friend mentioned that her son was not eating meals, and they were, as a result, putting in extraordinary efforts to get him to do so. Her pediatrician’s advice? Just “un-thing” it.

Un-thinging is the process of not making a big deal out of something; in other words, not making it into a thing. Her son can eat or not eat. Either is fine. As a parent, you set the direction and the implications (i.e., here is good food, you need to eat or you’ll be hungry), but you don’t get tied up in what the child chooses to do. You don’t bribe or coerce. You don’t have an emotional reaction. You stay chill and let them figure it out independently. By un-thinging it, you lower the stakes. You normalize the situation. You create the space and opportunity for change.

In becoming conscious of un-thinging things, we have also started to play around with thinging things.  By thinging something, you differentiate it. You make clear that the plane diaperbehavior is situational and even special. You create limits and boundaries around it. For example, when flying with my toddler the other day, we decided to thing the use of a diaper. My daughter is in the middle of potty training, and we don’t want her to think that wearing a diaper is typical behavior. And so, my wife drew planes on each of her diapers. We talked about how these were special “plane diapers.” When we took the diapers off, we said goodbye to the them and made a big deal of wearing underwear again because we’re not on a plane anymore. We made diaper-wearing during travel a thing.

Beyond that, we are thinging a whole host of behaviors associated with travel:  lollipops to pop her ears on the plane (“plane lollipops”), the use of a tablet (“special Daniel Tiger”), eating more frequent desserts (“something we do on vacation”), and sleeping on an inflatable mattress (the “travel Older Toddler bed”). We want each to be a specific experience with its own use case, boundaries, and related expectations. We are creating the association that these are all related to this special time and place and do not reflect the new normal.

Stepping back, thinging and unthinging are simply more intentional practices about consciously choosing – in this case, consciously choosing your relationship with each action. What do you need to unthing to create space and opportunity for change? What do you need to thing to create differentiation and limitation?

Meredith

 

How Did I Become A Single-Issue Voter?

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I returned to my hometown in Michigan this week to visit and introduce my grandparents to my newborn son, Hawk. Gathered in their living room, Grandpa told stories of working as a machinist in the auto industry, and Grandma knit another beautiful afghan. We ate egg salad sandwiches and homemade cake, cooed over the little one, and caught up on life. And yet, while our visits were lovely, they all happened in front of a backdrop of scathing purple-state attack ads. The muted television in the background prompted me to see that, while this narrow moment was perfect, there are so many challenges in the wider world.

The tone of the ads reminded me that we live in a country where intelligent discourse has fallen by the wayside, where there is little listening, and where both sides are guilty of unprincipled behavior and partisanship. All of that points to my bigger concern. As we approach Tuesday’s election, I am concerned about our fundamental respect for each other. I am concerned about human rights.

I look back on the past two years and see so many things that horrify me:  the rampant use of dehumanizing language, a failure to condemn white supremacists, threats to revoke citizenship of birthright Americans, separating children from their parents at the border, work to limit the rights of trans citizens; and, beyond our borders, our country’s complicity with the human rights abuses of other countries as we fail to hold them accountable.

We can talk about the economy, healthcare, education, foreign relations, or anything other political issue you’d like to debate; but, to me, all those have become secondary to our fundamental human rights. Events like the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh demonstrate how dire this issue has become, not only for the Jewish community, but for all of us. I am surprised and saddened that human rights need to be an issue at all, and yet, here we are.

I would say that the actions of this administration have reduced me to being a one issue voter, but that would be wrong in multiple ways. First, I am not reduced or diminished in any way; atrocities call forth my power instead of minimizing it. Second, the administration has not forced this upon me; I choose to stand up, first and foremost, for human rights.

And so:
I vote for treating each other as humans worthy of respect.
I vote for understanding people however different they may be from me.
I vote for erring on the side of compassion.
I vote against fear.
I vote against blame.
I vote against ‘other-izing’ our fellow humans.
I vote against using harmful descriptors (e.g., “animals”, “lowlifes”, “dogs”) which lead to harmful beliefs and increase the likelihood of harmful actions.

And so, how to vote?

In the past I have voted for both Republicans and Democrats, though I have trended towards the left as of late. That said, even if I didn’t mostly vote Democrat, I would in this election. Any Republican who has not openly, actively, and continuously disavowed the actions of this administration cannot claim to be a champion of human rights. And that is what we need right now. We need people who will openly and vocally disavow Trump’s actions even if they agree with his policies. We need to reestablish our foundation of how we are with each other instead of sacrificing it for superficial political wins – for it is only upon that foundation that of rights and respect that we can again engage in a thoughtful discourse to come to workable solutions.

The Talmud states that “who can protest and does not is an accomplice in the act.” If you’re a Democrat, a Republican, an Independent, or someone who formerly affiliated but now feels dismayed and dejected, please vote this Tuesday. And, for me, I will vote Democrat in order to make my stance as clear as possible: Human rights are at stake. I do not support anyone who, by commission or omission, accepts the atrocities of this administration.

I would love to hear your perspective on this especially if you disagree with me. I promise it will be met with an open mind and an open heart.

With love and listening,
Meredith

 

Consumption Junction

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Since Elliott’s birth, our friends and family have been deferential about how busy we must be.  On some level, they’re right: at points, there has barely been time to shower, eat, or walk the dog.  But, busy doesn’t feel like the right word to describe these early weeks.  Busy implies that there is a long list of things to accomplish and not quite enough time in which to fit them.  Indeed, if we were just living in a state of ‘busy-ness,’ we could perhaps adjust by increasing our capacity or speeding things up.

After years in the workforce, so much of me thrives on busy-ness:  its sense of buzzy productivity, the little check marks in boxes, and the haze of meaning that comes from simply getting stuff done.  In many ways, I *wish* I could change all the diapers, pump all the milk, and share all my love by just working hard to get them done.  Mothering for today?  Check, check, check.

On the contrary, with Elliott, there is nothing to check off the list; we feed, diaper, rock, and play with her over and over again.  Yes, I have other non-baby items to accomplish, but I long ago realized that days and weeks could go by with nothing getting checked off – and yet, I was constantly occupied.  The to-do list of discrete, successive items has been replaced by endless, iterative tasks.

Further, through it all, I haven’t felt a lack of time or a sense of hurry that being ‘busy’ implies; everything is done when it needs to be done, on Elliott’s clock.  I can’t change ten diapers by noon to hit my quota and declare myself done for the day.  There is plenty to do, but it’s impossible to rush it.  Similarly, it’s impossible to run out of time to do what needs to be done.

In sum, it’s less that I feel busy and more that I feel completely consumed.  The reality of life with baby is that every moment is spent care-giving in the present.  I am challenged to slow down and invest every act with big love.  I am challenged to attend to whatever Elliott needs right now, without anticipation or distraction.  I am challenged to be less busy and more present.

As she draws me more into mamahood, Elliott brings me more into the moment and more into myself.

Realistically, I still find myself trying to accomplish things according to my old habits; instead of nursing with full presence at 2AM, I sometimes multi-task, teaching myself baby sign language or editing my new book (support the crowdpublishing project here!).  But, I’m increasingly finding big meaning in the letting myself be consumed by these everyday acts of childcare.  And, I love it.

Meredith

Reflections on the Wedding

This weekend, I attended the fourth wedding since my own nuptials in August. With nearly three months of perspective and so many more weddings under my belt, I’m finally ready to reflect back on what I learned through the entire wedding process.
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Starting with the planning, I’m grateful that we invested in what we cared about. In the months leading up to the wedding, it horrified me to find out just how much work this whole affair can be. So, I’m glad we picked our battles. Since I cared a lot about the ceremony, we wrote every word of it ourselves (I’m sharing the text in my next post if you’re interested).  Since Liz cared about the music, she picked every song by hand. The flowers that we didn’t care about were perfectly serviceable and lovely accents to the event. I’m glad we reserved our energy and didn’t worry about what mattered less to us.

My first realization during wedding week was that we needed every moment available. In addition to our wedding day, we held an entire week’s worth of events:  drinks at our favorite dive bar, biking across the Golden Gate Bridge, wine tasting in Sonoma, breakfasting with our families, picnicking with everyone in the Presidio, and celebrating our rehearsal at the restaurant where we had our first date.  About 24 hours into our 100+ hour celebration, I saw how much I needed all the remaining time to connect with people and spend solid time with all of them (as well as Liz!). Call me an extrovert, but I couldn’t soak up enough.  I’m grateful we had the luxury of time with so many guests.

In arranging the last-minute details for the wedding, I was touched by how people made themselves ‘of service’ in a beautiful way. In addition to our families and our wedding parties (who all played wonderfully supportive roles), there were unexpected guests who jumped in to help. It was the uncles who carried all the snacks for the wine bus. It was the classmates who helped transport all the alcohol after the picnic. It was the friend who diligently held my drink while I danced. None of them had formal roles, and yet all were so enthusiastically helpful. We will pay this support forward at every wedding we attend.

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As the night progressed, I found the old adage to be true – something will go wrong, and you need to let it go. For us, the one thing that went wrong at our wedding was the coffee cups; they were paper cups instead of proper mugs. (Oh the horror!)  Did our guests notice?  No. Did we notice?  Yes. Did our guests care? No. Did we care?  Less than we would have thought, but more than we should have. Let it go and enjoy all that is right.

Looking at the wedding as a whole, my favorite moments were completely unscripted:  the drive to the venue with my parents and bridesmaid, peering out the window as guests arrived, my instinctual reaction when I first saw Liz, the champagne pop, the end of my father’s speech, the first song the DJ played, the last song the DJ played, and the plate of grilled cheese someone gave me. And perhaps more than anything else, I loved the quiet of Liz and I taking the dog for a walk in the full moon well after the wedding was over. I’m glad there was room to savor the little moments.

In my post immediately upon returning from honeymoon, I struggled to wrap my head around the whole event. However, since reflecting more, I’ve realized that every part of a wedding is a public affair. Not only do you celebrate your wedding in public, you process it in public. Typically, I work through life events independently, journaling on my experiences. This approach didn’t resonate for the wedding. It was only when I started to talk to people about the wedding – to hear about their experiences and share my own – that I started to see the meaning of the whole event more clearly. For all the relationship moments that are lived privately, a wedding is public. Meaning is created between people – between Liz and me, between us and our guests – and not in my head alone. Once I understood this, the debrief conversations with guests and my wife took on a new importance. Liz and I jumped into co-authoring a journal of our collective wedding week events to capture everything from a full perspective. We experienced it together, so we needed to process it together as well.

So, to conclude, thank you for digesting this with me and bringing yet another level to the public commitment Liz and I made in August. I’m grateful that you’re all bearing witness to the journey.

Onwards and upwards,
Meredith

P.S.  Congratulations to all the couples whose nuptials we’ve witnessed since our own:  Andrew and Christine, Justin and Pascal, Marla and Jamie, and Jenny and Fico! We’ve loved your lemonade stands, dessert bars, choreographed dances, drag queens, gazing circles, and Texan barbecue. It has been an honor to celebrate with you!

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So That Happened

As many of you know, I spent the last three weeks getting married to Liz, celebrating with friends and family, and running off to Bora Bora on my honeymoon. I can think of few other periods in my life as dense with experience, emotion, and meaning as these. Typically, when life feels full like this, I depend upon writing. Through writing, I process emotions, document events, and envision the future. However, uncharacteristically, I feel blocked from writing about the past few weeks. I’ve opened and closed my journal a dozen times. I’ve beat myself up about not writing. I’ve avoided it entirely. And yet, when it’s hard to begin processing, I suppose you have to start somewhere:

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Wedding week kicked off with dinner at French Laundry, the obligatory City Hall visit, beers and tacos on the waterfront, wine tasting in Sonoma, sitting around the Inn fire pit, open mic toasts at the rehearsal, and thirty people who rarely ride bikes pedaling over the Golden Gate Bridge. There was the ceremony we wrote ourselves, Reese’s best behavior as he came up the aisle, the reflections of our officiants, the surprise first dance starring our fathers, and the encouragement to “Live Long and Prosper.” There was the mist in the Presidio, the clear view of the Golden Gate, the sanctity of the space, the smell of eucalyptus, and the mountains of petits fours. There were bottles of champagne sabered by knives (more or less successfully), family-style platters passed around the table, a chance to wear my mother’s veil, a second wedding dress, and abounding grilled cheese. There was biking the approach to Sausalito with my uncle, calculating last-minute vendor tips with my bridesmaid Eleanore, the dance with my dad, and the last picture of the night with my mom. There was the note Liz sent me our wedding morning, my gasp at first seeing her, and walking Reese together under the full moon after the whole reception finished. And all this was before the honeymoon. It was before bottles of champagne on arrival, tropical flowers from my wife surprising me in our room, and fresh coconuts opened by the gardener. It was before Liz tackled the trails on our ATV, we choreographed team jumps off our overwater bungalow, and I fell face-first off a stand-up paddleboard. In each of these experiences, there were dense emotions as well: the joy of seeing friends and family, the pressure of coordination, the annoyance of detail-orientation, the hope that all would go well, the confidence that this was so right, the overwhelming love of everyone in attendance, and the gratitude for everyone and for each other. Coming out of these few weeks, there’s a distinct happy/sad feeling, just like the happy/sad tears I cried at the toasts, on the dance floor, and when the wedding was all thankfully, impossibly, heart-breakingly over.

Why is it so hard to write about the wedding? First, it’s too big, too dense, and too meaningful. I find it impossible to select a vignette that’s representative of the whole or condense the entirety down into something comprehensive. Thus, instead of presenting a thoughtful deconstruction of a focused experience (as is often my approach on The Intentional), I can only come up with the incomplete litany of impressions above.

Second, it’s hard to reflect upon the wedding/honeymoon period because it’s not yet over; we’re still in the ‘liminal’ period. Liminality is a concept in anthropology and ritual studies; it describes the disorienting in-between-ness that happens after you leave one role (e.g., engaged person) and before you take on your new role (e.g., married person). You’re no longer this, but not yet that. Because we start back to work tomorrow, Liz and I have not yet re-emerged into the world as married folk. Life is still filled with wedding logistics, honeymoon-worthy candlelit dinners, and a distinct separation from everyday life. Perhaps, in addition to the sheer volume of experiences, I’m also struggling with reflecting upon this experience as I’m still in the midst of it.

Looking forward, I suspect it will take time to integrate the events of the last few weeks; as days and weeks pass, I’ll be better able to digest the great volume of experiences and benefit from the perspective of being back in the flow of life. Self-growth often takes conscious processing, and there are certainly more wedding posts to come. What form my continued reflection takes, there’s also a refreshing finality in closing this in-between period. It means that, on the most important level, the change is complete. I re-enter the world tomorrow fundamentally and delightfully different from who I’ve been: I’m now married to Liz.

With love to all those who read this, all those who celebrated with us, and, above all, my lovely wife,
Meredith Whipple Callahan

(More to come!)

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Welcome to Fullness

As you may have guessed from my relative reticence, the last weeks and months have been particularly busy. In the last six weeks (since, roughly April 15th), I’ve travelled to Shanghai, Chicago, Phuket, Boulder, Singapore, a tropical island in Indonesia, Cape Cod, and Michigan. I’ve camped the Nor Cal woods with my fiancée, snorkeled Southeast Asian waters, and taken a beer tour of Chicago. I’ve attended offsites, retreats, annual meetings, and trainings. I’ve coached former classmates on storytelling, tried a new recipe for gluten-free/dairy-free mac and cheese, and volunteered at the soup kitchen. On the home front, we’ve replaced our washer and dryer, fixed the ice tray in the fridge (shockingly complicated), and replanted the front bed. For the wedding, we’ve ordered and addressed wedding invitations, finalized plans for cake, and completed the final fitting for my wedding dress. Most importantly, though, I’ve spent time with so many people I love around the world, including a few walks around the block with Reese, some quality time with Liz, and a beautiful bridal shower with nearly every member of my extended family.

I share this not to provide an excuse for not posting, but to take a stand: Yes, the last six weeks have been busy, but I refuse to call them that. In fact, I am hereby abandoning the word “busy.”  
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Why am I abandoning “busy?”

First, I don’t want to compete in the busy-ness competition. Sometimes, particularly amongst my overachieving friends, we end up one-upping each other with the intensity of our schedules. It’s as if our commitments act as a proxy for importance (“So many people have demands on my time and talents!) and capability (“…and I’m completely able to satisfy them all!”). It’s an alluring game to play as it feeds the ego and seems winnable. That said, winning the busy-ness competition is no treat. You may receive a bit of awe or pity, but to maintain your sense of importance and capability, you need to sign up for being even busier than you were before. I once heard a friend describe it as “winning a pie-eating competition where the prize is. . . more pie.”

Second, I want to encourage real conversations. We often ask each other “How are you doing?” in a ritualized way, not expecting a full answer. It’s easy to answer “I’m busy” and sharing your schedule. When someone asks me how I’m doing, I aspire to respond to those questions with a better answer – one that goes a bit deeper or shares a bit more. Why am I busy? What is happening in the world as a result of my efforts? What is meaningful about that?

Which brings us to the third and most important reason: I want to put attention on the underlying meaning, not the superficial hum of the activity. Ultimately, the word ‘busy’ doesn’t encapsulate the meaning behind it all. We all choose to sign ourselves up for work and activities, for life and relationships. We choose the things that make us so busy – and we presumably choose them because they’re important to us in some way. Being “busy” doesn’t invoke that overarching purpose in the activity; it just implies activity – and perhaps too much of it. Yet when I look at the litany of life in my first paragraph, I don’t feel exhausted, I feel exhilarated. Sure, I’m sometimes overtravelled, sometimes overworked, sometimes overstretched. But my underlying feeling here is one of satisfying fullness, and not of meaningless busy-ness.

Therefore, that’s my new word: instead of saying “I’m busy,” I am going to say “I’m full.” I am full of activity, full of life, and full of meaning. In many contexts, to be full is to be complete. I want the fullness that comes with having my time and talents used completely towards my ambitions.

Goodbye busy-ness. Welcome to fullness.

Meredith

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That Time I Was Uptrend: My Obsession With Kale

In between leaving work and starting graduate school I lived in Port Huron with my parents for a summer. In exchange for reinhabiting my bedroom, I offered to cook up a storm: an authentic Indian feast, homemade baba ghanoush, all sorts of Iron Chef-ed surprises. Among the dishes I tried was a beautiful minestrone recipe, complete with parmesan rind and bunches of kale. I remember lingering over the deep green curls in a rarely-visited corner of the Kroger produce section; with its chlorophyll coloring, sturdy stalks, and abundant foliage, it was the liveliest food I had ever seen.

I didn’t know what to do with it at the time, so I followed the instructions closely and chopped it into the soup. While my grandfather found this all a bit strange, I fell in love with it. I started putting it in everything: soups, stews, salads. I wrote a short cookbook of original kale recipes and published it online (you can find it here). I even started avoiding traditional salad bars that used kale as a garnish; I had become such a devotee that I could not stand to see all that kale wasted.

I am rarely stylish, but on this singular dimension, I am going to brag: It was 2007 and I was up-trend on kale.

In the early days, one of my favorite uses of kale was oven-baked kale chips. My approach was pure; I added only olive oil, salt, and a dash of red pepper flakes before sticking them in the oven to crisp up. Unfortunately, however, cooking kale chips in the oven was always a gamble. I lived in fear of my kale staying in a minute too long and becoming mildly blackened and far less appealing.

Now I am exploring new horizons of kale. Following the inspiration of many store-bought kale chips (which taste delicious but cost fistfuls of money), I came up with my own recipe for dehydrated kale chips. I’ve come a long way since the early days of experimentation in my parents’ oven; the below recipe requires strange equipment like a dehydrator. Further, seven years later, the California influences are apparent; I make use of strange yet delicious ingredients like nutritional yeast and almond milk. If you can get over the rampant hippie-ness of the recipe, however, it’s one of the best ways I’ve ever had kale: cheesy and crunchy but still full of green goodness.

With love (and health),
Meredith

Cheesy, Way-Too-Easy Kale Chips
Vegan, raw, gluten-free

Ingredients (someday I’ll actually measure the quantities):
A couple of bunches of dino kale (also known as Tuscan or lacinato kale)
Almond milk
Apple cider vinegar
Lemon juice
Hummus (optional)
Almond meal
Nutritional yeast
Smoked paprika
Garlic salt
Pepper
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Prep the kale:  Wash and dry your dino kale (two bunches?). Rip into chip-like pieces (approximately two inches by two inches).
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Prep wet ingredients:  Combine wet ingredients together in a large, shallow container. I typically include some combination of a lot of almond milk and water (maybe one cup each?) with a bit of lemon juice and apple cider vinegar to flavor (maybe two tablespoons each?). This time I also raided the fridge and found some leftover hummus which I mixed in as well. You’re looking for liquid to coat all your kale – and a bit extra that will soak into the leaves.

Add spices:  Add the spices to the wet ingredients. Start with garlic salt and pepper to taste (maybe ¼ to ½ teaspoon?). And then hold onto your seats for the real secret: smoked paprika. Put in a lot of smoked paprika (two or three tablespoons?).
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Prep dry ingredients:  Create a mix of dry ingredients. I throw together almond meal and nutritional yeast in the ratio of about 2:1 (maybe a cup of meal and ½ cup yeast?). Again, you’ll want enough to lightly coat all your kale.
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Coat the kale:  Soak the kale in the wet ingredients, massaging the kale lightly as if you were creating a kale salad. Then sprinkle with the dry ingredients. [You can take other approaches as well; it doesn’t really matter as long as the kale is covered with whatever deliciousness you want on it. I’ve also just mixed the kale, wet, and dry ingredients all together in a big bowl; it works fine, though the almond meal can distribute unevenly, especially if the surface your kale is particularly bumpy.]
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Dehydrate:  Lay the kale out on your dehydrator racks (I use an Excalibur and love it).
IMG_2247Dehydrate at approximate 110 degrees. You can certainly use a higher temperature, but keeping it under 120 degrees will qualify it as ‘raw’ food and keep the enzymes in your food alive (at least, that’s what the hippies say). Check periodically and rotate the trays. It should take approximately twelve hours for the chips to be crisp and delicious.

Your much-loved kale recipes?  Share in the comments below. 

Our Intentional Christmas

Given that we’re recently engaged, this is the first holiday season that Liz and I have fully merged our travel plans. We spent Thanksgiving with my family in Michigan and Christmas with hers in Iowa and Minnesota (where we are currently). While navigating each other’s traditions, we’re also intentionally creating our own. While we celebrated Christmas today with Liz’s mother, sister, and brother-in-law, we celebrated our own Christmas last Friday and Saturday before leaving San Francisco. Friday was our faux Christmas Eve, while Saturday was our stand-in Christmas Day. We knew we would participate in our respective family traditions when we travelled, so this would be the place where we started our own traditions – some adopted from her family, some adopted from mine, some merged, some imagined anew.

Our Friday night “Christmas Eve” consisted of a celebratory dinner, cozy fire, and loitering on the couch listening to Christmas music. We experimented with prime rib, twice-baked potatoes, corn, and a kale salad for dinner, trying to figure out whether that felt like our holiday meal. Following Liz’s family tradition, we each opened one present (a puzzle for her, hot chocolate for me). And following my family tradition, we sprinkled ‘fairy dust’ in the fireplace to help Santa ease down the chimney.

Christmas morning we awoke lazily and settled onto the couch with our respective caffeine of choice (Diet Coke for Liz and coffee for me). We opened presents methodically, one-for-her and one-for-me until the pile had disappeared. I was surprised to find that even small acts like this are loaded with invisible decisions (e.g., Do we wrap presents for each other? Does Santa wrap his presents? Do we open all at once or do we go back and forth?). It’s been curious to not only experience different ways of doing things as I step into Liz’s family, but to also figure out which of the traditions I care about. I mind less whether we have a real or artificial tree, but I care immensely that we use the stockings that my grandmother knit (including new ones for Liz and Reese).
reese and stocking
Christmas morning breakfast was perhaps our easiest tradition to establish. On special days in the past (i.e., holidays, the morning of our engagement), we have long been eating a crescent-roll-scrambled-egg creation that we have dubbed “Miracle Loaf.” As with many rituals, we can’t quite remember why we eat it or why it has that name, but at this point, it’s stuck. This year, we adapted and evolved the Miracle Loaf recipe further, adding garlic, replacing green onions with white onions, and slap-dashing some egg wash on top to brown it up. It is perhaps the first true Whipple/Callahan recipe in our recipe card collection.
miracle loaf

Like me, you may be asking “What does it all mean?” “What values do our traditions manifest?” and “What do our traditions aspire to?” For the most part, I don’t think we’ve created these traditions because they are specifically meaningful or symbolic. Instead, we select some to honor her heritage, we select some to honor my heritage, and then we co-create together. The meaning is less in the action of eating the Miracle Loaf or wrapping the gifts, but instead in the fact that we’re consciously choosing our own path together.

Wishing you a very happy (and intentional) holiday season,
Meredith