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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Nicaragua Update for Visitors

I am not there right now, but this is what I have heard from our workers and our friends who are there:

-There has been no violence or unrest in our rural area of Nicaragua, and no one wants there to be. Our farm is safe and beautiful as ever, the animals are happy, the plants are growing, our workers are thriving. When you are on the farm you barely notice that there is an outside world at all. Our area is mostly farms, and farmers don't really need a government for anything, so from what I have heard from our workers nothing has changed in our area.

-Though there has been no violence in our area, the road is blocked about 40 minutes from our farm. Locals have gathered there and are refusing to let any traffic pass in either direction. People are stockpiling supplies.

-The unrest is in the major city, Managua. What I have heard from our friends who live there is that the political unrest is being sensationalized by the media. There have been protests, but they have been peaceful except for the first one. They believe that Ortega hired people to try to incite violence during the first protest so that he could put down the rest of the protests. The citizens have had to work double hard to keep the protests peaceful because of this.

-Ortega has failed repeatedly in his attempts to paint the protestors as violent as everyone uses their smart phones to prove that it is actually the police that are violent. No one knows if it is locals taking advantage of the situation and looting or if the looters have been hired by Ortega. There is more evidence to suggest that they have been hired by Ortega, but it's possible there are looters on both sides.

-Most people in Nicaragua are on edge. They have enjoyed a booming economy for quite some time and their major industry is tourism - their economic survival depends on peace and they are aware of it.

-That being said, who knows that this is really about. For all I know there is a game being played by some elites that I don't know. Maybe there an up-and-comer who wants to take power from Ortega arranging all this or an American or Chinese elite who is threatening Ortega with political unrest unless he does something or other. Why on Earth is Ortega trying to have his wife be the next dictator? It just doesn't make sense that he and his wife don't retire somewhere so maybe they are being prevented from doing so by whoever is their puppet master.

So I will wait and see how it plays out. We are still planning to return to the farm after the summer camp season in September. If the political situation takes a turn for the worse maybe we will postpone our trip. I will keep you posted.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Most Objectively Beautiful House

Of all the homes I worked in during my ten year stint working with the children of the wealthy, this was the most objectively beautiful. What a pleasure it was to just walk around and marvel at the beauty that man is capable of creating!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Beast from the East - A Tale of Two Airlines

Tom, Anders, and I have been traveling around the UK for the past two weeks. We were scheduled to fly home on Wednesday, February 28th. Anders and I were scheduled to fly home on British Airways. Tom was to fly home on United/Aer Lingus. Both of our flights were to leave Edinburgh around 11:30am.

The night before our departure, before the storm hit, I got a text message from British Airways telling me my flight was canceled, and I was welcome to reschedule for any available flight over the next week. Anders and I were very excited for the chance to play in the snow, so we rescheduled our flight for Friday, March 2. Tom had received no communication from United, so he went to the airport at 9:30am on Wednesday morning as planned.

Tom was told his flight was going to go ahead. But then there was a forty-five minute delay. And another forty-five minute delay. And another. And another. Tom sat in the airport waiting for over six hours. His plane didn't leave until 4pm. Naturally he missed his connecting flight in Dublin and then had to spend three hours waiting at the Dublin airport to get his bag. At the end of a very long day, he checked into a hotel for the night.

Anders and Roslyn spent Wednesday playing in the most epic snowstorm ever with about a hundred local teenagers, sledding down Carlton Hill on trash bags, cardboard boxes, and kitchen pans while someone blasted "Let it Snow" on their phone and everyone wished each other a "Merry Christmas."

Thursday was very similar for Anders and Roslyn, except it was even more fun and even more epic. Thursday was very similar for Tom too. His plane was supposed to depart the Dublin airport at 1:30pm but was repeatedly delayed like the day before. He is now, finally, in the air and headed for Los Angeles.

But I wanted to post this because I read that British Airways had aggressively canceled their flights because of the storm, but it was written as if that was a bad thing, and I wanted to say - thank you British Airways. It is so much more decent to cancel a flight than to make someone sit at the airport all day!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

On Finding a Good Doctor and Pedatrician, Also Called an Osteopath

After having a nightmare experience at Anders's "well baby check-up" when he was three days old, I thought I might never go to the doctor again. Then I learned about osteopaths.

Osteopaths attend traditional medical school and get an additional naturopathic degree on top of the standard allopathic medical degree. Osteopaths generally have a specialty, so if you can find an osteopath pediatrician or osteopath family practice doctor, that is ideal. There aren't many of this type of doctor; I think there are two or three in the entire Los Angeles County.

My experience with the osteopath that I found has been nothing but positive.

I also highly recommend the book How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor. My grandfather, a doctor, gave this book to me when I was pregnant, and I read it cover to cover. It made me a lot more confident in my ability as a mom to know when to worry and when not to.

A reader tried to post the following comment to this post but couldn't so emailed me instead. This is what Bob has to say:

You can identify osteopaths because they have DO after their name rather than MD. They are a small fraction of physicians overall but a larger fraction of those in family practice and of young doctors still accepting new patients. They are a growing fraction due to a shortage of doctors. In my experience, and that of my nurse sister, they tend to be more open to alternative medicine. They also have some measure of humility. OTOH, my sense is that many of them did not attend a college of osteopathy because they were committed osteopaths but rather because they did not get into a top medical school. My current MD is much more up on all the latest in conventional medicine, but is also sometimes impatient and bossy. But I would prefer him if I had some complex problem to diagnose. He seems way smarter than the DOs, but with that comes some arrogance. All other things being equal, I might prefer a DO for routine care and an MD for anything complicated.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Gulch Update 2018

When I am in Los Angeles I wonder if our endeavor will yield success, and I feel the terror and doubt any entrepreneur does setting off to invent something he has no idea if other people will like.

But when I am at the farm, I am Steve Jobs. What we have invented is so magical, so ideal, even if people don't know it yet, I am sure they will want it. (So I apologize if this post is a little ... off putting? Too confident? Snobbish?)

I have been at the farm for two months now. The experience has been like a beautiful, peaceful, productive version of Groundhog Day. Every day is the same. But they are such good days I wouldn't want anything to change! 

Every morning I wake up when light hits the sky. I have had crazy dreams all night long and feel more rested and centered than I have anywhere else in the world (I think because of the darkness). I enjoy the sound of the roosters crowing and birds chirping. Tom quietly gets dressed and slips out the door.

I cuddle up in bed and read. An hour or so later Anders wakes up, and I read to him for a while. The breakfast bell rings, and we head to breakfast.

Every meal we eat here is "best in the world." There are no eggs in the world healthier, tastier, and with more orangey yolks than our eggs. The spinach and heart of palm side dish is fresh - that heart of palm was harvested yesterday and the spinach was picked thirty minutes ago. Not only were they grown without any pesticides whatsoever, they are from our land, land that we care for as if it is our own body - because it is. Our bodies are just soil rearranged after all.

If there are rice and beans with breakfast, the beans are from the farm, but the rice isn't yet. (We have planted rice but have not had our first harvest.) If there is a papusa with breakfast the corn flour was made with best-in-the-world corn, and the cheese inside it was made fresh yesterday by our cook from milk she got from our neighbors. There is always a glass of kefir and some fresh, seasonal fruit as well. I could be at the fanciest hotel in Beverly Hills or Hawaii, and I wouldn't be eating better than I am now. 

Conversation at breakfast is light, but of course we linger a bit before we go our separate ways. I head to my room where I put on a book-on-tape and roll out my yoga mat. I do the physical therapy exercises that keep me feeling good, the ones I struggle to have time to do in Los Angeles, but here do every day. Then I dress. Light linen pants, a tank top, and a wrap work well or jeans,  a tank top, and a flannel. I go barefoot or wear flip flops for most of the day. 

I sit down at my desk and write for an hour or two. I find focusing here much easier than in Los Angeles. It's partly because we decided to no longer have internet (that black hole of distraction) in our rooms, but I also think it is because I don't have to worry about the next meal. I know that I can lose myself in my writing and at some point a bell will ring, and then lunch will appear. 

Time disappears until I hear the lunch bell ring. I head to the dining room. Lunch is amazing, as usual. It's exotic, fresh, gourmet, and healthy. Today we are having pork ribs. I have never tasted pork that tastes better than ours. Tom says it is because we feed our pigs kefir and bananas. The difference it makes in the flavor of the meat amazes me. The ribs are served with fried farm-made cheese, bean dip, and tajadas (plantain chips fried in lard, also from our pig). Almost every ingredient in every dish is from our farm. The probiotic lemon soda (made bubbly by fermenting, not carbonated water) is delightful. 

Lunch conversation is lively. Anders tells us what he has been up to - he is beautifully filthy. Apparently he and his friends have dug quite a hole somewhere. Tom fills us in on whatever exciting farm project he is working on and raves about how good his body feels, "Pickaxing is the best exercise!" he says. We have two guests at the moment, my mother and and man named Jaime, and they rave too. Both are feeling much better after their first week here than they have in a long time. My mother was in a lot of pain from her arthritis, but the quart of turmeric-cinnamon tea our cook has been bringing her every day has rid her body of swelling, and she feels no more pain. Also, she is not sure if it is the kefir with every meal or the tea, but her stomach feels amazing, better than it has in years.

Jaime reports too that he is sleeping better than he has in years, and that for some reason his cravings for sugar and alcohol have all but disappeared. I tell him that I have read that cravings for sugar and alcohol are misinterpreted cravings for bacteria, and since he is getting bacteria with every meal, his body feels satiated in that area. My mom decides she is feeling good enough to start quitting coffee. Our cook will bring her half an ounce less every day she is here, so that she doesn't have to suffer any side-effects of quitting.

My mother and Jaime think there is something magical about this place. Tom and I laugh because that is exactly how we feel, and exactly what we had hoped to build. I explain that Christopher Alexander promised us, in his books about objective beauty, that if we built something objectively beautiful, it would make people feel alive in a way they didn't know they could feel. Alive, inspired, energized yet comforted - it's hard to explain. There is something about being surrounded by beautiful geometry that makes the human soul feel good.

We head our separate ways. Anders asks if I have any work for him and the other kids to do. I hire them (as I do most afternoons) to do trail maintenance work which they are excellent at. Then I check on the progress the builders are making and the status of various projects around the farm. If there are no building issues to deal with, I write more, but often the building projects take up my afternoon. Today they are working on the fountain in the courtyard.

At three Emelia brings all of us tea. Today it is jamaica. I get in one last hour of work, or I take a break and head to the office to check my email or hang out with Tom or Anders or the guests. At half past four the dinner bell rings. Dinner is light and delicious. Sometimes is broth and bread and rice pudding; sometimes it's pancakes with pineapple or jocote syrup (a fruit that is like a cross between a cherry and a plum). Always we have cinnamon tea with dinner and kefir.

Every evening after dinner we head out on our walk. We do the master trail that Tom designed that covers the entire property. It's a gentle trail that climbs up the mountainside at a low enough gradient that small children and old people can do it too. We pass a striking madroño tree with red bark and a breathtaking panama tree. The panama is a rainforest tree and large tree already, but it's only twenty years old. It's tiny compared to what it will be one day. We pass the cow pastures and the haunted tree, a much gnarled tree covered in a pitaya vine. We cross the creek, marvel at the older rainforest trees, especially the mahogany and the mata arbol (a vine that eats giant rainforest trees, taking a thousand years to do it) and head up the mountain side. Anders runs ahead with the dog. Tom and I stroll. He has his machete and takes care of any vines attempting to take back the trail. The walk curls around the property offering some gorgeous views of the sunset and eventually leads through the food forest. We stroll past coffee and cacao plants, banana trees, three varieties of limon trees, cinnamon trees, allspice trees, many other things, and then we are back at the house.

It is getting dark. Anders and the kids play tag or hide and seek, and then they set about lighting a small fire. By the time it is lit, it is pitch black, and the fire looks magical. It occurs to me that even when I was backpacking in the United States there were always hills that glowed in the distance. I had never experienced true darkness there the way I have here. The darkness makes the sky incredible. I take a moment every night to look at the stars because I can see them with such clarity, and they are so beautiful and something about seeing them ... makes my soul happy.

By half past six everyone is heading inside. Anders gets into the bath. It's the nicest bathtub I have ever had the pleasure of bathing in, nicer than the tub at the Four Seasons in Hawaii, nicer than the tub at the Montage in Beverly Hills. It's twenty-four inches deep and almost seven feet long. But it's not too wide like other tubs this size. It's narrow, so the water stays warm. The water is clear and free of chlorine and fluoride and rich in minerals. Even if a fancy hotel had as nice a tub as our farm has, the water wouldn't measure up. 

When he is out of the tub Anders curls up in his bed and does a workbook or two. Then I read to him for a long time, until nine or so. When we finally turn out the lights we giggle at how we cannot see our hands in front of our faces. Then we pass out easily, our bodies being nicely in tune with the natural rhythms of life.

A week or so later my mom and Anders go to Selva Negra, a lovely resort four hours north of us. Their forest is gorgeous, their food is also farm-fresh, but even so my mom can't wait to get back. Their food might be fresh, but ours is tastier. And they have a restaurant instead of a dining room, which means the work of having to study a menu and order and then wait. It's funny how much work eating at a restaurant seems to be after having a personal cook. I tell my mom it's that way with everything. I used to take breaks from the farm to travel. I wanted to see all the different parts of Nicaragua, and there are still many places I want to tour. But ... never as much as I just want to just enjoy another Groundhog Day in Lothlorien.

The farm is still unfinished. There are beautiful rooms with comfortable beautiful beds, but the bedside tables have not been built and there are luggage stands instead of dressers. My bathroom doesn't have its mirror yet. In the dining hall we are still using an old picnic table as I haven't even started working on that area yet. Our woodworking team builds more every day, but it will still be a year or two before the place is completely furnished. 

But even in its current state, it is paradise and nice enough for us to open it up to guests who would like to come check it out. We have four (objectively) beautiful rooms. Two have queen beds and showers. One has a king bed with a twin trundle underneath it and a shower. The other, my favorite room, has a king bed and a twin bed or twin bunk beds depending on the number of beds needed and the bathroom with the heavenly tub. We only put a tub in one room as Tom is absolutely positive there will be no demand for it. I think he is wrong, but time will tell.

And so we are about to embark on the next phase of this project, the hotel phase. Maybe this phase will last forever, and we will become a farm hotel. Or maybe guests will come and decide that they don't want to leave. We don't know, but for those of you who are following this project - I hope you come check it out! Email me if you are interested in planning a trip. (Serious inquiries only though please!)

Answers to Questions People Have Emailed Me About Visiting:
(I am updating this weekly as questions come in!)

Q: How will I get from the airport to your farm?
A: Most people who have come here have our driver meet them at the airport with a sign that says their name. I send the guests a picture of the driver and a picture of the license plate of his car. I also send the driver a picture of the guest. It makes it easy. Everyone who has done this method so far has said it was super easy. Other people want to travel around before coming to the farm. If that is the case I recommend reading this post Two of my cousins have come to visit, and they took the bus. (The farm is along a main bus route.) If you are staying at the inn for a week or more transportation to the farm is included in the price of the room.

Q: Will I need to get a visa?
A: No. A passport is all you need. That being said, I highly recommend Global Entry. It's not necessary of course, but I love skipping lines at LAX and Houston. Global Entry won't make a difference in Nicaragua as the airport here has very short lines, but for re-entry into the US it is super nice.

Q: Can I spend American dollars or do I need to change my money to cordobas?
A: American dollars are accepted all over Nicaragua, but they have to be bills in good condition - no writing or little tears can be on the bills.

Q: Is there wifi?
A: There is fiber wifi for guests to use in the office. Two of the guest rooms have wifi at the moment as well. The other two do not. The feedback I have received so far is that it is awesome to not have wifi in your room and have to go to the office to use it - it helps you to unplug and relax.

Q: Is there a/c
A: There is a/c in all the inn guest rooms and the office. The hostel does not have a/c. There will be a/c in the dining room, but it has not yet been installed as we are still under construction.

Q: What about the outlets?
A: The outlets here are the same as in the US. We have USB outlets by the bed as well.

Q: Do you have any travel tips?
A: I prefer to fly to Nicaragua via Texas or Florida because the flight from LA flies over a wind pocket above Mexico and there is turbulence for half an hour or more. Avianca is a nice airline and, being Latin, is very child friendly. If you have children under five I recommend this airline. Otherwise we use United or American. Bring $20 in cash for the airport to enter into the country. I also like to have small bills, like $1's to use for tipping. An appropriate tip for someone who helps you with your bags is $1. If you are using the driver from our farm he does not need a tip.

I recommend arriving and departing on Sundays because there is less traffic.

I recommend arriving right before a new moon or at least being here for one because the darkness in Nicaragua is so striking and magical.

Q: Do you have any packing tips?
A: I go barefoot or wear flip flops around the building. I go on walks every day wearing rubber boots. I find linen to be the most comfortable fabric here, but all the locals wear jeans. I always wear long sleeve shirts in the evenings, and I try to wear a hat. Your laundry will be washed daily, so you don't need to pack too many outfits, unless you have clothes that need to be line dried, at which point plan accordingly. If you have children pack as many clothes as you can, and pack clothes you don't mind getting ruined. Anders has been known to wear five different outfits in a single day because if it rains he runs around and plays in the rain and then the mud. Afterwards he puts on dry clothes, and then maybe it rains again, or he gets involved in burying himself in a big hole. On the days it does not rain he has been known to wear the same thing for the whole day.

My main packing tip is to bring what you want to do. You will have ample free time here to read, write, or get projects done you have not had time for before. Some guests have brought puzzles, games, and coloring books - we have a selection of these at the farm for guests to use as well.

Q: Do you offer any classes?
A: We don't offer formal classes yet, but our cook can teach you how to make three different kinds of local cheeses, kefir, naturally fermented sodas, and all the fantastic Nicaraguan specialties you will eat while you are here. Many guests have enjoyed doing farm work with the farmers here as well - I also enjoy a good machete workout.

Q: What is the best time of the year to come?
A: It depends on what you like. Here is a rundown of the year:

January: Gorgeous weather, mid 70's, occasional rain. This is the first month of the dry season so everything is still green. Flowering trees and fruit trees are in bloom. By the end of the month many trees are losing their leaves. The mixture of colorful leaves on the ground and flowers is gorgeous, like a spring-fall. The butterflies are outrageous - we have blue ones, red ones, orange tiger striped ones, and white ones. Watermelon, papaya, limon mandarinos and avocados are in season. The town nearest to us has a festival with parades, horse races, and carnival rides.

February: Hot and dry. High 80's. Land is yellow looking, many trees are bare so there is less shade all around. Fruits are growing but not ripe yet. Bugs having mating parties make many strange noises at night. Nearby farmers burn their feels so at times the air can be smokey. The kids swim on and off all day.

March: Hot and dry. High 80's to low 90's. Land is yellow and trees are bare. Mangos and jocotes are in season. The parakeets and other exotic bids that I can't name but are colorful and quite beautiful visit the farm in flocks and try to beat us to the jocote harvest. The kids swim on and off all day.

April: Hot and dry. High 80's. Land is yellow and trees are bare. The mango and jocote harvest continues. The kids continue to swim on and off all day.

May: It rains on the second of May every year without fail, I am told. The land turns green again. Trees grow leaves. Shade returns. The first fire flies are out. Temperatures fall to low 80's or high 70's.

June & July: The rainy season is in full swing. This means every day for about an hour there is a storm with clouds and thunder and sometimes lightening. Rain pours down in torrents. Then the sky clears and the rest of the day is pleasant, high 70's to low 80's. The fireflies come out and we see them lighting the forest every evening all around the farm.

August, September, & October: Just like June and July but with fewer fireflies and some mosquitos. These are the only months of the year when I even notice that there are mosquitos. They are not terrible though, nothing compares to the mosquitos at my grandparents house in Idaho. Too many things eat mosquitos here for them to ever get too bad, I think. I get a mosquito bite maybe once each year. Anders gets quite a few mosquito bites, but he spends all day every day outside and is often in the forest. If he manages to keep his shirt on he doesn't get bit, but it generally takes a dozen bites for him to remember why he should always have a long sleeve shirt on during this time of the year. During this time of the year the forest can get quite muddy - but only for an hour or so after the rain and then it is good for walking again. The guyabas are ripe and amazing.

November & December: 70's, green, idyllic. An occasional rain, maybe even a storm. Butterflies come out in December.

*Note that many foods are in season all year and many foods I do not know their seasons at this time, so this is not a complete list.
*Also, Anders manages to get bit by bugs every month, not just in August to October. I almost never get bug bites because I follow the jungle rules of wearing long sleves an

Q: What are the prices?
A: Though the rooms are nice and functional, we will still be under construction for the next year or two, so stays here are heavily discounted.

INN (nice rooms with private bathrooms and a/c)

1 night: $100 discounted 50% while under construction = $50/night
Included with room is three farm fresh meals, tea, daily maid and laundry services, and fiber wifi.
Transportation to and from the farm is not included.

1 week = $630 ($90/day) discounted 45% while under construction = $350 ($50/night)
Included with room is transportation to and from the farm, three farm fresh meals, tea, daily maid and laundry services, and fiber wifi.

2 week stay for $1000 ($72/day) discounted 40% while under construction = $600 ($43/night)
Included with room is transportation to and from the farm, three farm fresh meals, tea, daily maid and laundry services, and fiber wifi.

1 month stay for $1500 ($50/day) discounted 30% while under construction = $1000 ($35/night)
Included with room is transportation to and from the farm, three farm fresh meals, tea, daily maid and laundry services, and fiber wifi.
*by invitation only, 2 week stay required prior

HOSTEL (clean, private room with shared bathroom and screen windows)
*Transportation to and from the farm is not included
*There are no discounts in the hostel rooms for the construction period.

1 night = $40
Included with the room is three farm fresh meals, tea, daily maid and laundry services, fiber wifi.

1 week = $245 ($35/night)
Included with the room is three farm fresh meals, tea, daily maid and laundry services, fiber wifi.

2 week stay = $420 ($30/night)
Included with the room is three farm fresh meals, tea, daily maid and laundry services, fiber wifi.

1 month stay for $750 ($25/night)
three meals, room, maid, laundry, wifi

Q: What if I don't speak Spanish?
A: If you do not speak a word of Spanish, you will be fine. Google translations is a super easy ap to put on your phone. If it proves necessary we will employ someone who speaks English. For now, no one on our staff speaks English, but nonetheless communicating with them hasn't proved impossible for my mother who doesn't speak a word of Spanish or use the translation ap.

If the idea still makes you uncomfortable, what if planned your trip so that it was at the same time as people who do speak Spanish? I can also hire an interpreter for your stay. There are lots of ways to solve this problem.

Q: How close is the beach?
A: The beach is a seven hour drive to the west. Bill Bonner has a resort there called Rancho Santana that is awesome, but very pricy. We are in farm country, central Nicaragua. There is nothing around for miles from our farm except other farms. We have a lovely courtyard with a fountain and patio furniture. We will have a pool, but that is two years away. (There is currently a huge plastic pool for kids though.) This is a farm and food vacation. It's a place you come to relax, get healthy, and get work done. It's not really a tourist destination unless you mean food tourism or farm tourism. For touristy things: Ninety minutes to the south of us is the Rio San Juan. Some guests have hired a boat to take them on a jungle cruise up the river there. There is a French expat who has a hostel down there and leads fishing expeditions as well. Four hours north of us there is a coffee plantation owned by some German expats that has old growth rainforest and is fun to tour as well. The old colonial town, Granada, is four hours around the lake from us. But that's kind of it

Saturday, September 30, 2017

A Proposal for a Meaningful Halloween Ritual/Party

I love meaningful, magical rituals, and I love holidays as a reason to have them. One day I will hold Halloween celebrations at the Gulch thus:

There are many jack-o'-lanterns (that we made earlier) leading up a forest trail to the top of the mountain. They are lit and look magical in the darkness.

We begin as soon as soon as the sun sets. Each guest has an appointed time to meet the host, Death, alone.

Death, wearing a long black cloak and a mask, greets the guest thus:

"At midnight all is blackness. We sleep, like babies in the womb. And then the dawn, we wake and the morning brings with it the brightness and energy of childhood. By noon the sun is beating down upon us; our energy has waned, but we continue on with our work – there is still much to get done. Then it is evening; we are glad the day is at an end and proud (perhaps) of what we have accomplished; we feast. Darkness falls, and we head to bed, appreciating the comfort our loved ones bring.     This is also the year. It starts in darkness, quiet, the womb. The world wakes up, the energy of spring. The summer is toilsome, work, exhausting. Then the harvest, lovely, and we are ready for rest, the cold and dark – death.     There is a rhythm to life. We die every night; we die every year; we die in practice.     Most likely, we will die how we lived. This is the path for those who would live –and die – as heroes."

Death's arm opens out in, inviting the guest to leave him and walk the path up the mountain alone. The hopeful hero heads to the base of the mountain, the first jack-o-lantern. A second cloaked figure stands there, at the base of the trail. When the guest approaches, he says:

"Before long you will be no one, and nowhere. Like all the things you see now. All the people now living." (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations)

The cloaked figure invites the guest to repeat this quote back to him, to memorize it. Then he nods the guest on, perhaps handing him a goblet of spiced cider or a golden chocolate coin to enjoy on his journey.

Up the path the guest walks alone toward the first light he sees in the distance, another pumpkin with a magnificent, glowing face. He arrives. There stands another cloaked figure. This one says:

"It is our destiny to perish. So that new things can be born. To decompose, so that our atoms can be recomposed into something new." (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations)

Again the guest is invited to repeat this back, to memorize it. Again the cloaked figure invites the guest to proceed up the path alone.

At the third light, another cloaked figure says:

"All too often families and pastors and even medical staff assume that all a dying person wants is to be comfortable. Once the death sentence is passed, we tend to fluff up the pillows and hope, for his or her sake, that death will come soon. We are terribly anxious about pain and seek the latest medications, most of which deaden the mind as well as the body. I am not prepared to say that this is all wrong. But I do believe we have our priorities confused. Someone's life is about to end. Surely, there are important things for that person to say and do before he dies. [As you continue up the path, ponder this: Is there anything you would like to say or do before you die that you would like to say or do tonight?]" (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Death: The Final Stage of Growth)

Again the cloaked figure invites the guest to proceed up the path alone.

At the fourth light, a new cloaked figure says:

"Hospitals are institutions committed to the healing process, and dying patients are a threat to that defined role…. The human being who is dying is inexorably perceived to be a failure to the health professionals.... [This is tragic because] what dying people need is acceptance, they need to know it's okay for them to die, that it is natural, that they have not failed, that everyone will be okay. They need permission to die. The other thing dying people need is company, just someone to sit with them, because they are feeling scared and company is comforting.... You cannot help the dying until you have acknowledged how their fear of dying disturbs you and brings up your most uncomfortable fears.... If you don't look at and accept that face of panic and fear in yourself, how will you be able to bear it in the person in front of you.... If you are attached and cling to the dying person, you can bring him or her a lot of unnecessary heartache and make it very hard for the person to let go and die peacefully. [Worse, throwing a dying person on your shoulders and carrying them, insisting that they do not die, helps neither them nor you make their death journey meaningful, beautiful, or easy. Can you be comfortable enough with death so that you do not rob the dying of their death journey? Of their chance of having a heroic death? A death that is about them and acceptance and not about fear or you and your discomforts? As you continue up the path: Imagine you are at the bedside of the person you love most in the world, and he or she is dying. Can you give him or her the gift of permission and company?" (Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying)

Again the cloaked figure invites the guest to proceed up the path alone.

At the fifth light, a new cloaked figure says:

"There was a young man who dedicated nineteen years of his life to caring for his dying mother. He was young when she developed Alzheimers and forgot who she was, needed diapers, and full-time care. He put off his life, his education, his career, marriage, and having children. He spent a fortune, everything he had in time and money, caring for her. He had a falling out with his sister about it. His sister wanted their mother to be allowed to die. The man couldn't do other than what he did. He had to care for his mother; that is what a good son would do, he thought. But when asked if he would ever want one of his children to care for him the way he had cared for his mother he said, 'Never. I would never do that to anyone. I would not want that.' And he cried. Why do we assume anyone would want that? Have you clearly communicated to your loved ones your wishes, so that they do not make this mistake? This is especially important if you have money. If you have money to leave behind and you don't communicate your wishes to your family, you may be choosing dementia in a nursing home on endless pharmaceuticals for twenty years, which is, in effect, choosing to disinherit your children and leave everything to Big Pharma. "

Again the cloaked figure invites the guest to proceed up the path alone.

At the sixth light, the new cloaked figure says:

"The invalid is a parasite on society. In a certain state it is indecent to go on living. To vegetate on in cowardly dependence on physicians and medicaments after the meaning of life, the right to life, has been lost ought to entail the profound contempt of society. Physicians, in their turn, ought to be the communicators of this contempt – not prescriptions, but every day a fresh does of disgust with their patients.... [The hero wants] To die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly. Death of one's own free choice, death at the proper time, with a clear head and with joyfulness, consummated in the midst of children and witnesses: so that an actual leave-taking is possible while he who is leaving is still there.... He who has a goal and an heir will want death at the right time for his goal and heir. And from reverence for his goal and heir he will hang no more dry wreaths on the sanctuary of life. [As you continue up the path: Do you have a goal and heir?] (Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols)

Again the cloaked figure invites the guest to proceed up the path alone.

Now the guest reaches the top of the mountain. There is a fire, a bubbling cauldron full of sweet smelling cider, a feast laid out on a table, and one last cloaked figure who says:

"When I first began studying the Viking myths, I thought Valhalla was similar to Heaven, a tool for those in power to use. Heaven was for the good boys and girls who did as their priests instructed. Valhalla, I thought, was for those who died in battle as their king bid them. But as I delved more into the Viking mythology I realized that Valhalla is a heroic death, heldentod. A heroic death is a meaningful death, a chosen death. To go to Valhalla one cannot die of sickness or old age; one cannot die in fear. He chooses his death and gives it as a gift to those he loves, showing them how to die, how to die beautifully, gloriously, bravely, and meaningfully. Every night the hero goes to bed exhausted, having worked so hard that he is all used up and looking forward to nothing more than rest. The same can be said about the twilight of his life. Are you working hard enough to look forward to your final rest? Sogyal Rinpoche said, "For someone who has prepared and practiced, death comes not as a defeat but as a triumph, the crowning and most glorious moment of his life." ( The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying)

The cloaked figure shows the guest to the open, simple, wooden coffin under a tree nearby. If the guest wishes, he may lie in it for a time, meditating on his future death.

Once all the guests have arrived we will feast. We will toast fallen heroes and loved ones, share stories of heroic deaths and at the end, perhaps share the story of Beowulf.

Then we will feast and dance and sing songs.

The next morning at brunch, the host will say:

"Until the last hundred years it was considered very rude to not be aware of your own impending death and to not prepare accordingly. The work of the living, the work of survival, was understood as never ending and difficult. It was inconsiderate for the dead to leave work for those who survived them. It would have been unspeakably rude for an elderly person to leave an entire house of things for someone else to process when they had passed.

"Today you are invited to do the work of a conscientious death. You are invited: to right your wrongs, pay off debts, say to people what you don't want to miss out on getting to say, do to people what you don't want to miss out on getting to do, make sure your life insurance policy is paid up, make sure your will is up to date, and get rid of stuff you no longer need. If you haven't already, you are encouraged to share your will and your death wishes with your family.

"Today is also a great day to spend contemplating the words, stories, wisdom, and useful medical information you would like to leave behind to your descendants. Every year I add to The Book of Roslyn. This evening at dinner, everyone is invited to read a short section from their own book or a book of one of their ancestors."

This same ritual could also be fantastic if done as an evening walk through a graveyard.

Would love feedback on this! Would you want to come to my party? Would you want to come every year until you had memorized the various quotes? Would you want to be a cloaked figure? Do you know of a better quote about death or an aspect of it that I forgot to cover?

Happy Halloween!

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Reader Asks About Three-Year-Olds Relating to Newborns

A reader recently wrote, "I totally agree with your approach to dealing with big emotions outlined in your tantrum post and did most of what you are saying when my older son was an only child... The difficulty that I am having is finding ways to do this for my older son in the moment while he is having big emotions, while also taking care of the newborn, especially when I’m the only adult in the room. I find that the big emotions happen most often when the newborn is needing my attention. And, no surprise, the big emotions are bigger and more frequent now that the newborn is here! Please let me know (and I’m sure many other parents out there!) when / if you find good resources for this issue that fits in to your objectivist parenting philosophy."

First, for those of you that haven't already had the newborn, please consider waiting. All of my research has led me to conclude that children (and parents) do much better when children are spaced five or more years apart.

Next I would recommend reading, in order of importance, 1,2,3... The Toddler YearsHow To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, Dear Parents: Caring for Infants with Respect, and Tears and Tantrums: What to Do When Babies and Children Cry.

And in the mean time, here are some ideas:

Prepare the three-year-old. Talk to him about what is going on, about all the things he might be feeling. Talk to him about how when the baby cries, he will feel a great deal of stress in his body, and that the stress will make him want to freak out about something too. Tell him you feel the same way. Nature has programmed us to freak out when babies cry so that we deal with it. (Babies who cry in such a way as to destroy all those around them until they are no longer crying were, surprise, more likely to survive and pass on their genes. So the theory goes.) Tell him that it is normal to want to run, jump, scream, yell, hit, throw, or even cry himself when he hears the baby cry.

Tell the three-year-old that this will be an uncomfortable experience, but you want to teach him how to deal with a crying baby, so that he can be an amazing dad one day. Tell him that crying babies are okay, that we must take deep breaths and move slowly and just be with them. Tell him the next time the baby cries, you want him to run straight to you so that you can teach him about crying babies. Then, when it happens, pick him up and take him to the baby. Invite him to put his hand on the baby's chest. Speak softly. "She's sad. It's okay to feel sad."

Practice with the three-year-old. Tell him to pretend the baby is crying. Make eye contact. Show him how to move slowly and softly. Show him how to go to the baby and just watch. "The baby can't tell us what is wrong, so we have to figure it out." Is it the diaper? (Maybe it can be his job to check.) Is it gas? (Teach him how to rub her belly.) Is it the light shining in her eyes? Is she hungry? Make this a game and practice it as many times as you can before a real episode happens.

Tell him that as he gets more used to the baby, he will able to take action when the baby cries, trying to help the baby instead of focusing on his own inner stress. But tell him that for now, when he is just getting used to his inner stress, if he needs to run to you for a hug the minute the baby is crying, that could help both him and you. Look in his eyes. "THIS FEELS SO UNCOMFORTABLE!!!!!" You can yell to him! Try to connect with him about the sheer discomfort of the sound of a crying baby.

But tell him if he can't handle it, if he is feeling something too big, he needs to tell you. Because often, the baby can wait. Tell him you won't want the baby to wait, because the baby's cries are soooooo stressful to you, and it will be hard for you to focus on his issue while the baby is crying, but that if he really, really needs you to, you will tell the baby to wait. He will test you on this, and in that case, you put your hand on the baby's chest and you say, "I hear you and I will be with you when I can." And then you focus on the older child. Perhaps you take the older child into a different room so you can really focus on his issue. Let him know that his needs matter. As soon that is dealt with, tend to the baby. He will feel much more secure knowing that if he ever has an emergency, you will be there for him. The goal is to help him feel so secure, that he does not need to use this and weaponize it against the baby. (This is also a good gage of how well you are doing at giving him enough attention. When he is not feeling like he is getting enough, he will want to punish the baby.)

And the of course always newscast. "Erin is crying. She needs me to find out what is wrong. Oh no. The crying is making Erik crazy too! Erik is only three! He needs help dealing with his big feelings! I want to be there to help him. I want to be there to help the baby too!"

And of course later, when everyone is feeling good, talk to the older child about how it feels for you, about how sad you are that he is not your only child anymore, about how hard it is to have two children that need you, about how much you want to do right by him and take care of him and give him all that he needs, about your fears that you won't be able to. I have always found children to be much more empathetic and less self-centered when they know I am having a hard time too. In this way I disagree with pretty much every parenting expert out there. They think children need Mountain Mom who is always calm and never has issues. I think that is presenting a false reality to children that they see through anyway. I think children do better with Real Moms who talk and express what is going on with them, who model how to deal with big, stressful feelings, and who let the kids know that all humans, no matter their age, are dealing with big, stressful feelings and we do better if we support one another during those times. This shouldn't be abused, of course as it is in alcoholic households, but three year olds love feeling competent enough to support their parents when they are having a tough time. I don't think it "stresses children out" if they are generally well cared for and have a secure attachment. On the contrary, I think it raises their self-esteem and makes them feel competent at life.